Chapter 8: Modest Proposal

Long, black varnished talons rhythmically scraped across the iron bars, every trail of the ebony nails leaving an oxidizing taint that spread up the metal like wisps of smoke. These toxified shards of keratin adorned the dancing marionette hand built of whiteash, counterpart to its chironic twin that caressed a ring of jangling keys. This circlet was kept close to her chest, held together with a vest of scarlet leather and the strumming catgut of her corset strings. Wielding the grooves of a particular skeleton key, she slipped the length into the awaiting depths of the lock, pumping it to find the perfect slot for each gate to release. It slid from the latch, then came to rest sound within her warm vest pocket. All was serene under her purview. Even the elder hinges of the cell door could not manage a squeak of pain from her touch. A moan of ecstasy was what carried her to the most succulent of spoils.

Stuck to the redbrick of the back wall, the damp of the structure’s rotting wooden skeleton formed a perfect melange with the steadily dripping blood of this maiden, held in a yielding X by taut chains. The exposed slivers of wrist and ankle beneath her iron manacles were rubbed raw and red. The monochromatic hook reached forward and lifted the maiden’s head, as if it were a ripe fig ready to be plucked, revealing a familiar visage. Unfortunately still muddled with pathetic vestiges of humanity. Her auburn hair turned into alternating patches of murky brown and oily black from the dirt and dried blood caked to each strand. When Laura’s poor, pitiful eyes rose to her gaze through the slits of her swollen lids, her warden only allowed an instant to lament what feeble hostility remained. Then her pleasant need came to a boil, condensing into her manicured claws to deliver one sharp, controlled slap. Not enough to kill, but ratcheted high to break through the illusion of tolerance. Oh, the pretty crimson baubles, they were enough to make her snicker. Goddess, she wanted to fuck her in half, but Laura’s current state would not allow such debauchery.

Come on, my love, beg for it.” Audrey’s voice rang out, mania and venom potent bitters to her cocktail of desire, “just say those two, sweet little words, and we’ll let you pick out your own collar~

The cold sweat leapt from her brow as Audrey sprung upright, bewildered and breathing heavily. The nails on both her hands, restored to their uneven and half-chewed state, were digging into the upholstery. A short needle dipped into the skin of her right arm, held down with tape and intubated with a slow, steady stream of blood. That dream had sent her barreling straight into a wall, so she tried her best to decelerate. She closed her eyes and counted down from ten-to-one, took a large inhale, counted back up, and then exhaled. It was certainly not the first time she had dreamt up a sexual scenario, let alone one involving Laura, but it had never before been such a sadistic fantasy. She prayed that this was just a random nightmare. It could’ve been her unconscious mind telling her to be more upset with Laura. Maybe it was just some crossed wires between her shame for taking Laura at face value and the surreal intimacy of biting into her arm.

A little less freaked out from that specific problem, Audrey steered her focus to the matter of where she was at that moment. Most eye-catching was the woman sitting across from her on a plastic conference table. She was dressed in a parody of a fifties nurse uniform. Nurse Ratched by way of a lascivious halloween store. The white skirt and vest were snug around her hips and hovering breasts, her high black heels clipped to her feet and hanging over the floor as she sat cross-legged. The tiny pink tinted hat sitting atop her bleach blonde hair, which was tied back into a high ponytail. She wore a pink surgical mask that covered everything from her nose to her chin and matched her hat and low cut shirt. Her long eyelashes batted over the thick black eyeliner that spread out into stylized butterfly wings, her lids a smooth gradient of terrifying pink eye shadow. She held a paperback book in one hand, her nails long, tapered and, of course, pink as they kept the spine cracked. Her presence caught Audrey unawares, suggesting that she had simply awoken into an infinite recursion of kinky dreams. The mysterious ‘nurse’ turned her eyes from her novel to Audrey, revealing that her piercing ruby irises.

Oh hey, you awake?” Her voice was surprisingly unassuming, a bit high and nasal, but not especially sultry.

Uh… yes?

Bobby!” She shouted off to the left half of the room, “she’s up!

They were still in the library, if the full bookshelves lining the walls were any indication, yet this room had been retrofitted into a triage infirmary. On the table where the ‘nurse’ had sat were vials and scalpels and various medical devices that she could not recognize haphazardly strewn about. Looking over her right shoulder, she could see a boxy machine connected to the tube in her arm. It rattled slightly as it made a low, rhythmic pumping sound. She also spotted three cables each connecting up to their own respective industrial grade refrigerator, which crowded each others’ shoulders as they chugged and leaked into the carpeting. When she returned her neck to its resting neutral position, she spotted a hand cloaked in latex grab the base of the chair’s left arm.

Thanks for watching her babe,” a rough tenor voice from the unseen stranger beside Audrey, “I can take it from here.

Nah, I’m gonna stick around,” the ‘nurse’ said, laying her copy of The Phantom of The Opera down on the table, “I have something I need to give her.

Welp, alrighty then.

The owner of the voice turned the corner of Audrey’s leather easy chair and she felt a familiar emotion that she was still of yet to be desensitized. It was another woman in her twenties, Audrey was pretty sure, and she wore casual clothing. Loose blue jeans that had been distressed with use rather than by design and a tight blue tank top over a sports bra. She had brown hair done up in a messy pixie cut that covered most of the left half of her face, two asymmetrical locks that sat over her ears. By that description alone, she was certainly the kind of woman that Dove would have gone googly-eyed for, but Audrey dared not omit her most glaring features. Namely, she had four arms. One pair was the same light brown shade as the majority of her body, and those hands bore the light blue surgical gloves. The other set of arms came from around her back and were a patchwork of skin tones sewn and stapled together. In her right auxiliary hand she held a lit cigarette between a chestnut forefinger and an alabaster middle finger. Her face largely seemed to be her original, with one attentive brown eye staring at Audrey, but the ends of her lips connected to stitches that stretched behind her curtain of hair. It looked like someone had given her a glasgow smile before suddenly thinking better of it.

