The first thing he noticed was the cold.
As his senses returned to him, he next realized he was soaking wet. The cement beneath him held no pity as it pressed against his tailbone, making it throb with a dull pain. Above him the sky roiled with dark resolution, preparing to release its cargo of rain at any moment. Two tall building walls above and below his field of vision framed the grey sky in letterbox, the unused clotheslines handing between were scratches in film. With a hand, he touched the ground he laid upon and sensed moisture. He had not been there for long.
The last thing he remembered before the darkness was watching someone scream next to him. The flashback replaced the rain as it fell like a curtain before his eyes.
He was on the slab that served as a bed again. His body was flattened against the padded metal, restrained at his thighs, waist, and chest, but his head lolled to the side in his unconsciousness. He was not motivated to move an inch. He watched everything passively as his neighbor suddenly opened her eyes and sucked in a deep breath. Her back arched and pressed against her restraints. He could see her pupils glaze over as a scream ripped out of her throat with startling clarity. It pitched high and deafening in the high vaulted ceiling, echoing as it bounced off the unrelieved walls. Her canines were large as she howled and carried on, seemingly dull without the life of saliva. She took more breaths and repeated the cycle of screaming until her throat was as raspy and dry as sandpaper. Even then, she exhaled harshly as her mind wanted to scream till eternity.
He watched her without pity and wondered what pity was. He wanted to go back to the warm fluid that engulfed him like a lover's embrace. He wanted whatever they had given him because it made him tingle from head to foot and made him seem to float better in the liquid. He looked past the mentally departed woman and slowly opened his eyes again to the tubes lining the walls. They looked like clear batteries big enough to fit a standing person inside. They were filled with a clear green liquid with one person each. Tubes slide into arms and legs, monitoring white disks suctioned to chests, and a mask was fitted over the nose and mouth. Every once in a while, a bubble would emerge from the bottom and slowly fight to the top of the tanks. It had all reminded him of novel paperweights for tourists.
Wires draped and coiled in clusters around the dark, reflective room. The walls reminded him of onyx and silver, reflecting light in one place and absorbing it in others. It tiled the round wall in large, smooth panels. Some panels swung open to display switches and levers and all kinds of buttons. He couldn't tell how high the room was, the light was coming from below him somehow. From what he could tell by the curve of the wall, the room seemed like a huge silo, cylindrical and wide.
He couldn't remember why he wasn't in that cold, yet not entirely unpleasant place anymore. There was no emptiness between mental pictures, just the tall, dark ceiling above him blinking out and a dark, brooding sky reappear in its place. He stared at the heavy clouds now as the rain began dancing on his bare chest and legs. A rather fat drop landed in the crook of his eye and swung to tickle the tip of his nose. He couldn't feel his feet or hands, they had been taken by the surface beneath his buttocks. It hurt his tailbone like the table did and it sparked another vision to his empty recollections.
A tall, aloof man stood over him, talking to the small Asian woman who was always there. She was either short of stature or the table he laid upon was tall for her face was often close enough to touch. She stared at him as always with cold brown eyes a shade away from black, her pale face seeming to glow in contrast to the dark burgundy hair that blended with the barely lit room. He could make out the crisscrossing grills that was the floor in the distorted reflection of her glasses, framed in heavy black plastic.
The man wore glasses as well, but they seemed thin and barely present except for reflections of green tubes. His eyes were undefined in color, but undeniably distanced as they stared at him. He wore a suit that fit snugly to a fit build and his arms crossed on his chest, pressing his straight tie to his chest. There was a faint glare on his brow and dark blonde hair faded into the darkness above him. They talked about something, but he couldn't remember what the words actually were. He was almost sure they were about him, since they stared at him without blinking. His ears didn't seem to be working.
In the long space of a slow motion blink, he felt something cold slide up his arms, as if he's just stuck it in a refrigerator. His body moved even slower as he looked down to his arm that had the IV strapped to it. He followed the clear tube until he saw the woman's needle jutting from an opening in the tube next to a bag of pale green fluid. She watched him watching her with eyes that focused past him. In moments, he felt a heat rise up from his feet and overtake all sensory feeling. With a shudder, there was black.
He stumbled to his shaky legs in the alleyway, vision blurred from images of memories disconnected from sentiment. He watched and listened in his mind to the events that passed him and didn't lick a drop of emotion or thought from his heart. In a detached part of his mind, he knew that he had been afraid before. He had been afraid when he hadn't known what was going on. Even though he was still ignorant, it didn't bother him as much. There was no need for answers.
His weakened muscles protested with fresh pain, a sensation he hadn't felt in a very long time. He was aware, finally, of the tart, sour stench of rotting garbage that contained a dairy product. Somewhere within his gut, he smelled blood and emptiness yawned in his belly. He looked around, ignoring the stench, and eyed a shifting pile of garbage on top of a green plastic waste barrel.
He shuffled closer and a pair of glowing yellow eyes met his. A head emerged from underneath a fast food wrapper and a mouth opened to bare sharp little canines. Small furry lips curled back into a growl and a hiss, the small sound muffled as rain began to fall. Before it could leap up and out of the trashcan, his arm had snapped out and his fingers wrapped around the scrawny neck of the tomcat. It twisted by the cuff of fur on his neck, his ears down and paws flailing to hook into the man's flesh. The man looked at the animal dispassionately for a moment before clenching his fingers and breaking the tomcat's neck.
