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Part 1: Convalescence

The delicate balance of life on Night Island.


 

I was standing on the terrace at the railing, and I had a great deal on which to reflect. Across the water, the lights of Miami sparkled against the evening sky like a swarm of fireflies. I examined the modern skyline with an eye for detail, noting the shape of every building, the varying shades of illumination, the movements of land and water traffic. Above the city the red lights of airplanes cut ominously through the blackness as if to remind me: Yes, Marius, now even mortals can fly.

Mortals make up the world, now as always, but at the moment this cognizance was particularly heavy on my mind. The panorama before me was not a part of my world; it was a part of their world. The very island from which I gathered this view was teeming with mortals, coming in by the boatload to partake in its many pleasures and forget the dreariness of their daytime lives; lives we as vampires would never be able to face again, dreary or no.

I could have opened my mind to the ever-droning voice of the world if I had chosen to. Or I could have picked out individual voices. I did not listen on this evening. No, instead I was only looking on from afar, meanwhile considering, in another area of my mind, the only part of the world that was not mortal - this fantastic villa with its labyrinth of rooms, secret entrances, gorgeous paintings, and oh, yes: a cadre of almost a dozen vampires.

It was an unlikely situation to say the least. Vampires wouldn't want to come together, I had told Lestat two centuries before. Covens are actually rare, I had said, and vampires are normally solitary creatures, protective of their territory. True enough. Or so it had been for most of the numerous immortals I'd observed in the past.

But now, everything had changed. Akasha was dead, and with her, Enkil. There was no Mother, no Father, no shrine, no incense to burn, no flowers to deliver, no prayers to make. I was free to do... what? As I my eyes followed the path of a distant speed boat, I did not yet know what I wanted to do with my newfound freedom. The world had changed so much for me.

Now I faced the existence of this coven that had come together simply because it seemed the thing to do. Be together. So many of our kind were destroyed -- more room for us than ever to drain the mortal masses of their life-giving blood, although of course not all of us posed such threat to their lives. I took the blood only rarely and I wasn't certain whether Khayman took the blood at all. My beloved Pandora sat before the television or at the piano; occasionally she went out, but I do not know what she did or if she killed.

Louis and Daniel were the deadliest of all, Louis because he still needed the blood every night, Daniel because he wanted the blood every night, full as he was with fledgling passions. I imagined that Santino and Gabrielle were savage and without remorse, although I never tracked their minds as they went out into the city to go about their business.

Of my Amadeo's ways, I was only just learning. It was painful for me to realize how much he had changed over the centuries, how the sorrowful blank slate of an angel I had loved in Venice had grown into a man of cold self-discipline with a world of horrific memories and visions enmeshed in his soul. I observed him carefully as he hosted our coven amidst his personal kingdom, playing chess, bringing in new paintings, speaking in a low voice with Daniel, listening to "Moonlight Sonata" over and over.

Once he had taken me on one of his speed boats and we had driven far out into the ocean. The wind had blown into my face and through my hair and I had felt as if it were somehow cleansing me, although of course no speck of dirt ever sticks to immortal skin like mine. No, perhaps I was feeling the lightness that came from my freedom after so many centuries. Or perhaps it was the idea of being with Amadeo at last.

Then I looked at him, back so straight as he stood at the steering wheel, his hair a tangle of auburn, his eyes looking straight ahead, full of strength but almost expressionless. Such a tight rein he kept on his feelings. I wondered as always what he felt for me. Did he feel any of the old passion? Or was he only spending time with me out obligation, because I was his maker? Or was this ride in the night something else, that had nothing whatever to do with me?

I was about to ask him when he abruptly slowed the boat and cut the engines. I caught the thoughts of the drug traffickers almost at once. My child wanted to attack, as was his habit. We shared the kill, setting aside all pretense of humanity to revel in the chase, the brutality, the blood. In those moments together we were kin to each other again, without need for words or explanations; the hunt forged that dark bond which only predators in a pack can feel for one another. Afterwards as we rode home, the wind hit my face again, but I kept my questions for another time and place.

It was all too raw, too new; I still felt trammeled by all that had come to pass. We all felt it, I thought; a sense of suspension. We were all waiting for the dust to settle, waiting to see the lay of the land after this immense silent upheaval. Eventually there would be confrontations, reconciliations. Old wrongs would be soothed, old arguments revived. But in the meantime there was stasis, a hovering sense of uncertainty, an uneasy truce.

I turned from where I was standing at the railing and walked over to the far end, looking along the side of the mansion. My eye went directly to Lestat's window, open even as the door to the room was closed. He was no longer typing as furiously as before; now he was working on the edits from his publisher. Although really, the reason for his self-imposed isolation had nothing to do with his book. This was as obvious to me as it must have been to every one of us. Lestat was hiding.

Lestat had never been shy, at least not to my knowledge. If I am to believe his autobiography, as a young man he was daring and brash, both on and off the stage. Once he was given the Dark Gift, his audacity only increased with time, culminating in an act of self-proclamation so grand as to have seized the very heart of the Queen herself.

But Lestat had changed and the change was obvious because it was not only his manner, the fact that he had hardly left the island and spent so much time in his room. No, the alteration was plain to see - skin as white as the passage of millenia had bleached my own.

On the occasions when he would be out and among the coven, I found myself startled by the pulse of his immense power. Able to fly, this I knew. Able to incinerate, this I also knew. Able to hear thousands upon thousands of mortal voices in this city and around the world, this was obvious. Able to cope with these powers? I doubted it greatly.

Yes, as ridiculous as it seemed, vivacious, chatty, exuberant Lestat was hiding in room. I wondered when he would finally come out and face even the small world of the coven, let alone the mortal world. Perhaps I would stop by and needle him the way I had a few weeks ago, when I had spoken to him, let him know that we were concerned about him. We had embraced, and then there had come his little taunt about visiting the Talamasca.

And then he had gone to New Orleans and from there flown with Louis to the Talamasca Motherhouse!

That was the last time he had left the island, and that was actually fine as far as I was concerned. I had spoken to him about his foolishness, his carelessness. Taunting the Superior General! Transporting his beloved and delicate fledgling across the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean! He'd laughed at me, of course, just as he laughed about all the other rules we had pledged to obey. There had been no punishment; with his power there was nothing I or anyone else could do.

I let my eyes turn away from the sight of the window and out towards the skyline. Finally I left the terrace and headed inside. Louis had returned from the city, I gathered from the thoughts of those inside the house. I wanted very much to speak with him, this night.

We had all, I believe, made overtures to Lestat in his isolation, but none so frequently as Louis. Every night he ventured to the room Lestat had claimed; we'd all become familiar with the sound of his light knock on that particular door. Sometimes Lestat gave no answer, absorbed in his reflections. If he did answer, his moods could vary widely: some nights his voice was welcoming, some nights scornful and irritated.

It didn't seem to matter what state he was in; if Lestat opened the door, Louis would go inside. I didn't know what passed between them once the door was closed. Louis' first action once past the threshold was to close the window, and the room, like all the private rooms, was soundproofed, obscured from even the keenness of vampiric hearing. One of the little details to remind us that one of our own had conceived and built this sanctuary.

It was a welcome respite, the possibility of privacy. We were all living so close, and we could not help but be curious about one another, and inasmuch as it was possible, eavesdropping was common practice. After all, in the days before the purge, many of us had lived on the edges of our senses, our survival contingent on detecting other voices, other presences nearby. It was difficult to stop scheming, to stop grappling for the upper hand. We had to learn to live amicably, if such a thing were possible.

Privately, I dreaded it was not.

Chapter Text

The luxurious carpeting swallowed my footfalls as I moved through the hallway and approached the main room, but regardless my presence did not go unnoticed. Santino shifted his dark eyes from the chess board and raised an inquiring eyebrow. Without turning, his game partner Khayman sent out a tendril of thought: How are you this evening, Marius?

I smiled gently. Ancient as he was, this one never failed to amaze me with his utter simplicity, his directness, and most of all his gentleness.

"I am fine, thank you, Khayman," I replied aloud, stepping up beside the table and greeting the two players with my eyes before taking a moment to study the board. "You're both very clever. This game has been going on since last night?"

"Yes," Santino answered, rendering the word carefully, just as he shaped all his communications. "Khayman and I seem quite equally matched. Do you like to play, Marius?"

I was caught momentarily off guard. This was Santino, who had scarred my life so deeply all those centuries ago. Even after supposedly reconciling ourselves, saying that the past was past, I still felt uneasy in his presence and considered his every word as an effort to challenge me.

"No, Santino, I have other interests," I replied. In truth I had spent many an hour absorbed by the game.

Khayman interceded. "That is fortunate for you, Marius, for otherwise you might find yourself immersed in it for nights on end. I believe that even during the day-sleep, I have been playing this very game in my mind again and again. Somehow even in my dreams I can't seem to quite counter Santino completely."

The ancient Egyptian's hand reached out and slowly made a move. Now he was at a slight advantage; only a flicker of feeling crossed Santino's face.

Khayman looked up at me and to my surprise, grasped my hand. As always, I was amazed at the hardness of his flesh, how very much like that of those I had tended for nearly two millennia.

"What is it?" I asked.

"The pretty green-eyed one arrived back here some time ago and went to his room. I believe he is now in the library."

Of course Khayman was endlessly aware of the entire universe around him but still I was surprised he knew me so well. "Yes; that is exactly what I wanted to know."

"Simply trying to be of service," Khayman replied, letting go his grip on my hand. Apparently that was all the information I was going to get.

"Thank you, " I said, stepping back. I turned and surveyed the room. Amadeo and Daniel were in the corner, each of them privately listening to music on headphones. I heard "Carmina Burana" and "Rite of Spring" but I could not immediately determine who was listening to which. Suddenly I caught a thought from Daniel, directed my way: I'm the Stravinsky. I enjoy the other, but I feel my ignorance of Latin and German gets in the way. Stravinsky's barbaric strings I can understand.

I laughed inside my head and made sure that Daniel felt it. He smiled and Amadeo glanced up at him and then over to me. What had I said? I waved my hand, letting him know it was nothing to worry about.

Out loud Daniel said, "That reminds me, Marius, I've got a new one for you."

"Oh?" I asked, anticipating. He knew I made a habit of noting down unique colloquial phrases, and had been paying particular attention to mortal speech during his hunting expeditions, bringing back examples of the current patois for me.

He grinned, "You'll love this one. 'Tubular'. Also 'totally tubular'. It means 'stylish', essentially."

"Ye gods," I couldn't help but say, "I hope that doesn't last."

"I doubt it will," Daniel answered, "but it's a fun bit of slang in the meantime. What the hell, another for your collection, right? It pays to increase your word power."

I answered with heavy irony, "Thanks, dude," which sent Daniel into the same fit of laughter he suffered every time I used any of the vernacular phrases he'd taught me. It felt good to have this connection, however trivial, with my fledgling's only child. He was so young, so possible, so reachable. And in this way, so unlike Amadeo, who gazed at me incuriously, his dark eyes opaque. But it didn't bear thinking about, not tonight.

On the other side of the room I spied my Pandora, reclining on a divan, staring off into space, although this time her eyes were lucid. She and I had spoken the night before and it seemed she was coming back to herself. She had been unanchored so long that now she was like a swimmer come back to land, exhausted and ill-adjusted. We had been too long apart.

I came up to her and bent down, delivering a kiss to her sweet lips. "Ita es," I said, using the language we shared.

"Quid ita est?" she asked, pressing her mouth once more to mine.

Such closeness, such tenderness there was. For all we had fought in our centuries together, I knew I loved her perhaps more than any of them. And although I knew she was still struggling to gain a sense of equilibrium in our new situation, I knew she would want to face the task on her own, at least for the most part. I was leery of my own habits, aware that my constant tending might allow her to lapse into the catatonia that had afflicted the Mother and Father. I loved her too much to let that happen.

Gently I pulled back and met her eyes.

"Oh, everything, thus is everything, it simply is," I said. I ran a hand through her hair before straightening up. "We'll talk again later tonight, yes?"

She nodded and I knew it was time to pay a visit to the library. Ita es indeed.

Chapter Text

I hesitated outside the library door. Just as Khayman had indicated, Louis was inside. Although apparently shielding his mind, he made no attempt to disguise his presence. I heard him make an adjustment to the cushion on one of the arm chairs, heard the turning of pages, even the beating of his heart. And then very faintly, I heard him sigh.

Slowly I reached out for the door handle and turned it. Pushing forward gently, I opened the door and stepped inside.

"Good evening, Louis," I said, my right hand still clasping the handle. Of all of us, he seemed the most private, even less inclined to company than Gabrielle. Aside from his faithful but usually brief visits to Lestat, Louis kept very much to himself. I was not entirely sure I was welcome.

I was already quite fond of Louis. Even in my limited experience with him, I'd found his charms all too evident. His unique, distinctively French looks were captivating, and I was tempted to ask him to sit for a portrait, feeling an urge towards representational art again for the first time in decades. But I despaired that I might not be able to quite capture the elusive quality that gave his features their poignancy and grace.

It would be cruel to call it conscience, cruel to imagine one of our kind caught in the snare of humanity's ethics and morals. Yet from his story, told in his own words, it seemed clear that conscience was precisely the affliction that made him so beautiful, so vivid and so nearly painful to look upon, his brilliance cut into him by pain, as facets are cut into a jewel to show its glinting coruscating heart.

I'd often sketched him idly from memory. I had made studies of them all, these remaining vampires, all bound together by a shared sense of awe that they remained yet immortal after all that had come to pass. I was least satisfied with my drawings of Louis. I could easily render the large wide-set green eyes, the patrician nose, the angular structure of his temples and cheekbones, jaw and chin, contrasting with the curves of his full sculpted lips and arching black brows. But I couldn't illuminate the conflicts that played out almost constantly across that face, nor the tensions that subtly affected his slender body.

I'd been impressed by his patience and fortitude during the gathering at Sonoma, and his earnest fearless words during the confrontation with the Queen. In his story, the book that began it all, I had found a bittersweet despair that resonated with the darkest nights I'd known in the course of my own long immortality. Yet I didn't feel I knew him. But that could be remedied by our most abundant resource; there was always time.

Louis looked up from his novel and smiled faintly. "Good evening to you as well, Marius," he replied, quickly closing the book and setting it on the small polished table beside him. By the glow of the brass reading lamp I could see the title: Interview with the Vampire.

Noting the direction of my eyes and the hesitation in my posture, Louis rose. "Please, come in. I was just thinking of leaving, to look in on the chess game."

"Actually, I came to speak to you, if you don't mind," I said.

He registered surprise, then indicated a chair nearby, blood red velvet with a wide back like a Chinese fan. "Not at all. Won't you have a seat?"

"Yes, thank you," I said, returning his impeccable manners. I sank into the chair and Louis returned to his, the crimson of the upholstery complementing the just-fed fairness of his complexion. I glanced around, not sure exactly where to begin. Amadeo had decorated the library in somber dark woods with claret accents. It was unlike any other room in the house, lacking the sharp modernity, the blank-slate simplicity that made most of the chambers seem like carelessly blocked-in backdrops, raw canvas waiting for our actions to fill and define it.

Louis did not lean back in his chair, but sat with his back perfectly straight, hands folded neatly in his lap. "You came to see me?" he asked meekly.

I nodded. "Yes," I answered. "I wanted to talk with you."

Louis' expression was unreadable. There was a moment of silence. "I'm flattered," he said finally. "But what do you want to talk about?"

I laughed softly. "Don't worry, Louis, I only wanted to get to know you a bit better, extend the right hand of friendship as it were. We haven't spoken much."

"I suppose that's true," he said, relaxing a bit. "But then again, I didn't think we would have much to discuss. As one of the youngest here, I find myself at a loss. In the face of the wisdom of millenia, anything I have to say must seem as trifling and negligible as the weather."

Astonishing, he was, and every bit as modest as I had gathered. "Trifling? Negligible? How can you say that? You're a fine companion, Louis, and certainly there are many things we might discuss together."

He leaned back into his chair. "Are there?"

"Of course," I replied. "For example, at this moment, we're in the library. Don't you think we might discuss literature or philosophy or history? I know you're very well read, with a great affinity for books."

Quickly, apparently without even thinking, Louis glanced over to his book, the slender tome that had started it all. When his eyes returned to meet mine, they had grown harder, colder. "Perhaps we could have such a discussion in time. But at the moment I fear I am not inclined to touch upon that subject."

A bit perplexed, I turned my head to look out the window. Another red light moved through the inky black night. "What about Miami?" I asked, gesturing toward the night beyond the glass.

When I faced Louis his expression was nearly blank. "What about it?" he asked, nonplussed.

"Well, what do you think of it?" It was a mundane topic for conversation, but I had to start somewhere.

"It's fine," he said.

"Is it really," I said dryly. It was obvious to me that he was simply being polite. Mind to mind I spoke to him, as unobtrusively as I could, communicating my genuine curiosity: Tell me how you truly feel.

Louis' lips parted slightly in surprise. Apparently he was still startled by the telepathic powers so common among our present coven. "I think -" he began, using his fine, mannerly voice before pausing. "I think that - Excuse me, I'm a bit scattered after your -"

"I'm sorry," I said, holding out my hand apologetically. "I didn't mean to startle you. But go on, tell me what you think about the city across the water."

Louis pressed his hand lightly against his mouth before speaking. "To be perfectly honest, I find it rather grotesque."

Now I was getting closer to the real Louis. "How so?" I inquired.

He shrugged and settled back in the chair, hands relaxed on the arm rests. "I suppose it's simply objectionable in the manner of the current times. I don't know. I just find it... unsatisfactory."

"What in particular bothers you?" I prodded.

Louis sighed. "The common characteristics of so many modern cities. The tall buildings standing in the way of the sky, ugly metal and plastic everywhere, the flashing neon signs, the bright lights not just on every corner, but every fifteen feet. And most of all the ugliness. Everything sharp and angular and utilitarian. There is no charm in it, only vulgarity. Meanwhile the mortals flit about like flies around a refuse heap, buzzing with their harsh, blaring music, dancing late into the night and falling drunk into the streets and -"

Louis stopped, looking somewhat embarrassed. "But excuse me, I did not mean to go on at such length. I have been speaking so little... I seem to have forgotten myself." He cleared his throat as he brought himself back to the subject at hand. "Suffice it to say, the city does not appeal to me much. But it hardly matters. I am quite detached from my surroundings. And of course my thoughts may simply be the result of having truly lived in only two cities my entire life."

"New Orleans and San Francisco," I said. When he nodded I continued, "Yes, those cities are very different from Miami, I must agree with you. I quite enjoy San Francisco myself. As for New Orleans, I have never actually been there."

"You haven't?" Louis asked, surprised.

"No, I haven't. I was avoiding it actually," I confessed.

"Ah. Yes, that's understandable," he replied. "You knew Lestat had gone there to care for his father."

"And to live his mortal lifetime," I added.

Louis pressed his lips together and swallowed. "Yes," he said tightly.

"I would like to visit there," I offered.

Although he smiled, Louis' face was still rigid and the smile seemed a false one. I had not imagined that a mere mention of Lestat would upset him so immediately.

"You should go then," he said.

"Perhaps I shall," I answered. "But at the moment I intend to stay on here in Miami. Do you plan to return to New Orleans?"

"Return?" he asked. "I haven't lived in New Orleans in years. But I suppose I would like to go back eventually." He looked down, raising one eyebrow, his expression troubled. "I don't mean to seem rude, Marius--"

I had to laugh a little. "You're in no danger of that. I am not so decorous as you seem to think."

He made an arresting little gesture, turning over one half-curled hand as though twisting a key in a lock. "I could say the same. If there's something in particular you wish to ask me, please feel free. I have no desire to bore you with this cavalcade of banalities merely for the sake of polite conversation."

"I doubt you could bore me if you tried," I said. "If I required constant entertainment to maintain my interest, I suspect I would not have endured for as long as I have. How can I put you at ease, Louis? I only want to talk to you, and come to know you better."

He smiled uncomfortably, looking towards his book. "My life had but one story, and that I've already told. What else is there to say?"

"But that tale ended years ago," I pointed out, "and you continue. What of all the years that have passed since then?"

"An exceptionally long and uneventful denouement," he said ruefully. "Until recently, of course. There's been entirely too much drama, these past few months. But that isn't my story, it's Lestat's."

"He has seized the spotlight completely, hasn't he?" I asked. "In the way that only he can."

Louis seemed to have a full panoply of unconvincing smiles, each conveying a slightly different sense of unease. Though the corners of his mouth were upturned, his expression now seemed grim. "We make light of it," he said, "because there's little else we can do. But I think even Lestat regrets placing himself at the center of events this time."

We were silent for a moment, the weight of the recent past heavy between us.

I said, "You may lay claim to only one story, Louis, but surely there's more to it than that. Most of what I know of you comes from the two books and I have heard discussion that neither one of them is completely truthful."

Louis laughed with quiet derision. "Who was discussing that? Lestat?"

I didn't answer.

"Well, if it was Lestat, that would make sense. He's only the vainest creature on earth, and God knows I did not go out of my way to flatter his character, when I described him to Daniel."

"He sounds as though he might have been quite deserving of your descriptions, however," I said.

Louis looked at me with frank surprise. "But you knew him then," he said, "and found him impressive. Obviously he wasn't the fiend that I imagined him to be."

"Perhaps not," I said, "but Lestat can be very cruel; of course, we all have that possibility lurking within us. It's inescapable, being what we are. From your story it does seem that his behavior was reprehensible during those years--"

"No, he wasn't that bad!" Louis blurted. His hand went up to his mouth. "What I meant to say is..."

"You were harsher than you might have been."

Louis nodded. "Exactly so. But understand, I was still angry. I blamed him for-- much of what happened. I did not understand him. I still do not understand him, but at that time I knew so little of him. He was -"

"Erratic?"

"Yes."

"Impulsive?"

"Certainly yes."

"Arrogant?"

"Very much so!"

"Sounds like our Brat Prince," I joked.

Louis smiled, genuinely this time. "Indeed, but...." and slowly the smile faded. He shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts. "Yes, he was the same, but still, I can't help but think how different things would have been if he had... had been able to..." His voice trailed off.

"I understand. Lestat was different then. It was partially my fault, you understand. He had just come from me and I had passed on to him my secrets and placed upon him heavy obligations."

"You did charge him with grave secrets, I realize that," Louis said. "But he withheld more than the legends of our origins. He told me nothing about himself. Until he wrote his autobiography, I didn't even know his last name."

I nodded, remembering how blank and pastless was Louis' depiction of Lestat; how out of context his maker had seemed.

"To me it was as though he'd come from nowhere, out of the ether-- like something I'd summoned, which then turned against me," Louis said. "In my conceit I thought of him as a demon devoted to my vexation. But if you've read the books no doubt you've gathered as much. And then to learn his origins, to find I'd been so utterly in the wrong! Every ridiculous self-righteous sentiment I uttered, rendered comical by the truth. And the story I told with such an air of tragedy becomes something closer to farce."

With those words Louis froze. Incredibly, tears had come to his eyes. He blinked and, dabbing his lashes with his one hand in the most delicate manner possible, reached out his other hand until it rested on the book at his side. "But I defeat myself. This is exactly what I did not wish to discuss." His eyes did not meet mine.

"I apologize, Louis," I said. "I didn't wish to trouble you--"

"No need," he answered at once. "It's nothing that you said. As you can tell from my choice of reading material," he glanced at his book with something like disgust, "I have been in a reflective frame of mind, that's all." He rose to his feet. "And now, if you will excuse me, I believe I am due to check in on the match. I presume I can't have missed too many moves." Again another variation of a smile but clearly he desired an end to our talk.

I rose, stepped forward and held out my hand, which he clasped. "It has been a delight to speak with you, Monsieur de Pointe du Lac." On impulse I decided to try out the formal French name simply to see how he would respond.

"And likewise, Mr...." Louis fumbled, letting go of my hand.

"Romanus," I finished for him.

"Mr. Romanus," he repeated with some humor in his voice. "Mr. Romanus?"

"Yes."

Louis shook his head. "Please don't mistake my reactions. I'm afraid I'm unfit for cordial company, of late. But I am glad we had a chance to talk."

I reached out for the door handle, pulled it open, and held it so that Louis could pass through into the hallway. I followed, letting the door close behind me.

"Bonsoir," he said, heading off towards the main room.

"Yes, bonsoir," I said as I watched him go. Though his steps were light, his feet sank into the plush carpet; he walked more like a mortal than any vampire I'd ever seen. As he reached the end of the hall Amadeo passed him and from the slight hesitation in Louis' step, it seemed there was some silent communication in which I could not share. A moment later and Louis was gone from view as Amadeo came near.

My child's eyes seemed somewhat more sympathetic as he came to a stop, acknowledging me with a slight nod of the head.

"You spoke with Louis?" he asked casually.

"Yes, Amadeo," I said. I noticed how he still flinched ever so slightly at the old name. "We spoke."

"How is he?"

"Mostly fine, it seems. It's difficult to tell at times, but at other times, he makes himself quite clear." I thought back to those green eyes, brimming with fresh blood tears.

"Believe me, Marius, I know all about it. From first-hand experience."

That was all. With that Amadeo resumed his path and I resumed mine.

Chapter Text

Not ten minutes later, after I had settled in a chair next to Pandora, the living room was rattled with the sound of loud preternatural voices shouting from somewhere down the hall. There could be no mistaking to whom the voices belonged. Amadeo and Lestat were having at each other.

Quickly I rose, and addressing myself to the small assembly at hand announced, "I will go and see about bringing some peace between those two."

"Good luck," Daniel said doubtfully, not bothering to look up from the magazine he was reading.

"I'm sure it will be easy enough, provided you're willing to throw one or the other out into the sea," Santino offered.

"Thanks for the heartening words of encouragement," I said as I left the room.

As I approached Lestat's room I found myself tempted to put my hands over my ears, the voices were so loud. The sound of my Amadeo bellowing brought back memories that were not entirely pleasant.

"You are NOT putting Night Island in that idiotic book!" Amadeo cried as I reached the unshut door.

"Why not? Are you afraid a brace of mortals will come out from Miami wielding torches and crying for our heads? Don't be stupid."

I entered the room. "Well, if anyone has just cause to beware of crowds wielding torches, it would be Amadeo, wouldn't it?"

The two of them stared at me briefly and then Amadeo leveled a smoldering amber gaze at his opponent.

"It's bad enough that they're letting you get away with publishing another of your egocentric tomes--"

"Nobody's letting me do anything," said Lestat obstinately, shaking back his blond hair and crossing his arms in a deliberately contentious pose.

My child turned to me in a fury of whirling auburn curls, one imperious white finger stabbing the air in my direction. "Marius! How can you let him get away with this after we all agreed on the rules?"

"Don't whine to him about it, there's nothing he can do," Lestat pronounced with great amusement, his varicolored eyes twinkling, now grey, now blue.

"Armand," I said, using his self-chosen name in an attempt to placate him, "the second edition of Lestat's autobiography ends with 'To Be Continued.' If we prevent him from publishing the sequel, there will be inquiries. We will have to come up with some explanation as to why the successful pseudonymous author of The Vampire Chronicles has chosen to discontinue the work. The mortal world believes these books to be fiction. In this case I'm afraid it is more in the spirit of the rules to let Lestat finish the story-- it will be less conspicuous and cause less fuss than the alternative."

"There, you see? Listen to your elders, Amadeo," Lestat jeered. "That's your lot in unlife. Leave it to me to stand them all on their heads."

I frowned at Lestat in annoyance. "I fail to see why you can't camouflage Night Island, however," I said. "It's only common courtesy to abide by the wishes of our host."

"Don't bother telling him that," Amadeo said sourly. "Lestat, courteous? You might as well try to put shoes on a cat."

"Not that you'd know anything about gratitude," Lestat spat in return, "throwing me off the very same tower that I gave you, back in Paris!"

"Such a gift!" my child answered mockingly. "With, I seem to recall, a very troublesome fledgling attached by a string! I paid for that tower of yours over and over again in babysitting duties--" A flicker of doubt distracted him and he half-turned to me. "That's the current word, isn't it? Babysitting?"

"That's the vernacular," I assured him.

He nodded, and set right back into the argument without missing a stride. "We could waste all night recounting each other's sins back and forth, the debts owed, the debts paid, and I for one am not interested in toting up the accumulated wrongs over the centuries. Here and now, I have provided this sanctuary for the whole of us, and all I ask is that you make some slight effort to protect what I've spent the last ten years building!"

"It's a reasonable request, Lestat," I put in, "and it would be so easy for you to make this gesture..."

"I'm not interested in making any gestures to him," Lestat shouted. "I've had quite enough of this pap about the glorious home he's built for us here. It's ridiculous! Armand, you never did a thing for anyone else's sake -- you never have and you never will! You built the island because you wanted to, and when you stop wanting it, you'll shut it down and turn us all out on the doorstep... or perhaps tip us off a convenient precipice... if you can." His voice glowed with menace. "Would you like to try?"

Armand's shoulders went back and he gave the younger vampire a supercilious look. "If I wished to do that, it would already be done. Ancient blood or no."

Even this slight allusion to the Mother had Lestat tensed tight as a drum. Sighing to myself, I prepared to intercept his immense newfound strength.

Just then the door opened. I knew it was Louis without turning around; none other would allow his hand to audibly twist the knob, nor let his shoulder brush the woodwork as he leaned into the room.

"On behalf of the guests of this household," Louis' low voice crept into the room, "I was wondering if you might be persuaded to keep your voices down. Khayman and Santino are playing out the last few moves of a hotly contested chess game, and your shouting is rattling the chandeliers."

Lestat wheeled on his fledgling, piqued. "I'm not the only one shouting," he pointed out.

"I didn't say you were," Louis replied mildly. "You are, however, the only one rattling the chandeliers." His eyes swept over the tableau we made in the study, Amadeo and Lestat at odds, myself set off to the side between them, ready to step in if Lestat's temper and his new powers got the better of him.

"Which battle is this?" he asked. "I thought it was already decided that the third book will be published."

"Lestat insists on including our exact current whereabouts in the last chapters," Amadeo said. "Maybe you can fathom this colossal folly, Louis. God knows it entirely escapes me."

"I don't remember anyone ever chastising Louis for practically drawing a treasure map that led directly to my resting place in New Orleans," Lestat pointed out.

"That's beside the point!" Amadeo snapped.

"It's true, though," Louis said thoughtfully, raising an eyebrow at my child.

Amadeo seemed to catch some glimmer from Louis and nodded sardonically. "I suppose you were the first to break all those rules -- speaking out, disclosing touchy locations, telling tales. How very wicked of you. You ought to be ashamed. Look what an awful effect your deplorable behavior has had upon Lestat!"

"I'm embarrassed to have set such a bad example," Louis responded with purely polite malice, his green beryl eyes fixed on his maker.

Lestat simmered, unsure which way to let his anger run. I waited, wary that the hesitation veiled an even more dangerous fury.

Instead Lestat's mobile mouth drew up in a smirk. "You certainly are terrible, Pointe du Lac," he said. "You could probably show me a thing or two about going against the grain. Why, when you return Armand's books to his library, you probably don't even file them in alphabetical order!"

"I hesitate to tell you what mischief I've been up to," Louis said solemnly. "You're so impressionable, Lestat. And so susceptible to one-upsmanship. Last time you became a world-famous rock star to outdo me; who knows what lengths you might go to this time, if you knew...?"

Armand seemed to be having a hard time containing his laughter. Louis spared a conspiratorial smile for him and went on with deliberate melodrama, "But I've already said too much. I must get back; I want to see how the chess game turns out."

He withdrew from the room; he only made it three paces down the hallway before Lestat passed both Amadeo and myself without a glance, flying after him.

"All right, what nonsense are you going on about now?" Lestat demanded. "I hope you realize you're not fooling me for a minute. You haven't got a mischievous bone in your body-- and I should know," he added, his voice dropping to an almost inaudible purr as they receded.

I looked at Amadeo, baffled. "What was that?"

"Lestat is eminently distractable," he replied with amusement. "It doesn't take much to throw him off, when you come right down to it. Any sufficiently shiny object will do."

I shook my head. "Of all of us, Lestat worries me most," I said. "The rest of us are resolved within ourselves, if not entirely with one another--" I looked at him significantly.

He regarded me with an unnerving steadiness and said nothing.

"At any rate," I resumed uncomfortably, "I fear our Brat Prince will not be so quick to recover. And yet he says nothing really, to any of us."

"Of course not," Amadeo answered implacably. "We are not witness enough for him. If he's to confess, the whole world must hear the tale. You realize he had his publishers rush out that second edition of his autobiography, with its tacky little cliffhanger, solely to corner us into letting him put out the third book."

"At least he made some pretense that he would abide by our wishes," I said. "That's actually more than I expected. But I wish he would talk to me, or to someone. I thought perhaps he had been confiding in Louis, but from speaking to Louis earlier, I don't believe that's so." I shook my head. "This reticence is most unlike Lestat. I find it worrisome."

"I suggest we savor the silence," Amadeo said. "I doubt it will last for long."

"And Louis...?" I realized that I didn't even know Lestat's fledgling well enough to know what I was asking.

"It must be nice to externalize your conscience," my child observed in indirect reply, "for then you are able to escape it, when it suits you."

"I think there's more to it than that," I said.

But what, I didn't know.

Chapter Text

There were arguments for and against Lestat's second book among the coven members, but these were spiritless and abstract discussions. It was a foregone conclusion that through sheer force of personality, Lestat would get his way, in this as in so many things. And privately I adored him for his willfulness, though I regretted that he'd chosen to flaunt Amadeo's wishes in his mention of Night Island. For his part, Amadeo adopted an attitude of sheer disdain towards the book, and ignored all mention of Lestat's literary efforts.

Finally the book was off to the publisher and there was nothing more to say. The uneasy peace reigned for a time. But of course, it was soon shattered again by Lestat.

I was reading on the gallery when the noise reached me -- doors opening and closing in haste, furtive voices. It could only be the youngest among us responsible for such imperfect camouflage. I rose from my studies and sought out the source of the scuffle.

