Vladislav knew when this started, this co-sleeping thing, but he lost track of when it turned from an every-other-night thing into an every-single-night thing.
It was hard to keep track of anything because he was very tired. Viago asks lots of questions during the day, it turns out. He’s used to it, mostly at night, but not being the center of their attention, and not so constant.
He was just a chatty man, and asked questions all the time. This in itself was not unusual. Sometimes it was a little nonsense question that comes out of nowhere. Like when they were watching their ancient TV, which only finally focused on a local public broadcast station after Deacon kicked the TV the right amount of times at just the right angle.
Deacon sat on the floor knitting, a crumpled printout of a pattern in his lap, and swore when it proved too difficult, but never put the sweater down. Vladislav was running a hand through the knots in his unruly hair, watching Viago’s hands flutter over a little painting project, some picture frame he was ruining with uneven floral platterns and clumpy paints he probably owned for decades. It was sort of soothing for Vladislav to watch, to see Viago's hands work into perfectly symmetrical vines, then suddenly change course and make a little dark red rosebud. It was starling when he set it down to say, “Hey, guys?”
It took Vladislav a moment to realize he was one of the people that was directed to. “What?” He looked up at Viago, expecting to see his usual eager eyes, but Viago hadn’t bothered to look up from the picture frame. “What is it?”
“Do you think blood can go bad?”
“Go bad, what are you talking about?” Deacon said into the pile of yarn.
“Rot, you know, like food.”
“Corpses can go bad. So yeah, sure.”
“I guess that’s a good point.” Viago said, then went right back to painting, never once clarifying where that thought came from. Vladislav kind of wanted to know what prompted it, but Deacon didn’t bother to follow up either, so he decided it wasn’t necessary.
Sometimes the questions were deeper than that.
The night just following that, on one of their usual excursions into the night, they almost didn’t make it back home in time. They were let into a new club, a dirty rock venue of some kind, and Deacon insisted they not leave until he was done luring his prey, which happened to be the bassist of some hipster punk band that night (Deacon was intent on stealing the guy’s studded belt after feeding was done). But the guy went home with some groupies instead after hours of drunken chatter, and by the time they were in a taxi back toward home, it was probably half an hour until sunrise. They would just make it (provided no detours), but it was cutting it closer than they had in recent memory. Because of this, the first third of the car ride was spent with Deacon and Vladislav in a shouting match about sun safety and paying attention to times. The middle third was Vladislav continuing to rage as Deacon sulked, face leaning hard on the car window, knowing he was wrong but too proud to admit it out loud. And the last third was spent in stony silence, until Viago said, speaking mostly into his knees pressed up against his chest in the middle seat,
“Are you guys ever jealous of Petyr, just a little bit, I mean, for going that way… because he finally got to see the sun again?”
No one answered.
The following night, a Saturday, proved much more successful, everyone going their separate ways in that same new club, finding prey in their own corners. Deacon told tales later of success with a drunkard in the dumpster behind the bar. Vladislav himself trapped someone in a dusty, unoperational photo booth. He didn’t see where Viago went, and didn’t think much of until he got home.
When he passed by Viago’s room on the first floor, it was open just a crack. Now, Vladislav wasn’t really the type to go exploring his flatmates’ rooms—what could they possibly have that’s more interesting than whatever was in Vladislav’s room? But Viago wasn’t one for things like leaving doors open.
Vladislav opened the door.
It was a relatively familiar scene. The pale corpse of a man sprawled on a useless collection of paper towels and newspaper. Arterial spray on every surface. And Viago, covered as usual, but different. Sitting straight up on the settee, staring ahead. Vladislav watched him for a few seconds, trying to figure out this expression. Viago did not blink. Vladislav tried to follow his gaze to see what he was looking at. Nothing, just blood splatter on the wood floor.
With some dark humor, Vladislav suppressed a chuckle, thinking that Viago had finally done it—he had finally made a mess so big that he scared himself into a second death, frozen in place for eternity. He started to say it out loud, “What now, did you finally… make…” he trailed off when he realized the sound had no effect on Viago.
Vladislav dashed over to the corpse. Vampire hunters were getting crafty with weapons these days, perhaps he had some sort of paralyzing agent, but a pat-down revealed nothing. Vladislav caught sight of the young man’s wrists—one of them, the left, had a couple long pale scars running up and down it.
