"All that we seem or seem, Is but a dream within a dream." – E. A. Poe
Within a Dream
A shrill scream broke through the silent night. People ran, looking desperately for places to hide. It was a terrifying sight. Blood, torn flesh. Suddenly two women and a man dead on the ground, their faces ripped past recognition. Then he saw her, dashing through the blood-red night.
"Papa!" Selene ran from the house as it began to go up in flames from the back. Her voice shook with telltale fright, ringing out over the chaos around them. "Papa, what's happening?"
A tall man ran up to her, a sword stained with blood held tight in his hand. His eyes were wild with bloodlust brought on by panic and the need to protect those he loved. "They've come," he whispered gruffly. "You must run, daughter. Take your nieces and go!"
"No!" She grabbed at his arm, caked with grime. "No, not without you!"
The man pushed her roughly in the direction of the trees just beyond the small house. "Go! There's no time!"
Selene sobbed with fright. The tears sparkled in the moonlight as they tumbled down her trembling cheeks, catching red and orange in their glow. "What about you, Papa? I can't leave!"
Her father paused and calculated the odds of either of them getting away alive. He looked at her, drinking in her presence for what would be the last time. "I love you, my dear, but you must save yourself."
Another scream made them both start out of their reverie. Selene's hand covered her mouth in the sudden realization that her mother had just been killed. Her stomach lurched violently. "Where do I go?"
"I do not know," he said honestly as he glanced over his shoulder, sensing the closing danger. "Get to the woods. Run as far and fast as you can. Do not look back!" He touched her wet cheek. "Your sister is already gone. Take her daughters. Quickly, now! May the love of God be with you!" He grabbed her shoulder and turned her in the proper direction.
Selene darted toward the house and ran through the room as it rapidly filled with smoke. She could smell it before she reached them. Blood. No small bodies were left, but the dirt-ridden floor was covered with lifeblood, smears of it up the walls and out the broken window. Selene gagged and held back a scream. Quickly losing her mind, she spun back around and fled the house.
Her father was no longer in the front. She looked about, disoriented as she stared through the dark night. Sounds came from the stables. The horses were squealing in pain and fright, a sound she never wanted to hear again. Twigs snapped beneath her bare feet as she took off in a mad dash for the forest. A small rock cut into the sole of her left foot, leaving bloody smears on the earth. Something tripped her. She fell to the ground, only just catching herself and continuing her retreat. Her thin nightgown was already torn to shreds. Sobs escaped her lips once more, and he heard them easily over the din of the nearby massacre.
The cover of trees seemed to offer no comfort. Her legs gained many scratches and cuts, some too deep for the blood to stop flowing. Sounds from behind spurred her on like a spooked horse. After it seemed she could run no longer, she leapt into a tree, using her diminishing strength to pull herself up and climb higher.
The world spun around him, bringing him back to the house. Or no, it was the barn. Dead horses still in the stalls, mother and daughter dead on the ground. Then there she was, kneeling beside the butchered bodies. The tears seemed never-ending. A long shadow, set off by fire, fell over her. Viktor. He spoke to her, led her away with his lies.
More spinning. A well-furnished room, dark save the small light granted by a candle. They sat together on an upholstered bench, Viktor stroking her long hair before pushing it behind her shoulder and tilting her head to the side, revealing her long, pale neck –
No more! I don't want to see any more!
Michael jerked awake. His cheeks were wet from the few tears that had escaped his eyes in sleep. These dreams, these visions…they were all hers. All of them. Just as he had seen into Lucian's heart wrenching past, and those were only now beginning to fade. Selene hadn't warned him of it; she must have just assumed he'd already been having her memories pop up in his mind. Michael shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair.
They had left the last battleground only two days ago. Selene seemed to know where they were going, which was a very good thing, as Michael had no idea where they had been in the first place. They had walked for a good while before a small village came into view. Selene just kept striding toward it, but Michael held back.
"Won't we look…outta place?" he asked worriedly.
