-- "Keep it safe and sleek... so cold and ultra clean.
Don?t you ever feel?" --
Cold, stinging needles of rain bit into the blond man?s face as he fumbled for his keys. His satin shirt, the same pale blue as his eyes, spotted where the water splashed against it. "Bloody Scottish weather," Derek MacDonald mumbled, shifting a paper bag to his other arm. Rain, while good for poetic inspiration, wreaked havoc on one?s clothing. No member of the Clan Toreador enjoyed looking like a bedraggled alley cat.
"Nonsense," a voice behind him harumphed. Turning, the Kindred saw an elderly man in a tweed overcoat holding a leash. At the other end of the leauh, a small terrier strained unsuccesfully to get free.
"Evening, Dr. Campbell." The dog turned to the blond man and yapped at him, then sat up on his back legs. "And a good evening to you, Walter," the man courteously bowed to the little animal.
"It?s that English schooling, MacDonald. It?s made you soft." The old man tugged on the leash as the dog tried to break away. "You should get out in the sun, not sleep all day. You?d feel better."
"You think so?"
"Aye. Get a bit of color in your cheeks. You look like a vampire." He nodded down at his dog. "Walter thinks we should be going. Have a good evening, MacDonald."
"Thank you, Dr. Campbell."
The little dog ran in place. "And tell your lady that if she opens her window, I?d like to hear some Mozart."
"I will, sir."
Derek?s shoulders shook with suppressed laughter as he watched the old man follow his impatient pooch. Fitting the key into the lock, he escaped the dreary Edinburgh rain.
"Lil?" He flipped on the kitchen light and sat the grocery bag in the refrigerator. Scraps of music floated down the stairs-- Paganini, if he remembered correctly. He followed the noise to the second story, pushing open the practice room door. "Lilian?"
A dark-haired woman stood in front of a music stand, violin in hand. She looked up at the sound of his voice and smiled, then set the instrument in its case. ?Is it still raining?? she asked, running a hand through her short curls. Derek nodded, crossed to the window and raised the glass with one hand.
"Dr. Campbell requested Mozart."
"I?ll give him a bit of ?Figaro,? then." She kissed his cheek. "What?s his diagnosis tonight?"
He smiled. "Too much English schooling, not enough sunlight."
She burst into infectious laughter, emphasizing the lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth. "Should?ve told him that you burn easily." She flipped through a musical score. "Oh, Derek-- I forgot. My sister wants to know if we?re coming to tea on Sunday."
"Umm." He absently looked at the newspaper on the sidetable. "That reminds me, I?ve got to get some more gray for my hair."
"Yes, you?re aging far too well." Derek saw the suddenly unhappy look in her eyes and caught her hand in his.
"Let?s go out." His lover raised an eyebrow. "Let?s get dolled up and go dancing."
Lilian fluffed his hair, then gave a half-hearted smile. "Not tonight, Derek." She picked up the violin. "I have to serenade Dr. Campbell." With that, she opened the score and began playing, reminding everyone on the street just why she was considered one of the greatest musicians in the British Isles.
Derek threw himself into a rocking chair and watched her, a worried expression on his face. She never used to be so solitary, so mournful, so... like him. But since her birthday, she?d become increasingly depressed. He felt his heart constrict as he observed her silver aura. Lilian was hurting, and she wouldn?t let him help.
Her fingers flew over the neck of the violin, coaxing the notes out at impossible speeds. Her eyes flickered towards him, then back to the music, and back to him.
"Stop it," she muttered, still playing.
She played a few more bars, then tossed the bow at him. "You know I hate that."
Derek held out his hands. "Come here."
Lilian warily stepped closer, and let herself be pulled into his lap. Wrapping his arms about her waist, he held her against his chest and kissed her cheek. "What?s wrong?" When she didn?t answer, he shrugged. "I?m just going to throw out a few ideas, OK? Tell me if I get close." He thought for a second. "Is it Maggie?s baby?" She kept her eyes on the floor. "Turning fifty? Both? More?"
She sighed and tried to stand. "I just don?t want to go out. That?s it. Why do you have to make more of it?"
"Because that?s not it. You haven?t been the same in months." He nuzzled her neck. "What happened to the girl I fell in love with?"
