“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, but they both know far 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 take that 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, and Celia isn’t sure how much may be the past and how much may just be his Beast. Their Beasts.
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: 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: “And yeah. Up close you can barely see the screen, and in the middle is twice as many people.”
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,” Michael Caine 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: “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 is cruel to the person who’s not 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? Bullets don’t really do anything to 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. Her 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 as well. 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 snarls, 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.
Monday night, 23 July 2012, PM
GM: It’s several nights later that Roderick takes Celia with him to the Anarchs’ next ‘rant’ at Delgado Community College.
“They’re a Brujah thing, but they’ve sort of caught on with all of the Anarchs,” he explains as they drive. “Everyone who wants to speak gets a turn, and can introduce an issue for everyone else to vote on.”
“Which with you will be joining the Movement and getting to hunt and hold domain in Mid-City.”
“We almost never actually turn down new Anarchs, but it’s obviously a better thing if you make a strong impression on everyone.”
Celia: Presumptuous, she thinks, but doesn’t say. He’d said himself that the hunting in Mid-City is less than ideal, and she’s already been given a club on Bourbon Street thanks to Savoy’s generosity. Why, she thinks, would she resort to the slim pickings in Mid-City?
“Make a strong impression with words or fists?” Just how violent do these things get?
GM: “Words, most of the time. Violence on the floor isn’t allowed.”
“But it’s not unheard of for licks to ‘take things outside.’”
Celia: Violence isn’t allowed at a Brujah thing? Amusing. She doesn’t comment; he’s already apologized a handful of times for the beating he’d given her, no need to bring it up again.
“Do they know you’re bringing me?” ‘They’ is Coco, really, but she doesn’t need to specify.
GM: “Yeah, I’ve told the licks I’m closest to. But if someone wants to bring a guest, the usual attitude is ‘whatever.’”
“It’s more and less casual than an actual Brujah rant in some ways.”
Roderick is dressed down next to the suits he usually wears to Elysium. Dark jeans with nice leather shoes, casual blazer, white button-up shirt without a tie and the top button undone.
Celia: “Who’re these mysterious licks you’re close to? Anyone I need ‘to take outside’?” She shoots him a grin. Despite his best efforts, she still isn’t a brawler. Then again, every time they’d started throwing punches they’d gotten distracted once the blood started flowing, and one thing lead to another… she’s not complaining.
It’s nice. Almost like a date. It’s so… normal.
Still, he’d warned her not to wear the frilly dresses for this, so she’d abstained in favor of leather and boots, gray deep V-neck blouse.
GM: “There’s my krewe, obviously. Chris and Hez. We’re also on pretty good terms with the licks in the KLF.” The Kindred Liberation Front, the Anarchs’ oldest kewe. “I’m also pretty tight with… most of the sewer rats, because of Coco.”
“Some of them don’t like us for being good-looking, I think.”
“But Miss Opal is tight with my sire, and they generally do things her way.”
“The Axles can be trouble. Shep Jennings disagrees with Coco a lot.”
“Isa Suarez is sometimes hard to figure, but Desirae Wells is pretty reasonable.”
“Eight-Nine-Six were the ones who made fun of me for ‘being Ventrue.’ They’ve cooled off, since I shot them, but they’re generally agitators. In the less constructive way.”
“The Malks in all the krewes are… well, who the fuck ever knows with them.”
“And Eris D. is almost as kooky.”
Celia: “So I should avoid the rats because I’m pretty, but play nice because you like them since you’re not?” Celia bats her lashes at him. They’re nowhere near as long as she normally keeps them; she’d said something about not wanting them to get ripped out in a catfight when Alana had asked earlier.
She slides her hand across the center console to twine her fingers through his. She’s nervous. Doesn’t want to look bad, or make him look bad. She takes mental notes as he speaks, but she doesn’t know enough about any of the others to comment or ask for clarification.
“Ronnie gonna be there?”
GM: Roderick smirks at the initial banter, but gives her hand a squeeze as she takes his.
“Yeah, pretty rare she’s not. Have you two not talked about coming to the rant?” he asks, seemingly surprised.
Celia: Celia shrugs.
“I’ve been spending more time with Pietro lately. She knows, but we haven’t really discussed it in depth. Not like you’re doing.”
