One thing Lisa appreciated about Dracula: he had never been clingy. He rarely started conversations himself, and never minded if she was too busy to talk. (Which she very often was these days. Someday she’d get less busy. After one more semester of med school and at least three more years of residency.) Lisa thought it must be an age thing—live through enough centuries and you stop noticing something as tiny and trivial as a week.
So she was surprised to see a missed call and two texts’ worth of random keysmashes from Dracula. Lisa meant to check up on him, she did, but then the cardiologist she was rounding with paged her and the texts dropped out of her mind. She forgot all through the rest of her twelve-hour day; by the time it was over she had just enough brainpower to get herself home, eat three protein bars in the shower, and then collapse.
The next morning—which started two hours later than the day before, thankfully, since she was in clinic and not on call—her roommate, Ion, caught Lisa at the coffeepot. “There’s a panther on our porch.”
Lisa very slowly lifted her head from the counter. “Huh?” she asked, intelligently.
Ion nodded at the front door, shell-shocked.
Apparently this was going to be Lisa’s problem. She sighed and walked to the front window, pushing aside the curtains. Sure enough, sprawled on the railing of their townhouse’s porch was an enormous, long-furred black-and-gray tabby, seemingly relaxed but its tail whipping in agitation. Catching movement, it glanced up at the window and let out the deepest mew Lisa had ever heard in her life. It craned forward, overbalanced with a shocked yowl, and barely managed to land upright on the porch.
“Well,” said Lisa, half-glancing back at Ion, “It’s not a panther. Panthers don’t live in Europe.”
“Then what the hell is it?”
“A really big kitty?” She didn’t know a lot about animals, and what little she could remember was lost in her pre-coffee fog.
But…somehow she doubted it was quite that, either. Over three years since she’d met Dracula and Lisa still hadn’t bothered with learning magic herself, but she’d gotten pretty good at spotting when something was off.
The cat stretched up to perch its paws on the windowsill and stared at her.
“Are its eyes red?” Ion asked. From the corner of her eye Lisa saw him cross himself. The cat shot Ion a contemptuous glance.
Oh, God, Lisa thought. She knew that contemptuous glance. The cat made a noise of protest as Lisa let the curtain drop, but it trailed off when she unlocked the door.
As soon as she stepped out onto the porch, shivering in the morning fog, the cat twined around her bare legs. Its fur was soft but it was cold as the surrounding air. Lisa knelt, holding out her arms, and the cat leapt into them. With a noise like an engine roaring it began to purr and then immediately froze, eyes widening. “You’re a loud little man, aren’t you?” Lisa said, slipping into cat vocabulary on reflex. The cat gave her an affronted look, and she grinned as she rose to her feet. “How’s it feel to be small, huh?”
“Small?” Ion protested.
“Relatively. He, ah, I think this is my neighbor’s cat from back home?” The cat nuzzled against Lisa’s jaw and began purring again, more softly this time but still enough to make her chest rattle. Carefully she stepped up to the threshold. Lisa didn’t feel any pressure, but the cat flattened against her chest and its claws dug briefly into her shirt. “Come on, Dracula, you can come in,” she said, and he relaxed. Lisa really should have given him an invitation earlier, but she’d only moved a few months before and it was always more convenient to go to his house than the other way around—no roommates to deal with that way. At least he’d gotten here before the sun had risen.
“The cat’s name is Dracula.”
Lisa nodded and, straight-faced, added, “He bites.” Ion yanked his hand back. “I don’t know how he got here, but this is definitely him—I’ll call my neighbor and figure this out, but would it be a problem if Drac stayed here for a day or two until it’s sorted?” Surely they could find out what happened and fix it before too long, right? God, she hoped so. She was supposed to design a research study by next week and hadn’t even started the literature search yet.
Thankfully Ion was kind of a pushover. “If it’s just for a few days,” he agreed, and Lisa gave him a grateful thumbs up.
She had to shove Dracula up on her shoulders to fix herself a cup of coffee. He obviously wasn’t comfortable there, claws digging in through the worn fabric of her pajamas, but he stayed in place as she fixed her hot cup of caffeine and went to her room. Lisa sat down gingerly on the bed and Dracula slid off her shoulders, into her lap. “So,” she started, “you are Vlad, right?”
