The Year of the Red Winter

   “Run!” Adam yelled as he came barreling around the corner, his hair half falling out of his braid. He grabbed Raphael’s arm and pulled him after him. The Spanish boy’s dark curls bounced with the abrupt motion.

   “What the hell did you do this time?”

   “Who says it’s my fault?”

   “It’s always your fault.”

   Raphael heard shouting behind them and turned his head to look. They were being chased by a group of very angry looking men, all at least twice the size of the immortal teens.

   “You’re an idiot, you know that right?”

   “So you tell me at least thrice a day, Raphie darling.”

   “Ew, I’m not your darling.” Raph was glad he hadn’t eaten in awhile, and thus wasn’t able to blush. He glanced back again. “Um… they’re getting closer.”

   “I know, I know. I just need to find… Ah! There!” Adam yanked Raph around a corner and down a narrow alley.

   Raphael’s sangria red eyes widened. “Oh no, not this again! You know it’s hard for me to do when I’m thirsty.”

   “I suppose I could leave you here to deal with them, if you’d like.”

   Raph wrinkled his nose. “No thanks, they’re not my type.”

   “So you’ll do it?”

   Raphael gave an exasperated sigh. “Fine, get on, you baby.” Adam giggled and climbed onto Raphie’s back. “Geez, stop eating so much dulce.”

   “Shut up. Hurry, they’re coming!”

   Raph took a deep breath and stared up at the wall. This one was higher than he was used to. He wasn’t sure he would make it. Why was Adam always talking him into these things? Why was he even friends with him? He became aware of Adam’s arms wrapped around his shoulders and remembered: Because he couldn’t be apart from him. Adam had a hold on Raphael that no one else ever could.

   With one last sigh, Raph ran straight towards the dead-end and jumped. He felt his feet leave the ground as they soared into the air. His heart beat faster at Adam’s squeal of delight as he clung tighter to Raphie’s shoulders. He made it to the last few feet of the wall before he felt the weightlessness start to dissipate. He grit his teeth and focused all his energy on running up the rest of the way.

   As his foot hit the top edge, he felt it slip and gasped, throwing Adam onto the roof before he fell. He scrambled to catch the edge, but his fingers only barely brushed it. Before he could brace for the fall, a warm, gently tanned hand wrapped around his cold wrist. He looked up and saw Adam grinning down at him, his mismatched eyes sparkling with the thrill of adventure.  “Careful, Raphie. It looks like you’re falling for me.” Raphael rolled his eyes, thankful again that he couldn’t blush. “Shut up and help me up there, cabrón.”

   Adam’s laughter announced their presence more than the bell as they entered the Golden Wing Bar and Diner, the only diner in Spain for non-humans and their allies. “Hey boys,” the bartender chirped happily.

   “Hello, Catherine,” Adam replied, kissing the fairy girl’s small blue hand with dramatic flair. He was rewarded with her tiny, bell-like giggle as she pushed her short, white hair out of her eyes.

   “Trying to steal my wife again, Grey,” Lisa’s thick Russian accent never failed to startle him.

   “What?” Adam laughed nervously, looking up at at the tall bronze woman. “Of course not.”

   “He definitely was, miss,” Raphie said with an evil little smirk. “I saw it with my own two eyes.”

   “Oh, shut up,” Adam laughed, shoving him gently.

   “Don’t worry, my love,” Cat gently touched her wife’s arm, a mischievous glint in her dark eyes. “We all know who Adam really wants.”

   Raphael cleared his throat loudly. “If you’re going to actually do your job, I’d like my usual please.”

   “Oh, c’mon, Raph,” Cat chimed. “Don’t be like that. It’s nearly Christmas, after all.”

   Raphael cringed. “Can you please not use that name in my presence.”

   “It’s not even pronounced the same! And you say dios all the time.”