Vlad crouched down in front of Viago. “Viago? Hello? Stop what you’re doing. Wake up.” No response. What the fuck? he thought in multiple languages, multiple times a second. What was happening? Who would know what to do? Normally Viago would. Vladislav lowered his voice into the half-growl he used only for those who resisted his first attempts to hypnotism. “Viago. Whatever’s wrong, tell me right now.” Again, there was no response. Vlad shot out his hand and lifted Viago’s chin toward him.
“Vladislav,” he responded right away. If Vladislav had air in his lungs, he would have heaved a sigh of relief. Viago spoke again, his voice even softer than his usual lilt. “Why would a mortal want to die?”
Vladislav’s next instinct was to squeeze as hard as he could and pop Viago’s head clean off for worrying him like that. Also, what kind of question was that? Why always these questions? Why couldn’t he just live his undead life like the rest of them? And especially open-ended nonsense questions like that, to which there were a million answers. Why would a mortal want to die… why wouldn’t they? Such boring yet stressful, finite and fragile lives they led. If he was still a mortal in this century, Vlad figured he’d probably off himself too. There were so many obvious answers to that question, but he couldn’t find the wording to a single one, probably because Viago was staring up at him with that blank stare in the world’s biggest dark brown eyes. And then Vlad realized he still had his hand under his chin. He took his hand back. Viago’s chin drifted down to his chest.
Vlad stepped back toward the door. He felt his boots make a sticky noise. The blood had half-dried; how long had Viago been sitting there? “Always with these pointless questions. Go change your clothes and get in your coffin. You won’t figure out the answer to every one of your questions before morning.”
“But… the mess…” His downcast eyes now scanned the floor, finally getting a hint of that concern that often lived on Viago’s face.
“Who cares? Clean it in the evening.”
“But there will be flies and…”
“Fucking hell, man, listen to me for once and get in your damn coffin.”
Vladislav didn’t know what ensued after that, because he walked out. If he was asked, though he knew no one would bother to ask, he would have said the reason he left so quickly was because he didn’t want to get roped into helping clean. It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that no matter what he touched that night—the feeling of the silk lining in his coffin, the smooth wood on the outside—he couldn’t shake the feeling of the underside of Viago’s jaw. The skin had been cool and unrealistically soft. Like he never grew hair there, Vladislav wondered to himself in his coffin, touching his own goatee in thought. Like his neck had never met a pair of sharp fangs. But that couldn’t possibly be true. Could it?
That entire week, Viago didn’t ask his usual questions. Not the happy ones, not the deep ones. He didn’t speak much at all, save for a reminder to Deacon to please sweep the floors (and that was shocking, too—just one reminder?). He just quietly moved about the house, dusting this and that, sweeping here and there. Not looking sad in any way, just merely existing.
They say there is a war
Between the man and the woman
I've never felt like this before
My heart knew that I couldn't
About a week after that, Vladislav went out with Deacon again. Viago had quietly declined going out. Hitting the town alone with no buffer to Deacon wasn’t exactly Vladislav’s favorite thing; in fact, half the fun of their household was how little sense Deacon and Viago made together, and how they insisted on interacting anyway.
They failed to get invited in anywhere except Big Kimura, they failed to get a victim, and they failed to talk about anything except how to have sex while hanging upside down, so the two of them called it a night and flew back home. Vladislav threw his hat, coat, and shoes somewhere in his room where he’d probably find it eventually, and went into his coffin. Sort of hungry and bored, it was taking him a while to fall asleep.
He heard something outside his coffin. Just a shuffle. But still.
He threw open the lid, nearly knocking the whole thing off balance. The hinge creaked. A startled voice let out a little yelp, like a kicked puppy.
It was Viago. He looked like a deer in headlights, if a deer wore a paisley sleeping robe over his pajamas, slipper, and cravat.
“Viago, what the fuck are you doing… with my hat?”
In one hand, he held Vladislav’s hat. On the other arm, he had Vlad's coat draped over it. He snapped a little bit out of his look of shock and finished folding the coat. “I was hanging these up for you. They’ll get wrinkled if they just sit around all over each other.”
“Why are you in here? What do you need?”
Viago stalled by hanging the coat over the corner of a bookshelf where he tucked the shoes by. “Well… I was wondering…”
“You woke me up to wonder?’
