by Dannye Chase
You can read and comment on Tollense on Ao3
Content warning: non-graphic descriptions of blood, injury, surgery, death, dead bodies, and war. Light mentions of homophobia
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Part 1: 1993-2003
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.
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?”
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
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?”
“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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
Liam focused on his coffee. “I haven’t had one of those for some time.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
1999 (Two years later)
The second inhuman creature Liam met was named Bennett, and Liam liked him about as much as he liked sand in his socks. Bennett was tall and thin, with a pretty face and a predatory look in his eyes that completely spoiled it.
Liam was walking across campus on an unseasonably cold night (for Florida) and now that he’d come upon a vampire, he was glad for the light scarf he’d wound around his neck. Bennett fell into step with Liam as if they were old friends. “Looking for Kurt,” he said. “Heard around town that you know him.”
“Sorry, I can’t help you.”
Bennett peered at him more intensely, and when Liam recoiled a little, Bennett grinned. “Guess you’ve spent enough time with him to know what I am. So, uh— how good of friends are you? Cause I should tell you I really picked you out by the fact that I can smell him on you.”
Liam decided he was not going to think too hard about that one. “Was there something you needed?”
“Just want to catch up with him. Been a while.”
“Well, I’m sure he knows you’re here.”
Bennett looked confused. “How would he know that?”
“I have no idea how he does it. In any case, if he wants to see you—”
Kurt’s voice cut in, startling Bennett. “I don’t, particularly. But neither do I wish Liam to have to deal with this.”
Kurt was ahead of them on the sidewalk, a shadowed shape sitting on a half-wall by the library. Liam recognized him easily by the fact that it was difficult to decide exactly how large of a person was sitting there in the dark, as the outline of him seemed to shift restlessly. Kurt’s voice fell low, and almost seemed to ripple the air around them. “Get away from him.”
Bennett took several steps back, and Liam wasn’t sure whether Kurt had used his mental powers to compel him into moving, or if he’d just scared the man badly enough. Kurt stood up off of the wall and stepped in between Liam and Bennett. “What do you want?” he asked.
Bennett was cringing. “Look, man— if you can just give me a drop. I’m in trouble, pissed off some guys. I’ll pay you. Anything. I can get you whatever you—” Bennett’s voice trailed off and his eyes grew wide, terror growing on his face. Abruptly he turned and ran, disappearing into the dark.
When Kurt turned back to Liam, he looked completely normal. For Kurt, anyway. So only a tiny bit terrifying, if you looked closely enough around the eyes.
“A drop of what?” Liam asked. He started heading for home again, and Kurt joined him, watching Liam intently, assessing him. Liam didn’t comment on it. He’d learned that protests of his well-being were useless when Kurt was worried about him, that Kurt would perform his own examination and be satisfied only with that.
“My blood,” Kurt said finally, when his analysis had apparently ended. “A drop of it can heal humans’ wounds, and although I’ve never tried it on a vampire, I imagine it would make them stronger. They sometimes come asking for it. I’ve just never found one who wanted it for a good reason.”
Liam was not in the habit of asking Kurt a lot of questions, largely because it was more comfortable sometimes not to know an answer, and Kurt seemed to make a practice of telling Liam the truth. Liam decided to ask anyway. “So, how did you know I’d met your, ah, friend there?”
“I know what happens to you,” Kurt said.
Liam watched him for a second, doing his own assessment. “You know I’m going to accuse you of mind reading.”
Kurt turned and met his eyes, an odd expression on his face that looked a little like bewilderment and a little like a reluctant confession. “I don’t need to. I just know. Listen, Liam, are you busy tonight?”
“You don’t have plans with Jonah?”
“No, he’s out with friends.”
“Ah. Did you get a chance to—”
“I’ll eat when he gets home, if he’s up for it.” Kurt was looking at him curiously, probably because Liam didn’t usually call attention to the fact that Kurt’s lovers provided him with blood. “Do you want to head to Tollense?” Kurt asked. “It’s midnight in Germany. Site should be deserted.”
“Are you remembering something about your origins?” Liam asked.
“I’m not sure.”
Liam nodded and Kurt slipped a hand under his elbow. Their next step brought them down into a darkened river valley. The grass would be green in the sunlight, but under the stars it ran gray and then faded to black in the distance. The Tollense River was more of a sound than a sight right now, the pleasant noises of gently moving water emerging from a dark void.
It was actually warmer in Germany that night than Florida, and Liam unwound his scarf. He sat on the grass and looked up at the clear night sky.
“I think there was a bridge,” Kurt said.
“Makes sense,” Liam told him. “A bridge is a natural place for a battle. People would want to be in control of movement through a strategic point.” Liam tried to imagine the valley as it had looked three thousand years earlier, during a large-scale Bronze Age battle that historians had once thought impossible in this sparsely populated area. Kurt had been here then, young and vulnerable and a great many other things that he would never again be.
“I’m pretty sure I was on a boat under the bridge,” Kurt said. “I remember people falling, and some of them landed in it.” Kurt dropped onto the grass beside Liam. “And I was still looking for that same person that I can’t remember.”
“That’s not bad for three thousand years ago,” Liam said.
“I don’t remember dying,” Kurt said. “You’d think that would be a memorable event.”
“Are you sure you did?” Liam asked.
Kurt looked pensive, and Liam wanted to tell him that he could let go of all of it, the human mask that he tried so hard to keep on, that it wouldn’t frighten Liam to see him as he really was. But Liam wasn’t entirely sure that was true, and he was certain that it would break Kurt’s heart to think Liam was afraid of him.
“You still think I’m not a vampire,” Kurt said.
“Maybe. I mean, yes, you drink blood, but your powers are different, your blood is different, and if you never died—”
“I have the scars from the arrows in my chest. At some point, I must have been vulnerable to weapons.”
“Well, you were human. And now you’ve— changed.”
“There’s something else,” Kurt said. “It’s happened on our last three trips here.” He pointed, and Liam looked, but all he could see was the occasional glint of starlight reflected in the river. “There’s a dog,” Kurt said.
That was not what Liam had been expecting. “A dog.”
“Yeah. A large white dog. I thought he was real until I realized you don’t see him. And also, he’s got six eyes. I couldn’t see him well enough at first to notice that, but he comes closer now.”
Liam fought a little shiver. Surely with Kurt by his side he was in no danger from a spectral dog. And anyway, if Kurt thought there was danger, he’d have Liam nowhere near it.
“Six eyes,” Liam mused. “You know, in Proto-Indo-European mythology, there was sometimes said to be a three-headed dog guarding the underworld.”
“He’s just got the one head.”
“Yes, but he’s got enough eyes for three.”
“I suppose so.” Kurt sounded amused. “But why would a dog from the Underworld be appearing to me?”
“I’ll do some research.” Liam lay back on the grass, alone in a field at night with the first inhuman creature he’d met, and this one was not pathetic and frightened but incredibly dangerous and also quite sweet. Liam decided he’d like to ask another question. “Does it hurt? When you drink blood from someone?”
“No. Well, yes, but I convince them it doesn’t.” Kurt lay down too, but on his side, looking at Liam. “Actually— I usually make it feel nice.”
Liam turned to look at him. Kurt’s eyes were glowing faintly in the dark. “Oh. You mean— nice.”
“Listen, Liam— you and I—” Kurt frowned, almost seeming nervous, which was not a common look for him. “When I drink blood from someone, we form a connection. Something that ties them to me, lets me know if they’re all right or in trouble. I’ve wanted that with you, for a long time. Because we’re— we’re close. But the thing is, it’s been happening anyway.”
Kurt was losing his human disguise a bit. His shape in the darkness was shifting about again. “I know where you are, and what’s happening to you. I know if you’re sick, if you’re hungry. I know when you get those damned threatening letters because they scare you.”
“Why?” Liam whispered.
“I don’t know.” Kurt looked honestly confused. “But you and I already share a greater intimacy than I’ve shared with anyone in a very long time. If I drank from you— we’d be even closer. Is that something that you would want?”
Kurt was assessing him again. “You’re scared.”
“Not of you.”
“If we do this— whatever you’re scared of might not remain your secret.”
Liam felt a little wetness in his eyes. “I don’t think it’s a secret now.”
Kurt lay there looking at him for another moment, and then he sat up. Liam started to sit up as well, but Kurt put a gentle hand on his shoulder and Liam lay back down. Kurt’s hand trailed down his arm to grasp his wrist, holding him loosely, as if Kurt wanted him to have a last chance to pull away.
Liam did not pull away, and Kurt raised Liam’s wrist to his mouth. The bite was painless. To Liam it felt like a kiss, the soft, warm press of Kurt’s lips against his skin, and there was only a sort of odd lightheadedness that made him realize he was losing blood.
