Horrible. It’s the only word Sigi can think of right now. He turns it over in his mind as though he’s never really studied it before: horrible. Horrible. Horrible. It starts to sound less and less like a real word, but the feeling of dread in his stomach is no less powerful.
“Sigi?” Johannes has been watching him for the past minute or so, trying to get his attention. “Sigi…” He turns away from Sigi to face their professor standing just inside the doorway to his home. “He’s just as shocked as I am, sir. We all are. Poor little Jan…”
Sigi’s stomach churns as they’re invited inside, both from horror and— even more upsetting— from hunger. The bloodless body of the small child he’d chewed on two days prior is lying on a table, there for people to mourn and pay their respects. The woman seated on the chair in the corner, sobbing softly by herself, must be the mother.
Sigi steps closer with Johannes. Their professor is speaking, mentioning where they found the body, but Sigi already knows exactly where they found it.
While Johannes offers his condolences to the distraught family Sigi leans around the table to get a glimpse of the mess he left of the child’s neck. It’s very clear what killed him, he realizes, and he feels his stomach clench again with that horrible mix of guilt and overwhelming hunger. He didn’t expect to have to look at this child again.
He’s brought out of his stupor when he hears the professor say it: a hunting dog. They were going to look for the sick animal and kill it before it could attack anyone else.
“By the look of the mess, it could be any one of the lord’s dogs. We haven’t had wolves here for years.”
Sigi steps outside quickly, muttering condolences as he leaves, eager to get out of that house before his guilt stops being mistaken for sympathetic shock. He’s shaking out on the streets when Johannes finds him, leaning against a wall and ignoring the people who look at him.
“That poor boy,” Johannes whispers, “He just left the market and…”
Sigi has to bite his lip to distract himself from the smell of the boy, still very present inside that house. It doesn’t smell at all like decomposition to Sigi; it only reminds him of how good his blood tasted.
“Sigi? Are you still unwell?” Johannes reaches up to hold his friend’s shoulder. “You’ve been pale lately.”
Johannes’s hand feels hot through Sigi’s clothing. Sigi doesn’t feel cold, but he notices how warm Johannes is now. He can't stop noticing it, like how he can taste Johannes’s breath whenever he speaks. “I’m hungry. That’s all.”
Johannes is visibly taken aback. “Hungry? After… that?”
Sigi pushes off the wall and walks away. “I’ll see you later.”
“Where are you going? We’ve food at home!”
Sigi ignores him, walks faster when he hears Johannes trying to follow. He’d always had longer legs, and he loses Johannes as soon as his friend gives up. He can’t let Johannes know where he’s going.
He spends the rest of the day traveling as far out of town as he can get before he’s in pain from hunger. He doesn’t come home until hours past midnight, sated, filthy, wide-awake and distraught. When he slides into bed Johannes sleepily rolls over to hold him, and Sigi curls into his warmth and does not sleep.
Robert hadn’t gone into hunting because he liked it. There wasn’t much to enjoy about a job like this, and the only hunting experience he had prior to this very particular game was hunting deer in his childhood. No, this was dangerous (some would even argue unnecessary) compared to hunting in order to put food on the table, or even for sport.
This was hunting to keep people safe.
He hated hunting the old ones, but you couldn’t really put it off when you found another one; the longer you waited, the more people you were endangering. At least the old ones tried to be subtle, and smart, and could wait between victims. The young ones were the most needlessly violent.
Both young and old were terrible when they were cornered. It wasn’t really a matter of which was easier to get rid of.
But oh, he hated hunting the old ones. The best approach, or at least the approach Robert vastly preferred, was an ambush. A sneak attack. Sniper shot.
A stake in the heart would work, if you knew where to aim, but that was tough. You had to get in close, and that was probably the stupidest thing you could do. You also needed a lot of upper body strength and fucking ridiculous reflexes. Robert stayed in shape mostly for being able to get away when he mucked things up, and he knew from experience that a stake through the heart was impractical. Pushing forty, he was no Olympian.
Robert had some compromises, to spare himself some grief, extend his lifespan. After all, food chains were food chains, and everything deserved a shot at existing— he tried to do a background check before finalizing the next target. He’d found a few who lived in rural areas and stuck to farm animals; some even raised their own cattle and left people alone. Others still made a point to work in morgues; fresh blood was apparently not mandatory.
He was wary when Sigi was first brought to his attention. He didn’t really care for pop culture so he was behind the times with most celebrities; it was his thirteen-year-old niece who showed him who Sigi was. After he’d dared commit the crime of confessing he had no idea who that was, and after she’d gasped and demanded how he couldn’t know, she showed him some magazine articles and bragged about the lipstick she owned. Apparently this Sigi was… well. Famous, for some reason. Robert just assumed Sigi was a makeup brand, but Sigi was a person.