“Do you remember that incident with the succubus orgy on Deacon’s hundred and seventy-fifth birthday?”
Yes, vividly. Deacon had ordered a succubus orgy he claimed to have found in a catalog. Twenty sex demons came to the house that night, but only seventeen left by morning, resulting in a house hunt that took them days and necessitated taping all the curtains to the windows and laying salt circles in every room (that Viago complained about vacuuming the remnants of for months afterward). The demons loved to go around pulling the tape and then disappearing into half-vapor half-puddles into the floorboards, only to jump-scare out of their coffins. When the last one was found, Vladislav was so spooked he slept in Viago’s coffin, their backs to each other, faces pressed up against the wood Viago kept so pristinely sanded. Vladislav never thanked him for letting him do that, and for keeping it a secret this long. “No. I don’t remember.”
“Vladislav, come on. You said not to clean up all that blood last week, so I didn’t, and now there are flies everywhere!”
“So clean it now.”
“Obviously I cleaned it the very next evening, but they were there. I think there are some eggs in my coffin or something. Every time I kill one fly, another appears.”
“Get a new coffin.” He reached up to pull his lid down.
Viago held it up. “Please! Vladislav!” He wasn’t quite whining, but it was that distinct tone he knew to use when something was serious. He kept talking, but as soon as he uses that tone (typically reserved for things like setting the clocks back an hour for daylight savings), the discussion was done. Vladislav knew this. “I can do that this week, but I am so tired, these flies have kept me up and—”
“Silence. Get in.”
With no grace whatsoever, Viago stepped one foot at time in to the coffin, hoisting himself up and over Vladislav to the side closest to the wall. Vladislav turned on his side, facing away from Viago, expecting him to do the same.
Instead, Viago lay down facing him.
Vladislav was faintly thankful they had no need to breathe in any regular pattern. Feeling his flatmate’s breath on the back of his neck would have been disarming, and it was already spooky enough sensing Viago’s big wet eyes staring through him in the darkness.
Sleep was going to be nearly impossible that night.
It was cramped enough with two people, let alone a guy as tall as Vladislav himself was, who insisted on wearing about eight thousand layers, even to bed. Even more so, Vladislav had a feeling Viago was lying to him-- as if a man like that would ever let a single bug go unchecked in his bedroom.
Before he bothered to ask about it, Viago whispered, “Vladislav.”
“Why do our arms tend to cross while we sleep?”
He wanted to answer They won’t cross for shit with you invading my personal space but he actually knew the answer and couldn’t resist. “One extra barrier for predators.”
“Predators? Who, what predators?”
“Hunters. Anyone looking to stake us in the night while we sleep. It protects our chest, buys us some time. And it looks intimidating.”
“Oh. Does it, really?”
Now he wasn’t sure, just because Viago asked. When would these question end? “Yes. I’m certain.”
The questions ended there, apparently. Viago didn’t say another word for the rest of the night. Vladislav assumed he fell asleep at some point, but didn’t want to turn around and have to look into his questioning eyes. It was hard to fall asleep, though, because now Vladislav had his own question.
Just what was it on Viago that smelled so damn good?
It wasn’t quite like any woman's perfume, nor like anything he ever smelled a man put on. It wasn’t heavily floral or food-like, not spicy or herbal. Usually when Vladislav noticed smells these days, it was only when he hated it: a body rotted past the point of being able to nourish himself on its blood, the smell of dried werewolf piss on their hedge, whatever that hideous chemical the young human men were passing for “cologne” on the street in modern times.
It was a pressing question, but not enough to wake Viago up. So Vladislav stared at the side of his coffin until he fell asleep.
And then you take me in
And everything in me begins to feel like I belong
Like everybody needs a home
When Deacon dusted, it wasn’t really dusting so much as it was waving the feather duster vaguely on top of whatever object he was facing. When he made his way over to where Vladislav was sitting that night, slouching over a worn copy of Sex at Dawn that Viago had recommended (after asking a series of questions the night before about Vladislav’s favorite books), a small cloud of dust started to drift onto the page he was reading. He growled, “Deacon…”
Without stopping what he was doing or even looking over at Vlad, Deacon said, “Heard you and Viago are sharing a coffin for a week now.” There was a trace of amusement in his voice.
