Disclaimer: The following story is based on the world of "Kindred: The Embraced" created and owned by Spelling Entertainment and White Wolf and their corporate parts. The story is mine, but I'm borrowing their characters for our own private amusement.

by Julie Beamer

The card game had been going on for hours. Alexandra Serris sat on one of the velvet covered chairs near her lover Edmund Talbot, trying not to look at the stranger, Julian Luna, trying not to think about what he had said to her during the last break in the play.

Edmund *was* fond of her, she insisted to herself. He had taken her from a life of drudgery working in the laundry of a small mining town to living comfortably in the big city. What did it matter that she wasn't respectable any more? But it *did* matter to her, Alexandra admitted. And that man, Julian Luna, saw it did. She turned her attention back to the game.

Julian Luna and Edmund were the last players still in the game. And Edmund was losing. Badly. The pot was substantial. Julian saw the last call and raised Edmund more. Edmund was aghast.

"I don't have any more money."

"Then you have to fold," Julian replied calmly.

"Will you take my marker?"

Julian appeared to consider it. "I'll take her," Julian responded, nodding towards Alexandra.

Alexandra stared at him, horrified at his insolence. But what followed was even more shocking to her.

"Very well," replied Edmund.


"Be quiet."

Julian Luna laid down his cards -- four queens. Edmund stared for a moment and then silently laid down his cards -- a full house. Julian Luna had won the game. And Alexandra.

Julian calmly gathered up the pot, neatly arranging the bills. Then he counted back fifty dollars to an ashen Edmund Talbot.

"I never leave a man completely broke," he said by way of explanation. He looked around for Alexandra. But she was gone.

* * *

Alexandra had fled back to the luxurious hotel suite. She *wasn't* going to be part of a poker game. She dragged a small carpet bag out of the closet and packed what she could. She'd leave silk dresses behind, but not that much of her self-respect.

Edmund Talbot entered the room and regarded his mistress with some shock. "Where are you going?"

"Out of here! How could you do that to me? Make me a part of a -- a -- a card game! Well, I'm not a chip on a table. Go back to your wife, Eddy." And she stormed out of the room.

The figure hidden in the shadows smiled as Alexandra stalked out. Everything was going according to plan.

* * *

Two hours later, Alexandra returned. She wasn't going to go back to her lover -- what he had done was unforgivable to her. But she had no wish to fend off advances all night or be picked up for vagrancy. Respectable hotels didn't take single women and rooming houses didn't take people walking in off the street.

Alexandra opened the door to their suite -- and walked into a nightmare. Edmund Talbot was propped up in a chair, unquestionably dead. An older distinguished man was rifling through some papers. At his side was -- Julian Luna!

Alexandra had no chance to scream. She was grabbed from behind and a large hand went over her mouth. She could barely breathe.

Julian Luna came up and began to put his hand over her face. She felt the other man relax his grip. Sensing her chance, she pushed away from both of them. Snatching a letter opener from the desk, she plunged it into the older man.

Julian Luna slammed her into the wall with a single movement and held her there. She watched in horror as the other man pulled the letter opener out of his abdomen.

"Are you all right, Archon?" Julian asked the man. He had one hand on Alexandra's neck. "That was a foolish thing to do, child." He began to squeeze.

"No," Archon's voice was clear. "Don't kill her. Embrace her. And leave her here. That will be her punishment." Pocketing the rest of the papers he strode out of the room, followed by a smaller man in a leather duster. He had been the one to grab Alexandra at the door.

Alexandra cringed as Julian turned his attention back to her. She tried to get away from him, but it was impossible. Ruthlessly, he forced her into another room. He dragged her to the bed and ripped open the neck of her dress. Ignoring her screams, Julian exposed her neck and cut an opening with his thumbnail. His mouth closed over the wound and he began to drink. Her screams turned to whimpers and then stopped altogether.

* * *

Julian Luna left the room, his eyes still blazing with frenzy. He saw Stevie Ray still in his duster, leaning against the bannister. "No one is to go in or out," Julian commanded. "I'll be back tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Stevie Ray was surprised. Were they going to make the woman go through the agony of the Change alone as more of her punishment? They obviously were and Stevie thought it too cruel to do to a fragile, newly formed Ventrue. The Gangrels frequently abandoned their Childer, but they chose their clan members carefully to be tough and survivors. He had never known such brutality from his friend before.

