The thought of turning someone had never crossed his mind. Not once. But see, it weren't for the moral reasons, weren't for the sake of sparing anyone the thirst and the curse and the lonely, lonely weight of immortality, no. Rather, there had been no worthy candidates to ensnare, no one to damn to spending eternity on this planet with him. It was quite a commitment, wasn't it? Commitment was a word he had never been any good with. He'd gotten so accustomed to throwing them away, he wondered if the sheen of his superficial charms and wiles was beginning to tarnish by now. If they all knew he saw an expiration date on their foreheads when he met them. If every passing friendship was just milk about to spoil.

No bird had been pretty enough nor sharp enough for him. Until her. With the name of a flower but the aura of a shattered chapel window, he could practically feel the shards of stained glass cutting his hands every time he got close. She was flame personified, and fuck knows he was afraid of fire but he was also starting to believe he might be a distant relative of a moth.

He told himself it was nothing, he told himself not to be so foolish. Just because something is new doesn't mean it's worth changing yourself for. But then all of her strength left, every aspect he thought had drawn him to her was snuffed out, and he still stayed. He rubbed her back with trembling hands while she dry-heaved endlessly over the motel toilet. He hid the tears welling up in his eyes for her behind mirrored aviators. He brought food every night, though it molded under the bed next to the ever-growing pile of emptied Smirnoffs. He stayed in the room next door over a month, unable to sleep, unable to leave, hearing her sob herself hoarse through the thin walls he felt like punching a hole through. He slept in that second room until the day she grabbed his wrist with all the strength left in her withering body and asked "help me."

They helped each other the only way they knew how.

To be united in mourning and in failure is an ugly but undeniably powerful thing. No one wants it, but a bond formed over tragedy is the strongest yet the quietest. Watching Jesse die in front of him had been no cake walk. Cassidy had held on in searing pain until the skin from his fingers peeled from the bone, and the bone turned to ash, and the ash scattered into the Arizona sky as his grip loosened and Jesse had chosen death. Cassidy would never tell anyone how many nights he'd laid in the bed of his truck, stared at the stars, and talked to Jesse. Jesse's ghost or angel or spirit or whatever the fuck. He hoped he could hear him. He hoped he didn't hate him. He wanted to stop feeling this uncomfortable empathy, he wanted to leave Tulip and know she would bounce back and live on as the girl he'd met, to exist sans Jesse. She'd done it once before, hadn't she? But that was back when a misunderstanding had allowed her to build a wall of anger, to sling around words like "betrayal" and "abandonment" and convince herself Jesse Custer was a piece of shit. But having her soulmate back in her arms, learning the truth about his roots, his disappearance, and his devotion to her and then losing him once and for all? Cassidy legitimately thought she would die, whether it was of a broken heart or of swallowing the next haul she robbed from a pharmacy without him.

Now, Cassidy needed more than two hands to count how many women he'd seen die in his years. Choked by their own vomit in the morning after an overdose he didn't even notice. Thrown through a windshield in the drunk driving accidents where he'd dragged what was left of his body out of view of the paramedics with one mangled hand, eaten frogs and opossums and raccoons in a ditch until he could stand again and skip town. Beaten to death in an alley by dealers or johns he'd sent them to score from, thinking they'd go easier on a broken woman than on a broke vampire. Wrong.

Nevertheless, he couldn't let this one die. Some pesky little seed of a conscience had been planted in his dead heart. It was uncomfortable and undeniable. Much like he couldn't go through with deserting Jesse after their first fight, he couldn't walk out on Tulip now. The familiarity bred within the four walls of that room during those months was like a weighted blanket shielding them from the rationale of the outside world. They were now fluent in the language of each other's bodies and broken minds whether they wanted to be or not.

One night they were leaning up against the headboard watching cartoons on mute when a thoughtful expression crossed Tulip's face.

"If I die-"

"Yer not gonna fuckin' die, hear. Yer not gonna fuckin' die."

"If I die," she repeated louder, slower, turning to look at him, "will you eat my face off like a cat? Like, can't help yourself?"

"S'not funny."

"I'm serious, happens to the elderly all the time, they fall over and Frisky or Fido and a dozen of their pals eats half their corpse 'fore it can rot." She took a swig from a bottle of Jack and finished it off, her cheeks hollowing around the neck momentarily before she tossed it across the room. "Seems plausible wi' you," she said. Cassidy's eyes never left the television screen but she could hear his teeth grinding.

