All the characters in the following story are owned by Spelling Television Inc. [A subsidiary of

Spelling Entertainment Group Inc.]. Vampire: The Masquerade is owned by Mark

Rein*Hagan/White Wolf Publishing. My use is in no way a challenge to their copyrights. Miriam

appears [briefly] courtesy of Rebecca Lloyd.

The story and events are mine.

AUTHOR'S NOTE - PLEASE READ :

This story is in a time line with "The Hunt" and "Stranger in Town" [by Rebecca Lloyd]. To

summarize : Lillie has seduced Frank Kohanek. Sasha is unable to Hunt on her own as she

usually kills her human prey. Cameron has taken over as Primogen of the Brujah Clan after

Lillie destroyed Eddie Fiori.

Kindred Spirits by Kelly Schweighauser

 

Prologue

Eric ushered Amy and Tim into Lisa's hospital room. She had the bed by the window, and

although all that it showed was another wing of the hospital, at least she got to see a little piece of

the sky from where she lay. A potted geranium sat on the window sill, it's single remaining flower

half-wilted.

The children entered cautiously, no doubt frightened by the beeping machinery that surrounded

their mother's bed. Lisa smiled when she saw them and held out one skeletal hand. Amy rushed

to take it and climb up next to her mother.

"Hello, babies," Lisa whispered. She was often too weak to talk recently. "I missed you

guys."

"We missed you too, Momma," Amy answered, but Tim turned to bury his face in Eric's pant

leg.

"Hey, hey," Eric picked his son up gently and cradled him against his chest. "It's okay." That

was a flat out lie and he knew the children knew it. Tim must have heard the falsehood in his

voice because he laid his head on Eric's shoulder and started to cry. Eric looked apologetically at

his wife. "Do you want me to take them outside?"

She shook her head 'no', and he could see how weak she had grown. Looking at her made him

want to start sobbing like little Tim.

"Are you gonna die, Momma?" Amy asked.

Lisa looked surprised and Eric shrugged his shoulders. He hadn't told the children. Lisa

touched Amy gently. "Yes, sweetheart, I am. I'm sorry."

"Why?" Amy demanded.

"I'm sick, honey," Lisa whispered. "I have cancer. I don't want to die, but they can't make me

better."

Eric turned away and looked out the window. Maybe if he still had his job, still had his health

insurance, the doctors would have been more aggressive in their treatment. But beggars can't be

choosers, and even his unemployment benefits had run out seven months ago.

Amy bit her lip, frowning. "What's going to happen to us?"

"Your Daddy is going to take care of you," Lisa assured her.

"But who is going to take care of Daddy?" Eric turned to look at his seven-year-old daughter

in surprise.

Lisa smiled gently past her daughter's blonde head at Eric. "He'll meet someone nice," she

rasped. "And they'll take care of each other, and you guys too."

"I don't want another Mommy," Amy replied definitely.

"I'll always be your Mommy, baby," Lisa assured her. Her voice was getting weaker. "I'll be

watching you from Heaven. But it's okay if your Daddy meets someone else, right? He's not

going to replace me, I promise. And we don't want him to be lonely."

"C'mon, kids," Eric said gruffly. "Let's go."

Lisa motioned him to come closer. He put Tim down and crossed to kiss her good-bye.

"I mean it, Eric," Lisa whispered. Even leaning over her he could barely hear her voice.

"Don't be afraid to remarry. If you mourn me too long, I swear I'll haunt you." She smiled a little

with her papery lips to take the sting out of her words.

He kissed her on the forehead. "I'll see you tomorrow," he told her. "We'll talk about it then."

"Stubborn," she scolded. "Love you."

"I love you, too, Lise. Can I bring you anything?" Eric asked. Lisa shook her head. This

close he could see the exhaustion written under her eyes. "Okay, then. Take care of yourself."

He took the children back to the bus stop and waited for the L-5 which would start them on

the long journey home. "I want Momma," Tim informed him, rubbing his bloodshot eyes.

"So do I, kid," Eric answered. "So do I." How could she be dying? She was only

twenty-seven.

It took over an hour and three bus passes to get back to their one bedroom apartment. The

phone was ringing when he opened the door. It was the hospital; Lisa had passed away twenty

minutes after they had left.

 

____________________________KINDRED SPIRITS_______________________________

___________________________by Kelly Schweighauser______________________________

 

"Eddie Fiori is dead," Cameron insisted, leaning over Angelo's desk. The Union official did

not look impressed. "He is not going to come back to help you."

"We're just a little curious as to exactly what happened to Eddie," Freddie explained from

behind him. "Like, how come they never found him? Or most of his boys?"

"And how come you're taking over?" Angelo added. "You never sat very high with Eddie,

Cameron. I got the feeling he didn't like you much."

"Angelo," Cameron reached out and patted the middle-aged man on the side of his face,

deliberately patronizing. Caine, how he hated uppity Juicebags. "Don't worry about whys and

wherefores. Things are going to be just the same as they always were. Only instead of Eddie,

there is me."

"I don't think so, Cameron," Angelo smiled. "I think that you're way over your head on this

one. You're just some young punk who thinks he can fill Eddie's shoes. Well, I got news for you,

boy, Eddie Fiori was worth ten of you!"

Cameron's temper snapped, and he pulled Angelo over his desk before he'd even realized it.

The man weighed close to three-hundred pounds, but Cameron tossed him clear to the opposite

wall with one arm.

Freddie had a machine-pistol aimed right at Cameron's heart. But he was shaking, that was

good. Seeing the fear in Freddie's eyes gave Cameron a measure of his self-control back.

"Whatcha gonna do, Freddie?" Cameron asked, aping Freddie's uncouth accent. "Shoot me?" He

walked up so that the gun touched his shirt. "Go ahead."

Freddie shook his head. He was trembling all over now. "I said, do it!" Cameron shouted at

him. Freddie flinched back and Cameron grabbed the gun. He backhanded Freddie across the

face with it, and the man collapsed against the wall. "Wise decision, Freddie," Cameron nodded.

Behind him, Cameron heard the small sound of a gun being cocked. He spun back towards

Angelo just in time to be hit in the chest with a bullet. The gun was a magnum. The projectile

tore right through him and into Freddie. Freddie cried out, but Cameron didn't.

"You idiot," Cameron seethed.

Angelo's hand was shaking, but he emptied the gun. Three more bullets hit Cameron, two in

his chest, and one in his arm. The rest tore chunks out of the paneling on the wall. Cameron was

aware of Freddie crouching on the floor behind him, praying to the virgin for protection.

"Are you finished?" Cameron waited until the gun was empty before pouncing. He seized

Angelo by the neck with one hand and broke the arm holding the gun with the other. "Yes, I

think you are," he grinned up at his prey, revealing his fangs. He let Angelo get a real good look

before he tore his throat out.

Angelo's blood was rank with terror, and Cameron liked that, liked gulping down the fear. It

was so soothing, so sweet. He severed the fat man's carotid and the blood came almost faster

than he could swallow. He felt completely gorged by the time Angelo died.

Mere seconds had passed since the bastard had shot him. Nicholas and Kenny burst into the

room, their own weapons drawn. "Cameron!" Nicholas exclaimed. "Are you alright?"

Cameron turned and grinned at his Fledgling. "Of course," he smiled. He removed his

handkerchief from his breast pocket and shook it out. "Can't say the same for Angelo and

Freddie, though."

Cameron wiped the gore from his face and crouched down next to Freddie. He was still

calling on various Saints to preserve him. Cameron touched him on the arm lightly. "Are you

done yet?"

"I didn't see nothin'," Freddie babbled. "I won't tell nobody. I swear. I didn't see nothin'!"

"Well, that's too bad," Cameron smiled. "Because I'm going to kill you anyway." He hauled

Freddie to his feet and pushed him towards Kenny and Nicholas. "Enjoy yourselves."

"And clean this place up when you're finished," he said as he walked out the door. "It stinks

like a charnel house in here."

 

Desolate, Daedalus thought. Forlorn, bleak, solitary. There had to be a term that described

his mood better than the word 'alone'. He simply couldn't think of it.

He was Primogen of the Nosferatu, but that meant very little. His Clan tended to keep to

themselves, although they treated each other with grave respect when they encountered one

another. Who else would respect them? The other Clans might value their strength, but wouldn't

want their company.

And he had not become Primogen through any of the normal channels. He had not been

elected because the Nosferatu held him in great esteem, nor had he battled his way through the

requisite duels to win the title. Daedalus had become Primogen only because he was able to forge

a peace after Goth had been banished. He had only remained Primogen because he was the eldest,

and because he had no serious rivals.

There were those in his Clan who would welcome another Primogen - any other Primogen.

When Goth had returned from his exile, they had thrown their full support to their disgraced

leader, abandoning Daedalus completely. He needed no other rebuke than that to show him his

true status in his own Clan.

Daedalus meandered through the sewers, uncertain what to do with himself for the evening. It

was barely dark and the night stretched out unpleasantly ahead of him. He didn't think beyond the

dawn. He couldn't contemplate an eternity of nights like this one. Empty, barren, alone.

He would visit Anselm, he decided. The deformed giant had been one of the few Nosferatu

who had not abandoned him when Goth returned. One of the very few. Anna Mae would be with

him. She was often full of information about the mortal world. Perhaps an evening's worth of

gossip would lighten his melancholy.

But when he arrived at the old church where Anselm made his haven, Daedalus discovered

that his friend was not currently at home. And Anna Mae was, which was surprising. Usually

went Anselm Hunted, he took his Childe with him.

Anna smiled when she saw him, her pinched, rat-like face shining with delight. She was as

small as Anselm was large, even after decades they appeared incongruous when together. She

eagerly beckoned Daedalus into the guesting room she shared with her Sire. Daedalus hesitated.

He wasn't certain whether he wanted to wait for Anselm to return.

Anna didn't give him time to come to a decision. She darted forward and tugged at his hand.

When he continued to hesitate she gestured for him to come with her. Anna never talked to

anyone but her Sire, but she could generally make her wishes known. Eyes bright, she tugged at

his hand again, and Daedalus followed her with a sigh.

She pulled him through the guesting room and out a rear passage. Daedalus was a little

embarrassed, he didn't want Anselm to feel that he had deliberately violated his Haven. But they

remained in the passage for only a moment. It let into a storm sewer, and Anna Mae released his

hand so that he could crawl after her. Despite the sewer's small diameter, she could stand,

although she had to hunch over almost double.

A few hundred yards later, she led him out of the outflow pipe and into a cemetery. He

recognized it; it was one of the municipal cemeteries, where the poor were buried at no cost. No

one came here, although the grounds were tended neatly. There were no tombstones; graves

were marked with small bronze plaques laid flat in the rolling hill. Daedalus felt foolishly

exposed.

Near a tree Anna made a gesture of discovery, then waved her arms in presentation. Daedalus

looked at were she was pointing. There was a man kneeling in the cemetery, perhaps fifty yards

distant. When Daedalus strained, he could hear the mortal crying.

"Who is it?" Daedalus asked Anna. She gestured for him to be quiet, then placed folded both

hands besides her cheek as if she were sleeping.

"He sleeps here?" He kept his voice very low. Only another Nosferatu, or perhaps a Toreador,

could have heard him.

Anna shook her head in exasperation. She pointed to the fourth finger of her left hand, then

made the sleeping gesture again. "His wife is buried there?"

Anna nodded. Daedalus examined the weeping man carefully. "He's very young," he

commented.

She nodded and then cradled her arms together and rocked them.

"He has a child?" Daedalus questioned. "Is that how the wife died?"

Anna held up two fingers.

"Two children," Daedalus confirmed.

Anna smiled and then clutched her midsection. "She was sick," Daedalus said. Anna nodded

again.

Daedalus returned his attention to the mortal. The man kissed his fingers and then pressed

them against the grave-marker. He rose and made his way despondently towards the street. I

know how you feel, Daedalus thought after him. The weight of the world is crushing you, and

you have no one to share your burden with.

Anna took Daedalus by the hand and led him towards the grave. A single wilted carnation lay

across the bronze marker. Daedalus lifted it and read the name. Lisa Sheridan. Daedalus

calculated the dates; she had been twenty-seven when she'd died.

 

"Be silent," Julian snapped. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and

forefinger and counted to ten, then on to one hundred. He would not get angry. He would

control his temper. When it came to dealing with the Brujah Primogen, Julian thought he might

have to start counting to one thousand.

Cameron started to say something and Julian snapped, "Just. Be. Quiet." The Brujah

subsided. I dealt with Eddie Fiori for eight long years, Julian reminded himself. Eight years of

back-biting, treason and stupidity, and I never once attacked him. Although Caine knew, there

were times I wanted to. If I can do that, I can deal with Cameron for one night.

When he reached one hundred he took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Cameron," he

began. "You can't keep killing everyone who disagrees with you. I can't keep the police quiet

forever. *Someone* is going to notice. And I won't be able to protect you when they do."

"I told you, Angelo attacked me," Cameron repeated. "And Freddie saw me Drain him. It

would have been a breach of the Masquerade..."

"To let him live," Julian repeated with him. "Yes, but was it absolutely necessary for you to

kill Angelo? Do you have any idea how hard he is going to be to replace? He ran the teamsters,

Cameron. I've paid a fortune in bribes to keep him in office, because he was always cooperative

with us."

"Well, I guess you wasted your money," Cameron grimaced. "Because he hasn't been

cooperative recently."

Julian looked at the Brujah appraisingly. "What do you mean?"

"He had decided to go independent," Cameron admitted stiffly. "He claimed his loyalty was to

Eddie, and with Eddie gone, there was no need to continue to work for us."

"And do other mortals share this independent attitude?" Julian asked.

"Joe Brozka," Cameron frowned. "Anthony Meeker, Vito DiLancie."

"Loan-sharking, narcotics and prostitution," Julian replied. "That's quite a group. Do any of

the mortals in Eddie's organization actually *support* you, Cameron?"

"There aren't enough Brujah left to control the Warms," Cameron flared.

"And whose fault is that?" Julian demanded. "It's about time you realized that you were a

little over-enthusiastic in your rise to the Primogen's chair!"

Cameron's eyes widened and turned pure orange with fury. Julian held up a placating hand.

He almost welcomed the chance to take the Brujah down, and there was no uncertainty in his

mind that if it came to a duel, he's take Cameron apart. But destroying Cameron now wouldn't

help stabilize the situation.

"Remind the mortals that you have my full support," Julian told Cameron. "And locate the

ring leader. It's probably Meeker, he's always been ambitious. Once you are certain who is

organizing this little rebellion, Embrace him. I'm sure that will convince him to remain

cooperative. And he will convince the others."

"I need more than one," Cameron protested. "Let me have all three."

"Triplets?" Julian shuddered delicately. "I don't think so, Cameron. You aren't that strong."

Cameron opened his mouth to protest again, and Julian cut him off. "You just made Nicholas.

Less than a year ago. Stevie Ray nearly destroyed himself Siring four Childer in one year. And

he was your elder by nearly a century. You may make one Childe, Cameron."

Cameron glowered at him. "As you wish," he grumbled.

"Embrace Meeker, if he is the ring-leader," Julian continued "If Meeker doesn't bring them

back in line, I'll let the Brujah have another. But not you, Cameron. Pick one of your lieutenants

to Sire the second Neonate. If there is a second Neonate."

"I understand," the Brujah grated. "My Prince."

Julian waved him away. "You are dismissed." Julian sighed as the Brujah departed. It was a

relief to be in a room without Cameron. Caine's Blood, how he hated the man.

Daedalus found himself drawn back to the cemetery the next night. Anselm had told him a

great deal about Sheridan in the long hours after midnight. All apparently gleaned by Anna Mae,

of course. Daedalus had no idea how the dirty little Nosferatu managed to unearth so much

information, but he had absorbed every scrap hungrily.

Why did he feel so much sympathy for the mortal, Daedalus wondered. What was there about

Eric Sheridan that tore at his heart? Perhaps it was just a distraction from his own misery. It was

easier to bear his own unhappiness when he compared it to that of the living.

Daedalus had brought flowers for Lisa's grave. An arrangement of lilies and white roses, a

small conceit. He had taken them from a florist and left the money on the counter. He didn't even

know the woman, but one should respect the dead. He placed them by the grave marker and sat

himself down on the damp grass to reflect.

He had never been married. His ambitions had run in other directions when he had been

mortal. He had never taken a lover since his Embrace, there had been nothing more for him than

isolated sexual encounters. Who would want him? Not even the other Nosferatu. He envied

Anselm and Anna Mae their long companionship. It was impossible to think of one without the

other. What would it be like to have someone to share eternity with?

He sighed and looked back at the grave. Of course even long companionships ended. Look at

Julian and Lillie. Eric and Lisa Sherridan had spent what, eight, nine years together? A blink of

an eye in the span of a Kindred. Daedalus would sell his soul for eight or nine years of genial

companionship. To not be alone, even if it was for less than a decade....

Dawn was coming. The sky in the east was already brightening and the morning birds were

singing wildly in anticipation. Daedalus made himself rise. He would return to his haven via the

sewers thereby avoiding the unwanted light of the sun.

He heard a noise behind him as he reached the first shade tree. He glanced back casually, and

froze. It was the mortal husband, Eric Sheridan. He ducked behind the tree feeling embarrassed

beyond all proportion. The mortal wouldn't know that Daedalus had been visiting his wife's

grave....

Eric found the flowers and looked around. Daedalus made an exasperated noise. So the man

had seen him from the back, probably knew which direction he had gone. There was no chance to

slip away now. He blended into the shadows beneath the tree.

"Hello?" Eric called, looking around the dawn lit cemetery. "Is someone there?" He started

up the gentle rise toward Daedalus' tree. "Hello? Are you still here?"

Eric was getting too close, and the sun was peeking over the horizon. Daedalus couldn't

continue to stay hidden. He could feel the strength leeching out of him as the day grew slowly

brighter. "Please," Daedalus said, still obscured in the thinning shadows. "Stay where you are."

Eric halted, looking confused. "Okay," he answered. "I was just wondering if you saw who

put the flowers on my wife's grave."

"I did," Daedalus admitted.

"Thank you!" Eric exclaimed, taking a step closer. "How did you know she liked white roses?

Did you know her?"

"Stay back!" Daedalus cried. "Please."

Eric fell back a few steps. "What... what's the matter? I'm not going to hurt you."

"I know," Daedalus' shoulders slumped. "I don't want you to see me. I am ... deformed."

"I sorry," Eric replied. He carefully turned his back to Daedalus. "Is that better?"

"Thank you," the Nosferatu sighed. "I must go now."

"Wait! About my wife," Eric called. "The flowers...."

"I didn't know her," Daedalus admitted. "But I have seen you here before. You mourn her so

deeply, it seemed proper to bring flowers."

"She was a wonderful woman," Eric sighed. "Strong, gentle, kind. I've never know anyone

else like her."

Daedalus longed to stay, but the sun showed it's full face now. He backed away from Eric

slowly, then darted for the sewer and the blessed dark.

