“I'm never going to be able to get used to it,” Sam said grumpily.
He was sitting on the old, beat up couch in the apartment he had been renting when Alan had swooped back into his life. All around him lay the vestiges of his former life; things that had once been important to him, but most of them he no longer had any idea why.
Alan had literally not aged a day since the last time Sam had seen him, the night when he had been forced to drink and had fled into the darkness, yet he looked so different now. He dressed all in black, from the tips of his very stylish boots to the top of the cowboy hat he had taken off of his last victim and, for whatever reason, decided to keep. It suited him. Not the hat, though it didn't look as out of place on his head as Sam had expected. The black. For a creature of the shadows, it seemed right. It allowed him to blend into the nighttime like the predator that he was.
With his long, talon-like nails, Alan was slowly peeling the label from a beer bottle. “You will,” he said. Even his voice oozed darkness. It was impressive. Sam wondered whether he would be able to learn how to do it.
“It's like... like going blind or something.”
Sam glanced at the room around them. Of course, that had been completely inaccurate. He could see better now than he ever had. And hear, and smell. Every sense was enhanced to unbelievable proportions. He felt like Superman.
Edgar had always said that vampires spread decay; that their mere presence could cause a place to rot from the inside out, but he had never thought that he would be able to see it happen for himself, or that it would begin so quickly.
Damp was climbing the walls, peeling the paper from the plaster. The smell of rot was faint, probably not yet detectable by a human, but Sam's sensitive nostrils knew that it was there, and he didn't mind. He found it refreshing. It occurred to him that perhaps it had always been there, and he had just never noticed before.
On the coffee table in front of the couch where he sat, there lay a small plate, something he used to use when he fixed himself a sandwich. Now, it served as an impromptu ashtray filled with the remains of Alan's newly acquired dirty habit. Alan reached into his pocket and pulled out the packet. Pale fingers slid across the table to pick up the cheap plastic Bic lighter. He flicked it to life and touched the flame to the end of the cigarette.
“You know, you always used to hate smoking,” Sam pointed out. “Remember that time you caught me trying it and gave me that lecture? Put me off for life. Probably did better than my mom would've.”
Alan shrugged and took a long, deep drag, filling his lungs with smoke. “What can I say?” he said. “I changed. Not like it can kill me, is it?” He grinned, pulling back his lips to reveal the sharp points of his teeth.
“Guess not,” Sam said, wincing. “But it can still give you a nasty case of yellow teeth. Hey, maybe tomorrow you should get yourself one of those whitening toothpastes, see if it'll scrape some of that crap off. We might be monsters, but there's no reason why we should be gross.”
His new roommate appeared unconcerned by this. He reached over to the plate and tapped the end of the cigarette, flicking ash downward. Some of it missed and landed on the tabletop.
Sam sighed and fingered the shape of the round plastic thing in his pocket. His other hand went to his hair. He ran his fingertips through his blond locks, making sure they was still in vaguely the right shape. It felt a bit greasy, but maybe that was just the gel. “See, that's what I'm talking about, though. Teeth. Hair. Honestly, Al, how do you cope?” he said.
Alan ignored him and took another long drag on the cigarette, breathing smoke out into the room.
“I mean, doesn't it just drive you crazy?”
Alan smashed the butt into the remains of its fellows, and turned to Sam with a withering look.
Sam raised his hands, palms outward in surrender. “Okay, yeah, sorry. Shutting up.”
It had only been a week since Alan had breezed into town, knocked on his door and, with barely so much as “How's it going?” opened a vein brought Sam into his world. He could hardly blame his new fledgeling for having questions.
The one at the top of Sam's list was actually why wasn't he furious? He had been given no choice in the matter. He had barely even had the opportunity to work out what was happening before he found himself choking down blood. And sure, he had been pissed at the time, but a kill or two later and he was feeling perfectly okay about the situation. Strange, because he was sure that not so long ago the thought of ending a life would have bothered him; now he couldn't remember why.
That particular question, though, he kept to himself. He wasn't sure he wanted to think about it. It was more comfortable to hang onto the illusion that he was still the same Sam Emerson that he had always been.
