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The Question of Blood

Chapter Text

pairing: Erik(Blade)/Nikki

Disclaimer: I do not own anyone from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or from Blade.


The Question Of Blood
by Lucinda
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His life hadn't always been like this; alone, doing little more than existing so that he could kill more vampires. It wasn't really living, more of an existence. A bleak, violent existence for someone that was assumed to be a bleak, violent man.

His hands moved without conscious direction, cleaning the sword that had become symbolic of him. He didn't use a name anymore, not since... not since Nikki. Unnoticed, a tear formed in his eye, not quite willing to expose itself to slide down his face. He wasn't Erik anymore, he was Blade now.

Erik had ran away from the latest foster home, unwilling to stay in a place where it was so clear that he was unwanted, unwelcome. It was shouted in every glare, every punishment that was harsher for him than their blood children, every time he was chosen for the messy chores. But who could he complain to?

Living on the street was a rather unwelcome and unpleasant experience. He found himself lurking around, eating things that he never would have dreamed could be considered food a few weeks ago. But here, he didn't get punished for things other people had done, didn't get blamed for taking up space, for killing his mother, for being in the way. Not that he'd really killed her... His social worker had explained that one to him very carefully. His mother had been attacked by someone, a very bad someone, and taken to the hospital. She'd died as the doctors had tried to save her, but they'd been able to save him, cutting him from his mother's womb. At the time, the only thing that had come to mind was a simple question - why?

He'd spent years wondering about that, wondering why go to the trouble to save the baby of a single mother, a woman with no family. His father hadn't come forward, nobody had come forward to claim him, take him home with them. So he'd been passed from foster parent to foster parent, never quite belonging anywhere. He'd become defensive, short tempered, and the social worker described him as 'sullen'. She was always asking him why he wasn't happier, more cheerful.

But what did he have to be cheerful about? He wasn't particularly good at school, nobody wanted him on their team for sports, he didn't have friends. He couldn't think of a single reason to be happy and cheerful.

Then, he'd met Nikki. It was rather funny, almost. He'd been trying to run from a group of older, bigger kids, something about being black in the wrong part of town. Unfortunately, he'd ended up in a dead end alley, and they'd cornered him. Nikki had been in the area, he wasn't quite sure why, and she'd tried to help him.

"Get away from him!" She'd sounded so angry.

One of the guys, someone with a shiny gold hoop in one ear and a greasy blue bandana had sneered, clearly unafraid. "Back the hell off, kid. This doesn't concern you."

The girl couldn't have been more than thirteen, but she'd launched the sweetest looking right cross that he'd ever seen, right into that arrogant bastard's eye.

Things got fuzzy in his mind after that. He'd thrown himself into it, his mind whispering all the things that could happen to him and now this girl.
He punched and kicked, throwing himself into the fight with desperation, and wishing that he had more of an idea what to do in a fight. He did have a clear memory of that smug guy with the earring trying to grab the girl, right in front of him. He'd reached out, grabbing a fistful of stringy hair and the earring, and yanked backwards, dragging the guy off balance enough that the girl slipped out of reach, and ripping the hoop from the guy's ear.

That had made him howl, and there had been blood, which smelled like copper and anger. It reminded him of one of the foster homes that he'd been in, where Mrs. Turner had fixed a roast every Sunday. Erik had smiled then, and kept swinging, determined not to back down. Erik had long since lost count of the times that he'd been kicked or punched, really only noticing the way his blood was running down his forehead, trying to get into his eyes, and the burning feeling over the tops of his knuckles.

But all the determination in the world hadn't been enough to keep him and Nikki from getting the hell beat out of them. The fact that they'd left the other guys pretty marked up really hadn't made them feel any better. It wasn't until later that he realized how lucky they both were that none of those guys had been carrying a knife or a gun.

Nikki had managed to stagger up first, and then she'd insisted that they go to her place, that they get some bandages and clean up a bit. Her mom had helped bandage him up, and offered to let him stay the night on the couch. From that moment, Nikki was his friend - the first one that he'd ever had. Her mom kept trying to fuss over him, to take care of him as much as he'd let her, which was an odd feeling for him.

Nikki had helped him keep an education, asking him to drop by and help her go over her homework. Her mom would usually ask him to stay for dinner, and after a few half hearted protests the first few times, he'd stopped even trying to object.

There was also someone else that Nikki'd introduced him to, sort of an honorary uncle named Andrew. He'd been a big man, with some of the strangest and scariest scars that Erik had ever seen, like he'd been mauled by some sort of wild animal. And he taught them how to fight. They would slip into the old gym after hours, and he would work them hard, studying boxing, karate, even some gymnastics. He also had them practicing with wooden eastern looking swords, saying that it would help them learn control and precision. Andrew was the most stubborn and demanding guy, insisting that they work each move over and over until it was perfect, until the form was ground into their muscles and bones.

Of course, it was turning out to be a great help when anyone else tried to beat him up. He could fight back now, even managing to drive off older, bigger people, or a pair of bullies at once. Apparently, he was stronger than he looked, as Andrew put it. The idea brought a small smile to his face, and a feeling that this was finally something that he could do - he could fight.

Life could have been great, if things had kept going like that. Everything would have been different, at least, everything that he cared about. But Andrew got hit by a drunk driver one day, just... plowed over by some jerk that not only ran through a red light, but had gone onto the sidewalk as well. The driver had been killed instantly, Andrew had lingered almost a week in the hospital, not waking up even once before he slipped away. It was close to that time that Nikki's dad got laid off from his job, which meant that he was home. And Mr. Wood didn't want his daughter spending time with some 'no-good boy from the wrong side of town', not his precious baby girl.

He'd been skulking around the gym where he'd practiced with Andrew, missing Nikki, missing having Andrew there to care, to take an interest in is life. There had been something... He hadn't been quite certain what, but he'd found himself staring at a couple that were walking down the street. There was something wrong about them, about the way they were moving. Curious, he'd followed them, watching as they'd picked up one of the street whores, and all three had vanished into a dark alley.

Then, he'd smelled blood, thick with fear. He'd looked, shocked and horrified when he saw the yellow eyes and sharp teeth that the couple now had, the way the whore's blood was flowing from the wicked bite on the side of her throat. The way they were drinking the blood.

He had no idea what to do. It was obvious to anyone that had watched horror movies or stepped into a library - those were vampires. Real vampires, with sharp teeth and drinking blood. Part of him wanted to attack them, to kill them for what they'd done to the whore, had probably done to uncounted other people. But he had no weapons, and weren't vampires supposed to be really strong? Part of him wanted to back away, to insist that this wasn't really happening, that vampires weren't really real. Another part of him. He could smell the blood, see how the pair of vampires seemed to belong together, like a happy couple. A bloodthirsty, murderous couple, but still happy.

Most disturbing, something in him was fluttering, wanting to go towards the blood, towards the whole mess. It was calling him. He barely realized as he licked his lips, his emotions churning in fearful confusion.

"That impatient to be desert?" The woman had snarled, blood and fangs garbling her words.

It was as if his feet had decided for him - Erik ran. He bolted, utterly panicked by the vampires, the blood, the way he'd seemed so fascinated and horrified by it all. He hadn't stopped until he'd slipped into an old Catholic church, all but deserted at this hour. There was a faint light coming from the hall with the offices, but the main sanctuary was empty, lit only by a few flickering candles burning in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. He'd crouched among the pews, terrified and confused, shaking as he tried to understand what had happened, what he'd seen. He tried to bury the fact that something had responded deep inside of him, hoping that he could just ignore it away by concentrating on the fact that vampires were real.

It had been a few days later that he'd met Nikki at the library, and he'd noticed the tension in her shoulders. "Nikki? What's wrong?"

She'd spun around, and her eyes had sparkled when she saw him. The next thing he knew, she was hugging him with all her strength, pressing her face against him. Barely detectable tremors shook her body.

His arms had gone around her, and he just held her, uncertain what had happened, but worried. If he could protect her, or help her, he knew that he would. Nikki was all he had in the world, after all. "I'm here, Nikki."

She'd looked up, her eyes glittering with tears, and raised on her tiptoes. Soft lips brushed over his, and then she was tugging him out the door before he could quite figure out anything beyond the fact that she'd kissed him.

"My dad is being an utter jerk. It's always what's for dinner, why aren't you busy, no wife of mine, blah, blah, blah." Nikki was tugging him along the street, her movements fast and uneven. "He's going to drive me crazy at this rate."

