Title: State of Grace
Word Count: 29,985
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Splinter Verse (#4)
Summary: Willie attempts to do what he’s supposed to do, but it’s awfully hard, seeing as how delicious the rewards can be when he screws up. This is becoming more complicated, as is Willie’s newfound friendship with the tow truck guy, Wesley Dale. The gaming box continues to be a problem as well, and Wesley starts drinking again.A/N: I honestly don’t know how Willie manages it, and I really should stop being so mean to him. Problem is, the more complicated I make it for him, the more fun it is for me!
The wall came away in a sudden shear, as if it were a slab of butter cut through with a hot knife, and the resounding bang that shuddered the walls and the floor rattled his eardrums like a clap of thunder. Dust rose, roiling upwards, smearing the air frosty white as small chunks of what looked, inexplicably, like clamshell dashed themselves to pieces as they landed. Willie jumped back, coughing, waving the air away in front of his face, but it did no good. He would have to open the window to clear away the dust, but first he had to clear away the debris before Barnabas awoke and found out. The vampire would want an explanation for the destruction and Willie didn't have one ready for him. Telling Barnabas that he had pulled on the old paneling a tad too vigorously would not be the brightest answer, however true it was. No, the trick would be to clear out the mess, and make like he'd found the room in that condition. And then plaster up the walls before one of Barnabas' midnight strolls led him to the wreck of the little room at the end of the hall.
He grabbed an armload of paneling and tugged it through the doorway and along the corridor. Once at the top of the stairs he knew he could scramble to the landing and out the front door quite easily, and toss the split panels along side the porch where they would be disguised by the darkness. Then during the day he could get rid of them more completely. Pausing at the landing, he hefted the load in his arms, only to look up and see Barnabas standing there at the bottom of the stairs.
"What is that you have there?" demanded the vampire, his hand already on the railing as if he meant to come storming up.
How had he known this would happen, how? The look on Barnabas' face was anything but promising.
"I-I—" he began, but a ready answer was not available.
Barnabas came up the stairs, the flesh of his face pressing close against his skull, glimmering, as he came nearer, from the candle Willie had lit in a wall sconce in the hallway. When he came to the landing, Willie backed up, only to find that the wood in his arms had caught on something and refused to budge. He couldn't move, even as he pressed back with his arms, and as he did so, the muscles along his spine seized up with dark claws and he dropped the entire load at Barnabas' feet. More dust swirled up, choking his lungs with dry air.
"Well?" asked Barnabas. His voice was patient now, but the dark underlying tone there told Willie that it would not last long.
"Th-there was this room," he started, swallowing against the dust coating his mouth and rubbing the raw place on his arm that the wood had left. "A room at the end of the hall, all covered in this cheap plywood paneling, an' I knew, you see, that they never had no paneling like that, so I started taking it down, an' then—"
He stopped, uncertain as to how to explain the problem with the plaster, how damp rot must have set in behind the paneling, ultimately making entire sheets of wall unstable. Barnabas would say that he should have realized this and taken the proper precautions, which he had not done. The fault would be Willie's and then Barnabas' temper would spark and the end result would be disastrous.
Willie looked down at the floor. If Barnabas lost his temper and punished him, it was almost a surety what would follow. He longed to reach his hand in his pocket to grab the small, diamond-shaped playing piece, but he could feel the vampire's eyes upon him, even as images from the previous night launched themselves from a distant corner of forgotten darkness into the center light of cold immediacy.
"I asked you a question, Willie, and I expect an answer."
Nodding, he tried to look up, but he could not make it any farther than the small spot where Barnabas' suit ended and his tie began. Or the shiny button just below that point, no, not as the memory of pressure on the curve of his neck spun with that of the clasp of arms around him, body shuddering with pleasure as the blood was drawn from him in an almost saintly haze of pain.
If you touch me, I am done for.
His body began to anticipate this, the muscles along his back tightening up even as they throbbed from the most recent punishment given them. Stomach muscles aching, even as they curled together, pulling up with wanting it. And the surface of his skin, heating up to the point where the chill current of air along the hallway became almost unnoticeable.
