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The Slow Burn Part II

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by: Don Lara for Sanguinus Curae

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I'm snapped out of my disturbingly satisfying reverie by arriving at my destination. I got so lost in thought for a minute there...

None would wonder (if anyone outside of the warren ever saw his real face) why we had taken to calling him Yoda. Though the reference was lost on many of the elder members of the group, saying it occasionally allowed us of the younger set a small chuckle. I didn't use it this time. I wasn't in a chuckling mood.

"I need some information." The request (command?) came out of my throat like a feral growl, and I was taken aback by it slightly. Where had my mind gone? Why was I...

Yoda spun around at my words, shock filling his eyes briefly.

"'s you. Well, -we're- in a mood, aren't we?"

"Sorry," I make an effort to compose myself, "I...look, I need some help tracking someone down. I know Alan hauled some new equipment down here for you recently, so..."

"Recently? Christ, man, Alan brought that stuff down 3 years ago. You've really got the 'eternal brain' in a bad way, don't you?"

I wave away his ribbing, frustration rising into my throat and mind.

"Whatever, 3 years, 3 decades - can you still get into outside files? Names, addresses, that sort of thing?"

Something in my voice, or maybe something that came across what was left of my face, must have hinted to him that this wasn't some sort of casual inquiry of mine, but a -need-. A serious need. The sarcasm leaves his attitude, and he looks at me squarely.

"All right...yeah. What am I looking for?"

"A boy, six years old. He's registered at Saint Joe's right now, in the burn unit. First name is Toby. Can you get me his home address?"

Yoda took out a scrap of stained paper and a half-broken ballpoint, scratching out the details I relayed. Once finished, he looks over the short list, nodding absently, as if he were forming a plan of electronic attack on whatever computer systems he knew he'd be diving into.

"Give me an hour or so?" he looked at his cracked Swatch casually.

I nod, slightly irritated, but somewhat satisfied. I still feel the heat pulsing behind my eyes, images of scarred skin and a hot iron-

"Just...promise me I'm not going to regret getting this info for you by the next gathering, all right?"

My eyes lock on Yoda's, and I come out of my distraction once more. "If anything goes wrong, I'll say I got the stuff out of the phone book."

Yoda sighs and gets up from his rickety desk, shuffling down the darkened tunnel that leads to most of his computer equipment, his huge ears flapping gently all the way.

I hunker down on the grimy floor and seethe, trying to force the hour to pass more quickly. I close my eyes, and try to arrange my thoughts: I just want to ensure that the boy doesn't come to any further harm (burn the father) and, barring that, that the kid ends up in a safe place (dad's gotta die). But I can't keep my thoughts in one single file line. Thinking of one thing takes me to another: his father to my sire, the yellow stripe on the floor to Eliza's hair, the iron to my mother and Sunday mornings...


My eyes snap open to see Yoda standing in front of me, holding out a small piece of paper clutched between the bony stumps that pass for his fingers. I reach out for the scrap, knowing I look a little bewildered.

" hour's passed already?"

"Phfft," he sputters in disgust, " you dummy. It's been about fifteen minutes. I'm like Scotty: I always overestimate. It's a habit. Impresses the older folks when I finish faster." He chuckles slightly at that, then quickly gets back to the matter at hand. "Couldn't find any info on the boy, specifically, but there was a registry made at the nurse's station a couple of days ago about a man bringing in a kid, didn't say male or female, to be looked at for burns. Said it was listed as a 'household accident.'"

"Sounds about right." I mutter, glancing over the piece of paper as I stand up.

"The guy didn't have insurance, apparently. Paid with a credit card. Worked backwards from there to his credit rec-"

"Fine, fine. Look, I don't need the play-by-play. Is this his address here or not?"? The growl was back. I wasn't interested in standing around, listening to dumbo here wax technical at me. Yoda takes a step back at my bark. I don't care.

