French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 15
New York City, 2010/1980
Dylan wasn’t sure how long he fed; he wasn’t even sure when he came back to himself. The only thing Dylan was sure of was Liam’s mind, guiding his feeding. The Celtic vampire was different than others he had fed from. Liam’s blood had a distinct flavor, but Dylan couldn’t quite figure out how to describe it. It was… finer than the others he consumed. Jason’s was similar, but diluted, and both Douglas and Daniel smelled like Jason, so Dylan suspected they’d taste similar. They’d be a step above a regular vampire, but Liam’s blood sang. He wasn’t a cursed being, wasn’t undead; he was alive and vibrant, pure and potent. Nothing else compared.
The rest of his memories were hazy. He might have fed more, but it wasn’t clear. He slipped in and out of blackness and sometimes he found himself lost in the past with Anna, his last years of humanity in 1980s SoHo.
He had spent two months in the hospital and in therapy. They only let him out into Anna’s care when Doctor Sacco was sure he wasn’t about to kill himself or worse. Dylan was as stable as he could be under the circumstances, but had no place to go, and Anna became his lifeline. He was the first of seven young people she’d rehabilitated at the Muffin house, six of which lived in the building under her supervision full time. Angelus was only part-time, and lived at home with his parents and spent time learning the ropes with his sire Jason.
It was a cold autumn day with a chilly breeze that whipped Dylan’s hair into his face and threatened to toss his cowboy hat down the street. The Texan clutched his books with one hand and grabbed his hat with the other as he looked around the dark lamp-lit street. “We’re not far from the shop, are we?”
“Just a few blocks,” Anna said. She hopped down the last step of the hospital to the sidewalk beside Dylan. She dug into her pockets and pulled on her gloves. “It is nippy out, isn’t it?”
“Freezing,” Dylan said. “You Yanks are damned crazy to live in this stuff.” He was grateful for his long coat, warm sweater, and gloves. “Not looking forward to snow.”
“I could say that about you and all those tornadoes, but I’d think you’d find snow rather novel.” Anna told him brightly. “It’s very pretty, especially if you don’t have to drive. Though shoveling the sidewalk is dull.” While she spoke, she started to walk, followed closely by Dylan. “Besides, a tough guy like you shouldn’t be bothered by a little white stuff.”
“We learn to live with tornadoes.” Dylan replied with a shrug. “Just rebuild and move on. It makes you tough. And I didn’t just live in Texas, I lived in Kansas. I’ve seen snow, I just don’t like it.”
“Well, then, we Yanks and you southerners have something in common then; our weather makes us tough, too,” Anna said cheerfully. “It’s just a matter of what you’re used to.” As she walked she did a skip, kick and spin. It was smooth, and reminded him of some of the gymnasts he’d seen on TV.
The shops around them were brightly lit and people walked along the sidewalk, peering inside. Dylan realized it was very late by the positioning of the moon in the sky, but the bars and restaurants along the neon-signed strip were packed.
They passed brand new black Ford pickup parked near a florist. It made him think of his battered old Toyota. “Hey, what about my truck?”
“Repainted, with new plates, and parked in a garage for when you need it,” she told him. “We couldn’t find your friend’s car, though.” She looked at him apologetically. “But everything he had at your hotel room is at my apartment.” They walked in silence for a few more moments. “I’m sure Jason will find something soon.”
“Thanks.” He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with Jackson’s stuff. Now that he was out, Dylan wanted to hold some kind of service for Jackson… and Bridget. As he walked, he watched the cracks in the sidewalk pass underfoot. “Can you arrange that service like you promised?”
“Saint Patrick’s has a place in their cemetery; I spoke with Father Ryan when you asked me.”
“Is he a vampire too?” The question didn’t seem absurd anymore.
“Of course not, he’s a bloody priest.” Anna said. “He’s a friend of Dr. Sacco’s, though. Doc never misses a mass.”
How in God’s name did Sacco manage that? As far as Dylan knew, ghouls were as cursed as the rest of the undead.
“A ghoul in mass, I should have figured.”
Anna laughed. “Every Sunday and Wednesday. He even says the rosary.” She shook her head. “Some people cross over and are unable to let go.”
“Nothing wrong with not letting go of God,” Dylan told her. It made him wonder why vampires were cursed because of their faith. “So, this priest will do a real funeral ceremony?” He wanted to tell her Jackson was a Lutheran, and his mother converted them to Baptist, but decided it didn’t really matter. It would be hallowed ground, and a genuine service. Their souls would do the rest.
Bodies or no, it would be a proper burial. The young man tilted his hat down, and set his jaw. It would be over with for them. If only he could contact Jackson’s mom and let her know her boy was interred in New York. She’d have closure, at least. If, that was, she was alive. So many ifs. “How long did it take you to let go?”
