Mitchell eyes the DVDs in his hand, going back and forth between Vertigo and My Fair Lady for movie night while letting George’s statement go unacknowledged. Not because he doesn’t care, he just knows there’s more on the way. George has never been one for brevity or dramatic pauses.
"We’ve had every single combination of toppings and sauces known to man delivered to our door—not once, but three times in the past month Mitchell, and I can’t do it anymore, I just can’t. No man should ingest that much cheese in one lifetime, it’s not natural."
Mitchell taps the DVDs against his legs, then holds them up for his roommate to see.
"Annie likes pizza. Which movie?"
"I know she does, which is why I’ve ingested tons of it with barely a whimper and a slight lactose intolerance I might add. And Annie doesn’t like the pizza, she can’t eat it, she just wants someone to come to the door. Vertigo—we saw My Fair Lady last week. "
"Yes, we did. We ate pizza and watched Audrey Hepburn and you went on about how she thought you were a tosser and had you chucked off set, remember?"
George rubs his stomach, the mere thought of more pizza visibly upsetting him, while Mitchell stares down at the DVD cover again. Maybe it was time for that story to be retired; he came off better in the one with Katherine anyway. With all the snogging and whatnot.
"Yeah, well—Vertigo it is." Mitchell tosses the other movie aside with a shrug. "And I don’t see the harm in giving her what she wants, it’s not like we can’t eat something else any other time of the day."
George exhales and his glasses fog up a bit. Mitchell does his best to refrain from smiling, studying the buttons on the DVD player a bit longer than necessary.
"I just think we have to start setting boundaries—"
"She’s not a child George."
"I’m not—I know that. Maybe not boundaries—ground rules. Or a rotation of take out menus—for god sakes, I just want a curry. Is that too much to ask, it’s right down the street. I can pop round and….be back…."
George’s shoulders slump at Mitchell’s silence, his fingers rising to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"I’m not going to win this, am I?"
"She’s been a bit down lately." Mitchell looks up, as though he can see her through the ceiling. He can’t of course, but he can feel her. The room temperature has dropped considerably in the past few minutes. "It cheers her up, you know. And you don’t have to actually eat the pizza."
"I don’t waste food."
"Of course not."
"I’m serious, I know that things—that I’m not what I used to be, but I that doesn’t mean I have to change everything else. I make my bed in the morning, I have my tea with two sugars and I don’t waste food because there are people starving in this world."
"Your mum tell you that?"
"She did and that doesn’t make it any less true." George sits on the couch, rubbing his arms through his shirt sleeves. "You think she’ll come down soon?"
Mitchell doesn’t bother to look up this time.
"Yeah, she will." He picks up the pizza menu. "She just needs a little incentive, that’s all."
He’s reassuring, comforting enough for George to accept his words as truth, a trick he’s perfected over the past century. Being a vampire brings a number of gifts, strength and immortality being a few of the more glamorous ones.
But lying was by far the most useful. And it’s something he’s been doing a lot more of the past few days.
"How about just sauce, no cheese?" He says, waving the menu in his hand. "Better on your stomach and looks like blood. Something for everyone, right?"
"That really doesn’t help at all actually, but thank you for trying."
Annie’s been forgetting things.
Nothing important of course, like her name or the fact that’s she’s a ghost, though that last bit does slip her mind every now and again. But that’s more like reaching across an empty bed. Cold for a second, before you warm up again. She’s gotten used to wearing the same clothes, not eating her favorite foods, because there’s so much she still can do. Small things that she’s never appreciated until now.
Like making tea.
It was a morning ritual before, something she did after picking out her clothes, but now it’s just brilliant. Every whistle of the kettle, the steam from the cups reminds her that she’s still here, that it hasn’t ended quite yet. Watching George and Mitchell drink the tea she makes them is just—lovely. There’s no other word for it, and if there is, she’s can’t seem to think of it anyway, so she can only describe it as lovely. Taking care of people.
But lately the kettle isn’t where it’s supposed to be, which doesn’t make sense because she’s so much more organized than she was before she died. It’s something she’s taken up to occupy her time now that she can’t actually work anymore.