"So, you're looking for something else to do?" Erik had asked, half wondering if he wanted the answer, and a part of his mind still stuck on the part where she'd kissed him. Nikki had kissed him, with her lips that tasted like strawberries.

"I just. I don't know, but I can't stay inside and fume about everything." Nikki looked at him, here eyes pleading. "I tried the gym, but it made me think of Andrew, and that hurt."

"Yeah, he's. not so gone there." Erik had tried to explain. Andrew was dead, but it was as if he might walk into the gym at any moment, there were so many memories of him there, just waiting. He felt as if he'd just have to look in the right place to see Andrew again.

In the end, fate had made the decision for them. It was almost too much like that night almost a year ago when they'd first met. A group of gang members were trying to hassle people, crowding closer around a pair of high school kids. The kids couldn't have been older than Erik and Nikki in years, but life had been easier on them, softer. They were just a couple kids, surrounded by the big bad wolves.

Nikki launched herself at the first one, dropping him with a vicious kick to the side of his knee, followed by a couple rapid punches to his shoulder. Erik was right behind her, taking the gangers down. It seemed so easy, as if they were in slow motion, and it almost felt effortless to dodge their attacks. The gangers were soon on the ground, groaning and whimpering, and the near victims bolted, running away as if they were afraid they'd be hit next.

Erik had found himself holding Nikki again, whispering words as she sobbed against him. He wasn't certain if she was crying from the fight, from the way the kids had bolted, or from life.


End part 1

Chapter Text

 After that, it had only seemed natural for them to start looking for trouble to break up.  They were both young, only just fourteen, and the idea that they could get hurt or killed never occurred to them.  Breaking up fights, stopping people from hassling strangers…  Any sort of trouble that looked like a close match in numbers, and they were jumping in.

 Naturally, Mr. Wood was having fits about that.  He was convinced that his daughter was out getting into trouble, and no amount of talk of Neighborhood Watch or the tradition of the Black Panthers could convince him otherwise.  Every night that he caught Nikki sneaking out, or coming home with bruises, he’d rant and yell at her.  Every time he’d have a screaming fit at Nikki, she’d be angry, tense, and more determined to take risks, to get into fights, and more likely to kiss Erik.

 That was probably why he didn’t try to talk her out of those moods more often - the kisses were wonderful.  They’d kiss, nibbling, tasting, exploring each other’s mouths and lips, their hands wandering all over.  What had started in the library with her lips brushing over his had changed, slowly evolving and growing into something more, something larger and deeper and utterly incomprehensible to them both.  Neither of them wanted to try to probe into the why’s.  They were just trying to find a release, no matter how temporary, from the bleakness of their lives.  Just a few moments of joy here and there, a few moments of peace.

 Neither one of them ever considered the idea of consequences.

 It was perhaps a month after they’d become lovers that Nikki showed up, her eyes flickering all over as if seeking some escape while her body was stiff, almost clumsy.  Her hands were clenched, sending her muscles and tendons into tight cords along her arms.  “Erik?  Erik, are you here?”

 “I’m here, Nikki.  What’s…  What happened?”  He didn’t even have to ask if something was wrong, that was obvious just by looking at her.  She was upset, angry and afraid and something else, all tangled up inside of her.  The question was how could he help her.

 “Remember Mr. Henner, the guy with that new bookstore?  He… we had a talk.  He’s a Watcher.”

 She was trembling, and had moved closer, leaning towards him, though her body was still stiff, her fists still clenched so tightly that he could smell the trickles of blood that her nails had released from her palms.  “He’s supposed to replace Andrew.”

 “Nobody can replace Andrew.”  The words slipped out, soft, part plea and part denial.

 “It gets… stranger.  Weirder.”  Nikki was right against him now, as if she was trying to hide beside him, or to… no, she didn’t quite feel like she was trying to hide, exactly.

 “What did he tell you?”  Erik wrapped one arm around her shoulders, trying to let her know that she wasn’t alone.  Her skin quivered, and she leaned closer, resting her weight against him.

 “He said that there are vampires.  Demons.  That they’re… they’re all real.”  She took a deep breath, which escaped raggedly.  “He said that there’s something called a Slayer, someone chosen by God or something like that to fight them.”

 Bits connected in Erik’s mind, and he pulled her close, wanting to keep her safe, wanting to protect her from this, even if he wasn’t quite certain how big ‘this’ was, and rather doubted that it would go away.  “He said you were this Slayer?”

 “Maybe. Apparently, there’s a lot of people who could become her, and… there’s only one at a time.  I’ve got this potential.”  Her hands had relaxed, and he could feel her fingers splayed over his ribs, feel the dampness from her blood.  “I don’t like this.  I don’t…  I don’t like him, and I like the part about vampires and destiny even less.”

 He closed his eyes, and just hugged her close to him.  It wouldn’t have been as bad if Andrew were still there.  Even if the scary things were still there, even if Nikki was supposed to fight them, Andrew would have made them feel safer.  Andrew would have at least cared.  “I’m here.”

 “I don’t know if I could do this alone.  I don’t know if I could face all of these changes.  There are monsters out there.  Not just… not just the human ones, but things with fangs and claws.”  Her words were muffled as she spoke into his chest.  “I wish he was just some crazy old man, someone who took a few too many drugs once upon a time, but…  It fits with the way Andrew was teaching us to fight.”

 “I saw them.  I saw a pair of vampires.”  The words slipped out, a response to Nikki’s distress.  “They… they looked like a couple out for a walk, but… Something about them was just wrong.  It didn’t… it felt wrong.  I followed them.”

 “What happened?”  She was looking at him, tears shimmering on her cheeks, but she looked less like the stunned victim of fate and more like herself, more like Nikki.

 “They picked up some… they picked up one of the street girls.  It looked… sort of like they were going into one of the allies for a little quick and dirty…”  He shook his head, uncertain how to explain the whole mess.  “Their faces had changed, Nikki.  There were these sharp teeth, and yellow eyes… and so much blood.  They’d just… sort of surrounded the girl, and bit down, one on each side of her neck.”

 He barely realized that his fingers were brushing over Nikki’s pulse, just where the vampires had bit that girl.  “I was… it scared me, Nikki.  It’s the only time I’ve backed down from a fight since I met Andrew.”

 “Vampires.”  Nikki shuddered.  “It’s just so much so fast.  I know this guy’s going to want me to fight them, to hunt them.”

 “Nikki…. You’re… we aren’t old enough to be out saving the city from vampires.”  Erik whispered, his mind spinning in horrible bloody directions.  He remembered those vampires, the blood on their faces and the way the one had asked if he was that eager to become dessert.  He couldn’t convince himself that they would only be in this city, in one place on the whole world.  “It’s too much for someone our age.”

 “I know.  But I don’t think I get a choice in the matter.  If fate picks me, then…  I think that’s it.”  She was still leaning against him, but the quivering had stopped.  “I think… he made it sound like he had connections.  Enough to arrange things to go his way.  He said that Dad would be… handled.  I’m not sure what he meant, but… it didn’t sound good, Erik.”

 Erik shivered this time, wondering just what the man had meant by ‘handled’.  Did that mean he would be killed?  But then what would happen to Nikki’s mom?  Would he be threatened into submission?  Or… were there other, stranger ways to bend him to their will?  He didn’t know enough about this Watchers group, how far they reached, how powerful they were.  How much did they know, and to what end did they use that knowledge? How did they pay for their learning and their training?  And just how did new Slayers get called?  He didn’t have the courage to give voice any of these fears and questions.

  He tried to comfort her as best he could, and they eventually headed out to the streets.  Nikki had this tension in her, like she had to do something to release the confusion inside before it ate her up.  A thread of worry nagged at him, and Erik looked at her.  "Nikki?  Did this guy… did he say anything about how to kill them?”

 “Only a little.  Fire, beheading, impalement… except that it had to be the right sort of things, or else they wouldn’t die.  He said bullets just make them mad.”  Nikki’s voice shook a little.  “I think he was trying not to get into the details just yet.”

 “If we run into one, we might need those details.”  Erik muttered, his hands clenching into fists.  “Did it ever occur to this guy that you might bump into one that doesn’t care about his ideas of when you should learn stuff?”

 “I don’t know.  Maybe… maybe he thinks that things will just go his way – the Watchers have connections, after all.”  Nikki kicked at a bottle, watching as it bounced against a wall, falling with a crack and a clatter into some other trash.  “Like fate cares about his connections.”

