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.

Edited yet AGAIN in 2005. Just call me the George Lucas of the V:tM set, I guess.

…and in 2007, I took a machete to some of the purpler prose. But not all of it, because this is Vampire, after all. And, oh yeah, there were some grievous typos. And continuity errors. And way too much passive voice. Oops.


 

        Rachel DuNoir had always enjoyed Hitchcock films and made a point of watching them whenever she could. The small art-house theater in Toronto was pleasantly run-down, and Rachel found the smell of stale popcorn and old velvet a comfort, rather than a distraction as she watched Vertigo play out before her. A man sat down next to her, and although his presence alarmed her greatly, she ostensibly paid attention to the flickering movie screen before her.

        "You shouldn't keep souvenirs from a murder..." James Stewart growled.

        "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 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 shortly 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. Apparently, he had learned that she was behind a campaign to discredit him shortly after she had left Lyons in 1970. She might 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.

        That encounter had been 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. Rachel watched raptly, even though she had seen it many times before. Vertigo remained one of her favorites.

        Meanwhile, 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 hands. Neither does vanity, he smiled in the darkness.

            Rachel saw that smile and repressed a shudder. Why does follow me? Doesn't he have better things to do? Rachel didn't dare admit that he might have better things to occupy his time, 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 ingenuously. "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."

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

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

            "That was over 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 shook her head. "No, it can't have been."

            "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." She couldn't help sounding sulky.

            "Not necessarily." he contradicted her. "Please understand, my ordering you not to harm me is an indication of my respect for your skills. If I didn't fear you, I wouldn't have had to do as I did."

            "Oh, that makes me feel so much better about being leashed.." Rachel grumbled. "And why must you pull on it every decade?"

            "I like to be sure," he said, too lightly for Rachel's comfort

            She almost choked. "You're sure, you're always sure." her voice rose, distracting the patrons who were entering the theatre for the late show.

            Paul laughed out loud. "Must you be so..." he paused. "Querulous?" Rachel wanted to carve his tongue out of his head.

            "It's all I have left." She grumbled. A moment of uneasy silence passed.

            "I think we need to leave before we get thrown out." Paul told her calmly. Hitchcock fans had been giving them untoward glances for the past few minutes. "We certainly don't want to attract the Scourge's attention, do we?" He stood up, indicating that Rachel should follow his lead.

            "Fuck the Scourge." Rachel muttered in her native tongue. Still, curiosity compelled her, and she followed him towards the exit.

            "There's no need to be crass." Paul replied lightly, over his shoulder.

            Rachel looked startled. "When did you learn Arabic?"

            "I've known it for years, cherie. I didn't have the heart to tell you in Paris - but your command of invective was quite impressive."

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

            "On the contrary, you were most definitely yourself. I liked you, even then."

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

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

            "What can your admiration do for me? After the decades of fucking me over?"

            "Have I fucked you over? How?" He snapped as he opened a door leading out of theater. "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?" He practically shoved her outside as he continued. "What have I done, ever, to hinder your goals? Nothing! Nothing!." he insisted. "And all I get from you is bitterness and resentment. When are you going to let go of the past?" Paul demanded. "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."

            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. Now was the time to have things out.

            "Why don't I change?" she retorted. "Why don't I let go of the hate? How can you not know? You ruined me."

            "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 and pulled her close to him. "When I saw what Verhoffen had done, I had to stop him. He was a pig, 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 hide from her?

            She noticed that he hadn't released her hand.

            "I don't-“ he caught himself. “I didn’t want to ruin you. 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, but she cut him off. "Don't tell me that you didn't care about what they stood for. They had some sort of appeal to you. 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. Maybe you really do admire my “talent”. Maybe you want me to kill for you. You wouldn’t be the first. 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 in Paris." 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 control. The safety and gratification of controlling me is an acceptable substitute to my blood on the floor, is it?"

            Paul glared at her, his blue eyes hard and cold. "You can't understand me."

            "Try me." Rachel snapped. Paul's 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. Go on..." 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 games will keep you happy? Happy enough to leave me free to pursue my business?" She felt his body shudder for one moment. Part of her marveled at her stupidity, going headlong into danger like this.

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

            "Why not?" Disgust and curiosity fought for dominance.

            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, and wondered at his thoughts.

            "Did your hands heal? Properly?" he asked her, suddenly calm.

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

            He shook his head and sighed. "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, reflexively.

            "I wish I had the chance." he said, his voice soft. 

            Rachel gasped in surprise, for she sensed the truth of his words. "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.

