Author's Note - About ten months has passed between the previous episode and this. I'm just too lazy to cover that period. - Johanna          

            The middle of the night was an unusual time to be performing financial transactions, but for Paul Viersan, who was currently laundering the funds of one of the richer criminals of the United States via the Hong Kong currency market, it was business as usual. His large, severely decorated house in Denver’s upper-class Richmond district was dark, save for the sole lamp burning beside his desk, where he manipulated a strangers’ fortune via the Internet.

            The tools of his trade were deceptively simple. Were a stranger to view his office – unlikely as that might be – they would only see a powerful desktop computer, with the expected accessories of printer and modem. An informed stranger might notice that the computer was perhaps a little more powerful than an eccentric day-trader might need, that the modem was not made by any known manufacturer and that there were perhaps a few more wires than necessary bristling from its back. Although the electronics had cost Paul a startling amount of money – startling even to one as indifferent to high costs as himself – it had paid for itself many times over. Career options for vampires were limited, particularly for those who held most of their brethren and humanity in contempt. Financial manipulation held the advantage of isolation and a substantial salary.

            So the knock at Viersan’s front door at 1:15AM was unexpected. A single knock, firm and apparently unhurried.

            Paul’s irritation was quickly smothered by caution. A click of the computer’s mouse concluded his transaction and left him free to investigate. Picking up his gun from the keyboard – he was not going to allow the fact that he was within his haven make him think he was safe. He moved - not towards the front door - but into his darkened living room, and the closed-up entertainment center that dominated the west wall. Opening one of the smaller doors of that unit revealed a small black-and-white television carrying the video signal from a camera over his front door. The woman on his porch was familiar, unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome.

            “Yvette.” He murmured. “What brings you here so late?”

            Yvette was his latest enigma. Her presence renewed an opportunity that Paul thought he had lost fifty years ago. As an apparent clone of a woman Paul had found challenging and amusing, this amnesiac killer had given Paul a chance to shape the woman he had known as Rachel DuNoir into an image he found more pleasing.

Paul noticed that she was leaning heavily against the door frame, her arms tightly wrapped around her abdomen. The picture quality was poor and she wore dark clothing, but Paul suspected she might be injured. If that was so, he was glad that she had come to him, rather than going to a hospital. It meant his careful program to encourage her trust in him was working well.

Transferring his gun to his left hand – he had not survived almost three centuries by taking things at face value – he slowly opened the door, positioning himself carefully to keep the firearm obscured.

Yvette regarded him with a mixture of anxiety and relief when she saw him.

“Paul.” Her voice was tense and now Paul could see blood smeared across her tightly folded arms and soaking her black turtleneck shirt. “Can I come in?” her attempt at light heartedness was strained, almost painful. Paul barely noticed it, as he was busy struggling with the thick scent of blood in the air, and his natural reaction to it. The fact that it was Yvette bleeding on his doorstep made resistance no easier.

“Of course.” Paul replied with an outward show of calmness. He stepped aside, pocketing the gun, and quickly closed the door as Yvette slowly stepped in.

Rather than enter Paul’s living room, as she would do in the past, Yvette leaned against the plastered wall of the entryway and slowly slid down to the floor. She was able to maintain a sitting position, but Paul could see the effort that it was costing her. Her face was chalky white and her eyes glazed in shock.

“What happened?” Paul asked, wondering if Yvette’s violent line of work had finally injured her.

            “Not work.” Yvette answered his unspoken question from between teeth clenched tight with pain. “A mugger.” Her weak smile was like a grimace. “Crankhead. It wasn’t too far, so…” her voice trailed off, exhausted

            Paul kneeled down beside her, firmly pulling her arms aside and tearing through her blood soaked shirt to assess her injuries.

            No wonder her scent was so thick on the air. A ragged wound had ripped through her flesh, just below the ribcage, and blood had poured freely over her, soaking her from chest to hip. A few moments’ evaluation told Viersan that the major artery over the liver had not been severed, but several important blood vessels must have been cut and further internal injury was probable.

