Prologue

The first few pages of this may look very familiar, because the opening story is also presented on this site as Game Pieces. That story, which opens this collection, includes an appearance by Paul Viersan, hence its inclusion here. If you want to skip it, just scroll down until you next see a row of asterisks - about a quarter of the way through this document. Enjoy!

Johanna

 

A closed gallery at night. A group of whispering, well dressed individuals who all arrived seperately, but parked out front. Rachel regarded the Kindred surrounding her and suppressed a sigh. They couldn't have looked more suspicious if they had tried. Fortunately, this location was actually secure.

The leader of this small group, a tall, blonde woman, glared at her. Her name was Michelle Lavec and she was, according to the Prince of Lyons, Antoin Renard, a definite threat to his security. Rachel was withholding judgment until the end of this meeting.

"So, how did you get here?" Michelle asked Rachel carefully.

Rachel looked around and saw the familiar face of a Toreador dandy she had met at Renard's court. "He told me." Rachel pointed at him. "We met. We talked of power and other things. I went to Chez Rouen, as he told me after our meeting, ordered the steak tartare and commented on the weather to the waiter. This address was written on the bill, and that's how I got here." Kindred will play such silly games!

Michelle nodded. "And do you know why we meet?"

I must play the naive conspirator, Rachel reminded herself. I cannot sigh, roll my eyes or inquire about this woman's intelligence. "Because you disagree with the Prince. And you meet in secret because Princes have a nasty name for those who disagree with them."

"Exactly." Michelle smiled slightly. "Now, why are you here?"

"Because I agree with you. Your declaration that our methods must change is one I believe in. The Prince is holding you back and you need support in..." Rachel chose her words carefully. "...Any action you may be taking."

The Toreador dandy stood up, his expression condescending. "But weren't you licking the Prince's boots at court just two evenings ago?" he challenged.

Rachel allowed only a touch of her contempt to show. "Of course I was. One must sometimes join the dance, even if one doesn't like the music." Rachel saw Michelle's nod of approval and decided to push things a little. She didn't like this fop. "Just as you were complimenting the Prince on his fine taste that same evening, Primogen." Rachel looked around. "You and several other Kindred here. If we were honest, we'd be dead."

"True enough." Michelle interrupted as the Toreador was about to reply. "And a certain amount of trust must be granted automatically in this conspiracy. But not too much." Michelle's tone moved from light banter to serious. "I hope you will not take this as an imposition, but I must insist that you give Yves here," She pointed to another male Kindred in the room. "Some of your blood. Certain things must be verified."

Rachel knew exactly how to play this. She had done so before, many times. Her expression became anxious and slightly stupid, self-assurance evaporated. "Well, of course, but, ah, what do you need to verify, precisely?"

Yves spoke. His voice was dry and suggested that he had smoked too much during his breathing days. "Your clan and closeness to Caine." The assembled were watching her very closely, now.

Rachel looked crestfallen and slightly afraid. "I see. All right, I can understand that. But...you don't have any prejudices against the clanless, do you?" she asked hesitantly. Rachel was banking on their eagerness for recruits to overcome this potential hurdle.

Yves and several others, including the Toreador Primogen, frowned. Michelle glared and them and spoke quickly. "Of course not. All are welcome in the pursuit of greater freedom." Her tone implied great inconvenience for those who didn't agree.

Rachel smiled widely in relief. "Oh good. Some Kindred..." she trailed away.

"It's alright." Michelle assured her. Rachel hoped she would choke on that attitude. "Now, if you could..." Michelle nodded towards Yves.

"Oh, right now?" Rachel hoped she was succeeding in sounding stupid. Judging by the poorly concealed expressions around her, she was.

Rachel approached Yves and pulled a long knife from a sheath in the small of her back, beneath her battered leather jacket. That caused a response, a ripple of unease through the room. Rachel deliberately shrugged it off. "I hunt in a bad part of town, sorry." She held the knife over her left wrist. "Where do you want this, Yves?"

 

Rachel met with the Prince of Lyons at his public business address, a stockbrockerage in the wealthy financial district. The office was lush, with the latest Avedon photographs adorning the walls, and otherwise empty. Bodyguards were mere feet away, outside, but this was a private meeting with the Prince - a dangerous rarity.

"So Michelle is trying to stand for everything you oppose, as well as trying to appear old-fashioned enough to appeal to traditionalists. She's walking a thin line, but she seems to be impressing a lot of Kindred, especially the younger ones. I've given you the list of names already." Rachel shifted her weight uneasily. She didn't like wearing high heels, but the Prince preferred his courtiers attend him in formal attire.

Prince Antoin Renard nodded solemnly. He was still unsure about the higher motives of this young Caitiff, but he correctly guessed that power was beneath all of them. The risk that she might be working both sides of the conflict was a risk he had to take. Besides, if that was the case, he believed he could turn it to his advantage.

Prince Antoin was old, by neonate terms - more than a century had passed since he had last seen the sun - and neonates were more numerous than ever within the city of Lyons. Renard had ruled this city for nearly thirty years, but they, especially the younger ones, were beginning to grumble about the old Prince, and his old-fashioned methods.

Michelle Lavec was the most prominent in a field of potential threats, and keeping an eye on her and the extent of her support had been more difficult than Renard had expected. This Caitiff, Rachel DuNoir, had presented herself at court a month ago, metaphorical cap in hand, and had begged for permission to live within the city.

Renard knew of the predicaments that befell clanless Kindred, and also of the value of having Kindred owe you greatly. Rachel had eagerly acknowledged that debt of gratitude and suggested this way for her to repay some of that debt. Only some, Renard knew that debtors should always be kept just behind the interest they owed. However, if DuNoir was able to inform his of Michelle's plans and allies, then she may be worth far more than he originally anticipated...

Rachel frowned in apparent puzzlement as the silence stretched on, waiting for the Prince to end his reverie.

Renard nodded again. "Yes, you have. There were some names that I hadn't suspected. And you say you think you can convince Lavec that you work for her against me?"

"Yes, m'lord, a double agent, if you will." Childish enthusiasm, there.

"I think you've read too many adventure novels." Renard commented.

Rachel lowered her gaze. "Please excuse my eagerness." She apologized.

The Prince excused it by ignoring it. "Very well, Keep making these reports, only to me, of course. Put nothing in writing. Is there anything else?"

Rachel decided that it was too early for the next step. "No, my lord. Nothing."

"Very well. You've pleased me. If you wish, you may hunt on the Promenade for the next three evenings."

Rachel smiled and her pleasure was genuine. She was only allowed to hunt in city slums, where the pickings were thin and tainted, and competition - between all the area's predators - was fierce. The touristy, fashionable seaside Promenade was the richest area in the city, and hunting there was only by the Prince's permission. "Thank you, Monsieur! If I may...?"

Renard dismissed her from the private conference room with a wave of his hand, and turned to other business.

 

Rachel sat on a wooden seafront bench, warm with recent blood and assessed her situation. She was walking a very thin line, herself. She was a double agent, trying to convince both the Prince and his rival that she worked for both of them, while working towards her own, very private, goals. Rachel was confident that she could convince both sides that she worked against the other. Playing up the part of an insecure Caitiff, a type expected by most Kindred, stopped them from looking, or thinking, further. Rachel was sure that her secret alliances were safe. Exploiting that situation was the dangerous part...

 

Secret meetings continued, and the stringent security and the cloak-and-dagger games that Rachel had sneered at were proving effective. Rachel remained the Prince's best agent against Michelle. Plans were discussed, although caution prevented quick implementation. The Kindred grew restless and Rachel patiently waited for the opportunity to stir things up. It would come, sooner rather than later, she was sure.

 

Antoin Renard was a being who rarely showed his anger, but even a hint of it was fearsome.. "She specifically stated the Montpellier Incident?" he demanded, his fingers drumming on the wooden desktop.

Rachel nodded. "Yes. She didn't say what it was, though. Just that if you couldn't be made to see the way the wind was blowing, then she'd have to remind you of Montpellier." Things couldn't be going better. Michelle had decided to threaten before Rachel had thought of a suitable fabrication for Renard's ears. The truth was much better.

Renard swore fervently for a few moments. Rachel was impressed by his command of that particular mode of expression. "I take it that you don't want to be reminded of that?" she asked boldly.

"No, I don't." He replied tightly, ignoring her forward manner. "Did she mention a deadline?"

Rachel shrugged. "No particular date was mentioned, but she's pushing it."

Renard lapsed into thought. "I'm going to have to bring someone in." He told his companion. "This has gone too far."

Rachel nodded. He didn't need her permission. Renard picked up the phone on his desk and asked for Paul Viersan. Rachel frowned. That name seemed familiar, but she wasn't sure why.

A few moments later, Monsieur Viersan entered the Prince's office. He was a tall man, with short light brown hair, blue eyes and a complexion that must have been pale even in life. His features were familiar, in an annoyingly generic way. His bone structure suggested Scandinavia, but Viersan was a German name...

Rachel leaned against the Prince's desk for support and suppressed a gasp of remembrance. She now remembered Monsieur Viersan, and desperately hoped he wouldn't remember her. Meeting a central figure of her nightmares was disturbing enough, even in the most sturdy of situations.

Renard was making introductions. "Paul, this is Rachel DuNoir. She's the one who's been keeping an eye on Madame Lavec lately. Rachel, this is Paul Viersan, one of my closest aides and one whose advice might be of assistance."

Rachel nodded and kept her gaze low as she shook his proffered hand. It took a great effort of will not to wipe her gloved hand on her coat.

Renard quickly told Paul Viersan of the situation, including the Montpellier Incident. Rachel kept her gaze down and willed her features to suddenly change. A momentary glance upwards to answer a question of Renard's showed Viersan's own frown of concentration aimed in her direction. Whether he was frowning over the situation, or her, was unclear.

Renard concluded his explanation. Viersan continued frowning and sat, uninvited, in a nearby chair. Rachel continued to stand, unsure of the protocol and privileges of the situation.

"And we can't afford war?" Viersan finally asked.

"Absolutely not." Renard replied firmly. "We're still recovering from that last lupine attack and the incursion from Rome."

Viersan nodded. "Unfortunate to have our resources so thin."

In the long silence that followed, Rachel decided to risk a suggestion. "What if Michelle Lavec was to, ah, become seriously indisposed?"

Viersan stared at her, astonished. Renard was barely less surprised. "Then she becomes a martyr to her cause. No good. It'll give her supporters something to rally around, and affect those who are still undecided."

"But what if the circumstances of her Death discredited her cause?"

"How?" Renard demanded.

Rachel tried to ignore Viersan's curious gaze. "I'm not sure yet, but I have some ideas. She would lose her followers if they thought she had become what they despise, for a start."

Renard nodded. "It's food for thought. How would such a character assassination be accomplished?"

Rachel steeled herself. "I'd do it."

Renard laughed, Viersan, oddly, did not. "You?" he asked. "A neonate? Against an experienced Kindred? You may have big plans, little Caitiff..." he laughed.

Rachel decided to risk it all. This could be a golden opportunity and if it failed, she would still be able to get out of town with her skin intact. She hoped. "I'm better at some things than others, my lord." She told the Prince defiantly. This drew a short laugh from Viersan.

Renard looked from Viersan to her. "Am I missing something?"

"I'm afraid you are, Antoin." Paul smiled, staring at Rachel. Rachel scowled and returned Viersan's direct gaze. "It's been a while since Paris, hasn't it, Mam'selle Collier?"'

"Excuse me?" The Prince's tone was short.

"We've met." Rachel replied, equally short. "In Paris, during the war."

"She was still alive at that time..." Viersan remembered.

"And...?" the Prince asked.

"Rachel was working for the French resistance. I wasn't. She-"

"He was part of the Abwehr." Rachel snapped. "Nazi intelligence. He's why you won't see me without gloves." Rachel held up her covered hands.

"That's not my fault. You knew what you were getting into. I didn't force you to do what you did." Viersan replied mildly.

"Oh, of course not." Rachel replied angrily. "You were just following orders, right? You and your Gestapo stooges-"

"Whom you managed to kill with, what, a piece of glass?" Paul interrupted.

Rachel sighed, suddenly feeling ridiculous. "A sharpened spoon handle, actually."

"What?" Renard disliked the fact that he had lost control of the conversation. "You," he pointed at Paul. "Met her during the war, while you were with the Nazis?"

Paul nodded. "I've not made a secret of my association with them."

"I know." Renard dismissed Viersan's history with a casual wave. "And you, Rachel, were captured as a member of the Resistance?" Rachel nodded. "And you fought your way out with a spoon?"

"I know it sounds impossible, Monsieur, but I had great incentive. And once I'd killed the first one, I had a knife."

"I remember that." Viersan sighed. "You have no idea the trouble you caused."

"I'm so sorry." Rachel growled, not meaning a word. "I was hoping they would shoot you for the fuckup."

"Not me." Paul said calmly. "I can be very persuasive, as you might remember."

"That's enough!" Renard snapped. "You can reminisce and plan revenge some other time. There are problems now, not twenty years old, that must be dealt with. Paul, do you think she can do it?"

"Do what?"

"Kill Levac." Renard said flatly. Rachel smiled inwardly. Renard must be backing into a corner to entertain her idea, and that was fine by her.

Paul began to disagree, but immediately stopped. His expression became thoughtful. "Maybe. Where did you get your training from?" he asked Rachel bluntly.

"You don't want to know."

"No," the Prince disagreed firmly. "I do."

Rachel sighed and did what she had to: tell the truth up to a certain point. "I was trained by an assassin. He claimed to be an Assamite, but how could I know?"

To her surprise, the Prince did not automatically call for his guards upon hearing this. She continued. "I suppose he took pity on a Caitiff, and wanted to teach me a trade. Of course, killing people was the one he was best qualified to teach and for me to learn. I'm no stranger to killings, my father was Michael Collier." Renard nodded, recognizing the name. "And I've been assisting him since I was twelve years old. The Union Francais could always use people, especially in Algiers."

Paul nodded. "I'd say we got off easily when we arrested you."

Rachel didn't reply. Facing Viersan was draining, but she was damned if she was going to admit it.

Renard thought for a moment. "So, you've killed Kindred?"

"Yes, but not within this city." She answered truthfully.

Renard glared at her, an expression she recognized as use of aura perception. Rachel was glad that she had been telling the truth. The Prince nodded confirmation of her statement.

"That's how I usually buy my way into a city: kill a few pesky opponents to the regime. It makes things more peaceful and ingratiates me with the powerful."

"Brutal but effective." Renard commented. He lapsed into silent thought. If I send her to kill Levac and she fails, well then, no-one is the wiser. If she succeeds, I'll be rid of an irritating opponent and I can easily conceal any connection I have with her death. I can ensure DuNoir's silence. No one is going to miss a Caitiff.

Although she did not possess telepathy, Rachel knew exactly what the Prince was thinking, she had been in this situation before and the powerful could always be counted upon to be treacherous.

"Alright then." Renard decided. "If you believe you can dispose of Levac and discredit her cause, do so."

"Good, Monsieur. Now we can discuss terms."

"Excuse me?" Renard was astonished by her audacity.

"Nothing for nothing." She shrugged. "If I succeed, I want full acceptance in this city, better hunting grounds, and a decent haven."

"And?" Renard asked sarcastically.

"That'll do. I don't want to be greedy." Rachel smiled slightly.

Paul laughed out loud. "I should have realized you'd go far. Are you sure you're not an Assamite?" he asked.

"Feel free to test my blood." Rachel said with false sweetness. "Michelle already has."

"Well, I'm sure that if Levac can trust you..." Paul smiled.

"Will you two stop that." Renard snapped. "She is just a Caitiff, she has been consistently telling me the truth during our meetings. You've made me weary. I agree to your terms, DuNoir, but I want Levac dealt with as soon as possible."

"Of course, Monsieur. If I may be excused?"

"Bien sur, au revoir."

Rachel risked a parting shot as she left. "Don't even think about calling me, Herr Viersan. If you come near me outside of the Prince's presence, I'll feed you your eyeballs." The door slammed as she left.

Renard raised an eyebrow at his companion. "She really doesn't like you, old friend."

Paul shrugged. "She's clinging to an old grudge. She'll get over it."

"Time heals all wounds, hm?"

Paul paused before replying, momentarily lost to memory. "No, not all of them."

 

Rachel sidled up to the table of Charles Duvallier, the Toreador Primogen, in the smoky basement club, La Nuit. He acknowledged her with a barely polite smile and nod as she sat down across from him.

"So what's the Montepellier incident?" Rachel asked directly. She didn't think she had time for coy word games.

Charles glanced sharply at her and lied so gracelessly that Rachel wondered how he had become his clan's Primogen. "I wouldn't know." The fact that he did know was enough for Rachel. It was obvious that it was political dynamite and the opportunity she had been looking for.

"Oh, alright." Rachel shrugged it off with the apparent boredom of the ignorant. "I was just curious. It sounded important, the big gun."

Charles tried to look disinterested, failed, and scanned the room as if expecting other company. "I wouldn't know." He said flatly. "But desperate times..."

Rachel allowed herself to be diverted away from their topic. "Of course." She agreed quickly, her voice dropping IQ points. "I'm sure...our mutual acquaintance knows what she's doing."

Charles only just failed to sneer at Rachel's stupid enthusiasm. "Exactly."

