"I think I can come up this weekend, I just need to make sure someone can cover my shift. Debbie isn't working and owes me one - two actually."
It was late when he stepped out of his office. Late enough that the city had achieved the sort of quiet it only ever got when it was dark and past the final rush hour. The kind still punctuated by the rattle of passing cars and distant sirens.
There was a saying about some cities never sleeping.
The first one he'd known was Rome.
The wooden shudder of wagons banging between the cobblestone ruts.
The creak of leather and smell of horse.
He missed it sometimes.
The Empire in it's early days.
Before Rome had become just another cesspool.
"No, I'm taking it off! Hey. Yeah- I mean it. I miss you. Besides, it's tradition. We always go to the lake that weekend. I know Danny can't make it, but I'm coming. Oh, stop- I'm not letting you get all the fish!"
He looked towards the voice as he reached his car. Nodding as the driver hurried to open his door. There was a woman on the phone in her car across the street. Smelling like diner grease and cheap perfume. He recognized her from the restaurant a few blocks away. He'd overheard his staff talking about it, referring to it as a 'grease spoon' and a hanger-over cure. Not that he would know, it wasn't the type of establishment he frequented. Rather, she was familiar only by virtue of sharing his schedule.
She worked the graveyard shift and parked her car across from his building.
He often worked into the early morning, usually leaving while she was on her smoke break.
Ships in the night.
His driver started the car. But he paused, half in the door, listening.
"I love you too, dad. See you soon."
There was a smile on her face as she ended the call. Temporarily transforming the tired lines of her face. Lips still rouged in the creases where her lipstick had been gradually wiped away. Drowned out by caffeine and sweat - reeking of fries and synthetic vanilla fabric softener as she stared morosely at her reflection in the drop-down mirror. It was the kind of messy honesty he normally had little patience for when it came to warmbloods. Yet now, with just a few words heard, the condition was surprisingly relatable.
"I love you too, dad. See you soon."
He folded himself into his seat with less grace than usual. He wasn't one to be overtaken by sentiment, but for some reason her words sent him back. Aware he'd been carrying a rawness since the week prior - the anniversary of Philippe's death.
The woman sighed, exhaling early onset cancer as she bent down and lit a cigarette. Tarring the air with angry chemicals that singed his sinuses. He didn't bother with the moral question of how to tell her, she carried the heavy anapestic tang of the hospital already. A muscle in his cheek twitched. Depending how early they'd caught it, it might be her last year at the lake with her father.
"Drive," he said raggedly. More grateful than he could express when his driver didn't wait for him to buckle up. Leaving him to his thoughts as they pulled out into the street. Where it was best he be left alone, quite frankly.
It had shamed him in his youth, but he didn't remember much of his human father. The man had been gone from birth until after his fourth name day on campaign. Long enough for him to build a mental shrine on which to idolize him. Imagining all sorts of things as he played with his wooden Centurions and wobbly trebuchets in the dust around his home.
That his father was a great general.
That he'd teach him how to use a sword. How to fight.
That some day he'd be honored by the Emperor himself for his service.
He tended to that image for so long that when his father returned, the arrival of the stranger made his lips quiver. Dishonoring himself as he shed childish tears onto his mother's neck. Peaking at the hardened man through her copper braids. Seeing little to envy and even less of note. Certainly nothing like the vivid day-dreams he'd spent years courting.
"His name is Lucius. After your father..."
The man only nodded, the line of his chin jagged. Dark eyes flicking from his mother, to him, then down to the worn table between his hands. The time between spanned far too long before she ducked down to kiss him. Upsetting his seat on her hip as the tang of horse-sweat and iron came off the stranger in waves.
There were no words exchanged when his mother straightened and stepped away. Allowing him to rub his runny nose into her neck and grip her tighter. Already wondering when the stranger would leave. But after a moment, the man gestured for her to set him down and fill his wine.
They stared at each other with equal amounts of suspicion as she over-filled the stranger's cup with the sour-red. His father examining his progeny critically and he staring back with equal confusion. There were no officers' markings. No signs he was a brilliant fighter or a tactician. The man's armor was worn, his sword in need of a grinding wheel. And perhaps worse still, his purse was more empty than full.
In the end, the only kind word the stranger said to him was that he looked like he would grow up strong.
