Tollense

 

An original serial romance by Dannye Chase

A history professor falls in love with his best friend, a 3000-year-old vampire

Explicit

Read Tollense on Tumblr (non-explicit version)

Read Tollense on Ao3

 

CW: non-graphic descriptions of blood, injury, surgery, death, dead bodies, and war. Light mentions of homophobia

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Part 1: 1993-2003

1

1993

Professor Liam Beyer was born a decade after the deaths of the last soldiers to fight in the US Civil War. Thus, he was not expecting to meet a Union Army veteran in his 4 o’clock symposium on the Battle of Antietam. 

Liam noticed the man as soon as he walked in, and not just because it was odd for a member of the public to show up for a faculty lecture at the university. No, the man caught Liam’s attention because he was distractingly handsome. Literally, Liam was distracted enough to drop his pen onto the overhead projector, causing a giant shadow to loom over the map of Maryland on the screen behind him, as if a third army had materialized there in a dense offensive line. 

The man was of average height, with a slender build. He had dark hair in a short, modern cut and wore a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt with a faded label. He looked like he might be thirty, which was about the age Liam was, and so Liam did not immediately assume that the man had seen action in the Civil War. But there was something faintly strange about him, just in the way that he walked, light on his feet like a dancer, but stepping firmly, without a dancer’s well-practiced grace.

“General Lee,” Liam continued, in a slightly strangled voice, “of the Confederate Army, was, of course, outnumbered, but the battle was Union General McClellan’s to lose. Had he understood how superior his force was, had he taken more risks, he might have been able to deal a decisive blow to Lee’s army as it retreated. In fact, McClellan’s performance at Antietam was part of the reason that President Lincoln later removed him from duty.” 

Liam put up a transparency of a white church with peeling paint, standing alone on a grassy rise. “On September 17, 1862, 7,650 soldiers died at Antietam, making it the bloodiest day for Americans in history. Two days later, a man named Alexander Gardner took some of the first widely-seen battlefield photographs of dead soldiers. Some were awaiting burial, and some were still lying where they fell. It was very difficult at the time to take photographs of battles themselves, as the technology involved careful treatment of glass negatives, and that was nearly impossible under battlefield conditions. But the dead do not move, and these photographs were so clear that when displayed in New York, family members recognized their fallen sons.”

Liam put up a transparency of one of Gardner’s photographs, young men lying on the ground in an oddly perfect line. The unknown man looked away.

oOo

Liam had grading to do after his symposium, but he walked to the campus union to grab a sandwich first. He was definitely not expecting Handsome Unknown Lecture Man to appear out of the crowd and drop into the seat opposite him. Liam was very proud that he did not choke on his bite of ham and swiss.

“I hope you don’t mind,” said the man. “I enjoyed your lecture. My name is Kurt.”

Liam put his hand out to shake. Kurt’s touch was faintly cold. “Liam,” he said.

Kurt cocked his head slightly to the side, as if assessing him. “I know. Liam Beyer, 27, assistant professor of history, specializing in battles. Is Antietam your favorite?”

“Um— one of them. I did my dissertation on it. On McClellan, specifically.” Liam felt slightly odd about the fact that this stranger knew who he was, but of course, it was all publicly accessible information. “Are you a Civil War buff?”

“Somewhat.” Kurt leaned back in his chair. “Antietam, god. I remember Bloody Lane— that’s what they called it after. The road was sunken in because so many wagons had gone by over the years. It was like trying to fight your way out of your own grave trench.” Kurt spoke with a faint accent that Liam could not place, something that seemed to shift from one place to another.

“You talk like you were there,” Liam said, smiling. “Are you a reenactor?” 

Kurt gave a sharp laugh. “No. You?”

“I’ve been a technical advisor. It’s nice to meet other people who share my strange obsession.”

“Those pictures you showed,” Kurt said. “Photography is such a bewitching art. Those boys are long gone, but remain ever present in death.”

“You know, the war helped make Spiritualism popular,” Liam said. “It was so hard on the families back home to lose contact with their soldiers, not knowing what happened to them, or when, or where. They couldn’t bear it, and turned to mediums.” 

Kurt smiled, and it made his bright green eyes sparkle with amusement. “Have you ever been to a seance?” he asked. Liam shook his head. “Most I’ve been to were quite boring,” Kurt said. “But every once in awhile—”

“That sounds like a good story.”

