Title: “Corpus Aristotelicum”

A Forever Knight Story

Author: DJ Clawson (dj_clawson@yahoo.com)

Warnings: Hints of slash

Archive: Sure, just email me first.

Revised by Maria

Season Two. Takes place after “Forward into the Past” and obviously before “Ashes to Ashes,” so Nick has no knowledge of Divia. Time to get retro 90’s!

This story centers around the relationship between Nick and Aristotle, with some mild slash.

Historical Notes: The Battle of Hastings, mentioned in the show but a historical mistake on their part, is corrected here, though I still left to be some mystery involving the imaginary town of Hastings, New York. The “Inquisition” segment was also referenced in “Forward to the Past.” There are some hints about the life of the real Aristotle versus the vampire one.

The title is the name of the collection of the works of the real life Aristotle. The word corpus translates to “body” – which could mean physical body or a body of works.


Chapter 1

          “Going somewhere, old man?”

He sighed, and let his hand drop to the carpet again. Even though the curare in the wood had long since worn off, the multiple wooden arrow shafts hampered his movements, and would continue to do so until they were finally removed. He couldn’t even count them – at least four or five, maybe another. None in his heart, of course. He was still, albeit painfully, alive. And would remain so, they assured him, as long as he resisted them. He had contemplated being put out of his misery, but the will to live – such as his life was considered living – was too strong.

          One of his captors, the oldest and strongest of them, took a step around his prone form.

He could clearly see the mocking posture of the standing man. He growled and reached for the phone once again. It was his only chance, the first time he had made it so close in a time he could not coherently measure. It sat on the coffee table, mocking him with the flashing light for messages.  Finally he reached it, enough for his fingers to snag the antenna to the cordless handset, but the phone  fell limply to the ground.

“You won’t be needing this,” his captor said, easily claiming the phone and setting it back on its cradle. He also punched the button.

“You have ... thirty ... seven ... new messages. To access your messages, enter your code.”

“A security code for your answering machine? Those must be some important messages,” his captor said.

He was fairly sure his captor’s name was Michael.

“Then again,” Michael continued, “who isn’t calling you?”

He didn’t answer. Couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Michael knelt down beside him. He could tell that Michael was getting cocky – and a bit frustrated. “You wouldn’t even give me that code, would you? So I could listen to your damn voicemail?”

He was so close. Close enough, so that when Michael put his hand down to shift his weight, he could grab it – with his mouth. Even in his weakened state, his jaw could still clench tight. A survival instinct, only made stronger by the centuries. His body would do whatever it had to do to reach nourishment, and his fangs snagged the skin as Michael pulled his arm away, drawing precious lifeblood.  A weak man would have simply frenzied, but he was not a weak man, whatever appearance he gave. Instead of allowing the blood to travel to his wounds, or even his famished system, he drew it into himself for one burst.  It was an old trick, one he hadn’t used in centuries, but that didn’t make it less potent. Hopefully the little blood he’d drawn from Michael – a vampire, still powerful with his own blood in his system from the last draining – would be enough to make it go off.

Otherwise, he was beyond help.

            ********************************************

      “And she said – I swear to G-d, the words came out of her mouth like this – that a gym had treadmills. As if I didn’t know.”

      “I don’t know, Schanke,” his partner answered as he maneuvered around the patches of mud. It had rained recently, and the grass might be dry, but the ground itself was still soaked. “When was the last time you were in a gym?”

      “Not on a case? The academy, I guess. But that’s not the point – “

      “You can walk anywhere, I know. I think the machine is supposed to encourage you somehow.” Nick Knight couldn’t precisely fathom why anyone would willingly pay money to walk in place, but perhaps it was just a facet of being mortal that was beyond his reach and always would be. “You can’t blame her for trying.”

      One of the bodies had been splayed across the pavement nearby. The crew had already bagged and tagged it, but the blood and gore filled the grotesque painting of the chalk line. Schanke, eating a falafel, casually walked passed it as if it was a children’s drawing. And he continued eating. It was impressive, really.

“She thinks I don’t get enough exercise on the job. Look at me – I’m in a park! Walking, and not on a machine that costs fifty dollars an hour to use. And I’m getting fresh air!”

       Nick looked down at the next body, covered in white. “I wouldn’t call it fresh.”

      Natalie, who was crouched on the other side, stopped scribbling whatever it was she needed to put on her clipboard and stood. “The body’s fresh, if it’s any consolation.” She looked at Nick, and his expression. She decided to ignore it. “Time of death from the state of rigor mortis is less than four hours. The same on the girl.”

      “And the tire tracks?” Nick prodded.

      “I haven’t looked at them yet – vehicles aren’t my specialty – but they’re probably just as fresh.”

      “Which means we know the killer drives a truck.”

      “And that he’s long gone,” Schanke said. “He could be in Buffalo by now, enjoying chicken wings.”

      “Personally I don’t see how someone could eat after this,” Natalie said, with only a cursory glance at Schanke and the mixture of fried beans and pita bread in his mouth. “But ... evidence does point to the bodies behind dumped, so he could be an out-of-towner. In fact, I would bet on it.” She removed a plastic bag from her jacket and handed it to Nick. Inside was a wallet. “Driver’s license from Flint, Michigan. First victim was twenty, and probably not a local.”

      “So he drove them all the way to Ontario to kill them, then dump their bodies?”

      “Makes him harder to catch,” Schanke said.

      “Maybe he was giving them a ride. Or they thought he was,” Nick said, stepping away from the body. It was covered anyway, and there was quite a bit of blood remaining inside it. In fact, the whole of the young man from Flint’s system was probably either still in him or in the ground beneath him.

      A lot of blood. Such a waste. Nick could hear LaCroix speaking through him. Nick groaned, and tried to focus on the case. They had two dead Americans, at least one ID’d, and a fresh trail. It might be solvable. If only he had –

      Whatever he could have been thinking was gone. It was a bit like being struck, so much that he lost his footing and stumbled, reaching out for something to hold. To none of Myra’s credit about nagging his physical condition, Schanke was there to catch him.

“Nick? You alright?”

      Nick could smell whatever passed as Middle Eastern spices these days on Schanke’s breath, but it only reached the very edges of his consciousness. All he could think of was the forceful presence in his mind. He spun around – too fast – looking for someone, and he would have toppled if not for his partner’s hold on him.

      “Nick?”

This time is was Natalie. His eyes couldn’t see either of them. He couldn’t focus. All he could think of was the voice, perfectly clear but lacking anything that made it sound like the person who was undoubtedly sending it to him. The pull was as real as if the other vampire was physically grabbing him with his own hands.

      “I – have to go.” It was a statement of pure fact. His resistance was meager at best, and wouldn’t last. His will to remain in place and think about anything else was being destroyed. “Book me off sick,” he said to no one in particular, and tore himself from Schanke’s grasp, not caring if he did any damage on the way. Fortunately it didn’t seem that he had.

      “Nick! Your car is – “

      He couldn’t take his car. Wouldn’t be there fast enough. Plus he didn’t have the concentration to drive. His only explanation was to toss the keys to the Caddy on the ground in their general direction, and run behind the tree, where he wouldn’t be seen. Finally, he could take flight.

      It would be a long ride, longer than what he was used to doing, but it would bring him there. To Aristotle.


Chapter 2

      Aristotle lived outside Ottawa. Lived wasn’t an accurate word in any form – Aristotle wasn’t alive, and he probably did not have a permanent residence. He always seemed to be available everywhere. Over the years Nick had met him in half a dozen different offices in North America alone. Did he have a permanent residence, or just temporary living arrangements?

      Did any of them?

      450 kilometers was far too long for a vampire to fly in ordinary circumstances, but this was not one. Only the sun could keep him away, and the sun was still a few hours off when he finally flowed down and dropped, a bit like a stone, on the ground some distance away from his destination. He recognized the house from early in the year, when he was looking for Catherine Barrington. It was stately, yet not overly so, and didn’t draw any attention. It was surrounded by grounds, mainly natural woods, which kept Aristotle isolated from intrusive neighbors.

      Nick was close enough now and enough time had passed that the summons – if that was what it was called, though he couldn’t imagine another name for it – was wearing down to a nagging insistence, and he could pause. He was exhausted. He had flown longer than he had flown in two hundred years, and on a nearly-empty stomach. Cow and protein shakes could only do so much, even when he had plenty of both. If an animal presented itself to him, he doubted he would hesitate, but he was in control.

      He approached the lawn. The lights were on in the house – some of them, at least – and there was a small car parked in the driveway. Aristotle drove, as he recalled. Most vampires did nowadays. LaCroix was among those who refused this new technology, as if it was some insult to their senses. LaCroix would ride with him only if it afforded his maker the opportunity to taunt him in some fashion.

      There was a second car, a van. While he saw no reason for Aristotle to not own a van, the license plate was American. Again, not exceptional, and perfectly legal, but the other plates were Canadian. It was something that set off a red flag.  The van was locked, of course. As much as Nick desperately wanted to get inside, where he knew Aristotle was, he pushed that notion to the side for a moment and tore open the side door.

      What greeted him was not what he wanted to see. There were blankets, empty bottles of bloodwine, and weapons – lots of them. Crossbows, stakes, and a bottle of curare. No crosses, though. Good. A hunter would have brought plenty. He took a crossbow and loaded it – and without thinking twice, a bottle of blood, tearing the cork out with his teeth and consuming it. It was not particularly fine in vintage, but it would give him strength. He set the remainder down and stalked towards the house.

      Nick knew precisely where Aristotle was. Not that he had ever been in that part of the house, or knew which room it was, but he knew the location. Whatever force Aristotle had sent him gave him that distinct knowledge, and it would not go away until he found him. That did not mean he did not tread hesitantly. He quietly broke the bar on the back window and slipped into the darkened storage room.

      There were no human heart beats, but there were noises inside. Several vampires moving around – where, he could not pinpoint. The inside of the house seemed vast. He crossed the kitchen, stainless and spotless and undoubtedly totally unused except for the fridge, but nonetheless filled with all the implements required for a mortal family. Right out of a magazine, like Nick’s own. They replicated the picture of the experience. It was an important part of the vampire façade.

      Nick paused and leaned against the wall. Through the butler’s pantry, he could see a pacing vampire, mangy-looking and carrying a poker for some reason. Nick reached out with his senses, now very glad he’d bothered with the blood from the van, and saw Aristotle on the carpet just out of human sight. His body was completely still, though just the fact that he wasn’t running his mouth off was indication that he was unconscious. There was blood on the carpet – not human. He could smell the vampire blood and didn’t doubt for a second it came from Aristotle.

      You’re going to owe me another favor, Nick mused, and drew the crossbow. The mangy vampire turned and snarled, which was all he had time to do before Nick plunged the arrow into his heart. The vampire staggered back and dropped quietly. Nick paused – there were others, but they didn’t come running.

      He ran to Aristotle’s side, and at last, the sensation of summoning ceased when he touched him. Nick had never seen him worse – and he’d seen him at the hands of the Dominican task masters of the Inquisition. The old vampire was paler than normal, almost white. His beard was overgrown and he didn’t respond when Nick touched his cheek.

      Aristotle, perhaps more than any vampire Nick knew, lived consumed by the mortal world. He lived in its fashions without being fashionable in the least, with the trends instead of ahead of them. His cheap T-shirt, black and bearing some band’s logo on it, was nearly shredded around the collar. What his captors were trying to access by doing this was obvious enough. Aristotle had been bitten multiple times on his neck, even several on the same side, and none of the wounds had begun to heal. If that hadn’t been agonizing enough for him, it likely came after the wooden bolts sticking up from the rest of his body. Two in the chest, another in the torso, and one in each leg. Enough to kill a young vampire, and keep an older one immobilized until they were removed.

      None near the heart. The attack was deliberate, to pin him down and drain him, but not to kill him. That he hadn’t bled to death was impressive, but they were probably keeping him alive. Nick cautiously probed a wound and saw the layers of skin around it – multiple attempts, all failed, to heal.

      He put a hand around one of the chest bolts and that was enough to wake Aristotle with a gasp. Though putting a hand near his mouth was probably not the best idea, Nick still clamped his down to prevent the older vampire from speaking again so audibly. To his relief, Aristotle’s brown eyes looked back up again in recognition. The vampire in him was too weak to respond.

      “Where are the others?”

      Aristotle sighed, and leaned his head in the direction of the hallway.

      “Downstairs? Your office?”

      The older vampire nodded.

      “Do you know how many?”

      “Two,” were his first words, barely audible. His throat was very, very dry. He closed his eyes and swallowed. “And a dog that likes vampire blood.”

      “A hound?”

      “Yes.”

      That was a problem, but at least Aristotle had the capacity to inform him before he went barreling downstairs and was torn to shreds by a vampiric attack dog. If the others were as close to fledgling as the guard – which was only a possibility – they wouldn’t be a problem. The carouche was.  He had another few bolts, and he had his gun. Bullets to the head could slow down a young vampire, but a dog? He needed more. “Wait here,” he said.

      Aristotle looked at him to say, As if I have any option? Despite the situation, Nick smiled. Aristotle the man wasn’t lost to him despite whatever torture he’d been through, for whatever reason he’d been through it. Nick could guess, but this wasn’t the time for that.

      The dead vampire lay on the carpet. The poker was beside him. It was metal, but it was sharp. It wasn’t wooden, but it would do.

      Nick knew no attack on Aristotle would ever be tolerated by the Community. If anyone was invincible in that sense, it was Aristotle. He could bumble about, occasionally disobey the Code despite his repeated insistence that he would not, and live very much among mortals when he chose – as long as he provided his invaluable service to the Community. Larry Merlin, a recorder keeper and hacker, was good, but he could be replaced with someone more knowledgeable about the insides of the mortal technological world. Aristotle, with his passion for his work and his insatiable curiosity for new ideas, was indispensable. There was a rumor that he invented bloodwine as a method of keeping blood fresh for transport, but like everything else, he refused to own up to it.

      Why the Enforcers weren’t here, dispensing of the vampires with all speed, he didn’t know – technically the Code hadn’t been broken – but Nick was sure that the destruction of the intruding vampires would be tolerated, if not commended. Not that it thrilled him to kill anything, including vampires, but there was also the small matter that Aristotle was one of the few vampires Nick would call a friend. Maybe if he was less consumed with his work, they would see each other more often. Thinking on this notion, he had no doubt of it.

      He had other things to do than ponder the nature of friendship with the identity mastermind. He left Aristotle, reluctantly at first, and slipped out into the hallway. His part of the house he did remember. The office was downstairs, and the stairway was lit. The only noises in the house came from down those stairs, some mumbled voices and a lot of humming of the computers. If there was a vampiric dog, Nick knew of only one way to deal with it – alone, not impeded by any others. He knocked on the open door to the stairway.

      “What the hell was that?”

      Nick snarled, and as expected, the dog came bounding up the stairs first, his speed a combination of selective dog breeding and an unnatural force of nature. Nick did not stand in the doorway, but to the side, and when the dog’s head appeared, he struck it as hard as he could with the poker. The dog squealed. It slowed it down for a moment, long enough for Nick to put a bolt in the black of its head. The hound howled and dropped.

