.the light.

He swore his bones were trembling. It was past noon; things to come were also soon to come. Carly looked at him, more grave in that moment than he had ever seen her. Her fingers curled over into her fist. "It's outside."

"It knows," Freddie answered simply, his certainty absolute.

She squeezed his hand; he hadn't even noticed that she was holding it. He caught the look on her face and remembered her own fear. Gingerly, he slipped a comforting arm around her, leaning in against her as he stood. He needed her balance then, more than ever.

"Till the end," he said in response to her unanswered question. Carly sighed down her head against his.

He had reached the point of no hunger—no hunger that could be filled. The blood-thirst would move him entirely before nightfall. Control would not be an option; like it or not, he would be forced to leave the apartment.

Carly had told him this, and he felt his heart echoing her truth. She was weak, too, although he could tell that she hated to show it. They would fall together, as maybe it was meant to be all along. So long separated, it seemed fitting that they should come together again in the instants before their deaths. The thought was not as unpleasant as it could have been, he realized.

Suddenly, he felt her moving away from him. She began walking slowly, with unsure steps, to her room. Freddie took the seat next to hers and waited. When she re-emerged, she was carrying a stack of vinyl records, a single CD balanced precariously on top. He rose and reached out to help her, but she shook her head vigorously at this attempt.

Not without some difficulty, she eventually managed to set down the albums and place one on the stereo set. He watched her, feeling the darkness in his own eyes. The needle dropped into the groove, and Carly glided over to him.

Her blouse was pale green, like the first daring sprout of spring. She seemed both so young and so old in that moment, youthful hands swinging and pale lips beckoning, but with eyes made of millennia. "Dance with me," she sang, offering him her hands.

Freddie almost wanted to scream at her, to remind her with all the passion his heart could fit that this was not a game, that death surely awaited them, that his last seconds of humanity could be slipping from him. Yet the words did not come. Looking into those eyes...he could do nothing to hurt her. Perhaps a smile crossed his face as he took her hands and joined her in the dance. What could be a better way to while away his last hours?

They only broke apart for frequent changes of music. Carly lit up every time another old song bloomed its melody into that living room. Between twirls and soft, soft waltzes, she explained briefly to him about how she had gotten into older music in college. "It's a good thing, I guess," she said quietly. "Later, I had something to discuss with...well, with some of the other ones. They grew up with this stuff."

Finally, when reason dictated that he ought to be tired (although his feet felt much less sore than his heart), she reached for the lone CD.

"What is it?" he asked curiously, struggling to make out the title.

Carly only gave him a mysterious smile that barely reached her eyes. "You'll see."

As the first notes wafted into the room, he wondered why the melody seemed so familiar. It was a lifetime ago, but the memory rushed into him as soon as she fell back into his arms. "Had you forgotten?" she asked, fingers playing over the back of his neck. He shivered, although not because of her cold flesh. They were nearly the same temperature now, anyway.

Freddie shook his head. "I could never forget. I haven't heard this song since that night, actually." Her slight frame seemed so delicate under his hands, although he knew she was stronger than he would ever know. He felt his mouth twist up into a smile, completely against his will.

Carly looked at the ground. "I bought this album two weeks after I moved away from Seattle," she confessed. "I'm sorry that I never told you how much I missed you."

"I'm sorry that I was so angry with you," he said, allowing one hand to drift up and tuck a curly strand behind her ear.

"I never wanted things to end up like this," she sighed, voice cracking. "This...this isn't right. I shouldn't have...anything. All of this is my fault. Freddie—"

His eyes bored into her. "Don't. Don't apologize."

She offered him a half-smile. "Because you were meant for me," she sang softly.

His breath caught.

All too soon, the song ended, drifting off and leaving them behind, where they stayed frozen. Her body was pressed closely against his, more for comfort than from passion. Absently, he stroked her hair, letting the waves flow underneath his hand.

In the distance, a cathedral clock struck. A sudden chill gripped his body and Freddie pulled away from her. "I think it's almost time to turn into a pumpkin," he muttered, more to himself than to Carly. Frantically, he searched for something to do, to erase the thought that refused to stop creeping through his nearly invisible veins. He snatched the CD out of the player and pushed it into the jewel case. His finger slipped.

