And to Carla, whose wonderful feedback has been helping me to overcome a horrible case of writer's block and has kept me going. Thanks, guys!
Max had to laugh at the young half-vampire's stupidity. Michael had looked promising in the past, but now he really saw what brains the young man lacked.
He was wary of their watching eyes, six against one, not counting the young boy which Star clutched to her protectively, but he knew they would make no move to harm him...yet. The shock of his newly revealed secret was still sinking in. Max reached down to where his vampire son David lay, his brows creased slightly in worry, and ran a calm hand along the cold, pallid cheek. Gently, he turned David's head to one side; the eyes were closed in a peaceful calm, an acceptance of death, his face untroubled as if sleeping. A small trickle of blood, dark and perfect, seeped from between the pale, silky lips.
He could live, if they touched him no more. He could hang on and become strong again, an ageless young man, his face still radiating the beautiful cherubic face of his youth, which in reality had long since passed. But Max himself would not be the one to nurse his young charge back to health; for he could already feel deep in his hungry gut his own impending doom.
~They killed our family,~ he thought to himself. ~And they shall kill me, somehow. I will fight it, but I will not win.~ He glanced down at David. ~And you, my immortal son; what is to become of you?~
His eyes cast upward again and he saw in their eyes a sort of troubled confusion as to the tenderness of which he ran his fingers over his (seemingly) deceased subsidiary, perhaps a glimmer of horrible, almost paternal love shining from within his vampire eyes. They all shifted nervously, and taking advantage of the moment, he prepared himself to attack.
~*~*~*~ ~*~*~*~ ~*~*~*~
The pain grew greater as David slowly became aware of it. He stirred ever so slightly but found that he could not open his eyes. The sounds of combat in the little room fell upon his ears unheard and unsensed. He was alone in the darkness of his own mind, and it was only then did he come to the agonizing realization: all of his dark family was dead. He remembered hearing their dying shrieks, one and the same, their pain melding with his. Every time one of them died, so did a part of himself. But his anger, his desire to destroy Michael, had led him into a trap. His kin were slaughtered mercilessly as he battled the half-human and now here he lay, utterly helpless, fearing that his opponent's sheer determination and hatred alone had done the damage that would kill him soon. After all, a vampire could kill another vampire as easily as a human could kill another human. But David had a chance. Michael was not full vampire; his powers were not strong enough to kill his adversary instantly, thus leaving him with a chance of survival. But that determination, that hatred...
David was a fighter; his powers were at their apex. He had always fought like a demon and clung just as tenaciously to life; the fierce fire within refusing stubbornly to let him lay down and die, the thought of which stung him insultingly and turned his eyes red with rage. He was fighting, but he began to doubt, in the back shadows of his mind, the prowess of his own powers, which were weakening as he succumbed to his pain.
The agony of his defeat also stung him... just as bad as the wounds themselves, which were red-hot daggers ripping apart his chest. Death was creeping thinly into the borders of his senses.
Presently, he became able to hear again; all was silence in the decimated room. He smelled the overwhelming stench of dust and water, life and death. A profound emptiness inside him told that Max, his leader, was dead. This was no shock, but David felt that much more alone. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and saw that the room was empty. The spires lodged deep in his chest stood up like black daggers; he reached up and feebly tried to tug them from his chest. They stayed fast, and new pain screamed around the wounds. Desperately he curled his hands close at their bases, noting that his right hand was still charred and blistered from the sunlight, and gave a sharp tug, manipulating his minimal strength. Mercifully, they hesitated; them came free with a sickening squelch. He grimaced and threw them to the floor, feeling warm blood streaming down his sides and from his mouth. Death bubbled up in his throat; blood dripped from his lips. He bit them to fight the pain, which left him breathless, and felt his fangs piercing flesh. A distressed, singing growl gurgled in his throat.
He exerted the last of his strength and at last heaved himself from the table, biting back a tormented groan. Shakily he stood and made his way through the rubble, half walking and half crawling, casting his eyes to the fireplace as he passed, where he could smell death and ashes, and the faint, subdued scent of Max. He swallowed and resumed soundlessly picking his way through the debris, and made his way out the gaping hole in the wall, edging around the steaming car.
