Who drags you down?

Charlie's Pub 
  The bandages on his face weren’t anything abnormal. His neck boasted a large square band aid, and several smaller ones lined his brow. His lips were split and swollen and scabbed as they locked around the mouth of the beer he nursed at a crummy corner table. He had alternated between hustling for money at pool and darts for drinks, and sitting down and drinking, for a couple hours now. He’d been considering going home off and on, but his limbs felt heavy and his strength of will was thin. By the time he spied Alex walk through the door his fate for the evening was sealed: he wasn’t going anywhere.
  Once he met her eye he straightened from his slouched position and raised a hand to flag her down. His face also uplifted, with a smile threatening to break the early scabs of his face and creasing his cheeks that were normally covered in fuzz. His hair was freshly cut, and he’d even rolled the sleeves of his flannel up evenly to advertise what his intentions were this evening. Considering the lack of any company at his dark table, he hadn’t been having any luck.
  At least now with her he would no longer be bored.

 Sadly, Charlie's was becoming the new Brewery - a safe spot that didn't carry with it any sense of ownership any longer. It existed in the gray area, something safe from Squall and his scrutiny and her paranoia. Their health regulations were questionable, to her knowledge Charlie wasn't a fucking Were-Badger and that meant that it was a-ok in her book.

 Half the time she settled in at the bar alone, sometimes a table, sometimes content to flit from one pool table to another when she could lure someone into a game. Sometimes she sat next to angry speciests, sometimes it was quiet, and then other times there was this asshole. The problem was that even vaguely familiar, he was human and blended in like the smallest water spot on a wall. So she had to glance about for him, tilting her head back as her brows rose the slightest bit at the look of him.

 Bandages weren't unusual, cuts and scrapes weren't unheard of - this felt remotely excessive. "Who stole your fuckin' lunch money?" Already shucking off her coat and tossing it over the back of the chair across from him.

 "I fell down some stairs." Getting beat up was not his favorite subject. Naturally it was the first thing she pointed out, and he scowled at first. Of course he relented almost immediately, "I was hunting poachers. They set up a trap and I fell for it." Literally. The trap had pulled back a sapling and when he’d tripped the wire the branch had exploded into his face and knocked him out cold.
 He shrugged, and took a swig from his beer to signify what he intended to do about his predicament.
 "Long time no see," he prompted her. He hopped around the bars of mountainside almost daily, it was the closest thing he got to being genuinely social. Normally he would have bumped into her at their usual haunts but he felt like it had been too long, or maybe he’d just been hit with that branch harder than he thought.

 "Be careful." As if the whole fucking thing was intentional and she could will him to stop getting hurt. She set her palmds down on the table, immediately pulled a face at how the surface felt tacky and not quite right under her fingertips. Unsure how to take it when one frequent flier commented on the commitment of another one. She supposed it had more or less been a while, realized that it didn't make her feel proud or sad - just resigned in a way.

 "Life got stupid." Which wasn't really a lie considering the break your neck one-eighty of her legal state. She noticed the bandage on his neck and frowned, stared but didn't dare as before she looked at him properly again. "Have I missed anything exciting?"

 She was frowning and not saying anything. That was his cue to look up, and follow the trajectory of her eyes. From this range it was obvious the difference of focus between his neck and his eyes. He knew what she was looking at and swallowed and squirmed.
 When she looked back up his gaze ducked beneath, and he watched the words and took a moment he deserved before answering, "Yeah." The delivery was edged, like he was put out by answering. "But you missed it so sucks to be you I guess." The words slurred together some and he spoke fast, and lifted the beer to his lips as if that were the reason.

 "Did a girl actually give you her phone number? Did you win a bar fight? Did you win a game of pool?" She rushed over the list of seemingly highly improbable realities. "Real sorry I had a life for a change, didn't mean to bust your fuckin' balls." Finding that perspective was a funny little thing in the sense that whatever seemingly wild bit of business he had experienced, she was ready to wager hers was that much more fucked up.

  He was indignant, "Get bent, I’m great at pool.
  “I’m not allowed to talk about it,"
he said a little too loud. "Let’s talk about all the life you’re having instead."

  She supposed she could have told her boozey brother in arms all about the FBI and her tanked entrepreneurship in weapons trafficking. But that felt like a conversation that was better suited for a place not as shitty as Charlie's. "Take that off." Nodding towards his neck and drumming her fingers against the table.