The animal immediately went limp, changing in nature's mysterious fashion from a living, breathing entity to a sack of flesh and bones. The man sniffed the animal, unsure why he had done something so abrupt. His hand tightened on the animal's neck without his volition, however, and crushed the tomcat's throat and vertebra; the bones cracking like thin tree branches. A fragment of bone punctured through the fur and a trickle of blood erupted on the surface. Instinctively, the man put the ruined neck to his lips and began to feed.
With the musky heat of blood in his mouth, he remembered that he had tasted the liquid before. The flavor of this instance was gamey, very tough and course. He remembered the taste being smooth, refined almost into a nice liqueur for his spirit. At intervals, it would soothe him into peace or excite him into violence. The taste of the street was in his mouth and he held down the urge to push up the blood he had already swallowed and rode out the tumbling of his insides.
He remembered the taste of other blood. Blood that had been so thick and metallic that he had spat it into the doctor's face. The man had worn a white laboratory coat with a dress shirt and tie everyday he had seen him. His neatly pressed clothes fit him nicely, even over his developing beer gut. He had large hands and a blocky face with a wide mouth always set into a half-pout for thinking. When he used to spit up food or blood back at the doctor, the doctor would cold-cock him across the jaw with a meaty fist. One could say he had the shittiest bedside manner.
He remembered the most exquisite amounts of pain when the doctor would enter the laboratory. He would dread every time that man had stepped before his tank, look at him for a few moments and say a word to the small Asian female. The warm liquid would drain away towards his feet and cold air would replace it. People with latex gloves and facemasks would then extract him from his cylindrical home and place him on those cold metal body trays.
Soon after, the burning would start. Needles with fluids and devices of unknown purpose would descend on his body and he would lay helpless as they added to and subtracted from his body various tissue samples. He forgot if he ever screamed.
He shuddered and tossed the corpse away from him as he braced himself against a brick wall, gazing at the world outside of the building partitions. The burning streetlights made his eyes water and adjust slowly. Small shops were closed all along the sidewalks, scant interior lights asking shoppers to come again during store hours. Sounds of grasshoppers permeated the air and the occasional car rushed by with mumbling engines and loud late night disc jockeys.
He remembered streets like these in various forms. He remembered buildings within a large cavernous expanse and lazy saxophones. He remembered the laughter from all women except the one he had most loved as a boy. He remembered elaborate balls and cotillions as well as bar fights and brawls. Faces and voices with scattered words made their rounds in his mind and he bared his own teeth against the flood of emotions each memory conjured.
Lastly, he remembered his name was Eric Simone.
Langley welcomed the rain.
It always carried to her memories of good nights. When she was a child, her mother used to snuggle with her under the blankets on the couch. The fresh, earthy smell would carry from the windows and into the living room, but the cold was left outside. The wall heater in the small apartment would flare to life every so often, letting the air out in a deep, heaving breath. The television would be playing some drawn out movie and her mother would ask Langley questions she didn't know.
She shook her head at the not-uncomfortable memories and stared yards ahead of her dashboard. The windshield wipers worked industriously against the rain and her defrost didn't seem to be kicking in with enough strength. She sighed and sat back, lessening her speed on the abandoned main street. It was well past business hours and buzzing of streetlights competed with the pattering rain. Beyond her blurred window, the wet black streets shone an artificial yellow and she could barely see the white strips indicating the lanes.
Why am I worrying? It's 3:30 a.m. and no one's around. At least there's no one crazy enough to drag race when it rains…
She sighed, careful to aim her breath to her passenger side, but the sensitive window accepted the faint breath and fogged up even more. Glaring and mumbling, she carefully reached into the glove compartment to retrieve the rag she used for just these occasions. By touch, she encountered some candy wrappers, the hug envelope of her vehicle's documentation, and an assortment of paper napkins. No soft rag.
Sighing yet again, she stiffened her arm against the wheel and leaned over to see where her hand was going. She had just touched the rag with her fingertips when the car hit something on the road. Her eyes swerved just in time to see the dark blank eyes of a transient looking at her from her hood.
Langley braked and swerved at the same time, stopping perpendicular to the white lines that marked her lane. The body fell off to her driver's side and she took a moment to stop her shaking hands. Was he all right? Did I kill him? Oh God, what do I do, I can't just run away, can I? For a moment, her leg twitched to pump into the accelerator and speed off, but she resisted.
She opened her car door and almost got out before her seat belt reminded her it hadn't been unbuckled. With frustrated hands, she freed herself and looked around the wet pavement. The naked man laid in stark contrast to the black pavement, the raindrops pebbling his skin made him glimmer. Shivering with a sudden chill, she stepped towards the man slowly.
"Are you okay?" She grimaced as some part of her mind kicked herself for such an awful question. No, Langley, he just feels like sleeping naked on the street in the rain. He wanted you to run his ass over.
She stepped even closer and watched carefully as his ribs slowly flexed with his breathing. She took a deep breath of rain, herself, and hesitantly knelt next to the prone man. He had landed on his stomach, his head landing to the side and his arms were limp by his sides. The selfish side of Langley admired his body formation, even though his muscles looked slightly flabby and misused. Longish black bangs failed to obscure the dark patches of skin under his eyelids and the gaunt almost emaciated cheekbones.
Homeless. Yes, he's got to be homeless… Her thoughts sped as she just stared down at the man, her hair slowly getting soaked with raindrops. I can't just leave him here, he'd really die… If he isn't really dead now, he'd die of exposure to this goddamn cold. The hospital wouldn't give a fuck if I dropped him off there. And if I did, I'd have to explain… and there'd be cops. No, I have to…
Clutching at a half-assed idea, she rushed to the driver's side and popped open the trunk. Looking up and down the empty street with anxious eyes, she rounded her car and lifted up the hatchback. Grabbing some old towels she used for car washes, she snapped them out and laid them over the man's body. Arranging the carrying system took some time, but eventually she managed to put the man in her backseat and drive off into the night.
