For disclaimer, see chapter 1
It is early in the morning, and I cannot stop yawning. My body feels numb as if I’ve not had any sleep at all for at least three days. In fact, I did not have much sleep, due to the exhilarating fact that I am spending the better part of my nights with Daedalus, which in turn means… well, not to sleep much. But now I have to push these thoughts away, because I am on my way to Chao-dai’s once more, and he expects me to be in time and fully functional.
As usual, he awaits me in front of the house, and after I got out of the car, we walk to the training ground in silence. We rarely exchange so much as a greeting, apart from the obligatory bow that comes in handy with the temple and all. And I do feel like a pupil visiting his guru, or this Shao Lin monk from the movies, if only Chao-dai would look more like an elderly Chinese guy.
He is much too tall for that, and his features are what one could call gaunt, yet strangely attractive, with his pale skin and the tousled dark brown hair. But it is his nose that makes him the last choice for Chinese. He could be Roman, or even Greek, but then again, something about him is different. I wonder where he came from, and how old exactly he is. But I don’t dare ask. He can have this Look in his eyes that efficiently keeps me from being too curious.
This guy really can give me the creeps. First, there is the training. He has shown me a lot of good movements already, and as far as I can tell, I turned out to be a quite passable pupil. But whatever I do, he is faster, more efficient, more flexible… Whatever feint I pull, he seems to be completely oblivious of it, but parries my movement just as quickly, so that I could have spared myself the trouble from the beginning.
It is like fighting against the proverbial brown bear. Sometimes, he has something predatory about him, the way he moves, the way he looks at me, licking his lips, screwing up his nose. After only ten minutes, I am covered in sweat. Although I remember what he had tried to teach me during our last lessons, I am starting to get angry. My attacks grow more and more frantic, at the same time more fierce, and still he parries them with unbelievable ease. Another desperate thrust, and my sword goes on a flight, plunging into the soil many yards away.
All I can feel now is the cool blade of Chao-dai’s sword on my throat. My eyes widen with fear: has he suddenly changed his mind and wants to take an easy head now? But this cannot be. And yet, the blade hurts, I have the image of blood trickling on my collar. Chao-dai’s eyes are closed to slits. “Not funny,” I manage to utter. “Not meant to be,” he answers with what I can only call a guttural voice.
Maybe it is the heat of the moment, or the desperateness of my situation, but suddenly my senses heighten, and I feel I’m focusing on something inside of him. We are that close that our bodies almost touch, and I feel I am drowning in his eyes. Then, in the fracture of a second, they all seem do fall off him, one by one: all the personalities he has ever had, and I am traveling back in time, faster, faster, until I finally see him. And I realize that I am looking Death himself in the eye. I gasp and shove him away, then I stumble and drop onto the floor.
Chao-dai is standing there, watching me, panting just like I am. He cannot possibly know, and yet he seems to realize that I have touched some part of his soul that has not been touched before, at least not for a very long time. Maybe it even is a part of his soul that he himself has forgotten. And he can tell by the look in my eyes how stirring this was.
I have to do something. I feel that I’m still shaking, but I compel myself to look up at him. “Hey,” I say, forcing a smile. “That was bad.” I struggle to my feet while trying to stare back at him. “Listen… Uhm… We could…,” I venture. But I am silenced by him with a gesture.
I can only guess what he might be going through right now, but unlike other people who might probably be merely shocked by what they saw, or who would like to ask him about it, I feel that I should treat this like any other case of mine. I understand that I have touched a part of his psyche that is utterly vulnerable as well as dreadful, and I try to convey this understanding in my expression. Now, I really do feel for him, and only because of that, the look in my face is authentic. Once again, no words are needed.
After a couple of seconds, Chao-dai pulls the corners of his mouth down for this characteristic smile of his, then turns to pick up my sword. He hands it to me, avoiding my glance, and I can see that his eyes are shining with tears. For one precious moment, the pupil was no pupil any more, and the teacher no teacher. We walk back to the house in unison, then share a silent cup of tea in the huge hall. Finally, it is time for me to drive to the hospital, and on an impulse, I hug him good-bye. For the first time of our relationship, he hugs me back.
