“I am yours. Yours. Forever.”
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
GM: Roderick leaves Celia some money and tells her to send him a bill for the rest. Jade drives to the Evergreen. The sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz fills the posh club’s air, though there’s few people in the lounge at this late hour. Actually, it’s all but empty. She’s still greeted by Fabian. The ever-smiling butler tells her she’s looking “Flawless as always, ma’am,” and inquires what he may do for her.
Celia: Jade doesn’t head immediately to the Evergreen. She has a few things to do first: change, for one (she’ll look relatively silly in front of Roderick, but not Savoy) and make a copy of the notes that Roderick had left behind. The latter she stuffs into the purse she carries with her, striding into the Evergreen with the ease of someone who has long been at home in the place. She smiles at Fabian.
“Is Lord Savoy free, perchance? I had wanted to follow up with our conversation from last night. I’d have called but, well, phone trouble.” Her smile turns wry. “I don’t have an appointment,” she admits after a second.
GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam, nor is he presently at the Evergreen. I can attempt to fit you in to his schedule later, or pass on a message if it is a matter of some urgency.”
Jade has never heard of elders being available for drop-ins. She supposes it was a long shot.
Celia: She doesn’t sigh, but her lips do pull down at the corners. She’s pretty certain that elders do this to vex them. Do they not want results? Did he think she’d take weeks to deliver Roderick to him?
“It’s not urgent.” Not really, anyway. “Can you set me up with something, sooner rather than later?”
GM: “His next opening is in three nights, madam. Is that amenable to your schedule?”
Celia: “It will do. Is the warden upstairs?”
GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam. I can pass on a message to him as well, if that would be most convenient for you.”
Celia: She should have stood on the roof and waited for her sire in the rain for all the good this trip did her. Do they not want fucking information or what? She’s doubly pissed now that Roderick destroyed her phone so that she can’t just call the detective to meet up somewhere else.
This time she does sigh, forcing the air from her lungs long enough to convey her mild irritation.
“No,” she says after a moment, “I’ll just call tomorrow.”
She supposes it gives her time to pack an overnight bag to spend the day with Roderick, at any rate. Clean the apartment, get rid of all the broken bits. Not how she wanted to spend her evening, really, but… well, whatever.
She can’t wait until she’s an elder and gets to dick people around.
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
Celia: It isn’t that she forgot about the extra phones Alana had purchased for her. Three, she had said, and the ghoul had delivered them. Two for her, one not for her, but with the phone smashed as it is she might delay the delivery of the third to the party she had intended it for. No, it isn’t that she forgot; it’s that she had thought, perhaps naively, that both Lord Savoy and Warden Lebeaux would want to see her, might even be expecting her. What had Roderick said? Only if you’re their childe can you expect them to let you hang around? Grandchilder count for nothing, it would seem, if Savoy can’t bother to see her for another three days.
It’s a less-than-charitable thought she has about her grandsire. A less-than-charitable thought she has of her sire. Selling hot air, Roderick had passed down from Coco; is that how they see her? That she has done nothing for them? She died for him. She died to get them that information. She has killed for him. Multiple times. Any time he’s needed anything she has jumped to do it. Murdered her own sister. Her own—
She can’t let her thoughts unravel further. She reels them in. She is conflicted, that is it. Conflicted over this meeting with Roderick, the things they had discussed, the plan she has moving forward. Even he had made her wait a night. The thought is a bitter one. Had he done it intentionally, to let her know that she thinks himself above her, or had he simply been busy? I don’t trust you not to be like any other lick, he’d said, but there he goes playing stupid games with her, too.
Jade gives herself a moment to let the irritation fade. She can only imagine that, should she not go calling after Lebeaux to change his ghoul back, she will be blamed for it if the sheriff picks him up as a hunter. As if he’d even listened to the thoughts she’d sent him in the first place.
Still, better not to risk it.
She pulls out her phone to dial Lebeaux.
GM: He picks up after a couple rings.
Celia: “Good evening, Pete. Are you and your friend available? I promised him a follow-up and thought tonight might work for him.” Vague enough, she thinks.
GM: “It’s a little late tonight. How’s early tomorrow?”
Celia: “Of course. Will you please remind him that if I’m to try the high-frequency ray he shouldn’t use any exfoliants or go tanning, and that he needs to avoid salicylic and benzoyl peroxide based products?” She supposes Lebeaux will have his ghoul do what he wants, but far be it from her to at least not warn the man.
GM: “I’ll listen to the expert. We’ll see you later.”
Celia: She bids him good evening and hangs up.
Her next call is to her “sire,” Veronica.
GM: The phone rings to voicemail.
“Make it good,” sounds the harpy’s voice.
Celia: Typical. She’d expected this one, at least. The harpy is always busy, or at least pretends to be.
“Hello, gorgeous. I had the most delicious thought this evening and wanted to share. Give me a ring when it’s convenient, yeah?”
She hangs up.
GM: That’s probably ‘good,’ at least.
Celia: Of course it’s good. Jade knows her sire. It’s got a compliment, a secret, and a request at her leisure. What else can the harpy ask for?
Her thoughts turn to the girl who always picks up her calls. After this night, she needs it. She rings Alana.
GM: For once, it rings to voicemail.
Flawless’ day manager does need to sleep at some point.
Celia: Jesus. Fucking. Christ.
“Hey babe. Give me a call if you get this before your morning run.”
She hangs up.
She’s just going to go back home and twiddle her damn thumbs until 5AM, apparently.
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
GM: The trip back to her half-wrecked haven is uneventful. She could get started on cleaning it up herself.
Or wait and let one of her renfields do it.
Celia: It’s a brief trip back to her haven on the edge of the Quarter. She lets herself in and once more locks the door behind her, gaze sweeping the destruction that the Brujah had left behind. He hadn’t given her nearly enough to cover the expense of replacing her furniture again, but he’d said to bill her for the rest of it, so perhaps… well, her tastes are marginally more expensive than others, perhaps he won’t be surprised when she hands him a large bill. And she does, indeed, intend to hand him that bill. His fault.
She does not need Alana or Randy to clean up this mess. They have not been told of this location and she will not do it now simply to save herself the headache of cleaning. She has arms and legs; she can do it herself.
She finds an empty garbage bag, a broom and dustbin shoved into the corner of a hall closet, and gets to work sweeping up the worst of it.
Quicker, perhaps, to use her speed to her advantage here. She knows that is one of its primary uses, cleaning up messes like this. And she could. But then she would not be able to listen to the music she has connected to her speakers, the songs that make her want to dance like she hasn’t done in years. Happy, upbeat songs; the kind of top 40s stuff she pretends she doesn’t listen to around other licks, but she and Alana belt in the car while Randy looks on, torn between amusement at her antics and disgust at her choice in music.
There’s a spring in her step as she sweeps. She’s spending the day with Roderick. He said he wants to trust her. He’d held her. All these years later and he still makes her giddy. Not being able to get ahold of Savoy, Veronica, Alana—what is that compared to him? A sleepover. Finally seeing his place. She wonders if it is the same as when they were in college together, if his work will be spread across multiple desks and tables. If his ghouls live with him. She’s never met them, never even thought that he had any. But of course he does. Every lick has their servants; why would he be any different? He probably doesn’t sleep with his, at least. Is that jealousy purring in her chest?
Celia laughs at the thought. Of course not. That would be silly. She spins around the broom as if it were a partner in a ballroom, her skirt twirling up around her legs.
GM: The mix of pop hits belts out, one after another. It’s too bad she can’t tell anyone, “Me and Stephen are getting back together!” She can picture Emily responding, “Well good for you guys,” and immediately pressing for details. She can picture her mom gasping with delight before doing the same. There’s Alana, but would she be jealous? Randy would probably feel even more inadequate.
Then again, she and Roderick had floated that “get married as breathers” idea. Maybe it’s on the table again.
Celia: She hopes he didn’t see that thing in the closet. That would be awkward.
GM: Pick out dresses and venues. Send out invitations for guests. Since her dad’s an asshole, have her mom give her away. Have Lucy as the flower girl. Emily as the maid of honor?
Celia: Who would she even invite to this? Would she have to change Roderick’s face? Or has it been long enough that no one would notice? She won’t pretend she hasn’t thought about it, even after what he did to her. What it would be like to actually get a wedding. Whether or not there would be any other Kindred guests in attendance. Probably not—it seems a silly thing, doesn’t it, to marry as a mortal.
Does ‘til death do us part’ even count if they’re both already dead?
GM: Roderick can’t invite anyone. He’d said he’d prefer a smaller wedding, last they talked about the idea.
Celia: Pity. Celia had always wanted a big party. She enjoys being the center of attention. Being adored. Still, she understands the logic behind it, and of course she will give him what he wants.
They should have had something brilliant, though. Something beautiful. Maybe now he can invite his sister, at least. There’s an upside.
She tries to picture Savoy at an event like this. Wonders if he’d show. Not that she could invite him, anyway; Roderick would probably be opposed to his presence, even if she had a good way to explain why she wanted him there.
Would he be jealous? The cold, dark one?
She thinks such human emotions are beneath him. But maybe.
Her mind runs away with her—her sire showing up. Demanding a duel for her hand. Telling her that of course he cares about her and has all this time.
She is glad there is no one around to see the silly smile on her lips.
GM: The mix of pop hits belts out one song after another. The lyrics are bright, bubbly, and upbeat. The haven feels warm and cozy against the pouring rain as Celia tidies, dances, and sings along. She can picture Roderick. coming back. Picking her up again. Swinging her around in his arms to the music.
It’s as Victoria Ash’s Unique Technique pounds out that Celia feels it, like an icy hand suddenly locked in a death grip around her heart. Squeezing. Crushing. Pulling, like a magnet. Forcing her legs to move against her will, while she watches like a spectator. Yanking her towards the source.
Her sire is calling.
Celia: Up. The strings pull her towards him; were there no ceiling above her head she thinks, perhaps, that she might simply float away. Already wrapped in the fantasy—his icy chill touching her heart does not do so much to dampen it as he might wish—she can clearly picture their reunion this evening. His arms around her. His lips on hers. Cold. So cold. A shiver runs down her spine at the thought, from exhilaration or anticipation or some combination of them both.
She starts toward the door. Two steps and then she halts, catching sight of herself in the floor-length mirror in the hall, the silly outfit she had donned when she thought only Roderick would see her. She strips quickly, abandoning the skirt, leggings, and distressed shirt, and finds something more fitting in which to see her sire. Burgundy, long, tight through the bodice and hips before it flares out around her legs.
But her face… he knows. She knows that he knows, and yet something inside of her demands the change all the same, that she meet him as her. The real her. The speed she had denied earlier serves its purpose now. She sits herself in front of the mirror to twist and sculpt her features back into Celia’s face. The same Celia she had been when he had come to her that night in 2009, when he had carried her body above the clouds, when his fangs had pierced her flesh to steal the life from her body. Celia Flores, 19 years old. A perfect, flawless version of her, to be sure, but still a younger visage than she has worn in many years. Innocent, wide eyes, long before she had given into Jade’s corruption and rot.
It is painful, as ever. But it is an old, familiar pain, and the hand that touches her heart—that soothes her. A balm to her hurts. Her sire has come to see her.
She is out the door a moment later, taking the steps that will lead her up, the winding spiral staircase that leads to the roof, an umbrella in her hand.
It’s why she took this place, those steps. That easy roof access. Roderick had wanted to jump out the window earlier, and she would have let him, if only to see him in action. But Celia does not need to jump out of windows. She had made sure that, should her sire come calling, she has a quick way to get to him that does not require the scaling of buildings.
The tugging on her heart does not let up. Each step she takes tells her that she is moving in the right direction, though as the staircase winds it becomes more insistent the further away from him she gets, each turn of the stair that takes her in the opposite direction. Up, ever upwards, but for those few steps when she faces away from him she almost cannot stand it. Like that old “hot and cold” game her mother used to play with them when she hid their Easter baskets, only the prize this time is not an assortment of chocolate and other candies. It is her sire. And that, she thinks, is worth more than all the rest.
She does not run up the steps, but she does keep her gait quick, hand on the rail as she ascends. Even the rain beating down upon the city, the thought of runny makeup (as if hers would dare) and sodden hair, is not enough to deter her. She opens the door at the top of the staircase and steps out into the storm.
GM: Celia’s speed serves her well. No one is there when she reaches the top. A second later, there is. The dark blur descends like so much more rain—and a concurrent crash as a man’s form smashes into the floor.
It’s the punk Jade met at the club. He looks delirious with terror. Like he’s aged ten years. There couldn’t have been white in his hair or such heavy bags under his eyes. They’re bloodshot, feverish, and enormous. He’s barely able to raise his hands and gasp “Pl-” before a boot stomps down on his throat, gorily crushing it in with a loud crunch-snap. Blood seeps across the rain-spattered deck.
Celia’s sire does not glance down at the corpse. He’s dressed in a dark, double-breasted trench coat, its style vaguely reminiscent of a World War II German military officer. On someone else, it might look offensive. On him it feels like the Third Reich is back—and pounding on your door in the dead of night, each sharp bang promising you’re next. He bothers with no umbrella. The rain weeps against his waxen, corpse-like face, and perhaps seems to trickle down its frozen contours more slowly than rain should. He does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes, nor move his mouth as it beads on his lips. He looks like a statue. Chiseled stone indifferent to its state in the gloomy weather.
Equally chill thoughts fill Celia’s mind.
:: Dispose of this. ::
More materials for the spa.
Celia: The sight before her—the punk with his green hair, now tinged in white—is nothing short of shocking. The boot that ends his life is grotesque, the squelch of his lash breath, the blood leaving his body, the snap of his neck… Celia cannot look away. Does not look away, will not allow it. Not from her sire. Not from what he has done. A loose end. She had not forgotten about the punk from the club, the man that tried to roofie her, but she had not yet moved against him. Had thought he might not be involved.
Her sire had. Had tracked him down. Questioned him, she can assume from his haggard appearance. Because she had reached out to him? His had not been among the faces she had sent him. But he found the man. Found him. Ended him. Ended a threat to her. To all of them, yes, but to her. Her insides flutter.
The umbrella in her hand is abandoned against the door as she moves across the roof toward her sire. Her dress is soaked through in seconds, heavy around her legs, but she pays it no mind. Her heels click against the roof with each step that she takes. Stay, her heart whispers, please stay, just for a moment. She doesn’t dare let herself think it.
She stands before him in an instant, the dead body to her side. Her head dips in acquiescence.
:: Yes, sire. ::
A brief pause. She lifts her eyes to his face.
:: Thank you, sire. ::
GM: The dead-looking face remains motionless.
The rain pours down, plastering her hair against her scalp.
:: Inform me what intelligence you have obtained since our last meeting. ::
Celia: He had heard her. Had heard, had listened, had hunted for her. He cares. He has to care. That’s what this has to mean, doesn’t it? He hadn’t come swooping in to rescue her, but this… this has to mean something. She doesn’t dwell.
Intelligence. Hard facts. Her theories as well? She doesn’t ask. She will give them at the end. She takes a second to organize her thoughts so he does not need to sift through them. It reminds her all too much of the meeting with the archon, the steel trap around her mind.
:: Attack on Vienna, other cities. Catastrophe in Vienna. Hunters. Calbido will sit on it. Uptick in hunter activity within the city. Quarter. Mid-City. Prague conclave—they will send someone to discuss their options. The seneschal has said you are unavailable to go, that they cannot spare you. ::
Perhaps he picks up on her concern for him, the undercurrent of emotion behind the words, the relief that he will not be leaving.
:: The Nosferatu primogen pushes for Savoy and the Baron to join the Calbido. In contact with Vitel, Black, and Houston. Plan to host Black. Elders prepping for civil war. Savoy has found a way to manipulate an ear in Calbido. I am handling. Have ideas—later. ::
She has not confirmed that Savoy was the one to turn Dani, or have her turned, but she suspects. She will add it to the things she tells him that are not hard, cold facts.
:: Fledgling in the Garden District this evening, among her mortal family. Trespassing, possibly. Have ideas—later. ::
:: Soul-thieves in the city. ::
:: Have possible answers to old questions. ::
Arms around her. Someone shoving a gun into her hand. Her mother’s earlier words this evening.