At the sound of the knock, Matthias got up from a reclining position on the couch and opened the door with a knowing smile for Langley's late night visits. The smile soon faded as he saw that she had brought a male someone with her.
"What? Who's this, Langley?" A flare of jealous suspicion was fueled higher when he saw that the man was naked underneath Langley's towels.
"Someone I ran over," she answered with thinly coated agitation in her voice. Her back was bent forward under the weight of the stranger on her shoulder. Her wet hair dripping into her eyes and she blinked rapidly to clear them out. "Can I come in?"
He hesitated for a moment, but swung the door wide as she entered, dripping rain onto the carpet. He followed her progress to the couch with his eyes as he shut the door to the rain. "You ran him over?"
"Well… technically, he bounced over, but…" She lost her composure as she laid him awkwardly down onto the couch, her hands shaking as she arranged the towels over his cold body for some warmth. "Damn, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do…"
Noticing the shakiness of her breathing, Matthias gathered her up in his arms and nudged her towards the kitchen, away from the still form of the stranger. "We're going to handle this together, luv. We just have to figure out what to do."
"I don't know at all, Matt." She sat down at the small kitchen table, vaguely remembering another night with another real life crisis. "I just brought him here… out of instinct, I guess. I shouldn't have. Isn't that making you an accessory or something?"
He sat on that question as he wondered what he could give her to eat or drink to make her calm down. He reached for the cupboards and searched for a moment until he found a Styrofoam cup of packaged instant soup. "I'm not an accessory. You didn't kill him."
"Thank the good gods for that much." She sat there and felt the headache build under her skull. She buried her fingers through her hair and pressed down mercilessly at the area. She was a believer in pain negating pain. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply.
Matthias noticed as he turned away from putting the teakettle on the stove. Wordlessly, he stepped behind her, removing her fingers and putting his own over her temples. After a time, her shoulders slowly drooped and she let out a shuddering sob.
"What the hell do I do?" her mind kept looping over that one thought and she voiced it with a hint of disjointed rambling. "Make sure he's okay then send him back out onto the street? What if he's dangerous? I hear a lot of transients are psychotic and need Prozac."
Matthias looked down at her and frowned in disapproval. "Did you really hear that or is that just something your mother spouted off?"
She took a deep breath and her voice steadied out. "I think I heard it from psychology class. You've taken enough of them, didn't they mention anything about that?"
Matthias slipped into a logical frame of mind with mild difficulty. Quickly, he analyzed all the angles of the situation. "I think I've heard a teacher mention that. Some of the homeless that go around mumbling to themselves are really just schizophrenic in need of medical attention; they just can't afford it or haven't been diagnosed. Either way, they're out there. I take it you didn't see him before you hit him?"
"No, Matt, I intentionally mow people down. It's fun, I earn points at the local body parts shop." She sighed and pulled her shoulders from his grasp. She stood and started pacing the small kitchen. "God, I don't really think he's a vagrant, Matt. They don't usually go out in the streets in the middle of the night naked. I always see them with three layers of clothes on, even in the middle of a hot summer. When it rains, they're usually under cover somewhere. I don't know what this guy is."
Matthias nodded, reaching the same conclusion as she talked. He leaned backwards and watched the unconscious man breathe on his couch. Since he saw the naked man at his doorway, something prickled at the back of his neck. It was like staring at puzzle pieces, only each piece was from a different puzzle. Matthias felt sure in his stomach that he didn't want to see what the picture developed into.
Eric came to with the sensation of warmth. Smells assailed him and he was aware of a human female nearby, warm and full of blood. His interest peaked and his heart started to throb as he tuned into his ears, listening to the voices that talked amongst themselves around him. He noticed he was warm and felt a comfortable fabric tucked around his cold body.
Blood would help warm me up. Blood is nice. Simplistic thoughts ran though Eric's head as he came to his senses, if not his full mental capacity. Just one little taste, a little lick…
At that moment, Langley chose to check up on her accident victim. Her head was turned to talk to Matthias as she knelt down on the floor next to the couch, her hand reaching to check Eric's pulse. With a quick intake of breath, Eric rose up and hooked Langley by the neck with a sinewy arm. He pulled her down and stretched out her arm, bending his head down to nip into the large green vein in the crook of her elbow.
Matthias reacted in slow surprise. Eric had his teeth touching her flesh before Matthias could rouse up and knee the man in the face. The blow made contact below Eric's cheekbone and the force pushed Langley's arm painfully backward. She pulled away as best she can as the two men fell on the floor, Eric going down with a grunt on his back and Matthias' lips pulled into a snarl as he followed through with a fist to Eric's jaw.
It was Langley who finally had enough sense to hold back Matthias' fist as it was about to descend again. Matthias looked up at her startled as Eric used that time to buck Matthias off of him. As Eric bared his blunt teeth at Matt, Langley picked up a nearby hard cover schoolbook on the coffee table and hit Eric over the head with it. He fell back onto the couch, dazed.
Matthias rose up on his feet, his body now ready for an attack as he stared at the naked man. Langley still clutched the heavy book in her hands, adrenaline whirling in her blood stream. The man moaned a bit and shifted, making the couple flinch. Neither one of them stepped forward to help.
"What the hell did you do that for?" she asked first. She shook with controlled tension, the book raised to her shoulder, ready to smash down on the man again.
