1. Edward Deer – Animal | 2. Bon Iver - Creature Fear / Team | 3. Chris Garneau - Blue Suede Shoes | 4. Benjamin Francis Leftwich - With A Little Help From My Friends | 5. Portugal. The Man – Sea of Air | 6. Emot - You’re My Only Home | 7. Bill Ryder-Jones - A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart Pt 2 | 8. The National - Exile Vilify | 9. Perry Bryan - Nightcall | 10. ortoPilot - Little Lion Man | 11. Mikky Ekko - We Must Be Killers | 12. Murder by Death - Those Who Stayed | 13. Bastille - Bad Blood [Lunice Remix] | 14. Placebo - Devil in the Details | 15. Tom Odell - Can’t Pretend | 16. Jónsi - Tornado | 17. Civil Twilight – Human | 18. Sebastien Klinger and Jurgen Kruse - Spiegel Im Spiegel
“I want the wolf,” Hal states before the Old Ones depart.
Mr Snow turns, slow and smiling, to face him once more. “We appear to have some crossed wires,” he says genially. “You are in no position to make demands.”
Hal’s gaze doesn’t drop. “You want me to run Britain for you? I have my price. I want the wolf.”
“And the War Child?”
“Tom joined us to protect her. She’ll need to stay too.” His expression doesn’t twitch. “They’ll be happier here with me.”
“Do you think I care about your happiness?” Mr Snow’s smile widens, before disappearing in a dark scowl of disgust. “Why would I ever want to give in to your demands?”
“You want me to follow you of my own free will. Once you leave the country, you won’t be here to whisper into my ear any more. This is what it will take. Give me Tom and Eve. I’ll protect them.”
Mr Snow’s gaze is thoughtful, before he responds with an overly polite bow of his head. “As you wish, Lord Hal,” he says. “I assume I don’t need to make any threats. You know what will happen if this is a silly plot against me.”
Hal knows well that Tom’s life will be forfeit, but he has no intention of rising against the Old Ones. With blood in his mouth and Mr Snow’s word in his mind, he is as loyal as he ever was - but old preferences remain. Former emotions and past desires. Regardless of who he is aligned with, Hal wants Tom to be safe. He’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
There is a room with no windows and a lock on the door. Holding Eve in his arms, Tom pulls a face as soon as he sees it. “We can’t raise baby Eve in a place like this,” Tom says. “She needs some light. And baby stuff and that.”
“Because raising her in the attic was clearly a superior setting,” Hal remarks. Tom just shrugs, and glances behind him to the door, already locked. “This is where you stay now. This is home.”
“I want to go back,” Tom states. “This place isn’t right.”
“You made a decision, Tom. Mr Snow said there would be chores. Trust me. This is preferable to anything else he might have had in mind.” Hal is not the only vampire with a fascination with werewolves. Milo alone is proof that. “But life isn’t going to be what it once was. You’re not a free man any more.”
Tom’s eyes are wide and assessing as he listens to Hal, and Hal can already recognise the stubborn set of his jaw. That expression usually leads into Tom pressing a stake against his chest, but there’s no worry of that here. There is no wood to be found - Hal knows that this is going to be difficult.
“You’re on the blood again, aren’t ya?” Tom asks.
“The world itself is changing. There’s going to be a period of transition.” Hal knows this better than anyone. Over the long centuries, he has watched regimes rise and fall. This is different. It is a far more permanent change. “It’s going to be difficult for all us.”
“Yeah, you’re right, we’re going to make it difficult. Me and you, Hal. We can do this.”
Hal doesn’t have the heart to tell Tom that he doesn’t want to change a thing. With the blood in his mouth and the country itself spread out ahead of him, it’s difficult to remember why he ever wanted to stay clean for so long.
He can’t say that to Tom, the only element that remains of his humanity - the only piece of his heart that still beats. Hand on the door, he steps outside and turns the key in the lock before he has a chance to turn back. The thumping on the door, the shouts and the fights, it’s not going to end. If this is what it takes to keep Tom and Eve safe, Hal is perfectly happy to do it.
When Alex leaves for Scotland, the house is so quiet it seems haunted - Hal could laugh at the comparison, all things considered.
“She’ll be back,” Tom says once they’ve waved her onto the bus. “She’ll miss us, you know.”
Tom could wait for eternity, Hal knows, the loyal dog waiting on the mat, but Hal has been on this earth for five centuries - he knows that waiting brings nothing more than disappointment. With a beating heart and a sad reflection, he knows that their lives has changed, but that much hasn’t. He hasn’t the will to say that to Tom, however. Instead he smiles, almost, and says, “Let’s go home.”
The house feels strange without Alex, empty and rumbling in the way it was in the wake of Annie’s departure. “Always feels funny, doesn’t it?” Tom says. “Every time someone leaves this place, it doesn’t feel right for a bit. Like it’s lonely or something.”
They rattle in the house together - too much noise, too much mess. Alex phones when she can, frantic slices of conversation. Hal can hear the chaos of her family in the background, and smiles when she tells him wild stories about her brothers, and pretends to truly believe her claims that she’ll be back down to Wales any day now, just as soon as things cool off up in Scotland.
