“I love you. I always have.”
Friday night, 20 July 2012, AM
GM: Stephen doesn’t contact Celia after her meeting with Coco. They see each other in Elysium. They know better than to wear their hearts openly there.
Then in July 2012, another Batman movie comes out.
Celia: It’s not that she’s pining for him.
There’s a lot she has to do to occupy her mind. Learning the ropes. Growing her business. Keeping her ghouls in line. Playing both Celia and Jade to keep up the charade. (She thinks, at some point, Celia will probably just have to die or leave the city. It’s unfortunate but true.)
But she sees him around. And she remembers the conversation that they never got to have. The things she wanted to say but couldn’t.
The anger, too, at the way he’d beaten and then left her.
Then suddenly there’s another Batman movie, and all she can think about is that date they’d gone on to see The Dark Knight. He’d been so… understanding. Gentle. It had been magical. Really. She’s glad it was him who had taken her that night. She’d been giddy for days.
So she sends him a ticket to the midnight release. July 20, 12:05 AM. Thursday bleeding into Friday. She isn’t sure if she should send a note with it. Maybe he’ll turn it down out of principle. Maybe he’ll send it back, mock her for thinking he’d ever want to see her again. In the end she decides that’s better than surprising him at the theater and getting, well, raged at again for it.
For old times’ sake, she writes, and signs it ‘C.’
Getting ready for this is worse than the time she’d picked out what to wear for the actual first date they’d gone on. Because it isn’t a first date. It’s not even a second or third. It’s a ‘I lied to and cheated on you and I’d like you to forgive me because we’re both immortal and stuck with each other’ kind of date.
The Internet hadn’t been very helpful when she’d tried to look up what to wear based on that.
She doesn’t even know what face to wear. Jade or Celia? She’d had this whole thing planned where she could just be Celia for a night, pretend to be normal again, do that thing Pietro had taught her. But apparently Stephen/Roderick—what is she even supposed to call him?—doesn’t like lying.
So what’s lying? Jade? Or Celia? Pretending she’s not a monster, or being the monster?
It’s not even fair. All he’s probably doing is pulling on a pair of old jeans and a shirt without too many holes in it.
She goes for something flirty but casual. That effortless ‘oh I just threw this on’ look, the kind of thing she actually spent days picking out. Celia’s face. Natural makeup.
All she can do is hope for the best.
GM: If there’s one bright side, it’s that her ghouls don’t too much effort to keep in line.
“You look Flawless as always, ma’am,” Alana beams.
It’s not been that long since Kenya died and she also started to.
Celia: “Thanks, ’Lana.” Celia smiles distractedly at the ghoul as she finishes swiping on a nude lip. Somewhere between pink and brown. Matte. Nothing that will run or smear. MLBB is what they call this kind of look: my lips but better. As if there’s really much improvement a stick of color can do that her fingers can’t.
She’s putting entirely too much effort into this.
He’s probably not even going to show.
Or he’ll take one look at her and laugh at her dress and shoes and makeup and ask what she thought this was. Then he’ll tell everyone else and they’ll laugh too.
She tries not to think about it.
She should find someone who takes Xanax. Get a little nibble in. See if it helps.
Maybe Klonopin. Isn’t that one stronger? She thinks she heard that somewhere.
GM: Alana asks if she can put it on Celia. She loves doing her mistress’s face and helping the Toreador to be pretty.
“And you seem just a little nervous, ma’am,” she ventures.
Celia: “I’m fine.”
But Celia lets her put the lipstick on.
GM: The movie theater is packed, like it is for the finale to any critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise. Some teen girls who spot Celia in the crowd go, “Ohmygod, you’re Celia Flores!” “I follow your Instragram!” “We all do!” “Can we take your selfie?”
Celia: Mel had warned her about the camera thing. She smiles at the teenagers, thanks them for following, and lets them take the photos that she concentrates on showing up in. She tells them to tag her, too, so she can share. She even has an extra unopened lipstick in her bag from one of the PR kits she hadn’t gotten around to opening yet, and she hands it to one of them with a wink.
GM: The girls love it and even bicker over who gets to have it. They take lots of pics. Mel had warned Celia, but also told her to enjoy it too. Many of her clan love to bask in the adoration of these kine. To be seen and admired. To be told they are beautiful, because it is true, and what is being beautiful without being admired for it?
Celia: If no one recognizes your beauty, are you really beautiful?
She waves goodbye to the girls after a few moments, scanning the crowd for Stephen. Roderick. Whatever his name is these days.
Maybe a midnight opening hadn’t been the best idea.
GM: Whatever his name is.
Jade or Celia. What’s really hers?
Celia: Celia, tonight. That’s all that matters. One evening at a time.
GM: It’s as she’s scanning the crowd that she sees him right there, watching her.
His clean-shaven, boyish face doesn’t look a day older than it did two years ago. He’s wearing blue jeans with a short-sleeved button-up and dark leather shoes that give the casual pants a dressier look. It might be nice to think he’s dressed up for her, but she’s generally seen the primogen’s childe wear suits and ties to Elysium (it’s actually more formal attire than hers). If anything, he’s dressed down here.
“Hi,” he says. A little lamely.
Celia: The fact that he’s here, though.
If her heart hadn’t stopped that night she’d died she’s sure that it would be hammering, now. Skipping. Singing, maybe. She wants to skip. To launch herself at him. Like some long overdue reunion.
She settles for a sedate walk instead. Even so, she can’t help the nervous energy bubbling inside of her, or the smile that curls the corners of her lips up, that goes so far as to crinkle her eyes.
“Hey,” she says. “I’m glad you made it.”
There’s one of those slightly longer than normal pauses where she can’t decide if she should hug him or shake his hand. In the back of her mind is what happened last time they were together. The frenzy. The rage. But he’d let her touch him, so he clearly doesn’t have a problem with that.
Finally, she leans in to embrace him anyway. It’s not one of those awkward butt-out hugs, either, the kind reserved for family and people you’re not actually excited to see. She steps into the circle of his space and her arms go around him.
It’s like no time passed at all, that’s how perfectly she fits against him. Two years later and he still smells the same, too. Maybe he likes the effect it has on his hair. And maybe he just likes that she was the one who recommended the products to him. She breathes him in.
“It’s really good to see you.”
GM: “Yeah,” Roderick/Stephen says back. He’s a little slow to return the hug, at first. There’s some tension behind his embrace. Celia isn’t sure how much may be the past and how much may just be his Beast.
But he does, at least, not make it an ass-out hug.
“You look like you’re pretty popular these days,” he says, glancing the way of the teenagers.
Celia: “Ah, yeah, social media account took off. Who knew dogs and makeup would go over so well?” She smiles up at him. “Just have to hashtag things the right way.”
There’s a brief pause as she considers the complication of being seen out in public with him. Celia Flores is alive and well.
Stephen Garrison is… dead.
She’d looked it up after she’d seen him that night two years ago. Looked to find out ‘what had happened.’ The lie he’d told. They’d told. Him and Coco.
GM: Car crash.
Neat and clean.
“He’d have had to do it at some point,” Mélissaire had said. “That whole ‘not aging’ thing eventually makes friends and family ask rather inconvenient questions.”
“And a Brujah’s temper makes them an even bigger danger to be around than most Kindred.”
It’s pretty recent still. Only a few months ago.
“I don’t know much about makeup, but it’s hard to go wrong with dogs,” says Stephen/Roderick.
Celia: She’d wanted to go to the funeral. Mélissaire had told her it was a bad idea, not only because of the location but also because of his feelings on the matter. Would he want her there, showing up, bothering his family?