’ll give you a few more minutes to gawk, girlie,” her one eye rolled while her lower right arm brought up the cigarette for her to drag on.

Oh!” Audrey suddenly felt like a voyeur, “I’m sorry, um…

Name’s Bobby Han, he/she/it, former struggling medical student turned master surgeon,” she held out one of her gloved hands to Audrey, “and you’re Audrey, I presume?

Yes!” Audrey straightened her back and shook Bobby's hand, “It’s um, it’s nice to meet you, Bobby.

That sweet piece of ass behind me is Stacy Anderson, but don’t let her looks fool you,” Bobby curled his other left arm over the upper ones biceps to point his thumb back at the ‘nurse’, “she’s a biochemistry wunderkind, she just has a thing the whole sexpot nurse aesthetic."

Baaabe,” Stacy’s whine seemed to indicate that she was blushing behind the mask, “shut up.

It’s nice to meet you too, Stacy.

The pleasure’s all mine, doll.

So uh…” Audrey cleared her throat and glanced over at the machine connected to her arm, “what’s wrong with me?

Well, according to your VD test, I have some bad news,” Bobby mimicked checking a medical chart on a clipboard, “it seems you have contracted vampirism. Tsk tsk. That’s why you always wear protection, young lady.

Ugh,” Audrey groaned and rubbed her forehead, “I mean, why did I pass out?

Sorry, just my attempt at bedside manner,” Bobby raised his three empty hands in apology, “you’re fine, really, just kinda overripe with blood, so we’ve been drawing out the excess slowly for about an hour or so.

Wait…” Audrey cocked her head to the side. “Aren’t I supposed to drink blood?

Well, yeah, but-” Bobby rubbed the back of its head, “it’s just a thing with your kind of vampire, I guess, Stacy can explain it better than I can.

The way we feed is similar to bacteria culturing,” Stacy chimed in, placing her hand on Bobby’s shoulder, “whenever you bite someone you inject them with cultures that quickly reproduce and spread throughout their bloodstream, and it’s the cultured blood that actually fuels us. You know how komodo dragons have toxic mouths full of bacteria? It’s a little like that. It’s the cultures that give blood its sweetness, and each breed of vampire has different cultures that can affect how your body changes when you turn in dramatically different ways. You, for instance, were infected with a type of culture that is especially reproductively hyperactive. Thus your body accommodates for this by making your blood production hyperactive as well. You still need to introduce new blood into your circulatory system, but only in small amounts or else your body will show symptoms of nausea, light-headedness, and even cardiactic syncope unless you drain the excess blood.

Thankfully we’ve got this baby,” Bobby patted the top of the blood drawing machine, “you went a little too hog-wild this time which, hey, I get it. Just practice a little restraint next time you do it with our sister, and come give us a visit if you start feeling bloated.

O-okay,” Audrey felt her cheeks heat up, “wait, you’re Laura’s sisters?

In that we’re all Millie’s little nightmares,” Bobby smirked, “she’s the youngest sister in both senses, so you know her a lot better than either of us. We all met each other on the project, but Laura was the last one to agree to it, even though you wouldn’t think it with how enthusiastic she is now.

The project?

To study vampirism. Laura really hasn’t told you about this?” Bobby folded his front arms, “I guess she didn’t really get that much time. I thought it was complete bullshit until I saw some of the shit that Millie could do, but Laura’s known about vampires her whole damn life. Stacy and I were two of the first people to volunteer for the experiments after the animal testing was done. It was, uh, Millie’s idea to get you and your friends involved when the organization behind it decided to kill off all the test subjects. I was against it, but I couldn’t really think of any alternative in the available time frame. At the very least, I hope I can make the transition smoother for you than it was for me.

Okay,” Audrey rubbed her dry lips, trying to process the information, “I appreciate it.

I’ll, uh, I’ll get out of your hair and let Stacy handle the cookies and juice.

Bobby walked back towards the corner where it had been earlier, and Audrey watched as she stepped behind a blue sheet of tarp. Whatever she was doing back there, it was obscured from Audrey’s point of view. She still felt rude for staring at Bobby like she was an exhibit at a freakshow. Who had attached those extra arms to herself? Was that part of the experiments she was talking about? Audrey got that vampires had advanced, accelerated healing, and Bobby was proof that such modifications were possible, but it was difficult to imagine him doing that to himself. The stitches around his mouth also seemed to suggest someone else’s handwork. Why were they not healing? Or was it a similar situation to Laura, where that injury was only starting to heal now? Considering everything she had seen and heard so far, whoever was behind ‘the project’ must have been particularly callous and barbaric. At least she understood some of the reasons why Laura had spent so much time at this library and why it was so weird if it’s where those experiments were conducted. Though, for every one question answered this only raised a hundred more.

