Prompt: Nick & Janette, "Things were slower back then.... People were more content to be who they were. No one wants to be himself, these days. Always trying on different skins, then wondering why they don't fit. It makes for a lot of unhappiness." (Nancy Atherton)
Length: ~1780 words
Summary: Moving on is an inevitable part of every vampire's life.
Janette parked around the corner from the loft, knowing that Nicolas would find it odd that she'd driven rather than flown and not wanting to deal with those particular questions just now.
His loft was still sealed against the fading day, tight shutters holding in any interior light that might have sought to escape. She thought for a moment that she'd arrived too late--that he had already left for work--but then she caught the faint sound of a piano playing an old, familiar song.
There was still time, if she wanted it.
It was almost a century after their first meeting--that dark night in a dark room that Janette had never quite been able to bring herself to regret--when Nicolas asked the question.
He found her overseeing the servants as they packed up those parts of the house they were allowed access to. He watched in silence for a few minutes, leaning casually against the wall, thrumming with the same troubled energy that had been coursing through him for days, driving him out of the house as soon as the sun set, and keeping him away until dawn trailed his footsteps. Janette feigned relaxed indifference to his presence, and hoped he would finally confide in her what was wrong.
"How do you keep doing this?" he asked at last.
They were on their thirtieth or so move by then, so she assumed he wasn't asking about the practical process. "Do what, cherie?" she asked, dividing her attention between him and the servants.
"This constant breaking of ties! Abandoning friends, always moving...how do you continue to do it year after year?"
Janette suppressed a flicker of annoyance. There were things one should not say in the hearing of even well-trained servants. At least not if one planned to let them live. But it would not do to push Nicolas away now, when he was finally speaking of what troubled him. Instead, she gave the servants a fierce glare and instructions on how to proceed, then nodded for Nicolas to follow her into the interior of the house where no servant ever tread.
"They are not friends, Nicolas," she said when they were alone. "They are mortals. Entertainment. Camouflage. Prey. And they will be lost to you soon enough whether we move or stay."
He shifted under her gaze, still restless. "I know that."
"Then what troubles you?"
"Don't you ever miss it? Staying in one place? Having bonds with people that actually mean something? Family, real family…"
Family like the father who had scorned her. Friends like poor Anna, dead too young, and for what? Bonds like the shame and threats that had chained her to Daviau and a life barely better than death.
Nothing she'd ever told Nick about.
Nothing she'd ever miss.
"No," she said firmly. "I don't miss it at all. We are your family, Nicolas. We are the ones who will always be here for you."
It had always been one of the great gifts of vampirism. Mortals were stuck in whatever life God saw fit to grant to them, and all they could do was make the best of it. But vampires...vampires could recreate themselves in every town. Could become whatever they chose to be, live whatever life they wished. Daviau had told the men who sought her company that she was of noble blood. Some had pretended to believe it. Now she could play that role when she chose, and the whole town would believe it. They would trip over each other in their eagerness to pay homage to her.
The freedom was intoxicating.
"I've never missed it," she repeated. She never had.
She never would.
"A surgeon?" Janette asked incredulously. "Darling, why would you want to work with the sick? All that blood...and all those witnesses. How will you resist the temptation?"
"They're making tremendous advancements in the field of medicine," Nick said earnestly, leaning in closer. "It's amazing, Janette. Do you know that they now think that--"
She sniffed delicately. "From what I've seen, most surgeons do more harm than good to their patients."
"Not any more," he insisted. "There have been remarkable improvements in knowledge and skills! Soon even ailments that are fatal now will be no more than minor inconveniences."
"If you're going to insist on following this course, you could opt to be a physician instead. That might at least get you a better class of patients. And invitations to a better class of parties." She paused, studying him with the skill of long practice. He was still alight with an excitement and energy that she recognized from times past. She sighed in resignation. "Very well, Nicolas. Tell me, how long do you think this career will last?"
"Last year it was law. Two years before that you were back to painting. You seem to have embraced an attitude of constant change. So I'm curious how long I should prepare myself for this to last."
