--Knocked down but I have enough hate to breathe
Down your throat and steal your energy
You took everyting but my will to be
Now the loss of your god won't make me bleed--
Alice in Chains, "I Can't Remember"
Wedge kept his eyes on the wallpaper as Hobbie sat curled up in a chair, staring at the bed. The blonde man was inconsolable. He'd pulled himself together enough to give instructions to the men who came after the body, then he'd sunk into silence again. Wedge tried to lead him out of the room, but he pulled away, shaking his head vehemently.
Hobbie hadn't asked Wedge to stay, but he hadn't asked him to leave, either; so the Gangrel sat down on the floor beside his old friend, close enough to touch if Hobbie needed him. He remembered times when there was trouble with the pack, when was lost or hurt, and how they'd all join together. How the loners, the Outlanders, would draw together, using physical nearness to convey emotional strength. It seemed primitive to Wedge, wolf-like, but even he couldn?t deny the comfort of another's touch.
He gazed at the bed. Stripped of its blood-soaked sheets, the mattress bore the dark stains of Hobbie's lover. She bled a lot. There can't have been much left for Hobbie to drink. Wedge suppressed a disgusted shudder at the thought. Even thought the woman had asked, begged, the idea that Hobbie could actually kill her was unfathomable. What kind of man have you become, old friend?
The unappetizing stench of stale blood filled the air, and Wedge buried his nose in the crook of his elbow. A small noise from above made him glance up. Hobbie was leaning on his elbow, hand over his face. Wedge gently touched his arm, and he wiped his eyes and looked up.
"Did I do the right thing, Wedge?"
The Gangrel sighed and leaned his head against the chair. "I don't know."
"I could have saved her. You were right-- no one would have blamed me. She would have gotten over it. She would have... had forever to get... to get over it." His voice broke and he stood, slamming his fist into the wall beside him. "It's not too late. She hasn't been gone long. I can still-"
"She'll forgive me; I have to find her-" The toreador found himself pushed against the wall, held in place by a fierce-eyed Gangrel.
"No. She's gone, Hobbie. You were right to let her go." You probably shouldn't have killed her, though.
"What happened to her, Wedge? What did he do to her?"
"Dammit, Hobbie, Tycho didn't do anything to her. This was Merando, just like it's always been Merando."
"And she just happened to end up here?"
"They dumped her on the front steps."
Hobbie closed his eyes against the image. "You saw it?"
"No. Tycho told me." Wedge could feel the other Kindred's contempt and continued stubbornly, "I believe him. She said-"
"She could talk? She was aware? Oh god, did she know what they did to her?"
Wedge swallowed hard and moved to sit on the bed. "She knew."
He sighed, choosing his words carefully. "She... when I got here, she couldn't speak much..." he massaged the back of his neck, searching.
"They left her as a message to us. They told her that worse would happen if we moved against Merando. They left her to tell us that. She said it, Hobbie, I heard her myself."
Hobbie looked down and twisted his hands together. But Tycho could have ordered it anyway, thinking I'd believe it and fight in revenge. No matter who I go after, the other one will still be out there.
"I don't know. I just don't know anymore." He slid down the wall and sat on the floor, pulling his knees to his chest. "I don't know who to trust anymore, Wedge-- Tycho blocks me when I try to read him, you hate me, Wes has no idea who I am... or who he is, for that matter... everything I believed in is gone."
"I don't hate you."
"Hate, contempt, what's the difference?" His tone turned harsh, bitter. "I've always been less than you. Less of a pilot, less of a leader, less of a man. Now I?m less of a vampire. I saw it in your eyes when I told you of my Embrace, and I saw it when I took Lilian. I chose a different path and you can't understand it."
"You're right," Wedge said quietly. "I can't understand you, and I hate that you've taken this path. But now is not the time for this."
Hobbie nodded and wiped his eyes, then pushed himself to his feet. "Where's Tycho?"
Wedge stood in front of him, blocking the door. "Nowhere you need to be."
The blonde man heaved a sigh. "I need to talk to him, Wedge. I won't attack him again, I just... need to talk." He held Wedge's gaze, not looking away until the Gangrel nodded and led him down the hall.
Tycho didn't stand when they entered his office. He wore a fresh white shirt, black silk the presumably wouldn't show blood as easily, and he sat with his feet on the desk, apparently sulking. He tensed almost imperceptibly at Hobbie's entrance, opened his mouth, then shut it and waited.
Hobbie spoke without preamble. "She's gone."
He turned to Wedge, standing at his side. "Can you leave us alone for a minute?"
"No." Wedge planted his feet.
"I promise to behave," the Toreador smiled slightly. "I'm sure the Prince is more than equal to any challenge I might make."
"Go on, Wedge," Celchu said. "I'm sure our friend won't do anything untoward." He looked up at the uncertain Gangrel. "Go on."
For a moment, he thought Wedge would refuse. The Corellian's eyes narrowed and he looked at Celchu with a mixture of anger and confusion. The Prince felt a disconcerting flood of relief when he finally left.
Celchu looked at Hobbie, standing in front of his desk with his hands clasped behind his back. "Do you have something to say to me?"
"I will help you kill Merando."
If the Prince was surprised, he didn't show it. "Excellent. We'll begin planning tomorrow." He stood and circled around the desk, heading for the door. "Can you look in on Wes? I gather that Wedge has some something that might bring him around." He reached for the doorknob.
"Don't open that door if you don't want Wedge to hear what I have to say."
Celchu paused and looked over his shoulder. "And what might that be?"
"I know what you've done, Tycho."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Hobbie laughed, the sound incongruous with his angry expression. "You always were a genius at planning, Tycho. You knew exactly what to do to provoke the desired response. You've got everyone on your side now, haven't you? All aligned against Merando's atrocities-- your atrocities."
Celchu shook his head and turned the knob. "I don't have to listen to this."
"What will Wedge do when he finds out you've orchestrated all this?" Hobbie felt a surge of satisfaction when the Prince let his hand fall away from the door.
"I think he'll kill you. What do you think?"
Silence, then the Prince stood up straight and glared at Hobbie. "I think you're insane."
"Perhaps. But I'm not so far gone that I can't bring this place down around your ears."
Celchu sighed and crossed his arms. "I don't know what to say to you, Hobbie. I'm sorry about Lilian, I really am. But I didn't cause that. I don't know what you want from me."
"Only the truth, Tycho. I want you to look me in the face and admit what you've done. Do that, and you'll be spared."
"Spared from what? "
The look in Hobbie's eyes was cold, unfamiliar. "Spared from Merando's fate. You see, even if you didn't take the knife to her yourself, you caused her death. If you didn't order it, you've still brought Merando down on all of us." Hobbie stepped closer to Celchu until he heat of his words burned the other man's face. "I will kill Merando, yes. Then I will kill you."
Continued in Part Sixteen