Rachel gave another indifferent shrug and scanned the room. No-one else she knew was present, but it was best to assume that every conversation could be overheard. She leaned towards Charles, her expression becoming mischievous.

"I've found a great new place to eat." She told him like one imparting a great secret.

"Oh really?" Charles barely cared.

Rachel raised a hand, protesting his tone. "Hear me out. There's a place on the outskirts of town where the kids like to go. Party, listen to rock and roll, neck, all that. I must have seen twenty of them last Friday."

"Yes?" Charles interest increased, as Rachel had guessed it would. She had already heard the gossip about Charles' preference for young prey. Combined with the Toreador's typical love for the new and flashy, like rock and roll teenagers, Rachel was betting it would be hard for Charles to resist.

"Yes. And I was thinking of going there tonight. I know you Toreador are always looking for the nouveau place, and the pickings are really worth checking out. Youngsters are silly and very, ah, open to suggestion, especially late on a Friday night." Rachel smiled.

"Perhaps..." Charles mused with feigned disinterest. Rachel knew she had him. "Where is this place?"

"It's not much." Rachel explained. "An old apartment building, but it's large and empty and remote. Please, at least let me show you. You've been so helpful, getting me in touch with our friend..." she wheedled.

"Hm, yes, I was." He stood suddenly. All impulse, these Toreadors. "Certainly, I haven't dined this evening, and it's not my night on the Promenade."

Rachel stood with him and discreetly adjusted the knife and gun beneath her coat. "Oh, good. I'm sure you'll like it. It's very beat, very modern." Rachel gushed as she led the way into the night.

 

Rachel peered out of the window and into the night. As far as she could tell, she had been unobserved. Her gun was silenced, of course, and those shots would have been inaudible outside of the abandoned tenement she had lured Charles into. This was indeed an occasional party spot for youngsters, but Rachel had ensured the building's vacancy this evening by calling in a false resident-angry-about-those-damn-kids report to the police earlier that evening.

It had taken several incidenary rounds to destroy Charles, but his corpse was still recognizable. Even if his body disintegrated before discovery, Charles' distinctive clothing would identify him. Rachel tucked a note into his shirt collar. It had been written by a local notary, under the pretense that Rachel was illiterate and wanting to send this odd letter to some individual. Rachel wasn't certain, but she hoped it would confuse any psychometric reading. The letter was short and stated "Forget Montpellier. Remember how vulnerable you are, Madame Lavec."

Satisfied with her work, Rachel left the building and returned to the night.

 

The next evening had a rude, abrupt beginning. Rachel was awoken by several armed thugs, claiming that Michelle desired her company. Unsure of the reason for the armed guard, and very nervous, Rachel meekly accompanied them to the small private gallery that Lavec used for a meeting place.

Upon entering the main galleria, Rachel was seized by her Lavec's men. Their firm grip, and the dozen other Kindred coldly regarding her prevented any thought of fighting a way out. Rachel carefully calmed herself, and kept her role in mind.

"What is this!" she demanded. "Why am I being treated like this? Unhand me!"

Michelle emerged from the group, her face stiff with ill-concealed anger. "In a moment." Rachel allowed herself a moment of extreme anxiety. If she was very careful, she could still talk her way out of this.

"I've been told." Michelle began. "By a reliable source, that you are one of the assassin clan, sent by the Prince with me as your target." Rachel noticed Yves, the blood tester, standing next to Michelle with a large mug and small knife in his hand. Rachel suspected where this conversation would lead and relaxed somewhat.

"Your source is wrong." Rachel protested. "You've tested my blood!"

Yves looked uncomfortable as Michelle shrugged. "Reluctant as they are to admit it, the Tremere can be fooled, and the Assamites have been working towards that goal since the Treaty of Tyr."

Haven't we just! Rachel had to swallow that reply.

"However," Michelle continued. "I know this is one certain way of answering that question."

Michelle took the cup and knife from Yves and cut open her own wrist. The mug was filled with her own vitae and then offered to Rachel. "All of us know of the curse upon the Assassins. Our blood is injurious to them. So all you have to do, Rachel, to assure me that you're not one of them is to drink this."

Rachel glared at her. "You can't Bond me." She stated, playing the paranoid Caitiff.

Yves nodded. "We know." He said. "Who are you Bonded to?"

"Fuck you." Rachel snapped back. An apt enough response, she thought.

Michelle shook her head in anger. "We can discuss that in a moment, and we will. Drink this."

Rachel scowled. "Not much choice, is there?" The thugs released Rachel. She took the mug and quickly swallowed the contents. She hoped that the vitae had not somehow been tainted to produce a hoped-for reaction.

Rachel handed the mug back to Michelle with a offensively casual expression. "See? I'm fine." Rachel said brightly. "No injury, no death. Quite tasty, really."

This flippancy annoyed Michelle greatly. "That's one question answered. Now for the rest."

The next two hours were extremely trying. Rachel depended on the strength of her created history and her ability to lie like a rug. That, and the learned fact that Ventrue were usually very reluctant to believe that their trust had been misplaced.

Finally, after a barrage of questions from all sides, Michelle seemed satisfied. Rachel had recounted her sorry story several times. How she had been Bonded to a Sire who had then left like smoke on the wind, her own mercenary history - yes I have killed, but not your allies - and her hopefully thoroughly pathetic coat-tail-grabbing modus operandi. Most Kindred automatically found her contemptible for being clanless, and this was what they expected to hear. It was easy to play along with people's comfortable prejudices.

Rachel dared to ask a question. "I think your source was wrong. Don't you think that the Prince is trying to feed you disinformation to create disorder?"

"I think that killing one of his own Primogen is a rather extreme measure to reinforce such a venture." Michelle commented.

"Not if Renard had discovered Charles' alliance with you." Rachel countered.

Michelle frowned. "I don't like it. A move like this starts wars, and I know he's not ready for that."

"How do you know that? From the same source that told you I'm an Assamite?"

That stopped Michelle short. Obviously it had been the same source, and now that source was suspect. Rachel pushed the issue. "If I was ready for war, I wouldn't necessarily let my opponent know that. I don't want to be an alarmist, but that could have been the opening shot."

A murmur of anxiety disturbed the dozen Kindred in the room. Rachel was sure she noticed some of them moving towards the exits. Rats off a sinking ship, she thought. That's kafir loyalty for you.

"Fetch Samuel Prudhomme, he's probably at that dump he calls a club." Michelle ordered. The group that had fetched Rachel left the room.

"If he isn't here already." Rachel muttered and sat down to wait.

Finally, the search party returned with a squat, noisome being clad in a dirty greatcoat and cast off clothing. Rachel didn't know - she had to default to the male pronoun - him, but made a point of giving him lots of room. He stank.

The individual, a typical Nosferatu, wheezed and coughed theatrically, causing a further retreat of those nearest to him.

"What the fuck do you want?" he grated. That voice was certainly male, Rachel decided.

"You remember me?" Michelle asked.

"Of course I do, you silly bitch. Do you want more? You could have been more-"

"Be quiet." Michelle's order came from between clenched teeth. "You told me that a reliable source identified Rachel DuNoir as an Assamite, Renard as unready for war and a few other things besides. Who was that reliable source?"

The Nosferatu stared at her incredulously. "Lady, you ain't got enough money, blood or power to buy that answer. I've got to protect my sources."

"What if they're deliberately misleading you?"

The Nosferatu shrugged. "Risk of the game. We can't verify everything. He seemed reliable enough."

"He?" Michelle pursued.

"It looked like a he." The smelly vampire countered. "We can change our appearance, you know." He jeered.

Michelle took a deep breath and tried to wheedle him. "Surely there's something I can give you that your source - " she was interrupted by wheezing laughter.

Rachel had maneuvered closer to Michelle during this exchange. "Michelle, this isn't going to work." She said quietly. "I hate to suggest it, but if you can't order him to tell us, I can be extremely persuasive."

Michelle frowned, stepped away from the object of their conversation. Rachel was sure he could still hear every word. "Violence is rarely effective." She replied.

"That depends on the violence." Rachel said tightly. Michelle was surprised by this sudden change in Rachel's manner. "I can be very effective, but I'd like to do it in private. Some small room, with one well guarded exit. I don't want him disappearing on us."

Michelle was disturbed by this suggestion, but realized that they had little time to waste, and that she could not order Samuel to disclose his source. She had tried to dominate him once before, and failed miserably. She finally nodded her agreement...

 

Rachel and Michelle exited the heavily guarded room, both a little paler than when they entered. Rachel was furious, Michelle, a little sick. "I'm sorry that had to be done." Rachel lied, aware that kafir usually cherished their tender feelings. "But I'm confident he was finally telling us the truth. He'll heal soon."

Michelle nodded weakly. "It seems that Viersan is up to something quite unexpected."

Rachel shrugged, trying to hide her anger. "Maybe he's planning a power grab himself."

"You're very angry." Michelle observed. Rachel cursed inwardly. "May I ask why?"

"I have my own score to settle with Viersan, from a few years ago." Rachel explained shortly. "I thought he had died with the other Nazis."

Michelle's eyes widened in surprise. "He was...? I didn't know that!" She had every French person's antipathy for collaborators and their ilk.

"That's odd." Rachel commented with false surprise. "He doesn't seem to make a secret of it. Admitted it to the Prince and everything. Maybe Renard doesn't care, either." Making life difficult for Viersan was an unexpected bonus. "I was wondering why Renard tolerates him...or maybe Viersan needs the cover of trouble to get out of town." She mused.

"I need to think about this." Michelle muttered. "I hadn't anticipated his becoming involved. I thought he was just another toady of the Prince's."

"Don't think about it too long." Rachel warned. "I'm going to kill him." She didn't care who heard that. Having an aware target made the chase more interesting.

"What?"

"Well, if it will interfere with your plans, I can wait, but I do have to settle that score."

Michelle saw Rachel's honest, bitter anger and knew better than to argue. "Alright." She agreed. "But I would like you to wait until Renard is out of the picture." Rachel reluctantly agreed.

That won't be long, either. They both thought to themselves, but for different reasons.

Two nights later, Rachel realized that she was stumped. She had already admitted to herself that she couldn't divert herself with a bit of personal killing. The Talamut tended to get annoyed when she took time out of her orders for that, even if it would be in keeping with those orders to cause as much confusion in the area as possible. However, she had been told by the Talamut to kill Renard, and Renard had hired her to kill Michelle.

Michelle could be taken down with minimal fuss. She wasn't guarded nearly as well as the Prince, and she was beginning to get a little too confident as her cause gained supporters. The trick was getting to Renard, and Rachel had reluctantly realized that she may have to do it through Viersan. If he was planning a coup of his own, he would also want the Prince out of the way, and would know far more than she did about his vulnerabilities.

Setting her resolve, Rachel made her way to Chez Louis.

Chez Louis was an expensive dinner-dance restaurant, a place that hadn't changed overmuch since the 'twenties. It was anachronistic, with superb food and patronized by only the most proper people. The Ventrue, of course, loved it. Rachel knew it was the logical first place to look for Viersan.

It bothered her to be wearing a long dress, with her various weapons much less accessible, but she had to adhere to the antiquated dress code. At least she had a holdout in her clutch purse, but she still wasn't comfortable. She sat at the plush wood and leather bar and soon spotted Viersan apparently dining with a young lady in a booth halfway across the room. Rachel quickly wrote something on a napkin, and gave it to a passing waiter, with whispered instructions. The waiter nodded and carried it over. The place may be old fashioned, but it wasn't prudish.

Rachel watched carefully as Paul took the note, read it and then, with a misleadingly casual manner, write a reply on the same napkin and return it to his waiter. Rachel followed his cue and hid any suspicious energy as she read his own message.

I need to get rid of Renard, do you? I can forget the past if you can.

I could. We have something in common. Meet me at 143 Avenue Des Autres in thirty minutes.

Rachel quickly weighed her chances. He could be setting her up, but he could have done that merely by retaining her message and showing it to the Prince. She would go to this meeting prepared for an ambush and hope that her theory about Viersan's own play for power was correct. There was little else she could do this late in the game.

 

Thirty-four minutes later, Rachel arrived at the address Paul had given her. As soon as the taxi that had delivered had disappeared around a corner, the front door opened and her host waved her inside.

The house, while in a good part of town, was sparsely appointed, and Rachel believed that Viersan must only use it for private meetings. He wouldn't have been stupid enough to bring her to his haven.

Paul led her into the front room and opened the conversation without even sitting. "You can try to feed me my eyeballs some other evening. I can take care of the Prince if you can get rid of Lavec."

Rachel nodded. "You can keep your eyes for the meantime. I can get Lavec, but I need to ensure her movement is discredited."

"Why? Are you living up to the letter of what Renard asked you?" Paul asked. "That's a little pointless."

"I'm not just taking care of his contract." Rachel stated quickly.

Paul raised an eyebrow. "I know you're not an Assamite." He said. "You can't be. But you were telling the truth when you said you were trained by one..."

Rachel nodded. "I can't talk about that. And you don't have time to pull my fingernails out."

"Oh, I've outgrown that." Paul dismissed the past with a wave of his hand. "Besides, it's rather reassuring that you've been trained by the best."

"Fine." His patronizing attitude irritated her. "It would be best for both of us if these deaths are linked, and cause as much trouble as possible. You can grab the throne, and I can get out of town. I have an idea..."

 

Rachel pulled the van she had stolen from a local storekeeper up around the back of one of the most enviable addresses in Lyons. The houses were small mansions, set apart from their neighbors on carefully tended lawns. Only the scarcity of land in the middle of the city prevented them from having the finely crafted gardens that the rich love to gaze upon. These were the city houses of merchants, not the country estates of the former nobility. Fortunately, even merchants needed to have groceries delivered, even if eight o'clock at night was an odd time for it. When you're rich enough, your neighbors will ignore your eccentricities, as you ignore theirs.

Rachel, wearing her working garb of black trousers, sweater and well equipped tool belt, heaved a heavy canvas sack from the back of the van and took it to the manor's kitchen entrance. No lights burned within the house, save one in an upper room. Rachel closed the back door behind her, and headed up towards that room.

It was an upstairs parlor, something a lady might use for receiving close friends in the evening, after supper. There was no lady in this house, and those gathered were anything but friends. Rachel saw Paul standing near a window, a staked body on the floor near his feet. Rachel dumped the sack she carried near that body, glancing downwards to verify that it was Renard.

"Here's Michelle." Rachel announced simply.

Paul nodded, glancing at the Prince on the floor. "Ventrue are so easily surprised by betrayal." He commented.

"I was thinking the same thing myself, the other day." Rachel admitted. So, you're probably not a Ventrue, as I had thought. What are you, Viersan? Rachel wondered.

"So, how were you going to set this up?"

"It's fairly simple." Rachel roughly pulled Michelle's staked body out of the canvas sack. "Oh, by the way, declare a blood hunt on Yves when you're able, he might be smart enough to figure this out, and I he's the closest ally she had. And I assume you're going to dispose of that Nosferatu, Samuel, that you've been using."

Paul looked startled for a moment. "Sammy? Oh yes, that would follow. May I ask how you...?"

"Pulled his fingernails out." Rachel said shortly, hauling Michelle towards the door. Her eyes were open and, if any expression could be read into them, it was not pleasant.

"Well, if you don't want to tell me..." Paul's odd humor was surprising.

"I did." Rachel snapped. "Now shut up." Rachel looked around the room for a moment. "Did you make the letter?"

"Of course." Paul reached into his coat and handed Rachel an envelope. She opened it and quickly read the contents. It was a note typed onto heavy paper, with Renard's signature at the bottom. Rachel hoped Viersan had been telling the truth when he said he could forge the Prince's signature adequately. It was a letter to Michelle Lavec, challenging her in ringing rhetoric to meet with him and discuss their rivalry, with hints of it being peacefully settled. Rachel put the letter into Michelle's coat pocket.

Renard's body was moved next to a writing desk, and positioned to look as if he had fallen while rising from it. "Just one last thing." Rachel muttered. She took a large sealed jar from her canvas sack, cut the Prince's wrist with a knife from her belt and carefully forced blood from him until the jar was full. Paul withheld comment.

Gun in hand now, Rachel stepped into the room's doorway, created the quiet she needed and fired into Renard's body until the weapon's incendenary rounds had caused the Final Death.

"Pocket the stake." She told Paul.

Paul did so, looking at her oddly. "Your tutor taught you his discipline? I thought that was never let out of the clan."

Rachel knew he was being eaten by curiosity and wouldn't give him the satisfaction. "A good student is worth teaching well, don't you think?"

"What about her?" Viersan indicated Michelle.

"Easy." Rachel returned to the sack and removed a hand held crossbow. "An antique weapon for an old-fashioned Kindred." She tossed it upon the floor next to Renard's body. "Renard lured her here with a promise of negotiation and shot her with that. However, before she was taken, she, who was also planning treachery, took him by more modern means." Rachel placed the gun into Michelle's hand.

"But she still exists." Paul nodded at her body.

"Not after you, who had been told by Viersan to moderate this meeting - and you believed it to be innocent, of course - arrived late, heard the shots, and came upon this terrible scene." Rachel took her knife in hand again. However, she also bled this victim into a fresh jar, before continuing. "Full of righteous anger, believing your Prince to have been foully taken down while defending himself from treachery, you did what you believed to be the right thing." Rachel kneeled down and, after some few moments effort, decapitated and destroyed Michelle Lavec. "It's quite understandable, given what little you knew." Rachel finished. "There, both dead, and both traitors. Of course, Renard is going to look a little better, but I don't care about that, and it might make your transition easier. Not that I care about that either."

