Warnings: A bit of language, nothing major
Characters: Edgar Frog, Alan Frog
Spoilers: Majorly for the Thirst
Synopsis: Edgar finds himself fighting a war on two fronts when a power vacuum leads to an explosion in the vampire population at the same time as he finds himself learning how to cope with his own set of fangs
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
During his years as a half vampire, Alan had thought long and hard about his situation. He had practically become a vampire philosopher, pondering through the nights whether the terrible thirst and desire to do such unthinkable things truly came from himself, or something inside him. Had the vampire blood that had been forced upon him changed him; changed his mind, his soul? Or had it only altered his body in order to make it a more suitable home for the monster now sharing the space? Was there a monster at all, or was he the monster pretending to still be a man?
He still didn't know the answers to these questions. All he knew was that he had fought it every night for five years, beating it down, drowning it in animal blood, ignoring its seductive whispers and even taking close control of his own thoughts and feelings, denying it anything that might make it stronger. He had learned to live with it, whatever it was, and it had changed him. Even now he was finally free, he knew he wasn't the person he used to be.
Sometimes, he missed himself. By the time it finally happened, he had long since given up on the possibility of regaining his humanity. Along with it, he had given his former self up for lost; yet another casualty in the ongoing war against the undead. But then he had been freed, and for a while he had thought that he was Alan Frog again. But he wasn't, not really. People change. A man is nothing but the sum of his experiences, and five years of torment is not an experience easily forgotten.
Whatever happened, he needed to keep Edgar alive. They had each vowed to kill themselves if they were ever turned, but Alan had failed. Edgar wouldn't. Not if he decided it was what he wanted. If he gave up hope the way Alan had done, Alan knew without a doubt that his brother would end his own life rather than accept a new one. So he had to keep hope alive, and he had to act quickly to destroy the monster residing within his brother before he, too, was forced to adapt in ways that could not be undone.
Alan had cleared his place out a little since he had become human again. There was no blood here anymore, and no animal carcases. The air smelled a little cleaner, free of the constant odor of rotting meat and the fresh blood that had taunted and tortured his oversensitive senses, bringing the creature within him to the surface time and again so that he could force it back down. Each time he had, he had felt himself grow a little stronger, gain a little more control over it and over his own life. By the end, the monster came out when he told it to. It served his purposes.
Once, he had brought the monster to the surface in order to demonstrate a point to his idealistic brother when he had come to him with another plan, reinforced by his naïve and so very human belief that Alan could be cured.
Alan had hated him for that at the time. Months passed between Edgar's visits, and when he did come, he had finally stopped bringing plans and schemes, and just settled down into an uncomfortable kind of acceptance. Then, he had come back with another plan.
Edgar had been so hopeful that it had begun to awaken hope in him too. But he hadn't wanted that. He had wanted Edgar to accept the truth, that they would never find the head vampire, and that Alan would never be human again. Because Alan had missed him, and if Edgar could accept what his brother had become, they could begin to rebuild their relationship in different terms.
But Edgar had been too stubborn, and too determined to cling to hope. That was why Alan had allowed the monster to rise to the surface, taunting his brother with what he had become, trying to push the hope away.
Now, he prayed Edgar could hang onto it.
He looked around his home. In the past few months, Edgar had asked him time and again to move out of his 'hovel of death', as he insisted on calling it, but Alan couldn't. This had been his sanctuary from the world, his own fortress of solitude where he had learned control. This place had made him who he was. He needed it.
As Edgar began to feel the effects of the sun more strongly, as the monster inside him grew to maturity, he wondered whether his brother would need it too.
He gave it one final glance before he pulled the door closed behind him. It shut with the heavy clang of metal on metal, like the door to a prison cell closing. That was how he had used to think of it, the heavy door separated him, the monster with the thirst for blood, from his potential victims outside.
Outside, the sun was shining brightly.
He blinked against its glare. Even to human eyes, it was bright. Heat soaked immediately into the black material of his clothes. It always took him by surprise. Even now, after months of being human, stepping outside into the sunlight felt wonderful, but also somehow wrong.
Edgar's truck was parked outside in the alley where he had left it. Alan didn't have his own car. He used to be able to fly. Now that he no longer could, he relied on Edgar to ferry him around town, buying a car had seemed like a needless expense. Now, with Edgar out of action, he had appropriated the truck for himself. Edgar had been in no state to drive the night before, and would be unconscious for most of the day.
Anyway, now Edgar could fly.
The thought stopped him in his tracks, his hand on the door of the truck. He closed his eyes and tried to banish it from his mind. He wondered whether it had occurred to his brother, and whether if he ever tried it, he would learn to enjoy the feeling of the wind on his skin.
