William was in the passenger seat. It made sense to him, of course: it was Benjamin’s car, after all, and when a potential high speed chase could break out at any moment why wouldn’t you want the one with the superhuman reflexes to do the driving? William still didn’t like it. Not driving was one more way in which William didn’t have any control over the situation he was in.
William did not like feeling helpless. He never had. That had been a significant part of the reason he’d put so much effort into getting over his less than stellar beginnings and becoming a doctor. He wanted to be in control when it really mattered, when life and death were on the line. And he’d wanted that control in a way that didn’t require performing violence on others, where his actions could only be seen as a benefit to the people around him. When he succeeded, at least.
When he failed it was almost enough to drive him to drink — but William had other motivations for avoiding that escape.
At this moment, however, he really, really did feel helpless again. It was worse than when he’d been a kid, too. At least then he’d been able to stay away from the house and the drunk monster who lurked there. But now? He couldn’t just stay away from his daughter. William had thought maybe he could, or maybe he’d be able to do something if she had somehow turned into a monster herself. But he couldn’t. He’d lost that option when she had collapsed on his hotel room floor, dead to all appearances.
That had been when he’d started feeling helpless again, too.
No, William silently corrected himself. It started when you saw her in the car, blood smearing her chin and fangs shrinking into regular teeth while she gawked at you for showing up unexpectedly. When his daughter had collapsed dead at the entrance to his room, that had been when he’d realized the anxiety gnawing at his gut was a return to the helplessness of his youth.
And yet, even though he couldn’t stay away from her he didn’t know how to deal with her, either. He was Abigail’s father. He was supposed to protect her! And instead, she was the one sending him away for his own safety. And he didn’t even know what she was doing now, or if she was safe in turn. Worse: he wasn’t certain he wanted to know. He loved her, and he would never be able to do anything to hurt her — whether she was the person she used to be or not. He knew that now. But with distance separating them, he’d been freed from his immediate worries about her health and the people who were after her. Freed to worry about who she was becoming, instead.
William took a deep breath and tightened his fingers around the amulet he carried. He could have just worn it, but having it in hand seemed sensible to him as well: if they were set upon by anything they couldn’t fend off, he would chuck it out the window so they could escape. It would spoil the ruse, but in that case they would just have to double back into the city — he’d be able to get the second amulet out from where it was concealed against detection in the warded van, and they’d try to run another misdirection ploy.
Until then; unless that happened, there was nothing for him to do except try to come to terms with the fact that his daughter had become a monster — or that if she hadn’t, since he could still see parts of her that he recognized, then she was on her way. She could have killed them. The two men in the alley; the two others on the roof. Yes, it had been self-defense. And William had never claimed to be a pacifist. He abhorred violence, but he had always thought he would be ready to stand up and defend his family.
Seeing his little girl stand up and defend herself, though…
Shouldn’t I be proud of her for showing strength in the face of adversity and protecting herself and others? But it had happened so fast William hadn’t been able to process it at all in the moment, and now it was catching up to him. And it had been so brutal.
William couldn’t reconcile his little girl and the Abigail who casually shattered a man’s legs, or threw another across a parking lot, or rushed armed gunmen and talked about taking on monsters and faerie kings and warlocks and things out of nightmares as though her life didn’t matter. Where was the child who he had read bedtime stories to? Who would ask if they could go camping at home so he would make a nightlight bonfire and turn spare bedding into a tent in her room so she wouldn’t have to sleep alone? Or the quiet teenager who kept her nose buried in books whenever she could; who had cried the time a squirrel had run in front of her car while she’d been practicing for her license?
When had the gentle daughter he’d raised become the ruthless individual who could casually break people if the situation warranted it? And was it all because of the vampirism, or had she always had that in her, and he hadn’t ever known? Had he failed her in his parenting? He’d tried so hard to keep the violence that had plagued his childhood from tainting her own, to break himself and his family away from his father’s abusive belief that fists solved problems and might made right — and gave the right to use it on those who couldn’t stand against it.
But it had been self-defense, hadn’t it? Hadn’t she been forced to defend herself and people she cared about? Was there really any problem with what he’d seen her do, or was it actually just that he had always been so determined to make sure she never felt a hand raised against her in violence — or ever had a reason to raise hers in like service? And look how well he’d done there.
“It’s hard,” Benjamin suddenly said.
William looked toward his voice, but Ben wasn’t looking at him. The vampire’s eyes remained on the road.
“Having one of us in your family, I mean,” Benjamin clarified. “I never really understood how hard it had to be for my own parents — I was too young to consider it, back then. I’ve thought about it a lot since then, though, on those occasions that I’ve contemplated starting a line of my own.”
For a second William didn’t know how to respond. Is he trying to reassure me? Offer some sort of solace? Benjamin didn’t look like he was much older than Abigail. It was strange — and a little annoying — that he was talking as though they were peers. Even though he’s probably twice my age, or something ridiculous like that.
“Is that so?” William asked dryly. He turned to watch the road with Benjamin.
