I would like to thank Len Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride, Patrick Tatopoulos, Robert Orr and everyone else who created and contributed to this wonderful movie series that I have enjoyed so very much. Henare Mato, Sean O'Niell, surely you are lords among gaffers. Underworld is the property of Sony, Screen Gems and Lakeshore Pictures.

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Bill and Sookie were created by Charlaine Harris, recently reinterpreted by HBO. (God help me) Edward and Bella were created by Stephanie Meyer. She's no Stephen King but she's not that bad either.

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No, I'm not freaking kidding.

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The blonde gasped her polite Southern-girl gasp. "He did not say that!" she insisted.

"Of course he didn't say it like that," I answered in a loud whisper. "It's only..." I wasn't sure how much was safe to tell. Edward had assured me that we could speak freely here, and the cheery blonde—Sookie, her name returned to me—was the first other vampire girl I'd met. On one level, it was very nice to have someone to talk about these things with. "I'm the only one he can't read," I explained. "I don't know what that means. I can tell it bothers him."

"I'm sure it don't bother him at all," the blonde said in that same too-cheerful tone. "I can't tell you how peaceful it was when I found out I couldn't hear Bill's thoughts," she explained pleasantly. "Finally, some peace and quiet after a lifetime of blah blah blah blah blah..."

I wondered if it would be rude to tune her out. After all, Edward had promised that all we had to do was put in an appearance at this little get-together. On the one hand, Sookie was driving me up the wall, but on the other, she'd told me all about growing up the only psychic in her tiny Louisiana town, and the chain of events that had led her to meeting her world's kind of vampires. The one who'd come here with her to the meeting, "Bill," had seemed nice enough. If I'd never met Edward or his family, I might have thought that Bill was what a vampire ought to look like, pale and lean with layered charm that showed through the muted air of menace about him. Add to that she was friendly and cheerful and seemed genuinely interested in seeing that everyone at our little meeting felt welcome ...unlike some people I could mention.

Edward told me that Alice and Jasper usually represented the family at these things. I could just picture Alice fluttering away with Sookie while Jasper and Bill sat around pointedly not trading war stories. Emmett and Rosalie had come once. Exactly once, Edward had said before changing the subject.

I still didn't want to go near the couple hovering in the corner. Neither one of them looked like they wanted to be here. Sookie smiled at them politely and the guy smiled back, but the woman...

Edward had assured me that this was perfectly safe, that everyone who attended these functions came with peaceful intentions. He also hadn't been shy about saying that vampires from our own universe could outmatch almost any other in strength and speed. But he hadn't been able to hide the tension in the sides of his neck when he'd spotted those two. Again, the guy had nodded politely, but the woman had just stood there staring. I'd stifled a shiver. This chick might not have been able to outfight my Edward, but she looked like she could. Hell, she looked like she could take Emmett on a good day, without difficulty or hesitation. She made no overtly threatening gesture, but the vibe rolling off her reminded me of Demitri as he'd sized Edward up as an enemy. She made James look like a fluffy little puppy out for a walk.

She was uncomfortable here. When she spoke—only to her companion—her voice was soft and low, gently accented, but her eyes kept hovering on the exits. She'd barely touched her serving of what Sookie had assured me was synthetic blood and what Edward had assured me was as enticing as motor oil. She'd dressed darkly, in a structured top that showed off her pale shoulders. It should have made her look vulnerable, but it didn't. Something about the way she held her hands suggested that she was used to having a gun on each hip. I wouldn't have been surprised if she had one stashed on her person somewhere, even with the tight leggings.

I shook my head. Why would a vampire ever need a gun?

I tried not to stare, just catching glimpses of them through the corner of my eye. I allowed myself to notice things. The man had bright blue-green eyes like I'd seen in the photograph of Edward from his human life. Every once in the while, he'd murmur something to the woman in a low, pleasant voice. They were talking too quietly for me to hear them well—almost certainly deliberate—but it almost sounded like he was trying to get her to enjoy herself. All of a sudden, I pictured Lauren from school decked out in her Trinity costume from last Halloween. Eric Yorkie had followed her around all day, bringing her sodas.