 

Julian had brought both Cash and Lorraina to the meeting at the late Eddie Fiori's office. He

knew that four other Gangrel and at least as many Nosferatu surrounded the building, waiting for

trouble. Cameron and two of his Brujah were already there. Certainly he had also hidden others

of his clan in the shadows.

He nodded cordially at the Brujah Primogen and entered Fiori's office. Nothing had changed

since the last time Julian had come here - on the night that Lillie had taken Eddie's head. Meeker,

DiLancie, Brozka and Hu where all waiting for him. Only Tewfik was missing, and it was unusual

for the gang leader to be late. Julian saw Cash's nose twitch at the scent of hostility in the air.

The undercurrents were interesting to observe. Julian savored them as he settled himself

behind Eddie's desk. Hu made eye contact with Kenny Au, and the Brujah gave a barely

perceptible nod in return. So Cameron had a mole inside the Tongs, that showed some

intelligence at least. DiLancie and Brozka kept glancing at Meeker and then at each other, while

Meeker sat, perfectly still and completely calm. Julian was gratified to see that his initial

assumption was correct. Meeker was behind this little bid for independence.

"Where is Ali?" Julian asked.

"He couldn't make it," Meeker smiled. He hid it well, but Julian knew that he was lying. The

mortal dissidents hadn't told Ali Tewfik, which meant that he didn't support them. At least

Cameron hadn't let the reins slip completely out of his hands. Knowing Brujah he was probably

content with just the unions and the street gangs.

"Let's get started, then," Julian smiled. "You gentlemen seem to be having a little trouble with

the transition in management. I'm here to alleviate your concerns."

"We ain't workin' for that murderin' bastard," Brozka insisted, pointing at Cameron.

Predictably Cameron's hackles rose.

Julian held up his hand, silently urging calm. "And whom do you think Cameron has

murdered, Joseph?"

"Eddie fer one," Brozka stated. "An' Angelo last week."

"I assure you that Cameron had nothing to do with Eddie's death," Julian smiled.

"That ain't what I heard," DiLancie said.

"Well, you are hearing it from me, now," Julian stated, his tone brooking no dissent.

"Cameron didn't kill Eddie. You have my word on that."

"Who did, then?" Brozka demanded.

Julian let his lips lengthen in a smile as silence filled the air. A long minute passed and Brozka

began to squirm in his chair. Both DiLancie and Hu showed discomfort as well. If Cameron

hadn't killed Eddie, then the conclusion of who did was obvious. Julian let them think that he had,

or that he had ordered it. They must have known about Eddie's ambitions.

"That really isn't important, is it?" Julian asked finally. He looked from face to face, carefully.

Meeker met his eyes steadily, but DiLancie was plainly having second thoughts. Hu was nervous,

the elderly oriental knew the kind of security precautions Eddie had taken. And Julian had just

made him disappear, that would make anyone nervous. Brozka couldn't meet Julian's eyes at all.

"Eddie is the past," Julian continued cordially. "We have always looked to the future. I

believe that Cameron is the future, and I hope I can convince you to support him as I do."

The meeting continued for another ninety minutes, but Julian already had these mortals

weighed to the ounce and measured to the inch. It was only a matter of bringing them back into

the fold.

"Meeker is the leader," Julian confided in Cameron afterwards. "Embrace him and the others

will follow. If they don't fall into line have one of your Lieutenants Embrace DiLancie."

"I don't want Meeker, or DiLancie," Cameron replied. "Give me Brozka."

Julian rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Brozka is nothing! If you Embrace him, the others

won't be affected in any way. He has no influence over them."

"I want him," Cameron insisted. "He'll make a good Brujah."

"Your goal here is not to increase your clan," Julian snapped. "It is to take control of Eddie's

organization. Meeker can do that for you, Brozka can not."

"You want Meeker," Cameron sneered. "You Embrace him. He'd make a lovely Ventrue

Childe."

"I have neither the time, nor the inclination to create any Neonates," Julian explained patiently.

"And I really don't think you want me to take over Eddie's area of control, do you? That would

leave the Brujah with... what?"

Cameron's lip twitched, revealing one fang. "All right," he snapped. "I'll take Meeker. But I

want Brozka, too. Not this year, or even next. But when this mess is settled and things are

running smoothly again, I want to make Brozka my Childe. Does that meet with your approval,

My Prince?"

"I'll consider it when the time comes, Cameron," Julian replied. "When the time comes."

 

"Julian, may I speak with you?" Daedalus asked from the doorway of the Mansion's office. It

was nearly dawn, and he knew he couldn't delay speaking to Julian much longer. If he didn't ask

now, he'd lose his nerve completely.

Julian looked up from the laptop his secretary Cassandra was working on. "Always," he

smiled. "We were just going over some spreadsheets. Nothing important." The Prince gestured

Daedalus to a chair by the fire. Daedalus looked down at the hem of his coat self-consciously.

As usual it was dirty. How embarrassing to drag sewer muck into this immaculately clean room.

Cassandra closed the lid of the computer and began to pack away the papers she had been

reviewing for Julian. Her body language said that the meeting had been finished, not interrupted.

"Good day, Daedalus," she nodded politely, with just the right degree of respect for the Nosferatu

Primogen.

"You have a three o'clock appointment, tomorrow," she whispered in Julian's ear. A lock of

her blonde hair trailed over his shoulder; Julian flicked it away impatiently. Her voice was more

than loud enough for Daedalus to hear. "Be certain to rise early."

"Good night, Cassandra," Julian told her firmly.

"Rest well, Sire," Cassandra brushed her lips over Julian's knuckles before withdrawing from

the office. Daedalus sat in the proffered chair and watched her skirt twitch as she left. He didn't

know if she acted that way because she despised him or was trying to seduce him. She had never

twitched her skirt when Eddie was around. He shook his head to clear it. The fire cast it's inviting

warmth toward him, bringing him back to the present.

"It's clan business," Daedalus said uncomfortably as Cassandra closed the door behind her.

"Nosferatu business. Of a kind."

"Yes?" Julian prompted.

"When do you know, Julian?" Daedalus blurted, inadvertently looking towards the door and

Cassandra beyond. "When do you know that you wanted to Embrace someone?"

"With Sonny," Julian smiled. "Before I even met him. I knew the moment I first heard his

voice. I turned, and there he was: a perfectly ordinary young man, a laborer, hardly the kind that

the Ventrue sought out. But I knew I would make him my Childe."

"I spent the next decade watching him, gathering evidence to prove to Archon that he was

worthy," Julian continued wryly. "That is the Ventrue way, to watch carefully, to fully know our

Childe-to-be, to search out secrets that even they have forgotten. We say that it how we know

that they can withstand the Embrace. But it doesn't tell us anything we don't already know in our

hearts."

"I've met someone," Daedalus confessed. "I want to Embrace him. I wish your permission to

make a Childe."

Delight showed on Julian's face. He leaned forward and clasped Daedalus' hand in both of his

own. "Gladly given, my friend. May he bring honor to the Nosferatu and his Sire."

Daedalus nodded, unable to answer. He had expected Julian's approval, but the warmth and

affection were overwhelming.

"What's the matter?" Julian asked. The Prince still held the Nosferatu's misshapen paw

between his smooth palms. Daedalus was acutely aware of the difference between Julian's

perfectly manicured nails and his own ragged claws.

"Second thoughts," Daedalus tried to smile, tried to make light of his doubts. "Am I being

selfish to condemn a man to this," he gestured at himself with his free hand.

"Yours is the most beautiful soul I have ever known," Julian told him. "I am honored to have

shared your kindness, your decency, and your integrity. Great gifts to give to any Childe."

Daedalus looked up at his friend. He had known Julian since he was Embraced, knew that the

Ventrue wouldn't lie. He was still surprised to hear the affection in the younger Kindred's voice.

"Would you like to meet him?" Daedalus asked, changing the subject back to something safer.

Something that didn't remind him of his own painful loneliness. "I would like to know what you

think of him."

"I would be honored," Julian nodded. "Tomorrow night?"

Daedalus nodded. "I'll take you to the cemetery at twilight. He's usually there. Julian...."

"Yes?"

"He's very poor," Daedalus shrugged. "He doesn't have a job. And he has two young

children." He let his voice trail off.

"Would you like me to offer him employment?" Julian asked.

Daedalus felt himself relax. He hadn't realized how tense he had become. "Yes. Yes, I

would."

"My friend," Julian touched Daedalus' arm lightly. "You don't ask me for nearly enough. I

would be delighted to do anything in my power for you, or your intended Childe."

 

"Now, custom demands that I ask you a few questions before I kill you, Anthony," Cameron

said. "And I hope you'll to tell me the truth. You might as well, because no matter what you

answer, you are still going to be dead by dawn."

He looked at Meeker, who glared back over his gag. Anthony was tied to one of his heavy

dining room chairs with about fifty feet of nylon rope. The chair looked a little strange sitting in

the middle of the empty factory floor. Nicholas had picked up a pair of them when he had

kidnaped Meeker and his guards.

"Nicky," Cameron nodded. "Let the man talk."

Nicholas removed the tape over Meeker's mouth. "I'm not answering your fuc--" Anthony

snarled before Nicky backhanded him into silence.

"Now, Nicky," Cameron grinned. "Play nice."

Meeker looked up at Cameron, blood trickling from his mouth. "You don't scare me, tough

guy," he sneered.

"The night is young," Cameron smiled and sat in the other chair Nicky had so thoughtfully

provided. He folded his hands together carefully and stared into Meeker's eyes. The mortal

stared back, not knowing any better. Within seconds the fear took him and he started to struggle

against his bonds.

"What are you?" Meeker demanded, his voice shaking. Cameron sighed with satisfaction.

This was going to be good.

"I promise to tell you," Cameron assured him. "After you have answered my questions.

Agreed?"

Meeker, still trembling, nodded. Now that he'd seen the predator in Cameron's eyes, he

wouldn't meet the Kindred's gaze again.

"First question," Cameron asked briskly. "Would you like to live forever?"

"Wha... what?" Meeker blinked. "What the hell kind of question is that?" Nicky struck him

across the back of the head. The whole chair tipped forward, and Cameron thought that Meeker

was going to spill on the floor, but Nicky caught the high chair-back and kept it upright.

"Anthony," Cameron leaned forward. "Make this easier on yourself. Just answer the

question."

"Yeah," Meeker said. "I'd like to live forever, who wouldn't?"

"Good answer," Cameron purred. "Isn't this easy? Second question: In order to live forever,

would you be willing to drink human blood?"

Meeker looked confused. "You mean like a vampire?"

"Ugly word," Cameron frowned. "But, yeah, like a 'vampire'."

"What kinda freaky shit is this?" Meeker demanded. "What do you want, Cameron?" Nicky

raised his hand to hit Anthony again, but Cameron stopped him.

"Nicky," he soothed. "Show the man."

Nicholas picked up Meeker, chair and all, and turned him around to face away from Cameron.

His three bodyguards hung from chains suspended from the ceiling, carefully gagged.

"Eennie, meanie, minie, moe," Nicholas giggled, pointing to each man in turn. "I want

Y-O-U." He selected the youngest of the three and lifted him from his restraints. Dragging him

close enough that Meeker could get an unobstructed view, Nicky wrenched the thug's head back

and bit into the vein.

Blood spattered, it's perfume pulling the other Brujah out of the shadows. Cameron glanced at

Kenny, the heavy oriental was salivating, his fangs pressing obviously against his lower lip. "Go

ahead, Kenny," Cameron invited. He nodded to two more of his loyal Brujah, and the three fell

on the twitching guard.

Nicholas growled, trying to protect his prey against the others, but Kenny shoved him away

and poor Nicky had to content himself with the man's arm. Cameron watched Meeker closely as

the pack fed. Anthony was whiter than any of the Kindred.

"Holy God," the doomed mortal whispered. "Holy Mother of God."

"Prayers can't help you," Cameron whispered in Anthony's ear. "No one can help you. Except

me." He kissed Meeker on the throat, knowing how his cold lips would make the man feel.

"Nicky, come over here," Cameron called, straightening. "You've made a mess of yourself."

His Fledgling obeyed reluctantly. There was still life left in the body. "I'm still Thirsty," Nicky

complained, but he wiped the blood from his face with Cameron's handkerchief.

"You missed a spot," Cameron answered. He wiped the drop of blood from Nicky's

cheekbone with his finger, then touched it to his tongue. It was just enough to awaken his hunger

fully. His fangs descended in anticipation of the feast to come.

"You... you're vampires," Anthony gasped. The others had finished with his guard and were

cleaning themselves up. Kenny grinned at Meeker, his eyes golden, and licked his fangs

suggestively.

"We call ourselves Kindred," Cameron corrected. "Last question, Anthony: would you like to

be one of us?"

"Do I have a choice?" Meeker asked. Cameron smiled at the panic in his voice.

"Like I said," the Brujah Primogen replied. "Either way, you'll be dead by morning."

 

Julian stepped out of his limousine at the gates of the municipal cemetery just as the sun

slipped behind the horizon. Daedalus was waiting for him, a shadow amongst the shadows.

"Cash," Julian instructed. "Wait here."

"Are you sure?" Cash asked.

"I'll be fine," Julian assured the young Gangrel. "And I require my privacy. In fact, if you wish

to go Hunting...."

"I'll wait here," Cash grumbled.

Julian smiled and followed Daedalus across the shadow-veiled graveyard. Cash tried too hard

some times. He hadn't yet sorted out the layers of his obligations to Prince and employer, Clan

and friends. Julian wouldn't have been able to get away from Stevie so easily. Sometimes there

were certain advantages to having an untrained, inexperienced bodyguard.

Daedalus halted beneath a tree on a gentle rise and faded from Julian's sight. Julian strolled

after him, enjoying the unusually warm evening. A young man was kneeling perhaps forty or fifty

yards from the tree. "His name is Eric Sheridan," Daedalus' disembodied voice informed him.

"His wife died recently. He visits her every day."

Julian nodded. The mortal was blonde, his hair in need of a trim. His clothes appeared to be

worn but clean. He was rocking a little, his arms wrapped around himself. Julian felt a pang,

remembering how it felt to bury a beloved wife.

"We've spoken several times," Daedalus continued. "He has never seen me, of course."

The mortal, Eric, rose, staggering a little on stiff legs. Julian descended the little hill to talk to

him.

"Mr. Sheridan?" Julian asked. "Eric?"

"Yes," Eric confirmed. "Who are you?"

"My name is Julian Luna," Julian held out his hand, and after a moment Eric shook it. "I am a

friend of Daedalus'."

"I don't know anyone by that name," Eric looked confused.

Julian shrugged. "He said he met you in this cemetery, spoke with you a few times - about

your wife, I believe?"

"Oh," comprehension dawned on Eric's face. "He didn't tell me his name. Daedalus? Like the

guy in the myth with the wings? Didn't he fly too close to the sun?"

"You are almost correct," Julian smiled. "Daedalus was the architect who created the

labyrinth that held the Minotaur for King Minos of Crete. But he betrayed his master, revealing

the secret of the labyrinth, so that the hero Theseus was able to kill the monster and escape. In a

fury, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in the labyrinth, and sealed the

entrance. But Daedalus made wings of wax and he and his son flew away. Icarus flew too close

to the sun, melted his wings and died, but his father found sanctuary with King Cocalus of Sicily.

So Daedalus escaped his punishment, but only at the cost of everything he loved."

"And I thought I knew Greek mythology," Eric marveled.

"I didn't mean to preach," Julian apologized.

"No," Eric protested. "I love that stuff, really."

"Then you are unusually enlightened," Julian nodded. "Daedalus told me that you were

unemployed."

"Yeah," Eric admitted. "I was laid off three years ago."

"I am in need of a chauffeur," Julian replied. "In the afternoons and early evenings. I have

someone to drive me the rest of the day, but she has begun to complain about the long hours."

"You are offering me a job?" Eric asked.

"Yes," Julian confirmed. "It will basically be part-time work, but I'm am willing to pay a full

salary plus benefits because of the unusual hours."

"Because I'm Daedalus' friend?" Eric shook his head. "I don't get it. He barely knows me."

"I owe Daedalus more than I could ever repay," Julian told the mortal man. "By helping you I

can discharge some small portion of that debt. I would be grateful if you would accept my offer."

"When do I start?" Eric laughed.

Julian extracted a business card from his pocket, printed his address on the back. "Why not

start tomorrow afternoon, about four? Lorraina can help get you fitted for your uniform."

"What do you think?" Daedalus asked, as Eric departed. The mortal had quite a spring in his

step after Julian had outlined his offer. "Do you like him?

"Daedalus," Julian smiled. "I am consumed with envy. I wish that I had encountered Mr.

Sheridan first; I would take him into the Ventrue."

"He is remarkable, isn't he?" Daedalus grinned.

"He'll make a magnificent Kindred," Julian agreed. "He's so intelligent."

"Polite," Daedalus added.

"Perceptive."

"Wise," the Nosferatu continued.

Julian chuckled and wrapped his arm around Daedalus' shoulder. "A worthy addition to any

Clan."

"He reminds me of you," Daedalus confessed.

"No need to flatter me," Julian laughed. "I've already given you permission to Embrace him."

"I'm serious," Daedalus insisted. "The more I see of Eric, the more forcefully I am reminded

of the night Archon presented you to the Primogens. He was demanding of you, I know, but he

was very proud of you, too, Julian. He said you were the best thing he ever made. He loved you

more than he could express."

"I know," Julian sighed. "I miss him. I wish he were still here."

"Where ever he is, where ever our souls go when we are destroyed," Daedalus assured his

young Prince. "I am sure that he is still proud to have been your Sire."

 

Cameron stroked his new Neonate's hair and waited for him to finish the Becoming. Anthony

Meeker was changing into a Kindred, but Cameron felt no change in himself, and that worried

him.

He didn't have much experience in this, Anthony was only his third Childe. The other two had

happened so easily, so naturally, Cameron wasn't sure what had gone wrong with Meeker. He

sighed with frustration. If Sorrel hadn't been destroyed, he'd ask him. Or even Eddie Fiori. He'd

be damned if he'd ask Julian Luna.

When he'd Embraced Nicky, Cameron had felt a pull of affection so strong it had been almost

crippling. That was the way it was supposed to be. The sire loved his Childe because of the

blood that they shared. That blood made a special bond, closer than anything humans could

know.

It was his blood that flowed through Anthony Meeker's veins now. It was his blood that made

Anthony Brujah. So why did he still hate the man? There was nothing between him and Meeker,

no affection, no sense of camaraderie. Cameron suspected that he could destroy Anthony this

very minute without a single regret. Meeker could have been Gangrel from the way Cameron felt

about him.

"Get up," he snapped, pushing Anthony away from him. The change wasn't over, but

Cameron was beginning to feel restless.

"I'm thirsty," Meeker whispered. "I'm still thirsty."

"Get used to it," Cameron told him. "You've had enough for tonight. More than enough."

