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your new champagne, your new fuckin' heroin

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He means to go back to the Firm and confront Holland Manners. He has the files, he’d stepped into Manners’ office that morning and discreetly tucked his letter of resignation underneath the desk blotter before his boss had even gotten in for the day. By the arcane laws that govern employment at Wolfram and Hart he’s currently in the best position to negotiate a release from his contract he’ll likely ever be in. 

But Lindsey hesitates.

Quitting his job and going on the run seems like a romantic idea, but he’s always been a realist. A cynic, truly. He’s got savings, sure, and a stash of cash in a go bag in his apartment along with a gun and a sword he’s been too busy to devote serious time to since he’d been a journeyman warlock in grad school. But based on Angel’s disinterest, the only friend he’ll have in LA after he burns his bridges is Lorne, and Lorne can’t protect him. Not from the Senior Partners’ ire or a former coworker trying to curry favor with them by focusing all the Firm’s resources on seeing him dead and his ‘loose end’ neatly tied up; unable to share any secrets or work against them. And even if he manages to get free, then there’s still the myriad pitfalls of post-employment to deal with: his Firm-leased apartment; the non-compete clauses; the sheer logistical challenge of getting everything he owns into the back of his truck before the start of the next business day.

So Lindsey hesitates.

He doesn’t want to work for Wolfram and Hart anymore, he meant what he said to Angel about quitting. He’s never been the most morally upright, but in all his life he’s never had a problem drawing the line at doing direct harm to kids. 

If he doesn’t go confront Manners with the blackmail to ensure his resignation, then he doesn’t have to decide if he’s willing to sign away that last little bit of himself to the Firm or if he’s willing to burn down his whole life in LA and start over from the ground up somewhere new while spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

The bar he ends up at isn’t Caritas, or any of the places he usually frequents. Lindsey isn’t even sure of its name, but he pulled over when he saw the sign for beer and realized that if he spent any more time trying to think and drive at the same time he was going to end up crashing. All that matters is that the bar is dark and no one looks twice when he walks through the door. Lindsey takes a seat near the end of the bar, ordering whiskey and discreetly checking the mirror behind the bartender for any patrons without reflections before settling in to drink in peace. 

He knows he can’t stall forever, that eventually he’ll catch himself somewhere between buzzed and drunk and pour himself into a cab to be returned to the apartment that isn’t really his. That he’ll wake up tomorrow with a hangover and still have to make this decision. 

Lindsey nurses three glasses of whiskey thinking it over, and is starting in on his fourth when a woman sits down on the stool next to him. 

She settles on the stool and then leans forward into Lindsey’s space, putting her elbows on the bar and resting her chin on her hands. She catches Lindsey’s eyes in the mirror behind the bar and something about her gaze holds him pinned to his seat even after she’s looked away. 

Lindsey turns in his seat to face her, straightening up from where he’d been hunched forward over his drink, “Can I buy you a drink?” he asks, because if it were any other night and a woman deliberately sat next to him at a bar he’d ask, and the thing Lindsey wants most in the world right now is to be able to recognize himself.

The woman is striking: her dark hair caught back from her face in a french twist; her dark eyes made up in a statement of eyeliner and shimmering eyeshadow; her dress an elaborate, expensive-looking construction of black velvet; her mouth lined an almost shocking red. She tilts her head to look at him and smiles, shifting her chin to rest fully on the heel of a hand while reaching out with her other and taking Lindsey’s own half-drunk glass from where it rests on the bar.

“This is fine,” she says, laughter and some unplaceable accent coloring her words, “I take a drink from you, then you take a drink from me.”

“What’s your name?” Lindsey asks, glancing at the mirror again to confirm the woman’s reflection was still there and tensing in his seat at the thought that he might have to move or fight in the next few minutes.

“That isn’t important,” the woman says; draining the glass and setting it back on the bar before turning to look Lindsey fully in the eyes, “My role is nearly finished, yours is just beginning.”

Lindsey feels the dual impulses to stand up and leave or to ask what the hell is going on wash over him, but he does neither. The woman catches him in her gaze again, and he falls forward into the perfect black of her eyes. 

Her name isn’t important. Where she’s come from and why aren’t important. The most important thing is that Lindsey trusts her implicitly, and he knows, somehow, that she’s going to give him a gift. 

Distantly he can feel himself struggling against the feeling of sudden and unexpected wellbeing. He’s spent nearly the whole night miserable over his prospects and so the sudden change in mood is enough that even under the sway of whatever enthrallment she’s placed on him, his instincts tell him to fight. He can feel his magic buzzing under his skin as he tries to gather his willpower into something he can use.

The woman reaches out to him, cupping his face in her hands and drawing him closer; gently focusing Lindsey’s eyes on hers. 

“There’s no need for that,” she says.

Lindsey blinks, and her face is the only thing he can see clearly; the rest of the bar blurring into indistinct shapes and soft light. 

“Come with me,” she says, “I have something to show you.”

Lindsey feels like he’s floating as he stands up and follows her out of the bar. He remembers his problems, his suspicions, his anger, but none of it seems important anymore. 

Time folds itself up around him and from one moment to the next, Lindsey is aware of himself stepping out the door to the bar, and then finds himself sitting on the edge of a bed in a tiny, shabby apartment. He’d taken his tie off before he’d gotten to the bar, but now his jacket is missing and his shirt has been unbuttoned and pushed back over his shoulders to crumple around his upper back where his arms are still caught in the sleeves. 

