CW: Strong language, adult situations, violence, gore, sexual situations, depictions of grief, trauma, and severe depression, partial implied nudity.
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
“I have been telling you about Lilith’s conference for months,” Latimer said, pointing at the binder on the table. “It’s on the calendar.”
“I don’t remember seeing it,” Vlad replied, “And regardless, just because it’s on the calendar doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to it.”
“That is exactly what it means! You think I’m adding things for my damn health?”
How was Vlad to know? He made Latimer’s doctor’s appointments on his phone, like a sane creature, using the shared calendar. “Lilith has been a full professor a hundred times,” he argued.
“Not a hundred,” Latimer threw his pen down on the table. “And now she’s an early career professor seeking tenure. She needs the support of colleagues in the field, which, buddy boy, is you. Isn’t this what you got your Ph.D. for?”
Vlad got it because he’d been bored, and attending school with Lilith sounded like a fun bonding opportunity. In reality, they just fought all the time about who had a more accurate memory of the Queen of Windenburg’s coronation. Vampires were terrible history majors.
With a resigned sigh, he dialed Alice, trying not to grimace as he lied about his plans. When he ended the call, Latimer was staring at him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a stupider thing come out of your mouth.”
“I am not stupid. I’m—”
“On a business trip because you’re ‘freelancing business?’” Latimer made mocking quotation marks.
“Fuck,” Vlad pinched his brow, “I am stupid.”
Alice’s House, Windenburg
It was probably for the best that Vlad canceled; Gwendolyn was being especially defiant. Alice enjoyed all the stress-relieving sex and the whirlwind dates, but what she really needed was to complain about her kid and sleep. And maybe pee without—
“Mommy!” a tiny fist banged on the door, “Strangers!”
“Gwendolyn, your babysitter is not a stranger,” Alice reached for the toilet paper, cursing silently under her breath when she realized the roll was almost empty.
“Mommy, what you doing?”
Besides blissfully remembering a time when she could be alone in the bathroom? Alice forced her jaw to unclench. “Gwendolyn, we talked about this.”
Was she fucking serious? “When mommy is in the bathroom, she just needs to be alone for a few minutes to do what she needs to do,” Alice explained cheerfully.
That question would be the death of her.
“Mommy? I open door!” Gwendolyn began rattling the knob. “Mommy need help? I help! Gwendolyn help!”
“No! Gwendolyn, stop!” Alice’s voice came out sharper than she intended. Blinking back exhausted tears, she sighed and softened it, “Mommy is fine; please just wait a minute.”
She flushed, washed her hands, and followed with a splash of cold water on her face for good measure. “You are a boss,” she whispered to her reflection, “You will not be brought to tears by a toddler.”
“Yes, I’m coming!”
Alice marched down the hall and flung open the door with a determined grunt. She peered down at the two men standing at the base of her steps. One was in dark robes with an eye patch, and the other was dressed in an old pirate suit. “Who are you?”
The man in the pirate suit gave a dramatic bow. “B’Olli—uh, Ben, at your service!”
“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” the man in the dark robes muttered.
“Where is Mrs. Specter?” Alice asked, patting her pockets for her phone.
“She caught the ferry,” Ben replied.
“Er… passed on,” he corrected.
“Oh.” Alice wasn’t exactly friendly with her babysitter, but it was still sad that she died. “And you’re her replacement? Who is this?” She gestured at the man with the eye patch.
Ben’s mouth split into a wide grin. “My assistant. Donald. Donald…er, Don Lothario.”
“Nope,” the alleged “Don” replied, “Abso-fucking-lutely not. My name is Grim, and that’s what you, Alice, will call me.”
“She can’t call you Grim,” Ben hissed at his colleague. “We talked about this!”
“Talked about what?” Alice’s eyes darted back and forth between them.
Don or Grim, or whatever his name was, rolled his eyes. “Apparently, you can’t call me Grim, and I, despite our longstanding tradition cannot comment on the overall perkiness of your—”
Ben elbowed him.
“Nothing,” he choked out. “I would never mention your tits.”
These two motherfuckers.
