"Now I see his face, I see his smile.
Such a lonely place, no golden mile.
Eyes tell of morbid tales, of his black heart.
His deeds through ages past tell of his part."
Diamond Head, "The Prince"
It couldn't be. It wasn't possible. They said that Merando... but there he was, standing in the doorway, surrounded by a nimbus of light from the hall behind him, as beautiful as the last time they met.
Derek cleared his throat and tried to think of something to say. Nothing came. He tried again. A word formed in his foggy, confused brain.
The other man nodded and stepped forward, hands outstretched. Derek found himself moving, rushing forward to grab Tycho's hand and pull him into a spine-cracking hug. He felt an instant of hesitation from his compatriot, then the Alderaanian clasped him tightly.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph." Derek heard the accent leave his own voice even as he uttered the familiar oath.
Tycho started, then laughed, a full-throated, masculine sound. He stepped back, keeping one hand on Derek's shoulder, and raised his right hand to cup Derek's cheek. An unwelcome surge of affection washed over him and, just for a moment, he was not the Prince, just Tycho, just a man with a much loved and long mourned friend.
The Alderaanian's aura glowed vermilion, the shade of happiness, and Derek knew that his own matched. "I thought you were dead," he murmured, turning his face into Tycho's palm for an instant, before he thought better of it. The gesture was too intimate just yet. "I thought Merando killed you."
"He tried to," Tycho stepped back and righted the fallen chair. "Livingstone took me in." He smiled suddenly, only a shadow of his old grin, but welcome nonetheless.
"You're the new Prince." Derek said. "How on Earth did you find me?
"I searched for years, Hobbie, following every lead, never certain until it was too late and you'd taken a new identity." The smile wilted at the edges. "The last time you were gone for so long, I worried that you hadn't just disappeared, that maybe you'd... Then the most remarkable thing happened. I saw a film. Can you guess the title?" He looked up again, forcing The Prince away and letting Tycho fill his eyes.
Derek nodded, feeling one of his own rare grins threatening to split his face.
"Why did you tell our story?" Tycho waved his old friend back into the chair and pulled his own from behind the desk, settling into it comfortably. Derek felt a tingle at his mind, trying to force his reserve away. Immediately he closed himself off to Tycho and eyed him suspiciously.
An eloquent shrug-- "I wanted them to know. Even if they didn't believe, they had to know. And I thought, perhaps... that one of you might see. And you did. You found me this time."
"Well, you stayed Derek MacDonald far longer than you did anyone else. And it helps that your ladyfriend is so famous. I've seen you with her in several photos, on television. In fact, I..." A knock at the door interrupted him.
A young man, tall, his chestnut hair in a preppy cut opened the door. The pale lilac of his polo shirt picked up the similar flecks in his hazel eyes. His tapered khakis clung intriguingly to the shape of his legs, emphasizing the boy's well-built physique. The Prince stood, a small, predatory smile on his handsome face. Derek kept his face impassive, but a sudden, disconcerting thought stung at him.
He's Kindred. He's a Ventrue. He's not Tycho. As he watched the Prince approach the boy, Derek felt as though he were watching a shell-- Tycho's body, his voice, even his mannerisms, but without Tycho's heart.
"Matthew." Celchu's voice was warm and inviting as he took the youth's hand, pulling him further into the room. He led Matthew to stand before his guest and rested a hand on the boy's shoulder.
Soft brown eyes stared down at Derek, curious, but not afraid. Celchu twined his fingers with Matthew's, watching Derek carefully. When the other man didn't respond, the Prince rested his chin on the boy's shoulder and smiled reassuringly.
"You are my guest, Hobbie. I offer hospitality." He extended the boy's right hand to his visitor. "Please, taste him. If he suits you, you may keep him for the duration of your stay. If not," he turned his face into the boy's neck and nuzzled gently, "I have others. They are yours to choose."
Derek stared into Tycho's eyes, glittering like sapphires, and took the proffered hand.? Holding the gaze, he rested his mouth against the boy's wrist, letting Matthew's pulse beat strong and steady under his lips. His tongue darted out to taste the skin as he watched for a reaction from the gift or its presenter. Nothing.