“Why?” Lindsey rasps, his voice coming out strangled; forced out through an effort of will as he tries to center himself and regain control. 

“It has to be you,” the woman says, as she leans forward from where she sits behind him on the bed, “you’re the only one I’ve seen who can survive the blood.”

She places a certain emphasis on seen that makes the corner of Lindsey’s mind that’s still Lindsey struggle harder. His thoughts are tangling in on themselves, he’s itching with anticipation and he doesn’t know what for, he strains to hear the words she whispers to him over the pounding in his ears. 

The indistinct sound of her voice is drowned out by his thundering heartbeat, and the sudden pain as something sharp drives into his neck. Her arms come forward and pull him back against her, pinning him in her embrace as her hair falls forward over his shoulder and he realizes that she’s driven fangs into his jugular and he can feel her mouth working against his throat as she drains his blood. 

I saw your reflection Lindsey thinks, as though he can deny what’s happening, before he stops thinking at all. Falling backwards as she eases him down, cradling him in her arms as she withdraws her fangs and pulls him fully onto the bed. She’s strong, moving his dead weight easily as she positions him how she wants him, carding a gentle hand through his hair as she lifts his head into her lap. 

Blood fills his mouth and he swallows it. 

Lindsey’s eyes flutter open at the taste of it, the feel of it sliding down his throat. Her wrist is at his mouth, and beyond that he can see her face.

Her hair is wild and her face pale, but instead of the brow ridges and malformed nose and golden eyes of what Lindsey knows as a vampire, her face is smooth. Her eyes are endless and black and difficult to look at. Her mouth is red with blood and smeared lipstick. He hadn’t seen any fangs in her mouth when she’d smiled at him and spoken to him before, but she has them now; perfect and white and sharp. 

His first swallow of her blood was reflexive, but the second is not. 

Lindsey shifts and arches on the bed, turning his head to nuzzle his mouth into the wound she made on her wrist. She pets his hair as he drinks until she draws her wrist away, moving to lay down next to him on the bed. 

He feels electric and exhausted all at once. He knows, somehow, that they’ve passed through the small hours and dawn is creeping up on them. 

His sire curls herself around him on the lumpy bed, and Lindsey Mcdonald dies his first death.

 


 

Waking is slow. 

Lindsey feels as though he’s dragging forward through an impenetrable darkness, until suddenly he opens his eyes and finds himself laying on the same lumpy bed in the same shabby apartment he died in. 

His sire is sitting on the bed next to him, watching him. She’s shed the makeup and expensive dress from the night before in favor of ripped jeans, sneakers, and a frayed sweater. 

“We don’t have much time,” she says, her voice an urgent whisper as she crowds into his space. Leaning against him and bringing her wrist to her mouth. Lindsey can see her fangs come forward this time: watches the instant her canine teeth drop forward and pull the incisors and bicuspids on either side down into a trio of jagged fangs. She tears into her own wrist, and the sudden scent of her blood hits Lindsey hard enough to leave him shaking. He feels his own fangs grow in his mouth and he doesn’t quite manage to swallow down the needy little noise he makes. 

His impression of his sire’s amusement is a fleeting thing; a suggestion of a thought that somehow Lindsey knows without knowing. 

All that matters is that when she offers her bleeding wrist to him, he seals his mouth over the wound and drinks. Lindsey’s world narrows down to the taste of his sire’s blood in his mouth.. She doesn’t stop him as he drinks deeply of her, only pulling her wrist away when the sluggish beat of her heart begins to grow irregular. 

They’re coming. His sire’s voice whispers in his ear. 

Lindsey opens his eyes to look at her, to ask what’s going on, but she’s no longer on the bed. He sits up, and sees her standing in the tiny kitchenette in front of the open refrigerator, drinking from a torn-open blood bag. 

“We have to hurry,” She says, insistent, as she tosses the empty blood bag away and snags another from the open fridge; tearing into it with her fangs and chugging the contents. Squeezing it like a nearly-empty juice box to get the last drops before tossing the empty bag back into the fridge and slamming it shut. She strides across the cramped space of the studio apartment, snagging a duffle bag off the floor and tossing it onto the bed next to Lindsey. 

“Get ready,” She says, reaching out a hand for him to grasp as she helps him sit up, and then to stand on shaky legs. 

Lindsey feels like he’s struggling up from deep underwater; the high of his sire’s blood fading into new strength from having drunk. The newness of his becoming a vampire so completely unexplored that he doesn’t even know what to do with himself. His sire helps him hobble to the apartment’s bathroom, the duffle slung over her shoulder as she props him up against the wall while she starts the shower. Lindsey feels dull and useless as she efficiently strips him and herds him into the shower; catching his reflection in the mirror and staring at himself because he doesn’t understand why he still has one. He can see his sire’s blood smeared over his mouth and down his chin to stain his undershirt. The smooth, unbroken skin of his throat without even a scar to prove what happened; only the smear of red lipstick over his jugular..  

The cold water of the shower is enough to startle him back towards coherence, and his sire seems grateful when he takes the travel sized bottles of soap and shampoo she shoves at him and washes himself. The vague sense of awareness of her mood and disposition returns, and he can feel her disinterest in touching his nude body. Her vague repulsion against men tempered by her unfathomable conviction that he is meant to be her childe. 

“Why me?” Lindsey asks her, his voice roughening and breaking as he speaks his first words since being turned. 

