Written for the 2010 FKFicFest, based on an AU/wildcard prompt by Havocthecat. I’m currently planning to expand this one-shot into a novella.
**1209 AD, ville de Béziers, Languedoc**
The thunder of hooves and the shouting of men roused the townspeople from their slumber. A tiny girl, ensconced in her mother’s arms trembled at the sounds. Her mother hushed her, placing a work-calloused hand against the girl’s mouth for silence.
The mother’s eyes then widened in the dark as someone declared loudly, without any compassion for the innocents in the village, “Kill them all! God will know his own.” Quickly, the mother grasped for the little girl’s things and a bit of food before the men appeared near their home.
“Quickly, my little love,” she said, strapping the bundle to the child’s back. “You must go. Our Great God and She Who Is Wisdom will guide your feet to fly swift as any angel’s wings.”
“Do not worry yourself about me. My life has been blessed and full. You have so much of yours left to live. Go! Make haste, before these wicked men see you!”
The terrified little girl ran out the back door of her mother’s hut, keeping to the deepest shadows so none would see her. Just as she had left the town for the obscuring safety of the surrounding wood, she heard a scream. It was her mother’s death-knell, warning her to flee before the same fate should become of her. Fighting back the tears that coursed down her cheeks, the child ran as fast as her legs could carry her, the sounds of merciless slaughter becoming ever more distant behind her.
**1990 AD, Toronto, Canada**
Detectives Knight and Schanke arrived at the scene, prompt as usual, in Knight’s black Ford Mustang. It was an ugly old beater of a thing, a second-hand second-generation model that had taken a lot of abuse since it left the assembly line back in the late 70s, but it ran well enough. Its arrival, however, was unmistakable in its loud rumbling purr that sounded more like a diesel engine than a coupe. It wasn’t like he could afford a better ride on a cop’s salary, anyway, so until the day it croaked on the road it would forever be his set of wheels.
Surprisingly, Nick was fairly protective of the monstrosity. Natalie couldn’t imagine why, as no one else on the squad was inclined to drive it. He could even leave it unlocked on the street for several hours at a time, and no thug, no matter how pressed, would bother to steal it. But then, she supposed, everyone has their quirks and peccadilloes. The old maxim of “boys and their toys” came to mind, but she immediately dismissed the thought for more pressing matters.
Like the unfortunate gentleman lying dead in a foot-high snow drift. That was why she was here, after all. Giving a controlled shudder and a sigh of sympathy for the man face down in the dirty pile of snow, she hunkered down to examine the entrance of a bullet that had been shot into his brain and was likely embedded in either his cerebellum or medulla oblongata. The poor bastard never saw it coming, had no chance.
“Hey, Doc.” Schanke’s voice. “Another one of our gang killings?”
“Looks like it,” Nick muttered, joining them after having spoken in low tones to the uniform officer who’d been first on the scene. “Same area, and nobody saw a thing. As usual.”
Schanke swore under his breath. “Man oh man, I’m beginning to really hate this case.”
“You and me both,” Nick agreed, his normally placid baritone roughened with irritation. Not that Natalie could blame him; there’d been five such deaths and no breaks since they discovered it was likely the work of one of the local gangs. The concept of the murders having been a mob hit was quickly eliminated; the local mafia wasn’t inclined to leave messes like this, and the victims weren’t typical mob targets. It was more likely the work of some lesser-connected street thugs.
Natalie, standing upright now, pulled off her examination gloves. “The hole looks like it’s from another 9mm semiautomatic. I’ll have to go back to the shop and take a gander inside to be certain, and double-check with the folks at Ballistics, but how much would you like to wager on it?”
“I never make bets on a sure thing,” Nick replied dryly. “Thanks, though. Keep us posted.”
“No problem.” With a beckoning of her hand, she bade her assistants to collect the body for transport to the morgue.
There was a squeal of tires and shots rang out. Dazed, Natalie was propelled to the sodden sidewalk, a bullet suddenly lodged against her heart. Nick, who was closest to her of all the officers present, rushed to her side before the rest could swarm her. “Natalie!”
The eyes that gazed back up at him were not the hazel ones he was familiar with, but a frightening yet oddly beautiful amber colour, as if the irises had morphed into molten gold.
“No,” she whispered. Was it a plea, or a warning? Whatever the case, unless his eyes deceived him, her canines had lengthened with the change. His heart pounding in his chest, he took her up in his arms. Somehow, instinctively, he knew the only way to deal with her injury was not to reveal the change. He lifted her to her feet, making certain her face was against his shoulder to hide her suddenly very alien appearance from everyone else.