Words registered in his mind, as well as a reply, but it had difficulty passing his thick tongue. He uttered a few deep grunts before spitting out, "Blood. Need…"
Matthias narrowed his eyes at the dark haired stranger and trusted his instincts. The sensation slid into his gut like a trickle of mercury. "Vampire."
Eric looked up at him, his own black eyes slowly displaying intelligence and thought processes. "So are you."
He woke up and suddenly remembered.
He explained it away in his mind with the civilized softness under him instead of the cold hardness he was used to. Even before he opened his eyes, he recognized natural light shining onto him from somewhere. He heard birds chirping and shuddered out a breath. After months of isolation in that large, black, sensationless laboratory, his heart thumped with excitement. The scent of coffee that enriched the air brought back a century of memories. Women, sunlight, bustling noises, and his father. With his father came the rush of his memories.
He gave an unmanly yelp and struggled to a sitting position at the sound of her voice. He remembered her voice vaguely from a recent time. He raised his eyes from her bare feet, past her jeans and sweater to her face. Her brown eyes were wary and she was holding two aromatic cups of coffee. He confused himself, unsure whether to snarl or to fall back to the couch defeated.
She set his mug cautiously on the coffee table between them, taking caution not to make sudden movements or be close enough for him to grab. "This might make you feel better."
"Thank you." His voice was gritty and the words made the gravel rise in his throat. He also noticed a pounding headache between his temples and grimaced. He sat down and picked up the mug for a sip. It was only then that he realized that he was naked and he reflexively grabbed the rumpled blanket next to him, spilling scalding coffee on his blanket-covered thighs. He flinched and cursed at himself blue for his unusual clumsiness.
Langley bit down on an awkward smile and took pity on the stranger. "Careful," she warned him, as she stepped out of the room to the bathroom down the hall. She returned with a small towel, hesitated for a moment, and then bashfully tossed it in the general direction of his lap.
He mumbled his thanks and returned the mug to its place on the coffee table, wiping ineffectively at the soaked blanket. "Sorry."
She coughed a little and looked away, latching onto the children playing out in the street outside the window. "Not a problem."
The silence between them stretched as the laughter and yells of the children grew louder. Both had questions simmering on their minds, but both were afraid of a price to pay for the answer. Eric was calculating exactly how much of his story he should tell her, but was abruptly caught short as he realized he didn't' know much. He only hastily remembered what had happened in little, incongruous images and sounds.
"I… I didn't mean to run you over." The way Langley stood in front of the bright window, it was impossible to construe her expression. "It was raining and I foolishly thought I could drive faster. You just stumbled out on the street… and… I just… I didn't mean for…"
She stopped when continuing became impossible. How did one apologize for hitting another with their car? "My name is Langley," she stated bravely after swallowing the nervousness in her throat. "What's yours?"
He had the reflexive urge to lie to her, but it disappeared as soon as he realized it was there. He smiled a bit, charmed by her simple trust. "Eric. I think my name is Eric, last name Simone. Pleasure to meet you… under the circumstances." His voice sounded very unfamiliar to him and he seriously considered playing mute. He had some semblance of pride left and it didn't involve his rough, sandy voice that cracked every other word.
She relaxed visibly and even raised a corner of her mouth for a small smile in response, but remained at the window facing him, watching his every movement, as he remained blind to hers. "What were you doing out there naked? I assume you're homeless, of course, but if you're not…"
"I don't remember much, but I don't believe I was homeless. Homeless people usually have layers of clothing when it's cold," he added, echoing her suggested thought.
"You don't remember?" She latched onto his earlier words, becoming interested despite her earlier resolve to wake him, feed him, dress him, and send him on his way. "But you said your name was Eric."
"I remember little." He looked up at her and watched as she eased herself away from the window and into the light. The way she moved and talked soothed his confusion and he found himself relating to her all that he knew. The inner alarm of preserving his privacy was ignored. In her deep brown eyes, he found himself being trusted and returning that instinctive trust.
He related to her all the small visions he'd had in the alleyway, leaving out the incident of killing and eating the alley cat. The more he told her, the more his memory came back. He described to her sketchily about the Asian woman and the cold blonde man. He told her of his treatment and few remembered tests and pain. He felt better as he watched her expressive face grimace with sympathy for his pain.
"So… what I don't understand is how you got free from all of that. It sounds like with all that technology, they should have an amazing security system." Her mind jumped instinctively. "Why would they actually let you out?"
"Shouldn't you ask if they let me out? Maybe there was an insider who just decided it was time to break me out."
She smiled and even though it wasn't dazzling in its beauty or brought harp strings to his ears, it made Eric feel fresh and just a tiny bit lighter. She continued without noticing, "If you think you have a Deep Throat on your side, I think you've been watching too many science-fiction dramas."
He leveled his onyx black eyes at her, the sarcasm indicated with an eloquent eyebrow. "They didn't exactly provide cable with the injections, Langley."
She gave him a look and he could see every thought mirrored in her face. She debated on whether to apologize for her attempt at a joke or just shrug off his comment. He felt a glimmer of respect for her when she shrugged it off.
"And they had you there because… you're a vampire?"
He nodded, slipping automatically back into a serious frame of mind. "As far as I can tell, yes. The people around me smelled like vampires and they reacted violently to many of the drugs they injected into them. Some had the fangs, others just…" He frowned, searching for the right words. "They just felt vampiric. I guess you just had to have been there."
"You don't remember where it was? Or who anyone was?"
He nodded, slightly amused. "Thinking of solving the mystery, detective?"