She turns the water off and throws a towel she retrieved from the depths of the duffle bag over his head, before turning and stalking out of the bathroom. There’s a manic energy radiating from her, a pressing sense that time is short, so Lindsey hurriedly scrubs himself dry and follows her; wrapping the towel around his waist and stumbling out of the shower to stand in the bathroom doorway and watch her upend the duffle bag’s contents onto the bed before grabbing up the remains of his suit from the night before and shoving it into the now-empty duffle bag. She tosses the duffle into the doorless closet that takes up the rest of the wall where the kitchenette is, before impatiently gesturing towards the bed. 

Lindsey’s shaky on his legs still, but by the time he’s crossed the room he’s not stumbling anymore, and he can stand steadily to sort through the pile of clothes and items on the bed. He finds his watch and bracelets, which he hadn’t even noticed were missing, and puts them on; he reflexively checks the time and is startled when he sees that it’s barely ten in the evening. His sire is staring fixedly at the back of his head, her attention a physical weight resting on the back of his neck and settling over his shoulders. The sense that time is of the essence had eluded him until now, but suddenly he feels a frisson of ice down his spine and he knows that she’s right; some unknown deadline is looming over them both, and they need to be ready. 

He drops the towel unthinkingly and shuffles through the assortment of clothes to find boxers and an undershirt. He appreciates the sturdy hiking socks as he pulls them on, the heavy denim of the jeans, the thick flannel of the shirt as he fumbles with the buttons. He doesn’t ask his sire how she knew what sizes he wore; just sits down on the edge of the bed to work on the laces of the thick-soled steel toed workman’s boots she’d given him. 

The only things left on the bed are his wallet and a small leatherbound notebook. Lindsey’s sire sits down next to him on the edge of the bed, deliberately taking each item in hand. The leatherbound notebook is held shut with a rubber band, and she snaps the elastic off of it to leaf through the notebook; glancing at each page as she quickly flips through it before shutting it and slipping the rubber band back over it, seemingly satisfied. She presses the notebook into his hands, stopping him when he tries to remove the rubber band and open it himself.

“For later,” She says, folding her hands over his on the notebook, and staring intently into his eyes. Lindsey gets the sense that speaking is difficult for her, that there are too many ideas and thoughts vying for her to convey them that words often fail. The sudden insight startles him, but there’s no time to dwell on it. 

His sire opens his wallet and rifles through it, removing his credit cards and then giving it back to him. Lindsey starts to protest as she pulls a pair of scissors out of one of her pockets and starts to hack the plastic into pieces but she gives him a sharp, quelling look and he quiets. All that’s left in his wallet is his driver’s license, some cash, a few half-completed coffee shop loyalty cards, and a drugstore reward card. 

Lindsey tucks his wallet and the notebook into his pockets and looks to his sire, wondering if now, finally, an explanation will come. Instead his sire produces his keys, and watches as he pockets them as well. 

The feeling of tension and pressure reaches a new height, and his sire draws in a deliberate breath before standing up and facing the door. Lindsey moves to follow her, but she gestures back towards the bed and there’s nothing he can do but sit back down and wait. 

He checks his watch again, and though it feels like an eternity has passed, in reality it’s been less than fifteen minutes. 

Heavy, running footsteps sound in the hallway outside, and Lindsey watches his sire tense in what seems like slow motion as a massive, heavily-muscled man breaks the door down. He plows forward into the room, his momentum barely broken by the flimsy wood of the door; the man has a stake in his hand, and he thrusts it into Lindsey’s sire’s chest before she can do more than take an abortive step backward. 

It’s horror that washes over Lindsey then, crystallizing his senses and expanding his awareness into hypervigilance: the certainty that he’s about to see his sire explode into dust before she can tell him anything, that these are obviously vampire hunters who’ve come to kill them. But instead of turning to dust she simply drops to the floor like a marionette with her strings cut, and when another man rushes into the room on the heels of the first, fangs obviously bared and stake in hand, Lindsey knows that something more is going on. He’s halfway to his feet when the second man’s stake catches him in the chest, and the world drops away into nothingness. 

 


 

Lindsey comes back to consciousness when the stake is pulled out of his chest. 

His thoughts are a jumbled mess and he’s shaking, leaning against the bonds that tie his hands behind his back. He doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t know why these people--fellow vampires, from everything he’s seen--have taken them. All he knows is that his sire is near: he can feel the cool power of her, the link between them as sire and childe. 

There’s a voice speaking but he doesn’t understand the words being said, it’s all Lindsey can do just to focus on not collapsing forward onto his face. 

He looks to where he knows his sire is, and finds her kneeling beside him, hands tied behind her back just as his are. She looks serene. Unworried. As though things are proceeding exactly as she expected, and Lindsey understands that this is the deadline she’d been waiting for. This is the event that had driven her impatience. 

Lindsey looks around, his eyes watering against the glare of the light shining into his face. He can barely understand the noise he’s hearing as words, but squinting against the light resolves his vision enough for him to realize that they’re on the stage of a nearly empty theater; kneeling at just the right height to be blinded by the footlights. The light makes it hard to see out into the audience, but he catches sight of a few faces, tries to put his brain to work well enough to read their expressions and get a hint of what’s going on. 

He sees a mixture of disgust, anger, and carefully cultivated apathy, and his stomach drops again. 

There’s a blond man with an arrogant bearing striding back and forth across the stage in front of them, and Lindsey still can’t understand what the fuck he’s saying, even as the throbbing in his head and ringing in his ears resolve themselves a bit more and he can at least make out the tone of voice the man is using: smug and self-assured; performatively regretful. Something ticks over in Lindsey’s mind and he realizes that this is a power play; smug blond asshole and his captive audience, with Lindsey and his sire as props for the drama. 

