Author's Notes: Written for the vampirebigbang on LiveJournal. evian_fork has done beautiful graphics for it, which can be seen at evian-forkDOTlivejournalDOTcom/114745DOThtml
Yes, this is actually serious Twilight fic from Gamma... contain your shock.
Warnings: Violence (both from vampires and from humans), imagery somewhat reminiscent of sexual assault, some abuse of a servant, a degree of non-canon-ness (not that you would know unless you read Victoria's page on the Twilight wiki. Which I did. For research), utter lack of historical research.
Vanity was a terrible vice.
It was the worst of all the seven deadly sins, and she had always been told that an excess would land even the most Godly woman in Hell – an already sinful girl like Victoria would be quite doomed.
But, Victoria had long since decided that if God had nothing better to do than send a girl to the bowels of Hell for preening when she was young, then He was not a very good God at all, and furthermore, if all vain girls really were sent to Hell, then Victoria would at least not be alone.
That was what she reasoned to herself when she sat before her mirror, running her comb through her long, vibrantly red hair over and over again.
"At the mirror still, Victoria?"
She sighed, setting down her comb and turning, inclining her head to her mother. "I see no reason why I should not stay at the mirror," she said, and though she tried to disguise the rebellious tone in her voice, she did not accomplish it and knew that she must have sounded dreadfully bitter.
"We have spoken many times of the sin of vanity–"
"I was just thinking on that very matter." Victoria rose, glancing once more at her reflection to tuck a curl behind her ear. "If I'm not already going to Hell–"
"Hush, Victoria!" The blood drained from her mother's face and she crossed herself swiftly. "Have I not told you enough about…" she dropped her voice to a breathless hiss, "Hell that you know better than to speak of it?"
"I will not tempt the Devil into this house with just the sound of my voice, Mother." Victoria's lip twisted. "I am sure he has better ways to pass his time than snatching the souls of scullery maids."
"You would be surprised," she said darkly, and Victoria felt sure that she would have heard more – most likely some long and rambling theological discussion that left her desperately confused, with her head spinning.
"I'm sure I would, Mother," she said, cutting her off before the lecture could begin, picking up her skirts, and hurrying down to the kitchens.
She purposefully kept her eyes down – the other servants in the household did not care for her, and she supposed that she could not blame them. As much as she loved her appearance, she had heard too many whispers that she looked like a witch for her own comfort.
If she could have avoided interacting with the servants – or worse, the owners of the house – she would have gladly done so, no matter what tasks she would have had to take on. Being sent out to the master's farms and working the land like a boy would have been preferable to staying inside and being driven near-mad by the proximity of people who loathed her so much.
And what reason did they have for loathing her?
Why, that she was the master's daughter, of course.
Victoria had something that none of the other servants had – not one scullery maid or cook or nurse. She had noble blood running through her veins, and it was clear to everyone who saw her brilliant green eyes, her short, upturned nose – features of the Master of the house that he had unwittingly passed on to his illegitimate daughter…
How pleasing it was, she thought, when they shot her glares spiked with jealousy. They could beat her and mock her and do everything they knew how to do to make her life a living Hell, but they could never take her blood from her.
And that, she thought to herself, dropping her eyes and smiling almost derisively at the floor as she picked up a bucket to go fetch water from the well in the centre of the village square, was why she so loved to admire her own reflection. That was why she was vain, and she thought if she could only explain it to God, He would surely understand and not hold it as a sin.
There was a heavy fog in the air – thick with moister and thicker with the scent of pestilence – and the sky was grey, completely obscuring the sun, but a smile crawled onto Victoria's face the moment she stepped out of the kitchens, bucket in hand. If she had been a bit younger or a bit less noticeable, she might have swung the bucket and skipped her way to the well, but she knew all too well the beatings she would get for so flippantly wasting her time.
