“He was immensely strong, for he was more like a wild beast than a man. I never saw a lunatic in such a paroxysm of rage before and hope I shall not again.”
~Dr. John Seward, Dracula by Bram Stoker
“The blood is the life!”
Aaron sat in the passenger seat of Lucas’ slick black Lexus, nervously biting at his thumbnail with his eyes locked on the rearview mirror. The pounding rain had reduced visibility to almost nothing and the city streets were deserted this time of night, but he kept watch anyway just to feel like he was doing something besides fleeing for his life. Lucas was driving far faster than was safe on the waterlogged and slippery roads, but they were still traveling at an excruciatingly slow pace and Aaron tried unsuccessfully not to fidget in his seat.
“We’ll be safe soon,” Lucas assured him. The man’s rich voice was soothing with no hint of fear, just like at all times. But that was Lucas, he could stare straight down into Hell itself and maintain his perfectly chill demeanor about it. He was straining to see through the windshield, as the wipers were going full tilt and still did almost nothing to improve visibility. The thunder of raindrops on the roof of the car forced him to raise his voice to be heard over the cacophony.
“Don’t bullshit either one of us, Lucas, we’re never going to be safe again and we both know it.” He attempted to imitate the other’s calm and strangely relaxed demeanor and missed the target by miles. His voice shook and he turned his gaze to Lucas’ account, lit from below by the green lights of the dashboard. It was a account he knew well and was terrified to the very core that he might never see it again. And so, he attempted to devour the man with his eyes in case it was his last chance.
Lucas was objectively one of the most stunning people Aaron had ever laid eyes on, and were their circumstances anywhere near ordinary, he would be dating so far out of his league it was ludicrous. He was so handsome he was gorgeous, his features chiseled and statuesque, with a strong chin and big brown eyes so warm you could almost believe him when he pretended that they weren’t living in a waking nightmare. He was wearing a sleeveless undershirt, and his burnished skin was covered with tattoos, the finest 3D Aaron had ever seen. They seemed to dance with every movement of his somewhat slender but well-toned musculature. His head was shaved and likewise tattooed with patterns that urged people who passed him on the street to look closer and try to understand what they were seeing. The intricate designs that covered nearly every inch of his skin were alien and tantalizingly familiar at the same time.
“Lucas… please, I don’t want to do this alone. I don’t think I can do this alone. Please come with me, I know that if we separate, we’ll lose each other. And I can’t live with that, not now, not after…”
“Aaron, I can’t go with you,” Lucas said for the tenth time tonight as he slowed just enough to take a hard left turn through a red light, expertly steering into the watery skid and straightening the car out with one hand on the wheel. “You know how this works. Her hold on me is too strong, she’s in my goddamn head. And that means you’re not safe around me anymore. But you won’t have to go it alone, my friends will take you in and protect you until I can join you.” He chanced a glance in Aaron’s direction, his warm eyes seeming to sparkle in the darkness. “Just trust me, my dearest. This is the only way.”
“But will you be able to join me? I’ve been having nightmares… nightmares of losing you. I don’t believe that you would ever hurt me, you promised me you wouldn’t. We can fight her off together, I’ll help you.” A lone car passed them traveling the other way as Lucas steered toward the lane that led to the freeway on-ramp. The asshole had his brights on and both men were temporarily blinded. Then he was behind them, and Aaron tore his gaze away from Lucas to watch his taillights vanish into the darkness behind them. Tonight, he trusted no one.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Lucas insisted, his honeyed voice as gorgeous as his face. “I would never in a million years hurt you willingly, Aaron. But that’s as far as that promise goes. I used to think I could withstand her, but now I’m not so sure. And if she made me do something horrible, my heart couldn’t take it. I know you’re scared to be alone, but I’ve been having nightmares too. It has to be this way.”
Aaron choked back a sob with a soft curse. He hated crying in front of Lucas, the man was practically a pillar of stubborn courage and Aaron at all times felt like a gold-plated wimp. Lucas reached over and took his hand, the man’s long artist’s fingers entwined in his own.
“If I get away, she’s going to know to blame you though. What’s going to stop her from just…” He couldn’t voice the wondered and merely made a quick throat-cutting gesture.