      Now more were coming. The first that arrived was someone older than a fledging, but by his speed, not much older, though it didn’t make him any smarter.  The intruder followed the same path as the now-dead dog.

“Who the hell is – “

      Nick used his last bolt on the young vampire. It stuck the shoulder, close to the heart but not close enough. He doubled over, but was still moving – screaming, in fact, in a haze of pain. He howled and would have hurled himself at Nick of he could. Instead he was on the floor, bleeding badly. There would be time for Nick to deal with him later.  He dropped the crossbow to the floor.

      The last vampire stood at the bottom of the stairs. Nick had to duck as a crossbow arrow shot up, not aiming precisely for him but certainly hoping to hit flesh. It actually took Nick a moment to stop himself from not shouting “Police!” as he leaned against the door and drew his gun.

      “Who are you?”

      “Give yourself up, or I’ll hand you to the Enforcers.”

      “Give myself up? To you? You’ve already made such a good impression on me.”

      Nick didn’t recognize the voice, but there was power in it. This person was at least a decent age and undoubtedly the mastermind. “I’ll let you walk away from this, which is a much better deal than you’ll get from them. Attacking Aristotle?  What were you thinking?”

      “I wanted one address! How hard could that be? Do you have any idea what he did, why he had to run from us? The old man would have been helping the Code. He did this to himself.”

      “He has his rules. You know they’re inviolable.” So he could guess the vampire was old enough to know Aristotle – why he’d gotten inside in the first place – but young enough to be so stupid as to ask for information and then be surprised when the request was refused. 

      “Yeah, I got that speech from him – a couple times. Do you know who he protects? Himself and some bad people, worse than me. There should be laws.”

      “There are. You knew them and you broke them,” Nick said. “I’m your only chance to walk out of here alive.”

      “What do you think you are, some kind of vampire cop?”

      Nick didn’t laugh. Instead he stepped into the doorway. “I don’t think it.” And he fired, aiming for the head. It was the only hope of slowing the other vampire down.

      The crossbow bolt struck Nick probably the same time the bullet hit its target. The bolt snagged him in the neck but continuing through, so that he was only bleeding – very badly, but he was still mobile, and would be for a few minutes, or until he found a source of blood. And in the blood-red haze, Nick saw only one source in front of him. It had been a long time since he had bit into a vampire’s neck. The part of him that was still a functioning mind knew that. The act was so intimate it was not freely given or expected, and when it came, it could be the ultimate motion in the throes of passion – or a profound violation.  Maybe Nick hadn’t meant to drain the other vampire nearly dry, or maybe he had. He really didn’t know when the fever took him. The younger vampire was not as fast or strong, and Nick felt him grow weaker as he removed from his victim what little life was left. He wasn’t trying, but the man’s – Michael, his name was – immediate memories came unbidden. Soaking the bolts in curare, talking with his pack, making the carouche, surprising Aristotle, drawing his blood. The memories didn’t come in order, nor did the emotions. Frustration, anger, boredom at a failing plan. There were flashes of older places, castles, and one of the sea in daylight. Was that from Aristotle? Michael had drained him several times, trying to get the password for the computer system. It was possible.

      Michael slumped in his arms and Nick recovered enough to drop him. The blood made him feel sick, knowing what the man before him had done to his friend, and he picked up Michael’s crossbow and fired it into his chest. He would stay down now, and when Nick had a chance to get him outside, he would be no more than ashes.

      The anger from Michael’s blood still making him seethe, he went up and finished off the injured vampire. Finally he dropped the bow and went to the fridge. He needed something – anything – to get the taste of Michael out of his mouth. Even Natalie’s voice, usually so strong in his head when he went for blood, was absent now. The blood would calm him, and he needed calm. His task was far from over.


Chapter 3

      The fridge was stocked with everything from blood and rum to pure human. He barely looked at the labels before grabbing a bottle. His fangs were still descended and he uncorked the bottle with one of them and up-ended the contents into his mouth. It had come from a donor – a scared, female donor. Nick knew sometimes they deliberately scared them, to add an edge to the blood that could only be achieved by fear. Janette kept assuring him that those donors were paid well, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe that.

      He finished the bottle as he felt the sun rising. Aristotle had the windows open, though his captors had lowered all the shutters. It wasn’t enough to make the rooms fully dark. In the waning darkness, he returned to Aristotle’s side. The older vampire was unconscious again.

      This had to be dealt with carefully. First thing, he dragged him into the darkness of the pantry, so his body was over a tile floor that would not soak up the blood. When Aristotle bled, his body would have a chance to absorb the blood back into his system.  The bolts had to come out. Just jostling him enough to drag him, however carefully, was enough to make Aristotle howl. Nick checked his eyes – still brown. The vampire was so weak it would not assert itself even when the body was being assaulted.  That left Nick with a dilemma. Pull the bolts, and Aristotle might bleed to death before he could save him. Leave them there, and all the blood in the world wouldn’t heal him.

      “Aristotle.” As much as he didn’t look forward to waking him, it was necessary. “Can you hear me?”

      Aristotle opened his eyes, but didn’t answer.

      Nick’s wound on his neck had healed, though he was still drenched with his and Michael’s blood. He bit his wrist open and offered it to Aristotle. Fortunately, he didn’t have to force-feed him. Aristotle’s nature finally came to the fore, and he dug his fangs into the waiting flesh and sucked on the open wound.  Guiltily, Nick acknowledged there was only so much healing his blood could provide. Aristotle’s body would attempt to heal around the wood, and not be successful. Eventually Aristotle gave up and his fangs retracted, and his head fell against the tile.

      “Aristotle, I have to take the bolts out.”

      He opened his eyes again. “I have a tub.”

      “Where?” Not that it explained everything, but he was not going to be getting an extended lecture from him soon.

      “Behind the laundry room, this level. Locked – password ... 1717.”

      Why would Aristotle lock a bathroom? How paranoid was he? “I have to drag you, or pick you up.” Both would be unbelievably painful, he had no doubt.

      “Whichever’s better.”

      Nick nodded and taking the shoulders, dragged a moaning Aristotle through the kitchen, trailing blood behind him, and down another hallway. He set him down to scope it out, and found a little door with an electronic lock and keypad on it. He typed it in and opened the door when the light went green.

      It was only a tub, with a tank next to it, piping going into the wall. Nothing about it was magnificent, or even up to par with the rest of the house’s furnishings. There was actually a layer of dust in the room. Still, this was no time to question Aristotle about his house. Nick picked him up, carried the limp vampire and set him as gently as possible in the tub. His head rested on the porcelain.

“Now what?”

      “Is it too rusty? It should work.”

      There was only one knob for the faucet, no hot or cold – just ‘on.’ Nick spun it around and watched with a mixture of horror and thirst as blood began to pour from the spout. It was animal blood, not human – no one would waste human blood like this – but he let it fill the tub before shutting it off.  It was brilliant. Now Aristotle would not bleed out. His body would take what it needed. Nick’s disgust at the idea of bathing in blood dissipated. Especially since it smelled like cow. “Do you have tools for the bolts?”

      “Somewhere.” Aristotle sounded a little better now, but not much. “Maybe the laundry room – a box. Or the kitchen. I can’t remember.”

      Though Aristotle was still no doubt in agony, some immediacy of the situation had been relieved, and Nick could search for the proper tools instead of tearing the bolts out with his bare hands. He found a box behind the dryer and returned with pliers and a few other things that looked like they might be useful. When he returned, he turned on the light in the room. Aristotle was awake but did not say anything.

      Nick removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves. To find the bolts in the pool of blood was not easy, but Aristotle held a hand to his head and was patient, giving little more than an occasional growl as Nick extracted each bolt. The wounds on his neck were already closed and the red welts where they had been were faded before the final bolt was out.

      “I’m sorry,” Nick said, at the pain he was causing.

      “I’s’fine,” Aristotle replied, even though it didn’t sound like it was.

      “This is the final one.”

      Aristotle nodded and Nick pulled it. The one closest to his heart was the most dangerous and Aristotle gasped when he came out, then sunk back into the tub. Only his head and toes were above the blood.

      “You can rest,” Nick said at his friend’s hesitancy. “They’re dead. I just have to put their bodies outside.” He put a hand on Aristotle’s shoulder, so gently as for it to more of a gesture than an actual touch. “Do you want me to call anyone?”

      “No. Thank you.”

      It was not exactly a dismissal, but Aristotle no doubt wanted to sleep in that position and for a long time, and Nick had things to do. When he emerged, he could see sun pouring in between the blinds in the less-used rooms, and avoided them to collect the three vampires and their attack dog. Unceremoniously, he carried them each out to the porch and tossed them into the sun, watching with some satisfaction as they burned.  When he went back inside, he was not as hungry as he thought he would have been. Instead, he felt sick, knowing everything that had been done to Aristotle, and though he’d exhausted his own body saving him, Nick didn’t feel an inch of regret for the manner in which he’d avenged him. If he had to answer to anyone, so be it. He doubted he would. Rescuing Aristotle was not something you “answered” to someone for doing.

            ********************************************

Toledo, Spain, 1560

      Nicholas was free. This was not entirely true – the nagging sensation that his master could, at any time, reappear in his life and assert dominance was still there. But for the moment, he did not sense LaCroix’s presence or even a penetration into his mind, which LaCroix often did, seemingly on a whim, from a disturbingly great distance. The fact that he was in Paris, or said he was, made no difference. Nicholas wondered if this would fade over time, if he would have some freedom or erect some mental barrier, but all attempts in the past had failed, and had been met with rather stern and agonizing punishment.

      Having been a close, almost trusted companion of his master for decades, LaCroix finally let him off the leash, so to speak, for the first time since Janette had ended their marriage. Nicholas had been inconsolable at first, eager to walk into the sun, and welcomed LaCroix’s reassertion of authority. It gave him structure beyond his misery, but this friendship always came with a price. When he implied, extremely indirectly, that he wanted space and could be trusted not to leave the shutter open in the morning, LaCroix only tightened his grip.

      Nicholas shook his head. He would never understand his master, and he suspected it might be the same the other way around. But now they were separated, if only for a short while, and he could do as he pleased. He went south into the re-conquered Spain, and feasted on the delights of a reinvigorated Christian Spain. But there was a dark side to this new world, so different from its Saracen past, and it extended beyond the dark alleys where he so often found his meals. The Inquisition had new offices, fully established and funded by King Ferdinand, to do whatever it was they did. Nicholas wasn’t sure, but the Crusades, much less his current life as the walking damned, had taught him enough cynicism to know their intentions were not always the stated ones.

      The bells rang for Compline, but that was not his interest. He quickened his step to the home of Señor Galindo, hoping the nobleman had located the book in his immense library that Nicholas wished to borrow. During his short stay, their shared love of literature had made them as close to friends as he would dare to be as a mortal.  But Galindo was not at home. The house was shut up, with a cross painted on the doorway, and Nicholas snarled and stepped back. He stood on the steps, as if they would offer an answer.

      “Master Galindo is not here, Señor del Noche,” said the man by his side. Nicholas recognized one of the servants from the lower corners. “I suggest you leave. I do not think he will be coming back, and it will be better for you to go.”

      “Where is he?”

      The servant looked surprised at having to explain what even a child would know. “The Dominicans.”

      “Ridiculous! What could he possibly have done? He wasn’t a secret Jew – I would have known.”

      “He had books, Señor. You know how it is.”

      Nicholas did not, apparently. He pressed a coin into the servant’s hand. “Show me where they took him.”

      “It is not wise – “

      “I’ll be the judge of that. Take me.”

      The servant led him down the streets to the old fortress, once a Saracen stronghold and left him. To the doorman Nicholas said, “I am here to provide legal counsel for Señor Galindo.” It was not very wise, perhaps, to walk into the home of the Inquisition, but despite all of the crosses, he doubted it was a place where holy works were done. Focusing on the heartbeat of the guard, he repeated his order.

      “You are here to provide legal counsel,” the guard said in a monotone.

      “You will take me to him.”

      “I will take you to him.”

      The guard abandoned his post and escorted Nicholas inside, into a darkness deeper than the night alone could ever provide. The candles did little but add a terrible atmosphere. Nicholas was used to the stink of crowded places, but the particular wave of revulsion he felt was because of the memories that came to him unbidden at this particular smell: of being a captive himself, after he was wounded at Damietta. He had been shot in the leg on the battlefield and his fellow Christian soldiers abandoned him in their retreat, giving him up for dead. Had he known what awaited him, he would not have been so glad to be dragged off the field after roasting in his armor for hours. The next three years he spent in a Saracen prison, somehow escaping infection and therefore death or amputation, but enduring all the other tortures that prison life provided. When he was ransomed with a batch of soldiers as part of a treaty, he stumbled out confused, depressed, and a physical wreck. He became easy prey for a seductive vampire who could offer him so much more than he’d ever known as a mortal.

      The only difference here was there were more monks around, and people crying out in Spanish instead of French, but the smell was the same. It was the smell of blood, sweat, and tears – of suffering beyond what he could inflict even as he drained his victims to death. He should not have come here.

      “Señor Galindo,” the guard said, and left him with the door to the cell open. There clearly was no chance his friend Galindo would escape. He was dead.

      Nicholas stepped in and lifted the shroud. Diego Galindo had not been a particularly hardy man when he entered, and there was little reason to attempt to discover what he died of, precisely. It would not be easy without stripping him, and most likely, it had been his weak heart. He had only been dead long enough for them to notice and cover him, but not bother to remove him as he began to stink. The other prisoners would just have to suffer.  Speaking of, the prisoner in the cell beside him moaned. Nicholas looked up in surprise. He assumed the cell was empty, as he had not heard a heartbeat. How could he be wrong? Nicholas mumbled a goodbye to Galindo, left that cell, and moved to the bars of the next one.

      What was barely recognizable as a man was chained to the wall by all four limbs and a metal collar around his neck. There was no heartbeat that Nicholas could detect, and he did not smell of urine and sweat, only blood – vampire blood. What was a vampire doing in a Dominican prison? What of the Code? “Hello?” he tried in Spanish.

      Though mostly bald on top, the creature had long hair and an overgrown gray beard that covered most of his face. He lifted his head just enough to have their eyes meet. “Help me.”

      “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

      “I’m a fool,” he said, his voice a rasp, “and that should answer both questions.” He almost seemed to smile, but it was hard to tell in the light. “Please.”

      Nicholas had little choice. If the Dominicans discovered what their prisoner was – if they hadn’t already – nothing less than mass slaughter would keep the secret of the vampire in darkness. Nicholas had an obligation, but that was not why he did it. How could he leave a fellow vampire there? Yes, he would have to abandon the city, but at the moment, it no longer held any attraction to him.

      Waiting for the guards to pass, Nicholas broke the handle as quietly as possible and stepped inside. The other vampire did not attack him when he was finally within reach – surprising, considering how famished he must be. He only waited patiently as Nicholas tore every cuff open and hoisted him over his shoulder. Nicholas wasn’t even sure the wounded vampire was conscious as he fled, finding a big enough window to break the bars and escaping into the night.

