-- "I stop by you
Where's that old face?
You don't talk
I can tell
Somewhere you're scarred
From your head to heart
It's so odd
You're not the same--"
Naked, "What About You?"
Wedge remembered the celebration after Endor, the back-slapping hale-fellow cheer, the quiet, heartfelt expressions of pride and sorrow, the silence that, between men, is more eloquent than words. Here it was mostly the silence and tears, deepest expression of joy unutterable.
His arm slung around Tycho?s shoulders, Wedge couldn't keep from grinning. His men, safe; he hadn't failed them. Not all of them. Tycho was still the golden god, taller than Wedge, with the same air of dignity and courtesy. Hobbie was still a little too thin, his face-- now that the greetings were over-- taking on its old solemnity.
Wedge found his way back to the overstuffed chair and collapsed, head spinning. Several minutes passed before he could gather his thoughts enough to ask, "Where have you been?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Hobbie said, remembering that night long ago, the last time he'd seen his friends. "Tycho said you died in Rome."
"I truly believed he had," Tycho said. "I didn't find out the truth until it was too late and you'd left the city."
The Corellian nodded. "I did die, more or less, after the fight. My sire was one of the men who traveled with the gypsies-- you remember them?" He chuckled a bit. "He kept an eye on all of us, and he saved me that night. We looked for you," he turned to Hobbie, desperately needing him to understand.
"Sergei and I went back for you, but you were gone." Wedge leaned forward and held out his hands. "I searched for you and for Wes, but all anyone would say is that you must be dead, that... Toreadors," he spat out the word, "took you."
Hobbie nodded gravely, his face more intense than Wedge could ever remember seeing it.
"That's true, to a certain extent. They took me, but Wes..." his voice caught. "They bound him and left him for the sun to kill." His mind flew back through the years. "My sire, Madeline, she thought that we were tied up with someone named Merando. All she would say was that Wes' death would be a 'lesson to Merando's new pet.' Or something like that."
Tycho shifted in his seat, eyes flashing with anger, but he said nothing.
"Your sire?" Wedge asked, incredulous. "After what they did, how could you let one of them Embrace you?"
He watched the man he knew as Hobbie look away, over Wedge's head, and his eyes seemed to see through the walls to a point in the distant past.
He was still reeling, gasping and shuddering from the fangs buried in his back when the second pair struck, sinking into the tight flesh of his upper thigh just below the curve of his buttock. Hobbie clenched the perfumed sheets and inhaled deeply, resisting the urge to rub himself against the silk beneath him. The vampires might notice, and he would be punished.
He bit back a moan and tried to quell the fire in his loins. If he were very good and didn't disappoint any of her guests, Madeline would reward him.
Don't think about that he cautioned himself as his body began to respond. Think about anything but that. Think about what she's done to you, what she did to Wes, and how much you hate her.
And he did hate her, passionately. He'd hated her every day of the four years she'd kept him prisoner, hated her as she questioned him about Merando and beat him when he couldn't answer, hated her as she passed him around to her friends to be used and discarded, hated her as she took him to her bed, hated her as he clasped her body to his and took back what he could, hated her even as his quill scratched across parchment in honor of her. He hated and longed for her and seethed with jealousy when she wasn't beside him.
The pain was gone, but so was the pleasure. Hobbie opened his eyes and found himself on another bed, the sheets white as snow. Madeline's bed.
A cool hand touched his face, brushing back strands of the blonde hair that she wouldn't let him cut. It cascaded past his shoulders now and gleamed in the candlelight.
Soft lips caressed his cheek. "Are you well?" Hobbie nodded and looked up at her. "Poor little pet, they almost drained you. And you didn't even peep, my brave darling."
Madeline smiled, hiding her fangs behind red-painted lips. She appeared almost human, her pallor could have been the white powder that women wore, and her eyes sparkled.
Hobbie tensed. She only ever wore that expression when she was going to make him hurt. How best to distract her?
"Has my lady fed tonight?"
Madeline propped herself up on her right elbow, her midnight dark hair spilling across the sheets. Hobbie reached out and twirled a strand between his fingers, then slowly trailed his hand down her arm to take her hand in his. Raising it, he brought the tips of her fingers to the hollow of his throat where his pulse beat strong and sure.
"I am strong enough for you, if you desire."
"Are you, Hobbie?" Her voice fondled his name. "And are you willing?"
"I am always willing."