After a moment, Kurt raised his head, and there was a touch of color to his lips, a sort of stain in the darkness. “Do you want the full show?” he asked.
“Seems a shame to miss out,” Liam answered.
Kurt lowered his head again, but this time instead of biting, he licked at what blood had welled up on Liam’s wrist, and Liam felt it as if Kurt had licked his cock instead. He found himself floating in a sort of sexual daze, where every movement of Kurt’s lips or tongue brought him further into bliss. He felt the bite this time, and it was the perfect sting of pain to make the pleasure seem even sweeter.
Liam moaned, and he heard Kurt make some sort of light growling noise in return. Liam was pleasantly surprised to feel Kurt’s hand on the zipper of his pants, adeptly removing the barrier and letting Liam’s aching cock stand free in the night air. Kurt trailed a fingertip down, from the head to the base, and Liam groaned in ecstasy. When Kurt wrapped his fingers around him, Liam bucked up into his hand.
The night and the stars seemed to fade away and there was only Kurt, his mouth on Liam’s wrist, his hand on Liam’s cock. Liam felt dizzy and entranced, his body and mind not his own. He was going to come, he could tell that, in Kurt’s beautiful hand, while Kurt drank his blood and gave him this pleasure as reward.
While Kurt sat unaffected above him.
It ended before Liam could really understand what a bleak thought that was, that he was alone in this feeling, not wrapped in his lover’s arms. He felt Kurt’s hand move away from his cock, and his mouth from his wrist. The bliss gently ebbed away, letting Liam settle back into himself as he lay there on the grass. And yet Kurt was not gone. Liam could feel him inside, close and warm. Not in a sexual way, not anymore. But there was the realization that Kurt had felt Liam’s moment of reluctance and responded to it, maybe not understanding why it was there, but accepting it nonetheless.
Kurt lay down again, so that he could look into Liam’s eyes. He still had hold of Liam’s hand, and he’d laced their fingers together.
“Wow,” Liam said.
Kurt smiled, looking both pleased and sad. Or maybe Liam could tell that Kurt was feeling both pleased and sad. Liam, for his part, felt dizzy and a little cold, and Kurt pulled him close, resting Liam’s head against his shoulder. Liam fell asleep that way, on a battlefield three thousand years old, in the arms of a man who might have died there or perhaps could never die at all.
2003 (Four years later)
When Liam brought in his mail that afternoon, he didn’t realize what a dangerous act it was. He should have, he supposed. He’d been getting threatening letters now for over ten years, since before he’d met Kurt. Their postmarks varied and there were no fingerprints. The police couldn’t figure out who was sending them, and neither could Kurt, who’d started investigating as soon as he’d learned of them.
Liam assumed that either he’d done something in his past to offend someone, or that he was a random victim of someone targeting a university with anti-academic talk. The letters said clearly, I will kill you, but Liam had long since stopped believing that it was an actual threat.
But it wasn’t that the letters didn’t upset Liam, and ironically, it was good that they did, because Liam’s reaction to the letter in the mail that day alerted Kurt. Four years ago, on a beautiful night in Germany, Kurt had drunk blood from Liam’s wrist. They’d been close before that, but sharing blood had given Kurt an even greater insight into Liam’s feelings. Kurt knew when Liam was unhappy or frightened, so when Liam found the letter with the typed address, knowing what it likely was, Kurt abruptly appeared beside him, in time to pluck the envelope from Liam’s hand.
“I’ve told you to let me open these,” Kurt scolded mildly.
Liam leaned back against his kitchen counter, and waved a hand in unsolicited permission. “By all means.”
Kurt was frowning, but otherwise he wasn’t too upset. Liam could tell because despite the fact that Kurt had just teleported into Liam’s kitchen, he looked more or less human. He must have been outside somewhere because his dark hair was a bit wind-blown. Liam wished that they had the kind of relationship where Liam could run his fingers through it to settle it down.
Kurt read the letter quietly and then tossed it onto the table in disgust. “The usual,” he said. “When I figure out who’s sending these—”
“They’re harmless,” Liam said, which on that particular day was highly ironic, but they didn’t know it yet.
“They scare you. That’s harm enough.” Kurt reached for the rest of the mail that Liam had set on his table, sorting through it quickly, apparently approving of it. He came to the package last. “What’s this?”
“I ordered some books.”
Kurt shot him a look of amused exasperation. “You have no room for more books. You’re going to have to buy a second house.”
“I’ll find a place for them. Maybe I could take out a wall— what is it?”
Kurt held the package in his hands. “This is awfully light for books.”
That was the last thing Liam remembered until he felt Kurt’s hand on his cheek. Kurt’s fingers were always cold, and the feeling drew Liam back toward consciousness. Kurt had one hand cradling his face, while another finger traced a slow line down from the top of Liam’s forehead to a spot between his eyes.
Liam realized that Kurt was saying something. “That’s right. Focus on me.”
Kurt’s finger traced its downward path again, and Liam felt himself growing more aware of his surroundings, but mostly more aware of Kurt, who was holding his gaze in an inescapable, hypnotic way. Liam could smell smoke and something charred, but he felt no fear, not even of Kurt, who seemed something entirely other than human at the moment. Something very large, because he’d have to be large to hold all the emotions that Liam could feel filling the room, wafting around like clouds. Some were dark and some very light, and they were all Kurt and Liam, mixed up together.
“There you are, my love,” Kurt said softly. “Just like that. Focus on me.”
Liam moved a little, shifting on the kitchen floor, but Kurt put a hand on his shoulder. “Stay still. Let me look at you.” His finger retraced its path down Liam’s forehead, which had the effect of recentering Liam’s attention on Kurt’s bright green eyes.
After another minute, Kurt moved back and released him. “You’re all right,” he said heavily. “No internal injuries. No concussion. Just three fairly minor lacerations to the left leg, and I’ve taken away the pain from those. I shouldn’t have let you stand so close.”
Liam blinked a couple of times as he realized that now that he could see past Kurt’s eyes, Kurt looked very different, but not at all in a mesmerizing, inhuman way. “You’re hurt,” Liam gasped.
Kurt stepped out of reach before Liam could grab him. “You have to be careful with my blood,” he warned. “Don’t get it in your mouth or the cuts on your leg. You don’t— you don’t need it right now.”
Kurt appeared to have taken the brunt of what must have been a package bomb. Liam’s kitchen table had a blast mark on it, and the chairs had all been knocked over. Bits of paper drifted lazily through the hazy air. Kurt was actually far more damaged than the kitchen, with a large wound on his shoulder. But the wound was not bleeding, and Liam realized that though Kurt’s clothing was shot through with holes, some of them bloodstained, the skin underneath was unmarked.
Kurt turned a chair right side up, and dropped into it wearily. “Ow,” he said, sounding as if he might be irritated by a paper cut.
“Are you okay?” Liam demanded.
Kurt waved a dismissive hand. “Been blown up before. There was a grenade at the Somme, for one. Not a pleasant afternoon.”
“But you— you won’t—”
“I’m fine,” Kurt assured him. “But if I’m going to convince the police that I wasn’t injured, I’ll need to eat something. I’m not quite strong enough for group mind control right now.”
“Well, I’m right here,” Liam said hastily, starting to climb to his feet. “Already bleeding too.”
“Sit down,” Kurt instructed in a sharp voice, and Liam was so startled that he obeyed. “You’re injured.”
“Only mildly. You said.”
Liam tried not to be too disappointed. “Well— Fern then.” Fern was Kurt’s new love interest, and, as usual, was one of Liam’s history graduate students. She was doing her dissertation on World War Two. Kurt always showed enough of his non-human nature to his romantic interests for them to guess what he was before they became his lovers (and a source of blood). So Fern now had the advantage of dating a man who had fought in World War Two and many wars before that.
“Yeah. I called her,” Kurt said. And it wasn’t long before Liam heard someone come in his front door and make their way toward the kitchen.
“Oh my god,” Fern exclaimed, her eyes wide. “What happened? I had the weirdest feeling that I needed to get here right away.” Apparently, Liam realized, when Kurt said he’d called her, he hadn’t meant on the phone.
“Package bomb,” Kurt said.
Liam nearly spoke over him. “Kurt’s injured. He needs blood.”
Fern’s eyes widened even more. “All right. I’ll call 911.”
Liam gave Kurt a confused look. “Oh. I thought you always told them about you before you became lovers.” He realized his misstep when Fern froze on her way to the telephone.
Kurt pressed his lips together, and Liam couldn’t tell if he was fighting a smile or a frown. “You’re getting a little ahead of me there.”
“Oh,” Liam said. “Sorry. How embarrassing.” He looked up at Fern. “It’s okay, Kurt can’t be killed. Or he might actually be already dead.”
Kurt had opened his mouth to say something but now it just hung open.
