The first time Magnus saw Camille in nearly a decade, he said, "I heard your lover died."
They were at a ball, Camille in lush black velvet with pink opals dotting the black lace wrapped around her slender throat. Beneath the lace hung a ruby set in silver. At a glance, the goblet of blood in her hand could be the same as the red wine in Magnus'.
"They have a tendency to do that," Camille replied.
His fingers brushed the beaded fringe that trimmed the neckline of her gown, bold. "Are you in mourning?"
"No," Camille said, smiling. "I just look wonderful in black."
It was an undeniable fact.
It started that night like a spark jumping from match to cigarette. They fucked on the floor in front of the fireplace in Camille's townhouse, ruinous to each other's clothing, black velvet in dark clouds around them. Camille never sweat, her skin only took on a luminous quality like the sheen on a pearl, but Magnus could feel the strength in her body, the force just barely held back by that delicate skin. Camille was in his lap with her arms wound around his neck and her fingertips crawling down the back of his half-on, half-off waistcoat so her fingernails could scrape against his spine.
Her long dark hair unspooled from its pinnings and she leaned in close, her lips against his ear. "I wonder if I could taste your magic in your blood," she murmured.
Magnus never left after that.
For the first few weeks it was all champagne. They kissed with bubbles bursting, tip of Magnus' tongue tracing the curve of Camille's fang. Sometimes she mixed rabbits' blood into her drinks. Magnus would pretend not to grimace when she did this; she would pretend not to notice his grimacing.
He never told Camille anything of his life before she came into it and she never asked. She never offered either; Magnus had no idea how old she was or where she came from or how she came to be what she was. Sometimes she spoke as though she had seen countless millennia go by during one bored blink of her eye, but then again so did Magnus. Talk is cheap, as they say.
Camille was never afraid to be frivolous and as Magnus could be a very frivolous person that suited him well. To last as long as they had, one needed to learn how to skim the cream off life and not always sink down amongst the dregs. Magnus knew his more noble friends did not always approve of his devotion to excess, but he felt he had earned it. He had certainly paid enough for it.
Camille did not pass judgment – not about having a good time, anyway. She was the only person Magnus knew outside of himself who treated the selection of clothing like a profession. She was as good for the debate of textiles and colors as others were for theory or history. She was also free with sharing; in the course of a night, a brooch could travel from Camille's bodice to Magnus' lapel, or it would be decided that beads looped around her neck would be better around his.
But Camille wasn't free with much more than that.
Attention, too, was something Camille gave easily – and snatched back just as quick. She was fond of flirtations and nothing delighted her so much as variety, except perhaps tugging on people's strings to see what she could make them do. Magnus didn't pass judgment about having a good time, but even he had his limits.
Sometimes they had other people. Camille liked to make a game of it, cast herself and Magnus in the twin roles of seductress and seducer. But more often than that she liked to make Magnus jealous. It was easy enough to do, and then once provoked she would take full advantage of his passions.
Magnus knew it wasn't the challenge she liked so much as the resultant disasters. It was the debris she wanted, the bullet shells, the rising dust. Whenever she was able to incite his envy to her own ends, her laughter would echo through the rooms of their fashionable home. Magnus fancied he could hear it even when she was nowhere near, the ghost of her scorn.
Camille's toughness made her vulnerability all the more startling and all the more sweet. There was something intoxicating about being allowed to see her in the moments when she let her mask slip, when her eyes were brimming with bitterness, misery, even fear. Magnus remembered a time shortly after they met, when an unexpected demon attack had left her shivering in his arms. There were moments when he wondered if the vulnerability was simply another layer of deception, but it worked on him equally well either way. Was it wrong to enjoy her softness when she so liked to be sharp?
In the early hours of the evening they lay together on their opulent bed, loosely entangled. Camille was only just awake, and Magnus wasn't much better off; he'd turned nocturnal for her, let his hours shift and stretch to accommodate hers.
