Much Abides
Part Eighteen
by Antigone


--So tear me open, pour me out
There's things inside that scream and shout
And the pain still hates me
So hold me
Until it sleeps--
Metallica; "Until It Sleeps"


They picked her up in a club not far from the Tower. She was just enough to fill the nibbling little corners-- and one missing would cause less fuss than a pair. Her name was Donna, she said. No, she wasn't with anyone. No, she hadn't come with friends. Of course she'd like to dance with either of the two gentlemen. Or both, why not?

Her apartment was small but tidy, the bed carefully made with the corners tucked neatly under the mattress. She switched on a table lamp and sat down, hastily kicking a yellow plush puppy under the double bed. Hobbie grinned and moved in front of her, tilting her face up to his.

"Nervous?" She shook her head and smiled as Wes slid across the bed behind her. Her hair slid through his fingers as he gathered it to the side and kissed the nape of her neck. She sighed as he unzipped the back of her dress and slipped the straps off her shoulders.

Clutching the bodice of the dress, the woman blushed as Hobbie knelt before her and gently tugged her hands away. "No need to be modest, sweet," he whispered as the cloth fell away revealing small, pert breasts. "We all know what we want." His teeth grazed her skin and he sucked a bit of flesh into his mouth. Her fingers slipped through his silky hair, pulling him closer.

He froze. The gesture, surely universal, surely something that all women did, haunted him. It was too intimate, her skin too warm, too human. Derek pulled away and caught her searching wrist in his hand, eyes closed against the ghost of another.

She moaned; he looked up to see Wes cupping her, kneading gently. The Malkavian's eyes locked with his; Wes seemed to understand. Shifting on the bed, Wes manuevered the girl until she faced him. Her arms twined about his neck as he lowered her back onto the mattress, pushing her dress up to her hips until it looked like a bulky red belt. She was wet and warm when his hand found her, clever fingers sliding between her skin and the slippery, clinging fabric of her panties. She writhed against his hand, grinding herself down onto him as he nuzzled her breasts, gasping as his fingers stole inside her and drove her higher.

A soft moan escaped her when his mouth closed over one taut nipple. Her back arched and she clutched at him, fingernails digging into his shoulder, while Hobbie gently sucked at the unblemished skin of her wrist. The blond drew his teeth along the soft flesh, nipping just hard enough to draw blood. He heard the woman's tiny cry and bit harder, earning another moan. Her eyes were shut tightly, as if opening them might dispel the haze of pleasure surrounding the three. Blood flowed smoothly into his mouth; the copper taste of it filled the air; he was lost. Dimly he heard another cry, less pleasured, more frantic--

Wiping his mouth, Hobbie sat up and tried to focus. The room swam hazily before his eyes, tinged misty blood-red. Slowly, sounds floated to his ears, the melting snow on the rooftop, the creak of pipes and airshafts, the soft sucking sound of feeding--

And nothing else. The woman lay motionless on the bed, pale and lovely as a deathbed painting. A thin rivulet of blood dripped down the left side of her neck onto the sheets, stark against the whiteness of her throat. The right side of her throat was gone, a mass of tissue and torn skin and blood drying on the face of the vampire still draining her. Hands flexed on her arms, hard enough to form bruises-- if any blood were left to do so.

Another ripping sound. Hobbie winced. He stood and reached out to Wes, his hand stopping just above the man's shoulder.

Wes snarled and looked up, face covered in the dead woman's blood. His eyes locked with Hobbie's, more animal than man, and the Toreador backed away.

"Shit."

* * *

He couldn't see the stars. The lights of the city were too bright; even on the rooftop he was surrounded by them. A vast sea of souls. And the soul-less. There were others like him down there, in the parks or on the streets, but for the moment he was the only wolf in the city.

It was a lonesome thing.

That was right; it was supposed to be lonely, it was supposed to be solitary and strong and vital. And force knew, the one time he'd tried to remedy that he'd failed so miserably...

*Bavaria, 1991: He whispered against her neck, holding her close as she woke in the night. Tori clutched at him as the dark closed around her, then the shadows crept away and she was safe in his arms. She laughed brokenly. "A vampire, afraid of the dark. Pathetic."

Wedge murmured softly and stroked her hair. "You'll get used to the night. Soon you'll move through it like you did through the day."