He supposed that the boy could be perfectly healthy now, to lull him into a false sense of security, and would be poisoned later. Or he could act the role of perfect servant, then shove a stake into his new master at the first opportunity.
But Tycho wasn't capable of this. Surely he couldn't do such a thing... but he could. Oh, yes. The look in his jewel-like eles said so. The realization shook Derek to his core.
Celchu felt the Ralltiiri's heavy, evaluating gaze. He wondered briefly how strong his comrade was, how difficult he would be to dominate.
Should I test it now? No. Wait for something more important. If I fail here, Hobbie will know that I tried. I don't want him to be suspicious. On the other hand... he's never questioned me. Surely he won't now; he can't have changed that much. And if he has, isn't it best to find out now?
His gaze never wavered as he gently pushed at the other man's mind.
But I'm not hungry. Derek thought as his teeth sank into the boy's tender, willing flesh.
The cuffs were starting to chafe, but Wedge didn't fidget. His guards looked ready to jump him at any provocation. He could have broken the cuffs without any trouble, or turned into mist and slipped out of them that way, but he was saving that for when he had a chance of escape. Here, on board a private jet, there was nowhere to go and no reason to antagonize the Brujah that surrounded him wearing identical scowls.
The plane tilted; in such a small craft the movement was easy to detect. They dipped down through the clouds and Wedge caught a glimpse of a vast sea of twinkling lights. A city, quite large. No one told him where they were going, so Wedge tried to calculate how long they'd been flying. The plane was already aloft when he woke up that evening, and he'd been awake for nine hours. Depending on how long they'd flown during daylight, they could be over Sydney, or Los Angeles if they'd flown west. Maybe New York.
The night sky hid the shapes of most of the buildings, but the lights of the Empire State Building glowed like a beacon. Damn. Wedge had never been to the Americas, had no contacts there, no allies. He was on his own.
The slow descent into JFK gave him time to plot. One Gangrel against seven Brujah, that hardly seemed fair. He'd allow them a chance to surrender.
"You're so egotistical you think you can keep your ego under control." A female voice echoed through his head, fond, laughing, and Wedge almost remembered whose voice it was. It didn't matter, he supposed; whoever it was had been dead and gone for centuries.
Wheels hit the runway, jolting all the passengers. They taxied away from the main terminals to a private hangar on the east side of the airport. The guards roughly hauled Wedge to his feet and pushed him toward the front of the plane. He obeyed, watching the door as it opened. As soon as he was in the hangar, he'd disappear into thin air. Any second now...
"What the hell is this?" A stern, authoritative voice cut through the air. Wedge, startled, half-turned toward the speaker, a tall, slim man in an expensive suit, standing in front of a limousine. "Get those restraints off him."
The foremost guard, a short, stocky Brujah, said, "He's too dangerous to uncuff."
The tall man raised his eyebrows, then pulled out a cellular phone. "Indeed. I'm sure the Prince will be most distressed to hear how his friend was mistreated."
No one objected when the small Brujah removed the restraints. Wedge flexed his wrists and stared as the well-dressed man offered his hand in greeting.
"Commander Antilles, I do apologize for this foul treatment." He paused as Wedge made no move to shake his hand. "I am Rene Fonteyn; I serve the Prince of this city. My master wishes to extend his welcome to you, and his most profound apologies that he was not able to greet you himself."
The Gangrel crossed his arms. "Who is this Prince of yours, and what does he want with me?"
Fonteyn clasped his hands at the small of his back and smiled pacifically. "As it is two hours until dawn, my master gives you the choice of retiring to your suite-- sunproof, I assure you-- at the Plaza, or of proceeding directly to Celchu Tower."
Wedge's ears perked up. "Celchu Tower?"
"The Prince's residence." The other Kindred motioned to the limousine driver, who opened the door and stood alertly beside it. "If you please, sir...?"
Wedge pondered for a moment. Surely it was a coincidence. Surely more than one man in history bore that name. Surely...
He clambered into the back seat of the car.
Matthew was on his knees as Derek drank, his head leaned back to rest against the Prince's leg. Celchu absently stroked the boy's silken hair and gloated silently. Derek would be no problem for him, he seemed easy to control.
