Warning: the final scene of this chapter, beginning when you see Faith, contains self-harm and negative thought processes that may be distressing or triggering. Skip this one if you feel these issues may affect you.
Stay safe. https://www.mind.org.uk/
AJ was thoroughly pissed off.
She had half a mind to head straight back home and spend the day on the sofa, in her underwear, binge-watching random series after random series and simply pretend there was no footage to find.
But, knowing her luck, Pete would investigate by himself and find out that she was lying. She had to at least ask. Rage turned to nervous energy as she approached the fountain, like she’d done a thousand times before, and looked up at the old pub – the only infrastructure surviving from the original Windenburg Square.
She had no choice. She never had any bloody choice. And when everyone saw that footage they’d see that despite all her boasts, she couldn’t even pull a man out to kidnap someone, dressed as a pirate, on her own doorstep. That he’d freaked the fuck out and legged it at the very suggestion. Talk about kicking a woman when she was down.
And what did it matter anyway? Even if she got this footage, it’s not like Seth was going to come back here, not now. He’d be miles away with his teen prize. Ick. She’d probably never see him again. Probably for the best; she’d have a few choice words.
Wait a second was that…?
No, just imagining things. She shrugged off the sense of lingering dread, that someone was watching her, and carried on her with pointless quest, wondering how she’d convince the landlady, who she saw weekly and had never even spoken to, that she needed her camera footage.
The camera in that alley almost covered her garden – maybe she could say that she suspected foxes had been at her bins and she needed evidence to get a culling license? Yeah, that’d do. She’d never be able to show her face in this pub again though when the footage made it to the rag and they released she’d outright lied. She’d probably have to move out of the square, lest she’d suffer the gossiping wrath of old Agatha Bun and her cronies.
She hated her job.
Seth had been casually perusing windows in the town square, remembering it as it was, all those centuries ago. He was certain that this corner plot, south-east of the fountain, used to offer laundry services to the front and very different services to the rear.
Not that Seth had ever partaken of either of those services. Between his release and meeting Angeline, he had been akin to a leper; he couldn’t have paid a woman into his bed even if he’d had the funds. He had been resigned, as he’d tied his pigs ear noose, to die an untouched man.
And as for laundry? What couldn’t be washed by rain simply didn’t need to be clean.
Seth had leapt over the fence, intrigued to see what had become of the former brothel and perhaps trigger another memory or help him figure out a little more of what had happened to Angeline. From his vantage point he could see into the room; a lewdly decorated one with a large television. Thankfully, it was one of those modern ones that didn’t cause the hammering, debilitating headache of the older analogue sets, so Seth could mostly tolerate being this close.
He could make out the news channel and they appeared to be showing Faith’s face. He smiled wryly, wondering if she was still sulking as she watched this back at the apartment, imagining her delight that people were talking about her, the little attention-seeking devil that she was.
He’d finish up here, find a gift for Joy – he had something in mind – and head back. Hopefully then she’d have wallowed enough to finally tell him what was bothering her. Perhaps it was him deliberately changing the lyrics to her favourite song. Honestly though, he had a jacket full of sharp implements; he could resonate much clearer with the notion of ‘cutting’ something away.
Or maybe it was a little deeper than that. He’d hardly been a model of might and masculinity lately; perhaps she was simply going off him a little.
Satisfied that this modern house was not going to trigger an onslaught of buried memory, Seth made to leave, as the image on the screen changed to depict a greyscale image of a long-haired man, displayed adjacent to the one of Faith.
Who was that? Was that… him?
Seth took a step back, screened from view as the elderly owner of the house appeared in the room; a fresh cup of tea in her hand, her attention riveted on the television.
“Oh my lord, Mr. Puddles,” she whispered to her cat as she settled herself on the sofa. “Something surely did go awry with those three young girls, didn’t it?”
The cat didn’t respond.
Seth leaned closer to the window, trying to make out the words on the screen.
Kidnapper? He laughed loudly at having yet another misattributed felony, but thankfully (for her) the elderly woman was too hard of hearing to acknowledge that there was a wanted criminal peering into her window. Seth watched a while longer, the corner of his mouth twitching periodically upwards as the media all but ignored Faith’s plight to speculate on the ‘mystery man’ who may have her.
