It just seemed natural, after everything that happened, after all the shit went down. Veser didn't have anywhere else to go. Well, no, that wasn't true at all. He could have stayed in his own home, and nobody would have begrudged him that, but it didn't feel like home anymore so much as a house filled with bad memories. He also had offers from Hanna, Toni, and (against the vampire's own better judgment) Conrad, but he was tired to death of feeling like an outsider. (He crazy-appreciated the awesome group of freaks he'd come to think of as friends in the past weeks, but they all had their own lives. Hanna was preoccupied rehabilitating his zombie roommate and trying to make a living, Toni had school and a busier social life than he could ever hope for, and Conrad was a grumpy loner at the best of times.) Instead, he moved in with Ples.
It was surprisingly easy to forgive the man for his involvement in the whole mess that had just torn his life apart, perhaps because Veser could see that Ples was a victim too, and because Ples was doing his best in his own awkward way to make amends. Not that Veser had any room to make fun of Ples for being awkward. He was awkward as hell. Maybe that was another reason they found themselves getting along so smoothly. They projected confidence but, in reality, they were both kind of lost. Eventually, it must have felt easier to be lost together.
Not that “together” was what Ples probably intended when he suggested Veser take the spare room in his Victorian-fucking-mansion. It wasn't what Veser was looking for when he accepted. But, well, “I dunno,” Veser would have said if someone asked him to explain how they found themselves consistently in the same bed not long after that. Ples's house was really nice, but it was big and sort of dark, and maybe one night Veser found himself sort of lost in more ways than one, and it just happened, and it kept just happening because it was warm and comforting and made them both feel ...not found, but something less dramatic, anyway.
When they were curled up in Ples's bed, which was really far too large for one person anyway, all the things that made them feel lost just melted away. The first time, the first few times, there had been no touching, just the safety of proximity. It wasn't long before Veser began to wake draped over his bed-mate, in what he at first told himself was a desperate attempt to get under some of the blankets Ples hogged (the man was too damn cold-natured; he really needed some meat on his bones) before he stopped deluding himself. (He could have slept naked in the snow and his selkie blood probably would have kept him warm, and there was no use lying about it.)
Things settled down remarkably fast once they had each other to hold in the quiet of the night. It was a surprising fix for most of their problems. Sure, Veser's whole family was still dead (or missing, if you wanted to be optimistic,which Veser wasn't), and Ples was still haunted by the demons of his past, but it was a little hard to dwell on those sorts of things as time went on. There was work and school and weather and food and haircuts and all sorts of mundane things to deal with which weren't related to the sort of supernatural nonsense that had been both their bane for years. There was, for Veser, getting to know someone else on a personal level, which he'd really never done before, and which was perspective-altering. Even L-... ...even Lee, who he'd considered himself closest to in the whole world, more than his parents (by far, god), more than his friends (of which he'd never had many)-- He realized he hardly knew the guy. And when he first realized that, he thought maybe that was just the normal way of relationships, that nobody really knew anybody, and if he was drifting in a sea of emptiness over it, that was just him being childish and wanting more than was possible.
But then he got to know Ples better, or started to, anyway, and it was nice, really great, of course, to become actually close with someone but, also, a little depressing because it made him realize how distant even his best friend had been, throughout his whole life. His parents, his friends, Lee... they were all holding back. They'd never let Veser see their inner selves, their secrets.
Maybe that had been a good thing. People's inner selves were horrible, in his experience.
But no, he still wanted to have seen them, because then he could get past them, and everyone could stop being so fucking cold. Really, who gave a shit if you were hiding a monster on the inside? If you ate children in the night? He wasn't happier not-knowing, because you never didn't-know. When you spent time with someone, gave them even an inch of yourself, you knew if they were secretly terrible, even if you didn't know you knew. Better to get it out in the open, and fucking fix it if you could.
You can't forgive someone's mistakes until they admit them, and you can't move past something until you come to it. Otherwise you just stagnate.
That's why things were better now, with Ples. Pessimistically (because Veser was always a pessimist, whatever his energy might suggest), Veser suspected that if things had gone differently, Ples would have been no different from the rest, because that's just how people are. If he'd met the man under 'normal' circumstances, back when everything was cold, Ples would have hidden his flaws, been a little charming, a little brusque, and Veser would have liked him in a way, but they'd have never known each other. Only now, because of the shitstorm of drama and all the monsters that came to light, could they move past the barriers that people erected to protect themselves, or whatever the hell it was.
