Disclaimer: The characters and concepts of Kindred: the Embraced are the copyrighted property of Spelling Productions and the Fox Network, and are used here without permission. No profit has been made from this work.
Moonrise over San Francisco. Cash stood
by the gatehouse window and watched the courtyard turn silver
under its light. He stretched, easing the stiffness of the day's
sleep from his muscles. It was the kind of night for riding, chasing
the asphalt ribbon, just to see what was at its end. The night
wind running her fingers through his hair, whispering seductive
promises. A little adventure, under the swelling moon.
But he had to go to work. Julian was waiting. Part of the deal he'd made with Luna: securing a safer place for the Gangrel in San Francisco by becoming Julian's bodyguard. Becoming part of a Prince's Household gave you some extra clout. Hard to take out the Gangrel Primogen without looking like you were also trying to take out the Prince. With a sigh, Cash slung his leather jacket over his shoulder and headed for the main house.
The Luna mansion had the kind of dark,
quiet elegance that rose only from old money. Cash preferred a
less cluttered approach himself, but he could gauge the relative
worth of the carpets he walked on, the gorgeous woodwork and carvings,
the carefully arranged objects d' art. The last was Lily's touch,
he knew. On his own, Julian seemed to prefer stark lines and sharp,
neutral colors. The Toreador woman brought in color and shade,
texture. He had to admit, she did a hell of a job.
He ran into Sasha at the foot of the main staircase. The Brujah fledgling leaned against the banister, arms folded, staring into space. Cash slowed, approaching with caution. Sasha spooked easily now. One had to treat her like some wild, injured animal. Gangrel Clan had the power to commune with beasts--and that included the Beast that dwelt in the heart of every Kindred.
Sasha's Beast prowled, hungry, restless. She'd been trying to deny it, ignore it, but she'd have better luck denying sunrise. Cash reached out, touched her shoulder--then threw up his arm in an instinctive block as the young Brujah whirled around to face him, dark eyes murderous with fury.
"Oh. It's you."
That's the Blood talking, he told himself, even as his spirit flinched from the rejection. Even spitting mad, she looked beautiful, as alluring as the song in the night wind and the open road.
"Move back in?" he asked her, glancing up the wide stairs. She used to have a room up there, he recalled. He'd gone in there, during one of her frequent disappearances, and spent the day curled up on the bed she used to sleep in. The linens still held her scent.
She shrugged one shoulder and looked away. "He offered, I thought why the hell not?"
You had no place else to go. He didn't say any of that out loud.
Brujah pride was prickly at best.
"Is Julian in his office?"
Sasha sniffed. "Isn't he always?"
Cash hesitated, then reached out, trying to touch her again. "I have to work, but--"
She drew away, closing him out. "Yeah. As usual."
Damn, she knew how to twist the knife. Cash gritted his teeth, swallowing back angry words. He'd tried and tried to show her he wanted to make amends. He'd fought and fought to get to her that night, but the raiding Brujah had pinned him securely, made him watch while they stole her away from him. If it took a century for him to make it up to her, he would do exactly that. But damn it, it would help if she gave me some kind of opening.
Sasha folded her arms and resumed holding up the banister. Cash shook out his jacket and slung it around her shoulders.
"I'll see you later," he told her, and turned to climb the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, he looked down towards Sasha. The fledgling had pulled the jacket close, long, slender fingers stroking the leather collar. He smiled slightly and continued towards Julian's office. The night was looking a lot brighter.
Unlike the rest of the mansion, this room showed no sign of Lily's
Toreador influences. Oh, it still had the undertone of money that marked every Ventrue haven, but this was a workplace, and it showed. Glass-lined bookcases, the sort you'd find in any successful law office held a number of leather-bound books. A polished walnut entertainment center held a wide-screen color TV and a VCR, where Julian or one of his underlings carefully scanned the security tapes made every night. They hadn't bugged all of San Francisco, of course, just public places where Kindred had a cover identity, or where the mortals needed watching. Places like the Herald offices, most of the police department, Lily's clubs-and Frank Kohanek's apartment.
