Thanks to cjandre for the beta, because she is just that cool, and she and svmadelyn, who sat up with me when I angsted about titles and really, I was getting strange there near the end. And for josselin, who never ever writes not-stories about anything even resembling vampires. Ever. Ask her.
Colder in My Skin
You'll never see another dawn.
Brian said that, four hours ago, when you were pressed up against the remains of Babylon, the half-broken, crumbling wall gouging your back with Brian's hand sliding in your pants. Cold, so cold, you were shivering at his touch, like frozen metal in deep winter, burning across your skin like he'd leave fingerprints pressed into every space he touched. You whimpered and twisted, hips pushing into his hand, eyes straight ahead and staring into hazel lightened almost to cool amber, you could drown there and never want to stop.
You could, you could see yourself, you *can* see yourself, toes brushing slick alley concrete and a rotting corpse that didn't seem anything near as real as Brian, who was always more vivid than anyone else could ever be.
"You want?" he said in your ear, and you could feel the pressure just beneath, that weird touch that was like pinpricks, reminded you of shooting up in Babylon's backroom at seventeen and stupid as shit, blissing out on the toilet and Brian finding you, though he'll never say he was looking, pulling you out and calling you a stupid cunt and throwing you into the jeep. Taking you home to ride your high out, to ride you, and you thought it would feel like that, when he does it, when he pushes in, when he draws more than a thin line on your skin and then pulls away, licking the taste of your blood from his lips, vivid color slashed against his teeth, Christ, Brian--
Fucking tease, playing with you like a mouse, always has, and you hated him for that. Arched against cold stone and begging for it with your whole body, crawl for him like a filthy little bitch to lick his boots, take me, take me, please, anything you want, everything you want, just don't let me go....
"Justin?" Michael whispers, and you shudder at warm breath against the scratch on your neck and think that you hate him a little. You hate him because Brian was touching you like you always wanted, wanting you as much as you wanted him--he looked for you in this godforsaken city, hunted you down a hundred streets on more nights than you know how to count, drew you out, had you *right there* and then Michael, Christ, you fucking *ass*, standing there with a cross and that look of hurt surety, little martyr, oh look how fucking brave you are, fuck you, Michael....
And Brian was gone with a nip to your tongue, and you were slumping on the dead body of a faceless man, pants loose at your hips, cock hard and aching. You can still taste him in your mouth, on your tongue, cold skin and dirt, ash and metal-sharp blood, someone else he had tonight, someone that wasn't you.
You boarded up the windows when you got here, crept into the airless storeroom and blocked up that door, too. Another night like the one before, and the one before, and the one before that. It's three hours until dawn and Michael's been this restless presence, meaningless, like the stale, fear-thick air, like the nameless, faceless people huddled around you that Michael brings, bodies warm against you, and you want to get *away*.
You sweat through your shivering and touch the scratch on your neck, and God, you'd do anything to feel cold again.
The loft was dark and hot when you went back the last time.
Bloody sheets were strewn across the floor like cheap carpet, lumps beneath outlined so your imagination didn't need anything at all. An echo of other times, other parties, other men, overturned bottles on the counter, but the smell of alcohol is muted. You stepped gingerly into a square of sunlight and breathed through it. It's not just the blood, though that was so thick that you thought you'd choke on it, copper and humid and heavy, hanging in the air like something you could see. Death had a smell, too, hot summer opening wide in a room without air conditioning, and you never thought all that CSI you watched would come in handy, that you know how long it took a corpse to rot at the height of summer.
You never thought a lot of things, and now you don't think of much else.
There were careful trails on the floor--he left those for you to walk. Made it easy to navigate, living room to kitchen to bedroom, so you could see everything. Rust-colored wood and rust-stained walls. The spread of knives where Ugly Naked Guy once hung, and you didn't meet the sightless eyes long, thankful that blond hair blocked the color of them from your sight.
You thought they might have been blue.
