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Lafontaine squinted in the sun as Perry let herself into the room and threw back the curtains, “Sweetie,” she chastised, “we’ve talked about this. You need to let the sun in. Get more of that, oh, what’s that chemical?”

“Vitamin D,” Technically not that kind of chemical but Laf wasn’t going to try explaining that nuance again.

“Exactly,” Perry nodded once before sweeping some of the clutter on the counter into the trash where it belonged, “Soak up that vitamin D.” She paused when she came across some kind of mold growing in a bowl, “and perhaps you could clean?”

Laf jumped to their feet, “That’s not mold mold, Perr. That’s science. I’m testing the effects of some of that stuff the Alchemy club was trying to sell on colony organisms. I think it’s got some kind of hive-mind promoting effects.”

Perry stared distastefully at the bowl, “I’m not sure that makes it any better. You’re still breathing this stuff in.”

Laf played along, “Tell you what. How about I stash it in one of the greenhouses? Then I can keep the experiment but you don’t need to see it.”

The bunch in Perry’s shoulders uncurled slightly, “that would be a much better alternative.” Her hand fluttered out towards Lafs shoulder and they felt their eyes widen slightly. It was first thing in the morning, they’d just gotten up, they didn’t know if they had enough juice to keep playing along.

Perry’s hand landed on Laf’s shoulder and they gave a small exhale of thanks to the universe. The hand was warm on their arm, radiating heat through their frame and warming them down to their toes. Still, they knew it couldn’t last much longer.

“Don’t you have class Perr?” They asked.

“Mmhmm,” she hummed, “I’m headed there now. Just wanted to make sure that you were up in time for your class.”

Laf nodded and forced themself to move away from Perry’s hand, covering the move by opening the fridge, “I’ll see you after class ‘kay?”

“Just make sure you get rid of that,” Perry eyed the mold again but made her way out of the room.

As the door closed, they shut the fridge that was full of nothing but Perry and Laura’s favourite snacks. There was even a bottle of blood in case Carmilla decided to have a rare charitable moment.

Instead, Laf fixated on the calendar. Their hands shook as they flipped the page from May to June. The anniversary.

No wonder Perry had wanted to check on them. To touch them.

Perry wanted it normal, so Laf would make it normal. Even if it never could be normal, they’d try their best. Maybe if everything seemed normal then Perry could actually forget and no-one would ever have to know.

They just had to refill.

#

Laf headed to the library. One of their favourite places on campus due to its high density of students and relative quiet.

Walking quietly through the library, Laf let their hand pass lightly through each person they passed. A little here. A little there. Each near touch making them feel more substantial. Those they left behind would only suffer minorly. Some tripped after they passed, as though they had miscalculated the distance between the floor and their foot. Others suddenly felt nauseous. Some developed migraines. One girl nearly passed out.

Laf scuttled away without catching the wobbling girl before she fell. They’d gotten a little over eager on that one.

With a fast healing immortal vampire on-hand Laf was always tempted to just steal off Carmilla each time. They’d done if for a while too. Laf had figured that her vampire constitution could handle anything.

But one day Laura had banged on their door and begged Laf to come look at Carmilla. Laura’s eyes were wide and her cheeks were still wet despite her hand hastily trying to wipe the tear tracks away. “Please Laf,” Laura had begged, “I don’t know what to do.”

Laf had hurried after her with thoughts of stakes and crosses and fangs running through their head as they tried to figure out what had gotten Laura so scared.

They burst into the room and Carmilla looked up from the bed. Laf gave her an immediately once over. Concious. Fangs In. No blood. No stakes. Didn’t appear to be in pain. Same ‘too see-through to really be appropriate’ shirt. Clutching Laura’s yellow pillow.

Laf’s eyes narrowed. Carmilla was literally clutching Laura’s pillow. Her fingers were tight around the pillow and the vampire’s nose was buried in the fabric. No sarcastic comment. No saunter. No smirk. Just a tiny vampire curled around a yellow pillow like it was the only thing keeping her grounded.

