1.

If there’s one thing that Laurent appreciates in having gone to an out-of-state college, it’s this: the freedom. The cemetery is predictably empty at this time of night – most people had places to be, whether that was out clubbing, or studying, or god forbid, sleeping. That, or they were unsettled by a cemetery at night, despite the lack of logic behind it. Though, fear had never been a logical emotion in the first place. Maybe Laurent should be afraid – but the idea of ghosts and bloody ground had never been more paralyzing than the thoughts that came to him in the middle of the night.

The scent of lilac rolls over him as he nears one of the walls. He has not seen lilac in the cemetery before, but it has been sprouting all over the city now, in just about any place it could. Lilacs were hardy like that – they sprouted in the city because they were hard to kill, and they were hard to kill because living in the city forced them to be. There had not been lilacs in his hometown.

Coming to the back of the cemetery, he can spot a fairly large object resting near the furthest wall in the darkness. It hadn’t been there last time, though it’d been a while since he came. Coming closer, the object is clearly a casket, and the ground has a half-dug hole for the burial plot. Why exactly someone left it out is a mystery, but it’s not like he ever read up on the subject of funerals and burial. The idea had been tempting when he was younger, but the shame and fear of what might come of it had eventually won him over.

While the plot was unfinished, the tombstone most certainly was not. Inscribed in it (albeit plainly) were the birth and death years, along with the name: Lukas Ranckin. Interestingly, there was no epitah. As he turned to walk the rest of the cemetery, he heard a faint cough behind him. He paused.

The cough returned, slightly stronger this time. And it seemed, against all logic, to be coming from the casket. He froze, hesitant that any sudden move or sharp breath might break the strange median between reality and a gothic horror novel he found himself in. The situation reminded him of something he’d picked up from schoolyard conversation – that in the past, people would sometimes set up bells with strings in such a way that one could ring the bell if they were buried alive.

There is neither bell nor string here, just a casket and a near-unmemorable tombstone. The coughing paused, only to turn into a weak wheeze, and he looks at the casket as if something will happen to make the past minute suddenly realign with reality. If someone’s been buried alive, they’re awfully calm about it.

The wheezing eventually fades. He almost expects it to kick back up again, but in the ensuing silence it’s clear it’s not going to. The realization seems to kick him in the head, jolt him into stepping closer and grasping onto the lid. If someone’s been buried alive, they might’ve just run out of air.

The casket gives little resistance when he opens the lid. Inside, he finds the body of a man. The skin is pallid; no breath comes from his lips; his chest does not move. Going by the tombstone, he was around the same age as Laurent, but despite that, he could only be called a man. There was a certain grimness to his expression, the look of someone who knew exactly the game life was playing, and yet couldn’t call its bluff.

A small scar rested on his cheek, and the bridge of his nose was slightly askew. In the back of his mind, he knows that this means the noises had to have been something else; all he can focus on is the man’s stunning visage. He thinks, rather absentmindedly, that Lukas Ranckin would’ve caught his eye, even outside of a casket. That’s part of what edges him to lean forward over the casket, urging him closer, telling him that it’s to solidify his freedom from the constant fear that plagued him back at home. Hesitantly, his heartbeat resounding in his ears, he lightly kisses the man on his brow, and, after a second of deliberation, kisses him a second time, on the lips.

He immediately stumbles back, turns to walk away before he goes any further, immediately feeling abashed and wondering why he just broke every rule he had set for himself; maybe it was his inspired boldness from being away from home, this graveyard-visiting endeavor that was bound to end up badly, even if he hadn’t foreseen it would happen so soon.

He stops. It is not of his volition.

Something has his arm, and when he looks back, he finds himself meeting the sharp gaze of the seemingly not-dead Lukas Ranckin.

2.

It’s a few weeks later when Luke, having been offered a place to lie low from the fact that he’s supposed to be dead, finds Laurent’s notebook. At first, he doesn’t pay any mind to the notebook, which was found at the bottom of a drawer. Even it’s appearance – brownish, cardboard-looking cover with scrapes and dents – makes it look more like one of Luke’s possessions than anything. However, in the time he’s stayed at Laurent’s apartment, it’s been clear that the other’s intelligence is more than an act, and he’s no stranger to deception. And that’s what sets his sense of suspicion off when he’s about to bury the notebook again and close the drawer. He’d only been rummaging around the drawer to finally take advantage of Laurent’s absence at class in the first place. Dead man walking or no, he’s not fucking naive enough to not try and get a read on the stranger he’s living with.

Maybe living with someone for nearly a month makes them not a stranger anymore, but that hardly matters. What does is what’s in the notebook. For the few several pages, there’s a few scrawled notes from his day. For all the care taken to leave the notebook out of view, there are no confessions, nothing that jumps out unless you already know what he has to hide. Though, it’s not like Luke was expecting any.

Going further, past a stream of blank pages, he finds a few rough sketches of - of what appears to be him. They’re far from perfect (rough, and more illustrative than realistic) but on closer inspection, they are, without a doubt, of him. Him, in the morning, sitting at the table. Him, reading whatever book in the apartment that vaguely interests him because he has little else to do. Him, looking into the hallway mirror, peering at his now pallid skin and atmosphere of death. Him, with his crooked nose and faded scars.