He painted last night, mocking your art. Your brushes dried in crusty black puddles all over the floor, and you stepped across a half-covered, discarded torso, like this huge puzzle Brian must have played with until he got bored, putting this here and that there, mix and match, a single slim hand cupping air at your feet, like it was waiting for you to cry for them all. He was on them, in them, playing with them, pretty blond boys with pretty golden bodies, all spread out over the loft for you to see.
You stepped between the bodies, the pieces, the *things* underneath. He knew you were once an artist, knew you could imagine what he did, what he wanted to do. What pretty blond boys meant, who he saw when he did what he--what he did.
You covered your mouth when you got to the bed.
Sheets black and thick and sticky to your fingers, because you were stupid and you touched them and felt the things underneath. Your hands came away crusted under orange lights. You wanted to cry and scream and break down like anyone would, like anyone could, but you didn't, you just stood there and stared at the bulges of the sheet in places no body should bulge, wisps of blond hair fluffing just under the edge of the sheet.
There was a paintbrush in the hand you could see. You looked up, because you had to, because you needed to, because you wanted to know.
Welcome home, Sunshine.
You threw up on the floor by the toilet, on bloodsoaked sheets, and almost wished that you'd already died.
The night you left, that you *escaped*, Michael cut you loose with that knife he's taken to carrying.
You were spread out on Brian's bed and high and you thought you saw God outlined in yellow-orange sun, but it was just Michael, tear-stained and filthy, and there was blood all over his hands, like he'd been washing in it. He cut the rope from around your wrists and grabbed your ruined jeans and pulled you out the door. He cried every time he looked at you, even when you were outside and wrapped up in a blanket, shoved into the back of Ted's old car. Leaned over the wheel and just cried, and you wanted to tell him, it felt good, but you didn't think that was what he wanted to hear. Brian was sleeping there, in the loft, somewhere, you weren't sure where, but when Michael led you out, he didn't even look around.
You thought that maybe he didn't know, and now you think, just maybe, that he did.
You weren't sure because you were high, because you were tired, because you were hard from remembering how he touched you, when he straddled your thighs and laid that thin knife on your chest and told you how he was going to use it. He slid it between his teeth when he kissed you, drawing fine bloody lines all over your body and licked them after, flat, rough tongue and the hint of sharp teeth.
You were hard from that.
You were moaning for it, panting for it, grasping at empty air because your hands were tied above your head and you couldn't touch anything and God, did you need to.
"Let me hear you," Brian whispered against your throat, and you'd done it, screamed to the ceiling for him, with that knife between your thighs, and you were spreading your legs even*more*. You didn't even know your own name, didn't care because you knew *his*, and he was touching you with cold hands and that cold knife and you were arching into it like a whore and begging and begging and begging until you could barely breathe.
You didn't come at first, though you wanted to, every time he drew for you, on you, every time his tongue slicked your body, every time he opened you wide and played with you like a toy. Every time he whispered what he wanted to do with you, to you, and you wanted it all.
You came when he lifted you up, spread you wide, pushed inside you, so *cold*, you felt it in every nerve, words trapped between chattering teeth, pressing your calves against his back and pulling him closer, pulling him in. So *cold* inside you. He kissed you, sharp little teeth that cut up the inside of your mouth, your lips, swallowing your blood, swallowing his taste, pushing your ass onto his cock, and you were chanting for him not to stop, never stop, please, give it to me, make me feel it, I want to feel like this forever, can you do that, can you, Brian?
You came hard, screaming into his mouth, shivering and shaking, his teeth in your throat, in your shoulder, in your chest. Neck arched and eyes wide, feeling every aftershock, every shudder of his body when he came too, cold in you, making you shudder like you'd never be warm again. Content to lay beside you, after, holding you in the circle of his arms, whispering into your ear.
Michael took you out, though, an hour before dusk, hours after Brian left you limp and sated and hard, and Michael drove you to the comic shop and took you inside. Emmett was there and hadn't been talking, never would again, because Ted had cut out his tongue.
Ted isn't like Brian. He doesn't know how to play with his toys the right way.
Michael said, "Are you okay?"
And you wanted to say no. No, God yes, no, but I could be, why did we leave, why did he stop, why are we here, but you just nodded and wrapped the blanket closer when you curled into the wall.