“What happened?” Laf asked, “did she go near the alchemy club? I told them enchanting self sustaining nanobytes was a terrible idea.”

Laura sat on the bed next to Carmilla and Laf nearly spit out their tongue when the vampire shied away from her girlfriend instead of the sickening level of PDA that they were usually privy too.

“Carm please,” Laura said, “we’ve got to show Laf. They’ll be able to help.”

Carmilla locked eyes with Laura. Moments later the vampire’s finger began to slowly unclench from the pillow. Then Carmilla’s left hand jutted out and touched Laura’s knee.

Or would have touched Laura’s knee. Instead, Carmilla’s hand seemed to pass right through it. Her hand disappeared at the wrist with her slender fingers wiggling on the other side of Laura’s leg. Both girls flinched at the action. Carmilla immediately recoiled to clasp the yellow pillow. Laura reached out for Carmilla’s hand but stopped halfway through the action, putting her hand back in her own lap.

Laf’s first thought was ‘so that’s what that looks like’. The second was shame.

They went through the motions. Pulling out various scientific instruments. Taking measurements. Asking detailed questions about where Carmilla had been. Then they shut themselves in their room and hadn’t come out for 4 days. They only re-emerged when Laura knocked on the door to excitedly tell her that Carmilla had turned solid again on her own.

Laf had opened the door and had jumped backwards to avoid Laura’s hug of thanks for all of their hard work in trying to find a solution. Laf had explained away the lack of touch by saying that they weren’t feeling well and didn’t want Laura to catch it.

It took Perry barging into their room to make Laf go out hunting again. Perry had come to insist that they ‘stop this nonsense’ and ‘come have fun even with a cold’ and to force feed them medication.

When Laf refused, Perry had tried to stroke Laf’s arm to comfort them. Perry’s hand had gone right through their arm. Laf had watched in horror as Perry turned white as a sheet, took a deep breath, and then ran out of the room.

Laf hadn’t missed a day of filling up since.

They avoided taking from Carmilla and Laura when they could but sometimes there was no choice. If the four of them were hanging out and Laf suddenly went low, perhaps Perry was leaning on their shoulder or snuggled up next to them to watch a movie, then they had no choice but to take what they could get before Perry fell right through them.

Still, it felt dirty every time.

Especially since they never took from Perry.

#

Laf had no interest in going to class today. They probably couldn’t have even if they wanted to. Today, death pulled at them like chlorine on a hydrogen atom, with a result just as acidic.

So they started walking. The Silas campus faded into the background as they wandered down the road and through the nearby forest. The sounds of campus slowly transitioned into the rustle of trees and the busy lives of squirrels squabbling over acorn possession.

The second transition was less pleasant. The life of the forest gave way to a sprawling grassy knoll that was shrouded in silence the way marshes are covered in fog. The sky was just as blue, the grass was just as green, but the air was heavy. Silent as the stone slabs.

Laf heard nothing but the ringing in their ears as they carried on, following the slight incline. Although they couldn’t hear it, they could just see the edge of the town a few miles on. Brimming with movement and life.

Forest behind. Town ahead. Nothingness in between. Except, not quite nothingness.

There were the stones, jutting out from between the grass. Each with carefully defined edges and swirling cuts, polished until they shone. Laf knew the names better than their own.

Baldric Braddock: 1951 - 2002 “If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing”

Tamara Mase: 2010 - 2012 “Step softly, unseen dreams lie buried here”

Krysia Schovajsa: 1918 - 1940 “To die, to sleep, perchance to dream. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come”

Donald & Magdalena McKay: 1929 - 1999, 1922 - 1999 “I will fear no evil for you are with me”

Laf stopped at the next stone.Their eyes skipped past the words that were meant for someone else and focused on the flower. While most of the gravestones had small perennials or wilting bouquets, this stone had a single fresh snapdragon sitting in a science flask at the foot of the grave.

They reached down to grab the flask and flower and then slipped around to the other side of the grave, leaning against the back of the stone and staring out at the town.