 "I don’t care about his connections.  What I care about is you, Nikki.  I want you to be safe, or as safe as possible.”  Erik sighed, absently kicking a hubcap out of the way.  “Not that it sounds like that’s a whole lot.”

 “No it doesn’t.”  Nikki was sounding off, like she had the day they’d learned that Andrew was in the hospital dying.  Like everything had changed for the worse and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it.

 They beat up several gang members trying to make trouble, and stopped a couple muggings.  Everything was going along according to a pattern that they could understand.  Naturally, that was when things went stranger.  There was somebody lurking near the soup kitchen.  He just looked like a half starved kid, like Erik had been.  But something about him made Erik twitchy, although he couldn’t put it into words.

 The skinny boy started to follow one of the soup kitchen ladies, slouching along with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his ripped up jacket, looking small and pathetic and helpless.  Nobody tried to look that helpless on purpose.

 “What…  That’s just…”  Nikki shook her head, scowling at the skinny boy.  “Something’s not right.”

 “Nobody screams victim like that.”  Erik tried to figure out if there could be some sort of answer.  Then, one came to his mind, an awful suspicion.  “Not unless…  Can kids get turned into vampires?”

 Nikki looked at him, her eyes wide and horrified.  “You really think..?  That would be… evil.  And it just might…  We’d best follow them.  Maybe we can do something.”

 Erik felt ridiculous, trailing after a soup lady and her pint sized stalker.  His ears felt hot, and he ducked his head, hoping that nobody would see him.  But just in case, they followed.

 “I feel like some bad movie stalker.”  Nikki muttered, her shoulders tense.

 “So do I.  I hope nobody sees this…”  Erik agreed with her.

 “Miss?  I was wondering if I could get a little bite to eat?”  The boy’s voice was still high and childish.  He sounded so helpless and lost.

 “Of course, honey.  If you’d like, there’s a little shop, I can get you some hot soup…”  The woman turned, smiling gently at the child.

 “Hot soup?  The boy moved closer, pulling his hands from his pockets.  “Thanks, but I think I’d like something faster.”

 Nikki gasped as his face just changed, eyes turning yellow as he grabbed at the now terrified woman.  The soup-lady’s fear was so thick that Erik could taste it.  “I guess that answers that question.”

 Nikki lunged forward, grabbing at the skinny wrist, trying to pull the boy vampire away from his victim.  His nails left bleeding gashes on her arm, and he growled, like a half starved dog.  The woman was backing away with a whimper, and clutching at her wounded arm.

 Erik gritted his teeth, ignoring the scents of blood and fear.  He tried to ignore his own fear at those yellow eyes and sharp teeth.  He didn’t want to run away again, didn’t want to surrender to his fear and abandon Nikki.  And the vampire was just a little one, they should be able to handle him.

 Of course, the little vampire was also a lot stronger than he looked.  His fists left numb spots when they connected, and he was fast.  Between Erik and Nikki, they were starting to wear him down, although the fight was also taking a toll on them.  Nikki managed to flip him into a trash can, and a crate fell onto his head, causing the vampire to be still.

 “Is he dead?”  Nikki whispered.

 “I don’t know.”  Erik edged a bit closer, his heart still hammering.  He had never felt so aware of people bleeding…  “I wouldn’t bet on it.  Can we…. Is there something sharp?”

 “You mean so that we can cut his head off?”  Nikki swallowed, and looked around.  “There’s some broken windows over there.  Maybe one of the panes?”

 “This is going to be messy.”  Erik shuddered, knowing that everything had changed.  And he was still so aware of the scent of blood and fear everywhere, the soup lady’s bleeding arm, his own blood, Nikki’s blood.  A dark fear inside of him whispered that Nikki didn’t seem to notice all of the blood scent in the air.

 Erik had never felt quite so disturbed as when they finally dropped the broken pane of glass onto the vampire’s neck.  The sight of his little head rolling away, the flesh just shriveling and falling to dust was entirely creepy.  Nikki apparently felt the same way, backing away with shivers as she rubbed over her arms.  The soup-lady was gone.

 “I think I want to go home now.”  Nikki’s whisper fell into the still air.

End part 2.

Chapter Text

 That night had been a turning point for them both.  After that, the shadows seemed more menacing, the night more dangerous.  As a result, both of them practiced the fighting moves more, trying harder to learn as much as possible.  Nikki started asking Mr. Henner more questions about vampires, in a desperate effort to learn what they needed to know before it was too late.

 Vampires were stronger and faster than humans, which they'd already discovered.  Holy water burned them, as would Holy symbols.  Actually, he'd said crosses, and grudgingly admitted that a Jewish Watcher had once held off a vampire with his Star of David, so perhaps other faith's symbols might work, if the person believed.  Vampires would burn in sunlight, and were very flammable, though not quite enough to catch fire from a lighter or a cigarette.  Beheading would kill them, as well as most sorts of demons, a subject that Erik really didn't want to get into if possible.  Wood or silver weapons would hurt them more effectively than steel or lead, and either of those through the heart would kill.  Of course, he'd then muttered that vampires became more durable as they aged, so a wooden stake, beloved of horror movies, was likely to shatter on an older vampire's chest, which would only make them very angry.  And apparently, silver and silver alloys slid through the chest easier than wood.

 Neither of them wanted to know who or how that particular fact had been learned.  The thought was just too disturbingly morbid.

 Erik was certain that Henner didn't like him.  He'd always be glaring at Erik if he was there, and pointing out each little flaw in form and execution as if it was the most wretched performance, actually harsher than when he was directing Nikki.  They couldn't quite understand why at first, and it was Nikki who eventually decided to do something about it.

 "Hey, why are you always so hard on him?  Erik's the best friend that I've got, and the only one that I can talk about this with."  Nikki had been glaring at Henner, rubbing at a bruise on her shoulder.

 Henner had just shaken his head.  "You are - or could become - the Slayer.  The Slayer stands alone against the forces of Darkness.  Alone.  Letting some boy tag along will only serve to get him killed and keep you distracted, which will result in your own death."

 "I won't distract Nikki."   Erik had heard the question, and offered his words like a promise.

 Henner had just snorted.  "Since you're here, you might as well go over there and practice the sword katas.  It should keep you occupied for a while."

 Practice the sword katas...  Erik shook his head, pulling the wooden sword from the rack.  Henner was so annoyed that he'd even showed up.  Did he really think that he'd abandon Nikki to face this alone, just because there were monsters out there?  The guy should really know better.  He wanted to yell and scream at him, but that would only distract Nikki, and prove the jerk right.  Instead, he focused on the katas, letting his mind drift to the question of where the vampires might be, and if there might be a more efficient way to get them than just wandering blindly around the city.  His body knew the katas, needed no special attention to direct the smooth movements and the arcs of the wooden blade.

 Henner had decided to have Nikki do what he called 'grave-sitting'.  If there was a suspicious death, one that was likely to have been the work of a vampire, it was possible that they would rise from the grave as a vampire themselves.  Possibly even from being bitten, though that was extremely unlikely, as something of the vampire's essence had to enter the victim for them to change.  The explanation was rather mystical and confusing, and Erik was certain that he'd missed parts of it.

 Erik had gone along, just in case.  He'd also dragged out the wooden sword from the gym, figuring that if they did find a vampire rising, it would be better than just a little sharp bit of wood no longer than Nikki's foot.  He'd seen vampires twice, and they'd left the firm idea that the farther you could keep the teeth from you, the better.  Swords were longer than stakes, and he was better at using the sword than trying to punch over the heart anyhow.

 "This is rather... weird."  Nikki whispered, sort of pacing in an odd little circle.  She didn't want to step on the graves, didn't want to disturb those who should be resting peacefully underneath them.  "Am I just supposed to wait here until something happens?"

 "If there's no activity by midnight, then the victim was simply killed, not turned."  Henner was leaning against a tall, pointy stone, scribbling into a notebook.  He didn't seem at all perturbed by the headstones all around them.

 "Midnight?  I've got other things to do than stand around in a graveyard for half the night!"  Nikki glared at him, her fists on her hips, the stake held so tightly that her knuckles had gone pale.

 "This is your destiny, not becoming the late shift waitress at some cheap diner, or possibly a teacher standing in front of a group of disinterested children."   Henner looked back, entirely serious and grumpy.