The photos weren’t that alarming because, being in a fashion magazine, Robert assumed airbrushing and lighting did all the work. He didn’t think about Sigi until a week later, when he heard that name again in a documentary playing on television while he cooked dinner. Struck by hearing the same name so soon, after never hearing it before, he leaned into the living room to watch. This Sigi was narrating a documentary on the history of modern scientific thought, talking about the standardization of the meter and other things Robert had never really wondered about. Curious, Robert used his phone to look up the documentary, to find the narrator’s name, and then was interested to see it was the same Sigi responsible for his niece’s lipstick collection.
That led to a brief internet spiral while he finished cooking, in which he checked Wikipedia and news stories, and pictures— candid as well as professionally done— and before he knew it he felt like he couldn’t even think of food. He found himself leaning on the countertop beside the stove, deep in his phone, staring intently at every picture of this Sigi person and unable to look away.
This was not something common to vampires, at least not in static photos. It struck Robert however that any Youtube results for Sigi brought absolutely no moving images over five seconds long. Sigi visibly disliked being filmed, although he had no trouble offering his voice to— Robert checked Wikipedia again— documentaries, movies, video games, audio books, or interviews.
He’d write it off as eccentricity if he didn’t feel the need to stare at every picture he could find of Sigi, including those short video clips. Sigi… didn’t seem to look right in videos. Which was odd.
Robert tried to go back to his meal, now getting cold on the stove, but he’d lost his appetite. Sigi had ruined his appetite somehow.
It came to him about an hour later, while he was avoiding his phone and ignoring the television, trying to clean his gear before he sat down to do a little editing for his day job. A feeling of dread had settled over him since he’d looked Sigi up online, and he still couldn’t fully explain why looking at Sigi in pictures was somehow horrifying, but he watched the video clips again and came to the decision that he had another background he should check soon.
This would be the first time he’d had to figure out a celebrity target. It would take longer to get the information he needed to make his final decision. Maybe Sigi was just weird. Maybe he was a weird but perfectly normal human. Or maybe he wasn’t a perfectly normal human but he stuck to a strictly small-vermin-and-cattle diet. Either way, Robert had to be extra careful and extra sure if he was going to even consider hunting someone in the public eye like this.
He sort of hated his job.
He worked around his daytime-job-as-editor schedule to make trips to the city Sigi usually lived in. At least as an editor he could get into publishing shindigs if he pulled a few strings, and Sigi worked with a lot of magazines. After getting a temporary spot in a hotel, Robert spent his days trying to figure out some part of Sigi’s schedule and his nights trying to sneak ever closer for a glimpse. He’d make a decent stalker if he were any less morally strict.
Part of his hunting, once he got close enough, involved having to hide his face and hide his scent. There were ways to cover enough of his scent that a potential predator wouldn’t recognize him if he was always around, and then suddenly, inexplicably nearby on a dark night in an abandoned street. Robert wore essential oils, a different one every day he knew he’d be near enough for Sigi to possibly spot him, and on some days he covered his torso with unsavoury things like old blood from a butcher’s shop or, on the worst days, cooled bacon grease. He hated being near potential vampires smelling like a BLT but they didn’t care as much for meat as they did fresh, hot blood.
He tried to stick to essential oils for the most part, but they got costly.
He didn’t have to start coating himself in a different stink for a little while, able to observe from a greater distance, but once he started trying to keep track of everyone Sigi went on a date with he started to worry and move in closer. They didn’t seem to all… go home. Most did. It was hard to spot at first. But nearly one in twelve people didn’t leave Sigi’s house after they followed him home from a party. Every twelve dates, somebody vanished.
The longer Robert waited, the more people would mysteriously disappear.
He was careful to make sure, of course, but after he watched twenty-eight different people go home with Sigi and two didn’t leave the house again with Robert watching well into the next day, until Sigi left by himself… Robert had to resign himself to the fact that he was going to get much closer to Sigi now.
A few more strings pulled and suddenly Robert was editing for magazines that liked to cover Sigi’s body of work, whether it was makeup or fashion or art curation or scientific studies. (How on Earth did anyone have so many fingers in so many different fields? Robert had maybe one half of a hobby and Sigi was the Renaissance.) Eventually, someday soon, Robert was going to have to meet the guy face-to-face.