They didn’t scare Alice, probably because she was cracked in the head. In fact, her natural instinct was to put them in their place, but she had Gwendolyn to think about. The number one rule of parenthood: do not leave your kids with weirdos. “Okay, guys, I don’t know what sort of cosplay convention you wandered away from, but I’m just going to call the babysitting agency and—”
“Children love costumes! It’s a thing that the agency is trying.” Before Alice could react, Ben reached into his coat pocket and shoved a bunch of papers into her hand. “Here, official documentation and clearances signed by the highest power in the Universe.”
He grabbed her shoulders and spun them, so they switched places, “Everything is on the up and up. Your tiny terror could not be safer! Now, get going before you’re late for work.”
University of Foxbury, Oasis Springs
Vlad was not made for academia. He did not want to talk about his work; he did not want to answer questions about his work, and he most certainly did not want to attend entire conferences with other creatures who waxed poetic about theirs.
But he could rarely deny his children anything, so here he was at the University of Foxbury for the Fundamentals of the History of Magic. The mortals on the planning committee thought they were making a joke with the title. The supernatural participants did not.
“—but you’ve read the latest overview of Charleston’s work? It’s a re-re-examination funded by the Brindleton Bay Men’s Club of Knowledge and Knowing.”
Vlad turned to the bespectacled sim talking to him. “What.”
“An examination of your examination of the mythical mermaid wars?” the sim continued, bouncing from foot to foot.
They weren’t mythical, and Vlad hadn’t “examined” them. He’d written down what happened because he didn’t want to forget. That was the problem with aging—time made details fuzzy. He was already well over 1200 when an army of dimwitted pirates decided to teach the “harlots beneath the sea” a lesson. Watching the sirens tear open the sailors’ throats with their teeth was a joy. It included a free meal and Vlad’s favorite musical accompaniment: the sound of men wailing.
He pressed a hand to his head, narrowing his eyes. “I haven’t read it.”
“The overview or Charleston’s work?”
The amount of blinking the sim was doing should be illegal. Vlad growled. “There’s an overview of the examination of the examination?”
“Y-yes!” the sim sputtered, “Llamas, man, what did you think we were talking about?”
Vlad wasn’t talking; he was thinking, which for some unfathomable reason, creatures took as an invitation to speak to him. Why hadn’t he refined his power of suggestion like Anastasia? He could scramble their brains like eggs, but he could not invoke a simple “do not perceive me.”
That voice. Vlad whirled around. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Ethren leaned against the wall, a smirk painting his face. “What a greeting. You always were a smooth talker.”
Vlad swallowed hard. The years had been kind to his ex-husband, who was aging at a crawl because he was half-vampire. “I’m supporting Lilith; I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“I heard Lilith was presenting, so I came to support her too. We’ve got some time before the next session. Do you want to go to lunch? You and I are long overdue for an”—he licked his lips—“academic discussion.”
Vlad’s hands clenched as heat, and something that felt suspiciously like the tearing of newly mended flesh wound through him. He made his voice purposefully disinterested, “Do you mean lunch or a discussion of how academia is a self-referential table jerk for those already in power?”
“I’m not opposed to the jerking part,” Ethren adjusted his stance so his legs slightly parted. “But sure, we can talk too.”
“We are not fucking. I’m seeing someone.”
His ex gave him a knowing smile.
“I like her,” Vlad clarified.
Ethren’s grin, if possible, widened.
University of Foxbury, Oasis Springs
They sat at the lunch table doing their usual round of banter, but Vlad found himself more irritated than aroused. Ethren had already taken him to task over their divorce settlement—as if ten acres, fourteen pigs, eight hens, a house cat, and all the drinking vessels wasn’t enough—and now he’d started harassing Vlad about his “theatrics.”
“No, please, I’d love to hear which bizarre idiosyncrasy has you wanting to murder everyone at this conference,” his ex purred.
“I am quite capable of being in large groups without murdering everyone.” Vlad pursed his lips, “And the conference is fine.”
It wasn’t. He could hear everything—the AV coordinator arguing with the next presenter about their slides, two tenured faculty complaining about the quality of the food, which Vlad agreed, smelled sub-par, and the hustle and bustle of students. Not to mention it was torture sitting in those plastic chairs for hours on end.
He hadn’t been able to explain to Alice at yoga, but it wasn’t just playing dead that rattled him. He’d been carved out. On the inside, he was just—
You can beg, little vampire, but I have plans for you. Fate has plans for you…
“Are you even listening to me?” Ethren snapped his fingers.
