“Most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful.”
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
Celia: The Giani Building isn’t far enough into the Central Business District that Celia is worried about being picked up as an interloper. It’s not even far enough away that she needs to drive, which further cuts down on the probability that she’ll be detected. Flanagan had proved the other night that the licks who patrol the borders pay attention to make and model of vehicles, but this evening Celia skips it all.
She walks. Just another girl alone at night, aura drawn in to prevent any of her kind from looking at her and simply knowing what she is. Masking her smell, she calls it. Hiding in plain sight. She wears her Celia face tonight, made up with spots of color on her cheeks, lips, and lids.
Quick steps take her across Canal Street to the building’s front door. The doorman asks who she is here to see and she gives him Caroline’s name, smiling sweetly all the while.
In the end, there had been no way for her to ascertain that this is not a trap. Trust does not come readily to her kind, but trust she does. Trusts herself to react accordingly. Trusts the Ventrue to offer her this visit on an act of goodwill. Trusts that she will not meet her final death if she steps into this building as soon as the clearance comes down.
Caroline: If the shapely young woman didn’t have the doorman’s full attention when she walked in, she certainly has it when she mentions Ms. Malveaux-Devillers. He inquires as to what name he should give when he calls up.
Celia: Celia tells herself she isn’t offended when the man doesn’t recognize her. How many middle-aged men really browse Instagram or MeVid, anyway, and how many of those who do meander on over to the makeup side of things? Soon, though, she’ll be recognized everywhere, not just by teens and tweens and young women. L.A. is calling her name. As soon as Rick comes through, she’s out of New Orleans and on her way to something better.
“Celia Flores,” she tells the doorman, her smile never slipping. “I believe Ms. Malveaux-Devillers is expecting me.”
She hopes so, anyway. The call from her ghoul had implied as much. Awkward, if not.
Caroline: The doorman buzzes up. Celia’s sharp hearing is enough to her her name clearly. He answers affirmatively several times then returns his attention Celia. “Someone will be right down for Ms. Malveaux-Devillers,” he informs her.
“You can wait in the lobby if you’d like.”
Celia: As if she has another choice. Still, she smiles at him and steps inside, thanking him for his time. Her eyes scan the lobby while she waits. She’s poised enough to not tap her heels on the ground no matter how nerve-wracked this waiting makes her.
Her grandsire’s missive weighs heavily on her mind. Coincidence, maybe, that the call from the ghoul had come shortly after she’d left the Evergreen. She hadn’t voiced her concerns to her grandsire, but they pace through her thoughts now like a caged tiger, back and forth, back and forth. Sire and grandsire. One wants to destroy the blonde, the other wants to offer her friendship and an alliance. Both of them want her assistance with the matter. What does she want to be? The knife in the dark, or the smiling friend?
She supposes this meeting will let her know.
Caroline: The lobby feels more spacious than it is. Marble floors and high ceilings give it an robust elegance, and the entire space is decorated in whites and golds. Several comfortable looking leather chairs sit to one side, a handful of magazines arrayed in the end table between them.
To one side Celia can make out a short hall that terminates in a mail room, complete with the array of numbered boxes. Branching off of it is another room with an opaque frosted glass door.
Several security cameras beat down from various angles. The small round black ones, rather than the more conspicuous ones of gas stations and resteraunts.
Two keycarded elevators sit on the north wall.
Celia doesn’t have long to wait before a serious-looking blonde in a black suit emerges from one of the elevators and makes her way to her.
“Ms. Flores?” she asks.
Celia can smell it before she gets close.
Celia: She hadn’t even had time to enjoy the magazine she’d picked up and begun to leaf through, one leg crossed over the other in that bank of leather chairs.
She doesn’t recognize the girl. Smells like vitae, though. Should she recognize her? Probably. She should pay better attention to people’s ghouls; apparently someone is paying enough attention to hers to start fucking with them.
“That’s me,” she says to the ghoul, setting the magazine aside. “Lead the way, Miss…?”
Caroline: “Widney, ma’am,” the ghoul replies easily. “Ms. Malveaux-Devillers’ last appointment ran late, but she told me she would be along shortly, and instructed me to extend every courtesy in her absence. She’ll receive you in the penthouse.”
Celia: Irritation surges through her. Not the ghoul’s fault, she reminds herself, so she keeps her tongue in her mouth and her lips pressed together.
She couldn’t have called? Texted?
And this is, what, another game? From a fledgling? No matter who her sire is, the girl is a scant few months old.
How dare she.
“How unfortunate,” she says dryly. “This is why I make it a point to be the first one in the morning to visit the doctors, you know. But I’m happy to see the penthouse in the meantime.” She sounds chipper, at least.
Caroline: “It shouldn’t be long at all, ma’am. If you follow me, I’ll get you settled in. Can I offer you anything? Sparkling water? Cocktail?” The blonde leads her to one of the elevators and swipes a badge.
Celia: Sparkling blood. There’s a thought. She wonders if carbonation would improve the fare any. Either Widney doesn’t know what she is—which means Caroline is preserving the secret for her—or she’s pretending not to know because of the public locale. Maybe she should accept. Keep up the ruse.
No, no reason to waste the blood just to choke it down and throw it up later. She’s had enough of that.
“Oh I couldn’t,” she says, Southern accent coming through a little more thick than normal. She waves a hand, stifling a giggle. “I’m already jumpy as a rabbit in a teakettle as is, I doubt liquor would do me any good.”
Caroline: Widney nods, business-like. “If you should change your mind, don’t hesitate to ask. Ms. Malveaux-Devillers maintains a fully stocked bar.”
She swipes the badge across another scanner inside and the dim ‘th floor’ button illuminates. She presses it quickly. The trip to the rooftop is short.
“Would you prefer inside or outside, ma’am?” the ghoul inquires.
A pool and array of seating arrangements beckon on the patio.
Always outside. She follows the ghoul onto the rooftop venue, scanning the area for any sort of… anything. Traps, maybe. More ghouls. People. Does she have this whole area to herself? Plant a few trees, she thinks, and Caroline will have her very own rooftop garden.
With a pool, though. Now that’s tempting. What would the Ventrue do if she showed up to find Celia naked in the pool? She’s often wondered that about her grandsire, too. If he came upstairs one evening to find her waiting for him.
Ah, well, the blonde has already seen everything she has to offer, anyway. Something something mystery of modesty and all that. It looks like Emily described, at least, which means that her memories weren’t altered. Maybe. Aren’t you supposed to make small changes, though? She’d sigh but she doesn’t need to.
Celia takes an offered seat and waits for her host.
Caroline: Widney pauses after the elevator arrives to send a brief message on her phone, before leading Celia out to a high round table with a black umbrella jutting from the center and two stool height chairs. A small portable electric heater sits off to the side, and the ghoul stops to turn it on as well.
There’s not a soul to trouble them, though the faint sounds of the street reaches them up here. The dull hum of cars going by and occasional peels of laughter from tourists.
There’s no dedicated lighting on the patio on other than those that ring the pool: it’s left to bathe in the faint lights of the city and cast in a modest gloom.
Celia doesn’t have long to wait, perhaps enough time to briefly check her Instagram.
From her seat facing the club house the Toreador can see the doors to the elevator open once more to discharge the Ventrue and two others.
The first she recognizes as the same ghoul that was with Caroline in the Garden District.
What was her name? Spring? Summer? Some kind of season name.
She says something that Celia can’t quite catch to Caroline as she exits the elevator that makes the Ventrue snap shut the leather portfolio she’s holding and all but shove it towards her, whatever words exchanged lost in the wind.
The second individual with Caroline is short, stocky, and bald. He wears black cargo pants with a gray shirt and a matching dark jacket that doesn’t fit him as well as it should. Everything about him almost screams military, not the least of which is the pistol on his hip and matching magazines on the opposite.
Then comes the Ventrue herself.
That Caroline doesn’t expend the same effort as Celia in her daily makeup routine is obvious. Just as obvious is how little she needs such a thing. Her blonde hair seems to fall in exactly the right way to frame her face, especially those piercing blue eyes.
She’s not quite dressed for Elysium in her black dress, but it’s far from casualwear, hugging her body in all the right places and standing out sharply against her so pale skin. Paler perhaps than the night before. Even more inhuman.
Her heels make her seemingly endless legs just go on further. They snap across the deck as the blonde makes her way out towards Celia with casual lack of effort.
Celia: She should, she reflects, get more ghouls like this. The useful sort that flank her when she visits other licks, instead of a boy who disobeys and a girl who can’t be bothered to protect the sanctity of the Masquerade. Christ, she’s still waiting on the blowout from that. An excuse to strip her of everything useful she’s accumulated over the past years. The heads of the ghouls she’s currently bemoaning, even.
No, no, she won’t let her mind go down that road. No one that knows who she is has any reason to want to mess with her. No reason to check Celia’s phone.
Except the reason in front of her.
The beautiful, deadly reason in front of her. Scion of two powerful houses, childe of the prince of the city, apparently bested Meadows in combat… power, beauty, what’s not to like?
The pull of her clan, thankfully, lies dormant this evening. She blames it for her actions in the Garden District.
Her eyes follow the assembled ghouls—Winter, she thinks, which is similar to Widney, which definitely makes sense if you’re too busy to learn their names—until Caroline starts towards her. Then it’s all she can do to avoid staring. Were she still alive the lick might take her breath away. As it is, only conscious effort reminds her to breathe and blink.
She rises as the Ventrue draws close, a smile tugging the corners of her lips upward. The corners of her eyes would never dare crinkle, but there’s warmth there all the same.
She’s less formally dressed than her counterpart, in any case. This must have come from the Celia side of her closet, and soon it’ll be too warm to pull it off, even at night. Still, she does so enjoy her sweater dresses, and this wide-necked tan (beige? who cares) one hugs her hips and waist before giving way around mid-thigh to dark gray boots. Even the heels don’t make her tall enough to look the Ventrue in the eye.
Not that she would. Celia studiously avoids doing so, looking at her lips instead.
No, wait, that’s dangerous too.
What a mess.
Caroline: Celia may not have heard the jokes at Elysium about Caroline, but Jade certainly has.
Not from the harpies (why would they spare their attention for some fledgling?) but from the would-be crowd. About how clearly the reason the Ventrue has so many ghouls is because no lick wants anything to do with her. How she has to lord over someone. How it’s a pathetic commentary on her existence. The lost fledgling surrounding herself with slaves and bodyguards in some pretentious imitation of the powerful and important. Unable to accept her irrelevance, not realizing how foolish it makes her look. Who would bother with her anyway?
On the other hand, Caroline doesn’t look very pathetic as she outpaces the bald ghoul on her way towards Celia.
She intentionally doesn’t bite her lip like she wants to as she approaches, as she takes in the Toreador. Caroline’s skin is too pale to pull off a dress like that, but it works on Celia. Works very well, especially paired with the boots.
She forces away the irritation Autumn’s last news left her with and puts a smile on. Smile’s are good, right? Not threatening? Celia’s smiling at her. Because she’s trying to be non-threatening as well? Or because she’s genuinely happy to see Caroline?
The Ventrue shoves that latter thought away along with her irritation. Why would Celia be happy to see her?
More to, why did she accept the invitation? How confident must she be, of either her rouse or her abilities to waltz into Caroline’s lion’s den here.
Well, she’s not the first.
And then she’s there, in front of the Toreador, and she realizes she doesn’t know what she’s going to say.
“Celia, I’m so glad you could come. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
Offer an excuse? The truth? No. That’d just look weak, wouldn’t it? She’s been on the receiving end of the ‘make people wait’ game other licks play often enough to know what it means, how irritating it is. What it looks like, no matter how good the reason.
On the other hand, does Celia? Caroline admits to herself she honestly don’t know. She’s never seen her at Elysium. Never heard of her. Is it possible that Celia’s been mostly isolated? Then there’s that ugly secret between them. How does that play in?
Celia: Could be the bond Caroline forced on her. Celia had tried so hard to prevent it from taking hold in the bedroom and Caroline had all but shoved it on her in the shower.
The smile seems genuine enough, in any case. Hard to imagine Celia without a smile, really. Maybe it’s her default expression. Maybe she hasn’t been a lick long enough to know she shouldn’t smile like this, like she hasn’t been around long enough to know she shouldn’t trespass in the Garden District. It’s not as if Caroline has heard anything about a Celia Flores among the Damned.
She’s glad they’re skipping the titles, in any case. Caroline’s nonchalant familiarity puts her more at ease than anything else probably would.
“It’s not a problem,” Celia tells her, “I’m sure you have plenty of things to keep you busy these nights.” It was only a moment, anyway. Not like when the elders do it.
Maybe she’s not used to those games, either. How much digging did Caroline do about the Toreador?
