Flashing Lights

by Stratusfied247

"Do you trust me, Julian?" Morgana moved slowly up his body. Her cool hands grazed his skin, just a second in pacing behind the lips that pressed softly against his body. "Do you have faith in me, my prince? Faith that I can control my clan?"
The prince of San Francisco went still. To others, the words may have sounded merely like the thoughts of someone insecure. To him, they sounded almost ominous. There was nothing insecure about Morgana Belize, at least not where her clan was concerned or Julian's faith in her rule. Whatever was on her mind had to be worrisome, else she would have brought it up at a more opportune time. She wouldn't have brought it up while they were in various stages of undress.

"What is this about, Morgana?" Julian's hand slowly started to rise up her back.

"A simple question, Julian." She kissed his chest, lingering for a moment in the center. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course, I trust you." He moved his hands to lightly hold her face. "Your heart is as free as the purest Toreador, and you have the ferocity of the Nosferatu when necessary. Your rule is strong. Why wouldn't I trust you?"

Softly, she said, "Then you believe that I can handle any within my clan. Despite their past grievances?"

His eyes narrowed. As he sat up, Morgana stayed pressed against him, and she rose with him as he moved. Julian's hands fell from her face to rest on her hips. "What have you done, Morgana?"

She pushed herself away from him then stood. She knew that he wouldn't like what she had to say. Her decision had gone against his previous ruling, but the situation was different. Lillie was no longer there, the lenient primogen who was too soft. Morgana wasn't his sire, and she had no bonding affiliation with him. He was just another of her clan, one who had to be watched carefully.

Morgana walked to the window and stared outside. She held no shame as she stood in lace bra and panty, though the curtains were wide. On the cobblestone outside, she saw Cash and Sydney in the midst of what would most likely be another battle in the quest to train her as Kindred. Cash turned up to the window and she nodded. He must have felt his prince's discomfort because his brow furrowed. Morgana nodded again and he turned back to Sydney.

Julian walked up behind her, but he didn't touch her. She felt him hovering just out of reach. "What have you done," he asked again.

Morgana lowered her head and sighed. "I have accepted Zane's request to rejoin the San Francisco Toreador."

Julian stepped back. The name alone was enough to make his blood boil. The last time Zane was in his city, he had Embraced girls against their will and left them to fend for themselves. The only thing that kept him alive was that he left the city at Julian's demand. Before his Embrace, he was on the edge, his mind and body corrupted by drugs and too much creativity. As Kindred, the Toreador blood had only fueled him closer to the brink of insanity.

"I said he was never to return to this city, Morgana."

His back was to her, and she wanted to touch him, but knew better. In recent months, he had grown as close to being a fierce leader as Morgana thought she would ever see. He loved her, but at this slight, he might very well send her flying across the room if she touched him.

"Julian..."

"Never to return!" He spun around. His body shook with his rage. "Do you so easily undermine me with something so serious?"

"It was different then, Julian. Lillie..."

"Lillie couldn't control him. She was his sire and couldn't reign him in. Do you think he would have more respect for a new primogen with no direct blood ties to him?"

"Lillie wouldn't control him, not couldn't. The very fact that I am not his sire says that I will control him better. He knew that Lillie wouldn't have killed him. She would have smuggled him away first. She was too busy with her jealousy to think clearly. I have no jealousy. I have no reason not to give him final death if he betrays my command."

"And what should I do to you for betraying mine?"

"I have betrayed nothing! I have only tried to help a member of my clan who is close to the edge."

"His very existence endangers the Masquerade, Morgana!"

"And Frank Kohanek's does not?" Her fear began to reside as her own anger and outrage took over. "You have let this detective live with the knowledge of Kindred, why? Because you made a promise to Alexandra? One that you should never have made? We never know from day to day whether he will fight for us or against us. I ask only to save our kind. Is that asking too much?"

"Yes!"

"No, it's not!" She stepped closer to him. "I give you fun, excitement... freedom from the pressures of being prince when you need it, and I ask nothing of you in return. Now, I ask you to have faith in me. I asked you a simple question, and you have given me a complicated answer that still equates to the same thing. No, you have no faith in my rule."

"I have faith in you, Morgana." Julian walked to her and grabbed her arms. "It's Zane that I have no faith in. His charisma and wildness can capture anyone, and once you have fallen under his spell, will you truly be able to kill him so easily? Or will you do as Lillie would have done and leave it to me."

Morgana stared up at him with cold, black eyes. "As easily as I ripped out Trish Stratus's throat will I do the same for Zane should he continue to break Kindred law."

Julian looked down at her with uncertainty. He was known as the forgiving prince, the one who brought peace to the city through his kindness. To allow Zane to re-enter the city would have been the ultimate act of kindess towards him, and yet, it could also endanger the Masquerade. But, if he denied this of Morgana, he knew she would take it as an insult. He could possibly lose her love, and might lose her backing should another threat to his power arise. He needed both to survive, the first Kindred and the second as prince.

Julian bent his head and kissed her forehead. With his lips lightly brushing her skin, he muttered, "You may bring him back, but know that I am watching him. Should he step out of line, if one more girl is Embraced against her will..." His eyelids fluttered close. "I will personally place the blade in your hand and you will have no choice but to kill him."

~*~

A howl cut through the club. Many stopped and stared. Standing behind the bar, Sydney's head popped up, partially out of curiosity, but mostly out of annoyance. The sound had almost made her drop a bottle of whiskey. When Cash looked up, however, there was nothing but anger on his face.

He knew Zane. He had been his best friend before he went crazy. When Julian told him two days prior that Zane would be coming back to town, Cash had been strongly against it. Brujah didn't care as long as Zane didn't interfere with their business. Nosferatu rarely cared for the problems of other clans. Ventrue was solidly behind Julian's decision, and since it had been Morgana's idea, Toreador was obviously on board. Cash had been out-voted and he could only hope that there wasn't a repeat of the last time Zane was in San Francisco.

He was every bit of a rock star as he walked through The Haven's doors. Though it had been months since his time in San Francisco, Zane was still thought of as a local star, very nearly a local legend. The site of his tall, lean frame sent girls flocking to him. They touched his curly hair and brushed against his chest. He had to wade through the crowd to get across the room and instantly, his eyes searched for the primogen that had gone to bat for him.

Morgana was nowhere to be seen, but he thought he might have felt her. His eyes turned up and he saw her standing on the second floor, her fingers wrapped around the railing. Julian stood beside her and while her eyes held a welcome, his held a warning. He knew Julian didn't want him in his town, but Morgana could be convincing. She had been convincing enough to make him understand exactly why his sire had to be killed. He didn't like it, but if he wanted to come back home, he had to take it.

Despite the wildness within him, he missed his home. He loved going from town to town, playing small bars filled with sweating bodies, but at the end of a tour, he wanted a place to go. Even the freedom-loving Toreador needed a base of operations, and the only one he had ever had was San Francisco.

Zane gave a nod to his primogen, then a deep bow to his prince. The humor that had been in the gesture the last time he did it was diminished, but still there. He found it ironic that though he was a rock GOD to so many people, he still had to bow to someone who would never reach his amount of fame. But, he had to show his loyalty if he wanted to stay. And it was a gesture that he could get away with since half the town thought Julian Luna was the boss of all bosses, anyway. If all thought Julian owned the town, then of course, one would grace him with a bow.

He stood up straight and spun around. Zane howled again. He always had electricity going through his veins, but he never felt it so much as when he was in San Francisco. He didn't know if it was because this was where he had been Embraced or if it was just imagined. With all the tunes in his head, the latter was quite possible. Since his Embrace, he couldn't seem to make the music stop. Most of the time, he didn't want to. Others... it just reminded him of Lillie.

Shaking his head, Zane surged forward, his eyes on the bar and the hot chick behind it slinging drinks. She looked at him with an evil glare and it only made his eyes light up. His hands slammed down on the bar and he pushed himself in. "What's the matter? Not happy to see the local star?"

"The local star'll be kissin' my ass if he doesn't stop makin' me drop drinks." Sydney rolled her eyes and slammed the bottle to the table. "Now, did you want something? Or were you plannin' to just annoy me all night?"

"Hey, hey! Some fire behind the counter!" He smirked. "Lillie kept the place pretty somber. Now... it's a haven for the insane! Ow!" Zane laughed. "This Morgana's chick better than I thought."

"This Morgana chick is the boss. And, the big boss's squeeze, if you get my drift." Her eyes floated up towards Julian, then came back down. "So, you shouldn't talk about her like that."

"Oh, but didn't they tell you?" He leaned in closer. There were humans around and he was slowly learning to keep certain things at a lower key. Of course, that could have been because the last time he almost broke the Masquerade in, the prince was seconds away from slitting his neck. That was the reason he asked to come home. He may have claimed that he wanted death before, but he knew the truth. He was having way too much fun living the rock life. "She's my primogen."

"How good of you to tell me." She leaned in. "Nice to know you're Toreador."

"And you?" He leaned closer to her. "You haven't told me your name, but you smell like Kindred." The sudden push in he gave was so quick that she didn't have time to move before his lips crushed hers. He pulled back and laughed. "But, you taste like Gangrel."

"I taste like Luna." She pushed herself away from the bar and wiped her mouth. The act wasn't quite as forceful as she'd have liked it to come off as. She could hide the grin, but she couldn't deny to herself that his lips were soft. She had heard before that there was something innately sexual and wild about Toreador, but she had yet to see it in its purest form. It was almost intoxicating.

She shook herself and stood up straight. "My name is Sydney, and my grandfather wouldn't appreciate you doing that again."

"And you? Would you appreciate it?"

"Let's put it this way, Zane. Toreador doesn't give you an excuse to lose control. So, you wait until I lose control, then you try that again, huh?" She walked back to the edge of the bar. Her hands gripped the edge and she pushed herself up. She leaned into the bar and whispered, "Besides, my sire and primogen doesn't exactly look thrilled about you being so close to me." She winked, then dropped back to the floor. "So, go back to your groupies and let me earn my keep, huh?"

Zane smirked. He waited for Sydney to come back, and when she turned and moved down to the other end of the bar, he feigned heartache. Laughing, he turned back around, where a throng of screaming girls waited for him. Some wanted autographs. Others wanted him. And others... It took all of the little bit of willpower that he had gained in the past few months to be able to control himself. Embracing them based on their bodies actions was what got him in trouble the first time around. This go round, they would have to be a little more specific. Or at least a little more willing.

His head turned to the side and he caught a flash of Sydney jumping up on the bar. He watched her walk towards Cash and thought that maybe this time around, those already Embraced might be able to hold his attention. Of course, that was assuming that Julian wasn't stingy with his relatives, and Cash didn't hog the Luna prize he had finally gotten his hands on.

~*~

Near the edge of town, set off near a stretch of woodland area, was his last bastien of security and privacy against the outside world. Not even Nicole had known about this place, where he hid from the lights of celebrity and the screams of the world. It was there that he had met his sire. She was his affair before he was Embraced. Once he became Kindred, it felt as though Nicole was the affair.

