Something Real
by Embitca

Marshall was lost. He was driving one of Dre's Mercedes in downtown Los Angeles and he was lost. This was what happened whenever he left the freeway in L.A. He couldn't even remember what exit he'd taken off the 101 and Dre was going to laugh hard when Marshall called him because he always did this. After spending hours cooped up in Dre's studio, laying down tracks, he was usually too wired up to go to bed so he'd borrow a set of wheels and go tooling around. Sooner or later, he'd realize he didn't know where the fuck he'd gotten too and he'd have to call Dre's place to see if someone could help direct him back to someplace familiar. Usually it was Nicole, Dre's wife, who answered the phone, but he didn't know if he'd be lucky enough to get her at 4 o'clock in the morning.

He was fumbling to pull the phone out of his pants when the other car side-swiped him. The car tagged the Mercedes front bumper and kept going, never even slowing down. Suddenly Marshall's world was spinning about until the Mercedes came to a sudden halt against the curb, now facing in the opposite direction. The airbag never deployed, but the seatbelt arrested his forward momentum and he was thrown back into the seat. Marshall sat, silently freaking out as his heartbeat jittered in his chest.

When his heart was no longer slamming quite so painfully against his ribcage, he opened the car door and slid out gingerly. Stuffing the cell phone back into his pocket, he walked around to the front of the car to inspect the damage. Marshall groaned when he saw that the bumper was nearly torn off and the wheel against the curb rested at a odd angel. The axle was ruined. He wouldn't be able to drive it. Dre was going to fucking kill him. And now he needed a ride. And Dre? Was going to fucking kill him.

Marshall looked up at the intersection to get a street name. Los Angeles Street, but the cross street was unmarked so it still didn't really help him. He decided to put off the inevitable Dre meltdown by calling for a cab to take him back to the Valley, but he was obviously going to have to hike a block or two to find the name of a cross street where he could be picked up.

Leaning back into the car, Marshall pulled the keys out of the ignition, picked up his glasses from where they'd landed on the dashboard when they'd flown off his face, stuffed them into his pocket and then locked the car door. Maybe it would get stolen and he wouldn't have to tell Dre it was wrecked? He decided that would probably be worse. "How'd you lose my car, bitch?" No thanks.

He started walking. He could see a freeway overpass in the distance. He'd been so close. If it hadn't been for the accident, he'd have been able to find his way back to someplace familiar after getting on a freeway. As he walked to the next block, he passed a couple of tents that were set up right there on the sidewalk, completely blocking his path so he actually had to step out into the street to go around them. He kept his eyes on the street, but he could feel another set of eyes on him from one of the tents. A pair of legs were sticking out of the tent flap.

"Hey, you got any change?"

Marshall didn't answer, just kept moving. The voice came again, angry this time. "Hey, I'm talking to you! You got any change, mister?"

Marshall paused, responded without turning around. "I don't have any fucking change!" He started moving again more quickly. This was the wrong place to start trouble and he wasn't about to end up violating his probation getting into a fight with the homeless. He was surprised when a hand was suddenly on his shoulder, twisting him about.

"Maybe you got something else I want."

"I got nothing you want, so fuck..." The words died on his lips as he looked up into the face grimacing at him. What the hell was wrong with the guy's face?

"Oh, you got something I want alright." And then Marshall was being dragged backwards by impossibly strong arms. He bit down on the cold and dirty hand covering his mouth and kicked out with both his legs, but the guy dragging him barely seemed to notice. When they reached the tent, Marshall was shoved forward into it, his fall broken by the body already lying on its floor.

Before he could get his bearings, his attacker landed on top of him heavily, tearing at his shirt, breathing foul air all over Marshall's face as he leaned into him. When a mouth fastened on Marshall's throat, he kicked again and started shoving. "Get off me, you fucking faggot."

He heard a snicker in response and then he felt the teeth sink into his neck. When he tried to scream a hand was clamped across his mouth. Marshall bit down hard on a grimy finger, but all he received for his efforts was a clout to the head with a balled up fist, then the hand wrapped around his throat and choked off his air supply. The sucking at his throat had taken on a rhythm, slow and steady, as he felt the blood being drained out of him. He realized he was becoming giddy, hysterical. He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of what he was thinking, that a vampire was draining his blood, but he couldn't breath. After awhile, he couldn't really think either and he'd stopped kicking. He just fell into the hypnotic rhythm, felt his pulse move into harmony as his heart slowed to the same sluggish beat.

Marshall was just forming the thought that he was probably going to die like this when a cloud of dust burst over his face. The weight covering him was suddenly gone, but he coughed and choked as dust settled around him. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt the grit beneath his eyelids where the fine dust had already settled, irritating his eyes and making them water. He rubbed at his eyes for a few moments and then opened them, squinting upwards at the kid now standing over him and propping the tent flap open. He felt disoriented. What had happened? Where was the homeless guy who had attacked him? The kid leaned down towards him and Marshall flinched.

"Can you move?"

"What? Where..."

"It's gone now. Can you move? I can help you get up." The boy held a hand out.

Marshall looked at the hand for a second and then reached up and grabbed it. He was startled when the kid hauled him up without any apparent effort. When he nearly lost his balance as he moved forward, the boy caught him deftly in one arm, stopping Marshall from falling onto his knees on the sidewalk.

"You're weak. You've lost a lot of blood. We need to get you to a hospital."

"No! No. No hospitals. No way. I don't wanna be all over the papers 'cause of this. Fucking media will have a field day. I'm fine. I'll be fine."

"You aren't fine."

"No, I am. I'm fine. See? Let me go. Everything's cool. I just need to," Marshall felt himself spinning, but it all seemed to be happening in his skull, "sit down." He managed to get down to the curb almost gracefully, like it was something he meant to do. Once he was sitting, he put his head into his hands and closed his eyes, rubbed at them some more, but he still couldn't get the grit out. He felt a hand touch his shoulder lightly, gently, but he shook it off hard and said, "I'm NOT going to a hospital."

The kid stood over him. Marshall looked up at him, glowering. He was just a kid, 16, maybe 17. His light brown hair was in his eyes and the clothes he wore looked like Goodwill bargains, the kind of thing Marshall was certainly familiar with, and there was something thin and feral about his face, but he was clean. He looked clean and healthy, if a bit too thin. But maybe he'd just had a growth spurt and hadn't filled out yet. Marshall realized he was staring and then shrugged, looked away. The kid was staring too, inspecting him, making up his mind, it looked like. Finally he spoke, "I can take you someplace else then."

Marshall looked up at him hopefully. "You have a car?"

"No."

Marshall sighed loudly. That would have been too easy, a ride to Dre's place and then a very long nap under thick, heavy blankets was exactly what he wanted more than anything else. "Just anywhere but a hospital. I need to call some people to come get me."

"I can take you someplace safe. It's not far from here. Can you walk?"

"'Course I can walk!" Yeah, he could walk. He was fine, wasn't he? But he took the boy's hand when it was offered and let himself be pulled to his feet. He swayed for a moment and then he was fine. He ran a hand across his neck which felt wet and when he looked at his palm there was blood on it. "Shit! I'm bleeding."

"You're not bleeding anymore. You can clean up in a few minutes. We need to go now." The boy frowned and flicked his eyes to the tent.

Marshall followed his gaze. There was still a body in there, the one he'd landed on earlier. "What about that guy? Is he ok?" He knew the answer.

The boy just blinked at him, clearly deciding he was an idiot. "He's dead."

Yeah, he knew the answer. "But we should --"

"We should go. Before someone else comes."

Marshall nodded. Cops would be bad. Anyone at all, actually, would be bad. Shit. This kid was bad. But it might be ok. If the media didn't find out about it and the cops didn't know about it, then he might be ok. "Yeah, let's go." He looked back at the tent and frowned. It didn't feel right. Something was...off. "Where's the guy who --"

"Dusted. Let's go now." The boy tapped his elbow gently, but didn't grab onto him so Marshall didn't pull away. He let himself be led. As they walked away from the tent, he looked down and spotted his glasses lying on the ground. He bent down and scooped them up, but when he stood again, he felt faint and dizzy, and his heart started palpitating crazily. His last thought before he collapsed was, oddly enough, "Dre's gonna fucking kill me."

 

Marshall woke with a start. He was in a bed. There were blankets, lots of them, covering him. Good. He was at Dre's. He was warm. He decided he'd sleep some more. He closed his eyes. No, that wasn't right. He never called Dre. Marshall opened his eyes again, tried to make sense of his surroundings. This wasn't Dre's. That much he figured out. But it was too much effort to lift himself from the bedding or even to move at all.

