There has been a cloud hanging over Theo’s head all morning.
He only has himself to blame, really, or at least that’s what he says to himself, beating himself up for not expecting this to happen. For expecting anything less of you, like not saving him from death or talking him out of the one thing that’s been keeping him here since he’s turned.
He did not expect that he would get here, the night before the door opened, his heart trying to beat itself out of his chest as he maneuvers the familiar hallways of the mansion he’s called home for quite some time now, headed to his brother’s room. The mansion is expansive but has long stopped feeling like a labyrinth.
When he sees the familiar row of paintings left out to dry by the outside wall of his brother’s room, he should only have felt relief at having found his way there.
But there is only fear.
After all, how does one begin? When he doesn’t know if he’s decided to begin with? How does one ask for permission to leave wounds, to let what was once promised into the unknown?
To ask if it would be okay, to send that long-dreamt future away?
It takes him what feels like an eternity to get to his brother’s room. And even longer to finally knock on the door. He stands at the doorway long enough for even the retreating Mozart to pass him, staring curiously, but without any comment. He stands long enough for his brother to notice he’s there.
Theo doesn’t know but he’s wearing the expression of a child begging to be consoled when Vincent finally opens the door.
“Is there something wrong, Theo?” and “I have something to tell you, broer,” is said in the same heartbeat; the two brothers laugh lightly at each other before Vincent ushers him into the room.
Theo doesn’t like to disturb his brother when he is painting. He always thinks that he would only prove to be a distraction, a menace to the creative process, so as much as possible, he doesn’t dare interrupt when his brother is in a fever with a piece, or two, or twenty. This means that every time he enters Vincent’s room he feels like it is holy; a sacred place he, a mere mortal, could finally now enter—when this is the realm of the gods. Arthur would laugh at him at the exaggeration, but this is entirely what he truly feels.
Tonight, though. It feels a little different.
A little cozier, homier than he had ever realized it was. The way Vincent’s paints are scattered, some open or haphazardly closed, along his tool baskets lined up against the wall. Or maybe the way the curtain is drawn to the side with a ribbon, tied rather unbeautifully but just well enough to hold it so that the sunlight streams through the glass beautifully into the room, especially in the late afternoon. The wear on his brother’s easel, the freckles of paint across its wooden frame. The ink stains on the wooden floor. That one coffee stain on the carpet where he’d spilled it once out of excitement.
Vincent’s room has always been that place where his dreams are made.
“Are you going to her world with her, Theo?”
Vincent’s voice is not accusatory, not heavy, just a question of curiosity like he had asked if they were having pancakes for breakfast the next day.
“How do you know that?”
“Because you said you wanted to talk to me, but you’ve just been sitting there silently for about twenty minutes now.”
He hadn’t noticed.
When he came in, his brother was cleaning up after the day’s painting session, taking off his apron and setting aside the paints. Now, everything was back in their original place, and there is only him, the room filled with paintings, and his brother.
And the future.
Theo feels his voice retract into his throat. He feels himself answer, but he doesn’t entirely hear it.
Vincent takes a seat next to his brother quietly, watching Theo’s expression with careful eyes. “If you’re worried about me, don’t be.”
“I’m so happy our dream of having an exhibition came true,” the painter says. He accompanies it with a smile so bright it brings tears to Theo’s eyes. His brother has been everything to him for what feels like an endless eternity. “Thanks for chasing that dream with me.”
Theo purses his lips and closes his hands into fists.
And Vincent does the opposite, stretching his still paint-stained hands and patting his brother’s head gently. “But now it’s time for you to live your own life Theo.”
Theo doesn’t know what that means. He doesn’t know what that entails. Isn’t this his life? Isn’t working non-stop for his brother and the new dawn of art his life? Isn’t this what he’s always wanted? Isn’t this all he’s ever wanted to do?
