Author: Darchangel Skye
Summary: Hell, compared to the first few months after his turning, hanging out with a street kid was nothing.
Genre: Sixteen Candles-verse, pre-video
Pair: implied Pete/Ryan (with maybe a Pete/Patrick moment if you squint and tilt your head sideways)
Rating: PG, no major warnings unless you hate vampires.
Disclaimer: Fake of course, everyone knows vampires don't really exist ;)
Word count: 5168 *collapses*
Large, hairy, and billowing thanks to: siren_mage for her primer and sharpest_rose for her fansite! ♥
x-post: oh man, all over the place. People who get this at least thrice should spit into the wind.
With the girls, there were generally two types.
Either you had the weeping homely Goth chicks who forever bemoaned their existence and wanted an end to whatever their piddling misery was (You think you know misery? I am misery), or the stunningly beautiful femme fatales with their lips redder than bloodlust and weren't afraid of dying for the sake of a good time.
None of them mattered to Pete. His desire, among other things, had been drained a long time ago.
Ryan was different from the girls, for more than the obvious reasons.
It was easy to just write him off as a typical vampire groupie at first- what normal kid his age wanted to spend his sleeping hours with a creature of the night?
Surely the way they met would've been cause for suspicion. Ryan was huddled by himself in an alleyway with an arm severely banged up. Pete's bloodlust was under control by then, but old habits died hard, so to speak. He could smell everything.
The kid had good senses too; he knew what was approaching and huddled deeper into a ball, good arm held out for protection. "Please, it was an accident," he begged. "Get away!"
Pete shook his head and stopped in his tracks, not on command but out of common sense. What desire did he have to turn anyone? "I'm not gonna hurt you, kid," he said, more than a little gruffly. "You better head on home."
The kid looked up with wide, disbelieving eyes, and Pete could see a freshly bleeding scratch on one cheek.
"It's a long story." Pete held out a hand. "Do you want help or not?"
The kid swallowed and stretched out his free hand (the first feature Pete really noticed, his incredibly long fingers), then was slowly pulled to his feet.
He was young, tall and gangly, with dark hair and features one would call delicate, if they knew the kid wasn't gonna sock 'em. Even with his injuries, he looked the type who could fend for himself- most of the time.
Pete registered all this in an instant, then turned his attention back to the matter at hand. "Do you need help getting home...?"
"Ryan," the kid said in a husky voice, then winced at his arm.
He couldn't leave Ryan out here, not when his sensitive ears were already picking up screams in the distance. Pete whipped off his jacket (exposing his grandfather's medals and the stake-proof vest Patrick had fashioned underneath) and flung it around the kid's shoulders to fashion a crude sling. "C'mon, we gotta get outta here."
Ryan wasn't stupid. He stuck close by Pete's side as they made a breathless run through the streets, silently praying to avoid any more creatures until the safe space was in sight.
Pete wouldn't think about it until later, but it was amazing they trusted each other right off the bat. One couldn't normally afford such risks in this town.
"OK, OK, here," Ryan finally panted out, and the two stopped just outside a residential area. It was definitely too risky for Pete to venture further. He leaned against a telephone pole and quickly regained his breath while the kid all but collapsed on the sidewalk. No supernatural stamina for him.
After a silence broken only by ragged breathing, Ryan drew himself up once more. "Th-thanks."
"It was nothing," Pete said honestly. He avoided looking at the houses ahead, needing no reminders right now. "It's what I do."
"I never heard of one who did," Ryan said quietly.
Why did no warning bells go off for Pete? Maybe because the kid was polite, quiet- definitely a contrast to the brash and crass of other humans from his wandering days, style without substance. Yep, this one was as different as he.
"I'm a rare breed," he showed his teeth in an even rarer grin.
Kid didn't even blink. He just turned his gaze down the road and said, "I better get home. If I'm lucky Dad'll still be asleep."
"Then don't let me stop you," Pete waved off. "You can keep the jacket."
Ryan was barely three steps away, a graceful walk, when he turned once more. "Hey, are you out every night?..."
"Pete," he blurted without a thought. The kid had given his name, it was only fair. "Pretty much. Why?"
