Prologue

Paul Viersan actually makes his first appearance in Misdirection, which was also re-edited in June, 1999. If you read that first, what follows will make a lot more sense. But since it is a long document, I didn't want to copy it over, here.


 

            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.

            Unbidden, memories of their last meeting, five years ago in 1972, came to her. The attack had come without warning, Viersan taking her by surprise as she walked through the Montreal streets two hours before dawn. Surprised by Paul's hidden strength, Rachel had been subdued long enough for him to tell her to never act against him again. Obviously he had learned that she was behind a campaign to discredit him shortly after she had left Lyons. She may have needed his help to kill the Prince of that city, but she didn't see why she should allow Viersan to reap any of the benefits.

            Their encounter was brief and unpleasant, culminating in Viersan 'taking back what was given' - as he put it - and feeding from her. Rachel shuddered at that memory in particular - the pleasure of the Kiss an unpleasant counterpoint to how much she still disliked and feared the one who touched her.

            "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 ignenuously. "You've sat through this movie three times this evening." he commented.

            Rachel shrugged. "I like it. I've had nothing better to do." And neither do you, if you've been watching me all this time.

            "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 thirty 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." He looked at her, up and down. It reminded Rachel of a butcher appraising a cut of meat.

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

            "Not neccessarily." 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. I need to be sure."

            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. Rachel sensed that there were other reasons for Viersan's interest, but the possibilities unnerved her beyond consideration.

            Paul laughed out loud. "Must you be so querulous? 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, still speaking French. 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 definitely 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 can you do for 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 this city why you try so hard to win their affections? What have I done, in thirty 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 so long 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. The quickness with which he had dropped his patronizing mask shook her. 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."

            "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. There were other reasons that he wasn't admitting to, she realized. What could he want to bother to hide from her? "We should go." Paul announced, looking about them, still holding her hand.

            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." And he still doesn't give a damn. I'm just a thing to him. "And that's why you're 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 think you do. As you might have watched that whole time on the sixth floor. Do you really enjoy that, Paul?" Rachel winced at his grip on her wrist tightened. "I think so." she gasped. "That's why you're so attached to me. You want to do it again, but you daren't, lest you lose your total control, is that right? The safety and gratification of control is an acceptable substitute to my 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." Rachel realized that she was getting to him, but that this may not be the safest path to tread.

            "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. "Make me cry if it makes you happy. If it makes you leave me alone for another ten years." Chilled inside, Rachel knew that she meant what she said. She would let him crack her bones if brief pain would buy her lasting peace.

            "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, fear and curiosity fighting for dominance. "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. 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 a tension Rachel thought she knew and reviled. "I can't indulge myself anymore."

            "Why not?" Rachel pushed.

            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.

            What? 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 softly. "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, Yvette."

            "Stop calling me that!" Rachel demanded.

            "Why? I like that name, that persona." Paul smiled. That smile cut through her far more than any incisive glare. It told of secret knowledge, that he had already put her under the microscope and learned what he wanted. Rachel flushed suddenly and didn't understand why.

            "You speak like we were two different people."

            "You are. 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 couldn't escape this, nor could she remain still - to be still was to become a target. That left her no choice but to continue pushing - towards what she could not guess.

            "So that's what you want, isn't it? Power over others? Why don't you try bigger victims? Someone your own size?" she demanded, the retreat into cliché made her feel foolish and embarrassment drained the energy from her anger. Her childish whining made her feel weak and powerless

            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 jeopardize 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 his reply. She fell roughly to the filthy concrete, stifling an exclamation of pain. He hauled her up roughly and closed the space between them.

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

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

            The silence between them stretched 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. Where would you be without them?" He asked.

            Rachel wrenched her wrist free and moved away from Viersan. "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." Rachel didn't reply and kept moving. "I've taken a house nearby, 560 Mill Street. I think you should join me for dinner tomorrow 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; curiosity 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 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 thirty years, because I still hate you.

            "Well, forget it. I'm not going to hate you. Like you said, it was thirty 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 no doubt 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?" The obscenity sounded strange coming from him.

            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. Stronger people" he told her bluntly. "Have you eaten?" the sudden change of topic confused Rachel for a moment.

            "Ah, no." she admitted, nonplussed. "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. Her sire had warned her about the dangers of misdirected curiosity many times.

            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. He hoped other factors were contributing.

            "I think you're being very one sided." 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 goal. I don't want any control over those victims. You've sought control over others by whatever means necessary; hate, deceit, treachery, whatever."

            "You rattle those off like you know me so well." Paul's patronizing expression was fading into coldness. "But you don't know me, and you certainly don't have the right to condemn how I choose to enjoy 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," she conceded. "But I didn't make them hate me. I didn't leave them alive to continue hating me. I don't visit them every so often to remind them of it. I may not regret killing them, but I didn't enjoy it either."

            "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 curiosity nagged at her. "And those would be?"

            "Distressingly common, I'm afraid. I'm 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." He was pleased with himself as he told Rachel this, watching her face for her reactions.

            Rachel nodded absently 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, her vision was blurred.

            "Something you ate, perhaps." Rachel definitely 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 necessary. 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 I want. 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.