Caroline: “You have no idea,” Caroline answers with a light laugh.
Or does she?
She glances at Widney. “There shouldn’t be anything else tonight.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The ghoul nods and withdraws.
And just like that the two of them are standing out on the roof alone.
She’ll never get a better chance.
And yet Caroline can’t bring herself to fear. Perhaps she’s being foolish tonight, but nothing ventured is nothing gained, and she’s not so exposed here as others might believe.
Celia: She probably doesn’t. Still posting photos on Instagram, isn’t she?
Must be new. Hadn’t even tried to put off the ghoul for a night when she’d called for a meeting. Doesn’t seem bothered by waiting.
She watches the ghoul depart. Now it’s just two monsters on the roof.
“Is all of this yours up here?”
An idle question. As if she hadn’t grilled Emily about it. Not that the girl would know, but even some information is better than none, isn’t it?
Caroline: “In practice. I don’t own the building, but I have some… influence over it. Officially, the roof closes at sundown. Most people’s cards won’t even let them select it as an option in the elevator.”
Her eyes meet Celia’s. “We won’t be disturbed.”
Celia: Is that a threat or an invitation?
“And for anyone who tries to take the stairs it’s a simple matter of telling them to leave, I imagine.”
Not that it would stop certain others in the city from appearing if they so chose. She turns to look out across the city, perhaps to keep the lick from doing the trick she’d just alluded to. Not wanting the girl in her head is what had gotten her into this mess. The building isn’t the tallest in the city, but the view across Canal Street to the lights and merriment of the Quarter is appealing all the same.
“It’s nice up here. I see why you invite people.”
Caroline: “Roof doors lock out too, at least from the inside. Building security is pretty extensive. Something about upgrades after an unfortunate incident a few months ago,” Caroline answers, turning her own gaze to the city.
It’s not quite the equal of her sire’s view, but it’s not bad.
“I worked hard to make something mine after my Embrace.” She bites her lip. “It wasn’t easy.”
Celia: “I should upgrade my security,” Celia admits. She’s seen what other people do now and hers is decidedly lacking. Not just at her haven, but the spa as well. One suite is well guarded, the rest…
“Hard to carve a niche in a city that seems like it’s been picked clean over by everyone at the top.”
No heat, just steady facts. What’s left for the little people in this game of giants?
“But it seems like it’s going well for you. Maybe I can pick your brain about it sometime. Borrow some tactics about developing things. "
Caroline: “I mean, it’s not all that different than our last lives. All about what parts of yourself you’re willing to sell or cut away to get ahead.”
She wishes she had a drink.
“Get in line behind someone. March to the beat of their drum. They’re no more accepting of individuals than either of our fathers.”
Celia: “Isn’t that the truth.”
What would they be like if their fathers hadn’t been the monsters they are? Would she chafe more at the rules of her Requiem, join the Anarchs to fight for equality? Maybe. That’s the way the world works, though. The strong rule at the top.
“Someone—” her sire “—once told me that growing up as I did taught me strength.”
Caroline: “There’s a reason a lot of us come from those kinds of backgrounds.” She runs her tongue over her fangs.
“Your sister, for instance.”
“A good Sanctified would also tell you that your sins in life are part of why you have this existence. I think we all had our own sins long before the Embrace.”
Celia: Turned away as she is, maybe Caroline doesn’t see the overlong blink at the mention of her sister. She has half a second to decide how to play this. Tell Caroline who she is, let her know she’s been Embraced far longer than her, that she knows about Roxanne.
Or feign ignorance. Play the innocent, wide-eyed childe, so new to all of this. Harder to explain how she fits into their society if she’s more than a handful of months old, isn’t it?
It had worked with the hunters.
And, in the end, it’s not her secret to tell. The noose makes her do what she does best: lie.
“My sister?” Celia furrows her brow. “I don’t think the scandal made either one of them strong. Sophia left for college, and Isabel… she’s been in Sudan since she graduated.”
Caroline: Does she really not know? How many masks are they wearing with each other tonight?
Still, if she really doesn’t know, she deserves to.
“Isabel has been one of us for years,” Caroline answers after a moment. “She leads her own krewe. Or, at least she did. They had a difficult year.”
Celia: What’s the appropriate response to this? She’d been furious when she found out initially, but her feelings since then have long cooled.
Dismay, maybe. Who would want this for their siblings? Wounded betrayal that Isabel hadn’t told her. Sadness. Regret. She reaches for the old wounds she has carried on her heart since the night she made Maxen rape his daughter. The story Roxanne had told her about her pregnancy moments before she’d ripped out her heart. Or what she should have felt, anyway, if she weren’t the monster that she is.
It’s a real mixing pot of emotions across her face, eyes widening, lips parting, fingers moving to cover her mouth while she takes a completely unnecessary breath.
“Isabel has… oh, oh no…” She turns away.
And the Oscar goes to…
Caroline: Celia’s either a fantastic actress (which Caroline knows is true) or she’s genuinely been kept in the dark about most of Kindred society.
She supposes, on reflection, both could be true, despite what she knows about her. Caroline certainly was.
She shrugs. “It’s not all bad. Someone observed to me once that this thing can be what breaks relationships, what destroys us with others, but it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with someone under different circumstances.”
Never mind that she murdered that person. Someone who trusted her, or at least cared for her. Cared enough to stick her neck out for Caroline.
“For what it’s worth, I think your sister would be happy to see a familiar face, and that she could use one.”
Celia: Huh. Too bad Celia killed her sister.
Not that she shares that tidbit.
She shoves the thought from her mind as quickly as it comes. It takes her a moment to put herself back together after that blow. Or at least that’s what she makes it look like she’s doing. She doesn’t dab at her eyes—Caroline won’t smell blood and would see through the ruse more easily than a mortal—but she hunches her shoulders slightly for a moment and gives a shake of her head.
“I didn’t know. I had no idea…” she trails off. “We weren’t close, you know, after our parents split… I just thought she… with everything that happened…”
Her face plastered all over the internet. Maxen between her legs. It’s a dark thought.
“I would have wanted to get out, too.”
Caroline: Not close? How are you ‘not close’ with a sister. The entire idea is alien to Caroline. She tries to imagine what it would take to split her from her sisters. Probably a hacksaw.
“She’s a clanmate. I could put you two in touch. Or at least pass along your number, if you wanted.”
What say you to that? How far does she take the game? If it even is a game.
Celia: Good luck.
“Y-yeah,” Celia finally says. “Thank you. I should speak to her. Maybe together we can…” she trails off again.
Bury the hatchet. She really had wanted to bury the hatched with Isabel. Only she’d become unhinged, either after her Embrace or had been all along, and Celia’s attempt at bridging that gap had ended disastrously.
Caroline: “Few enough reasons to trust someone, among the Damned. You could do worse than shared blood.”
Of course, Caroline did far more than destroy the only Kindred that shared her blood as a mortal, so maybe she’s not the best authority on that topic.
“Remind me to give you her number before you go, and I’ll pass on yours next time I see her.”
Celia: She should unburden herself of that guilt. They can swap stories about the terrible things they’ve done to their families.
Call it a bonding exercise.
“I don’t know if she’d want to see me,” Celia admits, “but… I guess she and Logan still talk. I messaged her, you know, recently. There’s this app he showed me, because I thought she was in Sudan… but she never got back to me. But… you know, dying, it made me think of all the things I should have fixed. And now I have the chance. And to hear that maybe we could fix it…”
She takes a breath she doesn’t need.
“Thank you, Caroline. I really appreciate that.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “She goes by Roxanne now. Apparently that’s a thing a lot of licks do: change their name after the Embrace.”
Not that Caroline will. The time for that is long past—if it ever existed for her.
Celia: “Oh. I should… probably do that too. Roxanne.” She tries it out, lets it roll off her tongue.
As if she doesn’t know.
What had Coco and Roderick told her? Truth comes out. Maybe she should stop spinning tales.
“I never understood how she could do it, you know. Take his side. I saw him. I watched it happen.”
This, at least, isn’t a lie.
Caroline: That makes Caroline pause. What would she have done, if she’d seen her father beating Claire? Would she have defended her now-stepmother against him? Have stood up against him? Would she have gone with Claire if they’d split, knowing she was right? Or would she have stayed with her father, who she loved?
She knows the answer.
“I could say that you were kids, and that to kids who’s right matters a lot less than who you love. I could say that he appeared strong and your mother appeared weak. Maybe your sister thought she was backing the side she had to because it was going to win anyway. I could blame the entire thing on who you were then… but that’s not really true, is it?”
“The truth is most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful. We’re myopic in our view. The only thing that matters is what we care about.”
She pauses. “Your sister made clear who she did.”
Celia: “Isabel—Roxanne—she had no reason to side with Dad. None. He used to… God, he was awful. The last nice thing I remember him doing was my birthday party when I was eight. And then we moved into Audubon and everything became shit. Just shit. He just… changed. Not overnight, it wasn’t that dramatic, but what kind of person takes a hacksaw to a ballerina’s leg? How can you do that to someone? And then everything after… what he did to her, to me… watching my mom live in literal squalor because of him…”
Celia shakes her head.
“I don’t even know what they were fighting about, why he suddenly went after her. He said she was cheating, but she… Christ, Caroline,” Celia looks up at her, and the truth is there in her eyes. “She’s still in love with him. He’s trying to get back into her life and she’s going to let him. Would it really be so bad, she keeps asking. It’s… it’s sick. It’s so messed up.”
As if she isn’t doing the same thing with her sire. Letting him use and abuse her to fulfill his own twisted ends and meekly accepting it because she hopes he’ll care enough about her one day to not.
Caroline: And he’s the puppet of your sire, Celia. What do you think that says about what his view was on what happened to you?
Does she really not know? Or is she just like Caroline? Too broken to care.
“And yet, making peace with that level of cognitive dissidence is a daily part of our Requiem. I sit in rooms across from other licks who literally tortured me, tried to enslave me, and humiliated me every week and have to do more than pretend to be nice,” she observes pointedly.
“As I said, there’s a reason people like us are attractive to our sires—and by ‘us’ I include your sister. Like a beaten dog, we’re not inclined to bite our masters, even if we show our teeth to everyone else.”
It’s an ugly thing to say, an ugly truth to put out in the open, but Caroline made her peace with it. What was it the seneschal had said? “Your background made you a compelling candidate for the prince’s Embrace.” She doubts he was talking only about her achievements.
Who else but the daughter of a man who spent most of his life ignoring her, expecting perfection of her, and using her for political purposes, would fight so hard to stand beside a sire who just wants to do the exact same thing.
It’s like poetry, how her Requiem echoes her life. Not that she’s ever much cared for poetry.
Celia: Celia blanches. The effect might be lost beneath the foundation, but the blood she sends spinning through her body drains from her face regardless. Beaten, humiliated, enslaved. She hasn’t had it that bad. She’s been relatively privileged, even.
“Sorry,” she says quietly. “I didn’t know. He just… I hate him. I thought he was out of my life and he’s back and…” she wrings her hands, finally shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t be airing this to you, anyway, I don’t mean to dwell on my family drama. Breather drama.” She lifts her brows, as if unsure of the term.
Caroline is more right than she knows, anyway. Celia might show her teeth to anyone else, but not to him. Never him. Even denying him the night he’d have made her lick blood from the ground had stung. He’d tried to kill her mother and she’d stood by like some… pathetic, weak mortal while it happened. As if it were okay. What would she have done if she hadn’t managed to save her mom? Bow her head and politely accept her failure?
“Why are they all so awful?”
Caroline: “How many people have you killed?” Caroline asks in turn.
“In your Requiem, I mean.” She remembers the loaded gun.
She waits a beat, then continues, “I’m sorry, that’s a rude question. But what I mean is, when life gets cheap, there’s only so many things left that can end up shocking you. Extend that out a hundred years, or two hundred years, or five hundred years.”
She shrugs. “I mean, it probably doesn’t help that they probably all started as fucked as we are. The ones that were normal, well, they don’t make it very long.”
Celia: Five, this week. Three of them were hunters, though, so she’s not sure that it counts. Plus her sister. One innocent, and even then who knows how innocent the bitch actually was. She’d goaded someone else into killing two more and wonders if they count.
“Maybe,” Celia admits. She doesn’t answer the question about death. “Maybe they don’t last long. But if they keep taking the beaten and the broken, they’re going to end up with a society of broken people. That just continues to the problem. Isn’t it better to grant someone the Embrace if you know they’re going to do good with it? If we have eternity, as they say we do, why not make it better?”
She sounds like Roderick. She remembers how Garcia sneered at him in Elysium, spitting the word “idealist” as if it were a curse. She glances away.
“We become jaded, you mean,” she continues, “inured to doing what we need to do. We become like them. If not, we die.”