Selene glanced back at him. "We'll just have to be careful," she said, punctuating the last word with a little shake of her head. "Come on. We need to find a place to rest before we can continue."
They had walked slowly through the main street of the village, trying very hard not to draw an unusual amount of attention. But with the blood covering them both along with Selene's leather attire and Michael's lack thereof in the freezing daylight weather, they gained more than the usual attention from the townsfolk. Finally a sign that read "Snow White Inn" flapped in the breeze ahead of them. Selene pushed her way inside the building.
"Good afternoon," a short woman said, rushing out of the back where she had probably been gossiping with her fellow innkeepers. "What can I do for you?"
Her accent was almost too thick for Michael to understand, but Selene strode right up to the desk and talked to her in a hushed voice. Ten minutes later she walked toward him with a room key. "Come on."
That had been a good twenty-three hours ago, and he had been asleep since then. Apparently Selene had not; her bed, right beside his own, was empty. He looked around the room. She was gone. The air was chilly as he pushed away the warm covers and stood. Her scent was only just starting to fade to a dull "thereness;" she hadn't been gone long. Probably out for a walk or something.
Michael grabbed hold of the doorframe as another memory took hold. A rain shower. The rain was pouring from the sky as though it would never stop. She was twirling in it, her dress getting soaked through, her long hair whipping about her face in wet strings to stick to her cheeks. She was laughing, smiling widely at a girl who could only be her sister. There was a loud rumble of thunder and they both screamed joyfully and ran from the grassy field, shooting looks up to the clouded sky.
It was gone. Michael took a few deep breaths and opened the door. The hallway, long and dark, was empty, but he could hear running water coming from the communal showers at the end of the corridor. The sound, or most likely the scent, of that water was probably what had triggered that last recollection even before he knew it was there. Makes sense, he thought, dimly aware of how detached he was becoming from the whole situation. At the moment, the only thing he cared about was Selene, and getting her memories to leave his head. But mostly just Selene.
The floorboards creaked loudly as he walked slowly toward the showers. Just went to show how old and out of date the building was. The little village probably never got visitors. That was all the better for the two of them, however long they had to stay. Michael reached out a hand to open the door but it swung open from the inside before he touched it. Selene stood before him, hair dripping wet, a rough cotton robe tied about her body.
"Michael?" Her dark eyebrows furrowed. "What are you doing?"
He just looked at her, suddenly wondering the same thing. "I…I was looking for you."
"Mmm," she murmured, nodding her head once. Water dropped into her face from the movement and she swiped it away with her fingers. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay, I guess. As could be expected." There was a moment's pause before he shrugged. "How do people usually get used to something like this?"
Selene pursed her lips, as close to a smile as she could manage. "I'm sorry; I know it's hard."
She walked around him toward the room. Michael sighed, wishing he could grab her arm, talk to her about everything on his mind. Kiss her. But he knew he couldn't – shouldn't – do that. He didn't know how she'd react to it so soon. She needed time to…adjust. The doctor in him knew that. So he followed her and closed the door once they were both inside.
The room was very dimly lit. It reminded him of the trailer where they had… But that had been days ago now. She had probably been acting on the spur of the moment. The thought twisted Michael's gut. He snapped back from his musings when Selene sat on her bed, the springs squeaking loudly in protest. She was looking at him quizzically.
"What are you thinking about?" Her voice was quiet, the question hanging in the air like snow.
Michael returned her gaze and said the first thing that came to mind. "You." He figured it was the wrong thing to say when she turned her head, focusing on the sheets under her thighs. Quickly seeing his mistake, he rushed forward to try hiding it. "I-I mean, this room, and…and everything that's happened, and how...how I -"
"You were dead, Michael," she whispered flatly. Suddenly he could see her walls cracking. She was about to break. Emotional stress. Way too much of it. His doctor side readied itself for action if something should happen.
"Well," he muttered, trying to think of something to say. "I'm obviously not dead now."