            Yvette slumped closer to the floor in a faint and Paul realized that if he wanted to continue enjoying this woman, he was going to have to do something. She would be precious little entertainment if she died, and he wasn’t going to let this second Yvette slip through his fingers as he had the first.

            Those fingers were currently covered in Yvette’s blood, something he found quite captivating, as was the blood that oozed from her wrecked torso onto the floor. He could almost hear the spatter of it as the warm fluid splashed upon cold tile, a compelling sound. Unable to resist, but aware of the risks, Paul bent over Yvette - one hand carefully placed upon her chest to maintain balance - and licked at the dripping gash across her stomach.

            Heat, adrenaline, fatigue – these human factors enhanced blood he knew by taste to be Rachel’s. This new, richer flavor spurred his appetite as he greedily dragged his tongue over flesh turning cool with shock and exposure, and he wondered if he was going to lose control entirely. After all, there was much more to be had than just this small taste.

            No, not tonight, he cautioned himself. Paul paused for a moment - his immediate urge sated – and rested his cheek on Yvette’s belly. Through her flesh, he could hear her rapid pulse and shallow breathing as he commanded his will to overcome his hunger. A short eternity later, it did.

            Now he could work. He sat up and spoke firmly, loudly. “Yvette, can you hear me?”

            A faint murmur was her response. Unconscious but responsive, good. “I’m going to give you something, Yvette, some pills, and I need to swallow them for me.” He reached into his pocket for a pillbox that he kept even closer than his gun, at all times.

            Yvette murmured again, her eyes fluttering, but remaining closed.

            “Good. I’m glad to know that.” Keep talking, Paul. He carefully pulled her up and moved himself over so that she was half sitting, supported by his body behind her. Three small burgundy pills where in his free hand, as he wrapped an arm around her to hold her up.

            “Here’s the first one.” He warned her, putting it into her mouth, keeping his hand under her chin to keep it closed. “Feel it?”

            Another murmur, slightly stronger.

            “That’s good, Yvette. Now swallow it for me.” He urged her. “Go on.” A moment later, he felt the convulsive movement of her throat beneath his hand. “Good, good. Here’s another. They’re painkillers, Yvette, to make you feel better.”

            Carefully, but quickly, Paul convinced her to swallow the three pills that were not drugs, but made from his own concentrated blood. He didn’t want to taint her with his vitae, not at this stage of the game that she didn’t know she was playing, but it was unavoidable. Providing he could talk her into utilizing the blood within her to heal her wounds, she would live. He spoke insistently in her ear, holding her tightly and willing to talk until the sun rose if it would ensure her survival.

            Eventually, he saw the gaping wound close, felt her breathing become stronger in his grasp. She groaned and struggled weakly against a constraint she didn’t understand as she came fully awake.

            “What?” her voice was still weak, but with normal fatigue, not life-threatening shock. She awkwardly turned to see who was beside her. “Paul?” she was confused and, he could see, a little embarrassed, especially once she noticed that her shirt was a blood-soaked rag that covered next to nothing.

            Paul loosened his hold upon her, but did not get up. He was rather enjoying this moment. “You were mugged.” He told her simply, pushing a little. “You came here. You just passed out for a moment, while I was giving you some painkillers.”

            Yvette nodded wearily. “I was doing some research.” She muttered. “A couple of miles away. What was a mugger doing out there?” she mumbled.

            “Waiting for the unwary?” Paul suggested.

            Yvette nodded, an acknowledgement of his point. “He slashed me with a bread knife.” Which would explain that ragged wound, Paul decided. “Took my bag and ran.”

            “Anything valuable in it?” he asked.