Lindsey struggles to gather his focus more, to actually hear the words being said rather than having to play clue with the details. But then smug blond is leaning towards them, spreading his hands in a helpless gesture as his voice slips even further into the register of someone who’s not at all sorry for what they’re about to do. 

And his sire is pushed forward, and a sword comes from somewhere Lindsey can’t see, and then his sire is beheaded, and he watches her body turn to ash and it’s as though something breaks open in his mind. As though her presence was the only thing holding back the tide. As though the comforting bond linking them had been the restraining bolt on the red rage that rears itself up inside Lindsey’s brain and rakes its claws over his nerves. Holding back the abyss he feels inside himself; an echoing nothingness of whispers and cobwebs and shards of broken mirror. 

He’s too stunned to scream, or struggle, or do anything but stare at the ash that’s left of her. 

Somewhere far away he hears shouting voices, notices that the silent audience to his sire’s death have stood and begun to protest whatever pronouncements the smug blond man is making. 

Lindsey is a thousand miles away from his body; his eyes are blurred with tears and the stage lights are blinding him and his knees are starting to ache and none of it is real. He closes his eyes and opens them, blinking away the stars that fill his vision. 

He’s still kneeling, hands still tied behind his back, but he’s not in the theater anymore. Distantly he can smell the ashes of his sire, feel his body’s pain and discomfort, hear the blond man’s voice quieting the audience. But in front of his eyes, all he can see is his sire. And himself.

They’re on the lumpy bed in his sire’s shabby apartment. She’s kneeling on the bed, her hands on his shoulders as he sits on the edge of it, leaning forward with her hair falling over his shoulder and her fangs bared. Lindsey can see himself just as he was before she sank her fangs into him; the slack face and easy posture, his eyes the only thing alive in his face. 

His sire’s eyes shift, dragging up from the throat of the Lindsey in her arms to the Lindsey kneeling on the floor in front of her. She smiles the barest of smiles, her fangs gleaming in her mouth, and she locks her gaze with Lindsey over his own shoulder, and this time he can hear the last thing she whispered to him before she set her fangs into his throat and turned him. 

“Remember,” She says, and Lindsey knows with an insane certainty that she knew exactly what would happen to her, that he was never meant to understand what she said to him until now, “It’s the blood of Caine that shapes your destiny.”  

He blinks and she’s gone. His eyes are blurry and full of aching light, and he’s hauled to his feet and pushed until he stumbles forward in the direction he was pointed. His hands are cut loose from their binds and he has to struggle against his own legs so he doesn’t fall on his face. He blinks again, letting the tears gathered in his eyes fall as he orients himself again. Realizes he’s back in the theater, being pushed along by a giant of a man who carries the sword Lindsey recognizes as the same one that took his sire’s head. He feels the impulse to fight, to dig his heels in and take a swing at the giant and damn the consequences, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t know what his sire meant, just that this was supposed to happen and all he can do is follow along until things start making sense. 

The smug blond is waiting backstage, and the giant prods Lindsey along until they reach him. The blond starts talking again and Lindsey still can’t understand what he’s saying; is barely hanging on to the single coherent thought that he should keep on his feet and keep his eyes open. 

His silence is taken for some form of cooperation, because the blond gestures at him, and Lindsey finds himself being led down a dim concrete hallway backstage. The drone of the blond’s voice accompanies their footsteps down the hallway, and Lindsey gives up on trying to focus well enough to understand what the nonsense sounds falling out of the man’s mouth mean, and instead concentrates on memorizing his face. 

Lindsey doesn’t know what’s happening, or why. He doesn’t know how his sire predicted her own death. 

All he knows is that this man is responsible for it, and Lindsey needs to remember what he looks like because one day he’s going to kill him. 

The surety of the thought settles Lindsey. He doesn’t know how, but he knows that it’s true. He knows, with certainty. The warring parts of his mind that were awakened with his sire’s death calm with the knowledge, the beast of red rage and the dark mirror-glass abyss suddenly stop, and Lindsey has a moment where he sees both things for what they are; aspects of himself awoken by his turning. Lindsey knows he’s never been a good person: too concerned with power and the getting and the keeping of it; with money and the having and the hoarding of it; with making sure that he’s the one doing the kicking instead of being kicked. The moral dilemmas that have wracked him over the eternity of the past three days are the first time his conscience has troubled him in years. He feels the weight of the moment pressing down on him, and knows that he can accept what he is and become greater or he can try and carve away all his inconvenient pieces again and go on being another cog in the machine. 

Lindsey chooses. He blinks. His vision clears. The noise spilling from the blond man’s mouth resolves into words he can understand. 

They’ve stopped walking, and as he turns to stand in front of the fire door at the end of the hallway, the blond man says: “I’ve shown you great clemency. Prove it was more than just a wasted gesture, fledgling.” He pauses. “Don’t come back until you do.” 

Lindsey nods, not trusting himself to speak. He feels as though a gust of air has rolled over him, even though nothing’s been moved by the breeze. He smells the gorge-raising red dirt scent he remembers from his childhood; barefoot and standing on the scalding ground, too far away to hear what his daddy was saying but close enough to see the desperation etched on his face, the indifference on the face of the man from the bank, the discomfort of the sheriff as he directed his deputies to put padlocks on the doors to the shack they called home. 