“I’m WAY too useful, she won’t. She’ll try to make me wish she had but been there, done that, got the proverbial t-shirt. It doesn’t scare me. And I swear that as soon as I’m able, I’ll be joining you in New York. There is a whole network there that will protect us and will know how to use what we’ve got. We can destroy the bitch with what we know.”
“I wish I could be as confident as you. Even if she doesn’t kill you, she’ll just torture everything out of you.”
“She’ll do that anyway, but she doesn’t know there’s anything to torture out of me. I love you and I helped you escape. It’s my overcompassionate soul that couldn’t stand to watch you suffer anymore, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ve got enough control over my thoughts that I can hide the whole truth from her. By the time she even finds out where you’ve gone, everything will already be in motion. She doesn’t have nearly the power in New York she has here. She can put out a hit on you, and I’m certain she will, but my friends know how to hide. They’ve been doing it a goddamn long time.”
“Shit.” Aaron said with misery in his voice. “I feel like a fucking coward, leaving you at her mercy.”
“Well, you’re not. I’d go with you tonight if it was in my power, but I can’t trust myself. But soon I will be able to follow, so you have to stay alive until then. Otherwise, it’s all been for shit.”
Aaron took a deep breath and clutched his lover’s hand tightly. “I’m not going to let you down, Lucas, I swear I’m not.” His voice betrayed his deep uncertainty about this promise, but he made it anyway.
“I know you’re not.” The on ramp to the interstate was ahead of them and Lucas dared another burst of speed through a patch of standing water, sending it spraying up on either side of the car with a dull roaring sound. “You can’t let me down, I mean it. I couldn’t do any of this without you, you’ve saved my life.”
“What have I done, Lucas?” Aaron felt it was an honest question, even if his tone was a tad on the bitter side.
“You’ve given me something to survive for. Don’t you know how valuable that is? How powerful? You’ve helped me find the will to stand up to her. I’m able to fight her, and I haven’t been able to say that for a long time. Before you came along, she had almost broken me. I had almost given up. But I am Rocky and you’re my Adrian, and now I’ve got the juice to make it up these fucking museum steps.”
Aaron found that he could say nothing to this, he often felt unworthy of the love Lucas professed for him. Also, the man often referred to his own willpower as something tangible and sometimes physical, more essential even than the muscles in his well-toned arms and legs. Aaron had only a vague concept of what Lucas meant when he spoke like that, but he knew he was very serious about it.
Lucas navigated the on-ramp easily enough, even the notorious Seattle freeways being mostly abandoned at this ungodly hour. He brought the car up to speed and let go of a sigh of relief to finally be moving. Their destination was the airport, where a plane would fly Aaron three thousand miles across the entire country. And it still wasn’t gonna be far enough. He had no knowledge of the fabled Big Apple, nor did he know any of the friends that Lucas promised were gonna be waiting for him. Though he strove to maintain a brave face, Aaron couldn’t remember a time he felt so alone and scared.
They spent most of the journey in frightened silence, Aaron holding Lucas’ hand with both of his own in his lap, trying to absorb some portion of the man’s quiet confidence. They had been thrown together mostly by accident, but the gorgeous, tattooed angel of a man had become his anchor to his own humanity. There was little doubt that without Lucas, Aaron would be dead or driven mad. Or both, he had learned such things were simultaneously feasible.
“Lucas,” he ventured, “I don’t want to do this, but I’m going to. Just promise me that you’ll do whatever you have to do to stay alive. I mean it, if something happened to you, I’m not sure I could go on. And that counts double since I’m going to be safely across the country when she finds out what we’re doing. I couldn’t live with the guilt, Lucas, I’m being serious. I’ve fallen for you so hard, that I think I’ve fallen…” He bit the word off, as it was a sentiment he had not shared before. But there might not be another chance. “In love.”
“I think I have too,” Lucas said in his soft, deep voice, sounding as earnest as could be. “You’re very important to me, and we will be together again. That’s a promise, and once we’re free, we can do anything we want with the rest of our lives, however long that may be. Professions of emotion are my weak spot, but I do love you, Aaron. More deeply every day.” Lucas gave his fingers a tight squeeze, the only gesture of affection he could manage as he squinted into the rain and tried to keep the car on the road. Aaron clutched at his hand almost desperately, his heart full of warmth, fear, and impending loss in equal measure.
