A lamp tilted across the seat of Mike’s gaming chair, its shade missing. The junk that had been on the coffee table now decorated the floor, and what remained of the coffee table surrounded it like some kind of warped modern art with a jagged wooden frame. A human sized dent in the plaster crumbled, its dust whiter than the wall had been, sprinkling snow along the floor.
Mike didn’t notice any of this. Nor did he spare more than a glance at Ash, sprawled on his back beside the sofa, groaning and attempting to roll over. He rushed to Crandall’s side and dropped to his knees. Crandall reclined awkwardly against the wall that separated the living room from the kitchen. Above his head, another sizable break in the wall held the shape of his upper body.
“Crank.” Mike croaked out his name, reaching cautiously for Crandall’s throat. He told himself that he trailed his fingers down Crandall’s neck in a tender caress, and not looking for a pulse. He couldn’t assume the worst. Crandall’s head lolled on one shoulder. Blood ran from his split lip as well as a gash over one eye. He looked like he put up a hell of a fight.
Before Mike’s fingers found what he sought, Crandall’s ruddy lashes fluttered, and a string of curses dripped from his swollen, cracked lips. “Fucking, goddamn fuck.” He licked his bloody lips. “Shit, mother fucker.” He shifted, winced, and rubbed his eyes. Mike pulled Crandall into his arms, hugging him tight to his chest and burying his face in his messy red hair.
“Thank God,” Mike whispered in a harsh rush of his exhale. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath at all, but now, breathing in Crandall’s scent, he savored the movement of his chest against Crandall’s as they both took slow steady breaths.
Crandall squirmed, but Mike didn’t loosen his grip. Crandall snorted in his ear and said, “Where is that mother fucking, ego-fucking-tistical, over-fucking fanged, diva-bitch? Did she finally get the fucking hint and leave?”
He didn’t know who Crandall was talking about, but his question was answered when a short, pale vampire appeared in the doorway that led to the kitchen. Despite her height, she tower over them both.
Mike pushed Crandall aside as he lunged up and forward with a feral roar. His instincts were quick, but Nica was faster. She ducked back into the kitchen. Mike stumbled and fell across the linoleum. He rolled with the momentum, and then leaped to his feet with his back to the same sink where Crandall had first kissed him. With a flash of concern, Mike realized his tumble let her get between him and Crandall. He could hear Crandall in the other room, cursing at Nica, and cursing Ash to get his “psycho blood-thirsty ass” off the sofa and make things right.
“Don’t,” Nica said, holding out a finger as if scolding a child. “They started it, but I will finish it if you force me to.” Even in his anger, Mike recognized the change in her demeanor. She’d always been gentle, playful, and even a little bubble-headed, but now she bared fangs he’d never seen in her mouth, and fire sparked in her eyes. In the hand not pointed accusingly at him, she held a bloodied towel. She looked dangerous. She didn’t want to be, but she’d proven she could.
He lowered his hands to his sides. He remained tensed, ready to move if she threatened Crandall, but curiosity reeled him in. Something set her off, and he suspected he knew who. “Okay, talk. What the hell is going on here?”
“Fucking Ash.” Crandall wove into the kitchen, grasping at the frame around the doorway, and swaying like the floor beneath his feet bucked against gravity. “He fucking flipped out. I tried to calm him the fuck down, but he lost it. Fuck.” He pressed the hell of his hand to his forehead, lowered it, snarled at the blood, and then pressed again. “Fuck, I hurt.”
“Maybe you should sit,” Nica said with all the affliction of one who didn’t give a damn if he fell on his face or not. She checked her nails, using the damp, bloodied paper towel to wipe her knuckles. When she was done, she wrinkled her nose at the mess and tossed the towel at the sink.
Mike looked back and forth between them. His instinct was to help Crandall to a chair, but he knew better than to jump in uninvited. Instead he frowned at Nica and demanded answers.
“So what?” he snapped. “You show up unannounced, scare the crap out of Ash, and then act all put out when he reacts to a vampire in his home?”
Nice glared but said nothing.
“That sums it up,” Crandall said.
“How’s Ash?” Mike asked.
Crandall shrugged and unsteadily turned around, disappearing back into the living room. Mike listened for a moment. He didn’t hear a body fall, and several seconds later muted voices drifted his way. Talking was good.