With more force than he intended, Alan thrust the door open. It flew as wide as it would go and then bounced half way back with a staining sound. He cursed under his breath and quickly cast his eye over the door looking for any obvious damage. It looked fine, or no worse than it had done before.
Alan slipped inside, turned off the faulty air conditioning and wound the windows down so the air would circulate. It wasn't like flying, but it was the closest he would ever get again.
The address was scribbled on the back of a drugstore receipt that Alan fished from his pocket to double check as he brought the truck to a stop about a block from his destination.
It was a built up and run down area at the other side of town, miles from the beach. A sea of concrete; wide, empty roads beginning to fall into disrepair, gray houses bleached of any color by the relentless sun. Though the sun was no brighter here, but the heat seemed more oppressive. There was almost no breeze, the air was completely still.
It was a well known fact that vampires gravitated toward death and suffering. The area felt wrong, in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on. Something had happened here in the past that had drawn the vampires here, something that continued to be felt even today.
The streets were eerily quiet. The few people he passed as he walked kept their eyes ahead or down, not even glancing in his direction, as though they didn't even notice him. The silence amplified the sound of his boots on the concrete sidewalk, and the sense of foreboding in the air seemed to intensify as he neared the address on the scrap of paper in his hand.
In the same way that some vampires employ canine protectors to keep them safe during the day, others have human servants who watch over them while they sleep. Deluded fools who are kept interested by the promise of immortality in exchange for their services, and eventually used as a source of food when the vampires tire of them. He had seen it before. Any one of the people on the street could be watching for them; the young girl pushing a stroller, the middle aged man with a walking stick. Alan kept his head down, following their lead, trying to look uninteresting and uninterested as he stole glances around him.
The house he was looking for was easy to spot. If the rest of the street was falling apart, this one building was crumbling. It was as though the house had become corrupted by the vampires that were calling it home, and as if everything that was wrong in the area had spread outward from that source, infecting the whole neighborhood with vampire filth. The house looked as though it had lain abandoned for decades. Graying paint peeled from the door and window frames, the windows were boarded up as though to guard against vandals throwing stones. Of course, that wasn't the real reason.
It was a large building, and stood alone, not sharing a wall with any of its neighbors. The nearby houses and buildings looked equally empty. Danger floated thickly in the air, even through the blazing sunlight, and Alan wondered how it was possible that Edgar didn't already know about this place and hadn't already taken steps to eliminate it. A huge chunk of town had been taken over by the monsters. Someone had to have noticed that.
As he approached, it occurred to him that this was the first time as a human that he had hunted without Edgar. As a half vampire he spent his first few nights desperately trying to hunt down and kill the head vampire, freeing himself from the bloodlust growing inside him, but human Alan had always had his brother by his side. Edgar hadn't. The years that Alan had spent struggling against his own personal vampire had forced Edgar to hunt alone. He had grown used to it, but Alan had not. Now, he realized, he may have to.
He passed the house slowly, keeping to the sunlight as he walked. It made no sense. Vampires didn't lurk in the shade on a sunny day, but the warmth on his skin reassured him. Keeping his eyes mostly down, he flicked his gaze to the house and back, taking in as many details as he could.
Once upon a time, it would have been a pleasant home, possibly in a desirable neighborhood. But that was before the rot had begun to set in. Now, even if they destroyed all the vampires completely, he doubted the area would ever recover. Evil taints a place. It is that taint that attracts yet more evil. Once it begins, it is difficult to stop.
All the windows were well boarded. While the vampires could probably break through if they needed to, he theorized they probably used the front door. Around the back there was a small garden, now fallen to disuse and grown wild. The back door lay beyond a forest of overgrown thorn bushes, but could probably also be used. Especially by someone who could fly.
He walked back around the front and risked a glance around. He could see no one watching him. His hand brushed the stakes in their holster at his belt. He wore a thick jacket, too warm for the weather, but it concealed them, as well as the gun. It fired pellets filled with holy water – a little more high tech than the water pistols they had used to use. He also had a garlic bulb in each pocket, and a UV flashlight already in his hand.
He hesitated by the front door. Edgar had told him not to go inside. This was a recon mission only, not a hunt. But the outside of the house had told him nothing, he needed more. If the vampires were sleeping, they probably wouldn't wake unless he attacked. If they did, he could defend himself. They needed to have an idea of numbers, possibly even some indication of which vampire was the head bloodsucker. Maybe he could even finish it now. Edgar had told him not to go in, but Alan didn't think for a second that his brother would have followed his own advice.
His mouth was dry. He forced himself to swallow and turned the door handle slowly.
