"Don't move," Henry said. "If you do, I'll not be held accountable when this needle lands somewhere unpleasant."
The bare pane of Abe's back went still. Ah, but there was a brave lad. He'd taken quite a tumble off that embankment; by the time Henry got to him, he was bleeding profusely from several grazes – and one gash – where a jagged rock edge had met his shoulder. It was enough to set their training schedule back a day or more—
No matter. Henry's hand was steady, swift. And Abe? Not a peep: the measure of bourbon Henry'd foisted on him had done its job.
After, as Henry was cleaning his instruments and Abe inspected himself in the mirror, Abe murmured, "Why do I get the feeling you've done that before?"
"And why shouldn't I know my way round a medical kit?" Henry replied, pettishly. There was still blood on his hands. Something deep within him despaired to see it washed away, and his nostrils flared, following the dissipated scent; tasting it. He swallowed. And then, meeting Abe's eye: "It is just as useful, I've found, to know how to stitch a man up as it is to rend him apart."
October 21, 1825
My dearest Abe,
Scarcely a month has passed since we parted ways, but not a day goes by that I do not mistake the sound of the floorboards settling for your footsteps coming down the hall. Why, once or twice I have even found myself thinking ahead to what I would prepare for supper – rabbit stew? venison pie? – before it occurs to me that there will be no one to partake in said meal.
How easily a man can be shucked from the shell of routine—even one which has taken centuries to form.
The nights grow longer. The days more cold. It is difficult—
Henry stopped. Paused long enough for his pen to dribble a blue blot onto the page.
What in Hell's name was he playing at?
"You're a fool, Sturgis," he hissed. Yes. He had taken the boy in for the sole purpose of training him in the art of killing vampires—to change course now was unthinkable. Sentimentality was worse.
Abe was ready. Of course he was ready.
Henry inked his pen and began again.
I trust this finds you well. Below is the name of someone who deserves it sooner.
Abraham Lincoln was dead.
And for all the headlines, the talk, the black bunting and memorial rosettes—the bloody funeral train which was said to have carried Henry's very own Abe home to Springfield… It was only the sight of the corpse – a wretched thing, grotesque, and so decidedly not Abe – that made Henry believe such a horror could be true.
He'd broken into the tomb and pried open the coffin and stared down at the waxy flesh gone grey beneath the thick coating of rouge. Nothing of his friend remained. Not his earthy, musky scent. Not the warm intelligence behind his storm cloud eyes. Not the flush of pleasure that invariably rose in him as he told a joke and anticipated Henry's answering laughter.
Not even the hatred, the disappointment that had filled him, surged through him, the last time they'd been in each other's company. The last time Henry failed him.
There was only this: the absence of presence.
Henry shivered. He couldn't imagine the long years which lay ahead.
He couldn't imagine anything.
And so he gnashed his wrist open, waited for the blood to begin flowing freely, and then pressed it to Abe's mouth.
Henry was surprised but delighted when Abe agreed to hunt with him. So often he set out into the darkness alone, but as Abe begrudgingly pointed out, it was the finest night they'd seen that year. Welcome after a winter long in ending.
Doubly, Henry could see the hunger etched in Abe's features. Abe had gone too long without feeding and was worse for it, listless and irritable; but this was nothing new. When Henry was feeling generous, he attributed it to absent-mindedness – or: worldly distractions; quarrels they'd had and ones that were brewing; indeed, Henry's very being and how offensive Abe found him to be at any given time – rather than Abe's ever-present scruples at taking human life in order to sustain his own.
Yes, Henry agonized over Abe's wellbeing much as he ached for his company. And tonight—
Tonight was delicious. Henry savored the heavy, humid air, drank it down like hot rum, happily intoxicated. He wanted nothing more than to take Abe in his arms and revel in the mad unlikelihood of their existence.
But he left it at this: he reached out for Abe's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
And then: Abe squeezed back.
In Henry's dream, he and Abe grew old together. Their steps never faltered; their faces remained smooth— but they were old, both of them.
And of course this was not a dream, or not only.
Henry opened his eyes to find Abe staring back at him.
They sat nestled on the sofa, Henry tucked to one side and Abe folded in beside him against a bank of pillows. It was nearly dawn; the final frame of Doctor Zhivago must have been long behind them.
"Three hours," Abe confirmed, "give or take."
"You should have woken me."
"I'm used to you falling asleep whenever I'm the one who picks the movie." Abe leaned forward to brush the hair from Henry's brow, but Henry caught his hand and pressed a kiss to his palm.
"I endured seventy episodes of Poirot for you."
"That was hardly a hardship and you know it."
"Mm," Henry agreed, lifting himself up a bit to better drag Abe down. He kissed Abe's eyelids, his cheeks, his mouth; the curve of his throat. "I love you, my Abraham. But that's three-for-three for Zhivago. I don't know where you find the patience."
"Maybe I just enjoy watching you sleep."