It had been over three hundred years since he had last seen his face, bar the biased imagery in the minds he read. He couldn’t guarantee that this image was an accurate representation, but being reminded that he had barely aged, physically at least, in all that time was interesting. As was the fact that Lilith had always claimed that the scar on his face was rather disfiguring. But that didn’t seem to be the case.
Another thing the vicious vixen had lied about. Her mendacity was bloody endless.
Neither Lilith or Caleb showed up in photo or video footage, much to Lilith’s chagrin. She had to carefully dodge the mines of a society gradually becoming obsessed with its own imagery while she had none. He chuckled that this story might inadvertently make things even more difficult for her – the world being on ‘high vampire alert’ once more.
Seth was not concerned about humans looking for him. They wouldn’t find him. That part of the story meant nothing. A few parts did, however, grind his gears.
First, Seth had never tried to capture his image; he very much enjoyed the notion of being an eternal creature, a constant presence and yet, simultaneously, nothing more than a fleeting memory. But his name and his face were forever in the public domain now.
It made him feel painfully ordinary.
And second; he’d been a shadow for three hundred goddamn years and suddenly, within a fortnight of meeting Faith, the world knew he existed. He knew that these revelations had something to do with his irresponsible initiate, but what the hell had she said or done to convince those musically impaired humans to approach the media about her?
Simmering slightly above his usual level of rage, Seth hopped back over the fence, vaguely aware of the silhouette of an approaching human.
“Seth?” she called.
She looked vaguely familiar but Seth couldn’t place her until – ah. Until she started thinking.
It is him. Now, what do I do? Maybe an interview? Maybe he’d be willing to visit the newsroom. Fuck me; he’s a vision. Invite him round again. No! Remain professional, AJ. Remain professional.
An interview? Oh now he remembered – she was a journalist. And he’d seen her the other night, the first night that Kitty had begun screaming at him – the first night he’d managed to lie and the first night he’d been unable to wipe a human memory.
He’d best fix that.
“Is that wave your way of dismissing me?” she scoffed. “Because I ain’t leaving.”
Why didn’t this work? Was it something about this human or something about him?
He hadn’t particularly wanted to dine this early in the day, and this human was operating on a schedule; she had just visited the pub and had witnesses to her whereabouts, and she would be missed relatively quickly. Not to mention that the pub’s camera was pointed directly at him, capturing hell-knows-what.
So no. Alas. He couldn’t slaughter her.
He held up his hand, reaching once again into her psyche, reaching deeper, using all his concentration—
Ah, there we go. Oddly, he wasn’t completely in control of this hold on her, but he listened as AJ lost her train of thought and, with it, all knowledge of ever having met him or – aha! – taking him home.
Before she could gather her thoughts and possibly recognise him again, he decided it best to make a fleeting getaway. This brief distraction had not, however, set him off course in his endeavours. Joy’s gift could wait.
There was a certain ‘kid’ he needed to strangle an explanation from.
She should’ve stolen one of Seth’s little knives – surely he wouldn’t miss one – because the only sharp thing she could find in the apartment was an enormous veggie knife.
Faith briefly considered trying to carve out her tattoo, which now only served as a permanent reminder of what a complete fuck-up she was, but settled with her old, reliable method.
This knife was too big, too unwieldy, for Faith to trace the hashtag of scars as she usually would, so instead she upended it and twisted the tip into the soft skin at the very centre of her gridded wrist, like she was beginning a sick game of noughts and crosses.
The pain was intense, sending a shockwave to her fingertips. The heady rush of adrenaline, tinged with that blissful dazedness, was as she remembered it, but when Faith watched the gooey, not-quite-blood-like stuff as it barely oozed out of the hole she had made, her heart sank.
Another thing she’d lost in her haste to escape the world she’d thought she’d hated. She watched the reluctant flow make its way slowly down her hand, collecting under her nails and going no further. It was almost like it didn’t want to leave. Like the rot was finally taking over her.
Even as she watched it, the flow began to slow.
The whoosh and thump noise that she recognised as Seth appearing caused her to drop the knife with a clatter. She nudged it under the counter with her bare toe, clasping her hand over the hole in her arm and trying to look casual while the black goop oozed through her fingers, spurred on with the pressure she had applied to it.
Shit, shit, shit!