“Yes.” A lie.
“You look antsy,” his ex observed, “What’s wrong with you?”
The list was long. A shattered hip that never healed right, nerve damage so severe that at times he dropped things, blindness in one of his eyes that came and went like the wind—all of it appearing in a constant cycle because it had been decades since he’d truly eaten.
“Nothing,” Vlad bit out, “Continue.”
The opportunity to lecture proved too alluring, Ethren did continue, railing about how the Sages pretended to bring order but really only set spellcasters at the top of the heap.
Vlad was desperate to end the conversation. He smirked, “Sitting atop the heap is endlessly fascinating for those with short lifespans.”
“That is bullshit!” Ethren pounded his fist on the table but annoyingly, did not leave. “Vampires had the council, so don’t pretend quests for power are beneath you. And you are not hearing me. Any fool can see that the Sages haven’t brought true stability. That means someone will be looking for an opportunity to unseat them.”
“Then I wish them luck.” Vlad shook his leg, trying to get the pins and needles to stop. “What do I care if witches want to kill each other?”
“You should care. The last time witches wanted to kill each other, they made werewolves, and in response to that, they created vampires, and in response that, nearly tore the Magic Realm apart.”
“Magic created vampires and werewolves,” Vlad spat. “Witches were merely the conduits.”
“Aw. Does it hurt your feelings to hear that natural-born vampires had witches as makers?”
Ethren’s mocking tone irritated Vlad, ratcheting up what was already a simmering pot of agitation. “Why are you here? It’s certainly not to play stepfather. You never liked that role.”
“You think you’re gonna offend me, carissime?” his ex crossed his arms and gave Vlad a satisfied look, “I said it 800 years ago, and I’m saying it now. I don’t have any interest in raising a batch of screaming brats with you. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
There was no time to do this dance with his former lover; Vlad’s body had about all it could take of being seated. He stood, the pain radiating from his hip so viciously that he swayed. “Go to hell,” he growled, words almost slurring.
He didn’t see Ethren’s right hook coming. Couldn’t. It rocked his jaw, the bones cracking. He stumbled back as the half-vampire hissed.
“Come now, Vladislaus, have you grown tired of foreplay already?”
Despite the pain, Vlad swung wildly, clawing the side of Ethren’s face. Meanwhile, his dark form pulsed under his skin like a living thing—the effort to subdue it agonizing.
—I’ll place a fire inside of you. A hunger—
“Fuck you,” Vlad roared.
“I have been trying, but you don’t return my calls.” Ethren rubbed his hands together, one eyebrow cocked, “Come on, I’ll buy you a glass of nectar, and you can lick my wounds. I know making up is your favorite part.”
Vlad looked at him with absolute loathing, hunger gnawing at his belly. He was supposed to keep this side locked up, but oil slick and tempestuous, it sometimes slipped through.
Devour, it whispered.
“Hey,” Ethren took a tentative step towards him, “What’s wrong? Is it getting harder to control?”
Vlad turned so his ex-husband couldn’t see his face. “No,” he lied, as his jaw began to heal. “Lunchtime is over.”
The Gnome’s Arms Pub, Henford-on-Bagley
“Excuse me!” The woman at the end of the bar waved. “I’ve been waiting for a drink all evening.”
And you’ll keep waiting, Alice thought. It had been easier to ignore her when there were more sims in the bar, but now it was taking all of Alice’s concentration. She missed Vlad. When he was around, this sort of thing didn’t happen.
“Hey, can we get some water for Lucy?” one of the sims who came in with the bachelorette party gestured at the restroom, “She’s in the bathroom puking.”
“I cannot believe you’re just going to ignore me!” the woman at the end of the bar growled, “I’ve been sitting here for hours.”
It was the entitlement that had Alice gritting her teeth. She didn’t so much as glance in the woman’s direction as she followed the group to the bathroom. The clean-up was gross, but toddlers got you pretty well accommodated with gross, so Alice managed it without much fanfare. Afterward, she tucked the stumbling lot of them into a taxi to return to their bed and breakfast.
“I want a drink!” the woman screeched.