"Take me there," said the vampire, breaking through the glittering simmer in Willie's veins. Willie turned away instantly, clamping his brain down, hoping his body would follow as he shoved his hand into his pocket, clasping the diamond tightly, almost running as he led the way.
Hold on Willie, don't let go. Don't.
He walked down the hall and into the small, corner room, stopping when his feet came into contact with the pile, staring at it, realizing only now how large it was. Plaster must have been layered thick in the old days, though how the walls had withstood the weight without bowing in, he would never know.
"Part of the wall came down," he said.
"So I see."
The vampire was staring at the plaster, and Willie hurried to offer his thoughts, a diversion in case Barnabas should look up and see the very large holes the path of pulled-out nails had left. Or note the fine sift of dust that was settling, even now, on the vampire's impeccable dark suit.
"Looks like bits of shell or somethin' in there, it's all flaky."
"Horsehair and clamshell," said the vampire, his voice trailing off as he looked around the room.
At the distracted tone, Willie looked up at him. The tense flesh around the vampire's eyes had softened, and even the hard line of his jaw had gentled into that of an ordinary man. He was staring at the far wall, where the window let in the darkness of night and the pale blue paint seemed almost dreamy in the flickering candlelight. The vampire took a step toward the wall, his hand going out as if to touch it.
"This was my mother's private sitting room," he said, almost too faint to be heard. But the words, though low, slashed through Willie's heart like a razor. He took a breath so hard it hurt, his feet finding purchase on the powder dust on the floor, backing away slowly. If he were out of reach when the first explosion came, maybe he could avoid the more dire repercussions. Maybe it would be just an ordinary beating. Maybe just a really hard beating and nothing else. He gripped the diamond so tight he could feel it embedding itself into the calluses along the base of his fingers.
"How did it come down?" the vampire asked, still absorbing the play of the shadow on the wall.
Willie kept backing up, but slower now. Almost out of reach. "It, well, you see, I was pulling away just a little bit and it came away okay, and so I got on the ladder there, and then tugged, and it just, well, it just—"
Barnabas whirled around at that moment, silencing him just as he'd reached the doorway. Willie held his hand up as if to keep the vampire at bay, though it would do him no good. It never did, he knew that, but the mad beating of his heart rocked him until he couldn't think straight.
"I, don't, don't be mad, Barnabas," he said, the words slipping from his lips as fast as his brain could come up with them. "You see, I didn't know, an' I thought, I mean, an' I'll put it all back, good as it was an'—"
Directly behind Barnabas, the wall began to buckle and bow outward. At first Willie thought it was his imagination, the heat of the room, or the stress of having the vampire so near, so agitated. But a second later, the majority of the remaining plaster on the far wall split from the wood frame and landed with a smack on the floor, shattering to bits. Clouds of dust roiled up as Barnabas turned to look, the cape of white dust settling over his dark wool suit as he turned back around, grim and stark-faced. The chalk gathered in a cloud at his feet, and, perfectly silent, eyes locked on Willie, the vampire glowered.
The nightmare of yesterday evening had not ended it seemed, it had only begun. Ruining Naomi's room was tantamount to spitting on her grave, or spitting on Barnabas himself, Willie didn't know which was worse. In spite of his best efforts, his attempt at getting back in the vampire's good graces, or at least keeping his unpredictable wrath at bay, had become what could only seem like a personal affront. From the second Barnabas had indicated that this room had belonged to his mother, of all people, an uncomfortable heaviness had started in his stomach, building to a sense of black dread that shifted like a load of oily coal dust. Now the taste in his mouth was bitter from it, and he swallowed, clamping his teeth into his lip to keep the buckle of his stomach at bay. It didn't help that the plaster dust now coated the inside of his nose and mouth; he struggled not to cough, struggled to keep his eyes on the vampire's, not wanting Barnabas to think for one instant that he wasn't being paid attention to.
With one last glance at the ruin of the room, Barnabas said, "Shore up the plaster before it comes entirely away, Willie, and then come downstairs to the kitchen."
The skin up and down his back twitched, anticipating the flesh being reopened, the red lines of heat there simmering with a deep, throbbing pain.
The vampire glared at him, and Willie snapped his mouth shut.
