CW: Strong language, adult situations, violence, blood, gore, domestic abuse, murder jokes, sex (yes, all in the same chapter)
How late is this chapter? Let me count the days.
I’m sorry, y’all. I have been completely and utterly overwhelmed at work and with home renovation stuff. Every time I open WordPress, I want to cringe because I’m also way behind on responding to comments and leaving comments on everyone else’s fantastic lits. Just know I think you’re all incredible, I’m blown away by your observations, and I LOVE reading your shit, even if I can’t get myself together to tell you about it (and pester you with my insane theories).
I think it’s pretty clear that I got in my head about this chapter. I rewrote it 7 (YES SEVEN) times, and I’m still not sure it’s good. Although, what even is “good” anymore? I agonized over screenshots and spent approximately 8 billion hours uploading everything because I kept looking at it and finding “mistakes.” Some lovely simmers gave me great advice about overthinking, so you can finally read it.
TBH, I know I’m burning out because I am trying to do too much. My job is creatively demanding. It’s very cool and exciting, and I love it, but holy shit, I am exhausted. In addition to that, I’ve got a bunch of home renovations going on, I’m DMing for my longtime D&D group, and I’ve got some ideas for machinimas that I’m super pumped to make but require a very insane amount of prep work.
I want to spend more time playing, reading, and generally getting inspiration without feeling guilty about the next chapter’s screenshots. The only way that will become possible is if I temporarily move to a monthly schedule, so that’s what’s happening! I’ll beef up my posts if I start to build a bank of chapters or things slow down in other areas. But for now, expect this story to come out monthly.
And yes, Chapter 7 is already done (wink, wink).
I now return you to your regularly scheduled BBD AU craziness.
Planet Honey Pop, San Myshuno
“My first day back on the job, and they stick me with a smoking corpse? I must have pissed somebody off,” Taryn joked.
“It’s good to have you back,” Bella mumbled, her mind spinning.
“Uh-huh, sure. You seem distracted; what’s going on?”
Werewolves. Sims working for some kind of supernatural cover-up agency. Bella shrugged. “Just Mortimer.”
“Spouses,” the Medical Examiner shook her head. “Always on you about something. That’s why I cut mine loose.”
“You and Fred are splitting up? I’m sorry.”
“Please,” she waved a hand, “I’m only sorry we were so much of a cliche. Too many late nights, too many nightmare cases. Anyway, we’re looking at a struggle. The perpetrator knocked Johnny into the bubble blower and struck him with a weapon. See the plasma spatter? The victim fell back here,”—she pointed at the ground—”where he combusted.”
“Just like Eliza.” Bella scanned the room. “Is there passionfruit flavor in that bubble blower?”
“Spot on,” Taryn raised her eyebrows. “Lucky guess?”
“Another case, similar MO. Was Johnny taking some hits before the altercation?”
Taryn made a note. “I’ll have it tested for saliva. Why?”
“We have a working theory that the killer is drugging his victims with a bad strain of passionfruit.”
“I suppose an overdose could raise the internal body temperature. It would be hard to time it. I’d need more information about the flavors on the illegal market.”
“We’ll start running down dealers,” Bella assured her.
One of the young officers that had been dusting for prints cleared his throat. “You guys should probably bring in Salim Benali. He’s a low-level dealer, but I shadowed the vice squad for a few months, and they used him as an informant.”
The name was familiar, but Bella didn’t know why.
“Is he rich?” Deacon asked, scrolling through his camera.
“No,” the officer looked confused. “Why?”
“Footprints,” her partner looked up. “Hella fancy shoes. Can’t be Johnny’s ’cause he didn’t walk out of here. Oh, and he totes has a necklace just like Eliza’s.”
Alice’s Cottage, Windenburg
“I go walking!” Gwendolyn made a show of pulling on her tiny book-bag. “You sit.”