Nodding, she cuddled closer. She hadn't been bothered by the dark since she was a child. Why, then, did she wake at dusk fearing to see a shadow creeping over her-- a shadow that looked too much like Wedge? His lips brushed across her forehead and she smiled. He was a kind lover, a good Sire. He was teaching her all that she needed to survive as Kindred, and he loved her. Why should she fear the memory of him in the dark?

Together, they moved through the trees, stalking the small creatures that ran in the underbrush. She followed Wedge's lead, darting through the trees, seking the tiny heart that pounded in her ears. The creature squealed, the sound cut off as her fangs plunged into its neck. Dead leaves crunched as she flung it away and crouched low, urging the power through her limbs. It flashed bright in her mind and she sprang forward, willing her feet to become paws as she pounded along the forest floor. It grew-- she felt the change--

She fell, snarling, to the ground, beating her fists against the dirt. Why?! Why couldn't she do this? She'd learned so much; he'd tried so hard to teach her. She wanted to run with him, wanted to know everything that he knew. Wanted to be his equal.

He would look at her with those sad brown eyes and shake his head, and she would know that he was disappointed even though he wouldn't say so.

Furious, shaking with shame and anger and hunger, she zeroed in on another heart, another rush of blood. Larger this time, sentient. Forbidden.

More blood, more power. More power, maybe...

Forbidden.

Maybe...

* * *

She wasn't at the cave. Wedge paced near the opening, restless as a wolf. She always came to him after feeding, shyly seeking his approval. Together they would explore the woods and each other, and he would try to teach her what she ought to know. She was anxious to please, eager to feel his praise, willing to do whatever he told her. She would make a good childe; one of the new Kindred, the enlightened few who would not feed from sapient creatures...

Ah. He lifted his head, sniffing the air. There she was. She came slowly through the trees, an air of worry and fear heavy around her. Wedge shifted his weight, wondering what she'd done.

Or not done. His lips twitched as she slunk into view, still human. She wanted so badly to Change. He couldn't bear to tell her that it would likely take years to learn. So long as she tried, so long as she denied the Beast, he would love her.

The silken strands of her hair brushed his face as she tried to pass by him into the cave. Wedge took her arm, a gentle smile on his face. He pulled her close, cradling her head on his shoulder. "You'll learn it, you know. You don't have to try so hard."

Her sigh weighed on his heart. Was he pushing her? Hold her tightly, he stroked her hair and nuzzled her neck. Tori leaned against him, eyes closed, fresh blood rushing through her veins. Wedge lifted her face up to meet his, tasting the fresh copper that still hung on her lips. Delving past that, his tongue gently pushed into her mouth. She clung to him then, holding onto him as if he were her only anchor.

He pulled back, brushing his lips against her cheek. Her eyelashes flutterd, golden-amber peeking out from beneath them.

Wedge stilled.

"Look at me."

She backed away, squealing when his hand fisted in her hair and brought her back to face him. With his free hand, he forced her eyes open to see the swirling liquid wolf's eyes-- the mark of Frenzy--

His cry of anguish filled the air as he struck out, and she fell against the rocks.*

If she'd been mortal he would have killed her. He might have anyway; her betrayal was too much for him to bear. He'd cast her onto Sergei and left, running and running until the anger was gone and had nothing but the guilt...

* * *

"You govern gently, but firmly, as you would with children," Livingstone had said. He'd had a son when he was mortal. He knew about that.

Tycho never had children. He had troops. It was harder for him. He ordered and they hedged. He demanded and they bluffed. He wasn't much better at diplomacy than Wedge had been, and it took a long time for him to learn to coax, to persuade... to dominate so that they never realized he was doing it. But he had Livingstone, and he learned well.

"But what the hell good is being Prince if I can't track down two men?!"

Fonteyn ignored him. The wheels were turning; they'd be back before dawn. It was, of course, terribly unwise of the Prince to let them out alone-- two loose cannons among the humans-- but it would be far more unwise to mention that. Celchu was not his predecessor; he was rigid and controlling and arrogant. He was Merando's childe. He would rule Rome well.