“I’ll tell you sometime.” Liam’s brain was already far too occupied with how attractive he found this poor man, and that was probably why the sentence sounded more like a salacious promise than it really was.  

“So what do you do?” Liam asked faintly, crumpling his empty sandwich wrapper. “Are you a student?”

“Not at the moment. Just a fan of history. Of battles, actually.” Kurt leaned forward a little. “Liam, would you mind if I came to your office tomorrow to talk more? I have some questions and I think you might be the one to help me answer them.”

“I— of course.” Liam told himself that he agreed solely because he liked to talk about history with people, and that it didn’t matter whether or not said people were ridiculously attractive.

Kurt smiled at him again. “Until tomorrow then.”

On his way out of the dining hall, Liam was stopped by a student with a question about an assignment on Gettysburg. “I didn’t want to interrupt your dinner,” she said.

“Oh, it would have been fine,” Liam told her. “We were talking about the Civil War ourselves.”

The student gave him a confused look. “Dr. Beyer— weren’t you eating alone?”

oOo

In the end, Liam decided that as he’d never dreamed up a handsome man in quite so much detail before, that the student had been mistaken and simply had not noticed Kurt’s presence at Liam’s table.

And yet. There really was something very strange about the man. Liam couldn’t quite pin it down, just that there was a disconnect between what Liam was seeing and what he was feeling about him. For example, Kurt appeared to be thirty, but Liam would swear he was older. Kurt had looked perfectly natural at dinner, but it had also seemed like he didn’t quite fit in with his surroundings. Like if you’d taken a photograph of him at the table, he would have been slightly too bright, out of focus, or without a shadow. 

Kurt’s knock on Liam’s office door finally came around eleven, and Liam was, he realized, far too happy to see him again. At first, nothing about the visit seemed terribly odd. They discussed Antietam again, then traveled forward to the Somme, and then much farther back, Megiddo and Kadesh. Kurt seemed to know less about those battles, Liam noted, but he was quite familiar with things taking place after Thermopylae in the 5th century BC.

It was easy to talk to Kurt, especially about interests they had in common, and as the conversation went on, Kurt seemed to relax a bit, which made Liam do the same. The day before, Liam had thought Kurt moved without grace, but that wasn’t exactly right. Kurt had a different kind of grace, a fluidity of small movements instead of large ones, an artistry shown in the fluttering of fingers while the rest of the man kept entirely still. The emphasis on such small motions seemed to draw Liam in, narrowing his focus away from his surroundings and onto his visitor. But at the same time, Kurt had such an air of other about him, that it was almost like Liam was looking at him through beveled glass, never quite getting the whole image at once. 

However, Liam’s sense of ease around Kurt vanished entirely when another student knocked on Liam’s door with a question about an assignment. That in itself was perfectly normal, but during the whole time that the student was in Liam’s office, she didn’t speak to Kurt or apologize for interrupting their conversation. She didn’t give a single look to the chair that Kurt occupied beside Liam’s desk.

When the student had left, Liam leaned back in his chair, trying to fake the calmness that he no longer felt. “All right,” he said, watching his visitor carefully. “You want to tell me why I’m the only person who can see you?”

**

Alexander Gardner’s photographs of Antietam
YES THESE REALLY ARE PHOTOS OF THE DEAD, please view with caution

2

Professor Liam Beyer looked at the very handsome man sitting in his office chair and said, quite as if it were a normal thing to say, “Have I imagined you?”

Kurt— the handsome man— put up a finger as if saying wait, and a second later Liam heard footsteps outside his office. The door was open, and as a colleague of Liam’s walked by, Kurt waved to her.

“Hello,” the woman said, flushing a little bit as she returned the wave. 

“So you are real,” Liam said. “But nobody else we’ve met has been able to see you.”

“I apologize,” Kurt said. “I am going about this a little faster than I usually do. But I want to ask for your help, and it’s going to be easier if you know what I am.”

“What you are,” Liam repeated. “Why not just tell me?”

“I find it really is better for people to guess it on their own. Less of a shock that way.”

“Because it’s not a shock for you to be selectively invisible.” 

Kurt had started to look a bit remorseful, which was only decent of him, really. 