What had happened? Why was he back so soon? Why did he look like he wanted to burn the world?
Seth appeared to falter as he laid eyes on Faith who could do nothing to hide the mess she was making.
“What have you done?” he asked.
“None of your fucking business!” Faith hissed. She tightened her hold but it was pointless; her hand slid on her slick arm and the black mulch had started dripping to the pristine tile.
Faith began to panic as Seth approached her and she realised there was nowhere for her to go. He grabbed her good arm, causing her to completely lose her grip on the wounded one. He paused, glancing at the knife on the floor and back at her arm.
“Why?” he asked.
Fucking hell, that word! How could three bloody letters form such a complicated question?
Exposed and at the mercy of his silent judgement, her focus shifted to him. She opened and closed her mouth like a fish, trying to string together two words that made sense. How could she explain to someone else something she barely understood herself?
She felt the thudding increase at her temples the longer she deliberated, like an insistent visitor banging on the front door, and then, suddenly, an almighty compression and the sensation of fullness in her head.
Taken by complete surprise that Seth was managing to read her, Faith eyed him with venom, a sharp reply on her tongue, before simply giving up.
“Fine,” she conceded. “Rape my head. Whatever.”
He stared at her a long while as if deliberating, before her mind began involuntarily revisiting the Kaz Traitors gig, the conversation with Caustic, how angry she’d been that Seth had left, and – ah, fuck, there it was – the piss and bleach scent of the bathroom.
She closed her eyes and shuddered as Seth made a low noise in his throat. She knew that he was seeing it; he was deadly still and silent, watching her relive that short, disappointing encounter. It hadn’t felt this long when it was happening live; it was torturous. Finally, the reel in her mind ran to the end, to the moment Caustic finished, ages before Faith would’ve, zipped up immediately and told her to leave.
Seth’s eyes were intense, looking straight through her; she’d never seen them so dark. She began seeing stars as he skimmed forward through her day; her rifling through his possessions and larking about in the apartment coming up with a hundred snarky responses to his late arrival home. Each scene he witnessed making him more and more angry.
And then he reached the evening. The sinking feeling Faith had had that perhaps something had gone wrong. The hopelessness of wandering the city looking for a needle in a haystack and the overwhelming guilt and relief when she’d finally found him.
She couldn’t look at him. Shame kept her eyes firmly on the floor, on that stained knife, but she could sense him, staring at her. Her brain felt like it had been cleaved open and laid on display and he was taking his painful time studying every inch of it. He ran his thumb across her wrist that she had all but forgotten about, invoking a sharp pain and a memory of the first night they’d spoken.
“…The last time our paths crossed, you asked for help. Maybe we can figure out why you do this,” he rubbed his thumb across Faith’s wrist, “why you’re so keen to put yourself in harm’s way and why you so eagerly lay yourself bare when, despite what you tell everyone, you get no fulfilment from any of it, whatsoever.”
Seth took a half step back as he heard this. Faith’s knees buckled. This was it. He’d heard enough, seen enough; she’d fucked everything up this time beyond any kind of salvage. This is where he would realise exactly what a messed-up, unfixable disaster she was and bolt. He’d bolt to the door and wouldn’t look back.
He was eyeing her wound with a look of disdain, rubbing circles on the skin gently with his thumb. She wished she had any idea what was going on under that stupid hat of his. He looked like he was questioning everything; weighing up his options. Any minute now, for sure. Any minute now, he’d scream in her face that she was a worthless whore, and he’d leave.
Five minutes later, he hadn’t moved.
Her tongue was dried to the roof of her mouth, so she tentatively thought her question, both willing him to hear it and not hear it at the same time. Why aren’t you leaving?
He didn’t answer, so he must not have heard. Instead, he brought her wrist to his lips, pressing a kiss to the broken skin. She allowed herself to melt into him, willing him to drink. Maybe he’d drink her dry, she thought wistfully. She could still feel him perusing her thoughts, as if looking for something. He smiled as he found one.
“Take it from my neck, then. But if you fucking kill me, I’ll haunt you.”
What was he looking at this for? Shit. Was he actually gonna kill her?
“I’m not going to kill you, silly!” April had gasped, her huge, doll-like eyes glowing when presented with the sight of Faith’s exposed throat. “I’d never do that because…”
I’d miss you too much.