Showers Flowers and Fangs, Excerpt

IT WAS a beautiful sunny day, and Darren’s mother found him curled up on the couch, clutching at his stomach and wanting to die.

“Darren?” she asked.

“Mmgglph,” Darren groaned into the couch cushions. Stupid period. Stupid fae genes that didn’t mesh with modern medicine. Stupid period.

“Darren,” his mother said again. “What’s the matter?”

“Cramps,” Darren mumbled, rolling over just enough to grimace at his mom. “And I don’t have my herbals ’cause I’m like a week early, and ow!”

His mother sighed. “Do you need me make a run to Tabitha for you?”

Darren managed to push himself up. His mom was holding a stack of files and clearly on her way up to the home office she shared with Darren’s dad. It was tax season. She didn’t exactly need any added stress.

“No,” he managed. “I can do it. Gotta suck it up, right?”

“Are you sure you—”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Darren said, taking a deep breath and forcing himself to his feet. “It’s two blocks. I’ll take a dose when I get there so coming home’ll be easy. No… no sweat.”

“If you’re sure,” she said doubtfully.

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay. Just take it easy. Oh, and don’t forget that Tabitha has her… guest. So be nice, okay? He’s a little wary around people, she’s said.”

“Got it,” Darren forced out as he carefully stepped into his shoes. “Wary around people. Right.” Darren didn’t know a whole lot about Tabitha’s visitor, but the entire town was talking about him, what with the kid being a vampire and all. He’d apparently been run out of his hometown in, like, Russia or something. Darren wasn’t too clear on the details, but since it had to do with vampires, he guessed they were probably messy. Not that Darren had ever met a vampire personally or anything, but it seemed like a logical conclusion, right?

He hadn’t really thought much about it. He figured, give the new kid his space, let him take a breather from whatever happened in Russia, don’t tempt the possibly unstable vampire into biting him. Sound plan.

Of course that was before he’d started bleeding out his insides. Really, it was just Darren’s luck that his period had to come right when Tabitha had decided to adopt a vampire kid. At least it was a nice day. It was still March, but it was sunny and just the right mix of not too hot and not too cold.

Tabitha lived in a cheery-looking house that she’d had painted yellow with black shutters, giving it the overall impression of a strangely shaped bumblebee. Her garden took up both the back and front lawns, and Darren was pretty sure she didn’t have a single blade of grass on the property. It was great. Grass was, in Darren’s opinion, lawn weeds for boring people. It gave him a little boost of happy when he got to the house, especially after having to limp past two blocks of neatly trimmed lawns.

There was a guy sitting on the porch when Darren approached. He looked maybe a little older than Darren, though not by a whole lot. He looked kinda like Tabitha actually; his brown skin was just a little darker than hers, and their noses were roughly the same shape. And as Darren got closer, he saw that their bright green eyes were the same too, so they almost had to be related. He got all the way up to the front stoop before he realized the guy was most likely Vampire Kid. Which meant he could probably see through Darren’s glamour. Yay.

Vampire Kid was currently scowling at him.

“Uh, hi,” Darren said. “Is Tabby home?”

Vampire Kid stopped scowling and tilted his head, looking confused. “You are not here to gawk at me?” His voice was heavily accented. Darren guessed that was the Russian.

“No?” Darren grimaced and tried to stay upright. “Look, no, I don’t gawk. Is Tabby home? I need her for a thing.”

“She stepped out for a minute,” Vampire Kid said. He was looking kind of tentatively concerned now. “Can I—do you need help?”

Darren hissed. “Not unless you know Tabby’s stock.” He got another wave of pain and sat before he fell over. “Fffff—I’ll just wait.”

“I, I know how to apply bandages,” Vampire Kid said in a rush, sounding really alarmed now. He reached out to put his hand on Darren’s shoulder and then seemed to rethink it and let his hand drop. “It will be better if you wait inside. I can call Tabitha.”

“Nah, it’s fine. I’ll wait here.” It’s not like he wasn’t doing just that before his mom sent him over here, and he also really didn’t want to move much at the moment. Then he caught up with the rest of what Vampire Kid had said. “What? Bandages, what?”

