Flash 12: Immortal
"Are you sure you want the whole thing?" the princess asked. "It's not all... nice."
"All of it," said John. "Mine, which I really do think I could have handled right away, thanks for making me wait for weeks - and hers, and what's there from everyone else who ever even looked at her. I can hold the memories now, I got through your stupid newborn orientation program, I'm not going to flip out and wreck the architecture - I need what's left of Anne."
The girl sighed, and said, "Give me a second to sort out who all saw her, it was a long time."
John waited, and closed his eyes. He could barely call Anne's face to mind. Turning into a human had loosened all the memories he'd gone in with, and turning back into a vampire had bleached everything he'd held onto, leaving faded whispers. He knew he'd had a daughter, he knew her name, but her face was almost gone.
"All right," said the princess, "here goes..."
John had to eat ten people in two hours or less to be able to visit his child up close for ten minutes without feeling like she was in danger from him, but that wasn't so hard. It was a little easier than eating just one or two, sometimes. It always felt wasteful to just kill anyone who spotted him while he was filling up. And it was better than before: when he'd been a newborn he hadn't dared try no matter how much he drank.
Anne seemed half made of pale hair, which was darkening a little as she grew. It tumbled over her neck and the arm she tucked under her head when she slept. He had to come in the night, because Anne spent her days in a crowded kitchen running spoons of leavening back and forth and stirring overstretched stews and scrubbing pans, and then he could only perch on the manor's roof and listen. She slept in a packed servant's quarters, but at least the other servants were asleep too.
He wasn't pleased about what had happened in his daughter's life, since his creator had turned him and killed his wife so Anne didn't have anyone to provide for her. He wanted to, but he didn't think England had that many humans in it, that he could safely keep Anne with him and not hurt her. And if he brought her coins, to leave in her shoes or under her pillow, everyone would think she'd stolen them, and she'd be turned out into the rain.
So she worked in the manor kitchen for her turnips and her pallet, and John quietly picked off anyone who he overheard threatening her with a rolling pin. (The master's wife thought he must be getting the cooks pregnant and packing them off in secret with stipends, as three had vanished without explanation in the last year.)
Anne's breath wheezed out of her as she shifted in her sleep.
John, who'd been reaching his hand out to brush some of her fringe out of her face, froze.
She drew in a new breath, ragged and thready, but then she puffed it out normally and he relaxed. One odd breath, that was nothing...
There was a rasp, again, some rough edge to the way air was passing through her throat.
He ground his teeth, but she was most likely fine. Perhaps she'd been one of the people he'd heard coughing that morning and she'd gotten herself a little hoarse. That was probably all.
John was gone before the servants woke, but through the whole day (his extravagant predation, his clean-up afterwards, his journey back to the manor to scale the wall under cover of ivy and listen) he worried about that soft wheeze.
After the household settled down for the night, he stole in again.
Anne had evidently gotten up and done her work that morning - her shoes were moved, she had a new cut on her hand from a knife too big for her to handle - but working didn't seem to have been a good idea. She was pale and even with half her face hidden by hair she looked drawn, and thinner than she had the prior day.
And she was wheezing with every breath.
John waited another week before she got so sick that he was more afraid of not turning her than of turning her, and then he stole her out of the manor, gorged himself on half a hamlet until he felt like he'd pop, and carefully, carefully bit her.
Anne didn't see it when her father died, but she knew it was happening. She wasn't stupid. She knew when Alec draped that blanket of nothing over her he was hiding the sound of breaking flesh and screams. She just didn't know if she was going to die too. Papa had told her that he'd committed a crime in making her. ("But you are my precious little girl, so I did it anyway. They'll never find us if we're careful.")
They were careful, but the Volturi found them anyway.
Anne thought it was probably her fault. She got angry, or sad, or even happy, and couldn't contain herself. She screamed or howled or whooped. She destroyed trees, or fought her father off when he seized her and begged her "be still", or she forgot she was a vampire and tried to go into a town and watch a minstrel. She ran around in broad daylight without checking for witnesses, she fed when she hungered without leading her prey away - but she was mostly careful. She only made mistakes sometimes. It was just hard. If the world were fair she wouldn't have to die just because it was so hard.
So it was probably her fault, but she couldn't shriek or kill or cry, because of Alec.
She didn't die, and she went on not dying, and the waiting was worse than the numbness.
There were seven. Muhammad looked eleven but was really twenty, and Anne looked nine and really was (for another month, anyway), and Ermengarde looked six and was twelve, and Lyyli looked four and was eleven, and Isaac looked three and was five, and Vasilii looked two and was sixty-four, and Joshua looked less than a year old and was eight. Anne was the newest. The others had been there for months or years already.
They had a web of rooms, underground beneath the palace the Volturi lived in.
Anne wasn't sure why they were allowed to live. She heard the grownup vampires talking about killing other immortal children, sometimes, but her and the other six were just left in the rooms.
With supervision, always. Grownups took turns watching them, and by the time Anne had been there a week she'd learned how to put her fingers back on with spit and pressure (and learned not to try the same thing on Isaac, because she'd left scars on his wrists by accident and he'd screamed and kicked and been punished more for that, and she was only trying to help).
By a month along, she was much better at being quiet even when she was angry, and she had stopped asking if maybe her father was alive somewhere, too, because the grownups didn't like it when she asked that. (Ermengarde still asked about her mothers. She wasn't as smart as Anne, and hadn't learned not to even though she'd been there for half her life and her mothers were obviously not going to come get her.)
