*It goes without saying that Being Human US – the story and all related characters – belong to their rightful owners. I claim no ownership or association to the TV series titled Being Human, based on the BBC series of the same name.*
There Goes the Neighborhood
"Change doesn't care if you love it or you hate it; it's indifferent. Intractable. And it will not be denied."
– Aidan Waite
Being Human US, S01E11
I watched the water run red around my bare feet; the spray from the shower as hot as I could stand it, and traced a finger lightly over the shadow of veins in my wrist.
Blue veins. No different than how they'd looked before.
No pulse at my throat. No beat in my chest.
I raked hard fingers over my naked stomach, the flesh there smooth. Firm.
There were no scars, no evidence of trauma. Only old, caked blood slicking off under a torrent of scalding hot water and even that would be gone in a minute.
There would be nothing to show for the horror of that night . . .
. . . I died.
My forehead thumped on stained tiles, the scents of mildew and rotten wood clogging my sinuses. I could see, hear, smell with incredible sensitivity – the world around me so much more alive than I had ever known.
I curled my fingers into fists, clinging futilely to the wall and wondered how the hell it'd come to this.
I was dead, but not.
Alive . . . but not . . .
I was a vampire, and I did not believe in vampires.
Gave a whole new meaning to the words 'identity crisis'.
Standing there in the too-hot shower, with steam peeling the scent of blood off my skin – it still didn't feel quite real. My mind wanted to rebel.
How long had it been, since that night in the parking lot?
A day? Longer.
I'd had no perception of time between my death, to waking downstairs with a screaming hunger for human blood. It had to be more than a day . . .
Was I missing? People would be looking for me, worried about me.
Jasmine. Oh, god. Jas! I promised to call her when I got home safe. What would I say to her? What could I say? Like a fist closing, I felt the grip of renewed panic. My chest trembled on a swallowed sob and it took everything I had to pull off that wall.
I fixed on a mesh shower caddy hanging from the neck of the showerhead.
The sheer domestic normality of it struck a chord; a violent yank back, almost, and it grounded me in a way I'm not sure much else could have in that moment, where I teetered on the edge of falling apart. I was in a bathroom, in a house in Boston.
Not a dungeon. Not a crypt.
Not locked in a catacomb, having risen from a coffin atop a bed of soil from my homeland.
I was standing in a tub, staring at a cheap dollar-store caddy almost identical to the one hanging in my own shower. The mesh stretching under the weight of its contents; two bottles of shampoo, one body wash and a bar of white soap slowly dissolving in the steam.
All so painfully normal.
I reached for one of the shampoos and used my thumb to pop the top. Did it concern me, that the scent of something deliberately perfumed would blow out my already stressed olfactory sense?
Did I do it anyway?
Also yes . . .
Store brand, cheap shampoo. Citrusy and sweet, the scent hit me straight between the eyes and I dropped the bottle, feeling it slap my feet and skid to the back of the tub while I clapped both wet hands over my nose.
Rubbing hard to dispel the stinging in my sinuses.
That . . . that . . .
. . . that was my own fault.
As much as I would have loved to leave it there, reeking, I didn't. Bending at the knees, careful not to slip, I retrieved the bottle. Snapped the top shut and returned it to its spot.
The other bottle was dark gray with ribbed sides, and the words Arctic Ice slashed dramatically across the label. I touched it, trailing the pad of my thumb over the soft plastic.
I caught the sparkle of moisture like crusted diamond, so different than what it would have looked like to my human eyes. Breathtakingly beautiful. How had I never noticed before, the way the light seemed to catch in the very centre of each dewy droplet? Smoldering like the core of a star.
I crushed a sparkling crystal under my thumb.
Despair coiled tight in my chest, this horrible weight, and the emotion filled my mouth with a taste like salt. I snatched the dark gray shampoo from the mesh and inhaled – half-expecting to actually pass out from this one. Maybe hoping that I would.
