Evie was more than aware that she stunk even without the disgusted glances of the Kine she passed as she climbed aboard the train. She could feel the grimy coating of grease and ash covering her from head to toe, and the bone-deep aching that made her not really give a fuck what anyone around her thought right now. She just kept her hood up and her eyes fixed on the window, ignoring everything else around her.
She’d made a choice when she faced Lacroix alone. No factions, no protection. Just herself. She remembered sitting in the back of that taxi, recalling her conversation with Rosa all those weeks ago.
“Who can I trust?” she’d asked.
“The Man on the Couch, the Lone Wolf. All others, tread carefully,” was the reply.
The Lone Wolf could only be Beckett, seeing as he was the only independent vampire Evie had met in LA. He had advised she also take the path of independence, but only after the Sarcophagus situation was resolved. She wondered if his advice would have changed if he’d been there in that cab with her. If he would have just told her to flee LA and hide out someplace far away until things blew over. Somehow she couldn’t imagine that he’d endorse throwing herself at Xiao and Lacroix with not a single ally on her side.
All she knew was that anyone who wasn’t Beckett or Mercurio couldn’t be trusted. There were no factions she could depend on to repeal the Blood Hunt once Lacroix was dead. Strauss, Therese, the Anarchs… To them she was a pawn, a weapon, or a threat. Maybe all three. And she had no interest in being any of those things.
So here she was, on the first train out of LA to literally anywhere else with only a small rucksack filled with her meagre belongings and whatever money she had left. It wasn’t much but it wasn’t like she’d ever had much to begin with; just a few scraps of sentimental value, a couple of weapons, and the clothes on her back.
She supposed it could be worse. Not by much, but she’d take what she could get.
“Is this seat taken?”
Evie flinched and looked up to see none other than Beckett standing over her, brow arched over his sunglasses, and a surprisingly fond (if not a little amused) look on his face.
“Not at all,” she replied as she moved her rucksack under her seat, allowing Beckett to sit down. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d already left LA.”
He settled himself into his seat and deposited his own bag between his feet before he answered.
“I much prefer to travel by Protean form, but daybreak isn’t far off and I’d rather not wait till nightfall to leave. Much as Los Angeles has grown on me-” His voice was dripping with sarcasm as usual. “-I realise it may not be wise for me to remain in the wake of a Prince’s death. The Camarilla will certainly be investigating and I hate being questioned about such things.”
Evie nodded. It was a smart way to look at it. She hadn’t really put as much thought into leaving the city, even if it was really the only choice she had. She just wanted out.
For a long while neither Kindred said anything to the other. Beckett sat with a book in his lap - it would be a while before Evie realised it was the one she had procured for him via Knox - and she just watched the world going by outside the window.
“So, where exactly were you planning to go?”
She found herself pulled back into reality and turned to Beckett who hadn’t looked up from his book. If he hadn’t said anything more she might have just thought she’d imagined it.
“Well you’re clearly leaving the city. I trust you have a plan?”
That smug edge and the curl of his lip told her that he definitely did not think she had a plan, or else he wouldn’t be asking in the first place. She frowned.
“Why do you care?”
“Oh, I don’t. I was just making conversation. And you’ve always had so many questions for me, it feels fair I ask a few of you.”
“Yeah, and I told you back at Lacroix’s place that that’s the pin on a grenade that you don’t wanna pull,” she muttered, turning back to the window.
It earned her a cuff on the ear.
She yelped, clapped her hand over her ear and swivelled in her seat back towards Beckett who was keeping his gaze on his book but looked far too pleased with himself. She wondered if he actually was reading at all or was using it as a pretence to mess with her.
“What was that for?” she snapped, glowering at him.
“You may be Autarkis now, but that’s no excuse not to mind your elders, Young One,” he said dryly.
“Autarkis. A Kindred who does not associate themselves with a sect, and does not swear fealty to any Prince, Bishop, or otherwise,” he explained flatly. “You all but declared yourself as such when you went up against Lacroix alone.”
“So you’re Autarkis?”
She said the word slowly, getting a feel for it. It reminded her how little she really knew about the world she now lived in. She’d hit the ground running without anyone to explain any of these things to her, and every time a new word popped up she found herself feeling more lost than ever.
“I realised early in my unlife that the politicking of the factions wasn’t for me. The decision to go independent was a simple one.”
“And it didn’t bother your sire?”
He just chuckled.