"It's all intriguing. I mean, vampires are really not that special." Her declaration surprised Eric, but she didn't notice and continued. "Sure, someone might want to test some for shits and giggles, but from what you've told me, they sound very rich and too sophisticated to be some half-assed project. So it'd be safe to assume that it could be government or business."
Eric grinned, unconsciously drawing forth all his charisma and charm, rendering Langley speechless for a moment. "Should I call you Mulder or Scully?"
She grunted with good humor, shaking herself for letting her eyes get to her like a teenybopper after the latest heartthrob. "Neither, I suppose. Would you like some breakfast?"
He sensed her little jolt of attraction on an inner level of his mind and smiled even more broadly. "A shower and some clothes would help, miss."
She blushed from the tips of her hair to the collar of her shirt, just as he suspected she would. It was just too easy for him. "Right. The shower is just down the hall. Uhm… I'll fix something easy for your stomach to digest."
She quickly pivoted on her heel and scuttled out of the living room to the adjoining kitchen. Eric allowed himself a chuckle at her transparency; he didn't even need his telempathy to read her thoughts. Despite her estimated age, Eric recognized the kind of innocence and naïveté that created victims in society, yet felt that he was in no rush to exploit it as he normally would. Something about her presence stopped him from reacting as he normally did and he took a mental step back to review it as he pulled the stained covers away from his pale body and made way for the hall.
Outside in the kitchen, Langley heard the bathroom door closed and let out a sigh of relief. She waited until she heard the faucets turn on to walk away from the boiling pot of chicken soup with rice and look into the living room. The coverlet they had laid over him after he lost consciousness had slipped onto the floor, the coffee stain obvious on the blue and mauve pattern. She sighed, gathering it in her arms and stepped into the bedroom where she and Matthias had spent the night. She evoked the memory of his arms wrapped around her and pillowing her head on his shoulder to exorcise the picture of a shirtless stranger from her mind.
When Eric stepped into the kitchen, Langley was just putting the finishing touches on the omelets she had been cooking. She turned and directed him to sit at the table, admitting to herself that Matthias' clothes were somewhat tight on Eric. She had thought that they would fit for the two men were both skinny, but Eric's shoulders and chest were slightly broader than Matthias'. She weighed the prospect of spending money on this stranger as she scooped breakfast onto two plates and slid them on the table.
"Smells nice," Eric offered, watching Langley's ducked head. During his shower, he talked himself into relaxing slightly in her presence. She was alone with him, vulnerable, and naïve. Easy prey was never much appeal to him. He had decided to loosen up and get comfortable while he determined what to do with his present life.
"Thanks," she replied belatedly, caught quickly in her own thoughts and in the middle of a mouthful of egg. She had come to her own decisions while he was in the shower, but they were the direct opposite of his. She would stay away from him and this physical attraction she discovered within herself. She had quickly become disgusted with her libido and reminded herself that no matter how sexy this stranger was, nothing would come of any action. Nor did she want to take any action because she was doggedly loyal to those who were loyal to her.
And Matthias loved her.
She mentally sighed and looked up at Eric, a smile on her lips even when it didn't shine in her eyes. "My mom used to make omelets this way. I have juice here, but if you want any milk, I can get you a glass."
His jaw locked at the guarded politeness in her tone and he forced it to relax, wondering why he was annoyed with her. "No, juice is fine." He cut a piece of omelet with his fork, picking another topic in his mind as he chewed. "So you and Matt are going to get married soon?"
Langley sputtered on a sip of orange juice, very close to choking as she looked indignantly at Eric. "That's none of your business!"
Eric grinned, his trick having worked. "Well, just some conversation is all I'm getting at." Her surprise told him she wasn't as serious about the other man as he thought she was. It also broke the ice, albeit, in not the best way. "Since you two… well, none of my business."
She cursed him up and down in her mind for making her blush again. "It's nothing like… We're together, but we…" She glared at him for making her feel like she owed him an explanation and throwing her plan right out the window. "Just sit there and eat your eggs before I shove it up your ass!"
"Ooh, squishy." Eric laughed as she seemed to turn evil right in front of him. "All right, all right, I'll behave. But I was right anyways…" He sipped his orange juice, letting the suggestion dangle.
She couldn't stop her curiosity. "Right about what?"
He leveled his coal black eyes at hers and said with all due seriousness: "You are a prude."
She refused to get angry this time, and matched his wit with her own. "You'll never get to know for sure, now, will you?" She cleaned off her plate with a piece of toast and got up to place her dishes in the sink.
The smile remained on his face as he did the same, giving her a "woman does the dishes" look with his eyebrows. Before she could say a word, he had started for the kitchen door, only to pivot on his heel quickly with an afterthought. "Say, Langley?"
She turned around, exasperated with his attitude and expected to be baited again. "Yeah?"
"Got some smokes?"
The look she shot him made him feel like he had a toothpick dick. He grinned apologetically, and then retreated back into his bedroom.
He woke up to a small face staring down at him.
He struggled up from his nightmare as well as the bedcovers. He was about to attack her instinctively with his fangs and hands when she giggled.
"Hi!" Her voice was high and trilled like a little bird. "Why are you still sleeping? It's almost three in the afternoon."
Having had minimal interaction with children before, Eric thought it wise to sit still and watch the girl. Little Irene stared back at him, but lacked his intensity on her chocolate brown eyes. She reminded him of a little puppy that was eager to please.
"What's your name?" she asked, climbing onto the makeshift bed next to him and all but jumping on the covers. Apparently, she had yet to learn about strangers.
