Continuing after Offer
Christmas in general wasn’t an event which Darren would get too excited about. Maybe years and years ago he had had a true Christmas, complete with a decorated tree, glittering ornaments hanging around the house, big meals and the anticipation of Santa Claus’s arrival churning in his little tummy, but it was such a once-upon-a-time that the vague memories seemed like someone’s fairytale, not even Darren’s. His less-opaque experiences of Christmas were comprised of his father’s lack of presence and his mother’s sore absence until it was well over. Off to celebrate with somebody else other than her only son, obviously. He hadn’t had even a proper dinner, let alone decorations and presents. His last Christmas as a human had been spectacularly dismal. Being the swimming team’s captain and the school’s golden boy, Zack had the responsibility to uphold his status by throwing the biggest party in town… right under Darren’s room for two days straight. God knew Darren had had to bar the door to prevent his room from being mistaken as some makeshift fuck-space. The voracious noise guaranteed that he wouldn’t have any decent sleep without the blaring music penetrating his dreams. And don’t even mention the glorious mess afterwards.
It was funny how his first Christmas as a non-human was truer in both sense and spirit than his many dulled and meaningless ones. The Mikaelsons were many things, Original vampires, founding fathers and mother of New Orleans, ancient monsters with a millennium’s worth of blood and more often than not harbingers of misfortune and disasters, but none could say they didn’t possess a merry spirit. That spirit particularly flared when it came to celebrations. Celebrating in proper manners and style was just as deadly serious as any other business to them, those ancient beings whom young ones would think as having gone through too many lifetimes to even care for the differences between Christmas and Thanksgiving. Darren had had the exact same expression and was then proven very wrong when he woke up one morning to witness the biggest Christmas tree of his life so far erected in the middle of the yard. The holiday spirit hung thick in the air with the influx of servants rushing in and out of the compound to meet their wealthy employers’ many elaborate demands. His legs moved on their own why his mind was so entranced by the atmosphere that it got a temporary shutdown, and he blended right in with the human servants and offered his vampiric hand to the job. None questioned his sudden appearance nor his preternatural abilities on blatant display, wordlessly accepting him as another helper. Conveniently compelled, all of them.
“My my, aren’t you a helpful one?”
He heard Rebekah’s footsteps on the stairs and her voice rang in his vampire ears like clear silver bells amongst the sea of indistinct noises. She looked a little less than her best, having just returned from a foreign trip and in the middle of adjusting to the time zone by burying herself under her blankets. In fact, these were her very first words to Darren since she laid eyes on him upon her return. He had noticed the sharp edge in her tired eyes at once, being too accustomed to that mildly-surprised and doubtful look people often gave him thanks to a certain ancient doppelgänger.
“You’re Darren, aren’t you? The kid Elijah picked up during his ‘fun’ time as a history teacher? God, my brother actually thought being a teacher was fun,” Rebekah said, leaning against the wooden rail.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Darren replied. He was thankful that Rebekah didn’t refer to him as his former history teacher’s pet. If only he got a dollar every time he heard such…
“Didn’t you have a home? Were your parents OK with their son’s turning into a vampire?”
“Well, my dad fled from my mom and my mom fled from me,” said Darren with a shrug. Bringing her up hurt less these days, and it was surprising even to him how he could mention her in such a nonchalant tone. “I think she’s better off without a child anyway. She remarried after all, and suddenly I had a hotter and undeniably wealthier dad than my biological one.”
“You sound bloody like Flowers in the Attic, don’t you know that? Tell me, have you any siblings?”
“No, not really,” Darren sounded uncertain, “I was the only child, unless you count my ex-stepbrother. What’s Flowers in the Attic anyway?”
Rebekah waved her hand. “Nevermind. I heard you recently became one of The Strix.”
Darren nodded while hanging golden and silver tinsel on a branch. “I still had no idea whatsoever why I was qualified as ‘passed’.”
One blink ago Rebekah was leaning against the rails and in the next, she was standing by Darren’s side with one hand on her jean-clad hip, startling him.