"I watched it happen, saw you lying there with that spike through your chest," she went on, ignoring him. "And now you're back. I was ready to die in that fight. Ready to leave everything behind." Strings of wet hair fell into her face as she shook her head, still not meeting his eyes. "I've lost everything. All I've ever known. It's gone. And then I thought you had… You, the last connection to anything I really have…" Her voice broke but there were no tears. He hadn't expected any. "But then you came back. How did that happen?"
She looked up at him then and suddenly he saw that she truly had no answers to give him. Michael was at a loss. It felt like someone had shoved him down a deep hole and he was still falling, nowhere near the bottom. He could only tell her the truth. "I don't know."
There was silence. Selene had reached the end of her rope. He knew that, and he wouldn't pull her over the edge to fall with him. A change of subject was in order. "Um… Do memories come with every bite?" he asked sheepishly.
"Bite or enough blood." She glanced back up at him, her eyes glinting in the sparse light. "Why? What have you seen?"
Suddenly he didn't want to tell her, didn't want her to realize how very much he knew. The worst night of her life. So he shook his head, not giving her an answer.
She shrugged and pushed back the covers so she could slide into bed, still encased in the robe. "You should get some more sleep. We're going to need to leave soon."
"Where are we going?" Michael asked, unable to stop himself.
"I don't know." She turned her back to him, facing the wall.
"Do you think someone will come after us?" He paused. "I mean, is there even someone that would do that now?"
"You're asking if the war is over?"
"Well, yeah…I guess."
"I don't know that either." She sighed. "Go to sleep."
Michael stood where he was, aching to climb into the bed behind her, to wrap his arm over her waist, to take off that robe and… But now was not a good time. He knew that. And yet… He sat on the edge of her bed, his back toward hers, but he could still feel her body go rigid at the near contact. Without warning, he stretched out beside her and pressed his chest into her back, holding her gently to him with an arm thrown over her waist, just like he had wanted to do.
"What are you doing?" Selene queried softly, not turning to see his face. She was so tense at his touch that Michael briefly considered jumping out of that bed and running away. What was he doing?
"Going to sleep." He kept the insecurity out of his voice, knowing very well she'd take advantage of it if it was there. After a moment in which he was sure he would be shot, she relaxed. He was honestly shocked as Selene sighed and pressed closer to his body, as close as she could get. Her hand secured itself over his where it rested on her stomach.
"I don't know how you're alive now, Michael," she whispered, gaining back some of that high-strung confidence she always seemed to possess. "But I'm glad."
"Selene," Michael breathed into her neck as he buried his face in her hair. "You're…" He trailed off, too intoxicated by her to think straight. "I think I'm falling in love with you…" His lips pressed to the cool skin of her neck. The water still in her hair dripped onto his face, sending chills up his spine.
She didn't respond to his words for a long while, but finally she twisted in his arms so her chest was pressed against his. Her hands felt like chilled marble as she placed them on his cheeks. Her lips had a slight smile to them, more a tilt at the corners than anything. But he took that as a good sign.
"Can, uh…can vampires even fall in love?" Michael raised his eyebrows, making him look like an innocent child as he plodded on, unable to leave the charged stillness as it was. "All the myths say it's impossible. That your emotions die with your mortal soul." He gave a little chuckle. "My mom was pretty religious, but I don't know what to believe."
Selene gazed at him for another second before finally opening her mouth. "It's not true that vampires can't love," she said quietly. "Or feel happiness." She closed her eyes tightly, as though blocking an onslaught of vicious memories. It's just me that can't, the expression seemed to say.
Her eyes opened again, that mix of brown and green shining with all the pent up emotion she hadn't been able to convey. "But Michael," she continued, trying so very hard to express herself for the first time in hundreds of years. "When I saw you in that cave, alive, all I could think was…" She turned her head into the scratchy pillow, composing herself. "For the first time in as long as I can remember, I actually felt hope."
