Saving Raphael Santiago Page 2

There were the bodies of teenage boys, the ones who had come in an eager fearless bevy to hunt the predator who was stalking their streets, who had innocently thought good would triumph. And there were other bodies, the older bodies of younger children. The children that Louis Karnstein had seized off Raphael Santiago’s streets, and killed, and kept.

There was no saving these children, Magnus thought. There was nothing in this room but blood and death, and the echo of fear, the loss of all possibility of redemption.

Louis Karnstein was mad, then. It happened sometimes, with age and distance from humanity. Magnus had seen it happen with a fellow warlock thirty years before.

Magnus hoped if he ever went mad like that himself, so mad that he poisoned the very air around him and hurt everyone he came into contact with, that there would be someone who loved him enough to stop him. To kill him, if it came to that.

Arterial spray and bloody handprints decorated the dingy blue walls, and on the floor there were dark pools. There was human and vampire blood: vampire blood a deeper red, a red that stayed red even when it dried, red forever and always. Magnus edged around the spots, but in one pool of human blood he saw something glittering, submerged almost past hope but with a stubborn shine that caught his eye.

Magnus stooped and plucked the shining thing out of that dark pool. It was a cross, small and golden, and he thought that he could return this to Guadalupe at least. He put it in his pocket.

Magnus took a step forward, and then another step. He was not sure the floor would hold him, he told himself, but he knew that was only an excuse. He did not want to step out amid all that death.

But suddenly he knew that he had to.

He had to because at the farthest corner of the room, in the deepest shadows, he heard ugly, greedy sucking sounds. He saw a boy in the arms of a vampire.

Magnus lifted his hand, and the force of his magic flung the vampire through the air into one of the blood-streaked walls. Magnus heard a crack and saw the vampire slump to the ground. He would not stay down long.

Magnus ran across the room, stumbling over the bodies and sliding on the blood, to fall to his knees beside the boy, to gather him into his arms. He was young, fifteen or sixteen, and he was dying.

Magnus could not magic blood into a body, especially not one already shutting down from the lack of it. He cradled the boy’s lolling dark head in one hand, watched his fluttering eyelids, and waited to see if there might be a moment in which the boy could focus. In which Magnus could tell him good-bye.

The boy never looked at him and never spoke. He clutched at Magnus’s hand. Magnus thought he was reaching out by reflex, as a baby might, but Magnus held on and tried to give the boy what comfort he could.

The boy breathed once, twice, three times, and then his grip went slack.

“Did you know his name?” Magnus demanded roughly of the vampire who had killed him. “Was it Raphael?”

He did not know why he asked. He did not want to know that the boy Guadalupe had sent him to find had just died in his arms, that the last member of that gallant, doomed mission to save innocents had almost survived long enough—but not quite. He could not forget the imploring look on Guadalupe Santiago’s face.

He looked over at the vampire, who had not moved to attack. He was sitting down, slumped against the wall where Magnus had thrown him.

“Raphael,” the vampire answered slowly. “You came here looking for Raphael?” He gave a short, sharp, almost incredulous laugh.

“Why is that funny?” Magnus demanded. A dark fury was rising in his chest. It had been a long time since he had killed a vampire, but he was willing to do it again.

“Because I am Raphael Santiago,” said the boy.

Magnus stared at the vampire boy—at Raphael. He had his knees pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped around them. Under his head of loose curls was a delicate heart-shaped face like his mother’s, big dark eyes that would have enchanted women—or men—when he was grown, and a soft, childish mouth stained with blood. Blood masked the lower half of his face, and Magnus could see the white gleam of teeth against Raphael’s lower lip, like diamonds in the darkness. He was the only thing moving in that whole room full of terrible stillness. He was shaking, fine tremors running all along his thin frame, shaking so hard that Magnus could see it, so hard that it looked violent, the teeth-rattling chill of someone so cold, they were about to slip into stillness and death. It was as hot as the mundanes imagined Hell to be in this room full of death, but the boy shook as though he were so cold, he could never be warm again.

Magnus stood up, moved carefully around dust and the dead until he was close to the vampire boy, and then said gently, “Raphael?”

Raphael lifted his face to the sound of Magnus’s voice. He had seen many other vampires with skin as white as salt. Raphael’s skin was still brown, but it did not have the warm tone of his mother’s skin. It was not the flesh of a living boy any longer.

There was no saving Raphael.