To my surprise, the smell was fairly mild. A crisp, refreshing winter mint.
The scent triggered a prickle of recognition. Familiar and for just a second, I couldn't place it. Then I did and it came to me in a surge of memory.
The sting of teeth. Aidan's dark head bent to my neck. The smell of wet leather, his rain-wet hair and faintly – faintly – traces of this exact scent.
Those last few seconds, with the darkness closing in, I'd focused on that smell. Used it to shut out the taste of blood in my mouth, my terror as the weight in my chest became a crushing pressure and I knew he was killing me. My heart beating so fast at first, then slowing. Slower. Laboring . . .
I held onto that smell right until the very end.
If I'd had the wherewithal to think of it at all, I would have assumed it was hair gel melting in the rain. Shampoo is what eased me into the cold, black embrace of death.
What a ridiculous, anticlimactic thing to become suddenly aware of.
I set the bottle back in its place, careful not to slam it down and rip the mesh off the wall. My hands were shaking.
The only soap that didn't sizzle the inside of my nose, of course it was his.
I turned my face up under the shower spray, letting the water wash the salt of tears from my skin.
There were no tears, anymore. I'd done my crying, my raging, my silent bargaining and had nothing to show for it but a hollowness inside.
What a waste of perfectly good emoting.
The interesting thing about dreams is that when you're dreaming, you don't know you're asleep.
But when you're awake . . . you know. There's no doubt, no question. I never understood why in movies the characters would default to 'I must be dreaming' when impossible things happen.
Impossible things were happening to me.
I wasn't dreaming.
My bare toes curled on the damp tile floor, nicely warmed from the temperature of the steam filling the bathroom. I wrapped myself in a towel, careful to tuck the ends securely under my arms with trembling fingers.
My new hunger; like that first thrill of heat when you catch a fever.
I thought I should have been sweating, but I wasn't. Belly full of blood, nothing but liquid sloshing around in there and I was still so hungry. It made me sick. Blood. Red, cold, from the little fridge in the basement. Blood.
I swept my hand over the bathroom mirror, wiping thick condensation from the glass. I let my hand fall before I could plaster both palms over the glass to hide the face that would be reflected back at me. What was I expecting?
A hardness, maybe. This coldness that hadn't been there before; something predatory and utterly inhuman. Dead. Undead. I was a monster that fed off the blood of the living . . .
What I saw were familiar brown eyes in an oval face. Small, straight nose and a fall of thick, dark hair that swept past my shoulders. Water beaded on naked skin, pooling at the indentation where my collarbone met at my throat.
I pressed my palm there, trailing fingers up the length of the artery that stretched just beneath the surface. Not even a bruise to show where I'd been bitten.
The face was mine. That nose, those lips, the smooth curve of my cheek.
My fingers tightened on the edge of the sink basin, making the whole thing groan in protest. Pipes rattled behind the wall. My forehead thunked on the mirror, bloodlust roaring through my veins and a cloying bitterness rose like denial in my throat.
I watched with despairing acceptance –
– my eyes blacken like ink.
Aidan was waiting for me at the top of the stairs when I came out.
He sat with his back to the wall, one leg hiked up and a long arm resting lightly off the knee. He wore dark jeans, a navy top that complimented the striking black of his hair and how a non-beating heart could feel like it leapt into my throat, I don't know.
There was nowhere to hide.
I padded silently down the narrow upstairs hall, rough wood and peeling wallpaper giving the unsettling impression that the walls were melting around us.
"Did you think I'd try and run?"
Aidan's slow smile stretched higher on one side. He had a nice smile, I noticed, even if it didn't quite reach his eyes.
I sat down across from him at the top of the landing and folded my legs sideways. Settling my weight as comfortably as I could on paper-thin carpet and the solid floor.
Part of the reason I did this was to show that I didn't intend to try and break past him.
The other –
"You bit me."
"You drank my blood."
"I did that, too."
