Cross Your Heart @caldroid
Chapter 4

“So, what’s your metabolism like?”

“My metabolism,” Wanderer deadpanned.

Luca lightly tapped his pen against the side of his journal. “Well, in other words, how is your body creating and processing energy based on your diet? I can’t imagine you need to worry about getting nutrients like humans would, but you have to be getting energy from somewhere. Is your digestive track considerably different from mine? I have to wonder, since there’s no way to actually check. Oh, not that I would do that to you, of course!”

Luca lightly tapped his pen against the side of his journal. “Well, in other words, how is your body creating and processing energy based on your diet? I can’t imagine you need to worry about getting nutrients like humans would, but you have to be getting energy from somewhere. Is your digestive track considerably different from mine? I have to wonder, since there’s no way to actually check. Oh, not that I would do that to you, of course!”

Luca’s words rushed out one after another, and it took most of Wanderer’s concentration just for him to follow the inventor’s train of thought. Although he wasn’t entirely sure what he was getting at with all of that, Wanderer figured he more or less got the gist of it. “Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not all that familiar on the ins and outs of my biology. Not like I have any way of figuring it out myself, anyway.”

“That’s unfortunate, but I can understand,” Luca replied as he jotted down a quick note to himself. The notebook in his lap was illuminated by the lantern that sat in the grass next to him, which worked as a decent enough light source against the cover of night. “What’s your sleep cycle like? I thought that vampires were nocturnal, but that’s only under the assumption that you need sleep. Can you sleep?”

“I can, but I don’t really need to.”

Luca hummed and scribbled down something else. “I’ve never heard of an organism that doesn’t need sleep. Do you get any kind of rest at all? Actually, can you hold out your arm for a moment?”

Wanderer sat cross-legged on the ground across from Luca, and he shifted slightly closer while he hesitantly extended his arm out. “Uh. Like this?”

Luca, in turn, reached his free hand out and grabbed onto Wanderer’s wrist. He squeezed it lightly at first, but then tightened his grip while he focused in on something. He loosened his hold on the other man’s wrist after a few seconds had passed, but didn’t let go of it entirely. “Your pulse is really slow. Does it ever speed up after physical activity, or would you say this is about as fast as it goes?”

“Dunno. Yes? Maybe? Possibly. I guess.” Wanderer stared intently as Luca continued writing, and craned his neck over to see. “D’you seriously need to write this all down? If anyone read all that, they’d think you were insane.”

“These are just my personal notes, so no one else lays their eyes on them aside from me.” Luca released Wanderer’s arm and brushed away some hair that had fallen into his line of sight in the midst of writing. “Writing everything down helps me remember, too. Not that I’m likely to forget any of this, but it’s always good to have insurance, right?”

“I understand, but I feel like these questions are just a bit….” Wanderer wasn’t sure how to finish that sentence, and so he looked at Luca in hopes that he might understand what he was getting at. “When you said you had questions, this isn’t really what i was expecting.”

Luca cocked his head to the side, confused. “What were you expecting?”

“You know, if I can turn into a bat, whether or not I eat the hearts of young maidens… those kinds of things.”

“Well, do you?”

“Only on days that I feel like it.”

Luca responded with cautious amusement, “That was a joke, right?”

“Yes, it was a joke.” Wanderer rolled his eyes. “Those were just examples, anyway.”

“Well, if I’m being honest, there are just too many uncorroborated myths about vampires going around for me to possibly be able to discern which of them have any merit to them. If any.” Luca softly tapped his pen against the side of his journal, quickly falling into a rhythm. “We could be here until sunrise if I asked you about every single legend that came to mind. I’d much prefer to ask questions that have actual answers.”

“Fair enough,” he replied. “You seem to be handling this whole thing pretty well.”

“How do people normally react to it?”

“Well, historically, with angry mobs coming to kill us.”

Luca paused for a beat. “Oh, um, sorry. That was a bit insensitive of me.”

Wanderer waved it off, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I was there.”

“Then your injuries from last night weren’t from humans?” He wondered aloud. “Was it a bear? I didn’t believe we have any of those in the area, but—“

“Not a bear,” Wanderer interrupted. “Don’t pry into it. It’s better if you don’t know.”

“I— I see. I’ll move onto something else, then.” Luca scanned his notes for a moment before he found where he last left off. “Do you have any allergies?”

“Nope.”

“How are your reflexes?”

“Pretty good. Better than the average human, I’d think.”

“Any sensitivity towards sunlight?” Luca brought his pen up closer towards his face, but did his best to refrain from chewing on it in front of him. He had to keep a professional appearance, after all.

“I might get a pretty bad sunburn if I stand under it for too long, but I won’t burst into flames or anything,” he replied. “I’m not weak to crosses or holy water, either. Pretty sure the church made up most of those things.”

Luca perked up at that comment, and the gears in his head began to spin. “The church knows about you?”

“More or less. That’s an entirely different story though, so you don’t really need to concern yourself with it.” Wanderer offered a small, almost teasing smile. “Unless you’re planning on becoming a priest, that is.”

“Goodness, no! I have nothing against the profession, of course, but I consider myself more of a man of science than a man of God.”

“So I’ve noticed. Just how many more questions do you have, exactly?” Wanderer took another peek at the journal, looking a bit perplexed at the walls of text that Luca had written down in such a short amount of time.

“Not much more, I promise! Am I keeping you from something?”

“No, but should you really be staying up this late? You look exhausted.”

“Huh? I always look like this.”

“That’s even worse.”

Luca brushed his hair out of his face yet again, suddenly becoming much more self-conscious of how disheveled he must have looked. “I truly do appreciate the concern, but I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep even if I were to go back now.”

