Mockingbird

"He would be awfully pretty as one of us, wouldn't he?"

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2. one

It seems that, upon consideration, practically every single thing that has occurred in Oliver’s life worth any note can, eventually, be traced back to killing. Death, in itself, is an extraordinary sort of catalyst for excitement and change, and for Oliver, it seems quite likely that without such a disturbing amount of death in his own (ironically) immortal existence, his life would be very much different.

Death- or in this particular case, a hunger for death- has evidentially led to Oliver rising to power as leader of his own particular nest many years ago (the previous leader was discovered one morning with his heart torn out, and Oliver has absolutely no idea who could have done that) as well as becoming so powerful that every inhuman creature in the entire city knows his name. And he wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s just as highly regarded in other areas of the country as well- his reputation happens to proceed him, if not the webs of control he’s painstakingly spun through as many important groups he can think of.

For the most part, vampires are relatively repulsive, and Oliver looks down at the majority of them just as he would a cockroach or a human, but his own- increasingly powerful- nest carry themselves with a certain poise and finesse that most vampires lack.

They have a dress-sense, for one: Oliver’s forever the gentleman he was a century and a half ago, and he can’t help but pass on the slicked-back hair and smart suits that he used to love back when Queen Victoria was on the thrown. The vampires he creates are never too bothered by them- as long as they can still run, jump and kill, Oliver is certain that they’re content.

And if they’re not… well, he knows that they won’t question him about it anyway.

Oliver brushes lazily at the speck of scarlet of the sleeve of his shirt, but that only makes the stain worse, spreading the red further across the crisp white material and ruining it even more. Which is a shame, because he’s only just had this shirt bought for him, and he really doesn’t want to have to throw it away.

Of course, bloodstains are a pain to remove-even a century on, Oliver is still impressed at how easily water can wash away the blood from his skin, but it simple isn’t the same for human-made material. Soap is required, a lot of soap, and probably a laundry list of different methods that only produce unimpressive results.

But oh well, he’s got more pressing matters to attend to before he trivialises himself with matters such as clothing.

As previously mentioned, death is a wonderful catalyst- it hurries up the time Oliver has to wait for something new, something fresh and exciting to come along, and in this case, this delightful new adventure comes in the form of Liam, the boy from earlier, small and slight and just perfect for Oliver’s little group, with dark hair, olive skin and eyes the colour of Oliver’s favourite whiskey.

Oliver is bored, just like he often is in December, when the darkness drags out for so long that night dissolves into day and it’s almost impossible to tell the difference anymore. It’s frustrating, really- the summer days are too long to be peaceful, but the winter nights are so long that by the end of them, Oliver doesn’t know what to do with himself anymore.

It’s always boring. He can easily spend hours staring at his ceiling, doing nothing but thinking, back to the old times, when he’d first became a vampire himself. He’s often tried to remember times before then, but it’s always difficult. The transformation rips away the human memories, leaves the newborn vampire a blank, animalistic slate, perfect to be moulded as one sees fit. Sometimes, of course, Oliver thinks that he can almost remember his life before, as if they’re balancing on the very tip of his tongue, as if he can almost taste it, but one wrong move and it’s sent spiralling away again.

Instead, he spends time imagining instead, like a child desperate to grow up. Sometimes he gives himself a family, sometimes a lover. Sometimes he decides that he dies quickly, sometimes he thinks it takes hours for his body to finally give in to the pain. It always depends on the day, his mood, how hungry he feels.

And he’s always been picky when it comes to choosing a human to turn. A new vampire is for eternity, not just for Christmas, and he’s never been one for killing but if he’s honest, he’s been looking for a new project to keep him occupied for a long time, just hasn’t managed to find the right one.

Until tonight, of course, thank god.

 

Oliver isn’t much one for roaming the streets alone. He usually likes company, but tonight Lucas and Grace are infuriating- snapping at each other with jipes and jabes like terrier dogs, and Oliver is ready to tear both of their throats out before they manage to do the same to each other. He leaves quickly, brushing back his hair and smartening his suit before stepping smoothly out into the dark.

Stars speckling the dark sky, city lights staining the pavement, it can, on occasion, be beautiful at night. Oliver thinks so, at least, although Lucas will often whine about how the pollution is far thicker than it ever could have been thirty years ago, how it clogs up his throat and burns his nose. Oliver couldn’t care less what Lucas says.

Thirty years. Damn, Oliver hasn’t created another vampire in a while, and at the moment, his shoes rapping smartly against the pavement, he decides that it could almost be time to do so again. This time, however, it will be different. Someone different. Someone special.

He smiles to himself and he makes his way down another empty street. Yes; a new little project will be fun.