"Lestat, you're a real piece of work," I heard Daniel saying. "It's almost like you set out to accomplish six impossibly stupid things before breakfast, every damn night."

"Are you all right, Louis?" Jesse asked solicitously.

"I'll be fine."

"What's happened?" I asked, coming around the corner into the room.

The young ones all looked up at me guiltily, like schoolchildren caught in the act by the teacher. Daniel and Jesse hovered near Louis, who was reclining on the sofa, his legs stretched out, the left one laying at a distressing angle. Lestat glowered at me, trying to cover the slightly shamed mien he couldn't quite hide.

"It's nothing, really," Louis assured me.

"Nothing hell," Daniel said. "You're gonna be limping for a couple of days from this. It'll heal faster if someone knows how to set it, though. Marius, do you know if anyone here has any doctoring skills?"

"I have some slight experience in that area," I said. "But no one has answered my question. What happened?"

Jesse unfolded a blanket she must have lifted from one of the many linen closets secreted about the mansion, and settled it over Louis, who answered the rather pointless gesture with a weak smile. She and Daniel both stared at Lestat without saying a word.

"Fine, fine, it's my fault," Lestat muttered finally, casting a sour look at the other three. "We were out taking a flight and had a little mishap, that's all. We took a tumble. I tried to turn us around so you wouldn't get hit," his voice became less belligerent as he directed his words to Louis.

"I know," Louis said. "It's all right."

I came to Louis' side and knelt next to the sofa, turning the blanket aside to look at his leg. "I'll have to cut these trousers to see what I'm doing," I said. "Daniel, would you mind fetching me a pair of scissors?"

"No problem," Daniel answered, catching on. He ushered the redhead towards the door. "C'mon, Jesse."

She stuck her tongue out at him playfully. "Yes, Master," she said, following him out of the room.

"You better watch where you put that tongue," he said as they left. "You never know what might happen to it."

Lestat grinned as the two fledglings departed. "Armand better keep an eye on his young one," he said with evident delight. "Those two were brought over at just the same time, and they were close in mortal age, too. They're liable to run off and elope if the imp isn't careful."

"It takes more than coming from the same era to make two people suitable for one another," I said, looking quite pointedly at Lestat. He rolled his eyes at me.

"So decrees the statue collector," he said with obvious annoyance. "If you're such an expert, why'd you spend so much of your two millenia on your own?"

"Lestat, that's unfair, even for you," remanded Louis sternly. "You forget yourself."

Before Lestat could reply, the door widened and Daniel came in, proffering a pair of scissors my way. "Here you go. Let me know if you need anything else."

"Of course. Thank you, Daniel."

He gave a little salute. "That goes double for you, Louis," he said. "Let me know if you need anything -- like a walking stick, or a bodyguard."

Lestat met his disapproving gaze with a nasty look. "You're awfully reckless, Daniel. Armand ought to keep you on a leash."

Daniel grinned. "You're one to talk."

Reluctantly Lestat's dark expression eased and he quirked a slight smile.

"Give me one of those 'Criswell Predicts' mindwaves if you need me," Daniel said as he left, shutting the door behind him.

"I love the way they talk now!" Lestat enthused. "I don't understand the better half of it, but I adore it all the same. Marius, you've been paying attention to the current language -- what did he mean by that? What's a Criswell?"

"We'll discuss that later," I said, slicing the black fabric of Louis' slacks to ribbons up to the thigh. The young one watched with abstract curiosity, as though the exposed crooked limb were entirely separate from him. "I'm a bit occupied at the moment."

"It's not bad, is it?" Lestat asked.

"How did you manage this, exactly?" I asked in consternation. Louis' left leg was broken above the knee; the kneecap itself was mangled, all but shattered, forcing the calf into a sideways angle that looked profoundly wrong. "No, don't tell me yet, let me set this -- I'm afraid this is going to hurt, Louis."

He opened his hands in a resigned gesture. "Whenever you're ready."

I put both my hands firmly around his leg, exerting slight pressure to feel the disjuncture of the bones enmeshed in the preternatural flesh. As quickly as I could manage, I brought the limb back into proper alignment; his knee made a muffled crackling sound as the joint wrenched to the correct position and the tendons and ligaments snapped back into place.

Looking up I found Louis blinking rapidly but otherwise bearing up well enough. After a long moment, he nodded to me in thanks. Lestat actually looked the worse of the two, aghast at hearing the noise of bone grinding against bone.

"Christ," he muttered, drawing near, and put a hand on Louis' shoulder.

"I'm fine," Louis said, though his low voice was rough and weary. He put his hand over Lestat's. "But no more racing with jets, please. You were hurt too; it's just that you heal faster than I do."

"Jets?" I asked in dismay.

Lestat heaved an exaggerated sigh. "Oh, I'll never hear the end of this one..."

"No, I daresay you won't. May I speak with you?" I moved toward the door.

Lestat flashed a grin at Louis. "Don't go anywhere," he said facetiously. Louis raised an eyebrow at him, unimpressed with the joke.

Out on the balcony, I waited expectantly. Lestat, all innocence, asked, "What?"

"I seem to remember specifically cautioning you about flying with Louis, after you took him to London."

"Yes? And? So?"

I frowned at him. "Lestat, you still don't seem to grasp how much you've changed. Do you realize how perilously far from the earth you travel, when you fly? You can sustain a terrible fall and be none the worse for it, but Louis' immortality is not so certain. It's still entirely possible that he could be badly wounded; it's possible that he could die."

Lestat's expression became closed and sullen. "Don't tell me things like that," he said. "We're immortal, aren't we?"

"We're not invincible," I said. "Surely Akasha's fate is the ultimate proof of that."

I hated to mention her. The wounds were still so raw for both of us. But how else could I communicate the gravity of my concerns?

He turned from me, looking out across the water.

I asked, "What happened? Tell me, really."

"I didn't take him far," Lestat said. "We were just looking at Miami from above. And then I saw this plane coming in, and I wondered if I could catch up to it. So I tried, but it started to turn and the slipstream from its wings changed all of a sudden, and the gale threw us down. I would have had us back under control before we hit the ground, but we were blown into a radio tower."

I shook my head. "You are the d--"

"Don't say it," he interrupted. I studied his back, the tightened posture, the tense grip of his hand on the rail. After a long moment, he said, "When we banged into the tower... I was really afraid."

"Rightfully so," I told him. "Lestat, why do you never think before you act? I worry about you. We are all concerned. And behavior like this does nothing to allay our fears."

"Don't worry about me," he muttered. "Nothing can hurt me now."

"But you're wrong," I said, "in more ways than one."

He didn't answer, fixing his eyes on the distant lights.

"And I worry too that you take advantage of Louis' devotion," I went on. "You mustn't keep sweeping him along with you whenever you take it into your head to do something foolish."

"Isn't that up to him to decide?"

"Of course," I said. "But I would be remiss if I didn't express my serious reservations. He's the weakest of this coven, and I would not see him harmed."

"Louis can take care of himself," Lestat said with a grimace. "He'd be appalled if he knew that you thought of him that way."

"I doubt it. He seems eminently sensible. I'm sure he'd be the first to concede the need for caution. And if something did happen to Louis on one of these expeditions of yours -- what would that do to you?"

Lestat ignored the question. "Louis -- sensible? Cautious? That's absurd. I suppose you think you know him because you read that awful book," he uttered with contempt. "But you don't know him. None of you do."

The fiercely possessive tone in his voice took me by surprise. "I'll grant you that for most of us, Lestat," I said carefully. "But surely at least Armand--"

Lestat forced a laugh. "Oh yes. Armand knew Louis so well he nearly destroyed everything extraordinary about him." He shook his head emphatically. "None of you knows a thing about him. Armand least of all."

"All right, Lestat," I said. "So you know him better than anyone... does that give you the right to risk his life at your whim?"

He glared at me poisonously, but as I steadily returned his gaze, he looked down with a faint air of remorse.

"I'd never let anything happen to him," Lestat mumbled, as though this were a confession that embarrassed him. And then he looked up at me again almost pleadingly.

I was at a loss. He seemed to need some assurance, some affirmation of my confidence in his lack of malice. But having read Louis' account of their time together, I wasn't sure I could believe that was true. Nevertheless, after a long hesitation, I said, "All right, Lestat."

A smile bloomed on his white face; not the devilish grin he'd cultivated over the years, but the honestly happy expression of the beautiful young man he had been and somehow miraculously was still, in spirit as well as in body, despite everything.

"I was keeping time with that plane, you know," he said triumphantly.

I couldn't help but laugh. "I don't doubt it."

"Have you ever tried to catch up with one of those monsters?"

"No," I said. "And I hope you won't try it again. But now I'd like to speak to Louis, if you don't mind."

"What if I do mind?" he asked flippantly.

"That's all right, as long as you mind out here," I said. "Because I'm going to talk with him now. Alone."

Lestat shrugged, hopped the rail of the balcony, and hovered unsupported in the air. "Fine," he said, receding as I reached for the door. "I'll be back."

I returned to the room and found Louis bending his injured leg experimentally. "Better?" I asked.

"Much," he said. "Thank you."

I dragged one of the armchairs close to the sofa so that we could converse comfortably. Settling in, I said, "It seems you took quite a fall."

"I think we would have been fine if it hadn't been for the radio tower," Louis answered. "Really, the skyline is cluttered with an amazing quantity of such things now: antennae, skyscrapers, pylons. I can't help but wonder what it must have been like to have the power of flight in earlier eras."

"Perhaps that's something we can talk about another time," I said, refusing to be drawn off track. "At the moment I'd rather know what happened tonight. Surely you recognize the danger Lestat was putting you both in, by flying near such a populated area."

"Were we seen?" he asked, alarmed.

"No, no," I said. "I only mean that it was careless of him to fly above Miami, and certainly something beyond careless to try to race a plane. Louis, I realize that you have a long history with Lestat, and my counsel is probably superfluous. Still, I can't help but tell you what I think. Please consider carefully before you let him conscript you into these adventures of his. Lestat has gained tremendous power in a very short time. He doesn't know the limits of his own strength. Tonight the consequence you bear for this is minor, but what about the next time?"

"Conscripted?" Louis asked. "Is that what he told you? But it was my idea that we take to the air."

I was agog. "Your idea?"

"We were in Miami," Louis said, "though for my part, I've come to dislike it, as you know. He was describing what the city looks like from above, and I asked if he would show it to me."

"But -- doesn't it bother you, to fly?" I hated this power myself, using it only when necessary. I felt that it damaged something uniquely human still lingering in my soul. I would have imagined that Louis, the closest to mortal of any of us, would have found flying to be a horrifying experience.

"Bother me? No," he said, a flush of life coming into his face. "No, it's beautiful. It's exhilarating. I don't envy you stronger ones any of your powers, save this. After all, what aspiration of man is more ancient and enduring than the power of flight?"

"But it's a terrible thing," I said. "It defies everything it means to be earthbound. It severs us from our every remaining tie to humanity."

"Surely not. Our humanity has nothing to do with our powers," he said with conviction. "It's what we feel, what's in our hearts, that makes us still human -- no matter what abilities we have, or what monsters we may become."

"I wish I could agree with you on that score," I said. "It truly doesn't frighten you?"

"No," he said. Then a hint of a smile tugged at his mouth. "Well, let me amend that. I suppose I must confess, the interlude with the plane did nothing for my nerves."

"Not to mention, your leg," I said. "But tell me this, then. If you believe our powers have no bearing on our humanity, our souls -- why do you shrink from using your own abilities?"

"What abilities?" he asked.

"Well -- telepathy, for instance."

"I can't do that," he said dismissively. "All I can do is shield, the way Armand taught me to do."

"But you could if you tried, of course."

Louis shook his head; his black hair fell into his eyes and he pushed it back in a quick unconscious gesture. He had not cut it off tonight, as was his usual habit; the dark waves flowed past his shoulders, rather longer than the fashion of his time would have dictated, if I remembered correctly. But then, he had been grieving when he was made, and probably not altogether well-kempt; and Lestat had been hasty with him.

"I'm not capable of such feats," he said. "You told Lestat yourself, back then, that if he made more they'd never be as strong as his first two."

"I didn't say never," I corrected. "You could become more powerful, of course, by the same means any of us gain power. In time, or through the blood of someone stronger."

Louis' usually expressive features became peculiarly blank; his eyes dropped, staring at some invisible point down and to his right. Then he seemed to school himself into a detached, curious posture, his vivid green eyes coming up to meet mine.

"I don't think it's possible for me to attain the powers you speak of," he said, "but more to the point, they don't interest me much one way or the other. I feel no need for them. As you told Lestat once, a singer can break a glass with the proper high note, but the simplest way for anyone to break a glass is to drop it on the floor."

"I said that?" I asked in jest.

"It's in his autobiography," Louis reminded me. "The interlude on your Greek island..."

"Ah yes," I said. "My ill-starred attempt to drum some sense into that famously thick skull."

He coughed a little, which startled me until I realized it was his polite way of covering a laugh.

I smiled at him, pleased. I liked these little gestures of his. I cultivated such habits myself, but that was artifice. These things came naturally to Louis; I was charmed. "I exaggerate, of course. As you mentioned when we spoke before, I did find him impressive when I met him near the end of the eighteenth century. Lestat has quite a keen and avid intelligence. But as for common sense--" I lifted my hands helplessly. "If only that could be taught."

"I've often wondered --" Louis began, then stopped himself.

"Yes?" I encouraged.

He frowned. "Since I know you've read the books, I fear this will seem like a loaded question," he said. "But I truly do wish to know... when you sent Lestat off to the New World, what did you expect for him?"

"If you mean, do I approve of the way he lived out his 'one lifetime', the answer is no," I said.

"No, that's not what I'm asking. When you saw him off, when you sent him away, what did you think would happen?" Louis' brow furrowed. "It sounds accusatory, but that's not how I intend it, honestly..."

"It's all right, I understand," I said.

I took time to gather my thoughts, and he waited patiently until I began to speak. "I thought he would care for his father, and see his father die. I believe it's an important thing for a vampire, to see someone close perish. To understand what death means, when it comes to one we love. You learned that lesson before you were made, the simple selfish horror of a loved one's death. The unalterable fact that the person you once cared for just does not exist any longer, that you can never reach him again."

He nodded soberly.

"It's an awful lesson, but it's one we all must learn," I said, "and sooner is better, in my experience. It seemed especially important for Lestat, because up to that point, all his losses had been suffered from a distance. He was not witness to the demise of his family or of his child Nicolas. The only death that had come near him was that of Gabrielle, and of course, he brought her over rather than lose her to the infinite."

"You wanted him to learn to let mortals go," he said, "even if he loved them."

"Just so," I replied. "And I knew he would make more fledglings, of course. Gabrielle is a magnificent Child of Darkness, but she is no fit companion for Lestat. He was alone when I found him, but I knew he could not bear to remain so for long. I had hoped that he would form a bond with his next child, on the order of my own bond with Pandora. The two centuries I spent with her remain, I think, the bedrock of my entire immortal existence. Those years made my heart strong. I wished the same for him."

I sighed. "Those were the two things foremost in my mind. That he should walk his father down the last mile of his life and into easeful death. And that he would find a companion and live a lifetime that would form a solid foundation for the centuries to come. Of course, I miscalculated on both scores, as you know. I judged things too quickly. I didn't know, for instance, how deeply Lestat loathed his father. And I failed to realize how badly Lestat had been wounded by all that had come to pass in his short life up to then. We were together too briefly," I concluded, "and I spent too much of that time talking, and not enough listening."

Louis dwelled on this in silence for a time.

Finally I spoke again. "My first attempt at advising him went so far awry -- perhaps it would be better if I didn't try to intervene, here and now."

"He may not listen to your words," Louis said, "but he understands that you care for him. I think he would be hurt if you were to stop."

"And you?" I asked. "Do you listen to my words? Do you understand that I care for you?"

Apparently not; he gave me a quick startled look. "Of course," he said, sounding unconvinced. "I appreciate your words and your concern."

"I'm glad," I said. "I hope you'll remember what I said about Lestat. I don't cast aspersions on his intentions, but so much power in such a short time can't help but distort his judgement--"

"Which was never particularly sound to begin with. I know. I realize the risk I run when I put myself in his hands," Louis said evenly.

"And you trust him?"

He thought over the question seriously. "I wouldn't go that far," he replied at length. "But in my estimation, it's worth the risk."

I smiled at him, rested my hand on his shoulder for a moment. "I know there was trouble between you," I said, "but despite that, I believe that he chose you well."

He hesitated, then said quietly, "You are very kind."

Well, are you done blabbering in there? Lestat demanded, mind-to-mind.The wind's ferocious. My clothes are getting shellacked by seaspray.

Very well, come back, I answered, rising from my chair.

Lestat glided up to the balcony doors at once, threw them open and flew in like Peter Pan soaring onto an open stage. "The weather's gotten rough!" he said. "Maybe it's a good thing we had that little mishap. If we'd gotten caught out in this storm we might've been struck by lightning. We would've been French toast."

I groaned at this pungent example of one of Lestat's hideous puns. "Close the doors, please," I said, though it would have been just as easy to do it myself.

Lestat waved his hand carelessly and the doors slammed shut behind him, the glass rattling in the panes. "Well?" he asked his fledgling. "Are you better?"

Louis swung his legs around from the sofa and stood for a moment, but his face went very white and he unsteadily sank back down against the cushions. "Somewhat," he said.

"You should drink again tonight," I advised. "This will heal more quickly if you're nourished during the day sleep."

At this Louis evinced distinct unhappiness; he let his head fall back against the sofa, staring at the ceiling for a long moment.

Lestat smoothed one hand tentatively over his child's dark hair. "I'll take care of it," he said.

"No, Lestat. I can manage," Louis answered.

"Well... you could always drink from me," Lestat said then with studied casualness. "I mean, it would help. You could stand to be a little stronger."

Louis' eyes flicked over me quickly, then away. "I can manage," he repeated, seeming acutely embarrassed.

A familiar caustic look crept over Lestat's face. "No doubt," he said. "Are you going to hop everywhere you go for the next few nights?"

"Lestat," I said reprovingly.

"Oh, don't start again," he snapped, "you've already dealt out a lecture apiece, that's enough, isn't it?"

"It would seem not," I said, "but nevertheless I'm through with it for now."

"I suppose he's been telling you how dangerous I am now that I'm stronger. Well, don't pay any attention to him," Lestat said to Louis as I began to step away. "Marius knows so much, he thinks he knows everything." His voice sank in tone and volume. "But nobody knows us, do they? Nobody knows how we are."

I felt the calculation behind this blow, expressly intended to make me feel the weight of my own long solitude. And the corollary, a ratification of the closed circle that seemed to exist between the two of them. But I think we were both surprised by Louis' answer.

He said tiredly, "Lestat, I don't even know how we are."

At that, I felt a deep sympathy for the both of them. As I reached the door I could hear the shadow of Lestat's voice, pitched only for his fledgling's ears. I left them.

I was a little surprised when I saw Louis in the library the next night, and upon reflection, I realized that I was startled because he was exactly the same. Still he retained a dimension of mortal color and life, still he seemed too nearly human. I had expected him to be different: I had expected him to be paler, stronger, changed by the blood of Lestat. But it seemed no blood had passed between them. When in time he left the library for his own room, Louis still had a trace of a limp from his injury. When I moved to assist him, he waved me away, barely able to mouth a refusal with his usual courtesy.

Of Lestat, there was no sign for many nights.

In his absence, things were changing.

Chapter Text

The placid atmosphere of Night Island had never been true peace, only a deferral of the conflicts and tensions that still lay between so many of us. Slowly, in time, the fissures began to show. I found myself wary and on guard in the presence of Santino, awkward and unsure with Amadeo, and helpless to assist as Pandora struggled silently to regain herself. Lestat and Amadeo icily ignored one another on the infrequent occasions when Lestat was around; their chilly avoidance cast a long shadow. Daniel went hunting with Lestat for a few nights, sending Amadeo into a cold fury. He and Daniel argued, and the following night I saw Amadeo deep in conversation with Santino, which disturbed me in more ways than I could count.

And these were only a few of the events which wracked my immediate circle of loved ones. The entire byplay of grudges old and new between all the survivors was its own petty epic. Over the course of long nights spent in the midst of this subtle turmoil, trying to soothe and mediate, I began to think that Louis was wise to keep well out of it all.

The coven survived a few more weeks until finally, one by one, members began to drift away. At first there were only long absences, a week or two, but soon the disappearances grew longer. Gabrielle was the first to leave outright. She could not abide staying in one place for so long, she said, and she did not see the point of our remaining together.

No one registered surprise or disagreement at this decision. Even Lestat seemed resigned to his mother's departure. We had all needed our time at Night Island, but finally, like a leaf caught momentarily in an eddy, we slipped back into the stream. Khayman came to me and said he would go to Maharet and Mekare, now that they'd had some time together. Eric, Jesse and Mael headed in the same general direction. Santino, before leaving, announced that he was off to enjoy a Europe finally free of the fledgling "vermin" that had overtaken it prior to the Queen's assault.

One night Pandora was simply gone; I found a note in my room saying it was time for her to live again. She would find me when she was ready. I felt the lack of her more painfully than I had imagined possible.

Amadeo and Daniel stood by through it all, having obviously taken the island as their home. Lestat explored Miami; often he would be missing most of the night. Louis meanwhile still seemed to prefer a solitary, private existence, although he and I developed a nightly ritual of reading together in the library. We rarely spoke during these times, but it seemed he was not averse to the company. On occasion he would join Armand, Daniel and myself in the main room and watch videos or programs on the television, although often he would exit halfway through, slipping off to his room or leaving the house to wander the island alone.

One or two hours before dawn Lestat would inevitably return from the mainland, flush with some new modern delight. Until now he had not had the time to truly contemplate the wonders of this era, he explained, and he was making up for lost time. He regaled us with stories of drugstores full of analgesics and diapers, all-night laudromats, prostitutes using exotic contraceptions, and even gay bars, which the city had in such abundance. He seemed quite proud of his discoveries, although we would frequently have to confess to him that some of these institutions had been in place for quite some time.

Although we never grew close, Daniel and I continued to chat amicably and there was a sense of affection between us. As for Amadeo... occasionally I would see glimpses of the boy I once knew, but every time I met his gaze I found those same opaque eyes, that same wall he had built around his soul. And, feeling keenly the wound of Pandora's absence, I could not summon the fortitude to break through his reserve. I longed to know if he blamed me for abandoning him, if he was angry, if he felt anything at all. But I kept my silence.

When at last I told my child I was leaving to travel the earth, he nodded and said only, "I hope it will not be another five hundred years before I see you again." His tone was flat; I could find no trace in him of sorrow, of regret, or of love. There was no parting embrace.

I tidied the room I had been using, but laying out my few possessions I found I had no urge to take anything with me. Yet it seemed rude to leave the clothes in the closets, as though I might return soon. And so I carried a trunk into the room and stored my things away compactly.

There was a tap at the door as I packed. I dared to hope it was Amadeo, but when I said, "Come in," Louis entered. He gazed slowly around the room, at the compiled stacks of clothes and books resting in the trunk.

"You're leaving?" he asked softly.

I nodded. "I've been rooted to one place after another for so long. It's time to live without weighty obligations for a while."

A slight smile lifted the corners of his lips. "I'm considering a move, myself," he said, "though I have no such rationale for leaving. I simply miss New Orleans."

"Really?"

"Yes. Actually, it was through conversation with you that I realized how much I wanted to return," he said. "I never thought about how little I cared for Miami until you asked me. Now I find myself wishing to go home again."

"What about Lestat?" I asked.

"I'm not sure what his plans are," Louis answered.

"Have you told him you're leaving?"

"We haven't spoken much recently. He's been spending time in the city, as you know." He clasped his hands loosely before him. "Perhaps he'll stay near here. It would be good if he could make peace with Armand."

"It would be good," I agreed, "but it would not be likely."

That made him chuckle a little. "I suppose not."

I hesitated. "Louis, I feel in some way a little responsible, if you are estranged from Lestat. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so harsh with him after the accident. He meant no harm, but I was abrupt with him. I only meant to warn him from his thoughtlessness--"

"Please, don't worry yourself about that," Louis said at once. "It's nothing unusual. Lestat and I have never been close."

I gave him a starkly incredulous look.

"I care for him, of course," he went on, his nonchalant tone undermined by a rise of color that briefly enlivened his face. "But he never spoke much to me even when we shared a household. His attention is always directed out there," and he gestured broadly in the general direction of Miami and the mortal world.

"I thought things might be different for you now," I said.

Louis lifted a hand, let it drop. "It would seem not."

"I had hoped otherwise," I said, choosing my words with care. "Largely for his sake. He has not been long risen and already he's been through so much."

"If there were anything I could do, I would do it," he said quietly. "But there's nothing."

"I know. I felt the same way with regards to Pandora," I admitted. "It has been enormously difficult for her, but I couldn't help her." I went to him, placed my hands on his shoulders. "It's hard for all of us to understand what's happened. But there is always time."

Louis smiled slightly, stepped forward and kissed one side of my face and then the other. "I wish you well," he said. "I hope you'll stay long enough to bid Lestat farewell before you go. I know he'll miss you."

"I will," I promised. "Perhaps when you've settled in New Orleans, I'll come for a visit."

"Ah yes," he said. "Long overdue."

I embraced him fondly, saying my goodbyes, and then he took his leave. I finished putting away my things and left the closed trunk in the spacious walk-in closet.

The night drew on, and I wondered if waiting for Lestat was going to keep me on Night Island for another evening. All at once I wanted to put the place behind me, and I felt a rare inflection of impatience to be done with this calm airless chapter of my life. I opened my mind wide, searching for Lestat, and found his distinctive presence near Miami, cloaked by powerful shields that nevertheless were not quite up to the task of disguising the pure crackling force of his newly ancient blood.

Lestat, would you mind meeting me on the island?

I'm busy, his mindvoice came back brusquely.

No doubt. But I'd like to say goodbye in person.

You're leaving? His thoughts were tinged with incredulity. Why?

I'd like to travel, I said. Enjoy my new freedom.

I thought you'd be the last pillar to fall, he replied. I would've expected Armand or Daniel to leave before you did. What about all those promises we made amongst ourselves, that the island would always be home?

I wouldn't think that would make a difference to you, I said curiously.You're rarely here.

Well... I like having someplace to come back to, he confessed. I received a faint vision of New Orleans, a bustling street, a beautiful townhouse glowing with light and life; and I sensed an ache of loss and loneliness that touched my heart.

Young one, your shields are not equal to your power any longer, I cautioned him. You need to practice. I fear you're telling me more than you want me to know. And you are far too easily found.

"Who could find me?" I heard him say aloud. Spinning, I found him alighting on the ground behind me. "There's no one left to hide from."

"There are mortal psychics," I reminded him. "And other creatures of power, as I once told you long ago. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy."

He waved that away. "Let them come, then," he said. "It'll give me something to do."

"Are you still at such loose ends?"

"Marius, I am always at loose ends," he grinned with roguish charm.

"Not always," I said, telepathically sending back the vision he'd let slip, the townhouse in New Orleans, the sense of emptiness. "You spent quite a few decades with all your loose ends neatly tied."

"Well, that was my 'one lifetime'," he said with an exaggerated shrug. "It's done with now."

"And what comes next?" I asked.

"I don't know," he admitted, with a measure of discomfort. Our eyes met in sympathy.

It struck me then how easy it would be to invite him to come with me. We could travel the world together, building on the love that had grown so quickly and easily between us in Cairo and Greece.

Together we could circumvent the painful emotions of the past. I could occupy myself with Lestat and forget the centuries-old abyss that lay between myself and my Amadeo. He could accompany me, recover from the scourge of Akasha, and avoid the strange faltering rapport that bound him to Louis more closely than either of them seemed able to bear.

We would never have to move beyond the convenient roles we'd placed one another in: I, the wise keeper of the rules, he, the impetuous Brat Prince, breaking every one of them. We could be comfortable with one another, and never fear truly hurting one another; the love between us was strong, but not deep enough to cause either of us pain.

I loved Lestat now as much as I ever had; he was always magnificent, even at his most vexing. And without a doubt, he was one of the most handsome and magnetic creatures I'd ever known, his sparkling blue eyes faceted with grey and violet, his wavy hair golden and abundant, his broad mouth ever on the verge of breaking into a mischievous smile. It would be a delight to spend the coming years in his company.

It would be marvelous. But reluctantly I recognized that it would not be right for either of us, to fix on one another now. We had exasperated one another too often, we had lived in one another's memories for too long. There could be no passion between us, despite the wealth of love and admiration I felt for him still, sensed from him still. He was newly risen, and yet young; he needed to find his own way in this age. And I needed to find myself, define myself, now that I was no longer The Keeper. We had no place with one another in this time.

"I have no doubt you'll think of something to tumble into," I said. "I'm sure you'll be stirring up trouble again before I'm half gone."

Lestat smiled gleefully. "Well, if we're all leaving anyway, why not sink the Night Island right into the sea?"

"Armand and Daniel are staying," I pointed out.

"They can swim," he said promptly.

I laughed despite myself. "I will miss you," I said, stepping near to hold him close. "You will always be very dear to me."

He squeezed me tight; if I'd been a millenia younger, he would have snapped a few of my ribs. "Easy!" I said. "You still don't know your own strength."

"You can take it," he chuckled into my ear, but he loosened his grip and moved back. "I'd say 'Godspeed' but it's so theological. How about 'Bon voyage'?"

"That will do nicely, I think," I said. "I'll see you again. Sooner than two hundred years this time, all right? Farewell, Lestat."

He waved as I rose into the sky; then he was only a dot on the shore of the distant island; then the island itself was a far-off speck, fast disappearing into the vastness of the ocean. I was on my way to wherever the future would take me.

Chapter Text

Part 2: Exploration

Marius' first visit to New Orleans 


Upon leaving Night Island, I was at first unsure of what to do with myself. Without the anchor of the island or the burden of Those Who Must Be Kept, and feeling significantly recovered from the shocks that had so recently devastated our world, I was ready at last to experience a taste of life on my own.

I had quite a time, exploring the globe in a way I had never been able in the past, staying for weeks in lands I would never had dreamed of experiencing at length before. Always there had been the Mother and the Father, who needed to be tended, protected, and worshipped, and to whom I had always needed to return.

Now I was never too far away and I had nothing and no one to come back to. And so I found myself spending two months in Singapore, half a year in Romania, three months in West Africa. I tried to sample as much as I could, visiting the great modern cities as well as the places of the world that had remained unchanged for centuries. I wanted to create an understanding within myself of the contemporary world.

Ultimately I felt my quest had been successful and so, in time, I decided to take up Louis' suggestion. Why not visit New Orleans? I began to make arrangements to have the usual conveniences of money and suitable identification available to me in Louisiana. Getting in touch with my mortal agents, I was glad to learn that Lestat had left a series of messages for me, notifying me each time he had moved to a new residence over the months that had flown past. He too had returned to New Orleans, though it seemed he had been restless; he had lived in half a dozen different places around the city in a relatively short span of time.

I sent word back to Lestat that I would be coming to his city, and received a warm reply inviting me to stay at his sanctuary for as long as I liked. All of which brings me to the moment I found myself on the street outside Lestat's new apartment by Jackson Square. For a minute or two I stood eyeing the lights in the windows of the apartment I knew must be his. I wondered if he would be alone.

Finally I called: Knock, knock, Lestat, your guest has arrived.

Come up, come up! he answered impatiently, managing to be brash even through the force of his mind. I had to smile as I slipped into the bushes and, unseen by human eyes, launched myself onto his patio. I found the door open. Inside, Lestat was at his computer, apparently managing his finances. I was pleased to see Louis there as well, rising up from a chair near the door to greet me.

"Marius! It has been too long," he said and he gripped my shoulders and kissed me lightly on the cheeks.

"Yes, what have you been up to?" Lestat asked, still flipping back and forth between various financial application screens, shuffling around the stacks of papers and files on his desk.

"Oh, just taking my first real holiday after two millennia," I said, having just returned Louis' greeting kiss. "It's good to see you, Louis."

Lestat rose with a flourish as his computer screen went dark. "And what about me?" he demanded, presenting himself for kisses.

"And you," I admitted with a false air of sarcasm. Louis had stepped back and now was gesturing for us to sit. I sank into a sofa and while he resumed his seat in what I now noticed was an uncomfortable modern chair. Lestat sat across from us in a similar chair.

"So, Marius, how long have you been in town?" Lestat asked.

"Oh, only a few hours," I replied.

Lestat rubbed his hands together, eager to hear more. "Well, what do you think so far?"

"Yes, Marius, do tell us," Louis said politely. "I know it's your first time in New Orleans."

"It's a lovely city," I replied, thinking of the way it had appeared to me as I had approached from above. I saw the Mississippi as it lay under the stars and electric lights of the modern city, the patterns of the city streets, set into their grids, the tiny blocks of houses that reminded me so of European cities but which, up close, had a character all their own. I thought of the smell of the air and how one truly could smell the decay, just as one could see the houses being eaten away by the termites, the vines wrapping themselves about the wrought iron.

"I understand why you would want to live here," I said. "It's truly like nowhere else in the world. I would like to get to know it better."

"I hope you'll allow us to provide with you a tour," Louis said. I noticed Lestat's blue-gray eyes flash to Louis briefly. A smile flickered across his face.

"Oh, yes, Marius, we'd be delighted!" Lestat exclaimed, eyes returning to me. "And of course you'll stay here with us in this apartment. I have plenty of room and it's all been appointed with a vampire's comfort in mind, thoroughly secured and sun-proofed of course." He gestured towards the windows, where I noted a system of built-in shades that apparently slipped over the windows and could be attached to the sides to completely block the rays of the sun.

"I'm glad to accept your hospitality," I said. "But please, let me get all the tourist destinations out of the way on my own first -- Bourbon Street, the cathedral, the square down below, and so on. I doubt you'd be interested on visiting those well-trammeled locales yet again."

Louis shook his head. "Ah, but even familiar destinations become new again when you visit them with someone who's never seen them before. I'd be pleased to rediscover the city by sharing it with you." He now presented what I took to be one of his genuine smiles, a rare and touching expression. "Even Jackson Square."