Julian was already at his desk, hard at work. The glow from his computer monitor screen shone blue on the sharp planes of his face. The Prince of San Francisco glanced up as his bodyguard entered the room.
"Good evening, Cash," he said, turning his attention back to his work.
The Gangrel merely nodded and took a position to the back of the room, resting his back against the wall. This was petition night, where any Kindred might approach the Prince with a request and not have to speak through their Primogen or Sire. Cash considered it one of the more boring nights to stand duty. Talk, talk, talk, for hours on end, until his eyes crossed and his blood turned to clay from sheer inertia. What a waste of a gorgeous night.
His respect for Julian always went up after petition nights. To take the verbal hash his Kindred spewed forth and somehow shape it into something that kept San Francisco and its Kindred secure spoke volumes of the Prince's talents. That he listened to the growing list of petty complaints and wants and didn't Frenzy and shred the lot of them said even more.
Kindred began to trickle in through the door, escorted--and presumably searched--by one of Cash's Gangrel. Toreador who wanted permission to exhibit in a non-Kindred owned gallery. Nosferatu who wanted to travel out of the city to meet with others of their own clan. Kindred who wanted to claim their Siring rites, or, in some rare cases, present a new Childe to the Prince prior to releasing the fledgling into society.
Cash marked the time watching the angle of the moonlight change as it beamed in from the window. Dull.
That is, until the Brujah sauntered in.
Cash tensed, lowering his hands to his sides. His dislike for Brujah went Blood-deep. He fought it for Sasha, whom he'd loved before her Embrace. For the sneering, strutting Brujah men, he made no attempt to conceal his contempt. Julian looked up from his ledger books, capped his fountain pen.
The dark-haired Brujah straightened the left cuff of his jacket. "I have an adoption petition to lay before the Prince."
"I was unaware of a lost childe in my city." Julian's voice could have frozen water.
The idiot Brujah didn't get the hint.
"Sasha's Sire was destroyed." The Brujah glanced away pointedly. Martin had been the Nosferatu's Clan's price for abandoning their traditional neutrality. That account hadn't been settled yet, but would, one night... "My Primogen has requested that I take on the task."
"I think Eddie Fiori," Julian said, forming each word with care, "has over-stepped himself. Again."
From his present position, Cash didn't have a clear view of his Prince's face. He did have a near-perfect view of Eric's smirk. The Gangrel edged forward, focused on the Brujah. Let the man even twitch towards his Prince...
"What do you mean, Julian? Sasha needs an instructor to teach her of her heritage and her Clan."
Only a Brujah would need instruction on how to be a rabid animal.
"I've taken Sasha into my home. *I* will teach her the ways of the
"But what of her Clan?" Eric demanded. "You're a Ventrue. What can youknow of the heritage of the Brujah? You can't override blood."
Cash studied Eric, gauging him. Eric 'felt' younger than Cash himself. Why did Fiori send this whelp to parley for him? No Ventrue would take appeals to heritage seriously from somebody barely old enough to spell the word. Something wrong here, something not right. He could feel it in his gut, like the subtle tensions of a rising storm, or the dread stillness before a flash flood. He edged closer to Julian.
Julian rose to his feet in a smooth, deliberate motion. Cash fell into place beside his Prince.
"Sasha was my blood before one of yours forced himself on her."
And she would have been mine. Cash clenched his jaw against that old pain. The Beast peered out through his eyes. Eric froze, watching the Gangrel. One hand twitched towards his right hip--but the guard downstairs had relieved him of his weapons when he'd first arrived.
"Your petition is denied," Julian said.
"You can't mean for us to abandon one of our own."
"Thieves," Julian said, "have no grounds for complaint." The Prince flicked his hand in dismissal.
Eric bristled and braced his hands flat on the Prince's desk, leaning in. That was too close for Cash.
The Gangrel came around the desk and grabbed hold of the Brujah's collar. Before the surprised Brujah could recover, Cash slammed the idiot's head down against the desk. Julian half-smiled.