“Of my old life?” Anna laughed softly. “I never got along with my parents so it was easy to let them go, but I followed my brother and sisters for a bit. I have nieces and a nephew who are alive; two of them live upstate with kids of their own, but I don’t have much of a connection.” A flicker of regret crossed her pale face. “It was my decision to let them go. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be independent.”
“Do you regret it?” Dylan didn’t want to let go of his life. It wasn’t a choice for him. If he let go, if he forgot, the people responsible for so much pain would walk away free. He thought of Bridget and his good mood almost faded. He could still see her dead eyes staring, terrified, up at him.
“Sometimes, but I enjoy my life, Dylan.”
Anna turned down an alley next to the muffin shop. It was dark inside, closed for the evening. “I’m on the second floor. We’re housing together. I hope you don’t mind, but I was told I need to keep an eye on you.”
He murdered his own sister; how could they trust him? The Texan swallowed the lump in his throat. How many weeks of therapy had it taken him to accept that simple fact?
A young woman living with a teenager. It would look awkward and very improper, but Dylan had the feeling Anna didn’t care what people thought. He, on the other hand, was downright embarrassed, even if a part of him was grateful for the company. “I’m eighteen.”
He tried to repress his shame.
“And that makes it legal for you to be working for me. You have your own apartment attached to mine, so I can make sure you’re safe.” She stopped in front of a steel door and inserted a key.
“They don’t trust me.”
“Not entirely, no, but it isn’t just that, Dylan.” She gave the door a shove and it creaked open. “You’ve gained a whole lot of enemies just by existing. But I’m a tough cookie; been known to crack more than a few heads from time to time!”
At least she was honest. Though her small size made him wonder if she really could protect him if someone dangerous came after them.
Then he mentally slapped himself. Who was it who had saved his sorry rear end? Who had mocked Keith’s thugs and beaten them like cheap drums? Anna, that’s who. She might look harmless, but he knew better; she was a swift, beautiful angel of destruction. The Texan couldn’t help but feel embarrassed; he was no damsel in distress. But he had to be honest with himself; up against vampires as he was, he was pretty much helpless. “For a dancer and a nonviolent person, you have an interesting way of expressing pacifism.”
“I’m a flapper, Dyl, from the Big Apple. A girl had to take care of herself back then. And today, even. You’re in good hands with me, pal.” She winked.
It struck him, though, that there was also the question of whether she was safe with him, if they were suspicious; Sacco had reminded him of his reputation earlier. “So why in hell bother keeping me alive? I mean, I get you, I get people like Sacco and Bunny, but I don’t get why this Liam, or any of these others you talk about, would feel they wanted to keep a hunter around. Who makes the decisions around here? Liam? Doctor Smith? Douglas?”
“Liam likes to have others around to help him, I explained that to you earlier. Helping also means we get a say in how things are done around here. He actually wanted you dead. Simply put, he was outvoted,” Anna said. Once at the top of the stairs, he found himself walking down a dimly-lit hall. It was carpeted, with three other doors and lights set in the ceiling. Anna stopped at a wooden door at the end and inserted a key. “Douglas and I, well, we wanted to give you a chance. Doctor Smith… you interest him, and for him, that’s more than enough.”
“…and Jason thought you were a security risk.” Anna pushed the door open. The light in the apartment was already on. “They would have killed you on the spot, but since they were outvoted, they let you live.”
Dylan wasn’t surprised to hear Jason thought he was a security risk. The man only thought about his job. He was glad Jason had warmed up to him, because if he hadn’t, the vampire enforcer might have taken him out eventually. Still, he didn’t feel comfortable with the thought. No wonder Doctor Smith was so happy to have the cop around when Dylan had his freakout. “Well… thanks for voting for me.” He wondered why Smith was interested in him. “I don’t trust the good doctor.”
“No one does… well, save for Bunny. He’s her sire and she’s genuinely sweet. If he made her, he can’t be all unhinged.”
Now that was a creepy thought. Doctor Smith made Bunny? Dylan frowned, and wondered exactly what their relationship was, and what that meant for Bunny. He was so engrossed in his thoughts he almost bumped into Anna, who stood motionless at the door, keys dangling from her fingers.
The first thing that crossed his mind was how neat the apartment was. It had a hardwood floor studio, with gallery-style white walls covered with a variety of framed prints and photos dating back to every decade through the 1920s. Most of them were dance or theater oriented, though a few of them were prints of famous paintings. A large cobalt-blue suede square-cushioned couch was pushed up against the wall, and the center of entertainment was a bookshelf and a stereo. Her TV was shoved off into a corner on a small stand, and covered with dust. The kitchen was clean, with a few pots hanging from racks on the walls for show, but other than that, Dylan could tell it was largely unused.
