Lucy and Mina had always looked alike. They'd grown up next to each other, and reflected each other to such an extent that it was like one was mimicking the other, though who precisely was the mirror had been lost in girlhood. Pale white skin and night-black hair; not blonde, not golden, not fair. They'd been called ravens by the other children, and they cawed to each other before they went to bed at night. Through open windows across the lawn, they cawed each other that they were still of a feather.
Once, they had switched clothes. Lucy had run home to Mina's house and Mina to Lucy's, and the servants hadn't even noticed, not with the way they followed each others' voices. Mina had felt like Lucy was speaking through her, ordering the staff around, and Lucy had a quiet thrill in proving Mina wrong. She'd said Lucy could never behave as well as she did, the Murrays' little angel.
On their way to school the next morning, they had switched back. Both of them, in some way, had expected to be found out. At least by their parents, either at morning breakfast or being tucked in. But the kiss before bedtime and the morning grapefruit had been perfunctory. They walked in silence that day. They knew then they were alone. If their families didn't care about them, they would have to care for each other.
Thus was their favorite game invented: pretending to be sisters. It persisted well into their marriageable years, the two brushing each others' hair and sharing one bed, saying "dear sister" and "darling sister" and "sister mine" so often that it slipped out of the parlor and into society. The grand dames and aunts found it charming, how close they were. Their suitors found it aggravating, how they never separated, a pair joined at the hip. Not one could be wooed without the other as chaperone.
It came as an idle thought in the bath. Mina was recalling her Victor Hugo, remembering a woman who had sold a tooth to support her child. For such a noble cause, Mina wondered what she would give up. She was a sacrificing sort, Lucy had always teased her for it, but one of the things she would not bear to part with, not for all the jewels of Arabia, was the memory of reading one of her novels while Lucy laid with her head upon her lap, peeling an orange she'd snuck between meals and sharing its slices with her waywardly-born sister.
Lucy told Mina stories too. Of adventuring in the East End with some stout drinking companions to protect her virtue, of dressing in her brother's clothing to visit the emporiums of the Orient that were not for feminine eyes, of inviting rogues to steal into her bedroom at night and ply her with all their talent. Mina didn't know how much of it was made up. Part of her didn't want to know.
Lucy didn't get married, of course. Mina did, of course. A solicitor with good breeding and impeccable manners. Lucy detested him on principle, but buried it for Mina's sake.
After a while, she found it hard to keep hating him when she saw how happy Mina looked. She felt a little betrayed, with someone beside her making Mina so very happy. But then, she had no right to complain with as many male adventures as she'd been on. She had no claim on Mina whatsoever.
At the wedding, Mina looked like an angel. Lucy couldn't say the same of herself. In the white of a maid of honor, she looked as false as she did tawdry. She could believe what was whispered of her. She was a fallen woman, a slattern, a harlot.
She felt horrible in all ways during Mina's honeymoon. Being apart from her, being alone, even feeling sad when her friend was so happy. She didn't go to a doctor; she knew what kind of feminine worries would be ascribed to her. She trusted to a proven commodity. After his time in the dark of Africa, her father had sworn by poppy. There was a den of such iniquity behind the billiards club, as respectable as opium could be made.
The chap who owned it, an Australian with a sob story longer than the Queen's wedding train, had no objection to a lady's presence. She added to 'the sensuous atmosphere,' said he. Which she took to mean she was marked as prettiest and cleanest of the night women who tended the lotus eaters. She enjoyed the confusion, she relished men trying to bed her with increasing directness, until they offered her pocket watches and medals. She laughed them all away. The stronger sex had Mina, they wouldn't have her.
And then, Dracula.
At first, she thought he'd been cast whole from the opiate haze. He didn't move like a man. His feet fell firmly, as if under weight greater than his gaunt frame, but other than that, he was absolutely mutable. From step to step, he was a ballerina en pointe, a stalking wolf, an old man wanting a cane. It made him timeless, captivating.
"A rose growing out of weeds, the life being choked from it. How it longs for the garden." His English was impeccable, but a foreign accent tinted his words like a drop of blood in water.
He interested Lucy. "Or maybe such a flower would prefer to be plucked, and worn around town so that one and all could marvel at her beauty."
He smiled. His teeth were perfect. Then.
Some of the others, the hunters, later said that Dracula's bite was the fiercest pain they'd ever known. Not to Lucy. It'd felt like nothing to her. Absolute numbness, deeper and blanker than the opium. It'd blotted out all thought of Mina or her husband.
She didn't remember the rest of it. Or if she did, she didn't want to. Lucy sleep-walked between… feedings, only coming alive in that River Lethe unlife. She was told she ran a fever, acting unlike herself. Revealing garments, lascivious behavior, coarse joking. Lucy thought that sounded very much like herself, only concentrated. And while the men were good enough to shuffle and flummox in the face of her indecency, kindly old Van Helsing could be counted on to furnish her self-confession. She had… appealed to Mina. Ripping off her own white nightgown, calling out passionately, groping herself. Not to worry, Dracula was gone now, his curse on her had ended.
Lucy thought some of it remained, or some other curse had been laid on her. She couldn't stop imagining that lost night. Had Mina run from the room, aghast, or had she lingered? Had she considered?
Mina didn't talk to her about it. Lucy was still bedridden, her reflection pale and anemic. Mina only visited her to bring dinner. Hearty soup, orange juice, fresh fruit, and the red vials. No matter how the menu changed, the red vial always came with it. She didn't ask what it was. She knew the taste.