Alice waved the flashcard. “No, that was just an example. Mommy is going for a walk, but you’re staying here. ‘Walk’ makes a wah sound, so this is a ‘W.'”
Gwendolyn scowled, and Alice bit back a smile. The tiny terror wanted so badly to be invited on this date. “It’s a hike; you won’t like it,” Alice promised.
Hiking was another one of her free date ideas. She meant to keep things with Vlad in the realm of “just sex,” but her stupid heart refused. Against her better judgment, she let him take her to an expensive nectar bar and rent out a restaurant for dinner. In return, she’d taken them to a cheap matinee movie and coffee.
At least she was great in bed.
“Alright,” Alice stood and clapped her hands, “Let’s clean up before Mrs. Daily gets here, and—”
Her phone rang.
“Salim?” She moved into the kitchen. “I called you ten times, dude. What is your fucking problem?”
“Whoa, chill,” he laughed, “I got a lot of things going on.”
“Is one of those things child support?”
“What?” He huffed. “Come on, A. You told me you didn’t need my fuckin’ money, you were going to Windenburg to land a dope-ass gig, and that I could take my middle-aged girlfriend and go fuck myself.”
Alice looked around her kitchen. On a good day, she didn’t beat herself up about the things she couldn’t afford. On a bad day, she was desperate. “My gig is not that dope,” she sighed. “I’m just bartending. Gwendolyn needs her vaccines, and I gotta replace the fridge. I need some help.”
The phone made a muffled sound. “You want me to come over there? Hop a flight?”
She preferred dental surgery.
“We could reconnect. Bet your bed is cold. You know I’m good at warming things up.”
“My bed is warm enough!” Alice snapped. “And I don’t need your dick; I need you to send me some fucking money!”
“Oh, I get it,” his tone was like ice, “You got a boyfriend. Why don’t you ask him?”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“But he is there. You’re good at making something out of nothing.”
Alice struggled to stay calm. “Salim—”
“No, A. And you better not have some random fuckin’ dude hanging around my kid because you want to get railed and lock somebody else down!”
As if on cue, Gwendolyn toddled into the kitchen. “Snack, mommy! Please and crackers!”
Alice swallowed hard, tamping down the hurt and rage until it settled on a low boil. “No one is around our kid but me and the babysitter.”
“Snack! Snack!” Gwendolyn shouted.
One minute, she mouthed, holding up a finger. “Salim, you still there?”
She knew what he was waiting for. Calm, calm, she thought. “It’s not serious with this guy; I’m just killing time.”
The silence stretched. Words she didn’t feel. A suggestion that made her skin crawl. “Maybe you could come for Gwendolyn’s birthday.” Her hands squeezed into fists. “It would be good to see you.”
He made her wait so long that she thought he’d hung up. “I’ll think about it.”
Goth House, Willow Creek
Bone-tired, Bella dragged herself through the front door. Her sulking teenaged daughter awaited her on the couch.
“Hey Cassie girl, what’s up?”
“Don’t call me that. I’m not a kid.” She lifted her chin. “My name is Cassandra.”
“And?” Bella’s shoulders slumped. What caused this particular tantrum?
“And you missed my show after you swore you were coming. Everybody else’s parents were there, and you forgot about me.”
“Shit. Cassie, I’m sorry, work was—”
“Of course, it was work! It’s always work! You broke a promise, and it’s no big deal because you can always break promises when it’s for your job.”
“Not always, but it was an emergency. They…” Bella trailed off as her daughter made an exasperated sound and stormed upstairs.
Great. Not only was she exhausted, but now she was full of guilt. Mortimer shook his head and started to leave the room, too. Bella wasn’t having it. “Don’t you walk away!”
“Damn it, Mortimer! You were at the show. Why didn’t you text me a reminder?” The more Bella thought about it, the angrier she got. “My job is hectic! I depend on—”
“Me, yes. Funny, I remember an argument this morning about how you didn’t need reminders.”
“That’s not the same thing.”