His hands were covered in dirt and blood, as though he had crawled out of his grave very recently. His face was streaked with grave dirt too. He had black hair, a soft-looking curly mass of it that his mother must have loved to run her fingers through, that she must have stroked when he had nightmares and called for her, touched with light fingers when he was sleeping in his bed and she did not want to wake him, hair that she might have kept a baby curl of. That hair was full of grave dust.

There were red tear tracks on his face, shining darkly. There was blood on his neck, but Magnus knew the wound had closed over.

“Where’s Louis Karnstein?” Magnus asked.

When Raphael spoke, this time in low, soft Spanish, he said, “The vampire thought I would help him with the others if he turned me into one of his own kind.” He laughed suddenly, a bright, mad sound. “But I did not,” he added. “No. He wasn’t expecting that. He’s dead. He turned to ashes and they blew away on the wind.” He gestured toward the hole in the roof.

Magnus was startled into silence. It was extremely unusual for a new vampire to rise and overcome the hunger enough to think, or do anything else besides feed. Magnus wondered if Raphael had killed more than one of his friends.

He would not ask, and not only because it would have been cruel to ask. Even if Raphael had killed and then turned on his master and overcome Karnstein, he had to have a will of iron.

“They’re all dead,” said Raphael, seeming to master himself. His voice was clear suddenly. His dark eyes were clear too as he stared at Magnus, and then he deliberately turned away from Magnus, dismissing him as unimportant.

Raphael, Magnus saw with an ever-growing sense of unease, was looking at that blazingly bright hole in the ceiling, the one he had gestured to when he said that Karnstein had turned to ashes.

“They’re all dead,” Raphael repeated slowly. “And I am dead too.”

He uncoiled, as swift as a snake, and sprang.

It was only because Magnus had seen where the vampire was looking and because he knew how Raphael felt, the exact exquisitely cold feeling of being an outcast, so alone that he barely seemed to exist, that he moved fast enough.

Raphael sprang for the spot of lethal light on the floor, and Magnus sprang at Raphael. He knocked the boy to the floor just before he reached the sunlight.

Raphael gave an incoherent scream like a bird of prey, a vicious cry that was nothing but rage and hunger, that echoed in Magnus’s head and made his flesh creep. Raphael thrashed and crawled for the sun, and when Magnus would not let him go, Raphael used every bit of his fledgling vampire strength to struggle free, clawing and twisting. He had no hesitation, no remorse, and none of the usual vampire fledgling’s discomfort with his new power. He tried to bite Magnus’s throat out. He tried to tear him limb from limb. Magnus had to use magic to fasten his limbs to the floor, and even with Raphael’s whole body pinned, Magnus had to evade his snapping fangs and only just managed it.

“Let me go!” shouted the boy at last, his voice breaking.

“Hush, hush,” Magnus whispered. “Your mother sent me, Raphael. Be still. Your mother sent me to find you.” He drew the gold cross he had found from his pocket and held it gleaming in front of Raphael’s face. “She gave me this, and she told me to save you.”

Raphael flinched away from the cross, and Magnus put it away hastily, but not before the boy stopped fighting and began to sob, sobs that racked his whole body, as if he could wrench himself, his hated new self, apart from the inside out if he shook and raged enough.

“Are you stupid?” he gasped out. “You can’t save me. Nobody can do that.”

Magnus could taste his despair as if it were blood. Magnus believed him. He held on to the boy, newborn in grave dirt and blood, and he wished that he had found him dead.

The sobbing had rendered Raphael worn enough that he was docile. Magnus brought him to his own home because he had not the faintest idea what else to do with him.

Raphael sat, a small tragic bundle on Magnus’s sofa.

Magnus would have felt painfully sorry for him, but he had stopped in a phone booth on his way home to ring up Etta at the small jazz club where she was singing tonight, to tell her not to come around to his place for a while because he had a baby vampire to deal with.

“A baby vampire, huh?” Etta had asked, laughing, the same way a wife might laugh at her husband who always brings home the strangest items from a local antiques market. “I don’t know any exterminator in the city you could call to deal with that.”

Magnus had smiled. “I can deal with it myself. Trust me.”

“Oh, I usually do,” Etta had said. “Though my mama tried to teach me better judgment.”

Magnus had been on the phone gabbing with Etta for only a couple of minutes, but when he’d gotten out, it had been to find Raphael crouched on the pavement. He’d hissed, fangs white and needle-sharp in the night, like a cat protective of his prey when Magnus had approached. The man in his arms, the crisp white collar of his shirt dyed crimson, had been already unconscious; Magnus wrenched him away from the hissing vampire and propped him in an alley, hoping he’d think he’d been mugged.