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

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

            "Yourself, maybe?"

            "Don't be stupid." Rachel snapped. God, sophistry annoyed her.

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

            "I don’t think it’s my mind you're interested in." Rachel muttered.

            "You do yourself a disservice, Yvette."

            "Stop calling me that!"

            "Why? I liked 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.

            "What about me, now, then? What interest do I have?" When in doubt, play the stupid neonate act, she thought, a little desperately.

            "You seem to know that already." Paul took hold of her other wrist - another almost-crushing grip.

            Rachel winced. She couldn't escape this, but she realized that she couldn't she remain still - to be still was to become a target. That left her no choice but to continue pushing - towards what she couldn't guess.

            "Is that all?" She hazarded. "Power? Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!" she demanded. The retreat into cliché made her feel foolish and embarrassment drained the energy from her anger. Whining made her feel weak.

            Paul moved close to her. "What exists between us makes the challenge. You can't 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."

            He threw her against the brick wall, only to drag her up as she slid to the ground. He closed the space between them, stared at her. "I'm only human." he said, his voice strained. "And certain desires do not die with the flesh."

            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.

            "Perhaps we're both still only human." She admitted.

            "I have much to offer you, Rachel. And vice versa."

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

            "No. You owe me so much. You owe me your hands. Where would you be without them?"

            Rachel wrenched herself away from him, scrambling in surprise and panic towards the street. "You better learn to live on these little fantasies of yours. That's all you're going to get from me." Rachel wondered at the bravado that forced the words from her.

            Paul made no move to detain her. "I wouldn't be so certain." He said easily, as if the situation suited him just fine. "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 at 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 sense that tension, curiosity and common sense had, and still were, disagreeing within her mind. Everything was as he expected it to be.

            Rachel 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. It didn’t work.

           "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 paced 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. I don’t know. But I believe that's why you’ve take the time to chase me down over thirty years - because I still hate you, and you get off on that.

            "Well, forget it. I'm not going to hate you. Like you said, it was a long time 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. 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." - by force, if necessary.

            "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 pursuing you. If my intention was to weaken you with your own negative emotions, I'd say I've succeeded. You need something to fear, it gives you a sense of belonging in the world. You might be a competent assassin, 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. "No."

            "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 smiled at her.

            "You know what? We're getting off on the wrong foot." He paused theatrically for a moment and resumed. "You're right in that there's a lot of power in hate, but I've got better people than you hating me. Stronger people." He looked at her for a moment, then nodded slightly. At what, Rachel couldn't guess. "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 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. 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 faded into cold indifference. "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 him off. "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 admitted. "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 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." He sounded pleased as he spoke, glad to finally admit the obvious.

            Rachel nodded, a little disappointed at Viersan’s banality and gasped suddenly, holding onto her chair.

            "Is something wrong?" his solicitous tone might have been genuine, but Rachel doubted it.

            She blinked, shook her head slightly. "Dizzy spell." she muttered. She kept blinking, her vision was blurred. Panic began to threaten – she shoved it aside. Figure out what’s happening, then react.

            "Something you ate, perhaps." Rachel definitely didn't like Paul's tone. He knew something and wasn't telling. She felt dizzy and disconnected. It reminded her of a time when 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 Viersan, who was entirely too relaxed for her liking. "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 relaxed a little as disorientation retreated, slightly. "We both know that isn't necessary. Why?"

            "I wanted to talk to you." Paul sighed. "And I wanted to make sure that you wouldn't resort to you sharp-edged ways. You were drugged as soon as you sat down. But it's nothing too serious."

            "What?" Rachel stared at him, aghast.

            He pointed at the arm of the chair that she sat upon. "I might not be Tremere, but I know enough of their tricks. The fact that a little more of my blood is in your system is just a fringe benefit."

            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 stared at him silently, trying to remain alert in her dazed state. "You think I need to inspire hate to control others, and you’re 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 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 sedation, 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. Part of her wanted to know more about this "bogeyman" and what made him. She supposed that she was hoping such knowledge would humanize him. Lurking beneath that hope was the worry that such knowledge might just reveal the demon within.

            Rachel nodded carefully. "Other methods take too long, huh?" She tried to stand, but fell back into her chair, her head spinning. She saw Paul's satisfaction and sighed. "You bastard. Just got to be on top."  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." 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’re far too smug." She pronounced.

            "I think I have reason to be." he told her, mimicking her scrutiny. Rachel's hair was becoming disheveled, her expression relaxed, albeit reluctantly. Paul rather liked that - watching her come slowly apart.

