Its six thirty in the morning, and even the sunrise seems dull.
Ed's standing right outside the hotel, basking in the quasi-dark glow of dawn. An unlit cigarette hangs loosely from his lips.
He leans against the cold concrete wall of the hotel as he pulls a lighter out of his pocket. Flicking it open, he holds the blue-rimmed orange flame to the tip of the cigarette and breathes in. The smoke scorches his throat on its way down to his lungs.
Ed lets his eyes slide closed for just several seconds in exhaustion. He's not surprised—it's been one of those unwillingly early mornings for him.
The previous night, after slinking out of the bathroom with his right wrist still burning like hell, he'd completely crashed in bed. Dead to the world, perfectly without thought for about four hours and thirty seven gloriously empty minutes. He awoke around 4:30 AM in that aggravating way when one's body is practically useless with fatigue, but the mind is alert and awake and reeling endlessly, making it impossible to get back to sleep. Having no interest in just lying there, Ed pulled himself out of bed, grabbed an old half-empty box of cigarettes, and snuck out of the room. He found himself right outside the hotel, standing in almost the exact same position for nearly two hours now.
Ed opens his eyes slowly. It's kind of pointless to.
(Not like the view of a parking lot in the middle of nowhere at 6 AM changes very often).
He takes another drag of the cigarette and then exhales slowly, watching the combination of smoke and foggy carbon dioxide-turned-steam pour out.
It's on the border of being just cold and flat-out freezing. He's fairly certain it's near the beginning of winter, but it's been a while since anyone's paid attention to the date. Or maybe it's just always cold here in wherever the hell they are. He knows is some where north but not quite Canada.
(Things as undefined as stateliness blur in all their minds, and Ed doesn't really give a fuck anyway, as long as there's some distance between them and so-called civilization).
"Hey," says a voice behind him.
Ed jumps slightly at the break in silence, but recovers quickly and looks over his shoulder at the source of the disturbance. It's Audrey, eyes wide, waiting for a response. And because it's Audrey, he's automatically obligated to respond. A returned "Hey" is murmured hoarsely.
"Kind of early to be out here, don't you think?" she asks. There's a tone in her voice that suggests she's almost certain he won't answer.
Ed proves her half-right when he doesn't-quite-answer by responding with "You're out here."
"I woke up, you were gone," Audrey shrugs. Her eyes are underlined with light purple shadows. "I guess maybe I came looking for you."
"Couldn't sleep," says Ed, taking in another lungful of smoke. They both get quiet. Audrey rubs her arms before crossing them tightly over her chest. She's obviously cold because that sweater she's wearing was designed for mild central Californian winters, not northern-not-quite-Canadian winters. Ed has to fight the sudden urge to put an arm around her.
"You know," begins Audrey, watching as Ed pulls the cigarette away from his lips. "Smoking probably isn't the best past time now that you're human again."
Ed lets out a quiet laugh and blows a billowy cloud of smoke into the air. Audrey gives him a light, barely there smile in return. Her cheeks are whipped rosy pink from the wind. He can't help but notice it.
Ed holds out the small, nearly gone red and white box. "Do you want one?"
` Audrey looks at it warily for a second. "What the hell." She reaches forward and takes one from the box.
Ed procures the lighter once more and Audrey leans forward and breathes in the flame through the smoldering tip of the cigarette.
She settles back against the bricks, matching Ed's statue-esque stance. Gazing up that the almost fully-risen sun and blowing smoke into the not-quite-Canadian air.
Ed lets his eyes drift to Audrey for a split second, before forcing them back on the horizon.
The sunrise seems a little less dull.
Ed's always kind of hated mirrors. He's never known why. There was no jarring childhood incident involving the shiny silver glass that left him scarred for life. He just doesn't like mirrors. Something about them puts him on edge, makes his skin crawl. Which is probably why the whole vampires-lack-reflections thing never bothered him all that much. And now, his abhorrence for mirrors is even stronger.
(No one wants to see their reflection when the thing they loathe the most is their self).
But Ed must be a reluctant glutton for torture, because he constantly forces himself to stare into the dull, dust-smeared surface of the mirror. Always revolted with the hollowed shell of a man that stares back.
"You're disgusting," he hisses at the glass. He ignores the fact that it's a fucking mirror he's talking to.
The reflection narrows its dull eyes. "Oh Edward," it trills in a voice silkier than his own. "You don't mean that."
Ed grinds his teeth. "I do," he murmurs through his locked jaw.
"You need me, Edward."
"No," snaps Ed. "I don't fucking need you."
The reflection has the nerve to look shocked. "You don't mean that," it repeats. "We're one in the same, Edward."