And isn’t she worried about that very thing with Roderick? That he doesn’t know how to bend so he’ll break instead, rush off to do something heroic and die for it, let his temper get the best of him at the wrong time? He’d cried over killing hunters. That doesn’t bode well for his future.
Or maybe her lack of care for their lives speaks to what’s wrong with her.
Caroline: “Going to end up with a society of broken people? Have you met many of us?” There’s a brittle smile in her eyes.
Celia: Ah, whoops. Here’s the delicate part. The lie she needs to spin.
“There are different ways of being broken.”
Caroline: “Of course there. Elysium is like a case study in a mix of borderline personality traits. The sadists, the masochists, the control freaks, the lushes, the hedonists. But normal people can’t say normal people and be Kindred too.”
“Even the most wannabe moral lick with no ghouls they’ve addicted and enslaved to their will, who has never killed or frenzied by some miracle, is still a rapist that goes out every night to prey on and hurt people. We’re obligate predators by creation.”
“And even if they avoid the petty politics, even if they navigate the Masquerade perfectly, it’s only a matter of time. Eventually they’ll frenzy and hurt or kill someone. If you really want to be the good person, the best thing you can do for the world is get a tan. Otherwise you’re just another monster justifying your existence of hurting and killing with some bullshit excuse about the greater good.”
“Mind you, the kine can be little better—the greater good is the excuse of every tyrant for five thousand years.”
“I think it was Sophocles that said, ‘The soul that has conceived one wickedness can nurse no good thereafter.’ He wasn’t being subtle about the idea that you can’t fight evil while being evil. Fruit of the poisoned tree and all that.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t have much of a counter to that. Roderick probably would, but she’s not him, and she’s never pretended to not be the monster that Caroline speaks of.
Except for right this very minute.
“There are levels of crimes,” she finally says, “things you can do that are worse than the others. Hunting doesn’t need to end in death. You could even argue that we’re better than the mortals who slaughter cows and pigs for their meals.”
She sounds delusional.
Caroline: “Or you can just make peace with it.” Caroline shrugs, tilting her head to the side.
“How much do you really care about some random kine on the street?” She arches an eyebrow.
Celia: “I care more for my family. But I think anyone would say that.”
Part of her family, anyway.
“Are you suggesting,” she asks at length, “that we round up a few and kill them to stop caring?” She sounds intrigued rather than accusing, if that’s any consolation.
Caroline: “I mean, it would help most licks figure out pretty quickly if they could stomach the Requiem.”
Didn’t it help her? It wasn’t the killing that shattered her. As it turned out, blood wiped off porcelain easily enough. Like all china dolls, it was the fall that broke her.
Celia: “Is this what passes for a date when you’re dead?”
Caroline: “Is this a date?” Caroline asks, amused. “I’d have brought a bottle of kine.”
Celia: Celia giggles, delighted at the play on words.
“It can be.”
She honestly has no idea why she’d been invited over, but they’d been in the shower together last time they spoke of it. If she misjudged… well, awkward. Then again, she’s also in a relationship, so it’s awkward either way.
Caroline: A moment of weakness or a genuine temptation? The game wears at her patience—better not to pretend there are truly friends among the Damned. Better to slam the door than gaze into the abyss.
“And here I thought you were here to kill me.”
Celia: She falters. Her smile dips, stopped short by the bold accusation.
“I’m doing a poor job of it, if so.”
A brief pause. Then,
“You asked to see me again. After we were intimate. Or at least I thought that’s what you meant. If I was mistaken, then I apologize for the trouble.”
Caroline: “I meant everything I said,” Caroline answers too quickly.
She pauses for a moment, seemingly realizing the eagerness of her answer.
There’s a wistfulness to her tone when she speaks again. “They told me to be careful, you know. To be watchful. But God, I didn’t see you coming at all. Not even after you dropped the veil.”
There’s something in her gaze.
“Then… then I got a taste of you. I’ve tasted your sire’s blood often enough that I had no doubt who you were, and I knew it was coming. A blade. A poison. Something more subtle, maybe, but an end all the same.”
“I’d grown accustomed to looking for it. To expecting it. There were worse ways than in your arms.”
She stares at the sheriff’s childe. “Except it didn’t come. I couldn’t figure out why. But I had a sort of hope, about the reason.”
Celia: Tasted her sire’s blood enough times.
This is who he gives it to, the prince’s childe. Not Celia. Not his own childe. There’s another beast inside of her that surges at the words. Not the Beast, capital B, but the other one. The colder one, named for the green-eyed bitch. And a little girl who used to believe that monsters weren’t real, a teenager who had been whisked away from the horror of reality by too-cold hands. They fight for dominance inside of her: the Beast, the Beauty, and the Innocent.
You’ll never be good enough, one of them whispers. The Bitch.
Caroline might see the way her face turns to stone while it happens. A micro-expression where, for a blink, Celia becomes just as dead as the rest of them. It’s replaced almost as instantly with something like uncertainty. Apprehension. Nervous, maybe, at the mention of her sire… or Caroline’s confessed desire, the suggestion in her words.
She’s playing with fire. Walking the edge of the knife, where each step cuts into the soles of her feet. She has too many secrets. Too many people vying for her attention, too many people pulling her in different directions, too many people demanding her loyalty. Her sire. Her lover. Her grandsire. Caroline.
She doesn’t know if Caroline is bluffing. If she knows who Celia’s sire truly is. To lie here… one misstep and everything will come crumbling down around her. Will she tell? Celia will lose her head, she’s sure. She can spin it. She’s done it before. Make a bluff of her own. Mutually assured destruction if Caroline tells. But she can’t confess. The noose around her neck tightens at the very thought, his blood warning her to keep quiet. Play stupid, it says, you’re so good at that.
When had his voice replaced her father’s?
“I didn’t come to the Garden District for you,” Celia says. She wonders if her mouth is always this dry. If words are always so difficult to form. Even the truth she speaks rings hollow to her ears. “I didn’t know you’d be there. I came to see my mom, my daughter, your sister. It’s been too long since we…”
You give up friends when you die. That’s the sad truth of it. She’s managed to make it work with some of them, but there will always be those who slip through the cracks. She has held onto Cecilia for years, but now she wonders if that time is up. If Caroline will stake her claim on her family, like Celia would do for hers if another lick were getting too friendly.
“And then I saw you, and I just…”
Blame her clan. Easy, isn’t it. But it had been more than that. She and Caroline had never been close as mortals, but they’d known each other. They could have been friends. If Celia hadn’t died that night…
“I didn’t know who you were. Whose childe. I didn’t know. I wasn’t sent there.”
None of it is a lie. None of it even stretches the truth.
The pause is long enough to set her head to spinning. She looks away, licks her lips, and finally looks back.
“Is that why I’m here? Are you going to… to kill me? Hurt me?” Turn her in? Her weight shifts, as if she might flee. Laughable, really. She knows how fast Caroline is. The railing is close, though. She can jump. Preferable to being executed. To having her blood spill the truth of it. It will hurt less than watching them take his head.
Caroline: She’s such a good liar that Caroline wants to believe it. The naivete of believing in the serendipity of just happening to meet each other again. The night after the sheriff was let in on the secret. She wants to believe that. And she doesn’t want to believe it. Because she’d built up the idea in her head that if Celia, perhaps, could refuse an order from her sire, if she could make her own way, that maybe Caroline could as well. Stupid. There’s no room for sentiment or wishes in her Requiem, only what is.
And what is now? She came back. ’Didn’t know whose childe’ suggests she knows now. Few enough places she could have learned that. Did she go asking questions? Knows now, and still came back. What the hell does that mean?
And then there’s the fear. What does Celia have to fear from Caroline? Celia’s sire is arguably the most feared lick in the city. Certainly the one Caroline fears the most. Well, other than her own sire. Kill her? Hurt her? Who the hell does she think Caroline is?
She was the same way back at her mother’s house as well, though, wasn’t she? Almost skittish. How does that happen?
Except, Caroline suspects she knows exactly how that happens. How many times has she wanted to run? How many times has she been terrified? She pictures Donovan. Cold. Efficient. Demanding. Distant. He’s like a mirror image of her own. Is it really that simple?
“I think I already signed your death warrant once, in life. Once is enough for eternity.”
Celia: She doesn’t know what that means. The tape? That’s hardly a concern anymore. If Maxen had just stayed in Audubon where he belongs she doesn’t think she’d have given him a second thought. But her sire had offered him to her. Silver platter. All she has to do is deliver Caroline.
And she doesn’t want to, that’s the kicker. She doesn’t care about the bald boogey monster from her past anymore. She was finally happy. Finally free. For all that Lebeaux thinks this isn’t her sire finding another way to interfere in her life, Celia still has her doubts. And her grandsire had given her another out, another way forward. Still delivering Caroline, just in a less deadly way.
That’s all she is to them. A tool. A pawn. Someone else to use and manipulate into doing what they want.
Her Beast snarls at the thought. She’s more than that. She has to be.
“I don’t understand,” she admits, as if her inner debate had never happened. “Covering up the scandal hurt Isabel more than it did me.”
Easier, maybe, if she weren’t collared to someone else, if the bonds didn’t tug her half a hundred different directions. What is it like to have free will? She hasn’t known since she was nineteen.
Caroline: “You asked for help, for someone to help save you from the monster in your home, who tucked you in at night. And we threw you back to him.” She runs her tongue over her fangs.
“I told you, I meant everything I said. I regret that day.”
Celia: It takes her a moment to realize Caroline means Maxen and not Donovan. Her mind, as ever, is with the sire that stole her from her home. That kept her there. And he had tucked her in. Does Caroline know that? Know what happened when she was fourteen, when he’d carried her down the hall to her bedroom and told her that she was his special little girl?
“You’re hardly the only one to blame for that event.”
She’d been the one to sell out her family to her sire as soon as he asked.
Caroline: “Wouldn’t it be doing the exact same thing?” she asks.
Her expression softens, almost playful. “There’s nothing stylish about repeating yourself.”
Celia: “Why would you think that he sent me to do something to you?” She doesn’t say his name. She still isn’t sure if Caroline is bluffing. “He serves your sire, why would he want to hurt you?”
Caroline: Other than the fact that he probably arranged my death to lure the seneschal to his own?
“Does he? If so, he’s proven an incapable servant indeed over the last years.”
Celia: Celia wouldn’t know anything about that, though, if she’s as new as she pretends to be.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“But he didn’t…” Celia falters. She’s as good as admitted that he’s her sire. What is he going to do if he finds out that Caroline knows? “He didn’t send me. When he found out I was there…”
She looks away again, closing her eyes briefly. The pain that flickers across her expression when she looks back to Caroline says it all: it was ugly.
Caroline: A flash of anger. She knows that expression intimately. She’s worn it plenty. She’s so tired of it.
How much of her hand to tip, though? Is this all just bait? A subtler knife?
The Toreador stares at her with those big eyes brown eyes, and they seem to pry secrets from her better than a crowbar.
“Then I imagine he was especially unhappy. I’m sorry.”
,An ally, perhaps? Can she turn the knife around?
“The night before I’d graduated from source of irritation to genuine problem. I think you know why.”
Celia: “I shouldn’t have been there,” Celia says quietly. Just like her mom: blaming herself. Her fault. Nothing would have come of it if she hadn’t let her libido get the best of her, either. She could have been in and out and Caroline wouldn’t have had any idea, and then when her sire came… well, no, she would have still be in trouble for going there.
She doesn’t know what to say to Caroline. The stories in her head become more muddled with every word she speaks.
“Nobody knows I exist. That I’m his.” The words pour out of her before she can stop them. Her eyes search the Ventrue’s face. “That’s why I’m not…” she gestures down at herself, the way she masks the Beast. “I’m just… hiding.”
A beat. Then,
“Are you going to tell?”
There it is. The heart of the matter: will Caroline turn her in for being the sheriff’s unknown childe, thereby sentencing them both to… well, she’s seen her sire’s sense of justice in that regard.
Caroline: “How little you must think of me,” Caroline answers.
She waits until the Toreador is about to speak again, before continuing, “That you think we need so many lies between us.”
Celia: That earns a smile from the Toreador, at least.
“Would you have me spill my soul to you, then?”
Caroline: “Maybe I would,” Caroline answers. “When you lie to everyone all the time, you either forget the truth or become the lie.”
Celia: “You wouldn’t need to turn me in, if I did.” There’s no sense of humor on her face. “He’d do it himself.”
Caroline: “So you spend your Requiem in fear of him, but also in thrall to him. You’re his pet. His tool. His slave.” Caroline’s voice is soft, almost gentle.
Celia: Her jaw tightens, but she doesn’t deny it. She jerks her chin down in an approximation of a nod.
Caroline: “Do you love him?”
Celia: “That’s… that’s… you can’t love someone like him.”