“I can smell blood,” Vampire Kid said. He wrinkled his nose. “It’s… bad, I think? It smells rotten. And mixed with other things. I think you need a hospital.” He made another aborted motion at Darren’s shoulder.

Oh man, Darren was not in the mood to deal with this, especially with a vampire who could totally see through the glamour. “I’m on my freaking period, you douchebag!”

Vampire Kid blinked—Darren should probably get his name at some point, but now was not exactly a good time—and gave him a not-at-all-subtle once-over. Then he leaned in and actually sniffed at him.

“Whoa! Rude! Back off. You are not allowed to be smelling me!”

Vampire Kid narrowed his eyes. “I do not understand. You say you are menstruating.”

“Way to still be rude, asshole,” Darren hissed. Freaking ow he was not in the mood.

“But you are a male.”

“Damn right I’m—” Darren had to swallow the rest of his retort after realizing that he wasn’t being questioned. Couldn’t see through the glamour, then? “…right. Yes. Yeah. I am. So shut up.”

“I will ignore the rudeness as you are in pain,” Vampire Kid said. Jerk. At least he wasn’t up in Darren’s space sniffing at him anymore. “What are you, then?”

“What do you mean ‘what am I’?” Darren said, eyes narrowed and hackles up. “Because oh my god, that is so not in any way your business.” He caught a glimpse of bright yellow and turned to see Tabitha coming down the walkway, sunshine-colored dress swishing, her dreadlocks twisted up in a neat bun at the back of her head. She was carrying a basket of mushrooms—she must have come from the woods a few blocks away. She was also watching the two of them carefully, but Darren didn’t bother trying to interpret her expression. She’d save him from Vampire Kid, which was all that mattered. And also give him wonderful, wonderful herbals. Darren stood up, still clutching at his stomach, hoping he looked suitably pathetic. “Tabby! Hi, hey, I ran out of my herbals and your weirdo vampire cousin won’t stop talking to me. Help, please, help help help.”

Luckily Tabitha took it all in stride, even if Vampire Kid did start scowling again at being called a weirdo. Whatever. He could deal; he wasn’t the one bleeding out his insides.

“Come on in, Darren,” Tabitha said, smiling. She opened the door, nodding both him and Vampire Kid inside.

Darren breathed in deep when he entered, already feeling a little bit better. He loved the inside of Tabitha’s house too. It was decorated with a mishmash of furniture and art that the witch had acquired over the years—through her various travels when she’d studied her magic and potion making—and that was all great. But more importantly, she also kept plants: medicinal, herbal, and edible, another slice of garden indoors. Darren always felt right at home in Tabitha’s house—sometimes more than at his home; her collection of plants was a little bit more exotic than the ones Darren and his dad kept.

“Go on into the kitchen,” Tabitha instructed, swinging her basket. “I’ll be there in a jiff. Vlad, why don’t you join him?”

Vlad? Darren swung around to stare at Vampire Kid, who frowned and ducked his head. “Your name is Vlad?”

He scowled. “Yes. So?”

Okay, now Darren might have been gawking. “No, you can’t actually be serious.”

“Kitchen, boys,” Tabitha said, before she left them alone.

Darren shrugged and headed toward the kitchen, Vlad following him. They sat across from each other, and Vlad gave Darren a deeply unimpressed look. “I am from Ukraine. It’s not an uncommon name there.”

“What? Oh. Right, your name.” Darren winced at a new wave of pain. “Common in Ukraine. Got it. Great.”

“My father—” Vlad only barely paused. “My father’s name is Ivan.”

Darren knew what that pause probably meant, knew he shouldn’t push, but he couldn’t help himself. “What’s your mom’s name?”

“Veronika.”

Vlad’s face was kind of doing a shutting down thing. “It sounds really nice, when you say it,” Darren tried. “With the rolling Rs and all.”

“Thanks,” Vlad said after a pause that went on a touch too long.

“But Vlad the vampire is still like, the most cliché thing I have ever heard in my life.”

“You are a jerk.”

“You were a jerk first.”

Vlad had no response to that.