The cups are next, and then a few spoons, and she worries that it’s her, moving things with her mind again without realizing. The idea embarrasses her, as if she were on some kind of supernatural menstrual cycle, which means she doesn’t let on to Mitchell right away or George for that matter.
Not that they’d judge, being what they are leaves little room to judge anything. But still, it’s something she should be able to handle on her own by now.
It doesn’t scare her, the forgetting.
Not until she’s on a street corner, staring at two girls jumping rope along the sidewalk. It makes her smile, brings up a few childhood memories, before she realizes she has no idea where she is or how she got there.
She knows they’re waiting downstairs, but she hasn’t managed to stop crying just yet and doesn’t want to worry them on movie night. Things have been so normal lately, human-like even, despite her not eating and the occasional transporting through walls.
Mitchell hasn’t fed in weeks and George said the word werewolf three times that day without stuttering. They were just three mates, sharing a flat, watching movies and having a pizza, laughing at each other. Which each other.
And it’s lovely too.
She wants it to stay that way. For one more night at least.
"I’m there in the back, right next to that big plant thing on the table. See the way it's moving, that's me. "
George and Annie share pointed looks before leaning closer to the television.
"I think so—yes, oh yes I see you!" Annie shouts and George squints at her through his lenses.
"Do ghost have some kind of sonic vision thingy I’m unaware of, because I don’t see a bloody thing."
"They do if they’re sweet." Mitchell nudges Annie’s shoulder, then takes another bite of cheese-less pizza that doesn’t even feel like blood, let alone taste like it. "It’s okay Annie, I know I was there. I don’t have to prove anything."
"Then why do we always have to watch movies that you’re in?" George gestures to the rack beneath the television. "You’d think we have at least one film with Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett."
"I like Mitchell’s movies." Annie says, ever the diplomat.
Mitchell grins as he finishes off the slice, then brushes crumbs from his hands.
"I told you she was sweet."
"Yes, yes." George brains her with a nearby pillow, which elicits a series of snorts from Annie’s side of room. "Take his side now, but weren’t you the one begging to see Brad Pitt last week? Something about Trojan horses and ridiculous abs..."
"What, me? Oh no." Annie doesn’t lie half as well as Mitchell. "Though if you wanted to see it, I wouldn’t go mental or anything..."
"Oh yes, that’s the movie I’ve waited my whole life to see. Right up there with Zoolander and GI Joe..."
They both look at Mitchell, who throws up frustrated hands.
"Alright, I’ll stop by the video store tomorrow. What about The Godfather? I was in that one too.’"
George is pretty sure he’s never had real friends until now, something he’s not keen to let on to most people. Being older means socializing becomes some sort of barometer for normality, a perceived lack of it resulting in pitying glances. There’s also an unspoken shunning, implying that there must be something wrong with this bloke, a reason why he’s so bloody alone all the time. He thought along those lines himself before, but now—thankfully—his excuse is much better.
He’s a monster you see, the smallest scratch and he’ll infect people. Either that or rip them to shreds, but he doesn’t want that to happen, so he doesn’t frequent the bars or keep a condom supply on hand—that would be irresponsible for a man in his particular position. He’s been a lot of things, but never that.
Never mind that he’s not technically a wolf until a full moon. He craves human flesh. If that’s not an excuse for staying home weekends, what the bloody hell is?
Mitchell says he understands, and on some level he does. It’s worse for him actually. There’s no full moon, no shutting on and off, something George finds admirable, though terrifying at times. But Mitchell’s ripped into enough necks to become bored by the entire process. He’s much more interested in remembering his humanity, while George is desperately trying to hold on to what little he has left.
He thanks God for Annie, though he doesn’t pray as often as he used to because of the whole abomination thing. He doesn’t mind being afraid so much when she’s around, maybe because like him, she has no idea what’s she’s doing most days; other than putting one foot in front of the other.
She’s essential in a way he never expected, they both are. So when he arrives home to find them at the kitchen table with the end of the world written on their faces, he’s terrified that it’s the end of his world, the only one that he has use for anymore.