“Did you know Tristan had me staked and cursed and then Aurora bloody dumped me at the bottom of the ocean? Those two bloody loons,” Rebekah asked, her blue eyes squinting.
Of course Darren knew all about it. One of the first things Tristan had drilled into him on day one was the significant events with the Mikaelsons from past to present. It was like going through History 101 all over again, except that his ‘teacher’ was extra-homicidal and would prefer to send him home with a neck snapped than a bad grade. The number of surprise tests being taken up to eleven was yet another spice added into the hellish stew.
In sum, yes, Darren knew all about the nasty things Tristan and Aurora had done to the Original sister, and how she had retaliated afterwards. What he didn’t understand was why Rebekah brought it up to him merely after some minutes of idle conversations. It caused anxiety to rise in the pit of his stomach.
“I did,” he replied, glancing warily at Rebekah and expecting a blow. He would consider himself extremely lucky to get away with only a broken neck.
Rebekah’s unexpected slap on his taut back caused him to lose his balance and tumbled down, only to get caught by her arms.
“Don’t give me that eye as if I were about to bloody bash your skull,” she chided him, not harshly. “I’m mean, true, but not that mean. Plus, even if I wanted to, I would never hear the end of it if I so much as lay a finger on Elijah’s boy.”
Just when he thought not being referred as ‘pet’ was an improvement…
“You’re having your arms around me, not your finger.”
Smiling, Rebekah released him from her grip. “You’re witty, aren’t you? I like that. The thing is, kid, you’d do better to stay far away from that bloody lot, especially Aurora and that stuck-up twit who might be your distant ‘relative’. I would have stuck that bloody cursed stake right up his arse if my brother hadn’t already done so for as long as I could remember.”
Darren’s face put on an expression that could only be classified as ‘comically horrified’. “I’m pretty sure I don’t want details.”
“About the stake-up-arse part or the other?”
Her feigned innocence couldn’t fool a kid, let alone a straight A teenager.
“Neither,” he said, trying not to sound like a huff. “Moreover, why are many people assuming I’m related to Tristan? It’s been more than a thousand years and right now most high school students know the gene pool is not limitless.”
There was that elder’s half disappointed and half amused look like Aya often gave him again. Well, at least Rebekah didn’t overact like Aurora.
“Have you ever heard the name Tatia? It must have popped up somewhere in your Strix’s supernatural Wikipedia, huhm?”
Darren nodded. “She was the reason why we are here and not six feet under?”
“Not bad for a high school student,” said Rebekah with a smile. “Tatia was but one link of a long chain of related people magically looking like carbon copy of one another. Want to hear more about that bloodline?”
“Something tells me that involves racing through basically every shop in New Orleans in a late Christmas shopping.”
He had learnt that Rebekah was Aurora’s sire, and if Aurora was a terminal shopaholic, he didn’t see why Rebekah was any different.
“I’m liking you more and more, kiddo. Now you wait a few minutes while I freshen up and you’ll help me get my niece a nice present.”
“Alright,” Darren replied, sounding a little defeat.
Nice kids got presents from Santa Claus while naughty ones got none, that was common knowledge. For years and years Darren had been convinced that his name was forever on Santa’s naughty list, for rarely had he received a present that wasn’t from the online game developers. To be fair, Zack did give him a present in their first Christmas, which was nice if you overlooked the tiny fact that he had gotten it from one of his many admirers at school. There was even a Merry-Christmas card directed to him inside the box.
Fortunately Darren had made good use of that hand-knit scarf.
This year was different though. Darren supposed somehow he had miraculously gotten off the naughty list and even made it to the other one. He had started the day by helping with decorating the house and then escorted Rebekah on her shopping escapade as she raided the shops in Nola − not yet an expert but he had acquired excessive experience from countless times playing Aurora’s bag-carrying boy. He spent the other half of the day babysitting Hope so that Hayley could do a late Christmas shopping for her in-laws, who happened to be plenty, while being involuntary accomplice in Freya’s arson. Moral of the story: never allow a witch and a baby vamp in the kitchen. Period. Compulsion and money existed for the sole purpose of preventing these incidents. The only good thing to come out of it was their providing quite an entertainment for the little hybrid girl.