Cameron had given one of the two remaining thugs to Meeker, and forced himself to be content

to share the last one with Nicky and the rest of the Brujah. Anthony had drunk enough to sustain

three Fledglings.

He caught the look of distrust in Anthony's face and sighed. "I'll Hunt for you tomorrow. It's

close to dawn, we have to go."

Cameron hustled Meeker into his BMW and drove out of the Wastelands. Gut instinct

forbade him from letting Anthony anywhere near his day-time resting place. He'd take the

Neonate to a safe house he kept in the city. But he wouldn't spend the day with him either, he just

didn't trust his Fledgling. Meeker wasn't the Brujah kind.

Even Fiori, for all his bull-headed stupidity, had instinctively understood was it was to be

Brujah. Shared blood meant shared goals. Work together but trust no one. The Clan might fight

within itself, but when outsiders interfered, they always presented a unified front.

Cameron didn't think that Meeker would ever understand that. His Fledgling was too greedy,

too ambitious - too much like a Ventrue. Much too much like that murdering bastard Julian Luna.

If only Julian had let him have Brozka....

"This is what I need you to do, Anthony," Cameron said, forcing his regrets out of his mind.

"Tomorrow, as soon as you awaken, I want you to contact everybody in your organization and

tell them you've agreed to work for me. Tell Brozka and Hu and DiLancie that you've decided

that now is not the time to go independent."

"When is the time?" Anthony demanded. Even his tone grated on Cameron's nerves. Was he

really going to spend eternity with this as his whelp?

"When I put Julian Luna in his grave," Cameron snapped. "Eddie messed up, moved too

openly. Now Julian's on his guard. It might take decades to regain his trust."

"Decades!" Meeker exclaimed.

"What do you care?" Cameron snorted. "You're going to live forever. You'll be there to see

it, if he doesn't take your head as a trophy first."

"And then you are in charge," Anthony said consideringly.

"It's a little more complicated than that," Cameron grimaced. "The Toreador will follow

whoever has power, and the Ventrue will probably fall in line if they see that they can't win the

city easily. But the Gangrel are loyal to the end; we'll have to wipe them out. And that will

alienate the Nosferatu."

"I have no frigging idea what you are talking about," Meeker complained. "I never heard of

no 'gangrel' or 'ventrue'."

"They're the other Clans in the city," Cameron told him. "There are five Clans. We are

Brujah, Julian is Ventrue. You'll meet the other Clans when I present you."

"Other vampires," Anthony nodded to himself. "So how many of us are there?"

"Kindred," Cameron corrected impatiently, finally pulling into the garage of his condo.

"How many 'Kindred' are there in San Francisco?" Anthony repeated.

"All together?" Cameron considered. "Maybe a hundred and fifty, two hundred." He laughed

at the disbelief on Meeker's face. "Hey, we're all around you."

 

"You'll work afternoons from about two, until six or seven at night," Lorraina told Eric. She

was a pretty young woman, almost a decade his junior, but with a competent manner. Right now

she had her jacket and tie off, and her short hair was pulled back into a tight pony tail so that she

could work under the hood of the stretch limousine.

"Yes, ma'am," Eric said.

"Don't call me ma'am," Lorraina laughed. "I'm Lorraina, you're Eric, and Julian is Julian. We

aren't too formal around here."

"Okay," Eric grinned. "Lorraina." So far, this wasn't a bad gig.

"First thing I need you to do is get the cars gassed up," Lorraina continued. She wiped her

hands with a rag to get the worst of the engine oil off of them as she led Eric to a cabinet. "These

are all the keys to all the cars," she said, opening it. "The Mercedes is almost empty, and so is

Lillie's Jaguar," she pulled down two sets of keys and handed them to him.

"Here's some money," she continued, showing him a small lock box. She fished out a fifty

dollar bill and pushed it into his hand. "Just put the change and the receipts in there when you get

back. And if you'd check all the cars first thing on your shift and keep them pretty close to full, I

would be eternally grateful."

"I hate having to put gas into all these monsters," she continued, gesturing at the crowded

garage. "That used to be Billy's job."

"Billy?" Eric asked.

Lorraina looked up, startled. "Billy's....gone. He messed around with the wrong girl. When

he was supposed to be working."

"Oh," Eric said. "That's too bad." What else was he supposed to say?

"Yeah," Lorraina sighed. "I liked Billy. He did all the driving, I just fixed the cars." She

examined her grimy hands and snorted. "He used to act real bad, y'know? He looked like a

Yuppie, only with a pony-tail." She rolled her eyes and shook her head in exagerated annoyance.

"Every single time we'd wrestle I'd grab that pony-tail and...."

She looked at Eric again. "I didn't mean to ramble on," she smiled crookedly. "I just miss

him, y'know?" Eric nodded. "You'd better get that gas," she said, turning back to the limousine's

engine.

"Sure," Eric agreed, looking from the bill in his hand to the two sets of keys.

"Julian generally doesn't need to go out until after dark, so you'll have plenty of time,"

Lorraina picked up a wrench and climbed under the hood.

Eric looked at the Mercedes, then the Jaguar, and back. Finally he shook his head and climbed

into the Jaguar. The seats were leather. He laughed with delight as he started the engine and

backed out of the garage.

The garage was empty when he brought the Mercedes back. He parked the car and felt his

way over to the cabinet to put away the keys and the change. It was dusk and the garage was

extremely dark. He couldn't find the light switch. Behind him was a soft noise. "Lorraina?"

"She's gone out," a voice answered. Eric spun to face it.

"Daedalus? Is that you?"

"Hello, Eric," Daedalus answered.

Eric smiled. "Good to hear your voice. Can you turn on the lights?"

"I prefer the dark," Daedalus answered.

Eric shrugged uncomfortably. "I, uh, want to thank you for getting me this job. You didn't

have to do that."

"There isn't a problem with your children, is there?" Daedalus asked. "Considering the late

hours."

"They're with a neighbor," Eric confided. "She used to watch them when Lisa was sick. It's

okay, they like her. At least now I'll be able to pay her something."

"Good." Something moved in the shadows, but Eric couldn't see what. "Would you like to

come inside? Julian is otherwise occupied, and won't require your services this evening."

"Well, if I'm done for the night, I really should be getting home." He didn't want to mess up on

his first night at a new job but there was something about this place in the dark that was giving

him the creeps.

"We have to talk," Daedalus insisted. "It won't take long."

Eric sighed and pushed his fears away. He owed this man his job at least. "Sure," he said,

trying to put a smile in his voice. "I'd love to."

Eric listened to what Daedalus had to say with a growing sense of discomfort. He liked

Daedalus despite his peculiarities: his strange reluctance to be seen, his sincere generosity, his

unwillingness to accept anything in return for his gifts. Now Eric was beginning to wonder about

his new friend's sanity.

"Daedalus," he said to the blank wall of the gate house, for Daedalus was standing behind him,

as always. "There are no such things as vampires. Or Kindred, or whatever you want to call

them. Those are just old folk stories."

"I know this is hard to accept, Eric," Daedalus replied quietly. He certainly sounded sane, Eric

thought. At least as sane as anyone could who claimed that they had been alive for over four

hundred years.

Eric shook his head. Maybe he should have started wondering about Daedalus when Julian

Luna showed up in the cemetery. He read the newspapers for more than just the classified

section. He knew who Julian Luna was. It was certainly a shock when the man had just

introduced himself and offered him a job - simply because he was Daedalus' friend.

At first he had thought it was a joke, but the house proved it had to be THE Julian Luna, and

the job was certainly real. So why did San Francisco's reputed mob boss believe himself to be in

the debt of a very strange gentleman who thought he was a vampire?

"You can't believe me, can you, Eric?" Daedalus asked quietly.

"No," Eric replied. "I'm sorry. I can't. But if that's what you believe, I can respect that."

"Please don't patronize me," Daedalus replied. Eric opened his mouth to protest, but Daedalus

added, "Turn around."

So Eric turned around and saw the face of his friend for the first time. Daedalus' skin was

almost white, it shaded to a pale pink around the elongated ears and beneath his eyes, and mottled

to an almost gray over the back of his head. White scar tissue and bulging veins snaked across his

hairless skull. Daedalus held out his hands. Each misshapen finger was twisted and tipped with a

claw like a dog's.

Eric took Daedalus' hand as if in a trance. The skin was cold and vaguely repulsive. It had the

exact same texture, he thought, that Lisa's had when her kidneys had failed, at once both spongy

and coarse. He reached up and brushed his fingers over Daedalus' face. The odd coloration

wasn't make-up, and the skin had the same unnatural chill.

He jerked his hand away reflexively. "I'm sorry," he stammered. "I, I...."

Daedalus smiled, revealing yellowing teeth that were as sharp and pointed as a rat's. "Do you

believe me now?"

"No," Eric shook his head. "No." He held up his hands defensively. "No."

"I would never hurt you, Eric," Daedalus assured him. He took a step back and Eric felt a

sudden pang of shame. This was why Daedalus didn't let people see him; he was embarrassed by

the way he looked. And Eric was acting like a frightened schoolgirl.

"I know," Eric dropped his hands back to his side self-consciously. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't

have reacted like that. That was rude. I apologize."

"It's what I expected," Daedalus assured him. "No apology is needed. But you still don't

believe me, do you?"

"Okay," Eric shrugged. "So you look like a guy in a horror flick," he grimaced to take any

sting out of his words. Actually, once he had a chance to get used to it, Daedalus' appearance

wasn't that bad. "Like a vampire. It's just the way you look."

"It's more than the way I look," Daedalus insisted gently. "It's what I am. There is only one

way to prove it to you, Eric."

"You want to drink my blood?" Eric asked incredulously. Oh, man, this was some bad cess.

His hands went up defensively again, then Daedalus' eyes changed from brown to soft red-gold,

and Eric felt himself relax.

"I won't hurt you, Eric," Daedalus said, his voice clear and compelling, but oh, so far away.

He took Eric's right hand in his, gently brushing his thumb across the inside of Eric's wrist. The

tip of the claw tickled, and Eric smiled, despite himself.

Daedalus lifted Eric's hand slowly to his cold lips and planted an icy kiss on the inside of Eric's

wrist. Eric shuddered, the touch was strangely electric. He leaned forward in anticipation.

Then Daedalus bit into his flesh with his sharp rat-teeth and Eric staggered under the weight of

the pleasure that crashed down on top of him. Somehow Daedalus was steadying him with one

tender hand on his back. The whole world dipped and swayed, dancing to barely heard music as

Daedalus drank his blood.

Daedalus withdrew his teeth and showed Eric the leaking wound. Then he bent again, and

licked Eric's bruised wrist clean and the wound disappeared. No, when Eric looked closely he

saw a thin crescent-shaped scar already healed over and barely pink. He looked up at Daedalus

and tried to clear his head.

"Okay," he said, shaken to the core of his being. "Okay, I believe in vampires now. I even

believe you are a vampire. What now?"

"Now I ask if you would want to be like me," Daedalus smiled. "I want to Embrace you,

Eric."

 

"Joey, Joey, Joey," Anthony Meeker said into the phone. "No, I am not under any duress.

No, Cameron isn't here with me. There is no gun to my head, Joe. I just changed my mind, that's

all."

"I called Margaret already," he cut Brozka off before the idiot could finish. He had called his

wife first, mainly because he didn't want the silly bitch to stir up unnecessary trouble. Anthony

was looking forward to making a meal out of *her*. Margaret always had been a mistake.

"Look, Cameron stopped by the house last night, woke me up and we had a little talk. I

*told* you this already. He convinced me that now is not the time to take on Luna. Yes, I

believe him." Anthony had found a carving knife in the kitchen. He used it to cut a long slash in

his arm while he talked to Brozka. Then he watched it heal while Brozka replied. It healed so

fast!

"Cameron is a punk," he agreed. Joe was beginning to annoy him. The guy was like a

bulldog, once he got a hold of an idea he wouldn't let go. It was probably because ideas so

seldom entered his thick head. "But he's a smart punk, Joe," Anthony interrupted again. "And he

knows things about Julian Luna that you and I never guessed."

Brozka demanded to know what things Cameron knew.

"Luna doesn't just control the distribution end of things," Anthony lied smoothly, making

another gash on his arm. "He's got production and everything. He's got his fingers into every pie

in this town. Why he's got a couple of Police Chiefs and even some of the mayor's staff in his

pocket." At least according to Cameron. And also according to Cameron, Julian Luna was a

vampire, just like Anthony. Only Cameron preferred the word 'Kindred'. What a bunch of bull - a

vampire was a vampire.

"Joe," Anthony said suddenly. He felt as if a light bulb had just gone on over his head.

"Cameron knows Luna's security arrangements. It's no wonder this guy has never been taken out.

Look, I'll make you a deal. I'll prove to you that now isn't the time to attack."

"Luna wants another meeting tomorrow night. Hu is going to be there, and DiLancie too.

Arrange a hit. Yes, I'm serious! Just don't use any of your boys, okay? Get some expendables,

give them some guns - hell, give them a couple of grenades. And have them show up early at the

meeting. When Luna shows up, they try to blow him away. I'll give you hundred to one odds

that he doesn't get hurt."

"You stay inside Fiori's office with Hu and DiLancie, I'll stay outside near some cover. That

way he won't be so suspicious. It'll look as if somebody was trying to off the three of us."

"Luna, Cameron and me, dipstick," he sneered in answer to Brozka's question. "Yes, I'll be

with Cameron." Because the little shit is keeping me on a short leash, he thought to himself.

Well, that would be over soon enough.

Joe finally agreed to hire three no-talent dope-heads and provide them with automatic

weapons. No loss if the hired guns bought the farm, and great rewards if they actually managed

to shoot Julian Luna. More importantly, Anthony had convinced his old pal Joe to keep the plan

entirely to himself.

Cameron had said something last night to the oriental fruit with the two earrings. It led

Anthony to believe that Cameron used the oriental as a spy on Hu's Tong. And if Cameron had

one spy, he could have a dozen, or more.

Not that Anthony Meeker believed everything Cameron said, he wasn't that stupid. No way

there were two hundred vampires in San Francisco. Anthony had seen less than ten last night.

Plus Julian Luna was one, supposedly. Anthony figured that there were twenty, maybe

twenty-five vampires in the city, tops. If there were more, he'd have read about it in the

newspaper, heard about it on the street. You couldn't keep something like that a secret. If

Cameron thought he was going to believe a bunch of nonsense about 'Clans' and hundreds of

undead, he had another think coming. Anthony Meeker's sainted mother hadn't raised no stupid

babies.

Anthony could barely believe that he was a vampire himself, but the way his cuts healed

proved it. He'd drunk blood too, and liked it. He'd liked drinking poor Jimmy's blood, even

though he'd known his bodyguard since they were kids in high school. And he'd really relished

drinking Cameron's blood. He wanted to do that again.

He sighed. The Thirst was back, and Cameron hadn't come to take him Hunting. He jammed

the knife into his arm again and twisted it. Tomorrow night he'd test just how much of the truth

Cameron was telling him. He'd find out if Julian Luna really was a vampire, and just how good

his defenses were.

Then he could start planning in earnest. Planning on how to kill Cameron, kill Julian, kill all

the other vampires. And have the city, with all it's riches, all to himself.

 

Lorraina had pulled the transmission out of the limousine again, so Eric was driving Julian's

smaller Mercedes. Cash felt uncomfortable trapped in the front seat with the mortal, but Julian

hadn't invited him to sit in the back. That sort of thing probably wasn't done in the circles the

Ventrue Prince traveled in.

"Julian," Cash asked, twisting around so that he was facing backwards. "Why are you

bothering to help Cameron? I mean, he dug his grave, why not let him lie in it?"

"It's for the good of the city," Julian answered. "All this chaos and bloodshed do no one any

good. How many more strange disappearances or violent deaths do you think the police will

tolerate before inviting the FBI into their investigation? I don't think any of us would be

comfortable with that level of scrutiny."

"Cameron and his... " Cash's eyes slid to Eric and back. "...gang have been causing trouble for

all of us for too long. You should be taking them down, not stabilizing their power base. You

don't control them like you should."

"Controlling Cameron's people is like trying to collect water in a sieve," Julian replied. "Barely

worth the effort. But if Cameron proves to be a capable leader, the others will follow him. And it

is possible for me to control Cameron."

Cash made a rude noise, drawing a shocked look from Eric and a chuckle from Julian. "I'd just

let them go on killing each other. That would solve the problem."

"No, it wouldn't," Julian shook his head. "The Rabble stick together. I'm surprised that so

many of their recent fights ended in death." The Brujah were sometimes called the Rabble by the

other Clans, but Cash had never heard Julian use the term. It was too pejorative for his polite

Ventrue tastes.

"Eddie was losing control of them," Julian continued. "That is why none of them came to me

demanding justice when he 'disappeared'. You can't see it, Cash, but they do have their own kind

of honor. And Eddie disgraced them with his constant oath-breaking. They would not have

tolerated his shaming them again."

Cash rolled his eyes. "Well, he didn't get that chance, did he? Personally, I'm glad the lying

bastard is gone."

Julian nodded. "If his 'father' hadn't come to the city, he might have disappeared sooner. That

would have been to everyone's benefit." He looked out of the window with a sigh. "I would

prefer not to have to support Cameron so openly," he added softly. "But the peace of the city is

paramount."

Cash nodded approvingly, and faced the front of the car again. That is what he wanted to

hear. Sasha was Brujah and Julian's last descendent, as much as Cash loved her, he didn't want

the Prince softening on the Brujah just for her sake.

"Turn right up there," Cash instructed Eric, pointing towards the back of Eddie's headquarters.

He could see the other cars parked by the foot of the stairs. Cameron was waiting by the cars,

with Nicholas and his new whelp.

"Wait with the car, Eric," Julian instructed as the car stopped. "We should be out in one to

two hours."

"Yes, Julian," Eric said. Cash smiled as he climbed out of the car; Eric was having a little

trouble calling Julian by name. He still slipped occasionally and used 'Mr. Luna' by mistake. But

he did better than either Cash or Lorraina with opening the door and helping Julian with his coat.

Cash didn't know what Julian had planned for the mortal, but Cash already knew that he liked

him.

Cameron's Neonate was growling at him, so Cash barely heard the click of a safety catch being

drawn back. His first thought was that it came from the Brujah, then he heard a second soft

sound in the alley behind Julian.

"Don't growl at the Gangrel," Cameron corrected his Fledgling, and Cash snarled "Shut up!"

as he pivoted towards the source of the sound. Who ever it was was upwind, but the trash hadn't

been collected from the dumpsters there yet. Cash couldn't smell anything.

"Julian, I think there is someone..." Cash started, but a hail of gunfire cut him off before he

could finish. Not just from the alley, but from the rooftop as well. "Get down!" He cried

unnecessarily.

He was knocked back against the stairs by a barrage of bullets, and couldn't block Julian the

way he wanted. Slugs tore into the Prince's chest, knocking him against the side of the Mercedes.

