Disclaimer: As always nothing belongs to me and everything to the people who created the wonderful characters I’m playing with.
A/N: A big thank you goes to everyone who reviewed the last part of this series. You people always tickle these stories out of me that I would never write otherwise and for that you all deserve a hug. I hope you like this part as much as you did the last three, although it’s different.
As always, reviews and/or cookies would be very nice, these are, after all 4788 words. That’s lots and lots, ya know.Promises
Jean-Claude stood, hidden from casual view only three tables away from Anita. He watched her as she waited for him to arrive. She was eyeing almost everyone who passed her table, always suspicious, always ready to fight for her life. There was a movement to her, a constant change, a carnival of mortal hurry that made Jean-Claude dizzy sometimes.
Dizzy because she was never still, never at peace. Anita without something to fight, even if it was only herself, was not Anita. It was one of the things that almost drove him crazy about her from time to time. There were other things that he admired, even loved her for in his own way.
Jean-Claude’s love was never perfect and never what it was supposed to be, but it was all he had to give, all that was left of him. It had been enough once upon a time, enough for her
, who knew about heartbreak and pain and still managed to hold her head high.
He loved Anita’s strength and the fierceness with which she protected what she considered to be hers. He loved how she never let others fight her battles and always found her own way through the messes that were thrown at her.
There were moments when he could almost see blonde instead of black and green instead of brown, when he looked at her. Because truth was, never in 400 years had he met anyone so much like the woman he once loved with all of his heart. Maybe one was the reason he loved the other, but he liked to believe that it were merely their character traits that drew him to them, and not the similarities between them.
Because he knew the pain that came from being loved because you might have, could have been someone else.
Whatever the reason, some part of his heart clung to this mortal woman who denied him at every turn and never gave in without a fight. He touched the small box inside his coat pocket, almost gently caressing the velvet.
There weren’t many things he had kept from her
. He suspected that Asher had hidden away a lot more, somewhere halfway across the world, because Asher had always believed that she would come back to them one day.
That hope, that unbearable hope was the reason he had kept the tiny piece of silver and ruby inside the box. He had once made a promise and he had wanted to keep it so desperately. Almost a century had passed before he had given up his foolish hopes and angrily thrown the pendant across the room, fighting the tears that threatened to fall.
A lot of his love had turned to anger that night and his heart to ice and all because of her
He didn’t know why he had kept the pendant until now, but as he had dressed tonight he had remembered it and suddenly it had seemed right to give it to Anita. Maybe to prove himself that he was over her
, or maybe to prove Anita that he loved her. He doubted that she would understand the importance of the silver jewelry tough. Maybe it was her
he wanted to prove something. Look at me now, look at me and see that I can hate you.
He didn’t hate her, not really, not deep down. He wanted to, sometimes because it would make living easier but in the end he couldn’t. He had done as she asked of him a moment before she faded out of his world, their
world. He had lived and become strong and he had tried to forget her. He had tried because she asked him to and she always knew what was best for him.
It had taken him so long to figure out that it was the forgetting that hurt the most. Still, he tried. For her. It was always about her and what she had asked of him, the only thing she had ever asked of him in all their years together.
He couldn’t hate her, but he could be angry at her, because she had made him weak again, because she had left him, hurt and alone and not matter how hard he tried, he could never fulfill the only thing she asked of him.
He could not forget her.
Anita finally looked in his direction and spotted him, a smile stealing across her face, making her brown eyes sparkle and Jean-Claude caught himself wishing for them to be green.Green like a cat’s eyes, she stares at him, across the heads of a hundred arrogant vampires and servants that live in their decadent world, holding him a prisoner for nothing but their own entertainment.
Jean-Claude does not know what made him look up from where he is standing beside his mistress, but he quickly regrets it as green eyes catch his own, flitting across the room. What he sees in those eyes makes the blood in his veins freeze.
He learned long ago that it is never good when someone is interested in him. Serephina was interested in him, because he is such a treat to the eye and makes a lovely accessory. She took him away from his last master and made him hers. He suppresses a quiet shudder, because it is never good to be noticed, to be wanted. The people in this room do not ask for what they want, they take it like they own the world and maybe they do.
They own him.
A smile steals across her doll like face and Jean-Claude cannot stand to look any longer. He turns away, his eyes searching for another point in the room to focus on, a way to escape this place, if not physically, then at least mentally.