Stacy walked over to Audrey, her heels softly clicking with each step. She leaned down to peel the tape from the needle in order to remove it. Her cleavage hung above Audrey’s arm. She was able to spot a smattering of freckles in the tight curve of where her two breasts met. Audrey bit the loose skin between her thumb and index finger on her left hand, averting her eyes. Stacy’s eyes, which only Audrey’s cheeks rivaled in ruddiness, tracked Audrey’s gaze as she slipped the needle out and applied pressure to a gauze.

Hmph, cute,” Stacy chuckled coquettishly, “Laura must be into that.

Into what?” Audrey met her eyes.

The whole shrinking violet, innocent lesbian thing,” Stacy stood back up, “Laura probably likes the idea of taking control, forcing you to admit that you want it, she certainly seems like the type.

T-that-that’s not true!” They had only been in their relationship for a day, so Audrey couldn’t really say that it was false either, “This is just a lot, okay, I think anyone would be pretty disoriented in this situation.

Hey, I’m not judging, you pull it off well. I’ll drop it, though. Don’t wanna get off on the wrong foot with a fellow transpire.

Wait, you’re?” Inadvertently, Audrey casted her eyes down to Stacy’s breasts before abruptly bouncing back to her eyes, “did Bobby…?

Hehe, nah, he did help with a little something else though,” Stacy folded her arms across her waist to emphasize her bust. “These babies are the product of my own genius, which brings us to the little present I’ve got just for you.

While Stacy spun around and returned to the table, Audrey heard a door swing open, which prompted her to turn her head and spot Laura entering the room. Audrey smiled and Laura returned, though it seemed a bit trepidatious. Her eyes flashed crimson. Was Audrey doing okay? How did she feel? Audrey wasn’t entirely sure whether this telepathy was simply one sender and one receiver, so in case her message couldn’t get through she simply nodded. Laura’s smile redoubled, and she leaned back against the wall to observe as Stacy approached. In her right hand she held an orange pill bottle filled with red gel capsules the size of lima beans.

There are my own little invention,” Stacy gestured with a little flourish to the pill bottle like a presenter in an infomercial, “I’m sure you’ve been adjusting so much that the question of hormones completely slipped your mind, but no worries, your new best friend Stacy is here to take care of that. Each of these miracles has a combination of blood, estradiol, progesterone, and my own secret ingredient that I’ve been playing around with. Take one once a week and you’ll be right as rain, as my peer-reviewed results clearly evidence.

I still need to take hormones?” Audrey was growing increasingly annoyed with these developments, “aren’t vampires supposed to be stuck in time or something? Like, they can never even cut their hair. That or they suddenly become beautiful through inexplicable magic. It doesn’t seem like I have any of y’all’s cool powers, so what’s really the difference between me now and me in a pair of plastic dentures last halloween?

You sound disappointed,” Stacy laid her cheek against the knuckles of her left hand, “trust me, babe, give it some time and you’ll be glad it doesn’t work like an Anne Rice novel.

I’m not disappointed. I’m just fucking confused, okay?! I wanted Laura back in my life, and now I have her, but I’m not sure that it even counts as my life anymore. I had plans to go to grad school, become an author, make an impact on the world, but I have no idea if any of that means anything now. What’s the use in any of it if I have to deal with all this vampire stuff?

Hey, it’s okay, calm down Audrey,” Stacy placed her left hand onto Audrey’s as a gesture of comfort, “it’s still your life, the stuff you care about still matters and you don’t have to give it up. I mean, Bobby and I are still doing the work we care about, just a little differently. We signed up for all this in service to our convictions, not to abandon them. I mean, what self-proclaimed scientist wouldn’t want to study an unknown intelligent species through direct knowledge of their qualia? Even though I can’t deny certain…” her face scrunched up like she had just spotted a cockroach crawling through Audrey’s hair “...seemingly supernatural factors, we’re still biological organisms that move, eat, respirate, create waste, and reproduce. Personally, I think there are rational explanations for all of it, we just haven’t advanced enough in the realms of physics, biology, metaphysics, neurochemistry, etc. to really figure it out. We do change and grow, just not as linearly or predictably as standard homo Sapiens. I mean, just imagine what it would mean if our bodies were kept in some sort of perfect homeostasis, what that would mean for someone pre-transition.

Yeah…” Audrey vehemently did not want to imagine that.

Sadly, being trans even makes vampires more complicated, but there are definitely some perks to go along with that. Assuming that you have been on a testosterone blocker, during your turning your body will have already adapted so that it will only produce a reduced amount of T. My theory is that our endocrine systems have changed not only so that our endorphins and serotonin surge when we feed in a similar manner to an orgasm, but also our uptake levels mirror the person who we just fed from for a short period of time. This could partially explain the mimicking ability that certain vampires display, but to fully study the phenomenon I’d have to develop the ability myself and then find some way to feed off a vast variety of people in a controlled setting. Anyway, the important point here is that the uptake phenomenon mixed with the particularly robust speed of mitosis in our cells appears to cause accelerated fat distribution and tissue development, perhaps even bone plate alignment. This brings me to my wonderful invention, which I have deigned to name Blood-E, hehehe. This should be perfect for you, since you only need to ingest a little blood on a regular basis, and I can check your hormone levels every once in a while when you come down to have your blood drawn. Just give it a few weeks and I’m sure you and Laura will both take notice of the developments.

Stacy shot her head back to fire Laura a wink, before tossing the bottle into the lap of Audrey’s still soiled gown. Audrey held it tight and looked over to Laura, who bit her lower lip with one fang and rubber it with her index finger. She could take a wild guess what Laura might have been thinking about. She was able to grasp the gist of what Stacy had communicated to her, and the meaning of it was frankly astonishing. Most importantly, she now had access to both an endocrinologist and a surgeon without any need for insurance, waitlists, or a burning hole in her savings account. It was honestly the best endorsement she’d gotten for vampirism so far. She’d have to speak with Bobby about how he kept things from regrowing.