Even the three Brujah were hit, Cash could smell their Vitae. Cameron had pushed his Neonate

to the ground and was sheltering him with his body while Nicky returned fire with his pistol.

The assassins paused to reload their weapons, and that gave Cash the opportunity he needed.

He raced for alley and sprang at the man standing in the shadows. The assassin jammed his

weapon in panic, and Cash tore out his throat.

The fetor of methamphetamine in the man's blood was stomach churning. Cash spat out the

single mouthful he had taken in disgust. He'd rather Thirst, he though with revulsion.

Fresh gunfire sounded out in the street. Cash grabbed the corpse's TEC22, which was far

better than his own SigSauer pistol, and wondered where a junkie would get a Czechoslovakian

submachine gun. It was easy enough to clear the jam, but he was even more surprised when he

searched the body for another clip and found two concussion grenades instead.

He was more worried about Julian's safety than his questions, though, so he drew the pin on

the first grenade and lobbed it up on the roof where the second assassin had taken cover. There

was a satisfying THUMP followed by weak screaming. That was another one down.

He re-joined Julian and the Brujah hiding in the cover of the car. They had pinned the third

assassin in another alley, and they weren't going to dislodge him easily with their small machine

pistols. At least the mortal was panic-firing and using up his ammunition fast.

"You want to wait him out, or use this?" Cash asked Julian, showing him the remaining

grenade. Before Julian could respond, Cameron's Neonate jerked the grenade out of his hand,

pulled the pin and rolled it into the alley.

"Idiot!" Cash snarled at the infant Brujah. "We could have questioned him!"

The Neonate's eyes changed as Frenzy took him. Cameron caught him by the collar and

slammed him to the ground before Cash could reach him.

"Stop this infighting," Julian reprimanded them. "Cameron, get them back inside." He jerked

his head at the mortals standing at the top of the stairs. The men Julian had come to see, Cash

winced. When had they come out, and how much of the fight had they seen?

"Cash," the Prince turned to him, and Cash stepped back from the glare of his pale eyes.

"Scout the area; make sure none of the attackers got away. If any live, bring them to me."

"Are you sure you'll be all right alone?" Cash asked.

"I can protect myself," Julian told him. "I want to know who was behind this. And then I

want to make them pay."

Cash nodded his understanding and trotted around the car towards the alley. He tripped and

nearly fell over Eric's body. With the stink of Kindred Vitae filling the air, he hadn't scented the

mortal's blood at all.

"Julian," Cash cried by the front bumper of the car. Julian joined him and saw Eric sitting

propped up against the side of the Mercedes. His blue shirt had turned a glistening black beneath

the streetlight. Julian crouched down beside him.

"It doesn't even hurt," Eric marveled. "But I can't catch my breath."

"It'll be all right," Julian assured the injured young man. He put one arm under Eric's knees,

slid the other around his shoulders. "I'll try not to hurt you."

Eric grimaced and stifled a moan as Julian lifted him to the hood of the car. Julian laid him flat

and pulled open his shirt. He could tell from Eric's scent that there was no time to get him to a

hospital.

"Go," Julian snarled at Cash who was lingering to watch the injured mortal. "Find the ones

who did this." Cash practically ran into the alley. Cameron had already pushed his Fledglings and

the mortals back into Eddie's office.

Julian turned back to the young human and hoped that at least one of the attackers had

survived. He wanted vengeance on these mortals who had the audacity to attack him. With Eric

injured, he was certain that Daedalus would want to deal with them as well. They would curse

their lives when he handed them over to the Nosferatu.

There were two bullet wounds in Eric's chest, a third in his thigh. Julian leaned down and

lapped at the wound closest to the heart. He'd close them first, then worry about getting Eric to a

doctor. The wounds were large, they took work to heal, and Eric was getting weaker; Julian

could hear his heart laboring.

"I knew this job was dangerous when I took it," Eric wheezed. "Work for a crime-boss, yeah,

that's smart. But I was thinking brass-knuckles and veiled threats, Julian."

"Be quiet," Julian ordered. The first wound had closed. Not exactly healed, and if there was

bleeding inside, Julian hadn't stopped it, but at least he'd slowed it some. "Save your strength,

you'll need it." He moved his mouth to the second wound. He refused to think of Daedalus,

fixing his attention instead on the task at hand.

"What are you doing?" Eric asked. "It feels weird. I kinda like it." He tried to raise his head

and when he still couldn't see he let it fall back with a hollow bang on the car hood. "Are you a

vampire, too? Like Daedalus? Julian, are you drinking my blood?"

There was bleeding, deep inside the second wound, pooling into Eric's abdomen. Julian

pressed and gently coaxed the blood out so he could work his healing in deeper. "Yes, Eric," he

told the mortal. "I'm trying to close your wounds."

"I'm dying," Eric observed softly.

"Not if I can help it," Julian replied, but didn't dare promise anything more. Despite his

ministrations, he could feel Eric growing weaker. The second wound stopped bleeding. He'd

have to be careful or it would tear open again.

"I'm going to turn you over, Eric," he said. "I have to see if the bullets went completely

through." He was certain that at least one had, blood was seeping from beneath Eric across the

hood and dripping down the car's grill.

"Take care of my kids, Julian," Eric whispered. "Okay? See that they stay together."

"Save your breath, Eric," Julian snapped. He rolled Eric onto his side, and the young man

moaned weakly. The back of Eric's suit jacket was sopping. Julian shredded it carefully with one

extended claw.

The exit wound was the size of Julian's palm. He winced and let Eric gently roll onto his back

again. Such a stupid waste....

"Don't let them go to separate foster homes, okay?" Eric pleaded. "I'm not asking for you to

take them, but you can make arrangements, can't you? You're the godfather of this town..."

"I'll take care of everything," Julian answered. "Don't worry." The wound in Eric's leg barely

leaked now. Julian could hear the mortal's heart slowing erratically. He was bleeding to death,

and Julian couldn't stop it. He had to try, for Daedalus' sake....

"I don't mind dying," Eric's voice was a hoarse whisper. "But my kids..." He took three

hitching breaths before relaxing into death's grip. Julian's placed his hand on Eric's chest. The

mortal's heart struggled briefly, flopping like a fish on a bank, before stopping. Julian closed

Eric's eyes with bloody fingers.

"Oh, Daedalus," Julian turned his back on the corpse. "I tried. I tried everything."

The moon reproached him gently. He hadn't really tried everything, had he?

Julian turned back towards Eric's body.

 

Daedalus knew something was terribly wrong from the minute Julian's Mercedes pulled into

the driveway. Cash was driving, not Eric. Then Julian stepped out of the back and lifted Eric to

his feet, and Daedalus knew everything. He could smell the change in Eric even through the light

autumn rain. Daedalus shrank back into the dark unable to tear his eyes away from Julian as the

Ventrue Prince helped his Neonate into the Mansion.

He fled the courtyard, fled away from Eric and Julian, fled the rage that consumed him.

Daedalus wanted Julian's head. He wanted to tear out Julian's scheming Ventrue heart and feast

on his Vitae until the Prince was extinguished. He wanted to rip Julian apart with his claws and

teeth, make him suffer for Embracing Eric. Eric was supposed to be Daedalus' Childe.

He plowed through his guesting room, overturning his good chair and toppling his latest

painting onto the muddy floor. The chess board went after them, and several cases of wine. Rats

scuttled away in terror of his wrath. Daedalus threw himself against the hard earth of the cellar

wall, small moans forcing their way out of his chest. His claws made deep furrows on either side

of his head.

How could Julian have done such a thing? He would have thought such a betrayal beyond the

young Ventrue. Blood will out, Daedalus supposed. Archon had been capable of such a heartless

action. Archon had always taken what he wanted, he had never hesitated to exercise his rights as

Prince. But Julian! Daedalus had thought Julian was a friend.

There was a soft footfall on the stairs leading into the cellar. Daedalus knew that quiet sound.

He faded from sight, but stayed in the wreckage he had made of the wine cellar.

"Daedalus," Julian called when he reached the bottom of the stair. He looked tired and sad. "I

know you are here."

Julian walked around the perimeter of the room, skirting the debris on the floor. He walked

within inches of were Daedalus was hiding, and the Nosferatu was sorely tempted to attack while

the Prince's back was turned.

"I need to talk to you, Daedalus," Julian continued, making his way back to the center of the

room. He pushed the overturned chair out of his way, clearing a small space around him. "I want

to apologize," he said. "And to explain."

Julian knelt carefully in the small cleared area, his mouth quirking a little in disgust as his knee

sank into the muddy floor. His head was bowed, his hands folded. It was as if he wanted

Daedalus to attack him. Daedalus could take the younger Kindred's head before he had a chance

to stand, let alone fight.

"Get up," Daedalus growled from the shadows. Julian just raised his head. He obviously

couldn't locate Daedalus even now.

"Not until you accept my apology," Julian insisted. Even kneeling, there was nothing humble

about his posture. No matter if he was trying to look penitent, he still carried himself like a king.

"Have you or Cash ever forgiven Martin?" Daedalus demanded. "Oh! But you are the

Prince! You may take as many progeny as you want. Your right and privilege as the ruler of the

city. Forgive me if I don't wish you both joy," he snarled.

"I have the privilege," Julian acknowledged. "No one has the right, Daedalus. What I have

done is wrong. You have every reason to be angry."

"How could you do this?" Daedalus howled. "You gave him to me. To me, Julian! How

could you steal him away like this?"

"Some men tried to kill me," Julian answered softly. "Eric was shot. He died, Daedalus."

"You didn't kill him?" Daedalus whispered.

"I killed him," Julian answered. "With my arrogance and stupidity. I took him into danger

without a thought of his welfare. I am to blame for his death."

Daedalus buried his head in his hands, unable to speak. Silence filled the cellar for a long time.

"Please come out, Daedalus," Julian pleaded, shifting on his knees. "I never meant to hurt

you."

Daedalus looked at Julian, still kneeling in the muck. Ruining his fine trousers. He stepped

out of the shadows and crouched down near the Prince. "I know you didn't," he sighed. "But I

don't know if I can forgive you, Julian. I just don't know if I can."

"I'll do any penance you set for me," Julian vowed.

"You Embraced him," Daedalus moaned. How that hurt.

"I though you would prefer him to be Ventrue than to be deprived of him completely," Julian

replied softly. "I give him to you. You may formally adopt him at the next Conclave. Or Blood

Bond him if you wish." Julian squeezed Daedalus' arm. "I'll make this right, somehow."

"It won't be the same," Daedalus shook his head. The bond between sire and Childe could not

be duplicated.

"We are both damned, Julian," Daedalus continued. "I have been deprived of Eric, and you,"

he touched Julian's cheek and looked into the Prince's eyes. "Eric doesn't want to be Kindred.

When I asked him if he wanted to be Embraced, he said 'no', Julian. He said 'no'."

And Daedalus cursed that part of himself that took pleasure in seeing the young Ventrue's eyes

widen in alarm.

 

Eric opened his eyes and only the gnawing Thirst told him he had gotten any sleep. Or

whatever you called it when you were Kindred and the dawn came. Nothing had changed in the

dim bedroom since he had closed his eyes, but a glance at the bedside clock told him that eleven

hours had passed since he'd lain down at first light.

Julian lay beside him. Eric shook him, but his Sire didn't stir. Eric might still be angry with

Julian for Embracing him, but he wanted his Sire to awaken and help him with the horrible

craving. It was driving him mad.

He turned on the bedside lamp and shook Julian harder. Absolutely no reaction. Eric noticed

that Julian was breathing, if somewhat slowly and shallowly. That was surprising, Eric thought

Kindred were dead. Curious, he laid his head on Julian's chest. Through Julian's shirt he could

hear the slow, faint beating of Julian's heart. Julian's skin was cold, though.

"Julian!" Eric licked his lips. The sound of Julian's heart was making him salivate. "Wake up!"

Still nothing. The rhythm of Julian's breath never changed. Eric pried one of Julian's eyes open

with his fingers. "Hello! Is there anybody in there? Julian, I'm starving out here."

He let Julian's eye close of it's own accord. Nothing was going to wake the man, he thought

despondently. He frowned and let his fingertips brush Julian's throat. There was a pulse there. It

was slow, faint, but steady. Blood flowed, just beneath Julian's skin. Just beneath Eric's fingers.

Eric swallowed hard and licked his lips again. This time his tongue encountered a new feature

in his mouth. He felt his teeth with his fingers. He had fangs.

"Julian?" Eric spoke directly into his Sire's ear. "Is this a test, or something? Please wake up.

I'm Thirsty, Julian. God help me, I want to drink blood. Your blood. Julian?"

The temptation was too great. He could feel the gentle pulse of the vein, calling to him. Eric

leaned closer. Julian had a faint spicy smell, a rich, tempting scent that wasn't perfume. Eric

pressed his teeth against the skin of his Sire's throat. It was soft. He didn't know how hard he

had to bite down.

"Get off of me, Eric," Julian snapped, and Eric found himself dumped unceremoniously on the

floor.

"I'm Thirsty!" Eric complained.

"Don't ever try that again," Julian warned. "It's a miracle I didn't hurt you when I awakened."

"I tried to wake you," Eric complained. "I'm Thirsty, Julian. It's tearing me apart inside. I

can't believe you did this to me. I want to drink *blood*, for Christ's sake."

"Don't blaspheme," Julian said, sitting up.

"What happens if I don't drink?" Eric demanded. "Will I die?"

"If you can resist the temptation," Julian said. "And not succumb to Frenzy, yes. First you

will weaken, then you with wither, then you will fall in to Torpor." He swung his feet off of the

bed and stood, stretching.

"What's Torpor?" Eric demanded suspiciously.

"A state very like death," Julian smiled. "In a mortal, it would be called a coma. Torpor could

last for days or years, but you will have a brief moment of lucidity just before you are

extinguished. If the sun or some other Kindred doesn't find your helpless body first. I understand

it is a pretty frightening way to be destroyed. A great deal of suffering is involved." Julian

opened the wardrobe and changed his shirt as if the words meant nothing. Eric shuddered.

"I don't like this," he said. "I want to be destroyed. You made me, you must know some...

painless... way to destroy me."

Julian looked at him appraisingly before returning to his selection of a tie. "I know many ways

to destroy Kindred, Eric. If you truly want to end your existence, I'll help you. But I thought

you'd want to take care of your children. Your last words as a mortal were about them."

Tim and Amy, Eric winced. He couldn't just orphan them, could he? But this terrible Thirst -

what if he ever tried to do to his children what he just tried to do to Julian? No, better for them if

he died.

Julian found a tie and put it on. He turned from the mirror and smiled down at Eric. "You're

frightened, I know," he said gently. "I still remember my Becoming. My Sire didn't obtain my

permission, either. I knew very little of the Kindred, or of what I'd been made into. I promised

myself that I'd be gentler with my own Fledglings. I won't force anything on you Eric. You have

my word on that."

Eric gathered up his courage. "I want you to destroy me," he said looking up into Julian's

eyes. Julian flinched as if Eric had hurt him. Eric realized that Julian's indifferent attitude had just

been an act. Julian cared if he existed or not.

"And your children?" Julian asked.

"What if I feel this Thirst around them?" Eric asked morosely. "What if I wanted to drink

*their* blood."

"Then I would destroy you," Julian said. "It is forbidden to drink the blood of a child or a

pregnant woman. If you broke that commandment, I would have to kill you."

"There are rules?" Eric was surprised.

"Every society has rules," Julian smiled. "For Kindred there are the commandments and the

Traditions. There are only a few, and I will teach them to you. But you must never break them,

for the penalty is destruction."

"You feel the Thirst now," Julian continued, taking Eric's hands in his own. "And you think

you can never control it. I won't tell you that it grows weaker, but you will grow stronger, and

then you will master it."

"Let me show you what you really are, Eric," Julian asked. "Give me a single night to change

your mind. Then I'll destroy you, if you still insist."

Eric nodded stiffly. He still had Tim and Amy to think of. If he could just last long enough to

take care of them.... It was either that or leave them orphaned. He let Julian draw him to his feet.

"I have other Childer I want you to meet," Julian supported Eric with a comforting arm around

his shoulders. "You have a brother and a sister, now. They are waiting for you downstairs. And

I've told them to bring you something to Feed on."

 

Sonny was sometimes tempted to leave the Police Force so that he could enter his Sire's home

by the front gate instead of the tunnels. The tunnels stank. They were damp, rat-infested, and

often had a revolting sludge flowing slowly through them. Sonny had ruined more than one pair

of shoes in the tunnels that led to the Luna Mansion.

Normally he would wear a pair of boots and carry his shoes. He could change his footwear in

the cellar so as to not track filth onto Julian's fine carpets. But tonight he had another burden, and

it was hard to avoid stepping in the muck with the squirming mortal balanced on his shoulder.

He stopped and shifted the struggling man into a more comfortable position. Sonny didn't

want to hit the man on the head again - there was too much chance of permanently hurting him.

Messing with the mortal's mind was out, too. Julian would erase the entire night from the victim's

memory; he'd have trouble if Sonny had already played with the man's head.

Daedalus was waiting for him in the mansion's basement. He relieved Sonny of his burden and

handed him a damp towel. Sonny grinned at the Nosferatu Primogen gratefully as he cleaned his

shoes. "Thanks, Daedalus."

"Julian is waiting for you in the library," Daedalus shrugged. "Your new Brood-brother is

troubled with Thirst."

Sonny tossed the stained towel on a pile of crates and took the mortal by the neck. "What's he

like? My new brother?"

Daedalus looked away with a slight wince, and Sonny wondered if he had offended the

Primogen in some way. "Julian is very proud of him," Daedalus told the cellar wall.

"Well, Julian will be busy for at least a month," Sonny said, walking his victim towards the

cellar stairs. He brushed Daedalus' shoulder gently as he went by. "Maybe you could give me a

few more chess lessons? I've been practicing."

Daedalus faced him, his eyes sad. "Your Sire is waiting for you Sonny. You shouldn't linger."

What's his problem, Sonny wondered, forcing the mortal up the stairs into the mansion. Julian

was waiting in the library as promised, with Cassandra and the Neonate.

"I brought you a rapist," Sonny pushed the man onto the carpet. "He got off on a technicality.

I hope he'll do."

"He'll be fine," Julian put his arm around the Neonate possessively. "This is Eric Sheridan,

Sonny. Eric, this is Sonny Tousaint, your Brood-brother."

"I'm sorry I'm late," Sonny grinned, holding out his hand. "I didn't mean to keep you waiting."

Eric took it, looking self-conscious. "Hi," he said nervously. "Did you bring that for me?" He

pointed to the rapist struggling to sit up on the floor.

"All for you," Sonny smiled.

"I can't," Eric turned to Julian in panic. "Julian, I can't do this." Sonny shook his head

ruefully. Those had to be the same words he'd used the first time Julian had brought prey home

for him. Some things never changed.