The man left again on campaign three weeks later and never returned. The moment news of his death reached them, his mother exhaled in shaky relief. As if even she hadn't known what to do with him. It hadn't been long before there were suitors vying for her attention. Some even bothering to entertain him with stories of battlefields and distant wars. But none took up the fraternal mantle he so desperately wanted as he grew out of baby fat and wooden toys.
He didn't understood until later.
And by then, he was a solider himself.
He had followed in his father's footsteps, then quickly outgrew them. Rising in the ranks of the Legion from the moment he'd been old enough to hold a sword. His skills on the battlefield - and for strategy - became known to the right people almost faster than he was comfortable with. Often making him the youngest person in the Command tent and the target of jealousy from his brothers. But it only made him more determined to prove himself. To expand the Empire for the glory of Rome. To bring order to a chaotic world and find meaning for himself within it as the sun set on the age of the primitive.
He had been born for this.
That much was certain.
His mother had been fiercely proud of him, and he'd doted on her until she was taken by sickness not long after he made rank. He'd always considered it a pity he couldn't take her name with him into the world. She'd been more worthy of having her name carried on after all. Not that he had any intention of taking a wife and fathering children. Not yet at least.
The world had been open to him after that, and with no ties to any city, he traveled far with the Legion. Finding his own way in the Empire of his birth until he came under the command of a man who would one day answer to the name Philippe De Clairmont. Though, back then, he was known as Imperial Legate Alcides Leontothymos. And right from the start, he knew there was something different about him.
At that time, the Imperial Legate was a title of means. Given to the men of families of high standing. But Philippe was a true military Legate in every semblance of the word. He fought and won wars. He pissed in the same latrines as the lowest of his foot soldiers and trained the men himself. He lived in the field, not in Rome. And was one of the most gifted riders and swordsmen he'd ever seen.
He was remarkable.
He watched his Commander closely as the months stretched into years. Sensing there was something he wasn't seeing. Something more. Something that itched. He couldn't explain it. But there was always a degree of suspicion there, an unbelievability whenever the man said or did something that seemed a bit too easy. Too perfect. Too strange. Sometimes the reason was on the tip of his tongue. Sometimes it seemed impossible the feeling could have a name.
No one else seemed to think the Legate was anything but an extraordinary Commander who actually gave a shite about his men. Maybe no one wanted to know more than that. Maybe it didn't matter. Only it did. To him. Because he wanted every part of Philippe he could get and the idea there was something more, something secret, was too much of a draw for him to let go of.
Not that he had much time for such musings. Under Philippe's command he was quickly promoted to First File and granted a seat at his stratagem table. Spending long nights in his company as their first campaign stretched into four. And all the while, Philippe never once cautioned him to remember his place. In fact, the man encouraged it when he started to read the texts of long dead Generals, philosophers and Kings. His loyalty and devotion had been fierce – almost pathological. Looking up to him as Philippe indulged every interest, every excuse just to be near. Seeming to know more than a little about everything as he allowed him the books in his private quarters. Keeping each other company long into the night as Philippe drank wine by the goblet but never once appeared drunk.
Any excuse to be in the Commander's company was jealously hoarded.
And in time, he flourished.
It did not go unnoticed.
Soon Philippe took his council to heart when they planned their tactics. Giving him more responsibility on and off the battlefield. Even gifting him with a beautiful white charger from his personal stables that he quickly named Sica. And in balance, Philippe never hesitated to hold him to an increasingly higher standard. Challenging his plans and strategies at every turn. Often making his blood run hot. Demanding perfection. Creativity. More.
And he utterly thrived.
That was when he truly understood the concept of a father's love.
Even if it was only ever one-sided.
At least he finally had someone who was worthy of the title.
The man could have been Pluto himself and he would have followed him to the death.
Indeed, he fully intended to, someday.
But it wasn't until a close call that left him with a slash on his back and a story to tell, that Philippe took him into the woods and changed his perception of the world and his place in it forever.
"Have I ever taken you hunting, Lucius?" Philippe asked as their chargers took them deeper into the Germanic woods. The trees here were suffocating and dense. Thick with moss and old growth. Where every bend in the trail ran the risk of yawning into weed-choked ravines that dropped violently into rocks and fallen trees.
More than one of their men had broken bones on patrol, but as always Philippe seemed in his element. Watching the woods with a keen eye. A hunter's eye. A reminder in of itself that he should have been looking out for game. Only everything about the situation prickled the hair on the back of his neck.