The bed, which could have easily fit eight or nine people (and sometimes did), dominated the room, but Camille still kept a coffin at its foot for the nights when she needed one. Magnus had never quite acclimated to the sight of her in it, emerging like the dark queen and Snow White rolled into one. He had decorated it with a length of very fine lace in an effort to make it look like a fussy bench instead of what it actually was, but he found strangers preferred the bizarre novelty of a coffin in the bedroom. It was another of their odd, attractive quirks as a couple. They also kept the windows boarded to preserve Camille's delicate complexion.
"You know we're the same, my love, you and I," Camille said. Her fingers tangled in the beads around Magnus' neck. She was maudlin tonight. "Kissed by darkness."
"How romantic you make it sound," Magnus remarked. He thought she looked impossibly beautiful, wearing only a confection of whisper-thin silk with her hair loose and spilling over her shoulders. Her ruby gleamed in the semi-darkness. It was very appealing to listen to a beautiful woman say tragic things.
"It has to be romantic. All the best lies are."
Magnus ran his thumb over her bottom lip, aware of the teeth waiting just beyond it. "You're an expert at both, I take it. Dishonesty and prettiness."
Camille nipped his finger with dull teeth. "I can tell you vile truths if you want them. Most don't."
"Violence birthed us both," she said, her lips now trailing over the visible veins in his wrist. "Now all of this – the silks, the pearls, even you and I – is just here to soothe the sting and make it seem like there was a value to it. But there wasn't. It only hurt. And goes on hurting."
It was the first she'd spoken of anything like this to Magnus, any hint of her origins or inner feeling about them. "Some choose it," Magnus said carefully. Vampirism. Vice. People have their reasons for choosing all manner of things.
She looked up at him, dark eyes partially veiled by long lashes. There was something there, but it wasn't his to understand. "No one chooses this," she said.
That, Magnus knew, was the truth.
Camille was laughing.
The argument started because of Magnus' bruised ego, as it often did – because he was jealous and he hated being jealous, because Camille was careless with him. Camille had other lovers. It was nothing new.
"I don't live forever so I can dine on the same meal every night, my love," she said, mocking, her lips curling. "Even foie gras would taste like sawdust after a month of eating nothing else."
Magnus' jaw was set and tensed. "What is it that I don't provide you? Aesthetically I'm incomparable; my conversation never disappoints."
"Perhaps you ought to give me less." Camille went from amused to indifferent in the blink of an eye. "Who can get hungry when they're always sated?"
"That's what you want? To be hungry?"
"I want what everyone wants," Camille bit out. "Passion. Excitement. Not to marry like mundanes, not to act as though we're both as old as we truly are. I'm already hungry, Magnus. I want blood. I want more."
"I love you," he told her. "What more is there?"
Camille started laughing so hard Magnus thought she might begin to hiccup, a desperate and almost drunken sort of laughing. "For a man of your creativity you are surprisingly lacking in imagination."
"Don't mock me," he snapped.
Immediately her voice took on a cruel, venomous hiss. "Oh, but darling, you make it so easy."
Magnus made a big show of storming out after that. He left to clear his head, or rather envelope it in a sweeter fog than anger; wine would be most ideal. He passed half the night getting drunk and stealing kisses from strangers in illegal bars before returning home whiskey-drenched and miserable to find Camille. She was ready to make amends, naked and wrapped in a white fur coat. Diamonds were draped across her throat and collarbones in the most opulent necklace Magnus had ever seen. He would have to borrow it one day.
"This isn't going to work," Magnus told her, though of course it already had.
Camille practically purred. "Don't be cross, darling. You know you wouldn't love me half as much if I were boring."
Magnus allowed himself to be pulled into her embrace, stripped of his suit and laid out flat on her fur. But sometimes he wondered why he loved her at all.
Ragnor and Catarina hated Camille, of course. They never came to call in all the years Magnus kept house with her, instead luring him out on trips Camille was rarely invited along for. Magnus endured it with extravagant complaining and Camille with biting sarcasm, but the truth was Ragnor and Catarina could never understand. With their loving mothers and fathers, their protected upbringing, the acceptance they found in the face of the incomprehensible. They couldn't.