GM: “Hm. I guess.” Roderick looks thoughtful.
“What’s that look for?”
GM: “Honestly, sometimes it feels to me like Veronica isn’t that much of an Anarch. I don’t think she cares about what we’re doing in Mid-City or reforming Kindred society into something more equitable. She just wants power in any group where someone else isn’t the boss of her.”
“She was Invictus for the better part of a hundred years until your great-grandsire woke up from her nap.”
Celia: “You know, I mentioned being interested in the Invictus a while back and I thought she was going to tear my head off for it. ‘What do you want with that old bitch,’ or something similar.”
GM: “Ha. Yeah, I can really picture that.”
“But I mean, it sounds like she hasn’t even tried to recruit you.”
Celia: “Anyway, hard to escape to a place where someone isn’t the boss of you. Someone’s got the power no matter where you go.”
Celia lifts one of her shoulders in a shrug.
“I… we talked about it a little. Not like. A lot. But… you were there, and I didn’t want to invade your space or anything. She rolled her eyes at me but didn’t push it.”
And Savoy has kept Celia pretty busy, if she’s being honest. A lot of people think he’s just paying lip service to the Lance, but he’d made sure that she would know what she’s talking about if anything ever got brought up. Not personally, but she’d had instructors. All the better to keep her from looking foolish and making a mockery of her true grandsire.
GM: “Yeah, I guess that sounds like her.”
“How are things with Pietro? He should also be here.”
Celia: “Interesting. He’s terribly amusing.”
Especially when Veronica isn’t around to throw a tantrum, but Celia doesn’t need to tell Roderick that, nor would she be so blatant. She dances around the fact that he’s the reason she is who she is, too; there’s no reason to remind Roderick that Pietro was the one who brought her back to his apartment and got her into this whole mess.
“I asked him to teach me how to lift cars. Want me to steal you something fancy?”
Shadow dancing is their true lesson, but she trusts that Roderick is smart enough she doesn’t need to spell it out.
GM: “Huh. Tempting,” smirks Roderick. “How about some evidence to get a few mobsters in trouble?”
Celia: “Who do you have in mind? I’m game.”
GM: “Any of them, really. They’re all scum. Though the higher-ups obviously do more damage than the little guys. There’s this one mobster, Benny Giacona, who had this massacre and giant fire happen at his house maybe five years back. Even when it was in the middle of the Quarter, the cops didn’t arrest him over anything.”
Celia: “I mean, does he have backers like us?”
“Because that’s how people get away with stuff. I didn’t know it then, but… that’s the truth of it now. If you’ve got friends in the shadows you’ll get out of your tight spots.”
Like Maxen had.
GM: “Probably,” says Roderick. “He’s in the Quarter, after all. Savoy’s in bed with the Mob. And there’s that absolute scumbag Gui. It’s bad enough our kind support and enable the Mafia, but to actually Embrace one of those people?”
He shakes his head.
Celia also well knows that her grandsire is quite close with the Mob. Their criminal activities are a vital part of his domain.
Celia: Her loyalties war within her. She can’t betray her grandsire. She owes everything she is to him. Without him she’d be dead, or worse.
“Gui’s sire was one of those scumbags, though. Stands to reason he’d bring one in. But hey, pick a target outside the Quarter, I bet you and I could do some damage.”
Outside the Quarter Savoy’s influence over the Mob has to be weaker, right? Two birds: take out some scumbags for Roderick, take out some rivals for Savoy.
GM: “There’s also Rocco. See what I said about Embraced absolute scumbags.”
Roderick’s hands tighten around the wheel.
“But he’s a hound. So we have to play nice.”
Celia: “Do we? Seems to me if we’re sneaky enough we can get away with all sorts.”
GM: “What about Gui, though? He’s just a neonate. Easier to go after.”
Celia: “He’s pretty highly regarded by Savoy.”
“Might be more difficult than you think to get him.”
“Isn’t there another lick in with the Mob? I hear him muttering about it sometimes. Toyota?”
GM: “Ha ha,” Roderick says at the mangled name. “Yeah. He’s a Brujah and in with the First Estate.”
Celia: “So what about him, then?”
“Isn’t he just a neonate, too?”
GM: “Yeah, he is. I’ve heard some odd stuff about him, but he is.”