"No we're fucking not," says Ed, fingers knotting in his hair. "I'm not a—,"
"Vampire?" The reflection's mouth curls into something akin to a smile.
"A monster," spits Ed. "Not anymore."
The reflection's lips pull back over it's teeth. The elongated incisors poke pinprick holes in it's lower lip as it lets out a chilling laugh. "Oh, Edward, Edward, Edward. When will you realize?" The reflection's smile vanishes. "You'll always be a monster. Reflections never lie."
Ed lunges at the mirror, clawing desperately at as much of the reflection as he can reach. The glass shatters and his fingers bleed. His hands hurt like hell, but he pounds at the shards of glass that now cover the counter until the reflection is reduced to nothing more than bloodied, jagged bits of broken glass.
But there's still one piece that's bigger than the rest. One glinting, golden eye shines in it.
"Reflections never lie…"
Ed's eyes fly open, one hand scrambling to his chest in a blind panic. His heart is pounding. He looks down at his other hand. No blood, no cuts, no leftover shards of glass. He flexes his fingers idly.
"He lives," says a joking voice from across the room.
Ed looks up to see Audrey sitting cross-legged on her bed, pouring over the stack of papers spread across the shabby bedspread.
He must look rattled, because Audrey's eyebrows knit together in concern. "Are you okay?"
"Bad dreams," he responds, pushing himself further up in his chair. He was about three inches away from falling out of the old thing. "No big deal."
Audrey nods in understanding and turns over a sheet of paper. Ed rubs his eyes and looks at the clock. It's a little before seven PM, which explains why the sunlight coming through the window is diminishing. "How long have I been out?
Audrey's eyes dart to the clock and back. "Hour, hour and a half maybe. I thought about waking you up, but I know you didn't sleep well last night, so…" She gives a small smile.
"Thanks," mutters Ed, looking around the room uneasily. He's still shaking lightly from his dream. "Where's Elvis?"
"He's out," she replies. "You remember that resistance group I told you about yesterday?"
"Well, they're at some farm about ten miles over. Elvis went to meet with them—you know, tell 'em we're here, see if they need any help with anything, get enough information to add them to our files." She pats one of the papers in front of her. "The usual."
Ed nods slowly, looking at the spread of paperwork on Audrey's bed. The file is something he knows Audrey's been compiling since before he ever crashed into her. It's a collection of papers, each one detailing members of every human resistance band across the country. They have to be updated often, of course, with the human race still being a precious commodity of the major population.
Audrey's mouth turns downwards slightly as she picks up a black pen and makes a large X across one page. "He was only eleven," she murmurs, placing the sheet on one of the two stacks of papers toward the foot of the bed. The stack she lays it on is considerably larger than the other.
Ed feels a familiar pang of sadness in his chest. The updates almost always have to do with death.
(Just a cruel reminder of what they're fighting for).
Audrey crosses another name off the dwindling list on her lap. Her eyes skim over the list one more time. She exhales slowly, reaching forward for the two leaning stacks of paper. She wraps an over-stretched elastic band around each stack before stuffing them both back inside a tattered pocket folder. The papers barely fit inside of it, and Ed's not exactly sure if that's a good thing or not.
Audrey leans to the side and places the overflowing folder in the nightstand drawer, right on top of an abused phone book from the late seventies.
"Why didn't you go?" asks Ed quietly.
"You usually do the first face-to-face meetings with resistance yourself," He explains. "So why didn't you go with Elvis?"
Audrey shrugs thoughtfully. "I guess I just felt like being here."
The corners of Ed's mouth twitch, the faintest hint of a smile breaking free.
"Well," begins Audrey, rising off of the bed. "I'll be in the shower." With that, she steps across the room and disappears behind the bathroom door.
Once she's out of sight, Ed's eyes fall to his wrists and he feels that ever-so-familiar lurching twist in his empty stomach. It's almost time, he reminds the monster inside himself. As soon as Audrey comes out of the bathroom, he'll be running in, all too eager to bleed.
His hands twist absently in his lap, thumbs grazing over the half-formed scars on both wrists.
Minutes pass agonizingly slow for almost an hour until Ed hears the hairdryer's breathy scream go silent. His pulse seems as if it sped up and stopped at the same time.
Something clatters to the tiled floor of the bathroom and the entire room is so silent that the sound is loud enough to make him jump.
The doorknob twists slowly, and the door opens up all way. Audrey stands in the doorway, holding a switchblade unsurely in her hand.
Ed's out of his chair and halfway across the room before he realizes what he's seeing. His mouth goes dry as he freezes in his hasty steps.
