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The Artist

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She was an artist.

From the first moment I laid eyes on her, I knew. It was impossible not to see. It was impossible not to be drawn to the magic of her long, slim fingers, working over the clay before her, sculpting and molding and drawing something from nothing with the delicacy of a mother bird creating its nest. Powerful and sure. Intricate. Knowing.

She wasn’t what I expected. First and foremost, she was older than most girls who were called. When I first saw Lizet, it was just two days before her nineteenth birthday. It was justified later that she had been overlooked as a Chosen possibility because of her age, but I always wondered as to the veracity of that. In retrospect, I liked to believe that she had been left unsullied by Council hands for as long as she had so that her own could continue to create their masterworks, that the Powers that gave our coven the divination capabilities to locate the potentials had this one time deliberately turned a blind eye. Romantic falderal, I know. Still, had they seen her work, I remain convinced that it was all too great a possibility.

She didn’t believe me when I approached her, of course. She looked at me with those serious brown eyes, unwavering and silent, and then just shook her head and continued walking away from the school, as if I was someone who had stopped to ask for directions and she the person unable to aid me. I chased after her---it seemed chasing after Lizet would be my greatest pastime for the next six months---but before I could stop her, she had disappeared around the corner of a building, and I was left gaping and panting and wondering if perhaps the Council had made a mistake.

I didn’t dare say anything to them about my inefficacy. I had been given this assignment because I had begged for it, using my mother’s French heritage as my primary selling point, and it was inconceivable for me to express even a hint of failure. I would be remanded to duties far beneath my talents, a fate I was not ready to begin imagining, so I girded myself to try again, and to continue trying until I was able to convince Lizet that yes, she was the Slayer, the Chosen One among all the world to serve and protect mankind from the threat of vampires and their demon brethren.

Looking back, perhaps it wasn’t particularly wise of me to bend the Council’s mandate to my own intent. The wording I proposed to Lizet made me sound even more pompous than I already appeared; it truly was no wonder that she chose to ignore me so.

I returned to her school the second day, the book of vampire lore tucked safely beneath my arm, my chin held high as I followed her to her classes. She was a teacher where once she had been a student, taken on well before she would have in any other setting. But this was Paris, and it was the early twenties, and being an artist of talent meant one was properly rewarded. Even if one was a woman. Perhaps, especially because one was a woman.

I waited, and watched, and I learned more about Lizet Michaud in those hours in her classroom than I had from the Council’s reports on the entire trip over to the Continent. I learned she spoke little, but said much when she did. I learned that she was slow to give praise, judging her own work even more harshly than she did her students. I learned that in spite of her easy dismissal of my claims the previous day, she was gifted with the ability to see all that surrounded her, to notice that which should’ve been beyond her ken, as only a true Slayer would or could. She saw me surveying her in her domain, and by the time her session was complete, I questioned just who was learning from whom.

Students lingered long after the class was over, and it was nearly an hour past its end before we were finally alone. Ignoring me, she removed the apron that covered her dress, hanging it up on a hook by the door before reaching for her coat. It was then that I saw the flash of wood in its pocket.

“You know!” I exclaimed, rushing forward. In my haste, I knocked into a display of small busts, but before the clay could explode into dust on the floor, she was there, grabbing the shelf’s edge to right it again, staring at me with those luminous brown eyes that would haunt me long after they were gone.

“You know,” I repeated, quieter this time. Not moving. I didn’t want to risk breaking anything more that might be of value to her.

“I know many things,” she said. Her contralto was heavily accented, but her usage of English at least convinced me that she’d understood me the previous day, that she hadn’t just wandered off because I was a babbling Brit she couldn’t make heads nor tails of. “Why are you here?”

“I told you. I---.”

“No. Why are you here?”

When she gestured to the classroom around us, I hesitated. “Because…you’re here,” I replied. “I’m to be your Watcher.”

Her slim brows arched. “You…watch. That is all? Why?”

I shoved the book I’d brought toward her, but just as yesterday, she ignored it. “I’m to be your teacher. Train you. Prepare you for the fight against evil. It’s your destiny, Mademoiselle Michaud. You cannot deny it.”

I was met with silence. Her fingers slowly did up the buttons on her coat, and I found myself watching them intently, fascinated with their agility and the memory of how they’d floated above the clay as she stood at the head of the class. Her strength was undeniable, but so was her grace. Lizet could be great, if she would only listen to me. I believed that I could make her great.

“You come tomorrow,” she said, and turned away.

I scurried to follow. “Do all your classes run this long?” I asked. “Should I plan on coming at this time?”

“You will be late if you do.”

“Pardon?”

“I am also a teacher. If you wish me to learn, then so must you.”