“I’m sorry,” Liam said. “I’m not good at this.”
Fern did look like she was a little more concerned about Liam than Kurt, but she turned to Kurt, taking in his appearance. The wound on his shoulder was now nothing more than a dark purple bruise. Liam wondered how bad the injuries had been before Liam had seen them.
“Are you a vampire, then?” Fern asked. “That was number two on my list.”
“What was number one?” Kurt asked.
“Street magician who desperately wanted to look like a vampire.”
Kurt laughed, sounding delighted. “I don’t know that I’ve had that one before.”
“You need blood?” Fern asked. She put a hand on Kurt’s uninjured shoulder.
He focused his green eyes on her, with no hint of hypnosis now. “I do. But you’re not my only option. I will be fine even if you say no.”
Fern shook her head. “I’m happy to.”
Kurt nodded. “Liam, we’ll be right back. You just rest. Then we’ll get the police here and figure out who did this to you.”
Liam let his head fall back against his cupboard as Kurt and Fern disappeared. He felt oddly calm, and wondered if that was still Kurt’s influence. Even knowing that Kurt was off with someone else, drinking blood from them instead of Liam, didn’t bother him as much as it usually did. Kurt cared for him. Liam had known it, but right now he could feel it, and he thought Kurt could probably feel it back.
Part 2: 2021
(18 years later)
Liam was in his office chair and Kurt was half-sitting on the corner of the desk. Allie, one of Liam’s grad students, was looking between the two of them with a smirk on her face. “Do you know that you two laugh together without saying anything first?”
“Mind reading,” Liam said, at the same time that Kurt said, “Don’t say mind reading.”
“Yeah, you also do that,” Allie said. She was Kurt’s current lover and source of blood. “So how long have you two been together?”
Liam decided to ignore the phrasing. “We’ve known each other twenty-eight years now. A long time. For me, anyway.”
In that time, Liam and Kurt had developed a deep, abiding friendship that had become the main relationship of Liam’s life. And Liam had come to the conclusion that this was probably how things were meant to be. He and Kurt were not lovers. They’d nearly been lovers once or twice, but Liam had been reluctant because Kurt had told him that he never allowed himself to become attached to the humans he knew. His grad student lovers were usually with him a mere two years at most, and while twenty-eight years was a long time to Liam, Kurt was over three thousand years old. In another thousand years, Kurt probably wouldn’t remember Liam at all.
And Kurt was reluctant too. Because they were so close, Liam could sometimes get a sense of Kurt’s emotions, and whenever the subject came up— an accidental brush of hands, a weighted pause in a conversation, other people assuming they were a romantic couple— Liam could sense a hesitation in Kurt to let it go any farther. Liam wasn’t sure what Kurt’s reasons were, but he knew he had to respect them.
And besides, it had been twenty-eight years. Liam was no longer a young assistant professor, but one of the older ones in the department. He was 55, and Kurt appeared to be in his thirties. Liam had put on a little weight over the years, lost a little hair, and the truth was, he’d never been terribly attractive to start with. If Kurt had ever had real romantic interest in Liam, it had probably faded by now.
Liam, of course, was hopelessly in love. But he knew in his heart that things had ended between them already. They’d shared a kiss many years ago, and Kurt had once drunk blood from Liam’s wrist, but Liam understood that neither of those things was ever going to happen again.
Allie had to go to a study session, and Kurt walked her there. Liam went home, and when he got there, Kurt appeared in a chair at his kitchen table. The table was new and the kitchen had been redone after the package bomb 18 years ago, but Liam could still see slight marks of smoke on the ceiling. They’d never found out who was responsible, but at least it had been the last letter or package Liam had received from whoever was harassing him.
“Did you know that they think you’re the weird one?” Kurt asked, as Liam kicked off his shoes.
“Who’s they, and what do you mean, weird?”
“Faculty and students. Allie was just telling me. Because you are rumored to be able to disappear and reappear, not just here, but around the world. Tollense, especially. And Antietam lately, where you were doing your other research.”
“That’s all your doing,” Liam said.
Kurt was smiling. “But they don’t know I exist. So you’re the weird one.”
“I’m glad this amuses you so much.” Liam sat down at the table and picked up the cup of coffee Kurt had made him. “You might be an elf,” he said.
“Elf,” Kurt repeated. “I liked draugr better.”
“Draugrs are bloated corpses. Elves possess an, ah, otherworldly beauty.”
Kurt turned his head away, but Liam could see he was smiling. “Still going through Germanic mythology, then?”
“And Proto-Indo-European. The dog’s mentioned in there, the one you see when we go to Tollense, the one with six eyes. That kind of dog guards the entrance to the Underworld, which is located on the bank of a river.”
“I can see the dog, but no other world.”
Liam sighed. “You know, I’m not sure we’ll ever figure out exactly what you are. You seem so different from other vampires, but that could still just be age.”
“I don’t think it matters,” Kurt said.
Liam hated to hear the sadness in his voice, and he knew its source. “You only want to find out about the person you lost. The one you can’t remember.”
Visits to Tollense over the years had stimulated Kurt’s memory enough to help the site’s research, although no one but Liam knew of the existence of a living witness. The bridge Kurt had remembered was discovered in 2013.
Liam had spent his career studying battles, and Tollense, while surprising everyone with its numbers and organization in a sparsely populated area, was turning out to be no different from so many other conflicts throughout history. People fought then, as they did now, over money and territory, cultural differences, and emotional things like honor and faith.
The world knew about Tollense because archaeologists had discovered the skeletons of young men struck down in battle, body after body, seeming never to end. It was like that anytime people studied war: you could remap the battles and recreate the weapons, but the story was really told in lost lives.
“You’ll remember eventually,” Liam said, hoping to offer consolation. “It might take you another few thousand years, but the science will improve, and I’m sure you’ll have other historians to help you when I’m gone.”
Kurt did not seem terribly consoled, looking out the window and frowning to himself.
Liam heard the mail truck, and walked out to the mailbox. He was flipping through the letters on his way back down the driveway when he saw it: a plain white envelope with a typed address and a postmark from a city where Liam knew no one.
“It can’t be,” Liam said to Kurt, who’d instantly materialized beside him on the driveway, no doubt alerted by Liam’s feeling of shock. Kurt seized Liam’s arm and hurried him into the house. “It’s been 18 years,” Liam protested.
Kurt ignored him, slitting the envelope with a knife and using a cloth to pull out the letter. There had never been fingerprints on the threatening letters before, though, so Liam wasn’t hopeful.
“It’s him,” Kurt said. “It’s started again.”
Liam knew what that meant— the letter spouted anti-academic nonsense that might or might not have been sincere, along with a threat to kill him. But Liam didn’t answer. He was a little busy noticing the changes that were coming over his house. The kitchen was growing darker, as if they were outside and a cloud had passed over the sun. The air felt somehow heavier in a way that reminded Liam of being under water. “Kurt,” he said.
Kurt looked up at him, and he was different too, not that Liam expected otherwise. Kurt tried hard most of the time to seem human, and it was that exactly that had convinced Liam long before that Kurt was definitely not. He wasn’t doing a very good job of masking it now. His green eyes were too bright, and Liam was sure that if the kitchen got much darker, he’d be able to see them glowing. Kurt was also somehow larger than Liam had ever seen him— a little too tall, too broad, too solid.
“I should have found him,” Kurt said, in a voice that sounded oddly amplified, like it was coming from multiple places at once.
“You tried. You and the police. It’s not your fault. And he stopped, after the bomb.”
“I’m going to look again,” Kurt said. “Starting with this postmark in Pennsylvania. Either he was there or he got someone to mail it for him.”
“And while I’m gone, I want you somewhere else. Anywhere but here.”
“Kurt, no. I’m not going to rearrange my life because this idiot—” Liam couldn’t finish the sentence because he was suddenly pressed between Kurt and a wall. Kurt’s hands on his arms weren’t really hands anymore, but clawed things, and the whole house had been plunged into semi-darkness.
Kurt’s face still looked mostly human, and Liam thought that might only be because Kurt wanted to be able to talk. “Do you understand,” he said slowly, “that your life is the flash of a match to me? I will not allow it to be blown out prematurely.”
“It’s my life. I won’t live it in fear. Not of him or of you.”
“You’re not scared of me,” Kurt said, sounding far more gentle. He was right, of course. Even in the darkness of Kurt’s anger and fear, Liam wasn’t being threatened.
“I won’t open any packages,” Liam said. “Or letters from him. We’ll get the police involved—”
Kurt let go of him and stalked off a few paces. The air seemed to ripple around him as he moved. “That’s not enough. He obviously knows this address, he could just walk in here, and—”
“Well, I’m not going into hiding.”