To her, the six months of sex in motels were forgettably underwhelming, all through a haze of booze and benzos. It was never sober, not once, and she almost always initiated it, roughly grabbing for him with her vision blurred by tears. But sometimes, when she'd be vacant and dead-eyed in the blue glow of the television, he'd hold his breath and press his soft, cold lips to her bare shoulder tentatively. Beneath her mourning veil of pliant apathy, she'd let him do whatever he wanted.

She lost her phone charger ages ago in all this mess, all this travel. He bought her a new one but she never used it. One evening while she took another 20-hour nap, he plugged it in on a whim. Maybe he'd use it to order in this time instead of picking something up from the diner. The screen lit up. Nineteen missed calls from Amy over the span of the last two days. Texts begging Tulip to answer the phone. Finally, at the end of the log, a voicemail. His thumb hovered over it. He looked over his shoulder at her sleeping form, her sunken eyes, her dry hair, her blue fingertips, the shallow rise and fall of her chest. He turned the call volume to its lowest setting and pressed play.

Jesse Custer was alive.

Cassidy was paralyzed, the warm phone still pressed to his cheek, his pupils reduced to mere pinpricks of shock. His throat felt tight, as if every one of his organs was going to pour out of his mouth and abandon ship. Upon hearing the news that his best friend was alive, his selfishness had won the race against his happiness.

Actually, selfishness had thrown sand in the eyes of happiness, tripped it, and beat it to the finish line by an entire lap.

Once Tulip and Jesse were reunited, when they were empowered by each other once more, there would be no fucking way to tell his side of the story. These months wouldn't be labeled as "looking out fer her, comforting her in her time of need, right." This would be labeled "taking advantage of her." Enabling her. Abusing her. Betraying Jesse in the worst way. He'd be branded a poison to them, like he'd been poison to so many others. He'd waited too long to do the leaving and now he would be the one left. He couldn't bear the thought. He nearly crushed the phone in his hands, but thought twice and hid the battery in the back of his nightstand instead.

He didn't want to live like this forever, in this dim motel room keeping this girl barely breathing, but he couldn't lose her either. He couldn't lose her. Those four words clung to the walls of his mind and echoed through every hour of his day as if they were the only truth he knew in this fucked up world. He couldn't lose her.

The paranoia grew. The dread of looking Jesse in the eyes again swallowed him. Every time he heard footsteps outside the door, he felt terrified in a way he thought he had long since outgrown. He smoked two packs a day and his thin fingers never stopped trembling. His lips were pressed tight and tense all night, unable to toss a lazy smile to Tulip when she woke up long enough to lean her head on his shoulder and twist her fingers through his.

The day finally came. Near sunset, he was smoking a cigarette beneath the motel's awning when he saw a car coming miles down the dirt road. There was no way to know what model of car Jesse would've stolen to get here, no way to squint hard enough to make out the features of the driver from that far away, but he knew. He could smell him. This was it. He stomped out his cig and hurried back into the room. He stood with rod-straight posture by the door he had slammed shut, hands tense at his sides. Tulip was awake, fiddling with her own carton of cigarettes.

"Was gonna come join you," she slurred. She paused upon noticing his uncharacteristic tension, cigarette drooping out of her full lips, obsidian eyes half-shut and studying him. "What? You need to go out?" she asked, almost as if he were a dog. About a twice a month he'd go into town to pick fights, let off steam, have a "snack." Someone no one would miss. She understood, but she seldom wanted to accompany him now. He took two steps, sat on the edge of the bed, and rubbed a hand across his long face.

"I'm sorry." His eyes looked five times more bloodshot than they ever had and she couldn't tell if he'd been crying or if he was blazed out of his mind. Maybe both. She didn't know what to say in response. "I'm sorry," he repeated, deeper this time, and turned to plant one arm over her lap on the bed. His eyes were darting from hers to her neck to her lips to her thumb on the wheel of a Zippo.

"Cass, no." He kept crawling on top of her. Her heart raced. She'd said "no" a handful of times before and he had always backed away, though looking back maybe she should've had a problem with how he took her silence as consent on all the other nights. She couldn't read his expression now - pained or predatory? - but he wasn't stopping. Something was wrong. She socked him in the nose and kicked his chest so hard he fell off the bed, while she rolled off the other side and banged her knee into the dresser. He was back on her lightning fast, spurred on by the punch she'd thrown, grabbing her by the jaw and pressing her into the wall until they were both standing. She wouldn't stop clawing at him with her bitten nails, she wouldn't stop screaming and somehow the sound broke his heart more than her sobs had before. His face was contorted into a snarl she'd never seen, and she heard the engine of a vehicle pulling into the parking spaces just outside. She screamed louder. Cassidy was holding her jaw and her wrists hard enough to bruise and break. He'd never been even remotely rough with her before. He clamped his eyes shut and turned his head away from her, toward the floor, cursing himself under his breath. His eyes were wet when he looked back up at her. Then he lunged forward and bit. Hard. Down to the muscle.

