A/N: several previous chapters have once again been edited. Please be aware that re-writes are still ongoing and though I have not made any changes that alter the plot, improvements in quality are constantly being made.
Canmore shoved through the ancient doors of the council chamber, and was greeted with outcry from the Council of Faiths and the many scribes and attendants that filled the oval chamber. Its high domed ceiling, imposing arched columns and impressive, several-tiered dais upon which sat the council themselves, were made of antiquated gray marble. On that dais sat equally antiquated men in the garb of clergy, the red of cardinals, the orange of Buddhist monks, the black robes of mullahs and other heads of faith. This was the Order's seat of power, where its leaders presided. A heavily armored guard stepped in front of Canmore, but the Scotsman pushed him back like so much dead weight.
"Just a moment of your time, Yuir Reverences," he said.
"What is the meaning of this, Canmore!" demanded Kareem Imam. The head of the order sat in a high backed chair in the center of the dais.
"I trust you have an explanation," said a monk who sat on a lower level.
"I do, and I'll be brief, so as not to waste Yuir Reverences' precious time. I require a report from your main library."
"Then you should speak to processing," dismissed Kareem, "Miss Delliceneri…"
"…Has denied me access. Now if one of you holy sirs could remind her that this Order has depended on my family for centuries, and what they owe us for the Canmore blood shed in the fight against evil, I'm sure she would be happy to hand the damned thing over."
Another robed figure stood, and Canmore saw that it was the Cardinal Jinnette. "I am sure that Miss Delliceneri has a very good reason for withholding those files."
"Good," Canmore said, "Then I'll just go back to my home in Scotland and wait for you all to sort out the lass's reasoning."
"We can't afford to lose another hunter," a Buddhist monk whispered to Kareem. The Imam knew that he was right. Too many hunters had been killed since the attack on the Vatican City. They could not afford to have Canmore walk out on them. Canmore knew it too.
"We shall see what we can do. Meanwhile, the Council requests that you remain in the city and continue your search for the Frankenstein abomination. This failure is most unlike you," said Kareem, "Perhaps you have spent so much time shattering statues that you've lost your edge."
Canmore's scowl revealed gritted teeth and blood fled his hands, so tight were his fists clenched. "He won't get far, the creature was half dead when he escaped."
"And yet it managed to elude you," Kareem raised an eyebrow, the closest the Imam ever came to a smile.
"It had help,"
"Yes, this mysterious horseman—the ghost that took out seven men, all without being seen. This would disturb us more if we had proof beyond the world of skittish peasants. But as of this moment, we have seen none.
"No more excuses, Hunter. Find the abomination. Find the Frankenstein monster, and kill it."
… … …
The room was like a cell, Frankenstein thought. There was no sign of a door, no light shining from beneath a frame, and Frankenstein wondered for a moment if had been walled in. The thought should have brought on panic, but Frankenstein found that he no longer cared.
The cell was lit by a dim lantern that flickered without warmth on a nightstand to his right. Upon the wall hung an old quilt. The bed was plain, metal, nondescript, but it was a bed none the less. Frankenstein lay on his side and thought that it was as good a place as any to die.
No more running, no more pain; death had its dark appeal. He would see his father again, though that knowledge brought him shame. Frankenstein was a living testament to his father's work. Surrendering to death would mean the end of Victor Frankenstein's legacy, that he had failed his creator and the memory of his work. But he was so tired of fighting, sick of running from those who denied his very right to live. And he was tired of being alone.
There will be no one to mourn me,—he ran his fingers over the necklace in his hand— least of all her. I'm leaving no one behind.
Stella studied him carefully as the passage door opened. His eyes were closed, his muscles tense; and he gritted his teeth painfully. His entire body was broken and torn, but to her amazement, not a sound escaped him. Stella's hands shook as she set a bowl of cool water on the nightstand. He needed to be tended, she told herself, and she would be damned if after last night's ordeal, he died of an infection or fever. It was a job, that was all, and she would not let cowardice keep her from it.
He would not meet her gaze, and that was fine. The memory of his haunted brown eyes was enough. Nightmares were common for even administrative members of the Order; but the memory of those eyes and his screams of pain had filled both her waking and sleeping until she had no choice but to face him. Now, though, he was mercifully silent. Merciful for whom? Stella thought suddenly. She was not the one who had been tortured, not the one whose was suffering. Were he human, she knew Frankenstein would be dead. But he could not die from his wounds, could not find release. And so he endured it as he did the rest of his existence, steeling himself and bearing every wound, every moment of isolation; with gritted teeth and silence. And Stella was relieved that he was keeping quiet.
She was angry with herself. Had Van Helsing allowed her to hide behind her own cowardice, Frankenstein might have died of his wounds last night. She would have turned him out like a cur to the streets. No creature, however unholy should have to suffer this way,
"I'm going to check your fever," she said, resigned to do what she could for him. She reached out to touch his forehead but he flinched, as if expecting her to strike him. "I will not hurt you," He did not answer so she continued. His brow was hot, but coated with the icy sweat of fever, but it was no different than that of any other man. Had she expected slime; or that the very ungodliness of his creation would burn her flesh like acid?