He often wondered if that had been the reason for their divorce. People talked of growing apart, but they didn't understand. When one passed from human to Kindred, star to Ventrue, they became worlds apart from all they had known before. He hadn't been one of them since Mission : Impossible, and he would never be one again. He would have to go into hiding, leave that life behind one day. When people realized that his aging was a very good make-up job. His hair was dyed to look as though he occasionally went gray. He would be in his late thirties forever, and he could only hope to put away enough money to survive when he went into seclusion because he didn't know anything else but acting, and there was no way he could do that again.

Tom Cruise sat on a bench, a few yards from the front gates of Julian Luna's compound. Though he technically lived in Los Angeles, his allegiance was to the city where he had been Embraced. His prince lied just on the other side of those gates, and he would help him. He would dispose of his problems, because that is what a prince is for.

He hadn't asked for his Embrace, but he took it. He was completely unaware of the Masquerade, and therefore, he couldn't have asked for it. If he had known, he wasn't sure if he would have or not. Part of him was thrilled with the idea of living forever, keeping the youthful visage that had propelled him into the hearts of women all over the world. And yet, he would miss it when he couldn't have his life anymore. He hated that he would see Nicole grow old and die, and then his children. He often wondered if he would save himself the heartache and turn from them all at once, or if he would spend his days with the pain of his prince, watching as his human bloodline died out.

"Lucky for you that Cash saw you out here. Otherwise, you might have been outside for a very long time."

He turned at Julian's voice and gave a small laugh. "It's funny," Tom said, turning back to stare at the bridge. "I played a vampire, but I never thought they existed. And after the Embrace, I would watch the movie again and expect to laugh at the gross inaccuracy of it all. But really? All I can do is be glad that it's not really like that."

Julian sat beside him, a few inches between the two for space. He leaned back and folded his hands in his lap. "Your fame is what has kept you alive, and yet... it also makes you so dangerous."

"I know." Tom sighed. "Either way, I can't just disappear. At the same time, my life is over anyway if the Masquerade is revealed."

"This... reporter." There was a slight hesitation before Julian went on. "This paparazzo... have you tried to erase his mind?"

"He's determined. I've tried, others have tried... Cyrus would have let him go if it weren't for the fact that outting me would most likely out him, too. There's this determination in him that makes his mind harder to control. The erase is only good for a few days, and then he's off sniffing again. He knows there's a story here, Julian."

"And like any good reporter, he won't let it go."

Julian sighed and it was obvious where his mind was. Tom hadn't been in town during the time, but word travelled quickly. Whatever the prince's feelings had been for Caitlin Byrne, they weren't as easily vanquished as some may have thought. Tom understood it. No matter how logical it was to separate oneself from the humans in their previous lives, the act itself was almost impossible. He was almost sure that the ones who did it the easiest were also the ones that hadn't had to leave spouses and children behind.

"I came here for my prince's aid." Tom turned to him. He found himself more proper when he was with his clan. Most of the Ventrue he encountered were old money, and their reserved air seemed to brush off on him. "I was hoping to escape this man without killing him. I wasn't a murderer before..."

"And you don't want to be one now." Julian turned to him. "One thing you never took to well was Kindred justice. We are harsh in our punishments because we have to be. If the humans find out about us, they'll destroy us."

"I know that. I find it funny most of the time to see the ones out there pretending, living their lives based on ideas that Anne Rice came up with at the height of her insanity. And believe me, the stuff she wrote had everything to do with being crazy and nothing with the Masquerade. That woman doesn't have a clue what's going on."

"Good. The last thing we need is a ranting writer putting down our lives in books."

Tom sighed and turned once more towards the bridge. "It's not just my queasiness that stops me from killing this guy. He works for US Weekly. I'm sure he's told others about this major Tom Cruise scoop he thinks he has, and if he just disappears..." He shook his head. "I can't let them bring this to my doorstep." He turned to Julian with a sudden rush of anger. "He's stalked my kids! I let Nic move �em out to Australia to keep them safe. I know I'll have to leave them eventually, but I don't have to do it yet. But with this guy on my tail, I haven't seen them in months. I don't want them getting harassed."

"These rumors of you reuniting with Nicole..."

"They're not true. You have no idea how much I wish they were." He groaned and turned forward, then slouched against the back of the bench. "I miss her, and I know I always will. But, I can't watch her die, and I refuse to Embrace her. I won't put her through the pain of watching our kids grow old and die. That's something I'll suffer alone."

"It's a burden that we must bear," Julian told him softly. "We grow to be fathers without children. We watch our loved ones die, and the only thing we can cling to are the loved ones that we have created as Kindred."

Tom sighed. "Does Marcella know I'm in town?"

"Yes," Julian told him. "She's waiting for you inside. It has been decided that you will stay here until this is settled. More than likely, this reporter has found out about your house in the woods. It's not safe. This home is the safest that you'll be. Behind these gates lies your sanctuary."

"Then, I guess I should get behind them then, huh?" He pushed himself up to his feet and groaned. "But, I can't stay inside forever, Julian. People saw me come into town. And I still need to feed."

Julian stood and nodded. "Stacy Keibler is running the paper now, and she's set to do a story on your arrival. I told her to make up an appearance to explain your presence."

"And my staying here?"

"No one outside of our world will be aware. As far as they are concerned, you have a room downtown." He turned and put an arm around Tom's back. "Have you fed tonight?"

"Yes."

"Good. Then, we can go inside, and tomorrow night, you have VIP seating at The Haven. Now, come. It's time to face your adoring fans."

"Fans?"

"Well, one in particular." As they walked forward, Julian smirked. "Just remember, no matter how much Morgana smiles at you, or touches you, or throws those Toreador wiles your way, she's still very, very off limits."

Tom laughed as he was escorted through the compound's gates. "No worries. I'm sure I'll be completely occupied tonight."

"How long has it been since you've seen Marcella?"

"At least a year."

"Then, have a good time. And please, don't break anything. Remember that though we are Ventrue and have wealth at the tips of our fingers, everything in that room is very expensive, and not all of it is replaceable."

~*~

"I bite, I drink, I erase. Easy. I don't know why you keep making this into a bigger deal than it has to be."

Cash growled, his lip turning up in a partial sneer. She was being difficult for the hell of it, and he knew it. She understood the concept and the mechanics, but Sydney would put it off for as long as possible. The act of drinking blood wasn't enticing to any new vampire, Cash knew this, but it had to be done, and he couldn't seem to drill it into her head that if she didn't feed, she would wither and die.

He tried to give her time, knowing the dilemmas they had to work with. Sydney had stopped bemoaning her Embrace and thankfully, she wasn't throwing anything other than temper tantrums anymore. He thought that the easiest way might have been to tell her that Sasha drank without a problem after her first feeding, but since Sasha was the problem, that would only serve to send her into a rage.

He couldn't help what had happened. Life, or unlife as the case may be, happened, and everyone had to move on. She was deliberately obstinate with Cash because of his connection with Sasha. There were moments when she was subdued and appeared to be ready to go along with things, times when they seemed to be growing closer and almost had fun, but then Sydney would tell him, "I'm not Sasha," then push him away.

Cash knew it was partially his fault. Sometimes he did look at her and think of Sasha, not because they were alike, but becasue they were so different. There were times when, looking at Sydney, he wondered how he had fallen in love with Sasha in the first place. Was it just because they were forbidden to see each other? The old adage that the more you tell someone they can't, the more they want to do it? He thought it might have been possible, because with time passed, he couldn't think of one thing he really had in common with Sasha, and found all of his traits in Sydney. It was enough to often make him wish that it had been Sydney Julian brought home all those months ago, and not her sister.

"Look, Sydney." He groaned. "You wanna go out and play in the day, you gotta feed more than once every couple of days. As long as you feed regularly, you can live just like anybody else out on the streets."

"Jesus! So I got a little sunburned!" She looked at her shoulder and winced. It was more like sun scorch, then sunburn, but it could have been worse. She could have gone up in flames, and while she knew that she had to feed to go out as often as she did, she didn't like Cash harping on it.

"You've got a second degree burn!"

"And it'll heal! Damn, you get all bent out of shape. It's nasty, Cash, and I don't want to do it. And I swear, if you tell me one more time that I have to, I'm gonna slap you."

She was almost completely convinced that the only reason he was so intent on making demands of her was because he missed his chance with Sasha. Sure, he could say that it was his duty as her sire and primogen, or even that Julian insisted that she be made into as close to the perfect Kindred as possible, but she wasn't buying it. He missed his chance with Sasha, so she figured he was just moving on to the next best thing. Well, she wasn't Sasha, and she didn't like to be thought of as a substitute for Sasha.

In truth, she thought she could have been able to enjoy Cash if he weren't so... intense. Sometimes, she found herself very nearly enjoying his company. Somewhere between screaming and arguing, they would end up laughing. She remembered one time when they were practicing her transformations and she pounced him. She went from wolf to woman lying on him and if he hadn't looked so damned enamoured she would have kissed him instead of standing up and saying, "I'm not Sasha."

A voice came from behind her. "But would you slap me?" Sydney whirled around and glared at Zane. The past couple of nights, she had caught him watching her at The Haven. Morgana gave him the stage and he could perform whenever he felt like singing, which was almost every night. His voice would float to her ears, and just as she was looking up, his eyes would be on her. She didn't particularly care for the attention, but neither did she hate it.

"Depends on how you say it."

Zane laughed, then howled. He threw his entire body into every motion and the howl was no different. His knees bent and his body went backwards, then shot forward. "I think I could say it in a way that got me more of a kiss than a slap."

"Oh, really?" She was well aware of Cash's growling behind her, and she wondered if that were part of the reason she urged Zane on. "How would you explain it?"

"It's the music, babe." He winked at her. His body swayed as he stepped closer to her. "The music in the blood."

"You sound like a junkie, ya know that?"

"I'm a junkie for the life, Syd." He smirked. "Feeding... it's free, like the music. The blood flows and it fills you and you just wanna dance in the streets. And you can dance in the streets. You can throw your hands up and howl at the moon, or scream at the sun if you want. You just gotta go with the flow. Gotta do whatcha gotta do."

"Do what I gotta do, huh?" She turned behind her and looked at Cash. He wasn't happy with the way things were going, and it pleased her. And yet, at the same time, she was a little upset over it. It was his blood that flowed through her veins. But... if he weren't so Sasha-fixated, so serious all the time... She shook her head and turned back to Zane. "And I gotta feed."

"Oh yeah." He flicked a nail across his wrist and held his arm up so the blood oozed down forearm. With a twinkle in his eye, he lifted his arm and licked the blood off. The cut disappeared, but drops of blood still lingered on his skin.

Sydney stared at the drops and was almost mesmerized. Zane held his arm out languidly and there was something just... sexual about the whole thing. She'd fed from Cash before, but it had always been a necessity's feeding. And this... the skin was no longer broken. It wouldn't have been a feeding. It would have been a teasing.

"There's nothin' like feedin', Syd." He kept his arm out. "Someone else's life going inside of you, living inside of you. It's like sex at its best."

"And at it's worst?"

