"Hey, someone grab the ball!" Tony screamed from outside. There was the sound of other boys laughing and the ball bouncing against the pavement.
Abel knew if he stayed in his room much longer, his stepmother would come and get him, insisting he needed to spend some time with others of his own age. She never seemed to understand his need to be alone, anymore than she understood his drawings. He dropped to his knees beside his desk, digging into his backpack for the drawing pad he carried everywhere he went. A nurse at the hospital had given him his first drawing pad and pencils, hoping to take his mind off the incurable illness which was responsible for his confinement in the Childrens' Hospital. He had discovered a talent for portrait work, a talent born from the hopelessness of his situation. The first thing he had tried to draw was the face of the mother who had abandoned him, when his illness became too much for her to bear. He had kept that drawing, even after his release from the hospital. It was the only drawing from that time that he had kept. That and the face which he had started to see in his dreams, about the time the doctors had told him he was cured. It was the drawings of that face that upset his foster parents. Looking at those drawings with a critical eye, Abel could understand why most people would be upset. The face was pale and the eyes deep-set. It was a face not quite human yet terrifyingly beautiful in its strangeness. It was the best work he had ever done.
"Abel, come down here at once," his foster father's voice called through the open door, sounding vaguely annoyed.
"Coming," Abel called, stuffing his drawing pad back into his backpack. He heaved the bag over his shoulder and ran down to the family living room. He stopped at the doorway, watching his foster parents talk quietly, unaware of his presence. Roger and Madge Sorenson were normally very upbeat people, always smiling and happy. They didn't look happy now.
Roger looked up and noticed their newest foster-child standing hesitantly by the door. "Come in Abel. Madge and I have to have a word with you."
"Did I do something wrong?" Abel asked, his voice low and guarded. He had known kids at the hospital who had been in foster homes. They had told him how things worked in the system. Any little infraction was enough in some houses to get you sent back to state care. He had never really worried about it at first, believing that his mother would come back to get him soon. But she never had.
"No, it's nothing you've done, son. It's just that ... we've gotten a message from the Child Welfare office. It seems your mother has contacted them, wanting to get you back. She read in the newspaper about your miraculous recovery. I know this must be a shock..."
"I won't go back," Abel protested, backing towards the door. "She couldn't be bothered with me when I was sick, so why is she back now?" With a sudden burst of energy, he bolted out of the room and out the front door, racing past the other boys.
Roger ran after his troubled charge, his heart sinking. He had warned the Social Worker that Abel would not be happy with the news, but she had insisted that the state's main goal was to reunite families. Even if the juvenile members of that family didn't want to be reunited with their elders. Roger scanned the street, his eyes straining in the twilight. But the boy was gone, vanished as though he had never existed.
Abel ran until his body rebelled against the punishment he was inflicting on it. He was still weak from his long stay in the hospital and physical exertion placed a greater strain on him than it once might have. His physical therapist had told him he didn't apply himself enough to the exercises she gave him. It had never bothered him much. There had always been something more important to do than sweat. Now he wished he had tried a little harder. With his chest heaving and his legs aching, he looked about him for a place to rest. To his surprise, he found he had run to the old cemetery which was located just outside the subdivision. In the dying light, he could see the tangled rose bushes that his foster mother had told him had been planted nearly a century before by the families of those whose last resting place was this little plot of land. Near one set of gravestones he spotted a stone bench, which he gratefully appropriated for his use. The stone was cool against his overheated skin. His mind raced with thoughts and emotions. In his agitated state, he didn't notice the shadowy figure which materialized amidst the gravestones behind him.
Isolde had walked out of a heated meeting with Julian, determined not to return until she could face the Ventrue Prince without wanting to slap some sense into him. She had a feeling it would be a long wait. *How can anyone be such an insightful ruler of the Kindred and be so bad at ruling his personal life?* she wondered, exasperated. *It's not like I'm asking him to do anything he doesn't know needs to be done. Just send that little human he's bedding away, at least until he's gotten more control over this Brujah situation. Cameron isn't Eddie. He'll work at something for as long as it takes to bring the Prince down. Why would Julian give him any ammunition?* Even Daedalus had agreed the relationship was unwise. But he had hesitated to agree with Isolde, knowing that their relationship was just as unwise and just as hard to discard. Isolde grimaced at the thought of what her stern Sire would do if he ever discovered she had taken a Nosferatu lover. It would not be a pretty sight.