It was unlocked. The monsters weren't too worried about home security. Big surprise. The door swung open with the quiet creak of old, un-oiled hinges, and after the brightness of the sunlight outside, he was almost blind in the darkness.
Sunlight shone around him, illuminating the room, and slowly, his eyes began to adjust. The room was a small lobby leading to several doors and a flight of stairs. Old, yellowing wallpaper peeled from the walls, revealing crumbling plaster underneath. The floor was uncarpeted and as he took his first careful steps inside, the bare floorboards creaked under the weight of his footsteps. The air smelled damp and unhealthy.
He turned on his flashlight, and pushed open the door to the first room.
Vampires smell of death and decay. A revolting, almost sickly sweet odor of rot and diseased flesh. It oozes from their skin, contaminating the world around them. It was a smell that Alan knew well by now. The first time he had encountered it, he had been a child playing at being a soldier, marching into the vampires' lair with his brother and Sam. Edgar had killed his first vampire that day. Since then, he had noticed it everywhere, while hunting, in places where vampires have been, even on the wind when it blew in a certain direction.
By far the worst time had been the first time he had smelled it on his own skin. As a half vampire, the smell had been weaker, but he had known it so well that it had been unmistakable. To a half vampire desperately struggling to hold onto his humanity, it had been a horrifying revelation. That same smell filled this room, so strong and thick that he almost choked. The room was as dark as the first, and as empty.
Suppressing the urge to cough or hold his breath, he backed out slowly and tried the next room, and then the next. Each one was empty of everything but the stench of vampires. The uneasiness that had been with him since he had parked the car increased rapidly. Something was wrong.
The final door in the bottom of the house opened onto a staircase down into the basement. He paused at the top, not sure whether he should continue. He turned around and glanced at the stairs upwards, leading to the rest of the house.
The sun is death to a vampire. Even when shut away from it, hidden in dark rooms, in caves, in coffins, it's mere presence in the sky is enough to drain their energy and render them weak and exhausted. But despite that, a vampire is much stronger than a human; weak to them is still stronger than most mortals, and if they keep out of the light, they can retain consciousness in the daytime if they choose. It is not easy for them, but they can do it. If they were upstairs, watching him, one step into the basement and they could fly down faster than his human eyes could perceive, and corner him there. Or, they could be waiting in the basement to follow him up the stairs. It was times like this when a hunter needed backup.
He backtracked to the front door and opened it widely, flooding the room with daylight. The sun spilled onto the floor right up to the basement door, making an ambush more difficult. He swung his flashlight up the stairs one more time, trapping no vampires in the beam, and then he began to creep slowly down into the basement.
The odor of decay was stronger still down there. Each footstep on the wooden staircase creaked loudly, announcing his presence. His flashlight moved constantly, checking all corners of the room below, spinning around to check behind him. His free hand gripped a stake tightly, ready to fight back. There was nothing behind him but the faint glow of daylight.
From halfway down the stairs, he swung the flashlight around the basement. Again, nothing. The room was almost completely empty. Something glimmered in the artificial daylight of the flashlight, and he moved a little closer. It was a gold chain, broken as though it had been yanked forcefully from someone's neck. A few feet away, the pendant that had hung from it had landed. A tiny cross. It had presumably done little to help its owner.
He left the chain where it had fallen, and climbed back up the stairs. The next flight of stairs looked as black and foreboding as the basement had. They had to be there. If they were anywhere, they had to be upstairs. If they hadn't attacked yet, they were probably sleeping, dead in their coffins. Vampires living in houses tended to sleep in coffins as an extra layer of protection against the sunlight.
He steeled himself, rechecked his weapons, and walked up.
The second floor was just as empty as the first. There was nothing in the house but bloodstains and that terrible smell. Vampires had been here, recently and for a long time, but now they were gone.
Alan closed the front door as he left. If they returned, they would probably sense that someone had disturbed their home, but there was no point making it obvious. The sun beat down on him mercilessly as he walked quickly back to the truck. Every muscle shook with anger and disappointment.
He fought against his automatic instinct to suppress the emotions that the vampire that was no longer in him could have used to wrestle control away from him, and forced himself to hold onto the anger. It burned white hot in his veins. This had been all they had to go on, and it was a dead end.
The smell of decay and death still clung to his clothes as though it had recognized him as a former night dweller and attached itself to him in the absence of the vampires that had brought it into existence. He couldn't stop smelling it, another unpleasant reminder of what was happening. He thought of Edgar, unconscious under the force of the sunlight that was almost too much for his currently human brother.
He wound down the windows again and shed his thick jacket, placing his concealed weapon underneath it on the passenger seat beside him. He couldn't go to Edgar, and he didn't want to go home. He shifted the truck into drive, and sped toward the center of town.
