Ten hours ago, Yvette’s world fell apart.

Now, she hunkered down on the roof of a partially occupied office building and kept her eyes on the street below. It wasn’t easy. Spring came late to Berlin and she didn’t like being cold, but she couldn’t dress warmly enough to keep the morning air at bay and still keep herself unencumbered.

            Yvette risked the binoculars again. Still no movement at her domitor’s haven, but that was as how things should be. She began to wonder if her instincts had led her astray. She was no longer sure what she could rely on.

            I’m doing the right thing.

            Last night, Paul Viersan - vampire and center of Yvette’s life - had returned to his haven from some errand, and – Yvette shuddered at the memory.

            “I should kill you, but I can’t be bothered to deal with your body. Get out!”

            “But I love you. I thought you loved me”

            “Things change. Get out.”

            “I’ll grow old. I’ll die!”

            “Don’t be so sure, Rachel. I made you, and now I’m breaking you.”

            Almost overcome by a maelstrom of heartbreak, panic and other feelings that were only now making sense, Yvette fled her home and barely stopped short of throwing herself under a bus.

            Something’s wrong, she decided on that street corner. I must find out what, and then I’ll fix it.  And then maybe things would return to normal, although she doubted it. The name Rachel had touched off a wave of unreasonable anxiety, although she didn’t quite understand why. Understanding came later.

            She didn’t dare contact Paul’s sire – or even his ghoul – about the situation. Paul had an unusually close relationship with the vampire that had created him, but some weaknesses shouldn’t be shared, especially not under these circumstances. Whatever occurred next would be by her hand, alone.

            But it had taken time to reach this conclusion. Having decided against suicide, Yvette chose drink instead, and had checked in to a cheap hotel just before midnight, with two bottles of scotch and not much else except a plan to drink herself insensible and, hopefully, numb.

Drinking made things worse.

            Names and memories, apparently long suppressed, had boiled out of the recesses of her mind – Rachel, Sarah, Yasmin An entire lifetime of events – more than one, in fact – crowded her awareness. Yvette long suspected that Paul had edited her memory, but she had no idea the extent of what had been done. Worse yet, she had asked him to do it.

            An hour of vomiting bile and booze occurred, followed by an hour’s frantic writing, trying to put the pieces together. Sense still eluded her grasp, but she at least had a timeline – albeit one pockmarked with amnesia and inconsistencies.

            It wasn’t her first breakdown. Yvette knew that - now. However, Paul’s blood gave her strength, reducing the anger and self-loathing that nearly destroyed her in Denver. She had to determine what happened to Paul – anything else could wait. The blood bond might be overcoming common sense, but Yvette made a point of not considering that possibility.

            Yvette’s attention returned to the street. The commute had picked up, and Yvette thought about finding another place to watch and wait. People didn’t usually look at the rooftops whilst going to work, but it would only take one to make things difficult. She chewed on a fingernail as she considered her options and winced at the thought of Paul chiding her for the bad habit, one he reserved special dislike for.

            A dirty white van emblazoned with the name of a well-known plumbing company pulled up in front of Viersan’s haven. By the time the third man emerged from the back with a large box of tools, Yvette was already climbing down the fire escape and cursing her numb fingers. The sun had risen an hour ago and a daytime visitor had to be unfriendly by default. Yvette had no choice. She had to act.

 

***

 

            In the aftermath, Yvette realized that she had been lucky in that the “plumbers” were more concerned with looking for their target than watching their backs – and luckier still that Paul had chosen to spend the day in a hiding place on the second floor.

            Entering the Edwardian townhouse, Yvette shattered the glass cover of the alarm saved for the direst of circumstances with the butt of her handgun, and then concentrated on dealing with the intruders – and never mind a faint feeling of distaste at resorting to firearms. The first man fell as he turned to face her. The second, fortunately, was a poor shot. The third, seemed too shocked by her presence to react. Him, Yvette shot in the leg, more by accident than design, but she took advantage of the opportunity.

            She crouched on the floor glared at the survivor. Here’s hoping those German lessons have paid off… Even Paul didn’t know of her fluency – she had some notion of surprising him, some evening.

“Who sent you? One of the kindred? Or are you hunters?”

            “Go fuck yourself,” he grimaced and tried to get up, only to be shoved back down.

            I don’t have time for this. Yvette realized, amidst her relief that she could be understood. The police would arrive within minutes. If the alarm wasn’t enough, she believed that someone would call them about the gunfire.

            “Listen to me,” Yvette demanded. “I’m willing to let you live,” she reached into her pocket and showed him two dark brown pills of concentrated vitae. “This will save you.” probably “I’ll let you have it,” maybe, “Just tell me who sent you.”