:: Information on Maxen Flores. ::
GM: The rain continues to pour, soaking Celia’s already wet dress against her skin. Her sire neither questions nor interrupts until she is finished.
:: Expound. ::
Celia: Her eyes search his face. If she seeks an answer to question she does not find it in the marble that he has been cut from.
:: Maxen fathered a child with his daughter. Savoy knows. Possibly plans to use it against him. ::
She knows what she has done. That she has given him the card she could use against her father. The expression on her face does not change; she does not betray her inner turmoil. She has already sold out her family for him once—what’s it matter if she does so again? Perhaps she feels a twinge of regret that she cannot take him down, but he will not be useful to her sire forever; when he is old and gray, that is when Donovan will let her have him. Patience. She can be patient. For him.
:: Hunters have friends in the city, believe to be “Inq.” Will have more information tomorrow. Infiltrated meeting, need to collect. Audio device planted. ::
Pride at that. It was her doing.
:: Identity possibly compromised. By hunters. By fledgling. ::
An image of Caroline swims in front of her. She sends that along the mental path as well, the golden-haired Ventrue.
:: Theories, sire? Plans? ::
She’s asking if she should share the things she doesn’t know, just strongly suspects. Her own plans for the information she has obtained. How she will spin it to her advantage, but more than that, to his advantage.
:: Old information, as well. Perhaps not relevant. Can share regardless. Maxen-related. Just a theory, unconfirmed. Think it’s true. ::
GM: Just like that, another dagger against her father is laid before her sire’s impassive eyes.
Once again, he offers no response over the pouring rain until Celia is finished.
:: Proceed. ::
Celia: :: 2003. Believe Savoy moved against Diana to make her confess something to Maxen that would cause him to harm her. Discredit him, lose seat. Not confirmed. Mentioned ‘woman at the party.’ Can look into further, if desired. Fragile mind, need delicate approach. 2009… after Maxen’s arrest I returned to the house. Man waiting. Thought it was you. ::
She’d wanted it to be him. Had thought about what it would mean if it were him. Choosing her over her father. How many times has she replayed that scene in the hallway, the one where he took the gun from her, tucked her into bed? She tries not to dwell. Desire courses through her all the same. He’s just in front of her. Close enough to touch. She wants to touch. Wants him to touch her.
:: Not you. Savoy said not him. Gave me a gun, told me to shoot Maxen… believe him to be Gettis. Unconfirmed, strong suspicion. Knew I would be there. Possibly dead, not sure how relevant. Apologies if this is old news. ::
There’s a pause while she considers her next thoughts. The rain has destroyed her gown, but she does not seem to notice. It is not important, not next to him.
:: Fledgling. Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Presumed to be childe of the renegade hound… But, sire, she has speed almost at your level. Months old? Not possible, is it? Think her to be the childe of someone else. Someone older. Potent blood. ::
Another pause. Her theory might be wrong, but she offers it all the same. It’s what makes sense to her given what she tasted, the offhand comment made earlier in the evening.
:: Prince? Seneschal? ::
There’s more. Always more. But she waits.
GM: Celia’s sire offers no response to her apologies. Nor any yet to her other news.
The ran continues to fall. Much of the blood pooling from the punk’s corpse is now a watery pink, but Celia can still feel her fangs elongated in her mouth. Perhaps it is her present company. Perhaps it is simply the residual so-heady coppery smell. Perhaps both.
:: Inform me of the circumstances under which you were proximate to Malveaux-Devillers. ::
Celia: Apprehension creeps into her at the question. Roderick’s earlier exclamation at her location this evening has come back to haunt her. Her eyes dim. She doesn’t dare move, doesn’t dare draw useless breath, doesn’t fidget or drop her gaze or let him know how he makes her want to squirm. A thousand lies pop into her mind, a thousand pleas for him not to hurt her, a thousand ways for him to ignore those pleas. She voices none of them. Squashes them down inside of her where they cannot betray her, where she will not be tempted. This dark man has no sympathy.
:: In the Garden District. ::
Invited, but it doesn’t matter.
If it were possible to whisper in her mind that’s what she would do. Will he drag her before the prince? Make an example of her? She has heard that now they call him judge, jury, and executioner; will she see his justice now, tonight?
:: Not poaching. Never that. Preserving my own Masquerade. ::
It doesn’t matter.
He’s going to kill her.
He’s going to kill her here, now, tonight, on top of this roof.
No one will know. They’ll just think she vanished.
More to do for him, more to tell him, but she will die for the sin of trespassing, no matter that the usual punishment is a drink.
She stands rooted to the spot.
GM: Just like that, he’s gone.
The rain falls and falls.
Celia: But… but she had more. More to tell him. More to inform.
She could have lied. Should have lied.
No, she reflects, never that. Not to him. Truth comes out.
He’s gone, but the burning ache in her chest is not. The knot in her stomach twists. Let him down. All that and she still let him down.
She presses her hands against her mouth to contain the sounds she wants to make, wants to scream. Any pride, any satisfaction she’d had in telling him everything—it vanishes in the wake of his departure.
GM: Suddenly, he’s back.
So Celia’s mother. She’s on her knees at his feet, dressed in a long, floral-printed nightgown already soaked through in the rain. One of his so-pale hands is locked around her arm. Her eyes are enormous and mad with terror, like the punk’s were. When she sees Celia, her mouth starts to falteringly work. No sound comes out, as though she’s trying to speak—or scream—through a gag.
They’re supposed to be safe. She’s supposed to be safe. French Quarter, it’s supposed to be safe.
But she’d learned long ago that safety is only an illusion, hadn’t she?
Horror has her in its grasp. She takes a step forward—and halts, faltering, looking between the two of them, eyes wide, hands reaching, stretching towards her mother, as if she can make this all go away, as if the thing that has her in its grasp is anything that can be reasoned with.
GM: :: It requires but one careless misstep to destroy that which takes decades to cultivate. ::
Celia’s sire flings her mother into the sky as though the woman weighs as much as a baseball. Diana’s flailing, silently screaming form recedes into the rain, becoming no more than a hazy white and pink smudge.
Then she’s gone.
A heart-arrestingly long moment passes.
Then, the white and pink smudge reappears.
Gets some spots of blonde and fleshy pink.
Gets a face.
Gets a mouth. A wide open, screaming mouth.
God knows how many feet.
:: Catch. ::
Celia: No. No, no, no, no, no.
Anything. She would have given him anything.
“She’ll die—please!” She sees it as clear as she sees him in front of her. Her mother’s body hitting the roof. The screaming woman laid out and broken. Silent. Every organ inside of her rupturing. Every bone disintegrating into dust. Bodily fluids leaking out of every orifice. She’ll watch her mother draw her last breath, smell the blood as it spills from her body. Even catching her… the roof is hard, stone beneath her feet, Celia’s arms as stiff as any other corpse. A snapped spine if she lands wrong. Paralyzed. Her dreams will die, another funeral for the already-passed ballerina.
Her mom comes closer. Fast. So impossibly fast.
She can’t miss.
Everything has to be perfect. Flawless.
This wasn’t how her night was supposed to go. It’s her last coherent thought. Absurd, chiding, that it wasn’t how she was supposed to see him again. She does not, cannot, spare a look at him. She does not waste her breath screaming. She stuffs her hatred of him down so deep inside herself that it will never again see the open sky. She makes herself as cold as him.
Celia had fallen once. It would have been enough to kill her, too, had he not already done it.
She may not be able to jump as high as a Brujah, but she is no helpless doe. A timely gift from the beautiful fledgling who had caused this problem thrums through her veins. Tonight she is fast.
I’m fast, she’d told the detective.
Not fast enough, he’d said.
Not fast enough to save herself, not from her sire. But she had not needed to save herself. She had needed to save her mother. Then. And now. She’d been fast enough for that then. She will be fast enough now. Fast enough to take a running leap, to catch her mother in the air, to descend with her in her arms and land on her feet like the cat that she is.
It will hurt. It will break things. It might break everything. But for her mother? For her mother she’ll pay the price. For her mother she’ll break everything five times over. She’d given her life for the woman once; what’s a little pain now?
She watches her mother come closer. She waits until the right moment. The perfect moment. One chance. That’s all she gets. That’s all her mother gets. Just one.
She burns through the blood, rousing her vitae to flood her body with the boost she needs.
I’m fast, she’ll tell him.
Fast enough, he’ll agree.
The moment arrives. She runs. She leaps.
GM: Celia summons everything she has. Caroline’s so-timely gift. The vitae coursing through her own veins, nine steps removed from Caine’s own. Everything to push her willingly broken and shredded undead body to its utmost limits.
The Toreador streaks into the air like a bloody missile, moving so fast one might almost think she possessed her sire’s gift of flight. She collides against her mother, swerving her head to avoid bonking it against the so-frail mortal’s. Their chests still hit, possibly hard enough to drive the air from Diana’s lungs, but Celia can’t see the woman’s face. She wraps her arms around her mother’s back, the soaked nightgown doing nothing against her equally soaked dress. Rain screams down over their faces as her Beast howls in her ears.
Then with a heavy thump, they stop falling. Celia rolls over. Diana is covered in blood. For a heart-stopping moment, Celia thinks it’s her mother’s. But it can’t be, not with the woman cradled in her arms as she was. Then she feels it: the Beast tearing her apart from the inside, yowling its rage to the sky for the blood that Celia burned through to save this chattel. The heavy impact of her heeled feet hitting the rooftop with the weight of another person in her arms, the reverberating shock traveling up through her body. The organs she’d removed from herself left a gaping hole behind, one that her very bones try to fill when they’re knocked loose by the high-speed collision. Several of them splinter through her skin, covering the pair of them in blood.
Her mom’s mouth tries to move. Sound still doesn’t come out. She looks over the blood on Celia, then tries to pull up her daughter’s dress around the reddest spots. Starts to tear off strips of her nightgown to bind the wounds. Maybe she’s crying. It’s so hard to tell, past the rain, but it looks like she is. She tries to mouth something, over and over. ‘Stay with me, Celia. Stay with me, Celia.’
Celia: Blood. Blood everywhere. Blood on her mom. She’d failed. Failed her sire, failed her mom—but no, that can’t be right. It’s her blood spilled across the front of her torn gown, across her mother’s hands as, even now, even after all of that, she sees to her daughter’s wounds first. Stolen from her bed in the middle of the night. Carried across the Quarter. Thrown into the air. And still—still her concern is for her daughter.
That’s love that he will never know.
That’s love that no one who has become a monster will ever understand.
Her body aches. Muscles hang heavy from her frame. Her side is split almost in two by the ribs that punctured her skin upon crashing onto the roof. Her mother’s hands do nothing to mend her dead flesh; her own blood sees to that, or will once the threat has passed.
She rises. Agony. But the night isn’t over yet. Her sire isn’t done with her yet. She pulls her mother close, tells her that it’s okay, it’s all okay, even though it isn’t.
:: Yes, sire. Thank you, sire. I will not forget. ::
GM: Diana looks even more distraught as her daughter rises. She tries to get Celia to lie back down. Tries to say something else.
Then Donovan’s cold hand takes her by the chin. He stares into her eyes.
“This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine. Sleep. Do not awaken until you are returned to your bed.”
Celia’s mother slumps forward like an expired wind-up toy, collapsing face-first into the rain.
Celia: It’s all she can do to catch her mother’s body before she hits the ground. Celia staggers, her knees threatening to buckle after the beating she has already taken, and lowers her mother gently down. Her eyes look up toward her sire.
GM: Donovan makes no move to catch Celia’s mother as his stare falls upon his childe.
:: You will stay out of the Garden District. You will ensure that Malveaux-Devillers, to whom you were sufficiently proximate to risk everything, causes us no problems. ::
Celia: She rises.
:: Understood. It shall be done. ::
GM: Celia’s mother lies motionless on the mat, rain pouring over her still face.
:: Obtain further information on Malveaux-Devillers that is of use to me and you shall be rewarded. ::
:: Slay her without revealing my hand, or find a means to suborn her to my will completely, and you shall have Maxen Flores to do with as you please. ::
:: Risk the cover I have orchestrated for us again, and I shall risk the life of Maxen’s wife again. ::
Celia: Rewarded. Maxen Flores. The offers send a thrill through her.
:: Yes, sire. It shall be as you say. Thank you. ::
GM: :: If you have remaining business between us, speak it now. ::
Celia: Celia nods. She centers herself. Recalls where she left off in the report that she had been giving him, how much she had revealed.
:: Yes, sire. Three things. Further information. A theory. Blasphemous, but not without merit. Possibly worth looking into. Dangerous, though, and I am uncertain of its validity. I would not voice it except that it is ruinous. A question, sire, if you’ll permit it. ::
She pauses. Her mind travels to the apartment below her. The box inside of it, waiting for him.
:: One more thing, to wrap up. Something for you. ::
GM: :: Proceed. ::
Celia: :: I believe that Prince Vidal is using neonates as blood dolls. ::
GM: :: On what basis? ::
Celia: :: One of the Storyvilles was in captivity at the Evergreen. While being questioned the neonate likened the prince to a god, implied that he was the childe of Longinus or that the childe of Longinus walks among us. The scripture chosen is telling: “…lays his hand upon my heart and I know the last gift I am to give.” It felt very cult-like. ::
:: Ordinarily I would assume a full collar, but then I began to wonder if that’s all it is. The harpy’s childe who was fed upon revered Matheson the same way. Meadows took out the entire krewe. She has always been loyal to the prince, but rumor says now she is loyal to the Testament, perhaps sees the death of the krewe as a way to rein in his headhunting. Proclaimed Matheson innocent to set precedent for his own actions and possible trial. The krewe member questioned was adamant about rebuilding the group and would have gone so far as to Embrace without permission so that he could receive his sustenance. ::
:: And… this is a leap, sire, but if I am correct about the earlier mentioned Ventrue then she had extremely potent blood in her system—not her own, someone else’s—more so than Savoy, and while I am sure there is another to whom it could belong… if it is his, it suggests that perhaps the kine no longer do it for him. The rumor is that he nears his long sleep; it is possible he uses thicker vitae to keep him from sliding down that slope. ::
GM: :: Such a rumor concerning Prince Vidal’s predilections is to our benefit. Its truth is irrelevant. Assist its dissemination. ::
Celia: :: Yes, sire, I shall. ::
She does not bite her lip, though she wants to. Wants to fidget as well, though she does not beneath his gaze.
:: The question, sire? If you permit. ::
GM: :: Proceed. ::
Celia: She hesitates. She had long thought the answer to this question was evident in Veronica’s approval to sire a childe. But Roderick’s words this evening ring in her ear: they usually do not say who they wish to sire, only that they wish to do so. She’d thought to ask the harpy, but who knows when Veronica will make time for her. It is a delicate thing, she thinks, but she does not want to dance around the subject or waste her sire’s time. She asks him, bluntly.
:: Was my Embrace sanctioned? ::
GM: Donovan raises his wrist to his mouth. There’s a flash of fangs, and then red wells from his wrist. He holds it over Diana and lets the blood run over her face.
She’d just been through this.
Had just saved her mother.
Celia does not stand idly by this time. She steps forward, between her mother and her sire. Her jaw works as she watches the blood drip from his wrist… and she acts, bending, taking a knee, bringing it into herself instead of her mother, letting the red hit her tongue rather than the sweet, innocent woman beneath her. She will take this offering, understanding what it means, what it will do to her. Already he has twisted her mind, and now she will let him do it further, will take that final step and all it means.
She sends him wordless apologies across the tether in her mind. She’s sorry. So sorry. She shouldn’t have asked. Please, not her mom, not like this. She has given him everything else. Everything. Will still give him everything, just not this. Not this one thing, this one woman.
She won’t question him again. Never. She will serve. It is her place. It is why she’s here. For him. To serve. To deliver the city. To weaken Vidal. She understands. Nothing else is important. Just him. Getting him what he wants. She understands.
His point is made. He doesn’t need to do anything further. Not her mom. Please, not her mom.
GM: Her sire unceremoniously pushes her aside. The blood freely runs over her mother’s sleeping face.
