Philippe waited until he'd drained his cup before he spoke again.
"Do you trust me?"
"To the death," he answered without hesitation, relieved they seemed to be closing on the reason they were here. Hand drifting to the hilt of his sword with conscious piety. Meaning every word.
The creases that lingered at the corners of Philippe's eyes crinkled as he looked at him. Something animal in his expression as he leaned in, clapping his hand on his shoulder. Courting a significance that made even less sense when the man opened his mouth.
"What if I asked you for longer?"
He blinked, confused.
He swallowed the obvious question in favor of remaining silent. Letting Philippe fill the quiet when he was ready. He recognized the determination in the man's expression. It was of the darker sort, a challenge that was alive and well in the way the man's lips pulled back from his teeth. It was too understated to call him on it, but it was enough to give him pause.
"There is something I must show you."
Something made him look at the rushing water instead of meeting his Commander's eyes. There was something heavy there, behind the words. Feeling the dry taint of discomfort for the first time as he set his cup down carefully. Knowing somehow that nothing would be the same after this.
When he finally looked up, Philippe was no longer beside him.
In fact, he was no where to be seen.
His senses hummed an alarm as he took in his surroundings. The feeling not unlike the moment before the charge. The breathless anticipation – and fear – that rippled through the ranks before the roar of the drums carried on the wind. Disquiet ruled here.
What madness was this?
He rose carefully, hand falling to his sword hilt.
He hadn't heard him move.
How could the Commander have left his side without him knowing?
They had been sitting so close he would have felt it.
He would have seen the flash of armor reflecting against the water and-
There was a rustle behind him.
He turned, seeing nothing, sandals biting into the soft earth.
He rotated on his heels, refusing to let his discomfort show as he slowly came back around.
What in the seven bleeding hells?
Philippe stood on the other side of the stream; hands posed behind his back.
"I asked you to indulge me with a hunt, Lucius," the man told him, smiling unevenly before all pretenses dropped from his face. Leaving only animal lines and those dark, unearthly eyes. "I'm afraid I need you to hold you to it."
It was a mask, he realized.
In the space of a blink, Philippe had become a different predator.
The Commander exhaled, eyes closing. Head canting as an inhuman growl filled the space.
He knew that sound.
He stiffened, clenching the pommel of his sword when the man's eyes snapped open again. Bloodshot. Seeming to look right through him with an intensity that made his heart pound. Each beat painful and tight against his ribs as Philippe's fists balled at his sides. Shaking.
"Don't run," Philippe rasped, voice rough and nothing like him. "If I get the scents confused, I might attack you. Especially with your wound. Whatever you do, don't run."
This time he caught the blur of movement when Philippe lunged. Jumping the stream and lancing towards him faster than any arrow before banking at the last moment. Passing him so closely he felt the wind. Whirling just in time to see the mad scramble of a march hare hiding in the willow-ferns – it's horrible piercing scream – a growl, then-
He didn't waver as Philippe rose from the leaves, snarling into the soft fur as the crunch of bone echoed. The entire forest seemed stunned to silence. Holding its breath. And he was no exception. More surprised at his lack of reaction when Philippe looked up, face smeared with blood. Draining the pathetic creature before letting it drop at his feet with a sigh of open pleasure, wiping his face with the back of his hand as the world continued on around them.
The strangeness made sense now.
Even if nothing else did.
That eldritch feeling he'd always sensed from him had been rightfully applied.
The Commander was more than a mere mortal.
He had been blessed or cursed by the Gods themselves.
"You're a rare breed, Lucius," Philippe hummed, washing the blood in the stream as watered-down red dribbled down his chin. Words forced to casual, as if he wasn't sure of their welcome. "Most would be afraid. They would have run or made use of their sword. But not you. …I had a feeling even this wouldn't move you."
He fought the insane urge to laugh.
Instead, he wanted to bend a knee.
Surely he was in the presence of a god?
"You told me not to run," he answered eventually, voice hitching an octave higher than it should have been. Shaming him enough that shock and awe were momentarily overpowered by embarrassment.
Philippe laughed, shaking his head. But there was no malice in it. Just genuine amusement.
It was familiar enough that he wanted to grasp it, but Philippe wasn't done.
"Ask me," the man said simply. Knowing him well. Making no move to come closer despite clearly wanting to. Giving him space as his eyes flicked from the smear of blood he'd missed to the mangled hare at his feet.
He considered it for a long moment before answering. A queer excitement prickling his blood as he watched Philippe watch him. Sensing that the trust that'd been exchanged had far more weight than he knew. His presence here was a privilege.
"Where is your temple?" he asked quietly, dipping his head in deference. "I wish to pay my respects when we return to Rome."
This time Philippe's laugh was uproarious.
"I am no God, Lucius. Though it would certainly explain our kind. I'm sure there are some who would encourage the assumption, but not myself. The Gods created the one who created me, or so she told me, that is the extent of their meddling. Thank Mercury's engorged prick for that small mercy."
His mind worked, amending assumptions and making new ones. There were more than just Philippe. Perhaps an entire race of beings with unparalleled speed and strength. Men and women who drank blood and became just as animal when it came to the hunt.