"You have an objection to that?" Julian's voice was like ice.

"It seems a little extreme," Stevie Ray replied carefully.

"It's the Prince's order," said Julian as he walked down the stairs. He had no need to fear the dawn; the woman's blood would nourish him for several days.

Stevie Ray sat down on the stairs and concentrated on ignoring the sound of the woman's whimpering.

* * *

Several hours later Julian returned. His eyes were their normal color and he resembled more the man Stevie Ray liked and respected.

"Go get some rest, Stevie," he said gently. "You've put up with enough today. I'll stay with her."

"What about Archon?" Stevie Ray was glad to give up his post, but the wrath of the Prince was something to be considered.

"I'll make it right with him," Julian replied as he entered the room.

The curtains were drawn, but there was enough light in the room to see. On the bed lay Alexandra, shivering with cold and moaning in pain. Julian sat on the side of the bed and stroked her cheek gently.

She started at his touch and was horrified to see the same man who had probably killed Eddy and had viciously attacked her, doing -- this -- to her. She cowered away from him.

"I'm sorry, Alexandra," Julian said to her. "I shouldn't have left you alone to suffer like this."

"What did you do to me? Why did you kill Eddy?" she sobbed and cried out as another wave of pain passed over her.

"I made you Kindred, like me," he replied. "I know it hurts, I know there's Hunger. I can take it away for a time." He pushed back his sleeve and cut open his wrist and drew her against him, holding his wrist to her mouth.

"I can't," she cried as she turned away.

"You must," he said gently. "Blood will satisfy the Hunger and make the pain go away."

Alexandra shivered but the promise of relief was too tempting. Gingerly, she took his arm and tasted his blood. One taste was all she needed before instinct took over. With every mouthful, the pain and hunger subsided.

Julian let Alexandra drink uncontrolled, giving her back some of the blood he had taken from her hours before. Finally she lay back against him, her thirst slaked.

"Feeling better now?" he asked as he stroked her hair.

She nodded, completely exhausted. "Why did you kill Eddy?"

Julian ignored her question. "Rest," he commanded as he lay her back down upon the bed. "Sleep through the day. At dusk, I'll teach you what you need to know."

Julian kicked off his shoes and lay on the bed with her. Alexandra was too worn out to object.

* * *

Alexandra opened her eyes as the sun went down. Julian still lay beside her, with one arm lying protectively across her body. She looked down at his arm and thought of feeding from him again.

"Don't even think it," Julian told her firmly, without opening his eyes.

Alexandra pushed herself to the other side of the bed as Julian propped himself up on his elbow and regarded her.

"Why did you kill Eddy?" she asked again.

Julian sighed. She'd keep asking until he told her. "We had a business arrangement. But Talbot thought he could cheat and blackmail us. That was dangerous and he paid the price."

"People will know..." she started.

"We set it up to look like a suicide. He'd lost his money, lost his mistress. The casino doesn't want any trouble. They'll hush it up quietly." He changed the subject. "How do you feel?"

"Better," she admitted. "But I feel strange. Not myself."

"You'll get used to it," he assured her. "In time, this will be as normal to you as being human."

She remembered drinking his blood the night before. "You've turned me into a monster."

"Only if you chose to be one."

She looked at him doubtfully as he continued. "You can let the Beast rule you or you can control the Beast. That's up to you. You don't have to kill to survive but you do need to drink blood."

"I'm a vampire?" she whispered.

"Kindred," he corrected her. "Vampires humans invented. It gave a name to their fears."

She looked confused and unsure. Julian rolled off the bed and put his shoes back on.

"Stay here," he told her. "I'll come back for you later."

Alexandra looked around the room sadly. She really had no choice.

* * *

Julian returned to the large Italianate structure overlooking the bay. Built over twenty years before, it typified an era known as "The Gilded Age". It was fit for a king. In fact, it was the home of Archon, Kindred Prince of the City and Julian Luna's Sire.

Julian had barely got in the door when he heard a familiar voice.

Well, he had to face Archon sometime. He entered the library and confronted his Sire.

Archon sat behind his desk and regarded his favorite Childe. "I told you," he began calmly. "To Embrace the woman, Alexandra Serris."

