„You're doing it wrong.“
Mikhail had expected a lot of reactions to his sudden appearance in Talleyrand's private appartment; but this option had not exactly been on the list.
Their former foreign minister did not even look surprised to see him there, but that didn't mean the man looked well, on the contary. Before approaching him, Mikhail had done his research, and as always he had been thorough. Talleyrand might be a cripple, he was most probably the most fashionable cripple in all of Paris, probably in all of France. Known for being well groomed, the excommunicated bishop of Autun was very much a ladies' man, and it had always been women who had helped him get back on his feet. Madame de Staël, who had pushed him back into the position of foreign minister after coming back from exile so that he wouldn't go down with the regime he had served before, would be shocked to see him in such a state. Talleyrand might have needed a cane to move, due to his crippled foot, but Mikhail had always been amused at how he dealt with it. His limp was a studied gesture, perfectly executed, and it seemed to be more or less severe, depending on who was around. But now he was neither well dressed, nor was there any art in the way he moved.
His long hair was loosely tied together so it didn't fall into his eyes, his forehead was shimmering with sweat, as if even he simple pants and shirt he was wearing were too hot for him, and he walked as if any movement at all caused him great pain, using not only hiscane, but also the wall for support until he had reached his armchair.
„What am I doing wrong?“
For now Mikhail kept the high voice he normally used when walking around in a female disguise. Truth be told, he had become rather fond of the personality of Madame Noir that he had created, she was so very useful. They could talk about their high ideals and great goals all they wanted, a lot of men were idiots as soon as they saw a skirt they thought they could get under. Just the way he liked it.
„When a street slut comes into the appartment of a revolutionary to stab him, it should happen in the bath. Marat founded a great tradition by getting himself killed that way.“
He seemed to be greatly amused by his own statement, even if it took Mikhail a moment to recognize that wheezing, breatheless sound as laughter. It shook Talleyrand's whole body, and seemed to have been a rather bad idea, because it turned into a cough seamlessly. The man might press a handkerchief to his mouth, there was no hiding that sweet, sweet smell of blood, and Mikhail had to bite back a shudder feeling his mouth water. Five years prior, when the terror had ravaged the streets of Paris, even he had been fed up with the ever present smell of blood, but he had recovered. Now it was stimulating.
Conveniently ignoring that he knew exaclty what was happening here, that Talleyrand was probably coughing his own lung up in the most literal of all senses, Mikhail played dumb, a saccharine sweet smile on his painted lips.
„My, Monseigneur Talleyrand, such harsh words... shouldn't a bishop have mercy on even those sheep that wandered the furthest from their herd?“
„If you're a sheep I am Philippides and just delivered the message of the victory at Marathon. What do you want?“
Mikhail bit back the comment that Talleyrand did indeed very much sound as if he had from Marathon to Athens and was drawing his last breath right now, it would not work in his favour. He also noticed that while the man might have made fun of the fact that he was a cripple, it seemed he didn't feel like joking about being a bishop. Oh well, that was none of Mikhail's concern. What counted what that, so far, Talleyrand seemed to be living up to his reputation, even in this state. That was good.
„I see I can not fool you., Monseigneur. I am facing a terrible dilemma, and although I have spoken to several people of influence, they all kept coming back to you as the one who would be able to help me in my hour of need.“
„.... Can we get over with those formalities that you don't mean anyway and get to the point? And tell me who gave you my name so I can have them sent to scrub the floors in the Hôtel Dieu.“
It was obvious that Talleyrand had been bored by his words, Mikhail hadn't expected anything else. And yet he was not being sent away. Just as Mikhail had suspected, Talleyrand thought himself so important that people would not direct someone to his doorstep if it wasn't a crucial situation, no matter how much the man's face might spell'get over with it and leave me alone already'.
„I am sure you wouldn't beso cruel as to do this...“
Although Mikhail was sure that this so called 'hospital' could do with more people to get rid of the corpses that were piling up there. Surviving an illness or injury was surely easier outside of those walls. Paris in August was a stinking hellhole, but the smell there might be worse than in most other places.