Magnus had a darkness in him that few could understand, but Camille could; Camille did. Kissed by darkness. Birthed by violence. Something in them, something shadowy at their core, was the same. Magnus knew that.
They took hot baths in the depths of London winter, heat rising off the water as snow fell gently outside the window. Camille ran wet fingertips over Magnus' skin, marking out the shapes that made up his collarbones and shoulder and chest. "We ought to have you sculpted for posterity," she said. "But of course you know whoever we hired to do it would waste away wanting the marbleized version of you to be their Galatea."
Magnus laughed. "Such flattery," he said. "I don't even need rouge when you talk to me like that."
"Painted, at least," Camille said. "We've gone too long without a portrait and I hate photographs. They're so soulless and gauche."
"So are you," Magnus said, and laughed again when she pinched him. Then she lay her head against his chest, her cheek cool as the chill emanating through the glass. The warmth of the water had no effect on her whatsoever; it was only ever blood that gave her the illusion of heat.
"The sound of your heart fascinates me," she mused. "Can you feel it there, under your skin? It's been so long. I can't remember."
Magnus' fingers curled in her wet hair, hand gently fitting itself to the nape of her neck. Such a strange question, even from Camille; Magnus wondered, not for the first time, how long it had been. Who was the girl Camille before the vampire took her place? He tugged lightly on her hair so she would tilt her head back and he could kiss her. "I can," he said, "When you kiss me and my heart races."
Camille smiled against his mouth. The water sloshed as she turned in his arms and pressed herself against him, arms winding around his neck. "Ah," she said, still smiling, "Then I can feel it too."
Camille was known to leave occasionally with little warning, disappearing for weeks at a time with nary a postcard and brushing off the trips as shopping excursions or visits with old friends. Magnus wasn't ignorant to what was truly going on, but he always found himself waiting for her anyway. He would stalk impatiently through their townhouse, throw parties, conduct business, all with his mind singularly attuned to any sign of Camille's return. Would tonight be the night he heard her footsteps in the hall again? Would she return today with her arms full of parcels, breathless with carrying them all? When would he hear her purring voice calling out for him again, asking if he'd missed her?
Even though he waited, he never knew if he wanted her to come back or not. Would he be free if she never did, or would he be trapped forever in purgatory?
But Camille always returned. Whatever she did while she was gone, she always returned. Magnus held on to that for a long time, longer than he should have, until one day he didn't.
Camille was freshly returned from St. Petersburg, still in her furs, a false story about a Paris trip hanging in the air between them. "Everything has a cost, darling," she told him. "This is my price. I've never lied to you, have I? I never made a promise, or put a ring on your finger. The kind of love I could give you is eternal, but it's not exclusive."
"Camille, my love," Magnus said, savoring the words like a sip of warm brandy because he knew he'd never say them again. "You have to have something to give it. And I think there's nothing in you except vast emptiness that will never be filled."
Her expression hardened. "You think you're so much better than me because you want all those cliché mortal trappings? Well, darling, you can have them. Feast on them. Wear black to your lovers' funerals and spend eternity in mourning."
Magnus smiled and leaned in to press a cool kiss to the unforgiving line of her mouth. "I do look wonderful in black."
And he left.
A hundred years passed before Magnus saw her again. He'd lived so many lifetimes in the interim and yet so little had changed in him; here he remained, loveless, longing. Always wanting, never getting enough. They were at Area, each at either end of a vast shadowy dance floor. Camille wore black, a slip dress that shimmered with so many miniscule sequins that it looked like the wet skin of a reptile. She was surrounded by her people, slinky and bored vampires with their flat gazes and needle-sharp teeth. Magnus had his own kind of people around him, free with affection and wearing too much makeup, just like him except mundane.
Camille didn't look in Magnus' direction. He didn't really want her to. But a part of him wondered if she could feel him there. If the thing they'd had, which lasted such a relatively brief time in the span of his life, had left something behind. A forest decimated by a fire still contained the skeletons of trees.
The song changed and the lights flashed. Magnus picked up his drink and smiled charmingly at the stranger vying for his attention. Like he had many times over the centuries, he simply took a breath and let the past dissipate like dust.