“You don’t need one!” Alice hissed, “You don’t need food at all, so can you please just—”
“Who are you talking to?” Michael asked as he set down a box of bottles he’d carried up from the basement.
“N-no one,” Alice stammered.
The woman began to sob, hunching forward to reveal the gruesome knife plunged into her skull.
“Just complaining to myself about cleaning up all the puke,” Alice finished, breathless.
He grimaced, “Yeah, when I offered to drop off the mushrooms she ordered, Sarah said you were working really hard. She told me she left a bonus for you under the cash register.”
The woman’s sobs grew frantic, and red energy began to pour out of her.
Alice dug her nails into her palms and forced a smile. “Thanks, it’s no big deal. Would you mind locking up? I’m spent.”
Alice didn’t wait for the rest of his answer. She grabbed the envelope and high-tailed it out of the bar.
Sims International Hotel, Oasis Springs
It was only practice that kept him from limping. That, and sheer, burning determination.
His dark form pulsed again, begging to be let out, the hunger now insistent, like knives being driven under his skin.
Shaking with the effort of leashing it, he stumbled into the bathroom and flung open the cabinets, searching for a bottle of painkillers and crying out when his hands trembled so badly he spilled them.
He crawled, scooping them up, then tore at his clothing and hobbled into the shower. The pulsing sound of the water helped drown out the aching roar in his ears. It was too many painkillers. If he were mortal, he’d be dead. But they worked with whatever occult energy he could release to dull the pain until it became almost hazy.
He stretched out on the bed and turned on the livestream of the conference. Lilith was brilliant, carefully laying out her work on interpreting old manuscripts. Vlad closed his eyes and leaned back, smiling whenever he heard her reference a book or an argument he remembered from her ongoing thesis. Every few decades, when she had to pretend to be a student again, she worked to refine it, albeit in terms mortals would find acceptable.
Magic, Lilith believed, wasn’t just contained in old books as spells; the old books were magic all their own. They held a spell only until the idea of it took on a life of its own and no longer needed the pages as a physical container. Or at least, that was his best understanding of it. Lilith had written most of it in formulas and numbers. She said that was how magic made sense to her. Vlad knew the taste of magic, the shape, weight, and smell of it—but not its logic.
He was just starting to relax and maybe fall asleep for the first time in years when there was a commotion onscreen. The bespectacled sim that corned him earlier was peppering Lilith with absurd arguments and observations.
“…but you’ve only done a preliminary review of these texts. As Goodley Mather detailed in The Ultimate Vampire Tome, occult energy is patriarchal in nature; it’s why male vampires have better control of it. Now, if men could harness that power—“
“Is there a question in there?” Lilith asked icily.
Suddenly, Vlad was standing in front of the TV, nostrils flaring.
He had been hungry, so hungry. He bared his teeth and took note of the sim’s name, tracking the sound of the man’s walk. Vlad was so immersed that he barely noticed as the last of his bones cracked back into place, and light sparked in the eye that was usually dead.
When the sim got up and left, Vlad did too. He stood in the hallway like a man deranged, listening for the cadence of those steps.
And when he heard it…
“Good evening Biffington Bobridge; as it turns out, I also have a question that’s really more of a comment.”
Alice’s House, Windenburg
Gwendolyn was already sleeping by the time Alice got home. While the agency confirmed Ben and Grim were the best babysitters they had—dedicated but unconventional, every interaction with them was still slightly unsettling. Like when she tried to pay them.
“No need!” Ben told her.
“Yes, need,” Grim said. He took the money and gave Ben a murderous look.
“Right, yes, we do need money,” Ben said slowly, “Because that’s what you get when you have a job. And you can use it to buy food,” his voice sped up as if a realization was coming to him, “Which is how you feed a corporeal form because it gets so hungry!”
“What the fuck?” Alice whispered quietly to herself as she walked them out the door and locked it behind them.
After a hot shower, she let go of the day’s craziness, stretched out on her bed, and dialed Vlad.
“Alice?” His voice sounded strained. She heard him drop something heavy. There was some muffled interference and then he was back on the line. “How was your day?”
“It was cool,” she tilted the phone towards her mouth, enjoying the sound of his voice on speaker, “How about yours?”
She waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t. Was this going to be their vibe forever? Secrets? Alice changed tact. “Actually, my day wasn’t cool. It was exhausting. The bar was crowded, and I cleaned up puke.”
Vlad’s hesitated, then sighed. “My day was awful too. I ran into an ex and made the mistake of wearing a starched cotton shirt.”
She frowned. That sounded uncomfortable. “Was it bad?”
“Yes. Starched cotton is the devil’s fabric. I shouldn’t even own it.”
Alice laughed. “No, not the shirt; I mean the break-up. Is that why your day was awful?”
“Oh. Yes,” his voice went tight, “One of many reasons.”
Alice twirled her braid, tapping a finger to her lips. She didn’t enjoy Vlad sounding stressed, but all her ideas for helping him relax included sex. “I’m sorry. You should try to do something relaxing.”
Vlad chuckled, apparently reading her tone. “And what, Alice Martin, did you have in mind?”
“Well, the bachelorette party was reading from Simsapolitan’s ‘100 Kinky Things You Might Be Into With Convenient Product Placement From Our Sponsors’ list”
“I’m intrigued,” there was a smile in his voice, “I was hungry, but I think I’ll have something to drink instead. How about you?”
“Ya know,” Alice didn’t even fight her voice going breathy, “Something to drink sounds good to me too. Give me a minute.”
Three glasses of nectar from the bottle she found under her sink later, they’d finished reading the whole list.
“So basically, anything that involves being tied down, whipped, or clamped is your vibe?” she teased, unsure whether she was burning up from the conversation, the nectar, or both.
“I’m partial to anything involving weaponry,” he purred. “And what about you? What kinks do you have?”
Alice was not a prude, not by any stretch, but talking about her own pleasure made her deeply uncomfortable. “None. I’m, uh, chill. I just like sex however it comes.”
It wasn’t like she didn’t get off; she just didn’t have a command of all the things she liked. At least, not anymore. She started out demanding all sorts of things with Salim, but once sex became the one place they didn’t argue, Alice didn’t dare introduce conflict into the mix.
Vlad made a noncommittal sound, “I’ll just mark that down as ‘to be determined.’”
Fuck. Was she really going to let Salim get in her head this much? “No, wait, hold on a second. I do have something. I usually prefer to be the artist, not the subject, but let’s try it.”
She turned up the R&B station and activated the front-facing camera before deciding not to look at it for fear she’d obsess too much about her stretch marks or mismatched underwear. Think sexy thoughts! she scolded herself. Doing her best to project utter confidence, she snapped a few pictures, growing increasingly bold as she did it.
“Okay, sent, check your phone.”
The sound he made on the other line was strangled.
Alice bit her lip, feeling powerful. “What’s a little phone sex without something to stimulate your imagination?”
Vlad groaned. “My imagination is stimulated. The list of things I wish to—” his tone changed, “Shit.”
“You don’t like it?” Alice gripped the phone tighter, “That was a purposeful nip slip!”
“No, you’re beautiful. Perfect, But I think your child…”
Alice turned slowly, pressing a trembling hand to her breastbone. Please no.
“Want snack!” Gwendolyn cried, “Need cookies!”
“Alice,” Vlad’s voice was calm. How the fuck could he be so relaxed? “It’s alright. I—“
“Why are you out of bed?” she whispered to her daughter. WHY? WHY? WHY?
“No bed.” Gwendolyn cackled, eyes suddenly going wide, arms spread as she prepared to make a declaration. “Mommy has small boobies!”
There was a distinct sound of coughing on the other line.
“I gotta go,” Alice mumbled, and hung up the phone.
NEXT TIME, ON THE STRAUDS:
Trailer Song: “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters
Poses & Animations
Pack #32 by SovaSims
Emotions (Seated) by Simmerberlin
A Little Emotion Seated by threethousandplumbobs
Bowing Down Poses by Atashi77
The Wall and Me Poses by Katverse
Talk and Punch by LUKA
No Mercy by Natalia-Auditore
Werewolf Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Splitting Headache by Simkoos
Not Feeling So Good by Natalia-Auditore
Naptime poses by Katverse
Selfie Poses by Natalia-Auditore
Pose Request #67 by Sciophobis
Phone Talk Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Press Conference Room by S_Rey22
Luxurio Spa Hotel by MartiniOlivia