His chance finally came when he got to attend an open lecture at a university, with Sigi as the guest specialist. Sigi was giving a lecture to grad students and Robert was left stupefied just listening to the whole thing. With the documentary narration and audio books, Sigi was likely to have a script; during the lecture he did not hold any notes at all. He instructed everyone present on a very specific period in early modern military history and even answered questions at the end, no script, no notes, nothing. Robert even learned some things about military history that he didn’t have much use for.
Since he was going to edit the brief article about Sigi’s lecture today, Robert was able to get close enough to thank Sigi for the opportunity. Close up, Sigi was the single most alarming being Robert had ever had to address.
He was courteous. He was well-spoken. He was a gracious guest and delighted to meet anyone who’d enjoyed the lecture. He shook Robert’s hand. Robert was petrified the entire time, unable to string two words together without feeling his innards all clench up.
Looking at Sigi in person, having him look at you and speak directly to you, was… horrifying. Robert had survived vampire attacks, had hunted and killed some pretty vicious predators, and he had never been as unsettled as he had when getting to meet Sigi. He couldn’t explain how, exactly; his voice was very soothing, as inviting as a voice could be, and if Robert could look away at all without seeming entirely rude he could probably even relax.
Sigi smiled, interrupting himself, and instead said to Robert, “You seem overwhelmed. Is there anything I can do?”
Oh, God, when he smiled it was even worse. Robert nearly vomited, so shocked by the sight of it that he almost didn’t know how to speak for a moment. He wasn’t starstruck. He didn’t care for celebrities at all— once he’d met his favourite author and was able to have a perfectly civil, levelheaded conversation with her. He wasn’t even interested in Sigi’s work, he wasn’t a fan… This wasn’t jitters, this was raw animal terror and unspeakable, indescribable horror given a pretty face and a handsome voice.
“Sorry, you…” Robert decided he couldn’t hide it at all even if Sigi hadn’t made note of it. Might as well play along. “I wasn’t ready to meet you in person. And you gave such a wonderful lecture.”
“Thank you. I’m very lucky the university will have me. You have an interest in the subject?”
Sigi wasn’t dressed the way he was in the fashion spreads or on the red carpet, just a tie and dress shirt under a simple sweater, brown leather Oxfords— he was dressed more like an academic today, and he was still somehow radiant. Robert had always been mystified by makeup that didn’t intend to look halfway natural and Sigi’s red lips were no exception.
Sigi smiled again, making Robert feel more ill. “You’re staring at my mouth,” Sigi noted calmly, no quieter than before.
Robert jolted with alarm. “Sorry. My… my niece wears your lipstick. She’s a fan; she actually had to tell me who you were.”
Sigi’s smile broadened. “Ooh. You must live in the woods,” he remarked, as though he envied Robert.
Robert was trying very hard to remind himself that he couldn’t start to like Sigi even the tiniest bit if he was going to have to kill him. “Not anymore, I’m just hopeless.” He tried to duck out courteously, gesturing around the room at the bustling faculty and students. “I won’t take up any more of your time, but thanks so much. It was a pleasure.”
Sigi shook his hand again. “Likewise. You should attend the lecture next month.”
Robert nodded, made his way outside, and promptly dry-heaved over a bush behind the lecture hall.
He didn’t hate Sigi, and that was probably the most alarming part of all. He was scary as all hell but he wasn’t trying to be; Robert had met plenty of people through his day job and few had even tried to be as warm as Sigi had been.
It was his face, Robert realized, thinking about it on the way back to his hotel room; Sigi’s face was so perfect, so astoundingly beautiful, that it totally fucked with your eyes. It threw off your balance and made you almost motion sick. This wasn’t a thing Robert had noticed with other vampires; this seemed to be particular only to Sigi. He’d heard of the uncanny valley— this was an uncanny deep sea trench. People weren’t meant to see faces that perfect.
Upon further reflection, Robert couldn’t figure out why he thought of Sigi’s face that way. He wasn’t even what Robert found most attractive, superficially. But something about him forced Robert to know, beyond a doubt, that Sigi was so beautiful, so utterly perfect, that he was beyond description. It wasn’t Robert’s personal preference; it was a fact. It was awful to look at.
Once Robert felt well enough to take the bus back to his hotel, he spent the next hour or so trying to get more background information on Sigi. He should have guessed he’d come up with very little; ten minutes into his research he was digging through blogs that seemed devoted to guessing things about Sigi. All people knew for sure was that he was ‘probably from Germany’, but even that was contested in the comment sections on Youtube. Apparent linguists online would get angry enough to remark on how Sigi’s accent was not the typical German accent from any part of the country, so he had to be faking it. Native German speakers would be a bit more optimistic, but still confused.
Sigi did not give people concrete information about himself, it would seem. Nobody really knew how old he was or when his birthday might be, people couldn’t confirm where he was from, and although it was clear that Sigi was well-educated it was hard to find a full list of which schools he had attended. People online argued about that, too.