"How many Princes have you killed, Rachel DuNoir?" Paul asked, something like admiration in his voice.

"This is the first. I don't plan on making a habit out of it. Too risky."

"And why the blood? I'm finding it harder and harder to believe that you are not working for the assassins."

"Believe what you like, but don't voice any of those dangerous theories. I haven't made any long-term promises. Maybe I just like the stuff. Maybe I'm trying to ingratiate myself with the antediluvians and I'm giving it to them. Maybe I sell it to the assassins. Who knows? You certainly don't."

"Would you like some of mine?" Paul joked, offering a wrist.

"Sure." Rachel shrugged, taking his wrist in hand and biting into it. She had taken a goodly amount before Paul was able to free his wrist from her grasp.

Rachel smiled at him. "When I was leaving Paris, I swore I'd drink your blood. I just never thought it would happen like this." She even laughed.

Paul vacillated between anger and amusement and chose on the latter. "Well, don't say I never did anything for you."

Rachel gave him a long look, that pierced his silly banter and their situation to something deeper. It wasn't a moment that imparted comfort. "Oh, you've done a lot for me." She said quietly. "I doubt you'll ever know how much."

The moment broke. Rachel turned away, began to leave. "Goodbye, Herr Viersan. I doubt we'll meet again."

Paul disagreed with that, but only indicated so by his parting. "A biéntot, DuNoir."

Rachel turned back to him, a contemplative expression upon her face. She reached some internal decision and nodded. "A biéntot, Viersan."

Rachel headed into the night, and left her old nightmare to pick up the pieces.

 

******************************************************************

 

 

Rachel sometimes wondered what it was about smoky jazz clubs that so attracted her. Blue Jack's of Montreal was the newest of her prowling grounds and it fitted the archtype well.

Most of Montreal suited Rachel. The city was French enough to remind her of Europe, but the American influence lessened some of the more irritating aspects of European culture. She had already introduced herself to the Prince, established a haven and hunting grounds and was now delicately letting some influential Kindred know of her services. The cut-throat capitalism borne of the seventies and early eighties had opened up a whole new market for her, and gave new meaning to the phrase "hostile takeover".

Blue Jack's was small, accomodating perhaps fifty people at small tables and the bar. The low stage at the far end of the ground floor club was proportionally small, and the front tables were so close that quite often an enthusiastic musician might disturb a patron's drink, or vice versa. The club was on the edge of the student quarter, near the center of the city, but the club deliberately chose not to compete with the many cheap, noisy bars, for student patronage. Blue Jack's was a place for people who appreciated real music.

Tonight Rachel wasn't looking for work, or sucking up to the Toreador Primogen - true to form the Toreador were the most vulnerable to wide-eyes and heartfelt flattery. Tonight was an evening off, and Rachel had decided to treat herself to an evening of music, cigarettes and possibly a little dinner. Jack's provided all three.

Rachel lit another Sobranie and continued making eyes at a middle-aged jazz fan. He was overweight and slightly grimy, but Rachel didn't particularly care. All she cared about was that he was drinking only coffee and they had been communicating via this coy semaphore for nearly half an hour. Rachel believed he would have the courage to offer her a drink soon. Hopefully, he wouldn't buy himself some alcoholic courage, as Rachel was feeling too lazy to start over again with somebody else and liquor-tainted blood had never agreed with her.

"Lauren, it's been too many years since Lyons, we really should catch up."

Rachel froze at this too-familiar voice and subsequently did not throw her coffee into the face of the speaker as he sat down. She summoned every ounce of control she had as she turned to her companion and confirmed his identity.

I cannot run and I cannot carve out his tripes, that will cause too much fuss. She told herself several times before speaking. She tried to match his easy tone. "My name isn't Lauren, anymore. You're right, it has been a while. You haven't changed. Shame I can't say I've missed you."

Paul Viersan smiled, an expression that she had never liked. He hadn't changed, except perhaps he was now a little more smug and self assured. Rachel would have dearly loved to carve that expression out of his face.

"That would be expecting too much." He admitted. Paul flagged a passing waiter and ordered a glass of wine.

"So, what are you expecting?" Rachel asked roughly.

Paul shrugged. "Nothing, I just wanted to say hello and catch up."

"You came three thousand miles and twenty years to say bonjour?" Rachel shook her head in disbelief.

Paul shook his head. "No, of course not. I happened to be in this city on other business, and I heard that Rachel DuNoir had recently arrived. How could I pass up the opportunity to surprise you?"

"Learn a little self control and resist it next time. I can go my entire existence without seeing you again. We have nothing to catch up on." Rachel stood up abruptly. "I have a lot to do, and I'm sure you need to get back to Lyons. Have you turned it into your little Aryan paradise, yet?"

Paul frowned slightly. "I haven't been in Lyons for years. I left shortly after you did. As for that other part, well, I never believed in that."

"Fascinating, I don't think." Rachel snapped, her temper rising. "I have to go." Rachel walked briskly out of the club, oblivious to the shattering of the middle-aged jazz fan's hopes.

 

Rachel had walked almost three blocks through the nightlife district. It was Thursday night, and only a few people walked, or staggered, through the streets. The cool spring air had helped calm Rachel's anger and she felt almost normal again.

Viersan's presence both worried and infuriated her. She was worried because there was no such thing as coincidence with the Kindred and especially not in this particular situation. Viersan obviously had his own motives, which were unfathomable to her. The possible motivations that crossed her mind were so worrying that they didn't bear speculation. Her anger was directed at herself, that her composure could be shattered so easily. She had been raised better than that by both of her families. She could almost hear both her Sire and her father chiding her to keep her emotions in check, her vulnerabilities hidden.

A dark blue BMW sedan slowed down in the street next to her. Rachel cursed quietly. Her introspection had led to absent mindedness. She pulled a knife from her sleeve and readied herself for violence. The car's passenger window rolled down and Paul regarded her steadily from the driver's seat.

"It's very rude to walk out on a conversation." He called out casually.

Rachel didn't bother replying, but immediately ran into the first alley on her right. She heard a car door slam behind her, but she didn't look back. Her walk was brisk, something short of running. There was always the risk of human vultures in these alleys.

The alley grew darker as it progressed and finally concluded in a high brick wall, the back of some building half a block away. Rachel angrily reminded herself that she must learn to see in the dark, and soon, although that didn't make any difference now. She began to retrace her steps, and assessed her chances of fighting her way out. Rachel didn't know Viersan's clan, but she was willing to bet that he would be damnably tough.

Sure enough, Viersan was a few yards ahead of her. He was leaning against a wall and not heeding to the damage it was doing his fine suit. She tried to dart past him, but he moved as quickly as she and blocked the way.

Nothing happened for a long moment as they regarded each other silently. All signs of banter were gone from Viersan's face but he seemed quite calm. Rachel glared at him angrily, scowling and resisting a useless urge to bolt.

"So talk." She finally said truculently. "Tell me why you left Lyons."

"I thought you'd never ask." Paul replied dryly. "I had to leave Lyons a few nights after you. Although it failed to mention your involvement, the letter you sent the Nosferatu Primogen detailing my role in the death of Prince Renard and Michelle Lavec was enough to neccesitate my hasty departure."

"I never sent any such letter." Rachel denied, not caring if the lie showed. So what if he knew now?

"Don't insult me." Paul warned. "That would be a very bad idea."

Rachel couldn't think of a reply and kept silent. Paul raised an eyebrow at this silence and continued. "I intended to leave the city as soon as Renard was dead, anyway. I never wanted to seize power there." Paul admitted. "I can't imagine where you got that idea."

Rachel was somewhat startled by that. "Why else would you have wanted the Prince killed?" she asked, curiousity overcoming her.

"Maybe for the same reasons you did." Paul teased.

"I doubt that." Rachel snapped back. "You wouldn't dirty your hands as a mercenary."

"Good point." Paul nodded. "There's no harm in your knowing that I had a large score to settle with Antoin Renard. He took advantage of something that was mine many years ago."

"Oh, did he pinch the Alsace-Lorraine out of your greedy hands?"

"Don't try to be sarcastic, Lauren, it never became you."

"My name is Rachel!" She almost shouted.

"Actually, your name is Yvette Collier, but not too many people know that, do they?" Rachel's expression froze and then became expressionless, a deliberate poker face. "You were Lauren during the war, and you adopted your current, rather evocative, name after your Embrace. But I prefer Lauren. It has the most interesting assocations."

"If you're trying to scare me..." Rachel muttered. "You're succeeding."

Rather than replying, Paul suddenly grabbed Rachel bodily and slammed her into the nearest wall. Rachel struggled momentarily against him and then stopped, defeated. As she had feared, Paul Viersan was stronger than he looked.

She looked at him, noticing that he still seemed quite calm. "Well, that's nothing new is it?" he asked rhetorically. "It's obvious why you wrote that letter in Lyons, and I'm only angry because I had to leave some important things behind. Unlike you, I can let go of old grudges. What I want to know, why I have tracked you down after twenty years, is why you wanted to kill Renard. It hasn't kept me awake at night, but I have devised a theory. It's a rather curious one and I'd like to confirm it."

Rachel struggled again and gasped in pain and Paul slammed her against the bricks again. Rachel choked back a feral sound and refused to look at Paul.

"You were telling the truth when you said that you were trained by an Assamite, you just failed to mention that you were Embraced by one." Rachel tried to re-establish her blank expression, worried that she was probably failing. "What a shame that his blood wasn't strong enough to ensure your place within that clan." Paul continued. "But a Caitiff can be useful, especially if the Assamites don't want it known that they're moving around. So you're a spy for them and sometimes they even let you bloody your hands for them. Especially if they get their tithe. Did they promise to accept you? Or do you continue to work for them because no-one else wants you?" Paul bated. Rachel knew better than to answer. "No matter." He shrugged.

Rachel shook with anger and fear. "What are you going to do with this little theory of yours?" she finally asked, her voice thick.

"I don't know." Paul replied artlessly. "I could tell the Prince here, as payback. Or if I believed in grudges, I could follow you for the rest of your life and make things difficult. Or maybe I'll keep it to myself. After all, who's going to believe that the Assamites are willing to accept a Caitiff?."

Rachel attempted a shrug and winced as Viersan tightened his already significant grasp. "I do wish you would stop fidgeting." He chided. "Now that I've got that off my mind, I'm going to tell you a few things, are you are going to listen, like you have so well."

"Don't you fucking dare-" Rachel's breath was knocked out of her by another body slam against the wall.

"Language." He scolded. "I'll dare whatever I please." He told her. "Now, look at me." He ordered. Cursing inwardly, Rachel found herself compelled to meet his gaze. "I don't give a damn what you are, as long as you never intefere in my business again. From this point forward, you will not attack me, you will not accept a contract against my life, nor will you ever encourage anyone else to harm me." Rachel fought against his conditioning and this time she knew she was failing. Paul smiled again. "Good. That should make our acquaintance a lot more bearable. I've no lasting ill feelings towards you, Lauren, but you are quite stubborn."

His manner changed with that smile. His expression was open, friendly even. Rachel tried to stop shaking and only partially succeeded as he closed what little gap there was between them. His proximity revolted and frightened her.

"There's only one more thing I need and I'll consider all debts paid." He said quietly in her ear.

"What have I ever owed you?" Rachel demanded unsteadily.

"Why, you told me that I taught you more than I realized." He replied lightly. "So you owe me for that...and for what you took last time we met."

Rachel thought quickly, suddenly remembered her cocky parting gesture. "That was freely given." She retorted. She felt his head shaking denial.

"Nothing for nothing, you've said that yourself." She felt his cool breath upon her skin. "And that's never as true as with blood."

Rachel didn't have time to brace herself as Viersan bit into her throat and drank from her. Immobolized in the dark alley, Rachel mentally cursed The Kiss and the one holding her. Try as she might to remind herself of her hatred of Paul Viersan, her anger was quickly smothered by the moment of supernatural pleasure. The customary lick to heal the wound on her throat seemed particularly insulting.

Paul still held her, and she could sense his satisfaction. For one very brief moment, Rachel felt The Beast within her rage, only to be quelled by both her own self control and Paul's imposition. She resolved to exorcise it later. She couldn't do anything now, and it was foolish to fantasize otherwise.

"I'm going to have to go now. My car must be festooned with tickets." He bit her earlobe in a parody of intimacy. Rachel shuddered in disgust and pain - it had not been a gentle bite. "I'll see you soon, Lauren." He laughed quietly as he left.

Rachel collapsed against the wall. She heard Viersan get into his car and drive away. Then she let all of the repressed fear out, bloody tears dripping as she beat her gloved hands against the wall. "Damn it, damn it, damn it..."

 

******************************************************************************

 

It was the annual Hitchcock revival at the Toronto Odeon. Rachel had always enjoyed his films and made a point of watching them whenever she could. Rachel didn't move as the man sat down next to her, although his presence alarmed her greatly. She ostensibly paid attention to the flickering movie screen before her. James Stewart and Kim Novak were sharing a close moment.

"You shouldn't keep souvenirs from a murder..." Stewart reminded her.

"I thought that we might be able to have a civil conversation, now." The gentleman at her side told her calmly. His voice was as level as a man commenting on the weather. Rachel resisted the urge to reach for one of her many knives. After all, he had told her not to, years ago.

"Si vous voudriez parler, vous pouvez arretez." She replied levelly. "J'aime cette film."

Her companion shrugged. "If you insist." he murmured, in French.

"You can afford civility, now." she retorted.

The film continued to its conclusion before them. Rachel watched raptly, even though she had seen Vertigo many times before. It was one of her favorites. Paul Viersan spent his time watching his companion.

Her expression, her whole body, was taut. Rachel's dark brown hair was pulled back into the usual braid and even now, she affected her signature military garb. He wondered why she worked so hard at hiding her ancestry, but then insisted upon such obvious clothing. Then again, he reflected, life is full of such tension. I should know, a small voice reminded him.

Rachel might affect unconcern at his presence, but her posture gave her away. Such straight lines, he thought. Some habits never die. His gaze moved across her gloved her hands. Neither does vanity, he smiled in the darkness.

Rachel saw that smile and repressed a shudder. Why does he delight in following me? Doesn't he have better things to do than pester me? Rachel didn't dare admit that he might have such better things to do, but preferred to harass her. She didn't want to figure significantly in his world-view.

Too soon, the final credits rolled across the screen. Rachel took a deep breath and decided that there was no avoiding the problem at this point.

"So what do you want this time?" she sighed.

Paul stared at her in the dimly lit theatre. "Why must I always want something?" he asked ignenously. "You've sat through this movie three times this evening." he commented.

Rachel shrugged. "I like it. I've had nothing better to do."

"What a shame." Paul commented. He touched her gloved hand lightly. "What a waste of talent." he added.

Rachel pulled her hand away sharply. "Since when have you cared about my talents?" she spat.

"Ever since Paris." he laughed quietly. Rachel swallowed her anger. It surprised her how that incident still hurt. She flexed her hands reflexively.

"That was fifty years ago." she replied, proud of her outward calm, unaware of the disquiet that showed. "Why should that still impress you? Has your life been that dull?" She asked. "No, I know it hasn't." she decided.

"You're right, it hasn't." Paul agreed. "But certain incidents, certain people have a way of remaining in my mind."

"Especially those you can tease with impunity." The sulky undertone could not be withheld.

"Not neccesarily." he contradicted her. "Please understand, my ordering you not to harm me is an indication of my respect for your talent. If I didn't fear you, I wouldn't have needed to put a leash on you."

"Fine, I'm leashed." Rachel's irritation was not a surprise to either of them. "So why do you need to pull on it every decade?" she demanded.

"I have to reassure myself, Lauren. I need to be sure."

"It's Rachel." She was almost choking on her own anger. "You're sure, you're always sure. I'm not buying that anymore." her voice rose, distracting the patrons who were entering the theatre for the late show.

Paul laughed out loud. "Must you be so querolous? I know you can do better than that." Rachel wanted to carve his tongue out of his head.

"It's all I have left, remember?" She growled. A moment of uneasy silence passed.

"I think we need to leave before we get arrested." Paul told her calmly. Hitchcock fans had been giving them untoward glances for the past few minutes. "We certainly don't need the Prince reminding us of the Masquerade, do we?"

"Fuck the Prince." Rachel muttered in her native language.

"There's no need to be crass." Paul chided her. Rachel gave him a startled glance. "Oh yes, I've known Arabic for a long time. I was quite amused when you speculated upon my ancestry during our first meeting."

Rachel was suddenly cowed. "Well, you understand that I wasn't really myself." she mumbled, embarrassed.

"On the contrary, you were most definately yourself. But, I admired you , even then."

Rachel felt a chill at that. "Your admiration I can do without."

"Don't be so sure about that." Paul said sharply.

"What, are you going to help me? After the decades of fucking me over?" she snapped.