He was warm. He was sleepy, so he'd sleep. He drifted again, then opened his eyes once more when he realized there was an arm wrapped around him, knuckles resting against his bare chest. When did he take his shirt off? Wait. That wasn't the important part. Who was in bed with him? He touched a wrist, slid his fingers up the forearm. The arm responding, hugging him, and a voice whispered reassuringly, "Sssh, sleep, you're safe here." Marshall thought that answer was good enough and closed his eyes again, keeping his hand wrapped around the arm holding him. He slept.

 

When he woke again, Marshall knew immediately that he was alone. He sat up in the bed and looked around. He thought he was in a loft. That's what it looked like anyway, a small loft. There were large windows and the light shined in, brightening the room. Some of the windows were boarded up or covered with plastic and there were various tears in it, letting the chilled air into the room. Still, the place was cozy, the decorative touches clearly female. Girlfriend? He wondered where the kid had gone off to, hoped he wasn't off blabbing to his friends about how Eminem was staying at his place, sleeping in his bed. Fuck! Sharing the bed. He needed to get out of there before a posse of teenagers showed up to see if it were true.

He scrabbled to the edge of the mattress and then stood up carefully, but it still didn't prevent the head rush. At least he didn't fall this time. Inspecting himself, he noted again that his shirt was gone. His nipples hardened in the colder air of the room and he shivered, then looked around for his shirt. He found his shirt, running shoes and hoodie lying in a small neat pile beneath a round table near the foot of the bed. He was wearing sweatpants and socks, but the kid had taken his shoes off. But he was still wearing a do- rag on his head. The bandanna had come undone beneath it so he slid a hand up over his head and pulled them both off, stuffing them into the pocket of his sweats.

The shirt was a write-off. It was torn into several pieces and there were bloodstains all around the neckline. Marshall shuddered, flashed back physically to the feel of his blood being consumed. He shook himself, shaking away the sensation crawling up him and then grabbed the hoodie, put it on and zipped it up. He felt warmer. He looked longingly at the bed. It was even warmer and he wanted to crawl back between the covers and sleep for another day, but people would be looking for him, worried about him. He needed to call Dre first.

He reached into the pocket for his phone, but it wasn't there. He looked at his shoes still on the floor, thinking the kid might have tucked the phone in one for safe-keeping. Nope, no phone. Marshall looked around the room, checked the table, a chair and the floor. No phone. Leaning over the bed, he pushed the blankets aside, thinking the phone must have fallen out of his pocket while he slept, but he didn't find it. Fuck! Did he lose it during the attack? He didn't think so. He'd lost his glasses, but they were now sitting on the table by the bed. He reached out and picked them up. The frames were a bit bent, but they were mostly fine. He could wear them. He had an identical pair in his dresser at home, so when he got back to Detroit he'd be fine. He put them back on the table.

Marshal stood up to wander around the room. No head rush this time. That was good. He still felt like shit though and he was still cold. But he wasn't going to get back into bed. He didn't even know how long he'd been sleeping. Hours at least, but what if it had been longer? He made his way around the loft, picking things up and putting them down. A women's things were everywhere, packed in boxes, clothes laid out on shelves. As he poked through one box of toiletries, he found a mirror and he picked it up and looked at himself. He had a bump swelling up on his forehead and his entire throat was red and becoming bruised. It was going to be ugly and difficult to hide. Further back on his neck, there were two hideous tears in his skin, caked with blood and dirt. He flashed back again and shuddered, dropping the mirror back into the box.

He needed to clean himself off. He looked around the room, saw a doorway and moved towards it. He needed to take a piss and then clean that shit off his neck. He turned the light on in the little room and blinked under the harsh fluorescent. It didn't actually brighten the room very much though, not after the bright white light blanketing the main living area. The bathroom was kinda grungy, but it had a shower and there was a mirror over the wash basin. Briefly, Marshall considered just taking his clothes off and hopping in the shower, but he decided not to risk it. Didn't want the kid coming back with all his friends and letting them catch a glimpse of him naked. The size of his dick would be all over the Internet in days if that happened.

After he relieved himself, he took the bandanna out of his pocket and soaked it under the tap. He tried scrubbing around the wounds, but every time he touched them he felt dizzy, like he wanted to swoon. He just couldn't free himself from the sensation of the mouth guzzling away. It wasn't real. It couldn't have been real, and yet there were the bite marks. Who the fuck did that sort of thing? Vampires. No, no, and no. No vampires. No such thing. Not in Marshall's world. Some sick freak. Just some sick freak with a weird blood fetish. Oh fuck! What if he had AIDS? What if the freak had infected him with AIDS or Hepatitis or some other fucked up shit? His hands shook as he rinsed the bandanna under the tap again and then ran it over his face. Fuck. He couldn't think about that right now. He just wouldn't. He dropped the bandanna in the sink and then walked back into the other room.

As he came through the door, he heard another door open and close and then the kid was standing there looking at him, holding a bag in one hand and a Big Gulp in the other. "You're awake."

"Yeah, I'm awake. Where's my fucking phone?"

The kid hesitated and then moved towards the bed, putting the bag and cup down on the table. "You need to eat something. Get your strength back."

Marshall was hungry, but mostly he was pissed. "No, what I need is my goddamn telephone. Now where the fuck is it?"

The boy looked at him and shrugged, completely infuriating Marshall. "I sold it so I could get us some food."

"You WHAT?" Fuck. He was fucking screwed now and not because he couldn't call anyone. He had way too many people, important people, on speed dial and every single one of them would be furious if their private phone numbers got out. Fuck. He might as well go crawling back to Dre, crawl over his lap and say "Spank me, because I've been a bad little bitch" He was gonna kill this kid.

The kid just looked at him placidly. He didn't seem even remotely concerned that Marshall's temper was boiling over. "There was no money in your wallet."

Marshall stormed across the room. "Okay! Okay! Let me see if I got this straight. You stole my phone so you could buy me food. Why the fuck didn't you just steal the goddamn food?" He stopped, sputtered. He felt like he was frothing at the mouth. "Or why didn't you just wake me the fuck up! I got ATM cards, credit cards, every other fucking kinda card."

He stopped again, felt himself shake. He was dizzy. He'd just gotten so worked up he'd made himself dizzy. He sat down hard on the bed and just looked at the kid. Didn't say another word. The kid looked at him, concerned, and then silently handed over the bag and the drink. Marshall took them both, sniffed a bit, feeling slightly mortified by his hysteric freak-out and then he sipped at the Big Gulp. Dr Pepper. Not his favorite, but it would do. He realized he was hungry too. In fact, he was starving. He ripped into the bag and pulled out a red Big Bite box, opened it and was pleased to see it was the lb hot dog and had chili and tons of cheese on it. He smirked. The kid had gotten something right at least. There were HoHo's in the bag too and a box of Oreos.

He'd already half wolfed down the chili dog when he looked over at the kid again. He swallowed and then asked, "Did you eat?"

The boy nodded. "I ate on the way back over here." He paused. "Sorry about your phone."

Marshall sniffed again, took another sip of his drink. "It's okay. You should have just woken me."

The boy shook his head, sternly. "No, you needed to sleep."

Marshall sighed. He'd finished the hot dog. He could easily have eaten another one. Ignoring the HoHo's, he tore open the box of Oreos and started in on them. This time he didn't offer any to the kid. He was gonna eat every last one of them. The kid could have a HoHo. Little fucker. "What you get for it?"

"What?" He was lying on the bed now, hands behind his head, just watching Marshall eat.

"For the phone. What did you get for the phone?"

"30 dollars."

Marshall snorted. "What? Are you crazy?" Then he started laughing. This day was just getting more ridiculous by the moment. "That was a four hundred dollar phone!"

The boy laughed. "For a phone? I'm not the one who's crazy." He slid a hand down his body and into his jeans pocket, pulled out some crumbled bills and tossed them onto the bed. "You can have what's left over. It's yours anyway."

Marshall looked at the bills on the bed. A ten and a couple of crumpled up fives, two ones. He sighed. "No, you need it. Just keep it."

The boy's posture changed. He went rigid and crossed his hands over his chest and kept his gaze firmly on the ceiling. "I don't need anything from you."

Marshall studied him for a moment while he finished off the Oreos. Then he carefully picked up each bill, smoothed them out between his fingers, facing them all the same way. When he was done he looked at the boy, still staring at the ceiling, then he folded the bills in half and leaned across the bed, tucked the bills back into the same pocket they'd come from. "Keep the money."

When he sat up again, the kid was staring at him. "We need to get your neck cleaned up."

Marshall had almost forgotten about it, or at least he'd tried to. It was still sore. He felt gross knowing there was dried blood caked around it and he kept worrying about infection and other horrible things which he tried to put out of his mind. He reached up gingerly and fingered around the gashes, winced. "I tried, but it was too -- I couldn't handle it."