It was after midnight before you looked down at yourself and started to scream.
"Justin," Michael says again.
Michael doesn't talk much anymore. You're not sure why it doesn't bother you.
Outside, you can hear the sounds. It's muffled through brick and wood and plaster, whatever the fuck they use to make walls in buildings, but you know the sound, of strong fingers that pull things apart trying to get inside. You saw Babylon--you know what they can do. You know how many died that night, screaming into the ceiling when Michael locked the doors one by one and set the fires, crawling the walls for an escape they would never find.
You know, because you were there, you watched. You were wrapped in Brian's leather coat and had his scent all around you, and you and Emmett stood together and watched it burn, listening to the screams inside, air smelling like charred flesh and rot, and you wondered how many died that night.
You knew who hadn't.
Maybe Michael knew, too.
"Justin." More intense. Closer. You turn your head to look at him, and you think, and it's so stupid, that he needs a shower. He's streaked with soot from the fires on the east side, and his nails are black underneath, no bath in the world will ever really get rid of that, even when it's long gone. His hands don't shake and he doesn't cry anymore, though he did once, he used to, but not when you and he and Hunter went out and only you and he came back.
He said, "Hunter won't be coming back." He was washing a machete under tap water in the storeroom and you saw black-red chunks fall from it. He was scrubbing and scrubbing and his face was pale and he wasn't crying. He asked, are you hungry, and then he said, "Hunter won't be coming back."
You believed him.
"Justin." A hand on your shoulder, warm fingers brushing the pulse in your neck, and you're so *aware* of that now. You know all the places blood rushes--your inner wrists and the backs of your knees, your throat, in the scar on your forehead, the bend of your elbow, that place in your ankle, the thick throb on the bottom of your tongue, your cock. You feel them all, you feel them all the time, and warm hands don't belong.
When you pull away, Michael knows he has your attention.
"We need more stakes."
You nod and stand up, pick your way through people you don't know, because almost everyone you do isn't here. They're out there, somewhere, and maybe they're prying away the bricks outside now, but it's two and a half hours until dawn and even they can't stop the sun from rising.
It'll be another day, and you'll wince away from the sun and hide in dark corners wherever you can find them, trace your scars with your fingernails, lay your fingers over your pulse, and imagine that they're his, and that they're cold.
The night you found Ben, that's when Michael stopped crying.
You would have thought that Ben would have fought more, would have done something, would have *tried*, but immortality is a promise that maybe Ben couldn't ignore, not when he counted his minutes and his hours and his days like gifts. And Brian could sell anything to anyone, anyone at all.
You don't know, though, just came in and saw Brian, stretched out naked over Michael and Ben's bed, lazy sprawl of pale, perfect body, and Ben kneeling on the floor with Brian's knife and--someone. Someone who wasn't dead and should have been, shouldn't still be able to move and breathe and hiss wet, hopeless screams through bloody, shredded lips.
You don't know what hit you the hardest, made you stumble backward into the door, made you not-run and not-scream and not-do-anything but lean into solid wood and watch. Brian glowed, like he did after sex, like he did when he won, like he really was a god. He looked at you and smiled and you remembered how he felt on your skin, cold then warm from your flesh, then cold, and you felt your mouth go dry and your heart stop.
And Ben just--did. Things. Grunting, groaning things, things that made the--someone twitch and whimper, but you don't look, because you can't, because it's Brian and nothing could make you stop looking at him.
Michael was there--you *know* that, you know he had to have been, because he grabbed your arm and pulled, flashing that cross like it meant something, but you just watched Brian smile as you were jerked back, stumbling steps over God knows what, overturned coffee table and fallen books and limp, lifeless bodies.
He hadn't followed, but he'd held your eyes and you wanted, God, did you want, and when Michael pulled you into the hall, against the wall, when you looked at him, when the door was closed and you didn't have a choice, he wasn't crying.
"We have to get out of here," he said, and he hadn't cried at all, though he'd cried when he found you, when he found Emmett, he'd fucking *bawled* when he told you about finding Debbie and Vic, how he found them in the diner, what he saw, what was done to them, hours and fucking *hours* of it, Christ, but now he was just pale and still and he said, "We have to get out of here, Justin."