"I found it under the counter," she says. She sounds as though she's not quite sure if she should be concerned or not. "Do you recognize it?"
His eyes are fixed on the shining metal in Audrey's palm. Because, yes, he fucking recognizes it.
Switchblade. About 5 inches long, the blade no bigger than two and a half.
He tries not to stare at it, tries not to make it so painfully obvious that he definitely recognizes the knife that he's gotten so familiar with over the past few weeks.
He has to find a distraction. Anything to keep Audrey from learning about his sick addiction.
So Ed steps closer and does the only thing he can think of.
He kisses her.
It's not exactly the best kiss he's ever given, and Audrey stiffens in surprise when it happens. But he's relentless, moving his lips desperately against hers until the knife slides from her hand as she softens and begins to respond.
Its not until this moment that he realizes just how much he wants this. (Even if its only a cover-up to hide his unholy ritual). Still, some part of him has wanted this for a while. He's wanted to know what it would feel like to be this close to her, to feel the warmth of her lips on his.
He wants to feel her pulse.
Their hasty kiss escalates in fervor, and Ed's head is spinning and he's not sure if he's doing this because he needs to or because he wants to. For a second, he allows himself to think that maybe Audrey feels something more for him and sees past the monster he still is at heart. Then the next thing he knows, his lips are traveling down, across her jaw and lower. He wants to feel her pulse on his lips.
Ed stops against her jugular, warm and soft and he's not sure if he's imagining it or not, but he swears he can smell the blood pumping by. He scrapes his teeth against her skin experimentally and feels that same rush of adrenaline that he can only achieve with a knife pressed to his wrist. Fuck. He doesn't know what he's doing, so blind in the moment, and he forgets who is he is, forgets what he is.
Audrey's soft moan turns into a cry of surprise as the man's blunt human teeth clamp down harshly, mimicking the action she's seen performed by vampires far too many times. She shoves him away roughly, pressing a hand to her neck.
"What the fuck?" she demands in a deadly combination of ten percent anger and ninety percent raw, wide eyed open-mouthed shock.
Ed stands there, gaping back at her with his mind whirling because he doesn't know what he can possibly say because he doesn't fucking understand any of it. Panic rises in his chest. All he knows is that he needs to get to the bathroom; he needs to slit his wrist open and watch it bleed. It'll make everything better, make everything clear, if he can just get the knife and get past Audrey. He needs to fucking suffer, then he'll be able to think clearly again.
Practically hyperventilating already, Ed darts forward, over the threshold where the carpet meets the tile. He's so close, he can almost taste the blood and he fucking hates how relieved that makes him feel.
But before he can get all the way in the room, Audrey grabs his wrist in an attempt to stop him. Ed pulls forward, still caught in her grasp. He feels a tearing pain and then warmth spreading under Audrey's iron grip.
Fucking hell, why did she have to catch him by the wrist sporting his freshest scab?
Audrey must feel the warm wetness soaking through the fabric, judging by the look of pure confusion clouding her face. Her eyes go from his wrist to his eyes repeatedly, her fingers still encircled around his forearm.
Ed stares back at her, chest heaving and heart pounding. His eyes are huge, searching desperately for a logical explanation that can somehow salvage whatever dignity he has left.
(It doesn't matter what he says because he can't lie away his bleeding wrist, and Audrey's not stupid, she's bound to put two and two together.)
Audrey loosens her hold on him and Ed draws his arm back, pressing it into his side as if he can still hide it from her.
He can see all the questions forming on her lips silently, none of them seeming to be the right thing to say.
She drops her shoulders and settles on the single word that's been hovering on the forefront of her mind. "Why?"
Ed shakes his head frantically. There are far too many questions in that one word, too many explanations that he doesn't have, he doesn't know what he could possibly say to fix things.
"Why not?" He counters with, his voice on the brink of hysteria. "Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I have to suffer for everything? Tell me, Audrey, why?"
"But you don't have to suffer," she says bewilderedly, her voice rising to match his.
"Yes I do!" he insists. Why does she not seem to understand that he needs to do this, that there's no other way to make up for what he did as a vampire? He has so much blood on his hands already; why not add some of his own to cancel it out?
"You don't have to suffer," Audrey repeats, quieter now. "You're human."
"Maybe I shouldn't be human," snaps Ed desperately. "Maybe I'm not. Not all the way. Something didn't work—something came out wrong. It wasn't supposed to be this way."
(He knows he's a monster inside. Reflections never lie).
Audrey shakes her head. "You're not a vampire anymore, Ed. You're not a monster."