The boy nodded, then jumped up from the bed, faster than Marshall thought he'd ever seen anyone move before. "I'll do it. I have some stuff that will help it heal."

He went and dug through the box that Marshall had been snooping in earlier and then came back with a small first aid kit in his hand, a red cross emblazoned across the front of it. Marshall took it from him and opened it up, looking for painkillers. He was annoyed when he didn't find anything stronger than Motrin, but he opened them up, swallowed four and then finished off his Dr. Pepper.

The kid looked down at the empty cup. "You could have saved me some."

Marshall scoffed. "Tough shit, twerp!"

The boy frowned at him and then proceeded to rip opened a pack of compresses and soak them in antiseptic solution while Marshall slipped his hoodie off and shivered.. He applied the compress to Marshall's neck, holding it in place with his palm and pressing down gently. "I'm sorry, it's cold in here. We need a heater."

"You gonna steal one?"

The boy smiled. "Probably."

"You're squatting here, aren't you?"

"Yeah."

"What's your name?"

"Connor."

"Connor." Marshall considered him. "You saved my life, y'know."

Connor looked away. "I know. But I was too late to save the other one. I try and check there every day, but sometimes other things happen, things that I have to deal with."

Marshall nodded, but said nothing. He wasn't ready to ask yet about who or what had attacked him.

"Why were you there?"

"My car, I got hit about a block from there. I was looking for the cross street so I could tell someone where to find me."

"So what's your name?"

Marshall raised an eyebrow. "You don't recognize me?"

Connor just looked at him, studying his features. "No, should I?"

Marshall sighed, shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It's Marshall."

 

Connor dropped the used compress on the table and then took a dry one and scrubbed back and forth over the gashes. Marshall winced.

"Sorry."

"It's okay. Just get it all off me so my skin'll stop crawling." He sat stoically while Connor rubbed at it some more. "Do I need stitches?"

Connor moved in closer, inspecting it. "No, it's already closing over. It'll probably scar a little."

Marshall rubbed is fingers over the bites when Connor finished. "I'm more worried about whatever diseases that guy had."

Connor studied him intently enough that Marshall had to look away, disconcerted by the focus. "The only thing a vampire can do to you is kill you or turn you into another vampire."

The panic rose again, but he squashed it down. He couldn't hide the agitation in his voice though. "Don't fuck with me, man."

Connor reached out and touched his wrist. He looked down at the hand wrapped around him, kept his eyes there while Connor spoke. "I'm not. Vampires are real. You were attacked by one. I kill them night after night, but they just keep coming...like a plague." Connor hesitated and then spoke again, "There are other things too."

Marshall shook the hand off him, looked the boy in the face. He looked completely earnest. He wasn't kidding. How could he not be kidding? "What other things?"

"Monsters. Demons. Spirits." He shrugged. "All sorts of things."

Marshall laughed. "And you kill them? What are you, some kinda vampire hunter?"

Connor stood up abruptly, turned away and crossed the room. "I don't know what I am."

Marshall watched him. What the hell could he say to that? When Connor didn't turn around, just stood facing the window, Marshall shrugged and picked through the first aid kit. He pressed some triple antibiotic goop onto his fingers and rubbed it into the bites and then opened some bandages and applied them as best he could.

When he looked up at Connor again, the kid was still staring moodily out the window. Marshall decided to leave him be, so he went and relieved himself again. Noticing a wall of photographs when he came back into the room, he walked over to take a look, stealing a glance at Connor as he went. He was still at the window. Fucking moody teenagers. He chuckled to himself.

All of the photos had little notes attached to them. "Me & Wesley," "My Parents," "Gunn, Wesley & Fred." One photo looked like it was from Halloween, the girl was standing with a man dressed up in green make-up and wearing horn prosthetics on his head. Marshall was impressed. That photo said "Me & Lorne." So the girl, whoever she was, wrote all these notes. He looked over at Connor, who was now watching him. "Have you ever seen the movie Memento?"

"No."

"That movie kicks ass. What's with the notes?" When he turned again to ask the question, Connor was standing directly behind him, so close Marshall knocked into him. "Fuck. I didn't even hear you."

Connor smirked. Strange fucking kid. He reached his hand out to touch one of the photographs, traced the lines of the woman's face. "That's Cordy. She kind of lost of her memory. She put these up to remind her of who we all are."

Marshall pointed at a photograph of Cordy holding a baby. "Is that her baby?"

"That's me."

Marshall snorted. "I don't think so."

"It is though."

"No fucking way! This picture is not old enough to be you."

"I'm not going to explain it to you right now, but that's me."

Marshall shrugged. Whatever. That wasn't him, but he wasn't going to argue. His head was spinning already from everything else and he just didn't care enough to pursue it. He struggled with the temptation to just smack the kid in the mouth and tell him to stop fucking around, but having watched the boy move, he had a funny feeling he'd regret it. So he balled his fist at his side instead and smacked it against his thigh, while he scrutinized the rest of the photos.

He nearly jumped when a hand slid down his right arm. He turned around and gave Connor a hard look, but the boy just looked back at him curiously, "Who is that?"

Marshall touched the tattoo on his arm. "That's Hailie, my daughter."

"It's very lifelike."

Marshall rubbed his hand over it. "I had a very talented artist do it for me. Some people think it's creepy."

Connor shook his head. "I don't think it's creepy."

Marshall smiled at him, pleased. "Neither do I."

Before he could move away, Connor caressed his stomach, fingers running over the tattoo there that was partially hidden by his pants. The delicate touch sent tendrils of sensation creeping down into his groin and he backed away, startled. "What the fuck are you doing?"

'I was just," When Connor met his gaze, the boy's face fell and he stepped away. "No one ever wants to let me touch them."

Wow. What was he supposed to say to that? Marshall swallowed, took a step back and hit the wall. Connor didn't move at all, but he flinched when Marshall backed up. Marshall thought he looked wounded, but also angry. Why did he look angry? Fuck. What a stupid question. He was a teenager. It was the natural state of things, wasn't it? He knew that well enough, relied on it, made his living off it. "Hey, look. You just took me by surprise. People are grabbing at me all the time. It drives me crazy."

Connor glanced up at him, looked away quickly. He looked completely wound up, like he was humming on the inside. "I'm sorry."

"Just ask first, alright?"

Suddenly Connor's eyes were fixed on him again, in a way that made him want to stammer and look away. "You have another tattoo on your stomach. I just wanted to see it."

Marshall leaned back against the wall of photos and rubbed his hand across his stomach, hooked his thumb into the waistband of his sweatpants and exposed the tattoo completely. "So look at it then."

For a moment Connor didn't move, he just kept looking at Marshall, long enough that Marshall thought he'd changed his mind. He was just letting go of his waistband when Connor pounced, strong fingers stopping his hand. "You said I could see it."

They were standing face to face now and Marshall had to tilt his head up to meet the fierce gaze. He felt a little breathless, but managed to squeak out a "Yeah."

Connor grinned and Marshall's stomach flip-flopped as the boy squatted in front of him and slipped a hand into his waistband, moving Marshall's own hand out of the way. When he traced a finger along the headstone in the tattoo, Marshall sighed and shifted against the wall. Connor looked up at him then. "Rot in Pieces?"

He gritted his teeth as he spoke. "It's a memorial to my ex-wife."

Connor laughed, a brief bark of amusement that sounded faintly malicious. He traced his fingers over the lines again, sending sharp little sparks all over Marshall's skin. When Marshall's breath hitched out and his stomach clenched, Connor nodded his head slightly and then stood up, stepping away from him.

Marshall shivered in the cold again and moved away from the wall, slipping past Connor to grab his hoodie off the bed. Before he could put it on, Connor spoke from behind him, "Do you need a shirt? Yours is ruined."

"Yeah, that would help. I'm freezing."

Connor went to get a t-shirt, talking while he rummaged through his things. "It's not really that cold in here. I think it's the blood loss."

"Maybe. But you're still gonna need a heater in here at night in the winter."

Connor handed him a clean t-shirt and shrugged. "I know where to get one."

"You should let me buy you one."

Connor shook his head. "You don't need to."

Marshall spoke, exasperated, as he pulled the shirt over his head. "Look, I want to, okay? You saved my fucking life and I owe you."

Connor just sneered, the anger flashing across his features. "You don't owe me a thing. I saved you, just like I save other people every other night. I can make do on my own."

Marshall sighed, flopped down on the bed and covered his eyes with his hands. "You are such a fucking pain in the ass!"

"I know."

He felt Connor sit down beside him. His hands were still over his face, but he could feel the eyes on him. He didn't even look when he felt Connor reach out and rub his hand along the other tattoo, the one on his left arm. The touch was light and soothing, so for a little while he just breathed quietly while Connor ran fingers over his skin, tracing the outlines of the tattoo and stirring up fluttery little butterflies in Marshall's stomach. When Connor's hand stopped moving, he said "That one's for my Uncle Ronnie. He killed himself a few years ago."

