"Right," Wil said after a moment of packed silence. Where had this conversation gone wrong? When had it changed so swiftly, to make Edward the crazy one instead of her? She considered this for a moment, and then she realized he had to be joking, so she laughed. "Nice one," she told him, "make fun of the women who's just laid herself emotionally bear. Thanks."
"Willa, listen to me," he insisted, tugging her hand so that they leaned toward each other. "You did not dream what happened last night - it was real. I wish it was not, but I do not want to lie to you. You deserve more respect than that."
Wil nearly snorted at him, ripping her hand away. "Right," she said again. "And you're – what – Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Seriously, Edward, if this is how you're going to treat me, just get out. Forget I kissed you, forget I said anything about anything, just leave before this gets any harder than it already is for me."
Edward growled at her, and her eyes snapped to him, wide as saucers. Slowly, he stood up from the couch, and then in a blink he was in the kitchen. His eyes looked crazed, though not in a dangerous or wild way like Rhonda's had the night before; he seemed to be burning with pain and regret, and there was almost an apology in them as he stared across the room at her. Deliberately, he snapped up the corner of the counter top with two fingers, then set it down and disappeared again. It took Wil a moment to realize he stood at the edge of the room, his back to the door out of her apartment.
She gaped at him, her mind not quite caught up to what she had seen.
"Wil," he said, the word coming out a pained moan. "There are unbelievable and terrible things in this world. Your roommate is one of them now, as am I. The difference is that I have no desire to hurt any man, woman, or child... I have caused enough hurt in my existence. The woman you saw yesterday is lost and confused, and very dangerous."
He paused then, and the emotions in Wil started trickling to the surface. She started with surprise, then shock, and landed on a healthy dose of fear. Edward still watched her, his jaw set and his forehead creased as he continued. "I do not tell you this to scare you – please believe me, Wil - but you need to know how fortunate you were last night. And you need to know you can never speak of it to anyone, or even I will not be able to keep you safe. Promise me you will keep it a secret, and I will promise you in return that none of my kind will ever enter your life again."
"Wait," she whispered, holding up a hand. He seemed to freeze in place, and she gawked at him for a moment, frowning slightly. Was he even breathing? She shook her head and leaned back on the couch, clasping her hands to keep them from starting to shake again.
Rhonda was a vampire.
Edward was a vampire?
She had nearly died last night.
Would she die this morning?
Staring at Edward, taking in the fear etched in his eyes despite the way his face had gone blank, she didn't think so. This was impossible, all of it was impossible, but the proof was here in front of her. Her head was spinning. Rising off the couch, she said under her breath, "I'll be right back..." She made her way delicately to the kitchen, stepping as though at any moment she might find a land mine and the whole situation might blow up in her face. She opened a cabinet and took out a glass, which shook slightly as she filled it with water. Taking a bottle of aspirin from the counter, she popped two into her mouth and chased them with the entire glass of water she'd poured, setting the empty cup down in the sink.
What should she do now? Her mind screamed for her to run, or to kick Edward out while he still seemed willing to listen to her. Her heart screamed back, certain he was no threat, yearning to comfort him and ease the pain he was obviously in. The two warred, and neither seemed to be winning as she made her way back to the couch and sat down again. Edward had not moved a muscle, an eerie statue in the corner of the room that watched her move.
Looking out the window, she decided she needed more information before she could make any decisions at all.
"I don't understand," she said in a hushed tone, giving Edward a pleading look. "Please help me understand."
Hesitantly, Edward moved into the room, easing himself onto the beanbag chair that was closest to the exit, keeping himself as far from Wil as he could. He looked awkward and out of place as he sank into it, grimacing. "What do you want to know?"
There were a million answers to that question. "Everything," Wil told him instead. Edward nodded.
"Vampires," he began, "have little in common with the caricatures in stories and movies today. There is nothing so dramatic as burning to ash in the sunlight or turning into bats on a whim; we are predators in human shape, seeming to exist for the sole purpose of keeping the human population in check. A stake to the heart will no more kill us than a butterfly will kill you; you have seen that we are fast, and strong, but you have not seen that we are also nearly indestructible, our skin impenetrable to steel or lead. How you survived last night, with a newborn literally breathing down your neck, I have no idea, Wil.
"Newborn vampires, those recently turned, are the fastest and the strongest, and also the least in control. With time and practice, we gain control, but most only enough to follow our only law: keep the secret. I am breaking this now, but you have already seen enough to get you killed if word travels, which is why I need you to promise me you will not say a word. Put it out of your mind completely. There are some of my kind – Lord save me, myself included – that have gifts beyond the strength and invulnerability, including reading minds."
"You can read minds?" she choked out, going pale. God, what did he know? What had he heard? Had he known she was thinking of kissing him? Did he know how much she enjoyed it?
Was he listening right now? Oh hell…
He put up his hands, palms out, and assured her, "Not yours, not completely. There have been a handful of people I have met whose minds are veiled in one way or another. I can feel the tenure of your thoughts, whether they are panicked or calm for example, but I feel like I am underwater. I hear nothing more than a muffled whisper, and nothing I can understand, I promise. Mine is a rare gift as well - I only know of one other mind reader, and he lives overseas. I just wanted you aware of the possibility."
Relaxing back onto the couch, she absorbed this information and tucked it away with the rest, deciding to obsess over it later. "So who's going to kill me?" Wil asked, and Edward shook his head.
