I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you.
A few days ago, Facebook made this helpful suggestion:
“Share a post about what Vampire: The Requiem has planned for the holidays.”
That sounded kind of dangerous. And I happen to love Christmas specials, but I didn’t have one up my sleeve. In my stead, Amy Veeres and Jared Lord rose to the occasion.
Merry Christmas! Hope yours is less angsty than this one. ^_^
The apartment walls rattled as Iris Devlin slammed the door, tilting the nearby portraits and jostling the coats on the rack. She breathed in great gasps of air she did not need, a nervous habit that hadn’t died with the rest of her. She stormed across the room to the dinner table, neglected and barren except for a half-eaten Thanksgiving meal of Vietnamese takeout. Slumping into the chair across from it, staring through where Gordon had just been, some part of her was already wondering if there was still time to take it back. Of course not. She’d ruined it.
Iris was just under a decade dead, barely a fledgling compared to her peers – if the ravenous, backstabbing pack of solipsists she worked with in the First Estate could even be called peers. True, they were friendly when their personal interests aligned with hers, and she had a knack for massaging their egos. It was one of the first lessons her sire gave her: even if her elders could smell the bullshit in her words, she could still pleasantly remind them that they were superior enough to command her deference. A neonate smart enough to swallow their pride, and earnest enough to still go through the motions in public, is far better than yet another empty-headed and disposable yes-man.
Her sire’s advice had taken her far, for the standards of the Invictus. It hadn’t even been a decade, and already she had made a name for herself. Several ancillae made a point to seek her first for her consultation on securities regulations, a topic that keenly interested her ever since law school. All that changed after she died was that all the things she was taught not to do suddenly became extremely useful skills. She had even, in the past year, helped manage a particularly crooked short-sell scheme for an elder her sire owed a favor. The guilt still weighed on her from time to time, but she comforted herself with the thought that at least she hadn’t been one of the thugs who put a dead drifter in that executive’s bedroom.
The stress of that job had been plain to her sire, who suggested that it was time for Iris to get a ghoul with which she could blow off some steam. The callousness of the suggestion disturbed Iris almost as much as how nice it sounded. She hadn’t had much time for relationships as a college student, or as a law student, a lawyer, a vampire…the idea of having someone unconditionally love her was as exhilarating as it was horrifying. It only took a few weeks for her to feel comfortable enough with the idea to give it a shot, and she knew just who to try it with.
Gordon Martel had blundered into the Danse Macabre with all the grace of an ice-skating reindeer. He had stumbled on Iris feeding on a bargoer in a private booth one night, and was begging her to spare his life even before she noticed he was there. She knew an easy blood doll when she saw one, and took him under her wing, feeding him bits and pieces of information about her life as he fed her more viscerally. She knew it was a risk to tell him anything, but it was nice to have someone to talk to that wouldn’t stare at her like a dead fish, or worse, make snide comments about the folly of youth. In truth, she wondered why she hadn’t made a ghoul of him sooner, until she remembered the cringing, abused, and still desperately loyal ghouls she’d seen in Elysium.
The ticking of the clock in the kitchen beat mercilessly against her eardrum as she stared at the faint steam rising from the still warm ph?. Her apartment was cold – the dropping temperatures didn’t bother her nearly as much as they did when she had a pulse, and her bills were so much cheaper without having to worry about heating and air conditioning. Gordon had needed to bring a sweater over, true, but he didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t seem to mind anything she did.
She let herself slouch onto the table, resting her head on folded arms, staring blankly forward. He didn’t mind anything she did. That was what scared her.
Their relationship started so rosily. It hadn’t been hard to convince him – it felt better than the Kiss, tasted better than any drug he could ever have, gave him eternal youth, and let him spend more time with her. As far as he was concerned, there were no downsides. The first month, he was thrilled just to be alive, to be with her. He bought a gym membership, he threw himself into one new hobby after another, his bosses noticed a spike in his productivity, and he felt on top of the world. Just being by his side made Iris feel that much closer to her memories of life, and they were happy. As the month drew to a close, though, he began to grow jittery, the mania driving his life growing a sharp edge to it. He hung on her every word, tried to finish her sentences for her, stayed up for days unable to sleep.
His changing mood was uncomfortably similar to Iris’s own memories of grappling with cocaine in law school and her practice. It was an on-again off-again relationship cut violently short by her death. Still, when Gordon came to her apartment on Halloween dressed as some video game character she barely recognized, begging for another taste of her, she couldn’t bring herself to refuse him. In moments, he was back to his cheery, eager self, thanking her over and over again and wrapping in her in a hug she had to pry herself out of a half hour later.
It didn’t last, of course. Their first argument came after Iris idly complimented the craftsmanship of a diamond necklace in a downtown storefront. She had no intention of buying it – it was far too expensive, and would look gaudy on her anyway – and yet the next night, Gordon brought it to her when she woke. She knew just how little he made, and the tautness of his smile and tremor of his hands betrayed his need for his sacrifice to be validated.
