There's something that Julian needs, and only one particular mortal can provide it. For the Vamp!Boosh challenge.


Characters: ,


Genre: , ,


Warning: , , , ,



Length: words

Notes: This is for the challenge, but it’s also for maestro. As I was going for a classic “horror” feel, there’s much talk of blood and hearts in this, haha, it’s completely out of control. This is possibly OOC, due to the extreme AU-ness. My apologies. Okay, yes, I’ll stop talking now.

Heartbeats by tartpants

The body knows that it’s dying from the moment it’s born. Early on, the heart sends a death knell to the crowded coil of the ear, to the regions where skin is thinnest (the wrists, the neck), as if struggling to hold everything in. Its pulsing reminds the body of two things: 1) life is nothing but a countdown of any uncertain number of pumps; 2) in the end, something stupid will get you. One too many rashers of bacon with breakfast. Those cigarettes saved for nights at the pub. A tiny clot of traitorous matter, floating and feeding on the body’s chemical soup.

The heartbeat serves a third reminder, as well: so long as it’s heard, it’s safe to rest easy, to be certain that there’s more to come. But it would be safer to remember what happened with the stars, how they died and their light kept coming.

Julian identifies with that. He’s dead, but his continued light is more an absence of. The mad thrum of his own heart hasn’t filled his ears in hundreds of years, and instead he hears the heartbeats of one hundred others. Most nights he looks out his window onto the square and tilts his head toward the cacophony. Like a blood cartographer, he can map each individual pulse back to its owner, can even take the scenic route along the way. The blonde who kisses her boyfriend in the shadows? Her pulse jerks like a clothesline in the wind, snapping one way and then the other, remembering the touch of one who made her heart beat faster, even while doing the thankless work of breaking it. Julian lifts his cigarette and takes a drag: the girl isn’t the first to love what’s bad for her. As for the tobacco, it does nothing, and he can’t even remember what it might’ve done before—send his blood racing, maybe? But blood rush or no, there’s not denying he still loves the taste. It’s one of only a few that he can still detect on his tongue.

In the square below, the people are the same as they were yesterday, the day before, and the century before that. All of them instruments playing in a symphony that’s tooting and chirping and banging its way to the last crescendo. And he’s tired of their noisy dying; too tired to even put on his coat and go down there to lend a hand. Or lend a set of fangs, as it were. They never sink in as neatly as you’d like. There’s always a spray, most hitting the back of his throat but some of it not. He used to identify that spray with his own singular, suffocating ecstasy, but that was when he was younger, when he still took pleasure in biting out the pulse of another because he no longer had one of his own. Now, he feels a little sheepish. He worries about his clothing and wishes he had a napkin. It’s ridiculous, he knows, but even if his body hasn’t aged, he seems to have developed the old-fashioned niceties of an elderly gentleman. He can’t say he feels proud. Before, he was fierce, and his fierce self would laugh to see him now.

Well. Even the light from a dead star grows dim and dies, eventually. The real question is, do the star-gazers below notice the blank hole where a pin-prick once pushed its way through the overheard canopy, now gone, now nothing so much as a gap in a luminous row of teeth? Maybe not. There’s brightness enough to be had without dwelling on the darkness that exists between.

Julian flicks his cig-end onto the roof, watches it roll down the slate tiles and join the others in the rain gutter. And then his ears prick up at a sudden sound—sudden to him, but no one else would have heard a thing. And maybe it isn’t really even hearing, maybe it has nothing to do with his ears. It’s just his emptied out veins, demanding to be filled again, still resentful of the life they’ve been denied. His eyes search out the square, and within seconds they’ve pinned down their prey. It’s a pretty one: dark-haired, pale-skinned—almost too cliché for Julian’s liking. It’s turned out to be one of those centuries where it’s hard to tell, sometimes, but despite the gloss of his lips and cock of his hips, the projected arrogance is more male than female. His arms are both ropey and elegant as he gestures to a friend, runs an erratic hand through his longish hair, pokes a finger into the same friend’s fresh smoke ring, then wriggles it around obscenely. Everything about him is nervy and restless, bristling with the sort of life that kicks the memory of Julian’s salivary glands into high gear.