I hope I’ve explained all of this to your satisfaction, Audrey dear, and I look forward to many future conversations on these topics,” Stacy beamed with her eyes, “but it seems like we’re both itching to get back to our girlfriends.

Audrey stood up from the armchair and strode in the direction of Laura. She did not feel the typical wooziness that accompanied her usual trips for blood work. In fact, she felt refreshed, like she had just come from a long, hot shower. Maybe she didn’t have to fear her body if she could just understand it. It was certainly a relief to learn that she would not have to out and hunt people for blood. Well, there were probably more than enough transphobes around that she wouldn’t have to feel that bad about it, but she wasn’t sure she’d even want their blood. Had Laura known how that blood would change her? Of course she did. It was sorta romantic, in a weird and twisted way, that she knew which one would best fit her.

How are you, babydoll?” Laura held out her hand and Audrey took it.

Kinda good, strangely enough,” Laura’s hand felt soft as a gossamer, “sorry about, uh, throwing up all over myself and passing out in front of your vampire mom, but at least it’s not anything serious. I think it’s worth it to spend some time down here every once awhile and getting squeezed like an orange if it means I get another taste of you~

I’m glad, hehe,” Laura giggled and pressed open the door, “what do you think of Bobby and Stacy?

Your sisters?

Mm…” Laura paused for a beat, “yes, my sisters.

I liked them, actually. They were both pretty shocking at first, but it didn’t take much for us to get along. Bobby kinda reminds me of Dove, you know, sorta acerbic but deep down he’s got a good heart. Stacy was really nice, kinda intimidating from her whole thing, but surprisingly easy to talk to. Thankfully, neither of them really put me on my back foot like Millie did.

Yes, mother can come off rather… strong… but I think that’s only to be expected when you’ve been around for centuries and spent most of them isolated from the world.

They had exited into the main room of the library, this time on the ground floor, and it seemed that Laura was leading Audrey towards the front entrance. It struck her that she still had no clue whether Dove and Marcus were okay. What reason did she actually have to believe Laura really cared about their friend’s wellbeing? What would they think about her ferrying Audrey around and introducing her to her little vampire family? She wanted to at least try to get in contact with them, even if she really doubted there would be any messages or calls. She had told them she was compromised after all, like she was some super spy double agent. But… Did she disagree with that assessment now? Well, for the time being Laura couldn’t directly make her do anything anymore, but that wasn’t really the main reason why she had said it. She wanted Laura’s approval. She wanted to make Laura Happy. She wanted to be with Laura. By all metrics she had available, it seemed that she was on Laura’s side. If people were coming to kill her, then Audrey most definitely wanted to help protect Laura. At the same time, though, Laura had really hurt their friends, and she had not tried to apologize or make any amends for that. Even if she could get Laura to show genuine remorse, there didn’t seem to be any real way to avoid things getting ugly. Stepping out into the brisk night air, Audrey felt particularly unmoored.

Bobby told me a little bit about that project you were a part of,” Audrey clenched Laura’s hand tighter, “it’s hard to believe that you were living an entirely separate life this whole time.

Mmm, well that’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” they say down together on the top step of the library stairs, “I’ve never been able to be completely honest with you Audrey, even back to when we first met, and because of that I’ve always had to keep this barrier between us that I absolutely knew hurt you. I, just, wasn’t allowed to talk about it, and I never tried because I was a coward. I’ve changed, though, and I want to break down that barrier and dance in its debris.

Then tell me, Laura,” Audrey set down the pill bottle and clasped Laura’s fingers in both hands, “tell me what’s been burning you up inside.

Well, you know that I come from a wealthy family, that I was never left wanting in terms of clothes, toys, and gadgets,” Laura ran a hand against the scalp and caused a few loose strands to frizz. “My family, the Borgosi, used to carry a title spoken with fear and reverence, but nowadays they are nothing more than a name to adorn a plaque in a gated community. For most of my childhood, the stories I heard them tell were just my own dark little fairy tales, stories of monsters that stalked the night and lured willful little girls to their doom. The monsters fascinated me more than anything, and none of them scared me as much as the god which haunted my thoughts and accompanied every errant mistake with a yawning pocket of guilt. My parents had plenty of books on the monsters, but each one spoke of them as devils and ghouls and evil spirits. I thought that to become one of them meant damnation of the soul, a sharing in the fate of Judas to forever walk the earth cowering from all that is good and righteous. And then I finally met one.

It was tradition within my family that, upon the onset of puberty, a Borgosi child had to slay one of the monsters in order to be a true heir to their crest. I had just entered middle school, had gotten my first period rather early, and it seemed like I was never going to become a true heir until some family friends finally came through for my folks. My father was reticent, having married into the family, but eventually relented to the sway of tradition. I was to be locked with the monster an hour before dawn, provided with a silver crucifix for protection and a stake to stab at its heart, and once I had paralyzed it I would let it burn in the purifying light of the sun. I was scared, Goddess I was fucking scared, but I wanted to prove myself worthy of the family name. I don’t know what I was expecting to see, maybe some bony rat-like creature with nails and teeth the color of sawdust. I know I wasn’t expecting to find a girl my age.

