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From the nave and down unto the altar

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1.

Pascal was hungry. His feelings were not often simple and base, but in this case, that’s what they were. He was hungry.

The past weeks he's spent wallowing in his bed, his body too heavy to lift even a finger, weighed down with melancholia and complete absence of desire. Humming tunes under his breath that don’t mean anything, thinking useless thoughts that don’t amount to anything. Faintly, in the back of his head, there’s a voice telling him to get up, to not be an idiot, but he ignored it for as long as he could. Centuries if he had to (but he couldn’t). He’d done years of being an idiot and he’d gotten good at being one only sometimes.

Eventually, he does listen to the voice. He listens, hauls too-heavy limbs out of bed from underneath blankets slightly too rough from being washed the way delicate fabric shouldn’t have been, and dresses mechanically. He only barely remembers to lock his apartment door, and only because last time he forgot someone took with them his very nice laptop. He walks out into the street.

Not very far, because his legs tremble and shake underneath him like he’s a newborn animal and he feels weak in a way he’s incredibly uncomfortable with. He doesn’t exit his block; really only to the alleyway near the end of his street, which, at the end of it opens into a shopping centre with in the middle of it a manmade river surrounded by only a low, pointed fence.

He waits. It’s late in the night, or early in the morning. Not many people are out and he knows in the back of his mind, where his instinct lives, that that’s good, that he doesn’t have the self-preservation needed for these things anymore and that it’s good the world decided to assist him a little today. He hears footsteps, and his arm lashes out, and that’s that.

He’s clutching at the arms of a stranger larger than him while they twitch and spasm, and he’s stood at the end of an abandoned alleyway too close to a body of water for comfort, teeth buried in their neck, head spinning. He’s clumsy and shaking and blood runs down his chin and his neck and down his arm where it’s clutching at the stranger’s pulse.

He drinks for what feels like hours but can’t be more than minutes, ears listening for any sign of human footsteps rushing, of panic or riots. He’s dizzy and his vision has narrowed down to nothing but a pin-prick in front of him. He sucks and Pascal realises there's nothing left but he keeps his fangs buried in the stranger's neck for a moment longer, cradling them like a lover. Carefully, gently, completely in contrast to his early ferociousness, he eases his fangs free, drags his tongue across the mark, feeling it hot under his tongue like a bruise.

His grip loosens, and the person sags out of his arms, their legs buckling from underneath them, sliding unceremoniously down the low cast-iron fence. From there on, it takes only the smallest of shoves to make the body slip into the dark water below them. He staggers home.

Pascal wakes up in his apartment the next day to a soggy carpet and burst pipes.  

 

2.

Over the next weeks, it becomes clear that either some god is out to curse him, his fate finally caught up with him, or his apartment has decided to really start sucking.

Light bulbs flicker when he enters a room, his wallpaper is peeling, the fruit he buys because he likes the look and the shine of it - like jewels - rots within hours, sometimes while he’s watching it happen. His rooms are freezing, his keys go missing, things fall when he doesn’t look.

He’s sitting in his living room, slowly tearing a poster out of a magazine, when his kitchen door shuts with a bang so loud and a force so harsh it doesn’t close fully, slams back open and hits the wall. There’s nobody in his home but him, of that he’s sure.

He does go to check, like a fool, an idiot, like a child, and of course, there’s no one else. He goes back to his magazine.

When the door slams again, he doesn’t get up. He abandons all ideas of divine punishment, and he stays seated on his nice sofa cushions, staring at a magazine of humans in nicer clothes than he is right now. He keeps staring and staring until the door stops moving on its own and there’s silence in his apartment again.   

The very next day, Pascal feels incredibly ridiculous, leaving a party accessory shop with an Ouija board manufactured by a toy company marketing towards children, the box proudly advertising it glows in the dark. He knows better than to fall for cheap marketing ploys, doesn’t expect flickering candles or blood dripping down the walls as it does in the movies humans love to watch.

He stands next to his sofa, the board and little accompanying stone on a table he hastily shoved all his stacks of magazines off of, and he waits.

Nothing happens. He bites his bottom lip in frustration. “Hello ghost,” he yells, voice coming out shrill. “Why are you tormenting me, hm? You think it is funny?”

Standing next to his coffee table in silence, almost willing the little plastic marker to move with his mind, really drives home the absurdity of his situation. He stomps his bare heel into his carpet, folding his arms. “Well, here I am! You want to talk, yes? You think it is funny making my fruits rot? Are you playing a, euhhh… a funny prank, hm?”

Nothing.