Julian glances at his packet of cigarettes, then looks at the door. He knows which taste will always win out.

He leads his catch into the room he has kept for this occasion. It’s austere and simple: slick gray walls, heavily-curtained windows, and floorboards stained a deep, near-black mahogony. This is for practical purposes as well as aesthetic ones. Blood shows up on everything.

The catch’s name, if he can believe what he’s been told, is Noel. Noel. Real or not, the name suits. Up close, Noel is less beautiful. It seems absurd to think so, since anyone on the street would be struck hard by the unearthly smoothness of his complexion, the lithe ease of his movements. But Julian’s sight is sharper than most, and he quickly picks up on the line of his jaw (almost too heavy), the wide and cartoonish roundness of his eyes, the strange, nearly forced flatness of his nose. It’s only together, somehow, that these flaws seem to play off one another and make a strong case for perfection.

Not that Julian himself is any specimen. Even as he shows Noel around the room, even as he quietly lists the conditions of their evening together, he can feel the other man measuring him up. Most likely, he wonders at Julian’s blazing ordinariness: comfortable clothing, fuss-free hair and grooming, a voice that’s deep but unassuming, only slightly tinged with the remnants of a Northern accent. The only hint of the extraordinary lingers about Julian’s smile: it’s too white and biting, too “better to eat you with, my dear.” For this reason and for others, Julian smiles very little.

“Well?” He asks, lifting an eyebrow but avoiding Noel’s gaze.

“I dunno.” Noel pulls at the ends of his hair, licks his lips more than once. His hands are shaking. Maybe he needs a fix of something. Julian doesn’t mind; he knows all about cravings, and it was Noel’s in particular that had called out to him amongst all those people in the square. One heart amongst a hundred, needing, wanting, and beating for more, the drugs just a substitute for a much greater search. “I’ve done some strange things before, but… look, you can’t be serious, yeah?” He eyes the chains bolted to the ceiling, the array of knives and other implements displayed on the wall.

Julian doesn’t know how to not be serious. After so many years of taking what one wants, subtlety and wit shrivel up like fruit on a forgotten vine.

“I can look for someone else,” Julian says, already showing Noel to the door. He doesn’t want to look for anyone else. He knows the right blood when he sees-hears-smells it. And yeah, especially when he tastes it.

“Wait, hold up.” Noel’s eyes dart around the room again, anxious as mosquitoes, then finally come to rest on Julian’s hands: they’re large and clean, with nicely tapered fingers. Aristocratic hands. Noel can’t shake the feeling that he’s been hand-picked for something special.

“All right,” he says, taking a deep breath.

“All right.”

In this same room, there’s a large cabinet against one wall that has more than five-hundred miniscule drawers. A cabinet for housing museum specimens, Julian thinks. The cabinet of Dr. Pettifer. Or, wait… Dr. Barratt. Sometimes he can’t keep up with his own name changes. He’s not a doctor, but saying that he is keeps the believers and hunters and religious away, for a while.

Investigators and police officers would call them “trophies”—the collectables that a serial killer prizes from his victim before rolling the body into the Thames or burying it in the root cellar. “Mementos” is the word Julian prefers. He’s killed thousands and thousands of people in his death on this earth, and he remembers each one of them: what they were wearing, what colour their eyes turned as breath left their lungs for the last time, how they shook or came or cried as he took them. But he fears forgetting. No one chooses to live an eternity in the stink-heap of humanity without cherishing some trifling thing about it. For Julian, it’s the flies on the stink-heap. The people. He loves their sameness and their variety, their stupid, shallow wisdom. Really, he loves their taste. But their must be something else there, as well, otherwise he’d not remember all the names. He’d not have drawers full of rings and cufflinks and bootlaces and crumpled letters and ink pots and faint, wispy eyelashes. He wouldn’t be able to pluck a strand of ice-white hair off a jewelled comb and remember: Nicolette. Paris, 1803. Tears dripped from her earlobes, and she tasted like sour wine and sealing wax. The memory of these last lived moments, trapped in a cabinet.