“Here we are!” Tabitha said, coming in carrying a steaming bowl in one hand and a paper bag in the other. “Darren, your herbals are in the bag. The usual method of taking them—chew one of each of the four leaves when you wake up before you eat anything else, and right before you go to bed with a glass of warm water. And don’t use or eat anything with aloe vera until your period is over.”

Darren made grabby hands at the bag. “Great, thank you. Am I allowed to take some now, even though I’ve already had breakfast?”

Tabitha shook her head and set the bowl down in front of him. “Nope, sorry. But I mixed up a steam form that you can take now. It isn’t as effective for pain, but it’s fast-acting, so it should at least help some until you can take your nightly dose. But you can’t wear anything with polka dots for the next twenty-four hours.”

“I don’t even own anything with polka dots,” Darren said, throwing his face into the bowl and taking a deep breath in.

“All right, just spend a few minutes inhaling that, then,” Tabitha said. “I’m going to get my mushrooms into the dehydrator. Vlad, why don’t you keep Darren company?” Then she was gone again.

There was a long pause, and then Vlad said mulishly, “You could have just told me you were trans. I would not have made a big deal of things.”

“Not the sort of thing I tell complete strangers, man.” Darren was feeling a little more charitable now. Sweet steam relief. “Or anyone. It’s kind of a need-to-know basis thing. And you? Did not need to know.”

Vlad opened his mouth and then closed it again. “Sorry,” he said after a moment.

“Um yeah, it’s uh… it’s okay I guess.”

More silence. Vlad kept staring at him and seemed disinclined to leave Darren and his steam in peace.

Darren didn’t do well with silence. It made him twitchy. And he’d never spoken to a real live vampire before. Live? Unalive? Undead? A million questions shot through his mind, and he ended up blurting out, “So I thought all vampires were super pale,” before he could think better of it.

Vlad gave him another look. “Black people have been invented for quite some time now,” he said, voice dry. “Several centuries at least.”

Darren winced and not out of pain this time. “No, I-I just mean, y’know, you’re not pale?” A short pause, which he rushed to fill. “Okay, sorry, that sounded super awful, sorry.”

Vlad raised an eyebrow, but he looked less mad and more amused. “My being turned did not somehow leech the color from my skin. I just cannot tan. My skin heals too fast for that, now.”

Darren blinked at him. “Wait, you’ve tried it?”

“Tried what?”

“Going out into the sun.”

Vlad’s unimpressed look was back. Darren took that as a yes.

“But I thought the sun made you guys go poof.”

“I am not going to go poof in the sun.” Vlad actually rolled his eyes. “When you met me, I was sitting outside.”

“In the shade!”

“It’s March. There’s sun. You do not care much about history, do you?”

“Um.”

“That is what I thought.” And that was definitely at least the beginnings of a smirk. Darren was getting the feeling that Vlad thought he was super dumb. Which, ugh, not fair.

“We can only cover so much stuff about different supernatural species every year,” Darren said to defend himself. “And it’s all stuff everyone knows.”

“Except that you do not know it.”

“Oh, like you know so much about it,” Darren retorted. “You’re the one all sniffing up in people’s space. Even Layla knows not to do that in public and she’s six.”

“Is she a vampire?” Vlad asked, sounding tentative. It took Darren aback, amid all the sniping.

“Uh, no. She’s a werewolf.”

“Oh.” They lapsed back into silence.

“Vampires aren’t exactly common around here,” Darren said, feeling kind of awkward. “I think you’re the first one our town has ever had.”

“Yes. Tabitha mentioned that.” Vlad stared down at the table.

“I just mean we’ve got the usual assortment of supernatural mixed in with the humans,” Darren added, feeling like he should explain himself. “You know, common stuff. Nymphs and werewolves and witches and golems and harpies. It’s not like those special boarding-school towns. You’d probably have better luck finding other vampires at those places. Vampires aren’t exactly common in the Americas. I remember that from class.”

“Right.” Vlad still didn’t look up from the table. “Yes.”

Darren took one last lungful of steam and pushed the bowl away. That would hold him until tonight, at least. “Hey so, why are you here, anyway?”

After a long moment, Vlad said, “Need-to-know basis. I do not tell complete strangers.”

