CW: Strong language, adult situations, depictions of grief, trauma, and severe depression
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
Latimer, 8:00 a.m.
Latimer Jones remembered the fire—the licking heat and twist of flame. Once, he’d been one of fourteen. After the fire, he was one, a number so miserable he took every possible avenue to avoid it.
His mother, llamas rest her soul, always said that gods, if they existed, were fickle and untrustworthy. She was right. As one of five boys crammed into a hayloft, desperate for a bit of privacy, Latimer made the mistake of praying for quiet. He’d hoped to be left behind while everyone went to church or to win the lottery and buy his family a bigger house.
Instead, the gods gave him fire.
Not having learned his lesson, he prayed again—this time for a new family. In their infinite humor, the gods gave him a rowdy pack of immortal creatures whose love and devotion came without a sense of time or value for life, and thus, he was still alone.
Now Latimer Jones did not pray. Not to the universe, not to the llamas, and sure as fuck not to any imaginary gods.
It was a slow shuffle to the shower, followed by the shame of using the chair Vlad installed last summer after Latimer slipped in the tub. He dressed, kissed Betty’s portrait, and thought of her final letter.
When I go, Latimer Jones, you better not throw me a funeral. Have a celebration, and don’t forget to do all my favorite things. In fact, you won’t forget, because I’ve written you a list.
Latimer half chuckled as he climbed the stairs to Vlad’s room. Betty never understood how far gone he was for her. When they first started dating, she hid little notes for him to find at the canteen in between his shifts. Latimer read them so often he memorized them. This last letter was no different. He knew the list by heart.
“Have you seen my watch?” Vlad asked, “The one Betty gave me for Winterfest in ‘82?” He knelt, rattling his bedside table as he tugged open the drawer.
“Do I look like the keeper of your things? How the hell is it you don’t sleep and yet you’re the one who ain’t ready?”
Vlad rose to his feet in one smooth movement. There was a glint in his eye. Had been since the day he returned from Lilith’s conference. “It takes time to achieve this level of casual elegance.”
“You can’t go out like this,” Latimer said quietly, “Not silver-eyed and spoiling for a fight.”
“If you’re worried about a ‘Slaughter Summer’ repeat, don’t. I’m off of bubble blowers and insane ex-wives with lilac-colored hair.”
The remark was so flippant that what little patience Latimer had evaporated. “Don’t get fresh with me because you broke your promise!”
“And don’t chastise me like I’m some errant teenager,” Vlad made a slashing motion with his hand. “I haven’t broken anything.”
Take him out in the world, Latty; he needs it. And I’m counting on you.
“She wanted this day for you, you know. To make sure you stay connected because how could you learn about sims if you ain’t never been one and my lord and llamas, every fuckin’ thing has to be about you.”
“You made a mockery of it,” Latimer cried. Sorrow and fury warred for dominance in the back of his throat. He rasped his next words as if he could peel the heat off them to take away the hurt. “This is the time I have to be sad about my wife. The time that should be for me to mourn, and instead, I’m out here taking care of you. Can’t bring you nowhere because there’s too much temptation.”
“I’m not a dog,” Vlad bit out, “And as for mockery, I’ll—”
“No, let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go make her favorite breakfast and go to the grave, and you’ll stay here doing whatever the fuck it is you always do. And if you step outside this property line, I’ll grab my shotgun and shoot you myself.”
Vlad stilled. “You’d attempt to kill me if I crossed you on this?”
Most sims didn’t realize threats were a language. They communicated hopes, dreams, fears, and boundaries. They asked questions. Gave answers. Latimer hadn’t understood the complex web of violent promises and declarations until he found himself the mortal member of a vampiric family.
Now he was fluent.
He looked Vlad dead in the eye, expression steely. “In. A. Heartbeat.”
Downstairs, Latimer clanged around the kitchen. Cooking was Vlad’s forte; the vampire had been fussing over his meals since the day they met.
Vladislaus likes to cook, Latty, so let him. It’s good for him to find a thing he loves. And besides, you’d burn water if it was possible.
“You needn’t flip the number over,” Vlad called out from the doorway.
Startled, Latimer looked up. “Careful how you sneak up on old folks; you nearly gave me a damn heart attack.”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” he continued.
“Then what did you do?”
“Torture a misogynist who insulted my daughter’s intelligence, but mostly I had phone sex with Alice and watched him cry and squirm.”
“Fine, I licked my claws and fed from him a little, but it will soothe you to know he tasted ghastly, and I spent the rest of the trip drinking plasma fruit shakes as promised.”
As far as Latimer was concerned, a little light torture did break Vlad’s promise, but he didn’t argue. Betty believed there was no such thing as “all or nothing.”
Mark my words, Latimer Jones. If promises could be unmade in a single night, every fool would make them.
Even after Vlad’s last break up with Ethren had him wearing the same clothes for days on end and draining the neighbors, Betty had been undaunted. She dragged them to Henford-on-Bagley, demanded Vlad purchase this manor, and then set him to restore it with a nigh impossible list of renovations. It consumed his every hour for three years, and they didn’t lose a single neighbor.
“Let me do that,” Vlad insisted, reaching for the pan.
“I’m fine,” Latimer grunted, though his eggs were starting to give off an alarming amount of black smoke.
“You are not. Go make yourself useful and brew the coffee. And put on Morning Chat,” he added, “They’re interviewing Clive Beeden about his pending retirement from StrangerVille base, and I want to bask in my utter disdain for him.”
“You and your feuds,” Latimer muttered, stepping aside.
“It was your feud first.”
That was technically true, but Latimer still felt his cheeks grow hot. “Yeah, well, I didn’t ask you to do what you did!”
“No, you did not,” Vlad replied calmly, as he lowered the temperature on the burner, “But as we both know, he hurt you, and I cannot abide that.”
Vlad once told him that his response to Clive Beeden was restrained, which was how Latimer learned that vampires had very different definitions for things. Clive had three busted ribs, a broken nose, fractured arm, cracked jaw, ruptured spleen, and a shattered ankle by the time Vlad finished with him. “Restrained,” was not a word Latimer would have used.
“So, where on the list do you want to start?” In Vlad’s capable hands, Latimer’s burning mess had turned into something mouthwatering. “There’s actually a showing of Some Like it A Certain Temperature, so we could enjoy it in the theater instead of on VHS.”
Actually, Latty, I don’t care what you do. I mean, obviously, I do. I made a list. But on the off chance that I’m wrong, you should have fun. No crying over me, though; I’m still firm on that point.
“Nowhere,” Latimer went to the cabinet and pulled out his flask. “I wanna get a haircut and get blitzed.”