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Pale Stars and a Twilight Sky

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“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backwards” -e e cummings 

 

Lisa had never planned on having a baby. In truth, she never really planned on getting married either. She’d accepted long ago that she’d likely end up  married off to some man closer to her father’s age than her own; this did nothing to stave off the ever-present dread of what would force her into such a fate. Lisa valued her freedom above all else; Lisa was also a woman and knew all too well the amount of autonomy she held made her an outlier in the world she lived in. The freedom to simply be and exist as she was, let alone make choices for herself, was a precious commodity. 

Every day that she woke up and was allowed to continue her life as it was at present —pursuing her interests in medicine and going about her day to day activities on her own terms—  felt like both a blessing and a boon she’d somehow smuggled from the universe. With her mother’s passing in her fourth year, her father’s in her twelfth, and no other relatives willing to take her in, Lisa had learned that to be resourceful was to survive. There was no safety net to catch her and truthfully, at that time in her life no one would have noticed if she disappeared from town life and simply ceased to be. The grief for her family could in no way be called a blessing, but it had given her a taste of what it meant to be the master of her own fate. 

Furthermore,  Lisa wasn’t quite sure how she felt about the existence of a higher power. She knew she had a bone to pick with organized religion and the human atrocities done in its name, but that was not quite the same thing as the power itself. All the same, every night before she closed her eyes, Lisa of Lupu would look out to the great expanse of the cosmos above and whisper “please, give me one more day.” She figured that asking couldn’t hurt on the off chance someone was listening. After all, it had gotten her this far. Lisa was long past the age many young girls were sold into loveless marriages, brokered in backdoor deals between men in the same breath they described selling price on heads of cattle. Although she wept for every young girl who fell victim to such a terrible fate, Lisa continued her nightly chant of imploring the powers that be, if they did in fact be at all, for one more day of the life she clung tight to. Please, please, please. Please don’t let it be me next.

It was not as though Lisa disliked the concept of marriage in and of itself. The idea of declaring unending love and devotion for another being had a certain appeal and charm in the right stories. Unfortunately, life was not a story book. Unfortunately, the world was not filled with doting husbands who were kind to their wives. 

And so, as  Lisa of Lupu found herself not so much falling, but rather wandering into the twilight embrace of that mysterious thing called love, she stopped asking. She hadn’t even realized it until Vlad Dracula Tepes was down on one knee, clutching her hand as though it were a life line, and asking her to not only take his name and his title, but most importantly never leave his side again. This is what she’d run so fast and far from. In the end, marriage had caught her, but she still liked to think she’d swindled the system, at least a little bit. After all, she had managed to find true love in marriage, something that sadly seemed to be more fantasy than fact. What's more, the man she loved not only allowed her to continue to pursue her own endeavours, but encouraged them as well. This too, was a form of love she supposed. Reminiscing over their relationship had left her staring at her stomach. It was still flat, and yet it already felt heavy with the thought of the burden it would soon come to bear. 

 

She and Vlad had only talked about children once. They were new lovers, finally coming together after months of navigating through what was supposed to solely be a master-apprentice relationship. It had been riddled with fear of hurting the other party with unwanted advances, and even further complicated by electric attraction. However, once she finally, finally, managed to seduce him for the first time, it was practically impossible to get Vlad out of her bed. 

“Darling,” she’d whispered to him one night, unable to quiet her mind and drift off. Vlad himself did not sleep at night, but he’d lay with her in bed, holding her until the first few rays of sunlight begrudgingly forced him from her side. 

“You shouldn’t be awake,” he murmured back, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. He feared for her health if she didn’t get a proper amount of rest. Mortals were, after all, so terribly fragile. 

“I have a thought. Indulge me?” Twisting in his arms so they were face to face, she tilted her head up to meet his face. The light of the moon caught on the sharp cut of his cheekbones and strength in his jaw line. She was consistently amazed that somehow the most handsome man she’d ever seen in her life felt this way for her.

“Try as I might, I am afraid indulging you is second nature to me. Tell me about this thought of yours.” 

“Well, I’m afraid I have no eloquent way to put this other than to simply say it, blunt as it may be. What happens if I fall pregnant?” 