A soft gasp drew his attention back to the servant kneeling before their guest. Matthew looked up at his Prince, eyes pleading, his body responding rapidly to the sensations running through him, the pleasure and sweet, sweet pain.
Celchu's eyes flicked to his comrade; Derek was oblivious, lost in the heady rush of Matthew's blood. The boy's hand reached up, grasping the Prince's thigh. His hips rocked forward as Derek continued to suckle at his wrist.
"Yes, my pet?"
"Master, please..." Matthew's eyes were dark with need. His hand clenched almost painfully. Celchu loomed over the boy, his blonde hair brushing Matthew's upturned face. The boy's breath tickled his ear. "Take me."
The Prince stood upright, gazing down with a regretful expression. "My pet, do you wish to leave me?"
"No, master!" Matthew's voice rose and he drew a ragged breath.
Slender fingers stroked the boy's smooth cheek. "Have I not shown you pleasure? Must I destroy the very thing that has seduced me?"
"No, my Prince," the boy sobbed.
Celchu placed tiny, gentle kisses to the boy's forehead. "Look at me." Darkness swirled behind his eyes. "Come."
Spasms wracked the lithe young body as the Prince stood behind him, stroking his hair and face.
Derek lifted his head, then licked the wound clean. His face was flushed with fresh blood. A single drop of blood spilled from the corner of his mouth, trailing down his chin. Matthew slowly leaned forward and took Derek's face in his hands as his soft pink tongue flicked out, licking the drop away from Derek's skin. The poet started, then moaned as the boy's mouth closed over his own, lips gliding together for an instant before the Matthew pulled away, smiling beatifically.
Celchu's voice was soft, liquid syllables. "Does he please you, my friend?"
Derek's eyes began to lose some of their glazed look and he appeared shaken, almost guilty. "Very much so," he said softly.
Matthew rose in one fluid motion and turned to his master. The Prince smiled, showing the tiniest hint of fang, and bussed his lips.
"Run along, Matthew. I'll call for you tonight."
The door snicked shut.
"You always were an exhibitionist, Hobbie."
Derek leaned back, forcing the unease from his countenance. "And you enjoy it."
"True." The telephone's beep interrupted them. Celchu answered, spoke in monosyllables for a moment, then replaced the receiver and looked up with an expression of joy.
"Wedge is here."
For a second Derek felt the room spin, then it straightened out and he gaped at the Prince. His mouth worked, but no sound came out. Tycho hauled him to his feet, laughing at his friend's shock.
"Downstairs, he's coming in the back way."
As Tycho propelled him toward the door behind the desk, Derek finally found his voice. "He's one of us? He lives in New York?"
"Yes to the first, no to the second." The door swung shut behind them and Derek found himself walking down a long corridor. Their footsteps echoed as they hurried along, guided by the lights recessed into the walls.
Before he could ask, Tycho continued. "I've only recently learned that he survived; I've been trying to find him. It's a happy coincidence that he arrived the same night as you."
"Tycho." Derek grabbed his friend's arm and swung him around, his face suddenly both grave and elated. "Three of us. Three of us made it, Tycho... what if Wes...?"
The Prince's body went rigid and his face fell. "Later, Hobbie. Let's be happy now, while we can."
Fonteyn left him in a subterranean chamber, lavishly decorated and sumptuously furnished. Though it seemed a bit overdone, Wedge greatly appreciated the soft chair that he sank into as soon as the aide left.
He stood up as the doorknob turned and stood at ease, falling into familiar military pose as he still often did in moments of stress. In the soothing semi-dark, the two figures that entered could have been anyone. It could have been a trick of his anxious, overworked mind that made them seem so familiar. It could have been Fonteyn's offhand remark about Celchu Tower that made the first man seem so handsome, and the second so austere. It could have been any of these things.
But it wasn't.
Wedge wasn't certain whose voice he heard first, or whose arms wrapped around him so tightly that it hurt, or whose blonde head he tousled, then kissed as joy swelled inside of him. He only knew that, for the first time in two centuries, he was home.
Continued in Part Eleven