Silas masked a nose wrinkle of displeasure behind his usual nonchalant sneer. Humans; why did they all have to reek so terribly? Could they not still smell the animal musk poorly smothered in floral perfumes and harsh aftershaves? Being trapped in a room full of hot, sweating bodies made the vampire’s head spin and his mouth long for a cool drink of water, yet he forced himself to endure the ball with at least a modicum of propriety. He scanned the milling crowd for sight of his contact. The sooner he caught up with the dealer and had the packet safely on his person, the sooner he could get out of this human meat market and back into the cold, quiet night. It did not take long for Silas’ keen gaze to lock on his quarry across the room and he slid between the crowd with ease, joining the man in a small alcove off the main ballroom. Money changed hands smoothly and Silas slipped away again into the crowd, carefully stowing the precious packet in his waistcoat pocket.

Eyes followed him. Silas felt the familiar crawl on his back like hackles raising, the tingling adrenaline rush when prey catches wind of its stalker. He scanned the milling humans rapidly, hoping it was nothing more than some mortal girl drawn by his looks or mysterious manner, but luck was not with him tonight. A quick glance to the gallery overhead revealed the irascible Detective Rafferty. Their eyes met for a heartbeat, or at least what would have been a heartbeat had Silas’ heart done anything in the last few years but sit like a useless weight in his chest, and then both reacted. Rafferty disappeared into the crowd, no doubt hurrying for the stairs before Silas could meld back into anonymity. Silas had no intention of waiting around to see if the detective just wanted to chat or had something more sinister on his mind. The moment Rafferty moved, Silas spun and darted toward the closest exit. His escape route turned out to be through an elegant but thankfully fragile stained glass window which shattered outward in an explosion of colored glass as he crashed through headfirst. He hit the ground, rolled once, and launched to his feet again in a dead run. He thought his keen ears picked up the sound of someone yelling “stop!” but above the cries of startled guests it was hard to tell.

Silas’ first priority should have been to put as much distance between himself and the detective as possible, then double back the long way to a safe house where he could lay low until the hunt passed on. As he ran, however, the tiny paper packet in his waistcoat tapped against his skin like a firm yet patient reminder of how long he had gone since his last hit. Sheer physical proximity to the precious opiate made his mouth water and his skin, so many years unfeeling and cold, itch with a familiar nagging hunger. Withdrawal pounded like the blood no longer flowing in his veins, made him anxious and clumsy. Just one hit, that was all he needed. Surely he had time. If he only found a safe spot and a light he could breathe in a few delicious lungfuls and be on his way again. Just a few moments. Just a single flame.

But he did not have a flame. As he darted down alleys and up slippery stairwells, Silas cursed himself for such poor preparation. A light. A light. Who would have a light? His mind went immediately to his own kind – druggies, not vampires. At the next alley junction he took an abrupt right, heading toward the crowded slums scattered in the older, dilapidated portion of the city. Despite hearing no sounds of pursuit, Silas never slowed his speed; he knew Rafferty was close on his trail like a dammed bloodhound and would hunt him as relentlessly.

Silas burst into the slum district and pounced on the first likely looking candidate, a strung out student whose glazed eyes suggested he had recently partaken of the sort of illegal substance for which the vampire hungered. “Where is it?” he demanded as he riffled through the user’s clothing. The student, for his part, only blinked dully. “You’ve got to have one somewhere. Come on, come on, come on!” His fingers closed around a small metal box. “Aha!” He retrieved the silver lighter and leaned back, fumbling for the packet in his pocket with trembling, eager hands. If he had had more time Silas would have done this right, folding a small pinch of the crumbled leaves in thin paper and savoring the slow inhale of acrid smoke. Withdrawal made him rush, though, and he held the lighter up to one corner of the packet intending to light it, curb the craving with a quick drag, and stub the fire out again. Licking his lips expectantly, Silas struck at the lighter. Nothing happened. “You bastard!” He struck it again, again, again, but each time he earned nothing more than a pathetic spark. “Dammit, come on, just one fucking flame!”

“I think you’re empty, Silas,” A heavy hand fell on his shoulder in a mock commiserating squeeze. Silas twitched, wincing at the familiar voice, and abandoned his futile effort to summon a flame. “Oh, Detective Rafferty. Were you looking for me?” He tried to force an innocent smile but the vice-like grip on his shoulder twisted it into a grimace of pain. Not for the first time, Silas wondered if perhaps he should finally get clean…

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