-- "Oh don't talk of love" the shadows purr
Murmuring me away from you
"Don't talk of worlds that never were
The end is all that's ever true" --
The Cure; "Burn"
Derek stretched and reached for Lilian. His hand hit the empty sheets, and he grumpily opened his eyes.
"Shit." He'd gotten back to the hotel so close to dawn that he hadn't had the energy to tell her what happened. He'd fallen, half-clothed, into bed without warning her not to go anywhere, not to leave the suite until he awoke.
He called down to the front desk as he pulled on a fresh shirt. Yes, the concierge had called a taxi for her nearly four hours ago. She'd mentioned Bloomingdale's... yes, they'd be happy to call the store for him, of course they'd let him know as soon as they had word of her.
Derek let the receiver fall back into place. Surely he worried for no reason. Lilian wasn't always beside him when he awoke and it never bothered him before. Surely she'd be back in a bit, half-an-hour at the most.
Anyway, Merando could hardly have found them so soon. They'd left Edinburgh only three days before. It had to have taken longer than that to find those Ventrue, the ones who'd died in the fires.
Those poor people. And they hadn't even opposed him, they'd just talked about it. Still, it was to be expected. He'd been building toward this all year.
Tycho had taken it so hard. The idea that people could be attacked in his own city must have come as quite a shock. Derek frowned.
But there have been other attacks-- he said so himself. They weren't against visiting dignitaries, true, but he knew-- he had to have known that Merando had a presence in the city.
But the look on his face, it was pure shock. And he?d turned those wide blue eyes to Fonteyn. "Did you expect this?"
"No, my Prince, I did not expect this."
But why wouldn't he? Everyone knew that Merando wouldn?t be challenged without returning fire, pardon the expression. They didn't expect it?
It hit like a tidal wave-- the dizzy, spinning head-nausea.
Because that wasn't what Tycho said, was it? Certainly not. "Did you do this?" He thought Fonteyn ordered those fires. But why?
Because he's done it before.
The Toreador sat down, missed the edge of the chair, and went sprawling on the floor.
It makes perfect sense; we've all wondered why, after all this time, why Merando would suddenly resume his attacks.
It was Tycho. Most of it, maybe all of it was his doing. He's bided his time, gathering power, then set things up so that we'd all oppose Merando, we'd all stand with him.
All for revenge? Thousands dead and all for hate?
No. Not Tycho. He was never... even at the Academy he would never...
And what would he do to keep my allegiance?
His scream echoed down the corridor.
A shortish, middle-aged woman in a wool coat came out of the store and raised her hand. The taxi moved forward and the driver sprang out to relieve her of her packages, then opened the back door for her. Neither of them noticed the unobtrusive car that eased into traffic behind them.
"I'm here, Wes." Wedge had bolted from the control room as soon as he heard the other man speak his name. Flinging the door open, he traversed the floor and pulled the shaking lieutenant to his feet.
Wes recoiled as though part of Hades' fear remained. His eyes frantically searched Wedge's face, looking for anger, reproach, disgust, any of that and more, but the expression on his Commander's face held none of these things.
The two men embraced and Wes struggled to contain the swell of emotion and memory. He felt a familiar churning in the pit of his stomach, his unease spreading out along his limbs. He trembled as his head spun, then a violent rage spilled over.
Wedge felt his friend's arms tighten around him. He patted Wes' back comfortingly, convinced that he'd broken through at last. A sharp cracking sound brought both pain and confusion. Wedge tried to pull away, then choked as Wes' hand closed on his throat.
The lieutenant's face twisted into an ugly parody of a smile. His resolve faltered, his grip weakened, and he pushed the Gangrel away. Wedge hit the floor and stared up at his former friend, who backed away, his face a tormented mask.
Wes dug his fingernails into his forearms, clawing himself until rivulets of blood ran down his arms. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..." He backed into the wall and flinched. "I... I forgot who you were... I'm sorry..." He covered his face with his hands, repeating those words as Wedge hauled himself to his feet.
The Gangrel gingerly raised a hand to his neck, feeling the bones re-knit under his skin. He tried to reconstruct the events of the last few moments, but found himself unable to comprehend them.
He knew me. I saw it in his eyes. And then he didn't... just like that, he goes from Wes to Hades. Why? What's the catalyst? Did I cause it?
He stumbled toward the other man. Wes whimpered and scooted away, keeping his back to the wall.
"Go away," he whispered.
Wedge reached out to him and Wes shrieked, knocking Wedge's hand away. "Don't touch me!" His voice faltered. "I'm going to hurt you. I can feel it-- I want to do it."
Wedge didn't move.
"Get out of here!"
In a daze, Wedge turned and walked out.