She didn’t even look back to see me gaping at her. How could I know that this refusal to catechize her strikes would be the reason I would ultimately lose her?

* * *

For that first class, I arrived thirty minutes early, expecting to find her alone. I was wrong. When I opened the door, she was stretched before a pedestal that had been hidden the previous day by a draped sheet. A tall, graying man stood behind her, guiding her hands with an intimacy that made me shiver, and when their enmeshed fingers slid over a particularly sleek curve of the statue, caressing the cold as if it belonged to a lover, Lizet sighed.

I, however, was holding my breath.

The man noticed me first, when he stepped back to allow her to reach for some unseen tool. As he leaned in to whisper something unintelligible in her ear, there was a second where I regretted my overeager capacities, and wished desperately to sink through the floor. But then she tilted her head to glance back at me, and I saw the welcome in those brown eyes, and we both nodded---almost simultaneously---in greeting.

It was our first lesson. We never spoke of it, not even when she finally introduced me to Emile. It wasn’t that day; he slipped out immediately after my arrival and I didn’t see him again for nearly a week. He was her mentor, and more, though that was never said aloud by anyone. She simply called me a “friend.”

My efforts in that first class were laughable, though Lizet never cracked a smile as she explained to me where I’d gone wrong. She didn’t even offer me any additional notice, which was mildly disappointing, but I shrugged it off as merely being her nature. I didn’t allow her to dismiss me afterward, though, and made arrangements to meet her outside the school at sunset. I wanted to see what her natural instincts were prior to starting our training. It wasn’t the standard procedure for the Council, but considering my already unorthodox relationship with my Slayer, I reasoned that standard was perhaps not my best option.

She was late, and I clutched the stake more tightly in my hand as I began to pace before the doors. My field experience was limited, my primary deficiency when I’d been presenting my case for appointment to the Council, and I was feeling its effects as I waited. Perhaps I’d been too hasty. Perhaps Lizet wasn’t ready to trust me; perhaps I needed to take a more forceful approach.

And then she appeared, and I realized I’d never even heard her come up. Her stealth, at the very least, was impressive.

“You’re late,” I said, pulling myself straighter.

She was unfazed by my presumed austerity. “I do not wish to fight,” she replied.

“You have no choice. You’re the Chosen One.”

Shaking her head at the irony of my assertion, she withdrew the stake I had seen in her pocket and held it out to me, the point aimed at her stomach. “My hands were meant to create beauty. I will not create death.” When I didn’t take the weapon, she let it fall to the ground. “I will not create death,” she repeated, and turned on her heel to walk away.

“Then you’ll die,” I called out after. I was determined not to lay chase again. It was one of the few times I actually adhered to that avowal. “And so will hundreds of innocents.”

Though she didn’t stop, her step did falter, and as the darkness swallowed her up, I took great pleasure in realizing that I’d finally managed to get her to hear me, even if it was only for a few brief seconds.

* * *

She was an artist.

She proved that every day in her classroom. There were moments when she would forget the students, forget that she was there not for herself but for them, forget everything but the pliable contour of her clay and the shapes that would emerge beneath her touch. In those moments, I found it impossible not to get lost with her, and hated for fractions of seconds that stretched into perpetuity why it was I was there in the first place. Lizet had a gift, and I was there to snatch her away from it, from what she loved.

But those seconds were destroyed by minutes where I remembered my duty, hardened my resolve to make her the best Slayer the Council had ever seen. I was nothing if not vain; I wanted her to be my greatest creation.

A week of my dogged attendance made her bend like a willowy reed in the breeze. On the eighth day, she came up to me after everyone else had gone, solemn and drawn, and without a word, lifted her skirt to reveal her bare leg. It was bruised and scraped, and there were two distinct fang marks on her slim calf.

“When?” I rushed to say, dropping to my knee to examine the injury more closely.

We were both heedless of my impropriety, and Lizet winced as I poked and prodded in my examination. “Last night,” she said. “They were not there, and then…they were.”

“How many?”

“Three.”

And yet she’d walked away. Pride swelled inside my chest, though of course, I’d had nothing to do with this particular victory of hers. It was conceit that this Slayer would forever be attached to my name, her triumphs mine just as much as hers, and the confirmation that I’d been seeking as to the correctness of my presence was rooted.

“Why show me?” I couldn’t resist asking the question. “You seemed determined not to acknowledge your role.”

“I do not wish to die.” Her eyes met mine, unfathomable and dark. “And I am not the only one who is so resolute.”

We agreed to another meeting outside of class, this time at the location she’d been attacked. I wished her to show me the details of her fight, though her recalcitrance to return was more than apparent.