Deacon laughed. But he didn’t say another word, just made his way over to the bookshelf to swat at their faded spines. Vladislav felt conflicting emotions about Deacon (none of them were that familiar annoyance); he was grateful to have one flatmate at least who didn’t need the answer to everything on his mind. On the other hand, how could one vampire in the house have nonstop questions, and the other seem to have none?
Morning was just around the corner when Deacon made his way out of the room, so Vladislav excused himself to bed. He followed the same routine he made for himself that entire week. He changed into his robe and blew out the last of the candles in his room. Then he got into his coffin, leaving the lid propped up, lying down and staring at the ceiling. After a few minutes, Viago came in. He had for six nights in a row that week.
Except that night, he didn’t.
He couldn’t see the antique clock in the room through the dark, but Vladislav estimated it was around an hour before he fell asleep, the coffin lid still open. He didn’t actually remember ever falling asleep at any particular point, but he must have, because the next the thing he remembered was another horrifyingly familiar path – he was in his torture chamber, only the screams he was hearing were not coming from a victim, they were coming from him. No matter how he screamed, no matter how much pain he cried with, the torture would not stop—the red hot pokers, the chains, the whips, the—
“Vladislav!” Someone’s voice woke him. Someone grabbed the edges of Vladislav’s robe to shake him. Vlad shot his own hands out, jumping up, hissing with all his might, and snatched Viago’s wrists.
Looking far less alarmed than anyone else would, Viago just asked, “Were you having a nightmare?”
“What the hell—where were you?!”
“I was… in my room.”
“What about the bugs?”
“Well, yes, they’re still around, but it didn’t seem like you were getting much sleep. I just wanted to give you a break. That’s all. Then I heard a noise and I came in and… really, Vladislav, you shouldn’t sleep with your coffin lid off like this! What if the curtain came open? Or what if-- I don’t know, there was a hole in the ceiling, or…”
He trailed off as Vladislav slowly let go of his wrists and leaned back to recline in his coffin again. He closed his eyes. He waited a few seconds, sure Viago would say something, but he didn’t. So he asked, “Is there anything you need to know now?”
Viago hesitated, and Vladislav scooted a bit to the side in his coffin. Viago hoisted himself into it. He fidgeted around for some time, trying to fit himself in. Just when Vladislav started to turn over, Viago finally slid in beside him, his head awkwardly caught between the satin walls of the coffin and Vladislav’s shoulder. “Vladislav?”
“What were you dreaming about?”
“Sometimes I dream that it doesn’t go how I planned. It does not matter one way or the other. It’s not real, and I know that because when I torture, it always goes how I planned. So since it was just a dream, there’s no need to discuss it any longer.”
“Alright,” with that simple answer, Vladislav realized he gave more information than he planned to. So, great—now Viago was getting so good at his dumb fucking questions, he could worm personal information out of Vladislav with two-word clarification questions. He really needed to get the younger man a new coffin as soon as possible.
“Why do you think Deacon likes to sleep hanging upside down like that?”
“I wouldn’t worry myself if I were you thinking about why Deacon does this or that. He does not spend much time thinking about why he does something. So neither should you.”
“But why does he like that?”
“I think he just likes being a bat, Viago.”
“That makes sense. I don’t mind it… I like it well enough… but to sleep like that…? Why do you suppose some vampires sleep on the ground like us, and others make their coffins upright?”
“Upright helps us in case of an attack. We are ready to go, then. And again, it’s intimidating.”
“Should I be more worried than I am about an attack during the day?”
Because I worry enough about that for the both of us, and you worry enough about everything else. But something held him back from answering that. He didn’t want Viago to then worry ABOUT Vladislav worrying. Still, he had to think of an answer, quick, because he felt the heat of Viago’s eyes staring at him, widening by the second. “Because I’m here,” he finally said.
Vladislav waited a few seconds for Viago to respond. When he got nothing, he turned onto his side, facing away from his flatmate, their usual position.
The longer he stared into the darkness, the stronger the images of his nightmare got, and he dreaded falling asleep again and experiencing it once more. But then Viago shifted in his own sleep, muttering something in German, and pressing his head between Vladislav’s shoulder blades. And like nothing else had that happened, sleep came over Vlad in a wave.
And when I take your hand
Like the world has never held a man
I know I cannot heal the hurt
But I will hold you here forever
If I can, if I can
A month had passed, and it was getting impossible to deny some things, and yet even more impossible to speak them into existence.