Still, she thought, she would have liked to skip. Moments like this – where she was outside the house – were moments when she remembered how dreadfully pleasant it was to be alive. Even though she could smell rotting corpses from the hospital not two streets down, even though everything was grey with smoke from a thousand wood fires that people kept burning in their hearths even in the heat of summer because they believed that the smoke purified the air and would keep sickness away, the world outside the house felt open and bright and clear in comparison to what was inside it.
Victoria hummed softly as she stood at the edge of the well and looped the rope around her bucket. She kept half an eye on the street outside while she lowered it.
The doctors were coming by.
Victoria often had the chance to watch them – accompanied by priests sprinkling holy water on the ground over which they walked – dragging their carts full of corpses of those who had succumbed to the plague. She had been told off more than once for morbidity, being told that it was witch-like to take interest in the dead, but being accused of witchery was an almost daily occurrence for her and she brushed off accusations of being unnatural. Death was natural, after all, she reasoned, and so an interest in it should be equally natural.
The cart of corpses bumped along the road, and the few people who had been walking along it scurried away, many of them crossing themselves and the rest holding posies to their noses to keep away the smell. Victoria thought the smell wasn't terribly bad – not good, exactly, but interesting.
The cart rolled over a large bump in the road, and Victoria pressed both hands over her mouth in shock – inadvertently letting go of the well's handle and letting the bucket splash back down into the water – as a child's body slid off the top of the pile and lay crumpled on the stones. The doctors and priests seemed not to notice, and Victoria was frozen with shock.
It was a little girl's body, and she couldn't have been more than six. Her face was blue and puffy, and there was a black crust over several sores on her face.
"Sirs–" Victoria croaked, but already they were rounding the corner, leaving the child's corpse lying on the stones in their wake.
For what felt like an eternity, Victoria could not bring herself to move. She stood frozen beside the well, staring in horror, and she was only startled out of her immobility when a man stepped out of the shadows and approached the little girl.
Victoria ducked down automatically. She didn't know why she did it – she was doing nothing wrong, doing nothing at all save gathering water in her own house's courtyard – but she knelt behind the well, peering out over the rim and watching the man intently.
He was pale – paler than her even, so fair that his skin looked like milk, or like the very whitest spots on marble tile – and moved with a grace that she had only ever seen dancers employ, but he did not look to her like a dancer.
Vomit rose in her throat as he approached the girl's corpse.
The stench must have been unbearable for him. Victoria had never known anyone else who could even be within twenty feet of a diseased body without their posies or at least a perfumed handkerchief pressed over their nose, but this man seemed not to care at all about the smell, and he was getting far too close for Victoria's own comfort now.
He leaned down over the body, and the whole world swam before Victoria's eyes. The smell must have been overwhelming for him, and now he was on his knees beside her, leaning even closer, his face inches from her rotting flesh.
Victoria's heart pounded as he slowly put his arms around the girl, lifting her into a sitting position, and then she let out a small shriek as he sank his teeth into her neck.
The surprise sent her toppling backwards, out of her unstable crouch, and she landed sprawled on the ground behind the well. By the time she'd lifted herself back up, the man – and the girl's corpse – were gone.
She would have thought that she had had a fainting spell and hallucinated the whole thing if it were not for how clearly she could still see it in her mind.
Her hands shook and her palms were slick with sweat as she picked herself back up and tried to retrieve the bucket. The water made it feel unbearably heavy as she turned the crank.
"You look sick, Victoria…"
Victoria turned, jumping at the sound of a voice so near at hand, and the bucket splashed down into the water again.
Anne was standing behind her.
Anne was Victoria's sister – her older sister, as she never missed an opportunity to remind her – and she looked worried. She always looked worried. She always was worried, and it was usually enough to make Victoria want to ignore anything she said. She had no use for someone so nervous.
But if Victoria really had just seen what she was absolutely positive she had seen, then she didn't care how needlessly nervous Anne was.
"I- there was- there was this man–" Victoria began, and then regretted starting it that way when Anne looked horrified.