“Sometimes I forget how remarkably little you know. Gangrel sires are not the most reliant. In fact, your introduction to our world was, as your generation might say, ‘dumbed down’ compared to most Gangrel fledglings.”
“What do you mean?”
He closed sighed and closed his book, as if taking the time to explain was inconvenient somehow. But it was so exaggerated that there was no way it was entirely genuine. In fact she got the sense that part of him enjoyed imparting information to someone willing to listen.
“Ordinarily a Gangrel sire will abandon their childe shortly after the Embrace. Those that survive prove themselves worthy of the time and effort required to train them. And those that perish have saved the sire the trouble of investing any time in them. In other words, even if your sire had received Sebastian’s permission to Embrace you, you would have had to work out the basics by yourself anyway.”
“Are you kidding me?!”
“Not at all. Are you still surprised that I don’t care to associate with our clan on the whole?” he asked flatly, arching a brow.
There was a pause as Evie took in that information, and then tentatively asked, “so your sire abandoned you?”
“That’s correct. As your’s would have if he had fled before the Camarilla found you.”
“Is there a reason you keep turning the topic back to me, or am I just that fascinating to you?” she deadpanned, raising a brow.
“For all you know of me, I still know almost nothing about you beyond your general cluelessness,” he pointed out. “Is it wrong that I be a little curious?”
“I don’t know anything about you except that you study Kindred lore, you think Gehenna is a load of crap, and you’re independent. That’s not exactly knowing you, Beckett.”
“It’s still more than I know about you,” he said calmly. “I only know that you were Embraced without Sebastian’s permission, and that you have as many questions as any Fledgling in your position would. Oh, and you’re independent now too.”
“Well then we each know three things about each other. And none of those things are actually about each other.”
Beckett conceded with a tilt of his head.
“That’s a fair point. And while you’ve at least proven you know how to count-”
“-we have a long journey ahead of us, don’t we? Perhaps we should get to know each other better.”
Her frown deepened.
“Why do you care?”
“I told you, I don’t,” he said flatly. “But it’s a long journey east. We might as well have something to talk about.”
She paused, still wondering what exactly was going on in that head of his. He kept insisting he didn’t actually care, yet he’d taken the time to warn her not to open the Sarcophagus and believed she deserved a chance to escape whatever the consequences were. If he didn’t care then why take the time to do so when he could have been putting distance between himself and the Sarcophagus?
But he was right about the long trip. And how often did another Kindred actually take an interest in her beyond her usefulness?
“Okay. So where are you from?”
“Twenty questions, is it? Very well. I’m from Oxford myself. And you?”
“Well then we’re both a long way from home, aren’t we,” he chuckled. “How did you come to be in LA in the first place?”
“Hey, I didn’t get to ask you another question yet,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s not how the game works. What’s your favourite place that you’ve been to?”
And so they talked, taking it in turns to fire their questions back and forth as the journey went on. Fortunately Evie had found an empty train car so no one was around to hear some of the decidedly less mortal questions.
Surprisingly the next couple of hours went by without Evie really noticing. Partly because every now and then Beckett got caught up in an answer that led onto a tangential story about his adventures over the years which ended up with her hanging on his every word as he described terrible dangers, thrilling escapes, and the many things he’d learned. He seemed pleased to have a genuinely interested audience for once. Especially when she had questions that let him explain things in further detail. And sometimes just questions about some of the more incredulous things he’d done - or what she thought was incredulous anyway.
“You were really wanted dead in London because you got into a fight over some ancient text?” she exclaimed.
“Not because I got into a fight, but because I killed those I was fighting.” He shrugged. “For all I know the Camarilla there may still want me dead. I haven’t checked back in a while. But now it’s my turn to ask a question. And it’s not one you have to answer if you don’t want to.”
He gave her an unusually serious look.
“How exactly did your Sire come to Embrace you?”
She froze, her whole body locking up and she physically felt the colour draining from her face. Only a few seconds later did she find that she was having to fight down the need to throw up.
“Beckett. Grenade,” she said in a very strained voice.
“I know. We Gangrel certainly have one of the most traumatic Embraces of all. It is an experience few survive.” She felt his hand settle on her shoulder, and despite the fact he was as dead as she was, the presence was warm and comforting. “It is intended to measure a person’s instinct to fight back and their will to live, and so is incredibly brutal. And you are very young. If you’d rather not talk about it, then that is fine. I will ask a different question.”
