This can't be happening, this can't be happening. Annie looked from Wyndham to George to Mitchell.
“George,” Mitchell pleaded. The vampire was kneeling on the floor. Anguish contorted his face as he looked up at George with dark, pained eyes. George’s heart turned into ice. He knew what he had to do. He shook his head and looked at Wyndham, then raised the stake.
“You mean to stake me?” Wyndham chuckled.
“Not exactly,” George responded. He turned towards Mitchell and swung his arm, the stake aimed at his friend’s chest.
“No-!” Wyndham shouted, lunging for George. Annie felt her knees give out. Everything happened so slowly.
George swung his arm down. Annies knees hit the floor.
George redirected his arm, swinging it backwards.
Wyndham gasped and stepped back, the stake protruding from his chest. Blood began to spread across his white shirt.
“You...” Wyndham snarled. He fell to one knee. “But… you’re nothing- useless filth!”
“Oh, really? Well then, you just got killed by some ‘useless filth’.” George snarked. Wyndham grimaced, then crumbled into dust, the stake clattering to the floor.
“You...” The word escaped Mitchell quietly, shakily. His hand went to his heart, as if he expected a stake to be stuck in his own chest.
“Why...” Mitchell whispered, shaking his head, his hair hanging over his eyes.
“Why-? Mitchell, did you not hear what he said? The Old Ones are coming.” George said, standing over the vampire.
“And they intend to use me. I need to… I can't be here… I'll only hurt more people.” His tortured eyes met Annie’s, which were still wide with shock.
“Mitchell, they want you because you’re strong, because you’re one of the only ones who can stand up against them.” Nina said.
Mitchell looked more pale than usual, his face shadowed. He looked so… defeated.
“You are all in danger. You have to go.” He said, his voice monotone and detached.
“You mean we have to go,” Annie said, her voice softer than she intended. She rose from the floor. He looked up at her once again. Her stomach twisted at the pained expression hidden behind his tangled hair.
“No. You have to go. Far away, somewhere-”
“There is nowhere we can go and be safe! Not if the Old Ones are coming, don't you get that?” Annie’s voice rose. She grabbed Mitchell’s hand. At first, his hand was limp, then he slowly squeezed. She could actually feel it. His grip tightened further. Annie strained for his sake to hide a wince.
Mitchell exhaled and nodded shakily. “Let's go.” He whispered.
George and Nina scrambled through the house, gathering random items, tossing others aside. Annie and Mitchell made their way into the kitchen, Mitchell still grasping Annie’s hand. Annie reached out and ran her fingers along the surface of a green mug.
“Guess I'll need a travel mug now,” she tried to joke, but her voice was hollow without its normal cheery tone.
“I don't know how I ever thought this would work. Wishful thinking.” Mitchell smiled wryly for a moment before his expression turned into a pained grimace.
“But it did work, for a time.” Annie said. “Your curse… it seems… designed. Eternal life. A pretty lie. A punishment.” Annie turned to him. “But you don't deserve this punishment. You fight it at every turn. You don't always win, but you try.”
“I may have been good once… but now after all I’ve done, I deserve it.”
Annie shook her head.
“Your good is not gone, I've seen it, we've all seen it. And what you're doing right now, what we're going to do, fighting for humanity, is that not good? The Old Ones… they'll create Hell on Earth if we don't stop them. We have a chance to save humanity, and for you… redemption.”
Mitchell suddenly embraced Annie. She felt cold, and there wasn't much force, like trying to hug the wind. Annies arms wrapped around him and she propped her head on his shoulder. She saw George come in. He walked over and wrapped his arms around both of them.
“God I don't deserve you two.” Mitchell gasped out.
“I think you do.” George said. Annie nodded.
“But after all I've done-” Mitchell cut his sentence short to avoid breaking into sobs. George didn’t know what to say, he just squeezed harder.
“It’s more about what you are going to do.” Nina said. She was leaning on the doorway, spinning the car keys around her finger. George moved to grab the keys from her. “What?” Nina asked, snatching her hand back.
“You're not driving,” George laughed. Nina scoffed with a smile on her face.
“Says who?” They continued to argue as they made their way outside and loaded their bags into the trunk.
They got into the car, George somehow convincing Nina that he should drive and that she should take passenger. Annie and Mitchell got into the back.
Annie looked back as they pulled away and caught a glimpse of the mural of the beach through the window. A false paradise. George drove into the night. The buildings began to drop away, replaced by the rolling hills and thickets lining the country road. Nina stared out the window, looking up into the sky for stars. They didn't seem to be out tonight.
After an hour, there was a glow ahead, neon and fluorescent signs appeared in front of them. The town was almost small enough to see completely across it. There was a collection of houses that disappeared into a tangle of trees, a strip mall, a gas station, and a motel. They pulled into the parking lot of the motel, the fluorescent sign flickering above them. George purchased a room. The group climbed one flight of stairs to their suite. The room only had one bed, and the couch wasn't big enough for anyone to sleep on.
“You two have the bed,” Mitchell said as he began to throw the couch cushions on the floor. George knew better than to protest, and nodded. But he did find an extra blanket in the closet. He handed it to Mitchell, who barely made eye contact with him as he took the blanket. George felt his stomach twist. He had almost killed his best friend mere hours ago.
“I just… feel like I have vampire dust on me, I'm going to shower.” Nina said.
“I think motel towels might be worse than vampire dust.” George’s face scrunched up in disgust.