"Yeah...yeah that's him. Calm down, okay?" he pauses a second, then, " this is a bad idea. Give me back the paper. You're not thinking straight. I can see it." He reaches up to snatch the address from me.

I drill my gaze into his, bringing myself up to my full height and bare my misshapen fangs at him. From the pit of my stomach, the fire rises to my throat. "Stay away!" And like flipping a switch, he turns on his heel and retreats back down the tunnel to his computers, muttering "What the hell?" as he goes.

I keep my fire stoked as I shove the address into my pocket and take the twisted route to the 110th Street manhole. I'm not even thinking about the kid. It's just the need now. The need to close the circle.

I slide quietly through the manhole and out into the blackwashed city, phasing myself from sight as I pad my way towards the fath... the juicebag. The juicebag that doesn't even know he's popped yet.

* * * *

The city has lost a good deal of its grandeur for me, since the change. People are to be avoided. Stores and cafes aren't places I can really go into anymore (not that I need to anyway). Buildings are just landmarks: big concrete blocks that make a rats maze to negotiate. Of course, once you start looking at it like that, it makes it so much easier to get from point A to point B without being distracted by the smells of food, the gatherings of kine, and the latest sale in the department store windows.

I pad down the street, making my way south. I thread quickly, but carefully, through the pedestrians, the face I've thrown over myself utterly forgettable. I check the slip of paper once more, just to make sure I've got my bearings. "Timothy Duval," I growl, then look around quickly on the chance anyone's heard me. Inhuman snarls from forgettable humans have a nasty habit of making them much more memorable. But no, the rush of the traffic and the people lost in their own lives covers my utterance. I clamp my jaw down, determined not to make any -more- maybe looking good and having a high level of self-esteem (damn him).

I shake the now very old animosity away. Need to keep focused. Need to keep moving.

It's a long trek through the thinning populated areas before I stop to check my progress. The address has led me to a less than shining section of town. I must have stepped over the proverbial "tracks" a few blocks back, because I was definitely on the other side of them.

There's no one around now, just the darkness between functioning streetlights, the distant yap of a sad dog, and me, standing in front of the place. It's a three story, cracked-brick tenement, looking the same as all the others on the block around it. The only difference was that this one had a light on. Room 3A, I hope.

I glance right and left as I climb the shoddy set of stairs to the front door. Good. No witnesses makes this so much easier. I look up to the lit window, and see movement inside. I can picture him drunk, stumbling around the place. Taking his kid to the doctors was probably the last lucid, benevolent thing he's done in years. The sonofabitch.

The door is guarded by an old and rusted iron gate, which I handily yank off its frame with a single tug and a growl, letting it clatter down the steps as I smash the flimsy door open with a crack of my knotted fist. I want him to hear me. I don't care about other residents as I barge in, but it's a moot point anyway; doesn't look like anyone else is dumb enough to live in this rat trap.

I stomp towards the staircase, forcing blood into my muscles on instinct and anger. Up the two flights before I know it, feet leaving holes in the stairs as I go. I see the door. I smell him. Sweat. Fear. I snarl loudly. More fear. Kick down the door, rush in. He runs away and I chase him into the bedroom. Dark, but I see. Jump on him. Grab him by the neck and hold him down, look right at him and let out fangs.

"Please, God! No! Please No!" Meatsack squeaks at me. Dumb ugly meatsack. Squeeze hand on his neck. Wanna jam my teeth into the bald head, all scarred up... all scarred up like... like burns. His face... no definition. Just burns. Scars. His hands... and legs. Burned.

Wait. Just... wait.

I lean back, let my hand off his throat, but still hold him down with my weight. Gotta... gotta think. He's whimpering, gasping, staring at me. Eyes wide. No pretty face for him to look at. No, not for him. And I just can't understand

"WHY? Why did you do it? You've BEEN burned! You know what it means! Why do that to your child?!? Tell me!"

His mouth starts flapping as the piece of shit tries to form words.