He already knows what memento he would take from Noel. The necklace he wears: a silly, silver trinket shaped like an electric guitar, kept company by a safety pin and a greenish copper ring. Julian has yanked chains from a good number of necks, some suspending mourning lockets or elegant crucifixes—they don’t burn him, despite being warm from resting in the throat’s hollow. He’s more likely to have to bite his way through a circlet of plastic beads these days, but he’s never seen something quite so frivolous as an electric guitar on a chain. The sight of it both amuses and annoys him. Mostly, he wants to run his fingernails along the skin just beneath it, like he might stroke a cat beneath its collar.

He likes cats. He tries keeping them as pets, but they never stick around for long.

They push food around on their plates, each little dab of fish, rice, and greens a rich and un-tasted island on white china. Neither eats, both hungry for other things. The meal is just an excuse, really; it’s a semblance of normalcy and civility that has nothing to do with their real lives or wants. Julian does like the ritualistic aspect of fine dining. The lighting of long tapered candles, the crisp linens. Noel eyes the whole display with some discomfort, and uses the wrong fork to ply and poke at his food.

“This music,” he says, lifting his head as if to aurally sniff out the low, mournful tone of a saxophone. The record’s a scratchy one, played many times over the years. It crackles and pops between the notes. “What is it?”

“Billie Holiday.” Julian gives up on pretending to eat his food and holds a cigarette out to the nearest candle. “‘Strange Fruit.’”

“Oh.” He tugs at his necklace, appearing to listen. “It’s sad.” Despite this declaration, Julian feels his pulse kicks up a notch, as if he hears something in the music that moves him, lifts him. Or scares him.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

“It’s about slavery and lynchings,” Julian says, as way of explanation. “Billie Holiday hated to sing it, in fact.” The song does not make Julian think of slavery, unless his own counts as such. It makes him think of hunger, of the sap that fills human limbs and turns the skin a pink, ripe flush.

Noel’s lips quirk into a sort of grin, laced with an ounce of wickedness. “It’s a strange song to play,” he says, his fingers inching across the table cloth and skimming a hot puddle of wax. “For a night like this.”

Julian smiles vaguely, smoke curling from his nostrils. “They call me a strange man.”

The grin widens, manages to look both calculating and innocent. “Imagine that.”

A silence passes, but it’s not entirely uncomfortable. In it, both men allow their eyes to lick over the other without discretion. Julian wonders what Noel notes first, what he likes and dislikes. His flirtation of a beard? The fact that he slouches down low in his chair, like a man half-dazed by too much wine? As for Julian, he likes the boldness of Noel’s stare, his frank manner of speaking. The way that Noel’s pulse travels over the table and reaches out to touch where his own once resided. That, paired with his pleasant appearance, his warm-ochre scent, assures Julian that he’s made the right choice.

Now they only need to finish this wine, to carry on with their guise of conversation. And then, when they’re both ready, the evening can really start.

The handcuffs are cold around Julian’s wrists. He imagines that they are cold, but the truth is that he doesn’t really know.

“Are you sure about…?” Noel holds up the ankle shackles, dangling them by their length of chain, his question implied rather than asked.

“Yes,” Julian says, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. “Otherwise, I might hurt you.” He may hurt him anyway. He knows that he will try.

“Because you’re a vampire.” Noel’s voice is neither believing nor disbelieving. It’s expectant, if anything, as if hoping to hear more without seeming hopeful at all.

Julian swallows. “I don’t know what I am. But that’s the word most would use.”

“How did you get that way?” Noel moves the shackles from hand to hand, clinking them together. “I mean, were you just born like that? Did you…”—now he laughs stiffly, finally sceptical, before the words come out—“… did someone bite you?”

“No.” Julian winces at the sound of the grinding metal. His hearing is sensitive. “I think I’m paying you enough to go through all this without the added questions.”

