“We have to stop them before they-”
“Yes! I know we do. Would you stop pushing me? I know where we’re going.”
“I can’t let you quit moving now, Lia.”
She turned around and faced her partner, his face set in the moonlight and shining like the last Christmas ham at Kroger. There were smears of dirt and cheese ball dust, orange as the flickering fire in the torches they carried, caked under his eyes and in his nails. Lia knew she couldn’t stop moving, but it was hard not to stop when she hated the idea of her destination. She had to admit to herself that she was scared of what was going to happen next, but she wouldn’t do it out loud. Neither would Thio.
“I know. But you really can get your thumbs out of my ribcage.” He moved his hands to her shoulders and continued to guide her down the dark alleyway. It smelled like cotton candy, but in a sewer, possibly toxic, and if the cotton candy had been sitting in a meat cooler for a while. Lia and Thio’s footsteps echoed down through the walls, though they tried their collective best to not make more sound that necessary. Being seen would cost them more than their lives. It would cost the life of billions of others, if not the entire world. Yes, the weight of saving planet earth was set on the mostly capable shoulders of one Christmas ham Thio Carroll and one very focused Lia Locke.
There were hours, if the calculations were correct, before the, well, the really bad thing that was going to happen was set to happen and the two of them were racing against the clock with everything they had. All their years of training in combat, witty remarks, intense glaring that bordered on hateful but eventually tipped back to just super attractive, pulling off outfits that would make other people look like bad Charlie’s Angel cosplay enthusiasts… This was their time to make things happen and make them happen fast.
Lia felt her shoe crunch into something and stopped. Thio, close behind her, cracked his nose into the back of her head. “Lia,” he whispered, “Why does the back of your head feel like it’s made of steel?”
She lifted her shoe. She’d stepped in bones. What kind, she wasn’t sure, but they weren’t of the human variety. That left only two other options. Either someone had been eating chicken and they didn’t care enough to throw their garbage away, or some unruly teenager thought it would be funny to set their college hamster up to a date with dynamite. The bones were small, chicken-like, hamster-like, and Lia didn’t want anything to do with them. She kept walking, worried that the crunch of bones had given her and Thio away. “To answer your question, it’s because the agency thought we weren’t prepared enough for this mission in regards to safety, so while we were sleeping they cut out large portions of our skulls and replaced them with 420 stainless steel.”
“Why did no one tell me?”
Lia’s torch flickered out and she sighed. “Because we knew you would make a big deal out of it.”
“Um, yeah, that’s totally a big deal.”
“Now you know why we didn’t tell you about the poker ring.”
Thio’s eyes widened, but no one saw that because a.) no one cared and b.) it was dark. “What poker ring? That’s way illegal!”
“Would you shut up?” Lia turned around again and clamped her hand over Thio’s mouth. For such an intelligent agent, he was more often than not a massive idiot. “That’s not important right now.”
“I was the one who stole your yogurt,” he said, voice still muffled by her hand.
Lia narrowed her eyes and this time Thio could see, but only because he still had a torch. She stepped closer to her partner and let him feel every part of her glaring soul, from the rough palms of her hands to the scratchy fabric of the sweater she wore over her violent-things proof vest. “You’re the one who did what?”
“I took the yogurt, yours, from the agency lounge and I ate it all and then when you made everyone get together and you asked who took it, I lied and I said I would never do such a thing. You trusted me like I trusted you. How could you withhold secrets from me? Our relationship is supposed to be built on truth and loyalty and I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the stomach, or had someone take a particularly large bite out of my throat.”
Lia turned away from Thio, not sure what to say. She knew the secrets of her past would come back to bite her, but now that the moment had come, she wasn’t sure she was ready for the sting of reality, slapping her in the face like a cold, wet pork chop. She wiped her hands on her pants and kept walking. Her emotions would have to be put aside if she wanted this to work.
“Please, talk to me, I’m sorry.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you.”
“I love you.”
Lia ran into the wall ahead of her and fell back, elbowing Thio in the eye and sending them both crashing to the ground. It wasn’t in the cute way, though, it was just loud and before they knew it, the enemy was upon them. Lia scrambled to get back on her feet. Thio was unconscious, his eye sliding around in his head like a marble made out of jelly and ready to spread on toast. Man, Lia thought to herself, I really need to stop comparing people to breakfast meals. Thio wasn’t expendable. She couldn’t leave him here to die, and the enemy wouldn’t hesitate to finish the job.
“Hello, enemies,” she said, tipping an invisible hat, “It’s nice to see you’ve finally caught up with us. But,” Lia pulled a small box from her pocket, “I’m afraid the reunion will be short lived.” With those words said, she threw the box at the feet of the enemy and grabbed Thio’s collar. There was a metal handle that popped out of the shirt, somewhat like the bar you’d see on a rolling backpack, and this plus the wheel implants located behind Thio’s knees made the escape easy, or at least as easy as it could be.
This was all her fault. How could she have let herself get involved with a man who she had to depend on so wholly? Every night, including this one, in which she and Thio sat on the couch in her basement watching reruns of the BBC Jane Eyre miniseries, every time they went to the zoo and pretended that one of the children in the lost and found was their own, all those memories were a liability. What Thio had said back there, those three bullets, that was more dangerous than anything. Well, almost anything. It would have been worse if she fell in love with someone on the other side of the line. As Lia rolled Thio down the twists and turns of the gritty, ratty, other generally gross adjectives ending in tty alleyways, she felt cold tears sliding down her cheeks.