He knows how this goes.
“It’s been a while,” Tom remarks as they’re watching television together, the dishes neatly stacked in the kitchen and their mugs of tea waiting on the table in front of them. “Been a few weeks now.”
“Yes,” Hal agrees, but he doesn’t elaborate. Can’t.
Tom drops his head against Hal’s shoulder during the course of the night, and Hal doesn’t ask him to move. Tom is heavy and human and loyal. Relaxing into his heat, Hal tells himself that, if they can stick together, he won’t have to feel so alone.
Tom sits on the bed, his head hanging down, his shoulders hunched, and the very sight of him is enough to make the monster inside of Hal scratch and claw for release. This must be how Tom feels every day, the wolf howling inside him. To see his friend hurt is an incitement to violence.
“Tom.” There is a shake in his voice, a weakness he can’t mask or fight. “Listen to me, Tom. You are so much better than you think. You’re better than us all.”
Hal could write soliloquises to the ways that Tom and Alex have changed his life. He could compose sonnets to the patience Tom has had with him, to the gentle goodness in his heart, but no matter what he says he knows that Tom won’t hear it. The barbs from the outside world are too sharp; the cutting doubt from within is deafening.
Hal steps forward to place his hand on Tom’s shoulder. The contact at least is enough to make Tom raise his head and look up at him. He breathes sharply through his nose. Hal thinks that if Tom was alone in the room he might be crying. Hal’s presence forces him to hold it together. The walls between them haven’t been knocked down yet.
“Tom, believe me. Whoever hurt you will pay for what they said,” he vows - the memory of Larry lurks in the back of his mind, the stone-cold knowledge of how far he will go to protect and defend his family.
Tom shakes his head and looks down again. He hasn’t pushed Hal away yet. “Nah, no one said nothing,” he mutters. “Just me. Thinking in my head. That’s all. You don’t need to get all… you… about it.”
Hal sits down at Tom’s side. “I think I should be offended by that,” he muses, but Tom just shoves at his shoulder as if that is an appropriate response. Hal looks at him, soft and waiting. “I wish I knew how to make you see yourself the way we see you.”
Tom snorts at him. “That’s not one of your vampire powers though, is it. McNair always said: ‘Dracula is not a documentary’.”
“A cunning piece of misdirection,” Hal confesses.
He sees the cautious assessment in Tom’s eyes as he tries to decide whether or not to believe him - but he ruins the effect when he starts smiling accidentally. A moment later, Tom is smiling back and complaining about being misled. His collapse into self-pity has vanished. Hal might not be able to improve Tom’s self-esteem, but at the very least he can distract him from his lack of it.
Their first kiss is so impossible, a bright burst of sweet hope again Hal’s lips, that it makes him ache - a tight tingling all the way down to his bones, as dazzling as the burning sun. Tom’s lips part beneath him with a gentle ‘oh’ of surprise, and he tilts his head back to allow Hal to bear down eagerly against him.
Moments ago, this had been nothing more than a conversation - Hal had walked into the room to find Tom sitting, head bowed, shoulders slumped, self-doubt radiating from him. Reassuring him had turned to touching him, a brush of his hand over Tom’s shoulder, but looking down at his big, sad eyes had done worrying things to his mind.
And now this. This - wonderful and unexpected and utterly, completely terrifying. Hal’s hand curls against the nape of Tom’s neck, knowing that he needs to pull back yet finding himself completely unable to. He eases himself down onto the couch beside Tom without breaking contact for a second: it’s Tom that makes them stop, tilting his head down and breaking their kiss. He rests his forehead against Hal’s, so close that Hal is soaked in every sense, an overload he usually fights to block out.
“Hal,” Tom breathes, and it sounds as if he’s saying so much more than just his name.
Hal doesn’t expect anything. Not from Tom. He knows him too well to entertain thoughts of anything more than friendship - because Tom, gentle and vicious and wolf, can’t be tainted by him. Hal can’t allow that to happen, no matter how pleading Tom’s gaze can be and regardless of how addictive and yielding his kiss.
Hal has to remain strong.
Yet he hasn’t backed away and now Tom’s hand cups his cheek, shy and skittish and so nervous, so careful. Hal’s eyelids flutter as he tries to control himself.
“Hal,” Tom says again, nudging closer. He looks down at Hal’s lips and Hal is entranced by the sight of him, his long lashes a sharp black against his skin. “Was that… I mean, can we…?”
The answer is 'no’. Whatever Tom is asking, the answer should be a stern 'no’ and Hal’s departure from this room is absolutely essential, but then there is Tom’s mouth again, kissing him once more. He’s shy and unskilled - and it’s impossible not to take pity on him, Hal tells himself, as he parts his lips and shows Tom how it’s done.
Tom is hardly managing to hold himself together, a shake in his voice that is almost lethal to Hal’s ears. He has steeled his heart for this moment, prepared himself for it, but he hardly expected it to be like this. He didn’t expect to feel more like a monster than he has for centuries.
“So, what, you’re kicking me out, like?” Tom asks, his shoulders hunched and his voice dripping with misery. “What for? I’ve not done anything.”