The man sitting on the blue couch distracted him from any more details of the apartment. He was tall with dark-brown curls, brushed back from his face and pulled back in a ponytail, and a short beard. He wore a pair of grey pinstriped slacks, blue button-up top, and a red tie, with a silk jacket that matched the slacks. His eyes were a cold sky-blue that sent shivers down Dylan’s spine. His stony features were sharply sculpted, handsome in a severe way like the kings of the past, depicted in the old European paintings of Turkish kings. There was also something familiar about him, like Anna was familiar. But the biggest single feature wasn’t one that Dylan could see, just one he could sense.
This man was old.
Not just old, ancient, like Doctor Smith.
“You’re late; I expected you home twenty minutes ago, Anna,” he said in a cold, level voice.
“I wasn’t expecting you, Liam. Or I would have arrived sooner,” Anna said sharply as she stepped into the room and removed her coat. “Dylan, you can put your things down; I presume Liam is here to speak to you. I can show you your room later.”
There was no mistaking the annoyance in her voice; apparently even great age and power didn’t excuse rudeness to Anna. Dylan felt the same way, though he knew better than to say anything. Still, he couldn’t keep a frown from his face as he placed his books on a stand near the coat closet and removed his backpack. “Do I put my coat and stuff in this closet?”
“Yes, of course; this is your place. You’ll be free to come and go from here as you please,” Anna told him, with a smile. She turned to the dark-haired elder, and the smile was gone. “You realize I do not appreciate surprises like this.”
“In my experience, the best way to evaluate the character of another is see how they adjust to the unexpected,” Liam said flatly, with the slightest twitch of his lip; was it a hint of a smile or a frown? Dylan couldn’t tell. The cold blue eyes surveyed Dylan for an instant. “He is a revenant still.”
“Not surprising, with what they did to him.” Anna took Dylan’s coat and hung it up for him. “I don’t have any regrets.”
Liam stood. “Well enough. It is a poor decision that one regrets before it has proven itself wrong.”
Dylan brushed his long hair behind his ear and walked up to the vampire. He was tall, but Dylan was able to meet his stare with one of his own. There was something… different about him. He wasn’t just old; he was something more than just vampire. Liam’s skin wasn’t as pale, and there seemed to be a life to his aura the others lacked.
Studying Liam — the same way Liam seemed to be studying him, Dylan came to more understanding of the man. The way he stood was as though he was on guard. His entrance to Anna’s home… it wasn’t about ownership, or entitlement; Liam was detached, he didn’t understand or care about boundaries. Was Liam human at all? Had he started out human, been raised as a human? Was he simply so ancient that he had just forgotten what it was like to be human, like Doctor Smith?
The silence had gone on long enough. Dylan cleared his throat. “I don’t plan on lettin’ her down, if that’s what you’re worried about, sir.”
“I am only here to make sure you are not a threat to those under my charge,” said Liam simply. He held eye contact, and Dylan felt something, a frigid finger passing over his consciousness. It was harsh and powerful, and dark, yet somehow gentle. It only seemed to probe his surface thoughts, and then drew away.
“I see Liam’s checking you out.” Anna closed the closet and crossed the room. “I have some Guinness in the fridge, do you want one, Liam?”
She was relaxed; whatever Liam was doing, it wasn’t something she felt was dangerous or even worth being concerned about. Dylan watched as Liam shifted his gaze to the woman and sat back down as if on a social call. “That would be kind of you, thank you.” He wrinkled his brow. “I remember when the Guinness brothers started making ale.”
The casual comment made Dylan wonder: how much history had Liam seen? Dylan had thought his grandfather was a wealth of historical information, but if Liam was even half as old as Dylan thought, he would have seen things going back to… what? Rome?
“Coming right up,” Anna said. “Sorry, Dylan; you’re too young, drinking age’s nineteen in New York.”
A vampire that drank Guinness. He supposed he shouldn’t have been too surprised, what with everything else he’d seen. Hadn’t Jason said he ate regular food? Was there something special about Liam’s line? Anna tossed the vampire a can; it had nearly reached the vampire when his hand blurred, caught the Guinness, and popped it open. “Tell me about yourself, hunter. Why do you intrigue our Anna so much?”
“Because I’m a nice guy from Texas?” The sarcasm was reflexive, and not the smartest response. He saw Anna wince as she squeezed a blood bag into a large plastic tumbler glass.
“He’s has a nice smile too, and likes blueberry muffins!” she said quickly.
The elder’s eyebrow gave the slightest hint of a rise, but if he had been annoyed by Dylan’s flippant response he gave no other sign. Instead, Liam abstractedly circled his index finger around the rim of his can. “Why are you hunted by the federal government?”