Hidden from sight, I approach the security guard who has just returned from his round and is sitting down in front of the surveillance monitors. He's looking tired, I determine, staring at him from up close. He could use a nap. It would do him a world of good.
I fade into view right in front of him, watching his eyes take me in and go wide with horror during the split second before I pass my hand over his eyes to find a way into his mind. "Sleep," I say softly, compellingly, and then I gently guide his head towards the desk, settling him down comfortably.
Of course, the opportunity is too fortuitous to pass up, so I lean over him and take his unresisting hand in mine. A sharp nick of fangs, and his warm sweet blood pours into my mouth. My eyes close in bliss, and I begin to count as the world fades away for a few seconds, or half an eternity.
I stop at twelve. Twelve mouthfuls equals not even a pint of blood. He won't miss it, but it will sustain me for two nights.
Licking the wound close, I survey the vessel. He's resting easily, smiling a little, and from his smell and the tell-tale bulge in his pants I deduce that I've given him a pleasant dream. No harm done, then.
With the precious warmth and strength I stole spreading through my undead body, I sit down at the terminal for administrating the surveillance equipment next to the main power breaker. A few keystrokes later, the security cameras are disabled, and I leave the security area to head into the main store, taking out my list as I walk.
Mortar, chalk, paint, wallpaper, glue, tiles – and a second run later tonight for plants and gardening stuff. I get myself a trolley, and then I make my way through the dark aisles, now and then grabbing what materials I need off the shelves (making a list of the prices as I go), one wheel of the trolley squeaking softly, rhythmically in the silence.
The larger materials like doors and two-by-fours are already at the house. I purchased them a few nights ago – if you can call what I did purchasing. I broke and entered, I rendered the security guard unconscious (just like tonight), and I carried off the goods without knowledge or consent of the owners. The only thing that makes it something other than burglary is the fact that I paid for everything.
True, I could have used Obfuscate and made the purchase legally in the early evenings wearing, for example, Mr Forrester's face. There is something that kept me from doing that, though. DIY stores are usually full of people, and the things I need are not just a brush and a tub of paint. I'm rebuilding a house. People would have noticed. They might have tried to strike up a conversation and talk to me. I'm simply not used to talking to mortals, not even after my association with my Callum. I don't trust my abilities to act like a mortal when surrounded by so many of them. Sad, but true.
Finally, I push my overladen trolley towards a cash register, where I take out my pen and notebook.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," I write, "I apologize for this repeated inconvenience, but I have once more availed myself of the excellent materials available here. Enclosed please find a note listing items and prices, as well as the exact amount of money I owe you in cash. P.S.: I hope that this won't be held against your security personnel. They're blameless."
Leaving the note, list, and money at the cash register, I hand my loot over to Frederick who's waiting outside.
"Cool, boss," he rasps as we load the materials into the van. "That should tide us over for the next few nights. Can we make a stop at a grocer's on the way back? We're out of Coke."
The work progresses much faster than I expected. Soil consistency worked in our favor for once, so I'm expecting to connect to the sewer system by the beginning of next week. Already, I'm spending my days in Callum's basement, working far into the morning and rising again before sunset. The work is physically demanding and not exactly safe because I'm spending so much time on the surface, but I haven't had so much fun in a long time.
Frederick, Joshua, Winston, and Skip take turns helping me with the more delicate parts of the sewer access construction while using every opportunity to enjoy themselves as is their prerogative. Each of them has suffered a Nosferatu existence for decades (months, in Joshuas case, as he's the youngest among us). As long as the Laws and Commandments are observed, I won't keep them from having as much fun as they deem necessary. After all, I myself am finally in a position to not merely bear, but enjoy, my existence, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm rebuilding Callum's house just for that – to be close to him, and to enjoy him, and myself.
And while I'm on the subject, could it be that I'm growing mellow? Not a night passes where I'm not smiling at least once. I've caught myself humming stupid little melodies more often than I care to count. I've started to consider calling Callum by silly nicknames the way he does me. Clanmates are suddenly smiling at me when they run across me in the warrens instead of quietly fading into the shadows the way they have always done. I'm even considering letting Julian win a game of chess one of these nights just to wipe that morose expression off his face.