   “Don’t mind him,” Adam sighed. “He’s always been a Scrooge. Plus,” he whispered, “He’s hungry.” Raphael rolled his eyes and grumbled.

   “Oh, well if that’s the case, we can fix it right up.” Lisa started towards the back room.

   “No!” Raph cried, stopping her and causing several other patrons to look. “I-I mean… No, thank you. I’m fine.”

   “Raph, sweetie,” Cat said soothingly. “They know what they’re doing. They’re donators, just trying to help keep the good ones like you out of trouble.”

   “I don’t need any donations,” Raphael mumbled stubbornly. Adam sighed, silently signaling to the girls that it was hopeless. Raphael hadn’t eaten in weeks, and nothing Adam tried had worked. He just kept insisting that he was fine. Adam had no idea what he was trying to prove this time.

   “Well,” Cat sighed. “Maybe this’ll help a bit.” She slid a vampire-special Bloody Mary across the counter. Raph stared at it, realizing his mistake. He shouldn’t have asked for the usual.

   “Drink it, Raphiel,” Adam growled in his ear, his friendly tone barely masking the commanding nature of his words. Raph made a small noise of reluctance and took the tiniest sip possible, watching Adam with defiance. Adam smirked and tapped the bottom of the glass, tipping more of the coppery and far too salty liquid into Raphael’s mouth. The vampire coughed and sputtered, dribbling red down his chin. Adam burst out laughing, dodging Raphael trying to smack him.

   “Did you know?” Adam slurred as they stumbled into the apartment. “That ‘wherefore’ actually means why, not where.”

   “Yes, I think you told me that the last time you were drunk… and the time before that… oh, and the time before that as well!”

   “You’re so pretty when you’re being sarcastic, Raphie.”

   “And that’s my cue to put you to bed. Come on, doofus.”

   “Aww, can’t I stay up a bit longer, Daddy?”

   Raphael almost choked on shock. “Don’t call me that! Just… go to sleep,” Raph sighed as he lay Adam down in bed. He was always like this. If Raphael weren’t there to cut him off, he’d have died of alcohol poisoning by now. Cat was a good bartender, but she’d never been good at telling Adam no. Raph just wondered what exactly Adam was trying to forget. They’d known each other for years now, but Raphael hardly knew anything about Adam’s past. The most he ever got was him mumbling “Tobi” in his sleep.

   “Raphie,” Adam called as Raphael turned off the lights.

   “What, Adam?”

   “Eat something, okay? Promise.”

   Raph stood there quietly for a few moments. “I’ll think about it,” He mumbled before closing the door.

   Adam’s groan echoed down the hallway, and Raphael chuckled softly as the young man stumbled into the kitchen. “I smell omelettes,” he murmured groggily.

   “Hot and cheesy, just as you like them,” Raphael didn’t catch the irony until he heard Adam snort. “You know me so well, Raphie darling.” Raph bit his lip in embarrassment. He jumped when he felt Adam’s knuckles brush his cheek, and repressed the urge to lean into his touch.

   “You lied.”

   “Pardon?” Raphael coughed.

   “You said you’d eat. You’re still pale.”

   “Oh… I said I’d think about it.”

   Adam growled faintly in disapproval as he sulked to the table with his omelette. Raph sighed and followed him. “I’m fine, really,” he insisted again.

   “And when exactly will you stop being ‘fine’, Raphiel?” Adam snapped. “When you snap and go on a bloodthirsty rampage? Or maybe when you’re convulsing on the ground? Or maybe when you’re dead and I’ve lost someone else I care about?” He was yelling now, standing at the table and shaking. Raphael stared at him in shock, tears stinging his eyes. Adam had never spoken to him like this before.

   Adam took a deep breath and sat back down. He poked at his eggs and mumbled, “I just can’t watch you do this to yourself. What are you trying to prove?” It wasn’t the first time he’d asked that. This time, Raphael almost answered him, but he stopped himself. The truth was, he really wasn’t sure anymore. It had started with simply being too busy, but now it’d spun way out of control. He knew that if he fed now, it would be hard to control himself, and he didn’t want Adam to see him like that. He just wanted to prove that he wasn’t a monster.