"How have I done that?" He insisted. "Have I denounced you to the Prince? Have I told the world of your ancestry, of your goals? Have I told the Tremere of why you try so hard to win their affections? What have I done, in fifty years to hinder your goals? Nothing! Nothing!." he insisted. "And all I get from you is bitterness and resentment for my attention. When are you going to let go of the past?" Paul demanded, apparently unheeding of the attention he drew. "When are you going to let go of something that happened to fifty years ago and adopt to the new paradigm. People change. Even we change. Why can't you? You're more fossilized than those you pretend to hate." he insisted.

Rachel was taken aback.She had never seen him angry before. She tried to drown shock with her own anger.

"Why don't I change?" she retorted. "Why don't I let go of the hate? You ruined my life. I was idealistic, yes, but I still had something to belive in. You destroyed that belief-"

"You idiot!" Paul was torn between derision and anger. "I saved you. You still have your hands because of me." He grabbed her right hand firmly and stood, pulling her up with him. "When I saw what Verhoffen had done, I had to stop him. You weren't worth his time, and hands, well...they're worth too much." He told her with a sudden gracelessness that Rachel saw through. "We should go." Paul announced, looking about them.

Rachel contemplated resisting, but decided against it. His grip upon her arm was strong, and she doubted that she had of the strength needed to defy him. They quickly exited the theatre into a garbage strewn alley that stank of stale popcorn and animal fat. Paul didn't release her, even when they were alone.

"I don't want to ruin you." He told her intently as soon as the battered theatre-door had closed behind them. "I sensed you had potential when we first met. If you hadn't escaped, I would have taken you myself. Idealism is a disease that is easily cured."

"Or twisted." Rachel retorted. "Look at your associates." Viersan opened his mouth to reply. "Don't tell me that you didn't care about what they stood for." Rachel stopped him from speaking. "You might not have been a National Socialist but you certainly cared about other things. You might have saved my hands, but you didn't care about the rest of me..."

Paul didn't reply at that. She nodded at his silent confirmation. "I thought so." She agreed. "And that's why you're still following me. You might admire my talents. Maybe you want me to kill for you. Maybe you want to watch." Derision dripped from her voice as she watched him carefully. "I suspect you do. As you might have watched that whole time on the sixth floor. Do you really enjoy that, Paul? Do you enjoy watching women scream?" Rachel winced at his grip on her wrist tightened. "I think you do." she gasped. "That's why you're so attached to me. You want to make me do it again, but you daren't, lest you lose your total control, is that right? The safety and gratification of total control is an acceptable substitute to blood on the floor, is it?"

Paul glared at her, his blue eyes hard and cold. "How dare you try to understand me? I've been though things you can't imagine."

"Try me." Rachel snapped. "I think they're not as foreign as you hoped." His tenacious grip upon her tightened further and she gasped again, bloody tears beginning to drip. "And this is only proving it. Make me cry if it makes you happy. If it makes you leave me alone for another ten years."

"These games don't amuse me." His voice was calm, as if he was not affected, but something in his expression, a tightness in his voice gave him away.

Rachel clutched to an easier way out. "So what games do amuse you?" she asked carefully. "What occasional moments will keep you happy? Happy enough to leave me free to pursue my business?" She felt his body shudder next to her for one moment, something that frightened and exulted her. Part of her marveled at her own stupidity, walking into a dangerous game like this.

"Nothing you can do." he whispered. Now his voice was thick with tension. "I can't indulge myself anymore."

"Why not?" Rachel pushed. "Have you become so weak?"

That comment caused Viersan to slam her against a concrete wall, a painful echo of their last meeting. Pain whistled from her. "I withdraw the implication." she gasped.

Paul moved away from, creating a space that surprised her. She looked at his pale face, his features a caricature of Aryan beauty, as always. "Have your hands healed?" he asked her, suddenly calm.

She shook her head in confusion. "Of course not. That was several years before-"

He shook his head, sighing. "I should have taken care of that when I could. You might not have hated me as much."

"I wouldn't bet on that." Rachel replied.

"I wish I had the chance." he told her. "I really do."

Rachel suppressed a gasp of surprise, for she sensed the truth of what he said. "Why?"

"You hate me for something my subordinates did. I prevented them from harming you further, but you hate me."

"Because you're still here." Rachel admitted in a moment of rare honesty.

"And if I wasn't here, Rachel, who would you hate?"

She shook her head, braid snapping back and forth. "I don't know."

"Yourself, maybe?"

"Don't be stupid." Rachel snapped.

Paul shrugged. "How can I know? How can I fathom your mind?"

"It's not my mind you're interested in." Rachel muttered.

"You do yourself a disservice, Lauren."

"Stop calling me that!" Rachel demanded.

"Why? Whenever you belittle yourself, you remind me of her." Paul smiled. That smile cut through her far more than any incisive glare. That smile seemed to understand all of her past, her doubts and her hopes. She flushed suddenly and didn't understand why.

"You speak like we were two different people."

"You are. One was alive and one isn't. And that makes all the difference."

"Doesn't it..." Rachel agreed, surprising herself.

"You are much stronger." Paul told her. "And that makes you the better challenge."

"For what?" Rachel asked, fearing the answer.

"You know that already." Paul squeezed her wrist suddenly. Rachel winced, but resisted outward expression. She decided to continue pushing - towards what she could not guess.

"So that's what you want, is it? Power over those who are weaker than you? Those who you can make cry? Why don't you try bigger victims? Someone your own size?" she demanded, the retreat into cliché made her feel foolish and embarassment drained the energy from her anger.

Paul moved close to her. "Because your strength makes up for your lack of size." he told her. "What exists between us makes for a challenge. You cannot hurt me and, despite what I want, I cannot jeopordize the hold I have over you."

"So you did listen." It was not a question. "And you want more." again, it was not a question. A sharp slap across her face was her reply. She fell roughly to the filthy concrete, stifling an exclaimation of pain. He hauled her up roughly and closed the space between them.

"I'm only human." he whispered, staring at her. "Certain desires do not die with the flesh."

Rachel, shocked by what her own audacity had gained, again retreated into cliche. "And you expect better of me?"

The silence between them streched out, marked only by the distant passage of cars. Rachel felt dizzy, confused. She wondered if Viersan was trying to bend her to his will and wondered what answer she feared more, that he was, or that he wasn't.

"So, after all, we are still only human." She admitted.

"See? I still have much to teach you. And much to take." he told her.

Rachel suppressed a whimper of fear. She didn't want to learn anything more from this man. "Haven't you taken enough?"

"No. You owe me so much. You owe me your hands." He kissed her palm, a lingering gesture that might have caused a response in her breathing days. "Where would you be without them?" He asked.

Rachel breathed deeply, trying not to betray her disquiet and failing. "You'll lose your hold." she threatened.

"I doubt that." Paul challenged. "You need someone to fear." he told her. "You need a bogeyman in your closet, and I'm it. I can take a certain pleasure from you, and you'll still fear my memory."

"I doubt that." Rachel retorted, almost certain, but fascinated, also. Almost for the first time, she noticed the clarity of his blue eyes.

"There's no way of telling until we try."

Rachel wrenched her wrist free and moved away from Viersan. "But we never will." She assured him. "You better learn to thrive on tension. That's all you're going to get from me." Rachel moved towards the main road.

Paul made no move to detain her. "I wouldn't be so certain. I really wouldn't." Rachel didn't reply and kept moving. "I've taken a house nearby, 560 Mill Street. I think you should join me for dinner tommorow night."

Rachel stopped, stared at Viersan and suddenly turned her back upon him. "Absolutely not." she said tightly, walking away.

"No such things as absolutes, Rachel. I'll expect you about ten o'clock." Viersan smiled at her retreating form.

 

 

At half past ten the next evening, Paul heard his front door swing open and slam shut. A familiar step hurried up the hallway and Paul composed his features into an expression of polite non-surprise as Rachel strode into his front room. He could easily see her tension; curiousity and common sense had, and still were, disagreeing within her mind. She looked around at the room, decorated in an austere Victorian style and lit by discreetly hidden fixtures. "Very nice, very evocative." Rachel's sneering remark was meant to reassure herself rather than cow him.

Paul lowered his paper, The London Times, and relaxed in his favorite wingback chair.

"Rachel-" he began.

"Shut up, Viersan. I've figured it out." Rachel interrupted. "I've figured you out. You need people to hate you." She began to pace back and forth as she spoke, gesturing for emphasis with an energy that Paul hadn't seen before. "Earning their hatred, making them divert otherwise useful energy, is a form of power for you. You certainly can't earn their love, and this is almost as good, right? You can indulge your twisted hobbies and we're just left with our late night thoughts of revenge to console us. Maybe, in what's left of your so-called soul, you think you don't deserve anything better, and being hated is some kind of penance. That's why you take the time to chase me down over fifty years, because I still hate you.

"Well, forget it. I'm not going to hate you. Like you said, it was fifty years ago, and, reluctant as I am to admit it, you probably saved my life. I have no reason to hate you anymore. Dislike, certainly. I'm not going to make a point of spending time with you, but I'm not going to be your little hatred fix. I don't need a boogeyman, but you want to be it. Too bad I won't let you."

She didn't know what to expect as a reaction, but his slightly amused expression annoyed her. "And what about your need to hate, Rachel? You could have let go of this years ago. Late night thoughts of revenge have kept you going for how long?"

"That's different." Rachel snapped, not liking this conversational turn. She wanted to say her piece and get out, but Paul would insist upon his damned "civil conversation.".

"How so?" he asked. "I have an idea." He didn't give her a chance to answer. "You've wasted far more time hating me than I have, ah, pursuing you. If my intention was to weaken you with your own negative emotions, I'd say I succeeded. You need something to fear, it gives you a sense of belonging in the world. You might be a good killer, but if there's someone in the night who can scare you, it gives you a sense of proportion when you're lacking it from elsewhere."

Rachel shook her head. "That's not right." she insisted.

"Your hypothesis is correct, my belief is bullshit?"

Rachel crossed her arms and silently glared at Viersan. He shook his head and smiled again.

"No, no. We're getting off on the wrong foot." He paused theatrically for a moment and resumed. "You're right, there's a lot of power in hate, but I've got better people than you hating me." he told her bluntly. "Have you eaten?" the sudden change of topic confused Rachel for a moment.

"Ah, no." she admitted. "I wasn't intending to stay."

"I have something next door, if you like." Paul offered. "There is student in the next room who believes she is curating the library of a rich eccentric."

"No thanks." Rachel scowled. "I'm not suicidal yet."

Paul shrugged. "Then at least sit down. If you're not going to hate me, you can relax."

"I rather doubt that."

Paul sighed. He was going to have to insist. "Please sit down, Rachel. I would like it very much if you stayed and talked a while longer." He tried to persuade her with his Presence, rather than alienating her with an order.

Rachel struggled against this, but finally sat. She shivered momentarily, feeling a sudden chill, akin to placing one's head beneath a sharp blade. She wondered at the sense of this meeting.

Paul realized that the final decision to stay had been hers, and it probably had very little to do with anything he said, or how he said it. She was indeed, very curious. He wondered what other factors might be contributing.

"I think you're being very one sided in your point of view." Paul commented casually. "You seem to think that you're not the target of rage yourself. That's blind of you. Your victims have families, friends. People who hate you might not know your name, but there's still a remarkable amount of negative energy focused upon you. Does that give you control over those people?"

Rachel shook her head. "Resentment is a by-product of what I do, not my ultimate goal. I don't want any control over those victims. You've sought control over others by whatever means neccessary; hate, deceit, treachery, whatever."

"You rattle those off like you know me so well." Paul's patronizing expression was fading. "But you don't know me, and you certainly don't have the right to condemn how I choose to empower myself. We're both guilty of treachery." He reminded her. "Just ask Renard or Lavec."

To his surprise, Rachel shrugged at this pointed observation. "Kafir. You're asking me to feel guilty about betraying people and causes I never believed in. The Inquisitors didn't seem to mind burning witches. I've never regretted the death of Camarilla lackeys."

"You did your best to control them before they died."

"To a small degree, but I didn't make them hate me. I didn't leave them alive to continue hating me. I don't visit them every decade to remind them of it. I may not regret killing them, but I didn't enjoy it either. Don't believe everything you hear about the haqqim."

"But you're not one of them, no matter how hard you try." Paul wondered if this was a sore spot.

"I don't want to talk about that." Rachel replied quickly.

Paul nodded carefully. "Alright." he conceded. Just a little tender, are we? "But it remains that you've used the same weapons you've accused me of wielding. But you feel justified by your..." he thought of the word. "...greater purpose."

"As I'm sure you do. Don't tell me you've never indulged in justification."

Paul gave a half shrug. "No more than you. No holy cause or what have you, but I've had my reasons."

Rachel's common sense was telling her to leave, but her stubborn curiousity nagged at her. "And those would be?"

"Distressingly common, I'm afraid. You're right, I am one of those individuals who needs to control others, not because of a lack of control in my own life, or for some obscure revenge, but because I like it. Power can be wielded, but it should always be enjoyed. It's only that my methods have been unconventional."

Rachel nodded and gasped suddenly, holding onto her chair.

"Is something wrong?" Viersan's solicitousness might have been genuine, but Rachel doubted it.

Rachel blinked, shook her head slightly. "Dizzy spell." she muttered. She kept blinking, like one whose vision was blurred.

"Something you ate, perhaps." Rachel definately didn't like Paul's tone. He knew something and wasn't telling. The dizziness receded, but Rachel still felt out of sorts. The sensation reminded her of the time she had been given morphine, during her breathing days.

"I haven't hunted tonight." she said carefully. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was drunk. But I don't drink. I don't even like kine who are drunk." She admitted. That was stupid, she realized. She glared at the entirely too relaxed Viersan. "What did you do?" She demanded.

Paul's show of confusion might have convinced another, but not her. "Nothing? How could I? I haven't even touched you."

Rachel took a deep breath, relieved as she felt the disorientation retreat, if not fade entirely. "We both know that isn't neccessary. Why?"

"I wanted to talk to you, Rachel." Paul sighed. "And I wanted to make sure that you wouldn't revert to you sharp edged ways. You've been dosed with sedative." He admitted. "A mild one"

"Mild?" Rachel cursed the fact that she couldn't attack him. "Fire your doctor." she told him.

"Not at all. You're still here, and you haven't reached for knives once."

"Only because I think I'll miss, now."

"That's good enough for me." Paul admitted. He pointed at the arm of the chair that she sat upon. "I might not be Tremere, but I know enough of their tricks." He told her.

Rachel looked away from him into the cold fireplace and tried for words that were scathing enough. None came to her. "Just another way to get on top, is that it?"

"Not exactly." Paul contradicted her. He leaned towards her, and Rachel retreated into her chair. She stared at him silently, trying to remain alert in her daze. "You think I need to inspire hate to control others, and your partially right. But there are other things. You embody several of them. Don't tell me that I can't be feared by you, because there are so many ways to inspire fear."

Paul took her hand suddenly. Rachel tried to pull it free, but failed as he reminded her of his hidden strength. He carefully stroked the back of her hand with a light touch, returning her silent stare. "Hate is only one way. Pain is only one way."

Rachel felt herself falling into further confusion. Despite his claims of a sedative, her unease was close to the surface. A distracted part of her wondered why she hadn't fled by now. She had no reason to feel safe, and only perverse curiousity convinced her to stay. Viersan was right, this was the first time they had ever exchanged more than a few sentences, albeit on an unconventional topic. Part of her did want to know more about this "bogeyman" and what made him. She supposed that she was hoping such knowledge would humanize him. Hidden just beneath that hope was the worry that such knowledge might just demonize him further.

Rachel nodded carefully. "But they're effective. It takes too long to inspire...lasting admiration." her mind fumbled for the end of the sentence. She tried to stand, but fell back into her chair. "Fire your doctor." she repeated. Rachel felt quite stoned by now. She saw Paul's satisfaction and sighed. "You bastard. Just got to be on top." she shook her head. "You might not fear me, but you fear my knives. That's something, I suppose." she mused. "You fear me enough to do this. But you've got to keep picking at things...keep reminding yourself of your conquests...but you don't want to risk an inch of your hide."

"I'm not suicidal either." Paul said simply.

"Good enough." Rachel looked at him - taking a moment to examine his features in a moment free of pain or outright terror. "Kafir." she sighed. "You're all alike. You might be beautiful if you weren't so ugly. You, Viersan, are far too smug." She pronounced.

"I think I have reason to be." he told her, returning her scrutiny.

"Why, because you managed to drug a neonate? Oh, that's a hell of an achievement." Rachel's voice was thick with scorn and chemical lassitude.

Paul shrugged again. "One takes these little victories where one can. I wouldn't worry too much. It should wear off fairly soon."

"I'm riddled with consolation.Why do this to me in the first place? Because you can?" She demanded.

"Rachel, I had no idea you could be so...sharp." Paul smiled.

"I'm just warming up."

"Good. So am I." Paul maintained his hold upon one of her hands, but reached out with his other hand to brush her face. Startled, Rachel pulled back, only to be restrained again by his grip upon her arm. She tried to find words to say and failed again. Instead, she shuddered for a long moment.

Viersan frowned slightly. "You always assume the worst."

Now she could reply. "I think I've got a good reason."

"Ah, but that's the past, isn't it? The past that you've said you let go, that you refuse to hate me for."

"Don't give me new reasons." Rachel warned.