Her hands were slowly wrapping around his arm. Her tongue dragged across his skin and he hissed. "Half-assed foreplay at the worst."

"That's not too bad."

"Not at all." He jerked her in close and leaned down. He murmurred, "Whaddya say we hop on my bike and test out my theory?"

"Feeding as sex?"

"You got it."

"Sounds like a plan."

She let Zane pull her off and wondered where his bike was parked. She hadn't even heard him pull up, so he had to have walked. He started her down the alley behind The Haven, and Cash yelled after them. "Sydney, you can't just go off!" He didn't know what he was more upset over. The fact that she was going off with Zane or that she wasn't even going to bother to say anything else to him. After all he'd done for her... "Sydney!"

"I'm not Sasha!" she called out from a few feet away. "I don't need a babysitter!"

"But, I might!" Zane yelled with a laugh.

"So, I'm his babysitter! Tell Julian I'll be back before sunrise!"

The two ran off and Cash was left to stand and growl. He could have gone after her, but that would have only gotten them fighting again. Of course, if they were fighting, she was at least talking to him and not ignoring him. He contemplated telling Julian what was going on, but that would just make things worse. Cash was a lot of things, but he wasn't a tattletale. Plus, he didn't want the prince to know that he couldn't handle his own charge.

Cash screamed with frustration, then turned to stomp off. He passed Sydney's bike and in a moment of pure childishness, kicked the rear tire. What did she know about Zane? So he was a rock star, he was this wild and free guy that didn't take anything seriously. Well, that was what had gotten him kicked out of San Francisco the first time, and if he weren't careful, it would happen again. He thought that it might have been time to tell Sydney just why her playmate had gotten kicked out in the first place. He growled, climbed on his bike, then muttered, "Then we'll see just how hot she is to learn from him."

~*~

"I was starting to think you didn't want to see me."

Tom didn't have to open his eyes to know she was there. As he laid in the large bed amidst the pillows and comforters, he could smell her perfume. Gardenias and Lilacs. He had asked her once where she got it, but all she would say was that he'd never be able to find it in a store. It was an ancient mixture that was only properly recreated by alchemy. He assumed that Daedalus had made it and didn't ask again.

Even if he didn't know smell her, he would have felt her. His skin tingled whenever she were near. He'd felt her on sets before, and often when he was in Europe. It was like the edge of a feather being brushed against his skin, ruffling the small hairs along his arms. She made him shiver just standing a few feet away from him. She made him shiver just standing in a picture in his mind.

Marcella Madison made no sound as she came closer to him. Her bare feet made no sound as she padded across the floor. The full skirt of her ballgown brushed the floor, rustling ever so slightly as she moved closer. "Things kept coming up."

"Benefits, functions, all the play of old money in a town where old money is scarce." He sat up and stared at her. He nodded at her dress and said, "Benefit, function, or other?"

"Hospital gala."

He swung his feet off the bed, but didn't stand. He didn't know what he felt about this woman, this Kindred that had given him the gift of freedom and stolen the privilege of bondage. Sometimes, she was his world. Sometimes, she was the only thing that made him flash the bright smile that women across the world had come to know and love. And others, he wanted to be nowhere near her. Theirs was a complicated relationship at best and towering inferno at worst.

His head turned slowly towards her. "Like I said before, I thought you didn't want to see me."

"I never said that." She moved a little closer. "I told you."

"Yeah, thinks came up." Tom sighed and turned away. His back bowed as his arms dropped down to rest on his legs. His head fell forward and loose brown hair fell into his face. "When I got here, Julian said you were waiting for me. By the time I got up here, you were gone. It wasn't... pleasant."

"So I hear." Marcella moved closer still. "Morgana was none too happy about her dazzling Tom Cruise being left to pout. How did she put it?" She paused and tapped her finger against her lips. After a second, she said, "Ah, yes. I believe it was... the perfect Toreador trapped in the blood and arms of an undeserving Ventrue wench."

"No love lost, huh?"

Marcella shrugged and with the movement, her wide curls bobbed against her shoulders. "A different city, a different century. Toreador and Ventrue does not always get along, despite what may be thought from our practices in love."

"On thing about you, Marcella..." His head turned slowly towards her. He kept his eyes level, though, not moving enough to meet her eyes. "You were never impolite. And I'd say that it's damn rude to walk out on someone without even saying goodbye. Or hello, for that matter."

"Such a way to speak to your sire." Her words were steady, but she moved a step back. Before she spoke, there had been the slightest intake of breath, a gasp of shock at his tone.

Tom stood abruptly and looked at her. "My apologies, my love." The affectation was half sincere and half mockery. His eyes blazed as he stared at her. He reached out to touch her face. His palm brushed against her cheek, then his hand quickly flipped over for his knuckles to graze her cheekbone. It had been their form of greeting since his Embrace, something that had found its way into their meetings, almost as custom. "But excuse the hell out of me for thinking you might care to see me, the one that you claimed was your greatest Embrace ever."

"The last time we saw each other, you cursed me for taking away your human family."

"The last time we saw each other, I had just given up my human family. The wound was open."

"And now?" She reached out and repeated his gesture. When her arm fell, though, it stopped on his shoulder instead of landing at her side. She took in every inch of his bare torso. Her eyes stopped at the waistband of his pajama pants. Black silk. "How open is your wound? Open enough that you asked for the prince's help to save this family instead of your own sire?"

"The sire who won't even look me in the eye? You can be a loving sire, Marcella, but you can also be a cold-hearted bitch when you want to be. How was I to know you wouldn't let the bitch out and leave me to rot, huh?"

"You bastard!" Her hand connected solidly with his face hard enough to bruise, then quickly reside. "Have you no loyalty?" She went to slap him again, but he caught her arm. She brought up the other, and he caught that one, too. "Let me go!"

"Why? So you can run again? Should I be glad that this time you'll at least say goodbye?"

"I'll say nothing but leave when I storm out of this room!"

"And you'll putme out, how? This is not your home, it's Julian's, and my prince says that I'm welcome any time. Now is the time, Marcella."

"Now is when you will release me!" She jerked free of him and stumbled backwards. Marcella steadied herself, then charged forward. "How dare you speak to me such a way! You will show me the respect that your sire deserves!"

Tom grabbed her arm and jerked her until their bodies bumped. He yanked the long white glove from her hand, then ran his lips against the vein in her wrist. His eyes started to glow as he said, "The respect you deserve..." He sneered. "The respect I deserve would be nice. An offer of caring from the sire that claims to love me so much."

Marcella clinched her teeth. Her tongue ran along her gums as he blew against her skin. "Will you take from me that which I gave you so freely?"

"That which you poured into my mouth? That which you stroked down my throat until I awoke with shivers and chills? That which tore me away from my human life and left me free... except when I'm chased by ravenous reporters?" He turned his flashing eyes onto her and growled. "Yes," he said, "I will."

He sank his teeth into her arm. A scream caught in Marcella's throat and her back arched as he sucked out her blood. She could feel it being pulled from her veins. Her body tightened, then loosened. She snatched her arm away and stared at him. His thin lips were covered with her blood.

Marcella grabbed his face and kissed him hard. This was their relationship, as it had been since his Embrace. Sweet sentiments and words of longing were foregone in exchange for a mixture of formal words, angry passion and initial distance. She would never be Tom Cruise's newest fling because she would never be a fling. She was his maker, and one day, his obsession with Nicole Kidman would fade as he realizes that the only important woman that will ever be in his life is Marcella.

She pushed away from him, then fell on the floor. Her dress fanned out around her in heaping mounds of satin and lace. She looked up to him and reached out. He took her hand and dropped to his knees. Her skirts rustled as he crawled over them. His took her face in his hands. She lightly rested her palms against his forearms.

"Will you run out on me this time, Marcella?" He ran his thumbs in circles on her cheeks. "Will you abandon me when I need my sire most?"

Her bottom lip quivered. She turned her face into his hand and grazed his palm with her teeth. "I have never abandoned you, my love." She pressed her lips against his palm. "And I never will. Don't ever forget that." She brought her hand around so that her nail slid against his skin. The flesh opened and, just below her mouth, and she licked the wound lightly. "You are Kindred," she told him, "you are Ventrue. And you, my love, are most importantly mine." Her mouth covered the wound and grievances were lost.

~*~

"Word is, you got kicked out." Sydney sat with her toes buried in the sand, and her ass buried in even wetter sand. As the tide began to roll in, the water crushed against her body and divided against her. Her head leaned back and she stared up at the moon. "How did you get back in if you were kicked out?"

"Word is a masquerade that they use in the Masquerade to pass their gossip and rumors."

"Pretty comeback," she said with a smirk, "but that's not an answer."

"You want an answer?" He dropped down in front of her on his hands and knees. Sand stuck to his jeans as he crawled up her body. "Ask my primogen," he told her, his voice low. "She's the one that got me back into town, convinced your uncle to forgive me of my misdeeds."

"Actually, he's my two-greats grandfather. I never really bought the uncle thing, and now that I'm Kindred, I prefer to be thought of as a Luna. Uncle isn't close enough to be a Luna." She shook her head and leaned back farther. "The way Julian looks when you come around, I'd guess those misdeeds were bad."

"So they say."

"You don't think they were?"

"Do you?"

"I don't know what they were."

Zane laughed and jumped to his feet. His shirt laid draped over the seat of his Harley and as he spun around with his arms outstretched, the moon made his skin seem to glow. "They didn't tell you?" He laughed again, then dropped down to his haunches. "I gave the gift, Sydney. The freedom and the music and the expression... I gave it to an ungrateful little bitch who didn't understand the wonder that flowed through her veins."

Sydney looked at him with doubt, not that his words were false, but that she wasn't sure she understood exactly what he was saying. She moved to her knees and turned her back to him. "You Embraced without her knowing what you were doing? Without knowing what she would become?"

"I Embraced because she was trapped. Stuck in a life where she could never be anything more than a groupie. I made her life meaningful."

"You made her dead." She washed her hands in the water and stood. For the first time that night, she felt uncomfortable with Zane. Every second that passed, she had felt close to him, close to his freedom. He had taken her to feed in the dark corners of a human-owned nightclub, then danced with her in the middle of the street. They went to another club and he took the stage, and they danced beneath the glowing lights. There were no cares, no thoughts. And now? Now, he was... dirty.

She ran her hands through her hair and turned. Sydney walked to his bike and picked up his shirt. Not looking at him, she held the shirt out to him and said, "I think you need to take me home."

"Just like that?" Zane brushed her arm to the side and stormed up to her. "Just like that, without trying to understand, you banish me into the night."

"Now your'e just being melodramatic." Sydney rolled her eyes. She offered him the shirt again, and once more he pushed her away. With a shrug, she dropped it to the ground. "Nobody's banishing you anywhere. I just said you should take me home."

"Scared of me, Sydney?" He zipped around to the other side of the bike. He pressed his hands hard against the bike's seat and pushed his body in close to her. "What do you have to be scared of? You're already Kindred." He leaned in closer and lowered his voice. "Or are you disgusted? Are you another one that can't be grateful for the gift she was given? I'd have never thought that of you, Syd. I thought you understood the freedom, the fucking RIDE of it all!"

