After that goddamn library, the three of them split their separate ways for the afternoon. Lenore, bless his rotten little heart, offers them a few rented rooms where Virtue immediately draws the curtains, collapses, and sleeps through the daylight like she’s meant to.
She wakes, hours later, with the sun finally down and the protective touch of a hand still on her shoulder. The others are all gone, occupied with their own tasks.
“Did you need something?” Virtue sneers at her shadow. “Or do you just like watching me sleep?”
There’s no response, which is likely for the best. Their earlier encounter echoes through her still—Darling, behind her and beside her and all around and under her skin, just waiting to be let in. She shudders just at the memory of it.
It’s not uncommon, of course, for Darling to come to her defense nor to kill on her behalf. Puppeting her, though, wearing her body like a familiar dress, that’s something they’ve only done a few times. Only the direst of circumstances. Certainly a more unsettling experience than her death manifesting in a simple flurry of violence.
What Virtue feels, though, isn’t exactly unsettled. If she were human, she might chalk it up to the lingering adrenaline rush of a close brush with death. If she were human, she might describe herself as worked up.
So she rises, laces up her boots, and goes for a stroll. Sapodilla is the big city, after all. It won’t be hard here for someone like Virtue to find dinner or company. Or both.
Sapodilla’s more pleasant at night, lit by candlelight and suffused with the smell of the sea. She slips like a shadow through the evening laborers, the dancers and drinkers, none of them particularly catching her eye. Though the Macula are out in full force, so is she, now that the sun isn’t a concern. The darkness gives her plenty of awnings and alleyways to duck into whenever they walk by. And so, erratic as her movement is, she notices immediately that she’s being followed.
The presence is keeping up steadily, always ten paces behind her, always disappearing into the evening crowd when she turns to look. Darling really won’t give her a break tonight, it seems.
Virtue makes a game of it, trying to lose her in the mazelike streets. The quicker she darts around, the more doggedly her death pursues her, now eight steps away, now four, now close enough to reach out and touch. Virtue pivots on her heel and shoves herself back up against the dirty wall of an alley, panting. There is no one there to pin her.
“Fine.” She breathes hard out of habit. For the fantasy of it. “I get it. Fine.”
When she returns to the room, the others still aren’t back. Which is good, because she’s not really sure how she’d talk them into leaving.
There’s a mirror in the room, not ideal but big enough for what she wants to do. Virtue drags it over to the bedside then perches there, looking at the space where she should be. Watching and waiting. She shrugs off her cape, first. Then her gloves, tugged off between her teeth. If she’s going to do this she may as well make an event of it. Slowly, she runs a hand along her own jawline, then down her neck. Pops the first button of her shirt, tugging it open to reveal the scar there. With her thumb she traces the silvery line back and forth, over and over.
There—shadowed motion in the corner, at the very edge of the mirror. Virtue smiles, baring her fangs. She never could resist the sight of her own handiwork.
And how fitting. Darling—what this is of Darling—feels just like scar tissue, the insistent absence of the sensation that should be there. Virtue traces that ridge again. No sensation from the deadened flesh, but it provokes a shiver all the same.
When she reaches her collarbone she digs her sharp nails in, quirking an eyebrow at the mirror. That, at least, feels like something. It’s taking Darling too damn long to do anything and so she undoes the rest of her buttons, one by one, on her own.
That’s enough. There’s a phantom pressure at her wrist for just a second, unmistakable, and then she hears as if reverberating from inside her own skull.
Just let me handle it.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,” Virtue sighs, and invites her in.
For a moment they fumble together, the sensation like trying to fit two hands into one glove. Then Virtue retreats, and feels her hands die. Briefly, they return to the way they were when she was in the ground. Laying limp at her sides. Then her death takes them all at once.
They don’t become coarse and warm like Darling’s hands always were, but it’s unmistakably not her own touch either. Her fingers are cold and numb, devoid of even the low hum of necromantic energy she usually sustains herself with.
A corpse inside a corpse. It’s impossible to pretend she’s anything else.
But Darling touches her like something alive, her hands roaming unpredictably, a touch too light and teasing to be Virtue’s own. One hand slides up beneath her jaw, pinning her. The other traces carefully up and down her throat.
Darling is aware, of course, that she doesn’t breathe. The purpose is only to make her shiver at the feeling of pressure on delicate skin. Just like how all their little fights used to end—it always came down to hands or teeth at someone’s neck.
Again, she finds the scar. Darling touches it without sentiment, a smug sort of acknowledgement reverberating from her presence. As if to reprimand her for reminiscing, she runs her hands down Virtue’s chest, the sharp pain of her nails making her jump.
Darling’s hands were smaller, and made for violence. They held a stake beautifully. Her fingers had been thicker and her nails kept short.
She does a good enough job with Virtue’s, though, using them mostly to handle her breasts. Unsubtle as ever. When she pinches a nipple between thin fingers, Virtue makes a high, desperate sound, too concentrated on the presence with her to focus on remaining dignified. Of course, Darling does it again.
“You’re insufferable,” Virtue snarls. With her hands, Darling wastes no time shoving her slacks and drawers down to grab at her thighs, pushing her legs apart. In the mirror, she can see the bedsheets shift, as if someone were sitting down beside her. Since the skin won’t bruise, she leaves proof of her presence in scratches, the grave dirt under Virtue’s nails smearing a bloodless thigh.
Still, Darling avoids touching her where it counts, making her sigh and snarl and cant her hips for it. When she finally takes Virtue in hand—a hand that she desperately tries to pretend is not her own—her presence is already fading. Virtue seizes control of her body again, moving as quickly as she can, hoping fervently to finish with Darling still inside her.
She bites down hard on her own hand when she comes, a bitter force of habit. Her flesh is cool and void of life. It tastes nothing like Darling used to back in the old days, when they’d go at each other with swords and stakes and then, eventually, nails and teeth.
Didn’t do her much good. Now, in this brave new age, Darling is gone. Dead and in the ground. And Virtue is still here.
“Bet you didn’t expect it would turn out like this,” She murmurs, her voice still shaky. “I won.”
You think you won? The remnant responds, the shade of her, already dissipating quickly. She’s nothing more than the feeling of being watched. I killed you, Virtue. And furthermore I’ve gone and died. There’s nothing left of me for you to have. But I have everything of you.