Seth is still wide eyed about being in London, even though it's the second time he's come. It's easy to forget, sometimes, that he's so much younger than me.
He's only twenty, yet he's the one I lean on, the one I need close just to hold me together. His large, warm hand holding mine is infinitely comforting as I feel the stark absence of Alec, and it's sharper, keener here, as we say goodbye to the family and friends we shared outside the pub where he and I spent so much time together.
We all go in different directions, and Seth and I are left alone on the street. Just a glance and a smile and a nod, and we begin the walk back to our hotel. We share a few words, commentary on the day, the wind up at the pub. Jane is single again, Felix and Heidi are married now. Demetri is just... different.
We're all changed in some way, now.
I stare down the quiet street as we make our way unhurriedly toward the hotel. There are a few people around, walking with purpose, or loitering in ones and twos and threes. I don't pay much attention to them, lost as I am in my memories. I still half expect him to appear out of nowhere, to lift an amused eyebrow at my proximity to a man other than him, to chastise me for it before getting in Seth's face to tell him in no uncertain terms that I'm already taken.
It's because we are here, taking the same path I walked with Alec a hundred times.
We don't pause, but we share a look as we approach the street where Alec and I lived. I see the doorway. I see lights in the flat above. We keep walking, but I can't help one final glance back.
I see something I've seen only in my dreams since I buried him.
For just a moment, he's there, and he's real, and it's him. I see it in the way he stands, the way his hair curls behind his ears. He looks paler in the dim light, and he's more beautiful than I remember, more beautiful than my memory or an image on paper or a screen can do justice.
He's looking at me, and even before my mind can register the impossibility, I drop Seth's hand as guilt floods my system.
The brief second I look away to acknowledge Seth's enquiry is enough for the bubble to burst.
When I look back, he's gone.
My heart threatens to beat out of my chest, but I find the breath to respond to Seth's concern.
"I'm losing my mind," I tell him.
I'm filled with heat, surrounded and enveloped in it. Hot, sweat slick, and I think I'm dying, or I will die if I don't— "...please..."
He lifts his head from where his face has been buried in my shoulder and I drown in warm brown eyes, melt into his hot, messy kiss, and then I do die, arching my back and crying out as he whispers my name and "I love you."
"I saw him."
"Mmmm?" Seth presses his face into the back of my neck and breathes, slow and steady and deep. He's close to sleep. "It's 'cause we're here, babe. You're not crazy."
But I think I might be. "It was so real."
"Go t'sleep," he whispers, slow and languid, and then he's gone.
I can't make my mind shut down. Seth's body pressed against my back is hot. I get up and wander the dark hotel room, unable to get the image of Alec out of my thoughts.
"I'm finally loosing my mind," I say to the silent room.
Then I know that I'm insane or dreaming, because from somewhere in the shadows, comes his voice.
"You've not gone mad, love."
My heart stops beating, and I can't breathe. I stare at the place in the darkness that the words came from, frozen. Then I see the shape of him, the perfect outline of his body in the gloom. The tilt of his hips, the way he stands and lifts his chin, the shape of his face. All so familiar.
My heart beats, just once, and I take one long breath, enough to fill my lungs, and the shuddering rush of air fills the room with noise.
It's him. It's really him. I try to speak but my throat is closed and dry. I can only gape at my dead lover as he seems to drift out of the shadows.
"Shh, love," he whispers. "I won't hurt you."
The assumption that I'm afraid forces me to think. My heart begins to beat again, hard and fast, and I let the air out of my lungs. "I'm dreaming," I whisper. It's the only explanation.
He gives a shrug so fluid that I know this can't be real. "It's probably not a silly idea."
That's not what he says when I'm dreaming about him. He tells me 'yes, you are', when I'm dreaming. This isn't the same. "This is real," I gasp. "You're real. You're alive..." I'm impelled forward, and I reach for him.
He's gone before I can touch him.
"I wouldn't say that. Not alive, as such. Not really."
I whirl around, following his voice. I find him behind me, and I see him clearly, now that the dim light from the street below illuminates his face through the window. So pale, almost white, and his skin is too perfect.
His eyes are blood red.
I can't do anything but stare in shock and disbelief.
Alec drops his lashes over the crimson irises and looks away. "I shouldn't be here, of course. I had to see, though. I had to be sure that you weren't alone." He glances toward the open bedroom door. I look too, and I can just see the shape of Seth's legs under the blankets.
"Seth," I whisper so softly I can't hear it myself.
"Yeah." Alec's voice, while devoid of emotion, is so familiar, yet there is a resonance to it that I don't remember. "He's gorgeous, love," he says. "Nothing like me at all though, is he?" He laughs softly, musically.
I stare into Alec's eyes. "What happened to you? How? I don't understand. I buried you..."
His mouth twists into a grimace. "It's a long and fascinating tale, full of..." He sighs. "Horrible things. Don't worry about me, love. I'm all right. Do you love him?" He looks toward the bedroom again.
I inhale noisily and speak without hesitation. "Yes."
There's just the slightest change in his expression, a tightening around those surreal eyes, and I realise what I've said. "I... You were gone," I almost sob as I reach for him. "I was a mess, baby. Seth, he—"
My fingers close around Alec's wrist and my words get lost. Where I expect his flesh to yield under my fingers, it is as hard and rigid as stone. His skin is ice cold, and when I try to pull him toward me he doesn't move at all.
I let out a whimper of confusion and something I suspect might be fear, and drop my grip on him.
"I'm sorry, love," he whispers. "I shouldn't have come."