Lestat suddenly straightened up and gave Louis a perturbed look. "Yes, Marius, we both will," he said slowly.

After that we remained seated for some time as I related my stories of travel and updated them on goings-on within the coven, as I had done some visiting and on a few occasions had run into the others, also exploring on their own. That conversation segued into a brief walk around the apartment, with Lestat pointing out the technological gadgetry he had purchased and also modeling a few of the modern clothes he so adored.

At length we found ourselves in the living room. Louis, walking up to a window and looking up to check the sky, said, "It's getting near morning. I should go."

"But--" Lestat began, clamping his mouth shut on his own words as Louis shot him a look.

Surprised by the turn of the conversation and feeling the need to smooth things out, I asked, "Oh? Where are you living now, Louis?"

"A little place I found in the Quarter," he answered.

Lestat rolled his eyes and look distinctly annoyed as he stepped over to me and said with an air of authority, "A hovel. It's practically a crypt. Actually it's worse than a crypt. The cemetery has far more comfortable tombs." For an instant I picked up a tone of hurt in his words.

"It's quiet," Louis said, speaking directly to me and ignoring Lestat, who was now on his way towards his desk. "Set back. Private. Or it was."

Lestat turned around, this time looking distinctly piqued. "Yes, your little sanctum sanctorum. Pity it's about to fall down around your ears. One good shout and the walls would come tumbling down."

"It's stood up to a great deal of shouting thus far, to no visible effect," Louis said.

By now Lestat had returned to the living room and was standing by the door. "Well, you'd better hurry home, then," he said in a mock solicitous tone, opening the door and gesturing broadly for Louis to leave. "Wouldn't want you to get caught out in the sun. If you're going to get incinerated, I want to be the one to set you alight."

I could hardly believe my ears. "Lestat!" I admonished him.

"What?" he spat angrily. "I'd only be returning the favor."

Louis' expression was steely as he turned to me, hands behind his back and said, words fairly carved from ice, "Good night, Marius. I'll look for you in the square below tomorrow night, if I may?"

"That would be splendid," I agreed, moving towards the door. Lestat slid angrily out of the way, going off behind us. "Ten o'clock?"

Louis nodded. "I'll see you then."

Without so much as a glance toward Lestat, he strode out the door. I stood and watched him exit the patio, unlocking the gate and making his way down to the street. I could hear his footsteps. Once I was certain he was gone, I spun around, ready to tell Lestat just what I thought of his rude behavior. But as soon as I saw him the word caught in my throat. Lestat had sprawled out at full length on the sofa, one arm draped over his eyes. His generous mouth was downturned.

I stepped over and fell down to my haunches beside him. "Lestat, what on earth were you thinking?"

"He stayed three nights this time," he murmured, almost to himself. "A new record. At this rate it'll only take a hundred years or so before he sticks around for a whole week."

I suddenly felt very much out of place. "Obviously I'm interrupting something."

Lestat uncovered his face; his eyes opened but he did not look at me. "No. You're not; that's the problem."

Then, with not so much as a glimmer of warning, he sat up and abruptly changed his manner. "Oh, hell, never mind, who cares anyway? There's so much for us to talk about, pleasant things, and we need to plan for tomorrow night."

In a moment he was up on his feet, showing me the chamber where I could spend the day, asking me more about my travels, telling me the places we might visit together in the city. Lestat chattered with frantic good cheer almost until dawn, hardly allowing me to get a word in edgewise. Anything seemed to be fair game for conversation. Anything but himself or his own state of mind.

Chapter Text

When my eyelids opened the next evening, a little later than usual, I knew instinctively that Lestat had already gone out. I had probably sensed it in my slumber. Nevertheless, rising out of the luxurious bed that had been prepared for me, I scanned for others.

I was alone, I quickly determined, and so with no need to hunt prior to my 10 o'clock appointment, I decided to take advantage of the fully outfitted bathroom Lestat had showed off to me the night before. It would be pleasant to drift away in the comfort of hot water and steam. I had a feeling it might be the only moment of calm I would enjoy that night.

A half an hour later, I emerged into the living room freshly clothed and feeling refreshed. Lestat was laying supine on the sofa, as I could tell from the fall of wavy blond hair that extended out over the arm. Before him a huge television alternated quickly from one brief flashing image to another. Two seconds of news, a snatch of commercial, a bit of a basketball game, a fish swimming through the seas of a nature documentary. Lestat was, in modern parlance, "channel surfing."

After observing for a moment in silence, I approached the sofa and glanced down at Lestat. To my surprise, his hands were at his sides and there was no remote control. Apparently he was controlling the television with his mind. Even when I stood next to him he did not seem to take any notice.

"Don't you find it maddening?" I asked as the television threw its jittering lights across the living room.

"Hmmm?" Lestat's eyes, which had solidly focused on the programming, drifted up to look at me. "What?"

I motioned towards the television, which Lestat had settled on an art history program, the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. "That. Going through all the dozens of the channels that way. It's maddening, isn't it?"

"Not half as maddening as the hundreds of channels playing in my head," he remarked darkly. The television screen went black and the room was suddenly quiet. "And it's much easier to turn off." Lestat closed his eyes and pressed his hands over his ears. How often had I done the very same thing, trying to block out the mortal and immortal voices that plagued me?

Eyes still closed, Lestat seemed to have picked up on my thoughts. "Marius, sometimes I wonder how it is you're still sane."

"So do I," I chuckled. But he seemed honestly troubled; I decided to be more serious. "You must remember that I had the advantage of coming to these abilities gradually over a period of centuries."

"As opposed to over the course of an evening or two, you mean." The tone was unmistakably bitter.

"Yes," I answered.

Swinging his feet to the floor, Lestat rose to face me, eyes open. "Well, that must be the difference," he said, poking his finger into my chest. "It's driving me off my head!" He went to one of the windows and pressing a button, set one set of blinds retracting up into the ceiling. "Or very nearly," he said quietly, looking out into the night.

I stepped up behind him and carefully put my hand on his shoulder. How I wished I could lessen his burden, make the change less horrible for him. "It must be difficult for you," I said.

Mercurial as always, his mood suddenly changed; he said coolly, "No, it's nothing. Now and then it makes me a little weary, that 's all. You know how I like to exaggerate."

"I don't think you're exaggerating. I know from my own experience what it was like to gain just a fraction of the power you have now in a short time. It can be devastating--"

"I told you it's nothing, Marius, really," he cut me off stonily. "I'm weary of dealing with it, but I'm even more weary of talking about it. So let it alone."

Since it was impossible to empathize with him now, I decided to go on another tack. "And this weariness of yours, Lestat," I began, "would that account for your behavior towards Louis last night?"

Lestat wrenched himself away from my hand and took a step to the side. "Must you bring that up? I was just beginning to forget. Besides, we'll be seeing Mr. Miserable later this evening."

"Will we?" I asked, somewhat surprised that Lestat would be joining us after the argument that had ensued.

"Of course!" Lestat said, waving his hand confidently, a glorious smile spreading across his face. "You didn't think I was going to stay home flipping channels while Louis showed you his version of the city, did you?" This was typical Lestat, full of bluster and arrogant beyond belief, yet somehow, still quite endearing.

"I don't know what I thought," I said, "but the way you practically tossed him out the door when all he had done was--"

"Enough!" Lestat cried, cutting me off. "I know," he said more softly. "I have a temper. And I'm wicked. I'm going to Hell. I know. I've heard it all before." He blinked. "Now on to more interesting topics."

I laughed but inwardly I worried at his unwillingness to discuss what had passed, especially since it seemed that the argument had not been an isolated incident. At any rate I let Lestat change the subject. He had been watching films and videos almost every night and he was eager to go over all he had learned, discussing the acting, the way the scenes had been crafted, the music.

Apparently he'd learned a great deal about film making during his brief rock stardom; he made specific references to lens types, camera movements, and lighting techniques. He had always had an interest in theatrics, he remarked. I was tempted to note that I had seen his theatrics only the night before, but I thought better of it. We would be meeting up with Louis in an hour and I wanted the mood to be calm.

Finally, at around 9 o'clock, Lestat announced that he was going out "to rid the city of a few more murderers" and would arrive at Jackson Square in an hour to commence my tour. The farewell was casual as told me to be sure to "lock up" before leaving. Then he went out the door, leaving me alone in the living room.

Unlike Lestat, I had no inclination to watch television or hunt. I decided to inspect the apartment. Perhaps I would find clues that would aid me in understanding how Lestat had truly fared since those months ago on the Night Island.

Lestat had of course already shown me his bedroom, but I decided to go look in again. The door was not shut and he had left the lights on. The bed was unmade and the half-open closet doors revealed tangles of clothes fighting for hanger space. There were a few other personal effects scattered about. A brush and comb sat on a small table by a mirror and it was no surprise to see they were both full of bright, golden hair.

My eyes took in all of this in only a moment. I was about to turn and go when something caught my eye. A small green volume on the night stand by the lamp. Wordsworth, I saw from the cover as I stepped over to look. Deciding that I was hardly prying, since the book was in plain sight, I picked it up and turned to a page that had been marked with scrap of paper.

The title struck me immediately: "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." Dating from the early 19th century, it was something Lestat might very well have read here in New Orleans. I scanned through the lines, curious what Lestat, not known to be much of a reader, had been contemplating. In the fifth stanza I found lines that provided a partial answer:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The youth, who daily farther from the east,
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Finally, near the end came the lines which are so well known and so oft-quoted:

What thought the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Nodding my head, I finished the poem and turned towards the front of the book to check the publication date. Indeed, the volume was a first edition. And there, on the inside cover, I saw a bookplate, marked in fine handwriting: LdPdL. This book, apparently, was on loan from the library of Louis du Pointe de Lac.

I placed the book on the nightstand in the same position I had found it and left the room.

Chapter Text

About ten minutes before ten I left the apartment, taking care of all the locks and alarms and descending the stairs. A quick walk later and I was in Jackson Square. It was a Friday night and the spring had brought some warmth. It had obviously rained during the day and the city glistened. Alive with people, the square proved an interesting place to stand and observe.

I had only about five minutes to wait before I spotted Louis entering the opposite side of the square. He approached me with a wan smile, holding up a silver pocket watch. "Right on time," he said, pointing to the clockface, which showed exactly 10 o'clock.

I nodded, looking about the square expectantly for Lestat. "I'm glad to see you," Louis remarked. "I thought perhaps Lestat would have picked an argument with you and sent you out of the city."

"He does seem to have a terrible temper these days... especially around you," I remarked.

Louis' smile froze. "Ah, well, yes, he can be difficult." I perceived from his tone that he was trying to put such matters behind him.

There was an awkward moment before Louis said, "But we should be going." He began to walk towards the cathedral. "I don't expect Lestat to--"

"Leaving without me?" Lestat cut in. He had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, coming up behind us. He placed his arms around the two of us and gave us both a gentle squeeze. "Well, I wouldn't hear of it. Now, Louis, we promised to give Marius a tour and we're going to do a good job of it, yes?"

A bit embarrassed, Louis nodded, taking a step away from his maker. "Lead on, MacDuff."

Lestat laughed a little, seeming pleased by the reference. "Of course."

"Although there are some aspects of the city that would be more properly left to--"

"A native of New Orleans," Lestat finished for him. "I was an immigrant, Marius, even if Louis didn't learn that until much later." He tightened his grip on my shoulder before breaking off from the two of us and making a line for the front of the church. When he reached it, he turned to us.

"Remember when this was built, Louis?" he asked, indicating the ornate structure.

"Of course," Louis answered, eyes following the sharp, straight lines of the towers. "I had never seen such a tall building. It was a wonder. Rising over the lowlands of the city -- imagine it, Marius, it was magnificent!"

I chuckled, thinking back to the many similar remarks I had heard through the centuries, from Roman peasants remarking on the Coliseum in Rome to wandering singers praising the wonders of the cathedrals. "I'm sure it was," I said. "And it should prove interesting to see this city through the eyes of two who were there almost from the beginning."

For the next two hours I allowed myself to be led throughout New Orleans. After taking in the church, we went up and down every street and alley of the French Quarter. As I'd imagined, Louis and Lestat had dozens of colorful stories to tell about the area. To my relief, they seemed to be getting along tolerably well. Lestat painted colorful scenes of bygone days, conjuring images of the city as it was in the nineteenth century. Intermittently Louis chimed in with a fact or a brief anecdote, but mainly he allowed Lestat to talk, watching his maker with a rapt expression.

"That place was built in the 1820s," Lestat said, waving a hand toward a beautifully preserved townhouse. "We went to a few parties there. The lady of the house used to hold a salon in the first-floor parlor. She was having an affair with one of the artists--" He nudged Louis with his elbow. "You know the one. That German fellow with the cheekbones." Lestat sucked in his cheeks comically. "Hans, or something."

"Heinrich," Louis corroborated.

"His art was terrible," Lestat said expansively, "mind-numbingly terrible! The most atrocious chocolate-box portraits, with sallow skin tones and muddled compositions. But what a gift for bullshit! He could talk circles around you 'til you were dizzy and ready to agree black was white just to shut him up. I'm surprised he never became more successful, really."

"I wonder whatever happened to all his awful paintings?" Louis ruminated. "Surely no one ever paid good money for them. I remember he kept pestering everyone at the salon to let him do portraits..."

"Mostly me and you," Lestat recalled. "As for the paintings, most of them got slashed up by M. Laumier, when he realized his wife was having it off with Heinrich. Perhaps that's how Heinrich was able to get up the guts to kill him."

Louis and I both stared at Lestat in surprise. He grinned, pleased to have us so attentive to his story.

"Mme. Laumier helped, of course," he went on. "She knocked the man of the house out cold, and Heinrich used the same knife on the poor man that he used to cut canvas. They forged letters saying that he'd gone travelling, and planned to dump his body in the river. But they didn't count on two things. M. Laumier wasn't quite dead. And Claudia and I were hunting nearby."

At the mention of her name, Louis paled a little, and Lestat seemed momentarily bogged down. But he pushed on. "M. Laumier revived, picked up the discarded canvas knife and put quite a hole in Heinrich. He yelled like the dickens, which we couldn't help but hear, and once we perceived what was happening, Claudia and I were too glad to lend a hand. It was sadly too late to save M. Laumier, so Claudia escorted him to the next world. I took care of the widow and alas, poor Heinrich, too." He chuckled. "Ah, but I have thousands of tales like that. We all do, yes? In time they become merely banal. Merely ordinary. A routine triple murder. To me it seems as though every inch of this city holds some memory of death."

We were all three silent for a time.

"I never knew about that," said Louis at length.

"Of course you didn't," Lestat replied indolently. "You probably had your nose stuck in a book the whole time. Ten years later you might've looked up and said, 'I wonder why the Laumiers never invite us over anymore?' and then you would've shrugged and gone back to your reading."

For the most part we were quiet in the wake of this, walking among dark history, lost in our separate thoughts. Lestat must have been planning our route quite carefully because it wasn't until we had covered almost every block in the Quarter that he and Louis suddenly stopped.

Their eyes went to a townhouse across the street. With its front gallery and fine ironwork, now slightly bent and in need of repair, it fit into the street as a matching, if slightly shabby, neighbor. I knew in a moment that this was no ordinary house. This was the home described in Interview with the Vampire.

Neither of them spoke as I stood with them and examined the place where Lestat and Louis, along with their tiny "daughter," had made their home for all those decades. Despite the peeling paint and crooked shutters, I could imagine the house in its prime, lit up with candles and oil lamps.

I could hardly conceive of it still: three vampires living in such a common dwelling in such close proximity to their neighbors. On top of that, given that there were no basements in New Orleans, I knew they had all three slept above ground. I wonder if either of them had ever worried for their safety in such a conspicuous, vulnerable spot.

It was Louis who finally spoke. "So many memories," he said. The tone was neutral.

"And not all of them pleasant," Lestat muttered, walking across the street and grasping one of the poles that supported the front gallery. "For example, I seem to remember I spent two evenings here being killed."

I tensed, thinking Lestat was about to fly into another tirade against Louis, but he merely looked up at the gallery, released the pole and set off walking down the street. Louis glanced at me with an air of apology, then cast his troubled gaze downward, watching his feet as we walked along Rue Royale.

Chapter Text

The rest of the tour proved uneventful. After finishing up the French Quarter, we took a long walk and explored the Garden District. We ambled along the river and slipped into a number of cemeteries and parks. The city was beautiful and charming, offering a kind of ambience and sense of place so rare among American cities. I could understand why both of them had been so drawn to it through the years.

Finally we had, I was informed, seen most of the city, at least superficially, and so we decided to settle ourselves into a mortal drinking establishment to observe, as Lestat put it, "living flesh and blood New Orleans up close."

"Where would you prefer to go, Marius?" Louis asked.

"Someplace loud, where we can have fun?" Lestat clarified. "Or quiet, where we can talk?"

"Quiet, where we can talk. I came to see you!" I said.

Lestat beamed and charged ahead, leading the way. Soon we arrived at a jazz club. Cutting to the front of the short line at the door, Lestat apparently utilized a bit of mental persuasion on the attendant, who let us in without asking for identification or money. Inside the club the lighting was subdued but the music was lively, with mortals gathered in a room at the back to dance. Lestat took us to a round table off to the side.

"I think jazz defines the twentieth century for me, musically," I commented as we took our seats. "Improvisational, constantly evolving, endlessly inventive..."

"What about rock and roll?" Lestat asked with mock affront.

"Oh, that's just noise," I answered playfully.

Lestat folded his arms, pretending to pout.

"I tend to agree with you, with respect to jazz," Louis said to me. "It's the only style of music that still sounds just as fresh to me as the first time I began to hear it, in New York."

"Ah yes," I said, "you were there with Armand during the teens and twenties of this century."

He nodded. "It's a shame we weren't here or in Chicago during the early years of jazz, so that we might have heard it from its inception. But we did follow many of the early, influential musicians avidly back in those days."

"Interesting," I said. "I would not have expected such an appreciation from my Amadeo."

"Of course, Louis' taste in music has suffered a little, in the interim," Lestat said. "He raids my music collection on a regular basis, and some of the garbage he listens to is just astonishing."

"It's your garbage," Louis replied.

"But everyone knows I have awful taste," said Lestat. He half-turned to me and lowered his voice as though relating some scandalous piece of gossip. "He likes Madonna."

It took me a moment to place the reference. Some evanescent pop singer who'd attracted an inordinate amount of fame due to her inflammatory appropriation of the Virgin's name. "I can't say I've heard any of her music," I said dubiously.

"It's awful," Lestat told me with clear delight. "I'll play some for you later, it's just shockingly bad. I can't believe Louis likes it so well. He watches her videos all the time, too."

"Honestly, Lestat," Louis said in embarrassment. To me he said without much conviction, "I think it's interesting, the way she co-opts Catholic imagery and iconography to suit her own ends..."

He trailed off; Lestat was humming, his tune clashing with the jazz music. As soon as Louis' words ceased, Lestat sang aloud, "Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone; I hear you call my name, and it feels like home..."

Louis glared at his maker, but a hint of a smile was beginning to subvert his lips. He looked down as a grin overtook him. "Yes, all right, it really is very bad. It offends my sense of aesthetics, but I do rather like it anyway."

Lestat laughed and winked at me before going on, "You know, I imagined that when recording music and distributing it widely became feasible, everyone would get to enjoy the talents of Jenny Lind or Caruso or what have you. I thought people would no longer be satisfied with the local folk singers and musicians after they'd heard the magnificence of genuinely gifted artists. But this pop music! Much as I love it, you know, the singing and musicianship is really atrocious. It's the same boring repetitive verse-chorus-verse love songs as the old folk tunes used to be, performed by people who would have been wailing for coins on the streets back then. I can only suppose that kind of formulaic pap serves some kind of cultural need."

"Entirely possible. There were short, vapid songs performed on the streets of Rome in antiquity," I affirmed.

A waitress came by and we ordered drinks. Lestat, ever the horrible comedian, ordered a Bloody Mary. Louis asked for a shot of almond-flavored liqueur. Deciding I didn't care if it made me seem out of place, I ordered a hot cup of tea. My hands weren't very cold but at least then the drink would serve some momentary purpose.

"Okay, gotcha," said the waitress. "Just sit tight, I'll have it right out for you." She hurried away, leaving me smiling over the bizarre phrase "sit tight".

"Are you still interested in vernacular?" Louis inquired, perceiving my amusement. "The current argot has already altered significantly even just in these few years."

"So I've noticed," I said. "English is a quicksilver tongue. You know, I spent a little time in France during my travels, and I was struck by the formal, conscious attempts to shut out foreign words and preserve the linguistic purity of French. I can't help but think this rigidity will be the doom of the language; when a tongue ceases to change, surely it is on its way out. I would hate to see French go the way of Latin."

"On the contrary, personally I applaud the Academie Francaise's attempts to keep French true," Louis said. "I feel the language continues to evolve within itself in rapid fashion, without becoming a pastiche of many tongues the way that English has done, particularly here in America. I find English is not, for example, a very good language for communicating complex metaphysical concepts with any elegance or precision."

"There's nothing elegant or precise about metaphysics in any language," Lestat opined, toying with the paper sugar packets on the table.

Louis dismissed that with a look. "To discuss any abstract idea, one must first go through the exceedingly dreary task of defining every significant word one wishes to use in discourse, since English words are so weakened by the spread of connotations caused by having so many conflicting words that mean the same thing, and conversely because the same word may be used in so many completely different senses."

"Well, philosophy is inextricably linked to semiotics. At any rate, I feel the strength of American English is its flexibility," I contended.

"Just so," Louis agreed, "but modern English is more than flexible, it's completely plastic. It's a relativistic language, built largely on context. I don't believe it's a tongue that lends itself easily to logical thought. I will happily concede to the oddities of the Romance languages -- the animism inherent in gendering all objects, for example -- but I find such quirks far preferable to the weak malleability of English."

"Yet you choose to speak in American English now," I couldn't help but point out.

"It is the patois of the times," he shrugged.

"He'd probably still speak French if I didn't give him such a hard time about it," Lestat put in with a smirk.

"I find that of the modern languages, I prefer French and German," Louis said. "But my preferences in this are likely determined by my intellectual pursuits. Certainly the most exciting philosophy since the Enlightenment has been a long conversation of great thinkers in France through the centuries, with a brief detour into Germany and back again."

"I see your point," I replied, refraining from making the observation that the "brief detour" to Germany had lasted for most of the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth; Louis obviously retained a strong measure of patriotic pride. "But what about literature? Surely the sweep and dynamism of the works produced in English proves the language is unparalleled for drama and description."

"Not necessarily. For example, if I may be permitted to recycle an old joke, the works of Edgar Allan Poe are far more compelling when read in the original French."

"Ah, you're referring to Baudelaire's translations?"

He nodded eagerly. "Have you read them? Poe of course was a master of pacing and of poetic meter, but Baudelaire brought a whole new dimension to his work."

"Actually, I quite prefer the originals," I said. "They're filled with such energetic dread."

"I don't dispute the value of the English works. I enjoyed them the first time around," Louis said. "By his own analysis, it's clear Poe thought himself a craftsman of the highest order, and I certainly agree. But in bringing the work to French, Baudelaire transformed even Poe's most workmanlike tales into art. As T. S. Eliot pointed out, Baudelaire took what was often somewhat slipshod English prose and turned it into admirable French." He smiled then with endearing bashfulness. "And now I must prevail on you to change the subject. I'm terribly fond of Baudelaire; I could talk about his work all night."

"He isn't kidding," Lestat said dryly. "He could, he does, he has. I know more about Baudelaire than I know about my own mother, thanks to his babble."

"You know more about practically anything than you know about your own mother," Louis replied.

"Where is Gabrielle these days?" I asked.

Lestat shrugged.

"You got that postcard from her," Louis prompted.

"Oh, that," Lestat said, and grinned at me. "She sent a little card complaining that she'd been travelling in the South American jungles, and when she went to bury herself in the earth for the day, she found a Coke bottle in the dirt. She was awfully put out. I don't know what she expects me to do about it. From her tone you'd think I put the bottle there myself."

"She had some choice remarks to make about Americans," Louis recalled. "'A plague of fat-legged piglets turning the earth into a trough', I believe was her phrase. Succinct, but she got her point across."

"She probably blames you for the Coke bottle," Lestat said, "you're the only American among us. Oh, and Daniel, I suppose. But she doesn't know him."

"I was born in France, you know that perfectly well."

"You're an American," Lestat insisted. "You're Puritanical like an American. You still care about religion, that's an American preoccupation. You're bourgeoisie in the particular manner of Americans. Victorians, specifically."

"That came much later," Louis frowned. "Really now, Lestat. I'm only a few years younger than you. We're both more or less products of the Enlightenment."

"But it suits you. People understand what it means, to be 'Victorian': hypocritical, fatuous, middle-class. It's good shorthand."

"Wholly inaccurate, but it's good shorthand. Marvelous," Louis said with annoyance. "You may as well refer to Marius as an ancient Greek. Close enough, yes? It suits him better than calling him a Roman, because people now think of the Romans as fierce and war-mongering. Clearly Marius is closer in temperament to the current image that people hold of the Greeks, so we may as well call him Greek. This is how symbols drift away from their referents, until there's no truth to be found."

"This hobbyhorse again," Lestat said dismissively.

The waitress approached, carrying a tray of drinks. "Bloody Mary, Amaretto, hot tea?"

"Thank you, cherie..." Lestat unveiled a winning smile, thickening his accent deliberately. The young woman grinned back, pausing for a flustered moment before moving on to the next table.

Louis rolled his eyes with evident amusement.

"I can't help but find your example interesting," I said, picking up the conversation again. "I've often found it difficult to reconcile my identity as a citizen of Rome with the varying conceptions of Rome that have formed throughout the ages."

"Have you been keeping up with contemporary philosophy?" Louis asked. "Baudrillard has written a series of fascinating essays on the idea of simulation as a prevailing phenomenon of the modern age--"

"I thought you weren't going to talk about him," Lestat frowned, his eyes roving over the streams of mortal who passed us on their way toward the dance floor in the back.

"That was Baudelaire," Louis answered, then hesitated.

"Please," I said, "complete your thought...?"

He allowed a small smile. "Well, Baudrillard points out that while distortion of history is nothing new, in this era, more is known than ever about historical events. Yet accuracy has been consciously discarded to make way for a falsified version of the past -- and perhaps for the first time, this is not done for any ideological reason, but simply because a simulation is more dramatic, more satisfying, more entertaining than the real thing. From this we receive a whole wellspring of lazy misinformation: ancient Romans were brutal warlike despots who crushed the sensitive, intelligent flower of Greek society under their chariot wheels."

I couldn't help but laugh out loud at his wry phrasing.

"Of course it's not just a drastic simplification -- it's simply untrue. But it's easy to comprehend, and has a certain dramatic flair, so it endures. Theme parks are one of Baudrillard's favorite examples of how the modern world prefers simulation over reality. At Disneyland, there are mechanical birds which sing all day long whilst workers busily shoo the real birds away."

"It's true," I said, chuckling at the notion. "The dominant culture of this age is obsessed with artifice."

"And with its converse. For instance, the jeans Lestat is wearing," Louis said.

"Ah, good! Something worthwhile to talk about at last!" said Lestat, leaning back toward the table.

"The tags on these trousers say 'Authentic Jeans'," Louis told me. "I ask you, how can a pair of jeans be inauthentic? What is being communicated here? People now are so alienated from the process of manufacture, and indeed, estranged from reality, that they must be reassured: yes, these jeans are real jeans. Authentic jeans."

"These are Marxist notions," I commented.

"Marx had a number of worthwhile ideas," Louis said. "It was easier to take in his philosophy in the old century, before such grand failed political schemes were built around it."

"I agree. I read him when he was current," I said.

"Good! Then you understand what I mean." Louis pushed the glass of liqueur away and rested his hands on the table. His green eyes glinted brightly; he seemed more engaged and lively than I'd known him to be in the past. Even a careful observer would have been hard pressed to tell that he was anything but an compelling mortal man.

"Now that you spotlight it, I see this quest for authenticity in the art world as well," I said. "Take graffiti artists like Keith Haring and Jean Basquiat. They were 'discovered' by dealers and museums and brought into the mainstream of fine art. The praise for their work revolves around its authenticity, its primal energy and its reality -- as though formally trained fine artists are somehow less tuned to what is real than graffiti artists."

"That's probably just a matter of romanticizing poverty," Lestat said. "Everyone loves the notion of a starving artist, shivering in his garret. So long as they aren't the ones doing the shivering. The comfortable middle classes are always especially prone to such delusions about the nobility of suffering." He shot a significant look at his fledgling, who appeared to ignore it.

"Possible," I said. "But all this simulation and deliberate artifice -- where does it lead? How do thinking people cope now, with no certainty to be had? I have been watching this process now for two hundred years. I'm pleased that no new mythology has risen up to replace the fading influence of Christianity. But these ideas you describe seem to indicate a new and yet more hollow system of illusions."

"Things do seem to be imploding in on themselves, intellectually speaking," Louis said. "Perhaps largely due to Derrida's efforts to strip down philosophical notions and show the inherent biases behind them. Deconstructionism, they call it. Well and good. But what comes after deconstructionism? Reconstructionism? Once we've reduced every thought to its component parts, what's left of philosophy? The language and concepts of the liberal arts are beginning to adopt the camouflage of the hard sciences. The Chomskyian revolution in linguistics posits language as a biological phenomenon. Richard Dawkins' theory of memetics conceives of ideas that function like a virus, spreading from mind to mind."

"I'm not so certain that's a bad thing," I said. "Philosophy has paled to abstraction in recent centuries. I was swayed by the arguments of Comte when he spoke of the redundancy of metaphysics in an age of scientific discovery. Philosophy began as a search for answers which science now supplies at a rapid pace."

"But philosophy is the science of ideas," Louis said persuasively, "the investigation of what it means to be conscious. It's a frame of reference for thinking about thinking. That's necessary, even vital, I believe. The hard sciences can never replace that."

"Can't they?" I asked. "Neurology, psychology, psychiatry..."

"These disciplines tell us nothing about the experience of being conscious," he said, "nor do they address the search for meaning that is the hallmark of what it means to be a conscious being."

"Ah, but they are in themselves a search for that very meaning," I pointed out.

"Yes," Louis said patiently, "but what other field of thought allows us to examine the meaning of the search itself?"

Suddenly Lestat sighed in exasperation and broke in. "Good God, Louis, I thought we brought Marius out to show him a good time in our fair city -- why do you insist on blathering on and boring him to death?"

"I am far from bored," I protested.

"All right, I'm bored," Lestat said. "You should be too, Marius -- it's just that you spent two thousand years tending to the only two immortals on Earth who were actually more dull than Louis."

"Lestat--"

"The conversation might not seem so excrutiatingly boring if you used your brain for once in this century," Louis replied sharply, not even seeming to notice he had cut me off. "I can't help it if you don't have the wit to follow along."

Lestat pushed himself upright in his chair, narrowing his eyes. "Don't you dare claim I'm stupid," he uttered darkly. "You barely know how to keep yourself fed and walking in a straight line! Your house is a shambles, your clothes are rags, you've lost track of the vast fortune you used to tend so obsessively in the old days--"

With icy control, Louis answered, "I live how I choose. I could access that money if I desired, but I don't care to. What would I do with it? I don't lack for anything. You keep neglecting to realize that I survived perfectly well for fifty years on my own. And somehow I managed to do so without your express approval, Lestat, so it means little to me that you withhold it now."

"All right, fine," Lestat answered. "You're so magnificently self-sufficient, I can't imagine why you ever come around at all! But just let me point out one thing to you, Louis. You don't own a single article of clothing suitable for appearing in public other than the sweater you're wearing right now -- and I gave you that. Every other item in your meager wardrobe is gone to holes and falling apart; if I didn't now and then come around and add new clothes to your pitiful collection, you'd never be able to leave your little shack at all. So you tell me what good is it to ponder Baudrillard, when if it weren't for me you wouldn't even be able to leave the house and come bore us to death talking about it!"

Louis stood, his chair shooting back as he leaned over the table to glare angrily at Lestat. "You're ridiculous! Do you honestly think it's such an amazing feat to buy clothes?"

"Apparently so, since you can't manage to do it for yourself, my independent one." Lestat's grin was wide, carelessly flashing his fangs, and mirthless, calculated to annoy. "But then, I'm always giving you things, am I not, Louis? And you never quite seem to manage to be grateful for any of them. Barring one."

Louis froze, staring at his maker. With shock, I realized Lestat could only be referring to Claudia, the doomed child whose loss had left such a profound mark on Louis.

"At any rate," Lestat went on airily, "I'd say you're in no position to insult me, considering I gave you the very shirt on your back, not to mention the blood in your veins..."

"Well, this, at least, I can renounce," Louis answered in a positive fury, and to my complete surprise, he pulled the black wool sweater over his head and off his body with one swift movement and tossed it onto the table. With that he turned on his heel and swiftly left the club.

I felt a stab of worry; I had never seen Louis in such a state. "Lestat, does your foolishness know no bounds?" I asked, hardly knowing where to begin with my approbation.

"Don't you start in on me too," Lestat growled. "Why don't you just follow him, obviously that's what you want to do. Don't waste time scolding me. It won't do any good anyway."

Part of me wanted to argue gently that of course it was never a waste of time to try to correct his careless actions; no matter how bad Lestat might like to imagine himself, he was generous and optimistic at heart, and as always I felt a powerful urge to try to excavate that heart from the wreckage of his battered soul. But the greater part of me was too appalled by his behavior, and worried about its results, to spare another moment on him right now. I left him, tossing a promise that "We'll talk later" over my shoulder.

Chapter Text

Louis was not difficult to find; he had not gone far, and when I caught up with him he was pausing, apparently debating whether he should seek a replacement for his cast-off shirt or continue back to his home. The street where he had stopped was dim and deserted, lined with empty warehouses and office buildings; the streetlights overhead were wan and yellow.