            “Not particularly. That’s right here.” Yvette patted the bloodstained money belt that encircled her waist. Her expression became perplexed. “I thought he had gutted me.” She commented, looking at her torso which now displayed a moderately deep – but not life threatening – wound. Then Yvette noticed the blood on her skin, on Paul’s hands and across the floor. “Bled enough.” She commented mildly.

            “Shock can make wounds seem worse than they are.” Paul advised, not wanting her to be too curious.

            She nodded and settled a little more comfortably against Paul’s support – a small gesture that Paul appreciated, even if it was borne of his blood within her rather than genuine trust. For the next month, he could not be sure of the validity of any of her behavior towards him. A kindred’s blood invoked trust, with or without a worthy foundation.

“Yes.” She agreed with his suggestion. “And I can’t remember being hurt before,” as usual, sadness crept into her voice at the reminder of her almost total amnesia. “So I took it poorly.”

“Indeed.” Paul agreed. A moment of silence passed, that neither of them felt inclined to interrupt.

“But you did something….” She murmured. Paul tamped down a moment of alarm.

“Not at all.” He hushed her.

“No.” she disagreed, suddenly vehement. “You did something…” He could feel her stiffen within his arms and he heeded the instinct to lock his grip upon her as her voice trailed away.

“You…gave me…blood.” Her tone moved from wondering to anger. He could hear realization dawning in her voice and prepared himself for a rough moment that he hoped would never occur. “You….” Another pause and Paul could smell anger on the air, hot and fresh.

“Viersan!” the pronouncement was thick with fury, and he felt the woman he held twist suddenly in his arms. His unnatural strength held her easily, and he was grateful for it.

Rachel, he thought giddily. Rachel called me Viersan. Only Yvette calls me Paul. For one moment, he allowed himself a moment of glee, but it was immediately quelled by caution.

            “Please, Rachel…” he said softly. “Don’t fight.”

            She didn’t hear him, or refused to, and kept struggling with the might of a hysteric – but it was only mortal strength and easily resisted. “You bastard! Where’s Cassius, damn it?” As soon as she asked, her voice thickened with fear and hate. “Cash…Oh god….” She whimpered, suddenly slumping in Paul’s arms.

            What’s this? Paul wondered, feeling Rachel suddenly sob against him. Did he hurt her? Paul had to quell a spike of hot anger at that idea.

Within that same moment, Rachel twisted against him and shrieked, an incoherent sound of fear and panic. To hear her so frightened, soul-deep, almost startled Paul into letting go, but he sensed the vital importance of keeping her close during these moments and he tightened his grip, not caring about the bruises he might leave.

            “Rachel. Rachel!” he shouted, suddenly switching to Arabic, trying for something that might reach her. “It’s over! Cassius Ionitus is dead!”

            The woman in his arms suddenly froze.

            “What?” her voice was dull and disbelieving. “What do you mean?”

            “Cassius died soon after your married.” He assured her. “He was killed, a monster of the Tzimisce.” Paul had learned that much during his research of the past six months.

            Rachel couldn’t answer that, choking back another sob. “A monster?” she muttered. “Like you?”

            “No.” Paul denied, now glad for his blood within her, even if it might have caused this resurgence of memory. “No.” He insisted. “How can I be holding you and be a monster?” he asked.

            “He held me, too.” Rachel whispered, venom saturating her voice. Paul had heard such venom before, from those who had suffered deep betrayal. “He held me and smiled as he tore me open. Him and Gratiano.”

            Paul sensed the truth of what she said, felt her anger trembling in his arms.

            “When?” his curiosity demanded the answer.

            “My wedding night.”  Bitter anger colored her words. A quavering moan escaped her. “You say he’s dead, but that can’t be true! It was just the other night-”

            Paul sensed the rising hysteria in her voice and awkwardly twisted her to face him. “Relax!” he ordered, slightly desperate. A hysterical Rachel – mortal though she might be – was something he wasn’t quite prepared to cope with.

            He felt her slacken slightly within his arms and he was relieved.

