Chapter 29: The Crimes of Omission

 Keel could become human?

A whole jumble of thoughts, dreams and hopes tumbled through my head unbidden. Could there be a future for us? One completely free of the Nosferatu bloodlust and all the crazy that came with it? We'd never considered the possibility that Keel's transition could go the other way too. Like half-vampires being able to walk in daylight, and failure to turn not meaning almost instantaneous death, this was yet another truth mysteriously missing from the Nosferatu tomes and teachings.

I turned to Keel, curious to see how he was handling this revelation, but his hands were shoved deep in his pockets and the mixture of emotions etched on his face was several shades darker than mine. Since he didn't consider me any more human than he was, it was easy to forget how Keel saw ordinary people, and how willing and eager he'd always been to shed his humanity and become what he was destined to be. This thing between us didn't change that any more than his obsession with human trinkets changed it. He enjoyed watching the ant farm, but he had no interest in becoming a colony drone. It was all right there in his posture, his eyes: he'd always believed he was meant to transition, to become Nosferatu, to be king. Choosing this would cement a new path for him. If he became human, there would be no going back – ever.

How was Keel supposed to make such a huge, life-altering choice while we stood here waiting? Ephraim was treating Keel's decision as if it should be no more difficult than flipping a coin.

"Does he have to make up his mind right this second?" I asked.

"The longer he stays in this half-state, the more of a threat he'll become," Ephraim said. He sounded as if he was reciting lines from a textbook..

"Still, can't he have a little bit of time?" I pleaded.

Ephraim was looking at us with that penetrating gaze again. I knew he was trying to figure out why I would defend Keel and vice versa. He was smart and observant enough to know it had to go beyond honour and what was right, but we'd been careful to obfuscate whatever signs of the bond we could, and there was no way the hard, cold man standing in front of us would ever believe it was love. Even if I was terrible at disguising it.

Meeting Ephraim made me wonder about my mother even more, and what she'd seen in him and why. Was there ever a time he wasn't like this? Sadly, she was another mystery, another secret I needed his help to uncover. And I didn't want to need him for anything.

Yet, by dangling the carrot of Keel's humanity in front of us, along with the promise of a monster-free life, he'd found a way to own us without having to concede much of anything and without ever having to be nice. Maybe this is why Keel played the politics game so much better than me: he was conditioned to be ready for betrayal, ulterior motives and sabotage, while I was always desperate to hold onto my faith in people's inherent common decency.

"Twenty-four hours," Ephraim relented, begrudgingly. From the way he was scanning the crowd, it was clear he wanted to make a hasty departure. "But between now and then, no more blood." He directed those last three words at Keel, slowing them down so they came out in a blunt, heavy staccato for maximum mental penetration.

"Understood, sir," Keel said.

Ephraim gave the two of us another withering glance, then shook his head and continued, "There is a safe house not too far from here where you can stay for the night. Once he makes his decision, we will figure out how – and where – to proceed."

"Can we trust him?" I asked Keel, through the bond. He shrugged; he wasn't sure either. "Do we go with him?" Another silent question. He nodded once. Unless you were watching for the motion, it would have looked like something on the ground had just caught Keel's eye, but it was all the answer I needed.

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