July 8, 2010

An Unexpected Outcome

(( Flashbacks continued...but not for long! ))

The tattoo didn't stay that night, or the next, or the next. Every night for two weeks, Giuseppe would put the same tattoo on my forearm- a small, stylized ouroborus. And every night upon waking, my body would reject it, and the tattoo would flake off as if applied with paint.

But that was the point of the lesson. Giuseppe told me that it was possibly to change the vampiric form. We did not have to be static. He would go on about the importance of change, and how we should never fear it, but embrace it. It took two weeks of this lesson before I finally got it. I listened and meditated on the ideas, along with the lessons I was learning from the Dragon's Tail, and tried my best to take them all to heart. I'd been Giuseppe's protege for a couple months now, and I realized that I didn't want to let him down.

It seemed silly that I'd feel that way about my murderer.. but there it was. So gradually that I hadn't noticed it, I'd started to care about the asshole. No one had ever spent so much time trying to help me improve myself. He'd successfully convinced me that he needed, or at least wanted, my help. It was becoming much easier to make excuses for his previous actions, God help me.

Then, one night.. it happened. As he was applying the ink, I felt myself slip away. It's not really an experience that I can describe, except that it felt like peeling away a cocoon. It felt like it lasted for only a few minutes, but when I came back to myself, I was sitting in the same position, but it was the next night, and my tattoo was still intact. Just to be sure, I tried to used the blood to heal it.. and grinned widely when nothing happened. I felt accomplished.. but the feeling didn't last long. I still had too much to learn..

The lessons became more grueling. The nights started with combat training. The second I woke up, Mona was there, beating the tar out of me with those goddamn knight sticks. The first night, I nearly lost it on her. The beast nearly took over on sheer reflex. I didn't understand what was going on. I woke up, she beat the shit out of me, and then left. I laid there, bones broken, a couple compound fractures, and knitted myself back together, anger, fear, and confusion festering in my gut. When I could stand again, I went to track her down. I found her in the kitchen, drinking coffee like nothing had happened.

"What the FUCK was that?!" I said as my jaw shifted back into place.
She just smirked into her coffee cup. "Combat training." Then she stood, set the cup in the sink, and walked out the door before I could respond.

That was how I woke up every night after that.

Then Giuseppe started teaching me more about the blood. I'd wake up to beatings, then have to sit in a room and meditate all night, without feeding. Night after night we did this, Giuseppe always right there with me, depriving ourselves of sustenance.. it become nearly impossible to maintain my focus. Sometimes I'd be allowed blood to heal myself up, but other times, I was forced to go through the lessons with bones I didn't have the ability to fix. Giuseppe would bring in just enough blood to keep us from losing our shit.. but never enough to fill me up.. it was a maddening and painful process. I lost track of how many nights we did this. It took all my concentration just to maintain my composure, I didn't have any energy to waste on counting nights.

Then the training shifted gears. He called off our fasting and began bringing samples of blood to taste. It got to a point where I could tell just by tasting the blood what animal it had come from.. and even down to the breed of the dog.

Conversations with Giuseppe changed too. Instead of answering questions, he began to ask them. Frustrating riddles that I'd have to spend all night puzzling over, then when I finally came up with an answer, my reward was another, more difficult question, usually without even a clue if I'd gotten the first one right. At one point, I spent two weeks doing nothing but trying to sink a nail into a board with one blow of the hammer. It was infuriating. Night after night.. wake up, try to defend myself against Mona, then nothing but hammer on a goddamn piece of wood. A week in, I hit my fingers for the 100th time that night, snapped and went ballistic. I vaguely recall tearing the board into tiny pieces while seeing a lot of red.

A new board was there the next evening. It took two full weeks before I could get that nail in in one swing of the hammer.

Oddly, during all of this, I never considered leaving. It was painful, frustrating, stressful, and rewardless.. at first. But I'd developed a sense of determination. I needed to prove to myself that I was worth all this effort. It was still hard to believe the Giuseppe needed me. The night I killed Vincent was the last time I thought about slipping away. That's not to say I didn't get livid with them both sometimes. The nature of the training made that unavoidable.