He parked by the beach. His muscles felt unused, they ached for action. In the absence of any vampires to fight, he settled for a brisk walk along the beach and through the sunny streets of San Cazador's busy shopping district. He had left his weapons in the car, but still he felt that something about him was drawing the glances of the residents and tourists as he strode toward his destination.
The Book O'Neer was busy today, the clientele made up mostly of kids looking to blow their pocket money. Someone he didn't know, a man, was working the cash desk, while Zoe busied herself restocking the shelves. She had her back to the door and couldn't possibly have seen him, but as soon as he entered, she spun 180 degrees and stared at him intently. No one else in the shop paid him any attention.
She beckoned him over, and he did as he was asked. She turned and disappeared into a door to a back room marked 'Employees only'. Alan followed her.
The back room of their comic shop back in Santa Carla – their parents had owned it, but he and Edgar had always thought of it as theirs – had been a kitchen and sitting room combination. An old couch had been squeezed in between the noisy refrigerator and the almost always empty shelves. Excess stock had been kept in boxes wherever they had room; sometimes stacked on the kitchen table, more often than not in their bedroom upstairs. This was a real shop, not an addition to someone's house. Their back room was filled with almost as many comic books and bits of sci-fi merchandise as the front.
Zoe folded her arms and leaned back against a shelf, staring at him. “How is he?” she demanded.
Alan shrugged. “As well as you'd expect,” he said, which wasn't strictly speaking true, but he didn't think Edgar would appreciate him sharing the details. Come to think of it, if Edgar found out he was sharing anything at all, Alan was sure it wouldn't end well.
“So he's still...” she waved a hand through the air. The gesture meant nothing, but the meaning was clear. She began to chew on her bottom lip.
Alan nodded without speaking and Zoe closed her eyes briefly as she took in the news.
“Shit,” she muttered. Her eyes were wide and haunted. “I bet this is killing him.”
Alan sat down heavily on a wooden stool next to the door. Anyone who had ever met Edgar would know this was the worst case scenario for him, but there was something in her tone and her expression that spoke of deep concern and fear. Now he knew why he had come back here. Right now, Zoe was the only person he could talk to that would understand, if only because she knew Edgar almost as well as he did.
“Do you know where the head vampire is yet?” she asked. “You need to find him before...”
“I know what I need to do,” he told her, cutting her off before she could finish.
Zoe nodded, her eyes seemed to shine in the light of the electric bulb. The store room had no windows. “So, any leads?”
Alan shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Well, no offense, but you reek of vampires,” she told him. “So I know you've been doing something...”
She froze as the storeroom door handle turned and the door swung open. The man from behind the counter walked in and blinked in confusion. “There you are,” he said.
Zoe nodded. “Here I am,” she confirmed cheerily. “Something I can help you with?”
“Yeah, actually. If you wouldn't mind doing your job? I'm drowning in teenage geeks out there.” He glanced sideways at Alan. “And this room is supposed to be employees only.”
Zoe fixed him with an irritated glare. “Yeah, yeah. I'll be right out.”
The guy looked Alan up and down once, then turned back to Zoe. “I thought you were dating that other guy anyway. Well, you definitely have a type.”
“I'm not dating anyone,” she told him. “Now get out of here before the customers start running off with the merchandise. I'll be out in a minute.”
The man rolled his eyes and gave Zoe a superior sneer, then grabbed something from the shelf and left, slamming the door behind him. Zoe stared after him, and Alan thought he could see her eyes glow softly in the dim light. He wondered what she was. Not human, definitely. Not vampire.
“Asshole,” she muttered to the closed door. “Alright, so tell me everything that's happened.”
Alan shook his head. “No. It's not good, but it's not important. Tonight I have to tell Edgar I'm getting nowhere and he can't come hunting with me. He's not ready, but I need some backup. I don't really know anyone else, you already know what's happening. I know you can handle yourself in a fight, so if you...”
“Say no more,” she told him. “It's a date. Pick me up at eight?”
“Nine,” he corrected. “I need to talk to Edgar first.”
“Alright. I should go defend the comic books from sticky fingered teenage thieves.”
Alan allowed himself half a smile, he remembered that job well.
He pushed open the door and walked through the busy shop, treating Zoe's coworker to a glare as he did. He stared back defiantly for several seconds before he dropped his gaze and pretended to be interested in something at the other side of the room. Alan gave the shop one last glance over before he stepped back outside into the sunlight.
Edgar rose with the sinking sun. The approaching darkness drove away the exhaustion and consciousness slowly began to creep in.
