Death by Inches

Isaac Abrams was not a vampire known for his impulsiveness. That was no way to last in this world and given that he still half-submerged in the human world it was even more important to carefully consider his every move.

One simply did not get to the position of independent baron of Hollywood with no Camarilla presence to speak of in his domain by being stupid and keeping the title was almost harder than getting it in the first place.

Usually, after so long, it was a simple matter to help where he could and accept it where he couldn't. He, like all Toreadors, was what the rest of the Cainites called overly invested in kine and he had seen many of his fellows burn out because of it. Even when things went well, sooner or later they all withered and died and things didn't always end even that happily.

He knew better, though. He could care but still separate himself to the extent that he could survive the losses of all of his favorites. He might have been out there at Ginger Swan's grave with all the rest once but times changed and so did he.

But Ash. Somehow Ash was always different. Isaac had known a great many people just like Ash and he had been very good at understanding people long before he had died. It was why he had attracted a Toreador sire instead of, say, a cursed Nosferatu. He didn't understand why Ash was so different and why he couldn't just let him go when he saw him dying in his room that day.

His first thought, of course, was to call for an ambulance as Ash was perfectly human and he wasn't in the habit of killing people to save them. But he had seen enough over the years to realize that it was too late for that. The paramedics wouldn't be able to save him. Embracing him wasn't a conscious choice so much as a physical rebellion against all the years of watching everyone slip away. Bogart had only been 57. Ash was half that age.

Normally, he wouldn't have heeded the summons of a jumped-up usurper like LaCroix but he was as curious as any of the others that showed up to see what spectacle LaCroix wanted to present to them. It was someone unfamiliar but whom LaCroix claimed as a loyal underling who had sired without permission and was put to death. The childe would have been executed likewise for she was suddenly sireless if Nines hadn't reacted so strongly. Well, that was the Brujah clan for you. Brujah. Even the name sounded like it meant brawling.

If Isaac hadn't had such a lofty position and hadn't gotten permission to sire Ash (and how could he? If he had time to get permission then the doctors had time to save him themselves) that could have been him. But he knew that even if he had been someone who would have needed to seek permission, it wouldn't have changed his actions. He couldn't watch his most promising young actor just slip into the abyss of death so ignobly. He trusted Ash to understand in time.

And when Ash had first woken up he was relieved to have woken up and to have had Isaac there, not that he would admit that now.

But that was before he understood that what had happened was anything more than Isaac saving his life. Ash was self-destructive, there was no denying that. Isaac had seen it before and was well-aware that there was a difference between seeking to destroy yourself and actually intending to succeed. Ash hadn't meant to die that night but nothing could have changed that.

Ash had laughed it off at first but Isaac had done this before and had anticipated that. Ash was hungry so he offered a bag of chips. Once Ash through it up (though he insisted he was just ill and couldn't keep his food down) he offered blood pack. Repulsed, Ash denied it. At first. By the time he sucked it dry he believed everything and Isaac saw, to his sorrow, that their friendship was over.

Well he would have lost a friend either way.

Ash understood that Isaac was only trying to help and so he didn't hate Isaac as much as even the sire bond allowed. He resented that being a vampire meant that he had to give up the fame he craved and the acting he had decided to spend his life on. What could they do, though? Technically Ash could still be 'alive' for a few more years until his lack of aging became noticeable but how could they have an actor who could not appear in any daytime scenes? Even if everything was filmed indoors he couldn't travel outside during the day. It was just too much of a risk.

Ash understood but he didn't like it. He didn't seem properly appreciative for the Asp Hole, either, but Isaac could only imagine what he'd be like if he hadn't gotten it. He refused to have anything to do with Isaac, either, and though – as his sire – he could have forced the matter he chose not to. They had time and Ash couldn't stay angry forever.

Then that girl, the one who hadn't died at the trial and who was in Hollywood doing the prince's bidding, came to him. She was nice enough. She had seemed surprised at being expected to pay tribute but she was willing to do so even when it turned out what he needed from her was far more complicated than the simple power play of asking her to fetch a tape for him. She hadn't had to keep him apprised of the situation with the Sabbat Tzimisce and the Nosferatu but she had.

She certainly hadn't had to deal with the golem for him or to actually convince it to ally itself with him. Yes, perhaps she saved herself a difficult fight there (his own people hadn't managed to kill it) but on the other hand she had to convince an anti-kindred golem that someone who had previously tried to kill it would be a good person to side with. It was clear that once she left Hollywood and came back ready to go reason with the golem that she knew more than she was letting on. That belief had solidified when she told him that she explained the Camarilla to the golem and how he opposed it and that had been what convinced him. Well, let her keep her secrets and he could keep his new golem. The golem seemed a bit wary he meant to enslave it but he actually had no intention of doing so, not the least because that sounded like more of a Tremere or Sabbat thing than anything he would be capable of.

