AN: Apologies to SMeyer, thanks to Project Team Beta, and love to my readers.
~: Chapter 5: Beds in Strange Corners :~
St. Petersburg, BPOV
There was no doubt that I was not well. I'd been sick all morning, dry heaving and twitching. My body was barely under my control now as I stumbled across the rooftops, frantically making my escape.
Laurent had seen me. Had he seen me see him? I glanced back over my shoulder again, checking for signs of pursuit.
If he was after me, and really watching, he would know that in my present state he could take me. Bigger than me, stronger than me, and with James's death to avenge, he could take me down and earn himself a permanent place of honor with the Volturi with my head.
We'd been friends once. Funny how that works.
I paused against a chimneystack and dry heaved again. I was panting heavily from all the running and jumping, which was not a good sign.
I wasn't even supposed to be breathing. Stop that, I ordered my body. It didn't listen. I focused on holding my breath and found myself swaying. My head spun and I gave in, gasping like a drowning rat up on the rooftop, sucking in oxygen like I actually needed it.
Maybe I did, now. Fuck you, James. I should have killed him twice, just for good measure. I'd been kicking his corpse all day as I'd talked with the hospital about what to do with Arkady's body and attempted to clean up the place. It was probably rude to abuse the dead, but I was past caring. Where did he get off, shooting me full of God knows what? I should have ripped him into shreds before I burned him.
Rage made my vision swim and I hugged the chimneystack tighter. Get a hold of yourself, I thought. So you've been shot. You've been shot before. What's a few darts instead of bullets? My body responded with another bout of the heaves. Okay, I thought, maybe I need to lie down for a while and recover instead of running around on rooftops in the warm evening sun.
Just as soon as I figured out where to go to ground. Letting go of the chimneystack, I started unsteadily for the next house. Counting detours to make sure there was no Laurent behind me, I was what . . . three miles from a safe place? Four?
Unless Laurent was waiting for me up ahead. The thought brought me up short, which was a bad thing, because I'd already jumped for the next rooftop.
Oh, this just makes my day, I thought. I grabbed for the ledge and missed, stripped a power cord, thumped a balcony, and landed stonily on my feet.
Right in front of a ghost.
"Holy shit!" he yelped, stepping back.
"Ben Cheney." I replied, straightening up. Or trying to. My head spun, my vision swam, and the sidewalk zoomed up to meet me.
Ben leaned over and asked me the dumbest thing I'd heard all day.
"Are you okay?"
"Not okay," I choked out, my body starting to spasm. Understatement of my life, actually. I couldn't make my muscles stop twitching and I felt like I was on fire. It was a horrible but oddly familiar sensation. But when had I ever been burned alive before?
Ben offered me a hand up, eyes wide. "Where did you come from?"
"Ben," I rasped, grabbing his outstretched arm and hauling myself off the pavement. Was that his arm? It was so much bigger than I remembered. "We'll get to that later." I swallowed back another set of dry heaves, and knocked my pride down with it. "Ben, I need help."
He nodded and grabbed me as I stumbled, sweeping me off my feet and up into his arms. He was a lot bigger than I remembered. Much more muscular.
When did Ben get muscles? "Get Rose and tell her I'm sick." He swung me over toward the curb and hailed a passing taxi instead, dropping my legs suddenly to wave down the driver. My stomach heaved again at the equilibrium shift and things went black for a minute. I struggled to keep my eyes open, but it was getting dark.
No, it was just Ben. His shape combined with the tinted windows on the cab were blocking out the sun. Why was he here? He came from the woods. He was a little boy in the woods. Just a little boy. In the woods. In the snow. So small. So cold. In the woods.
Why were the woods on fire?
Room 418, Later
"Dad, I swear to God she's asleep. And she's definitely breathing."
"Whatever. Impossible fell out of the sky today, okay? Impossible called me by name, asked me for help, and then blacked out in the back of a taxi. Don't lecture me about impossible, okay? I'm getting enough grief from my own two eyes, okay?"
"You need to calm down."
"Calm this, okay?" He hung up.
Room 418, Later
"What do you mean, probably safe?"
"I said, you're probably safe. If she was going to eat you, she would have done it by now."
"Well, if she was going to wake up she would have done it by now, too. What's going on? And when were you planning to tell me all this shit Gramps has been spouting about our family and vampires was really true, anyway?"
"We've made contact with Rose, and Emmett's on his way. Just sit tight."
"Sit tight? Sit tight? I've skipped my workout and cancelled on the fight tomorrow and my manager thinks I'm insane. Maybe I am insane. Cause you know what? I'm supposed to be sitting tight next to the stuff of legends, who may or may not kill me when she wakes up because she's hungry."
"She's never harmed us."
"You. She's never harmed you. Do you know the stuff she says in her sleep? What does she even weigh, a hundred pounds soaking wet? If even half of this stuff is true I'll be in therapy for the rest of my life."
"She saved your grandfather, Ben. He says to treat her like an angel."
"An angel, Dad. Really? Get him on the line to verify that, because she's talking about killing people and eating them, Dad."
