My Little Ventrue Pt. 07 Ch. 07
The sweeps continued. Until someone managed to find a hint of the hunters, they had no choice but to continue them. But as time went on, Jack's mom started asking about their old home, about visiting it, and getting things they might want. He had a free night tonight, so, time to take a trip through memory lane, knowing full well the hell it'd be.
"You ready for this?" he said.
"I... I don't know." His mom looked at the door, the front door, the threshold, the gate, the barrier between her new life and her old life, and trembled. "I don't know what I'll find."
"A lot of pain, Mom." Not the nicest way to start, but he had to be honest. "I... I've only looked through the windows of this place, and it's always been painful."
"You never snuck in?"
"Hell no." Laughing, he shook his head, and rested his back against the front door of his old house. It was raining, pouring even, as if someone decided this night was the perfect night to dial up the drama. Visiting his old home in the rain was such a perfect balance of sad atmosphere that he couldn't help but be moved. Though, if someone started playing some depressing music, he'd probably kill them.
And, he probably should have brought a partner on this trip. It was the rule, to always travel in pairs when not in the dead center of South Side. His mom didn't exactly count as a partner, considering she'd only been Embraced for a month. But he was strong enough to make up for that weakness.
"B-But, I thought you had a friend, that Damien fellow, and he could hide things in plain sight?" His mom was dressed in a business suit, the same sort he was, and wearing a long trench coat meant to protect it from the rain. Her umbrella protected her wavy hair. He was in a coat too, but no umbrella of his own. They'd shared. He knew they would.
"Cloak of Night? Yeah, Damien can do that. So can Natasha, and Beatrice. But, the issue was never being stealthy. It... it hurt, you know? Seeing you, and Mary. I never got to say goodbye, and I..." He grit his teeth, turned around, and unlocked the door. Getting the key had been easy enough. After the incident at the hospital, the Invictus had confiscated Mary's stuff, and his mother's. If he wanted to, the Invictus could confiscate the house too. But, no, better to let it go up for sale at some point.
Samantha sighed, the usual sigh she made when she knew he was just ending a conversation he didn't want to have. They'd had this dance a thousand times, after his dad died. And, stepping into the kitchen of his old home, the muscle memory, patterns, and habits of his old life kicked in as if he'd never left. No doubt, they'd have more conversations where they fell into bad habits, the sort that had led to their distancing. But, he'd try to catch them when he could.
He didn't want to enter the house. It was his old house, but he felt something different about it, something off, something bleak and mean. It was an empty house, scarred by the loss of its family, all four of them. There was a shadow, something dark and heavy about it now, something that had never been there before, as if it was angry at him for coming back dead instead of alive.
He set his hand down against the counter next to the door, the first thing he always noticed when he came home, back when he was alive. It's where he'd throw his keys, and set his headphones. It felt cold, colder than the ambient temperature would have suggested. But, worse than that, was how quiet it was. He was surprised to hear the hum of the fridge; guess no one had bothered to empty it and turn off non-essential circuits or something, since the Invictus had closed the house off. But other than that, it was deathly quiet.
It was a decent house, middle class, with a family room, living room, a few bedrooms, and a couple bathrooms. A four-level split, with a basement split in half for storage and a movie room. The side door they took went into the kitchen, where they were surrounded by cupboards and drawers. Without hesitation, Jack rubbed his shoes back and forth on the old brown mat, and started to undo his shoelaces
He blinked down at his fingers, laughed, stood back up, and walked into the kitchen, shoes still on. No point. No point at all.
"Jack! Take off your... your... oh." His mom laughed as well, quieter, sadder, before she followed him.
He smiled at the tile, white, with little black flowers. He smiled at the cupboards, brown wood, and the slot where a microwave sat above a counter. He smiled at the counters too, and their muted white marble coloring.
The house really was colder than he was used to. He wasn't Blushing Life, so the temperature difference didn't bother his skin so much, but he could tell it was off. Colder in the house than it was outside. Strange. Darker too. It must have been his imagination, or a trick of the light his Kindred eyes were picking up.