She hadn’t even been able to offer his family her condolences. Even lying, knowing he was out there, it might have been… some sort of closure. She’ll have to do the same for her own family, eventually. Celia is on borrowed time.
Perhaps she should have come as Jade; no one takes photos of Jade. She’s a nobody. Celia is too eye-catching for the masses, though, too recognizable in this town.
But Jade’s a lie, isn’t she? And he doesn’t want her to lie.
“Don’t tell anyone,” she tells him, “but the dog belongs to one of my employees.” She winks.
GM: “Might be you’re not,” her grandsire’s ghoul had said thoughtfully. “You can age. Celia will have to die, eventually, but she could do that as late as 90. If you’re skilled enough to keep her Masquerade going.” A rueful smile. “And willing to look like a shriveled old prune.”
Besides, isn’t everyone’s dream to show up at their own funeral and see what people say?
GM: “Secret’s safe,” says Stephen. “I guess it’s not that different from any other social media, putting forward an image we want the world to see.”
The two of them file into line. Stephen doesn’t buy any concessions.
“Your family ever get that cat like they’d been talking about, or no go?”
Celia’s mom had really wanted a cat. Her shithole apartment had had a ‘no pets’ policy.
Celia: “She did. Once she moved into the new place. Named him Shadow, but he’s a calico, so I’m not entirely sure on the logic there. She and Emily love it. It… doesn’t like me.”
She stands a little closer to him than she needs to under the guise of it being crowded. Various questions flit through her mind: how’s your sister, your dad, did you finish school, how’s ‘work?’ None of them seem appropriate. They’re just a reminder of the life he left behind.
“You still a sits in the back kind of guy?” she asks as they hand the associate their tickets.
GM: “Yeah. Up close you can barely see the screen, and in the middle is twice as many people.”
The line is very long. They cut. Roderick says to the guy who objects, “Hey, we were here, remember?” and the guy answers, “Oh yeah, sorry man.”
“Might as well get some perks from this,” Roderick/Stephen says as they head into the theater.
Celia: And here she’d thought he’d throw a punch or something equally dramatic. She laughs instead, slinging her arm through his.
“The drawbacks are worth whatever we can take,” she agrees. She finds a couple of seats for them near the back of the theater. Now, more than ever, she doesn’t like people behind her. She’s sure that he’s the same way.
“Can I ask you a silly question?” She keeps her voice low, nothing more than a delicate whisper in the still-light theater.
GM: There’s just more reasons that’s a con now.
Celia: “I keep second guessing myself on what to call you now,” she admits, sheepish. “I know what to say elsewhere, but…”
GM: “Oh.” Roderick/Stephen actually looks more than a little thoughtful before he says, “Roderick. Clean break is best. I’m Roderick everywhere else, anyway.”
“And… being Celia is…” he trails off for a moment, “thoughtful, but she’s popular. Jade might be better.”
Celia: Her dead heart does that thing it does. Or would do. Thinks about doing.
Jade is better. That means he wants to see her again.
She keeps it cool with a nod.
GM: “How did you do that with the face, by the way, if it’s not veiling? Did your sire take you to a night doctor?”
Celia: “Not my sire, no. D’you remember that detective from… that night?”
The night she’d egged Maxen into hitting her by wearing makeup to dinner. She’d told him about it, after. The favor her grandmother had called in, the guy who’d come to meet all of them at the hospital.
GM: “Yeah. I’ve seen him at Elysium.”
“We hide in plain sight, I guess.”
Celia: “Yeah. He knew someone.” There’s a pause. She leans in, lowering her voice further. “He put my mom back together. After.”
“Ha. We do. Almost had a heart attack when he showed up and flashed his… y’know.”
“Makes sense, though. The night jobs. Still need money, I guess. Cling to what we know.”
GM: Roderick looks less than pleased. “He’s not a cop for the money. He’s leveraging his position in all sorts of illegal ways to shield organized crime interests, directly or indirectly, because he…”
The Brujah seems to hold his tongue.
Celia: “You mean like the Mafia?”
GM: “Yeah. The Mafia.”
Celia: “Oh.” She hadn’t known.
GM: “I don’t know for sure that he’s directly in bed with them, but Savoy is, and he works for Savoy.”
“I’m glad you were able to get help for your mom,” he then says, clearly changing the topic.
“How’s she doing?”
Celia: Her hand curls around his on the arm rest. She almost asks if she can help, but he changes the subject before the words leave her mouth.
“She’s good. She… well. Lucy.” She can’t quite keep the smile off her face. “She’s beautiful, Roderick. And he can’t touch her. I’m… after everything she’s been through, I’m glad she’s happy. Truly, truly happy. You should see them together. It’s honestly… it’s amazing.”
“I always thought…”
It’s a touchy subject. She’d wanted kids.
It’s a dangerous path for her thoughts to traverse. She shakes her head.
“Doesn’t matter. Mom is good.”
GM: Their hands squeeze.
“Good. I’m glad. She was nice. Good for your… sister, too. Being raised by your dad would’ve fucked her up in all sorts of ways, I’m sure.”
He then seems to realize the implications of what he said.
And then maybe remember them, too.
That last fight.
So he opens his mouth, then changes the subject again to, “How’d the lawsuit pan out?”
Celia: She’s happy to let him lead. She doesn’t want to think about it, either. Their fight. The lies and truths she had told him.
Everything she’s hiding now.
“It went well. Really, really well. Viv was able to get her a settlement from the medical debt, and my mom has partial custody of the rest of them.” Except for Isabel, who is off at ‘Liberty,’ and beyond the age range of a custody agreement besides. “She invested a lot of it. Lucy’s college, car, the house, my business…”
She doesn’t mention that Savoy and Veronica had gifted her large sums, too. She doesn’t know how much attention he has paid her.
“Are you practicing? Law, I mean.”
GM: Technically, loaned, not gifted. But an interest-free loan with generous repayment terms (“we have forever, my dear”) was nothing to sneeze at. It was certainly more money than the 100k her mom ponied up.
“I’ve been pretty caught up in the all-night stuff,” Roderick answers. “Though I got my JD. Matter of pride as much as anything else. I’m going to take the bar exam, later. There’s still things it’ll be useful for.”
“That all sounds like good uses for the settlement money, anyway. There’s too many clients who win a big award and treat it like the lottery, just spending it all.”
Celia: “I told her to take a vacation,” Celia admits. “I guess I thought I could live vicariously if she brought back photos of Greece or Paris or even Miami.”
“But I’m glad you finished. And that you’re taking the bar. That’s… honestly, Ste—Roderick, that’s amazing.”
She still wants him to do great things.
And she’s mostly happy that the hand she had in his Embrace—breaking him—hadn’t kept him from doing it. Even if Coco had said she was overthinking her own importance.
GM: Celia’s mom did like the idea of a vacation. To London or New York, maybe, to see the ballet. Emily had also suggested Hawaii. Someplace bright, sunny, and tropical to forget the past and just relax.
But Celia’s mom had wanted to take her with them, and Savoy had said travel was dangerous and not to be undertaken lightly. And so the idea just hadn’t seemed to take off, without Celia. Her mom hadn’t complained. More money to invest in responsible adult things.
“Well, lots of people do it every year. But there have been extra challenges as… Kindred, so thanks. It really feels like I’ve earned it.”
Celia: She’s proud of him. So, so proud of him for continuing on despite the challenges. She doesn’t know how to say that, though, or if he’d want to hear it coming from her.
She squeezes his hand instead, tells him that she’s happy he’s going for it.
“When is the exam?”
GM: “October. It’s during the middle of the day, but there’s ways around that.”