:: I have no use for this broken kine, foolish childe. She must swallow it to be made my slave. ::
Celia: A moment passes. His words sink in, past the blood that calls to her. Past the sleeping woman on whose face it rests. Past the frayed nerves, the emotional upheaval of the evening, her mother almost dying and then being put in danger again just by her proximity. Her sire is not a lick from whom she expects benevolence; a trick, she thought, a way to remind her of her place. But the trick was in her own mind, her own dour expectations, and she realizes what he means to do.
Her imagination had run wild without her permission, twisted his offering into something malicious. Sick. Turning her mother into a slave. Giving her his blood and then slaying her, leaving Celia to pick up the broken pieces of her family. Some other ritual or rite or depraved act that she can’t let herself dwell on, doesn’t even have proof that he knows. Rumors and hearsay, none of them good. He is not known for his kindness.
It clicks into place, perhaps worse than she had even thought. Blood on her mother’s face so she can feed. So she can lick it off of her and mend her wounds.
Like a dog.
Like the panting bitch in heat that she has always been around him.
The collar chafes at her. She wants it. His blood. His body. His gift. Her mind twists in ways to make it palatable, playing over his past words to her. You will have a place in my new order. Where? She had wondered even then and now she knows: on her knees. He would keep her on her knees without even the dignity of an answer to her question. Ignored, as she so often is by him. Rejected. Never good enough. He could let the blood cool on his body and chooses instead to let it drip onto the ground.
The face of his ghoul flashes before her eyes, the threat he’d made when she was nineteen years old and had tried to end things with him. Turning her into a dog.
This, then, is where he gets it.
Revulsion roils through her, gut churning in disgust at the thought.
:: No. ::
GM: :: I had thought to reward you for the information you had brought me. If you would reject what gifts flow from my hand, so be it. ::
The sheriff withdraws his wrist. The blood’s heavy aroma tantalizingly wafts from Diana’s red-streaked face.
:: May hunger be the wages of your impertinence and stupidity. ::
Celia: She misses it as soon as it is gone. The noose around her neck tightens to a stranglehold, but she’s lying to herself if she thinks that is the only thing that makes her want him. Even now, after all of this, she knows the truth she had just denied: if the choice is between her knees and nothing she will let him push her down every time.
It is not pride that swells within her for not sniveling, bowing, and scraping. It is not gratitude for his offer. It is shame, hot and heavy, her cheeks smarting as if he had struck her rather than just call her stupid. An old trigger. And trigger it does.
Stupid, to risk their plans. Stupid, to question him. Stupid, to not accept his reward.
She doesn’t tell him that she understands, bites her tongue rather than ask for a re-do. She bows her head and lets the rain wash the hair into her face. Maybe it will take her along with it and they can swirl down the drain together, flush it away as she flushes away any esteem she might have gained this evening.
:: I have something for you. ::
A gift, but she doesn’t know why she bothers. It will not be good enough. She will not be good enough. He will always see her like this.
GM: :: Proceed, :: sounds her sire’s impassive voice.
Celia: Celia rises, the motion stiff. She does not wince, does not betray her body’s injured condition; she could have fixed herself had she not snubbed her sire’s reward. Perhaps if she leaps from the edge of the roof the ground will welcome her warmly into its arms, hold her in sleep until dawn, and the sun will burn her worries away. Then she cannot make a fool of herself, or of him.
The thought is fleeting.
The gift is downstairs, but if she leaves to retrieve it she fears that he will find reason to punish her for taking too long, and her mother’s body is right there, exposed and vulnerable to his mercy. Worse, she fears that she will come back to an empty roof. But they have never been inside together. She does not think there is a room on this Earth that can contain him. He simply fills the space he is in, and to ask him to submit to the offense of walls…
:: Will you come inside for a moment? ::
GM: He’s there. She’s there. Then they’re not. They’re inside her haven, water dripping from their damp clothes.
Yet it feels less that he submits to walls than those same walls have become a prison. Filled by him, with suffocatingly little room for her. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to breathe. Nowhere to escape the weight of his roiling stormy eyes, and hope he will not decide she is wasting his time. What little forgiveness he may have seems close to spent.
Celia’s mother isn’t with them. Donovan must have left her lying face-down in the rain, clad in that blood- and water-soaked nightgown.
Celia: She hadn’t even seen him move. A blur, like she’d said to Roderick. How do you fight a blur? How do you keep it from destroying you? Because he has destroyed her. Every bit of her. Every time he touches her, every time he speaks, he takes a little bit more of her with him. Soon she will have nothing left of herself.
He had touched her, though. Brought her down here. Carried her, in his arms, though it was done and over with before she could so much as enjoy it. Not a kindness, she knows, not a way to prevent the discomfort of walking down steps when she is plagued by injury, when her muscles are sore and she hurts to her very bones, when each step, each movement, sends a throb through her core. Simple logistics. He moves faster than her.
Music still plays inside her home. She had not turned it off when she went up to the roof, and there it goes, the singer’s voice belting out his lyrics from the Bluetooth speaker Celia had set it up to earlier.
Every time I get no further
How long has it been?
Come on in now
Wipe your feet on my dreams
Her dress drips onto the hardwood floor, pink-tinged water settling into the grooves that she had gouged by her own nails twice over. She had cleaned the worst of it, the broken glass from smashed knickknacks and mirrors, the stuffing the Brujah had pulled from the couch in his frenzy, the splintered wood from destroyed kitchen stools. But the damage remains. Stupid, to sing and dance in her home when she had cleaning to do. His first time in—what must he think of her? Does he look around the destruction and wonder at the disorder, wonder if she had been attacked? She has been inside his haven, long before she knew it was his. The austere walls. The pristine condition. Her evening had been marked by violence, but she does not think he cares.
His presence suffocates her. Smothers her in its proximity. Outside there is room to maneuver; here, inside her home, she is trapped with a beast more deadly than she has ever known. Lion, tiger, bear, wolverine—worse than all of that, she is trapped with her sire. Ice incarnate. A freeze so cold it burns.
I’ve done this before
And I will do it again
Rituals, Savoy had said, keep the worst of it away. Rituals, she thinks now, when inside of her something tells her to play hostess. Ask him if he’d like to sit. But there is nowhere for him to sit. Everything had been destroyed except the large, four-poster bed in the corner with its carnation and charcoal sheets. Her stomach lurches at the thought of Donovan in her bed. On her bed. Whichever way she cuts it, the thought is the same, and inside her mouth her fangs lengthen. Frayed nerves, she blames. The recent smell of the blood she had not been able to taste, she blames. Not the thoughts of him in her bed, not that, not the images she sees, the memories she has of him—arms around her, give Daddy a kiss, you’re my special little girl, his fangs in her neck. Can you share what we share? No. Never. Never with anyone else. His. Forever.
She hopes—prays—that he is not looking into her head, that he has not seen what she wants, what she would give anything for. Something that would make every trial and tribulation worth it.
Come on and kill me, baby
While you smile like a friend
Oh, and I’ll come running
Just to do it again
Celia crosses the floor to where her phone rests on the kitchen counter next to the small black speaker.
You are that last drink I never should—
The music fades with the press of a button. Silence in the room. Silence in her haven. Silence but for the fluttering of wings inside of her. Can he hear them?
GM: It’s hard not to wonder what else he might have done, or still be waiting to do, if he’s looking into her head. If her mother would not ‘merely’ be lying in a cold and wet but still very much alive heap upstairs.
But, no. You can tell when someone’s in your head, can’t you? That’s what Pete had said. Some part of them in inside of you. It leaves a trace.
Unless some part of you is already inside of them. If they have your blood. The blood is power. The Blood is everything. If they have that, they can do anything to you.
How easily might he claim hers? She was so ready to accept his. It doesn’t even seem that bad. Maybe he would feel something more for her. Believe her more loyal. Trust her with more. Trust is so scarce, in their world. It’s scarce even to Roderick. How much more must it be to one such as him?
He does not survey the room, like Stephen did, or take in the decor and furnishings like her one-time paramour seemed to. His renfield’s house was as close to empty as it could be. Roxanne said the emptier her room got, the crazier it made her. What manner of soul makes their abode in an empty place?
His frigid gaze settles heavily upon hers. The music feels like it died long before she turned it off.
:: My time and patience are short. ::
Celia: Her heels tap against the floor with every step she takes. No faltering, not here; she does not play the games with him that she had played with the primogen’s childe. The gown hangs heavy from her frame. She is glad for it. Glad that it weighs her down, heart and mind. Glad that its color hides the worst of her wounds. Glad for the gift inside her veins that steadies her steps as she nears her sire once more. In the kitchen, she could breathe freely—should she need to. Here, approaching him, she cannot. His presence sucks the air from the room. Suffocates her, a firm hand on her throat. Every step closer to him is another piece of ice against her skin.
It will never be enough to turn her away from him. It will never be enough to not make her come when he calls. Does he know that? Is that why he does not pretend with her, because he knows that no matter how much he hurts her she will always return to his side?
Her mother showed her love on the roof. Love for her daughter many times over: even when she was in danger, even then, she saw to her daughter first. Against her sire. Against her father.
Is it love she feels for him? Some twisted version of it, brought on by the collar around her neck and his hand in her life? Twenty years, she has belonged to him. He is the answer to every question she has ever asked. Is that what he wants from her, love and adoration? Does he even recognize those emotions? No, she thinks not. He simply wants her to serve. To be useful. He will never care for her like she cares for him. Perhaps he doesn’t want her to care. The “place” she has in “his new order” is on her knees. He had shown her the truth of it on the roof.
She takes a knee now. Beside the bed, reaching under it to pull out a box. Wooden, a little over a foot long, half as wide. It slides across the carpet at her insistent pull. She lifts it, rising once again, the box in her hands. She’d thought about a bow. Wrapping paper. Had wondered for a long time if anyone has ever given him a gift. If he’d pulled apart presents on Christmas day, on birthdays, on anniversaries. If he has ever wished for anything.
Perhaps it is why she cannot have him. Or rather, why she does have him, just not the way she wants. Had he heard her wish that day she turned eight? A pony. She had gotten it—and him. Like a djinn, he twists her desires.
Still, she wishes for him. Wishes with every part of her. Every yearning, broken part of her, all the lying parts that had ever told anyone else she would be theirs. This, here, her true master.
This is not how she wants to present it. Not to an angry, disappointed, impatient sire. She had wanted to give it to him on a date that meant something special, three weeks from now on the anniversary of her death, when he had spared her life by taking it into him, when he had shown her what he is. The true him, the one inside his mind, that even years later she has not shared with a single soul. Will not share. His secret. Their secret.
She’d thought it meant they were made for each other.
Concern for his future is what moves her to offer it now rather than waiting. Concern and uncertainty—she never knows when next she will see him.
No fanfare planned, not even then. Perhaps a celebration, of a sort. More information. More dead enemies. More blows against the regime he seeks to overthrow. Not this. Wet. Cold. Her mother’s fragile body so close, too close. Celia’s beautiful corpse torn apart by her own hands. His insults heavy on her soul.
Maybe, even had it gone as planned, she wouldn’t have earned anything for it. No smile. No pat on the head. No offer to let her drink.
Still, she longs for that evening instead. She knows what she would say. How she would present it. Everything is different now, though.
She sets the box atop her bed so that he can open it.
GM: He doesn’t draw it out. He doesn’t ask or guess what the contents might be. He doesn’t smile, remark how thoughtful she is, or inquire as to the occasion.
He simply takes off the lid.
A bow and wrapping paper seem like they’d have only been regarded as inconveniences.
Celia: Nestled inside the box are a pair of leather bracers as dark as the night sky above them. Pure obsidian; indeed, they seem to drink the very light from the room, soak it up like the black hole that she has often compared him to inside her mind, the thing that pulls and twists and rends her, that she knows she cannot escape.
That she does not want to escape.
They are slim. Designed to be discrete, to fit beneath the long-sleeved garments that she has always seen him in. She has never seen his arms, only his hands. These will not draw attention, not like the saber he carries at his side. It is the saber that made her think of these, that spawned the idea and thus the craft she has spent long hours pouring over to get just right. She does not imagine that he can take his blade everywhere. But these? Oh, these he can take anywhere and no one will ever know.
Celia keeps her explanation brief.
:: The underside contains a blade. As long as your forearm. It slides free at a touch, and can be pulled further to be held by the hilt should you need a longer reach. :: It is designed to be a companion to his saber, not to replace it. The edge of the blade itself was inspired by the diamond-tipped tools she uses at her salon. Long have people used glass knifes, obsidian knives; they are finer than any scalpel, will keep their edge as they sharpen with each release. He will cut through everything in his path with ease.
:: The other contains three blades. They are folded inside, long and thin, can be expelled outward. When pressure is applied to the tip—upon impact—they will expand. Like an arrowhead. They hook. :: A Brujah had once shown her how he could throw anything and make it come back to him. Thus she had the inspiration for the second bracer: Donovan will no longer need to chase people down. He can simply fling the smaller blades at them and yank them back to him. Perfect for multiple enemies. Doubtless he will find other purposes for it.
:: The outsides are cured leather, but inside it is layered. Anything that impacts it will be sent reverberating among the layers to distribute the force. Were someone lesser to wear these they might bruise, but you should not bear a mark. It will turn aside projectiles, blades. ::
She had thought to put Kevlar inside. It had been her first idea, to steal from the kine police forces. But Kevlar works because it is curved; things hit it and ricochet off. Bullets may not do much to them, but she would still not want to be struck by one. The “layered” idea had come from the ancient Chinese. They used to layer paper in their armor. Paper. And it kept them safe for years. But paper disintegrates when wet and can only take so many blows. Her sire is made of firmer stuff.
So, too, are the bracers.
:: Inside, carbon fiber. ::
Steel is strong, but it is not flexible. Aluminum is flexible, but it corrodes, and not as strong as steel. Celia had wanted something that mimics the body itself. Humans are fascinating, truly; they heal from things most animals do not. Their bodies are made for shock absorption—how many drunk drivers had killed others but themselves gotten off without a scratch because they had not tensed? How many have been hit or mauled or burned by things that should have ended them and did not thanks to their own flesh and blood?
Since she began learning how to sculpt and craft the flesh she has poured over medical research, digging through thousands of pages and conducting her own trials. How the body works. How each piece fits together. Collagen is a major structural protein. It strengthens tendons and ligaments, provides support for their internal organs so their insides aren’t simply free to hang around.
Each fiber contains thousands of individual molecules to keep it strong, and its structure—the triple helix—provides additional strength and stability, allowing it to withstand most mechanical stress. The collagen in the dermis gives the skin its elasticity. Even the kine use it: cosmetic surgery, bone grafts, skin grafts, wound healing.
She had looked into multiple materials to find what she sought, natural and synthetic, but carbon fiber had jumped out at her. Lightweight. Stronger than steel. The strands are as thin as human hair. Woven together like yarn, like the collagen inside the body, it becomes even more durable. It is already used in military and aerospace applications; easy to find a design and turn it into what she needs.
The bracers are thin. Compact. Unobtrusive. He will be able to wear them without problem, strike people with surprise when they think he is unarmed. And black has long been his color.
She does not think to fight his battles for him. He does not need her help there. She has seen, has heard, the things that he can do. It is not a ring like she offered Savoy; he does not need ornaments, jewelry, anything to distract him. So she has gifted him something that serves a purpose. Something functional. Utilitarian and lethal—like him. Still, she does not expect the kind words she had received from her grandsire.
She only knows that there isn’t anything she wouldn’t give if it meant keeping him around. There is no world without him in it.
Celia does not put that thought into words. She does not send it along the mental link between them. She barely lets herself feel it. Tightly coiled constraint keeps her still.
GM: Celia does not wait overlong.
Donovan rolls up his coat and shirt sleeve to the elbow. His forearm is is like the rest of him: waxen, corpse-pale, and hairless. It’s well-muscled and proportioned, too, without an inch of excess fat. He looks buffer than Roderick does, in fact. He fastens on the first bracer, then rolls up his other sleeve to fasten on the second bracer.
He extends the blades. Longer from the first bracer, shorter from the second.
Then he turns and slashes them straight at Celia’s face.