“No one said you have,” Hal answers patiently. He draws upon an eternity of waiting - he wraps himself in wisdom and says it’s for the best. “And I’m not ‘kicking you out’. I’m merely suggesting that it might be time for you to leave Barry Island itself.”
“You can’t throw me out of Wales. ’s not like you’re the boss of it.”
“You’re not listening to me, Tom.”
“I’m listening just fine.” Tom shifts restlessly on his feet, as if the emotions pent-up inside him are too much to contain. “I get it. Yeah. Makes perfect sense, alright, get rid of the werewolf the second you get the chance. It’s not like I didn’t know this was coming, y'know.”
“That’s not what this is about.”
“Yeah?” The challenge in his question makes the air bristle with aggression - barely contained fury and misery, all of it waiting to ignite one way or another. Hal knows how dangerous the next few seconds are going to be. “What’s it about then, eh? If it’s not about me, what’re you doing?”
“I can’t trust myself around you.” Hal speaks carefully, his words growling out with reluctant caution. This is something he shouldn’t have to admit, but the empty ache in Tom’s eyes makes truth the only option. “I’m worried about what I might do.”
“I can look after myself,” Tom insists, desperately indignant. “You think I can’t take you in a fight?”
“Tom, please listen to me. When I turn again, and I will, I’m going to try to hurt the people I care about. At this moment, that would be you.” It hurts to confess it, any acknowledgement of his emotions feeling ripped from his throat. “I care for you more than I’d wish to say.”
“Don’t be a dickhead.” Ah. Perhaps that wasn’t quite the reaction he’d expected. “Don’t talk like it’s all gonna happen, like it or not. We can fight it. Isn’t that what we’re doing here?”
“It’s not quite that simple.”
“I’m saying it is.” Tom dashes his cheeks with the back of his hand, wiping away tears that haven’t fallen yet. “And I’m not going anywhere so you’re going to have to put up with it. Alright?”
It’s not alright, not by a long shot - Hal can see how this ends, can feel the monster beneath his skin, and knows that when the dark times come again and he takes blood once more it will be Tom who faces the brunt of his anger and derision. He won’t kill him; it will be far worse than that. He’ll break him into pieces and revel in the fall-out.
All he can do, desperately, is try to push Tom away before the dam breaks.
In the days that follow their confrontation, Hal stays out of Tom’s way. He feels like a coward, shooting from room to room, hiding in the shadows and escaping from the house when it seems like the only way, but he can’t face another confrontation. He doesn’t think he would be able to cope with watching Tom suffer a second time.
Outside, the rain has started. The sky is grey and the water pings off the pavements. Standing by the window and watching the empty street beyond the house, Hal’s hands clench and relax. Again and again. Clench and relax. The house is silent. With Alex out and Tom absent, Hal is the only one who haunts its halls. His undead heart has ached with the heavy mix of hope and dread all day. Hal isn’t sure how much longer he can take this.
Tom has been away since Hal woke up this morning.
It is now long past midday, edging into the early evening, and there is no sign of him. The hotel informed Hal when he called to ask that, no, Tom doesn’t have an extra shift - wherever he has disappeared to, it isn’t somewhere Hal can find him.
The memory of their conversation lingers in his mind - his own desperate persuasion, the need to make Tom leave, followed by the embarrassing, hidden relief when Tom had dug his heels in and refuse to be moved. Hal has kept that dirty, passionate relief a secret, because he is the one trying to push Tom out the door. It isn’t right for him to be so pleased that Tom won’t listen.
And, yet, here he finds himself now - waiting at the window, counting the seconds, and trying to imagine Tom on a train far away from Wales, travelling to a new life, with safer friends and a sweeter future.
It’s good, surely.
The thought of it makes him feel sick.
He swallows around that feeling and continues to rehearse his speech to Alex. When she returns to the house from whatever poor establishment she has decided to haunt today, she will need an explanation for where their dear departed werewolf has gone. What Hal needs to do is make sure she doesn’t find a way to bring him back.
Yet when one of his housemates finally returns, it isn’t Alex at all. Tom lets himself in through the door with a rattle of his keys, and he stands dripping on the carpet as he shakes the worst of the rain from his shoulders. He pushes his coat off with a wet, sodden plop, and brushes his broad palm over his face to chase the worst of the water. “’s freezing out there, Hal,” he says, “My feet are wet and all.”
Hal’s visions of Tom’s new life collapse around him, and he sees the old future take its place: Tom’s corruption at his hands, the pain he will suffer when Hal takes his next darker turn. It clouds in around him, darker than the rain, and blots out every bright shard of delight that comes with having Tom back with him. This is the start of a disaster.
Hal’s upper lip curls in derision. “You’re dripping every where,” he says, waving at the damp carpet beneath Tom’s feet. “Who do you think is going to tidy that mess?”
He leaves in a burst of contained anger, disappearing to the attic, but his hearing doesn’t miss Tom’s sigh of frustration.
It isn’t right. He can’t pretend he isn’t glad to have Tom back with them - but the future looming ahead of them means that he needs to be smarter than that. If Tom refuses to face reality, Hal needs to push him into action instead.