Celia: “Let me know if I can assist at all. And, hey, after you crush it we should celebrate.”
GM: “Oh yeah, how do you think?”
Celia: “We could throw a big party and invite everyone and spend all evening mincing words. That sounds super fun.”
“Or, y’know, we could find something for the two of us. Quiet dinner by the Gulf. Steal a yacht. What’re you into these days?”
GM: “Ha. Yeah. There’s enough of that at Elysium. Those parties are basically like work.”
“The Anarchs all live in Mid-City, so I’ve been doing most of my hunting around there. It’s a more working-class neighborhood. The girls aren’t really my type, to be honest. And I’m starting to feel a little old for the college crowd, even if I still look it. It’s the sorts of girls going to law school, who you can have a conversation with, who I think I’d like most as vessels.”
“Though that’s mostly theoretical, since they’re in Riverbend, and I haven’t wanted to sell part of my soul to the sheriff for hunting rights.”
Celia: There’s a pang that ricochets through her chest. For him, for wanting the conversation. For her, for thinking he still wants her.
“What if I got you a hall pass? Like a one time exception?”
GM: Roderick raises his eyebrows. “How would you do that? You’re a Bourbon.”
“The sheriff’s one of the most hardass regents there is. And a Hardliner.”
Celia: She shrugs.
“I’ve got three months to figure it out. Could always join me in the Quarter if you’d prefer.”
GM: Roderick looks at Celia with an expression that might be described as dubious at best and alarmed at worst. He’s a silent for a moment before seeming to settle on, “No thanks.”
“Look, you could also join me in Mid-City,” he then says, seemingly trying to divert the conversation back to calmer waters. “It takes a little work to find good vessels, but it’s not impossible. What are you into these days, so far as hunting?”
Celia: “I just work within what’s typical of the Quarter, mostly. Tourists and all that.”
GM: “Don’t have any preferences past that?”
Celia: “I mean, aesthetically pleasing people are always preferred, but I think that might be a clan thing.” She’s quiet a moment, then presses a hand to her mouth to stifle some giggles. “This conversation reminds me of the night we met.”
GM: Roderick looks amused. “Oh, how’s that?”
“And yeah, pretty sure that’s a requirement just to be a Toreador.”
Celia: “You asking questions and me trying to avoid making you think I was just another empty-headed pretty face majoring in dance.”
GM: “It’s funny how that works out. My sire says everyone usually winds up in the clans they belong to.”
“Did you finish at Tulane, by the way, or have you mostly been focusing on your business?”
Celia: “I took some online classes, but the focus changed to help support what I do now. Since I’m not pretending to pick a major for Maxen there’s some more flexibility instead of dance or theology.” There’s some bitterness to her voice once she mentions her father’s name.
“Coco have big plans for you with helping take ’em down?”
GM: “The Mafia, you mean?” Roderick hesitates. “That’s a little sensitive to go into.”
“What’d you do instead, premed?”
Celia: “Ah. Right. Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I guess I was just more wondering how things are going for you in general. With her. With everything.”
GM: Roderick starts to answer. The pair are interrupted, though, as the previews end and the movie finally begins.
There’s a few parallels that aren’t lost on Celia. How Bruce Wayne has been secluded and emotionally crippled for close to a decade, full of hurt over his past love. How Alfred implores Bruce to stop holding onto that hurt and to live for himself again. How Alfred admits so much of Bruce’s pain was built on a lie, told at the time to spare him from even greater pain. But maybe holding onto that lie isn’t the right thing to do, anymore.
“Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day,” Alfred’s actor says tearfully.
Celia: This is not the type of movie that she’d expected to learn things from. She’d come to see cars get blown up, bad guys locked away, and Batman prevail in the end. She’d come to see if Stephen—Roderick—wanted anything to do with her anymore, if he could forgive her for what she’d done years ago. By the time the movie is half over she has gone from holding his hand to lifting the armrest between them and placing her head on his shoulder.
Is he supposed to be Wayne? And she’s, what, the lying McLiarFace who needs to let him go?
GM: Maybe she’s Selina Kyle. The beautiful love interest with a troubled past who secretly works for a monster, then betrays Bruce so her master can physically and spiritually break him.
But he overcomes. His forgiveness and belief she is capable of “better” than what her behavior indicates brings her over to the right side, and they get to live happily ever after upon leaving Gotham and all its troubles behind.
Or maybe she’s reading too much into it.
Celia: Of course she’s reading too much into it.
Real life isn’t like the movies. There aren’t masked defenders and people who crawl out of pits and monsters in the dark and people who pretend to be your friend before literally stabbing you in the back and rich people stepping on little people until those little people have had enough and rise up and revolt.
She asks him about it later, though, as they file out of the theater amidst the crowd.
“If you were Bruce, do you think you could forgive the girl like that? For the betrayal?”
GM: Roderick does, at least, let Celia rest her head against his shoulder throughout the movie, and puts his arm around her. They can’t enjoy any of the concessions, but it feels almost like being alive again.
He pauses to think about her question on their way out.
“I’d like to think so,” he says. “She did finally stand for what was right.”
He looks around the emptying theater.
“I’d normally take you out for ice cream or something at this point.”
“You want to go for a walk in the park?”
Celia: “I’m gonna miss that jalapeno cheesecake flavor. But yeah, a walk sounds great.”
GM: Celia calls Alana to come pick up her car. They take Roderick’s up to City Park. True to its name, it’s the city’s largest park, replete with a miniature golf course, art museum, amusement park, playground, restaurants, and other attractions to the point that ‘park’ actually looks rather scarce, at least this far south. Still, there aren’t many people around at 2 AM.
Roderick pulls into the closest parking lot. A children’s playground is visible across from the asphalt. The swings, slides, seesaws, sandbox, and other playground equipment stand still and barren at the late night hour.
Celia: Celia points at the playground, lifting her brows in question. Does he want to do the classic romance movie thing where they play on the slide and swings?
GM: Her ex looks amused. “Feels almost like sacrilege as vampires, doesn’t it?”
“What the hell, though. There’s no one else. They can’t cite us.”
Celia: “Is that a cite-worthy offense? I don’t see a sign proclaiming ‘you must be this young to act like a child.’”
She gets out of the car with a “race you!” and takes off at a run as if to prove her point.
GM: Celia trips in her heels. Roderick’s not next to her, but then he is, catching her just before her knees scrape the pavement.
“Maybe bad shoes for a race,” he says wryly.
Celia: At least she didn’t roll her ankle.
“Veronica makes it look so easy,” she says with a laugh. “Thanks. Guess I wasn’t meant to be a dancer after all.”
GM: That might not seem like such a bad thing, with his arms around her. Holding her. Supporting her.
He helps her up. “I don’t know, you seemed pretty into it. Was probably just too much else to balance on top of cos school and all the stress with your dad.”
“You could always take those classes again.” He thinks. “Or maybe not, with where Tulane is.”
“Could also just take lessons from your mom. I’m sure she’d be thrilled to teach you.”
Celia: “There are studios in the Quarter, I’m sure. Or, yeah, my mom.”
She doesn’t move to pull away from him, even after her feet at firmly on the ground again.
GM: The two of them stand there against one another in the dark, gazing out over the still playground.
“My sire says we should never let ourselves stop learning. There’s always more to learn, and we have forever.”
Celia: “It would be a waste of a Requiem if we let our minds decay. She sounds… like she’s pushing you in all the right ways.”
Celia is quiet a moment, then says, “I didn’t meet her under normal circumstances, but she wasn’t what I expected. And I guess, you know, if you had to end up as someone’s childe… there are worse options.”