But Vincent is insistent, especially when he knows it won’t take long for Theo to understand what he’s saying. That Vincent is right. That the rational part of him will agree no matter how strongly he wishes it didn’t. “You’ve devoted too much of it to me already,” Vincent says, his tone thankful. “But that’s enough. I don’t want you to base your decisions on me or my dreams anymore. I want you to find your own happiness now.”
Theo doesn’t know how to say no to Vincent.
He never has, and he never will.
“That’s my wish for you, as your older brother.”
And all he’s ever learned how to do was fulfill Vincent’s wishes so—
Theo embraces his brother. Vincent is still saying something about the dawn and you and the future but right now the only thing Theo wants to hold in his hand so desperately is his brother. His brother who has shown him the big world out there and then given it to him. His brother who did his absolute damned best, his brother who always had his back every minute of his entire life. His brother who was always there.
“You have to take care of yourself even after I leave, broer.”
“You have to make sure to get enough rouge, and sleep.”
“I’ll make sure to get Sebastian to check on you, so you’re not cooped indoors all the time.”
“I will take walks.”
“And if you have paintings to show—I’ll leave you the address to Marquis Vollard’s, I’ll go to him tomorrow and—”
“Theo.” Theo has long lost track of where his heart is, just knows that it’s in there, somewhere, where the fullness resides, overflowing with the overwhelming faith his brother has for him. He’s not worried about Vincent—he’s worried about himself. His brother has always been there for him and what good will he be in a world without Vincent?
He thinks his brother will push him away, but he doesn’t. Vincent just holds his little brother tighter in his arms, one hand on the brown mop of hair. And he promises: “Het komt wel goed.”
And if his brother says it will be alright, what else does Theo have to fear?
His brother has always been there for him and… his brother will always be there. Even in the future when he isn’t. He will be there, hanging in museums and lingering in the hands of the artists of that time that Theo will help grow roots and then blossom.
He has the best older brother in the world.
When Theo first got that little puppy, bundled in a small box with linen, he hadn’t expected that the little bundle of sandy brown fur would mean this much to him. But now, it’s the morning of the day, and he’s sitting at the garden throwing a ball for King to fetch. The large furball that thinks he’s still a puppy runs over the grass with as much energy as he always does but—one can tell he knows something is up.
After all, Theo’s never hugged him as tight as he did this morning, and King is a smart dog.
“Deep in our thoughts, aren’t we, dear sir?”
Arthur has his glasses on as he walks out into the garden. Bags under his eyes, his entire being smelling of coffee, he looks like he’s come out of a long night of writing again—perhaps without sleep. For a few tense seconds, King hesitates between growling and stepping away. He and Arthur share a little staring contest, gauging each other. The dog ultimately drops the ball onto Theo’s lap and then curls protectively next to his owner.
If Theo is going away, King can handle a little annoyance at the flirt for time with his master.
“Mind if I borrow a little bit of that Englishman detective farce you’ve put on?” Theo asks, as Arthur settles nearby him, sitting on the lip of the garden fountain.
The Brit shakes his head. “You know I hate Holmes but that’s never bothered you. Shoot.”
“What kind of ending do you think this kind of story would have?”
Arthur knows Theo enough to know what that means. All the other sentences that that sentence is trying to say at the same time. The am I making the right choice? The what happens if it wasn’t the right choice? The is it worth it to go through this with the risks involved?
And it makes him laugh. So he does. Loudly, bursting out of his mouth so strongly it makes Theo pull a sour face to throw at him. Ah, an expression he’ll never get to see again, if the gods were kind to his old friend. What a shame.
The writer, however, knows exactly where a chapter ought to end, and where the next ought to begin. It’s all he’s ever known his whole life. So grinning back at Theo like he knows all the answers—and normally he doesn’t, but this one he does—Arthur says, “Why, but you’ll be the one writing it, old chap!”
The very bland, basic, easily expected answer draws a little snort from Theo; but it’s just exactly as he needed to hear. No Sherlock Holmes is needed on this case. He, and Arthur, and Vincent, and you—you all got this figured out. And if you don’t, well—that’s what makes a story, isn’t it?