There was only one creature he knew that might equal such a description.
But his Commander was not like any story he'd heard.
He was no woman, nor did it seem he craved human flesh. Human blood.
Philippe had brought him into the woods alone and shown him what he was without injury.
The only victim so far had been a fat hare in the height of its Summer season.
"Then what are you?" he demanded; voice steady again. Far steadier than he felt. And from the look the man flashed him, he knew of it.
Philippe shrugged, as if this part was less interesting. Or perhaps harder to explain. Unable to ignore that Philippe looked more himself now. No longer having to hide the intensity he'd only ever gotten glimpses of before.
"I am what I am, more than human, less than divine. I was born as you were, mortal, a very long time ago in Greece. And I was remade into what I am now by another mother. She gave me life as mine was fading and I have enjoyed the world and all it's wonders since."
"You are a blood-drinker?"
"There is no legend that gets it right. But often I feel there is a predator under my skin. That is what I am, more so than any beast I've come across. Otherwise, I do not age as mortals do. We need little sleep and less food. Our strength, speed and senses are beyond that of any warm-blood. We're hard to kill, though it can be done. But there's a catch, we need to feed- to hunt. We crave them both equally and depend on blood to survive."
He stayed silent, before-
Philippe inclined his head.
"There are rules. Like with anything, some chose not to follow them. But I do. I only take human blood if it is freely given. There is nothing sweeter than a freshly tapped vein, and the warmth of a woman giving into it. But animal blood is safer, especially for those who struggle to control their blood lust. It ensures we stay hidden. Very few warm-bloods know we exist and that is the way we wish to remain."
There was a lot to unpack there, but he had a feeling it wasn't what Philippe wanted to discuss. For now, he was content with the explanation. Philippe might be of other stock, but he was still the same honorable man he'd ever known. That was all he needed for now.
He nodded, taking a step forward of his free will, aware the man was watching him. And after a moment, Philippe mirrored him by doing the same, eyes still dark. Like a wolf watching its prey in the dying light. He stood his ground when something broke and the man took another step. Closing the distance that ached between them until he could have reached out and touched him.
There was still blood under the Commander's nails.
"I won't hurt you," Philippe murmured, voice low and careful, like one would use to sooth a frightened horse. Something wounded in his expression, before quickly being masked. As if the idea he might be was too much to bear.
He snorted, eyes hard as he glared at him. Incensed at the idea.
"I do not fear you."
"Of course you do," Philippe snapped, adjusting his sword belt with the shiver of metal on metal. A violent sound. "I can smell it. I can hear your heartbeat. It's fast, unlike you. …I don't blame you. You'd be a fool if you didn't."
He shook his head, ignoring it when one of the horses nickered pointedly. Bored.
"I fear what I don't know. Not you. There is a difference."
The pleasure of catching Philippe off guard was short lived. Deciding to press his advantage for as long as he was able. Determined to bring this tension to a close.
"Why have you shown me this? You know I accept you as you are. My feelings, my loyalty, remain unchanged. So why we are here? I doubt it was merely to unburden yourself."
Philippe broached the last of the space with a cautious step and settled a hand on his shoulder. Waiting until he didn't react before dropping it lower - until it covered the spot under his armor where his wound still pained him.
"I want to offer you life, Lucius. More life than you will ever live as you are. I confess your wound made me realize I was holding back. I should have done this years ago, when it was clear you were worthy of it. Forgive me."
The moment on the battlefield flashed in his mind's eye. Understanding everything in a new light. Now knowing exactly how Philippe had gotten there so quickly. How he had been able to sever the head from the Gaul's shoulders in one vicious swipe. Caught in the pulse of the battle before he'd pulled him to his feet, fighting through the masses to get him to the medical tents. Refusing to leave his side until his armor was unbuckled and he was satisfied it wouldn't be death of him. He had been grateful when the man had left. Free to fill the tent with a hurl of curses when the sting of salt was pasted into the wound – making sure infection wouldn't spread. Angry at himself for being caught off-guard as the physicians wrapped the wound in strips of linen. The battle wasn't even close to being over and the Commander had refused to let him return.
"I want to give you this gift, Lucius. I want you to join my family. To be my son."
The words rebounded in his head, threatening to unman him.
It came out sounding childish rather than skeptical. Steeped in longing and a pathological sense of unworthiness that didn't have a name. A structure made of uneven stones – a monument to abandonment and the absence of a father's love.
Philippe's expression was gentle. Like he knew.
Of course he did.
"I have lived many lives, had many names, it's rare to find someone worthy of the gift and the curse that it is. I cannot promise ease, but I can promise you years you would not have as a human. No disease, no old age. You will be able to watch the world change and conquer it as you like - so long as you don't make a spectacle of yourself. The world is far larger and beautiful than you know and I think you're suited for it. But…more than that- I want you beside me, as my son. Our kind cannot father children, we choose them and perhaps that makes them all the more precious. Would you do me that honor, Lucius? Would you be mine?"
He swallowed hard, soul ignited.
There was nothing he wanted more.