And she had told him that Ash had hunters after him but, as much as he wanted to intercede, he knew it would cause more harm than good and that Ash needed to be able to stand on his own. When word came that Ash was missing, he had worried until the girl had come once again to explain she helped him escape through the sewers. It made sense that Ash would not want to keep in contact but he hoped that someday that would change. There were rumors that the girl was working with the Anarchs even as she still nominally answered to the prince and while he knew better than to trust idle gossip he thought that this one just might be true. She had certainly helped him out beyond what was necessary and it would not surprise him in the slightest for LaCroix to have people working for him who were openly betraying him.

But he was surprised to see her again so soon after somebody had reclaimed the sarcophagus from the Giovanni. The Giovanni were denying it, of course, but there had been enough witnesses and even if they didn't understand what they saw the people they spoke to did. He had thought she'd be a bit busy after that but apparently not.

"Evening," Isaac had greeted.

She got right to the point. "I found Ash."

Isaac's brow had furrowed because since when had he been missing? Yes, the world at large thought he was but she had assured him that he had just left town to escape the hunters trailing him. The hunters that were no longer plaguing his streets. "Oh?"

"After he escaped, he must have been recaptured. The Society of Leopold had him. They…did things to him," she said delicately. "What, exactly, I'm not sure but he has these brands on his face. Like a 'T' or maybe a cross. He kept talking about them burning him. He wanted to go away and have no one ever see him again."

As each word fell from her lips, Isaac got progressively more alarmed. "You didn't let him, did you? If he's in that bad shape the last thing he needs is to be alone."

"I convinced him to wait for me. I didn't tell him I was bringing you but I'm not what he needs right now. I can help with a quick fix, I got him out of that cage, but all I can offer is a few well-meaning words of comfort. I wouldn't know how to do more, I don't know him, and honestly I am rather busy right now. I shouldn't have even taken the time to get you but…I'd feel bad," the girl admitted.

Isaac nodded. "Of course, I quite understand. This really is something a sire should handle anyway."

There was a strange look on her face then but of course there was. She didn't even have a sire. She couldn't understand.

She told him where Ash was and then left to go do LaCroix's bidding for the Anarchs or whatever it was that she was up to.

Isaac found him in an abandoned shack off the beach, past the remains of what must have been a grand building.

Ash didn't look up when he approached. "I should have known you'd come. Somehow or other you always come."

"I wish that I had come sooner."

Ash laughed harshly. "Yeah, well, so do I. But I'm out now, right? All that's left is to just forget the past and move on, right? That's always been your advice."

"I never meant to be callous," Isaac said carefully. Honestly he still didn't think he had been but when someone wasn't in the mood to listen, like Ash had never been, then they had a remarkable talent for twisting the most well-meaning of words. "I only meant that your life as a human is beyond you but there is still so much left open to you. Even as a vampire, your existence is richer than it could have been. The Nosferatu, for instance, are banished to the sewers and cannot even speak with ordinary people for fear of violating the Masquerade. The thin-bloods do not even know what they are and are outcast from everywhere. The Sabbat are lucky to reach the same age dead as they were alive. But I never expected you to embrace being a vampire immediately. You have time. Much was lost to you and it's understandable that you would be bitter. I myself took my time coming to appreciate my new existence."

Isaac had been angry but he had still appreciated the new powers he possessed. He had been growing old but now he had stopped aging and he did not have to worry about slipping into the darkness of death for his own death was a mere half-death. He could inspire any with his presence and race around like Superman and had a rather impressive strength. It had been a gift, in the end, though Ash was still too young and even now convinced of his own indestructibility to care for such abilities.

Or perhaps he was. Ash still turned away from him so he couldn't see the markings that the girl had described.

"You're always so reasonable, aren't you?" Ash asked rhetorically. "Oh, it will be alright. You will get used to it in time. Sulk all you like. That's you."

"And what is wrong with being reasonable?" Isaac asked gently.

Ash didn't say anything.

"I was told something of what happened," he said slowly.

"So you know what they did to me," Ash said hollowly. "You know why I can never go back."

"I know that they hurt you, yes, and that it's not the kind of damage that can heal easily," Isaac conceded. "Ash, turn around."

Ash tensed. He clearly didn't want to but Isaac knew that he would. And sure enough, he slowly moved to face him. "Are you happy now?"

Isaac was careful not to react. It helped that he had had a description of the wounds. Vampires healed quickly though that was impaired when there wasn't enough blood. Who knew how long Ash had been captured? Would his captors have given him blood (from "approved" sources, of course) in order to keep him longer and try to find out more about their world? Perhaps they wanted to test new methods of killing their kind. He hoped it had just been so short a time that Ash hadn't needed blood.