“Isn’t it? I bought the flowers, by the way. Ordered them a week ago. Call me psychic, but I had a feeling you wouldn’t show up.”
“You’re an asshole.” She thrust out an arm, but he caught it, spinning her back against him.
“Don’t you always choose work over family?” he sneered. “Give me a single example of when you put us first.”
Bella struggled. He let her go when she drew her arm up to elbow him, but she tipped back, unsteady in heels, and hit the ground hard.
“Nevermind.” He made a fist. “I know the answer to that question.”
Granite Falls National Park
“I’m sorry, you’ll need a hiking pass to access the trails,” the Park Ranger insisted.
“Do I?” Vlad’s lip curled. “Ranger Jill.”
“Yep! It’s the rules.”
A muscle in Vlad’s jaw ticked. Alice quickly averted her gaze as shame crawled up her neck. She should have canceled. She was in no place to be going on a date.
“You’re fine. It’s just her,” Jill pointed. “She’s the one without ID.”
Alice had an ID, but she couldn’t risk giving it to them. Even with two months left on her probation, the law frowned on being 3,000 miles out of town.
“As it turns out, the woods can be a hotbed of criminal activity!” Jill explained in a stage whisper. “The new policy is we can’t give you a hiking pass without ID. It’s just the—”
“Rules,” Alice finished.
Salim would string her along for weeks. And llamas help her if he did get it in his head to fly to Windenburg. She was so fucked.
Slinking away from the station, Alice tried to remind herself of why she was on the straight narrow. Before Salim, she occasionally trafficked in counterfeit art, but that was just to make ends meet while waiting for her own pieces to sell. He saw her potential, though, gradually easing her from faking art to stealing it. And damn it if she wasn’t good.
If she didn’t enjoy it.
If she didn’t love it.
“You’re upset,” Vlad said, startling her.
“What? No.” Shit. Shit. Shit. This was where he ended things, right? She should just let him do it. “I’m fine. Just annoyed I left my ID at home. Dumb,” she forced out a laugh. “Maybe just a rain check on all this?”
There was that muscle ticking in his jaw again. “Come on,” he grabbed her hand.
“W-Where are we going?”
“You wished to go hiking, and we are going hiking.”
San Myshuno Botanical Gardens
Her day was shitty, and tracking Salim Benali down in the pouring rain was doing nothing to improve it.
“If you make me chase you through this botanical garden, I’m going to have a nice chat with vice about replacing their favorite informant!”
Salim skidded to a halt and turned on his heel, an easy smile spreading over his face. “Apologies, detective. I didn’t realize you were one of my friends.”
Deacon snorted, which was not the response she expected. “Well,” Bella began, “Since we’re friends, you won’t mind if we ask you a few questions.”
“My going rate for answers is 100 simoleons.”
“No way, dude,” Deacon crossed his arms. “We are not paying you for answers.”
Salim’s expression darkened. “And here I thought we were friends.”
“We are,” Bella assured him while shooting Deacon a glare. What was his problem? She was supposed to be bad cop.
“And would a friend begrudge me a method of employment? I got bills, child support, a family to take care of.”
Bella sighed. “I’m sorry about my partner; he’s having a tough day. Let’s chat, and if it turns out these answers are really helpful, I’ll see about getting you some reimbursement for your, uh, services.”
Salim’s expression warmed. It was shocking how quickly he moved from one end of the spectrum to another—threatening to charming. Or at least an approximation of charming. Bella couldn’t see anyone in their right mind being drawn in by him.
“Let’s talk about passionfruit,” she suggested. “Any super-strong flavors recently come on the market?”
“I know a few strains being manufactured that are pretty powerful. Get you all nice and hot, if you know what I mean.” He winked, and Bella had the sudden urge to shower.
But she played along because he was no one to her, and she wanted answers. Affecting a pout, she gave him a once over. “Hot enough to cause someone to go up in flames?”