Shamed as I felt to think it, I couldn't figure out what a guy that nice was doing with a girl that cold, but he was definitely with her in the high school sense of the expression. He didn't fawn or hover or bring her things, but something about the way he'd placed himself, just past her elbow, seemed solicitous and protective. It didn't make sense. For one thing, she didn't seem like she needed protecting and for another, he looked for all the world like the captain of the math club who hadn't quite accepted that yes, here he was at prom with the head cheerleader.

I couldn't figure that part out. The guy wasn't bad-looking, not at all. He didn't have the woman's unearthly stillness—because although she certainly looked tough, she was also very beautiful in a steely, no-nonsense way—but he was definitely easy on the eyes. If the woman was an Edward, then the man was at least a Mike Newton. He shouldn't have been quite that amazed. Maybe he hadn't always been good-looking. Maybe he'd been awkward and clumsy in high school. I pictured short, splotchy-faced Ben Cheney showing up at our ten-year reunion, tanned and confident with Angela on his arm. Then I realized with a pang that I definitely wouldn't be there to see for myself.

I turned away, fighting my urge to eavesdrop some more. I'd been rude enough as it was. Besides, what if Edward and Sookie weren't the only ones who could read minds around here? Whoever the woman was, I didn't want her knowing that I thought her date was too good for her.

Behind me, Sookie was taking another bottle of synthetic blood out of the microwave. I covered my mouth as the scent wafted past me. Even I could tell that it wasn't real, but it made me lightheaded all the same. "Still feeling sick?" Sookie asked, concerned.

I nodded, holding up my free hand.

"Better take a minute, then," Sookie said sympathetically.

As I stumbled to the door, I wondered how much of Sookie's kindness was character and how much was just Southern manners. Edward wouldn't be able to tell me. He could read Sookie's thoughts, he'd said, but found it unpleasant. Something about feedback.

"But didn't she object to that?" I heard a velvety voice ask as I stumbled toward the porch.

"Oh yes," came the answer. "Sookie gave me quite the scolding." This voice was rasping and guttural but strangely compelling. Even sick to my stomach, I could feel it going right through me. Suddenly, I didn't have to wonder just what had made the blonde so cheerful. "But I explained the concept," Bill continued, "and she accepted that it had been necessary at the time. It was only a ruse, after all."

"Yes, we have some similar problems when non-vegetarians pass through. Still, it seems so ...barbaric," Edward answered. "Actively claiming ownership of a human's blood." I didn't have to see him to tell that he was shaking his head.

"It's less barbaric than fighting over them," answered Bill. "I understand that your particular physiology does not permit you to feed from humans without killing them, but surely your own people would have developed a similar system if it were otherwise."

"Possibly," Edward answered. I swallowed hard and I could tell that he was thinking about the Volturi. Yes, enslaving humans for food was exactly the sort of thing they'd do. "Though it is hard to imagine how my father Carlisle's life would have turned out," Edward continued. "His quest to resist the thirst seems so much a part of who he is."

"It really calls you so strongly?" asked Bill. "I know you've explained it to me before, but—"

"Like a drug," said Edward. "Exactly like a drug."

I pushed open the screen door and stepped out into the night air, breathing deeply. I hoped they hadn't noticed me eavesdropping. Bill nodded politely. Edward smiled. I gave a wave, but looked pointedly at the open bottle in Bill's hand and took a few steps upwind. Edward nodded and gave me my space.

I cast my head back and breathed. Ah! A warm night! I could finally wear some of my old clothes from Phoenix! I could finally walk outside without five layers! I could finally—

Something six-legged and noisy buzzed in my ear. I slapped hard. Dammit.

This place wasn't Forks but it sure as hell wasn't Phoenix. I shuddered and wiped my hand off on the railing. That thing had been way too big to call itself a mosquito.

"Uh, yes, best to watch out for those," I heard Bill say. "The locals like to joke that a few more blood-drinkers don't make much difference." I shook my head. "Of course, that's not the word they use," Bill finished under his breath. I went back inside.