Quietly Connor asked, "Why would he do that?"

For a moment, Marshall didn't respond. He didn't know how to put the words together to explain something like that. He'd never been able to put those particular words together at all in any way that made sense. His hands were wet when he took them away from his face. Connor's hand dropped away when Marshall moved his arm to look at his watch. It was after noon already. "Fuck. I need to find a phone."

"I'm sorry."

"Huh?"

"I, umm, I'm sorry I pried."

Marshall sat up, rubbed under his eyes, drying them, and then looked up at Connor. "No, it's just...fuck, I don't know what to say." He shrugged. "Sometimes, for some people, living is just too hard."

"You miss him."

"Every day. Every goddamn shitty day."

Connor responded so quietly, Marshall wasn't sure he heard him right, but he thought he said, "I miss people too."

He draped an arm over the boy's shoulder and squeezed it. When Connor turned to face him, he asked "Is there a phone around here anywhere? If I don't make some calls, too many people are gonna be worried about me. They'll think I was gunned down in the street or strung out on drugs, or whatever."

"All the phone lines here are dead. I checked them. We'll need to go out."

"Okay, I'll just, I'll be right back." Marshall left Connor sitting on the bed and went into the bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror and winced. The marks around his throat were a deep livid red, but he'd managed to place the bandages properly over the holes in his neck. He smoothed his hair down with his hands until it was tidy and then he pulled the black do-rag out of his pocket and put in on his head. He flipped the white hood up over it and then zipped it up close to his neck.

Inspecting himself again, he thought he looked okay. A bit pale maybe, but the hoodie hid most of his neck so at least nobody would be noticing that. Of course, the problem now was he'd be going out during the day and he wasn't the most anonymous looking person in the world. People were bound to recognize him, particularly with the clothes he was wearing. He'd never intended to get out of the car last night, otherwise he would have tried to dress a little less distinctively Hip Hop. He would have worn a baseball cap or something. Maybe a pair of jeans. Maybe he could borrow a cap from Connor, but the kid's jeans would never fit him. The boy was taller and slender, with much narrower hips than Marshall's own. Even the t- shirt he'd borrowed was tight around Marshall's arms and back. He wondered how such a slim kid could be so damn strong.

When he walked back into the loft, he sat down on the bed next to Connor again and started putting his running shoes on. Connor was looking at him curiously, so he said "What?"

"Are you a monk or a priest of some kind?"

"Huh?"

Connor made a motion at his head. "Your skull cap. I thought you might be a monk."

Marshall giggled. And when Connor kept looking at him with a confused half-smile on his face, he started laughing so hard tears were coming out of his eyes and he had to stop tying his running shoes. When he could breath again, he pushed the hoodie off his head and said, "It's a do-rag, not a skull cap. I'm not a monk, I'm a rapper." He stuck his hand out with his index and pinky fingers forked, "Hip Hop, yo!"

"What's a rapper?"

Marshal snorted in disbelief. "Christ, Connor, just where are you from?"

Connor shook his head. "Long story and you won't believe me anyway."

Marshall shrugged as he finished tying his laces. "You're a strange kid."

"I'm not a kid." There was an edge to his voice.

"Hey, I'm sorry. You're right. You're not a kid." Then Marshall reached out and poked him in the chest. "You're just strange."

Connor relented then, smiling sheepishly. "I guess maybe I am."

"Just how old are you anyway?"

Connor hesitated. "Um, it seems to change week to week 'cause no one can make up their minds about just how long I was gone. Cordy said I was 18." He shrugged. "I'm just not sure she's right."

"You're not sure how old you are?" Marshall didn't think that was a very good answer, but it seemed to fit all the other answers he'd been getting so he dropped it. "You gotta baseball cap or something I can wear? I'm a little too recognizable in this get-up."

Connor frowned and looked around the room, uncertain. "No, I don't have anything like that."

Marshall grinned slyly. "Do you even know about baseball."

Connor laughed. "Yes. Gunn & Fred took me to a game over the summer. At Dodger Stadium?"

Marshall nodded. "Yeah, that's right. LA Dodgers."

Connor leaned back on his elbows on the bed. "We didn't watch the game that much. At least, me and Fred didn't. I wandered around with her while she ate hot dogs and shopped. Then she ate nachos. After that, she had pizza. Then we bought t-shirts."

Marshall smirked. "She must be a fat ass."

Connor indicated the wall behind him. "Not Fred. You saw her picture on the wall. She's skinny and she loves to eat." He sat up again, "But why are you worried about people recognizing you? Are you notorious?"

Marshall guffawed. "Notorious is definitely the right word. Sometimes I think everyone on the planet must know my face. I need a disguise."

Connor thought for a minute. "We can take the tunnels."

"The tunnels?"

"The sewer tunnels. They run all over the city. I know them pretty well. I can get us where we're going."

Marshall looked at him. "And where are we going?"

Connor shrugged. "There's this abandoned hotel. I think I can find a heater there. You might be able to use the phone."

"And why would the phone be on in an abandoned hotel?"

Connor's eyes shifted away. "It's mostly abandoned. Most of the rooms are empty."

Marshall narrowed his eyes at him. He'd caught the shifty gaze. "Just mostly abandoned, huh?"

Connor gave him a smug, challenging look. "Scared of getting caught?"

"No! Fuck that. I'm not afraid 'a nothing. Let's go steal you a mother-fucking heater." He stood up, ready to go. He needed to get to that phone. When Connor just sat there looking at him, he put his hands out and said, "You coming or not?"

Connor bounced up off the bed, grinning widely. "I have to lead the way."

"Well, let's go, boy scout. I don't got all day."

 

It took them several minutes to actually get outside because once Marshall stepped out of the loft, he kept having to stop in wonderment. It was like a taxidermy shop gone wild or a natural history museum that had been left abandoned. At one point, Connor actually sighed in exasperation and started tugging on Marshall's sleeve to pull him away from the tableaux of mounted and stuffed animals that he was attempting to arrange to his satisfaction. Marshall just muttered at him as they walked, "I need to come back here and check this shit out!"

When they stepped out of the building and into an alleyway, Marshall looked at Connor and said, "I thought we were taking tunnels?"

"We are, but there's no entry from the building."

Connor moved quickly to the end of the alley and Marshall found he had to run to keep up. When he got there, Connor was standing over a manhole cover. "We need a crowbar if we're gonna get this lid off."

Connor just shook his head and smiled. Then he squatted down next to the manhole cover and stuck his fingers into the holes around the edges of it. He tossed a quick grin in Marshall's direction and then yanked the manhole cover out of the ground and tossed it aside like it didn't weigh more than a pizza box. Before Marshall could say more than "Damn," Connor stood up and jumped straight down into the sewer.

When Marshall peered over the rim, he saw that the jump was 10 feet easy. He wasn't going to be making it himself. As he lowered himself into the hole and kicked for the rungs of the ladder that would take him down to where Connor was already standing, Connor shouted up at him, "Come on. I don't have all day."

Marshall shook his head and laughed. "Show off." When he was most of the way down he leaned away from the ladder and jumped, Connor reaching out to steady him as he hit the ground. "I'm good. I'm good." He stepped back to take a look around them. "You really know your way around these things?"

"I do. I've explored them a lot between here and the hotel and out in a couple of other directions. There are maps too, but I don't really need them anymore."

"Let's get moving then, this place creeps me out."

Connor bumped up against his shoulder, pushing him off balance. "Don't worry, I'll protect you."

Marshall opened his mouth to deny any need for protection, but before the rebuke came out he remembered that he had needed it and Connor had been the one to give it to him, so he said, "You better," and left it at that. When the boy started moving, he trailed behind him for a few minutes due to the narrow passageway, but then they came to an intersection and the tunnel opened up enough for them to easily walk side by side. He whistled in surprise. "Damn. It's like a whole 'nother world down here."

Connor nodded in agreement. "Yeah, the street people like to come down here. Unfortunately, so do the vamps. But they know about me now so this section of the system is pretty safe."

Marshall was quiet for a moment, disturbed again by what he was hearing. "I'm still trying to get my head around this whole vampires being real deal."

They walked for a while and Marshall soon lost track of the various tunnels they moved to and from. Some of them were as wide as the streets above, others so narrow that he had to walk behind Connor instead of beside him. There were fewer rats that he expected, but there were still plenty of them and his skin crawled whenever he heard their feet chittering along the ground or splashing through puddles. Occasionally, they came across an abandoned shopping cart piled high with the detritus of the homeless. When Marshall looked at Connor questioning, the boy frowned and said, "Vampires."