“But we were dancing around it a little, weren’t we? You’re in the Quarter and could get in trouble if you make trouble for your landlord, and I could get in trouble by straining things between Vidal’s people and Coco.”
Celia: “What odd stuff?”
Celia lets out a puff of air from between her lips. She doesn’t quite pout, but she wants to.
“I suppose that’s the heart of it,” she acknowledges. She looks out the window. This relationship is going to be tougher than she thought to manage.
“Obviously we just find a patsy.”
GM: “Why are you with Savoy?” Roderick asks. “I mean, Veronica is your sire, and she’s an Anarch.”
“Or was it… how your family lives in the Quarter?”
Celia: “We think, as humans, that we understand what’s going on in the world. We look at politics and cast our votes and think, I’m in control. I have a voice. But that’s not true, is it? We don’t. There’s always someone pulling the strings behind the scenes.”
She’s quiet for a moment, thinking about what to tell him. How much to say.
“You know that the sheriff controls Riverbend. Tulane. He portions it out as he wants, but he still has Audubon. Emily used to come back to the dorm in the middle of the night, bloodless. She was always tired, pale. I didn’t know at the time, but I recognized it later. Someone was feeding on her. My family lives in Audubon. His territory. His domain. I don’t know if he’s the kind of Kindred to break into places in the middle of the night and feed on people, but I needed someplace to keep them safe. Savoy… I met him, early on, when I still had no idea what was going on. And the detective, Lebeaux…”
Celia trails off. She finally shakes her head, looking over at him.
“The sheriff is my dad’s ‘friend in the shadows.’ I saw him. When I was a kid. He’s a… he’s… God, I think he took me one night. I don’t want that for them. He was all I knew, when I became this. When I heard that Savoy was opposed to him, it just made sense to me to move them to the Quarter, and… I stayed. To keep them safe.”
GM: Roderick’s face falls.
“I know you were Embraced before me.”
“But… I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
“That Coco couldn’t be there.”
Celia: “I was kine.” Celia waves a hand. “I was nothing to Coco. Just another scared soul. Savoy… I think he just knows that about people. What to say, how to say it. It made sense. And then he gave me the loan for my business and…” She squeezes his hand. “He doesn’t control me. I’m here, with you, because I want to be. But I’m also very, very aware that I owe a lot of my comfort to him.”
“I wonder, you know, about that. What would have happened if you were Embraced first.”
“If you had been there.”
GM: “I guess that’s just his way, isn’t it? Reeling people in,” says Roderick, taking one hand back off the wheel to interlace his fingers with Celia’s.
Celia: “Don’t laugh,” she tells him, “but I picture something very romanticized if it had been you first. Like Twilight. You’d sneak in and lay with me at night and I’d be none the wiser.”
GM: The Brujah laughs out loud.
Celia: “I told you not to laugh!”
GM: “I’m sorry,” he snickers, “it’s just… Twilight.”
“But don’t worry, I’d have made it very romantic.”
Celia: “Yes, well, I didn’t have a lot of material growing up.” But she’s laughing too, so that makes it all okay.
GM: “Oh, you know. Jumped up to your window, curtains drifting in the wind. Acted all dark and mysterious. Held out a hand. Leaped on top off the roof with you in my arms. Sex under the night sky.”
“With a mattress or something already out on top, because sex on a roof sounds really uncomfortable.”
Celia: Celia makes a show of fanning herself.
“You can still do that, you know.”
GM: “That’s right, I could. And you look so fucking hot in all that leather.”
“You do a better Brujah than I do.”
Celia: “Hotter than in nothing at all?”
“Maybe I’ll let you rip it off me later. If you come through my window and take me to the roof. I’d like to see you jump that high.”
GM: “And here I was about to ask you how long we had before the rant started…”
Celia can see Roderick’s fangs protruding from his mouth.
Feel the ‘boner’ she’s getting in her own.
Celia: That’s all the prompting she needs. She’s on his lap before he’s even fully pulled the car over, an echo of last time, though her kisses hold more teeth than tongue these days.
GM: Celia distantly hears the car bump against something as Roderick hastily parks it, probably not within the lines. One of his hands squeezes and fondles her breasts while his other one presses over her belly, pulling her fully onto his lap. There’s no bulge in his pants and that makes it delightfully easy to saddle up to him. To be close to him, her leather-clad rear grinding against his crotch, as their mouths meet and his fangs pierce her skin.