“She’s all right, guys,” he quickly assured the other officers who’d run towards them, a little slower on the uptake. “She’s ok, just shaken. I’m gonna take her back to her place, for a few hours or so, to snap her out of it.”
Before anyone could protest, he gently herded her into the Mustang. “Schanke, finish up here?” he called, but got in the driver’s seat before his partner could protest.
**1228 AD, provincia di Torino, Piemonte**
The girl had spent nearly her whole life running. She had taken shelter where she could, and resorted often to petty thievery to feed herself. She would never sink so low as to sell her body for food and shelter; her mother would not have wanted that kind of life for her.
Until they found her. They called themselves the Vaudois, and took her in as their own. They gave her food and shelter, even as the wicked ones burned eighty of their people that same year the Vaudois found her. They taught her their ways and beliefs; not the same as mother’s, but they were nonetheless kind and patient with her. They did not try to force her away from clinging to the essence of what her mother had taught her.
Year after year, however, the wicked ones returned and killed more of the Vaudois. Finally, when she had reached womanhood and was soon betrothed to marry one of the younger Vaudois – a handsome young man, at that – the demons who called themselves “men of God” captured the girl as well as her beloved.
Her beloved had been burned at the stake that very night, and she was placed in a dank cell to await the same fate. Yet, in the darkness, a being came to her. He was a creature that was not quite of this earth, it seemed, with eyes like hellfire but the voice of an angel. He promised her eternal life, and the power to wreak vengeance upon those who had the audacity to destroy all that she held dear time and time again.
She took the offer without a second thought. Tonight she would dance on the graves of many of the wicked ones, and they would know fear.
**1990 AD, Toronto, Canada**
“Why didn’t you tell them about me?” Natalie said quietly, staring at the detective beside her. Though his eyes remained on the road, for the most part, he frequently spared a glance or two in her direction. To her annoyance, she had quickly discovered he was a resistor.
“Because I’m the last person to judge anybody with a dark secret,” Nick replied solemnly.
Natalie’s eyebrow lofted at this. “A dark secret?”
“Hmm, well… considering the pointy teeth and eye colour change, I’d say you’ve certainly got a dark secret.”
Natalie didn’t dispute this. “So, what do you think my dark secret is?”
Nick snorted. “Well, feel free to call me crazy if I’m wrong, but those teeth make you look like a vampire.”
Natalie stared at him, trying to catch his glance again and wilted in her seat when his eyes remained fixed on the road. The man was too damn smart for his own good, and it would probably get him killed sooner or later. “You’re right. And that kind of knowledge is very dangerous for you to have.”
He gave her a wide-eyed look. “Dangerous how?”
“There’s others like myself who don’t… approve of mortals knowing we exist. If you can’t be hypnotized at all, they will kill you.”
“What if I play dumb?”
“I…” she frowned. “I don’t know. Just how good of an actor are you?”
“I’ve been undercover before. I think I can hack keeping this kind of a secret.”
“Nick,” Natalie said softly, after a small sigh. “It’d be better if you’d let me make you forget, plant a different memory into your brain. Then you can go on with your life as normal, without having to face the danger.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer my brains unscrambled,” he replied, his tone a little sharper than she was expecting. Ah yes, that hair-trigger temper her colleagues had warned her about. Then again, she couldn’t really blame him. With a measure of regret, he added, “I fucked ’em up enough on my own.”
“I take it that’s part of your dark secret?”
Nick gave her a humorless grin. “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine, huh?”
“A perfectly reasonable exchange.”
“Fair enough,” he agreed. “You feeling better or do you need to get… um, a pick-me-up?”
“I’m fine,” she replied, her voice cracking slightly with fatigue. She couldn’t bear to tell him that the bullet was in fact lodged in her heart, and would be an at least minor irritation until she sliced open her own skin and pulled it out. The idea of it made her glad that the “invisible in mirrors” notion was actually just a myth and nothing more. Seeing it with her reflection would make the unpleasantness of the operation easier to accomplish. So, technically, she wasn’t exactly fine.
He didn’t press the matter. “Ok, then. Do you mind if I stop for lunch, and we have a chat over it?”
“How ’bout we go to my place, as you said?” she countered. “I do have food at my place, just for the times a friend drops in. You can eat what you like, and we’ll have privacy to talk.” She gave him a smirk. “And you won’t be caught a liar.”