Kurt made a growling noise loud enough to ruffle the pages of a few open books on Liam’s desk. “I could force you. Compel you.” Kurt ran a clawed hand through his hair. “I should just give you my blood. Enough to make you indestructible. Should have done it ages ago.”
Liam was shocked to find himself walking forward until Kurt was close enough to grab his arm. Liam hadn’t meant to walk forward, hadn’t done it of his own will. “Kurt!” he exclaimed.
Kurt slowly slid claws into Liam’s hair until he was cupping the back of Liam’s head, holding him steady. He definitely was taller than usual, and Liam felt very small.
Kurt didn’t look predatory, though. He looked lost, his eyes traveling over Liam’s face with a startling anguish.
“I should,” he whispered. “There’d be enough time after for you to forgive me.”
“But would you forgive yourself?” Liam asked.
“No.” But Kurt didn’t let go of him. Instead his gaze fixed on Liam’s mouth, and Liam was suddenly certain that Kurt was going to kiss him, and that when he did, it was only going to be the beginning of it. It was like everything that had passed between them so many years ago, their near-misses at romance, had just lain quietly in shadow, unseen but alive. Liam felt his heart pounding, not with fear, but longing.
But Kurt didn’t kiss him. With another growl, he released Liam. “Be careful,” he said, in a rough voice, and then he disappeared. The darkness and heaviness went with him, leaving Liam’s house feeling light again, but also incredibly empty.
Liam didn’t see Kurt for a week, but he felt him close by. He could also feel Kurt’s anger, regret, and fear, all of which Liam was feeling himself as well. And then one evening Kurt appeared at the kitchen table as if nothing had changed.
“I’m not good at this,” Kurt said. “The police work, tracking people down. I’m good with a threat, not the— threat of a threat.”
“It’s all right,” Liam said, around a bite of spaghetti.
“I’m sorry. I should never have—”
“I’m not scared of you, and you know it.”
Kurt looked a little relieved then. It was early evening and the setting sun cast pink light into Liam’s kitchen. Kurt was normally a little pale and washed out, and the warm light made him look beautiful in a bright, vibrant way. They talked of Liam’s latest research on Antietam until Kurt suddenly went quiet in the middle of a sentence.
“What’s wrong?” Liam asked. “Is it Allie?” Allie was Kurt’s current lover, and Liam knew Kurt had drunk enough of her blood to feel when she was in trouble.
“Martina? Really?” She had been the first of the graduate students that Kurt took as lovers. “How long has it been since you’ve even seen her?”
“Twenty-five years,” Kurt said. “Telephone.”
A second later Liam’s cell phone rang and he passed it to Kurt. Liam listened to half of the conversation, feeling his heart sink as he heard Kurt ask questions about a hospital.
When Kurt hung up, he extended a hand to Liam. “Will you come with me?”
“Of course. Where are we going?”
When a parking lot materialized around them, Kurt pointed up to the logo of a hospital shining in the growing darkness. It read Mercy in red letters. “Tennessee,” Kurt said. They were joined a moment later by Martina. She looked largely the same to Liam, dark curly hair and glasses, but older, and now with red eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
“You haven’t changed,” she said to Kurt, as she threw her arms around him. “I suppose you wouldn’t, would you? Oh, God, thank you. I knew you would come.” She hugged Liam as well, and they got the story there in the parking lot. Martina’s youngest daughter, Katy, who had just turned 18, had been injured in a car crash with a distracted driver. She was not expected to survive.
Kurt wiped tears from Martina’s face. “Does anyone else know you called me?”
“No. My husband, Devon, met you once, so he knows about you. He just doesn’t know about you. I’ll tell him, after.”
“Okay. Go and wait with him and I’ll come see you when I’m done.”
Kurt put a hand on Liam’s arm. “This is going to be weird. More than usual. You don’t have to come.”
“Whatever it takes,” Liam said. “I don’t mind.”
Kurt gave him a sort of wary smile. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
No one noticed them walk into the hospital. At first, this didn’t seem too strange to Liam. The place was busy and they weren’t in need of medical attention. But then he started to realize that people were literally not seeing them.
Still, this wasn’t the first time that Liam had been made invisible. Kurt had done it a few times to conceal their presence at Tollense from passers-by, as professors from Florida weren’t supposed to be able to pop in and out of Germany whenever they pleased. But it had never been this many people.
Kurt walked up to the information desk and the woman there looked up from her computer. She seemed to see Kurt quite well. “Katy James,” Kurt said, and rather than ask Kurt who he was, or what right he had to the information, she simply looked at her computer, and said, “OR 3. Second floor.”
“Is she going to remember that?” Liam asked.
“You’re right, that was weird.”
“Oh, we’ve barely started.”
They went into a closet near the operating room and put on gloves and masks, and then Kurt opened the door and they walked right into surgery. No one even looked up. And that was when it really did get weird.
The noise in the room abruptly ceased as everyone stopped talking. There was only the beeping of machines and the hiss of a ventilator. No one in the room moved at all, as if they’d been frozen. Kurt walked up to the woman who seemed to be the head surgeon.
“Is this Katy James?” he asked.
The surgeon turned to look at him. “Yes.”
“What are her injuries?”
“Massive damage to multiple internal organs, head trauma, and a few broken bones.”
“Will she live?”
Kurt nodded. “All right. Clean scalpel, please.”
One of the surgical techs handed him one, and Kurt stepped up to the table. He pressed the scalpel against his arm until a tiny cut was made, enough for a drop of blood to push through. Kurt held out his arm and let the drop fall into an open wound of the woman on the table. By the time he’d moved back, the cut on his arm had sealed itself already.
“One drop?” Liam asked.
“I’m not sure she would want to live forever,” Kurt said. He smiled like it was funny, but Liam wasn’t fooled.
They stood quietly, in a room of frozen people, listening to the machines change their sounds. The heart monitor perked up first, and then other alarms turned themselves off. The room felt smaller, warmer, and quieter, as if a window had been open to street noise, and someone had closed it.
“Back up and take your tools with you,” Kurt said, and the people obeyed him. “Better take the ventilator out.”
It was like that for a few minutes, the surgical personnel gathering their instruments and moving out of the way as Katy’s body healed itself there on the table. At one point she stirred, and Kurt put a hand on her forehead until she settled back into unconsciousness. When it was over, there was a young woman on the table who looked completely whole. Liam felt tears in his eyes and wiped them away on his sleeve.
“Now,” Kurt said, “comes the hard part. Liam, I’m going to get a little tired.”
“You’re already tired,” Liam pointed out, moving so that Kurt could lean on him.
“More tired,” Kurt said. “All right, here goes. All of you, listen. This has been a training exercise, not a real surgery. You know that you’ve learned a lot from this experience, but you won’t feel like discussing it in the future. And I’ll do my best to make sure no one else has noticed.”
“The entire hospital?” Liam asked, shocked.
“I’ll do my best,” Kurt said. “Now who knows where Katy’s X-rays and test results are?”
A couple of the techs raised their hands, and Kurt pointed to one of them. “Go and delete them.” The tech immediately took his gown off and started for the door.
They found Martina in the surgical waiting room. No one else noticed them walk in, including the man whose hand she was holding. She sobbed when Kurt told her the news. “She’ll live a long life,” Kurt said, pulling her close. “Won’t be able to break a bone from now on, or get sick. I’m thinking she’ll top out at about a hundred and five.”
“Do you need blood?” Martina asked. “I can—”
“No, you’ve been through enough. I’ll sort it out,” Kurt said.
Kurt managed to take them home, landing in Liam’s living room, where he promptly sat down on the floor. There was no hesitation, no need to ask questions. Liam came down onto his knees, and Kurt pulled him firmly into his arms and sank his teeth into his neck.
There was no magic stealing away the pain this time. Liam cried out with the sting of it, but he was careful not to move away. He cradled Kurt’s head as it rested against him, running his fingers through the dark strands of his hair, even as the world grew a little hazy around him with the rapid blood loss.
Just as Liam started to get properly dizzy, Kurt’s hold on him gentled, and he lifted his head from Liam’s neck.
“Do you need more?” Liam asked. His eyes were closed, but that made it easier to focus on the feeling of Kurt, which Liam was sure would not match up with what he’d see if he looked. Kurt’s hands were cold, but his embrace was warm, and far larger than Kurt’s arms alone. Liam felt that same mist surrounding him, the piece of Kurt that was always there. Liam didn’t know whether it was born from Kurt’s desire to keep him safe or to keep him close. Maybe both. But it was familiar and welcoming.
Liam could feel Kurt’s actual body as well, as his mouth pressed a tender kiss to Liam’s neck. The pain had vanished now, so Kurt must have been strong enough for that. What was missing was the sexual ecstasy that Kurt had given Liam when he’d drunk his blood in Tollense, but it was almost better without it, because now Liam could concentrate on what was real.
