Soulbound ‡ pact

by Wes Leigh

Chapter 7

"If love be rough with you, be rough with love."

-- Mercutio, from Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare


Xavier moved confidently to the middle of the stage, took a deep breath, and began reading the lines from the script. "If love be rough with you, be rough with love; prick love for pricking, and you beat love down."

The anger in his voice was real, for he was thinking about all the times love had betrayed him, and even now seemed to be drawing him to a boy he could never love: Connor, standing on the field in his football uniform, looking up with a friendly smile. No. It could never work.

Xavier's voice growled as he spoke the next line. "Give me a mask to put over my face. A mask to cover that mask I call my face. What do I care if someone sees my flaws? Let this mask, with its dark eyebrows, blush for me." The last line he delivered with a snarl.

The director looked up from his notes, surprised. "Well … I've never heard Mercutio's analysis of love delivered with such … anger. What are you using as your motivation?"

Xavier dropped his gaze to his feet and softly answered, "Love hurts more than it helps."

The director raised his eyebrows, nodded, and jotted a note. "Your name?"

"Xavier Finton-Smyth."



"Can you get your parents' permission to perform?"

Xavier chuckled. "Yes."

"Very good. Thank you, Xavier. Next."

Sebastian and Regina moved to the center of the stage. "I'm Sebastian Trilaney."

"And I'm Regina Fabbri. We'd like to audition together."

The director waved his hands for them to proceed.

Sebastian moved to the left side of the stage, knelt down and bowed his head.

Regina moved to the right and stared sadly at the back of the auditorium, before speaking. "O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet."

Xavier, watching from the wings, stifled a laugh. Regina was overdoing it, and it was actually amusing to watch her dramatically clutching her hands to her chest as she delivered the lines.

Sebastian lifted his head and glanced longingly at Regina. In a stage whisper, he asked, "Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?"

Xavier was somewhat surprised and impressed. Sebastian had delivered his line with skill and subtlety.

Regina sighed histrionically and said, " 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man."

Xavier glanced at the director who was rubbing his forehead as if he had a headache.

Regina, oblivious, continued delivering her lines. "O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; so Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee … take all myself." Regina threw her arms wide, offering her body to her hidden lover.

Sebastian rose to his feet and walked a step closer to Regina. "I take thee at thy word," he said, his voice firm and clear. "Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized; henceforth I never will be Romeo."

Regina turned, startled and asked, "What man art thou that thus bescreen'd in night so stumblest on my counsel?"

Sebastian moved another step and lifted one hand toward Regina. "By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am. My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, because it is an enemy to thee; had I it written, I would tear the word."

The director waved his hands above his head to get their attention. "Very good. Thank you. I think I've heard enough." He paused and thought for a moment. The two were the right age to play the roles, and the young man had skill, but the girl would require significant coaching. He sighed, thinking to himself, 'You moved here of your own will and accord to take this job.' He smirked and thought, 'Yes, I did. Don't remind me.' Then he smiled. 'Must quit talking to myself … or at least stop arguing with myself.'

Glancing up at the young people still on the stage, he asked, "Are the two of you auditioning for the lead roles?"

Sebastian nodded. Regina enthusiastically replied, "Yes, sir. I've wanted to play Juliet for years."

The director tried not to roll his eyes. She couldn't be older than fifteen. She wanted to play Juliet for years? Two or three, perhaps? He checked his notes. "Xavier Finton-Smyth. Are you still here?"

Xavier moved back onto the stage. "Yes, sir."

"What roles are you interested in?"

"Anything, sir."

"You chose to audition as Mercutio. Would you like that part? It's not a long one."

"That would be fine, sir," Xavier replied.

The director stood up and motioned all the auditioning students to come onto the stage. They were mostly high school students, which wasn't surprising, considering the size of the town. He would have liked to have a few more adults in the production, but he could work with this. Smiling at the young adults, he said, "I'm pleased and excited to find such eager actors and actresses here in Agony, North Dakota. When I applied for the job, I wasn't sure what I'd find, but there is some excellent raw talent here, and I'm eager to begin working with you." He walked up next to the stage and continued, "My name is Wolfgang Klaus, but I prefer to be called Wolfie."

The students laughed hearing this.

"Yes, I know," Wolfie said. "I was teased in school quite often about my name. My family was originally from Germany and thought it would be great fun to give their boy a strong, German appellation. I learned to make fun of myself before anyone else could start. Now … about myself … I studied theater arts in college, I have a master's degree in performing arts, and I've directed dozens of performances from classical to modern. I am not getting paid very much to operate your community theater, so your salaries will be equally modest."

Everyone laughed. Wolfie smiled and said, "And there's bad news, I'm afraid. I suppose because of the size of the town, we haven't had a significant turnout for auditions." He gestured at the dozen students standing on the stage. "I don't want to disparage your efforts. I am very gratified that you all turned out today, and you will all have roles. Some of you may be asked to play several roles. And all of you will be needed for behind stage jobs such as building sets and designing costumes. I hope your skills are not limited solely to acting."