"She was smaller than me, a little girl with her hair put back into two bouncy pigtails, and she had most of her face covered with a blindfold and gag. Her arms and legs were restrained and she laid with her head against the cold concrete of the basement floor, awash in a pool of moonlight. The only thing my mother and father told me when they led me down there was ‘get it over with quickly’ and ‘do not fall for its disguise.’ My faith was not enough to carry me through that. For half an hour I just sat at the base of the steps, staring at her, listening to this girl’s panicked breathing. I had thought the monsters didn’t need to breathe, didn’t have a heartbeat, and the sound of her mortal terror seemed far too authentic to be a ruse. It hit me that my parents might have been mistaken, that their friends had mistakenly given them a normal, innocent girl and that they had convinced themselves that she was a monster. Heh, it was so easy for me to imagine that kind of wild fanaticism from them. I tentatively approached the girl and removed her gag in order to speak with her. Once I unwrapped it, she began to pant, revealing her pearlescent fangs.

‘It hurts’ she cried out to me, and kneeling in front of her I could see that the cuffs attached to her wrists and ankles were burning into her flesh. I could even smell it. I can still remember the smell, like burning pork, and ever since then I was never able to attend a bar-be-que without wanting to throw up. ‘Please,’ she begged me, ‘please let me go, I just want to go home.’ I tried to convince myself that it was a trick, that she was just a monster in the skin of a little girl, that she would kill me as soon as I freed her. I told her that it was okay, that I was there to finally free her soul. She just sobbed and my faith died out alongside her hope. I asked her what her name was. ‘Maria.’ I asked her how she became what she was. ‘I just wanted to be me.’ I didn’t understand. I did the unthinkable, but the only thing that came to mind, just to try and help her. I held out my wrist in front of her. She sniffed at it, hesitant, and started to drink from me. I’m not sure what I had expected to happen, maybe that the blood would redouble her strength somehow, allow her to break out of her restraints and escape. Instead she just took a little, probably just enough to abate the pain. And then I watched her burn as the sun crested the horizon. I listened to her screams. I wept for her.

If my parents knew what had actually happened, they didn’t acknowledge it, they simply congratulated me. I hid the bite and wiped away my tears to hide the evidence. I was so fucking worried they might find out the sympathy I had for a person they were programmed to hate, that I wasn’t like them anymore. Maybe if I had more time, or just more strength of will, I could have found a way to save her. Instead I lived with the weight of a murder on my soul, one that my supposed god saw as commendable, but that I could never accept. You were the first person to help me feel anything other than numb despair, Audrey, when we first met. Your imagination, this innate talent you had to describe the bizarre and grotesque in such a way that felt majestic, it was the balm to soothe my broken soul. Alongside that, you were instinctually kind, it was natural for you to love and you could weep for the sorrows of even those who had only ever shown you cruelty or disregard. I felt privileged that I could see your true radiance where most others could not spare a glance. I desperately wanted to tell you of my pain, to have you see me and understand my turmoil, but as I said, I was a coward.

As we both grew up, I started realizing things about myself that further distanced me from my family’s doctrines. I had no interest in men (though, shamefully, I ignorantly thought you an exception to this) which meant as the sole heir there was no hope of me carrying on the Borgosi line. I couldn’t care less, for at that point I saw it as a name to be worn with shame rather than pride. Looking back into their history, I learned that they were not only the custodians for the extermination of our kind, but their hands had taken part in witch hunts and the inquisition as well. I started reading more and more fiction that expressed sympathy for the plight of the creatures that had become my obsession, more and more mythology full of so many contradictions and origins and behavior that only confounded me further. All I really wanted to know was what she had meant by ‘I just wanted to be me,’” Laura was breaking into tears, “and then you came out to me.

The moment you let me meet your true self, revealed yourself to be the woman my unconscious mind always acknowledged you to be, I was struck with an epiphany. I don’t know if Maria was trans or gay, if she had been pushed from her home or if she had a home to begin with, but she saw an opportunity to live as herself and she took it. I finally understood. I wanted to kiss you, to tell you just what you had given to me, but I couldn’t.

Why couldn’t you?” Audrey choked up, feeling her own red velvet tears burning against her skin.

Because I was still a coward!” Laura brought her hands up to her face, weeping as she tried to keep herself together, “I was afraid what might happen to you if we were together, what you might think if I told you the truth, if you ended up like Maria. It wasn’t rational, but I felt cursed, marked with the legacy of my bloodsoaked ancestry. I went to college and met Marianna, a lesbian who came from a family like mine. She shared my obsession and for a time I convinced myself that she must have understood what I did. Of course, I mistook her fervor as one born out of compassion rather than hatred. That’s how she convinced me to join project ‘Red Queen’ with her, because it meant another chance to meet a real vampire.

What happened, baby?” Laura leaned forward and Audrey held her warmth tight to her chest.

I thought she loved me, Audrey, that she would stay with me no matter what!” She trembled in Audrey’s embrace, “That’s what she told me! That’s what she fucking told me! But when I told her that I’d volunteered for the treatment, she didn’t bother trying to convince me out of it, she couldn’t even look me in the eyes. And then… and then… when it all went tits up… she tried to fucking kill me! She said the exact same crap to me that I tried to tell Maria, that she was gonna save me from myself. She gave me the scar. I… I had to fight back… I kill… I killed her… and I had… had her blood… all over…

Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Audrey pet the frizz in Laura’s hair back down, “I’m here, you’re safe baby.