            “I’ll die if I tell you,” he gasped.

            “You’ll die if you don’t.” Yvette punched the open wound in the man’s leg. He shouted in pain, but said nothing.

            God damn it, why’d I have to get the loyal thug?

            Yvette shook her head, resigned to what had to be done, and brought the butt of her gun down on his left hand. She felt at least one bone crunch with the impact. “I’m serious.” She insisted, just before she vomited onto the intruder’s lap. This apparently disgusted him enough to distract him from the possibility of another attempt at escape – a benefit as Yvette’s attention turned inwards for several seconds.

            She spat on the floor and continued. “Just – talk – to – me.” She punctuated her words with more blows, reducing the man’s hand to a mess of splintered bone and fighting off another wave of nausea as she remembered a room in Paris and man named Verhoffen. “Let’s talk, little one…” atrociously accented French and the smell of rationed tobacco… Yvette shook her head again, trying to clear it.

            Instead of talking, her quarry groaned and passed out. Yvette swore and slapped his face. Eventually he came around, but not before Yvette began to wonder where the hell the police were.

            Paul’s sire wouldn’t do this to him. I know that. The cops are under his control, so why aren’t they here? Oh shit…Maybe this isn’t about Paul.

            “Is this a praxis?” she shouted at her semi-conscious captive. “Is this a goddam praxis?”

            A breakthrough. He was too far-gone to lie – could barely speak, in fact, but a half-nod was all she needed.

            “Fuck!”

            Yvette turned to run upstairs, thought better of it and shot the would-be assassin in the chest. Then she ran for Paul’s resting place, desperately shoving aside the mixture of fear, shame and anger that threatened to render her senseless.

            Paul was dead to the world – literally – in a compartment between the first and second floors of the house, the entrance hidden in the floor of a wardrobe. Yvette’s anxiety almost choked her as she desperately shoved his inert body into an oversized garment bag, and then forced that bag into a larger suitcase.

            “All according to plan,” she babbled to herself. “Just follow the plan and we’ll be fine. Fine.

 

***

 

            The trunk of Paul’s Mercedes easily accommodated the suitcase, as Yvette knew it would. Within five minutes of dispatching the third assailant, Yvette pulled into the alley behind Paul’s townhouse and just barely stopped herself from speeding into the street.

            Nice and normal. You’re just running a couple of errands – get the groceries, pick up the dry cleaning. Irresistibly, Yvette remembered that several suits awaited pickup at the cleaners’. She giggled, a little hysterical at the notion of visiting the dry cleaner’s with a body in the trunk. Doing anything with a body in the car struck her as ridiculous. The steering wheel felt slick beneath her hands. Keep it together.

Yvette took a deep breath and dialed a certain number on the carphone – another action saved for the direst of emergencies.

            “Herr Viersan?” Of course the ghoul at the other end of the line had caller-ID, even if Paul believed it had been circumvented.

            Yvette spoke quickly, hoping her tone would prevent argument. “Not quite. Listen to me. You work for Eberhart, like I do for Viersan. Get Eberhart out of there right now.” Assuming you aren’t already in on the Praxis, that is, Yvette’s heart sank at the thought.

            A moment’s silence. “Who are you?” Yvette didn’t like that too-calm tone.

            Yas-“ she shook her head, angrily. “Yvette Collier. I’ve been with Paul for – oh God – three years.” Not seventy, not forty. Yvette felt dizzy, wondered if she should pull over, but she didn’t want to stop moving. Not yet. “If I’m wrong, you can take it out on me, but, please-”

            “What’s going on?” Was that a hint of concern creeping into the polished automaton voice?

            Yvette threw caution to the wind. “Praxis! A praxis is going on. If they haven’t come for you yet, they will. If I’m wrong, then I’m sorry,” she babbled. “They tried to kill Paul and they’re going to go after the Prince next. You’ve got to believe me. Get him out.” Another sinking sensation manifested in her gut. “Don’t take him to any established havens. They might know about them. Just get on the road and keep moving until nightfall.” Like I am. She wondered at the ongoing silence and then: the password. Leipzig! Christ, I forgot. He told me to say that to you if I ever had to call. It’s cold in Leipzig.” After all, voices could be impersonated, and traps laid over the phone.

            She heard something, a few words spoken past a muffling hand, and Yvette dared to hope. Then: “Alright. We’ll go. Tell Viersan to contact us after sundown.”

            Yvette could have cried in relief. She knew how important the Prince of Berlin, Paul’s sire was to him – therefore, he was equally important to her. To not at least try to warn him would have been a cardinal sin in her eyes.