Celia: She doesn’t so much as flinch. Some part of her had thought this might happen. Who is she to deny her sire his target?
GM: There’s a soft, almost tickling sensation along her shoulders and back. The Toreador’s hair falls to the ground in ugly-looking clumps, aged seven years in an instant.
:: Satisfactory. ::
The blades retract.
Celia: Pleasure thrums through her at the words. She is careful to keep it inside where he cannot see. She simply nods.
:: Thank you, sire. ::
She does not comment on the shorn hair. The attack against her person. The attack against her mother.
GM: Her sire lowers his sleeves back over the bracers. He cups Celia’s chin in his hand, tilting her face as though stare into his eyes. But before she can sink into its achromatic depths, sink and drown all the way to the hellish bottom like last time, he suddenly sweeps out her legs from under her. She falls. Her shortened hair stops just short of the floor before his cold hand seizes the back of her skull, splaying her throat to the air, and he kisses her. It isn’t a rough kiss, like a common brute’s, but it forceful, heedless, and direct, like an avalanche colliding against her lips. One that perhaps makes her want to be buried. She can feel his fangs stabbing against her lips and taste a faint trickle of blood against her tongue.
Celia: She cannot help but stare at the exposed flesh. She does not mean to. But she has never seen her sire without the long sleeves; she had thought about what it would feel like to lace the bracers onto him herself, the slow rolling back of his shirt sleeves, pulling them on—
Her thoughts are disrupted by the foot he kicks her way, her body beginning its descent—then halted, abruptly, by the hand that catches her.
Always catching her.
If there’s a heart left to melt it does so, but she has no time to dwell on it. Her lips part beneath his mouth; she can taste herself when his fangs tear her open, her own elongated to snap back. But only if he lets her. Only if he pushes her further, letting her sink her teeth in like she’s wanted to since he landed earlier on the roof of this building. Her hands snake around his shoulders, clasping behind his neck. Her dress is already destroyed; what does it matter if he tears it off? And she wants him to. Wants him to tear it off of her. Wants him to take her like he has before.
GM: There’s suddenly air under Celia’s feet. They’re rising. Floating. Higher. Higher. His pallid hands shift. Celia’s suddenly falling again, legs flailing through the air, and then stopping short. He’s holding her aloft by just her head. His palms are pressed crushingly hard against her temples. She can’t see in her peripheral vision past his hands. There’s no looking away. His frigid gaze bores all-too close and all-too intense, as though seeking to draw her bodily inside. It feels like her head is the only part left of her, and her body so much dross. There’s no world but her face and his. Just them. His colorless eyes flicker like tongues of lightning through a storm.
:: The prince’s torpor approaches. The hour I have long anticipated is at hand. A childe of Vidal’s blood threatens to undo everything I have worked to achieve. I am relying upon you, Celia. I am depending upon you. Destroy Malveaux-Devillers or place her wholly under my power, and you shall be everything I could have desired from a childe. ::
For him, with him, it doesn’t matter; her body drops, her legs flail, but he’s there to catch her. Always. Her stomach spins; she clings to him, like she had that first night, that last night, but it does nothing to abate the pressure in her neck. A flick of his wrist will send the blade into her brain. A tensing of muscles will crush her skull.
And yet… her name. From him. For the first time. He does know. She could cry at that realization, that he knows who she is, that he trusts her, that her Embrace wasn’t some advantageous byproduct, that he chose her.
She is not some nameless somebody. She is Celia Flores, childe of Donovan. Jade Kalani, grandchilde of Antione Savoy. Groomed for this. Chosen for this.
She can’t nod. She doesn’t try. Her eyes stare into the depths of hell, recall the images she had seen inside of him that night he took her life into his body, let her fall to the Gulf below, let her shatter. So that he could rebuild her. So that they could rebuild her. Fire in her gut. Fire in her eyes. Fire, not ice, not like him, but molded from him, by him, for him.
:: I am yours, sire. ::
GM: Then just like that, he’s gone. Celia is lying on the floor. Rain weeps through the open window.
Celia: It is not the only thing that weeps this evening. She does not let it flow, not outwardly, but inside sounds a keening wail now that he is gone. The room is empty without him in it.
Dazed, she lays on the floor for a long moment. She can hardly think straight after this evening. A whirlwind of emotion pours through her, a whirlwind that she cannot get a grasp on, that she needs to get a grasp on. Her mother, upstairs, needs to be taken home. A body needs to be disposed of. And a fledgling… a fledgling needs to be dealt with.
Childe of Vidal. So she had been right.
Celia rises slowly to her feet, agony with every movement, her eyes on the open window. Out there, somewhere, her sire is plotting his next move. She breathes in the night air, inhaling deeply to bring the scent of rain and darkness into her lungs. It clears her head, though does nothing for the pain in her side, does nothing for the ache inside of her chest.
An outstretched hand shuts the window, closes the heavy drapes, and touches fingertips to her lips.
She will not let him down.
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s a short enough trip upstairs. The boy’s corpse lies where her sire left it, the expression frozen in simultaneous agony and terror.
Celia’s mother lies in an almost equally motionless heap on the deck. The rain has since washed away her sire’s blood. She’s soaked to the bone and cool to the touch.
Celia: She hadn’t been looking for her sire’s blood. Not really.
That’s the lie she tells herself. That she would have not lapped it eagerly from her mother’s face had she found it. The shame of her misunderstanding, even after that kiss, lingers in her mind. She could have had him this evening. She could have had him but she was blinded by fear, by terror, for the mortal woman before her.
Not some kine. Not some breather. Not some ignorant mortal.
The woman who fought for her. The woman who puts her daughter’s needs above her own. A pang of something like guilt shoots through her. She will need to leave the city. Emily, Lucy, Momma—all of them. They’re not safe here, not if he can reach them so easily.
Celia crouches beside her mother, leaning over to lift the woman into her arms so that she can bring her downstairs.
GM: A limp human body isn’t as weightless as Roderick and Donovan make it look. It’s heavy, even though Celia’s mom is far from a big woman. The Toreador doesn’t feel any hurt or soreness in her arms, though. It just takes longer to get back downstairs. Her mom’s head lolls to the side.
Celia: Celia struggles down the stairs with her mother’s weight in her arms. Each step is another knife in her side, a reminder of her foolishness this evening. May hunger be your wages indeed; she needs to feed. Needs to hunt. The body upstairs, the one her sire had dropped off and killed, is calling her name. Cool by now, but she can sink in when she gets there, and it’s better than nothing. Better than drinking from her mother.
Opening the door with her arms around her mother proves difficult. But soon she’s inside, dragging her mother into the apartment and depositing her gently on the rug she kicks out from under the couch with her feet. Not a bed. Not the couch; right onto the floor. She does not know if Donovan’s “bed” order is Diana’s bed or any bed, and she does not want her mother waking up early. She needs to get her home.
She finds a blanket to cover her in, dragging it over from her bed to wrap around her mother’s slight form. Then it’s back up the stairs to repeat the process with the second body. This one, at least, she can drain of some blood before she drags it down the steps to dispose of.
Though, perhaps, that is not the best idea, feeding out in the open.
She discards it as soon as it occurs to her. She will drag him down the steps first.
He, at least, will be easier to carry. She does not need to treat him gently. Her hands slide under his arms and she hauls him down the stairs, uncaring if he bumps and scrapes himself along the way. More material for the spa. A loose end tied up before it could cause more trouble. She can store him in the fridge for the day, she thinks, if she cuts him into small enough pieces.
So much to do before 5AM.
GM: Celia’s mother shivers as her daughter swaddles the swiftly-moist blanket around her wet clothes. The boy’s blood tastes awful. It’s cold. It seeps down her throat like paint. It doesn’t leave feeling alive and full of fire, feeling like she has taken another person’s life into herself. It just leaves her cold. Leaves everything feeling like shit. Makes her feel snappish and irritable. It’s the O’Tolley’s playground after being promised Disneyland. A frustrated solitary wank after your date said they couldn’t make it.
Celia: She’s had worse.
That’s what she tells herself. That she’s had worse. That it doesn’t matter because if she doesn’t drink this she’s going to rip into her mom, and that’s unthinkable. She can’t do that to her mom. She’d already crossed a line earlier this evening when she’d hit her with her charm power; she won’t do this one. Never. Not her mom. Not Lucy. Not Emily. None of them.
She forces it down. Forces herself to swallow. Forces the blood past the tastebuds on her tongue that threaten to rebel, that want to throw it all back up. It’s sludge. Foul, runny sludge. Not like the first time she had tasted him, that night in her spa. There’s nothing satisfying about sucking the dead blood from the dead man.
She wishes, again, for her sire. She wishes that it was his blood that nourished her, his blood that fixed her wounds, that soothed her hurts. But he is gone, his mess—her mess—behind him.
She gets it down, though. That’s what matters. That it does slake her hunger. That her Beast stops scratching against her insides so she can focus on what she needs to do next: dismember the fucker.
GM: There’ll be some extra blood in there, if she’s thorough. More paint-like sludge to choke down.
The warm vessel wrapped in a bundle on her floor gives a faint whimper.
Celia: That’s the thought that spurs her on. That she can get to more. Can feed the perpetually starving thing inside of her. Even if it’s foul, it’s still sustenance. How many kine survive on cardboard-like protein bars? She can handle—
The sounds of her mother pull her from her thoughts. She pauses what she’s doing, claws extended, digging into the flesh of the boy to cut apart muscle and bone so that she can dispose of him, and turns her eyes towards her mother.
She’s not hungry. It should be… safe.
Even if she’s covered in blood. Even if she hasn’t mended her side yet, afraid to lose control with the woman’s body lying on the ground.
Celia takes a halting step toward her. Is she cold or trapped in the throes of a nightmare?
GM: Celia wonders what anyone else stumbling in on this scene would think. The savaged, blood-spattered monster slowly advancing from the partly-dismembered corpse towards the prone woman, her claws coated with still-fresh blood.
Her mom shivers and hugs the blanket tightly about herself. She looks cold. Wet, too.
But the look on her face all-too fearful. Even with her eyes closed, it’s not a dissimilar expression from the one Celia glimpsed through the computer’s camera seven years ago.
This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine.
Celia: Nightmare, indeed. The words from earlier flood back into her mind. Maxen taking Lucy from her. Nightmares for weeks following her ordeal. How long has Donovan been inside her mother’s mind? What else has he stolen from her? What else has he done?
She cannot dwell. She will not dwell.
Celia crouches beside her mother. She should warm her. A hot bath, maybe. The woman is sleeping… but she’ll never know, will she? Celia had seen her drip from between her legs when she was with Lucy, had watched her expel the squalling child into a water bath some years ago. Seeing her mother naked, in a tub, is nothing compared to that.
She stalks into the bathroom to start the water. Warm her up, then she will take her home. She will not be the reason that Diana catches a cold.
Once the tub is full Celia unrolls her mother from the blanket. It’s quick work to strip her from the nightgown and bring her to the bathroom to deposit her in the warm water. She will be contained, at least, until Celia can take her home.
GM: Celia’s mother stirs as Celia picks her up. Her lips move slurredly.
“H… no… no… Max… sto, sto… Lu… don… take… Lu…!”
“Pl… Ma… I’ll be… goo… wife… Lu… Lu…”
Celia: Celia is careful with her mother. She shushes her gently, whispers that it is all okay, that she loves her, that Lucy is safe, that Maxen cannot hurt her.
GM: Celia’s mom settles some as her daughter sets her down in the warm bath. Her face twitches a bit, but she stops talking.
Childbirth wasn’t the only time Celia saw her mother naked, though. There was also nine months before then. Her breasts sag more than they did through the computer screen. Her skin’s just a bit more lined. She’s still a good-looking woman for her age, and a far cry from the “unbelievably hideous” and “used-up old whore” that her husband spat she was. Seven years of routine spa treatments under Celia’s attentive hand have seen to that. But time’s own hand is undeniable.
Celia: She could fix it.
To just… turn back the clock a little.
Who would know, right?
No one is around to see.
Another few years of her mother in her life (unlife), who could blame her? Better than giving her blood. Better than turning her into a slave.
GM: It’s her face that looks the worst. Celia knows better than anyone how fake those ‘I woke up like this’ Instagram pictures are, and plenty of people know those are fake. Fast asleep, rain-soaked, and red- and puffy-eyed from crying in the middle of the night with wet bed hair is not a good look on Diana. It’s not a good look on anyone. The dark bags under her eyes and the lines around her mouth look deeper. Some of the latter may be from smiles around her family. But Celia knows how many are from stress, too.
Your face is uglier too. A grotesque face to go with your empty head. I can’t think of any man who would ever want a used-up old whore like you. You’re a dog walking on its hind legs.
Celia: It isn’t fair. Diana is a good woman. She has a good family. Just because she’s made choices in her life—-they’ve all made poor choices. Diana shouldn’t be suffering for it.
Her mom had given her permission, hadn’t she? Told her that she was “putty in your hands, sweetie.” That’s a blanket permission. Celia hasn’t been able to do such deep work on her before, but she can now. Can… twist her skin a little bit, smooth her all out, fix the sagging breasts, reduce the scar tissue on her leg.
Perfecting timing, really. She won’t wake until she’s back in bed. Celia won’t need to use a needle to dull her nerves.
She reaches out, almost hesitantly, to touch the tips of her fingers to her mother’s face where the deepest of her wrinkles reside.
She’d been thinking that she needs to get Diana out of the city. So Caroline can’t use her family against her. So Donovan can’t use her family against her. What if she just…?
She can’t do that.
Just minor, cosmetic changes. Tiny changes. Things she won’t even notice when she wakes up. She’ll just think it was always like that.
The old blood burns through her. Almost as if she didn’t feed. But it’s worth it. For her mother, it’s worth it. She can mend her own wounds later, will fix herself in her sleep.
Just like she’s doing here.
She starts at the face. Finds the deepest of the lines, the ones that look like crags in a rock. She touches the tips of her fingers to either side of the line and gives a slight tug, then runs another finger against the skin. Tiny changes, she reminds herself as the wrinkles begin to smooth. So small. Two, three, four, maybe half a dozen of them. Just smooths them out so that when Diana wakes up tomorrow morning she’ll think it’s that new face cream her daughter gave her.
Is it crossing a line to work her body itself?
Celia’s own body is tight. Firm. A perfect handful everywhere she needs it. And it’s not like… it’s not like she’s hurting Diana, she’s doing it to help. Just a lift. A gentle tucking of breast tissue, smoothing it out, giving her breasts a little more buoyancy. It’s her mother, yes, but once her hands are on a body that’s all she sees, all she feels: just another body. There’s nothing weird or uncomfortable about it. She’s shaped plenty of breasts in her work. People think Jade’s a surgeon, after all. She’s seen all kinds of things.
The change isn’t dramatic. That collagen she’d waxed poetic about—she can blame that. Say that’s what was in the leg cream, that’s what’s in the shots of antioxidants she has her mother take when she comes in. It’s even true. Not that the orange drink really does much for her; it’s just another bit of commission for her employees, but her mom is always happy to try new things.
She’s not giving her the tits of a twenty-year-old. They still look natural by the time she’s done with them. A little firmer, a little higher, less give. She’d fed six children with those breasts; she doesn’t need to look like a porn star.
Maybe Pete will be interested now. Or his friend, since he has told her, decisively, that he will not date her mother.
Pity, that. He seems like a good bloke. Celia might even be interested if he’d stop giving her those looks like she’s broken his heart every time she makes a mildly gray decision. She’s pretty sure he sees right through her.
She doesn’t linger long on the chest. A few touch ups, then the leg. Minor changes. Scar tissue here; it’s different than the face, different than the breasts. Tougher. She’s used to it, all that work she does on the Asian broad, this is no different. Even kine therapists can help get rid of scar tissue. Cross-fiber friction. But Celia isn’t kine; she doesn’t need to resort to that. She touches the tips of her fingers to her mother’s leg and presses down, feeling for the edge of the wound. All the way to her femur, hadn’t she said? It’s deep. Ugly. All the way down through the quads, the adductors, the long band of the sartorius… there, the edge of the laceration.
As if that’s an adequate word for what he did with his hacksaw.
Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. Tries not to think about her father. Focuses on the woman in front of her, the woman who has shown more love in one night than her father has her entire life. She starts deep, working out the damaged fibers.
It’s like unrolling a piece of yarn. If yarn were… stringy, firm, sort of stiff. She presses down and works her fingers back and forth, back and forth. Scar tissue—also collagen. Tonight has been an evening of collagen. It’s great stuff, really. Maybe she can look into developing something for the breathers. They use it in wound healing, all sorts of grafts. Some sort of medical aid she can create to clot wounds, heal things immediately?
Maybe it’s too close to giving away the truth of her nature, though, and look how that worked out last time.
It doesn’t take long. Celia doesn’t do much. Minor changes. Very minor.
Ten minutes? Fifteen?
She doesn’t know. But she sits back when it’s done, looks at her work. None of it is blatant enough to even suggest a change, but Celia’s sharp eyes can pick out what she’s done.
Damn, she’s good.
GM: “Putty in your hands” was one way Celia’s mother phrased it. “Play-doh in your hands” was another. She’s said both, a million times. She doesn’t ask for specific treatments when she comes in. Celia is hard-pressed to remember the last time her mother asked for a specific treatment. She just lies down and lets her daughter do what she wants. If that isn’t blanket consent Celia is hard-pressed to say what is.
Diana looks better when she’s done. Anyone would look bad under these circumstances, but Celia’s mother looks better now. Fainter lines. Firmer, bouncier breasts. Fainter stretch marks, around those: six kids hadn’t done that any favors before Celia corrected it. And then there’s the leg scarring. It was ugly at first. It was less ugly after Celia’s first treatment. It’s really not so bad as Diana insists it is now, even if there’s still more to excise.
The woman looks better. Like Celia’s turned back the clock a few years. Someone’s probably more likely to guess late 30s, maybe mid-30s if she really dolls herself up, than early 40s.
And if Jon comes back. If he can show fix wear and tear deeper than mere skin. How to fix it. That’d truly turn back the clock. Celia can only imagine the look on her mother’s face to learn she was 30 again, there. Roderick said some beauty comes from within and shines out for all to see.
Celia: It’s not odd for women in their 40s to look younger, especially if they have a daughter who does what Celia does. The esthetics stuff, not the fleshcraft stuff. There are a few actors she can think of who she’s pretty sure are licks or time travelers or both; decades later and they look exactly the same. That’s the advantage of money though, right? Money, lack of stress, healthy eating habits, personal trainers.
Diana shouldn’t have to stress anymore. Not about Celia, not about Lucy, not about Maxen coming for her. Jade will get her out of the city. Send her with Andi and Tyrell next time they go on tour, or maybe to Houston. Close enough she can visit, not so close that her sire will zip off in the middle of the night to collect her. End of the school year is coming up soon; now’s the perfect time for it, really.
Celia gives her mother’s body a final smile, checks the temperature of the water to make sure it’s not too cold, and returns to the green-haired would-be rapist so she can finish cutting him into pieces.
GM: That grisly work requires far less care. Jade’s claws slice cleanly through the cold flesh. Getting through the bones takes more effort, even at the joints. She should probably get a saw.
That’s what all the kine come down to, in the end. Dead stacks of meat.
Celia’s pushed back the clock a few years, for one of them. But the clock will tick forward again. Has already started to. One day, Diana will look like she did in that bathtub again. Celia’s only postponed it. One day, Diana will look even worse. She’ll get old. Then she’ll die. She will never lie down on a spa and call herself play-doh in her daughter’s hands, blush over Christmas gifts of dildo or lingerie, or call Celia “sweetie” as they hug. She’ll just be a memory in Celia’s head while her corpse rots in a mausoleum. That’ll happen to Emily and Lucy too, in enough years. Eternity is patient.
Maybe if she’s lucky, she won’t fuck things up with Roderick. And he’ll be the last person on earth to really love her.
Maybe her sire. If she’s useful enough.
But maybe she won’t be lucky. Maybe that’ll be it, when her family dies. Lights out, no “one door closes, another opens.” Just a minus. A loss. A void that will never be filled. You can replace a mom, like Emily did, but you only get one. And once she’s dead, that’s it. That love is gone forever.
It’s the ghost of eternity. Celia can almost see it over her shoulder. Waiting to consume her mother. Waiting to consume everyone else she loves.
It has forever.
Celia: So does she.
That’s what they say, isn’t it? That Kindred have forever.
Emily replaced her mom. Sure, Diana will eventually die—but the memories? Those last forever. Like her.
And if Emily did it… well, Celia can do it too. Find another woman she can look up to. Another light in the darkness.
Fuck the ghost of eternity.
She’s got another thirty years before she even needs to think about it. And maybe more. It’s not like her skills with the body are going to go away; she can just keep turning back the clock a few seconds at a time and no one will ever know.
GM: That’ll change is her looks. Her face. People will tell her how young she looks.
But Father Time won’t be fooled. He’ll come whenever he feels like it.
Celia: Father Time sounds like a miserable old coot. Jade will scare him off, too. Bare her fangs. Some claws. Show him what he’s really messing with. If she’s not going to let her sire take her mom, she sure as hell won’t let some concept of a thing.
There has to be something that will slow the aging process. A cell in the body. Some part of their DNA. Jade will find it. She’s got nothing but time on her hands.
Well, time… and blood. This guy’s blood and muscle fibers, the stringy bits of tendons and ligaments, the fascia that holds it all together. It looks like a murder scene, really. Maybe because it is. Or at least the roof was. This is just the cleanup.
Thank God she doesn’t have carpet.
She should check his pockets when she’s done ripping him apart. See if there’s anything useful in his coat.
There’s a rumor about Jade that populates Elysium. A rumor about a wetroom in the back of her haven where she dismembers the people who get on her bad side. A rumor that is, in part, true; though she has no dedicated space in this haven, she does have all the tools she needs, and before she tears apart the boy’s body any further she sees to it that everything is set as needed. Tarp on the ground. Tools sharpened. Clothing removed.
Part of this she had done earlier, as is her norm. It’s a simple process to dismember a human body, and she’s done it enough times that she doesn’t even need to think about the next step as she goes through the motions:
Remove the clothes and other ornamentation.
Lay the body on a hard, non-porous surface. In the salon she uses the suite she’d had designed for herself with the hydraulic table, but here she simply lays him out on the floor.
Drain the blood. Easier when he’s strung up, and her earlier feeding had done an adequate job of removing some of the blood, but there’s more to be had. Her Beast is a greedy thing. Wants it all. Jade will simply need to be a little more hands on in her draining. Blood pressure in humans is higher the closer you get to the heart, and the heart itself is simply a pump for the rest of the body. Jade makes a cut into the man’s neck over the carotid, a deep bowl positioned beneath him. Those earlier pots and pans have come in handy, at least. Her claws dig into his chest, fingers wrapping around the cardiac muscle hidden behind his ribcage. She manually pumps his heart for him. Similar to chest compressions with CPR, it keeps the blood moving. Flowing. Soon a steady red drip has begun to empty into the bowl.
Easier, she thinks to cut the subclavian to drain him quicker. Its position right next to the heart makes it prime for draining, but the clavicles themselves—hence the name, subclavian—protect it from most of the world. Not from Jade, certainly, but she is not in the right space to go digging into the man’s chest. If she had a lift, or an extra pair of hands, then she could do it. The carotid will work just as well.
The ticking of the clock keeps her company while she works, a far cry from the pop music she had danced to earlier. There’s a certain rhythm to dismemberment once she is done with the blood, though. She sets the bowl aside and gets to work on the rest of him.
First, the cuts around his ankles and wrists. Then a line from sternum to groin, peeling back his skin to have a look inside at the body’s organs. She cuts them free, tilts him to the side, and they spill out on the plastic-lined floor. She will save them for Sparky, she thinks—and then her lips twist into the smile at the name she had given her newest pet (a pet in truth, not like Alana), and she thinks she might need to rename him. Who ever heard of a pig named Sparky?
The skin is the next organ she removes, peeling it back a little at a time, using her nails to clean away the subcutaneous tissue, the adipose tissue, everything that holds it firm to the body. Some sections, like the chest where she’d reached through to touch his heart and the neck where Donovan’s booted foot had come down upon him, come away with more damage than others. She sets the skin aside to deal with later, already considering how she is going to use it.
Then the muscles. These, too, she can use as building blocks. She makes what cuts she needs into the tendons that keep them connected to the bone, tossing the lot of it into an empty garbage back for future projects. Even the connective tissue goes into another container; most of it is collagen, after all, and she has already gone on about the various uses she can find for that. The tendons, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels—all of it can be repurposed.
It makes disassembling the skeleton itself that much easier, really. Ligaments are what bind bone to bone, and once Jade is done cutting the tough, rope-like strands of fibrous tissue free from their points of insertion the bones are easy to simply pull apart. Like a strand of fake, beaded pearls, cutting the thing that holds it all together makes the rest of it simply scatter.
Daddy needed a hacksaw to do this type of work, and he’d botched even that. Perhaps Celia will show him one day how much more effective Jade is.
GM: Her sire even promised. He did.
It’s a rote enough process to butcher another human being into so much meat by now. To pack the individual pieces inside the fridge. In plastic wrap if she cares about keeping it clean.
More materials for the spa. More food for Sparky.
Alana said she liked the name, but that’s the problem with ghouls, Savoy had once said. You can’t really trust them to give completely objective advice.
“You’d be surprised at the ways that can come back to bite you,” he’d chuckled.
Celia: Good thing Roderick hadn’t tried to put his jacket into the fridge with a desiccated body already inside; that would have been all sorts of awkward. She can imagine his shock. His wild accusations. How would she have spun that? Doubtless she’d have thought of something in the moment.
It’s a relief to be done with it. To put the blood into the microwave and heat it to an acceptable temperature as if that will make it more palatable. She begins the process of cleaning the rest of the apartment while she waits for the telltale ding. Lemon scented polish for the floor to cover the unmistakably coppery tang of fresh blood. A mop to soak up the puddles of water from her dress, from Donovan’s coat. The wooden box slides back beneath the bed, empty for now. Rolling the tarp for rinsing and disposal.
There’s a lot to do to cover her tracks, and Jade doesn’t waste time, conscious of the clock ticking down to daylight.
GM: Jade thinks she can still smell the faintest whiff that telltale coppery tang. Doubtless any breathers wouldn’t pick up anything, but her kind are drawn to blood like sharks.
Then again, that might also be the still-open tear wounds she’s sporting. Her dead heart doesn’t pump any blood out through arteries, but she can smell it.
The once paint-like cold sludge tastes better when she holds the bowl to her mouth and drinks. A lot better, actually. It’s not as good as fresh from a live vessel’s veins, but it’s warm and hasn’t been filled with all those flavor-diluting preservatives hospitals put into bagged blood.
Celia: She can almost pretend it’s a cup of hot tea on a cold night if she wants to. But she doesn’t want to; nothing compares to the taste of the red stuff. Every favorite meal she’d ever had as a breather is a pale imitation of what she prefers to swallow now.
At least he had delivered a meal to her during their exchange. She can’t help but laugh at the thought of him in a pizza delivery hat, and is glad that no one is around to break into her mind to see it. The act of laughing pulls at the tear in her side, though. She should fix herself.
Her eyes slide to the clock on the wall.
GM: There isn’t much time to get her mother home before 5 AM. She’ll have to be quick.
Celia: Too bad her car is in the Garden District, isn’t it?
She could call another Ryde. Or ask Roderick for a ride. Awkward to explain either situation though, isn’t it.
GM: The Ventrue’s powers have their advantages. Caroline could just tell the driver to take her somewhere and forget her face.
Celia: Drawbacks too, though. Like eye contact.
…which she had made with her sire earlier. Had he done something to her while he had caught her gaze with his? Had her do something and made her forget? Had she confessed to more than what she’d already done? Trespassing at Tulane?
No, he’d have… he’d have done something to her for that, surely. Wouldn’t he have? He took her blood, though. Pete said if they have your blood they can do a lot with it. Find out a lot. Dip into your mind and you’ll never know. What had he seen? What does he know that she doesn’t know he knows?
No, no, no. He couldn’t have. Why would he have? She’d told him everything.
Well, that’s not true.
Not even most things.
Celia presses a hand to her lips where his fangs had punctured her skin. She should have just bitten him back. They could have had a roll around the floor together, biting and clawing and scratching. Maybe that’s why he kissed her. Why he used her name. Because she’s been terrible at hiding the fact that she wants him, wants him to want her.
Christ, it’s a mess.
Like her. She lets her eyes sweep over her form. She needs to change. Needs to get rid of her mom. Needs to put Jade’s face back or Roderick will know something is up. That’s first order of business, then. Easier to explain to him that Celia’s mom had been caught in the middle of something than the fact that she can just change her appearance at will.
Let him play hero. Boys like that.
Quick steps take her into the bathroom where her mother lies face-up in the tub. She’ll need to take her out and dress her in something before he arrives; she doesn’t need him to see her naked. Now, though, Celia has her own face to fix.
GM: Celia does her face and waits. Her hair is shorter unless she wants to sculpt on some of the boy’s (and get rid of that green color). She eventually hears a knock against her door.
Celia: Face? Check.
Covered in blood? Check.
Torn open from apparent fight? Check.
The last touch is removing her mother from the tub and wrapping her in one of Celia’s robes, then tucking the blankets around her again to keep her warm. She kicks off her heels for good measure and moves to open the door.
GM: It’s Roderick. He looks like he could blink as he sees her.
Celia: Celia steps aside to let him in. She doesn’t say anything until the door is closed and locked behind him. Each movement is a little more painful than the last, and she doesn’t try to hide it. But she shakes her head at his question.
The lie is… well. The sight of her speaks for itself.
GM: “That doesn’t look like nothing.”
Celia: No, it looks like Celia’s been torn into with a bowie knife, doesn’t it? Looks like she got the shit kicked out of her. Looks like she’s dead on her feet—and not in a literal way, since they all are, just more like a stiff wind would knock her over. But she shakes her head again, more insistently this time, her shortened hair falling into her face.
“Later,” she tells him. “Just—give me a minute, I need to…” She trails off. Gestures toward herself.
GM: “Clean up,” he says. He’s staring at her wounds with visible fangs in his mouth. “Sure.”
“Just don’t take too long. Coco says to always leave yourself extra time to get home before sunup.”
Celia: Coco says.
Of course she says. Has Roderick had his own thoughts since his Embrace, or is everything that comes out of his mouth just regurgitated from his sire?
She doesn’t know where the unkind thought comes from. Maybe she’d hoped for more concern from him. Stupid, isn’t it, to think he cares. And she’d been dancing to thoughts of him earlier.
What a mess. What a mess indeed.
Celia doesn’t take long. She needs his help getting her mother home. She packs a bag, wipes off the worst of the blood, pulls on a pair of yoga pants and a long sleeved shirt. She’ll shower tomorrow, fix her side once her mother is safely back in bed.
“Time to drop my mom off?”
GM: He frowns. “What’s your mom doing here?”
Celia: “My car is in the Garden District and I’ve been ordered not to return. Ergo, my mother.”
GM: “Okay. So what’s she doing here?”
“You look like something tore you apart. And your hair’s shorter. Seriously, what the hell happened?”
Celia: “Exactly what you said would happen! They found out I was in his territory. They found out who Celia is. And then they tried to use her—” Celia jabs a finger at her mother, wincing as the motion pulls against her torn muscles “—against me and if I had been just a little less on the ball she’d have died and I might have died and then it would just be Emily and Lucy all alone!”
“Or they’d kill them too! You know how thorough our kind are.”
GM: “What?!” Roderick grabs Celia and pulls her close. “They hurt you? Which of them did it!?”
Celia: She stumbles over her own feet when he grabs her; the movement makes her clench her teeth together, hissing out the complaint at his treatment as her open wounds are jostled once more.
“Who do you think, Roderick? Seven years. I go seven years with no problems, with no one finding out, and then I meet her and it all—I ruined everything.”
GM: “So it was Caroline who tore you up and tried to kill you and your mom? That’s who? Or did she tattle to the sheriff?” the Brujah asks, his face angry.