Just looking at the list of documentaries Sigi had narrated on Wikipedia, Robert felt intimidated. Did Sigi have any level of expertise in all of these subjects? Robert didn’t even care about all these subjects and yet he felt woefully inadequate for about half an hour, before he decided he was just tired and shaken up from having to meet Sigi in person. He went to bed early that night.
A lack of background information at this point was getting more and more suspicious. Robert started trying to dig up anything he could get on Stefan, Sigi’s personal assistant. The guy didn’t hold interviews or anything, but he was usually at Sigi’s side during public appearances. Throughout the entire lecture Robert could see him standing by the door, holding Sigi’s phone and looking vaguely unhappy.
Stefan didn’t seem to do much for Sigi apart from hold his phone and his coat. He had no history with other secretarial positions, didn’t seem comfortable with half of the events Sigi went to, and if there wasn’t proof of Sigi flat-out refusing the idea that Stefan was actually his boyfriend Robert would have to assume that was the only reason Sigi had given him that job. Although… thinking back on it, Sigi had visibly ignored Stefan the whole time Robert was at the lecture hall, before and after the lecture itself; Sigi also never seemed to speak to Stefan in public. He kept the guy close but he ignored him. Stefan didn’t try to talk to him, either. They just seemed to barely put up with one another.
Robert didn’t immediately think Stefan might be a thrall, but he looked through all the candid pictures online where Stefan was visible off to the side until he found three in which a neck injury or a bruise were in evidence. Stefan might be a thrall. That might be the only thing keeping him near Sigi. But thralls were usually completely brain-dead until they got near people, which was when they started acting like rabid dogs, no matter how loyal they were to their vampires. Stefan was always in public with Sigi and seemed to be mostly normal, if a little anxious.
Robert pulled some strings again; he was going to attend two more magazine shindigs soon, one to give him one last chance to meet Sigi in person, and one to make his move. If Sigi proved a lost cause at the first event, then Robert didn’t have to attend the second one. He hoped he was wrong about all this and Sigi was just a weird European celebrity and Stefan was just a terrible secretary.
He dreaded being caught. Not because of getting arrested, but because… Sigi had a lot of fans.
A lot of fans.
If Robert had to kill Sigi he was going to disappoint quite a lot of people. Possibly ruin a few jobs, given how busy the guy was.
But Robert didn’t do this for the glory or the gratitude or the fun. There was no glory, rarely any gratitude, and he definitely didn’t have any fun doing it. He did this because he couldn’t sleep at night just ignoring them. He kept thinking about the people who didn’t ever walk back out of Sigi’s home.
The first shindig was a pretty fancy one. Robert had to rent a tuxedo, although he resisted the brief impulse to get a haircut. He wasn’t trying to impress anyone; he just didn’t want to stand out. And he was on a budget— he was running low on peppermint oil.
Robert was tempted to get drunk at the bar before he talked to Sigi again. He approached, ready to order two of the most potent drinks and knock them back immediately, then paused when he noticed Stefan wandering closer to the bar. He slowed down to let Stefan grab the bartender’s attention first. Stefan ordered something for himself, nothing for Sigi, and drank it right there.
It would probably be too obvious if he tried to talk to Stefan. Robert wasn’t real good at socializing, he hated parties, and he’d always be the guy to leave early. He watched as Stefan walked away, looking sullen as ever, completely ignoring Sigi and apparently only there to hold Sigi’s phone.
Robert waited just long enough to swallow two glasses of fruity, sweet cocktails before the liquid courage kicked in. Then he mingled.
It was never hard to find Sigi at these events. People flocked to him, and although his behaviour was always subdued, downright demure, he didn’t really have to work to grab anyone’s attention, either. Robert found him because he just looked for where the crowd was thickest.
Sigi was sitting on a love seat along the far wall, facing somebody seated in the adjacent armchair, holding conversation with a small group. Robert was surprised to see he was holding a glass of something— red, yes, but not that particular shade. He was about to suspect the glass was a bluff, a prop, until Sigi actually lifted it to his beautiful red mouth and drank.
Out of nowhere, Robert had the sudden thought: Please, God, don’t let him actually be a serial killer. Not that the alternative was very attractive, either.
Robert made small talk with someone nearby and worked his way slowly closer to the seating arrangements. He felt like he was trying to sneak closer to a python and desperately hoping it wouldn’t notice.
“Robert, was it?”
It was just his luck that the small group around Sigi had mostly dispersed when he finally got close enough, so Sigi noticed him immediately. Robert prepared himself for the sick feeling to kick in as he moved to make eye contact.