“You must face your fear,” I assured her. “Your fear can become your greatest weapon if you can learn to wield it properly.”

She was disbelieving, but I ignored it, leaving the building with a lighter step and more buoyant heart. I was on my way to my goal; I could dispense with the bogus reports I’d created to send along to the Council to cover my inability to convince Lizet to train. None of that was necessary now.

* * *

We began slowly, with just as many lectures on the nature of vampires and demons as there were sparring sessions. I was fortunate; Lizet had been raised to be cautious of creatures of the night, and knew from an early age the fundamentals in what it took to destroy them. It made me curious about her family, but I knew they were long gone. Lizet had been on her own since she’d turned sixteen. It was one reason why she was so dependent upon Emile and her teaching.

Her hands’ natural agility was enhanced by her Slayer abilities, but it was her speed that proved her greatest asset. It was also my biggest nightmare. Lizet would bolt and be gone before I could tell her not, and I would be left chasing after a ghost. Once, that was actually literal. When I spoke to her about it, though, chastising her for her inconsideration in leaving me in potential danger, she just gazed at me with those liquid brown eyes, unflappable and serene, and said, “Then you must run faster.”

In spite of excelling at my lessons, Lizet detested slaying. There was never the joy I’d been told some Slayers experienced, the euphoria that could unhinge even the most adept of those that had been Chosen. She killed vampires with nary a smile, nary a word. There were even nights where she would meet me at sunset, spend several hours walking the streets and cemeteries of Paris, and then leave again without ever having opened her mouth.

She insisted I keep attending her classes. Whenever I forewent a session, she failed to appear for our nightly meeting, and I would go off in search of her, only to find her either at her art or with Emile. He would sit back and laugh at me while I ranted about her duty, but refused to offer his aid in controlling Lizet. Perhaps if he wasn’t my senior, I might’ve been able to stand up to him a little more vociferously. He had the potential to be my most valuable ally, but his only care was my Slayer. Oh, and her art. He was always coaxing her to sculpt rather than slay. I don’t believe he was ever truly aware of just how important the mission was.

The night he disappeared was the first time I ever saw Lizet display anything but the most reserved of emotions. We had shortened our patrolling because Emile had insisted on escorting her to some showing of an artist I had never heard of, but when we arrived at his lodging, there was no answer at the door.

“Perhaps I misunderstood,” Lizet said calmly.

We left then to where the showing was occurring, but after a lengthy search of the premises, neither of us could find any hint that Emile had ever arrived. By this point, Lizet was beginning to become agitated, her normally placid countenance evidencing the siege that was her emotions. Tight-lipped, she dragged me back to his home, and flew up the stairs to break down his door, leaving me breathless and haggard as I fought to follow.

I walked in on a scene we had witnessed many a night together, though not of one we knew intimately. His blood was spattered everywhere, his body broken and twisted. Multiple fang marks blotted his flesh, and I looked away when Lizet fell to her knees at his side, blind to the blood in which she knelt. My eye was drawn to a bust that lay in pieces near the door, and recognized the slope of Lizet’s nose in the marble, the curve of her cheek. Both were now stained with scarlet.

She was babbling as she held him to her breast, French so fast that I couldn’t understand it all, but when I attempted to step away, her head shot around to fix me with a fevered glare. “Search,” she demanded. “Find them.”

I nodded. What else was I to do? She was inconsolable in that moment, and were I to disagree, I had no doubt that she would take her grief out on me.

I searched. I found nothing.

She was silent when I returned from my hunt around the building, her face drawn. No longer did she hold Emile’s body. Instead, she stood in the window, staring down at the streets of Paris. The room was otherwise empty.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Gone,” she said.

My mind immediately attached to the most virulent option, and I blanched. “That’s…too soon,” I stammered. “If he was turned, it wouldn’t have been this---.”

“He wasn’t.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “He won’t.”

I never asked what she’d done with the body.

* * *

I was late for her sculpting class the day after we found Emile’s body. To be honest, I hadn’t expected her to show her face at the school at all, but when I’d gone to her home and found it empty, I knew she could be nowhere else. She didn’t even glance up from the clay she was molding when I slid through the door, and I took my place at the back of the room, ignoring the condescending looks from the other students.

She didn’t tarry after the others left, dressing in her usual capable way, never once meeting my gaze, and was halfway out the door before I could stop her.

The eyes that looked back at me were empty of their normal power.

“Are you all right?” I asked. It was the only thing I could think of to say. She’d lost her only family, her mentor, her lover, and yet she seemed to be numbed to the arrears.

“Yes. Will we be slaying tonight?”

I frowned. It wasn’t the response I expected. “Do you wish to?”