Laura kept sobbing against Audrey’s chest, squeezing her around the sternum. The trauma she had revealed weighed her body down like a stone. Audrey felt closer to Laura in that moment, yes, but she also felt a gulf expand between them. Even though she loved Laura, she had always been in unspoken agreement with Dove’s assessment of her privileged childhood. Her family was religious, sure, which had to suck for a queer kid, but Laura never really spoke about her relationship to her parents. To hear that they forced her to watch another kid die… Laura must have been a great actor to seem so well adjusted since Audrey had first met her. On top of it all, everything with Marianna. Audrey really had no idea. She thought it had been a bad break up, not… that. She wanted to help her through that, but it felt insurmountable with everything else that was happening.

Thank you, Audrey,” Laura wiped the tears on the hem of her dress, “I’m glad I actually, finally, got the chance to tell you about that.

Well, I’m your fiancé, right? So you’re supposed to tell me everything.

Oh goddess!” Laura slapped her forehead, “I forgot to even talk to you about that! Ugh… I’m sorry, baby, we haven’t even started dating, really, and my mother is already talking about marriage. She just got this impression, I guess, and she ran with it. Honestly, you don’t know how much you miss your privacy until your mother can pop up in your dreams unannounced.

So, you, uh…” Audrey bit at the nail on her right pinky finger, “you dream about marrying me?

I… yes? I mean, I do want to be with you forever, now that I can. I just… it feels wrong to push you into that, especially after what I’ve already put you through. I mean, just because you don’t hate me doesn’t mean that you love me, or that you could love me for thousands and thousands of years.

I do love you, and you know that,” Audrey wiped an errant tear from Laura’s eye, “it’s… difficult to imagine my life on that time scale. I’ve never even had any solid plans for after I turn 30. But if I want anything to last that long, then I’d definitely like it to be my feelings for you. You want to call that a marriage? Then I’d be more than honored to be your wife.

I love you too.” Laura leaned forward and Audrey wrapped her arms around her neck, caught in the moon’s spotlight, they shared their second kiss together.

Hey honey,” Laura parted her lips from Audrey’s, “would you be up for a date?

You mean tonight?

Yeah, we’ve got plenty of time!” Laura wore a wacky grin with her tongue poking out flat between her fangs, “might be too late to see a movie, but we could grab some dinner.


I meant dinner as in food, obviously!” Laura gesticulated, “unless, you know, there’s someone you wanna get back at, have a little vengeance.

What?” Audrey smiled back, getting in on the mischief, “you wanna ambush that professor who kept calling me ‘Adrian’ even though that’s not even my deadname?

Yeah, let’s string that fucker up!

Hehehe,” Audrey pictured the tweed wearing ponce hanging upside down from a street lamp by his loafers, “it’s tempting, but I think I’ll take a rain check.

Well, we could always just go get a hot dog or something, I haven’t had one of those in months.

You know,” Audrey rubbed her chin, “I never pegged you as a big fan of tubed meat, Laura.

Oh har har, at least my clothes aren’t stained with ketchup.

Oh.” Audrey looked down at her dress where the bloodstains had dried into a nauseating dark brown, “I really have to change.

No worries, darling, I’ll take care of it,” Laura gave her a wink at the precise moment her eyes commenced their red glow, “just close your eyes for me.

Audrey leaned back on her hands and extended her legs forward as if she was sitting in a reclining chair, staring up at the peaceful night sky before snuffing it out through closed lids. A chill breeze flew across her form, causing the silk coverings to billow against her skin. The sounds of passing cars and the few chittering tones of insects melted away from her. There were more stars in her mind’s eye than could be seen through the glowing streets and balking advertisements. She was the night sky reflecting upon herself, distilled into flesh and put upon the earth to bask in the fleeting beauties of life. She was Nyx. And at the same time she was Ophiuchus, Pyxis, and Vulpecula. She was the ink meant to stab into the heart of an empty white expanse. In that moment, she just couldn’t bring herself to care about all the familiar frivolities that had made her thrash about and spoil her dreams. Changing a few words on sheets of paper was never going to buy her respect. Devoting herself to a fantasy of lucrative drudgery instead of what she loved, telling herself that one was there to support the other. Deliberating over what she ate or enjoyed just to gain favor with people who would always consider her lesser, chasing their ideal with no real notion of her own. Sure, there was always going to be frivolities, no matter what she became. But she would rather they be alien to her than her be an alien to them. At least with this new life, Audrey had been born as a woman, and that truth would remain her pole star.

You can open your eyes, beautiful.

She tilted her head down to find herself ensconced in a new set of clothes. Instead of the Victorian gown she had woken up in, she was now wearing an open pink blouse with mint green petals floating around her hips, a white tee underneath. The light constriction around her clavicle told her that she was finally wearing a bra, notably one much better fitted than any of the ones back at her apartment. Covering her legs was a snug pair of light blue jeans that terminated before a pair of mint sneakers that matched her petals. Touching the tip of her finger to her lips, she felt the subtle matte texture of lipstain and looked over to Laura. Her partner was wearing a new outfit as well, though with the same overall color scheme. She admired Audrey as she sat in repose. Hugging her chest was a scarlet halter top that revealed her navel and the stainless steel rose piercing therein. She wore similar rose studs in her ears. Her black pencil rode over the fishnets straddling her legs which, like the matching pair on her arms, was cut into the pattern of a blooming rose garden. Her feet were adorned with short black boots, while her smile was stained a medicinal cherry red.

Wha- how?” Audrey balked at their new fashionable outfits, “did you just rob a mall or something? I didn’t even feel anything!