For you, and the future, and the rest of the unknowns of his story—Theo’s got his pen ready to write it down. But for the rest of it… well, it’s a good thing he knows that Arthur’s got a little up his sleeve on finishing up loose threads.
Arthur is like that and has always been like that, but Arthur has also… always been welcome, even if Theo would forever be pressed to admit it. Theo turns around to pat King gently on the head, ruffling the tuft of brown fur. He would love to take King with him to the future, but there are already so many variables to the door and crossing time that he doesn’t want to expand the risks. Besides, he knows this golden retriever full of energy and heart will serve as good company for Vincent.
But not only his broer.
Theo tones it as a question, but it is an order. “Take this puppy out with you when you walk Vic?”
Arthur groans. “But your little beast loves torturing me as much as you do.”
“And that’s why I’m leaving him in your care, Arthur,” Theo says, skimping out on an insult on purpose, the usual grin back on his face tinged with relief and—well, sadness. “Or maybe I should say it’s the other way around?”
“All I know is that it’s nice to finally get to drink without a rude gent scaring away the ladies,” is what Arthur says, but there is no venom left in his voice, just the quiet of acceptance. He shoots a tentative grimace in Theo’s direction.
And Theo grins back at Arthur the way only close friends do. “Don’t miss me too much.”
You turn your head quickly to the direction of the sound, Theo leaning against your open doorway with his arms across his chest. You hadn’t even noticed him come in, what with all the little packing away you’ve been doing last-minute to prepare for—
The coming home.
When you first arrived at the mansion, you were so sure about the desire to go home once the 30 days come up. After all, this isn’t your world, not your time, no matter how kind the people around you could be towards you. But now, in the last few hours, before you’re set to go through the door, you’re filled with a tinge of—something, a feeling whose name you’re not entirely sure if you even know.
You turn back around after tucking a lock of hair behind your ear to get your little bag of stuff together. It’s the same little bag you brought with you to the Louvre a full month back, but now it’s bursting with irreplaceable 19th-century things you want to bring back with you. A book that Isaac gave you. A pen from Sebastian. A hairclip from Napoleon. A delicately painted handkerchief from Vincent.
Little vestiges of your stay here that you could sneak through a time-traveling door.
But it still doesn’t feel right. There’s something about going through with this, no matter how much you’ve tossed and turned about it that doesn’t sit right. It’s not about you going home, it’s about taking Theo with you. And you know—and you respect—his decision to come with you, that it was one he had made on his own, one that was tied to his dreams about the new dawn of art and the tomorrow waiting for them, but—
It still feels a little wrong.
“I told you to stop thinking about it.”
The door closes behind Theo as he enters your room. You don’t turn back to him to answer.
“I’m not thinking about it.”
“Then why has your hand been hovering over your bag for the last three minutes?”
“I’m… distracted,” you offer, but it’s not really the lie you wish it were, the kind that would shrug Theo off. Not that you want to shrug Theo off—you’re just not sure where this conversation could go. Do you want to change his mind about it? Do you want to convince yourself about this decision? “Theo, I could be thinking of something entirely different, you know.”
“But you aren’t,” Theo says, sliding next to you quietly. A tentative arm snaking at the small of your waist. The warmth of him makes your walls surrender.
You look up at him with cautious eyes. “Are you really, really, really sure?”
He frowns. “I am.”
“You’re leaving everything behind,” you reason. It’s the same argument you’d given the first time. And maybe it’ll be the same argument you’ll have a hundred conversations about this later. “Vollard, and Cedric, and the artists, and—” she sighs. “Vincent. I’m not sure I can—”
“Hondje.” Theo’s tone ends your sentence before you can even try. “You do understand that if I make you stay here, it would mean you doing the same?”
“Yes, but I don’t—” you hesitate. I don’t have a life that isn’t worth going back for, is what you want to say, but a barrage of memories stills your tongue before you can finish it. Things you hadn’t thought were too important when you last had them, held them. Things you had taken for granted.