"Cash, don't let him bleed on my papers, please."
"Sorry," the Gangrel said in mock-contrition. He hauled Eric upright. "Now, he's said your petition is denied. I think you better move on."
Eric glared, tensing for a retaliatory blow. Then his eyes narrowed, shifting towards Julian. He shrugged off Cash's grip, tugging at his suit jacket in a futile attempt to restore his dignity.
"She's not your blood anymore. She's ours. And there's a price to pay for interference."
"And for breaking a Prince's decree."
The Brujah backed towards the door. "You haven't heard the least about this, Julian. You can't interfere with Clan progeny."
Julian drew himself up to his full height. The very air around him seemed to charge and crackle. Cash felt his own anger deflate, his own attention swinging from the Brujah to the Ventrue.
"I am the Prince of the City," Julian reminded Eric, in that soft, dangerous voice that marked the end of his patience. "No new Kindred are to be Embraced in this city without my leave. To do so courts destruction. Clan Brujah has flouted my law. A thief does not get to claim his stolen loot as private property. Childer Embraced without permission become mine, to
do with as I wish. Or do you want to contest that?"
The Brujah tried to hold his ground, Cash had to give him that. The young Kindred's chin jerked, as he tried to force himself to meet the Prince's gaze. But at last, he faltered, looked down...and backed away. Cash relaxed a fraction. Not that he'd doubted, really....
With a last glare over his shoulder, Eric slammed out of the office. Julian frowned after him.
"Want me to have him followed?" Cash asked.
The Prince nodded slowly, eyes fixed on the door. Cash reached for one of the house phones. When Archon had taken the princedom of San Francisco, he had forged a fragile, uneasy peace between Clans Ventrue and Brujah. But peace, he was learning, lasted only as long the peacekeepers desired it. The Brujah, it seemed, were no longer willing to hold up their end.
The Brujah want a war. If it came about, he had no doubts at all as to which side he'd stand on. But Sasha? Would she side with Clan or Prince?
One of his Gangrel picked up the line, and Cash issued quiet orders. He hung up, and looked back to Julian. "Ryan's going to follow him, see where he goes, then report back."
Julian nodded once, a sharp, jerky gesture. "I've heard enough for tonight. We're going to the Haven."
Behind Julian's back, Cash raised questioning eyebrows. It wasn't like Julian to go socializing when things got unruly. Which meant something else was up. He checked a sigh of impatience. Julian was forever leaving him in the dark about things, things he *needed* to know if he was to protect the Prince. This had all the earmarks of another 'Situation.' Silently giving thanks he no longer had to worry about things like blood pressure or ulcers, he followed after his Prince.
There was no sign of Sasha downstairs. Apparently, the young Kindred had made herself scarce soon after Eric's arrival. Cash couldn't blame her for that one. It couldn't be easy for Sasha, to have to always stand alone against her Clankin, with no Sire, no Broodmates or friends within the Clan. The wonder of it all was that Sasha ever stopped running.
He just wished she would run to him.
He borrowed a jacket from one of his people-Sasha
had disappeared with his-and headed out to the car. Before driving
it up to the door, he went over the vehicle carefully, searching
for signs of tampering or boobytraps. Satisfied the car was safe,
he went to pick up Julian. The Prince said nothing on the short
ride to Lily's Haven-nor did he spend the time reading through
reports or making phone calls, as he usually did. Cash watched
him in the rearview mirror, fighting down a sense of unease. Something
inside Julian had cracked the night Cash had told him of Sasha's
Embrace. Probably the same thing that had cracked inside Cash:
the cold remains of an undead heart. Question was, would either
of them recover?
He maneuvered the sleek dark car into the private lot that Lily maintained for her special patrons. Lot? It was more like a private garage, closed off from public view so the late hours would not be noticed. Even San Francisco's police eventually picked up a hint. Stepping out of the car, Cash swept the area before going to the Prince's door. By accident or Toreador design, the lighting here was dim. Cash called on his Gangrel nightsight to pierce the worst of the shadows. He'd never met one, but Stevie Ray had told him of Kindred who could move shadows like Ventrue moved money. Satisfied they were alone, he opened the door, and stepped back to let Julian exit.