“How do I still qualify as a complete stranger?” Darren asked, oddly insulted. “We’ve been arguing for the last ten minutes.”

“I still don’t know your name.” Vlad crossed his arms. “I told you mine, and then you made fun of it.”

Darren blinked. And maybe turned a little red. “Oh, uh. Whoops? Uh, hi.” He stuck out a hand on reflex. “I’m Darren.”

Vlad actually took his hand and shook it. And then didn’t let go. “Darren what?”

Was this a vampire thing? Was he supposed to try to take his hand back? “Darren Qh’lothital.”

Vlad squinted at him. “And you made fun of my name? I cannot pronounce that.”

“You are a vampire named Vlad.”

Vlad released Darren’s hand to cross his arms again. And maybe hunch in a little. “I’m sure my parents did not name me expecting that to happen.”

Okay, maybe Darren felt a little bad now. Vlad was, like, a week in from Ukraine, he was the only vampire in town, and he clearly wasn’t here because he wanted to take a vacation to the States. And he was a possibly newly turned vampire who got upset when he mentioned his parents. That didn’t bode well. Darren should probably cut him some slack.

“Okay, well, nice to meet you, I guess. Hope you like our town and settle in okay. Tabby’s pretty great, so… yeah. I’ll see you around.” And then Darren fled. It just seemed like the best option.

***

THE NEXT morning Darren woke up, rolled out of bed, and immediately made a beeline for the stairs. He got to the kitchen, pulled his herbals out of the fridge, stuffed the four different leaves into his mouth, and started to chew as he headed back upstairs. He stopped in the bathroom, emptied his Mooncup on top of his usual morning routine of brush teeth, use bathroom, take shower, and then ended up back in his room in a towel, ready to sort through clothes.

Even with the herbals, he was still feeling kind of lousy, so he decided against wearing his binder today, instead grabbing one of his sports bras. It wasn’t like he was all that big to begin with, thankfully, and his glamour gave him the illusion of a masculine chest anyway, but he normally liked to wear the binder just because it made him feel better. A sports bra was much more forgiving, though, and he was always in favor of comfort during period week.

Bra and boxers on, Darren threw a T-shirt and shorts on top of them, stuffed his books and homework into his bag, and was ready to face another school day.

Just as soon as he had breakfast. He hoped there was still some tiger lily left. He might have eaten it all yesterday.

***

BETHANY MET him at his locker and gave him a look of pity, meaning she’d sniffed out what Vlad had yesterday. “So you’re early, huh?”

“It really is freaky how you manage to do that every single month.”

“And it’s really sad that you’re not used to it by now,” she shot back. “Did you at least get your herbals? Are you good and dosed up?”

“Yesterday was not fun, but yeah,” Darren said. “I can’t wait until I’m able to grow that mixture myself.”

“Will you be able to?” she asked as they walked to their first class—good old chemistry. “I thought that was witch work.”

“It is, but it’s also plants? I talked it over with Mx. Nadeem, and they said that as long as it’s just plant matter and no actual spells need to be cast, it should be fine. I just have to learn how to grow that configuration all on the same plant, like Tabitha can.”

“You should talk to Trish about it.”

“He should talk to Trish about what?” Trisha asked, popping up behind them. She had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. That was probably the witch in her.

“About naturopathics,” Bethany said easily. Beth never was surprised by Trish just showing up. Those werewolf ears and nose were good for more things than just sniffing out Darren’s time of the month.

“Oh.” Trisha frowned. “Darren, are you early?”

Darren threw up his hands. “Why do you know that? Also how!”

“It’s the only time you ever talk about that particular method of plant growing,” she said matter-of-factly. “Since you’re normally all for keeping plants pure.”

Darren sighed. It was true; the fae in him wanted to keep plants the right way, without too much tampering. Or at least, without certain kinds of tampering. Still. “Have I mentioned recently that you both know me too well?”

Bethany patted Darren on the back. “Sorry, that’s what happens when you’re best friends with someone. We learn all your secrets.”

“Yeah, yeah.” For all he made a fuss about it, he wouldn’t trade Beth or Trish for anything. “Did you guys finish your history papers yet?”