"Nice to meet you, Eric," she replied with learned politeness. Without provocation, she wiggled over a few inches and sat on his ill-used legs. He grunted when small tingles traveled along his buttocks to his lower back in sudden cramps, but he kept his eyes on the little sprite. "Langley's teaching me how to draw, but she's talking to Matt at the moment so I thought I'd go exploring. I live just around the hallway so my mom likes how Langley's just there by us, but we're visiting Matt today. Why are you here? Are you learning how to draw, too?"
He mumbled in a low tone, feeling tired already. "No."
"Well, you must be sick or something since you're in bed." She slipped to the side of the cushions and wiggled her legs over the edge. Kid sneakers peaked out from miniature blue jeans. She leaned backwards, propping her weight on straightened arms as she looked at Eric confidently. "It's gotta be three in the afternoon now," she repeated adamantly. "And I go home after Langley's written out my homework. So why are you here?"
He shrugged, not answering. She continued to fidget, quiet only for a moment, before she piped again. "Are you a friend of Matt's? Do you work on computers with him?"
To stem her flow of questions, he decided to answer for once. "Yes, I do."
"Mom says that I can get a computer on Christmas," she informed him, looking around at the messy room full of computer parts. "She says she wants me to do my homework on the Internet, but I really want it to play video games. Do you play games?"
The pair looked up to the doorway to find Langley with an anxious expression. She looked Irene with an assessing eye that expected bruises on the child, and then swung to Eric. "I hope she wasn't bothering you too much." Her attempt to cover her distrust in Eric irked somewhere inside of him.
He was about to answer sharply that she had been annoying him, but realized that her company had actually been almost welcome. Innocence was refreshing until it got boring, he remembered himself thinking often. "No, she's been fine with me here," he answered, his voice sounding stronger despite a residual huskiness.
She stared at him with silent eloquence of disbelief before turning a more relaxed expression to Irene. "I have to explain your homework to you quickly. Your mom called saying that she had to take you to the doctor's fast so I'm going to take you home."
The little girl hopped off the cushions with a screwed up grimace. "Aw, Langley, but I'm not sick!" She pouted as Langley ushered her patiently out the door. "I haaaaaaate shots!" Eric heard as the footsteps retreated from the bedroom.
Eric sank back to the covers, the exuberant toddler's one-sided conversation seeming to tire his attention. Sometime between the first and second day, Matthias had helped Langley setup a makeshift bed using various cushions in Matthias' spare room where he kept his computer experiments. He shifted under the covers and winced at the cramping in his leg. He reached down and massaged them, excusing them due to the last two days of activity as opposed a month or two of complete inactivity.
It took some time to work the knot out of his abused muscles. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on relaxing, but his mind dredged up the remnants of his nightmare. The stinging scent of cleaning fluids still stung his mind, reminding him of the headaches that developed when they had begun experiments on embalming. Even as he stared at the ceiling, the dancing strips of light from the horizontal blinds created phantoms of the harsh brilliance of halogens.
Without distractions, past visions swam before his mind's eye. The doctors were there again, this time without the odd woman with blue hair. Their faces hidden behind sanitation masks hovered in a circle around the round light shining into his eyes, white winged vultures with pale blue bellies circling the sun. He knew they were going to cut into him today, take his innards apart with sharp scalpels and hungry minds, but his body was pressed into the bed. It felt like his very muscles had turned to lead, his bones weakened into nothing as he watched them take inventory on their instruments.
He had watched them with dead eyes as he felt the cold stainless steal split skin and injections pumped into half healed scars. His muscles clenched with remembered pain and his throat constricted with a scream he was too weak to utter.
As Langley returned from dropping Irene back home and entered his room to check on him, he was just laying on his back with his head pillowed under his arms, staring up at the ceiling. When she reached out to greet him, however, the sudden snarl and violent swinging arms convinced her that Eric was not stable.
"Holy shit!" she gasped as she stumbled backwards from the bed, catching a short stack of motherboards and hard drives behind her knee and tumbling to the floor, breaking her fall with her hands and buttocks. She gritted her teeth as the palms of her hands scraped against the rough metal bits, but she kept her eyes riveted on Eric.
He was on the cushions, his eyes aimed at her, but not actually seeing her. His body was tense and alert, as he had scrambled up from his reclined position to a coil. His sinewy arms were braced against the floor beneath the mattress, his legs tucked under him, ready for a sprint or a leap. Matthias' larger change of clothes hung on his body like skin from a carcass, his teeth were bared, and his black eyes bored into Langley's conscious. The primal image that shot fear into Langley.
A large part of Langley had reacted like a rabbit, ready to spring for the exit as soon as she could, but she knew he would be on her before she could protect herself. At least facing him, she had the chance of giving a punch or a kick to his head, hopefully knocking him unconscious.
Silently, she slowly shifted her legs and arms to provide her with support and some freedom of motion. She took quick glances around the room, taking note of where things were, but Eric attacked her before she could completely look back at him. Swiftly and equally silent, he had launched himself at her, his hands human enough to form fists and aim for her head, a knee raised up to pin her to the ground by the stomach.
She grunted as his fist glanced off her cheek, sending a spangled darkness to cloud her vision. His knee missed, though, landing off to the side of Langley's waist. She fell backwards with his momentum, bringing her own knees up to catch him in the groin and inner thigh, her hand shooting up to grip his throat. With minimal effort, she tossed him up and over her, throwing him a short distance to collide head first into a wall. He gave a minute cry of surprised pain before his whole body shuddered and collapsed into a heap against the wall.