It’s a smell Lindsey has always associated with lying. And as soon as he thinks it, he knows that the blond man is lying now. 

The blond man gives him a sharp nod in return, and then turns on his heel and strides away down the hallway, the giant with the sword following on his heels. 

Lindsey stands uselessly by the fire door, staring at their backs as they get further and further down the hall, until they disappear from sight. The scent of red dirt subsides as though it was never there, leaving nothing but the stale hallway air. It feels like a long time before he thinks to leave. Pushing open the fire door and stepping out into the alley behind the theater. The warm night air and all the sounds of the city around him are almost a shock after the silence of the theater; the stifling air. 

He stumbles going down the steps from the door into the alley, and after fighting to keep his feet in front of the blond man, he can’t win the fight against gravity. Lindsey takes a heavy seat on the edge of the stairs, leaning against the wall and letting himself rest. The light pollution from the city is enough that only the moon and the very brightest stars are visible, but the city skyline he can see in the spaces between the buildings tells him he’s somewhere downtown. He spends a few minutes fruitlessly trying to figure out how close to dawn it is before he remembers that he’s wearing a watch and checks the time. The fact that it’s barely a quarter past midnight seems ridiculous. 

The deliberate scuffing of a boot against the pavement draws his attention, and Lindsey looks up to see a man coming towards him from the alley. The man is tall and dark, with wild black hair and a thick beard, and some innate quality about him marks him as a vampire to Lindsey’s senses. 

The man smiles at Lindsey as he draws up to where Lindsey is sitting, and something in the broken-mirror abyss in Lindsey’s brain that being turned into a vampire granted him shifts. Shards moving and dancing in an unknowable pattern, reflecting the light of abstract ideas and strange knowledge. 

Lindsey hears a voice he doesn’t recognize, androgynous and soft, whisper from somewhere behind his left ear. A smiling pirate, with plots in mind

It takes everything he has not to startle. He knows there’s no one behind him, but he’s sure he heard the voice. The insight rings true. Lindsey thinks of the vision of his sire he had in the theater, and realizes... 

Lindsey realizes the man has been talking to him. He sees the expectant look on the man’s face, waiting for Lindsey to answer him. Lindsey knows he should say something; the appropriate responses to meeting a new person and asking someone to repeat themselves rattle around in his skull like acorns. The insight presses on him again, and all the social niceties he’d spent years refining fly out of his head. Words come out of his mouth before he can stop them: “The rain of ages plots again to wash away revelation.” 

The man’s face goes momentarily slack in surprise, before he laughs, “What? And you’re a goddamn Malkavian too? Wow, you really are fucked.” 

“I don’t know what’s happening,” Lindsey says, hating how lost he sounds, how confused, how lacking in control. 

“I’ll bet,” the man says, laughing again, helping himself to a seat on the stoop next to Lindsey, “you’ve barely been Embraced and then you get dragged out into this political bullshit to watch your sire die?”

Lindsey nods, “She didn’t exactly...explain things.” He feels, instinctively, that sharing his insights with this man would be a mistake. That the vision and the notebook and his sire’s insistence that he had some role to play were all things best kept to himself. 

“I’m Jack,” the man introduces himself, “and I figure somebody should fill you in on the bare-bones stuff at least.”

“Okay,” Lindsey says, nodding at Jack, “Lindsey McDonald.”

“I don’t got much time,” Jack says, “so we gotta walk and talk. C’mon kid.” 

Jack stands, rolling his shoulders and turning to watch Lindsey come unsteadily to his feet. 

“Christ, kid, you’re wobbly, have you even had a drink yet?” Jack asks.

“What part of not knowin’ what the hell’s goin’ on s’givin’ you trouble?” Lindsey asks in reply, frustrated with his stumbling and unable to summon the effort to smooth out the southern twang in his words. 

“Touchy, huh?” Jack laughs, openly examining Lindsey like he’s done something particularly amusing, “I mean blood; your new champagne. Blood’s your new fuckin’ heroin, kid, and it’s never as sweet as the first time.” 

Lindsey swallows, mouth suddenly dry. He’d drunk of his sire, but never truly tasted fresh blood. 

It must show on his face, because Jack just smiles at him again, turning and stomping off down the alley, “There’s a human down this way,” Jack says, “We got time to show you the ropes, answer a few questions before you ship out, I think.”

“I don’t even know where I’m supposed to be goin’,” Lindsey says, the words rasping out of him and carrying in the dark of the alley as he follows Jack.

“Oh, kid,” Jack tuts, “You’ve been press-ganged. That mess in the theater? The suit?”

“Arrogant blond asshole,” Lindsey supplies without thinking, and Jack cackles with laughter.

“Yeah,” Jack agrees, grinning, “That was Sebastian LaCroix, and right now he’s making a big play for power in L.A. Making a show of enforcing the quote-unquote traditional laws, throwing his weight around and all that shit. He killed your sire as an example,” Jack glances over at Lindsey, his mouth twisting, “was going to kill you too, before Nines stepped in.”

“I don’t remember what the fuck happened in there,” Lindsey says. He feels angry; twisted up inside. He wants to embrace the anger and let it carry him, but the old shame lurks in the back of his mind. He spent too long being the hot-tempered lower-class boy. Going to college was supposed to be the time he reinvented himself, but all he managed to do was sand the edges off; dulling some and sharpening others. It feels stupid, to be standing in an alley with a strange man, having just been turned into some kind of vampire he didn’t know existed, and realizing at the ripe old age of twenty-seven that every time in his life he’s told himself he’d get over his temper eventually has been a lie. Just as much of a lie as when he told himself that someday he’d go back to Tibet after that gap year. Just as much of a lie as Holland Manners’ smile, when he told Lindsey that signing on at Wolfram and Hart would be the best thing he ever did for himself. 

