„The guys miss you, boss,“ Frederick rasps, his talons absently chipping away little bits of wax from the candle he's playing with.
He turned up in my haven to give me his status report as usual, but then he plunked himself down onto a wooden box, grabbed the candle and is still refusing to meet my eyes.
I frown, not sure how to take that remark. „Has something happened?“ I ask my second. It would be an explanation for his behavior. Normally, my clan is disciplined enough to get along without me, and I'm not sure they enjoy my presence – certainly not enough to „miss“ me. But an unusual occurrence might make them need my guidance.
Frederick throws me a quick glance. The Nosferatu’s curse has left him with abnormally large black eyes, a bald domed head (like most of us), and thin, long limbs. He looks a bit like an alien, and I’m aware that, with typical Nosferatu humor, some clansmen have taken to calling him Roswell behind his back. „No, nothing like that,“ he assures me in his soft, hoarse voice. „Everything’s quiet in the Clan. It’s just that... well, we haven’t really gotten together for a while, all of us, and some of the guys still feel bad about that whole Goth thing...“
I suppress a growl. As well they should. A hint of promise of more power and standing, and how quick they were to abandon common sense and their Primogen to follow the antitribu! I continue to frown, but I say nothing. This abandonment by my own clan still rankles.
Frederick looks at me for a moment, then back down at his spindly hands mutilating the candle. Little bits of wax litter the black jeans encasing his long thin legs. „The guys hope maybe we can all sorta kiss and make up,“ he says softly, „get together and play.“ He shoots me another quick glance. „You know, like we did before all this happened.“
Sill I say nothing.
Frederick reaches out and nudges me. „Come on, boss, say yes. Nothing like a good gossipin' to get over hurt feelings. The guys're really sorry, you know, and you sulkin' won’t make it better.“ He grins at me, probably to take the sting out of his words, then he gets back to whatever he’s doing to the candle.
„Very well,“ I relent. „Tell them in three nights.“ I return his delighted smile. This might actually be a good idea, and he's right. I've sulked long enough. Clan unity must take precedence now. „But I’ll expect every last one to participate, so tell them to get their facts straight.“ Inwardly, I groan. That means I’ll have to brush up on my trivia as well. It wouldn’t do for the Primogen and Clan Elder to be out of the game before, say, an eager neonate.
„Awesome! Thanks, boss!“ Frederick grins and hands me the candle. I'm surprised to find that he carved it into a Native American totem pole with his talons. „Oh, and it might be a good idea for you to drop in on the prince before you call it a night, boss,“ he adds as he stands to brush off his clothes. „He was lookin' for you earlier.“
I nod in acknowledgment. Probably merely a social visit, or Frederick would have mentioned something. As I watch my second leave toward the sewer entrance, I resolve to stop by the wine cellar on my way to the mansion. Sharing a glass with Julian is always a pleasant prospect.
When I enter Julian's office, exposed to normal sight, my prince is seated at his desk, shuffling paper back and forth. He doesn't look up, even though I know he knows I'm here. “Julian,” I greet him, resolving to answer bad manners with good manners.
He still doesn't look up, but he acknowledges my presence with a grunt.
I wait. When nothing more is forthcoming, I add, “You were looking for me?”
“Yes,” he responds, still looking down at his obviously all-important paperwork. “But you weren't there.”
I suppress a sigh. I thought Julian and I were beyond these petty games. "I'm here now. Has something occurred?"
Julian finally looks up, and, taking a deep breath, he folds his hands on the table, the picture of princely composure. “You should know," he says with an enigmatic smile.
I do indeed know, but two can play this game. "In that case, I'll assume that you desired the pleasure of my company."
He clears his throat. "I meant, you should know if something occurred. But you seem to be distracted."
So, he suspects something. I keep my face devoid of expression. Nowhere within the Commandments or the Traditions does it say that the Prince's Enforcer has to be on hand 24 hours a night. "Not too distracted to miss anything of importance. And I know that nothing occurred." I remember the bottle of wine I've brought and hold it up as a peace offering. I'm not in the mood to indulge his sulking. If my own second can accuse me of childish behavior, I fully intend to pass the reprimand on to my prince.
At last, Julian seems to realize how ridiculously he is behaving. Getting up, he retrieves two glasses from the cupboard. "Good." He places them on the table and falls silent again.
I look at him, realizing I was wrong. "What is it, Julian?"
"You should know. You're holding it in your hands. Old, I presume?"
