Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
I wake up the next day and think I'm fine.
I'm not; I manage five steps before my knees buckle and I crash to the floor. There is some pain.
I get up – slowly – and somehow manage not to fall over again. My legs feel about as stable as badly cooked spaghetti. I've probably caught some mean-spirited vampire disease or something. As if being a vampire isn't bad enough in itself. Disheartened, I wobble my way to the kitchen.
There's a cup of my kind of tea on the table – I can smell the metallic tang before I even get through the door – but it's cold. And Lily made it. Experience has made me distrustful when it comes to things Lily's made, and even if she didn't put something in it, that would mean...
I think of yesterday, and feel sick.
It's late in the afternoon when Lily comes into my bedroom. She doesn't say anything about the fact that I'm in bed. She just gives me a look. It says, for God's sake you aren't making things any easier for yourself. I give her a wry half-smile.
Sorry, I think, but I don't bother saying it; Lily knows me well enough, anyway.
"As long as you get up later today," she says.
I shrug. "Sure."
And she leaves it at that.
It's an hour or so later when the doorbell rings. I can hear the door opening, and then Lily's voice.
"Oh," she says, louder than what's strictly necessary, "you're here to see Adrian, aren't you?"
Her voice is implying things, and I don't like them much. She keeps talking, but her voice is too quiet for me to hear anything now. I shift closer, and fall out of bed.
"Never mind," I hear Lily say, "he's up."
Sometimes I really hate her.
I push myself up, scramble for the door and fall over again in rapid succession. My knees are screaming at me, and I have to grit my teeth to keep from wincing. Well. I don't trust my legs to get me anywhere right now, so I crawl instead, picking up an almost clean shirt from the floor as I go.
I'd be embarrassed if I'd had the time, but as it is, I barely manage to wrestle into it before Lily calls from the other side of the door.
"Adrian?" she says, and I can just tell that she's smirking. You can run, the tone of her voice says, but you can't hide.
"Yeah?" I manage.
"There's a bloke here for you."
Because there's no way I could have reasoned that out myself.
"Hold on," I tell her, and use the wall to push myself upright. Everything feels just a little bit too bright and surreal, and for a moment I almost wonder if I've fallen into an episode of Days of Our Lives. Which is ridiculous, of course, but I'm feeling pretty detached from reality at the moment. I think my brain is bleeding.
Okay. Right. Just ... just remember to breathe and don't make any sudden moves, and it'll be okay. Okay.
I take a deep breath, and then I open the door.
I'll admit that there might have been a part of me – a tiny, microscopic part – that was kind of, sort of hoping that the person on the other side of the door would be Andy. And, I mean, you can't really blame me, can you? I mean, he's a friend, you're supposed to want to see your friends, and ...
God, I don't know why I even bother.
It's just a bit too absurd. I mean, if anyone had told me three months ago that I'd be pining for some bloke, I would've wondered if they had been smoking their socks, but hey, here I am. Pining. There's really no other word for it, even though it makes me sound like such a girl.
It's like I've walked into the Twilight Zone and suddenly become the heroine of a hardcore Gothic romance novel, which basically means that a lot of shit happens to me at once and that I keep falling over a lot.
My knees buckle – again, and this is getting old – but I avoid breaking my kneecaps because of Christian's lightening-like reflexes.
Oh yes, that's right. Christian.
I end up with my face buried in his shoulder, his arms around me like a bear trap.
"Mfg," I say. He lets me go, and then he gives me a look, like I'm some impossibly complicated equation he's trying to solve.
"Adrian," he says, and his voice is like a scalpel on velvet, "it's been too long."
"Um. Yeah," I manage, "hi. How'd you get in?"
The best way to describe Christian would be this: He's the sort of person who wears sunglasses inside because he thinks that other people think this is cool. And he's right, too, because he's also the kind of person who can wear nothing but purple spandex and still look like Neo from the Matrix. Christian's got style to the point of creepiness.
He's also my brother, and right now the only thing keeping him from beating the hell out of me is that we're not alone. His thumbs are twitching, and I fight a wince.
"You know," Christian says, smooth and slippery like an oil slick, "I thought you were dead."
And really, what can you say to something like that?
"I've been looking for you," he continues.
"Oh," I say, feeling just a little bit sick.
"It's been three years."
"'m sorry." I stare at my feet, because my toes are looking really interesting today, or at least they don't try to give me the feeling of having killed someone, which is nice.
"You might have called."
"But you didn't."
There is a pause, and I wish that vampires really were flammable when exposed to sunlight, if only so that I could burn to crisps and escape this situation.
"Is there any conceivable reason why you didn't?"
Yes, I think, a vampire tried to eat me, and then it all sort of snowballed from there. I shake my head, and keep my eyes on my toes. Christian has this way of making just about everyone feel like a student caught cheating on a test, if the test is Life. It can make great people feel really, really small, and I haven't been all that great in the first place.
"I wanted to," I mutter. Sometimes.
"But you didn't."
"It's ... complicated."
"Adrian," Christian says, and his voice is flat, "there is nothing that you're able to understand that will ever qualify as complicated."
That stings, but I suppose that from his point of view it'd be more than a little bit true. Bastard.
"Look," I say, fingering the hem of my sweater, "it really isn't any your business, okay?"
"I'm your brother. Everything is my business."
I grit my teeth and remind myself that homicide is a punishable offence. Besides, I'd probably fall over before I get that far, and that would be ... well. It'd be embarrassing. And probably painful.