Vlad said nothing for a very long time. His expression was stoic, and frustratingly unreadable. Finally, he broke the silence. 

“That won’t happen.” She guffawed at his words. 

“Well now you sound like every village boy who has ever begged the milk maid for a roll in the hay. Vlad, you needn’t worry about me trying to force you into a marriage, I just think we should talk about the possibility, should it happen.” 

“And why do you think that it will happen?” The question sounded so ridiculous she couldn’t help but laugh. 

“What do you think it is that we’re doing here Vlad? Baking bread?” It was meant to be a joke, but as soon as it was out of her mouth, the terrible irony of it hit her. For all she knew, she very well may be beginning to give rise to something other than sourdough. 

“Lisa, I’m afraid you misunderstand,” he spoke softly, and sadness intermingled with the tenderness of his words. “I’m afraid if you desire children, it is a gift I cannot give you. Vampire children are a rarity at the best of times, but the child of a mortal and immortal is something which cannot be. I’m sorry.” 

“You think I’m worried about that?” She raised her hand gently to cup his cheek. Even now, after acts of deep intimacy and declarations of devotion, he still stiffened slightly every time she reached out to touch him. If it took a lifetime to break him of that habit, it would be one well spent on her part. “You wonderfully stupid man. Here I am worried about inadvertently putting pressure on you, and you are worried about what I want. I like children Vlad, but if they are not a part of our life together, then I feel no real loss for something I never had. I want nothing more or nothing less than a full life with you. By day I will be a doctor, and by night I will be between the sheets with you. Everything else I get in addition to that is unimportant.” His lips were on her before she managed to get the last word out. There hadn’t been much talking for the rest of the night after that. 

 

Now, four years later, Lisa wasn’t quite sure what to make of that conversation. This was the second cycle she’d completely missed. More than that, she was experiencing morning sickness. At first, she’d written it off as a malady she’d unfortunately contracted from one of her patients, but there was no denying it now. Lisa knew she was pregnant. What’s more, she knew she had to tell her husband. How they’d managed to create something the esteemed Vlad Dracula Tepes  deemed impossible remained to be seen. 

 

...

 

Sunset fell with a hammer’s stroke that night. He could sense the rising and setting of the sun —it was a survival instinct— but that night, as soon as the last few rays fell beneath the horizon, Vlad’s eyes flew open with a start. Something was amiss in his castle; He could sense it in the air. 

He abruptly rose from the coffin, floating down the hall and out of the bowels of the castle as he tried to discern what exactly had caught his attention. There is no immediate danger, of this he was certain, but there was a quiet undertone of unease. Being an undead warlord, this was neither an unfamiliar nor uncomfortable feeling to have surrounding his presence, and would normally be of little notice let alone concern. Except, this emotion was emulating from the one person he would never allow to be upset so long as he had the power to prevent it. Something had troubled his wife.

After several years of cohabitation turned to marriage, Vlad had learned that jumping to conclusions with Lisa was both unproductive and, more often than not, made her incredibly uncomfortable  —if not angry. As he slipped through the shadows, he did his best to quell the nagging voices at that insisted  this must be the fault of the peasants in the village below. He should burn their pathetic little huts to the ground for whatever anguish they had unjustly caused Lisa. Breathing in deep to steady himself —much more for the intentional pause that came from the action than putting air in his lungs, where it would have no use— Vlad stepped from the darkness and into the library. 

Bathed in the soft glow of the fireplace and nose deep in a book, Lisa was effortlessly beautiful. Vlad felt all the air he’d held in his chest escape in a sigh. What a feat , he mused, to take the air from the breathless . And for all of his faults, somehow the forces of the universe had sought fit to bring them together. It might be the only kindness he would get from the powers that be; if that was the case then so be it. To have known her would have been enough, let alone to have loved her and have her love in return. 