“God, you’re so fucking hot…!”
Celia: Of course she’s hot. He’s telling her something she already knows. She growls at the reminder though, glad that in the here and now there’s no room for him to maneuver himself to be on top. She’s tired of him always putting her on her back. Now her back is to him and she’s in charge, grinding down against his flaccid cock as if that does anything for either one of them, when the distant thud reaches her ears.
Her body stiffens. She twists away from him to look around. What had he hit?
GM: He’s dented someone else’s car. Pretty badly.
And as his fangs pierce her neck, it doesn’t seem like he much cares.
Celia: She doesn’t much care either, if she’s being honest; when her skin splits and the blood flows into Roderick’s waiting mouth it’s all she can think about, back arching to press herself more fully against him. Her knee hits the horn on accident as she shifts, writhing, and she yanks it away with a breathless laugh.
She does use the last moment of her awareness, before sinking into bliss, to see if someone is around that saw them hit it, or if the car has people inside. That will be awkward.
GM: It doesn’t look like anyone is here. Yet.
Celia: Then she gives zero fucks.
Except the fucks she gives Roderick.
Monday night, 23 July 2012, PM
GM: “…blood all over your leathers. You really do have the Brujah look down,” Roderick laughs faintly. He’s got his arms wrapped across Celia’s stomach, the Toreador still seated on his lap.
He nuzzles her hair.
“Seriously, don’t even dry clean it. Just let that stuff dry.”
There’s blood all over their shirts. All over their necks and faces.
Celia: She’s glad she wore dark colors to this event. Somehow she’d known she would end up covered in blood. She purrs, contentedly, as he nuzzles against her.
“These will be my Brujah pants,” she tells him, “so I suppose I can’t let you shred them later.”
GM: “Hah. Yeah. I think we have might have missed the rant, though.”
He gives another faint laugh.
“Whatever. We can just go to the next one.”
Celia: “Did we?” She checks the clock. How long had they been wrapped around each other?
GM: Long enough, it looks like. They’d have to drive like mad to still be on time.
Celia: “Are you faster than a car?” she asks him, twisting to nibble at his neck.
GM: “…I’m not sure. Haven’t tried to outrun one before.”
There’s a sudden sharp bang against the window.
Celia: Celia’s eyes cut that way, narrowing.
GM: It’s a man. Dark skin. Glasses. Clean-shaven. His face looks perpetually pissed off.
But right now, it looks especially pissed off.
Celia: Celia’s face twists momentarily into horror. She slides off of Roderick’s lap, wiping at the blood on her face in the moments they have before he cracks the window. There’s nothing to do for the shirt; it’s light enough that the blood is obvious, but she can zip her jacket up over it, and she does so. At least the stains aren’t as apparent against the leather.
“I think you hit his car,” she whispers to Roderick.
GM: “…ah, shit.”
Celia: “We could speed off.”
“Windows tinted, maybe he doesn’t know we’re here.”
GM: “I know you’re there,” comes the man’s tight voice. “It isn’t that dark out.”
“Sure isn’t dark enough to hide what you did to my car.”
Celia: At least the car hadn’t been bouncing as it would if they were human.
GM: “I’m an attorney. Give me a good reason not to file civil suit against you.”
Celia: Celia shares a look with Roderick. Then she sends it out from her in a wave, the opposite of dampening her aura: she extends it. Makes herself sound powerful. Important. Desirable, even, though that isn’t her primary focus here.
She checks her face in the mirror, then opens the car door and steps out. Her smile is friendly.
“Well, if you press civil charges we might get caught up in court and that will take ages. I can pay you for the damage now, and then we’ll be out of your hair.”
GM: “Why, that’s very generous of you,” the man replies. His smile is thin and flickering, like it doesn’t come easily to him. It looks like a pair of pants several sizes too small. “Something like this can often come out to several thousand dollars.”
Celia: Celia barely refrains from scoffing at him.
“Sir, they make dent removal tools that cost about twenty dollars. Any body shop who charges you several thousand for something like this is significantly overcharging. I’d be happy to provide an alternative to your usual mechanic; no one should be that gouged on pricing.”
“The paint isn’t even scratched.”