“I wish.”

And it was agreed. And there were no more words to be said after that. She just turned on her heel and walked away.

* * *

Lizet Michaud was an artist.

She proved it in the classroom, with the sculpted lives that came from nothing. She proved it on the battlefield, with the bloody deaths she chose to forget the next day. There was little Lizet could do that I couldn’t find beauty in, but she wasn’t interested in my adoration. She wasn’t interested in much of anything any longer.

I attempted on one occasion to speak of her relationship with Emile. The instant his name left my lips, however, she turned and walked away from me, the stake she’d been carrying tumbling from her fingers to lie abandoned in the dust. This was my lesson not to bring up her history; she became even more laconic when I tried to form a more cohesive picture of her life.

“I slay,” she said. “This is what you are here for, no?”

I could only nod.

“Then we slay.”

It effectively curtailed any romantic feelings for her I might’ve acted upon, as well. Though I never seriously entertained the notion of something more than our unconventional Watcher/Slayer relationship, and knew the Council would surely have my head if they were to learn I’d taken advantage of the girl’s emotional impairment, it didn’t stop me from creating castles in the clouds of how I could step into Emile’s shoes. I was twenty years his junior, but still at least a decade older than Lizet, so I fantasized that it would be only natural to further my place within her life now that he was no longer there to do so.

Six months after I’d first arrived in Paris, less than two after Emile’s death, I walked into her classroom to find another teacher at the front. He frowned when I frowned, but when I asked him where Lizet was, he merely replied, “She is gone.”

Gone was the correct word. I spent the rest of my morning chasing after her usual haunts, but came up with nothing but vague stirrings of how she had been so withdrawn lately and it was no wonder she had opted to take a little holiday. But the Slayer doesn’t take a holiday, I wanted to explain. The Slayer continues to fight until she---.

I forced myself not to consider the possibility. She had been perfectly fine when I’d left the previous evening after patrol; undoubtedly, she was merely indisposed.

I didn’t find Lizet; she found me. She came to our usual meeting place that night, arriving with hollow cheeks and dark circles beneath her eyes, but stayed mute as I began my tirade over her selfishness in disappearing for so long without my knowing where she was. She stayed mute long after we started the walk through our first cemetery, and continued to hold her tongue after we were attacked by half a dozen vampires.

We fought back, and my frustration fuelled my blows, making them particularly more effective as I dusted the first vampire. I saw Lizet out of the corner of my eye, her knuckles bleeding and torn as she pummeled a hulking male into the ground, but was distracted from the rest of her fight when another of the group grabbed me from behind. It took longer for me to dispatch the second, but kill him I did, leaving the air thick with the demon’s dust and my lungs churlish from the invasion.

When the third pinned me to the ground, my face pressed into the prickly soil as his weight held me firmly in place, I was convinced my life was about to end and squeezed my eyes shut in order not to see it approaching. I felt the sharp prick of fangs sink into my neck, and cried out from the pain, but just seconds later, it was gone, as was the weight on my back.

I rolled in time to see Lizet turning away, her face implacable as she faced off with the last remaining vampire who was more than ready to finish the fight. By that point, I was too weak to join in the battle, but I had every faith that it wouldn’t be a long one for my Slayer.

I was right.

When she lunged at him with her stake, the vampire surprised Lizet by sidestepping the attack, grabbing her wrist and breaking it in his hand like a twig. Even I heard the bone crack, but by the time I’d struggled to my feet, he had already taken her pain and used it against her, twisting her struggling body into his to allow him the leverage to snap her neck.

“No!” I shouted and darted forth, driving my weapon into his back before he could react. He exploded into dust that stung my eyes as I dropped to my knees and felt desperately for any signs of life in my Lizet.

There were none.

I buried her body myself. After all, there was no one else in Lizet’s life to do so for her. I then contacted the school to let them know of her demise, creating some illness to explain her absence from classes. They didn’t question me, not even when I requested the work she’d left behind.

The Council offered me the opportunity to go to the United States to train a Potential they thought had an excellent chance to be Called. After all, they said, I’d done wonders with my assignment in Lizet. I declined. Instead, I asked to be transferred to their London library, away from France and all its memories, where I could concentrate on research and try to forget liquid brown eyes gazing at me over the top of an unfinished bust. It was granted, as was my plea that one of Lizet’s works be placed somewhere within the Council’s walls. I kept the rest for myself.

My career post-Paris was quiet and uneventful; this was how I wished it to be. I had created one thing of remarkable beauty in my lifetime and I left her behind in a simple, unadorned grave, but I do not believe that a creation of such marks one as an artist.

I have yet to decide what it makes me.