A/N: A huge, gigantic thank you to THEChickNorris and GemmaLisaX for agreeing to pre-read this crazy thing. Also, much love to SweeneyAnne for being there every step of the way, and betaing to boot.
This fic is complete, and chapters will post as they get beta'd. There's going to be about 7, maybe 8.
Now, this is listed as Angst/Horror for a reason, so if you're looking for something bright and happy, then you're in the wrong place. Seriously.
Don't own Twilight.
"You breathed, and then you stopped
I breathe, then drag you off
And tonight I feel...I feel like more"
-Digital Bath, Deftones
It felt like waking from a nightmare, that kind of horrible dream where your heart pounds and terror runs through your veins as your limbs ache and lungs scream with the desire for just one full gasp of air. There had been wind and burning, pain and confusion, this undeniable fire flowing through my veins and spewing out my mouth...it had been such an odd dream.
The first thing I consciously thought was that this world was not my own. The second was that I had no idea what was different, because as I tried to think back so I could identify the differences there was so little there; a fog had settled over everything that I ever had been, obstructed all that I knew and had seen of life and the world, until only a blurry silhouette remained.
I could imagine the face of an older man with thinning hair, perhaps the vision of a house...but who and where were just barely this side of lost to me, only the feeling of familiarity remained. It was so strange to know the man was my Father, to almost remember him; the way he smiled and laughed, the stern voice he used to teach me right from wrong. It was nearly there, but not quite, as if I were separated from him by a deceptively thick and not quite translucent screen. I could almost feel it coming back to me and slipping through my fingers all at once.
It felt like being born out of a void and into fire that licked at my skin and jumped down my throat.
Something was wrong, everything was wrong...this wasn't right in any sense of the word. The air had taste, the smells came in staggering pulses; my heart should have been pounding with this fearful anticipation that coursed through me—but there was nothing. Heat flowed in waves, I could feel the orange of it bounding off my skin—but it was all shrouded in black and empty, and darkness crept in from the corners beneath the lids of my eyes.
I could remember walking, could remember a man with dark curls at the ends of his hair, passionate eyes and a somewhat sadistic smile...
"I think so," said a deep, rumbling voice; quiet, and yet so very loud.
It felt like I'd been screaming for years and had lost my voice before it had even begun.
When my eyelids slid open I thought that I must still be trapped in my nightmare. The grey of the concrete ceiling above my head was splintered and worn, and I was compelled to visually track each of the cracks that fractured the subtle bumps and crags of the surface.
I imagined that this burning in my throat was what it felt like to swallow a flame, and somewhere in my mind I knew that something awful had happened, that I had indeed woken from that horrendous dream filled with agony and raging fires burning me alive, and it was only a matter of time until I'd wish I were still sleeping.
"Mornin' sweetheart," that same deep voice drawled.
The sound startled me upright, my eyes shot to the source to see a tall man with nearly black hair leaning against the opposite wall with his arms crossed over his chest...and I didn't know him, but I remembered him. He'd done something horrible to me.
"You." The word came out as a growl, and my hand flew to my throat; I wasn't capable of such a sound.
"Sir," the man corrected, raising his right eyebrow in a perfect arch. His skin had a strange pattern etched into it, every few inches semi-circles shone just a little lighter on his flesh, and had I not known better I would have sworn they were teeth marks. The patterns stirred a memory within me, and in that moment I could just barely see his face in a memory of an alley in Laredo; I could almost feel his hands on my shoulders and teeth against my throat, and I bolted backward from him; my back against the wall.
The man laughed darkly, "The danger I present to you has mostly passed."
One word pounded in my head over and over, it ran through my veins and flowed into my limbs, and I twitched ever so slightly in time with the repetitive thundering of escape, escape, escape.
This room was too small, far too small. The empty walls closed in on me from all sides as the man drew closer. He took step after step, and my mind tracked how many paces were left before he was upon me.
Escape... Run... Fight...
He was two feet away when a jolt of electricity surged through my veins, and I had no idea what this body of mine was doing; I watched from outside myself as I lunged and flexed my jaw. I couldn't run, I had to attack. This dark and disturbing force pulling at my strings wanted my teeth in him, wanted to bite and maim, and rip him into shreds—he'd done the same to me.