Theo cups your face gently in his hand, smoothing his thumb over your cheek as if to soften the hard expression there. “I’m not going to regret this.”
“What if you do though?” you say, softly; no strength left for arguing anymore. You just want to hear him tell you. “I don’t know what it’s like back home. The art scene… it’s different. I’m not even sure how you’ll do your job anymore. I’m not sure you’ll like it.”
“I will enjoy it as long as you are there with me.”
“I won’t always be there with you,” you say, suddenly, before you can even have a handle on the thought. Theo freezes for a millisecond. “What then, Theo?”
There’s a significant pause. Theo, staring straight into your eyes like gauging you; and you, turning away from him even if his gaze is strong and challenging.
And then Theo says: “Then you better make our time together worth it, Hondje.”
Before you can even come up with a reply, he wraps his arms around you in a tight embrace; your face pressed against his chest, his chin on your head. You melt into his warmth and hug him back.
“If I regret it then you’ll have to pay for it,” he says softly, brushing your hair away from your shoulders casually. “I would not have dreamt of going to the future if I hadn’t met you, after all.”
You’re scared and there are so many things you don’t know about what will happen next after this, but—maybe, maybe if Theo is by your side, it wouldn’t be so bad.
You smile into his collar. “Well, then I better make sure you feel like you made a good decision, huh?”
The first night in the new century is… hard.
He wonders if it was like this for you, too, when you had first arrived at the mansion a full month before. There are too many things to keep track of; too many novel things; too many things that are so unfamiliar that one has to come to terms with now.
But it is also one of the lightest nights of his life.
He is here, with you, in a direction of his own choosing, in a world where the possibilities are limitless.
And he knows the traces of his brother are also out there, somewhere.
He just has to go on looking.
Gradually it gets easier. The spook from the advanced technologies and the bustling electric lights and the everything else becomes normal.
The devil is in the details. Where to source his rouge and blanc (there’s a provider sourced by Le Comte, but it seems like being a vampire in the 21st century full of surveillance and paperwork is a little more difficult than it used to be), the paperwork needed for Theo’s identity and existence, the flying in, the moving out, the excuse for a month’s long absence from the world.
But he is here. And he is with you.
And things are not as hard as he imagined it would be.
And sure, there are nights where he stays up in your shared bed looking out at the window into the city lights below wondering if he made the right choice. He still thinks of Le Comte’s mansion when he’s off-duty from work, looking for his brother’s works in the nooks and crannies of galleries filled with unknown artists from the late 19th and early 20th century. Searches for Vincent in art rescued after the war, scrounging for relics of him where he imagines his broer would leave little messages, the places only they know.
But the world is wide and—as the door and being a vampire has proven—time is a confusing sort of loop, and life is… good. And whenever he has a doubt if he’s made the right choice, if he’s walking the right direction toward the dream he’s long had but had never had the courage to realize, you’re there. And that’s already everything.
So he does what he can. Old habits die hard, sometimes he gets a little too enthusiastic and maybe you’re a little more boneless than appropriate when he drinks from you sometimes but—he wants you to know how thankful he is for everything you’ve given him. Picks up milk when you forget to buy it at the supermarket. Takes you out on dates even if you have more knowledge about the good spots than he does. When he learns how to use it, he even posts photos of you on social media.
Sometimes he comes back to that hallway to his brother’s room, the paintings leaning against the wall. Sometimes he still wonders if it is still alright that he had sent that long-dreamt future away, had gone off his own when he’d once promised to stay.
But you are the future now.
So it means the world when you hold him in your arms when the darkness comes in. When you make him a hot cup of coffee to shake the cold away. When you help him dream of the unknown further beyond him. When you remind him what he can do.
There is so much left to be done for art and the set-up is different but Theo is still here to do it.
Because you are here with him.
So you brush his bangs away from his forehead to press a kiss on his forehead, all tender warmth and love. “You didn’t send the future away, Theo,” you remind him, holding him steady. “You went running after it.”