            “You remember now.” He stated. “Who you were, who you are?” She nodded, turning away from his gaze. “Then you must understand that you are not one of the kindred. You are human.” Another low moan, one of despair.

            “Rachel, it’s not your fault, nor mine. I don’t know how but…” he took a deep breath and, again, renewed his grip upon her. “You’ve been cloned. I can’t understand how or why, but your memories speak the truth. You were cloned from an original source, and sent out into the world without memory or support.”

            “And you found me.” Her voice was weary. “I’ll never be free of you, will I?”

            Paul chose his words carefully. This was a very dangerous situation. If he said the wrong thing, he would lose this woman as permanently as he had lost her the first time. “Rachel, I didn’t seek you out. When I saw you here, last year, I thought I had lost my mind – or that someone was playing a cruel joke. I had to learn the truth of it.”

            “Solve me.” Rachel muttered, quoting their first conversation, a year ago.

            Paul nodded. “You don’t want to hear this, but think of what has happened between us, of how I’ve treated you. Do you really want to be free of me, given your situation?”

            She was silent for a long time, and Paul could feel her shaking against him. He knew she was in shock, that there were things he should do, but he was reluctant to release her. To relinquish his hold upon her risked losing her forever, he felt that in his bones.

            “So where…am I? The original me?” she asked, dully. “Am I still in Oakland?”

            Paul decided to tell her what he believed to be true. “No. She’s dead.” Rachel gasped. “Killed by the Assamites for betraying their cause.”

            “No!” disbelief and dismay swept through. “How could they know?”

            That’s interesting, Paul thought. She’s not denying her betrayal. I’ll have to learn more about that, later.

            “Treachery.” Paul replied simply. “Your childe became the tool of a Tremere-“

            “Janos.” Rachel grated.
            “Yes.” Paul agreed. “And, perhaps at his behest, she told the entire court every secret you had shared with her.” I might as well tell her everything. “Soon afterwards, Cassius killed Marlena, and the Assamites came for you…her.” He sighed in frustration at the complications of grammar.

            “Marlena’s dead?” Rachel’s voice was flat with fury. Paul nodded. “Good. I hope that bastard Janos suffered for it.”

            “I don’t know about that.” Paul replied. “And I still don’t know how this,” he squeezed her for a moment, “happened.”

            “I don’t understand it, either.” Rachel replied, “all I can tell you is that my monstrous ex-husband was possessed by the spirit of a vanquished enemy. Together they kidnapped me – shortly after they left you for dead  - raped me and gave me to some kind of scientist. He’s the one who…created me. This version of me...”

            Paul wanted to hear his conclusions – drawn from memories he had unearthed several months before and then reburied – confirmed by her. “So you remember everything of your…donor…until you were cloned?”

            Rachel nodded. “I know her life, all of it. I  remember being captive for a month, on that person’s leash.” A resurgence of anger saturated her voice. “And then….waking up in a lab…” her voice trailed away. “Oh god…There were dozens…” she whispered, oblivious of Paul’s growing alarm. “We were to be soldiers, for a battle...”

            It was too much. Rachel’s brittle self control shattered and she collapsed within Paul’s arms, crying fierce tears of anger, confusion and pain. “It’s gone, it’s all gone…” she moaned, over and over again, and Paul could hear the shrill edge of hysteria in her voice.

            Moving awkwardly again, but feeling assured enough to let go of her for a moment, Paul took Rachel’s grief ravaged face in his hands and forced her to meet his gaze. “I want you to go to sleep now, for an hour. You’ll feel better when you wake up, and we’ll talk some more.”

            Rachel was so weak that she didn’t fight the suggestion. She nodded wearily, her eyes already drooping.

            “Good. Sleep now.” And she did, slouching bonelessly against the wall. Paul gently picked her up and laid her out on his sofa.

            “This has happened too soon.” Paul murmured. “I hate improvising.”



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