Very droll, Julian. I refuse to dignify that with a response.
He grins suddenly, but grows serious again just as fast and avoids my eyes. "It is nice to see you."
I have to suppress another sigh. "Julian, you're my friend. If something is bothering you, you know you can talk to me." At least accuse me of something so I know what it is you suspect.
"Would you mind opening the bottle?"
This is getting ridiculous. Without thinking, I open the bottle using my fore claw while watching Julian's face. Caine knows I've been away from his mansion before, and it didn't even seem to register with him, let alone warrant a sulk like this. Now, he seems torn between being angry and genuinely pleased to see me. Talk about mixed signals!
Julian at last looks at me while handing me my glass. "I hear you are at the hospital most of the time."
Finally, an accusation. "I'm there often, hardly most of the time."
"Well, you should spend most of your time here, you know that."
"I do indeed."
"After all, you are my enforcer. And sometimes things are urgent."
"I'm not aware of any current circumstance requiring my services in that capacity. If I were, I would be here. You know that."
"But maybe not fast enough. The hospital is a long way off."
He's beginning to try my patience. "So is Caitlin's home, if I remember correctly."
It was a low blow, I'll admit. Julian puts down his glass hard. "Caitlin has nothing to do with us," he says in a controlled voice.
"Neither has the hospital."
He makes an impatient gesture. "The point I'm trying to make is, that... you belong at my side. It's what the law requires."
He takes a gulp of his wine. "Good. Fine. So, you... are doing fine, I presume."
"Yes." I'm beginning to lose track of this conversation. Small talk? Now?
"And you do know that you shouldn't get involved with this... Scottish doctor?"
Oh Julian, no one is aware of this more than I am. Stopping myself from bringing up Caitlin again and needlessly antagonizing him, I merely reply, "Yes, I know."
"Only reminding you. It wouldn't do any good if you got carried away."
Princes in glass houses, Julian. "You are quite correct."
"I am telling you this as your friend. And your prince."
I smile at him, consciously trying to keep from grinding my teeth. "There is no reason for your concern. The situation is under control." At least I hope so.
"Good. Glad to hear it. Keep it that way."
We drink in silence.
"Do not let me detain you." Apparently, Julian has finally given up on this attempt at socializing with me as a bad job.
I can't help but agree with him. "My prince."
The important visitors have left their impression. They believe I'm doing just fine, and they trust in me, and they like the pictures on the walls. Which explains why the actual therapy is being left to me, not to one of them. The pictures aren't really dreadful, but the stories they're telling are. Moreover, I'm already used to phrases like "I see you are doing fine." It means, 'Let me own the money and give you your little salary and I will let you do the rest of the work.' Well, at least they are satisfied, and Mr Luna promised more cheques to come.
Besides, Luna is one good-looking son of a gun. He’s almost as tall as I, carefully dressed in black and blue, and what I’d call a Latin Lover proto type. Really cute. Hey, and really important, and rich, and influential - and off limits.
Anyway, we have this little talk. He asks me about my background, wondering (like so many before him) that I am so young and yet have managed to study medicine and psychology, and – annoying but true – commenting quite professionally on my work with the children here, as well as on any publication I’ve ever made. Not that my opus consists of any great volumes, mind you, but I am taken aback that this Luna person knows anything about it at all. And then he throws me, like a final blow, this piercing glance of his, one eye black, one eye brown, and turns on his heels, swaggering out of sight.
Please let me add to the sequence above that he isn’t only strikingly good-looking and so on, but also an arrogant asshole if I’ve ever met one.
Now I am on my own again, and I want to spend some time with Daniel. The first contact between us is established, and I am planning to get him to talk today. If I fail, it will take me some time to find another tactic, but I am quite confident about what I am planning.
He looks at me and smiles shyly as I enter his room. I sit down by his side and watch him draw his hieroglyphs for quite some time without talking at all. Finally, he puts down his pencil and looks at me expectantly. That is because I usually start talking as soon as I have entered his room.
This is my clue. I take a good look at the pictures and say, "They're Egyptian, aren't they?"
I continue our little half-dialogue, "I suppose you are able to read them, too?"
Again, a slight nod.
"And I'd bet you speak Egyptian like a native."
He looks at me in astonishment. His mind seems to be searching for a reason behind my question, and his lips start to move, but he won't answer. Not yet.
I smile again. "I think I can remember hearing you talk to Daedalus before I came in, the night before last one."
"And it wasn't English."