But it was hard to look at him! He had those crosses burned onto both of his cheeks and his forehead. Oh, how Isaac wanted to tell him that it wasn't so bad but he couldn't. He knew he wouldn't be believed. Maybe Ash hadn't seen his reflection yet but he would. Ash was still a handsome man if one could look past the brands but they featured prominently. It would make him look almost comical if it weren't so grotesque.

"Of course I'm not happy. You were hurt and I wasn't there."

"It can't be healed easily?" Ash asked. "Are you going to pretend it can be healed at all? I can still feel it on me, the brand. It doesn't hurt anymore but it didn't heal like all the others. And there was fire. Every time they burned me. The ones on my face aren't the only ones but at least the others I could hide. Face it, I'm going to look like this forever."

"We don't know that," Isaac insisted. "I am not an expert at fire damage because I've been fortunate enough to never need to be. I'm sure that I can find the right people to ask, however. Who knows? Maybe even these hunters would know as part of their…experiments."

"My life is over," Ash said. He sounded like every melodramatic teenager who had issued the same sentiment and he had said it countless times since his embrace but this was a little more serious and in a way it might really be. "I can't explain these markings. I can't tell people what happened. There would be so many questions and the police would get involved and I couldn't explain away the fact I can't go with them during the day."

"You wouldn't have to admit to being abducted and tortured," Isaac tried to reassure him.

"And then what?" Ash demanded. "Have people think that I did this to myself? Have to face people and get photographed? Have people think of this when they think of me? I can't do it. It would be even worse. I just…I have to get away."

"You can't run from your problems," Isaac said firmly.

"And why not? What's really keeping me here?" Ash challenged. "My living friends who keep begging me to return to acting when you won't let me? This damn club that I couldn't care less about and was trapped in for weeks before that girl helped me escape it? I don't care about any of it and I can't face it now. I can't. You say you don't want me to be miserable? Well I'd be a lot happier off in Canada than surrounded by people."

Isaac was almost tempted for a moment to point out that there were people living in Canada, too, but he knew that wouldn't help anything. "Once you stop running, when will you stop? Where will you go? Would your pride even let you return?"

Ash laughed. "My pride. I have no pride."

His pride was what was threatening to send him running.

"If you don't want to face the media then you don't have to. Just don't disappear, Ash. I can take care of you."

"Maybe…maybe I don't want to be taken care of. Maybe you've done enough. Maybe you just need to leave me alone."

"I can't do that."

Ash turned angry eyes to him. "If it weren't for you I wouldn't be in this mess."

"Which mess is that? I didn't send those hunters after you," Isaac said pointedly.

"You made me famous."

"You're blaming for that? Ash, I saw you had talent and gave you a shot. I didn't force you into anything and I certainly didn't get you involved in the drugs and the party lifestyle that destroyed you," Isaac said, careful not to let his tone slip into defensiveness. He didn't enjoy dealing with Ash's resentfulness for all that he understood.

"You didn't have to kill me," Ash bit out.

"You were dying anyway. I couldn't save you by normal means. Making you a vampire was all that I had!"

"You don't really expect me to believe that, do you?"

"Why would I lie about that?" Isaac asked.

"I don't know. Maybe so you wouldn't upset me. I'm not saying that I could have just had my stomach pumped or something. I believe you when you say it was too late for that. But if I were still not too far gone to be embraced then I wasn't too far gone to just be fed some of your blood and sent on my way," Ash said, every word a fresh indictment.

Isaac stared at him, horrified. "You mean make you a ghoul? Ash, that wouldn't be…you deserved better. And you still wouldn't be aging."

Ash smiled humorlessly. "I deserved better than to be healed once and never take any blood again and be free to move on with my life?"

"It wouldn't be like that. You've never had a ghoul, you wouldn't understand," Isaac told him. "You may have seen ghouls but it's not the same thing. They can be perfectly normal around everyone but their master. They can't resist their master. They have no free will when it comes to them. It's really rather a pathetic fate."

"And what? You would take advantage?"

Isaac shook his head. "Ghouls get obsessive. It takes three feedings to cement the bond to the point it takes a year to get over it but even after one you would be hooked and do anything to get another hit. That wouldn't help you."

Ash didn't want to hear it. "It would be better than this! If I was supposed to be going to rehab then I certainly could have handled vampire blood rehab and it's not like I could have gotten your blood again without your consent."

It hadn't crossed his mind to make Ash a ghoul because he really did think that he should be preserved and when it came right down to it preservation meant embrace. Maybe if he hadn't walked in on Ash dying he wouldn't have tried to keep him with him but he had and it had happened. If he had thought of just giving Ash a taste of the healing properties of vampire blood he wouldn't have done it.

"I know that you're unhappy but it will pass if you let it," Isaac said instead. "I know that you're unhappy and maybe there was a better way but I didn't take it and here we are. You can stay unhappy forever if you'd like but it sounds like a miserable existence to me so I hope that you don't do that just to punish me."