Liam found himself torn between three possible plans: attempting to find some weapon within reach on his desk and attacking his strange visitor, dashing out his office door and running screaming down the hall of his own department, or poking the scary, mysterious problem with a metaphorical stick. Liam was a history professor, which meant that he did enjoy mysteries, and also that he rarely had the opportunity to face a scary problem. 

So, of course, he poked. “All right. You came to a lecture about the battle of Antietam, 1862. Why the interest? Were you there?”

“I was.”

“You look very healthy for a man who’s at least 150 years old.”

Kurt smiled, looking more relieved than smug, as if it might be news to him that he wore a pretty face. “Thank you.” 

“And you can disappear.”

“I can’t, not exactly. What I did was to convince everyone that they couldn’t see me.”

Liam felt a little chilled. “Mind control?”

“Yes. I can control what people see, or think they see, to some degree.”

The room seemed to shrink around Liam, giving him a sense of claustrophobia. He looked around with a bit of fright. Were the lights always this harsh? Were they really alone in the office? Were there weapons on his desk that he could no longer see? 

“I’m not using it on you,” Kurt said gently, as if he honestly regretted Liam’s discomfort. “If I was, I wouldn’t let you be so scared. I really don’t usually rush this. It’s just that you strike me as a person who tends to process things rationally, even if you are upset.”

“Rationally.” Liam forced himself to sit back in his chair. Kurt hadn’t moved, as if he was afraid of spooking Liam further. “I suppose I can try. So mind control and you don’t age. Those are the clues.” Liam rubbed his forehead with one hand. “I don’t suppose you have to drink human blood?”

“Got it in one,” Kurt said, with a broad smile. “I thought you might.”

“Right, well, if I’m being rational, I do need to point out that vampires don’t exist.”

Kurt’s smile changed as Liam watched it, his mouth opening wider and top lip drawing back to show a pair of bright white fangs. 

“Oh,” Liam said. “I don’t suppose that’s the help you want to ask me for?”

Kurt closed his mouth and did not look any less strange for it. “No. I mean, I do ask— I always ask. I only drink from willing donors. But what I want from you is different.”

It should have surprised Liam that there was a part of him that was disappointed. It did not. “All right, let’s hear it.”

Kurt finally moved now, slowly, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his thighs. “A vampire’s powers are largely based on their age. The older the vampire, the more powerful they are. I’ve never met another vampire who can do what I do— walk around in sunlight, control the minds of entire crowds, however briefly. A drop of my blood can heal humans’ injuries. I’ve never tried it, but I suspect that if a human consumed enough of my blood, they’d live forever. If power is based on age, then I must be the oldest vampire in the world, by far, and I’ve met some who are over a thousand. 

“But they know where they came from. They can all remember their origins, and I can’t. I don’t know how I became a vampire. I don’t know how I died. That’s where I need you, and your expertise on wars. My earliest memories are of a battle, but I don’t know what it was or when or where. And I also remember a person, someone whose face and name are lost to me now, but I know that I was looking for them. I remember the panic and loss. I want to know who they were and what happened to them.”

In all his fear and unease at Kurt’s presence, Liam had not thought to wonder if the world might seem ill-fitting and unsettling to Kurt in return. “All right,” Liam said. “What do you remember about the battle?”

“A bow and arrow. Arrowheads. Um, helmets, spears. Leather clothing, I think.”

“What were the spear and arrowheads made of?”

“Stone. And metal. Bronze, I think.”

“I’m sorry, did you say stone?”

Kurt smiled. “Like I said— I’ve got to be quite old.”

“Stone weapons aren’t old, they’re ancient. And bronze—” Liam got up and started looking through books on the shelf behind his desk. “Do you have any idea of where you were?”

“Just somewhere in Europe. Northern Europe, I think. The earliest language I remember speaking was a Germanic type, so assuming I stayed close to home—”

Liam stopped with his hands on a book about Egypt. “Europe? I’m sorry, there weren’t any wars in Bronze Age Europe. Skirmishes, maybe. There just wasn’t enough population in the Nordic Bronze Age for large battles.”

Kurt shook his head. “There were thousands of us. I remember a river and green fields that turned to mud. It was so bright— people had gold rings in their hair and they glinted, and the sun on the river was blinding. It smelled like water and blood.” 