Caroline: The Ventrue arches a skeptical eyebrow.
Celia: “He doesn’t have feelings. Loving him would be… stupid.”
Caroline: A silent stare.
Celia: “He murdered me. He kept me in that house, knowing what my dad did. He was there the night he tried to kill my mom. With a hacksaw. He was there. He protected him.”
Caroline: The blonde nods, her attention entirely focused on Celia.
Celia: She breaks eye contact, dropping her gaze to the rooftop beneath her shoes. She finally nods. She blinks at her feet, red liquid threatening to spill out of her eyes.
“Yes,” she says.
“But it doesn’t matter. Because he doesn’t. He never will.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in agreement.
“It’s just what they are.”
Celia: “Is it? They have to be that way? Or do they just choose to be?”
Caroline: “Would you love him if he wasn’t?” Caroline asks back.
Celia: “I suppose that depends on your view of Freud, and whether or not you think every girl grows up wanting to fuck her dad.”
Caroline: “A man just like him,” Caroline agrees.
Celia: “Is yours? Do you love him?”
Caroline: “We’re not even pawns on the board to them,” Caroline answers with more bitterness than she wants to admit.
After all, a pawn might someday become a queen.
Celia: There’s no prince on a chess board. She’s doing herself a disservice to forget that.
“Tools, like you said. Pets. Not even that.” Her voice is just as bitter. At least Savoy gives her affection. From her sire… nothing.
“He cares more about my father than he ever will me.”
“Why do it, then. Why create someone. If you’re just going to… throw them away.”
Caroline: Hadn’t she answered that already? They’re all broken in different ways. Even their sires.
She wishes she had a drink. Instead, she takes her eyes off the Toreador for a moment. She doesn’t want to look at her when she admits this.
“I’d hoped, when you didn’t strike me down at my mother’s home, that it was some act of rebellion. Defying his will. Showing that we were more than that, even if we weren’t to them.”
But then it has to start with someone, doesn’t it? She has every reason to bring this other fledgling forward. To stake her and deliver her as the irrefutable evidence of the sheriff’s treachery. The collar digs in tight around her throat. There’s a stake under the table. It wouldn’t be so difficult.
She tugs against it and her next words catch in her throat, like a dog at the end of her chain. Straining. Digging into her flesh as she tugs towards something she wants.
But she’s not just a fucking dog, is she? Isn’t she something more? Can’t she be something more?
Caroline Malveaux, her father’s dutiful daughter, is dead. She’s something more now, isn’t she? Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, and for all of her mother’s desire for her happiness, she knows too that she wants more for her daughter. Caroline didn’t even know the concessions she was making until she cataloged them, the list of everything he silently demanded of her. But she sees it now. And her mother is right.
The collar tugs, its chain tied to the far end of marble monolith, and she bleeds. But Caroline’s bled before. It chokes her, but she doesn’t need air. It makes her feel like she’s failing him, but she’s failed before. It makes her feel like she’s nothing, but he’s made her nothing before. The collar’s sharp edges do not bite into the tender flesh of her earliest nights, but calcified scars.
She doesn’t finish the thought to Celia. Doesn’t need to, because her next words give birth to it. She grips the table edge like she’s holding on for her life.
“Your secrets are safe with me.”
The words take something out of her, and just for a blink, Celia can see what’s behind the porcelain mask. The weariness. The exhaustion of dragging everything she’s supposed to be with her at all times. The cracks in the marble puttied over and faded paint haphazardly sprayed over in desecration of the beautiful thing once beneath.
It’s only a blink, though, and the moment is gone. Gone so quickly that it must make Celia wonder if it was only her imagination. The Ventrue stands there, tall, haughty, in control of everything around her. Poised and unbowed.
Celia: Celia remains blissfully unaware of the internal struggle that her very existence brings to Caroline. Blissfully unaware except for that single blink, gone in a flash. Not real. It can’t be. She’s the prince’s childe, why would she be anything less than the golden goddess Celia turned her into that evening at her mother’s house?
Roderick’s words come back to her, though. Powerful families. Sireless nobody. Bowing and scraping and trying to keep herself above it all. Arrogant. Her own words, too. Beaten, enslaved, humiliated.
Your secrets are safe with me.
It’s a risk. A big risk. But Caroline already knows the biggest one, doesn’t she: that Celia Flores is Donovan’s childe. Other people know Celia is dead, other people know Celia is Jade, but only a handful know about that. None of them part of the prince’s regime. None of them with any incentive to turn her in.
“He didn’t know,” she says again. She sounds surer this time, more secure in the truth that she speaks. “I wasn’t sent there. I went of my own volition. He didn’t send me there.”
There’s a pause. A brief pause, while she collects her thoughts.
“And I’m not interested in the rest of it. Hurting you. Killing you. Spying. Whatever you think this is, why I came. It was for you. Not for someone else.”
Caroline: For her.
What does that even mean? What the hell are they doing? Celia even admitted it, she’s in love with Donovan. Caroline knows better than anyone how impossible it is to break that kind of hold.
They’re both circling black holes, caught in the gravity, being drawn further and further in by their sires.
It’s a terrible idea, but maybe that’s why she likes it.
Celia has every reason to run away, and she didn’t. They both know there’s nowhere for this to go, both hopelessly enthralled to their sires. But here they are.
There’s no pathetic desperation like Jocleyn… or even like Caroline and her sire. Just… whatever this is. Whatever they are to each other.
“Would you like to step inside?”
Celia: It is a terrible idea. More than Caroline realizes. His demands weigh on her. His chain pulls at her. So easy, it would be so easy to use this, to find a way to twist this to her advantage, his advantage…
None of which keeps her from saying no.
She nods instead. Closes the distance between the pair of them, standing just in front of the Ventrue. Prince’s childe. Heiress. Daughter of a soul-eater. The biggest threat to her Requiem, but Celia holds out her hand.
Caroline: Caroline is heedless of that danger. Maybe she assumes Celia is bound. Maybe she just doesn’t care.
The Ventrue takes the hand, but slides in close, slipping an arm around Celia’s hip.
She’s always like that.
The smile on her face as she leads Celia to the elevator is almost girlish.
Celia: Celia doesn’t complain. She’s probably the last lick in the city that will throw a fit over some casual touching. It’s easy to imagine getting used to this. Being on her arm, in her arms, whatever. Who else could she ever share this much of herself with? Celia falls into step beside her, tugged along by the hand on her hip—how did she know?—and the sheer presence of the Ventrue.
Into the lion’s den? God, she hopes not. Hopes this isn’t a mistake. A trap. Luring her inside to… well, she’s seen what their kind can do.
Caroline had said her secrets were safe. That means the rest of her is too, doesn’t it?
Caroline: The way to the elevator gives lie to the idea they were totally alone—there’s yet another ghoul waiting inside the clubhouse—but Caroline strolls without giving her a moment of attention. The doors to the elevator open and close behind them with the swipe of a keycard, but the moment they do Celia has Caroline’s undivided attention.
The prim Ventrue abandons her hold on the brunette’s hip and hand in favor of cupping Celia’s chin in both hands, turning her head up to meet Caroline’s demanding kiss, even as she all but body checks Celia into the wall her into the wall, the Ventrue grinding against her.
Celia: If she still had a need for such human frivolities, she might lose her breath at the assault. Back against the wall, Caroline pressing her into it, the forceful way she takes what she wants? Oh, yes, Celia is into it. It’s not the same as it was last time; there’s nothing shy about the way she responds. Mindful of cameras—don’t all elevators have cameras?—Celia keeps her fangs where they belong. But that’s it. The rest of her is eager, lips parting, hands sliding up the Ventrue’s body. One settles around her back, the other at the back of her head, pulling her further against Celia.
Caroline: Further against Celia, further into Celia, getting lost in her. There’s no need to break from the kiss, no need for such pretty kine things as breathing, and Caroline takes full advantage of it. Her fangs catch Celia’s tongue, and suddenly there’s the taste of blood in her mouth that Caroline can’t resist.
The elevator doors open. The elevator doors close. It takes a moment for Caroline to realize, for a hand to blindly snake back to mash buttons. The other snakes around Celia’s head to match the brunette’s own hold on her.
Celia: Caroline’s fangs pierce her tongue and a shudder runs down her entire body. Her dead flesh responds like a living person’s would: beneath her dress her nipples tighten, heat rises to her cheeks, and she makes a noise that is entirely human. She slides her hands down the Ventrue’s body, stroking and squeezing.
Caroline: Celia’s reaction electrifies Caroline, urges her on. It’s almost as though the other neonate is still alive. They don’t miss their stop this time, and Caroline practically drags Celia down the hall, still entwined with the Toreador, her feet nimbly dancing around obstacles with a deftness that seems more than human. That is more than human.
They arrive at the last door on the left, and Caroline brings them to a stop, Celia’s back against the door.
One hand snakes behind Celia, under her dress, rakes her back. The other frantically, almost frustratedly, works the door. She breaks the kiss, moves to Celia’s throat, and though fangs drag themselves across her skin, they draw no blood. Instead they settle for a far more human touch.
Celia: Celia totters after Caroline as best she can, her hands and lips busy upon the Ventrue’s body. The breath left in her lungs leaves her body in a woosh when Caroline slams her back against the door. Heedless of whatever audience lingers in the halls, Celia gives herself fully to the sensation of Caroline’s lips at her neck. Her head tilts to one side, throat exposed to the mouth and fang of the Ventrue that towers over her. Blood wells in the scratches down her back, dress hiked up over her hips to expose a pair of black panties.
Celia reaches a hand behind her back, searching for the doorknob. She wiggles it and it doesn’t move. Locked. A frustrated growl passes her lips; half a second later her hands are at Caroline’s shoulders and her entire body leaves the floor. She wraps her legs around the Ventrue’s waist and nips at her neck, her fangs leaving shallow cuts behind. She laps at the blood without even bothering to let it cool.
Caroline: Caroline arches her back in ecstasy as Celia’s fangs find her flesh. Seconds tick by as she continues to fight the door. Blood runs down the Toreador’s back, stains her dress. At last the door gives way and the two almost tumble in, Celia’s weight supported entirely by Caroline in a moment of weakness. For all her grace, she lacks the puissance of either of their sires.
She stumbles in, one hand slamming the door behind them, bouncing first off an empty counter, then off a pair of stools, and finally landing on top of Celia on the sprawling black leather sofa. The blonde pauses, looking down, long enough to slip either end of her dress off her shoulders, to slide her hands free of sleeves and let it fall around her belted hips.
Pale flesh and a strapless bra await Celia, as the Ventrue leans back in over her, arms free. She’s eager, demanding even, but not rough. That’s happened once before.
She knows the truth. Knows that neither of them is who the other really wants. She knows it somewhere deep down. Tonight, though, perhaps they’re enough. And if not, who’s to know? What’s the harm? They’re both slaves to their sires, enslaved by blood and their very beings the men who will never be what either wants or needs. And she needs something tonight.
Oscar Wilde said all sex was about power, but there’s nothing of it here. She neither wants power over Celia nor is willing to concede power to her. She needs something more fundamental than even her sex drive.
One hand traces up Celia’s leg, bunching her dress above her hips even as they slide under her panties as they slide across the Toreador’s perfect skin. The other hand buries itself in the girl’s dark hair, traces the pint of her chin. She’s like a reflection of Caroline through a darker mirror in so many ways.
Maybe that’s what draws her in, what consumes her in Celia. What drives her lips back to the Toreador tenderly, her hands to caress her, what makes so shy her fangs. What pulls her eyes to Celia’s own eyes. She wants to see something in Celia. Needs to see something in Celia. Something she can’t see in herself.
Celia: It might be a giggle, the high-pitched noise that comes out of her as Caroline stumbles through the door with Celia in her arms. Someone had told her once that laughing during sex isn’t funny, but someone else had said it’s one of the most intimate things people can do together: laugh during a time when two people are extremely vulnerable. She doesn’t see the path of destruction in their wake, the scattered items, the stool that crashes to the ground, but she pictures it clearly in her mind, and it brings a moment of levity to an otherwise frantic situation.
Frantic? No, that’s not right. Sprawled across the couch, her back covered in blood and scratches, her dress destined for the garbage bin, that may have been. But now? …slowing. Tender. Not ripping and tearing and snarling. Stroking, caressing, the Ventrue’s fingers soft against her. She leans into that touch, mimics it with her own.
Her fingers start at her shoulders and work lower, slide around the back of her, reach for the hooks that keep her contained. At her touch they pop free, and Celia drops the material to the side. Bare from the waist up. It’s a beautiful sight. She is a beautiful sight. Poised, strong, steady; she wants to know what it was that Caroline had to conquer, what earthquakes she weathered, what scars weave their tapestry across her back, because there is no star without the collapse of a nebula. But here she stands, shining as brightly as any sun.