The lights in his kitchen flicker, briefly, and somehow this makes him angrier. He throws his hands up and huffs, flinging himself into his arm-chair, legs dangling over one arm, the other supporting his neck. His arm covers half of his face in a dramatic gesture. “What kind of a spirit is it that does not want to talk?” he mutters. “A baby. A stupid child.”

A book falls out of his bookcase. Pascal waves his free hand at it. “Or perhaps a, euhhh… a little dog. One who is unruly, and untrained, and cannot sit still.”

There’s a long silence at that. Long enough Pascal gets curious and slowly lifts his arm away from his eyes, letting it dangle down the side of his chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the little plastic marker move slowly across the Ouija board. When he sits up a little to have a better look, it moves faster as if angry, though Pascal has no issue keeping up.

It takes him embarrassingly long to realise he’s watching the marker create the same words on loop, over and over. He gets up after the sixth ‘f-u-c-k-y-o-u’, takes the board, and upends it into the garbage can.

Not a dog, then, maybe.


3.

Pascal doesn’t hear or notice anything for a while, though his fruit still rots (he’s stopped replacing it,) and his pipes are still blocked. He’d like a shower, but instead, he goes out more, opting to use the showers of strangers. Not because of the spirit tormenting his home. He just likes showers.

He’s half-laying, half sitting on his sofa, head leaning into the back pillows and legs stretched out all the way across it, staring at himself in the camera app on his laptop. He’s making faces and mouthing words he thinks he looks cute saying when a text processing app opens itself. He didn’t know his computer could do this. He marvels at how maybe that’s what the letter keys on it are for, like a typewriter without the paper, when words appear on his screen.

You killed me, it reads. Pascal frowns, trying to get the camera app back so he can watch himself do it. When the Word document stays, he huffs, annoyed. “I killed a lot of people. You are not anything special.”

There’s silence.

Then the light over his head goes impossibly bright and then explodes, tiny bits of glass raining down onto his head and gathering in the neck of his shirt and the keys of his laptop. Pascal curses in three languages.

He leaves his laptop plugged in, open and powered on, growing hot on his coffee table even when he’s not using it.

The next time they talk, weeks later, it seems to be on accident more than anything. His laptop is open and Pascal notices something on the screen moving when he struts past on his way to the bathroom. When he stops and takes obvious notice, he sees it’s open on a game of Minesweeper, another function he’s only taking note of now.

He sits, and for a long couple of minutes, nothing on his screen moves. Pascal isn’t patient by any stretch of the imagination and hasn’t had to be much in his life, but now he waits.

Eventually, without Pascal moving a finger, three squares are triggered, showing little bombs, and the screen reads a small game over. Pascal snickers. “You are terrible. You made the game explode!”

A new game opens, and nothing happens. A text document blinks behind it like it’s unsure of what to say or whether it wants to do this more than start a new mindless computer game. Eventually, still from behind the small window, words appear halfway down the page in a neat font, large enough Pascal barely needs to move to read it.

Why did you kill me?

Pascal huffs and doesn’t need to think about his answer at all. It’s through immense restraint he doesn’t blurt it out immediately. “Are you sure that you want to know? You might not like it.”

Tell me.

“Not that you are in any position to be making demands or any such thing,” Pascal mumbles. The cursor blinks in front of him, waiting. “If you must know, I was hungry. I was very hungry and you were there. Wrong place, wrong time, as you say, I think. If you had not died the way you have, you would have been like myself, and I would have been more disgraced, and I am glad that you are dead instead. I do not care about it.”

There’s more silence for a while, and Pascal does know leaving in the middle of a conversation is rude. He takes the small battery-powered mouse out from underneath the coffee table, one he bought when he realised operating a trackpad was really difficult without heat in your fingers and flicks it on with a manicured nail. He clicks one of the corner squares in the Minesweeper game and immediately exposes eleven more. He makes a little noise of triumph.

Then, before Pascal can do anything, a square in the vicinity of his twelve is triggered and the Game Over screen shows a little cartoon skull. Pascal tuts. “Childish,” he mumbles. “Though I suppose if you are wanting to make me lose at this game and also make my fruits brown and dying, it is your right.”

The text document comes to life just when Pascal hesitantly clicks New Game. Pascal doesn’t see the sentence appear; it just suddenly is.

You know, when you give me permission it takes the fun out of it.

Pascal smothers a giggle into his palm. “I know this, of course.”

Alright.

