Mary-Alice doesn’t speak much. She hasn’t for a long time. Mostly, she rocks and murmurs and stares. Sometimes she cries or shrieks, but that happens less and less since the doctors started her on the shock treatments. She shivers and stares and mutters, and the staff leave her well enough alone. Mostly.
(Matron hopes she dies this winter, she heard her say it to the nurse; she’s a fragile thing, all bird bones and sharp edges from her body eating away at itself. Her lungs rattle and her chest aches and her head always hurts and she knows that, one way or another, death is coming. It won’t take much to send her on her way.)
The nights are bitterly cold, and she shivers as she stares out the tiny barred window at the stars. No one knows what she’s looking for, or looking at; she’s been having treatments so long, and lived in the dim gloom of her cell for so many years, that her eyesight is greatly degraded - if she were free, she would be considered legally and irreversibly blind. But she stares, right at the stars, as if she’s searching for something.
(Her sight in the real world is nearly gone - she sees shapes and the shift of shadows, but everything is quite smeared, like looking through deep, murky water. But her other sight, of things that are to be and things that could be, that is still as sharp as ever, even if it doesn’t always make perfect sense.)
When she eats, she struggles to focus on her tray, to judge space and distance. Some of the orderlies laugh at her fumbling (hands shaking, eyes squinting, tiny body hunched over her singular meal of the day) and she is left to try and feed herself, barely managing to consume half before she has spilt it everywhere, or she gives up out of frustration and exhaustion, out of disgust of the taste of turning milk, of cooling animal fat and rancid vegetables. When she is taken to her treatments, and sessions with the doctors, she tries to guide herself with one thin hand on the wall. Mostly, she’s manhandled - dragged into the rooms with the report she was being ‘difficult’ and the unspoken promise of punishment, or ferried about in an ancient wheelchair.
(She used to count her bruises like the constellations in the sky, blooming black and blue, purple and green. Her very own Aurora Borealis. Back then, they were just needle sticks. Then they stretched out, wrapping painfully around her torso, her thighs. They swelled with blood and kept her from sleep. They made her easy to manipulate, fingers roughly pressing down on a raw spot to make her bend to their will. Now the bruises don’t fade, they linger - overlapping and constant, and it’s too hard to see them to bother counting them. She cannot tell the difference between a shadow and a bruise now, anyhow - her cell is dark, her eyes are dying, and there is always pain, no matter where she touches on her skin.)
Elias arrived (arrives? Sometimes the passage of time is hard to track) sometime ago. He was… he simply was, in the beginning. Another set of hands moving her around, sticking her with the needles, frowning and judging and damning her. And then one day, for no reason at all, he brought her an extra blanket and wrapped her up tight against the cold. He brought her cold tea, over-steeped and bitter on her tongue, but insisted she drink it. He looked at her with eyes that had seen too much, had tried and failed and run right through every ounce of hope and benevolence he could manage, so he had given up. Until now (then?).
(She knows she would have died that night, from the cold of the night and the shock of the ice bath, for want of a blanket and something to drink. Except he swept in, with his red eyes and the clean blanket and bad tea and held her hand in his, his gloves warming her skin. He stayed, she lived, and the future went spinning off into a kaleidoscope of possibility, lighting up her mind. She’s already lost her words by then, but she wants to tell him, however this all falls together, she forgives him and thanks him for his kindness. That she knows what he is, what he has done, and it is not her place to pass judgement on anyone, man or immortal.
That any kind of light in the dark is a beautiful thing, no matter how long it is lit.)
To say she dies when Elias bites her, when he presses venom into her wrists and throat and prays to a god he hasn’t believed in for many years, is a fallacy. It is a polite lie, a bedtime story for children. It is fiction designed to absolve the villains of the piece - doctors in clean, white coats; nurses with shark-smiles and vindictive natures.
(She has died a little every single day since her parents sent her to the asylum. That is true, if quite dramatic.)
What killed her, truly? It might have been the distracted nurse, overzealous in her dosage; it could have been the blow to the head when she fell against the desk in the doctor’s room, shoved by an irritated orderly in charge of shepherding her around. It might have been the addition of an imprecise voltage or two from a dismissive doctor. It might have been all those things bleeding together. But by the time Elias bites her, changes her, there is very little of Mary-Alice Brandon left - just a failing body struggling so hard to make it to the next hour, minute, second. Her heart thumps slowly, her lungs rattle with oxygen, her eyes glassy and unseeing. She does not know what is coming for her, and how Elias intends to protect her.
(If she could speak, she would talk of the change like being in the middle of space, of watching the rush of stars and galaxies, of colours and combustion and the swoop of the unknown, great and terrible. It was like being a tiny spot of dust in an expansive, ornate concert hall - terribly insignificant and in the presence of true greatness. But she is far enough gone that she doesn’t even know of the Hunter that stalks her, doesn’t know that when she wakes, she will be a brand new girl, an entirely new person who will be able to speak and think and run and see.)