Because, really, how can Julian answer? I was thirty-eight, but that was old then. Too old. What could he describe? The strength and patience it takes to saw a head free from its bodily trunk? What it feels like to kneel over a decapitated corpse and slurp up handfuls of thick, brackish blood—not the blood of the corpse, but the blood of all his victims? What it is to die? No. What it is to be that one person who thinks he deserves to live forever. Julian was that narcissist, once, but he isn’t anymore.

The grinding stops. “Sorry.” Noel drops to his knees, and Julian’s bare ankles are swallowed by the shackles, by Noel’s fingers, which are papery and warm. Warm. Julian can always feel that. “It’s just, you know, not the sort of thing you hear everyday. Or ever.”

“I know.”

Julian finally smiles as Noel rises to his feet. A full smile that has nothing to do with joy or amusement. Noel takes an immediate step back—a jump, almost, like he’s been given a good-natured goose on the arse. His expression, though, is one of startled horror, and Julian knows that he’s seen the razory length of his canines, the way they go blue-black at the roots. “Oh,” Noel says, and it comes from his gut as if he’s been punched.

“Does that answer it, then?”

Noel doesn’t respond, and for a moment there’s no noise aside from the distant laughter in the square outside. Finally, he comes forward, his fingers outstretched. “Are they real?” His fingertip touches the corner of Julian’s mouth, slides inward, grazing the enamel of his teeth. The promise of blood is full and immediate on Julian’s tongue, and the rhythm of Noel’s heart travels through the geography of his body and thunders out of that single digit. Julian jerks his head back and snarls.

“Don’t,” he says, the single word harsh.

“Why?” Noel is breathy. Vaguely excited. “Will you bite me?”

“I’ll fucking bite it off.”

Noel pulls his hand away hastily, then examines the fingers as if to make sure they’re all still there. “You’re that hungry?”

Julian doesn’t want to answer at first. It’s like admitting to a weakness. “Yes,” he finally says, without emotion.

“So, I’ll just have to stay away from your teeth, then.” Noel’s bolder now, and chances his fingers again, hooking one into the waistband of Julian’s trousers. He wiggles it, and Julian remembers his first sight of Noel, out in the square, puncturing the cherry of a smoke ring.

“What are you doing?” he asks, trying to shy away from Noel’s touch but held fast by the chains. “You don’t… I’m not paying you for this.”

“That’s all right,” Noel says, following with a breezy chuckle. He fiddles with the buttons on Julian’s shirt, and the smidgen of clumsiness and hesitation in his movements overrule the sheer nerve of his forwardness, render him endearing rather than brazen. His eyes meet Julian’s now and again, then dance away, begging to be chased. Julian cautions himself not to be taken in. He’s had this happen before, had a catch try to seduce him out of morbid curiosity rather than old-fashioned lust. They see him as a puzzle to be solved; they fancy themselves that one unique beauty who can soothe and tame the beast. Sometimes, Julian goes along with their fancies. It’s flattering to have someone in awe of you, especially when other’s perceptions of you are generally either that or fear.

But Noel is no ordinary catch. Still, it’s food Julian’s thinking of as Noel leans closer, dangerously so, his hair smelling like a snuffed-out candle, his fingers skating across Julian’s now-bare chest, plucking and pinching at his nipples. Food and sex, they go hand in hand. Julian can’t have one without first having the other. Noel traces a line down his abdomen, snags his hand on the zipper of Julian’s trousers as he cups him through the material, then looks up, blinking in surprise. “You’re not…?” he asks, his hand wilting away in defeat.

“I can’t,” Julian says, teeth gritted. “If I haven’t fed.” It’s an embarrassing problem to admit to, and he wishes there were a pill he could take in secret. Without blood in his body, it can’t rush to that place that currently wants it most.

“Do you need a lot?”

“Not much.” His physiology is efficient.

Noel makes a move as if to offer his neck, but Julian pulls away, as much as the chains will allow. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Is this pity?”

“No. It’s this.” Noel moves his body closer, pressing his erection against Julian’s thigh. “I dunno… does that make me sick?” His laugh is an edgy, nervous note.