Maybe he should be creeped out; it is creepy. But more than anything he is baffled. He feels like he’s in a dream, disconnected from what he sees, like waiting for things to click into place and make sense. Make sense, like anything has this past month. Like anything in this entire damn world was meant to make sense. Maybe he shouldn’t expect Laurent to make sense, with what he says or does. Isn’t that the point? The man loves corpses (loves him, clearly) - that isn’t a strong indicator for sense nor sanity. And, in his everlasting ability to take the world’s bullshit in stride, he is only slightly surprised to find writing follow the art.

It is shockingly earnest. The prose is clumsy, stumbling through recounted memories and over-detailed descriptors. For all the repose Laurent wields in conversation, it seems to fall apart in his writing. Of course, this is the only writing of his that Luke’s ever read – maybe it’s him, as narcissistic as that sounds.

He snaps the book shut, puts it back in the drawer, and barely puts any effort in covering it back up. Looking through someone’s notebook of personal writing and drawings is probably rude. Then again, so is writing about and drawing someone that you picked up in a cemetery. And it’s not as if he’s ever given a shit about rudeness. He leaves the room and heads for the living room chair he’s claimed for himself. Picks up the book he’s currently reading – The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. Usually, the book is interesting enough to pass the time, but the glacial pace is getting to him, and his mind keeps flicking back to what he read. He brings the book up closer, hoping that doing so will help him focus.

The carved shape of his arms.

One of the characters is being an asshole. What a surprise.

The landscape of his chest.

The defiant posture in near-everything he does, reminiscent of Lucifer.

The pallor of his skin.

He drops the book, and in a vain attempt to get some peace, tries to sleep. Maybe he’ll magically find a way to return back to being dead, and never have to bother with the chaotic excuse of a life he’s got. That would satisfy the both of them – he’d finally get eternal peace, and Laurent would have, well, a cold body to fuck. Maybe it’s a testament to how few fucks he gives anymore than he can’t seem to care about that. Of course, unless Laurent wants him, not alive, undead for it, and right now, he can’t tell which is supposedly worse.

Needless to say, he doesn’t sleep.

Laurent returns some time in the evening. Luke is reading, having managed to get his nerves down enough to focus on the book. He only looks up at Laurent as he comes through the door, before looking back down. He won’t broach the subject with Laurent, at least not now. He wants to see what Laurent will do once he finds out that Luke’s flipped through his notebook. And he will – aside from their initial encounter, which Luke can excuse as a fluke, Laurent has shown himself as nothing but cautious. If he doesn’t notice the way the notebook has been haphazardly thrown back into the drawer, then Luke’s made some shockingly shitty assessments of the man’s character.

Of course, that’ll be a while from now. Part of said assessments means Laurent isn’t going to look for the notebook in the daytime, nor when Luke is clearly awake and still in the living room. For now, Laurent hangs his coat up in the closet, before sitting down on the couch. Luke keeps reading, until it becomes clear that Laurent isn’t going to say anything.

“How was the living world?”

“Rather uneventful. I went by the library today to pick up some research books. Do you have any books you would be interested in?”

“Books that I can name from before I was dead… no, doesn’t ring a bell. Maybe if I actually could look and see if I found any that interested me?”

“I,” Laurent doesn’t skip a beat in replying “was thinking about the feasibility of bringing you out where you could be recognized, but I suppose we’ll figure something out.”

“Sounds like the perfect outing,” Luke mutters, and neither of them say anything worth remembering the rest of the night.

*

Five days in, and Laurent hasn’t said a damn thing. It’s not as if he hadn’t noticed that Luke went through his sketchbook. Luke sleeps on the couch, and he was awake when he heard Laurent open the drawer four days ago. They went out to the library (Luke wearing sunglasses and a shitton of skin makeup) three days ago. They’re currently just having lunch in the apartment, and at this rate, Luke is almost ready to just fucking tell Laurent that he knows that Laurent knows, plans or respect for sentences that don’t sound like bullshit be damned.

He’s staring at the salt and pepper shakers trying to get the nerve to bite the bullet and do it, when Laurent politely coughs his throat and says, “You saw my notebook.”

Luke just stares at him for a few seconds, half in shock, before he manages to reply, “I did.”

“My handwriting was rather legible.”

“It was.”

“I admit my prose was rather inelegant. Blunt, even.”

“I won’t argue.”

Laurent opens his mouth to say something, and Luke cuts him off.

“Look, if you have a point you’re trying to make, get to it. I saw your book. I’m somehow still around. But I sure as hell ain’t going to sit around for you to get over every single bit of insecurity you have. You lay out the cards, and then I’ll make my decision whether or not I want to try and reverse a miracle that only ever also happened to Jesus fucking Christ.”

Laurent grabs Luke’s hand resting on the table and says, “Please don’t. The world would lose something truly beautiful. So, so, beautiful. I must be insane. I must be, because I think I’m in love. I can’t imagine how anyone could miss your beauty, even in life. And now this, this is something uniquely dark and glorious.”

Luke just stares, and lets silence fill the room. He can see the clock situated on the wall, the minute hand just ticking up and the second hand’s quick sweep as it moves forward and forward.

“Do you say that to all the corpses you bring home?” he eventually manages to say.

And Laurent looks stupidly sincere when he says, “I’d only ever say it to you.”