No, it was probably the depressing thoughts running through his mind by entering his old home that was doing the trick. It was the home he'd left behind, the home where he left two women shattered and depressed. Fuck him, he could practically feel the misery permeating the walls, made worse by his memories, when he spied on his mom and sister through the windows. Dad dead, him missing, his mom and sister had only each other to recover from that mess.
Jack, give yourself a break. None of it, absolutely none of it, is your fault. You were involved, but none of it happened because of you.
Easy to think the logical thoughts. Harder to internalize them and turn them into a feeling. Deep down, he knew damn well he blamed himself for Mary's death, and nearly losing his mother. It was beyond frustrating, knowing a truth, but not being able to accept it.
He took a deep breath, and let his memories guide him. Before he knew what he was doing, he opened the fridge. It was a nice fridge, big, with a bottom freezer drawer. A little digging exposed some ice cream, and he laughed as he showed it to his mom.
"The super low cal high protein ice cream?"
"Hey! It tastes good."
"And costs five times as much as regular ice cream."
Frowning and scrunching up her nose, she took the ice cream and put it back in the freezer. "I look good, don't I? I had to give up the delicacies to lose the weight."
"You do look good."
She beamed with the compliment, and he rolled his eyes. She was too damn sweet.
"I... I don't know if there's anything I... I should take. Antoinette says I should be careful. If I take memories with me, it'll... it'll be hard, to move on."
Yeah, that was true. He nodded, affirming as he moved past the counter and into the kitchen. There was a wood table, one of those you could pull apart and slip some wood planks into the center to make bigger. The patio doors beside him showed the pouring rain falling onto the wood, and the bench on the patio. On the wall was a painting he did, from his high school days. Apples on a plate, of course.
"But if you take nothing, it might make it harder to hold onto what keeps you human," he said.
"Antoinette said that too. And she... she um... told me about what happened to Mrs. Pavala."
Jack froze, eyes locked onto the painting. What a lovely juxtaposition, a painting he did when he was barely more than a kid, against the words his mom just said.
"That is a good example, of why you don't want to let the Beast inside you get too strong. You go hungry, and it gets a hold of you. You get too... horrible, and bloodthirsty, and it can come out that way, too. So, it might be a good idea to... grab something that reminds you of being human. Maybe not something as hurtful as a picture of Mary, but maybe something with some—"
"What?" He turned and faced her, but it was a bad idea. She had that look, the 'I know you're hurting please talk to me' look, and he almost recoiled at the sight of it.
Grinding his teeth, his looked down and away, before he stepped under a small arch of drywall, and into the living room. The front door connected to this room, and hardwood floors greeted him. She'd changed the carpet out, sometime after he disappeared. The couches were changed too, no longer boring, pale colors, but slick and inviting blues. Went nice with the floor.
"I was going to renovate the kitchen," she said. "New... new beginnings, right?"
"Right, right." He looked at the corner of the room by the fake fireplace, and smiled as the warm memories drifted through him. Decorating the Christmas tree, watching the fake fireplace fake burn fake wood, making real emotions and memories, opening presents, the smell of cookies. He completely blamed his mother for his candy obsession, that she also shared.
"Come on Jack, talk to me."
"Talk about what?"
"About anything? Every time I look at you, you look so much older than you used to. I can see the weight of the world on your shoulders." She shook out the umbrella and set it on the counter, before following him into the living room. "Antoinette hasn't told me much. She insists you should tell me yourself."
That earned a smile from him. He could trust Antoinette with his personal information, and she was smart enough to realize the more painful conversations between him and his mother, should be between them alone.
"I'm surprised she didn't come," he said.
"She... she told me, I should talk to you, privately, about things. She'll come another time."
"You already know about Mrs. Pavala. It was horrible. I had to clean up a corpse on my first night of being Kindred. It was rough. I got over it." He shrugged, and looked up the stairs. The bedrooms were up there. They could wait. He started down the stairs into the family room, and looked around at the couches and TV.
He wasn't sure what he was looking for. A lost memory, perhaps. It felt important to visit, and that's why he was doing it, but he couldn't exactly figure out the real why, other than it was important to help his mother move on.
His mom followed after him. "You always do that."
"Act like you have to bear these burdens. Like no one can help."