"What is it?" They don’t answer immediately, which causes a slight hitch in his speech, words to tumble out before he can reflect on what the hell they even mean. "Is it Mitchell, did you bite someone again? Is there some vampire coven that wants to recruit you—or, is not a coven is it, that’s for witches—it’s not a witch is it? Do those exist, I never thought ask…."
Annie pushes away from the table with averted eyes, knocking over a cup of tea before she vanishes from the room. George blinks at the space she occupied, and sees the light brown liquid soak into her favorite placemats.
Mitchell is grave; his voice echoing those of the doctors George works with every day.
"You should have told me."
Mitchell can always make her feel childish with a look or the tone of his voice. She’s never more aware of how old he is then when she’s disappointed him. He’s pacing and glowering, and his eyes may have darkened briefly, she can’t be sure. But her easy going, movie buff roommate has vanished, leaving some dodgy immortal in his place.
"I didn’t think it was that big a deal and technically I did tell you, just not right away…"
"You didn’t think period."
"Oy, that’s a bit much Mitchell." She hates when he’s like this, all dark and surly. It takes her back to a place, a person she’d rather forget.
"You sound like Owen."
"That’s not fair Annie."
"He killed me Mitchell; I think I gave up on fair when my head hit the bottom step."
She’s disappearing. And not in the pop in and out, Casper sort of way. She’s losing herself. Small holes were chopping away at her mind, taking who she was. Her mother’s name escaped her twice that day and she forgot how to use the hotplate until Mitchell showed her. That’s when she told him, forced into truth by fear that she’d burn the house down eventually.
"It’s like I’m being eaten from the inside."
Mitchell lowers to his knees and takes her hands in a way that’s almost gallant. She suppresses an irrational giggle; sure his hat would be at his feet if he had one. Then feels like crying instead.
"No, it’s not—you’re fading. It happens sometimes with ghosts, after they’ve become complacent..."
"You’ve seen it before?" She sounds like George now, anxious. Worried.
"Yes. I have."
He falls silent, his face unmoving.
She pulls her hands away.
"What about that strange bloke in Cardiff, the one that had the creepy dolls on his neck?"
Mitchell shakes his head, which causes George to deflate yet again.
"Herrick killed him three months ago." Mitchell flips through the phone book, though he’s stopped looking at the pages for over an hour now. George taps his fingers on his thigh, which occasionally bounces against the floor as he speaks up again.
"There’s a bookstore—I can’t remember the name, but the woman behind the counter had this—look about her— all dark and crone like. Maybe she was a witch—or something."
Mitchell lifts an eyebrow. "You’re preoccupied with witches lately, is there something you’re not telling me?"
"I don’t have—I’m just trying to be helpful, I’m not an expert at these things."
"Neither am I." George jumps when Mitchell slams the book shut and his heart sinks a bit more. "I’m not an expert or a savoir, I’m just—. I can’t even help her without someone telling me what to do."
George’s lips tighten and he stands to his feet, pointing somewhere around the middle Mitchell’s chest.
"You can’t give up."
"I’m not George, I just—"
"I mean it Mitchell, don’t you dare. Annie wouldn’t. If she were here—if she were you, she’d be out in the street asking first person that passed by how to save a bloody vampire—"
"I’m not giving up."
Mitchell’s not old by vampire standards, far from it.
Compared to Herrick, he’s barely a teenager, still rebelling in an adolescent attempt to find his own away. He’s sure this is how many others see him, but not Annie and George. No, to them he was wise, the one who seen more in one lifetime than they could ever dream of. At least when it came to less human aspects of their life.
He’s become slightly attached to the idea of being wise, though he knows more than anyone how far from the truth that is. Most of his knowledge is second hand at best, with his own experiences clouded in a post-coital blood tinged haze. He’s chatted up a few werewolves before ripping them apart, bested a ghost or two when they got too cheeky. But his more docile interactions are fairly recent, maybe starting sometime around the mid-1990s. He’s a junkie in recovery, only off blood just a few months. He still gets hard at the sight of a vein. Can’t get pissed in public for fear of losing control.