"Just do as you are told, Willie. I will stand for no nonsense, not with my mother's private room in ruins."
The vampire surged toward him and Willie moved back, only to be surprised as the vampire went past him, not grabbing him, not looking at him, not saying anything else. The sharp footsteps echoed down the hall and then faded as they headed down the stairs.
Standing there in the doorway to Naomi's room, Willie clenched his eyes shut, tucking his head to his chest, feeling the tremor of his hands as they made fists. A deep, dusty cough rumbled up from his chest, stretching the muscles in his back and along his neck, sending sharp, hard lines stinging through him. And then another cough, forcing him to bend forward, one hand on the door frame, the other on his knees as he braced himself against it. His back throbbed as if someone had fully slammed into him, as the dust and snot ran from his nose. He lifted his hand from his knee to wipe his face with the sleeve of his shirt. Waited. Coughed again, feeling at last the sift of dust clearing his lungs.
He wasn't going to make it long enough, of course, for all of the dust to go away. In mere moments he was going to go down the stairs and Barnabas was going to kill him, it was as simple as that. Or, if the vampire didn't kill him, was going to make his mark another way, and Willie would spend the next few weeks struggling to complete even the simplest of chores.
Why don't you just throw yourself from a cliff, Loomis? It'd be quicker.
Taking the stack of paneling, he leaned it up against the last remaining bit of plaster, trying not to gouge the design. And knew, as he jammed his toolbox at the bottom of the panels to keep them in place, that, at the very least, it would be the last time he took the initiative on any project in the Old House. He wiped the last of the moisture from his face with the heel of his palm and wiped both hands on the pockets of his apron. As he walked slowly down the stairs, chalk sifted into his eye and he brushed this away, only half noticing it. The main entry way was completely dark, and the sitting room, too, as he'd not lit any candles there before starting work on Naomi's room. This made the hallway to the kitchen rather like going down a tunnel, at the end of which there was the barest glimmer of a light.
Opening the door to the kitchen, he peered around it. Barnabas was at the fireplace, leaning forward, propping himself up with a hand on the mantle as he reached in and turned one of the logs with his bare hand. Willie swallowed another cough that tickled suddenly in the back of his throat along with his surprise that Barnabas would be tending to such a chore, and stepped fully into the room, gathering Barnabas' full attention to him without even a second's waiting. He shut the door behind him.
Barnabas' suit jacket was covered in white dust so as to look grey. He hadn't even bothered to try to brush it off, though perhaps he expected that Willie would do that. Or maybe he was so angry he didn't care, and would throw the suit on the fire and lay the additional blame of waste at his servant's feet. Willie had to look away now, at the wall, at the stove, at anything that didn't reek of the ruin of Naomi's room.
"Come here, Willie," Barnabas said, taking his hand from the mantel and straightening up.
Throat closing up, his lungs straining for air. Willie's feet refused to move.
"I said, come here."
Making himself walk was like wading through mud, but the Thing rumbled in Barnabas' voice and there was no avoiding it. His feet now carried him forward, without him wanting them to, he couldn't fight the pull, and his body was past resisting. Barnabas snapped a piece of paper in front of him. "And I suppose you can explain to me about this?"
It was the estimate from Brewster's Quarry. His attempt, feeble now, it seemed, at assuaging Barnabas' fury.
"They—" he began, feeling the dust stirring in his lungs and gulping it back down. "The tow truck guy," he said, "Wesley Dale?"
"What tow truck? And who is Wesley Dale?"
Of course, that was stupid of him. Barnabas wouldn't know Wesley Dale from Adam. "Th-the tow truck that came and pulled the truck out of the mud, he—"
He stopped, too late realizing that he'd not actually told Barnabas about the fact that he'd ordered the tow truck. Since the bill was going to Roger Collins, he'd forgotten all about it. A small, but significant amnesia that was now coming home to roost.
"So you had the truck towed out of the mud, is that it?" asked Barnabas, almost pleasant. "And how much was the tow?"
Willie's whole mouth tasted like dust now, but he couldn't even get enough spit together to lick his lips. This was like the icing on a very nasty cake. "He, that is, Roger—"
"Mister Collins," said Barnabas, correcting him as if this were an ordinary conversation and Willie merely forgetting the niceties of addressing his superiors.
