"It won't give up it wants me dead
God damn this noise inside my head."
Nine Inch Nails;
Dawn crept close on the heels of Hobbie's departure and the vampires retired to their quarters before anything more could be said. Wedge lay in the soft bed that Tycho led him to, head spinning from the night's revelations. His Rogues, reunited, if only for a moment. Before he learned that Wes was insane, before he learned of Hobbie's treachery and cowardice.
- - - - - - - - - - -
He sighed and rolled onto his back, watching the shadows play across the ceiling. A glowing orb, shaped like the full moon, kept the room from pitch blackness. Such a thing he couldn't have imagined-- Hobbie, a fierce pilot and a brave, reduced to a cringing fop more concerned with his personal affairs than the good of the planet.
Not that there was any way to keep him. Not unless Tycho tried to Dominate him, and Tycho would never do that.
Wedge convulsed suddenly as morning came. Thank the Force that Tycho hasn't changed.
A new evening always brings a new perspective. The troubles of the night before are burned away in the sunlight and night's shadows cover the hard edges of what remains. The early evening is a time of silence and shadow, a time for reflection.
The Prince lay waiting for the last rays of sunlight to disappear, trying to quell the overwhelming anxiety he felt. Twilight, his favorite time of the night, a time of awakening and endless possibilities, and tonight it meant nothing. Nothing but that he must rise and face whatever trials lay ahead.
As he came fully awake, he began to tick off on his fingers. 1- feed the media some line about last night's fires and get the fire marshal to corroborate, 2- contact the Princes of all who died, apologize profusely and spin it to my advantage. That shouldn't be too hard, really; Merando has just proven how very dangerous he is, 3- find someone
to eat. Hmm... better do that first, 4- give the Intelligence info to Wedge, 5- Wes. Ah Gods. I'll leave that alone for now, 6- Hobbie. I'll convince him that Lilian is in more danger if he doesn't help. But I can't threaten her, and it seems that I can't Dominate him-- why is that? It worked perfectly well earlier, 7-
A knock at the door jolted him out of his reverie.
It was one of the humans, of course, most of the Kindred were still asleep. Dana was a very dark woman with close-cropped hair and a brusque manner. She pushed the door open and stood with a PalmPilot in one hand and a cellular phone in the other.
Celchu resisted the urge to lie back down and pull the blankets over his head. "What now?"
"Tristana has called for a summit in Geneva tomorrow night."
The Prince frowned. "Right. Get someone up here to pack my things and-"
"You're not invited. Our man on the inside says that the meeting is top-secret. They're going to decide if they should continue backing you."
That is bad, but it could be-
"It's worse than that."
"That's Hobbie's line," the Prince replied absently. Dana looked at him curiously, then continued.
"Supposedly, Tristana is going to suggest giving you to Merando in exchange for his pardon."
For a split second everything remained normal, then his head was spinning like an out-of-control A-Wing. Celchu heard himself speaking and marveled at the calm in his voice.
"That certainly is bad news. We shall have to take steps to control the situation." He slid out of bed and stood in the doorway to his dressing room. "Wake Fonteyn and give him a list of the Kindred who'll be attending this `summit.' I'll be down presently."
He turned his back and heard the woman leave. The Prince selected a suit at random and began dressing, his mind reeling with this new betrayal.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wedge stretched and rolled over, burying his face in the soft hair of the woman next to him. He spooned up against her, wrapping an arm around her waist, sighing contentedly. The dream was so nice, he couldn't bear to wake up.
I think I miss this the most. Waking up next to a woman, a lover. Holding her close, making love in the morning sunlight.
Except that there was no sunlight, and it wasn't morning, and he wasn't dreaming.
He came fully awake and sat up, rubbing his eyes. She lay under the blankets, illuminated by the nightlight's glow. Her light brown hair fell over a lovely, petal soft face and the creamy skin of her exposed shoulders and neck seemed to beg for his touch.
Wedge leaned over her and laid a hand on her shoulder, shaking her gently. His mind didn't quite comprehend the situation. A naked woman in his bed? It was quite impossible.
She stirred, then rolled onto her back and opened her brown eyes.