Asked and answered, I think.
Of course, amidst all the fun and games of building, sculpting, planting, planning, talking, and enjoying Callum, there are serious moments. Like the one that is coming up now.
Callum has asked me to come to the hospital as soon as possible (meaning before dark, or as soon as I can manage it). I know that Daniel will have to leave us soon. Callum has no medical reason to keep him there anymore, and while I've tried to find other solutions, the fact remains that the boy will have to be adopted soon, or he'll end up in an orphanage. I also know that Callum (and myself) have tried to do everything in our respective powers to prevent that from happening. Daniel is special. He should not end up in the care of this state or its servants. And the fact that Callum requested my presence means (I hope!) that this situation is finally coming to an acceptable conclusion.
When I enter Callum's office, Marcos and Daniel are also there, which I have just time to notice before Callum rises and embraces me right in front of them. „Daedalus, great you could come in time.“
“What’s the occasion?” I ask to cover my embarrassment, even though I can guess the answer.
Before Callum can tell me, Daniel pipes up. “We’re celebrating that I don't have to go to an orphanage. Marcos is gonna take me in!”
Marcos, who's obviously (for someone who know him well) trying to keep a certain nervousness from showing, merely permits himself a proud grin.
„I’m glad," I say, smiling at the child. "This is the right decision to make.”
“He has all the papers we needed," Callum explains, adding with a mischievous grin, "That guy really is a pro… And suddenly it all went quite fast.” He looks at Marcos, and I can see that he, too, is noticing the old immortal's nervousness.
“You should be a seasoned hand at this, Marcos," I state, couching my question in a statement the way we used to do at King Minos's court.
“Yes I am," Marcos returns, not admitting to any weakness, just like I expected him to. "We are to return to my family.”
Daniel, who doesn't seem to have noticed the byplay, can't contain his excitement any longer. “Greece! We’re going to Greece, isn’t that great!”
Callum smiles indulgently. “Yes it is. But I’ll still miss you, both of you.”
He's taking the words out of my mouth. “Yes,” I comment inanely.
There's no doubt that with the presence of Marcos and Daniel something was added to this ward, something that, for lack of a better word, I can only call epic. I still recall with crystal clarity the vision that I received not too long ago. And the fact that an immortal who's older than myself will take care of this remarkable boy who can speak ancient Greek and write ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs must certainly signify something. Once again, I can't help thinking that I've been part of something beyond my ken by having known them.
And why do I get the feeling that this is not the end of my association with Daniel?
Callum gets up and gets a bottle of champagne he must have kept here for this very occasion. “At least, we’ll have a toast to the fortunate addition to the family.” Pouring drinks, he distributes glasses to the adults.
Predictably, the only non-adult and human person in the room objects, “Can't I have one, too, since it’s my occasion and all?”
Callum lifts a tiny plastic cup like those used for oral vaccinations and wiggles it in response.
“You grow up, you’ll get more," Marcos says strictly, obviously getting into the part of being Daniel's foster father with ease in spite of his nervousness.
“But that’s gonna take ages!”
“Ten years, to be exact,” Callum interjects, smiling.
Marcos grins and throws back head the way us Greek have always done. “No, not that much. He can have more wine when he’s 14.”
The young genius doesn't like this prospect. “In six years?" he sulks, but then he apparently resolves to be an adult about this. "No matter," he says haughtily. "Alcohol is a poison anyway. I don’t want it.”
I silently applaud him. It's quite a feat for an eight-year-old to turn an apparent disadvantage into an argument in his favor. This boy will go far.
”Yeah," Callum can't resist adding, "and it'll keep you from growing up high and mighty, it'll make your brains shrink and your willie…”
“Isn’t that coffee?” I interrupt him before Daniel can turn that argument around as well. Or, on second thoughts, before I will. I still enjoy alcohol (in the form of wine), and I can't say it has had any of the effects my Callum has mentioned. As Callum should very well know.
My immortal merely pokes me with his elbow. I smile. Reducing the other side to physical arguments always denotes victory.
Daniel watches us and grins at our antics, and I can tell he's marshaling his own arguments, but at that moment, Marcos stands up, holding up his glass. “Ghia mas. May we meet again in as happy a round.”