      The only immediate answer was to return home. He had no safe house in Toledo, no time to set one up. He put the vampire down on his own pallet and, not wanting to sacrifice his servants just yet, tore open his wrist, offering it up to the filthy, hairy face. The vampire responded to the scent in full, his eyes a brilliant gold as he dug into the offered vein. He took the blood harder and faster than LaCroix or Janette ever had, enough to make Nicholas drop to his knees, unsteady and suddenly at the mercy of his guest. Despite his weakened state, the mysterious vampire was strong and growing stronger by the second, and he was the one who finally released Nicholas’ arm. With that, his head rolled to the side and slept.

      Nicholas staggered to his feet. He would need to feed again tonight before he could begin to plan his flight from the city. He hoped his guest would be gracious and that he wasn’t in over his head. Nicholas flew out the window, returning to the market where there was plenty of wandering drunks and thieves at this hour of night, and fed on two different men. Their blood was not as sweet as his usual prey, but it would do.

      When he returned, his guest was awake, and to his surprise, wiping himself clean over the wash bin. “Thank you, Nicholas. Not every one of us would provide so much hospitality for an unknown guest.”

      Nicholas. Oh yes, he must have gotten it from the blood. But he bowed anyway. “Nicholas de Brabant.”

      “Aristotle,” the guest said, nodding his head instead of actually getting up. His outer wounds were healed, but he could easily have plenty of internal damage. The Dominicans preferred not to shed blood and thus had devised many means of torture that did not pierce the skin. Most of his wounds were from fighting his bonds. “Or Lord Argemirus, though I think I can abandon that name now.” His clothes were barely discernable of having once been very fine silks.

      “You are –”

      “I would hardly think people would suppose me for that Aristotle, as I was just subjected to the Inquisition for the paltry crime of insisting the world is round. Not exactly Aristotelian philosophy.” He added, “But it is round. I know. I’ve been around it.” He finished with his face and stroked his messy beard. “I can compensate you for the inconvenience my presence has caused you, but not here in Toledo. They seized everything I didn’t burn. Too many books attract too much attention. So does money.” He tried to stand, but was not successful, and fell towards the supporting beam. Nicholas caught him and offered his wrist again. “You don’t have to. I’ll heal.”

      “It’s this or my servant, and I rather like Andre.”

      “Your attachment to mortals may get you killed.”

      “Your attachment to books nearly got you killed.”

      Aristotle grinned. “Touché.” And he accepted Nicholas’ generous offer, and drank from him again.


Chapter 4

      The smell of blood woke Nick. Under different conditions, it was not an unpleasant way to wake, but it just served as a reminder as to the events of the previous night. Nick realized that he’d made no attempt to find new clothes, and his were stained beyond repair with a mix of his own blood, Michael’s, Aristotle’s, and the cow blood from the tub. Having ingested so much blood as of late, his senses were sharper than they had been in a long while, and he could distinguish between the different smells. Not surprisingly, it made him hungry.

      The light was gone. It was evening, and the house was in the exact same condition it had been in when he collapsed. He went straight to the fridge, to finish the bottle he’d started earlier. He carried it and another to the laundry room and unlocked the door, which had locked on itself when closed. No wonder for the security. Nick’s consolation was that it was obvious the tub was not in regular use.

      Aristotle was still in it, but he woke easily. “Nick.” He had a weak smile for him. “I’m really feeling my age today – I think all those ‘old man’ jokes may have gotten to me. Help me up?”

      “Where do you want to go?”

      “Anywhere but here. I’m sick of thinking of chewing cud.”

      Nick finished off his bottle and set it down. Aristotle was still too weak to stand on his own – even that much blood could not quicken the healing process beyond a certain capacity – and Nick carried him, on his command, upstairs and to what was obviously the regular bathroom, and the regular bathtub.

      “Nick, I like you, I really do. But I think we’ll both like each other more if you find me some clothing.”

      Nick did so, and left it next to the tub. “I’ll be outside if you need me.”

      “Thank you.”

      Nick closed the door behind him, and heard the sounds of water gushing. He dozed in the armchair of Aristotle’s bedroom until the man himself emerged, clad in the clothing provided and looking considerably more himself. He leaned on the doorframe and Nick caught him before he collapsed and carried him to the bed.

      “I need a kid like you around,” Aristotle said, accepting the bottle of blood. “LaCroix’s lucky. And there’s some spare clothing in the closet.”

      Nick took the hint at the state of his own affairs and stepped into the closet. Aristotle had a lot of bizarre clothing he would never dream of wearing, but some things that were suitable. “I don’t think he feels that way.”

      “He should. He probably does.”

      “He has an odd way of expressing it.”

      “That’s a nice way of saying your master is a bastard.”

      “I suppose it is.” He returned. Aristotle was sipping from the bottle. He was still very pale. “Do you want me to leave?”

      “If I didn’t want you here, I wouldn’t have put the effort into getting you here, Knight.”

      He liked Aristotle, who respected calling him Nick or Knight or whatever else he wanted to be called. He could not think of another vampire who afforded him the same respect. “That was quite a trick getting me to come to you. Do you want to tell me how you did that?”

      “No, I have absolutely no intention of telling you before you turn 1000, and even then, I’d have to be good and drunk.” He watched Nick retake his seat. His voice was more serious when he spoke again. “I don’t like using it and I won’t teach it. It’s too powerful. Imagine if LaCroix could do that to you?”

      “I don’t want to imagine it.” Certainly, he would not be running from LaCroix, however unsuccessfully he currently did so. It was as if Aristotle had just plucked him from an important murder investigation in Toronto and dragged him to Ottawa with his own hands – which was what he’d done, but only with sheer force of will. “Why me?”

      “It has to be someone weaker than me, but it had to be someone who was strong enough to kill all of them and not get me killed in the process. And you’re very good at dashing rescues. Besides, LaCroix would have gone on and on about payment due and then charged me every last metaphorical penny.”

      “There must be others.”

      “Are you fishing for a compliment? Look, it had to be someone who was close and whose blood I had a lot of – recently.”

      He could not recall ... “Hastings was recent enough?”

      “Apparently. I had to take that chance.”

      “I’m glad it worked.” Nick looked over, with the first time, with real concern. But Aristotle revealed nothing, as usual, since he did not have to. He appeared, albeit weakened, his usual, unimportant self. Not a fledgling, but someone of no particular power or significance.

And just how much power did it take to disguise his aura so well? To stay alive, then heal so quickly. Aristotle had to be older than he would ever admit to. Nick knew he was older than him, and no more. Asking a vampire’s age was akin to asking a mortal how they lost their virginity, and it got worse with age. Now, having seen what he’d been through without even losing his humor, Nick was positive Aristotle was an Ancient. His name implied it, but then again, the reverse was almost always true. He acted like a young vampire, eager for all the new experiences the young could offer, and never exerting his authority unless it involved the Code. He appeared scared of the Enforcers, far more than LaCroix, but was he really? Or maybe he didn’t want the hassle. And as far as to his historical namesake, he showed no trappings of any association with him and denied it vigorously if it was mentioned.

LaCroix didn’t announce it, was insulted when someone who wasn’t asked implied it, but he was at heart the Roman General Lucius, and always would be. He had a few items from his mortal life that he dragged around – his bust, the cameo of some woman he never spoke the name of – just like almost every vampire, he was who he was when he was brought across. Nick didn’t deny it either, with a last name like Knight. And here was Aristotle, no relation to the great philosopher. No books lying around, or ancient scrolls carefully preserved, or the tendency to go into long, pretentious monologues. Instead he was a shy, nervous man who occasionally stuttered as the words raced out of his mouth, and went from new idea to new idea like they were toys from Christmas day.

But then, as Aristotle knew better than anyone else, disguise was everything.

            “Will there be an inquiry?”

         “If any, a very informal one. And I have only myself to blame for it – I let Michael in and didn’t question his new pack. I had two bolts in me before I knew something was wrong. Am I looking forward to explaining to the Council how I was more interested in a new property in Argentina than Michael when he started talking? Oh, no no no. But I don’t think they’ll ask. They were all young and they attacked me. You killed them. Hell, they might give you a medal. I want to see the Enforcers go to the trophy shop and order one of those cheap plastic things inscribed with the words ‘Best Vampire.’ As long as they leave off the year.”

      “So that it’s not suspicious.”

      “Of course. The vampire part is fine, but in thirty years, the date might be suspect for when you show it off at parties.” He chuckled. “Honestly, I didn’t think Michael was that stupid! He thought he could get something from me. He wasn’t old enough. I think I gave him my memories of the time I watched the first Star Wars in the theater twenty nights in a row. Or Jaws. I love that movie. I was really into it for like an entire summer. I have a book on the making of it.”

      Nick didn’t know another vampire who could be joking about movies – or anything, really – after being brutalized and held captive for an uncertain amount of time for a password. He sensed Aristotle was hurting, but he would be the last to admit it. 

      Aristotle finished the bottle and set it on the dresser, beside an alarm block and a mountain of cheap paperbacks. “What day is it?”

      “Thursday.”

      The result was visibly deflating. “Michael and his crew arrived on Sunday. I have to say I’m a bit disappointed that no one did anything but leave messages on my machine. Clearly I wasn’t answering them.”

      The vampire everyone needed at the spur of the moment, held captive and tortured for four days – possibly longer if he hadn’t summoned Nicholas – and not even a polite dropping by of old friends? Aristotle had every reason to be insulted, though he didn’t look particularly angry. He was trying to shrug it off. Nick could see the deliberation in his expression. “I’m sure everyone will be tripping over themselves to apologize.”

      “I don’t want them to apologize. It’s nothing but an empty promise at this point. I know a week, a month is hardly a long time, but I would like to think – “

      “I know.” Out of nowhere, he heard himself saying, “Have you ever thought about having a child?”

      “’Having a child’? A very mortal thing to say – and I know you’ll take that as a compliment.” It earned a smile from Aristotle. “I had children at different points in my existence, to answer your question. They’re gone now. Not everyone can withstand the demands of immortality. They all met their end one way or another, as we will someday. It’s been awhile – maybe I’m too picky. Or just afraid that it will go badly.”

      “You’re experienced. It probably won’t.”

      “Everyone has a few screw-ups, Nick. At the risk of sending you into one of your famous depressions, I would say you know that pain.”

      Nick did not, as predicted, do so. Yes, his failures pained him – the latest one, Natalie’s brother Richard, most acutely, though Alyssa was still a close second and would eventually surpass him. Richard was just still fresh and he saw his spirit in Natalie, as he’d seen Natalie’s in Richard’s. It was a Lambert thing, no doubt. And he hadn’t forgotten the plagued girl, either – destroyed mere hours after her conversations, by his own hands, to prevent her evil from spreading and gaining strength. Not everyone could be brought across – and even if they survived, what endeared them to their masters as mortals did not when they became a monster. Even fighting for his life, killing Richard – in front of Natalie, of all people – was one of the worst things he’d ever had to do. “Yes,” was what he said. “I’ve never had a real success, but then again, I don’t know who’d put up with me for an eternity.”

      “You think you would let them go, to wander freely and never see you again if you so chose. Like you want from LaCroix. But it’s never like that. They’d be your son or daughter. You would them to stay with you. Or at least visit.” He shrugged. “Maybe a call on Sundays, damn the long-distance charges. And if they don’t, set up a whole radio show to taunt them under the guise of carrying about anonymous callers with relationship issues.”

      “Are you going to stop bringing LaCroix into this?”

      “Probably not. But I don’t think your radio voice would be as good. Better than me, definitely, but you don’t have that soothing tone LaCroix has. I could fall asleep to that voice if I didn’t know he was a sadistic killer.”

      “It does put you off.” Nick was happy to get Aristotle talking, but not happy enough to admit that sometimes he did fall asleep to his master’s voice. “I didn’t know he had a broadcast in Ottawa.”

      “Quebec, Detroit, Buffalo, parts of Maine – he’s syndicated. Someone made a fan page with animated gifs. Lots of animated gifs of flames burning. I don’t know why they think that looks good.”

      “Gifs?”

      “Pictures. Nick, get with the times and a decent internet connection that doesn’t involve some police database.”

      “I have a laptop.” He just didn’t use it. Or really know how, beyond the basics that Natalie showed him. It was getting harder to keep up. “Speaking of police work, can I borrow your phone?”

      “I didn’t catch in you in the middle of some crucial investigation?”

      “Maybe. They’ll have to deal without their supercop for a little while.” He grinned supportively to Aristotle, who turned on the television, but made no serious attempt to watch it. His eyes were closed by the time Nick looked back into the room before descending to the main level for the phone.

      There was still blood everywhere. The carpets would need to be replaced, and he didn’t know who Aristotle used as a cleaning crew, so he would mop the hallway himself. His mood more somber, he picked up the phone and dialed Nat’s private line. Fortunately Aristotle didn’t have a code to use the phone.


Chapter 5

      “Natalie’s Bed and Breakfast.”

      “Hey Nat.”

      “Nick! Where are you? I’ve been calling your cell all day. Another hour and I was going to call the Raven.”

      “No luck. And even if the battery wasn’t dead, my phone’s way out of range. I’m in Ottawa.”

      “How – “

      “I flew, Nat.” He didn’t apologize. “It was an emergency. Old friend in danger. He’ll be fine in a day or two.”

      “Well unless you want to explain who this friend was, Cohen’s going to need a better excuse than that. The Crown has come down hard on this cross-border murder dump. Schanke’s not a happy camper at your disappearing act.”

      “I couldn’t do anything but go. If I knew how it was done, I’d explain it to you, but honestly I don’t. Look, can you book me off sick?”

      “You’d better be on your deathbed.”

      “Do something with allergies. Massive allergy attack from something in the woods, throat nearly closed up, that sort of thing. I’m in private care.”

      “For your rare condition.”

      “Exactly.”

      She didn’t sound thrilled. “They really need you here, Nick.”

      “Schanke’s a good cop. I would tell you to tell him I said that, but I think we’re going with the throat-collapsed story. He’ll put it together himself.” He sighed. “I’m needed here, Nat.”

      “Are you in danger?”

      “No, not anymore. But I can’t abandon him now.”

      “When you get back from playing sick, you’ll probably be working traffic for a month.”

      “They don’t know it’s playing,” he said. “See you soon, Nat.”

      “Call me when you can.”

      “I will. Bye.” He wanted to stay on the phone, to explain himself. There was some guilt for abandoning Schanke, especially with those seventy-two hours slowly ticking down. And here he was, lounging around a mansion with a friend. If not for the events the night prior, or Aristotle’s current condition, he might have considered it the closest he’d come to a vacation in years.

      He replaced the phone and went outside. Four days of mail was stuffed in an overflowing box, mostly junk mail and magazines. With all the blood in the house, this was not the time to make the mailman more suspicious than he already might be. Nick set the mail on the coffee table and went to find a mop.

      Barefoot and shaky, Aristotle descended the stairs. By then Nick was nearly done moping the hallway. “I have a service for that.”

      “I’m not doing your whole house. I just want to be able to walk somewhere without getting wet.”