The Prince barely glanced at him as he stepped out of the car. He moved towards the Haven with an easy, unhurried stride. Even before they entered, Cash could hear the music pulsing through the air.
This is the crises I knew had to come
Destroying the balance
Doubting and settling and turning around
Wondering what will come next
Julian looked neither right nor left, but paced across the open floor with the long, restless stride of a caged tiger. Lily, in conversation with a young mortal who had 'musician' written all over him, caught the Prince's entrance. Hastily excusing herself, she moved towards him, hesitating just a bit until she was sure that Cash had seen her approach, and that Julian would not wave her off. A humiliating dismissal here, in her own place, before her own people-but when Julian got in one of his moods, he didn't always consider Toreador sensibilities. Cash gave her a slight nod, and Lily glided smoothly into position beside their Prince, taking his arm.
They took their usual table, with Cash taking up a wary stance a few paces away. Julian made no effort at conversation, nor did he seem to be paying much attention to the musicians. Lily concealed her concern as best she could, languidly trailing her fingertips along the sleeve of Julian's impeccably tailored jacket. She felt him relax in increments, until the arm beneath her fingertips no longer felt like stone.
She rested her head on his shoulder. "What's troubling you?" she asked him. Tonight was Petition Night, not usually a task that taxed him like this. Had there been anything really troubling, she would have heard it brewing among her Toreador, and carried advance word to him. It was, she knew, one of the reasons she held the position of Consort: her superior network of spies and contacts among the mortals. Even the Nosferatu could not hope to best her there.
"The Brujah sent someone with an adoption petition for Sasha," Julian said, his voice so low his breath barely stirred her hair.
Lily checked a sigh. She suspected there was far more behind Julian's grief and anger over Sasha's Embrace than he had let on. As his long as his mortal descendants had continued on, some part of his old life, some part of his wife Evelyn, still remained.
Now, that fragile link to the past had been broken, sucked down by a greedy Brujah. And it all could have been so different... Her Toreador soul relished the richness of the tragedy, even as her heart ached for Julian.
"She's here, you know," she told him. No need to ask what he'd decided as to that petition. She knew perfectly well that her Prince would not give Sasha up.
Some of the tension returned to him, and he sat up a little straighter. "Where?"
She inclined her head to the right of the stage. In her short dress and tall boots, Sasha blended in almost perfectly with the mortals. She danced with seeming dreamy abandon, lost in a private world of music and motion. But to a Kindred's eyes, it was obvious she was Hunting.
Equally obvious, Sasha was being Hunted herself. Eric appeared on the fringes of the crowd, scanning faces, until he zeroed in on Sasha. He began to force his way through the dancers. Julian stiffened. Lily began to search the crowd for Opal, her Enforcer. The woman lacked Cash's masculine threat-but her skills at Presence made her one of the most formidable crowd-controllers on Lily's payroll.
The Gangrel nodded and stepped away from his post without saying a word. He was good at this kind of interception. He'd brought Starkweather out without so much as a crack in the Masquerade. He could certainly handle Sasha and Eric.
Dancers brushed against him as he wove his way through them, their skin flushed and warmed with exertion. He could smell the blood moving under their skin. Hunger flared briefly, and was immediately suppressed. Duty first. See to Julian's needs, then he would be free to tend his own. He reached Sasha just as Eric put out a hand for the fledgling's arm.
Is this the role that you wanted to live
I was foolish to ask for so much
Without the protection and infancy's guard
It all falls apart at the first touch
Watching the reel as it comes to a close
Brutally taking its time
"Come away, Sasha," Eric growled.
She pulled away from him, jaw set. Even from where he stood, Cash could see the flash of anger in her eyes, the warning glint of the Beast. Be careful, Sasha. *Please* be careful.