"Mister Collins," he said now, forcing himself to go on, "has an account with this c-company. 'swhy I called them. It's on account, and Roger, I mean, Mister Collins will pay at the end of the month."
"I pay my own debts, you know that, Willie."
Of course he knew that; he'd told Wesley Dale as much, but the matter had been taken out of his hands, and now it was being added to his growing list of mistakes. "B-but this Wesley guy, he said he'd talked to R- Mister Collins, and everything was okay."
"Ah, I see." Barnabas nodded his head as if seeing the list in his mind's eye and tallying the damage. "Go on."
Taking a breath of chalky air, Willie did as he was told. Not that it would help any. "Wesley has a brother-in-law, he owns Brewster's Quarry, and Wesley said they could gravel the road, an' I told him to come out for an estimate, and so—"
Barnabas held up his hand as if he'd heard enough, and Willie shut his mouth, knowing with certainty that the tally had not come out in his favor. His body jerked as he forced himself not to step out of arm's reach.
The vampire paused, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Willie, as if calculating the whole of Willie's errors and coming up with a suitable and exacting payment.
"I would consider," he began, "that the repair of the road would be an important asset to the improvements I plan for the grounds."
The hand he held in the air came slowly down, and Willie tracked it with his eyes. There seemed to be some tension missing in Barnabas' voice, as if the lack of information to him about the road and the wreck of Naomi's room were mere annoyances instead of all-out disasters. A calmness that shocked him almost as much as Barnabas' tending to the fire had.
"Y-yes," he said, leaping at this, "it would be, an' easier for hauling things from town and all?"
Wesley's words about making himself an exit route echoed in his head, though he realized that were Barnabas to find out that he was even considering such a thing, the mere discussion of such repairs to the road, let alone the action of it, would end here and now. His hands clenched at each other, nails digging into panic-chilled skin.
"And as for my mother's sitting room—" Barnabas began, and then broke off.
Willie's head flew up, and the knowledge that he'd let his guard down, that he'd been a fool to be fooled by the mildness of Barnabas' behavior, rammed into his brain. Eyes locked on the vampire's face, he watched as the dark form drew itself upward, into a hard line, into a force that seemed to push the very air, cold, damp air, smack into him. Slamming so hard that he had to step back and look away, swallowing a sound of dismay.
It was coming. If not now, then quite soon. And on top of yesterday's whipping—and like bloodred curtains lifting to reveal the swirling eddies of pleasure, the memory rose of the night before, the press of Barnabas' arms around him, the single lance of pain, and the oblivion, sweet and pure, that followed. Of this memory, his body had no trouble recalling the exactest detail, no trouble bringing to life the feel of his body pressed against the vampire's, no hesitation in remembering the sensation of floating, of falling, of coming to awareness, held safe and secure in strong, solid arms. Clinging to the darkness, mindless—he crushed the memory, trembling. Tucked his head down as he had in Naomi's room, not to cough, but instead to clench his fists, lock his mind against the blissful sweetness, and clamp down on all of his own desires. Sweat broke out on his upper lip. With a whipping, it was almost certain what would follow, but it shouldn't be that he wanted it. Shouldn't be, but it was.
Barnabas drew in a breath, and Willie tensed.
"You will repair the plaster in my mother's sitting room," the vampire said, at last, and Willie felt the tension within him shatter like frozen glass. "And then," continued the vampire, in an unusually calm and even tone, "you will recreate the color of the walls and the pattern of the flowers until they become as they were. Do you understand?"
It was an ordinary question, as if this were an ordinary situation. Singular, to be sure, it was his mother's sitting room after all and deserving special attention by the master of the house, but this quiet attitude had no explanation whatsoever. Willie swallowed the whisper of dust that had crept up the back of his throat, suddenly hot now, sweat creeping down the side of his face in one, small bead. There was no telling what Barnabas actually meant, or what he had in mind, but Willie couldn't even begin to come up with what the vampire was playing at. He nodded slowly, and it came to him that the safest bet would be to go along with this bizarre calmness. He opened his eyes and kept them focused on the floor.