Ryan tilted his head and for the first time that evening, a tiny smile appeared on his lips.
"You feel like hanging out?"
That was the beginning, out of gratitude and a semi-dramatic moment that drew the two into what would've been a gruesome relationship if not for the kid's calmness toward it all.
Once it had fully sunk in to Ryan about Pete's condition- well, if he was fascinated, he hid it well. No begging to learn vampire secrets, no (un)holy reverence at being in the presence of the undead. No, he had a mind of his own, and acted like Pete was just like everyone else. It was a relief to Pete, a welcome change from those outright alienating the proverbial elephant in the room.
Joe and Andy, once they'd discovered, questioned the friendship at first, and maybe with good reason. Who knew what the kid's intentions were, and why did Pete care so much anyway? But Patrick's cooler head prevailed in the end.
"Just let him get it out of his system," seemed to be good enough an explanation for everyone, for which Pete was forever grateful. Hell, compared to the first few months after his turning, hanging out with a street kid was nothing. It was certainly worth sliding out the warehouse window at midnight and being on the receiving end of sour glares, from who were supposed to be two longtime friends, as he made his escape. Andy and Joe would never be used to seeing him in this new form, Pete had realized.
Sad but true, if it hadn't been for Patrick agreeing to taking all the responsibility for taming him, they would've staked him a long time ago. That was as good a reason as any why he went out.
He needed an escape as much as Ryan did.
They'd found a small hill overlooking the city, a place that used to be a lover's lane before...everything changed. Until the young men had rediscovered it, its only company had been the moon. Now, they would sit on the cooled grass, bundled against the elements, and look down at the city that stirred so many conflicting emotions. Sometimes Ryan would break off half of whatever snack he'd brought and Pete would accept silently, keeping up some sort of human front (although Patrick's blend satiated hunger for the most part, he could still have normal food that wasn't too seasoned or spicy).
He kept the insecurity in the back of his mind that sooner or later, in their conversations that wiled away the hours, the kid would start asking the inane things everyone else did. But Ryan just wanted to talk, and he talked a lot. He was shuffled back and forth between his parents, not that either of them acknowledged his existence much, which accounted for his roaming all hours of the night and getting into scrapes (while Pete had to bite his tongue to keep from giving the strength-isn't-just-about-muscles lecture, that would be hypocritical coming from him). He read a lot, and wrote a lot. Two of his friends had gone missing, presumably lost to the vampires (which ones Pete could hazard a guess, but never wanted to say a word) and he had been rather depressed since, but Ryan held nothing against Pete. He wasn't the problem.
Pete didn't mind doing most of the listening, hearing the kid brought back some of the more pleasant memories of waking life. There wasn't much to tell about that time- normal upbringing, how he'd known Andy practically forever, and when they'd met Patrick and Joe things just clicked, and they'd all been friends ever since, before...
William and his turning were scarcely mentioned; there was no way Ryan could handle those details (and as much as Pete didn't want to admit it, he wasn't ready to face it himself). Also glossed over were the first painful months after, wandering the streets in a bloodlust frenzy, and getting mixed up with vampires, victims, and groupies alike...until Patrick found him again.
Even if he had eternity to do so, he had no complete words for the spectrum of emotion that crossed Patrick's face, joy and despair and disbelief all at once. If the day ever came Ryan saw his friends again, no matter the outcome, it wasn't hard to imagine he'd react the same way.
While he knew that subject was still a tender spot with the young man, Pete tried to offer optimism. "Four months isn't so long in the scheme of things," he'd said once, but Ryan's response was something they both knew all too well.
"In this city, it's a lifetime."
Emotional connections were few and far between for Pete. All he had were his friends, and besides Patrick, even those relationships were strained. Despite his politeness and listening, Pete made a point of telling himself a long time ago there was no sense having that much camaraderie with the kid, in case he got any ideas of being more than a soundboard. Maybe it was a manifestation of Andy and Joe's insinuations, and he hated himself for that, but it was best to play safe.