Question number two, also unvoiced, was why Alan had come to him at all? It was nice to think that he had been missed; that Alan craved his company so much that he had been compelled to bring them together. He knew that that couldn't be the real reason, though. His sire had barely showed any interest in him at all, beyond making sure he turned all the way. Sam couldn't help the sneaking suspicion that this unexpected change in his life had been purely because Alan was in town and needed a place to crash during the day.
In actual fact, though that was probably part of it, chances were that it had something to do with Edgar. Everything did, with Alan. It always had.
At the thought of that name, Sam felt an unexpected pang of regret. It was over between them now. Not that there had ever really been anything there, of course. But this recent turn of events had killed any chance they might have had. For a long time, Sam had still been hanging on to the hope that sooner or later Edgar would come around. He would never be interested now. Unless, of course...
Sam glanced at Alan, and wondered. Was he planning to bring Edgar across too? Everything he knew about Edgar said that it would never work; that the hunter would kill himself before surrendering his humanity. Everything he had recently learned about actually becoming a vampire said that maybe it would be okay. Maybe once it was done, Edgar would just accept it like he had. And then, well, anything could happen....
Sam touched the outline the now useless lump of plastic and glass in his pocket one more time. He needed to know how he looked. Especially if there was a chance he would be seeing Edgar again. His new, paler complexion might require a whole new color scheme for his wardrobe. He wondered whether black would work for him like it did for Alan. But there was no way to tell.
He didn't imagine Alan being keen to critique his clothing choices and help him style his hair each night. He might have to learn to do the hair by touch, but it was going to be hard, never knowing for sure.
He pulled out the little compact mirror that had lived in his pocket since he had borrowed it from his mom at fourteen and forgotten to return it. It had seen him through a lot, that mirror. It might even have saved his life once or twice; there was nothing like a mirror test to be certain who was and wasn't a bloodsucker.
He flipped it open and stared at the reflective service. The image showed him the top of the couch where he was sitting and the room behind him. His own image did not reflect. He sighed loudly to himself and placed the little mirror on the table in front of him.
“Well, old friend, it's been fun,” he told it, touching the top fondly. “But I guess this is goodbye.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Alan watching him with an impatient expression. Sam turned to face him.
“Sorry, bud. It's just, well...” he sighed again. He just couldn't put into words how monumental the loss of his reflection was, and clearly Alan was never going to understand.
Alan lit another cigarette and inhaled deeply. “Remember Max?” he asked suddenly.
Sam glanced up from the small memorial service taking place on his coffee table and met Alan's eye. “Sure, I could hardly forget him.”
“Well,” Alan said, “You'll remember testing him, then?”
Sam frowned as he nodded.
Now it was Alan's turn to sigh in apparent exasperation at Sam's lack of understanding. “At the dinner party, with a mirror...”
Sam's eyes widened in understanding. “That's right! He was invited!” He picked up the mirror and opened it again. “I don't suppose it's as easy as inviting myself into my own apartment?”
Alan shook his head, exhaling smoke as he did. “Choose the house carefully. It would be better if there was only one person home. Remember to do things in the right order; once you kill them, the invitation expires.”
Sam slowly slid the mirror back into the pocket of his jeans and didn't bother to suppress the grin that spread itself across his face. All he needed was a plausible excuse for knocking on someone's door after dark. Tricky, but not impossible. Maybe he didn't even have to kill them all. Some, sure, if he was hungry, but he could use the trick so many more times if he didn't leave a trail of blood in his wake.
“Alan,” he said, “did anyone ever tell you you're a genius?”
Alan ignored the question and sat back on the couch, still sucking on his cigarette. He put his feet up on the table. He looked suddenly more relaxed now that Sam was no longer bothering him with his agitation.
Sam sat back too, fingers still touching the outline of the mirror in his pocket. “So, tomorrow night,” he said. “You and me, reflection check. Seriously, bud. I need to show you what you're doing to those magnificent teeth.”
Alan glared at him, and either the intimidation thing came naturally to him, or he had been practicing in front of those mirrors he had worked out how to use. Either way, the effect was impressive. If Sam hadn't been so relieved, he might even have been scared. But not tonight.
“You know, Al,” he said, placing an arm over the back of the couch so that it almost but not quite rested around Alan's shoulders. “I'm glad you stopped by. I think we're going to have a lot of fun together.”
Alan stubbed out his cigarette on the arm of the couch and flicked it onto the floor. “We are,” he said. “You have no idea.”
Sam's grin widened. He could hardly wait.