"I did."
"I also told you," he continued. "To leave her alone afterwards. I wanted her punished. But I hear you returned to her."

Julian chose his words carefully. "She is Embraced. She is Clan Ventrue and can be controlled. I did leave her for a while; I returned because I thought she had suffered enough."

"One could say I don't pay you to think," Archon commented drily.

Julian smiled. "Then you shouldn't have taught me how."

"Harumph," Archon snorted. "Well, she's your Childe. Your responsibility. I want no more trouble from her."

"You won't get any," Julian assured him.

* * *

Alexandra stared at the door to the adjoining suite. *Their* suite. Was Eddy's body still there, or had they removed him?

Gingerly, she got off the bed. The dizzy feeling was starting to go. Her body didn't feel like hers, but she was sensible to everything that was going on.

Eddy was no longer in the next room. She could feel that now.

There was water in the ewer and she poured some in the washbowl and splashed her face. Looking around the room, she noticed her carpet bag on the floor and everything she had left behind stacked in a chair. She had no idea when all this was moved.

She looked at herself in the gilt edged mirror. She looked the same, only paler. She stared at her ripped and blood splattered dress and quickly removed it, putting on a white day dress.

He said he'd come back for her. Well, she wasn't going to become his mistress or slave. She was going to leave before -- now no one would stop her.

Alexandra tried the door and was surprised that it wasn't locked. She slipped out of the room and out of the hotel. Dusk had already fallen. Ten minutes later, Julian returned.

* * *

Julian looked around the empty room with resignation. He shouldn't have left her unguarded. The temptation to flee with the newly Embraced was common. So now where did he start to look for her?

* * *

Alexandra spent the night dodging people. San Francisco had lots of corners and alleys, so it wasn't hard. She avoided people (she saw only their blood) and avoided anyone she *felt*. They were like her and they were everywhere. It took her a while to realize they were probably looking for *her*.

She managed to get through the night undetected, but then watched the rising sun with horror. What was it they said about vampires? The sun could burn them. Hide, she had to find a place to hide.

* * *

Julian had tried to find Alexandra, first on his own, then calling on other Ventrue. By dawn, he had notified his friend, Stevie Ray and asked for the Gangrels help. Reluctantly, he returned to his Sire, Archon, and admitted the woman was nowhere to be found.

Archon wasn't very happy to discover that Julian's Childe, Alexandra, had run off. He had intended the woman to be guarded until they could be sure of her behavior. Now she was loose in the city. The woman knew nothing and could endanger the Masquerade in her ignorance.

* * *

Alexandra found a dirty old shed to spend the day in. It was locked, but that was easy for her to break. She sat on the dirt floor and slept, in spite of the hunger that was gnawing at her. During the day, it rained and the roof leaked.

She woke at dusk and rose stiffly. She was hungry and now weak. But she wouldn't kill to survive, she *wouldn't*. She left her hiding place and wandered into the alley.

* * *

The Gangrel Martha was a skilled pickpocket and tracker. But she was surprised how hard it was finding this little Ventrue. Martha hadn't much use for the Ventrue (she hadn't much use for any clan other than her own), but the Gangrel leader, Stevie Ray, was friends with this Ventrue's Sire. And as that connection led directly to the Prince. Who knew when that would turn useful?

Martha almost ignored the bundle of white rags in the alley. Probably sheets waiting to be picked up. Then she felt it, barely. The life of another Kindred. Quickly, she went to find Stevie.

* * *

Back at the Prince's mansion, Julian Luna paced. He had been ordered to stay there and let the other Kindred find Alexandra. He was annoyed, but obeyed. Stevie and his Gangrels would find her, he was sure of that. He prayed they would.

* * *

Stevie Ray peered down the alley where Martha had indicated. He saw the form huddled against the corner. Most would have missed her presence but not a Gangrel.

Alexandra didn't struggle when Stevie picked her up off the ground. She was too weak to care. She recognized him from that terrible night when *this* was done to her. He would probably take her back to Julian. And with luck, Julian would kill her for running off.

* * *

Stevie rode up to the large mansion. The relief in Julian's eyes when he saw Alexandra was obvious.

"We found her in the alley," Stevie said simply. "She's probably hungry."