Ed gives a frenzied, desperately humorless laugh, while ripping his sleeves back violently. His scars stand out brightly against his pallid skin, beaming in their morbid glory. "I am a monster, Audrey! Why can't you see it?"
Her eyes are fixed on his forearms, covered with the series of pink and red lines marring his flesh. She looks back at his panicked eyes. "All this time?" She manages to ask. "This is what you've been doing?"
Ed pushes his hair back roughly, scraping his nails across his scalp in the process. "It's what I have to do," he says, his voice cracking in a way that he hates.
"Why do you have to do it?" She demands, tears shining in the corners of her eyes.
Ed forces back the burning in his eyes, the precursor tell-tale of tears on their way. "Don't you see?" His voice strains with frustration. "I have to get rid of it because it's still there!"
Audrey throws her hands up exasperatedly. "What's still there? God damn it, Edward, why can't you just tell me?" She pleads.
"Why can't you just know?" He asks. He wraps his own fingers around the reopened gash, squeezing it harshly. His voice drops volume drastically. Resignedly, he asks again. "Why can't you just know?"
Audrey's mind whirls, thinking over every detail she can remember of the past few weeks. All the meals he didn't eat, all the nights she stayed up watching as he writhed with unknown terrors in his sleep, all the times he shut her out, all the times she knew something was wrong but didn't know what.
"The vampire," Audrey states warily. "You still feel it. Inside you." Something cold and heavy settles in the pit of her stomach. "That's what you're trying to get rid of. You think you can lose it this way."
Ed shakes his head, his desperate eyes boring into her. "I know I can."
He can bleed it out; spill enough of his own blood to repay that which he took. Purge. Purify. He can make himself human again.
Audrey bites her lip. "You are not a monster. You can stop this."
Ed feels his heart breaking. This is what he wanted—he wanted to stop with the bleeding and the secrets. But how can he do what he wants when it so contradicts what he needs to do?
He sinks down onto the closest bed, looking at his scars with revulsion.
"You can stop this," repeats Audrey, before squeezing his shoulder and disappearing into the bathroom again. She walks out a moment later with their often-needed yet often-forgotten first aid kit.
She kneels on the floor before him and pulls out a roll of gauze.
They sit in silence while she bandages the still inflamed and barely-bleeding cut. Once finished, she tentatively brushes her fingers over one of the other scars, and Ed winces involuntarily. She traces every scar lightly, sending chills up Ed's spine.
Ed tries to find something to say, but he can't seem to remember how to make his throat work. What could he say anyway? 'I'm sorry that you wasted so much energy on someone who fucked up as soon as they got what they wanted' seems like far too many words, but just 'I'm sorry' is much too little, too insubstantial.
"Are you mad?" he asks softly, his voice small and hesitant. He's kicking himself as soon as the words are out, because that's not what he wanted to say at all.
Audrey tries to smile. "No." A weak smile suffices for a full one. She tries to say more, but she just can't. She glances at his wrists and then back at his face. "No."
She puts her hands on his lap and pushes herself up so that she's standing over him.
Ed looks up at her with broken, bloodshot blue eyes. He hates this feeling, being so vulnerable and ashamed of everything.
They hold each other's gaze for what feels like forever, before Audrey lurches forward and throws her arms around his neck.
Ed buries his face in the crook of her neck, hiding in between the fabric of her sweater and her dark hair. He can feel the sharp spasms of her lungs and moisture on the side of his neck as she cries for him.
And like this, he can't force back his own tears anymore. He lets them spill from his eyes and onto Audrey's heather gray sweater, and it feels so much better than slitting his wrists ever did, as much as he hates to admit it.
Maybe he doesn't need to suffer anymore. Maybe he's letting go of it all.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I'm so sorry, Audrey."
She tightens her grip on him. "You're not a monster," she reiterates. "You're not a monster."
They stay that way for god-knows how long, Audrey stooped over awkwardly but not backing away for anything. They stay that way, crying unabashedly and holding each other as if they'll fall off the face of the earth if they let go.
Maybe this is the first step. Maybe the storm is passing and he'll finally be able to be human again.
"You're not a monster," Audrey whispers again.
And for the first time in so long, Ed feels the slightest bit more human.
He locks his arms tighter around Audrey's small frame, and they stay that way for God-knows how long.
"You're not a monster."
For the first time in so long, he believes her.
And that is the end.
I hope everyone enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Not that I want to sit here and thank everyone I've ever met, but I really do want to thank my friends for being willing to read the new snippets of this story every morning and for all their help, especially Annabeth, because I wrote the first thousand words sitting on her couch while she washed dishes. And also, Bakla, the first reviewer. I love you all.