No apology. No justification, only the memory of his reasoning still ringing in my ears and a flintiness that needed no translation. It's done.
"And then you brought my body home with you. That's . . . fairly morbid, Aidan."
It was no great stretch to imagine he'd been braced for accusation, for anger. Fear. Tears. I don't know if he thought he deserved it, but it hadn't escaped my notice that some of the tension eased from his shoulders the second I sat down.
"Ghosts were my monster growing up," I went on. "Our house wasn't haunted. It was more the idea of ghosts that would keep me up at night. Dead people I can't see, standing over my bed watching me while I sleep."
Aidan's weary smile eased into a smirk.
"You're afraid of ghosts?"
"Was. I was afraid of ghosts, although I'm starting to think I may have pulled the blankets up over my head for the wrong beastie. My heart isn't beating."
"No," – so final "and it never will again."
"So that's it. I'm just dead?"
"Define 'dead'," Aidan countered with a burst of wry humor. He shoved a rough hand through his hair, spiking the strands just as he had that night. "Look, I don't want you to think that your life is over because it's not. What you are now, what I made you – it's a darker way of life, but a stronger one. You'll never be sick –"
A muscle jumped in his jaw.
"– you'll never be weak. Grow old."
He let that hang.
"Is this the part where you tell me it gets easier?"
"No," dark eyes slid to my face with sobering intensity "it really doesn't. With time you learn to live with what you are; but the blood? That crave you're feeling like a hum under your skin, this thirst burning the back of your throat? That never goes away."
I believed him. I'd showered, and rinsed my mouth out with water from the tap but I could still taste the blood coating the inside of my mouth. Could still feel the thrill of feeding, of a need being sated.
"How did this happen, Aidan?"
The words slipped out before I could stop them, brittle in my mouth and I would have taken them back if I could. Aidan watched me, a flurry of emotion behind that unyielding resolve. I didn't expect what he said next.
"Truth is you're here now because a vampire took pity, where he should have shown you mercy."
Mercy. To let me die, to let me bleed out in the rain in the dark. That would have been the mercy. I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth, aware of what hadn't been there before. Nerves. No, not nerves. Tendon.
They were tight, elastic, and if I flexed them my new fangs would slid down like a cat unsheathing its claws. Hard, sharp bone tucked discretely up in my gums. I ran my tongue over my teeth, searching for those points.
I squeezed my eyes closed, battling a fresh surge of memory.
Blood spilling from the corners of my mouth while I gulped and sawed at the plastic bags being passed to me. Helpless to resist the sensations that swelled and crested with each greedy swallow. The euphoria that came after.
A vampire took pity.
Breathe. Just breathe –
Aidan knocked my knee and was on his feet all in one motion. "C'mon."
"Where are we going?"
"Downstairs," he said. "You think I'm going to let you just sit up here dissolving into a panicky mess? Come on, stand up."
"Well I guess I can dissolve just as easily in the living room. Aidan!"
In the time it took me to say that, he was already partway down the stairs. Tall, dark in jeans and a navy sweater and sunlight pooling on the cracked tile at the foot of the stairs.
I honestly had no memory of coming up from the basement. I was already in the shower, trembling hands twisting the knobs to hot, hotter, as hot as I could stand the water by the time that bloody haze lifted. Had I passed through that patch of smoldering sunlight?
Aidan paused on the lower landing, tilting his head up to find me clinging to the banister with both hands.
"Do you really think we'd go through all that, just that I could watch you burn?"
He held his hand up, letting it pass harmlessly through a trembling curtain of mid-morning sunlight. Inviting me to reach down and take it. Soft, splintered wood crackled as my death-grip on the banister loosened.
Aidan kept his hand where it was, patient, while I made my decision. Pale skin nearly colorless in the light of the sun filtering in through windows I couldn't see from my position. No smoke curling up. No tremor of pain or smell of burning.
A moment of trust.
My gaze slid from that outstretched hand to his face.