Pervert, they call her, and Caroline learns the truth of it when she finds the Toreador wet. Her eyes rake the blonde’s form, taking it all in; a shiver runs down her spine. Anticipation. Need. More than that, though: want. Someone who knows the truth of her. The full truth, not the carefully concocted lies and half-truths she shares with everyone else, but the honest, raw, awful truth—that she’s in love with the monster who ruined her family and murdered her. That she’d give him everything, if only he opened his mouth to ask for it.
Two sires whose childer were accidents, that’s the truth of it. Two girls who grew up with dads that never loved them the way they needed to be loved. Two women who want more than the hand they’ve been dealt. One manipulated by a knife, the other a smile. A mirror, a coin, an echo; a flame and her shadow, perhaps. Dark and light: there is not one without the other.
Celia traces Caroline’s face with her hands, her thumb across the brow, the cheekbone, her lips. She lifts up off the couch to press her lips against the blonde’s, fangs hidden away inside her mouth.
Caroline: Gentle. Soft. Tender, even. So very different than sex with other vampires, than even their first coupling.
Does it help or hurt that they both wish it was someone else with them there? Someone so very different than each of their current partners. Ultimately, Caroline doesn’t care.
She loses herself in Celia’s lips, in the roam of her hands across the Toreador’s body. She finds the secret between her legs with a spike of curiosity, then a surge of satisfaction, and perhaps a bit of jealousy as she discovers its effect on Celia.
One hand finds its home there, even as she nips Celia’s writhing tongue with her fangs, thrilling as the taste of the Toreador’s vitae fills her mouth.
Celia: There’s a sound she makes that’s too close to human to fit in with the idea of normal vampire sex. A delicate inhale of breath as Caroline moves her hand between her legs, then a shudder that travels down her entire body. Even the foundation doesn’t do its job in keeping her cheeks from turning pink as Caroline discovers this last secret of hers.
Her back arches, mouth pulling away from the Ventrue for one long moment as the inhale turns into a shaky, needful sound. Not the hissing and spitting and growling that Caroline might have come to expect; no, Celia seems all too alive for that sort of reaction.
Fangs, though, like all the rest of their kind, and when she leans in again they find purchase on Caroline’s skin. She bites, drinks, and licks a series of cuts across her chest until her mouth fastens around the tip of one breast. She loses herself to the taste of thick, potent blood on her tongue.
Caroline: Caroline pulls her close, loses herself in the ecstasy of Celia’s kiss, even as the Beast rolls inside, growls as she takes from her. She bottles that up, bottles up the Beast so she can be ‘just’ the woman. So she can pretend this tenderness means something.
A moment where she can pretend that they’re not two undead monsters that thrive on pain and suffering, two killers without conscience and a trail of bodies, and two slaves without hope or future—all too happy to wear their chains.
It’s not rebellion if their sires don’t know. It’s not betrayal if their feelings don’t matter. It’s not monstrous if they keep the monsters locked in the cage of their souls.
Celia: Of course it means something.
It has to mean something.
They’re not ripping and snarling and tearing. They’re just… two girls on a couch, both of them trying to figure it out, to get around whatever ties bind them to their sires, to their families, to their respective factions. Two girls dancing to someone else’s tune, pulled along by someone else’s strings, because… because fuck being anything other than a pawn, maybe.
So their Beasts rattle their cages. And the women beat them back so that they can have this one moment together where it’s just about them. What they like. What they want. Soft and sweet.
Caroline: They don’t make it past the couch, but it’s just as well. It’s expensive. It’s comfortable. Her bed is both of those things as well, but it’s also large. Sprawling, even. The couch isn’t so large, and when they’ve exhausted each other there’s nowhere they can get away from each other.
Caroline ends up on her back eventually, Celia pulled tightly against her. An intimacy that makes the Beast uneven, but there’s nowhere else for Celia to go, not on the couch. They can’t get away from each other here.
One hand runs idly through Celia’s hair.
Celia: Celia snuggles contentedly against the golden-haired girl beneath her. Her Beast is quiet in its cage, sated on blood, and Caroline’s fingers bear the evidence of the other girl’s enjoyment as well. Celia moves her lips against her throat, lingering in the moment with whisper soft kisses on her skin.
Peace settles across her like a warm blanket on a cold night. Or is she the warm blanket to Caroline’s cold skin?
She’d always thought herself more as fire than ice.
She could say something. Should say something. But what does one say after something like this? How does she put it into words? ‘This was nice’ lacks her usual eloquence. But it is. Nice.
What a silly thought from the silly Toreador.
Caroline: Maybe that’s why Caroline is content to lay in silence, not even the sound of someone’s breathing to disturb them. What is there to say?
But silence cannot persist forever. Both have others that have laid claim to them. She would take the time they have left.
“They’re taking me away soon.”
Celia: Celia shifts, lifting her chin so that she can look upon Caroline’s face.
“Are you in trouble?”
She can get her out. She knows people. Knows plenty of people. Can change her face. Give her a new identity. She’s leaving for L.A. soon anyway, just… take Caroline with her.
Caroline: A smile. Is it a sad smile?
“The opposite, I think. I’ve done well. Done everything they asked and then some. Enough that I no longer have to wander the desert and hide who I am.”
How is it possible that a single syllable, nothing more than the sound of a letter, carries so much emotion? Loss. Longing. And… yes, underneath it all, jealousy. She’ll be recognized as the prince’s childe. She’ll get whatever that means in terms of respect from others of their kind. And Celia will… stay in the shadows, where no one knows who she is, and watch it all happen from a comfortable distance.
“Like for training?”
Caroline: Training. Like for a dog. She supposes that isn’t entirely wrong.
“My sire, I’m told, has extremely high standards. Standards I am expected to meet before I can be introduced to polite society.”
She sounds… almost melancholic at the idea.
“This has been the worst year of my life. They killed me, ruined me in the eyes of the world, made me worse than a nobody. And the worst part wasn’t all the things they did to me, or that were done to me… it was knowing that it should be better. That there was another path.”
She looks at Celia. “I could live with being a failure, in its own way. But to be his failure?”
Celia: She does know. She knows the things they say about Caroline. The way Roderick speaks of her. The way the Anarchs see her. The mess she has made of her Requiem these past few months.
She knows, too, what it feels like to be a failure in her sire’s eyes.
“I do. I always…” she pauses. Maybe it’s the collar telling her it’s safe. Maybe it’s the body beneath her, what they just shared. Maybe she’s just so tired of lying and just wants someone she can talk to and just be her. Just be Celia.
“I always wondered what it would be like if I wasn’t… if I didn’t have to hide who I am. If he told people I belonged to him. If he taught me… anything.”
There’s another brief pause.
“I think it’s a good sign, though. That they’re taking you away. So you can be what they want, or need, or… better now than… than never, isn’t it?”
Caroline: “You could have that for yourself,” Caroline muses. “If you came forward, you elevate yourself in a single swoop.”
“But never as high as he might raise you… and the cost would be him. I had that choice. Your grandsire offered it to me, in so many words.”
She bites her lip. “I wanted to. To spit in his face, declare myself before everyone and scream, demand to know why he didn’t want me enough. Why it was better to abandon me.”
“But I couldn’t do that any more than you can.”
Silence. A knowing silence.
“And now I’m going away, and this nightmare ends. Faith rewarded, fidelity rewarded. He made me his.”
“There were times this year when I considered just ending it all, stepping into the sun.”
“And yet… though I hated it. Though I despised it and everything it made me—a groveling whore to half a hundred petty tyrants—I think in some ways I’ll miss it.”
“I wasn’t ever free—not really. They always stood over me, ready to snuff out my flame if even its direction changed in the wind, but I think flying around the locked room, even with the net armed man watching, even with the pain of bouncing off of things I didn’t understand, was the closest I’d ever been to being free, the farthest I’d ever been from the cage.”
Celia: The cost would be him.
It’s a price she’ll never pay. Not him. Anything else, but not him.
But that’s not true, is it? She’d spat in his face last time he’d come to her. Turned him down. And she’s doing it again, here and now, as she lies with Caroline on the couch. Maybe she isn’t as attached to him as she once thought. Maybe Caroline’s freedom can be her freedom, too.
“It’s a change from the mortal life. The Requiem. A difference in what is expected from us. Their rules… they chafe, sometimes, and it scares me—what someone could do with the right whisper in the wrong ear—but it’s… I can understand what you mean about the freedom. Part of it, but above it. You were living, in those moments, for you. Not him. Not them. Just you. Figuring it out on your own. Making your own mistakes. Winning your own victories.”
Jealousy again. Even though he had abandoned her, she had still always been his.
“Do you think they’ll put you back in the cage?”
Caroline: “For a while, for a brief while before I learned the truth,” Caroline agrees. “When I was free to be proud of what I carved out, rather than weighing it against what he would say of it. I could say to myself, ‘no one could do better.’ Now I know what he would say, ‘I expect better.’”
She gives a short, bitter little laugh. “Like a child proud of their macaroni picture right up until they see the disappointment in their parent’s eyes.”
Not that she knows anything about that. Or of trophies scoffed at. Or report cards ignored. Praise was faint and she contented herself with silence: it was better than the alternative.
“Do they ever have to put us in the cage?” Caroline answers. “Don’t we hop back in like eager birds able to return home?”
Celia: “When I was nineteen I stood up against my father. You saw the result of that. The tape that was leaked. And that might have been the worst of what he had done, but it wasn’t the only thing he had done. Nights prior, when he was arrested? He beat me bloody. He locked me my bedroom, took out the mattress so I had nothing to sleep on, and promised to do it again the next night if I didn’t admit… if I didn’t admit that I was stupid. My siblings sat and watched him do it. None of them said anything. No one ever stood up for me. And I broke my arm going out the second floor window so I could get out.”
She doesn’t need to shift or blink or clear her throat. She’s dead. But she does all three regardless.
“While I was waiting at the hospital… and later, when he took my mom and… and tortured her, and I saw what he did to her, I wondered if I could have prevented it. If I had just gone back like a good girl, and told him I was sorry, and that I am… that I was stupid. He won anyway, didn’t he? Got off.”
She makes a bitter sound. A laugh, maybe. Short and choked.
“I never went back. I looked at that life, at what he wanted from me, what he wanted me to be, all the… the monsters that kept him safe, and I walked away. How could I not? How could I submit myself to what he wanted after seeing what he truly is?”
“And then… and then he comes along, and he… snaps his fingers and tells me to jump, and I go on leaping, and I wonder… would he like me more if I didn’t? Would they like us more if we went on carving out a place for ourselves, or will they only ever see us as pawns and tools?”
“What if we didn’t go back in the cage? What if we stopped being the tamed birds and just… flew away?”
Caroline: “What if,” Caroline muses quietly.
But they’re not words of wishful thinking. The very idea makes her almost sick to her stomach. It tears at her thoughts—like the cornerstone of her carefully created home getting ripped out with all the rest to collapse on her.
Run away? Flee her sire, her responsibilities. Would it be to accept being something less than she could be or to seek something greater than she ever will be? She doesn’t know if she physically could, but she knows a deeper truth.
It’s there, half formed and obvious only by the crimson color. She sits in the silence and stillness only the damned can for a long moment.
Finally, she draws a breath. “Domesticated. It’s a sweet word for a bitter truth.” Her face contorts for a moment, an ugly grief threatening to tear a sob from her, but the sound never comes. Instead she forces it to stillness and continues.
“I never wanted to fly. I never learned.” Her voice cracks, almost choked. “And now I never will.”
Celia: Celia goes so far as to blink at the words. She shifts, lifting a hand to touch the side of Caroline’s face. Fingers against her cheek, the pads of them soft against her skin. Warm fingers, still so full of life; how bad can she really be if she’s still so… human?
Perhaps the frosty severity of her sire hasn’t rubbed off on her. Maybe there is something inside of her that rebels at imagined orders given by the dark one. Maybe his brutality has not crushed whatever spirit stays alive within her heart; maybe even his chill cannot quench her fire. Difficult to imagine a less fitting childe to the city’s sheriff.
Perhaps this is why he does not acknowledge her.
Or perhaps it’s for the reason Caroline guessed earlier, and Celia is just the pretty wrapping paper that hides the blade.
When was the last time the Ventrue left herself so vulnerable?
“They want us in the cage. To look pretty behind the bars. To eat what they tell us, when they tell us, how they tell us. To make pretty little songs for them. Happy noises, little toy. And on we go, chirp, chirp, chirping. Even the wild ones follow the leader. The Vs, you’ve seen them. Back and forth across the world. Same route, year after year.”
“So they beat us and threaten us and humiliate us until we fall in line.”
Celia locks her gaze upon the Ventrue.