It must have been hours. They sat and stared and twirled the flask slowly in their hands, admiring the rise and fall of the flower and trying not think about six feet beneath them.

The car gave her away. While Laf could easily trek through mountains and forests to get here, Perry still had the breath that made taking a car necessary. Her steps seemed to pound through the silence of the cemetery and Laf let their head fall back against the stone.

Perry stopped on the other side of the grave, staring at the same inscription that Laf had avoided reading.

The silence fell again as Laf tried to imagine what Perry looked like without actually having to look at her. Seeing her once in this silence had been enough. Her hair had been tied back, less of a curl and more of a frizzle. Her skin had popped white against the endless black of her clothes, black shirt still tucked into high waisted pants. Her eyes were as red as her hair.

Everyone else had gone back to their cars. Only Perry, young silent Perry, had still been there.

Laf still wasn’t quite sure how Perry had done it. That was one of the things they never asked. It was a taboo. But so was meeting in the cemetery and yet, here they were.

“Where’d you get the car?” Laf said at last.

They could almost hear Perry wringing her hands, “I think Carmilla stole it,” she said, “but I didn’t ask when she showed up and told me to get in.”

Carmilla. Of course. Still, if someone had to know what Laf was, well, the immortal vampire was one of the few who could take it in stride.

“Laura?” Laf asked.

“Still at the dorms,” Perry said, “I don’t know what Carmilla’s told her.”

Laf nodded slowly. A problem for another day.

The silence crept away as slowly as the sun set, there and then suddenly gone. They watched it go together. Laf sitting against the headstone, Perry standing at the foot of the grave. Six feet between them.

Always something between them. Even nothingness got between them. Laf could feel it creeping into back into their bones, devouring their substance like an itch devouring an arm.

“Seven years and you’ve never asked how I did it.” Perry’s voice was strangely calm, closer than Laf had been expecting.

Laf shrugged but didn’t turn, “It doesn’t matter. It’s done.”

Perry’s voice was filled with confusion, “But I was so sure that you’d have so many questions. That’s you’d want to study it. And perform experiments. I had a whole speech ready.” Perry’s voice drifted closer, “And then you never asked.”

“You wanted normal Perr. Whatever you did, it wasn’t normal.” Laf stared at their shoes, “so I couldn’t ask about it.” Their throat felt like something was squeezing it, “I wanted to give you normal.” Laf’s voice froze up in her chest.

“Sweetie...” Perry’s voice was right over their shoulder now but Laf still didn’t turn. Seeing Perry standing on top of the grave..

Laf forced the words back out, “But I can’t give you normal Perr. I want to. Man do I want to. But I can’t. I’m not normal and I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep stealing substance from people. I can’t make girls pass out in the library or leave headaches in my wake. I can’t keep stealing from Laura and Carmilla. You saw what it did to Karnstein. What I did to her.” Laf squeezed their eyes shut and wondered how they could still cry, “I want to Perr. I want to so much. For you. But I can’t be a thief forever. Stealing borrowed time. Borrowed form. Half a ghost.”

Now Perry was crouching in front of them, Laf could feel her like nothing else. Perry was warmth on their ghostly skin and a breeze on their transparent face and breath in their nonexistent lungs. Perry felt like life.

And Laf was dead. Sitting on their own tombstone. Caught six feet between the life of the forest and the life of the town. Stuck in the intangible silence but for the brief substance that they could steal from the living.

Even the undead vampire wasn’t this dead. Thus the ‘un’.

“Sweetie,” Perry said, “sweetie, can you look at me?”

Laf shook their head, keeping their eyes squeezed shut.They didn’t want to see Perry here again. Alive and grieving at their tomb.

“Then just listen okay?” Laf felt Perry settle on the ground beside them, “I’ve known you longer than I’ve known almost anyone. My best friend and the love of my life before I even knew what love was. I just knew that I loved you. I love your outspoken nature and your crazy science experiments and your determination to stand up for what you believe in and your sheer unwillingness to back down from a fight. Those are just some of the things I love about you. And I loved them even when they were the things that,” Perry struggled over the words, “got you killed.

