Stumbling along the road, the streetlights look like supernovas to his new eyes, searing brilliant. Everything is pain, a constant overload that still doesn't manage to drown out the blaze that's roaring up inside.
He knows what hunger feels like, but it's never been quite like this. Eating through him like bonefire, it started almost as soon as he'd managed to stagger his way out of the woods, and only kept building. Raw, angry, insistent, making his head pound and his stomach burn and twist. His canines are all the way out, sharp and bright, and feel completely alien, another reminder of what he's become, as if he needed it.
Not this. Please. Just a little longer. Until he could get some help. Some compromise, some way to get around this...damnation.
The shadow in the alley puts an end to that hope. Rhys is dirty, disoriented, and staggering like a drunk, a pathetically bad choice for a mugging, but he's also an easy mark for someone desperate enough. The guy that comes out of the alley is big but he reeks of sickness, a metallic chemical stink that Rhys will later learn to associate with addiction, and there's the glint of a knife when he moves. Easy prey, at least good for the jewelry he's wearing and maybe his wallet if he's just some stupid college kid.
Rhys isn't a terribly big man. Five-ten with another inch on for his boots, and sick as he is right now, he can't tip more than one-fifty, wasted and weak. His stained t-shirt hangs loose on his frame, jeans sagging on his hips.
But he's still incredibly, hellishly strong. Feverish with hunger, instinct takes over and it's nothing to reach out, bend the hand aside and pluck away the knife, like taking a toy away from a misbehaving child. So simple.
What happens next gets blurry, frantic. There's terror, and desperation, and want, and Rhys doesn't know who any of those emotions belong to. All he knows is that cloth tears like paper under his hands, and this is something he has to do. Then everything really is gone, all soft, bright white as it all goes away in pure relief, and he lets it.
He leaves the guy alive, by some miracle. The taste of hot copper is still on his tongue, the rush of it making him dizzy when he stumbles away from the unconscious man. Heat, chasing away the cold stillness like a shot of good brandy, thrumming through his veins. Instead of everything being overwhelming, painful, and disorienting, suddenly it's snapped into place and it's all fucking brilliant, amazingly detailed and intense like a secret world opened up for him. There's something lingering in the blood, speed, maybe, but it's not making much difference, he doesn't think. What's hitting him is much purer, more visceral, and warm contentment settles into his bones, soothing the hollow, gnawing pain and more importantly, that terrible cold.
...he is so, so fucked, he realizes. His gut seizes and for a minute, the impact of what he just did hits him hard enough that he thinks he's going to be sick. But it's done, and he needs that blood to keep from hurting anyone else, so he forces in a breath, makes himself calm down. It's harder to tell when he has himself back together because there's no racing heartbeat to calm (no heartbeat at all, and that almost wants to make him start panicking all over again), but finally, eventually, he thinks he has it together again.
It's nothing he's proud of, but...put it in order. Make sense of it. No one's dead, no one innocent's been hurt (He's the fucking Batman, he thinks, and for a moment, hysterical giggles threaten to well up before he chokes them down again), and he can stay functioning a little longer, bought himself a little time to get through this.
The alley. Coming out of his trance to see eyes like holes into hell, iron hands clamped on his shoulders. "Shhh." His boots kick against the bricks, before he's falling again... Rhys stumbles, overwhelmed by the flash of memory, and has to sit down for a minute, sliding to the ground against a wall to get his bearings. The taste of blood in his mouth mingles with the remembered sting of raw, bleeding bites, the rush of unbearable pleasure at each new one dragging him down into the darkness that eventually ended his life. But...he FOUGHT. That...means something, right?
He can't find his cell phone anywhere, but he's got change in his pocket, and by some fucking miracle, he walks long enough to find a pay phone that actually works outside a gas station. Shaking hands (god, they're still so pale) dial a familiar number, and he waits for someone to pick up.
He shouldn't be making this call, but he's not sure what else to do. Everything depends on this. This will be the answer, either way: he'll say goodbye and start running, or he'll come in (come home) and face...whatever he needs to, to make this right. At least this way, they'll know what happened to him, not be left wondering about his fate, where his grave was because it was Rhys, and he always would have come back to them if he could.
He owes them that much, no matter what. Resolution.
The voice that answers on the other end tears through him, and he realizes that he was half-hoping that no one would be there. But there is, and now he has to face it. Another piece of it comes crashing back, those missing nights: the lights, the bar, the glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye, a shadow that vanished when he turned the rest of his head.
The graveyard. The rain. Rust on the leaves.
Pause. Breathe. It feels strange, artificial to pull in air that feels too heavy, that does nothing for him. The hand wrapped around the plastic receiver squeezes hard enough that the casing starts to crack. It strikes him that he's dead, that he actually died, and panic wells up all over again.
And the words come pouring out before he can stop them. "Sam? It's Jared. I...god. I fucked up, Sam. I think I really, seriously fucked up."