Three On A Match
-- : Third on a match. Meaning: bad luck.

A Brother's Keeper (Complete)
Short Story 

New York City
Several weeks ago
Caleb Portnoy Offline
Vampire Inactive
Thomas sat slumped in The Chair, small shudders running through him. Dimly, he realized he would have to burn these clothes. All the blood had ruined them. But that would come later, after he healed. Maybe after he died from the blood loss and came back again. Richard had been particularly angry this time.

This was The Room. There was a Room in each property the Coburns owned. The Room was soundproofed, small and bare, save for a metal chair bolted to the floor in the center with attached metal cuffs. Whenever Thomas angered Richard too much, or if Richard just had to let off some steam, the brothers came in here. Richard cuffed Thomas to the Chair then brought in whatever tools he wanted to use that time and he hurt Thomas as long as he wanted to. The methods varied. Knives for stabbing or slashing or carving. Electric shocks. Heated metal or fire. Acids of varying kinds. Whatever he used, Richard made sure it hurt.

And Thomas always let him.  He knew it was his fault. Richard was kind to everyone else, so the issue had to be with Thomas. Richard had to hurt him, but still loved him enough to keep him around. That's what Thomas told himself every time, even if lately he was starting to have doubts. Ever since he met Naomi. But then again, this punishment had been for getting too close to Naomi. So maybe he should just stick to what he's been doing.

Oh, Richard was talking. Thomas focused, panting softly. He tried opening his eyes. Richard has burned them out with a soldering iron early on in this session, but they were starting to heal, it seemed. When Thomas opened his eyes, he could see blurry dark shapes.

Richard was in front of him, removing the cuffs that kept him in place. Thomas whimpered softly through bleeding vocal cords and winced.

Richard sighed. “You know I don't like doing this, Thomas, but you leave me no choice. Especially this time. I'll have to take this a little further than normal, too, to make sure the lesson sticks.” The older vampire gently stroked Thomas's blood-matted hair. Thomas leaned into the kind touch.

“So I'm going to have to kill Naomi.”

Thomas stiffened with a pained gasp. He tried to speak but his throat was too damaged. Richard pulled away, heading for the door. Thomas lurched after him, fell out of the chair, and opened his mouth in a silent scream.

Richard tsked sadly. “Baby brother, she was trying to take you away from me. What else can I do? It'll all be fine soon. When I come back, I'll have removed a threat to us and Exchange will think I have removed a threat to our secrecy. And hopefully that will be enough for you to learn when someone is trying to trick you and take you away.”

Richard left the room as Thomas struggled to think past the too-familiar feeling of shock and blood loss. Some part of him was screaming. Naomi was good. Richard had it wrong! But all of that was smothered under the pain and the exhaustion. He dimly registered the door opening again and heard Richard drop at least one blood bag.

“Alright, kiddo, I've left you two blood bags,” Richard said. It was getting harder and harder to hear him. “Make sure to clean your Room, and I'll see you later.” Thomas heard the door close again before losing consciousness.

When Thomas woke up, blood dried and crusted on his cheek, his arm, his leg, the first thing he did was crawl towards the scent of human blood. It was only once he had drained both bags that he remembered what Richard had said. The empty bag slipped from suddenly numb fingers before he scrambled to his feet. “No, no, no, no,” he mumbled under his breath. He opened the door and stopped.

Thomas knew how long it generally took for him to wake up after a punishment, and that one had been especially bad. Hours had passed and he had no way to find Richard to try to convince him to leave Naomi alone. If Naomi was even still alive. There was nothing he could do for her.

The vampire began to go through a well-practiced routine on autopilot. Wash hands and feet. Gather the cleaning supplies. Start cleaning the Room. All the while, his mind turned the problem over and over.

Richard had never hurt anyone but Thomas before. But now he was going to kill Naomi. Thomas might deserve what punishments he got, but Naomi definitely didn't. Richard was good and kind and trustworthy. Everyone said so. So why would he do this?

He acted like Naomi was doing something wrong. Maybe that was true? No. No, there was no way to interpret that as her doing anything wrong. If their relationship was wrong, wouldn't the fault lie with Thomas? Thomas was the one who had sworn to stay with Richard. He hadn't realized that meant not growing close to anyone else.

If Richard didn't want Thomas befriending anyone else, and was willing to hurt innocents to ensure that happened, that was a problem. Thomas could try to keep from befriending anyone, but what if someone tried to befriend him? He could try his best to keep them away, but the past 300 odd years of trying to keep his brother happy showed that he seldom succeeded in his goals. So, would Richard hurt other innocent people?

... If Richard was willing to hurt innocent people now, how did Thomas know he'd never done so before? He believed he was the exception based on his brother’s words and how everyone else described him. But what if that wasn't the case? Exchange agents fought people and sometimes killed people. How did Thomas know that everyone Richard had killed had deserved it? He was willing to lie on the paperwork now, so surely he'd be willing to lie in the past.

Thomas froze when a dangerous idea occurred to him. He dropped the trash bag he was holding and hugged himself around the middle as a shiver ran down his spine.

If Richard was willing to hurt innocent people, then what if Thomas was innocent too?

His mind went white and cold. A cold certainty filled the immortal. He had to leave. He had to get away and stay away. Richard was dangerous. If he stayed, then anyone who tried to befriend him would be in danger. Richard would continue hurting him and nothing Thomas did would ever be able to change his mind. He didn't know what would happen if he left, but it had to be better than this.

Mind made up, Thomas abandoned the cleaning. He took a shower and began to plan. His mind was still filled with that cold sparkling emptiness. He felt like he was floating, but he also knew deep in his soul that he was doing the right thing. Once he finished his shower, he changed into some of his brother's clothes and began to pack. He also began several bureaucratic processes. Some were familiar. He had made new identities for himself before, although never in this context. Some were new. He had never needed his own bank account before, content to share with Richard. But he would need one now. And it seemed reasonable to transfer half of the funds within the Coburn account over to his own, at least after taking some actions to cover his tracks.

Once he thought he had made every preparation and plan he could, the vampire took a razor sharp hunting knife from Richard's collection of weapons and took up position next to the front door to wait.

When it happened, it happened fast. Richard thought he had his brother under complete control. The few times Thomas had thought to leave before, his oath brought him back quickly. Richard never thought to expect an attack.

The older brother opened the front door and stepped inside, pulling it shut behind him. At the moment he dropped his bag, the younger vampire tackled him. Richard went down hard and let out a cry as the hunting knife was stabbed into the meat of his shoulder. Before he could even think to fight back, the weapon was pulled out to rest against the back of his neck.

The younger brother leaned in close to whisper in his ear. [q]I call upon the codes of conduct. Having defeated you in single combat, in return for your life, I demand a favor: release me from my oath to you.[q]

Richard had no choice but to do so. The moment the younger brother felt the oath release its hold, he brought back the blade to stab it into his brother a few more times. Through the stomach and through the heart. He would be fine in the end, but the time spent coming back would give the younger enough time to get away.

The vampire got up, dropping the machete on the ground with a clatter. He did the last few things he needed to do such as showering and changing clothes. The last thing he did was leave something for his brother. Next to Richard's body, he left two blood bags and a note. The note read: Brother- If you have ever loved me, please, just let me go.

With that done, Caleb walked out the back door into the city, determination carrying him forward. Old words coming rusty to his tongue, he murmured the Shehecheyanu, the Jewish prayer for special occasions. Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheynu melech ha'olam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh. Blessed art thou, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and allowed us to arrive at this time.

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