“They broke our wings and forgot that we have claws.”
The knife never comes. Not for Caroline. It twists inside of Celia instead, buried up to the hilt where her heart should be. Phantom fingers squeeze her throat, threatening to choke her, warning her to stay silent, that she’s doing it wrong… but the words keep coming.
“You,” Celia whispers to the dead girl, “are Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Daughter of two influential families, childe of the prince of New Orleans. If you want to learn how to fly there is absolutely nothing that will stand in your way.”
There’s no moment of hesitation. Nothing to suggest that she’s shy, uncertain, or faltering. Not now that the fire has been lit.
Celia finds her feet. Naked, bloody, she stands before Caroline with claw marks down her back and red stains on her skin. A mess. But a beautiful mess, for all that her wild mane of hair has pulled free from the confines of the tie to curl down her back and around her face.
“Come with me.”
Celia extends a hand.
Caroline: The choking near sob dries up as Celia speaks, replaced by an almost wistful, sad smile.
Caroline looks at the hand and Celia can almost see the old order trying to reassert itself. The Ventrue call to decorum. The Malveaux drive to dominion.
Why show vulnerability here, to this childe of her enemy? To her enemy?
But she knows why: Donovan already thinks so little of her there’s nothing to lose. She’s neither losing face nor burdening her family. Not her mother, not her sister, with the truth. There’s an honesty to not having to put on any masks between them: the lines are well-drawn.
“Don’t you see, though? That’s it: they didn’t have to break my wings or beat me, or even force me in the cage. I hopped in eagerly, bowed before him joyously. I just didn’t expect him to weld the cage closed.”
“It’s not like your sire’s. What he did was forever. Long after he is laid to rest I’ll still be in the cage, alone, singing for the memory of him.”
She brings Celia’s offered hand to her lips, kisses the top of it softly.
Not that she wouldn’t have been singing that song anyway.
Celia: Dead muscles don’t get tired. Celia doesn’t need to let the hand drop; it stays extended in the air between them even after Caroline’s lips brush against her skin.
Not like your sire’s. What does that mean? His cage? The… hold over her?
Realization dawns, though her body does not betray her thoughts. Not until she swallows, looks down, and finally makes a noise that might be a laugh. One corner of her lips quirk upward.
“How silly,” she says at length, “that they weld shut the cages and forget that there are keys and shovels and dynamite.”
Her fingers close around Caroline’s, but she doesn’t tug. She won’t drag the Ventrue out of her self-imposed captivity.
“Come with me,” she says again, “I want to show you something.”
Caroline: The Ventrue allows herself to be drawn from the sofa by the Toreador, her bare skin pale in the darkness.
“Where are we going?”
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
Celia: They have to dress first, and clean the worst of the blood off of them. Celia spends a minute mending the raw, jagged marks Caroline had left on her skin. Her dress, shredded, is unfortunately unsalvageable, but she borrows something from the taller girl to cover her nudity and the pair make it to the roof in mere moments. The hem of her borrowed pants drag the floor even after she has rolled them, and the shirt looks more like a tunic than a tee. Still, she makes it work, like a kid in her mother’s clothes.
Barefoot, Celia leads the way across the roof to where the railing keeps the kine contained within the confines of the safety zone. But Celia doesn’t stop. One leg and then the other slide across the metal railing, until she’s perched on the small strip of steel that keeps her from plummeting to the cement waiting stories below.
She stands with her back to the railing, staring out across the city. The people are not so far away to be like ants from up here—and there are few enough to be found this time of night—but the fall would shatter anyone. The moon lights her profile when she turns her face to one side, watching Caroline from the corner of her vision.
“I didn’t tell you what he did,” she remarks after a moment. Her eyes unfocus slightly, as if recalling the events of that night. “He knows where my mother lives. Where I live… where I stay. He heard that I had trespassed and wanted to teach me a lesson. What are the kine to those like us? Just lessons.”
She blinks. Her lips twist in bitter mockery of a smile.
“You gave me a gift that night. Without it, I wouldn’t have been fast enough to catch up when he threw her from the roof.”
Celia extends a hand to Caroline.
“I’d like to return the favor.”
Caroline: Celia’s words turn Caroline’s stomach. Taught her a lesson. Using her mother.
Caroline wonders if she’s lying to her, making it up, but it’s so very believable. Wasn’t the bishop willing to destroy Orson just to make a point with Caroline? And Orson is a far more useful pawn than the broken and forgotten dance teacher.
Just lessons. Or toys. Or pets.
She supposes in the eyes of her sire few kine are worth more than a properly trained childe. Whatever she thinks of Donovan’s loyalty, the two have always felt cut from the same cloth.
“Is she all right?”
Why does she care? Isn’t Celia her enemy?
Perhaps, but that doesn’t make her mother one. And she’s seen Donovan’s lessons firsthand.
Or maybe the idea of dead mothers just sits particularly poorly with her tonight. She’s slain one and seen another beheaded this week — both memories seared into her mind, still raw and throbbing.
Celia: “I kept her from splattering, if that’s what you mean. Got her home. Put her back to bed.”
The extended hand finally drops. Maybe this is stupid. Maybe there’s nothing here, maybe they’re not as similar as she thinks. Maybe their similarities ended when they died.
Maybe Caroline is just another lick who sees Celia as stupid but pretty, and she’s taken what pleasure she can from the girl.
“She got sick,” Celia hears herself say. “From the rain. The cold. The nightmare. I wasn’t… I wasn’t there for her.” A breath comes in. Shaky. Her fingers curl around the top of the railing.
“Daddy was, though.”
Caroline: Caroline knows better than most how real the animosity is between Celia and her father. Animosity that goes back years, to before their Embraces. She knows the truth about the tape — that it was oh so real. Knows the monster he is, and how far the mortal Celia was willing to go.
It would be a long way to go, make that trade in her life, just to get closer to Caroline.
No, it feels… real.
Callously threaten the kine she cares about, then wrap coils around them, slowly squeeze. It’s not just about punishment. It’s also about control. Yes, their sires are not so different.
“He’ll kill her eventually, you know. It’s only a matter of time.”
They can’t have anything else so important in their lives.
“You should get her out while you can. If you can.”
True though, isn’t it? There are a handful of people she cares about and he’s familiar with each and every one of them. The noise that she makes might be called a giggle if there weren’t a hysterical edge to it.
“Emily stabbed him. Maxen, I mean. When she saw him in bed with Mom.” Her face turns again, fixing her eyes on Caroline. There’s nothing insincere about the wariness that borders on fear. “I’ve been waiting for him to show up and do something about it. But it’s been…” she trails off. “Nights. And nothing.”
“They won’t leave.”
And I don’t want to be alone. Selfish. She could push harder.
“Is that what you’re doing, with yours? Getting them out? So yours can’t… turn them into lessons?”
Caroline: Caroline’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes, an empty thing. “Didn’t I? Cut away my father, my brothers, more. That ruin did not come from carelessness.”
Celia: “The girls, I meant. Your mom.”
The inhuman one. Who knows how much of a lie that had been; ghosts dancing through dreams with her hardly need to tell the truth.
Caroline: The Ventrue’s expression turns positively wolfish in every possible sense, eyes narrowed, cheeks pulled tight, her perfectly white teeth exposed in a way that leaves no doubt of their vicious potential.
“A good Sanctified can have no attachments to their kine family. It’s my blessing then that I have none.”
There’s a glimmer in her eyes, the mischievous savagery of a fox let loose in the chicken coop that’s almost a smile.
Celia: The look is enough to make her glance away.
“Right,” she finally says to the open air. Then, “Convenient that the catechisms so closely mirror the Traditions. Less for the laity to confuse.”
Except for how Caroline hovered over the child when Celia did her makeup that night. But she doesn’t bring it up.
She’d lie about her family, too. Does so now, even.
She waits a beat.
“You’re right, though.”
Caroline: The Ventrue shrugs, the tension leaving her shoulders. “There’s a great deal of wisdom shared by different belief systems. I may hold it originates from God, but whether you share that belief, I’d as soon you accept it for what it is.”
“You have to come to terms with it. Something is going to take her from you. Whether its your own actions, your sire’s, or time. As one of the kine there’s no future for the two of you.”
Caroline approaches the lip where Celia waits, effortlessly tiptoeing to it alongside her. After the fall from grace, a fall from the building doesn’t scare her.
She lays a hand on the Toreador’s shoulder. “That doesn’t make it easy to accept, and some ways of losing them are easier for them, and others easier for us.”
Celia: “Self-imposed isolation,” Celia muses. “It wreaks havoc on the psyche, you know, to be alone like they want us. No one to turn to. No one to trust. Cut your mortal ties, rely on the system, let them be the hands that guide you…”
It’s a cult.
Like any religion.
Make a list of the characteristics of each and you’ll get the same words. It keeps the people in charge powerful and the “others” disenfranchised and marginalized.
But it’s not what she came up here to talk about. Her fingers close around where the Ventrue’s rest on her shoulder.
“And one day… one day I’ll lose her. And my siblings. My daughter. I’d lose them anyway. Everyone dies. Can you blame me for holding onto it while I can?”
Caroline: A sympathetic smile greets her. “When I said you should get them out of you can, I didn’t just mean if you physically could.”
“Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and whatever I might counsel, I could never judge another Kindred for their attachments. Some lessons you have to learn for yourself… and even then, some costs are worth paying. Something about those without sin throwing the first stone.”
She gives a short, sad laugh. “Most Kindred like to forget that part.”
Celia: She might afford the words more weight if she hadn’t managed the juggling act already for seven long years. What’s the worst that could happen?
Not that she can share. No one is supposed to know about Celia.
“One more thing to add to the long list of things to figure out,” she says instead. “Lying to them has been… both more difficult and easier than I anticipated.”
Celia finally turns. She shouldn’t, but she does. One hand stays on the railing, back to the open air and the long drop. The other stays steady on Caroline’s. Once, it might have scared her. Now, though, she’s more nervous about a different sort of leap.
“It would be nice to have someone with whom I don’t have to pretend.”
Caroline: “I think that’s what knights and generals of old waxed about poetically,” the blonde answers, her hair catching in the wind over the long drop.
“It’s easier to have no lies when there are no expectations.”
“You and your sire are the only ones that won’t think less of me for the truth.”
Celia: “I don’t know what you mean. Which truth is that?”
Caroline: “That I have doubts. Fears. Insecurities.” She smiles, looking out over the city.
“That neither my love for him nor the bond to him blinds me to what he’s done to me.”
“To him, to all the city, to all Ventrue, to all Sanctified, to all the world I must be the perfect childe. Flawless.” She turns to Celia, half her face cast in shadow.
And yet, Celia can still hear it. In the way Caroline says it. Him. The only ‘him’ in her life.
Her lips twist, bitterness crossing her features before they smooth once more. She knows well of what Caroline speaks. The same ideal she has pursued these long nights of her Requiem, though the closer she thinks she has come the further away it dances, always out of reach.
“It’s a heavy burden, I think, to be the childe of an elder, let alone a prince. The stiffs expect no less than perfection from their childer.” Her shoulders lift.
“And yet… and yet he chose you for a reason. Embraced you for a reason. I have not met him, I admit, but does anyone that age choose their progeny lightly? Accidents seldom spring from their blood. They are not kine that they make a mistake, forget a pill, and whoops, there’s a childe.”
“We’re young. We want their approval. The father figures we never had.” Her grip on the rail tightens, knuckles white. “I do. Insecurity, fear, doubt… I know it well.”
Caroline: Caroline’s faint laugh is like breaking glass when Celia speaks of chosen progeny, but she says nothing.
The wind catches her white dress, whipping it around her as she lets Celia’s admission hang in the air.
“Well, there’s your truth. As alone as our suffering makes us, we’re not alone in our suffering.”
Celia: She doesn’t know if that laughter is directed at her or with her. Heat rises to her cheeks, dead though they are. Her gaze drops.
“That hardly makes us less lonely. I still want what I’ll never have.”
Caroline: “It’s not Vidal,” Caroline says after a moment.
“Everyone assumes he’s bound to the prince, but he’s not. It’s someone else. Someone got to him first.”
Her eyes meet Celia’s. “I don’t know if you knew. I don’t know if it helps.”
Celia: There’s a fist around her heart. She’d never even considered it, that their shared blood hadn’t cast a hold over him. Just the once they’d shared, a second time the night the truth of Caroline came out… she remembers the blood on his lips when he’d finished kissing her.
What had he done instead?
What does that even mean? If he’s not bound to her, why come for her? Why protect her? Why kiss her?
Every time. Every time she has seen him he has kissed her. Just once they took it further, but even before that… she well recalls the feel of his lips on hers. The insistent, cold way he demands her attention, her affection, her… everything.