Wedge jumped as though jabbed with a cattle prod. Her voice was low and sultry, her smile warm and inviting... her neck so very vulnerable.
He started again when she reached up, brushing hair out of his face, then trailed her fingers down his arm. His skin tingled under the thick wool of his sweater. He hadn't bothered to undress the night before, just kicked off his boots and crawled into bed. Now those garments were tight, constricting, and he wanted to take them off, to lay nude in the bed, to touch this woman, to kiss her, taste her, drink her....
Her small hand closed around his and he started to pull away, suddenly aware of his desperate hunger. Her eyes held his as she brought his hand to her mouth and kissed each of his fingers, then laid it atop her chest, guiding it lower until the blanket was pushed down and he cupped one small, perfect breast.
The sound of her heart filled his ears as it pounded harder, faster, and Wedge stared unwillingly at the throbbing vein in her neck. The woman turned her head, offering herself, and Wedge found himself moving closer, bending low, shaking as his mind fought what his body so desperately craved.
Then he was across the room, against the wall, covering his face with his hands as he shouted at her.
"Get out! Go-- before I hurt you!"
He tried to ignore the rustle of silken sheets, refusing to look up as her footsteps padded across the floor. She stopped just out of arms reach and her voice was mildly petulant.
"Tycho said you'd be hungry."
Wedge lowered his hands and stared at her. "He sent you here to... to...?"
She shook her head, soft brown curls falling distractingly over her bosom. "He asked if I was willing." She tilted her head and smiled. "He said you were strong and handsome, and he was so right."
She closed the distance, pressing her nude body against his. The woman wasn't much shorter than he was and her lips brushed tantalizingly against his. His hands slid involuntarily around her waist, pulling her hard against him. This time when she bent her head, he didn't resist. His lips lingered on her racing pulse. The scent of her, of blood and desire, fueled his Beast and Wedge bit back a sob as he struggled with his unholy lust.
He meant to push her away, to free her, but instead he pushed her against the wall, pinning her hands above her head as he nuzzled her throat. Her breath came in sharp, hitching gasps and she watched through heavy-lidded eyes as he sucked on her skin, raising marks, bringing her blood to the surface.
Releasing her hands, he moved down, burying his face between her breasts, feeling her heart pound under his lips. She trembled as his tongue flicked over her nipple. His knee forced her legs apart as he ministered to her, biting and sucking until her knees buckled and he grabbed her hips to keep her from falling.
Wedge fell to his knees, worshipping this body, this vessel of blood and desire. Her scent overpowered him, buried his mind in his insatiable hunger. He searched for the place where her pulse beat strongest, licking along the curve of her hip, and targeted in on the crease where groin met thigh.
The woman's hips bucked as she felt his mouth near her dripping core. Her hands clenched on his head as his breath warmed her nether lips, then his tongue darted out and traced that crease, bathing it like a purring, bloodthirsty cat. His fangs scraped along her skin, ready to pierce and drink. A tiny drop of blood blossomed where he scraped too hard, and Wedge abandoned all pretense of humanity.
He snarled, arms encircling her waist, holding her so tightly that she cried out. Wedge ignored her, maddened by the smell and taste and feel of her, her blood on his lips, her heart beating loud and strong, her very essence so close, her life so near and his for the taking use her drain her kill her--
The woman lay sprawled on the floor where he pushed her. Wedge turned away from her angry, confused expression and ran for the door.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Ventrue cowered on the floor, refusing to meet Celchu's eyes. The Prince paced before him, rage bubbling over as he screamed.
"She betrayed me! Your mistress, your Prince, your bitch turned against me!"
"I'm sorry." The man bent low, his head touching the ground as he shook with fear.
"How could you let this happen?"
"I... I didn't know..."
"Liar!" Abruptly, the Prince changed tactics, his countenance becoming calm, reasonable. "Now really, Cesare," he said gently, "it's your duty to know her movements. Fonteyn here can tell you how many steps I walk every day. Not that he would, of course, his loyalty is absolute."
Celchu gripped the cringing man's chin and raised his face. "And where does your loyalty lie?"
"With you, master, only with you. I've told you everything I know, I swear it!"