She shook her head and sniffed, all too aware she now had blood dripping from her eyes. One of the more shocking revelations she’d had the first time she’d cried after her Embrace. She was still getting used to it.
“I… I need to tell someone,” she said thickly as she tried to wipe the blood from her face. “I mean, you’re the only one who ever bothered to ask, so why not?”
Beckett offered her a handkerchief which she took gratefully and began to try and wipe the worst of the blood from her face. If a mortal were to walk in now and find her weeping blood, they’d have a whole new problem. Best to get it under control.
“I’d been out with my friends for my birthday. They weren’t underage like me, so they were able to sneak me into this club in Hollywood. We had been hanging out and drinking and dancing for a few hours when they went to go get some more drinks. While they were gone this. This guy came over. He started getting real creepy, so I told him to fuck off. He wouldn’t just leave me alone though and it started getting way too scary so I pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the hand. A bouncer came over, took my knife, and threw me out when I couldn’t prove I was of age.
“I didn’t want Sam and the others to know I’d fucked up, so I tried to sneak back in by breaking in the back. I was trying to pick the lock on the back door when the creepy guy suddenly grabbed me from behind and-”
She had to stop, to catch her breath and steel herself as she found herself back in that moment.
She could feel the phantom claws sinking into her sides and ripping her away from the door. She felt herself being thrown to the ground, her skin splitting open wider upon impact as wet blood began soaking into her clothes. The stranger hunched over her neck, fangs digging in deep and clawed hands pinning her to the ground as she struggled in vain to keep her neck from being torn open.
It was a blur and yet it was somehow crystal clear in her mind. The adrenaline racing through her veins as fear overtook her. Her feet kicking his chest, at his groin, at any part of him she could reach even as her strength failed her and the world began to fade away. She remembered dying in the worst way possible, helpless and afraid, an exhausted bleat for help, for her friends, for anyone to find her, dying in her throat as the darkness overcame her.
“It was the worst kind of pain I’d ever felt. I was scared. I was dying. I wanted it to stop. I tried so hard to get away from him. I wanted to scream for Sam to come help me but I ended up blacking out instead. When I came to… I was. I was lying on a bed in some shitty apartment. And he was just. Sitting there. All pleased with himself and shit, waiting for me to wake up. For a second I thought he’d. That he’d-”
She felt his hand settle on her shoulder reassuringly as a fresh sob wracked her body and more bloody tears rolled down her face. The handkerchief was gently pried from her hands as Beckett dabbed at the tears himself.
“You don’t need to finish,” he said with a surprising gentleness that was a far cry from his usual sarcasm.
“No. No, I do,” she insisted, swallowing. “He just sat there, waiting for me to wake up. He was about to say something before the Camarilla burst in, staked us both, and dragged us to the theatre for that trial. And when they executed him… It felt good . I was so scared, I had no clue what was happening or what had been done to me, but nothing was more satisfying than seeing him get what he had coming for what he did to me.”
A chilling silence settled over the train car as she said that and Beckett stared at her, for once at a loss for words. He probably regretted asking in the first place, even if she couldn’t begin to hazard a guess as to why he’d ask that question specifically.
No one wanted to hear about one of the most harrowing experiences of her life or see her falling to pieces over it. Especially not Beckett. He had more important things to be thinking about than her tragedies.
She felt pathetic, even as he cautiously, and a little awkwardly, placed an arm around her shoulders. She didn’t resist, just let herself lean into him. When was the last time someone had willingly given her comfort like this? She couldn’t remember.
“Sorry,” she croaked. “Being stupid.”
“No. You’re not.”
His voice was firm. Still no trace of his usual sarcasm or sardonic tones, just that absolute firm certainty that she was sure she’d not heard before. He didn’t withdraw. Not even when Evie drew back, wiping her eyes and nose as they dripped blood.
“Sorry,” she repeated.
“Don’t be. This is a perfectly reasonable response,” he said. “Every Gangrel has gone through what you experienced, and none are left completely unaffected by it.”
“Not even you?”
“Not even me.”
More silence. Beckett’s hand was still on her shoulder, so she cautiously leaned back into him. He didn’t say anything or reprimand her, which she took as silent permission. She’d not realised her Embrace was typical for a Gangrel, and she wondered how it had changed Beckett. What had he been like before he was changed? Was he always full of snark and cynicism, or had that come later? Like a defense mechanism.
She wanted to ask, but they were verging on daybreak and she was exhausted. Her whole body suddenly felt heavy and she was struggling to keep her eyes open.