Jack shrugs, either oblivious to Lindsey’s internal struggle or tactfully ignoring it, “For the best, maybe, since all that you missed was LaCroix blowin’ a lot of smoke up everyone’s asses, punctuated by some pointless violence. Nines Rodriguez is a good guy,” Jack says, “he wants LaCroix and his cronies to fuck off, L.A. doesn’t need their shit. He also happened to save your ass. But LaCroix, he’s got power, so now you’re his errand boy until you work off his, ah, generosity .” 

“Out of the frying pan and into the damn fire,” Lindsey mumbles to himself, almost in awe of the parabola of bad luck that’s led him from contemplating abandoning one blood-sucking corporate boss to being under the thumb of an entirely different blood-sucking corporate boss. 

“Ha, you said it, kid,” Jack agrees, stopping at the mouth of an even smaller alley branching off of the one they’re in, “but now’s not the time to worry about it.”

Lindsey stops next to him, looking down the narrow alley from where they stand in the shadows and seeing a nondescript man wearing the same corporate uniform Lindsey wore to work every day arguing into a bulky cellphone. The chain-link gate behind the man making the alley into a dead end, and likely the cause of his aggravation from the look of the parking signs and expensive cars locked into the private parking lot beyond the gate. 

“Looks pretty fresh,” Jack says cheerfully, lowering his voice so Lindsey can hear him without alerting the man to their presence, “poor guy, all alone in this alley here.”

There’s something predatory and amused in Jack’s tone that strikes a chord in Lindsey; the same satisfaction at the expense of others that he’d feel every time he got the promotion he wanted, or the winning verdict, or the confirmation that some plan had gone off without a hitch. It’s a familiar feeling, but now it sends a thrill through Lindsey that has him looking expectantly at Jack, “How do I…?” he lets the question trail off.

“Instinct, kid,” Jack says, grinning at him again, “just bare those little fangs of yours and it’ll come so natural you’ll think you’d done it a thousand times,” Jack’s smile twists into something sober, a seriousness enters his words, “it might be hard to resist, but don’t kill him.”

“Do we not kill people?” Lindsey asks, surprised at the sudden turn from predatory glee to stern warning.

Jack gives Lindsey a piercing look, “Make no mistake, kid, you’re a monster now,” he says, “you’ve got the Beast living inside you, hungry for blood, and the only way to fight it is to keep in touch with your humanity. Don’t kill innocents, but don’t go hungry either, understand?” 

Lindsey nods, turning away from Jack and starting down the narrow alley towards the oblivious businessman. It makes sense, when Jack explains it, different rules for different vampires. Jack called them monstrous, but Lindsey’s seen enough of the carnage caused by demons and what he’d known as vampires to be relieved by the warnings rather than troubled by them. Lindsey’s close enough to the man to be able to hear him arguing with whoever he’s on the phone with, and the man still doesn’t notice him. 

It seems almost too easy, when Lindsey taps him on the shoulder and watches him startle and turn. Snatching the phone out of the man’s hand and tossing it over the gate, before pulling the man towards him and feeling his fangs grow in his mouth as he aims for the man’s throat. 

The blood that fills his mouth is rich and heady, and Lindsey feels himself sharpening. It’s as though a veil has been torn away, as though despite having been turned he hadn’t fully become until he’d had his first drink of mortal blood. He understands Jack’s warning now, too, struggling to hold on to his awareness of the man’s vitals as his awakening senses threaten to overwhelm him. He barely manages to stop before he crosses the line, and instinct has him laving his tongue over the bite he’s left in the man’s neck. He feels the wound sealing as he gathers up the last few drops of spilled blood, and when he pulls away the wound is reduced to a dark hickey and an indent suggesting teeth but not betraying the broken skin and deep punctures that were there only a few moments ago. 

The man is stunned and incoherent from the blood loss, and not knowing what else to do Lindsey helps him sit down on the dirty pavement of the alley and leaves him leaning against the chain-link gate to the parking lot. 

Lindsey turns back towards Jack and is suddenly overcome with dizziness himself: dark, indistinct shapes hovering around the edge of his vision and resolving into vaguely humanoid forms visible only out of the corners of his eyes, before flickering and disappearing one by one. A soft, androgynous voice comes from somewhere behind his left ear, and a harsh, guttural voice that is equally genderless echoes from behind his right; both of them speaking in unison as they whisper: crooked shadow...tangle of asps….nothing comes for free but trouble.

The words rings true. Lindsey thinks of the vision of his sire he had in the theater, the whisper that came when Jack appeared, the words that had spilled from his mouth against his own volition, the strange insight he’s been having all night, and the realization that he’d nearly come to before blooms in his mind. He’s been given a gift, and a curse. The blood gives him strength, but exacts its toll; the place in his mind that opened into a dark abyss of cobwebs and broken mirrors is the price he pays. 

He remembers that Jack was only surprised for a moment at hearing the nonsense words Lindsey had babbled at him, remembers what Jack’s reply was. 

Lindsey walks back to where Jack is waiting in the alley, and asks, “What’s a Malkavian?”

Jack laughs loudly, reaching out to steady himself on the wall of the building he’d been leaning against as he waited, “You really don’t know anything, huh, kid?”