“Father was a Ma Cà Rồng who didn’t do what they wanted sir.” Dylan said honestly. No use hiding the truth; if what he’d just felt meant anything, the man was able to read his mind. “And I tried to expose your people. I went to Le Hunt, and managed to stir up a hornets’ nest connected to the Blackwell family. The government and the Blackwells, they have an understanding.” It was honest enough, and answered the question.
“You stirred the hornets’ nest?” Liam repeated Dylan’s words carefully. “Exposing the truth would certainly cause trouble for them.”
“And for you, sir.” It didn’t hurt to be respectful. Old as he was, Liam wasn’t as terrifying as Doctor Smith. Maybe he should have been terrified of him, but Anna treated him more like an uncle than some ancient monster capable of crushing her at any moment.
“True enough. How did you intend to expose our existence?”
“It was a good plan; we got ourselves an authentic psychic, with good media contacts and filmed a hunt.” He took a sharp intake of air as he felt a rush of guilt. “We had bodies and everything. It was going to be on TV, we had everything set up.”
“But they stopped you, as they stop everyone,” Liam said, in a matter-of-fact tone. He tipped back his beer can and drank from it.
“You’re not pissed at us for trying?” Dylan looked puzzled.
“Many of our kind have tried before. Understand, we suffer injustices as well, enough that sometimes it seems a complete change is preferable to cooperation.”
“The sixties.” Anna sat on the arm of her couch. “Couple of vampires got all flower child and tried an uprising with the free love movement. They put a stake in that coffin real fast.” She stretched her legs. “So, you’re not special… and not all that wrong, Dylan.”
“Why in hell don’t hunters know anything about this?” Dylan felt a flood of anger. He hadn’t heard anything about a vampire hippie movement. Okay, he wasn’t the biggest bookworm, but hell, Bridget and Jackson hit the books all the time! With all their contacts and information…
“Because our worlds are separate,” Liam said. “Not for everyone, as you know, but for the people like you and Anna it is. Tell me, hunter. Would you hunt us if you knew people like myself and Anna existed?” The vampire placed his can on the coffee table in front of the couch and leaned his arms on his knees.
“Hell, no.” He saw the blue eyes measure his gaze, and saw approval in them.
“It is useful if we all have obvious enemies to fight; it can keep us from ignoring the real enemy.” Piercing blue eyes captured his. “You know who the real enemies are, don’t you, Dylan?”
“I thought I did.” Dylan took a breath and turned around. He removed his hat and scratched his head. He stomped his feet in a display of juvenile exasperation and put his hat back on before facing Liam. “Two months ago, I’d’ve said the monsters, Blackwell, the Feds, you, the League, the Government, the Industrialists. But hell, now I don’t know! The world ain’t what I thought it was!”
“Now I want to make this clear, before this conversation continues.” Anna said sharply. “I know I’m living in your territory, Liam, but Dylan is my charge, that means I say what happens to him. He’s to live a normal, mortal life. I don’t want him dragged into any of your politics, no revolutions, he’s not a tool or a weapon to toss at the next highblood you have a problem with, got it?”
“That would be entirely his decision, wouldn’t it?” Liam replied. “And he and I have an interest in the safety of the citizens of New York, mortal or otherwise.”
“That I do.” Dylan glanced to Anna. “Doesn’t hurt to hear what he has to say, Anna. But I am gonna make it clear, I promised Anna, I’d stay out of trouble.”
“You also told Jason you wanted to hunt Keith Blackwell.” Liam pressed his fingertips together, forming a sharp peak. “Keith Blackwell is not the only Blackwell here in this city. His mortal cousins are here, throwing their money at our city and politicians. One of them is running for Magistrate. Keith has become an enforcer for the League at their request. This is troubling for both the city, its people and my people. Do you know what that means, Anna?”
Anna folded her arms, worry creasing her brow for the first time. “He’s trying to put a Blackwell into the position of sponsor and League Magistrate?”
“I don’t understand. I thought the League controlled the city.” Dylan finally sat heavily on a cushioned chair across from the couch, confused.
“The League lets the rehabilitation center operate because Liam is the highblood who sponsors their office. Registration here isn’t mandatory — that’s one reason we’re called a free city. We’re open to immigration as well,” Anna said.
“Money and successful, independently-funded programs help to quell the violence in the city and convince the Magistrate here to allow us to exist,” said Liam. He smiled thinly. “Other places are not so fortunate. There are… stricter controls on paranormal populations elsewhere.”
“I know.” Dylan threaded his fingers and stretched them. “So highbloods are the old ones like you?”
Liam lowered his head and chuckled bitterly. “Elders for the colonials who invaded this continent yes, ancients like me, no.”