   “Nothing,” Raphael answered, shaking his head. “I just don’t need it yet.” He smiled reassuringly at Adam. “You won’t lose me, I promise.”

   Christmas passed in a blur of Adam constantly trying to get Raph to eat. Raphael even tried to fake it, putting blush on and forcing himself to be more energetic. Adam saw right through it. Eventually, he just gave up, falling into an eerie silence. It was worse than being scolded, and Raphael finally started thinking about feeding, if for no other reason than to get his friend back.

   “Raphie!” Adam ran into the room, jumping up and down excitedly. “Raphie Raphie Raphie!”

   “Jeez, what is it?” Raphael laughed. His enthusiasm was adorable.

   “We got a job!” Adam waved a letter with a big red seal around before handing it to Raph.

   “Oh,” Raph murmured, his smile falling. “A job…”

   “Yup, no more excuses.” Adam’s voice was suddenly firm. “You’re eating, or you let a pile of scum roam free. And you don’t get payed.”

   “I don’t care about money. And there’s other ways to work a job.”

   “What the hell, Raphie! You’re actively avoiding it now? It’s a job!”

   “I’m not saying I won’t do it, just that I don’t have to. Whatever it takes, remember? That’s our motto.”

   Raphael gasped in surprise as Adam suddenly wrapped his arms around him. “Please, Raphie,” he whispered, sending chills down the vampire’s spine. “I’ll beg on my knees if I have to. Whatever it takes, just promise me: You will not go another night.”

   Raph’s mouth once again hung open in shock as he stared at Adam. Every ounce of mischief and sparkle had melted from the immortal’s eyes, and all that was left was desperation. The realization struck Raphael like a stake to the heart: Adam really cared about him. He’d known that, of course. They were always telling each other that they cared, but Raph had never understood just how much that really meant.

   “I promise,” he whispered, hugging Adam tightly.

   Raphael was always amazed at how Adam looked during a job. It wasn’t just the skintight, black leather outfit — though, that was breathtaking — but the way his demeanor completely changed. He was so serious and powerful, all of the childishness gone. Watching him slink gracefully across rooftops was a bit distracting to Raphael, and being half-starved didn’t help. His stomach churned as he remembered his promise to Adam. He knew he had to keep it, but the idea of it made his head spin with anxiety.

   “Here it is,” Adam’s whisper broke Raphael out of his thoughts. They peered down through the skylight of the mini-mansion. Their target was middle-aged gangster gone rogue, who had apparently snapped and killed half of his former team, as well as several civilians. He was also responsible for the defiling of a 12-year-old girl, his ex-boss’s daughter. The boss was their client. Currently, the target was happily counting money and humming a tune that floated up through the skylight. Raphael found himself growling faintly. This really was the perfect job to get him to eat.

   Adam and Raphael were the perfect duo for a job like this. Being a vampire, Raph had advanced hearing and was naturally silent when moving. Of course, it was also his job to dispose of the target. Adam was the brains and skill of the operation. He was so sneaky, even Raphael had trouble tracking him sometimes. On top of that, this was one of the only times he would use his magic, for things like making himself silent, turning both of them invisible, and picking locks.

   Raphael watched Adam’s fingers wave gracefully, royal purple light spilling from them like smoke. His magic seeped through the skylight and wrapped around the latch. With the tiniest click, the window was unlocked. Adam then brought both hands up and filled the ceiling with a thin blanket of magic. It shimmered and shifted, and Raphael knew that if the target happened to look up, he would see nothing amiss. Slowly, Adam and Raph opened the skylight and dropped silently into the room.

