Vampires are nothing if not adaptable. It's a survival skill; as crucial as fangs. Either you learn early on to blend in, to fold seamlessly into the mise-en-scene, to successfully "pass" as mortal, or angry mobs armed with torches and wooden stakes are likely to figure prominently in your sure-to-be-short-lived future. Conrad Quintano knew this as well as anyone could. Over a thousand years as one of the blood-drinking undead had taught him that nothing was so constant as change.
Still, some changes were indisputably harder to adapt to than others...
"I'm leaving now." The slight hint of a tremor in Damian's voice did nothing to soften the defiance implicit in his words.
Sprawled in his favorite armchair, Conrad opened his eyes long enough to cast a single glance in his direction. "So I see."
His chin tilted proudly, Damian hovered in the doorway of Conrad's study. He was dressed in somber black, his ankle-length traveling coat draped lightly atop his shoulders in deference to his injuries. In his hand he clutched a small, leather valise.
Conrad stared in consternation at the bag. He's been packing for the past several hours. Is that single bag all he has to show for it? Conrad could only assume the rest had been stored in the attic, or boxed up so that they might be forwarded to him later. Not that any of it mattered--he could take the whole household away with him, for all Conrad cared. He closed his eyes again, blocking out the sight of his lover's face, still stained and streaked with tears. "I thought you'd already gone." He'd certainly delayed his departure long enough. The night was almost behind them.
"Get out," Conrad replied wearily. What was the point of any more conversation? The time for it had passed. If Damian did not leave now, he'd be traveling during the day. He'd be risking sunlight, exposure, discovery, death. I swear he does these things on purpose--just to add to the grief he causes me. It was not the first time he'd had such a thought. "I should have left you where I found you." If he had, then maybe now, almost four hundred years later, he'd be over the worst of his loss. Instead, it had only just begun.
"You've killed it, you know." Damian's voice throbbed with sudden passion. "Everything. All the love I've ever felt for you... I didn't think it possible, but now...I swear to you, Conrad, I shall hate you forever. I shall die with your name on my lips, cursing the day we met."
"Enough!" Conrad thundered, half rising from his chair and glaring furiously at him, the man whose love he'd cherished, whose life he'd blighted, whose flesh he'd ravaged in an unthinking rage. "Will you be quiet? Get out of here. Now!" How much more of this does he think I can take? How much more damage might I do to him if he stays?
When Damian still hesitated Conrad shifted his gaze, deliberately allowing it to settle on Damian's injured shoulder. He lifted his lips in a sneer that exposed the tips of his unsheathed fangs and snarled, "Or have you not yet learned your lesson? Shall I school you again?"
Damian's face blanched. Without another word, he turned away. The swiftness of the motion caused the skirts of his coat to swirl out around him in a manner that would have sent entire generations of vampire-loving romantics into a swoon, had they but been there to see it. Unfortunately, the effect was largely wasted on Conrad who was not the swooning type and felt only a grudging appreciation for the dramatic beauty of his lover's exit.
And then he was gone. The beauty snuffed out like a candle. The pleasure Conrad had always taken in it destroyed. The slamming of the heavy front door half a minute later bore witness to his departure. Conrad winced at the sound, forcing himself to stay in his chair despite the sudden panic that hammered at his senses. Like a dying swan it beat at his soul, insisting that it was not too late. There was still time to catch him, still time to reclaim what was lost, what was his...what was gone.
No. Never. Hurry! Go after him. Now! Beg his forgiveness, if you must. You've every right to him. You've every reason to command his return--do so!
Conrad held his ground. "For what purpose shall I bring him back? That I might kill him the next time he angers me?" That would only result in even greater anguish.
Dark silence settled around him and was all too soon dispelled by the bright, insistent sound of birdsong, by the slow, inexorable march of daylight across his wall. It was only then Conrad realized that, for almost the first time in over one hundred years, the shades had not been drawn across his chamber windows in advance of the dawn. Light continued to spill in through the unguarded glass until he was finally forced to bestir himself.
Given the great disturbance of the night before, it was hardly surprising that no servant had dared to enter his rooms this morning. Those who hadn't deserted him entirely were likely cowering in their beds praying that, for once, the myths might prove true, that the coming dawn might turn him to ash.
We really must give some thought to the idea of hiring a new staff, he decided as he reached for the velvet drapes. One made up of sturdier souls this time around. He'd have to make sure that part was clearly understood. He'd have to remember to tell Damian...
But no, he was forgetting himself. There was no "we" any longer and, in the future, he would not be telling Damian anything.
As he dragged the curtains roughly along their rods, he spared a single thought to the question of where Damian might have gone to find shelter this quickly, or if he'd found shelter at all yet. Perhaps he hadn't. Perhaps...
He pushed that thought away, as well. It would not do for him to be thinking in this fashion. He could not bear it if he had to face each and every dawn of the next five or ten centuries wondering about things that were now beyond his control.
For that matter, to hell with the servants also. He'd close up the house and let them all go. He'd travel abroad. Perhaps he'd tour the continent for a season or two, or maybe he'd go out west. He'd heard it said, recently, that there was money to be made in California, and it was past time he began his life anew in any case.
Vampires were nothing if not adaptable. Had he not said so himself, time and again? So be it, then. He was Vampire. He would adapt. He would embrace this change, as he had so many others, for everything did change, eventually, did it not?
I shall hate you forever...
Well, almost everything.
As Damian's parting words echoed in his mind, Conrad's vision blurred. He had to blink several times to restore his sight. Only time would tell if they would be proven true, but Conrad did not doubt he meant them now--and why should he not?
What Conrad had done was unforgivable. True, he'd been goaded beyond reason by Damian's decision to take up with another Lamia Invitus--a vampire who, like Conrad himself, had undergone the brutal turning intended to make them beasts and leave them broken--but did that excuse Conrad's actions? Had he not just proved himself no better than any other of his vile kind?
Conrad pulled the final curtain closed and turned away from the windows. "Via con Dios, mi amor," he whispered. "Wherever you are. And wherever you go I pray your God will protect you as I could not. But I, too, can swear upon forever. And I swear to you now that however great the time or distance you put between us, it will never matter. For I shall love you always, just the same."