Celchu swore silently and dropped the girl's wrist. He started to reach for her telephone, then thought better of it and pulled out his cellular. It wouldn't do to have his number show up on her phone record, not tonight. No need to gift-wrap the evidence, that might make it difficult to distract the police.
He glanced at Carolyn as he waited for someone at Celchu Tower to answer his ring. He'd left her where she fell-- his men could arrange her as they saw fit. Her black hair fanned out under her head and a small drop of blood slid slowly down the side of her neck. He bent and wiped it away before it could stain the carpet.
A voice answered, startling the Prince. He shook his head, still crouched beside the body, and explained the situation.
"I've had a... a bit of an accident and I need you to clean it up. No, you can't hide it, people will ask about this one. Just make it look normal, natural. No, there's no blood; yes, I closed the wound."
Carolyn's lifeless brown eyes stared accusingly at him, and he muttered, "Look, I didn?t mean to. I'm sorry."
"What? No, I wasn't talking to you." He stood and turned away from the corpse. "The neighbors might have heard something-- you'll want to take care of that. I-- what?"
He listened silently, his face impassive. "So it's done, then?" He sighed and checked his watch. "He'll try to find her; he's probably on his way now. I'll be there in twenty minutes. Yes. Find Commander Antilles and have him meet me outside her room."
He hung up and buttoned his coat, looking at what remained of young Carolyn. He searched for some emotion and came up empty. He really hadn't meant to be so... overzealous, and he was a bit embarrassed that he'd lost control. And he supposed he might miss her for a while. But really, he'd only known her for a month, and these things happen sometimes. The only thing that bothered him was that he wasn?t very bothered at all.
Derek pushed past the guards at the entrance to Celchu Towers and searched for a familiar face. He'd been carefully controlling his panic since he woke up and now it threatened to spill over. He'd almost lost it when the phone rang; he sat and stared at it, knowing what message it would bring. He'd spoken calmly, even as he wanted to scream. He'd sedately left the hotel and hailed a taxi. He'd remained calm right up until the guards tried to stop him at the door. They obviously didn't consider a Toreador to be much of a threat, but Derek could, in his own way, be quite terrifying.
Fonteyn reached the bottom of the stairs just as the guards recovered and began moving toward Derek again. He held up a hand, that was all it took to stop them, then reached out to Derek.
"Why isn?t she in a hospital?" Derek bounded up the stairs, the Ventrue close at his heels.
"We thought the doctors might call the police before we could stop them."
"That might break the Masquerade."
"Then fucking break it!" Derek desperately wanted to beat Fonteyn, but common sense told him that he'd never find Lilian if he did so.
They reached the second floor landing and the aide led the way down the corridor, deliberately walking slowly until Derek shoved him aside and broke into a run. The Toreador reached out, praying that he was strong enough to find Lilian's mind in the jumble of thoughts surrounding him. He rarely attempted this discipline-- reading another's thoughts-- and he was less than skilled at it. He heard terror, anger, lust... and none of it was her.
There. Calm, like the eye of a storm, she seemed unaware of the danger enfolding her. No pain, no fear... almost no consciousness at all. Derek rounded a corner and cried out as he started to lose her. He was running toward her, of that he was certain, but she was growing weaker and his grip on her mind faltered.
His senses heightened, his mind confused and anguished, he was unable to fight the sudden distraction of Tycho's appearance. The Prince stepped out of a doorway, his distressed face turned toward the floor, and Derek didn't resist the sudden impulse that propelled him forward. Tycho barely had a chance to look up before Derek was on him, his hands clenched around the Ventrue?s throat, fingers ripping at the flesh until he exposed the churned meat that lay underneath.
Tycho choked and tried to pry the Toreador's hands from his neck. He couldn?t speak, couldn't dominate Derek into letting him go, and the crazed look in the other man?s eyes made it clear that he would not give up on his own.
Tears streamed down Derek's face as he concentrated on the man before him. Clawing, squeezing the life from him, didn't matter that he'd recover and order Derek's death, just make him hurt, make him scream, make him beg.
The arm that wrapped around his waist and pulled him off was too strong to fight, but he tried just the same. Kicking, screaming in impotent rage as Tycho sagged against the wall holding torn bits of flesh to his throat, Derek struggled against this new enemy.
"You fucking bastard! You couldn't wait, you couldn't leave us be?" His voice broke as the person holding him squeezed tighter, cracking something as he fought to free himself.
"Let me go!" Derek heard the unmistakable sound of claws unsheathing and felt the tips dig into the flesh under his chin.
"Stop it, Hobbie," the growling voice demanded.
"You're going to kill me, Wedge?" The tips pressed harder, drawing blood. "Do it."
"Don't make me."