“I'll take my chances.” Nina smirked and closed the door. There was a muffled squeak and then the patter of falling water.
Mitchell sat heavily on the edge of the bed. Annie sat down on his right. He didn't feel her disturb the mattress. George plunked down on his left.
Mitchell exhaled shakily. “I thought… I was going to die today, for good. I've been living under the threat of the ‘wolf-shaped bullet’ for weeks, the regret of the Box Tunnel Twenty for longer, and the guilt of not telling you.” Mitchell smiled a cynical smile and looked down at his hands clasped in his lap. “I haven't even been living, I’ve been waiting for it to end.”
“When you started acting… weirder than normal. I knew. But I wanted you to come tell us, but you never did.” George said softly.
Mitchell’s head lowered, his hair hanging down.
“I thought about telling you every day. But I couldn't. I didn't want to see your faces. I didn't want to destroy what we had.”
“What we had… was an illusion.” Annie said. Mitchell glanced up at her. She looked far away. Annie shook her head, clarity returning to her eyes. “And I think we needed it, to ‘play house’ just for a little while. But now, we’ve acknowledged that we can’t pretend anymore. Life is going to be different now. But it won’t be lonely.” She put her hand on Mitchell’s leg and smiled softly at him. Mitchell grasped each of their hands and let out a shaky sigh. The shower water stopped falling, and Nina came out in PJ’s and a towel around her hair.
“Learning about the upcoming vampire apocalypse really takes it out of you.” She sighed. There was a twinge of anxiety in her usually confident voice. George put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He could feel the stake in his hand, the anguish on Mitchell’s face…
“Yeah, we should all get some sleep,” George muttered. Mitchell and Annie stood. Mitchell laid on the cushions on the floor, Annie sat with her knees pulled up to her chest on the cushionless couch. George turned out the lamp. The curtain didn't block all light. Annie could see Mitchell on the floor, laying on his back, eyes closed. She alternated between staring at the ceiling and glancing at his face. After an hour, Mitchell’s eyes snapped open. Soundlessly, he stood, then quietly made his way to the front door.
Annie looked down, surprised to see Mitchell gone. She had been so lost in thought she hadn't even noticed he left. She could make out his shadow against the curtains, outside the window.
Annie stood, pausing for a moment. Then, she rentaghosted outside.
Mitchel shivered against the cold, breath forming clouds as he exhaled into his cupped hands. Annie stood behind him a moment, staring at his hunched shoulders. Then, she slid her arm under his.
“How long have you been out here?” She asked quietly. Mitchell shrugged, staring at the ground. Annie's chest tore. He killed all those people... and more that she didn't even know about... but when she looked at him, the way he was right now, broken, no, shattered.. she threw her arms around his neck. Mitchel blinked in surprise as he staggered to keep his footing. He grabbed her around the waist to keep them both from falling.
“Annie!” Mitchell gasped. Annie squeezed hard. She pressed her face into his jacket. It smelled like cigarette smoke and the cologne he threw on every once and awhile.
“You're… warm.” He said. Mitchell lifted a hand and gently stroked her hair. Annie stayed there, breathing him in, for a long time. Mitchell was breathless with her arms wrapped around him. He could feel her body against his, warm, strong. He took in a shaky breath and buried his face in her hair. He could feel her and smell her. Sweet, wonderful her. Annie pulled back just enough to look at him. His cheeks were wet with tears, his bloodshot eyes shining. He was smiling.
“How are you doing this? I can feel you, really feel you.” He whispered.
Annie's hands clenched, pulling at his jacket. She shook her head. “I- I don't know.” She brought up a hand to wipe his tear away, but her warm hand against his face just made more fall.
“No stop it, that's not how it's supposed to work,” she smiled as tears pricked her eyes. He pulled her in close and squeezed, afraid it could stop at any moment.
“Mitchell,” she muttered into his neck. He loosened his hold around her, just enough for her to pull her head back. Her lips met his. Mitchel sighed at the warmth. He cupped her face gently with his hands as their lips met slowly, again and again. At first, he was gentle. If he pushed too hard, he was scared the sensation would disappear. But after the first few, Mitchel couldn't contain himself. His kisses became eager, desperate. He could even taste the salt of her tears as their lips met. Annie held him against her, arms wrapped tightly around his back.
Annie broke away. “Oh God, Mitchell, I thought I was going to lose you!” Her voice shook.
“I don't understand why you want me here, I ruined everything. My friendships, us.” Mitchell clung to her.
“Because you’re my best friend!” She shook her head. “I wish you had told us. About the Box Tunnel Twenty, about the wolf-shaped bullet. You were ashamed, afraid of how we would react, but you also didn't want to hurt us. I know it was hard, so hard. But God Mitchell, I could feel you fading . Some days you were there, some days you were more of a ghost than me. But that's not the you I'm holding right now.“
Mitchell broke down. He cried into Annies shoulder as she held him. Annie cried quietly too. She thought she was going to see him die, right in front of her. But no, no. He was right here. She could feel him in her arms.
“Come inside, I know you're tired.” Annie said. Mitchell nodded. He had been tired for so long. He finally felt the weight he put on himself. He felt two times heavier, like he would sink into the darkness of the earth. He and Annie laid on the couch cushions on the floor. Mitchell pulled the blanket over both of them. He laid his head against her chest. He swore he could hear a heartbeat as he sunk into a deep sleep.