He did not want to ask the question, but he heard the words coming out anyway. "What if we run into some?"

Connor responded firmly, "I'll kill them."

Marshall found it comforting, the level of confidence behind the remark. There was still the issue of believing in vampires, but Marshall decided he was prepared to roll with it. He just hoped they didn't meet up with any of them.

Of course, considering the day he was already having, he wasn't astonished when thinking it made it so. As they rounded the next corner, they surprised a girl going through a pile of dirty clothes. She was muttering to herself, "I have to find it. I can't find it."

Connor put his hand out and stopped Marshall from continuing forward. When the girl turned at their approach, she snarled and Marshall watched in horrified fascination as her face transformed from pretty, but dirty human to that of a monster. The face was bumpy and disfigured, mouth askew from the sharp incisors extending over her lips. When she jumped up, Connor pushed Marshall behind him, but the vampire didn't attack. The three of them just stood there warily for a moment. She morphed back to her human face and looked at Connor. "It's coming, y'know, and you won't be able to outrun it."

Then she turned and ran in the other direction. Connor was hot on her heels and Marshall shouted for him to stop. "Just leave her. She's running away."

Connor replied without turning around. "I can't do that!" And then he was on her and Marshall watched them fall to the ground. Connor pulled up and turned her over, pulled a wooden stake out of his pocket that Marshall had never noticed him put into it and held it against her breast. "What's coming? What do you know?"

The girl just laughed hysterically and then she wrapped her arms around his back and pulled herself right up into the stake. When she exploded into a cloud of dust, Marshall gasped, "Whoa!"

He ran up to where Connor was kneeling and looked at the pile of dust settling to the ground. "What the fuck was that? What just happened to her."

Connor stood up and dusted himself off and tucked the stake back into his jacket. "It staked itself. They turn to dust."

Marshall shook his head as he walked around the pile of dust, marveling at it. "Fuck, this is like real and shit. I thought you were crazy."

Connor smirked. "I might be crazy, but the vampires and monsters are still real."

Marshall's fear blew away like the dust he kicked his feet through. He laughed out loud and then went and threw his arm around Connor's shoulder when he caught his concerned look. "I wanna kill the next one."

Connor ducked his head and then smiled at him, his eyes bright. "I'll need to teach you how to fight them."

Marshall stepped away and socked him playfully on the shoulder. "I know how to fight."

Connor shook his head and said, "Not vampires."

Marshall laughed, did a little jog in place from excitement and said "What's to know? Stake to the heart, right?"

Connor straightened his posture, folded his arms across his chest and smiled serenely. "That's only part of it. Take a swing at me."

Marshall stopped dancing about and looked at Connor. "You want me to what?"

"Hit me."

"Okay, but don't be crying when I break your nose." Marshall was left- handed. It came in handy when someone was expecting a blow from the right. He wasn't going to try and hit Connor hard. He was just going to show him he could fight. But when he swung his hand at the boy's face, Connor grabbed the fist and deflected it out to Marshall's side just before it reached him and suddenly they were toe to toe and Marshall's arm was bent behind his back and Connor was holding a stake under his chin. He'd never even seen him remove it from his jacket. "Fuck." It came out in a whisper

Connor smiled wickedly and pressed the point of the stake into his chin, then let it fall from his fist and gripped Marshall's jaw firmly in his hand. Quietly, he said, "The vampires are almost as fast as me. You need to learn how to outsmart them."

They remained that way, staring intently at each other. Marshall would normally have broken the eye contact, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It was just intense. After a few moments, he let out a sigh and then Connor stepped away from him and bent over to pick up the stake. He offered it to Marshall when he stood up. "Here. You take it."

Marshall put his hands up. "No, you're right. I'm not ready. I'll get us both killed if I hold onto it."

Connor smiled and slid the stake back into his jacket. "I don't think we'll see any others. I was surprised to see that one. This really isn't the best part of the sewers for a vamp to be found."

"What do you mean?"

Connor looked at him and Marshall could tell he was deciding how much to say. "I'm not the only one hunting them."

"Oh." He fell into step with Connor again while he considered that information. The kid clearly didn't want to say too much about it and at the moment his head was swimming with so much new information he didn't want to pry.

They kept walking until a few minutes later they turned another corner and were standing in front of a set of steel doors. Connor looked at Marshall and said, "This is it. We'll need to keep quiet from now on. This leads right up into the hotel."

Marshall nodded his agreement and then stepped back as Connor slid the bolt back and then opened the door. It creaked loudly and echoed off the sewer walls. Marshall whispered at Connor furiously, "That's not very fucking quiet!"

"Ssshhh." He stepped inside and stood listening for a moment, then he smiled and turned slightly, gesturing with his hand for Marshall to follow him. When Marshall was inside, Connor moved around him and pulled the door closed, making another racket. He shrugged sheepishly when Marshall glared at him and said, "There's nothing I can do about it."

With the door firmly shut, they were plunged into blackness and Marshall was startled when Connor brushed against him and grabbed his hand. With a quick tug, he indicated the direction he was going and Marshall followed along behind him, holding tightly to the hand leading him up steps that he couldn't see.

They reached another doorway at the top of the stairs and, thankfully, it opened smoothly and quietly. When they stepped through it, hands separated, Marshall looked around. It was an abandoned kitchen. He leaned into Connor and whispered, "Where do we need to go?"

Connor whispered back, "Third floor."

"And where's the phone?"

"Umm, there's one in the lobby."

Marshall let out a little noise of disbelief. "The lobby? Oh, that's helpful."

"Ssssh." Connor put his finger to his lips. "I might be able to find another one. A cell phone."

Marshall shook his head. They should have stopped someplace and used a payphone. Dre had probably already rounded up the troops by then to look for him. If the car had been found and reported, he'd be lucky not to end up on the five o'clock news. He grabbed Connor by the shoulders and whispered to him, "We need to get the phone first."

Connor frowned, but before he could speak, Marshall shook him lightly and said, "I'm serious. You have no idea how screwed I am right now."

The disappointment, even in the murky darkness, was plainly written on the kid's face. Marshall just wanted to groan, but he swallowed it. He slid his hand to the back of Connor's head and pulled him down until their foreheads touched. "I'm not going anywhere yet, okay? It's just real important that certain people know I'm okay or all hell's gonna break loose."

Another moment went by and then Connor swallowed, nodded at Marshall and said, "Yeah, we'll get the phone."

Marshall sighed in relief and ruffled his hair before releasing him. "Lead the way."

Connor smiled, indicated another doorway and then put his finger over his mouth again. Marshall nodded at him and followed as Connor moved, taking him to another staircase. The stairs were carpeted in a typical rich brocade, heavily worn, obviously old. The hotel had been a nice one once, Marshall thought. The carpeting muffled their footfalls as they made their way upstairs and a couple of landings up, Connor paused at an open doorway. Leaning against the wall, he peeked out and studied the lobby for at least a minute, listening intently for something that Marshall could not hear. Marshall pressed himself against the wall as well and waited.

When he was satisfied, he nodded his head and then turned around and pressed a hand into Marshall's shoulder, indicating that he was to stay put. Marshall didn't like that idea at all and shook his head furiously. Connor wasn't having it though, just shook his head and held his hand up, fingers splayed. Five minutes. It was too long as far as Marshall was concerned. He was suddenly feeling spooked about what they were doing and he wasn't really sure why. He hadn't heard anything in the hotel at all, but Connor was being so sneaky and quiet it just gave him a bad feeling. He sighed, breath whispering out, and shrugged his shoulders. He'd wait.

Connor was gone in a flash, moving silently and quickly and then Marshall lost sight of him. He leaned against the wall and waited. After a minute or two he realized he was holding his breath. He let it out shakily and then ducked his head around the corner to take a look for Connor. When he saw someone else moving in the same direction Connor had headed, he froze, nearly shouted in his surprise. The man walking through the lobby paused for a moment, like he was listening for something and then he smiled and shook his head. Marshall ducked back behind the doorway again, his heart hammering. Had he made a sound? He didn't know.

The moments stretched out and Connor didn't return, but Marshall didn't hear anything to suggest he'd been caught. Just as he was inching his head out again to take another look, a hand caught him around his throat and lifted him high against the wall. "Who are you?"

Marshall kicked at the wall. He couldn't answer. He tried to swallow and draw a breath, but none came. As he continued to struggle, bringing his hands up to tug uselessly around the fingers holding him, the grip slackened and he sucked in a lungful of air, nearly choking on it as his lungs started working again. Then the hand was gone and Marshall fell to the floor, landing on his knees painfully. "What are you doing here?"

Marshall tried to talk, but his breath was still coming in big sucking gasps of air and he couldn't get the words out. He waved a hand in the air and finally managed to spit out, "I'm with Connor. I came with the kid."

