CHAPTER 3: Nicolas LaCroix.
After only four hours of sleep LaCroix rose from his expensive, silk covered bed to take a long shower. He didn't usually tend to dwell on his past decisions but this last month, it appeared, was the exception. Part of him was certain that this was all a very bad idea; mortals were the prey and further encouraging Nicholas to interact with them was surely setting him up for a fall. If only Nick could earn to control his emotions and not get so easily attached to mortals, then things wouldn't be so bad…but then he wouldn't really be Nick anymore, would he?
LaCroix could hardly talk; he had become attached to a mortal Nicolas de Brabant 800 years ago and seen everything in him he'd wanted in a son. Every minute of training him, of teaching him to kill and to hunt had been a joy; they had been some of the best moments of his life.
The warm water of the shower helped take his mind off the thoughts that continued to nag at him...it was almost like having a conscience. It was most inconvenient...and almost irritatingly human.
A while later, he padded back into his bedroom as he buttoned up a clean black shirt and picked up one of his bottles as he passed a coffee table. LaCroix poured himself a glass and gradually, he heard the quiet, tentative sounds of a piano from the ground floor flittering through the ceiling. It was broken and tuneless at first - evidently Nicholas had forgotten more than he thought possible in only a month.
But after a while the music became more complicated and the tempo increased until it morphed into a slow, mournful tune and then through into Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata', which he knew was one of his son's favourites. Written in 1801, Nicholas had known Beethoven before the man had shown the first signs of his ironic disability, and had known the composer at his best. Even LaCroix couldn't argue that the man's work was impressive.
He remembered his son playing Beethoven's works after he had died, that night, LaCroix and Janette hadn't strayed from Nick's side, and they'd listened to the entirety of the man's piano compositions, perfectly memorised and performed by Nicholas.
LaCroix was relieved that Nick was finally showing signs of movement, after not hearing his son play the piano since he'd brought them to London; he'd forgotten how much he missed it. Nick had been idle for too long. He needed a distraction, he needed to work. If brining his son back meant swallowing his pride and letting Nick play human again, then LaCroix had little choice but to let him.
If he continued to mock his son's love of playing mortal and continued to deny him, then Nick would pull away again and LaCroix wasn't sure if Nicholas would return again. Another lifetime spent following his son in the shadows, being hated, reviled, detested and abhorred was too exasperating to contemplate. Eternity was a long time, but an eternity spent alone was longer still. And besides, the closer he was to Nicholas, the more easily he could protect him.
All fathers were fools when it came to their children, especially their favourite child. LaCroix had heard it said many times that a parent should have no favourites when it came to his children. When he was mortal he'd only had one child…one legitimate child, at any rate, so it hadn't been a problem back then. But among his immortal children he'd only ever kept two of them close by, he'd only ever taught them everything and professed to only be a father to Janette and Nicholas. The others had simply been play things, escapes from boredom, a moment of intrigue magnified by intense hunger; he hadn't given them much thought at all.
Whereas Janette he had followed and observed for weeks, and been attracted by her spirit, her strength and her courage; LaCroix had put long hours of thought into his creation of Janette, and she remained his favourite immortal daughter to the end. Nicholas had been another story though; he had seen the crusader on the same night he had brought him across. He had seen something in the disillusioned warrior that to this day he still couldn't quite put into words…
...Lucien LaCroix had sat with his daughter, Janette in the corner of the crowded banquet hall, both dressed in finery unmatched by any other they'd passed in the night. The room was alive with people laughing, talking and drinking…banquets never changed.
They sat side by side with others from the town to 'celebrate' the return of the victorious crusaders. In truth, the old Roman had simply come to be amused at the expense of the fools who'd been fed the old 'bread and circuses' theory. Rewarded with food and women in return for risking their lives for a 'God' that could promise nothing physical, and punished most likely, if they refused to leave in the first place. The whole thing was quite ridiculous.