Freddie swore quietly and lifted the digit. He had forgotten about the paper cut he had given himself on the airplane; that Freddie seemed like a different person entirely. With his other thumb and index, he squeezed, waiting for the familiar drop of blood. He felt Carly's eyes locked onto him as a speck of red appeared, growing larger until it covered the tiny wound. A full, single drop.

"Freddie," she whispered. He cut her off, raising his hand. It was upon him.

Another chill seized his body, and a lightning flash of excruciating pain whipped through his body. It was as if he had become a thunderstorm, and this was the eye. The torment was so great that it nearly became pleasure. He gasped, trying to clear his buzzing brain of the deafening silence.

A fire tickled his toes, spreading through his body. When it reached his heart, he clenched his fists, letting his fingernails dig into the skin. It was all he could do to stop from screaming. Something was touching him, presumably Carly; she was trying to comfort him. With a final shock, the fire reached his brain and blackness replaced his vision.

He felt nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing, was nothing. Silently, he screamed.

Yet in a second all was clear. The darkness faded; the sound returned. It was as if the world had become sharper, more real. Everything stood out; everything was alive. The wave of thirst, that had been growing in the back of his mind, finally overtook him and he almost cried for the taste.

Time was immaterial. The ordeal could have taken seconds or weeks. It did not matter. He had become one with the ancient tradition, one with the dark immortal spirit. When he glanced to the curtained window, he was almost surprised that it was still day. Perhaps a hundred years had passed.

"Freddie," Carly said again, and he snapped to attention. Her beauty seemed to have increased with the clarity of his sight. Her brown eyes were watching him with concern, and some other emotion he couldn't quite place. "Your finger."

He frowned at her and glanced down. The prick of blood glared up at him, surrounded by blinding white. His mouth opened unconsciously. The pounding of his heart, started again, threatened to overwhelm everything. "My blood," he said, dreamily.

"You can be saved." Her voice was full of excitement and despair; he heard them both. "Just...drink that, and it'll all be okay. You'll be human again, and...you can leave. It wants me, and it only wants you if you're...still a vampire."

Freddie gazed at the red dot. Amazing, he thought, how such a little thing could be such a powerful deciding factor. He had been committed to death, and here was life.

Life, in the shape of betrayal. In denying what his only real life had been. In losing what was most important to him. In losing the person who had given him back his humanity.

The blood danced before him, taunting him and weakening him. The lust was already powerful, bending his will. He could not last much longer without taking action. The blood-madness was descending. Abruptly, he raised his finger.

Carly's eyes were full of tears, though whether of pain for herself or joy for him, he could not tell.

Deliberately, Freddie lowered his hand and pushed the tip of his finger into her mouth. Instinctively, her tongue darted out and licked the last drop. Her eyes widened when she realized what she had done, and she backed away, so quickly that she collided with the wall.

Clinging to the wall as if it was her last hope, she gasped out "How—why—no, Freddie, you could have—"

"Not without you," he said. A feeling of certainty flooded him. He looked at her, seriously, really seeing her for the first time since the transformation. "I can't leave you."

Her arms wrapped around him, before he knew to expect it. Carly leaned back and then forward again, to take a chaste kiss from his lips. She was crying against his face; he said nothing, but simply held her. Their hearts pumped venom in harmonized rhythm.

After an indeterminate amount of time, they broke the embrace. Her brown eyes did not lose his, which he imagined were thirst-tainted and dark. "It is time, isn't it?" she asked, voice colored with nostalgia. She did not cry. The time for tears was past.

Freddie nodded. "Yeah. It is."

Carly glanced around, bidding farewell to her home for the last time. She closed her eyes, and he saw her lips trembling. "Okay."

Her hand found his, or perhaps vice versa. Their fingers interlocked, twisting into an icy knot. Neither pulled the other forward; they walked as one, toward the back door. Freddie threw open the curtain on the window as they passed, revealing a glorious sunset. It bled over the sky in magnificent shades of pink, orange, and red. Carly laughed joyfully as she flung the door open.

They shared one last smile before they walked off together, into

.the light.