"Going somewhere?" a silky voice asked, its owner hidden in the shadows. Lillie materialized out of the darkness, a wine glass in her hand. Isolde examined the Toreador Primogen's icy beauty with appreciation.
"You look stunning as usual, Lillie. Those possessed of Toreador blood always seem to look more radiant than the rest of us." Isolde reached out with a quick movement and removed the glass from the other woman's hand. She sniffed it delicately, then returned it to its owner. "Drinking a little early tonight, are we?"
Lillie snatched the glass back, her facade of boredom dropping slightly. "My actions are none of your concern, Ventrue. You are not my clan's Archon."
"True. If I were, you would be in the Prison of Light for some of the things you have done in the past few months. Let us see, you have embraced a singer who flouted our laws, then refused to punish him until it was almost too late. You've conspired with the Brujah to kill your Prince. You have hired a Kine to follow your Prince and allowed him to take photos which endangered the Masquerade. Then you killed this Kine investigator and left his body where it could be found for hours. Yes, I would say you have been very busy lately. But if Julian does not see fit to punish you for the choices you have made in the last six months, then who am I to judge?" Isolde smiled her coldest smile and walked away, leaving the Toreador caught between fear and anger. She strolled to the outer edge of Julian's garden, feeling the wind wrap itself around her, sending her anger flying out on its wings.
"You shouldn't tease her like that." Daedalus's voice floated out of the darkness, wrapping Isolde in its warmth.
She halted her progress and looked towards the trees where she knew he waited for her. "And why not, pray tell?"
"Because one day she will frenzy and you will have to hurt her to stop her. Or she will hurt you." The Nosferatu Primogen moved out of the darkness to take his lover's hand. His deep-set eyes looked into hers with concern. "And then I would have to kill her. Leave off tormenting the Toreador. You have no idea how much your words can hurt."
"Don't I?" Isolde asked. "My Sire taught me to measure each word carefully, applying the least amount of pressure for the most amount of effect. I know exactly what I'm doing to her. And I know it is not very kind. But then, I am not very kind, am I? Just ask Julian."
"You ask him for too much," Daedalus responded leading her away from the garden's lights. "Was it not enough that he broke off their relationship? That cost him dearly."
Isolde mentally had to agree. In the last month, Julian had slowly backed out of his relationship with Caitlyn, with Isa's help. It had been a painful process, made more so by the Kine woman's reaction to his efforts. Isolde had to credit her with courage, for she had not wept nor protested the estrangement. Neither had she attempted to obtain revenge on the man who had left her. She had taken it calmly, albeit sadly. And that had caused Julian more grief than if she had raged at him for his fickleness.
"Come for a walk with me." Isolde asked suddenly. "This house and its problems is wearing on me. Come with me to walk among the dead."
"Why do you love the places of the dead so much?" Daedalus asked solemnly.
"They are quiet and peaceful. There is no painful past, no infinite future. There is just the dead. It's the one place I can just exist, without always worrying about the expectations of my Sire or my Prince ..."
"Or me." He stated with finality.
"Or you." She agreed sadly. "Will you come?"
"Not tonight. I must stay with my Prince. He needs me." He kissed her cheek gently, then watched as she rose with the wind, her form melding with the fog. His eyes followed the mist till it dissipated, hiding her from his sight.