Pascal wonders what is if anything is at all. Pascal can’t imagine what being dead is like, though sometimes, very occasionally he thinks about it. He can’t imagine what actually being it is. He’s dead only in the ways that matter, but he still moves, he still has skin and useless organs. He can’t for a second imagine what it’d be like to be nothing but air. So he doesn’t try. Instead, he lowers his eyes to his hands resting in his lap, and says, “For what it is worth, I am sorry. I have killed many people, and they are all to me like livestock, and it is not that that I regret, but none of them have come back, ever. So for you being a ghost, or a, euhhh… a spirit, or whatever the word might be, I apologise for that, though I do not know what I did to make it so.”

The laptop makes a noise he doesn’t recognise; a short series of something sounding like horns, triumphant.

When he looks up, he sees the Minesweeper window has moved to fill his screen, and over it are dancing fireworks, next to a banner declaring ‘victory!’  

He sits on his sofa cushions for over an hour more, waiting for something to happen. For books to fly across his room, or for his electronics to spark and burn, or maybe for his apartment to blow up.

Nothing happens.

Nothing happens, so he continues his original path to the bathroom.

 

4.

It takes days, close to a week, before the spirit does anything else. For most of those days, Pascal wonders if it’s moved on. If something about Pascal’s apology resonated, or if knowing the reason for their murder made it easier to leave this realm and go to the next, whatever that may be. He cries one night and then feels incredibly stupid and alone.

That is, until one day he wakes up to his shower running. He runs a hand through his hair, making it delicately and deliberately dishevelled instead of the mess he sometimes wakes with, and tiptoes barefoot out of his room, towards his large bathroom.

Opening the bathroom door, the shower shuts off, then on again, is on for a few seconds, turns off, and then back on. It stays on this time, letting him know it’s for him, and he’s welcome to use it. It looks hot, and he hasn’t been able to shower in his own apartment for weeks and weeks. It’s an olive branch.

Pascal laughs (when was the last time he was able to laugh this much and this genuinely? A long time ago. A time he tries not to think of,) and walks in, leaving the door open so some of the steam in the room can escape. “If you have been wanting to see me undress, you could have just asked!”

The shower shuts off again, and Pascal’s honey-scented conditioner tumbles into the tiled floor, knocked to the ground. The shower turns on again.

Pascal, wearing a smile he doesn’t even try wiping off, begins the long process of taking off his many layers. When he reaches the top lacing of his pants, his door pointedly shuts, and for a couple of seconds he refuses to think of as disappointing, he thinks he’s alone.

He spends over half an hour under the hot water, water that stays hot, water that’s never managed to stay hot this long, soaping himself up, washing off and then repeating more of the same, wasting half his tube of shampoo and another quarter of body wash. He walks out of the stall dripping, his feet nearly slipping on the tiles. Over his sink dangles a towel that wasn’t there before, and that he certainly hadn’t thought to unearth. “Do you know,” he chirps into the humid air. “It is impolite to spy! At least you should be joining me next time.”

There’s no clang of bottles and perfumes hitting his bathroom tiles, so he dries his back, and his shoulders and his hair. When he looks up, there’s a crudely drawn penis in the fog on his obsolete mirror. He won’t admit to laughing.

It occurs to Pascal after months of this that not living alone is nicer than doing so. When he comes home, sometimes, the air around him is warmer than he knows the general air in his room is, and it can’t possibly be him, his skin cold and dead. His showers are never cold, his fruit doesn’t rot at all anymore, always fresh and coated in something that seems to perpetually shine. He falls asleep with his curtains wide open and when he wakes and the sun shines outside, they’re drawn firmly closed. Sometimes, the air in his home is permeated with feelings that aren’t his.

It’s like having an invisible housekeeper, though he’d never say it out loud, feeling somehow certain his ghost wouldn’t like to be called one. Instead, he says his thank you’s cheerfully, and takes what he’s given.

He and his ghost don’t speak much. If they’re not around Pascal’s laptop, they’re limited to yes or no questions, the flickering of light bulbs or the rustling of papers. Using Pascal’s laptop is nice, but takes a lot of energy and if they do it for too long, losing time in conversation and games of Spider Solitaire, the apartment is silent for the next couple days while Pascal looks for signs of life (the irony of the wording lost on nobody).

Pascal learns to use his mobile phone and the alarm on it to tell them when to let it go.

It takes seven months for him to learn his ghost is called Ricardo. He was on a walk when he was killed because he doesn’t sleep well. This Pascal and Ricardo have in common. He’s thirty years old. Pascal is two-hundred and forty-two. This they don’t have in common.

After eight months, Ricardo admits he worries about forgetting what he looked like, alive. He feels less together every passing day, more like the wind is taking him with it as it goes. He can leave the apartment block and move to the end of the street, but no further. The last time he tried, he felt as if something was taken from him, something he won’t get back and something he doesn’t remember having.