He called the colonials invaders. I wonder what he sees himself as?
And why was he so familiar? Dylan scratched his head. “The Blackwells, are they highbloods?”
“They are a young family,” Liam said. “A proud one, and very powerful. I knew the Elder highblood who founded them. He meant well, and sought to protect values of the foundation of this country. Unfortunately, the Blackwells had other ideas. Like many, they clung to the darker calling of their colonial forefathers: the practice of the ownership of men for the sake of greed.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as if attempting to puzzle out something that bothered him. Then he shrugged, letting his hand drop. “The others should be here soon.”
Anna’s eyes widened. She planted her hands on his hips, annoyed. “What do you mean, others? I appreciate you checking my ward out and not killing him on the spot, but holding a council without my permission in my apartment is not appreciated!”
“Do you want me to show the gentleman out?” Dylan asked as politely as possible, though in truth, he was now very interested in what Liam had to say.
It surprised him when Liam laughed. It was a strong baritone that rattled Dylan’s bones and unsettled him to the core. “Your child has a great deal to learn, but he does have the will of a fighter!”
Child? It was as though Liam already assumed Anna would make him a vampire like her.
“I might not be able to do it, sir, but if the lady wants me to, I’ll sure as hell try.” Dylan kept his voice slow, even, and as gentlemanly as possible. He recalled what Jason had said about Liam. He was a warrior, and respected honor.
Visibly relieved by Liam’s laugh, Anna smiled but shook her head. “That is very sweet of you, Dylan, but unnecessary.”
A heavy knock resonated from the wooden door. Company had arrived. The blonde quickly walked over and opened it, revealing both Jason and Douglas standing there. Dylan was struck by how different they were. Jason was upright, tense, as if ready to spring at any danger, Douglas’s posture was more relaxed, as if going to a dinner date. The professor carried a bouquet of yellow roses. “I apologize for this intrusion, my dear, but he insisted.” Douglas handed her the flowers and kissed Anna on the cheek.
Smiling, Anna pressed her nose into the flowers and breathed deeply into them. “Very kind of you, Douglas, but I’m used to it by now. I did sign on for this, being a part of the Council and all; what I didn’t sign on for was having my ward dragged into it.”
“He won’t be,” Douglas promised; he greeted Dylan with a nod and sat down on the couch next to Liam. “With all that studying he needs to do, he won’t have the time.” He smiled gently at Dylan.
“Professor.” Dylan tipped his hat. “You’d be surprised by how quick I can hit the books, sir.”
“Sorry, Anna, but he started the ball rolling when he asked about Keith, way back when he was still in the hospital,” Jason said. The tall police officer walked to Dylan, and extended a hand. “Dyl, good to see you out and about.”
Dylan gave him a firm handshake. “Good to be out; but I didn’t expect a party, so I guess you found something?” That would explain Liam’s comments about Keith and Blackwell.
Jason’s features darkened with disgust. “I spoke to my contact in Independence. I think you’re right about Keith and Le Hunt. I also think his Uncle arranged for the town to go under the way it did. We’ve had two more child deaths come into the precinct since Angelus and Minami, both of them exsanguinations; one was a Pakistani girl, the other a Latino boy. They were beheaded after their murders — probably to cover up cause of death, but that doesn’t fool modern forensics. I’ve petitioned the League to investigate Keith and they tell me their investigations have them looking elsewhere.”
“We have seen this before.” Liam pressed his fingertips together.
Lost, Anna ran a hand though her hair. “Before my time.”
“Afraid it was before mine too.” Douglas wrinkled his brow. “By the way, will Doctor Smith be here?”
Dylan wondered why. “So when was this ‘before’ you’re talking about?”
“1891,” Jason said. “It was one of my first cases as an immortal. We had a series of killings, all of them poor, all black or immigrant women. The highblood involved considered himself an artist and someone doing a public service, preying on those with ‘low morals’. He even took out a few of our own, mostly revenants, the unwanted, and even the lucky ones who got though the madness.” Jason had opted not to sit; instead he paced, reliving the memory as he spoke. “Undead society isn’t very different than human society. We have our elites. Demon and vampire or demon-vampire crossbreeds are on the top, everyone else is on the bottom. In the end, it all depends on how well you can blend in.”
Dylan noted the anger in his voice. Jason was no stranger to racism and bigotry. And it looked like the undead brought it with them beyond the grave. “What happened?”
“As far as the League is concerned, deaths of the poor, blacks, immigrants, sex workers, ghouls and revenants are pest control. They spoke with him and he moved to Texas. If he had been one of us, he would have been executed.”
The League didn’t sound any different than the government officials his father encountered. Dylan folded his arms. “So, same thing’s happening here?”