Shh, an expert magician never reveals her tricks,” Laura planted a painted fingernail over her lips, as she leaned her chest up against Audrey’s sleeve, “that’ll give you something to ponder with Stacy. Anyhow, the important question here is: do you like it?

Yes, baby, it’s wonderful!” Audrey took Laura’s hand again, “it means a lot that you knew my favorite colors and what would fit me, it’s just the sort of thing I’d wear if I had the confidence.

Well, you’re wearing it right now and I think you pull it off exquisitely. Besides, it matches your smell.

Oh?” Audrey giggled, “I must be pretty sweet then.

Hehe, wouldn’t you like to know?” Laura lifted her hand up, “come on, let’s head out.

The two of them roamed the streets of Saperavi hand in hand, strolling along the sidewalk as they made little observations and quips to try and elicit a laugh from the other. There weren’t too many other people out on the sidewalks. A few loners about their own business would sometimes glance at them before turning their sights forward and focusing on their destinations. They were simply a pair of young lovers. There were no clues from a distance to suspect anything more. Audrey’s skin prickled as she simply inhabited the joyful moment of her and Laura aimlessly exploring the city. Thoughts of blood and death, rituals and experiments, even investigating the fates of her missing friends fled from her mind for the time being. The only remaining anxiety wriggling around in her skull was her memory of the dream. Spending time with Laura, it felt like that fantasy must have belonged with someone else. But, even entertaining that notion, it immersed Audrey in a simmering rage at anyone who might do that to the woman she loved. She assured herself that it was normal to feel a bit protective towards her. They were a team, and it was one's respective job to keep the other safe and happy. Audrey reminded herself of this as they paused before a 24 hour convenience store.

Let’s stop here,” Laura pointed to the store, “I actually wasn’t kidding about wanting a hot dog.

Pushing through the doors, the blaring screech of fluorescent light caused Audrey to blink repeatedly in the face of the jarring transition. Throughout the store, the song Money from Dark Side of the Moon began with a melodic choir of cash registers. The man at the register, leaning in front of a mosaic of cigarette packs, wore headphones and lackadaisically thumbed through a copy of Rolling Stone. The atmosphere was normal. So normal it was even more discombobulating than the bright light. It brought Audrey back to her familiar state of hyper self-awareness. She fretted over whether she looked okay, looked right, in the face of strangers mulling around the buffed floors. Too self-conscious in the moment, she felt embarrassed for clinging so close to Laura. As Roger Waters started listing out the various Veblen niceties that could be bought and sold, Audrey released her grip.

Hey,” Laura looked down to their lost connection, “are you okay, babe?

I’m fine,” Audrey flashed a reassuring smile, “I’ll just look around a bit, it’s not like I have any money on me. I’ll meet you back at the register.

Okay.” Laura was unsure, but reluctant to push.

Inserting her hands into her pockets, Audrey sheepishly rubbed the lid of her pill bottle as she watched Laura make her way to the hot dog roller. The clothes Audrey had felt right, felt like her, when they had first appeared on her body. Now she wasn’t so sure. Did the blouse emphasize her shoulders too much? Could someone see the yawning valley between her breasts? Had she remembered to shave? What if someone spotted a suspicious outline in the skinny jeans? She ducked into one of the aisles and pretended to examine an expensive bag of beef jerky in order to blend in. She felt stupid for letting these thoughts get to her, even moreso than before. She didn’t know exactly what she could do, but she was certain that she and Laura could easily dispatch any stranger who gave them trouble. Of course, it wasn’t so simple. Regardless of her transformation, she was still part of a society, still subject to the social contract. If anything, she had far more responsibility now, because she was capable of extreme violence at a moment’s notice. If someone called her “tranny” and she broke their arm in retaliation, then she would be rightfully labeled a monster despite feeling emotionally justified. In terms of the social realm, she was just as disempowered as ever.

Audrey allowed herself to just focus on the music, a technique she often employed when confronted with intrusive thoughts. She made a mental note of the man who entered her aisle from the opposite end, but told her mind not to pay attention to him. She had always enjoyed Pink Floyd growing up. Psychedelic rock was one of the few topics that she and her dad could talk about. She never cared about baseball or cars or the stock market, so it was really just their shared taste in music that could intersperse their awkward silences. Her dad idolized Roger Waters, and when she had been very young she fantasized about becoming a rock star and making her dad proud. Sadly, any vestiges of that dream were dashed when he bought her a guitar and she quickly discovered that she neither had the innate talent for it nor the specific drive to acquire it. After her mom passed away, she and her dad had stopped talking as much and, though he was generally supportive when she came out to him, he was just as aloof as ever. She wondered when she might see her dad again, tell him that she and Laura were together. How much of everything else that had happened could she explain? As Money drew to a close, she heard the opening chords of Have a Cigar. She then felt something solid and heavy press into her back.

Just keep staring forward, buttercup,” the breath of her assailant smelled of chewing tobacco, “don’t try anything stupid and I’ll be out of your hair before you know it.

Oh fuck, he was pointing a gun at her, wasn’t he? From the corner of her vision she could spot another man at the register, wearing a duster that matched the one of the man who had walked into her aisle. He said something to the cashier she couldn’t hear, and so the worker took off his headphones and raised his hands placatively as the accomplice brought out his own pistol. Jesus christ, of course they’d stop at the convenience store staked out for a robbery, why wouldn’t she expect that? Well, at least the thieves weren’t shouting or acting too theatrical. They were just here for the money. It was a franchise store. The cashier wasn’t going to risk his life for money that was insured and the robbers knew that. Audrey took deep breaths in and out to calm herself. As long as no one did anything stupid, it would all be over in just a few minutes.

