Paris, early 1970s
Cassari leaned against the wall, squinted around the corner. Diagonally across the garden, over to the windows next to the door. Should he really…?
Lucas had mentioned that he would be here all week at this hour. And it had been him, after all, who had brought him here yesterday, hadn’t he?
Cassari listened, concentrating on sounds from inside, still looking over at the windows there. What was it… a female voice? A bright laugh?
It settled on his chest like a stone as he now caught sight of Lucas, through one of the windows, together with a woman. Was he flirting with her? Cassari could not understand any words, but the tone spoke for itself. Teasing, tender, playful.
He was still skeptical. Perhaps merely a human, a victim the other vampire was ensnaring in order to drink from her with a certain degree of consent? Cassari did it rarely, seeking such closeness to the humans whose blood he was stealing. He didn’t know Lucas’s habits in this regard, but he would have suspected him to keep it clearly different with that subject. Seduction, an intense way of establishing closeness, permeated his entire being.
Cassari literally forced himself to look further for a few seconds, requiring himself with a good measure of effort to make sure. To ascertain that his perception did not deceive him, that there was really more to it than the necessities that also dominated his nights. But no, he barely succeeded for more than a few seconds. That gentle way in which Lucas held her, his whole interaction with her… affectionate. The woman over there might have been human, but she was more to him than food.
Above all, she was probably more to him than Cassari could ever have become.
For a while he pressed himself against the wall, eyes closed, feeling the urge to cry, but holding back the tears, remaining silent. As stealthily, as quietly as he had snuck up, he would leave. Lucas would have been in the right after all, even if he had noticed him.
Cassari would have wished to argue with him at the moment, secretly hoping that his gaze would still meet him, fleetingly, accidentally, and he would get a chance to reproach him with the things his insides were crying out for so strongly. But being honest, there was nothing there that he could have justifiably reproached him with. He hadn’t been invited, for today, not explicitly. He’d been kidding himself about what this might turn out to be, had obviously imagined too much about being asked here yesterday instead of to the relatively impersonal, official rooms of Lucas‘ bloodline. The other vampire seemed to be having a very good time and keeping busy without him. This was the truth. And it was important to know about the truth. Still, it made him hurt beyond belief.
He took one last look back, over to that window, to that door where Lucas had seen him off yesterday. How had Cassari ever thought the whole thing was anything more than a pipe dream? More than the occasional meeting for mutual amusement? Lucas was being considered a candidate for a position on the council. In a few weeks, he would be among those who ruled over the local territory of the covenant in the name of the Old School. Cassari, on the other hand, was ostracized, nearly outcast, would no longer even be allowed to look him in the eye with impunity at their meetings.
Already at their first encounter in Vienna, this rank of being an outcast had been the reason for him, then still under the name Felix, to leave: To escape from recognized, accepted members, who were not under a ban like himself, and who had it in for him. Even then, that had made him make the decision that perhaps he should have stuck with when Lucas had shown up here in Paris a few months ago. He had been so happy to see him again. But still things remained the same between them as they had been a little more than ten years ago. Affection was not the problem. Things just weren’t allowed to be like that between them.
Cassari left. He would not return. Lucas certainly hadn’t set out to hurt him, part of him saw that. But to another part, the part that made sure he survived, he owed it to himself, with the pain and grief he was already going through, to not let it come down to more of this. Lucas didn’t need him. He couldn’t risk it being any different on his part.
He was good at pushing things aside. He needed it badly, this self-discipline, after the experiences he had had in his life, was more practiced at it than others. Not attending the meeting that took place barely three weeks later, simply staying absent even though he knew Lucas would be there, was nevertheless incredibly difficult for him. He was restless the entire night, unable to sit down, unable to stay in one place at all, and roamed the streets lonely until the wee hours of the morning. Mostly in the shade, in places that people would have avoided. Thus he found enough to drink, and yet a feeling of unsatisfactoriness lingered. Wouldn’t it have been fair to at least try to explain to Lucas what was bothering him?
Well, what could he have told him? Was there, after all, a contract between them? Had the other ever promised him anything such as a future? Promised him anything at all, as one would do to a woman, as a lover? Love, fidelity, family… Had Lucas ever given him any reason to expect anything of the sort that would have justified feeling the way Cassari did when he thought of this woman, and of the way Lucas had treated her, had touched her?
„Here you are!“ he was suddenly called. The voice, barely two feet behind him, he recognized instantly.
„My goodness – I’ve been worried. Where have you been all night?“
Cassari composed himself for a moment before turning, then did so resolutely and perhaps a little stiffly.
„On the road, I was,“ he answered, striving for straightforwardness and firmness. But now, looking into that face as Lucas met him so completely guileless, and in fact reasonably concerned, he found it hard to hold that line.