“Why!?” she had screamed, “Why would you starve yourself to buy me something I looked at for five seconds!?”
The wounded look in Gordon’s tear-filled eyes told her what his choked voice couldn’t – I just wanted to make you happy.
She returned the necklace for a full refund less than an hour later. The clerk was snippy about the return policy until she met Iris’s eyes, and suddenly became much more co-operative. Gordon spent the entire car ride to and from the store begging for forgiveness, and Iris could feel the Beast twisting in her gut, annoyed by the mewling wretch beside her. Stomping it down, Iris tried to tell Gordon about the addictive nature of Vitae, what it was doing to his mind, ask him if he was really sure about this arrangement. Gordon only heard her threatening to leave him, and Iris found herself dealing with an hour-long panic attack in short order.
That was only a few days ago. She’d invited him over for an early Thanksgiving, to talk it over with him when he had calmed down, but he showed up with his takeout every bit as tense as she had left him. He barely ate his food before the argument began anew. She wanted him to go cold turkey for a month, before the addiction became permanent, so he could make the choice of his own free will. He didn’t want her to abandon him, he was terrified he’d be killed by the Conspiracy of Silence without her, he’d die without her blood. Back and forth, voices raising, Iris realized nothing had changed. Gordon refused to listen to reason, and giving him blood to calm him down would only make things worse. She felt some barrier in her mind snap, and lashed out.
“Leave,” she snarled, staring dead into his now unmoving eyes. “Do not visit me or speak to me for a month.”
Numbly, mechanically, Gordon stood from the table and left her. She slammed the door behind him, rattling the thin walls of the apartment.
The scene played over and over again in her head as the air grew colder and the snow began to come. She’d solved the problem of brainwashing him by brainwashing him. She’d sent a few texts and even called his voice mail, but the command had stuck. He never answered. Her every waking moment was plagued with fear, with doubt, with justifications. I had to do it, she told herself, or he’d never be able to make his own choice. No matter how often she said it to herself, it never made her feel any better. She tried to talk to her sire about it, only for him to laugh until she left the room. She found herself alone again, counting the days until Christmas for the first time in years.
She’d always loved the holidays as a child, but being dead put a damper on the Christmas spirit. The spirit of giving, of love, of togetherness seemed to fall flat in the face of the spirit of raw, hungry commercialism and emotional manipulation through the lens of her Requiem. Spending every night surrounded by vampires far more jaded than her didn’t do much to keep her sense of innocence intact, either. And yet, what she had been doing to Gordon made her aware of how much of her old self she’d already lost, and what she could yet lose.
Christmas came agonizingly slowly for her, slower than it ever had when she was a child anxiously waiting for Santa. Every night, she woke to check her phone, to see if her compulsion had broken, if he’d muscled through it, if he’d forced himself to disobey. Every night, she found the message hadn’t come. Maybe they did kill him, she’d think some nights. Maybe he’ll never talk to me again, she’d think others. Every morning, despite her fears and doubts, she’d rest her head hoping that the next night would bring news.
The night of the 25th, she lunged for her phone the moment she awoke, checking her voice mail, her text messages, her email, every way she knew he could contact her. There was nothing.
It felt like an icicle through the heart. Even if she could still cry, she was sure the tears wouldn’t come. She rolled off her bed onto the floor with a muffled thump. She laid there for what felt like hours before pulling herself to her feet and staggering into the kitchen. The smell of coffee hung in the air, her dust-covered coffee maker steaming away in the cold room.
She turned to the dinner table to see Gordon sitting in his usual spot, coffee mug held with both hands, bundled up in that same ugly sweater he always wore that his aunt knitted for him. He smiled hesitantly.
“You left the door unlocked.”
Iris only stared, keeping the untouchable vampire lord façade up to disguise the fact that her brain had shut down in disbelief.
“…I fell off the wagon,” Gordon said, looking down at his cup. “I couldn’t take the withdrawal. Your, uh, sire? Sire. He found me after you started showing up without me. Asked me what you did, I told him. I begged him for some of his blood. He gave it to me. Asked me how it felt.”
He took a gulp of his coffee, and looked into Iris’s eyes. “It was…good. Really good. But it wasn’t the same.”
Iris’s sire’s laughter echoed through her mind as he continued. “I…I think – no, I know it’s not the blood. I had the blood without you, and it didn’t do to me what yours did. It’s you. I want to be with you.”
Iris said nothing, but walked across the room to the table, one thin wrist moving to the fangs protruding from her teeth. If this is what it’s going to be like, she thought, I might as well be the best regnant I can be.
Across town, Iris’s sire propped up his feet and smiled toothily. Every once in a while, it was fun to do the whole Christmas thing again.