The aide still doubted the wisdom of bringing these disparate Kindred into the fight. The Gangrel he could accept; they fought well and followed orders that made sense to them, but the Toreador was a fop and you never knew where you stood with Malkavians, no matter how long you'd known them. This one seemed capable of smiling to your face, then ripping it off. But the Prince insisted-- he knew them, had known them long ago, had fought beside them. It was tradition, and the Prince knew, as did every Ventrue, that what was past was best, what was to come would always be worse, and anyone pushing for change was suspect and should be put down quickly.

Fighting Merando was a long and glorious tradition. Winning wasn't. If they had to win (which would bring change, after all) wasn't it best to do it traditionally?

Fonteyn gave up. It made his head hurt.

"If he runs, I'll kill him myself."

The aide looked up. "Do you really think he will?"

"No, I was just saying." Celchu rotated his shoulders, then slumped down in his seat. "They've always done this, you know. Take off by themselves. Never know where they'll be, but they're always back before roll call."

"What do you suppose they're doing?"

"If they were still mortal, I'd say they picked up a couple of women." He paused. "They've probably picked up a dozen women."

"That's a bit greedy. They couldn't possibly finish that much."

A sound in the corridor made him shoot to his feet. The door was flung open and banged against the wall. Celchu found himself thrown back, skidding across the desk to land on the floor behind it. Fonteyn rose and stopped, unwilling to approach the wrathful Toreador standing over his Prince.

"You're back." Celchu struggled for composure. When had Hobbie learned to do that? "Where's Wes?"

Derek offered a singularly unpleasant smile. "Where's Wes? That's a very good question." He peered over the edge of the desk at the fallen Ventrue. "Where is Wes?"

"I believe," the Prince stated flatly, "that I asked you first."

"I couldn't begin to tell you. I can tell you where he's not, though-- he's not in his room, with his body. He's not anywhere near there."

"What have you done to him?!" Celchu rose and glared at Derek. "I've worked for... years to help him, get him back to himself, and one night with you drives him mad again!" Rage washed over him, fury that he barely held in check. All his plans falling apart, all the years, the sacrifices, the things he'd done-- it was crumbling at his feet and they were all turning on him, on him, when everything he'd done since the night he'd run from Rome had been for them, for all of them.

"I should never have brought you back. You're less than worthless to us-- you might as well be one of Merando's minions for all the good you've done."

"Like you were his minion?"

He saw it coming-- the Prince wasn't as fast as he was-- and ducked out of the way in time to catch Celchu's left fist on his chin.

"I was not his minion!" Blue eyes flashed fire as Celchu hauled his old friend up by the collar of his shirt. "I have spent my life fighting him, and you dare to say this to me!"

"Your pardon." Derek knocked the Prince's hands away and straightened his shirt. "You're his childe. How could I have forgotten?"

"I have the will to fight him, but you--"

"Will not sacrifice everyone--"

"--You are selfish, and petty, and weak, and your life is without honor."

Derek stepped forward, eyes blazing. "It is not honor to use people for revenge," he roared. "It is not honor to kill innocents, by god, it is not!"

"It's war, Hobbie. War like we made on the Empire, and people will die. You left the Empire, just like I did. You're no stranger to the price."

"The price was my life, alone. No one else's paid off my balance."

Stupid, idealistic fool. Why can’t he see that the gain is worth the cost? "Far fewer will die by my hand than by his."

A mirthless light glittered in the Toreador’s eyes. "Is Merando the greater evil, Tycho? Is he? Or is it the man who can hold out his hand and pull his friends into death-- into madness?" He thought of the creature in Wes’ body, of the madness that was surely eating him alive. "Look at what you've done to us!"

Tycho froze. "You will not compare me to him," he murmured, voice deadly quiet. "Open your eyes, for sith's sake-- he will destroy the world. He's a butcher just as the Emperor was-- he will wipe us out of the galaxy just as he did Alderaan. He killed my home once. He killed my people. He will not do it again!"

The pain took him, wiping his mind of everything but the gut- wrenching agony of loss, of the torment he’d felt when he learned how his family had died, of the betrayal he’d felt when he discovered that the Empire he’d fought for, killed for, had taken the only thing that mattered to him. The pain slithered over him, the wrath, the icy rage that filled the hole left empty by his home-- the righteous fury that fueled his every waking moment.

"My god." Hobbie stepped back, as if he were seeing the Prince for the first time. "This is not Alderaan, Tycho. This is not Alderaan."


Continued in Part Nineteen