He offered a quick prayer to the gods, promising a generous offering when he returned to Rome. Asking for guidance and patience as Philippe chuckled. The shadows of the forest yawning strangely across his face. Darkening his eyes until they were almost-
Panis, autem comminuetur verum est erratum.
He said nothing, remaining weary. Wondering if this was one of Philippe's strange moods or if there was something he wasn't seeing. His eyes flicked to the tension under his Commander's charming smile and amended his assumptions. Perhaps both.
"Are we not expected back, sir?"
Philippe's grin was gregarious.
"Indulge me, Lucius. You're with me, your duties are handled," Philippe replied, meeting his stare for a significant moment before his gaze flicked to where his wound itched. Chaffing under the familiar weight of his armor. "Do you want to go back? Does your wound pain you?"
He shook his head. Aware the man's shift in humor had started after he'd received the injury. He'd never seen him so angry. For it had been Philippe himself who'd dealt the final blow to his attacker. It had happened so fast he hadn't seen him move. He remembered reeling away, roaring in pain. Back burning after being nearly quartered from behind. His sword slashed through a back-swing, trying to parry the strike he knew was coming, but somehow Philippe was already there. Standing in front of him like a second shield despite being yards away fighting only seconds earlier. Deflecting the swing of the man's ax before launching himself at the giant Gaul with a sound that was more animal than man.
But then, he'd heard it before.
Only not so loud or vicious.
They never discussed it.
"You didn't bring your bow," he observed, choosing his words carefully. The undercurrent was obvious. At risk of being downright sullen, in fact.
Philippe only smiled again.
Like he was proud of him.
"No. I didn't," Philippe agreed. Doing nothing to answer the unspoken question before clicking to his mount and pressing forward.
His molars ground together, but he followed.
Philippe led him to a natural clearing beside a small stream, motioning for him to dismount. He hobbled the horses without comment, allowing them room to graze. Stretching carefully before crouching down to cup a mouthful of water from the bank. Hissing at the chill against his teeth.
His back still burned, but he forced himself embrace it. It was a reminder of how lucky he'd been. A reminder to train harder. To be better. To remember that no matter how skilled, one moment of distraction could be the end. He still didn't understand how Philippe had reached him so quickly. It was not in him to deconstruct that problem of logic and time. But what he did know was in the days after, he often found the Commander watching him.
He wondered why.
What had changed?
What he had done?
He wondered about lot of things.
Including if the blur he'd seen out of the corner of his eye as he'd turned could have been-
"How long have you been with me, Lucius?" Philippe asked, joining him by the water with two horned cups and a large wine skin. Adjusting his scabbard as he sat beside him, back to a wide oak.
"Five years sir," he answered, not hesitating to drink when his was filled liberally. Nodding appreciatively as they took a deep draught. Philippe had expensive taste and the truth was, he'd never tasted wine as good as what he enjoyed in his company.
"Before the Siege of Alesia?" the man posed casually. Despite knowing full well that was true.
He eyed him for a significant moment before turning his attention back to the stream. He would play along with Philippe's game. For now. But he wouldn't hide that he knew he was being toyed with. Philippe had his loyalty and respect, but he was not like the other hangers on. Happy to indulge him in every way. Desperate to gain favor as the sycophants only grew in number after every victory. He could not and would not follow suit. His pride demanded at least that separation between them. And what was more, he felt his Commander liked him more for it.
"Yes sir, you named me to your council a year before, if you remember?"
The needling slid off Philippe's back like water.
Yet another reminder of how different he was from most high-born.
They didn't like to be challenged by their underlings.
But then, Philippe had never balked at his attempts.
"Of course...of course. But you truly distinguished yourself during the Siege. I was surprised the Emperor didn't send you his personal congratulations. It was your strategy that won the battle after all," Philippe replied, grinning at him with a line of teeth that seemed more savage than amused. As if he'd not meant it as a jape, but rather knew exactly why such an honor might not have been bestowed.
He inclined his head. Watching Philippe knock back the rest of his wine with a dark look. Refilling their cups, despite his not being half-let.
And again, the hair on the small of his neck prickled. His Commander loved wine, that was a fact that was beyond reproach. But usually he nursed his cups. Appreciating the expensive vintage. But not today.
What had him in such a state?
