Written for Yuletide 2010, for SarahT. Er, yes, I wrote TWOtN fic two years in a row. I'd be garnering a reputation did this fandom consist of more than, like, seven people.
He cannot remember exactly the moment when their eyes met across the dim cabin and the thought drifted coolly across his mind: Lydia Asher, you would have made a good vampire.
It is not when she is furious with him, white and calm with fevered stars for eyes, or when she makes ill-received overtures towards the reluctant Margaret (he has regretted bringing her along almost from the beginning, though naturally not for the reasons Lydia thinks he ought to); it is not when a sudden turn in conversation brings her mind sharply back to her husband (he can tell, the way her attention flutters, birdlike, and the way everything about her is abruptly sharper and more focused and closer to catching fire), nor even when she stops suddenly just before boarding a train, a suitcase in each hand, her coat slipping slightly off her shoulder, and smells the air with a sudden fierce delight.
(He calculates the scene as she disappears into the train before him — he notes gasoline, varying human scents, the shrill scent of the air itself, and a faint scent of a faraway market, but he cannot find in these ingredients anything of note, certainly nothing to merit the brilliance in her face, so he dismisses the question.)
Now he considers that it occurred to him when she asked some random, seemingly unconnected question about what she will continue to refer to, clinically and unselfconsciously, as his condition (what an odd phrase, as though vampire is a thing separate from himself, something that happened, like pneumonia or blindness, and its effects can be separated from all the rest and examined carefully under a light), and when she began to deconstruct the science of it, take the myriad facts into her hands and try to weave them into theory and understanding, and in the wholly absorbed quality of her face, the way everything of her burned down to this one goal and the rest of the world and the rest of even her self dimmed around her (he can hear-taste the roar of her head narrowing its focus) — yes, he thinks, people have been turned for less reason than this.
Only half-memories linger of being newly turned, because to remember the reality of the thing — to remember what it was like for things to be new — requires one to remember what they were like before, and it has been a very long time since he was any good at that. Still, he remembers a little what it was like to shrink the world down to the tiniest of sensations, to understand this for the first time — what it meant to hear an orchestra and have no thought, no analysing, only the sheer hugeness of the experience alone — or, eventually, when one became less overwhelmed, to dwell within only the melody of the second violin, with all the fullness of what had been and what was to come surrounding it. One could see the entire span of a thing in a single moment, and yet it went on and on and on.
He does not comprehend her dreams. It is true, of course, that human dreams tend to be spun of components for which he does not quite bear the patience or the ken, but usually they are simplistic and surreal, fluttering from impression to memory to unfathomable lunacy and tangling these things together into a strange, heavy braid of subconscious. But when Lydia Asher dreams, she is making sense out of the world. Her dreams fit together with clicks and hums, piece sliding into piece, as though fitted together by her own quick-fingered hands.
It is not a habit of his, to sample a single person’s dreams for long periods of times, but of late he has not the energy to reach very far, and the dreams of Margaret Potton hold very little that interests him. And while an eternally rumbling train is exactly the sort of place wherein one can enter a certain quietness and dwell within a single thought for hours outside of time, he finds he is too restless for that, much of the time. So he has come to spend far more time than he would have considered prudent in other lives he has un-lived, awake in the corner of a train, overhearing a woman’s dreams.
The dreams closest to the surface are, indeed, the ones most like the sorts of dreams other people have — sense jumbled with nonsense, thoughts that even the dreamer does not remember having, strange flights of fancy — but even here, they are examined, straightened, repaired. Deeper, in the dreams he doubts she remembers, moments flicker as though she is casting them on a screen to recall and understand. Here, the curve of her husband’s jaw repeats itself over and over; and here, she shuts a door and stays for a moment with her palms pressed against it, collecting herself for some — But these moments are not for an outsider to understand, they are symbols, representative of moments or of realisations or a key to some greater whole.
His own self repeats several times, always motionless, half-shadowed, more like daguerreotypes than any sort of coherent image. He has slipped something into his pocket, but there is no sense of movement, only a thing there and then gone; here, he is caught in a moment of light against a window, and then he is gone again.
And every image leads to another, bristling with words and ideas and suppositions, charts angling over images, lines drawn between one memory and another, notes written in slanting, heavy, spattered handwriting, and the sheer canny busyness of her mind is too much, and he cannot stay there for very long.
No. He walks quieter halls.
If he dreamed, he supposes that his night-visions would be made of long, silent passages through which his mind would wander, stripping itself softly of everything but calm.
So he retreats from the ever-busy rush of Lydia Asher’s mind, and wonders again — would you? That whole-hearted life-clinging, reaching with both hands and scrabbling with dirt beneath the fingernails trying to catch up every particle —
But he looks at her now, as she is in his head: what is most solid in his mind is, oddly, a woman asleep on a train, spectacles sliding down her nose, one hand flat in a book, determined even in sleep not to lose her place, hair coming unwound.
He supposes that an un-human Lydia he would not find nearly as interesting.