She finally looked at him, staring into his eyes as though trying to see his thoughts while they formed. "That was almost thirty years ago, Derek; I?m not that girl anymore. You?re the same-- you look the same, act the same, maybe you even feel the same-- but some of us change. We get old, we get tired. And we look back on our lives and wonder..." she trailed off.
His throat was tight. "Wonder what?"
Her eyes glistened and her mouth tightened as she fought tears. "If I had to make my choices all over again, I?d do it the same. I would. But when I saw Maggie-- my baby sister?s baby-- with her child, I wondered what it would have been like to have a normal life. To get married, have a family, teach Sunday School." She laughed hopelessly. "Be a Girl Guides leader."
"Lil, you hate camping," Derek pointed out.
"That?s not the point." Her voice was harsh, and she looked away. "I tripped through life, not realizing how short it really is, and now it?s too late, and... and when I die..."
"Don?t say that."
"... what will my life have been worth?"
Nothing he could say would help, and they both knew it. He let Lilian slide off his lap and walk over to the window. Bending over, he picked up her bow from where she?d thrown it and crossed the floor. Derek stood behind her, knowing that she looked beyond the lights of Castle Street to the life she might have had.
If not for me.
He took her hand, laid the bow across her palm, and closed her fingers around it. His lips brushed the top of her head.
"I love you."
The rain had slaked off to a light drizzle, and Derek turned up his collar and headed south to the welcoming brightness of Princes Street. It was barely ten o?clock; people still crowded the sidewalks, walking home from a late dinner or going on to a pub. No one paid any attention to the pale blond man in the stylish black overcoat passing by them like a ghost.
If not for me. How many others would have been better off, if not for me?
"He?ll be back, Wes, just hang on." Hobbie desperately tried to comfort his afflicted friend. Wes was restrained, tied down to the bed with torn sheets. The Rogues had quickly discovered that if he were free, he?d try to bite anything human that came near him. Food, however, was refused-- spit back or thrown to the ground.
Tycho and Wedge had gone in search of a doctor four days previously, when they realized how terribly ill Wes was. He?d been attacked two nights after they arrived in Rome and bitten repeatedly by some kind of beast. None of the Rogues were sure what animal had caused the damage, but they were certain that it had gotten as well as it gave; Wes? face was covered in blood not his own. He must have been pinned and had to bite back to get free.
He was nearly catatonic when they brought him back to their temporary shelter in the Via del Cartari. Had they known what was to come, they would have prayed he remain that way. They woke at dawn to tormented screams, and found Wes trying to crawl under the bed, shouting that the sun was burning him. They couldn?t manage to pull him back out, so they humored him, packing the blankets around the bed so that no light could sneak through to him.
He finally came out after nightfall. He?d wrapped his left hand in his shirt, claiming that it had been burned when light struck it, but none of the others could get close enough to look at it. Wes warily skirted along the edges of the little room, watching his friends and muttering to himself. Finally, he broke and tried to escape, biting at them when they pinned him to the ground.
So they moved the bed as far from the window as they could, tied Wes to it, and hung blankets around it. Wedge had nervously peeled the cloth away from Wes? hand and cried out in shock. There was a wound-- many of them, in fact-- ugly peeling blisters that looked like Wes had stuck his hand in an open flame. None of the Rogues could think of a plausible explanation for the injury.
Wes slept all day and woke that night, ranting that he was hungry, but he refused anything that was brought to him. When he didn?t improve, Wedge and Tycho agreed that they?d try to find anyone who could speak even the barest hint of Basic to help. Wedge didn?t come back.
Four nights later, Tycho finally returned, dressed in fine clothes, saying that he and Wedge had been accosted near a marketplace. Tycho wouldn?t tell Hobbie what had befallen him after he was separated from Wedge, but insisted that he knew what was wrong with Wes, and how to help him. He?d gone off into the night, saying that he?d bring something that Wes could eat.
The once-strong Rogue writhed on the bed, and Hobbie patted his hand, noting how his fingernails had grown into dangerous claws. "He?ll be back, Wes. You?ll be fine." The blond pilot lowered his voice. "He?s been gone for an hour; how long can it take to get food?"
He stood and looked out the back window into the alley. Nothing. Sighing, he leaned out of the window, letting the cool spring breeze caress his face and wondering how long it?d been since he had a real shower.