Celia: “D-don’t,” she shakes her head again, the unevenly shorn hair flying wildly with the urgency of her motions, “don’t get mad, I can’t—I can’t fight you off right now, my mom is here, please, we have to go—”
GM: “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at who did this to you!” Roderick exclaims. “Who was it? Caroline? One of the hounds?”
Celia: “No! I’m not—I’m not just going to tell you so you can run off and do something heroic and die, no. We have to go, it’s already 5, I’ll tell you, later, when I’m not torn up, when she’s not lying there—” She hadn’t let herself cry earlier. Not in front of him. But now her eyes run red, thin streams of it leaking down her cheeks.
GM: Roderick looks at Celia’s mom, then bites his wrist and holds it out to her.
“Here. You can mend up if you’re low.”
Celia: It’s right in front of her face. Blood. His blood. An offering of… something, at least, that he cares enough about her to offer it, that he’s not dripping it onto the floor or her mother’s face and making her lap it up like a dog as her sire apparently wanted her to do.
Her fingers close around his forearm. Her fangs are long in her mouth—not that she needs them. The blood is waiting for her, ready for her to just drink it up. She can use it to mend. Not risk hurting her mom if it takes more out of her than she thinks it will.
The flesh on her side begins to knit itself together. Just a bit, not all the way; she won’t take that much from him. Just a hit, just a—
“Later,” she says through gritted teeth, dropping his arm, turning her face away so that he can’t see the longing. “Can we take her home? Please?” Her eyes dart toward the clock. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, Coco is right. They need to make sure they get to safety on time.
GM: “All right,” he relents. “If you’re sure.”
The tang of his vitae recedes.
“Maybe it’s better if you take her back, though.” She hears the frown in his voice. “I’m supposed to be dead. She can’t see my face.”
Celia: Of course she’s not sure. Of course she wants it. Just not now. Not here. Not like this.
“She’s been put to sleep until she’s back in bed. She won’t see your face. But—” She huffs, shoulders slumping. “Just… just go, Roderick, I’ll figure something out, I’ll call a Ryde or… you don’t need to get tangled up with this.”
Should have called a Ryde earlier. She could have found a way to make it work instead of playing twenty questions with him.
GM: He shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’ll drive. What’s her address?”
Celia: “On Burgundy. 1110. Can you..?” she gestures towards her mom. “She’s not heavy, but I’m not… I don’t want to drop her.” She almost had earlier, coming down the stairs. Near miss. Faster if he does it, she can follow him out.
GM: Roderick’s face falls a bit.
“That’s pretty deep in the Quarter.”
Celia: Ah… she hadn’t even considered that.
“You’re with me, though.”
GM: “Anyone who sees me will probably be thinking I’m with Coco before thinking I’m with you. And it’ll raise questions what I was doing here. From your club and mine.”
“We… we can risk it, though. It’s like shoplifting. Do it once, decent odds you’ll get away with it.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say a word. She just stalks toward her closet, opens the door, rummages around inside, and pulls out the Tulane hoodie she’d stolen from her brother a few nights ago. She holds it out with her brows raised.
“I have a scarf, if you’d prefer.”
GM: He pulls of his coat and jacket, then slips the hoodie on. Does up the hood. “Little big on me. You must’ve been swimming in this.”
Celia: She smiles at him.
GM: “Cute,” he smiles back.
He walks over to the bed, makes sure the blanket is secure around Celia’s mother, and then carefully picks her up between his arms. She doesn’t look as if she weighs him down at all. His expression is wistful.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen your family. She looks good.”
Celia: A long while. Seven years, maybe, since he’d actually interacted with them; less if he’d been stalking her as Coco had implied.
“She comes in once a week to see me. I try to make sure I take care of her. Helped get the business off the ground. And she’s my mom.”
Celia picks up the small bag she’d packed for the overnight trip, his coat and jacket as well, then moves toward the door to unlock and open it for him.
GM: “I’m glad. And I can tell you have. She looks really good for her age.”
He heads out the door with Celia as he adds,
“Oh, remote’s in my right pocket.”
Celia: “Oh, keys!” Celia darts back inside to pick up the keys she had “forgotten” on the kitchen counter, dropping down to snatch up the papers he’d dropped earlier as well. It’s a quick movement to tuck them into her bra before she’s out the door, locking it behind the pair of them and reaching into his pocket for his keys.
GM: It’s a remote rather than keys which she pulls out, but she clicks it and unlocks the car door with a beep. Roderick gently sets down Celia’s mom in the back and fastens the seatbelt around her.
“Maybe best if you drive and I sit in the back, too. Less chance of my face being seen.”
Celia: “Smart. I could lock you in the trunk if you want.” She winks at him as she slides into the driver’s seat. She sets her things down in the empty seat next to her and starts the car, waiting until he’s all set to put it into gear and get going.
GM: Roderick seems to seriously consider that.
Celia: “…do you want me to?”
GM: “It can’t hurt. I don’t mind a bumpy ride.”
“You also can’t lock people in trunks, technically. There’s a mandatory release button in them now. Happened because of kidnapping cases.”
Celia: “Kidnap a lot of girls, Roderick?”
GM: “Girls and guys. I’m an equal opportunist.”
A mandatory release button. Diana’s hands might’ve been tied, but she might’ve been able to hit that, if she’d known about it.
Celia: Celia is going to make sure that Diana, Lucy, and Emily all know about it now. She’d seen a movie once where a girl had kicked out the light, but it definitely seems easier to just press a button. Though she’s not sure if car trunks can actually open if they’re in drive, at least from the outside. She’d complained to Randy often enough about forgetting to put the car in park so she could open the trunk. Maybe the inside button works differently. Regardless, it’s a good thing to know.
She smirks at Roderick as she gets back out to load him into the trunk (mostly she just stands there while he climbs in, really), and tells him she’ll take Diana inside once they get to her house if he doesn’t want to risk it and they can swap places in Mid-City.
GM: “That’s probably safest,” he agrees as he gets in.
It’s a brief enough drive from Jade’s haven to Diana’s house. Celia has a key: her mom always said she was welcome at any time.
Carrying the limp woman inside is slow work. Jade knows how heavy a completely limp human body is. Still, her dead muscles don’t get sore or tired. It just takes longer.
The family’s two cats arch their backs and hiss furiously when they see Jade, their tails as thick as beavers’, before darting off.
Not everyone is fooled by her pretty exterior.
Celia: Stupid cats.
Celia moves through the house with her mother in her arms, careful not to accidentally whack her head on anything. It looks easier when Roderick does it; maybe she’ll craft some extra muscles onto herself, too. All those spare parts she can use now, no reason not to. Except that everyone will notice. Though she knows plenty of wiry-looking people who are just as strong as the dudes who look like they pump iron seven days a week. She can make it lean muscle. Always more time to experiment, anyway.
Once Celia reaches her mother’s bedroom she gingerly sets her mother down on the bed. Conscious of the orders Donovan had given her, she quickly retreats from the room.
GM: She hears a low groan, and then the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up.
Celia: Not her problem, not her problem, not her problem. Not with it as late as it is. She cannot be trapped here. Her mom can handle an upset stomach. Celia will make it up to her.
She flees the house, shutting and locking the door quietly behind her, and heads back to the car to begin the trip to Mid-City.
GM: “Do you want to switch with me in the trunk, once we’re clear of the Quarter? Your face probably won’t be too welcome in the CBD,” comes Roderick’s muffled voice.
Celia: Christ, getting around the city anymore is like being a black man at a Klan meeting. Who thought this was a good idea to divide up turf and determine where people could go? Hello yes you are dead and immortal now, stay inside the lines.
Celia scowls at the road as she drives.
“Yeah,” she calls back, “that’s fine.”
GM: Well, it’s all a matter of who you’re friends with, Mélissaire had explained during Jade’s early nights. But Savoy had the misfortune for his territory to be directly bordered by his two archrivals.
“It’s interesting to think how things would look if the Anarchs or Invictus occupied territory between any of the Big Three’s,” the ghoul had remarked idly. “Or if Sundown did. Buffer states can do a lot to reduce tensions between hostile neighbors. But that’s just not the way things shook out.”
Jade knows, too, that the three elders have agents regularly patrol the borders between their territories. ‘Patrol duty’ is a common task for regents in any parish to assign their vassals. Savoy takes it a step further and offers rewards to the Caitiff, thin-bloods, and other dregs crowded into the hunting-poor neighborhoods that border Treme (and to a lesser but far from nonexistent extent, the CBD). If they bring word of an intruder he later apprehends, they can hunt somewhere better, for a little while. If they bring him a captured intruder, they can hunt somewhere better for a longer while. So the riffraff keep their eyes sharp.
Roderick said entering domains you’re not welcome is like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it. Do it twice, still probably. But the more times you roll those dice, the lower your odds of a clean in-and-out.
And Jade has been testing her luck. Those excursions to Riverbend. The Garden District. Her secret rendezvouses with Roderick.
Her luck can’t hold out forever. Bad luck is always just around the corner.
Or approaching in Jade’s rearview mirror.
She looks nice, to be out when she is. Where she is. Curly long red hair. Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes. Mascara-coated lashes. Blusher-colored cheeks. Handsome face with a jaw that’s a little too wide to be “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms had gone a little fleshy by the time she was Embraced, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She holds an umbrella and wears a raincoat over a flare-hemmed dress that looks retro enough Celia could picture her own mom wearing it.
She’s run into this Caitiff a few times. The clanless vampire has to be pretty desperate to be out looking for intruders at this hour.
But how many clanless aren’t desperate?
Celia: Jade knows her luck can’t hold out forever. That’s why she doesn’t take chances when she’s got precious cargo in the back of the car. There are very few people that she gives enough of a fuck about anymore, but her mother is one of them, and Roderick another. She’s not going to play games with their welfare. She’s conscious of the eyes that guard the border. Conscious of the fact that she needs to avoid being seen with Roderick if anything is to ever happen between them. Conscious, too, of the fact that she wasn’t the only one trespassing this evening; the sheriff had made his own foray into the Quarter, and maybe that’s what put them on high alert.
So Jade uses that tightly coiled thing inside of her to her advantage. Now that her mother isn’t here, she loosens the reins. Lets it taste freedom, so long as it works for her rather than against her. She sharpens her sight, her hearing, her smell—fuck, she sharpens every damn taste bud on her tongue so that she can taste the rifraff that Savoy has patrolling the Quarter.
There’s no reason to stop her. She’s Jade fucking Kalani, not some intruder. How many times have they seen her on Savoy’s lap, whispering in his ear, his hand on her thigh? That’s right, fuckwads, you don’t stop a car in the Quarter with Jade inside of it, that’s just asking for trouble from the very lord who grants your territory. You think he’s going to take kindly to an interruption when you drag a loyal, legal vassal before him? Of course not.
Guess it doesn’t stop them, though, not if Edith-fucking-homewrecker-Flannagan is tailing her.
“Trouble,” she says to Roderick, but it’s trouble she can probably handle if it comes to that. She tells him that too. To stay quiet in case things get bumpy.
GM: He doesn’t respond. Probably better if no one can hear his voice.
And maybe Edith wouldn’t pay Jade a second glance, if she were in her usual gray Hyundai Genesis, and wasn’t driving into the CBD. But she is driving there, and she’s driving Roderick’s car, a dark blue Acura IXL. Maybe a Ryde or some other solution would have been better.
The CBD’s skyscrapers draw closer. Closer.
Then just like that, the Caitiff stops tailing her.
How many of them actually remember what car Jade Kalani drives?
Celia: She doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief once Edith is gone, though she thinks about it. She recognizes the necessity of the Caitiff, but tonight… tonight she just wants to crawl into bed and be left alone for a week.
“Gone,” she says aloud. Once they are safely away she finds a place to pull over. Before she pops the trunk she fishes the stolen papers from her bra and slides them into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then she’s out of the car to switch places with her ex, offering him a rueful smile when she climbs into the trunk in his stead.
GM: “Here, you can have the sweatshirt for some cushioning,” Roderick says, shrugging it off.
He puts his jacket back on.
Celia: He was right earlier: she swims in the hoodie.
The sleeves come down way past her hands. The hood obscures her face completely when she flips it up. Even the hem is halfway down her thighs.
Easy to imagine what she’d look like in his clothing. Stealing his tops, like she used to when she spent the night back in college. Just a shirt, legs bare, nothing underneath.
GM: Roderick smiles at the sight, and perhaps the memory, but hurries her into the trunk and closes it behind her. Celia can see the little release button. It even glows in the dark.
One push of that, and her mom would’ve been out. Lucy wouldn’t exist. Isabel wouldn’t have been raped, Embraced, and killed by her sister. And Celia would belong to Veronica. Maybe.
One little push of a button.
Would that have been a positive or a negative?
Celia: Celia would have never belonged to Veronica. Not unless she was stolen. She’s been Donovan’s since she was eight years old and eavesdropping on the conversation he had with her father, staring from the doorway with wide eyes while the cold corpse shook his hand and stole his soul.
Diana would have gotten out, certainly, and Celia would have never made the deal with Veronica. Celia would have given her other gathered evidence to Pete, and maybe she’d have ended up as Savoy’s childe. Another illicit Embrace, but this one she’d be really hunted for, both for being his childe and for the fact that she might have ruined her father. Donovan might have killed Celia rather than Embraced Jade when he came for her. Maybe not. Maybe she wouldn’t have been Embraced at all. Maybe Pietro would have come back for her at some point to finish her off. Maybe Celia and Stephen would have eloped. Maybe she’d have gone back to Paul’s house to ruin him, too, and found Jade’s sire waiting for her. Maybe Celia would have asked her dad to protect her from his friends.
That’s the problem with the word “if.” Two letters and it can mean a whole hell of a lot of things. Silly to think about, isn’t it? One mistake, one decision, one word can change the course of history.
She doesn’t regret where she’s ended up. That’s what counts. Can’t keep looking in the review mirror and expect to get somewhere; at some point your eyes have to focus on the road ahead of you, the scenery around you.
Her mother is happy now. Emily is happy now. Lucy is happy now. Everyone she cares about—they’re happy.
Mistakes? Certainly. She’s made plenty. But even with all the powers of their kind, changing the past isn’t possible. You can only alter the course you’re on now.
She’d heard once that life doesn’t give you more than you can handle, that growth happens outside the comfort zone. Maybe she’d read it. She’d been content for 19 years to let her dad rule hers for her, and only once she’d stepped outside of that and into the world itself had she really started to grow, to become the person she’s meant to be. She’s not sure that she believes in fate, and maybe it’s true that when you die you meet the person you could have been and that’s what hell is.
Not much she can do about it now.
So dwelling? Nah. Celia doesn’t want to dwell.
GM: So she doesn’t. She lies there in the big sweatshirt. It’s a bumpy ride, but one free of regrets.
“Your mom looks really good for her age,” Roderick says aloud after a while. His voice comes out partly muffled. “Credit where credit’s due, there. She barely looked older than I remember. Is it just run of the mill beauty treatments you do on her, or something extra?”
Celia: She likes big sweatshirts. Maybe she’ll nick a few of his while she’s over there.
Stolen things feel better.
“I didn’t ghoul her, if that’s what you’re asking,” she calls back.
GM: “I wasn’t. I didn’t smell any juice on her.”
Celia: “She pretty much just tells me to do what I want, so I like to try new things with her. All the experimental stuff.”
“But like I said, she’s in once a week. And she’s good at keeping up with her routine at home.”
GM: “I guess that’ll do it. I’d wondered if it was some extra Toreador mojo.”
Celia: “Reitnol promotes cell turnover, then you’ve got the AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, high frequency lasers, dermaplaning…”
“Oh. Ha. I wish.”
“Sunscreen. Seriously. There’s this video they made us watch in school about a truck driver, half of his face is all jacked up because that’s the side in the sun. Other side is fine. I’m like 100% positive that’s why we don’t age.”
But he can hear her giggle.
GM: He chuckles back. “Guess that’s it. No sun ever.”
“I’ve heard some people say you—well, you as in breathers—should wear sunscreen all the time, even in winter and autumn. Is there anything to that?”
“Their bodies need Vitamin D.”
