Grandpa sat in his chair, wearily sipping his root beer like a wartime medic who had just completed four hours of triage before finally meandering into the officer's club. Sam and the Frogs were still going on about how bad ass they were, and his mom...well, in the back of his mind Michael began to calculate how hard the therapy bill would hit them. There would definitely be consequences.
Star twisted in his grip, sighing as she, too, took in just how little was left. "Do you think this place can be salvaged?" she murmured, smoothing Laddie's hair with one hand while surveying the damage.
"Dunno. I think it's going to have to be...I doubt the insurance company will accept a vampire attack, even if this is the murder capital of the world," he replied. Now that Max had been killed the buzz of the blood that had been in his system was quickly leaving him...he felt substandard, weakened, human. Helpless. But who else was going to take care of things? Grandpa would need help, so would Mom...and there was no way Sam could keep his attention on any one thing for more than ten seconds. No, like it or loathe it he was head of the household. It also was slowly answering the question of him going back to school in the fall; he couldn't when there were bills to pay and a house to rebuild.
But first things first. Michael untangled himself from Star, noticing a definite change that came with the lack of her body heat. Or maybe he just really didn't want to see what was waiting in Grandpa's taxidermy room. Everyone else dissolved away into a rippling of movement hidden in the shadows and fluttering nervous chatter.
David lay impaled, the ends of antlers jutting proudly through his chest, for once making him look vulnerable and completely unlike how he always came off when he was alive. In his death slumber he looked younger than Michael, a mere kid who talked big now that he didn't have his fangs. He shook his head, started to raise a hand to make sure he was dead, but drew back. He didn't want to touch the vampire if he could help it. If he could've helped it he never would've thought on him again.
"Michael?" He jumped slightly, glancing over his shoulder. His mother was watching him from across the room, but it was Star that had come up behind him. Even without her powers she could creep up on him silently. He watched her face tense when she looked down at her former blood brother, though he had no idea if the slightly ill look on her face was because of relief, basic disgust, or because of other emotional ties.
"We have to get rid of them," he said firmly. He didn't see her shake her head but could feel the movement of her hair against his arm. "Star...they could come back otherwise."
"He's right. You've gotta burn the bodies and scatter the ashes," Edgar supplied as he and his brother approached the scene. "We could do it for you, it wouldn't cost you much and we could keep it under the radar-"
"No!" Star hissed, tensing as Michael slid a protective arm around her. He hated to see her upset, but these were the things she had wanted freedom from...it was necessary. "They don't deserve that. None of them do," she added, though her face was cast down, nearly hidden by the dark tendrils of her hair. But he knew her eyes were directed at David's placid face.
"Well it's not like we can bury them!" Sam argued, slowly winding back up from his seemingly endless supply of paranoia. "One, it'd be noticed if we took four mutilated corpses to the morgue. Two, if we don't burn them they could come back after us...just read the comics, Michael! You have to burn the bodies, scatter the ashes, and fill the insides with silver to prevent re-animation! It's right there in 'Vampires Everywhere!'" He was nearly squealing by this point, adding to the surreal quality of the whole evening. Edgar and Allen nodded in simultaneous agreement, causing the throbbing in Michael's skull to increase in tempo.
"They deserve a proper burial...they were my family in a way," Star reasoned, though it was a quiet, dark sort of reasoning. All the while she kept her face hidden, as if the worst thing she could do was to show him the look in her eyes. He fought the unease, the pulse of envy that began to pump through him every time he cast a look towards the smooth, seemingly innocent face of the vampire gang leader.
Sam was right by him, tugging at his shoulder franticly. "You can't be serious! You can't bury them in the backyard, Michael! I'm not going to wake up one night and have a bloodsucker breathing down my neck because they healed! What if Nanook digs 'em up, huh? What if he becomes some sort of vampire dog because he chews on one of their legs?"
Star did look up then, her eyes lethal as she glared at Sammy. "Shut up! You didn't know them the way I did, you can't just..." She pursed her lips and looked up towards Michael, her eyes impossibly large and deep. "You didn't know them the way I did. I know it had to be done but...I don't want to forget them."
"We're not asking you to forget them, but it isn't really safe to give them an opportunity to come back," he reasoned, sighing when she turned away coldly. What the hell had she wanted? She had wanted out, wanted her freedom...he thought she had wanted him, but maybe he was just convenient at the time.