 Erik looked past them, feeling... something.  It was as if there was a sudden draft inside the skin of his back, and everything felt prickly.  He looked towards the grave, and frowned.  Had the dirt piled on top just shifted a little?  "Nikki, Henner...  heads up.  I think..."

 That was when the hand thrust upwards, the nails long and broken, still showing traces of the crimson polish.  Dirt streaked the hand, and there was a scratching, hissing sound as more of the dirt moved, bits rolling and falling away.  She was digging her way out.

 Nikki spun, her attention now on the grave instead of Henner.  She was balanced on her toes, the stake held ready, almost like a knife.  "There's a vampire...  I'm not this Slayer, why am I here again?  Why can't there be some better way than fighting a vampire with a little bit of wood?"

 The vampire lunged towards Nikki, hissing as she tried to swipe with her claws, almost like a giant cat.  Yellow-orange eyes glared angrily from heavier brows, and the teeth were jagged, slightly stained with red lipstick, as if in warning of what could happen.  Nikki kicked at her, possibly hoping to put the new vampire off balance, and was backhanded, sending her staggering back towards Henner.

 Erik lunged forward, the wooden blade slicing deep into the vampires shoulder.  Dark red blood welled up, thick and heavier, the smell different than a human's.  Growling, the vampire woman turned, her eyes focusing on Erik as a new threat.  She seemed incapable of fighting more than one opponent at a time.

 Nikki took advantage of this distraction, and stabbed the stake into the vampire's back.  More blood welled up, and the vampire spun around, trying to grab Nikki, her claws raking along Nikki's arms.

 Erik slashed the sword low, cutting along the vampire's legs, causing her to fall to the ground.  Nikki stabbed again with the stake, and there was more blood, shortly followed by the vampire crumbling to dust, like the one in the alley.  Nikki sat there, kneeling on the bloody dust, trying to put her breathing back under control.  Lifting the stake, they could see that the tip had become blunted, and there were a few splinters.

 "I know this was sharp when we left."  Nikki reached towards it, not quite willing to touch the blood smeared  portion of the stake.  "How's the sword?"

 Erik reached out, running his finger over the edge, feeling the blood under his fingertip.  It felt thick and cool, like cooling Jell-O.  Carefully, he tested the edge of the sword, discovering that it wasn't very sharp.  "I can't remember if it was sharp or not before, but it's dull now."

 "One vampire, and the stake's got no point, and the sword's dull.  That doesn't sound very good to me."  Nikki sighed, her eyes full of worry.  "Is a Slayer supposed to carry around a huge supply of stakes every night?"

 "That has rather been dependant on the availability of better weapons."  Henner's voice was tight, as if he didn't like any sort of questioning about the Traditions, as if things that had worked for centuries shouldn't be changed.  Ever.  "And it is a bit difficult to get a decent blade made with a high enough silver content to be effective, and enough steel to be strong."

 Erik had to admit that there could be some trouble there, not that he was an expert on the making of weapons.  But if they could get a sword that would kill vampires and still hold it's edge...  "I'd think it would be worth the cost."

 "Hmmmm."  Henner made this little noise, and looked at Erik, as if he'd just said something unexpected.  "Some Watcher families do keep such weapons, and pass them through the generations.  My family used to have one, but it was lost defeating a particularly nasty demon in the time of my grandfather."

 Erik shook his head, his opinion that demons sounded like things to avoid reinforced.  If he could ever find someone who could make it, if he could ever have the money to pay for something like that...  A silver-steel alloy sounded a lot better than wooden weapons.  Especially since this had been a new and relatively weak vampire.

 “Why am I suddenly thinking that Slayers don’t have a retirement program?”  Nikki’s voice was heavy with layers or fear and worry and determination.  “Is there at least a better quality of stake that we could use?”

 “It is in the nature of wooden stakes to be rather expendable.  They aren’t intended to last more than one or two vampires.”  Henner shook his head.  “We really have to work on your aim.  If you’d just hit the heart when you first stabbed at her, it all would have been over sooner.”

 “I don’t have a lot of experience killing things bigger than flies.”  Nikki shook her head, and started to wipe at her cheek, stopping when she saw that her hand was smeared with blood and ashes.  “I need to wash my hands.  I smell like… I don’t even want to try to give it a name.  But it’s not a scent that I like.”

 “Blood and ashes and dirt, with a bit of crushed grass.”  Erik murmured, wiping the sword over a section of cleaner grass.  The blood was mostly gone now, but the scent still hung thick in the air, almost thick enough to taste.  “And something else…  I guess vampires have a smell.”

 Nikki just shuddered, and tried to find a way to carry the stake away from her body.  “I think we’ve done enough here.”

 “Vampires don’t have a smell.  Not unless they’re minions, who often smell of earth and old blood.  You must have just let yourself be carried away.”  Henner dismissed Erik’s words, his eyes hard and cold.

 Erik felt his temper flare, and his grip on the wooden sword tightened.  He clenched his teeth together in an effort to keep from speaking.  It wasn’t worth another argument, and Nikki wanted to get home.  Instead, he just turned and followed Nikki, letting his mind replay the fight, trying to take apart every move, every action and reaction.  If he could figure out what had gone wrong, he’d know how to do better next time.  And there would always be a next time, always another fight.  Andrew had taught him that.  Next time he’d have to be ready for that vampire speed, less shocked by the sharp teeth and demon eyes.

 They’d been walking for a while when Nikki glanced at him.  “Did you really smell…. Is there really a smell to vampires?”

 “Yeah.”  He looked at her, his stomach suddenly clenching.  “Did you smell it too?”

 “No.”  Her voice was low, as if she didn’t want anyone to overhear her words.  “But if you say that you smelled something, I believe you, Erik.”

 His mind kept turning over her words.  Nikki hadn’t smelled it.  Henner hadn’t smelled it.  So what made him different?  How could he smell the vampires when they didn’t?  How had he felt the vampire before her hand had emerged?  Slayers were always girls, always a female, so that was out.  What else would explain these things?

 Erik didn’t have any answers for that.  Not yet.

End part 3.

Chapter Text

 Erik practiced more, and went back to slipping into the gym that had been Andrew’s domain, lifting weights, using the machine that was supposed to be like running up stairs, and going through sword katas.   It wasn’t as if he had a lot of alternatives.  Whatever Henner had done to ‘handle’ Nikki’s dad hadn’t changed the way he kept reacting to Erik, as if he was some errant piece of trash that had ended up on his floor.  But it had done something to Nikki’s mom, as if the intensity had been leeched away from her, and she had this sort of glazed look in her eyes.  It was just creepy.

 Before, Nikki’s mom would have noticed the ay they would smile at each other when he met her to go ‘out to the library’.  She would have suspected if not known outright that the two of them had become lovers, and probably interrogated them both, and given this lecture about responsibility and the future.  She didn’t even seem to really notice the occasional bruise that Nikki brought home from her training now.

 Erik had noticed that all the work and exercise was having noticable effects on him.  He was never bothered by solitary gang members, only groups of at lest five.  As a result of all the practice with the martial arts, he could take down those groups of five without too much trouble.  It was as if they were just… too slow, and their blows didn’t feel that hard.  Certainly not as hard as he seemed to be hitting them.  And he was looking stronger, with defined muscles now instead of just a lean scrawniness.

 Henner kept having them go wait at cemeteries.  It had the feeling of he wasn’t always certain if someone would rise, and figured that they had nothing better to do than go wait and find out.  Every time he went, Erik could feel the vampires as they were rising.  The downside was that they didn’t hit softly and move in slow motion.  Vampires hit hard and fast, and left wicked bruises, though his seemed to heal a bit faster than Nikki’s.

 Every time they did one of those cemetery vigils, Henner would glare at him, as if trying to scare him away.  Every time there was a vampire, the stake was practically useless afterwards, even if it didn’t fall to dust with the vampire.  Tips would be blunted or broken, once the stake just snapped right along the length, becoming two jagged slivers, one of which had embedded itself in the vampire’s heart.

 After a cemetery visit, he’d walk Nikki home.  Sometimes, she’d have him stay for a while, her eyes pleading with him to touch her, to make her feel again.  To remind her that there was more to life than violence, than killing.  He could never tell her no, not Nikki.

 He’d end up walking home alone, to the small room over the gym.  It didn’t have a lot of space, or much in the lines of heat, but it was all his.  Most likely, it had been some sort of storage, maybe for building maintenance, but the gym manager had said that he could stay there.  The walk back always felt longer than the trip to Nikki’s, and the night seemed to be watching him.