Isolde let the winds carry her toward her destination, a small cemetery a few miles from the house. It stood alone on the edge of a bright and clean new subdivision. She had found this small plot of land during her nightly roaming, and had been taken by its air of age and peace. Isolde had not always loved the places of the dead, as Daedalus called them. As a child she had developed a horror of them, made more intense by the sight of the poverty and illness of those who always seemed to live near such places. It was only when she had been Embraced, when death no longer seemed to loom with its scythe over her every waking moment that the churchyards and burial fields had become a place of wonder. When she had heard that a new plot of houses was to be built near her latest secret place, she had briefly wondered if the developers would try to move the occupants of this once holy ground. The thought of disturbing the bones of those truly dead still had the power to disturb her, even now. It was only later that she had heard that the backer of the development had been Julian. She had gone to the Prince and asked him what he intended for the small graveyard, with its aging headstones and wild rose bushes. He had chosen to gift her with the graveyard's continued existence.
*Sometimes I think that I think too much of the dead,* Isa mused, walking quietly among the tombstones. *Surely its not healthy for a Kindred to love the feel of a place of final rest as much as I?* She heard the sound of a Kine approaching before she saw him and took shelter behind the shadow of a graceful weeping willow.
The boy raced into view, his breathing labored and his face pouring with sweat. The boy's pale complexion was almost a match for her own. He sat heavily on the stone bench she often used when she visited the grave sites and swung his backpack around beside him. As his breathing calmed, the tears began to flow, touching her though she did not know why. She moved out of the shadows behind him and cleared her throat tentatively.
Abel jumped from the bench, startled at the sound. He turned and saw a young woman with long dark hair and pale skin standing behind him. Her sleeveless red dress emphasized her slenderness as well as her pallor. Abel could feel himself start to blush, furious at himself for being caught crying like a child.
"Well, we could stand here and stare at one another," Isa commented moving around the bench to sit down, "or we could introduce ourselves. I am Isolde Durant and you are ...?"
"Abel," he muttered, looking down at his shoes.
"Abel. A biblical name. The brother of Caine. Not a very lucky name. Perhaps you have a more fortunate family name?"
"Really! Somehow those two names just don't go together."
"It's my foster-families name. My real name is Johnson, but I don't use it anymore."
Isolde reached across the bench and plucked a rose from one of the masses of untended bushes which grew nearby. "So Abel Sorenson, what are you doing out and about when the sun has gone down? Do you not fear the creatures who live in the places of the dead will reach out and try to drag you in to their abode?"
"No. I don't believe in ghosts." Abel looked sideways at the woman, wondering why she was not insisting on knowing where he lived. Most adults would have tried to get him to go home by now.
"Don't you? I can not imagine why not. I believe in them, even at my advanced age." She smiled at the boy and patted the bench beside her. "Tell me why you have no fear of the dead, Abel Sorenson."
"Just Abel, Ma'am." He sat back down beside her, without a second thought. "I guess I'm not afraid cause I was almost dead myself once."
"Really? You appear so young to have faced the Grim Reaper. Pray tell, when did this occur?"
"You talk funny." The boy remarked, looking up shyly. "You're not from around here, are you?"
"Not bloody likely." Isa laughed, holding the rose under her nose. "I'm British, from London, England. Do you know where that is?"
"Yeah, we studied geography in school."
"Good. Now tell me about this brush with death."
Somehow, Abel felt he should tell her everything, though he hadn't wanted to talk about his experiences for some time. "I was sick for a long, and my mom took me to the Childrens' Hospital. They said I wouldn't ever get out, that I was going to die. So she left me there and moved away. But I got better and now she wants me back."
"And this disturbs you." Isa commented, searching the boys face knowingly.
"Why didn't she come for me when I was sick? When the doctor was doing all those bad things to us? Why show up now, when I'm happy with my new family?" The boy dug through his backpack and pulled out two drawings, which he handed to Isolde. "That's her, that's the mother I remember from when she first left. I don't know if I would recognize her now."
Isolde looked down at the childish drawing, noting the beginnings of the boys artistic talent showing through his childish portrait. Then she saw the other portrait and her already cold heart became as ice. There before her, in the drawings of a child, was the face of the Nosferatu Primogen Daedalus.