Not wanting to be put out, Daniel recites an old Greek drinking toast he must have read in a book, and he recites it in ancient Greek. Callum, of course, doesn't understand a word and merely looks at the boy, trying not to let his ignorance show.
The child has chosen one of the more innocuous toasts, but still one that was quite popular among warriors. For a moment, a series of memories assails me, moments of camaraderie and shared sorrows among like-minded individuals, but I suppress it ruthlessly. This is not the time to indulge in the past.
“Do you perchance know what they were talking about, Daniel?” Marcos quizzes the boy.
The child blinks behind his glasses. “That they will use better glasses next time.”
“That was not it," the ancient warrior corrects him. "It means that they will drink from their enemies’ skulls next time.”
Instead of being horrified (which I wasn't really expecting), the young scientist merely says, “Interesting. That makes perfect sense. It also ties in to the other toast I read in the same book where they say...“
“Yes, very nice, Daniel," Callum interrupts the child before he can get in full swing. "This was quite enlightening, really. But I’d rather have no other toasts tonight, thank you all the same.”
A challenge. How could I resist? Keeping my face expressionless, I raise my glass. “When we next meet again, may it not be as enemies.”
Marcos looks at me in silence, his eyes misting for a moment. I incline my head, mindful of the old adage that enemies accumulate, while friends come and go. It is good to know that Marcus understood my toast in the spirit it was intended.
Callum, on the other hand, just glowers. He's probably feeling put out because I blithely disregarded his request.
While I still match Callum's sour stare with a bland one of my own, Marcos drains his glass and puts it down, getting up immediately. “Right. We shouldn’t miss our plane.”
“You are leaving already?” I ask, surprised.
“Yes," Callum interjects sadly. "He seems to be in a hurry to get home.”
Marcos tousles Daniel’s hair in such a practiced, paternal way, that I'm hard-pressed not to be envious. “Now that we are released, we’d better leave,” the immortal says solemnly.
The child, too, gets up and gathers a tiny rucksack. “I’m ready.”
It is a painful moment, made even more painful by Daniel's obvious joy and excitement. I notice that my Callum is as moved by this farewell as I am. Good-byes are never easy, but they seem to be even harder when they make one ignore one's instincts.
And my instincts are fairly shouting at me right now. How I wish I'd have been the one to find the child, to keep and to protect him by myself, to watch him grow and learn and become the amazing scholar I can so clearly see in him now! And how envious I am of Marcos, who will see and do those things in my place! I am tempted to just step forward and take the child, make him and myself fade from the sight of everyone here and bring him to my lair, where no one, not even the ancient immortal who commanded armies, would be able to find him. It would be easy. Invisibility and supernatural speed would make me impossible to stop.
And I'd be a criminal, a dishonorable monster, one who doesn't deserve such friends.
Fortunately, the impulse fades with no one the wiser. Marcos, as oblivious as the others of the silent fight I just waged with my Beast, grabs his sword which has been lying on Callum’s desk. “Ready, too. Theresa is waiting.”
Daniel steps up to Callum and offers him his hand. “Thank you for everything you have done for me," he says with all the childlike earnestness of his few years. "I won’t forget it.”
Callum shakes his hand equally solemnly, and then he hugs him. “And I won’t forget you, sweetie,” he says into the child's hair.
“I’ll miss you, child,” I say softly to Daniel when Callum has released the child and allows me to say my good-byes, and I receive another earnest nod in reply, but no attempt to offer his hand or hug me.
And while I still marvel at Daniel's instinctive ability to respond to everyone at their own level (another sign of the child's immense social intelligence), I am caught in an embrace after all. “Another time, my friend, and we will have more of a chance to talk," Marcos tells me in ancient Greek. "Guard your friend well.”
The ward seems not the same now that Daniel and Marcos have left. I had a hell of a lot of paperwork to do because of the unusual tutelage. I mean, the Americans really seem to have a problem with Greeks coming into their country and taking with them one of their abandoned children… But after all, even the social worker seemed to be relieved once everything was settled. And now they are gone. I should be happy for both of them. Marcos successfully fought his anger and found back to his family, and Daniel has found a new dad. Well, of course he would never call anyone that any more, but it’s still a fact that Marcos is as close to a new dad as anyone can get.
