“Appearances usually are deceiving.”
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
GM: Savoy, Preston, and Camille spend a little while filling in Em on the basics of his condition and the city’s politics. Prince Vidal bears little love indeed for the Snake Clan, and will likely order Em’s execution if he or his agents discover the fledgling’s true lineage.
“Most of us claim to be Toreador or Caitiff when we leave the Quarter, or do so in stealth,” explains Camille.
Em is technically an illegal Embrace too, but against the fact of his lineage, it’s largely moot. The prince will seek his destruction for that fact alone, should he ever learn.
He also learns what night it is (they don’t say day), as well as the fact that it has been multiple nights since he first arrived at the Evergreen. Rosa Bale was able to tell them around when to expect Em back—“in some form of other,” Savoy remarks amusedly.
Emmett: So time… passed differently where he was?
Whatever. He’s a vampire now.
His mind is still swimming with the new names and minutiae from the other three. “But won’t I be expected to have a legitimate sire to claim as my own if I ever want to appear in… Elysium, you called it?”
GM: “Lie,” says Camille. “Sami says you’re rather good at that. Claim to have been Embraced somewhere else.”
“Mr. Delacroix could also claim an established Kindred as his sire, which carries its own drawbacks and advantages,” states Preston.
Emmett: “Ah. Well enough, then. Being an immigrant seems simpler, as far as that goes.”
Em continues to be an attentive listener, particularly interested in the finer points of etiquette related to ghouls and human pawns.
He has a couple of ideas there. He asks Camille point-blank about her relation to Mouton, who he has designs on himself. He does not wish to ruin the cop’s usefulness to his sire, but would be interested in holding his leash, or purchasing him from whoever currently does.
GM: “Mouton is a considerable asset to myself and Lord Savoy,” says Camille. “Establish yourself somewhere and I’ll consider selling him.”
Emmett: “I have thoughts on that. Does Ron Landrenau belong to anybody?”
GM: “He’s a man in demand,” chuckles Savoy. “He’s one of mine, though I haven’t blooded him. Camille says something about you having an interest in movies, Mr. Delacroix?”
Emmett: “Indeed. I also have an interest in him specifically. To be frank, I am deeply interested in maintaining a relationship with my uncle beyond but including using him to realize creative projects. Lord Savoy, rather than attempting to purchase him from you, I would rather like to oversee his work on your behalf, and perhaps act as a sort of…creative consultant, overseeing projects that further your interests politically while bringing an understanding of the specifics of film to his oversight. Please, don’t spare my feelings; do you see value in such an arrangement? I would never want to involve myself with your pawn without benefiting you in the bargain. The same, of course, goes for Mouton.”
GM: “See? This one’s already wheeling and dealing,” Savoy grins towards Camille. “You could’ve found someone much worse for your second Embrace!”
Emmett: Em acknowledges the point with a smile.
GM: He turns back to Em. “Movies are mostly incidental to my interests, Mr. Delacroix. I think there’s value in your proposition. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t blooded your uncle.”
Emmett: “Well, that’s encouraging. I would try to make the most of his cultural influence, which I know to be considerable. It sounds like youth is a bit of a millstone on this side of the grave, but I think this is an area where my relative proximity to breathing days and my growing understanding of the Kindred world creates opportunities others might not be able to parse. Vampire media exists, despite the Masquerade you’ve described. I’m sure there’s risks playing with such material, but perhaps rewards as well—do Kindred not wish to see something of themselves on the screen, and attach meaning to stories that capture their hearts? And if course there are subtler games to play with entertainment, towards whatever other goals you might have that benefit from popular consumption of this or that idea. Stories do make us who we are, after all.”
GM: “Indeed they do, Mr. Delacroix. There’s a lot of power in stories, among the dead and living alike. We think they affect us less, because there’s no mass market for Kindred-exclusive books and films, but we’re wrong. We still tell stories.”
“And those Kindred-exclusive films that do exist… well, I’ll just say you need to see them to believe them,” the French Quarter lord winks.
“I remember when Dracula was published. You wouldn’t have believed the panic. Many kine had stopped thinking about vampires by then. We swore that book would shatter the Masquerade. And it did—but it reforged it, too, into something better and stronger. Successful vampire films can repeat that book’s feat, by telling the stories we want to tell. Films can make the kine view us more sympathetically and spread disinformation about our strengths and weaknesses.”
“All before the artistic value inherent to them.” Savoy chuckles. “That timeless advice to write what you know. Or film what you know.”
Emmett: “I was going to ask about Dracula,” Em admits. “But I believe you about all of it, especially the Kindred-exclusive movies. I’d be interested in seeing that kind of thing. You can learn a lot about people if you know the stories they know.”
GM: “One surely can. I’ll see what can be arranged as far as those movies. And I’ll offer you some further advice when it comes to kine besides your uncle, Mr. Delacroix.”
“The best pawns are the ones who owe what they are to you. I’ve seen my share of young Kindred who approached established and successful kine, turned them into ghouls, and relied on the Blood alone to secure their loyalty. Love and addiction tug at one half of them, but resentment and ingratitude pull at their other half. They ultimately don’t need their domitors, but their domitors need them. That isn’t a position you want to be in.”
“But, when you approach someone who doesn’t have what they want, as the smiling devil in a sharp suit, offering the opportunity of a lifetime… that’s another matter. That cultivates lasting loyalty and dependence, if you set up a gangster as head of his gang, help a first-time politician get elected, or take a chance producing a young director’s experimental film. Make someone who they are, and they’ll owe you what they are. They won’t soon forget.”
“It takes a little more time and trouble to arrange. But the dividends pay that back and then some.”
Emmett: “Sage advice, my lord,” Em says unironically. “I couldn’t have picked a better place to be reborn.”
GM: When the question of thanking Savoy for his hospitality and continuing to operate in the French Quarter arises, the Toreador chuckles.
“The more operators we have in the Quarter, the better, Mr. Delacroix. What questions do you have for me?”
Emmett: “The Quarter is prime real estate,” Em says directly, “even if I’m a quiet tenant. I’d like to know whose toes to avoid stepping on and how to walk around them. And, by the same token, where I can find friends to run with. I imagine this life is lonely without them, just like the one before.”
Well, before he got executed, anyways.
GM: Savoy chuckles again. “The other students will always give you better advice where to make friends than the principal, Mr. Delacroix. You might start by asking your sister-in-blood that.”
“Your sire will also steer you straight, as far as toes to avoid. You’ll have her and the rest of your clan backing you up. There are a lot more of them than just her.” Savoy offers a knowing wink, then drums his fingers. “But as some immediate advice, many of the border and poorer areas of the Quarter—Rampart and Canal Street, mainly—are pretty crowded. Full of… how might you describe them, Nat?”
“Weak-blooded vagabonds, riffraff, outcasts, clanless, and scum other cities didn’t want,” notes Preston.
“That’s one way,” grins Savoy. “They’ve been pushed around a lot. They aren’t too dangerous by themselves, but in large numbers they can be. They’re popularly known as Quarter rats.”
Emmett: “I’ve seen some of that crowd,” Em agrees amiably. “I know what you mean.”
He steers the conversation towards Abélia next. “I confess there’s still a lot of things I’m unsure of about her nature. If I’m right about her reasons for sending me here, she probably wants a contact in your camp. I might be better positioned towards how to navigate her if I knew more about her; and of course, that would go a long way if you wish to use me as an intermediary with her.”
GM: Em hears a voice echo in his head as he starts to broach the topic, but before he can say her name.
:: If you’ll oblige me, Mr. Delacroix, let’s speak of her more privately. ::
The French Quarter lord’s lips, though, continue to mouth other words.
“1020 Esplanade and the surrounding area is where the Giovannini make their domain. Watch your step around them, too, but they can be valuable allies to enterprising Kindred.”
:: I’m to understand she facilitated your Embrace as payment for services rendered, though using you as a contact may well have occurred to her—and also has to me! You’ve certainly dealt with her more intimately than any other intermediary I might send. There aren’t many Kindred who’ve entered her lair and emerged to tell of it. ::
Emmett: The thrill of the sudden telepathic subterfuge would set the stolen body’s pulse racing if it still had one, but as is Em feels every muscle (does this guy have more muscle than him? that’s a nice change) in his new cadaver twinge with rigor mortis at the shock. His response is stumbling, but electric
:: You’re in my head this is new sorry let me orient. Ahem. Yes, in the interest of utter honesty I’ve seen an awful lot of her and what she can do but still don’t know what she is, and knowledge that lets me respect her better is very precious to me right now, as, to be blunt, I’m sure direct experience with her is valuable to you. Lord Savoy. Sorry, it’s harder to be polite in your own head. ::
A mental pause. He can’t help himself with the honesty. It’s like talking to somebody when you’re naked. Pretense goes out the window.
:: You’re very dashing, by the way. Since you’re listening in. And I don’t use the word dashing often. I don’t even think the word dashing often. ::
“I’ll keep that in mind, too,” he replies a moment later to the spoken comment.
“Thank you, Lord Savoy.”
GM: There’s a mental chuckle as Savoy continues to talk about various spots in the Quarter.
The voice in Em’s head is more controlled. He ‘sounds’ like he’s done this before.
:: Practice makes perfect, Mr. Delacroix. It can help to visualize the words when you’re new. Like you’re writing a letter. ::
:: As to Madam Devillers, she is a predator, much like us. Perhaps you know something of her diet already? I think she only prefers the taste of incorporeal flesh, though. Anything with a soul can sate her hunger. ::
Emmett: :: And… her daughters? ::
Unbidden, Cécilia’s face swims to the front of his mind. Perhaps Savoy can see it, or feel the sudden longing to stand before her that consumes the fledgling.
:: What is their nature? ::
GM: Another mental chuckle.
:: They seem human in all the ways that count, though appearances usually are deceiving. I doubt they’re wholly so with parentage like theirs. I confess to having had more dealings with their mother. ::
:: You want her, don’t you, Mr. Delacroix? That can be achieved. ::
:: What is success without a beautiful woman to share it with? ::
Emmett: :: I don’t know what I want. Except… to know. If she’s a monster, too. ::
He manages to articulate a mental cough. :: Sorry. Bit maudlin, that. ::
GM: :: Perhaps you know the answer already. What makes a monster? A frightening appearance? Preternatural powers? A diet like ours? How one treats others? ::
Emmett: :: I suppose in her case, I’d say it’s what she’s willing to tolerate from those she loves. But I don’t know if that’s some kind of inhuman indifference—or real forgiveness. Real grace. ::
GM: :: That second quality is precious, isn’t it? I’m afraid I can’t answer you there, but perhaps you might ask her yourself. We can find reasons to send you to her mother’s on my behalf, I’m sure. ::
:: If I may also advise—a whiter face may make her easier to pursue, should you choose to. Even if she sees past skin, many of her friends and acquaintances likely don’t. ::
Emmett: :: Then I guess I should talk to your Dr. Dicentra about that, at least. ::
GM: :: It’ll be well within her talents, I’m certain. The color of one’s skin is a small thing to us. ::
:: White or black, you’ll find it all tastes the same. ::
Emmett: :: I’m new to vampirism, but not to predation. I was a bad man. A wicked ghost, too. I understand the value of secrets. So I understand if this one isn’t yours to give, or if it costs me more. Is there a word for the kind of predator Abélia is? ::
GM: :: The answer to that is both, Mr. Delacroix. It’s a costly secret, and not mine to share. ::
Emmett: He inclines his head, seemingly at some recommendation flowing from the vampiric lord’s lips. Neat bit of multitasking, that.
GM: :: Understand that most of our kind aren’t aware she exists, so I’d be cautious whom you share that secret with. We’re exploitative beings by nature and she doesn’t desire much company outside of her daughters. Kindred who disturb or seek to investigate her rarely survive to regret their mistake. ::
:: I’m impressed you’ve made it as far as you have with her. ::
Emmett: :: I’m lucky. It’s my best feature. Especially now. ::
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
GM: Em and his sire depart the Evergreen’s rooftop garden after Preston says Dr. Dicentra has been contacted. Camille spends further time explaining the basics of Kindred existence to him in a Louis XIV-style sitting room.
They’ve been in conversation for perhaps an hour when the night doctor arrives.
Celia: They look as if they’ve taken care to hide their identity. Red has long been the Kindred color of choice, but the night doctor has taken the night for their own in their garb: black on black on black. Black combat boots with a chunky heel laced to mid-shin, black leather pants that cling to every curve, a black shirt that shows off an ample chest and well-muscled arms, and black gloves with black nails that longer than any lick’s should be. They look sharp, those nails. Even her hair is black, and the eyes that peer out from truly ebon skin obscured by some sort of glamour are black as well.
The form is feminine enough to call it “her,” though perhaps that is yet another way to mask their true identity.
The night doctor halts in the room’s doorway.
“My services have been requested,” she says without preamble.
Emmett: “Which services were those again,” Em mutters, looking her over. “You’ve made me forget everything except how to ask for you name.”
Celia: The black-clad doctor might smile, but it’s hard to tell beneath the mask. She steps into the room.
“Your appearance. You wish it altered, I have been told.”
Emmett: “I think so,” Em says, “But I’m on the fence about what I need it altered to. You might be able to help me decide.”
“This face isn’t really mine to begin with, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure if I should ask for a new one altogether, or try to make do with my old self.”
GM: “What advantages do your old face and a new face have?” Camille poses.
Emmett: “My old face is dead, at least to those who know me. If I show it to them, they’ll recognize me, which breaks the Masquerade. But I am easily disguised, and it might be useful to reveal my identity to certain people. For, ah, dramatic flourishes, if nothing else.”
“But a new face is a chance to start over, and this is a new beginning. Not many people ever get that chance, and besides, there’s a lot of baggage in that old face. A lot of hate, too. Maybe it’s better to wear a new one.”
Em considers the night doctor. “Whoever you are, you’ve done this before. What do you think?”
Celia: “Many Kindred seek my services for different reasons,” she answers. “They want to be stronger, bigger, more imposing. They want to erase old scars from their bodies. They tire of the nightly shave and a haircut routine.”
The doctor studies Emmett.
“If your former face is known to be dead, let it stay dead. Do not break the Masquerade. There are other ways to prove your identity than a face should you desire to seek out old acquaintances. But appearances are everything. A charming smile will get you far when you pair it with quick wit and a silver tongue.”
The doctor nods toward Camille, though she continues to speak to Emmett.
“Kindred and kine alike remember the eyes. Should you seek a face easily disguised, something plainer will do. Then you can become your own canvas. Alternatively, I can create an ideal version of the old you with enough changes that no one who was not intimately familiar with your face will recognize.”
“If you are still undecided… I am a sculptor. Sometimes the flesh speaks to me and tells me what it wants to be.”
Emmett: “Sculpt,” Em says. “I will talk with you as you do. Maybe I’ll look more like myself than I did before.
But… you said the eyes have something of the soul. If you saw a picture of me, could you give me my old eyes back?”
Celia: “Yes. I could. I will warn, however, that eye modifications are among the most painful bodily altercations I can perform.”
Emmett: Em smiles faintly.
“Well. Maybe you can give me a treat if I don’t cry, afterwards.”
He looks at Camille. “Do you happen to have an image of my old face in your phone, or something?”
GM: His sire only gives that question a thin smile.
Emmett: “Fine,” Em says. “I’ll get it.”
He holds out his hand. He does it without thinking about it, flexing that part of him that still hasn’t processed that he’s no longer a being of spirit rather than flesh.
A pair of eyes float inches above his palm, staring into the night doctor’s. They’re dark as a dark night and full of cruel mirth — but for all their cruelty, most people would kill to get the joke.
They’re Emmett Delacroix’s eyes, he realizes. The dream of his eyes, gathered and held for the good doctor to see. By the time the conjured gaze dissolves, he expects it’s left an impression.
GM: “Well done,” Camille purrs. “Veiling can also be used to resume your old face, should the need arise.”
“Or should I say, the rest of your old face.”
Celia: It’s difficult to tell whether the display leaves an impression on the doctor or not. The black mask gives nothing away.
“I can see,” she says mildly, “why you’d like them back.”
“Consider it done.”
Emmett: “Then let’s get started. Where do you want me?”
“Um. Also. Do I need to be naked for this?”
Celia: “Not yet.” A flash of fangs accompanies her amused tone.
Dicentra looks to Camille.
“I do not allow others to observe my process. I will take him to the Red Room and send for you when we are done.”
Emmett: Red Room. Sounds, dare he think it, erotic?
What else would red signify?
GM: “Of course, doctor,” answers Camille as she rises from her seat. A smile plays across her caramel features as she brushes past the masked Kindred. One of her hands strokes the night doctor’s breasts as lightly and idly as a serpent’s flicking tongue.
“What luscious thoughts swim underneath the mask, I wonder…” she murmurs into Dicentra’s ear, “that one with the power to alter flesh would wear so luscious a form, even disguised… I bet you’d be a lot of fun, with it off.”
She winks knowingly, then turns slightly to address Em as well.
“Sami will swing by in an hour or so. Think of a new name to go with your new face. It can be real-sounding, or something poetic like Harlequin or Sundown.”
Celia: The doctor looks as if she might follow in Camille’s wake at that touch; she reaches out, snagging the snake’s wrist in her hand before she can go too far.
“Perhaps,” the voice from beneath the mask purrs, “one night I shall seek you out and grant your wish to see beneath the leather.”
Dicentra only turns to Em once his sire has taken her leave and beckons for him to follow her. She leads him through the halls of the Evergreen with casual certainty, obviously familiar with the layout of the club. She makes no idle chatter as she walks, though the vibe that he gets from her is less “foreboding” than it is “contemplative.”
Eventually they reach the Red Room. She takes him inside and closes the door behind her, ensuring their privacy with the click of a lock. Looking around, Emmett can see the reason it is called the Red Room: though they have been drained of blood, bodies sit on metal shelves around the room. Some of the corpses have had their throats torn out. Others have been split from sternum to groin. Still others carry a multitude of marks upon their skin, holes from which they bled their last. Male, female, black, white, and in between, but all of them have been stripped of their clothing and their life.
It might be cold to the kine, but the freshly dead fledgling does not feel the chill upon his skin. A table has already been set up in the middle of the room.
“You can remove your clothing now.”
She gestures toward the table. Metal, like the shelves, reminiscent of the sort of gurney found in a coroner’s office. Holes have been drilled into it to allow for easy cleanup; beneath Emmett’s feet the tile floor slopes gently toward a drain set in the middle.
Emmett: He does so in efficient, experienced bursts, only somewhat belied by his relative inexperience in this passenger. He pulls stolen cloth from stolen flesh and then approaches the table. The whole thing is very Six Million Dollar Man.
“This seems uneven,” he says wryly, as he sits the stolen body on the table.
Celia: The doctor watches from behind her impassive mask. It’s hard to tell how she thinks or feels when her features are thus hidden.
“You must be new,” she says, though the words aren’t unkind. “You will get used to being naked in front of other Kindred.”
Emmett: “Oh, I’ve been a whore. That’s not the hard part. It was more of an invitation by way of observation.”
Celia: “Clever,” she purrs, “I can see why your sire chose you. Shall I call her in and let you share me?”
Emmett: “Is it wrong that I don’t want to share my first time?”
Celia: Low, throaty laughter sounds from beneath the mask.
“Perhaps if you don’t scream that will be the aforementioned treat.”
Dicentra tells him to lie back and removes the gloves from her hands, reaching for his face. She stops just shy of touching him.
Celia: Her fingers stroke his skin, their touch cool.
“Young,” she murmurs.
The pad of her thumb traces his lips. He can feel it shift beneath the gentle pressure; pain flares, but it is fleeting, banished by the light touch that follows. A moment later it dissipates.
“Made for smiles.”
Two fingers slide down the bridge of his nose, squeezing as they go. For a moment he’s blinded by the pain. Then it, too, flees before the words that come.
The doctor pauses.
Cool fingertips brush against his skin from his hairline to his jaw. They trail down his cheek, a whisper-soft touch that reminds him of butterfly kisses and the wind on his face. They remind him of every girl he’s ever embraced, every longing thought, every moment of ecstasy.
“Close your eyes,” she whispers. “Go inside.”
Emmett: He does so. It’s easy to listen to her. She’s been right enough, so far.
And those fingers, besides. There was nothing like them in the Shadowlands.
Celia: The last thing he sees before closing his eyes is motion behind the mask the doctor wears, the slight suggestion of a smile.
Then she’s gone, and him with her. He’s transported; no longer lying on a metal table within the Red Room, he finds himself in a long hallway. Rich carpet gives beneath the soles of his shoes, burgundy tussore woven through with saffron and ivory. Cream walls hem him in to the left and right, their continuous lines broken only by the frames of doors that open onto empty tableau. Colorful lights shine from beneath the frames of the doors: crimson, coral, amber, viridian, azure, indigo. He recognizes the settings as he passes:
A sitting room in Madam Devillers’ house, devoid of life.
Cafe Soulé, where a smiling Madeline delivers a pair of hurricanes to a younger Emmett and a beautiful girl in a sling.
A hotel suite. He doesn’t linger long in this doorway. Hotels have never been kind to Emmett Delacroix.
The Giacona manse, where a woman with poison eyes asks him how much he’ll give to get what he wants.
Louisiana State Penitentiary, his final resting place.
The rooftop garden he just vacated, the place of his rebirth.
All of them speak of his past. It is the door in front of him, however, that speaks to his future. White wood inlaid with swirls and whorls of gold and silver that dance before his eyes, slithering across the frame. A golden handle waits for his touch.
Emmett: He touches it, hopes his fingers can do the same thing to it the night doctor’s touch does to him as he turns it—
Celia: It opens into a well-appointed suite. A king-sized bed sits in the center of the room, its ornate bedspread covered in rose petals that have spilled from the bed to the floor in a puddle of red. To one side another set of doors open onto what he imagines is a closet, beside it a mahogany armoire and floor length mirror. The windows look out over the city he has called home for most of his life, an idealized, colorful version of it that makes the Shadowlands’ grayscale a far distant memory. The yellow, green, and purple of the Quarter dominate the scene.
A champagne bottle rests on ice in the center of the bed, but when he pops the cork the heady scent of blood reaches him. Blood. The bread and butter of their kind now. The only thing he will ever taste again. A glass waits beside it should he choose to quench his thirst.
Emmett: He drinks. When has he not?
But there’s such a large bed, and plenty to drink, yet nobody to share it with.
Celia: Despite the ice the blood within the bottle is hot. It slides down his throat, viscous and warm; it tastes like a comforting embrace, like the mythological siren of Poseidon or Hades beckoning him down into the depths of the water to deprive him of his last breath; it tastes like unrequited love, like ruby red lips and kohl liner, like leather and lace. It sets a fire in his belly, unfurling outward to sing through his veins.
“Delicious, isn’t it?”
A black-clad woman reclines on the bed beside him. Black gauze obscures her face; there’s no movement beneath the fabric, no way to tell if she has a mouth or eyes or features beyond the flat mask. Different than Dicentra, but somehow Emmett knows: it’s her.
“You’re like me,” she tells him, “a man without a face. But that’s okay. We’ll find you one.”
He looks into the mirror and sees that she’s right. He has no face.
Her voice echoes through his mind and body.
“Who are you?”
Emmett: His voice answers hers in a murmur, one that tugs his lips in the waking world as surely as they responded to the taste of blood.
“A bad, bad man. I’m worried I might be too good at being a vampire. People have always been disposable to me.”
Celia: The mask over her face moves, suggesting a smile.
“You are in good company, then. Those whom you call friend and ally will tell you that to be good at one thing you must be bad at another. They will ask you to shed your human shackles.”
Emmett: “Do you believe something different?”
Celia: “Not in so many words, though as in all things I believe there is balance to be found within your Requiem.”
“Strong enough connections can keep you tethered to your humanity. You need not be a purveyor of wanton destruction to succeed, though many will say that is the swiftest path.”
“But this is your rebirth. Who do you want to be?”
Emmett: “I want to be free,” he says truly. “To love who I love and fuck over who I don’t. Free to watch movies and maybe make one when I get bored. Free so… mmh.”
Free so the souls I destroyed went for something other than Abélia’s larders, he’d been about to but just barely does not say, mindful of the French Quarter lord’s warning. He’s not normally this open, is he?
Damn her hands.
“I want to be on top,” he finishes without so much as stuttering.
Top-shelf flirting for a dead man, really.
Celia: “Big dreams for the freshly dead,” the masked woman tells him, “but we all start where you are now. I’ll give you the advice that was given to me when I was still a greenfang: make yourself useful to someone. You’re at the bottom of the mountain now, but it is not insurmountable.”
There’s definitely a smile beneath the wrapping. The hands touching his body have moved from his face lower; beyond the scene in his mind he feels the tips of her fingers against his traps, unwinding muscle fiber.
“The great thing about hierarchies is that they change. As do people, Kindred included. Take your time to try on new masks as you will, but you need a face beneath that.”
Emmett: “Could I be of use to you?” He pushes on, lost in her touch.
Celia: “Aside from the favor you will owe me for this work?”
There’s a momentary pause, though the hands on his body do not cease their work.
“Perhaps I will see what you make of your Requiem and seek you out. Pick a pretty enough face and I know a former whore with whom you might compare notes.”
Emmett: “And what if I wish to find you?”
Celia: “I have a phone. Unlike the Anarchs, you won’t need to rely on tagging a random surface and hoping that I find you.”
Emmett: “Anarchs are which ones again? Vampire communists?”
Celia: “Rebels who think they have a cause.”
Emmett: “I didn’t even have to die to meet those.”
He lifts a hand to her obscured face. “Could I see yours? Since you’re the first ever to see mine.”
Celia: The doctor does not resist his touch. His fingertips brush against the gauze and it fades away like smoke, dissipating into the air.
His own face stares back at him.
Emmett: He blinks.
Not the smartest cookie, but he can figure this one out.
“You know me.”
Celia: “We’re inside your head. You know yourself.”
Emmett: “How are you doing this? This dreaming thing.”
Celia: “Shadow dancing,” she tells him. “Not dreaming. You can get out of it at any time. The lick I mentioned earlier taught it to me in exchange for some work. If this is truly your face, she has a pet that might be interested in knowing. She can tell you more.”
“But we’re here to pick a new face for you. The man you were is dead. Who are you now?”
Emmett: “Tired. Older. Wiser, maybe.”
But maybe not, of course.
Celia: Dicentra considers him for a moment. A wave of her hand opens the set of double doors to the side of the room, where a thousand faces hang from a thousand gilded hangers. A crook of her fingers summons one to them.
“Tired and old,” she tells him, “and perhaps some wisdom in there somewhere. Is this the face you seek?”
Emmett: He laughs. “Some men age gracefully, don’t they? I want a face people trust, for all that. Thirties, more than forties.”
Celia: She laughs with him., dismissing the first face into smoke and shadow.
“Your own face, but better? Older?”
Another takes its place. Him. The two sides of him: young and old, light and dark, dead and alive. Wicked and innocent.
Emmett: “Older,” he agrees. I always wanted to be grow up, some day. Now I suppose I have forever.”
He requests some cosmetic changes, too. A few roguish scars about the face. A bit of aging here, smoothing there. His hair can afford to be messier now than it once was, he expects.
His face lies. Makes him a new man.
But his eyes will tell the truth.
Celia: The face of the man floating in front of the two of them shifts as Emmett speaks. Dicentra controls the movements with a twitch of her fingers, and every word that comes out of Em’s mouth makes another alteration to the flesh in front of them. They build the ideal face together. Dicentra remains predominantly silent; she just sculpts. She is the paintbrush and he the hand that directs it, and only when he asks for input does she speak to offer a word of advice—“that scar will suit you better on this side,” or “the symmetry is off.” She offers guidance without judgement.
She asks if anyone has explained how their bodies work, and tells him that any changes she makes will be permanent, though any that he himself makes will only ever be temporary. He could shave his head one night and will find that the next it has regrown to its original length and color. Some Kindred find ritual in their daily grooming, while others despise the wasted time and curse the styles that were en vogue when they died.
Younger, he says, and she teases him with a boy.
Messy hair, he says, and laughingly she gives him a mop of curls that will never be tamed.
He wants a smile that can shatter hearts, and she smiles at him with his old face and gives him the smirk of someone who might have cut those same hearts out of their chests.
Less like a serial killer, he asks, and it changes again.
Distantly, Emmett feels the doctor’s hands across his body. His flesh shifts beneath her touch; there’s pain, dull and sharp by turns, and inside the suite of his mind the doctor tells him to keep going. She distracts him with this game of faces, preventing the pain from overwhelming him, teasing and coaxing him to make absurd changes to make him laugh. He feels it, but it’s muted, and all the while the new face comes together.
When they’ve decided on a face she asks about the body, and the pain that flares at her touch shifts to something less red hot while she reworks muscle and skin at his direction. Buff or willowy, hard or soft, big or little—yes, even there—she gives him what he wants.
He doesn’t know how much time has passed when the work finally ends. But the Dicentra in his head smiles at him and tells him it is done.
She withdraws from his mind, her black-clad form dispersing into smoke and shadow.
When he opens his eyes, she holds out a mirror.
Emmett: It’s not such a young face, really. Younger than his father, as far as that goes. Younger than his uncle, too.
But this face looks like maybe its been to prison. Like maybe its seen the ugliest parts of being human, from the inside looking out.
But for all the ugly inside him, Em thinks he comes out looking pretty good.
Maybe a little soviet, at that.
Celia: As if Lord Savoy or his sire would give him some second-rate night doctor.
Behind the mask, Dicentra smiles down at him.
“There are showers to rinse yourself of blood,” she tells him. Her hands, he sees, are bloody up to the elbow, and his body is covered in it.
Emmett: “Oh,” he says. His new voice sounds strange, but also comforting to new ears.
“How do you feel about saving water?”
Celia: “I’d hate to waste such a renewable resource.”
Emmett: “So we should share a shower? That’s terribly unfortunate.” He rises, tests the feeling of his new, undead flesh.
Celia: “I hope you’re not looking to bump uglies,” the doctor drawls, eying his new form with blatant interest. “The breather way doesn’t do it for us anymore.”
Too bad, that thing between his legs looks rather nice.
“But it’s this way.”
The Red Room isn’t too far from the semi-public showers that Savoy has had installed for his guests. Dicentra tells him on the way that there’s a “lost and found” closet if he needs clothing for his new form, as well. She leaves the discarded parts behind.
The Boggs will eat well.
Emmett: “What uglies?” he says easily, following her like a satisfied puppy. “Your work is flawless.”
“I suppose I’ll have to find somebody to teach me how vampires fuck, then. Otherwise I’m going to be all awkward at parties.”
Celia: “Fangs, mostly.” But she smiles at the compliment. “Blood. Like everything. If you’re looking to lose your V-card, Lord Savoy hosts parties on Saturday evenings after court. There are plenty of horny licks around.”
Emmett: “V-card? Really? That’s a long lost cause, even if this is a new body. Anyways, what day is it?” He reaches for the knob that activates the shower, and a pink mist levitates off of his skin and spatters the both of them.
“Saturday seems like a long time to wait.”
Celia: “It’s Monday,” the doctor tells him, “but I’d be stunned if your sire doesn’t fuck you before then. She has quite a reputation.”
Blood from her hands rinses down the drain. She has yet to remove her leathers.
Emmett: “You’re letting me start off my Requiem with a rejection?” He pouts. “I was just trying to thank you.”
Celia: “You already owe me a boon, pretty boy. Didn’t anyone tell you how our economics work?”
It’s not a no, though.
Emmett: “I’ve worked very hard to become a man,” he protests, “with a few wrinkles and facial hair and everything. And besides. Economics is one thing. I’m talking about gratitude. Completely different phenomenon.”
He turns his back on her. Blood runs between his shoulder blades down the channel of his spine. “But if you prefer your privacy, I won’t look.”
Celia: “Don’t blame me if your sire is upset she didn’t have you first,” Dicentra says to that.
But she turns around and gestures at the zipper in the back of her suit, letting him have the fun of unveiling her.
Emmett: It takes him a minute to realize she has also turned around.
But he obliges her, running his new fangs against the nape of her neck as he sheds the layers between them.
He hasn’t had an actual fuck in a while.
Like, a long while.
He’s almost nervous.
Celia: He shouldn’t be. Dicentra seems more than happy to explain the rules to him and let him get his feet wet; she’s been patient enough so far. Em knows he doesn’t need to breathe anymore, but there’s a little gasp of pleasure and a shiver that runs down her spine at the touch of fang to neck. Her blood pools in the wound, waiting for him to lick it clean.
The leather slips free from her like a second skin, revealing the body beneath. Just as luscious as the leather implied.
It’s the face that might throw him off. Pale. Pierced. Thin brows, full lips. Pretty but… familiar.
Almost like the girl he’d met on the roof. The one who hadn’t smiled at all.
Way prettier, though. He can’t imagine Preston ever wearing makeup, taking her glasses off, or letting her hair down.
Emmett: Indeed, the very comparison is one he feels immediately guilty for even making.
Nobody deserves to be compared to Nat.
“You’re sure I don’t know you? You’ve got one of those faces,” he deadpans, albeit with a note of sensuality since he’s talking quietly into her ear. She has a feeling the question is ceremonial more than earnest.
For one thing, he is not looking at her face when he says it.
Celia: The question makes her laugh.
“I think you’d remember me,” she purrs in his ear. But she seems to like the attention all the same; she stretches luxuriously, arms above her head to lift that beautiful rack even higher, as if now that her outfit has come out she can finally breathe again.
Then her fangs come out and his back is against the wall when she puts a hand on his chest to shove him back, the tile cool against his skin, her body cool against his, but the water is warm. So very, very warm. His blood flows where she nips at his neck and chest and shoulder, letting it sit for long, precious seconds before she comes back to drink.
Emmett: It’s been a long time. But he knows better than to keep talking.
It’s bizarre, this vampire fucking. Rougher than he was into, for sure. More about the nuances of pleasure that is ripped from your other’s pain, and learning that pain enjoyed the right way can breed enormous pleasure.
They hurt each other, and it is glorious, and the sordid details of the coupling are lost in blood and drainwater.
When they’re done, which is some time later, he lays with her below the raining showerhead, and does not know if he is soiled or clean.
Only that he is happy.
“Wait a while before dropping the other shoe, will you?” he mutters to her.
Celia: Despite the tile, neither one of them are uncomfortable. Dicentra seems content to rest next to him with her head on his shoulder while the water rinses away the evidence of their coupling. Her fingers trace idle circles across his chest and lower stomach.
“No other shoe to this, just fun. The Saturday parties I mentioned earlier almost always end up something like this.” He can hear the delight in her voice at the thought.
Emmett: “Maybe not to this. But you?” He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m in danger of actually liking you, Dr. Dicentra.”
“I suppose I’ll have to come back on Saturday, then. You mentioned a phone, earlier? It seems a shame to wait so long before we… talk.”
Celia: “You’re a shameless flirt,” the doctor laughs. “I don’t even know your name and already you’re asking for round two?”
“But yes. I’ll give you my number before we go. You have seventy-two hours to decide you want minor modifications before it costs you more. For your… gratitude.”
Emmett: “Finally. A woman who appreciates my nobler qualities.”
“The least of which is my name, really.”
Celia: “Shame the best part of you doesn’t work anymore. I heard it’s rather enjoyable to have it sucked if you give a little nip.”
Emmett: “That’s a strange way to talk about my eyes.”
Celia: Her eyes find his face.
“Mm,” she muses, “I stand corrected. Those are gorgeous. I’d say I good do work—and I do—but that was some great starting material.”
The doctor finally rolls off of him, rising to her feet to rinse off the results of their tryst beneath the spray of the shower.
“I’ll get you that number. And the one for my friend. I think she’ll like you if you make it a habit of showing gratitude with sex.”
Then she’s gone, plucking her outfit from where it had been left on the ground on her way out the door, and just a card with a hastily scrawled name and a pair of numbers is all the memento he has from his time with the night doc.
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