"Oh Vic- he didn't–"
"No!" Victoria said quickly. "He didn't hurt me… I don't think he even saw me, but the doctors and the priests were taking a cart of bodies to the hospital and one fell off and then this man- he came up to it- and- and–"
"And what, Victoria; spit it out…"
"He bit her!" Victoria cried almost hysterically. "He bither, Anne, I swear – he picked her up and- and–" Her stomach heaved and she doubled over, retching.
"Victoria…" Anne sounded a bit bemused now instead of her usual nervousness. "Victoria, don't be silly – no one would bite a dead body…"
"But I saw him!" Victoria raised her head, her eyes wild. "I saw him, I swear I did, Anne! Really!"
"You ought to come inside and lie down – you're not well, Victoria…"
"Of course I'm not well!" she cried. "I saw a–"
"You didn't see anything!" Anne interrupted, and now she sounded impatient instead of concerned. "You're being silly, and you'd best stop it right now, because if people find out you're seeing things like that, then you know you'll be in trouble…" She dropped her voice to a nervous whisper. "I've heard about girls getting sent away for seeing things like that."
"But I did see–"
Anne slapped her.
Victoria reeled. She had been hit many times before, but never by her sister, and she had never expected it to happen.
"How- how dare you!" she sputtered at last, clutching her cheek. Tears were prickling her eyes, but she held them back for pride. "How dare you lay a hand on me!"
"You have no idea…" Anne trailed off, then stamped one foot. "I'm saving you! Do you want to be sent away to- to an asylum for crazy women who see things that don't happen?"
"But it did happen!"
"That's what all crazy women say!"
Victoria turned away from her sister, her face screwing up in an attempt to stop herself from showing half of what she felt. "Fine! You don't believe me – go inside, then, and leave me alone!"
Anne stamped away, and Victoria leaned over the well, trembling. Tears ran down her face despite her best efforts to keep them away.
She had seen the girl being bitten. She would have bet her life on it.
But if she had seen it, then where had the man gone? He had been out of her sight for only a moment, not nearly long enough for him to go anywhere…
She wiped her eyes, breathing deeply, then lifted the bucket out of the well again. She splashed a bit of water on her face before heading back into the kitchens.
"Where have you been?" demanded Sarah, the head cook, and Victoria winced.
"I'm sorry," she said, not answering the question, but instead pouring a kettleful of water and setting it over the fire to boil it for the master's tea. It was all she could do to stop from screaming, from crying or running away, but she managed to avoid showing any sort of feeling at all.
"Then hurry up," Sarah said. "There's going to be company tonight, and the master will skin us all alive if dinner isn't done properly."
"Mm." Victoria nodded, still not trusting herself to be able to speak without her voice shaking at least.
"You oughtn't let Victoria near the food," one of the other women murmured, "she'll probably poison the guests…"
Victoria whirled, her eyes blazing. "I would not!" she cried, clenching her fists. "I would never–"
"Be quiet, Mary," Sarah snapped. "Victoria, there's bread that needs kneading. See to it."
Victoria fumed as she crossed the kitchen, covering her hands in flour and all but attacking the bread dough. She beat at it, slamming her hands into the pliable surface of the dough until it sprung back when she hit it, then, as she had done so many times that it was second nature, she broke it into four pieces, rolled them into nice loaf shapes, and shoved them into the oven.
"Good," Sarah observed, and Victoria had the urge to snap of course it's good, you know I can bake bread.
But of course she kept silent, because the absolute last thing she wanted after seeing that man was to get into a fight over something as insignificant as bread.
She spent the day quietly fuming and silently pondering the man who had been in the street, searching for some explanation that she could use to reconcile what she knew she had seen with what she knew to be true about people – namely, that people didn't bite dead bodies.
She shuddered, a chill running up her spine.