"Who is this face?" she asked hesitantly, handing the second page back to the boy. She braced herself for the answer.
Abel looked solemnly at the face then shrugged. "I'm not sure. It's just a face I see in my dreams sometimes. I don't think it belongs to anyone real." He carefully folded the drawing and tucked it into his shirt pocket. "It's funny, though. When I dream of him, I'm happy. Like he's someone who really loved me. I don't dream of my Mom that way anymore. I wonder why?"
"I can not imagine." Isolde replied, relieved. "Well, Abel, are you planning to take up residence here in this place or is there somewhere more comfortable you could be in? Somewhere like a home?"
"My foster parents live in the subdivision behind us. I guess I should go home. They're probably worried about me. What about you?"
"Oh, I think I will sit here for a while and take in the night air. You go along, I will be fine. And Abel ..." she reached out for the boy's drawing paper and pencils and quickly wrote her name and cellular phone number on one page, "If you need to talk to someone about your feelings towards your mother, call me. I know how angry you must feel right now. My mother abandoned me as well when I wasn't much older than you."
"She did?" the boy replied, skeptically. "Were you sick too?"
"In a matter of speaking, I suppose I was. But that is a story for another time. Run along home now, young one. We will talk again very soon."
Abel gathered up his belongings and started back down the path towards the road. He looked back at the bench to wave to his new friend, and saw that she was no longer paying attention to him. She was picking the petals off the rose she held and sending them into the wind like prayers to God.
Isolde sat among the dead for a while longer, thinking back to her own breathing time. It seemed only yesterday that her mother had relinquished her to a stranger, a woman whom she had heard sold young girls to men for money. The other children in the impoverished row houses around her mother's rooms had told her much about the house to which her mother often retired. So had the preacher in the little church in Soho, where she often ran to escape her mother's drunken "friends". She remembered screaming, alternately begging not to be sent away then denouncing her in all the fury her child's heart could muster. It had been during this scene that her sire had happened along, after an evening of hunting among those who would not be missed.
*If he had not taken me away with him that night,* she mused, looking down at the rose she had shredded in her lap, *would I have become like her? Dispirited, drunk and degenerate. But he did give me sanctuary. And now I am Kindred, an Archon of my clan. What will this boy become if he is given sanctuary?* Isolde rose into the night air, her form becoming that of the raven. She winged her way over the shining new homes, her bird's eyes looking carefully for the small form which she knew had to be there. The boy had looked exhausted when they had talked. He most likely would not have made too much progress on his trek home. Soon she spotted his slight figure walking up the driveway of one of the identically painted homes. She spiraled down and landed in human form in the shadows, where she could observe and not be observed.
Abel walked wearily up the walk, each step an effort. His foster family was probably worried about him by now, especially as he had left in such an emotional state. *Shouldn't have gotten mad,* he thought, dragging his backpack behind him. *It isn't their fault.* He stopped and looked at the door to his home pensively, debating whether he should knock or just go on in. Just then the door opened and his Social Worker, Ms. Martin walked out.
"Abel! Where have you been! We've all been worried sick." She fussed, catching the boy by the shoulder and pulling him in the door.
Isolde watched the woman drag the boy inside the house as she chastised him worriedly. *Poor child* she thought, stepping into the moonlight. *What will become of him now?* She stepped back quickly as the woman re-emerged from the house, followed by others.
"Well, I'll be back tomorrow to talk to him about setting up these supervised visits with his mother. Maybe if we take things slowly, he won't be so resistant to the move." Ms. Martin held out her hand to the Sorensens, her eyes sympathetic. "I know this must be a great shock, to all of you."
"We had hoped that he could stay with us permanently." Madge replied, biting her lip.
"I know, but the state mandates that we try to keep families together wherever possible. She has no record of abuse with Abel ..."
"Only abandonment." Roger replied, angrily. "Doesn't that count as abuse?"
"Her lawyer doesn't think so. And he's convinced a Family Court Judge that she deserves a second chance. There really isn't anything we can do. I'm sorry." Ms. Martin turned away from the Sorensen's, none of them noticing the dark shape which rose into the night sky behind them.