GM: “Yeah. She’s an old school Brujah. Thinking Brujah. I wouldn’t call her my mom, or anything, but… it’s good to have someone like her in my life, unlife, after how ugly the divorce was.”
Stephen had told Celia’s that story. The stress of his dad’s job was too much for his mom. She lives up in Nashville and has remarried. Stephen and Danielle would spend summers with her, not that they particularly wanted to. They didn’t get along with their stepfather.
He wasn’t abusive. They just didn’t like him. The feeling sounded mutual.
Celia: “I’ve heard good things about her.”
And she wouldn’t have taken him if he didn’t want it. That gives her points in Celia’s book. She’s also a little relieved to hear him compare her to his mom, even if he doesn’t quite use the word to describe her. He probably doesn’t fuck his ‘mom.’
Maybe the Toreador are known as degenerates for a reason.
GM: “What about your sire? How’s Veronica, as far as options go?”
Celia: “She’s, uh… she’s… volatile. Some days are good, like really good, and then it just… flips. But I’m staying on her good side. And I learn a lot from her.”
There are certainly worse options than Veronica, too.
“And she’s with Pietro a lot, so it’s kind of like a two-for-one deal.”
GM: “I see her around all the Anarch events. She’s definitely something. You could do a lot worse.”
Roderick looks back out across the playground. “You want to go on the swings, or take a walk down the park?”
“The trees here are really pretty.”
Celia: “You got some bulging muscles under there that’s gonna make the seat fly around the bar five times if I ask you to push me?”
GM: He chuckles. “There’s a lot of Brujah stronger than me. I seem to be better at the ‘fast’ part. All that baseball, I guess.”
Celia: “Imagine if they let us play sports.”
“We can walk, though, you can show me these pretty trees.”
GM: “Okay. We can circle back here when we’re done.”
He takes her hand.
“And we do play sports, at least among the Anarchs. They aren’t really my scene. It’s crazy what they can get up to. Things like driving burning cars into each other, to see who can keep going longest.”
Celia: “Burning cars? That… sounds awful. I can’t imagine even watching something like that, let alone participating. Maybe driving normal cars into each other.” She looks up at him. “Are you messing with me?”
“Tell me more crazy things you guys get up to so I can wheedle an invitation out of you.”
GM: Roderick smiles. “I wish I was messing with you. But yeah. The burning cars game is the more extreme. The ‘tame’ version is just smashing normal cars into each other, like bumper cars.”
“But let’s see. There’s Nines, which is basically like paintball, except they use real guns and ammo. Sixty-Nines is a variation with a kidnapped victim, usually Kindred, who doesn’t know it’s actually a game. Bear-Baiting is trying to provoke an elder into frenzy at Elysium. Los Angeles Roulette is where two licks hit each other with baseball bats, not moving, until someone cries uncle or gets torpored. Gotcha involves taking a breather and staging an accident so they think they’ve ‘killed’ one of the Kindred players, who obviously doesn’t breathe or have a pulse, and seeing how they react.”
Celia: “That… actually sounds like a lot of fun to watch. Or play. You don’t participate? What do you get if you win?”
GM: “I think there’s better things to do with eternal life. A lot of those games obviously endanger the Masquerade, too. And Gotcha and Sixty-Nines are cruel to the people who aren’t in on it.”
Celia: “I guess I’m just used to all the formality. I can see why they’d want to cut loose. But yeah, I mean, you’re right.”
GM: “Usually you don’t get anything, anyways, besides being hailed as the winner. They’re just games. Ways to have fun and blow off steam. Though some Anarchs can build up their reputations through them.”
“And I’ll admit Nines can be fun, so long as everyone’s careful. With the Masquerade, that is.”
Celia: “Aha. So you have played.”
“And you lured me out here to be your unsuspecting victim for the Sixty-Nines, only then you spilled the secret.”
“I’ll still scream if you need me to.” She winks at him.
GM: Roderick smirks and loops his arm around her shoulder as they walk. “You’d hate Nines. Get your pretty face all messed up.”
“And yeah. I have played. There were a couple Anarchs saying I was basically a Ventrue, with how I dressed and acted.”
“But they stopped saying that after I filled their heads with a couple rounds.”
Celia: “So what you’re saying is you’re kind of a badass.”
“That’s pretty attractive, not gonna lie.”
GM: The smirk grows a bit. “All those shooting lessons with Dad paid off. There’s Anarchs who used to be gangbangers, and, Jesus, some of them don’t even hold a gun right. They have it pointed so the butt faces up, or to the side.”
Celia: “Oh. Wait. Teach me. How to shoot.”
“Also what do you mean butt up? That doesn’t even… even I know how to hold the damn thing.”
GM: “I think even they know how to do it. It’s just this really stylized, glam gangster pose they think looks badass and everyone with a brain knows is just stupid.”
“What do you want to learn to shoot for, though? Lots of guns are pretty ineffective against us. I mean, we play games with them.”
Celia: She supposes he’s right.
“I don’t… know how to do any of that. Fight. Or anything. So. I mean.” She shrugs. “Seemed easier than learning how to throw a punch, I guess.”
“You remember that time when my dad went after my mom?” She glances at him out of the corner of her eye while they walk.
GM: He gives a little grimace. “Which time was that? When he put her in the hospital, when you were a teen, or when he…”
Celia: “The first time. I was still a kid.”
GM: “Okay, that time.”
“Yeah. I remember you telling me.”
“How he tried to saw off her leg and she had to stop ballet.”
Celia: “He kept guns in the house. I knew the safe combo. So when the police told me they weren’t coming, I went to get one. I’ve seen the movies, you know? Point and shoot.”
GM: “Well, if you don’t have any training, you can be as much a danger to yourself as to others.”
“But I agree you did the right thing. You couldn’t have just done nothing there.”
Celia: “I didn’t pull the trigger, though. I should have put him down.”
GM: “You’d have destroyed your life, doing that. Your mom wouldn’t have wanted you to.”
“And who knows how things would’ve gone. Would you have stopped him from sawing her leg off, still?”
Celia: “No,” Celia admits, “it was past that point.”
“That night you went missing your dad asked if I knew how to shoot. He said you could teach me if not. Anyway, how can I crash your Nines games if I don’t know what I’m doing?” She nudges him in the side with her elbow.
GM: “Okay, so say he’s dead. Your life’s over. Your mom’s horribly traumatized to lose ballet and her daughter. Your brothers and sisters are traumatized too, over everything. She stays in the house and tries to raise five kids while she’s a wreck, and then who knows what.”
“Because it sounds to me like things have turned out pretty okay. Your brothers and sisters aren’t… totally stuck with your dad. Your mom’s doing really well with Lucy and the settlement money. Emily also has a family. Who knows where she’d be now if you weren’t there for her, that night she was drunk. She told me about that when your mom was in the hospital.”
“I mean, obviously things aren’t perfect, but when are they?”
Celia: She thinks about it, but not for long.
“You’re right. But Isabel might have been saved. Emily didn’t tell me that she told you that.”
GM: “Yeah. You’d disappeared, your mom was out of it, so… we tried to pull things together.”
Celia: “I’m really glad that you did. That you were able to be there for them. Thank you.”
GM: “You’re welcome. You really made a difference in her life, it seemed like.”
Celia: “Good. She… she’s a good person.”
GM: “How is she these days?”
Celia: “Doing well. Finishing undergrad. Helping with Lucy. She got her massage license so she’s at the spa, too.”
GM: “That’s great. She sounds like she’s really found a place with your family.”
Celia: “Fits right in. Mom loves her.”
“Lucy is calling all three of us Mom, actually.”
GM: The two pass by a lot of trees on their way through the darkened park.