The Prince's lip curled and he struck the other man across the mouth.
"I own you, Cesare. You are with her to serve me-- you live to serve me. And when you cease to serve..."
But the Prince was already stalking out of the room. He paused at the door and issued his order to the towering guard.
"Make an example of him."
Fonteyn matched Celchu's stride as they hurried down the corridor. "Is that wise?" he asked as they entered the Prince's office. "Now we will have no one at Tristana's court."
The Prince shook his head and laughed. "Why do you question me?" he asked mildly.
"Why do you always fucking question me?" His voice rose to a scream. Fonteyn anticipated an attack and stepped out of the way as Celchu rushed toward him. Furious, the younger Kindred picked up the nearest object, a chair, and flung it at him.
"My orders will be obeyed. Neither you, nor Cesare, nor Ventrue himself will question that and live!"
Fonteyn stood at the door, his hand on the knob, but both men knew he wouldn't run. He'd served Celchu, Livingstone, and Livingstone's predecessor. His unlife was dedicated to the Prince of New York City, whomever held that title, and he would not abandon that power simply because the Prince threw a tantrum.
Celchu could see the reproach in the older Kindred's eyes and hated him for it. Stepping very close, he lowered his voice and looked into Fonteyn's eyes.
"As of this moment, Tristana does not exist. Kill her. Kill them all."
It seemed that everything was gone, all that he had worked to build. He left the Tower, his mind unfocused. As his world was crashing down around him, he ran to the only pleasure he had left.
He drove himself to her apartment and rang her doorbell unannounced. Carolyn opened the door, her face breaking into a delighted smile.
He pulled her into his arms before she even had the chance to close the door. She was laughing as he kissed her, her eyes bright and happy.
"What on Earth are you doing here?" she asked when at last he remembered her need for air and released her.
Tycho grinned. "I can't visit you?"
"Of course you can, sweetie. But you said you said you'd have some of your business partners in town this week." She shrugged and shut the door. "I didn't expect to hear from you."
"You know I can't stay away from you." Tycho brushed a strand of dark hair away from her face. She shivered at his touch and took his hand in both of hers.
"Is it that cold out? You're freezing." Carolyn gently tried to rub warmth into his skin.
"Mmm." In truth, Tycho hadn't noticed the cold. He'd worn a coat to blend in with the mortals, but his skin was not affected by the weather. He drew his hand away and kissed the tip of her nose. "Are you volunteering to warm me up?"
An endearing blush tinted her cheeks and ears bright red, but she tossed her head and smirked at him. "Depends on how warm you want to get." She turned around before he could retort and walked into the kitchen. "Do you want a cup of tea?"
He declined and wandered through the living room to stand before the window. The city lights twinkled merrily and he could see the top of the Empire State Building.
Stupid. Moronic. Irresponsible. I shouldn't have come here hungry.
A warm hand touched his back, rubbing gently between his shoulder baldes. Carolyn stepped beside him and rested her head against his shoulder. Tycho slipped his arm around her and kissed the top of her head.
"Nice view," he said quietly.
"Mmm. It's not a good as the view from your window."
Tycho pulled her closer and smiled at the perfect opening. "You can have that view any time you want."
She stiffened, then relaxed and forced a laugh.
"You don't seem like the marrying type."
"That's not what I was asking."
He felt, rather than heard her sigh. Stepping in front of her, he cupped her cheek in his hand and softly kissed her lips. "Don't pretend that you don't want me. Open to me, Carolyn. I will never hurt you."
"You've said that before." She wouldn't meet his eyes.
"And I'll keep saying it until you believe me." Hunger surged through him and he pulled her close, instinctively nuzzling her neck. With effort, Celchu straightened, pressing his lips to her forehead. He trembled as her heart pounded in his ears, but couldn't force himself away.
Carolyn rested her cheek against his chest, unaware of the danger. The Prince groaned, running his hands up her back to her shoulders.
"I will never," his lips lingered over hers, "never," trailing kisses along her jaw, "never harm you."
"Tycho..." She clutched at his shirt, leaning into him, unable to see his face as the Prince bared his fangs, gently running them along her throat, making her squirm.