"Victoria, get the soup!" Mary snapped irritably, and Victoria winced. She had been leaning against the wall, trying to avoid being trampled – and trying at the same time to get rid of the image of that man's teeth sinking into the girl's flesh – and she should have known that that would be taken for laziness.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, quickly crossing the kitchen to stir the pot of soup and take it off the fire.
Get control of yourself, Victoria. You'll only drive yourself mad if you don't…
"Hurry up!" Sarah told her, rushing into the kitchen, looking dishevelled. "Guests are already arriving!"
"Already?" Victoria pushed a lock of hair back, out of the way, and sighed impatiently. "How can they be arriving already? It's not dinner time yet!"
"And yet, they're here. Now hurry up!"
"Yes, ma'am," Victoria mumbled, ladling soup into a large bowl, setting it on a tray along with a loaf of bread and hurrying upstairs. The task of running up a flight of stairs without spilling the soup was enough to take her attention, and for the first time in the day, she wasn't thinking about the man in the street.
Or rather, she didn't think about him until she had gone into the dining hall and saw him sitting at the table.
The tray slipped from her hands, crashing to the floor. The soup spilled out across the floorboards, the tray cracked, and the loaf of bread went skittering and landed at the man's face.
The master's face flushed an ugly colour of purple and Victoria shrank back, horrified at her own clumsiness. She knew well what sort of punishment she would receive for this – spilling the soup and in front of the guests as well – but she couldn't bring herself to care, for her eyes were fixed on the man from the street.
He was looking back at her, his eyes glittering intently, and Victoria stumbled backwards, fighting the urge to scream and run away. Perhaps it was only a trick of the lamps and candlelight, but to her, his eyes looked positively crimson.
"Victoria, what ever is the matter with you?" the master demanded, standing up and advancing on her.
"I'm s- sorry, sir!" stammered Victoria. "I- I didn't mean to–"
"I should hope you didn't, but not meaning to is hardly an excuse! Clean up this mess at once!" He grabbed a napkin from the table and shoved it at her, and Victoria fell to her knees immediately, dropping her head so that the guests wouldn't see her tears of fear and shame.
"Apologize to our guests!" the master snapped, and Victoria raised her head swiftly.
"I'm very sorry," she repeated, her voice quivering. "I- I don't know what–"
But she knew exactly what had happened, and if the way the man from the street was looking at her was any indication, he knew too. Victoria trembled – the way he was looking at her made her positive that he knew exactly what she had seen. He was staring at her with an expression somewhere between wary and mildly amused, and she did not care for it.
"Hurry and clean it up, then!" the master ordered her. Victoria tried to sop up the soup with the napkin, but there was too much and she knew how wretched she must have looked.
Victoria's head snapped up.
The voice was velvet smooth, quiet, but there was a power to it that made chills run up her spine and something in her throat clench, as if from excitement. Her hands trembled a little as she brushed back a lock of her hair and stared at the man from the street, who had stood up and was approaching her with all the grace he had demonstrated before when moving towards the little girl's corpse.
"N- no- no need–" she stammered, but he ignored her. He sank to his knees and drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and when he set it to the ground, his hand brushed lightly against Victoria's.
His skin sent a jolt through her and she jumped back automatically as though she had put her hand to the metal grate that covered the fire, but she didn't register pain where he had touched her. It was more fright – terrible fright, and she knew not whether that was because of the touch or because of what she knew she had seen.
"I'm s- sorry, sir," she told him, scampering back, but he seemed unperturbed and continued to work at cleaning up the soup.
"There's really no need for that, James," the master said impatiently. "You ought not to be doing a servant's work for her – it will encourage her laziness."
I am not lazy, Victoria wanted to snap, but she could not, so she forced a polite smile.
"Yes, sir," she agreed. "You need not help me – I can do it myself without trouble…"
The man – James, the master had called him – tilted his head lightly, considering her. "Are you sure, miss?"
"I'm quite sure," she said. She didn't look at him, but kept her head bowed with her hair covering her face and her heart pounding somewhere in the vicinity of her throat.