So Ples was a monster, or at least had been partly one, and Veser was damaged, weighed down with all sorts of baggage. They knew that. It didn't stop them from living, as hiding it had done for others before. It didn't stop them from having mundane, dumb, normal-people problems like Veser shearing Ples 'nearly bald' in his first attempt at cutting the man's hair.
“I thought you claimed to be good at this,” Ples said, tamping down expressions of dismay and panic that were trying to weasel their way up onto his face.
“I cut my own hair like a pro!” Veser said in his defense, frowning over the really very minor mess he'd made of the back of Ples's head. “It should be easier to do someone else's. Your hair's just weird, man.”
Honestly, Veser was pretty fond of Ples's hair, in the way that you must be when you wake with it in your face quite often and it is soft and smells nice.
The hair-cutting was a minor disaster, but it passed like all the other things, and Veser did a much better job the second and subsequent times. It was a learning process, like anything is when you live with another person. It wasn't chasing ghosts and running for you life, but it was fun. Like playing with your dog in the yard instead of jumping the fence of the lion enclosure at the zoo. Less exhilarating, but still nice.
Lots of things were nice about his new life or what it seemed to be becoming. He still missed his family, dammit, he missed them more than he wanted to. But those feelings were like bug bites: little sharp pinpricks that were sometimes mosquitoes and itched for days and were sometimes wasps and stung fiercely, but were usually hardly worth noticing, and rarely worth crying over. Bit by bit, he moved on. He woke with his nose buried in Ples's hair (much nicer when it was its usual wavy two inches; he was careful to never again cut it as short as that one time), wandered off into the kitchen to make coffee (or if he was feeling benevolent, a pot of actual tea), showered, dressed, went to school, went to work, went out with friends, came home, ate, went to sleep, and a good many other things in between, and every day seemed a little easier than the last. Some days were mosquitoes, and some days were wasps, but most days were nothing, and it really was nice.
He supposed (okay, he knew) he had Ples to thank. Not just for providing his unconditional love and all that mushy crap, or even the place to live, but for eventually pushing Veser out of the too-easy comfort zone he'd found himself in. Life had been too hectic for a while, and Ples understood that. Everyone understood. So he let Veser wallow for a bit, get back on his feet, so to speak, and enjoy that curling up in a ball on the couch and watching TV for weeks on end that seems so appealing after everyone you love has died. And then he said, “enough of that” and nudged Veser just firmly enough to get him moving. “Go back to school, go get a job, go do something that doesn't involve puttering around my house for the entirety of the day.” Well, Ples didn't say that, especially not verbatim, but it was so much what Veser needed to hear that even a vague suggestion along those lines was enough to get him out of the house. He'd never liked to be totally stationary for too long anyway.
So, he got up, and went back to school, and got a job, and hung out with friends, and then came home and felt all the more attached to the house and his life there after a little time spent away from it.
School was much the same as it had been when he'd left, back in the middle of the previous semester. Kind of a pain, trying to get his credits in order, but luckily he didn't really care. He'd never really cared about school, particularly since he didn't know what he even wanted to do with his life. But Ples thought he should go, and ...other people had wanted him to, and he didn't exactly dislike school, so he continued. (For the record, college was loads better than high school, for at least about a billion different reasons.) Then he got a job down at the docks, because it was something to do and being around the water calmed him. (The money was not really an issue, not that this job payed much anyway. Veser didn't really have much to pay for these days; Ples covered the food, utilities, and other housing expenses, wouldn't let Veser even think about trying to contribute to the basics, and it wasn't like Veser was going to insist. And school was covered by grants, so.) He caught up with Hanna, Conrad, and Toni every so often, if they didn't catch up with him even sooner, which they usually did.
On a typical day, Veser woke before Ples. Neither of them set alarms, relying on their internal clocks, which in Ples's case sounded like a joke, especially considering that Veser's clock was apparently more accurate. Ples always slept about a half-hour later, and although Veser would usually make fun of him for being a tired old man when he finally wandered into the kitchen, he'd do it with a crooked grin and a proffered cup of caffeine (usually coffee at first, but more often tea as time went on and Veser became accustomed to the less brash flavor), and they both knew he didn't mean anything by it.