There was some truth to their questions. Yeah, he cared, but not in that way. For crying out loud, the kid was all alone in the world through no fault of his own. Without someone to stand in for a missing piece, the only thing worse was living death...and Pete didn't wish that on anyone.
Like Jericho, emotional walls came down sooner or later. But it didn't always take a shout. Sometimes it was only a moment by moonlight.
Said moon was right now the only source of illumination for Pete, as the city lights below were dimmer than usual. Perfect for any creature on the prowl.
He'd been sitting at their usual spot for the past hour, one hand on the ground and the other keeping tabs on one of Andy's rolled-up drawings swiped from the warehouse wall (he'd made a distinct point of grabbing it after another of their arguments). It was one of the few sketches not based on morbidity and destruction, but something the kid would actually like, a cloaked figure conjuring a force in an outstretched hand.
Another one of Pete's ways to be polite, but his patience was wearing thin. The kid had never been this late. Maybe his parents had caught him sneaking out; they rarely noticed him unless he was fouling up. And I thought the undead could be harsh. Pete growled to himself and clenched his fist in the dirt.
For all his agony to return to what he once was- a possibility sliding further and further away- it sickened him to witness humans' uncaring attitudes towards each other. Not that he was a total naif, he'd known of such things in waking life, but since his turning it seemed things had gotten worse. Maybe it was true; isolation from others gave one a better perspective to see people as they really were. This was what Pete missed, callous indifference and hostile rejection?
Not that he'd ever say it aloud, but the kid was one of the last few hopes for humanity out there. Despite everything that'd been thrown at him, Ryan always seemed to keep himself together and rarely had a harsh word, even towards those who deserved it, in Pete's point of view. Whether or not the kid had the purest of hearts, he certainly gave off an air of serenity and dignity. It was something Pete missed.
Now if only he'd just show up. Any later would be cutting it too close.
Maybe it was best not to risk it tonight. Pete sighed heavily and had almost stood to leave when he finally saw the kid feebly coming up over the hill. He must've been in one of his fights again.
Any discomfort in Ryan's eyes was replaced with a glow of relief when he saw the older man.
"You don't have to come if you're hurt," Pete tried chastising. "You're not obligated to me."
"But you waited," Ryan said with a faint smile as he approached Pete and dusted himself off.
Pete frowned. He hated feeling tricked. "What happened?" he asked, trying to change the subject.
Ryan sat and looked over his shoulders, as if making sure nothing had gained on him. The discomfort returned to his eyes. "One of them," he murmured.
The being shivered in the night breeze. "Them" could only mean one thing. "Which ones?" he swallowed.
"I don't know their names...he was in one of those derby hats and strutting like he owned the place. I tried to make sure he didn't see me..."
Pete slammed his hands into fists, nails digging red quarter-moons in the palms. The Dandies knew how to ruin everything...
The kid continued, "He must've been turned recently; he wasn't that strong. I was able to kick him off and run for it, but..." He let out a shuddering breath and lay on his side, as if admitting defeat. His shoulders heaved- what would he have to cry about?
"Hey- hey." Pete laid down to see Ryan, whose face was covered as he shuddered continually, and held a firm but gentle grip on a young wrist. Comfort had never been his strong suit in life, but he had to make up for it now. "It's OK, you got away from him and that's what matters."
"Do you want me to walk you home?"
Still no answer. Ryan released a loud, grating sob, one that frightened Pete enough to make him draw back- and he was the one that was supposed to scare people.
"Ryan?" he whispered, one of the few times he'd ever call the kid by his name.
Ryan drew himself up again with another shuddering sob. His tears had streaked through dirt picked up from the ground- he looked like an escapee from a war zone, which wasn't much of an exaggeration.
"It was Spencer, they turned Spencer!"
Pete sighed heavily. It was the worst-case scenario for the kid's friends. And if he'd just barely gotten away from a newly-turned vamp, what chance would his street-skills have against a stronger creature? There'd be no way to make things better and hope to turn him back.
No way out. No way out.
The kid was officially broken. Whatever glow of hope had been in his eyes burned away- it was a look Pete had often seen in himself after his turning. No one had words to offer him then, and sad as it was, he had no words to offer Ryan now.
