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This Could Be Heaven Or This Could Be Hell

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The hotel became a much more interesting place once Liz Taylor showed up. She was shy at first but quickly took to her new life and opened up like a flower, bringing her vibrant energy to everything around her.

For once, customers didn’t mind waiting at the reception desk. People went down to the bar just to see her. Although her quick wit and sharp tongue made anyone who dared greet her with rudeness turn tail and run, she was generally well-liked and found herself with her fair share of suitors.

Liz was always into ‘bad boys’. And they were usually into her, too – briefly, before they found someone else who tickled their fancy. It always played out the same way: she’d fall in love against her better judgement and one day, when her heart was full of joy and ripe for breaking, her lover would be gone without a trace.

“I can find him,” the Countess would always say, “I can smell him from a mile away. I’ll bring him back to you.”

Liz knew that the Countess also meant ‘I could kill him for you’. She’d bring back the heartbreaker’s head on a silver platter and keep the blood for herself.

But Liz always refused, perhaps because she still harbored some misguided love for the men who’d abandoned her, or perhaps because she’d just never developed a taste for murder despite all of her years at the Hotel Cortez.

Instead, she’d sit with the Countess for hours and hours as she cried and vented her emotions and finally just sat in sad silence, her maker’s arms around her. The fact that the Countess was willing to stay with her and comfort her for so long gave her some respite from the pain, at least. No matter what happened with any man, the Countess would always love her.

It never occurred to her that the Countess was lapping up her despair as eagerly as the blood of her latest victim, basking in it and taking solace in the fact that she wasn’t the only one who had to live with a broken heart.

The Countess barely even looked at the dinners that James painstakingly prepared for her every month. She ate, sure, because a nice meal was a nice meal and it was the least amount of effort she could put into keeping him at her beck and call. She didn’t particularly enjoy his company and she never had, really, even though there was one brief moment in time where being around him was preferable to mourning her dear Valentino.

He did leave his mark on her, however. He’d introduced her to the thrill of the hunt and the pleasures of bloodlust, even before she became literally bloodthirsty. For that, at least, she was thankful, even though she’d never admit she was thankful to him for anything.

But, although James tried and tried to recapture the thrills they once shared together with all manner of exquisite corpses and gruesome torture scenes, he could never quite manage to excite her again.

“I thought you’d enjoy this one, my dear,” he said, gesturing to a particularly mangled body, “He seemed to have quite exotic blood.”

The Countess rolled her eyes. All blood was the same to a simple killer, made interesting only by the way in which they used it to paint their brutal canvas on that particular day. James thought his methods of execution would make the blood taste sweeter, as if his creativity and dedication would just seep into it.

But, he didn’t have the virus. He could not truly understand blood and what made it special. She had tasted rich, flavorful blood – blood that tasted of dark chocolate or walnuts or fine wine, all different varieties, depending on the person. James only knew blood from its look and its feel and the coppery taste that dominates in those whose senses aren’t attuned to its subtleties.

She enjoyed creating new blood-drinkers and seeing them light up with all the vibrancy of immortality and good health. She loved watching them taste blood for the first time and inevitably become wild and ravenous, overwhelmed by the scent and the taste of the liquid that would now sustain them.

It grew boring after a while, though. It always did. She longed for a maker of her own to watch her with the same eagerness she watched her own creations with. James tried desperately to be that person but he never managed.

She already had a maker. Someone who was long gone. Someone who was her maker even before he gave her eternal youth.

Tristan wasn’t expecting much when he started casually flirting with Liz at the hotel’s bar. He was bitter about the whole Will Drake situation and figured he’d have a little fun and try to seduce the person he thought was least likely to be into a guy like him.

Liz was bookish and smart and witty and a little too old for a young man’s games, or so he thought. At first he thought she was just humoring him when she actually bothered to carry on a conversation.

“Why do you keep talking to me?” he said.

“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?” she said, “It’d be a little awkward to turn my back and ignore you.”

“Is that the only reason?” he said.

“No,” she said, “I like talking to you. I think you’re a good conversation partner.”

“Don’t make fun of me,” he snapped, and she edged back, one hand on her chest.

“Why do you think I’m making fun of you?” she asked.

Because I’m dumb, because I’m nice to look at but not good for anything else, he wanted to say, but all he did was turn away, casting his gaze towards the maze-like pattern of the hotel carpet.

He felt her hand on his shoulder, and all she said was, “I like talking to you.”

They made love that same night. He wasn’t intending to cheat on the Countess, even if he was upset with her, but just Liz’s touch was enough to make his heart beat a little faster and he knew he had to take this chance. Would he be in deep shit if the Countess ever found out? Sure, but this was a one night stand. Purely casual, nothing more.