There was no moment of confusion this time, no fleeting seconds where he was permitted the blissful lack of awareness of his situation, he awoke with the knowledge fresh in his mind and the early stages of hunger gnawing on his stomach.
He flexed open his hand and stared at the palm. The wounds had healed closed, leaving four crescent moons of new skin, pale and almost translucent, shining as they reflected the light of the real moon shining in through the small gaps at the edges of his blinds.
He stretched widely, adjusting his position as he did. Suddenly, he was struck by the strangest sensation. The mattress underneath him was gone. He was looking at his trailer from the wrong angle. He turned his head and glanced around and the world seemed to tilt. He was hovering above the bed, not far from the ceiling.
Panicked hands reached out in all directions trying to find anything to hold onto, to anchor himself in place. He felt his heart beating far too quickly, pumping adrenaline into his veins, torturing his already over-stimulated nervous system. His hands, damp with sweat gripped a shelf on the wall behind him and tried to push himself downward. Legs kicked ineffectually, as though he could somehow swim through the air like water. He fought the urge to cry out in fear as his body steadfastly refused to acknowledge gravity.
This was a step too far. Another one. Any more steps too far, and he would be walking over the edge. Which apparently wouldn't be a problem any more. He had known half vampires could fly, he had seen it happen. He had assumed they could control it, which meant they could choose not to do it. Ever.
Apparently, this was one more part of his life he had no control over.
Frustrated, but apparently in no danger of falling, he forced his hands to release their grip on the shelf, and felt himself float the extra foot up to the ceiling. Once there, he pushed upward with his hands and feet, trying to force himself down again.
Finally, completely independently from his efforts, he began to sink slowly back down to earth. When he finally made contact with the bed, he reached out automatically and grabbed the headboard tightly with both hands. For several minutes, he couldn't bring himself to let go, and simply lay there, feeling the reassuring surface of his unmade bed underneath him and the subtle force of gravity holding him firmly in place.
Finally, he pried his own fingers free and got to his feet. The floor felt solid and reliable underfoot, but suddenly he felt as though it could fall away at any moment.
He felt a familiar sensation, and it chilled him to the bone. He was hungry.
It felt like regular hunger, the normal empty, hollow feeling in his stomach that reminded him when he had forgotten to eat. That didn't seem right. The hunger the previous night had been extreme; painful. It had gripped hold of him with both hands, long talons digging into every fiber of his being while something inside him screamed and begged and coerced until he had no choice but to do as he was told.
This felt normal. Human.
For a brief moment, a wonderful possibility occurred. Alan had killed the head vampire. Any minute now, he would show up in bloodstained clothes, with his battle story at the ready, and they would toast victory with Frog juice. Edgar would have to reprimand his soldier for disobeying orders and going on more than a recon mission, but it would be halfhearted, and they would smile, and maybe hug, and when the sun came up, neither one of them would be forced to seek shelter.
Then he thought of floating, and knew that he was still a monster.
Maybe Alan had killed the head vampire between then and now. Maybe that was what brought him down to earth.
But no. It was a pleasant fantasy, but he knew that was all it was. He could still feel the creature inside him, curled comfortably around his innards, slumbering lazily, waiting for its moment. The hunger may feel natural, but that was nothing more than a trick of the mind, replacing one sensation with another, more recognizable one. Thoughts of real food turned his stomach. Against his will, his mind threw out the image of blood.
Not of violence and death and throats torn open, but of blood neatly stored in a bottle in his refrigerator. Chilled animal blood. Breakfast of champions.
His stomach clenched in preparation for the wave of disgust that was supposed to wash over him at the thought, but once again his body betrayed him, and it didn't come. Instead, the monster within stretched and began to pay attention.
Once he had thought about it, he couldn't stop thinking about it. It was as though the blood was calling to him, like the smell of a home cooked meal to a hungry man. Once he remembered it was there, it became impossible to ignore.
He paced the trailer, pausing occasionally to glance outside, hoping to see his truck pull up outside and Alan climb out with information they could use to formulate a plan. The area around the trailer remained frustratingly empty. He switched on the television, but nothing was interesting enough to distract him. He needed to do something physical, something that would leave him exhausted and strung out on adrenaline. He had too much energy, and it wasn't natural energy. His nighttime state was to opposite of the daytime, while the sun drained his strength, night compensated by giving him too much.
He needed to fight, or to run. Or to fly.
He blinked in surprise and tried to suppress that thought too.
The bottle was still calling to him, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The loss of control the previous night had been the most terrifying thing he had ever had to face, and although he was in control now, he could feel the part of him that was a monster growing stronger. He didn't know himself any more, he could no longer trust his responses to anything. He didn't know, once the vampire started demanding blood, how long he could hold out.
