--It's too late tonight
To drag the past out into the light.
We're one, but we're not the same
We get to carry each other.
Carry each other.--
It was this he missed, the casual affection of friends and, yes, lovers. Wes laid his head against Wedge's chest, their fingers twining together as he listened to the roar of blood under the other man's skin. It was so nice to sit like this in Wedge's arms, feeling his breath on Wes' skin, his heart pound under Wes' cheek...
Funny what you don't notice 'til it's gone. Wes stiffened, pulled away. His eyes quickly measured the other man's lean frame, looking for flaws.
None. Wedge looked at him warily as Wes lifted a hand to Wedge's face and held it over his mouth, then skimmed lower to Wedge's chest.
Something clicked inside his head and Wes lifted his hand to his own chest. That's right... no beat, no breath, no pulse... but the blood was there, just under the surface. The Beast was there just under the surface. It was in Wedge, too.
"No," he snapped as Wedge reached out to him. He had the answer; it was buried. Buried almost too deep to reach.
"You... you're one of them. No. One of us." Wes cradled his head in his hands and looked at Wedge.
"One of us," he repeated. "Whatever we are."
"It worked." Hobbie stared at the screen while the technician cowered behind him. "Son of a Sith, it worked." He did a little dance and began pushing buttons. "How do you reach Tycho?"
The human made no reply. Hobbie truned and snapped his fingers in front of the tech's staring eyes.
"Hey, dinner. Wake up."
The man started and his eyes focused on Hobbie?s face. "Wolf."
"No, Tycho." Patiently, the Toreador lead the man to the console. "Call the Prince."
"He's a wolf."
"Who, the Prince? He's not. A crawling scavenger, maybe." Bemused, Hobbie watched as the man sputtered and pointed at the screen. "So it is possible to impress you? Good to know." He tapped the console. "Now call before I get hungry again."
Turning back to the screen, Hobbie brought his hand to his chest and rubbed the hollow spot there. We're getting closer, Lil. It won't take much longer.
He wouldn't go in right away. The Prince sat on the desk, watching the screen, listening to the hastily restored sound. No sense in getting Hades stirred up again, not when they'd made some progress.
The Malkavian had embraced Hobbie like an old friend, as if no time at all had passed. He had questions, many questions, and the other two seemed to handle them admirably. They said he'd been ill and had been brought here to rest, that he hadn't been himself. Celchu snorted That much was certain. Notice that they didn't mention exactly how long he hadn't "been himself."
That was just as well. Likely Wes couldn't handle too much information right away; he was still fragile. The Prince frowned, watching the handsome young man smile and laugh with his friends. He'd never thought of Wes as fragile, never thought the day would come when he was anything but the bright, tough, merry young lieutenant that Tycho had known and loved. He had loved Wes, had trusted him with his life and would gladly have died to save him. Or Wedge. Or Hobbie.
They used to be so good together, in battle or just sitting around Downtime playing a hand of sabacc. They weren't just squadmates. They were friends.
But couldn't it be that way again? It was for them, after all, that Tycho went after Merando. And when he'd learned that they weren't dead after those long, lonely centuries, it seemed only fitting that they return to him and fight Merando. What was the differance between Merando and the Empire they'd fought so long? They were both destroyers. Wasn't it good, wasn't it right, for the Rogues to fight him?
Watching the action on the screen, the Prince nodded to himself. He was right. Wedge knew it. Even Hobbie knew it, under his anger. That was so like a Toreador to let emotion get in the way of business. It was a shame about his human, of course, but it had turned out well. Hobbie would never have joined otherwise; he'd have skulked off to hide with that woman, as if she wasn?t going to die in a few years anyway. That was the problem with Hobbie-- he thought small. He thought like a mortal. And damn it all, he'd forced the Prince to act.
Snarling, Celchu called down to Fonteyn and gave him a message to be sent immediately to Romania. The wheels would be turning by sundown the next day.
Wedge thought that the hardest part would be explaining the Kindred. He'd hoped that they could put it off until Wes got hungry, then let nature take its course. Or maybe they'd bring him a glass of animal blood. Shepherd Chardonnay, 2000. Excellent vintage.
But it wasn't necessary after all. Wes knew, with a Malkav's unerring sense of the ludicrous, exactly what he was. What Wedge and Hobbie were, as well. He didn't seem to mind.
"You've got to answer this much for me, Wedge." Wes laid back on the bed, hands behind his head. "How many Gangrel does it take to change a light bulb?"
Wedge raised an eyebrow and growled.
"That's much more effective than it used to be," Hobbie commented, as Wedge made a noise of pure canine disgust.
"What about you, Hobbie?" Wes rolled to his stomach and propped himself up on his elbows. "How many Twits does it take to change a light bulb?"