"I know," she murmured. "They were your family too, Michael. I thought you'd understand. Can you really find it easy to chop them into little pieces or put a match to them?" Michael started to answer but paused. There had been good times. He'd miss the banter between him and Paul, miss the crazy stunts that they always talked him into taking part of. He'd miss wondering what the hell Marko was hiding, why he was always grinning about nothing, and Dwayne had been a great guy and an awesome skateboarder. He'd miss the evenings out, miss having a second home at the cave, miss feeling like he was part of something invincible.
And then he looked back down to David. "No, I couldn't do that to them," he sighed. /Not all of them, anyway./
"Maybe we can pay someone to come and get them..bury them far away, anonymously," his mom reasoned, though she stayed well enough away from the corpse.
"You know we don't have that kind of money, Mom," Michael sighed. "It'd be cheapest and easiest to just get rid of them." Sam was nodding his agreement, and the Frog Brothers looked on with approval.
Star shuddered and took another step away. "I don't want to lose them," she whispered, her shoulders hitching though no tears hit her cheeks.
/And I don't want to lose you/ Michael thought, shaking his head.
"Seems to me there's one possibility you're all overlooking." Michael jumped at the sound of Grandpa's voice; he was amazed the old geezer hadn't fallen asleep. Though he was a keen old man, his grandfather. "All you really need is to drain the blood from their system...no fluids, no way to heal or regenerate. And as for cheap..." He trailed off and for a moment Michael didn't get what his grandfather was talking about. And then he followed his gaze towards David. No, not to David...but to the room he had fallen into.
"Well? What d'ya think? Was a hell of a job and I've never tried this type of thing before...but if I didn't know better I'd peg him for a sculpture." He gave a hard look to all assembled in the room to let them know that that would be their alibi if i came down to it. Like they'd ever be able to tell their dirty little secret. It had taken a good few months to prepare the body, but true to his word Grandpa had pulled it off. The rebuilding was going to take a little more time, but Michael supposed that insurance against any future attacks was a better investment than one more hand helping to put up new walls.
"Wow, Dad...the likeness is amazing," his mom managed, though her unease was clear on her face. "Where are we going to keep him again?"
"Garden shed, I suppose. Not really a good idea to keep him in the house. Bad karma and all that." She relaxed but Michael was still busy circling the newest addition to his grandfather's trophy collection.
"We could keep him at the store...it'd be great publicity and a great big fuck you to shop lifters," Allen offered, though he quickly shut up at the hard look Star shot him.
"Really creepy, Grandpa. He looks so real," Sam breathed, shaking his head as he reached out a hand towards David's coat. If he had been alive the vampire would have snapped the teen's arm in two, though now he could hardly put up an argument. Michael shook his head, amazed that the old man had been able to pull it off. Star had finally agreed to a communal bonfire for Paul and Dwayne...there simply hadn't been enough left for Grandpa to work with. And when they had gone back to retrieve Marko they had found nothing. No trace of the body, not even a skeleton picked apart by predators. It unnerved them all, even his stoic Grandfather. That had been when they had noticed the other tunnels. The ones that went deeper, winding all over Santa Carla. Star had seemed content enough that the body had disappeared, but couldn't say what had taken it. Michael found that staring down into the network that seemed to extend all the way to hell and back...he really didn't want to know. Not even the Frog brothers had been willing to go spelunking in that area of the cave and he didn't blame them one bit.
So David had been the only one they had really had to do something with. It was a hell of a joke on Michael. He probably could have stood it if it was any of the others. There was also the fact that Star was willing to let them go with only a few tears and arguments...but not him. So now he was stuck with a stuffed vampire in his living room, staring down at him with glass blue eyes that were a remarkable match for the real ones. Hell, maybe they were real...he didn't want to know just what his grandfather had done to his former friend. It was too surreal to see the blond posed coolly by the stairs. He wasn't even in his vampire face, Star had insisted that he have a nice expression. "I don't like the face..it isn't how I remember him," he added, giving it a hard look.
"It's how I remember him," Star whispered, and her tone made that slightly ill feeling return and infiltrate not only his stomach but all of his muscles, as well. He watched numbly as she stepped up and ran her hand down David's chest, a soft smile on those lips that usually smiled only for him. "It's amazing...you can't even feel where the antlers went through."
