"The Substance of Nightmares"
Vampire Big Bang Submission
Genre: AU, vampslash
Word Count: 30,500 (in 6 parts)
Warnings: explicit m/m sexual content; mild, non-graphic violence; minor character death
Acknowledgements and Disclaimer: To the talented enchantedpanda for her amazing and lovely artwork. Please visit enchantedpanda (.) livejournal (.) com/5257 (.) html to view the beautiful work she did for this story. It's beyond perfect! Also, to paceisthetrick for encouragement and fast proofreading. And to prassacut for one crucial idea. Thank you. The characters are not mine. The words and story very much are.
a/n: I wrote this piece for LJ's vampirebigbang. It took me just over five months to complete. When I started, I hadn't a clue where the idea would take me. It is also posted in entirety on my livejournal with corresponding art. Enjoy.
The man didn't look up when she took the seat across from him. "You're late," he said, but there was no reproof in his tone.
"Yes. Well, I had to park, didn't I?" The girl set her purse on the table and began removing her gloves. Tan, elbow-length calfskin. She pulled them off from the fingertips, sliding them over slender forearms. She'd covered her dark hair with a Hermes scarf; her eyes were hidden by an enormous pair of dark sunglasses.
Then she reached over, plucking a book off the nearby shelf. He raised an eyebrow.
"What?" Alice asked, opening to a page at random. "It's a library. We should look like we belong."
The man nodded. The girl crossed her legs, narrow skirt riding up to reveal several inches of too pale skin. He allowed himself to look before the girl snorted, tugging the skirt down to a respectable length. She should have worn leggings, but in the heat too much clothing was far more conspicuous.
"Are you sure he's the one?" the man asked after a few minutes, eyes fixed on the young man at the table in the corner, the now familiar shock of bronze hair bent over a stack of reference texts.
Alice rolled her eyes. "Can't you hear his heartbeat?"
"Yes. Of course." The man pursed his lips and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "It's indeed peculiar. But—"
"Carlisle, he's the one," the girl assured. "I've seen it."
He studied the boy – well, not a boy; the man knew he was twenty-six. But he didn't look a day over seventeen. He sat, hunched over the table, shoulders slumped in his faded tee shirt. The peeling letters proclaimed The Velvet Underground. Carlisle smiled; he preferred Lou Reed. The young man's flawless skin was exceptionally pale – like his own, and the girl's, but dark circles purpled the underside of his lovely eyes (green like malachite or chips of jade).
Alice laughed. "Cute, isn't he?"
Carlisle frowned but had to agree; the boy was quite beautiful. He watched as he scratched something in his notebook, bottom lip caught between white teeth.
"You're sure?" the man asked again.
"And you think he'll help us?"
"He has to."
Edward fumbled in his pocket for the crushed pack of cigarettes. He held one to his lips and flicked the lighter, inhaling deeply. He let the smoke burn the back of his throat before breathing out again.
He'd accomplished nothing that day. His deadline was in less than three weeks, and the proposal was no closer to being complete. He looked down at his hand; smoke coiled between his fingers. He'd have to go back to his advisor and request more time.
Edward took another long drag, enjoying the acrid taste on his tongue and watching as gray ash fluttered to the ground. It was a filthy habit; he'd be the first to admit it. Yet nothing fueled a nicotine addiction like a half-written dissertation. He sighed and stubbed out the half-smoked cigarette against the heel of his shoe. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he headed toward the student parking lot. The meandering dirt path was worn smooth by use and baked brick-hard by sun. It was hot for April, but Edward didn't mind the heat. He never had.
Edward frowned, smoothing his palm over the crease in the paper. He stared at the bolded headline in the bottom left corner: 'Body Found, Mutilated.' There was a grainy photograph and a brief caption that read Aubrey Everton, 17.
"So they found her."
He jumped at the voice.
"Figured you'd be here," the girl said, sliding onto the barstool beside him. "When you didn't answer your phone." She slipped her bag off her shoulder before signaling for a drink.
Edward shrugged and scratched his fingernail along the red and gold label of his bottle.
"She's pretty," Bella said after a few moments, looking over his shoulder at the article. The bartender set a glass in front of her.
The girl in the photo looked very young. She was laughing at something off camera. Edward sighed and pushed the paper away. "She's the third this month." His voice was flat.
"I know." Bella cradled her pint in her hands but did not drink.
"You shouldn't be out alone."
She put her glass down again; it left a watery ring on the paper, blurring the ink. "I can take care of myself."