She thought she was dying, she thought he was starving or injured or drunk enough to take her life for fuel. Sure, she'd wanted to end her life for months now, but on her own fucking terms. Suddenly her pupils were blown wide and her jaw was slack. There was no voice left in her. Her ears were ringing. The hairs on her arms stood on end. Blood was leaving her but something else was flowing into her, something ice cold in her veins like heroin. Her knees went weak, her head spun, red and white and black bordered the corners of her vision in alternating pulses. The last thing she saw was Jesse kicking down the door, barely backlit by the setting sun, and she knew she must've arrived at heaven. What a funny way to go.

A few hours crawled by. When Tulip woke up, Cassidy only had half of a face and an inch of his skull was showing through the remains on account of the lamp Jesse had bashed into his head three dozen times. Jesse's pocket knife was shoved through Cassidy's right hand deep into the carpet, while Tulip's shorter pocket knife - Jesse must've fished out of her bag - was shoved through his left. He was so still, and his swollen eyes so dull, she thought him dead for a moment. Jesse was pacing and running his hands through his hair, too frazzled to even notice she'd come to.

Cassidy was much stronger than Jesse, but he hadn't put up any fight at all. He'd been too busy pathetically crying the entire time, thinking he deserved this and much worse. Now the silence had settled over them and he could do little more than breathe shallowly through his mouth whenever it stopped drooling blood.

Tulip blinked until her eyes focused in the dim light. Everything had a glow around its edges, like a blacklight poster. She felt every threadbare carpet fiber under her fingertips. She smelled Jesse's sweat and hair gel, the Arizona mud on his boots, the blood in his veins. She smelled Cassidy's spilled blood, rank and sour and inhuman and... unappetizing. She heard television programs from other motel rooms fade in and out as if she were a faulty radio tuner. She pulled herself up to her feet and Jesse helped her to the bathroom.

Her reflection looked the same, black hair tousled, skin waxy from malnutrition and the dawn of withdrawals, eyes puffy and sunken all at once. Her fingertips touched her neck and she winced. No two nice little pinpricks like in the movies, no sir. Looked more like a pit bull had gotten hold of her. The light overhead flickered and Jesse stood behind her, somber and speechless. She swallowed and walked back out into the room.

Tulip sauntered over to Cassidy and straddled him, twisted the knives deeper into the carpet through his palms. Found her lighter and burned the skin on his face and chest until it bubbled off. Poked at the shards of light bulb still stuck in his head and neck. Screamed her lungs out and punched his unrecognizable face until the skull fragments cut her knuckles too deep and Jesse had to drag her off for her own good. They returned to the bathroom, sat huddled in the tub, trembling and chainsmoking and covered in blood, and discussed tying him to a post outside in the light of day. This was not the reunion of soulmates she had dreamed of. Or did she even have a soul any more?

Begrudgingly would be an understatement for how our Tulip finally accepted she needed help. A new kind of help. From Cassidy. Where the fuck else were they going to find a mentor for a newborn vampire? Especially one shaking from not only lack of fresh blood but from Valium withdrawals? She contemplated stepping into the sun as soon as it came up and ending this entire clusterfuck, but with Jesse standing in front of her eyes again and Cassidy deserving of infinitely more punishment, her suicidal squalor had suddenly vanished. Irony was a bitch, wasn't it? The second she had something to live for again, she wasn't even alive.

There were simple core truths to this new arrangement that never had to be spoken. He didn't deserve her. She didn't deserve this. Fuck all that noise about vampire "sires" being "masters" of those they turn. Tulip's amplified rage was a short leash, tethering Cassidy to grovel at her feet for eternity. Did he regret it? He didn't even know. All he knew was that he was now a man who would gladly get on his knees for her and smile as he spit out the teeth she kicked loose. Anything to feel her on his skin again. Moth to a flame and all that, he recalled.

Jesse, bless his heart, managed to stay for over a year. They did odd jobs in the dark here and there, just like the old days, with Cassidy as their compliant accomplice who seldom spoke unless spoken to. But it wasn't the same. She could see the disdain in Jesse's eyes for both of them, for what she'd become. He couldn't separate any part of her from Cassidy's betrayal. So much of their foundation had been built on his stubborn chivalry. Now, at last, he finally believed her when she said she didn't need his help or his protection. He admitted there was little else keeping him around.