Paul's eyes flashed, showing an emotion that Rachel couldn't identify and certainly didn't like. "I can't, can I? Not if I don't want to lose my safety net." he reminded her. His demeanour was quite failing to match his words. "You told me to thrive on tension, and I think you can at least guess how much energy can be derived from such tension. But sometimes tension builds, and must be released."

Rachel's fear returned, like a specter, the edge barely dulled by the drug in her blood. "Find someone else." she whispered.

"Why? I've told you before, you fulfill so many of my needs. You create such interesting tension."

"I don't want to hate you anymore." Rachel admitted. "It's been too long."

"You don't have to hate me." He stroked her cheek again and Rachel was surprised by the warmth of his fingers. She leaned against him for a moment and then shook her head again, trying to clear it. Paul caught her chin in his hand, caught her gaze once more. "You don't have to hate me." he repeated. He leaned towards her, their faces were only inches apart. "There are so many other things than hate. We both know that. We've shared before."

Rachel was mystified, wondering what he was driving at - Montreal, she remembered. "We're even." she insisted. "You took back what you gave."

"And who says I can't give it again?" Paul's tone was light, but his eyes were strangely hard.

Rachel tried to increase the distance between them and only marginally succeeded. "I don't want it." she said bluntly.

"Don't you? I've always believed that we complement each other. Ever since Lyons, we've had common tensions."

"What? I don't understand."

"You give, I take." he shrugged. "Or vice versa."

Rachel didn't try to conceal her contempt. "And who's turn is it this time?"

"I don't really keep that close a count." Paul replied. "As far as I'm concerned, it's always my turn."

"And now it's your turn for what? What can you offer me instead of hate?"

Paul stared at her, an open, upsetting, expression. "Several things. It depends what you're willing to take." Almost idly, he traced a finger along her forearm. Rachel gasped at the light touch, unable to pull her arm free. The caress was an intimate thing that frightened her.

She shook her head violently,the resulting dizziness almost felling her. "No." she insisted.

Paul continued his idle touch. "I'm surprised. After sharing blood, why be prudish?" he speculated.

"It's called choice." Rachel replied. "And this isn't it."

"How boorish of me." Paul's mocking tone increased Rachel's alarm even further. "But I'm giving you a choice, Rachel. Like I said last night, some things don't die with the flesh."

"Your desires don't bear thinking about." Rachel muttered.

"Like culling Kindred is so much more normal?" Paul laughed at that. "Don't be a hypocrite."

"Right now, I don't give a damn what you think of me." Rachel retorted. "You're giving me a choice? Then let me go. End this bloody game of yours."

Paul regarded her levelly. "What made you think that was one of your options?" he asked quizzically. "I said I was giving you a choice, I didn't say between what." Paul suddenly dug a fingernail into the soft flesh of her arm. Rachel flinched in surprise and alarm.

"I see." she said slowly. "Go down, or go down fighting." she fought off another headrush. "Well, sort of fighting. Some choice."

Paul said nothing. Rachel glanced down. "Why grey?" she asked suddenly.

"Pardon?" Paul was distracted.

"You've always ever worn grey or black suits. Why?"

Paul wondered if this was some attempt at distraction. "It brings out my eyes." he said deadpan. "But not in the manner you are no doubt envisioning."

"You've become a mind reader." Rachel muttered.

"No. You've just become predictable."

Rachel sighed heavily, weighed her options and hated all the answers. "I'll have to do something about that one of these days." She leaned forward. "What if I refuse?"

"You won't, not now." Paul told her. "You're too afraid not to."

"And that's the key, isn't it? Fear of what is, what might be."

"I thought you would understand." Paul's confirmation chilled her.

"Yes, I do. You're not the only person to use fear, or hate, or...other things. There's nothing new anymore." Rachel sighed. "You've outmaneuvered me once again, Paul Viersan, but I think you should be penalized for the drugs."

Paul smiled tightly. "All's fair..." he reminded her.

"Some war." she muttered.

"Conflict is where you make it. Besides, you would have stayed, regardless." he told her.

"Oh, would I? You're assuming I didn't carve out your liver, first."

"But we both know you can't, and such threats will always be hollow, won't they? That's not fair either, but it never is. Those with advantages will always use them. But you would have stayed. You haven't learned yet not to be fascinated by that which terrifies you."

"I'd hardly call it that. I'm more motivated by the fact that if I did leave, you'd only think of something worse."

Paul nodded. "Of course. Maybe I'm becoming predictable, too." He was massaging her gloved hand, now. She could feel his flesh, surprisingly warm, through the thin leather.

Rachel tolerated this for a few moments and then made a decision she suspected she was going to regret. Viersan's attention was elsewhere as Rachel leaned close to him, as if to whisper something in his ear. He had turned his head to her when she grabbed the leg of his armchair and, summoning all the effort she could, pulled it backwards, tumbling Viersan onto the hardwood floor.

As he was scrambling back to his feet, Rachel sped for the room's only doorway, pulling a knife from her sleeve as she did so. She heard an angry exclaimation and fell as Viersan, moving faster than she feared, tackled her and brought her down. Rachel rolled onto her back and brought her knife around. The fabric of Viersan's suit ripped open, but the damage to his flesh was minimal. Rachel dodged a bone shattering blow aimed at her face and derived a moment's satisfaction from hearing Paul's knuckles crack on the floor. Another wave of dizziness overcame her and Rachel cursed as she felt her knife slip from numbed fingers. Struggling to free herself, Rachel fumbled another blade from its hiding place and Viersan just missed being blinded.

Seeing her opponent clearly now, Rachel saw not anger, but a bland amusement. Bastard expected this, too! The realization angered her further. Viersan grabbed her by the throat and shoved her into the nearby wall, stunning her. He picked up the weapon she had dropped a moment ago, smiled and threw the knife at her. She dodged clumsily and while the blade was not buried in her chest as he intended, it gashed her exposed right forearm badly.

Rachel tried to swallow her growing rage, aggravated by the smell of blood in the air and tried to assess her options. Viersan had thrown her towards a corner, away from any furniture or other potential weapons. She switched her knife to her uninjured left hand and waited for Viersan to make the next move. To her surprise, he did not attack again, but stood up, indicating that she should do the same. Warily,she did so, keeping a firm grip on her weapon.

"Fighting." He nodded. "I thought so." Rachel swore in Arabic at some length. "Careful, Rachel." He scolded. "Your precious Allah would be offended." This did nothing to stem her abuse. His smile didn't fade. "Alright," he admitted. "I'm a treacherous son of a bitch. Don't be acting surprised by it now. Besides, you should be thankful for those drugs, one of them's a painkiller." He told her. "You're going to need that."

In a blur of motion, Paul withdrew something small and sharp from his jacket pocket. Rachel couldn't identify it until the throwing dart embedded itself in her left bicep. The knife in her hand clattered to the floor, but Rachel ripped the metal object from her flesh, returning it as forcefully as it had been delivered. Even at this close range, pain and chemicals conspired against her and the sliver of metal buried itself in the hardwood floor.

Rachel could feel the blood running freely down her left arm and she carefully healed the worst of her wounds. She tried to ignore the pangs of hunger this caused and bent to retrieve the knife on the floor. A half second too late, she cursed her stupidity, just as Viersan kicked her in the face. She rolled with the fall as best she could, exaggerating her awkward position and luring Viersan into following her down. This time her knife found flesh, cutting a deep gash across his throat and shoulder. She noticed that the wound began to heal almost immediately, but enough of the injury remained. She hoped it hurt.

Unfortunately, the space had closed between them, enough for Paul to throw Rachel into the wall behind her. She was fairly certain she felt a rib crack when she impacted the papered sheetrock. Paul didn't give her a moment to gather her wits and she immediately found herself being uncomfortably held against the cold masonry, her knife pulled out of her hand and thrown across the room.

"How many of those damn things do you have?" Viersan rasped.

"Four." Rachel replied honestly. "Two to go."

"If I had to guess..." Paul reached into the small of her back. She tried to knee him in the groin, but he managed to avoid that, somehow - or he was tougher than she thought. His searching hand found the five inch throwing blade she kept at her back. It was pulled free along with its sheath and part of her waistband. That, too, was thrown across the room. "And the other..." He threw her to the floor, placed a knee upon her back and took a firm hold of her left ankle. The small knife in her boot - a last resort holdout as Rachel considered it - joined the others in dark opposite corners.

Viersan didn't let Rachel up, but sat, quite comfortably across the small of her back. "Just let me know if you can't breathe." Rachel was too busy contemplating her new injuries to reply. Viersan's weight was resting upon her definately broken ribs, and her collarbone was grinding against her shoulder - she suspected the bone was splintered. Paul had thrown her down with some force.

After she had finished determining how she hurt and contemplated a few thoughts of painful revenge, Rachel realized that Paul hadn't said a word.

"Not gloating?" she finally asked.

Instead of replying, Paul slid off her back, the pain causing her to cry out. "Just a bit." He admitted. He rolled her onto her back and Rachel contemplated trying to scratch his eyes out just as he resumed his former seat, now upon her stomach. This only made her ribcage hurt more, and Rachel failed to hide her pain. "I wondered what it would take to break that conditioning." He told her. "It's a shame that it's gone, but finding out is half the fun. Besides, I won't be cheating, now." He wiped his hand along her bloody forearm and licked it clean. "The drug's almost gone. It hits hard, but it's fast. Or so I'm told." Rachel could only glare at him. "Good. Once that's out of your system, then we'll be even. As even as we're going to get."

"Get the fuck off me, you demented idiot." Rachel said carefully. "You win. You're bigger than me. I hurt all over. Let me go and I'll see you in ten years."

"Don't be silly Rachel, I'm not done talking with you yet." Paul pronounced. "We've discussed hate and fear as controlling weapons, as means of creating a lasting impression. But you're forgetting that there are others." He leaned forward, resting his elbows upon Rachel's collar and causing more searing pain. Paul smiled at that and shifted his weight slightly, aggravating the affected area. "Pain is very effective, yes. But that's not what I want to talk about. You've told me that you're going to let go of the past and let go of your hate. I appreciate that, for it will make the next part of our association much easier to initiate."

Rachel squirmed beneath him and reluctantly healed her shattered collarbone just to end that discomfort. Her hunger was quite palpable, now. "And what would that be?"

Viersan smiled. "Why, love of course." He shrugged. "Or as close to it as we can get."

Rachel had finally run out of words. She stared at him, shocked into silence by what he was proposing.

"Speechless with the idea, I see." Paul commented. "You've spent forty years hating me, avoiding me and doing your best to run away from me. Now I'm going to make you want me. I'll derive great satisfaction from knowing of your desire, especially when I'm away. If I feel sorry for you, I can pay you a visit every decade or so, just to refresh your appetite."

Rachel found her tongue again. "You are out of your mind, Viersan! I don't care what powers of persuasion you may have..." she struggled in earnest beneath him, but her injuries and Paul's inherent strength defeated her. "I might say I'm letting go of the hate, but I didn't say we were going to be friends. We certainly aren't going to be lovers!"

"Consider it a cleansing process, to remove those bitter dregs of your past feelings." Paul suggested, smug and derisive.

Rachel retreated into crudity. "Fuck that - rather than you." She muttered. "Let me up and I promise I won't set fire to this place tommorow night." The night after, however, is debatable.

Paul looked at her for an uncomfortably long moment. Rachel tried to look away, only to have him turn her face back to him. "I still don't understand why you're being so reticent, Rachel. I never hurt you myself - your resentment about that is misplaced. We've already been quite intimate. I'm considered passing fair and you, well, you know my reasons."

"Exactly! Carnal, or even sanguine desire isn't a part of this-"

"Did I say that? No, I merely mentioned how such desire could be used."

"And would be used." Rachel reminded him.

"Would you rather we continue as things were? Or I could keep hitting you, if you prefer. I'm perfectly happy with either of those situations. But I'd rather you were a little less...reluctant. The choice is still yours."

"We've been through this already. This isn't a choice." Rachel protested.

A moment of anger crossed Paul's face. "But this is what you're getting. You can keep whining, and I'll decide, or you can stop complaining and make a decision."

"So you're letting me decide what particular kind of hold you have over me? Great." Rachel struggled again, to no avail. She sighed and relaxed as best she could. She tried to look at the ceiling rather than Viersan, but he kept pulling her gaze back to him. So no matter what happens between us in the future, he can look at me and say "But, Rachel, you chose this." Damn it all...

Paul moved closer to her, breathed in her ear. "Time to decide. Pain or pleasure. It could be very good." He wheedled. "If you just let me get close enough."

Rachel felt herself believing his words and recognized Entrancement for what it was. She fought it as best she could. "It's still about control, one mechanism is being exchanged for another." Rachel accused. "I don't want to be your power trip."

Paul kissed her neck gently. "Don't be so negative. Relax, why don't you." He was touching her again, stroking her hair. Rachel felt another measure of her resolve evaporate. One day, that persuasive ability is going to fail him. I just hope I'm there to see it. "It's not entirely about control." He admitted. Rachel supposed that admission was a victory of a sort.

"Why do you bother to offer this so-called choice?" Rachel asked, somewhat distracted by Paul's attention and the lingering effects of sedation. "Why not just take what you want?"

Paul lifted his head. "Rachel, I'm surprised you need to ask that." He commented. "Rape is an act of hate, not love or desire. And despite what you might think, I don't hate you." Rachel couldn't deny the truth in his voice.

"You don't love me, either." Rachel retorted.

Paul bit her earlobe, reminding her of their meeting in Montreal. "I never said I loved you." Also true, Rachel realized.

"This would be a much better memory to carry." Paul pressed on. "Better than the others."

Rachel almost smiled. "You won't take anything from me, so you've got to resort to begging." She realized that, in it's twisted way, she had some measure of power, here - even if it was dependent on somebody else's own self-control.

"I'd hardly call it that." Paul murmured, reaching for the buttons on Rachel's blouse.

"I would. Just like a teenager on Saturday night." Paul's reply actually made her smile.

"It's Friday." He said as he finished unbuttoning her shirt and reached for his own.

"What am I doing?" Rachel asked herself quietly.

"You're about to enjoy a very lovely evening." Paul told her simply. "Relax." He repeated. "Enjoy yourself." He encouraged.

Rachel felt the last shreds of resistance crumble. "Domination. Entrancement. That's hardly fair." She sighed. "How's a woman to stand a chance?"

"All's fair..." Paul reminded her.

"No." She disagreed. "No it isn't, but I suppose I should make the best of it." She reached for his face. "Come here."

 

Their kiss was cool at first, but it quickly became passionate. Paul's attention had kindled an ember within Rachel, and she was surprised by it. His persuasion had made her amenable, as did the potential for asserting some control in this context. I may have been Convinced and Persuaded into this, but I'm damned if he's going to take the lead, Rachel told herself, somewhat recklessly.

The lingering taste of her blood in Viersan's mouth sharply reminded her of a far more important need. Rachel abruptly broke the kiss and looked away, frowning.

"Second thoughts?" Paul asked. Rachel wondered if he didn't sound slightly hopeful.

"No." She admitted. "But I'm hungry. I need to hunt. If I give you my word that I'll return, will you let me go?"

Paul smiled. "Of course, the Assamites, and their associates, never break their word." He agreed. "But it's not neccesary for you to leave. I told you I had something prepared." She raised an eyebrow at

that. "It's not doctored." He assured her.

Rachel shrugged. "If you're willing to feed from him, too, then I'll believe you."

Paul smiled strangely at this remark, but didn't reply. "Promise me you'll wait here."

Rachel thought for a long moment and finally nodded. "Alright." She agreed.

"Good, I'll be right back."

Viersan left the darkened room, not locking the door behind him, Rachel noticed, and returned less than three minutes later. With him was a plain, blonde woman in her early twenties, her expression only slightly confused, which also surprised Rachel.

Paul turned to his companion. "Sarah, this is Rachel." He told her. "She's a friend of mine, too."

Sarah nodded a greeting towards Rachel. Rachel, in turn, wondered what Sarah was thinking of what she saw - two half naked strangers in a Victorian living room, obviously about to lead Sarah into, if not a lifetime, an evening of vice. But her hunger reminded her that what her dinner thought really didn't matter. This was followed by an annoying realization.

"Paul." Rachel sighed wearily. "She's a woman. I don't..." Rachel paused at Paul's cautionary gesture. "I don't dally with women." She concluded.

"I see." Paul thought for a second. "We can work around that." He told her. Paul returned his attention to the young woman. "Sarah dear, I know you remember that little incident in the library..." Sarah nodded. Rachel wondered if this was a real incident, or something implanted in her memory to create a more tractable vessel. Again, it didn't matter.

"Good, I'm glad. I know I remember." Paul led Sarah to a chair a few feet away from Rachel and sat down, turning Sarah so that her back was to her. "And I did promise you that sometime, when the time was right..." Paul was pulling Sarah upon his lap, facing him. "...That things would be better." Paul kissed the girl gently. "Now is that time."

Since Sarah did not protest, but eagerly returned Paul's attention, Rachel had to assume that this was the culmination of some elaborate seduction. Just another person being controlled, she sighed

mentally.

Viersan continued to kiss Sarah and methodically undressed her. "Don't mind Rachel." He was telling her. "She likes to watch." Paul glanced at Rachel as he said this. Rachel was torn between being insulted or amused by this backhanded reference. Rachel decided that her hunger outweighed resentment, and watched as Viersan carefully touched his victim, distracting her with physical sensations as he bit into her throat.