The door crashed in, and Wes yowled. Spinning about, Hobbie saw a group of people, well-dressed and imperious, holding torches. Before he could draw his blaster, he was on his stomach, his arms twisted behind him.
The apparent leader, a petite woman with raven hair, stalked toward Hobbie and hissed something he didn?t understand. He shook his head, and she repeated the sounds, then turned and thrust her torch at Wes. The pilot?s eyes widened, and he tried to pull away, but his bonds held fast.
The woman laughed, a sound that would have been lovely had it not been so filled with malice.
"Indegno Malkavian," she pronounced, and waved her hand. Two men came forward and ripped the cloth bindings, then hauled him to his feet.
"No!" Hobbie fought to rise, to defend his helpless comrade, but a hard kick to his ribs kept him on the ground.
The men tied Wes? hands tied behind him and bound his feet together. He screamed and pleaded, but the men rolled up a rag and forced it into his mouth, so that he could only whimper pitifully.
The others lifted Hobbie to his feet, though he struggled with all his might, and propelled him out of the room into the night. Before he was tossed onto the floor of a coach, he saw Wes carried into the alley and left there, bound, unable to call for help. The woman stepped into the carriage with Hobbie and smiled.
Bending down, she murmured to him in her strange language. When he didn?t respond, she frowned and asked in heavily accented Basic, "You speak English?" Shock reverberated through him, but he nodded. The woman?s lips pulled back into a heartless smile that revealed frighteningly sharp canines. "Your friend will be a lesson to Merando?s new pet." *
Derek shook himself back into the present. The rain had stopped, and he wondered how long he?d been standing in front of the Scott Monument, lost in memories. Memories of Wes. They left him to burn in the dawn. I could have saved him. If I?d paid attention. If I?d gone out instead of Tycho. If I?d known then what I know now.
He shivered in the autumn cold and headed toward the Royal Mile. There was a group of giggling tourists huddled in one of the narrow closes, listening to a guide regale them with tales of witchcraft and bodysnatchers.
Come here, kiddies. I?ll give you a real horror story.
He turned onto a side street and knocked on a door. A panel slid open, and two eyes peered out.
"What?s the password?"
"Open the goddam door before I drain you."
"Oh, hi boss." The door swung open and Derek stepped in, handing his coat to the bouncer. His office was on the lower level, protected by two security guards whether he was present or not. They didn?t speak as he swept past, nodding his acknowledgement to them.
The door slammed shut behind him, and he took a deep breath, sinking into a velvet chair. Like his home, the office was lavishly decorated. His desk was a huge mahogany number, the walls were covered with oriental paper in a vintage design, and the seats were plush and comfortable.
Lilian had laughed when she saw it, saying that it looked like the office of a brothel. She hadn?t changed her opinion when Derek showed her the back room with its sumptuous lounge, but after an hour, she did admit that brothels had their uses.
He sighed, took out his notebook and searched for just the right pen. He found the black one that he used for epic poems of war, but the ink flowed too fast for what he wanted to write this time. He found the black and gold one that he used for his diary, but it didn?t feel right in his hand.
Frustrated, he slammed the desk drawer shut. His head felt light, and he knew he should feed before he got too irritable. Speeding out the door, he mounted the stairs to the upper level and surreptitiously slipped onto the balcony overlooking the dance floor. There were many young people-- there always were, both mortal and Kindred, though the former had no idea that they rubbed shoulders with walking death. They swilled absinthe and inhaled their powdered pleasure and spoke with such ennui of the futility of life and how one had to live dangerously.
Yet they always fought when their time came. Derek snorted. Futility was infinitely preferable to death. A shame they always realized it too late.
His prey stood at the edge of the dance floor, talking to a young woman. The boy couldn?t be more than twenty, his face gothic-pale, with black eyeliner and a pouty expression. The hunter decended the spiral staircase to the main floor, signaled the bartender to send a drink over.
Lilian lay snuggled under the blankets in their windowless bedroom. Derek slipped naked between the sheets and pressed his warm chest to her back. Her breath remained steady and slow. Spooning against her, he pressed a kiss to her shoulder blade and held her close. She didn?t let him know that she heard his words in the minutes before dawn, when he squeezed her hand and murmured, "I?m sorry I?m not the man you need."
On to Chapter Four