* * *
If there was one thing Rurik could be grateful for, it was the fact that Vivienne had chosen not to respond to all that he had just shared. He had no doubt that she knew precisely what he was all but admitting but still, he appreciated that she did not press him for a full confession. It was difficult enough to come this far and face the reality of all that he felt. Lady Ivashkov, his mother, she had been his everything when he was young. His father may have wanted a son to continue the legacy but his mother had been the one that had truly loved him. As a noble lady, she was expected to relinquish the care of her own child over to the maids of the house and visit for playtime only once a day for an hour or so. It was simply the way of nobility but she did not comply. She was always a bit of a rogue in the world of rules and regulations.
Every moment she could spare, she spent with him. She was the one who woke him in the morning, often before the maid even arrived. She would whisk him into her bedroom and they would eat breakfast together, just the two of them. Then she would help him dress and they would walk, sometimes for hours despite the blistering cold and she would tell him stories. Sometimes they were about her life back in Estonia or about her brothers and the sister she had lost. Sometimes she told stories about the wicked things in the world, but he was never frightened of the monsters in her stories because in the end, she would always take him into his arms and reassure him that she would always be there to protect him. And he, being young and naive, had believed her.
How sweet her lies at been then. Really, he should have been afraid of her. The worst monster of all had been sleeping inside her own heart.
But the feeling that tore at him the most was the realization that he could never shake the feelings of hurt and damaged hope. And worse yet, she knew the power she still held over him. He and Vivienne never spoke about their dances with madness for the sake of their own recoveries and he never wanted them too. It was painful enough for him to admit that he lived on the edge of insanity but he couldn’t bear to face the true reality of what forced him to those dark places. Whenever Lady Ivashkov appeared to take him away, all she had to do was look at him, smile, and whisper a few false promises of motherly love. It always began the same way;
“My love… my darling boy… come home with me.”
Sometimes she would brush his hair back and kiss his forehead, making a cruel mockery of the affection she once lavished upon him as a child. Yet every time, he fell back into her grasp, desperate for the mother he had lost so long ago…
Rurik was grateful when Vivienne forced him back to reality by asking for a memory of their father. He slowly allowed the tension to leave his body as he focused on the task at hand rather than the pain of his past memories. Lord Ivashkov was a far safer topic than his lady wife. As much as he despised his father, there was never much fondness between them. Lord Ivashkov had always been rather indifferent to his own son. In fact, looking back on those happier years, Rurik could almost swear that the Lord was rather put out by the attention his wife lavished on their only son. He never did fair well with playing second fiddle, least of all to his own flesh and blood.
“I am afraid I will disappoint you on this score Viv,” He said after several long moments. But despite the pause, a genuine, albeit, exhausted smile appeared on his face.“Dying really did not have much effect on our father. He is pretty much the same as he always has been. And, shockingly, we were never particularly affectionate towards each other.” He snorted. Still, he tried to think back on his memories of their father and select one that Vivienne would enjoy. It took some time, but eventually, something bubbled up from the surface of his memory.
“A few months after you were born, Lady Ivashkov took sick,” He said, pulling the pieces of the events together in his mind. “Nothing serious but she couldn’t…” He paused, again struggling with indecision about how much to admit about the woman their mother had been. But, after a moment of consideration, he relented. “She couldn’t take care of you the way she would have. You were small Vivienne. So small and you hardly cried. It worried her and the nurses said you were sickly.” He wasn’t sure if she ever knew that. “She wouldn’t trust the maids to look after you. But when she got sick, the brunt of the responsibility fell on our father.”
“He was in his study and you were in a bassinet by his desk. Nanny tried to keep me away but even she couldn’t keep track of everything, although bless her, she did try her best.”
Rurik was not supposed to be here. Nanny had told him that he couldn’t disturb his father but mother was ill and she had made him promise to look after his sister. She was his responsibility and he couldn’t look after her like he was supposed to if he wasn’t near her. Besides, he couldn’t say that he trusted his father completely. Yes he was his father but he wasn’t gentle like mother was. How could he take care of the baby if he wasn’t gentle? No, Rurik needed to be there. He needed to see that his sister was taken care of because if she wasn’t, he would have to act. So when the opportunity presented itself for him to slip away from the watchful gaze of his nanny, he took it.
He walked through the long hallways of Ivashkov manor towards his father’s study, fear building up within him the closer he got. What if his sister was not alright? He had heard the nurses talking about how she didn’t cry much and how they feared she was a sickly baby, but surely they could keep her safe? Right?
Rurik came to a stop outside the great wooden doors leading into his father’s study. Usually, this was a room he would avoid at all costs. The only times he came here was at his father’s invitation and those were never particularly fun. Lord Ivashkov would usually talk for a long time about things he didn’t understand and then send him off again with an awkward pat to the head. But today, he knew his baby sister was in there and he needed to see that she was being taken care of. So despite his anxiety, he peeked through the crack of the doorway, careful not to make a sound.