  She barked an order; she tapped the table impatiently. Luke glowered and put his palms on the edge of the tacky table, and leaned forward across the grimy surface. He challenged her coolly with his eyes locked on hers, "Eat me."

 She was pretty sure that, even if she wouldn't have said it out loud, a couple years ago he would have managed to cast a long enough shadow to intimidate her into silence. But that was then and this was coyote season, so when he leaned over she reached out with a practiced speed and moved to try to yank the bandage right off without so much as a please or an apology.

"Fight me, fucker."

  "Ow!" Luke recoiled as she tore the bandage from his neck. It took a few too-many skin cells with it, and the area was slightly tender from the wound: two distinct puncture marks at the hollow beneath his jaw. They were exposed before he could clamp a hand down over the stinging spot, seething, "Bitch!" He said it a little louder than intended judging by the looks from nearby patrons; the realization deepened the shade of red in his cheeks.

 Even if he wasn't eloquent, he wasn't exactly wrong. She looked over the skin that had been covered by the bandage, frowned as she waited for the bar to settle and for everyone to go back to minding their own fucking business. "One of those fuckers bit you?" So much for trapping, it seemed. "You alright?" Not her responsibility by a landslide, but friendly enough to at least test that particular body of water.

  "I can’t talk about it!" Once again, he was yelling. "I’m fine! Fuck." Quieter now, but he scrubbed the raw area with his fingernails before reluctantly dropping his hand. The little wound was healing well, and would not have been so noticeable if he was not freshly shaven.
 His indignant expression began to calm after the outburst. He slumped in his chair, nursed his beer and waited for judgment.

 Can't, not won't - and little tiny choices in words meant a lot where shit like vampires was concerned. She leaned back in her chair until it creaked, perched her glass on one thigh and watched him. "Can you write about it? I mean - shit, do you even know how to use a pen?"

 She didn’t relent and he hissed through his teeth, "No. I mean—ugh, yes I can use a pen, no I won’t write you testimony." He shook his head and turned away from her while he spoke, not caring if she stayed on the current topic: he couldn’t hear her.
  "That’s not the exciting thing," he said. Luke plunged a hand into his jeans pocket and drew out a crumbled sheet of note paper, on which was a number. He laid it on the table and slid it over to her like a prize he meant for her to admire and inspect. Only then did he look her way, his expression bold.

 Little moments such as this were humbling, clean cut reminders of why it was bizarre every time she ran into him - the idea that he was still going strong despite the odds. It was a phone number, clearly - and there was a bite mark on his neck and a block in his memory but gee Alex look, a girl talked to me.

 She rubbed at her jaw, reminded herself once more that it wasn't her fucking circus and that Luke the pool player and bar dweller was not her pet monkey. She looked back up at him, resisted the impulse to tear it up for his own good. "Need help reading it off?"

  "No." He reached back for the paper in earnest, not because he didn’t have it memorized but because he was worried what else she might do with it. "Now give that back. I saw her first."

 The way that he reached out and looked almost ... concerned, really, like maybe - it was baffling. Enough so that her brows rose briefly before she glanced back down to the number one last time and then held out both her hands, palms up. "Oh ho ho, watch out - first I'm going to invite her out and then I'm going to fuck your dead girl, Luke." Dry and sarcastic, the idea enough to make some primal animalistic impulse all but sneer.

  "Give that back, you great big lesbian," He growled at her and lurched to try to snatch the paper back, to repay her for the loss of his bandage.
  It would just be his luck to lose her to Alex, who was immediately and obviously more attractive and socially competent. At least that was Luke’s perspective: she did not have to worry about attracting suitors, they came to her, and they must have come easily.
 He recalled the moment when the vampire had crawled over him and pressed her mouth over his and the swell of promise he’d felt in that moment. That was something he was willing to fight for, whether Alex was a woman or not.

 "A great big lesbian, wow." Stunned as she wondered how else this woman had fucked around in his head. How much of this was undead witchcraft bullshit and how much of it was just that Luke was an idiot. A good friend would've torn up the sheet and hoped for the best, but that felt shitty so instead, she held it back out to him sandwiched between two fingers.

"Already have it memorized, it's a race now." She didn't, there might've been a four in there, otherwise - who the fuck knew for sure? Regardless, it felt perfect to say to present company.

 She said something with a taunting look, but he was too busy plucking the paper from her fingers to make note of it. Instead he read her expression and posture after, and made his best guess from that and the context.
 "Can you blame me for being worried? Your dick is even bigger than mine," he insulted in the tone of a reminder of something they both knew and established consensus.