Frankenstein, for his part, feared her touch as much as she his.
She needed to bring his temperature down. She dipped her handkerchief in the bowl of water she'd brought, and making a compress, placed it on his brow. Again, he flinched as her hand came close.
"Who are you?" he asked abruptly, breaking the heavy silence of the room and startling her.
"My name is Stella, I've been asked to take care of you. Is there anything you need?"
"Am I going to die?"
"I don't know," she said truthfully.
"Then would you stay with me?"
He hesitated. "You asked if I," he faltered, "I do not want to die alone."
With new courage, Stella took his hand in hers, intertwining her slender fingers with his massive, gnarled ones, coarse and chapped from a life spent in the wilderness. He did not flinch this time, but the gesture caught him off guard. Her touch was warm, her hands soft. He shivered involuntarily; and the small movement sent searing pain thought his body.
He gasped and his bruised ribs contracted. Ragged breaths brought new pain and he reached for his chest, stretching muscles that the bullets had torn.
"Lie still," Stella urged him. Instinctively, her hand went to his shoulder and she made soothing sounds. Frankenstein fought to master the pain. He gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut.
"Thank you," Frankenstein managed, wincing.
"Don't speak if it hurts," she said, and placed her hand in his once more and he held it like a drowning man. "You're safe here. This passage is well hidden, and the walls are thick. No one can here anything from the outside; the bookshelves insulate things.
"You're beneath my library—the Order's library. No one knows you're here, except Van Helsing and Carl. I'm the librarian here."
"You know much of medicine for a librarian."
"I was training to become a nun before I came to Rome. They taught us some medicine. I'm no physician, but I'll do what I can for you."
"Did they teach you the last rites to read to a dying man?"
"Are you dying?"
"No, wishful thinking perhaps," Stella realized that he was not joking, "I think I would like to have Carl read over me when I die," in his delirium, he seemed to take comfort in the thought. Stella did not have the heart to say that the Church would never allow it, that he would certainly be forbidden the last rights and a Christian burial. His body would be incinerated, destroying all evidence of his existence.
"When the time comes," she said instead, "I'm sure Carl will. But you are strong. I've read the reports about you…" it was an uncomfortable thing to admit, an invasion of privacy, "we have a file on you in our archives,'
"I survived Dracula," he reassured himself, as if the name summed up the entirety of the experience. Stella had read enough about the Vampire lord to understand.
"I will stay with you," she said . There was a blanket at the foot of the bed and she drew it up around him and though his eyes never left her hands, he did not flinch. She wondered why he was so suspicious of her touch, but remembering the terrible wounds she treated last night, realized that he had every reason to fear human hands.
The room seemed suddenly far too dark, and Stella increased the flame of the lantern. The new light illuminated the toys scattered across the floor. Stella bent down and picked up a rag doll.
"This is a child's room," Frankenstein realized, he studied the doll in Stella's hand. "Your daughter's?"
"No, I'm unmarried. I look after her for Van Helsing."
"I never knew he had a child,"
Stella told him of Bella's clan and how Van Helsing had rescued her after its destruction.
"I look after her when he's on assignment. This is where we hide her during the day."
"Where is she now?"
"With Van Helsing. But I expect you'll meet her soon enough." Stella picked up a second doll, this one made in the likeness of a Gargoyle, including wings and tail. She set the two dollies on the nightstand. Frankenstein reached for them, but jagged knives of pain twisted in his chest.
"I can give you something for the pain," she offered. "And some food if you can stomach it."
"I don't want to be a burden," he said, a man clinging to some scrap of dignity. "I have nothing with which to repay you," He could not bring himself to trade the necklace. "There's no need. It's part of my calling as a member of the Order,"
Frankenstein chuckled darkly, a mournful laugh that turned into a fit of coughing. Stella tried to sooth him and it took several moments before he could speak again. "Your superiors would not think so. I sought help from them once, and they ordered my death."
She knew he was right. "Let me get you something for the pain," and she left for the kitchen. She returned with a steaming cup of something foul-smelling. He reached out to take it, but his hand shook. Stella helped him drink it and he choked on the first sip.
"It tastes like poison!"
"All good medicine does," she said, then realized that he was genuinely suspicious of the cup's contents. "It's just an infusion of herbs, and brandy. It'll ease the pain and help you sleep." He allowed her to help him finish the rest of the cup, then she poured him a glass of water. It was clean and cold, for him a luxury.
Slowly, Frankenstein relaxed. He closed his eyes, and his breathing became deep and regular.
Stella was shaken by the casual way he spoke of death. Its constant presence was a fact of his existence. Asking for the last rights was not uncommon for a man in such pain, she told herself. But for a creature forged of death under the direction of the Son of the Devil to ask for the same…Stella found it harder and harder to believe that such a man was evil. Perhaps she was coming to understand why Van Helsing fought so strongly to protect him. Because he and I aren't so different, she recalled the monster hunter's words. Stella felt that she was beginning to understand what he meant.