He caught me by my hair and spun me around, pressing my back into his chest with his arm wound tight around my neck in a choke hold. Somewhere in the struggle the flesh of his forearm parted beneath my teeth, and the sick sense of satisfaction that flowed through me gave me enough pause that the man was able to fling me back across the room.
It felt good to know I could hurt him.
I should have been appalled with my behavior, but there was too much space in my head, too little in this room, and it all swam in and out of focus too quick to grab hold of anything; all else was lost in the shuffle.
It felt like sinking into a deep dark abyss in the middle of a vast and cold ocean.
The wooden door to his left flew open with a sharp crack against the flaking and aged concrete, and another man entered the room; this one a little taller, and blond. His stance was that of a predator, and as his eyes swept over the room, passing mine for only a second. I shivered in place with chills that wouldn't quite come as my head whirred off into other contingencies now that there were two of them. The dark haired man rubbed at the spot where I'd bitten him, and the shape and texture were the same as the rest. The same semi-circles littered the blonde's exposed arms and neck, though he wore more than the dark-haired man, and I now understood what I'd failed to comprehend upon first glance. These men were dangerous, and those bite-marks littering their flesh were medallions displaying the threat they presented.
Getting away wasn't going to be easy, especially since I thought my chest might explode from fear if I found myself within arm's reach of the newcomer. Terror was not enough to begin to describe the feeling that welled up inside of me at the sight of this blond devil; I would rather come face to face with a panther. As his eyes passed over the room once more they met mine for the briefest of moments. The right corner of his lip curled up ever so slightly, and a million horrific words passed through my head all at once; not one of them was apt, he was a level above all of them.
The blond tilted and turned his head, and shared a meaningful look with the other man for a moment.
"I've got it under control," the dark-haired man said gratingly, his lips pressed together and eyes narrowed as he shook his arm at his side. When his companion made no indication of leaving, he spoke again. "Take care of your own shit, I've got this."
The words were harder, lower, and for a moment I wondered which of them was actually in charge, though from the way the blond stood just a little straighter and said all he needed with just a look, I knew it was him. Something had passed between the pair, something I couldn't quite catch in the atmosphere, but my main concern was the blond man's presence, and once he left in a wake of annoyance, all other questions quickly departed with him in favor of focusing on just what was wrong with me and where I was.
"First few meals are delivery," the too familiar man said with a smirk.
"I'm not hungry." My throat burned with my words, but I would refuse anything he offered me. This man had done something terrible to me, had sent me spiraling into the abyss of a torturous nightmare that I wasn't entirely sure I had even escaped.
"You will be," he replied ominously, and I flinched away from his approaching form.
He towered over me, and my eyes slid to my forearms, shocked at the lack of goose bumps; I felt chilled.
"You can come along willingly or I can drag you; it's your choice," the man told me, and there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that he meant exactly that.
"Fine," I spat, unwilling to let him have every inch of power. He may get what he wanted, and he may be able to pull me around like a rag-doll—but I wouldn't go down without some semblance of a fight, and the moment I knew how to best him I would.
He didn't look angry, merely amused at my fire, and as he turned toward the door he motioned for me to follow. He was either very confident or very stupid turning his back to me, and I didn't know where all this violence was coming from; it welled up inside me without warning. I absolutely hated him. My intuition screamed at me to attack, and before I had processed the possibility I'd already lunged.
The man spun quick as a cat, and half a second later I was pinned to the wall to the right of the door, all the breath expelled from my lungs while his fingers dug into my arms and his face neared mine.
"Foolish," he growled, no longer looking entertained. He held me for another moment, his fingers tightened slightly before he took a step back and my mind spun at this speed, at these reflexes that had to be impossible. The thought flitted through my head, and the desperation I dismissed the notion with caused my legs to tremble—but it was there, taunting me; these were not the abilities of humans.
My mind would not quiet, there was a barrage of smells and tickles over my skin that were threatening to drive me mad already; with this new possibility the dam was threatening to break. I hardly noticed when he grabbed hold of my forearm and pulled me behind him out of the structure, and away from what I recognized as a blazing campfire and various other buildings scattered about, people seeming to loiter in every corner.
It happened in a small, wooden shed with a dirt floor.
