The morning after the Out Of This World Dance – and their unfortunate face-off with Jesse – Ethan wakes to find that he has his teeth bared threateningly against the skin at the side of Benny’s neck.
While he is not quite sure how or why Benny ended up curled up in bed with him, he is considerably more concerned about why he is dreaming about such vampiric activities when he’s supposed to be cured.
“Benny,” Ethan hisses quietly in a distressed sort of whine that would clearly have betrayed his rising levels of alarm had Benny actually been conscious. He catches sight of the clock on his bedside table, which tells him that it is presently an absurdly early hour of morning and so he just hopes that no one else in the house comes to check in on them – he certainly doesn’t want to have to explain any of this.
“Hnng,” Comes Benny’s sleepy response. He shifts and stretches as he stirs, but he doesn’t seem at all bothered by either their proximity or for any vampire related reasons. “Mm, what’s up?” He brings a hand up to rub at his eyes; the other arm is trapped beneath Ethan’s side, but his hand shifts so that it’s settled on Ethan’s back, moving in gentle, soothing circles that would suggest that they wake up like this often. They don’t.
Nonetheless, Ethan’s still quite panicked. “I… I was going to bite you. I woke up and…” He trails off, shakes his head. If, and that is a really big, important ‘if,’ he is still toxic, there’s not a chance he’d risk infecting Benny. “Benny, what if Sara didn’t get all of the poison? I mean, I know your Grandma said I was fine, but-”
Benny cuts him off. “Dude, chill. You’re no Count Dracula.”
“But, I can – No. No, Benny, I can’t be a vampire. I can’t do this, okay?” Ethan is edging closer and closer to full-blown hysteria and if Benny doesn’t stop him soon, then there are going to be concerned parents hovering in the doorway and then they’ll have even more issues to deal with.
“Relax, E.” Benny tries again. “Maybe it’s just like the residual effects of being bitten?”
Ethan is still a little too out of it to respond.
“No fangs, right?” Benny asks; he’ll just have to prove Ethan’s not undead then.
“Ugh, no. But maybe they take a while to kick in? Should we call Sara, maybe she can tell me?”
Benny catches Ethan’s wrist before he can reach for the phone set on the nightstand. “We'll call her as a last resort, but I have an idea,” he says. “Just, ugh, give me a second to think - we don't need to freak her out about this yet. Tell me what's going on.”
“Alright, alright,” Ethan nods. “No fangs, at least not that I can, like, trigger or whatever, like the others can. It seems really, really bright in here. And I can kind of hear your heartbeat?”
“You are laying on me…” Benny points out. “Hold on, we can try something.” He sits up and grabs his own cell phone and after pressing a few buttons, he takes a picture of his rather distressed best friend. He has countless photos of the two of them – before Rory joined the ranks of the undead, it was the three of them – doing stupid things together and he has trouble imagining a future in which there won’t be any more pictures like that, if only because Ethan won’t show up in them. “This should tell us if-”
When Benny trails off, Ethan knows something is wrong. “What?” He sits up and grabs for the phone.
The picture is mostly clear, but Ethan seems faded, like he’s not all there or something.
“Before you freak out,” Benny starts, but he knows he’s already too late, “like I said, maybe this is just some sort of aftershock from the poison and maybe there’s no reason to panic.” In all honesty, he’s starting to freak out now, too, because he expected a clear picture.
“Your heartbeat got faster.” Ethan points out.
“I know. Is there anything else that’s different?”
A few tense seconds pass in silence as Ethan takes stock of what he’s feeling. “Well, my arm has hurt like mad since last night, but that’s not exactly surprising. Jesse wasn’t exactly gentle about biting me.” The arm in question is curled protectively against Ethan’s chest and Benny carefully pulls the bandage away to see the fang marks. They look red and irritated. “You smell good.” Ethan blurts out. Sara and the blood-stealing vampires had all said he had rare blood or something, but he seems rather drawn to Benny’s. Or maybe that’s just because Benny is closest to him right now. Maybe it’s not just because it’s Benny that he has this weird desire to sample some of the blood that he can hear moving rhythmically just under Benny’s skin.