“Course,” Bethany said. “Five pages on the history of the manticore. I finished last night.” And there was a reason Beth had a 4.0 GPA and was gunning for head of student council.

“I’m almost done,” Trisha said. Trish was also crazy smart. This was helpful, because Darren and school were not the best of friends. “I had a hard time finding sources about the evolution of grimalkin dynamics, but Steven was a big help.” Steven was human, but he had an aunt on his dad’s side who was a grimalkin.

“Hey,” Darren said, “I’m pretty sure an interview with the nephew of one counts as a good source.”

“Yeah, but still. I set up a phone interview with her too. She lives in Kentucky.”

“What’s a grimalkin doing out in Kentucky?”

Trisha shrugged. “Her husband’s a hellhound. I think he’s captain of the fire department there. How’re you doing on your paper?”

“Not too bad. I’m like half done, I think?” His paper was on fae faerie tales, because he’d thought the alliteration was funny. Also because he could just interview his grandmother as a source, even if he did have to travel through a faerie circle to do it. “I’m trying to find pictures of actual documentation because Ms. Gutman said she’d give extra points for that, but cameras sort of do funny things in the circle, and I haven’t managed to get a clear photo yet.”

“And you can’t take the reference material out of the circle because….”

“Because it is literally written in morning dew.” Darren rolled his eyes. “Believe me, I’ve tried.” It was no wonder his dad had run away to the “real world” to become an accountant. The fae’s views of technology while in the circle was ridiculously archaic. His grandmother didn’t even have satellite, much less Netflix. Though he had convinced her to use a Kindle, once he’d shown her how easy it was to store and download books. “Anyway. So what? Are you and Steven dating now?” Trish was big, beautiful, and had almost every lady-inclined guy and girl in school swooning at her feet. It wouldn’t have been the first time a study-buddy had fallen madly in love with her.

“Actually no.” Trisha grinned. “I set him up with Urvash.”

“Who the heck is Urvash?” Their school had like five billion students. Darren had no idea how Trish managed to keep them all straight.

Trisha rolled her eyes. “Um? He’s in our American Gov class.”

“Wait, wait, is he the quiet guy? Always sits in the back?”

“Yes, Darren,” she said, sounding exasperated. “He’s also blue. Because he’s a selkie. Is any of this ringing a bell?”

“Hey, I spend that class furiously taking notes. Cut me some slack.”

“Speaking of class,” Bethany put in. “If you make me late, I will end you. Hurry up!”

“No one’s making you stick around,” Darren muttered. “Okay, okay!” he said at Bethany’s unimpressed look. He grabbed his stuff out of his locker, waved to Trisha as she headed the other way to her chemistry class (specialized; potion making), and followed Beth down the hall.

***

A BIT less than a month later, Darren was walking back over to Tabitha’s place. Not in horrible pain this time, because he actually had the forethought to pick up his herbals early, once he started getting his warning signs. Those mostly consisted of him needing to devour every chocolate thing within a five-mile radius and desperately craving out-of-season flower petals with no clue why. At least until he started bleeding two days later. It had taken him literal years to figure out the pattern in that.

He’d spent the day putting chocolate on and in every food he ate, squirting honey packets into his mouth, and eyeing the wild violets that had started to pop up everywhere, so he was pretty sure it was a good time to restock on his meds. Not for the first time, he wished they didn’t dry out after two weeks. It’d be so much easier if he could just stock up for a year at a time. Even a couple of months would be nice. But no. That’s what he got from needing to use fresh plants. Stupid fae genes.

Vlad wasn’t on the porch this time. Darren hadn’t seen him around since their awkward first meeting, not even in the woods, where he and his dad regularly bumped into Tabitha while she was out collecting wild ingredients that couldn’t grow in her garden. The gossip hadn’t died down, so he knew Vlad was still around, but it didn’t sound like he was making all that many public appearances.

Whatever. Not Darren’s problem. He rang the bell and waited.

Tabitha opened the door and beamed at him, to the point that Darren took a half step back. Happy to see him? Okay, he’d buy that, but this seemed a little over the top.