“Yeah,” Benjamin said. “I’ve wished I could have been there more for my parents. At the time I was too wrapped up in what I needed to realize how hard it was for them. I’ve watched my family a lot over the years since then. Very few of them know of me — not really — but I make a point to show up every few decades as a new incarnation of some distant cousin, introduced by those who do know, so I can meet everyone for real at least once.” He shrugged. “Your daughter is going to have a strange life,” he said. “But it’s also going to be a long one. And once she comes to terms with the realities of it, a better one than before she’d died.”
William felt his jaw clench, and forced it to relax. “That’s assuming she survives the psychopath who’s currently trying to kill her.” And all the ones that come after, William thought. And even then… “…and she’s never going to be who she was,” he finished the thought aloud.
Benjamin shook his head. “No, but no one ever is. Kids grow up, and they change. The changes might come quicker when they’re young, but they never stop. You’re never going to be who you were, after this. Neither am I. And no, neither is Abby. But that isn’t intrinsically bad, William.”
William frowned. He was still remembering being attacked in the lot by the hotel. It had been playing over and over in his head ever since Abigail had caught up to them at the funeral home and he’d been able to stop worrying about what had happened to her.
The memories weren’t of being knocked down, though. Not even being kicked, although he was still sore from it. His own trauma didn’t much matter. Instead, he couldn’t stop remembering how his Abigail had appeared out of nowhere and shattered a man’s legs with a post of concrete, then blinked away and thrown another into a car. She was already someone else, William thought. She’d become someone I didn’t know before Helen and I even heard her apartment had burned. “It isn’t intrinsically good, either,” William pointed out.
“No,” Benjamin agreed. “But that’s my point. Change is. The only thing that doesn’t change is that change happens. Abby changing? It would have happened no matter what. How she changed? How she changes? Well, that’s something you would have to come to terms with whether she was becoming a vampire or not, whether she was going through these changes or some others.” He sighed. “I suppose I just want to say: I’m glad you’re here for her. And I hope you can see that who she is comes from who she was, who you raised and you’ve always known.”
William didn’t answer. He continued to stare at the road ahead of them, and Benjamin let the silence stretch out. Finally, William broke it. He had to know something, even if he didn’t want to ask. He’s a vampire. This is going to be Abby’s life.
“Have you ever killed?” William asked.
“Yes,” Benjamin answered.
My poor daughter, William thought. My little girl. A part of him — a small part of him: a part that had been the doubts that had been plaguing him — started to mourn for the person she had been.
After a moment, Benjamin asked: “Have you?”
William turned to look at Benjamin in surprise. Then he nodded. I’m discussing death with someone who’s been through it and back, he thought. The sudden absurdity of it made him snort. Then it let him say things he’d never shared, not even with his own family.
“I’m a doctor,” William said. “In the emergency room, of a small town hospital.”
Benjamin nodded, listening.
“There have been people I couldn’t save, who we couldn’t save.” The entire staff felt those losses, after all, whoever the individual in charge of a given case might be. “But there were only two of those whom I killed.” William frowned. His mind was distracted, interrupted by recollections he wished he didn’t have. “There was a factory fire, and we didn’t have the resources to treat everyone who was coming in. Not all at once. It was the night shift, and I was in charge. I had to decide who we could treat and who would have to wait. And the two who didn’t make it… Maybe if they’d been higher up in the queue they would have lived. Maybe not. But those ‘maybes’ don’t matter, because they weren’t higher up on the list. And it was directly because of my actions — my decisions — that they were where they were.”
William cleared his throat and returned his gaze to the road. “So, yes: I killed those men in order to save the ones who had a better chance of making it.” And his only consolation was that of the people he’d saved first, not one of them would have lived without treatment. Anyone whose injuries hadn’t been critical hadn’t even made it onto the list until the others were either stable… or, in the cases of two, dead.
It wasn’t the sort of weight he wanted his daughter to carry.
They drove in silence for a moment. Then Benjamin picked up the conversation again.
“I was in a war,” the vampire said. “Before I died, actually. I killed then.” He didn’t offer details, instead pausing momentarily in his own recollections. “And after my death,” Benjamin eventually continued, “there was another war. I killed in that one, too, and sent good people to their deaths as well.” He spared a second to glance at William. “I’m not saying your daughter is in for an easy life, William. But protecting the innocent is not an ignoble thing. And from what I’ve seen of her, she has the spirit to shoulder her hardships and live a good life, too.”
William frowned, but didn’t reply. What you’ve seen of her? What have you seen of her? he thought bitterly. You only met her today. You were one of the people who tried to kill her. I’m her father! I know her. Knew her.
Before William could turn his thoughts into a reply, though, their conversation was interrupted. Benjamin’s phone trilled noisily in his pocket, causing the vampire to fish it out with one hand. Without looking, Benjamin slid the phone into a dock built into his dashboard. It lit up and flipped over to speaker mode. The name listed under the number was “Cullison, T.”
“Benjamin,” Thomas said immediately — eschewing the formality of last names. “Is it safe to talk?”
William looked over at Benjamin, who glanced back at him. “Yes… Thomas,” Benjamin said, answering informality with informality.