Louis avoided the puddles of light beneath them, obviously feeling conspicuous, his arms crossed tightly over his bare chest. I could easily read the tension and misery in the sculpted curves of his shoulders, the dejected inclination of his spine. I hadn't realized quite how thin he was before. His wrists and waist seemed perilously narrow, cut to the bone, but his arms and back were sleekly muscled and magnificently defined. And there were those little visual hints of his enduring humanity: subtle flushes of color here and there, an asymmetry of hues lending him a curious vitality, like the way mortals' skin always seemed unevenly tinted by the motion of the blood running ceaselessly just underneath.

I approached with deliberate footfalls to let him know I was there, and Louis turned to meet me with a deeply embarrassed expression. I couldn't help but be fascinated by the visible blush that spread across his face and neck and even to the molded line of his collarbone. His shoulders were narrow, but there was clear evidence of mortal strength in the contours of his arms, the deltoids and biceps rounded and distinct. For all his humanity, he looked like a figure carved from alabaster, as deliberately exquisite as that.

"I'm so sorry," he said haltingly as I approached. "For leaving so abruptly and causing such a scene as well as neglecting to say goodbye--" his arms tightened, the finely delineated muscles jumping a little in response to his tension; he shook his head as though disgusted with himself.

At least I could try to assuage his modesty. I doffed my burgundy coat and draped it over his shoulders.

"Thank you," he said, slipping his arms through the sleeves. "Though I suppose I'm rather proving Lestat's point, am I not?"

"No," I said, shaking my head. "You are not." I turned and we began to walk down the empty street. "I have every confidence in your ability to take care of yourself. It's Lestat I worry about."

Louis kept pace beside me but I sensed a hesitation in his step at those words. "You've noticed?" There was no sarcasm.

"Yes," I replied. "It seems hard for him to be alone."

Again there was a slight hesitation in his step. "Perhaps," he said, slowly buttoning the coat. "Yet he avoided company when we were all together at Night Island. And though we live in the same city, sometimes I don't see him for weeks at a time."

Once again I found myself wondering what exactly went on between the two of them.

"Sometimes it's different," Louis continued. "Recently I had been staying at his apartment, just two or three nights. But as I'm sure you can imagine, he is difficult to get along with."

"Yes, I can imagine. And of course I can always go back to your famous interview for further details."

This time Louis came to a full stop and turned to me. "That book..." he sighed. "Well, yes, I suppose you can go back to that, as flawed as it is. But now it seems his outbursts are different. In the old days he was always trying to shock me, saying things to make me fear him. Now he simply seems determined to make me angry so that I will go away." Louis let his eyes drift towards the sidewalk, mirroring the drop in his voice.

He turned and once again began to walk, leading me down a short flight of concrete stairs, his hand gliding unnecessarily along the decorative railing. "Of course, then there are situations like tonight, where Lestat is simply jealous."

The observation had been made with a touch of humor and so I allowed myself a small laugh. "Jealous?"

By now we had returned to the Quarter and I assumed we were on our way to Louis' home. His steps were confident as he went on. "Yes, of course, Marius. I should not have monopolized your attention." He smiled very faintly. "Such conversation doesn't interest him. He is, as he so often insists, a man of action. A bored Lestat is a troublesome Lestat. I know that too well from the old days, but somehow I always seem to forget."

"I thought that as well, at first. But I wonder if we do him a disservice, imagining him to be so simple," I said.

When there was no immediate response, I continued. "He's been reading the Wordsworth." As before, I sensed a hesitation in his step, although he kept on walking. I was beginning to learn his mannerisms.

"He told you?" Louis asked, sounding surprised.

"No," I answered. "I was in his room tonight. He was on 'Intimations of Immortality from--'"

"'Recollections of Early Childhood.' I left it there, but I didn't really think he'd read it." Here Louis stopped beside a lamppost. The bright, artificial light made him look unnatural, unearthly, and brought the beauty of his face into sharp relief. His eyes tilted up for a moment as he gathered the ending to the poem from memory, his quiet voice gently inflected with a lingering trace of his French accent.

"'And O ye fountains, meadows, hills, and groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born day
Is lovely yet; The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober coloring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.'"

Again, as when I had read it at the apartment, I saw how the poem would be significant to Lestat. "Thank you for sharing that," I said. "With me and with him."

"He won't speak to me. I don't know how else to reach him," he said, moving away from the lamppost and once again resuming our walk. I think both our minds were focused on the same object and neither of us spoke.

Within a few minutes Louis stopped. "This is my home," he said, indicating a small, unpretentious dwelling decorated with a bit of ironwork. It did not appear to be in danger of falling down. "I would invite you in," said Louis slowly, "but perhaps you should go see how Lestat is doing."

"Perhaps," I said. "But I want to know that you're all right."

"I'm fine, Marius. I can take care of myself." Louis glanced down before once again meeting my eyes. "But thank you." He stepped forward and squeezed my shoulders gently, then kissed me lightly on either cheek.

"If I don't see you again before you go, I wish you pleasant travels."

"And my best to you as well, Louis," I said, returning the kiss. For a fraction of a second I wished I could linger, but I pulled away with no undue delay. "I hope to see you soon." By spontaneous accord we extended our hands and clasped them together.

"Until then," I said. At last Louis turned and went to the door. He took out a set of keys and opened the locks. Before stepping inside, he gave me a small wave and a smile. I nodded once before he disappeared behind the closing door.

Chapter Text

I returned to Lestat's apartment. When I arrived he was channel surfing once again, but I saw the Wordsworth by his side on the sofa. We exchanged a few words but didn't really talk, at least not at first. He seemed tense and so I listened to him comment on the various television programs until he was more relaxed.

"I followed Louis," I said, glancing over to Lestat.

"I know," he said, eyes on the television, his body folded comfortably against the cushions. "How is he?"

"Fine," I said. "Just fine." I was about to say that I'd lent him my coat but then I remembered what Louis had said about proving Lestat right. "We went for a walk and we talked."

"And now he's all right?" Lestat asked. His voice seemed far away.

"Yes," I answered. "I don't think he's angry with you any more." I paused, waiting for a response, but when none came, I continued. "Although you know, you really need to watch yourself. What you said to him was unforgivably hurtful."

I had made my tone quite serious. Lestat finally turned towards me. "Well, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. That's the expression, isn't it?"

His flippant tone belied the troubled look in his eyes. This time it was my turn to withhold a reply.

At length Lestat muttered sullenly, "All that nonsense. He never talks like that to me."

I had to chuckle. "I would hardly expect him to, given the way you harry him about it."

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" he ruminated. "The distance, or the insults?" His prismatic eyes rolled over me quickly, checking my reaction. Finding only neutrality in my answering gaze, he relaxed a little. "It's an old tug-of-war, Marius. You don't know what it was like at the beginning. He practically locked himself inside the library on that wretched plantation. I could barely get a word out of him."

"It sounds as though that must have been painfully reminiscent of Gabrielle," I said. In his autobiography, he had written of his mother's distance, her attachment to the books that Lestat was not himself able to read.

Lestat blinked at me in surprise, turning on the sofa to face me more fully. "I suppose it was, at that," he answered slowly. "I hadn't thought of it."

"You tend not to think," I pointed out. "You just act. It makes you say things you don't mean."

He grimaced. "All right, all right. Stop trying to take me apart like a jigsaw puzzle."

"I'm not," I replied. "I'm trying to put you together. That's the only way to see the whole picture."

"And stop appropriating my metaphors," he complained.

"Lestat, it can't only be the conversation that made you so angry. I flatter myself that I know you -- I'm sure you wouldn't hesitate to interrupt us and talk about something more interesting to you if it suited you."

He turned away again and stared at the guttering light of the television.

"Would you believe," he said in a tone of almost clinical observation, "after everything that's happened, he still loves me?"

"I find that very easy to believe," I said gently.

A smile touched his lips, then faded slowly. "You thought about taking him as your own," he said abruptly.

"What?" My tone was surprised and a trifle guilty. I hadn't considered such a thing outright, but I had found myself admiring Louis tonight rather more than might be comfortable for Lestat, if he realized it.

"When I was writing the book, on Night Island. You let me read your mind," he said. "At Sonoma, you thought about it."

"Ah, that." It had been a brief thought; I'd wondered whether sharing blood with Louis would alter his impermeable air of humanity. "I considered letting him drink from me. That's not quite the same as taking him for my own, as you put it."

"Well, how would you put it, then?" Lestat asked testily.

I laughed. "Young one, you forget that I tended the fount of immortality for centuries. I was constantly sought out and petitioned to allow some vampire or another to drink from the Mother and Father." I had a moment of vertiginous remembrance; it had only been a few years since the last time I had tended to the shrine, lay out the offerings, burned the incense. Yet it seemed like a completely different lifetime; I could hardly believe I had ever done it at all. Where had all those years gone, and what made them now seem so dwindled, so repetitive and small?

With a sigh I resumed, "I permitted legions of our kind to drink from Akasha and Enkil, to receive their strength. I had a passing notion to allow your fledgling to take blood from me, but that doesn't mean I intended to make him my companion."

He frowned. "But it's such a powerful experience..."

"You're still young," I said. "It's an intimate act, yes. But I have exchanged blood with others many times; I don't think of it as prelude to a bond, the way that you seem to do."

Lestat considered this. "So, in those modern terms you love so well," he grinned wickedly, "you're a slut."

I stared at him in absolute amazement for a long moment before finally, helplessly succumbing to an enormous fit of laughter. Lestat poked his tongue against the side of his mouth to keep from laughing too.

"I suppose," I gasped through the last of the mirth, "in modern terms, that might not be a wholly inaccurate word."

"Really, Marius, and here I thought you were this grand immortal paragon I ought to look up to. Now I find you're like Magdalene among the disciples--" this time he couldn't stop himself from laughing along with me.

As the laughter faded I shook my head. "Two millennia is a long time, Lestat. I could not have survived for so long if my heart had been closed."

"I suppose not," he said.

"Look how many loves you've had in just two hundred years," I pressed.

"I know, I know." Lestat bowed his head and peered up at me past the wavy locks of his long blond hair, hanging over his face like a beaded curtain. "I'm not judging you," he said. "I mean, how could I? We're so much alike."

I had to smile. "I suppose we are, at that," I agreed. "We come from parallel points in history."

"It's more than that," he said. "You always made me think -- well -- that you're what I could be like. You know, if I had two thousand years of sense knocked into me."

I couldn't even pretend to hide how much this delighted me. "Interesting. I've always wondered if I could have become as dashing and intrepid as you, had I not chosen to take care of the King and Queen."

"I doubt you would have gotten into quite so many scrapes..."

"I don't know, Lestat." My voice became heavier as I admitted, "We have even made similar mistakes."

"Mistakes is a strong word," he said. "I wouldn't call them mistakes. Experiences. That's all. I mean, we're still here, right? Every night is another victory, when you think about it."

"Tonight was no victory," I couldn't stop myself from chiding him again.

"Do we have to keep hashing it out?" Suddenly he was closed off again, turning away, his broad mouth set in an impudent pout.

I thought about what he had said earlier. "I must say I'm disappointed with the way you acted, Lestat. Were you so angry because you thought I had designs on your fledgling? Is that what you're trying to say?"

"Well, you can hardly blame me for being defensive," he said. "I've lost him to others twice now. It's not as though I ascribe some devious motive to you, it's just..."

"It's just...?"

Lestat blinked unhappily at the TV screen. "He says he still loves me," he murmured. "But there's all this history between us. And here you are. A bit like me, but with two thousand years of wisdom and patience added in, and no past bad acts to clutter things up, and you thought about it back at Sonoma..."

"At Sonoma," I pointed out, "the only thing Louis cared about was whether or not you were alive."

He gazed aimlessly at the shimmering lights of the TV. "Well, I am still alive," he said. "Now what?"

I could find no reply to make to that, and after a few minutes of silence, Lestat gestured towards the television; sound began to issue from the speakers. He began to flick through the channels methodically.

Lestat happened across a movie from a year or two before, Wings of Desire, from Germany, and we both fell into it, completely spellbound by visions of angels watching over the city of Berlin, an angel falling in love with a mortal. The angel took on mortal form, laying aside immortality to experience human life.

"Things would be so much simpler," Lestat commented with studied lightness, "if we could be the angels we appear, and not the devils we truly are."

"Speak for yourself, Lestat," I said affectionately. "On both counts."

He looked my way and gave me a hesitant little smile that widened magnificently as he realized that I had, of course, forgiven him everything again.

By the time the film ended it wasn't long before dawn. After preparing the apartment for day, we each retired to our rooms. The next evening I showered and dressed. Lestat was waiting for me at his computer.

"I thought tonight you might like to go down to the river," he said.

"That would be interesting," I agreed, and we went exploring together.

I remained in New Orleans for a month or so. Lestat was a considerate host and an eager guide. But in the entire time I stayed, we saw no more sign of Louis. Several times I visited his unassuming little house on my own, but he never seemed to be there. Nor did he come to his maker's apartment.

Lestat waved away my concerns when I mentioned his child's absence. "He's sulking," he assured me in a bored voice. "Don't worry about it." But the set of his mouth was grim, and on subsequent occasions he could not seem to bear even the mention of Louis' name.

I had some vague intent to visit Rangoon once monsoon season let up, and when the late night television news happened to mention the passing of the rains, I decided it was time to be on my way. On my final night in New Orleans, by silent concord, Lestat and I hunted together, forming that ineffable predatory bond that vampires share in the blood.

An hour later we were back at the apartment and I was retrieving my bag. "I'm glad you came and saw me," he said, embracing me in the style of the inimitable Brat Prince, full of passion and verve.

"I'm glad I came as well," I said. "It's a lovely city. I quite enjoyed it. And seeing you. I missed you. I hope it will not be too long before I see you again." We separated and Lestat brought me to the door, throwing it open to the gorgeous sultry atmosphere of midnight New Orleans.

"Until then," he said. I walked through the door and out into the night.

Chapter Text

Desperation

What you didn't read in Tale of the Body Thief


When I next laid eyes on Lestat, he was much changed. Emerging from a taxi into a heavy downpour in the dark New Orleans night, Lestat had a new body.

Maharet had known of the switch the instant it had occurred, sensing the disappearance of Lestat's tremendous energy from the web of the vampire spirit. She had alerted us to the danger at once, commissioning Khayman to follow the sinister trickster who had taken command of Lestat's powerful vampire body. Eric had been sent to look after the mortal Lestat, at least as well he could. During the daylight hours, of course, Lestat was unfortunately lost to him. Lestat had been close to death fairly recently, I knew. Meanwhile it had been my duty -- and my wish -- to watch over Louis.

As soon as Lestat had gone into the mortal frame, his thoughts had become quite easy to read and from them we learned that the body thief had mentioned Louis by name. The wretched mortal had threatened to harm him; or rather, he had correctly surmised that if he were to harm Louis, he would be hunted down by the rest of the coven.

This bit of intelligence enraged me. How could Lestat have gone on with this mad endeavor even after that wicked man had made such a casual, terrible reference to Louis? If nothing else had given him pause -- if his own self-destructiveness had led him to plunge into this -- still, surely, the threat to his fledgling should have reminded him that more was at stake than his own well-being. His recklessness had put us all at dire risk; not just his fellow immortals, but potentially, legions of humans as well.

Lestat had been filled with such remorse after the massacres he helped Akasha commit. And yet, here again, he risked mortal death on an enormous scale in order to fulfill an essentially futile fantasy. I knew he had been in a terrible state when he did this. Perhaps that, too, had me drenched in fury.

Lestat had tried to do away with himself: the brat prince, the eternal troublemaker, whose fiery spirit I had been sure would endure for millenia. He had not sought me out, had not called to me or to any of us. He'd simply thrown himself into the light of the sun. I was tremendously angry. I feared for him. And I could not help but feel hurt that he hadn't reached out to me before embarking on one drastic course of action after another.

Standing hidden in the yard, however, my rage had subsided somewhat and now I looked on with pity as Lestat and his great fearsome dog approached the house, jumping over a small iron fence as the rain fell down in sheets. At last he neared the little tumbledown building out back. It was layered over with swaying leafy ivy, the exterior beginning to decay, as all structures in New Orleans tend to do. Louis was inside.

Lestat's mind was now as open as any mortal's, even if his thoughts were a jumbled mess of memories and emotions. I could read his mind.

He had to tell Louis what had happened. This was the central thought. He had to tell Louis.

He was trapped in a mortal body and it was terrible! He had nearly died of pneumonia. A nun had rescued him, brought him back to health, but now he was trapped. Louis would help him get his body back. All he would need to do is give Lestat the blood.

The very notion of Lestat becoming Louis' fledgling flew my mind into a panic. Such a thing simply shouldn't be done! We had to police our numbers. And how on earth would the Dark Gift help Lestat regain his body? Two weak vampires would be no match against the powers at the command of the body thief. Any scheme Lestat concocted to regain himself thus would be destined to fail.

Too, Lestat now at least had the luxury of mortal anonymity. The thief might still have a lingering affinity for the beautiful long-boned mortal body Lestat now inhabited, but he could never psychically detect Lestat among the multitude of human thoughts that clamored in the night. Ah, but if Lestat became one of us again, he'd light up like a blazing comet in the darkness. The body thief would sense him coming a mile away and send him up in a whiff of smoke.

I had little time to consider the matter, however, for by now Lestat had reached the small house and was whispering Louis' name. As Lestat and his dog disappeared into the darkness, I tensed myself for the confrontation I felt was sure to come.

"Louis, come for the love of heaven, come!" I heard him say. "Wherever you are, come back here now. I need you."

I felt a pain in my heart as I always had, thinking of Lestat and his fledgling, the lovers whose torturous relationship I had by then observed for years. Lestat truly did love his fledgling, I sensed that all too clearly. But only now, when he was so utterly vulnerable, could he come near to admitting it.

These thoughts of mine were, however, soon obliterated as I focused on the events within the house. Just as I had supposed he would, Louis attacked Lestat with all his power. He didn't know the mortal who had broken into his lair. It was probably the body thief for all he knew. I was about to rush in and come to Lestat's aid, Maharet's edict be damned, when finally Lestat managed to choke out his name and get through to Louis. "For the love of God, I'm Lestat. I'm Lestat in this body!"

More words. A desperate attempt at communication. It was heartbreaking, Lestat beginning to tell his story and finally breaking into French.

I had not heard Lestat speak French since the late nineteenth century. Lestat had, like all of us, been closer to mortal once, as hearing him speak his mother tongue reminded me. Now he was mortal once again.

It was beyond remarkable but it was also beyond frightening. He had let loose a monster to run about in his godlike body and now, in the confines of those four walls, he was forcing Louis to make an awful choice.

I heard Lestat's words and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. "Now, please, do it quickly and do it with your greatest skill."

How hard Lestat had fought against Magnus the first time. And now here he was pleading for the dark blood again. Impossible.

When Louis gave his answer I was not at all surprised. "I cannot do this," he said.

Lestat was devastated, his mind exploding in shock. I realized that it had never occurred to him that Louis would refuse. He had absolutely counted on his help, taken it as a given! Lestat, so used to being all-powerful, having his way, and above all, of accepting Louis' devotion, had simply not conceived of the obvious obstacle. Louis would not make another. Not even Lestat.

I felt Lestat's disbelief and anger like a kettle roiling over. From Louis I felt nothing. He was shielding, it was clear. Wary of the body thief and always cautious by nature, he had been shielding as long as I had been following him. Occasionally I had caught a glimmer from him, a flash of sadness or worry, but aside from that, his mind had remained as impenetrable as it was now.

At last there came the final standoff.

"Louis!" Lestat cried. "You can't refuse me."

Against the rain and in the reflection of Lestat's mind, I heard Louis' reply, "Ah, but I can and I have."

A few more words, a farewell, and then I saw Louis escape the house with preternatural speed and make off down the road. I remained unseen.

"Louis, help me," I heard Lestat say. "I don't want to be alive. I don't want to be mortal. Louis, don't leave me here! I can't bear it! I don't want it!"

Oh, Lestat, I thought, why couldn't you have considered this earlier? Why must you never think before you act? And why must you always hurt those you love the most?

He continued on with his pleas. I felt his despair as he clung to his dog, felt his determination to go on. And then I felt his anger.

A few moments later he emerged from the shack with what appeared to be a number of paintings. The rain poured straight down on him and he ran to the big house and apparently left them inside. His thoughts were pure chaos. When he returned to the shack, he executed his vengeance with his usual heedless impulse. He began to set the room afire.

Furniture, books, clothing, curtains all went up in flames. Lestat took out a dozen candles and the blaze grew brighter and brighter. The house would be destroyed, I realized, outraged. Yet I held back. Maharet had been specific. We were not to be seen by Lestat; we were not to interfere in his new mortal existence. We were not to assist or to hinder him in any way.

Finally he emerged from the conflagration. "Yes, yes, burn!" he cried, railing against the rain, his dog following beside him. His anger was like fire itself but with his next words he truly shocked me.

"Louis, I wish I could burn you!" he shouted. "I'd do it! Oh, if only I knew where you lie by day!"

Thank heavens you do not, I thought darkly. Louis was out there somewhere, I knew, and now I would need to find him and make sure he would be safe from Lestat while the sun reigned in the sky.

No matter how cautious Louis might be, Lestat was dangerous. This was a man who, as a mortal, had fought and beaten a pack of starving wolves practically with his bare hands. He knew no fear and for two hundred years, he had known almost no bounds. Now he dared to consider harming Louis? Inconceivable. Lestat had gone too far.

I had to frighten him away, I decided, let him know that no aid would come to him and that his threats against Louis were intolerable, as was the destruction he had just wrought upon his house. If that meant defying Maharet's order, well, so be it.

He was kneeling in the garden crying, soaked down to the skin, when I stepped into view, appearing beside the shack so he could see me. When I saw that Lestat had noticed me, I made the most fearful, wrathful face I could and sent him a blast of menace as well. Any normal man would have been afraid, but Lestat stretched out his arms and began pleading with me silently for help. I would have none of it. I turned my back.

I heard him call my name. I ignored it. He vowed vengeance before finally fleeing the scene, dog following close at his heels

 

Chapter Text

In the distance I heard the wail of sirens. Turning to the fire, I decided I would try to take care of it myself in order to keep mortals out of the mess as much as possible.

It was, I discovered, far easier to start a fire supernaturally than to stop one. I concentrated on the blaze, imagined the flames dwindling, but saw no change. A breeze ruffled my hair and urged the fire even further.

I pictured the force of my mind as though it were a dome, enclosing the flaming house, sealing the fumes and fire within, suffocating the blaze. This tactic succeeded; the fire roiled under a veil of thick tarry smoke, contained in the invisible shield of my will. In only a few minutes, the flames flickered and died away.

I let the mental dome collapse. The firefighters were nearly upon the place. I withdrew from the property and watched as they blundered, yellow-slickered and pumped with adrenaline, around the shambling Victorian house. Finally they burst into the back courtyard, holding the shiny red cylinders of their fire extinguishers out in front of them, like offerings to be burnt on the altar.

Finding the fire already all but dead, the mortals poked through the damp ashes, pouring buckets of sand over the smoldering embers they turned up here and there. I waited as they sifted through the remains and conferred with one another on the street, the lights from their vehicles strobing repetitively for an hour.

They had not been gone long when Louis returned, as I'd hoped and suspected he would. He'd fed in the interim, the blood visible in his face and hands. Nearing the still-smoking ruin of his sanctuary, he stopped in his tracks, his shoulders dropping, head going down, hand over his mouth. The rain, I suspected, was washing blood tears straight off his cheeks.

I stepped out of the darkness next to him. He didn't seem surprised, only straightening a little when he saw me.

"Did you help him?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Will you help him?" His voice was plaintive, imploring.

I sighed. "Louis, he has brought this on himself."

His brow contorted with pain. "I know."

"But?" I prompted.

"I have no argument to make for him," Louis said miserably, watching the faint black clouds rolling through the yard. "You have already considered it from every angle, I have no doubt. If there were any way you could bring yourself to help him, you would have done it already."

I gave no response. What was I to tell him? That Maharet had ordered us only to monitor the situation? That I could not conceive of a worse predicament for Lestat to have presented to us?

"But someone must help him," he whispered. "He's ill, he's frantic. Someone must guide him through this change. It's too cruel that he should have to face it alone, orphaned again, just the same as when Magnus brought him over in the beginning. But he'll never listen to me. Can't you convince him to go back to this woman he's found, this Gretchen?"

"You know I can't." I studied him, surprised. I would not have expected such sympathy from him already, so soon after Lestat's awful actions. "It's not the same," I said. "He chose this. If he was ill prepared, that was his own fault this time."

He brought up his arms, tucked his fingers into the crooks of his elbows, stared at his ruined home. "Someone must help him," he repeated distantly. "I would aid him if I could, but he'd only ask me for the blood again. And I don't think--" his voice hitched and he smiled bitterly. "I know I could not refuse him again."

Instead of answering, I rested my hand on his shoulder, hoping to steady him with that slight contact. He squared his shoulders, and headed towards the blackened remains of the house.

As we entered through the charred doorway, I was aghast. Nearly everything had been lost.

"I tried to stop the fire as much as I could," I told him weakly, staring at what had been rows and stacks of leather-bound books, now almost all reduced to ash.

"Thank you, but--" Louis replied in a broken voice that betrayed his shock. "Yes, thank you." He cleared his throat. "I understand. Fires can be difficult to control." Despite everything, he gave me a half smile. "Believe me, I'm quite familiar with that particular problem."

I decided to add a little light to the scene. "Begging your pardon, but this may help," I announced as I lit up the scorched remains of a chair with the power of my mind.

Louis stared for a moment but then murmured another thank you as he began to rifle through the contents of the room, prodding heaps of refuse on the floor with the toe of his shoe, fingering through drawers and shelves, looking for anything that might be salvageable.

"How is it," he said as he peered into a corner, "that you came to be here to witness this latest debacle?"

I was caught off guard but managed a quick answer. "I've been watching over you."

Louis stopped what he was doing to face me. "Watching over me?" he asked, his voice thick with resentment. "Marius, you told me you knew I could take care of myself!" He was angry, though containing it firmly. He did not like to be watched.

"I apologize, Louis, but believe me, it was necessary."

I explained how Maharet had learned of the situation and how Khayman, Eric and I had been commissioned to monitor it. I had kept an eye on him, I told Louis, for his own protection. The body thief might try to destroy him, I warned.

"Oh, that horrible monster," he sighed, going back to his inspection. "I knew Lestat--" he hesitated suddenly on the name before forcing himself to go on. "I knew Lestat was getting himself into trouble, I knew it the instant he told me of his plans. This Raglan James character was obviously up to no good and was not to be dealt with. The beast practically told Lestat in advance that he would be too thrilled to cheat him, once this bit of witchery had been accomplished. I told Lestat to destroy him."

As he was making this little speech, frustration suddenly got the better of me. "Louis," I said, gesturing broadly with my hands to indicate my aggravation, "why on earth didn't you call on us and let us know about this man, this body switcher? We might have prevented all this!"

Louis appeared bewildered. "Call on you?" he asked. "How?"

"You could have--" I thought for a moment. "You still can't speak mind to mind, call out with your silent voice?"

I had assumed that, in the years since Night Island, when we had last discussed this, Louis had done at least some investigation of these powers, even if he had little interest in employing them. After all, he now had the necessary facts at his disposal, and after two hundred years he certainly should have been able to contact other vampires telepathically. These gifts did come in useful at times.

But he shook his head. "I know it's possible," he said, "but I have no idea how to do it. I don't think I have the ability." This was more or less what he had told me on Night Island.

"Well," I countered, "you might have called and left a message with one of my mortal agents. I have a lawyer right here in New Orleans, you know."

"Do you?" he asked. "I wasn't aware."

I felt exasperated with his failure to deliver any sort of warning against what he had clearly known would be a disaster. "Surely at least you could have contacted Armand--"

"Armand?" Louis smiled mirthlessly. "I haven't really spoken to him in decades. We rarely talked even when we were all living together on Night Island. I have no idea how to get in touch with him or with any of you."

He opened his hands in a little gesture like a shrug. I stared at him in consternation. But as I thought it over, it was true: none of us had made any allowances for his lack of telepathic power. We had not considered that when the coven dissipated, Louis no longer had any way to find us.

Lestat had come to him, told him of his plans, and while Louis had offered his advice, he had possessed no means to warn us of the danger. And so Lestat had gone off on another blunder, one that had put us all at risk.

Silently Louis searched the wet shards and ashes of his home. Finally he stood and shook his head. In his hands he'd gathered a few bits and pieces, including a heavy volume that he handed to me. It was The Science of Logic by Hegel, I saw from the darkened cover.

"That's all that's left," he whispered painfully. "We can go now."

I nodded as he turned to go, and squelched the flames on the chair before following him out the door.

Louis stood at the edge of the high grass very near to where Lestat had crouched with his dog. The rain had dropped off to a light drizzle and the moonlight broke out from behind the clouds, catching Louis' bedraggled hair in the light as he peered off into the darkness beyond.

"He's out there somewhere," he said in a voice that was barely audible. "Hating me."

Hesitantly, I put a hand on his shoulder again. "Louis, he does not hate you," I said.

"You heard what he said," he replied, an edge in his voice. "And he's right. I've condemned him to death. He's human again. The slightest twist of fate could kill him. One of us could kill him, and never realize until it was too late."

"That would never happen," I said forcefully. "Louis, this is a trying time. We will have to keep our wits about us. Please, don't succumb to melodrama."

He seemed to gather his thoughts before turning to face me. "You're right, Marius. I beg your pardon. This is no place for such sentiments, and we are not safe here."

"I agree," I said. "The thief may yet plan an appearance. Or Lestat himself may return."

He closed his eyes, his face etched with strain and exhaustion at the very thought of another confrontation.

"That's why I'd like to take you to my home," I explained. "I've been staying at a house nearby."

Louis looked surprised and grateful. "Thank you," he said. "We'll be going now?"

"Yes," I replied, handing him the volume of Hegel before heading towards the main house. "But first let me retrieve something," I called behind me. I ducked inside the house and quickly located the paintings Lestat had rescued. I wrapped them in a drop cloth as best I could and carried them outside. They were not in good condition, but I thought Louis might appreciate knowing they were at least no worse off than before.

As I emerged back outside and approached, he wordlessly stared down at my burden.

"Your paintings," I said.

Louis said nothing.

"He saved them." Still no response, only a slow blink of his green eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't stop h--" I began.

"No," he interjected. I could see from his face that he was trying to reign in his emotions before continuing. "It's not your fault, Marius. You were only a bystander. I'm sorry you had to bear witness to this."

I had nothing to say and so I said the only thing that could be said: "Let's go then."

"Let's go," he agreed.

We trudged out into the damp sparkling streets.

Chapter Text

The threat of the dawn had me hurrying Louis to my house in New Orleans. After all he'd endured that night, I felt terribly protective of him. The slightest greying at the horizon made me extremely nervous on his behalf.

He didn't protest as I shepherded him into the house, activated the locks and security, and located towels to dry the rain from us both.

"I thought that if anything untoward happened, we might need to move you in, so I've made provisions," I told him, leading him down a curved hallway. "This room is yours. The blinds are sunproofed, plus there are heavy drapes, so it's safe to sleep in the bed if you wish. The house is entirely secure during the day."

"No servants?" Louis asked by rote, without much interest.

I decided not to mention the human guards I'd hired to monitor the exterior during the day. I'd told myself that it was a precaution, just in case Lestat regained his vampire body and exiled the body thief in the human form. If James wound up human again, he might try to press the advantage of daylight somehow. But I had known all along, though I couldn't quite admit it to myself, that truly I was taking these measures to protect the house from the mortal Lestat himself.

"No. I could hardly let servants near the shrine, could I? Over the years I've gotten used to tidying after myself," I said.

"Of course," he murmured, "it's just that Lestat always had them."

"If you prefer, there's a coffin with a lock in the closet," I said. "But I assure you, no matter where you choose to lie, you will be entirely safe here."

"Thank you," Louis said, turning to face me, his full attention leveled directly at me. "You've gone to such trouble. You thought of everything..."

"Think nothing of it," I answered. "But before you sleep, I need to ask you one thing. Does Lestat have any idea where you lie during the day? Any idea at all?"

Louis cast his eyes down, a humorless smile slicing his mouth like a knife. "No. I'm not quite so foolish as to let him know such a dangerous, intimate thing as that." He'd hardly said the words when he stopped, laughed darkly at himself and lifted his eyes to meet mine. "Though I probably would have," he admitted, "if he'd ever asked."

I looked away, unable to meet that frank, burning gaze. He'd obviously deduced why I'd asked the question, but the anger in his eyes wasn't for me or even Lestat. From the harsh twist of his still-smiling mouth and the tightness of his clasped hands, I read his disappointment and despair, all directed inward.

"You should rest," I said. The sun was too close for more than that.

He nodded and disappeared into his room. I heard the closet open and the bolts of the coffin being thrown as I crossed the hall and went into my own bedroom. The scent of ashes still clung to my damp clothes; I changed into another set of clothes.

Reluctantly, I contacted Maharet by means of telepathy, and allowed her to read the events of the night directly from my memory. She kept the connection between us open but shielded her thoughts for some time, maintaining a peculiar mental silence between us.

I am loathe to involve mortals in these affairs, she replied finally, but after his dire illness, I instructed Eric to have Lestat watched by humans during the day. If he attempts to follow through on his threats against his child, we will have to make a difficult decision. And my outlook at present would not be charitable.

I sincerely doubt it will come to that, I sent, a chill passing through me.Lestat is hotheaded; he often makes such threats, but I don't believe he could ever truly harm Louis.

I hope you are right, she answered with an air of conclusion, and broke off contact abruptly.

The next night I rose at the dying of twilight and moved restlessly through the apartment, trying to compose myself. After an initial tentative mental brush, Eric reported to me that Lestat had gone off in the night muttering, pleading for time to undo the body switch himself.

Maharet is willing to allow him to try, Eric informed me, provided his activities go unnoticed. That David Talbot from the Talamasca has joined with him. Conceivably the Talamasca is monitoring or assisting Lestat in some way, but if that's the case, Lestat doesn't know it. He only thinks that David will help him. And Talbot, of course, shields remarkably well for a mortal, so we can't be certain as to his motives or his resources.