"I am not ungrateful, but neither do I think of it as a gift!" She shoved him back and the fact that he laughed only served to rile her up. "I was left for dead on Julian's doorstep and Cash's blood saved me. I know what I am and I accept it, but what you did is no better than what Edge did to me."

"Oh, it's a million times better. I left no one for dead. What I did was not for my own amusement or out of malice. I wanted to help those girls the way Lillie helped me. I wanted to set them free!"

"How were you setting them free? Free of what?"

"Of the chains that they didn't even know they had on their legs!" He jumped up and balanced on the seat of his bike. "When Lillie found me, I was very nearly dead, or I would have been. I was full of drugs that gave me the illusion of freedom, but it wasn't until Lillie Embraced me that I truly became free. That the Toreador blood snatched the music out of me and gave it to the world! My very existence became a high, Syd, and yours could be the same."

"Cash wouldn't appreciate that kind of talk." She didn't know why she had even brought him up. It was just the first thing that popped to her mind.

"Cash... he's become too serious. He's got responsibilities as primogen, as Julian Luna's bodyguard. He serves the prince when he should only serve himself. Gangrel is as free as Toreador. That's what he told me once, and that is why he fears you now."

"Fears me?"

"You are the embodiment of Gangrel freedom, just as I am the embodiment of everything Toreador. We are the purest of our clans, and you could bring his purity back."

"To him, I'm only what Sasha never could have been. He looks at me and he sees Sasha."

"He looks at you and he sees his soul." Zane hopped down and his eyes closed slowly. Lazily his body began to sway, his head to roll. His voice was soft as he sang, "I dreamed I was flyin'... I dreamed I was flyin'..." His eyes opened and he looked at Sydney. "He dreamed he was flying, and he flew with you."

"And you?" She moved closer to him. "What do you dream?"

"The same as Cash, and that is why former best friends can never be current." He stood up straight and screamed, then laughed. "You're the flight of the world, Sydney! You're free! You're Kindred!" He ran around the end of the bike and grabbed her. "We're Kindred together, and right now, right this minute, our freedom rules the world!"

He bent down and crushed her lips with his. Sydney wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly. Her eyelids fluttered open and she almost jerked away. Zane didn't look down at her, Cash did. She closed her eyes, then slowly opened them again. Zane was back, but she wondered if she opened and closed her eyes until the end of time, would it always volley between the two of them, or would one eventually stay each time she reopened her eyes. She wondered... Do I want one of them to stay? Or am I so free that I can have them both? Am I really free at all?

~*~

Julian stood at the door and stared out. The sun bounced off of the reinforced glass, shining its light on the white etched wolf's head that faced out. Sydney was running in and out faster than he could turn his head. She wasn't ungrateful as Sasha had been about her living circumstances. She may have spent less and less time there, but she always came home. She always made it to the club in time for work. She was just out there, and she was with a bad element.

"Cash should have told me," he muttered. His hands were folded behind his back. "And when he returns..."

"You'll chide him for it? What are you gonna do, Julian? Chide everybody that knew about it and didn't say anything? It's her life... or unlife as the case may be."

He turned around and stared at Tom with disbelief. "She's my granddaughter. Can you stand there and tell me that you would let someone like Zane so easily run off with your daughter?"

"Julian, my daughter's not dating age."

"That's not the point!" His body shook with anger and frustration. He turned back to the glass and stared outside again. "I didn't want him in my city, but Morgana..." He shook his head. "Oh, Morgana. She convinced me to let her do this, but Zane may convince me to make her kill him."

"What's he done that's so bad, huh? He makes your granddaughter appreciate being Kindred. Is that so bad?"

Julian wanted to shout yes, but couldn't. Sasha's biggest downfall as a Brujah was her unability to truly accept what she was. She held to the title of Brujah because it gave her an excuse for her actions, but in all the time she announced to someone what she was, why she acted the way she did, she never said it was because she was Kindred. It was as though the word hurt her throat and wouldn't come out.

Sydney, on the other hand, knew what she was, and was starting to embrace it as best she could. Cash didn't tell him, but Julian knew that she was still fighting the necessities with him. He watched them from the window at night as Cash tried to teach her. He watched her rebel against him, revolt for revolution's sake. But, deep down, as much as she may have complained, he knew she would rather be Kindred than dead.

But to be so with Zane? With someone who obviously didn't understand how to survive? He could show her freedom, but he couldn't teach her restraint when he had none himself. Cash could teach her to survive within the Masquerade. Granted, Julian wasn't too thrilled about what he saw developing between them, either, but at least he would keep her safe. At least he was her own clan. To mix Toreador freedom with Gangrel wildness was a deadly explosion waiting to happen.

"Morgana should have told me," he said softly. "I shouldn't have had to find out from Brujah wanting to make a name for themselves. Brujah who just care about causing trouble for a couple of Gangrel. She should have... She should have said something."

"Why? So you could argue?" Tom sighed as he stepped closer to his prince. He knew little of Zane's history, but enough of it to understand Julian's apprehension and frustration. No father wanted their daughters to date musicians, and a few generations of distance between parent and child didn't change that. "It would have been a massacre, and when you bring it up to her, it'll still be a massacre. Before you two kiss and make up, the walls will be stained with blood."

"We're not savages, Tom."

"When it comes to the heart you are. We all are. You'll both sharpen your claws and go at each other. So maybe you won't fling blood on the walls, but the words'll cut all the same. You'll tell her that she should have stopped it, that she was supposed to keep an eye on him and that this was all her fault. She'll accuse you of not trusting her. She'll say that you trust your Gangrel bodyguard more than your own lover with your granddaughter's safety."

"And then?"

"Then... I don't know. We like to believe that one fight won't ruin what's supposed to be love, but it can."

"And how do you know neither of us will back down?"

"Because your Ventrue blood will make you focused, and being prince will make you stand firm that you're right. And her Toreador blood will give her the freedom to say anything and everything that's on her mind. When it's over, both of your hearts will be broken, and you'll be left to love another woman that's not there."

Slowly, Julian turned to him. He leaned back and propped himself against the door. "Another woman... you act like there are so many."

"There are, because you never stop loving. I remember you saying to Lillie once that when your heart was in, it was always there. You didn't say it just like that but..." He shrugged. "I remember it so well because it's the way I've always felt. Divorce, separation, a hundred years apart doesn't make love go away. It just buries it deeper."

"And who are these women that I am supposed to still love?"

"Evelyn. Alexandra. Caitlin. Lillie..." Tom sighed. "You don't wanna add Morgana to that list. At least the others are out of your sight. Dead, in another city, doesn't matter, you don't have to look at �em. But, Morgana's not going anywhere. And you'll have to look at her every day and know that you let your resentment over one person fuck up the only thing you had left. Will you move on so easily? Have you ever moved on that easily?"

Julian was quiet as he stared at Tom. This man had been Kindred only a few years and his time with Julian was never for more than a few months at a time, but he seemed to know him better than a lot of the women in his past ever did. He wondered if it were because they truly were of the same breed. Not just men. Not just Ventrue, but the true childless fathers and wifeless husbands. They wanted a security and bond that their existence didn't afford them. But knowing that it couldn't happen didn't make them want it any less. So, they found others to latch onto, others to place in their hearts, and they put them in so deeply that even if the women left, and they had to be alone for an extended period of time, there would still be something there to hold on to.

Morgana was that piece for him, and he knew that as much as Tom would always love Nicole, she was buried somewhere under Marcella, for it was his sire that would be visible the longest. Julian didn't want to add Morgana to that list of women who kept him company when he was alone. He didn't want that anymore than he wanted to go further with this conversation. Some things were better left unsaid until they were fully understood and accepted.

"Cash is trailing your reporter. This man... He's determined."

Tom knew an abrupt conversation change when he saw one. He sighed and let his body slump. "I told you that. I've been here almost a week and he's still seen me outside at least twice. Or at least, that's how many times I've seen him see me. There's no telling where else he's been. The only reason I know he hasn't seen too much is because his rag hasn't printed the photos yet."

"He'll come asking, soon... wondering about his pictures. Cash deletes them the second he takes them. I don't know what it is about this man's mind, but it keeps him from being fully erased. The most we can do is make him forget his mission for a few hours at a time."

"We may have to put the fear of Kindred into him. Let him know that this isn't the thing to do. I was hoping to get rid of him some other way but..."

"We must protect the Masquerade," Julian told him, "and if that means that this man disappears, then so be it. We have people in every walk of life, Tom. Even at the bottom of the barrel with the paparazzi. If it comes to his disappearance, then it'll be covered up."

Tom crossed the floor and stared out the window. In the years that he had been Kindred, the one thing he'd held onto from his past life had been that he wasn't a killer. It was why he was sure he'd never want to be prince of any city. That involved giving orders that he wasn't prepared to give. That he didn't think he'd ever be prepared to give.

With a sigh, he pressed his head against the cool glass. "Let's just hope it doesn't come to that, ya know? �Cause that's the point of no return and... a guy's gotta hold on to the last bit of humanity that he has left and the more time I spend with Marcella..."

"The more you realize that it really is all you have left."

"Exactly."

~*~

"We live and die by the Masquerade, Zane. Do you understand that? Has it gotten through your thick skull yet that you have to control yourself? That you can't take Julian's granddaughter in the middle of town and run through traffic? Are you trying to ruin everything?"

Morgana stalked back and forth across the bar, her hands clasped tightly behind her back. The Haven was closed, and there were still hours to go before anyone showed up. Any Kindred that came by, whether they worked there or not, could easily see inside to know that this was not the time to interfere.

Julian had yet to say anything to her, but she could tell that he was disappointed in this budding relationship. His touch wasn't as soft. His lips weren't so tasty. His words held a tinge of rebuff to them that made her want to scream at him to just say it. She didn't want to fight with him, but anything had to be better than the waiting and the guessing. She hated to make assumptions, and that's all there was until Julian said something.

And now, this. Word was sure to get back to the prince about Sydney's recent escapade. She was one of theirs, so most Gangrel wouldn't have said anything. In fact, Morgana was sure that there were quiet a few of them who thought that whatever she did with Zane was perfectly fine as long as it kept her from tying their primogen closer to the prince. Toreador would only speak to their primogen about Zane, preferring to keep things within their clan. But, there were those damned Brujah...

Every time Zane and Sydney did something remotely insane, some Brujah went running to the prince to tell him everything. They lived to cause trouble for Gangrel, and there was no better way to do that than to cause a rift between Julian and Cash. They couldn't keep their filthy mouths shut long enough for things to be fixed. They had to butt in where they didn't belong.

Morgana turned to Zane and sighed. All she wanted to do was help a member of her clan. Zane made it so hard to do that, and while she knew that it wasn't necessarily on purpose, it angered her nonetheless. He was pure Toreador and under any other circumstances, she would have praised that and maybe even danced with him once a night. But, there was too much going on, too many outside influences... He had to gain control.

"Do you realize that you're not the only one in this town? That we all have to live by the Masquerade? We all have to survive with the humans here?"