“Get some sleep,” Beckett said gently. “We can talk some more tonight.”
She nodded sleepily and rested her head against his shoulder, let her eyes slide shut, and in an instant she was out like a light.
At that same moment a Ventrue by the name of Roy rose from the day sleep as he did every night. He stepped out of bed and dressed into a crisp, clean suit before departing from his bedchamber and made his way through the crumbling halls of the estate with such a practised ease that it seemed automatic. And in truth it was. He didn’t even need to recognise the chunks of rubble in his path, just glided around it with as little thought as blinking.
To any other Ventrue, stalking the crumbling remains of a castle long since abandoned might seem lowly, but as it so happened Roy liked it perfectly fine as it was. Prey might not be as frequent as those National Trust estates, but those that could pluck up the courage to venture within were so much more delectable than the typical tourists that would otherwise poke around his home. And there were always other means of obtaining the sustenance he required.
But as dilapidated as the castle appeared to be, there were parts of it that were more than well preserved.
The ghouls hurried to pull the heavy oak doors to the conference room open before he was even half way down the hall. He could almost smell the fear on them. They knew better than to keep him waiting.
Inside the room would be pitch black to any mortal, but to his kindred senses he could see the conference table in sharp relief. It stood down the centre of the hall with mostly empty chairs stood on either side and with a throne at his end of the room. At the opposite end was not another chair, but rather a monitor. And if one looked above the chairs, they would see even more monitors. One over each chair.
Today only three seats were currently occupied. Victoria sat to the throne’s left, whereas Delilah and Leon sat opposite one another closer to the middle of the table. The three of his childer who were present greeted him with a bow of their heads as he seated himself in his throne.
“Good evening, my children,” he greeted. “I trust we will not be expecting Lisa at this hour?”
“Not in person, Father,” Victoria said primly, hands folded on the table top. “However, the ghoul reports-”
“Names Victoria,” Roy interrupted coyly. “We must ensure the help feels appreciated… Lest they drain us dry in our sleep.”
“Of course Father, forgive me. Ahem. Rhys reports that Lisa sent a message earlier today to be received by you at your convenience. Apparently it is rather urgent.”
“I see. Then we shall attend to it with urgency. But first.” He looked over Delilah and Leon. “Do we have anything to report… closer to home?”
“Yes Father,” Leon began. “The gh- Alex and Alicia reported troublemakers at the border of the estate earlier today. They have been detained in the dungeon, to be indulged upon at your leisure.”
“I see. Thank you Leon. Perhaps, as there are few enough, we might even dine as a family tonight,” he said with a not insincere warmth as he looked over his childer, though it was practiced and not at all instinctual. “Now. Regarding Lisa’s message.”
Delilah simply nodded and the monitor at the end of the table flickered to life and a pretty, dark haired woman appeared on the screen. Her appearance, however, was frazzled, and she had the look of someone who had been working a long, intensive shift that proved very unforgiving.
“Father, brothers, and sisters who may or may not be in attendance,” she began. “I regret to report that the situation here in Los Angeles has spiralled out of control. Yesterday night the girl was declared a traitor and the Prince called for a Blood Hunt. Kindred from all over the region were eager for the chance to spill her blood and all but poured into the city. Tonight, however, she has-”
Lisa took a deep breath as if all but choking back tears. It was rare to see her so emotional.
“The Prince is dead. The tower and sarcophagus destroyed in an explosion,” she said thickly. “The girl is gone. I do not know where. She does not appear to be among the Anarchs, but according to the Anarch Leader, Nines Rodriguez, she did survive and then departed. As of now I have no idea where she is. I will continue my search, and hope you are able to provide me with your guidance as soon as you are able. Please Father… Forgive me.”
The message ended and Lisa’s face was replaced by darkness once again.
Roy raised a brow and laced his hands together, resting his elbows on the table.
The three childer exchanged an uncomfortable glance, and Victoria looked the most uncomfortable as she was seated closest to him. For a long while Roy said nothing, merely contemplated.
“Send word to Lisa that there is nothing to forgive. The girl has always wild and unpredictable. If anything I should have anticipated she would cause such trouble, as she has always been prone,” he said in a measured voice. “However, inform Lisa that she is not to continue her pursuit. If anything she will only get herself killed. Her instructions are to seek out any allies that the girl may have had in the city. Someone she trusts or cares for. Someone easily turned and poisoned, whose betrayal will hurt her, but can be disposed of quickly if necessary. Knowing her, there’s undoubtedly plenty of disgusting little creatures who will suit that end.”