“So you won’t need a new anything. A quick pop out and you’re good to go.”
Celia glances into the car at Roderick, lifting her brows at him. Can he pop it out?
Or pay. Since it’s his fault. He called her cute and made her climb on his lap and then hit the car because of it. He should know better than to compliment this Toreador. She smiles winningly at him.
GM: “It’s true some repair jobs can run that cheap,” the man says with that same shabbily ill-fitting smile in an equally ill-fitting amiable tone, “but some can can run that expensive. I’m sure that we can reach an equitable way to handle this.”
GM: “I’m sure we can too,” Roderick says smoothly as he gets out. The man doesn’t blink at the blood on his clothes, or how Roderick raises an eyebrow at Celia.
Celia: Celia lifts her brows at Roderick. What, does he have a better idea? She doesn’t want to be late to her first rant.
GM: “Okay, I’ll cover this. What’s your name and phone number?” he asks the man as he pulls out his Solaris.
“Herman Lewis.” Roderick taps into his phone after Herman gives his name.
“Okay, I just sent you enough to cover your average repair job over Google Pay. Call me if it’s not enough for this one.”
“I’m pleased you could see reason so quickly and accept responsibility for your actions,” Herman replies with another ill-fitting smile. “However, this doesn’t cover the inconvenience of being without my car, the time I’ve spent here, or the time I’ll spend taking my car in. I’ll send you a bill at my hourly rate for that.”
“You seem like a reasonable man, so I don’t think there’ll be any need to file suit against you.”
“That’s very magnanimous of you,” Roderick responds dryly.
Herman offers another thin smile.
“An apology would also demonstrate your and your girlfriend’s sincerity.”
Celia: A dozen different snide things to say come to mind the moment he demands an apology: blatantly telling him to fuck off, being a sarcastic prick, asking in what world any insurance company would pay him for his time, offering to phone the police and let them file a report. She even considers ripping his throat out for the sheer gall of speaking to either one of them this way. Celia chews it over. She doesn’t need to get into it with this breather and kill any chance of showing up on time. Finally, her lips curl upwards in something that’s an approximation of a smile, though it doesn’t go so far as to meet her eyes.
She nods at Roderick to get in the car. She’s done wasting her time here.
GM: “Yeah, sorry,” Roderick glowers. “Send me the bill.” He opens the door for Celia, pointedly turning away from the man as he does, then gets in himself without waiting for a response.
“What a prick,” he says as he pulls the car out.
“We did both hit him with star mode, right?”
Celia: “I can’t believe him. What a—”
She pauses. Looks at him.
GM: “Because I can’t imagine how much bigger a prick someone could be without it.”
Celia: “I’m an attorney,” she mimics. “The fuck kind of insurance company does he think is going to pay him for his time for shit like this?”
“If we’re going to miss the rant just stop at an ATM and I’ll get you back for it. At least half of this was my fault.”
GM: “He doesn’t, he’s just counting on the fact that paying him for his time is probably more palatable to people than paying for a lawsuit.”
“And thanks, but I’m not paying him for anything besides the repair job.”
Celia: “The fact that you can sue anyone for anything…” Celia shakes her head.
GM: “Yeah. Even if a judge throws it out as frivolous, still goes through the courts.”
Celia: “If I had the right face on I’d have just name-dropped my grandmother and told him good luck. Christ.”
GM: “Ah, she’s a criminal judge. This is a civil matter. Might work if he wasn’t also a lawyer.”
Celia: “Oh. Whoops. Good thing I’ve got you on my side to keep me from saying something silly, then.”
GM: “It’d work on most other people, probably. Say ‘judge’ and they’ll go ‘oh no’ if lawsuits come up.”
“But let’s talk about something that doesn’t make my worse half want to cave in faces. You talk with her much these nights, still?”
Celia: “Grandmother? Yeah. Momma doesn’t want to take Lucy to see her so I’ve been, when I have the time.”
GM: “Oh, why doesn’t she?”
Celia: “Some long ago fight over whether or not Momma should have aborted me.”
Celia waves a hand.
“They’re both still mad at each other. Personally I think there’s more to it, but no one is talking.”
GM: “Geez, your grandma wanted her to abort you?”
Celia: “Mom was like… sixteen.”
“So I get it.”