      “I should call ... probably a lot of people. At least listen to my messages.” But he was trying to convince himself to do it, and Nick wasn’t going to help him along on that. There were vampires who had screwed their lives up and needed new identities, and for sure a few were desperate, but no doubt they took him for granted. Maybe that was what Aristotle was thinking; Nick couldn’t read his expression, still so laced with pain. The wounds were only emotional now, but that could be just as bad. “Want to get loaded?”

      “What?”

      “I assumed you were familiar with the term. Let me rephrase it – do you want to cause a drunken disorderly?”

      Aristotle wanted to make the pain go away for a few hours. And he wanted to do it with Nick, who for once, would oblige. “What do you have?”

            ********************************************

      “Hold the red button down!”

      “I’m doing it! It’s not moving.”

      “Because – oh, you’re stuck in a tree. How did you even get stuck in a tree? How did you get the cart into the tree?”

      “That’s me? I thought I was the mushroom guy.”

      “No, you’re the donkey. And you’re in the tree.”

      Nick, whose current attempts at button maneuvering were little more than mashing, giggled. “Donkeys don’t belong in trees.”

      “And not while they’re in go-carts.”

      “I really thought I was the mushroom guy.”

      “I’m the mushroom guy. You’re looking at the wrong half of the screen. And – damnit, the green shell got me. You distracted me!”

      Nick was tempted to ask what the green shell was and why it was bad, but decided not to bother. He couldn’t even get an overly muscular donkey who didn’t look much like a donkey to maneuver his go-cart out of a tree. He was nowhere near the pixel roadway. He was far less drunk than Aristotle, who had moved from rum to vodka, and he was still far behind him – lapped, several times, or so he was so constantly reminded. Well, the sound effects were nice.

      “I really have no idea what I’m doing.”

      “Shhh. I’m trying for second place here. G-d damn green shell!”

      “Is there a button for the white flag? Do I have a white flag?”

      “Everyone’s lapped you three times. You don’t need to bother.”

      “Even the girl in pink.”

      “Yes. Even the princess.”

      “She’s ... she’s a good driver.” Watching his little animated driver repeatedly knock himself into the wall of the track after falling out of the tree, Nick set the controller down and polished off the blood rum. It was spicier than he preferred, but still very good. “My guy’s taking a break.”

      Aristotle was too concentrated. He could get lost in what he was doing, no matter what it was, even making things move on the television with a plastic controller. “Ha! Suck it, Princess!”

      “This is – the sixty-fourth one of these?” Nick said, gesturing to the machine.

      “It’s Nintendo 64. It’s just a name. Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64.” He snickered. “I guess you’ll need to find someone who died while playing one before you find out about these things.”

      “That is how I pass the time. Finding dead bodies.”

      “They’re already dead – what good are they? I vote with the video game. Be happy I’m too drunk to do the combat level. We bash each other like bumper cars.” He looked over at Nick. “You do know what bumper cars are?”

      “Yes, I know what bumper cars are.”

      “Have you ever ridden one?”

      “Drunk driving is illegal. I’ll have to take your – bumper car keys.”

      “I wasn’t suggesting. I was inquiring. You should have more fun, Nick.” He tried to stand, and stumbled a little. Nick went to catch him, but he didn’t do much better. They abandoned the carpet in front of the television for the sofa, taking the alcohol with them. “I should have more fun.”

      “Been working too hard?”

      “Everybody needs me.” His expression dipped. “Not enough, apparently. What do you do for company?”

      “I have mortal friends that LaCroix threatens to kill and then does.”

      “You could get a pet.”

      “I had a dog. He turned it into a vampire and made me kill it myself.”

      Aristotle laughed, not because it was funny as much as because he was starting to make a dent in the vodka. “That’s a great story.”

      “I’m glad you find it funny.”

      “If you have ... I don’t know, perspective, it is. It’s funny because it’s evil and crazy. On such a minuet level. It’s like the worst thing he ever did to you.”

      “It’s not the worst thing he ever did to me.”

      “But I bet it’s in the running.”

      Fortunately the cushion of blood rum kept him from slipping into a brooding coma. “It’s in the running.” He loved that dog.

      “Your master has to do that. Destroy your pre-conceived notions. Sometimes, destroy all that you know and love. It makes you a good vampire.” He waved his fist. “Strong.”

      “I’m sure he would agree, but I can’t imagine you in that position.”

      “And my children aren’t alive. So, you know, point proven. But my master did it to me.”

      Aristotle never talked about himself, much less his master. Nick assumed he was long dead. “And you hated him for it?”

      “Of course! But he was right. I was wrong.” Aristotle balanced the bottle on his knee, watching the reddened liquid slosh back and forth in its glass case. “When he offered me immortality, - and if you repeat this, I swear, I will tell your mortician about Istanbul – “

      “Coroner.” And he did not want Natalie to know about Istanbul.

      “ – I thought I knew everything. Or, I had theories I thought were sound. He promised to help me finish my work. Then when he brought me across, and I was still weak, he burned all of my writing. Some of it was saved, I don’t know, somehow. He said it was nonsense. I said the world was flat and he took me around the world to prove otherwise. Literally. He didn’t make it the whole way, but I did. I had to finish what he started.”

      “How did he die?”

      “The usual way. A mob of angry villagers armed with wooden spears and a working knowledge of how to kill a vampire. They let me go because they were convinced he had tricked me – which was mostly true. Also I was a good bargainer. But I hated them for making me watch him die.” He shook his head. “It’s a tricky thing. When we were together I hated him. When he was dying, I loved him.”

      “It’s because of the bond.”

      “No,” Aristotle said. “Yes, maybe a little. But it’s different. He didn’t love me. He never would have tolerated dissent so I never offered any – anything real anyway. He was amused by the concept of me, of destroying who I was and building it back up again. But he gave me a gift and I can’t dishonor his memory more than I already have tonight because he did a good job. I survived.”

      “I know how you feel.”

      “You don’t,” Aristotle said with a surprising amount of anger. “LaCroix loves you. It goes beyond the attention required to make a good vampire. I don’t know anyone who would have put up with half of the shit you’ve pulled, not even me. And that’s not mentioning all the times you either tried to kill him or didn’t make a good rescue attempt on purpose. He could destroy you at any time – that’s his right, you know. As your master. He could kill you and never have to give a reason, even though you’ve given him ample. Never have to offer a word of explanation. But he defends you, against mortal and immortal and the even the Council – and yes, he doesn’t make it easy on you, and he is a complete bastard that even I’ve lost my patience with, but he is and will continue to be the laughingstock of the Ancients because of his obsession with having you as his son.” He put his head down. One of his hands was shaking. “...I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

      “It’s true.” It was a lot to go over, and his head was not particularly clear, but he could not openly dispute Aristotle’s words. Besides, Aristotle was far more likely to know what the vampire community thought of LaCroix and Nick than either of them. But was he jealous, or just angry and lonely himself, and it was manifesting itself this way? Nick dealt with attack and rape victims before, so he knew the psychology. “He tells me all the time – over the radio, anyway – and I never listen.” It would be unbearable to do so. What pride he had was shored up in defiance of LaCroix. He couldn’t imagine what would happen if he let that barrier down. “Did he really go against the Council for me?”

      “Yes. Yes. I don’t know all the details, obviously. And he never really ... really got along with the Council, for one reason or another. It was always complicated, between him and them.”

      “Really.”

      “I wasn’t sitting on it when he first met them, so I don’t know. But yes, probably.” Aristotle closed his eyes, but he didn’t look like he was sleeping.

      Nick could not hold back. “You sat on the Council?”

      “For the most boring century of my existence, yes,” he mumbled. “And that was before they were so administrative.”

      Nick did not know a single member of the Council. He didn’t know how they decided members, how long they sat, or even how old you had to be to be on it. All he knew was there were five members, somewhere in Europe or the Middle East, and that was the extent of his knowledge. And, unless he got himself into real trouble, all there ever would be. And like everything else that disinterested him, Aristotle said it only in passing. “Can I ask – “

      “No.” He put a hand over his face. “I’m too tired and my head is spinning. And it’s boring, I assure you. I’m just gonna lay down – “

      “I’ll take you upstairs.”

      “You’re not my master,” Aristotle said, but put up no protest as Nick helped him up two flights of stairs and into his bed. He said not another word. A combination of the alcohol and the memories made him want to shut out the world, and Nick obliged.


 

Chapter 6

      Nick had no trouble occupying himself until the sun came up. Aristotle had a collection of videos that would make Natalie drool. She would be especially amused at the percentage of them that were vampire movies, or involved some creature that came from the darkness.

      The phone rang every once in awhile, but Nick never picked up. When he checked on Aristotle, the older vampire was sleeping soundly and he didn’t want to disturb that, or intrude on Aristotle’s work. He made only one call. “Hey Nat.”

      “Nick! Where are you? Still in Ottawa? Have you been watching the news?”

      “Yes I am and no I haven’t,” he said with a smile. “I played a game.” He picked up the cartridge. “Mario Kart 64.”

      “I’m sure the Captain will be thrilled to here how you’ve whiled away the hours in recovery.”

      “It’s not about my recovery. And what did you tell her?”

      “That your throat closed up and you have a tube in your neck, and that’s why you’re not answering your phone. So even if you want to show, I would give it a few days.”

      “So what am I missing?”

      “Only the biggest double-homicide investigation this century. Or most public. The American media is all over it.”

      “Great. Schanke loves the camera.”

      “Not when he has to answer questions as to why he hasn’t solved the case. Half the precinct is working on it.”

      “Any leads?”

      “Paint from the car, or paint from a car which recently scratched a tree on its way out of the area. Light blue.”

      “It’s a good lead. I’ll put in an anonymous tip if I see anything.” He watched the sun begin to light and warm the hallway, beyond where he was standing. “I’ll call tomorrow.”

      “Good luck.” She didn’t bother to ask what he was doing there, as he wouldn’t tell. “And feel better.”

      “Right. Thanks for everything.”

      He did feel a little guilty about abandoning the case, but he had faith that if the crime was to be solved, it could be done by old-fashioned police work, not just the one cop who could fly and take a few bullets to the chest before making the arrest.

      Still, the details of the case drifted from his mind easily enough as he returned to the guest room and slid into bed for the day.

            ********************************************

      Nick woke shortly before sundown. The light was waning and he wasn’t hungry, having fed quite well – better than he was used to – the night before. He was about to head upstairs when he noticed the stairway door open and light and noise coming from the basement.

      The computers were up and running, but no one was behind the desk. Nick did not go closer to the sacred portal of knowledge, but stayed at the bottom of the stairs.

      “Nick! I thought you might sleep all night. Here, this came today. Thank goodness they left it on the doorstep this time. If it was all the way out at the mailbox I would have had to wait another hour.” Aristotle appeared from some storeroom in the corner of his converted basement carrying a cardboard box. It was open, but still full of packing foam. Some of it spilled as he tore through the contents like an overage child, to reveal some piece of electronics no bigger than a small book.

      “I’m supposed to look like a fool by asking what that is?”

      “It’s my new modem. Supposed to be ten times faster – where am I going to hook it up? I have this laptop, but I don’t think it can handle the driver.”

      “I’m going to pretend I knew what that meant and that I didn’t have Natalie set up my computer.”

      Aristotle grinned and set his new device down almost lovingly. “Tomorrow this will be old. I’ll be reading about the next one. Things used to increase in value with age, not the other way around.”

      “Some things still do. They just usually don’t have wires coming out their sides.”

      “The future, Nick. It’s all about the future.” Aristotle sat down at the desk chair, but didn’t move to his multiple computer screens. “If it wasn’t so Code-breaking, I was thinking of buying a time-share in Alaska. Save money – we only need half the year. We could have a row of condos facing the Alaskan sea. Sell them for a fortune! I don’t know why someone hasn’t done it yet.” He was interrupted by the doorbell. “How did they get here already? The sun’s barely down. Can’t I catch my breath?”

      “Who?”

      “Enforcers.” At Nick’s expression, he turned more serious. “I knew they would come eventually – hopefully to apologize for not coming sooner. I thought I would have more time tonight – time to tell you to get lost.”

      “I’ll go,” Nick replied, but hesitated, trying to read the anxious look on Aristotle’s face. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

      “I know, I know. But this might not go well anyway. Either I give in to everything they say or I have to pull in every favor I owe not to get staked because I’m not useful anymore.”

      Nick looked upstairs as the doorbell sounded again. “You are useful.”

      “You know how they think, Nick. Anyone who isn’t taking orders isn’t useful.” He stood, and went to answer it, but stopped at the foot of the stairs. “I’d like to ask you to stay, but I don’t want you getting into any trouble. And I’m serious about that – these guys are tougher than you.”

      “I know.” If he fought the Enforcers on Aristotle’s behalf, even verbally, he would be lucky if they just immobilized him and ignored his presence instead of staking him there. “But you want me to stay.”

      The older vampire squirmed. “If you can. I’ll make it up to you later.”

      “Maybe a hundred years from now I’ll call in some impossible favor. For now, don’t worry about it.” He tried to reassure him with a smile, but his friend’s demeanor was too changed. It wasn’t fear so much as anxiety – and Nick knew he was still weak from the attack.

      The front door seemed to open for them, and three Enforcers entered the house. Nick knew the distinctions between the muscle men and the Captain, or whatever his actual distinction was. He was European – dark-haired, and speaking with a slight, untraceable accent. The two behind him did not speak but all bowed their heads somewhat in reverence. “Aristotle.”

      “Darien,” Aristotle nodded, though it was clear he did not see this man as an equal. They were on different levels, though Aristotle was undoubtedly older. The Enforcers did nothing to hide themselves, projecting power and strength, so Nick guessed that though they could easily take him in a fight, all three were much younger than him, and certainly younger than Aristotle. Yet not knowing the identity master, an observer might not think that to be the case.

      “De Brabrant,” the one named Darien – likely the only one who would speak tonight – looked to Nick. “We appreciate your efforts on Aristotle’s behalf.”

      “They were more than efforts,” Aristotle said. “He saved my life.”

      “And the Council does wish to express its appreciation,” he replied, clearly meaning every word. “This will be remembered, Nicholas.”

      “Thank you.” He could think of little else to say. He never really spoke to Enforcers unless he was pleading his case. Darien gestured with his head for him to leave them, but Nick waited for Aristotle’s approval.

      “We might be awhile,” was all he said, already sounding exhausted.

      Nick did not disobey the order, but nor did he leave the house. Instead he went upstairs, leaving the others to gather in the living room below him. He knew perfectly well they knew he was still present and could hear them, but Enforcers were single minded – if it was important for them to care, they would. Otherwise, he was already out of their heads. He settled down in the library, but did not open the book he had selected.

            ********************************************

      Downstairs, Nick could hear, Aristotle was being interrogated. That was a rather harsh word for the initial tone of the conversation – it was more of an interview – but he knew police interrogations and how calmly they could go when the subject was the victim. For an Enforcer, Darien had his kiddie gloves on, or Nick assumed he did, as Aristotle recounted Michael’s initial entrance, request for information, and then his return with his armed thugs – possibly children of his – when Aristotle refused to disclose the location of his brother. Darien’s job was mainly to listen to the details, saying very little, and Aristotle stammered more than he usually did. Was he really that scared or was it just a show he put on? If it was, he was certainly very good at it.