When he came back to the sidewalk, Raphael was still sitting there, hands curled into claws and pressed to his chest. There was still a trace of blood on his mouth. Magnus felt despair hollow his heart. Here was not simply a suffering child. Here was a monster with the face of a Caravaggio angel.

“You should have let me die,” Raphael said in a small, hollow voice.

“I couldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I promised your mother I would bring you home,” said Magnus.

Raphael went still at the mention of his mother, as he had back at the hotel. Magnus could see his face in the glow of the streetlights. He had the blankly hurt look of a child who had been slapped: pain and bewilderment and no way to handle either of those feelings.

“And do you think she would want me home?” Raphael asked. “L-like this?”

His voice trembled, and his lower lip, still stained with a man’s blood, wobbled. He swiped a vicious hand across his face, and Magnus saw it again: the way he pulled himself together in an instant, the stern control he exerted over himself.

“Look at me,” he said. “Tell me she would invite me in.”

Magnus could not tell him that. He remembered how Guadalupe had talked about monsters, those who walked in the darkness and preyed on innocents. He thought of how she might react—the woman who had given her son a cross—to a son with blood on his hands. He remembered his stepfather forcing him to repeat prayers until once-holy words tasted bitter in his mouth, remembered his mother and how she had not been able to touch him once she’d known, and how his stepfather had held him down under the surface of the water. Yet they had loved him once, and he had loved them.

Love did not overcome everything. Love did not always endure. All you had could be taken away, love could be the last thing you had, and then love could be taken too.

Magnus knew, though, how love could be a last hope and a star to steer by. Light that went out had still shone once.

Magnus could not promise Raphael his mother’s love, but since Raphael still loved his mother, Magnus wanted to help him and thought he might know how.

He prowled forward, over his own rug, and saw Raphael’s dark eyes flash, startled, at his sudden purposeful movement.

“What if she never had to know?”

Raphael blinked slowly, almost reptilian in his hesitation. “What do you mean?” he asked warily.

Magnus reached into his pocket and produced the glittering thing inside it, held cupped in the palm of his hand.

“What if you came to her door,” Magnus asked, “wearing the cross that she gave you?”

He dropped the cross, and reflexively Raphael caught it in his open hand. The cross hit Raphael’s palm, and he saw Raphael wince, saw the wince become a shudder that ran all through his thin body and made his face go tight with pain.

“All right, Raphael,” Magnus said gently.

Raphael opened his eyes and glared at Magnus, which was not what Magnus had been expecting. The smell of burning flesh filled Magnus’s room. He was going to have to invest in some potpourri.

“Well done, Raphael,” Magnus said. “Bravely done. You can put it down now.”

Raphael held Magnus’s gaze, and very slowly he closed his fingers over the cross. Tiny wisps of smoke filtered out through the spaces between his fingers.

“Well done?” echoed the vampire boy. “Bravely done? I’m just getting started.”

He sat there on Magnus’s sofa, his whole body an arch of pain, and he held on to his mother’s cross. He did not let go.

Magnus reassessed the situation.

“A good start,” Magnus told him in a condescending tone. “But it’s going to take a lot more than that.”

Raphael’s eyes narrowed, but he did not respond.

“Of course,” Magnus added casually, “maybe you can’t do it. It’s going to be a lot of work, and you’re just a kid.”

“I know it’s going to be a lot of work,” Raphael told him, biting off the end of every word. “I have only you to help me, and you’re not terribly impressive.”

It dawned on Magnus that Raphael’s question in the vampires’ hotel—Are you stupid?—had been not only an expression of despair but also an expression of Raphael’s personality.

He was soon to learn that it was also Raphael’s favorite question.

In the nights that followed, Raphael acquired a good deal of horribly monochrome clothing, chased off several of Magnus’s clients with caustic and unkind remarks, devoted his unlife to rattling Magnus’s cage, and remained sternly unimpressed by any magic Magnus displayed. Magnus warned him about Shadowhunters, the Angel’s children who would try to chase him down if he broke any of their Laws, and told him about all that there was to offer and all the people he could meet. The whole of Downworld was laid out before him, faeries and werewolves and enchantment, and the only thing Raphael seemed interested in was how long he could hold the cross for, how much longer he could hold it for each night.

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