"Yes, Eric, you can," Julian corrected, removing the hood from the victim's head. Sonny had

securely gagged him, but that wouldn't interfere with their feeding. "Sonny, tell us what this man

has done."

"He's a serial rapist, preying on young boys in Chinatown. His rights were violated when the

officers that arrested him didn't protect him well enough from the boys' parents. They roughed

him up, he got to walk: that's human justice." Sonny shrugged.

"But it isn't Kindred justice," Julian said. He gestured for Eric to come near. Eric shook his

head 'no'. "I know you Thirst, Eric. He can make the hunger go away."

"Do I have to kill him?" Eric demanded. "Julian, I know I said I'd give you one night, but I

can't commit murder..."

"You won't kill him," Julian assured the Neonate. "I promise I won't let you. He won't even

remember what we've done to him." He turned the man's head to expose his throat. The rapist

struggled in vain. "Do you want me to start?"

Eric nodded, and Julian made the initial wound neatly, nicking the jugular without severing it.

He took a single draft, then offered the leaking wound to Eric. Sonny shared his Sire's smile

when Eric's instincts took over.

Cassandra wrapped her arm around Sonny's waist. "I like him," she whispered in his ear.

"He'll be a good addition to the family."

 

"This place is so beautiful," Eric whispered as Cassandra led him into the gardens.

"I always loved the gardens," Sonny agreed from behind him. "They are very peaceful in the

moonlight." He followed the Neonate to protect him, although the garden was empty. Even the

Gangrel patrolled outside the wall out of respect for Julian's Childe.

"White roses," Eric said, stopping at the entrance to the Moon Garden. The gravel crunched

under his foot as he shifted his weight, otherwise the garden was silent. No birds sang, even

crickets didn't chirp so near to the Kindred.

"Alexandra's idea," Cassandra took his hand and stepped through the gate. "All the flowers

are white. Look how they reflect the moonlight."

"Almost all the flowers are white," Sonny corrected. He plucked a blossom and offered it to

his new brood-mate. "Try this, it's Siberian Lavender."

"Spicy," Eric observed, sniffing the pale bloom. "Are we allowed to pick the flowers?"

"Of course," Sonny smiled.

"Make Sonny do it," Cassandra told Eric in sotto voice. "He's good with plants."

"Cassie," Sonny growled warningly. She hid behind Eric and laughed into her palm. Seeing

the confusion on Eric's face, Sonny explained. "I helped plant this garden. Alexandra did all the

planning, and I did all the work."

"And she changed her mind about twice a night and made Sonny dig everything up at least ten

times," Cassandra reminded him. She deposited herself on a marble bench with a sigh. "But it

does look beautiful."

"When will I meet this Alexandra?" Eric inquired.

Sonny exchanged a glance with his brood-sister. "Never," he answered. "She was destroyed."

"She wasn't happy," Cassandra elaborated. "She didn't like being Kindred."

"Did Julian destroy her?" Eric asked earnestly.

"Yes," Sonny ducked his head. Julian had called a Blood Hunt. Neither Sonny nor Cassandra

had participated. How could they prey on the Brood-sister who had helped raise them so

tenderly?

Eric nodded, surprisingly undisturbed by the news. "When do I get to meet the other Kindred?

I mean, I see them around, but they act as if I don't exist."

"It's tradition. You don't yet," Sonny told him. "Not really. You don't have an official

existence until you are formally presented to the Conclave. You see the way it should be done is

that your Sire would keep you away from other Kindred until he's taught you everything you need

to know to survive. But Julian can't do that, because he's the Prince. The city needs him, so you

get short-changed. Besides, you haven't finished the Change."

"What Change?" Eric spread his hands. "I mean, I'm Kindred, I drank the blood...."

"But you're not finished becoming Ventrue," Cassie told him. "Like Julian, like us."

"It'll take some getting used to," Sonny shrugged.

"What else happens?" Eric asked, looking alarmed.

Sonny rested his hand on Eric's shoulder. "There are certain traits associated with each Clan's

blood. For us, for the Ventrue, that means we're all a little discriminating, demanding of

propriety, a bit proud of ourselves...."

"Has anyone ever called you arrogant, haughty or vain?" Cassandra asked, her eyes glinting

mischievously. "They will, now that you're Ventrue."

"And I've got to learn to act like that?" Eric looked aghast.

"No, no, no!" Cassie laughed, rocking on her bench. "The arrogance comes naturally enough,

believe me. Why not? You're Kindred, and you're Ventrue. You *are* better than almost

everybody else."

"You'll need to learn etiquette mostly," Sonny told him. "Protocol, how and where to

Hunt...."

"Etiquette," Eric repeated disbelievingly.

"A definite survival skill among Kindred," Cassandra nodded sagely. "Like never mention

their hot temper to a Brujah, because they'll rip your guts out denying that it's a problem."

"Don't make fun of a Toreador who is contemplating a great work of art," Sonny added,

looking significantly at his younger Brood-sister.

"It was an ugly old painting," Cassandra protested.

"Don't talk about a Kindred's mortal life," Sonny ignored Cassie, a skill born from long

practice. "Unless they volunteer the information."

"Speaking of which," Cassandra caught at Eric's hand. "I have one question."

"Cassandra, don't," Sonny glared across the garden, but Cassie, of course, disregarded his

warning.

"We're all family now," Cassandra smiled defiantly. "Eric, you don't have to answer if you

don't want, but I am *dying* of curiosity. Tell me, how long have you known Julian?"

"About three weeks," Eric answered.

"Three weeks?" Sonny and Cassandra chorused together, equally amazed. "That's all?"

Cassandra demanded.

"Yeah, just about. Why?" Eric's confused gaze flickered from Cassandra to Sonny and back.

"He knew me for eight years before my Embrace," Cassandra informed him.

"He knew me for eleven," Sonny added. "It's not like Julian. He always gets to know

someone very well before he makes them Kindred."

"Oh," Eric scuffed his shoe in the gravel, making the stones skip. "It was kind of an accident.

I was shot. I died. That's why he did it."

"Still," Cassandra regarded Eric gravely. "Only three weeks. He must have felt very intensely

about you."

"You're no more surprised than I was," Eric shrugged. "I mean, when Daedalus asked me if I

wanted to be a ...Kindred... I said no. I would have thought that he would have passed the word

onto Julian. Hell, I didn't even know Julian was a vampire, uh, a Kindred, until I got shot."

"*Daedalus* asked you?" Sonny and Cassandra stared at each other in disbelief.

Sonny shook his head in mystified wonder. "Oh, man, I have *never* heard of anything like

that before."

 

Margaret Meeker was dead, killed by her own husband. Cameron supposed that he should be

grateful that Meeker's children went to boarding school and were safe from their father, at least

for now.

"I don't see why you are making such a big deal about this," Meeker said and the sound of his

voice was like the scraping of fingernails on a blackboard to Cameron's already frayed nerves.

"We don't kill our prey," Cameron growled. "Because we don't need to. Because it leaves

evidence of our existence. Because it's STUPID!"

"So?" Meeker shouted back. "So what? Let's just bury the bitch. It's too late to bring her

back to life now."

Cameron fought the Frenzy that roiled in his chest. "The police are going to notice that she is

gone, Anthony, and they are going to ask questions. They are going to ask *you* questions.

And what are you going to tell them?"

"Nothing," Anthony shrugged. "What can they do to me?"

"They can put you in jail," Cameron answered. "And when you close your eyes after the dawn

comes, they'll call a doctor to find out why you died. And then you'll wake up in the middle of

your own autopsy, with the news of your sudden death in every newspaper, and you'll be of no

use to anyone!"

Cameron looked at his hands, and saw that his claws had extended. He tried but he couldn't

force them to retract. I've got to get away from this no-brain Lick before I rip his heart out, he

thought.

"Kenny," he said turning to his lieutenant. "Make it look like an attempted hit on Meeker.

Get some of the boys together, do a drive-by, make sure there are lots of bullets, then fire-bomb

the house. Anthony makes it out, but poor Margaret here," he kicked the woman's corpse.

"Doesn't."

"Hey," Meeker protested. "I paid a lot for this place. Some of those paintings set me back ten

grand a piece. You can't just burn it all up."

"Yes, I can," Cameron stared Meeker right in the eyes. He let his Fledgling see the

near-Frenzy there. "Next time you Feed you'll think twice about leaving me this kind of mess to

clean up. Or the next time I'll leave you in the house when they set the fire."

Meeker snarled and sneered and tried to put on a brave face, but he looked away from

Cameron's gaze quickly enough. Cameron grabbed Nicky by his arm and dragged him out of the

house. Whatever was wrong with Meeker might be catching.

"I don't like him," Nicky confessed when they had pulled away in Cameron's BMW. He was

slouched in the passenger seat, his knees against the dash. "There's something about him - like

he's tainted or something. I don't... I don't want you to be mad." He eyed Cameron carefully.

"But I don't want him for a Brood-brother, Sire."

"He's not one of us," Cameron muttered. "He's not like us. He's just not Brujah. I don't know

why, but he's not."

"What are you going to do?" Nicholas asked, and Cameron was instantly in a better mood.

Nicky's faith in him was like a tonic for his soul.

"I'm going to get you a better brother," Cameron nodded. "I even have him picked out. His

name is Joseph Brozka, and he is about as different from that slime Meeker as a man can get.

You'll like him Nicky, he's just like you."

"But what about Meeker, Cameron?" Nicky demanded.

"Him, I am going to have to destroy," Cameron frowned. "He isn't working out at all. Well, I

never wanted him in the first place, so it isn't much of a loss."

"Can you do that?" Nicholas wondered. "I mean, doesn't the Prince have to okay the killing of

a Kindred?"

"No," Cameron informed his Fledgling. "A Sire can destroy any of his Childer. In fact, he's

expected to if there is something wrong with the Childe." He saw the wary expression on Nicky's

face and started to laugh. "Not you," he chuckled, punching Nicholas lightly on the arm. "I can

kill any of my Childer before they are presented to the Prince. Since you've been presented and

acknowledged, I'd have to at least discuss it with Julian before I offed you, Nicky. And there

would be snow in July before that happens."

"Cool," Nicky smiled, looking reassured. "How will that work when you are the Prince,

Cameron? I mean, do you present your Childer to yourself?"

"No," Cameron smiled. "The Prince presents his Childer to the Primogens. You'll see when

Julian introduces his new whelp." He sighed, feeling envious. "It's a pity Meeker didn't work out,

Nicky. Having Childer is how you get power. It's why Julian can just Embrace anyone he wants,

anytime he wants. And it's why Eddie was losing his power base - letting his Childer take the fall

for him."

"When I am Prince of this city, Nicky," he smiled. "I am going to have the biggest Brood you

ever saw. You are going to have so many brothers and sisters you'll be tripping over them."

"That's cool," Nicky agreed. "As long as Meeker isn't one of them."

 

Sasha ripped the drawer out of the dresser and spilled it's contents on the floor. When she

didn't find what she was looking for she tossed the drawer against the wall and pulled out the next

one.

"Sasha," Cash stood in the doorway of her room. "What are you doing?"

"Moving out," Sasha snapped. "As soon as I find my other boot." She snatched her one red

leather motorcycle boot from the bed and showed him.

"What's wrong?" Cash asked. He didn't add 'this time', but she could tell he was thinking it.

Sasha threw the boot back on the bed rather than at her lover.

"I forgot how short Julian's attention span was, that's all," Sasha replied. She stalked away

from the skeleton of the dresser and began to empty her closet into the middle of the floor, still

questing for her boot's missing mate.

"C'mon, Sasha," he chided her gently. "You're not jealous of Eric, are you? That's the way it

is when someone Embraces someone new. He'll finish teaching Eric in another month or so, and

everything will go back to the way it was."

"Gee," Sasha sneered, glaring at him. "Is that how it is? I wouldn't know."

Cash swallowed, hard. He evidently hadn't meant to remind Sasha about Martin. He knew

that she hadn't gotten over what the Brujah son-of-a-bitch had done to her. She probably never

would. She started throwing things back into the closet.

"That's fine," she muttered, wading through the wreckage that covered her floor ankle deep.

"I'll leave without it. I can get new boots anywhere."

"Julian really loves you, you know," Cash told her. "I know he'd want you to stay."

"Julian's forgotten I exist," she snorted.

"That's not true."

"He's done it before!" Sasha cried passionately. "This isn't the first time he's done this to me!

He's real nice to me, he builds me up and makes me feel loved, then he just dumps me flat. He's

got more important things to do."

"Sasha," Cash protested.

"You don't get it?" Sasha demanded. "You think I hate him just because I'm Brujah? I've

hated him since I was ten years old, and he was suddenly 'too busy' to come visit me anymore.

Too *damn* busy." She picked up the un-matched boot and threw it against the wall. It made a

satisfying dent in the plaster.

She was shaking and Cash could see it. Damn him too, for not understanding and for his

stupid loyalty to Uncle Julian. She turned her back on him, and glared out the window so he

wouldn't see her cry. She heard Cash approach her cautiously. Reluctantly she let him fold her in

his arms.

"I barely remember my parents," Sasha told him. Her voice was shaking, but she couldn't

steady it. "But even when I do remember them, it's always Julian, too. He came at Christmas,

and everyone was so glad to see him. He gave me a piece of candy and let me sit in his lap, and

even then I knew he was different.

"He used to visit me every night in the hospital, after my parents died. All night. He'd tell me

stories and hold my hand, and watch over me when I slept. And I felt so *safe*," her voice broke

and she couldn't go on. Cash just kissed her hair and rocked her gently like a child.

"He'd always visit when I lived with Grandpa," she continued when she'd gotten herself back

under control. "No notice, just: Surprise, he's here. Every holiday, too. He used to come out

Christmas night with a car full of toys and say 'Santa left these at my house by mistake.' When I

was nine I told him that I didn't believe in Santa anymore. He just said 'then who left all these

toys at my house' and lifted me up in the air. I loved him *so* much." His betrayal still hurt after

all these years. How could she have been so stupid to trust him a second time? She bit her lip

until she could taste blood.

"Then he just stopped coming," she grated. "There were a few phone calls, then nothing.

Until I see him at Grandpa's funeral, and he says that I'm going to come stay with him, and

everything's going to be just 'marvey'. Why'd he do it, Cash? I thought he loved me."

"I did it because I loved you, Sasha," Julian said from the doorway.

"Go away!" Sasha cried, burying herself deeper in Cash's arms.

"When you were ten years old I spoke to Archon about Embracing you," Julian continued,

matter-of-factly. Sasha twisted around to stare at him, her brown eyes wide with amazement.

"When you were older, of course. I wanted to bring you to the city, raise you in this house,

teach you about the Kindred and the Masquerade. And then when you were old enough, make

you my Childe."

"Why didn't you?" Sasha demanded.

"Because someone convinced me that it was a monstrous idea, and I was a monstrous man for

having considered it."

"Who? Archon? Lillie?" Sasha tilted her head, wondering if she should believe him.

"Alexandra," Julian replied. "You never met her, she was extinguished just before you came

to the city. She convinced me that the kindest thing I could do for you was to let you live and die

as a human."

"And you believed her?"

"Not at first, but then something happened to make me think that perhaps I was a monster, like

she said," Julian smiled at her sadly.

"What?"

"I killed the Brujah at Manzanita."

"So because you killed the Brujah, I got to *become* a Brujah," Sasha sneered. "My thanks

to Alexandra; may she burn in hell."

Julian crossed the room and touched her hair. Sasha tightened her arms around Cash's ribs.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," Julian told her. "I can present Eric to the Primogens and release him to

Kindred society in a few weeks. The next night I'll do anything you want. I'll take you anywhere,

buy you anything. It's your call."

Sasha peeked up shyly. "Anything at all?" Julian nodded. "Then I want to go sunbathing in

Hawaii." She ducked her head down and giggled. What a ludicrous idea.

"Well, anything we can do at night," Julian admitted. He leaned down and kissed her hair.

"You have a few weeks to make your plans. Don't disappoint me."

"Anything we can do at night?" Sasha demanded, twisting around in Cash's arms. "If I wanted

to, we could rob a bank? Together?" Julian sighed and nodded, the picture of martyrdom. Sasha

felt a grin split her face. "We could rob one of your banks? And I could keep all of the money?"

"Sasha," Cash objected, but both she and Uncle Julian ignored him.

"If you insist," Julian shook his head. "Personally, I thought you would have more imagination

than that."

"Cool," Sasha smiled, anger and jealousy forgotten. "I'm going to have to make some definite

plans." Maybe not bank robbery, but something fun. She nodded to herself and giggled. Uncle

Julian smiled back. Maybe he really did love her after all.

 

One of Anna Mae's rats developed mange, and Anselm had asked Daedalus to heal it. So

Daedalus had gone to their haven carrying his alchemical chest and ended up playing doctor to her

entire menagerie. Now he sat on the old church's marble floor surrounded by rats, bats and

lizards (and one Praying Mantis), telling Anselm everything about Eric's Embrace, while Anna

Mae played gravely with the bottles in his case.

"He was wrong," Anselm's voice was like rocks grating. "And he admits it. It is not a small

thing to find the Prince of the City so far in your debt."

Daedalus sighed and nodded. Such things mattered, even when his heart was cold and still.

"The other Clans will treat the Nosferatu with more honor," he admitted. That would shore up

his own position as Primogen.

"But still you miss this almost-Childe of yours." Like Daedalus and Anna Mae, Anselm sat on

the church floor, but his massive head was still over five feet from the ground, his hunchback

making him seem to loom even larger. He cradled Two-Toes, Daedalus' mangy patient, gently in

his hairy hands. In his oversized fingers the obese rat looked about the size of a pocket mouse.

"That is natural."

"Is it?" Daedalus asked. "Not long ago I asked Julian to Embrace someone for me. I wanted

him to be beautiful and Ventrue rather than bear the curse of the Nosferatu."

"In your heart," Anselm assured him. "Eric was your Childe." He touched Daedalus on the

arm with one claw tip. "And he always will be. Our blood makes us and shapes us, but we are

more than our blood."

Daedalus squeezed his eyes shut. "Sometimes I think that I am grateful that Eric is Ventrue.

Julian is good to him, and can give him so much more than I could. And then I want only to

devour our Prince. To consume him utterly, despite over a century of friendship."

Anna put the bottle down carefully and stood. She was wearing a tailless green and gold lizard

like a necklace which flicked it's tongue out in alarm when she moved. Stepping carefully around

her pets she knelt down next to Daedalus and gave him a hug. Daedalus stiffened with surprise.

The little Nosferatu crawled into his lap and rested her head against his chest. "Anna?"

Daedalus looked helplessly at Anselm.

"She wants you to know that she loves you," Anselm translated.

"Thank you," Daedalus told her, giving her a tentative squeeze in return.

"There is more to your unhappiness than the Prince's wrongful Embrace," Anselm noted.

"Have the two of you had a falling out? Is Julian no longer your friend?"