So, Darren had been a “good, extra-helpful kid” as per Rebekah’s words and thus was entitled to receive a number of presents on Christmas night, much more than all the gifts he had been given in his entire human life. Hayley brought him some homemade desserts from her in-laws in the bayou and, unlike Freya’s failed attempt, they were edible and actually delectable. Point taken: Wolves cooked much better than vampires and (ancient) witches because they had to do it on a daily basis instead of staring into a chef’s eyes for some seconds or having absurdly wealthy vampire siblings. For helping Freya, whether in burning down the kitchen or cleaning up the mess afterwards, the Mikaelson witch had made it so that his daylight ring was firmly attached to his finger, thus no more worry about dropping or having it stolen by some elder vampire bullies. Aya sent him a black envelope containing a sleek black card that granted him access to The Strix’s exclusive bar and a whole year of free-drinking. Not keen on another hour-long lecture about underage drinking from his former history teacher slash sire slash unofficial guardian, he tucked the card in the depth of his jeans pocket with the intention to pay it some visits in the near future. The most unexpected gift was from Klaus, who had ordered a complete set of flat-screened TV, surrounding stereo system plus gaming arcade installed in his room. “You entertained my sisters well and since it’s Christmas, I can be charitable,” he nonchalantly declared, stunning Darren. Somehow the set had occupied most of his living space but being the self-entitled hikkomori who could stay inside for days to play a new video game that Darren was, he couldn’t really complain.
“You’ve got quite a huge Christmas stocking, haven’t you?”
A large hand on his shoulders woke Darren from his trance of contemplating the massive wardrobe Tristan and Aurora had delivered to the Mikaelson compound when the clock struck twelve. The elegant card that accompanied this extravagance read: “Dress well when you’re back to school. PS: The ties are entirely Aurora’s contributions.”
Yes, Darren was coming back to school in spring because according to Tristan, “A Strix without at least two degrees is no Strix at all.” If Darren wasn’t a nerdy kid who had spent most his life devoted to studying and playing games, he felt that he would revolt and run away − one didn’t simply become an undead in order to come back toiling at school.
“Can I just wear the hoodies and jeans Rebekah bought me?” Darren asked Elijah, who had just entered his room with a tumbler of bourbon in his hand. “Not these suits and funny ties?”
He finally understood why Tristan, who wore mostly grim and solid colors would opt for ties that appeared so out-of-character. They all came from Aurora, no wonder. Somehow Darren was convinced even if Aurora gave him jester’s outfits, Tristan would wear them with his head held high because they were his sister’s gifts imbued with love.
“You wear whatever makes you feel comfortable,” replied Elijah with a smile. “Take that little weasel’s words for reference, not commandment.”
“Aren’t you and him wearing suits 24/7?”
As far as Darren could observe, that style was strictly instilled in every member of The Strix. As (reluctant) one himself, he thought he was no exception.
“Out of choice, Darren, which I think should apply to you also. “Speaking of Christmas gift…”
A carefully wrapped box was laid next to Darren, startling the newbie vampire. “…mine is a bit humble being put next to these grandiose displays, so I thought I’d wait until deep in the night to give it to you personally.”
“Come one, Darren, open it,” he urged.
Darren’s eyes widened with every layer of the bordeaux-colored wrapping being peeled off. He was rendered speechless with what he was holding in his hands.
“Judging from your expressions, I can safely say I’ve chosen a decent gift. Being newly introduced to vampirism can be such an overwhelming experience that you’ve neglected what you loved. This fourth installment of the series is to be released a week later, but as I have some acquaintances in the company…”
Since his wording procession had come to a block, Darren sought to express his heart-swelling attitude in a tight hug. “It’s… perfect… Thank you, Elijah,” he murmured in the front of his sire’s jacket.
“What do you say we put Niklaus’s present to good use right now? The night is still much young,” said Elijah with gentle pat on Darren’s back. “But before that, would you kindly surrender Aya’s black card? I believe we’ve already discussed extensively about underage drinking.”