"S-sure, Barnabas, I can do that." Of course he could. He could do anything, and everything, whatever it took to keep the anger at bay. "I'll start right away."
"Tomorrow," said the vampire, snapping. "Tomorrow will be soon enough."
The center of his spine sagged as he realized that Barnabas actually meant it. This mild conversation wasn't going to end in a beating, or even a lecture. It was impossible, but there it was. The vampire turned to go, and Willie realized that he needed to get confirmation about the road. He looked up. The vampire stopped.
"What is it, Willie?"
Impatient, as always, at being interrupted by his servant, but only that and nothing more.
"An-an' the road? Should I tell them to go ahead?"
"Yes," replied Barnabas almost instantly as if he'd expected Willie to ask exactly that question. He walked to the door and stopped, one hand on the handle as he opened it. "Make sure that you guard the house well while they are here. I will not have any unwanted visitors, do you hear? If there are any, I will hold you responsible."
"Okay, Barnabas, okay."
Barnabas left the room, almost, but not quite, slamming the door behind him. Which was strange in and of itself. Barnabas never almost did anything. If he wanted his anger known he would slam the door and that was that. It was his house, after all, and he could do as he pleased.
Such as tear his servant to pieces if he'd a mind to. Or bend him over the kitchen table and exact payment out of his hide for a ruined room. Or press him close and fold down the collar of his shirt to—
For Christ's sake, Loomis, knock it off!
He wiped at the sweat on his upper lip with the back of his hand, and then, a sigh catching in his throat, he blotted the sweat from his temple.
You act like you want him to do it.
Which was the most honest of truths, and he knew it.
Doesn't mean you have to ask for it, stupid.
No, of course not. Of course he wouldn't actually pursue it, no, not ever.
He reached one hand into his pocket and pulled out the diamond playing piece. Grains of chalk and plaster had worked their way into his pocket, and so he licked his thumb and wiped off the thin coating of residue. The mother-of-pearl glowed in his hand, warming to his flesh almost instantly. Then he closed his fist around it, tucked it back into his pocket, and started up the hallway and then the stairs to his room. Barnabas had said that tomorrow would be soon enough to begin repairs, though the first thing he would do would be to contact Brewster's Quarry. That would be a damn sight easier than Naomi's room, anyway, and a more visible display of his productivity.
In his room, he took the playing piece out of his pocket and tucked it beneath the courting candle on his nightstand. Then he peeled off the dust-covered apron, shirt and trousers, and then his t-shirt, wiping at his face and hands with it before tossing them all in the armoire. His scalp still itched with plaster, but that could not be helped. Slipping on a relatively clean t-shirt and pajama bottoms, hissing as the cloth slid roughly over the welts along his back, he set the coal fire to burn slowly through the night. Now that spring had mostly arrived, a small fire was just enough to keep him warm. That and the courting candle at his bedside.
He lit it, and replaced the lid, and, blowing out the candle on the mantelpiece, crawled beneath the blankets and lay on his side. At which point his body realized how tired it was and began a series of fine tremors as it relaxed.
Easy now, boy-o, you're done. For now.
Like walking through a wall of fire it had been, he realized now, though he never in a million years would ever figure out where Barnabas' anger over his mother's sitting room had gone to. And, waiting while the twitches and turns of his body settled down, his mind slipped all too easily onto the track where he least wanted it to go. To that moment where Barnabas had drawn himself up so fiercely, that blaze in his eyes announcing that at any second, any second of his choosing, he would take what his vampire's hunger wanted, whether Willie wanted it or no. That he could, that he would, and that Willie would be inclined to let him. With a painful click, he stopped it. It had to be the giddiness of exhaustion making him think like this. Yes, that was it. Exhaustion and the unexpected escape from Barnabas' wrath. Only in the unmapped warrens of the vampire's mind would the wreckage of his mother's room not deserve a beating. Not even a scolding, or an annoyed shake of the head. Nothing.
Yawning, his body finally realizing that it was in a bed and lying still instead of moving, he rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands and curled his body under the covers. Breathed in the cool, almost still air of his room, the last of the plaster and dust now cleared away, and kept his mind on his tasks for the next day. Arranging for the road, clearing out the plaster, a trip to the laundromat, all things that he should be doing.
