by torch, 1996-1999

Disclaimer: I don't own the vampires named in this story. I suppose I could make a case for owning the vampire not named in this story, who didn't have much of a life when I found him... This is set in my Roman holiday universe, as a dark possible sequel, and if you want to know what has gone before, start with Fire to ice. Do not archive this story without permission.

The mortal moon

There is no one else on the road.

The night is huge, a single vast darkness flung across the earth, fine as watered silk, and the stars ripple across it, shifting with the years. And the moon, the moon is a hollow skull, those lips that I have kissed, leering at me familiarly from between the black branches of a tree.

And there's a song playing on the radio, and it's drowning the sound of my tears. Thank you, Bryan Ferry.

There is no one else on the road, and I know because I've parked the car across both lanes, here just past this sharp curve, where there is no light. I like driving open cars; I like the wind in my hair. Now I'm here and I'm not all alone because there are birds and animals out there in the woods, the small hunters of the night. A pounce and a squeak and another lost life. Oh, such a familiar story, isn't it? I could swear I've seen it happen before.

I may even have done it myself.

I turn my head and look at the young man in the seat next to me. He has thick black hair, and wide dark eyes, and pale skin. One drop of blood lies on his throat like a ruby. He is dead. Make no mistake about it. He hasn't been dead for long; I am still warm from him, his life, his memories.

Never get in a car with a strange man.

Even then he might have been safe. His company might have cheered me as I drove, we could have talked, I might have let him drive for a while, pretending to be tired. It was his misfortune to resemble someone I love, and to smile at me at the wrong moment, and to find me attractive.

He wanted to make love to me, believing me to be a mortal. And I cannot even begin to say how much that idea disgusted me. That's what I am running from, after all. Lovers.

They looked so happy together. I couldn't understand it. In all the centuries I've known Santino he's worn darkness like a cloak pierced by flashes of lightning laughter. When I saw him with Marius, oh, he glowed. He was incandescent, they both were. I still don't see, and the stars aren't telling me anything. How could they do a thing like that and like it...

I remember what the blood first did to me. How it flowed through me like a river and it was so rich, so complex and still it made existence excruciatingly simple. It pared me down, cleansed me, changed me completely. And it made everything else seem so far away. My past, my life, flowed away. The things that had hurt me weren't important any more.

And once having known that pure ecstasy, how can anyone wish to go back? To try again what we have abandoned, the crude and uncertain pleasures that pale beside this deep intoxicating river of blood.

They did look happy together.

I'm all alone on the road. When I turn the radio off, it's so quiet. If this boy were still alive, I would hear him breathing. I can hear leaves rustle, softly, because there isn't much wind. Just enough to make one strand of his black hair fall forward over his pale, pale cheek.

It's a cool night, but not cold. And I am warm. For now. His life burns in me. There is a bird out there, calling mournfully, and I don't know what kind of bird it is. Maharet would know. I never much cared. Languages change, names change. What I care to remember, I carry inside.

I don't have eternal youth. I don't know what it is I have, but it isn't that. Eternity was a promise in a strange tongue when I was a man; now I can feel its icy breath against the back of my neck. Memory and desire don't mix any more. Surely I wasn't always so darkly serious. We all used to laugh together.

Now laughter has gone away and I wish I could go with it. I want to vanish, I want to forget. Not the weight of the years or the length of my past. Not even, really, the knowledge that they are out there, together, happy. I want to forget the way this boy turned towards me, touched me, and how when he did I saw another's pale face and black hair instead and almost spoke a name he would not have recognized.

A temporary attachment. Everything is temporary in an existence that will continue forever. Looking up, I try to tell myself that even the moon looks different. But I look the same, my face is the same face I have seen for night after countless night, unchanging, incapable of being marked by experience or passing time. What does forever mean if nothing changes?

Santino was never mine. That hasn't changed.

This boy, this black-haired boy, this dead boy next to me, he desired me. When I leaned towards him his mind brimmed with anticipatory thrills; his lips moved, seeking a first kiss as a prelude to carnality. As though I would have wanted that, as though I were no different from a rutting mortal. As though I were no different from them, Santino and Marius, in their madness.

Never mine. Possessed by another, in a sense I don't wish to contemplate. Relationships are fleeting among our kind, by necessity, by default; how many years can you spend with another before disillusionment sets in? Ten, fifty, a hundred? We come and go in each other's lives, and while friendship may last, love never does.

And how long have I loved him?

And how long will I love him?

For as long as there are stars, for as long as there is sky, perhaps only for as long as this fleeting blood-warmth holds out against the cool breath of night. I can imagine their bodies together, in acts dimly remembered, better forgotten. What this dead nameless boy would have wanted from me, and I look at him and wonder how it would have felt to him, cold hands on his flesh, cold flesh taking his body.

This way, the pleasure was not all mine. He shuddered in my arms, eyes half-closed, his fingers working against my shoulders. Santino, enraptured, in ecstasy, would look like that.

There's a song playing on the radio. I don't need to turn it on to hear. The star-studded blackness above is the true face of the sky, freed of its blue veil, open to the infinity of space. I would do it, I would indulge any desire of his, no matter how repellent I found it. I will wait until their love ends, until the sky ends, until the stars go out as I sit here on this quiet stretch of road with a beautiful corpse for company.

Then, I will go to him.

* * *

the vampire chronicles || e‑mail