Liam had heard that tone of voice before, interviewing soldiers. It was melancholy in a rigid way, like the memories had to be firmly controlled. “How many wars have you fought in?” he asked.

“I don’t know. The ones I remember— I took sides in those. I fought for what I thought was the better cause. This first one, though, I have no idea. I don’t know why any of us were there.”

“Have you tried to identify it before?”

“Not in a very long time. But the technology is getting better. Archaeology is changing. I thought I’d try again.” He looked up at Liam. “I thought I’d try with you.”

“Why me?” Liam asked softly.

“Because you seem like the kind of person who would enjoy a mystery.” Kurt’s expression showed hope, relief, and pleasure, but also something guarded, that spoke of some other answer that he was reluctant to give.

Kurt, of course, was dangerous, and frighteningly Unknown. But that alone did not mean that Liam was at risk. 

At home, in a drawer of Liam’s desk, was a collection of letters. They’d been mailed from various places across the country, with different stamps and postmarks. He’d been receiving them for six months now, from an unknown sender who threatened terrible things. Liam didn’t know why. The police didn’t know why. Liam didn’t know what he was going to do about them.

So Kurt was not the only dangerous person that Liam had contact with. Kurt did scare Liam, but it was because of what he was, and not what Liam feared he would do. 

“Well, you’re right,” Liam said. “I do love a mystery.”

3

1996 (Three years later)

Liam got a letter in the mail that morning, another one, from New York this time. Liam didn’t know anyone in New York who would send this kind of letter. In any case, they were all from the same person, no matter the constantly changing postmark, and they all said the same hateful, frightening things. 

Liam had just tossed this one into the drawer with the others when Kurt appeared out of nowhere, as only he could. Liam had done a bit of research on vampires in the three years he’d known Kurt (as much study as he could on something that was supposed to be fictional), and teleportation was not a common vampire ability. But then Kurt was not a common vampire.

“Morning,” Kurt said, dropping into a kitchen chair. He looked a bit bed-rumpled, but Liam honestly wasn’t sure whether it was because Kurt had been sleeping or because Kurt thought that humans should look bed-rumpled in the morning. “Been for your run yet?” Kurt asked.

“I was just getting ready to go.”

“Want company?”

“You’re not dressed for it,” Liam pointed out, waving a hand at Kurt’s blue jeans, and that caused Kurt to vanish again. Liam was lacing his shoes when Kurt reappeared, this time wearing athletic shorts and, crucially, no shirt. Liam’s fingers tripped over themselves and got tangled in his shoelaces like clumsy people with jump ropes. 

Liam had seen Kurt without his shirt on occasionally over the last three years, most memorably when Kurt had shown Liam the scars he still carried from the earliest thing he remembered— a Bronze Age battle. There was a scar above his heart and two on his left shoulder, the marks of flint arrowheads, presumably the wounds that caused his death. 

But that was not what caught Liam’s attention when Kurt was shirtless. Kurt had the build of a fighter: a slender waist, sturdy legs, broad shoulders and strong arms. His chest was smoothly muscled around the scars. Meanwhile Liam had the body of a thirty-year-old history professor who went for a run most mornings, but also had a fondness for rocky road ice cream.

Liam wasn’t sure if Kurt knew about the threatening letters. He was also not sure if Kurt knew how fervently Liam desired him. If he was aware of either, or, most importantly, felt any desire in return, he had never said. And while Liam was sorting out the shoelace mess, Kurt pulled on a shirt, so the distraction passed.

The morning was cool, with fog still gathering around the trees. While they ran, Kurt told Liam about a morning in 1914 outside of Ypres, when snow had fallen silently, covering fallen leaves and fallen soldiers alike. 

Liam had learned by now that Kurt did not feel the cold. It must have been obvious during a winter campaign, when Kurt’s fingers did not stiffen with frostbite, or his toes blister with trench foot. Sometimes, Kurt had told him, his fellow soldiers thought of him as an indestructible good luck charm. Sometimes they looked on the only member of their group to emerge from a battle unscathed and called him a demon. 

A countless number of Kurt’s stories ended with him holding a fellow soldier as he succumbed to injury and passed out of this world.

When they turned back onto Liam’s street, there was a blue car in Liam’s driveway that belonged to one of Liam’s students, Martina. She was standing beside the car, waving at them. Of course, she wasn’t there to see Liam.