I should be happy for myself, too. After all, I can finally go home after work; not as in ‘walk back to my dusky quarters,’ but as in ‘drive through town as happily as a dervish and call out honey I’m home after closing the door of our house behind me.’ The works are going faster than I would have dreamed of, and although most of the building is done at night, I can hardly hear them. They are working like rats in the cellar, no offence, and all I can hear from time to time is a soft scratching sound.
Apart from Freddy, the little guy with the hydrocephalus whom I already learned to know while Daedalus was injured, I made the acquaintance of three more quite remarkable individuals. One is called Horse, just because his face vaguely resembles that of a mare, or so they say. He has a deformed maxilla and protruding front teeth and thus talks with a strong sigmatism, which makes him sound really cute. Skip is the one who talks least; maybe because he is not as deformed as the others; in fact, I have only heard him once, and his voice was very weak. I have learned that the Nosferatu abhor clansmen who are less ugly than themselves. Or maybe Skip’s larynx is the part of him that is deformed most. Then, there is yet another one, or so I think. I have never seen him, though, and even my heightened senses cannot make out his form when he chooses to stay out of my sight. I can hear him talk, though, and his voice is deep and rather comforting. I am sure that we will be good friends once he starts to trust me.
I am home late tonight. We had a team meeting, and for the first time my people seemed a bit relaxed and even started to socialize. Now that I enter our house, balancing two paper bags in one arm and a six-pack coke in the other, I can hear muffled laughter rising from the cellar. The sound dies as soon as they hear me, then, after I made a few steps, it increases again. As we do not yet have a kitchen, I put the bags down on a wooden chair in the hall and go down to the cellar right away. The staircase still smells of old oak wood and oil; Daedalus built it only a week ago, but he said that it is much better to use well seasoned wood. And it actually does not creak at all.
Coming down the stairs, I see three dirty guys (and one empty space) in a round, playing cards. I raise the six-pack as a greeting and am welcomed by a row of cheers. Tossing the coke at Freddy, who can catch anything you throw at him, moving like greased lightning, I look around, searching for Daedalus. Reading my expression, Horse says: “He’th not here, Callum. Up in the garden.” He pops the coke bottle open with his claw and takes a swig, then hiccups, blowing bubbles. I excuse myself and go upstairs again after smiling at each of them, even at the empty space. They already feel like family. I cannot imagine life without them, and their cheers follow me on my way up and warm me from within.
I detect Daedalus in the garden, to be more exact: in the meticulously cleared area (apart from some trees and bushes) that is going to be our garden. He is talking to his darlings, the roses. He takes each rose tree in his hands, turns it around, places it here and there, until the rose seems to like the spot, the view, the air, or what knows I. It might sound a bit strange, or even weird, but I am sure these roses will prosper unlike any rose I’ve ever met before.
Watching the huge Nosferatu care for his plants, in the faint light of the rising moon, is so calming. And again, I am filled with pride and warm bubbles of love when I see him like that. The way he treats this garden stands for the way he treats life in general. He is thoughtful and caring, generous, yet never without reason. While he still does not seem to take any notice of my presence, I lean against the doorframe of the veranda and smile.
Life is the gardener of our souls, and with its wicked hands forms us – or some of us – into most bizarre shapes at times. I am the gardener whose task it is, by prodding here and there, to gently give those shapes a more agreeable profile again: something they can live with. But Daedalus, my sweet Daedalus, he is the one who keeps me in shape, just like those roses, and he helps me stay alive and sane. I cannot help it, but although I know he does not like to be bothered when attending to his little plants, I must approach him now. Calling his name, I make a few steps towards him.
Daedalus looks up, still holding a rose, and his gaunt features soften. “Callum. Would you believe that I have received… a discount.” He must have noticed me long since and preferred to ignore me while greeting me in silence, but I ignore this familiar circumstance and decide to finally get used to his plunging into subjects. In fact, I quite like that, talking without decorum.