            "You drugged a neonate."  Rachel's voice was thick with scorn and chemical lassitude. "That's a hell of an achievement."

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

            "Big deal. Why do this to me? Because you can? Pretty fucking pathetic if you ask me."

            "Rachel, I had no idea you could be so crude."

            "I'm just warming up."

            "Good. So am I." Paul brushed her face with a light touch. Startled, Rachel pulled back, only to be restrained again by his grip upon her arm. She shuddered and tried again to twist away.

            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." she warned.

            Paul's eyes flashed, showing an emotion that Rachel couldn't identify and certainly didn't like. "I can't, can I?" he reminded her. His demeanor failed to match his words. "We exist in a state of tension, you and I, and I think you can at least guess how much energy can be derived from such tension. It’s quite enjoyable, in its way." He paused for a moment. "But sometimes tension builds too far, and must be released."

            Rachel's fear returned. "Find someone else." she begged.

            "Why? You create such interesting tension. You could fulfill so many of my needs."

            "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, trying - without success - to clear it. Paul took 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. Blood in an alley. "We're even." she insisted. "You took back what you gave me in Lyons."

            "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."

            "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 disgust. "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 The openness of his expression upset her. "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. The caress was an intimate thing that frightened her.

            "No."

            Paul ignored her. "I'm surprised. After sharing blood, why be prudish?"

            "It's called choice. 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.

            Paul laughed at that. "Don't be a hypocrite. You're not so removed from them, yourself."

            "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."

            "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 what your options were." Paul 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 head-rush. "Well, sort of fighting. Some choice."

            Paul said nothing. Rachel glanced down, then leaned towards him. "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. "But I think you should be penalized for the drugs."

            Paul smiled tightly. "All's fair..."

            "Some war." she muttered.

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

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

            "But we both know you can't. That's not fair either, but life 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." 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 scrambled 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 her knife barely cut his flesh. 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 the knife slip from clumsy fingers. Rachel fumbled another blade from its hiding place and Viersan just missed being blinded.

            Seeing her opponent clearly now, Rachel saw not surprise, but a bland amusement. Bastard expected this, too! The realization angered her further. Viersan grabbed her by the throat and threw her into a 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 right forearm badly.

            Rachel tried to swallow her growing rage, aggravated by the smell of blood in the air and assessed her options. Viersan had thrown her into 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. But, you should be thankful for the drugs. They kill pain, too."

            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 wall.

            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 shove Rachel into the wall behind her. She was fairly certain she felt a rib crack when she impacted the thickly-papered brick. 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 damned things do you have?" Viersan rasped, apparently pressed for effort.

            "Four." Rachel replied honestly.

            "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 short blade she kept at her back and pulled it free, along witih 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 utility 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 definitely broken ribs, and her collarbone was grinding against her shoulder - she suspected the bone was splintered. Paul was far stronger than he looked.

            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, 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 almost 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. "Almost sober again, I think." Rachel could only glare at him. "Good. Once that's out of your system, we'll be even. As even as we're going to get."

            "Get away from me." Rachel spoke carefully, not wanting to aggravate her injuries. "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 stupid Rachel, I'm not done 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, grinding in to her broken collarbone. "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 love me. I'll derive great satisfaction from knowing of your desire, especially when we’re apart. 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're out of your mind! 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!" The idea disgusted her.

            "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 stared 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? 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 of your own."

            "You're letting me decide what kind of hold you have over me?" Rachel struggled again, to no avail. 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. "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 was denied even that much movement. "Don't be so negative. Relax." He touched 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."

            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?" she sighed, realizing the battle was lost.

            "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." Foreboding and misgivings were rapidly being dismantled by the kindling of a desire that Rachel didn't want 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 Toronto 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."


 

            As the Toreador had volunteered to host court, they 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 made for a pleasant change from the usual sorts of places. Most courtiers had taken up with the theme and were wearing formal evening dress as they circulated, exchanging gossip and making deals. Rachel wore a long slender dress of shell-pink satin. The hedonistic part of her - miniscule as it was - had to admit that it felt good, and was a welcome change from her usual utilitarian outfits, but it was rather limiting when it came to personal protection. With luck, she wouldn’t need it tonight, anyway. Violence rarely happened at court – or even in its vicinity.

            Houston, in her three months of residence, had proved to be a very peaceful town. Too peaceful, possibly, and she was considering moving on. 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 removed most of his enemies already. She wasn’t needed.