"What must I do?" he asked, breathless.
Philippe's smile was more animal this time, heady with a truth that went all the way to his eyes. Pleased. Relieved. Restless. He felt it all like it was his own. The desire to be whole, to have what he'd always wanted. It translated into a queer sort of pleasure that curled in his gut and spread warmth through him.
"All I need is your consent, Lucius. You understand this cannot be undone? Not even if you wish it. Not everyone is suited to live this way. To be what we are. This is something you choose of your own free will – with a sound mind – and with all the fight you have in you. I promise you'll need it."
It occurred to him as they stood there, together on the cusp of things, that some might chose this for the promise of a long life. For power. For whatever advantages being such a creature might have. And of course, those things were undeniably attractive. But for him, the reason was admittedly more a choice made from the heart.
"You have it," he answered simply, as Philippe swayed close again. Scenting the air as if he could tell by the taste the words were true. "As freely given as you have my sword."
He was alive with questions, but when he inclined his head, it was his father's bite that quieted the last of them. Finding himself on the ground, cradled in Philippe's arms as he drank from him. He dug his nails into his Commander's shoulders as pain radiated outward. Fighting the urge to thrash until he couldn't anymore. But Philippe just held him tighter, biting down harder. Snarling when his fist connected, once, then twice. Ignoring it with brutal dispassion as the harsh of the man's stubble burned the ragged edges of the wound.
He cried out then, the only sound he'd allowed free save for curses. Weakening and dizzy as Philippe growled into the crux of his neck, pulling him closer as his pulse started to slow. Feeling the warmth of his own red trickling down his neck as his hands dropped into his lap. The light in the world starting to fade beyond Philippe's head as his eyes grew heavy.
He was only vaguely aware of it when Philippe pulled away. Animal again as blood dripped down his chin, coloring his teeth. He looked up at him without words as Philippe met him there, eyes dark and breathing harshly. Watching mutely as he brought his wrist to his teeth and ripped into the veins. Pressing the wound against his lips as his eyes started to close.
"Drink, my son. It's all but done."
His lips barely parted at the first drop, but that was all he needed. Something happened the moment the taste of iron hit his tongue. An instinct he didn't recognize or understand roaring through him, bidding him to drink. He lunged, seizing his father's wrist in his hands and bringing it to his lips with a snarl. Taking to it ferociously as Philippe purred encouragement – carding his fingers through his hair. Smoothing back the copper-tint he'd inherited from his mother as an icy burn spread through him, sending him deep into the change.
He had been reborn hungry.
As they all were.
But it was Philippe he looked to first.
The next months were hard, learning to control his thirst and understand his new senses. But he adjusted nonetheless. Wreathed in love and protection as Philippe taught him the way of things. In truth, he found purpose within the structure of his father's intimate house. No longer having to wonder if Philippe meant what he said. Now he could feel it, scent it. An entirely new world was open to him, and within it he thrived.
There was no doubt now.
He'd found what he'd been looking for.
He never once regretted his decision.
The only time he'd come close was the day they lost him.
The bloody tears he'd shed in the privacy of his tower had been the only weakness he'd allowed before he took up his father's mantle. Ensuring the house of De Clairmont would not fall into ruin.
And for decades, that had sustained him.
But now Matthew was mating with a witch and the Covenant was cracking for the good or ill.
And deep down, he'd never needed his father more.
Only once again, he was alone.
He exhaled old ghosts as the car pulled up to a nondescript townhouse. It was one of his more modest properties, but no less impressive for the lack of square feet. It was a modern building with an equally modern interior, meshed with bronzed lines and sleek leather furniture. The kitchen gleamed with disuse and not one inch of the three stories showed any sign of wear. Everything still new enough that it wasn't soaked in his scent.
It set his teeth on edge.
Or maybe it was the memories.
It was almost impossible to tell.
In truth, Philippe was the only father he'd ever known.
The only one he would ever have.
And somehow, despite everything that pointed to the fact that even the deadless could die, he hadn't been prepared when the Fates had come for the only man who'd ever earned the title.
He crossed to the wine rack that took up the majority of the wall in the sitting room. Not realizing he'd selected a wine that reminded him of the one he and Philippe had shared that day until he allowed the bottle to breathe. Bracing himself against the counter as a glass jumped at the sudden movement. Breathing in the scent of cinnamon, citrus and clove.
Maybe it was time speak of it.
To share what he'd jealously guarded.
If for no other reason than to make sure that part of his father lived on.
We only ever know pieces of people, after all.
No matter how long we spend with them.
As the events in the Council chamber and Matthew's latest insanity had reminded him, danger was ever present. He shook his head, swallowing the irritated sigh that threatened to issue. Painfully aware that despite his misgivings about the Bishop witch, he could become accustomed to calling her sister. ...Eventually
He took a deep breath he didn't need. Letting go of something he'd always thought would cost him dearly - and maybe it still would – before he pulled out his phone and dialed. Realizing the one person who might be able to understand his loss was the same one he'd never confided in for anything.
Philippe would have been amused, at the very least.
"Hello Ysabeau, yes- fine. …Do you have a few moments?"