Like a caged animal his eyes dart around the room, never focusing, never drawing attention, looking for something, anything and maybe a way to become invisible.
The vampire that comes up to Serephina only moments later is tiny, a girl of barely eight, on the outside. It is forbidden to make children into vampires and at another time, another place this might have sent a shudder down Jean-Claude’s spine. Not now though. Now he needs all the horror he has for himself, because somehow he knows that the moment he stops being horrified by the things that are done to him, a part of him will die.
“My mistress wishes to speak to you”, she informs Serephina in a high pitched children’s voice and fast French, but with the seriousness of an adult. Jean-Claude doesn’t have to follow the line of her tiny finger pointing at her ‘mistress’ to know who wants to speak to them.
Serephina gives a tight nod and follows the little vampire out of the brightly lit room into a long and cold corridor. The whole castle is cold. Cold and old with the stench of centuries of bloodplay and humiliation etched into every stone, or at least that is what Jean-Claude feels as he follows his own mistress to a place where he never wants to be.
He does not pay much attention to the way they take and so he doesn’t know how long they walked through the cold before a heavy wooden door opens in front of them. The three of them enter and the door closes behind him, swiftly to keep the chill outside and Jean-Claude eyes the room in wonder.
It has nothing of the cold that whispers through the rest of the castle. It is a warm place, full of light and candles. Full of love
he wants to call it, but he doesn’t.
She is sitting on the giant bed in the middle of the room, carefully unbraiding her waist length blond tresses. Her eyes meet his once more, green like a cat’s but so much more in the soft light.
Green like the grass of spring in the morning, as he remembers it, green like new leaves, green like hope.
He shakes the thought off and shoves it into the farthest corner of his mind because hope will only be disappointed and there is no fouler taste than that of hopes betrayed. Her eyes are green like a cat’s because cats are predators and thinking anything else would be to invite anguish into that place inside of him, where he hides whenever the walls are closing in on him.
He forces himself to listen to the French exchange between two master vampires, his eyes fixed on a spot over the bed. He knows what is going to happen now. An informal meeting in the Mistress’ bedroom, with him present. He has seen this too many times already.
“En anglais, s’il vous plait, oui?”
That catches his attention. The Council speaks French and the Council is the Mother and the Mother is God in this godless world of terror and blood, where compassion is a word for fairy tales. Asking to speak English instead of French is to break with protocol. Serephina seems to be as stunned as he is because she asks bluntly, although in English, “Why would we speak English, my Lady?”
“Because we are on my land and you do as I say?” She makes it more a suggestion than a command, but the reminder is obvious. She rules here. Serephina is not happy with the decision, but she is a weak master and she knows her boundaries. And everybody knows the reputation of the beautiful blonde standing before them.
She is old, so old that nobody remembers who made her or where she came from.
Still Jean-Claude can see Serephina’s discomfort because knowing every nuance, every shade of her is the only way to stay on top, or at least away from the bottom of this game that was forced on him the night he was taken from the light of day forever, with a promise of even brighter things to come, though they never did.
It is Serephina who gives in first, made strong only by his pain and weak in front of the remainder of the world. She nods in acceptance and formally asks for the reason of this meeting.
Still focusing on the wall beyond the bed, Jean-Claude feels her
eyes searing holes into him more than he sees them. Still, he knows that they are there, and what more does he need? Much, so much.
“You have something in your possession that I would like for myself.”
Right in front of him. She calls him a possession in his presence, not giving a damn about him or his feelings or his opinion of her because he is nothing. A bitter whipping boy, a hollow toy a distraction when the nights get too long and eternity too boring.
Sometimes Jean-Claude wishes he still had it in him to hate. One day, maybe, he promises himself, he will find the strength to hate and then his vengeance will be horrible, but until this day he needs all the energy he has to keep his walls from crumbling and his heart from tumbling to the ground, waiting for someone, anyone, to stomp on it.
“What would you be willing to give for him, Lissbeth? For he is a beautiful way to pass time.” Her words aren’t what stings the most. It’s the intimate smile that one woman sends another, telling of things that even vampires only do in the darkest of nights.
Lissbeth nods her head in agreement and Serephina never wastes an opportunity. She points at the pendant dangling between the other woman’s breasts and Jean-Claude takes a closer look to see what he is worth, this time.