            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 curiosity 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 reveal the demon within.

            Rachel nodded carefully. "Other methods take too long." She tried to stand, but fell back into her chair. "Fire your doctor." she repeated. Rachel felt quite dizzy by now. She saw Paul's satisfaction and sighed. "You bastard. Just got to be on top." she shook her head. Fear goes both ways. "You might not fear me, but you fear my knives. That's something, I suppose." she mused. "You fear me enough to do this. You've got to keep picking at things...keep reminding yourself of your success...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. Rachel's hair was becoming dishevelled, her expression relaxed - albeit reluctantly.

            "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."

            "Scant consolation. Why do this to me? 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 demeanor 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." He paused for a moment. "But sometimes tension builds too far, 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." It had been too long, she realized.

            "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 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 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."

            "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." If he wants to instill fear, she thought, he's succeeding.

            "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." His slight smile was triumphant.

            "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. "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. 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." she admitted.

            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 exclamation 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. 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."

            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 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, apparently pressed for effort.

            "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. Her holdout, the small knife in her boot 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 asked from between gritted teeth..

            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. His savoring attention to that task made Rachel shudder. "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 away from me." Rachel demanded carefully. "You win. You're bigger than me. I hurt all over. Let me go and I'll see you in ten years." Her voice was weary and hopeful.

            "Don't be stupid 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. "Pain is very effective, yes." Paul smiled and shifted his weight slightly, aggravating the affected area. Rachel tried to swallow a cry of pain and only partially succeeded. "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 stared at him, shocked into silence by what he was proposing.

            "Speechless with the idea, I see." Paul commented. "You've spent thirty 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!" She was disgusted by the notion.

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

            "Let me up and I promise I won't set fire to this place tomorrow 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. Your resentment towards me is misplaced. We've already been quite intimate and, 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 emotions 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. The choice is 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?" 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." Rachel accused. "I don't want to be your power trip."

            Paul kissed her neck gently. Rachel tried to squirm, but the stabbing pain from her collarbone prevented. "Don't be so negative. Relax." 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.

            "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. "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 as she realized something. "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. "Let go."

            Rachel felt the last shreds of resistance crumble. "This is hardly fair." She sighed. "How's a woman to stand a chance?" Foreboding and misgivings were rapidly being dismantled by the kindling of a desire that Rachel didn't wan to admit to.

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

            "No." She disagreed. "No it isn't." Rachel saw no other option but to follow the path offered. But I suppose I should make the best of it." She reached for his face. "Come here."


 

Paul moved quietly through his haven. He was packing his bags, ready to leave Montreal and sorting through his memories of his previous evening with Rachel DuNoir. It was like picking photographs for an album; keep this, discard that…

Paul smiled to himself. There was certainly a lot to cherish. Conquering the Caitiff neonate had been as challenging as he had expected and with results to match. The most dangerous prey was always the most valuable.

"So brittle." He murmured, opening a dresser and carefully transferring the few items within it to a waiting suitcase. So easily shattered.

Now, that was a memory to cherish: Rachel's usually scowling visage softened by unexpected passion, holding him while her aura bristled with conflicting emotions - anger, lust and shame. Viersan believed that provoking this in a woman who prided herself on control and independence was more satisfying than the finest blood.

Her voice… That might be his favorite memory of all, the sound of Rachel begging for his touch in the silence of a sparsely furnished room.

Nodding thoughtfully as he moved from the dresser to the small bedside table, Paul savored his triumph. The first step has been made, he acknowledged. Next time I won't have to resort to such chicanery as drugs and Disciplines. Paul couldn't suppress a chuckle, remembering Rachel's expression as they had lain together in the silence that followed their union. And she knows it, too.

He laughed out loud. "She knows it." He repeated to the empty air. "How wonderful…"


 

            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 hedonistic part of her - miniscule as it was - had to admit that it felt good, 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 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. "Because 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 interference. "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?" There are worse ways to kill time at court, Rachel decided, and he might prove useful.

            "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, not quite able to contain his malicious delight. "A few years ago."

            "Really?" Clarke seemed unaware 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 betrayed his confidence and ease.

            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 possibility 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, savoring the memory of their last meeting. "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 to feel compelled to surrender control..." his voice was tinged with something like pity.

            Rachel, distracted by her own memories of reluctant pleasure, 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. And that's how I like it."

            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. She still shook, but was powerless between conflicting emotions and desires.

            "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. And which would you prefer? Asked a vicious voice in her mind. Rachel ignored it as best she could.

            "I was wondering why you were here." Genuine curiosity colored his voice.

            "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 anything else." 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 curiosity. 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 cardboard, plain black lettering. The card contained only 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 demeanor, 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 Mediterranean 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, surprising her. "He wouldn't want you getting run over."

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

           

            The address proved to be a drab 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 curiosity, 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, tomorrow.

            "What?" Rachel burst out. "What the hell is he playing at now? Tomorrow? Tomorrow, 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 luxurious 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 must. 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. "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.

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

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

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

            "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 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, pulling him close, leaning on the desk behind her.

            Some time later, 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.

            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, he decided. "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?"

 


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 liaison 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.