"I'm staying here," she told her Clanmate.
Eric glanced at Cash and scowled. He turned his attention back to Sasha. "Eddie wants to talk to you. So come away. Now."
Sasha raised her chin, the Beast gleaming in her eyes. "Eddie doesn't command me. He tried that once before, remember?"
When Eddie had tried to force a showdown between Julian and his supporters, and the Brujah. When the Nosferatu had claimed Martin as their price for their open support. 'I am your Primogen,'
Eddie had told her. Even now, Sasha seemed unimpressed.
Eric fixed her with a steady glare. Cash felt the first skin-crawling ripple of the be-damned Brujah
Presence. "You've been asked for. Come away."
To his surprise, Sasha threw off her kinsman's attempt at influence with ease.
"I said, I'm staying. Now piss off, Eric. You're cramping my style."
Cash stepped in then, between the two Brujah. "You're making a scene, Eric. Tone it down, before you call the wrong kind of attention."
"It seems to have called you already, Outlander," Eric snarled. "Or did someone blow a dog-whistle and you got confused?"
Cash locked eyes with the irate Brujah. The Gangrel had none of the mind powers that came so easily to the Brujah or the Ventrue. But he had pledged himself to Julian, to a Ventrue-and he could feel the subtle, solid support of his Prince. A support that helped him stand firm against the Brujah's emotional tampering.
Gangrel had a sense of the wild, of the Beast. He let it speak for him now, directly to the Beast that lay behind Eric's human facade. Stand down. You're not in charge here. Interloper.
This was Julian's place, and he was Julian's man, and Sasha was Julian's kin. No Brujah had the right to meddle here. And for those with the temerity to make the attempt...
Eric tried to hold his ground. Tried. A glaze of pink-tinged sweat broke out on his brow as the Brujah fought to keep from yielding. But at last, his eyes slid away, his shoulders slumped a fraction.
Eyes downcast, he stepped back a pace, then two, then three. Giving ground. As if waiting for this, the crowd of dancers surged forward, swallowing him up, leaving Cash and Sasha alone.
People who change for no reason at all
It's happening all of the time
Can I go on with this train of defense
Disturbing and purging my mind
I count up my duties -
when all's said and done
I know that I'll lose every time
He turned to Sasha, almost shaking in relief. "Sasha-"
But the Beast still held her in its claws.
"Are you done?" she hissed at him. "Are you all through squabbling over me like I'm some kind of prize in a Cracker Jack box? Can I get on with my life now, or is there another pissing contest I have to sit through?"
Her vehemence startled him. "Sasha-" he began, reaching for her.
She jerked away from him, as she had pulled away from Eric. As she pulled away from everyone now, since the night of her forced Embrace.
"No! I won't be used as a chip in your stupid games. From the beginning, none of you saw me at all! I've always been something to be used or bartered, or stolen, to all of you."
He flinched at her words. "Sasha, that's not true, I love you-"
"Funny way you have of showing it," she snarled. "You let Julian decide for you how far to follow your heart. You let your Clan decide who you should talk to or be seen with."
"You don't understand how things work with us, Sasha."
"No, I don't understand!" Somehow, she kept her voice low enough so she wouldn't be overheard by the mortals. "I don't want to understand! I want to be myself! And none of you seem to
want me to do that!"
She turned on her heel and stalked away from him An angry Brujah never had any trouble moving through a crowd. People seemed to sense the danger and moved out of her way without ever once wondering why. Cash stayed where he was, staring after her. It would do no good to follow, would only make things worse.
He turned back to where Julian waited.
Moving along in our God given ways
Safety is sat by the fire
Sanctuary from these feverish smiles
Left with a mark on the door
Is this the gift that I wanted to give
Forgive and forget's
what they teach
The Prince's eyes were dark and unreadable. He held his bodyguard's gaze for a moment, then looked away, turning to rest his cheek against his Consort's hair. Small comforts for large hurts. Futile gestures. No wonder Sasha raged.