Of course, finding someone worth his time in rotten city truly is far more difficult than one would first presume, and for this evening at least, Oliver is quite content with simply making his way through the city, feeding, and returning before the sun finally manages to drag itself into the sky.

But, of course, death is an extraordinary catalyst for adventure, and it just so happens that if Oliver has not just drained and then broken the neck of a girl barely past the age of twenty, whose blood was saturated with chemicals and drugs that sting his tongue, then he would not have happened to have passed the alleyway in which the boy was painting.

He doesn’t see the boy at first, but he smells him- human sweat and cheap aftershave staining the air, the sting of chemicals that intertwines with them. It’s been the bitter stench of paint that attracts his attention- the boy is far too engrossed in his task to notice him, even when Oliver steps smoothly up behind him, silently, a barely a breath away if only he could breathe.

Oliver waits a long moment, listening to the heavy heartbeat that fills his ears, the sickly-sweet tang of life that threatens to wash over him. He waits for another moment before coughing politely and the boy almost shrieks, spinning around and stumbling straight into him. Oliver has always been light on his feet, even when he was human, and he only has to take a step back in order to regain his balance, but the boy stumbles backwards gracelessly, almost smacking his head on the brick wall he’s been embellishing.

“Sorry!” he gasps, “I didn’t see you there! I’m so sorry!” Oliver notices that the boy’s hands are freckled with paint- splashes of reds and yellows and greens clinging to his skin and stuck beneath his bitten nails, a complete contrast to the tanned skin.

Oliver throws him a dashing smile, careful not to show his teeth, and he offers a gloved hand, pulling the boy to his feet. He’s almost a head smaller than Oliver, nowhere near as lanky, He’s dressed in tattered clothing- a ratty t-shirt, far too thin for this time of year, and the hoodie he has over the top shouldn’t help at all. One sleeve is shorter than the other, a cuff frayed and stained with paint and ink, and it’s irritating, setting off the itch for perfection that burns beneath Oliver’s skin.

All in all, though, the boy’s pretty, though, slender and almost strong, and Oliver keeps smiling and doesn’t let go. “I’m Oliver,” he says smoothly and shakes his hand. His hand is warm, and Oliver can feel the blood whispering beneath his skin, the hum of a pulse. Oliver can’t remember what it was like to have a heartbeat, can’t remember what it felt to have red blood cells carrying oxygen through his veins, the heart forcing it along in its journey, around the body, around and around again. Trapped in its own endless rat race, never able to escape it.

The boy’s called Liam. It’s a simple name; Oliver likes it.

He’s out here to paint; Oliver’s not particularly interested at first, but it’s more than graffiti- swirls off colour winding over the brickwork, writhing snarls of blues, greens and purple, like an ocean storm throwing itself onto dry land. Colliding together in a cacophony of shades and silent sound that Oliver can almost, almost hear.

“I’m not meant to be doing this,” Liam says, glancing down and shuffling his feet, as if it’s a crushing weight of a secret pressing down on his tongue. He lifts his head back up at gives Oliver a small smile. It’s a young smile- boyish, and Oliver smiles back. “But, y’know, it’s fun. Get away from it all for a while. Leaves me room to think. I’d… well, I know I don’t kmow you or anything, but, um, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t report it to someone. Anyone.”

He’s talking quickly, almost desperate to justify himself before Oliver has a chance to speak, his words tumbling out of his mouth and staining the air. Oliver notices that Liam fidgets as he talks: winding his fingers together, scratching at his knuckles, picking at his fingernails, as if his mind is on constant alert and eager for him to throw himself headfirst into an adventure. Like a child.

Oliver takes another step backwards and smooths out the lapels on his jacket. There’s a drop of blood on his cuff- staining like a rose bursting through a carpet of fresh-fallen snow- and he shifts slightly. It’s dark, but the only hungry tendrils of streetlights can only illuminate so much of the world. Liam shouldn’t see- just like he shouldn’t smell the blood on Oliver’s breath- but he’s still cautious. Oliver isn’t one for mistakes.

He smiles down at the boy- not too wide, not too friendly- and shrugs. “I’m not one for laws myself, if I’m honest,” he says, and Liam grins. Physically, he almost looks almost the same age as Oliver himself, but that’s not really the case.

Liam leans back against the wall, folds his arms, and nods enthusiastically. The can of paint as his feet looks empty. “Yeah! I mean, definitely! It’s not like I’m going to hurt anyone doing this, you know?”

Humans are such interesting creatures. Or some of them, anyway, the ones that flicker back and forth between emotions so easily, as if they’re hummingbirds diving between their favourite flowers. Back and forth, back and forth. Some humans change so quickly- feed the spark of confidence that hum inside their soul until it grows, and they’ll go from barely saying a word to speaking so quickly it’s almost as if they have to throw their ideas out into the open before they choke on them. But then you can say one wrong this and you’ll send them spiralling down again. Back and forth, back and forth.