"Morgana..." His features were loose and his lips hung somewhere between a pout and a grin. Not exactly level, but not completely turned in either direction. "You worry too much. Everything's cool."

"Everything is not cool! A reporter has the two of you on camera, dancing. It'll be all over the tabloids by the morning."

"I'm a star, Morgana, I'm always in the tabloids. I shine so bright that I attract them all, even the dregs. They want my music, they want my blood!" He swooped towards her, then dropped to his knees. His fists were clenched tightly at his chest. "They want the essence of the Toreador, the love and the flight..."

Morgana looked down at him with stern eyes. "No more Embracing, Zane. We talked about this. Julian will have me kill you if you do it again."

"I'm not talking about Embracing," he said. As he groaned, he rose to his feet. "I'm talking energy. I can share the energy without sharing the blood. All those people out there..." He spread his arms out and turned in slow circles. "They felt the magic that is my very being! They wanted to join us!"

"You can't do that, Zane. What if all those people had run out with you? Are you trying to kill them?"

"I'm trying to free them! Even in their mortal bodies, they can run wild every now and then."

"Don't think so much of yourself, Zane. You're not immortal."

"I'm more so than any of them."

"And what if you'd gotten hit by a car? What would explain the two of you getting up and walking off into the sunset? The Masquerade will have been broken, and you would be dead. She would be dead. Julian loves his family, but he is prince, and there is no way the other clans would have stood firm if he had let her live. We would all have been devoured by the humans, and... do you even care?"

"Of course, I care! I enjoy my life. I cherish this game we play with them. But does that mean they have to be so bound? Isn't it more fun when they're not so tightly wound?"

"It is not your place to free all of humanity. You need only to sing and protect the Masquerade. That is your job." She sighed and shook her head. "You're going to tear my life apart, Zane, and I won't allow you to do it."

Zane groaned. "Another who thinks the prince's family is too good for me. I get enough of that with Cash's stares and Julian's warnings. Do I need it from my primogen, too?"

She whirled on him. "I never said she was too good for you. The two of you together... you're self-destructive. You don't think!" She crossed the floor to him and rapped her knuckles against his head. "Where are your brains? Do you realize that she is probably getting the exact same lecture right now? You're acting like teenagers, rebels to be brought home by the police, and you're lucky that it was Frank Kohanek who returned you. Anyone else would have put you in jail."

"So I am to be grateful to you for going to bat for me. Grateful to Julian for allowing me back in his city." Zane's body dropped forward sharply into a painful bow. "Must I now bend my back to this human cop? Is that what you want of me?" Slowly he began to rise. "What else will you have of me, Morgana? What more will you ask me to give up and what will you take from me?"

She knew that was about Lillie. It was no secret among the Kindred that Morgana had been the one to show Lillie's treachery. Of course Zane would hold resentment towards her for that, but she didn't care. She had lives to protect, and if that meant ridding the world of his sire, then so be it.

Morgana grabbed him by his hair and pulled him up straight. "Know this, Zane. My loyalty first and foremost is to the Masquerade, then my clan, and then, my prince. As Toreador, you fall in a nice ranking, but if you think I will sacrifice my life and my love for you, then you are sadly mistaken. I will have your head faster than I gave your sire to the prince. I didn't make you, but I brought you home. Remember that, and be grateful, because I can banish you just as easily as I welcomed you."

"Your prince above your clan."

"My life above all else, and my prince may very well be one of the largest parts of my life. I have gone too long with an empty heart for you to destroy this for me."

"You act as if my purpose is to destroy you. I am only here to bring beauty. Be free, Morgana! Fly! Raise your hands and swirl into the sky!"

"If I fly, it will be at night when I am covered. And if you plan to run in anymore traffic, you better do it with Kindred drivers and Kindred spectators. I will not warn you, again."

She whirled away from him and stormed off before he could say anything else. He didn't understand, and he never would. He didn't see the connections between the clans. He didn't see where her freedom lied. She didn't need to run out into the streets like a madwoman to have all her burdens lifted away from her. She didn't care about sharing her freedom with the world. There was only one that she felt needed a touch of her Toreador energy, and she would not let Zane ruin that. She didn't want to kill him, but if he continued on his path, she would have no other choice.

And after a day or two, she would have no regrets, either.

~*~

Sydney was torn. Part of her wanted to jump up and add her own voice to the cacophony of screams that reverberated off the walls of the mansion. Every third shout was aimed at her and she was none too happy about being chided. And yet, another part of her wanted to hide under the nearest table because she knew she was wrong and she couldn't stand the distinct disappointment that her grandfather spat her way.

She couldn't remember the point, exactly, when she decided to go along with Zane's idea. In fact, she wasn't too sure that it had been a conscious decision on either of their parts. One minute they were crossing the street, dodging mid-day San Francisco traffic, and the next, they were dancing in the streets while he sang. People on either side were cheering them, clapping and laughing.

The whole thing had been exhilerating. She was swept away in the moment, the dancing and laughing and just the sheer freedom of it all. And yet, there had been some voice in her head reminding her that she had to be careful. No matter how much she wanted to shoot up into the air and let the wind ruffle her wings, she had to protect the Masquerade. She had to show some kind of self-restraint, and she would almost swear that the voice belonged to Cash.

Damn him for being so... so... sensible! And at the same time, thank goodness. More than once she had felt her eyes starting to glow, only to look at Zane and see the exact same thing. Cash's voice was all that brought her back to her senses, and helped her find some way to control Zane. Though, she wasn't too sure just how much she had controlled him. For the most part, he seemed to gain his own control just seconds before she said something to him and she wondered what voice he was hearing.

"It is your duty to control her!" Julian screamed at Cash and Sydney sighed. They weren't arguing as much as they had done when she was first Embraced, but when something like this happened, they were at each other's throats like they would kill each other. "You are her sire! You are her primogen!"

"Don't tell me what my job is! I'm your bodyguard, too. You gonna tell me how to do that, or is that up to his majesty's approval?"

"Don't toy with me, Cash. Do you realize the trouble you'd be in if you were anyone else?"

"If I were... say... Morgana? She's a primogen unable to control one of her own, too! You planning to read her the riot act, too?"

"Now, don't YOU tell me MY business! I run this city!"

"Then, run it and back off! We all get troublesome people sometimes, it's how life goes. We're doing the best we can, but when she decides to go off with Zane, no matter what anyone else tells her, what the hell am I supposed to do? Are you gonna declare a Blood Hunt on all of us?"

"Dammit, Cash, I can not have the police bringing Kindred back, even if it is Frank Kohanek! Are we to expect him to clean up our dirty laundry every time something happens? You stand there and try to chide me, but you forget just who is prince here. I am giving you the opportunity to train your own, but if need be, I will do it myself!"

"Ha! Like you could train anybody to be Gangrel? All you know is Ventrue and how to be a stuffed shirt."

"She doesn't need to know how to be Gangrel, she needs to know how to be Kindred!"

Sydney decided, then, that running to hide wasn't going to happen. She didn't like being around the screaming, but neither did she care to be talked about like she wasn't in the room. Most would be glad that they weren't be yelled at directly, but she would rather that be the case than to stand there and listen to them hash out how bad of a girl she'd been.

"Dammit, would you both stop! I'm standing right here!" Sydney stomped over and pushed herself between her prince and her primogen. "Ya know what? This is exactly why I spend all my time with Zane. He doesn't... do... this!"

Julian turned back to her and while his eyes were less hostile, the anger and disappointment were still there. "Going beyond the fact that you are Gangrel and he is Toreador..."

"Oh, don't even go there. You're Ventrue and Morgana is Toreador, so don't come at me with this whole same clan thing. The only ones that truly don't mix are Gangrel and Brujah. The rest of us are free to see whoever we get along with, and I get along with Zane."

"You're supposed to be learning, Sydney, not just playing. There is more to being Kindred than merely feeding. You have to blend in with the humans. That's how we survive, and dancing in the streets during busy traffic isn't how you survive. How can you possibly learn anything from someone who never learned to be Kindred himself?"

"It's the blind leading the blind," Cash said with a groan, "and you're leading each other into an early grave."

"Cash!" Sydney looked at him. "You... ugh!" She growled and shook her head. "Maybe if you weren't so damn serious all the time, I'd learn from you. I'm sure you're a great teacher and all, but you're way too uptight."

"This is serious, Sydney! It's your life!"

"And I'm learning the way I can. You don't see me bitching about feeding anymore, do you? That's because Zane taught me how to enjoy it. He taught me that it doesn't just have to be a necessity to survive. It can be something incredible!"

"But has he taught you how hide in plain sight? Has he taught you how to avert the wrong attention? Has he taught you how to survive if Brujah attacks you?"

"Well..."

"Exactly! Wonderful... just fucking great that Zane teaches you how to have a good time, but my job is to keep you alive."

"You're turning into him." She juttered her thumb towards Julian, then sighed. "I don't mean anything bad about you, Julian, but... he's Gangrel. Aren't we supposed to be like... out there, roaming? I'm totally glad you brought the clans together and you give us a home, but... what happened to the freedom of Kindred?"

Julian reached out to touch her shoulder, then stopped and let his arm drop. "Some of us have to give up some of that freedom in order to lead."

"Well, Cash gave up too much. And, I'm not a leader, so I don't have to give up any."

"But you still have to be careful. You can't just do whatever you want, when the mood comes upon you."

"I know that and... I'm sorry. Mark this day in your memory with a super bright star, �cause you won't be hearing me say that again. I know better, and ya know... it's bad enough that Kohanek gave me the responsibility lecture. I swear, that guy needs a distraction." She shook her head. "Anyway, I won't do that again."

"You're getting a lot of leniency that others wouldn't get because of who you are."

"I know, and I appreciate it, but... you gotta lighten up, Julian." She turned. "You, too, Cash. I mean, everything worked out, and since Zane probably got pretty much the same lecture, I'm gonna guess that there will be no more dancing in the streets. So, how about you both give me a break, alright? And, um..."

She scratched her head. She needed Cash's help, and she didn't know what was worse. The fact that she actually had to admit that she needed him for something, or that she had to do it with him still so angry. Sighing, she said, "Cash, I, uh... my bike's makin' this noise, and I can't figure out what's wrong with it."

"And you want me to do it."

"No, I want you to help me figure it out, so I don't have to ask you next time it makes that noise."

He was quiet for a moment, then shrugged. "Whatever. Let's get it looked at. I've gotta go with Julian to Haven tonight. Contrary to popular belief, I do still know how to do my job."

"Cash..." Julian shook his head. "I never said you were a bad bodyguard."

"No, you just said I was shit at everything else."

He turned and as he walked away, Sydney felt bad. Before all of this, he and Julian had been close, and though they were still, there was something missing. She didn't get the idea that Julian didn't trust Cash anymore. It was more that he was on edge and he took it out on Cash. Sydney knew she didn't make matters any easier, but she couldn't stop herself. It just felt so good to be so bad sometimes.

She turned to Julian and shrugged. "He'll get over it."

"I know. And you? Will you get over this? This insatiable need to endanger yourself?"