But even as he faded into sleep, the courting candle casting a golden light over the darkness of bad dreams, his mind jumped, one final time, into where it ought not to go.
He wanted it. It was in his eyes.
There was no way that could be true.
But it was there. I saw it.
Sleep tumbled him home, and somewhere, deep inside, a fist clenched itself around a diamond playing piece.
Three days of laying gravel with the team of men from Brewster's Quarry had left Willie with muscles that felt as if they had been pummeled with a meat hammer. His head sagged forward until it was resting on his knees, motionless until the soap-greyed water curved into stillness around his body as he sat in the small tin tub. He could have gone to the Y for a shower, but he didn't have a dollar. He had decided on a soak, a nice, hot soak until he could drag himself upstairs and into bed. This was the best he could come up with, though with the water cooling fast past lukewarm, and the hard castor soap peeling away layers of skin along with dirt and sweat, and a chill wind finding the smallest chink through the door to race through, it bordered on unpleasant. He hadn't lit any candles because the sun had not gone down yet, but at least the fire was bright and warm, built huge, crackling like a house in flames, sending out waves of heat over his bare shoulders.
He'd washed his hair first, then ducked it low to rinse it in the mostly clean water, then had scrubbed three days worth of grime with the soap and a rough-woven washcloth. His hair now dripped onto his shoulders every now and then, as if to remind him that it was still wet, and though his knees were turning red from the heat from the fireplace, his toes, when he lifted them to scrub, felt cold from being pressed against the sides of the tub. Now he sat there, head on his knees, letting the light of the flames lick the back of his neck, letting his hands trail in the water, which had a growing film of soap on the top of it.
Five more minutes, boy-o, and then you have to get out.
The water was cooling fast anyway, and it would soon be sunset, and he did not want to be in the kitchen when Barnabas awoke, in the altogether or any other way. For the past three days he'd avoided Barnabas with the same determination that he'd formally used to avoid anything remotely resembling real employment. Or, as Jason liked to say, the plagues of Egypt, especially after having one too many on a hot day, waving his hand expansively, the one with the drink in it, and not spilling a drop, I avoided him like the plagues of Egypt, m'boy, the plagues of Egypt.
During the day this had been easy, though to keep his mind occupied Willie had joined the crew for spreading gravel, thinking, at the onset, how hard could it be? Get a rake, push some gravel around, easy. Eight dump trucks had belly-dropped eight loads of gravel, 190 tons in all, enough to cover the half-mile of track from the main blacktopped road of the Collins estate to the Old House. Brewster's men had started at the top and worked their way down, and Willie had joined in, eager to help them be finished and on their way. Only after the first hour, the reason behind all the quarry worker's large arms and shoulders had become apparent. They'd taken their time, spreading the gravel slowly, their arms and wrists moving in a steady rhythm. Willie had tried to match their pace, and that had made it a bit easier. But he still was limp and sweating from head to toe each time the crew master called for a break. Ten minutes in the morning, ten in the afternoon, and half an hour for lunch.
For three days this had gone on, and the time between breaks had grown longer and longer, until all Willie could do when quitting time was called was stumble back to the porch and collapse against the damp wood, breathing deeply in and out while the cool spring breezes dried the sweat from his skin. To his credit, neither Brewster or his men had hassled Willie in any way, and why should they? Willie wasn't getting paid, and his assistance, small as it was, meant that they would finish up that much sooner on a job they would be paid a flat rate for. They set him to toting wheelbarrows full of gravel to the more thinly covered areas, and while this didn't have the constant push-pull motion of raking, it set a strain along his back and his wrists that he could feel long after the day was done and he was lying still and quiet in his bed, listening for Barnabas.
That's what he'd done a lot of. Listening. Hearing the step on the basement stair and finding the furthest corner of the house to work in, though his arms could barely lift a hammer, waiting to hear the front door open and close, waiting until the house closed around him in silence. Waiting until he was completely alone. Then he would put his tools away and make his way to his room, light the bedside candle, shuck his clothes, and crawl into bed.