It happens exactly how it is supposed to. Elias is old enough to know the tricks, to leave a false trail miles long that sacrifices more than one innocent, maybe a mad little inmate or two, as he carries Mary-Alice to sanctuary. She is an easy burden, still and silent, and Elias continues his futile pleas to god that this will work, and she will be born anew, and he won’t have immortalised her misery and suffering. In his long life, he has never seen an impaired vampire, one that has carried their damage and their disease over into eternity, and he hopes Mary-Alice will not be the first.
(Her galaxies surround her, in black and navy blue, violet and emerald. Rich gold, too bright to look directly at, streaks across the endless space. The stars wink at her, and some of them blink out - futures that are not hers to have, she decides. The light of the remaining stars is warm on her face and limbs, fills her chest to bursting, and she wants to cradle them in her arms, hold them tight forever.)
They nearly make it, you know. One day, two days, the third day dawns with no sign of the Hunter; not a scent on the breeze or the still of the woods. Just little Mary-Alice’s thin little breaths and faltering heartbeat, curled into a ball of blankets in the grass. Elias’ hand strokes her hair, and he remembers another sickly girl, brittle and dying. Long gone, in a forgotten grave in a corner of the woods an ocean away. It makes him feel ashamed, like he only helped Mary-Alice to fit her into the place left by another; that he is not so good to help her simply because of her suffering. But in truth, why else pick her, of all of the poor souls in that ward?
(Her old self is almost gone, as the stars slowly decline and the colours begin to fade. She cannot excuse his motivations when she does not know him or remember him. Or remind him why he was precious and good and kind to her. In her memory, his star has blinked out and gone, another lamp extinguished.)
She whimpers then, and it is their undoing - he is startled by her sudden noise; hope and concern knotting in his chest as he leans over her. It is also enough for a lurking Hunter, downwind to surprise his target. He is angry, a rippling red rage, at being tricked and turned around - at his precious quarry being snatched from under his nose and the stench of Elias’ venom taking hold of her blood. The Hunter is no loser; he is his own champion, one that takes sick delight in broken, bloodless girls whose throats are raw from screaming, and whose bones never fit back together right. One that has lost the battle but will win the war, and salt the earth just to spite Elias.
(In her last seconds, Mary-Alice sees. She sees Elias and the Hunter locked in battle; she sees Elias’ destruction and then she sees the Hunter come for her, still lost to the change. She sees what he does to her, how he mutilates and breaks her to punish her saviour, who is already ash in the air. And as quickly as the images press around her, they are gone, like confetti in the air.)
Elias is angry, angrier than he has been in a long time as the Hunter is upon them, and he drags the Hunter away from his charge’s prone body.
(Just a little longer. A little more time…)
She has a choice to make now; one she won’t remember. There are only a handful of her stars left, and she needs to pick one.
(She sees herself rise, red-eyed and confused but determined. It’s an easy trail to follow, watching the Hunter feed broken limbs into his fire with a smirk on his face and delicious plans for the girl in the glade. He’s taken the other man’s coat, and that strikes rage into her heart. He doesn’t have time to turn around before she has his head off and into the fire. She crouches in front of the fire, and watches carefully as it burns lower. It’s only when she’s left with ash and smoke that she rises, feeling heavier and sadder than she thinks she should be able to feel and slips off back into the forest, to a future yet to be decided.)
No, she doesn’t want to be sad anymore. She was sad before, she’s tired of sad.
(She runs south. She runs through the forest, faster and faster, to escape the one that is coming for her. When she stops running, she hides. She’s frightened, fearful, like a hunted rabbit. Her heart is quiet, but it still feels like it wants to burst from her chest in fear and she is completely and utterly lost, in all the ways that someone can be and she doesn’t know what to do.)
She doesn’t want to be afraid either.
(Golden eyes. A warm smile, one that makes her feel like her chest is full of starlight again. A scar on his neck that her fingers worry over, as if she can protect him from the pain. A kiss on her nose, her cheek, the corner of her mouth before his lips graze her ear.
“I love you, Alice. Irreversibly and forever,” he murmurs and, and…)
That one. That’s her. She’s Alice; she gets to be Alice, chooses to be Alice - Alice who is happy and loved and safe and precious. Alice, who loves him more than anything in existence. She could burst with how much she loves him. She could have a million choices, a million stars, and that will always be the one she chooses and holds tight.
And she opens her eyes, clear and bright and ruby-red. She spies the moss and the ferns, her discarded blankets, the bugs in the dirt. She sees feeble light of dusk pushing through the trees. She smells water and dirt and trees and … smoke.
Getting to her feet, her throat burning and her mind too full of everything that is new and unknown around her, and the ominous promise of the smoke hovering in the air, she holds the image of the man with the golden eyes in her mind and she begins to run.
(“I love you.”)
She runs North with nothing but hope and a name, spoken by the one who loves - or will love (she forgets that time moves differently when you can’t see what’s coming) - her best. She runs away from disaster, from pain and fear and sadness, and everything she came from, a brand new girl on her way to a brand new life.
(“Irreversibly and forever.”)