The sign for the SeaTac Airport glowed green in their headlights, and Lucas moved out of the fast lane and toward the exit. A quick check of the clock on the dashboard told Aaron they were gonna be cutting this quite close, unless of course the flight was delayed like every flight inevitably was these days. The wondered of being cornered in the airport did not appeal at all, but there was no help for it. At least they would be in a public place, which might limit their enemy’s options. Lucas took the curving exit ramp above safe speed even on dry roads, and suddenly a human figure appeared dead ahead, standing right in their path and illuminated by their high beams.
“SHIT!” Lucas spat between his teeth in an uncharacteristic burst of panic and swerved hard to avoid the crazy pedestrian. The tires screeched on the wet pavement and the car went sideways and spinning out of control. By some miracle they managed to miss the man in the road, if only by centimeters. So close, in fact that Aaron got a crystal-clear view of the man out the passenger window. He was dressed in stained and ratty clothes and sported a matted black beard with a wild mop of hair. His nose and cheeks oozed with inflamed sores. The man didn’t twitch a muscle as the car passed close enough to ruffle his dirty coat and drench him in a spray of water. Red, rheumy eyes glared furiously at them through all the hair, briefly meeting Aaron’s with his teeth bared in an expression of purest hate. Then he was gone again in a flash as Lucas fought to bring the car back under some modicum of control. In the wildly careening headlights, Aaron saw more figures up ahead, standing in the pouring rain like statues blocking their way.
The next human roadblock, Lucas had no chance of avoiding. He steered hard into their skid and there was a heavy thud and crunch as they hit the next man with the driver’s side door. He clung to the window for a second, staring in at the two of them, and once again, Aaron got a brief look. Another wretch, older than God, the skin of his face rough and sagging, and his nose little more than an empty hole in his head. Then he was gone from view and there was a sickening thump as they felt him go under the rear left tire. Lucas counter steered and somehow managed to get the car facing straight ahead again, just in time to hit a third human figure head on at ungodly speed. This one was a woman, as Aaron saw the split second before the windshield shattered with a deafening sound from the force of her impact. Like a magic trick, the top of her head suddenly protruded through the cobwebbed glass, sparse gray hair full of blood and splattering the two men inside.
Everything went into slow motion as the concrete safety wall seemed not to rush toward them but took its leisurely time. It grew closer and closer, Lucas steering away from it far too slowly to prevent the impending collision. Aaron even had time to notice that there were more people already moving toward them out of the darkness. Dozens of shadowed figures flashing through their careening headlights. Their tattered clothes and missing limbs and crawling diseases made them look like a horde of the walking dead right out of the midnight cinema. And then they hit the concrete retaining wall going forty miles an hour.
Aaron felt like the seatbelt alone might have broken all his ribs, so hard was he thrust forward on impact. It gouged deeply into his flesh where the shoulder strap laid across his neck and he felt hot blood start to flow. The world around them dissolved into an utter chaos of breaking glass, wailing tires, and screaming metal. Something smashed him on the right side of his head, and he heard a hollow crack just before literally blinding pain washed over him, seeming to come from everywhere at once. The hood of the car accordioned as the rear lifted itself high into the air, paused for an instant, and then crashed back down. A sudden spurt of metallic tasting blood flooded Aaron’s mouth as his teeth were jammed together right through the tip of his tongue.
And then they were still at long last, the car came to a full stop. Every part of Aaron’s body seemed to be in pain, and when he tried to open his eyes, he found them full of stinging blood. He groped blindly toward Lucas and found him, slumped forward in the driver’s seat. His head was full of a deafening ringing sound, and he couldn’t hear himself call Lucas’ name. Every movement caused horrendous pain to stab through his chest and torso as his freshly broken ribs complained. The amount of blood he could feel pooling in his lap from his own slashed throat was quite alarming and he tried to hold it in with his hand.
“Lucas…” Aaron managed to croak, and then the passenger door was wrenched open with a screech of complaining metal. Not just wrenched open, wrenched off, the hinges giving way and the whole door thrown to the side. What felt like a multitude of hands groped into the car to seize him and drag him painfully out onto the wet pavement. Despite the stabbing pain he tried to rise, only to have someone’s knee pressed brutally into his throat, pinning him down.