When Liam got out of the shower fifteen minutes later, he was surprised to see Kurt in the kitchen alone, drinking the coffee that Liam kept on hand for him. Coffee and water were the only things Liam had ever seen Kurt eat or drink. “Martina didn’t stay?” Liam asked.

“No. She was just returning my jacket.” Kurt looked melancholy for a moment, a brief flash across his features before it faded back into his usual somewhat detached expression. “She met someone else. He’s moving in.”

Liam looked at him in shock. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

Kurt shook his head. “I’m happy for her. She’s about to graduate anyway, so we were going to break it off.”

Martina was not the first of Liam’s students that Kurt had dated. Kurt was very good about it, really. The students he chose were from the graduate program, so all in their mid-twenties or older, and they’d all known what Kurt was. They’d chosen to be a part of his life for a while, providing him with companionship, and, though they didn’t usually state it so plainly, with blood. 

“I don’t get attached,” Kurt said. “And I pick those who won’t get attached to me. I don’t have the patience for a line of angry exes. Better to be with those who will part as friends.”

“Have you ever been wrong?” Liam asked. He didn’t look at Kurt, carefully focusing on the toaster and butter dish.

“Accidentally broken someone’s heart, you mean?” Kurt asked. “Or lost my own?”

“Either.”

“Not in a long time.”

“Ah.” Liam buttered his toast with perhaps more force than was called for. 

“I investigated him, though. Martina’s new boyfriend. His name is Devon.”

“Investigated,” Liam repeated. He sat down at the table opposite Kurt, accepting the cup of coffee Kurt passed to him.

“He seems like a very nice man. And he loves her.”

“So you read his mind.”

“I can’t read minds.”

“I’m not sure I believe you.”

Kurt looked amused. “I know. But not because I read your mind. In any case, Martina is my friend. She’s under my protection. And so are you.”

This last part was said gently, but Liam caught its meaning as overtly as he was meant to. He let out a groan and pushed away what was left of his toast. “How long have you known?”

“Long enough. The letters are mailed from around the country, but I am almost certain the sender is local. He probably travels a lot, and also has other people mail the letters without knowing what’s in them.”

“That’s what the police think. They also think they’re not serious.”

Kurt seemed immensely unimpressed by this opinion. “So did you do something that some bastard holds a grudge for? Murder his wife? Steal his parking space? Or do you think it’s because you’re gay?”

Liam’s sexuality was not something that had come up in conversation before, so Liam was a bit startled to hear it accurately described. “I have no idea,” he said. “I certainly don’t recall murdering anyone.”

“I’ve looked over the letters. No fingerprints, and I can’t find anything distinctive about the printer he uses.” When Kurt got emotional, he wore it strangely, as if he could be both agitated and unaffected at the same time. Right now his green eyes were bright and his mouth tight. His fingers curled sharply around his coffee cup, blanching white where they gripped too hard. But the rest of his body was still relaxed in the chair, stretched into the sort of lazy pretzel shape that sore legs often took after a run. Liam sometimes wondered what Kurt would be like if he stopped trying so hard to seem human.

“They’re not serious,” Liam told him. 

“I’m not convinced of that. You really don’t have suspects?”

Liam shrugged. “Nobody in particular.”

“Ex-lovers?”

Liam focused on his coffee. “I haven’t had one of those for some time.”

“Family?”

“It’s just my sister and me, and we get along fine as long as she can pretend I’m not gay.”

Kurt’s fingers clenched around the coffee cup again. “This is a very intolerant period of history.”

Liam laughed, not unkindly. “It is all history to you, isn’t it? This is just another era to walk through. How odd to—”

“Stop trying to change the subject. Colleagues?”

“I’ve never had any problems. Anyway, the letters are all anti-university. Anti-technology. Unabomber-type stuff.”

“I’m not sure I trust the subject matter. Why send anti-technology missives to a history professor? It still feels personal to me. The one you got today talks about kidnapping you, Liam. That’s a very intimate threat.”

Liam groaned. “How the hell—”

“I read it while you were in the shower.” Kurt did look a little regretful, at least. “Look, I know you don’t like me being all— the way I am—”

“If I minded the vampire stuff, I’d never have agreed to work with you. What I object to is your being sneaky and intrusive on an entirely human level.”