“I mean, you and I almost had to do that.”
GM: Roderick can’t sigh without forcing it. But he looks like he could.
“I’m not about to endorse the idea of teen pregnancy, but… no complaints how that worked out for her.”
Celia: “You mean because I’m amazing?” she grins at him.
GM: “And hot, smart, funny… world would be a worse place without you in it.”
Celia: “Really trying to make us miss this meeting, eh? Should we go hit another car?”
GM: “Nah, variety’s good. We’ll do it on a roof for our next time.”
“That’s a shame about your mom and your grandma, though. My grandpa was such a huge part of my life. He was everything to my dad.”
Celia: “I feel bad for both of them. Grandma is missing a kid, Momma is missing a mom. Her whole family, almost. Doesn’t talk to her sister, either. Just like… make up already, damn.”
Celia isn’t sure what to say to him about his dad. She could offer to change his face, maybe, but that wouldn’t let him be part of his family like she is with hers. She takes his hand instead, letting him know she’s there for him.
GM: He squeezes her palm.
“That really is too bad for them. Your mom’s been through a lot. So has your grandma, to know what she’s been through.”
Celia: “Mmm, well, last time I tried to fix something for my family I ended up dead, so.”
GM: “You still fixed it.”
“And you can only die once.”
“Maybe I’m biased, but my grandpa was just such an enormous presence in my and my dad’s lives. He died when I was only 7, so I don’t remember a ton about him, but his presence was everywhere in the house. Dad was constantly talking about him, sharing stories, showing pictures and newspaper articles, and people at work all remembered him too. So I feel like I still got to know him really well.”
“I can’t imagine not having that. To just not be talking.”
“And I’d have loved for Grandpa to actually be alive and directly a part of my life.”
Celia: “I feel pretty lucky that even though they weren’t talking I still got to have a relationship with my grandmother. I’m sorry you didn’t get that with him for as long.”
GM: “Still do get to have it,” Roderick remarks. “I don’t know, if it were me, I’d fight like hell to get them to make up. Or at least sit down together.”
“You only get one family.”
Celia: “I’ve been trying, trust me, it’s not like I just threw up my hands about it.”
GM: “Your mom is kind of a pushover. How hard can it be?”
Celia: “That’s what I don’t get! She’s a pushover about literally everything except this one issue.”
“I can look at her sideways and make her cry, but God forbid I bring up Grandma.”
GM: Roderick gives a short laugh.
“Sorry. I guess that isn’t actually funny.”
“But I guess we all have our lines in the sand.”
Celia: “It’s gotta be more than what they’re telling me, right?”
“I mean I’m the one who should have been dumped into a trash can and I’m not mad about it.”
GM: “Might be. ‘Just’ an abortion seems like something to get over by now.”
Celia: “Too bad I never picked up that mind reading trick. They both just purse their lips and make veiled comments.” She huffs. “I guess I could throw some star power at them and see what sticks.”
GM: Roderick frowns deeply.
GM: “That’s… a line I don’t think we should cross, feeding on family or using powers on them.”
Celia: “That’s why I haven’t done it yet,” Celia admits. “I’m glad to hear you say that though. I almost said the same thing and thought you would think I was silly for not.”
“It just feels skeevy to manipulate them like that.”
GM: “Why the hell would I think you’re silly over something like that?”
“That’s anything but silly.”
“Dead serious, actually.”
“And maybe your sire and the other harpies would laugh about it in Elysium, but whatever.”
Celia: “That’s the problem, isn’t it? Everyone else is so far gone that showing any amount of compassion or emotion gets you labeled as weak or ridiculous.”
“It’s like they just use what’s inside of us as an excuse to be a bunch of assholes.”
GM: “We try to be better than that in Mid-City.”
Celia: “You think any of them would have paid the man? No. They’d have just gone for the jugular.”
GM: “The guy was an enormous prick, but he wasn’t completely wrong. I did dent his car. I’m not too far gone to think I should pay for that.”
“Jugular is bad for the Masquerade, anyway.”
Celia: “That’s the only thing that reins some of them in sometimes.”
“‘Is the sheriff gonna send his hounds after me for this? Better not.’”
GM: “Or the Krewe. They’re supposed to be everywhere.”
“Or hunters. I mean, lots of reasons not to make a mess, ethics completely aside.”