She knelt on the bed and pulled him up to kneel before her. Her eyes flashed and she leaned forward to kiss him, then struck out suddenly.
Hobbie gasped as four diagonal lines welled up on his chest. Madeline watched dispassionately as the blood rolled down his flat stomach, then her tongue darted out to gather the liquid before it reached his groin. She licked her way back up his chest, then pulled away and stared critically at him.
Again she struck, his arm this time. Again she waited until the blood threatened to spoil the clean white sheets, then swooped down just in time.
He stiffened and wanted to pull away when she cradled his face in her hands. Her smoky voice stopped him.
"You aren't willing?"
He would gladly let her sink her fangs anywhere she pleased, but this was different. There was no pleasure here, nothing but the uneasy sensation that he was going to be clawed to death. She had to know that, she must be doing this to hurt him. To test him. He turned his face into her hand and kissed her palm.
The scratches on his cheeks matched the ones on his chest, and his eyes filled with hot, stinging tears of pain. His mind searched for something, some way to ignore what she was doing to him.
She walks in beauty...
He whimpered as Madeline tore at his back.
And all that's best of dark and light...
Crimson stained the sheets as he fell backwards.
One shade the more...
Finally her fangs pierced his leg, her face buried in his groin, and he arched, desperately focusing on this bit of delight in a sea of agony.
The smiles that win...
He was floating, dying, and he tasted copper on his lips. Just a bit, less than she'd ever taken of him, but it was the sweetest nectar he'd ever tasted. He convulsed with an ecstasy keener than orgasm and held tight to life. *
"Eternal life, Wedge. Eternal life and the woman I desired. When she drank from me I was in heaven. It's easy to forgive and forget from such lofty heights."
Wedge narrowed his eyes. Forgive and forget? How could he betray Wes' memory? What streak of depravity ran through Hobbie to make his own pleasure seem more important?
"There is less to forgive," Tycho said quietly, "than one might think."
All eyes turned to him. He stood, not looking at anything in particular. &qout;Perhaps you'd both better come with me. There's something you should see."
Wedge leapt to his feet. "You found Wes." It wasn't a question. Hobbie's face brightened.
Tycho shook his head. "Not exactly. Follow me."
Celchu didn't look back at them as he led the way through the maze of corridors to Wes? room. He reflected on Wedge's vengeful hatred of the Toreador clan. If that could be turned toward Merando, the Prince would have another ally. But if Wedge saw Wes, saw what their comrade had become, and knew that Tycho was partly responsible, would Wedge's anger be turned against Tycho?
The Prince considered his options. Wedge could not hurt him, not if he had calculated his power correctly. Not even Wedge's sire, or his sire's sire, could best him. But to fight Wedge would be to lose his allegiance and the Prince didn't want that. He needed Wedge's power, his skill. And his friendship, though he would not admit it, even to himself.
They walked past Wes' door, Celchu noting the silence that swept down the corridor. A second door a few paces further along opened to reveal a viewing chamber. It ran the length of Wes' room, with viewscreens on one wall displaying transmissions from the room's many hidden cameras. A technician, monitoring Wes' activity, looked up as the Prince entered.
"He seems to have worn himself out, sir. We removed the... mess as soon as he settled down."
"Good." Celchu waved the other Rogues forward and pointed toward one of the monitors.
The muscular madman sat in a corner, hugging his knees to his chest, his forehead resting on his knee. His long hair fell over his face, hiding it from view.
"Is it...?" Wedge asked in a hushed growl. "What's wrong with him?"
"He doesn't remember who he is. I've tried to talk with him, but he goes into some kind of fit. It's almost like he's afraid to hear his name, or mine. So you see," Tycho continued, "I haven't really found Wes, just his body."
Hobbie couldn't take his eyes from the forlorn image on the screen. Could that really be Wes? Sure, there was a mark on his hand, but surely other Kindred had a little sunburn.
"Can I talk to him?"
Celchu considered, then looked over at the tech. "Should he be restrained?"
"No offense," the man replied, "but none of you look strong enough to hold him off if he goes nuts."
Hobbie bristled. "Wes wouldn't hurt me."
"Don't be too sure, Hobbie," Celchu said. "He's got a bad reputation. He's been living in Bangkok, calls himself Hades-- you understand the symbolism."
"I'll take my chances."
"I'll go in, too," Wedge spoke up, turning toward the door. "I can hold him if he gets wild."