But Annie needs him.
And that alone makes him pick up the phone, call anyone who’d have passing knowledge about what to do next. He’ll literally wake the dead if he has to, a fairly messy prospect, but viable nonetheless.
He’ll do it because they need him, George and Annie. In all his travels, encounters, people flitting in and out of his life, he’s never felt essential like the way he does in that house. Before he was a protégé, a pretty Irish boy for Herrick to show off to doe eye victims, but now he’s more.
Now he’s a man. One that fights for his friends.
She’s splayed across the bed when he finds her, the soft gray of her jumper dramatically draped across her face. She peeks out when the bed sinks beneath his weight, but then returns to her make-shift shelter just as quickly.
"Just leave me Mitchell. I’m going ramble around this house slobbering and asking for my cat soon, you shouldn’t have to see that."
His finger lifts a corner of the shirt, and she turns away with stubborn determination.
"Drool’s never bothered me and I’ll buy you a cat if you want one that badly. But it doesn’t have to come to that Annie."
The head board smashes against the wall as she sits up abruptly. Her hand slaps an errant curl from her cheek, and he can’t help but smile, a habit she’s always brought out in him.
"Did you find something—did someone call you?" Her body bounces against the mattress. "Oooh, was it George’s bookstore witch?"
"That poor woman. I’m sure she’s a very nice lady, we can have her for tea if you like."
"Well what is it then?" She slaps his arm, then slaps it again for emphasis. "I’m serious Mitchell, what did you find?"
"Nothing." He lies back on the bed himself, content to look up at her. "I just remembered something, all on my own. I’m very proud."
"I can see that. And if you don’t tell me soon, I may forget this entire conversation. Won’t that be tragic?"
"A constant." His announcement is met with dubious eyes. "I had a conversation with George this afternoon and it reminded me of something. You stayed here because of what happened to you, how you died."
He sits up again, the lightness between them now gone.
"All that betrayal and anger fixed you to this place. But remembering that—shook you loose a bit."
"Is that a technical term?"
"You know what I mean." He hates reminding her of Owen or upsetting her period. "But that’s not the case anymore. Getting back at Owen was your constant, the thing that kept you here. With that gone—and you not able to cross over…your mind thinks it’s finished, if that makes sense."
"It’s checking out."
"Because I don’t have something to hold onto here?" Annie’s hands slap against her thighs as her gestures grow larger, more intense. "That’s madness, I have the two of you. I don’t want to leave, I just found you—and George. I found the both of you together, is what I mean—"
He doesn’t know if this will fix things, but he has to give her something. It’s logical, when placed inside everything he knows about ghost and haunting, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Her resolving her past with Owen was the only thing that changed.
"This will work." He says, because it has to. "I’ll make it work, we just have to find something for you to hold on to—like we do with you."
Her hands are frigid when he takes them in his own, but he doesn’t flinch when they burn his skin. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings.
"I’m not sure this would all work without you, so if you have trouble—focusing on us, just remember that, right."
Annie flushes a bit and worries her lip between her teeth.
"So you’re saying I can will this away if I just believe hard enough? Like in Peter Pan?"
And now it feels like rubbish, the entire thing. But he’s committed to idea and nods his head anyway.
"Exactly like—Peter Pan."
Annie stands up from the bed and Mitchell watches her pace across the room for several silent minutes with her thumbnail caught between her teeth. He can feel her tension, her worry causing his own skin to prickle and tighten. When she finally does speak, it makes him jump a bit, his mind already working out how to tell George he failed them.
"Okay then." She claps her hands together like a footballer before a game. "So I guess if what you’re saying is true, that I can will myself to stay here, then I’ll just have to find a quick way to do that."
"Right." Mitchell nods his head, relieved. "Exactly, you’re strong Annie, I know with time and a little determination..."
"Take your clothes off Mitchell."
He pauses mid-nod and cocks his head to the side.