 What a little asshole. She moved instinctually, tried to draw her foot back under her char before lashing out blindly in an attempt to kick him in the shin. "Not my fault you have an innie - we can stop talking about this if you buy me my second drink." Sort of like blackmail, she guessed.

 She kicked him and he jolted. "Sunnuva—" Luke hissed but quickly but his lip to stymie her satisfaction. She still got to watch him roil, his eyes sharpening on hers while his chest flared and he leaned forward. The posture suggested he might reach out and grab her in retaliation, but he withhheld the surge and grasped onto what words he’d caught instead, "Another drink?" She had some nerve. "Fine." He had no will to resist.
 "But only because you’re just jealous I’m getting some." And presumably, that she wasn’t.

 She tensed when he lurched, gritted her teeth and braced her body as her hand under the table curled into a fist. He stopped himself and she softened by a margin, still on edge and ready to frantically reel herself back in if the need arose - not that it would stop her from taking at least one good swing at his goofy face.

 "Question - yes or no, don't give me any details because I don't want them ... did she fuck you?" Crude because it didn't feel necessary to be anything but in their current surroundings. "By definition, if she bummed a meal and left you with some numbers, you're not getting shit."

 His answer was given in a silent scowl. He had not considered this angle; perhaps the vampire woman would not answer his text. Or maybe she would only lure him in for more bloodsucking. His brow furrowed at the thought. He doubted, "Yeah, maybe."
 Luke turned away from her then and waved to the bartender to grab his attention before holding up two fingers, and pointing them down to their table. When the gesture was acknowledged Luke returned his sullen attention to his companion. "What’s ‘life’?" He prompted her, and quickly drowned his growing apprehension in the last of his drink.

 She glanced over to the bartender, gave a closed mouth smile at the acknowledgement and scoffed at the question once they settled again. "It's too early in the night to get this deep on me - where the fuck did you meet this girl anyway?"

 His answer was immediate and innocent, "On the side of the road." A thought was given to his reply only after it left his lips. He understood without context what wild assumptions could be made, and also understood that it lead to topics he could not discuss, and was mortified by the idea of doing so. He followed up with a quick declaration of spite, "I’m gonna call her." Nothing would stop him, he was far too curious.

 The story snowballed like one giant clumsy beetle rolling shit uphill - more and more mess tacked on. She snorted, coughed to clear her throat and shook her head. "Well shit Luke, at least you're supporting your local economy." Hands up on that one otherwise, not with a goddamn ten foot poll.

  She did not insist again that he don’t see her, and Luke relaxed in the face of that. It gave him confidence that it would work out all right, in spite of the insecurities she’d been affirming moments ago. He didn’t even mind her sass or correct the remark, knowing where that conversation would lead: No, I was the one on the side of the road.
  Instead he broached something even more personal, because he was heavy in his cups and she made him feel a little more confident. "So what do girls even look for on a first date?" He asked with an arch of his brow and his hands pulling at the wrapper of his beer.

 It was a humbling sort of stupid, to ask her that question as if he had hoped to impress. She imagined Luke - as in, functioning alcoholic Luke, showing up at some Vampire's porch with a fist full of roses and freshly combed hair. "I look for free food." Which, probably wasn't the answer he was looking for but she wasn't too keen on helping him to get absolutely murdered.

  She might not have been serious, but that implication seemed lost on him. His eyes rolled up briefly in thought, and it made sense: he was also attracted to those who fed him. At the very least he was more motivated to keep them happy with him, so it would make sense that women were the same, if Alex could be counted to speak for her gender.
  A thought occurred in his musing that brought his attention back to her with worried skepticism. "Do vampires eat?" He didn’t suspect Alex was one, but she seemed to know more about them than he did.

 Do vampires eat. She laughed because there was nothing to really do at that point besides appreciate the simple-minded curiosity of the question. "Sure they do, bud." She finished her drink and moved to pull out her wallet from her back pocket, worried about the state of her nerves and how much more of this brand of stupid she could possibly stand.

"I mean, they eat people but eating is eating."

 He rolled his eyes and shook his head to dismiss the conversation. She’s just trying to get under your skin, Hardy. He hoped. "You’re just jealous I’m getting’ some and you ain’t," Luke pointed out, as if that would end the matter for good.
 "So gross—is that why you’re making me buy you a drink?" Luke squinted at her skeptically and sized her up, as if considering this an opportunity to seduce her, and unsure if he wanted to. At last he announced his decision, "Gay."