Michael cast a hard look to the old man, but he just shrugged and headed towards the kitchen. Sam had overcome his initial fear and was poking idly at the vampire's chest and shivering, making the obligatory remarks about how creepy it was while Lucy insisted that it be put somewhere out of the way as soon as possible. The Frog brothers had produced a camera from somewhere and were having fun posing next to the stuffed vampire, settling for pictures if they couldn't have a trophy. Star looked on, ignoring the irritating behavior of the teenagers, seemingly mesmerized by the new focal point of the room. Michael found he couldn't look the thing in the eye...it looked too real, too sentient, too...David.
He headed towards the kitchen, watching with only little interest as his grandfather raided the fridge. "You did a great job, Grandpa. What'd you get for the eyes? I didn't think they made them that large."
The old man shrugged. "He was really well preserved...no real deterioration through the process, so I just kept them. Same with the hair and everything else. The real work was removing the antlers and anything that might bring him back to life. So far so good; nothing's rotting or anything. Maybe it's different for vampires."
Michael shuddered. "I hate having him around. It's going to be like a constant shadow, you realize that."
Grandpa nodded as he pulled out a bottle from the second shelf. "I tell you, Michael, I don't much like it, either. But your Star wanted it so badly...the things we do for women, eh?" The teen nodded. He was beginning to wonder if David's real legacy wasn't his vampire clan but the spell of devotion that was woven into his little family that was seemingly unbreakable. "'Sides, it was a learning experience. Good to know in case we ever come up against any more."
"Let's hope not. Once is more than enough." He smiled slightly as he watched the old man suck the residue from his last swig of the fringe of his mustache. "Do us a favor and go first, eh Grandpa? I don't want to know how I'm laid out at my own funeral, otherwise," he kidded.
The old man chuckled but his eyes glittered with a vigor that hadn't been there a few moments before. In truth, ever since he had begun the new project he had had more pep. "I think I'm gonna be sticking around for a long time, Michael. But I wouldn't be too worried, I'm sure you'll have a longer lifespan than me. Folks are living longer these days and all that." Michael frowned and watched him take another draw from the glass bottle.
"Grandpa...you did get rid of all the internal organs and fluids and stuff, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, took care of that," the old man replied, waving a hand dismissively.
Michael walked up to the fridge, watching the weird coloring the bottle cast in the light filtering in from the window, even as he bent to get a better look at the second shelf. "Grandpa-" The door was abruptly shut, narrowly missing his nose.
"Gotta lot of work to do. Gonna work on the bathroom today. Come up when you're ready, I could use the help," he replied gruffly, quickly exiting the room.
"Great. Just what I need in my life: an undead taxidermist," he muttered, taking another look at the closed refrigerator door. He'd talk to his grandpa later. Looking at the fridge gave him a similar feeling to not finding Marko's body; he just didn't want to know.
"Star?" he called, immediately backing away from the fridge and exiting the kitchen. He frowned upon hearing her lilting voice, but not directed at him. It was more like she was already engaged in a conversation.
"I know you probably don't approve, but he's a nice guy...a really nice guy. And it's not like you ever asked me out, anyway. You always were too involved with the group...having fun and taking care of loose ends. At least he's focused on me...well, now I guess you have to be, too. It's kind of odd in a way. It isn't the ending I would've chosen, but at least you can keep an eye on him for me, how's that?"
His footsteps increased through her dialogue and he quickly entered the main room, frowning when she turned quickly towards him, a smile on her face. "Michael, there you are! Your mom wants to go out for lunch."
"Who were you talking to, Star?" he demanded, giving the room a quick once-over.
She frowned. "I wasn't talking to anyone. He nodded, tried to take in her face, but he couldn't stop looking at the inanimate face that was staring over her shoulder.
"I thought he was going in the shed."
She looked over at the stuffed vampire quickly and shrugged. "Turns out there's too much stuff in it already, so he's going to have to stay here until your mom finds room for him somewhere else," she replied quickly heading outside, tossing him a wink over her shoulder. At least he thought the wink was directed to him.
He turned and looked at David's unmoving face, expecting him to come to life at any moment and gut him. He hoped it was just a trick of the light, but the damn thing almost seemed to be smirking at him. "Great. Just great," he muttered, slowly backing towards the front door, distantly wondering if Sammy had any space left in his closet.