His grandfather's voice rasped on the line. "Some angels have teeth, Benny boy. Are you feeding her meat?"
"Am I what?"
"Meat," said his grandfather, enunciating the "t" harshly. "Get her some raw deer." He said this in the same way someone might say, "Offer her a soda, will you?"
"Raw. Deer. Right. Let me just order that from room service and we'll be peachy keen."
His father had put the phone on speaker. "Be respectful of your grandfather, Ben. He's trying to give you advice."
"Advice, right. Advice. Somehow, finding raw meat to stuff down her unconscious throat doesn't sound like advice, Dad. It sounds like the stuff they make horror movies out of."
"Would you calm down?"
"Calm this, okay?" He hung up. He got up. He paced the room, pausing to look down at Tanya tossing and turning on the bed, muttering all the while. Behind her closed lids, her eyes were going wild. Probably catching up on a lifetime of REM sleep, since vampires don't sleep.
Or breathe, which she was doing at a rapid, rasping pace. Like she was running a marathon in her sleep. Which might explain the sweating, which vampires don't do, either. Her hair was sticking to her face and beads of sweat rolled across her forehead.
His grandfather had said that was impossible, too. It was getting harder and harder to believe the man had actually been raised by vampires. Which had always been a weird story, but whatever. Some people's grandparents get kidnapped by aliens, his got raised by vampires, or something like that. That was Gramps; he was a little weird.
The weird was getting a little less weird, if half of what he said was true. Ben was wishing he'd listened a little better to his grandfather's stories after he had his stroke. Some part of all that rambling had to be true, otherwise there was no explanation for Rose and Emmett. They had worked with his dad managing the orphanages, and had worked with his grandfather, too, back in the day. He'd seen pictures of them all over his grandparents' house since he was little. He had simply accepted them as existing, distant relatives or whatever, along with the mysterious Tanya, much-revered aunt of Ben Cheney.
Ben Cheney the first, that is. Ben Cheney the Third wasn't so sure what to think about her. He knew her from pictures, of course, just like they all did. Stuff of legends she was, rescuing his poor lost orphan grandfather from freezing to death in the Canadian woods and leading him away to be brought up by Rose and Emmett. Where were they living now, anyway? He couldn't remember. Not close enough to St. Petersburg, that was for damn sure.
Tanya shifted and muttered something incoherent. Ben gave her a wary eye. Stuff of legends was both more and less impressive when it was passed out in his bed.
Room 418, Later
There was a knock at the door. He peeped through the eyehole and swore. His manager knocked again. "I know you're in there. Open up."
Ben sighed and opened the door. If Tanya was going to wake up and eat somebody, he knew just where she should start.
His manager came into the room and stopped short. "Family emergency? You cancelled on the biggest exhibition fight of the year because of a family emergency, and now you've got some Russian whore sleeping it off in here?"
Ben decided hitting him would be a bad idea, and that lying was only sort of going to work. Better stick to the truth. Edited. Really, really edited.
"This is my family emergency." He gestured at the bed as Tanya flung herself over toward the wall. He supposed that with her long dark hair, sweaty pale skin, and tight leather clothes she did look kind of like a drunk whore. Ick. How can you think of a family legend like that?
"What, is she pregnant? I can get you something for that." Jesus H., his manager was a bastard.
"She's not pregnant. She's not a whore. She's my . . .aunt."
"Your aunt, my ass."
"Well, she's my father's aunt, actually." Grandfather's, technically. Best to leave that part out. "And she's not feeling well."
"I can see that. What the hell is wrong with her?"
"We're figuring that out. My Uncle Emmett is coming over to get her, okay?"
"Since when do you have an Uncle Emmett? I thought I'd met your whole family." He frowned at Tanya's heavy, gasping breaths. "Shouldn't you take her to the hospital or something?"
"She's not that kind of sick." Leave, he thought. Please just leave.
"I thought you said you didn't know what was wrong with her."
"Look, did you come here to ask me something or to gape at my aunt?"
"Your father's aunt."
"She looks like she's eighteen. Where do you even find these girls, Ben?"
"She's not eighteen. She's in her twenties." And has been for a while, apparently, but we're not getting into that. "For the last time, she's not a whore, and thank you for your high opinion of me."
They glared at each other. Go away, Ben thought. His manager asked, "What's her name?"
"That's not important," he said. "Don't you have something else to do?"
"What is going on that you are trying to get rid of me so hard, Ben? We're supposed to be a team here. Friends. And now you're acting like a stranger."
"As one friend to another, then, I'll spell it out. Make yourself a stranger."
His manager stormed to the door and yanked it open. "We flew all the way over here for this fight! What the hell happened?"
Ben shoved him out. "I told you, man. Family emergency."
He locked the door, threw the bolt, and looked over at his "aunt" Tanya. His career in mixed martial arts was just getting started, and cancelling out now was a cheap shot to the nuts for his manager. Yet for all his muscles and menace, he was a softie on the inside. Vampire or not, this was a woman in trouble.
He clicked on the news to relax and then wished he hadn't. Hello again, auntie.
Room 418, Later
"Dad, I'm going to try to wake her up, because we may have to move, but I'm going to leave the line open so you can record my last words for posterity."
"For the 400th time, Ben, she's not going to eat you. She doesn't eat people." Yeah fucking right, he thought. Try watching the news sometime, Pops. He didn't have the heart to tell his dad about that, but he suspected that Gramps wouldn't be too surprised. The old man was just full of unsurprised today, and just about everything that came out of his mouth was disturbing. And I used to think my family was boring.
"Gramps, is she going to eat me?"
"I don't think she does that anymore. You should be fine."
Should. You had to love the should. Is this honestly my life now? "Okay, I'm putting the phone down now." He set it on the bedside table and knelt gingerly on the floor. You can do this, he said to himself. Man up.
He touched her on the shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. "Tanya? It's time to wake up."
She stirred. "Ben?"
"How did we get out of the woods? They were on fire."
What the? "Tanya, there aren't any woods here."
"I'm sorry." She whispered the words and he leaned in closer to hear her. "So sorry."
"For the nightmares, Ben. I didn't mean to give you nightmares. Now I make them plug their ears. No more nightmares."
"Right." Ben made a mental note to not ask his grandfather about that. He didn't want to know. "It's okay, Tanya. You were just talking in your sleep."
"Sleep?" She sat up sharply, eyes wild and vacant. "No. I don't sleep. People sleep. Dream. Have nightmares. Like you. All those nightmares. But your father was a bad man, Ben. I had to do it. I couldn't let him hurt you again."
"What?" His father spoke at the same time he did, and in the background he heard his grandfather mutter, "Don't ask." Tanya didn't appear to hear.
"We're good to you, aren't we? You don't have to be afraid with us." She was getting more agitated and Ben rocked back on his heels, away from her personal space. No accidental bitings happening here, thank you very much. "Rose loves you so much, and Emmett, and I do too, just like you had always been our family. Our people. You and your family will be our people, Ben. Forever. Don't be scared. We'll always protect you. Always."
There was absolute silence in the room while she stared at him, panting. "Always." Her eyes weren't entirely in focus, but she was clearly waiting for some kind of response.
Ben gulped and nodded. "Always." She nodded back and then thumped back down onto the pillows. Within seconds, she was passed again. Still a little shocked, Ben could hear his name coming through the open phone.
"Ben. Ben! Are you still there?"
He picked up the phone. "Yeah, Dad. I'm here. Just a little stunned. Gramps, you want to do some filling in? Start with the part where she did something to your father and now we're a pack of Renfields owned by vampires."
"I think she thinks I'm you." He sounded nostalgic and more than a little touched.
"I've gathered that. Now explain the rest."
His grandfather sighed. "It's a messy story and it isn't important. Keep her safe, Ben."
"Isn't she supposed to be keeping us safe? Because she said—"
"Don't get mouthy with me, young man." His voice was suddenly sharp. "She's our people the same as we're hers. It's called a family, Ben, and you'd do well to remember it. When was the last time you talked to your grandmother? She's getting old and won't be around much longer."
"Don't change the subject on me, old man. You're going to live to be a thousand. Now spill."
"I owe her my life. This family owes her its existence. You take care of her or so help me, I'll kill you myself."
"Jesus, Gramps. I'm looking after her, aren't I? Calm down."
"Calm this, okay?" spat his grandfather, and hung up on him. Old dog, new tricks.
Chuckling, Ben set the phone down and looked over at Tanya. She had one arm thrown up over her eyes and the covers were off the bed again. She'd clawed through part of her shirt, and the three red welts on her chest were puffy and oozing slightly. They emitted a muddy brown sludge that had to be bothering her because she'd clawed at the marks for a long time. Even now, nearly 24 hours after he'd brought her here, her free hand would swipe at the wounds from time to time, usually accompanied by muttering. Somebody named James was dead meat when she got home.
Wherever that was. Ben sighed. Despite a starring role in his family's history, no one really knew much about her present life. Gramps had shown him pictures of her for years as part of story-time over the holidays. "This is my Aunt Tanya, and when she shows up, you be good to her." It was like a ritual with him that he used to think was just a harmless bit of Gramps crazy. Not so crazy now, though. More like a preparatory warning: "And when you spot this little serial killer, you be real well behaved, you hear me, boy?"
Good thing his manager didn't watch the news. He'd had it on for a minute, seen a sketch of her, and struggled to make sense of the broadcast. Little kids with blood on them, stretchers, some crazy old lady, explosions . . . Aunt Tanya had been busy lately.
She rolled over and muttered again. Edward something. Something about Rose. She was speaking in all kinds of languages and he could only pick out names here and there.
And then she said the phrase that really scared him. "Hungry," she muttered, "so hungry."
Emmett had better get here soon.
I hate to leave Ben hanging like that, biting his nails (in a manly way, of course) while freaking out about exactly what you feed your vampire auntie when she wakes up . . . but you know, across town Laurent is awfully late for his appointment with Jasper. What's the hold up? I love to hear your guesses, questions, and speculations!