"It's not..." She shook her head. "You wouldn't understand. You're uptight by nature, and ya know what? I can see why you gravitate towards Toreador women. You need that freedom around you so you don't twist into knots with the tightness. But... you've gotta let up when you're not around her. Stop blaming Cash, alright? It's not his fault. It's mine, so next time I screw up? Yell at me, not him."

She sighed, then took off running in the direction Cash had gone. As much as Cash annoyed her sometimes, she didn't like him catching the blame and the falling shit for her. She had screwed up and as much as she hated to be yelled at, she knew she deserved it. She didn't like it, but hey... it was her own fault for being an aggravating little bitch. Though, she had to admit, it was fun as hell. Running in the streets, dodging the cars... It was a memory that she'd have to hold onto, because she couldn't do that again. She and Zane would just have to find something else to do that gave them a rush, and she was sure that he would come up with something.

~*~

The girl had been watching him all night. She was slender, but there was enough to her to give the necessary curvature to attract him. Her dark hair was a pile of curls atop her head. Her breasts pushed against the top of a black corset. They were obviously padded, but good enough to give the illusion of cleavage. Her torso pinched in at the waist, then expanded at rounded hips on which hung a free flowing mahogany skirt. Her neck was long, and as she shook her head to move the bangs out of her eyes, he could see the blood thumping beneath her skin.

Tom gave her a nod, then lifted his glass of red wine to her. She returned the gesture and smiled. It always amazed him how easy it was to get someone to follow him off into a dark alley or a secluded corner. Sure, he was a movie star, but in recent years, celebrities haven't given themselves the best names. Between O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Kobe Bryant, he would have expected women to be more careful. They never ceased to amaze him in their rush for a brush with stardom.

He sat his glass down and turned. As he walked towards the back of The Haven, he felt two distinct presences. The first was the woman across the bar. She didn't walk quickly, but she moved with enough tenacity that he could feel her moving towards him. The other, was Marcella. He didn't see her nightly, but she was always around. He felt her around him like a weight of heavy air pressing down on him.

He stepped through the back curtains and gave a nod to the Toreador and Gangrel guarding the area, letting them know that the girl following him was supposed to do just that. He weaved his way through the corridors, moving slowly enough for the woman to follow him. She was only steps behind him when he stepped out into the night. He glided down the stairs, then stopped at the bottom, his back pressed against the wall. When she touched the ground, he grabbed her arm and jerked her.

Tom turned them and pressed her against the wall. He rose his hand and gently let it slide down her neck, stroking her skin. He moved in and let his lips tickle just behind her ear. "What's your name?" he asked softly. He blew his breath against her skin.

She shivered. "Marina," she choked out between heavy breaths.

He pushed back enough to look at her. He still held his body up with a palm against the wall. He traced the outline of her full lips with his fingertip. "Do you know why you're out here?"

She gulped. "Because... you're, um... Tom Cruise."

He grinned at her. "Exactly."

Tom leaned in and kissed her neck. Seconds later, his teeth were sinking into thin flesh. A squeak came from Marina's lips before she sagged against his body. He closed his eyes as he drank her blood. He put an arm around her waist to hold her up. A line of blood trickled down the side of her neck. He unlatched his mouth from her neck. As he bent in to lick the blood away, flashes of light passed his eyes in rapid succession.

Still holding Marina, he turned with a snarl. That damn reporter... He snapped off pictures, and he was getting everything. Tom Cruise leaning over a girl's bleeding neck, his glowing eyes, the talons that had extended from his fingers. Marina started to scream and Tom turned quickly back to her. He had to get the reporter, but first things first.

He ran his hand down her face, just inches from touching her. She slouched and he laid her against the ground. When he turned back, the flashes had stopped and his sire was holding the paparazzo by the throat, raising the man into the air. Her fingers dug into his neck, and Tom knew she was seconds away from ripping out his throat.

"Marcella, no!" He ran to her and grabbed her arm. "We can't kill him!"

"We can and we must!" She whirled at him, still holding the man in the air. "He endangers the Masquerade! He endangers you!"

"Killing him will break the Masquerade. At least like this..." Tom knelt down and picked up the fallen camera. He clicked through the digital pictures, then found the menu. He deleted the entire card, then dropped the camera. His foot fell down hard on the camera and smashed it to pieces. He looked back at Marcella. "Erase him!"

"It won't last! It never lasts!"

"It doesn't have to!" He fell to his knees and looked down to the shattered camera at his feet. He rifled through the pieces, picking them up and letting them fall. "I tried to hold onto my last bastien of humanity, but it's gone. We are Darwinism at its best. The survival of the fittest. For us to survive, others must die." Slowly, he rose to his feet. "But if you do it here, now... others will investigate. We kill our own to protect the Masquerade, and Kohanek turns his head. If we kill a human, he won't."

"Then what do we do?" Marcella lowered her arm, but still kept her grip. She reached out and lightly brushed her fingertips over Tom's face. "What do we do with him, my love?"

"We erase him tonight, and tomorrow night, he has an accident."

"Are you truly ready to become a killer?"

"Ready or not... it has to be done." He sighed and shook his head. "Erase him and send him on his way. I'll take care of the girl."

He turned and walked back to Marina. She was still unconscious on the ground. He knelt beside her and lifted her head. He leaned in close to her and whispered, "Your friends saw you leave with me and you'll have a story to tell when you return. You followed Tom Cruise out and tried to seduce him. You tried your best, but in the end, you merely got a stage kiss on the lips and the compliment that you are one of the loveliest women in San Francisco."

He rose Marina to her feet and slowly she started to wake. He ushered her towards the stairs and led her up, keeping her faced away from Marcella. She looked at him and blinked rapidly. "What..." She shook her head. "That must have been one hell of a kiss."

He grinned at her, the right end of his mouth turning upwards. "With kisses like that, you should be in Hollywood." He opened the door and handed her off to one of the guards. "Escort Marina back to her friends." He turned when she was off, and Marcella was suddenly standing beside him. He looked around her and saw his stalker starting to stir on the ground. "Is he taken care of?"

"For the night," she told him, pushing him towards the inside of the club. "But, tomorrow..."

"I know." Tom sighed as he slipped his arm around her waist. "Tomorrow night will be his last."

~*~

Cash slid out from under the bike and pulled his knees up. He leaned forward and looked up at Sydney. "You've got gravel in your engine," he said as he pushed himself up to his feet with a grunt. "I'm gonna have to take it apart to get it all out, so your bike's gonna be outta commission for a while."

"Well... fuckin' hell, man." She folded her arms and growled in frustration. "That's no fun."

"Guess you'll have to buddy up now."

The disdain in his voice was as evident as the scowl on his lips. Sydney sighed and let her arms drop. She was being less of a bitch, so the least he could have done was try to be less of an uptight jackass. She knew that he wasn't a stuffed shirt. She'd seen him somewhat looser, on occasion, with other members of their clan. Though, it hadn't been as often as it could have been.

"Ya know," she told him, "this has nothing to do with Zane and everything to do with the fact that that's my wheels. I gotta get places, ya know. How am I supposed to get to Haven with my wheels outta commission? Or the bank? Or a million other places, huh?"

"Take a car."

She sighed. "You could give me a lift."

"I've got a job to do, Syd, and it's not being your bodyguard anymore. That job ended when I fucked up with Hardy."

Great, she thought. She didn't know what was worse, his pitiful me act or the asshole routine. She pushed herself away from the wall and crossed the garage floor. She threw one leg over the seat of her busted bike, then plopped down on the seat. Sydney leaned forward and folded her arms over the handle bars. Her head fell down on her arms and she turned to look at Cash.

"You don't have to be like this, ya know."

"And how am I bein', huh?"

"Like... this." She sighed and sat up. "So... tight. I mean, you could be out there havin' a freakin' blast, man. I mean, I get it that sometimes, you gotta be tough. You're a bodyguard and you've gotta be ready when shit comes up, but right now... it's just the two of us. We're sittin' here, and there's nothin' else to mess it up. You can relax. Or did you forget how to do that?"

"I didn't forget." He leaned back on the bike behind him and crossed his arms. "I just don't get to do it often. Responsibilities."

"But you act like you've always got these responsibilities. You don't. Julian's home, and he's safe. The place is full of guards. The other Gangrels are out there havin' fun, and you're sitting around the house waiting for something bad to happen."

"In case you forgot, there is shit going on, Sydney."

"That thing with the paparazzi?" She snorted. "That's not our problem, Cash. That's Julian's problem. That is pure Ventrue business, and until that becomes a physical threat against Grandpa, you're perfectly free of that burden."

His head turned to the side. "Julian needs me."

"I need you, Cash." Sydney swung her leg over the bike and stood up. "I get it now. Really, I do. That thing today... that was me being... crazy. I know that I'm not supposed to do shit like that, but I need to be reminded sometimes. All this fuckin' freedom, man... it fucks with a girl's head, ya know?"

"That's Zane fuckin' with your head."

"No, it's not!" She let out a small scream of frustration. "It's like this, okay?" She walked up to him and ran a hand through her hair. "Zane... I know what he did, and yeah, it weirded me out at first, but... he was like me. He didn't have anybody to teach him. He didn't have anybody to show him how to control the Toreador. He won't do it anymore. He promised me."

"God, you sound like the president of the Zane fanclub."

"Jesus, Cash! I'm not a fuckin' groupie! I'm loyal where it counts, and Zane's my friend. I'm loyal to my friends. And I'm loyal to you. Didn't I just take up for you in there? I mean, I love Julian to death, really I do, but he was going too far. It wasn't your fault, and I knew that. If I can be loyal to you, why can't you be loyal to me?"

Cash looked at her and sighed. For so long, he looked at her and thought Sasha. After her Embrace, he thought how he had to take care of her because he had missed doing it with Sasha. It was strange when he realized that with all the time he'd spent with her in the garage looking at her bike, he hadn't thought about Sasha once. Considering that she was parked in the exact same spot Sasha had been when she walked in flaunting her dress, it was amazing. What was even more amazing was, when he did think about Sasha, he pushed her out of his head as quickly as he could.

Sydney wasn't Sasha. It was finally getting through to him. Though they were sisters, the two women were worlds apart, and what's more, he didn't want her to be Sasha. She was more Gangrel alive than Sasha ever would have been Embraced. She was loyal,a nd that stood out more than anything to him. Sasha couldn't decide from day to day whether or not she was going to be in love with him or hold tight to her Brujah blood as an excuse to get away from him. She was steady and solid, and at the same time, she was all the freedom that he had been before he was handed the role of primogen.

With a sigh, Cash reached out and tentatively put a hand on Sydney's hip. He waited for her to recoil, but all she did was move closer to him. He knew that a major part of their problem was his hang-up on Sasha, and the only way to get her to realize that was gone was to tell her. He hated to let his feelings out so easily, anymore. That had only gotten him hurt. But...

"You're not Sasha," he told her, his head hanging low. "I know that."

"Then treat me like you know, Cash." She stepped up to him and flattened her hands on his chest. "Treat me like you know that I'm Sydney, I'm Gangrel... You made me what I am, Cash. You should appreciate it."