 It was on his way back to his house, still carrying the half dulled wooden sword that things changed again.  Erik could hear what he first thought was an echo to his footsteps.  But they didn’t stay quite in the same rhythm as his own steps, and they got closer.  He tried to read the sound, to figure out who was walking up behind him.  A guy, probably a bit heavier, average height…

 The vampire part was a bit of a shock.  A cold hand grabbed at his shoulder, the grip painful and numbing.  Erik spun around, the sword slashing at the wrist, certain that this was danger, smelling that vampire reek that he’d come to know so clearly, even if Henner claimed it didn’t exist.  The sword bit into the vampire’s arm, filling the air with the scent of blood and the sound of a snarl.  Erik almost lost his grip on the sword as the vampire pulled his arm back, the fingers curing inward as he snarled.

 Erik swallowed, heart thumping wildly inside him as he faced the vampire.  He stared into the yellow eyes for a moment, at the sharp teeth, and felt a deep, dark anger well up inside of him.  He pulled himself into the proper guard position for just a moment, and swung into an attack.

 It went on for a while, the sword making slices into the vampire’s arms and legs, along his ribs once.  The vampire had landed several blows on Erik as well, leaving what would surely turn into saucer-sized bruises if he survived the fight.  The smell of blood and fear and rage filled the air, almost drowning out the stench of vampire, overwhelming the scent of trash and oil and lingering car exhaust.

 Everything seemed to have clicked into better focus.  Instead of blurs of motion, each swing of the wooden blade and blow from fists or feet was a simple arc.  He could feel every pulse of his heart, predict every blow by the small changes in the vampire’s balance and twitches of his muscles.  This was simple, this was easy to understand.

 The sword snapped half way through the vampire’s chest, with a slurping sound as his momentum caused the broken remains to slide past the broken portion, grating it’s way deeper into the vampire’s flesh.  With a shocked gasp, the vampire began to crumble, one sharp nailed hand clutching futilely at the wound.

 The vampire looked up, his face puzzled as he tried to say something to Erik. “But you’re…”

 Standing there, Erik wondered what the vampire had been trying to say.  He felt alive, he felt wonderful…  Inhaling the air as he stood over the dust of his attacker, Erik closed his eyes for just a moment in relief.  He’d won.

 He felt oddly hungry.

 That didn’t seem quite right.  Why should he feel hungry after a fight like that?  He was standing on splashes of blood, clutching the hilt of a broken, blood coated sword, bruises rising on his body, and he felt hungry.  He’d had dinner before the grave-watch with Nikki, he should be just fine…

 Suddenly feeling uneasy, Erik turned from the blood and ashes and continued towards the gym.  He’d best get back to safety, best get to some weapons that weren’t broken.  Maybe he had enough to put together a sandwich or something back at his room?

 Erik unlocked the gym door so that he could slip inside, locking it again behind him.  Slowly, he made his way towards the showers, feeling the need to wash away the blood and gritty ash from the fighting.  On his way, he dropped the broken sword into a trash can, certain that the poor weapon had served it’s last.

 Just inside the locker room, he froze, string at his reflection in the mirror.  He looked horrible – the blood and ashes clinging to him like some horrible growth over his skin, his shirt ripped and grass staining the shoulder from the cemetery.  A bruise was already making one eye swollen and puffy.  Moving closer, he tried to inspect the damage.  “No wonder I hurt…”

 But something wasn’t right as he spoke.  Slowly, he stared at his reflection, listing the bruises and aches.  Carefully, he opened his mouth, shaping the word ‘no’.  His teeth… something wasn’t quite right.  Not the fact that one of the vampire’s punches had managed to split his lip, resulting in blood all over in his mouth.  Slowly, he pulled his lips back, trying to stare in the mirror in an effort to figure out what wasn’t right.  As the split pulled, he sort of hissed.  That was when it clicked – his teeth didn’t look right.  They seemed somehow sharper, more pointy.  Could it just be leftover adrenaline from the fight?  Was the fact that they were bloody just making things look different?

 It had to be.  It had to be something from his overworked imagination.  He didn’t have sharp teeth that almost looked like fangs.  And as he stood under the spray of water, he could almost convince himself of that.  Until he dropped the towel into the hamper and realized that he hadn’t turned on the lights, that he was seeing entirely by the bits of moonlight and streetlights that came in through the cloudy window.

 It wasn’t until he pulled the blanket over him on his cot that he realized that today was his birthday.  Today, he was sixteen.  He’d managed to forget during everything, grave-watching with Nikki, the fight…  Especially the fight.  The fight with the vampire, where he’d seemed to be on close to even terms.  Tonight, when he’d been seeing things in the darkness.  As he drifted into an uneasy sleep, he realized that he didn’t feel so hungry now.

End part 4.


Chapter Text

 Erik didn’t mention the fight to Henner.  Even if Henner might understand some of what was going on, Erik doubted that he’d explain anything, especially if he suspected the answer would matter to the person that he considered a nuisance.  He was also no longer able to convince himself that he was quite normal.  Normal people couldn’t smell vampires.  Normal people couldn’t move as fast as a vampire in a fight.  Normal people’s bruises took longer to fade.  Normal people didn’t get this weird, hungry feeling after smelling blood.  Normal people didn’t have to try to convince themself that their teeth hadn’t looked sharper.

 Erik had the feeling that Henner would take a very unhappy view of anyone who wasn’t ‘normal’.

 He’d mentioned a few things to Nikki, but he couldn’t bring himself to mention the hungry feelings, or the maybe fangs.  Those were freaking him out, and it was happening to him.  How would Nikki be able to stay calm, to not think that there was something strange and wrong with him?  She was already seeming slightly puzzled by the fact that he could move so quickly when fighting the new rising vampires, that he always knew when one was about to rise.

 As Henner became more demanding and the grave vigils increased, Nikki in turn sought comfort from Erik more often.  It was a sort of love, actually.  He wasn’t certain that he was ‘in love’ with Nikki, not the way the movies made it sound, but he cared for her, wanted her to be as safe as possible.  And if it would help her to be together, to touch and kiss, and join together…  But that was changing a bit as well.  Their encounters were becoming less hesitant, more forceful and passionate.  And he found himself nipping along her collar bone and throat, sometimes leaving little marks.   Especially over her pulse…

 More disturbingly, that unsettling hungry feeling that kept rising every time something was bleeding started to get stronger.  He could imagine himself tasting the blood, imagine licking it from the wooden swords.  Images of biting Nikki harder when they were together, wondering if it was possible to draw blood with normal teeth, though he never quite tried it. And while it would die down some once he’d cleaned the blood away, when he’d discarded the broken wooden swords and blunted stakes, it didn’t quite go away.  It was always there now, this skittering sharp feeling in his stomach.  And Erik couldn’t keep from wondering what was happening to him, asking why and how these things were happening to him.

 He started feeling restless at night, unable to just rest and listen to the quiet.  It could have been because he knew what was out there, it could have been a result of being in so many fights over the years that he’d forgotten how to not fight.  It could have had to do with the strange, unwelcome hungry feeling that had become a part of him.  It made it easier to push it down if he was stalking, if he was breaking up trouble, if he was fighting with the new vampires.  At least, it was easier to ignore until blood was drawn.

 Erik hated the dark hunger.  It was somehow deeper and more frightening than a craving for fresh bread, or an apple, and no amount of normal food could even touch it.  Uneasy, he walked along a street, trying to ignore the hunger clawing inside of him, trying to blot away the insidious image of being with Nikki, of caressing her body as he bit down on her throat, the image of her blood welling up around his teeth, flowing into his mouth…  No!  Not Nikki, he wouldn’t hurt Nikki.

 “I don’t know who Nikki is, but I can make sure you don’t have to worry about her ever again.”  The voice seemed cold, ruthless.  Almost the way he’d imagine a snake sounding, if they could talk.

 Slowly, Erik turned around, his hand clutching at the sword as the stench of vampire finally registered.  The slight breeze had been blowing it away from him, but now…  Now there was a vampire, one that reeked of death and smelled faintly of car oil and grease, dressed in a stained mechanic’s uniform.  He barely realized that his lip had curled up in a snarl reminiscent of a wolf’s.

 “You think that will do you any good?”  The vampire seemed amused, and lunged towards Erik, his teeth sharp as his jaw dropped open.  It was obvious that he expected Erik to be easy prey.