"James, do come back to the table," the master said impatiently. "Honestly, you make a fool of yourself…"
He stood and moved back from Victoria, but even as she kept her eyes on her hands and tried to stop herself from shaking, she could feel him staring down at her with an intensity that made her tremble. There were tears in her eyes, she was sure, and she tried to hide her face, picking up the tray and bowl and the ruined loaf of bread and backing away.
"I'm very sorry," she whispered again, then bolted from the room.
Only when she was out in the hall did she put the tray down again and collapse to the ground, letting the tears flow freely. She didn't think that she had ever been so afraid – seeing the man there had come as a terrible shock and it had been made so much worse by him coming near her…
"Dear God," she breathed, tilting her head back and trying to draw a complete lungful of breath. "Dear God, protect me…"
She did not expect an answer from God, of course, but it was comforting to think that he might hear her if she spoke so to him.
At last, when she was sure that she could stand without her knees weakening and her body giving out entirely beneath her, she gripped the wall and dragged herself to her feet. Her heart was still beating, oh so terribly quickly, but she felt better than when she had been in the dining room with the man – James, the master had called him – looking down on her.
She must have been mistaken about seeing him bite the little girl.
That was the only explanation that she could think of. Surely, if he had, the master would know – for there was nothing that the master didn't know – and would not allow him into the house. Perhaps James was the little girl's father, or some other member of her family, and he had meant to do nothing more than pick her up and embrace her. Perhaps it had been a kiss Victoria had seen him give her, not a bite.
Yes, that made so much more sense... after all, who would bight a dead girl? Even the vampires in stories that the other women sometimes liked to tell when they were feeling idle and wished to share some ridiculous fairy stories would not bite a sick, dead creature - if Victoria was not mistaken, she had heard that vampires could only feed on the blood of the living or the healthy or they too would fall ill…
"And what madness is this?" she demanded of herself in a low hiss. "Thinking of vampires now? Have you lost your mind, Victoria? Vampires do not exist, as you know perfectly well! You're being foolish."
She nodded decisively, then strode back down the stairs, the tray clutched in her hands. She tried not to blush too darkly when she went into the kitchen and was met with accusing stairs.
"Someone else needs to bring the food up to them," she said, and when Sarah demanded to know why, she gave no answer, and only shook her head.
"Go to bed, Victoria," Anne spoke up, then glanced at the others. "She's been ill all day. We should pray for her, that she doesn't contract the plague..."
"She doesn't have the plague," Sarah said impatiently. "She's a lazy girl."
"I am not!" Victoria snapped, but Anne silenced her with a slap.
"Go to bed," she said. "Now."
"Fine," Victoria muttered, turning away and plodding upstairs. She glanced briefly in her mirror, but the sight of her own beauty did nothing to please her. She collapsed onto the thin mattress and buried her face in her hands.
Perhaps she was going mad. Perhaps it would not be long before the doctors came and took her away to put her into the asylum near the hospital, and then she could do nothing but watch every corpse being taken in…
"Are you the servant who spilled the soup at dinner?"
Victoria twisted in bed, crying out and scrambling into a sitting position, her heart pounding terribly. She thanked God that she hadn't taken off her dress, for James was standing in the doorway of her small room, looking down at her with an expression of mild interest. He must have entered perfectly silently, though the stairs creaked terribly and Victoria could usually hear people coming from the very bottom.
"Yes, sir," she squeaked. "How- why are you here?"
"I wished to apologize," he said, all polite cordiality. "I should have helped you…"
"Oh, no, sir… it- it was not your fault," Victoria said shakily, though, of course, it was entirely his fault.
"Nonsense," he said. "As a guest, it matters not that it was not my fault – it is my duty to help…"
"No, of course it isn't," she said shakily. She pressed her hand against her breast, trying to still her pounding heart. "I- I- may I ask why you came to my bedroom?" Or how you found it…
"I said that I wished to apologize." He moved a little closer to her, and his eyes gleamed darkly in the light of the sunset filtering between boards in her roof. "And… I have seen you before."