“I can’t touch Keith. He’s now working with the League. Not only that, he’s investigating the case. He’s claimed upper Manhattan as his territory, including Harlem. Everything except for SoHo.” Jason stopped pacing for a moment and shot a glance to Dylan. “Blackwell’s mortal kin are trying to buy out properties in the lower-rent districts including SoHo, Harlem and Greenwich Village. If they succeed, they’ll drive us out.”
“Gentrification,” Douglas said with distaste. “That’s all we need. We’ll have quite the battle ahead of us then, lads.”
Dylan wasn’t familiar with the word. He scratched his neck and glanced at Anna hopefully, but she appeared to be lost in the discussion. He had no doubt she knew what gentrification meant.
“Why are they coming here?” Anna twirled a foot, and arched her toe up so it pointed to the ceiling. “Most of us here are artists trying to make a living. We’re not hurting anyone. In fact, we’ve done the exact opposite. Why buy us out?”
“You’ve improved the property, brought in profits, raised the value of the neighborhoods,” Douglas said. “It’s only natural the bigger predators come in to gobble you all up.”
“Territory grabs are common among our kind as well as mortals. This isn’t unusual. The Blackwell family is just attempting to make a statement to their European and Eastern cousins.” Liam stood up and crossed the studio apartment. He lifted a shade and peered out at the city beyond. “The United States has been a battleground for two hundred years. It’s a young and powerful country, and for good or ill, the mortals here succeeded in breeding her own kind of immortal.” He looked over to Anna and Douglas. “They are young, but they are independent and do not like their older, more established ancestors doing business on their hunting grounds.”
“‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door,'” Dylan recited. He remembered memorizing that in grade school. “From what I understand, people came over here to be free of the East India Trading Company, as well as repressive governments and aristocracies. A man could work his way up from nothing in the United States. At least, that was the idea behind our Constitution.” Despite everything he had gone though, Dylan still believed in the Constitution. Sure, people mucked it up, but the document meant something when it was written. “I don’t like the Blackwell family, certainly don’t like the influence they have on things, but I don’t blame them for not wanting to let in the ones who caused this mess in the first place.”
“Just cause? They committed their own atrocities, Dylan.” Liam’s voice was dangerously calm. “They came here to maintain slavery when the rest of the world was starting to abandon the practice. They invaded indigenous lands, enslaved and murdered indigenous people and destroyed their culture. The endeavor was disastrous for anyone who was not of Western decent.”
By the cold anger in his words, Dylan wondered if Liam identified with being indigenous. I suppose he would, if he’s old enough. Or is it something else? “Sir, why do they dislike the European Elders? And how did they make their own kind of immortal?”
“Alchemy was how, with the Franklin Formula, a Philosopher’s Stone. They believed they were protecting this country from the old world’s vampires by becoming its immortal guardians. Why do they dislike the European Elders? It is difficult to gain status and immortality in the European courts. You must be born to royalty, or be related to one of their clans or a Faeish pet. But they were shortsighted, and followed quickly in their European brethren’s footsteps. They neglect most of our people by only paying attention to their own family lines and the industrialists who matter to them. In that, they created their own royalty. They wish to keep out the corruption of the ancients, but they are corrupt themselves.”
The mortal and immortal worlds reflected each other. Dylan closed his eyes and wondered about how many hunters were out culling innocent vampires, revenants and ghouls currently when the real villains sat in government buildings. “And where do you stand in all this?”
“I am my own person, Dylan.” Liam said. “I find my methods for keeping the European ancients out to be sufficient. I don’t need Blackwell’s assistance, nor do I approve of his depraved offspring. I want my city left alone, cull free, and my people at peace. ”
The key words were my city. Liam meant those words.
“Opening up a dialogue with the family would be better than using a child against them,” Douglas said firmly. “Even if he is a revenant, he’s mortal.”
“He’s a hunter, and has a vested interest in this.” Jason leaned against one of the white walls near a Cats poster. “Might even help cure him of his revenant problem.”
Anna gave a sigh of annoyance. “There are other ways of doing this. And he’s my ward! I’m in charge of his welfare!”
“Then understand that as long as Keith Blackwell is alive, and the Redfangs are enforcers, your ward’s life will be in danger. Unless he proves himself to be more trouble than he’s worth.” Liam abruptly turned from the window. “I am afraid this will not be simple for him. The League wants him dead, and I can only do so much to protect him. He’d not a child, he is a hunter.”
As he spoke, the old vampire deliberately studied Anna with cold blue eyes. “You can only protect him for so long, Anna. He’ll have to fight for himself. You understand, as Douglas is so fond of reminding me, we are ultimately, like our human brethren, animals — competing for dominance and position. I have other things to concern myself with, like supporting the community I care for. They need medical care, education, youth programs, jobs, and job workshops. We need to rebuild and we can only do that by make sure the city elders are in line with Jason’s and my vision.”
