Set early in the family's time together
Nicholas dropped slowly against the wall, sliding down until he rested firmly on the floor, his eyes wanting to close, seeking respite from the image across the dusty, ramshackle cottage. His entire body ached in a way that it had not since his imprisonment in the times of the Crusades, before he had become the creature of the night that he now was. He could still smell burned flesh and the dead, drying blood scent clinging to both he and Janette, as well as the older, cloying scent of the blood of their maker, their vampiric father.
That was the sight he so wished to cut from his senses, the one of Lacroix laying upon the low bed in this place. The elder vampire had been the one caught, for once, in the mob of hysterical villagers. What they had done to him, and what the younger pair had in turn done to reach him in his need, had left Nicholas sick to his very stomach, torturing all his senses as he replayed the violence. Nothing had ever struck him, not even in his worst days as a fighter for God, quite as viscerally as this past night.
Janette was still tending to Lacroix, making certain that the day's sleep would see him healed. There would be hunting that night, to finish the process, but for now, the woman did what was necessary. She would not rest until she had done what she could.
Such devotion, Nicholas thought to himself, carefully hiding that fact from her, would scarcely gain her reward, nor did she do it out of pious devotion of a daughter to a father in their macabre family. No, he knew, she did it from her own well-ingrained sense of preservation. Lacroix cared, in his own fashion, for both of them, but the Roman in him favored a son far more than a daughter. Besides that small quirk of thinking, Lacroix also knew Janette was the 'good child'. She never strayed from them for long, never questioned Lacroix, not on anything that truly mattered. She was his companion, his perfect commentator on their life.
No, it was Nicholas who strayed, both in deed and action. Nicholas was the one who commonly vexed Lacroix by questioning the ways in which they lived and moved about the world, leaving death in their wake.
Nicholas was stirred from his reveries by the weary drop of Janette into the space next to him. He reached out, offering her the solace of the shelter within his arm at his side. She gratefully accepted it, moving in close to him, her hand coming up to rest on his chest, her dark curls matted with filth as she leaned into the shoulder. The blood scent clung to her, as it did to him, a constant irritation that they could do little about until they could get to the spring nearby for water.
A glance at the edges of the door, and he knew that would still be some several hours. The sun had them pinned down in here. They had been lucky to cross through woods considered haunted by the the village they had fled, losing the few hearty souls that had pursued them. This cottage, with its dust and abandoned feel to it, had proven fortuitous enough Nicholas felt a glimmer of hope that perhaps there truly was a God still.
Then the cynic kicked in, and reminded him, haunted or not, the woods had good hunting within them, both boar and stag, so surely someone used the cottage for that purpose at times through the year. The minimal items within certainly attested to the idea of a dedicated purpose, rather than just being the cast off of a Plague lost family.
"You are certain they will not follow?" Janette asked, her voice breaking with the fatigue of the night, strained from the pull of the sun against their need to rest.
"Nothing is certain, but I do not believe they will. We would have heard hounds by now, were they to do so," Nicholas told her, trying to reassure her.
"His love affair with Fortune tonight was sour," Janette commented darkly, a touch of a wry smile on her lips, as she looked over to the cot.
"We all have bad nights," Nicholas answered in the same vein. Easier, he thought, to make light of it. Lacroix would heal, faster than either of them would have, and with a sure thirst for vengeance. Come the evening, or maybe the one after, the former Roman general would take them back to that village.
Depending on his mood, Lacroix would take a night, a week, perhaps even a month, but that village would pay for the indignities heaped on them, on himself specifically.
Maybe it was that which bothered Nicholas down deep within his soul, if he still had such a thing. They had survived, and killed quite a few people in doing so. More would die just to be certain their injuries fully healed, especially for Lacroix's needs. But it would not be enough. It never really was.
Nicholas looked down at Janette to find her asleep, which helped him decide that such thoughts could wait for the night, as the darkness suited them more.
Dark was full and deep when Nicholas came back around to conscious thought, his body still stiff and feeling as if he had been on a rack in a Saracen's dungeon. Beside him, Janette still slept, a rarity. She was older, more accustomed to rising first. Her injuries must have been deeper than he thought, from their escape, to drain her that much.
However, Lacroix was awake, though still not moving swiftly. The eldest of their small family had shifted on the cot, which must have been what pulled Nicholas back out of his sleep. The younger man watched as Lacroix sat up, inspecting his body where the wounds had been.
"You did well, Nicholas, in getting us to safety," Lacroix said, his voice filled with pride.
"Janette reached you first," Nicholas felt obligated to say, shifting away from her carefully so he could rise and stretch. She moved willingly, still not quite conscious, as he did so. "I merely provided the path of retreat."
"Be that as it may, you acted quickly, decisively." Lacroix rose from the cot, inspecting their haven of the day.
"That has never been my weak point," Nicholas told him flatly.
The elder vampire looked his way, smirking once he had appraised the younger one. "Perhaps." His eyes flicked over Janette, then took in Nicholas again. "A close escape, I would say, but an escape nonetheless."
Nicholas knew what was coming next, knew his thoughts of the morning were about to be revealed as the plan of action for the coming evenings.
"I believe, Nicholas, we shall move on to the next town," Lacroix told him. "Agreed?"
There were nights, Nicholas thought, that he truly did not fully understand Lacroix. This broke with all established history for them. "Yes."
It took all the way until after Nicholas had gone for water to clean with for him to realize; perhaps this was Lacroix's idea of a reward.
The mere thought of it, though, made him shake his head. It was probably just Lacroix trying to keep him off balance.