Delilah nodded and reached under the table. She produced a sheet of parchment and an inkwell pen and immediately began to write.
“Leon, I’m sending you to Egypt,” he added.
The youngest childe perked up.
“What is my task, Father?”
“Make contact with the Assamites in Cairo and see if they are amenable to a potential future contract… Just in case. As for you Delilah, you will see to your usual duties for now. Is that agreeable?”
“Then I believe this evening’s meeting is adjourned. Unless there is anything else anyone wishes to report?”
There was a pause before Delilah raised her hand. Roy nodded.
“According to my intelligence, Father, the girl has had contact with Beckett.”
Roy raised a brow.
“The scholar? Interesting. He has a habit of turning up in the strangest of places,” he remarked. “Keep your ear to that, my dear, and let me know if anything comes of it.”
“Very good. Now.” He raised to his feet, looking around at his children with that sam cultivated ease. “I believe it is time for breakfast.”
And with that he led the three from the room.
When Evie came to it was nighttime again. The first thing she registered was a weight pressing over on her. It was strangely warm and comfortable and she brought her knees up to her chest, curling up beneath whatever it was.
She knew she should really get up already, but the sooner she opened her eyes, the sooner she’d have to deal with Lacroix’s latest chores. And she really didn’t want to have to deal with him right now. She just wanted to stay curled up here under this blanket - presuming that’s what this comfortable pressure was coming from - and forget the innumerable responsibilities that would surely be thrust upon her the second she rose from her bed.
It took a few minutes, but she started to wonder what that rocking motion was. Was it an earthquake? ...No, it didn’t feel like one. And this didn’t feel like her bed either.
She rolled onto her side and her face pressed against cold glass.
With a flinch she bolted upright, throwing off the blanket and eyes snapping open as her mind raced at a mile a minute. Was it the Sabbat? Had they found her? Kidnapped her? Then she slowed down. The Sabbat didn’t make a habit of giving blankets to their prisoners… And she didn’t think they transported them without guards on a public train.
Gathering herself, Evie slowed her breathing - not that she needed to breathe at all, considering that she was dead - and took in her surroundings. She was alone in an empty train car with all the blinds drawn over the windows. She looked down at the blanket only to realise it wasn’t a blanket at all. It was a long, brown trench coat that she was very familiar with by now.
Right. Beckett. He’d been leaving LA. Just like she had been.
It was all coming back to her now. Lacroix had died in the explosion at the top of Venture Tower, the LA Sabbat was in chaos in the wake of Andrei’s death, and what remained of the Kuei-Jin were floundering without Ming Xiao to guide them. And now she was running away before anyone had a chance to stop her.
She groaned, pressing her face into her hands and running them back through her hair. They came away black. She was still absolutely filthy from the destruction of the Venture Tower. She really needed a shower at some point. At the very least she could clean up a little in the bathroom.
A quick glance around revealed that Beckett was definitely absent. Perhaps he’d gone to feed on sleeping Kine somewhere else while she slept.
She got up out of her seat and headed for the toilet at the end of the car. It was vacant, as expected, and she slipped inside, turning the lock to ‘occupied.’ The first thing she did was run some water to wash off her hands before splashing some in her face.
The greasy ash was reluctant to come away at first and it felt like she was making little progress even though the sink was quickly turning black. Her hair didn’t fare much better. It was scraggly and oily and thick with soot, and she knew she’d need a real shower to sort that mess out.
She peeled off her jacket and hoodie and, with a wad of wet tissue paper, started wiping away the dried blood from around her now-healed wounds. After a few minutes she felt something approaching presentable. She still needed a good shower to feel completely clean, but it was an improvement.
As she started to clean up her mess of black soot stains and wet, grotty tissues, someone knocked on the door and she jumped.
“Are you in there?” Beckett called gruffly through the door, and she sighed in relief.
“Yeah, just cleaning up. I’ll be done in a minute.”
He didn’t say anything else, just walked away and Evie finished throwing away the wet tissues and scrubbing the soot from the sink before stepping back out into the car.
Beckett was sitting in his seat, his coat folded over his lap. As she approached he held out a water bottle to her. Except it wasn’t filled with water. He gave her the bottle of blood before she edged past him back into her seat.
“At least you don’t look like you’ve been dragged backwards through a bonfire anymore,” he remarked. “I was starting to wonder if that was some new fashion trend you were trying out.”