The grownups wanted her to learn other things too, but it was harder. She remembered everything they said, just fine. Word for word. But only when she was trying to remember those things, which was never when she was trying to tunnel out of the rooms for rage and cramped stir-craziness. Never when she got so mad at Muhammad that she had to try to tear his throat out (even though it didn't work last time, or the time before that, because he had better reach than she did and was bigger). Never when she was just bored, bored out of her skull, because she wasn't allowed to go anywhere or do anything - the grownups brought books sometimes but only when everyone had been well-behaved for a while because books were expensive and they didn't want the children wrecking them. So Anne took four years to have enough time with books that she could figure out how to read her first language. No one helped her.
One of the grownups was called Aro, and he could read minds with a touch. He came in to the room sometimes, but only when everyone was - rarely - calm at the same time, and he'd stroke a finger across Anne's cheek and she had to fight herself not to try to bite through his hand (which would not work because of his attendant) nor fling herself away when he reached for her (since that would get her head wrenched off or her ribcage shattered for her insolence, because Aro was important and it was necessary to respect him).
When Anne had been in the room for eight years, Aro took Vasilii away.
Vasilii didn't come back.
No one would tell her what had happened to him.
Anne couldn't remember that the grownups had told her don't fight, be calm, don't damage the walls or the floor or the ceiling, use words, don't shout, eat neatly fast enough when it counted, but she could remember that there was a missing child, and this kept her unsettled enough that she had time to bring the rules to mind.
Anne remembered everything, but sometimes she thought she must be forgetting something, because her life blurred together in a long dull smear of sameness.
She read, or remembered what she'd read before. One of the grownups brought a set of dice and she gambled for pebbles with Muhammad, and sometimes Ermengarde (who cheated). She tried, futilely, to teach Lyyli more than her thousand-word vocabulary (which the little girl could translate into twelve languages, but seemed unable to otherwise expand, though Ermengarde could manage the trick with some difficulty). Anne picked up and cradled Joshua, who could move around but not that well and usually couldn't stop people from handling him, and she pretended she had grown up and had a baby. She curled up in a corner and wished she could sleep. Sometimes she thought about one of her vaporous human memories, the one which involved a church, and tried to reconstruct the practice of prayer in case it helped. (Muhammad did that occasionally too, but differently.) It didn't usually help. Anne thought it might be because she was a vampire, and vampires were not supposed to pray.
She missed her father, but she was pretty sure he was dead.
In 1384 something changed: someone different was given the job of watching the children.
Jane was scarcely more than a child herself. She was Muhammad's height and as flat-chested as Anne and more delicate-looking than Lyyli.
Anne never figured out if she was as fragile to the touch as she looked, because whenever one of the children so much as twitched, Jane burned them.
Anne spent two years crouching in an alcove, hugging her knees and fearing and doing nothing else... Except every couple of months when her desperate thirst overcame the terror that she would eat her meal in a way somehow displeasing to Jane, and she finally bolted down some blood, drinking and drinking until she did annoy Jane, by making a sound or spilling or putting the corpse down too carelessly.
Jane left, to no one's disappointment, and life slid back into normalcy, but Anne had long stopped trying to pray.
In 1703, a new grown-up came and looked at the children. He had gold eyes and pale hair, and didn't really look anything like Anne's father, but he made her think of him anyway. He watched them, and picked up Isaac and then Joshua, and let Lyyli sit on his lap until she tried to bite him (and even then he only pushed her away before she struck, he didn't hurt her). He talked to Anne, a little.
She wanted to talk to him - he was new, and less frightening than most of the grownups - but she couldn't say much. The supervisors were still there, and she knew Aro was standing just up the stairs to listen, and she still got in trouble if she ever mentioned John. So she didn't say, "They killed my father, they hurt me when I forget the rules, please can you take me away somewhere?" Jane was still part of the guard, she knew, so she didn't say, "Jane is evil, can you kill her, please?"
She told the stranger her name (and learned his: "Carlisle Cullen"). She said she liked playing dice, and spoke fourteen languages (even if English had gotten to be very different since she first knew it).
Anne did take one little risk: she asked Carlisle if he ever prayed.
He said yes, and so Anne tried it one more time after he'd gone, but still nothing happened, so she didn't bother after that.
In 1754, Aro - followed by his attendant, and by Jane - took Muhammad out of the room.
Then they came back for Anne.
Jane smiled a sharp little smile at Anne, and Anne followed rather than suffer her wrath.
It turned out not to matter much, either way.
"Are you okay?" the princess asked.
"I'll be fine," John lied.
The princess didn't challenge the falsehood. "Is there anything else you want while we're here?"
"Aro's death," growled John, "from every angle you have."
She didn't bother asking if he was sure. She just sent the memory of the fire.
John had been a vampire again for three years before he was finally confident in his ability to visit... his son, in a manner of speaking... without being a danger to him.
He'd been corresponding with Nino since teaching himself Italian, and every letter from the boy dredged up an implanted memory of Anne. It was a gentler method of processing the memories than locking himself in a room and forcing his way through them all in chronological order. That still didn't mean it was entirely pleasant. But John eventually found himself looking forward to the letters, scratched out in bad handwriting and decorated with stickers Nino accumulated from his schoolteachers and with his allowance. He started planning to go for a visit to Nino and the boy's grandfather.
Then the grandfather died.
He'd been offered turning, but kept putting it off, and putting it off - who would take care of Nino? not his mother, certainly - and it wasn't even age-related, it was a car crash, but that didn't make the man any less dead.
So: who would take care of Nino?
John called the airline and got his round-trip ticket turned into a one-way.
Nino was almost ten.
It half-killed John to look at him, because he didn't look a thing like Anne, but he was the same age, close to her height, and he called John "Papa".
"I want to be a vampire too, Papa," Nino said one day.
John crushed the glass of water he was holding and failed to restrain a hiss.
"When I'm older," continued Nino.
"When you're older," echoed John, softly.
John picked up the shards and mopped up the water, and got another drink for his son.