Langley had rolled across a clear patch on the floor, landing on her feet and knees over the cushions he had just vacated. Her fists were up, putting her in defensive as she tried to get over the pain in her cheek. She blinked with her one good eye and watched him as he gradually shook his head into consciousness.
He moaned at first, a very human moan and tested his legs and arms against the floor. He swayed on those for a moment before falling onto his back, a much louder curse issuing from his lips as he touched his head gingerly with his hands.
She squinted at him, still not letting her guard down. "Hey."
"What… the fuck happened?" His eyes were still closed; his new position in the room placed him directly under the vertical blinds, its light making his pain worse. A groan scratched out of his throat and he grimaced, his voice deepening with pain. "I feel like something really big just hit me."
"I'd call that a wall." She talked to him in normal tones, her paranoid mind debating with her sympathetic heart on the increments her body relaxed to. "You attacked me."
"What?" His natural reaction was sitting up and his body complied, but the vertigo was too much. His face turned green and he started dry vomiting on the floor, thankfully bringing nothing up. Even though his body was in natural working order, his brain had been so scrambled it sent pain over every nerve from his brain stem out.
Langley watched him, forcing herself to be cold enough not to help pick him up or give him care. Her body, at least, had conceded its vigil and she sat back on her heels to talk to him. The left side of her face stung and burned, but she tried her best to force it from her surface thoughts, concentrating on the source of the problem. "You don't' remember? Not even why?"
"I remember," he was eventually well enough to cough out. "But not why." He locked his jaw against the physical pain and the growing sense of frustration as his sanity returned. "Damned if I know why I was there."
As simple and foolhardy as she was to reality, the pain in his voice solidified a resolve in Langley. She didn't question herself until later as she got up and picked Eric up gingerly from his defeat on the floor. She didn't completely trust him, nor did her fear of him completely subside, but her motions showed no fear or hesitation as she settled him onto the living room couch for some sunlight and television.
It was he who looked at her confused and took gentle hold of her wrist, his eyes an odd shade of dark grey as he looked into her serene eyes. He asked a simple, "Why?"
She smiled a mysteriously calm and distant smile at him. "I believe in you," she answered, her voice gentle, but resolute. "And I'm going to help you."
Eric was relaxed on the couch, a slight frown marring his handsome face as he watched the news.
To the people who interact and go about their lives everyday, the world never changes. The stock market might fluctuate, a movie star might get a new hair-do, or a new television show would attempt a new gimmick to entice viewers, but everything flowed, as everything should for a person in the real world. Change happened in small measures, but we all see them coming and going.
The world had moved for Eric in the few months he had spent in the large, dark room of displaced stars. In the macrocosm, power had shifted from one corporate conglomerate to another without reason, a few of his old-time favorite people had died, and world powers had either declared a small war or surrendered to "peace." It was as if he left the theatre in the middle of a movie for the bathroom and returned five minutes later to the results of a climactic scene. The sequence of time had been broken for him and he had lost knowledge, a sense of control over the world.
In the microcosm, he slowly realized that only his word would identify him as Eric Simone. All forms of identification and access to his funds had been taken from him. If he went to the police for a fingerprint match, he would roust suspicion and close inspection to an already shaky identity. The only irrefutable evidence that he was Eric Simone was to call upon his dear brother Alex, and knowing Alex and his influence, Eric would already be known as dead to the world.
He remembered his brother's involvement with his abduction only a few days earlier. Langley had been his angel of mercy, taking her free time to drop by with help books from a new-age friend of hers to help him remember. He could almost smell the jealousy in Matthias over the weeks, but they avoided each other as much as they could, living under the same roof. Cold manners were the second thing they shared with each other.
Langley was the first and Eric knew she was Matthias', but he was loath to let go of her. He knew that she was attracted to him and he could not settle his own feelings for the girl. She was young, yet strangely hard to certain things about the world. She was the first to treat him with genuine, heart-felt kindness in a longer time than he could count. Not even his own mother had loved him as much as she had loved his older brother.
He felt vulnerable to her and he hated that feeling. No matter how much she warmed his heart, he still hated the warmth for what it was. It did not become him to be human again. It unnerved him as it also pleased him to stop smoking in her presence and eventually stop smoking completely. He found himself smiling as she entered his room and his heart lifting from the burdens of his memories. He missed his cold shell of callousness and subtle power as much as he enjoyed being free of it and being a new man.
He hated her unnamed power as much as loved being cleansed by it.
And so Langley found him that evening as Matthias was working late into the night again, Eric sitting on the couch and making noises at the television. She smiled, finding an uncommon amusement at his foibles and mannerisms.
"Good evening, Eric. Have a good day in front of the tube?"
He grabbed onto the easiest reason for his disgruntlement, reflexively hiding his true thoughts. "Damn kids and their music. Nothing but that bloody joy and love bullshit."
She knew his anger loosened his control over his speech and wondered at the reason behind his British ghetto accent this time. "Fads will fade and kids will find another one to latch onto. Got a new exercise for you to try out today. We're going to try to name those people who did this to you."
"Whot?" He finally ripped his attention from the glowing box to focus fully on her as she slid her backpack from her shoulders and unzipped the main compartment. For a moment, he thought she knew about Alex, but Alex's lack of public profile would have saved her form making the connection.
Suddenly, he knew who could have seized him that faithful day. All he needed was to make a connection of faceless strangers and rough hands with the masked, white-robed doctors.
He smiled at Langley, giving it all his old charm and knowing it would distract her on a basic level. "I'm game. What is it?"