It was occurring to him only now, as the bathwater was becoming uncomfortably cool, that avoiding Barnabas had been uncommonly easy, and it should not have been. Not once had Barnabas hollered for him, or left a note of instructions for him to follow. No communication whatsoever. If he didn't know any better, he might imagine that Barnabas had been avoiding him. But that was utter bullshit and he knew it. If the vampire wanted Willie for something, he would have called for him and that was that. Pure and simple. The idle notion that Barnabas had been treating him as if he were the plagues of Egypt, was just that, an idle thought his exhausted brain had come up with in an effort—
The door to the kitchen opened, and Willie did not have to look up to know it wasn't an errant wind, or the sag of damp wood. Even without the crisp footsteps crossing the floor in the near darkness, even without the sudden overwhelming chill as if all the heat in the room had been sucked out of it, he knew it was Barnabas. His body told him, tightening up in an odd combination of uncomfortable churn and anticipatory pleasure. The muscles along the back of his neck shrank against his skull, as if that part of his body wanted to make itself as small as possible.
"And what are you doing loitering in the kitchen?" demanded the vampire, coming close enough to the edge of the tub so that even with his head lowered Willie could see the dark form there.
Slowly, Willie curled his fingers inward, wrapping them around the islands of his knees. He raised his head just a fraction so that he could be heard.
"T-taking a bath, B-Barnabas," he replied.
Like an iron cold vise, a hand came down, wrapping around the back of his skull, gripping him so tight and so steady that an attempt on his part to move would have torn the flesh. One motion in either direction by Barnabas would either snap his neck in two or send his face into the water. Either way, he would be dead. If ever Barnabas had been avoiding him, he wasn't now.
"I can see that," snapped the vampire. "What I want you to tell me is why my mother's sitting room has not been worked on in over two days."
The sitting room. The blasted sitting room with its impossible, crumbling plaster walls. He'd wanted to work with the gravel crew to finish that job up, but more than that, he was completely daunted by the task of Naomi's room. With the exception of Josette's room, none of the other rooms had been pointed out as belonging to thus-and-such person. No other room had the power to send Barnabas into a stiff silence, only to rush past Willie as if he weren't even there. Willie still had no idea why a whipping hadn't followed the disaster of the walls three nights ago, but he wasn't about to ask. Nor explain the real reason the room wasn't done; he couldn't imagine confessing to Barnabas that he didn't know where to begin.
"Well?" Impatient, the vampire pressed inward with his fingers, pushing Willie's face close enough to the surface of the tub until he was almost drawing water up his nose with every breath. Slow drops of water from his hair slid down the sides of his face, and with black stars beginning their slow dance before his open eyes, Willie struggled for air and grabbed onto the first idea that swam past him.
"S-special way to k-keep the plaster in p-place—" he began, stopping for a gasp of air as Barnabas jerked him sharply up.
"How?" came the demand.
Water streamed down Willie's chest, heaving, stirring up the milky surface of the tub, and he kept his eyes focused on the fire that burned not two feet from him and provided not an ounce of heat. A sudden, iced freshet of air plucked at his skin.
"Shop in Bangor," he began, wondering if any of this would turn out to be true. "Has a method, w-with bolts or something."
The clamp on his hand seemed to be letting up and so he continued. "Gonna meet him end of the week, he'll sh-show me then."
The grip on his neck was loosening, allowing the rush of blood to flow freely, leaving a trail of heat that even the icy proximity of the vampire's hand could not quench completely. Then everything was still, save the fire, which crackled and danced, and the slow slide of a chill drop of water that was making its way down his arm. And the fingers, moving as slowly as the drop of water, relaxed their grip till they rested lightly on the surface of his neck. But they didn't let go completely and Barnabas didn't say anything or move away. The fingers rested there, each one sending small pinpricks of chill drilling through him. And then they descended, moving down in a slow caress to drape the curve of his neck. Softly to linger there, sweeping across his skin and down to the highest point of his spine. Then, with one swift motion, they moved back up to cup around his neck again, only this time with more care, the fingers tightening just enough to rest there gently, just hard enough to feel the pulse of a vein beneath the bath-chilled skin.