"It's not always like this," he said, "an Embrace. Sometimes... we can Embrace, and not see the person for years. Sometimes, they don't even feel..."

"This isn't sometimes, Cash, it's now." She slid her hands up until her palms were against his neck and her fingertips touched the bottom of his cheeks. "I'm not going anywhere, you know that. And... I'm not gonna stand here and say that I'm in love with you, because I don't know that I am. I just know that I don't hate you."

"And Zane?"

"I don't know what I feel for him either. I just know... you both bring out different things in me. I know that you'll go head to head to me in a fight when Zane won't. And I know that Zane doesn't have the responsibilities you have, so I won't have to unbutton a shirt on him." She smirked. "I was so gonna do that if you didn't."

He shrugged and a hint of a smile touched his lips. "I try to be a little more conservative around Julian."

"You're not around him now, are you?" Just for emphasis, she unbuttoned his shirt a little more, though it was already open. "And, is that a hint of a smile I see there? Maybe a little bit of a grin?"

"Possibly."

"Uh huh." She circled her arms around his neck and leaned into him. He was short enough that she didn't have to stretch herself too far to lightly press her lips against his. "There could be so much more between us than fights and blood, Cash, if you let it be. If we both let it be. I see that now. I understand more."

"What do you understand?" He lowered his head and lightly pressed his forehead against hers.

"The Embrace. The blood. The Kindred. The... everything. I understand that I pushed you away because of Sasha, and you did the same thing, but it's not necessary because Sasha's not here. She has nothing to do with us. Your blood woke me up from death, Cash, and my... fire... could wake you up from responsibility."

"You think?"

"Yeah," she said, "I think." Sydney leaned in and kissed his neck. "Just give it a shot, Cash. No anger, hatred or bitterness. Just... us. Right now." Her leg rose and she propped her foot on the side bar of the bike behind them. "Anything else we can talk about later. But, right now..."

"Just you and me."

"Me and my maker," she said, then kissed him. Cash didn't pull away.

~*~

Viktor Borchek was on the heels of his last story, the hottest thing to hit the world of celebrity since Kobe Bryant's rape accusal, and it would never see the light of day. And, for his tenacity and ferocity, neither would Viktor.

"You want a story? A real story?" Viktor jumped and spun. In seconds, Tom Cruise was in his face, his eyes wild and wide. "I've got a story you'd kill for."

Tom grabbed him by the lapels and jumped. One leap and they'd gone from standing in the alley behind the Haven to crouching on the roof. Viktor pushed away from him, his eyes wide with fear. "How..." He turned frantically back and forth. "What..."

Tom laughed and it was a very good thing he was a seasoned actor, else he'd have never pulled this off. This was the end of the line, the bridge that led off into the darkest part of humanity � but only scratched the surface of Kindred self-preservation. If he wanted to survive, he would have to learn to kill. He couldn't keep letting others do it for him. He also had to learn how to hide his kill, or at the very least, cover it up.

It wasn't the style of Lestat that he drew from but the cold knowledge of necessity. Everything was over if this bottom feeder survived. He had to die and Tom had to feed, plain and simple. Thinking of the fictional character he played years before helped get him in the necessary mindset. Holding on to the essence of Lestat d' Lioncourt could possibly make him enjoy it.

"This is going to be a story you never forget, Viktor." He walked towards the paparazzo, hands clasped behind his back as he stalked across the rooftop.

"What the hell are you up to, Cruise?" He backed away from him. With each step, Viktor's fingers fumbled to raise his camera. "I don't know what the hell you did with my camera last night..."

"You broke it."

"Yeah, sure. And I'm about to grow feathers and fly." He rolled his eyes and lifted the new camera. "You planning to send more goons after me?" He snapped a picture. "Or are you just trying to scare me? Got ahold of some kinda springs to get us up on the roof?"

"No gadgets." Tom closed his eyes. When they reopened, Viktor gasped. "No contact lenses or light tricks." He looked down and his nails were like talons. He looked up at the moon. His mouth opened wide to reveal fangs. Slowly, he lowered his head.

"What� What the hell are you?"

"I am Kindred, Viktor, clan Ventrue."

"What the hell is Kindred?" All the while, he was snapping off shots, sure that this would take him straight to the top of the tabloid chain, unknowing that his nosiness had sent him straight to the bottom of the food chain.

The voice came from behind him. "We are the folk of lore." Viktor whirled around. "We are something you will never know."

Tom moved so fast that Viktor didn't even have time to scream. The barest squeak pushed itself from his throat. Tom bit into his neck. Blood rushed into his mouth, then ran thickly down his throat. He held tightly to his prey.

He treated this like any other feeding, taking just enough to quell the need. No matter the man's lack of ethics, he was still human and a drained body would send Kohanek straight to Julian's door. The entire point was to avoid suspicion, not attract more.

Tom pulled back and licked his lips. He dragged Viktor's groggy form to the side of the building. Down below, a host of well-placed witnesses, mostly Gangrel with their motorcycles as an excuse, milled around. They each had a version of the story to tell, all ending with the same conclusion despite the minor differences.

He leaped across the alley, landing on the opposite rooftop. He stood Viktor up straight, then shoved hard. By the time he hit the ground, Tom was already at the top of Haven's stairs, his lips pressed against his sire's neck, having planned his cover should humans pass by.

Someone started to scream and others came running out from the club. Morgana tore out the door, then stopped short at the broken mess in the alley. Julian stood behind her, but his eyes were on Tom and Marcella.

"What happened here?" Morgana asked, turning slowly.

"He fell," Tom told her. There was no hint of Kindred on his face or body.

"We saw the whole thing!" Lisha Martin ran over, two others of her clan beside her. "That guy had been up there all night." She shrugged. "Didn't know what he was doin'. Wasn't my business."

"Mr. Celebrity comes outside and suddenly it's our business."

"Shut it, Jason. Just �cause Sam couldn't stop starin' at him inside..."

"The guy started flashing pictures. So what."

Sam McCall stepped forward and shushed them both. "Plain and simple," she told Morgana, "the guy fell, and we'll tell the cops that." Jason Morgan muttered under his breath and Sam shot him an evil glare. "We'll give our statements and then we're outta here."

Morgana looked to Julian and he nodded. This whole dirty affair was over. The Masquerade was protected and there were enough witnesses, planned though they were, who would corroborate the story, so Tom was in the clear. Kohanek would be suspicious but there was nothing he could prove.

"Alright." Julian stood tall and lightly tugged his lapels. "All who didn't witness this accident, please go back inside. We'll call the police and then it's back to business." He walked to Tom and whispered, "Stacy will cover this in the paper. When you return to Los Angeles, though..."

"I'll handle L.A."

Julian turned around and looked at the body on the ground. "Are you sure?"

Tom stared at the body of Viktor Borchek. He expected to feel remorse, or guilt, but there was nothing in him. He'd done what was necessary and there was no use in bemoaning that. He sighed and finally whispered, "I don't really have much choice, do I?"

~*~

"Is that it? We go back to fighting or you go to ignoring me when you can, teaching me when you have to?" Sydney sat up and pulled the sheets tightly around her. Her head dropped forward and hair fell in her face. As she threw it back, she rose her head and looked at Cash. "Just like that, back on with the clothes."

"Sydney, stop." Cash sighed. He turned towards her, buttoning up his shirt. "You're makin' this into way too much."

"Oh, am I? A few days of fun freedom and now, it's off to do whatever without a word. Ya know, explanations are nice. What's not nice, is running away without saying anything to me. You can't just leave me here, naked in your bed, and not tell me why you suddenly need to get the hell outta here."

"It's something I gotta take care of, alright?" He realized that he'd buttoned the shirt all the way to the top, then stopped. His hands hovered over his collar, then he unbuttoned the top three. He shrugged and picked up his leather jacket. "I'm coming back."

"Sure you are. You live here."

Sydney fell down flat on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. For the past few days, things had been so much easier with them. Cash was loosening up, and she was actually learning. He taught her how to control the urges that flared up inside of her, how to set aside the need to do things NOW and let them wait for a more appropriate time. And on the same page, she gave him the outlet to express everything that being primogen and bodyguard had suppressed. She let him enjoy the positives in his existence, as opposed to being cynical about everything.

And now, he was just walking out. She'd gotten to the point where she thought there was nothing she could do to make him just walk out. The mention of Zane didn't send him into a frenzy. He didn't go on and on about her comparing the two, though if he had, she would have just thrown it into his face. As much as he'd compared her to Sasha, it would have only been fair to do the same to him. But, she didn't, and he was starting to realize that she was right. The three of them were fragmented, but brought together, they filled the missing parts of each other. Sydney was the bridge between them, and without one, she couldn't sustain the other.

"Sydney..." Cash sighed and walked to the bed. His jacket hung open at his sides. He put a knee on the bed and looked down at her. "It's not a big deal. I'm not just running off."

"Then why won't you tell me what's going on? When you go off because of Julian, you tell me that. So... what is this, huh? It's not Julian �cause you would have said something. You might have even taken me with you if it were too bad. So, what is it that you can't tell me?"

Cash sat down on the bed and sighed. There were some things, sometimes, that just made him want to scream. Trying to do something decent always seemed to screw him over. It was decency and right that made him Embrace Sydney. It was decency and right that told him to take the job as Julian's bodyguard in the first place. And it was that same decency and right that tore him from the bed that called to him the second he walked in.

"It's Zane," he said, standing up. The last thing he wanted to admit was that he was going to help him. At one time, the two had been the best of friends, but Zane hadn't understood loyalty. He hadn't understood respect and all the things that Cash held so dear. But, with Sydney around... He thought that maybe she was changing him. Maybe because of her, Zane was finally realizing what it meant and what it took to be Kindred. Maybe...

He sighed. There were a lot of maybes, but the only thing he knew for certain was that if he left Zane in trouble when he could have helped, Sydney would have never forgiven him. After all the time it took for him to realize that she wasn't Sasha, that she was this special person that meshed with him so well... He couldn't just let her walk out anymore than she was letting him do that now.

"He got himself into something."

"Why'd he call you?" She looked at him confused. Slowly, she sat up and propped her back against the wall. "I mean... he's Toreador. Wouldn't he have called Morgana?"

"He got into a fight with some Brujah and they all got taken to the tank." He shrugged. "I guess they called me because it was Brujah."

"But, nobody knows that you're even on a civilized basis with Zane."

"No, but they know I hate Brujah. I don't care how many new primogens they bring in, I'll never like them. It has nothing to do with blood or being Gangrel or any of that." He paused. "Well... maybe it does have something to do with it, but... they're loyal to nothing but their own. Nothing is sacred to them."

"And everything is sacred to you."

"Something like that." Cash sighed. "Anyway, they've got him down in lock-up, and Kohanek won't let him go without somebody to come get him. Julian's solution would be to let him stay there and learn to behave. Morgana... She'd probably do the same thing. So, they called me."

"And you're actually gonna go." She leaned forward and furrowed her brow. "Why? I mean, you only put up with Zane because of me. I would have guessed this would be the perfect way for you to show me just how self-destructive he is."