Viago had ordered exterminators to come in and do their finest work in his room, and Vladislav had hypnotized them into doing it for free, without being asked, just knowing Viago didn’t want to worry about the money aspect. Even so, he came each night to Vladislav’s coffin.
Their nighttime activity had returned to normal, the weeks filling up with their usual routines of the occasional night on the town, hours spent trying to get their ancient T.V. to work, even more hours spent doing whatever chores Viago found for them around the house. Their interactions as flatmates seemed more or less unchanged: often, rooms were filled with the sounds of Deacon and Viago bickering over the clicking of his knitting needles. Vladislav was surprised to find his own daily interactions with Viago to be exactly the same. It was mostly the same with Deacon and Vladislav too, though every few days Deacon would make some side comment like, “Maybe if you got some real sleep by yourself you wouldn’t be in such a bad mood.” Comments like that seemed easy enough for Viago to ignore, so Vladislav decided he could, too.
Somehow, without saying a word about it, their positions had shifted. One week, Vladislav stayed on his back, and Viago on his side. The week after that, Viago’s hand had migrated up to rest on Vlad’s chest. A few days after that, so did his head. And then, because Vladislav had no other comfortable place to put it (and for absolutely no other reason, he told himself), he brought his arm around Viago’s shoulder. The day after that, he rested his hand in Viago’s curly hair, working his fingers through it. Vladislav was certain it was the most comfortable position they had found yet, but when he woke the morning after falling asleep like that, Viago was not there. Instead there were dried but new blood stains on Vladislav’s robe, the size of just a couple tear drops, right where Viago had been resting his head.
When they lay together in that position for the second night, Viago had started in with his usual round of questions. For the first time that he could remember, Vladislav had his own questions for Viago, too. But before he could find the words, he heard,
“When do you think we’ll start looking like Petyr did?”
“I don’t think there’s any one answer to that, Viago. Petyr lived a very long, very hard life.”
“Your life has been hard. Does that mean you’ll look that way sooner?”
“Do you think I should have gotten him some fresh blood more often? Not so many chickens and geese? Would that have helped, maybe?”
“I think the damage had been done.”
“What part of your looks do you hope stays the same the longest?”
“I have no idea.”
“I hope I keep my hair the longest.”
I hope you do too, Vlad wanted to say. It was incredibly soothing to run his fingers through. He wondered if it felt as soothing for Viago. Maybe not, if he had been crying the night before. Why had he been crying? Why did he still have no interest in his own coffin? What had happened in his room all those weeks ago? What did that man say to him?
“Is there something on your mind?”
All those questions he had… he didn’t know where to start. So he said, “What’s in your hair to make it smell so good?”
“Oh! There’s a little bottle I have of this stuf… a little brown glass bottle with orange oil… from Morocco, I believe. I took it from a victim a few years back. And now sometimes I go buy it.”
That was an amusing image. Viago, in a waistcoat and ascot and gloves, standing in line in a makeup store to buy a woman’s hair product.
Viago tilted his head up a little towards Vladislav. “Don’t laugh at me! It smells good! You said so yourself.”
“No, I’m laughing at you buying it. Why don’t you just hypnotize the workers and get it for free?”
Even in the darkness, Vladislav saw the faintest glimmer, and realized it must have been Viago’s teeth, smiling that familiar grin he had, the one that seemed to take over his entire face. “Well, I didn’t think of that. You’re right. It is funny then.” He snickered to himself and settled his head back down on Vladislav’s collarbone.
It really was the most comfortable position possible, but it took forever for Vladislav to fall asleep, even as he sensed Viago drifting off. All those questions remained, and now, another one: really, truly, who was this man in his coffin?
I was torn apart the minute I was only born
And you're the other half
The only thing that makes me whole
And then I learned the truth
How everything good in life
seems to lead back to you
The days were getting so easy, so free of nightmares, filled with such comfortable sleep, that Vladislav was getting careless in the nighttime when he was awake.
Careless usually meant letting extra drops of blood from a victim go unnoticed on his clothes, then appearing in public in that same billowy linen shirt with a splatter on it. Sometimes it meant passing by Viago in the hallway and letting their hands brush, and nothing more. One night, it meant he and Deacon went out hunting for prey and did not pay attention to the time.