Ryan covered his mouth to muffle his sobs and fell forward, head on Pete's lap. The older man almost drew back but stayed.
Damn, he'd been right- the kid was all alone in the world. It shouldn't've hurt, but it did.
Slowly he reached out a hand (nails grubby and bitten way too short) and laid it on Ryan's head. His hair was cool and smooth- childlike, the word resounded in Pete's mind. Despite his young age and everything he'd put up with, he'd never displayed any real vulnerability until now. The humanity- when Ryan was still the human one. But they still had something in common. They'd both lost something dear to the Dandies.
Ryan didn't flinch under the touch. He laid with his head down, sobs slowly fading away as the older man stroked his hair (Pete knew it wouldn't do anything in the long run, but dammit it was all he could do). Silence hung heavy in the air between them until the moon looked ready to disappear from the horizon.
"I gotta go," Pete said as always, then added quietly, "I'll walk you home, Ryan."
The kid sat up and wiped away dirt and tears. When he looked Pete in the eye, there was almost a deja-vu of his gratitude from the first night. If Pete didn't know any better, he would've sworn it was love- not that anyone like him could afford that emotion.
"Thank you," Ryan said and slid an arm around Pete's waist as they stood. There was still a need for comfort, something to lean on for a while.
Pete carefully laid a hand on the kid's arm to keep steady. "How's the arm doing?"
"Fine." Whether or not it was a lie didn't matter. It was at least a positive word to leave on during their silent trek home.
Ryan didn't come to the hill for a few nights after. Pete couldn't decide if he'd been hurt on the street, had hurt himself to stay away, or was so embarrassed by his display of emotion he didn't want to show his face again. If that (concern? worry? wonder?) wasn't enough, Andy and Joe were as miserable and distant as ever. The creatures were increasing in number if the talk was to be believed, and who better to project their anger on than the house vampire? It was enough to make Pete sick.
Fortunately they were out of sight by the time he had to make a fresh batch of his blend, as carefully as Patrick had showed him. One distraction would make a big mess, in more ways than one. All that came close to distraction was a thought as he stared down the pitcher of liquid. If you could make enough for every creature in the city...
"You still here?"
Pete snapped his head up in defense, but it was only Patrick. He could relax. A little.
Patrick set down his sack of new supplies and tucked the book he'd been holding (Joe's copy of the Encyclopedia of Modern Military Weaponry, boy had he been reading that a lot lately) under an arm. "I thought you were going out to meet your friend."
"He's not my friend," Pete growled. It had to be the truth. OK, so he and Ryan had some things in common, but when you looked at the big picture, who didn't? The talks were just secondary, and the kid's outburst- hell, he'd just faced his last straw. No one could fault him for acting like he did.
But a real friend was somebody less messed-up than you, who you could count on at all hours no matter what- like Patrick.
The younger man shrugged. "Well, whatever he is, he seemed nice enough. Does he know the way here?"
Fat chance. "No. Too risky."
"I guess you're right." He pulled up a seat and returned to his book.
Pete was near-incensed. There was no way Patrick could continue as head of their rag-tag group if he let everybody else's attitudes trample over him- Pete's included. "It wouldn't be a risk if they weren't such jerks!"
Patrick raised his eyes. "Pete, you know that's not fair. A lot's happened in such a short time-" You of all people should realize that, the older man could hear hidden in that phrase- "That's their way of coping. Stop taking it personally."
Pete, who had spent a lifetime taking things personally, scoffed and went back to his blend. It hurt his throat like hell, but it better than being a danger to everyone. He felt droplets dribble away from his mouth and absently wiped it with the back of his hand. Was it such a coincidence the liquid resembled blood, even if it tasted thick and dead, which was an absolute poison?
Some things it was best not to question.
He looked once again to Patrick keeping attention on his book. It was an intense concentration he'd seen a lot of over the past months, and coupled with everything going on around them, it was amazing Patrick had rarely lost his cool- even with all the changes.
"How come you never had a problem with me seeing the kid?"
Like a lot of things that Pete said, he rarely thought beforehand about it. That had often gotten him in trouble in waking life, but why worry what the consequences would be now?