Celia: “That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? How many of them care about the ethics versus the repercussions of their actions?”
“I mean just look at the way they treat their ghouls.”
GM: “It can vary a lot. But that’s sort of the problem.”
“Just how much it actually can vary.”
“I feel like your sire has to be one of the bigger pricks there, no offense.”
Celia: “None taken. She’s not me.”
GM: “Coco’s told me about some city in Scandinavia or maybe northern Russia where ghouls and Kindred are essentially equals. They actually sit on the primogen. They’re treated like partners rather than servants.”
“Because it’s so far north and the days are so long during summers. The Kindred there are almost completely dependent on their ghouls.”
“That might’ve been motivated by self-interest, but after so long I’d think a lot of those feelings are real.”
“Obviously how things work there isn’t how things work here. But it makes you wonder what’s possible and whether the way we do things has to be the only way.”
Celia: “Of course it’s not the only way. That’s why you and Coco are fighting for change. Just because something has been done one way for hundreds or thousands of years doesn’t mean it’s the only way. We look down on the breathers like they’re nothing, their lives are fleeting, they’re food. But we were there once. Look what they accomplish in their short lives. Look how things change for them. They’re constantly searching for better, more effective ways to do things.”
“I mean it’s evident even in their technology.”
“Technology that so many of the elders don’t even bother to learn about.”
“They’re stuck in the literal dark ages.”
“They stop changing. They get power and then that’s all they care about, holding onto it.”
“They act like they’re all knowing beings when they don’t know anything because they won’t open up their minds to a new perspective.”
“Or new ideas.”
GM: “It’s because they’re never faced with their own mortality, or at least unavoidable end to their power. They never have to consider what’s best for the next generation, or really think about the future. For them, there’s only an eternal present where they’re the only people that matter.”
Celia: “They’re like gods. Or they see themselves that way. Like the Greeks or Romans. They’re powerful, but they’re not all powerful, and they spend their time squabbling and posturing and interfering in the realm of humans instead of doing anything.”
“How do you make someone like that change?”
“Without, you know, sending hunters after the lot of them or burning down their havens.”
GM: “If there were an easy answer to that, believe me, we’d have made Vidal change by now.”
“But there isn’t one.”
Celia: “But you and Coco have some ideas, surely.”
“You asked me earlier. About Savoy. Why I’m with him. And you said something about him knowing how to reel people in, and that’s true. But just… I mean, look at the differences between their rules. Savoy asked me what I wanted. I said, ’there’s a hierarchy and I’m at the bottom, I’m not sure that matters.’ And he said the thing about hierarchies is that they change. That you have to bring in new blood and new ideas. I know you don’t like him because of his connections to the Mob, and I’m not telling you to jump ship. I think what you and Coco are doing with the Anarchs is necessary. But can you imagine, truly imagine, Vidal saying that same thing to a neonate?”
GM: “Absolutely not. I mean, you barely even see Vidal anyways. I can count the number of times I’ve seen him at Elysium on one finger.”
“He’s not even around for that many Cabildo meetings. Usually leaves them to Maldonato.”
Celia knows that Roderick serves as the scribe at those. The note-taker. It’s an envied position for a neonate to hold. They’re not supposed to talk, but they hear and transcribe everything the assembled elders say.
“But at least with them you know what you’re dealing with.”
“I don’t think Savoy is actually sincere.”
“He still has ultimate power in the Quarter. He puts a nicer face on it, but does he actually put real policy decisions up for public vote like we do in Mid-City?”
Celia: “He has an open forum where people can bring their issues every week.”
GM: “But do they actually get to decide anything? Or is he the one who makes the calls?”
“Because Coco can get overruled if the majority isn’t with her.”
“One lick, one vote.”
Celia: “He has his own council,” Celia admits. “I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution. But even in kine politics you see the same. Someone in charge and councils making decisions for the masses. And maybe, if you and Coco brought your ideas to him, he’d listen. Change things up.”
“If both Mid-City and the Quarter are doing it, it spreads from there.”
GM: “But here’s the thing about those councils that make decisions for the masses.”
“We elect them.”
“And if we don’t like their decisions, we can vote them out.”
Celia: “Can Coco be voted out?”