      “The Council does regret that they were not able to come to your aid sooner,” Darien said.

      “I know, I know, I’d be safer if I hadn’t cut so many bonds. But it’s necessary, for my work. You know that.”

      “You hold your work in very high regard.”

      Aristotle sounded a little insulted. “I assume the Council would say the same thing.”

      “I have no doubt. You do a great service to the Community.”

      There was a pause, then Aristotle spoke. “So what are you buttering me up for?”

      “Mere reassurances, and apologies for our delay,” assured Darien. “Michael’s attack on you would not have been tolerated. Were he still alive, there would be a prize on his ashes.”

      “Yes, well, thanks.”

      “The person he was looking for – did Michael tell you why he was hiding?”

      “Christopher? Michael told me, yes. I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s not my concern.”

      “You don’t think it is? You’re the one who helped him disappear.”

      Now everyone knew, including Nick, where this conversation was going.   Nick kept still in his chair, confident he would soon know the whole story.

      “I don’t ask questions when people come to me. Christopher didn’t tell me what he’d done or if anyone was looking for him. He just said he had to move quickly and that was that. That’s my Code – you should know, in case you have to use me someday.”

      Darien did not laugh. “What Michael told you was true.”

      “Christopher killed his master.”

      “Yes. But not before staking him to the ground, draining him dry, and waiting for the sun to come up. Perhaps those details were omitted.”

      Killing one’s creator was among the most unpardonable of crimes. You had to have cause. When Nick thought he killed LaCroix, he prepared himself for the investigation that never came with the plea that he had done it in self-defense. It was arguably true, but the Enforcers never came.

      They must have known LaCroix was alive. And not told him.

      Nick muffled his curse. This was not the time or place for his familial squabbles. Someone else’s was on the table.

      “Michael told me that – and a great deal more, when he was trying to convince me. Before and after he shot me full of wood and curare,” Aristotle answered. “I’m telling you, it makes no difference to me. You enforce those laws, I do my job. If I asked questions every time someone came to me, I don’t think there would be any vampires left. It’s the foundation of my Code. But you don’t think that, do you?”

      “I doesn’t matter what I think.  What Christopher did was unpardonable.”

      “I’m sure. I’m also sure, having had a few encounters with Marius in my time, that his master might have given him cause. But that doesn’t matter to you. You want to know where Christopher is.”

      “It is a complex situation.”

      Aristotle sighed. “I had this exact conversation a week ago, and I know where it’s headed. The answer is no. Absolutely not.”

      “You will protect him?”

      “He has no protection from me. He asked for a new name and location and I gave him one. I certainly won’t stop you from looking for him or doing whatever you to do him when you find him. But I won’t help you.”

      “What he did – “

      “ – is not the exception to the rule. I’m sorry you had to come all this way to hear that, but I can’t imagine you’re all that surprised.”

      “I was told you would be obstinate.”

      Aristotle laughed. “There was a day when the Council had the courage to say that to my face, and not send thugs to do it for them. And I’m sure that’s not the only word they had for me. Who sent you? Which one?”

      Darien’s voice was not so calm. Now he sounded more the Enforcer. “I have orders to bring you to the Council if you refuse to cooperate on your own territory.”

      “And I won’t go to Egypt to say the same thing I’m saying to you right now – No. I will not tell you where I sent Christopher to hide, if he’s even still there. I will not tell you, I will not tell the Council, I will not tell any Old One who rise from their tomb with a burning desire to know his location. If they wanted to hear it from my own mouth so badly, they would call. You see this?”  Aristotle pointed to an object close to the chair he was sitting in.  “It’s called a telephone.”

      Whatever had caused Aristotle’s sudden rise in confidence, Darien was determined to smash it down. “I have a responsibility to deliver either Christopher’s location or your person to the Council. If you do not wish to come willingly – “

      There was some movement Nick couldn’t hear, either because they were flying or the sound was muffled because of the carpeting, but the snarls made it clear enough that the simple conversation had degenerated into a brawl. Nick dropped the book he never opened and ran, but only made it to the top of the stairs before he heard glass shattering.

      Nick had to stop. There was a presence so powerful pushing him away, there might as well have been a brick wall in front of him. A combination of fear and invisible brute force hit him hard and he went crashing into the back wall, knocking down the painting hanging there. He fell among the tattered ruins of the frame and canvas for a few moments before he could collect himself, and will himself down the stairs.

      But it was not Darien who was menacing him. Aristotle growled at Nick’s sudden presence with fierce glowing eyes, then turned back to his prey. Darien and one of the Enforcers was on the floor, having fallen on top of – and shattered – the glass-top coffee table. The other Enforcer was gone, but the window was smashed, indicating a hasty and unwilling exit.

      Then, without further warning, Aristotle dropped like a rag doll. At the same moment the veil of intimidation that flooded the room was lifted, and Nick flew to his side, barely in time to catch him from hitting the ground completely. Nick carefully set him down, facing Darien but not saying anything.

      The chief Enforcer rose, and took a few hesitant steps in their direction.

      “Ha! I didn’t know ... I could still do that.” Aristotle’s voice was ragged. “Michael got the drop on me but you – you’re always so obvious.” He tried to raise a hand to point a finger at the Enforcer, but it shook and fell down, limp at his side. “Don’t you ever threaten me, or think you could intimidate me. I was an Ancient when your master was still a stable boy, shoveling shit somewhere!” Even in his collapsed state, Aristotle was still very menacing – and Darien did look scared.

      Nick had never seen Enforcers scared before.

      “Go back to Cairo and tell whomever sent you that if they want to find Christopher, they’ll do it themselves! Are they vampires or not? And I expect an apology. From the Council.” When Darien hesitated, he shouted, “Go!”

      It worked. The three Enforcers – one already outside – picked up and left as quickly as they’d come, and with even less noise. Nick waited until he saw them disappear into the sky before he helped Aristotle into the armchair. He ran straight to the fridge, returning with a bottle of blood, opened with his own fangs. “Drink.”

      Aristotle, lost in his own thoughts, needed the nudging, but then he quickly up-ended the bottle and downed half of it in a few seconds. “Thank you.” He was composed, if tired, and the nervous energy was starting to show again. “They should be ashamed. Even a fledging like Michael could get the drop on me. I’m so oblivious. They just announced what they were doing the moment they came in the door.”

      Nick sat on the couch, and found his own hands shaking from the experience. LaCroix could manipulate his sensations through their blood bond, cultivated over centuries, but it was nothing like what he experienced on the banister. “You knew?”

      “I didn’t know if Darien would be that stupid, or more precisely, if the Councilman who ordered him would be that stupid. That was the only variable.” He took another long swallow and offered the bottle to Nick, who shook his hand. “Must be someone new. I don’t know anymore.”

      “If I can ask – “ Nick only continued when Aristotle waved him on, “What did he mean about you and the Council? Your ties to them?”

      “Blood bonds, of course. When you sit on the Council – well, it’s not like five people in a room. It’s a shared experience through the blood. It can be very intense. It was why I took the position when offered – I knew they all had ancient knowledge I didn’t have, and the only way I would ever have access to it was becoming a Councilman myself. To be honest, I was disappointed. I naively thought they might be the original vampires and have more lore than they did. But I did my time, and when I had a chance to step down, I took it, and severed those ties – not completely, ever, but the intensity was brought down.” He nearly finished the bottle this time, leaving only a swig at the bottom of it. “Besides, only two of them are still the same. The others I don’t have connections to. Over the years, especially in the past few hundred, they’ve offered a sort of renewal without the responsibility of sitting with them, at various levels at various times. I know it’s so they can get close to my work, and they know that I know their motives. So they’ve always accepted my refusal.” He looked away. “Darien didn’t know that. Why would he? It’s not something we share with people. He has dreams, no doubt, of it someday, and this will hurt that for awhile.” He managed a little grin. “Something you don’t have to worry about.”

      “A perk of being the outcast?”

      “Precisely. I’m not on bad terms, but I’m not as close to them as they’d like me to be. It unnerves them to know that I have knowledge that they don’t. Until this point, they always respected my decisions. The one who sent Darien probably had no idea who I really was.” He rubbed his little beard, barely more than a goatee, but a bit overgrown over the past week. “I hate this, Nick. I really do.”

      “I can see why.” He understood now why Aristotle wanted him to stay – at least as comforting presence in the house. However old or powerful Aristotle actually was, a vampire could get lonely. LaCroix made that obvious enough, desperately seeking attention. And Aristotle had no children, however rebellious or irritating they might be, to lean on. “Do you need anything else?”

      “I need – to think for a little while. You know.” He waved his hand non-committally as he finished the last of the blood. Aristotle stood. “I liked that table, too,” he said in response to seeing the remains of his coffee table. Depositing the bottle in the bin, he wandered into the den, and laid down on the sofa. He wasn’t asleep, but he didn’t make a single noise for hours, as Nick swept up the shattered glass.


Chapter 7

      ““You have ... fifty ... two ... new messages. To access your messages, enter - ”

      Aristotle growled and hit the button on his machine to stop the tape before taking another swig of the blood vodka, cut with blood more to make it bearable than to lighten its alcohol content. Nick’s inclination was to stop him, but technically, there was no way for Aristotle to drink himself to death.

      “You haven’t asked me the question,” he said to Nick, his voice slurred. “It’s because you know the answer.”

      “But not the question, apparently.”

      The older vampire had a crooked smile. “Why I did it. Protected Christopher, who drained and killed his master. Not that it might have been deserved, but still.” He shook his head.

      “You would do it for anyone. It doesn’t matter what they did or didn’t do.” 

      “Give the man a prize! And something from the good shelf, not a crappy comb or a finger-trap.” He pointed at Nick. “Now will you please tell me why that’s so complicated to everyone else?”

      Nick shrugged. “You know how I feel about other vampires. They hate me for it.”

      “Jerks.” Aristotle cursed, but it was in some language Nick didn’t know, possibly an ancient dialect of Latin. Aristotle also almost tipped over, but Nick caught him, and guided him to the kitchen, where he could sit and drink in a sturdy chair.

      If Nick knew a better way of dealing with one of his best friends sinking into a depression, eased temporarily by a drunken stupor, it did not come to him. He sat with Aristotle until he passed out, then carried his friend to bed.

      Sleep was very slow in coming.

            ********************************************

      The following night, Nick was up first, and even was watching the news for a few minutes before he heard the first sounds – the front doorbell again. He hesitated, but the Ancient on the other side didn’t bother to hide the sensation of her presence, so he opened the door.

      She was shorter than him, but not by much. She had a cloak over her clothing, looking elegant as all female vampires tended to unless they tried otherwise. It was part of the seductive nature of the vampire, to attract prey. She had no clear intentions to attract him, though she did not instantly dismiss him either. “You’re Nicholas de Brabant.”

      “Yes.”

      He stepped out of the way and held the door open for an entrance – not so much because she was a vampire as because she was a woman. An unintentional consequence of years of chivalry.

      “You’ve been taking care of Aristotle. The Council would like to express its appreciation.”

      He’d heard that once before, so this time, he wanted to be more dismissive. But her tone was soft, so it didn’t come. “Thank you.”

      “Someone as young as Michael couldn’t have killed him.”

      “He came awfully close.” Nick shut the door behind them. “Technology and all. Crossbows. Poison.”

      “Agony,” she responded. “Darien will be dealt with.”

      Nick’s instinct was to pry from her what that meant, and the severity. He did not wish Darien’s death, whatever other vampires thought he thought of them.

      “He’ll be warned,” she said, in response to the question still on his lips, “about not showing his elders the proper respect.”

      “Was it you who sent him?”

      “Obviously not,” said Aristotle, announcing his presence at the bottom of the stairs. “Devana.”

      “Aristotle.”

      The look in his eyes was surprisingly soft as he snickered. “I told them to apologize, but they may have gone too far.”

      She said something to him in what was probably a Latin dialect. Nick, with his knowledge of Roman Latin from LaCroix, could only guess at the meaning – something similar to ‘dirty old man.’

While Aristotle was not pleased to see her per se, he was not on the defensive – or offensive. “Devana, I’m sure you know who Nicholas is. Nick, Councilman Devana.”

      Nick was really not sure if he should be bowing, but he did dip his head a little. The name was entirely unfamiliar, not that he expected it to be. “I’ll go.” Not far, but he would leave them alone, far more alone than he left Aristotle and Darien’s posse. Instead of honing his sensitive hearing onto their conversation as they proceeded upstairs, he grabbed the phone and went to the back porch to call Natalie.

            ********************************************

      “So now are you some sort of hussy for the Council?” Aristotle said with no bitterness in his words. She wouldn’t have understood ‘hussy’ in English, so he used Greek. She’d learned it from him – through him, to be more precise. He saw her holding one of his many remotes as if it was an ancient artifact – mysterious and confounding. “That remote doesn’t work. There’s no batteries in it. I had to snatch them for this robotic dog I got from Japan. The thing lasted two seconds and fell right over, and the package said it could go down stairs. But the batteries are still in it.” Much of that didn’t make it into ancient Greek. He shrugged. “I lose things.”

      She put the remote down. He suspected she’d only picked it up because she had no idea what it was. Her clothing under the cloak was an outfit of different parts and different decades. “But not people. Only ...”

      “Robotic dogs.”

      “Yes.”

      “And batteries.”

      “Yes.”

She smiled, and it warmed him, if that was possible. Hers always did. The Council members very rarely smiled, so it was something to be treasured.

      He took a tentative step towards her. He wasn’t entirely sure of her own intentions – the Council’s was to mollify him, but she was more complicated. She had always been more complicated.

      She looked up at him, and her eyes struck him. They were such a brilliant green, like emeralds. Even human, she would have been called unnatural. “You’re not fully-healed.”

      He still ached inside, yes. Only some of it was emotional. The liquor took the edge off both sides of it. “I will ... in time.” In time, the memories of the fangs in his neck and the stakes in his chest would be pushed back, and the ache in his limbs would disappear. He would feel normal, the same as he always did, and his modem would be hooked up. He had that to look forward to. A very fast modem.

      Devana pushed her cloak back off her shoulder in an exaggerated gesture. The invitation, something possibly meant to be missed by others, was a siren call to him. He licked his lips then met her eyes again, shame-faced.

      “I didn’t come here on the Council’s behalf,” she said. “Not entirely, anyway.”

      He didn’t need further encouragement. His fangs descended, he closed in on her neck and the soft flesh that awaited him, and she did not flee at his touch. Not that she would have – the Devana he remembered, if accosted unwilling, would have smacked him across the room and broken every bone in his face doing so. So allowing him entrance was nothing short of pushing him down into her vein herself.

      He remembered, all too vividly, the feeling of Michael’s fangs in his neck. Unpleasant did not begin to describe it, even if the actual pain was minimal. It was the blood Michael took – the blood he stole – that made the experience unbearable. But freely given, drawing blood could be a sensational experience. He assumed she felt the same way, from the way she collapsed in his arms as he fed.