His eyes grow wide. I take this for fear, but I have to go on now. "It sounded like some ancient language, Greek or something. Right?"
This time, he nods very carefully, as if trying not to annoy me.
I pretend to be a bit more stupid than I am, saying with a thoughtful expression, "It might have been ancient Egyptian, too, thinking about it, but I never heard them talk, as they must have been living before my time."
Now Daniel laughs softly and seems to relax a little.
Time for another round. "I can't speak ancient Greek, either," I say, dripping with regret. "So we never can talk." Then, an idea seems to strike me. "Hey, but you do understand what I am saying, right?"
He nods again.
"So you don't want to speak English."
For the first time, he shakes his head, though very carefully.
I look at him, honestly sad. "That is a pity, you know, because I can't speak ancient Greek, and you won't speak English, so we can't talk about the weather. Or the things you like."
He looks at me, wide-eyed. And then, he whispers something, very softly.
"I didn't quite get that, Daniel. Would you care to repeat it?"
He pulls his head between his shoulders, and then repeats, almost painfully shy: "I don't like English."
I try to hide my excitement and go on asking, "What is so bad about English?"
And again, he dares to answer: "All bad things happen in America."
I remember. His parents died here, in New York, he came to San Fran, he was abused here by my predecessor. No wonder, the kid is right. I take his hand. "Yes, that's true, bad things were happening to you in America. But you know not everybody is bad here. Daedalus, for instance. And me. And many others, too."
He stares at me, not daring to say anything more.
I carry on. "Besides, I am not American. I come from Scotland, from the Highlands, and I grew up in a cottage near Fort William, yes, that's right, that's how we pronounce it, and I was brought up by my grandma who was talking like this." I say something in Scots, and Daniel seems to like it a lot.
He hesitates, then whispers: "Can you teach me to talk like that?"
Now, I have to hide tears of joy. I carefully put my arms around his unresisting shoulders and reply: "But of course, Daniel. Of course I can teach you to talk like my grandma. And then, we can talk whenever we like. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"Yes," he answers. "Nice."
Some time later, I leave his room, filled with triumph of a very personal sort, and merriment, and I thank God Almighty for what he helped me to achieve.
When I next arrive at the hospital, I have to keep myself from seeking the shadows like I did all the times before. I am here in a semi-official capacity this time, I remind myself. I'm expected, welcome even. What a strange feeling!
The corridors are deserted, but I can hear Callum in his office. With anticipation and apprehension mixing in my heart, I approach the door, still visible, and open it. At the sight of him, anticipation wins out by a mile, and I can't keep from smiling at him, barely remembering in time to keep my teeth from showing. Caine, this is going to be hard!
"Daedalus, please, do come in." He gets up and comes to me, and I can't help but compare the warmth of his reaction to my presence with Julian's earlier.
"Callum," I greet him, acutely aware of how monstrous I must appear to him in the artificial lighting. Entering his office, I at least try to keep my hands out of sight – nothing much I can do about the rest of me.
Callum sticks out his hand to greet me, an all-encompassing smile on his face. For a moment, I can't think, taken out at the knees by kindness. Then I recover and take his hand, immediately forgetting all about hiding my ragged claws. I hold his warm hand in mine a moment too long, enjoying his touch, but he merely holds on and leads me by the hand to a small lounge in one corner of his office.
"Please, sit down. How are you?" he asks warmly.
I comply. Free once more of the devastating influence of his touch, I remember to fold my hands around my talons. "I'm fine." There's a whirring sound. I look up, and my eyes find the camera in one corner of the ceiling, its auto focus lens busily moving back to capture me. “And how are you?” I add, looking back at him. My clever, bluffing friend.
He, too, is looking at the camera, smiling faintly. "Weeeell,” he drawls, “it's a long way to go, but we seem to be rolling. D'ya want a biscuit?"
"No, thank you."
His intelligent eyes hold my gaze. "Did you perchance know that the food was - well - altered a bit?"
I was never present when the children were fed. "No, I didn't. What do you mean?" I frown. Did someone try to poison my children?
Callum grabs a cookie and begins munching it, apparently unconcerned. "Doesn't matter now, to be plain. It's okay now."
I realize he must have taken my refusal to eat for complicity, but I decide to let it slide. "How are the children?"
"They are doing fine. Did you notice some of the drawings they've made?"
"Yes. What about them?"
"They are telling me stories. The drawings. More than the children could tell me, if I was talking to them. I mean, about what happened..."
"Pictures and the written word have enormous power, to my mind."