"Lightbulbs?" Hobbie sniffed. "How gauche."
"Swear to gods, you're the only man I ever knew who kept candles in his quarters."
"And how many times did you beg to borrow them?" The two men grinned companionably at each other, then Hobbie stood and clapped Wes on the shoulder. "Shall we hunt?"
"I think we shall." Wes lumbered to his feet and nodded at Wedge. "You're coming, aren't you?"
Wedge cast about for a reasonable answer. He needed to go to Tycho, tell him what had happened, but who knew how Wes would react to the name? He settled for an evasive, "I have to meet someone."
They were halfway to the door. It was almost comical how quickly Wedge stopped, nearly causing Hobbie to trip over him.
"Yeah, Tycho." Wes looked amused at the expression on his commander's face. "Blond guy, a little taller than you. Our Pilot of Perpetual Dignity. I'm sure you've met him once or twice."
The other Kindred were silent for a long moment, then Wedge nodded. "He'll want to know that you're well. I'm sure he'll come to see you tomorrow." He left the other two and stalked down the hallway alone.
"I'm sorry, Mister... Mister... Sir," the tech stammered as Hobbie carefully closed the door to Wes' erstwhile cell. The human shook as he stepped into the hallway, blocking the vampires' path. "He's not to leave, you see. Prince's orders."
Wes glanced sideways. Hobbie shrugged. The little man squeaked as Wes gently picked him up and set him down out of the way.
The snow had tapered off; a few flakes fluttered down from the sky as the pair hit the sidewalk, skirting a group of tourists without so much as a twitch from Wes. They struck out toward the shopping district, Tiffany's and FAO Shwartz and more distractions than a pilot could ask for. Wes pressed his nose to the glass window of Tiffany's, drawing a giggle from one of the ladies working there. She beckoned them inside and Hobbie started in, but paused when he felt a tug at his sleeve.
"You OK, Wes?"
The Malkavian was snow-pale, beads of rosy perspiration forming on his brow. He licked his lips and stared at the woman, safe in her store, and stepped back.
"Let's keep going."
Times Square was bustling with people, cleaner than Hobbie recalled. His last visit had provided a veritable buffet of humanity, all for a price. They seemed to have moved, though, to somewhere less conspicuous. He hungered at the thought of New York City-- its aristocratic and anonymous citizens ripe for the plucking. He could smell their hunger as they passed; not lust, but simple desperation, a need that they couldn't explain and would deny having. Ordinary people in an extraordinary city, wanting for just an instant to step out of their little lives and taste that peculiar immensity that is New York.
He could give it to them, every one. He could let them feel what it was to be more than human, to be immortal like their city.
His eyes focused on one figure-- female, dark hair and pale skin. She exchanged a few words with a passerby, scattered by the wind but sharp in the vampire's ears.
"I feel like a little Italian," Hobbie said softly, heading across the street. A hand gripped the back of his jacket, jerking him off his feet. He twisted, staring at his companion in shock.
"She's a whore." Wes set him down on the sidewalk and straightened his tie.
"That's the point," Hobbie reasoned. "No one will miss her."
"No mess, no fuss, no annoying investigations. One more dead hooker in Manhattan."
Hobbie stared at his wingman. Wes met his gaze steadily.
"No to her specifically, or, um... paid companions in general?"
"In general, if you don't mind." There was a moment more of silence, then Hobbie shrugged and threw his arm around Wes' shoulders.
"Suits me, but I'm still feeling a bit peckish. Do you mind cheap and easy?"
"Oh, no. Go right ahead."
"Thank you so much."
"You know, I could be offended that you declined my hospitality. She was a premium cut."
Wedge tilted his glass of wine, admiring how the burgundy darkened as it swirled. "I'm sure she was," he replied easily. "But not to my taste."
"I should have known you'd want something more... primative. You never appreciated the finer things in life."
"Oh, but I do." When Tycho raised his eyebrows, Wedge set the glass down and leaned back. "I appreciate my friends. I'm grateful to have you again. I'm glad to have Wes back."
"And for that I am truly thankful as well, my friend. We could not be the same without him. There was an emptyness... a black hole... like a missing lover." Tycho dipped his finger in the wine and brought it to his mouth, letting a tiny drop fall on his tongue. "Sweet. But you must undestand. You are away from your lover."
The Gangrel looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Your Childe. The student?" Celchu frowned as if trying to remember something. "Someone said you'd taken one."
"She is gone."
Tycho blinked. "I'm sorry."
Wedge shook his head. "She-- Tori-- was a mistake. I acted without thinking. It was a... a..."
"A moment of passion?" Tycho laughed softly. "I never thought you experienced those."
"I wish I hadn't," Wedge murmured, finding it strangely easy to speak of the girl; easier to speak of her than to her. If only she were truly gone and he could mourn her without worrying that she'd show up to taunt him again.