Not one crusader he had seen so far had given the impression that the mortals had spoken of; not one possessed a handsome, commanding magnificence, not one looked brave or courageous, and not a one portrayed the gravitas and dignity that his men had once done in the service of the Emperor. These men were not warriors; they were mere boys pretending to live up to the standards of old that he had fought under; they were feeble children being used by those in power, who cowered behind religion to justify an endless, meaningless war.
He turned to Janette to tell her that he'd seen enough fools for one night and that they would leave, but she was not looking at him. Her neck was craned to see over the swarm of people with a look of longing and intense approval in her eyes which he'd rarely seen. LaCroix followed his daughter's enraptured gaze to see a man standing at the room's far archway, he was stood with a tired dignity that he had seen no other crusader display.
The, as yet nameless man, did display a beauty that no other had shown this night, though it was a worn and weathered beauty, it was still there. He didn't smile and laugh with the others, he didn't jump straight into the mass of people and throw his decorum aside to drink and be merry in His name. In fact, he didn't look joyful at all. He took off his cloak and slowly walked around the room taking up a drink as he did so and he was then guided rather familiarly and drunkenly by a considerable number of his fellow crusaders to a messy table piled high with food.
LaCroix continued to watch as the man, whom he had heard more than once now be addressed as Nicolas, said hardly a word as he continued to drink in silence. It seemed as though he cared nothing for his 'friends', he didn't seem to care for their conversation or their merriment.
"Il est très beau," Janette said to him after a while. (He is very handsome.)
"Oui, c'est vrai," he nodded; there was something about this particular man which caught his attention. (Yes, that's true.)
"Il n'est pas comme les autres," she continued. (He is not like the others.)
"Non," he replied.
"Je le veux," Janette told him plainly. (I want him.)
"Then take him," LaCroix replied only half listening, still transfixed by the mortal crusader.
"Non, non, I want him…with us… Vous le sentir aussi. Il ya quelque chose à propos de lui….Il ferait un bon fils ..." she suggested non-too subtly. (You sense it too. There is something about him….He would make a good son...)
LaCroix had been thinking the same for a while now; there was indeed something about this crusader, this Nicolas, which he couldn't describe. Was it merely the smell of his blood? It was true that his blood smelt sweeter than any he'd ever encountered. Was it merely because he had looked for a son for so long and he was getting tired of searching? He didn't think so. He had always been guarded when choosing children that he intended to keep with him, he had put so much effort into Janette, and well over a thousand years into searching for a son, perhaps it was time he settled on his choice.
This crusader had something that drew both his and Janette's attention unintentionally from across a crowded room of people…it was inexplicable that a mere mortal could do this to them…but there it was.
"J'ai pensé la même chose, mon cher," he thought aloud as he steeled his pale fingers and leaned his chin against them. (I've been thinking the same, my dear.)
After a moment of silence he turned back to his daughter with a grin, "Peut-être que notre cher Nicolas préférez votre entreprise enchanteur cette nuit, mon enfant… Vous pouvez nous presenter," he chuckled as he saw grateful realisation on her face.(Perhaps our dear Nicolas would prefer your enchanting company this night, my child…You can introduce us.)
"Merci, LaCroix." (Thank you.)
"Non, mon cher, non, ce n'est pas pour vous," LaCroix said, with utmost seriousness. (No, my dear, no, this is not for you.)
His intention was to gain a son for himself, not to find an immortal lover for her. She, was who was now so accustomed to taking what she desired from men and throwing them away afterwards, would probably grow bored of him after a while anyway. LaCroix, on the other hand, would never grow tired of his son, the son he had searched so long for was finally within his grasp, and he vowed never to let him go…
That had been a vow he still kept to this day. There wasn't a night that went by that LaCroix didn't think about his son, and when Nicholas had finally broken away from him it had been almost more than he could take. It had brought out his anger and vengeance far worse than any war he'd fought in, and it made him see everything in red.