He smiled as the night breathed vital strength and energy into him; he levitated suddenly and, pushing his temporary strength as far as it would allow him to, flew swiftly through the air.
The wind caressed his face as he soared close to the ground, hugging the concealing landscape. Over the mountains in the east David saw the faint light of dawn, and hurriedly he located his destination. He reached the mouth of the cave and fell to the ground, exhausted; crawling deep inside the cavern and feeling blessed sleep begin to settle over his weary limbs.
David fell asleep upon the stone floor as the rays of the rising sun kissed the town of Santa Carla.
He was alive.
~*~*~*~ ~*~*~*~ ~*~*~*~
David stayed in the cave for more than a month, nursing himself back to health and feeding his seething fury, which gnawed at his stomach like a deep hunger. When at last he regained his strength, his loneliness made itself even more prominent.
Set with a new determination, he set out one night to visit the boardwalk.
~*~*~*~ ~*~*~*~ ~*~*~*~
Alex Stern was new to Santa Carla, but he was not worried about his reputation. He had moved from the suburbs of Ohio and had, over time, learned that being reclusive was the best answer to life's little social problems. His mother, Edie, often argued with him about his choices, but he found her to be just another burden in his life and paid her no real heed. After the death of his father he felt somewhat freed; the man had been abusive and he could not understand why his mother was so torn apart by his passing.
Edie was a workaholic, which is what got them transferred to Santa Carla in the first place, and Alex was the only child. She loved her son almost as much as she loved her job: manager of the restaurant Moonbeams, which had grown very popular at an amazing rate. Edie could not have been happier; it had been her life's dream, though raising a son had not. Alex had come unexpectedly, and from the start of life had been left to make his own choices.
He was a street-smart kid, as much as anyone growing up on Ohio could be. He thought he knew it all, and he did know a great deal. He was a loner, liked to walk his own paths, and wasn't worried about making friends. His thoughts were all the company he ever needed, his mind the constant companion.
But tonight, as he sat a ways off from the other young adults on the boardwalk, his mind was strangely silent. His eyes scanned the moon-enchanted ocean, the black night waters lapping gently at the silvered sand, reflecting just slightly the lights of the shore. Voices echoed in his ears. Nearby, a young man was having a dispute with his girlfriend, and his raucous, drunken shouting reminded Alex disturbingly of his father.
He suddenly felt thirsty and heaved himself off the walk with a grunt, striding quickly to one of many concession stands dotting the beach. He ignored the glances stole at him from many of the young people, obviously knowing a new face when they saw one, and welcomed the artificial glare of the concession stand's dirty light bulbs as he approached.
The vender was muttering distractedly to a dark figure to the right, who was so much in the shadows that Alex could not make out what he looked like. The vender was obviously afraid, nervous, and as Alex drew closer he heard the low, cold voice of the figure telling the old man that if he wanted advice, he would have asked for it. The vender averted his eyes and caught sight of Alex.
"Hi," said Alex as he approached the counter, trying to keep his eyes away from the unknown figure. "I'd like a Pepsi, please."
"Sure thing." The vender opened the portable refrigerator and took out a bottle, handing it over with sweaty hands. "You new?"
"Yep." Alex took a sip and savored the cool liquid as it flowed down his parched throat. "From Ohio."
He reached forward to hand over the money, but the vender pushed it gently away.
"Naw, you're new. No charge." He smiled suddenly, showing what few teeth he had left in his mouth. "Welcome to Santa Carla!"
"Thanks." Alex shook the man's hand and discreetly wiped away the clammy sweat on the back pocket of his Levi's. "I hope I get used to this place soon. I've never moved before."
"Well," said the old man, "I know you'll get used to it soon enough. It's a pretty friendly place, Santa Carla is. I hope you find some worthy friends around here; you seem like the smart type. Ya gotta watch out for the rabble, though...they'll drag you right down." He shook his head. "Right down."
Alex took another sip and pondered the old vender's words.
"Well, isn't this heartwarming!"
Startled, Alex whirled as the cold voice he had heard previously came again from the shadows, and its owner stepped out into the light.