"Maybe you can be my Persephone," she'd smirked at him, tears at the corner of her eyes. "Visit this sunless world once in a while and know I'll always be here with bells on?" A sad smile crossed Jesse's face for a moment before he looked down at his feet.

"I don't think that's fair to anyone."

"C'mon, I'll give you pomegranate cider and put flowers in your hair, promise," she said, voice wavering under her chipper tone as she looped her arm through his and leaned into his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," he muttered.

Everyone was always so fucking sorry, weren't they?

The next afternoon when she woke up, there was a note. Typical chickenshit coward Jesse, she thought. Abandoned all over again. He waffled on about how he'd never love again but how it hurt too much to see her like this, how he felt useless and helpless and would never have the future they'd dreamed of. Or the family. She would outlive him, he wrote, but hey, at least now they had proof there was an afterlife and angels and all that jazz. Maybe somewhere down the line there was a chan- she crumpled the note. Stuck her manicured hand in the dying light of the setting sun, let it burn, let it set fire to the paper.

Tulip had a pattern of mourning, it seemed: drink herself nearly to death and cling to anything that could numb her. For her father. For Jesse. Now she had the predicament of mourning herself and all she had ever been. Her drink of choice was different this time.

Her new favorite incomparable high was feeding on someone for the hell of it, when you didn't need to heal. The ultimate upper. When Cassidy was off heroin, as he was now and for the last few decades, he stuck steadfast to his morals about who to feed on. "No one who doesn't deserve it." Problem was, Tulip's quicker temper meant she cast a much wider net when sticking to that same rule. Grab a waitress' ass? Dead meat. Cut her off in traffic? Dead meat. Wolf whistle at her? Definitely dead meat. Cassidy had lost track of how many times he'd had to keep watch on the sidewalk for her, sheepish look on his face as she drained every last drop from some asshole in a back alley. She would emerge minutes later, the click of her heeled boots still sending chills up his spine, and he'd carefully drape his trench coat around her shoulders to cover her bloodstained clothes.

The adrenaline left her veins vibrating for hours afterward, her senses heightened. She always wanted more more more, but they couldn't very well get away with murdering a dozen people a week, even as they climbed to the top of the rusty social ladder of the mobs, dealers, and contract killers they fit in with so well. Turns out Tulip's only other outlet for all her pent-up rage and bitterness and power was sex, something she had never given away easily, not when she was this sharp and sober. It was a sticky situation. She was too proud and too hurt to take another lover; no one deserved to touch her. Cassidy sure as fuck didn't. Yet there was something there. That familiarity. Her hatred was slowly warping into something resembling pity. Was it only a matter of time before she chose to reclaim and own all those labels they now shared, like "monster" and "poison" and "abomination"?

In their heyday, Jesse's dark glinting eyes looked at her like he wanted to eat her alive, in that visceral and possessive yet ultimately metaphorical way of human lust. Now Cassidy's pale green eyes look at her like he knows she can eat him alive, literally, and he would thank her with his final words sputtered through blood.

It took time, but she's decided she prefers the latter.

She always feeds first. She's an alpha lioness and he's a lanky hyena trotting behind. This is the new way. Decades pass like months.

She's always packed a punch in her tiny package, but her new strength now overpowers his. In new cities, she loves nothing more than to have him take bets before she arm wrestles men in bars and hears the bones crunch.

There's something about him. There's something about how his eyes tear up with awe and guilt and reverence all at once when she rides him.

She bites into his neck just to hear him scream and sips his sour blood. His hipbones always bruise her thighs, and her grip always bruises his wrists. His moans are high-pitched and breathless when he finishes. If she lets him.

He knows it's only to let off steam. He knows she only pities him. But they still share some laughs in the dark, they still have their own language of glances. What they are and what they've been through amounts to an infected limb that is not easily severed. Instead, the infection spreads to the brain, all-encompassing. Keep your enemies closer and all that, they suppose. Their dead hearts are shrugging in their graves.

Sometimes they'd get so worn out that he'd fall asleep in her bed, long limbs tangled in sweat-damp emerald green silk sheets. When she was certain he would not stir, she'd count his eyelashes and trace her fingertips over his tattoos. If she got drunk enough she'd even let him explain them to her when he woke up.

He's muttered "I love you"s more than once, sober or not.

"The only reason I'm with you is because I'm unlovable, dumbass," she'd spit back, not even dignifying him with eye contact.

He couldn't believe this was the same being he'd called "wee girl" and "Turnip." She'd called him a "fucking monster" the week they first met. She'd called herself a vegetarian the week they first met. And look at her now.