Author's note: This dark, alternate universe (AU) fic will be very different from my other fics because I'm trying my hand at something completely new. It's more on the angsty side and contains violence (but not between E/B). At its heart, this is a horror story and a tale of survival. The romance is a slow burn. There will be a happily ever after (HEA) but the journey to it will be long. This is set in a dystopian world where most vampires are evil. If you're looking for something light, this story is probably not for you. If you're looking for an atypical romance story with a couple of twists and is in itself a little bit twisted (pun intended), this story is probably for you :)

Just to reiterate: This story will likely contain sexual and violent content, as well as some instances of questionable consent. Please proceed at your own discretion.

Special thanks to jay7795 and MaryFlourish for their encouragement :)

Chapter 1: Macabre Artist, I

She opens her eyes, blinking rapidly in response to the sudden attack of light on her pupils. She raises a hand to shield her eyes but cold hands catch it midway.

Startled, she looks down to see a pale, beautiful face. Onyx eyes follow her intently, the life within them like embers glowing through crevices of dusky ash. His hands tighten around her wrists and the icy imprisonment jolts her into wakefulness.

Her breath catches, but the violence dims. He raises her hands to his lips and kisses them.

She's mesmerised. His lips are pale, smooth as marble and cold as his hands. They contrast with the bluish veins at the back of her rough hands, and she wonders why such a creature is kneeling at her feet, pressing his lips against each of her chapped fingers.

By virtue of his perfection, he should be a statue. A dream. But those coal eyes dance brightly to the rhythm of the fire behind him - too full of life, too real.

"Do you know why I haven't drained you dry yet?" he murmurs, so quietly that she can barely hear him over the crackling fire.

She hears the words but they don't register.

A noise escapes the back of her dry throat as she straightens, leaning towards him in an effort to understand. There is a heaviness in her head and it weighs down her limbs.

"You don't remember," he says.

His voice tugs a thread within her. It tightens coils and levers until more and more threads hum and animate. His every muscle is poised in response to the tiniest of her movements. Even the rise and fall of his chest seems to match hers breath for breath.

To her mind he's a stranger, but her body has known him forever.

She softens in his hold, but he only grips her more tightly.

"Where am I?"

The room is dark save for the fireplace, and shadows spring and leap, suggesting the outline of furniture. It is too dark for her to see much. Her attention is drawn to where he is kneeling, taking in the antique designs on the rug.

He doesn't acknowledge her question. "Do you remember your name, dear girl?"

"Bella - Isabella," she says, relieved that her mind still retains that tendril of information.

"Bella," he says, the name rolling off his tongue with a quaint accent. "You'll come with me." His arms wind around her waist, lifting her effortlessly. She must have been sitting for a long time because when he sets her on her feet, she sways slightly.

"This way." His sure touch raises a question in her mind.

"Are you," she hesitates. But his eyes are instantly on her, so attentive that she feels encouraged. "Are you my husband?"

He studies her for a moment, his face impassive. Just when she thinks he will not answer, he touches her cheek. "You can put it that way, if you like." He sounds pleased, and he leaves her no time to meditate his meaning. "Come."

She obeys, the arm around her waist her only guide. There is no light. But he walks confidently enough so she presses close, trusting him not to let her fall. Suddenly he laughs; a quiet humourless laugh tinged with an emotion she can't pinpoint.

"Aren't you a special one?" he murmurs, tilting her face up, fascination in his eyes. His hands are wintry cold against her jaw, but strangely comforting. "I wonder how long I can keep you."

She doesn't know what possesses her to say her next words. Maybe it's the intensity in his eyes. Maybe it's the odd attachment she feels.

"As long as you want to."

The hand moves to her neck, caressing. "Bella." He isn't calling her. He's testing the feel of it on his tongue. His lips find the cleft above her clavicles, tasting her skin and she becomes boneless in his arms.

"Bella," he repeats, and she feels the syllables vibrate through her being. His words echo in her ears, and it's as though the rest of her world fades away.

"Open your eyes."

The command makes her eyes snap open, makes her realise that she's leaning all of her weight against him. She struggles to stand but he envelops in his strong arms, looking down at her with an unfathomable expression.

"Sorry." The apology comes out thick. Her throat feels as though it has been stuck together. "I'm so tired."

"Do you want me to make it go away?" he asks softly.

"Make what go away?"

"Everything. The tiredness, the pain, the sorrow. I could help you sleep forever."

"Sleep... forever?"

His voice is so sensual, and the offer sounds enticing even as its meaning spins and blurs like everything else.

"Yes, dear girl. Do you want to sleep forever?"

She feels his hand against her throat, caressing again, and this time she understands.

"Only if you don't want me anymore, husband." Her voice is quiet from exhaustion.

The hand leaves her throat, finding her hair.

"I really shouldn't," he murmurs. His fingers trace her eyelids. "Sleep then, Bella."