"Most any vampire. There are those who enforce our laws, and the rest would kill you just to ensure they were not blamed for your knowledge," he explained. She let this sink in a moment, the realization of it flashing in her eyes. Maybe it would have been better if she had died last night, rather than live the rest of her life fearing someone would find out what she knew and bring her end down on her without warning.
"And you aren't concerned about that?" she wondered.
"Of course I am concerned someone will find out," he told her harshly.
"Then why tell me all this? Why not just kill me?" It was a brazen thing to do, and probably foolish, but she had to know. Edward stared at her for a moment as if puzzled.
"Wil, I care for you," he said. He shifted as though wanting to rise, to go to her, then seemed to think better of it and settled further into his seat. "But I can understand how that is hard to believe of one like me. My family, the eight of us, we resist our basic urges and feed on animals instead of humans. It is still reprehensible, but it gives us a sense of peace knowing we have done no worse than we had in life, eating steak and venison. We chased off a nomad, but your friend was left in his wake."
Wil turned this information over in her mind for a moment. While she did, he watched her, his hands folded in his lap and his legs crossed. He never met her gaze though, always finding reason to look away when she tried to look him in the eye. Another vampire had found Rhonda, and he had been in the process of killing her. They had managed to stop him – sort of. So that made them the good guys? Sort of.
"And what about...your life? You're indestructible? Are you immortal too?" she asked him, and he nodded. "I'm not sure I want to ask this, but...how old are you?"
"I have been a vampire for over a hundred years," he admitted, looking down at the floor. "I was born in 1901, and was turned at 17."
Wil cursed under her breath, doing the math for herself. "And where does that leave..." She trailed off, her throat suddenly dry. Swallowing, she finished, "...us?"
For the first time since sitting down, his eyes found hers, wide and intense. "Us?"
"If – big if here – we wanted to explore things further...?" Stumbling for words, she left the question hanging, trying with her eyes to convey what she wasn't ready to say aloud. She hated that she even asked the question, part of her still wanting to run from this man who had broken so many of her assumptions about reality, but she still saw in him a kindred soul, one who could understand her, could make her laugh and cry and feel nearly whole again.
She was not the only one at a loss. Edward seemed ready to speak once, twice, three times before he was able to find anything to say. "I don't know, Wil," he said. All at once, he was no longer something unreal to her, but instead a man as lost and confused in his own emotions as she was. She reached out a hand to him, and after a moment's hesitation, he stood. Instead of taking her hand, however, he slipped an arm around her as he sat on the couch, tucking her against his side and placing a kiss on the top of her head. "Bella..." He spent a moment searching for words. "Bella was human as well. We met, fell in love, and were wed all while she was still alive in every sense of the word. Through some miracle, we conceived a child, and it was the death of her. I am so afraid to open myself up again – I know you understand that perfectly – but with a human it is twice as hard."
The full impact of Edward's story shattered her heart. Wil threaded her arm around his waist, pulling him close to her and placing a kiss on his jaw. He responded to her gesture by lowering his lips to hers, capturing them in a kiss that went on until finally she had to break away to catch her breath. As she panted, he smirked, whispering, "Breathe, Wil."
She socked him in the shoulder, muttering as she shook out the pain that blossomed in her hand. "Stupid vampire."
"Perhaps," he agreed, nodding. "My brother thinks I should change you, now, before anything can happen to take you away from me."
"And what do you think?" Wil asked him as she rested her head on his shoulder. He leaned his head against hers.
"I can hardly ask that of you, Wil," he said. "You would be giving up so much – your family, your home, your schooling, your friends, all ties to the life you have now. But that is what I would have to ask in time, if things worked out between us. I've already lost one love to the fragility of life; I cannot stand to lose another. You need to know that before we go any further."
The weight of this settled on Wil like a lead blanket. Her mind went to everyone and everything she knew now, to her parents, to Kate and Eve, to Uncle Chuck and her extended family... Twice she had lost someone she loved, and twice it had thrown her into chaos. Could she do that to them all, just for one man, no matter how easily he saw her soul and cherished her for it? She believed she could easily love him, may already be starting to if she was even considering all this, but was that enough?
To buy some time, she kissed him again, this time pouring all of herself into it. He pulled her closer, and one of her hands found its way into his hair, gripping it tightly. In response, one of his hands glided down her leg, pulling it over so that she was settled in his lap. The contact sent her heart racing, and if she realized they were making out like teenagers, she didn't care. Both seemed to feel the weight of the kiss, and they used the time to explore each other, physically and emotionally, testing the waters between them.
Yes, she could love him. She did love him, in that new sort of way where there was still so much to learn, and you spent hours on end trying to learn it all.
That she could love someone, so soon, so deeply that she considered any type of forever with him, stilled her racing heart. She broke away from him, burying her face into his neck and breathing in the scent of him, committing it to memory.
"I promise," she whispered. Slowly, she slid back onto the couch, turning their bodies so that she stared into his eyes, their arms still around each other.
"You promise?" he asked her, tracing her jaw with his nose and placing a kiss at the apex of her chin. Tears sprung to her eyes.
"I promise I will keep the vampire secret, if you promise no vampire will enter my life again."
Comprehension dawned in his features, and the grief she saw there nearly tore her apart. She opened her mouth to take it back, to fix the heartbreak she had caused in them both, but before she could form the words he was gone.