There was a rumor he and the Emperor no longer saw eye to eye. The politics should have been understandable, even to a low-born like him, but for some reason they remained murky. He had personally looked into it and found that the explanation of the Emperor feeling threatened by Philippe's growing power wasn't wholly satisfying. The reason - or at least the full reason for the divide - seemed steeped in a rivalry that went far beyond what appeared on the surface.
It was a shadow play that was not meant for his eyes.
But he wanted it to be.
He was hungry to know.
Anything and everything that was beyond him, he wanted to conquer – to understand.
Either way, he cared little about the lost honorifics. The green boy he'd been might have. Indeed, he could guarantee it. He'd dreamt about it a hundred times as a child. Of gaining the Emperor's notice. But not anymore. Experience had taught him the only thing that mattered was having the trust of his Commander and the ability to plan the campaigns ahead. He lived for this. For the blood and the challenge of it all. Here, in the thick of things, a man could truly be free.
Fools gold attracted fools, after all.
"I have no desire for accolades from a distant Emperor," he answered, letting the wine sit in his tongue before swallowing. Enjoying the spice of cinnamon, citrus and clove. "From someone I do not fight beside. I might carry my sword in his name, but his praise means no more to me than a god-wind. Meaningless- unless I know which deity to thank or curse for it."
Philippe's eyes shone. Glinting strangely as the sun wreathed through the trees.
"No. You value praise from other mouths."
He said nothing. Some things didn't need to be said. Especially when they rang with truth.
"And so," Philippe hummed, breaking the quiet. Leather sandals biting into the river clay as he nudged his shoulder companionably. "In all the time, what is your assessment of my character?"
He stilled in mid-swallow. One of the horses nickered, as if encouraging caution. Feeling a charge in the air that seemed to be building like a cusping storm.
"Come now, I crave your opinion. I always have. And gods know you never shy away from sharing it when it suits you," the man continued, smile still in place. But he didn't believe it.
Anger curled in him for the first time.
"You are toying with me," he rasped, hand tightening around his cup.
Philippe's eyes flashed. Pupils just a bit too wide and dark for them to equal the easy smile that was still present on his face. Every inch of it belaying a challenge. An order. A threat. And he still didn't understand why.
"I will have your thoughts, Lucius."
He swallowed, throat dry despite the wine.
The refusal stung coming up. Like it had cost him something to refuse him.
"No?" Philippe echoed, head cocking slightly. Dangerously. Inhaling audibly, as if scenting the air like one of the hounds at camp.
He lowered his cup with a jerk, spilling red that beaded between his fingers and spattered across the river rocks. Meeting his Commander's eyes with flint and sharpness.
"You have my love, my loyalty and my sword. Someday you may have my life as well. But you shame me, now. You mock me. You know me. You know my mind. You helped shape it. But you will not have my pride without reason. Not this way. Don't ask me to flatter you, Commander. Tell me why we're here. What need do you have of me? What orders? I will do it gladly. But do not insult my intelligence. You owe me that at least."
He wasn't trembling. But in truth, it was a near thing. He couldn't remember having felt such a tangle of negative emotions in all his life. The wound on his back tugged painfully with every exaggerated inhale as Philippe exhaled audibly beside him. He looked away, then- forced himself to maintain the man's gaze. Refusing to back down, regardless of what his words much have cost him.
The huffing laugh caught him by surprise anyway. Not knowing what to think when Philippe nodded, then reached for him. Resting a firm hand on his gauntlet as he smiled truly this time. Giving him the space to clear the roughness from his throat as Philippe refilled his cup with an easy flourish. As if it had been a test all along.
- Panis, autem comminuetur verum est erratum: Latin for "No, he must be mistaken."
- The Siege of Alesia: It was the last major engagement between Gauls and Romans, and is considered one of Caesar's greatest military achievements and a classic example of siege warfare and investment. The battle of Alesia marked the end of Gallic independence in France and Belgium.
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?"
- Merhercule: 'by Hercules' equivalent to 'damn', 'oh god', 'fucking hell.'
- "Thank Mercury's engorged prick." Apparently Mercury had a massive penis, so after I learned that I couldn't let it go. It is worked into the sentence as a sort of curse word/exclamation.
- Lamia: were fearsome demons in Roman myths who assumed the forms of beautiful women to lure young men to their beds to feed on their flesh and blood. They were the ancient equivalent of vampires and succubi - vampiric ghosts and demons.