 Erik twisted, slashing towards the vampire’s legs, confident that if he could throw the vampire off balance, if he could surprise the vampire enough, he’d have an advantage, at least for a few moments.  A few moments could make a world of difference.  The sword parted the coveralls, dragging across the vampire’s flesh, releasing the thick scent of blood into the air.  It was so thick that he could almost taste it…

 “gahhh….  You’re quick, boy, but that won’t be enough to save you.”  The vampire spun around, raising hands that now ended in sharp claws.   “I’ll suck the marrow from your bones.”

 Erik found himself licking his lips, not out of fear, but… it was that horrible hunger again.   He could almost taste the blood, the aroma was so thick.  “I don’t think so.”

 The vampire lunged forward, slashing with the claws on both hands, and Erik couldn’t quite dodge fast enough to escape being raked along one arm, releasing the scent of more blood into the air.  He punched at the vampire with the hand not holding the sword, splitting the lips over those jagged teeth, ignoring the flare of pain from his own knuckles.  They’d heal soon enough.

 This vampire was fast, and probably older than the ones they’d fought in the cemeteries.  He was faster than the one that had tried to attack on his birthday.  Soon, blood flowed from wounds on them both, and Erik was feeling the burning of exhaustion as they spun and lunged, as claws and sword slashed at each other.  It was starting to look like this fight would be a slow, painful wearing down, and whoever became tired enough to make a mistake first would die.  Blood had dripped, splashed and sprayed enough that the pavement was slick beneath his feet, and he hoped that his feet wouldn’t slide out from under him.

 The vampire slipped first, lunging towards Erik and stepping into a smear of liquid blood, one foot sliding out at a painful looking angle and there was a soft, horrible popping sound.  Part of Erik wanted to wince in sympathy, certain that whatever had popped was one of the joints in the knee or hip, and that it had to be agonizing.  But the part that took the initiative was the part that swung the sword towards the vampire, hacking into the neck with another spray of blood.

 It took another blow to sever the head from the rest of the body, and by the time he was finished, blood was everywhere.  He couldn’t tell what was his and what was the vampire’s.  Everything hurt, and his head felt almost floaty as it throbbed from a clip to the side of his head.  His teeth itched, and something was trickling down his cheek.  He didn’t think twice before wiping at the drip with the back of his hand, coming away with a smear of red to go along with the splatters from the messy decapitation. 

 Slowly, almost as if it was moving at the behest of some outside source, his hand came up, and he licked at the blood on the back of it.  The flavor almost seemed to explode on his tongue, and something inside almost leapt for joy.  This was what the hunger sought, this was what his body had been craving…

 Erik had licked almost all of the blood from the back of his hand before he managed to stop, and he stood there, trembling in shock and fear.  He’d been licking the blood away…  Swallowing it.  Drinking it like a cat would lap up cream.  He wanted to be sick, especially when he realized the hunger wasn’t quite as sharp.  But his body wouldn’t surrender any of the hard won blood, and he just remained there, collapsed on the concrete for a few agonizingly long minutes.

 Absently, he lifted his other hand, licking at the blood that had flowed down the sword, coating his palm and threatening to make his grip slip away.

 When he realized what he’d done, he forced his hand to his knee, trembling as the conflicting urges raged inside of him.  He had licked at the blood, and it had tasted good.   What was happening to him?  Why did he seem to be becoming the very thing that he’d been fighting against?

 The scrapes on his knuckles were already closing, even faster than they normally would.  Was it because of the blood that he’d licked up?  Was it because of this change?  Erik could feel himself shuddering with panic and revulsion.  He had to get the blood off of himself before… before he lost this tenous resistance.  Before he just started trying to lap up as much as he could, before he lost control of the blood-lust in him.  He staggered quickly back towards the gym, his stomach churning.  He still felt hungry, but also nauseous.

 When he reached the gym, he made his way right to the shower, and almost scrubbed his skin raw trying to get rid of the blood.  Trying to wash away the scent of it.  This time, he couldn’t deny that his reflection had fangs.  And he couldn’t forget the horrible corner of him that whispered that if he went to Nikki, if she welcomed him into her arms, he could take her blood, could fill himself with the warm, wonderful taste of Nikki. She would taste sweeter than the bitter vampire’s blood had…

 He found himself retching into the sink, though the only thing that came up was sour bile.  Somehow, that made things seem even worse.  The blood should be in his stomach, should have come up when he’d vomited, but it hadn’t.  His body refused to let it go.

 But vampires didn’t reflect.  Henner had said that, over and over.  If a vampire didn’t reflect, and Erik did, then he couldn’t be a vampire, right?  That meant that he was something else, not a vampire, not something that Nikki would have to Slay.  He clutched at the small cross from his pocket, gripping it so hard that the arms bit into the palm of his hand, and the smell of blood rose into the air.

 His stomach growled.

 “oh shit…  no, no…  This can’t be happening.”  His whisper echoed in the tiled room.  Erik closed his eyes, wanting to be able to wake up, wanting this to all have been a horrible dream, wanting this to not be real.

 But he could still feel the exhaustion in his muscles, still feel the barely closed slashes from the vampire’s claws, still feel the pain where the cross had dug into his palm.  He could still feel the hunger stirring inside of him, a desperate, horrible craving for blood.

 Erik retreated to his room, and did the best he could to lock himself inside.  His hands were shaking, and he wasn’t certain if it was from the stress of everything, from fear, or from hunger.  He was changing, and he wasn’t certain what he was changing into, or how far things would go.  Thank God that he’d never been one for sleepwalking.

End part 5.

Chapter Text

 Erik wasn’t certain how long he would be able to hide things.  The hunger wasn’t going away.  He kept finding himself watching people, his eyes lingering on throats or wrists, finding a pulse as if it was the easiest thing in the world.  Smells, both good and bad, seemed stronger, more intense than they had been before.

 He kept expecting Henner to notice the way the vampires couldn’t surprise him in the cemeteries anymore, not the ones clawing up from the earth or the ones appointed to collect the newly awakened.  Nikki was watching him almost as much as the graves now, having figured out that Erik knew when there was a vampire present.  He just didn’t know why Nikki wasn’t trying to figure out how he did it, wasn’t considering that something might be wrong with him.

 The only good thing was that he was starting to get the hang of cutting hardwood into the right shape for a sword, for grinding something approximating an edge onto the wood.  They never lasted very long, but the wooden swords were good against vampires, and if they broke, they simply became long stakes.  He was getting better at working around the greater strength and speed of a vampire.

 He didn’t know it, but everything would change that night.  It started like any other cemetery vigil.  There was a grave, the earth still heaped over it like a fresh scab.  Henner hadn’t gone with them, muttering something about his journals, and a letter from France.  Nikki had smirked, glancing at Erik as Henner had excused himself.

 “That’s alright.  Erik can walk me home.  He won’t let anything bad happen to me.”  She’d smiled, leaning against him with her arm wrapped around his waist.

 He’d turned, kissing her temple, a small corner of him counting her pulse.  His voice was soft as he whispered.  “Of course not.  You’re my only friend in the whole world.  I’d rather die than let something happen to you.”

 Nikki shivered, and looked at him, her eyes full of worry.  “Erik?  Is there something wrong?  Is there something that we can do to fix what’s bothering you?”

 In that moment, he wanted to tell her everything.  To explain what was going on, to ask if she could help him find answers.  But how could he explain when he didn’t even understand it himself?  The closest that he could put it into words – I think I’m turning into a vampire – would also be the worst possible way to say anything.  Instead, he sighed, and looked away, towards the cemetery.  “I wish you could, Nikki.  I really wish we could fix this.  But we can’t, so let’s just go watch over the graves.”

 “If you’re sure.”  Nikki had just shook her head, no doubt thinking that he’d tell her in time.  “There’s supposed to be a double tonight, two suspicious bodies.  I made sure that I had a couple extra stakes, just in case.”

 “Two of them?”  Erik frowned, feeling uneasy about the whole situation.  “That’s different.  Are the vamps getting more active, or is he just getting more confident that we can handle things?”

 “We are getting better.”  She’d smiled, and one hand had reached into her jacket, producing a stake to offer him.  “It’s only right that he should start to notice it too.”

 Erik gave up, still certain that there was something wrong with the whole mess.  This didn’t feel right, although that could have been the hunger clawing inside of him.  Except…  Henner always watched them at the gravesides, always sat there with his little notebook.  If he wasn’t there, how would he know how the night had gone?