Ethan shuts his eyes, tries to think of something else. Is this what Sara had to deal with until last night? God. How the hell did she make it so long without human blood?
“You should go.” Ethan forces the words out while he tries to breathe without catching any scents.
“What? Are you crazy?” Benny counters, making no move to flee the room and run for his life as he should’ve been doing. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I don’t want to bite you.”
Benny shakes his head, in complete denial. “You’re not going to bite me. Wanna know why? Because you are not a vampire. You might have symptoms that make it seem like you are, but there’s no way my Grandma was wrong about something this important.”
“Benny, leave. Please. If… I don’t want to hurt you.”
The taller boy is sick of this. “If, for some unlikely, crazy reason, you are really a vampire? Which you are not, by the way. Then it doesn’t matter if you bite me or not, because there’s no way you’re getting immortality and not me, okay?”
This throws Ethan for a loop. “You want this? Why? You’ve seen what this is doing to Sara; this isn’t a joke!” He’s gone from panic to anger for the moment, because Benny cannot actually be serious.
“Did I say it was a joke, do I sound at all amused by this? I said that if you’re going to be a vampire, then I am, too. Because you’re not leaving me behind. If you wouldn’t do it, I’d get Sarah or Rory or Erica to turn me. Jesse if I had to go that far, but I’d want it to be you.” He drops his gaze to the mess of tangled blankets they’re both sitting on, won’t meet Ethan’s eyes because there’s something almost too close to the truth in his admission. “But, that doesn’t matter, because you’re not a vampire.”
“Then what’s wrong with me?” He doesn’t miss the implications of what Benny’s saying, but one major issue at a time is more than enough to deal with.
Benny takes a deep breath, tries to focus. Truthfully, all he wants to do is call his Grandma and ask her to tell him that really, Ethan isn’t a vampire, don’t be silly. Instead, he remembers something she said last night: ‘Your heart’s still beating,’ she’d said. Vampires don’t have heartbeats. That sounds like a nice, definitive test. He’s almost afraid to test the idea.
“I have another idea,” Benny says and he’s reaching out before Ethan can offer more protests about vampirism and biting and presses his palm flat against Ethan’s chest, right over his heart.
“What-“ Ethan starts, and Benny is almost concerned because for a second he doesn’t feel much of anything aside from tense muscles, but then he realizes his best friend is stupidly holding his breath and all tensed up. He mumbles something like, “breathe, you idiot,” and then it’s there.
It’s there. The steady lub-dub beat of Ethan’s heart is right there and that can only mean he’s still human. “You’re alive,” he says, and he hopes the other boy listens to him. “As long as your heart’s beating, you’re not a vampire, okay?”
Ethan's hand comes up to cover his, nudging it out of the way after a moment that extends just a little too long so that he can feel it himself, even though he's sure he can hear his blood pulsing in his own ears. The adrenaline starts to fade out, then, bringing with it an overwhelming sense of relief that makes him flop back against his pillow as exhaustion wins out over everything else. "Okay," he says. "Okay, you win. Not a vampire. But we're still asking your Grandma what's up with the screwy side effects."
"Can we wait until the sun is actually up? Not only am I still tired, but I do not want to be the one responsible for waking her up this early. I've made that mistake before and I do not - ever, ever, ever - intend on making it again."
Ethan laughs, recalls that incident clearly, and nods. "Yeah, yeah. If I were a vampire and I ended up biting you in your sleep, it would be entirely your fault, you eternally sleepy goof."
"And I would have no objections - I would just have forever to sleep on you, then." Joking is good, he thinks. Much, much better than the panicking. He lays back down himself, a little more distance between them than when they woke up, but it won't last long. "Go to sleep, E."
"Alright," he agrees. Just as he's drifting back to sleep, one of Benny's arms flops across his chest, pulling him in a little tighter as he registers the sounds of Benny's breathing evening out - and the sound of his heart beat slowing, as a result of the lingering vampirism - but he can't bring himself to mind.