He had just enough time to register that Sigi was dressed significantly less like an academic tonight before Sigi unfolded himself gracefully from the love seat and stood.
“Yeh— hesss,” Robert’s reply came out in a feeble hiss like the air being let out of a punctured tire. Sigi wore heels tonight. He was already taller than Robert; because of the heels he had to crane his neck to avoid staring directly into Sigi’s chest, and Robert was a big guy. “Sigi, right?” he cracked pitifully, taking the manicured hand Sigi offered and finding himself shocked anew at the strength of the guy’s grip.
Sigi smiled— a faint one, but no less alarming to watch. “I’m flattered you recognized me. You’re a long way from the university.”
“Oh, I freelance for magazines. I was in town for family and I got roped into covering the event.”
“Your magazine pool sounds very diverse.”
Instead of addressing that, Robert said, letting his genuine surprise show, “I can’t believe you remembered me.”
“Public relations is what I do. Where would I be without that?” Sigi asked, before sipping his drink again.
That’s right. Robert glanced briefly at the glass to confirm that it wasn’t thick enough to be… damn it, that looked like pink champagne. “Well, isn’t that what you have your… guy for?”
Although Sigi had been pointedly spending time with anyone but Stefan so far, his eyes went directly over to the corner in which his assistant currently sulked. “In theory,” he said, as he returned swiftly to ignoring Stefan.
Robert didn’t feel like he was boring Sigi, but he wouldn’t be shocked if he was. “Well… I need to go find my date…”
Sigi’s smile widened. Robert noticed for the first time that his eyelashes were nearly white. “You’re lying to me, you fiendish thing.”
Robert felt his heart stop beating. His entire body reacted. “Sorry?” he wheezed, trying to laugh but finding he’d forgotten how.
Sigi coyly finished his drink. “I saw, you came here alone. No shame in that, of course.”
Robert tried not to seem as relieved as he was. He could force out that laugh now, although it troubled him to think Sigi might be flirting with him. Even more disturbing was the idea that Sigi had noticed him upon arrival. He’d known Robert was here this whole time. “Ah, you caught me. I was feeling awkward after Franklin over there introduced me to his date. I think she’s a model,” he added. He’d overheard Franklin’s friend tell him earlier, exasperated, that nobody cared what his date did, and could he please stop bragging?
Sigi chuckled. “Oh yes, Franklin. Great photographer, terrible braggart.”
Robert was starting to get dizzy looking up at Sigi and watching the red sequins of his outfit flash in the dim light of the room. Somehow he made a dignified escape and mingled a bit more.
Somehow he wound up near Sigi again later, despite his best efforts not to look like he was here to spy on the guy. Sigi didn’t seem to find it odd that Robert kept bumping into him, and by the time Robert was finally able to leave he’d almost gotten Robert to feel comfortable near him, if only by sheer force of courtesy.
Mysterious drinks aside, Sigi wasn’t the only person avoiding the hors d’oeuvres, so that couldn’t be taken too seriously. But after a little while Robert noticed that people seemed to actually stop talking when Sigi spoke up— not entirely, but the general volume consistently dropped every time Sigi said anything. Anything. And Robert found himself eager to seek out Sigi by the end of the night, after talking to him thrice, feeling as if he’d found something interesting he wanted to tell Sigi—
That was what made up his mind. He was going to have to move in fast at the next event.
He still felt that eager-excited puppy-love as he drove back to his hotel in his rented car. Sigi had done nothing, really, to justify Robert feeling like he’d just asked the most popular girl in school to the dance and she’d said yes. Sigi was polite, casually flirtatious at times, but he had done nothing to single Robert out. It had still taken Robert four real attempts before he could actually leave.
Old vampires were very, very good at enthralling a roomful of people. True, Sigi had the added advantage of his shocking beauty, but Robert was almost too afraid to look at him head-on and he was still feeling that feeling two hours after he’d left the party.
And it wasn’t as though he looked forward to having to snipe someone, so that wasn’t it.
He had one week to stock up on the right oils and clean his gear. He got started immediately, as soon as he stripped out of his tuxedo and got into a housecoat, to help get rid of that puppy-love feeling a little bit faster. Harder to feel smitten when you were planning an assassination.
Despite his dread for the upcoming event, the week flew by. Robert suddenly found himself re-packing his hunting gear, checking over the necessities, checking the essential oils, double- and triple-checking the cleanliness of his weapon. He wasn’t going to get in close; that was a rookie mistake and usually impractical. If he could snipe his target from a distance, that would be best. Fewer people would suffer. Robert stood less chance of being arrested, too.
