Title: when your blood is gone, how will you survive?
Fandom: Forever Knight
Character(s): Nicholas de Brabant, Lucien LaCroix
Prompt: friendship; familial bonds; the father/son relationship
Rating: PG for non-graphic vampiric killing
Word Count: 2009
Author's Notes: Written for the .
Summary: “You really do like me. You just don’t know that you do.”
Janette would say that LaCroix could lure a baby from its mother’s breast with little effort at all. He disliked agreeing with the sentiment because to do so was to allow LaCroix more power over him. But it was also the truth. The seductive purr of LaCroix's voice whispered and enticed him. Sometimes, it was nothing but residual memory, but at other times, he’d feel it in the fine hairs behind his neck. When such things happened, he knew LaCroix was near. It was a bond he could never quite eliminate and he often wondered if he’d miss it, if it was ever severed.
The tavern was old, dusty and reeked of sweat and ale. Inside, drunken regulars laughed, drank and engaged in general debauchery despite the proximity to Lent.
A lone woman, stooped over with age, mopped the floor with soapy water the color of ash, and a low fire burned in the hearth. When he and LaCroix entered, neither patron nor barkeep gave them much notice. That suited him just fine as LaCroix led them to an available table half hidden by shadows.
They drank in relative silence as he quietly singled out patrons for LaCroix’s approval. The elder vampire’s patrician nose never wavered. It was enough to convey his master’s dissatisfaction with the selections. As the evening wore on he tired of what had once seemed like an entertaining way to seek out a meal. He longed for the agreeable company of Janette, who had chosen not to accompany them, in lieu of her own amusements. For his part, LaCroix continued to watch the drunken crowd with a sense of ownership that could only come after a millennium of existence.
Nearby, a young man entertained himself by flicking the remains of his meal towards the aging woman, still tasked with cleaning the establishment floors. She unleashed an inaudible string of obscenities that his sensitive ears overheard. Next to him, LaCroix smiled, no doubt in spite of himself. A single round of ale sat half empty in front of them and the silver ring on LaCroix’s finger tapped lightly against his cup, creating an artificial heartbeat.
A drunken soldier staggered towards the door, only to trip against the woman’s bucket. The contents doused the floor with a flood of dirt-tinged water. Her heartbeat quickened and her cheeks flushed with fury before she visibly recoiled as the soldier shoved her aside in anger. A scattering of cheers and applause erupted in jest from neighboring tables. The front door swung open with new customers, allowing the embarrassed soldier a hasty exit.
Frustrated, hungry and feeling the need to exercise his lingering chivalry, he rose from his seat in pursuit. If the soldier wasn’t to LaCroix’s liking, then he could find his own meal.
The kill was quick. In his alcohol induced stupor, the soldier was hardly a challenge and easily subdued. LaCroix had followed him to the alley, where he fed, and eyed the partially drained solider with open distaste.
“Someone of such poor mettle and discipline is hardly worth the effort.”
In annoyance, he quickly shot back that a roomful of prey was a doorway away if he’d alter his standards.
LaCroix chuckled in amusement as he circled them, lightly fingering the soldier’s leather scabbard and shoddy sword. Attired in garb partially soiled with mud, the soldier was middle class at best. They normally preyed on those least likely to be missed. The upper and middle classes were indulgences; however, the soldier lacked manners and so he had no qualms of disposing of him.
Behind them, a door opened and closed and LaCroix disappeared into the shadows. Exposed, fresh blood clinging to his lips, the sight of him elicited a surprised gasp. The tavern’s custodian, the older woman, had stepped into the moonlight. Her eyes went wide as LaCroix emerged and buried his fangs into her neck. She struggled more than the soldier thirty years her junior but in the end her corpse haunted the same alleyway.
“It wasn’t the presentation that bothered me, Nicholas, but the lack of spirit. You dined on youth but I dined on life. Which one of us had the better meal?”
The woman’s lifeless eyes stared back at him with something resembling reproach as LaCroix silently disappeared into the night.
Dusk had come and he ventured out alone. The aroma of an early summer rainstorm lingered in the air and villagers took advantage of the cool evening. On the trail out of town he came across a father and son happily chatting about their day, a bouquet of fish in each of their hands. He imagined that they were returning from the boy’s first outing to the river. The skill of providing sustenance had been taught—to take from nature’s bounty to feed self and home. His own lessons, when he roamed the Parisian catacombs, were a poor caricature.
The pair nodded at him in greeting and continued on their way. The boy now had a skill for life and so did he. LaCroix had taught him how to survive on nature’s bounty as well. For the vampire, it was only a matter of opportunity.
Janette had quickly excused herself. She’d claimed the necessity of securing the day’s accommodations and she left no room for disagreement.
The pretext was part lie and part self-preservation.
Now, only he and LaCroix remained.
The tortured half-wit’s body lay in front of him. A single gash along the neck had ended LaCroix’s perverse game of misplaced retribution. The object of such revenge, LaCrox’s long dead father, was free to continue his eternity in Hell.
LaCroix had retreated after Janette’s departure looking pensive. That left him to drag the dead simpleton and dump him somewhere where he’d be found. The brief journey to the city’s thoroughfare gave him time to reflect.