Kurt seemed surprised, which was not a common look on him. He stared at Liam for a moment before saying, “Well, I object to being kept in the dark about your safety.”

“Kurt—”

They were interrupted by the ding noise that Liam’s computer made when he received an email. Normally Liam might ignore it, but at the moment, he welcomed the distraction. 

The email was from a colleague in Germany, and as Liam read it, he forgot all about their argument. “Kurt,” he said, in an entirely different tone than the one he’d just used. Kurt was behind him in an instant, moving with that silent speed he had. 

Liam traced his finger across the screen, aware that he wasn’t supposed to do that, but he hadn’t quite yet learned not to treat emails like they were pieces of paper. “Look at this. Someone found an arm bone with a flint arrowhead in the bank of the Tollense River in Germany. It’s not— it’s not a giant battle, not yet, just with one body, but it’s the right place, the right time. My colleague thinks this could be what we were looking for, and I think he’s right. Your earliest memory. Your origin. It could be Tollense.”

Kurt had knelt down so that he could read the screen more easily. When he turned his head it brought his mouth so very close to Liam’s. “You did it,” he said softly. “You found it.”

“Well, I didn’t find anything. Someone else—”

“But you put your neck on the line, theorizing about a battle in a time and place no one expected.”

“It’s not like I don’t have eye-witness evidence.”

“But no one knows that. You’ve endured a lot of controversy, trying to help me.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that. I care about—” Liam cut himself off before he could say it. 

Kurt seemed to hear it anyway, because he leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Liam’s.

It was a light kiss only for a few seconds, until Liam made an intensely hungry noise and Kurt responded to it, bringing his hands up around Liam’s face to hold him steady. Kurt deepened the kiss, sweeping into Liam’s open mouth with his tongue.

Liam had thought about a kiss like this, thorough and overwhelming, fantasized about it, wondered if it might happen someday because Kurt would read his mind and know how much Liam wanted it. But Liam was suddenly sure in that moment that Kurt could not read minds, or at least, that he’d left Liam’s to its secrets. If he had read it, he would have known not to kiss Liam. Because unlike the students Kurt sought out, Liam was already attached, far too much, to this utterly alien man who kissed with a technique undoubtedly honed over millennia, ranging from soft to strong all in a single lick of his tongue, instinctively knowing which parts of Liam’s mouth were most sensitive, and all with a kindness Liam had never before felt.

It was the kindness that made Liam put his hands up and push Kurt gently away. Liam didn’t want kindness at that moment, didn’t want Kurt offering this kiss out of gratitude or friendship, or because Kurt knew Liam was attracted to men and would probably enjoy it. Even because he was worried about Liam’s safety. Kurt was three thousand years old, and he’d no doubt live for many thousands of years after this. Liam’s lifespan was a drop of water in the river of Kurt’s life. Kurt had said it just this morning— he would never allow himself to get attached.

After the kiss broke, Kurt looked at Liam searchingly for a moment, and then moved away. 

“We should— we should visit Germany,” Liam managed to say. Kurt just nodded.

***

The battle of Tollense is a real thing! Here is the wikipedia and another article

 

4

1997 (One year later)

The convention center had been beautiful under the blue Minnesota sky when Liam had arrived, and it was still beautiful now with its windows backed by heavy showers of falling snow that threw diffuse, moving light onto the walls inside the conference room. Beautiful and alarming.

Liam’s university was located in Florida. Florida was quite nice in January, and besides, there were theme parks. Didn’t people always like theme parks? But instead, the conference was being held in Minnesota, and this was the final day. In an hour, Liam and his colleagues, other faculty of the history department, were supposed to start the twenty-some-hour drive home. 

“Could have been at Disney World,” Kurt remarked, startling Liam. Liam had been too busy watching the storm to realize Kurt had come up beside him.

“What on earth?” Liam asked, quite rightfully surprised, not by Kurt’s sudden unexpected presence, as he was used to that by now, but because Kurt was not a history professor, and therefore didn’t have a reason to be at the conference.

“Thought I’d drop in,” Kurt said. “See how things were going. Anyone interested in your research on Tollense?”

“Everyone. It’s very exciting.” Liam kept his voice low. “Am I talking to myself, or can everyone else see you?”