In Robert’s varied experience, the only things that really killed a vampire were decapitation and a well-aimed hole in the heart. Sometimes decapitation wasn’t fully reliable; a vampire already in panic mode could manage headless long enough to cause some real damage. But getting the heart always worked.
A wooden stake would do it, sure, and Robert had figured out a while ago that the denser the wood the better the attack. Metal piercing the heart didn’t work as reliably as, say, ebony, which was something Robert knew from harrowing experience but couldn’t explain. So he had his bullets made custom out of ebony.
The gun was technically a custom job, too; after a lot of help from the one weird redneck cousin Robert had in his extended family, Robert had made a gun that worked at medium range and wouldn’t totally destroy dense wood bullets upon firing them. It was technically a sniper rifle, but he couldn’t shoot from too far off. Tragically, this meant he’d have to get relatively close to his target if he wanted this to work. No distant rooftops tonight.
And so there he was, lurking in the underground parking lot underneath the event taking place upstairs, having doused himself in way too much peppermint oil, kind of burning from the oil and the adrenaline. It took him forty-six minutes to locate Sigi’s car; it was another party for wealthy guests, people in entertainment. Everyone had an expensive car. Sigi’s car didn’t stand out here, unlike its owner.
He waited between a support pillar and a raised curb on the corner, between the floors in the lot, and watched Sigi’s car intently. Anyone who walked past his hiding spot didn’t notice him, hidden as he was beneath a dusty grey tarp; he looked like a pile of construction junk. He smelled ridiculous, too; the peppermint was so strong that he might actually pass for real trash, too much for anyone to really want to investigate.
His heart was pounding in his ears for the first twenty minutes of his vigil. The party was well underway; he saw very few people leave the doors at the far end of the lot, and hardly anyone came halfway to his hiding spot. Most of the people he spotted were obviously drunk, or else high on something, or just too preoccupied to even care if Robert were to stand up, wave his rifle over his head, and yawn real loud. He wanted to, so badly, but instead of standing he worked on methodically flexing the muscles in his legs to keep them from falling asleep.
He didn’t expect to see Sigi until the event was over, but fifty-seven minutes after he found his hiding place, still slowly flexing muscles one at a time to keep himself from getting stuck in position, he got his chance. Sigi himself stepped out of the door to the parking garage, alone. As always, even from a distance it was easy to tell it was him. Much taller than average, long near-white hair tumbling over his shoulders to bounce with every step, heels clicking on the pavement.
Robert was suddenly calm, at peace. All his nerves were forgotten as he focused entirely on the rhythm of Sigi’s step as he approached, aiming carefully for the chest, watching him as he came within range.
Robert watched Sigi’s face through the gun’s scope and was intrigued by the utter lack of any kind of expression. Sigi didn’t even look as if he was deep in thought; he was only walking, doing nothing else. He was just as startling staring blankly at the air in front of his face as he was when addressing someone. For an instant, Robert felt that unwelcome almost-adoration nudge its way into his brain again.
He exhaled slowly, soundlessly, as Sigi reached his car. Sigi lifted a hand to the front door, about to use the key.
Robert pulled the trigger. The gun was muffled, quiet. His aim was good.
At the same time, Sigi twisted to the right.
The bullet pierced a hole in the driver’s side window. Robert noticed this exactly when he realized Sigi was staring in his direction.
Gone was the calm non-expression he’d worn as he entered the garage. Sigi was not afraid— he was undoubtedly furious.
Quite a good distance away, Robert recoiled as Sigi took a few steps forward, now aimed in his direction. As if he’d forgotten Sigi was too far away to strike at him.
Time stretched out. Five seconds felt like five years. In the moments it took for Robert to realize he was still hidden, still far enough away that he could escape with a head start, he saw the way Sigi moved and he was utterly terrified for his life.
He knew now. He knew he’d chosen the right target.
The door to the parking garage swung open as somebody shouted, “Sigi!”
Sigi stopped immediately, turned casually to glance over at the door. He was moving normally again, just a pretty man at a party in expensive clothing. With one last glance over at Robert’s hiding place, leaving no doubt in Robert’s mind that he knew precisely where that bullet had come from, Sigi turned to step calmly back toward the door.
“You weren’t going to leave us so soon, were you?” called the old woman at the door, dressed in a glittering cocktail dress.
“I thought I’d brought my glasses,” Sigi replied gently, his voice carrying well in the quiet garage, “I realize I’ve forgotten them at home.”
“Oh, dear. I’ll lend you some of mine.”
