There was a sense of urgency to the monster’s movements now; it was a race to take all he could before the boy’s heart died and his blood soured to poison.
Blood-starved organs struggled and grew erratic. The long sheathes of lungs that filled the hollow of his chest began to wither and curl like dry leaves in autumn, no longer pliant and strong. The great weight of the brain in its smooth fortress of solid bone became confused, sending electrical pulses to limbs that were no longer capable of responding to them and failing to decipher the scant messages it received in perplexing flickers of warmth and light. Soon it would yield to the numbness that encroached on it, sinking into the dark waters of unconscious with the stubborn valor of a captain going down with his ship.
But still the dying boy’s heart drummed on. It ticked out a span that was measured now not in years, but in precious seconds, and every missed beat brought it nearer to the end.
It was almost intolerably beautiful. The vampire had little use for death, but dying – such flawless serenity amid crushing terror, intimacy from revulsion, the easy familiarity of trembling limbs and gasping mouths and the yielding compliance of an intricate set of moving parts that had already surrendered itself utterly to his irresistible will – it was the most exquisite thing he had ever known, in this life or the one that had come before.
The boy – he did not even know his name – gasped his last breath. Still his heart pulsed, stuttered, and pulsed again. And then, inevitably, it faltered and fell still.
The vampire felt it like the reverberation after the final pounding of a great drum. He sensed it with his mouth, in his teeth, with his own heart that for a queer moment seemed to resonate with pain as though in sympathy with the previous owner of the blood that lit it, incandescent, from within. He pulled away abruptly, his mouth dark, and knelt panting over the boy’s still body.
And then he collapsed with a groan. He rested his cheek on the corpse’s still-warm chest. His eyes were glowing, radiant as silver stars. Their hands remained clasped together with fingers intertwined sweetly.
He remained there, panting and shivering against his late companion. He did not ponder the life he had cut short because there was no such thing – there was only someone who had been and a thing that now was, and the former had been far lovelier than the latter. He was taken by a delicious shudder at the thought of it. He gave himself over to reliving the memories of terror and petulant rebellion, of skin quivering against, around him, of hot blood washing over his tongue and even, for a delectable moment, the lancing bolt of pain when the boy had driven the blade into his side.
“Je t'aime à la folie,” he breathed, ridiculously, giddy with joy. He lifted his head to kiss the base of the urchin’s throat and shifted against him. He probed warily at the wound the boy had inflicted in his side and found to his satisfaction that it had already sealed. There would be a scar by this time tomorrow and then nothing, not even raised flesh to commemorate it.
The hot blood still prickled with an intensity that was almost pain in his veins, but the vampire’s awareness was nearly wholly restored. Begrudgingly, he extricated his hand from the corpse’s tender grasp. He lifted himself from the cooling body and swung his bare feet over the side of the bed.
He dressed as efficiently as he had disrobed, the familiar clasps and buckles easy to navigate by touch alone. His pale eyes were distant as he worked. It was impossible to guess what it was he was occupied with, but now and again his slender fingers trembled as they worked his belt back through the loops around his waist.
The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon by the time the intruder had languidly finished gathering his accoutrements. He had been forced to track his knife by the scent of his own blood congealed on the blade, an experience he had found charmingly exotic. It had been tucked, still dark with blood, into its proper place and the vampire exhaled through his teeth as he prepared to exit the room that was, unbeknownst to sightless eyes, a grisly scene indeed.
He slung his traveling cloak over his shoulders and hefted the wallet within its pocket in his palm as he tried to gauge how much lighter it would be before the night was done. The life of one sullen street-urchin would not cost him dearly, surely? He would have to pay his debt before they had a chance to lay eyes on the gruesome murder-scene, lest they raise a scene in an attempt to coerce him out of more. He was not the only eccentric with a taste for soft-bellied boys fettered to beds, he knew, but few had to make such a dreadful mess of it.
The vampire was not built for regret, but as he closed the door behind him he could not help but feel it a shame to leave such a delightful creature behind. He was struck by the powerful impression that he could still open the door and gather the limp body in his arms to nurse back to wellness.
‘Tarde venientibus ossa,’ he thought wryly, and then, with a bit less humour, ‘You are too old for a pet.’ The vampire descended the stairs with his spine erect and his pale eyes glowing like a wolf’s in candlelight.