„You should never put me to the test. Your time is running out too. Speak, or get out of my sight.“
No sense of humor, that one. Oh well, dying people rarely were the most entertaining.
„You see, Monseigneur, I am hoping to get an artifact that was stolen from me back into my posession. It's a jewel, crafted into the shape of a rose. A ruby, to be precise, and it has last been seen in Eastern Europe. But with the current state of diplomacy....“
Mikhail had let his words trail off when he noticed the look on Talleyrand's face, the man had leaned back into his chair, eyes half closed, and seemed to be thinking. The handkerchief had dropped from his hands, and Mikhail had to force himself not to move there to pick it up, or to lick the blood from Talleyrand's fingers. The former bishop might not have noticed it, but it was there, mocking and tempting him.
„A ruby in shape of a rose... that would be a valuable posession indeed. I might have heard of that before, Madame.... what did you say your name was?“
He might have answered too fast, but Mikhail felt the exciment rush through his veins like the blood had done centuries ago, and every fiber of his beeing seemed to be alert.
„Madame Noir...?“ Talleyrand sounded amused, he probably thought that this was a poor excuse for an alias, and Mikhail didn't care. He could think whatever he wanted, as long as he helped him find that rose, as long as he got all five of them into his hands! „Well then, Madame, I seem to have dropped my handkerchief... would you be so kind and get it for me, then I'll tell you about that rose of yours.“
Mikhail wanted to hiss and roar, wanted to yell at him why the fuck he needed that handkerchief when the information he was hungering for was so close, but he tamed that urge. He had not roamed Paris for months, hadn't lasted here in that summer heat that seemed to suffocate everything, only to literally spoil it in the last few meters.
„But of course, Monseigneur.“
He took the two steps over to his armchair, crouched down, which was a hard task in those voluminous skirts – and then suddenly his head was yanked back by surprisingly strong fingers, while the hand that had been gripping the handkerchief was pinned to the ground by the end of Talleyrand's cane.
It was an instinct to hiss, to pull back his lips and bare his canines much like animals did, a response to both the sudden assault and the blood that was still in Talleyrand's breath when he bent down to talk to him.
„And now we can talk.... Mikhail.“
Mikhail's eyes, delineated with black kohl, widened in suprise, and his voice dropped an octave.
„How did you...?!“
„I firmly believe that reading documents before you burn them can save you a lot of trouble. While staying in Paris, after the royal family had been moved to the tuileries, I had the opportunity to read a lot of confidental documents, and there was this curious incident during the reign of Louis XIV.... a woman, or rather a man posing as a woman, using the alias of Madame Noir, was said to be a vampire. After he was exposed by a gypsy named Francis, who was one of the king's favoured dancers, that man fled the castle. And his name , according to that dancer named Francis, was Mikhail.“
The pure hatred that had started to burn in his chest at the mention of Francis was thankfully, for now, burried under something else. The pleased notion that he had, once again, been right.
„You really live up to your reputation, Talleyrand!“
If he had found that small, peculiar story, then chances were that he could also help him find the roses, and then they would all pay!
Unexpectedly, the grip on his hair loosened, and Talleyrand moved the cane to the side, allowing for Mikhail to get up.
„... You know I am a vampire, and you're lettting me go? I could kill you.“
„Oh please. You won't kill me, you need me. If you had any option toobtain that rose, you would not have come to me.“
Thatwas very much true, and Mikhail nodded, grudgingly. „You might have a point there.“
„You know I have a point. Now to the most important question in any deal... what is in it for me?“
That finally brought Mikhail's smile back, and he had to tear his mind away from the thoughts of his revenge that was finally, finally coming nearer, to make sure he answered Talleyrand properly.