Laf squeezed their eyes shut even harder. They’d had the same thought. If they’d just kept it hidden. If they’d just been quiet. If no-one had known then they wouldn’t have come after them. Would just gritting their teeth when people said ‘she’ have been so hard?

But Perry wasn’t done, “And because I loved you and I loved those things about you, I am always so proud of you. For standing up and not backing down even when they said such horrible things. You stayed exactly who you are for every second of your existence. I love you so much for that. But when you died sweetie...” Perry’s voice caught, wavering into something thin and small on the endearment.

Laf opened their eyes. Perry sat beside them, leaning on the gravestone and staring intently into the remnants of the setting sun.

As if she knew that Lafontaine had finally looked over, Perry’s gaze turned to catch and hold theirs. “You said I want normal. And you’re right. I do want normal. I want it with all my heart.” Perry’s eyes were dry, a stoic determination that Laf loved so much, “But the only time I have found my life to be abnormal is the days when you weren’t with me. Those terrible, lonely 4 days after they found your broken body in that alley. That was abnormal sweetheart. I wandered from room to room, checking cupboards and closets without knowing what I was looking for. I just drifted through the town. Expecting to see you somewhere. Anywhere. Trying to figure out how a world without your dry wit in my ear or your smile or your crazy explosions could ever feel normal.”

Perry smiled slightly, small and sad, “And then I realized that it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t ever feel normal. So I did what I had to do to get my normal back. And it worked.”

Perry reached out to grab Laf’s hand. Laf flinched back so Perry changed course, letting her hand pass right through Laf’s knee and leaving it there, on the ground inside of them. Laf searched Perry’s face. She had swallowed hard but her eyes had never left theirs.

“When I saw you drift up from the ground,” Perry continued, “And you saw me and you smiled. It all clicked back into place. It felt normal. And good. It was my normal. You were my normal. Being with you like this,” Perry let her fingers wiggle slightly where they rested inside Laf, “is infinitely more normal than any situation without you.”

Laf moved their hand over Perry’s, letting their intangible fingers pass through Perry’s, “I’m still a ghost Perr.” There. They said it. “I’ll always be a ghost.”

“I know,” Perry said, “But you’ll always be Lafontaine too. Not a false version of them.”

“I wish I could touch you,” Laf said, letting a sigh and small smile out.

Perry paused for a moment, “Take some.”

“What?” Laf started.

“Take half of mine.”

Laf recoiled slightly, “I’m not stealing from you Perr.”

“It’s not stealing, sweetie,” Perry kept their fingers under Laf’s, “it’s a gift. Freely given. A little selfish even.”

And so they sat on the grave and held hands until the sun came up. Flesh softly touching flesh. Perry drifting in and out of sleep, smiling as Laf explained the various constellations and how red giants interacted with black holes and white dwarfs.

They stood together as the sun crept back across the sky, turning to greet it as it rose on the opposite horizon.

“I hate this gravestone,” Laf said as the first rays peaked over the forest and glinted off the roof of the car containing an uncharacteristically patient Carmilla, “Are you allowed to hate your own gravestone?”

Perry chuckled slightly, “I’ve never liked it either. It’s not you.” Of course it wasn’t. They’d read it once and that had been enough. Susan Lafontaine: 1994 - 2008 “Beloved daughter, sibling, friend.”

“My mother insisted?” Laf said.

Perry nodded, “the flask and flower were your sister’s idea though. She also insisted on using the word sibling.”

Laf let out a pained smile, “Good for her.” They stared at the stone a little longer, “You know,” Laf said, “this side’s not so bad

The back of the gravestone simply bore the family name ‘Lafontaine’.

Perry nodded once. Then reached into her back pocket and started scribbling on a paper with the nub of a pencil. She reached out, and laid the paper on the grave.

Laf read it and smiled. A real smile. They took Perry’s hand and walked towards the car.

Lafontaine: 1994 - ? “Never be bullied into silence. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”