Strong hands grabbed him beneath his armpits and hoisted him up again until he was pressed against the wall once more, but he was at least able to stand on his feet. It was just that he couldn't move and he desperately wanted to move when the man leaned in and sniffed at him dismissively. "You smell like him. He's all over you. Now why is that?"

Marshall looked at him, words on his tongue, but then he hesitated. He'd intended to simultaneously deny it and ask him what the hell he meant. He had to look up to face him. He was at least six feet tall and broad-shouldered enough that Marshall couldn't even see past him he was standing so close. The face was expressionless. Brown eyes considered him placidly. Marshall was still composing a safe reply in his head when the face in front of him morphed into something fleetingly monstrous and then composed itself again in human form. He was instantly struck dumb with terror. The vampire smiled at him and then asked, "What were you doing with the boy?"

As Marshall thought carefully about what to say, he heard a soft snick and then Connor's voice calmly saying, "Don't give me a reason."

The vampire flicked a glance in Connor's direction, but his eyes came back and rested on Marshall again. "Like you need a reason, Connor."

"You're right, I don't. So back off now."

"As soon as I get an answer to my question."

"My hands were all over him, touching him everywhere." The look on Connor's face was quite smug when Marshall glanced over at him.

The vampire barely reacted to the arrow pressing against his neck. He continued to regard Marshall steadily, making him blush and stammer out, "It's not...it's not what you think."

The vampire just cocked an eyebrow at him, amused. "I doubt you have any idea what I think. Now who are you?"

Before he could answer, Connor spoke again, making the vampire turn around. "He's my friend. Marshall, meet my father. Angel."

Marshall gasped in disbelief. "But he's a --"

"Vampire? I know."

Marshall looked over Angel's shoulder at Connor, trying to get his mind wrapped around it and failing. "But how --"

The vampire laughed then. "Now there's the $64,000 dollar question we'd all like an answer to. But I'm afraid we're out of time kids. Start explaining why you're here."

Marshall stared at him for a moment and then caught Connor's eye and said, "Aren't you going to kill him?"

Connor shrugged and grinned. "Not today."

Feeling bolder, even reckless, Marshall said, "But that's what you do isn't it? Kill vampires. So kill him. This fucker nearly strangled me."

Angel interrupted then, "Hey! Standing right here. Capable of killing you. Remember?"

Marshall dismissed him with a scornful laugh. He'd decided to front braver than he actually felt. It made him feel better, more in control. "You'd be dust before you tried. My boy would take you out."

Angel looked at him in amazement and then turned to look at Connor and said, "He has a lot of faith in you."

Connor just shrugged and smiled shyly. He'd crossed his arms and Marshall could see a crossbow tucked under one of them. Marshall took the opportunity of the vampire's distraction to creep a bit further down the wall and away from him. Sliding past him, he kept going until he was standing next to Connor. When Connor looked at him, head down, but eyes visible beneath the fringe of brown hair, Marshall whispered, "For good reason."

The boy nodded, then he mouthed silently at Marshall, "My boy?" Marshall just shrugged and grinned, nodding his head vigorously in agreement when Connor rolled his eyes at him.

All three of them were in the lobby now and Angel walked towards Connor and stuck his hand out. For a moment, Connor just glared at him and then he dropped the cross-bow into the outstretched hand. Marshall watched the vampire suspiciously and then with interest as he went and opened a large case and put the weapon away. He spotted all the weapons inside and his curiosity got the better of his fear. He sauntered up behind the vampire and peered inside the cabinet. "Whoa! This is some ill shit."

But when he reached out to touch one of the glittery and lethal items, Angel smacked his hand away and said, "Get your own toys." Marshall stepped back quickly when the vampire firmly closed and locked the case and then turned around to glower at him. "Why are you still here?"

Marshall answered, "We were looking to score a heater for Connor's loft."

At the same time, Connor said, "I'm here to see Cordy," and Marshall turned to look at him in surprise. Connor just shrugged at him.

"She doesn't want to see anyone." When Marshall looked at Angel again he was staring at the mezzanine level of the hotel, not really paying attention to either of them anymore.

Connor caught his attention again though when he said, "She'll want to see me."

"Don't bother her."

"I'm not. She'll be happy to see me. Where is she?"

The vampire sighed then. Marshall thought he looked unhappy, but resigned. "She's in her room. Go, if she'll see you maybe that's a good thing."

Connor nearly bounced towards the staircase. "She will. You'll see."

Marshall spoke up then, remember why they managed to get themselves found out in the first place. "Umm, Connor?"

He stopped the boy halfway up the staircase. "Yeah?"

"The phone, remember?"

"Oh yeah." Connor came back down, stuck his hand into his jeans' pocket and pulled out a small cell phone. He handed it to Marshall. "I'll be right back. Make your call." Then he was gone again, running up the stairs lightly.

 

The phone call to Dre didn't go well, but he knew it wouldn't. He'd called Rosenberg first because the stolen cell phone with its stored numbers was preying on the back of his mind, but Paul was no help. They could get his number turned off, but they couldn't deprogram a telephone's memory from an office. They needed the phone itself to do that, which he knew anyway, but he'd been hoping for a miracle. And Paul had been furious because Dre had been calling him every 30 minutes or so. "You need to get on the fucking phone with Dre, Em!" And then Paul had hung up on him.

 

"Look, Dre, about your car."

"The car's Lo-Jacked, bitch. I already know about it. It's sitting in the goddamn driveway! Now where the hell are you?"

Marshall looked over at Angel, intending to ask for the address, but Angel just looked at him stonily and shook his head. "Uhh, I'm not exactly sure where I am"

"You what? You don't know where you're at? What kind of shit is this, Em?"

"Look, just, I know, okay. I know. I fucked up and I shoulda called you sooner, but shit happened and my phone was stolen and there was nothing I could do about it. It's also a really long story and I'll tell it to you later. I'll get myself out there, alright?"

"How you gonna get here if you don't even know where you are now?"

"Don't worry, I'll figure it out. I can get a ride from, umm, the people I'm with," Marshall looked up at Angel again, who nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yeah, I can get a ride. Look, I'll see you in a few hours okay? I got some stuff I gotta take care of and then I'll be out there."

"Who you with?"

Marshall sighed. "Dre, it's...never mind, okay? It's not important right now and it'll take too long to explain. I'll catch you up later."

"Marshall, you're really trying me."

"I know. It's just, look, I'm really okay. I wouldn't shit you. I know you been worried. And I'm sorry."

There was silence across the line for a moment and then Dre said, "We been going crazy here, Em. You can't do this shit no more. Too many people after you with grudges. Nicole's been worried sick about your punk ass."

"Tell her I'm really sorry for making her worry."

It was Dre's turn to sigh. "And I been worried about you too. Just get your ass here soon. You can tell her yourself."

"I will. I'll see you in a few hours."

"Okay, Em. Do what you gotta."

"And Dre?"

"What?"

"Thanks. You know, for everything. Sorry about your car."

"The car's not a concern. You are. We'll be waiting on you."

And then the line went dead. Marshall closed the phone and slipped it into his pants pocket. When he looked up, Angel was still staring at him. After a moment he said, "I believe that phone is mine."

Marshall flushed in embarrassment, fumbled for the phone in his pocket and tried to explain. "Uhh, yeah, I'm sorry, it's just Connor sold my phone this morning so he thought he'd..."

"Replace it with mine?"

"It's not like you ever use it," a black man replied as he came down the stairs into the hotel.

Angel turned to face the new arrival, responding with raised hands and a shrug of the shoulders, "That's not the point."

The black man laughed. "Do you even know how to use it?"

Marshall was surprised to note the vampire actually looked chagrined. "I know how to use the phone. I just choose not to because it's distracting."

"What? You spending a lot of time in movie theaters lately or you just can't walk and chew gum at the same time?"

"Ouch!" Marshall couldn't help himself and when he spoke, both men turned to look at him. The vampire simply turned on his heel and walked away in a huff, saying "Just keep the damn phone" as he left the room. Marshall slipped the phone back into his pocket and then turned to face the new guy, putting his hand out in greeting. "I'm Marshall."

The man was still chuckling over the vampire's exit, so when he clasped Marshall's hand and said, "I'm Gunn," it was a moment before he actually really looked at Marshall and when he did the recognition was plain on his face. It was quickly followed by hesitation and then Gunn's eyes set hard as he released Marshall's hand and said, "I know who the fuck you are."

He didn't realize until that moment how absolutely carefree he'd felt all day long, despite the occasional moments of stark terror. He could just be himself around Connor. There were no preconceived expectations about his behavior. He was just Marshal. Connor took him at face value. He wondered when the last time was that he came to trust someone he hadn't known for at least 10 years. Hell, even most of those people he didn't actually trust.