"I... I do act like that, don't I?" For a second, he almost fell into the old habit, dismissing her with some quip like 'everyone has to bear their burdens'. Not tonight.
He continued down into the basement, flipped on the light, and melted into a pot of nostalgia. The boxes and shelves, the old toys collecting dust, a wall his dad built to cut the basement in half, so they had another room where they could watch movies. But his dad wasn't exactly a carpenter, and the door never closed right; they had to slam it.
The room was cold. The basement was always cold, but this felt weird. Painful tingles danced up his spine, and he found himself looking over his shoulders, checking the area for anything unusual.
"Yes, you do act like that," his mom said. "And I can't imagine how big a burden it is! With all these things that's happened to you, it must be... be horrible..."
He stopped in the door frame of the built wall, and put his hands out to grab onto it. His head fell forward, facing away from her, and he squeezed the frame.
"I have friends, and Antoinette. I have people I do rely on."
"But not your mother?"
"It's only been a month since you were sired, Mom. I'm not going to dump a world of hurt on you already."
She set a hand on his shoulder, standing behind him. "Jack, it's not about that. It's about... It's about me, having a son, ok? Call it selfish, but I want my son back."
That, he should have guessed. It wasn't about her wanting to help him; though, that had to be part of it. But she'd lost her children, and he wasn't doing a good job of letting her be a mom to him. He wanted to protect her from the shit raining down on him, and she was probably spending every moment of the night wishing she had a way to help him with his pain. She was driven to do so, because she was his mother. He could throw her that bone, at least.
"It's been rough," he said. "A lot more has happened than Mrs. Pavala. I've killed a... a lot of people, now. Hunters, mostly."
"Mostly? I—oh... M-More people like Pavala?"
"No, thank god. But, it's been tough, you know? And I didn't want to put that on you. You've got your hands full, getting used to your new life. No need for me to add onto—"
She embraced him, tightly, and buried her face against the back of his head. "I can't believe this is happening."
"Being a vampire is—"
"Not that. I mean, that is pretty hard to believe, but I mean... all of this, happening to you. Antoinette's told me you've become sort of a celebrity, but because horrible things keep happening to you."
"It... it's... it's been... rough." It was hard to not cry. He was kind of sick of crying, after Julias died. But being in his old home, seeing all the things he'd abandoned, and being hugged by his mom, who only wanted to help him like the old days, was digging up those emotions again. He took a deep, useless breath, and pushed them back down.
Time to open up. Hopefully it wouldn't scar her.
"I've been... tortured. I've had to kill hunters in horrific ways." I've sacrificed thieves to a dark, ancient god. "And I... I learned that something is inside me, something that affects my Beast. It's like an amplifier on all my Beast's urges, and strengths. We call it the curse. It's inside me, eating away at me all the time, demanding I kill without justification." He turned around as her arms fell away, and he managed a weak smile for her. Her jaw was hanging open. "But all that is background noise, to how horrible I feel, that my sire, my best friend, the closest thing I've had to a dad in a long time, is dead. It wasn't just Mary who died because I hurt the hunters, and left an opening for them to hurt me. My friend is dead, too. He died because I wasn't going to let the hunters get you. He died helping me, knowing damn well it was a fool mission. The only reason he died, is because I was too emotional to just let you die."
Every word he said, was a knife to his mom's gut. He could almost see the blades skewering her, and the life draining from her eyes with every wound.
"And... that's why," he said, "I haven't been telling you these things. I hurt you, by letting Mary down and getting her killed. I hurt you, by letting Angela nearly kill you. And now I've hurt you again, because hey, now you know a man you barely knew died to save you. He had a girlfriend who loved him dearly. He was one of the best Kindred in the city, who strived for peace, and wanted Kindred to treat kine with respect."
"B-But... those things... aren't your fault."
"I know, I know." He slipped around her, and started up the stairs out of the basement. "I keep telling myself that, too. Doesn't seem to help."
He could almost feel her frown, drilling into his back. He could hear her sniffles.
"I had... no idea. So many things..."
"It's not everything, either, but more stuff in the same vein. It's been... rough, like I said. Not gonna lie."