They ended their evening in Big Kimura with the fullest of bellies, swapping stories about that night and all the good nights before it, and in the middle of Deacon telling some sort of exaggerated fable about ripping open a stripper’s fishnet stocking to get to her femoral artery, the bouncer tapped on their table and pointed to his watch. He didn’t need to say anything. Deacon and Vladislav ran to the door, but the sun was already coming up. So they turned into bats and spent the day hanging from a dusty lighting fixture in the darkened bar. Vladislav spent the entire night missing his coffin and his newfound perfect sleeping arrangement, his feet straining from hanging like that for hours.
Silently, they flew back home together first thing the next morning. They started to go their separate quiet ways in the house, until they heard a couple crashing noises. “The fuck is that?” Deacon murmured.
What they heard coming from the kitchen was the clinking and clacking of dishes being washed. And they could hear it all the way from the kitchen to the foyer.
Deacon’s eyebrows popped up when he placed the noise. “Viago sounds mad.”
“Of course he’s mad, idiot. We disappeared and gave him no notice. He probably thought we were dead. And now he’s doing the dishes. Wasn’t that back to you? Your job again this week?”
Deacon’s face seemed to get even paler than usual, if that was at all possible. Without saying a word, in a poof he disappeared, and a little black mouse scurried across the floor and into a crack between the couch and the staircase. Vladislav made his way into the kitchen, knowing that if one of them didn’t show up to listen to Viago, it would make everything worse.
Viago glanced over his shoulder at the sink, his eyebrows knitted together, his usually wide eyes narrowed. “Oh. You made it back. Look at that.”
Vladislav sighed, getting a pack of blood from the fridge that they had stolen from the hospital. He reclined into one of the kitchen chairs. If this was going to be as long a lecture as he feared, he might as well get comfortable.
But Viago didn’t say anything. He just kept washing dishes, moving with a measured deliberation, having quieted down just a bit since Vladislav sat down. After working on a glass with a particularly caked-on gore mixture, he put it to the side to dry and took a minute to shoot a raised eyebrow Vladislav’s way, glancing at the bag of cold blood.
Vladislav said nothing, just braced himself. Then:
“At least you’re not wasting a plate.” And then Viago started up the water again and went back to the dishes.
And then said nothing.
For three weeks straight.
And when you say my name
Like white horses on the waves
I think it feels the same
As an ocean in my veins
And you'll be diving in
Like nothing is out of place
Do you have any clue what it’s like to essentially not sleep for three weeks straight?
Viago left Vladislav alone for that entire time. He didn’t ask him any questions as they wandered the house, awake, Viago just mostly kept to his pottery and books, popping by the kitchen for a snack every couple days. More worryingly, he left Vladislav alone during the daytime, retiring alone to his own coffin each night.
Vladislav found it impossible to sleep. His coffin now seemed awkwardly roomy, darker than usual, and it smelled stale. He couldn’t describe necessarily exactly what was wrong, because it worked perfectly fine as a bed before Viago had started dropping in.
On day twenty-two of getting no more sleep than minutes at a time, it occurred to Vladislav, as his reddened eyes stared at the top of the lid, what the problem was. The coffin itself seemed dead. There was nothing alive about it in the first place, he knew this, he wasn’t insane. And he himself was not alive either. Neither was Viago.
How could he feel alive again? How could he make the coffin feel alive again?
He didn’t have an answer to those questions, but at least finally his tired brain felt clear. Asking questions made it clear.
The questions kept him alive.
Vladislav kicked the coffin lid off, clattering it to the floor. It put a crack in the hardwood somewhere. He did not care. He threw himself against his desk and grabbed a quill and a bottle of ink. When he tore the top off the bottle, ink leaked all over his hands. A drop somehow got on his face. He did not care. He tore a page out of some leather notebook so old half the papers fell out along with it.
On this paper, he scrawled out every question for Viago he ever had.
Which included, in an extremely tired chicken scratch hitting the edges of the page,
What made you cry the other night? What did that man say to you one night that worried you so? Why is your skin so soft? How does your hair smell so good? How do you remember to make it smell so good every morning? Why do you care about that kind of thing? Why do you need things so clean? How do you keep things that clean for so long and not go crazy? Why do you wear all those clothes? Did you always wear so many clothes? Do you ever enjoy being naked? Did you ever enjoy it? Could you ever enjoy it?