He watched, dumbfounded, as her eyes filled with tears, a few sliding across her cheek or over her nose. Unable to sit back and do nothing, Michael wrapped both arms around her, hugging her tightly to his body. It was an uncomfortable position, but he didn't care as Selene ducked her head under his chin and curled a fist in his hair, the other hand clutching his shoulder. Finally letting go of her tight reign, she let the tears fall, weeping unabashedly into his shirt. Seconds stretched into minutes. She didn't even try to stop or rebuild her walls.
"You're all I have left," Selene eventually managed to get out through hitching breaths. "My mother, my father, my sister…my family… I believed him. I believed him." She shook with uncontrolled anguish. "My entire life was all a lie!"
Her words came in little coherency, but he let her talk; let her release everything she had. "I thought he loved me, but he lied. I can't believe I trusted him. I should have known. He was there. He killed them all…he killed so many innocent people…" She had to stop; he could feel her almost panting with grief and yet still the tears fell, leading to a tense quiet broken by her soft sobs.
"Michael," she whispered, moving the hand from his shoulder to cover her face. "I thought you were dead." He let his hand relax the littlest bit against her skin, fingers splaying open to reveal two impossibly bright slivers of blue. You left me, they seemed to say. I needed you. I still do. Please don't do that again.
"I've lost so much," she said, and suddenly he couldn't be sure whether he'd heard the rest in his mind, or spoken aloud in her voice. She was starting to calm just a bit. "I can't lose you, too. Not now. Not now that I've finally…" Her shoulders tensed as she took a deep breath. "Now that I've finally found someone I can love." The tears started anew, though a much less violent onslaught than before.
Michael was shocked. His mind knew the only reason she had broken like this was the accumulation of all that she had been through, all the blows she had taken right where it hurt the most, one after another with no time to process what she was learning. But his heart focused mostly on what she had said near the end. That she needed him. That she could love him.
He stroked her hair, rubbed her back. She was calming down. Slowly, but it was still something. He had seen cases similar to this in the ER where trauma victims had had complete mental and nervous breakdowns in under an hour. How Selene had even lasted this long was amazing to him.
"None of this is your fault," he whispered into her ear. "None of it. Viktor was manipulative. He had everyone fooled, not just you." He paused, wondering momentarily if what he was about to say would help or hurt. "I saw that night, Selene. From your memory. I saw what happened. He was a good liar, and you clung to him because you were scared and needed someone to bring you through the chaos. It is not your fault."
"You saw that?" The hand she had in his hair clenched convulsively. It would have hurt if he had been paying it any more attention. "I don't want to remember it anymore…"
"I know." He kissed her hair. "I know."
She planted her hand firmly against his chest and pushed herself back a few inches so she could see his face. It was comforting to him to see that her tears had stopped, that her eyes were not red and puffy. A chill shivered through him as she ran her fingers gently down his cheek, tracing his jawbone and lips before pressing her mouth to his for a slow kiss. "Thank you," she sighed as she pulled away.
Michael gave her a lopsided smile. "For what?"
"For being who you are." Her fingers, still on his cheek, moved slightly. "For being the only person who can help me. Understand me."
"Oh, please," he chided, attempting to lighten the mood. "I should be thanking you. How many times have you saved my life now?"
"I should be asking you the same question," she rebuked, amusement in her voice for the first time.
Silence fell, infringed upon only by Selene's muted sniffs as they managed to get the better of her. Finally Michael asked, "What are we going to do now?"
She looked at him again, her eyes open and honest, unafraid. "I don't know. We can't go back." She blinked and shook her head, straightening her thoughts. "But we can't very well stay here for long."
"You know," he said suddenly, "I only had one other of your memories. You were happy. Running around in the rain with your sister. I've never heard you laugh like that."
Her face hardened for half a second before she pushed it away. "It seems I forgot how to laugh a long time ago."
"Well, then," Michael stated easily, refusing to give in to her reclusive habits, "I'll just have to remind you." His hand reached up to grasp hers, hot meeting cold. He couldn't help staring at her; she looked so very young, but she was so much older than he was. From a different time completely, one he had learned about in history books. It was hard to wrap his mind around. Right then, though, he didn't care.