So much wisdom and knowledge at so young an age! Such insight, such compassion. You are going to go far in the world, Callum McKay. If only I could be there to guide you all the way.
To my surprise, he blushes under my proud gaze. "Uhm. Tea?"
Oh yes, he still thinks I'm marginally human. "No, thank you. Shouldn't we be working?" I add, trying to divert his considerable attention from the fact that I won't eat human food. Other Clans are adroit at faking it, but Nosferatu normally don't mingle with mortals and, therefore, never adopted this ability.
"We can't be working awra time. Just sit here for a couple of minutes and relax, what do you think?"
"Very well." Obediently, I remain seated without altering my posture one bit. I'm aware that humans fidget – playing with their hands, shifting, scratching -, but I'm not comfortable faking this behavior. It would probably look ridiculous, and I'm aware that Callum, after all, is a psychologist, and a transcender. He'd see right through it, and that would be much worse than doing nothing at all. I check that my claws are still hidden from sight, and then I merely look at him, unmoving.
He sighs and smiles to himself. I continue to watch him as he rises to pour himself a cup of tea (black, brown sugar, milk), carries it back to his seat and takes a sip. I know he's aware of my scrutiny as he puts down his cup and stretches, and I feel a warm glow at the knowledge that he really is comfortable in my presence.
Abruptly, he turns to me. "You are a great help. I'm glad you're here."
Will I ever get used to this unconditional acceptance? "Thank you,” I barely manage to reply, fighting down a strong urge to wrap him in my arms and never let go.
Then he proceeds to knock the dead air out of my lungs by putting his hand on my shoulder. "So, how about you start at room 18, and I start at room 1?"
I swallow hard, and it actually takes me a moment to understand and process his words. "All right," I breathe, unable to keep from smiling.
"I don't know how you do it, but the children seem to relax in your presence."
The mention of my children finally snaps me out of it. "Don't sell yourself short,” I say, proud of how normal my voice sounds. “You have a gift." I've seen you with them. I may make them relax, but you make them talk.
He laughs. "Yeah, I know. That's what Sean told me all the time. Yes, I know. And what good it did do me while I was studying the stuff." His eyes lose some of their happy glow, and I resolve then and there to find out what it is that makes him so sad, and to banish it from his memory. Then, he rubs his hands together briskly. "However, I'm here now."
"Shall we go?" I'm smiling again, I realize. I must have smiled more today than this past century.
He looks back at me and returns my smile, and I can feel my heart give a few slow beats. "Yes, Daedalus. Let's go."
We leave his office. I match my pace to his, not wanting to leave his presence.
He reaches out and holds my arm. "You know,” he says earnestly, “I really enjoy talking to you."
"So do I." Caine knows that's the truth.
"We must do this more often." His eyes are wide open and so, so blue. His hand on my arm is warmth radiating all through me.
"I'd like that,” I breathe, my voice dropping to its lowest register.
"Well then... I suppose I won't be seeing you around any more tonight?"
Do not tempt me! "I'll leave before morning,” I reply, admonishing myself as much as him, even as I have to fight to keep my hands at my sides and not around his shoulders where they so want to be.
"Like a shadow." Warm fingers tighten their grip around my arm in a show of affection, and then he leaves for room 1, while I stand in the corridor, trying to remember when I last felt this happiness and coming up empty.
When I return to Julian's mansion, my prince is already waiting for me. “Daedalus, nice of you to join me. I assume you were at the hospital?”
I compress my lips to bite back several sharp retorts. “You assume correctly.”
He sighs. “I know I can't tell you how to conduct your private business, but you know that even talking to this mortal constitutes a breach of the Masquerade. I fail to see why you're willing to take such a risk merely to -”
“I don't believe you fail to see, Julian,” I interrupt him. “Interacting with mortals is something all of you do every day. I agree that in my case it's a bit different -”
“I'll say it is!” he, in turn interrupts me.
I take a step closer to him and look into his eyes. “Julian, I trust Callum McKay. I'm convinced that his seeing me doesn't endanger us. No one is more aware than I that I owe it to all Kindred in this city and to my Clan in particular to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the Masquerade. I will do whatever needs to be done, should I deem it necessary. At the moment, I do not.”
He looks at me a moment longer, than apparently decides to drop it. “Be that as it may, tomorrow night I'll need you by my side. There's some trouble with the Brujah, and I'm afraid it could end in hostilities.”
I incline my head. “I stand ready to assist you, my Prince.”