I barely saw the man, though I could recall every single detail about him after I was done. He'd been of medium height and build with thin and wispy brown hair. His eyes had been green, and I didn't think I'd ever be able to forget the astonished horror that shone in them as I instinctively pounced on his restrained form. His skin parted under my teeth, easier than the other man's had, and all I could think was that this red tasted oh, so sweet. My fingers sank into his flesh as I tore and rent him apart, this unremarkable man who's only relevance to me was that he would forever represent just how reprehensible I'd become.
"Feel better?" the dark-haired man asked as the last remnants of blood slid down my throat, and I was running away from this terrible thing before I'd even had the thought that it couldn't have happened; I only made it four steps out the door.
"Oh, no you don't," came a growl from behind me, and before I knew what was happening I was face down in the dirt with a strong hand gripping the back of my neck. He pulled me to my feet roughly, and my stomach lurched when he spun me about to face him. "Lesson number one is that you can't get away from me."
"This isn't real!" The words came out in screams that thundered past my lips, and echoed through the dawn, punctuated with the rhythm of my fists pounding against his chest. "It's a nightmare! I'm stuck in this nightmare! Why won't you just let me wake up?"
"This is very real."
"It can't be..." I could feel phantom tears welling in my eyes, but they wouldn't fall, and the inability to perform the action sent frustration roiling through me. I hit him once more with a closed fist, but it was half-hearted in the rising tide of all this anger, hurt, and disbelief.
I'd never wanted to cause violence, had always considered myself a peaceable person, but at that moment I wanted to find the largest thing in the vicinity and tear it down with my bare hands. I wanted to feel dirt and grit gather under my fingernails, experience the strain of my muscles as I destroyed something larger than myself. Something was so very wrong with me...
The man stared at me for a moment, he seemed to be considering something of great importance, and I felt myself flutter to the edge of my pride; I would give anything, absolutely anything for him to tell me this was simply some sort of sick dream that I would wake from in the morning.
"This is...you need to accept that this is the reality of your existence now." His words were firm, brutal, and they tore every last remaining hope within me to shreds and scattered them over the dirt under my feet. "I know it's hard to adjust, but you're going to have to if you want to survive."
My knees shook beneath me, and after another thick swallowing back of this sudden rage I collapsed to the ground, quivering with the strain of repressing the violent longing streaming through my limbs. I wanted to go home; to bathe in familiarity and comfort instead of feeling the waves of insanity and uncertainty lapping at the skin of my ankles as the tide came rushing in to take me away. It was crazy, but I found myself disappointed for staining my dress with blood and dirt.
"I want to go home. My Father, he needs me...please. Please just let me go home." I sobbed the words out, and wrenched my eyes shut as tight as I could; I knew it was true. My Father was sitting in our house, his brow crinkled with worry as all the terrible possibilities raced through his head, and I needed to go to him; without me he was all alone.
"That's not an option," the man in front of me replied, somewhat less stonily, though I wouldn't realize the softening of his tone until later.
"I promise I won't tell! I promise! I won't say a word, just let me go!" This was all too much, and I felt beaten and broken as I sank so low as to beg a man I despised for something I already knew to be impossible. "Please."
He gave me no response, which was answer enough. He just stared down at me for the ten minutes it took for me to regain my composure, and once I'd managed to quiet my sobs and take a few deep breaths he took a step to his right, in the direction we'd come from.
"Where am I?" I asked instead of accepting his instruction. I remembered him, it was becoming clearer and clearer the more time wore on; he was the one walking down the street after me, he'd been the one to cover my mouth and lift my legs from the ground and carry me off into the night. He deserved no respect after that despicable act.
"Mexico?" I gaped. How long had I been trapped in that nightmare for?
"Have you figured out what you are yet?" he asked casually, and my attempt to climb to my feet failed as the all too recent and vivid memory of squirting blood and mutilated flesh flashed through my mind again. It had been so hauntingly delicious.
"Vampire." The word was a whisper that screamed in its plea for denial—but the man nodded and my stomach clenched. He was right, this wasn't a nightmare; this was hell.
"You're quicker than most," he complimented half-heartedly.
"Why..." I began to ask, unable to determine just what horrible thing I'd done in my life to deserve something like this. I'd tried to live well, had always been mindful of others and attempted to do what was right. I'd always had faith in justice and good-deeds, and if this was where that had led me then God could be nothing less than colossally unfair and cruel.