He flew down the stairs, stopping hard on the floor, rumpling up the carpet against the wall, not stopping to pull it back, just flying down the hall to Viago’s room. He threw open the door.
Viago was in his coffin, but sitting straight up, cross-legged. He wasn’t even in his sleeping robe. “Oh. Hello?” He started to ask what Vladislav needed, but he was already across the room. He climbed into the coffin to sit next to him. “Oh! … Hello!” Vladislav thrust the paper in his face. “You wrote… what is this?” He started reading the questions. “Vladislav…” His eyes scanned through the list. “Well, one I already told you about, that nice hair oil and…” His eyes popped all the way open. “Oh. Well.” He cleared his throat and folded the letter in half, tucking it away toward his lap. “Did you want those answers… in any particular order?”
“I don’t need them all right now. I just needed to be in here with you and let you know I also had… questions.”
“Um, well, I’ll just answer a couple then, if that’s okay. I’m a little tired.”
Every single cell in Vladislav’s dead body was tired. He wanted them to be lying down. Together. Right that instant. But he said, “Fine.”
“Well… for one… I cried because no one had ever touched my head like you did that night since my mother did. When I was young. When she was around, that was. Which wasn’t much.”
He never knew that. Or maybe he had heard that, and hadn’t paid attention. Now he wanted to grab back the list and add more questions. Why wasn’t his mother around? What about his father? How else did he like to be touched?
“And as for enjoying… not wearing clothes, I mean. I could. I just. Haven’t in so long. It doesn’t seem to make sense to enjoy it alone.”
If the paper was in Vladislav’s hands again, he would have written the question How else do you like to be touched? at least one hundred more times.
“And as for how I remember to put in the oil, well, it’s such a cute little bottle! So I always put it right in the center of my dresser, so I see it first thing in the evening, and when I change my clothes then I see it right there ready for me! And ta-da, it’s remembered!” He waved his hand around a bit on the ta-da and then grinned, his fang catching on his lip. “I will answer the others another time. Is there anything else you needed tonight?”
He launched himself forward, kissing Viago. Their fangs met with a clink. They fell against the edge of his coffin with a woody thunk. And then they were silent until their lips started moving against each other, making soft little noises that hung in the air of Viago's pristine, cold bedroom. They kissed for just a minute or so, and even though Vladislav could not stress how exhausted he was, he felt he could have stayed in that exact uncomfortable position, awkwardly propping himself up on one elbow while Viago’s head pushed against the edge of his coffin, for hours and hours and hours.
They had no need to breathe, but Viago pulled his lips away just enough to whisper against Vladislav’s. “You lied about something.”
“I would never,” he responded, only mostly sure he would never. He would have said probably anything to press their lips together again, but as soon as he leaned in that last inch, Viago leaned back.
He said, “No, you did. Listen, remember I asked that one time about why our arms cross when we sleep?”
“You said we would look intimidating. But whenever I woke up before you in the morning, you never looked intimidating like that.”
“Ha! Now you lie to me.” Vladislav knew he looked intimidating. This was one thing he was never worried about. He pulled all the way back to look at Viago, keeping one hand on the back of his neck—in no way a threat, just wanting to make sure they would soon return to what they were doing. “I have perfected the art of intimidation.”
“Oh yah, I suppose. Just not for me, I guess.” Too tired and desperate to even laugh, Vladislav leaned in again. “Wait I did have one more question!”
“No more, please,” Vladislav let out a soft laugh as he pressed their foreheads together. “No more.”
“Just one. But it’s a big one.”
“Make it worth it.”
“Why do you think we exist?”
“Viago, who could ever answer that?”
“Maybe not a sure answer, but, what do you think?”
“We, as in, human creatures? Not why are we undead, but how did we come to be?”
“No, I know how, evolution and all that,” he gave one of those delightful little eye rolls, and Vladislav was dying to kiss him again, but wanted to hear what he had to say. “But why is my question? What for? Why us, the two of us, at the same time?”
Vladislav reached up and touched a rough hand to Viago’s smooth cheek, leaning back to look at his face. He knew the reason why, but if he gave it away now, he worried Viago’s questions might stop, and Vladislav wanted them to continue forever, as long as they were together for that forever. So he said, “I have no idea.”
And we exist for love
Only for love.