Age was a bit of a point of a contention for them (though not between them), but not exactly a sore spot. It was like any thing that you can't help being aware of, and which you know causes people to look at you as if you're a bit strange or maybe the devil himself. Ples and Veser each on their own went out plenty, but they didn't spend much time out together, and even less of it being “romantic”. (Public displays of affection were just not their thing; at least, they definitely weren't Ples's if he was remotely sober, and Veser usually only resorted to them to tease Ples.) Still, it was enough to have had their fair share of dirty looks and confused stares, and they were fairly certain it was because of the age thing and not the other thing, since the parts of town they went out in were not the most conservative, and at least one of the scowling double-takes they'd gotten recently was from a man walking down the street with what appeared to be his husband and their young child, which just went to show that even the most alternative and open-minded sorts have things they find distasteful and, apparently, an eighteen year age difference was one of them.
(It was entirely possible, of course, that the man had been scowling for a variety of other reasons, such as, perhaps, his confusion over Veser's sharp-ass shark teeth (he thinks he'd been laughing then, so they'd have been very noticeable), Ples's ticking (which really wasn't that loud but probably could have been heard by a passerby if they had keen ears), or maybe wondering if the two of them were actually around the same age after all, given Veser's shockingly slate-grey hair. He thinks, though, that it was the age thing, because this hadn't been the first time, and it was a distinct look, sort of self-righteous and thoroughly annoying.)
They weren't immune to it from their friends either (Veser's friends, anyway; Ples was plenty friendly with them, but Veser didn't think he'd seek out their companionship of his own accord), although when they brought it up it wasn't especially in a rude or condescending way. More that they were just curious. This group, of any friends Veser might have had, certainly had no room to be judgmental.
“Does the age difference bother you?” Hanna asked at one point.
“What about you and the Zombie?” Veser countered with a calmly raised eyebrow he probably learned from Ples.
“We're only a few years apart,” Hanna said. “I think.”
“Pffft. And how dead is he?”
Hanna shrugged. “Yeah, pretty dead.”
So his friends weren't cruel about it, but they noticed it, which was fine because, well, it was noticeable. Like selkie blood and fucked-up pasts and hidden monsters, it was something that didn't do well to be ignored. You recognized it and you moved on.
Obviously, though, it couldn't be moved-on-from fully because it, age, was responsible for several key differences in their personalities. Although, actually, Veser thought, that probably wasn't true at all, because Ples was only 37-or-so, a good five to ten years younger than Veser's parents, Lee, and many of the adults he'd met throughout his life, and none of them were nearly so formal. If Veser was a pizza junkie and listened to loud rock music, it wasn't because he was young (not necessarily, at least), it was because he grew up in a pizza-eating rock-music-listening culture, just like Lee and his par--, well, his father. (His mom had been very 'meh' about pizza and rock music and all the things that went along with them. She'd been pretty 'meh' about life in general, to be honest, but that was a subject for another time or perhaps never.) Ples, presumably, grew up in a quiet mansion on the edge of a little English village, where he drank tea and played violin 24 hours a day and didn't even know what pizza was, so if there was a real reason for their key personality differences, that was it, not age.
According to Ples, when Veser asked him about it later, he actually had eaten pizza as a child, just maybe not as frequently or ravenously as Veser had. And, believe it or not, he liked rock music-- he was from the classic rock generation, after all. So Veser wasted no time in introducing more music to the household, 70's and 80's rock that brought back bittersweet memories of his childhood but were too absolutely classic to avoid just because of a little emotional pain. Ples didn't complain (much; almost at all) when Veser cranked it up to 11, so Veser didn't whine (much, eventually) when Ples put on some classical for a change of pace. (Classical was pretty okay, Veser supposed, in the pieces where they bothered to use any amount of bass, at least. You couldn't exactly rock out to it, but he'd heard worse.)