Both of his arms were encircling Sarah, holding her steady as he fed, but now he extended one of them towards Rachel. She immediately understood his intent. Quietly, she moved towards the couple. Rachel placed herself on Viersan's lap and took his proffered wrist into her mouth. Needing room, Rachel pushed herself against Sarah's bare back, the strange intimacy of this contact almost completely obscured by her demanding hunger.

The blood tasted all the sweeter for coming from a Kindred, even though the life had been so recently taken from it by Viersan's own body. Rachel was thankful that she was already Bonded to the Haqqim, or else she would be dangerously close to such a Bond with Viersan. Their current union was strange enough, Rachel thought, as she reached out with her own free hand to stroke the back of Paul's bent neck, draining the vitality of some poor kine between them. She felt the life leaving the human and

savored the last few drams from Paul's veins.

She regarded him over the dead woman's shoulder. "I always swore I'd drink your blood, but I never thought it would be like this."

"You're quoting yourself." Paul chided, pushing Sarah's body to the floor. Rachel ignored it.

"I'm a good source."

Paul nodded, smiling. "Yes." He grabbed her shirt collar, pulled her closer and kissed her again. Warmed by fresh blood, voyeurism and her own desires, Rachel's enthusiasm blossomed and she reciprocated Paul's ardor.

After a long moment together, Rachel pulled away again and regarded Viersan somewhat steadily. It was terribly odd to view him like this, after being an antagonist for so long. His usually neat appearance was mussed, his hair ruined and his shirt was open and untucked. This was a far cry from their previous encounters.They were both vulnerable, she knew, and seeing such vulnerability in an old enemy, even while admitting it herself, was daunting - not the victory she half-expected.

This line of thought scattered as Viersan pulled Rachel's shirt clear of her shoulders and bent to kiss her throat and chest.

Paul seemed to be responding to her own, comparatively clumsy, contact, but Rachel was able to see an inexplicable tension in the line of his neck and the restraint of his own touch - sometimes barely more than a suggestion of a caress. She pulled his face level with hers.

"What's wrong?" she asked bluntly.

Paul managed to conceal his surprise. "Nothing." He replied. "Well, maybe I'm nervous." He lied easily.

"Just like a schoolboy." Rachel repeated.

"You do have a fondness for quoting yourself."

"So stop me." Rachel challenged. Paul stood suddenly, almost tumbling his partner, took her face in his hands and kissed her firmly. Rachel pressed against him, enjoying the full body contact that wasn't designed to end in a meal or a death.

He moved a few inches back. "Not in here." He said, glancing at Sarah's body. "My man will take care of that."

Rachel nodded. "Alright, where?" her voice was thick.

Paul smiled slightly. "Upstairs of course. The most interesting things always happen upstairs."

Rachel had to repress a shudder at that. There were too many unresolved emotions present, and she wondered if this encounter was merely a foolish addition to that maelstrom, not a supposed attempt to start anew.

Paul led her through the under-decorated townhouse to an upstairs room. There was little furniture to indicate the room's use, and only a single lamp in the corner. That lamp was dark, and all light in the room came from a harsh blue-white streetlight from across the road outside. Rachel took in the uncluttered wooden desk and its single chair, the large futon matress near the picture window and the absolute lack of anything else.

"You don't haven here." It wasn't a question.

"Of course not, so you can dismiss your plan to burn this place down the day after tommorow. This is my working address." He stood behind her, kissing the back of her neck, stroking her waist and stomach. Rachel closed her eyes.

"But you still need a bed here."

"Of course." Paul said simply. "A tool of the trade." Even though he was behind her, Paul had managed to unbuckle Rachel's belt and was working on her pants. She had to laugh at his determination.

"A trade you enjoy." She added, stepping free of the last of her clothing.

"Only with certain people." He qualified.

"Those you like the taste of?" Rachel replied quickly. As an answer, Paul licked her neck in a long, deliberate gesture. Rachel shivered and they kissed again. She finally noticed, with some annoyance, that Paul was still almost fully clothed. She began to pull his now-rumpled suit jacket off his shoulders, only to find herself suddenly restrained by him. Startled, she glanced at Paul, fearing another change of mood, but he was not angry.

He kissed her hands and stepped away from her, leaving her in the shadow-broken streetlight streaming through the window. Her trepidation grew as Paul didn't say anything, but stared at her in the cool light. What's left for him to see? She wondered, flexing her gloved hands

nervously. Oh...

Rachel glared at Paul, standing in the darkness.

"You have to ask." She said tartly.

"I beg your pardon?" Paul seemed to snap out of some personal reverie.

"You have to ask." Rachel repeated stubbornly.

This time, she saw his nod. "Would you please remove your gloves?" His tone was reasonable.

Rachel complied slowly, not from any sense of the theatrical, but because the thin leather gloves fit quite snugly and had to be removed with care. Now she was fully naked before Viersan and she wondered what would happen next. Self consciously, she crossed and rubbed her scarred hands and forearms. The silence grew, and Rachel's disquiet with it.

"He did that to anger me." Paul said suddenly. "Verhoffen."

Rachel was disoriented by this sudden turn. "He knew you cherished hands?"

"That and...other reasons. Maybe I'll tell you about those sometime." He lapsed into silence again. "What do you cherish?" he asked suddenly.

Rachel replied quickly. "Blood, honor." She shrugged. "The usual things."

"I can't let you have any more of my blood, not tonight." Paul said wryly. "So what would you have from me, now?"

Rachel tried to guess what he was reaching towards and failed. "Since I can no longer have my dreams of vengeance." She said slowly. "I'll suppose that I'll settle for you right here." She pointed at the

floor in front of her.

"Alright." He conceded. "All you have to do is ask." He approached her again. Rachel enjoyed the abrasion of his woolen jacket and cotton shirt against her skin for a long moment before their lips met and she worked to remove his clothes.

Bare flesh felt strange against her scarred fingers, giving the intimate touch an unwanted distance. Rachel pushed her hands against Paul's body, trying to push past the slight numbness. The barrier of the truly dead tissue remained, but her touch had a pleasing effect upon her

partner.

Finally, Rachel pulled Paul down to the futon upon the floor. They moved together, against each other, for several moments, kissing and licking until Rachel managed to straddle Viersan. She enjoyed this moment of apparent superiority greedily. She pinched one of Paul's nipples and grinned at his gasping reaction. Once again, she suffered a moment of surprise at the incongruity of this situation.

Meanwhile, Paul was savouring this newest development. He was already observed DuNoir in one extreme physical situation, and now he was directly enjoying her in another. If only...he stopped that thought as quickly as it began, but it was a moment too late.

Rachel cried out and twisted awkwardly as Paul's hands on her back moved from gentle caress to a fierce raking. She slapped him fiercely without thinking. "Don't do that." She panted, hurt and shocked.

Paul rubbed his face ruefully. An ounce more and she would have broken his jaw. He traced a finger across her raw back. Rachel growled, grabbed the offending hand and placed it firmly upon the bed. "I said, don't do that. We're doing so well, don't backslide now."

Paul didn't reply, but pulled her down to him for another kiss. His hands tried to find purchase in her braided hair and failed. Cursing inwardly, he reached out and snapped the elastic band at the end of the braid, unravelling it. Now he was able to twist a hand into her hair and keep her close as he abruptly rolled over, dumping Rachel onto her side and then her back.

He looked into her alarmed hazel eyes, but said nothing. He kissed her to prevent a protest and her complaint turned into another movement of passion. He pulled her hair tightly, making her whimper

against him as they kissed. This aroused him enough to continue pulling, using just enough force to cause discomfort, but not alarming pain. After all, it wasn't unusual to end the most pleasant of evenings with a few bruises, and they both knew this. In return, he felt Rachel's nails inadvertantly - he could tell the difference - mar his own back. He groaned and pulled back.

"Are you going to apologize for that?" he gasped, his eyes bright. Rachel wriggled for a moment and stopped, bringing her hands away from his back to stroke his face. He turned, trying to catch a trailing finger in his mouth. She laughed quietly and kept just beyond his reach. Her palm brushed his mouth and he worked a hand free of her hair to grasp it. He kissed her palm gently, paying particular attention to the base of her thumb and the crease of her wrist. Then he licked each of her fingers, sucking their tips gently. Rachel, whose familiarity with her own hands was minimal, gasped at the arousal this touching caused. She didn't even wonder if it could have been better had her skin been smooth as she lay back and enjoyed the unusually pleasurable sensation.

Some indeterminate time later, Paul dropped her hand, returning it to his back. Rachel blinked, returning to her surroundings. I think I can understand why he enjoys hands so much... she thought fuzzily. She could feel his mouth against her neck, moving down. She moaned and arched beneath him as he paid similar attention to her breasts, biting gently and licking. Now, his hands moved to the tender flesh between her legs and she lost all restraint at his expert touch, pushing against him greedily as his fingers entered her, touching with careful force.

Rachel reached for Paul, kissing him wildly even as she gasped at other feelings. Paul suppressed a smile at the severity of her reaction. He had to break that most intimate touch for a moment to push her back down to the bed, and her squeak of frustration was also gratifying. He moved atop of her, pressing his body into hers. He held her greedy mouth away from him and gave her a long look.

"Just ask, Rachel." He moved against her significantly. "All you have to do is ask."

Rachel understood the implication and her face hardened, even in the midst of extreme pleasure. "Keeping the illusion of choice, are we?" she asked heavily.

"No." Paul admitted. "I just want to hear you ask."

"Are you enjoying this?" Rachel suddenly demanded. "Am I even seeing you right now? Or is this just another - stop that -" as he tried to distract her by biting her ear. " - just another guise to amuse you?"

Paul stared at her. "You're seeing as much of me as I'm willing to allow." He admitted. "And it's more than most."

Rachel nodded, apparently satisfied. "As much as you can allow. That's why you're so tense."

Paul stared at her. Rachel was more perceptive than he had imagined. Not trusting his voice, he nodded.

"So why not ask?" she suggested.

This woman is full of oddly-timed surprises! Viersan thought. "Most wouldn't..." he began. "You wouldn't."

"You're right, I probably wouldn't. I've had enough pain for any lifetime. But if it's going to get us on more equal footing..." Rachel's voice trailed away.

Paul kissed her, trying to rekindle the energy that had quickly dissapated. Rachel's response was tentative, unsure of their direction together. Within a few minutes, he had reassured her and renewed her

enthusiasm, which was his intention. They had switched positions again, and Rachel was straddling his waist, leaning over to breathe in his ear. Paul gasped beneath her, again raking her back. Rachel swore for a moment and moved against his hands, her own nails sinking into his shoulder convulsely. But she didn't chastise him. This fact excited Paul, and he pulled her closer, his teeth biting the side of her neck fiercely, but not breaking the skin. Rachel's squeal of surprise and discomfort tempted him to bite deeper, but he pulled away.

Rachel placed a forearm over Paul's throat. "I don't recall your asking." She gasped.

"I do recall your offering." Paul countered, scratching her

restraining forearm. Rachel winced. Paul smiled. "Please?" His tone was not pleading, but she sensed what even that small gesture had cost him. He was now gently touching her breasts, as if nothing had happened.

Rachel nodded abruptly, her reservation obvious, but she saw how the game had to be played out. "Only if you fuck me, Paul." She replied. "We're not making love, we're fucking, and it's the best that either of us could hope for." She added quietly.

Paul twisted a hand back in her hair. "What was that?" he asked quietly.

"You heard me." Held in place above him, she brushed his face with a gentle hand, trying to distract him.

"No, I don't think so." He replied firmly. He pulled her hair, making her gasp. "What did you just ask me?" he demanded, suddenly rolling on top of her.

Rachel struggled for a moment, causing more discomfort, to Paul's amusement. She looked at him, her expression a wonderful - to his eyes - mix of desire, pain and resentment. He tugged her hair again. "What do you want, Rachel?" he insisted.

"You." Pain strained her voice. "I want you."

Paul moved against her, teasing her body with his. He exulted in her response. Bodies will always betray minds, he remembered. "For what, dear one?"

"Fuck me." She gasped. "I want you to fuck me, Paul Viersan. Now. Please." She moved against him insistently.

Paul contemplated refusing her, but he had his own needs to fulfill and at this moment, their desires coincided. He kissed Rachel forcefully, as he finally entered her, slowly, extending the moment. Paul felt her body shudder beneath him and she keened against him as they moved together.

Paul felt his hand tightening around her throat and quickly moved it. A broken neck wouldn't have killed her, but it would have been difficult to explain. Instead his hands roamed elsewhere, pinching and scratching. No individual injury was a particular event, but the growing total discomfort was enough for Rachel to notice and to protest audibly - something they both knew he wanted.

She urged him on, her pace quickening, her mouth seeking his at every opportunity. He teased her, avoiding her face and then suddenly kissing her cheek or forehead. As they moved, his nails raked her side, awkward but still painful, and the breaks such pain caused in her rhythm encouraged him further, but not too far. Rachel, even in the midst of such physical distraction, still worried and wondered if she would live to see the next moonrise, but then realized that such a matter was still out of her hands. She stopped fighting her rising orgasm and gave in to it, her muffled scream of mingled pleasure and frustration taking her partner over the edge with her.

They lay quietly together for several moments. Rachel was confused, trying to sort our her feelings about the whole encounter. Paul was pleased with himself, now he had recovered from his surprise at his success. Finally, they moved apart and Paul cast an eye across Rachel's body, several welts and bites visible, even in the dark. He touched her left breast gently, saw her wince. Paul wasn't surprised, and he held out his wrist in a silent offer of healing vitae. Rachel turned away and healed the damage herself. Paul ran a hand down her smooth back, contemplating the future, and wondering if she would ever speak to him again. Of course, speech wasn't important any more...

*************************************************************************

 

The court meeting was being hosted by the Toreador that month and they had insisted that the venue be changed from a dreary Ventrue owned office building to a renovated 1940's dance hall -big band and all.

Rachel had to admit that it was a pleasing change from the usual locations. Most courtiers had taken up with the theme and were wearing formal evening dress as they circulated, exchanging gossip and making deals. Rachel was wearing a long slender dress of pearl gray satin. The purely hedonistic part of her had to admit that it felt glorious, and was a welcome change from her various military outfits, but it was rather limiting when it came to personal protection. She felt almost defenseless with only two knives upon her - both of them in places that were difficult to reach easily. But she doubted that she would need them that evening.

Houston, in the past three months she had resided there, had proved to be a very peaceful town. Too peaceful, possibly, and she was considering moving on in a couple of months. There weren't enough scholars here to fuel her history project and it was becoming apparent that the city's Prince, who had reigned for the past fifteen years, had apparently removed most of his enemies already.

"Michelle!" Rachel turned at the call. She had taken a new name, as was her policy, and she was currently known as Michelle DuLac. Approaching her was Clarke Ellson, a member of the Toreador clan who had decided to "adopt" her. Rachel didn't care for him but he was a useful conduit to meet others in the city. Now he was approaching her, white tie and tails immaculate.

Rachel smiled sweetly and hoped she seemed very pleased to see him. "Oh, I'm glad I found you." Clarke smiled. "There's a new fellow in town and you've got to meet him."

"Oh really?" she replied carefully. "And why's that?" She took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.

Clarke laughed and shrugged. "Becasue he's handsome, Michelle, and friendly and has a weakness for brunettes."

Rachel couldn't help laughing at Clarke's enthusiasm. He was known for his "life after death dating service" and matchmaking inteference. "Oh, go ahead and laugh" he sighed theatrically. "But he was looking in your direction when he told me." Clarke wheedled.

"Alright, alright." Rachel capitulated. "Who is this fellow?"

"Come with me." Clarke started leading her through the crowd, tossing bits of court gossip over his shoulder as he went.

Rachel was so preoccupied with not spilling her drink on others and listening to Clarke's ongoing monologue about some Harpy that she didn't notice Clarke's acquaintance until she bumped into him. Embarrassed, Rachel stepped back and tried to apologize, dabbing at a stain on the man's lapel with a napkin.

"That's one way of making an introduction." Clarke grinned.

"It is, indeed." came the reply from the stranger, as he grasped Rachel's hand.

The voice was familiar. Startled, Rachel finally glanced at the man kissing her hand and swallowed a moment of panic.

"...is Michelle DuLac." Rachel faintly noticed the tail end of Clarke's introduction.

"We've met before, as I suspected." Paul Viersan smiled. "A few years ago."

"Really?" Clarke seemed unware of Rachel's unease. "Why didn't you say so, Paul?"

"I wasn't sure-" he began.

"Because I wouldn't willingly touch him again." Rachel snapped, finally pulling her hand free.

Clark was surprised by that and stepped away from the incipient spat, eyes wary.

"Don't be so sure about that." Paul replied quickly. His voice was light, but his expression was harder.

Rachel's temper snapped. She threw her drink, glass and all, into Viersan's face and tried to storm past him. Viersan managed to catch her arm and smiled at her, apparently at ease. A moment of shocked silence - as any possiblity of excitement at court always drew observers - became a sea of whispers, covering the muttered exchange between the pair.

"You always had a combative view on foreplay." he told her. He shook his head at her raised hand. "Not here, dear. This is an Elysium, remember? People might misunderstand." Rachel lowered her hand and glared at him. He raised his voice. "Dance, Michelle? Of course you do. We'll talk out on the floor." his firm grip on her arm left no debate. "Beside that," he added quietly, in Arabic. "you should know that you're safer from me in here than on the street." Rachel knew the truth of that and reluctantly let herself be led onto the dance floor.