Sookie was still fighting with the microwave, but the scent had died down. My eyes found their way back to the couple in the corner. The guy was fingering the neck of his bottle of Tru-Blood.

"Really, Selene, this stuff isn't so bad."

Her name was Selene? Okay.

"Michael, I have lived off of cow's blood, synthetic plasma and the cloned variety," the woman answered coldly. I fought the urge to hurl just imagining it. "I don't need to taste it to know that it is exactly that bad." The woman's tone was formal, but something about her air of aloof superiority cracked.

"Weren't you the one who told me that I needed to try new things?" said the guy. Michael.

She frowned, "When did I say that?"

"Okay, so maybe it was more 'anticipate your cravings or you will attack humans,' but come on," he coaxed. "Look at it this way, after this stuff, the three-day-old crap that we steal from butcher shops is going to taste like Godiva."

The woman blinked, "You mean the medieval noblewoman who rode through her town naked?"

He shook his head. "I keep forgetting that you were turned before chocolate... I'm telling you, Selene, sometimes I think you haven't lived."

Selene was scowling at Michael, but there was something tugging at the corners of her mouth. I blinked, finally figuring out what I was seeing: It wasn't just him. The evil cheerleader dug the mathlete. And she did not know how to be about it. She took the bottle by the neck and pulled it from his grip. Keeping her narrowed eyes on his, she raised it to her lips and took a swig.

I'd gotten a whiff of the stuff. Even from over here, I winced in sympathy.

"Oh..." she cringed. "Michael..." She swatted him on the shoulder. "This is disgusting."

The guy laughed. It sounded wrong, as if it came from too deep in his chest.

I turned away and pretended to rearrange the glasses on the bar as I watched the two of them in the mirror. Okay, I was eavesdropping and I was going to own that. Rude or not, there was something about the strange couple's banter that just drew me in. It was different from what passed between Edward and me. These were two people who were still feeling each other out.

This wasn't Esme and Carlisle. This wasn't Sam and Emily. There was nothing magical here. No imprinting. No rock-change. For all Selene's uncanny menace, for all the feral power behind Michael's green eyes, this was just a man and a woman who could have met anywhere, in any way.

An everyday, organic love. Michael was trying to find his way in. Selene was trying to let him.

I watched, fascinated, as he did it again.

"Come on," Michael joked, "it's better than three-week-old pig's blood. Admit it."

"Are you still on about that lot back in Munich? I told you. It was fresh."

"You got conned, Selene. Somewhere, there is a human butcher who managed to pass that festering crap off on a vampire, you no less." He shook his head. "Probably doesn't have a clue who he was dealing with." Michael took the bottle of Tru-Blood back from Selene and took a sip. "It's a shame he didn't." He smiled.

I blinked, trying to clear my eyes. Had I just seen...

The woman composed herself, placing the bottle delicately on the table in front of her, and the guy laughed again. I was sure this time. The man had fangs. Actual, honest-to-God, made-out-of-tooth fangs. They'd stood out like piranhas in a goldfish tank on his kind, ordinary face.

I swallowed hard. For a second there, they'd both looked so normal, but I realized that the woman's reluctance to smile might have been less of a personality trait and more of a learned survival skill. Bill, Carlisle had told me before Edward and I had left for the meeting, was from a world where vampires had gone public, but the rest of us were not.

I heard the screen door open but no footsteps. I smiled, not needing to turn around. "Time's almost up," said Edward, slipping his arm around my waist. "I do take my promises seriously."

I could feel eyes on me, cold brown eyes and curious green ones. For a moment, I felt as if standing here like this, bodies barely touching was too intimate, too personal to be done in public. Then I told that feeling to stuff it. My world, my rules. To each their own.

"Let's go home," I said.

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This story is, as of February 2009, still accepting criticism (well I'm always accepting criticism, but if the 'fic's five years old, then I'm probably not going to go back and change it). In particular, being familiar with all three fandoms myself, I probably missed a few places where the point doesn't quite come across to people who aren't. (Frankly, I'm not sure I quite managed it, regardless.) I did wonder where precisely to post it and settled on the UW category because Bella may be the POV, but Selene and Michael are the point.

drf24 columbia . edu