So, orchestra music from a stereo was nice-ish, Veser might admit, but it was an entirely different thing to hear classical music in person, and that was another thing he ended up sort of taking to. Aside from mad-science (which he had mostly abandoned, now that it was not necessary for his sanity), Ples's main hobby was violin. And he was wonderful at it, too, as you might expect from someone who practiced for 24 hours a day through their entire childhood. (Ples denied this claim, but Veser was sure it couldn't have been too much of an exaggeration, given his talent.) He was good not only at reading sheet music, but at playing by ear, which Veser immediately began to take advantage of, plying him with requests to cover basically anything that came on the radio. Some things took to violin much easier than others, but it was the ones you'd never expect that made the best pieces, especially for the entertainment value that came from Ples seriously studying vulgarity-heavy rap songs to try to properly analyze the tune. Veser was pretty sure he did it mostly to make him laugh.
That was another thing their friends side-eyed them over. The age thing was easy enough to get past after a while, but they never did seem to grasp that Ples actually had a sense of humor. It was a subtle one, definitely, but he certainly wasn't as stoic and dreary as everyone seemed to think. If it had been longer than usual since Veser had hung out with anyone, they always seemed extra cheerful and supportive (or more patient, at least, in the case of Conrad), as if they thought he had to be depressed or bored from hanging around Ples all the time. And he was a pretty people-oriented person, so yeah, he liked going out into the crowds with them, but that didn't mean he didn't enjoy the time he spent “quietly” at home with Ples. (It had never been even remotely quiet in that house, what with all the clocks. Ples had gotten rid of a majority of them recently, but nowadays there was hardly a time when there wasn't music of some sort playing, often louder than Veser would have dared at any of his friends' apartments, neighbors and all.) Ples was fun to be around. Not in a raucous party kind of way, but in a jam-session or friendly chatter sort of way. To be honest, Veser didn't think he'd ever talked to a single person so much in his life. Even all that time spent around Lee, yeah, they talked some, but most of it (especially toward the end) was a quiet commiserating over how much their lives sucked. This was different. He talked about all sorts of things, and Ples seemed to care, even about the whining over dumb professors and lazy co-workers. He didn't just use Veser's complaints as a springboard for his own. And even Veser found himself becoming a better listener.
Maybe it was a sign of maturity. Some part of him shivered at the thought, the part that simultaneously recognized and denied that he'd been sort of a childish brat before, the part that heard the word 'maturity' and instantly thought of taxes and a slow, boring descent into old age and eventual death. In a way, he still thought he was going to die young, go out in a blaze of teenage glory or some bullshit supernatural drama, and be forever remembered as that cocky little shit who made everyone's lives more exciting for the ten minutes they could stand him. It sounded fun, sort of, to be immortalized so young in peoples' memories. But these days he really couldn't deny that what he wanted more was... more. Not a bigger bang, but a longer fuse. He sort of wanted to get old, be one of those badass old dudes with style and attitude because who said being an adult couldn't be just as much of a blast as being a teenager, or more? (You weren't legally allowed to drink as a kid, after all-- a moot point for Veser, in a house this stocked with top-shelf whiskey, but still, it was a good example of one of the great gifts of adulthood.)
And he wanted more time around Ples, wanted to make him smile, as fucking corny as that sounded. God, it really was unbelievably corny, and the old part of him mocked him so hard for it, because sex was cool, and flirting was fun, but long-term, monogamous, mature relationships? That was some pansy-ass shit. But it didn't matter. It didn't stop Veser from wanting it ever more fervently. Words like “stability” and “commitment” sounded dumb in his mind, but the things they meant, the way they felt? Worth any amount of sounding like a wuss to the childish part of his conscience that had yet to realize how much more free it felt to be an adult, how much more room there was to breathe.
That was it, wasn't it? He could breathe now, and breathing meant living. Maybe that was why he'd always liked swimming (aside from being biologically inclined); you held your breath and floated weightlessly in an indistinct environment where up and down and forward and back all looked the same so who cared which direction you went or if you went anywhere at all? It was like the life he'd had. Hold your breath. Drift along. It was very familiar to him. Now he was done holding his breath, simple as that. He was done drifting. He wanted to go forward.
He would. He'd finish school, do something with his life-- not sure what yet, but he'd make it good, make the ghosts of his past proud, and hopefully those living in the present too.
Ples claimed he was already proud of Veser, and he didn't really doubt it. The guy was too easy to please; he put up with Veser's immaturity and emotional baggage like it was no big deal, and on less-good days, Veser sometimes wondered why. He was beyond lucky to have that. Ugh. It was too much to even think about, so most days he didn't.