Dylan lifted a brow. He remembered what Jason told him. Liam was a warrior. He believed one had to prove themselves with a display of power. In the end, it was how vampire society was run. It was all about archaic ideals of honor and proving one’s power – if not economically, or by the elitism of blood, then by sheer physical might. Dylan had neither economic power, nor was he raised with royal blood. He did have tenacity and physical strength, and the willpower to push his way through just about anything. “What are you saying? They’ll just keep coming after me unless I do something to prove my worth?”
“More than worth, Dylan; you have to show them it’s more trouble for them to bother with you than they can afford. You are an outsider, you don’t need to play by our politics; Keith and his gang are fair game to you. You can use that to make a statement.” Liam smiled thinly. Dylan knew the vampire was playing him. The young man felt like a pawn on a chessboard. “I am an old warrior; I understand honor and revenge, such things are easy for me to turn a blind eye towards, even to expect from a fellow warrior living in my territory. Especially if he is providing a just service for the protection of the charges in my community.”
Keith’s victims. Dylan side glanced Jason. The man folded his arms, mocha features grim as he nodded. The cop was just as involved with the hunt, that much was obvious, but was as tied to the politics as Liam. “I can teach you everything I know,” Jason told him.
“I am nae gonna just stand here while the two of ye ignore me!” the Scottish professor shouted as he lunged to his feet and waved a furious hand, his accent becoming overpowering. “Damn it, canna ye see, he’s a lad! I’m nae going to let the two of ye take him and toss him at those beasts! Can’t ye see he’s wrestling with his own demons? Ye dinna do this to revenants! Liam, you of all people understand this! That’s why ye started the Center! Use that cold unbeating heart of yours; I damn well know you’re capable of it! Let the boy be a boy, and save his own soul following a path of peace!”
Frasier barely knew him, yet he had already decided Dylan was worth protecting from the darkness of the world around him. Was it even possible to protect someone like Dylan from men like Keith? How much did Douglas know about the dark forces lurking in the shadows?
Was it Dyl’s job to cling to his humanity or help others to cling to theirs?
A brief glance at Liam told him that was exactly what the elder did. He made the same choices. He had started the Center not for the sake of his own humanity, but for others. He kept Jason and Douglas around because they grounded him, and he recognized Dylan had to make that choice on his own: to continue along the path of peace and humanity, or to protect those who needed to keep theirs – people like Minami, Anna, and Angelus.
“Professor, I can only fight my own demons if I face them,” Dylan said as he turned to Jason. “It’s what I want, Professor Frasier; I’ve been a hunter since I was twelve. I was raised in a militia since I was eight; it’s pretty much all I’ve ever known. I want to protect people.”
“Dylan, don’t rush into this,” Anna said, and gently took his hand into hers. “Sleep on it first, okay?”
“I don’t need to sleep on it, Anna. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for a month.”
“Because you are a revenant!” Douglas snapped in a firm, scholarly tone. “It’s their curse, lad, revenge. The more you let it take you over, guide your choices, the more trapped by it you become!”
Before Dylan could respond, Douglas continued. “And ye’ve been hurt. You haven’t recovered! Now, I dinna know your story exactly, Dylan, but you’ve been in therapy, and you’ve fought hard to get let out. Don’t jump back into the fray!” He then turned to Liam. “If this is a Council meeting, I’m here to put in my vote, which is no, to this affair. Let the boy heal. He’s still alive, he has a chance to free himself.”
“I don’t think this is a Council meeting.” Anna snapped with annoyance. “Is it, Liam? You’ve already made up your mind on this one?”
“Yes, I have,” Liam conceded, “but I thought it would only be fair if the two of you had your say about the child. It is his choice, after all.” Dylan could see Anna wanted to say something cutting in response, but she didn’t; maybe from respect, maybe just from seeing that it would be pointless.
The older vampire rose, then inclined his head to Jason. “I believe I have said all I need. Patrick,” he said, clearly using what must have been Jason’s original name, “send my affections to Kae and Minami. I look forward to their visit!” Looking back, he smiled at Douglas. A hint of softness filled his gaze when he looked at the professor. “I will see you at home, Douglas; we can discuss these matters later, if you wish.” Carefully picking up the ale can, the vampire tossed it into a box next to the garbage bin. “Thank you for the Guinness, Anna.”
With another curt incline of the head, Liam made his way to the door, and was gone. Yet his presence lingered long after he left, and Dylan found himself sitting back down heavily with a sigh of relief.
“Damn Celtic bastard,” Douglas cursed. He swiveled his gaze to look accusingly at Jason. “You bloody well knew this all along, didn’t you?”