"No," Daedalus sighed. "I think that's the worst torment of all. He Embraced the man for me,

because Eric had suffered mortal death. He said he thought that I would prefer to have Eric as a

Ventrue, rather than let him be taken by True Death."

"But it's not the same," he continued, looking down at Anna's serious expression. "When I

seen Eric and Julian together, I am consumed with jealousy. I can't help but think that I should be

the one to teach Eric how to be Kindred. To know the bond between Sire and Childe."

"It is still possible," Anselm replied. "He would not be the first Ventrue Childe to find a haven

among the Nosferatu of San Francisco." Daedalus smiled despite himself at his friend's oblique

reference to Julian's younger days. "And this Ventrue would not have to worry about the

Nosferatu Primogen raising objections to the Prince's whelp spending the day in your lair,"

Anselm teased gently.

"Do you know that Goth once suggested that since I spent so much time with Julian that I

should petition to adopt him?" Daedalus asked, shaking his head. Goth had never approved of his

friendship with the beautiful young Ventrue. "I don't know why Julian insisted on spending so

much time with me in the sewers - he's so very Ventrue otherwise."

"Archon was too strict with him," Anselm remarked. "Julian knew he had a safe hiding place

with you."

Daedalus stared at his friend in shock. "He wasn't hiding!" he exclaimed. "Archon knew

where he was."

"In the one place in the city that the Prince would not go," Anselm answered. "And Archon

was far too proud to send anyone to fetch Julian back. Daedalus, don't tell me you never realized

this."

"Julian loved Archon," Daedalus protested.

"Of course he did," Anselm countered. "And the Prince loved Julian, maybe more than any

other Childe he ever made. Maybe that is why Archon demanded so much from him. Who will

ever know? What I *do* know is that every time that Archon sent Julian out to kill some mortal

or destroy some rogue Kindred, Julian spent the day after he completed his mission in *your*

haven, Daedalus. He did not rest in his Sire's arms but in the ground next to your bier. And on

more than one occasion, Archon even suggested that Julian pay you a visit. Archon knew that

you could give Julian what he needed."

Daedalus recalled the one and only time that Archon had braved the sewers to seek out his

haven. It was the night after Julian had returned from his confrontation with the Brujah in

Manzanita. Archon had hurried Daedalus back to the Mansion, where Julian sat unspeaking,

unresponsive, still stinking of cordite and gasoline. "Take care of him, Daedalus," the Prince had

begged him, worry brimming over in his eyes. "Help him, please."

Then the Prince had left him alone with Julian. Him! A Nosferatu warrior alone with a

helpless Ventrue and the blood barely dry on the peace pact. Daedalus had thought Archon

insane until he had touched Julian's shoulder and felt the young Ventrue's trembling. Daedalus

had held him for three nights, not so much nursing Julian as comforting him, before Julian finally

spoke. And then his whispered words were meant for Archon : "Tell him to find someone else to

do his killing. I can't do it anymore."

Daedalus smiled at Anna Mae nestled in his arms. "Your Sire is the wisest Kindred I have ever

known," he told her. She nodded in agreement. Very gently he lifted her from his lap.

"I have to return to my own haven, now," he excused himself as he rose. "I should speak to

the Prince before dawn." They smiled knowingly as he made his farewells.

 

"Can we go out in the sun?" Eric asked with alarm. The sun was still high in the afternoon

sky, and if Julian could feel it's affects, he knew his Childe certainly must.

"If we are careful, Eric," Julian assured him. "That is why we fed so well last night. It will

protect us." He took Eric gently by the arm and led him out the door towards the waiting car.

When the first ray of sunlight touched his hand, Eric wrenched free and retreated up the steps

into the shadows of the hall. "It hurts!" He informed Julian.

Julian sighed in exasperation. Getting a Childe to do what it wanted to do was easy, but ask

one to work against their instincts.... "Eric," he said firmly. "Come down here."

Eric shook his head in refusal. Had he ever given Archon this kind of trouble, Julian

wondered. His Becoming seemed so long ago. "Eric, the sun can only burn you if you have no

blood in your body," he informed his Fledgling. He should be able to see that, Julian was standing

in full sunlight. "Now stop delaying. We have to pick up your children."

Eric winced as he stepped into the light again, then rushed down the steps past Julian and

jumped into the back of the car. Cash tried to disguise his grin, and failed. "Would you mind

driving, Cash?" Julian sighed.

"I'd be honored," Cash chuckled.

"It's alright," Julian told Eric once Cash had closed the door. "You'll get used to it."

"It burns," Eric complained. "How can you stand it?"

"Practice," Julian replied.

"Does it have anything to do with your heart beating?" Eric asked. "Mine doesn't."

"No," Julian smiled. "That's just luck. Most Kindred don't have a heartbeat unless they've fed.

But my heart rarely stops. No one knows why. It's useful though - I have 'slept' with mortals and

they never suspect what I am."

They rode in silence for a while, Eric staring out the tinted windows while Julian made notes in

his date book. When they reached the public housing complex Eric turned diffidently to his Sire.

"When do you think Sonny will be coming to the house tonight? I've got the Thirst."

"He won't," Julian tucked his date book back into his breast pocket. "I'll take you Hunting

tonight." He smiled and touched Eric reassuringly on the arm when he saw the anxious

expression in his Childe's eyes. "All you have to do is watch me," he promised. "And if you want

I'll let you pick out my prey."

Cash pulled the car to a stop between the play ground and the door to the stairs. A group of

young toughs stopped their basketball game to eye the Mercedes speculatively. They drifted over

as Cash opened the rear door for Julian and Eric.

"Watch these guys," Eric warned his Sire, but Julian just chuckled.

"Nice car," the leader called. Julian caught his eyes, and the young man started backing away.

The others, suddenly bereft of leadership, milled in confusion.

"Y'know, man, this ain't your territory," one of the toughs called, fear and bravado filling his

voice in equal measure.

"Of course it is," Julian replied silkily. He looked from youth to youth and defiance left them.

Within moments they had melted away. Julian turned to Eric with a smile.

"That was easy," his Childe commented.

"You still think like a mortal," Julian gestured for Eric to proceed him into the building.

"Don't ever let yourself be intimidated by your prey."

Eric let himself into his apartment, but his children weren't there. "They're probably upstairs

with Efra," he explained, picking up a photograph. It was a wedding picture; Julian held out his

hand and Eric let him examine it.

"You look very young," he commented. The groom was obviously Eric, the bride was a

dark-haired beauty.

"We were high school sweethearts," Eric smiled. "Her parents hated me, but we proved them

wrong.... Julian, can I keep this?"

Julian handed the photograph back. "If you want. Let's get your children. They must be

worried about you."

Efra lived upstairs, a mountainous black woman with three children of her own. She squealed

when she opened the door and threw her ham-like arms around Eric's shoulders. "Boy, I thought

you done run off on me!"

"Never," Eric smiled. "Efra, I'd like you to meet Julian. Julian, this is my friend Efra Jones."

"Mrs. Jones," Julian said formally.

"Oooh! Ain't you got pretty manners?" Efra giggled. "You kin call me Efra, Honey.

Everybody does. Eric Sugar, you sure look sickly. You sure you should be runnin' 'round?"

"Eric, still hasn't recovered from his illness," Julian replied smoothly. "But he missed the

children..."

"They in the bedroom, Sweetie," Efra said to Eric. She turned to smile coquettishly at Julian.

"Kin I offer you somethin' to eat? I got beans 'n rice boilin' on the stove, if'n you want t'stay for

supper."

Eric disappeared into the bedroom while Julian made his regrets. When Eric returned, he was

carrying a small sleepy boy and leading a young girl.

"Amy, Tim," Eric told his children. "This is Mr. Julian, the man I work for. We're going to

live in an apartment over his garage, so Daddy can be close to work, okay?"

Tim examined Julian with big blue eyes, and stuck his forefinger firmly in his mouth. The girl,

Amy, shyly held out her hand and whispered, "Hello, Mr. Julian."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Amy," Julian bowed to take her hand. "Eric, you look tired. Let's

get you home."

Efra helped Julian carry the paper bags of the children's clothing down to the Mercedes, and

made a great fuss seeing them off. Julian handed her two fifty-dollar bills and promised to send

someone for the rest of Eric's possessions. She kissed each of the children twice, Eric three times

and even Julian before she let them leave.

The children stared out of the car windows after her until the apartment building was no longer

visible. Eric touched Amy lightly on the cheek. "You're awful quiet, Sugar-pie," he said to her.

"What's the matter?"

"Efra said you were sick, Daddy," Amy's eyes were full of tears. "Are you gonna die like

Momma?"

"No, Baby. No," Eric squeezed his daughter reassuringly. "It's just a little cold, that's all. I'm

not going to die."

"Ever?" Tim demanded hopefully.

"Well," Eric equivocated.

"Ever," Julian assured Tim. "Your father is always going to be here to take care of you."

Eric looked away and laughed in spite of himself.

"Really?" Amy demanded.

"Promise?" Tim asked, pleadingly.

Eric grinned and stared Julian right in the eyes. "Yeah, I promise. I will never, ever leave you

guys. I'll take care of you forever." He gave Amy a kiss on the crown of her head. "Forever, and

that's a promise."

 

Then next evening at twilight Julian led Eric downstairs and into the garden. Tim and Amy

were romping across the twilight lawn, playing with what appeared to be two full-grown wolves.

Eric blinked in surprise, no way they were domestic dogs.

Amy tossed a stick and the wolves bounded after it like puppies. Both grabbed the branch at

the same time and engaged in a brief, snarling tug-of-war. The victor returned it's prize to Tim,

head and tail high, proudly ignoring the loser nipping at it's ankles.

"Tim, Amy," he called nervously. Either animal could finish off little Tim in two bites. "I don't

think...."

"It's alright," Julian smiled. "They won't hurt the children."

"Daddy! Daddy!" His children cried, abandoning their game and running into his arms. One

wolf lay down and gnawed contentedly on it's branch while the other sniffed the air and laid it's

ears back.

"We were playing with the doggies," Tim informed him excitedly.

"They're smart, Daddy," Amy continued, as breathless as her brother. "They can sit and

roll-over and play dead...."

"And fetch!" Tim interjected.

"Yeah," a girl's voice drawled behind him. "They make cute pets, but don't let them in the

house - they're ruining the carpets."

The standing wolf gave a hair-raising snarl and leapt towards the newcomer's throat. Julian

stepped in and caught the animal effortlessly in mid-air before Amy had even finished drawing

breath to scream. "Don't even think about it, Lorraina," Julian told the wolf firmly. He set the

wolf back on the ground, and it slunk back to stand next to it's grinning companion.

Lorraina? Eric wondered if it could be. He stared at the wolf, trying to convince himself that

it wasn't possible, but the wolf looked back with eyes that were disturbingly intelligent - and

familiar.

"Hi," the girl introduced herself to the children. "I'm Sasha. You must be Amy and Tim."

"Hi," Amy breathed shyly, while Tim tried to hide behind Eric's leg, one finger stuck in his

mouth.

"You like the doggies?" Sasha asked. "I'm kind of an animal lover myself."

"Sasha," Julian warned. "Behave yourself."

"Cute kids," Sasha smiled at Eric.

"Why don't you go to a toy store," Julian asked her, pulling his wallet from his jacket. "And

get these children some toys? Would you do that for me?" He held a wad of bills up temptingly.

She made a grab for it, and he jerked it from her fingers. "Would you go and buy some toys for

the children?"

"Yes," she replied, drawing the word into two syllables. He handed her the money and she

tucked it into her cleavage.

"You," Julian looked at the panting wolf. "Go with her. Make sure the toys *are*

appropriate."

Sasha made a face. "I don't need a chaperone," she complained. She turned and knelt before

Tim and Amy. "So, whatcha want?"

"A Barbie," Amy replied immediately.

"Red Power Ranger," Tim mumbled, his finger still firmly in his mouth.

"One Barbie? One Power Ranger?" Sasha asked with mock dismay. "With Uncle Julian

buying? You guys have got to think bigger than that. How about a couple of bicycles and a

Nintendo?"

"Daddy, can we?" Amy pleaded. Tim's eyes simply glazed over.

"Well," Eric hesitated.

"Excellent, Sasha," Julian nodded. "Take the Mercedes, and we'll meet you at the club later."

She stood and presented her cheek for a kiss. Julian kissed her obligingly and patted her fondly

on her rump as she turned. "And if I don't see you at the club, you will be home before dawn."

"Yes, Uncle Julian," she sighed before striding back into the house. One of the wolves trotted

at her heels, the other remained with Julian, staring after Sasha with flattened ears.

"Go on," Julian instructed it.

"Oh, can't it stay and play with us, Mr. Julian?" Amy asked, throwing her arms around the

wolf's neck.

"She's supposed to be working," Julian responded gravely. "She helps guard our house and

keep us safe. And it's time that you two were in bed."

"Is not!" Tim objected.

"Will you help tuck us in?" Amy asked shyly, releasing the animal's neck. The wolf trotted off

into the gardens. Eric stared after her and wondered if it really could have been Lorraina.

"If your father approves," Julian smiled into Eric's eyes.

"I'd appreciate the help, actually," Eric smiled back.

Amy took possession of Julian's hand and Eric lifted up Tim as they walked back to Eric's

quarters in the gate house. "Is she really going to buy us bicycles?" Amy asked when they

reached the stairs.

"She certainly is," Julian told her.

"Can I have a Barbie-doll, too?" She asked wistfully.

"Knowing Sasha," Julian confided. "She'll probably buy you an army of dolls."

"Can we stay up until she comes back?" Tim asked hopefully.

"No, Tim," Eric said firmly, opening the bedroom door. "The toys will be here when you

wake up. Although I don't know how I'll pay for them."

"After the children go to bed we'll go over your stock portfolio," Julian responded. "Although

I'd be pleased if you'd accept the toys as a gift."

"I have a stock portfolio?" Eric nearly choked.

"Of course," Julian answered, critically eyeing Amy's worn nightgown. "I'll send Jeffrey out

tomorrow to get the children some new clothing. You'll have to make a list of their sizes, Eric."

"Go brush your teeth, guys," Eric instructed his children. They obediently ran into the

connecting bathroom. "Julian, I do appreciate all you're doing," Eric began, shutting the door so

that the kids couldn't hear.

"I am your Sire, Eric," Julian reminded him gently. "It is just as appropriate for me to support

you as it is for you to support Tim and Amy. You will be independent soon enough, let me take

care of you until then."

Eric took Julian's proffered hand and squeezed his fingers gratefully. "I'm afraid to get used to

your generosity, Julian. I'm not used to life being easy."

"Has it become easy?" Julian asked.

"You seem determined to smooth all the bumps out of my way," Eric confessed. "I never

expected to be happy again. Not this happy, not this soon. You made it happen."

Amy and Tim tumbled out of the bathroom, interrupting them. Eric tucked the children into

the double bed, aware that Julian was watching him from across the room. Julian was always

watching him. It didn't feel confining or intrusive, it felt - safe. As if Julian could single-handedly

protect Eric from the troubles of the world.

Somehow he knew Julian would try.

"G'night, Daddy," Tim yawned.

"Daddy?" Amy whispered.

"What is it, Sugar-Pie?" Eric leaned over so that she could whisper in his ear.

"I think Mr. Julian is the one Momma told us about," she confided. "The nice person who is

going to take care of you and make you happy. Don't you think so?"

Eric looked at Julian standing by the door. By his expression he had clearly heard. "Yeah,"

Eric agreed with a smile. "I think so too."

 

"Is there any other business?" Julian asked, looking significantly at Daedalus. Daedalus kept

his face completely neutral.

"I have a request to make of the Prince," Cameron said, smoothly formal. Daedalus examined

the Brujah Primogen cautiously, this was unexpected.

"My newest Childe, Anthony Meeker, has not withstood his Embrace with a whole mind. It is

my intention to destroy him before he becomes a danger to the Kindred community. I ask

permission to Embrace another." Cameron must have practiced that speech to deliver it so

diplomatically, Daedalus decided. There wasn't a trace of the insolence that he usually directed at

Julian.

"Meeker's wife died in a tragic fire, I hear," Julian commented with a false smile. "A drive-by

shooting gone bad."

"He ripped her throat out," Cameron grimaced. "And drained her dry. Her corpse will be in

such bad condition from the fire that they'll never notice the other wounds."

"Can't you control your Childer better than that?" Julian prodded. Daedalus saw Lillie and

Cash smirk at the obvious baiting. Eddie Fiori wouldn't have needed much more of a push than

that to Frenzy. But Cameron wasn't Eddie, he had more self-control than most other Brujah, and

Daedalus wasn't sure Julian realized that.

"Sometimes a Childe just goes - bad," Cameron replied, animosity creeping back into his

voice. "I'm lucky that Anthony's derangement is so obvious, so early. I don't have the

constitution to nurture a Fledgling for almost a century, then destroy it the way you did with

Alexandra."

Touche, Daedalus thought, seeing Julian wince.

"But I did not wish to remind you of your grief," Cameron said through gritted teeth. "I

apologize. Now about his replacement...."

"Nice recovery," Lillie's voice was pitched so low that only Daedalus could hear it. He glared

at her, and watched her lips twitch with amusement.

"Perhaps you haven't tried... stern... enough measures to control Anthony Meeker," Julian

replied. "I am aware that the Brujah have a rather quaint attitude about their independence, but a

Blood Bond...."

"I am not a Ventrue!" Cameron stood so fast his chair toppled backwards. Julian met his

gaze, stare for stare, and the Brujah Primogen was panting by the time he looked away. "Brujah

Clan would not respect a Primogen who had to resort to Blood Bonding his young. As you are

aware, Brujah do not keep Thralls." He picked up his chair and set it back on it's feet with a

thump. "Nor do we become them."

"You know my concern with the violence in the areas under your influence, Cameron," Julian

replied stonily. "So much in-fighting, so many deaths. I do not approve of your adding to the

body count. Especially when I am having difficulty in keeping the police investigation into this

'Mob War' small and under control."

"You told me that if Meeker didn't work out, I could have another," Cameron snarled.

"I said that if you still didn't have control of Eddie's organization, one of your lieutenants could

Embrace DiLancie," Julian corrected.

"I don't want DiLancie!" Cameron shouted. "He'd be no better than Meeker!"

"You still think Brozka can help you?" Julian almost sneered. "I am amazed that someone like

Eddie Fiori, who had essentially no control over his own Clan, could inspire so much loyalty from

mere humans, while you, Cameron, seem completely unable...."

"Meeker is an idiot!" Cameron screamed. "He won't learn the Traditions. He ignores the

commandments. If you don't want me to kill him, fine - I present him to you. He's your headache

now!"

"You can't Present him," Lillie objected. "He's not even here."

Daedalus closed his eyes. Leave it to the Toreador to add heat to a situation already near

boiling. He held up his hand to forestall Cameron from retaliating. "The night is young.