They'd had good times and some not so good times, but throughout the centuries, the one thing he could always be assured of was that his son would be by his side…but he'd forgotten how headstrong children could be. LaCroix was exhausted by the thought of encouraging his son to pursue something that he had tried so hard to discourage...but he was a father. He wanted his son back. So he would let said son do what he wanted, that's what father's did...or so he'd been told.
In a sense it still felt like admitting defeat, and as a General, something like that wasn't easy to ignore. He'd been a marked soldier since birth and even after 2,000 years it was still difficult to ignore the ways of war that had been imprinted in his mind so long ago. But Nicholas was more important than battle strategies…wasn't he?
After a while he descended the stairs and stood in the doorway, watching his son at the piano. He saw that there was an opened bottle of blood resting on top of its flat surface with a half empty wine glass and LaCroix frowned. "That is the only one you've opened so far, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yes," Nick answered and stopped playing the music.
"Good, those are rather expensive, you know, and far too exquisite to waste on further self-destruction. Next time you become hell-bent on perpetual oblivion, do give me a fair warning to stock something less savoury."
"Your concern is touching," Nick scoffed.
"You are more than old enough to know what an excess of alcohol leads to; vampires are not immune to intoxication...wasn't that your motive?"
"What else should I say? Do you expect sympathy? Pity? No," LaCroix shook his head, "I want you to understand that though you are my son you should realise the consequences of your actions."
As Nick listened he got the feeling that LaCroix wasn't merely talking about 'intoxication'. "If humans starve themselves they become weak and vulnerable, it is the same for us, we must eat or we weaken. You abstained and you floundered, your resolve and your strength became weak and you made mistakes," his master continued.
"I know," Nick sighed.
"Understand me, Nicholas, it's not my intention to gloat, I take no pleasure in seeing you like this whatever you might think," LaCroix said more kindly, and walked across to stand beside Nick. He took up the wine glass and drank from it, before placing it back onto the piano and then he walked across it sit in the armchair opposite his son.
Nick turned to face LaCroix as he spoke again a minute later, "Come sundown you should visit the club with me, I found someone I think you'll like," he said with a curious look that Nick knew could mean trouble.
"Who?" he asked warily as he observed his master.
"A beautiful young prize, calling herself Madeline Emmett, she dances at the club, well, she does now at any rate. I'll introduce you if you like, although…she is a very young vampire, but I don't recall you ever having any particular scruples about…"
"LaCroix," Nick sighed loudly and turned back to the piano as he heard his master snigger.
"Do relax a little; you'd do us both a favour," LaCroix grinned as he leaned to sit back in his chair.
"I don't appreciate you trying to play matchmaker," the younger vampire sighed heavily.
"Who said anything about 'matchmaking'; really, it's such a derogatory..."
"LaCroix, just tell me...before we...left...what did you do with...Natalie's..." Nick broke off with a sigh and LaCroix regarded his son with a rare look of pity, which of course Nick didn't see. He was too busy making a deep analysis of the pristine piano keys and trying to keep away the bad memories of what he'd done.
"I buried her, with respect," LaCroix answered slowly, "I convinced the necessary people that she simply moved on, and that you were doing the same, separately of course." he finished and saw his son nod once in acknowledgement.
When Nick said nothing, LaCroix continued, "You may not believe me, but I am sorry for the way things turned out...however...you had to know it wouldn't have ended well. I tried to tell you that continual starvation only leads to destruction...I only want the best for you, and that is not it."
"You want what's best for me? No...You want what you think is best!" Nick hissed.
"It's the same thing. I am far older than you; don't you think I've seen this before? I'm no stranger to starvation and what it leads to for our kind. You want to lead a mortal life, you want to work and live with them, fine, do so, but in exchange I expect you not to repeat the same mistake," LaCroix replied calmly.
"You mean you want me to stop looking for a cure?"
"Of course I do, I always have, but you know me well enough - I hope - to know that what I want has always been much simpler than that."
"Companionship," Nick whispered to himself.
"Indeed," he nodded.
"Why do this? Why let me have a mortal career when you so despise the idea?" Nick again turned around to face his father hoping for an honest answer.