Is that all pretend? Or is her secret fantasy, her dawning realization at her father’s words, based more in reality than she dares hope?
Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head, blonde hair streaming in the breeze.
“Someone playing a longer, deeper game.”
Does she tip her hand?
Celia: A name tugs at her memory. It never meant anything. She’d never looked into it. Not enough. She hadn’t known how to, not without betraying… everything. She still doesn’t know if he meant to show her, or if she had simply taken it.
“How do you know?”
Caroline: “He and I are tied together.”
“Quite unintentionally, and undesirably, he set me on this path.”
There’s a fluttering laugh. “Or at least he thinks he did.”
Celia: “You’re tied together,” she echoes. There’s a pang inside her chest. A desire to throw the girl from the roof. Jealousy, that ugly brute, comes snarling to the surface.
She beats it back. Pushes it down. Keeps her nails from shredding through the blonde’s face.
Of course there are others. But she knows—he’d told her, hadn’t he? She knows the truth. Part of the truth.
Why won’t anyone tell her the truth?
Her brow furrows at the final words.
“What do you mean?”
Caroline: "That I should have died a meaningless kine in every sense of the word. A means to an end for him. "
“But that end went unfulfilled, because he chose poorly his kine. Or another chose well where their to lay their feather’s weight upon the scale.”
Celia: “I’m not familiar with the story,” she admits. Her shoulders lift once more, almost a shrug, the apology in her eyes. She’s not even lying.
Caroline: “You should ask him, about the night I was made. The night he called in his marker with René. The night they carried me into the Dungeon.”
Celia: She doesn’t mean to huff, but the sound escapes her lips before she can stop it.
“He’s so very forthcoming.”
A pause, then her brows lift.
“Isn’t the Dungeon a sex club?”
Caroline: The Ventrue almost shivers, but shakes her head. “Only to the Masquerade.”
“The Dungeon is a place for Kindred and kine connoisseurs of agony, explorers of the furthest reaches of experience. The rapists finished with their mothers and daughters, the murderers jaded of strangling their victims with their own guts.”
“For sadists, it’s a paradise. An orgy of flesh in which they can subject victims to things beyond imagination, with each descent into a lower level a trip beyond the possible into a new realm of agony.”
“The further you go, the more divorced time and even reality become from what you see and experience, and the more divorced the lines between victim and victimizer become.”
“If you go far enough down, it’s a hell from which not even death can release you, in which time has no meaning, your suffering is without end, and in which all reality becomes subjective.”
“Are you the crying child being ripped from their mother’s womb or the mother screaming as she’s sawed open from twat to sternum? Are you the skin suit on the rack being pulled apart or the flayed mass of writhing flesh on the floor slow roasting over coals? Are you the teeth chewing on your raw flesh or raw flesh being devoured? It doesn’t matter, because you’ll be all those things, and it will not stop, ever.”
Celia: Everything clicks into place.
The Hell inside his mind.
She’s thought it was a different time, a different place, but as Caroline speaks the words wash over her, drowning her in visions of the past. High above the city. Safe, she’d once thought; but she had been there. Inside of him. Brought into his mind, into the horror within, the vile wretchedness that had made her sanity slowly slip away.
She had seen him. His truth. His… master.
Beneath her feet.
Blocks from her home.
“Please,” she whispers. She reaches, groping blindly for the girl in front of her, the girl he wants her to destroy. The girl with the answers. The enemy. His enemy. But her salvation. The desires of her sire and grandsire fade away when the answers dangle themselves in front of her, nothing but insignificant moves and countermoves that pale in comparison to what she desires.
Set him free. That’s what she wants, isn’t it? And if this Dungeon is not the sex club it professes to be, if what Caroline says is the truth, if he serves a different sort of monster…
She’d seen the truth that night, never realizing what it meant. The name dances across her heart. The marquis.
Demon. Monster. Master. It’s all tangled together, and she… where does she fit in?
He’s stuck. Captive. Like so many others who get caught up in a game of more powerful pieces.
She can free him.
That’s what she thinks, isn’t it? Why he’d chosen her. Embraced her. The sickness—the demon—had spread to her father, to his other childe, to the ghouls of his that have no souls. Paul, with his plastic smile. Jamal, with the anger in his eyes. And the mimic. The empty thing that pretends to be him.
But not her. She’s still… her. Half-alive, someone had once sneered, with a heart that beats and feels and loves. Even without the collar, even without his blood on her lips, she loves.
Coco had told her it was rare. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
It’s like every twisted fairy tale she’d ever seen growing up.
She reaches for Caroline. Reaches, because her knees threaten to give, and the ground is suddenly so far away, and right here—right here—these are the answers she needs.
He loves her. He had saved her. Had hunted for her. Killed for her.
Can she do any less for him?
“There’s a demon.” Urgent, whispered words. Stupid. She sounds stupid. The coppery, tangy scent of blood wafts from where the tiny droplets pool in the corners of her eyes, threatening to fall. Her mask slips.
“If he’s… if it has him…”
There’s no one else to talk to about it. How could there be? She’s been lying since before she died.
Caroline: Caroline stares at the crying girl latched onto her with a knowing expression.
She nods. “You know what he serves.” Her mother had called it a thing that God could not permit to desecrate the very earth it walked on.
“Bury that deep. It’s a secret he’d kill to keep. Has killed to keep.”
She considers, then continues, “It’s possible to break free. Not easy, but possible. But not so long as that thing is here to rule over him.”
Celia: Celia wipes at her eyes. Her hands come away bloody. She swallows, the motion useless. All it does is show the frayed edges of her nerves.
“He doesn’t know that I know. I don’t even…” she trails off, shakes her head. “He’s in there. He’s in there, I know he is.”
He cares about her. Has proven that he does. It’s not something she can say, not something she can share, that the city’s cold, scary sheriff has a weakness in his armor and its name is Celia. Even the thought makes her look away. Another stupid fairy tale.
She waits a beat. Another. Pushes the emotions down. Dries her bloody tears. And finally looks back to Caroline.
“Then I’ll find it.” She sets her jaw. “And I’ll kill it.”
Caroline: Caroline rolls her tongue across her fangs.
“Vidal.” The word sends a shiver through her. “He defeated it twice before. There’s a reason it has used your sire to cut him down, that they’re trying so hard to drive him into torpor.”
Celia: The name almost makes her shiver, though for an altogether different reason than Caroline.
“Then why isn’t it dead? Why is it here?”
Caroline: “An excellent question that perhaps your sire could answer.” Caroline replies.
Celia: “It would be the last thing I’d ever do, asking that.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Something else we have in common.”
Celia: “Realistic expectations of my sire?”
“Not him,” Celia continues after a moment. She looks as if she wants to pace, but the edge of the roof is too narrow for her to try. Not that she’s afraid of falling. Not anymore. “The results of that would be disastrous. But maybe… maybe someone else. Someone who has been there. Who knows, even if they don’t know they know.”
Caroline: Caroline flashes a wry smile at Celia’s joke, balancing effortlessly on the edge beside her.
“That’s a path you’ll have to walk alone, but you can find them, can bring them forward, I can pull it out of their mind.” She flashes a fang-filled smile. “I’m very good at it.”
Celia: “I thought the stiffs were better at hiding things,” Celia says, amused. She can’t help but think back to their meeting in the Garden District, her mother’s addled memories. “I was going to say that I’m very familiar with ways of making them sing.”
She shares a conspiratorial smile, the tips of her fangs just barely visible behind her lips.
“You’d be amazed what comes out on the spa table… so I suppose that means between us no secret is safe.”
Her smile falters, dims just slightly.
“Your memory manipulation,” she says after a second, “have you ever known it to cause… visions? Of the future?”
Caroline: Caroline might be less shocked than Celia thinks: it’s amazing what she’s heard other girls talk about to hairdressers.
She frowns at Celia’s question, then shakes her head. “No. Maybe some obscure devotion might, but I’ve only ever been able to deal with the past and present, and even then I’m not as skilled as some are. I can only play with the memory itself, not the underlying feelings.”
“That’s where unsubtle licks screw it up, actually, trying to superimpose memories that don’t match the target’s emotional state. It’s why, for instance, I left your mother with the memory of me with Autumn instead of wiping the slate clean. If I’d papered it over, it would have left a mental scab she might have picked at. Honestly, she still might with what I left. She might ask herself why my being ‘homosexual’ set her off so badly.”
She flashes a strained smile. “Best case, she simply attaches it to mixed feelings about her bigotry.”
Celia: Celia nods at the explanation, though it does little to set her at ease.
“She… had a vision,” Celia says slowly, “after we left. In your driveway, she started crying about falling, and Maxen taking Lucy away from us.” A brief pause. “She did fall. My sire saw to that. I had just wondered if losing my daughter is something I need to be worried about, or if she was simply hysterical. He has recently re-entered my… orbit.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. She knows who lays claim to her father. “It’s more likely that it set off previous trauma. Has your mother been subject to memory manipulation in the part?”
Celia: “I don’t have proof,” Celia sighs, “but I would say so. The incident with the hacksaw, at least.”
Caroline: Caroline winces. That’s gruesome even by Kindred standards. “Lots of mental scar tissue, lots of wounds that never properly healed. Your father had custody for a while, right? Might have been a return to past traumas.”
She bites her lower lip. “I didn’t think of how that might affect her, how that might interact. Small amounts of manipulation, carefully done, isn’t really much worse than minimally invasive surgeries, but if she’s been subjected to significantly more…”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“It wasn’t my intention to make you feel bad about it, just simple curiosity. I haven’t developed the ability to manipulate memories like that, and… there are few enough Kindred I can discuss my mother with. You averted awkward family conversations, at the very least.”
A tilt of her head, eyeing the blonde sidelong.
“And forced me to reveal myself… though I am not unhappy with how that has turned out.”
Her brows lift, lips twisting into a satisfied smile.
Caroline: A whisper of a smile dances across Caroline’s face. It fades.
“You might have more luck than you expect digging into his past. He’s older than people think. Significantly so.”
Celia: The abrupt change in subject makes her pause.
Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Unless you, he, and your broodmates are all diablerists.”
Celia: “I… what?”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “All of your blood is abnormally potent. Your broodmate’s is as thick as mine. Only two reasons for that.”
“I’m betting it’s the same reason mine is.” She casts a dark smile. “Unless you have something to confess.”
Celia: There’s other ways of pulling that off. And getting strong blood.
The warden’s words to her hadn’t made much sense at the time. Now, here, a key piece of information she’s missing.
“I’m… not familiar with that word,” she finally confesses. “Diablerist.”
The root, she knows, is Latin or Greek. Diabolos. Demon. Her brother had played a game with a similar name, and her ghouls as well enjoyed the series, though she had never been much for gaming.
It still doesn’t mean anything to her.
And even this hint about her sire’s past—his true age—doesn’t pique her interest quite the same way, though it’s certainly something she’s going to circle back to. After the chat with her father she has been searching for any sort of anything about demons.
Caroline: Caroline supposes not every vampire has a mother like hers. She can’t remember a time where other Kindred even mentioned the word ‘diablerie’ around her. Would she have gone her entire Requiem without knowing she could devour an older vampire’s strength, if not for Abélia’s dark gift during the car ride?
She can’t see many elders being displeased by her ignorance. Becky Lynne’s purchased lessons certainly never touched on the subject.
“I suppose it’s not the sort of thing good sires teach their childer about.”
“There’s references in Sanctified theology, though it’s taught in a more obsfucated way these days. About not hastening one’s own descent into torpor by seeking to unnaturally thicken your blood.”
Celia: Souls for power.
The ghost had told her that was the trade, that the inhuman thing in the Garden District eats them. Pete and her grandsire had told her about the soulthieves, how they had stolen souls as well as blood from their victims. The blackest sort of magic, he’d said. And they’d worshipped demons.
It doesn’t fit, though. She had certainly never done anything like that.
“I’ve done a lot of questionable things since my Embrace,” Celia tells Caroline, “but not… whatever it is you’re talking about.”
It’s confirmation, though, isn’t it? That her sire is older than he pretends to be. That the ghoul who’d said as much to her hadn’t been lying. But how would Caroline know?
Caroline: “I suppose you should know, since if his age and generation came out, you’d be a target just like me,” Caroline muses darkly.
“It’s simple, really, and that’s why the elders are so terrified of it. The Sabbat even makes a practice of it. When you drink a lick past the last drop, you can actually keep going. Keep taking. You can take so much that it’ll destroy them.”
“The stronger their blood, the closer their lineage to Caine, the more you take. The children of elders are thus prime targets. Too weak to defend themselves, with thick enough blood to promise a payoff. And the weaker your own blood is, the bigger the payoff.”
Celia: You are what you eat. Absorb the soul, absorb the power. Tale as old as time, isn’t it?