“I’m all right,” Kurt said softly, with another kiss to the bite mark. “Did I hurt you?”
“No. Only a little.”
Kurt spoke in a reverent sort of voice. “You don’t know what it is to give me this, Liam. To offer yourself, when I am so in need—”
“You’re the most incredible person I know,” Liam said, finally opening his eyes. “You saved Katy. You— I didn’t realize you could do all of that.”
Kurt’s eyes looked a little wet. “You’re the only one who does. The only person I thought might not be terrified of me after.” Kurt moved a hand to cradle Liam’s cheek. “You don’t know what a gift that is either. I can alter your entire reality, Liam. You’ve seen me do it. And you still trust me.”
“I know you.”
“You do. More than anyone in a very long time.”
Maybe it was the words, maybe it was the blood loss, maybe it was the feeling of Kurt completely surrounding him, but Liam could not pretend at the moment that they were so separate. He leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Kurt’s throat, just under his jaw.
Kurt inhaled sharply and his hand came up to catch Liam’s head and hold him there. Liam kissed him again, moving down his throat, and Kurt tipped his head back to give him more access. “Liam,” he breathed. “Fuck. I didn’t mean to—”
Liam knew what he meant, the sexual bliss in exchange for the blood. “You didn’t,” Liam said. “This is me.”
Kurt said something again, a word Liam didn’t recognize. “God, Liam.”
Kurt grasped Liam’s hand suddenly and pressed it against his jeans. Liam realized he was palming a rock-hard erection. “It’s me, too,” Kurt said.
Liam moaned and sucked gently against Kurt’s neck while he caressed his cock. Kurt said something else, and Liam realized he was speaking another language. He wondered how long it had been since anyone had heard it.
Liam eagerly found the zipper of Kurt’s jeans and pulled it down. But in the next second, he found himself on his back on the floor, with Kurt leaning over him, pressing his wrist to the ground. Kurt was breathing heavily, and his eyes shone bright green.
“I can’t,” Kurt said. “We can’t do this. You’ve— you’ve lost blood, and I’m not strong enough—”
“I’ve wanted this forever,” Liam said.
Kurt groaned low in his throat. “It’s not that simple. Not for us.”
Liam blinked tears away from his eyes. “I understand. You don’t want to get attached.”
Kurt made a noise of frustration and released Liam, sitting up. Liam was about to voice a plea or an angry rebuke, when he saw something in the corner of the room. A large white dog, with six round blue eyes that glowed and swirled like misty planets. Liam sat up slowly. “He’s followed you home.”
Kurt glanced at the dog, looking surprised, and then back at Liam, looking shocked. “You can see him.”
“How is that possible?”
Kurt hesitated a moment, and then said, “We’re— we’re close. Liam, I—” But Kurt cut himself off before saying more. “Get some rest,” he said, and then he disappeared. The dog vanished with him.
Liam hadn’t meant to find himself out for drinks with another man. Not that there really could be another, of course. Liam didn’t have a lover, a husband, a significant other. Only a best friend whom he loved with all his heart, but who had a string of lovers of his own— young, confident, attractive people. Liam possessed only one of those qualities now, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever had all three.
A week ago, Kurt had drunk Liam’s blood, and made a heartfelt speech about how much he valued him. But he’d turned Liam down for sex, and Liam understood why. Kurt was not in love with him, and never had been. Liam had accepted this fact a very long time ago. It was only in the past couple of weeks that he’d come to question it, after he’d received the first threatening letter in 18 years, and Kurt had gotten so upset. He’d been frightened and angry, and Liam’s poor heart had taken that to mean something that it didn’t.
So when Liam’s colleague, Chris Mullens, had shyly asked him to get a drink, Liam had been unable to think of a reason why not. And now here he was, at a bar with a glass of red wine, for the first time in a very long while trying to imagine being with someone other than Kurt. Imagining a chest bared to his touch, but without scars from flint arrowheads. Imagining eyes that didn’t glow in the dark when their owner forgot to make them look human. Imagining a touch that was new and startling instead of fond and familiar.
It felt wrong, and sad, and tragic, and very unfair to Chris. They were friends, and Liam was supportive of Chris beginning to accept himself as a bisexual man, but Liam’s heart was not strong enough for this. He’d have to accept tonight as just being good practice for the both of them.
Liam lived close enough to campus to walk home, but Chris offered him a ride from the bar. Neither of them had drunk much, so Liam accepted. He didn’t expect to see Kurt standing in his driveway, because he’d thought Kurt and Allie had plans. Liam definitely did not expect Chris to be able to see him too.
“Oh,” said Chris, in a flustered sort of voice. “You’re still friends with, um—”
“Kurt,” Liam said absently, bewildered.
“Gosh, I don’t think he’s aged a day since I saw him all those years ago,” Chris said. “Memorable guy. Those blue eyes. Well, listen, you’ve got company. I’ll, uh— I’ll see you around.”
“Of course. Thanks for the drink.” Liam climbed out of the car, and watched Chris drive off.
Kurt was looking displeased, and it got worse when Liam, rather than saying hello, demanded, “What do you look like?”
“Oh,” Kurt said, clearly blindsided. “Um— that depends.”
“Chris thinks you have blue eyes. I see green.”
“Yeah, Chris.” Kurt followed Liam into the house. “So, you were out— out with Chris, then? I didn’t realize you two—”
“Weren’t you supposed to be out with Allie?”
Kurt paced around the living room a little bit rather than sit down. “I canceled.”
Liam groaned. “Kurt, for the last time, Chris is not the one sending me those threatening letters. He’s a perfectly normal, awkward, queer history professor, just like me.”
“I know,” Kurt said. “I checked out everyone close to you, years ago.”
“Then why are you upset?”
“I’m not upset.”
Liam glanced around at the living room lamps, which were being gradually smothered by a heavy, dark atmosphere. “Right. Fine. What do you look like?”
“Like you see me.” Kurt gave Liam a smile that was probably meant to be reassuring.
“Green eyes. Dark hair. The rest of it— I mean, my appearance—” Kurt frowned, and the living room got a little darker. “We haven’t talked about this.”
“I know you put a lot of effort into looking human,” Liam said, as gently as he could. “I guess what I mean is, what did you look like before? At Tollense, before you became whatever it is you are now.”
“I don’t know.” Kurt sounded distant, as if he were trying to find his way along a faraway path. “But like this, I think. A little younger, maybe. I change it for other people, but with you, I’m mostly just me.”
Kurt gave him a wry, sort of embarrassed smile, and the room atmosphere lightened a bit. “I wasn’t trying to seduce you.”
“Good lord,” Liam said. “What do my students think you look like? A Greek god? An underwear model?”
“You find me attractive enough like this?” Kurt asked, his eyebrows raised.
Liam figured the answer to that was obvious. “Wait, so you were trying to seduce Chris?”
Kurt put up his hands. “No, no. I was, um— look, when I met Chris at that conference, I wasn’t sure if he was the one sending the letters. So to him I look— very intimidating.”
“You know, six foot three, really muscular.”
Liam gave a snort of laughter. “I can’t imagine you looking like that. Wait, show me.”
“No. I don’t like to use the mind control on you.”
“But you already are,” Liam pointed out. “You don’t have to, you know. You could show me the real thing. No human mask.”
Liam had never been more tempted to give the man a hug. “You know I’m not scared of you.”
“There is no way in hell I am risking that.”
Liam sighed in exasperation. “Fine. What are you doing here, then? What made you cancel your date?”
“I— I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Because I could tell you were with Chris.”
“I thought you said you knew he wasn’t sending the letters.”
“No, I just— I didn’t expect you to go out with him, is all. I mean, I didn’t know you and he—”
“We’re not. It was just drinks. We’re better friends than anything.”
“Oh.” Kurt sounded relieved, and the atmosphere of the room lightened several degrees.
Liam looked at him in shock. “Are you— I know you’re not jealous. I mean— you said yourself you weren’t trying to seduce me.”
“I wasn’t.” Rather than angry now, Kurt seemed fragile, as if all that tension was the only thing holding him together. “I kept telling myself that. I still do.”
“You never would have had to,” Liam whispered.
Kurt made a low growling noise, and he was suddenly close enough to grasp Liam and pull him into a kiss that was unlike anything Liam had ever experienced before. He could feel Kurt’s tongue lick into his mouth, tasting him, could feel Kurt’s arms hard around him, one hand cupping the back of his head to hold him in place. But at the same time, the world had vanished away and there was only Kurt, making Liam feel that he was both falling freely and being held securely at the same time.
Kurt thrust a thigh between Liam’s legs, pressing hard where Liam was already erect and aching. “Fuck, Liam,” Kurt growled, lowering a hand to grab at Liam’s ass, grinding them together. Liam could feel the hard length of Kurt’s cock against his leg. “Let me have you. Let me finally have you.”