“I’m so glad you came back! Come on in,” she said, motioning Darren inside. “Vlad’s upstairs in his room, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you. Here, I’ll show you the way—I don’t think you know it.”

“Uh. I’m not—what?” Darren said.

Tabitha frowned at him. “You’re not here to visit Vlad?”

“I… no?”

Tabitha frowned at him and looked disappointed. “Why not?”

What? “Don’t know if you noticed, but last time I was here, we didn’t… uh, get along all too great, Tabby. Also he said that he didn’t want people to gawk at him?”

At least she stopped looking disappointed. “You weren’t gawking. You were having a conversation! It was wonderful.”

“We spent the whole time accidentally insulting each other,” Darren felt the need to point out.

“I don’t know about that,” she said with a shrug, “but you’re the first person aside from me he’s talked to willingly. And all I get is stiff politeness.” She looked at him expectantly.

Darren stared at her. She was wearing a long black-and-red dress, dreadlocks down—pretty, and someone Darren had known since he was nine, but he still felt a chill run down his spine. “Let me get this straight: you want me to make friends with your weirdo vampire cousin.”

She instantly started beaming at him again and didn’t even address him calling Vlad a weirdo. Ooh boy. “Would you? He really does need a friend. And someone his own age to talk to.”

Damn it, Darren was already feeling kind of bad. He heaved a sigh. “Okay, sure. But no promises. If he hates me, that’s not my fault.”

“I’d be happy enough with an argument,” Tabitha assured him. “I’ll show you his room, and then go get your herbals ready for you when you leave.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

Darren followed Tabitha as she went up the house’s narrow staircase, turned left on the landing, and knocked on the farthest door down the hall. He looked around with interest while he was there; Darren didn’t usually go up to the second floor. The walls were all painted dark green, a vivid contrast against the dark wood doors. The effect was a little spooky. “Vlad? You have a visitor.”

There was a quiet scuffling, and then the door opened. Vlad peeped out, looking wary. He was dressed in shorts and a dark green T-shirt and could have easily blended into the walls. Darren wondered if that had been on purpose or what. He gave Vlad an awkward wave. “Hi?”

“Tabitha?” Vlad asked, glancing from Darren to her and back again.

Tabitha smiled at him. “He just came by to pick up some things and wanted to say hello. I’ll let you two chat while I get them ready.” Then she turned and left, not exactly running down the stairs—but it was a near thing.

Vlad sighed. “Well, come in, then.”

“Don’t look so happy to see me,” Darren said, before remembering he was supposed to be nice. To keep himself from saying anything else, he looked around the room. It had a bed with an open laptop on it, a desk and chair, a dresser, and nothing else, except a hoodie on the floor near the bed. No decorations, nothing, nada. It looked stark and bare, especially in contrast to the rest of Tabitha’s house. And it was weird too, because Darren was sure Tabitha at least would have decorated her guest room. So that meant the lack of decorations must’ve been a conscious decision on Vlad’s part once he’d moved in.

But why?

“Oh my god, man, you’ve been here for a month already. Where’s your stuff?”

Vlad shrugged and closed his laptop, then sat down on his bed. “What did Tabitha say?”

“Huh?”

“To make you come see me. I know you did not decide to visit me on your own.”

Darren stood awkwardly in the doorway for a second before deciding that the desk chair was safest. He sat down on it and spun around to face Vlad. “She didn’t really say anything so much as she used her disappointed look on me. But if I really do bother you, I can totally go.”

Vlad snorted.

“I mean it! I know we didn’t hit it off last time, so I figured I wouldn’t bug you again.”

“Then why did you come by?” Vlad asked.

“Needed a med refill.” Darren waved a hand. “That time of the month approacheth.”

“You were in a lot of pain last time,” Vlad said slowly.

Darren raised an eyebrow. Were they really talking about this? “Uh, yeah? Periods suck.”

Vlad frowned and shifted on the bed, hands coming up to clasp together. “No, I meant to ask…. Why do you have to keep coming to Tabitha?”

“Uh, because I need herbal medicine?”

“But why? There are many pain relief medications.”

