1. Bare your throat before the wolf that hates you. Turn the other cheek, although no faith has found its place in your chest, nestled inside your cavities, since before a battleground where your blood slipped into the mud like fine wine. Tell truths that you would sell the soul you suspect you no longer possess to make sound like lies and wait until the shotgun’s lowered. You’ll press it into that wolf’s waist, later, and then you’ll drop it, because you want to want something, because you remember what it was like to be a man who could-- could anything. From that point onwards, always bare your neck, and never bare your soul. You already bear your soul, and do not ask others to do so for you.
2. Do not tell him that he did not need to build a bomb. The two of them together, their careless iconography of all the things you don’t deserve, they rip you apart every day in new ways. It’s more than you could have ever thought to ask for, the nailbomb of her smile and the shrapnel of his easy trust in you. (Because her smile is so hard-won. Because, once, his trust was never easy.) It’s all right for you to lie to them, in little ways, because your skin is stitched together of the little lies and because they know the big ones, and when they smile at you, they smile at you despite them.
3. Pretend that it’s not hard for you; even when it is. They won’t know better because they can’t know better, because you’re their vampire barometer and they’ve learnt to read your moods but the sea of your storms remains beyond their capacity to understand. (Thank Christ.) When they ask you if it’s a struggle, you tell them truths couched in French words and fit the hard edges of German consonants in your mouth. Make them tea and polish his boots and laugh at her jokes, only a little snide, and let your act be your pretence. They won’t love you for the act. They will love you for trying (fighting) to maintain it.
4. Pretend that it doesn’t rankle, your brothers’ blood on your best friend’s hands. Perhaps it doesn’t, perhaps you’ve accepted, somewhere deep down inside, that they deserved what he gave them, that if he gave it to you that you’d deserve the same. Pretend, as time goes on, that it still rankles you, even when his mouth twists with despair at the things you’ve done to him, even when her mouth twists with despair at the things you’re still to do. Let the pretence hold you together, and do not look over your shoulder, no matter how many other ghosts you know are standing, waiting, just behind your back.
5. Take the broken, spliced-down bits of you left by the first of your kind, and hold them together in your chest in a harrowing echo of the day you were recruited on a cold, wet day that you wish you had the wherewithal to forget. Only offer them up when asked, and do not tell how much of yourself you’ve broken off and left as benediction on the altar of him, and her. You offered these bits freely, because it was less than what they deserved, and you have never begrudged them a single piece. Offer them more than what they ask for, because this way lies the beating tick of the clock that keeps your time and checks your madness. Offer them more than you can spare, because you ought to, because every piece of you is not, by rights, yours. Offer them everything you want to, and everything you do not. The fact that you are capable of want, and wanting, will matter, in time.
6. When they stitch your wounds and mop up your blood, don’t flinch. Vampires can’t get infections, no matter how much your fingers itch to steam-clean the carpet, just one more time. When she swallows hard and sees how even a cut down to the bone won’t kill you, don’t let the tears well up in your eyes. She’s dead, and he’s a fairy tale, but you’re a monster through and through, bone-deep and incalculably terrible. The point is not the horror that you see in her bitten-lip, or his wide-eyed understanding that inside his best friend’s chest beats the heart of something disgusting and wrong and less than mortal. The point is that he holds the needle and she holds your hand – and sometimes this blurs, switches, the frame frozen but the picture somehow still the same – and, more—the point is that they stay.
7. Don’t bite down.
8. Realise that this love saved you, that you’ve been damned since the first slide of fangs into your throat, that this was not your Waterloo—and if anyone’d know that, it’s you. (Some things never change. You never quite lost your taste for battles, when you were bad. You liked to know you were on the winning side, and that one—that one’s seen some alterations.) You’re still damned, and their love cannot change that, but it’s okay. It’s all okay. Let their love keep saving you and do not resent the things you cannot change, and live. Live, and love them, and know that you can do these things only because you are sorry. Only because you know that sorry is something you ought to be.
9. Know that you can always give up. Know that you can always fight the battle, but you will never win the war. Know where he keeps his stakes and that they would hold the stake together, if you asked them, if you were sure. Do not give up because you want to give up, but know that there is no shame in it. Forgive yourself nothing, but absolve yourself of this. It is the only absolution you shall ever know, and there is no glory in it, but there is peace, if you look in the right places. (The corner of her smile. The steadiness of his hands. Knowing that if you ask them to, they would let you fall and would not catch you.) Focus on the little things. The only ones that count.
10. Practice what Leo taught you, and know the truth that you did not have the words to tell—him, or any other. Being human is a state of mind, a constant pattern of behaviour. You have it because you desired it, because eventually wanting would matter, because eventually it’d count. You’re human because you were always human. You’re human because you’re nothing like a human, but still, beneath it all—you’re Hal Yorke.
11. Don’t kiss her. Don’t kiss him. Don’t kiss the knife slotted into your drywall or your wrist as you resist in the dark. Don’t tell lies you can’t wear like a mask and don’t slip up, ever. Don’t lie when he asks if you want to, and don’t lie when she says that she knows that you do. Lie beneath them and let them kiss you and never ask if you’re worthy of this, because even if they don’t know the answer, you do.
12. Pretend that you made up the vampires, and that this is all that there is.
13. Pretend that you are not your own worst enemy, that your greatest foe is not the evil you fight on the streets of Barry but your own lack of a reflection. Pretend that you are the man they think you are, posh Hal, uptight Hal, tidy, polite, straight-backed, (not so) gently barmy Hal, and pretend that it never exhausts you. Pretend that you are not constantly tired by it, that your eyes are never scored dark beneath and that your hands never shake in the mornings. Pretend that you are a litany of adjectives you could never bid on at auction, that you are worthy and kind and moral. Pretend that knowing this is payment, a little, towards buying these things. Pretend that rooting the bits of your chest out that sting would change you. Pretend that there’d be anything left of you, if you did.
14. Pretend that becoming human is freedom, but do not pretend, because you know the truth now, that you were human all along. Do not pretend that it’s easy, because they’re right there beside you, and they feel it, too. Perhaps do pretend that you do not miss the hot slick flow of blood down your throat, even when it wakes you with its sweetness and there’s something beneath the bedclothes you have to hope that neither of them ever notices. Let them love you, and let them learn that love is not a fairy tale. You were never one, either. Do not pretend this is easy, because it’s not, but it’s human, something that you are, now, in all your profane glory, and do not hate it, or love it, but simply let it be.
15. Forget the urgent press of fangs against your lower lip, and never do, because you bought and paid for this, and now they’re the only ghost you carry, and the only one you’ll hate to miss. Forget them, and never do, and know that it when it counted, you mattered. Know that because you matter, you can stand up, and be counted, and never be ashamed again. Bite down sometimes, forgetting, and let the shame wash over you, as long as you never drown in its tide. Let yourself make mistakes for the first time, and find out how to love them. Be Hal Yorke, awkward and odd and kind, and forget that you were once a monster with sharp teeth. Keep that part of yourself locked inside your chest, and only bring it out for Tom’s bowed head and tears in Alex’s eyes. Be a warrior, their warrior, and let them help you carry it. Forget what you once were, if only because you are no longer that monster but still that man. Learn to love yourself through loving them, and, for once, do not be sorry.