There was no need for Liam to say yes when he knew Kurt could feel the answer already. Liam kissed him again, and found himself lifted as if he weighed nothing, pressed against his living room wall, kissing and kissing as if he didn’t need air any longer to live, but just Kurt.
Kurt lowered his head to nip at Liam’s throat, and Liam could feel what he wanted. Liam let his answer become clear, and immediately felt the sharp bite of fangs into his throat. But there was no dizziness this time. Kurt wasn’t taking much blood. Instead he was just tasting Liam, licking and sucking at him as if he were delicious. As the blood flowed into Kurt’s mouth, Liam could feel them being bound tighter and tighter together, as if they were tied to each other and not the world anymore.
Kurt lifted his head and kissed Liam again, letting him taste the tang of his own blood. “Bed,” Kurt said, already walking them toward Liam’s bedroom. Their clothes were tugged away, and then Liam was able to see all of Kurt, for the first time, the muscles and scars, the soft curves and hard planes, the heavy cock erect for him.
“You’re so beautiful,” Liam breathed, tracing his hands along every pathway. “Can you feel me, on your real body?”
“I feel you everywhere, Liam. Inside and out.”
“Then I want you inside me,” Liam said, pulling him down into a kiss. “Please.”
Kurt groaned and pushed Liam’s legs up so that he could reach his entrance. Liam managed to reach the lube that he kept in the bedside drawer, and Kurt slicked his fingers. He pressed slow kisses to Liam’s thigh as he prepared him, once nipping hard enough to draw blood. When he sucked at it greedily, Liam cried out in ecstasy. Kurt surged over Liam, pinning him down on the bed, and then pushed inside of him with one firm thrust. He took Liam like that, slow and powerful, looking down into his eyes with pure desire.
And as Liam expected, Kurt’s eyes glowed brighter and he started to lose his grip on his human appearance. Eventually the man making love to Liam was only partly a man, and partly something else that was very old and very strong and very gentle with him. Liam could sense it better with his eyes closed to the mask Kurt was trying so hard to keep up. He could hear things then, like the flap of wings, and taste not just two fangs, but a whole mouth full of sharp teeth that were careful not to bite.
Kurt’s thrusts grew more powerful, but not enough to hurt Liam, even as Liam arched against him and begged for more. He felt a hand on his cock, stroking him hard and fast, heard the click of claws against each other, but didn’t feel their sting. Liam came with a sob and Kurt fucked him through it, until he came as well, deep inside, flooding Liam with himself.
Kurt’s hips didn’t falter but continued to thrust, and Liam realized that Kurt was still as hard as before. Kurt leaned down to kiss Liam messily and Liam wrapped his arms around him, holding him close as he was fucked continuously, feeling no pain or soreness, only his own cock being coaxed back to life by a familiar power.
Liam stroked down the arches of wings erupting from Kurt’s back, exploring and savoring with his eyes closed, knowing he wouldn’t see them if he looked. The wings extended and flapped under Liam’s attention, and Kurt groaned in obvious pleasure. He fucked Liam a little faster then, until the wings suddenly stretched out to their full length and Kurt spurted inside of him again with a deep groan. “Fuck, Liam,” he growled. “I’m going to keep you here all night.”
All night wasn’t a very long time compared to three thousand years, but Liam was grateful for whatever he was going to get.
Liam had always had a great many questions about Kurt. He got a few long-awaited answers that week. First, Kurt did sleep. Or at least, from time to time, he laid down beside Liam in bed, closed his eyes, and stopped moving. But the minute Liam shifted beside him, Kurt’s eyes would open. So he was either a very light sleeper or he was pretending, thinking Liam would be more comfortable if he seemed more human.
Second, Kurt was even less human than Liam had thought. Kurt was fairly good at making himself look human, but apparently less skillful at hiding his true form from Liam’s other senses. When Liam used his hands to explore Kurt instead of his eyes, Kurt was a completely different creature.
For example, he had wings, strong and broad, that were sometimes folded against his back and sometimes stretched out far enough to cover the bed. The wings had an interesting relationship with physics: they never knocked things over, so they must have been able to pass through objects like walls and bookshelves. But Liam could still run his hands over them, and wake to feel their soft feathers covering him like a blanket.
Kurt also had a great many very sharp teeth, curved claws like talons on his hands, and he was overall much larger than he looked. Kurt was only an inch or so taller than Liam in appearance, but when Liam was tangled up with him in bed, there was at least a foot or so difference between them. Kurt’s arms and legs felt longer and more muscular, and his face more gaunt, skin taut against high cheekbones.
Liam had also learned that Kurt had incredible stamina. Perhaps it was because he didn’t need sleep. But he could make love to Liam until Liam was ready to practically pass out from exhaustion and then resume when Liam woke up. Kurt seemed insatiable for him, even just for kissing, taking the opportunity whenever he could, pinning Liam to the wall in his house, office, or anywhere in between, turning them invisible so that they would not be interrupted. There was a sense of desperation to Kurt’s kisses, and Liam felt the same hunger in himself. He just wasn’t sure it was for the same reason.
Because of course, there were some very large questions between them that had not yet been answered. They’d passed from friends to lovers in one unexpected night with no discussion about it. And Liam was too afraid to ask What is this? What are we doing? How long will it last?
Liam had seen Kurt desire others, and take them as lovers, and it had never lasted past two years. Liam was already counting his days down, lamenting each as it passed. But Liam suspected that Kurt’s worry came from something else: the fact that Liam would possibly wake up one day and realize he was terrified of having a monster in his bed.
Liam tried to reassure Kurt about it one night, pointing out that his other lovers had never seemed afraid of him.
Kurt had looked a little hesitant, as if he wasn’t sure Liam would want the answer. “They can’t tell,” he said. “They don’t feel it.”
“They can’t feel the wings?” Liam asked. “Or the teeth?”
Kurt looked displeased. “Didn’t know you could feel the teeth.”
“Well, why can I?”
Kurt rolled over onto his back, looking half relaxed and half tense in that strange way he had. “There’s something different about you. About us. I don’t know what.”
Liam supposed he could be content with that, and he laid down, resting his head on Kurt’s chest. Kurt’s arms came up around him, holding him tightly enough that if Liam wanted to move away, he’d have to be clear about it.
Liam had nearly fallen asleep— it was only six p.m. on a Saturday night, but Kurt had fucked him senseless after breakfast and lunch, and was likely planning the same thing for after dinner— when he felt a furry face press against his palm.
“Dog’s hungry,” Liam murmured against Kurt’s shoulder.
“It’s a spectral dog,” Kurt objected. “It doesn’t have to eat.”
“All dogs like treats.”
“You’re spoiling it.”
“He’s a dog,” Liam said with an amused huff, pushing at Kurt until Kurt let him sit up. “Spoiling dogs is human nature. You did have a human nature at some point, right?”
“Don’t remember much about it,” Kurt said, which, though obvious, was a rather unusual admission for him. “What do you even feed it? The ghosts of chickens?”
“Kibble. And he also likes carrots and peanut butter.” Liam pulled on pants and a t-shirt while the white six-eyed dog bounced around his feet, clearly hoping Liam was on his way to the kitchen. When they got there, Kurt had manifested himself at the table, bare to the waist and the most delicious thing Liam had ever seen.
“Why carrots?” Kurt asked, as the dog wagged his tail hard enough to knock a chair across the floor.
“I don’t know, ask him.”
“I can’t talk to it— him.”
“He’s your dog.”
“He’s clearly your dog,” Kurt said with a snort, as the dog almost knocked Liam over in eagerness to get to the dish Liam was setting out for him. Liam scratched him behind the ears as he ate.
Liam sensed a change in Kurt’s mood. “What is it?” he asked.
“I dreamed something,” Kurt said quietly.
“So you actually slept?”
A smile played at Kurt’s lips. “Maybe. You were asleep in my arms and suddenly, I felt like I was somewhere else. Tollense, I think. I wasn’t, I hadn’t teleported, I was still with you. But the feeling of being with you— I think it must have reminded me of something. Of someone. The person I lost. I remember her, a little. For the first time ever.”
“It’s— I need to go back there. I think if I do I’ll remember more. But I don’t know how long it will take, and you’ve just started getting those letters again—”
“One letter. After eighteen years.” Liam folded his hand over Kurt’s as it lay on the table. “Kurt, this is what we’ve been working for. Knowing about the battle of Tollense is great for history buffs like me, but the point was for you to get your memory back, so you’d know where you came from, what happened to you. And what happened to your loved one. Your— your lover.”
Kurt nodded. “She was.” He still looked very hesitant.
Liam leaned down to kiss him softly. “I won’t open any letters, all right? Definitely no packages. I’ll be careful. Look, it’s not like you can’t be here in the blink of an eye if you need to. I won’t be unprotected.”