Kurt smiled at him. “I wouldn’t give you that kind of reputation. I’m visible.” Liam could see it was true, as Kurt’s good looks were attracting a few appreciative glances. “Are you ready to come home?” Kurt asked.

“Yes, we’re due to head out soon. Not that we’re really looking forward to it.”

“Well, your co-workers can head out whenever they like. I’m taking you home.”

“What?”

Kurt looked surprised by Liam’s surprise. “You’re from Florida. You have no idea what to do with snow. They’re pulling locals off the roads, Liam. I’m not letting you drive in this weather.”

“But you don’t even know how to dr— wait.” Liam felt a bit of a shiver crawl up his spine. “Oh, no. I’m not teleporting home.”

“I’ve been doing it for thousands of years. With humans. You know that. It’s perfectly safe.”

“No.”

Now a bit of hurt flashed over Kurt’s features, and like all his dark expressions, it was vaguely unsettling. “You don’t trust me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I just don’t want to teleport.”

“Why on earth not?”

Liam hated to lie to Kurt. Partly, it was because Liam was not entirely sure that Kurt couldn’t somehow tell that he was lying. Kurt claimed that he couldn’t read minds, but he was a vampire who could teleport himself from Florida to Minnesota, and Liam would not have been at all surprised to find that Kurt was aware of the snowstorm confronting Liam without having checked the weather.

But it was also true that Kurt was Liam’s best friend and it seemed wrong to lie to him. Except Liam couldn’t tell him the truth about this, because that wasn’t going to help anyone. It was better if Kurt didn’t know that Liam was in love with him, that for over a year now, Liam had been obsessed with the memory of Kurt kissing him, slow and sweet, and that the last thing Liam needed now was for Kurt to pull him close and show off his impressive supernatural abilities in a rescue. Kurt had made it clear that he never allowed himself to fall in love with humans that he met, and Liam had to be protective of his heart, already cracked and in danger of breaking.

“Look, if you are so dead-set on it, you can use your mind-control powers to convince me,” Liam joked, and immediately realized that was worse than lying, because Kurt flinched.

“If I do that,” Kurt said, in what sounded like a carefully controlled voice, “I will lose you anyway.”

“Wh— you’re not going to lose me. I’ll get a hotel, then. Drive home later.”

“I don’t want you driving to a hotel!” Kurt looked exasperated. “Liam, you are the most adventurous person I know. Why not this?”

“Oh, I’m hardly—”

“Yes, you are. You’re like an explorer, always hungry for something new and unusual. You’re brave, and not terribly cautious, which is bad for your driving habits, but it’s perfectly safe when it comes to me, because I am never going to let anything happen to you.” 

Kurt had stepped close, and Liam could tell how upset Kurt was because Kurt was losing his grip on the human appearance and mannerisms he tried to put on. Right now he looked sleek and strong and shadowy. He didn’t reach for Liam with his hands, but Liam could feel something surrounding him, like a faint cool mist. It felt oddly familiar, and Liam got the impression that the mist might actually always be there, a piece of Kurt holding onto him, and Liam had just never been consciously aware of it before.

And then everything suddenly snapped back into place: Kurt looked ordinary again, and Liam realized with a shock that a couple of his colleagues had approached them. 

“What do you think?” asked one of them. “We’re talking about getting a hotel.”

“I have a ride home,” Liam said faintly. Everyone looked at him in surprise, including Kurt. Few of Liam’s fellow faculty had met Kurt, partly by Kurt’s design, because he wasn’t terribly social, and partly by Liam’s. Liam was aware that his very close friendship with a very handsome man was likely to give him a certain other reputation, one that was quite deserved (though sadly not much practiced), but not very wise in the current political climate.

Nothing for it now. “Chris Mullens, Doris Sullivan, this is my friend Kurt, ah, Smith. He was in town for something else and is heading back to Florida today. He offered me a ride.”

“Is it safe?” Doris asked, looking concerned. 

“Kurt’s a very good driver. Got a— a car like a tank.”

Doris laid a hand on Liam’s shoulder, and to Liam’s surprise, Kurt seemed to bristle at that, almost literally, and the whole room seemed to go with him, the air around them feeling oddly sharp. Liam understood that Kurt was concerned that he’d change his mind and be convinced to travel with his colleagues, but it undoubtedly looked like something else from the outside— a sort of possessiveness.