Lindsey doesn’t say anything, just steps around Jack and crosses his arms over his chest, absently noting the hole in his shirt from where the stake pierced it. 

Shaking his head, Jack straightens up and faces Lindsey, “So vampires, right?” Jack says, “All our blood comes from a common source, but there’s more to it than that. There’s clans, and each clan carries the curse in a different way.”

“What source?” Lindsey interrupts.

“Caine,” Jack says seriously, “we’re all descended from Caine, or so the legends say. I don’t put much stock in that whole ‘cursed by God’ thing, but what histories the Kindred have all agree that Caine was the first vampire.”

“Kindred?” Lindsey asks.

“That’s us,” Jack snorts, “Kindred is what we call ourselves, and like I was saying, there’s different kinds of Kindred,” he pauses, gesturing expansively at Lindsey, “You’re a Malkavian, because your sire was a Malkavian.”

“Did you know her?” Lindsey asks, burning with curiosity.

“No, kid, I’m sorry,” Jack says, and Lindsey feels as though he’s taken a blow, as though he’d gotten his hopes up even when he’d had no expectations at all.

“Did you know her name, at least?” Lindsey asks, unable to keep the soft edge of grief out of his voice, ashamed of not knowing his own sire’s name.

“They called her Soledad,” Jack says, somber, “or at least that’s what LaCroix thought her name was.” 

Lindsey lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Soledad. He sees her face in his mind, hears her voice again; it’s the blood of Caine that shapes your destiny .

“What does being Malkavian mean?” Lindsey asks, exhaling the words as Jack looked at him with dark, pitying eyes. 

“I think you’ve had a taste of it already, kid,” Jack says, voice low and serious “the Embrace changes us all, and Malkavians...they see things and know things that no one else can, but in return, well, a few screws get knocked loose. Clan Malkavian are lunatics and oracles, and it’s not always clear what you’re getting on any given night.” 

Lindsey hears the truth of it. Feels an electric thrill down his spine; the dark mirrors shifting in his mind as he knows, suddenly, exactly what Jack is talking about and what he means. Night upon night of the history of his blood stretching back to Caine himself and Lindsey feels it ring and resonate in his veins. He feels connected. He feels terrified. 

At the end of the alley where it meets the street, a yellow cab pulls up to the curb and honks its horn.

Jack turns toward and cab and then frowns, “That’s your ride, I think,” he says, gesturing towards and cab as he starts walking towards it.

Lindsey follows, trying to think of questions to ask that might help him, “You said LaCroix killed my sire as an example, why?”

Jack stops when he gets to the cab, opening the back passenger door and then folding his arms over the top of its frame, “Throwing his weight around, like I said,” Jack answers, “LaCroix is the new kid on the block in L.A., his trying to muscle in stirred up trouble, and now every ancient Kindred rivalry is playing out in the city. There’s blood in the streets, kid, a lotta jittery, high-strung predators clingin’ to their little pieces of eternity, ready to kill to keep them. Your sire got caught in the crossfire.” 

Lindsey stares at Jack for a long moment, hesitating, “Thanks, Jack,” he says at last, before sliding into the back seat of the cab.

“Good luck, kid,” Jack laughs, “look me up if you make it back in one piece.”

Jack slams the cab door shut, and Lindsey watches him disappear back into the alley as the cab pulled away from the curb. 

 


 

For a little while all Lindsey can do is watch the streetlights pass by through the window; he draws in even, measured breaths and exhales them through his nose. He’s not entirely certain if he actually needs to breathe anymore, but he hasn’t noticed himself not breathing, and he’s too keyed up to consider testing it. 

Standing in the alley with Jack had been just surreal enough that his mind could ignore the reality of his situation. Even hearing about the politics behind his sire’s death and learning that he was being forced to serve the man responsible had taken a back seat to his first taste of blood and understanding that he everything he was experiencing wasn’t actually him going crazy, but rather were the distinct symptoms of the inborn insanity of his bloodline. Which he was definitely coping with. Which he definitely wasn’t scared shitless at the prospect of losing his self control and being a conduit for millennia-old arcane blood madness. 

The thoughts chase themselves in circles in his head as he stares sightlessly out the window. Everything Lindsey had ever worked toward had been embodied by a sense of control. Control of his person, control of his life, control of his living space, control of his money. Control meant choices. Control meant never having to be hungry or shoeless or without medicine. 

Distantly he can tell his hands are shaking, but he’s so wrapped up in his panic that he doesn’t notice until the trembling takes his entire body. He feels heat rising in his chest and prickling across his skin. He feels breathless and strung tight. He feels as though his limbs are weighted down with lead. 

He doesn’t notice the cab driver looking back at him in concern, pulling the cab over to the side of the road, and stopping. 

“Hey,” the cabbie says, trying to get Lindsey’s attention, “Hey.”

Lindsey tries to answer him, but his words come out as garbled nonsense. Another wave of panic sweeps over him. He’d lived and died by words so many times in his life, he’d cultivated his ability to speak with deliberate care to always be able to convey exactly what he meant, and now it was abandoning him. He was at the mercy of an ancient curse, brought into a secret existence for reasons he still didn’t know, having a breakdown in the back of a cab in the middle of the night while a stranger watched him lose it. 