The two men looked at each other across the unfamiliar gap between clans and found a moment of perfect understanding. Celchu nodded in resignation. "You'll forgive me if I don't join you. He doesn't seem to like me very much. I think he's afraid of me."
"That's ridiculous, Tycho," Wedge frowned. "Why would Wes be afraid of you?" He pushed the door open and walked down the hallway, Hobbie at his heels.
The lock clicked, and Hades tensed. He?d managed to stay calm when those men came and removed the drained body. This time, though, there was nothing to remove but Hades. He didn't know where they planned to take him, but he wasn't going.
He surreptitiously peered out from under his hair. The first man was slender, blonde, and uncertain. He had to be a Toreador; nobody else wore those damned lace-up shirts these days. The second was shorter, with tousled dark hair and a worried expression. He could be the Gangrel poster boy-- dirty hands, several days worth of beard, his clothes looked like he?d been rolling in dog crap. Neither looked like they'd be much trouble in a fight.
The blonde sat down on the end of the bed and watched Hades anxiously. The other hung back and Hades eyed him suspiciously. He seemed almost familiar.
Hades's head snapped up and he glared at the one who'd spoken, the skinny blonde.
"Wes, it's Hobbie."
He tossed the rank insignia to Lt. Wilton. Imagine, Janson and Klivian trained Gauntlet squadron; our very first. Gods, the look on his face, so proud. I'm beaming, too.
Hades gazed steadily at the man, wondering where that memory came from. This person, this Hobbie
"Dammit, Wes! How?d you get squid in my locker?"
seemed to know Hades, seemed fond of him. The Malkavian stood slowly, unsteadily, and looked into the other's eyes.
His worried blue eyes.
"No!" Hobbie's voice in the night; he was on the floor, arms twisted behind him. Someone kicked him to shut him up, his blue eyes were wide with fear.
The high-pitched, whistling scream sounded foreign to Hades, though he knew it came from his own throat. He scooted along the wall, keeping his back to the striped wallpaper and his eyes on the perplexed man on the bed. The blonde stood, reaching out to him, and Hades cringed away.
A hand touched his shoulder and Hades shrieked, turning to strike at the dark-haired man who'd crept up on him. The man caught his fist and turned it aside, slamming Hades' hand into the wall.
"It's OK, Wes."
Which of them spoke? He didn't know, he only knew that the demons of his dream had found him and were finally going to kill him. He deserved it, true, but they wouldn't take him without a fight.
The dark one was closest, an easy target, and Hades wrenched his hand out of the man's grasp and swung. The blow was meant for his throat and would have crushed his larynx, but the man ducked and Hades found himself on the ground, looking up at cold brown eyes.
He's got enough icewater in his veins to replenish Coruscant's polar ice caps.
"Wes, calm down, we're..." a hard shove sent the man flying and Hades leapt to his feet. The blonde was at his side and Hades struck out, but a blur of color reminded him that Toreadors were fast little creeps. It was their only use.
"Get out, Hobbie." The Gangrel was trying to save the blonde. "I'll hold him."
"No sir, Commander. Give me any order but that one." A Degenerate taking orders from an Outlander? Hades didn't have time to ponder that one, they both came at him. He went for the blonde first, pretty sure he was the weak link, and was rewarded by the feel of his fist connecting with the other man's jaw.
Get him on the ground, rip out his heart; will that do it? Maybe it'll slow him down. But there were claws at Hades' throat and an angry voice growled in his ear.
"Ease down, Lieutenant."
Blank. What was he doing? Why was he fighting Hobbie? "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." He stood and faced Wedge, who seemed confused and dismayed. And maybe a little scared too. But what could scare Wedge?
"Have a seat." Wes obeyed, glancing at Hobbie, trying to remember what the fight had been about. Wedge knelt in front of him and stared at his face.
"Do you know who you are?"
Stupid question. He was Lieutenant Janson... but I'm not in uniform ... Starfighter Command... who are these people? ... he was Wes Janson... he wasn't, he couldn't be... Hades began to shake and slid off the bed, facing the dark-haired man on his knees.
"Don't know him, I don't, I swear it, I don't know where he is I don't oh god don't know him please I don't let me go I swear sweet Jesus don't know please GET AWAY FROM ME!"
He struck out, knocking the dark man backwards, and launched himself into the corner. Pale red tears streamed down his face as he watched the two men exchange glances, then slowly back out of the room.
Continued in Part Twelve