      Devana would only show him what she wanted him to see. Perhaps permitted was a better word. At that moment, demanding more from her was beyond his abilities. Unbidden he tasted Cairo at night, hot and alive with people unfamiliar to her, so far from the dusty and cold Council chambers. He heard arguing, the voices of the Council, voices he recognized and those she knew, and he learned. Emotions were the freest flowing and the easiest for his mind to dissemble – anger, paranoia, worry, frustration. Him being so far away, her being so removed from what they once had. Confusion, concern, annoyance. He would be ‘obstinate’ to the end. Few had ever succeeded in changing his conceptions of the world as it should be and he could name them: his mortal wife, his teacher, and finally, his master. They weren’t smart enough, they weren’t concerned enough, they didn’t peddle in his philosophies. Anger, fear of rejection, fear of the loss. He pushed them away and they didn’t push back hard enough, not the way he wanted it. He wanted a debate. He wanted the sharing of ideas, of listing them and comparing them on their merits and virtues. They wanted order out of the chaos that was the passionate vampiric existence, and order was something not found in arguing. Longing, loneliness. Something both of them felt – chiefly by themselves, but there were still embers left in the long-dead fires of their relationship.

      Aristotle couldn’t let that pass. He would heal well enough on her blood, so it wasn’t a risk to tear open his shirt at the neck. Even if there was danger, it probably wouldn’t have stopped him.

      Her fangs pierced his flesh, but there was no pain. There never was with Devana. The circle was completed. Yes, it was definitely too long since he’d done this. The desperate rush on both their ends not to give in to old habits and let everything through just gave spirit to the chase. When they were on the Council together, there was no need to not let every experience and thought flow through the blood exchange. If anything, it made them a better team and made for slightly more interesting sessions, in Aristotle’s opinion. Now she was a Councilman and he was an ordinary vampire, a civilian as Nick Knight would put it, and he was a keeper of some dangerous secrets. Now there had to be barriers up, to protect each other from themselves. He had no compunction about doing it; his work was more sacred to him than an old flame, and if she thought otherwise, she did not remember him at all.

      But she did remember him. He could taste it. The physical embrace that followed was simply what was left of their bodies’ mortal instincts as a reaction to the intense ritual. It was little more than an afterthought, a physical way to sate the thirst for more connection. Aristotle had not shared his bed with anyone in Ottawa, but there was no hesitation in shedding his clothes and climbing in with Devana. After two thousand years, she was still a beautiful woman in her prime, and he was still an old man.

      “You’re not old,” she said later, when the thought still strummed in his head.

      He opened his eyes. “Defend your thesis.”

      She rubbed his little beard. “Old men don’t learn new tricks.”

      “Dogs. Old dogs don’t learn new tricks.”

      “Do you want to be a dog or a man?”

      “If your sole definition lies in the ability to acclimate to new surroundings, I would say dog.”

      “Sound reasoning.”

      He pulled the cover over them and stroked her collarbone. She still had a callous from where her torque had weighed on her mortal skin, just like the bite mark on his hand from a wild bird he had once tried to cage. A young man at the time, he had considered the physical form fleeting and irrelevant in the face of knowledge. How much of his learning had been discarded as false, while his mortal scar remained?

      “I’ve never seen you so caught up in your immortality,” she said, in the same way a human would say the same about their mortality. “You’ve been assaulted before. Your beliefs, the sanctity of your work has been insulted before; by better and stronger people.”

      So why did it hurt so badly? Was she being polite by not asking. “I don’t know,” was his answer to that question, adding his own, but out loud. “Why did you come?”

      “I couldn’t leave you with de Brabrant, of all individuals.”

      “You’ve been listening to too much gossip. Make your own judgments on the evidence presented. He’s reliable, he’s kind, and he’s quick in a fight. He keeps his promises so much as he is physically able, and he does so without an ulterior motive. The Code aside, can we stand in judgment of him?”

      “You forget it is my job to do precisely that.”

      “Ah, yes. Please remind me why I retired.” But he kept his voice gentle. They were both vulnerable to each other’s words in their heightened state, and would be for several more hours. More if they sustained it, though he doubted they would. “Nick stays with me because he understands this ... mood I’ve been in.”

      “He can’t understand you. He doesn’t even know you.”

      “It doesn’t matter. He understands humans – those things that we once were, and are prone to resemble when the vampire is waning and that other side of us is waxing. If he applied the same formulas he has devised based on years of study and police work on himself instead of just victims and suspects, he would not be in such a constant conflict with himself. But try telling him that.” 

      “I will pass on your generous offer.”

      Aristotle chuckled and leaned his head so it pressed against hers.

      “I came here because I had to know you were all right,” she said, in response to the former question. “Some changes I cannot accept. Losing you is one of them.”

      “You managed well 1500 years ago.”

      “You weren’t truly lost. You just left.”

      He was alive – he existed. He was part of her universe as she constructed it, and without him, she would have to reorganize it, or have it topple on her head. He felt the same way about his work, even if it was colder and more impersonal, no matter how hot and noisy these mortal contraptions got. It was his world. Useless without it, he would die for it. Michael hadn’t understood that, nor had Darien. Nick and Devana did not even bother with the question.

      He slept the rest of the night and the day with Devana, lost in the past and the very soothing immediate present, which made for a nice gesture. Lately he had experienced neither, always looking forward. You old fool. Nick would understand, and probably be grateful for the respite of the drunken ramblings of an old and tired vampire.


 

Chapter 8

      Devana did not stay along. She shared a bottle of Aristotle’s finest as the sun went down. It was an accepted necessary for her to leave as much as it was a necessity for Aristotle to refuse her offer of a trip to Egypt – even as a sort of vacation.

      “I do appreciate everything you’ve done for him,” she said to Nick as Aristotle prepared her flight information. She was not that familiar with the area. “If there is a reasonable way I can repay you, you need only ask.”

      “What does the Council think of me?”

      “You’re not in any real danger in your question for the cure because it will ultimately fail. But I’m sure your master has told you that. Whatever damage you cause along the way can be cleaned up. As for your mistakes in dealing with mortals and other vampires, they are always unintentional, and when punishment is required, LaCroix will be there to plead your case. He always does.”

      “Why? Aside from the obvious, being his son.”

      “If you suspect he has an additional motive, you’re probably right. Lucius was at odds with us long before you were born. But if you want to know more,” she smiled and glanced at the approaching man, “ask Aristotle. He was in charge of that investigation.”

      “What investigation?” Aristotle said, too involved with all of his printouts and directions for her to pay attention to what had been said. But she just kissed him on the cheek and all was forgiven and forgotten. She said her goodbyes, and disappeared into the night, hopefully in the direction of the airport.

      “So that was a Councilman,” Nick said. “Devana. Nice name.”

      “It’s Pictish.” Aristotle checked his mailbox before returning to the house, dropping the magazines on the table by the door. “Sorry to keep you waiting – I know you’re needed back at home.”

      “They think I’m in some allergenic coma. I don’t know how long it takes to recover from those.”

      “Especially made-up ones.” Aristotle went right downstairs to his computer station, and Nick followed. “Assuming the drama with the Council is over, I was thinking of making a short trip to Alaska.”

      “Those condos again?”

      “A man can dream, even if that dream is being able to go to the video store at two in the afternoon. And they are on the winter cycle.” He typed in his password and the screen came to life. His reading glasses reflected the lights and letters in front of him. “Your killer is an American.”

      Nick snapped to attention. “How do you know?”

      “A hunch. Isn’t that what they say?”

      “I say it sometimes. Now explain.”

      “While it was backing out, the truck hit a tree, leaving paint residue behind – specifically a teal blue. The bodies were University of Michigan students originally from Flint, home on vacation when they were reported missing. Going on the basic assumption that they started their terminal journey in the hometown where they were last seen, I checked Michigan state registrations for a teal blue, non-commercial truck. Then narrowing it down to single white males, probably without a large personal income, ages 25 to 45 – ”

      “Why did you do that?”

      “Aren’t the serial killers always the creepy, quite guy with a dead-end job and mother issues that prevent him from maintaining a relationship with a woman?”

      “You watch too many movies.” Then Nick nearly jumped as the machine next to him, usually dormant, roared to life before spitting out a sheet of paper. Flipping it over, he realized he was looking at the print-out and criminal records of Stanley Morgan, age 38. The profile matched, though the only serious connection was his location in proximity to Flint and his vehicle ownership. “You’re planning on turning this in?”

      “Maybe I do feel a little guilty about taking away Toronto’s most prized detective.”

      “Should I ask how many databases you used that weren’t public?” The look Aristotle gave him was a solid ‘no.’ “You can’t just hand him over. Police have to investigate.”

      “What, the police don’t take anonymous tips?” Aristotle said. “Oh, and a neighbor on his street called the sheriff. Seems he was burning something in his backyard when he got home yesterday. She said it was leaves, but it isn’t Fall in Michigan, is it?”

      “Did the sheriff investigate?”

      “Was busy on a home invasion. No follow-up.”

      Nick grinned. “You are incredible.”

      “I’m glad someone thinks that. I much prefer it to a mere ‘useful.’”

            ********************************************

      Detective Donald Schanke, acting on an anonymous tip, alerted the FBI to the mysterious activities of one Morgan Stanley, a Fotomat employee in Michigan. When his truck could be identified from the street, they obtained a warrant to search his premise. The burned remnants of bloody clothing were found, and Mr. Stanley was brought in for the murders of Kyle Ruthers and Tina Marsh. They were amateur photographers and regulars at the Fotomat, and he eventually admitted to offering to take them to see the Alaskan wilderness, after the DNA results came back positive.

      Though the American authorities took a majority of the credit, Schanke was made the official Canadian hero by the press, and was slated to receive a medal for his dedication to the case.

      “He’ll tell you all about it in his get well card,” Natalie said as she closed another folder, the phone cradled by her neck. “There was plenty of evidence, but the border thing made the investigation complicated. We might have never made the connection to the Fotomat. Even the FBI didn’t want to follow up on it, but he insisted.”

      “Good for him,” Nick said on the phone, sounding his old chipper self. Whatever was going on in Ottawa, the situation was clearly improved. “So, how many sick days do I have left?”

      “When was the last time you took one?”

      “I’ve had a few personal days.”

      “Those don’t count.”

      “Then ... all of them?”

      She shook her head at his oblivious nature. “Normal people get a certain number of sick days per year. You can exceed them in emergencies. They just have a cap so people don’t call in sick when they’re not and take a vacation. Though, I can’t imagine why someone would do that.”

      “It’s not a vacation ... entirely. It’s recovery. Talk to you in a few days, Nat. Just keep updating them like I’m getting better. I’ll be in early next week.”

      “What would you do without me, Nick?”

      “More traffic duty.”

      She smiled as she hung up. When he didn’t sound surprised about the anonymous tip, she didn’t push him. When Nick was lost in his ‘Community’ world, it was useless to question his activities. The point was, he had remembered them, likely felt some guilt, and contributed from afar. He cared.


Chapter 9

      Finally out of view of mortals after many hours of travel, Nick and Aristotle shed the ridiculous amount of clothing that presentation required of them and kept only their outer jackets and scarves. The wind bothered them more than the cold. It made flying more difficult, and it could be disorienting. By the time they reached the sets of cabins, the wind was down to something reasonable.

      At high noon, with no fear of threat from the sky, they walked along the snowy beach of the Pacific Rim. It was still dark, and would remain so for another twenty-eight days. Despite the cold, there was still some vegetation, and the distant glaciers were nothing short of fantastic.

      “Spectacular.”

      “Have you ever been this far up north?” Nick had been further, but in Canada.

      “Once. Maybe. I came across the Bering Strait with my master, but I couldn’t draw you a map now.” Aristotle took a swig from the bottle of blood and handed it to Nick, who did not refuse the offer. “The weather could be better, but you can’t beat the view.”

      Now on his quest, Aristotle was energized and focused, if he could ever be considered focused on any one thing. His obsession to detail could be tiring, but it was nice to see it resurface after a dismal week. He was still ignoring all but the most important of his calls, but he’d changed the message on his answering machine.

      “No cell phones up here,” Nick pointed out.

      “Not yet. In five years, for sure, there’ll be towers. I guarantee it.”

      “If someone other than a vampire comes to live up here. A vampire other than you. I don’t get reception twenty miles outside of Toronto.”

      “Roaming. You need more roaming.”

      “I don’t roam.”

      “Too much time at the desk. For both of us, I think. You can’t stay in one place – always moving, moving.”

      “Are there vampires who don’t move?”

      The question made Aristotle put down the rock that he was inspecting, something that had caught his interest because of the color. “Of course. But they’re usually old. Or have issues. Or don’t engage mortality beyond sustenance.”

      “LaCroix believes we need humanity to sustain ourselves.”

      “He admitted that?”

      Nick shrugged. “It was during the asteroid scare.”

      “Well, as you are very aware, Nick, not everyone believes as LaCroix believes.”

      “Tell me about it. Speaking of, Devana told me you once investigated him. Is this a question you can’t answer?”

      Aristotle regarded him a moment, then turned and resumed their walk. “No. There are things about LaCroix I can’t tell you, for one reason or another, but I suppose this isn’t one of them. Besides, I owe you.”

            ********************************************

December 410 A.D.

      The old villa was not hard to find. It was an antique, the pride of imperial craftsmanship. Its stone columns bore the scars of the barbarian ravages with a sad pride. Not far from Carthage, the villa was large enough to require a permanent staff so in times such as these, it was either housing refugees or abandoned by its owners for being unable to be maintain by their old standards. With so many citizens fleeing their homeland, Aristotle had seen many such houses in his journeys, especially since the events of August. That Vesuvius erupted and Rome was sacked on the same day – August 24th – was something for philosophers with more time on their hands than him to marvel at for centuries. For his target, it was just more salt in the wounds. He had never met him, but he still had no doubt.

      The servants were pale, lethargic creatures whacked dumb by their difficult and mesmerizing master. It was a bit of a lazy tactic, to simply stupefy the staff into submission, and it wouldn’t work for long, but desperate times called for desperate measures. For someone seeking a place of haven and quiet, a few mortal minds -and, likely, eventual bodies- could certainly be spared.

      None of them questioned him. He was far too quiet and unassuming. A mortal might not have passed, and definitely not him if any of them truly had their senses about them, but he was keen on not being seen and they were keen on going about their simple tasks until the master gave them new ones.

      The Senator, if one would call him by his most recent and most recently meaningless title, still wore his tattered striped toga over his tunic, carrying it with as much dignity as could be managed. Aristotle supposed there was no reason to tailor it, yet too much emotion invested in it to abandon it, yet. “General Lucius.”

      Senator Lucius Marcellas, originally General Lucius of Pompeii, was trying to hide his surprise when he looked up at the intruder. His previous position had been on the sofa, seemingly staring into his empty goblet, and how long he had been in that position could not be guessed. He regarded the new arrival with all the suspicion and fear that Aristotle expected, so Aristotle smiled and bowed, removing the hood to his shawl. “I am Aristobulus, messenger of the Council.” His beard was nearly as long as it had been in his mortal days, though that added not a single hair on his poor head, and his smile was never false. His appearance was meant to be disarming, and his charms did not fail him now. Lucius stood and bowed to him, looking slightly more relaxed. “Forgive my intrusion, but there didn’t seem to be a way to announce myself.”