"Because you were there," he shrugged after a brief pause, completely unaware of the way his words bruised the faith I'd always carried with me.
I didn't speak again as he led me back toward the campfire.
The compound looked the same as the brief flash residing in my memory, and the undeniable fact that I had taken in all these little details about this place in mere seconds of distraction was further proof of what I did not want to accept. The fire was still in the exact middle of three one-story concrete buildings, the earth was still worn and tamped, shuffled about as if the grains of sand could never find their proper place to rest. The larger building to the north matched the picture in my head exactly; taller than all the rest, the exterior cleaner, better cared for; it gave off the impression of importance.
The various other people that milled about this central area looked familiar, only their places had changed, and I counted fourteen men and six women. It was obvious which of them held more importance than others, the underlings were all dressed in near rags—pants torn off at the knees and too large shirts tucked or tied to suit the wearer's need. Even the women wore trousers, and as I looked down at my ruined dress I knew that it wouldn't be long before I joined them; this man had no intentions of letting me go.
I wasn't even so sure I wanted to leave now, what I had done...I shouldn't be around normal people.
There were no barracks that I could see, and I was surprised to find I didn't really care; there was no ache in my muscles or cloud in my head that demanded sleep. Boundless energy ran through me, as if I were perpetually stuck in those two hours at the beginning of the day when the sun has first risen. Night was falling quickly, and none of the other twenty people in what I assumed was the common area seemed to take notice of it, and I came to the daunting conclusion that we simply did not get tired.
My exhale was shaky, it came in three short bursts of air as my fingers quivered and my lips pressed together in an effort to keep myself from losing what little composure I had.
The snap of my head toward his was too fast, but seemed natural; however the softer and less hostile inflection of his tone was something I already knew to be unusual. This man was gruff, mean, dangerous—but the two syllables made their way to me over the too small space between us, and I could have sworn he was trying to be nice.
"My name is Peter."
"Charlotte," I breathed after a moment, and Peter nodded slightly before turning his back on me once again. He spoke to the falling moon as he informed me that I could do what I pleased, but in the morning I was to join him and the others for training, and then he left me to my thoughts under the dark and oppressive Mexico sky.
A cursory glance around the area told me all I needed to know; I had no allies here. I skirted through shadows as I made my way to the building opposite the one Peter had disappeared into, the one I'd began in, and I scraped my back along the rough concrete as I sank into the ground.
Everyone maintained their distance, and I kept my arms firmly wrapped around my bent and crossed legs as I watched them milling around, no purpose to their actions. Most sat near the fire talking, though from what I heard of their conversation they mostly seemed to just be holding meaningless conversations to pass the time. They'd start with one topic, fall silent for a long stretch, and then broach a new one—but one thing continued to come up through the night, always preceded by sharp and hostile glances my way.
'Who is she?'
'She must be special; we're not supposed to be recruiting...'
'I can't believe Peter said he's coming in the morning...'
The only one to approach me had been a short man named Daniel; he was only a few inches taller than myself, his frame stocky and his light brown hair moved with the breeze. He seemed slightly less threatening than the others, but the comparison meant little. Even if he were the least scary of the bunch he still terrified me.
"How much has Peter explained to you?" Daniel asked, lowering himself into a crouch three feet away from me.
"Not much," I whispered back. I'd have preferred to say nothing at all, to shut down and retreat inside myself to try and wait out this storm—but it wasn't ever going to end, and I knew that.
"Alright," Daniel nodded, "Then let's start at the beginning."
It was the worst two hours of storytelling I'd ever experienced. This tale of blood, war, and horror, it stuck to me like a film long after Daniel had finished talking, it was grime I couldn't wash away or put out of my mind no matter how hard I tried. I never would have imagined a reality like this could ever exist, it was just too awful, and now I had lost my life to it.
He told me Peter was his immediate superior, there was another above him, and still another at the top, though I was also told there was no reason for me to know who they were right now. At the moment the highest priority was to ready myself for battle, to become competent so I could be useful; those who couldn't adapt died. He'd said this was war, that there was no longer a me, only the unit; I no longer served myself, and that's just the way things were now.