He imparted more to me: David Talbot and Lestat had discerned the whereabouts of the body thief, who had made the Queen Elizabeth II his base of operations. Khayman knew to watch for them, and stood ready to intervene if Lestat's attempts to regain his vampire form should disrupt the mortal world. Otherwise, Khayman would only observe. Eric would do the same. I was to remain with Louis; the danger appeared to be past, but it was hard to predict how the whole mess would turn out, and it wouldn't hurt us to "sit tight" for a few nights until the matter was settled.

Why are we only to observe? I asked, frustration getting the better of me.Why can't we assist Lestat? Surely this body thief presents a danger to us all.

So does Lestat. At any rate, he didn't ask for our help, Eric answered neutrally.

He asked for mine last night.

Yes. After threatening to destroy his own blood child by day. You were not inclined to help him then, and I tend to share that sentiment.

I sighed, the air moving uselessly through my chest. I wonder if I'm not being as rash as he is, to scorn him at a time like this.

We're giving him a chance to right things, Eric sent. Frankly that's more than I think he deserves. If it were down to me I would destroy the body thief and Lestat's form along with it. He was too powerful for his own good anyway.

The idea sent a physical shock of anger through me, and I shielded my thoughts carefully, gritting my teeth.

I know you probably don't agree, he continued after a pause. And it is only my opinion. I don't know Lestat, except through his books. Obviously I will abide by Maharet's wishes, and afford him the benefit of the doubt, inasmuch as I can. Though I worry that we are giving him just enough rope to hang himself with.

I see your meaning, I conceded. Two humans against such a powerful monster. Their only advantage is daylight.

We'll have to hope that's advantage enough. The body thief doesn't know how to use a tenth of Lestat's powers, but even so, he's still too strong to be eliminated by anyone short of the First Brood. And even they would not find it an easy task. Mekare was fueled by six thousand years of rage and destiny when she killed Akasha. Khayman considered an attempt against the thief after his first attack against the human world, but none of us are sure how to go about it. That body survived two full days in the Gobi Desert; what could possibly destroy it now? In truth, Lestat's efforts to regain his vampire body may be our best hope.

And if it becomes necessary to somehow destroy Lestat's vampire form? I asked, unable to keep from broadcasting my unhappiness at the notion.

It would not mean he would be lost to us forever. Armand has let it be known that if Lestat came to him for the Dark Gift, he would give him the blood.

I laughed out loud. He says that because he knows that Lestat would never ask him.

I'm not so sure, sent Eric. Armand claims he wishes to make up for 'last time.' I can only presume he means the time that Lestat asked him for healing blood in Paris, a century ago.

What Armand says and what he means are always two different things, I stated with a confidence I didn't feel. Please let me know when you have any news.

Perceiving that I wished to end the discussion, Eric sent, Of course, and dropped our mental link, leaving me to mull over the situation on my own.

Chapter Text

I prowled through the unfamiliar house, settling finally on the sofa in the living room. Louis' rescued copy of Hegel's Science of Logic lay where I'd left it, on the mahogany coffee table. I opened the heavy tome and flipped through a few pages.

On casual inspection there was nothing special about the book, though it appeared somewhat marked and deteriorated by the passage of time. Every page seemed to have some kind of inky streaking and blotching in the margins. Looking more closely, I realized that these marking were miniscule phrases and notations, rendered in Louis' tutored copperplate hand.

I found a heavily-marked passage and read Hegel's original German. "But it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity."

Next to this passage, Louis had penned in a cramped mix of German, French and English:

"Contradiction, activity, action. Spinoza (para): Thinking is not the product of an action, it IS the action - cf. Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, anguish defined: "not a curtain separating us from action, but part of action itself". Action as expression of value, simul. creates that value -- E&HE p. 15 expands thereon."

And below this, written later with a different, sharper pencil:

"more on action as expression of will, value & thought: journal #154 p. 62, journal #191 p. 38-95. Franklin: 'What's a sundial in the shade?' Good question. Also pertinent to Hegel's thoughts on pure being, as well as dialectic."

A frown creasing my face, I flipped further into the book, ignoring the text to scrutinize Louis' notes. Each intertextual addition seemed to be endlessly involuted, with countless indications as to cross-references and expanded writings in various numbered journals. In a late chapter, another cluster of Louis' handwriting caught my eye. The initial notes were scratched out in the slightly uneven ink strokes of a dipped fountain pen.

"The Absolute Idea finds its fullest expression in the concept of the Zeitgeist, the universal spirit that characterizes an era:

Zeitgeist (lit., Time-Spirit), from Old High German ziit - time, and geist - spirit, ghost, soul

Goethe's Mephistopheles introduces self as 'der Geist, der stets verneint': 'spirit that nullifies / opposes / negates', and his element of course is flame.

Geist connotes Fire, as opposed to the Greek 'pneuma' which connotes 'air' --

ref. to Heidegger's assertions re German language as heir to Greek for the ideal tongue of philosophy. Heidegger conflates 'geist' and 'pneuma'."

Then, in pencil:

"ref. to Derrida's De L'esprit for refutation of Heidegger & defense of French language as valid philosophical conduit - ("esprit" itself, while lit. syn. with "spirit" and "pnuema" and "geist", notably connotes water.)"

I turned the book, finding yet more comments fitted sideways in the gutter in the middle of the page.

"Zeitgeist, spirit of the age-- cf. Charles Fort's 'Steam Engine Time': 'A tree cannot find out, as it were, how to blossom until comes blossom time. A social group cannot find out the use of steam engines until comes steam engine time.' The steam engine was originally discovered in ancient Greece, yet neglected until James Watt re-invented it when Western society matured to find a use for it."

I closed the volume, a little stunned. I heard movement from Louis' room, and rose to find him exiting, drawing his hands through thetangles of his long black hair.

"Good evening," he said, not without a hint of irony.

"Louis, did you annotate all your books as thoroughly as this one?" I indicated the scorched tome in my hands.

His mouth tugged downward slightly, but Louis gave a little shrug. "Not really. As you know, Hegel is among the most important figures in philosophy; I've spent a great deal of time with that particular book."

"But you had written your own thoughts in all of them," I prodded. It was maddening to me, even to think of it -- all those observations and connections, plotted neatly in the corners of each book; an entire library of Louis' self-education over the years. All burned to the ground.

"Only the philosophy and history books," he said, moving past me toward the living room. I followed a step behind. "It doesn't matter. I'm sure I remember more or less what I wrote. We're so charmed, after all," his tone became bitter, "with our supernatural memories. What need did I really have for externalized records of my thoughts?"

"I was aggrieved," I observed, "when paintings I created were burned, even though I remember exactly what each one looked like."

"But he saved the paintings, didn't he," Louis answered acerbically, gesturing to the three works of art propped against the wall nearby. "Quintessential Lestat. He couldn't bear to destroy these, because they're beautiful; their value is immediately evident. But he was too happy to immolate my books. As always, he favors the surface, rather than the substance."

"That sounds like a direct allegory of the larger scheme of things between you," I said bluntly.

"There is no larger scheme of things between us," he answered. "Surely the latest round of betrayals proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt."

"Sixty-five years," I said. As though he needed to be reminded. Still. "That would seem to compass a larger scheme of things."

"Have you ever noticed," he said, "that when you repeat a phrase two or three times, it begins to fall apart, lose its meaning? 'The larger scheme of things.' It's just a jumble of words. Like this," he said, taking the volume of Hegel from my hands. "I may as well burn this too."

"Don't," I pleaded. "If you don't want it, give it to me."

He stared down at the closed book and didn't reply.

"Did you lose everything? The journals as well?"

He darted a quick glance at me, then moved to place the book on the table again. "No. I burned those myself a few years ago."

"But why?" I asked, surprised.

"I saw that I was fooling myself into believing that my studies represented some kind of redemption," he answered. "As though my philosophical meanderings could somehow make up for the loss of human life. It was a ridiculous conceit, and like most such delusions, it only endured for so long because I refused to examine it."

"You are," I said, taking the opening, "very unforgiving of yourself, Louis."

He looked at me evenly, raising an eyebrow. He seemed so reasonable and detached at that moment; it was hard to reconcile with the self-excoriating misery I'd seen in him before.

"Or I destroyed my journals because I had accumulated so many of them," he said, as though I hadn't made my observation, "and I didn't care to move them all when I left San Francisco. That's equally true."

"No, it's not," I said. "By the time you knew for sure that you were leaving San Francisco, there was no time to dispose of your writings."

"I knew all along that I would leave the city after the concert," he said. "One way or another."

The words were rich with implications, and I sorted through them carefully. The most urgent and pertinent thought was also the most painful, but I had to ask. "Did you think that Lestat might harm you then?"

"The possibility occurred to me."

"Do you think he might harm you now?" I hated to cause him pain but I had to know. "Or if he regains his body, his powers? Would you fear him then?"

"I always fear Lestat," he answered, measuring out the words with strange calm. "But not for the reasons you probably imagine." He looked up at me with guarded green eyes, his expression mild and unreadable. "If there's to be judgement on Lestat, please leave me out of it," he said. "What happens between us is quite apart from his other follies. He behaved maliciously toward me last night, yes, but he believed that I had refused him also out of malice. And while I thought perhaps he might take his vengeance when we reunited in San Francisco, obviously that's not what happened."

"He threatened you," I said. "We have to take that into account."

"Marius, in 1860 I left him in a burning house to die," he replied bluntly. "Never mind what I thought at the time -- I did aid in his near-destruction. There's too much history between us to judge him based on a few heated threats. I've dealt out a few similar threats of my own. I sincerely hope you won't let what happened last night influence any decisions you might have to make about Lestat."

I hung my head. He was right. Perhaps I there was more to the story between those two than I had supposed, more than I could ever grasp. After all, I wasn't there and I wasn't in their shoes. How could I really know?

"I'll do my best, Louis," I said, looking up and speaking in my most level, modulated voice. "After all, I have my own reasons for wanting to protect Lestat."

There was no reply but there was nothing to say. I loved Lestat and of course so did Louis. We had an understanding that at that point needed no words.

And so it was that after a few more exchanges, including a relay of my communications with Maharet and Eric, I took a look at Louis and saw that it was time for him to go out. It wouldn't do for him to starve. Although we left together and I stayed nearby to protect him, he hunted alone.

Chapter Text

When Louis emerged from the alleyway where I had left him to hunt, it was instantly clear to me precisely how much his body still relied on the blood. His face and hands had filled out and lost that slight gauntness which inevitably appeared with the passage of each night. A sweet human pinkness colored his lips and his cheeks. His eyes were markedly clearer.

He walked straight past me, obviously determined to head directly home, and I turned to follow him.

"Better?" I asked cautiously. I knew that Louis preferred not to speak of hunting but I wanted to maintain a connection with him.

Louis chuckled darkly. "Yes, of course I'm better." Coming to an empty street corner, he stopped and turned to me, apparently wanting to say more. "How do I always manage to forget this, the only lesson Lestat ever really taught me?" Louis put his head in his hands. "There is no peace, except in the kill. I'm a fool to seek it anywhere else."

This ran counter to everything I believed. I struggled to keep my voice gentle as I told him, "That's not true. And it's a dangerous notion. Believe me, Louis -- if your only solace is the kill, you won't last."

He quickly turned and with long deliberate strides began to move onwards toward my home. "You underestimate my selfishness," he said.

He ceased speaking and as he continued to walk, for a moment there was nothing to be heard but the sound of his footsteps on the pavement.

Finally he continued. "I've gone on this long with nothing to live for," he said. "It's now been more than a century. But I suppose a century is nothing, a blink of an eye, to you."

This time it was my turn to stop in my tracks. "Hardly," I said, glaring at Louis' back as he continued to walk. "I live in the here and now, and a minute is just as long to me as it is to a ten-year-old child."

Louis stopped and turned. His eyes were wide. I resumed walking and caught up with him.

"I'm sorry," he told me, grasping my hand, "but I don't seem to keep myself from making these declarations. It's as if everything has been simmering in me for ages and is only now boiling over."

The metaphor was apt. For all the frustration, rage and despair described in the pages of his autobiography, Louis had, in the intervening century, led a life that was mostly quiet, understated, modulated. Even after the events hinging on Lestat's rebirth, he had kept a level head, only losing his temper around Lestat and, apparently, since he kept himself so isolated, only confiding his true feelings to me. Of course I knew that he chose not to share most of his thoughts. After all, for all we had grown closer over the years, what was I to him? A father figure probably, and maybe a sometime friend. He had confided in me true, but I found it improbable that I had seen the true depths of his soul.

Louis turned and kept on walking, as did I. No more words were spoken for quite some time. We had travelled a number of miles to find Louis a suitable hunting ground, and now that there was so particular reason to rush, we headed back to my home at a fairly leisurely pace.

As we walked, I thought about Louis' words. Over the decades, he had been struggling to find a reason to go on. This is something all creatures of our ilk face. Many had not survived. It pained me to think that Louis felt he had so little to live for. Would he try to kill himself?

Suddenly, as we rounded a corner and passed under a canopy of old hardwoods, it occurred to me that he already had.

"Louis, can I ask you a question?"

"Of course," he replied mildly.

"At the Sonoma compound," I began, "Akasha threatened to destroy you, and you said that you wished she would." I paused for a moment, recalling the scene all too vividly. "Did you mean it?" I asked.

There was a pause in his step but he continued walking. "I did," he admitted. "I was so angry--"

"You were angry?" I asked in surprise. His demeanor had betrayed no sign of it.

"I despised her," he spat derisively before resuming a more measured tone. "I wanted to believe that six thousand years of silence had brought her to wisdom. But she was so clearly the same woman whom Maharet described in her tale, indulging in the same grand delusions of significance and godhood."

Noting that we had entered my own neighborhood and were almost upon my house, I nodded. I had venerated Akasha for so long. And what devastation, to find that behind that marble facade had only been a woman, all along; all too human in her vanity and limited scope, even after millenia spent in contemplation.

Yet Akasha was not to blame for my disillusionment. I should have known from my own longevity that we never escape ourselves, no matter how many centuries pass. We can only be who we are. Change comes, if it comes, not from wisdom or even from experience, but from an ordinary act of will.

"More, though, I hated her for what she had done to Lestat," Louis went on. "When they arrived at the compound, and Lestat was at her side -- I had never seen him look so bewildered, so diminished. Not even when I saw him in Paris in the last century... when he was starving and half-mad."

"I understand what you mean. But how does that lead to your inviting her to kill you?" I asked, heading up the path to my door.

Louis waited for me to open to door before replying to my question. "There was such an air of menace," he said, removing his coat. "It seemed clear that she would have to be destroyed."

He walked into the living room and took a seat on the sofa. He looked at me plaintively. "But who would be willing to move against her, and doom us all? Someone would have to fall first. I wanted it to be me."

His eyes dropped as he stared at the carpet. "It was simple cowardice. I was afraid she would turn on Lestat." He halted, closing his eyes tightly. "I've seen too many I love fall before me already. I can't abide it again. I dread that more than death."

"And yet, you left him human," I said, realizing anew how difficult that must have been.

Opening his eyes, Louis looked up. Just as I had the night before, I saw misery carved into his face. "How could I bring him into this again? He wouldn't need to go to the Gobi to find his end then, not if he were my child, he's be so weak. He could choose to end it at any time. Even in his own body, the one that thief now possesses, it seems it will only be a matter of years until he looks for other, surer ways to end it."

I was bewildered. "But he loves you," I said.

Louis shook his head with a disgusted, parched look, the look of an alcoholic refusing liquor. "He loves what it means to have me with him now. The conquest of the past. Proof that he can live through anything and come out of it all the stronger." His eyes returned to the carpet. "But he hasn't, has he? Not this time."

I sensed a tinge of disappointment and I could understand from whence it came. Both of us, I realized, had come to depend on Lestat to show us what we could be, to prove that it's possible to be both vital and merciless, to know the depth and meaninglessness of your own evil and still revel joyfully in it, still want to go on forever, despite everything. Despite all his recklessness and the obvious fact that neither of us would want to copy his every move, Lestat had in a way served as our role model, giving us something to aspire towards, giving us hope for ourselves. And witnessing this latest disaster, one had to wonder: If Lestat wasn't strong enough to remain so incandescently alive in undeath, who could be?

I kept all these thoughts to myself. Prompted above all by the beguilingly human expression in Louis' face, I suddenly realized that + it might be better if I stopped my line of questioning and simply left Louis to sort himself out. I could protect him and we could talk of other things, but dredging up his history with Lestat over and over might not be the best way to make him feel better.

Accordingly, I explained to Louis that until the matter with the body thief came to a resolution, he was to remain under my protection. I would prefer it if her were to remain in my home, I told him.

I mentioned to him a few of the amenities available to him. Since he didn't have his own clothes and I hadn't foreseen the need to buy him any, he was free to choose anything of mine he liked. Of course most of my things would be too large for his slender figure, but there were a few items that were easily adjustable.

Finally, I let him know that I was available to talk about anything, should he so desire. He nodded wearily.

The remainder of that evening passed uneventfully. Louis retired to him bedroom with The Science of Logic. I wondered if he was planning on reading it or destroying it but I kept that question to myself.

The next evening I updated Louis on Lestat's status, relayings the messages I had received from Maharet, Eric and Khayman. After that I once again accompanied Louis on his hunt. This time I stayed further away, since it seemed unlikely that there was any way either Lestat or the body thief would be in the area any time soon. Still, I wanted to do my best to protect him.

That night we managed to have a little conversation. Louis asked me about some of my travels and questioned me about various eras I had lived in. His tone was consciously upbeat and I had the feeling he was trying to keep his mind off his larger worries. Not that he was feigning interest, because I truly believe that Louis is the sincerest of individuals, but I felt he was purposely trying to divert himself.

All his efforts aside, however, a few hours after midnight, unhappiness appeared in his face once again and he rose up from where he had been sitting and asked me for a change of clothes. He wanted to change into something more comfortable. I gave him an silk pajama top and bottom. He then asked me for a pair of scissors. I found the scissors and left him in his bedroom.

Later, a couple of hours before dawn, I went over to check on him. Aside from the slight noise he's made in the adjoining bathroom just after I'd left him, he had been so quiet. I knocked on the door but there was no response. Carefully I turned the knob and pushed open the door.

Louis lay asleep on the bed, the duvet half-pulled over him. Not the deathlike trance of day, but a mortal rest, marked by the slow rise and fall of his chest, the subtle movement of his eyes under the closed rounded lids.

He'd sheared off the length of his black hair, and the waves had become short circling curls that framed his sleeping face. It came to me again forcefully that Lestat had chosen him for his beauty. In repose he was entirely too lovely; with the flush of his cheek, the glossy black curls, the curved shape of his lips, he seemed the image of sleeping Eros from the tale of Cupid and Psyche.

What a terrible thing, to be drawn to him at this moment. And the effect was somehow enhanced because he was wearing my own clothes, the collar of the claret shirt loose around his slender neck, the black silk pajama bottoms knotted at his waist.

I sank lightly onto the bed and shook his shoulder, quietly saying his name, but he didn't wake. I could feel the warmth radiating from him, saturating the rumpled bedclothes with subtle heat. "Louis," I said again, more loudly, and turned on the bedside lamp. The light seemed to rouse him a little, but he only murmured indistinctly and turned his head away.

I cupped his cheek with one hand and turned his face back toward the light, and in a moment of unguarded appreciation, ran my thumb over the soft swell of his lips; then I sighed at myself in disappointment and reminded myself sternly that all this was most unwise.

One of the little secrets of our kind is how seldom, truly, we can bear to be affectionate. Any physical demonstration among vampires too easily devolves into parody -- vicious, acrid irony that scars the soul. Even our unique variation on lovemaking, the exchange of blood, can be overtaken by its cruel edge, slipping into an awful ordeal of victimhood and domination. Most of us keep our distance accordingly, sharing ecstasy only with our prey, rather than risking the appalling consequences that can come of the embrace of our own kind.

I couldn't imagine such a travesty occurring with Louis. He would be: what, exactly? I pondered it, the exact quality. Earnest. That was it. He would shed his veneer of bitterness, the shield that guarded but didn't hide the tender humanity still alive in him. He would be achingly sincere. He would give himself over to it completely.

I wished I could share in such a union but I knew I had to resist. Unthinkable. Not in this moment of weakness, not when, above, all he did not need to be troubled. I could not think he would go willingly into anyone arms, except perhaps, just perhaps, Lestat's. And even that was a guess; as Louis had so recently reminded me, at times their relationship was too thorny for me to work out.

Louis had returned to his sleep and so before he realized my presence, I withdrew from the room. An hour later he came into the living room wrapped in one of my robes, hair mussed. Dawn had come for him. He told me good morning before returning again to his room and closing the door. I heard the sound of the coffin lid as he retired for the day.

The next few nights were unmarked by further drama. I continued to follow him out for the hunt, although I knew I was not particularly needed. Louis and I spoke together towards the middle of every evening before he would withdraw to spend the remainder of the night alone. Worries about Lestat still dominated his mind, as was obvious every time I relayed updates on the situation. However, he did not discuss his troubles and I had decided to leave him alone.

Finally one evening I awoke to receive an immediate message from Maharet. As soon as we had concluded our mental dialogue, I rushed to Louis' room.

"Are you awake, Louis?" I asked, still standing outside the door. When there was no response, I remembered that his nights were shorter than mine.

I returned to the living room, anxiously awaiting any sign that he had risen. Finally I heard a stirring.

"Louis?" I called out.

The door cracked open and a dark head poked out. "Yes, Marius?"

"Come here."

The head ducked in and after a minute or two, Louis emerged, dressed in a grey turtleneck and graying black jeans. He strode over to the sofa and sat down.

"What is it, Marius?" he asked. "You have some news?" I could tell that he was trying to sound calm, but there was an edge to his voice.

I nodded and took his right hand in mine. "He's back."

"Back?" Louis asked, confused.

"Back in his old body."

Immediately Louis sank back on the sofa and shut his eyes. "Back." His eyelids flicked open. "And the body thief?"

I shrugged. "It's all a muddle. Everything happened just before dawn. It all occurred on board the cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea. Lestat is back in his body, that much is clear. As for the rest, we don't know."

"I see," Louis said. He was thinking through the matter, I gather. "Well, in that case," he announced, "I supposed I can go now."

I was startled. "Go?"

"Yes, Marius, go," he said slowly. "I don't have to hide anymore. That fool body thief is no threat to me now. He's probably dead, knowing Lestat. So why not let me go out?"

"Where will you go?" I asked. I felt the familiar pain of abandonment as I realized that I would once more, be alone.

"I'll stay here in New Orleans," he said. "I'll find a place for myself. And..." his words trailed off.

"And you'll wait for Lestat." I thought on our earlier conversation. "But you said you fear Lestat. Aren't you afraid that--"

Louis held out his hand, gesturing me to put a halt to my words. "It doesn't matter, Marius. I will face this alone. He may attack me, he may kill me, he may beg me for forgiveness. But whatever comes, it is my concern, not yours." He paced over to a wall of bookcases and fingered the spines. "I know you think you need to protect me, but... it's not necessary."

And so I let him go. There were a few more incidental exchanges. I set him up with all the information needed should he like or need to contact me again -- my lawyers in New Orleans, my mortal agents, addresses where he could address mail. After hunting, we acquired him some clothes. I asked him if he needed help with shelter but he told me had a few properties and hiding places which would suit him well in the immediate future.

Finally we were standing on a street corner and a light rain was falling.

"I'll be going then, Marius," he said. He stepped up, grasped my shoulders, and in a familiar gesture, placed a quick kiss on each cheek. I savored the contact as the tip of his nose barely scratched mine, and then I returned the kisses. We stepped apart from one another.

"Thank you," he told me. "For everything."

I couldn't say anything but what I finally said: "My pleasure."

And then with that, he turned and retreated down the street in the rain. He went his way and I went mine.

Chapter Text

Tears

Marius returns to visit the "happy family" only it isn't


 

After parting from Louis, I remained in the city a few days, long enough see that Louis was managing on his own, apparently unharmed by Lestat. Although later, reading Lestat's book, I learned that he had been in the city and met with Louis at the cathedral, at the time I had no idea. Finally, I decided time to move on and let things run their course. I left the city.

It was not until after I left that I learned that the "tale of the body thief" had not been entirely played out. Maharet contacted me and delivered the news: The Brat Prince had added a new member to our elite coven. David Talbot, the Superior General of the Talamasca, had been dragged against his will into our life of living death. Maharet explained to me how David had lost his aged body and, as an expediency of survival, taken up that of the body thief -- only to have that body transformed into the powerful body of a vampire. Lestat's fledging he was, with all the power that implied. Maharet had decided not to bother delivering any punishment for this act, but she was nevertheless far from pleased.

Lestat has, in his two centuries of existence, broken many rules, but even so, this latest violation shocked me. How could he give in to such an impulse, especially given his past history with his fledglings? Two had turned against him, his mother hardly communicated with him, and with Louis he had a bond that seemed too intense for him to handle. Why invite more complications? And why break the rules so flagrantly, not only making a fledgling but making one associated with an organization which had chased our kind for centuries? As always, his behavior baffled and fascinated me.

A few months later I was in Italy when I came across Lestat's book. Reading over his account of events, I found myself wanting to go investigate his new living arrangement in New Orleans and, naturally enough, to meet his newest fledgling. And of course, after so many years of observing Lestat and Louis, I was curious in what circumstances I would find them.

It was approaching 3 a.m. as I made my way down Rue Royale. Despite the darkness, the approach of spring was palpable, the air redolent with the smell of new growth. Looking up to the front galleries of the townhouses lining the street, I spied houseplants spilling over iron railings, vines twining up the posts, beginning the feverish growth of summer. The murmur of the mortal world had died down considerably since midnight, when I had first arrived in the city. In a little over three hours the dawn would break.

Finally I was at the house. Like everyone else, I had read about its restoration in Lestat's book, but nevertheless I was surprised at how changed it appeared since the last time I had seen it. Part of the ill-fated sightseeing walk with Lestat and Louis, it had been falling into disrepair, the painted shutters peeling, rust working its way through the railings. Clearly Lestat had not stopped at having the interior restored, for now the house was radiant in fresh paint, the railing straightened and scrubbed clean. I wondered what Louis had thought of this extravagant present, for surely the work had been completed for his benefit.

I slowed my pace and looked the structure up and down, taking in its compact form, the sets of shuttered windows, the way it stood shoulder to shoulder with its neighbors. Hard to imagine a way Lestat and Louis could have chosen a home more part and parcel of the mortal world. Even I had never dared to live in such close proximity to those who could potentially be my prey.

As I stood before the entrance, it occurred to me that I was about to enter an almost mythical place. This was where most of Louis' "one story" had take place, where Lestat had created the child vampire Claudia, where Lestat and Louis had battled for decades, where Lestat had attempted to live out his "mortal lifetime" as I had advised him, and ultimately where Lestat nearly met his death.

I grasped the knocker on the door and gave a firm rap. No doubt my presence had already been detected since I was not shielding, but I believe that manners and customs often serve one well and a knock seemed almost required, the structure and neighborhood seemed so very polite.

Almost the moment I had announced myself I was startled by a loud bark. Clearly there was a dog upstairs and he had heard my knock! Yes, there were the frantic footfalls, clamoring down the stairs, and then on the other side of the door, a very excited animal. It was a large dog, as I could judge from the heaviness of the step and the bark. After a moment of confusion I realized it was dog from Lestat's book or, I should say, Lestat's life. I had seen him myself that fateful rainy night outside Louis' house.

"Mojo, stop it!" I heard Lestat call from the front gallery above. "There's nobody there! Hush!"

Quickly I stepped back and craned my neck. Lestat was scanning left and right, up and down, sweeping his eyes over me and yet pretending not to see me.

"I don't know what Mojo is barking at," he called back. "There's no one here, David."

Ah, I thought, David Talbot, the new fledgling is upstairs, and meanwhile Lestat is playing a game. He does not want to see me, and so he pretends he does not. I listened for David's response.

"Lestat, you know perfectly well there is someone waiting at the door. And we both know who it is." The voice was clear with a clipped British accent, something he had retained despite the body switch.

For once Lestat offered no retort, instead meeting my eyes for a brief instant before re-entering the house. While he was on the was downstairs I processed the deeply tanned skin I had glimpsed in the lamplight. For a brief moment I found myself feeling angry that he had attempted to end his life.

On the other side of the door Mojo scampered out of the way as Lestat approached and swung open the door.

"See, David, I told you no one was here!" he exclaimed, playacting broadly until he noticed the way Mojo had jumped up on me, giving my valise a thorough sniffing.

"Lestat, now really, you must learn to be more polite," I heard David say as he descended the staircase and arrived at the door, taking a station just behind Lestat. Astonishing, to recognize that same body, only this time housing someone else, someone I had never met.

"You should know better than to expect miracles," I replied lightly, offering my hand.

His grip was firm as we both chuckled at Lestat's expense.

I looked Lestat in the eyes and shook my head. "That little act was rather childish, you know."

Lestat's hands flew up as he backed up into the front hall. "Well, what do you expect? You're only ten times my age!"

Again, David and I both laughed but quickly we stopped. Lestat clearly was genuinely upset.

"You think this is funny, Marius? You who abandoned me at my moment of greatest need, you who betrayed--"

"And you never betrayed anyone, Lestat, is that right?" David's words were serious but obviously meant to deflect any argument.

The point made, Lestat held himself in check and came towards the door again. "Marius, allow me to introduce David. David, this is Marius."

David and I shook hands once more. Looking upon him at such close range, I saw that Lestat had not been exaggerating when he had described the handsomeness of the body. I admired the strong shoulders, the flowing dark hair, and the skin that still held color despite the power of the blood. His face was the same face I seen before but at the same time, I noticed that it had an entirely different look. It was his face, his soul apparently shining out from within. Wrapping up my examination, I noted the pulse of power that told me that David had received all the gifts Lestat could bestow; unlike Louis, he had command of powers normally known only to the very old.

"Could we please adjourn to the parlor? Or did you intend to spend all night in the doorway?" Lestat took my arm and led me into the main room on the ground floor.

David went before us and took a seat in an armchair.

I'm glad you're not angry with me, Lestat said, speaking with his mind even as he indicated the settee.

And I hope you realize you shouldn't be angry with me, I replied as I took my seat. After all, you did get what you wanted after all.

Lestat, sitting on a long couch near David's chair, shot me a look that said "yes and no."

I decided to restart the conversation. "I'm pleased to meet you, David."

"And I you, Marius," he responded.

Lestat shook his head. "I wonder that you're pleased. I half-expect you're here on a mission to assassinate my newest fledgling. I did break several rules, you know."

I shrugged with resignation but my voice was firm. "So you like breaking the rules. Given the extent of your powers, what can I do about it?"

"We're even then," Lestat concluded. "Well and good. And now why don't we let David speak?"

"Speak? What I'm to say, I can't imagine," David said thoughtfully. "Marius, I don't know if you realize how very odd, almost eerie it is for me to finally meet you. I've hear so much -- no, make that read so much -- about you, and now to have you here before me... it's rather unnerving."

"I can imagine," I said. "And you were... the Superior General of the Talamasca?" I tried to keep my voice even, for although the notion of the Talamasca becoming involved in our world bothered me, I was loathe to let Lestat realize this, since clearly he was somewhat on edge and this was, after all, his newborn fledgling.

"Yes, in a former life, I was," he replied firmly. As I heard his words I thought again how of all he had lost, he had kept his old voice. I could hear the old man in him.

And despite myself I was powerfully intrigued by this contradiction: here was a man who had lived a more full mortal existence than any of us, now housed within this young body and made into a supremely powerful fledgling vampire. I could not resist asking, "David, if it isn't too personal or too painful for you, I'm curious; how old were you?"

David's reaction was visible, eyes widening and then contracting slightly, a lump forming and then disappearing in his throat as he swallowed. "Old enough to feel death breathing down my neck," he replied at last.

At this point Lestat chimed in. "You were over seventy, isn't that right?"

David shot him a look as if to say, "You don't know precisely?" before turned to me and replying flatly, "Seventy-four." He drew in his breath sharply and suddenly clapped his hands onto his knees. "Although to look at me now, of course, no one would ever guess."

"You realize," I said, giving voice to my thoughts, "that I have seen this body before, although of course at that time I was much further off and obviously you weren't inside it. It's... disconcerting."

"I agree, it's highly unusual, but don't dwell on it. Leave that to me. Imagine -- the only thing that's really mine is my own soul."

"Some would argue that this is true for all of us," I replied.

David nodded and then his eyes shifted to Lestat, who all at once appeared to have grown tense.

"Let's not slip off into a discussion of philosophy, please," Lestat said with a slight tinge of pleading in his voice.

I nodded, remembering all too well what had happened when Louis and I had happened to fall into such a discourse.

David rose. "As you wish, Lestat. And now I will leave you two to talk," he said, gesturing towards me cordially.

Lestat looked up. "Marius and I want to talk?"

"Of course," David replied, as if the answer were self-evident. "Marius wants to know where Louis is."

Lestat and I both started in our seats. Mojo looked up inquiringly from his place on the rug. Truthfully, I had not given the matter any thought at all; I had somehow assumed that Louis was either indisposed or simply out of the house momentarily.

My befuddlement must have been apparent, for David turned to Lestat and said, with a mixture of discomfort and disappointment, "You didn't tell him." He then patted Lestat on the shoulder, gave me a nod and went up the stairs.

Chapter Text

As I turned my eyes back to the parlor I saw my companion had gone rigid.

"David seems to be standing firmly on his own two feet," I observed.

Lestat's manner hardly wavered. "He always has," he said mechanically.

"And you made this one..." I paused, inviting him to finish for me, but he said nothing. "In love?" I suggested.

"David was my friend when no one else could be," he answered. "He aided me when I needed help so desperately." He gave me a dull accusing stare, but there was no force behind it. "We had been through so much and he had been delivered into this perfect young form. I just couldn't stand the thought that he might die. I had been in that body. I knew its fragility, its weakness. I couldn't leave him in it to rot away all over again."

I allowed myself a moment to consider this.

Lestat grinned suddenly, without much humor. "Then again, I suppose I might've just wanted to spite you all. You didn't help me, so I broke the biggest rule I could think of. I wanted you to make that body into a vampire, and you all refused me. So when I was able, I did it myself."