 "First of all., don't use gay as an insult, you fuckin' degenerate." She pointed a finger at him by way of warning. Silently decided that the best why of handling his claims about her personal life was to not answer them at all.

 "Second of all, I'm making you buy a drink because you'll be dead by the fourth date and then you won't need the money anyway. Besides, I give you better advice than anyone you know." Strangely confident for having such a limited knowledge of his personal dealings.

 She pointed and he leaned into the accusation with his chest out and shoulders back. Getting a rise out of her was as good as it was with anyone else, but he did not push back beyond his look of skepticism and challenge. He smothered any verbal protest with the last of his current bottle, and watched the foam at the bottom settle while he contemplated another.
 She made a bold proclamation, not about his getting to a fourth date, but about being his best sounding board. He reeled back some at that, with his eyes searching the ceiling and a thoughtful hum escaping him. "Yeah probably. So what?" She wasn't his mother. Even if she was, he wouldn’t listen to her—Luke scoffed. "Don’t tell me you got better ideas of what to do about it."

 Most people, when she said shit about being the best or any other bullshit way to sing her own praises, they told her to get fucked. So when he did none of those things and actually agreed with her, that knocked her back into silence for a solid minute or two. Watching him, she grinned and shook her head as she looked back down to her glass. "Nothing you'll actually fuckin' listen to, Luke."

 She had nothing to say. God at least she’s shut up. Time spent not talking was rare and valuable. He indulged himself and in fact decided on ordering another beer. He was contented and loose, but not quite numb to his sense of anxiety. One more beer would let him forget.
 When she grinned he could not help but smile back, though his was twisted with confusion. She turned her head down and he leaned forward and ducked down. "Hey." She was saying something, but he could not easily see her lips and his eyes suffered in focus what he’d drank in alcohol. He laid a heavy warm hand on her forearm to arrest her attention and prompt to look at him again. "What was that?" he asked, and the words were slurred.

 She lifted her head at the question, got the joke at once and rolled her eyes as she waved her middle finger at him. "You're real funny, asshole." But her voice was level, missing any real frustration as she sat up a bit straighter once she had zipped up her coat a good bit of the way. "Well, I guess I'll leave you to it ... just - don't be a fuckin' idiot, alright?"

 She flipped him off and called him funny. Luke let her go, because she seemed to want to leave and that was his first instinct. He was too compelled by conversation, and trying to figure out where the hell it had gone wrong, to think too much about what her leaving would mean. What had he misheard? What had he missed altogether? What was he just too stupid to understand?
 He contemplated it a moment too long, and it struck him again: she’s leaving.
 Luke lurched to his feet abruptly, swaying at once because he’d yet to test his legs since sitting down. The alcohol in his system made his balance waver, but it made him bold enough to try to hold her by the arm with the hand that did not clutch his beer. It wasn’t to keep her, he didn’t think, just to make her think. "Woah, wait a sex—sec." Dammit. "Alex."

 It was something about anyone grabbing a hold of her like a receipt about to blow down the street that made beast and woman syncronize into a perfect storm of displeasure. She lifted a brow, had to dig her metaphysical heels to keep from the amber eeking into her eyes as she looked down at his hand on her arm and then up to his face. "Sex." She snorted, not nearly drunk enough to let that slip-up slide.

"What is it?"

 When she stopped for him his grip slackened. He rubbed her arm lightly before giving it a warm pat, then set his hand aside. He thought for those seconds what he meant to say, and what he might be drunk enough to admit, like how much he really wanted to know what she’d said when she’d smiled and turned away.
  "You’re a good friend," he proclaimed instead, and then took a swig from his beer in hopes of finishing it quickly.

 "Yeah ..." She had a tendency not to feel like one, but that was beside the point by then - frowning as she looked him over and shifted her weight. "Look, if she ends up being batshit - call me, okay?" Sure it sounded absurd, a seemingly average woman versus a vampire but - it felt shitty to not at least plant the idea. "Don't die, I'll see you around."

  Okay? He appeared a little sheepish when he nodded, understanding full well what a dumb shit move he was making, but he couldn’t stop now. Curiosity had its claws deeply embedded in him; he had to go, but judging by his expression and nonverbal reply he understood the gravity and respected the concern. "Byyye," he waved, and then crashed back into his chair to watch her go.

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