   Once on the ground, Raph looked to where Adam should have been, but he was already gone, slinking like a cat towards the target. He crouched on the floor, his back to the back of the man’s chair. Purple snaked around the target’s mouth, who gasped, inhaling the magic and successfully going mute. Adam made eye contact with Raphael and nodded. Together, they slipped into the target’s view. His eyes grew wide in shock, and he tried to move, but Adam’s purple light was already wrapped around him, tying him to his chair.

   “You’ve been a very bad man,” Adam’s cold voice made Raphael shiver. “That cannot be allowed. Luckily, my friend here is very hungry. He’ll take good care of you.” Raph’s stomach lurched, and he felt his instincts start to flow through his body, held back for far too long.

   “No you won’t.” The voice stopped the boys cold, and the target’s mouth twisted into a dark smile. The assassins turned, their eyes falling on a small girl pointing a gun at them. Her waist-length black hair fluttered in the breeze from the still-open skylight, floating past her ruby eyes. Her small red lips formed a perfect bow of mischief. Raphael whipped back around, examining their target’s eyes: burgundy. “Vampires,” he murmured, and Adam swore. How had they not noticed?

   “What should we…?”

   “Run.” Adam grabbed Raphael and enveloped them in purple. The girl fired her gun, but it just bounced off their bubble. “You’re gonna have to do the thing,” Adam said as they sprinted for the skylight.

   “I know, hold on tight!” Adam wrapped his arms around Raphael as he jumped, reaching desperately for the windowframe. He caught it easily and helped Adam onto the roof before trying to pull himself up. Just as Raph was about to make it, the older vampire got ahold of him, yanking him back into the room.

   “Raphie!” Adam cried, already halfway back through the skylight.

   “Go!” Raph yelled back. “Don’t worry about me.” Adam fully intended to ignore him, but the vampire girl started firing the gun at him. A bullet pierced his leg, and he instinctively jerked back, tumbling onto the roof. He swore and slammed the skylight shut before sprinting to the edge of the building and scrambling down the side. Despite his limp, he ran faster than he ever had before, straight towards the Golden Wing.

   “Help!!!” Adam shouted as he burst into the bar. “Raphie’s in trouble!” Cat and Lisa immediately rushed to help each other into battle gear, and at least half the bar jumped to their feet (or hooves, in some cases.) The rest looked around and shrugged, standing up in small groups until everyone was ready to fight. Adam found himself smiling a little despite the churning in his gut. No matter how divided species may be in the world, the little community here in the Golden Wing always stood up for each other, and that was amazing. It’s simple nature for beings to stick up for their own, and in this little bar and diner, everyone was each  other’s own, no matter where they came from or what pumps through your veins (or doesn’t). It was random and rare and beautiful, and it was exactly the type of army they needed. The rouge mosquitoes would never expect this to be coming their way.

   Together, they marched back to the vampire-house. Adam’s stomach was twisting vigorously as he tried and failed to not imagine what horrors Raphael might be going through right now. To distract himself, Adam looked around the town as they marched through it. In the distance, the sky was lighting up with bright pops of fireworks. With a pang, Adam suddenly realized it was the night of New Year’s Eve. Figures, he thought to himself. He hardly ever had a normal holiday, or a normal any day, for that matter.

   As they neared the miniature mansion, rage coiled up in Adam’s chest, so intense that purple sparks flew off his body. Several patrons started watching him excitedly, eager to finally see the magic-man at work. Rumors and bets about the nature of Adam’s powers had long spread throughout the Golden Wing, and even farther, in some cases. Now, it seemed, the time had finally come to either pay up or collect.

   “Lisa, Cat,” Adam said, his tone cool and commanding, the voice of someone who’d lead armies before. “You take everyone and split them into groups. Split up and distract the fleas from every angle. Meanwhile, I’ll slip in and get Raphael out of there. When you see this,” he held out his hand, and a shimmering purple butterfly fluttered into existence above his palm. “That’s your signal to fall back.” The group nodded and sprang into action, Lisa and Cat sectioning off groups as Adam turned to find a way to sneak in.