Wanderer rested his head against his hand as  he continued to stare at Luca. “Okay, then let’s go with this. Ask me one more question, about whatever you want, but then you have to head back home and get some rest.”

“Just one more-?!” Luca frantically flipped through his notes, scanning through the questions he had yet to ask. “That’s hardly any fair!”

“You can take it or leave it.”

“Fine, just— give me a moment.” The more he looked through his journal, the more lost he became. It was impossible to fit all of the gaps in his information into one, simple question. There was one particular question that he wanted to ask above all else, but it wasn’t something he exactly needed to know, was it? He looked up from his notes and towards Wanderer, who had been patiently watching him. It wasn’t the same cold, impatient gaze that his mentor had given him so many times before. Time, Luca knew, was a precious resource. Wanderer must have known as well, but he didn’t show any sign of irritation at how Luca was clearly wasting it. It wasn’t something that he was used to experiencing, and that only served to further his panicked state.

Luca wasn’t quite sure how much time had passed. Although it certainly could have only been a handful of seconds, it felt like several minutes had gone by since he’d last said anything. Suddenly, he blurted out, “Why have you been telling me all of this?”

“You’re the one who’s been asking me all this stuff.” Wanderer’s brows furrowed together in visible confusion.

“Right, but it’s not as though you had any real obligation to answer my questions.” He bit his lower lip. “Is it truly out of a sense of guilt? Even if that were the case, is it really okay to be answering my questions as truthfully as you have?”

“Hey, it’s not like I’ve been able to answer all of them. And what I have, well… it isn’t like you’re going to go around telling the papers about vampiric blood pressure, right?”

“But you yourself said earlier that you weren’t expecting questions like the one’s I’d been asking,” he retorted. “So why risk coming at all?”

A moment of silence passed between the two, and Wanderer simply shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not really used to meeting humans who don’t run away at the sight of me. Guess I was just, I dunno… curious? About how you’d react to me if I really did show up.”

“And that’s your only reason?”

“Do I need another? I wanted to talk to you, so I did. That feels like reason enough.”

“That’s understandable, I suppose.”

Wanderer hummed thoughtfully. The brim of his hat yet again cast a shadow over his face, which obscured his face even with the light of the lantern dimly lighting up the space they both occupied. While being unable to fully see his face troubled Luca a bit, at the same time he felt relieved that he wouldn’t have to decipher his expressions. Wanderer spoke, “Well, I guess that’s not the only reason.”

“Then what else is it?” Luca asked as curiosity tinged the edge of his voice.

“You kind of remind me of myself when I was younger. Probably a lot more naive, but still kind of similar.” He finished, “If that makes sense.”

“Younger... Wait, how old are you?”

“When I say ‘younger’, it was probably only a little over a decade ago. I’m only 26.”

“Physically or chronologically?”

“Uh. both?” 

“You’re not that much older than me, then,” Luca said as he barely concealed the shock in his voice.

“What, did the white hair throw you off?” Wanderer laughed softly, his smile highlighted by the warm glow of the lantern. Luca’s gaze was transfixed on his features, and quietly studied them. He found it hard, but not impossible, to make out the shape of the other man’s canines. They were abnormally sharp, but he couldn’t give an estimate on by how much. Wanderer was no longer laughing and his mouth was frozen in a stiff, awkward smile. “Hey, something wrong with my face?”

It registered a moment too late that Luca had actually been moving closer to Wanderer the more he focused on the man, and his face was a mere few inches from his own. A wave of embarrassment rushed over him and he jolted back into his original position. “I’m so dreadfully sorry, I didn’t realize I was so close. I was just trying to get a better look at your, well…” he trailed off, unable to bring himself to finish the sentence.

“My face?” Wanderer repeated as he gave a curious look.

“No. Well, yes. That’s partially correct.” He moved his gaze up towards Wanderer’s eyes, which he only now realized gave off a faint red light of their own. No, that couldn’t be right. His eyes must be playing tricks on him, he thought.

“As much as I’d like to stay and continue the conversation, it’s about time for us to wrap this up. Here.” The vampire brought himself into a standing position, extending a hand towards Luca in case he needed help in doing the same. Luca tucked his journal into his pocket as he accepted the gesture, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. “You should be safe to head back by yourself, but I can still walk with you part of the way.”

“Thank you, I would really appreciate that.” Luca bent down and retrieved his lantern, not wanting to make the walk back in total darkness. Or get yelled at for misplacing his mentor’s property. “Do you really have to leave tonight, though? There’s still—“

Wanderer interrupted, “Still things you want to ask me, yeah? Sorry, but I already told you that you were only getting one more question.” He began to walk at a brisk pace, which in turn caused Luca to scramble in order to keep up with him.

“Will you at least return here someday? It doesn’t have to be anytime soon, but I don’t want this to be our final meeting.” The two of them could hardly be called close acquaintances, let alone friends, but Luca was still hesitant to let go of the first genuine connection he’d made with another person in quite some time. Although he’d met many other pleasant acquaintances through his work and his mentor, their interactions were purely professional. Rarely did he ever have a chance for a candid conversation such as right then. 

“Someday, huh?” Wanderer craned his neck towards the sky, in what Luca could only assume was an attempt to appear thoughtful. “I dunno. I kind of wander around a lot, y’know? It comes with the title.”

“I’ll become a renowned inventor soon enough, and then I’ll make sure word of me spreads so far that you’ll have no choice but to come see me again.” He spoke with a playful tone, but the look in his eyes made it clear that he was entirely serious.

“That so? That’s a pretty bold claim,” Wanderer coolly replied as the ghost of a smirk made its way onto his face.

“I’m the kind of man who intends to keep his promises.”

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