Oliver can’t scare Liam away yet. He’s not even started to wrap him in his spider web, not even begun to drag him closer.

He’s about to make further conversation when Lucas rounds the corner, clearly looking for him. He meets his eyes and looks back to Liam, lips curling back in a snarl, but Oliver stops him with a minute shake of his head. The last thing he needs is for his fly to be killed before Oliver has a chance to have any fun.

Lucas strides up and Oliver watches him approach, brushing past Liam to turn directly to Oliver, a curious expression flickering at his features like fire. Oliver catches the glance he’s given and gives him a nod. Whatever Lucas has to tell him, it can wait a few minutes longer.

“Whoa,” Liam says, throwing a smile between the two like he can’t decide who to look at properly. “Are you guys, like, going to a fancy dress party or something? Or do you work at a really swanky hotel?”

Oliver runs a finger over the edge of his collar, fingering the stiff material, feeling the lace that adorns it. “Almost,” he says, “almost.”

Lucas gives him the same look again, bitter and impatient, but Oliver ignores it. It’s always easy to block him out at first, but he’s insistent, irritating, infuriating, just as he is whenever he wants something- sneaking surreptitious glances towards Oliver as if they’re promises, or ribbon-choked gifts that he wants Oliver to like but not sure if he will. He ignores the looks anyway for another minute, dragging out the small talk until he’s tugging at threads that are already in short supply. Small talk’s never been his forte.

Eventually he takes a step back, peers up at the sky between the two buildings they’re caught between, like the bridge splitting the verse and chorus of a well-known song. He says something about needing to continue on his way- some boring, half-thought excuse that he doesn’t bother with embellishing- as Lucas lets out an obnoxiously loud sigh of relief and Liam gives a small shrug and turns back to his canfuls of colours.

Lucas’s waiting for Oliver to speak first, to initiate the conversation that is likely burning his tongue, but Oliver’s not interested. Not yet, anyway. They slip out of the alleyway, the hiss of paint cans twisting with the muzak of traffic and electricity rushing through every one of the city’s extraneous limbs. They’re minutes away when Oliver finally opens his mouth.

“He would be awfully pretty as one of us, wouldn’t he?” It’s not a question, and Lucas knows not to treat it as such, but he still gives a half-hearted shrug, his eyes fixed on the pavement they walk down, the chipped slabs and stained stone. Oliver lets out a soft laugh, not bothering to look down at him as they walk. “Really, my dear? Is this jealousy again? Or simply nothing more than a childish hunger for my attention?”

“It’s neither, actually” Lucas snaps, his voice bitter, and Oliver smiles. Childish, so childish. “It’s nothing about that at all. Elizabeth is here. She wants to speak to you.”

Oliver raises an eyebrow but doesn’t slow down. Doesn’t bother looking at him. “From Edinburgh? Has she told you why?”

Lucas shakes his head. He’s narrow and dark, all smooth skin and brutal edges, sharp cheekbones and slender limbs, his hair black as Oliver’s soul and swept into razor lines around his chin. “She’s refusing to speak to anyone but you. Ordered it, actually”

Oliver hasn’t seen Elizabeth in years, but she hasn’t changed one bit since he last did. Low cut dress, long legs and a warm smile. She’s got a tattoo of a snake winding between the fingers on her left hand- black scales flickering in the wan light, almost discernible against her dark skin. Its head is nestled between her index finger and thumb, its tail caught around her wrist as if it never wants to let go. It’s disturbing. It’s delicious. Oliver’s lips brush it as he kisses her hand, her skin cold against his lips.

“Oliver,” she says. Her voice is loud, clear, breaking through the silence of his room like a rock through glass. “I haven’t seen you for a while. How have you been?”

He nods, smiles, fills Elizabeth in with the minor details that bother neither of them but are nothing more than pleasant formalities. How Lucas is keeping. Whether anyone else has noticed the random disappearances that litter the city like scars (they haven’t). How Elizabeth is controlling the vampires in Edinburgh and how few humans remain there.

“It’s not hard,” she smiles, fangs glinting in the cold light from Oliver’s desk. “You start off at the top, with the police, the councils and such, then just work your way down, person by person, level by level. You make those who could ruin you your own, and then you’re free to be yourself, to live as you want to live, in peace.”

Oliver raises an eyebrow, leans back in his chair. It’s an ornate one, embellished mahogany that’s even older than he is, and its twin is the one Elizabeth is slouched in “And that’s how you’re living the way you are.” He can’t help but sound sceptical, even though he’s impressed; that’s how he survives- keeps his secrets and ideas crushed beneath layers and layers of deception and lies. Secrets are like rope; the more than you let out, the more likely it is that it will become a noose.