      “My servants are ... what they are.” Lucius assumed some posture of control, perhaps unconsciously. “You would have found me in better lodgings a year ago.”

      “Ah, but you took great care not to be found.” He watched Lucius’ expression retreat into uncertainty again. “The Council decided to respect your wishes. It has no desire to trample on toes unnecessarily. But times have changed.”

      “Have I done something wrong? Caused some indiscretion?”

      “Hardly. In fact, for someone your age, I would credit you with a great deal of discretion all these years. Your Senatorial career was appropriately unspectacular to the point where it could only have been calculated to be so. Am I wrong?”

      “No.” Again, he relaxed. The pendulum was easy to swing – a single comment would do it.

      In truth, they had only known of Lucius for a century of his four, having been caught up with their own affairs since the conquering of Egypt and the fall of some strategic ancient strongholds in Persia. Well-behaved, if apparently master-less, fledglings didn’t concern them hardly as much as the elders missing. It was obvious, they observed from a distance, that someone had trained him well in the art of both killing with and living in prudence, enough that he maintained a fairly public Roman life under different guises without the sort of trouble that usually followed.

      “Nonetheless, despite your devotion to these details which sustain the mystery of vampire existence, the Council feels it can no longer ignore your presence, even though it does seem to be your heart’s desire.” He watched Lucius’ eyes flare, and just bowed his head politely. “We wish to welcome you to the Community, as it were. The delay is not regrettable, but this cannot go on for much longer. You will have to move on, and it is the Council’s duty to provide you with the resources to do so.”

      “I am not without resources.”

      “I have no doubt, but you must admit, you are confined to your current territory, which is ever shrinking.” He had to be reassuring. “They will speak forever of the glory that was Rome, General. But you are not Rome. You are more eternal than any empire. You cannot cling like lichen to a stone.” He offered his hand. “I will aid you however I can.”

      The young vampire hesitated, then his eyes softened with relief. “Thank you, Aristobulus.”


Chapter 10

The Present

      “That’s your real name?”

      “Of course not,” he snickered. “I couldn’t use Aristotle. He’s too famous. It would have been the beginning of a huge discussion I was not in the mood to have.”

      “Councilman Devana said it was like an investigation.”

      “And it was. You have to remember, this was before the Enforcers. The end of a time of great vampire rulers and great vampire kingdoms.” He shook his head at Nick’s expression. “And LaCroix has never told you, because he doesn’t like to admit he doesn’t know what came before him. Yes, the Council was very curious as to his lineage, so they sent me to collect him and see if he would be a problem. I convinced them that he wasn’t, and in truth, he never truly has been. But he has never embraced the Council and they, the same.”

      “And his lineage?”

      “What they don’t know won’t hurt them. I’m sorry Nick – I’m sworn to that secret. If he hasn’t told you, and you haven’t read it in his blood, I can’t help you.”

      “You do owe me.”

      “And you will have to find another way to collect.”

      Nick shook his head, and Aristotle was glad he was just amused and not more curious. He had his Code, and it was one of secrets. Even ones kept from Nick Knight.

            ********************************************

Chicago, 1954

      Aristotle was in love. Sadly, the objection of his affection could not return the feeling, only hum very, very noisy and maybe bounce around a little. “Ha!” He popped the lid open again, and the water splashed around as the roller stopped. He pulled out the passport and held it up to his guest, whom he had not yet acknowledged the approach of. “You have to make it looked washed out. For the well-traveled vampire. Do you want some citizenship?”

      “I am looking for Nicholas.”

      “You might need citizenship to do it. In case you want to vote along the way.” There was no reason to acknowledge LaCroix’s foul mood; LaCroix was always in a foul mood. Aristotle had a washing machine and it made his passports perfect and he didn’t care about Lucien LaCroix and his dysfunctional family. But he had to at least pretend he did. Aristotle closed the lid and returned to his basement desk. “So, what can I not do for you? Find Nicholas?”

      “That is precisely what I want you to do.” If the General was any less dignified, he would have been frothing at the mouth.

      “I won’t have to work very hard – I certainly know where he is, or where he asked to go at least – but I’m afraid I can’t help you.” He put the passport on the drying rack beside the others and sat down in front of his ledgers, which were written in his own code, comprehendible only to him. “Now if you want to move, or arrange for someone else to move – then we can have a discussion. Otherwise, I have nothing to say to you that doesn’t involve my washing machine. It’s incredible, isn’t it?”

      LaCroix slammed his hands down on the desk, towering over Aristotle. “I need to find Nicholas.”

      “If you break the desk, you bought it.” Aristotle set the various passport stamps that LaCroix’s dramatic action had knocked over right again. “Look, wasn’t he just in Washington, being investigated? How far could he have gone? He’s your child – you figure it out.”

      “I would return the favor – “

      “You have nothing to offer me. And even if you did, I wouldn’t accept. Those are the rules.”

      LaCroix snarled; Nicholas must have really ticked him off somehow, though Aristotle didn’t care to speculate the exact nature of their current argument.

“Rules are meant to be broken. You are not unfamiliar with the concept, as are your superiors – “

      “They – “

      “Or are they not aware of Istanbul?”

      He swallowed. “The city, yes. They’re aware of it.”

      “And Hastings. A rather careless action on your part.” He straightened up, confident in his newfound high ground; where he preferred to be. “Or have you forgotten to mention it? Has it not come up in conversation?”

      “Well – Look, we both don’t send daily reports to the Enforcers –”

      “I believe I do have something you might want.”

      Aristotle did consider it – but only for a moment, and shook his head. “No – this is not a trade. If it was about anything else, other than someone’s whereabouts, maybe we could talk. This is not up for discussion. Not now, not ever.” He spun his chair around and stood up to check on the printing machine.

      “Perhaps you underestimate just how eager I am to see my son again.” LaCroix advanced again. He got around the table so quickly. Aristotle really didn’t use his vampiric speed as an intimidation method enough anymore. “He’s quite the troublemaker, if you hadn’t noticed. Only it’s beginning to wear on my nerves.”

      Before Aristotle could even readjust the machine like he was supposed to have done by now, LaCroix was nearly on top of him, and had him by the lapels. “As is your affection for Nicholas. Where. Is. He?”

      The jar of ink in his hand crashed to the ground. That would be a difficult stain to clean. And he did not like people in his personal space without permission. With a slight tap he sent LaCroix back, hurled right over the desk and rolling onto the floor, ruining his perfect suit. He was still picking himself up as Aristotle slowly set himself on the ground again.

      “You forget yourself, Lucius,” he growled, then shut his eyes and pushed the vampire back down, regaining most of his usual demeanor. Still, he did not immediately return to his idle work, now fully addressing his ‘guest.’ “I’m keeping Nicholas’ secrets from you, but I’ve always kept your secrets with the same devotion, and I would hardly call us friends.” Now he advanced on the Roman. “Who do you think covered for you when the Council was asking about your master? And for no reason other than I thought it was the decent thing to do.”

      “There is no way – ”

      “ – that I could have met Divia?”

      LaCroix’s eyes lit up – not yellow or red of the vampire’s. They were bright with fear. “You never drank my blood.”

      “I didn’t need to. I already knew about her.”

      “Impossible.”

      “You presume to know everything about me? The secret-keeper?” He saw no reason to delay LaCroix’s agony. Though there was something so delicious about it, the subject that he used was not to his taste. “I’ve kept your secret for your entire existence, including the four hundred years you hid from the Council until you learned how to hide the fate of your master in your blood.”

      The impossible had happened; LaCroix had forgotten Nicholas for a moment. He only had one word: “How?”

      “As Caesar made his way through Egypt, many vampires fled. A few disappeared entirely. A few years later, I was given my first assignment as a new protégé of the Council – to pick up the trail of Qa’ra, the Ancient one. He was older than my own master, and the Council felt it was important that he be located.

      “I learned in my travels that he was posing as a mystic healer to mortals and was last seen in Pompeii. I arrived too late to the household of a Roman general who, regrettably, was on campaign in Gaul. His mistress was not eager to speak of the healer, but admitted she did employ him for a short time to treat the general’s daughter. She even let me speak to her.”

      “You met Divia.”

      “Qa’ra was already dead – Divia announced it proudly, having every notion of the severity of her crime, but refusing to care. Killing your own master is, as you know, unforgivable.” He admitted it; he did enjoy the look of terror on LaCroix’s face. “I have to admit a lack of sympathy for Qa’ra – he made a mistake. He must have known not to bring someone so young across – it’s forbidden for a reason. The child soul cannot handle the adult vampire inside it. He must have figured he would tame her before she had the strength to destroy him. Obviously, he did not.

      “I’d rather not say what Divia said to me – not because I feel some loyalty to her. Quite the opposite, actually.” He didn’t want to tell LaCroix, both Divia’s father and son, that she tried to seduce him. “Nonetheless, I did not give a particularly lengthy or conclusive report to the Council about Qa’ra’s disappearance and likely demise, and they didn’t seem upset with me. When you appeared, I immediately made the connection, but seeing as how Divia was conveniently absent and you were in the Indies, seeking out a vampire to each you how to hide your secret, I did not doom you by telling the Council your real lineage. I decided you’d probably been through enough.”

      “You will not tell – “

      “ – anyone. No. I’m very good at keeping secrets.” He offered his hand to help LaCroix off the floor, and the younger vampire accepted.

      LaCroix never said an impolite word to him again.


 

Chapter 11

      “Aristotle,” Nick said, bringing him to attention. Aristotle had been spacing out on the porch of their cabin. Without the sun, they were both a little disoriented about when to sleep. The idea of taking a nap was, for the first time in centuries, a possibility. “I want to ask you a question.”

      “You can, but answering might be a tall order.”

      “Have you ever known anyone who’s become mortal again?”

      Aristotle looked away. “You would have asked me that a long time ago if you thought the answer might be a yes.”

      Nick pried, “But do you think it’s possible?”

      His friend shrugged. “I don’t really want to answer that. Not because I can’t, but because you won’t like the answer. I know you have your heart set on it.”

      “Of all the things you know about – that nobody else knows about –”

      “I wouldn’t say nobody, but yes, I made it a point of the first half of my existence to learn all there was to learn about both the natural and vampire worlds – assuming they’re separate, of course, for the sake of this contained argument. And while I hardly learned everything, never once did I encounter a single legend of someone who made it back.”

      It was both painful and a relief. Nick hadn’t really expected otherwise, but it was different to hear him say it. Nick didn’t talk openly about his desire to return to mortality to any vampire but LaCroix and Janette, and they were still deeply insulted by it. Though Aristotle showed no real approval, he didn’t show any disapproval either.

      “This is assuming,” Aristotle continued after some hesitation, “that there is a difference, between the nature world and the vampire world. That we’re somehow unnatural, and therefore, damned.”

      “You don’t believe that.”

      “It’s not a logical conclusion. You, perhaps better than anyone else, know that the vampire is a scientific phenomenon. You know it shows up on blood tests, so the most logical conclusion would be that it’s merely a blood-born pathogen with some remarkable side effects.”

      “Man isn’t meant to live this way – killing and living eternally.”

      “On what do you base that assumption? Your notions of the world were conceived when you were mortal and because the world is made up of an overwhelming majority of mortals, you cling to those beliefs and even the rest of us are susceptible to them. Mortals are different from us, so they see us as an abnormality, and as is natural to all creatures, they fear something which is different from them and that which they do not understand. Just as they do to each other. But shed for a moment that concept- that it’s between us and them. What’s to say the vampire is not a naturally-occurring aspect of nature, one that we know has existed for thousands of years and will, in all likelihood, continue to exist unless an extinction-level event occurs?”

      “But it’s inside us. We feel it. We fight it.”

      “Every species has natural impulses based on their survival instincts, and under various circumstances, they feel the need to ignore or swallow their instincts. In the case of humanity, it’s moral. A man doesn’t steal when he’s poor, or cheat on his wife when he’s married, because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, even though material wealth and sexual fulfillment are two things he naturally desires. The only other creature on earth that makes decisions based on this concept of morality is a vampire, so therefore one must conclude that we are either greater than or equal to humans. We’re certainly not animals in that regard.”

      Nick shook his head. “It’s because we’re humans with the vampire inside us. The vampire wants to act and the human stops us.”

      “Assuming the vampire and human have mutually exclusive goals, of course.”

      Nick wasn’t used to this kind of argument without painful emotions attached. When he had it, it was with the domineering LaCroix or the scientific Natalie. Aristotle was simply toying with the idea, not considering rethinking his own state or caring what Nick thought of his, but that did not mean he tossed all notions aside. “You’re contradicting yourself. Sometimes you treat the vampire as a separate entity inside our mortal bodies, and sometimes you think we’re just vampires.”

      “I suppose both could be true. Those are our possibilities: that we are humans carrying the vampire animal inside us, or when we are infected with this so-called pathogen, we become something wholly different that can feel like two things, but is in fact merely two sides of our physical self, manifesting at different times and for different reasons. Both have the same ultimate goal – survival. And the vampire is better at it, though the human shouldn’t be discounted.”

      “Which do you believe?”

      Aristotle chuckled. “To me it’s a mere philosophical argument, as I made peace with what I am years ago. Part of me is very, achingly human – the need for companionship, the need to think and feel complex emotions, the need to discover new things and evolve in my ways. The other part, the vampire, is the mechanism through which I sustain myself. I feed my body blood and it never gets sick, ages, or dies. I feel the need to hunt – a primal need, a leftover from the time when blood could only be obtained by hunting, since this concept of bottling it is so new to our history. Still, I cannot deny what I am, even the hunter side of me. So I indulge it every once in awhile, but mostly find it distasteful and distracting from my work. These are very interesting times we live in. But to answer your question, Nick, the vampire is a part of me but not the whole of me. That is a satisfying answer of my life.”

      “You don’t believe the vampire is inherently evil?”

      “The case could be made for it, certainly – but by mortal definition, not vampire definition. The vampire is doing what it needs to survive – kill for sustenance. And, like any creature, it will get greedy and kill in an elaborate fashion to make the food taste better. It will search out the highest quality instead of drinking from the dregs of society. These are all perfectly normal, natural impulses for a creature that needs warm blood, preferably human, to survive. The entire concept of evil and damnation is not solely a human concept, but the way we view it today is through the lens of human morality – and why shouldn’t humans condemn killing? They don’t need to do it to survive anymore. If it were otherwise, their religions wouldn’t condemn it. It’s not good for the population to condemn something completely necessary for the survival of the species.”

      “I can’t help but believe.”

      “And I have my beliefs, about this life and the next. But they’ve changed over time, based on new information I receive about the universe as I know it. When you receive information that challenges your notions of existence, you must either reject that information or consider altering your worldview to accept it. If there are gods, even just a single one, surely they would have a different set of rules for vampires than humans? You must at least consider the possibility. That your G-d is not only very aware of vampires but views them and judges them with different considerations than he does with creatures that do not need to kill to survive. And now that we don’t need to kill, that eliminates that sticky theological situation altogether.”