He was very thin, carrying his weight with animalistic, fluid grace. He was slightly short and clothed in black, his face cherubic and chillingly intelligent. His hair was a white-blonde, oddly matching the pure, flawless ivory of his skin. His feline eyes were cobalt, illuminated by the harsh halogen bulbs, which seemed to light them from within, making them glow like spirit lamps. They were narrowed, and in his black-gloved hand he held a bottle of Tequila, half-emptied.
He glanced briefly and pointedly at Alex, assessing him, then turned to the vendor, who stood stiffly.
"I'm tired of hearing you flap your gums, Willie," he growled threateningly. "I've been here for almost a damn hour. Hand it over, old man. I'm tired of waiting like a damn dog for his supper. I'll have no more of it."
"I really don't know if this is right..."
"Shut up and stop thinking. You don't have a choice." He extended a long arm and reached across the counter, his hand open expectantly. "Gimme."
The hand darted forward suddenly and seized the Willie's striped shirt, yanking him forward and banging him against the counter edge with strength unfathomed for someone so thin. He brought his face close to the old man's and bared his teeth, turning slightly to the left so that Alex could not see.
"Goddammit, Willie, give it here or pay the price. Stop cowering or so help me I'll rip your head off your shoulders. Hand it over...that's a good boy." He smiled in cold satisfaction as Willie, panicked, dug a small zip-lock bag out of his pocket and placed it in his waiting hand.
"There," the figure said, quickly putting the bag in the pocket of his trench coat. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?"
The vendor shook his head tenuously, too terrified to speak. The figure leaned in close to him again, hissing, "I gave you your life for this little bit of meth. How much is that worth to you?"
"N...no charge, David. T...take it. Go sell it or whatever you wish to do with it. I..." A frightened tear spilled down the old man's stubbly cheek. The figure, evidently called David, reached up and caught it gently, almost tenderly, on his gloved forefinger.
"Good," he said soothingly. "Now, now, Willie; don't weep. You're alive, aren't you?" He wiped his hand distastefully upon the old man's rumpled shirtfront. "Of course you are. For how long, I don't know. But you survived me. So chin up."
The vender stepped back shakily and David turned, approaching Alex with that chilling feline grace, looking him over carefully. His cobalt eyes darted quickly over him, taking in every detail with profound interest and observation. Slowly, they came up to meet Alex's own eyes, and David blinked.
~Is it just my imagination,~ thought Alex, ~or did I just see a third eyelid?~ He shivered as David took another step closer, and blinked again.
"So," he purred. "You're new here."
Alex nodded, the Pepsi bottle clutched nervously in his hand, which was beginning to sweat uncomfortably. "From Ohio."
"Hmm. Well, you'll learn how things work around here real quick." David nodded to himself thoughtfully, then said, at length, "Everyone does." He watched Alex looking down at the ground.
"What's your name?" he asked abruptly.
Alex looked up, startled. "Huh?"
"You're name, genius. To what name are you referred? Or shall I have to make one up?"
Alex grinned sheepishly. "Oh. My name's Alex. Alex Stern."
"Alex Stern...Hmm...I see." A nod. "You look like someone I knew once." A scowl flitted across his features, then was gone. "I am called David."
"Nice to meet ya," Alex said, and then almost groaned at how lame it sounded.
"Likewise." David tilted his head. "You seem alone," he observed.
"Well...I guess I just don't get along with people very well," Alex replied. Strangely, he felt he could tell this to his new acquaintance, though it had been considered a secret in the past. But David seemed like the type that would really relate. He did.
"I know what you mean," David replied easily. "And you're best to stay to that. People around here are shallow as puddles in August. No depth whatsoever. Not worth knowing." He tilted back the Tequila bottle and gulped half the remaining liquid without a wince.
"It seems like everyone's like that, nowadays." Alex began to feel less and less threatened by this new presence, despite what he had just witnessed at the concession stand. "Hey, you wanna go take a walk or something? Show me around? I hate standing in one place."
"All right," David said, squinting up at the lights. "Those lights are really starting to bug me anyhow."
They walked off in the direction of the beach, David sauntering slightly ahead. Alex cast one last glance back at the vender. The old man was shaking his head knowingly, a sad expression stamped upon his wizened features.