"H-he h-had to learn! Had to learn isn't fair and being pretty...being pretty and happy isn't all there is. He had to know..."

"Had to know? HAD TO KNOW?!"

Red is all I see. Mine. His. On the wall. On my claws. I take in as much as I can , and leave the rest to spill.

On the way out, I turn on his electric range and dump some newspapers on it. He can have all the burns he wants now.

* * * *

I drop in on Yoda again. It's been a day since I paid Daddy a visit. Turning towards me from his desk, he doesn't look at all pleased.

"Want to tell me why the address I gave you last night is now polluting the air over the South district?" I look at him with joyless eyes.

"Ever had to set a wrong right?" He pauses at that.

"Maybe - why?"

"The kid in the hospital is going to end up with Child Services pretty quick. I don't care what I have to do, what I have to owe you or anyone here... I want to make sure that kid is safe. That he ends up with a good family. That he has whatever normal life he can from now on."

There's a long silence, during which Yoda only stares at me, mouth a bit agape. I betray nothing of the anger that still simmers within me. I give off no sense of guilt for what I've done. It was either that, or let a monster destroy an innocent. An innocent... like I used...

"All right," Yoda finally nods, still looking perplexed, "I think I can pull a few strings along the way - but it's going to cost you."

I nod, turn towards the darkened tunnel, and mutter, "It already has."

* * * *

"Excellent. He even saved me the cost of having to have the building demolished. I must say Kenneth, I'm impressed with your handling of this. Duval was the last holdout on that block. Now...literally nothing stands in the way of the redevelopment of the South district. Whatever did you tell the boy?"

Kenneth Ashland, the recently released Childe of Fredrick Allen II, smiled softly in a way only a blueblood can when gloating over a success.

"I told him 'Do not be fooled by pretty faces, Toby. And don't fear the monsters.'"

Fredrick Allen gave a small smirk at that, and looked thoughtfully out over the city from the windows of his suite atop the Allen Building. It was a city he intended, had been intending, to make his one night. Now he was another lengthy step closer to that goal.

"Yes...very good." There was a pause and, for an instant, an almost reminiscent look crossed the Elder Ventrue's face. "Oh...and by the way, make sure some funds are allocated into a trust for the boy, effective his 18th birthday. Put it through Dane Financial, with a note on it. Erm...something to the effect of 'From Anonymous: no boy should have to lose a father so young.' Something like that."

Kenneth was caught a bit off guard, but recovered quickly, and made a note on his palm pilot. "Will there be anything else, Sire?"

"No, I think that will be all for now. Thank you, Kenneth."

Ashland exited without another sound. As he proceeded back to his own office, he smirked inwardly at his own cunning. He would have to use this "Yoda" again sometime. The intel he had provided on Duval was one thing. But to then inform on one of his own having a thing for the burn unit...that was priceless. It also showed that the dumbo-eared sewer rat had no qualms about crossing Clan lines. Very interesting. Very useful.

Kenneth was, of course, pleased to have satisfied his Sire, but also a bit curious. Mr. Allen was rarely ever this benevolent to a mortal he didn't know.

But then, even the most jaded of Kindred had to have their moments, Kenneth supposed.

* * * *

If I could still feel it, I'm sure the cold out here would bother me. I can see his face from here, where I perch. I'm not usually accustomed to playing gargoyle, but I wanted... needed to make sure he was all right. I don't think they've told him about his Dad yet. Still angelic, that face. What I did... I'm not sure what it makes me. Avenger or murderer? I guess it doesn't matter. At least, not right now, it doesn't. What's important is that he's all right. That Toby doesn't end up like his Dad. Or even... like me.

It's hard to watch him lying there, but I know I'll be watching him for a long time. Making sure...just to make sure.

Looking at him, I try once again to remember my own face; my face before. But the only face I see now is his. Maybe that's how it should be.

Maybe it's how it has to be.


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