Evie just rolled her eyes and lifted the bottle to her lips. When the blood hit her tongue, the Beast inside gave a guttural roar of pleasure, and within seconds she had chugged the whole thing down. She hadn’t realised how hungry she had been, how the Beast had been clawing at the back of her throat, aching for sustenance, especially after her episode of bloody tears the night before. Everything else had been such a mess of thoughts and brain static that she’d barely even noticed it there.
But for now it was sated once more and it settled contentedly inside, purring quite happily.
“Hungry, were we?” Beckett commented with a raised brow and a curled lip. “Maybe it was a good thing I decided to bring you some breakfast. I’d hate if you’d guzzled a passenger the way you did that bottle.”
She flushed a little, but simply handed the empty bottle back with a murmured thank you before lowering the blinds from the window. Outside the world was black as night, the sky overhead glittering with stars. They were easy to miss in LA with all the city lights drowning them out. It was true of most places, and it wasn’t long before she found herself enthralled by them.
Beckett, who had his book out again, gave her a fondly amused glance, then rolled his eyes and got on with his reading.
“You still haven’t told me what you plan to do next,” he pointed out about an hour later when stargazing had gotten boring and Evie was obviously feeling restless.
She looked around at him and then stared down at her hands in her lap feeling embarrassed. Mostly because there was no way he didn't know that there was no plan.
All she'd been thinking about for the last hour was what to do next and no good ideas came to mind. Staying in the US seemed like a bad idea. She had no idea how other members of the Camarilla would react to Lacroix’s death, so leaving felt like the safer option. But then where after that? Back home to the UK where no one wanted her? And how was she supposed to secure a haven anyway? She was underage and while a couple hundred dollars felt like a lot, in the grand scheme of things it really wasn’t. It was unlikely that anyone would rent a place out to her, and even if they did she wouldn't be able to afford it.
In other words, she still had no plan at all.
“Yeah… The only real plan I’ve got right now is to get as far away from LA as possible… I was kinda hoping the train journey would help me figure out step two but… no dice,” she admitted.
“I see. Well then how about I make you an offer. Why not come with me?”
She had expected sarcasm. Even if she hadn't hallucinated Beckett’s firm but kind reassurances the previous night, and hadn't imagined that he'd given her his coat as a blanket, he was still Beckett. Making snide remarks about everyone and putting them in their place with a sharp jab of cynical wit was apparently half of his personality. At least that's what she had thought before. He certainly didn’t strike her as the type to take companions. Or at least he hadn’t until he told her about Lucita, Anatole, and Okulos.
“With you?” she repeated.
“I have a lot of work to do, and sometimes things get a little tedious. I could use an assistant, and you’ve got a long way to go before you’re ready to make it in this world as an Autarkis,” he explained idly. “I think it could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. You assist me with my research, and I will serve as your adoptive sire. Does that sound agreeable to you?”
“What would being your assistant entail?” she asked slowly.
“You'd accompany me on my travels, help me to organise my research, maybe run the occasional errand, that sort of thing. And in return I'll provide any guidance and training you might require, a haven, and maybe even pocket money if you behave yourself.”
There was that familiar sarcasm, and she couldn't resist snorting. That was more like the Beckett she knew.
But she couldn't help turning the idea over in her head. It wasn't a bad offer. In fact it was probably the best one she was going to get. He was offering to take her on, to teach her what she needed to know, even though he really didn't need to.
And she could trust him not to use her like Lacroix did. Like Ming Xiao had tried to. Like Nines or Strauss or Therese would have, given the opportunity.
Beckett had no political angle, just the drive to learn the truth about the origins in the Kindred. It was an admirable goal. And helping him achieve it certainly beat blowing up warehouses and robbing museums for a power-hungry Ventrue.
So she extended a hand.
“When do I start?”
Beckett smirked, took her hand, and shook it firmly.
“As soon as we reach the haven. It should be waiting for us at the Phoenix Airport.”
Evies grin dropped into a confused frown.
“Waiting for us?”
Beckett just smirked.
“You'll see when we get there. Speaking of which.”
He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a cell-phone and flipped it open. He typed something into it, though Evie wasn’t able to get a proper look before he snapped it shut and tucked it back into his pocket.
“Just need to make sure Cesare is actually doing his job for once,” he grumbled disdainfully.
“My ghoul.” He all but spat the word, looking rather disgusted. “Personally I don’t care for them. If anything I pity them. To be a ghoul is to be enslaved to the one who creates them.”