He chewed on his thumbnail, a habit left over from childhood. Bella despised it.
"Stop that," she finally said with a scowl, slapping his hand away. "It's positively vile."
"I just worry about you."
Her expression softened; "I know."
They drank in silence.
Edward was nearly done with his beer when he noticed the man. He was seated in the corner, elegant fingers curled around the stem of a wine glass, but he wasn't drinking. Something twinged at the back of his brain (a murmur, an echo he couldn't place), but Edward didn't look away.
Blond hair, white pale skin. He was lovely. And Edward felt certain he'd seen the man somewhere before.
"Bells, do you recognize that man?"
She turned, looking over her shoulder. "No. Should I?"
"I'm not sure." He turned his bottle around between his palms. "I think he's watching us."
The girl shrugged, turning to look at the man once more. "He's very attractive."
"Yes. There is that."
The buzzing had started again. At first it was just a murmur, a faint whisper pushing at the corners of his mind. But the sound intensified until it was enough to drive him mad.
"The voices are back." Edward looked up from his battered copy of Paradise Lost.
Bella sucked the end of her pen into her mouth, eyes narrowing in concern. "Maybe you're stressed."
Edward sighed. "I'm always stressed."
She closed her laptop, hugging her arms across her thin chest. "Have you considered talking to a psychologist?"
Edward shook his head. "No. No doctors."
Bella reached out to brush the back of his hand with a fingertip.
"They'll think I'm crazy," he said, hating the desperate sound of his voice.
The girl's smile was sad, even though he knew she meant it to be reassuring. "Not crazy, love. Just…" She bit her lip. "There might be something they can do. Some medicine you can take."
He shook his head again.
Bella took his hand in hers, looked like she wanted to say something else.
"No." His tone was resolute. "Voices mean schizophrenia. I'm not schizophrenic."
"I know, Ed. I know." But she didn't look convinced.
"Besides," he offered with feigned nonchalance. "It's not like the voices are telling me to do anything." He pursed his lips, considering. "And even if they were, I don't think I'd listen."
Bella laughed, but it was clearly forced.
Edward was two blocks from his building when he noticed the man.
He was dressed strangely, even for the university district. His dark over-cloak brushed the ground as he stepped forward, hood falling back enough to reveal unnaturally pale skin, nearly translucent in the flickering light of the street lamp.
Edward shivered despite the heat.
"Lovely night," the stranger said, moving out from the shadows.
"A bit warm." Edward lit a cigarette, cupping his hands against the sultry breeze.
"You don't mind the heat," the man said with a curious smile (a tight curve of thin lips).
The measured intonation of his voice was unfamiliar. A European accent Edward couldn't place. He moved to walk past; it was late.
Edward stopped, startled; he was quite certain he didn't know the man.
The stranger drifted forward, movement barely perceptible. But suddenly he was standing two steps from Edward, hand extended. Edward took it without thinking.
The sensation was oddly surreal, like being plunged under water. (Memories in bits and flashes blurred across his vision.) Edward jerked back, tried to pull away. The man's palm was very cold.
Perhaps he truly was losing his mind.
"Fascinating," the stranger said, as if to himself. "Truly fascinating." And then: "I wonder…"
Within an instant, he'd grabbed Edward's wrist, twisting his arm so that his back was flush to his chest. He was surprisingly strong. Edward struggled against him, but it was useless.
The man laughed, a soft sinister sound, as his fingers slid down Edward's neck. Manicured nails pressed into his skin. Edward held his breath; his heart was beating too fast. "What do you want?" he managed to gasp. "How do you know my name?"
"I've known you for a very long time, Edward." The man's breath fanned across his cheek, cool and cyanide sweet, but it was laced with a deeper scent, coppery and stale.
Long fingers trailed down his throat, traced the neck of his tee shirt, tugging the fabric back. A thumbnail scraped across his collarbone. Edward couldn't catch his breath; his pulse fluttered madly, and he felt the man inhale, nose sliding along his jaw.
"Lovely," the man mouthed against Edward's skin. Then he felt the pain (sharp and hot and quick) as nails bit into his skin.
Edward cried out, tried to wrench his arm away, but he was held fast.
"Let him go," a voice growled, and Edward jerked his head, trying to break free, trying to see whom the voice belonged to.
"Ah, Carlisle," the man purred. He didn't release his hold on Edward, but the pressure at his neck lessened some. "I didn't realize you had such an interest in the boy."
"Nor I you," the voice responded.