“I don’t tell him what to say to people, Doug. You’re the ones with the dysfunctional relationship. I just don’t insist the old man change his way to fit a kinder, fluffier new world. I got nothin’ to do with it. We get along perfectly fine.”
The Scott grumbled another curse, scratched his head and turned away.
“Can’t get too down in the dumps, Douglas; at least he left Dylan alive,” Anna said, consolingly. “And we’re no pushovers; Dylan’s a smart lad. I’m sure he’ll do what’s good for his soul.”
“With Liam’s nephew encouraging him down the other path like a good little copper? No offence, Jason.”
“None taken; but not all of us can be flower children, prof,” Jason said with a sharp grin. The other man didn’t look amused.
“You don’t need to goad him into this!”
“No one is goading him into anything, Doug,” Jason retorted. “You heard the kid. Some of us are just born warriors. You need to accept that.”
Some people were just born warriors. Dylan understood Jason’s thinking. Anna and Douglas weren’t in his world. They didn’t understand. Anna was an artist, and Douglas, from the looks of it, was an academic dweeb, an ivory-tower idealist. “Listen to the man. No one is pushing me into anything,” Dylan said firmly. “Jason is right. Some of us get to be born warriors, and sure as I’m Texan I’m one of them.”
He turned to Anna. “–but I’m not going to rush into it, Anna. You and the Professor are right, there. Keith nearly killed me once. I want to bide my time, make some kind of peace with what happened. And I wanna learn all I can about fighting him, ’cause this is a fight I intend to win.” He looked from face to face, noting the pain on Anna’s features. She was listening, but neither she nor Douglas liked his decision. “This is as much as my world now as it is yours; I can’t go back. And Liam is right too; I have no choice here, I have to make a statement. I’m here to stay and by God no one is gonna mess with me or my friends ever again!”
“Dylan, any path toward violence will turn you into a revenant, even in life!” Anna said insistently. Both Douglas and Jason were gone, and it was just the two of them. “It’s not the path you should be following, not if you want to save your soul.”
It was still difficult to believe a living man could turn into a monster, but Dylan heard real concern in her voice, and she had to know more about this than him. “But if I succeed, then I’ll be free, right? I’ll have destroyed the thing that drives my vengeance. That’s what makes you a revenant. Right?”
“If you don’t die in the process.” The young woman folded her arms and scrutinized him closely. “If you ask me, Dylan, you’re being a fool. You have a life ahead of you. Let it go.”
“Easy for you to say; you left your life behind on purpose — you told me that. It was taken from me, after I was fed a life of lies,” Dylan snapped, feeling a surge of anger. He had made up his mind, after all. Counselor or not, Anna had no right to keep questioning what path he wanted to take. “Like I told you, I’m a warrior. Born one, raised one, and it’s all I’ve ever been, really.”
And he needed to protect her, but that was harder to explain. Dylan looked down at the smaller woman. He had failed to protect Bridget; he needed to make up for all his failures, and that meant he had a lot of making up to do.
“You’re human, Dylan. You can’t take on an awake vampire. I don’t care what half-baked capper Jason’s plotted out, hunter or not, you’re delicate. ”
She was right. He needed superpowers to take on Keith. He wondered what Jason and Liam had planned; he looked forward to the training they had mentioned. Dylan leaned his hip on the back of Anna’s conch. “I trust that Jason knows what he’s doing. He might have weapons and a strategy I can use.”
“Liam picked you because you’re dispensable to him, Dylan,” she said, bluntly, and took his hand again. “Please, listen.”
“I told you, I’m not rushing into this. I’m biding my time. And… maybe you’re right about Liam, but sure as hell I’m not dispensable to Jason. Guy’s a straight-arrow cop, right? Well, for him this is all about catching the bad guy, and taking some sucker and using him as, what, a distraction or bait? That’d make him the bad guy. Just not in him.”
He saw her unwilling nod. He wished Anna could be happy with that, but he supposed he needed to give her more time to come to terms with it. It always took his mom time to come around. At least she wasn’t arguing any more. Dylan squeezed her fingers gently. They were soft, and fit perfectly in his calloused hands. “I’ll be okay, and honestly? I don’t mind being dispensable. It’s my job to protect people and this time, I’m protecting the right people, everyone, not just humans from the bad guys. And I’m stopping Keith from hurting babies.”
The woman bit her lip. “You’re impossible.”
“Yup, that’s me, Mr. Impossible. Stubborn as an ass.” Dylan told her. “But you’ll see, all that worry will be for nothing in the end, ’cause I’m taking it slow and easy. Even if it takes me years to master what Jason has to teach me, I’ll take the years.” He looked out into the night. “Because like they say, revenge is best served cold… and tempered like steel.”