I waited.

"And I love him," Lestat conceded with a shrug. "I suppose that figures into it somewhere. But we don't need one another. He wants to travel and explore, the usual fledgling enthusiasms. I have made my home here. I don't wish to leave it for long. Not right now."

There was a pause.

"So, Lestat. Where is Louis?" I asked at last.

Lestat glanced down and beckoned to Mojo, who sidled up to the couch and rubbed himself appreciatively against Lestat's waiting hands.

When Lestat didn't answer, but continued to rub the dog's ears, I slipped off the settee and crossed over to the couch.

"Lestat," I said quietly, placing my hand on his shoulder as I settled onto the cushions. Lestat ran his hands over the top of Mojo's head over and over.

With my other hand I took Lestat's chin and turned his head to face me. His eyes were troubled.

"Lestat, please tell me where Louis is."

His hands stopped their ministrations and landed on his lap. "I don't know, Marius. Out there. Somewhere." He glanced towards the front windows.

"In New Orleans."

"Yes, of course. Where else would he be?" He was trying unsuccessfully to cover his hurt with annoyance.

"I thought he'd be here living in this house with you and David. You did go through quite a bit of trouble to have this all restored, after all. I thought your intention was--"

Lestat drew his hands up and spread his fingers out before him. "Yes, that was the idea, that's what I hoped, but what does it matter? My intentions never count for much, do they? It lasted for a bit, but as always, it failed in the end. At least this time there wasn't a fire." Lestat glanced down at Mojo and once again gave him a rub behind the ears.

"He has his own home?" I asked.

"I suppose," he muttered.

"Does he visit here?"

"Occasionally," he answered, still muttering.

"Do you visit him?"

Lestat nodded. "We see each other."

There was a world of meaning in those evasive words. "But you're not close."

Lestat's hands stilled. Mojo nuzzled his owner in protest.

"No, Marius, we are not 'close.' I think I've finally concluded that's it's impossible for the two of us to be 'close.'" It was evident from his tone that he intended this to be the end of the discussion.

"Lestat, it's not impossible. But you seem afraid to get close to him."

He looked up at me, a flash of frustration in his eyes. "I can't get close to him!"

Finally taking my hand from his shoulder, I leaned back on the sofa and stretched my legs. "I think you don't want to get close to him."

"How little you understand me," he said, leaning forward and once again reaching down for Mojo.

"No, how little you understand yourself." I thought back to all the other times I had seen Lestat facing this same problem. "I have been observing you all along. It seems to be that you will not allow yourself to get close to him."

"I can't."

"And why is that?" I asked.

Frustrated and clearly avoiding an answer, he slipped off the couch and onto the floor beside Mojo. He began to knead the dog's back.

"I simply can't."

The entire scene was beginning to remind me of a stagy melodrama. "Again, and why is that? I know you're afraid of something, but what is it?"

"I can't get close to him!" he burst out angrily. Mojo was slightly startled, as was I.

I reached out and rested my hand on Lestat's shoulder. "Lestat, please tell me why. What is this fear? It seems to me that if only you could overcome it you could--"

This time the anger was even more pronounced. "You do not understand! There is nothing in the world I want more than to be close to him. But I can't do it." With his last words his voice had trailed off. Finally he concluded his thought. "I don't know how."

I slipped my hand off his shoulder and dropped down to the space beside him. Mojo shimmied over to accommodate me.

"Well, what about the usual ways?" I suggested, trying to lighten his mood.

Lestat laughed dismissively. "What do you mean?"

"Talking with him? Spending time together?" I paused until I had Lestat's eye. "You could even touch each other. It is allowed, you know."

Lestat blinked and although it was nearly undetectable, a shudder had passed through his body.

"That's it, isn't it?" I asked.

Lestat covered himself badly. "What?"

"You can't bear to touch him."

"That's ridiculous," he snorted, scampering to his feet and striding over to the wall to examine an oil painting on the wall. "You've seen us together. I don't hesitate to touch him." His back was to me and I could not see his face.

Why or how he thought he could fool me with this nonsense I don't know, but I didn't hesitate to get to the point. "But it's not the kind of closeness you want, obviously," I said. "You want something more intimate."

Chapter Text

Lestat glanced at me over his shoulder, a look of desperation on his face. "Marius, please leave me alone!"

In one swift movement I was on my feet and standing behind him. With determination, I grasped him by the arms.

"No, I will not," I said. "You're obviously unhappy, and you tell me to leave you alone? That, I can't do. Lestat, I have stood by and watched this go on for a decade now."

Lestat shook his head. "Oh, my dear Marius, how I remember you standing by, standing outside Louis' house as the flames reached the sky..."

"Come with me," I said, pulling on him until he turned of his own accord. I indicated the armchair David had been sitting in earlier. He sat down without a word.

"Lestat, you confuse the issue," I began. "Let me lay it out for you. Obviously somebody has to and it may as well be me." I took a deep breath. After years of observing, it was finally my turn to share some of my conclusions. "This is my hypothesis," I began. "You want to be close to your fledgling, emotionally and physically. In the past, you were not able to share yourself with Louis because there was so much you concealed from him."

He rolled his eyes but I could tell he was thinking on my words.

"Since your rebirth," I continued, "it would seem that barrier has been destroyed; he knows more about you than he ever did. As for the physical closeness... I don't know what you had in the past, but in the present you are tormented. You desire him so much it frightens you. And the reason it frightens you is clear: You fear your desire will destroy the object of that desire."

Lestat froze. He stared at me in wordless pain. His eyes were rimmed in red.

"You want to share the blood."

Plain words, these, and with them Lestat began to cry. There were no sobs, only silent streaks of red which slid down his cheeks and down the sides of his neck.

I knelt down and took out a handkerchief to catch his tears. As I patted his cheeks, I felt him seethe beneath my touch. "You want to share the blood, but you can't. Louis won't accept your blood and even if he did, you don't want it to damage him... the way it has obviously damaged you."

All at once Lestat was on his feet, wheeling about. "Damaged me?Damaged?"

He was shouting and Mojo shuffled to his feet, alarmed. Lestat was oblivious. "I feel beyond damaged. I have been destroyed!"

The dog whimpered at the roar of his voice. Lestat sighed, signaled to Mojo and patted him on the head reassuringly before slumping down in the chair. He looked at me plaintively. "When I first came out of the ground I thought I was on the road to triumph.. More daring than ever, riding high, and then Louis came back to me. I thought things could be better than they ever were. And then..."

"Akasha destroyed all that," I said, finishing his thought.

"Yes, Marius, exactly. Destroyed it with her dream, her egotism." He sighed. I knew he was thinking back on those painful memories. "After that I was left trapped in this body," he said, gesturing to himself, "this hideously indestructible body, this inhuman body, which makes me feel more monstrous than ever. It's like a shell of ice around me. I hate it! And you scold me because I traded it away for another! But even I know, Marius -- it was too soon for this. I wasn't ready."

Still crouching before him, I reached out and took his hands in mine. "And so you tried to destroy yourself and then when that failed, you switched into a mortal body." I thought back to the mortal I had seen stumbling through the rain, pleading with Louis in French, setting fire to the house. "In your book you said that you didn't want to be mortal, but is that really so?"

He nodded. "Yes, absolutely. I do not want to be mortal. I only want..."

"To be less vampire."

"Yes."

For a moment I was at a loss for what to say. What did any of us want, if not to rid of this curse in some way?

"I understand," I said. "Believe me, I understand. To be more nearly mortal, to be pliant and warm, to have the glow of vitality--"

"To be like Louis," he choked.

"Indeed." Thinking on it, I felt the right of it. So many of the qualities that Lestat valued in Louis, and singled out in his books -- the passion, the tenderness, the volatile emotions -- these were qualities I had seen and valued also in Lestat. He too had been lively, expressive, human.

Akasha's blood had changed him, yes, and that was part of it. More truly, though, the experience of Akasha had changed him. Loving her despite her madness, obeying her whims in a haze of adoration and strong ancient blood, losing himself in her spell. Watching her die. He would never again be quite the same headstrong, confident Lestat we had loved with such baffled, reluctant devotion.

He had at last seen the dire consequences of his own folly rebound onto others. And now he was no longer brash and reckless with his former optimism, but desperate, and careless in his anger.

I saw Lestat's shoulders hitch with a barely suppressed sob, and realized he'd caught my unguarded thoughts. "Yes," he said, his voice small. "I've changed. I know. And I don't think it's for the better. I don't know if I have any right to expect him to love me now, when I feel so different. Yet I do expect it -- I demand it. And the fury I felt when he left! Despicable! With anyone else I can play the dark hero, but I always seem to disgrace myself with him."

I moved to stand next to his chair, putting my hand on that golden head, sending him as much forbearance as was mine to give.

"I've never behaved honorably where he's concerned. I can't. What I feel -- it's too much. Look what lengths I went to the first time, to keep him! I made myself into a villain to be sure he wouldn't leave me. I went against every conception I had of myself," he touched his hand to his chest in emphasis. "I gave up all my dreams that somehow I could be good. I didn't care any more if I was good! I just want him, I just--" he drew in a stuttering breath, a fresh rain of tears streaming down his face.

I was nearly in tears myself. Whatever his faults -- and I cannot but admit, Lestat has many -- loving too little was not among them. I had once treasured him for his youthful enthusiasm, his raucous zest. But too easily his effervescence could become furious impatience, his passion turning to rage. For the first time he was trying to walk the narrow path between these extremes, to find a gentler way to love.

Yet denied the most obvious and, to us, natural expression of his feelings, how else could he feel but cheated? For what purpose, this struggle, when his paramour was deaf to his mind and beyond the call of his blood?

A kind of closeness could be achieved between them, certainly, but only through words, those blunt mortal tools that Lestat wielded with such casual thoughtless butchery. It was enough to make me wish they could be free of one another. But I knew all too well that there is no choosing where the arrows will fall. We can only follow them in flight and staunch the wounds where we can.

After a pause Lestat took my hand. "It can't be," he said, voice tight. "We can't go back, can we?"

I shook my head.

"And that's it, then." His voice sounded far away, listless. "Eternity ahead of me, and everything I want forever out of my reach."

Despite myself, I had to chuckle. "Must you be so dramatic?"

Lestat's mood changed easily as well. "Must you be so condescending?" he asked, sounding angry.

"I'm trying my best not to be, but really, Lestat -- eternity? Forever? You make it sound as through you have a hopeless case."

He dropped my hand and slapped himself in the forehead. "Oh, right, I forgot -- this is all so simple!" Then a sudden switch in tone. "Why are you laughing? Do you think Louis will ever change his mind?"

I had to be honest. "Not any time soon." I paused, making sure he understood me. "And you must respect his decision."

He sighed and leaned back in the chair. "I do. I've already said as much. I don't want him to become... like this." Again, he gestured to indicate himself.

"So that's a resolution," I said. "It's a start. But just because you can't be close in that one way doesn't mean you can't be close in other ways." Again, I took his hands in mine and looked him firmly in the eyes. "Lestat, think on it! You're saying that if you can't share that one intimacy you would rather be apart. For eternity."

Lestat looked surprised, which is what I had expected. "No, that's not what I meant, I meant..."

I clucked my tongue. "That's what you said."

I allowed him to escape my grip and put his hands to the sides of his face. "But I don't want that!"

"In that case," I said smoothly, "you need to do something about it. You are, after all, a man of action, are you not?"

A nervous laugh was the immediate response. "A man of too much action, you mean."

"Perhaps," I replied, smiling, "but still, you need to remember not to... what is the phrase? Throw the baby out with the bath water?"

This time Lestat laughed more heartily. "That's absurd, Marius." He paused and looked puzzled. "But what can I do?"

"Lestat, could it be more obvious? You must speak with him."

"Speak with him. Again, you make it sound so easy," he sighed, once again beckoning Mojo, who sat down to my left and enjoyed Lestat's affections.

"I suppose next you're going to tell me 'say what's in your heart,' and 'be absolutely honest,' and all that muck."

"It's not muck," I said.

"Isn't it though?" he said bitterly. "You should know."

The challenge was unexpected and I gave him an inquiring look.

"You may have been watching me suffer these past few years, but I've seen you and believe me, you haven't followed your own precious advice."

My face must have been a blank stare.

With one word Lestat managed to swing the conversation around.

"Armand?"

Chapter Text

I didn't reply. I felt a contraction in the area around my heart and swallowed.

A trace of mockery in his voice, Lestat continued. "Have you two evercleared the air?"

"No," I said, shaping the word without a sound.

He nodded and gave me a look to show he knew he'd gotten the better of me. "Well, case in point. And yet you think you can tell me what I need to do."

I looked down at Mojo and scratched behind one of his ears. "You know I'm right though, " I said.

Lestat was silent as I stood and tapped him on the shoulder. "Come with me."

He stood and followed me through the door into the inner courtyard. As I had expected, it was a lovely garden with a fountain bubbling in the center. Actually it was quite Roman. Toward the back there was a wrought iron bench and I headed towards it. Lestat sat beside me as I began my explanation.

"I owe you some good advice. So just for a moment, listen to me."

When he nodded vaguely, I pressed on. "Let me tell me what you must do and why you must do it." I paused to ruminate on my own affairs. I had been so busy considering Lestat and Louis I had nearly forgotten my own problems.

At last I began. "Lestat, my life has been witness to an outrageous folly."

"How so?" From him tone, he seemed genuinely puzzled.

"I can't follow my own advice," I admitted slowly, thinking things through as I spoke. "I abandoned Armand. I could have come back for him, and as everyone knows, I didn't. I left him to the Dark Ways. There were many reasons I did so. By the time I was healed enough to find him again, he was different. I was too afraid to face what he had become. I was too guilty for taking him in the first place and of course for not protecting him. And above all, I was simply afraid of him -- truthfully there has never been anyone with such a power to undo me..."

Lestat chuckled. "He does have that quality."

I nodded. "Yes. But as I was saying, such folly on my part. I left him and only dreamed of a reunion. I thought of all the things I would say, the apology I would make, the tears that would be shed. But thinking about it and doing it proved to be two very different things."

I thought back to those evenings on Night Island, when I would catch my Amadeo's cold, unreadable eyes and wonder, "Does he love me?"

After a brief pause I continued. "We had our moment at Sonoma, but that was all it was -- a moment. After that moment, neither of us knew what to do, how to proceed. And so we have circled one another all this time and... Lestat, why are you smiling?"

Lestat's well-known smirk had cropped up half way through my sentence. "Nothing," he murmured.

I was not so easily fooled. "No, what is it?" I asked.

There was a slight hesitation before he spoke. "I was just thinking how amusing it is, in a way, to hear someone else talk about their problems, especially when the person talking happens to be ten times your age and really should know better."

"Lestat, you are--"

"The damnedest creature." He winked. "I know. But just think - you're getting free psychotherapy!"

"Funny you should be the one to say that, but yes, it's true." I paused, trying to retrieve the serious message I had been trying to deliver. "I have let almost 500 years go by and still I haven't come back to my Amadeo."

The smirk disappeared. "Will you ever?" he asked.

In my mind's eye, I saw Amadeo in the living room of Night Island, listening to "Moonlight Sonata." I thought of the steady ache in my heart.

"I... don't know," I answered truthfully. "I hope so. But think how much easier it would have been if I hadn't begun the blunder in the first place!" Now I was getting to the point. "Believe me, Lestat, after a few decades, a few centuries, it's difficult if not impossible to repair a mistake like that. It's difficult to change anything. So what I'm saying is, fix what's between you and Louis now or you will spend 'eternity' regretting it."

Lestat appeared thunderstruck. "You really do care about me," he said softly, reaching out and clasping my hand.

"Of course," I replied. "That's never changed."

"Thank you."

I flipped my hand over, reversing his hold to grasp his instead. "There's nothing to thank me for. I can't help but love you."

Lestat's eyes drifted. "I've always -- drawn strength from that," he admitted hesitantly. "I trust in your judgement. And if you judge me worthy of attention, of love... I can believe it."

"I'm glad," I said, giving his hand a squeeze.

The faraway gaze wavered. "I... Yes, thank you." His eyes snapped back to me. "And now can I show you your room? Dawn is not too far off, I'm afraid."

"And tomorrow?" I asked.

"I'll talk to him."

We rose as one, re-entering the parlor, where Mojo greeted us with a wagging tail.

Suddenly Lestat laughed. "And you will go to Armand," he said seriously.

"I should."

"You will." He came in front of me and took me by the shoulders. "Marius, you didn't see the vision he sent me all those years ago. Whatever the future may hold, whatever and whoever he is now, he needs to speak with you -- truly speak with you."

I nodded.

Lestat's expression was bright. "So it's a deal? A deal we won't break?"

I offered my hand and he stepped back to clasp it and shake it.

"Agreed," I said.

And then, in a moment we had been working up to all along, we embraced.

Lestat put his mouth near my ear. "Well, let's go upstairs then."

Chapter Text

Chasm

There's always another bridge to be crossed


 

Reaching the top of the stairs, we entered into the common room, which now, as in the nineteenth century, served as the library. David, sitting at a polished desk towards the rear, looked up at us expectantly, a pen poised in his hand above an open writing journal. As soon as Lestat gestured for me to take a seat, David replaced the cap on his pen and set it on the mahogany. I took a seat in one of the period chairs. Lestat remained standing as he observed David, who had carefully placed the journal in a drawer, locking it with a small silver key.

"You know, David," Lestat said. "I could open that drawer at any time. It's no effort at all really."

"Yes," David replied, slipping the key into his pocket, "but you won't."

Lestat was silent and it seemed to me that his mind had returned to our earlier discussion. Then, after a few moments of this reverie, he turned to me and gesturing over to David, announced in a conspiratorial whisper, "He's keeping a secret diary. Probably for his autobiography. You know all my fledglings are going to write tell-alls."

"Really, Lestat! Must you be so nosy?" I asked. Looking over at David, to whom Lestat had turned his back, I encountered a raised eyebrow and an emphatic nod, apparently in answer to my question. I noted the curious mixture of confidence and deference with which he eyed his maker. It was as if he felt comfortable asserting himself but was not beyond placating.

Lestat turned back to face David. "Well, not really, but I must ask myself why all my fledglings are afflicted with this need to bury themselves in books and scribble down their every thought. I wonder if it's some sort of genetic defect. Why, I remember all too well the hours Louis would spend in that very spot--" He suddenly stopped, the sentence left hanging in the air. I thought of the notes inside The Science of Logic.

"Don't worry, Lestat, it's nothing to do with you," David replied, pointedly ignoring the way Lestat had dropped off his sentence and suddenly taken on the look of a lost man.

David and I eyed Lestat for a few seconds, waiting for one his notorious rejoinders, but at length all he said was, "David, Marius, if you'll please excuse me, I'm going to go out for a short while. I need to think some things over." His voice was quiet, almost timid.

Once again I saw David's raised eyebrow.

"That's fine," he said. "Marius and I can spend some time together."

"Yes, perhaps," Lestat replied, his voice faraway as he took a coat from the hook and rested his hand on the banister. "I'll be back before the dawn of course."

With those words he disappeared down the staircase. A moment later I heard the door close.

David let out a long sigh and I turned to see him seating himself in the neighboring chair. After letting his eyes roam through the titles on the nearby bookshelves, he led them at last to me.

"I'm glad you came," he said quietly. He had a lovely voice and, as I had noted before, a voice that caught the spirit of the man he had been.

"I'm glad I came as well," I said. "Lestat needs these periodic checkups. You never know what mischief he's been up to."

"Indeed." David laughed dryly before continuing. "You lost track of him for just a few weeks and look what happened!" He gestured to himself.

"Oh, David, don't think I'm saying anything against... well, against you," I said. "That's really neither here nor there. That's a fact and there's nothing I could or would do to change it. I'm just saying that Lestat does tend to go to extremes... when left on his own."

David nodded. "I've been doing my best but yes, I do know what you mean."

When he did not elaborate, I gestured towards the desk where he had been sitting. "So, David, I'm curious. What are you writing?" He appeared mildly affronted so I waved my hand. "Don't worry, I won't tell Lestat. I'm just curious."

David relaxed in his chair, his hands together in the form of a steeple as he glanced up towards the ceiling. "Oh, just trying to gather my thoughts. Memories mostly."

Instantly I realized what he was doing. "You're recording your mortal life?" I asked.

Eyes still away from me, David answered, "Yes. I thought I would do it now while I still can. The memories are still so fresh."

"I doubt you will forget them," I said. "I myself can remember a staggering number of events, feelings and sensations from my mortal life, even two millennia after the fact. I remember the tutor who taught me Greek, the taste of garum, the way I felt upon learning of Pandora'a first marriage."

At last David's eyes swung down to meet mine. "Oh, I don't mean I'll loseall my memories, but even so, I want to capture the details now, before I begin to see it through rose-colored glasses... or forget all the good things."

I noticed a glass paperweight on the sidetable and I picked it up and held it in my hand, observing the way the light bounced off the center. "What were some of the good things, David?" I asked.

There was a pause and I glanced up to see David staring at the paperweight. "Brazil," he said finally.

"You spent time there as a young man," I recalled aloud. "I read about in Lestat's book."

He laughed softly. It was a pleasant laugh and actually altogether he was a very pleasant person. How very different he was from Lestat and Louis -- so much easier and without so much of what the twentieth century terms "baggage."

"You read the capsule version," he said. "The Reader's Digest version, so to speak. The whole story is quite a long one. Even though I had already written out the story for the Talamasca, I've had no trouble finding more to write about. I have already filled up three journals with those experiences. That time period shaped me more than anything, changed my life completely."

"Tell me about it," I urged. I looked into his dark eyes and thought to myself that I would like to know him much better.

"Maybe someday I will," he said, after considering the matter briefly. "But tonight there's hardly time."

"Yes, of course," I averred. "Point taken. And I should not have been prying anyway." I reached out and gently put my hand on his, which was resting on the arm of his chair. "I would like to get to know you but perhaps I am moving too quickly for your comfort."

"Think nothing of it," he said, clasping his other hand over mine. "I appreciate the simple fact that your not angry I exist."

I laughed. "Angry? No, David, no. What's done is done and as far as I can see, it was done well." I felt the hardness of his flesh and considered how difficult it must have been for David to go from being an old man to a young man and then from that to a veritable god.

David dipped his eyes down, apparently a bit embarrassed, before squeezing my hand. "And now if you will indulge me," he began, "I would be most grateful if you would answer a few questions I have for you."

"Oh? Such as?" I asked.

David pulled his hands from mine and leaned back into his chair. "Well, to start with, I'd like to know what you two just talked about. Specifically, I mean."

I was somewhat surprised he had been so direct. "I take it you didn't listen in?"

"No, I didn't," he replied. "I heard a few snatches here and there, of course -- Lestat was shouting, after all -- but as for the rest, I was careful to screen it out. That's actually why I was writing, simply to distract myself." At this point he was tapping his fingers on his lap absently, almost as if he were typing. "I was tempted, however."

"Why tempted?" I asked.

David sighed. "Oh, because I want to help him myself but I don't seem able. I watch him," he said slowly, "and I want to do something but I am utterly incapable."

"I know the feeling," I couldn't help but reply.

David stopped tapping his fingers and clamped his hands onto his knees. "Oh, no, you're in a different position entirely. You've known each other for a long, long time -- two centuries by now! You have a certain influence with him, I think. Me, he sees as an impertinent, meddling fledgling."

This time it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. "Is that how he sees you?" I asked.

"Sometimes, I think. But I'm only trying to assist him, you understand."

"With regard to...?"

"Louis." His voice was flat, as if he were pronouncing the solution to an equation.

"That's a difficult task," I told him. "I've been going at it for a decade now and tonight is the first time I feel I've made any progress."

David appeared to consider this. "Ten years?" A grin spread across his face. "Well, what have you learned?"

I saw his game. "You really want to know what we just talked about, don't you?" I asked him.

"Of course I do," he admitted.

"Well, I could begin by--"

At that point I heard Lestat opening the door below. Soon he and Mojo had come up up the stairs.

"I'm back," he said, sounding markedly more upbeat. "Am I interrupting anything?" he asked.

"No, I said, we were just getting to know one another," I said casually.Tomorrow evening. I projected to David, who nodded almost imperceptibly.

Lestat issued a theatrical yawn. "Dawn is not far off," he announced.

"In that case," David said, rising, "let me show you to your room, Marius."

"Thank you," I said, picking up my valise and rising to face Lestat. "Good evening, old friend," I said. "Sleep well."

David escorted me to the narrow hallway that led out to the back gallery. I followed him in the dark and out into the open air. I liked the layout of the house and again, I could see why Lestat was so content with it.

David walked ahead of me until he reached a door at the end. "This is one of our guest bedrooms," he explained. "Completely prepared to handle daytime sleepers," he alluded, opening the door and gesturing.

I stepped into the doorway. We were no more than a hand's breadth apart. Looking into his brown eyes, I had a sudden thought: He was magnificent, absolutely magnificent. A strange sensation passed through my body as I made this realization.

No time for that, however. Nodding, I reached out and shook his hand. "Thank you very much," I said.

Taking the doorknob in my hand, I watched as he withdrew and stood out by the railing. "Tomorrow evening then?" he asked.

"Tomorrow," I said, and stepped back into the room, closing the door behind me.

Chapter Text

My daytime sleep brought me into a world of dreams. There were probably dozens of them and others certainly repeated in loops. One can never know for certain with dreams. However, rising out of my stupor to face the pitch black of the bedroom, I felt the dreams spilling out into my increasingly conscious mind.

There lingered an image of my Amadeo on one his speedboats. The wind was whipping his auburns curls past his shoulders and he was laughing as he absently steered the boat through the ocean waters off Miami. Against the wind he was speaking to me. It was the old Italian that in reality I had yet to hear him speak in the twentieth century. His face was easy, full of feeling, not the cold mask that had faced me again and again on Night Island. When he glanced in my direction, his eyes were untroubled. What he was talking about was indistinct, unimportant. We were simply talking, simply together. He was not my lover; he was my friend, a friend of old. The sea spray flew up on the sides of the boat as we cut through the space of the night.

I turned the memory round and round in my mind, examining it as I savored it. I know that most dreams are not remembered. I wanted to remember.

But wait! There was another scrap I needed to salvage! I couldn't let the memory be destroyed. What was it? Reluctantly, I left Amadeo behind and opened my mind to dream behind the dream. What had I been feeling? A strange sensation, or perhaps it was unfamiliar, something I had forgotten, it had been too long. I think it was... excitement? Curiosity? Attraction? Opening myself, I caught an image of a hand caught under my own. It was slightly darker but just as smooth. The hand of a living statue, that, but whose was it? I lay in the half-sleep straining to recall whose hand I had held. Not Lestat's certainly. Not Amadeo's. No. Not Louis' either. Let me see his face! I imagined myself looking away and then turning back to the face. At last I saw it: David with his deep brown eyes.

David! All at once I was awake. I had promised to speak with him about Lestat. And meanwhile, there was Lestat himself to deal with. We had made a bargain and I was loath to see him go back on it. Oh, David, yes, I needed to see him, see them both, but David, he was in my dream! It surprised me to find him there, so quickly lodged. Then, as full awareness came about me, it seemed that suddenly the dividers and curtains of my mind had come down and broken my consciousness into orderly parts. It was time to turn on the lights, get dressed, go onto the gallery, say what must be said. The dreams would have to be left behind, examined later, when matters were less pressing.

Within a few short minutes I had combed through my hair, changed my clothes and become the Marius the world expected. I exited onto the gallery and looked up at the sky, which was darker than I would have expected. It seemed I had slept longer than usual, the dreams no doubt exerting their pull. Down in the courtyard I saw the fountain and the bench where I had spoken with Lestat. I was glad I had finally been able to reach him, to navigate through the labyrinths of his fears and deceptions. I hoped I had given his heart a way to find relief at last.

I had been ruminating on this matter for only a short while and was about to choose some words with which to begin the evening when all at once, I caught wind of a commotion in the library. Voices loud and vehement, the battle reminded me of the one I been party to on Night Island.

"I certainly will not!" I heard David pronounce with the fierceness of a man whose honor had been affronted.

"Oh, yes, you will!" Lestat said sharply. I could picture his blue steel eyes screwing squarely into David's.

But David was not giving in. "No, I won't!" he countered with just as must determination as before.

"Yes you will--" Lestat countered, "unless you want to know what it feels like to be cremated!" In the short pause between parleys it occurred to me that the fact that Lestat was threatening David with fire, just as he had threatened Louis, was maddeningly ironic considering that two of his own children had already met the fire.

David's voice was lower as he growled in reply: "You wouldn't dare."

"Wouldn't I?" Lestat scoffed as I opened the door and stepped into the hallway. "To get my way, I stop at nothing."

David's laugh was soft but I caught it nonetheless. "Oh, yes, Lestat, I am all too familiar with that particular behavioral trait."

At this point I stepped into the room and cleared my throat. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but what are you two battling over that requires your voices to be raised to the point that your mortal neighbors can probably hear every word?"

Lestat heaved an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "Oh, nothing, Marius. Nothing at all. I simply realized what a terrible mistake I made with David here -- he's a complete idiot!"

"Lestat, are you trying to alienate all your fledglings?" I asked pointedly.

I could tell I had truly hit a nerve with that one, yet Lestat wasn't about to admit it. "Oh, and you're on such good terms with yours," he hissed.

"You insult me," I said, "because you're frightened. You're afraid, but you're too brave to run away, and too impatient to wait and see what will come. And so you lash out."

With these words I seemed to have calmed Lestat's temper. Perhaps David was right; I did hold a special sway.

"All right, now that you've stopped shouting, Lestat, go ahead and tell me what on earth you two are fighting about!"

Lestat glanced away. "Why should I?" he muttered. He wanted to argue something away but his will had gone. "It's none of your business really."

Stepping further into the room, I glanced at David, who had been following our words worriedly all along, before grasping Lestat's arm and saying to him, "Lestat, after all you told me last night, now you're claiming something is 'none of my business'?"

The anger was gone and now I could see the troubled Lestat of the night prior coming back to life. "Good point," he said quietly. Then a straightening of the shoulders and a look dead into my eyes. "However, not to see ungrateful but... at this point I've had it with this discussion." He shot a glance over to his fledgling. "Expect me back in an hour or two. In the meantime, perhaps David can explain to you the reasoning behind his inpertinence -- well, besides the fact that he's a complete idiot!"

With those words he flew down the stairs and exited out the door below. I heard Mojo go out with him. I had the feeling someone in the city was going to pay for his temper with their life.

Chapter Text

Once again, I was alone with David. As soon as the door closed, he collapsed into one of the chairs and pressed both his hands to his temples.

"Oh, Marius, what am I to do with him?" he asked me.

"What do you mean, David?" I took the seat beside him and waited for him to look up.

Finally he dropped his hands to his lap. "This argument, Marius. What do I do about it?"

"Well, you might start by telling me what exactly the argument was about. It didn't seem like Lestat wanted to tell me."

"Well that seems obvious!" David burst out. "He doesn't want you to know." His eyes went straight to mine.

This pronouncement took me by surprise. After the discussion the night before, I didn't expect that there was much more to know. Lestat had, for all I knew, stripped his soul bare and admitted to me his deepest fears, his deepest hurts. What more could there be?

"What doesn't he want me to know?" I asked.

"Hmmmm... well...." David hesitated. "I suppose he doesn't want you to know about how things are between him and Louis."

"How can you say that, David?" I asked, perplexed. "That's all we talked about last night! He told me everything. Remember how I promised to tell you what he had said?"

"Yes, Marius, but when you say he told you 'everything'... are you sure? Because I think there are a few matters he may have left out from his confession."

I was becoming a bit lost. "Whatever do you mean? I got him to admit the problems he has had communicating, loving. He wants Louis, David. And when I say wants, I mean, he wants him desperately. He always has. But now he feels he can no longer have him, things have changed so much and the barriers are too high. But regardless, he wants."

David's eyes were sympathetic. "I know," he said. "I have always known. But Marius, the problem is, I don't think Louis wants Lestat. Not now anyway."

Now this was a startling statement. "David, I think you must be mistaken. Over the past decade I feel I've spent enough time with Louis to know that he loves Lestat. They have something special, David. Now if only they could get past--"

"Marius, you don't understand," he interjected. "You simply don't realize the situation."

"What situation?" I asked, puzzled.

"You told Lestat last night -- I don't know for certain, but I'm guessing -- to go see Louis. You want him to go speak to him. Really speak to him. Not argue, not leave words unsaid. True?" His tone was reasoned but with a slight edge that kept me in suspense.

"Yes," I answered quickly. "That's exactly it."

"Well, then it must be that you don't realize what's happened."

When I didn't respond he continued. "Louis does not live here, you understand." I nodded. "He was living here earlier. After he came with Lestat and I down to Carnival, he lived here with the two of us. It was awkward at first -- I didn't know him at all well -- but with Lestat shut up with his computer, writing out his third book, Louis and I gradually came to a comfortable arrangement. We would sit in the library and read. He liked to discuss philosophy with me and I was honored and amazed that he would deem to speak with me on such matters." David was visibly relaxing as he recalled these times, but still there was an underlying sense of urgency to his words.

"So," he continued, "things were fine. Even after Lestat finished the book and sent it to the publisher, we had a reasonably happy household. Lestat would taunt Louis with small insults and play on my youth, reminding me every moment that I was but a fledgling. All in all, it was not particularly uncomfortable -- until the book was published."

Suddenly my mind lurched forward on the possible outcome of David's story. Louis had read the story and--

"As soon as Louis read it, things changed," David continued, not necessarily reading my thought but dovetailing into it quite neatly. "For two whole nights Louis left the house. I asked Lestat where he had gone but he didn't know. He told me to let Louis alone. He would come back on his own. It had no doubt been a good thing for Louis to read about what he and I had gone through, he told me. Louis would feel closer to us."

"And after two nights, Louis returned?" I prompted.