Sam's brother had lasted several days without tasting a drop. Laddie and the girl, Star, even longer. Sam, he had no idea, but he would have fought it. And Alan, almost two weeks, he said, before he had chosen a compromise and taken the first step toward accepting the shadows into his life. But he, Edgar, he had lasted less than twenty four hours. And now, he was considering drinking again.
Who would have though that he would be the weakest of them all?
But if it would keep the vampire placated, it might be a price worth paying. Alan had thought so, and it had saved his life. The lesser of two evils, drinking animal blood by choice, or attacking someone, possibly even attacking Alan, and never getting the chance to regret it because he would have become a monster.
He switched off the television and paced into the kitchen. He found himself standing in front of the refrigerator. The smell of garlic that permeated the trailer was stronger here than anywhere else, and it was that that made him feel dizzy and ill, not the thing he was contemplating doing.
As he lifted his arm to open the door, it felt unnaturally heavy, as though part of him was resisting, trying to hold him back. He pulled open the door and blinked at the yellow light inside. There, on the top shelf, right where Alan had left it, was the bottle.
It was a plastic bottle with a screw on lid, the kind that soft drinks are sold in, but this one was filled with a much more sinister liquid. The label had been torn off, leaving a sticky residue on the side of the plastic, and replaced by a small white label bearing a date three days in the future. A use by date? Edgar frowned. The writing on the label wasn't Alan's. It belonged to whoever had given him the blood, presumably. Working on the assumption that his brother hadn't gone back to draining it himself.
“Okay,” Edgar muttered to himself. A declaration of his readiness, or attempted reassurance, he wasn't sure. He reached out and lifted the bottle down from the shelf.
He closed his eyes for a moment and listened carefully for the distant sound of an approaching car that would indicate Alan's imminent arrival, but he heard nothing. Satisfied that he wouldn't be disturbed, he slunk the two short steps across the kitchen and into a chair. The bottle was placed directly in front of him, where he stared at it critically.
This would be the third time in as many nights that he had drunk blood, first vampire blood, then what he had been given by Daniel, and now this. But this would be the first time he had done so voluntarily.
Despite its innocuous container, the substance contained within was unmistakable as blood. He could feel the monster's excitement at the prospect of a feed, and its disappointment at the fact that the blood was not human. “This is all you're getting,” he told it with a thought. “Take it or leave it.”
He moved to unscrew the bottle, and the hunger pressed harder inside him with a kind of urgency this time. He ran his tongue carefully against the tops of his teeth, and touched fang.
He drew back immediately, instinctively. “Stupid,” Edgar told it, out loud this time. He ran a hand over his brow nervously and shook his head. “Put them away, there's nothing to bite.”
His hand lingered on the bottle lid for several more seconds before he shook his head, got to his feet and shoved the bottle back into the refrigerator. He could wait. He was Edgar Frog; he didn't give in to a vampire, not without a fight. Not even when the vampire happened to be him.
Steadfastly ignoring the fangs in the hope that they would go away, he looked out of the window. Still no sign of Alan. His cellphone, abandoned for several nights on the shelf near his bed, beeped plaintively as the battery died. He grabbed it, plugged it in, and out of interest checked for messages. Maybe Alan had called while he was sleeping.
There was one voicemail stored on the phone. He pressed it, listened to the voice on the other end, and frowned. It was Zoe.
“Hey, Edgar. Um, sorry you couldn't make lunch the other day. I hear you're... sick. I hope you get better soon, I really do.” She paused, and for a moment Edgar thought it was the end of the message, then she sighed into the receiver. “Edgar, get in touch, okay? Let me know you're all right.”
The message ended with a quiet click and Edgar pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it in horror. His mind raced.
Zoe had been talking to Alan. Had she gone to him, or had he stopped by the comic shop to make excuses for him? And if she had gone to him, why him and not Edgar? He had forgotten he was supposed to meet her for lunch, if she wanted to know where he was, why not call him? No, Alan had to have gone to her. But why would he do that?
More importantly, what exactly had he told her? That little pause as though she was tripping over the work 'sick', like she had been trying to say something else. Did she know? Had Alan told her?
Anxiety stirred, and just like the previous night, he felt the vampire take hold of the emotion and begin to use for itself. He took a deep breath and tried to shut the reaction down. It didn't quite work, but he continued his efforts to calm himself.
He placed the phone on the floor near the socket and began to pace again. The phone taunted him, and he needed to know. He hadn't actually told Alan not to tell people, but he had assumed his brother would already know that. If this got out, if people found out, he was finished. Okay, that wasn't true. He could come back from it as Alan had done, but if people knew... it would just be humiliating, that's all.
