"I'll get it," Damiano said as the doorbell rang.
He was closest and he was also starving. They'd ordered food over half an hour previously, but there had been a backlog so the estimate had been forty five minutes. That it was at least a little earlier than that was a god send.
They were at his place because it had been the closest to where they had been doing a late interview and they'd all decided they wanted to relax and unwind before everyone headed home. It had been an early start, a long day and they needed some chill time and food. Tomorrow was a day off and they all had plans to be apart for a change, so they were relaxing into it.
Pulling the door open, he smiled, ready to take their order from the delivery person. What he found instead was a tall, slender man in black, and a shorter woman in jeans and a red shirt. He had never seen either of them before.
"Hello," was as far as he got, when he looked into the woman's eyes.
She smiled at him with ridiculously white teeth, and very red lips as her eyes almost seemed to glow.
Then everything went to hell.
Damiano was pretty sure he had never felt so tired in his life. Waking up was like trying to walk uphill through treacle. It took so much effort he gave up several times. It was only that the regular beeping he could hear when he almost managed it was really annoying which finally forced him to open his eyes.
He blinked at the ceiling for a while, wondering where he was and what was going on. The light was dim in the room and it smelled strange, but his thoughts were turning very slowly so it took him some time to realise he was in the hospital. That didn't make any sense though.
Doing his very best to make his mind work, he tried to remember how he could have ended up needing medical care. They'd been chatting and laughing and winding down. They'd ordered food, and that's where his recollection became foggy.
Squeezing his eyes shut he demanded that his memory come into line. The doorbell had rung, he remembered that. He'd been the one to go to answer it.
He thought hard, searching for answers.
There was nothing, as if the memories were behind something, just a feeling that there was something he needed to know.
Without even realising he was doing it, he bit his lip. Dry skin cracked under the sudden pressure, he tasted blood and his mind exploded. Teeth, claws, terrible eyes, pain, it all ripped into his head as memory flooded back. Reality vanished in the nightmare and he screamed, fighting to get away. Something crashed, something else ripped, but he didn't care. All that mattered was escaping from the demon in his head.
When his back hit something solid and he couldn't retreat anymore, fear washed away everything else. Whimpering he pulled his legs up into a tight curl, burying his face in his knees and curling his arms around and up over his head.
"Damià, you're safe."
He heard Ethan's voice through the maelstrom, but he couldn't push the fear away. When fingers gently touched his wrist he tried to shrink away, but there was nowhere left to go. He remembered hands grabbing his wrists, pushing them back against the wall, holding him effortlessly. Then had come the teeth ripping into his flesh. But these fingers didn't grab, they stroked slowly.
Something familiar settled into his chest. Gradually it worked its way into his mind, pushing the memories further away. His frantic heartbeat slowly began to come down from rabbit-fast.
"Damiano, you're safe," Ethan said again and this time Damiano hung on to the words.
Where he was, how he had woken up, it all started to come back. Slowly, as if reality might suddenly bite, he pulled one arm away from his head, peering out over his knees and past his other arm. There was Ethan, sitting on the bed in ugly pyjamas, reaching out to him with a bandaged arm, and behind his friend was a man he didn't know, and a woman with snow white hair. Neither of them looked like doctors or nurses.
"That's Leo and Sofia," Ethan said, clearly seeing where he was looking, "they're here to help us. I only woke up about half an hour ago and Thomas is still asleep."
Ethan pointed to the other side of the room where there were two more beds, one of which held their guitarist. He had a square of gauze over the side of his neck, which made Damiano realise that so did he. However, the presence of himself, Ethan and Thomas prompted one obvious question far more important than anything else.
"Where's Victoria?" Damiano asked.
The flash of anxiety that crossed Ethan's face had him unfolding, his own terror forgotten as it was replaced by another.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
"She has been taken," the man Ethan had called Leo said.
All Damiano could see in his mind's eye was the monster that had attacked him. That creature anywhere near Victoria made his heart scream.
"She is alive," the woman stepped in.
The last word resonated through Damiano's brain. It was all too much too soon. Sharp pain ripped through his upper jaw, the room went all sorts of neon and his whole body filled with a bone deep ache.
"Fuck, he's going," Leo said, but Damiano had no idea what the man meant.
He folded forward, trying to do something, anything to relieve the pain in his body and his mind. When strong arms pushed him back into a sitting position he had no strength to resist. Shock coursed through him when it was Sofia sitting on the bed in front of him. He squinted at her, trying to see properly.
"Damiano," she said, her voice strangely resonant, "look into my eyes."
He tried his best to obey. When his vision finally did what he wanted, he was greeted by irises gently glowing blue. Part of him tried to panic, he remembered glowing eyes, only they had been bright red with madness, but a gentle blanket of calm settled over his churning emotions instead.
"Step back from the memories, Damiano," Sofia told him. "Step back and breathe deeply. The woman you remember is Tera, the man with her is her partner Rex, they are rogues of our kind. She attacked your band for fun because it amused her. We believe she intended to take you all, remake you in her image, and send you back, knowing our community would be forced to kill you all because of the danger you would pose to our secret. Do you understand?"
He nodded as her calm words settled into his mind.
"She infected you all with what is part virus, part metaphysical shift," Sofia continued to explain. "All of us here are vampires. You have been brought to a treatment facility because when Tera was forced to leave you, you were all in crisis. We are here to help you and Ethan and Thomas, and we will not abandon Victoria either, but I need you to breathe with me and put the new part of yourself away. You are not ready and not strong enough for it yet. Can you do that?"
He nodded a second time.
"Breathe slowly," she told him, doing so herself. "Reach for the familiar feeling of self inside you. Relax into it with each breath."
He did his best to do as he was told. He breathed in and felt for the core of him. Slowly his jaw stopped hurting and his body stopped aching, but he felt himself sagging into Sofia's hold, as if he couldn't keep himself up anymore. He had trouble keeping his head up, but she hadn't told him he could look away, so he somehow managed it.
Sofia gave him a soft smile, gently stroking her fingers against his shoulders as she held him up.
"Well done," she told him. "Now I am going to release you. It may feel overwhelming, but try to hold on to the calm. You are safe and we will help you."
He nodded even as he noticed that the glow of her eyes was beginning to fade.
Almost immediately the fear and panic tickled at the back of his mind along with the memories. He took a deep, shuddering breath and refused to let them win. It was hard as too many thoughts tried to fly around his brain at the same time, but he held to Sofia's words and the need to help Victoria.
"Well done," Sofia said, still gently rubbing his shoulders, but voice no longer resonating.
"Vampires?" was the best he could do with being coherent.