His father sat in his desk beside the bassinet that held his sister, looking far too casual for his liking. He had a book in front of him and he spoke in gentle, hushed tones, but he was looking at the words printed before him rather than the baby nestled at his feet. For a moment, all Rurik could do was stare, horrified that he had been right and his father truly couldn’t be trusted with the care of his new baby sister. Had mother been well, he would have run to her first to inform her off the horrific act he had just witnessed. But since she was bedridden, he decided to take action himself.
Summoning up all his courage, he pushed open the great wooden door and rushed over to his father, his face screwed up with anger. “You aren’t watching her!” He shouted, then remembering the baby, he repeated his accusations again in a sheepish whisper. “You aren’t watching her.”
Isidor looked surprised at his son's sudden intrusion and he put a finger in between the pages of his book to hold his place. “I am watching her. She is perfectly safe,” He said, nodding to the small, swaddled bundle that was his sister.
But Rurik shook his head, determined to call his father out for his inaction. “No. She is sick. I heard nanny say it. And mother thinks it too. You,” He pointed to his father, “Should take care of her.”
Isidor’s surprise faded as irritation set it. “Rurik, she is not sick.” He said with a slight groan. “I can assure you of that.”
Rurik didn’t believe it though. He had heard it from nanny and mother believed it too. She was so worried that she wouldn’t let anyone else touch her. Why would she do that if little Vivienne was alright? She wouldn’t, so father must be wrong. And what did he know about babies?
Isidor must have seen the argument in his eyes though because he suddenly leaned down, snatched his squirming son up, and brought him next to the bassinet. “Look at her and tell me she’s ill.” He demanded, holding him firmly.
At first, all Rurik did was struggle, but he quickly determined that his father was not going to release him anytime soon, so he stopped and looked at the bassinet with a pout on his face. It took him several long minutes, but eventually he began to see what his father was talking about. Laying in the bassinet was a wide-eyed baby with rosy cheeks and a dark tuft of hair. Her lips were puckered in the usual baby fashion but her brow furrowed and relaxed in an alternating pattern as she observed the commotion above her. And she was moving more than just her face. Although she was swaddled, he could see her little limbs rustling beneath the fabric, although he saw no discomfort in her face that meant she was feeling poorly. She looked just like any other baby, although her eyes were a lighter blue than anyone’s he’d ever seen before.
“She… doesn’t cry,” He said, now somewhat unsure of himself. Lord Ivashkov finally released him and settled back into his chair, flipping the book back open. “No, she doesn’t,” He agreed. “But that does not make her ill.”
Rurik stared down at his sister in silence, unsure of what to say. He couldn’t think of a response so he looked back up at his father with a questioning gaze. Isidor glanced down at him, sighed, and once again put his book down. “Children cry when they need something or when they want something; whether it be food, attention, comfort, or whatever else. Some children cry far more than they are required to, some less. Vivienne,” He glanced down at his daughter, a thin smile playing at the edges of his lips, “Vivienne knows she is well-taken care of, so she does not need to cry. She is perfectly content. You can see it in her eyes.”
Rurik kept looking between his sister and his father, utterly confused by the whole affair. “But mother…” Lord Ivashkov cut him off. “Your mother would be concerned regardless of what Vivienne did. She was the same way with you and you cried excessively.” He announced with irritation that thankfully, went right over his young son’s head.
Rurik didn't know what to think anymore. He usually trusted his mother with all matters but his father looked so sure of himself. Plus the baby didn’t really look sick. She was small of course and very fragile but she was wiggling around and seemed to be enjoying the attention. So what did that mean? Could mother be worried over nothing? He wasn't sure but as he tried to sort through his feelings, his father leaned down, plucked the baby out of the bassinet and nestled her in his arms. Then, Lord Ivashkov, as proper as ever, opened the book back up and began to read aloud.
It was like watching magic. Almost as soon as his father began to read, the baby stopped squirming and relaxed within her father's arms, her eyes wide but attentive. He didn't know how, but somehow, Lord Ivashkov had known something that his wife had not; he had known what his daughter had needed. The soft sound of his voice reading was comforting her and even though he might not be worried that she was sick like the ladies in the house, he was gentle in his care of her all the same.
Sometime later, Nanny found him dozing at the foot of his fathers chair. She had cooed at the sight of the two Ivashkov children lulled into sleep by the comforting sound of their father reading his poetry. Doing her best not to deserve the picture of serenity, she backed out of the room and gently shut the door behind her again, allowing them to enjoy their moment of peaceful comfort.
* * *
Finishing this story had not been nearly so draining as the first one had been. Isidor Ivashkov as a human was hardly any different than the vampire Mikhail Ivashkov. They were both selfish creatures of ambition, but even he could admit that his father’s intentions were sometimes in the right place. When it came to Vivienne at least, he knew he would never do anything to purposefully harm her.
Now came the moment of unknown. When he decided to gift Vivienne his memories, he had anticipated that her first questions would be about her human parents. He may not have given her much over their centuries of eternal life, but he had done her the courtesy of listening to her requests before outright rejecting them. Now that those needs had been fulfilled however, he wasn’t sure what she would chose for her last memory. What was left for her to crave?
“Last one Vivienne,” He prompted her carefully, both curious and perhaps a little worried about her final choice.