"That tickles... what are you--" He nipped at her and she pushed her small hands against his chest, trying to push him away. The Prince ran his hands through her hair, forcing her head to one side. He vaguely heard a woman's voice, crying, then begging.
But the thirst was all he cared for and she screamed as her blood began to flow.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
A light snow was falling as Wedge threaded his way through the crowd on Fifth Avenue. The Manhattan streets were packed with people doing their last-minute holiday shopping. Stylish people in black hurried by carrying brightly colored packages, casting uneasy glances at the shabby man in the grey sweater and torn blue jeans.
Wedge ignored them all, his face turned toward the sky to feel the snow on his skin. The tiny flakes fell on his face, cleansing, purifying. He could almost forget the nameless woman and what he'd nearly done to her. But even now, veins full of the blood of stray animals, even now he wanted her.
A group of shrieking, giggling children ran by, followed by parents (or nannies?) calling after them. Wedge glanced at the store they'd run into, a toy store, and looked carefully at the name, trying to recall the letters. Though the language spoken here was nearly identical to Basic, Wedge could find no resemblance whatsoever between their script and Aurabesh. He could read and write well enough in the eastern languages that Sergei taught him, but he still struggled with this English.
The name, once deciphered, meant nothing to him-- FAO Schwartz. Wedge gave an internal shrug and started to walk past when something caught his eye. Barely visible from the window, surrounded by boxes of model kits and figurines too small to make out, sat an Ewok.
For a moment he stood in shock, wondering how this planet ever found out about Ewoks. Then, as the hint of an idea began to form in his brain, he pushed through the crowd to the door.
His single-minded sense of purpose faltered, however, when he made his way toward the Ewok. It sat, as he'd seen, in a field of figurine boxes that he was now close enough to see clearly. His head spun as he stared at a box with a tiny black-cloaked doll inside. The label, once he worked it out, read "Darth Vader."
And next to that, a Han Solo, three Princess Leias, an Admiral Akbar. Behind Wedge stood boxes and boxes of models and ships-- X-Wings and B-Wings and a Millennium Falcon that lit up and chirped.
An unhappy voice made him turn around to see a small girl, her brown hair in pigtails, tugging at a woman's hand. "No, Mommy, I don't want a Barbie! I wanna be a pilot!"
The woman frowned and pulled her daughter away, casting a wary look at Wedge. "Those are for boys, Casie. Let's find you a nice teaset, won't you like that?"
"No," the little girl pouted as she was dragged away.
Wedge stared after them, forgetting why he'd come into the store. Who told these people about them, about the galaxy? Was it one of the Rogues? Had someone else from the inner galaxy made their way here? Shouldn't he have heard about that?
A salesclerk approached him, distaste showing plain on his face.
"May I help you, sir?"
Wedge narrowed his eyes at the man's imperious tone and pointed at the Ewok. "I'd like to buy that."
The clerk followed Wedge's finger and raised his eyebrows. "Ah. The Ewok. That's very expensive."
"I'm sure it is," Wedge's gravely voice took on a threatening tone and the clerk took an involuntary step back. "But I still want it."
"Very well, sir. If you'll just follow me." Wedge smiled, showing fang, and the man paled. "W-would you like it wrapped?"
"No, thank you." Wedge continued to glower at the clerk until the toy was purchased and safely tucked into a bag, on its way to its new owner.
He had no trouble getting back into the building; apparently the staff had been alerted to his presence. Every person he ran into, Kindred or mortal, tried to be helpful-- and a good thing, too, for the building was a maze of corridors and stairways.
Wes' attendant looked up as Wedge entered the small monitor room.
"He's fine," the man said before Wedge could ask. "He's been fed and he's pretty calm right now."
Wedge peered at one of the screens and recoiled at the fresh bloodstain on the pale blue carpet. "You gave him a human?" he asked, looking around for the body.
"Of course," the attendant said, his brow furrowed. "We've already disposed of the corpse."
The Gangrel stared at the attendant for a moment, then turned back to the wall of screens. Wes lay on his stomach on the bed, head propped up on his hands. He appeared to be concentrating rather hard on the open book before him.
"How on Earth did he learn to read?" Wedge asked softly.