Annie realizes sex with Mitchell is likely a mistake of epic proportions. She’s had enough unfortunate encounters to recognize a land mine before she steps on it, and yet she died young enough to step on them anyway and hope for the best. If her attachment to her friends isn’t enough to fix her, she’ll just have to make it stronger, something more. Sex without emotion was feat that always escaped her and she’s sure that death hasn’t changed that. It’s actually made her more emotional, which she never thought was even remotely possible.
She explains this to Mitchell, who looks seconds away from bolting from the door. Understandable really, it’s not every day a mate suggests a shag because it might make her more emotionally attached. Almost like a no-strings in reverse.
"There’s got to be a better way." Mitchell insists, and she tries not to roll her eyes, already impatient to get on with things. "I mean—it seems a bit drastic, don’t you think?"
"Yes. And desperate." Annie gives him her best doe eyes, widening them just enough to make them tear up a bit. It’s a trick she learned when she was little and had relative success with ever since. "I want my mind back, all of it. You said—"
"This wasn’t what I meant. I thought we could order out and talk about girl feelings. I already sent George to get a movie…"
"Trust me, this will be much faster." Annie’s already thinking of clothes, picturing them in her head. She’s unable to even chuck her shoes without concentrating on the act and this is the first time she’s attempted full on nudity, the prospect of which is growing more and more exciting, being a new thing and all. She’s always loved trying new things. "I’m an absolute mess after sex, I get all clingy and moony-eyed, it’s perfect."
It takes a moment to register the terror on Mitchell’s face, but she does, right after the clasp on her bra snaps apart. Her satisfied smile fades fairly quickly.
"Oh I—I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking."
"It’s not that I don’t find you—I do, it’s just—"
"I should have asked George."
"I value our friendship too much to—you what?" His arms cross his chest, his shoulders tense as he becomes defensive. "George? You can’t be serious."
It’s Annie’s turn to become defensive, mirroring his stance as she leans toward him.
"What’s that supposed to mean? I find George very attractive and I’m sure he’ll be an excellent lover. He’s caring and gentle."
"Women always say that’s what they want. The sweet, caring ones that listen all the time. Until some hairy bloke with a Harley comes along, then you just want your hair pulled."
"Oh, you’re one of those then?" She gives him a meaningful nod. "A wee bit kinky, are we? I thought that may be the case."
"It’s not—I bite a little, but I wouldn’t call that kinky considering….I’m not talking about this with you anymore, I can’t—"
She kicks off one shoe.
"This may not even work Annie."
Then the other.
Despite spending quite a bit of time and energy making himself not picture Annie naked, Mitchell has to admit that a few mental what ifs have snuck through now and again. He was active on that front for quite a while before cutting himself off as part of his recovery. So his protests, while valid, are somewhat half hearted. He misses sex almost as much as blood and sex with Annie isn’t exactly a daunting prospect. Quite the opposite actually.
Annie is in death—as she was in life, quite fit in every way, to the point where he’s certain that if they met years ago, their initial conversations would have been a bit different. They’d involve fewer clothes of course. And much more biting.
He compares her body now to his previous mental image and takes satisfaction in knowing he wasn’t too far off, if somewhat inaccurate in places. Her nipples are darker than he expects, with a small mole beneath her left breast that he didn’t know existed. He’s fascinated by that mole and spends a great deal of time sucking it and the skin around it, creating a damp, tender spot just above her ribcage.
Annie’s not cold anymore. Far from it.
She’s all warm, smooth skin that tingles slightly against his palms. She’s firm flesh and soft curves, rubbing back and forth against him. She likes it on top, which works in his favor because he loves watching her face while he’s thrusting inside her.
Her forehead wrinkles just before she comes.
"How do I feel?" She constantly asks questions, something that doesn’t bother him much. "Mitchell."
It’s just Annie, always curious. Wanting to know everything...
His fingers move between them, finding her as he answers her softly.
"Warm. Tight and wet…"
His voice hitches a bit with a roll of her hips. He doesn’t remember the last time he’s had this. Sex without fear of losing control.
"Yes, Annie. God, yes."
"That was smashing."
Mitchell gives her a satisfied grin.
"I mean really, really fantastic."
"It was pretty nice, wasn’t it?"
"But I don’t feel any different."