The pendant is a silver sun with a tiny ruby set in the middle, just big enough to catch the warm glow of the candles spread across the room. But it is crafted in a way that he has never seen, so fine, almost fragile, something that would be fit for a queen, if it were gold. But then, that’s what they call her, the servants and the weak ones, when they think no one is listening; Queen of the Dark.
Some say she is a witch, or a seer, a creature of old, hiding amongst the vampires. But no matter what they think of her, they all fear her. Unpredictable, the voices whisper, insane.
Lissbeth shakes her head slowly, but with a finality that does not tolerate any argument, “It was the last gift my sister ever gave me. It holds more value to me than anything you can offer.”
Serephina is not happy so she tries again, “But he is so pretty.” As she says it she reaches back to stroke his chest and he can’t help the flinch that escapes him. The blonde’s eyes narrow on him and again she shakes her head.
She is a cat, a predator with green eyes and there is no pity in them, no hope, no spring grass. Unpredictable
Again Serephina searches the room for something that would be worth giving up the pleasure, the fun, his presence can give her. She finds it, standing half hidden by shadows close to another door. The man is tall and proud, with the eyes of the beast he carries inside of him and obviously a guard.
“Him”, she whispers, barely audible, spellbound by the images of red blood running over this shifter’s skin that Jean-Claude knows are dancing in front of her mind’s eye. Again the Mistress shakes her head, her eyes showing nothing of what she feels inside, if she even feels.
“He is mine, Serephina. My animal to call, mine to possess, mine to protect. I will not give you a life for a life.”Mine to protect.
The words ring in Jean-Claude’s ears, whispering to him of possibilities and hopes that he, once more, shoves away brutally before they can take solid form. Green like the cats’ she can call, not anything else.
“But it would be fair. Very fair.”
“I rule here. You are here on my sufferance. Don’t you think it is a great gift from me to not demand this vampire of yours as a tribute? I could take him from you without any effort Serephina. I only offer to repay you because I would hate to have him think that he is worth nothing more than being tribute.”
Jean-Claude blinks, cocking his head to one side, trying to understand the words he just heard. Why would he be worth more than this? Why would she care? Is this a game, to gain his trust and then shatter his heart? So many questions and not a single answer in those greengreengreen eyes.
“But as it is, I am not willing to give you more than you deserve.” She turns to the cat and asks him in rapid French to fetch Asher. He nods and leaves through the door he guarded before.
Standing behind Serephina, trying to keep the mask of beautiful nothing that saved him so many times in place Jean-Claude wonders how Asher landed here. The two men met, both young and ridden by the Ardeur, at the Council, years and years ago.
Asher is the direct opposite of Jean-Claude, blonde and bright where Jean-Claude is black and dark, strong where Jean-Claude is too weak to fight for himself. They both served the same Master for a decade or two and competition kept them from more than tolerating each other, always afraid to be cast aside.
They wait silently, one master angry the other expressionless until the door opens once more and in peeks the tiny vampire that led Jean-Claude and his mistress to this very room. She enters without being given permission and climbs onto the bed. Asher enters next and Jean-Claude can see the blonde man’s eyes widen slightly as he recognizes him. The cat comes last, closing the door behind the newcomers and taking up his post again.
Asher turns to Lissbeth, “You asked for me?”
“Yes. Be so kind and make sure that Serephina and her people are off my lands by sunset tomorrow.”
Asher nods and Serephina growls low in her throat with indignation, “You cannot expect us to travel during daylight hours! We need our coffins! I will not be cast aside like that. I offer you Jean-Claude as tribute but you cannot make me leave before sunset tomorrow. The Council would not tolerate it!”
Jean-Claude allows a grim smile to flicker across his face. Of course Serephina would not be angry about losing him, but concerned with her own safety. He is nothing and she is a master vampire. If he is to be tribute, then he will be tribute and no one bothers to ask him.
Asher catches his gaze across the room and sends him a small smile in return that Jean-Claude cannot read. Lissbeth swats the other vampire’s complaints aside like flies.
“I can and I do expect you to travel during daylight hours. Our kind does have no need for coffins, when will you learn that? All you need is darkness and a carriage holds enough of that for you and your people. And the Council does not rule here, Serephina. I do and you would do good to remember that.”
Her voice does not rise, does not change, but there is something in her words that makes the weaker of the two masters turn and wordlessly leave the room, followed closely by Asher. She does not even turn to look at him one last time, only glares over her shoulder at the blonde that already turned her back to the display of helpless anger.