“What a nice friend,” Chris said lightly, looking at Kurt in a way that Liam did not like at all, as if Kurt was not a person but a problem, not a good-looking man but a tempting trap. Liam’s personal belief was that men who were so vehemently opposed to homosexuality were probably terrified that they themselves might be vulnerable to such a “trap,” but it was better if that went unsaid.

Kurt rescued him, of course. “Yes, Liam and I have been friends for a while. I used to date one of his students, Martina.”

Chris’s face cleared a bit, losing some of its distaste. He had apparently not heard of bisexuality, or whatever word might describe Kurt. “Oh. Sure.”

“Ready to go?” Kurt asked Liam. He barely waited for an answer before steering Liam out of the room. They walked down an empty hallway where the storm winds were pushing hard enough to make the windows shift in their frames. Kurt spoke in a gentle voice. “Give it a few years. The world is becoming more tolerant again. Humans keep discovering their natures over and over.”

“This must all be very trite to you.”

“Not in the least.” Kurt’s eyes were sharp on him. “Do you think Chris is the one sending you those threatening letters?”

Liam scoffed. “He barely knows how to tie his shoes. Worse than even the typical history professor.”

Kurt looked unconvinced. “I’ll keep an eye on him all the same.” He held out a hand to Liam. “Let’s go home.”

Liam looked down at Kurt’s hand. A pale blue vein ran delicately along his wrist, and Liam wondered what flowed there, if anything. “What about my luggage?”

“I already picked it up from Dr. Sullivan’s car. It’s at your place.”

“You’re awfully confident that I’d say yes to this.”

Kurt sighed, exasperated. “I can’t believe you haven’t asked me sooner. I thought I’d be taking you to the Louvre every weekend. Or Rome. At least Antietam.”

Liam laughed. “I should have.”

Kurt smiled, looking at ease for the first time since he’d arrived. “You should.” 

“Next weekend then.” Liam finally took Kurt’s hand, and their fingers fit together easily. As always, Kurt was slightly cool to the touch.

The convention center faded away into a sort of bland white light. Liam felt like he was floating, but still with his feet planted on the ground. He looked down and found his own office floor beneath his shoes.

“Stay still a moment,” Kurt warned. “People can get dizzy when they’re not used to it.” He dropped Liam’s grasp and put a steadying hand on his arm instead. And now was the moment Liam had dreaded: Kurt was so close, so strong, and so hauntingly strange.

“We must seem so very fragile to you,” Liam said.

“You are fragile.” There was a harsh coldness in Kurt’s voice.

“So how did you learn to do that? To teleport?”

Kurt shrugged. “Just always could.”

“Always?” Liam frowned. “I thought a vampire’s abilities were based on age.”

“They are.”

“But if you’ve been doing it as long as you can remember— since at least Tollense— doesn’t it follow then that your origins would have to be a great deal older than that?” 

Kurt narrowed his eyes, considering. 

“Or else,” Liam said, “maybe you’re not a vampire.”

“I drink blood.”

“A lot of creatures— uh, beings— are said to drink blood. I’m sorry, it must be so frustrating not to be able to remember.”

Kurt looked at him with a sort of gratitude, but then he turned away, toward the door. A second later, there was a knock, and Kurt finally let go of Liam’s arm.

It was one of Liam’s graduate students at the door, Jonah. “Hey,” he said. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything. Just have a couple of questions. I thought I heard you talking. Do you have company?”

Most of the students never met Kurt either, despite the fact that he was around quite a bit. Liam had learned by now that Kurt only appeared to those students he thought he might start a relationship with. Kurt had been alone since Martina had graduated, and Liam assumed it would only be a matter of time before he picked another student, someone to provide him with blood and share his bed. In between lovers, Kurt drank blood from animals, but he had told Liam that it was much better to have a human source. Kurt chose those people whom he thought would be open to the idea of a finite relationship with a vampire, those who wouldn’t be afraid of him but also wouldn’t want to stay with him indefinitely. Because Kurt never got attached.

“Let’s find out,” Liam said, and opened the door wider. His heart sank immediately when he saw that Jonah could see Kurt standing by the desk. Liam thought back for a moment to Kurt’s reaction when Doris put her hand on Liam’s arm. But Kurt wouldn’t get jealous, of course. 

Liam definitely was.