“Wait a minute. Tears aren’t cold.”
Lia looked up. On the rooftop above her, someone was flicking holy water at her. Hang it all, now what was she supposed to do? Someone knew her bigger secret. This went beyond the growing pile of unpaid bills and the iffy coupons she used to buy tuna and that one time she went on vacation and got married to a guy who went by Cloudious and had the habit of calling her “Mia” and not Lia, which was her name. No. Someone had found out what she did at night. They knew what she was. A vampire.
Her eyes stung, but the water only had a slice of effect on her. She kept rolling, Thio’s body behind her. There were two things she had to outrun now, and neither of them seemed keen on compromising. The bomb she had thrown would keep the first enemy down for a while, but she had no idea who the other person could be. She’d been so careful all this time to stay, actually, in the shadows. This didn’t make any sense. She slowed her footsteps as the pain in her eyes eased. Lia hoped Thio would wake up soon. He was heavy like a wet quilt with all the picnic supplies left on it, ants included. Lia’s shoulders hurt from the weight of it all. The pressure, the guilt, the fact that she was carrying the plot of this story right then. It all came down to her.
“Thio,” she shook him as she knelt, “You have to wake up.” This time real tears ran down her cheeks. “I need you. I don’t care that you ate my yogurt.” Lia leaned against the wall nearest to her. It was random, but also convenient, so she took the opportunity. “Do you hear me?” She closed her eyes and tilted her head back. “Do you hear me? Does anyone? Have they ever?” Lia clenched her fists and banged them against the ground, begging Thio to wake up and stop being a rolling backpack. She was not Dora. She didn’t need a mochila. She needed a partner and she wanted Thio.
It didn’t matter that she was already married and had a baby named Water Chestnut Mahoney, or that she had killed Thio’s mother in an extreme round of roller derby, or that, yes, she was a vampire and she very much did want to drink the blood of the humans around her. It only mattered that Thio loved her like no one had before. It mattered that he brought her coffee the way she liked it, with three maraschino cherries and one scoop of peanut butter ice cream. The little things were the ones that counted. She loved Thio too, more than snapping the necks of small deers and cutting the toes out of her socks so she could listen to her nails click against the tile floor.
“I love you too,” she said at last, and the sheer force of her overwhelming passion broke all the barriers of time and space and laws and other stuff people made up because they were bored. Thio sat up, sputtering, and threw his arms around Lia. She pushed at his chest and then caught his face in her hands, pulling him and his marblejelly eye towards her until the gap between them was closed.
“We have to get out of here,” Lia said, setting Thio back on his feet. Her boots came in handy, it seemed, for more than kicking people and doors down. “But before we do, I have to tell you something.”
Thio grabbed her hands and pressed them to his heart. “Yes, tell me anything.”
“I’m a vampire.”
She showed him her teeth. “Yeah, really. Do you love me anyway?”
“I have to tell you something too.”
“One,” he pointed towards the sky, where helicopter lights were circling them, “They found us. Two,” he smiled sadly, “I kill vampires.”
Lia tore her hands away from Thio. “What? What do you mean?”
“I mean, I come from a long line of vampire hunters and you? You were my first target. But-”
“But what? We fell in love? You realized you had to help me save the world?”
Thio nodded, “Yes to both of those, but I also realized that I don’t want to kill any vampires. I want to be a vampire. Please, can’t I live forever too?”
“There are rules against this, sweetheart.”
“There are rules against me being alive too. I was dead and you brought me back to life with your words, with your embrace.” Thio’s eyes shone brightly, the glazed ham look doing favors for him that no fictional character ever deserved. “I don’t want to die, and you don’t want to live without me.”
Lia felt the wind of the helicopter’s blowing her hair into her lip gloss. “There’s no time!” She kissed Thio once more, and when she pulled away again, the dirt and cheese ball residue remained on her own cheeks and nose and lips. Through trial after trial, they had made it thus far. “I have to run. It’s not safe for me here.”
“What about the end of the world? Those guys back there wanted to replace all the earth’s water supply with chicken broth! We can’t live off of chicken broth! Toilets do not work with chicken broth! If we went on a date and you ordered water with a straw, they would give you a glass of chicken broth!”
Lia grazed Thio’s chin with the edge of her thumb, the rest of her fingers curled against his neck. “I know. I’m sorry. Meet me when it’s over.” She handed him a note she wrote that morning, when she had a feeling they wouldn’t make it through the night together. “There’s an island waiting for us.” Lia straightened Thio’s collar and pressed the note into his palm, making sure he had it close. “Goodbye, dear heart.”
Lia leapt over the nearest garbage can and off into the scummy underbelly of the city, leaving Thio with a note in his hand and an eye like marble jelly.
I am but one small answer to your prayers.
I am not the last blessing you’ll receive.
I am your last confession.
I am the one you will forget,
But hold lightly to the promise
For there are things yet to be
And who knows what lies beyond
The crashing waves
Of the endless sea.
Thio knew it was all for the best, but all he could do was cry. If the water of the world was to be soup, at least his tears would still remain.