She danced stiffly, too aware of the numerous observers at the tables around them.

"Ignore them." Paul advised her. "They'll get bored and go away soon enough."

"Shame I can't say the same of you." Rachel sighed. She felt tired, very tired of this game, but fear was not very far behind, and kept her alert.

"Ouch." His acknowledgment surprised her. A few more moments of silence passed until Paul finally broke it. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you our meeting here is a coincidence, but I'll tell you that, anyway. I wasn't planning to look for you for, oh, another three years or so." he admitted. "I just came to Houston to look in on some old...friends. I was extremely surprised to find you here. An unexpected bonus."

"Oh really?" Rachel asked, coldly.

Paul didn't reply to that, but pulled her close as the band began a slower tune. Rachel tried to relax against him, to stop the shaking that had suddenly started, and failed.

"Why so nervous?" Paul asked maliciously, moving a hand across her back.

Rachel didn't trust herself to reply. Their last meeting had left her frightened and disgusted, for reasons that she still hadn't begun to analyze, out of fear of her own admissions. His touch was too evocative of that last time together.

Paul kissed her neck. "Not fearful of a repeat of our last encounter, are you?" he teased.

"You seem very confident." she said tightly, trying to ignore both her body and her memory.

"I think I'm justified." he replied easily. "Despite what you might try to convince yourself of, you enjoyed it." he reminded her.

And I feel like shit because of it, Rachel thought angrily.

"The loss of control is such an interesting event, isn't it?" Paul asked casually. "Something that most people fear." his tone indicated that he did not consider himself a part of that majority. "And in such circumstances as our last time together..." his voice was tinged with something like pity.

Rachel refused to reply, wondering how he learned to cut people so close to the bone.

They didn't speak for several minutes. The song had changed, but Paul still kept her close. He spoke quickly and quietly into her ear. "Such interesting tension, I told you that before. Such interesting moments." he told her, running his hand along her spine. "So terrible for you if they were to occur again. You're too stubborn and proud to say yes, but you're still scared of what would happen if you said no." Rachel's silence was enough of a reply. "But bodies don't lie." Another lingering touch. "They can give a person away so easily."

Rachel seemed to be steeling herself for a reply when he kissed her. The moment was short and angry. She broke away suddenly. "Please don't." she gasped.

"Of course." he smiled "Why should I ever give you what you want?" he kissed her again, holding her against him until her desire overcame her anger and he felt her arms around him.

"This isn't fair." she muttered against his neck.

"It never is." Paul reminded her.

"Always your turn."

"Precisely." he kissed her cheek and stepped away from her, confusing her and disrupting other dancers.

"That should keep the edge on your appetite." he told her, his expression malicious and triumphant. "I'll find you in three years or so."

"What?" Rachel felt ashamed and confused. "Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving." he told her, turning away. "But don't worry, we'll always have Paris."

He left her alone in the crowd, alone to deal with the storm that was brewing within the court and within her own mind...

 

*******************************************************************************

 

 

"Why do we keep meeting at movie theatres?"

Rachel counted to five very slowly and turned to face the man who had just sat on her left. "Perhaps it appeals to your voyeuristic tendencies." She told him calmly. She was proud of her outward calm and hoped that he couldn't see how her right hand clenched the arm rest beneath it.

He raised an eyebrow at that. "More likely yours." He replied. "Hitchcock again?" he nodded towards the screen upon which the opening scenes of "Notorious" were playing out.

"Coincidence." She turned back to the film and tried to wish her companion away. The past three days had been indescribably difficult, and she was glad to have left Crete with her life. The last person she expected to see, even in Montpellier-sur-Mer, was Paul Viersan.

"True enough. Now, if we were in Toronto..."

Rachel suppressed a sigh. "What do you want this time?"

Paul began to reply and Rachel quickly cut him off. "Don't answer that." She said hurriedly. "Either I can guess, or I don't want to know."

Paul shrugged, a gesture which surprised her. He still radiated his usual smug confidence, but he seemed more...restrained was the best word Rachel could think of. That's only because he hasn't tried to hurt me or seduce me - yet, she thought bitterly.

"I was wondering why you were here."

"I managed to surprise you, for once? That's one for the books." She tried to hide her own surprise.

"I'm not particularly startled." He said blandly. "But we both know such things are rarely coincidence."

Rachel pierced that deceptive mildness. He really didn't know, and he's worried. That's a change. Let him wonder.

The silence continued until Paul broke it, almost awkwardly. "I just wanted to give you something." He said simply. Rachel swallowed a dozen questions but couldn't help wondering how he had managed to find her, not wanting to believe in chance, herself.

"Aren't you going to ask what it is?"

Rachel shook her head and kept her eyes on the screen. Ingmar Bergman was driving drunkenly along the Miami shoreline, Cary Grant calm but poised for action. "You're going to give it to me, anyway." Rachel said evenly, hoping she was annoying him.

"I must be getting predictable." Paul said lightly. "But you're right. Here." He held out a slender envelope. Rachel did not lift her hand to take it. Paul dropped it onto her lap. "Rachel, it's too thin to be a bomb and I don't think you have to worry about exotic poisons." He stood to leave. "Whether or not you read it is your choice." His emphasis on the last word caused her to look at him strangely.

Paul smiled at her, nodded, and left her.

Rachel sat in a small bar, one far away from the touristy waterfront, and stared at the envelope. Paul's missive lay on the sticky table in front of her. For the past five minutes she had done nothing but stare at it. The envelope was cheap, bleached white paper with a printed 'security' lining. That surprised her. She had always considered Paul a man of expensive, even pretentious, tastes.

She sighed. He was right, it was too thin for a bomb. What could she lose by opening it? She couldn't decide whether to be worried or annoyed by her curiousity. Finally, shaking her head in anger, she picked the envelope up and quickly ripped a short end open.

A business card fell out. Surprised and frowning, Rachel carefully picked it up, as if she did indeed fear a bomb. The business card was also cheap, thin white carboard, plain black lettering. The card, in French, proclaimed the existance of "Eagle Security" and a local address. Rachel turned it over and saw something written upon the back. Holding it next to the guttering candle on her table she read "It's your turn.". She didn't know Viersan's handwriting, but she felt she could assume it was his.

Fearing that she was being observed, Rachel maintained her calm demeanour, placed the card within the envelope and returning the envelope to her pocket.

The meaning was clear. He was asking for her company again - for what purpose, she could only guess - but it seemed that he was trying to make a point of her presence or absence being her decision. She remembered their last conversation and slammed a fist on the table in frustration.

Damn him for trying to take the high road! She thought furiously.

Seeing the odd glances from patrons around her, she took a deep breath and decided that the evening outside might cool her temper.

The evening was temperate and slightly humid. Rachel could smell the Medditeranean in the faint breeze that managed to penetrate this far into town. As usual, the scent left a lot to be desired at the end of a hot summer.

She didn't pay particular attention to where she went as she tried to think reasonably about this latest event.

He likes to play games about choices. He's like a stage-magician "Pick any card, pick my card." So what's his card this time? A repeat of my last visit? Or a repeat of our last meeting? Both of those memories made her feel ill.. I shouldn't let him get to me. I should just ignore him. But I can't. Why not?

That was what bothered her. That, despite what had already passed between them, she couldn't just ignore him. She wanted to shrug him off and walk away, but she knew she wouldn't. She couldn't begin to think about the reasons for that. Hints, too self-debasing to be fully realized, teased the edges of her mind. Unbidden, the memory of their last kiss came to mind.

I'm too old for this! She thought, anger rising. At least, I should be. I don't have time for these games. Rachel ignored the devil's advocate within her skull that suggested she certainly had time for them with the Prince of Alameda. That's different, she told herself and then stopped short. Why, because Cassius loves me and Paul doesn't? She squelched her increasing anxiety. I went to bed with Cassius because he thinks he loves me...I went to bed with Viersan because I had no choice. I had a choice with Cash. Didn't I? Rachel thought for a moment about the difficulties that had dissolved because of her closeness to a Prince...And Viersan kept insisting the choice was mine, even after...she was reluctant to remember. She shook her head. What am I trying to rationalize? That I wanted to be with Viersan? That he attracted me? That he still might? Admitting that, even in the silence of her mind, chilled her.

"Madame? Are you lost?" Rachel realized that she had been standing in the middle of the street for several minutes. A gendarme had managed to approach without her noticing. She smiled at her own foolishness.

"Oh, no, thank you. Just thinking about...things." She said wanly.

The policeman nodded. "Go home. He'll apologize." He said, suprising her. "He wouldn't want you getting run over."

Rachel laughed suddenly and began walking. "You're right. You're absolutely right."

Eagle Security was a drab office/residence on the outskirts of Montpellier-sur-Mer. It was once an impressive house, sometime around the year of her birth, Rachel guessed. But that was a long time ago. Several other bleak buildings were in the neighborhood, all closed up tight - some of them obviously vacant for some time. It was not a location to inspire confidence. Rachel deliberately left her rental car unlocked, hoping that would at least prevent car thieves from smashing the windows to get at the radios. Not that there were any obvious signs of even a street population in this area, she realized.

She stood on the sidewalk for several minutes, trying to ignore the sense of deja vu and the warning it summoned.

What if I don't go in? What if I just leave? Will he follow me? Rachel had to admit it was likely. She had become a favorite hobby of his.

And what happens if I go in? Either choice, she couldn't consider the consequences.

Another unbidden memory came to mind, one of pleasure by his hand. She flexed her fingers, surprised by the force of the remembrance.

And if I go to him, why? A half dozen possibilities whirled in her mind, revenge only one of them.

Damned if I do, damned if I don't?

She walked to the front door, found it unlocked and entered the cold building.

Inside was dim, no light except what little moonlight came from outside. Rachel found herself standing in a narrow hallway, austere but surprisingly clean. She stood inside the doorway, listening carefully. She couldn't hear anything, but she the building must be occupied - otherwise who had cleaned the hall?

Knife in hand, Rachel walked carefully down the hallway. There was a door to her left, standing open. A staircase rose in front of her and she could barely see the outline of another door at the end of the hallway. She looked into both ground floor rooms from the hallway. She was very reluctant to enter them for a variety of reasons.

Both rooms were apparently empty. Cursing her curiousity, she began climbing the stairs.

The second floor yielded a antique bathroom and two vacant bedrooms, all as strangely tidy as the rooms downstairs. Rachel saw something rectangular resting on the windowsill of one the bedroom's far windows.

Rachel sighed. If he wants to surprise me, he's going to surprise me. She realized. I might as well see what little card he's left me now. One saying "Boo!" no doubt...

There was a card within another envelope, both of them of a heavy cotton paper. The card was small, and had no printing, only a short handwritten message. You chose to come here, it said, the script familiar. What did you expect to find? I will surprise you again, tommorow.

"What?" Rachel burst out. "What the hell is he playing at now? Tommorow? Tommorow, I'll be on the first plane out." She resolved, knowing even then that she wouldn't. She looked angrily around the gloom. "You're going to run out of surprises one of these days." She muttered into the darkness.

 

She was wrong, and she wanted to scream with frustration. She had returned to the moderately luxiurious hotel she was treating herself to and fallen into the thankfully dreamless sleep almost immediately.

A scant half an hour after waking the next evening, there was a knock at her door. Rachel, already dressed, picked up her favorite knife with a sigh and opened the door on it's restraining chain.

A swarthy middle aged man in a chauffeur's uniform stood there. Rachel stared at him blankly, surprised. "What do you want?" she asked gracelessly.

Rather than replying, the chauffeur held out a letter, the envelope familiar. Rachel took it through the gap in the door, closed the door and read the letter, swearing under her breath.

I give you my word that I won't harm you. The chauffeur is Enrique, and he's to save you a long drive, if you'll come. The name gave her pause, but she doubted this man was the Sabbat bishop she occasionally bargained with.

Rachel opened the door again. Enrique was waiting patiently. "Where are you supposed to take me?" she asked roughly.

"Monsieur Viersan requested that I not tell you. But I can tell you that it's more than one hour away, and less than two."

"More games." Rachel muttered, closing the door.

Her mind raced. He's trying to put it all in my hands. The house and now this. I can tell this person to leave and he will, I'm sure of it. Is that what this is all about? He wants me to go to him, supposedly of my own free will. Doesn't he understand that I'm still scared of the consequences if I don't play his game? He probably does. She wondered which situation she preferred, being right or wrong.

She opened the door again, fully. "Alright." She told the patient driver. "I'll come. Let me get my bag..."

 

The car pulled away, crunching noisily on the gravel and Rachel regarded the house before her with bewilderment.

"Renard's house." She breathed. The large, graceful Edwardian era house had been the haven of a former Prince of Lyons. Rachel hadn't been there since the mid-60's when she and Paul Viersan had found themselves strange allies. They had both wanted the Prince dead for separate reasons, and had eventually co-operated towards that end. Before that, Viersan had been part of some extremely painful memories - of Paris in '41 and being caught by the wrong people when working for the French Resistance. And since the episode that had concluded in this house, Viersan had developed some strange fondness for Rachel. A fondness that was not mutual.

Swallowing her fear, Rachel walked into the house and knew where to go. She climbed the stairs, barely noticing the immaculate condition of the interior, and entered the upstairs library.

That room was now devoid of books. Strangely, the desk that Renard had been arranged over, the body of his rival at his feet, was still here but all else was gone. The rugs, other furniture and pictures had been removed. But the room still had an inherent elegance - brass gaslight fixtures, carved plaster ceiling, hardwood floor.

Paul was waiting for her there, and Rachel stifled a sigh of relief.

"You came." He said simply. Strangely, he wasn't displaying the triumph that Rachel had expected.

"Only because I was afraid of the consequences if I didn't." Rachel said sharply.

"Really?" Paul asked her calmly. "Then leave."

"What?" Rachel was confused.

"If you don't want to be here, leave. No strings, no strange consequences." He saw her hesitation, watched her half turn away from him and then stop. "Or do you want to stay?" he asked quietly.

"No." Rachel said, voice catching in her throat. "I don't want to stay, but I don't believe you."

"Why not?" Paul asked. "I've never broken my word to you." A moment's silence filled the room. "Tonight makes it exactly three years." Paul said suddenly. "The location was fortuitious."

"What?" Rachel turned back to him.

Paul was still entirely calm - a fact that bothered Rachel. She wasn't used to Viersan not being obviously malicious. "Tonight makes it exactly three years since we last met, in Houston."

She nodded slowly. "So are you just here to tease me again?"

"No." he said shortly. "I'm just here. Why did you come?"

"Curiousity." Rachel snapped, trying to find strength in anger. "And fear. That's what it's always been."

"No." Paul contradicted her. "I don't think so, not this time."

He moved towards her and Rachel considered her options. Fighting wasn't successful last time, although the odds were fairer now. But the other options...That was assuming she knew his intent. For all she could tell, he wanted to discuss interior decorating, or debate the nature of Camarilla loyalty.

"I asked you to come here." Paul told her. "And you did. You had several chances to refuse. The decision was entirely yours."

Rachel stepped back. "Isn't it a little late for an honest seduction?"

"I don't think so."

"More of a challenge?" the question demanded an answer.

Paul smiled, finally. "Yes."

She kept moving away away from him, bumped into the wall. She quickly stepped aside, feeling like too much of their acquaintance had been conducted with her back against some wall or other. Paul didn't move to follow.

"When are you going to get tired of this?" she asked wearily.

"When are you?" he countered.

"I am!" she snapped at him.

Paul clearly didn't believe her. "Then why are you here?"

Anger made her speak carefully. "I told you already, I'm scared of what would happen if I didn't."

"And I told you that you could leave." Paul replied quickly. "And you're still here."

Rachel looked away for a long moment. She finally faced him again, glaring. "So aren't you going to take advantage of this?"

"No."

"Pardon?" Rachel couldn't quite believe that she had just heard that.

"No. I'm not going to take advantage of this. You can if you want to." Rachel thought about this.

"And if I stay? What then?" she asked.

"You know what I want, Rachel." He said softly.

"How can I tell?" she hated the whining tone in her anger. "You've been running circles around me for decades."

Paul folded his arms and looked at her steadily. "And we're back to where we started. Where I like to think we started. And I'm standing still. You had to leave last time. You could leave this time. You could stay."

"My turn?"

"It could be."

"Unlike last time?"

Paul's admitted his manipulation with a nod of the head. "Something like that."

"God..." Rachel muttered shaking her head. "I don't know what to do. I want to leave. I really want to forget I ever knew you, but..."

"But?" Paul asked quietly, his expression so intent she had to look away again.

"But I can't forget. I keep remembering..."

"And?"

Rachel paused and looked back at him. "You want me to admit everything don't you?" Paul couldn't hide the fleeting moment of anticipation on his face. Rachel was torn between relief and anger. "You want me to choose to bare my soul to you and tell you-" she stopped suddenly, anger evaporating and broke his gaze.

"Tell me what, Rachel?" he persisted.

"You know." She muttered, voice strained. The realization had finally come to full awareness and she couldn't face the consequences.

"No, I don't." He insisted. Rachel was sure she heard the hint of amusement there, but she hoped she was wrong.