"I, uh," I begin, darting a nervous glance in Lily's general direction, because really, I could use being saved now. Of course, Lily being Lily, her helping me out right now is about as likely as a mudslide on the North Pole, which is not very.
Christian is watching me expectantly. His shades gleam inquisitively in the light.
All right, I think. Might as well jump into it.
An immaculate eyebrow goes up. (And, God, does he pluck his eyebrows, or what? There's just no way those are natural.) "Excuse me?"
I think someone must have switched all my spit with cement mix, but I swallow anyway.
"I'm a vampire," I repeat, with all the calm of a caffeine addict five minutes after realising that the coffee maker isn't just not working, but has in fact spontaneously combusted. Christian barks out something almost like a laugh.
"You're a vampire."
The look he gives me is a lot like Antarctica, but it's got fewer penguins. "That's ridiculous."
"Yes." Like I didn't know that already.
"I mean, of all the ridiculous things..."
"Yes," I grind out, "yes, I know, all right?"
"You can't be a vampire," Christian says, "it's biologically impossible."
"Yeah, well," I say, and I know I'm being ornery. "I don't have a pulse, but here I am! Standing up! Talking!"
"You don't have a pulse." I'm pretty sure he couldn't have been any more deadpan if he was actually dead.
God. Sometimes I wish he was able to take a hint. "Look, I'm serious. I. Don't. Have. A. Pulse. There's blood in the fridge, I'm strictly room temperature, and if you say anything about My Chemical Romance fans and how I don't look like one, I'm going to punch you in the face."
There's a pause. Christian treats me to his most critical look. It feels like he's trying to scrape my skin off with the sheer force of it.
"Do you have proof?" he asks, and my hands twitch convulsively. If I'm ever going to develop homicidal tendencies, today is probably going to be it.
"Jesus," I hiss. "Right. Look, there's – there's blood, all right? In my fridge. Why the hell would there be blood in my fridge if I wasn't – ?"
"I haven't seen you in three years," Christian says, smoother than a whetstone, "for all I know, you might be depraved."
"Thanks." I roll my eyes. "I appreciate your unwavering faith in me. Really."
He doesn't say anything for a long time. When he does, it comes out almost small. Then again, "almost small" for Christian is "just about normal" for anyone else.
"Three years, Adrian."
Because I knew you'd react like this. "God, I'm sorry, all right? It's not as though – "
"You know," Christian says, cutting me off, "I thought you were dead."
He pauses, like he's expecting me to say something. I don't, because what can you say to something like that?
"If Candi hadn't met you – completely by chance – I might even have given up on you."
Right, thanks for that. It's nice to know that you – "Back up, who's Candi?"
"She's my ... assistant."
"Right," I say, "I bet she's really good at assisting, too."
Christian doesn't blush. He doesn't, because Christian blushing is about as likely as a zombie apocalypse.
"She is," he says, stiffly. (Of course, this is Christian, so stiffly for him is practically rigor mortis for people who aren't.) Silence stretches out, sticky and uncomfortable and not entirely unlike running in hot treacle.
"What d'you need an assistant for, anyway, weren't you going to be an astronaut or something?"*
"I was." The but then you disappeared is left unsaid, but of course that's what happened. I get the terrible suspicion that I know what he did afterwards, too, because this is Christian.
"... Please tell me you didn't join the police or something," I say, weakly. My legs are starting to shake a bit from standing up for too long, but I'm not exactly going to sit down on the floor, and walking over to the couch would mean giving Christian the upper hand in the conversation. Well. More of an upper hand, anyway.
"I didn't," Christian says. I almost have the time to be relieved, but then he follows it up with, "I'm a private detective," and it throws a bit of a wrench in the proverbial machinery.
"I thought you were dead." And, okay, there's logic there, because if you thought someone killed your brother, of course you'd want to know who did it, but Jesus.
"I was in the phone book." I try to make it sound reasonable, but it just comes off as sullen. Christian smiles, a dry twist of the lips that's more of an involuntary spasm than an actual smile.
"I know," he says. You could cut diamonds on his voice. "I realised."
"Look, I'm really sorry," I say. My brain feels like it's trying to escape through my nose again. "I am, but … I mean, I couldn't."
And there goes the eyebrow again. I try to scramble together something of an excuse, but I can't think of one that'll stand up against that look, and my eyes are kind of starting to sting and oh fuck.
"I was scared, okay?"It comes out choked and wrong and kind of like a sob. "I'd just been partially mauled by a vampire and I was confused and messed up and scared."
I'm shaking; the muscles in my legs are starting to spasm again, which doesn't exactly help. Christian does something that's halfway between a shrug and a wince, and sure, he's been pretty … upset during all of this, but this is the first time he actually looks out of sorts, because if it's one thing Christian can't deal with, it's people crying. I figure it's time to make a strategic retreat.
"'m just going to..."I mumble, trailing off. Christian jerks his head in what is probably a nod.
I stumble a bit, and try to right myself. It's vaguely successful, and I wobble – look, there really is no better word for it – towards my room.
I have the time to think, okay, I can do this, before tripping over the edge of the carpet. And then it's good bye, stable centre of gravity and hello, possibly invaluable artefact of uncertain but probably Asian origin.
Oh sh -
*Or a professional pianist, or a space physicist, or a freelance superhero.
an: ... So. Um. I aten't dead? (I'm sorry! D:)
I'm not sure what to say about this chapter; half the time I kind of like it, and the rest of the time I HATE IT WITH A FIERY PASSION, but it's done, and the next chapter has actual plot. (Yes, really.)
Thanks to everyone who's reviewed; you have no idea how much I appreciate it. :)