Now the weight of being Eminem settled back around his shoulders and for a brief flashing moment he hated it, hated himself and wished he could just be fucking rid of it. But he was who he was so he squared his shoulders, looked the black man dead in the eye and flipped him the bird. Fuck it. If that's what he expected, that's what he got. Marshall turned then, dismissing Gunn with the words, "You don't know me at all." He strode back to the funky ass round couch, slouched down onto it, flipped his hood back up over his head and glared at the floor while he waited for Connor to come and rescue him.

He could feel Gunn staring at him and then heard him say, "You flip that finger again at me and I'll break it off your hand."

Marshall looked at him briefly and then snorted. "Yeah, you're a bad ass, alright."

He sensed Gunn step closer and braced himself, but he just asked, "What are you doing here anyway?"

His voice possibly sounded conciliatory, but Marshall didn't care. It was too goddamn late. He inspected his fingernails, usually buffed and clean, but now caked with grime and dried blood, as he considered answering or ignoring the question.

The question came again. "What are you doing here?"

Marshall looked up at Gunn, annoyed, but he was looking up the staircase. Marshall turned to look and saw Connor coming down the staircase, carrying a portable heater in his arms. When he caught Marshall's look he grinned widely and said, "Hey, I got the heater!"

Obviously confused now, Gunn looked back at Marshall and said "You know him?"

Connor answered for him, "Yeah, he's my friend," as he walked up to them and set the heater down at Marshall's feet. Marshall leaned over to inspect it. It was old, but it looked well-cared for and the wiring was in good condition. When he looked up again, Connor was facing Gunn and neither one of them looked happy to see each other. He said to Connor, "You're not welcome here either?"

Connor shot a glance at him and shrugged, "I don't have any friends here. Except Cordy."

Marshall grinned up at him, "And me."

Connor ducked his head down and hid a small smile. "And you, yeah."

"We should get the hell out of here then, don't you --"

Gunn interrupted with his hands up, "Whoa, whoa, just how do you two know each other? Could someone explain how our world just got even more weird than usual?"

Marshall just looked at Connor, not knowing what he should say. The boy crossed his arms in front of his chest and boasted, "I saved his life."

"Excuse me?"

Marshall stood up then, stepped up next to Connor, bumping his shoulder up against him as they both faced Gunn. He slipped the hood off his head and unzipped the hoodie, saying "It's true. I was attacked by a vampire last night." He pointed to the bandages at his neck, but he was a little disappointed when Gunn didn't seem to be all that surprised by the news.

Gunn inspected the bandages. His only comment was a whispered, "Damn." When he was done he caught Marshall's eye and said, "Listen, man, about earlier, I didn't --"

Marshall cut him off, "Yeah, whatever." He didn't want to hear it. It was all bullshit anyway.

Gunn frowned a bit and then backed off. "I'm just gonna, I'll catch you two later. I gotta check on my girl." He left, shaking his head as he went. Marshall heard him say, "This has been one crazy week," as he ran up the staircase.

When Gunn was gone, Marshall sat down on the couch again and said to Connor, "How's your girlfriend?"

Connor, still standing in the lobby, fidgeted briefly and said, "She's not really my girlfriend."

Marshall smiled slightly and said, "Yeah, I kinda figured that. Is she okay?"

Connor walked over and plunked himself down on the couch next to Marshall, comfortably close. "She's okay. She's going to come back with us tonight. She doesn't want to be here either."

Marshall started a bit at that. "Umm, Connor, I really need to get going soon. My other friends have been really worried about me. They won't be happy until they see me."

Connor got all flustered then. "But you told them you're okay, didn't you?"

Marshall felt sorry. With some surprise, he realized he actually didn't want to leave at all, but he didn't want to make Dre and Nicole, people who really did care about him, worry about him either. He smiled at Connor and touched his arm, held onto it as he said, "I did, but they don't believe me," he laughed then, "they know me better than that. I'm always in some kinda trouble."

Connor glanced at him sideways and shrugged sheepishly, "Me too."

"We're a pair." Marshall let him go then and sat back in the seat, smiling as he inspected his fingernails again. He felt good. He wasn't tense anymore. He'd probably feel differently when he faced Dre, but for now everything was just fine. "Do you think I can get a ride from someone?"

"Where do you need to go?"

Marshall looked up. It was Angel. He mentally scratched off the idea about not feeling tense. The vampire gave him the willies. The idea of monsters and vampires, surprisingly enough, didn't bother him as much as he'd thought it would. But not understanding why this vampire was so obviously not like the previous two he'd encountered made the skin at the back of his neck crawl. Somehow the whole idea of vampires seemed a lot crazier when the vampire carried on a conversation with you after an attempted strangulation.

He was taking too long to respond, so the vampire repeated his question. "Where do you need to go?"

Marshall answered reluctantly, "My friends live in the Valley. I'm staying with them while I'm in L.A."

Angel nodded and then directed his gaze at the door, considering. "If you can wait an hour or two, the sun'll be down. I'll take you there then."

Connor spoke up then, "He can wait!" He looked at Marshall, pleadingly, "You can, right?"

Marshall nodded. "Yeah, I can wait, but maybe Gunn could give me a ride, huh?"

Angel looked at him then, eyes narrowed. "No, I don't think so."

Marshall swallowed, shifted his eyes away from the vampire's scrutiny, "Uh, okay then. I can wait. That's not a problem. I told them I'd be awhile."

Angel nodded then. "Good. We'll go as soon as it's dark enough." Then he was gone and Marshall didn't even see him leave the room.

He leaned back into his seat and sighed with relief. For a moment they were quiet, and then Connor said firmly, "I hate him."

Marshall laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, I'm right there with you."

Connor looked at Marshall and grinned impishly. "You want to learn how to fight vampires?"

He didn't need to be asked twice. "Hell, yeah!"

"Come on." Connor stood up and walked over to the weapons cabinet.

"I saw him lock it."

Connor fished in his pocket and pulled another set of keys out of it and held them up, letting them swing from the key chain. "Cordy has her own set."

"What if he catches us?"

Connor chuckled. "You worry too much."

Marshall shrugged. He was nervous, but also excited. When Connor opened the case he put his glasses on and bent forward to inspect all the lethal toys inside. Whistling softly in admiration, he traced his fingers along the glittering blades of steel. After a few moments, Connor asked him, "What do you want to try?"

Marshall immediately picked up the crossbow Connor had been holding at Angel's neck earlier. "This. Show me how to use this?"

Connor grinned and nodded, grabbing several bolts and tucking them under his arm. "Yeah. We should go up to the roof. He won't come up there 'til it's dark." He closed the case and then relocked it.

Marshall had a thought as he watched Connor lock up. "So why don't you guys use guns?"

Connor looked at him, surprised by the question. "Guns are complicated. They exist on paper and I don't. They're too easily tracked."

Marshall cracked up. "Yeah right, like any of mine are registered. They aren't that hard to get."

Connor shrugged. "Maybe not, but they don't work on vampires anyway."

Marshall thought about that. He had a lot to learn, but still, a gun seemed like a useful thing to have. "But what about other monsters?"

Connor begrudgingly said, "Maybe."

They made it to the rooftop without encountering Angel again, much to Marshall's relief. Connor arranged some planks and two by fours that were lying around the roof in front of an air duct. "Our targets." Then he demonstrated how to load and set the mechanical trigger on the crossbow and fired dead center into one of the two by fours. Handing the bow to Marshall, he said, "Now you try it."

Marshall inspected the crossbow when Connor handed it to him and then tried to copy the way he'd seen him cock it, one hand braced on the weapon and the other pulling the bowstring. Connor had made it look easy, of course, being much stronger than Marshall, so he finally ended up bracing it against his legs and pulling on the bow with both hands.

Once he had it latched in place, he stood up proudly and glanced over at Connor who was shaking his head, trying not to laugh. "You'd be dead twice over."

Marshall grunted a short "Suck my dick," at him and then aimed the weapon at the two by four Connor had pinged earlier. He aimed carefully, sighting down the length of the weapon and then pulled the trigger just like Connor showed him. When he looked up to see how he'd done, he watched his arrow sail out and over the edge of the roof. "Shit! I fucking suck. Goddamn it!"

Connor laughed and took the bow away from him. "You did alright. Probably only killed one innocent bystander down on the pavement."

Marshall just looked at him, shocked. "Shit! We better check."

Connor shook his head. "No, I'm just teasing you. It's okay. Don't worry."

"Crap. How could I suck so bad?"