Thomas didn’t even seem to notice. He blew out a sigh of relief. “Is Abigail with you?”
“Not at the moment,” Benjamin answered. “What is it?”
“It’s bad,” Thomas replied. “You’ll have to let her know. And contact your line. Lewellan is rogue. Daniel — the ghoul? — ate most of Director Salvatore. And now that he’s not feral he says that Lewellan killed him to frame Abigail.” The other vampire sounded frantic as he blurted out his message.
“What?” Benjamin exclaimed in disbelief. “But why would he…” Benjamin’s jaw clicked shut mid-sentence. William’s eyes narrowed. Something he knows that Thomas doesn’t answered the question for him. But what?
“Given Daniel’s account,” Thomas hurried on obliviously, “I think Lewellan might be the reason Abigail’s other donor, Emma, is in her current state. He was in the house with no one except her, Hans, and one of his own ghouls — and we know he’s put Hans under a geas. Daniel says Hans was ordered to support Director Lewellan’s account of finding him in the alley, so there’s no reason to think Lewellan wouldn’t have given him similar orders about Emma. Which means there’s no way in hell the Director intends to let her wake up and accuse him of attacking her.”
“What do you need us to do?” William asked. He shared another glance with Benjamin, but there was no apology in William’s eyes for interrupting their conversation. There was none asked for in Benjamin’s, either: just a deep, sincere worry that almost shocked William to see. How well does he know my Abigail? William abruptly wondered. They had shared blood. Or Abigail had, at least. And that had been meant to give Benjamin enough insight to know she was telling the truth about being innocent.
Had it been more than that?
Thomas didn’t seem to notice — or didn’t care — that someone else had asked the question. “I need you to contact your sire,” he repeated. “Tell him everything we know. Call in all the cavalry you can. I know they won’t get here fast enough, but we might need them once they do. And then I need you to get your ass back to the house. Lewellan doesn’t know Daniel isn’t feral, but he does know he can’t let Emma live, and Daniel won’t leave her side because she’s Abigail’s girl. And if Lewellan kills both of them then…”
“Then he might be able to get away with it,” Benjamin finished for him. “At the very least, it would be almost impossible for us to undermine whatever story he put out for why he’s taken the actions he has against Abigail.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said quietly. “And that’s assuming he doesn’t decide we’re loose ends, too. Even if your family can’t send help in time, at least he won’t be able to blame our disappearances on Abigail without people asking serious questions. And that might be enough to keep us from being permanently killed.”
“Or enough to force Lewellan to scatter our ashes,” Benjamin countered, “so that we can’t ever contest his version of events in person, either.”
Thomas swallowed. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Well, if that’s the case… I think it was too late for us as soon as we started asking questions and talking to Abigail. So: get your ass back here. There’s no way I can fend off a rogue Director on my own and I really, really don’t want any of the people in this house to wind up permanently dead. Including me.”
Benjamin glanced at William again, and William scoffed. “Well,” William said. “Pull over! You can take the van with the solocks and your donors. I’ll borrow your keys and keep running decoy. It sounds like my daughter needs you there a lot more than I need you here, right now.”
Benjamin nodded. “I’ll be there,” he told Thomas.
“Hurry,” Thomas plead. Then he disconnected the call.
Benjamin pulled over immediately. They had actually gotten out of the city, and the road was deserted other than the van that pulled over behind them. “Be careful,” Benjamin told William.
William just nodded. He’d wanted to be in control; now he was. He was still running from the greater conflict, but at least how he went about it was in his own hands again. That was something. “Don’t let that bastard do whatever it is he’s trying to do,” William said.
Benjamin smirked. He opened his door, but left his keys in the ignition. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he told William. And then he was gone, disappearing so fast that William almost didn’t see him move. The van peeled away, pulling a U-turn across the median, seconds later.
William took a deep breath. He moved over to the driver’s seat. Then he buckled up, checked his mirrors, and made sure he could easily reach his gun. Then he turned the blinkers off and put the car in gear.
So, he thought as he picked up speed. If Lewellan is after me because he thinks I’m Abigail, then I’m definitely dead if he catches up to me. It was a sobering thought: he was a ‘loose end’ now, too, even if he wouldn’t know how to go about leveling accusations against the Director with the supernatural community.
After a moment, William turned on the radio. Just for a little noise, a little normalcy, a little distraction from his thoughts. It didn’t help. He wondered if how he felt now, knowing his life was expendable to Lewellan and his daughter’s life was on the line, was anything like how Abigail had felt when she found out about her boss’ obsession with Megan.
On a certain level, William was ashamed of the thought. Abigail, his daughter had to have felt something similar to what he was now. And rather than running away, she had managed to actively protect the person she cared about.
He was proud of her, even though he wished none of this had ever happened to her. She hadn’t succumbed to helplessness.
And he’d be damned if he would, either.
Alright, William, he told himself. Think. He flipped the radio off. Lewellan — or someone else — was going to catch up to him. He didn’t have much doubt about that at this point. In fact, if it would buy Abigail and the people that mattered to her more time then he would make sure of it. But how?, he wondered.
And even more importantly: And what can I have ready for them when they do?