Being a spirit sounds only barely more frightening than being alive, Pascal thinks privately.

“Tell me of what you remember, then,” Pascal urges. “Of how you look. Tell me of it, and I will do the remembering for you.”

His skin was dark, and his hair was light and unruly, and he was tall. Pascal imagines and imagines, but his thoughts keep changing, keep thinking of different humans, keep comparing to models in his magazines, and frustrated, he blurts out, “I will just have to see you, then.”

How. You can’t.

“I can so!” Pascal twines his fingers together and crosses his legs to avoid bouncing like an overexcited toddler. “We are All Hallows Eve in months. I can see you then. I will just have to do a few little things. It is not just, euhhh... ah! It is not just superstition, you know. It is then that the veils between worlds are the most thinnest. Every child knows this. I will buy some things, and then I will see you.”

Pascal’s cellphone blares a poppy tune into the still air of his living room, and his laptop turns off without him even looking at it. He staunchly refuses to be disappointed at what’s clearly a rejection. He refuses, and refuses and refuses, but it doesn’t remove the feeling.

 

5.

His apartment rooms are very quiet for all but two days. After the first day, he goes out to hunt (he makes sure to destroy the bodies, in hopes that that was where he went wrong), and when he comes back, the early morning of the second, there’s a word document blinking on his laptop.

I’ll do it, it reads, and Pascal doesn’t want to and doesn’t try to hold back an excited sound of triumph.

The weeks leading up to the end of October are quiet. Ricardo barely talks to him, barely responds to his prompts at the Minesweeper game, which Pascal is still not very good at. The only reason Pascal knows he’s still there is that his fruits are glossy and red, and his showers warm without needing heating up first.

On the afternoon of October thirty-first, Pascal goes out and purchases candles, honey, herbs, spices, sweet wine, anything he faintly remembers serves to tether and draw spirits. He returns before sundown, spreads everything out neatly on his coffee table. The honey he mixes in a bowl with the herbs, the spices he sets out separately, the wine he opens and leaves in its bottle, and the candles he lights and spreads out across the room. He sets everything up the way he thinks it’s supposed to be, and when the sun begins setting, he waits.

For a long hour, nothing happens. He blows a lock of hair out of his face where it falls into his eye, agitated, anxious and impatient. Are these things meant to take hours? He can’t say he’s ever tried, but surely if he’d known the amount of time he’d have to just sit around waiting for something he wants to be handed to him, he’d have thought twice before attempting it. Maybe about methods of more instant gratification.

When blowing at it stops being effective, he raises his hand to tuck the long hairs behind his ear instead. This time, he notices out of the corners of his eyes the honey in the bowl go from a dark gold to translucent, all colour drained in seconds. The wine has already been through the same treatment, and the candles flicker. Pascal squints in the half-darkness, but all he can see in front of the coffee table is a very vague shape of someone. A large someone, but too wispy for discerning features.

As the sun sets further and the city around them goes to sleep, Pascal can see a heavy brow, a strong jaw, big hands, bright eyes, thick locks of hair. Fingers in recognisable shapes.

Eventually, the person in front of him exhales loudly, the breath he doesn’t need a visible cloud in between them. When he speaks, it’s deep, simultaneously there and not, and sounds like he’s speaking through a paper tube, hardly any louder than a whisper. “Did it work?”

Pascal gapes at him only long enough to get his bearings.

“I would say that it did, yes. Welcome, Ricardo.”

Ricardo takes a hesitant step to get around the coffee table, looks at his legs like he’s simultaneously affronted and amazed he needs to use them to get around again, surprised at the feel of Pascal’s soft rug under the soles of his feet. Then, he heads to the bathroom as fast as he can carry himself.

Pascal frowns and moves to follow. Ricardo in the bathroom light is strange. Through him, he can see his own shower stall, can see the faint form and shape of tiles in what can’t really be skin, too translucent. Ricardo looks colourless, save for his eyes, and looks like he’s made from thick jelly instead of flesh and blood. He’s grasping at his own face, frowning at himself in the mirror, mouth set downwards.

“You are handsome,” Pascal offers cheerfully. “I did think you would be.”

“Why,” Ricardo asks, running a hand through his hair and watching it bounce back. Pascal doesn’t answer, because he doesn’t know why, and thinks it’s a ridiculous thing to ask regardless.