More laughter.

"Well, let's get started shall we. Sebastian, you will be playing Romeo. Regina … Juliet. Xavier, I'll have you play Mercutio, but since you die early on, you'll also be playing the apothecary and a town guard from time to time."

Xavier sighed with relief. As good as Sebastian was, Xavier knew which of them was the better actor. But Xavier was fine with a smaller role, particularly since it would mean he wouldn't be required to kiss Regina.

Connor arrived in History just as the bell rang. He slid into his chair next to Xavier and dropped his backpack on the floor next to the desk. Bending over and rummaging through it, he pulled out his textbook and a notebook. Dropping both on the desk, he opened the textbook and began reading without saying a word to Xavier.

Xavier frowned. Something was wrong. "Hey," he whispered.

Connor bit his lip and nodded.

Xavier, feeling uncomfortable, opened his own textbook and began reading silently. After a minute, he turned to Connor and said, "I think I found an interesting way to do our presentation, so it will be clear we both did the research."

Connor swallowed hard and said, "Fine."

Yes, something was definitely wrong. Xavier decided to press on. "We can write up our report like the script of a play. We'll each have lines to deliver."

Connor sighed. "Yeah. Sure."

Xavier studied Connor carefully. "Are you mad about something?"

Connor gritted his teeth and asked, "Why should I be mad?"

"I don't know. But you look like you're upset."

Connor snorted. "Maybe I just don't like being assigned to work on a project with someone like you."

Surprised by Connor's response, Xavier didn't reply. Embarrassed into silence, Xavier turned back to his book and began reading again.

Connor leaned forward so he wouldn't have to look at Xavier and buried his nose in the textbook.

For several minutes, neither said a word.

Finally, Xavier whispered, "Working with me wasn't a problem last week. Why is it a problem now?"

Connor turned to look at Xavier and whispered back, "Maybe I'm smarter this week. Maybe I see you for what you are."

Angry now, Xavier snapped, "Maybe you took one too many blows to the skull during the game."

Connor's eyes narrowed. "Sure. That's it," he hissed. "The big, dumb jock is brain damaged. Got it." He closed his textbook and stood up. "Mrs. McDuffey, can I run to the restroom for a minute?"

Mrs. McDuffey looked at Connor through the top of her bifocals. "Class just started, Connor. You couldn't take care of this before class?"

"I don't feel so great, ma'am," Connor replied.

She waved a hand dismissively, so Connor stomped out of the room, shutting the door harder than he intended.

Xavier bit his lip. What the hell was wrong with Connor? He'd seemed so friendly after the game Friday. Something must have happened over the weekend to change his mind. But what?

The remainder of the week was torture. Neither boy spoke during History class. Each worked on his part of the assignment, refusing to look at the other boy for fear of starting an argument.

Sitting a few seats away, Regina noticed and smirked, imagining World War III beginning soon.

Wolfie had everyone sit in a large circle on the stage floor. "Many people have attempted to copy Romeo and Juliet. Some disastrously. Only the Bard managed to capture perfectly the raw emotion of young love denied."

"The Bard?" Gregor asked. "Who's the Bard?"

"Shakespeare, you neanderthal," Regina replied with a sneer.

All the actors laughed.

Wolfie gestured for everyone to settle down. "Shakespeare's genius was in throwing the audience for one loop after another. He began with two noble families, the Capulets and the Montagues. The audience would have known that it was common to have arranged marriages between these families, and with two teens of the appropriate age—" He pointed to Regina and Sebastian, causing a few snickers. "—one would assume that an engagement between Romeo and Juliet would be welcomed. Not so in fair Verona, for these two families were bitter enemies. Shakespeare doesn't go into the historical reason for the feud, but he makes it clear that they hated one another with a burning passion. And then he throws in the first delicious plot twist: Romeo and Juliet experience love at first sight!"

Almost everyone chuckled hearing that, but Xavier was staring at his feet, frowning. Nothing changes in this world. It's always the same. Feuding families fuck up your life. Whether it's Montagues fighting Capulets or vampires fighting werewolves, no one can ever be themselves. We're doomed to hate for eternity. Nothing ever fucking changes. That was probably why Connor was being such a jerk. His family probably took him aside and explained the impossibility of a werewolf being friends with a vampire. Yeah, they probably lectured him and demanded that he treat all vampires as sworn enemies. That was the only possibility, the only explanation Xavier could imagine.

Wolfie lifted the script and shook it gently. "You won't have to work very hard to show the love between Romeo and Juliet. The words will do it for you. We don't need to overpower the audience, because the words will make it abundantly clear how deeply in love they are. Similarly, we needn't be overly hateful when the Montagues address the Capulets. In fact, I want you to be subtle. Speak as though you are the best of friends while acidic epithets drip from your tongue!"

Xavier snorted. How very appropriate. His tongue brushed the roof of his mouth where the vampiric glands held the venom used by vampires to create new undead like themselves. One bite and acid dripped from red-tipped fangs into the victim's bloodstream. Boom. Instant vampire. Acid epithets dripping, dripping, dripping.