The man chuckled; Edward felt his hair brush against his cheek. "But it is my business to be concerned with…matters such as these." Then Edward felt a tongue sliding cool and slow along his throat.
He shuddered; the man's cold fingers dug into his arm, bruising the skin.
"He's rather delightful, I must say." A fingertip slid across his clavicle. "Wouldn't you like a small taste?"
Edward hissed, and the grip on his arm tightened still.
"Let him go," the other man repeated, his voice low, but Edward could hear the fierceness there.
His captor laughed again. "Now, now. No need to get upset." He pushed him away, and Edward stumbled; he would have fallen had he not slammed into the other man's chest. The impact knocked his breath away.
Edward put his hands up, catching himself, and stepped back, but not before he felt hard lines of muscle underneath his palms (cold, solid, and not entirely human).
He gasped, and the man moved, pulling Edward behind his body, as if shielding him from the other man.
"I imagine," his assailant said slowly, voice cool and slippery, "we'll see each other again soon." He bent slightly at the waist (a mockery of a formal bow), and then he was gone.
Edward blinked, stunned and rather in shock. He put his hand to his throat, feeling the sticky warm wetness there.
He felt the man recoil slightly, and Edward froze, startled. For the first time, he looked up at his rescuer, and something in his stomach clenched.
"Go inside," he said, his voice was low, controlled. "You're not safe out here."
"I…I know you."
The man frowned, shook his head slightly.
"From the bar. You've been watching me."
He inclined his head, but his expression remained unreadable. "Go inside."
Edward's head swam; he closed his eyes, tried to calm the pounding of his heart, but it only thudded louder in his ears, made it impossible to think, to breathe. "What just happened? Who was that?" he blurted out. Then he forced himself to take a deep breath, tried to clear his head, forced himself to look the other man in the eyes. "Who are you?"
A sigh. "You are injured."
Edward brought his hand back up to his neck. It was tender, but the bleeding seemed to have slowed. "I'll be fine. What just happened?" he repeated.
The man watched him appraisingly for a few moments, then seemed to make a decision. "Come," he beckoned, walking toward Edward's building.
Edward followed, as the man led the way upstairs to his apartment.
He tried to ignore the fear that slipped down his spine (pooled in his gut) when he realized that the man knew where he lived.
Even as he turned the key to his apartment, Edward was quite certain he was making a horrible mistake (allowing the stranger inside, inviting him in). But he wasn't thinking too clearly, and he wanted answers; this seemed the most expedient way to get them.
"Bathroom?" the man inquired once they were inside, and Edward motioned down the narrow hallway. He stood in the doorway hesitantly and watched as the stranger rummaged through his medicine cabinet, methodically setting items on the counter.
"Come here," he instructed, pouring alcohol onto a cotton swab.
Edward complied, wincing as the man dabbed at his neck.
"It's not terribly deep, but you are lucky he chose not to bite you."
Edward nodded, examining the gash in the mirror. The skin had already begun to knit back together.
"You heal quickly," the man noted, affixing a bandage. His movements were precise, deliberate, but his touch was gentle.
"I always have."
He nodded, as if expecting as much.
"Your hands are cold."
"I… I know."
Edward's apartment was small but warm and filled with mismatched furniture and bookshelves overstuffed with journals, reference texts, and dog-eared paperbacks.
He sat on the floor in front of the sofa, knees drawn up to his chest, picking absently at the fraying cuff of his jeans. The man perched, perfectly still, on the edge of a straight-backed chair, watching him warily.
"You're a doctor?"
"And you know that…man?"
Edward looked down, scrubbed a hand across his face. "Who is he?"
The man pursed his lips but then answered. "His name is Aro, but I believe, perhaps…" he spoke slowly, as if choosing his words carefully, "the better question is what is he."
Edward's too pale skin went even paler. "What do you mean?"
"I think you already know."
Edward stood. His hands were shaking; he shoved them in his pockets and paced the length of the room. "The disappearances. The murders…"
The man nodded, lacing pale fingers together.
"That was him?"
"His associates, more likely. But yes."
"What are they?" Edward's voice was unsteady.
Carlisle looked at him for a long moment. "You're scared."
The man took a deep breath. "I'm afraid you should be."
"What was he?" Edward repeated, hating the desperate sound to his voice, but he couldn't help it.
"He was interested in your blood, Edward." His voice was calm but tinged with a seriousness that made Edward's heart race.
"What was he?" Edward said yet again, panic rising; he practically hissed the words.
"I'm afraid," the stranger said slowly, repeating his earlier assertion, "you already know."