You nodded and followed him blindly down a million stairs and wondered why they didn't follow you, why Michael didn't light the building before you ran.
It's kind of a stupid thought, though. You know why.
You sit beneath the one bare bulb you have hanging from the ceiling that always sways, even in this still, dark room. Staccato almost-strobe of naked yellow over your hands when you sharpen the wood he gets from chairs and tables, easier to convert, he says, and you nod when he drops them beside you.
You nod again and take one in your lap and start to work, it's like instinct, it's easy, you've done it so many times now.
You don't, you can't think much, it always makes you sick. Makes you sick like you were sick in the loft, when you got up, when you stood up, when you kicked--things--aside and walked back out and you looked around. This bright, brilliant, sunny room and the once-flawless walls and you picked up your stake and your knife and started pulling sheets back, because you know now, there's more than one kind of dead, and this is your art.
He wasn't there, you knew that, or you couldn't have done what you did, set the fire to watch it burn. You knew he'd left, with a promise on the wall, and you went floor to floor with cans of gasoline, you locked all the doors like Michael taught you, and then you walked around the building and poured the last can until it was empty.
You knew he wasn't there when you lit your cigarette, ashy taste of smoke before you dropped it and walked away, or you never would have done it.
It's kind of stupid, or really, really stupid, but you think Michael might understand.
Michael's behind you, pacing, because that's all he does when he has nothing else to do, and you sharpen wood and try not to think. Two hours to go, you know it by instinct now, the fall of the sun at night and the rise in the morning. You know it like you know every pulse in your body, every place Brian marked with teeth and knife and mouth, like you know the taste of his name on your lips and the taste of his blood on your tongue.
Michael grabs the knife out of your hand and you look down, watching the trail of bright blood when you raise your hand, tiny river that cuts across your scarred wrist and down your arm, soaking into the pulled-up sleeve of your shirt.
When you look up at Michael, he's watching too, and it makes you wonder.
You haven't seen a working television in weeks. You really don't know what's happening outside Pittsburgh, this half-burned shell of a city where faded little rainbow flags flutter on every corner and everything is just *wrong*, and yet you haven't been able to make yourself leave. Somehow, you don't think it'll be better anywhere else.
You found Daphne, though, and you're glad it was you, glad you got to kiss her forehead when you tied her to her bed and dropped a cross on her chest and then cut out her heart. It was harder than it shows on TV, messy and seeming hours long, and she screamed and screamed and fought you so hard, even when you pressed the cross to her face to make her quiet.
"I love you," you told her, and you did, you do. You loved her and you wouldn't let her live like that, you wanted to set her free. You were kind of stupid then, even stupider than you are now.
You broke bone to get through her chest, and that was hard, splintering under your hands and cutting your fingers, but back then, you hadn't had a very good knife and you really had no clue what you were doing. You cut out her heart and cut off her head and then she stopped, thank God, and you sat by her bed and thought how tired you were.
Your arms ached and your back ached and you showered in the bathroom and changed clothes and went through for the first time to lock the doors, but maybe you missed one or two or ten, because you saw them running out, into the shadows of the buildings nearby to escape your fire and escape the sun.
Michael came with you the next time and showed you how to do it right. He showed you how to do everything right.
You sometimes hate him for that.
Molly got away, though. You found her the second night--third night?--hiding in the basement. She'd been at a slumber party and came home early and then went downstairs when they didn't see her. Lindsay and Brian were with your mom.
You think they saw her. You *know* they did. You think you know why they left her alone.
Molly hadn't talked a lot, when you found her, but she told you that. She told you that and then she showed you with her fingers in your watercolors on the floor of the comic shop, she drew things for you to see, and then she closed her eyes and didn't cry and it was back when Michael cried enough for you all. You held her and cried over her and cried when she left with Mel and Gus in Brian's Corvette, rushing out of town to beat the last of the dying sunlight.
You hope they got somewhere safe. But you really don't think that they did.