They end up sitting on the sofa awkwardly, Pascal not really sure what to do with someone you’ve known for eight months and yet barely know at all, and Ricardo still trying to work out the limits of his form as it is. Pascal finds out the frown is a permanent fixture on Ricardo’s face, because he doesn’t sound confused or frustrated when he says, “Tell me about yourself.”

Pascal does, even though they could do this any other day of the year too, if only because he likes talking about himself, and he likes having someone to talk to, and he likes that Ricardo is the person he’s talking to and that now, in this form, Ricardo can scoff, and tell him he’s a brat, and also, very rarely, chuckle. A deep sound that dances almost tangible in between them, one Pascal wants to grab, make thread of, and wear. Pascal asks him, “and how do you feel,” and Ricardo answers with a strong, “solid,” and it’s easy.

Once in awhile, Ricardo will move to one of the candles, and the flame will flicker, and the candle will drain just a little bit faster, and Ricardo’s form will seem briefly a little more stable, a little more steady. Pascal takes to holding one of his hands in the two of his because whenever Ricardo performs his ghostly tricks with the candles, all of him will feel warm for just a few seconds.

When the morning comes, neither of them expect it. They notice it only in the fading pallor of Ricardo’s skin, the way he seems to vibrate and shiver and his voice takes on a hollow vibrato when he speaks. The sun rises, unbidden, and Ricardo fades, and fades, and fades, and looks neither sad nor happy about it.

When sunlight begins poking through the sides of the heavy curtains, Pascal is left with his hands out, clutched around nothing, and with a tiredness behind his eyes signifying the morning. His voice sounds small when he calls out, “Ricardo?” but when the lightbulb above him flickers on and off and on and off again, his smile is blinding.

 

6.

Pascal knows what love feels like. He has felt it, enough for his lifetime, and when he comes home, feeling healthy and well and exhausted from hunting, and his shower begins running, he feels it in his stomach as well as in his heart.

It’s foolish falling in love with a ghost. A little star-crossed, like in the stories. It might be that he’s holding Ricardo back, keeping him from moving on. That he’s failing to do something he should be, and he doesn’t try to find out what it is, selfishly refusing to do anything that would break this weird unspoken thing that’s happening.

He makes excuses to himself, telling himself, neither of them would ever get older. It’s easy. It’s unlikely either of them would ever die, and they could be together that way. On the other hand, his brain tells him, he knows Ricardo remembers less of being alive every day. He knows Ricardo forgot the sound of his own voice, and what eating feels like, and what it’s like to feel the wind on your skin. Ricardo forgets his birthday, and Pascal eagerly tells him it must have been near or in May, stubborn as Ricardo is, it can only be then. But you killed me in November, Ricardo tells him in Arial font. Pascal tells him, “we could celebrate in November, or on All Hallow’s Eve, since then we can see each other, but you are no less stubborn as a bull for it.” He’s keeping Ricardo in static when he could and should be constantly moving.

At one point, he says something of the sort to Ricardo. That they should be taking steps to find out how to make Ricardo able to do more if there’s nothing to do to stop Ricardo slowly losing more of himself, that they should find ways to help him move on.

Ricardo makes fun of him for it, says that regardless he isn’t alive, and neither is Pascal, so who is he to talk, but Pascal knows there’s a big difference between being tangible and intangible, even though neither of their lungs produce air and Pascal’s heart doesn’t beat most of the time, and both of them are cold. When Pascal, frustrated, mentions an exorcist, his laptop slams shut with the force of Ricardo leaving and doesn’t return until, a couple of days later, Pascal mutters apologies into his pillow.

Pascal takes to buying honey and leaving it out on saucers on his cabinets as if to entice insects. In the mornings, it’ll be colourless and watery, and whatever room he walks into will be warm and gently lit. Sometimes, he purchases juices, or alcohol, or bushels of dried herbs, and every time, the very next day, they’ll be drained of colour, or scent, or flavour, and every time, there will be kindness in return.

Ricardo lowers the lights Pascal doesn’t need when his eyes are pinched with headache, or hairpins or ties will conveniently be in the next space he looks when he needs them. His phone will light up or make sound when he searches for it, everything smells a little sweeter, a little nicer, his hair never tangles and sometimes he swears he can feel light touches to it, unwinding tresses or attempting at braiding, with things that could be fingers if Ricardo was capable of holding shape.

Pascal falls in love with a ghost, over the span of only a few months and only having seen him one night, and spares barely any thought to feeling foolish about it.

“I want to kiss you,” he tells his laptop one day. In response, the brightness of his screen moves impossibly, painfully bright, and a lightbulb in his kitchen shatters. Pascal replaces it the next morning without complaint.