"Isn't that what you want? Freedom...and all that?" LaCroix asked with a weak grin.
"That's never mattered to you before," Nick countered with old venom.
"No," the old General shook his head, suddenly he felt the same, almost sickening feeling of defeat threaten to drown him. But he had to remind himself that this was not a war. Nicholas was his son, not his enemy, he wanted his son by his side and his son needed his help...in return he would offer Nick the freedom he so coveted. It was a compromise such as a Roman General would be almost ashamed of, but as a father it was far more difficult to commit to.
For a parent, changing ones attitudes was far more difficult than it was for a child. Nicholas would never know just how difficult. "Quid pro quo, Nicholas," he said, "One thing for another."
"So...You want me to stay here, with you, in return for...'freedom'? Or what…what if I leave again?"
"Or...nothing, I suppose, after all, what else is there for either of us?" LaCroix asked rhetorically, "Who else is there really, Nicholas? You are my son, I am your father; we always find each other in the end."
Nick sighed as he listened to LaCroix's words, and he hated to admit it but there was some truth in the old vampire was saying. He had no one else left really, no one who had such an influential part in his life as LaCroix had. And no one else he trusted as much, if he was honest. After spending so long running from LaCroix it was strange to once again admit to having so much trust in his father, but a lot had changed in the last few years, more so than even in the last century combined, so Nick supposed it wasn't like it had been in the early years of the century. LaCroix hadn't tricked him or used him…recently.
He watched as LaCroix stood and opened a drawer, then turned back to him, "Here," he said and tossed a rather full envelope at Nick. Once he opened it he found that it contained the usual necessities for starting a new life; a passport, a driver's licence, bank details, national insurance information and so on…all from which he read that he was, of course no longer Nick Knight, he was Nicolas LaCroix.
"Nicolas LaCroix," Nick read aloud.
"Rather uninspired, I know," LaCroix replied simply.
"And not at all subtle."
"I was never taught to be subtle."
"Why is that not surprising?" Nick asked sarcastically.
"They do say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit," LaCroix replied.
"But it is the highest form of intelligence," Nick retorted."…Oscar Wilde," he added in recognition.
"Correct," the older vampire nodded with a smile, once more reminding Nick that all of the time he'd spent with LaCroix had not all been bad.
"Why didn't you…do what I asked, I mean?" Nick finally asked. It had been nagging at him for days now; he needed to know why he was still alive. He watched as LaCroix blinked away for a fraction of a second, and then as his master met his gaze again. But he didn't speak; he looked as though he would, but then LaCroix changed his mind, he couldn't answer. So instead, he turned away, taking the wine glass with him as he leaned against the fireplace, staring into the flames.
"…About this girl, Nicholas," LaCroix said, ignoring Nick's subsequent sigh, "I don't believe she has many expectations but I'm sure she would appreciate it if you cleaned yourself up little."
"I don't know that first thing about her…and that's beside the point, I just asked you…"
"She's a vampire, she dances, she's young and she's rather beautiful, what else is there?" LaCroix replied, "That's rather enough to be going on with...and besides, it's rather more than what you've known before about many women in the past and that's never stopped you...or me for that matter," he continued, "Now, it's almost sunset, " LaCroix walked from the room, halting in the doorway for a second, "When I go to leave I expect you to join me."
"That was not a request," LaCroix said with finality and left the room.
Nick sighed once more as he turned his attention back to the piano and started up a slow, mournful tune. It was when LaCroix spoke to him like that he was reminded of slaves he'd seen ordered around by their masters. It was a constant battle between whether LaCroix saw him as a slave or a son; a parent didn't treat a son like a slave…it was all very confusing…and tiring.
But it wasn't like he had anything left to lose, so Nick stood, taking the bottle with him he ascended the stairs. Perhaps this 'beautiful prize' Madeline, would help take his mind off things...and help to keep LaCroix off his back.
A.N. I apologise if you got bored of all the French but I did give you the translations and I wanted to write it in French to keep it atmospheric, so there you go.