“You wouldn’t have agreed to come here if you weren’t sick.”

Noel looks embarrassed. He’s been rubbing his dick against Julian’s leg with little enough shame, but that doesn’t mean he’s proud of it. It’s a good thing we can’t see ourselves in our most raw, unthinking moments, Julian thinks. Otherwise, we might never touch, kiss, or fuck again. Or, in Julian’s case, eat. The warm, meaty scent wafting from Noel’s skin is overwhelming in the headiness it provokes, and each of Julian’s long-dead organs cries out to be fed, to be filled. “Not the neck,” Julian says roughly. He’ll rip out Noel’s jugular, otherwise.

Noel moves to the side a few inches, his eyes glued to Julian’s mouth. Saliva is beginning to trickle from the corners of his lips, and his teeth have grown longer, erect while other parts of him are not. “Am I going to change if you—”

Noel doesn’t have a chance to finish. Julian lunges his head with no warning cry, his teeth biting into the divot just above Noel’s collar bone, shredding through the fabric of his tee-shirt and sinking in to the hilt. Noel screams and tries to pull away, the flare of pain in his shoulder making it clear that if he keeps struggling, Julian will rip a large chunk of flesh away. He whimpers for god, but as he does so, the throbbing seems to abate. His head, previously howling with the blinding void of a creature in immense pain, clears a little. Even so, Julian bites down harder, almost gnawing into his flesh, shaking his head like a dog. At the same time, he forces his handcuffed hands forward, his nails digging into Noel’s ribs. The bolt in the ceiling that secures his chains is ripped from the plaster, chunks of it raining down as they both fall to the ground, Noel yelping again as they hit the floor and Julian’s teeth are driven in further, hitting bone.

Noel lays there. He doesn’t struggle. His own heartbeat fills his head, and he remembers how that same clamour had kept him up on summer nights, how he thought his heart had somehow migrated into his throat and lodged between his ears. He would shut his eyes tight and say the prayer about dying before waking, about soul-taking. But he’s not afraid now. He knows that he will never feel closer to anyone than this. The rusty chamber in Julian’s chest kicks to life once, in time with his own, and Noel feels his biting mouth go from cold to warm, feels Julian’s cock finally swell and nudge up against ridge of his hip-bone.

It takes a moment for Noel to realise that Julian’s speaking. “What?” He rolls his head from side to side, looking for the voice. Julian’s looking down at him, a tiny stipple of blood in his beard, the rest of it smeared and hastily wiped away.

“Are you all right?”

“What did you do to me?” Noel’s shoulder doesn’t hurt, but it does feel hot, his whole body curiously weightless, like he’s been stuffed with downy feathers and might well float away.

“I ate.” Julian’s eyes crinkle slightly in concern. They seem much more human, suddenly, and Noel isn’t sure if he likes it. But there’s sharp nails kneading at his hips, and he can still see the tips of Julian’s fangs between his lips. It’s enough to make Noel hard again, to reach down and press Julian’s handcuffed hands against his groin with urgency.

“I feel different,” he says, panting slightly. “Am I?” He tilts his head, looks at the ripped mass of tissue that was his shoulder. He wriggles around until Julian sits back on his knees, giving him room, then peels his tee-shirt away. The wound is bad, but less severe looking now that the ravaged tee is gone.

“You’ll be all right,” Julian says. There’s a high, heady flush on his cheeks and forehead now.

“That was… I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the fucking words.” Noel props himself up on his elbows, studying how Julian’s bound hands are shielding the bulge in his trousers, how his shirt hangs open and reveals a faint spray of blood across Julian’s chest that Noel wants to lick off. He might be sated, but there’s a new hunger in Julian’s eyes now, one that Noel himself feels keenly in return. He arches his back, his hips lifting off the floor, and Julian takes the hint, takes the zip of his trousers in hand and drags it down. His movements aren’t urgent, but that doesn’t make them any less intense. If anything, Noel feels like he’s being devoured a second time. Before, Julian had only looked at him in safe, tiny portions, but now his gaze drinks him in whole, making gooseflesh spring to life on Noel’s bare thighs.