At the post-midnight hour, the pair seem to have the winding trails all to themselves. The forested park with its tall, drooping branches feels like something out of a primordial dream.
Celia: “You weren’t kidding about the trees being pretty. It’s beautiful back here.”
Celia kind of wants to climb one.
GM: There’s much to be said for losing the sun, but there’s a magic to the witching-hour stroll that wouldn’t be possible in broad daylight.
“Yeah. It’s twice as big as Central Park. You can spend forever just walking around.”
Celia: “All my time living here and I’ve never been this deep.”
GM: “The art museum is also pretty nice, and during Christmas they have this ‘Cajun Santa Claus’ lights display. Alligators instead of reindeer.”
Celia: “Alligators? Really?”
“We’ll have to come back so you can show me.”
GM: “Yeah. That’s the Cajun Santa for you.”
Roderick stares into the darkened trees for a bit, then pulls Celia closer, arm still wrapped around her shoulder.
“I missed you.”
Celia: “I missed you too. So, so much.” She leans into him, lets her cheek rest against his chest. Her arm encircles his lower back.
GM: He holds her like that, for a while. The warm summer night is alive with the sound of bullfrogs, the occasional nocturnal bird, and the sight of dancing fireflies. Celia feels Roderick’s chest rise and fall as he breathes (through conscious effort) the smell of the trees and grass. The humid night air is cool against Celia’s skin in her flimsy summer dress.
Roderick opens his mouth, perfectly clear to Celia in the dark, as if to say something.
Then he kisses her. It’s a slow and thoughtful kiss, and pleasantly cool, like the summer night they seemingly have all to themselves.
She’d been thinking about it all night. Kissing him. Wondering if she could get away with it, if he’d mind a peck on the cheek later. If she’d even see him again after tonight.
Her mind blanks when he leans in. Her lips part. She isn’t a teenager anymore, unsure of what to do with her hands. She pulls him closer.
Everything is perfect.
GM: His lips meet hers again. Celia can feel his fangs brush against her tongue, as well as her own canines lengthening in her mouth.
Their knees sink to the grass as he pulls at the ties to her clothing.
Celia: It isn’t much to take off. The dress slides easily down her body once he releases the ties and pools in a chiffon puddle in the grass beneath her knees. The cool air doesn’t bother her new body, and his fingers make quick work of both bra and panties. Her body is the same as he remembered it. She unbuttons his shirt with more patience than she has shown anything else in this unlife, smoothing it back over his shoulders so it, too, can join the pile of discarded clothing.
GM: His hands roam her breasts as she tugs off his clothes. His fangs trace her skin, then stab through it. Blood wells down her shoulder. He pauses for that agonizingly long fraction of a second to help pull off his pants and shoes, then licks up the cooling vitae as it trickles down her flesh.
Celia: She tries to follow his lead. To let the blood cool. The first time she bites him she even manages to do so. It’s agonizing, the waiting, watching it well and slowly, slowly drip down his skin.
She has time to think about how long it’s been. How long she’s wanted this, him. She knows she shouldn’t. But the blood calls to her. She ignores the rules and, rather than wait those several seconds to make sure it’s ‘safe,’ she pulls right from the source.
GM: At Celia’s lapse of control, Roderick’s own resolve seems to crumble too. He sinks his fangs into her neck and drinks deeply. He shoves her backwards, pressing her naked body against the grass and his chest against hers. He doesn’t try to enter her with his flaccid cock. He just growls, bites, and rapturously drinks.
Celia: She doesn’t even mind that he has laid her out on her back. The rational, human part of her mind thinks it’s hot, enjoys the show of dominance and strength. Her Beast snarls at the thought that it is anything less than the pinnacle, but once she sinks her fangs into Roderick’s flesh and swallows more mouthfuls of that precious red it’s content to purr instead.
At least until she flips him, straddling his waist with her hands pinning his arms above his head, growling in his ear as she drinks straight from his neck.
GM: Roderick shudders underneath her as she takes her fill, then kicks her out from under him and tackles her to the ground. The two vampires roll through the grass, hissing, biting, snarling, kissing, sucking, and finally collapse into exhaustion, messily streaked with one another’s blood.
They lie still for a bit. The grass is cool against their coppery-smelling skin.
“…the sex is really something else, isn’t it?”
Celia: She sprawls out across his chest, head tucked in the crook between neck and shoulder. Her lips press against his neck every so often, tasting him, though her fangs stay safely retracted inside her mouth.
“With you? Yeah.” Her lips curl into a smirk.
GM: He laughs faintly. “We must look like a couple of… assault victims.”
Celia: “You could lick it better.”
“Come stay with me today,” she says after a moment.
“I have a place. Just us.”
GM: “Oh, where?”
Celia: “Technically it’s in the Quarter. But no one knows about it but me. And it’s right next to the Central Business District.” She takes a moment to press a kiss against the corner of his mouth, then his lips proper. “No one knows about it but me. No coterie to deal with.”
GM: He seems to think, but not for long. Celia can feel his blood singing in her veins, and hers no doubt in his.
Celia: It’s almost a shame to get dressed after all of that. After making sweet, sweet love to him in the middle of the park, where anyone could come across them. She almost wants to go again.
But she reaches, eventually, for her dress and pulls it over her head, and picks up the discarded panties and bra without bothering to put them on.
Once she’s dressed she reaches for him, for his hand. It’s so… normal, being with him. Almost human. Minus the flaccid cock and the fangs, of course. Still. He brings her back to life in a way she hadn’t expected. She’s almost giddy as they traverse the trails that lead back to the car park.
GM: Roderick pulls on his boxers and other clothes before taking hers. “Damn. We’re bloody. We should go clean up in a bathroom.”
He looks amused by her carrying around her underwear. “Almost more funny if someone ran into us right now than when we were banging.”
Celia: As if she doesn’t have a purse to tuck them discretely into. She sticks her tongue out at him, mocking.
“We don’t need to clean up if we’re going back to my place. I’m not so house poor that I can’t afford a shower.”
“Though, truthfully, the primary has its own pool. Just saying.”
GM: “Yeah, but it’s a moderate drive there and we’re pretty bloody.”
“Just good practice with the Masquerade.”
Celia: “As I’ve said, you’ve an apparatus in your mouth that could clean me up.”
“But certainly, find a bathroom if that’s what calls your name.”
“Deny me the pleasure of your tongue on my body again.”
GM: Roderick smirks and licks Celia’s coppery-smelling nose.
“Feel that? No spit.”
“Happy to keep licking you, just won’t get us clean.”
Celia: “You know what I’d have given three years ago to have you ask if I wanted you to keep licking?” She smirks at him, but offers him her hand and falls in line behind him to find this restroom he’s so keen on.
GM: “Hmm, at least one massage?” he says as he takes her hand. The two start to walk back the way they came.
“I’m, uh. Sorry for beating you up in your salon two years ago,” he then says, with less levity.
“I felt like… your dad, staring down at you after what I’d done.”
“And I think that’s part of why I stayed away, because I was scared I’d do something like that to you all over again. I didn’t want to hurt you. Keep hurting you.”
“I’m just so angry, sometimes. I can’t even control it.”
Celia: There’s a moment here where the conversation can go a number of ways: an apology from her for breaking his heart. The demand of a debt for breaking her body. Or a simple scrubbing it clean, and letting the two of them start over.
It’s his last admission that stays her hand from taking advantage of that moment.
“I…” She takes a breath she doesn’t need to gather her thoughts. “I thought you hated me. Truly. And it hurt. More than what you did, that thought hurt.”
She tugs on his hand to pull him to a stop.