"Yes," David replied. "Lestat and I were downstairs with the television on. It was about 10 o'clock and Lestat was brushing Mojo -- he really loves that animal. At any rate, I believe I was writing some notes in my journal. Then suddenly the door opened and there was Louis, who stepped very deliberately into the room and said, voice cold as ice, 'Lestat, I need to speak with you. Alone.'"

After all the moments I had spent with Louis, I could picture his expression perfectly, the set of his jaw, the way his eyes looked out from under his brow. And the anger -- I could very well imagine that with Louis, anger would bring out some of his most human qualities.

"Lestat didn't seem to grasp the situation at first," David continued, "didn't realize that there was something quite serious at hand. 'Alone?' he asked. 'If there's something you need to say, Louis, then surely you can say it to the both of us.'

"'No, I can't, Lestat. This is a matter between you and me.' Louis looked over to me with a strange look I could not quite identify except to say that he had toned down his anger when he met my eyes.

"But of course Lestat, being the bull-headed fiend that he is, wouldn't go along with this and so he burst forth with a blustering counter of 'Well, I don't care what you can't do, Louis, you'll say what you have to say now or not at all. And where have you been these last two nights?'

"Louis stepped forward until he had positioned himself at Lestat's feet and was staring down at him. His look was dangerous, unlike anything I had ever seen from him. Lestat finally got the hint and scampered to his feet.

"'Very well, Lestat. I will tell you where I have been, if you must be so very rude as to want to expose David to what I assure you will be a very painful experience for all concerned.' He swallowed and continued on. 'I have been out wandering this city wondering how it is that I have been so cursed to know you.' Marius, he sounded like another man when he said this. I got to my feet myself, afraid that something truly awful was about to happen.

"And so it was that Louis told Lestat that he had read the book. He had not enjoyed it, and it wasn't because it was self-indulgent or because he had discovered the heights of Lestat's foolishness. No, it was because the book describes incidents of which Louis had not been aware and which, had he been aware, he would have certainly have objected to before.

"He felt, in short, that he had been completely, deliberately duped into believing things that were not so. And now that he had thought about it, he realized that the illusion had been shattered and it was time to go. He would be getting his things and leaving the townhouse for a place of his own as soon as possible. And that's exactly what he did."

Chapter Text

I was stunned. I had followed the twists and turns of the relationship between Lestat and his fledgling for years. I had thought I had seen every permutation: Louis angry, stripping off his shirt in defiance; Lestat pleading with Louis for the blood; Louis insisting that there was no "larger scheme of things" between them. But just the night before, it had seemed to me that Lestat had turned a corner. Something new was about to happen. He was finally going to bridge the gap... only now, it seemed there was a chasm of which I had not been aware.

"But David, what was it in the book that he found so disturbing? Did he say?" I asked, desperate to know what was now keeping them apart.

"Yes, he was quite clear," David replied slowly. "There were three main issues, as I recall." He extended his index finger in an exaggerated fashion, then pointed to himself. "First, there was me."

This did not surprise me. "He was jealous?" I asked.

David glanced down to his hand and sighed. "Actually no, that's not the first issue. The issue was, I'm afraid, that I had been made. Against my will." David looked up and met my eyes. "That I had said no, over and over, and yet Lestat had done it anyway."

David reflected on this, apparently thinking back to that night on the beach I had read about in the book. "Until Louis read the book," David went on, "he hadn't known exactly how it had happened. Lestat hadn't told him anything about what happened. I didn't offer anything either -- what was I supposed to say? Meanwhile Louis didn't ask. Instead, he worked on the assumption that I had asked for this, just like Lestat said I would all along and--"

"When he read what had actually happened, he was upset," I finished for him.

"'Upset' is not the word," David corrected. "I believe 'outraged' or maybe simply, as they say these days in America, 'pissed' would be better. Well, he was upset, outraged and pissed that Lestat had done such a thing. It was bad enough that he had broken the rules and brought in the Superior General of the Talamasca but taking me against my will? Taking me as an act of vengeance almost? 'Upset' is a mild term, Marius, too mild."

Once again David paused, collecting his thoughts. "Now the second issue was the jealousy. Or rather, the conclusion that somehow or other, Lestat had found a better companion. I was so strong, Louis said, obviously much stronger than he would ever be and further, I didn't have a conscience the way he did. After all, Louis argued, the very night I was made I swam out into the ocean and killed some men I found out in their boat. It didn't bother me, at least not the way he bothered him. Louis said he felt Lestat had gone out and found someone to be the vampire companion he never could be.

"Oh, and one more thing -- Louis also pointed out to Lestat that he had picked a fledging who, like Lestat himself and you, had taken the moral high ground with regard to the Dark Gift. None of us asked for this. In fact, we all fought it. Louis, on the other hand, asked for it, accepted it freely."

By now I felt almost hollow with the shock of this revelation. I had thought I was about to bring some closure to the saga but instead I had stepped into a mire. Meanwhile David had paused. "Are you following me?" he asked.

"Yes, of course," I replied. "I understand. And so Louis was angry about the way you had been made and about the fact that you were -- so he perceived -- meant to be a superior, perhaps even a replacement, fledgling."

David nodded. "And that wasn't all. Louis laid it all out in a voice that was pure ice. Much of it he stated right up front, but other issues came out only when he and Lestat began to argue. As I tell you these things, understand that I'm piecing things together that might not have been said together at the time."

I nodded in understanding. "What else was there?" I asked.

"Well, there was the final matter, and that leads us into the reason Lestat and I were fighting this evening. Put simply, Louis was absolute incensed to learn that Lestat had taken to following him around New Orleans. He values his privacy, you understand, and there are aspects of his life, the kill in particular, that he simply will not share. When he learned that Lestat had pried into these matters, spied on him, as it were, he felt violated and betrayed."

"I can imagine," I said. "He certainly is a very private person. And I agree that it was improper of Lestat to be following him when Louis had made it clear to him, no doubt many times, that such behavior was unacceptable. I can also imagine Lestat's logic, that it was fine to follow Louis as long as he never found out. But then Lestat put it in his book and--"

"Yes, Marius, exactly!" David exclaimed, obviously irritated. "I don't know why he had to mention that. He should have known better but he didn't and now..." David's words drifted off and he shrugged hopelessly.

"Now Louis is gone and you and Lestat are fighting. What about?" I asked.

"Well, after the talk you had with him, Lestat wanted to go see Louis."

"Yes, of course, and so he was about to go and you got into a fight?" This seemed to me to be the logical assumption.

"No," David replied. "He wasn't about to go. He can't."

I was confused. "What do you mean?"

David sighed. Apparently there was still something I was missing. "He can't go to Louis because he doesn't know where he is."

"He's here in New Orleans!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, of course, but where is the key. Lestat doesn't know."

"Well, naturally. Louis is his fledgling and so he can't--"

"No," David cut in. "It's not the silence. I mean he doesn't know because... how shall I put this? He can't track Louis because Louis won't allow Lestat to know where he is. He won't have Lestat following him. Louis is deliberating making himself scarce, untraceable, do you understand?

"The only time we see Louis is when he comes by to visit us here in the townhouse. Louis has told me where and how to find him, but only because he knows that Lestat cannot penetrate my mind to take that information from me. In the meantime Lestat has no means of locating him."

I groaned. This was truly a debacle. "And how did you end up fighting?"

"It's quite simple, really. Lestat came to me and asked me to find Louis for him, find him and entreat him to come over so that Lestat could have a talk with him. He just walked in here and asked me flat out to find him."

"And you refused."

"Yes, Marius, I did, and it was for one simple reason. Louis made me swear never to reveal his whereabouts to Lestat, never to assist Lestat in any way as far as tracking him down or following him. And I had to keep my word and so there was the fight. You heard me, no doubt -- 'I certainly will not!'"

"Yes, David, I heard you." It was all becoming clear. Lestat needed to talk with Louis but Louis was hardly in the mood. To top it all, Lestat couldn't even find Louis and David couldn't help him and probably wouldn't be able to talk with him either. While David leaned back in his chair, apparently relieved of the stress of sharing the tale, I decided that it was time to step in and take action.

"There is only one option then, David," I announced.

I saw from his reaction that had startled him. "There is?" he asked. "I thought we had reached a dead end."

"Hardly," I replied with a confidence I did not feel. "Since we can't have you breaking your vow and since you no doubt want to keep out of what's between those two, it's obvious that it's my job to go... where angels fear to tread. I will go find Louis and I will talk with him. I will try to talk him through things and at the end of it, hopefully I can get him to meet with Lestat so they can talk."

David was silent. For some seconds he considered the matter. "That sounds like a very tall order," he said at length. "A veritable skyscraper of an order, in fact."

I nodded and thought it over myself. Yes, it would be difficult, perhaps more difficult that anything I had done yet, including the conversation I had had with Lestat the night before. Still, I could not let matters stand as they were. Anything had to be better.

"Well," I announced, standing and stretching my limbs, "I think I should be going then."

"You're going now?" David asked, surprised.

"I don't see why not," I replied. "After all, if Lestat doesn't know where Louis is, then I'm not in danger of running into him, am I? And I don't know want him to know where I've gone or what I'm doing." I looked at David and continued. "Understand? He's not to know where I've gone."

David nodded and then walked over to the desk I'd seen him at the night before. Opening a drawer, he produced a sheet of writing paper and a pen. Quickly he scribbled off a note and handed it to me. Inscribed on the paper was Louis' address and general whereabouts.

I extended my hand. "Thank you, David," I said. He clasped my hand and managed a small smile. As we stood at the top of the stairs, he left me with one parting wish: "Good luck."

Chapter Text

The Golden Fleece

Marius attempts to carry out a mission


Setting out to find Louis that dark New Orleans night, I felt like Jason, tasked to find the Golden Fleece. I only hoped that despite all that David had said, the dragon guarding this particular treasure was not so ferocious as to keep me from my goal. Louis would, I hoped, listen to reason and be persuaded to return back to Rue Royale.

Just as much as Lestat needed to talk to Louis, I was certain Louis needed to talk to Lestat. What the outcome of their conversation would be, I couldn't say, but I hoped beyond hope that somehow each of them would be able to put a voice to their concerns and come to the end of their conflict. I would be a peacemaker -- or so I hoped.

The information David had scrawled out for me led me to a surprising locale. It was not a residential neighborhood, but a rough part of town, actually across the river from their usual haunts. Dominated mainly by industrial warehouses and shipping facilities, the streets were fairly deserted by the time I arrived, but it seemed obvious that the area might do well as a hunting ground. The only mortals about were those who worked lonely, unsupervised jobs or those who employed the vacant lots and abandoned buildings for drug-dealing or simple shelter. Still, it seemed an unlikely place for any vampire to live, let alone Louis. What kind of home could he possibly have in such a place? An old garage? A storage locker?

I had been prowling the streets for perhaps ten minutes when who did I spy, out of the corner of my eye, but a pale, raven-haired man, apparently in quite a hurry. Although I was hidden from his view, I nevertheless concealed myself yet further. It was time to make a decision. I had Louis' street address written down. Should I go directly to his home and confront him there, or should I follow him about in case he didn't return home right away? It didn't take long to decide on the former course of action. Following Louis would probably only turn him against me; this type of spying was, after all, one of the reasons he had left Lestat in the first place.

I proceeded to the address at top speed, scanning for Louis as I went and taking care to conceal myself by flying above the rooftops. I landed on the appropriate side street and found, to my surprise, a run-down shipping facility. From the construction I could date it to the 1920s. Most of the building was made up of truck loading docks, probably not used for decades judging by the refuse and general disrepair of the area. An abandoned vehicle sagged beside a cluster of weeds. All the service entrances were marked with dilapidated signs, red on white, "DO NOT ENTER: PRIVATE PROPERTY," further legal instructions printed in smaller type below.

Perhaps this was not as unlikely an address for a vampire as it had at first seemed. Beyond the loading and storage areas was an office area that, with a separate entrance onto the street and faded street number, painted in black onto the brick, seemed like it would serve quite well as an apartment. During my recent travels I had, in modern cities throughout America and Europe, come across many such dwellings, living spaces carved out of industrial or office buildings. In a twist of irony, it seemed Louis had entered the twentieth century and was perhaps ahead of the curve, an urban pioneer, for I had not sensed any other such dwellings in the area.

I stationed myself across the street, lingering in the darkened doorway of another abandoned shipping facility. Even with my alabaster face and white-blond hair, it seemed unlikely Louis would notice me, at least not without deliberately looking my way, and the chances of that were slim.

Chance, to my surprise, won out.

I had heard Louis' footsteps before he appeared. Even though he was hiding himself from Lestat, he apparently still did not care to lose the footfalls which so marked him as more nearly mortal than any of our kind. Perhaps, I thought to myself not for the first time, he wanted to be found out.

I heard the loose bits of gravel and sand grind under Louis' heels as he turned onto the street. He was walking fast, probably on his way home after his nightly kill. Finally I saw him, covered in a shapeless dark coat. He approached the door to his lair and turned, his hand reaching into his pants pocket to fish out the key. As his fingers searched, so did his gaze.

His eyes caught mine.

I swallowed, hoping the light was to my advantage and that Louis' eyes were too weak to see me, but in a mere instant, I knew I had not been so lucky. Louis tensed and I heard a sharp intake of breath.

"YOU!!!!!"

This single word had come across as a loudy, accusatory snarl, which was not exactly what I had expected, but then he surprised me ever more. Almost before I knew it, he ran across the way into the doorway and with all his might, grasped my shoulders and actually shook me, repeating the word, this time spitting it out at a lower volume but with equal disgust. "YOU!!!!!"

Louis may be the weakest of all of us, but I can assure you that in that instant, he was anything but.

This was not the forlorn and melancholy Louis I thought I knew. He burned with fury, the blood of this night's prey sparkling in his hands, his face, his eyes. Louis had once burned down an entire coven house and taken off a vampire's head with a scythe, but until that moment I had been unable to imagine Louis in a mood capable of committing such an act.

Releasing me suddenly, he stepped back, out into the road and the yellow glow of a street light. I followed him and tried not to appear as rattled as I felt. I was, after all, Jason, and here was the Golden Fleece in question.

Louis studied me carefully and then exhaled slowly through his nose, his mouth a tight line. His shoulders gradually relaxed, though he seemed no less wary for it. "I suppose should be used to it by now," he said, "being spied on by you stronger ones."

"Most of us usually have better things to do," I said.

It was a gamble, but the humor worked. Louis looked at me suspiciously for another long moment, then slowly, his lips curled into the slightest smile.

"No doubt," he said. "Come inside, please. I do not wish to be seen."

With those words he turned and approached his door. Three locks and a numeric combination separated his lair from the outside world. Holding the door open with a stiff arm, he beckoned me inside.

As I stepped across the threshold, I was immediately cognizant of the damp, mildewed air. Louis threw a switch in the wall and a few dim lights came up. I quickly determined that my thoughts on Louis' home had been correct; this was indeed a "loft" and as far as I could tell, it compared quite favorably with those occupied by mortals.

The floor was concrete, apparently stripped bare of its industrial carpeting, I gathered from the stripes of dried yellow adhesive criss-crossing its surface. The furnishings were mainly from the time of the building, 1920s and 1930s with some 1950s Modern mixed in. Some of the pieces were stylish, others merely functional. On the walls hung large framed prints of black and white photographs, studies of Manhattan at night taken from the time of the Great Depression. In one corner of the space I spied a large television screen and entertainment system, replete with tall racks filled with videotapes. Nowhere did I see any books.

This assessment took but a moment and then my eyes were back on Louis. His gaze steady, he removed his coat and set it across the back of a severe, straight-backed aluminum chair.

"I apologize for the way I greeted you, Marius," he said finally. "You startled me and, as I hope was obvious, angered me. I am not at the moment partial to visitors." Louis' gift for deliberate understatement was in full force.

Again he exhaled slowly through his nose, apparently willing himself to calm and, I noted instantly obsequious good manners. "Please. Sit. I trust you've been well."

I took a place on the short black sofa while he dropped into the Art Deco chair. "Yes," I replied, "though I have been concerned -- about you, and about many things. Especially after reading Lestat's latest book."

"Of course," he said stiffly.

I raised my eyebrows at him, inviting his confidence, but he said nothing. Apparently it would be up to me to shoulder the conversation.

"I spoke to Lestat," I resumed slowly. "He had a great deal to say," I said, then looked at him evenly. "He had a great deal to say to you. But you have made yourself unavailable."

"Marius, this must stop," he said, the coolness returning to his tone.

"What?" I asked, not understanding.

"This interference, this mediation," he scowled deeply. "What is this to you? A passing amusement? Blood and circuses?"

I felt a chill. "That's very like what Akasha said," I reminded him with a solemn frown, recalling her words. The Roman in the arena, watching, passing judgment.

"Perhaps she wasn't wrong about everything," he replied, the words clipped and precise.

I was stunned. It was all too clear now that up until this night, I had enjoyed a certain measure of respect and forbearance from Louis. He had always treated me with utmost courtesy, had deferred to me in ways that I had not even realized until now. But for whatever reason, I was no longer in his good graces, and his demeanor was so altered, so unpredictable, that I was disoriented by the change in him.

For the moment I ignored his harsh words. "I wish you would tell me what's happened." I held up a hand to forestall his protest. "Yes, I know the general sequence of events, but not what's happened to you. Obviously it's affected you."

Louis' throat contracted as he clenched his jaw before speaking. "If you want to hear the story," he replied icily, "talk to Lestat. I'm sure it's much more entertaining from his point of view."

"I would prefer to hear it from you," I said.

"I am not presently inclined to humor your preferences, Marius," he remarked, as though he were a librarian informing me that a book was out on loan and presently unavailable.

Surprised again, I let a moment pass. I had in no way been prepared for a confrontation of this magnitude, despite the thoughts I'd had on Jason and the dragon. I was distressed by it in more ways than one.

Louis' customary tact was nowhere to be seen, and without it his beauty seemed almost dangerously irresistible, stripped bare. Of all the creatures, human and vampire, I'd ever known, only my Amadeo surpassed him for sheer seductive presence. He had always before been withdrawn, introspective, that presence contained, softened by his manners and gentlemanly charm. Not now.

I began to realize why Lestat delighted in annoying his child. Anger brought every one of his many virtues into the sharpest possible focus, unleashed the brilliance in him that was ordinarily shadowed.

I said carefully, "I'm not certain how I came to earn your rancor. When last we met, you'd just spent a few days at my home. We were on good terms."

"What do you expect?" he said, green eyes narrowed. "Is my hospitality inadequate in some way? Should I offer you a drink?"

He meant it in the human sense, as a dark joke. That in no way diminished the impact of his words. If this was the sort of thoughtlessly proffered temptation Lestat had to contend with, it was no wonder he found it difficult to be close to Louis.

 

Chapter Text

I was tempted to reply bluntly to Louis that if there were anyone to whom he might "offer a drink" it would be Lestat. However, rather than stumbling into that minefield, I opted to take a step backward.

"Louis, I wish you would lay down your arms," I told him smoothly. "I didn't come here to attack you. In fact, just the opposite. I came here because I've been told you're deeply upset."

The slight shift in expression I saw in Louis' eyes told me just how little he appreciated anyone bespeaking his feelings to a third party.

Despite this, he managed to question me with an air of nonchalance, "Who told you that?"

"David," I replied. "He and I had a talk."

At this Louis shook his head. "David," he said. "What on earth does David know about it, about me? He hardly knows me."

"He does know your whereabouts," I pointed out.

"Which he seems to have been all too eager to share without my permission," Louis said curtly. He was looking away, his thoughts apparently in that faraway place to which he was willing his own emotions.

"Louis, he was trying to help," I argued gently. "He promised not to tell Lestat and he didn't. He told me. He wanted me to come here and help, to talk with you."

Louis switched his gaze from the world beyond my shoulders back to my question. "Oh? What about?"

By this time I was growing tired of his dodges. "Louis, don't do this." Tentatively, I reached out and grasped his hand, my eyes steady on his. "David told me."

The instant I spoke Louis pulled his hand out of my grasp. "Just stop, Marius. It doesn't matter. I've left. I don't plan to go back. I don't plan on anything actually, but believe me, I won't be going back." He leaned back slightly in his chair, shoulders squared, resolute. "Why can't you just give up, go intrude on someone else's affairs? Or just maybe," he added, after considering his words briefly, "go solve your own problems. Your beloved fledgling Armand? Your Amadeo? You haven't exactly lavished much attention on solving that particular dilemma, have you?"

Now that, as they say in these modern times, hurt. Really hurt. It was a slap in the face for which I had not been the least bit prepared. It was also a slap I knew I deserved.

I looked down and shook my head. "No," I answered him quietly. "I haven't." I looked up again. "It's only fitting you should mention it, though. Lestat told me the same thing."

"Did he?" Louis asked crossly. "Well, maybe that should tell you something. You were separated from Armand for 500 years and now when you finally have the opportunity to see him again, you can't manage to reconcile your differences? You can barely seem to speak to him. I don't understand."

He and Lestat were both right. I did need to talk to Amadeo. What they didn't comprehend, perhaps because of their relative youth, was just how long 500 years really was, especially compared to the few short years Amadeo and I had been together in the first place. No, surely they couldn't conceive of the walls that built up over such a length of time.

"I know you don't understand," I told Louis. "Be glad you don't." I let my eyes wander away from him and decided to play the compassion card. "Be glad you don't have a fledgling whom you love but who won't let you in. Ama -- Armand is full of passion, but he's withdrawn, unwilling to show his emotions." I flicked my gaze back to Louis. "Instead, he confronts me with a wall of ice. His eyes are opaque. I don't know what goes on behind them. I can't."

This little speech was calculated to win his sympathy, but while it had stirred my own feelings to an unsettling degree, I couldn't tell if it had any effect on Louis.

"I spent many years in Armand's company," he stated. "He was always a mystery to me. These furnishings," he continued, gesturing to the room around us, "remind me of that time. I am quite aware of Armand's tendencies. Perhaps he has been an influence on me. Who knows." His tone was dismissive but somehow I felt that every word was contrived to push me away.

"You have not always been so in control of your emotions," I challenged him. "And I don't just mean the night you threw off your sweater in that jazz club or the night Lestat set your house on fire. David told me what you said to Lestat after you'd read his book. He said he had never seen you like that."

My point had exactly the desired effect. Louis dropped his mask of apathy, apparently borrowed from Armand, and bolted out of his chair. For one second, I could see a flicker of the raw, bitter emotions that must have exploded from him as he confronted Lestat.

"David!" he snorted. "David hasn't see me like that? That might be because David doesn't know me. And in his ignorance he imagines he can set matters right that have been wrong for centuries."

He rounded on the room suddenly and headed towards the entertainment system. Leaning over, he abruptly picked out a CD case and slapped the disk into the waiting player. A moment and several quick and decidedly graceless adjustments later, the quiet of the room was filled with the tugging rhythm of big band jazz.

Louis returned to his seat and continued on. "And as I think on it," he told me, "David doesn't know you either. And when did you meet him? Last night? The night before?"

When I nodded, he threw up his hands. "Marius, you don't even know him, and you're letting him prod you into meddling into affairs which don't concern you. Doubtless because you don't need much prodding."

I didn't have a reply to this. Everything he'd said had been on the mark. I didn't know David, not very well, although I wanted to, I had come to realize privately.

Louis couldn't read my mind, of that I was certain, but what he said next made me question that assumption for just a moment. "Or maybe," he said slowly, "it's because you were eager to do David a favor, to take his side and get into his good graces. It's very exciting, isn't it. An entirely new vampire, made in defiance of all the rules, so young but so strong. We all know you, but David would make an ideal disciple... filled with all the usual fledgling enthusiasms, a blank slate, fresh, pliable."

I was dumbfounded. I truly hadn't ever imagined that Louis could utter words so calculated. He had to know how these accusations wounded me. More, though, I felt myself growing angry at what he was implying about David.

"David is hardly a blank slate!" I told him adamantly. "And pliable? No, I don't think so. David's mortal years surpass the human lifetimes of any of us. He possesses a human wisdom none of us ever had the opportunity to attain. He's a man, not a disciple, and a strong one at that. He doesn't bow down to me and as far as I can tell, he doesn't particularly bow down to Lestat. He's a powerful creature, fascinating really."

Louis raised an eyebrow. "Really?" he drawled. "It hadn't occured to me that you'd find him so very attractive."

My heart suddenly thumped a good deal stronger and for all the calm control I'd learned over the centuries, I visibly flinched. Damn those mortal reflexes.

Chapter Text

Before I could manage a verbal response, Louis pursed his lips. I thought he was going to shoot back an "I told you so!" but instead, he looked down, away from me.

"I see, Marius." He looked up. "I wasn't really thinking that until I said it, but now--"

My mouth jerked to life. "Now you know." I made sure to look Louis directly in the eyes.

Louis' expression was suffused with sympathy, the ice apparently having melted. "Now I know what, Marius?"

I had not intended to talk about myself, but since the line of conversation seemed to be bringing Louis closer to opening up, I decided that perhaps sharing my own problems would be appropriate.

"Know about my feelings for David and... other things," I said quietly. I wasn't acting at all, the emotions were real, but I did carefully gauge the effect of my words as I spoke.

"What other things?" Louis asked.

"How it has been with me all these years," I replied. "I don't think you can understand. I have been alone for most of my life. 2,000 years, Louis. That's ten times your lifetime," I told him, borrowing from the line Lestat had thrown at me twice already. "I was with Pandora for as long as you have been on earth. Centuries later, I had a few brief years with Armand. I've spent time with Mael and recently with others of our kind, but for the most part, I have been alone."

Louis nodded slowly. "But for most of that time, you had no choice. Your role as the Keeper kept you from taking a companion."

Of course he was correct but he still didn't know the whole truth. "Yes, you're right," I said. "But the Mother and the Father have been dead and gone for ten years. Rather than feeling free, I feel almost dead myself. As though I have entered a state of suspended animation, as though I am the statue, the holy relic. I don't need to care for them anymore, yet I find myself trapped in that old role. Everyone -- you even, you who know me -- perceives me as the Keeper. I'm the guardian, the advisor, the one who recuses himself from the ebb and flow of existence to tend Those Who Must Be Kept. That is my place among our kind. I don't participate in life, I observe it and I watch over it, protect it. I don't live it myself. I can't."

I had engaged in a great deal of self-examination over the years but rarely had I offered such a detailed confession to another person face-to-face. I could feel the effect it was having on me, the blood tears that had come to my eyes.

"I'm afraid of living, Louis," I continued. "I'm afraid I don't know what to do. There is so much damage to be repaired I can hardly bear to face it. I don't want to make a mistake, not with my Amadeo, not after all these years. I'm fearful of going back to correct the blunders I made with him. I'm fearful of moving on. I'm not sure what it would mean to my conception of myself to come down from this high castle, to allow myself the opportunity to make mistakes again. How could I, the infallible advisor and guardian, have feet of clay like any other creature, man or vampire? So rather than face up to it, I avoid it and do nothing, continue on with this half-life just as I have all these years. You wonder why I bother meddling in your affairs. Well, honestly, Louis, wonder no more. I am guilty as charged. But perhaps now can grasp the mitigating circumstances."

By this point Louis was staring at me. Slowly, uncertainly, he nodded. "I can grasp it, Marius, grasp it more firmly than you can perhaps imagine. I know what it's like to feel that way -- dead. To be unable to move forward, to be afraid of more pain, to stumble on in this living death with no goal, no consolation."

I saw where Louis was going with his words and was tempted to stop him, to protect him from his own memories and feelings, but I let him go on. This was, after all, a kind of progress.

"You read my famous interview, Marius. You know how it was after... Paris. I was with Armand but I... wasn't. I don't claim to understand Armand, Marius, truly I don't, but I can say that he was there, always there, waiting for me for decades on end... for whatever reason. And yet I never really changed, not until decades later. Why he was so patient with me I don't know."

I wanted to say, "Because he loved you," but I didn't think it was something Louis could accept or even comprehend.

I knew from my own experience that Louis would have been a companion that none could resist, and in those years, my Amadeo had been in such need, so desperate. How could he not have loved Louis from the very start?

Still, Louis would not understand it, could not believe in his own worth or comprehend that that someone could love him. Even now it seemed he could scarcely recognize the passion he inspired, let alone respond to that love.

And that was the crux of the real issue at hand. There was another love to discuss.

Lestat.

Chapter Text

By now I had been lost in my own thoughts for a few moments and Louis was gazing at me expectantly. I still had not remarked on his comment about Amadeo. Why, he wanted to know, had Amadeo stayed with him all those years when Louis had so little to give, was so marginally alive?

I let out a heavy sigh as I began a new tack for my argument. "Excuse me, Louis. But I was thinking that it shouldn't be difficult for you to understand. After all, look how many years -- decades even -- you remained with Lestat. What exactly were the rewards of that relationship?"

If Louis had slapped me earlier with his comments, this comment of mine seemed to have struck Louis like a blow to the head.

"I give up, Marius," he said. These were hardly the words I expected to hear. "I give up trying to keep any secrets from you. I keep fighting you, I've kept it up for years, but finally you always seem to cut through and want to know more. And tonight -- it seems you will not leave until I accede." He paused and drew in a deep breath through his nose. "So I will tell you, if only because once you know it all, you will understand why and how I am here and why I will not go back to Lestat."

These last words were spoken with such quiet reticence I almost feared to ask him to go on, but I knew it was necessary and so I prodded. "Tell me, then. Please. I only want to understand."

"I've told the world about those years," he began, "or so every one believes. There is truth in those pages, those words I spoke to Daniel, but there are also lies -- of omission. I spoke of Lestat's cruelty, his vanity, his arrogance. I called him a scoundrel, a peasant, and detailed as many of his wrongs as I could. But what I didn't say, Marius, what I couldn't say, was that for all of that, I couldn't bear to be without him." His low voice was at its softest, but his words were still as clear and sharp as glass. "I said -- and I wished -- that it was only habit and apathy and the need for company that drew us together, we three. But it was not."

Each word he had spoken had been dragged out from the deepest cellar of his soul and practically shrank from the light. My thoughts were transported to the very first time I had spoken to the real Louis, meeting up with him in the library on Night Island. He had spoken of Lestat then, but it had been so different. It was as if he had torn himself open.

"He had a hold on me and not only because he was my maker, not only because he kept me bound to him through ignorance and threats. No, he held me through bonds of which I did not speak, could not speak, at the time I talked to Daniel. Lestat and I were, in those days, closer than we have been since. I didn't know his last name, his history, or what went on beyond those gray eyes, but I knew other things about him."

Other things? Louis had paused, apparently finding the words difficult to speak out loud. I was about to prompt him further when he suddenly took a deep breath and resumed.

"I knew the taste of his blood."

Louis held my eyes, challenging me to react to his words and this admission which, in its brutal honesty, convinced me that Louis was opening up in a way that not even Lestat had dared. For all Lestat had told me the night prior, he had never directly admitted to this particular intimacy, although it was indeed an intimacy on which he dwelt, tormented, in the present.

Louis looked away, his right hand dropping off his lap as he clenched the edge of his chair. "Sometimes I dream of it still," he admitted slowly. "Of the nights we spent together. Of that darkest of kisses. So like and yet so unlike the kill. The pleasure that threaded through me, that made me feel for a fleeting instant that there was something left to experience, to feel, in this living death, that did not come at the cost of mortal life."

His eyes flicked back to me and he drew his hands back up into his lap and straightened in his seat. He tilted his head, his whole manner wary and defensive, attentive to my smallest reaction. I contrived to remain completely open and still.

He resumed slowly. "But at the time, it was a pleasure that came with terror. Lestat was dangerous. Is dangerous." A small unhappy smile quirked his mouth briefly. "Merely speaking with him could be an ordeal. So, this... You might imagine. It was a delicate, chancy proposition. Like giving yourself a shave with a straight-edged razor on horseback."

I was fascinated. "How so?" I asked.

"It was like--" he pressed a hand over his mouth, tapping his index finger, before finding the right words, "it was like, and please excuse me for resorting to yet another simile, like walking on a tightrope, blindfolded. Because you understand, Marius, we-- Claudia and I--"

He broke off suddenly. He had spoken her name, something I knew was not his practice. "It's all right, Louis, you can say it," I urged him. "You are speaking the truth, the truth as you saw it."

Louis swallowed and gave me a small nod. "Yes. I know. It's simply that I have not spoken of this, not really. I told Daniel and yet... I did not. We didn't know. We simply did not know him. Where he came from, what he was really thinking, feeling, what he wanted... we were never sure."

He lowered his eyes, marking out another silence, measured by the slow rhythm of his breath. "He would fly into rages," Louis recalled finally. "It seems so ridiculous now, how much we dreaded that. I know now that these outbursts were little more than temper tantrums. But we were so ignorant, and so completely at his mercy."

He looked at me lingeringly, as though trying to gauge my reaction, and then his eyes dropped. "Weeks would go by and everything would be fine, then suddenly he'd be furious, shouting, threatening. It was terrifying. I tried not to take these words seriously, but-- we are all killers. I wanted to believe he would never harm her, but how could I be sure? I knew exactly of what acts he was capable."

"Yet you stayed," I said. I meant to make some point about the bond between them.

But Louis gazed at me with a broken look and nodded slowly. "I should have gone," he said very quietly. "I could have taken her with me and fled from him. Even though I didn't know his powers, his strength. I should have made the attempt. It never had to come to such an end."

"You couldn't have known," I said.

"I did know," he answered sharply. "She said she would kill him. There was no doubting her sincerity, but I deluded myself into believing she would never go through with it. She did love him, that's the true horror of it. Even as she turned the knife."

"The act that was her undoing," I could not help but recall his own words from the book.

"The very thing. I blamed Lestat," he said. "For the loss of her. For everything. But it was my indecision that killed her. Not once, but twice I brought folly upon us. My unwillingness to leave Lestat. And my hesitation when called upon to decide between-- between her and Armand."

"Is it so difficult even to say her name?" I asked, as gently as I could.

He met my eyes, a cascade of complex emotions flowing across his features, finally fading into a harsh, sad smile.

"Claudia," he said, the slightest breath.

For a moment, I felt the strangest sense of expectation, as though standing before an unopened door.

"No," Louis whispered, then looked down, his voice regaining its deep timbre. "No. It's not at all difficult to say her name. It's difficult not to say her name. Every night, even now, I find myself just on the verge of saying her name. Of calling to her."