Julian’s cock stirs again at the sight of Noel’s naked body. He’s grateful for the handcuffs and his full belly, lest he try to take that body in more ways than one. Noel seems to enjoy the obvious effect he’s having on him. He lays down and tosses his head in a showy manner, then takes his erection in hand, stroking it several times before moving lower and cupping his balls, massaging them in a careful, circular motion. He makes a strangled noise of arousal, then licks the fingers on his free hand and pushes one into his asshole, moaning as it stretches and widens to take it in, all the way to the second knuckle. He almost seems to have forgotten Julian as he pleasures himself, lifting his hips slightly to meet his own thrusts, but then again…. he opens his legs further and pushes a foot into Julian’s lap, toes playing at his swollen cock.

The handcuffs only slow Julian down a little. Within seconds, he’s pulled his own trousers down, his erection popping out eagerly, like a teenager’s. He sits back on his shackled legs and strokes himself, then scoots forward and takes Noel in hand as well, the handcuffs making it difficult while making it better, their cocks bumping and sliding together as he works one in each hand. “Oh fuck me, oh god,” Noel cries out raggedly, still fingering himself as he brings his legs around Julian’s hips, forcing them even closer together.

“Not yet,” Julian says, shaking his head. “Stop touching yourself and touch me, instead.”

Noel’s eyes pop open at Julian’s commanding tone. But his hand obeys almost at once, fingers hesitant against Julian’s scrotum, then applying more pressure, just enough to count. Julian groans and pumps their cocks harder in his hands. Unlike most, he doesn’t get tired, and Noel writhes and gasps, his hips jerking, pearl-like droplets dribbling from the tip of his penis.

“Please,” he begs, all dignity lost as he shakes on the dirty floor, blood still oozing from his shoulder. “Please. I need you… I’m already inside you. Please.” The words are almost nonsensical, but Julian’s perceptive enough to translate. He doesn’t even need language—the spiking, fierce drumbeat of Noel’s body says enough.

And so he spreads Noel’s legs wide, first one and then the other, then braces his bound hands against Noel’s chest. He teases the head of his cock against Noel’s arse, liking to see him pant and plead, but he has limits himself, and knows he can only take the sight of Noel, shaky and streaked with blood and sweat, for so long. With a growl of surrender, he pushes in hard, ignoring Noel’s thrashing because despite the pain he must feel, this is what Noel wants, what he begged for. He slides in further, so far that Noel’s cock brushes against his stomach and Julian’s balls are nudged up against his backside. Their faces are suddenly much closer than they were before. Close enough to see their shadows mirrored in the others’ eyes.

Julian studies Noel’s lips, jumpy with his fevered breath, and begins to pump his hips. He doesn’t want this to be slow. Slow isn’t his style, despite the fact that he has all the time in the world for such things, and if he’s to judge by Noel’s stark, raw moaning, his partner feels the same way. In fact, he’s coming before either of them know it, the hot mess spattering against Julian’s torso in several hard surges. It doesn’t take Julian long to follow, and as he comes—a dry, seemingly eternal spasm that travels from his gut to his toes—he can hear the fading retreat of Noel’s inner-rhythms, can feel the heartbeat the surrounds him slow down. Already, Julian misses it, and as if to capture it for one last moment, he bends down as far as he can and catches Noel’s warm mouth in a kiss.

He’s careful. He has to be. Noel’s tongue flicks across the surface of his teeth, tentative, then sucks Julian’s tongue into the safer territory of his own mouth. Even so, he bleeds a little, the taste swirling over Julian’s gums and down his throat like the sweetest possible dessert. They roll over onto their sides, Julian’s hands still trapped between them, and break apart in increments: Julian’s dick sliding free, his damp chest pulling away, and then, finally, the retreat of his lips. He has no choice but to return Noel’s searching look.

He doesn’t want to look. It’s like looking back on a home you’ve already left and risking a pillar of salt. Whenever he looks back, Julian finds himself wanting to stay. And not even Noel, with his trickster’s fingers and boyish manner, can offer Julian anything aside from another thin and flimsy reason to stay alive. He’s been alive long enough, god knows, and yet he isn’t alive at all.