Suddenly she turns back to the closing door, “Oh, and Asher? Make sure she leaves his things.”
He nods and the door closes. Serephina is gone and Jean-Claude once more has a new master to please. In less than an hour his life was once more turned upside down and no one ever asked him what he thinks about it all.
And now, now he stands and waits for Lissbeth to tell him what to do, to give him orders and try to break him. Instead she turns to the child vampire and asks, “How was your night, my sweet?”
The small vampire grabs the taller woman’s hands and squeezes them lightly, “Oh, terrible Lizzy, terrible. All those people, they are so old and stiff and quite humorless. I think I scare them.”
“Of course you do, Valentina. They are like humans, always scared of what they cannot understand. They are sheep, all of them. Now, do me a favor, leave me and our new guest alone, please? We’ll take a walk in the garden tomorrow and then you can tell me all about tonight, yes?”
The small vampire nods eagerly and skips to the door, grabbing the shifter’s hand as she goes and pulling him out of the room behind her. Jean-Claude just stands there trying to understand what he just saw. A feared master vampire holding hands with a vampire that should not be allowed to exit, nicely asking things from her and promising her a walk in the garden? There is no trace of protocol between the two, no trace of the usual relationship between Master and servant. Lissbeth acted almost....loving.
She turns around, interrupting his thoughts with a smile, “Why don’t you sit with me?”
Jean-Claude moves automatically to obey a given order, but his mind is still trying to work through... loving. It is a concept he thought lost the day his mother sold him to the aristocrat family that raised and fed him until his untimely death at the hands of something infinitely beautiful and cruel.
It’s what they all are, beautiful and cruel, surreal and bored with their very existence. The woman sitting beside him is no exception. She is the cat, the predator, a kitten, chasing the mouse, playful and cruel at once.
“Asher said your name was Jean-Claude, is that right?”
He nods wordlessly. No one gave him permission to speak and he will not offer an opportunity to be punished. Not that creatures like the one next to him have to wait for opportunities to do whatever they want to.
“So you are French then, oui? We can talk in French if you would like that better.”
It takes all his courage to look up into her green eyes without flinching and a lot of the proud anger he thought he learned to control long ago to speak.
“Why do you ask me what I like? Why do you pretend to care?”
Instead of the punishing pain he expects she smiles at him. A sad little smile and suddenly there is nothing cold about her anymore. It’s like a mask feel away from her, chipped away the ice that covered her very being and suddenly she is alive. There is a vibrancy and a warmth to her that seems almost blasphemous for one of their kind.
Her eyes are just those of a girl now, holding wisdom beyond her years. The predator is swimming far down, almost gone from her look and suddenly she is spring grass and hope all over again and this time Jean-Claude doesn’t have it in him to stay distant.
The temptation to believe is too great and his desperate wish for something real, something painless outweighs his fear.
He watches her as she spreads her arms wide and falls backward until she is lying flat on her back, hair fanning out like a halo and he never wanted to believe
as badly as he does now, watching her look up at him from long lashes. There is no reserve in her, no judgement.
It would be so easy to fall into her and never come up for air again.
They wait in silence for what Jean-Claude isn’t sure, just staring at each other. He might be waiting for the cat to resurface and attack and she seems to be waiting for nothing at all.
It is the opening of the door that shatters his thoughts. Asher is back and softly closes the door behind him.
Lissbeth does not sit up but lifts her head to send him a dazzling smile, “Is the hag gone?”
Asher returns her smile and nods, “I sent her off with a guard of cats, if that is alright. To make sure she leaves without a stop.”
She nods and lets her head drop back down, “Sure. Thank you. Could you find Jean-Claude a room?”
It is Asher’s turn to nod, “There is one beside mine and Julianna’s that is empty. I’ll have it prepared.”
“Talking about Julianna, how was your night in town? I was surprised when Valentina told me you were back already.”
“We heard that a vampire hunter had come to town and Julianna would not stay another minute. She was too scared for me.” He looks a little sheepish and a lot in love as he says it and that might be the biggest surprise of all tonight, because Jean-Claude knows from experience how very closed up and private Asher usually is.
Lissbeth laughs, “Oh, she is right. There is no need to provoke a hunter. They always have friends and I don’t want a bloodbath.”