Celia: “Sure, but you can still get the D without the sun.” He can’t see her grin, but it’s there. “Some people take supplements. Regardless, it’s the UV rays you don’t want. In autumn and winter the angle of the sun changes because of the rotation of the earth. Plus in the northern climates they’ve got the snow it reflects from.”
GM: “I don’t know why I’m even asking about this. It’s like a girl watching a ‘how to tuck for drag’ YouTube video.”
Celia: “Because you’re secretly interested in being prettier.”
“Anyway, everyone has skin. It’s not a male/female thing. It’s an everyone thing. Largest organ in the body.”
GM: “You’d just watch a drag video for that, though. How to tuck is completely inapplicable.”
Celia: “Is it? I don’t have a penis, sometimes I’m curious what it feels like.”
“Like, for example right. I’ve got boobs. And they hang, ‘cause they’re boobs. But I have a bra to keep them from flopping around. But like dudes don’t wear dick-holsters.”
That’s not entirely true: nothing on her hangs or flops unless it is meant to, both from the youth of her Embrace and her own carefully sculpted body. But the point stands.
“Also just because something isn’t applicable to me doesn’t mean I don’t want to know about it. Plus now you can impress your next girlfriend.”
GM: What a loaded remark that is.
“Maybe you should start a dick holster clothing line, o Instragramer. Maybe the only reason we don’t wear them is is because there aren’t any phallus holsters available for purchase.”
“You could call them ‘cock bras.’”
Celia: “I feel like it needs a catchier name than that.”
“But. I am working on some fashion stuff that I’m actually kind of excited about.”
GM: “Hey, cock bra is great name.”
Celia: “Cock bra is a terrible name.”
GM: “It’s so terrible that it’s great. You’re dying to check out what one even is.”
Celia: “It’s a bra shaped like a cock. Or a bra stuffed with cocks.”
GM: “But that’s cool, what kind of fashion stuff?”
Celia: “I think ‘dick holster’ is where it’s at.”
“Ah, a clothing line actually. Sort of. It’s not like… commercial or anything. Mostly bespoke things. I’ve been messing around with it for a while.”
GM: “Makes perfect sense with the spa. Make people pretty from face to toe. Or hem, if you’re not doing shoes.”
Celia: “Pretty all-inclusive. Shipped out an order today, actually.”
GM: “Oh really, who to?”
Celia: “You know, I was trying to make it sound cooler than it was, it was really just to my sire.”
GM: “Hey, that makes perfect sense to start with someone you know before branching out to strangers.”
“Though your family might be more… considerate than your sire.”
Celia: “She’s got interesting taste. It’s fun to play around with. D’you remember when we were released on the anniversary and she came as a hurricane? And those spider shoes she has?”
“First time I met her she was in this little slinky club dress, then she pulls stuff like that. It’s crazy.”
GM: “Older licks can have weird fashion. Anything goes in Elysium.”
Celia: “I’ve been working on a piece for myself but I have no idea where I’d wear it. Maybe a party.”
GM: “I mean, is it any weirder than your great-grandsire showing up in Medieval or Antebellum garb?”
“I’ve actually seen her, at least once, wearing one of those pointed, cone-shaped hats. What are they called.”
Celia: “Cone-hats. Traffic cones. Witch hats?”
GM: “Ha. It’s not a witch hat, though. It has this veil attached to it.”
Celia: “I know. Hennin.”
GM: “Ah, no surprise the Toreador would know.”
Celia: “I study history.”
GM: “I do too. Just not historical fashion.”
Celia: “Fashion informs you of the culture. Culture is part of history. Culture tells you everything about a place. What they believed. How they lived.”
GM: “Absolutely. Just isn’t an area I’ve focused as much on.”
Celia: “I’ll fill in the gaps of your knowledge, don’t worry.”
“Y’know. Fashion wise.”
“Speaking of nerds, though, Emily’s boyfriend does this historical medieval fighting thing.”
GM: “Coco has a ghoul who’s active in HEMA circles, actually. Or at least was. I’m not sure if he still is.”
“She says it’s a good pool of people to recruit from. They’re typically well-educated and also know how to fight. With swords, at that. More useful than guns.”
Celia: “Makes sense. Robby seems pretty smart.”
GM: “They’re history nerds one and all.”
Celia: “Plus he’s like eight feet tall. Talk about reach, right? Don’t need to worry about getting hit if they can’t get to you.”
“I’m doomed forever if I want to learn how to use a sword. Too small.”
GM: “Fencing might actually be a good thing for you to learn, depending on how good you want to get at fighting. It’s definitely useful to know how to throw a punch, because you can’t take a sword everywhere, but bare hands only do so much against other licks without super-strength backing it up. There’s a reason so many of us still use bladed weapons.”
“I’ve had some training with them, though not as much as I have in unarmed fighting. Punching works better for me.”
Celia: “Thought you said you were faster than you were strong.”
Years ago, though. Maybe it changed.
GM: “I am. I’m still strong enough where it counts, though.”
Celia: She smirks in the darkness of the trunk.
GM: “Ha. Yeah. In both senses of the word,” he smirks. “But there’s not a lot a sword can do my hands can’t.”
“You might be pretty good at fencing, though, with the background you have in dance.”
Celia: “Maybe.” Worth looking into, anyway, if things are going to get as bad as he suggests. Maybe Robby really can show her some new moves.
GM: “I think ballet actually grew out of fencing. Though your mom could probably tell you a lot more than me there.”
Celia: “Pretty sure I’ve heard her say that before.”
GM: “Well, there you go.”
A beat. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say hi. I really liked your family.”
“Well, correction. I fucking detested your dad.”
Celia: “I can’t think of anyone who actually likes him. So you’re in good company.”
GM: “Maybe some of his colleagues in the legislature. Or Congress, if he runs for higher office. Hate to say it, but he’s probably not even the worst of them.”
Celia: “No? Hard to look past the years I spent with him.”
GM: “I might be talking out of my ass. Obviously, I didn’t spend any time with him beyond the most awful dinner of my entire life. I’ve just heard that monsters like him aren’t anything rare in D.C. That it takes the worst of the worst to hold the levers of power in our world.”
Celia: “That wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Kind of sad, though. I can imagine that others are just as bad, even more awful. All the time I spent there… I mean… it could have been worse.”
GM: “There’s things to be not sad about. Your family has good people too. Your mom, your grandma.”
Celia: Dinner might not have been so awful if she’d paid more attention in those cooking classes he’d made her take. Funny how she’d gone from not being able to touch raw steaks to butchering bodies on her floor.
“I’m not sad for me. I’m sad for other people who have to deal with it. I’m sad for the people in the stories you were about to tell me before I cut you off.”
GM: Diana cooked him a (probably) good steak the last time they were together. How did that work out for her?
Celia: She’d always said it was different with a wife.
GM: “Sorry, before you cut me off?”
Celia: “Ah, yeah, you sounded like you were about to tell me about things you’ve heard and then I started thinking about my dad and just blurted out words.”
GM: “Oh. No, my personal stories there are pretty limited. My family isn’t in national politics. I’m your guy if you want Mafia stories, lawyer stories, or JFK assassination stories.”
Celia: “I always want to hear your stories.”
GM: “Well, this one doesn’t have anything to do with the Mafia, but… when I was a breather, I wanted to clerk for your grandma. Seemed pretty cool to do that for someone in my girlfriend’s family.”
Celia: “Is that why you had Emily introduce us?” Teasing, though.
GM: “Oh, I mean after we were together. I actually clerked for Carson Malveaux.”
GM: “Yeah. Relative of Caroline’s. There were more prestigious clerkships, but I wanted to see how criminal law worked up close.”
“I liked him. He was stern but fair.”
Celia: “Small world, I guess.”
GM: “Lots of Malveauxes, more like.”
“I clerked under him for a little while, then did a stint at the Eastern District Court.”
Celia: “I’d have set you up with my grandmother, you know. If you’d have told me you were interested.”
GM: “My dad talked me out of it. Said I’d already done a stint at a lower court and it wouldn’t look as good on my resume to go back.”
Celia: “Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”
GM: “But still. I’d have picked her over Carson. She was there for your family when they needed her. And… Carson had to have known about the circumstances of your dad’s arrest.”
Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me. Get the whole family in on the cover-up. Caroline was my age and she had a hand in it.”
“I’d still like to see your dad convicted in a court of law and sent to prison. Felony count of domestic violence and placement on a sex offender registry pretty much destroys your life forever.”
Celia: “He’d get off. He’d find a way. Or someone would let him off. Rich white guy? Pfft.”
GM: “They’ve gone down in the courts. It can be fucking hard, but they do. Al Capone.”
Celia: “Doesn’t need to go down in court to lose an election. Then what, he goes back to real estate?”
GM: “Well, forget real estate if he goes down in court. Maybe flipping burgers at O’Tolley’s.”
Celia: “Wouldn’t be the first in his family to leave office in disgrace.”
GM: “Oh, who else?”
Celia: “His dad.”
GM: “Didn’t know that. I guess most politics is dynastic though.”
The rest of the drive doesn’t take long. Roderick eventually says, “All right, we’re here. Just to be double safe though, maybe you should also turn into a cat again.”
Celia: “Great minds,” she says. She’d been planning the same. The change is quick, the trunk suddenly much more roomy now that there’s a cat inside rather than a lick. Her clothes shift with her this time, tail flicking behind her as she waits for him to let her out.
GM: It’s a little while longer until Roderick’s car parks. He opens the trunk and scoops her into his arms. They’re in a parking garage.
“Hey, puss,” he coos, scratching a finger along her chin.
Celia: The cat’s entire body vibrates when she purrs, rubbing the side of her face against his outstretched finger and hand. Her eyes close to mere slits, content to be petted and adored even in this form, especially by him. The rest of her curls in his arms.
If things ever get really bad maybe she can give up society and spend the rest of her unlife as his cat.
GM: He sets her down for a moment to close and lock the car, then picks her back up and scratches behind her arms.
“You need a name,” he remarks thoughtfully as he carries her to an elevator.
They’re seemingly alone at this hour. They take it up. He walks down a hall with her, unlocks the keyless lock to the door they stop at, and lets them in. The apartment is a clean and well-maintained space with a modern and relatively minimalist aesthetic. Grays, whites, and beiges predominate. Much of the wall space used for art seems to have gone to bookshelves instead. There’s a baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans, showing two red pelicans sitting on a tilted bat, and a John F. Kennedy election poster. There’s also some framed degrees (Tulane University, Tulane Law) and family photos. One shows Roderick and his dad wearing suits outside a court building, the smiling older man’s hand resting on his son’s shoulder. Another one shows Roderick, his dad, and his sister out on a long beach that might be Grand Isle. A third one shows one of a much younger-looking Henry Garrison with a toddler-age boy, an elderly-looking man Celia doesn’t recognize, and a brown-haired woman with some resemblance to Roderick. They’re seated around a picnic in a park.
From the inside, the door also looks pretty heavy. Roderick sets Celia down and picks up an even heavier-looking steel bar without any mechanical or electronic components that he slides into place against the door with a dull clunk. It looks like it takes some effort for even him to pick up. A nearby wall monitor shows a view of the apartment’s immediate exterior, and several other points throughout the hallway. There’s a separate home alarm system panel further in.
Celia: The top of her head butts up against Roderick’s chin as he carries her into the elevator, shamelessly taking advantage of the ruse to lavish him with physical affection while she can. Anyone would just think they were a man with his new, extra cuddly cat. Even once they’re inside and her ears flick this way and that while her head spins to take it all in she stays contentedly curled in his arms.
He can’t have brought many people over if he publicly displays the photos of his family; she can’t imagine that he’d risk their safety and his cover if he regularly hosts.
It suits him though, this place. She doesn’t know what she had expected, but somehow this place both meets and exceeds her imaginings. It’s very… Roderick.
She winds herself around and between his legs once he sets her down, only darting away to watch him set the door. Then she’s back at it, batting at his shoes with her paws.
GM: “Someone’s committed to staying in character,” Roderick smirks, scratching her ears some more. “This is it, anyway. Haven sweet haven.”
Celia: She gives a final purr, though she knows she can’t stay in this form all night. Just long enough to enjoy the attention, then she’s off as quickly as her furry little feet can take her, ducking away from him to give herself room to reclaim her bipedal form. Back to swimming in that hoodie.
“Tight security,” she says, nodding toward the door and then the monitor. “I might have to copy you.” She’s been relying on multiple locations and staying off grid, but there’s no such thing as too cautious.
GM: “If someone’s really determined the most this will do is delay them. But that’s true of all security. If it delays them enough the alarms wake me up, and gets my renfields here in time, that’s what counts.”
“Best defense by far is no one knowing where to find you. But I’ve taken precautions there too.”
Celia: “Doesn’t look like you have many people over.” She looks at the photos again. She doesn’t have any up in Celia’s house, none in Jade’s private haven. “What about when you’re gone? Mobile alerts?”
GM: “There’s other places I can entertain if I want to. This is… my space.”
“And yeah, you guessed it.”
Then again, she still gets to see her family. Less need for other reminders.
He follows Celia’s gaze to the photos. His face falls a bit.
Celia: “People can tap into feeds like that. I mean. Pros and cons of having it. I’ve just seen it done, so… be careful.” There’s a beat. “Thank you for bringing me here.” It means a lot. More than she can put into words.
GM: “I know. The lock system isn’t connected to my phone, at least, so if someone were to hack the alarm it wouldn’t help them get in.”
“Like you say. Pros and cons to all security systems.”
“And you’re welcome.”
Celia: “Smart, though. Bases covered.”
GM: “Yeah. It’s less convenient to deal with multiple systems, but it’s not putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Celia: “And it’s nice to just have your own place, I bet. Where you can be you. Not whatever role you play for everyone else.” That’s why she hadn’t told anyone about her haven. It’s hers.
GM: He nods and sits down on the couch, having already hung up his coat and removed his shoes. “There’s always other places I can entertain. This is where I can just be me.”
“I’d normally offer a drink or some food at this point. But, you know.”
Celia: Celia follows his lead and removes her shoes before joining him on the couch, though she leaves the hoodie on. She curls her feet underneath her and turns to face him.
“Awkward, isn’t it, when you have guests? Would you like a spot of blood?” she asks in a very, very terrible posh English accent.
She’s not looking at his wrist. Really.
GM: He smiles, then looks at her questioningly.
“Well, actually, if you’re thirsty from healing…”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“I can probably manage the rest of the way without it. Just didn’t want to risk anything with my mom right there. I don’t think I could forgive myself if I hurt her.”
“Plus I feel like you’ve already done enough for me tonight. Don’t need to be greedy.”
GM: “I’ve got juice to spare. You’re sure?”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment while her attention shifts to the bloody, gaping claw marks in her side. This far into her Requiem she’s become proficient at moving her blood around as she needs to, and she feels it respond to her will to pull everything back together. Within moments her body is healed, but the Beast… hungry. It took more out of her than she’s used to. Maybe it was the cold blood she’d forced down earlier, the rejection of her sire’s blood, the rejection of Roderick’s blood. Maybe it’s just simply emotional upheaval from everything that has happened this evening and last.
She looks back to his face. Bites her lip.
“If you’re offering,” she finally says. She’d rather not be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow evening when she wakes. Even now she’s wary, used to keeping her hunger at bay with frequent feedings. She could kick herself for rejecting him earlier. A shameful reminder of another way she’d messed up.
“Hungry,” she adds in warning. At least he’ll be prepared in case she loses it on him. “Maybe you should tie me down or something, so I don’t find a way to ruin this too.” Her voice is bitter.
GM: “We all ruin things, if we’re hungry enough,” Roderick says softly. “It’s not just you.”
Celia: Feels like it is, though. Like no matter what she does it’s the wrong thing, like everyone would just be happier if she hadn’t been born.
“Hard to imagine you ruining anything.”
GM: “I ruined your haven pretty bad.”
“Your face, the… last time.”
“And… again before that.”
Celia: That’s what she’s afraid of this time. That she’ll lose it on him, he’ll lose it on her, and this will be another night that ends in him beating her into unconsciousness.
“Maybe I deserved it for what I did.”