Sorry about the lightbulb, his laptop reads in the afternoon, and then, I want to kiss you too.

 

7.

The next All Hallow’s Eve comes closer. They don’t talk about it. Pascal, just like the year before, goes out and buys an incredible amount of honey, and lavender, and cloves, more candles than the last time, because he wants to feel Ricardo grow impossibly hot for a few seconds before he cools off again after touching them, has been thinking about it for weeks. He buys enough wine it’d be plenty for half of the entire city.

He arranges it all on the table. He takes the stack of magazines he thought to buy for the wait and begins tapping his toes onto his carpet nervously before the sun even kisses the horizon.

This time after the sun is well past gone, as well as his offerings when he notices Ricardo in front of him, visible and as solid as is possible, he jumps up on his tiptoes to kiss him. He phases directly through him and lands on his knees in the plush carpet, feeling like he got doused in cold slime and like he needs a shower. Ricardo turns around, moves so Pascal’s lower legs are no longer directly inside of him, and reaches out a hand. “Sorry,” he says. “I have to focus to be solid. It’s weird. I sink into the floor if I don’t.”

Pascal, pouting, takes his hand, Ricardo’s fingers cold and solid around his own. “You could have at the very least kissed me back. Now I look like a fool.”

Ricardo just raises an eyebrow and leans in.

Kissing a ghost is strange. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, like touching his lips to a bowl of lumpy jelly and moving them around. He decides, after a five-second kiss, he would like to try again, so they do.

Sticking his tongue in a bowl of jelly is even stranger, but maybe in a good way. Ricardo loses focus the first time he tries, and flickers out of existence for a couple of terrifying seconds, before reappearing, and trying again. By the time Ricardo reaches for a candle for the first time since appearing, makes it flicker, drains it, grows hot, Pascal’s lips tingle and burn and look like he’s eaten a million cherries.

Ricardo tells him of what he does when Pascal is out, which is play with Pascal’s barely used chess set, fill his music library with things Pascal would never listen to, and live in his desk drawer. It’s a small, dark space, and it smells nice, Ricardo says defensively when Pascal seems affronted. Pascal, in turn, talks to him about his family, stilted, and of being in love once, and of being in love now.

They kiss and touch and kiss until Ricardo fades, and this time, Ricardo does look like he wants nothing more than to stay.  

 

8.

“Can we have sex when you are like this?” Pascal asks one day, without preamble. It’s a testament to how often he does this that the lights only flicker off for a few seconds this time, and the only difference on his laptop screen is the sound turning up a couple of unnoticed decibels.

I don’t know, the document reads after a few minutes.

Pascal purses his lips and inspects his sharp nails. “I think that we should try.”

He saunters into his bedroom without waiting for a reply, because he’s half-hard thinking about it, about being watched, imagining Ricardo’s large hands, heated palms running over his thighs, and because he gets what he wants most of the time.

He flops down on the bed with little ceremony and begins wriggling himself out of skintight jeans he didn’t bother to wear underwear with, it’d cause lines, and imagines Ricardo’s fingers doing the job instead. He can’t imagine Ricardo would be graceful about it, so he laughs, high-pitched and happy, thinking of them fumbling and clumsily wrestling the fabric.

The bedside lamp flickers on, letting him know Ricardo is here, with him, watching, and it’s the only thing making him slow down and run sure fingers down the fabric of his shirt, tugging it up his chest, up to his chin, and off.

Pascal doesn’t feel like wasting time, but he does try for coyness trailing his hand over his nipples, scratching a little down his stomach, before touching light fingertips to the side of his cock. He teases himself while he watches the sheet next to him move; Ricardo makes it move, wants him to know he’s there, and the thought is enough to make Pascal shiver.

Ricardo teases him with light touches, barely any more than a gust of air on his skin, incapable of summoning the amounts of energy needed to push his body as it is into shapes. Phantom fingers and hands, many more than any person could have, like the touches of over ten people, gusting over his thighs, over his chest and his nipples, over his cock and his neck.

Pascal moans loudly when he feels what feels like nails raking down his thighs, when he feels what feels like teeth at his shoulder, his hips jerk, sweat gathers on his skin and he imagines a tongue licking at him, and then it feels like there is. Pascal teases fingers of his other hand, previously fisted in the bedsheet next to him, where Ricardo might be, further down and presses the tip of one finger into himself. He spreads his legs, spreads them wider when he feels light pressure at his knees, something urging him, and Pascal gasps.