"Where does it come from?" she did ask.
"We all take turns… donating." Mina didn't like the subject, but she'd bear it. She'd borne worse. "It's the only way to keep you alive now."
"I don't know. The doctors are doing tests—"
"No. Why… the other thing."
"Why do you still draw breath? Lucy, we had to save you. You're my best friend. What shall I do in your absence?"
Each woman thought her friend had suffered the worse. Lucy had only been bitten; she couldn't imagine being romanced by the creature, having it conceive of her as its mate. And Mina, she considered herself as only having been wooed. What was that to having the beast prey on you night after night, sinking its cold fangs into living flesh until it'd had its fill?
And both of them pitied Jonathan, Mina's loving husband. Defiled by Dracula and his vixens, he malingered in an asylum, starving of esoteric hungers. As time passed and the hunters embarked upon their separate ways, it became simply Lucy and Mina once more, trapped in the House of Harker. A fund set up by Dr. Seward paid for the weekly collection of blood to wean Lucy, said Mina.
And under Mina's care, Lucy's recovery seemed to come along so nicely! Lucy arose earlier and earlier, making up for time lost to sleep. In the twilight hours, she accompanied Mina on promenades up and down the grounds. ("What if a ruffian should appear?" "I shall protect you, sweet sister.") Once more, Lucy came to stand the sunlight that once would've blistered her were it not for the lotion that so tainted her color. The only evidence of that allergy now was the dark glasses and wide-brimmed hats she wore at the height of the day. It was almost like old times, except for the nights. When Mina changed the bandages on the wounds that never seemed to heal. She wiped Lucy's throat clean of the fresh blood that pulled her bandages to her skin like it didn't want them to escape.
Every night Mina tended her, and every night two perfectly rounded holes were left to be covered once more. Bloodless, bottomless, more like Lucy was missing pieces of herself than like she'd been bitten. Mina loathed them, and how they mocked her. The only way she could tolerate removing the bandages was seeing them as the warm water of her efforts left them. Shrunken orifices, colorless enough to disappear.
Lucy didn't share her feelings. In fact, she had come to love her punctures.
She loved when Mina touched them. Or maybe she just loved how Mina touched them. Not gingerly repulsed like some others, those who dared. Acceptingly, like they were just a part of Lucy, something she'd been born with. She didn't even seem to notice how sensitive they were. How good it made Lucy feel to have a wet washcloth run over them. Not hard. Just firmly enough to be felt, and yet so tender, so lovingly. It was enough to make Lucy forget how she got the scars and just think of the sensation.
“Dear big sister,” she would say when Mina had finished wrapping her marks, hiding them from sight (Mina looked forward to it, Lucy did not). “Taking such good care of me.” And she'd kiss Mina on the cheek as gently as she'd pick a flower.
She didn't start having the dreams until the blood ran cold, the food lost its taste, the water didn't quench. When her thirst could diminish no further, clinging to her more violently than even Jonathan's did. The cold, flat blood started to come less as sustenance and more as… appetizer. Something in her was going unfed.
And she dreamt of her fever, and what she'd said to Mina. What she'd done. Or what'd wished she'd done, or what she feared she'd done, or what they lied to her she'd done. Every night, the horror of seeing Mina covered in blood. Every morning, waking up soaking wet and not with sweat. Then one day, Mina interred her wound once more and turned her head for their customary affection. Lucy moved in obligingly, meaning only to admire the gleam in the apple of Mina's cheek. Instead, she felt her lust shoot from her mouth like a word spoken in anger.
A fang penetrated Mina's perfect visage. Just a little, barely even the tip, but enough to bead Mina's cheek with blood. And, unforgivably, she kept her devil tooth in Mina, both of them helpless as she slid it down Mina's face. Toward her neck.
Lucy couldn't have known, but Mina felt no pain. The fangs were that sharp, the motion that slow, a caress and not a cut. Equal parts scalpel and kiss, action showing the lineage of both its parents. Lucy stopped at the jawline she'd always so admired, and with a half-mad, hungry noise, she wrenched herself away. Mina stood there. She trembled. In Lucy's absence, dead air rushed in and whipped at her cut. Now she felt pain. An answering moan to Mina's hollowed her mouth. It, too, was indistinguishably pain and pleasure.
Whether spurned on by a victim's pain or eager to comfort a friend, Lucy rushed back in. Her tongue broke from her lips. Like a creature with a mind all its own, it started where Mina's neck met her shoulder. It slithered up, seeking, needing, devouring the lowest drops of blood running down Mina's neck like grapes on a vine. Mina shuddered, not quite in fear or protest, but nervousness. Lucy didn't heed it; she was responding to a far deeper urging. Like a towel cleaning her off, Lucy's tongue traveled the length of the slit. It took the blood with it to leave only a scarlet line in Mina's skin, like a brand.
Mina finally breathed. A drop of blood slicked from the cut and she felt pain once more. Lucy saw her twitch in hurt; worse, look at Mina with lost eyes. Not even fear. Confusion.
Lucy licked her lips. And, realizing what she'd done, she scrubbed her hands furiously on her bloody mouth. "I didn't mean it," she said. Trying to convince both of them. "I didn't, I didn't, I—"
Lucy fled before she could hear the word she knew to be on Mina's trembling lips. Monster.