      It couldn’t possibly be that simple. And it wasn’t – but Aristotle spoke about it as if it was. “I’ve done terrible things. You may not think of it that way, but I do.”

      “You have your worldview. You have done evil, but in your Catholic upbringing, the path to redemption is not by never sinning, but through repentance and penance. You have repented your sins as you identify them to be sins, and now you do good works as self-assigned penance. You’ve chosen to go through the same elaborate mortal rituals to assuage your soul as you would if you were mortal – and there’s nothing unusual about that. Most vampires remain largely the people they were before they were brought across, only with some aspects amplified. The extent that you’ve taken it to is remarkable in that it’s so physically devastating to you, starving yourself and enduring painful treatments of every kind, but then again, weren’t you raised in a time of various types of self-flagellation as a form of penance? If you are correct about the existence of not only a god but the G-d that you specifically worship, you are certainly doing everything to the book.”

      Nick looked at Aristotle, with his knowing grin, but could not refute him. If LaCroix had said it, Nick would have spat something back. But would LaCroix even understand it like that? “LaCroix says –”

      “LaCroix is imposing his worldview on you. You resist, clinging to your own. Neither is right or wrong. He tries to convince you to embrace your vampire nature because he believes, based on the empirical evidence of his own experiences, that it is the sole way to be content in your existence. He assumes that what worked for him will work for you. This, of course, only redoubles your efforts to reject him and maintain your more-than-pretense piety.”

      “He won’t listen to me.”

      “A son does not tell a father what to think and do. Not in his time, not in any time. Also, he watches you suffer through your self-ordained penance, which is a very difficult thing for him to do. He will try to steer you away from it for so many reasons, almost all of which directly involve wanted his son to thrive in the life he has created for him.”

      This was not precisely the conversation Nick wanted to have – not only because it was about LaCroix, but because Aristotle was not merely speculating. Even though his voice was warm and pleasant, he was stating. Even through his nervous and often-rushed voice, his words were confident. And he had not yet said something Nick could bring himself to object to. “You’ve thought about this.”

      “Don’t be offended. I think about everything, Nick.”

      Nick could not resist. “You really are him, aren’t you?”

      “Don’t start.”

      “Why doesn’t the bust look like you?”

      “I said, don’t start.”

      “What was Alexander the Great like? I heard he was – ”

      “I’m not answering these questions so you can just forget it.” Aristotle shook his head. “Good. Build a guy up a little, he thinks he’s king of the world. Sheesh.” He yawned. “Do you think we should sleep or something?”

      “What time is it?”

      He had to check his watch. “Around three.”

      “Am or pm?”

      “Ha! Bizarre, isn’t it? PM. I think I have sun lag.”

      “Maybe you should rethink this Alaska business.”

      “Give it some time. We just got here. And you can’t beat the view.”

      “I’ll put a mural up in my alley.”

      Not all of the cabins had the electricity going, but theirs did, mainly to keep the refrigerator running. The town nearby was too small – fresh blood would definitely be a problem.

      “I shouldn’t do this,” Nick said as he accepted a glass of blood wine from Aristotle. “I’m going to flunk Natalie’s tests next week.”

      “For once, I don’t understand you.”

      “Blood tests. I’m supposed to be down to protein shakes and vitamin tablets.”

      “Is that as horrible as it sounds?”

      Nick had to laugh about it. “Yes. And worse now that I’m off the wagon.” They clinked glasses. “I might as well enjoy the ride.”

      “We only live once, Nick.”

      “But we do live for a really, really long time.”

      They shared a laugh, and the rest of the bottle of exceptional blood wine. The television worked, but only got local stations, and Aristotle decided to put off his dream of the video store during the day for a little while.  That really left only one thing to do.

      Nick had shared his blood with Aristotle many times, but only one-way – except once, in Istanbul, and Aristotle was very, very drunk.  So drunk that his blood tasted mostly of wine and hashish and even Nick had trouble remembering anything about it afterwards. Even though he seemed to have complete control over what his blood sent, Aristotle was not the type to share. It was too intimate a gesture for someone whose work took him far away from everyone else. And unless Janette was in town, Nick rarely had the opportunity himself. So when he had it, he took it.

      “Ever seen Jaws?

      “Mmmm?” Nick growled, his fangs already extended. How could anyone’s mind wander at a time like this? “No.”

      “Great.” And without hesitation, Aristotle bit into Nick’s exposed neck.

      Emotions came first, as always. Fear ... fear about the water, a kid screaming, the size of their boat and how they needed a bigger one, the guy from the French ConnectionOh my G-d, he’s showing me Jaws! That Bastard! While Aristotle was no doubt privy to Nick’s deepest secrets, Nick was being treated to a matinee. Like watching movies with Natalie, only without the rancid smell of human food and the unreleased sexual yearning. And much more blood. He could feel Aristotle in his mind, and the other vampire’s amusement, which only made him more irritated, in as much as he could possibly be irritated at this moment. You are a very strange man.

      Indeed. They were deep enough into it that Nick could feel his blood coming back through Aristotle’s veins, and temporarily they could communicate through it. It wouldn’t last, but that didn’t matter to him. That it happened at all was a gift, from a lonely vampire to another lonely vampire.

      Aristotle didn’t make him watch the credits to the movie. Nick was abruptly assaulted by an image so powerful he forgot sharks, the cramped cabin in Alaska, even the blood, which just seemed to be a natural part of his world now, as if he couldn’t imagine a world without it. Or the sun. It was bright but not hot, even though it was very warm outside. He could feel warmth again, like a mortal. He watched Aristotle shuffle on the beach, trying to keep his white chlamys straight, carrying the cage while not frightening the bird. The little gray stork was leading him along for some time now, always fluttering just out of reach. “Come on you – ” His brown hair and curly beard were both matted with sand from several failed attempts. “Aha!” He snatched bird by the neck, but it did not want to go in its cage. Instead it pecked him as hard as it could. “Ow! You little – ” He had to let the bird go to bring his hand to his mouth, and it flew away, out over the ocean. The sharp, curved beak drew blood, and it tasted coppery and salty in his mouth. “I am going back to botany.”

      It ended as suddenly as it came, and feeling overwhelmed, Nick drew back, separating from Aristotle. Normally they might have continued with some sort of physical activity that went hand-in-hand with the blood exchange, but Nick was stunned, and he had no idea what Aristotle took for himself. Anything, as far as he was concerned, could not begin to even the score of seeing a mortal memory. He laid down on the bed, Aristotle beside him. It wasn’t really meant for two people, but neither of them cared. Proximity couldn’t have mattered less to them; it was more a question of one of them falling off.

      Aristotle had his eyes closed. Maybe he was trying to concentrate on whatever memories he received from Nick. Nick didn’t ask, but his eyes did stray to Aristotle’s hand, where there was an indentation between the thumb and the forefinger. A bite mark.

      “Yes, that was me being foolish,” Aristotle answered. “As you can see, I haven’t changed all that much. Except I don’t collect birds anymore.”

      “I have to be rude and wonder how you’ve stayed alive,” Nick said. Only their current intimacy would allow such a statement. As casual as Aristotle was, he was still an Ancient. “At least I have LaCroix to constantly save me.”

      “Should I tell him you said that?”

      “Not if you don’t want a matching scar on the other hand.”

      Aristotle giggled. “I’m just lucky, I guess. And exceptionally hard to kill. Torture, yes. Kill, no.” He sighed with contentment. “I know you’re going to tell me I don’t have to say it, but I will. Thank you. Not just for rescuing me, but for staying. And no, not everyone would have done the same. I didn’t call you just because I had your blood at Hastings. That was ten years ago and I have stronger ties to people who could have sent Enforcers. When I was lying there, and I thought who would be best to summon, you were the first person who came to mind. What can I say? You have a knack for rescuing me.”

      “You work too hard.”

      “I choose my isolation. Just like you choose yours. It allows me to be who I am. Vampires don’t want to change, they don’t want to explore, they don’t want their worldview to be shattered by all the things science and technology can now offer us. I lived in their separate world before and I didn’t care for it. The boredom was exhausting.”

      “Maybe you’ll find someone like you to spend eternity with.”

      “I hope not. That would make being me so much less fun.”


 

Chapter 12

      “Did you know they’re giving away land for free?”

      Nick didn’t take his eyes off the road. “What’s the catch?”

      “It’s in Antarctica. And you have to be a resident – you can’t just claim it and never show up. But think of it – penguins, icebergs – ”

      They were driving back to Aristotle’s house from the airport, and Aristotle was too consumed in his magazine to drive. Nick always preferred to be in the driver’s seat of a car anyway. He shook his head. “We just came from glaciers and polar bears. That wasn’t enough?”

      “It wasn’t free. Cheap, yes. Free, no. But there is no electricity – which could be a downside. Still, it might be a good safe house. We could make the whole Continent one giant vampire safe house. Send the blood down there and it’ll stay frozen under the ice. And you can try penguin blood!”

      “No.”

      “Don’t say it’s because they’re cute. You can’t tell me you’ve never had seal blood. You love traveling up north!”

      “Only because they’re easier to get than polar bears. And not going extinct. And I was lost and really out of supplies.” He added, “Never fight a bear.”

      “You fought a bear?”

      “Centuries ago, in Europe. LaCroix was there – he can tell you.”

      “He let you fight a bear?”

      “Actually it was more of a team effort. It was during some festival and all of the locals were fairly drunk when we went out that evening, so we were fairly drunk – and one thing led to another. Starting as a growling contest, I think.”

      “Why haven’t I heard this story before?”

      “Because that bear owned us. Two powerful vampires and we could not take it down. Not with our bare hands, anyway. And if you ever tell LaCroix you know that story, say you took it from my blood. He doesn’t care for it being repeated.”

      “Not one of the prouder moments of General Lucius.”

      “Coming home to Janette with claw marks all over his face has to have been one of the worst moments in the history of his personal dignity. At least I was known for putting myself into harm’s way. What exit did you say?”

      “The next one.” Aristotle was multitasking as usual. His face was still buried in the magazine. “Hey – bonus for Antarctica. No polar bears.”

      “I’ll be sure to mention it to him should we ever have this conversation,” Nick said, following the signs for the next town. He would have to either borrow Aristotle’s car or fly home, and the latter he didn’t mind, really. He would pack supplies, take his time, and maybe see a bit of wildlife before returning to the urban jungle and the square casket that was his loft. He wasn’t even in the mood to lapse into regret about not keeping to his regime of acting human and not using his powers. “When I make it back across, I will miss flying. I might as well admit that now and get it over with.”

      “Ah, so that grass isn’t so green on the other side, is it? Though I assume it would be greener in daylight.”

      “Have you ever thought about it?”

      The Ancient plucked another subscription card from the magazine and tore it up. “Thought about what?”

      “Becoming human again. If you had a choice – no strings attached.”

      Aristotle set his magazine down. “I don’t think I would be much use dead, and how long would I last? Look at me – I wasn’t brought over as a young man. I would lose the remaining hair on my head, get cancer, and die. That is all mortality can really promise me.”

      “You don’t believe in heaven?”

      “I believe in the possibility of the metaphysical, but I don’t know. I won’t make a judgment without the evidence required to reach a rational conclusion.” Aristotle looked over at Nick, his eyes boring into him. “When LaCroix brought you across, what did he promise you? What was the incentive?”

      “A thousand lifetimes,” he said, to his surprise, with no hesitation. It was something he’d never told Natalie, or anyone else he’d known. Janette knew because she was there. And yet, he felt no impulse to keep it from Aristotle. He would not be judged or pitied. “I guess they would say that when I came back from the Holy Land, my head wasn’t on straight. That’s when we’re caught – the weak moment. For half of my life, all I had known was death and he offered me a way out of that.” He took his eyes off the road for a moment to regard Aristotle. “And you?”

      “Knowledge. The truth about the universe that had been hidden from the mortal me for so long. For a philosopher, the ultimate temptation.”

      “So you admit it.”

      “I admit nothing,” Aristotle said. “You never heard me say it, never saw anything that would lead you to draw that conclusion. Besides, the bust doesn’t look like me. You said it yourself.”

      “Weren’t Greek sculptors going through a standardization period, where everything was very basic and stylized? Or was that the Roman period? I always forget.”

      Aristotle scoffed at him. “You’re too clever for your own good, Knight.”

      “You must be the only vampire who calls me that.”

      “I have a certain right. I came up with it.”

      “I helped.” But Nick did owe his current identity to Aristotle, with some of Larry Merlin’s help on the side. At first he thought the name was too basic, but Aristotle insisted that people never saw what was right in front of them. And he’d already made the passport and American birth certificate and insisted they couldn’t be changed. It was his way of exerting a frustrating control over his clients, who already owed him so much that they could hardly refuse.

      “Turn here. No, left. Turn left!”

      “You have to specify.”

      “It was implied. Do you want a ride to the train station?”

      “I don’t ride trains.”

      Aristotle stared at him. “That doesn’t sound like you.”

      “I had a bad experience on a train. I’ll be fine. Do you need to stop somewhere for supplies?”

      “The service should have taken care of it. And the rest of the house – the parts I didn’t lock.” Aristotle put down the stack of magazines as they approached the house. “They even took in the mail. Look at that. Definitely worth the ungodly sum I probably pay them. But that’s what Felix is for.” He climbed out of the car. “I should probably return his call. That’s like a month overdue.”

      “Maybe you should.”

      “I’ll be on time – he always calls me a month ahead of when he wants to reach me.” He would not let Nick take his bags for him, either. “I guess you’re a more useful vampire if you’re a weirdo loner and not hanging around in bars every night, getting drunk off blood wine and mortals who took acid. Ever done acid?”

      “No. The officer in charge of the evidence locker is a Resistor.”

      Aristotle laughed and didn’t question if it was true.

            ********************************************

      As Nick packed up for his own trip home, he could hear the sounds of Aristotle’s house coming to life – the whirring of machines, the hum of the downstairs fluorescents, and the occasional ringing of the phone that Aristotle usually ignored and let the machine manage. Maybe it was a vampire thing after all.

      “Eye strain,” Aristotle said to Nick’s questioning glare about his glasses. “From the screen.”

      “Does that actually happen to us?”

      “It depends how many days straight you spend at the same screen. Four’s kind of the limit. I lose track of time. This one time – “

      Nick stopped him. “Eye strain. Got it.”

      “Anything I can get you before you go? British citizenship? I’ve got a new batch of clean passports. Good if you ever want to put in for a Parliament seat.”

      “I’ll pass this time.” He waved. “Anything else you need?”

      “Do me the favor of not getting yourself killed somehow, in case I do need you again.”

      Of all the vampires who spurned him, rejected him, or asked him to be something he was not, Nick could only name a few in his eight centuries that dared to think otherwise, or even defend him as he dishonored the good name of his species by trying to be mortal. And of all of those select few, there was one who might even admire him for it. People like that were too precious to lose. They were worth fighting for – even worth dying for.

      Nick hoped Aristotle would never need him again, but nonetheless, looked forward to the day that he would.

Finis

      ********************************************

Final notes: The “bust” references refer to the famous bust of Aristotle, which only has a passing resemblance to actor R.D. Reid, who played the vampire in “Forward into the Past.”

[return to the main page]