Patrick set down his glasses, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temple. For a moment it looked to Pete like he wouldn't answer at all, even if he'd been anticipating the question for a long time. Finally their eyes met again.
"I figured it'd be good for you. Pete, you were miserable, you'd have to be blind not to know it. After you were tamed, you wanted human contact like before, and you weren't ready for Father McLynn, you needed someone who wouldn't judge you. That's why you went wandering again, even if I got paranoid you'd fall back into bad habits. Meeting that kid was a breath of fresh air. You were actually smiling again!"
Pete smirked a little at that last part, but it still felt good to hear. "I would've thought you'd be jealous."
Patrick shook his head. "I couldn't be jealous of someone who made you happy."
Maybe that was an exaggeration on Patrick's part, but Pete appreciated the gesture. If it was one person who he knew made him happy, it was the young man before him. Another reason to be forever grateful. He slid a hand across the counter so his fingertips brushed Patrick's. "Thanks, man."
Patrick laughed and curled his hand. "So, what were your plans tonight?"
The older man looked to the warehouse window, and saw the sky was still inky. "Y'know? I think I'll go out after all."
"Whatever makes you happy."
With a lighter bounce in his step (although careful not to soar, brandishing one's flashier "Hey, I'm a vampire!" powers was rarely a wise move), Pete made his way to the hill with plenty of time to spare. The moon still shone in the sky- and cast a silver glow on the young figure already crouched on the ground.
Pete sat himself next to Ryan and flashed a smile, even if it didn't look like the kid felt like smiling. "Hey, kiddo. Sorry I was late."
"That's OK, I kinda just got here too," the kid lied, not meeting Pete's eyes. The cut on his face had healed.
"You feelin' any better?"
Ryan shrugged. "Not really."
Pete's smile dropped off his face. OK, stupid question. "Wanna talk about it?"
Again, "Not really," and not meeting his eyes.
Damn iiiiit, this was not looking good. Usually the kid was talking within a minute. "Hey, did I ever tell you about the road trip Andy and I took sophomore year? We'd picked the worst spot to run out of gas when..." Pete trailed off his story. It wasn't getting any reaction, and for the first time since his taming, recounting such memories left him with a heaviness. Instead of reminding him of good times, he was reminded of how everyone he'd ever known or loved had drifted.
Well, almost everyone.
Slowly Ryan turned his head to finally face Pete. There was no sharpness in his expression, no glow in his eyes, even from the moon. He looked as dead on the outside, as, well, Pete felt on the inside.
"I was dreaming last night," he said flatly. "I didn't wasn't alone anymore. I left the city and felt freedom for the first time ever."
Ah, how often had Pete dreamed of freedom, to step wherever he pleased? But the kid's tone was not reassuring in the slightest.
"Why do you bother staying with those guys?" Ryan continued. "They don't understand you. They're not like you. They don't accept you for who you are and never will."
The older man opened his mouth to protest, But Patrick, there's always been Patrick, but the kid grabbed his shoulders.
"Make me like you. I want to be like you!"
Pete drew back and blinked, as if his eyes were deceiving him along with his ears. This couldn't be the same kid who'd had a mind of his own, who would never make the same request as some...nobody! His anger from earlier in the evening threatened to come back. If he'd been his old self, Ryan would be a stiff with a terminal hickey by now, but he pressed his palms to the ground and kept still.
"Ryan," he said slowly and deliberately to keep his temper down. "I think you've been reading too many ghost stories. Haven't you listened to a word I've said? You think I want to be this way?"
"Better than bothering with a world where everything changes and people turn their backs on you."
Ouch. Not quite a game-set-match, but Ryan knew that thought. A thin, papery breath left Pete and he looked to the ground. "What about the good things in life, Ryan? Sunlight and music and the ocean and following your dreams? Don't those mean anything to you?" he asked as though such a stream of emotion would return humanity to him.
The moon was cold. Too cold.
Something flickered in the kid's eyes. "Even they die sooner or later."
"But it's the truth, Pete. Unless you kill whoever turned you, you'll always be the same, and if I don't get turned, one of these days I'll be old and gray and sick...and there's nothing I can do about it..."