I was silent. His loss seemed to demand no less.

From its place in the corner, the stereo bubbled a happy tune, horns and clarinets bucking exuberantly with the joy of life. Louis, meanwhile, was confronting death. His hands had formed a steeple and his chin was resting upon it as he looked down, choosing the words with which to describe the painful memories.

"I could have stopped her," he said tonelessly. "I did not. Instead, I did nothing. It was not a choice I could make. Her. Or him. Her, my dear child who was not a child but so dependent, with whom I had passed so many years, shared that fear, that tightrope walk. And him, the tyrant who formed the anchor of my existence, to whom I felt connected, bonded, and with whom I had shared the passion of blood. I could... not... choose."

On each of these last three words, Louis drew his fingertips apart and tapped them forcefully together. He paused and I saw his fingernails go white with the pressure he exerted between the two hands.

"And so," he said, voice dull, "I stood by. I let it happen. I watched the knife, saw it cut into the very heart of him, saw the blood bubble, saw it pouring out, and that was my choice, or what was left of it. After that, I thought he was gone." He shook his head slowly. "But he wasn't, he came back, and I threw my lot with Claudia. By then I had no choice."

I didn't know what to say. The words of Louis' interview had always made me aware of the excruciating pain at the center of his heart. Still, I opened my mouth, about to attempt to allay Louis' guilt. Louis cut me short.

"No, Marius, let me go on. I must." His fingers were still pressed tightly together. "I couldn't choose and thus the choice was taken from me. The first time, by Claudia. The second, by..." His eyes darted up; his tact and gentility had returned to him, and he seemed uncertain as to whether he should go on, and say the name of my own unhealed wound.

"Armand," I finished for him. "A few years later you arrived in Paris with Claudia, and there you were presented with another decision."

Louis nodded. "Yes. Armand was like no one I had ever known. I could not help but feel drawn in, he was so much the embodiment of sorrow and grace, so utterly seductive." He raised his eyebrows. "But of course you know this, completely."

"Yes," I mouthed soundlessly, nodding my head.

"And so you can understand. There I was. Claudia. Armand. Both of them claimed to need me. Claudia was in danger and wanted to leave. She wanted to flee from from Armand, and the Theatre, and be done with them. She clasped at my heart and so did he and finally, it was torn in half. I could not choose. And because I prevaricated, the wrath of the coven came down on my Claudia and took away all choice."

Louis interlocked his fingers into a tight ball. "I had failed her, just as I had failed Lestat. Through my weakness I brought them both to fatal harm. And in the face of such colossal error, what then? Should I ask forgiveness? Should I seek repentance? No. It was so long ago. And really, there is nothing more to say." He opened his fingers abruptly. "And what do you think of that, Marius?"

What did I think? I thought that I had better do something to pull Louis away -- once and for all -- from this pain of his. However well he bore it, I could not bear to see him suffer like this. Not anymore. Not decades and decades after the fact. I opened my mouth and spoke.

"I think, Louis, that you are far too hard on yourself and have been all your life. You resign yourself, saying you are weak, passive, unable to make choices, but good God, Louis, the choices you had to make were far from simple ones. The people you loved put you in impossible positions."

Louis' hands had relaxed, settling onto one knee. "How... how so?" he asked.

"Whatever strictures I put Lestat under as I sent him to the New World, I never told him to keep you ignorant of so much. No tightrope walk. That was his choice and his mistake. He took it too far. Do you understand me?"

Louis nodded slightly, his expression achingly uncertain and utterly rapt.

"As for Claudia, she demanded much from you. She wanted your full attention, she wanted to exert power over the love between you, in the way she could control so little else. First it was Lestat, then it was Ama -- Armand. She had few choices, given her position, but Louis, her situation, her struggle, affected you. It was not your weakness which made her what she was and it was not your failure that led to her death; it was pure tragedy, it was... in the end, it was simply something that happened."

I cleared my throat. "And then there's Amadeo. For bowing to his will, you should hardly feel beaten. He is a master of manipulation, particularly in matters of love. Trust me, I know." My mind flickered briefly with images from the dim past, Amadeo pleading with me on the great bed of my rooms in Venice. "So you see, to have met him and to have fallen is no failure. It is entirely understandable.

"And that's what I want you to understand, Louis. I want you to know that of these faults, at least--" I sought the words and found, to my satisfaction, the perfect ones, "in the familiar words of the Catholic priest, in the language that was mine... te absolvo."

Chapter Text

I wasn't quite so foolish as to think one night of my counsel could erase the guilt and pain Louis and carried for well over a century and, truly, for most of his life. Nevertheless, from the expression on his face, it was clear that my words had delivered an impact.

Louis' eyes shone faintly with blood tears as he murmured, "Thank you, Marius. Those are words I'd never imagined I would hear."

"I know," I said. "Why do you think I said them?"

Louis didn't reply and for a moment I saw puzzlement in his eyes, but then he opened his mouth and quietly spoke. "It's as you said on Night Island, as I recall. You care for me."

I nodded. "Yes, I do care, Louis. That's why I came here in the first place."

Louis gave me a long look and I saw his earlier ill mood creeping back. Internally, I tensed myself for another round of battle.

"I thought you were here to make me go back to Rue Royale," he said, an edge in his voice. "So that Lestat and I could talk."

"That was part of caring for you, Louis."

"Yes, I'm sure," Louis taunted me. It occurred to me at that moment that perhaps Louis actually enjoyed arguing, he was so practiced at it. Perhaps not all the fights detailed in Interview with the Vampire were instigated by Lestat.

Louis continued his hard line. "It doesn't matter what you want, or David, or Lestat. Nothing could make me go back, not to live."

"Nothing?" I queried, arching my eyebrow and allowing his challenge to roll off my back. "Not even the fact that Lestat loves you?"

Louis' shoulders drew up defensively, his brow puckering with an agitated frown. "Don't say that."

"Why?" I asked. "It's true and you know it."

Louis laughed, a bitter sound with which I'd now become so familiar. "You presume this, based on what? On his books? Do you know the Lestat of those novels? I don't. I have never seen this infamous weeping of which he writes. He's never spoken to me of love."

Louis was truly pushing my skills to the limit. As I'd told him earlier, I'd spent most of my two millenia alone. The few loves I'd known had not exactly been shining examples of perfection. What experience, or whatright really, did I have that should allow me to offer the kind of counsel I'd been offering to him and to Lestat?

I suppose it was my way of making amends for my own mistakes, specifically for not setting Lestat on the right path as I set him off to the New World, but also for other things. No matter what Lestat's own personal demons had contributed to the current mess, at a root level I felt that I owed it to the both of them to help set things right, and if talking for nights on end was the only way to do it, I'd talk until my voice was hoarse, I really would.

"All right, Louis, I said. "So here we are again, at the problem. Or really,problems. Let us step back and return to the reason you decided to leave and take up residence here." I gestured to our casual twentieth century surroundings. "Lestat's book."

"Like a dog with a bone," Louis muttered, shaking his head.

I nodded. "Exactly. Now, Louis, let's give this a chew. You were living in the house with Lestat and David and things were going well--"

"Things were going well?" Louis asked, sounding irritated. "Who told you that?"

"David."

"Ah, well, that explains it!" he exclaimed. "From his perspective, I suppose things were going just perfectly." Louis crossed his arms. "He didn't have 65 years worth of memories crowding around him, in every floorboard, every piece of reproduction furniture, making him feel a creeping fear that with two fledglings in one house, the only results would be disaster, history repeating itself."

I studied Louis. His hands remained clenched around his upper arms. "You felt like you were back in the old days."

He nodded tightly.

"That's ridiculous -- no, wait, Louis, it's not ridiculous, but it's certainly not the brightest theory I've heard from you. I mean, come now, did you reallyfeel history was going to repeat itself, that David could ever plunge a knife into Lestat and try to kill him?"

I hadn't planned on being so blunt -- the words just leapt out -- and the instant the words had left my lips, I regretted them. Louis, however, did not react the way I had expected.

"No," he said quietly. "But it seemed clear that disaster would come in some form. For me."

Chapter Text

Louis met my eyes, his combative posture easing. "You've met David," he said, his tone gentle, almost kind, "and found him intriguing. So you must understand. David, as Lestat so clearly describes in his book, is the friend and lover Lestat wants; David embodies everything that he wants. I may be his conscience, but David is his companion."

I groaned. "Louis, you misunderstand completely. I don't blame you, of course -- to say Lestat is not a good communicator is a gross understatement -- but you must put that thought out of your mind."

I heaved a sigh as I went for what I hoped would be the final push. "I don't know David well," I said, "but from what he told me earlier this evening and what Lestat poured out to me last night, I know that in no way have you been supplanted in Lestat's heart."

It was difficult for me to be so direct. I knew all the things I was saying were hitting Louis hard, battering his defenses. Still, I pressed on.

"Lestat loves you, Louis, and David doesn't change that. David had nothing to do with you. Lestat loves him, it's true, but it's not because he's a replacement for you."

I paused, thinking what else I could possibly say. I recalled Louis' words about feeling that the past was repeating itself with the walls of the townhouse.

"And as for David being, so to speak, Claudia -- banish that thought at once! David isn't going to be staying in New Orleans. He plans to travel, explore the world. He would have gone already, but he's stuck looking after Lestat." I gave Louis a mock stern look. "And that hardly seems fair, does it? Poor David is saddled with Lestat, who's in a terrible temper, since he's constantly moping over you--"

"Lestat does not mope," Louis said, the slightest hint of a smile playing on his lips.

"I suppose not-- you have a monopoly on that," I said, chancing a joke again. "Very well, then, call it sulking."

"He does tend to, when he doesn't get his way," Louis replied.

"Think of David," I went on, encouraged. "If you could reconcile with Lestat, he could feel free to find his own way."

"His own way to you?" Louis inquired, politely, but with a glimmer of malice.

It seemed his mood had turned yet again, and I felt suddenly weary; speaking to Louis about his feelings was like dancing with swords. It was becoming all too clear why he and Lestat had always been at such loggerheads, and in my exhaustion I darkly wondered if these two hardheaded fools might just deserve each other and the endless trouble they put one another through.

"Possibly," I said. "And if it makes you more comfortable to imagine I've come to plead Lestat's case to you for purely selfish reasons, then by all means, ascribe the lowest motives to my concern."

Louis held my eyes for a long moment, then ducked his head in an apologetic nod, abashed. "You're right. That was unjust."

"It was a harsh thing to say," I agreed. "But I fully admit that I have been meddling in your affairs, so I expect it's only equitable that you poke your nose where it's not wanted as well."

He smiled fractionally, and thus bolstered, I went on.

"It's true, I would like the opportunity to know David better. More, I would like to see Lestat recover from the trials of the last few years. I would like to know that you and he have reconciled, that he has your compassion and your humanity to guide him back to himself. But I have no power over these things. The only poor help I can offer is to try to convince you to speak to Lestat. And I've come to the end of what I came to say, so you tell me; have I failed?"

Louis smiled at that. Actually smiled. "I suppose..." Louis began, his voice catching. "David really does need me to go back." He stopped and seemed to be considering his own words. A few moments earlier he was acting as though David meant nothing to him. But now, something in Louis had changed. "I suppose I should try to talk to Lestat."

I grinned right back at him. I knew what had changed. We'd argued and I, somehow, had won. He was conceding.

"Yes, Louis," I said. "That's what I've been trying to tell you all night! Youboth need it!"

Louis chuckled. "I suppose so. I-- I just can't believe you convinced me. An hour ago I was ready to strangle you and now I feel so foolish."

"Louis," I said seriously, "you're not foolish. Don't say that. You're simply... human."

His smile widened and he arched an eyebrow. "That's what everyone always says, isn't it?"

He rose from his chair. "Marius..." he started. "I have to thank you for being such a... dog." He smirked at me, and in that moment I glimpsed yet another facet of him, a more playful side he rarely displayed. "Talking to me all night like this."

"Thank you," I said, rising up from the sofa. "I think." I stretched my limbs. "I supposed I'll be going now, leaving the city. I'd left my valise at Rue Royale, but I can get it later. I'll just let you alone. At long last. And you'll speak to Lestat. Deal?"

"Deal," Louis said, straightening out his hand to clasp mine. It was more than a handshake; it was like the seal on a contract.

I pulled back. "Goodbye, Louis. I'll see you... later, yes?"

"Yes." He walked to the door and held it open for me. "Next time, Marius, I promise to be more hospitable."

"Next time, I'll wait for an invitation," I said.

He smiled then affectionately, with all the considerable beauty and warmth he possessed, and gave me his customary farewell kisses. "No need. You will always be welcome. Au revoir."

"Au revoir," I replied, stepping onto the threshold and heading back into the world, Golden Fleece in hand.

Chapter Text

Resolutions:

Can the ends be tied up?


After I left New Orleans, I made an attempt to keep follow the advice Lestat and Louis had given me and the promise I'd made specifically made to Lestat.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but the attempt was half-hearted. I called Amadeo's number in Miami and he didn't answer. After calling several times in one night, I decided to stop calling. I told myself an outrageous lie: Amadeo and Daniel were obviously busy living their lives. There would be another time for us to meet.

Of course I could have simply contacted him via one of his agents. It would have been no trouble at all, to pass along a message, arrange a meeting. No trouble, that is, except that if I did that, then I would indeed have to talk to Amadeo.

I didn't do it.

Instead, I set off and began to drift about, telling myself I'd been through more than enough long, drawn-out emotional discussions as of late. Besides, I hadn't done a thorough visit of the South or Eastern Seaboard in quite a few decades, I reasoned.

In fact I was circling Louisiana like a hawk, waiting to return to New Orleans. For while I had my own cowardly reasons for avoiding a meeting with my child -- I still did not know what I could possibly do to make things right -- another reason for my delay was pure nosiness. I wanted to see what had happened! After all that talking I have done (who knew I had it in me?) and so many years of following Lestat and Louis, I simply had to know.

Finally, months later, I found myself in Savannah, sitting on a bench in Forsyth Park. The city's rigidly perpendicular, eighteenth century streets, the brick and wrought iron, were more than a little reminiscent of New Orleans; thinking on this, I decided it was time to send out some feelers.

I sent out a call to Lestat, summoning mental powers I had not employed since the adventure with the body thief. I assumed he'd be where I'd left him, in the city on the Mississippi, but wherever he was, my message would reach him via the great web that united all of our kind.

Lestat! I called. Lestat, can you hear me?

When there was no immediate answer, I sent out a second call. Monsieur de Lioncourt, please shut up or turn off the TV or stop whatever you're doing and speak to me!

That got his attention. All at once, Lestat's powerful voice connected:Good Lord, Marius, do you mind? Since when do I take orders from you?

There was a pause in the communication. When it resumed, the tone of mock outrage was gone, replaced by something more conciliatory. Sorry, Marius. I suppose I did take orders from you last time you were here, to some good effect. In fact, the reason I was upset was that at the moment, I'm spending some time with Louis.

You found him then? I asked.

Yes, he answered. Or he found me, I should say.

I wondered how things had turned out, but mental conversations over long distances hold little appeal for me, so I didn't press the point. Besides, I had simply wanted to know if I could be allowed to visit and get answers to my questions via first-hand observation. I see, I returned. Can I come down and visit then?

That sounds like a great-- Lestat began but then stopped. I was left hanging for a few seconds before he resumed. Sorry, I just had to ask Louis if that would be all right. He said yes. He's in rather a good mood, if you can imagine it. There was another pause and I wished I could know just what was going on in the house on Rue Royale. So you'll arrive soon?

Yes, Lestat, probably before dawn.

Good, Lestat returned. We'll see you then.

With that, the connection ended. A stray cat darted out from behind one of the great oaks and ran across the manicured lawn, no doubt in search of mice and rats. A storm was on the way and breeze lifted the silvery Spanish moss so that it swung almost like human hair. Time to leave and see the last act, I knew. I rose up from the bench, stepped into a clearing. A moment later, I was on my way to New Orleans.

 


I arrived a good two hours before dawn. My reception on this occasion was quite a bit warmer than on my previous one. Knocking on the door did not bring out fun and games from Lestat. Again there was the barking dog and the rush of canine footsteps down the stairs, but just as Mojo came to the door and scratched it with his paw, I heard the locks come undone and there was Lestat, embracing me with the exuberance of old.

"I'm so glad you've come!" he exclaimed, smiling brightly.

I was returning his embrace when a sound to my left distracted me. I turned my head to see Louis descending the staircase.

"Good evening, Marius," he said, in his most gracious tone. I stepped back from Lestat and received the usual Louis greeting, a warm squeeze to my shoulders and a kiss on each cheek. This had never failed to charm me and once again, it worked just the trick.

"I feel I owe you a genuine greeting this visit," Louis said to me. "Last time, I was hardly civil, and--"

I waved my hand, cutting him off. "Oh, Louis, don't apologize for that! It's behind us."

Louis relaxed and glanced over to Lestat who for his part, appeared to have retained his cheerful mood.

"So, Marius," Lestat entreated, "let's go upstairs, shall we? We have so much to catch up on!"

Suddenly he took hold of Louis and in a blur of motion I could barely see, arrived at the upstairs landing.

"Lestat!" I cried out, indignant. Was this how he was treating Louis these days, yanking him this way and that for thrills?

"Marius!" he called back sarcastically. That was too much. I sped up the stairs to catch up.

When I arrived, I found the two of them standing just inside the library. Lestat, who apparently had just released Louis, gestured casually and asked, "Tell Marius you're all right before he simply explodes with indignation, Louis. It is all right, isn't it?"

Louis looked down and smiled before meeting my eyes and nodding. "Yes, Marius, it's all right. I don't mind." He put up his hand, apparently anticipating some objection on my part. "It's like it was in Miami, when you thought he had forced me to go flying when in fact it was my idea." He aimed that small playful smirk at his maker, the playful expression I'd only glimpsed before, and he said with the slightest hint of challenge, "Lestat knows better than to trifle with me."

Lestat grinned impetuously and slipped an arm around his fledgling, giving him a quick hug. I noticed the way Louis gave in to the embrace, not holding himself stiff or shrinking in embarrassment.

Lestat moved forward and sank down with Louis onto the small sofa. "Well, go on, have a seat, Marius," Lestat said, gesturing with his free hand. I stepped over to one of the ornate period chairs and complied with his request.

Sitting in that space, I couldn't help but be reminded of the last time I had done so, listening to David's explanation of just what had gotten Louis so angry with Lestat. Now I was with the two of them and anger seemed to be totally out of the picture. In fact, there seemed to be a new ease between the two of them, one I had seen only a few times since I had known them. Either Lestat simply hadn't yet thought of any way to ruin the moment or they were genuinely getting along with one another.

I smiled at the two of them, hoping that I was witnessing what I thought I was. "Ah, it's good to be here," I said. "I left the city, but eventually it called me back."

"I certainly know that feeling," Louis offered. "Lately," he continued, glancing about the room, "I can't picture myself living anywhere else."

That, to me, seemed like an admission. And although my mind was shielded, my expression must have given my thoughts away, for one corner of Lestat's mouth curled up into a smile and he nodded his head very slightly. I wouldn't say the look was exactly triumphant, but he was certainly happy.

After that, the three of us talked for somewhere around an hour, managing to glide through subject after subject with the ease of old friends. Recently they'd had a visit from Gabrielle, who'd decided to make one of her periodic visits to the industrialized world. They'd had a remarkably good time together, Lestat told me, and I found myself wondering if recent changes had had anything to do with that.

Certainly the two of them were being more than simply civil to one another. Throughout our chat, I saw in Lestat none of the defensive posturing of the past and certainly there were no more digs -- at least, no more than playful ones -- at Louis. Meanwhile Louis, for his part, was far from the guarded and angry mood in which I'd last encountered him. Instead, he seemed infused with a new confidence as well as what I could only call comfort, sitting besides Lestat and not once trying to move out from under Lestat's arm. By the end of the conversation, Lestat had taken Louis' hand in his own and neither of them seem to have realized that there was any significance in the gesture.

No, it wasn't anything between the two of them which brought tension into that hour before morning. Instead, it was my own irresolution come back again to haunt me.

Our conversation had been winding down and I had mentally noted the way their hands were linked when Lestat gave me a sharp smile. "All right, I've kept my mouth shut as long as I can--"

Louis coughed just a little, covering a laugh in his uniquely human way, and then put on a remarkably unconvincing innocent look when Lestat stared him down with a mock glare.

"But Marius," he resumed, "you really must tell us, because we've been much too busy for gossip and I for one am on tenterhooks. How did it go, your talk with Armand?"

I may be older than the Christian religion, but at that moment, I blurted out a response that would be more typical of a mortal teenager. "My talk with Armand?" I asked, my brain working double-time to come up with an adequate excuse. "What about it?"

Lestat gave Louis' had a gentle squeeze before releasing it and pointing an accusing finger at me. With remarkably sincere drama, he said, "You broke your promise, didn't you?"

When I didn't answer, he slipped his arm from around Louis and stood up to face me. "Look at me, Marius," he said.

I did as he asked. "Yes?"

"You didn't go to him, did you?" He sounded disappointed in me, which of course was only what I deserved.

"No," I said at last, shaking my head. "I-- I-- I just couldn't."

Lestat dropped down to his haunches before me and clucked his tongue. I looked past him to see Louis following the conversation and nodding, either in agreement or understanding. Surely he could see what a fool I had been.

"Couldn't?" Lestat asked me. "Or wouldn't?"

 

Chapter Text

Well, from that point on I got a mini-lecture from the Brat Prince. I gave up even trying to make excuses and let him convince me all over again just why I needed to go see -- and actually speak to, really speak to -- my fledgling. By the end of the talk Lestat had returned to sit with Louis and in fact Louis was offering advice of his own. After hearing so much from me about what they should do about their problems, I suppose they were quite happy to turn the tables.

It took some doing to convince me. "500 years of guilt and fear is nothing to sneeze at, " I told them. They didn't let me get away with this cute answer, of course. No, they put to me the same sort of hard questions I'd put to them. Why couldn't I talk to him? What was I afraid of? What did I really want from him? In the end they made me understand, made me think about the situation in a way I'd never allowed myself to. I decided that I could face Amadeo. Not win him back, not move in with him, but face him and talk and perhaps establish something like a friendship. But first we would just talk. Really talk, my fledging's famous coldness be damned. If he wouldn't talk, Lestat promised to "make him talk" -- all the more reason for me to press him on my own.

Finally, however, we all knew the dawn was coming. Louis rose and offered to escort me to my room in the rear guest bedroom. I took my leave of Lestat and shortly afterward, found myself following Louis down the short hallway and out onto the rear gallery. Naturally my thoughts flew back to the night David had taken me along the same path.

"Louis," I said, continuing to follow him up to the door, "I was wondering."

He looked up at me, having unlocked the door and opened it for me. "Yes, Marius?" he asked pleasantly.

"You two mentioned that David was traveling. Any idea if he'll be coming by anytime soon?" I asked.

"Good question," he replied. "I really don't know. He's terribly independent these days, although he has dropped in on several occasions. Who knows, he could drop by at any time." He paused and glanced up towards the heavens. "But now, Marius, I really should be taking my rest. Good evening," he said, gesturing toward the guest room.

"Good evening," I returned. Louis walked back inside and I closed the door to meet the inevitable death sleep and to ponder the future.


The next evening when I arose, I found Lestat in the library curled up with what looked to be an antique book. I was rather surprised, seeing as even when I'd spent a whole month visiting him, I hadn't seen him reading anything other than magazines -- TV Guide, mostly. I knew he did in fact read when he thought he wouldn't be caught, but the fact that he was reading at that particular moment? I couldn't help but think that some of Louis' habits were rubbing off on him.

As I took a seat opposite the reader, he straightened up and laid the book down on a side table. I saw from the cover that it was an anthology of French philosophy. Definitely Louis' habits were rubbing off on him. Probably he was borrowing the book; either that or it had been a gift. At any rate, Lestat, perked up immediately and said to me, "I'm so glad you're here, Marius. It make me feel more... complete."

"In what way?" I asked.

"Oh, in the way I supposed a student feels when they've come back to their teacher having re-done an assignment the teacher had given a poor grade. Not that I was ever a student, Marius, but I think you get my meaning."

I laughed. "Yes, I do. And exactly what am I grading you on?"

Lestat rolled his eyes. "Oh, you know!" He waited for me to give an affirmative but I didn't. "You know, Marius! I-- We-- I-- It's so much better now." Finally he had managed to get it out.

"Ah, so I am 'grading' you on 'it'?" I asked playfully. "Well, in that case, I do understand why you are relieved. Obviously this is an outcome I have been looking forward to for a long time myself."

"Yes, well, me too," Lestat replied casually, apparently ready to move on to another subject. "Which reminds me or, really, which leads me to mention to you... I got a call from David just five minutes ago. He's in Washington, D.C., and wondered if tonight would be a good time to visit. When I told him you had just arrived yourself last evening, he gave up asking to visit and told me he'd be straight on his way here. Seems he's been wanting to see you again."

During my three months of traveling, I'd thought of David not infrequently. I was pleased that the two of us seemed to have time our travels perfectly. I thanked Lestat for informing me of the news and from there we moved back into a rather nondescript conversation. Lestat turned on the stereo to play some rather intriguing music involving a strong beat mixed in with what were clearly the old Gregorian chants with their endless repetitions of Medieval church Latin.

Louis, who had gone out to hunt, returned within the hour looking refreshed and vigorous. Even though he still physically appeared to be the same Louis I had always known, I found myself wondering if he and Lestat had even gotten around to sharing the blood. This wasn't, of course, a question I was about to bring up, so I simply said hello and forged back into my conversation with Lestat. Louis joined in and as we had the night before, we had a comfortable chat, just like old friends, talking about nothing and everything at the same time.

After we'd been talking for quite some time and our words had begun to drop off a bit, Louis invited me to come down and sit with him in the garden. He wanted to speak with me alone, he told me. Lestat took hold of his book and said that was fine with him, he'd be busy reading. His expression wasn't entirely happy -- he is a brat, after all -- but I could tell that he was handling his jealousy and insecurity in a way he hadn't been able to before. Was Lestat possibly maturing?

Louis and I stepped into the garden and we took a seat on the same bench Lestat and I had used during our momentous chat three months prior. What Louis had to say to me involved far less trauma, but it moved me nonetheless. He thanked me for visiting and then he thanked me for convincing him to go talk with Lestat. He didn't get into the specifics of the conversation or what admissions had been made, what compromises, what arrangements, but he made it clear that I'd forced something to happen that might not have happened otherwise.

After that offering of gratitude, Louis had another message to deliver, one that surprised me.

"So, Marius," he began, "are you looking forward to seeing David?"

I was taken slightly off guard but managed a nod before replying, "Oh, yes, I think it will be marvelous, seeing all three of you together."

"Ah, but what about seeing David himself?" he asked.

"Oh, well, of course, I'd love to see him again," I admitted. "We got along quite well during my last visit."

"So I gathered," Louis replied, obliquely referring to the admission I had made to him. "I've actually heard from David since and you know, he's asked about you several times, wondered where you might be or when you'd be back in New Orleans."

"Really?" I asked. I admit that I suddenly felt quite flattered. David had been asking about me? And Lestat had made it clear that my presence in New Orleans had made David leap at the chance to come visit...

"Really," Louis assured me. He didn't say anything more than that, but I believe that in his own way, he had read my mind. Indeed, I was greatly looking forward to seeing David again.

Chapter Text

It wasn't too long afterward that David made his appearance. Louis and I had gone back upstairs to sit with Lestat. The music was still "techno" but this time the song included not Gregorian chants, but a sampling of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." The text, savagely lustful to begin with, was rendered positively fierce by its merger with modern technology. At any rate, the three of us were chatting amiably when a loud rapping sounded from the direction of the front bedroom.

"David," Lestat announced.

"Knocking on the front window?" I asked.

"It's a habit of his," Louis remarked. "He flies into town, lands himself on the front gallery, and knocks on the glass to be let in. If we don't answer, he'll come in by himself, of course, but otherwise we'll get it ourselves."

While Louis had been explaining this, Lestat had risen and apparently taken care of the new guest. He emerged from the bedroom with David, who was carrying a small valise and dripping like a wet cat. A very handsome cat, but still a wet cat. Apparently he'd been through some rough weather.

Louis and I both rose in greeting. There were embraces all around as we all told David how glad we were to see him again.

Lestat appeared with some fresh towels, handing them to David. "So, David, read any good ancient manuscripts lately?"

We took our seats. Lestat and Louis claimed the sofa while David and I took the chairs.

"Indeed, Lestat, I did, but that wasn't all I did," David replied playfully. "After all, I'm not nearly as stuffy as you suppose. As a mortal man I had my fair share of adventure, although -- don't say it, I know -- of course it would never be on par with your mortal life." He shook his head. "Seriously, though, I enjoyed myself in all sorts of ways. Just because I was a 74-year-old scholar when you brought me over doesn't mean--"

"Alright, alright," Lestat cut in. "I get your point -- now stop defending yourself and tell us what you've been up to!"

As it turned out, David had actually been traveling in many of the same places I had been visiting. I had been in Washington only the week before.

"It's a wonder we didn't run into one another," he observed.

"Yes, it is," I said, turning my eyes up to watch Lestat pull Louis up from the couch. I shot him an inquiring look.

"Excuse us, you two, but Louis and I have some business matters to attend to," he announced.

"Yes, indeed, and we have been putting them off for too long," Louis said, following his maker into the front bedroom. For just a second I wondered what "business matters" they intended to accomplish in the bedroom, but I quickly let my attention return to David.

David was looking exceptionally handsome. His dark hair was damp and tousled, although the wetness that had been on his cheeks when he first arrived had long since dissipated. He had such a fine face and the eyes that showed his migrated spirit... exceptional. His long gray coat had been hung on a hook, leaving him to a startling blue cotton shirt and black pants.

"Traveling has obviously been agreeing with you," I remarked.

"Yes," he said, "very much so. I suppose I've wanted to do that from the beginning but I was needed here, as you know."

I nodded. "Yes, but now things seem better, don't they?"

"Yes, Marius, they do, and I don't think you even need to say 'seem.' Things are better, and I don't need years of observation to make that pronouncement. This peace between them -- it's something I've never seen, not even before the argument over the book."

"Ah, then my assessment is correct. I'm glad." I gripped the arms of the chair and allowed myself to flex against them ever so slightly. Mortal stretching isn't at all necessary for creatures such as myself, but it was one of the habits that was pleasing, no matter if it was unneeded.

A silence passed between us, during which I assume David was thinking about the remarkable change that had occurred. For my part I was turning over another matter entirely. Once again, just as I had three months ago when David had led me to guest bedroom, I was feeling a peculiar sensation. My thoughts, rather than focusing on Lestat or Louis or the long years of my life, were focused on David: the future.

Perhaps David's next words were mere coincidence but perhaps they were guided by fate. "So, Marius, what are your plans?" he asked.

"Plans? Well, I suppose I was going to do some more travelling to--"

"Good!" he interjected, "Because I was going to ask you if perhaps we might travel together."

I was almost too startled to speak, his words had, as far as I was concerned, come from so far out of the blue. Finally I managed a reply. "Really? What about that 'independence' of yours I've heard so much about?"

"Oh, I'll keep that," David chuckled, "but we could still travel together. I thought it might makes things more interesting for me. After all, I'm only a fledgling and there is much I've  yet to experience."

I found myself turning over the offer in my mind. Go traveling with David? David, Lestat's young fledgling? David who I had only known for three months? Those were the questions but there was only one answer: Of course I would go with him.

The word "fledgling," however, had triggered another thought, however, and David was remarkably patient, waiting until I processed it. I suppose Lestat and Louis had schooled him in the world of vampire eccentricities, such as the tendency to drift off into thought for minutes, sometimes hours, on end.

I was thinking of Amadeo. As Louis and Lestat had put it to me the night before, I simply had to go to see him. We had to talk. Every moment I put it off was a moment lost forever. It was time to keep my promise and however much I wanted to chase the future with David, I knew that first I had to chase my past.

Finally I snapped back to David. "I was thinking, David," I said slowly, "that although I am very tempted to take you up on your offer, before that there is something I must attend to."

"Don't you mean someone?" David asked.

I must credit him; he's terribly perceptive. I nodded. "Yes, David. I still have not spoken with my Amadeo. I must do this, you understand."

"Yes," he said.

"But mind you, once I take care of that, we will spend time together!" I said confidently. I reflected on the places we might travel. "Have you been to Rome, David?"

"Yes, Marius, I have," he replied, "but I'm sure seeing it with an actual Roman would surpass any of my past experiences."


Lestat and Louis remained ensconced in the bedroom for a couple of hours after that. I respected their privacy too much to probe into either of their minds to learn exactly what "business" they were conducting. Meanwhile David and I got into a lengthy discussion of travel destinations. I discovered that he was actually remarkably well traveled, thanks to his long mortal life and the work he had done with the Talamasca. It seemed we exchanged notes on every corner of the globe, and by the time Louis and Lestat emerged to rejoin us, I was almost giddy with excitement.

It had been, needless to relate, a long time since I had been giddy. David, it seemed, was presenting me with opportunities that I had completely lost sight of. After my days as Keeper of the Mother and the Father had come to an end, I had felt myself lost. I had dwelt on the past, feeling hurt and anger towards Akasha, pain and guilt towards Armand, and then when that had grown too uncomfortable, moving on to the present, in the form of Lestat and Louis.

I had given up on having a life of my own. Instead, I had the lives of two beautiful 200-year-old vampires. I had followed the endless twists and turns of their relationship for a full decade and had, as Louis so rightfully put it to me, come to treat their relationship almost as a kind of spectator sport. I had meddled on more than one occasion and had given advice which Lestat had been savvy enough to inform me I had not followedmyself.

And so I had passed the years away, not moving towards the future, but staying rooted firmly at the juncture of the present. Now, however, thetrivia, the three roads, were before me. Lestat and Louis were going their way and meanwhile, for the first time in centuries, my feet were set firmly on my own path, ready to move through time towards my own destination. I knew my road; I had only to walk it.