"If I thought you'd buy it, I would. As it is..." He shrugged. "It's better to go get him, I guess."

"Cash..." Sydney reached out and lightly touched his face. Though he didn't complain when she talked about Zane, something inside kept telling her that the friendship the two had would never come back. This... It might not have been a precursor to an everlasting friendship, but it was something better than them ready to argue at any given moment. "Thank you."

"Don't," he said. Cash leaned in and kissed her, then stood up. "You're makin' too big a deal of the whole thing. I'll get Zane outta jail, then I'll be back."

"Maybe I should go with you?"

"Stay here. You being there is only gonna set him off and instead of going some place to hide out until the dust clears, he'll talk you into doing a tightrope act on the Golden Gate Bridge or something." Cash shook his head and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "It's cool. I'll take care of it, and you just... chill out here, alright?"

Sydney folded her arms and pouted. "I'll be bored."

"Then... go back to your room, grab some clothes... by the time you're done, I'll be back."

"I'll still be bored."

"Nothing I can do about that, Sydney." He walked to the door, then turned back towards her. "Just... stay outta trouble, alright? I don't plan to spend the entire day bailing you and Zane out of jail."

Cash laughed as he walked out the door and Sydney growled at him. Her scowl quickly became a smirk, though, as she slid down in the bed. If she were a little more childish, she would have kicked her feet and screamed with excitement. But, she was an adult, and therefore, she would keep the party inside. Though, she was pretty sure that she would never let this go easily. Cash saving Zane from jail... it's just way too good to pass up.

~*~

He was back outside the gates, sitting once more on a lonely bench with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. He had already said goodbye and thank you to Julian and the rest. His time in San Francisco was almost over, and within an hour, he would be in the backseat of a limousine, headed towards the airport. For a little while, he would be putting the town and its Kindred behind him, but he knew that eventually, he would return. No matter where else he lived, San Francisco was his home and Julian Luna was his prince.

There was one thing he waited for, and he wasn't even sure why he waited. This wouldn't have been the first time that he left without saying goodbye. It wouldn't be the first or the last time that she had let him leave the city without a word. She would mysteriously show up in other places, lurking around, and even then, she wouldn't say anything. They weren't like that. They weren't... conventional.

And yet, he still would have liked to say goodbye. He would have liked to see her face one more time before he went back in front of the cameras and played the game within the game. Kindred pretending to be human pretending to be someone else. If he thought on it for too long it was almost a little pathetic. If he kept the thought to brief moments, it was exciting.

"Are you waiting for me?"

Tom stared ahead. For the first time since he'd been in Embraced, he hadn't felt her coming near. Seconds before, the world had been empty. Suddenly, she was there, her voice singing through the air, her essence pressing against his shoulders.

"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "Maybe."

Marcella let her hands fall on his shoulders. She stared straight ahead, unsure of what exactly Tom was looking at, but wondering if her eyes had found the same thing. She let her hands slide over his shoulders, across his chest, then back up to his shoulders.

"Julian said that the car is waiting for you."

"I know." His hand rose to cover hers. "I just thought I'd take another look at the city before I left."

Marcella gave a small laugh. "One would think that you had never seen San Francisco before. As I recall, you'd been here plenty of times before your Embrace."

"But I don't come back to it near enough these days. It's not as easy to get away." He sighed and leaned back. His head bumped her stomach. He closed his eyes and sighed. "There's so much to worry about now. So many things that could happen if I bring my baggage back here."

"This is where your baggage belongs, Tom. This is your home." She looked down at him as her hands rose to gently caress his cheeks. He opened his eyes and looked at her. "We are your family, now. We are your protectors."

He looked at her and wished she could be more open more often. Most of the time, he had to take from her. It was almost as if it were a game. She would hold back as long as she possibly could. She would give him a taste of her affection, a taste of her presence, and then she pulled away. Each time, he had to grab her and take it, and though she pretended to fight, she was laughing by the end, as though this was what she had wanted all along. His rage. His might. His ferocity.

But now... she handed it to him on a platter made of moon rays. She showed him that he was more than another Embrace. He was more than her playtoy. She was giving him a home, shelter, a place to belong. "We are your family now." He remembered Julian telling him those words. He had woken up with this emptiness inside of him and Marcella was nowhere to be found. He was looking at the prince of the city, and he wondered where Marcella was. She was supposed to be there afterwards, but she wasn't. And now, she was there. She was gone when he asked her to be with her forever, but she was there when he was getting ready to believe.

"You're a mystery, Marcella," he said softly. "I don't think I'll ever understand you."

"That's how I like it." She smiled at him. "You know what you need to know."

"And what is that?"

"That you, love, are mine." She bent forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. "I made you, and even if you don't know it, I have always been there for you. Look a little harder next time, and you'll see my shadow, waiting for you to find me."

Marcella kissed him again, and then Tom was alone once more. He sat up straight on the bench and stared forward again, eyeing the bridge as he'd done before. There was so much life as people zipped back and forth, but that wasn't where his eyes focused. He looked up until he was staring at the top of the bridge. He would almost swear that he saw two people dancing up there. The figures were faint, so much so that a human wouldn't have seen it, but he could. He didn't know who they were, but they looked like they were having fun. They looked free.

"Mr. Cruise, if we don't leave now, we'll miss the plane."

He turned towards Cash and nodded. "Alright." He turned back to the bridge and looked up. "Do you know who that is up there?"

Cash looked up and groaned. "That would be Sydney and Zane." He shrugged. "It's the only place they can take their insanity and not get in trouble with human law."

"Ah." Tom stood and gave him a nod. "That looks like fun. I might try it one day." With a smile, he walked towards the open gates. His temporary bodyguard followed him closely. When he was standing at the open door of the car, he looked back up to the sky and watched the faint traces of dancing for a few seconds, then muttered, "Yeah. Definitely might try that one day." He got into the car and prepared to leave San Francisco.

~*~

They pawed him as he flowed through the club, groupies with crimps and curls that they thought embodied the essence of rock and roll. They reached out for him and their nails grazed his arms. Their palms glided across his back. "We love you, Zane!" Their words barely brushed his ears. "I want all of you, Zane!" There was a time when he would have turned to her and asked if she really did, if she knew what she was asking. He would have given her and all of them exactly what he thought they wanted.

But that was before. Now, his eyes stayed focused ahead.

Sydney was behind the bar. Cash leaned backwards, his elbows resting on the bar's edge. They both stared at him, and Zane wondered how bad this would turn out. He hadn't been in the same place with the both of them since before Cash bailed him out of jail for more than a few minutes at a time, and that hadn't been the most comfortable. It had basically consisted of Cash glaring and Zane grinning.

This was supposed to be a time of truce. They were supposed to realize that there was enough Sydney to go around and they had to share. For Zane, that was no problem at all. He would never want to put the collar around Sydney's neck or clip her wings. If she wanted to fly, then that was her business. If she said she needed to move back and forth, then who was he to stop her. Zane was definitely not the one to have a problem with it. Cash, on the other hand...

He hadn't said anything to him since picking him up. In fact, he couldn't remember him actually saying anything the entire ride from the jail. He just dropped him off at The Haven, and left. Zane assumed he was going back to Sydney. He didn't ask why he helped him out because he had pretty much guessed that the Gangrel Luna was the reason behind it. That didn't bother him much at all. As long as it got him out of jail and Kohanek out of his face, he didn't care.

Zane sidled up to the bar, to Cash's left, and leaned across towards Sydney. He winked at her and slapped his hand down on the bar. "A drink for the star!" He laughed as she folded her arms and gave him a steel glare. His voice lowered as he said, "A drink, fair maiden, for a parched bard? Something to quench the thirst of a dry and painful throat?"

"How about water over the head of the biggest ham in this joint." She rolled her eyes and grabbed a glass. She filled it with red wine, then sat it down on the bar. "For the one too far over the top to ever win an Oscar... though might one day make it to the Grammy's."

Zane grinned and nodded his head in a minute bow. "Forever grateful, I am, and when I make it to the Grammy's, I can but hope that one so lovely as you will be on my arm."

"Uh huh. You gotta get outta San Fran, first." She winked at him, then went off down the bar as someone waved her over.

Zane watched her go for a second, then sighed and turned towards Cash. He sipped his wine slowly, keeping one eye on his former best friend and the other on the girls that hovered just out of reach and earshot. "Ya know," he said, somewhat contemplatively, "once, I would have given all of these girls a fantasy come true, a life of late days and sexy nights."

"You'd have Embraced them."

"Probably." He shrugged and took another sip. "It's every man's joy to give a woman a special gift, right?"

"It's only special if you don't give the same thing to every girl that crosses your path."

Zane shrugged again. "That was then."

"And now?"

"Now..." Zane pushed off the bar and spun in a circle. "Now, I've got all the gift I need!" He spun again and his wine sloshed over the top of the glass and spilled over his hand. He brought his hand to his mouth and slowly licked the wine away. He looked up at Cash with a grin. "I've got a song to sing and only one person needs to hear it, ya know?"

As much as he'd have liked to say no, Cash grunted and muttered, "Yeah."

"Because yours is the same bird that spreads her wings with me. We got a good thing here, man. We got common sense where she's concerned."

"I've always had common sense, Zane."

"Fine, I've got common sense. You've got... well... you've got your shirt unbuttoned far enough to not choke you." He snorted a laugh, then downed his glass and put it down on the bar. "You don't like me, man, and we'll never be friends like we were before, but I'll tell you this. I may not have the same sense of grounded boundaries that you do, but we do have something in common."

"And what is that?"

"Loyalty to that woman right there." He nodded down the bar, and as he leaned across, Sydney came back their way. He reached out and grabbed her when she was in arm's length and jerked her towards him. A mix between a laugh and a scream came out of her mouth before he kissed her. Zane let her land back to the floor and wink. "My adoring public awaits."

"Uh huh. Remember what I said."

"Yeah, yeah. Good boy in front of the masses. Bad boy in front of the glory." He kissed her again, then swam through the sea of fans that waited for him, practically lifting him from the floor and gliding him back up onto the stage.

When he was singing again, Sydney hopped up on the bar and spun around. She hopped down and stood in front of Cash. "He's not so bad, ya know." She sighed and leaned back against him. His arms went around her waist and Sydney closed her eyes, listening to the song. "And I mean all around. Not just the music."

"Yeah," Cash muttered, "I know."

"He could be worse."

"I know."

"So... you'll help us?" She opened her eyes and turned around in Cash's arms. She looked up at him with her hands resting on his hips. "You'll be our sanity."

Cash looked down at her and sighed, wishing it were easier to turn her down. "Yeah," he said. He bent his head slightly and kissed her forehead. "I'll be your sanity. And you..."

"I'll be your insanity." She laid her head against his chest and grinned. "And then, we'll be the perfect psychotically sane trio of Kindred ever to be Embraced."

END

This story was published in June 2002 at http://www.fantasyfrollies.net/kindred2.html.

Kindred: The Embraced and all characters are copyright © 1996 Spelling Television Inc.
Vampire: The Masquerade is © 1990-2007 White Wolf Publishing, a division of CCP North America. All rights reserved.