He grinned widely. "It is a glorious age, is it not?" he said, stretching his arms as if to embrace the era. "There's so much to learn! So many lives to live!"
"There was a time," she observed, settling back in her chair, "when that aspect of our lives did not appeal to you."
His grin softened into something more teasing as he reached for her hand. "And now it is you who clings to each life you build until necessity demands that you move on lest your secret be discovered."
She pulled her hand from his and drew both hands in to rest on her lap. "I do not cling, Nicolas. I simply see no reason to expend the energy in re-establishing myself more often than necessary. It is so tedious, creating a new identity and arranging for the proper introductions and finding a suitable house and servants and everything else that goes into creating a respectable life. I have reinvented myself so many times…the mere thought of it bores me like little else."
"The world is getting smaller," he said thoughtfully, half-turning to stare into the fire. "Look at how quickly we cross the oceans now compared to earlier years. We may soon be forced to move more often to avoid discovery."
"Or less often," she said. "More identities mean more chances that those who know us in one life may cross paths with those who know us in another. It may be that we will soon have to stay in one place for decades, hiding in dark corners until there is simply no way to disguise what we are."
"That, my dear Janette, is a terribly depressing image." He twisted his head back toward her. "Have you considered taking up a profession yourself? It might make things less...tedious."
She laughed mockingly. "And become what, Nicolas? A teacher? A nurse? I fear the professions open to women hold very little appeal for me."
"You speak better Latin and Greek than most men."
"A skill which I have no desire to put to use to earn my living. No. I believe I will stick to my accustomed ways of doing things, and leave the embracing of change to you."
"Such an odd choice," Janette mused. She had to tilt her head until it almost touched Nick's to be heard over the club's music. "Why would anyone want to steal someone else's identity?"
"She didn't just want Rebecca's identity; she wanted her whole life. The fame...the adulation...the money."
Janette sipped slowly from her glass and ignored the knowing look from her bartender. Irritating man. She wasn't sure she was going to keep him around for much longer. "Ah yes. The money. That, at least, I can understand. But the rest...is it television, do you think? Seeing all those other lives slide across their living room each evening? Is that what leaves them wishing to be anyone other than who they are?"
"I don't know if it's a new phenomenon. Haven't people always dreamed of being more than they are? To be discovered the long-lost child of some noble family or to stumble across some treasure?"
"They dreamt of wealth and comfort, not of being someone else entirely. It's the plague of the modern age, Nicolas, this desire to be someone else. Or is it the post-modern age? I can never keep them straight."
"Perhaps people are more dissatisfied now with whom they are than they used to be," Nick said. "As you say, they have more to compare their lives with now. More awareness of the various opportunities, more choice in the path they take, more chances to regret the paths they don't take. But I think this case is still an aberration. Most people don't want to be someone else; they just want to be a more exciting version of who they are."
"Perhaps." She could remember having such dreams, when she allowed herself to remember that time at all. But she had sought not just wealth and comfort, but a whole new identity. Lacroix had given her that, offering her the opportunity to remake herself entirely when he brought her across and then took her away, instructing her in manners and arts until she had become someone her mortal self would never have recognized. Until even he seemed to forget who and what she had once been.
She had always been grateful for that.
She stood outside the loft for a long time, staring up at it. She had planned to go inside, to see him one last time before leaving the city. And now faced with the opportunity, she found she couldn't do it. One look at her and he would know. Know that she was leaving and know…other things too, perhaps. Things she was not ready to admit to him. Things she wasn't sure she could admit to herself.
He would be angry, of course, but he would be angry regardless, and his anger would be easier to take from a distance. She could block it out when they were apart in a way that she could not when they were together. In another city, she could be herself. Perhaps even discover what she was becoming.
She could leave directly from here; her suitcase was waiting for her in the car. She needed only one. She was building a new life; she didn't want to carry remnants of the old one with her. Miklos and Lacroix would take care of anything of value that she'd left behind.
She raised her hand in a gesture of farewell. "Good-bye, Nicolas."
It was time to move on.