When Isolde arrived at the mansion, she moved with determination towards the Prince's study. She could hear him dictating a letter to his secretary, detailing some new acquisition he was planning with typical Ventrue thoroughness. She threw the doors open, not bothering to knock.
"My Prince, may I have a word with you?" she asked, throwing the Ventrue secretary a look of dismissal.
"Do I have a choice?" Julian replied, resigned. He motioned his secretary to leave them, then settled back in his chair. "What now, Isolde?"
"Do we have Kindred who can access the Family Court system? I have need of a name."
"No one of importance. Only a Kine judge I would know better."
Julian looked at his fellow Ventrue with concern. "Tell me why and I will see what can be done."
"There is a child, a young boy. He is being returned to a mother who abandoned him when he needed her most. I would know why this must be."
"And interfere if you can?" Julian shook his head sadly. "What is this boy's name?"
"His given name is Abel. The family name he claims is that of his foster parents, Sorensen. " Isolde noted the look of surprise on the Prince's face with interest. "Does this name have meaning for you?"
"There was a young boy. He was dying in the Children's Hospital I own. One of our clan had been preying on the children and I sent Daedalus to deal with the situation. He took pity on the child and asked me to Embrace him, but the boy was too young. I had him taken back. This was during the time of Sasha's Embrace and I lost track of what happened to him after his return to the hospital." Julian glanced quickly at the door, his sharp hearing detecting no sound in the hallway.
"Well, it would seem he has made something of a recovery. And now his mother wishes to have him back. She could not be bothered with him when he was ill but now ..."
"Does the boy remember us?" he asked, his eyes concerned.
"Not as such. He sees a face in his dreams, but does not associate it with anything of that time."
"Isolde," Julian began, rising from his seat, "I know a little about your history before your Embrace. Daedalus researched it for me. You can't make right what happened to you by intervening in this boy's life. The situation is not the same."
"Isn't it?" she replied coldly, turning her back on the Prince. "My mother sold me for what she could get to be rid of me. I was too much of a bother, just another mouth to be fed. This boy's mother left him in a place where he was abused, to die alone and unloved. Tell me where the situation is not the same."
"She couldn't have known about the Kindred Doctor who was using the children." Julian protested, "People change, Isolde. Maybe we don't change readily but they do. This woman might have been in such a bad situation that she felt the hospital was the only safe place for her son. Maybe she couldn't provide him with the care he needed..."
"That is not the point, Julian." Isolde cut him off, abruptly, anger in her voice. "The point is that she never came back, not to visit, not to check on his progress, not even to let him know she still lived. Now he has a place where there are people to care for him, and she would take him from this safe haven. Why should this be allowed?"
"Because it is not our concern." Julian replied, sadly. "But I will check on this if you wish, if only to allay your fears. Tell me what you know."
Isolde snatched a piece of paper and a pen from the Prince's desk and wrote out hastily what little data she had. She held it out to Julian, her eyes cold and determined. "All I ask for, my Prince, is that the boy be allowed his sanctuary, to have a chance to make a choice about his life, as I was allowed to do with mine. I will not interfere if there is no need, but if the need is there, not even you will keep me from doing what must be done." She turned to leave and walked into the arms of her beloved Daedalus.
"I heard." He stated quietly, enveloping her in his arms. "My Prince was right to deny me what I asked for then, my love. The boy was too young."
She leaned her head back to look into his somber eyes. "I do not ask to Embrace him. All I ask is that he have a chance at a childhood, to do the things all children do. Not to spend his nights worrying if the person he must turn to for support will be there in the morning. Not to worry if he is to be left alone and helpless again. Is that so much to ask?"
"Take her to her haven, Daedalus." Julian commanded, reaching out to lay his hand on the taller Kindred's arm. "I'll see what I can do."
The Nosferatu nodded his agreement and gently led her away, leaving his Prince to ponder this ironic twist of fate.
(to be continued)