Hence, I just answer: “A what? You mean, at the store?” He told me that he started to go ‘shopping’ in the store at night on a regular base, and they obviously accepted that he puts the money on the table in exchange for the goods, but the mere image of him and Freddy walking through the aisles with trolleys still makes me chuckle. Amazing, these Americans; this really is a land of unlimited opportunities.
“Yes,” Daedalus answers, carefully reaches into the pocket of his overcoat and takes out a note. With a solemn expression and the adequate theatrical air, he reads it to me. “Dear valued costumer: Please feel free to deduct five percent off the final amount of your next purchase. May we draw your attention to our fresh delivery of dianthus superbus in all shades. We are looking forward to not seeing you at your next visit with us. The Manager.”
He looks at me expectantly, and all I can do is suppress the urge to burst out laughing. “You’re getting an… under-cover discount. Why that’s… splendid!” I have to distract myself, or else I will die from inner laughing pressure, so I start caressing the rose in Daedalus’ hands. “They do have a cracking sense of humour, don’t they.” The touch of the cool soft petals is quite comforting and calming, yet it awakens something else; something not so unexpected, to be honest. Pretending to yawn and still petting the rose, I bat my eyelids. “I feel like going to bed early tonight.”
Daedalus might be old, but he truly doesn’t miss a beat. His eyes open wide for the fraction of a second, then he looks at me, at the rose and back to me. “I should at least…” Searching for words, he still glares at me, his mouth opening and closing a couple of times.
I find I must fill the breach for him. “Yanno,” I propose helpfully. “You could just drop it theatrically and carry me into the house…”
Daedalus puts the rose down carefully, looks up and makes his eyes glow. I love it when he does that, it makes him look so powerful and threatening that it turns me on like nothing else. Just for the fun of it, I react in mock-shock, gesticulate frantically and exclaim: “No, no, no, I think I’ll rather walk.” I hope for a little struggle, but I guess he won’t do me the favour.
“Too late” is the only thing I can hear apart from the gravel crunching under his soles, for I’m hanging upside down over his shoulder now. Well, to be honest, that’s the part I don’t like about the game. I mean, hanging upside down, especially after dinner, really. While my head is bobbing over his assets, I manage to utter: “You’re being rather silly, honey.”
He stops, but won’t let go of me yet, and his tone of voice is almost indignant. “It was your wish. But if you insist…” He puts me down on the ground, where I almost stumble, and supporting myself on his arm look up at him and grumble: “Why thanks a lot, dear.” I realize only now that we’re both far away from being earnest, and it’s just fine.
Side by side but fortunately not hand in hand or any of us bobbing anywhere, we go to our bedroom. It is situated in the winter garden; I had the inkling of an idea to set it up there and Daedalus instantly seized hold of the idea and turned the whole thing into something glorious. The walls are left raw, with the pale bricks cleaned and shining in a soft yellow, steel buckets with exotic plants (thanks to the store) in every corner, and a huge fourposter bed handmade of welded iron in the middle. I know that Daedalus has made the bed with his own hands, because he put the parts together in the same room. If we ever want to move, we’ll either have to leave the monstrous object here, or else we’d have to take it apart with a cutting torch. The best thing about the bed, though, are the chains.
Yes, one might get some pretty strange ideas about our sex life at first glance, however the chains don’t end in handcuffs, but in handles. Well, on second thought, one might get some pretty strange ideas about our sex life after all, especially because they’re so very strong and fixed on the floor under the bed, so that even a 3000 year old Nosferatu in full swing won’t be able to rip them out. We decided to install them after the first nights together, when neither the mattress nor my poor shoulders were willing to cooperate with his claws any more. I will always remember the chuckles and the lewd comments the boys made about this obvious tribute to our passion (and Daedalus’ restless hands).
Of course, he won’t stay there for the daytime. We had long discussions about that. I can understand that he wants to spend as much time with me as possible, but I could also convince him that I won’t even be at home all day. So, he set up another, much more frugal bedstead in a secret room in the cellar. The boys won’t be in there, and Gods only know where they spend the day. It is reassuring after all, that he is almost directly under me, although separated by a thick set of floorboards, and for once I could say in all conscience that I have a corpse in my cellar. All in all, we’re growing to be one big and very strange family.
To be continued...