Robert barely heard Sigi’s chuckled response (“Thank you, I doubt your prescription is sufficient. I’ll manage.”) because he’d figured out that he’d been given the greatest gift of his life: a chance to get out and regroup without bloodshed. He dismantled his gun quicker than ever before, moving too fast for his hands to shake, and before he understood how he’d gotten out of his hiding place he was sprinting for dear life, faster than he’d ever covered ground in all his years of hunting, knowing he’d never be so lucky again. He did not turn around to look for Sigi, knowing in sight of the old woman he would let Robert flee.
He’d parked his car at the outer edge of the property. He leapt behind the wheel and started the engine as he pulled the door shut, screamed out of there burning rubber. He turned so fast he nearly lost control of the car, pulled away from the event, quivering as the adrenaline started to drain slowly out of him.
As he passed the main entrance, seconds away from driving through the front gate, something shattered on the passenger side and hit him hard in the ribs. He yelped but was smart enough not to stop. It took him ten seconds to understand there was a hole in his passenger window.
His phone was ringing.
He couldn’t stop here. He kept driving until he was several blocks away, then slowed down and backtracked a little, before he pulled into the lot of a pizzeria. His car smelled like peppermint.
The phone started ringing again. He shook his hands out and looked for the phone while he massaged the new bruise in his side. “…Hello?”
“When do you plan on arriving, Robert? Did you find the venue yet?”
Oh, Christ. “Miriam, hi! You’re attending tonight?”
“Of course I am, don’t be silly. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Sigi myself! Were you driving up or is your taxi lost?”
“Oh, no… no, I’m driving up. Sorry, I didn’t realize you were waiting for me. Traffic was brutal leaving my neighbourhood, I got turned around once or twice trying to find a creative route…” Robert squeezed his eyes shut. How hadn’t he known the lead editor and magazine founder would be there tonight? Oh god, he had to change his clothes and wipe off this stupid peppermint…
After reassuring Miriam that he was going to be there shortly and he’d find her, he hung up and rubbed his face with both hands. He had a change of clothes in the trunk. Always did. He had baby wipes to get rid of the worst of the oils, and some cologne to take care of the adrenaline sweat. He could be ready in twenty minutes, there in twenty-five. He needed to calm down.
At least this would be a good alibi, he reasoned. People would place him there. He was showing up right after the failed snipe, true, but he lived too far away for it to make sense that he could have gone home, freshened up, and come back. He hoped.
He changed inside the car in the dark, wiping every inch of his skin clean of the peppermint oil, carefully applying just the right amount of cologne not to be too pungent again, and left his tie for last. Before he stepped out of the car to adjust the fit of his shirt and jacket, he looked at the passenger window and decided to look for the projectile. It wasn’t a bullet, that was for sure…
He found it on the floor, having tumbled beneath the driver’s seat. It was a rock, just big enough to sit in his palm, not round but polished smooth. It hadn’t come from somebody’s driveway, it was part of an interior decor. The side against his palm was rough, so he tipped his hand to turn it over.
TRY THAT AGAIN.
Scratched into the stone.
Robert stepped outside to vomit onto the pavement, then put the stone inside the dashboard and got his toothbrush from his bag.
He drove halfway back toward the venue and parked in an underground lot that would cost him more than it would at the venue, then walked the rest of the way. He couldn’t explain a hole in the window very well tonight. At least he was cleaned up, dressed appropriately, and wearing cologne with no trace of peppermint. He’d stopped shaking and sweating. The walk would help to further calm him.
Miriam found him almost as soon as he walked past the coat room. As she grasped his arm and led him deeper through the crowd of people sipping wine and chatting he spotted a bowl of polished stones like the one that had punctured his window.
He didn’t see Sigi anywhere. He wondered whether he’d left after Robert’s escape. Miriam would have said something, though, since he was there to cover the party and Sigi was a major feature. It made Robert nervous not to know where Sigi was.
Considering how intent he was upon Sigi’s possible whereabouts, it was shameful to Robert that he didn’t notice the man approach until Sigi had a hand on his shoulder, pressing gently, as one would greet an old friend. Robert took in Miriam’s look of surprise and delight, a complete reverse of the way Robert felt at the moment, before he turned to look.
He expected Sigi to be angry. Of course that didn’t make sense. They were back inside, surrounded by guests, being civil, and Sigi didn’t know Robert had just sprinted away from him in the parking garage, coated in peppermint oil with a gun case tucked under his arm. Sigi’s smile didn’t quite seem to reach his eyes— or maybe that was Robert’s imagination at work.
Sigi had spoken. Miriam was demanding an explanation as to how he and Robert knew each other. Robert stammered, lost already, ashamed he’d missed the start of the conversation because it made him look somewhat more like a guilty party. Sigi’s grip on his shoulder didn’t quite tighten, really, but his fingers squeezed briefly, one at a time, as if to playfully tease Robert before his hand slid gently along his upper arm.