“Besides, I owe you one.”
**1228 AD, provincia di Torino, Piemonte**
The taste of blood was in her mouth, the corpses of those who had destroyed what remained of her life at her feet. The ones she loved were all dead and, as the terrible hunger stirred within her again, she fully knew the agony of unending loneliness.
She knew she was damned.
**1990 AD, Toronto, Canada**
Natalie gave him directions to her home. It was a small nondescript house, secretly armed with the latest security measures. The rather spartan living room was dominated by a massive warp-weighted weaving loom. “Thirteenth century?” Nick queried. At her nod, he added, “The style and construction of the piece gave it away.”
“I started weaving just before I came of age. It was a way to pass the days, whenever I had problems sleeping. It’s become a form of meditation to me.” Natalie reached out a hand, lightly stroking a wooden panel on the relic, briefly lost in memories. “I’ve kept the loom in good condition, and I still use it sometimes.”
Nick nodded. “I can tell.” Indeed, there was a partially-woven piece of fabric within the loom, its warp and weft only beginning to show promise of a beautifully-spun creation. “Working on a new piece?”
“Not that anyone will ever see it. Handmade fabric went out of style long ago.”
Nick shrugged. “There’s a certain charm to handmade things that factory-processed material will never have. Besides, you’ve apparently lived long enough to know things that are out of style become all the rage again, given time.”
Natalie chuckled. “You’re very right.” She then cleared her throat awkwardly. “If you’ll give me a moment, I just need to freshen up.” Without really waiting for a response, she turned and went into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. A few moments later, she emerged, a plastic evidence baggie with the bullet that had previously been lodged in her skin tucked neatly into her pants pocket.
“Anything in particular you’d like for lunch?” Natalie asked. “I may not be able to eat, but I can cook.”
“Whatever’s easiest for you,” Nick replied. “I’m not a picky eater.”
Natalie chuckled. “All right, then. Come along, into the kitchen. We’ll talk while I cook.” When Nick trailed her into the kitchen, which was a lovely white – white tiles, white counters, white linoleum flooring – she asked him, “So, how does a police detective become familiar with relics from the Middle Ages?”
Nick gave a chortle of amusement. “My mother was an archaeologist and anthropologist. She studied ancient cultures; how the people of different times, lived, loved, worked and died. As a kid, I often accompanied her on digs. I guess you could say I got my fascination with puzzles from her.”
“She sounds like a wonderful woman.”
“She was. My father, on the other hand…” He petered off, and ended the open phrase with a grimace.
“Let me guess, that’s part of your ‘dark secret’?”
Nick grunted. “Maybe you should be the detective. My parents divorced when I was ten, and my mum got custody of me. It was all for the better, believe me.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it. But… why did they divorce?”
Nick was now studying the tabletop where he sat, as if it was the most fascinating object in the world. “My father… It… It was a combination of professional jealousy, and lack of self-control.” When she tilted her head curiously to regard him, he reluctantly admitted, “My father was a Marine. Oftentimes, he’d come home drunk… and he’d take out his frustrations on my mother.”
“I’m sorry,” Natalie said quietly. “That you had to see that happen.”
The floodgates were now open. Perhaps, he’d been silent on the matter for too many years, and now that the truth was out, there was no stemming the tide. “I swore to myself I’d never be like him.” His voice was dull when he added, “You know they’re now saying alcoholism, the tendency towards addiction, is genetic?”
She nodded. She was now seated next to him, her cool fingers gently grasping his hand, silently urging him to continue. To break the silence.
“I swore I’d never be like him,” he repeated, a little stronger this time. His tone now bore a hint of self-loathing. “And I can only imagine what my own son thinks of me now. I worry for him; I don’t want him to turn out like me. How I treated my own wife, under the influence, was unforgivable. And knowing he probably saw and heard so much of it…” He petered off again, this time because his voice was choked with emotion.
“When did you start drinking?” Natalie asked, her voice quiet. She wasn’t judging him, not in the least. After all, in all those intervening centuries, she’d hardly been an angel herself. Perhaps, in a manner of speaking, she too was an addict.
“In college,” he replied, almost immediately after swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat. “Just going out on the town with the boys in my fraternity. Harmless stuff… at least, I thought so at the time. I drank more heavily than the other guys, and was considered a ‘hero’ because I could hold my liquor better. Unfortunately, the next day, I could never remember the fun I had. So my buddies would tell me what we did.