“All you have to do is take away the last chance someone has at an afterlife. Destroy any lingering sense of immortality.”
No wonder Pete had said it was a vile, black sort of magic. A nasty trick. Lucky Caroline that her mother is… whatever she is. Warned her about it.
There are so many things to consider. So many implications. She tries not to dwell; it’s not spoken of for a reason, she’s sure.
“And you think he either did that, or he’s older than he is.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s punishable by final death if caught, and most of them get caught. They keep doing it over and over until they make a mistake. Not that it’ll make you feel any better when they’ve eaten your soul.”
“Diablerists are the serial killers of our kind. Not that it stops the Sabbat from actively encouraging it.”
Maldonato mentioned a great Anarch Revolt, hundreds of years ago. He didn’t mention what she says next, but it doesn’t take a genius to imagine what a bunch of furious Anarchs would have done to elders they were destroying anyway.
“Or even the Anarchs back in the day. I’m sure diablerizing elders was all the rage.”
The Ventrue laughs. “It’s funny, I’ve heard the whispers in Elysium. People aren’t whispering not to be heard. About how pathetic I am with all my ghouls. A neonate playing at something beyond their station. A rich girl that needs someone to boss around.”
“The truth is rather more nuanced, you see.” She nods back to the deckhouse where a rifle-armed woman stands casually alert.
“Anonymity is a poor shield given how widely my secret is known.”
Celia: She doesn’t contradict Caroline’s words. She’s right about what they say about her, how the Anarchs snicker behind their hands, how the harpies don’t bother lowering their voices. Jade has heard all sorts of things about Caroline Malveaux-Devillers.
But Celia isn’t Jade. And she’s not supposed to know.
She takes the warning for what it is.
“I hope, then, that mine stays buried a while longer yet.”
Caroline: Caroline nods knowingly, but her words hold a different message. “Don’t trust to hope. Be ready when it comes out.”
“Your sire’s secret won’t stay buried forever. His master is approaching the end game and pieces are trading off the board with alarming swiftness.” That’s the mark of a grandmaster—that willingness to race to an endgame, confident that they can execute flawlessly while others falter.
She turns her gaze back to the city again, drinking in the lights. “I have no love for Donovan. I never will, even if he did serve my sire in truth.”
“But he’s a valuable piece in the board. I should rather flip him from that hold than trade what would be required to remove him.” To say nothing of how she’s the most likely piece to trade him for. A final nail in her sire’s coffin, driving him into the earth with the dual blow of betrayal and loss.
Celia: She can’t even tell Caroline what worries her the most: that if the truth of her sire comes out she has more to fear than someone trying to steal her soul from her body. It’s worse than all of that. It’s her head rolling across the floor. It’s Veronica’s head joining hers for covering up the crime. It’s Preston and Lebeaux and Savoy and everyone else who knew and didn’t say. It’s seeing the revulsion in Roderick’s eyes as he realizes she’s the worst sort of monster, and no wonder she was always so fucked up. It’s her family dragged from their beds in the middle of the night. All of her renfields executed with her.
And it’s her sire. Him most of all. Would he care if they took her head? Would his position at the prince’s side prevent him from catching the worst of it? Would he be exiled rather than executed, decades of planning down the drain because his childe couldn’t keep it in her pants?
The old wound reopens. Stupid. Worthless. Whore. Only it’s not her father’s voice, it’s her sire’s. It’s Jade’s. It’s Roderick’s. It’s her own.
No. That’s not quite true, is it? She’d be the only one who paid for the crime. Not her choice, not her fault, but that is the sort of justice she’ll receive in the All Night Society.
It’s a cruel thing her sire has done, putting her in this position.
Sometimes she thinks that is all they know: cruelty. What are the fleeting lives of the kine and childer compared to such centuries? Her lover had pointed it out to her before and she hadn’t listened: life is cheap.
She is afraid that she knows the answer to that question.
She doesn’t know what Caroline expects her to say. She will hardly confirm the girl’s thoughts as to her sire’s true motivations and master. She wishes she didn’t know. That he hadn’t told her. That he hadn’t shown her.
He kneels before a throne. All are blind in the dark.
Why show her.
Why tell her.
Why trust her.
He hadn’t meant to. He doesn’t know she knows. That’s all it comes back to, that he doesn’t know he had shared it with her. He was so busy killing her that he doesn’t realize what she had ripped from his head.
…none of which explains their interlude atop the roof, the secrets shared, his demands of her.
He’s in there. He has to be. There’s a reason for it, no matter how much her rational self rolls her eyes at the idea. She can’t just be another pawn on the board. The old wounds threaten to tear her apart at the seams. The words hiss in her ear.
“I’ll find it,” she says again, drowning them out. She straightens her spine, hardens her heart, finds her resolve. “And I’ll kill it.”
What is she compared to a demon? A mere slip of a girl. A young nobody.
Souls for power. She’s made that trade before. She’ll do it again.
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia doesn’t let herself linger overlong on the thoughts that plague her. She had known since the first nights of her Requiem that her Embrace would eventually be used against her sire. She had only thought that she would have longer to enjoy immortality before they sent for her; she hopes that she has been useful enough to her grandsire that he will not discard her when he is done with her. Lebeaux had implied he isn’t that sort of lick, but Celia frets all the same.
And this girl in front of her. Malveaux-Devillers. Childe of the prince. Daughter of a soul-eater (if the ghost can be believed). Soon-to-be announced heir, possibly, for all that she is young yet. Enemy.
If it were only that, Celia would have no trouble throwing her from the roof. Watching her body splatter. Staking her, delivering her to her sire. Taking her place at his side.
To finally be acknowledged… the collar pulls. Her hands clench. She is not a dog.
There’s more between the pair of them than that. A fellow daughter of the perfect family tree. Expectations heaped upon her. Someone who had once helped, for all that she claims she assisted with the cover-up. How can Celia blame her when it was from her own lips that the plan spilled forth? Apologies, years late, but apologies all the same.
A fellow bird whose wings have been broken, who hops and chirps and sings for her sire and hopes only that it has been enough. She recognizes that. And she hates it. Hates them, for what could have been. For what isn’t.
That’s the true definition of evil, isn’t it? What could have been. What should be, but isn’t. Death may no longer threaten them, but their existences are fragile all the same.
Fragile, like the body she’d once had that he had dropped into the Gulf. Shattered. As her mother would have been. As Caroline might be.
“Earlier, you said that you will never fly.” Celia turns her back to the city, her eyes falling upon the golden-haired Ventrue. “You are lying to yourself if you believe that. Worse, you are letting them hobble you and tell you how far you may go.”
“I have a theory, you know, about why people become so complacent in the middle of the mountain. Not because they do not want to go higher, but because they are afraid to fall and lose everything that they have gained. Without risk there is no reward.”
Celia steps backwards into the night. The roof gives way beneath her feet…
And yet, she doesn’t fall. Her body remains suspended in the air. The rolled cuffs of her borrowed pants unfurl, wind tugging at loose hair and clothing. Curls dance across her face. Lit from behind by the light of the moon, she is every bit the ethereal goddess she had turned Simmone into that evening in the Garden District: Celia, reborn in the sky, come down to pass on a gift from the heavens themselves.
Celia extends a hand.
“Let me show you how to soar.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes light up at Celia steps into the night, into the emptiness. Her hand dives into the darkness for the Toreador’s like a striking serpent even before Celia’s own hand extends, catching it, holding it, a second pale hand locked in a death grip with the railing.
She looks down, then back at Celia almost incredulously.
Balanced on nothing. An elder’s words come back to her and she takes a shallow breath.
Without risk there’s no reward. Doesn’t she know it. But does she dare presume to flirt with the sky in this way?
It’s not just the fall that scares her.
Slowly, finger by finger, she loosens her grip on the rail, until only her fingertips test it.
A trap? A poor one if so. She isn’t afraid of the fall, not really. And she’d like to pretend there’s more than just their sires between them.
Celia: Celia has every reason to want her dead.
She knows the truth of her sire. She’d fucked with her mom. She’d covered up the scandal with her father.
But there she waits, eyes on Caroline, hand extended. A warm hand, so different than the sire from which she came. So different than the rest of their kind with their cool temperatures and their frigid temperaments.
She watches the play of emotions across her face and says nothing, waiting for the girl to come to her. She doesn’t rush. Doesn’t push. Just waits, until only the tips of her fingers remain on the rail.
“Let go,” she finally says.
Caroline: A leap of faith? Well, not exactly a leap. Just the gentlest kiss of her fingers leaving the rail.
Celia: Celia is not her sire. Not Roderick. She has never been that strong, and to look at her one might wonder how she can hold the weight of the other lick. But the moment Caroline’s hand leaves the railing Celia is beneath her, one arm behind her back and the other under her knees; the Ventrue hangs suspended in the air, held aloft bridal style by the levitating Toreador. For a long moment they simply float.
Wind whips past their faces.
It claws at Caroline’s dress, their hair, Celia’s borrowed garments.
It howls in their ears.
The ground is suddenly not so far away. Every second it looms closer and closer. It can’t kill them, and might not even torpor them, but it will certainly hurt to have their bodies splatter across the pavement, and—
Celia’s giggles are all but breathless in Caroline’s ear as their movement halts. Still two stories above the ground, their bodies tucked so closely against the building that they appear as no more than shadows in the night, the wild descent becomes something much more manageable. She might not be able to make them invisible, but she can certainly make other things more interesting, and she directs any stray attention elsewhere as the girls slowly descend to the pavement.
Caroline: Caroline’s hold on Celia becomes a deathgrip as they plummet, holding her tighter and tighter, pulling her closer and closer until…
They slow, and Celia’s giggle replaces the rush of the wind.
If she were mortal she might be breathless, but death has robbed her of that. Finally, her eyes on Celia, she cracks a grin.
“That’s some ride,” she whispers.
Celia: “Falling is the first step toward flying.”
Amusement dances in her eyes. Her feet touch pavement and she lets the Ventrue down, once more the smaller unit in the party. She gazes up at Caroline, lips lifted in the corners to echo her grin.
“The first time I fell, no one caught me. I made sure that I would never shatter again.” Light tone for such a heavy topic.
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Fell.”
She lets the word hang. “I’m certain you just tripped off a building, right? Or did you fall down some stairs like your mom?”
She regrets the words as soon as they’re out of her mouth. But that’s how it goes, isn’t it? Mistakes are always easier to see after the fact.
Celia: “I said the same thing to my sister when we were younger. ‘Our ballerina mother just fell down the stairs, did she?’”
Celia still remembers the fallout from that. Things were never the same; the little sister she had once tried to protect was turned into… whatever she became. She could lie here, but why bother? Caroline knows what sort of monster he is.
Her shoulders lift in an aborted shrug.
“Things he does to me… it’s not lasting. I can come back from it. He never took my leg.”
Just her life.
Caroline: It’s not lasting. But isn’t it? The physical wounds are the least they suffer. He never took my leg. No, only her wings, only her spirit, only her future.
And here Celia is, making excuses for him, hopelessly in his thrall. Hopelessly tied to a demon given flesh. Even though he hurts her, maims her, tortures her. Even though he threatened, nearly murdered her mother. Even though he serves a devil in the pit. Celia still loves him unconditionally.
If she could hate Donovan more she would.
And yet, for that, she recognizes the hypocrisy of it. Would she turn away from her sire if he beat her? If he threw her through a wall? If he ordered those close to her murdered?
She doesn’t pretend that she doesn’t know the answer. She wonders if Celia sees it the same way—each of them blind to themselves but wide-eyed.
Does Celia see in her the same Caroline sees in Celia? Reflected through a mirror darkly.
Words visibly catch in her throat.
She could offer sanctuary. Could offer help. Could offer shelter from him and aid. But Celia can no more take it than Caroline would in turn.
Her gaze settles solemnly on Celia’s own. “Thank you for the evening.”
Celia: There’s more she could say. Should say. Wants to say. To wipe away whatever look it is that Caroline gives her, pity or grief or… something. Something she doesn’t like.
He’s not a monster. Whatever you think he did to me, he has been good as well. Merciful. I loved him before he took me completely.
The words stay dormant within her. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter.
He’s the only one who understands her. The only one who understands him.
Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear, eyes once more finding the Ventrue’s.
“It was nice to… not pretend.”
Caroline: Caroline stares into her eyes. “It was.”
How many lies have we told each other tonight?
The more meaningful question among the damned: how many truths?
“We should do it again.”
Celia: Celia shouldn’t smile. The offer shouldn’t send butterflies rippling through her stomach. But it does. And she does. It lights up her face, lifts the corners of her eyes; there’s nothing insincere in that smile, or the words that follow.
“I’d like that.”
Caroline: “You don’t have to pretend when you’re with me.”
Wouldn’t ever have to pretend if you were with me.