“She’s there because Vidal lets her be there. He put her there. And she’s put a new system into place, and that’s amazing, it is. So what’s to keep her and you from spreading it further?”
GM: “Mainly the fact that other elders aren’t interested in giving up power. But if what we’re doing here stands on its own merits, we don’t need to. Licks who want to be part of what we’re doing can come to us. Like you are.” Roderick smiles briefly.
“But to answer your question, Vidal recognizes Coco and Miss Opal as the parish’s regents. In his eyes, decisions that come from Mid-City are only valid because Coco and Miss Opal choose to allow them, and putting things up for popular vote is simply a quirky way to arrive at the decisions they do. And while that might be aggravating to know the prince doesn’t consider Mid-City’s democracy to be ‘legitimate’, fuck him. It doesn’t change the reality on the ground, where every resident gets a vote in what happens. One Anarch, one vote. If Coco or Miss Opal tried to overrule the majority and say ‘no, we’re doing things way,’ it would destroy all faith in what we’ve built and expose them as hypocrites. So if they don’t vote with the majority, too bad. The majority gets what it wants and they don’t.”
“Savoy, in contrast, doesn’t have any kind of election for his council, and I don’t see much indication he actually shares power with them. They’re his closest subordinates rather than a check on his authority. He puts a nicer face on things, but ultimately, he governs the same way as any other elder. Where he has all the power and younger licks have none.”
Celia: “Then change it. We spoke about this before, that you want to change things, and that you think it can’t happen all at once. And maybe you’re right. You’re probably right, that this won’t ever be a widespread thing, like the Scandinavians with their ghouls. But if it works for Mid-City why wouldn’t it work for the Quarter as well? What do you have to lose by trying?”
“Don’t be someone else’s ‘no.’”
GM: “I don’t want to, I just want to be realistic. Say we asked Savoy if he wanted to institute a direct democracy in Mid-City. Maybe even offered to bring some things to the table if he did. What do you think he’d say?”
Celia: “I think he’d be amenable to trying it.”
GM: Roderick looks dubious.
“Do you really think so?”
Celia: “I do. He’s more reasonable than most elders. Lay out the facts. Make your presentation. If he’s going to be the one to say no, let him do it. Sincere or not, he wants our kind to be successful. Neonates as well as all Kindred. Do you think he’d have given me the time of night to tell him my business plan if he didn’t want to see people like us succeed? Smart and capable, that’s what he said to me. What he values.”
“And if I’m wrong, then I’m wrong.”
“But I don’t think I’m wrong.”
GM: “I think you might be,” Roderick says frankly. “But there’s nothing lost bringing it up. If anything, it exposes him as a hypocrite if he says no, so… I guess that’s a win either way.”
“Why don’t you bring it up, tonight, when it’s your turn to speak? See what everyone thinks and establish a commission to approach Savoy.”
“If, uh. We aren’t late.”
Celia: “Is… that wise? I’m nobody to them. You don’t think they’ll react the same way you did?”
GM: “I’m just one voice. One perspective. Who knows what everyone else will think?”
“You can also bring up how it’s a win-win.”
“Either we spread democracy or we expose hypocrites.”
Celia: “Roderick… we just talked about how I can’t cause waves. My family is there. I’m happy to speak about bringing this to Savoy, I can’t go around publicly talking about trapping him. Further, it doesn’t really expose him as a hypocrite. I’m the one saying this, I don’t speak for him.”
GM: “I’m saying it would expose him if he says no,” Roderick offers.
“But, all right. Say you tell everyone you’re going to bring this to him.”
“Then he says no, he looks like a hypocrite.”
“He blames you. So that isn’t good.”
“What do you think we should do instead?”
Celia: “Why would he look like a hypocrite, though?”
GM: “Because licks like you think he’s a substantially different alternative to Vidal, only when asked if he actually wants to do something substantially different, he says no.”
Celia: “I think, then, that I should speak to him before I bring this up publicly, and let him know that I’m… making assumptions and negotiations on his behalf.”
“He’s a friendly tiger, but he’s still a tiger.”
GM: “Okay. You still want to try to make the rant tonight, or save that and your debut for next week?”
Celia: “I think it would be more impactful to bring something of substance to the table.”
GM: “Okay, that works.”
“Want to bang on a roof?”
Celia: “I thought you’d never ask.”
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