GM: Roderick shakes his head adamantly. “One definition of justice is for everyone to receive their due. What you did may have been a bad thing. But you didn’t deserve to get beaten almost to death for it.”
“The sentence was disproportionate to the crime, if we want to think about it in judicial terms. And disproportionate sentences are crimes of their own.”
“Also, if you asked your dad what he thought of a woman getting beaten into the ICU for cheating, he’d probably say that was a good thing. So that should be all the evidence you need that it’s a bad thing.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. They’ve had this conversation before. Earlier this evening. Prior to that, even. Every time they get together it comes back around to her cheating on him, him beating her. Every time her thoughts spin toward him they’re accompanied by the image of him rearing back to strike her before she loses consciousness, the way her face looked the next time she saw it in the mirror. She still wants to fall all over herself with apologies. Still wants to hear him say that he forgives her. But isn’t this, here… isn’t this forgiveness? He could have left her alone this evening. He could let her go hungry. He’s offered his haven, his blood… safety. He’s offered her safety.
“You can’t change the past,” she finally says. “I try to remember that when it threatens to drag me down and cause me to spiral. That I can’t change it. I regret things—that, specifically, more than anything—but I can’t take back what I did, and you can’t take back what you did, and it’s… it’s in the past. All we can do is learn from it and not let it hold us back. It matters, of course it matters, but it doesn’t need to define who we are.”
GM: “It doesn’t,” he agrees.
There’s a beat.
“I’m still sorry for hurting you. For beating you and for dumping you. You told me the truth then, and you told me about Dani and Savoy’s scheme now, when you didn’t have to.”
Celia: She opens her mouth, perhaps to make a flippant remark (“you dumped me? I thought we were together this whole time”), then closes it again. Her nails pull at a loose thread in the hoodie she wears. She doesn’t want to tell him that it’s okay, because it isn’t. Beating her after he’d asked her to be honest… that’s not okay. But she can give him something else, something that isn’t an empty platitude.
“I forgive you.”
GM: He opens his mouth. Looks like he might be thinking about what to say for a moment.
Then he scoots over to her side of the couch and hugs her. Her Beast growls at the contact. Celia can already catch herself sniffing out weak spots, thinking of the best way to sink her fangs into him so as to minimize his struggles.
But his arms are tight around her, and she can smell his shampoo and aftershave (though with his smooth cheeks, it’s more like never-shave), still the same brands his esthetician girlfriend recommended to him all those years ago.
Celia: The girl and the Beast struggle. It’s hungry. It wants out. It wants the blood that he promised earlier, the blood that she denied. But she wants him. Has wanted him for years. The arms tight around her keep her from pouncing on him to rip his throat open, giving her the time she needs to shove the Beast back down.
The girl wins.
It takes her a moment to respond to his touch the way she’s used to. Her shoulders are stiff… until they’re not. Until she melts into him, the tension leaving her body, clinging to him in a fierce, quiet desperation that speaks of how long she’s wanted him. She inhales his scent. Sandalwood, bitter orange, honey… green and metallic, but warm and spicy. Woody. It’s a scent that takes her right back to their earlier days together: watching him get ready for a date, shaving off a few day’s worth of stubble, lathering on aftershave to soothe his skin, smiling in the mirror at her while she dabs concealer beneath her eyes with the tip of her finger, both of them disheveled from another bout of lovemaking. She sees it so clearly that it hurts. Remembers what it was like when they were happy together, before she started trying to play games, before she thought to take on her dad. Before she cheated and lied.
She’s sorry, too. She’s sorry but she doesn’t think he can forgive her so she doesn’t say, because she’d tried to tell him earlier and he’d been mad about it instead and she doesn’t think she can hear him say that again, and even if he says that he forgives her it follows in the wake of her own forgiveness—doesn’t that mean it’s not real?
GM: His embrace isn’t stiff at first, so much as hesitant. But as Celia melts into him, that reticence melts away too. He can’t have seriously doubted how she might feel about him after the rest of this evening.
He doesn’t kiss her. Maybe that would be a bad idea with her Beast as close to the surface as it is, or maybe now just isn’t the moment. He just holds her. Lies against her. Sinks into her. Buries his face against her neck and the huge sweater it’s enveloped in.
“There’s no one else,” he says after a moment, his voice quiet.
“You’re the best thing in my life. You’ve always been. I don’t know what to do about Coco. About Dani. I don’t know who to trust. Except… except you.”
“I trust you.”
Celia: He shouldn’t.
He shouldn’t trust her.
She’ll get him into trouble. Ruin his unlife. Drag him down with her own selfish actions. It’s all she’s been thinking about, that she’s a wild, destructive force, that everyone around her is in danger, that one day they will all pay for every mistake she has ever made. What if they had gone onto the roof earlier and the sheriff had interrupted? What if he’d been caught because she’d asked him to drop her mom off, been dragged before the warden, word of his presence had gotten out? They’re on opposite sides of this war.
She doesn’t think it’s possible for her arms to tighten around him anymore than they have. She squeezes him with everything that she has. Her fingers run through his hair, down his neck, down his back. She knows exactly what she’d have done, who she’d have chosen in that situation.
There’s no one else.
You’re the best thing in my life.
His weight is heavy on her. Calming. It centers her, makes her focus on the here and now, not what might be. Her lips brush against his brow, his temple, feather-light. The words that come to mind fall flat; how can she capture everything inside of her, how can she express herself when everything she wants to say has been said a thousand times before? You complete me. I could stare down eternity if only you were there. At last she tries, voice made thick by withheld emotion.
“You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m never letting go again.”
GM: Maybe he shouldn’t trust her.
But she isn’t telling him so.
“And here I’d been about to offer you my wrist.”
He pulls back, just enough, to bare his neck.
Celia: His neck. He wants her to sink into his neck. He knows she’s hungry; why ask for trouble? Her fangs are long in her mouth, itching to bite down…
“Hold,” she tells him, moving her hands around to the front of him so she can slip her wrists into his grip. It isn’t fool-proof, but it’s something.
Celia waits until he has a firm grasp on her arms before she leans in again. Her lips press against the strong line of his jaw. Then slide lower, right above where she knows all that blood is waiting for her, calling her name. It’s a gentle series of kisses she gives him before the two points of her fangs sink into his exposed neck. She pulls back. Waits until the blood wells, cools, drips. Then feeds.
GM: The taste makes her want to cry, next to the swill she had earlier. It’s Brujah blood. Hot blood. Fiery blood. She can feel it lighting her up all the way to fingertips. It stokes a furnace in her. Fills her with their passion, their righteous anger, makes her want to tear off some asshole’s fucking head—or drink her lover dry. She can all but hear her Beast slavering in her ear. To drain every last drop of that hot, so-precious blood. To consume him. To take him into her completely. So they might never be parted.
But just like that, she squashes the impulse. Shoves the howing animal back in its cage. Rattles the bars.
She ruins enough things without its help.
Roderick stares down at her, his hands still pinning her wrists against the couch. The scent of his still-dripping blood hangs heavy in the air. There’s strange melange of affection and hunger in his eyes. His voice comes out thick.
“God, you’re so fucking adorable, under me in that giant hoodie…”
He bites his fangs down against his lip, drawing two points of blood, and presses his lips to hers.
Celia: Fire in her core. Arousal. It thrums through her, a need that she can’t put into words. Human, lick, a combination of both; fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it is for them. Wrong to ask him to fuck her, isn’t it? He doesn’t get off on that anymore. But she does, and there’s something so titillating about him pinning her down like the breathers they once were. She’d always liked it when he’d gotten a little rough.
He moves before she has the chance to demand it of him.
Fangs slice into her tongue, spilling her blood into her mouth, then into his when their lips meet.
GM: His lips meet hers hungrily. Tongues, fangs, and blood freely mingle. He withdraws his hands from her wrists, just briefly enough, to start hurriedly tugging off her clothes.
Celia: He doesn’t need to. She shreds them.
GM: His clothes come off almost as swiftly. He growls, pushes her off the couch, and throws himself on top of her. His hands pin her wrists far apart. His fangs dig into her left breast, then trace along its surface, leaving matching trails of blood. He bites and sucks around her nipples, which she can already feel stiffening, not like her purported sire’s eternally still ones.
Pervert, the older Toreador had said, and she’d not meant it as a compliment.
Celia: A stitch of cloth still clings to her back when she hits the floor with a hiss. She shoves up against him, straining to toss him off of her so that she can roll him over, but his teeth find her flesh instead and what little air remains in her lungs leaves her with a sigh, body stilling beneath him. She can smell her own arousal, molten liquid pooling between her thighs. Her head snaps forward to sink her fangs into whatever part of him she can reach.
Pervert, she agrees, and what delicious pleasure that brings her.
GM: Her fangs sink into his neck. She sucks rapturously. He gives a snarl, wraps an arm around her, and rolls to his side, hugging her close against his chest as they lie on their flank. His fangs pierce her neck. She drinks from him. He drinks from her. Their lives feel inextricably entwined as they take and give in equal measure, two existences becoming as one.
She’s almost lost in the sensation until she feels a firm, cock-like one filling the wet space between her thighs. He growls and thrusts, burying it deeper.
Celia: Words exist for this, but they do not come to mind. Bliss. Euphoria. Unity, if she were the poetic sort. She loses herself to him, blood and soul and… there, body, buried inside of her. A growl passes her lips, then a more human sound: a moan. Her nails dig into his back as he fills her to pull him closer, deeper; fangs flash, sinking into his shoulder, then disappear when the blood hits her tongue. She draws it forth. She presses against him, shifting to get him to the right spot. Beast and girl become one, taking their fill.
GM: Fill her they do. Time seems to disappear as the lovers know passion and perhaps even happiness in one another’s arms—until pain sears through Celia’s back and the unmistakable stench of burning flesh wafts up her nostrils. In an instant, the Beast bursts its chains. Another instant later, she’s huddled on the ground with her back against the wall. Early dawn sun, still tinged with twilight, bathes the floor where she lay.
Another second later, and it’s gone as Roderick draws the extra-thick curtains closed. Thin plumes of smoke waft from some unsightly-looking burns across his back.
“Fuck. Sorry. I’d meant to close those.”
“You were a little distracting.”
Celia: It’s the worst way to come down. Abrupt agony across her back, then nothing until she finds herself curled against the wall. Her eyes dart toward him, then the curtains, then back to him. The tight pull of freshly burned skin against her muscles makes her bare her teeth.
“Fuck, why are they even open?”
She hadn’t even realized how late—early?—it had gotten.
GM: “I like to look outside. We can see in the dark.”
“Amateur mistake though. Should’ve had them closed.” He looks her over, frowning in concern. “Are you okay?”
Celia: “I’ve been worse.” Been better, too, like a moment ago when they were mid-coitus. She rises slowly, straining to look over her shoulder at her own back to assess the damage. It’s a futile effort. “You’re hit,” she says instead, making a vague motion to his back.
GM: “I’ve been worse too. I think this is our cue to go to bed though. We can mend up there.”
Celia: Her jaw clenches at the idea of him being in a worse state than this. Not so much damage that he can’t come back from it, but the very gall that someone would have to hurt that which belongs to her. She reaches for him, her grip iron around his wrist, pulls him toward her so that the raw flesh of her back is pressed against the wall. It burns at the pressure. She doesn’t so much as hiss as she stares up into his eyes, into the face that should have been hers this whole time, that is hers now.
She’ll kill anyone who thinks differently. Anyone who thinks to take him away.
Her arms snake around him, pulling his face down to meet hers, to press her lips against his. It’s brief but hard, less of a kiss than it is an assault against his mouth.
Even her Beast roars its approval at this claiming, territorial, possessive thing that it is. Somewhere inside her mind the Beauty is laughing with eyes that smolder as green as her stolen name.
They have so much to discuss. She had not meant to spend it all with her fangs buried in his neck. But dawn calls to her, drawing her toward the sweet oblivion of daysleep.
Thoughts turn in her head. Ways forward. Plans, theories, more plans. Fallbacks. Moves and countermoves. And goals, always goals. Her family’s health and happiness. His safety. His approval.
She keeps one hand in his. The other she lifts to touch his cheek, the pads of her fingers soft and warm against his skin. She has never been as cold as the rest of their kind. Not outwardly.
“An eternity of nights with you will never be enough.”
“We must speak tomorrow before I depart. Wake me, please, if you rise before me so that we can discuss our plans. But now I’m exhausted. Take me to bed.”
Celia leans into him, resting her head against his chest. It’s comforting, being able to stand with him like this again. Peaceful. All of the rest of her problems might melt away if only she could stand here long enough.
“And… if I took too much juice from you and you wake up hungry and take it back or something happens to me… please don’t take me to your sire. She’s thrown a collar around my neck twice now, and I’d…” she trails off. Takes a breath she doesn’t need to steel herself, though it has long since ceased doing that as well. She lifts her head to look up at him, and when she continues it’s almost shyly. “I’d like to be able to do that with you, once… once everything is settled.” Her eyes dart away, then back to his face. She is sure that, were she human, her cheeks would burn. “So just… call Lebeaux or Randy or something, they’ll figure it out.”
GM: Roderick chuckles at Celia’s initial words. “You sound a bit like an elder there. Very well, my beloved, let us retire to daysleep’s cold slumber ere Sol’s eye rises over the heavens,” he replies in an exaggerated voice as he hefts her up in his arms, one around her back and the other under her knees.
“I’d like to do that too, though. Save the next night of… ‘unsafe sex’ for sometime special.”
“And I won’t let anything happen to you while you’re here with me. Promise,” he declares somberly, planting a kiss on her forehead.
“But you can text me Randy’s number if it’d make you feel safer.”
Celia: “I was practicing,” Celia declares airily, waving a hand and lifting her nose into the air, “for when I’m an elder and can tell the silly neonates that they must wait at least five ye—eee!”
The effect is somewhat lost when her words cut off into a squeal as he lifts her. She throws her arms around him, nuzzling his neck as he carries her through his haven to the bed.
“We should just elope,” she says with an affected sigh, “fuck this city and run away. But I will. Randy’s number, I mean.” She makes him stop so she can retrieve her phone and does just that, then motions for him to continue the ride to the bedroom.
GM: He chuckles at her squeal but does just that. He has her pick up his phone as well. He looks down at the drying red stains they’ve left over his couch and heaves a sigh.
“This is so much messier than breather sex. But at least it wasn’t over the carpet.”
Celia: “Blot, don’t scrub,” Celia says with a firm nod.
GM: “I’ll toss the cushions in the laundry. Tomorrow, though. Can’t interrupt your ride,” he smiles as he carries her across the apartment. It isn’t a huge space. The living/dining room is one combined area, with the kitchen separated by island. He carries her up to the bedroom and lets her open the door.
“Thanks, by the way. I know you’re not, um, into the… breather thing anymore. But that was… really something else.”
GM: “You’re welcome. It… actually didn’t feel as bad as I thought.”
Celia: “It’s because I’m so cute,” Celia tells him, smirking.
GM: “Ha. Yeah. You can still… make it up t’ me with a m’sage. Like ol’ times…”
Roderick’s words are starting to slur a bit. His grip under her feels a little unsteady. Walking herself, though, seems like the worst idea on earth. Her eyelids are so heavy.
Celia: The fatigue hits her all at once. She lets them close, gesturing vaguely toward the bed. He knows where it is. His place, after all. Still, it’s so far—five feet away—and he’s so comfortable… she nestles herself further against him, tucking her face into the crook between neck and shoulder.
“Sleep time,” she murmurs. “Lo’ you.”
GM: He waits for Celia get the door, which feels like a lot of work. So does closing it after they’re inside. Celia doesn’t really notice what the room looks like, beyond that no sun gets inside. Roderick tosses her onto the bed, which is at least a fun way to land, then hits the surface himself with a soft thump. He spoons himself behind her, wrapping his arms around her belly and pressing his face against the back of her head. Celia can still smell the partly-dried blood coating their naked skin.
“You’re so hot…” he murmurs, nuzzling her hair.
Celia: She’s aware enough to giggle at his words, but she doesn’t expend the effort to make herself flush as she usually might. She just presses back against him, content to lie still in his arms.
“Ver’ cute,” she agrees, making a movement with her head that might be a nod.
Sleep claims her quickly after that.