Then she spotted Laura creeping behind the man at the counter in her fog horn loud goth Hot Topic camo. Oh fuck, Laura, please don’t try anything, if not for your girlfriend at least for the sake of the poor cashier. Her red glow abruptly returned. They were going to take care of these assholes. No, they were emphatically not! If she didn’t have a gun at her back, Audrey would have rapidly crossed her palms in front of each other to signal her disapproval. The next best thing was looking up repeatedly at the cashier to indicate the issue. Don’t worry, Laura had things under control, this was their chance to really have fun. That sentiment did not reassure Audrey whatsoever, but she got the impression she wasn’t going to change Laura’s mind while she couldn’t speak to her.

Hey bitch, stop twitching.

Oh, did that fucker just call Audrey a bitch? She could take care of him easily. Fine, okay, guess they were doing this. In a split second, Laura popped from her crouching position, to grabbing onto the gun of the thief at the counter, to tossing it down to the floor.

What the fuck?” The voice of the main behind her trembled.

Drawing in a quick breath, Audrey twisted herself around, slightly ducking, and grabbed onto the barrel of the gun. Thank god he had left the safety on. She had just intended to grab it away from him like Laura had, but the strength she did not know she had combined with her surging adrenaline caused her to crush the barrel and bend it to a 45 degree angle. It felt like an empty aluminum can rather than steel. If it had actually been loaded, it might have exploded in both their hands, but that was luckily not the case. The man, who had a scruffy beard and a Yankees cap pulled over his dark shades, opened his mouth to say something. Before he could, she lifted up by the shirt collar and posted him against the shelves behind him. Bags of chips rustled from their perches and fell to the floor from the force of his weight knocking into it. She smiled wide and snickered to herself. He felt more like a bag of oranges in her hand, rather than a six foot man with a beer gut. If she wanted to, she could have probably tossed him ten yards without even trying. This strength felt good to her, it felt natural, as if her previous paltry strength was the result of malnourishment and she had finally returned to health. Of course, she really didn’t want to hurt the guy, but scaring him back was an incredible thrill. The wild look in his eye told her that he recognized he was at her mercy.

Turning her attention to Laura and her dance partner, it seemed that she was just as electrified, if not more. She blinked back and forth around the mind, timing her blows to the music like she was aiming for a high combo in a fighting game. She hit him with an elbow to the ribs, a punch to the jaw, a kick to the back of his knee.

“Everybody else is just green-”

She sweeped his legs.

“Have you seen the chart?”

As he fell forward she grabbed him around his head.

“It’s a hell of a start-”

She let his momentum flip him over her shoulder.

“It could be made into a monster-”

She arched her back while holding him tight.

“If we all pull together as a team.”

He fell hard onto his back as she disappeared from the suplex. She reappeared by stamping his chest to the floor with her boot. He wore a similar expression to the man still stuck in Audrey’s grip, and Laura chuckled before flashing her a smirk. She was sweating enough to make her mascara run, but she did not look anywhere close to worn out. With one hand she beckoned to Audrey, who obliged by dragging her robber over to his buddy and dropping him down beside. The victorious lovers shared a brief kiss. Then, still standing on the man’s ribs, Laura knelt down over the stooges.

It seems you two haven’t gotten the memo, but as of yesterday this city belongs to us,” Laura snarled at them, “and I will not tolerate this sort of wanton behavior. That cashier you threatened is likely calling the cops as we speak, so I’m gonna give you the chance to crawl out of here and rethink your decisions.

O-okay, ma’am,” the less injured of the pair choked out.

You two should be ever so grateful that my girl was here keeping me civilized, because otherwise I would not have practiced such restraint.

Laura stood up, removed her foot and stepped back, confidently slipping Audrey’s hand back into her own. The man in the baseball cap slowly rose to his feet, then helping his friend up, neither of them dared to take their eyes off Laura and Audrey. Lingering for a few seconds, Laura raised a goading eyebrow before they finally turned towards the exit and hobbled away. By the sound of his groaning, Laura had likely a few of her guy’s ribs. Once they were past the threshold, Laura turned around the hot dog dressed in ketchup, mustard, and relish she left in its paper cradle next to the hot dog roller. Heading up to the counter, Laura placed a twenty next to the cash register where the cashier was no doubt still cowering under. That was more than the food cost, no doubt, so the extra cash was more than likely an apology for the mess they had made. Upon exiting themselves, both girls were giggling like they had just come back from an open night set.

Audrey felt exhilarated, amped, keyed up like she couldn’t believe. It was as Laura had supplied her with the perfect confidence booster. Laura, who was biting into her hot dog, smearing condiments on her face. It seemed that vampires were just always inclined to messy eating. On some level, Audrey could recognize that she probably shouldn’t have been feeling that good. Even if they had been arguably justified in defending themselves, they had taken glee in causing two strangers pain. They had more than likely traumatized a service worker who certainly didn’t deserve it. Audrey also had no clue when or where Laura had learned to fight. In truth, though, she was a bit beyond concern. It was kind of embarrassing to admit just how it had made her feel, but she couldn’t deny that, well-

So…” Laura wiped the condiments from her mouth with a brown napkin, “how do you feel about our first official date?

Um, I, I can’t lie to you babe,” Audrey bit on the nail of her thumb, “it was hot.

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