"I'm sorry if it hurts you to speak of her," Tycho said gently.
"It doesn't." A rueful grin tugged at Wedge's lips. "Somehow I feel that she's still out there."
"Our Ventrue ally has called in his favor."
The young man started, began to speak, was silenced by the look on Sergei's face. "This is his right," the older Gangrel said, carefully betraying no emotion. "He has done much for us."
Salvador was less adept at controlling his responses, and he chafed as the weight of debt settled onto him. "And in return, we have kept Merando from these lands. He cannot ask more of us."
"That was not his price, Salvador." The Elder ran a hand through his hair, hair that had begun to gray in life. "He came to our aid. Honor demands that we now come to his."
"Now?!" Salvador exploded, leaping to his feet to tower over the other Kindred. "Now, when we move against Merando? He cannot ask this of us now..." his wolf-eyes narrowed "... unless he is in league with the Prince of Rome."
Sergei kept his gave even and his voice steady, revealing none of the growing anger he felt. He did not become highest in the pack by letting the cubs goad him into violence.
"You jump to conclusions." He rose, dusting off his trousers. "Gather the pack."
Tori tucked her hair behind her ear and hugged her knees to her chest. She'd failed. She'd lost him there in Odessa, had seen the others take him away... and done nothing. She could have fought; she might have lost, but she owed him that much.
Instead she hid, and watched, and told herself that she would find him later when the risk was not so great. But she didn't find him. She turned back and let him die.
They couldn't be sure, Sergei told her kindly. Anything might have happened. And Wedge was not her responsibility-- he lived or died by his own actions.
Salvador had taken a different tone; "You're free of him. Be glad."
Glad? She ought to be, she supposed. She'd had no wish to spend eternity under his paw, knowing that if he felt anything at all for her, it was contempt. If only she could have been what he wanted, what he tried to teach her to be. If she hadn't given into the Beast... that was all he asked of her-- to be human.
But she wasn't human. He'd seen to that.
Sighing, she looked around at the slowly gathering clan. What could Sergei want? They were leaving for Rome at first dark tomorrow and each knew their part. Tori raised an eyebrow as a grumbling Salvador sat in the dirt beside her, flushed and handsome from feeding. He frowned as Sergei passed through the crowd, standing in the center of the ring. His growling voice rose above the din.
"Venice has fallen."
The pack fell silent, stunned, and Sergei contined. "Merando is in control there."
"But Tristana--" a Gangrel broke in.
"Is Merando's puppet. She has betrayed us all to him."
Tori glanced at Salvador as he shifted, scowling at the Elder. "What has this to do with our ally, as you call him?" the dark Kindred asked.
"I have this news from the Prince of New York. This is why we must repay our debt."
A murmur rose from the gathering. Many were old enough to recall Merando's first crusade, when 'lesser' clans were hunted to near-extinction. Though they fought long and hard, many Gangrel-- alone and in packs-- were forced to turn to Merando's Ventrue enemies. Strongest among those was Livingstone, the powerful Prince of New York City. Many credited him with Merando's downfall two hundred years before.
"The Prince himself is moving against Merando in three days' time. He was asked of us two things to cancel our debt to him." Sergei looked over the group, gauging their mood. "We will go to Venice and destroy Tristana before she can join Merando in Rome."
He gave Salvador a small smile. "Does this meet with your approval, pup?" Though he bristled at the name, Salvador remained silent.
"And the other task?" Tori asked.
"One of us will not go to Venice, but to Rome as planned. There is another traitor to be dealt with, a Toreador. The Prince will use him to gain entrance into Merando's stronghold... and when the battle is done, he must be dealt with."
"Can't the Prince kill him?" asked another, a male who had died while still a teenager.
At the murmured assent, Sergei shook his head. "He asks this of us. We cannot refuse."
Tori's head was spinning. A Toreador, friend of Merando... She remembered Wedge's tale. Surely this could not be the same as the Degenerate who'd taken his friends. Surely not. It was far too much of a coincidence.
And yet... If Wedge were here, he would be the first to volunteer. It wouldn't matter to him if this were the same Kindred; he would relish the chance to strike back at any of them.
She still ached for him. Ridiculous though it was, she loved him still, and she would do this for him. In memorium she thought wryly, and nodded to Sergei.
"I will go."
All eyes turned to her, to the small, pale girl whom few had ever taken notice of. Emotion flashed through Sergei's eyes. "Then speak with me apart from the rest, and you many go."
"I ask again, Sergei," Salvador growled. "Can we trust the Ventrue?"
"No." The Elder acknowledged. "But we do not do this for the clan Ventrue. We do this for ourselves. And as long as Livingstone is Prince of New York, I believe we have little to fear."
Continued in Part Eighteen