He had seen brutality before. It was not a strange concept to him, but what he’d witnessed from his companions disturbed him.
“No we’re killers. Not torturers.”
His words had fallen on deaf ears. He’d always sensed a restrained madness beneath the cultivated exterior of his master.
In his youth he’d heard of Roman aggression on the battlefield. Evidently, LaCroix, in his mortal existence, had been a prime student of those arts. Immortality, in his case, had augmented a thirst for bloodshed and death.
Upon his return, he found LaCroix braced against the wall of ancient brick and mortar. His shoulders were deathly still and his fingers dug into the grooves. His present condition was a strong contrast to the man who had earlier brandished a knife and bared his fangs with such relish. Several moments passed before LaCroix unfurled himself and disappeared into the recesses of the underground chamber.
In the two centuries he had traveled with LaCroix and Janette, the role of sympathetic ear was rarely one any of them undertook. Although, it was clear to him, that a sympathetic ear was precisely what his Master—the man he’d adopted as a father figure—required.
Silence permeated all around him as he stood filled with indecision. Pursue LaCroix and risk violence in his direction or practice apathy and wait for Janette’s return? Then, ever so faintly, he heard it, the mournful strains of LaCroix’s favorite companion—his rebec—rose from the depths of the chamber. The mesmerizing music called to him, just as it had centuries prior. He followed the melody through the narrow passageways until he reached the source.
With his back towards him, LaCroix coaxed music from the ancient instrument.
“Where did you learn to play?” He finally asked, after sitting in observation through several haunting pieces.
“Music, Nicholas, as a form of self-expression, is unparalleled. Not the written word or a sculptor’s hands can compete with the power of music.”
The response was directed at him but not. LaCroix’s voice carried its familiar timbre but weariness floated to the surface.
“But where did you learn?” He asked once more, trying to redirect his attempt at conversation.
“These strings require repair,” LaCroix added absently. “They are a poor substitute for finer catgut but adequate in present conditions. I’ve yet to find a luthier as skilled as Maupu.”
“You question my sanity, do you not? How often you forget that I will always know what your intentions are before you do.
“I have been struck with a bout of melancholy on this night. I find that I failed to garner the satisfaction I sought earlier. My old friend here has been some comfort.”
He sat thoughtfully as he considered LaCroix’s words.
“You speak of music as meditative. Could it not serve as a refuge as well? A less deadly one?”
A ghost of a smile reached LaCroix’s lips. “Your attempts at levity have always been amusing.”
With instrument in hand, LaCroix moved passed him towards the chamber’s exit.
“Perhaps in time music could be a worthwhile endeavor for you,” LaCroix mentioned before leaving. “If expression is what you seek, I suggest you try your hand at other branches of the arts. Music of meaning requires more years then those you’ve accumulated.”
He could play the role of the dutiful son, but only for a while. He’d been growing into the role of the wayward son for centuries. Each separation from his vampire family lasted longer than the last, and each inevitable encounter was less acrimonious as well. The stability was tenuous at best but in his eyes, it was progress and progress was always readily welcomed.
His father, his sire—was injured. He should muster up some concern but at the moment it was impossible. This was an opportunity to finally free himself from LaCroix and he intended to take it. Their lives were a scenario that played out incessantly. Only the clothing, the local languages, and the century changed.
LaCroix’s skin was ashen and had reached the point where it flaked like old paint. A wooden stake protruded grotesquely from his chest. It was a sad state for a man who had walked the earth for almost two millenniums.
If he walked away now his freedom was assured. He’d tried to in the past but history, as they say, had a way of repeating itself. Now, LaCroix’s penchant for war had finally gotten the best of him, and he would perish for his foolishness.
As he prepared to walk and close this chapter of his life, LaCroix, as only LaCroix could, appealed to an attribute of his that could easily be exploited—his sense of loyalty. Yes, they’d had more congenial times, and it was enough for him to reconsider leaving LaCroix to die alone in the Crimean countryside.
“You really do like me. You just don’t know that you do.”
It wasn’t intentional, not really, but in retaliation for LaCroix’s perceptive observation, he removed the stake with as little grace as he could muster.
“Really, Nicholas. You used to be much more fun.”
Yes, he used to be. Back when the availability of fresh mortal blood was plentiful in his eyes. Back when people thought the world was flat. And back when it was thought that ships risked falling off the edge of the earth if they sailed far enough west.
After almost 800 years of existence, he was no longer that man and he was better for it. His new life was good and his work made a difference.
In the brief interludes when he found himself alone—without Janette, LaCroix or the vampire community—he discovered that he could survive. Although, he never fooled himself into thinking that LaCroix would stop seeking him out.
It had been nearly a decade since he’d seen the older the vampire. They were overdue for a reunion.
It would either be a clash of ideologies or a semi-pleasant renewal of acquaintances. So he bided his time, went to work, and tried to lengthen his time on the new sunbed. Only time would tell what sort of mood Lucien LaCroix would be in when they next met.
catgut : a type of cord that is prepared from the natural fiber in the walls of animal intestines and was once the most common material for the strings in stringed instruments.
luthier : someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments