Here to Stay by Eve


Author's notes:

The song lyrics are from "Ice" by Sarah McLachlan, from her album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. More than one song on that album just screams "Janette" to me, which is probably why I keep making music videos. Archive? Sure. Oh, and none of these characters are mine. More's the pity.


the ice is thin come on dive in

underneath my lucid skin

the cold is lost, forgotten

hours pass days pass time stands still

light gets dark and darkness fills

my secret heart forbidden...


I knew he would return to me. He always has.


It has been almost ten years since her passing--an eye-blink, as Nicolas so becomingly phrases it, to those of us who have eternity. He would deny it, of course, but he has never quite been himself since it happened. Nicolas has played many roles in his time: he has been Romeo, and he has been Hamlet. Now, too, he has become Othello, mourning the loss of his innocent. Nicolas also tried to destroy himself, once he realized what he'd done. Unlike the Moor, Nicolas did not succeed.


Lacroix was always one to consider Nicolas' tragedies as comedies in disguise, and to play along if the role suited him, but this time was different. For reasons that surprised them both, Lacroix could not give Nicolas the respite for which he begged. Instead, he brought him to me.


After our last encounter, I had gone home--for, despite time and tide, Paris has always been my home. She may wear a glamourous new face with every season that passes, but underneath she is still the loving mother, shelter of lost souls. I had not expected I would never see Nicolas again. The world is a small place, after all. It becomes smaller with each passing day. But I had not expected to see him so soon; certainly not laid out on my very doorstep, in that damp, chill time just before dawn.


The threads that once bound us as blood-siblings are now so hopelessly snarled by the new bond that it was impossible to read him, but I had only to look in his eyes to see the dull, dazed horror at what he had done. I knew he had killed, even if I didn't yet know whom. But this was grief without energy, self-loathing without anger; the bright flame of passion that had always illuminated him was gone, burned out. That was so unlike the Nicolas I knew that it frightened me.


We installed him in one of the guest rooms, and Lacroix informed me of what had happened. He gave no details; he hadn't any to give. He wasn't there when it happened, and Nicolas was not inclined to discuss specifics. Lacroix simply remarked that Nicolas had capitulated to his Natalie, and she had died as a result. I felt sick and hollow inside, Robert's loss still an open wound. Nicolas had wanted to die, but Lacroix could not let him. In a sense, my crusader and I had come full circle.


He wouldn't speak, and refused to feed. The latter was typical of him, but the former was not. Every night, I brought him a bottle, and every morning, I collected it, untouched, from the bedside table in his room. At first he even refused to use any of the opulent furnishings, preferring to lie, face down, on the cold, hard floor. And I could tell by the odour of burnt flesh in the air how he spent his days. I threatened to have the window boarded up if this went on. He gave no reply, only gazed at me like one already dead. When I picked him up and placed him in bed, he gave no resistance.


Lacroix spent day after day with Nicolas, insisting that he give in to his hunger, but Nicolas remained resolute. It reached the point where I could not bear to watch, to hear Lacroix alternately whispering endearments and roaring obscenities at the motionless form tucked under the duvet. He finally left, feigning disgust with Nicolas' weakness. The truth was, he simply couldn't stand to see it any more. His golden child, his favoured son, had been reduced to such utter despair that it unsettled and even sickened him. We were both accustomed to Nicolas' depressions, his fits and starts, but none of the twisted machinations that Lacroix, in his favourite role as the stern father, had ever concocted, had led to this. He wished me good luck on the evening he left, and told me to let him know immediately if Nicolas recovered.


Not when. If.


tied down to this bed of shame

you tried to move around the pain

but oh

your soul is anchored


I allowed no one else in my household to attend him; the few domestics I employed were instructed not to venture into that part of the house. He was starving himself to a dangerous point, and, once he came out of it, he would pounce ravenously on the first thing that moved and had a beating heart. If that happened to be my pretty young maid, Heloise, he would feel even more guilty afterwards, prolonging the whole business even further.


All through the day and night I could feel his pain, washing over me in waves. The heavy, almost languorous stupor within which her death had left him trapped. One morning, I could not stand it any more. I went to him.


"Nicolas," I said, "this ends now." I pulled back the covers. He was thin, too thin, almost emaciated. It startled me.


"No." It was the first word he had spoken to me since his arrival. He turned to look up at me; his face, beneath the unruly snarls of beard that obscured it, was painfully gaunt.


"Yes." I bared my wrist to him, and watched the hunger flare in his eyes.


"I--can't."


"You will die."


The words came falteringly; his tongue was a hinge, grown rusty for want of use. "I--want--to die."


"Maudit!" I screamed. "Idiot! How can you be so selfish? You stole death from me and now you think you will claim it for yourself? Je pense que non, mon ame." I had meant to say "mon amour". Strange how our words betray us. But, in a sense, Nicolas has always been my soul. My humanity.


I bit deep into my wrist and held it over him. "Mon beau gamin," I cooed soothingly, pressing him to drink. "Bois. Mon pauvre Nicolas."


Blood dribbled across his mouth and down his chin and cheeks. At first, he resisted, turning his face away, and I was terrified that he was really going to leave me.


"Natalie," he whispered.


Then he licked the blood from his lips and reached for me.


The first few moments of contact gave me nothing but pain: his, and hers. This gradually faded, and before long I could discern a distinct essence. Natalie. I was able to taste her final words and thoughts, before she had gone, as she believed, to meet her maker.


At first, she had cursed my crusader; afterwards, she had cursed herself. He had wanted to leave her, to save her life the only way he could, and she had refused to let him go. She had been willing to follow Nicolas into darkness--something he would never have asked of her. She was his light, and he would not see her extinguished. But the notion that her bright flame might pass to him, combined with her firm belief in amor vincit omnia, had killed her and nearly destroyed the man she loved.


For the ultimate, overriding emotion, the one Nicolas carried inside him like poison, and the one that wounded him far more than her curses had, was love. She had loved him. She had trusted in him, in whatever forces had brought them together. And her love had blinded her, until it was too late, to the danger of what he was. What we both are.


I have often, in times past, seduced Nicolas away from his other mistress, Guilt. This was not the same. He took me, with no sense of who I was, and fed, blindly, yet somehow tenderly. Loving her through me. Finally I had to fight him off before I drifted into unconsciousness.


the only comfort is

the moving of the river

you enter into me

a lie upon your lips

offer what you can

I'll take all that I can get


When I woke the following evening, he was already up, sitting quietly in the armchair on the other side of the room. I'm not sure what I expected--tears, perhaps, or a passionate outburst of invective--but I felt strangely disappointed in the polite nod I received instead.


"Thank you," he said, gravely. "For last night." He was dressed and clean-shaven, and had taken pains with his appearance for the first time since his arrival. He glanced over at the bedside table, and I saw there was a half-full bottle there. Not his usual vintage, either.


"Do you still want to die?" I rasped, still dazed with sleep and weakened from the night before.


"She wouldn't have wanted that," was his reply. Which didn't exactly answer my question, but I sensed that the subject was closed. And so it has remained.


There are nights when I can delude myself that it is like old times again. He has stayed of his own volition these past years; Lacroix has been twice to visit us, and Nicolas played the role of the cordial host to perfection. As always, he is far too indulgent with the staff; they come to him more and more frequently with their concerns, and Nicolas listens patiently. Little Marielle, who has been with us since Heloise left, has quite fallen in love with him, with disastrous results--I have had to restrict her cleaning duties to rooms with few breakables as possible.


Most of the time, however, I cannot deny the changes in our life together. He shares my bed every day, but his nights are his own. I do not ask him where he goes, and I do not need to: he often returns just before dawn, with a sheepish smile and the stink of Notre-Dame on his skin. The rites and objects of his Christian faith have ceased to trouble him; I am quite certain he could comfortably wear a crucifix now, and would, if not for his consideration for me. He has begun saying the Pater Noster before bed, a ritual that nauseates me to such an extent that I have to leave the room rather than witness it. He does it on his knees, politely waiting at the foot of the bed until I have finished at my vanity table and can exit to the hall. He speaks the words in Latin, but lately, at times, I have overheard him talking quietly in modern English as well.


Once, I asked him to whom he spoke, and he replied, "To heaven, Janette. To heaven." Then, almost his old self, he made a face and added, "Embrasse-moi, ma belle, take the taste of those words away." And I kissed him, knowing full well whose name had been on those lips a moment ago.


He does not often speak of her, but nor is she entirely absent from our conversation. Occasionally, in one of his more reflective moods, he will relate some anecdote from his days in Toronto. He has always been a good storyteller, and he paints a vivid picture. These are times when I feel almost as though I know her, in a way I never did while she was alive.


He loves her still, even now.


It isn't as though he keeps a picture of her on the nightstand, or calls her name while we are making love. Not since that first night, and he was not to blame then; he was delirious from hunger. Nothing in our home is a reminder of her, and when he reaches for me in his sleep, he knows it is me he holds, and not his tame doctor. He would never do anything quite so... cliché. No; Nicolas is, if nothing else, a gentleman, and it is a gentleman's duty to remember, in the evening, who he took to bed the morning before. It is far more insidious than that.


I think that, given the chance, he would trade my life for hers. Even he does not know this--or, at any rate, he will not admit it to himself--but the truth is there, in his blood. Nor is this the only truth Nicolas refuses to see.


I noticed the first silver thread at his temple three months ago. There had been other, more subtle signs before that: a certain laxity in his once-proud carriage, a creeping stiffness in his movements. I had dared to hope they were merely products of my imagination, or of his despondency. But every day, new lines appear around his eyes, and I am no longer able to deceive myself. Nicolas has always far outstripped me in that area. He has no way of knowing how much his appearance has changed; this new Nicolas, unlike his previous incarnations, has grown disenchanted with mirrors. If he happens to encounter his reflection in passing, he sees only what he expects to be there. What has been there for almost a millennium.


He still keeps out of the sunlight, still drinks blood to survive. His essential nature has not changed. He is a vampire. But, as if through sheer strength of will, he is slowly fading. Before long, his aging body will start to pain him in ways even he will not be able to ignore. Humanity may be out of his reach, but he has, somehow, been granted the gift of mortality. I should not be surprised; Nicolas has always found a way to have what he wants in the end. And I will not interfere. I have always been the stronger of the two of us; I will survive his passing.


In spite of the changes, in my heart he will remain that golden boy who caught my eye in a tavern one evening, not knowing I'd been watching him for weeks. That brash young crusader, guided by his impulses, with no concept of the true meaning of eternity. I bought his soul with my body, because I wanted him for a plaything, only to be conquered by the depth of his love for me--a love I was never quite able to understand before now. And, as his last dawn encroaches steadily upon us, it is Nicolas who will soon leave me behind.


Forever.


offer what you can

I'll take all that I can get

only a fool's here to stay


only a fool's here...


FIN


Eve

umdutto3@cc.umanitoba.ca