Edward closed his eyes, pressed fingertips to his temples, but the man was right. Somehow, inexplicably, he did know. He could hear the word pushing against his mind, insinuating itself between his thoughts, his understanding.
He shook his head, tried to take a step backward only to find that his back was already pressed against the wall.
"It…it can't be." His heart was racing again. "It's impossible."
He pushed the word away, forced it out of his mind, but it slipped through the cracks, lingered around the edges.
His throat felt tight. He closed his eyes once more; he needed to get outside to breathe, to pretend it wasn't happening. He'd wake up tomorrow, and the entire evening would simply be a horrible dream.
He and Bella would laugh about it on their way to campus.
"They're not real," he whispered. The words felt thick and heavy on his tongue.
His head was spinning. Vampires were just legend, myth, borne from superstition, fear, and the remnants of old prejudices.
And yet… No. It couldn't be.
Edward eyed the door; it was only a few feet away. If he could only—
But something (a voice, barely substantial, whispering at the corner of his mind) told him he didn't have a chance.
You'll never make it…
The man furrowed his brow curiously.
You can't leave. You shouldn't…
God no. Not now. Not now.
He took a deep breath, shook his head again, and resisted the urge to press his hands to his ears.
"I…I need you to go," he managed after a few moments, willing himself to be okay, willing the voices to stop. He wasn't going crazy. He wasn't.
The other man frowned but made no move to get up.
"Please," Edward tried, hating the waver in his voice, but it was all he could do to make his mouth form the word.
Carlisle seemed to come to a decision because he stood fluidly, abruptly. "I don't think he will be brash enough to return here tonight." He paused, fishing something out of his pocket. "It would be rather foolish."
Edward stood stock still, back against the wall. He barely allowed himself to breathe.
"Here," the man said, holding out a hand.
Edward didn't move.
"My mobile," he explained, stepping forward to press the slip of paper into Edward's palm.
He looked down. There, scratched on the slip of loose-leaf in narrow neat ink, was a telephone number.
"Call me," the man said. "If you need anything. Doesn't matter the time."
The concern in his voice unnerved Edward. He could only nod dumbly.
And he was gone.
Edward could still feel the chill of cold fingertips against his skin.
He sunk to the floor. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears, and he forced himself to take several steadying breaths. All the adrenaline and fear he'd felt over the last hour seemed to bleed out of his system; he was tired, but he couldn't stop shaking. He knew he'd never be able to sleep.
Perhaps he truly was going mad. What else could possibly explain what just happened?
He closed his eyes, but his mind still raced, as he desperately sought to piece together the (disturbing, unsettling, horrifying) events of the evening.
The man on the street had known his name, had come for him.
Edward shuddered at the memory (skin translucent and cold as ice). He brought his fingers up to the bandage on his neck. It was still sore to the touch.
He was interested in your blood, Edward…
No. He pressed his fists to his eyes, attempting to blot out the memory, the sensations. It couldn't be true; it wasn't possible. Edward leaned his head back to the wall.
He was overworked, tired, stressed. A good night sleep would set everything right. Things would be clearer in the morning.
But he couldn't shake the feeling of the man's tongue (shivery slick) against his throat, the press of his nails (sharp as knives) along his skin, and the strength of his body (muscles like iron) holding him fast.
Edward forced himself to his feet and made his way to the kitchen. He poured a glass of water, and took a long sip, trying to focus on the cold liquid as it slipped over his tongue.
His stomach was in knots; it was difficult to breathe. His every rational, logical thought fought to reject what his gut was telling him to believe. His hands shook and he swallowed thickly; water sloshed over his fingers.
Edward slept with the lights on that night; he was certain he could still hear the voices.
Bella was waiting outside when he came downstairs the next morning.
"God, you look positively dreadful, Ed," she commented, blowing a thin stream of smoke into the air.
Edward glared at her in response but said nothing.
She held out her hand.
Edward shook his head, and the girl bent over to stub the half-smoked cigarette out on the pavement. "What happened to your neck?"
He brushed a finger across the bandage. It didn't hurt anymore. "It's nothing."
She rolled her eyes but didn't inquire further. She was used to Edward's evasions.
They walked toward campus in silence. Although it was still early, the sun was bright and hot; it glinted down yellow and gold through the crisscross of branches that covered the sidewalk.
Bella balanced on the edge of the curb, arms extended as if maneuvering along a tight rope. "You know," she said, glancing back over her shoulder, "at some point you're going to have to tell me what happened."