“ Enslaved ?” Evie balked.
“Yes. After that first taste of blood, the ghoul becomes… addicted, for lack of a better word. It creates a blood bond between vampire and ghoul that is reflective of master and slave. A ghoul will do anything their master requires of them, no matter how degrading, because it is their means of securing more.”
Something icy dropped right into the pit of her stomach. Knox and Mercurio certainly hadn’t mentioned that little detail when talking about their respective deals with Tung and the Camarilla. If they had…
Heather had always seemed overly clingy, but Evie just thought that she was being overly grateful for what happened at the Clinic. In the time that they’d lived together Heather had always been like a big sister, trying her hardest to provide Evie with whatever she needed, even when she wasn’t asked to do so.
Sure it had seemed odd that she was so ready to drop out of school - which they had argued about for over an hour before Heather agreed to continue her studies - but some people were just like that. Evie had seen it before. They were so eager to please they would put their whole life on hold for someone else if they thought it was to be asked of them. She just figured Heather was one of those people.
But to think that her blood had done that to her… That one act of compassion had driven her to behave in that way… The very idea made her sick .
Perhaps it was best never to mention it to Beckett.
“So why keep Cesare around if you don’t like ghouls?” she asked, trying to steer her mind away from Heather before he could get suspicious.
“Because I am regretfully in need of him. You’ll understand when we reach the airport,” he said simply, indicating he’d say nothing more on the matter.
Then his phone buzzed and he pulled it out to check.
“Hm. And he just managed to earn his keep.” He put it away again. “We should be arriving at the station soon enough. Cesare will be waiting for us there. So, if there’s anything else you want to ask, you should do so now.”
She contemplated for a moment. They’d spoken at length the previous night about themselves and their experiences. He clearly had far more than she did, but for all their talking there was one experience she had spoken of that he hadn’t. Or at least he hadn’t in any substantial capacity.
“Last night, when I told you about when I was Embraced, you said no Gangrel is unaffected by it. Not even you,” she said slowly. “Can I ask about…?”
He sighed and, for the first time since they’d met, he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. She supposed it shouldn’t be a surprise. If her Embrace had been typical then it wasn’t any fonder a memory for him either. But he’d asked about her’s, so it was fair that she ask the same.
“It was a very long time ago,” he said, suddenly sounding exhausted. “Just a little over three hundred years, though I forget the precise number. I was working at Oxford University as a lecturer at the time, though I spent more time researching than I did teaching. One night I’d stayed in late, working through some unusual texts that the university had acquired. I nearly fell asleep at my desk when a cleaner insisted I head home for the night.”
He laughed hollowly.
“If not for that bit of advice, I might not be here right now.”
“You were attacked on your way home?”
He nodded, smiling grimly.
“Yes. I had decided to take the scenic route, close to the woods. Clearing my head, so to speak, so I'd be able to take another crack at those texts the next day. That’s when I got the sense that someone was watching me. Just past the trees. When I couldn’t see anything, I thought it was just the exhaustion from having worked so late. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone there. Watching and waiting.
“Finally I tried to confront my stalker, demanded they show themselves. There was a moment of silence and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground being ripped apart. Teeth and claws were tearing into me, and no matter how hard I fought back, my attacker was not dissuaded. They were relentless. I knew I wouldn’t survive. In that moment, all I could do was pray for some kind of miracle. And the next thing I knew I was in a house I didn’t recognise with no memory of how I got there, covered in blood that wasn’t mine, and standing over the bodies of the innocents I had slaughtered. Not quite the typical idea of a miracle I’m sure...”
He trailed off and Evie was left without any idea of what to say. As if there was anything she could say in the face of that without them sounding like needless platitudes. So rather than fumble for words she tentatively wrapped her arm around his and rested her head against his shoulder. He huffed but didn’t try to shift her off or push her away. For a while they were silent, sitting there together as the world went by outside.
“Is that normal? For your sire to just leave you to… kill like that?” she asked quietly.
“It’s part of the test, and a reason that most Gangrel Fledglings don’t survive their first night. Those that can’t gain control quickly enough continue their frenzy until they’re put down by police or hunters… Or by the rising sun.”
He glanced down at her.
“It is supposed to determine how quickly one can grasp the nature of their situation and adapt quickly enough to survive on instinct.”
“It’s still awful,” she muttered. “I’d never want to do that to anyone.”