You saw me before when I watched you take up that little girl…
"Do you recognize me?" James asked in a hiss, then smirked slightly. "Oh, of course you do…"
"No, sir!" Victoria said immediately, shrinking back still further. "I've never seen you before, I swear it!"
"Funny, then, that you should be so terribly afraid of me," he breathed. He was moving still closer now, unnervingly close, so close that Victoria could smell him. He did not smell of unwashed cloth and sweat and bad perfume as so many men did, but oddly sweet – closer to the smell of fresh flowers, or of sugar cakes being made in the bakery than to a regular human.
"I- I…" she stammered, and then found herself lost for words when he reached out and lay one fingertip on her lips. His skin was cold, like stone on a frosted day, like the water that came out of the well in the dead of winter.
"Don't lie to me," he breathed. "Don't lie, because I know the truth… I know the truth all the time…"
"I am not lying," Victoria whispered, but she didn't sound the slightest bit vehement or convinced, even to herself, and the feeling of his hand brushing against her mouth was making her too weak and dizzy to give any other response.
"Now," he said softly, his voice still civil and almost kind, "I know you were outside this morning, and I know you saw me on the street, so it would be best for you to tell me right now exactly what you saw… in your own words, if you please. Your own description of what happened."
"Leave my bedroom!" Victoria ordered. "Please- or I'll scream! I'll scream!" She tried to sound as brave as she could, but knew that it was barely a shaking whimper. "I'll scream and the master will come up here and throw you out–"
"Firstly," James interrupted smoothly, sounding not at all interested in what she was saying, "no, you aren't going to scream."
"Am I not?" Victoria challenged. "You don't think I'm going to? I will! I will, I swear!" She jumped to her feet and rushed towards the door, but James caught her in his arms, holding her still. His flesh felt ice cold and shivers ran up and down Victoria's spine as she struggled violently.
"Don't do that," he told her, and his voice was cold, hard, not at all the sort of smooth and velvety tone he had used with her before. "It does not become a woman to go screaming as you intend to."
"I will- I will- help!" she screamed, clawing at him, but her nails snapped when she tried to dig them into his face and she screamed as her own blood pooled on her fingers.
He let go of her.
Victoria had not been expecting him to do so and she screeched as she tumbled down to the ground, her chest heaving as she tried to steady herself, but when she looked back up at James, he was backing away slowly, his hands twisted and his fingers flexed like a cat extending its claws.
"Help!" Victoria screamed again, but James let out a hiss and before she knew what was happening, he was all but on top of her, and her fingers were in his mouth.
"Get off me!" Victoria screamed, writhing. He was far stronger than her, far larger and more powerful, and she could not even shift him.
Then she felt his teeth penetrate her skin.
Victoria had been cut many times before, of course. One could not be a servant and avoid it – there were knives to be worked with in the kitchen, scrapes to be gotten on the flagstones or against the metal grating on the oven. There were whippings to be received when one did not do the work that the master wanted, which could often leave one bloodied for days afterwards. Victoria was no stranger to cuts and blood.
This, however, was vastly different from anything that she had felt before. There was an agonizing pain in her hand that should not have been present – one that burned all the way up her arm, making her cry out and sob and writhe without being able to stop herself.
"No!" she wailed, as a burning pain shot up her arm. She tried to throw him off, tried to struggle away, but could manage nothing. She was beginning to go numb, especially her fingers, still encased in his mouth.
He pulled away from her hand and she let it fall limply to the ground, all but unable to move it. She tried to lift it and saw her flesh pale and greying where his teeth had sunken into her.
"What- what have you…" she began, but the words would not come to her groggy mind, and all she could do was watch in terror as he leaned over her and sank his teeth into her neck.