She closed her eyes and forced the words out, not knowing any other way to end the game. "You want me to tell you that I want you."

"Yes." He admitted. She could sense his closeness now and suffered a frantic moment of fear.

"That is the truth, isn't it?" she insisted. "That's what you want to hear?" she felt frozen to the spot.

"Yes. That's what I want to hear. But what do you want to tell me?"

She opened her eyes, forced herself to look at him. "Nothing." She said shakily. "There's nothing I can tell you." She admitted. "You won."

He was close enough, now. She took his face in her hands and kissed him.

He held her tightly, but allowed her to break their embrace. She leaned against his neck, still too shocked to look at him. She sighed and waited for him to comment.

"But it's a much better hold." He told her. "I told you it would be."

Rachel forced herself to step away. "Isn't this where you say goodbye?" she asked resentfully. "Isn't it time for you to say that it was all a big joke at my expense and leave?"

Paul regarded her steadily and shook his head. He took her arm and pulled her close, placing her arm around his waist. "No." he whispered. Rachel was surprised at the sudden sense of candor. "I want to stay. I wanted to be with you again." The admission surprised her. "But you had to come to me. I didn't want to take from you. Not here, not this time."

"Oh God. Don't tell me you think you're in love with me, too." Rachel muttered.

Paul was surprised and smiled. "No Rachel, we've never loved each other. But you...?"

"Not me." She shook her head vehemently. "Some kafir in America. He clings to his humanity and has offered his heart to me."

"Really? And what are you going to do with it?"

"Hold onto it until I find a good buyer." She replied darkly.

Paul laughed. "Good! Look out for yourself. Nobody else will."

Rachel nodded sharply at that. "Too true."

Paul gave her a long look. "Forget all that, for now." Rachel nodded.

They kissed again. Rachel pulled at his clothing, untucking his shirt, reaching for the buttons. She heard him laugh and pull her hands away. "Patience." He chided her, touching her face.

"I think I've been quite patient." She told him. "Six years."

"Yes, and a few more minutes won't hurt." Paul took her hand moved towards the desk. She looked at it, and him, oddly. He smiled and lifted her easily, so that she sat on the edge of the heavy piece of furniture. She wanted to ask, but decided not to.

Paul stood before Rachel and she loosely hooked her ankles behind him, leaning back slightly. He moved towards her and kissed her throat, his tongue tracing delicate, tickling patterns across her skin. She sighed lightly and held him, reciprocating with lingering kisses along the line of his shoulder, across his earlobe, towards his jaw.

He was thankful that she had worn a skirt as he stroked her thigh. Trousers would have broken the moment. His other hand reached under her jacket to touch her back and encountered a sturdy knife sheath. He pulled away for a moment, his expression wry. Rachel realized what he had encountered and looked only a little embarrassed.

"Again?" he asked.

"I look after myself." She said with awkward defiance.

"I don't think you'll need it." He assured her.

Rachel nodded and, twisting in ways Viersan found very pleasing, detached the knife and sheath from her waistband, placing on the desk, clearly within her reach. Her steady glare defied him to comment. Her jacket landed on the floor. She intended to remove her tee-shirt as well, only to be restrained by Paul once again. "Patience." He reminded her. He placed her hands upon his body and kissed her again. Her gloved hands clumsily unbuttoned his shirt. Viersan did not stop her, sighing as her mouth trailed across his chest, kissing and biting lightly. He crouched down, bringing his face level with hers, to bite her earlobe firmly. She gasped suddenly, flinching against the minor pain, but did not pull away. He felt her almost pushing against him, almost urging him on and so he didn't, choosing instead to follow his hands across her clad stomach and further down.

Rachel gasped as he knelt down before her, rubbing his cheek against her stocking covered knee..He quickly pushed her skirt further up towards her waist and smiled at Rachel's eager assistance as he removed her stockings and underwear.

The delicate firmness of his mouth against her was too much. Rachel finally cried out, twisting a hand in his hair, trying not to push against him. His touch was sure and she was more than ready for him as he reached inside. She encircled him with her legs and fought to stay somewhat upright, finally losing and leaning against back against the dusty wood. Her orgasm was sudden, and surprised both of them.

Paul allowed her a moment to regain some dignity and stood once more. Rachel still lay upon the desk, her eyes closed. He kissed her cheek and grinned. "Who's Cassius?" he asked, fairly certain of the answer.

Rachel's eyes flew open and she blushed furiously. He kissed her again, before she could apologize. "It's alright." He told her. "I think I'll have you calling my name fairly soon."

She tried again to apologize. He held a hand to her mouth. "Would you like to go somewhere more comfortable?"

Rachel looked around, as if only now aware that they were making love on unconventional furniture.

"We have the option." He explained. "This was just..." he paused awkwardly. "A fantasy of mine." He admitted.

Rachel stared at him, surprised. "For how long?" she asked, incredulous.

"Long enough." He admitted cautiously. It seemed to be a good night for at least partial honesty. "Your behavior has evoked certain feelings...as you can guess."

"You haven't wanted this since the sixties, have you?" she asked, frowning. Because if you did, why did we just go through thirty years of psychotic behavior?

"No." he admitted, half lying. "Not since then."

Rachel relaxed. It was an answer she wanted to hear. "Alright." She kissed his throat. "Where to?"

 

 

*****************************************************************************

 

 

An anonymous office hallway. Five stories up, even the constant traffic noise of central Paris was reduced to a removed murmur.

"Damn it, I don't see why we have to meet here." Rachel said tightly, her eyes raking the walls for memories. The building was new, less than a decade old, but it's location summoned memories that Rachel didn't like to contemplate. Fifty-three years had passed since she was there, but some incidents resisted erosion by time better than others.

Paul Viersan shrugged easily and enjoyed her disquiet. "It was convenient. An acquaintance of mine owns the building, and your message insisted that we meet as soon as possible...How did you find me, by the way?"

Rachel decided not to give everything away. "Trade secret, Viersan. Perhaps you're not as sneaky as you hope you are." She didn't mention that she was now further in debt to a party she was regretting association with.

Paul let it go. It didn't really matter. "You said you wanted to talk, so talk."

"I want to know who you've been talking to." Rachel told him.

"Quite a lot of people. Conversation is a favorite hobby of mine." He tone was deliberately flippant. Rachel was obviously upset about something, and it was a state that Viersan had enjoyed less frequently of late. He believed in taking advantage of opportunities as they arose, and this seemed to be a very good opportunity.

Rachel convulsively kicked the wall she was leaning against. "That's not what I mean." She retorted angrily.

"Well, it's not my fault if you have difficulty being direct with me. But that would be par for the course."

Rachel glared at him for several seconds, keeping a short rein on her temper. It seemed that Viersan felt the need to catch up on some knife-twisting. "Then let me get to the point." She said, finally. "As far as I know, there are two people on this planet who know my real name. You're one of them. Two days ago, I was rather startled to learn that a third person, a person who I never knew before this year, knows not only my name but also entirely too much about my breathing days."

"Oh really?" Paul asked. "Such as?"

"Such as what happened right here a few years ago. Such as why I'm not too fond of..." she struggled for a euphemism. "...men in black uniforms - "

"Drat. You've ruined my next surprise." Rachel stared at him for a moment, hoping - but not sure - that he wasn't serious.

"Very funny." She muttered. "But my point is that how did he find out about that? Like I said, only two people have ever known about that and, no offense, but I trust my Sire a lot more than I trust you."

"Naturally. And you think that I've been telling the epic story of your life to somebody who now has you over a barrel."

"I'm not over a barrel." Rachel contradicted him. "Not yet." She added reluctantly.

"Why is it so bad that he knows?" Paul asked her. "It can't be because you were part of the resistance, or even that you got caught and suffered Verhoffen's attention, or even that you've been blaming the entire German nation ever since." Rachel started at that. "Oh, come on, Rachel, I'm not as stupid as you hope." He told her harshly. "So, there must be another reason that you don't want people knowing about your past."

"You've guessed at most of them before." Rachel muttered.

"Ah, yes, your probably ancestry. But I've never spoken about that, dear-"

"Don't call me that." Rachel snapped.

Paul raised an eyebrow and added the endearment to his list of things that irritated her. "Sorry." He apologized.

"Whatever." His insincerity was palpable. "You were saying?"

"I've never aired my sincere hypothesis about your ancestry, just in case I was right. I didn't need a pack of vengeful assassins after my blood." Rachel decided it would be wise not to tell him that such a situation was very unlikely. "Take that as you will, but it's the truth. Now, as for our first meeting..." he trailed off in thought. Rachel watched him carefully, wondering if he was concoting a story or actually reaching for honesty. "No." he finally said. "No, I don't recall telling anyone about you. What was the point? In fact, I had to do some extensive editing of several memories to protect my own reputation." Rachel was surprised to hear that, but it fit Paul's methodology. "Until Renard I thought I'd never see you again."

Rachel found that hard to believe, considering how quickly he had remembered her at that happenstance meeting in the early sixties. But maybe he was telling the truth. What was another lump of flesh to the mighty vampire - even one who managed what she did? As they kept telling each other, it was fifty years ago.

"No-one's infallible, Rachel." Paul told her quietly. "I think we've proven that already."

Rachel scowled. She didn't like agreeing with him, but he was right. Even the most careful precautions could fail, and Cancer Man had been of those she asked to help 'scrub' her history. It would have been easy for him to follow the thread she had given him and thereby unravel her life.

She shook her head. "Not good." She muttered.

"Why is that?" Paul asked. "Why is it so bad that he knows?" he repeated.

Rachel looked down at the blandly carpeted floor. "What do you think?" she asked him, sullenly.

Paul made a show of considering the question. "Because it's a weakness of yours, and you don't want people knowing that." Rachel shrugged one shoulder, a reluctant gesture of agreement. "And a good way to control a person is to exploit their weaknesses, or threaten to." Rachel looked up at that. "Yes, that's usually the way it is." Paul wondered who this individual was who had unearthed Rachel's past as Yvette Collier. They were damned inquisitive, whoever they were. Paul had tried to investigate Rachel's history shortly after their second meeting and had come against a brick wall, something a man of his resources wasn't used to.

"So, did he threaten to break your fingers?" Paul asked lightly. Rachel resisted the urge to hide her hands behind her back.

"No." she replied unsteadily. "He doesn't need to. He just wanted to scare me."

"Did he succeed?" Paul asked, his expression intent.

Rachel shook her head angrily. "He didn't scare me nearly as much as he pissed me off."

Paul nodded. "Good." Because if anybody is frightening you, I want it to be me.

The silence between them stretched out. Rachel couldn't think of a graceful way to end their conversation, and she was frantically ignoring any ideas of alternatives to talking.

"Well," she said abruptly. "See you around, I guess." She walked away, only to have Paul catch up to her and grab her arm.

She turned angrily, wondering what the hell she could say to him, when he spoke first. "You don't want to stay?" he didn't seem surprised by her departure, nor did he seem concerned about her answer, but Rachel wondered about that.

"I've asked you what I wanted to." She said simply.

"And there's nothing else on your mind?" he asked, half smiling.

"No." she replied, awkwardness returning. "Not really." She lied. There was a lot on her mind, but Paul Viersan was only part of it.

"Alright." He let go of her arm. "So, why do you think we're doing this?" he asked her suddenly.

"Doing what?" she asked, confused.

Paul suddenly pulled her close and gave her a direct look. "This."

Rachel tensed, but didn't pull away. "As far as I can tell, you're the only one doing anything."

"Don't be so literal, de-" he stopped. "Rachel." He leaned forward quickly and breathed into Rachel's ear, causing a momentary shiver. "It doesn't make much sense, does it?" he bit her neck gently.

"No." Rachel said, her voice slightly remote. "It doesn't. It's stupid, probably dangerous and it-" she gasped as Paul gently pulled her hair.

"'It' what?" Paul looked down at her, smiling openly now. It was an expression she still had difficulty accepting.

Rachel regathered her scattering wits. "It hasn't made me like you any better." She told him bluntly.

Paul's hands moved beneath Rachel's now-untucked shirt. "So instead of being somebody you hate, I'm somebody you hate who's managed to seduce you. What a classic film noir convention. Hitchcock would be proud."

"That was just a coincidence." Rachel snapped, annoyed by Viersan's reference. "Get over that, will you?" Rachel snapped, suddenly stepping away, if only half a step.

Paul laughed softly. "You should respect coincidences more, Rachel. After all, it's what ultimately put us together. And which coincidence would you be referring to?" He closed the distance between them before she could answer, wondering if he would have to chase her across the building and then almost laughing at the memory that evoked. "Dangerous?" he asked. "Surely you don't think that I mean you harm, after all these years and other opportunities? I suppose this," he kissed her briefly. "could all be part of a cunning plan to lull you into a false sense of security."

"I'm hardly secure." Rachel mumbled.

"What if you weren't?" Paul asked her. "What if, even as we're standing here, you knew that I intend you some terrible harm, at some point in the future? Would you stay?" his hands resumed their wandering path across her body.

"Are you telling me that you are intending to hurt me?" Rachel asked sharply.

"Not at all." Paul replied, his voice muffled against her throat. Rachel struggled with the implications of his suggestion.

"Then it doesn't really matter."

"Maybe you just like dangerous sex." Paul murmured.

Rachel almost smiled. "That's more likely." She replied, thinking of Cassius.

"Good." Paul kissed her again, biting her lip sharply. Rachel squeaked and shuddered against him for a moment. "With that in mind, have you ever..." he whispered something into her ear.

Rachel listened, her expression quickly turning from guarded curiousity to honest disgust. "No! And with you?" Paul seemed unabashed by her condemnation and didn't reply. She shook her head. "No way. That's grotesque." Rachel looked around them, as if just now noticing their surroundings. "Convenient location, like hell. This was deliberate."

"Mea culpa." Paul shrugged, still holding her. "I've never pretended to be mundane."

"But, in Lyons you said..." Rachel trailed away, not wanting to think about what he had said.

"I told merely a half-truth in Lyons." Paul said directly. "My desires are recent, as you should be able to tell. Besides, you've changed so much since our first meeting and even our second."

"Maybe, but I haven't changed that much. Let me go." She shoved him away with a strength that surprised him. "You might be able to charm me into bed, but you're not that charming. Nobody is."

"Perhaps I should have waited." Paul mused aloud.

"What? Waited until we're naked on the floor and my timid will wouldn't be able to defy yours?" she snapped.

"I wasn't thinking of the floor..." Paul replied. Rachel cursed. She had left herself wide open for a shot like that.

"No, Viersan." She stated flatly. "Although I suppose you're going to try to charm me into it, regardless." She sighed, expecting a confirmation. Instead, his reply shocked her into stillness.

"48 Rue de St. Paul, Valauris." He said quietly.

Rachel stared at him for a second. "What?"

"I think you heard me. 48 Rue de St Paul, Valauris. Just outside of Cannes, as I recall. Your younger brother, Michel, lives there, doesn't he, near his children and their families? Sometimes they get a visit from their very aged Aunt Yvette, who moved to America a long time ago-"

"Stop!" Rachel shouted. "How did you...?"

"Trade secret." He said smugly. "They don't know what you are, do they?"

Rachel could barely speak, she was so furious. "My brother does, but he understands the need to keep it a secret."

"So maybe he's the leak you're so worried about?" Paul taunted her.

"Michel? Impossible! He doesn't even know anything about me-"

"Other than your birth name." Another twist.

"But that's all." Rachel insisted.

"I'm sure it is." Paul agreed. "For now." He added.

Rachel felt a terrible sense of deja vu, and, infuriatingly enough, it was too recent for her liking. She felt like everything was falling apart. "You wouldn't..." she said, more in hope than anger.

"I might." Paul told her bluntly. "Remember what kind of grotesque you're dealing with."

"So you'd...if I..." she felt tears of frustation threaten and then recede against growing anger. "Damn you!"

"Probably taken care of already." Paul replied blandly.

Rachel made a show of thinking, although she had already made a decision.

"No." she told him.

"Pardon?" Paul couldn't hide his surprise.

"I said, no. It pisses me off that you know about Michel, but I'm getting used to you pissing me off. I think you're bluffing." She continued, speaking quickly. "That information is too valuable. I don't think it's worth throwing away on something relatively worthless."

"Is that what you think?" Paul asked her, his tone cool.

"Yes it is. And I think I'm right." for once. Rachel had been watching him carefully during this exchange and decided that the gamble was worth it. "I suppose you could force me, if you really wanted to. After all, what you suggested is only one step away. But then that'll defy your precious game of choices. Goodbye, Paul."

Rachel turned her back on Viersan and walked away, steeling herself for an attack that didn't come.

 

 

********************************************************************************

 

Epilogue.

 

Paul Viersan finally pushed it too far. He appeared in Alameda, the same evening that Rachel agreed to marry Prince Cassius, and proceeded to make life very difficult for her. He almost managed to force Rachel and Cash apart - which he wanted, because Paul did not want anyone else having any kind of emotional or physical power over Rachel. However, when Paul, on Rachel's wedding night, spirited her away for an illicit liason in an alleyway, Cassius confronted both of them and, briefly put, tore Paul to shreds.

Overwhelming confidence is no substitute for armor and quick feet.

 

Thanks to Brian B., who played Paul Viersan over several games, and who successfully made my flesh creep any number of times.