The cat nodded vigorously, which was such an odd image Lisa wished she had a video camera. “Can you talk?” He shook his head. Of course, that would be too easy. “Can you turn back?” Another no. “How did you—no, you can’t answer that. Don’t nod, that wasn’t a question—asshole.”
Dracula tilted his head, looking entirely too pleased with himself. Lisa gulped down her coffee. It was definitely him.
He didn’t seem worried, so it couldn’t have been part of an attack and it was probably reversible. Magic experiment gone wrong, maybe? Or maybe he’d bumped into something weird in the storage rooms? Once Lisa had picked up a rusty gardening trowel in one of the storage rooms and burped frogs for a week.
“Will this wear off on its own?” she asked finally. Dracula shrugged, another moment she tried to save in her memory; it was just weird to see a cat move like bad CGI. “Any chance it’s a true-love’s-kiss kind of thing?”
Dracula cocked his head for a moment and then lifted his chin expectantly. So Lisa kissed her boyfriend on his little black nose. It was adorable and very satisfying, but nonetheless he remained a gigantic cat instead of turning back into a gigantic man. Dracula didn’t seem surprised. Lisa sighed. “Look, I’m sure this sucks, but is it urgent? Because I have to be at the hospital in—” she glanced at her clock— “an hour.”
“Mrow,” Dracula agreed, in approximately the same register as a bassoon.
Lisa had to close her eyes for a second. “You’re so cute.”
He narrowed his eyes at her and slipped off her lap, onto the bed. Watching him move was funny; there was a grace Lisa associated with both Dracula and cats, a supreme comfort in their own abilities, but Dracula obviously wasn’t used to this body. Still, he managed to look extremely superior as he curled up on the comforter and stretched his head out to rest on his front legs.
“Cute,” Lisa insisted, reaching out to scratch behind his ears. Dracula hissed at her, but it was half-hearted.
Lisa beat Ion home, which was good, because when she opened the door Dracula was very obviously reading Stiff on the floor. “Having fun?” she asked, hanging up her white coat.
“Mmrph.” Dracula stretched out his front legs and Lisa bit back a grin.
“Yeah, thought so.” She flopped down in the armchair and closed her eyes—just for a second, she thought. Her feet ached like hell. “Let’s think this through.” God, she was exhausted. At least it was Friday. Two whole days to get her boyfriend back to normal and do her homework before she had to get back to her rotation. A warm weight settled in her lap. Lisa cracked her eyes open and met red ones. Tentatively she ran a hand down his spine, fur soft against her skin, and breathed a little easier. “Just so you know? I’m never letting this go. And I am telling Isaac next time he comes over.”
Dracula glared at her, but then he melted into her chest and started purring softly. So she didn’t take it too seriously.
Dracula was never this cuddly, either. Not as if he avoided touching her, but as if it didn’t occur to him to do so without her baiting him. Lisa had always chalked it up to him being alone and celibate for who-knew-how-long, but now she wondered if it was something a little more psychological. Like the way he never knew how to react to compliments. If she said something about his mind or his powers it was all smooth arrogance, but years into their relationship, he still got quiet and squirrelly when Lisa suggested she might actually find him attractive. Lisa scratched under his chin and Dracula’s eyes drifted shut as his contented rumbles grew stronger.
“Okay. So. Isaac’s out of the country. Hector would probably call this an improvement. Carmilla—” Dracula made a noise of protest, muffled since he’d stuck his face in her chest. Lisa flicked his ear and wondered if he was enjoying the view. And if so, would that be weird for him, considering? Anyway. “Carmilla is not getting near you while you can’t fight her off. I could call Rahela?”
He looked up just to give her the stink-eye. Lisa made a face back.
“No Belmonts, fine.” Absentmindedly she poked Dracula on the nose, and he went cross-eyed trying to keep an eye on her. She was definitely never letting this go. “There’s a magic shop downtown, I think? We could try that. Don’t give me that look, I’m pretty sure they’re real.”
Despite having no eyebrows, he still managed to give the impression of lifting one.
“Worst comes to worst, I have to finally learn some magic,” Lisa said. “C’mon, babe, how hard can it be?”