"Michael…" It was a warning, but of what he didn't know.
Worry chose that moment to flood his senses. He suddenly couldn't see beyond the warrior in her, couldn't see the woman she had hidden for who knew how long. It was frightening, seeing her as everyone else saw her. A killing machine with no thought to who died in her path. He was afraid that he would never break through to her, never reach her the way he so desperately needed to. What if she really didn't know how to love? What would he do then? The notion terrified him.
"What?" She saw his change in mood as it happened. "Michael?" He continued gawping, the fear evident in the way his muscles tensed. "Stop looking at me like that." The command was feeble; she was starting to feel his apprehension. She struggled out of his grip and stood from the bed.
Michael was powerless to follow her. The hurt in her eyes was smoldering, and it was then he realized what he was really getting himself into. He was falling in love with her, just as he had said. He had bedded a killer, a murderer. But she had been acting from lies fed to her over centuries of blindness. It really wasn't her fault. She had thought she was doing the right thing, and that was all that mattered. Now, though, she knew that she was a murderer; knew that everyone she had killed had not deserved it. And he could see just how terribly it was affecting her. He couldn't begin to imagine everything she was feeling right then. Pain, betrayal, guilt, confusion. So much it couldn't be categorized. And then his sudden rejection…
When he peeked up, all he saw was her back as she gazed out the window. She was gripping at the collar of the robe so hard her knuckles were white. His own guilt nipped at his mind. He shouldn't be doing this to her. "Selene -"
She cut him off before he could find something to say. "Don't. I know you're afraid of me. And I don't blame you." She shuddered. "Tomorrow I'll show you how to get back to the city. We can part ways then."
Michael felt his stomach flip in fear and he jumped out of the bed. It was scary how quickly she could change. Or not change…lock herself up, lock away her emotions. No one, especially not Selene, should have to live like that. "I'm not leaving you. No way."
Her face was dry when she turned to him, devoid of anything. Like a statue. "We're living in a dream. Soon you'll wake up and you'll realize what I've done to you, what I've dragged you into. You'll hate me. And call me selfish, but I don't want to be around when that happens." She gave him a tight-lipped smile, almost sarcastic. "Thank you for everything, Michael, but this is not meant to least."
He was nauseous. This was the dream, wasn't it? She wasn't really telling him all this, was she? "I can't leave you," he said again, at a loss. "Please. Give me the chance to show you that I -" That he what? "That I'm trying. That I'm learning." He placed his hands on her shoulders, wanting her to really feel what he was saying. "That I love you." No response. "C'mon, Selene. Look at me. Listen to me. Please."
The mask fell away, revealing to him exactly what he was wishing to see. She was frightened, not angry. She was protecting him, and it broke his heart. Gently, moving so he wouldn't startle her and ruin everything, he placed his hands on the side of her face. Her skin was so soft, perfectly unblemished. Before she could pull away he pressed his lips to hers. It took a second for her to respond, but when she did her hands reached up to cover his. She didn't push them away, didn't struggle. Just let him kiss her. Let it all sink in.
"I love you, Selene," he murmured against her lips. "And I'm not leaving you."
She did push him back then, just slightly. "You do fall in love quickly," she joked, jabbing him in the ribs. After a moment, she gave him a crooked smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "I'm sorry I said those things to you. In fact, I'd rather appreciate it if you held to your promise of not leaving."
Michael stroked her cheeks, his insides fluttering a bit at the implication. "I couldn't leave even if I wanted to. You fascinate me."
"Fascinate you?" One of her perfect eyebrows arched, humored. "You are a strange person."
"Is that a good thing?" he mused, happy to play along. As long as she played nice. He had lost so much the past few days, true, but he had gained one very important thing. Selene. And they were in it for the long run. It didn't matter where they went or what they did now as long as he had her there to teach him, to look out for him, to love him. And he would go to any lengths to teach her that she could indeed learn to love once again. This was no dream. Not by a long shot.
She looked him up and down, then shook her head and stepped back. "I haven't decided yet."