He turns slowly, one eye on me, as if fearing he'll move too fast. I panic, afraid that he'll leave and I'll never know the truth, and so I wrap my fingers around his upper arm. "Alec, please. You can't just appear like this and then disappear again." I try to turn him, but he won't budge, so I move in front of him and grasp his other arm. Close, like this, I can smell him, but he's sweet and cool, nothing like the scent I forgot long ago because it was eclipsed by the scent of warm, earthy Seth.
All I can feel beneath my fingers is immovable stone. I'm shaking hard, terrified, adrenaline pumping through my veins, and some instinct tells me to flee, but I only grip tighter. I look down into his eyes and fight to remember that once they were blue. Now they are bright red and flashing with something I can't describe.
So close, and yet not close enough. My emotions are conflicted; my head tells me to run because he's unnatural.
But my heart aches for him. My body reacts to his beauty, and despite the freakish colour of his eyes and his impossibly hard, cold flesh, I wrap my arms around him as I've done so many times before and I lean down to kiss him.
Even though I expect it, the icy chill of his lips shocks me and I gasp—but I don't pull away. I can't. I need this, and though I want him to be soft, pliant and warm, with this kiss, I know it's true.
Alec is dead. He might be standing here, talking, walking, kissing me back with lips like ice, but this is real, I'm not dreaming, and he's not alive.
I start to cry, and hot tears wet my cheeks. I hold him tighter, my hand moving up his back, my fingers threading into his hair and it, of all things, feels the same. I twist my fingers into the soft thickness of it and he moans into my mouth.
I take the opportunity while his lips are parted and flick my tongue against the inside of his lip. I whimper at the taste of him and I want more. I don't know where or why or what I am; I only know that this is Alec, and after believing him gone into nothingness for two years, I need as much of him as I can get.
My arms are bruising as I hold onto him, and I don't care.
I try to push him back, into the couch, and he moans, a strangled, painful sound, and then everything happens at once.
I'm pushed across the room, his arms tight around me, hurting me, air rushing past me until I hit the wall. In a second, it's over, and his hands are pressed against my chest, crushing the breath out of me. His face is buried in my neck, cold stone lips parted against my throat. Another anguished groan rips through him.
"Oh, god," I whimper, confused, afraid. I have no idea what's going on, but he's hurting me, and yet I don't want him to ever let go.
He freezes. The only sound is my harsh breathing. The only movement the rapid heaving of my chest as I struggle for breath, and the shaking of my hands as I clutch at the back of his jacket.
"Want you so badly," he whispers, cold lips moving against my throat. And then he's gone again, and without him to hold me up, I slump to the floor, aching and afraid. I'm bruising, my arms, my chest, and I don't care. I search the room with my eyes, but I can't see him. "Alec? Oh, god, Alec..." My voice breaks and the sobs hurt my chest. "God, don't go. Please don't go..."
A soft voice at my ear makes me turn my head. "Shhh." He's so close, and I automatically tip my head, searching for his lips, but he shakes his head minutely. "He's waking up."
I look toward the bedroom, but I can see nothing from this angle, and I can't hear anything. I look back at Alec. "Please don't go."
"I have to, love. You're better off without me." He brushes cold fingers feather-light over the bruising flesh of my upper arms. "I'll just hurt you."
"The only thing you ever did to hurt me was die," I hiss and regret it immediately. Fresh tears well in my eyes and fall, streaking my face and falling in hot splashes against my bare chest.
"I know. I'll be sorry for the rest of forever." He touches my face with delicate, beautiful, ice cold fingers. "I love you, Edward. I'm sorry to do this. I had to know you weren't alone. And you're not. You're beautiful together, you know, you and your Seth. He's magnificent." He pulls his hand away from my face, curling the fingers into a fist. "When I saw you with him, under him..."
His lips twist into a grimace, and he squeezes his eyes shut tight.
"Oh, god." My voice breaks. "You watched us—"
His eyes snap open. "Shh, it's all right, love."
I'm shaking, horrified, but Alec hooks his fingertips under my hands, and gingerly, one at a time, brings them to his lips. "I thought I'd want to kill him, you know?" He closes his eyes and with the strange colour hidden, he looks more like he did when he was mine, when he was alive. "Maybe, in the back of my mind, that's what I came here to do, so I could take you with me..."
I gasp, because he speaks without metaphor, and the instinctive fear makes sense to me now. Whatever he is, Alec, my Alec, my sweet, cheeky Alec, has become something capable of killing. But even this knowledge can't make me logical. "Take me with you," I beg. "I want to be with you."
He gives me a wry smile and shakes his head. "Never. You don't want this. I never would have chosen it for myself, and I won't do it to you." He blinks. "I gotta go. I love you, Edward. I will forever."
His cold lips brush against mine, and he is gone in a rush of air. The door clicks, and I look in time to see it slip back into the frame.
A soft groan comes from the bedroom, and then Seth's voice, thick with sleep. "Where are you, babe?"
I can't speak or get up from where I'm sitting against the wall. I can barely catch my breath around the harsh sobs that rack my body. I try to muffle the sound, hoping that Seth will fall asleep again and Alec will come back.
But he finds me sitting on the floor, my back against the wall. He half drags, half carries me back to bed and wraps me in arms that are stiflingly hot compared to Alec's cold embrace.
I want to tell him, but I can't get words out past my tears. Eventually I relax, only the gasping aftermath of my pain remaining, hurting my bruised chest.
Finally, I begin to drift off to sleep, with Seth's warm hand stroking my hair.
"Edward?" he whispers, and I lift my head. I could drown in his eyes.
"What's that smell?" he asks, wrinkling his nose.
I squint at him, not understanding.
"It's like... really sweet honey or something. I dunno." He shrugs and sniffs and rubs at his nose again. "It's burning my sinuses. You can't smell that? God, I hope I'm not getting sick."
My chest shudders again, and he pulls me closer. "Go to sleep, babe. You can tell me about your dream in the morning."