He and Liz seemed perfectly in sync. He was a very experienced lover and, somewhat to his surprise, so was she. She could stroke his cock with one finger and somehow manage to drive him wild. Tristan was never really fond of other people’s dicks, but when hers rubbed up against his in just the right way he found himself unable to contain his pleasure.

He moaned – a little too loudly, given that it was supposed to be a secret affair – and came, harder than he’d ever come for anyone, even the Countess. What started out as a bit of flirtatious fun with a woman he thought would never go for him ended up feeling more real than the true love he was supposed to have with the one who gave him immortality and called him bellissimo.

He was expecting her to get up and leave and go back to the front desk (where poor Iris had been stuck working overtime while Liz was absent from her shift). Instead, she laid her head on his chest, smiling up at him.

For the first time in his life, he talked; he actually talked to someone for another hour after they’d already enjoyed what physical pleasures he had to offer.

God dammit, what a terrible time to fall in love.

“I know you’re here, dear boy,” James said, tapping his knuckles against the door of the supposedly empty room.

It had been one month exactly since Tristan’s death, and although some ghosts spent a lot of time brooding alone before they showed themselves in public again, Tristan still had a loved one here who would love to see him again, even as a ghost.

“Don’t bother disappearing,” James said, “You can’t hide from me in my own hotel.”

Reluctantly, Tristan opened the door. He’d been holing himself in empty rooms all month, clinging to the books Liz had given him shortly before his death and trying to deny that he was really dead and really trapped here forever.

“Why so glum? It’s not all bad here. Your lover is still waiting for you,” James said.

“I can’t talk to her,” Tristan said.

“Why not?” James asked, one eyebrow raised, “Surely you aren’t upset with her. Death happens here, and you had a less unpleasant end than some.”

“No, no, I’m not angry at Liz, I just…” he said, “I just don’t want her to feel like she has to stay here just because of me. I don’t want her to decide she’s done with living so she can be with me forever.”

“Without you, she could very well choose to leave the hotel for good,” James said, “You’d be here alone without her.”

“If that’s the choice she makes, then I accept that,” Tristan said, “I just want her to be happy. Will the other ghosts know I’m here?”

“No, they’re not quite as connected to this place as I am,” James said.

“And you won’t tell Liz?” Tristan said.

“I suppose it’s none of my business,” James said with a wave of his hand, “Although, there is something you can do for me, if you feel so inclined.”

“What is it?” Tristan said.

“Introduce me to this Google device,” James said.

The Countess never imagined that she would die in the Hotel. Despite everything, she still thought that she was above dying. If she really had to die, it would be somewhere else and she would find herself back in Rudy’s arms soon after, not trapped in the damned Cortez.

She was too proud to show herself to anyone (well, anyone except for James, who would know she was there whether she liked it or not). Proud and, perhaps, a little frightened that her presence would be rejected. Better to stay in limbo than know that she was an outcast.

As she watched the hotel grow under new leadership, she began to realize how much she missed Liz. She always thought that it was Liz who needed her, that it was Liz who would be lost without her guidance and protection, but it wasn’t really so one-sided.

Liz had done something she never thought was possible: she’d turned the Cortez from a miserable prison for lost souls into a close, loving family. A family that, although the Countess hated to admit it, she wished she was part of.

She spent her spare time watching the ghosts who hadn’t yet come around, like the two hipsters who spent all day and night wailing about kale. At least she wasn’t like them, she thought, that gave her a small bit of solace.

It wasn’t until Liz was dying that she swallowed her pride and decided to speak with her old friend again.

Being a ghost wasn’t at all what Liz expected it to be. She ran her fingers through Tristan’s hair, marveling at his warmth. She thought the ghostly existence would be one full of emotion but devoid of physical feeling and she’d never been more thankful to be wrong. She could still feel the pleasure of Tristan’s touch, smell the cologne and hairspray he’d always worn in life, taste the slight hint of copper on his lips.

They didn’t actually have to sleep anymore, but they still spent long hours just lying together. Time wasn’t the same to a ghost: it was more difficult to get bored and much easier to look at the person you love, think that you could be with them forever, and really mean forever.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Liz said, “For a while I was hoping you’d moved on to somewhere better than this, but…”

“This is ‘somewhere better’, Liz,” Tristan said, “You’ve made it that way.”

Liz smiled, kissing him deeply. Oh, she had missed him so much.

“We’ve all made it better. You’ve made it perfect, for me,” Liz said.

He smiled at her, she smiled at him, and for once all was right in the Hotel Cortez.