With a chuckle Asher leaves for the last time this night and once more Jean-Claude is alone with his new mistress.
“You look surprised.”
He looks down at her, startled out of deep thoughts and she once again smiles that warm smile that makes it so easy to believe.
“I have never seen a lesser vampire act the way Asher just did and not get punished for it.”
“Why should I punish him?”
“He was disrespectful?” He makes it a question, because suddenly nothing is sure anymore and nothing seems carved in stone anymore. It scares him a little.
“I want respect when I deserve it. My power alone does not make me better than anyone else. Why should I command someone when asking can get me a lot farther? We only have one rule here, do you know what it is?”
He shakes his head no.
“Stay true to yourself and don’t hurt your own. We are family here, vampires, shifters and humans and we help each other.“
He jumps to his feet and throws his hands in the air, helplessly and frustrated, “But why? Why would you be so different from all the others? Why would you care when no one else does? You cannot be telling me the truth, because if this were real...”
He trails off, shocked down to his toes by his own words and unwilling to end his sentence. And again he waits. Waits for the pain to come and this dream to end but it doesn’t.
“If this is real then what?”
He looks away and listens to the rustling of clothes and sheets and she climbs to her feet and comes to stand in front of him.
“What if this is real?”
He looks down at her, because she is so much smaller than him and he sees nothing in those green eyes that is cold.
“Then I can hope”, he whispers into the silence, closing his eyes and waiting for this wonderful illusion to end.
After a long time he hears a tiny snap and then she pulls on his left hand, pulling it up and opening it. She presses something hard and cool into his palm and closes his fingers around it, holding his hand in her own two.
He opens his eyes and looks down at their joined hands. It startles him how natural they look together. One of the hands slowly moves upwards and pulls his face to meet her eyes.
“I see that you cannot take my word on this. Take this gift from me and with it my promise that I will never hurt you. And in return promise me that you will return it to me once you feel you don’t need it anymore. Give it back to me when you feel strong enough to face this world alone and I will let you go.”
With that she lets go of his hand and ignoring the wonderment in his eyes she glides over to the door and opens it soundlessly, “I’ll send someone to show you to your room.”
And then she is gone and Jean-Claude is alone in her room with nothing but himself and her gift. Slowly he opens his hand and what he finds pulls a gasp from his throat.
In the palm of his hand lies a silver sun with a tiny ruby set in the middle, just big enough to catch the warm glow of the candles spread across the room. It holds more value to me than anything you can offer.
Closing his eyes once more Jean-Claude squeezes the pendant tightly in his hand and feels a hope so big blossom inside of him, it’s like he has to burst.And this time he doesn’t try to stop it.
Anita waved again and Jean-Claude shook his head to clear it of memories that still made him hold his breath after centuries.
Shoving the small velvet box deeper into his pocket he made a decision. He wasn’t ready to give the pendant away. Not now and maybe not ever. He had promised that night that he would return it to her when he felt strong enough to face this world alone, although back then he hadn’t believed that he ever would.
He was strong now and even if he would never get the chance to fulfill his promise it felt wrong to give it to someone else, even if this someone held a part of his heart.
Giving the box a last gentle stroke of his long fingers he moved towards Anita, smile firmly in place knowing that she would never notice a thing. She would probably be pissed at him for standing there and watching her, never knowing that he hadn’t seen her at all.
He had promised her an ordinary date, like an ordinary couple and this promise was one he could keep.
And he would, even if her eyes would never have the color of spring grass and new hope. Even if she would never sit completely motionless for hours just to suddenly smile at him so brightly he felt like he had found the sun again.
Jean-Claude always tired to keep his promises..:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:. .:.
Promise me no promises,
So will I not promise you:
Keep we both our liberties,
Never false and never true:
Let us hold the die uncast,
Free to come as free to go:
For I cannot know your past,
And of mine what can you know?
You, so warm, may once have been
Warmer towards another one:
I, so cold, may once have seen
Sunlight, once have felt the sun:
Who shall show us if it was
Thus indeed in time of old?
Fades the image from the glass,
And the fortune is not told.
If you promised, you might grieve
For lost liberty again:
If I promised, I believe
I should fret to break the chain.
Let us be the friends we were,
Nothing more but nothing less:
Many thrive on frugal fare
Who would perish of excess.
- Promises Like Pie-Crust by Christina Georgina Rossetti