There were rules, endless rules he conveyed to me, though only two stood out; you can't get away, and always kill those mated with each other. They were the highest of priorities, and the contrast of them intrigued me almost as much as the term he'd used.
Daniel rolled his eyes, as if he found the entire concept to be absurd, and it wasn't long before I agreed with him. Who could love in a place like this?
The worst of all of it was when he told me of the second-in-command, the Major of this army. Vicious, he'd said. Feral and volatile, feared above all others, including his mistress, and once he started talking of the strange gift this man possessed I was left with no doubt in my mind that I'd already encountered him, back when I'd first opened my eyes to a grey ceiling and lost my mind in a haze of burgundy.
I hoped I never saw him again.
It wasn't until late in the morning that I achieved that blissful numb that comes with the complete and total loss of hope—not until I'd been led to a wide expanse of yellowing grass where all the others had already gathered, not until I was paired off and my body ached with phantom strains, and the breath of my new comrades had blown across my skin in terrifying gusts as their teeth snapped closed just millimeters away.
My moves, while wild and unsure at first, quickly became nothing more than echoes of the instructions and advice laid out for me. The truth was that I was good at this, before the end of my first day I could take down the weaker of my opponents, and I'd yet to allow the tattoo of a semi-circle to litter my skin—but once the distraction of fighting waned and I returned to my wall I looked down at my steadily deteriorating dress that had once been so beautiful, and I had never felt weak like this before.
It was a routine that I fell into quickly, and in between throwing a punch for the first time in my life and coming to understand how to harness the heated anger that ran through my veins for combat, I listened to the whispers of my comrades. They were curious and speculative, and always wondering just what my place was here; it was an answer I wanted for myself.
I want to know why, why I was there in that alley I'd never walked down before, and why he'd been there, ready to haul me off into the night. It had been a perfectly choreographed waltz we'd danced, like it had been fated to happen that way, like this was where I was meant to end up—but I couldn't believe that, I couldn't believe God was that cruel.
Still every night I pressed my back into the concrete wall that had been claimed as my own little slice of hell. I was left alone for the most part, but at least once a night the hairs on the back of my neck would stand on end, and I'd thoughtlessly glance up to see Peter staring back at me from the doorway of the building I'd woken up in. His eyes glowed in the dim light of the campfire and the moon hanging overhead, and I could feel them, his eyes on me, boring into my skull as I sat silently. I drew my knees up to my chest; everything felt so cold here, even though the remnant heat of the sun still radiated up from the dirt.
In some strange way the weight of his gaze was comforting, as though everything else in the world could wither and burn, but he'd still have his eyes fixed on my face. He watched me, and I couldn't help but wonder if that also meant he watched out for me. Sometimes in those moments it didn't matter that I couldn't stand him, couldn't muster up anything but loathing for this man who'd ruined my life and taken me away from my Father, and it was just the inkling of something other, but it was there, and it was hard to ignore.
I shouldn't feel anything for him, not even the hatred I couldn't quite get a handle on; he was a horrible, vile man, this I knew for certain, and he didn't deserve this much of my attention. It was just that he was always there, every single day, always picking me for his team in our practices, and always pitting me against opponent after opponent. He stared and stared, watched me take to this new life shoved in my face and learn that whatever change had occurred within me had instilled an inherent desire to hurt those all around me. He watched as I adapted to the blows, discovered ways to keep the fists from raining down on me—and while I expected nothing from him, it was hard to let go of the idea that if violence ever fell upon me I could trust in the good of men to save me.
This place, it was backwards and upside-down. It spun on its side so fast I never managed to get my footing, and as the burning in my throat increased, a silent warning that soon I would have to do that horrible thing I tried not to think about, the spinning quickened and the constricting boundaries of the camp closed in.
I wanted to believe I'd been raised better than this that my Father, despite all the struggles, had done the best he could, and it had been enough. He would be so ashamed to see me now, curled up in the dirt, hiding from everything that frightened me, wearing this ruined dress. It would break his heart to know I was a murderer, and that, more than anything else, kept me put. I couldn't go back to him now; I couldn't look him in the eye and confess all that I'd done in the short time we'd been apart.
I had nowhere else to go, so I stayed under the gaze of Peter's watchful eye.