Lindsey closes his eyes and curls forward to hang his head as far between his knees as he could get it in the cramped back seat of the cab. He shakes and breathes, and shakes and breathes, until he slowly begins to settle. He feels the adrenaline run out. He feels drained and exhausted. But he has control again, and he can sit up and look at the cabbie who’s twisted around in the driver’s seat to observe Lindsey. 

“You okay?” The cabbie asks. 

“Yeah,” Lindsey says, breathlessly, “it's just all sinking in I guess.”

The cabbie nods understandingly, “It happens,” he says. His voice is deep and smooth, and despite the streetlights, Lindsey can hardly see anything of his face other than tanned skin and the sunglasses he’s wearing. 

“Where are we going?” Lindsey asks, because he still doesn’t know.

“Santa Monica,” the cabbie replies, “Prince LaCroix has a job for you to do.”

“He’s a prince?” Lindsey asks, vaguely taken aback.

“He’s claiming himself as Prince of Los Angeles,” the cabbie says, “but it’s not as sure a thing as he wants it to be.

Lindsey nods, cautiously adding the title to his vague understanding of the politics surrounding his situation, “You work for him?”

“Not really,” the cabbie replies, a bemused smile playing around his mouth, “but someone has to take you where you need to go.”

“Let me guess,” Lindsey says, leaning back in his seat as exhaustion settles over him, “I’m not supposed to tell anyone about this, and no one’s supposed to know about vampires.”

“That’s right,” the cabbie nods, “they make a big deal about keeping it all secret; call it the Masquerade.” 

“But no one knows I’m supposed to be dead yet,” Lindsey presses, “and I’m getting sent to Santa Monica for who knows how long, so would it be breaking the Masquerade or whatever the fuck if we went to my apartment so I could get some things?” 

The cabbie laughs, “No,” he says, amused, “I don’t think it would. Tell me the address.” 

As they drive, Lindsey starts coming back to himself. He starts recognizing the streets they pass, settles back into his skin. He realizes he has no idea what happened to his truck, and the thought is such a benign annoyance after everything that it’s almost funny. 

His apartment is the same as he left it three days ago, and it makes things feel unreal again. The half-drunk cup of coffee he’d left on the kitchen counter before heading into the office even earlier than usual to make sure things were ready for the heist and his attempt to break his contract is still there. The air is slightly stale, and Lindsey realizes that although it feels like a lifetime has passed since he’d been there, in reality it hadn’t even been long enough for his cleaning lady to come. 

An abrupt hysteria grips him, standing in the living room of his clean, minimalist apartment while outside the cab waiting to take him away sits idling. 

He picks up the slightly-wilted houseplant sitting on the entryway console and hurls it at the far wall of the living room. It arcs beautifully, dirt beginning to spill out before the ceramic pot impacts with the wall and shatters. He hefts one of the chairs of the matching furniture set he’d decorated his living room with and tosses it as well. He tears the cushions off the couch and upends it. He moves into the kitchen and frantically pulls the traditionally plain dishware he’d been so proud of out of the cabinets to smash on the floor. 

He feels as though he’s finally excising the last little bit of himself that wanted to go crawling back to the Firm as he systematically destroys his apartment. The realization that he’s never going back warring with the realization that he might just survive leaving after all, if survival can be stretched to account everything that’s happened to him so far. 

He finds his go bag in the master bedroom closet, and pauses to open it to consider what’s worthy of taking with him. The bedroom is a mess already, from where Lindsey had torn half his expensive suits off their hangars and strewn them across the floor as he cleared his way to the back of the closet. The mess grows as Lindsey carelessly breaks open all the places he’d used to hide cash and the small, personal items he’d never wanted anyone to see. He dumps all the cash into the bag, along with his personal documents. He finds his gun and his sword and adds them, along with his collection of pocket knives. He shoves his broken-in boots into the bag with his favorite jeans, a few flannel shirts, and his sheepskin jacket. 

He scouts back through his apartment for anything he’s missed, and with an eye for the narrative he wants his apartment to portray. He deliberately destroys a few more things, shoves the mattress off the boxspring, rips open the strewn couch cushions. He goes back to the bathroom and gathers up all the prescription pill bottles from his medicine cabinet, and picks up everything else laying around that would be valuable to a robber. 

Lindsey looks over the destruction he’s wrought on the apartment he’s lived in for the past two years. He smiles to himself, satisfied with the mess. He shoulders the kit bag full of his personal belongings, and hefts the garbage bag full of things he’s going to pawn. His guitar case is waiting for him by the front door, and is the last thing he grabs before leaving the apartment. 

He doesn’t bother locking the door when he shuts it behind him. He just leaves. The cab is waiting for him when he gets to the street, and he shoves his things inside before climbing in. 

The drive to Santa Monica is quiet, the cabbie only speaking to give Lindsey the key to the doubtlessly shabby apartment LaCroix has arranged for him. He feels better. For the first time in a long time he feels like he has control again. His fears about the nature of his curse are still simmering quietly in the back of his mind, and he knows he’ll have to confront them eventually. But despite the fact that he’s still under some arrogant asshole’s thumb he feels free. 

He weighs that feeling in his mind as he climbs the narrow staircase up to his new apartment. Examines it as he drops his belongings on the bare mattress of the cramped studio apartment. It’s not until he’s slotting the boards into their places over the windows that he decides he can live with it. Deliberately ignoring the envelopes and laptop sitting on the tiny desk in the corner, Lindsey makes enough room for himself on the bed and then collapses onto it. 

He falls asleep before dawn breaks, and in the dark of his apartment, he passes the daylight hours dreaming of blood and cobwebs and broken mirrors.