Granite Falls National Park
The problem with dating was that it required him to go out into the world and resist the urge to lay waste to everything that displeased him. Case in point: Ranger Jill and her“new park policy.”
It displeased him to see Alice embarrassed over a piece of plastic that was one of modernity’s stupidest obsessions. And rules? Please. Nothing so small as a rule had ever stopped him from doing what he wanted.
Flexing his hand to ensure it didn’t lock up, he strolled to the gate and tore the chain clear off.
Vlad whirled around. “I swear it was already broken.”
Alice continued to stare, and he scrambled to clarify. “What I mean is—”
“Why are you just standing there?” she demanded. “That was loud as hell! Move!”
Just as she bustled him through the gate, they heard a whistle.
When they reached the clearing, Vlad knelt and listened for trailing footsteps. “I think we’ve lost them.”
Alice finished catching her breath and then threw back her head and laughed. “Holy hell, I forgot I could run like that!”
That sound. Vlad was drawn to it. “Why, Miss Martin, do you enjoy running from the authorities?” he smirked. “Or are you just trying to seduce me?”
And he was seduced. The nature of the woods required him to navigate by sound more than eyesight, but he didn’t miss the way she ducked under tree branches and vaulted over logs.
Her laughter died, and a strange look crossed her face. “What? No. I…I don’t…this was a bad idea.”
Bad idea? “I didn’t mean—”
“I just think we should be casual,” she continued, “You know. Bone out, keep it chill, and then you don’t have to get so stressed about this relationship stuff.”
“Yeah, I mean, who needs a stressful relationship? I don’t!”
As she spoke, her voice grew higher in pitch and Vlad found himself more and more confused. “We’re in a relationship?” he asked.
“No! Not now!”
Vlad gulped. “So we’ve already broken up?” This was a record. Even for him.
“I’m doing you a favor.” She waved a hand and tried to look nonchalant, but her eyes flickered with sadness.
“Alice,” Vlad took a step towards her, “What is this about? I don’t need this favor.”
“You do,” her voice cracked. “You do need this favor because I’m a hot mess. More hot mess than you even know, and you have to get out of it before I force you into sharing an apartment, having a kid, and saying you love me!”
She clamped a hand over her mouth like she’d uttered an oath. Before Vlad could respond, she looked heavenward as the skies erupted in a thunderstorm.
Planet Honey Pop, San Myshuno
Questioning Salim was mostly a bust. According to him, no strain of passionfruit was strong enough to light someone on fire. He didn’t know Eliza or Johnny, but promised he’d ask around. In the meantime, Bella was hoping Johnny’s co-workers would be more helpful.
“What else can you tell us about Mr. Zest?”
The bartender shrugged. “He has a gig doing shows here. What more is there?”
Bella bit the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming. Last night, Mortimer made her so angry, she threw a plate at his head. They only stopped shouting when the kids came downstairs.
“I. Don’t. Know.” she bit out, “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“Well, I can’t,” the bartender huffed.
“Bummer!” Deacon waltzed over to the bar and snapped his fingers. “Totally thought I was gonna get hot gossip on the Real Number One.”
The Real Number One? What the hell was he talking about?
“You’re a fan?” the bartender’s eyes widened.
“For sure. Anyone whose seen Jokes About Your Cowplant knows the Starlight Accolades robbed him.”
“I’m Tedrick,” the bartender grinned as he waved them over to a table. “Okay, there is one thing. Johnny was broke. His parents cut him off.”
“The Zests?” Bella flipped through her notes. They hadn’t been able to track them down yet.
He shook his head. “Johnny’s real name was John Landgraab. His parents disowned him after he started pursuing comedy full time. Mommy Landgraab used to sneak him money, but like two years ago, she stopped. And you didn’t hear this from me, but recently, he started picking up server shifts.”
“You’ve been hella helpful,” Deacon said.
“You think I could be one of those unnamed sources in the paper?”
“Definitely front page anonymous source, my dude.”