Elizabeth nods, and the firelight catches the eagerness in her eyes. “It’s simple, Oliver. I don’t know why you haven’t done the same here. Think about it: complete freedom to do what you want to do, to kill who you want to kill. No more hiding in shadows.”

“You still have to hide in shadows, Elizabeth, otherwise you’ll be burned to a crisp.”

She lets out a purr of a laugh- contented, amused, slightly predatorial- and shrugs in defeat. “The only humans left are food, Oliver, and they don’t know a thing about it. It’s beautiful. Just how it’s always meant to be, with us on the very pinnacle of the food chain.”

Oliver smiles, twisting his fingers together, pressing his palms together into prayer, tucking one hand beneath the other before folding them together. “But what about Diangelo?” Oliver raises an eyebrow. “At least this city isn’t filled with people like him.”

“True,” Elizabeth sighs, a weary smile crawling across her face. “But we both know that he and his little group won’t last forever, not with us after him.”

“You’ve been saying that for the last three years,” he smirks, “but you still haven’t come any closer to doing so yet. You don’t even know his real name.  Nor what he looks like. Can it really be so safe when you could be killed at any moment? At least I don’t need to worry about that here.”

The smile quickly sours, scarlet twisting into a scowl as Elizabeth leans forward in her seat. “There’s absolutely no chance of that happening, Oliver. We both know that I’m too strong for that to happen, not to mention that I’ve got countless people around me who would tear anyone who tried that apart in seconds.”

Oliver doesn’t bother to answer her; he’s no fool, but neither is she, and if she really isn’t worried about a hunter and a small band of suicidal followers, then he won’t bother to be either. They’re nowhere near his city anyway.

But still. He sees the scratch on the side of her neck, the slowly-healing cut that could only be from stake or silver blade, and his stomach twists in disgust. Humans fighting back. It’s like a butcher being trampled to death by an escaped farm animal.

Vampire blood never tastes as good as human blood- there’s always something unsatisfying about it, a taste that never makes him hunger for it in the same way that a human’s does. It tastes plain, almost bitter, whilst there is nothing better than the taste of human blood on his tongue. Water, salts and proteins stinging his lips, the smell of it making his head spin, his thoughts focusing into one glint of razor edge of desperation.  

“You realise that you’re welcome to stay here for however long that you need?” Elizabeth smiles down at him, amused, as if he’s nothing more than a child desperate to show off his crayon drawing. “It’s safer here,” he continues, before repeating himself: “however long you need,”

Elizabeth leans away, licking the scarlet from the corner of her mouth and smiling at him from across the room. Even lounged out in a chair, surrounded by almost every luxury, she’s still a predator. Cruel. Cold. Animal.

“Oliver,” she tsks, “Oliver, you know that I can’t do that. To leave my home for any extended period of time could doom it to ashes, and you know that I do enjoy the constant source of easy dinners. Although-“ and here she pauses playfully, drags an ink-ridden hand through her hair “-I may require some assistance soon. Nothing important for you, of course, but this isn’t the time for that conversation.”

He’s curious, he’s always been curious, but he knows when not to pry. Instead he stands, slips to his feet and extends his hand. “Elizabeth,” he smiles. “Do you fancy hunting with me this evening?”

Vampires are immortal. Oliver’s been dragging himself forward for the last century or so. He’s witnessed countless wars and listened to reports of countless deaths. He’s been responsible for hundreds of fatalities himself, although he feels very little guilt in that regard. To feel some form of remorse would be the same for a human to weep over their burger or ham sandwich moments after finishing eating it. Oliver keeps himself and his following- those he’s found too interesting to simply kill straight out and instead made them one of his own- hidden in the shadows. Small marks on victims’ throats which are disregarded by the broken necks Oliver insists on leaving after he’s drank his fill.

But over this last century, very little has changed in the way he lives. He roams his streets at night, takes who he wants and who is out too late to be anything but a danger to themselves. He has a group of seven or so that he’s released from their human bonds within that time- Elizabeth eventually left with the intention of carving her own way into the world, and so far has been more than successful.

Oliver has never changed his ways within this long century that he has been him- he has no ties to his old life: after all, when a human changes and a vampire is born, it’s almost as if their mind has been completely wiped, replaced with animal instinct and hunger that Oliver has to whittle down into sophisticated creatures that he can half-stand to be around.

But he can’t help but think maybe. After all, an existence where he could hunt who he wants to hunt, kill whoever he wants to kill, is incredibly appealing. Far more so than hiding in the shadows every night.

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