            Drive until sundown, and then maybe you can rest…

 

***

 

            Paul awoke in an unfamiliar room and that alone told him all was not well in his world. Looking around, he ascertained that it was a middle-class hotel – probably one of the American chains – and at least several stories above a busy street. He was relieved to see Yvette waiting for him, but worried by the fact that he couldn’t remember why he would feel that way, or why he had lain down in his usual haven, and woken up somewhere else.

            Looking more closely at Yvette, he began to suspect the degree of trouble extant. She was grey with fatigue and yet practically vibrated with tension as she watched him – stared at him, in fact, as if she expected… what? The smell of coffee, the empty cups and a packet of white pills – some sort of allergy medicine – was incidental. Entirely non-incidental was the gun in Yvette’s lap. True, she was covering the door to the room, but it didn’t escape Paul’s notice that he was in her line of fire, too.

            “Call him.” She said, abruptly, gesturing at the celphone by Paul’s side. “Your sire. Call him. I don’t know if-” her voice caught and she dropped her gaze. “Just call him.” She muttered, drinking from her sixth cup of coffee.

            That prompted Paul into action. Any other questions could wait. Yvette listened without trying to look like she was listening.

            “Ahren? It’s Poldi.” Yvette almost choked at the nickname. She had difficulty associating something so sentimental with either her domitor, or his sire. “I just woke up in the…” Paul glanced at the phone on the bedside table, “Frankfurt Marriot with orders to call you.”

            A long pause followed, punctuated by affirmative noises from Paul. Finally. “I see. And what are you going to do?” Another pause. “Of course. I agree. Can I – no? As you wish.” Despite her fatigue, Yvette rather enjoyed the unaccustomed sound of her Sire’s deference. “Really? Absolutely. Until then.” Paul put the celphone back in his pocket.

            “Do you still want to kill me?” Yvette demanded, before Paul could draw breath to speak.

            He looked stunned. “No, of course not.” He frowned, puzzled. “Why would I…?” he shook his head. “Oh. Oh damn.” It seemed that something suppressed was now coming to light. “Yvette, I… That wasn’t me.”

            “Oh?” Paul winced at the ice in her voice.

            “It was the Malkavian Primogen.” Paul’s face twisted, the words didn’t come easily. “He… took control of my mind.”

            “Oh?” No sign of a thaw.

            Yvette expected irritation, or exasperation from her domitor, but he just sighed, and sagged against the headboard of the bed. He spoke quickly, a man admitting an unpleasant truth. “You were right. The Malkavian and Brujah were out to seize the throne. They were going to kill the Prince’s primary supporters in the daytime and then destroy Ahren-” he stumbled. “The Prince at court tonight. But thanks to your warning, most of the loyal courtiers have survived, the Brujah Primogen has already been Destroyed – albeit with some heavy losses. Unfortunately, the Malkavian is nowhere to be found. A substantial price is on his head and apparently the Assamites have already been in touch.”

            Yvette nodded. “Good. So your Sire is still Prince?”

            “Yes, and I’m still among the Primogen. This isn’t the first attempt at Praxis that we’ve dealt with. But it might have been the first we lost. Ahren said…” Paul paused, trying to choose his words. “The Prince he has granted me the right of progeny, at last. It’s intended as a compliment to you. His way of saying thanks.”

            That took Yvette by surprise, but it also helped make up her mind. “That’s very kind, but…” She bit her lip, wondering how to break the news.

            “But what?”

            “I’m leaving.”

             “What? You can’t!” Paul stared at her.

            “I can and I am.”

            A terrible thought occurred to Paul. “Give me the gun, Yvette.” He snapped.

            Reflexively, she got up and handed it to him. “You didn’t need to insist.” She sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed.

            “I think I did. I remember the last time this happened.”

            “So do I. This isn’t Denver. This is different.”

            He looked puzzled. “Denver?” Realization flooded his face. “Your memory. It’s been restored, hasn’t it?”

            Yvette nodded. Paul wondered how much danger she was in – and himself, for that matter.

“How so? How are things different, I mean?”

            “Back then, I was two people. So different, so separate you could see the line between us but now… It’s not like that.” She smiled wearily. “For a start, I don’t hate you like before. Nor do I care all that much about Cassius, or Mahmoud or…”

            “Or me?”

            She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

            “Do you love me?” he insisted.

            I don’t know.” She replied, equally vehement. “I can still feel your blood in my veins but… things have changed. I’ve changed, and I think I should go.”

“You could leave.” Paul conceded, reluctantly. “You’d be alright. You’re only three years old.” And never mind the worry about all the Assamites and god knows what else out there that might recognize you.