„I am not one of the superiors, I am not obliged to participate,“ he pointed out to him superfluously, as coolly and matter-of-factly as possible. „I’m not entitled to a say in the matter anyway. And watching public humiliation and corporal punishment has never given me much pleasure. I thought it would be a good idea to… keep away.“
Inquiringly, Lucas met his eyes, and an initial inkling seemed to settle in him that it was by no means voting rights or public torture that really moved Cassari. The latter could not withstand his gaze. But he pulled himself together while looking to the side and staring at a point between the wall and the street, and did not make a face.
„Was there anything else you wanted?“
Continuing to be perplexed, Lucas crossed his arms, continuing to look at him, but still more concerned than angry.
„I wanted to make sure you were all right,“ he replied, even now with almost painful impartiality. Cassari simply nodded, remaining cool, while having to fight hard with himself to maintain that posture.
„I’m fine,“ he pressed out. „And would that be about all?“
Lucas laughed out, still visibly caught off guard.
„I don’t know,“ he admitted. „Did I do anything to you? If so, it certainly wasn’t my intention. And if so, furthermore, I would politely ask you to let me know what it is about.“
„What it is…“ Cassari had already made moves to turn away, but now turned to face him again. „You said you’d be at the atelier all week,“ he blurted out. „But then you were there with that woman, and it…it’s all no use, Lucas! You’ll never look at me the way you look at her. And anyway – why would you want me when you can have someone like her. Why would you want me at all? At least with her you can be seen among people. I mean – everything just isn’t right!“
Part of his mind pointed out, like a tap on the shoulder, that what he was talking about might not be quite as catchy to someone who hadn’t spent the last three weeks racking their brains over the pros and cons. Strictly speaking, he couldn’t even know if Lucas had seen said woman more often than this one time, just nearly three weeks ago by now.
Something of this was visibly reflected in Lucas‘ expression for a few seconds.
„Woman – my atelier… But I don’t understand, Cassari. Three weeks ago, when we met on Monday night…“ He faltered, then sighed deeply, clasping his hand to his forehead.
„That was you, out on the street, at my meeting with Claudette,“ he groaned, then slowly began to shake his head. „But I don’t understand, Tuesday…“ he continued calculating, faltering again. When he looked over to Cassari in search of help, the latter stubbornly continued to look to the side, not wanting to look him in the eye at the moment. Those dark eyes, in which he could lose himself, and whose gaze he simply could not bear at that moment.
He also kept his thoughts carefully closed, ashamed far too much, especially in view of this reaction of the other, which he had wanted so much, and yet which simply could not be. Because that between them, that which couldn’t and wasn’t allowed to be anyway, suddenly got that hint of a chance, which would make it that much more painful when reality would win its inevitable victory in the end.
„You… thought I… meant that as an invitation when I said this week I was…“ Again, he sighed deeply. Cassari, on the other hand, had tears welling up in his eyes.
„Yes,“ he slipped out at first. „I mean – no, I…“ He waved it off, simply not wanting this discussion, not here, not now, preferably not at all, ever.
„Let’s just forget it, Lucas, will we? Please. You’ve got her, she’s pretty, she’s female. This thing with you guys can work out. Let’s just leave it at that, and then in a few decades we can see if we talk about it again. Although, even then, actually…“
In a quiet, determined tone, Lucas interrupted him. By now he had regained his composure, that deep tranquility that Cassari had never witnessed from anyone in this way. A slight, accommodating smile had to be on his lips for that. Cassari could not see it. But he recognized it too well, heard it clearly in the other’s tone. Looking at him, he did not dare.
„You may not be female, but in case you haven’t noticed, you’re actually quite pretty. I think, as an artist, I should be entitled to such a judgment.“
Quietly pleading, Cassari had turned back to him, and finally looked him in the eye now, still intent on leaving. But admonishing and determined, as he usually only experienced from him within their erotic games, those few hours in secrecy behind closed doors, Lucas raised his hand before he could start again.
„Tomorrow evening, nine o’clock, at the atelier,“ he ordered, „on time. You should use the early hours to drink. There will be no such thing at my place.“
He caught Cassari’s gaze as he met it shyly, with a mixture of that urge to escape and a faint hope, but also an element of questioning whether he really meant it. Silently, Lucas withstood that gaze until Cassari finally relented, lowered his head and nodded.
„Fine, all right,“ he said quietly.
Lucas nodded, walked past him, but casually put a hand on his shoulder.
„Don’t you do this sort of thing, Cassari,“ he said goodbye, gravely, but also with a strange mixture of rebuke and sympathy. Then he just left him standing there.