It was only the thing he’d spent half a billion years studying, after all. But anyone could do magic, if they had the right tools and good enough instructions; Lisa knew that much. He was funding Lisa’s whole future. The least she could do was try to help him out of a scrape with a minimum of embarrassment.
“Meow,” Dracula said, wary.
Lisa had only been to The Magic Box in Targoviste once. She’d wandered in while exploring downtown one rare lazy Saturday, and realized it was legit when the cashier discreetly tried to ask about the bite marks in her neck. Once Lisa had clarified that yes, she knew a vampire had done it, and yes, she’d let him bite her on purpose, the shopkeep had offered her a coconut oil and hemp salve to help the bites heal. One eight-ounce tub would have cost a week’s worth of grocery money. Lisa had declined, looked at a few crumbling books, and left. So maybe it wasn’t entirely legitimate, but it was at least a start.
She pushed open the door. A fog of incense slapped her in the face, strong enough to make her eyes water, and Dracula sneezed directly into her ear. “Babe,” she whined.
The shop was small but dense, long rows of dark wood shelves holding crystals and candles and knickknacks, making it impossible to see more than a few feet in. The only really clear area was the counter, behind which was a glass-enclosed bookcase. A youngish woman Lisa didn’t recognize was flipping through a tome next to the register. At Lisa’s entry she glanced up and frowned a little at Dracula, but she didn’t say anything. Lisa beamed at her.
Dracula, though, had no use for something as trivial as other people. He slipped off Lisa’s shoulders, landing easily on his feet—he’d adjusted quickly to his new body—and began trotting down through the rows. “Hold on,” Lisa ordered. He gave off an aura of impatience but complied as she grabbed a basket. A couple of giggling teenagers giggled harder as Dracula led her by them.
Their first obstacle came when he reached the right group of shelves—booklets, most of them only one or two pages and reminding Lisa of nothing so much as sheet music. He stretched up to rest his front paws on the third shelf from the ground and tried to pull out one booklet with his teeth. “Babe, just let me get it.” Spell to Reverse Minor Curses, it read, with a surprisingly modern shitty graphic on the front. Lisa opened the first page. Dracula scanned it, tail lashing in frustration; he quickly shook his head. Lisa put it back and pulled out another.
Nothing met Dracula’s specifications. Going from the titles, all the spells seemed to be very low-level—minor reversals, tiny cosmetic illusions. After twenty minutes and three shelves Lisa realized they weren’t getting anywhere. “Let’s try something else,” she said, worrying at her lip. She was in over her head, here, but she could still use her brain. When she set off back towards the counter, Dracula followed.
The cashier—Anya, going by her badge—looked up with a customer-service smile as Lisa approached. “Hi there.”
“Hi—” Dracula jumped up on the counter, landing heavily, and the cashier jolted back. “Sorry. There wasn’t a sign about animals? I swear he doesn’t knock stuff off shelves.” Yet.
“No problem at all. We welcome familiars, as long as they don’t cause trouble.”
Lisa fidgeted with the end of her braid. “I’m definitely familiar with the big guy, but he’s not my familiar,” she said. The cashier’s smile didn’t change. Well, Lisa thought she was funny at least. Dracula made a noise suspiciously like a snort, and Lisa gestured at the locked bookcase behind the counter. “Do you keep any spells on hand to reverse animal transformations?”
“Oh.” Anya did a double take, staring at Dracula, and his fur began to fluff out in indignation. “Oooh. Yeah, okay, I think I’ve got something.” She unlocked one cabinet and rifled through some of the stock before pulling out a very old notebook. She flipped through a few pages and set it in front of Lisa. “Something like this?”
Lisa shunted it over to Dracula, who glanced over and gave an approving meow.
“Got his seal of approval,” said Lisa, relieved, and scanned over the text herself. It was in Romanian she could read, thank God. A good half of Dracula’s library was written in Cyrillic. “And it doesn’t look like we need anything fancy, so that’s good—”
Dracula paced down the counter and tapped on the glass over a display case full of blue rocks.
“Lapis lazuli?” asked Anya, at the same time Lisa asked, “Why do we need a fancy rock?”