“Roderick. I don’t want to go into this with regrets and lies between us. I’m sorry, too, for getting you into this. For everything I said to you that night I left you.”
GM: He stops and faces her, but squeezes her hand.
“You had to. You couldn’t have stayed with me, after getting turned. You just couldn’t have.”
“Was all of what you said made up?”
Celia: “I wanted to bring you with me. And I just… couldn’t do it. They said you’d be like a slave. How could I subject you to that?”
GM: “Coco already had her eye on me. You’d have just picked a fight with her.”
Celia: “And that night… I almost killed you. You know what it’s like, the hunger. The need. I was so scared I’d just drain you and leave you empty.”
“Christ, I tried to. I had a whole party planned out to lure her in and tell her to fuck off, that you were mine.”
“I wasn’t even turned when I thought about taking her on.”
“I knew she was Kindred, not that she was… Coco.”
GM: “I guess some things work out for the best. I don’t think that would’ve worked, or helped either of us.”
Celia: “She’d have killed me for impertinence.”
GM: “She’s… pretty humane, as far as Kindred go. Definitely as far as elders go.”
“But she’s got the same anger issues as me. As any of our clan.”
“So yeah. You might’ve pushed her too far. Who knows. Maybe it wouldn’t have ended badly, best case scenario, but I don’t see it making anything better.”
Celia: “I was afraid of you. For a long time, after that happened.”
GM: “After I… hurt you?”
Celia: She nods.
GM: “I’m sorry,” he repeats.
“Like I said. I felt like your dad.”
“Figured you’d had enough violence from guys close to you in your life.”
Celia: “I know. I… God, I thought the same thing. Even seeing you tonight I kept flashing back to that. The anger.”
She takes a step closer to him.
“I’m not, now. I get it. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. And… yeah, it’s… I mean I guess it’ll be there, in the back of my head, and maybe I shouldn’t say this, but.. I trust you.”
Her eyes search his face, as if waiting for him to laugh at her.
GM: “That means a lot,” he says.
He raises her hands in his. “I don’t want to hurt you, Celia. God knows I don’t. You’ve been through so much awful shit with your family. Then getting Embraced, right in the middle of that. It isn’t fair. You deserve something better.”
Celia: “You asked. About that night. What I said.” There’s a pause.
“I went to see Em. Daddy was in jail and I… it made sense to me. He was a criminal. I thought I could kill him. And he told me no. I felt stupid, so I left. Angry. I was so angry. I stopped at a bar because I just wanted to forget, and Pietro was there. He did that thing. You know. Star mode. And I… I went home with him.” Her voice breaks.
“I woke up in his bed. He had gone through my stuff. And I heard him arguing with someone, about a body, and I… I tried to go out the window.”
She tells him about the fire escape. The anxiety. Not knowing if she would live or die. Being told she had ten seconds to run. Veronica catching her, hauling her back up the stairs, spreading her open on her lap while she toyed with her.
“She kept telling me to make happy noises. That I was their toy. There was a dead man on the ground, and I kept thinking I’d be next.”
She can barely get the words out. She can’t look at him. There’s too much shame in her eyes at what was done to her.
“I g-got out. But not until after she… with her fingers…”
He’s seen her fingers. The talons. The pain she can cause.
GM: Roderick sits back down with her as they talk. They lean together against a tree.
“My god,” he whispers. There’s anger written across his features as she describes what Veronica did. For a moment, she may wonder if it’s about to burst through, like it did last time. But he just holds her close, safely wrapped in his arms.
“That must’ve been nightmarish to live through. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Celia: “So I told you what I thought would make you stay away, so you wouldn’t come after me. Because how could I be with you like this?”
GM: He squeezes her close against his shoulder.
Celia: “I didn’t want this for you.”
GM: “I know you wouldn’t have. Especially after how you got introduced to this. You hear all sorts of stories about the things we do to breathers. The ways we play with them. Make them toys, like you say.”
“Your sire… raped you. Her and Pietro.”
“I bet she hasn’t even apologized, has she?”
Celia: With her face buried against his neck, she shakes her head.
“You know what she’s like. She’d just laugh at me for bringing it up.”
“She doesn’t like broken things.”
GM: “Yeah. She would.”
Roderick runs a hand along her back.
“That’s the problem with us. There’s no accountability. There’s no law, like humans have, no codified body of illegal behaviors with consequences for engaging in them—or at least, no law that’s written from an even remotely humanistic standpoint to offer victims recourse to justice. When Veronica rapes somebody, it isn’t a crime, so nothing gets done about it. The law we have doesn’t do anything except preserve the power of those in power. It’s a broken system that can generously be described as a fascist monarchial gerontocratic theocratic dictatorship, and whose main alternative is demagogues who’d still concentrate the same set of arbitrary powers with enormous potential for abuse into their own hands.”
Celia: “How would you fix it? What would you do?”
GM: “Well, that’s a really big question. On a systemic level across the whole Camarilla, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do by myself. But I think there is more hope for change on a local level.”
“Coco and the other Anarchs have set up a more or less functioning popular democracy in Mid-City. It isn’t perfect, and even she admits that, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction next to what the prince represents.”
“And we’re always trying to make it better.”
“What would justice be for you, with Veronica and Pietro?”
Celia: “What would you have her do? The lot of you, what would you do? Overthrow the regime? Put your own people in charge? How long until they get power hungry? I’m not asking to be contrary, I’m asking because… because I want to help.”
GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Coco’s seen a lot of bloody revolutions. She doesn’t believe violence is able to create effective and lasting Kindred governments, and I mostly agree with her. The California Free State is a total mess, even if it is better than what Vidal and Savoy are offering, but it isn’t practical to implement here as a political model anyway.”
“We both think that Anarchs should just do what good we can in Mid-City. Vidal allows us a pretty decent amount of self-rule, thanks to her. Trying to overthrow the current regime promises enormous bloodshed with equally enormous potential for abuse by the victors, like you say. People who forcefully seize power are usually pretty bad at giving it up. And that’s assuming we could even pull off a coup.”
“So we just do the best we can in Mid-City. We focus on building up our own people, our own community, and realizing our vision of a more just and equitable society on a local scale. Kindred who like what we’re doing can join us, and if they don’t, we don’t have any interest in forcing them to.”
“And who knows. Example can be a powerful thing. If what we’re doing is popular enough, maybe it’ll catch on and more Kindred will adopt it peacefully.”
“Coco says it’s always harder for tyrants to suppress ideas than insurgents. Good ideas will always spread, if they’re really good.”
Celia: During the course of their chat Celia has ended up on his lap, her body curled on his with her knees bent and arms around his neck and shoulders. She can’t help but think how natural it feels to sit with him like this, how, if their lives had not been stolen from them, this is where they would have ended up. Movie nights. Ice cream. Moderately late night walks in the park. In a perfect world Lucy would be her daughter in truth rather than just in name, and Roderick would still go by Stephen.
This night it’s as if nothing changed. As if the past few years hadn’t happened. As he speaks she wonders if it is the bond settling into place, but she knows the truth of it: she’d been bonded before and not felt the same depth of emotion for someone. Everything prior to this has been a pale echo, a flat imitation of what it is that surges through her now. The bond creates obsession, she thinks, not… this.
She doesn’t want to think the word.
She doesn’t want to think the word because she has heard how many times he has said his sire’s name. Coco. How many times he has come back to something she said, explained, thought, planned. In a perfect world she need but ask and he would join her in the Quarter, permanently rather than for a night. But he says her name again, Coco, and she knows that Stephen is now Roderick, and Roderick belongs to her.
Just like she belongs to him. The cold one. He could shatter her and she would come back to him.