            "Michelle!" Rachel turned at the call. She had taken a new name, as was her policy, and was currently known as Michelle DuLac. Shw watched Clarke Ellson approach her - a member of the Toreador clan who had decided to "adopt" the poor little Caitiff. Rachel didn't care for him but he was a useful conduit to meet others in the city.

            Rachel smiled and hoped she seemed pleased to see him. "I'm glad I found you." he declared. "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 at you when he told me." Clarke wheedled.

            "Alright, alright." Rachel capitulated. These passions of the Toreador mystified Rachel, but she wasn't above using them to her advantage. "Who is this fellow?" There are worse ways to kill time at court, Rachel decided, and he might prove useful.

            "Come with me." Clarke led 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.

            A familiar voice. 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, in Toronto."

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

            "I wasn't sure-" he began.

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

            Clarke looked surprised 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. We're in public. You're lucky this isn't Elysium." 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 French. "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?"  Sarcasm and ice saturated her voice.

            Paul didn't reply to that, but pulled her close as the band began a slower tune. Rachel tried to relax against him, 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. "Here's to pleasant memories. And a pleasant future," he teased.

            "You seem very confident."

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

            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.

            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 ran his hand down her back. "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. "Please don't." she gasped.

            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." 

            "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...

 


        
          Rachel suspected that Paul Viersan existed as a goad to her complacency. The past decade had been free of even a hint of his presence and, in the meantime, she had become so well ensconced in the Camarilla court of the east San Francisco Bay that there was talk of the Prince proposing marriage to her. Critics considered this a sign that not only had he not given up his Anarch phase, but had lost his mind, also. Rachel didn't care. His love matched her ongoing purpose quite nicely, and kept her company on lonely nights. That she was becoming fond of him in return was something she tried not to think about.

    `      However, she couldn't help thinking about Cassius at the moment. Bored and - she admitted privately - lonely in a hotel room in Lyons after an unpleasant bit of Assamite-mandated work in Crete, the advantages of solitude were thing consolation, indeed. She had nothing to read, she disliked television, and she didn't want to venture into town, lest she attract the attention of other kindred. Forty years had passed since the assassination of Prince Renard, but Rachel didn't want to risk a run-in with someone from his time. She had no idea what Viersan might have said to counter her campaign against him shortly before her departure.

           She had resigned herself to an evening of re-reading the day's newspaper and sharpening her knives when an knock sounded at the door.  Frowning and with a knife in her hand, she opened the door on its 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 - expensive paper and a wax seal. 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 Henri, and he's to save you a long drive, if you'll come. PV

            Rachel's head swam. What on earth...? Is this? It must be but... how? The mystery of it nagged at her, and she wondered just how much trouble her curiosity could get her into. She opened the door again. Henri waited 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. As usual.

            Her mind raced. He's trying to put it all in my hands. His games of choice. I can tell this Henri 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.

             Right or wrong, could she live with not knowing what Viersan was up to?

            She opened the door again, fully. "Alright." She told the chauffeur. "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 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. A known enemy was better than one unknown.

             "How did you find me?"

             "Sheer coincidence," he smiled. "You might not believe me, but it's the truth. You're the last person I expected to see trudging through the Lyons airport."

             Rachel sensed the truth of his words, wishing she could believe him a liar. This coincidence made things ever worse, although she wasn't sure why - perhaps because it reinforced her half-formed belief that Viersan was some tailor-made torment.

            "I'm glad you came." 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. True enough.

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

            "What?" She looked 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?"

            "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. I bought it a few months ago. I'm just a sentimentalist, I suppose."

             "What?" Rachel turned back to him. Paul was still calm - a fact that bothered Rachel. She wasn't used to Viersan not being overtly malicious. "Are you just here to tease me again?"

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

           Rachel tried to find strength in anger. "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, guessing at his intentions. "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."

            "What?" 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."

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

            "You know what I want." 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."

              "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. "There's nothing else." She said shakily. "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."

            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 leaned half over, half upon her. Rachel lay back upon the desk, her eyes closed. The taste of his blood was still in her mouth, but she found it impossible to worry about long term consequences. Besides, the exchange had been mutual -for a change. Paul 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 last time we were in Lyons, have you?" she asked, frowning. Because if you did, why did we just go through several decades 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 successfully made my flesh creep any number of times.

Epilogue - Part II

            But as this is my own little playground, and I can't leave well enough alone, I resurrected both Paul and Rachel (who met her end a few months later at the hands of the Assamites) via a rather silly plot device put in place by my GM of the time and not a little bit of Can't Leave Well Enough Alone. Take a look at Starting Over, if you're curious.