"Not everything is about you, Isaac."

Isaac knew for a fact that Ash said that dying might be worth it just to be upset him and so knew that that wasn't strictly true. But there was no way Ash would react well to being reminded of that. "It doesn't have to be. You can't change that you're a vampire, only how you react to it."

Ash sighed. "I can't just be choose to be okay with this hellish existence! And now even the last vestiges of my normal life were taken from me by those monsters! They said that I was a monster and it was their divine duty to kill me. Well I don't kill people. I don't even hunt. I can't stand to. It's too much like…It's all I can do to force down those blood packs."

Some people refused to hunt for moral reasons but they were usually newer and got over it. Refusing to kill when they hunted could be about morality but was more often than not just about secrecy where a non-Toreador was concerned. The thin bloods weren't allowed to though he rather thought that was more about prejudice than a belief that they would really violate the Masquerade if they did. Ash hated every reminder of being a vampire.

"Do you need one now?" Isaac asked. He reached into his case and offered one up. He wasn't a Ventrue and could get by on regular blood packs when he didn't have the time or inclination to hunt but it never tasted as good and he wasn't hurting for money so he rarely did.

A hungry look appeared in Ash's eyes though he still hesitated. "Fine."

Isaac said nothing as he watched Ash slurp it down. He must have been hungrier than he cared to admit to.

"You can't make me go with you, sire or no sire," Ash told him bluntly. "Why are you still here?"

"I told you. I'm concerned. You've just been through a horrific ordeal and you're planning to be reckless. I don't want to just watch you disappear and spend the rest of my life wondering."

Ash shook his head. "So this is all about you."

"It's about my concern for you," Isaac corrected.

"Well maybe I don't want to hear it."

A sudden wave of weariness watched over him. What if he couldn't get Ash to change his mind? It would be just like him to act against his own interests out of sheer spite. "Ash, please. You don't want to do this."

"Don't I?"

"No, you don't," Isaac said firmly. That much he was sure of. The Asp Hole was as close as Ash could come to his former life and he wasn't about to give that up without a fight. Well, he hadn't been before the hunters had scarred him. "If it weren't for the hunters you wouldn't have left Hollywood in the first place and if it weren't for your face then you wouldn't be talking about leaving now."

"But the hunters did come and they did burn me," Ash said softly. "You can't change that. And what difference does it make? I always knew that in a few years I'd have to 'die' anyway. Why not move up the schedule? Why not just say disappear or saying I'm going to go live in seclusion or something?"

"You're giving up too easily," Isaac accused. "You don't want to fix this. You just want to be miserable."

"Oh, that is not even close to the truth," Ash growled. "I'm just being realistic. I'm not healing and I know what fire damage can do. You want to make everything all rainbows and puppies and it's just not going to happen here."

"Maybe not," Isaac conceded. "But if that's the case then what's the harm of trying?"

"What's the harm of getting my hopes up just to watch them get crushed again?" Ash asked incredulously. "No, best to just accept that it's not going to happen."

"You could keep believing that but humor me and try anyway and maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised," Isaac offered.

"I couldn't try and not hope," Ash admitted.

"I know that it might be painful, Ash, but we haven't even tried yet. And wouldn't the chance that you could be healed and things could go back to normal be worth the risk that they couldn't? And if it really doesn't work it gives you a safe place to work out your plan for the future," Isaac pointed out.

Ash looked away, a sign that a miracle was occurring and he was weakening. "I don't know. Normal wasn't too good."

"It's better than this. And you could find something else if you're not happy just so long as you don't have to avoid everyone forever because you're ashamed of your face."

Ash squinted at him suddenly. "You think I'm being terribly shallow, don't you? Wanting to hide away because my face is damaged."

"I'm a Toreador, childe," Isaac said dryly. "It takes a lot for me to think someone's being shallow. And I do understand. You're in the public eye and a current heartthrob. No one would stop talking about it."

"At least you admit I'm right to worry," Ash said slowly.

"This is your life, Ash. Leave if you want. But think about what you'd be giving up. Is it really worth it? If you want to leave after that then fine but at least then you wouldn't have to hide your face away from the world. Alone forever…that's no way to live," Isaac said seriously. "From the looks of things, those hunters are dead. Don't let their power over you outlive them."

"Why couldn't I have just walked out the front door of my club and seen how many I could take out with me?" Ash asked miserably.

"Come with me. I can help you." Isaac held out a hand.

Ash closed his eyes and reached out to grab it.

It wasn't a happy ending or anything close but those were rare these days, even in Hollywood. Maybe especially in Hollywood. But it was alright; they were kindred. They had time. And a week ago, before this happened, Ash would never have dreamed of accepting his help.

Maybe something good could come from this after all. Frankly the pair of them could use a break.