It was more distracting than the possibility of Sigi being angry with him. Robert tried not to look like he was reacting to a shockwave of goosebumps all along both arms.
“Robert attended a lecture of mine recently. We keep running into each other,” Sigi explained, when Robert’s stunned silence lasted a millisecond too long. “Divine coincidence, hm?”
Miriam voiced dismay that Robert had somehow forgotten to mention this to her earlier, while Sigi kept the hand loosely around Robert’s tricep. Somehow making it feel less like Robert was being restrained, more like an affectionate touch. Robert glanced hesitantly up at Sigi’s perfect pale face for any sign that he was going to die tonight and realized with a sinking feeling that Sigi was being affectionate with him. At least in front of Miriam. It might change as soon as they had room. Robert felt his jangled nerves waking up again, leaving him ready to bolt and, for the moment, clear-headed. It wouldn’t last.
Somehow the conversation between Sigi and Miriam was a quick one. Miriam got Sigi to promise an interview, they arranged a date, and somehow, somehow, Miriam was off with a wink for Robert.
Robert had the ridiculous, terrible urge to beg her not to leave him alone with Sigi, but he reeled in the urge at the last second.
Sigi’s grip didn’t tighten up the way Robert expected it to. Rather, Sigi merely lowered his voice, dropped the hand from his arm after a lingering touch, and leaned in.
“Apparently someone here is hiding a crush.”
The tone was soft, discreet, and the words were entirely not what Robert was expecting. Robert felt his face go hot and he looked up at Sigi’s face before he remembered how the sight upset him. “I’m— sorry?”
Sigi’s deep red lips pulled apart in a smile as he glanced across the room. “You aren’t very good at it, mind you, which leads me to believe you’re actually just terrified of me.” He looked sideways at Robert and the smile turned briefly into a cheeky grin. “Although, being freelance, you have plenty of control over the work you take on, don’t you?”
Robert swallowed twice to get the creaking out of his throat. “Your date must have stood you up tonight,” he attempted weakly.
It shouldn’t have pleased him that Sigi seemed to enjoy his joke, but it did. Sigi smiled down at him and the sound of his soft chuckle was the warmest, most inviting sound Robert had ever heard. “Were you always afraid to talk to your crushes or am I special?” he asked sweetly. As if he had never noticed the effect he had on people. As if Robert were the first person to feel uncomfortable near him.
“…I was always crap at it,” Robert admitted, feeling some of the extreme fear drain out of him the longer they spoke. There was still a chance this could go badly. One in twelve, Robert reminded himself grimly— if the danger wasn’t immediate, there was still that unsettling ratio to keep in mind. “I always thought the girls I liked were out of my league.” Not a lie; he could talk about high school, no problem.
Sigi tilted his head. His long hair slid forward off his shoulder, bounced and swayed. He smelled so nice. “Given how anxious you are right now, am I correct in assuming I’m not your usual type, on top of that?”
Robert, feeling helpless, nodded.
Sigi’s gaze flicked down, studying Robert from head to toe. “A shame,” he hummed, “You’re definitely my type.”
Robert was going to die of a heart attack before Sigi could sink his teeth into him. He knew it. “R-really?” God, he was terrible with flirting. Even if Sigi was just toying with him. It made him nervous coming from anyone and this was Sigi, intimidating enough on his own without the added threat of being a violent predator. This guy had a Wikipedia page so long it took Robert four hours to read it— four hours to get the summary of Sigi’s achievements— and a face that hurt to look at in unexpected ways and here he was flirting quite openly at Robert. Fans and non-fans tended to agree Sigi was one of the most gorgeous people alive and he was flirting with Robert.
He wondered, stupidly, what his niece would say if she heard of this.
Sigi didn’t seem perturbed by Robert’s very obvious terror. He nodded, still studying Robert thoughtfully as one would take in a landscape painting. “I like the beard.”
It occurred to Robert that it would be polite to say something. “Thank you,” was all he could come up with.
Sigi seemed utterly charmed with him nonetheless. He rested the hand on Robert’s shoulder again, this time with no doubt that the touch was affectionate, nothing sinister. Thumb stroking the fabric of Robert’s suit. “I would love to continue this discussion in a more intimate setting.” That smile widened imperceptibly again. “I’d like to see more of how you talk to your crushes.”
The rest of the night passed in a haze. Robert found himself back in his car, stupefied and afraid, and utterly confused. He’d started the night prepared to snipe a vampire.
How had he wound up with a dinner date?