He paused mid step in his pacing.
Humiliating? He had bigger things to worry about than his reputation right now. He couldn't believe that that thought had even occurred to him. The fact that it had, meant that he was becoming complacent. Already, what was happening to him was beginning to take a back seat to other, less important concerns. Almost as though being a half vampire was becoming normal. That was unacceptable.
His chain of thought was interrupted by the sound of a vehicle approaching. Alan. Still too far away for human ears to notice, but in the silence of the area surrounding his trailer, vampire hearing picked it up easily. He gave his phone one last irritated glance, and sat down on the couch to wait.
Alan got out of the truck and started walking toward Edgar's trailer. He stopped just as he crossed the salt circle. Something was different. He examined the trailer carefully, comparing it to the image in his mind, looking for differences. The garlic was still hanging by the door to ward off the undead, the circle of salt was beginning to look a little worn, obviously it hadn't been strengthened in a few days, but it was still there. Everything was as it was supposed to be.
Then he realized. The windows were dark. There were no lights on inside the trailer. Edgar didn't even turn out the light to sleep. If he was inside, the light should be on. If he had left... Alan didn't even want to think about what it would mean if his brother was gone.
He jogged the final few steps to the door and began hammering on it loudly, shouting Edgar's name. Almost instantly, the door swung open, to reveal a confused looking half vampire with a serious case of bed head. Refusing to look in the mirror didn't do great things for your appearance.
“What?” Edgar asked.
Alan relaxed instantly, and Edgar stepped aside to allow him entry. “The lights are out,” Alan explained, feeling a little sheepish at his panic. “I thought you might have left.”
Edgar's eyes met his for a moment, then he looked away again. “Not much point banging on the door of an empty trailer,” he remarked. He pressed the light switch and instinctively squinted and covered his eyes against the glare of the sudden change in light intensity.
“No, I guess not.” Something was wrong with Edgar. Something more than the obvious. His brother appeared subdued, emotionally flat. In someone he didn't know well, he might have taken if for calm, but it wasn't. It was more like exhaustion, or depression.
When Edgar's eyes had adjusted and he could open them without squinting, he turned his gaze back to Alan. “How did it go?”
The recon mission. Alan inhaled slowly, trying to decide how to phrase utter failure in a way that wouldn't let his brother lose hope. His lungs filled before he had any success, and Edgar was staring at him, waiting. He couldn't drag it out any longer.
He explained about the house in the suburbs, the signs of vampire habitation, and the fact that they were no longer there. Edgar sank into the closest chair as he listened. When Alan was finished, he looked at Edgar for his response. Edgar was sitting on the chair at the dining table, staring down at his knees.
For a long moment, Edgar remained completely still, not even blinking as he processed the information. Finally, he got to his feet, pushing his chair out of the way with the backs of his knees as he straightened his legs. In the silence, it scraped loudly on the floor. He drummed his fingers quickly on the surface of the table, and then turned to Alan. “That was our only lead.”
Alan nodded slowly.
“Shit!” The hand that had been tapping on the table balled into a tight fist. Edgar turned away and walked a few steps in one direction, stopped, and walked back. Pacing. Deprived of the ability to do anything to help himself but needing some kind of activity to use up the excess energy that the night had given him. He held his body tensely, as he walked back and forth.
Alan folded his arms across his chest as he waited.
“Shit!” Edgar said again. “Shit shit shit shit shit!” One fist raised into the air and was driven hard into the trailer's wall. The metallic clunk reverberated around the room as Edgar drew back his fist and cradled it in his other hand, wincing in pain.
Alan continued to wait. The famous Edgar Frog temper coupled with the lack of emotional control common in half vampires. This wasn't Edgar. Not really. Edgar was impulsive, and yes he could have a quick temper when he found himself backed into a corner, but he would never behave like this. This was the vampire in him, using his emotions against him in a bid for control. Hopefully, the pain in his hand would help drive it back down.
Just in case it didn't, Alan rested his hand on one of his stakes. He had no intention of staking Edgar, but hopefully the sight of it would... Who was he kidding? He released his grip, and took several preemptive steps toward the door.
Edgar was facing away from him, leaning over slightly as he cradled his injured right hand in his left, Alan remained silent, waiting for the internal battle to be resolved, ready to run for his life if Edgar didn't win.
Finally Edgar looked up again, the attack of anger had abated and the flatness had returned. Alan realized with a jolt that Edgar was attempting to do what he had done, control the vampire by controlling himself. But he was new to it, and it wasn't easy. The flatness wasn't depression, it was an artificial calm that Edgar was trying to wrap around his vampire half.