Then one night, after several months of the abuse, it all began to fall into place. Mona, once again, beat the shit out of me. Once that nightly ritual was finished and I used nearly all of my available vitae to heal myself, I went to go play more 20 questions with Giuseppe. I sat there, hungry, frustrated and disheartened and tried to focus on the barrage of questions. My head was starting to ache, and I'd had enough. He asked another question, and I nearly bit his head off with my answer. All my pent up vexation came spilling out in that one answer, which turned into a 10 minute screaming rant, and when I was finished, I just glared at him.

He met my gaze impassively. "Good." and he stood and walked out of the room.

I sat there, dumbfounded. Then that turned into intense satisfaction, and a renewed sense of accomplishment. I really was making progress.

The next night, I woke up, and before I had even realized what I was doing, sped the blood through my muscles. My hand was a blur as I caught Mona's knight stick as it went for my head. I held the stick and smirked at her. She gave an unsettling grin. "Good job. This means I get to go faster now."

And she proceeded to kick my ass.. again. But it was worth it this time. I left that room feeling bruised, broken, and satisfied.


It was one of our few moments of down time, roughly 8 months since Giuseppe had turned me. All three of us were in the living room. Giuseppe sat reading a book, Mona reading a police report, and I sat watching them both.

I broke the comfortable silence with a question. "Why stay a ghoul?"
Mona spoke without looking up. "Well, I have a day job." She held up the police report. "And we need someone who can get things done during the day without bursting into flames."

"Do you want to be a vampire?" These questions had been bothering me for awhile, and it wasn't until very recently that Mona seemed at all approachable. I'd actually been talking with her, sans knight sticks, pretty regularly now. She wasn't as aloof and pissy as she'd been at first. She seemed to start opening up more to me as I gradually ceased treating them both, especially Giuseppe, with such deep seated distrust and suspicion. Eventually, she'd even busted out old photo albums and showed me pictures from the 40s of her and Giuseppe. Her, dressed in nurse garb, him as a priest. It was odd seeing him with short hair, and her in a skirt. She'd given me a little bit of background on them both. I found all of it fascinating.

She set the police report on the coffee table. "Did you know that Dracula had three wives?"

I shook my head.

She continued. "The warrior, the scholar, and the beauty. For Vlad over here," she jerked a thumb at Giuseppe. He gave her a small, amused smile over the top of his book. "I'll keep doing what I'm doing.. but eventually I'd like to focus on more scholarly pursuits.."

"Fair enough." I lapsed into silence. Mona had surprised me, but that just proved that I didn't know her as well as I would've liked. She also made me wonder which bride I was going to be... which was weird to consider at all. I looked between the two of them and suddenly realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was somewhere I was supposed to be. I suddenly knew, without a doubt, that I would fight to protect that. Giuseppe and Mona had, for all intents and purposes, become like family to me. A very weird, dysfunctional, and unusual family.. but one nonetheless. How I could find myself so attached to people who killed me, and nightly beat the shit out of me, I wasn't sure. Maybe it was because they were the only ones who ever gave me a second glance...

Well, the only ones in a long time. I pulled the dog tags out of my shirt. They hadn't gotten frosty since I'd died. Driscoll had tried. He'd worked his ass off to get me out of my shell and all I did was hate him for it. And now he wasn't around for me to apologize to.

I made a decision, right then. "I need to go to Texas." They both looked at me, then at the tags. Giuseppe nodded.

Mona put the report away. "I'll take you. We'll head out before sunrise tonight. Takes about 9 hours to get to Fort Sam.. The trunk is sunproofed."

I didn't ask how they knew were he was buried.


Mona waited with the car as I had hopped the fence, since visiting hours ended at sunset. She was giving me some privacy, and it was appreciated.

I took my time. I wandered the gravestones for awhile. I knew exactly where he was buried, but I didn't know exactly what to say. I didn't even know if he'd be around. I let the cool breeze, deep shadows, and uninhabitated surroundings reassure me as I wound my way slowly between the graves. Finally, I stood in front of his gravestone. Jordan Driscoll. The dog tags clicked together softly in the breeze as they dangled, the chain coiled around my fist. The place was virtually silent, and I was the only visitor at this late hour. That was just how I wanted it.

