The incessant rain hammered the gray streets of Soho and ran down the dirty facades of the buildings like bitter tears.
Valentine muttered to himself as he walked the familiar streets from Totenham Court Road underground with his eyes closed. Obscenities filled the chill air around him; he despised the cold stab of the London rain, and the way it was only ever half-dark here. He cursed the sulphurous pollution of the streetlights and the pulsating neon signs of the strip clubs, sex shops and porn theaters. He was still aware of their infection through his closed lids and hated that there was garish flashing where there should have been impenetrable darkness.
Valentine stepped over the threshold of his club and flipped the lights on. He sighed heavily…
…Another night ahead watching all these fop fucks prancing around in their purple velvet and black lace, their clown white melting off and running down their faces in the heat of lights and bodies. And they way they smell. They smell like pigs to me. Like cattle. Animals. Even the clean ones smell like piss and shit, sour milk and sweat. I fucking hate them…
Although the lights were soft, dim, he squinted as if they hurt his eyes. He glowered back over his shoulder at the innocent light switch as if it had done him wrong.
He shuffled over to the bar, dragging his feet like a dead man walking and tossed his keys down on to the liquid-black granite counter.
“Long time, no see.”
Valentine spun around to the direction of the voice. It wasn’t just hearing a voice that startled him, but the fact that he had not immediately sensed the presence of another being in the club with him. Only a year or two ago, Valentine would have known somebody else was inside the club before he even opened the door. He would have known he was there before he’d made it halfway down the street.
Valentine had been around his clientele and no one else – no one like himself – for far too long. Being around them had dulled his senses, made him soft, made him inattentive and docile, just like they are. He was no longer the formidable predator he once was, the raging beast the other man in the bar had first encountered so long ago.
Living in their world had turned him into a fraction of his former self.
The voice was unmistakable. By the time he had turned around and the realization hit him fully, his blood had frozen in his veins. The palms of his hands and the soles of his feet felt like they were freezer burned; he was unsure if the sensation was hot or cold. He swallowed hard and fought to put forth an air of nonchalance. He tried desperately, but there was no way to fool the man who stood before him – he knew Vivant could read him like a book. They had not seen each other in decades, but Valentine knew that this day would come.
Over the years he’d almost learned the art of forgetting the abject fear that a mere mention of his name instilled in everybody, including himself. But those years between them withered and died, dissolved in a heartbeat, and left behind them an overwhelming nausea in his gut.
The word almost choked Valentine.
Why did you come back? Why are you here? What do you want? I don’t want you here. Why don’t you crawl back under your rock, you sick fuck?
“Questions, questions, Valentine. At least let me get my coat off first. Aren’t you going to offer me a drink? Some maitre’d you are,” Vivant said.
Although the only word Valentine had uttered was his name, Vivant read his mind. Valentine hated it when he did that. He broke out in a corpse-cold sweat and he could feel his body quivering as he stood looking at Vivant. But already, even through the fear and the dread, he was in grave danger of falling under Vivant’s spell once more. Everybody did.
“Vivant,” he said again, “I thought…” The name tasted like a bitter flavor on his tongue.
“Thought what? That I was dead? No, I’m not dead. Well, I am, but, you know what I mean,” Vivant said with a broad and wicked smile that could turn stone into lava.
Valentine was even paler than usual and tiny beads of sweat glistened on his brow and upper lip in the dim and dusty light of the club. His discomfort pleased Vivant; he was happy that he could still illicit such such a strong reaction after all these years.
“I won’t be alone very long, so, if you’re gonna kill me, just do it and clean up the mess before somebody arrives. We’re opening soon.”
Vivant’s laughter broke through the silence. He slapped the bar with his open palm to punctuate his hysterics.
He stopped laughing abruptly.
“If I wanted you dead, Valentine, you wouldn’t be standing there almost pissing yourself with fear.”
He stared at Valentine with dead eyes. When Vivant’s eyes looked black and lifeless, you knew that he was very, very unhappy.
Valentine knew what he meant. He knew that he was only still standing here in the middle of his club by Vivant’s grace. But what bothered him more than perhaps being killed by him – which obviously wasn’t his motive or he’d already be dead – was his reason for being here in the first place. What bothered him most, was what he wanted from him. They stood looking at each other for what seemed like an eternity.
“You’re wondering what I’m doing here, no?”
“Of course I’m wondering what you’re doing here. We haven’t see each other for ninety-one years. What do you want, Vivant?”
“I want you, Valentine. I want you back.”
Valentine’s body stiffened at his words, hands at his sides contracted into fists, shoulders drawing upward as his muscles became taut.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Valentine said, trying his damnedest not to stumble over his words or show his fear. But there was nowhere to hide.
“Yes, you do. Don’t be coy – it doesn’t suit you. You know exactly what I mean. Tell me, have you ever felt the way it felt when we were together? Have you ever felt that jolt of electricity that shoots up your spine and into your head with so much pleasure it feels like your brain is being fucked ragged, with anybody other than me? Don’t you miss that? I know you do. Because I know how it feels.”
Valentine tried hard to swallow but his mouth was dry, nervous tension obstructing his throat. The nerves in his lower abdomen stirred as Vivant’s words triggered memories.