And his smile fades, while hers conveys only mild disappointment.
"It was a long shot, right?" She’s instantly clothed again, pushing back curls from her face as she flops down against the pillows. "And I had a lovely ghost shag, my first. So cheers to that."
Mitchell smoothes the hair from his own face, as his mobile rings inside his discarded pants. Annie picks it up and hands it over in silence before lying across the bed again. He touches her cheek before looking at the display, answering only because George’s number is displayed.
"Where are you?"
Mitchell looks at his side, his fingers now stiff and cold.
"With Annie." He doesn’t stop touching her. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. "Why?"
"Because I got it Mitchell. I think I know how to help her."
Its hours later before they allow her downstairs again, during which time she’s rearranged the closets in both their room, down to color coordinating their substantial array of socks. They’re waiting for her at the bottom, the expectant look on their faces make her want to smooth down her hair a bit. Annie’s always loved surprises, but at the moment she’s had her fill of them.
"Okay." She says, for lack of anything more profound. George speaks up first, though that takes several false starts before he really gets going.
"Right, so Mitchell told me about your—problem." He says, likening her situation to menopause. "And I thought—and he agreed, that what you needed was something new to hold onto besides your past with Owen."
Annie nods and looks at Mitchell, who’s currently holding a large leather book in his hands.
"And our friendship, while very important, doesn’t seem to be working. So I thought—and he agreed, that perhaps you needed a family more."
She thinks of her mother and sisters. The constant fighting over the bathroom, bitter backhanded comments, and is desperate not to hear anymore. She’ll tie one of them down if she has to and shag them whenever things get a bit hazy, but there’s no way she’s going back home. Not like this.
"I don’t think—" She begins, but is cut off by Mitchell.
"We bought new cups for your tea." He points to a nearby table, where three bright red mugs sat in a neat row, each with their names written in black script. "Well, George bought them, I had no idea where to look."
"I didn’t—I asked at work" George glares at him briefly, before motioning lower, near her feet. "And I found those in storage. Almost forgot they were there."
She bends down to trace a finger across the worn edges of the board game boxes, a game of checkers on top of Monopoly, chess piled on Trivia Pursuit.
"I was rubbish at chess as a kid, my dad always beat me. But I thought maybe I could take it up again." George rubs the back of his neck, sneaking looks at Mitchell while Annie wipes at her eyes. "And you said you wanted to take dance lessons, we could do that. I’ve switched my weekend schedule, so we can start on Saturday..."
"I bought cookbooks." Mitchell interjects, and he moves closer, bends down beside her. "Different kinds, I thought we could try a few new things. Shame really, being my age and not knowing how to make sausages."
"This—you—" The words fail her as Mitchell slides the book in her hands. George sits down beside them to place a tentative hand on her shoulder.
"It’s a photo album." He explains, dipping his head to catch her teary eyes. "That’s what families do, right? Take pictures and things?"
"You did all this for me?"
George and Mitchell exchange looks over her head, and let out a simultaneous "Of course." Which just makes her tear up a bit more. She shifts and adjusts until her body is sandwiched between them. Her head on Mitchell’s shoulder and her side tightly pressed to George.
"This is just brilliant." She looks back and forth between them, a smile stretching her wet cheeks. "And so much better than a ghost shag." George nods, then frowns, lifting his head abruptly.
"It’s better than a what?"
"Vertigo or My Fair Lady?"
Mitchell grins at their wide eyes, then tosses down the movies in favor of the one he has tucked at this back.
"Just kidding, I rented The Abyss. I’m nowhere near that one, I promise."
Annie gives him her "poor you" eyes, then reaches for one of the discarded boxes.
"I don’t know, I was looking forward to seeing you by the plant again Mitchell. Maybe just one more go before we move on?"
She turns to George, who sinks into the couch, defeated, while Mitchell hops over the coffee table to boot up the film. George gives her a reluctantly grin in spite of himself, and says, "I guess I’ll order the pizza."
Which makes Annie shake her head with a slight grimace.
"We’ve had quite a bit of that, haven’t we? Anyone up for a curry?"