Willie tried to hold himself still, but the surface of the bathwater shimmered with the quivering of his muscles and once again he could not reach the diamond playing piece. It was in his pants pocket and those were draped over the back of a chair. Miles away for all the good that it did him. And Barnabas, newly risen, could only but be tempted by the long pull of muscle along Willie's back, or the heat rising from the skin beneath his hand.
All of his work at avoiding the vampire was going to come to nothing in less than a minute. He could feel Barnabas gathering himself up, the slight twitch of the hand now as the muscles in that arm bunched together. In another second Willie would be lifted and held close and the vampire's fangs would descend and in the light of the fire, the sweet sear of pain would be followed by utterly dark waves that would choke his brain of thought and transform his inner core into an overwhelming flood of warmth and light and pleasure.
And oh, how he wanted it.
No, you don't.
Yes, God, yes I do.
The playing piece was not serving its purpose, had not served its purpose, and now there was no way to avoid what it had been barring him from. He wanted it, wanted the pleasure and the pain together, wanted the drawing of his body, and maybe even his soul, into the vampire's arms, and the dark dance that followed.
Then the hand went away, leaving a sudden icy spot on Willie's neck.
Here it comes.
He closed his eyes.
The vampire shifted his weight, the motion causing the wood to snap beneath his feet. Then he snarled, low in his throat, "Get out of my sight." Startled, Willie's whole body jerked, sending small waves to splash against the sides of the tub. He stilled his hands by gripping the tub itself, opening his mouth to speak and then shutting it when he realized that all his mind could think up to ask was why Barnabas did not continue with what he seemed to be starting.
He did not look up as the dark form next to the tub moved away, footsteps stopping at the table. He listened, his heart pounding, the muscles in his stomach letting go of their wanting of desire.
"You will rise and dress yourself and you will find an occupation that will take you from the Old House for the evening."
Startled, Willie looked over to where Barnabas was, his gaze only able to rise to the hands gripped in fists.
"Miss Winters is coming to pay a call I do not wish your presence to ruin my evening with her, as it always seems to do of late. Do not come back until after midnight, when she will be gone, do you understand?"
Mind reeling as he struggled to gather the underlying meaning in Barnabas' message, he could only nod, the water shaking with the motion of his body.
"You will answer me when you are spoken to," the vampire barked and Willie hurried to obey.
"Y-yes, I-I—" He paused to gulp down some air. "Yes," he finished finally.
Almost immediately Barnabas turned to leave the room, the sound of his heel grinding in the grit of the floor echoing loud in the silence. But there was a pause, a single moment where he took a breath as if he meant to say something, and Willie looked up. Barnabas stood at the door, his eyes on Willie, but unfocused, as if he were looking through him, or at something that was not actually there.
The bathwater turned ice cold around him, and Willie struggled to keep his teeth from chattering, to keep his hands firm on the edges of the tub as if they could help him keep from shaking. And watched as Barnabas, one hand on the door, moved his head to the side as if he were turning something away, and his eyes blinked once as he seemed to return to that moment, there in the kitchen, with the fire burning, and the silence echoing, and then focused on his servant.
"Your next project is to be my mother's sitting room, that project and no other, do I make myself clear?"
Again nodding, quickly. "Y-yes, Barnabas, I'll do that." What else could he say? The order had been specifically given; to refuse it would result in something more dire than he knew he could deal with.
Barnabas moved out into the hall, and slammed the door behind him, sending a chill gust of air to race through the warmer air of the kitchen, sending an icy swath of air down Willie's spine. He shivered, feeling the goose bumps break out all over, and stood up in the bath, reaching for the towel.
Just follow directions. Just get dressed and get out. Don't come back till he says, okay?
Yes, he would do that. He would do exactly that. As he glanced over at the table, he saw there was a five dollar bill sitting there. Barnabas must really want him gone if he'd left money. Or perhaps he knew that Willie had no money, for if he had, he would have showered at the Y and none of what had just occurred would have happened at all. Or maybe it would have happened at a different time, he did not know.
He stepped out of the tub, feeling the slip of his wet feet against the rough wood, and toweled himself dry.
State of Grace - Part 2
State of Grace - Part 2