Beckett chuckled and clapped his hand over her’s affectionately as he met her gaze. She found herself startled for a second; it was the first time she’d ever seen his eyes properly without the sunglasses. They were a vivid scarlet that almost seemed to glow, with cat-like slits for pupils.
“Promise me one thing, Young One,” he said. “ Never stop thinking that way.”
She looked up at him frowning slightly, wondering if he was making fun of her. But he was just smiling fondly back at her, his hand still clasped over her’s.
“I’ve seen some of the most docile, respected colleagues become emotionless killers within a few decades,” he explained. “It’s tempting to give in. To resist struggling. It’s easy to remember you’re a walking corpse. Try to forget. Compassion and empathy have their place in this world, so try to hold onto them.”
She still felt a bit bemused, but just shrugged and rested her head against his shoulder again.
Maybe sticking Beckett really was for the best. There were far worse Kindred out there. And far worse sires.
“I see. Yes, of course. Right away. Yes… Yes, I understand. Yes, thank you. Good evening, Founder.”
Therese set the phone down back into its receiver, and if she was in anyway inclined to behave like a schoolgirl as Jeanette so often was, she might just squeal for joy. A Prince. Her! And barely a night had passed since that ruckus downtown.
Of course the Camarilla had made a hasty decision. They needed to install a Prince before the Anarchs got any ideas about retaking their city, but even so they had chosen her!
Prince Therese Voerman. Were she so inclined, she would feel giddy.
“Ooh, someone’s actually enjoying themselves,” Jeanette cooed.
Therese immediately stopped dead and let her face fall back into its neutral position.
“Being a Prince is not something someone enjoys , Jeanette,” she said coolly. “It is a weighty responsibility, one that is not to be treated as-”
She was cut off by Jeanette all but draping herself across her shoulders.
“Oh come now, Therese,” she purred. “You’re loving this, and you should! It’s what you’ve always wanted, what you’ve worked so hard for... and it means I get to have even more fun.”
“Of course that’s your concern,” Therese huffed, removing Jeanette from her person.
She might be dead but she could still feel her skin crawl at the contact, even if it was her own sister initiating said contact.
“Just remember, Jeanette, this is an opportunity to do real things. Not your chance to continue playing as some kind of bargain bin… what’s-her-name,” she waved dismissively, retreating back around - no, returning to - her desk and sitting herself in her seat.
She’d be lying if she said it didn’t suddenly feel like a throne.
“Harley Quinn? Come on Therese, if you’re going to compare me to comic book characters you need to at least remember their names,” Jeanette teased, seating herself on the edge of the desk. “Besides, the things I do are real things. Stuffy old Hardestadt chose you because you know how to put up with me. If you can do that, then obviously you can take the reigns of a city that’s bound to be going up in flames for the next few nights.”
Therese sniffed and tried to ignore how her back straightened a little at that. Much as she was loathe to admit it, Jeanette had a point. Lacroix’s death had undoubtedly thrown the city into chaos, and chaos was an advantage the Anarchs could make use of. And chaos was Jeanette’s game. So if Therese could handle Jeanette even in the wake of… the incident, she could easily tame Los Angeles.
“Oh, and don’t forget our scrummy little friend!” Jeanette chirped. When Therese raised a quizzical brow, she added, “you know, Duckling! Sebastian tried so hard to pin everything on her. No sense in letting him do it in death, right?”
“Ah yes, the Blood Hunt. Thank you for reminding me Jeanette, I’ll see to it that it’s repealed at once. Though I doubt we’ll have time to find Evie and inform her…”
“You might not, with half the city on fire, but maybe when you’re not looking-”
“Absolutely not.” Therese rose to her feet. “If anyone can pull a few strings and keep the Anarchs from burning my club to the ground to preserve the Free State, it’s you. I need you here, Jeanette.”
Jeanette blinked, staring up at Therese with those big mismatching eyes.
“Aw, Therese!” Again she threw her arms around Therese, and Therese had to do her best to suppress a shudder. “You know, it’s a shame we have to play as enemies to everyone else. I do miss when we could just be best friends.”
Therese hesitated, then rested a hand on top of Jeanette’s head.
“I know, sister,” she sighed. “But such is the way of things. Besides, once this mess is straightened out, this city will be in our pocket. We might well be the best hope it has.”
“Aw look at you, being all optimistic. I knew you had something loving left in that cold rotten heart of your’s.”
Therese promptly pushed Jeanette away.
“And now you’ve ruined it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Blood Hunt to call off.”