She presses her face against Roderick’s shoulder as he finishes explaining why his sire will not rise up. Coco has her public reasons, of course, but privately Celia thinks that it all comes down to one thing: fear. The Brujah has built a power base for herself. When a man is at the bottom of the mountain, he has nowhere to go but up. But Coco is halfway up, and she is afraid to fall and lose the progress that she has made.
She doesn’t say any of this to him. She doesn’t point out that Mid-City exists because Vidal allows it to exist. That as soon as the prince thinks someone has a chance at making headway, he’ll remove that head. That, if summoned, Coco will still come running.
Mel had told her the history of the city. Savoy exists because he seized the power he wanted. That’s how it’s done now. She doesn’t like it anymore than anyone else does, but, when pushed, humans and Kindred will both resort to shows of strength and domination to hold territory. That’s how it has been done in the entire history of man, and even in the animal kingdom; why would Kindred, for all their bestial nature, be any different? They can believe they are in charge, they can believe they are erudite, thinking beings all they want, and in the end it boils down to one thing: control. Control of the Beast, control of others.
It’s an uncivilized, chaotic mess.
She’s quiet for a time. Finally, she says, “Anyone with any amount of power, even if it isn’t forcefully seized, often fails to give it up. Why would someone who has it give it away? Look at your speed, the sway you have over kine. Small power in the scheme of things, gifted to you, and yet if I asked if you’d give that up, would you?”
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re onto something. It’s not that I think the system we have now is better, or that I want to bow and scrape to some long dead prince with feudal ideas of how to run a city. I have domain that can be taken from me at any moment because I say the wrong thing or look at someone the wrong way, and when that’s all Elysium is, saying things without actually saying anything, it’s… exhausting. God, even here, now, I keep thinking, ‘watch what you say.’”
“So I guess what I’m asking is… as someone ‘in enemy territory,’ what can I do to help make it better for everyone?”
GM: Roderick wraps one arm around the small of Celia’s back and the other around her shoulders as she clambers onto his lap. He feels buffer, larger, than he did the last time they cuddled like this. Celia did see him naked on her table two years ago, but he was the client then, someone she had to comfort and satisfy. It’s another thing to be curled up against him, seeking safety and comfort in his arms.
He holds her for a while, chin against her head, seemingly content to just be.
Or perhaps brooding on his own, equally troubled thoughts and might-have-beens.
He has to have thought about what it would be like to raise a family with Celia. Watching her from a distance, ‘stalking’ her like his sire, wondering whether the child Celia called her daughter was also his. Wondering how their life would have gone if he’d popped a ring like she so often thought about it.
And he’d have done that, wouldn’t he? Volunteering to leave the city with her. Go wherever. ‘Plenty of law schools are just as good as another,’ but that’s still not something you do unless you’re really serious.
But then Celia asks her question. And any contemplated roads not taken are inevitably drawn back to the road they are on.
“Power is always hard to give up,” Roderick says thoughtfully. “I think you are on to something there.”
“A question just as worth asking is why we want power in the first place.”
Celia: “We trade favors for hunting rights. It’s not like we can survive without it. Snack on the wrong person and it’s your head next.”
“That’s the game they keep us trapped in. Literal survival.”
GM: “Right. I mean, there’s all the usual human motivations of greed, fear, and desire to dominate.”
“But as Kindred we face additional and largely negative incentives. ‘Food’ for us is a limited resource and all other licks are competitors. Whenever we interact with each other, some part of it is on a comparative power basis. Sizing up the competition. We have the same ‘biological’ incentive to want to kill each other as humans do to want to reproduce. That’s a powerful instinct to go against and it translates into so much of our political and ‘legal’ system, which essentially codify the laws of the jungle. The strongest, oldest licks are the ones are top, and the younger ones accept their place, in return for not much besides less frequent violence.”
“To establish a more egalitarian Kindred society, we need to establish that we aren’t threats to one another. We need to mutually give up power by giving everyone an equal voice in our political system. We need to be able to let our guards down.”
“And we need a ‘food system’ that gives everyone enough blood to subsist on without going hungry or endangering the Masquerade, because that’s what it always comes back to.”
“We haven’t worked out a magical solution in Mid-City. But everyone has a political voice. We make decisions that affect our entire community by popular vote. Savoy has a lot of populist rhetoric, and his policies are less hardass than Vidal’s, but I don’t see him actually delegating more power into the people’s hands. He’s just a nicer face to the same broken system.”
Celia: “I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from. And I also wonder… should everyone have a voice? Didn’t Rome fall because its government decided that everyone should be heard, that they should pick up and carry those who cannot fend for themselves? Welfare. Like the kine have. Keeping those alive who are a drain on the system. I would never say, ‘put them down,’ but if they are not contributing..?”
“There are billions of people on this planet that we can feed from. Food isn’t nearly as scarce as we make it seem.”
“It’s just that it’s concentrated in areas that Kindred have already claimed. To break that, you’d need to change their minds. Get them to loosen their stranglehold on it. Or take them out of the picture completely.”
“Your ideal world has to involve taking out people who don’t see it your way, otherwise the struggle will continue indefinitely. It’s still bloody. It’s just not there yet.”
“Here. Is your guard down? Now, with me. Like this.”
GM: “Rome’s fall was due to a lot of factors,” Roderick says. “Coco’s had me study a fair bit of classical history. One of the biggest reasons that actually comes to mind for me is civil wars, because the government had no real line of succession or peaceful mechanism for deciding who got to be in charge. Emperors and would-be emperors were constantly fighting one another and squandering the state’s resources to claim or maintain power. The closest thing Rome ever had to a line of succession was the practice of the ‘good emperors’ adopting successors who weren’t their biological children, which also happened to be one of the most stable and prosperous periods in the empire’s history.”
“So my takeaway from Rome is that you need some kind of system which confers legitimacy on rulers. If people feel they can just fight it out to get what they want, the result is bad for everyone. We can look to the California Free State as a model there. It’s essentially a patchwork of warring mini-princes who are closer to their ‘constituents’ than a prince like Vidal is. It’s an improvement over what we have, but it’s far from equitable, and it also makes L.A. uniquely vulnerable to external threats, like it saw with the Wan Kuei invasion and the Camarilla takeover in 2004. Even when the Anarchs booted LaCroix out, there was still significant bloodshed.”
“But I don’t think forcefully removing other Kindred from their territories is a viable solution. Coco and I aren’t trying to implement Mid-City’s system on a global or even city-wide scale, because as you say, we’d need to either change minds or use violence. We’re just trying to make Mid-City’s system work in Mid-City.”
“You also asked whether everyone should have a voice. I think that has the potential to lead us down a pretty dangerous road. Ultimately, what gives you or me the right to judge someone else’s worth? Just by giving us that right, you’ve created an unequal power dynamic. And I think the only way to build a truly just and equitable political system is to build one where everyone is equal. Just like they are, at least nominally, under the eyes of human laws. Justice has to be blind.”
“You also asked how you could help us,” Roderick finally says.
“And the answer to that is… more of what you’re doing here. Coco thinks we should practice an ‘intellectual Darwinism’ of constantly challenging and revising our views and political systems. Debate brings out an idea’s flaws. If an idea can’t survive an honest debate, it won’t ever survive being put into practice.”
“You could join us. Have a place in Mid-City. Bring your voice to the forum.”
Celia: “With you?”
GM: He squeezes her.
“Yeah. With me.”
“There are Anarchs, with ties to the other factions. Jonah Freeman is also one of the Baron’s followers. Hezekiah is also a Hardliner. Eris D. is a Crone who’s not really a Baron follower.”
Celia: “I could… make that work.”