Except then Ples would go and do something, ugh, geez, romantic, and Veser would be back to thinking about it again, about how pretty much unbelievable this seemed, how it didn't seem like something his life could have really turned into, because had you heard about his past? Comfort was something he barely wished for, let alone love, or, or romance. You know, and what was romance anyway? Roses and chocolates and candle-lit dinners? For some people. For others it was ordering extra anchovies on the half-and-half pizza you shared, even though (as Veser was aware and would grudgingly admit) the mere presence of the little fishes tainted the rest of the food in the box for anyone who wasn't part-seal. It was giving him your favorite pocket-watch because the familiar ticking steadied him when things in his brain got a little hectic and you weren't around. It was learning the new made-up rules of chess, because “damn that game is boring otherwise”, and doing violin covers of “Baby Got Back”, and sometimes conspicuously leaving out your $300 bottle of whiskey because even if he still wasn't technically legal, he was more mature now, you trusted him, and you wanted to acknowledge that.
And Veser guessed it was fine to think about it sometimes, or pretty often, as the case was. The only problem was the inevitable impermanence of everything good in life, a sticky and gross notion he just couldn't get rid of. Everything else he'd held dear had fallen apart, often after long enough that he'd gotten his hopes up of it working out. Immediate disappointment was bad, but getting your hopes up was even worse, dramatically worse. It made you never want to hope again. Hope was one of those dumb human things though that wouldn't go away, and it did slowly wear at his pessimistic worry over things ending, like bleach on a years-old bloodstain. Maybe it would never go away completely, probably wouldn't, but it was still more than he'd hoped for.
It helped when Ples made gestures of permanency. Quite early, he'd given Veser a key. He was a practical fellow, so this wasn't a weird thing for him to do, even before that first night they'd shared the safety of proximity in Ples's too-large bed, but Veser appreciated it, because you didn't make keys special for someone you were hoping was going to go away soon. Not much later, he subtly redecorated (just enough to be noticeable) to better fit Veser's taste, and that was like the icing on the cake of being told he could stay. Within the year, after enough time had passed that nobody any longer thought the Hatches were likely to make a return, Ples helped sell their old house, and invited Veser to bring over the rest of whatever he decided to keep, regardless of how badly the pieces clashed with his own décor, and though it could have simply been a sign that Ples was becoming less anal about the look of his house, Veser rightly took it to mean something else, and his paranoia eroded ever more.
Things were comfortable like that for quite some time, and if Veser was still a little worried he'd be gotten rid of, somewhere in the very back of his mind, nobody could quite blame him for that, given what he'd been through. Although then, as a present or just one of those well-timed situations that lines up with special occasions and people think 'might as well make it a gift', Ples spent a good few weeks re-doing all his legal documents and making copies of the new versions for Veser, so that if something happened, he could prove it was his house too, and his small fortune, and his restored 1970 Oldsmobile, and had a will drawn up to cover anything extraneous, which was all a little overwhelming because, holy shit, there was basically nothing more permanent than making someone your sole beneficiary.
Well, there was that one thing. That thing that hardly bore thinking about for about a million reasons. Because he was barely twenty-two and still wandering lackadaisically through college and still sometimes had nightmares that woke them both up and still wasn't proficient enough at guitar to match Ples's violin and still worked a minimum wage job at the docks and still occasionally burnt the eggs in the morning because eggs were fucking hard to cook and still accidentally left his harpoon to drip all over the foyer on a regular basis and still looked like a jacked-up monster child with his jagged teeth and nuclear-waste-green eyes... though none of that had seemed to bother Ples over the past few years.
Still, it was one thing to let someone live in your house, sleep in your bed, and even say they could have all your shit when you died, and it was another entirely to want to marry them. Ples was a smart man, exceedingly and frustratingly reasonable; there was no way he'd want to marry a broken 22-year-old half-breed.
Although a broken 23-year-old half-breed was acceptable, apparently.
As events in their supernatural-stricken life went, the proposal was pretty traditional and mundane, though Veser thought he sort of ruined the polite normalness of it all by answering with a “yeah, fuck, I mean, of course.” But that was them in a nutshell, wasn't it?