Anya gave Lisa a look like she was worried both for Lisa’s safety and intelligence. “Lapis lazuli is the stone of the dead. This spell assumes that the transformed person started off as a human, so it calls for a handful of dirt to represent them. But if your friend isn’t human—”
Well obviously he’s a cat, Lisa nearly said, because being tired turned her into even more of a smartass. And not even a funny one, just bitter. She drummed her fingertips on the counter “Better throw in one of those, then,” she sighed, and while Dracula directed Anya toward the correct stone she zoned out a bit to read over the spell. It looked simple enough—Dracula would have to touch the rock, representing his true essence or something, and she’d have to do a bit of chanting. “Why lapis lazuli? Why is that the stone of the dead?”
Anya gave her another look like Lisa’d been clubbed over the head. “That’s just its nature. We’ve known it for thousands of years, that’s why Pharaohs were buried with lapis lazuli jewelry.”
Was it, though? Maybe they just thought it was pretty. Hadn’t lapis lazuli been used as a dye, too? Why wasn’t it the stone of changing colors? And who was we, exactly? Lisa drummed her fingers again and caught Dracula eying her like he knew exactly what she wasn’t saying. He paced back the length of the counter and leaned his not-insignificant weight against her arm.
“You know what?” Lisa muttered. Dracula blinked slowly at her. “I hate magic.”
Anya gave her a dirty look, but accepted Lisa’s debit card anyway.
So of course, after all that, the spell didn’t fucking work.
She holed up in her room, gave Dracula the not-inexpensive rock to put his cute little kitty paws on, and read through the spell a few times. Between the headache building in her temples and the faded type, her eyes began itching after the first couple of lines. Lisa muttered the words under her breath so she didn’t fumble them, but Dracula interrupted her by standing on the page and managed to convey that reading a magic spell out loud before she was ready to perform it was probably a bad idea.
“Okay, fine,” she said. “Is there anything else I need to do?”
Dracula shook his head.
“What are my chances of blowing the both of us up?”
He shrugged. Lisa scowled at him but reached out to pet his head, and he leaned unthinkingly into the touch, eyes slipping shut. She’d miss being able to do that.
If she was really likely to hurt them both, he wouldn’t be humoring her as much, Lisa reminded herself. It couldn’t go too horribly wrong, even if it was her first spell. So she got on with the chanting.
At first she felt stupid, reading off some bastardized form of Latin at her boyfriend, but somewhere into the third paragraph Lisa sensed—something. Not unlike Dracula himself at their first meeting it snuck up on her, the hair at her nape rising, a chill sweeping down her spine. The pressure of it built up in her hands, her sinuses, until the spell began slipping off her tongue without any real input. As she read the last line something surged, the lights overhead flickered, and—
She was still just sitting on the bedroom floor, and her boyfriend was still a fucking cat, only now he was a cat with his fur fluffed up like he’d just been shocked.
“Oh Jesus Christ,” Lisa burst out, louder than she meant to, and slapped the spell on the floor. “Really?”
Dracula gave an annoyed rumble and trotted over to look at the spell. Lisa rocked forward and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. She’d had it, she’d felt it, why hadn’t it worked? To her horror, tears pressed at her eyes, and she furiously tried to think them down. It was just—magic was fucking weird, wasn’t it, and this wasn’t exactly an easy spell. Maybe she’d just gotten something wrong when she was first reading it or something. This was fine! It would be fine. “This is fine.” Her voice came out too thick. Goddammit, she’d had this. “I’ll, um.” She sat up and sniffed, loudly. Dracula looked up from the spell, head cocked, and she offered a small smile. “Let’s go again?”
He considered this for a moment and then stretched out, climbing up her shoulder to press his nose against her cheekbone. His whiskers tickled and Lisa let out a choked laugh. Despite her best efforts a few tears leaked out of her eyes. God, she just wanted to go to sleep—but she’d get this. She had to get this. “Thanks, Vlad.” She turned just enough to kiss his adorable cat nose and reached for the spell again.
But then Dracula neatly jumped in her way and shoved the spell backwards.
“Mrrr.” He shoved it under the bookshelf, ignoring Lisa’s grabby hands, and then jumped up on the bed. “Mrow,” he insisted.
“I can do the damn spell.” Lisa glared back.