"Well, I'm not an expert at this, but I've seen how it's been done." She looked sheepishly at him and quickly pulled out a book before he could see the cover. "According to Willie, as long as I can keep myself focused, you should be okay."
Eric sighed, got up and man-handed the flimsy book from her. Expecting some new age flower book about half-assed spells, he was interested to note that it was a somewhat respectful looking hypnotism guide.
"Going to break out your pendulum and make me count?" he jested in his usual voice, giving her back the book and plopped on the couch. To avoid a scolding or a pout, he reached for the remote control and shut off the television as a sign of cooperation. "Want to eat before or later?" he also offered.
"Later," she replied, shrugging her jacket off on the back of a recliner and making herself comfortable. "I do something else and I'll forget the tips that Willie told me."
Eric chuckled. "I have my own Shirley McClaine in training."
"Very funny. I'm laughing, really, on the inside." She kicked off her shoes and wiggled her toes into warm slippers, biting back a yawn. "I know it's sudden, but we might as well try it. Ready?"
"Five-by-five, captain. Ready for take-off." He coughed at the scathing glare she whipped at him and sobered up his mind. He closed his eyes and sunk deeper into the couch.
She smiled, taking his actions as a good sign and started with the example text of what to tell the patient. She breathed deeply and evenly even as Eric did, relaxing her voice as she sensed his body slowly easing into the trance-like state. She bit her lip at her good luck and formulated her questions without suggestive wording.
"You need to take yourself back, Eric, back to the place where you were before the car accident. It's safe to go back, nothing can hurt you now. Remember you are just watching that movie of your life rewind backwards and you have the controls." She waited a few moments, as he showed no outward signs of unease.
She took a deep breath and pushed him further, keeping her voice calm and level, slightly droning. "Go back beyond that dark place that you remember, to the time before that dark place. Are you there?"
"Yes," he replied. His voice was slightly dreamy and his face was relaxed. Only the barest hints of his accent showed and it held no trace of anger. Langley chose to associate it with his true self.
"Describe to me what you see as you make the movie run as it will."
He took a deep breath and started to shake his head, his eyes slowly moved beneath his eyelids as he watched his own life come into the light. "I was… meeting this woman for business. She was going to help me … the Fader Corporation. She was one of them."
He hesitated and Langley held her tongue, not wanting to nudge him if he didn't need to be pushed. Eventually, he dragged in another breath, as if he were smoking. "There was this club. She took me to the bar and…"
He made a sound of anger and pain and Langley hurriedly flipped through the book on how to calm the patient down. "Eric, it's Langley, don't worry I am here. Those are all just memories, they can't hurt you. They can't hurt you, no one can. You are in con—"
He seemed to ignore her, his arms and legs mimed a struggle. "They're taking me, taking me far, far away. I don't know where. It's all dark, they have me bound, cuffed. It smells bad and there's screaming everywhere. I don't like this, I want to get out, I need—"
She watched helplessly as Eric made whimpering sounds in his throat. Enough! her mind commanded her into action, her hands flipping into one of the first few chapters. "I'm going to count to three, Eric and when I reach three, you will wake up. When I start, you will feel yourself pull out of that theatre, out of this place in your mind. These are only your memories and they cannot harm you anymore. Those people are gone and you will remember that as well as the memories. On the count of three."
She watched him closely as he kept struggling. She bit her lip, but pushed.
"One." He made one final moan.
"Two." A deep shuddering sigh of release.
"Three." Eric's eyes snapped open, glazed for a moment, but snapped swiftly to hers. She couldn't read them and her unease returned.
"Are… are you okay?"
He swallowed, unsure of his voice and broke eye contact with her. He slowly raised his hands to his thighs and willed them to release the white-knuckled fists. Four crescent marks were imbedded into his red palms, promising small bruises. It helped sober him up.
"What happened there?"
Her voice. He knew her. She had helped him out of that place and now she was worried. He looked up at her again, this time truly focusing on what he was seeing, who was in the same world he was. Langley.
"In the end… you just lost control."
He nodded slowly, his eyes dropping from hers to stare at the water rings from an empty glass of soda left earlier in the day. Where the rings touched, they stuck together and he realized a sense of sadness and a new sense of determination.
"Don't worry, Langley. It's okay. I'm all right."
He decided to lie then. He was still the same Eric Simone, a failure in his human life and a bastard in this other one. Langley needed better, but she also needed help. "Most of it is still fuzzy, but I remember one thing though, one phrase that remains prevalent in my mind as the most correct thing I'll ever remember."
"The Coven of Dæmons." His black eyes hooked intensely into Langley's. "That's what they were really called. The Coven of the Dæmons."
She frowned at him, confused. "Coven? Coven of…"
Before she could repeat the title, he pushed up from his seat on the couch and stared into a place where Langley couldn't see. "I must go, Langley."
"I don't belong here." Without looking around, not wanting to remember these events that would forever give him a sense of belonging, he walked to the door, towards the cold night air. "You know that. You knew that I was going to go someday."
She followed him, the book dropped forgotten on the carpet. "Why now?" she asked desperately, perhaps feeling his same sense of loss, the questioning of what could have been. "What do you remember?"
His answer was to open the door and to take a barefooted step outside onto the cold front step. He took a deep breath and felt the cold invade into his being again. He could never find security in warmth, he knew that now. He never belonged to anyone, not now, not ever. Especially not to this angel.
Still, some imp inside him made him turn back and look at her one last time. He reached for her with a cold hand and tugged at the back of her neck beneath her hair. Her lips were warm and gave an involuntary, innocent kiss.