Vampires are naturally silent —as is every successful predator— but over the years Lisa had grown accustomed to sensing the slightest of sounds and looked up to meet his eyes. She smiled, the kind where her nose crinkled ever so slightly, and laid the book on the table. The sly voice of the predator within hissed that he could remain silent, so swift and undetectable, that with one strike he could tear life from her throat. Vlad, ever the master of control, was quick to silence the unwanted impulse. He had no illusions of himself as anything other than a beast, but he would never give into such feral instincts outside of his own free will. He was, after all, a gentleman and a scholar. And although he didn’t quite believe it himself, his wife would insist that the truest parts of him, the parts that she professed to love, were a man too. Lisa, of course, knew nothing of the inherent instinct to hunt that came alongside vampirism; there was no need to burden his wife with something that he had ago chosen to bear, and bear alone. 

“Vlad,” she smiled and gestured for him to join her beside the fire. He ought to make her sit for a portrait right this instant, to capture the way the gold in her hair danced with the light of the flames. 

“How has your day been, my love?” He took his seat and felt her familiar warmth press against his own chilled body. 

“You can tell I’m troubled, then?” She really was too clever by half. There was no way of being indirect about anything with her. 

“I was doing my best to be discreet, but yes. The castle would give up your secrets to me before you were ready to speak of them yourself. What exactly is troubling you?” 

She didn’t speak, and now it was his turn to feel uncomfortable. 

“Lisa, if something has happened you must tell me. I will not be rash.” The for your sake was left unspoken, but it hung in the air nonetheless. There were a few more moments of silence until she finally found her voice. 

“Well, I suppose since I’ve asked for your honesty, there is nothing left to do but be upfront about it. I’m pregnant Vlad, of this I’m quite certain.” 

For the first time in many unnaturally long years, his mind is entirely blank. He paused to blink. 

“What?” 

“I’m having a baby Vlad. I’m three months along, as far as I can tell.” He’d never heard her speak so quietly. Each word seems more a murmur than a last. Yet he hears with clarity, as much as he’d like not to. 

“I don’t understand. Whose…” he trailed off, unable to finish the accursed sentence. The words and their consequences are unthinkable. The beast gnaws on the bars of its cage, eyes red as blood and justice. Lisa snorted. 

“What do you mean, whose? It’s yours, you great oaf.” 

“That is simply not possible. There is no way that I- that we -- could ever conceive a child. I believe I’ve told you that before, Lisa.” 

“Then I’m afraid we’ve done the impossible.” She squinted and gently reached up to cup his face. Her touch is all tenderness and honesty; he melts and curses himself for having ever doubted her, even for a few moments. The laws of the universe would bend and reveal new truths before his wife would lie and dishonour him. 

Of course, with this revelation brought a new set of consequences to untangle. He concentrated for a moment, listening to the familiar pulses of life in his beloved. He could hear the familiar hum of blood coursing through her veins, the rhythmic thumping of her heart. It is an ironic thing, that the skills he possesses make him the very incarnation of death by night but as of late all he has used them for is the affirmation of the continued presence of life. Lisa’s heart was beating strong and steady, just as it always did, and this comforted him greatly. However, he was also now acutely aware that hers was not the only heart in this room. There was a second pulse, of rapid consistency and coming from within her. Immediately, he felt a spark of kinship to this tiny life; the traces of power he could already sense which were, in every sense, the offspring of his own, reaffirmed Lisa’s words. 

“It is as you say,” he stated, pulling back from his acute focus on Lisa’s internal organs. 

“Of course it is. Your magic is simply reaffirming what science has already made clear to me.” She meant well by teasing him, but unfortunately even she could not pull a smile from him at this particular moment. 

“You don’t know what this means.” At his words, she took his hand into her own and squeezed, eyes brightly burning. 

“You’re right. I don’t. So help me, for our sake and the sake of our child.” The words echo throughout the corridors of the castle, through the caverns of his mind. Our child...our child...our child. Never was there such a sweet, terrible sound. Her gaze was unwavering and it was clear she expected an answer. 

“Dhamphirs are a myth for creatures who rightly should be myths themselves. I have never seen one in all my years, nor read a true account. But there are...stories.” 

“When I asked you about this, you said it was impossible. But stories, however absurd they seem, always have a centre of truth to them. You taught me that. So why didn’t you speak of them?” 