But it’s hard not to look at Noel. He reaches out and touches Julian’s hair, traces his fingers over the lines in his brow. His face is emphatically rapturous, eyes wider than a kid with a huge, ribbony birthday gift. “Not a bad way to go,” he murmurs, pressing his ear to Julian’s chest to see if he’s managed to give it a kick-start. But it’s like listening to a sea-shell and mistaking the vibrating pull of suctioned air for the lost echoes of the ocean.

“Do you want to stay here?” The words are out before Julian even thinks them.

Noel is silent at first. “That’s not what you paid me for,” he says teasingly, echoing Julian’s words from earlier.

“I know,” Julian says, closing his eyes. Already, he knows this is a mistake. One he’s made before, and yet, just like then he’s arguing with himself, insisting that this time, things will be different. That he won’t get restless and caged and bored.

But even if he doesn’t get bored, even if Noel does stick around, much like the cat he never had, he’ll have to watch Noel get old. He’ll have to watch him die the death he’s been working on since the day he was born.

“Hmm,” Noel says thoughtfully, oblivious to Julian’s predicament. He stretches and climbs easily to his feet, Julian watching as he pads across the floor and gathers up his shredded things. He pauses near Julian’s cabinet, but doesn’t touch any of the drawers. “You don’t even know me,” he says, turning around with his bundle of clothes. “Did I really taste that good?”

Julian laughs with little mirth. “You tasted nice,” he says, rolling onto his back. He wishes vaguely that he had put in a skylight at some point in these last years. He would like to be able to look at the stars, dead or otherwise.

“It’s just strange,” Noel says, his voice easy but his pulse betraying the weight of the offer he’s been made. “You bring me here to do this one thing, this one… horrible thing. Then you change your mind and ask me to stay.”

“I told you. They call me a strange man.”

“You are.” Noel walks back to Julian’s side and sinks to his knees. He runs his fingers though Julian’s beard once, gnawing on his own lip in distraction.

Julian looks at him out of the corner of his eye, sensing what’s about to happen before he even sees it. Sensing it because if Noel were still down in that square below, he’d be able to hear him above all others; his sloshy interior is revving like an engine with the accelerator floored. Noel’s hand rummages through his wadded up clothes, his heart giving one final burst of adrenaline before he pulls free the knife and yanks it up high, his wounded shoulder screaming in protest. Julian sees each movement like the individual frame of a film, and at any moment he could snap his hand out, faster than pistol-fire, and bring Noel to a stop.

But he is tired, after all. Too tired, at last, to put up a fight. The knife plunges into the center of his chest, the soupy cavern exploding with a sound like strange, rotten fruit.

“I’m sorry,” Noel says, and his words are strangled by something that might be a sob, or maybe just a supressed gag. “But if you don’t want your forever, I do.”

The blood starts to pour from Julian’s chest. It’s black, ichorous stuff that matches the floorboards exactly, just as he’d imagined. The blood rises in his throat so that he can’t speak, and he wordlessly reaches a hand out, his fingers playing with the guitar charm around Noel’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” Noel repeats. He yanks the knife loose, then holds the quivvering blade to Julian’s neck.

That better be gagging and not crying, Julian thinks. He’ll never drink all of me down if he’s gagging already.

Noel starts to saw. The knife is sharp, but he has a hard task ahead of him. If he can get through it without losing his mind, he’ll be all right. Julian has faith in him. He brushes his fingers against Noel’s neck again—it’s not easy, being rocked from side to side like this—then pulls on the charm, snapping if free from the chain and holding it tight in the palm of his hand.

Julian. London, 2006. He paid a beautiful stranger to kill him. He almost fell in love, once, and he died twice.

Amazingly, Julian feels his heart surge.

Please, please please… he’s lived in limbo this long, let it surge again.

It does, leaping like clockwork even while in ruins, and he smiles at Noel. Tries to whisper:



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