Bella held her comments until they got outside of the bar. “Where was all that whole good cop routine when we interviewed Salim?”
“Gross,” Deacon frowned. “Salim is a bad dude.”
“We deal with lots of criminals. It’s kind of the job.”
“I didn’t say criminal. I said bad. And what about you? Your vibes are totally off.”
Bella thought about lying, but decided against it. Deacon was her partner and she needed him to have her back. “I missed Cassie’s play. She’s ignoring me, and Mortimer and I are still fighting about it.”
“Long time to argue about a play.”
But not to argue about everything in their lives.
Bella shrugged and checked her text messages. “Forget it. I’m fine. Let’s go. The lab has something to show us.”
Granite Falls National Park
“I’m sorry,” Alice croaked. “That whole crazy outburst wasn’t about you.”
In a confusing series of instructions, Latimer had both encouraged Vlad to follow his heart and warned him not to fall too quickly or too hard. His instinct was to tell Alice she was infinitely lovable, he’d be thrilled to have more children, and while an apartment was not top on his list (too loud), he liked the idea of living together. But that was crazy. His instincts were broken. He knew that.
Instead, he worked quickly to get a fire before shrugging and saying, “I figured.”
She dipped her head. “My ex was a huge asshole, and this morning he got in my head.”
Every muscle in his body tensed. Was this ex a threat to her? What kind of threat? The kind he should kill? “Your ex is still in your life?” he asked as neutrally as possible.
She grimaced. “Yeah, we share a…uh…mutual acquaintance. Otherwise, we wouldn’t talk. He always makes me feel like what I want is crazy. Like I’ll think we’re on the same page, and then he flips on me, and somehow it’s my fault because I was imagining things. Or misinterpreting.”
“So he gaslights you.” Definitely kill. Vlad raised a hand before remembering not to flare his claws.
“Wow,” she laughed, “You say that like you want to murder him.”
Murder, maim, leave in a dark hole until he was naught but dust and bone. Vlad leaned against the table and drew her over, intending to assuage her fears. “I would never engage in the outright dismemberment of your misogynistic ex-lover without your permission.”
He smiled at her. Smiling put mortals at ease and if she looked at her and kept her mouth shut, she would let it go.
“You are very…odd,” she said, “But I think you’re joking?”
“Of course,” Vlad agreed. If he ever got around to revealing the truth of what he was, she could always change her mind and decide she did want him to kill this…er… “What’s your ex’s name?”
“Salim, but I 100% do not want to talk about him now.”
Vlad tucked that piece of information away for later, buzzing with anticipation as she leaned to kiss him. “Is there any chance you’re 100% interested in sex?” He slid his hands beneath her sweater.
“Hell yes,” was her enthusiastic response.
They peeled off their clothing at a leisurely pace, one that belied the anxious flutter of Alice’s heartbeat or the occult energy that spiked as soon as she slanted her lips against his neck.
“Fuck.” He did not want this to end so quickly. Pulling back, he curled his fingers around the waistband of her underwear. Since he no longer felt temperature, he thought of textures as a kind of warmth. This texture—lace—he was particularly fond of.
He bent down, intending to take down the lace strap of her bra with his mouth…
And had his head rocked back when her elbow connected with his eye socket.
“Son of a—”
“Shit!” She jumped off the table as he doubled over. “I was trying to smooth your hair. It was supposed to be sexy!”
“It was…something.” Occult’s tits, why was it always that eye? He palpitated the bone. Only a small break. “Don’t worry,” he rasped, as the bone slowly began to re-knit. “I am honestly fine with just one eye.”
“Honestly fine?” Alice looked momentarily horrified before a cackle slipped out. “Oh my llamas, I swear, I am not trying to kill you.”
“I know,” Vlad joined her laughter, “That would require more coordination than you obviously have.”
“Hey! I’m coordinated. Remember the laundromat?”