It didn't work quite like that, but it was a step in the right direction.
Edgar took a deep breath and nodded at him. Crisis averted. He detected a hint of pride in his expression, before that, too was smoothed away and replaced with the mask of calm.
“So,” Edgar said finally. He released his injured hand and flexed the fingers experimentally. The force of their impact into the wall seemed not to have damaged them at all. “What have you been saying to Zoe?”
Alan froze like a guilty rabbit in the headlights of Edgar's glare. “What?”
“She let me a message, she heard I was 'sick'” he spoke in a way that put verbal quotation marks around the word sick, and Alan relaxed slightly. For one horrible moment, he thought she might have told him that she knew. Had he asked her not to? He thought back over their two conversations, and found that he couldn't remember.
“I had to tell her something,” he said.
Edgar continued to glare. Artificial calm was flaking away piece by piece. “No you didn't,” he countered.
“Did you really tell her I was sick?” Edgar demanded, “because, what would make you think of doing something like that? I know she didn't go to you and ask where I was; she'd have come to me first.”
Alan suppressed a triumphant smile as Edgar answered himself. “Exactly. Did you want her coming up here looking for you?”
Edgar frowned thoughtfully and almost looked reassured, then the frown deepened into a scowl. “What if she arrives with chicken soup now, or something?”
“You're contagious,” Alan told him.
“Oh.” Edgar sat back in his chair, visibly relaxing as he bought the lie.
“I needed to tell her something, anyway,” Alan added. “You were right, I need backup. And if you can't hunt, I need good reason why not.”
“You want Zoe to be your backup?” Edgar shook his head. “She's good in a fight, but wouldn't someone else be a better choice? Blake?”
Alan shook his head. The few dealings he had had with the former congressman had been less than comfortable. “He doesn't trust me; he's still convinced I'm a vampire sleeper agent or something. And he's more paranoid than you are. If he starts suspecting something's going on with you...”
Edgar didn't reply. He suddenly looked worried. Alan wondered whether it was the possibility of losing a weapons supplier that bothered him, or of losing one of his few friends.
“Yeah, he told me he doesn't like you much,” Edgar said after a while. He frowned in remembered irritation. “I told him you got turned saving his sorry ass and he should be grateful. Shut him right up.”
Not that Alan didn't appreciate the effort, but he didn't need another friend. What he did need was his brother back.
“I can hunt,” Edgar added. “I'm in control now. You lead the team if you want, but I can back you up.”
Alan shook his head.
“I'll do what you say. You tell me to get out of the fight, I'm out. If you don't want me fight at all, I'll just wait in the truck the whole time. Anything is better than staying here.”
“No,” he stuck to his guns this time. The conversation had taken a turn down in the same direction as the previous night. Then, he had agreed to take Edgar with him, and the night had ended in disaster. He wouldn't make the same mistake twice. “It's too dangerous.”
“I'm in control,” Edgar repeated.
It was true, for now he was in control, and Alan had watched him win a small victory against the vampire just a few short moments ago that had no doubt buoyed his confidence in his strength of will, but it wasn't that easy.
“You are,” he agreed. “But what about if someone gets hurt? We're saving someone from a vampire attack, we fight off the vampire, but in the process the victim falls down and cuts themselves. Remember how you reacted to animal blood in the room? You won't be able to resist human blood. And if you can't resist in that situation, you'll turn.”
Edgar's confidence faltered. He took a step backwards and shook his head. “You wouldn't let me do that.”
“No, not if I could stop you. But I need backup I can rely on. I can't trust you at the moment. You think you're in control, but you're wrong.”
He saw a flash of red in Edgar's eyes, only for a second, and then it was gone, but it had been there, and he could tell from the expression on his brother's face before he once again attempted to shut down his emotions, that he had felt it happen.
“Fine,” Edgar said. It sounded sulky, which coming from Edgar just sounded wrong.
“I'll let you know everything that happens,” Alan promised. “It's just safer for you to stay here. Safer for everyone, including you.”
“Yeah,” Edgar said gruffly. “I know.” He folded his arms tightly, sat back down at the table, stood up again, then turned and looked around the trailer, not letting Alan see his face. “Don't know what I was thinking. I just want to get outside.”
Alan nodded. Edgar was still facing away from him, and didn't see. “I'll be back before it gets light,” he promised.
He glanced at the door to the refrigerator and wondered whether Edgar had fed. Probably not. But when he came back, he would bring an extra bottle just in case. No point saying anything, it would only make things worse.
Instead, he turned, opened the door and stepped outside. He closed it behind him and checked his watch. Eight thirty. Just enough time to drive back into San Cazador and pick up Zoe.