Liam squeezed his hand. “If you need me—”
“You’ll know. You always do.”
“You could take my blood.” Kurt looked haunted, perhaps by the memory of having lost another lover. “One drop. Not enough to make you immortal. Enough to protect you.”
“I think that should be part of a larger conversation,” Liam managed to say, and that was all he could do before Kurt was kissing him again, hard and a little angry, pulling him harshly into his arms. Liam ended up on his lap at the table, cradling Kurt’s face in his hands.
Liam knew what Kurt wanted not just from habit but by feel. He worked himself out of his pants, his body still open enough from earlier fucking to slide onto Kurt’s cock where it jutted up from his lap.
Kurt groaned and pressed kisses against Liam’s throat even as he began to thrust up into Liam with strong snaps of his hips.
“You’re hungry,” Liam gasped, as Kurt nipped at him. He could feel it swirling inside of Kurt, a dull, unpleasant ache mixed with the anticipation of relief.
“I’ll make it good,” Kurt growled in reply, and he was not lying.
As Liam felt Kurt’s teeth slide painlessly into his neck, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of sexual ecstasy. The pleasure went on and on, with Kurt drinking from him and fucking him gently, careful not to tear Liam’s skin with his teeth.
When Kurt had drunk his fill, he released Liam, cradling Liam’s head as it fell back, kissing his throat, and fucking him in earnest then, until Liam was coming again and again. Even as it got rougher, Liam felt no pain, only bliss.
When Kurt finally released Liam’s mind from the sexual hypnosis, Liam collapsed in his arms. Kurt carried him gently to the shower and cleaned them both, and then cradled Liam as he fell asleep.
The man who abducted Liam was in his sixties, with a bit of gray beard and a stocky figure. He didn’t look homicidal. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean much, given that the man had already tried to kill Liam once, with a package bomb, and was now forcing Liam to drive the man’s pick-up truck with a gun pointed at him.
It wasn’t as if Liam hadn’t thought about this, being attacked by his aggressor in person, but he’d largely discounted it as a possibility, because of Kurt. But Kurt wasn’t here and Liam wished he’d taken the time to come up with a Plan B.
Liam also tried very hard not to think of why Kurt was not coming to his rescue. Surely a creature as indestructible as Kurt was not in danger of being hurt, or— or worse. He’d teleported himself to Tollense to try to chase down memories that were finally returning to him. They’d been to Tollense so often. Liam couldn’t imagine that something there could pose a threat to Kurt.
Except there was a problem. Over the past week, Liam and Kurt had grown closer than they’d ever been. Kurt had drunk more of Liam’s blood and they’d made love many times. Kurt had always had a sense of Liam: where he was, what he was doing. This past week, Liam had started to get a strong sense of Kurt too. It wasn’t very precise, and Liam wasn’t always sure how to interpret what he was feeling from Kurt, but it had been reliable.
And now, driving this truck in the middle of nowhere, Liam could not feel Kurt at all. It was like he had ceased to exist entirely. Surely that wasn’t possible. Surely there was some explanation for it, for why Kurt was not sensing that Liam was in danger. But Liam could not think of one.
The only thing he could do was to try to deal with this situation himself. “What is this about?” he asked.
“I thought you’d learned your lesson,” the man growled. He wore glasses and his eyes looked smaller behind them. “But you went right back to your lies, didn’t you?”
The truck lurched over a rutted road. Liam felt growing fear as they left the city farther and farther behind. “What lies?”
“You think we don’t know what you do, working at the university, looking down on the rest of us. You expect everyone to listen to you and believe you about things you know nothing about!”
“I’m sorry,” Liam offered.
The man was not mollified. “You spread shame on my family,” he spat.
The truck’s headlights played on endless trees, and Liam hadn’t seen another car for miles. “Well, why don’t you tell me the story?” he asked. “Then I can tell everyone how it really was.”
The man was quiet for a moment, and then said, “Pull over here.”
Liam did. His hands shook as he turned off the truck and the noise of the engine died, leaving just wind and noises of the woods.
“I will tell you,” the man said, almost smiling. “But you won’t get a chance to tell the world.”
The story began in 1862, on a rainy September morning in Maryland, when two armies faced off along Antietam Creek. The battle raged through fields and streets and over a stone bridge, and by the early evening over 5,000 men had been killed and thousands more were dying.
Liam knew the story of Antietam. He even knew it from the perspective of someone who had been there. Liam had tried to imagine what it must have looked like, Kurt emerging from Bloody Lane, a battle fought in a road sunken by years of wagon traffic. Kurt was immune to gunshot and cannon fire, but no one else around him would have been. Liam knew he’d cradled some of the dying, and the pain of his voice so many years later was haunting.
But Liam had never heard the story of Antietam quite like this: not from a book or paper, not from a contemporary source or a later analysis, but from someone for whom the battle was not yet over.
“General McClellan was my relative,” the man said. “I was named for him. George. You have no idea what he was really like, what he did at Antietam. And the world vilified him for it, calling him a coward.”
Liam felt his surprise growing. “This is about my dissertation? That was thirty years ago. And Antietam itself was over a hundred and fifty—”
“I’m still here, aren’t I?” the man asked. “And so are you. So what you say affects me and my family. And you spread lies. Lincoln started them, and now you just repeat them.”
“So this is why you sent me letters. And— and the package. I always thought you stopped after that because you knew you’d nearly killed the man who opened it, because the police were looking so hard for you. But it wasn’t that. You stopped because I started working only on Tollense.”
“I thought you’d learned your lesson,” the man growled.
“But now I’ve just published another paper on Antietam. So you’re back.” Liam tried to make himself sound sympathetic. “I’m very sorry for what I’ve done.”
“Not good enough.”
“No, you’re right, it’s not.” Liam’s wavering voice skittered around the truck cab like a frightened animal. “You know, it’s funny how much historians live in the past. It’s a requirement of the job, of course, but sometimes I think we don’t see the present world at all. No excuse for it. My papers would have been enriched by talking to family members like you. What can you tell me about McClellan?” Liam leaned forward, even though that put him just that much closer to the gun. “What really happened at Antietam?”
It was a surreal discussion, because it mirrored chats that Liam would have with other historians at symposia or conferences: details of battles and combatants’ personal lives, conjecture on what would have been if people had made different choices on a day so long ago, where they had known so little of the big picture, where they could not have guessed the outcome.
But here there was a gun, and Liam knew now that he’d been very, very stupid to refuse Kurt’s offer of a drop of his blood. Liam had seen one drop heal a young woman who would otherwise have died from injuries from a car crash, so he was optimistic that he’d have been able to survive a gunshot with Kurt’s blood as protection. But he’d said no. Or more precisely, he’d said they needed to talk about it. And now they had run out of time.
Kurt was always saying humans were so very fragile. Even though Liam had studied battles his whole career, he hadn’t really thought about it that way. But sitting in the truck with a gun pointed at him, he knew he was right. People could be lost at any time.
“I can make this right,” Liam promised. “I can give talks, publish new papers. Even a book. We could do a book together. McClellan deserves justice.”
“He does,” George said. “But so do I.” He raised the gun to the level of Liam’s face.
The harsh barking of a dog startled them both. George jumped, and Liam had a second to think of grabbing for the gun, and a second to think how wrong that could go, and then two seconds had gone by and it was too late. But it might not matter. A dog might mean a person was nearby as well.
George reached past Liam to turn off the headlights. The cab had been faintly lit up by the dashboard lights, but now everything was in darkness. The dog continued to bark, and Liam wondered if it was wishful thinking that it sounded familiar.
When he saw a pale shape running toward the window, he realized that it wasn’t.
A large, white, six-eyed dog crashed into George’s side of the truck, sending them both sliding toward the other door. Liam was too off-balance to grab the gun, but he did manage to open his door and let himself more or less fall out.
The dog bounded around the truck and into his lap.
“Not the time for cuddles,” Liam gasped, trying to shift the dog’s weight off of him. He looked up to see George leaning out of the door, still pointing his gun. “Don’t shoot my dog!” Liam cried.
George looked bewildered. “What dog?”
“My invisible dog!”
By this point the dog was on his feet, and George could clearly hear him growling, but not see him. And then something else was there. The dark seemed to get darker and the air heavier. Liam was so relieved to feel Kurt again that he could have cried. But something was very different.
There was a flapping sound, like giant wings, and then something landed in the darkness, hard enough to tremble the ground. George was looking around wildly, and with his attention taken up, Liam reached for the gun.
But at the last second, George must have seen Liam come for him. His finger squeezed the trigger.
The bullet did hit something, but it wasn’t Liam and it wasn’t the dog. It was something large and dark, which had put itself in between Liam and the gun. Something inhuman.