GM: “I’ll help you. However I can.”
Celia: “Come home with me tonight. Spend the day. We’ll figure it out.”
“I hate what happened to you. To us. But if I have to live forever… I’m glad that you’ll be there with me.”
GM: He kisses her.
He slips one of his arms around her back, his other one underneath her knees, and hefts her up in a classic bridal carry pose.
“One benefit to being Kindred. Don’t ever get tired. Should make the rest of the walk more fun.”
Celia: “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this.”
Friday night, 20 July 2012, AM
Celia: She had chosen the home for two reasons: the first because, while it is technically within the confines of the French Quarter, it borders both the Warehouse District and the Central Business District. The latter, she knows, belongs to Vidal, and the former belongs to one of her master’s hounds. It’s a less desirable part of the French Quarter, certainly, on the corner of Canal and Chartres; she is almost positive that Savoy pushes the Caitiff and other riff raff out into this area to serve as a buffer between Vidal’s factions and his own. The crime rates are higher, the hunting subpar. Unless you enjoy your meal passed out in the street and smelling like piss.
GM: Roderick doesn’t complain about the accommodations. They go at it again, fight-fucking until their Beasts are exhausted and glutted upon one another’s blood. Celia rather handily loses the fighting part.
“You asked me to show you to shoot, earlier,” Roderick says as they pull up the covers over themselves. (Their bodies may no longer produce warmth, but habits die hard.) He reiterates that shooting is a less useful skill against other Kindred. Bullets only do so much.
But his sire has taught him how to fight. She says every Kindred should know how to defend themselves. Coco had him follow an exacting diet and fitness regimen before she Embraced him, to build up his physique: that whole Greek notion of arete, being the best one can be, which remains alive and well among the Learned Clan. Or at least among Brujah still ‘old school’ enough to call themselves by that name.
“I could teach you,” Roderick says, running a hand down along her naked stomach. “Self-defense techniques, initially, like your dad never wanted you to learn.”
“He was into martial arts, wasn’t he? I remember him saying how he’d kill me with his bare hands if I had sex with you.”
Celia: The differences in their Embrace is nothing short of astounding. Coco had told him what she was going to do, let him prepare. She’d probably even been nice about it.
Celia had no warning. She’d just been rudely snatched from her home and dropped into water.
“God, can we scrub that memory from our minds? I’ve never wanted to sink further into the floor.”
“But yes. I’d like that.”
GM: “I could beat the shit out of him now,” the Brujah smirks. “I don’t mind. I was scared of him then, but it reminds me how far I’ve come.”
“How far you can come.”
“Your clan’s got super-speed. You could get pretty good at it.”
Celia: “As much as I relish the thought of you defending my honor by beating him to a bloody pulp, the risk you’d take isn’t worth it. He’s the sheriff’s toy.” She runs a hand down his chest. “If he did something to retaliate I’d do something stupid like going after him by myself. There’s a reason Maxen is still alive.”
“I never learned the speed. I was focused… elsewhere. I had it, once. Gifted by my sire. I think I’d like to get back to that again.”
GM: “I know. I asked Coco about him,” Roderick says.
“She gave it to you, though? That’s interesting.”
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
“I suppose I’m still pretty new to this, though. Guess you can do anything with the Blood.”
Celia: “Devil’s bargain. I got her speed, strength, charm. Three days. Then I was hers.”
“I was faster than a car. It was… amazing. I didn’t know how to throw a punch, but running into someone and hitting them with your body so hard you knock them over was effective, too.”
“That was why I thought I could go after Coco. I had that whole party planned to lure her in.”
GM: “Wow, that does sound amazing. Veronica’s pretty tough. Must’ve seemed like a downgrade, almost, when you got Embraced.”
“Is that how your mom got to the hospital, that night?”
“Emily and I weren’t really sure how she did. Your brothers and sisters said they didn’t call 911, so we figured it was you.”
“But I guess why call an ambulance when you’re faster.”
Celia: “I walked in on him cutting off her toes.”
“With a hacksaw.”
“Calling an ambulance was the last thing on my mind.”
GM: Roderick’s grip tightens around Celia.
“And they call us monsters.”
Celia: “If he wasn’t protected by the sheriff he’d be nothing but a smear on the ground.”
GM: “I swear. Your dad’s as awful as the worst of us, and your mom is just the sweetest person.”
“And he’s the one who gets an almost literal ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
“And she’s the one who gets her toes cut off.”
The Brujah clenches his fist.
“The world is just so fucking unfair, sometimes.”
Celia: “He was there the first night time, too. Protected him then. When I did call the police.”
GM: “I want to help you bring him down.”
“He shouldn’t get to be a senator. To have a privileged and comfortable life. Not after what he did to you and your mom.”
GM: “I don’t know. We can’t really fuck him over directly, like you say.”
Celia: “Pete told me to make him not useful. That then he wouldn’t be worth protecting. Too much of a liability.”
GM: “Coco would probably say the same thing. I guess it’s just a matter of pulling off without the sheriff knowing it’s us.”
“And pulling off period. I’m amazed he’s still in office after that tape got leaked.”
“I mean, granted, there was that scandal with the copycat tapes of his peers.”
“I guess it pays to have friends in high places.”
“But the sheriff is just one Kindred. He can’t just wave his hand and make every scandal go away.”
Celia: “It should have been open and shut. But you’re right. We just… try again. I know you don’t want to work with Savoy, but he’s the one who got the tapes out in the first place. They buried that article when he was initially arrested.”
“Could set him up to take a fall. Or. Like. A patsy.”
“Kill him and leave the city,” she floats, “for real this time.”
GM: Roderick’s face hesitates. “I can’t leave, Celia. What my sire and I are doing here is important.”
“And you’ve got Emily, Lucy, and your mom to look after, don’t you?”
Celia: “I know. I just… wishful thinking.”
GM: “And your other brothers and sisters, but you never really seemed as close to them.”
Celia: “I’m trying to fix that.”
GM: “Was it over the abuse?”
Celia: “I was going to go to Liberty. I got in. I just didn’t… want to leave them, you know? But after Mom left, yeah, we were never really were close. Being at home was like… living in fear. I tried. I tried to keep them out of the worst of it. I don’t know how Isabel ended up so fucked and denied it all. I’m honestly worried that without Mom’s influence the boys would have grown up to be abusers, too. And Sophia…” Celia trails off. That’s not her secret to tell.
GM: “I can believe you. Children follow the examples their parents set.”
Celia: “But hey. Listen.” She cups his cheek with her hand. “I want to tell you something. If things ever get bad here. Even if you hate me. If you need out of the city, if you need to hide, if… anything. Come to me. I’ll get you out. I’ll keep you safe.”
“I don’t care what it is or who you’re running from or if we haven’t spoken in years. Okay?”
GM: Roderick rests a hand over hers.
He’s quiet for a moment.
“And you know the same’s true for me. If things ever get really bad, if you’re ever hurt or in trouble, if you ever need anything… you can come to me. I’ll fight for you. Hide you. Help you. Whatever you need, I’ll make it happen. Whatever you’re in trouble from, whatever fights we’ve had… if you need me, I will be there for you. Okay?”
Celia: She nods, too. Runs the pad of her thumb across his lips, then kisses him. It’s different than before, less hungry, less needy. Soft. Tender, even.
“I love you. I always have. Now, then, I never stopped. I’d follow you anywhere.”
GM: Roderick returns the kiss, stroking his hand along her cheek.
“I love you too, Celia. Now and forever. I’d go up against anything, for you.”
Whatever monsters may lurk in their breasts, at least for now, they can be something more to each other.
Maybe that’s enough.
To just be something more to each other.