He thrusts into the loose grip of his own fist, feels something pressing at his throat like Ricardo is trying so hard to focus on being there like he’s spurred on by the choked-off moans Pascal is letting escape and wants to touch him desperately. Pascal whimpers, chokes out Ricardo’s name, tightens his fist, a heartbeat pounding in his head that can’t be his own, and then for a glorious moment, he feels himself pressed bodily into the mattress, all of him surrounded and loved and warm heaviness laying on top of him. He comes with a shout and then a whine, and doesn’t clean himself off until the sheets next to him rustle and he feels come drying on his pelvis.

It takes a couple of days for Ricardo to recover enough energy to flicker his lights, and then another couple for him to be able to turn the shower on and use the laptop again. Pascal leaves out little offerings, the usual honey, and sometimes jam or syrup, and throws out the colourless remainders when Ricardo is done with them, until Ricardo lets him know he’s back.

 

9.

There's a vampire hunter in the area. There's a small, stupid little article about it on the internet, a blog post by the hunter herself, which is idiotic in more ways than just one. Pascal doesn't use the internet, and wouldn't even if he did know how. He finds out about the hunter because one day he's making little videos of himself reading from his magazines, and it appears in front of his camera app, blocking off the rest of the screen.

Pascal tuts and tries to close the window, to continue with what he was doing, but Ricardo won’t let him. Pascal grows aggravated and eventually leans back, arms folded. “Stop it! Hunters are no threat to us, I told you this. They are alone, and stupid, and know nothing.”

You’re alone, his word document counters.

“I am not so weak as to let a stupid little hunter capture me,” Pascal hisses. “She is nothing.”

Ricardo doesn’t bring it up for another two weeks. Ricardo barely brings anything up. Pascal feels his moods, and they are testy and angry, and he feels them infect his own, and before he knows and realises it he’s snapping at Ricardo for leaving lights on, for doing things he previously liked, keeping his rooms warm, arranging his sheets and blankets.

Ricardo shoves a post at him on his laptop, one made by the same, stupid hunter. A short post declaring victory, one with photographs that make Pascal’s stomach turn. Ricardo clicks on the pictures, zooming in as if to say, I told you, I’m warning you to be careful, she’s getting closer, she’s not as stupid as you think, she knows how to kill creatures like you, and Pascal refuses to take the bait. Ricardo knows nothing. Ricardo doesn’t know anything. Instead, Pascal stands up, and bites out, “You of all people have not a single right to tell me how to not die.”

Pascal walks out of his apartment without locking the door.

When Pascal hunts, he likes going to clubs, likes going home with people, likes dancing and flirting. He doesn’t often bring people home with him and hasn’t since Ricardo moved in, but tonight he’s tempted. He seduces an idiot who grabs his ass five minutes after they meet, and wants to bring him home, wants Ricardo to watch him with someone else while they’re fighting and wants him to watch when he kills him. Petty, and a little unhealthy, but Pascal is far from caring, annoyed and faking flirty winks and banter.

The stranger slams him into the front door, right in his hallway, which Pascal usually likes. This time, he fumbles for the doorknob and hurries to open it. The lights are off when they get indoors, the stranger attached to his neck, clumsily kissing in a way Pascal is sure nobody likes. His room is cold, the laptop is powered off, there’s a breeze in his room that means one of his windows is open.

He grinds into the person in front of him, moaning theatrically, and the lights flicker. He grins, does it again, rolls his body forward, flashes his fangs. Suddenly, every light in his room goes bright, impossibly so, then explodes in a small rain of glass. Pascal’s partner detaches themselves, mutters a wide-eyed “what the fuck,” before the window slams shut and the door slams back open.

The stranger, in a fit of self-preservation, rushes out with muttered excuses, and Pascal stands in his living room with his face pinched and his fists clenched. “What are you doing this for,” he hisses.

Books are flung from his bookcase, scatter over the floor.

“You are thinking I am like a child,” Pascal continues, flinging his arms wide. “You warn me about things and you know nothing of them, you know nothing about me. You are a stupid ghost, dead, and I am here, and I have a lot of life left for me to be living, and a lot of people to kill. You know that I do this. And yet you are treating me like I am the one who knows nothing.”

The microwave he’s not used since he moved in shivers, its door slams violently, breaking the glass in it. The kettle, a cheap one that came with his apartment, unused, whistles loudly, boils over, breaks, explodes violently.

Pascal ignores all of it. He knows something of dramatics, he’s very good at them himself, and he knows none of it holds any substance. “You think I am yours and you are mine when none of that is true. You are of nobody. You are dead, and I am mine and mine alone. I tell me what to do, and nobody else.” When his laptop flickers on, he’s already past wanting to talk about anything. Instead, Pascal says, loudly in the silence of the room, “I should have exorcised you.”