Darren rolled his eyes. “Yeah, and they work great for humans. I’m half; my dad’s fae, and my mom’s human. The fae don’t menstruate, but humans do. I’m lucky enough to get to bleed every month, and I’m also lucky enough to have an immune system that modern medicine can’t touch. So I gotta treat myself with flowers and stuff. It works, but flowers don’t have the best shelf life, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh.” Vlad tilted his head and nodded, a slight wrinkle appearing above his nose as he considered that. Which, fine, Darren figured it was maybe a lot to consider. But ugh, silence.

“Okay,” Darren said, swiveling back and forth in his chair. “You asked me a super personal question, I get to ask you one. It’s only fair.”

Vlad looked wary, but after a moment he nodded. “All right.”

Cool. And Darren was totally capable of avoiding touchy subjects. “So, how long have you been a vampire?”

Vlad eyed him, but he didn’t look sad, so Darren counted that as a win. “I think… six months, maybe? More like seven, now.”

“What!”

“What is it?”

“You haven’t been around for like, hundreds of years or something?”

Vlad gave him a funny look. “No. Do I look like I have been alive for that long?”

“I just figured you were stuck as a teenager for all eternity.”

Why?”

“All the vampires in stories are like a bazillion years old.”

Vlad frowned, the wrinkle appearing in his forehead again. “That does not sound like a real number.”

Really really old.”

Vlad shrugged again. “Vampirism makes for better cell regeneration.” He side-eyed Darren. “Are you not the same way?” At Darren’s confused look, Vlad waved a hand in Darren’s general direction. “Your family. You just told me you are of magic, yes?”

“Fae, yeah. Sort of. On my dad’s side.”

“Don’t you live longer too?”

“Dunno. I mean, I’m pretty sure my dad can, but I think he and my mom are sort of working out the aging thing together. I’m half, so no one’s got any idea what’s going on with me. Even my powers and stuff are weird.”

Vlad blinked and leaned forward, looking the most interested he had so far. “What do you mean?”

Darren tapped his cheek. “Does that count as your question?” This was a thing now, apparently: playing getting-to-know-you with Ukrainian Vampire Vlad.

Vlad tilted his head. “I suppose so.”

“Ffffine, okay. So, basically, humans can have kids with a whole bunch of different supernaturals because… I don’t know, biology, genomes, blah blah blah, right?”

“I was aware, yes. I did pay attention to my own teachings.” The little smirk was back. Rude.

Okay, so, humans can have babies, though sometimes it’s rare depending on a lot of other complicated stuff I’m not gonna go into”—Vlad was making a face at him again—“but anyway the point is that, when a kid is mixed, it’s kind of a crapshoot of what traits of which parent they end up with. Same with regular babies, really. You don’t know if you’re gonna get Mom’s red hair or Dad’s bad teeth or your great-aunt’s nose or whatever. So I’ve got sort of a weird mixed bag of abilities. And I’m not as strong as a regular fae either. That’s why—” He cut himself off. Vlad hadn’t asked for the particulars, so Darren totally didn’t have to tell.

And of course, that’s what Vlad picked up on. “That’s why what?”

“Oh no, you already got your question. It’s my turn.”

Vlad sighed but was saved when Tabitha knocked on the door.

“Boys? Vlad? Can I come in? I just wanted to let Darren know that his herbals are ready.”

“Oh, great!” Darren hopped out of the chair. “Uh.” He turned to Vlad. “It was good talking to you?”

“Same,” Vlad said, kinda stiff all of a sudden as he opened his door for Tabitha. She was doing a thing with her face, like she was trying not to look like she was worried. Darren heaved another inward sigh. He was going to do this, wasn’t he?

Yeah he was.

“Uh, maybe I can come by tomorrow, after school,” he said before he could regret it.

Vlad looked at him, surprised but wary. “All right. If you can.”

“If you don’t mind, I mean,” Darren said.

Vlad shrugged and glanced at the floor. “I don’t.”

Silence.

“Okay!” Darren said, clapping. “So. Tomorrow, then. It’s still my turn for a question.”

“Ah yes. Okay.”

Darren got his herbals and got the hell out.


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Showers, Flowers, and Fangs