Wolfie smiled as he spoke. "Let your hatred for one another be covered by the mask of civility. But like a wolf in sheep's clothing, let the truth be slyly visible over time."

Xavier considered how Connor had talked to him in class that afternoon, snapping and snarling like the wolf he was, and Xavier realized that vampires weren't the only ones with sharp fangs and venomous words. Vampires also weren't the only ones pretending to be something they weren't. Connor was acting too. Acting like a high school student, an athlete, a regular guy. But he wasn't any of those things, no. He was a werewolf.

It was so damned unfair. Xavier had actually felt drawn to Connor. And he knew Connor felt the same. That much was obvious. But now? Now there was nothing but anger and hate between them, without a single reason why. It was bloody unfair.

Well, Xavier was tired of it. Whether it worked out for good or bad, he was going to get some answers.

He knew he shouldn't be attracted to Connor, but he couldn't help himself. Like Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time, his mind and his heart were in conflict. His mind kept saying this will never work. His heart urged him to find out why Connor was mad at him, resolve it, and then fall hopelessly in love with the muscular werewolf.

Time to prick love back for pricking him, Xavier decided.

Connor slammed his locker shut and was startled to see Xavier standing next to him, studying him.

Connor hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder. "What do you want?"

"To talk," Xavier replied.

Frowning, Connor said, "We don't have anything to talk about."

"That's the problem," Xavier said. "We aren't talking. We aren't discussing our History project. We have one week to finish the research and another week to prepare the report, and we haven't spoken a civil word to each other for three days."

Connor took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "I don't wanna work with you anymore. I wanna switch with someone."

"We can't switch. You heard McDuffey. No changes. No arguments. So maybe you should tell me why the hell you won't talk with me so we can fix whatever it is that's eating you."

Connor nodded his head slowly, looking down and to one side as he considered his words. He seemed to reach a decision and looked up at Xavier. "You wanna talk? You wanna know what's eatin' on me? Fine. Let's talk."

Connor grabbed Xavier by the arm and tugged him toward the end of the hallway and the exit to the building.

Xavier was surprised by how strong Connor was. His grip on Xavier's arm was tight and firm, making it impossible for Xavier to resist. Of course, Xavier knew he could break free easily. He was a vampire, after all, with a vampire's agility and unnatural strength, but this wasn't the time or place to show that, so he went willingly with Connor.

They exited the building and found a secluded spot behind a wall.

"You wanted to talk, so we're gonna talk," Connor said, turning Xavier to face him.

"Good. Finally." Xavier's face was flushed. Maybe now he'd get some answers.

Connor gritted his teeth and hissed, "I don't wanna work with someone who sucks the life out of others and enjoys it."

Shaking his head in confusion, Xavier replied, "What do you mean?"

Connor huffed. "You're gonna stand there and tell me you have no idea what I'm talkin' about?"

Xavier nodded his head. "Yes. I honestly do not understand what you meant by all that."

"You're a vampire?"

"Of course, I am. You knew that weeks ago."

"And vampires are blood-sucking monsters, right?" Connor hadn't intended that question to sound so hateful, but his adrenaline was flowing now, preparing him to fight.

Xavier backed away a step, then nodded. "Yeah. Some are," he admitted. "But modern vampires have found other ways to eat without killing their victims."

Connor laughed bitterly. "Oh, yeah, I know all about that. You put them in a trance, suck their cocks, and eat their emotions as they cum. Right?"

Xavier was stunned. How had Connor seen that? His eyes narrowed as he studied Connor. "You were there?" he asked. "You were at the party Saturday and you saw us?"

Connor nodded.

Xavier shook his head and looked down at his feet. "You saw me sucking Brian's cock?"

"Yep." Connor's reply was short and chopped off.

With a frustrated sigh, Xavier looked up at Connor. "I don't enjoy doing that, you know."

"Sucking cock? Or sucking emotions?" Connor's voice was sharp and brittle.

Frowning, Xavier replied, "You're mad because I sucked Brian's dick?"

Connor snorted. "No! Of course not. Caleb sucks my dick every day, and I suck his too. That's not the problem."

"Then what is?"

Connor laughed bitterly. "You really don't get it? You don't see a problem with manipulating people and stealing their feelings, their emotions?"

"Of course, I do!" Xavier snapped. "I told you I don't enjoy it."

"Then why do you do it?" Connor demanded.

Xavier sighed. "I don't have any choice."

"There's always a choice. You do it because you want to do it."

Xavier turned angrily and started to walk away, then turned back to stare at Connor's red and angry visage. "You don't know me, Connor Finnigan. You know nothing about me. You don't know where I've come from or what I've gone through. And you sure as FUCK don't know why I do what I have to do."

Xavier left Connor standing there, his mouth hanging open in surprise.

"How appropriate," Xavier muttered as he walked away. "Once again, love has been rough with me. And I'm the one who gets beaten down. Fuck love. Fuck William Shakespeare. And fuck Connor Finnigan!"

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