 He couldn’t relax as they waited near the graves.  It was as if the air itched against his skin, or carried some sort of current.  The air smelled wrong, filled with the smells of dying flowers, upturned earth, vampires, and something like rotting banana.  He didn’t know what could have left the banana stench, or what the vampires had wanted.  Erik was more worried about the questions of would they be back?

 He could hear something, like a sort of slow, rasping breathing.  It was coming from one of the large mausoleums, and it gave him a cold, unhappy feeling.  It wasn’t the same as fear, but there was definitely a good helping of fear in the mix.  He was certain that the sound was something big breathing, and that it was very dangerous.

 There was a scrabbling sound, and the soil piled over one grave started to rattle, a sign of something inside rising from the grave.  Probably another vampire.  He gripped the sword, hoping that this one would last long enough tonight for two vampires.  There was a sound like a snarl, and the grave almost exploded outwards.  The vampire was there, his face distorted by a heavier brow, sharp, uneven teeth, and yellow eyes.  His claws looked vicious, and he was looking right at Nikki.

 Erik lunged forward, his sharpened wooden sword drawing blood across one arm, making the vampire hiss.  This one seemed stronger and faster than the other new-risen that they’d fought.  The two of them were managing to hold it steady, but both picking up a number of bruises and scrapes.  The scent of blood wafted through the air.  Erik was just glad that the vampire was growling enough to disguise his stomach’s reaction to smelling the blood.

 Behind them, he could hear the dirt rattling as the second grave’s occupant dug himself out, fighting to emerge.  And he would be hungry.  How could he pass up the opportunity to make a grab for the tasty treat that Nikki smelled like?  They wouldn’t be able to hold both of them off, and he didn’t know if they’d get any lucky breaks tonight.

 He’d have to try something desperate to change things before the second vampire could join in the fight.  Hoping that Nikki could keep the vampire from ripping his spine out, or something equally devastating, he dropped to one knee as he lunged forward, hacking his sword towards the vampire’s knee.  The bone shattered with a series of popping sounds, and he could hear the cartilage tear in a spray of blood.

 The air filled with blood and screams.  For a moment, Erik couldn’t quite sort it out.  But the vampire in front of him was screaming over his knee, collapsing towards the ground in what felt like slow motion.  Nikki was staring at something behind him, her eyes wide as she screamed.  And there was another, higher pitched scream that he thought might be from the other vampire.

 Erik spun around, catching sight of the just risen vampire being lifted up by a thing.  It was as tall as an elephant, and covered with loose, wrinkly skin the exact shade of a rotten banana peel.  Two broad legs ended in clawed toes that reminded him of an ostrich.  Similar looking arms were lifting the vampire, the talons having sunk into the vampire’s body.  The whole shoulder mass seemed to just spill upwards, ending in a ragged opening lined with teeth, almost like a lamprey.

 The thing devoured the vampire in three messy bites.

 Erik and Nikki darted away from the thing, neither one knowing what it was, and neither wanting to be any closer.  Just because the first person that the giant monster had eaten was a vampire didn’t mean that it was on a vampires-only diet, after all.  They watched n horror as it reached out, claws sinking into the vampire who’s ruined knee wouldn’t allow him to run, and soon, he was also devoured.

 The lumbering thing turned, and it’s eyeless face pointed towards Erik.  It made a few snuffling noises, and the blood-smeared claws flexed, opening and closing over nothing.  It made the same slow, harsh breathing that he’d heard earlier.  After a few very long minutes, it turned away, lumbering back towards the mausoleum.

 “Time to go.  Right now.”  Nikki’s voice was shaking, and the scent of her fear carried over to Erik.

 He stood up, his whole body trembling. The only possible good thing that he could see about the monster was that it had left them be, apparently only interested in eating vampires.  “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

 Her hand slid into his, and she clung to him as they moved as fast as they could walk back towards Henner’s place.  They didn’t want the attention that running would bring, but didn’t want to linger.  Erik didn’t speak, knowing that his teeth had become fangs again, wanting to hide that from Nikki.

 Reaching the apartment building where Henner lived, Erik turned to look at Nikki.  He didn’t want to let go, didn’t want to let her walk away.  And a part of him wanted to pull her close, to lick the blood from her cheek, to nip at her throat.  To drink her.

 “Erik…”  Her voice was soft, trembling with too many emotions.

 Then, she reached over, pulling him close as her lips met his.  They kissed, and he could taste blood in her mouth, knew that she’d bitten her lip or the inside of her cheek during the fight.  And it tasted so good, so tempting…

 “Nikki!  You’re back?”  Henner’s voice called out, making Nikki jump back, startled.

 “You’d best go talk to him.  Maybe he can find the devouring giant in one of those books?”  Erik fought to control the hunger, fought not to grab her back and kiss her, to bite into her throat.

 “Good idea, I guess.”  She glanced down, and her fingers played over his chest.  “Erik, I…  I’ll see you later tonight, alright?”

 Erik stood there, watching as she entered the building, listening for her footsteps as she made her way to Henner’s place.  He could even hear the man’s words.

 “Nikki…  You’re injured.  So much for your faith that Erik would keep you safe.”  The dismissive tone set Erik’s teeth on edge.

 “This vampire was different, stronger somehow.”  Nikki’s objection was swift.  “Besides, there was… there was something else.” 

 “Other than the vampire that you fought?”  Henner sounded almost dismissive.

 “Yeah, other than the two vampires that rose.”  Nikki was angry, and probably glaring.  “There was this thing, like it had a giant mass of rotten banana over the world’s largest and scariest ostrich.  It ate the vampires. Just three bites, and they were gone.”

 “Oh.”  Henner sounded taken aback, as if he’d never expected something like his.  “I still think the boy’s a liability.”

 “How could Erik be a liability?”  Nikki’s confusion was easy to pick out.  Below, Erik wondered the same thing.

 “It’s obvious that you care about him.  This makes him a potential weakness, a hostage that could be used to attack you.”  Henner’s voice was calm, impersonal.  “And he’s a young man, all of this probably seems like a great adventure to him, some excitement for a while, and then he’ll be tired of it.”

 “Erik wouldn’t quit.”  Nikki’s voice allowed for no argument.

 “Then something will kill him to get to you.”  Henner’s tone hinted that he thought this would be a good thing.

 Erik realized that he was growling, and that he’d just punched through the wall in front of him.  Worried, he carefully released his fist, and pulled his hand out, shaking away the broken brick and the bits of insulation.  How had he managed to do that?  But more disturbingly, the anger was intensifying the hunger.

 “Erik wouldn’t do that!  He’s not like that.”  The anger in her voice was alarming. 

 Frowning, Erik realized that he must have missed something.  How had they gone from Henner suggesting that he’d abandon Nikki to her insisting he wouldn’t so… something?  Was the question still him abandoning her?  How dare Henner keep badgering her like this?  Just because she didn’t blindly follow him, didn’t let him dictate every aspect of her life…

 He was still growling, and he could feel his teeth, sharp against the insides of his lips.  The idea of going up there and ripping Henner apart, of drinking him down into silence was so strong, so appealing.  But he didn’t want to become a monster, didn’t want Nikki to hate him.

 He ran from the apartment building, terrified of what he might do if he stayed.  There had to be a way to keep this inner monster, this hunger quiet.  Something… the image of blood came into his mind again, flowing from cuts, pooling beneath a cut of meat.  Maybe that would work?  If he managed to get a cut of meat, would the blood in that help?  Surely that would be safer than ripping Henner apart, even if it was less satisfying?

 Erik wasn’t certain if he’d actually managed to make the fangs go away or if the bored looking man at the late night deli just didn’t care.  He had come up with enough to get a small cut of meat, probably a bit tough, but it looked very bloody.  The plan still sounded crazy, even in his own mind, but he paid for the meat, and made his way out of the deli, heading back towards the gym where he stayed.

 The smell of the meat and the blood tempted him the whole trip back.  It slid through the layers of plastic wrap, teasing at his nostrils, taunting his stomach.  He’d barely made it to the place before he ripped the plastic open, tilting it up to swallow down the blood that had oozed out of the cut, licking the last dangling droplet from the styrofoam tray before devouring the meat.

 Afterwards, he felt better, the coppery taste still thick in his mouth, and the meat feeling heavy in his stomach.  Part of him wanted to be revolted, and another part was just glad that he hadn’t attacked something, or someone. 