Cameron can fetch his Fledgling and Present him before dawn. The Primogens will examine him

and decide if his derangement outweighs his usefulness to us. If it does, or if he refuses to swear

to obey the Commandments and Traditions... he will be destroyed." He looked around the table

carefully. "If such a course of action suits the Prince, of course."

"It does," Julian answered.

"I have nothing better to do," Cash grinned.

"I have a date with Frank," Lillie objected coyly. "But I guess I can break it, for peace among

the Clans."

Cameron stood, oozing resentment. "I'll get Meeker for you."

After Cameron had stalked out of the club, the Prince joined Daedalus as the Nosferatu looked

out Lillie's spy-hole onto the dancefloor below. "Why didn't you ask for Eric?" Julian questioned

softly. "I fully expected you to petion to adopt him tonight."

Daedalus motioned towards the table where Eric was sitting with Cassandra. The pair were

laughing and chatting with a mortal couple. "Look at him," Daedalus answered. "If I had

Embraced Eric he would still be going through the change. His body wracked with pain as it

adopted it's new form. His mind twisted even more than his frame. I was wrong to want to do

that to him, Julian."

"The Nosferatu are not the only ones to consider themselves cursed," Julian replied gently.

"The Brujah have their tempers, the Gangrel have their animal nature, the Toreador their mindless

pursuit of sensation. They say the Nosferatu find their burden lighter with time, while the rest of

us find it ever more oppressive."

"I wish that were true," Daedalus sighed. "And what burden do the Ventrue carry, Julian?

Arrogance and nobility do not seem a heavy weight."

Julian smiled and looked back out at Eric. "Look at him," he instructed. "My Neonate is just

beginning to feel his power over the Kine. Just beginning to realize that the world has been laid at

his feet. His Ventrue blood will help him to see that he must use his assets wisely, husband his

resources, nuture them and make them grow."

"And he will," Julian continued with a regretful sigh. "I can see it in him, just as I see it in

myself. Eric will exploit his holdings carefully, protecting them and making them work for him.

It will be a least a century before he discovers that his idea of property has expanded to include

include not just wealth and possessions, but people, too. The mortals he feeds from, the

individuals he does business with, the Kindred he considers his friends; all just chess pieces to be

moved to his advantage."

The Prince looked Daedalus in the eyes. "By then it's too late. The habit has been too deeply

ingrained. He'll not be able to look at anyone without weighing their value to him. Not his

friends, not his family, not his Sire, or his Childer. Not even the woman he loves."

 

Anthony Meeker paid more attention to cleaning his fingernails than to listening to Cameron

natter on about vampire laws and customs. As if whatever social games they played were going

to matter in a few months. Anthony had never liked sharing his things with anyone, and he wasn't

about to learn now.

At least Cameron had taken him away from Nicholas, his moon-faced so-called 'brother'. That

idiot watched him like a hawk, obviously distrusting Anthony's every move. He rarely talked to

Anthony, and when he did, it was to rhapsodize about how wonderful Cameron, their Sire, was.

Cameron had won the Primogen's seat by fighting a dozen duels, most to the death. Cameron was

the greatest Kindred in the city. All the 'Brujah' admired him. Cameron was going to take Julian

Luna's head and then the 'Brujah' would run the city. And when the 'Brujah' ran the city, San

Francisco would be a paradise on earth.

Anthony supposed that 'Brujah' was another word for vampire, like 'Kindred'. For

blood-sucking monsters that preyed on humans to exist, they sure were queasy about being called

vampires. Anthony spent most of his time around Nicky wondering if his blood would taste as

good as Cameron's had.

It was amazing the subtleties of taste that Anthony found in blood now. Margaret's blood had

tasted different from Jimmy's and from the other women he'd killed. Cameron's blood, cold and

thick as syrup, had tasted best of all. Ever since he'd offed Margaret, Cameron had been with him

when he Hunted, and hadn't let him kill any of the women he'd Drained. But that wasn't the

reason Anthony was going to kill Cameron. He was going to kill Cameron so that he could drink

every last drop of the older vampire's wonderful blood.

"Anthony, are you listening to me?" Cameron demanded.

"Yeah, yeah," Anthony nodded. "You introduce me to Julian Luna as if I never met him

before. He asks me a bunch of questions, and I say 'yes' to them. Then I kiss his hand. Big,

effing deal."

Cameron seized him by his shoulders and pulled him out of the chair. His lips drew back from

his fangs, and his eyes were golden with fury. Staring helplessly into those eyes, Anthony felt the

way he had the night that Cameron had Embraced him. Too terrified to resist; so overwhelmed

by Cameron's anger that he just wanted to bare his neck and let Cameron rip his throat out.

It's his eyes, Anthony thought. I have to remember not to look in his eyes. But no matter how

he tried to pull himself away, he couldn't break Cameron's gaze.

"Stupid leech!" Cameron hissed. "You have no idea how much your survival depends on this.

You think you can exist as an Anarch or a Caitiff? Not in a city run by Ventrue, you can't! A

lone Kindred is a dead Kindred!" He shook Anthony until his head rattled. "You're helpless

during the day! Any ignorant mortal could destroy you - all they have to do is pull you into the

sun while you are at your rest and you'll never rise again." He threw Anthony to the floor in

disgust and stalked over to the window. "And if our prey can destroy you that easily, think what

a determined Hunter or Garou could do."

"I thought only a wooden stake could kill a vampire," Anthony commented, rubbing his neck.

"Will you stop using that *filthy* word!" Cameron bellowed, turning from the window in a

rage. Anthony scrambled away from him until his back was against the wall. He was careful not

to look anywhere near Cameron's face. Cameron seemed ready to attack him.

"If you listen to me you would know a stake through the heart only paralyzes us. Anything

driven through the heart would do that. Anything. A wooden stake, and iron bar, a television

antennae." Cameron picked up one of the chrome and leather chairs and threw it. It smashed into

the wall next to Anthony's head hard enough to remain embedded in the wallboard. "And then

you are helpless, and whoever impaled you can destroy you at their leisure. By fire. By Sunlight.

By destroying your heart. Or by taking your head. *That's* how you destroy a Kindred. That's

how I should destroy you."

And that's how I will destroy you, Anthony vowed. He swallowed and kept his eyes averted.

"I'm sorry, Cameron. I didn't mean to make you angry," he lied. "I was just... just thinking about

how Thirsty I am. I didn't mean to get distracted like that."

Cameron snarled and growled and paced for a few more minutes, before resuming his lesson.

He seemed barely calmer. This time Anthony paid careful attention. There might be more

information he could glean from Cameron that would be useful in destroying the other vampires in

the city.

 

Anthony Meeker was a Ventrue trap, Cameron decided. No matter how many warnings

Sorrel had given him about Ventrue trickiness, Cameron had walked into Julian's gambit like a

new-made Childe. Now his problem has how to extract himself with the least amount of damage

to his reputation or to the standing of the Clan.

If only he could figure out how Julian had maneuvered him into this awful situation in the first

place. Oh, he realized that he'd been too obvious in currying Julian's favor, and that was how the

Prince had managed to convince him to Embrace Meeker. But how had the Prince known that

Meeker was going to give Cameron so much trouble? If he could answer that puzzle, he might be

able to cut his loses substantially.

Well, he didn't know how Julian had known, and time was running out. He'd stumbled again

by saying he would Present Meeker, he had seen that in the casual contempt on Lillie's face. He

was losing stature, and losing status for the Brujah Clan. After the way Eddie had messed things

up, Cameron hadn't thought it was possible for the Brujah to lose more ground. They were

already the least respected Clan in the city, even Gangrel and Nosferatu were accorded more

honor.

Maybe Eddie hadn't been as big as an idiot as Cameron had thought. Now that he was dealing

with Julian Luna on a nightly basis he had a greater appreciation of what Fiori had been up

against. Everyone in the Clan had just assumed that Luna was Archon's puppet, speaking the

words that the hated former Prince put in his mouth. But Archon the Butcher was gone, and

Julian was as powerful as ever. More powerful, maybe.

Cameron went over his options again. He could destroy Meeker, and thereby admit defeat.

That would put and end to one problem, but give Julian another excuse not to let him make more

Childer in the future. Which meant he wouldn't ever have a chance to Embrace Brozka.

He could release Meeker, but when his Fledgling was found preying on women and leaving

them dead afterwards, Julian would extract something from the Brujah in recompense. Of course,

whatever he took might be worth the sacrifice, since it would be Julian who ordered Meeker's

death. And as Julian had ordered Meeker's Embrace in the first place, he'd lose almost as much

respect as Cameron.

Or he could offer Meeker to Julian as a Thrall. That was a dangerous course. The other

Brujah wouldn't approve, and he didn't want to lose prestige in his Clan. But it would put Julian

in his debt, if the Prince accepted. Of course, it was also give Julian direct influence over San

Francisco's underground economy. And once a Ventrue had his finger on a money source, he had

that source in the palm of his hand. That might have been Julian's plan all along. Cameron

reluctantly ruled that option out.

Cameron had developed a full-fledged headache by the time he parked his BMW in the alley

behind The Haven. At least Anthony had remained silent during the trip. Cameron was well

aware that a single word from his Childe would likely have sent him into another Frenzy of anger.

Once he had Presented Anthony, he would do his best to avoid his annoying whelp as much as he

could.

Lillie's club was closed, of course. It was barely an hour before dawn. But Summer was

waiting for him at the back door to let him in. Anthony looked over the tall black Toreador with

obvious appreciation, but she returned his look with one of cool disdain. "I'll tell the Prince you

have returned," she informed Cameron neutrally and disappeared into the warren that was the

backstage.

Cameron took Anthony by the arm and dragged him out into the club proper. It was irksome

to be treated so shabbily by a degenerate Toreador, but that was what Eddie had let the Clan sink

to. Summer might be Lillie's favored Childe and fifty years older than Cameron, but she had no

reason to treat him as an equal. He was Primogen of the Brujah, and she had no status outside of

her Clan.

He pushed Anthony towards the stairs. There were no end to the aggravations tonight.

Julian's newest whelp was lounging in the Prince's chair talking to Daedalus. "It's nothing,"

Daedalus assured the Ventrue Neonate.

"I mean it," Eric insisted. "If I had said 'yes' earlier, I'd have been Kindred for weeks already.

I was stupid to be so anxious."

"I'm glad you've enjoyed your transformation," Daedalus replied.

"This is *so* cool!" Eric laughed. "My biggest problem is that I don't see you often enough.

Will you come Hunting with Julian and I one night?"

Cameron shook his head. Not even released and already Julian's Childe was making social

connections, befriending and manipulating members of other Clans. Julian was undoubtably

encouraging him to charm the Nosferatu Primogen. Cameron had heard more than one crude

comment about the closeness of the Nosferatu's friendship with the Prince.

"I know you Sire prefers his privacy, Eric," Daedalus patted the Ventrue's hand. "Do you play

chess?"

"The Prince of the city, and the Primogen of the Toreador Clan," Summer announced from the

doorway. Cameron glared at her, but she managed not even to look in his direction as she held

the chair for Lillie. Toreador were masters of the seemingly accidental insult.

Julian waved his Childe out of his chair and sat down. Behind him Cameron heard Cash come

running up the stairs looking flushed. "Excuse me," he smiled good-naturedly as he pushed

between Cameron and Meeker. "Sorry, Julian," he apologized to the Prince.

"My Prince, fellow Primogen," Cameron began formally, wanting only to get this over with. "I

wish to present a new member of the Brujah Clan to the Kindred of San Francisco. He is my

Childe, Anthony Meeker, and he seeks acceptance among us."

"Then let him come forward," Julian answered.

Cameron pushed Anthony towards the Primogen's table, then left his whelp's side and took his

own seat. Anthony was doing his best to look humble and hide his anger - he managed to look

merely annoyed and uncomfortable. Cameron pursed his lips at the memory of his own

Presentation to the Prince. He had the dubious honor of being the first Kindred to be accepted by

Julian Luna.

"Does anyone have any objections to my Acknowledging this Childe?" Julian asked the

assembly.

"He's Brujah," Cash grinned. "I find him wanting."

Lillie rolled her eyes. "Of course you would," she frowned. "Repeat the Traditions for us,

Anthony Meeker."

"Um," Anthony stumbled. "Acceptance. No Kindred exists in the city without the

acknowledgment of the Prince. Domain. The city and it's inhabitants belong to the Prince.

Progeny. Only the Prince may grant the right to Embrace another. Um, I forgot what you call

the fourth one. The Sire is responsible for his Neonate until the Childe is Accepted."

"Release," Julian prompted.

"Yeah, release," Anthony nodded. "The Masquerade. Don't let any mortal know we exist.

And Destruction. Only the Prince can call the Blood Hunt."

"Very good," Lillie cooed. "And the commandments?"

"No one is to be Embraced without their consent," Anthony recited. "Do not kill your prey.

No Private Herd is permitted. Only the Prince may make a ghoul. The peace of an Elysium is

inviolate."

"Do you know what an Elysium is?" Lillie prompted.

"This place," Anthony answered. "A place where no fighting is allowed."

She turned to Julian with a small smile. "His education seems adequate. If he swears to obey

the Traditions and commandments, I am willing to support him."

Julian turned to Daedalus. "And the Nosferatu?"

"His Sire warns us that he is deranged, and that he can not be trusted to obey the Traditions,"

Daedalus began. "The Nosferatu will suffer most if the Masquerade is broken. Although the

Prince insists he could be a useful tool, we fear his stability. I find him wanting."

There was silence over the table. "It's your decision, Julian," Cameron prodded. "The Brujah

and Toreador are for; the Nosferatu and Gangrel are against. What is the will of the Ventrue, and

the Prince?"

"Do you swear by your Blood and Clan to obey each of the Traditions?" Julian asked.

"Yes," Anthony replied. "I do."

"Do you swear by your Blood and Clan to follow each of the commandments?"

"Yes, I do."

"I Acknowledge Anthony Meeker of the Brujah Clan," Julian said. "And grant him the right to

exist, the right to travel and the right to Hunt in my city and my Domain."

"But be warned, Anthony," he continued. "If I ever suspect that you have broken your word I

will have you Hunted down and destroyed. I give you only the chance to prove your loyalty,

nothing more."

 

Anthony stalked around Eddie Fiori's office almost too angry to think. He had never imagined

anything could be so humiliating as his so-called 'presentation' to Julian Luna. What a load of

garbage! The titles they gave themselves, the ridiculous way they acted, it was all so laughable.

But Cameron had frightened him too much to laugh last night. He'd make the little shit pay for

that.

At least he didn't have to see so much of Cameron now that he'd been 'presented'. Cameron

had made it clear that he didn't want to see Anthony unless it was necessary, and wasn't that a

relief. He'd moved out of Cameron's condo and into a hotel, then amused himself for a few hours

stalking and killing some prostitutes down on Broadway. When he couldn't drink another drop

he'd drifted down to the docks and started to plan his take-over of San Francisco.

His mind drifted back to that stupid ritual last night. That red-haired whore and her bitch

girlfriend had really been annoying. It hadn't occurred to him that there might be female vampires

until he saw that little dark-haired piece of tail in the bar. His first inclination had been to let them

live when he killed off all the other vampires - it might be fun to keep a stable of girls just like

himself. Especially since both were so damn good looking. But the two women had been so

condescending that he looked forward to destroying them.

Unless maybe if they begged real pretty.... Anthony liked it when women were afraid of him.

Those whores had certainly been afraid tonight.

One thing was obvious from that little sham ceremony, that group would stick together.

Anthony didn't feel like waiting and working to earn their trust. He'd have to move quickly and

carefully when he started knocking them off. Once they started dying they'd be after him,

Anthony was sure.

He paused by the office window and counted the vampires he'd seen on his fingers. There was

Cameron and Nicky and the five other guys he saw the night Cameron made him - that was seven.

There was Julian Luna and his bodyguard, that was nine. There was the three women he saw last

night, and the blonde man, and the ugly guy who called himself Nosferatu. That was fourteen.

He'd divide and conquer, Anthony decided. He'd split them up and claim that one group,

Cameron's group, were the ones doing the killing. It was obvious that the others didn't like

Cameron anymore than he did. By the time they found out that it wasn't Cameron, most of them

would be dead. But he'd definitely need help.

He weighed his options and decided to call Vito DiLancie. Joe Brozka was a good guy, dumb

enough to be trustworthy, but Anthony didn't feel like dealing with him. He was too stubborn and

would ask too many questions. Questions that Anthony didn't want to answer.

Julian Luna wanted another meeting tomorrow night, that's when Anthony would make his

first move. He'd need to kill Luna, his bodyguard and Cameron, all at once. He reached down

and lifted Eddie's Japanese sword off of it's stand on the window sill. He pulled it from it's

scabbard and tested the edge. It was razor sharp. Anthony swung it through the air a few times

to test its weight. A couple of hacks would take off even a vampire's head, he decided.

He couldn't stop smiling. Cameron, the bodyguard and Luna, all together, all tomorrow night.

His own private banquet....

 

"Please," Eric whined. "Please, please, please. Please, please."

"Eric," Julian asked. "What do you think you are doing?" He was standing behind his desk,

getting ready to leave for his meeting with Cameron and the mortals under his control, and Eric

was draped dramatically across the doorway.

"It always works for Tim when he does it to me," Eric grinned. He left off blocking the door

and threw himself into the visitor's chair. "Don't make me stay home Julian. I want to go with

you."

"Eric...." Julian shook his head is resignation. If he had ever tried this kind of nonsense with

Archon, he thought ruefully, there would have been Hell to pay. "What am I going to do with

you?"

"Take me to this meeting," Eric answered. "I'll drive the car and behave myself and we can go

Hunting afterwards."

"Lorraina will drive the car," Julian corrected. After the incident where Eric had been shot, he

wasn't going to take any more foolish chances.

"It'll take at least another hour for you to come back here and pick me up and then go to the

club," Eric protested. "And I'm Thirsty *now*, Julian."

Julian ran his fingers through Eric's unruly blonde hair. "I indulge you too much," he

observed.

"You do," Eric nodded. "I am a completely spoiled brat. But I'm going with you, aren't I?"

"You will stand in the back and say nothing," Julian ordered. He laughed when Eric seized his

hand to kiss his knuckles.

"Goody," his Childe laughed with him. "Julian, you are the best Sire in the whole world."

"No, I'm not," Julian corrected. "If I were, I'd insist on a little more discipline. You know that

I won't present you to the Primogens until you get over this insistence on Feeding every night."

"I don't care," Eric insisted sunnily. "I kind of like being under your wing all the time, Julian."

Julian shook his head and finished loading his Hammerli M280. He tucked it into his shoulder

holster and decided that Eric, with no weapons training, didn't need to be armed. "Well, hurry

up," he said. "Cash and Lorraina are waiting."

Cash said nothing when he saw Eric; he didn't have to. His disapproval was written all over

his face. But Julian was the Prince, so he held the door of the limousine for Eric and Julian, then

climbed in the front to sit next to his Brood-sister. Julian silently thanked Stevie Ray for giving

him someone so obedient - more obedient than his Sire, certainly.