“And what would I do then?”
            “I don’t know. Come back to me in a year and a day?” he said, strangely hopeful. “Or I could patch your memory up, again. I’m willing to keep doing that as long as you’ll let me.”

“Why? Because you love me?”

Paul looked graceless and embarrassed.

“It kills you to admit that, doesn’t it? Maybe you really mean it.” She mused. “And let’s not forget that it keeps me under your thumb.”

“That would be Rachel speaking, I take it?”

“Who?” She blinked. “Oh wait, that was my name, then. Yes, I suppose it is.”

 Paul suddenly lunged at her, grabbing her arms. “I don’t have to give you a choice.” He threatened.

To his surprise, Yvette looked disappointed – not scared or even worried. “Yes you do, or everything is null and void. It’s finally my turn. For real, this time.” Where did that come from, she wondered. Everything was not yet clear.

Paul let her go, stung by her words and her tone. “We could both leave,” he suggested. “BerlinGermany, in fact – won’t be safe for me for some time. We could go back to Paris.”

Yvette shuddered. The city had lost a lot of its charm for her. “No thanks and, while we’re on the subject, I don’t think it was at all funny that you rented an office in that building when we were there, last time.”

Paul frowned, puzzled, and then realized that Yvette referred to the building where they first met. “No, I don’t suppose it was. I was testing the strength of your memory.”

“Of what you’d done to it, you mean.”

“What you asked me to do,” he replied, just as quickly.  

Yvette conceded the point with a sigh. “There’s so much to sort out,” she muttered. “And I need to do it alone.” She glared at Paul. “I don’t think you understand. I’ve never been alone, not really. First my father, then the Assamites and, eventually, you. Damn it, I want to know if I can function by myself, without relying on anyone for anything.”

“And if you can’t?”

Another wan smile sparked a little hope in Paul’s heart. “Then you’ll be the first to know,” the smile faded. “Assuming I’m not dead. There’s so much to unlearn.” She sounded almost petulant. “All day, I couldn’t understand why you felt so damn heavy. I even tried stepping into the shadows, before I remembered I can’t do that.”

That alarmed Paul more than he cared to admit. “Yvette, you can’t survive in such a state. Your reflexes alone-“

“Are all wrong. I know. But I’ll learn. I’ll have to. But if I stay with you.” She looked him in the eye. “Are you telling me that you wouldn’t Embrace me before the week was out?”

He returned that direct stare without flinching. “Not unless you asked.”

Yvette laughed in frank disbelief. It was a harsh, ragged sound. “And you’d make sure I’d ask you. I understand your tricks far better than I did last night, Paul. Pick any card, pick my card.” She chuckled, her mood strangely lightened by the realization. “And that is why I’ve got to go. Because I’ll be forever double-guessing if you’re pulling my strings, otherwise.”

Paul thought of the “strings” already in place in her mind – failsafes that he had put there whilst rebuilding her psyche in Denver. He wondered if they still worked, and realized that testing them now might very well end his life – or hers. 

“Alright.” He made a show of reluctance. “But I want a promise from you. Two, actually.”

“Go on.” She had to admit that she was curious. It had been her undoing before, she knew.

“If you find yourself in trouble – real, deep, end-of-the-road trouble – you’ll call on me, if you’re able.”

Like hell I will, Yvette thought, but she nodded. “And?”

“You’ll meet me in Paris in two years’ time. Say….” He smiled. “Bastille Day, at the restaurant Jules Verne, on the Eiffel Tower, 9PM.” The timing appealed to him.

She nodded slowly. It didn’t seem too unreasonable, and she could always change her mind. “All right. That’s a date.”

“Yes, it is.” His incipient smile faded. “I wish you didn’t feel this way. We’ve-“ he stopped, words failing him.

“What? We’ve what?”

He shrugged, helplessly. “We’ve come so far. Can you honestly say that I’m the same person I was ten years ago?”

She shook her head. “That’s true, but I doubt I have anything to do with that.”

“You have everything to do with it. You’ve… oh god, it’s ridiculous to say out loud, but you’ve changed me.” He spoke with the desperation of a man making his last effort.

“The love of a good woman, hm?” Yvette said sarcastically.

“Something like that.” He realized that he’d lost, and that he had to, for once in his existence, play the game honestly. She had made her choice.

“Must you leave right away?”

“I think it’s best.” She had to go, before her resolve crumbled. She could see that she was breaking whatever Paul had for a heart and it was both easier and more difficult than she had expected. She had to leave, immediately.

 “Bastille Day. Don’t forget.” He insisted.

“I won’t.”

 

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