   “Wait,” Cat called to him before he left. She fluttered over to him and knelt next to his leg. “Can’t have you trying to sneak around with this limp. It’ll slow you down.” Adam had nearly forgotten about the bullet wound staining his black pants even darker. He watched as Cat raised her hand, gently pressing it against his wound as tiny, yellow-blue lights danced off her fingertips. It always baffled Adam how Catherine’s fairy magic managed to be blue and yellow at the same time, without really being green. The lights soaked into Adam’s skin and gently pulled the bullet out, closing the hole after it.

   “I could’ve done that myself, you know,” Adam said, smirking down at Cat.

   “I know,” She replied, looking up at him. Her blue-black eyes shone in the Christmas lights that no one had bothered to take down yet. “Go get your vampire boy.” The usual playful suggestiveness in her words was gone, replaced with understanding. Catherine was one of the few that saw how much Adam truly cared for Raphael, creating a bond between the immortal and the fairy girl that ironically made both Lisa and Raphie jealous.

   Adam nodded curtly and disappeared into the shadows, praying there was still enough of his vampire boy to get.

   Knowing now that he was dealing with vampires, Adam could no longer attempt to use magic to cloak himself. Instead, he tapped into the training of his youth, keeping to the shadows as he slipped silently through the house. It was dark, all the lights off except the sitting room, which Adam knew was just for show. Newbies loved basking in their ability to see in the dark, and tended to be skittish around any form of light.

   Creeping through the house, Adam tried to imagine where vampires would keep a prisoner, who also happened to be a vampire. It didn’t take much imagination. Adam had contained a few rogue vampires over the years, and thus had learned the conditions needed to keep them from causing trouble. The first obvious factor would be sturdiness, the ability to withstand vampiric strength. Everything that might be able to be broken would need to be covered with symbols from the vampire’s religion.

   It also had to be a place that could offer direct sunlight, and that’s when it clicked. The room Adam and Raphael had dropped into wasn’t an office, but a prison. They had literally fallen right into the trap. Adam laughed internally, shaking his head. He knew where to go, now he just had to wait for the diversion. As if on cue, the house was suddenly surrounded by angry shouting, and windows started shattering. Drunks: they knew how to throw a riot better than anyone. Adam heard the two vampires shout and watched them run to the front of the house. Smirking, he slipped out of hiding and looked around.

   The room would have to be on the top floor of the two story house, above Adam. With the vampires distracted, he could practically stroll around the place like he belonged here. It wasn’t hard to find the staircase, a moderately grand spiral leading straight into the study-turned-cage. The double doors were shut tightly, clearly not forgotten in the frenzy. Adam touched the knob, intending to unlock them with a simple click, but a sudden spark sent his hand jerking back. Puzzled, Adam knelt down and squinted, noticing an intricate design carved into the doorknob: a magic ward.

   Adam swore and stood up. He didn’t have time time for this. With a vicious kick, the doors flew open, the warded knob clattering to the ground. Adam coughed, waving the dust away and peering into the room. It was dark, barely lit by moonlight. Shadows traced every object, sharply highlighting the faintly carved crosses that had been invisible in the light. The clinking of chains drew Adam’s attention to the side of the room with the skylight, and he gasped, a lump clogging his throat. Hanging from the ceiling in a morbid display was Raphie, covered in cuts draining him of what little blood he had. He wasn’t breathing, and for a single, agonizing moment, Adam thought he was dead.

   “Adam?” Raphael’s voice was scratchy and barely above a whisper, but was a voice and it was the most beautiful thing Adam had ever heard.

   “Of course it’s me, silly?” Adam laughed shakily, taking a step closer to Raph. “You thought I’d just leave you? I’ll always come back for-”

   “No!” Raphael’s shout stopped Adam just as his foot hit something soft. “D-don’t come any closer,” he whimpered. Slowly, Adam looked down and took a startled step back. He had nearly tripped over a body. Looking around, he saw that the room was scattered with them, their throats bloody messes.