“It wasn’t until after I graduated police academy that it started to go deeper than that. I met Patricia during a fairly routine call while I was a rookie getting my feet wet. Shoplifting case at a clothing boutique; pretty cut and dry. She was a salesperson behind the counter and had reported the theft. We connected almost instantly, and I developed a habit of stopping by the store on my beat to make sure everything was okay. We started dating a few months later.”
“Almost sounds like love at first sight,” Natalie mused.
“I guess so,” but there was a fleeting smile on his face. “We married on the first-year anniversary of the day we met.”
“Then what happened?”
“Well, I started going up the ranks, and getting tougher cases. And when I had a particularly rough day, I’d go and get smashed once I was off shift.” His tone was humorless. “On really bad days, I drank heavily, and I’d come home and give Patricia a hard time. Or so it seemed. I only knew because she would act jumpy and tense around me the next morning.
“After Thian was born, things only got worse between us. The day I finally realized how bad it had gotten was one morning after yet another bout of heavy drinking. Patricia wouldn’t look at me and, when I finally forced her to look at me, I saw she had a black eye.
“I wish I could say I stopped drinking that day… but that would be a lie. It escalated until she decided she had enough, and I realized I was an addict. She finally walked out on me three years ago, because she couldn’t take it anymore.” He sighed. “I don’t blame her. I treated her like a dog, and no one deserves that.”
“There are some people who deserve that,” Natalie said. “Some very few. But she wasn’t one of them.” She then cleared her throat, and added, “So, how’d you finally kick the habit?”
“I confessed my problem to Schanke.” Nick chuckled when Natalie’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Yeah, I was just as stunned at myself as you are. But Don and Myra were surprisingly understanding and non-judgmental. Myra got me into Alcoholics Anonymous, and the first thing I learned was that there’s no such thing as recovery. You have to keep fighting it for the rest of your life, and one taste will hook you again.”
“When’s the last time you drank?”
“I haven’t had a drop in eighteen months now.” There was a touch of pride to his voice, which faded quickly. “I just wish I had caught on before I destroyed my marriage.”
Natalie shrugged. “Some people have to hit rock bottom pretty hard to realize how far they’ve fallen.” She grasped his hand tightly, careful not to break bones. “I’m glad you told me this. Your confidence is an honor, and I feel like I’m not alone anymore.” She sighed, shaking her head slightly. “I’m the last person to judge anyone, and… I really need a friend who understands.
“For me, being a vampire is an addiction I don’t want anymore. It’s more than just blood. It’s the rush you feel when you’ve killed. The thrill of power. It’s seductive… and it’s evil. I did so many terrible things in my lifetime, things I’m not proud of. It might sound egotistical, but I feel like Providence has blessed me by bringing us together, because only someone like you – someone with his own demons to fight – could even begin to comprehend what I’ve been through.
“Nick, more than anything, I need a friend. Someone who’ll show me the way out.”
Nick chortled. He wasn’t mocking her; it was the gentle amusement of a teacher with a curious student. “In AA, we call that a sponsor. Someone who acts as your own personal cheerleader, and you can depend on to understand ‘cos they’ve been there too.” He lifted his free hand to gently brush through her wild mass of curls. “Would you like me to take you to a meeting? No one will know anything other than your first name, and the material won’t be an exact fit for you. But, maybe you could learn something there that’ll work for you.”
Natalie nodded. “You’ve… definitely given me some things to think about.” Another sigh. “I’m tired though; it’s getting close to sunrise. I’m off tomorrow, so… we’ll talk more then?”
“I have off tomorrow too. I’ll drop by after dark, if that’s ok.” He wasn’t pushing her. He sounded hopeful. He got up and headed for the door, Natalie trailing behind him.
“That’s perfect. Sunset’s at six-thirty, so you can swing by at seven, so I have enough time to get up and get myself together.” Natalie smiled slightly. “Then we’ll talk about getting me on the wagon, too.” As he was about to turn away, she grasped him by the material on the arm of his jacket. “Thank you… for keeping my secret. For understanding.”
Nick smiled slightly, and affectionately patted the latched-on hand. She released her hold. “Sleep well, Natalie. Tomorrow will be here soon.” Then he left.
Alone now, Natalie stripped off her clothes and crawled into her bed. She had a good feeling about this, like this was only the beginning of something great. Maybe she was imagining it, or maybe freedom really was just around the corner. Whatever the case, she intended to find out.
Yes sir, today was the dawn of a new day.