When he was awake, there was plenty to be done. Colombe proved to be a patient teacher despite her persistent worldlessness, and Fabien quickly learned all the intricacies involved in keeping a house of this size despite his tendency to become distracted by more amusing diversions or sidetracked by questions. They enjoyed their time together, carving moments of playful happiness from the drudgery of chores. The girl occasionally lapsed into spells of sullen silence from which she could not be roused. This left the urchin little choice but to find his own amusements, and he had plenty of time to poke through the house’s many rooms.
She would always recover eventually, replying to his prompting with smiles that did not show her teeth. Twice she tied a wide bonnet over her hair and ventured into the outside world, the empty baskets in her arms returning brimming with tidily wrapped packages. Some were delivered straight to the master of the house, who accepted them with a preoccupied nod, while the others were bundled into the kitchen and unwrapped with relish.
The first time she returned with the broken pieces of a hatched robin’s egg wrapped in a handkerchief. She delicately placed the pale blue shards in the boy’s palm, her eyes bright as she gauged his reaction to this treasure. The second trip yielded a sweet, flaky pastry that they shared, fruit filling oozing from between their fingers, and an entire chicken that they conspired to turn into a meal. The sauce was under-spiced and they burned one side of the chicken beyond repair, but the result lasted them several days. Fruit and cheese were plentiful, as were bottles of sweet wine, although Colombe wrinkled her nose at the alcohol and preferred hot teas and steaming cups of hot chocolate. The scent of her perfume became stronger after each shopping trip and lingered in rooms long after she had vacated them.
Tariq remained reclusive. He gravitated toward the pair during mealtimes, often leaning against the doorway with his cane held loose between his fingers, his gaze distant as he spoke quietly to the pair. Colombe kept her head down when he was around, and Fabien was forced to bear the brunt of his attention. The vampire’s interest lingered in his health and his continued education in running the house. The boy was still subject to the probing touch of his cool hands as he inspected the nearly-healed wound at his throat. Sometimes the three of them cobbled something together that approached domestic normalcy without quite reaching it.
The vampire’s visits were often brief. There was a tension to them, a tautness in the way he moved and the way he spoke, that never quite broached the surface. He ended conversations briskly, and was absent from the house more usually than he was inside it. He returned smelling of night air with his skin flushed ochre. He did not bring any more unfortunates into the house. No one asked what he did with them outside of it.
Despite his brusqueness, there were moments when it was difficult to feel uncomfortable in the vampire’s presence. He ended discussions before he had a chance to grow quarrelsome. His voice remained soft, his attention liquid and rich when he chose to bestow it. The pale eyes remained unsettling, as did the tendency of his dreadful teeth to click together in his mouth when he grew sharp, but the week passed without incident.
It was a night that followed a rhythm the boy would no doubt be growing accustomed to; he had woken late in the afternoon and, following a cold meal that he had picked over with Colombe, they had seen to the most essential tasks. She had dismissed him early. Her mood was surly and it was likely she had retreated to her own bedroom to read or sketch, as she sometimes did when she demanded privacy. Fabien had been supplied with an apple and shooed off like a housepet.
Tariq had been absent for the better part of the day. The urchin had not seen him depart - it must have been early in the morning. Now, however, a thin line of light illuminated the crack beneath the boy’s bedroom door. The door to the room next to his, the vampire’s bedroom door, closed with a soft thud against its frame. The master had returned - no one else entered that room, under any circumstances.