Nothing follows but silence. It makes him want to scream.

“I should have asked the telephone book how to rid of you,” Pascal spits. “I should have found an exorcist, or a, euhh… a shade! I should have done that immediately. But most of all, I should have known you were a coward.”

Something falls in the corner of his room, something heavy, something shatters in his bathroom, but Pascal’s voice climbs till all he can hear are his own shrill, accented tones and rushing in his head like waves. “I should have known. My sire did always say it. Any spirit that lingers is a coward. Only cowards are afraid of what comes next. They are afraid and stupid and small, too scared of Hell that they would prefer to stay in a world where they have nothing. You are a coward, Ricardo, for only cowards like you linger after death, and I want nothing to do with you.”

He doesn’t need to breathe anymore, hasn’t had to for hundreds of years, but he still feels choked and breathless.

There’s silence, and darkness around him, for seconds that seem like hours, and then howling. Incredibly loud, deafening like the roar of a storm in his ears. A wind so loud, and so violent it blows the glass out of his windows, shatters it in his cabinets and breaks his saucers apart in bits. Everything not attached is flung across the room, his jar of honey flung into the wall, shattering, dripping down.

It’s over in seconds, and the silence rings louder than the noise.

Pascal blinks, loosens his fists and straightens his fingers, and knows that for the first time in over two years, he is well and truly alone.

 

10.

Pascal checks every small and dark space in his apartment. He checks his bedside table, the drawers of his dressing table, looks underneath the sink in his bathroom, even peers and calls apologies down his drains. He apologises, and begs, and leaves offerings that go untouched. He does this for three weeks and then straightens his back and forces himself to deal with the realisation he’s made Ricardo move on.

He’d rather have called an exorcist than this, though.

He’s alone, and he’s good at being alone, despite what he’d been telling himself the past year. And so he continues on as he had before. He makes faces in his cameras, he sways to music and hunts and survives the way he had before. Nobody misplaces his keys, nobody makes his lights flicker, he has to wait ages before his shower warms up, and he buys clothing and jewellery with the money he might have spent on nice honeys before.

He survives, but it’s not too long before he feels himself weighed down with familiar melancholy. This happened while Ricardo lived with him too, and he hadn’t expected it to stop, but when it happened, Ricardo had made his phone play songs at him, or had tried to tickle him under his feet, or touched his hairs with light pressure that might have been petting in another universe. Now, he was alone again.

He forces himself to go out, bitter taste in the back of his throat.

He’s not an idiot, though. He knows when he’s being followed, and he started hearing it many streets before, the familiar stumble of feet on the pavement. The girl really is stupid and doesn’t know anything, and he relishes in the knowledge he was right and Ricardo was wrong for only seconds.

He picks up his pace; he could lose her easily, could snap her neck like a pretzel stick, but doesn’t. It’d be more trouble than he wants it to be, even though it’d be barely any.

His survival instincts decide to kick in when the girl, barely twenty, still too hesitant, jabs a long, silver pipe through the left socket of his eye, and makes another join it in his chest. He manages barely a scratch on her hand and thinks he doesn’t have any right accusing others of cowardice.

He finds Ricardo underneath the sink in his kitchen. Ricardo makes a sound when he sees him, something maybe-hopeful and maybe-apologetic, and Pascal hears it. Ricardo moves like he’s nothing more than a wisp, shapeless and colourless, which Pascal supposes he is.

You’re dead, he says, after a long while, and Pascal thinks that makes sense, but he doesn’t have to like it. He reaches out, but he doesn’t have hands, only vague shape.

You came back, Ricardo says too, which doesn’t make any sense, because Pascal was never the one who left. Pascal tries to pout. You destroyed my rooms, he says, and Ricardo says, sorry about that.

For a while, they rest next to each other, and Pascal has to make a conscious effort to not float down to the basement, through the floor, the grass, down to the centre of the earth. He and Ricardo touch, and it’s more than before, because this time it feels more like they’re liquids sinking into each other than two solids trying not to, and they merge a little. Ricardo’s voice is barely there when he says, let’s go, and then, can I come with you, and Pascal doesn’t know where they’re to go, or why Ricardo has to ask, but he says yes nonetheless.

Everything is bright, and getting brighter, and the air shivers around them. First, Pascal burns, then freezes, then floats between the two as a happy medium, and when he feels himself slowly disappear and reappear somewhere else, somewhere warmer, Ricardo is still with him.

For moments, he’s nothing, and then he’s everything, and it’s alright.