The other man shrugged. "Probably knew before... you know. I guess he wasn't always crazy."
"That's debatable. But he couldn't read this alphabet before; I knew him then."
"Well, what did he read? Sumerian?" The attendant shook his head.
Wedge narrowed his eyes but chose not to reply. He set the bag down and began poking around the room, pulling open the desk drawers.
"Looking for something?"
"The key to that room." Wedge didn't bother to look up.
"Ah. There is no key."
The Gangrel straightened and fixed the man with a glare. "How do I get in?"
The attendant tapped a small panel on his desk. "You see this nifty thing here? It's called a sec-ur-i-ty keyboard." His voice rose, high and condescending. "If I think someone needs to be in there, I punch in a little code and `poof' the door opens."
Wedge leaned over the desk and stared the man in the eyes. "Then let me in."
"I don't think that's a good idea." As Wedge bared his fangs, the attendant stammered, "At.. at least until you g-get backup."
Wedge spared a glance at the monitors. Wes was still reading, still perfectly calm. "I don't need backup."
"Excuse me, but he almost killed you last night."
"He might have. Listen," the man stood, his tone softening. "You may look at that thing in there and see your friend, but he just sees you as an enemy. A threat. That means he's willing to do things that you won't."
Wedge looked away and the man plunged on. "Could you kill him? If it came to that, his life or yours? You can't even feed properly."
"You know about that?" Wedge listened for scorn in the other man's voice, but heard only sympathy.
"By now, everyone in the Tower knows. I'm not saying you're wrong, mind, I just have to wonder if you can handle yourself at times like this."
Wedge glared for a moment, then dropped his eyes. "Just let me in."
- - - - - - - - - -
Hades looked up as the door opened. A man, shortish, wiry, with dark hair, walked in carrying a teddy bear. The Malkavian frowned. He knew that face from somewhere. The man came to the foot of the bed and Hades twisted around, muscles tensing.
The Gangrel from last night, last week, last year-- Hades didn't know when but he knew that he was in danger. Blue eyes followed the wolf-man's every movement as the air became still and thick.
The shaggy man set the bear on the end of the bed, patted its head, and quietly said, "Yub yub, lieutenant." Then, as Hades watched in mild surprise, he turned around and walked out.
He turned his back on me? Either he's very stupid or very trusting. Same thing, really. Heh. Maybe he's nuts
Hades looked hard at the bear, trying to see through its covering to any hidden dangers, but the toy was too clever for that. He snorted derisively. If they wanted to kill him, they'd have to do better than a booby-trapped toy. It might dupe a child, but not the Lord of the Dead.
But what was it that Wolfie said? "Yub yub?" What the hell was that-- a battle cry?
He turned back to his book, but the words on the pages made no sense. He could feel the bear's eyes on him.
Cautiously, making no sudden moves, Hades rolled off the bed onto the floor. Holding the book open in front of him like a talisman, he pedaled backward until he sat in the corner between the bed and the wall. The bear didn't move. Hades drew his knees up to his chest and rested the book on them, pretending to read.
The words blurred, became black smudges. Words raced around in his head, making no sense, forming no coherent pattern.
Yub yub, lieutenant. Wes, I'm going to get you for this. Nice shot, Janson. Yub yub. Nice rear, Lieutenant. The adventures of Wes Janson, Ace Statistician. You're a good man, Wes. Yub yub.
The bear was still watching him, its headdress slightly askew, grinning in an altogether familiar way.
Would you stand still if you were being approached by two naked men with Ewok food smeared all over them? Ewok food. Ewok...
Hades set the book down and crawled toward the bear... Ewok. It didn't move, didn't run from him as it had once before. No, that was Dia. Wasn't it-- or Emtrey?
Because it was only a toy, nothing more. No weapons hidden in its soft pelt. Black button eyes reflected his face, his dark hair now too long for military protocol, his eyes nearly devoid of the mischief they'd once held.
He sat on the bed and gingerly touched the toy, his face as full of wonder as a child's. Why did Wedge bring this to him? Why did he run off so quickly?
Wes squeezed the toy close, bloody tears staining its soft fur.
Continued in Part Fourteen