I took out a vial, and put a drop of liquid in one eye, and one on my tongue. My nervousness increased as the world shifted into black and white. I could now see that the graveyard was full of ghosts... but Driscoll wasn't there.

"Jordan?" Nothing. I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck self consciously. I knew he wasn't here, but I had to do it anyway. "I.. wanted to apologize. For taking the tags.. and for treating you like shit. You were.." I hesitated. I felt really stupid talking to thin air. "You were a good friend. I'm sorry."

I laid the dog tags on the headstone, letting the chain pool between the two pieces of metal. They winked dully in the moonlight. I wondered if he'd actually forgive me.. or if he even could. He had wanted to kill me.. but I was already dead. I didn't know if that's why he was gone, or not. Maybe he'd passed on. I knew jack shit about how ghosts worked. I stood there, awkwardly, for a few more minutes.. but nothing happened. At least, nothing with Driscoll. I did, however, feel a little better. Hopefully he could find some peace since I wasn't being such a bitch to him anymore.. and since I couldn't find him, that would have to be enough.

I walked away, leaving the tags on the headstone. I made a more direct route back to the car.

"Get your answers sweetheart?"

I came up short when I heard the voice off to my left as I approached the fence. My hand was on my gun and I'd forced vitae through my muscles on reflex. There was a man leaning against a tree wearing a cowboy hat obscuring his face. He looked familiar, but I was having a hard time placing him.

"It was an apology, actually.." I said. He tipped his hat upwards and looked at me with a friendly smile. It was Carter. He was head of the Ordo Dracul in New Orleans. I'd only met him once, when I'd been inducted a few months ago. He always seemed nice, and spoke with a rather charming Texas accent. I relaxed slightly and took my hand off the pistol.

"But you came out here lookin' for somethin' by makin' that apology.."

I gave him a faint smile. "I found it.. I think. But he wasn't here, so I'm not sure that he heard me.."

"Eh, the dead are an odd lot. There's no tellin'.."

"To what do I owe the pleasure..?" I asked. Him appearing in the graveyard of my dead friend, 9 hours away from where he should be, was disconcerting, despite his friendly disposition.

"Just thought I'd drop in and say hi. I like to check up on my people now and then."

I started to respond but he cut me off. "I also wanted to give ya a word of caution. Yer sire's got a lot of enemies. You'd best watch your back, your guilty by association, at least until you start doin' like him and pissin' people off yourself."

I smiled. "Yeah, I figured I'd need to be careful. Than.."

"I said watch your back." He cut me off again, and this time his voice held no trace of an accent, and his eyes no longer looked friendly or amused.

I froze, taken aback at the sudden shift. He stared at me, hard and unblinking, until I nodded, and he could read the comprehension on my face. He wasn't about to let me make light of the potential danger I was in, apparently.

Once I nodded, his face shifted back to a friendlier expression, and his voice affected the southern drawl once again. "Good. Give your sire my regards, and Mona over there." He pointed to the waiting vehicle, I glanced over, wondering if she could see us, but we were just out of her line of sight. When I turned back around, Carter was gone.

Well fuck.

I jogged back to the car.

"How did it go?" Mona asked when I hurried to the vehicle.

"Fine, I guess. He wasn't there. I talked anyway.. and Carter paid me a visit.."

"Hm.. what did he have to say?" She had automatically started scanning the area. The information didn't surprise her, but seemed to put her on edge a little.

"Told me to be careful about Giuseppe's enemies." I opened the passenger side door and got in the car. She did the same.

"It's a good piece of advice."

I nodded and she pulled out onto the street. "I know. But he's a lot better at going undetected than I am. What keeps the fuckers from coming after me, if only to get to him?" The idea was chilling. I didn't think I was a helpless duckling, but I had no illusions about how powerful some of the people were who would just love to get their hands on Giuseppe.

Mona just shrugged. "Simply put, us. Don't let it get to you. Giuseppe will make sure you've got the skills you need to take care of yourself, as long as you stay smart, and grow eyes in the back of your head."

I relaxed slightly in my seat. I was hoping she'd say something like that. It calmed the nerves, at least a little.

Mona and I headed back home. I told her stories about Driscoll, she shared a few anecdotes about her and Giuseppe from decades ago. It was a good ride.

It was a good ride home.

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