   “T-they’ve been eating in front of me,” Raphael whispered, his voice raw and pained, like an animal who’d fought too long and had finally given up. “I-if I smell you… I don’t think I’d be able to control myself.” It was then that Adam realized why the vampire wasn’t breathing.

   Adam came closer anyway, stepping carefully around the bodies. Raphael, too exhausted to protest, simply closed his eyes and turned his head away. Adam reached up to magic the chains unlocked, but stopped, looking closely first. Sure enough, these were warded too. Sighing, Adam searched his coat pockets until he came across a lockpicking kit, so unused they had started rusting. Five broken picks later, Raphael was falling into Adam’s arms. Carefully, he carried the vampire, who still refused to breathe, out of the house and into a nearby alley.

   Adam winced as the blade cut his skin, watching the blood ooze up and trickle down his arm.  “What the hell are you doing?” Raphael choked out.

   “What do think I’m doing?” Adam hissed back. “I’m feeding you like the little baby you’ve been acting like.”

   Raph forced out a laugh. “I don’t take donations.”

   “It’s not a donation, it’s an order.” Adam leaned close and growled, “Drink it, or I shove it down your throat.” His tone was dark and commanding, his assassin voice sweet in comparison. Raphael’s eyes went wide, and he couldn’t hold back a small gasp escaping his lips. The smell of fresh blood filled his senses, and Raph found himself being pulled to Adam’s wrist like a magnet.

   Everything exploded. It was sweet and spicy and not too salty at all, a beautiful mix of all the places he’d been. Yes, Adam E. Grey’s blood was just like his accent and his appearance and everything else about him, and Raphael found himself addicted to it instantly. It was just one more nail in the coffin that said Raphael would never be able to leave this beautiful immortal he had fallen for entirely on accident.

   And then it was over. Raph felt Adam’s pulse grow faint and pulled away, fear pumping through his newly filled veins. Had he gone too far?

   “Why did you stop?” Adam murmured faintly

   “I’m done,” Raph replied, relieved Adam could still speak.

   “Promise me you’re not lying.

   “I promise… Thank you.” Raphael had an urge to kiss him, but he repressed it. Not yet, he told himself. He needed to figure out what was really happening first, after the bliss of fresh blood had worn off.

   “No,” Adam smiled faintly, his eyes half-closed. “Thank you.”

   It was Raphael’s turn to carry Adam. After releasing the butterfly signal, he had passed out. While the rest of the Golden Wing shuffled either to their homes or back to the bar, Cat and Lisa followed Raph for a little while, giving him the basics of what had happened on their end. “I’m sure Adam will tell you all about it tomorrow,” Cat giggled. Lisa let Raph know that the vampires who had captured him were dead now, burning in their own house. “That explains the smoke,” Raph remarked, wrinkling his nose. “Lovely smell.”

   Eventually, the girls left Raphael to carry Adam home on his own. Stumbling into the apartment sometime after midnight, it almost felt like just another drunken night. As Raph gently lay Adam down in his bed, he woke up long enough to mumble, “What time is it?”

   “After midnight?” Raphael answered, puzzled.

   Adam smiled. “Happy New Year, Raphie.”

   “Oh.. Happy New Year, Adam,” Raph laughed back.

   Then Adam was leaning up, pulling Raphael down by his shirt, and placing a gentle kiss on his lips. Raph stood there, shocked yet again by this ever surprising young man, who simply rolled over and fell asleep like nothing had happened. Smiling stupidly, Raph left the room, closing the door softly behind him, wondering if Adam would remember this and whether he wanted him too or not.

   He couldn’t deny it anymore: Raphael Dracul was in love with Adam Grey, and there was nothing he could do about it.


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