"You said... there's a curse, inside you?"
He nodded as he worked his way up to the family room, then the living room, and then up to the bedrooms. Except, he didn't get very far. There was a wall between him and the hallway, something he couldn't see, but he could feel it. A wall he'd put up in his mind and his past, the part of him that knew better than to include his old life in his new life. The wall was still there, even with Mary gone, and his mother behind him, a vampire too.
He tried to walk past it, to reach the bedrooms, but his legs didn't want to move. Someone had tied weights to them, vast, cold weights, that demanded he turn around and run away. So, coward that he was, he walked into the bathroom instead, which wasn't so far down the hall. The upstairs bathroom had the tub, while the downstairs one had a small shower. Over time, he'd stuck to using the downstairs bathroom, while Mary and his mom used the upstairs bathroom usually.
He leaned onto the counter, set his fingers on it by the sink, and stared down at the subtle stains building on the otherwise clean, beige bowl. "Yeah, something in my bloodline. Apparently I'm the first to break the seal someone put on it hundreds of years ago; or at least, Viktor and Julias never did. So now, it's awake, inside me, and it's hungry for... for all the things the Beast hungers for. It's strong, and it gives me strength, but it's got its own desires, fighting to get out." A side glance showed his mother was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, eyes locked onto him like he was a baby bird with a broken wing. "Sorry. I dumped a lot of stuff on you there."
"N-No, it's ok. I... asked for it." She came up beside him, and looked at the big mirror on the wall, before looking down at the toothbrushes too. Guilt was gnawing at her, about Julias probably. "Vampires show up in mirrors," she said, obviously trying to find some words to fill the silence. "I guess we don't need to brush our teeth anymore."
"Don't need to brush your teeth, or wash any part of you, really, unless you spill stuff on you." Yes, this was easier, talking about vampire things. Teaching his mom what sort of things Kindred dealt with from day to day, was better than handling the avalanche of things he'd just dumped on her. "You can get a tattoo if you want. A little mental effort every night, and it'll be permanent. Cut your hair, same thing."
"Y-Yes. Antoinette told me." Nodding, she came in closer, until her shoulder was touching his, before she turned and hugged him again. It wasn't a motherly hug this time either, but something tight and desperate. "It's killing me, that you have to deal with all this."
"Well, you're a vampire now, like me. It's not all bad. We get to live forever, if we're smart about it. All this shit, it'll pass." He returned her hug, but when she didn't let go, he had to wriggle free. A gentle push on her shoulders managed to get the message across. "And I have a lot of help, the best and brightest minds in the city. Not to mention, Antoinette and I really do love each other, and she's the Prince of the city. I'm not alone in this."
"Good! Good, good." Nodding, but obviously not entirely convinced, she stepped back out of the bathroom and waited for him to follow. "Antoinette is... smart, and beautiful."
"Very." He followed after her, but hesitated at the door frame. If he followed her any further, they'd be going toward the bedrooms, and the cold weight that idea pushed onto him was blatant.
And more than that, there was a darkness in the house, something he couldn't quite see, but it was pushing against him. They turned on a couple of the lights as they moved through the house, but the darkness never seemed to go away. It felt wrong, as if the house were offended that he had the audacity to come back to it at all.
"She's so tall! And, um, curvy."
Oh god. Jack laughed, and buried his face in a palm as he shook his head. "Aha, yeah. She has white hair and red eyes too, in case you didn't notice."
"I did! I assumed they were fake, at first."
"They're not. Antoinette isn't sure why she's built the way she's built. She thinks, maybe, hundreds of years ago, she did experiments on herself. The Ordo Dracul have a habit of doing that."
"Experiment on herself? Why?"
"A guess? To make herself more beautiful than humanly possible."
"That... that sounds..."
"Vain, doesn't it?" He stepped back into the hallway, looked toward the bedroom doors, and sighed. Just do it. Just do it. Ok, he could check Mary's room last. First room, Mom's. "We're young and stupid, Mom, you and I. And Antoinette was too, once upon a time, I'm sure. A young Daeva with the ability to make herself inhumanly beautiful for eternity? Hell, I might have risked it, too." Maybe Elaine might know more about it?