“Because they aren’t overly helpful or relevant, and in truth are quite distasteful.”

“Tell me anyway.” He leaned his head back against the couch, staring at the ceiling in hopes that it might reveal some new answers or alternatives. Seeing none, he began. 

“The reason I did not speak of it is that in the stories of children brought between a vampire and a human, there is no account where the mother and child both survive. The reality is that vampire children —when they are born— emulate their most powerful parent in all aspects, including raw strength. If this is as you say, then it will be both my child and my childe. I will not allow you to be in danger, Lisa. Your life is precious to me above all else.” In response to his heartfelt confession, Lisa only sniffed. She crossed her arms and stared determinedly into the fire. 

“I was strong enough to survive intercourse with a vampire.” 

“Lisa!” She turned back to face him, hackles up and voice raised.

“Well, there’s plenty of dusty old books that say that’s not supposed to be possible either.” Her stubbornness faded into softer words as she continued, “This is a gift, Vlad. I’m not going to question the why or how of it. I am going to accept it and be glad. We will do this together.” 

Everything was overwhelming. Vlad Dracula Tepes had always felt somewhat indifferent to children. In another life —when the dead heart in his chest had beat and the man who bore it also felt the love of a woman with hair like gold— the thought of the pitter patter of small feet on stone tile had been surprisingly pleasant. If they were his and hers, there would be joy in it. The memory was one he had long suppressed. It rose up like a wave and crashed over him. 

 

They were so very similar; alike not only in how they looked, but in the way they spoke, the glitter of light in their eyes. Once, he’d mentioned his suspicions to her: that he had known her soul in a past life. He had never grieved the death of his human life. He would have felt no need to speak of it even, except for the quiet, incessant yearning at the back of his mind that demanded to be heard. Perhaps there was a chance that she would remember and his theory would be proven true. Nothing had come of it, but she had pulled him to her tenderly. 

“If  that is true, then I am thankful to have found my way back to you again,” She’d whispered, running a hand over his chest before standing on her tiptoes to kiss him.  He’d never brought it up again, but in moments like these he was certain. Though the name had changed, there was and  always would be but one love in the entirety of his existence. 

 

“Vlad, darling... Talk to me.” She sounded scared. 

He swallowed thickly. It wasn’t until he saw the stain of the blood drips on the hem of her dress that he realized he’d started to cry. There were no words for this.

“You’ve decided that this is what you want, then?” 

“I’ve decided that this is something I want to share with you. Let’s do this, together. Let this be my gift to you.”

“I will take care of you.” The words were simple and honest and all he could manage to choke out. 

“I know you will. That’s why I have no fear of this.” He nodded, leaning his head against his wife’s shoulder. They sat in silence for a long time. When Lisa finally spoke, he couldn’t quite discern whether she was talking to him or simply speaking her thoughts out loud. Either way, it was a comfort to sit and listen.

“I never imagined that I would want a baby. Then again, I never imagined I would want to be married either. I never really knew my mother. I think... I should like to be one now.” 

… 

 

Lisa wasn’t quite sure when she’d fallen asleep by the fire. She must have at some point because she woke up tucked safe in her bed. Sunlight streamed in through the open curtains, but the fresh imprint on the sheets beside her told her that her husband had lain beside her until he’d been forced away by the first few rays of dawn.

That night, as the darkness settled in, he’d led her down a corridor of the castle she’d never been down before, and was fairly certain hadn’t existed until Vlad had willed it into being. At the end of the hall was a room that was intentionally left empty. Her husband, ever the dramatic, spared no expense when it came to flourish statements in interior design. Staring into what most would consider to be just a vacant room, Lisa saw possibility. 

“We can build the crib together, if you’d like.” 

“Yes. I would like that very much.” He nodded, wrapping an arm around her waist. 

“I will take care of you. Of both of you.”

Lisa had never planned on having a baby. She hadn’t planned on a marriage either. Although she hadn’t quite managed to escape the fate she’d sworn she’d die fighting with fists clenched and teeth bared, this was an acceptable compromise in terms of surrender to the powers that be. Above all else, Lisa had never imagined she could love so deeply, and have a life full of such a feeling returned unto her.