"Do it!" Derek twisted and the claws tore at his skin. The pain brought clarity to his tormented mind and he slumped against the body holding him. "He's killed her, Wedge. He's done it all, all of this, it's all him, every bit of it."
Tycho made a small noise and Derek lunged at him, screaming as the claws dug a little deeper. "Everyone is your pawn? We're all here to serve and die? Let me go, Wedge!"
"You think Tycho did this to you?"
"I know he did. Everything he blames on Merando, he's done it all."
The Gangrel didn't let go, but he didn't tighten his grip, either. "You're mad, Hobbie. Settle down, and we'll talk about this."
"You talk about it-- I'm going to kill him!"
Pain rushed into his mind; not his own, but hers. She was awake, aware, or nearly so, and as he could hear her thoughts, he could also feel her torment. Derek shuddered, his knees giving out as he collapsed to the ground. He was torn-- wanting to run to her, to hold her; wanting to break his link and stay on the floor until she was gone, to refuse to bear witness to her agony.
Wedge backed away as his friend fell to his hands and knees, his thin body wracked with shuddering sobs. He reached out his hand, then drew back, uncertain. He stood uneasily in the corridor, embarrassed by this show of grief.
The Gangrel's eyes flicked toward Tycho as the blonde man straightened, the raw red of his wound already fading. The Ventrue stared at the man on the floor as though he'd never seen him. He started toward Hobbie, his face a mixture of shame and disgust, and Wedge grabbed his arm.
Tycho looked down at his commander and pulled away. "You don't believe him, do you?"
"No, but that's not the point. He believes it." Wedge pushed the Alderaanian toward the main hallway. "He doesn't want you here, Tycho. I'll take care of him and we'll talk about this later."
Wedge knelt beside the weeping man and laid a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. "Hobbie. Stop this, you're wasting time. You have to go to her."
Derek let the stronger man haul him to his feet and wipe the tears from his face. "He did it, Wedge," he said wearily. "He took her from me."
"Not yet, Hobbie. She's still here, and she's waiting for you."
Derek trembled as they entered a darkened room. Wedge held his arm and led him to the bed, where a small, frail form lay under the blankets.
"Lights?" Wedge asked softly.
"No." Derek flinched at the thought of seeing her, of seeing the injuries that were killing her. She was unconscious again, free of pain as she drifted further from him. He took her hand, raising it to his mouth. Her skin was still soft, still supple under his lips, as though she would wake any moment and reach for him.
The tentative caress jolted her, reminding her that she was still alive at the same time that it brought the throbbing, stabbing pain back. Derek felt her floating, reaching for life, and he stroked her face, whispering her name.
"You could..." Derek jumped as Wedge spoke up. "You could make her one of us." The Gangrel stood at her other side, his solemn brown eyes fixed on her face. "No one would blame you."
The Toreador watched her eyelids flutter, then leaned forward, his lips at her ear. "Lilian, wake up."
She stirred, crying out involuntarily as her body spasmed. Derek bit his lip as her thoughts filled his head, confused and hurting.
"Live for me, Lilian; I need you to live. Let me help you, let me bring you back."
He ran his fangs along her neck, tempted to do it without her consent. She?d refused the offer before, saying that she'd take whatever life could offer her, but it hadn?t been so urgent then. She hadn't been about to lose that life. Derek wept softly against her cheek. She could hate him forever, so long as she lived. He couldn't let her go, not if he had the power to save her.
"No." One word, so soft that he could pretend she hadn't spoken. She'd thank him for it... really.
"Please... baby don't leave me, don't leave me, let me save you, I'll make it all better, I promise, please..."
She convulsed suddenly and whimpered, tears streaking her face. "It hurts..."
"I know it does, love, I can fix it, you'll never hurt again, I swear." Derek squeezed her hand too tightly. "Stay with me, please."
Lilian closed her eyes. "Make it go away."
"No, Lil..." She was floating away, pushing him back with her mind, and the one thing she asked was the one thing he could not, would not do.
"Take it away from me."
"Please...it hurts so much... please, Derek..."
"No..." But he kissed her eyelids, her nose, her lips... he murmured to her as he kissed her neck, searching for that weakened beat of her life, and he whispered to her as he pierced her skin, tasting her for the last time. He didn't know if she could hear him, but he spoke anyway.
He spoke of desire and need and pain; of ages past and ages to come; of passion and devotion; of the lives he'd had before and how worthless they seemed without her; of that life he?d never told her of, the one she'd never believe in; of fear and awe and love, above all else, love.
He spoke to her as she slipped away from him and into him, as the last taste of her filled his mouth, as his arms held her so tightly that he thought she?d pull away, as he wept until he had no tears left.
Continued in Part Fifteen