Connor nocked the bolt and put it back in Marshall's hands. "It takes practice. Here, I'll show you." He came up behind and brought his hands up around Marshall's arms. Marshall took a second to adjust his glasses and then gripped the crossbow again. Connor adjusted his hands slightly and then told Marshall, "Sight with both eyes across the tip of the arrowhead and then point it where you want the bolt to go."

Marshall did as he was told and let his body move into the minute position changes that Connor was inflicting upon him, guiding Marshall into place with his own body almost until Marshall felt like he was one with him. "Okay, now squeeze the trigger. Don't jerk it. Keep the pressure steady and smooth."

Marshall exhaled slowly and then he squeezed the trigger gently, as instructed. This time the arrow flew steady and true and when he lifted his head to see where it went, he was pleased to see that it had sailed into the two by four, about six inches away from Connor's own bolt. He whooped in pleasure and then turned around and hugged Connor to him. "Yes!"

When Connor stepped away he grinned at Marshall widely. "Don't get cocky. You'll still be dead if it takes you that long to line up a shot."

Marshall just laughed at him and put his hand out for another bolt. "I can do this. Gimme another one." Connor put another bolt into his hand and stepped back as Marshall prepared it. The third shot was not as true as the second, but it didn't sail over the roof. It hit the plank next to the two by four. Marshall was still pissed about it though. "Mother fucker!"

Connor shook his head. "No, that's good. It's really good. You just need to slow it down until you get it right every time. Speed follows strength and accuracy."

"Who taught you that?"

Marshall and Connor both turned at the sound of the new voice. It was Angel, leaning against the entrance to the rooftop. Connor answered him, "My fa-- Holtz taught me."

Marshall caught the slip-up and the wince that crossed Angel's face, then quickly vanished. He whispered to Connor, "I thought you said he wouldn't come up here until it was dark?"

Connor turned away from Angel and looked at Marshall. "Yeah, I'm sorry. He flirts with the sunlight." He glanced at Angel again and then back to Marshall. "I think he misses it."

Marshall glared across the rooftop. "Sucks to be him."

"He can hear every word we're saying, by the way."

Marshall paled slightly. "You couldn't have mentioned that earlier?"

Connor shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry."

The sun had settled lower on the horizon, so Angel made his way over to them and said, "I think it's time to go."

Connor sighed and said, "Okay," and then went and pulled the three bolts out of the wood, leaving Marshall standing uncomfortably next to Angel. The vampire seriously gave him the creeps and he briefly fantasized about taking one of the arrows and stabbing Angel in the chest with it to see if he'd turn to dust. Thankfully the urge passed as he figured he'd pretty much end up dead if he tried it.

When Connor came back to where they were standing, Angel put his hand out and said, "I'll take those." Connor handed over the remaining bolts and Marshall gave him the crossbow. "And the key."

Connor straightened up then and Marshall saw his stubborn look fall into place. "The keys are Cordy's. She gave them to me."

Angel put his hand out again. "And I'll take them now."

Connor stepped back, moving into the sunlight. Marshall considered fleeing, but took a few steps back himself. The sun felt good. The sun felt like safety. Connor said, "I'll give them back to Cordy tonight...when she comes back to the loft."

Marshall nervously watched them stare each other down and then Angel abruptly dropped his hand and stalked away. When he reached the door back into the hotel, he turned and said, "I'll meet you at the car in five minutes."

When he was gone, Marshall looked at Connor and said, "Why are you messing with him?"

Connor grimaced, still angry. "I'm not afraid of him. There isn't a thing he can do to me that he hasn't already done."

Connor looked down then, face hidden as he studied the roof. Marshall let him be for a moment and then he draped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. When Connor finally looked at him, Marshall ruffled his hair and said, "We should get going. I don't want him to kill me because we took six minutes instead of five."

Connor made a face at him. When Marshall tried to mess his hair again, he ducked out of the way and said, "Knock it off or I'll kill you myself."

"Shut up, bitch!"

Connor laughed, smacked him upside the head before Marshall could avoid it and then he made a run for the exit door. "Come on, let's get you home before the monster kills you!"

Marshall laughed nervously. "Oh, that makes me feel a whole lot better."

They laughed and joked as they made their way back downstairs to the lobby, but when they left the building and saw Angel in the car waiting for them, they both suddenly quieted down. Marshall hopped into the backseat of the convertible because he didn't want to sit next to the vampire. He didn't even want to be in the same city as the vampire, never mind the same car and he'd have much preferred Gunn taking him to Dre's, but he didn't have much choice.

He expected Connor to get in the front passenger seat, but after putting the heater into the trunk, he slid into the back beside Marshall and stared daggers at the vampire when he looked up into his rearview mirror at the boy. Marshall's heart gave a start then because he couldn't see Angel in the mirror. This was all too fucking real. Marshall decided there and then he was never gonna take drugs again 'cause this was like some kinda trip that wouldn't end.

When the car started moving, he tried to ignore Angel, so he asked Connor, "Tell me about this place you been?"

So Connor told him about Quor-thoth. When he started talking about it, the vampire turned his head and menaced at him, "Connor."

"What?"

"He doesn't need to know this."

Connor glowered at him and said, "He knows a lot of this anyway. It's better that he knows everything, so leave me the fuck alone."

The car braked hard then and Connor and Marshall both bounced forward in their seats, then grabbed each other. The vampire, Angel, turned all the way around to look at him. "What? What did you just say?"

Marshall spoke up then. "He said leave him the fuck alone."

Angel regarded him and then smiled before speaking calmly, like he wasn't threatening him at all. "I haven't killed or tortured anyone in a very long time, but if my son develops the habit of speaking like you on a regular basis, I will find you and drain you dry after torturing you for hours."

Marshall just looked at him, speechless. And basically terrified. Connor put a hand on his arm and said, "If he tries it, I'll stake him for you." When Marshall turned to look at him, Connor was grinning. Marshall laughed. The tension broke and Angel just snorted, shook his head and started the car moving again. Marshall relaxed back into the seat and Connor settled closely against him and quietly told him about Quor-thoth.

When they pulled up to the gate at Dre's, Marshall hopped out of the car and punched in the security code that would open the gates. He jumped back into the backseat and said to Angel, "Just drive up to the house."

In front of the house, he got out of the car again and Connor followed him out. They stood looking at each other and then Marshall said, "So I guess this is it." He didn't know what else to say.

Connor gave him a small smile and said, "Will I see you again?"

Marshall grinned and nodded, "Yeah, definitely." He leaned in and said quietly, "Do you know the number of that phone you gave me?"

Connor nodded. "Yeah, I know it."

"I'll need to get it back to you, so call me on it tomorrow. I'll be in town another couple of days and I'll have a new phone before I leave. You can give me an actual address for that crazy place you live in so I can find it."

Connor looked at him hopefully, "You mean it?"

"Yeah, you need to take me on a tour, don't you?"

Connor grinned then, happy to be reassured. "Yeah, I do."

Thoughtfully, Marshall reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened it up and searched through the credit card holder until he found what he was looking for and handed it to Connor. "I want you to keep this."

Connor looked down at the photograph in his hand and smiled. "Is that Hailie?"

"Yeah. That's me and Hailie. It was taken last year."

"Are you sure you don't need it?"

Marshall laughed. "I have like six more pictures of her in my wallet. You keep that one for me."

Connor smiled brightly then, and stuffed the photo into the front pocket of his jeans. When he looked up again, Marshall pulled him into a hug. They stood like that for a long time until Marshall felt him shake in his arms and pulled back. When he looked at Connor's eyes, there were tears there and he wiped them away gently with his thumb. "Don't start crying on me now or you'll make me sob like a bitch."

Connor sniffled and said, "I'm not crying."

"No, you're not." His fingers traced the tears lightly down Connor's cheek.

Impulsively, he kissed Connor on the mouth and the boy's lips were soft and pliant and slightly parted beneath his. The kiss was brief and when he drew away, Connor stared at him. Marshall ruffled his hair and drew him closer and kissed his forehead lightly, brushing his lips against Connor's brow like a benediction, a blessing. Connor wrapped his arms around him and buried his face in Marshall's neck, sobbed briefly, and Marshall held him tighter. "I'll see ya, kiddo!"

Connor mumbled something into his neck that sounded like, "I'm not a kid," and Marshall responded with, "I know, you're just strange."

Separating himself gently, he said, "Call me tomorrow," and then he turned and walked towards the house, allowed Nicole to throw her arms around his neck and hug him as she came out to greet him. When he finally disentangled himself from her grasp, he turned to wave goodbye, but the convertible was already pulling out of the driveway. Connor sat in the seat beside the vampire, not looking back. So Marshall let Nicole lead him towards the house. As they went inside, he wrapped his hand around her waist and asked, "Do you think Dre'll forget about the Mercedes and all of today if I buy him a Bentley?" Nicole just laughed and closed the door behind them.

 

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