 The hunger was so strong now that he couldn’t just ignore it away, and he didn’t know if it would grow any stronger.  For now, a cut of raw meat had made it subside.  But what if it grew stronger?  What if it grew to the point where he would consider attacking someone, consider taking their blood by force just to make the clawing burning hunger go away?

 He couldn’t let himself become a danger here.  Not where Nikki would be the one forced to deal with him.  And since he didn’t know if he’d become a danger or not, and he had nobody that he’d trust to be able to help…  He would have to leave.

 But not without saying goodbye to Nikki.  They were to much to each other for too long not to say goodbye, not to let her know how much this hurt.  He felt miserable as he shuffled his way to the Wood house.  It didn’t even occur to him that he shouldn’t have been able to leap up, landing in a crouch on the top of the back porch.  Lightly, he made his way to her window, tapping on the glass.

 “Erik!”  Nikki smiled at him, her vice soft.  “You’ll have to be quiet, Dad’s in one of those moods again.”

 He slid in through the window, and tried to smile.  “Nikki…”

 “What’s wrong?  How did you scrape up your hand?”  She caught his fingers, staring at the hand that he’d put through the wall of Henner’s apartment building.  There were a multitude of tiny scrapes, nothing even serious enough to demand a band-aid.

 “My hand will be okay.  That’s not really why I’m here.”  He wished that he could find the right words, and hoped that she wouldn’t hate him.

 “Something’s wrong, isn’t it?  If Henner said anything to you…  He’s wrong.  I know he is.”  Nikki’s voice was a fierce whisper.

 “Something’s wrong, but it’s not exactly Henner.”  Erik sat on the edge of her bed, his shoulders and head slumping forwards.  “Something’s wrong with me, and it’s getting worse.”

 “What sort of something?  Have you… have you even considered seeing a doctor?”  Nikki settled beside him, her arm sliding around him.

 “A doctor wouldn’t be able to help with this.  It’s not…. It’s something weird, and scary.  The only person that I know of who might even be able to find out anything is Henner, and…”  Erik tried to consider how to put this so that he wouldn’t sound as deranged as Henner had.  “He’d probably try to find answers if you had something wrong.  But I don’t think he’d be very helpful for me.”

 “How weird is weird?”  She cupped her hand over his cheek, and looked into his eyes.  “Talk to me, please.”

 “I can see out there, in the dark.  I can hear things…  That’s how I know when the vampires are coming out of the graves, I can hear them clawing their way up.  I’m stronger, strong enough to fight a vampire.”  Erik paused, licking his lips in uncertainty, tasting the lingering flavor of blood.  “And there’s been…  I had fangs earlier.  Fangs and some cravings.  I ended up picking up a cut of meat at the deli… I barely even unwrapped the thing before I ate it.””

 “But what’s…”  Her heartbeat had picked up, and she was looking at him, her lovely eyes wide and confused.  “Why is this happening to you?”

 “I don’t know.  I don’t even know what this is, or if I’m done changing.”  Erik reached out, resting his scraped hand on her knee, his thumb rubbing over her smooth skin.  “I don’t have any answers.”

 “It almost sounds like the sort of things to look for with a vampire.”  She looked at him, and then glanced at the small mirror on her dresser, laying at an angle on a pile of clean shirts.

 “I still reflect.  I can go out into the sunlight.  I’ve still got a heartbeat.”  He looked back at his hand, willing himself not to cry, not to fall apart and weep into her shoulder.  Especially not if there was a chance that he might bite.

 “No wonder you’re confused.”  Nikki leaned closer, her head resting on his shoulder.  “What are you planning?”

 “I can’t stay.  The cravings… they’re getting stronger.  You’ve got no idea how much I wanted to rip Henner apart tonight, and the scary part is that I think I could do it.  Part of me might even enjoy it.”  He hated letting her see this strange new part of himself, even if only a little.  “That scares me, Nikki.  I don’t want to turn into a monster.”

 Nikki made a small noise, as if she’d started to say something and stopped herself.  There was the faint scent of salt.

 “If I stay, if this changing isn’t finished, Henner will try to make you kill me.  Even if there’s no me left inside…  And I can’t do that to you, I don’t want there to be a chance that you and I would have to fight like that.”  He looked up, hoping that she would understand.  “I don’t want to hurt you, don’t want there to be any chance of that.  But this thing that’s happening…”

 Her lips caught his, gently cutting off his words.  “If this is goodbye, then let’s make certain there’s a little bit of sweet to go with the sorrow.”

 Erik nodded, his hands sliding over her smooth skin, feeling the lean muscles.  He carefully undid the buttons of her nightgown, letting it fall to the floor as he kissed over her skin.  Along her collar bone, her shoulder, her breasts…  He wanted to memorize every inch of her.  This was goodbye.

 The fangs came back as they were moving together, their skin tingling with passion and pleasure, their blood rushing through them.  That dangerous part of him wanted to bite, wanted to taste her, drink of her blood.  He even nipped at her throat, drawing the faintest lines of blood with the sharp teeth before he could pull away with a groan.  Nikki tasted wonderful.

 Laying there, their bodies slick with sweat, she looked at him.  One hand raised up, touching the thin lines on her neck, over her pulse.  “You… let me see.”

 Erik looked at her, seeing the raised lines on her neck, the droplets of blood that had welled up, and slowly licked his lips.  “Nikki…  I’m sorry.  God, I’m sorry.”

 “You didn’t hurt me, Erik.”  Her arms slid around him, and she hugged him, her head resting on his chest.  “You didn’t hurt me.  But I understand why you’re afraid now.”

 “I wish that I could stay.  You need someone better than Henner to watch your back.  But if I did stay…  The risk is so damn high.”  He kissed the top of her head. 

 “Promise me… Promise that you’ll try to be careful.  That you’ll try to find help, instead of just going off somewhere to die.”  Her whisper was soft, full of a tangle of emotions.

 Holding her close, Erik wondered if there was someone out there who could help him.  If there was a solution.  “I’ll be careful.  And I’ll never forget you, you’re too big a part of me to ever be forgotten.”

End part 6.

Chapter Text

 Nikki didn’t watch as Erik left.  Instead, she clung to his shirt, holding on to it as the last link to her childhood, a time when things were simpler.  Not quite innocent, and never precisely safe, but a time when she didn’t know about vampires or demons, a time when the worst that could happen would be getting beat up or maybe shot.  A time when she couldn’t imagine anything terrible enough to turn someone against her, or send Erik away in fear.

 Erik would never try to hurt her.  But there was something different now, more than just the sharp teeth that he’d had, or the strength.  It was changing him inside, eroding his confidence.  She had faith in Erik, but Erik was losing faith in himself, and becoming afraid.  Of course, if it was her, she’d probably be afraid too, but it wasn’t her.  It was Erik.

 Nikki felt almost sick as she held his shirt close to her.  She would miss Erik, miss having someone to watch out for her, someone to talk to about the things out in the darkness.  Hot tears slipped forth, spilling into her pillow.  If only she would have some way to remember him, something that couldn’t simply be misplaced, or have the scent worn and washed away.  If only she could keep something of Erik with her always.

 Nikki started to worry when the faintly ill feeling persisted.  She felt too hot at night, and sleepy in the daytime.  Foods tasted slightly off, not quite wrong, but not quite right.  But she figured that it was grief, that it was just from missing Erik.

 Right up to the point where she missed her period.

 It turned out that she would have something to remember Erik by.  Nikki Wood was pregnant.  Her parents were furious – she was too young, she wasn’t married, how could she be so irresponsible…  As for Henner, he almost had a fit.  But Nikki stood firm about her baby.  She was going to have her baby, going to keep him or her and love them take the best care of them that she could.

 Staring out the window, Nikki considered names.  Not after her parents or Henner, not with those reactions.  She didn’t want her baby to replace Erik, only to keep the memory alive.  Her baby would need a new name, a name that was just for him or her.  Something full of hope, something positive.  The grass gleamed after the rain, and a few birds hopped over it, searching for worms and bugs.  Nikki’s eyes settled on one of them, and she smiled.

 A Robin, the symbol of spring and new beginnings.   It would be the perfect name for her child, the perfect way to remember the past and hope for the future. Resting her hand on her expanding stomach, she whispered “Welcome to my life, baby Robin.”

End epilogue.
End the Question of Blood.