Pete stared blankly. Maybe his mind-control powers had diminished since his taming, but he could still hazard a guess as to what someone was thinking. "Ryan, this isn't about you or me, or even Spencer. Is it your father?"
"Back in the hospital this morning," he wavered. "They've given up hope. Even he's given up; he looks dead already. And I don't know where I'm gonna be in the next month if Mom runs off again. Everyone else has disappeared."
"Running away doesn't solve anything," Pete answered, hoping the kid would find the other meaning.
But it wasn't getting through just yet. Ryan looked to the sky like he was addressing it. "Is it so bad to want to get away from a past that hasn't given you anything?" His voice hitched as if he were near-tears again. "Why couldn't I stay with you? I wouldn't be a nuisance, those guys wouldn't even know I was there. Or we could find our own place-"
Such ideas were queerly romantic, but Pete had to be a realist somewhere. Sooner or later the kid would get restless- even if he never left the city, no grass grew under his feet- and a careless excursion would leave him on the wrong end of life, or worse. Pete couldn't forgive himself if he let that happen.
He shook his head again. "Can't do it. It's too dangerous. Your world is with the living."
"A living hell," the kid's voice cracked.
A hell you can see from here, Pete mentally finished. The realization made his head hurt, a lighting-bolt of red through the black. Here he was telling Ryan he'd soon have to be on his own again, back to a world he couldn't even wish on his worst enemy. It wasn't fair, but it was the truth.
For a long time he looked to the moon, as if it would provide divine inspiration. But no higher power would want anything to do with him. He had to press on with his words alone.
"Ryan..." He continued when he saw the kid was looking in his eyes again. "I'm sorry for everything you've been through...and everything that's ahead." He opened his hands, grubby with dirt and old scars. "I wish I could tell you you'll have a happily ever after, but I can't see the future. All I can ask of you is that you'll never give up. You have a gift like no other, and I want you to use that potential."
Ryan gave a slow nod. He was still a little disbelieving, but that was OK.
The moon began to dip away from the horizon. Soon it would be just another morning in America for the city, but for Pete, it would always be last night. "I gotta go," he said as usual when he stood. He didn't know how it started, but somehow it lent an air of friendship to whatever kind of connection it was they had.
"Will you be back tonight?" Ryan asked without looking up. If I haven't blown my chance, was the great unspoken.
"Can't," Pete shook his head, "I got a meeting with the guys. Patrick...he's been talking about trying to make the town safer for everyone. If he's as smart as even I say he is...it's gotta be serious."
"You're leaving me, aren't you?"
Even if that was a question a girl would typically ask, it was honest, and vulnerability didn't have to mean girlishness.
Pete didn't know whether it was a last vestige of humanity or not, but something twinged in his heart. Ryan didn't just see him as a soundboard for whatever was going on in his mind. He really was that missing piece, someone the kid would actually be forever grateful to have known. His going-way was just as heart-breaking as every other tragedy in Ryan's life. For even a brief span of time, Pete had been a true companion, vampire or not.
He sighed, knelt so was eye-level with the kid, and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I wouldn't be agreeing to it if I didn't care about you," he said, meaning more than he would ever intend again. "I just want you to be safe."
"Will you ever come back for me?"
Pete shook his head once more. "I can't make any promises. Like I said, it's really dangerous."
Ryan half-closed his eyes in acceptance.
"Just remember the same moon shines upon us both. Looking out for us the same as I'll be looking out for you and every other human in this city. It's all I can give you, but-"
"It's perfect." Still with his eyes half-shut, the kid slowly leaned in for their foreheads to touch. It was the closest they had been or would be again, topped only briefly when Ryan faintly brushed his mouth against Pete's upper lip. Maybe an unusual move, but one to bond them forever.
It actually didn't surprise Pete that the touches were so warm.
Ryan drew away and touched the being's cheek one last time. His eyes shone again in the moonlight and his lips curled up faintly. It was the perfect sight to leave on. "Good night, Pete. Be safe."
"Good night, Ryan."
He stood once more and never looked back as he walked away.