Oh, Vlad remembered. They’d been fast and desperate, barely bothering to take their clothes off. Flexibility aside, he doubted she had the strength to behead him. Would a beheading even work? It was hard to know his limits at this advanced age and the vampires he could ask were creatures he had no intention of speaking to.
In fact, he wasn’t even going to think about them. It would bring down the mood.
“I think,” she hopped up on the table, humming, a playful gleam in her eye, “That not only are you are underestimating my abilities, this awkward one-off has lured you into a false sense of security about yours.”
“Interesting theory.” The fracture in his eye socket did nothing to dampen his arousal. And her playful teasing only stoked it higher. He stalked over, pressing her back, “I have a very clear sense of myself.” He might be less coordinated in this form, but he was well beyond any mortal. And besides, Vlad didn’t feel awkward. He liked this joyous version of sex. It was new, and it made him feel real. Corporeal. What he imagined being mortal might be like.
“Not just a theory,” she panted in between kisses, “A bet.”
“I like bets.” Vlad tracked the plasma surging through her veins. He thrust his hips, the line between horny and hungry hopelessly blurred. “Shall we make it double or nothing?”
San Myshuno Police Department
“What is all of this?” Bella asked, gazing at the large prints pinned to the wall.
“Photos from the crime scene,” the forensic tech explained. “I enhanced the size so I could study them.”
“Nice. And how about that?” She pointed to a copse of trees that had a set of candles and chalk markings.
“Dunno,” she shrugged, “Probably cultists or kids messing around. But that’s not what I wanted to show you.”
She pulled an image up on the screen and enhanced it. “Saw this after Deacon mentioned Johnny’s crime scene. Check the footprint. Spencer-Kims, you can tell by the little SK symbol.”
“Fancy shoes,” Deacon confirmed. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking,” Bella replied, “We talk to Salim and find out if any big-time dealers are fond of Spencer-Kims.”
Deacon nodded. “Johnny and Eliza were both pretty hard up for money.”
“Yeah, well, someone should have told them to beware of rich men making promises.”
Granite Falls National Park
They stretched out on the couch wrapped in towels and listening to the rain. His brain felt scrambled, his body boneless. Vlad sighed contentedly.
“Who’s cabin is this?” Alice asked, peering over at him.
The sheer amount of property you could collect over a millennium was incredible. Technically, he owned this cabin and half of the park. “The local hermit, I believe.”
He leaned into her hand as she scratched his scalp, the sensation so soothing he barely managed not to purr.
“How did you know where the key was?”
Fuck. It wasn’t just soothing, it was mind-numbingly good. “Lucky guess,” he mumbled.
After an indeterminate number of head scratches, Alice yawned.
“Here,” he sat up and rearranged them, so she was lying on top of him.
“I have an appointment at three. So don’t let me sleep too long.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I promise.”
The cabin was his. Mostly. But that was the thing about divorce.
Or rather, divorces.
NEXT TIME, ON THE STRAUDS:
Trailer: “Hold Up,” by Beyonce
Poses & Animations
Toddler Photoshoot Poses by Atashi77
Phone Emotion Poses by threethousandplumbobs
Candid Guy Poses by Atashi77
Camera (+accessory) by threethousandplumbobs
Phone Talk 2 (Angry Version) by Natalia-Auditore
Phone Talk 3 (Friends) by Natalia- Auditore
Pose Request #122 by Sciophobis
Pose Request #115 by Sciphobis
In Your Hands by Sciophobis
Police & Criminals by DocPain
Kiss of Death 2 by Natalia-Auditore
End of Party by Natalia-Auditore
M.Model Part 4 by Sciophobis
M.Model Part 3 by Sciophobis
M. Model Part 2 by Sciophobis
Kiss of Death 2 by Natalia-Auditore
Parkour Life by Quiddity-Jones
Silent Running by Quiddity-Jones
End of Party Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Ian’s Half Up Hair by Birksche
Dreamy Couple Pose Pack by Katverse