Finally, Liam realized, he was about to see Kurt as he really was.
Kurt’s real body was tall, maybe seven feet. Black wings erupted from his back, rising above his head and still dusting their longest feathers along the ground. He wore a black robe which covered most of his body, but his arms were wiry and strong where they emerged from the sleeves, and his hands were gnarled talons. His face had changed as well— he looked older and more gaunt. But his eyes, glowing green in the darkness— Liam knew those.
“Are you hurt?” Kurt demanded.
“I’m not the one who just got shot,” Liam reminded him.
Kurt seemed indifferent to the idea that he might have been injured, and perhaps he hadn’t been at all. His attention moved to George, who was frozen in terror in the cab of the truck. Apparently, he could see Kurt too.
“Kurt,” Liam said. There was no answer, only a bit of terrified whining from George. “Kurt,” Liam repeated. “He’s no threat now.”
“But what about tomorrow?” Kurt asked, in a low voice.
“Tomorrow he’s still going to be terrified of my supernatural protector,” Liam said, very logically. “Look, just do your mind control thing. Make him forget I exist.”
Liam felt the hesitation in Kurt, the pain and fear, and tried to put out his own feelings of relief and security. Sharing emotions really was much more efficient than talking. Liam felt the moment Kurt relented. He took the gun from George, who had a blank look on his face now. George closed the door and started the truck, pulling back onto the road with a screech of tires.
Kurt knelt down next to Liam in the dust. The dog was bouncing around, seeming happy to have them both in the same place. “Are you all right?” Kurt asked.
“You know I am,” Liam said. “Kurt, where were you?”
Kurt folded his hand over Liam’s and they landed in Liam’s living room. The dog came too, and after sniffing around for a moment, he flopped onto the floor and closed his eyes.
Liam wrapped his arms around Kurt, resting his head on his shoulder. That shoulder became gradually easier to reach, and Liam realized Kurt was putting his human disguise back on.
“You don’t have to do that,” Liam said, even as he looked up into a more familiar face.
Kurt’s eyes were wet. “I can show you,” he said softly. “Where I was, what I was. What I am. But I don’t know if you’ll want to see it.”
“Of course I do. It’s you.”
Kurt cupped Liam’s face and used another finger to trace a line from Liam’s forehead down between his eyes. “Then come with me, my love.”
Liam found himself at Tollense. The sun was shining and he could hear the river moving in its bed. Everything was sweet and peaceful, looking as if nothing bad could ever have happened in that valley in all of its existence. The dog was there too, wandering through the grass. But Liam couldn’t feel any of it, the warm air or sun or breeze. This wasn’t real. It was a vision.
Ahead of him by the river, there was a young woman. She had long blonde hair and dark clothing, and her hand was reaching out to Liam. He began to follow. But as they neared the river, things began to change. The sky was as blue and unclouded as ever, but below the field became thick with people and heavy with shouting and the clang of weapons. A bridge appeared over the river, and on it raged a battle. The battle of Tollense. They’d gone back in time 3000 years.
Liam tried to keep pace with the woman ahead of him, but she was darting around people, obviously terrified. Liam was fairly certain he couldn’t be hurt by any of the stone points attached to nearby arrows and spears, but he found himself scared anyway. Every so often, he had to step over a body that lay where it had been slain.
The young woman reached the river, and forged ahead into its waters. But when Liam got to the edge, everything changed. Suddenly there was silence and darkness. The people on the river disappeared, along with the bridge. All that remained was the woman in the water and a solitary boat, steered by a tall, gaunt man in a black robe.
“Kurt,” Liam breathed. The figure did not seem to see him, his focus completely on the young woman. Kurt leaped from the boat into the water, and when he did, Liam could see that his boat was full of bodies.
The young woman began to struggle in the water, her clothes weighing her down. She tried to swim toward the boat, but Kurt blocked her way. He did not sink in the river, and he seized the woman in his arms and cradled her close, sobbing.
On the boat behind them, the other bodies shifted restlessly. Kurt ignored them, ignored everything until there was a harsh barking. The dog was there, standing on the other side of the river bank. He growled loudly, his six eyes narrowed with anger.
“No!” Kurt exclaimed, sounding anguished. “No!”
Beside the dog, an otherworldly archer appeared, glowing with supernatural power. Liam saw the impact of the three arrows to Kurt’s chest, saw him react like he never would have to a human weapon. He fell, dropping the woman from his arms.
The vision ended abruptly and Liam found himself in his living room, looking into Kurt’s eyes.
“You’re the Ferryman,” Liam said.
“Taking souls from life to the afterlife,” Kurt said. “That’s where I was, why I didn’t know what danger you were in. I was back on the river.”
“That makes so much sense,” Liam said. “Teleporting to collect souls. Mind control to go unseen, to ease people’s fear. Your blood having the power over life and death. You never were a vampire. You never were a human.”
“I’m a monster.”
“You’re a god.”
“That’s really no less problematic.”
“And you fell in love with a human woman.”
“She died at Tollense.” Liam could feel the grief inside of Kurt, something that bit with many teeth. “I still can’t even remember her name. I was on the river then too, and she died before I realized it. The same thing that almost happened to you.”
Liam put a hand on his arm. “I’m all right. You were in time.”
Kurt still looked haunted. “I refused to take her across. I thought maybe I could just choose not to let her go, keep her with me on the river. But she belonged to Death, not me. My blood couldn’t save her, it was too late. Another Ferryman came and took her, and I never saw her again.”
“And you were punished.”
“They cast me out. The dog was set to keep me from coming back in. I lost my memories, and so the best I could guess was that I had been human, died, and became a vampire. Because I’m still not alive. To maintain my existence on earth I need to steal life from others.”
“So you drink blood.” Kurt nodded. “I’m sorry,” Liam said. “What they did to you, I don’t think it was fair. You fell in love, what else were you supposed to do?”
“I’m supposed to be impartial. I’m not the judge, just the Ferryman. But I was drawn to the living as much as I was to the dead, and when I started to venture into the human world, I got attached.” Kurt’s voice was heartbroken. “I’ve been attached so many times.”
“You have, haven’t you?” Liam breathed. “All those soldiers who died in your arms, you still remember them. And you knew something was wrong with Martina all those years later. You’re attached to all of them.”
“I tried not to get attached to you.” Kurt wiped tears from his eyes now. “I tried so hard. Because I’m— I’m not human, I’m dangerous and frightening. But I knew immediately with you, that it was hopeless. You’re an adventurer, Liam, an explorer. Same as me. When I kissed you in your kitchen that first time, I hadn’t planned it. But you felt so good, so right. And things were different with you than everyone else. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t read your mind, because I felt your feelings anyway. And somehow, impossibly, you feel mine.”
“You really can’t read minds?”
“Ironically, no one’s except yours.” Kurt came closer, and Liam could see the faint outline of wings above his head. “Look, the reason I fought in so many battles and wars over the years was because I was trying to recreate Tollense. I thought that maybe if I did, I’d get my memories back. But I didn’t get them back until you. You and I got closer and closer, and that’s when I started seeing the dog. And when I made love with you and you slept in my arms, that’s when I remembered the person I’d lost. Liam, I love you.”
Kurt looked more anxious now than Liam had ever seen him. “Most people see the past as a small, darkened space. They can’t see how large it really is. But you can. You see all the years, you understand the scope of it. Just think how much larger the future can be than even that. You— you could study. You would have time for anything you wanted. You wouldn’t even have to be with me, you understand. If you are scared of me. Even a little. Just take enough of my blood so that you don’t ever have to cross over that river. Please, Liam. I cannot bear to see you cross.”
“Do you have to go back to the river yourself?”
“Well,” Kurt said, with a shaky smile, “it turns out the dog is rather fond of me now.” On the floor, the dog snoozed on, oblivious. “Your doing entirely. Peanut butter and carrots. I can stay here. I— well, I had to make a choice. I chose to stay here.”
“Because of me.”
“Because of you.”
“But, Kurt— you’re a god. And I’m just a man. Completely ordinary.”
Kurt looked sort of desperately hopeful. “Well, then— maybe for once I can be just an ordinary man, who fell in love with an ordinary man. Wouldn’t that be the most incredible thing?”
Kurt held out his hand, and Liam took it without hesitation. He felt the relief in Kurt, the elation, as Kurt pulled him into his arms and kissed him. Liam wasn’t sure how long it went on— time had started to feel strangely distant from him already.
Kurt used one of his teeth to open a small wound on his arm. Liam watched the trickle of blood flow gently across the skin before leaning forward to taste it. He knew the power of it would overwhelm him, immortality on his tongue. Kurt caught him gently and cradled him in his arms as the world lost its grip on Liam and surrendered him forever to the Ferryman. And their dog.
Image credit: Dannye