"You should start to think about going to college," Julian said as the black car slid through the

night. "I'm sure you could enter the University of California at Berkeley, but if you want to start

at one of the smaller schools, I wouldn't object."

"College?" Eric asked, his mouth falling open. "I always wanted to go to college."

"Excellent," Julian nodded. "What course of study were you interested in?"

"Well, I was going to take something practical," Eric replied. "You know, computers or

something like that."

"But your heart is set on something else," Julian observed.

"History," Eric sighed. "Archaeology, mythology, all that stuff. I always wanted a classical

education."

"Well, there is no reason why you can't have one," Julian smiled as the car pulled to a stop in

front of Fiori's office. "You can study both history and computers, if you want."

"I love you, Julian," Eric said, sincerity shining in his eyes. "You really do spoil me." Lorraina

opened the door of the limousine's door, and the three of them followed him up the steps to the

meeting.

Julian pushed open the door of Eddie's office and stepped inside. The gathered men looked

nervous and uncomfortable. He was halfway across the floor before he realized one of them was

missing.

"Were is Anthony Meeker?" He demanded. The whole point of Embracing that man was to

make the control of these mortals easier. Vito DiLancie flinched, and then Julian sensed the

presence of an extra Kindred behind him. Time seemed to telescope, events crowding on top of

one another while individual seconds took forever to pass.

"Julian, No!" Eric cried as he turned. Julian swayed back as his Childe stepped toward

Meeker, right into the path of the blade held inexpertly in Anthony's hands. The katana bit deeply

into Eric's throat, severing his spine. Eric's body slumped emptily to the floor.

Julian slid inside Meeker's guard and wrenched the katana out of his grip with one smooth

motion. A quick shove to the breast bone, a foot shoved behind the knees and Anthony was

sprawled over Eddie's desk. Julian reversed his grip on the sword, swung it over his head and

down with all the strength that anger had given him. The blade slid through both Meeker and the

wooden desk until over a foot of it's length protruded through the bottom of the center drawer.

Mere seconds had passed since Eric's body had struck the floor. Anthony Meeker choked and

tried to grasp the blade that impaled him, but his fingers were too weak to do more than clutch

weakly at his chest.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" Julian asked, Frenzy boiling beneath his silky calm. "Not nearly as much as

it's going to, I promise. You'll beg me to expose you to the sun before I'm finished with you."

He glanced around at the cowering mortals. He knew he had to erase their memories. It was

his duty to preserve the Masquerade. He longed to tear each one of them limb from limb instead.

Cameron had Brozka by the throat and was pressing him against the wall. Securing him and

protecting the man he wanted to Embrace with the same gesture. At least the others shrank away

from Julian's glare. Cash and Lorraina had their machine pistols out, and were covering the

remaining humans.

"Mr. Luna," Hu began, his voice barely shaking. "I wish to assure you that my Tongs were in

no way involved in this attempted assassination. I, too, am innocent, but if you must take my life,

please spare my sons... "

"Be silent," Julian growled, crouching next to Eric's body. He ran his hands over the empty

shell, gathering Eric's blood on his fingers. He cupped them to his face, smelling Eric's scent for

the last time. Sweet Eric, his innocent Childe.

There was movement behind the desk. Cash cried "No!" and lunged past him to struggle with

Vito DiLancie. Julian heard a single gunshot, felt his head whip back under the impact of the

bullet, then everything went black.

Daedalus knew that something was terribly wrong the moment that the limousine pulled into

the courtyard. He was standing in the shadows with Anselm, enjoying the full moon, while Anna

chased some bats across the driveway. He heard the roar of the engine first, then the squeal of

tires as the long car fish-tailed around the corner, nearly sideswiping the gate. The Gangrel

poured from their posts to find the source of the commotion.

Cameron was driving, Daedalus realized with shock. The Brujah Primogen leapt from the

driver's door almost before the car had stopped, and wrenched open the car's back door. One of

the younger Ventrue guards tried to interfere, and Cameron knocked him aside without seeming

to see him.

"Daedalus!" Cameron bellowed. "Someone fetch Daedalus. Now!"

"I'm here," Daedalus answered, striding forward. Cameron turned to him, and the Nosferatu

could see the fear carved into the Brujah's pale face.

Then Cash and Lorraina climbed out of the back seat, supporting Julian between them. The

Prince reeked of Vitae. To Daedalus' sensitive nose, it smelled as if Julian had bathed in Kindred

blood. Julian held his right hand over his eye and forehead. He struggled to extract the other arm

from Cash's grip.

"Stake him and bury him and let him rot," Julian said definitely. "The Nosferatu will deal with

him later."

"Yes, Julian," Cash soothed. "Come on into the house. You need to sit down."

"He's been shot," Cameron explained to Daedalus. "You have to do something."

"Daedalus," Julian said, noticing him. "Daedalus, take your Nosferatu. Go with Cameron.

There are men for you. DiLancie, Hu, Brozka. I want you to devour them."

"Not Brozka," Cameron insisted. "You said I could have him."

"The Brujah Childe Meeker, too," Julian continued. He swayed dangerously, and Lorraina

pushed against him to keep him on his feet. "Hurt him, Daedalus. I want... I need you to hurt

him."

"Not Brozka, Julian," Cameron almost pleaded.

"The Brujah may have the rest," Julian slurred. "Leave some... leave some lieutenants to run

things." He considered, then nodded. "Destroy them, savage them, hurt them. Yes."

Cameron opened his mouth again, but Daedalus silenced him with a touch. "I'd rather stay

here with you, Julian," he said, reaching to examine the injured Prince. "We can leave these

mortals for another night."

"No!" Julian cried. He grabbed Daedalus by the shoulders with both hands. Daedalus felt

sick when he saw the wound and realized the source of all the Vitae. Ventrue blood still leaked

down the Prince's face onto his shirt collar.

"You have to go, Daedalus," Julian maintained. "I want vengeance. You want vengeance.

They destroyed our Childe. They extinguished my Eric."

Eric destroyed? It was like a physical blow. "How?" Daedalus gasped. "Who?"

"Meeker," Cameron grimaced. "I never wanted to Embrace him in the first place. He's been

staked out by some of my Brujah. Do you worst, Nosferatu. I disown him."

Sasha appeared in the doorway, no doubt drawn by the furor. Cash released Julian's arm to

intercept her when she tried to throw herself at her uncle. "What's happening?" She screamed.

"What's happened to Julian?" Cash wrapped his arms around her and whispered soft love-words

to keep her calm.

Lorraina was still trying to get Julian up the stairs and into the house. Jeffrey and some of the

other Ventrue were keeping the other Kindred away from the steps so that no one would get in

the way. The injured Prince was resisting her. Eric was already gone, Daedalus realized. His

heart ached with loss and the need for vengeance. But Eric was beyond help, and Julian wasn't.

"Anna, go get the wooden box that holds my alchemical supplies," Daedalus ordered. He

gently pushed Lorraina out of the way and picked Julian off of his feet. "Lorraina, find Sonny and

tell him his Sire has been injured. Anselm, gather the Nosferatu and go with Cameron to take

care of these mortals."

Cameron opened his mouth to protest, and Daedalus cut him off smoothly. "As the Prince's

orders are unclear as to the fate of this 'Brozka', you should bring him back here. The Prince can

determine his future when he has recovered from his wound."

"He *will* recover," Cash demanded, staring significantly at Cameron. The Brujah Primogen

flinched. As Meeker's Sire he would be made to suffer for Meeker's crime.

"Being Kindred will keep him from death," Daedalus confirmed. "But the Prince may have

memory loss or personality changes if his injury doesn't heal properly. He may not be Julian any

more."

Sasha, barely in control of herself before Daedalus' pronouncement, began to wail. Her

heart-rending cries echoed above the crowded courtyard. Daedalus looked around at the shocked

faces of the Kindred that surrounded him. Many appeared ready to join her.

Julian tried to pull away from Stevie's bothersome whelps, but they kept grabbing at him.

Cash and Lorraina were trying to push him up the stairs towards the Mansion. He hated when

Stevie Ray's Fledgling's wanted to play, because they wouldn't take no for an answer. Now he'd

developed a horrible pain in his head. It was hard not to growl at them. Julian would have to talk

to Stevie about the way his Childer behaved. It was good to indulge one's get, but Stevie took it

too far. They had no sense of comportment.

"Stop struggling, Luna," Archon said from the top of the stairs. "You've been injured. Come

up into the house."

Julian reluctantly obeyed. Archon only called him 'Luna' when he was displeased. He

wondered how he had disappointed his Sire this time. It was hard to think around the headache.

Something bad had happened. One of his Childer had been hurt. Which one? He couldn't

remember. He had to remember. Why was Archon angry with him?

Stevie came down the steps and pushed his Childer out of the way. Julian collapsed back into

Daedalus' arms and the Nosferatu lifted him off his feet effortlessly. "C'mon, Archon," the lanky

Gangrel said to the Prince. "I've brought him home drunker'n this dozens a times."

"I am not drunk," Julian protested weakly. Stevie Ray just grinned at him. Why did Gangrel

always make trouble?

"What's happening?" Sasha screamed from the doorway. "What's happened to Julian?" Cash

pushed her back gently as Daedalus carried him into the house. Julian watched Cassandra rush to

the balcony railing over head and look down at him, her hands fluttering to her face in distress.

She seemed amazingly distant.

Was it 1906 or 1985 or 1934? Julian wasn't sure. He was laying on the dinning room table,

with Cash and Sonny pinning his arms down. Julian tried to throw off his attackers.

"Julian," Archon stood over him. "You must stop struggling. Daedalus needs you to be still

so that he can clean your wounds. Now stop fussing, it's unseemly."

"Archon," Julian moaned. He trusted his Sire not to hurt him. He tried to lay still, to not

struggle against the Kindred that held him down. Not to fight the agony that ripped through him.

"My Prince." The pain was terrible and growing worse. What had he done to deserve this? "I'm

sorry, Sire."

"Julian," Archon touched his face lightly, and the pain retreated a little. "You have nothing to

be sorry for."

"You gave me life," Julian whispered. "You gave me a reason to live. I owe you for

everything I am. I'm sorry I failed you." He vaguely remembered failing at something, failing

badly. Archon must be extremely disappointed in him to let him suffer so much.

Archon's face softened into a rare smile. "Pride is our failing," he confessed. "And nothing

has made more proud than you, my Childe. I bless the fate that chose me to be your Sire."

"I have it," Daedalus said above him. "Hold him just another minute more.... There,"

Daedalus sighed. He held a fragment of something up to the light. It looked like a flattened

bullet.

There was a cry from beyond Cash and Sasha struggled into Julian's vision, dragging

Cassandra behind her. Both of their faces were masks of blood-tears. "Is he going to be all

right?" Sasha demanded, her eyes bright with fear. "Is he?" Cassandra tugged at his Fledgling's

arm, trying to pull her away.

Cash released his arm to grab his lover. "Sasha," he said. "You shouldn't be here."

Shrugging Cash away, Sasha seized Julian's hand and brought it to her lips. "Please, Uncle

Julian! Don't leave me! I'll be good, I promise."

"It's alright," Julian assured her. He squeezed her fingers and tried to smile. "Don't cry." The

pain was fading away like water down a drain. He felt weak and vaguely ill in the aftermath.

"I love you, Uncle Julian," Sasha whispered. "Please don't die."

"Never," Julian promised. Billy took Sasha by the shoulders and pulled her back towards the

library. Julian smiled at him. Such a good boy, Billy. Always anticipating his desires. His eyes

drifted to Cassandra. "Don't cry," he patted her with his free hand. "It's not your husband again,

is it?" Poor Cassandra, she deserved someone better, someone who would love her and give her

babies....

"Some delirium should be expected," Daedalus commented.

"It's not Philip, Julian," Alexandra answered. "She's worried about you. We were all worried

about you." She stroked his cheek with her cool fingers.

"Poor, sweet Alexandra," Julian whispered. He shifted to look at her, but there was something

wrong with his eyes. She looked transparent, as if she weren't really there.

"Don't be sorry for me," she smiled. "I'm very happy now."

"You are?" Julian wondered.

"You freed me, don't you remember?" Alexandra's smile was golden. "I feel so peaceful, it's

wonderful. Like I'm floating all the time."

"I don't remember," Julian confessed.

"It's all right," Billy assured him. "You will."

"My Childe," Julian whispered.

"We're here, Sire," Sonny held his hand. "We're right here."

"Of course you are," Julian looked around the room at his family. Archon by the fireplace

trying not to look quite so satisfied. His friends Stevie and Daedalus conferring near the window.

Alexandra comforting Cassandra, Billy standing behind Sasha, Sonny by his side. All his strong,

beautiful Childer. "Where else would you be?"

Epilogue

Eric was buried on a cold autumn afternoon beneath a sky the color of wet newspaper. Julian

held a sullen Tim in his arms, and worried about the effect of the chill wind on the boy's small

form. Amy stood in the lee of his body, shivering despite her new wool coat.

It was a meager group that huddled close to the grave; Efra Jones and a few other of Eric's

friends that Julian didn't know. One of the men had asked if Julian was looking to fill Eric's

position as Julian's chauffeur. Julian had nearly snapped before he realized that these people

thought that he was only mourning an employee. They didn't know, couldn't guess, what Eric had

meant to him. He had made some noncommittal reply and the man had drifted away.

When the short ceremony was over, Efra handed out flowers to lay on the casket. Julian

waited until most of the other mourners had left before he laid his down gently on the lid of the

coffin. Tim refused to surrender the flower held tightly in his little fist and wouldn't even meet

Julian's eyes. Amy yanked the carnation from her brother's hand and threw it and her own

clumsily at the grave. Then she kicked the casket for good measure.

Efra and several of the other women immediately crowded around her, but Amy refused to be

comforted. Julian finally extracted her from the women with a comment about the cold. They let

him lead her towards the cemetery gate and his waiting limousine.

"Do you want to tell me why you are so angry?" Julian asked.

"He lied," Amy declared. "He said he wasn't going to die and leave us. He *promised*!"

Julian set Tim on his feet and crouched down so that he was at eye level with the children.

"He didn't lie, Amy," he said, snaring her gaze in his. "Your Daddy may have died, but he won't

leave you - ever. He's right here." He pressed his gloved hand against her chest, his fingers

sliding beneath the coat's velvet collar. He concentrated until he could feel her heart beat, feel the

tide of her blood. "Daddy's right next to your heart, so you'll never be apart, ever again."

"And your heart too, Tim," he added, turning his attention to the younger boy. In many ways

he was easier to affect than his sister. The children started to sob, and he gathered them to into

his arms. He knelt and held them gently, letting them cry the tears he could not shed.

"Uncle Julian?"

Julian dried the children's faces carefully before rising. "Amy, Tim," he said. "I'd like you to

meet my niece, Sandra Gill, and her husband, Michael. They can't have any children of their own,

and were wondering if you would mind living with them. They've promised to take good care of

you both."

Sandra and her husband smiled nervously at the children. They had appealed to him months

ago to help smooth the adoption process when fertility treatments hadn't worked. He hadn't

expected to have been able to help them.

"Why can't we stay with you, Mr. Julian?" Tim demanded. Amy clutched at his arm worriedly

as if afraid he'd disappear.

"Sometimes bad men come into my house, Tim," he explained. "Bad men like the man who

killed your Daddy. I don't want you anywhere near men like that." Anywhere near monsters like

me, he thought.

"Will you visit us?" Amy pleaded.

"I'd like that," Julian confessed, surprised to mean it. "I'd like that a great deal."

Amy collected herself for a moment, then turned and extended her hand. "We're very pleased

to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Gill."

"You could call me Aunt Sandra," Sandra suggested, taking Amy's hand in hers. "If you don't

mind."

"All right," Amy replied.

"The children's things are in my car," Julian informed them. They began to walk towards the

cemetery entrance. "I'll have the rest of their belongings - their bicycles and so forth - shipped to

you tomorrow."

"We can't thank you enough, Julian," Michael confided.

"You'll be their legal guardians for six months," Julian replied uncomfortably. "Then you can

petition to adopt them. I would like to see them from time to time."

"You're always welcome," Michael assured him.

Julian watched as Cash and Lorraina transferred the children's suitcases into the trunk of the

Gill's Toyota. Michael strapped Tim and Amy into the backseat while Sandra kissed him

good-bye and thanked him for his help. He stood by the limousine and watched them pull away,

one hand raised in parting.

Lorraina held the door of the limousine open for him, but he waved her off and drifted back

through the cemetery gates towards the grave that Eric now shared with his wife. The workmen

had already filled in the soil and laid sod back over the site.

Cold rain began to fall, ruining the silk ribbon on the single funeral wreath, but he paid it no

attention. It was no colder than his heart. Julian stood over the poor marker for a long time, too

hurt and weary to even mourn.

"Julian?" Daedalus voice asked behind his shoulder. Julian didn't turn. He wasn't even certain

he would be able to see the Nosferatu if he did.

"I dreamed of Archon while I was injured," he commented. "Not of Eric - Archon."

"You called his name several times," Daedalus informed him. "You still miss him, I know."

"Did you know that he had been summoned back to Europe?" Julian asked.

"No," Daedalus responded, sounding surprised. "I hadn't."

"His Sire had been recently re-elected as Justicar for the Ventrue," Julian informed him. "And

since Archon was no longer needed to rule San Francisco.... Something to do with the fall of the

Soviet Union, I think. We never discussed the details. He was supposed to leave six months

ago."

"Why didn't he go?"

"I asked him to stay," Julian whispered. "I wanted his advice, his presence, for a few more

months. And for that small bit of selfishness I have lost him forever."

"Julian...."

"I am as responsible as Cameron for Archon's destruction," Julian grated, turning away from

the grave. "If I'd just done my duty and let him go.... If I'd done my duty and stayed in the city

instead of going to Manzanita...."

"Julian," Daedalus took him by the shoulders and tried to turn him. "Don't do this to

yourself."

"If I had done my duty by Alexandra," he rasped. He pushed Daedalus' hands away and

staggered a few steps away from his friend. "By Billy, by Eric...."

"No," Daedalus insisted. "You did the best you could."

"Three of my Childer destroyed in less than a year." A single tear slipped from Julian's eye and

left a red track down his cheek. "Billy and Eric in my place, Alexandra at my order. My Sire

extinguished through my negligence...."

Daedalus shook him. "I won't listen to you tell lies to yourself."

Julian finally looked the Nosferatu in the eye. "I'm so afraid," he confessed. "Will my sins be

visited on Sonny and Cassandra as well? Am I going to witness the destruction of all my

Childer? Is everyone I love going to leave me?"

Daedalus gently pulled Julian's head down onto his shoulder. "No, Julian," he whispered.

"You'll never be alone. I'm here." He patted the Prince's back gently. "I'm here." He held Julian

for a long time in the empty cemetery and let the gentle rain fell on them both like a benediction.

**********

<the end>