Dracula flopped over and blinked regally at her. As if compelled she reached up to pet his exposed belly, and he grabbed her hand, tugging her forward—okay, even as a cat he was unnaturally strong, duly noted. She let him pull her to her feet.
The late hour blinked at her from her alarm clock, and her bra strap had been digging into her ribs for hours, and her head and feet still hurt. If Dracula had kept asking her to do the spell that would be one thing, but if he really didn’t mind—this was for him, after all. At least for now, she could just let this long day end, and deal with her vampire cat boyfriend in the morning.
With great reluctance she pulled her hand out of Dracula’s grip and left to wash her face and brush her teeth. When she got back he seemed half-asleep himself; Lisa wondered how much rest he’d gotten, how long he’d walked the night before. Targoviste to Lupu wasn’t exactly a short trip. Was it harder on him in that form?
But he was definitely awake enough to check her out when she changed into pajamas.
Lisa still wasn’t sure if that was weird or not. She decided not to think about it.
And when she flicked off the lights and slipped under the covers, and Dracula settled on her chest, still as a stone but way more fun to pet—it wasn’t quite as comforting as sleeping with him in his normal form, a giant reassuring weight at her side, but it definitely had its merits.
Lisa wasn’t sure what woke her up, but as she slowly swam toward alertness the bed felt less roomy than usual. (She’d sprung for a King, for obvious reasons.) The mattress dipped and Lisa jolted up onto her elbows, squinting into the dark.
“It’s only me.”
At Dracula’s familiar voice, Lisa relaxed and forced her heavy eyelids open. She could make out his silhouette, propped up against the headboard. “How’d that happen?” Lisa reached out blindly for whatever was closest to her, which turned out to be his leg. He was wearing what felt like sweatpants, not his usual full-suit situation, probably something he’d summoned out of thin air.
“The new moon, I think. It has a tendency to undo enchantments like that.”
Lisa scowled. “Sounds like…some bullshit.” This? This was why she didn’t like magic. She’d gone through all the right motions, gotten the approval of a centuries-old magical scholar, and the only thing that had worked was the moon.
Softly Dracula chuckled. “It did benefit us, though.” He shifted to lay down next to her and Lisa reluctantly loosened her grip on him.
“Ugh.” She found his eyes in the dark; they always seemed to stand out, deep red never quite blending into black. “How’d you even get stuck like that?”
For a long moment, he was silent. Lisa got the feeling that if he could have blushed, he would have. “I wasn’t as careful as I should have been while going through the magic rings.”
Lisa snorted. At least she wasn’t the only one stumped by magic, on occasion.
“Oh, hush.” He made a face at her but leaned forward enough to press his forehead against hers.
“You were—” She leaned up just enough to kiss his nose— “so cute.”
“So you said, many times.” Lisa snorted again, and he grimaced. “I don’t know how you stand being…adorable.”
“Was that a compliment?”
Dracula shrugged and easily knocked Lisa’s arm away before she could smack him with a pillow. “Go back to sleep, love.” He kissed her briefly and for a moment it was like—she was tired, still, but the good kind of tired, relaxed and warm and safe, her body melting into compliance. She could tell he was too; normally he didn’t have much of an accent, but there was a burr to his words that came out at times like this. “And thank you for helping me.”
It was hard to argue with an order she had already planned on following. Lisa nudged him onto his back so she could drape herself half over him. Another good thing about having a vampire boyfriend: he never got too warm, just took on her own body heat. “Lot of help I was.”
“You’ve all the time in the world to learn magic. All the time you want.”
There was a promise, an assumption, that Lisa should maybe talk to him about, but to her surprise the only quibble she had was the idea that she’d actually want to learn magic. But if she did have the time—if she didn’t have to worry about her school, or her career—
This was a conversation, she decided, that could be saved for later. In the meantime she had a comfortable bed and a normal, non-cat boyfriend, and she was determined to enjoy them both.
can you warn a guy next time you bring yr giant goth bf over
tried to brain him with a teakettle
thought this was a horror movie situation
that is your boyfriend right. 10 ft tall grey man with fangs. if not sorry i let you get murdered
this is lisa’s ghost speaking ur not forgiven
jk yeah that’s vlad. sry i forgot you hadn’t met him
was kinda a surprise visit
the fangs were a big fuckin surprise