“Y’ ain’t goin’ nowhere, Aaron.” The phlegmy voice was barely audible above the ringing in his head. “Y’ done bad boy, and some peoples wanna talk t’ ya.” Aaron tried to struggle, but the man’s knee crushed down on his larynx hard enough to completely cut off his air, and he stopped fighting in a silent plea to be allowed to breathe. “Thass right, just stay cool kid. She’ll be here any minute.” The words turned Aaron’s stomach to ice, and he redoubled his efforts to escape as he blindly panicked from lack of oxygen. His limbs felt numb, and his entire torso was one enormous stabbing pain, but sheer adrenaline kept him fighting even as more hands grabbed for his wrists and ankles to pin him more firmly to the pavement. He was lying face up and even the raindrops were painful as they hammered down on his bruised face and mingled with the blood in his mouth as he gaped like a landed fish.
Then there was a scream and the relentless pressure on his throat was gone. Chaos descended again as enough of the unseen hands holding him down released him for Aaron to get an arm free to scrub desperately at his eyes. Finally managing to clear enough of the stinging blood out of them to see what was going on around him, his heart sank.
The small horde of street people, easily dozens of the forgotten ones, had converged on Lucas and were fighting to bring him down. His white shirt was soaked through with crimson red as he forced away a mad-eyed and snarling woman chewing at his throat. He got free of her as others grabbed at him desperately, trying to bring down a particularly dangerous animal. As if to prove this point, Lucas fought back against one attacker by using his raw strength to pull the man’s elbow joint aside. He fell back, clutching his crazily flopping arm and without pause Lucas drove his fingers into the next vagrant’s eye sockets up to the second knuckle. But they attacked in a wave of bodies and by sheer force of numbers, they wrestled Lucas to his knees. Then a fat shirtless man came screaming out of the rain and drove a large buck knife into the hard part of Lucas’s back all the way to the hilt with a wet ‘thud’.
Lucas roared toward the sky, his gorgeous and blood splattered face turned up to the rain and twisted into a mask of raw red rage. He lashed out with both fist and claw with such ferocity that the mob in front of him parted for the instant he needed to stagger forward. The blade remained jutting from his back and his jeans were already staining black in the low light. Seeming to ignore it, Lucas renewed his attack with even greater fury, turning lethal as the fat man who had stabbed him got his blubbery neck broken with a sickening sound like someone breaking a bunch of celery. Lucas was at all times one of the strongest, and his mad eyes shining with unholy light betrayed the berserker rage that gripped him.
Lucas was the far greater threat than Aaron, so the attacking horde of forgotten people had mostly abandoned the younger man to take Lucas down. He fought against his last captors, who were an elderly dark-skinned woman frothing at the mouth and holding one arm and a burly man with large and oozing pustules on his face at the other. The words, “She’ll be here any minute” echoed in his head and threatened to drive him into a panic, and he managed to get his arm free from the woman and dig ferociously at the larger man’s eyes in a desperate attempt to escape. He felt the tips of his fingers sink in and he was free for the instant he needed to turn and drive the point of his foot into the old woman’s groin, sending her wailing to the ground. This was no time for gentlemanly fair play.
Now he wavered, seeing Lucas wrestling with an emaciated nude man of indeterminate age, the buck knife still jutting from his back. It would have been a debilitating wound for Aaron, but Lucas still seemed to either not notice it or simply didn’t care about the steel invading his body. Instead, he tore at the skinny nudist’s throat with his bare hands, tearing deep into the flesh with ease. His face was suddenly splashed with a spray of arterial blood which Lucas opened his mouth wide to gleefully accept.
It was not safe to go near Lucas right now, Aaron knew that far too well. Were he to try to intervene, he would be seen as simply another attacker and he didn’t have nearly the strength to hold his own against his lover even when he wasn’t locked in a red rage. But neither could he imagine himself running and leaving Lucas here by himself. And he also knew that the forgotten people were the advance guard, the shock troops, the cannon fodder. They were here to merely slow them down long enough for…
And then he heard it over the screams and howls of the furious altercation as Lucas struck again and again to kill. It was a sound completely out of place that made his stomach flip over and try to surge up his esophagus. It was a laugh. A woman’s laugh, high and light and tinkling, the laugh of someone seeing something especially amusing. Aaron’s blood turned to ice water and his bowels threatened to loosen at the sound.