„You know what I am. And you know that you are dying, even if you keep it a secret. You might have resigned because you are putting your hopes on that young general from this godforsaken island this time, but you'll probably be dead before he even arrives here. You know I've outlived generations of humans, so don't tell me you can't figure out what's in it for you.“
„Mikhail... I think we have reached an agreement here.“
Five years later
„What the hell do you think you'e doing?!“
Talleyrand did not even bat an eyelash when the crystal glass shattered on the wall next to his head, leaving a stain that looked very much like blood.
„Trying not to get hit by another one of your tantrums? That is not very ladylike, my dear Madame.“
„Stop giving me that ladylike answer, what are you doing?! This would have been the opportunity, Russia has broken with France, Napoléon has to react! So what is it with you speaking against a war with Russia, what is it with you smiling around and looking like a caricature of yourself with your bowing and limping around bent over like a lame dwarf?“
„You do realize that the louder you yell, the less I am willing to listen?“ Mikhail had a point though, the permanent posture to be smaller than Napoleon was rather uncomfortable, and Talleyrand took a moment to stretch his limbs before continuing. „Stop whining like some spoiled little kid. I am not going to ruin this country for your ambitions, especially if Napoléon will go to Russia in any case, no matter what. And do you know why?“
„Heck no, why should he go there when you're doing everything in your power to keep him from it?!“
„Because he is very much like you, Mikhail. He's so self-absorbed and so confident in his abilities that he fails to see his own weaknesses.“
„...What weaknesses would those be? He's winning, in case you haven't noticed!“
„Yes. Right now, he is winning. But you are thinking in too short terms. He wins. Winning is empty without an heir to succeed him. As soon as we made him Emperor, the next task at hand will be to get rid of Joséphine. Next, we'll get him a suitable princess, which will either be a daughter of Russia, or Austria. One way or the other, he will go to Russia. The more I speak against it, the sooner he'll go, because he's convinced that he's invincible. He can't loose, or so he likes to believe.“
„...You have this all figured out, don't you?“
Talleyrand smiled. He loved those moments when Mikhail realized that he had been played, just like everyone else. They never failed to amuse him.
„Yes.“ He moved over to the other vampire, putting his finger next to Mikhail's eye and drawing the black paint he always used for his make-up down his cheek, like an open scar. „You and him are very much alike, I told you. You both like to believe that all people who seem to be smaller are indeed smaller than you, in all aspects. A little limp, a little servileness, and you are useful to them, but not a threat.
You are both so driven by your goals that it burns you whole, because the smoke from that fire clouds your vision.“
„And you are so different from us?“ Mikhail could have kicked the cane away, to make Talleyrand stumble at the very least, but he didn't. Such insights into the man's mind were rare, and he wanted to take what he could get. They were tied by fate since that night five years ago, and he was no closer to figuring him out. „You are just like us. Insulted from birth on, betrayed, your right was taken away, your birthright, because of your leg. You might use that to your advantage now, but don't tell me you never feel hatred, that you never feel contempt!“
„Oh, I do. But there are two kinds of people who deal with suffering and humiliation. Those that continue to suffer, until the wound becomes inflamed, and their fever starts to burn them up from inside out. Those who live for their ambitions, for their revenge, and in the end, when they find it, they are hollow, burned up on the inside and empty. The day you kill Francis will be the day you go insane, and you know it.“
„..And you...?“ His voice sounded more cracked than he would have liked it to, but Mikhail would pretend this exchange had never taken place anyway, so what did he care. He needed to know.
„And then there's those that either suffer and die, or numb their feelings until they lose the ability to feel. Those that are ruled by reason, rather than by their passion.
One way or the other, Mikhail, there will be a winner in this game, and I have a feeling it will not be Napoléon.“
Only moments later, after Mikhail had hidden his face behind the veil of Madame Noir again, they were on their way out, and Mikhail could not help but wonder if anyone saw it. That the lame devil was much more of a devil than lame. Probably not. All they saw was the handy, limping man who had this talent to be a diplomat, but could never be on par with them due to his damaged body. Poor fools. If Mihkail had any compassion left for anyone but himself, he'd probably feel sorry for them.