"Thank you, Stevie," Julian replied as he brought Alexandra down from Stevie's horse. Stevie nodded curtly and rode off.

Julian carried Alexandra into the house and up the broad staircase. Julian ordered the guest room across from his room to be made up and carried her into the large bath room. Julian had convinced Archon to have modern plumbing put in years ago. Soon hot water was filling the tub. He stripped her of her dirty clothes, still damp from the rain. Kindred bodies weren't warm enough to dry them.

Alexandra was only partially conscious and too feeble to object to this newest assault on her person. But she was surprised by the gentle way he held her and bathed her, even washing her hair. When he finished he lifted her out of the tub and quickly wrapped her large warm towels.

He carried her back across the hall to the guest room and laid her on the bed. Alexandra's possessions had been moved from the hotel and were neatly stacked in the corner. Julian found a nightgown and dressed her in it. Then he wrapped her in an afghan and carried her to a chair in the corner. He settled her on his lap and cut an opening on his wrist.

Alexandra hated herself for being hungry for blood, hated herself for feeling grateful that he was feeding her again. But she *didn't* want to die, she wanted to live. Even if it was like this.

She drank until the hunger was gone. "Lick it shut," he commanded her and she obeyed, surprised to see that the wound was almost healed by her actions.

"That's your first lesson," he told her and began to rock her like a baby. "Why did you run?" he asked.

"I was frightened by what you did; what I am. So I ran. But -- the sun burned me, I had to hide, I didn't know what to do..."

Julian sighed. "If you had waited I would have taught you all of those things. But you're safe now, that's the important thing.

"Where am I?" she asked.

"In Archon's home. He is the Prince of the City and rules the Kindred within it." He smiled slightly. "I live here too."

"And me? Do I belong anywhere?"

"You're my fledgling, my Childe. I'm your Sire, as Archon is my Sire. You belong here with us."

I ought to feel frightened, Alexandra thought as she sat on Julian's lap. But I'm not. I wonder why?

Julian picked her up and laid her down on the bed.

"Rest for a few hours," he commanded. "We'll go out later tonight."

Obediently (for once), Alexandra closed her eyes and slept.

* * *

A few hours later Julian woke her and told Alexandra to dress in something inconspicuous -- he would be teaching her to hunt for herself that night.

One of the Prince's drivers took them to the city. They didn't go to a rough part of town, but headed for district with the fancier theaters and clubs.

"This is where I prefer to go," Julian confided. "You meet a better class of people."

"Don't you mean victim?"

"No, I don't," he replied. "We don't kill and they aren't harmed. So long as you don't drink much. Take only what you need to survive. If you take more, you will want more. And there's someone right now."

Alexandra directed her attention to the single gentleman who wasn't completely steady on his feet.

"Perfect," Julian whispered. "Had some to drink, but not completely intoxicated." He spoke up, "Excuse me, sir. Did you drop this?" He held up a silver cigarette case.

Julian reached him by the time the stranger finished patting his pockets. "No," he said. "That's not mine."

Julian stared at the stranger. Alexandra could feel the power emanating from him. "Are you sure you don't want to check? In the alley?"

Mutely, the man led the way to the alley. He stared blankly at them, seeing nothing.

"There are several places to take blood," Julian told Alexandra. "I prefer the wrist -- in public."

With a flick of his nail, he opened a vein and sucked before offering it to Alexandra. Gingerly, she took the man's wrist and drank. Remembering her lessons, she then licked it shut.

"Good girl." Julian turned to the man. "You will go back to the street and continue going wherever you were headed. You will remember nothing of us."

Without a word, the man left the alley. Julian waited a few minutes before taking Alexandra by the arm and leading her in the opposite direction.

"The next one you'll do," he told her.

* * *

The rest of the evening passed quickly. Alexandra successfully accosted another gentleman and with Julian's assistance, wiped his memory of the encounter.

Soon they were back where they had begun, waiting for Archon's driver. Julian felt animal transformations could wait until the next night.

Alexandra's attention was attracted by a nearby jewelry store. Like the surrounding area, it catered to a wealthier clientele. But it wasn't the expensive stones she was looking at, rather, she was entranced by a small locket with an enameled rose patterned shell.

Julian looked at her inquiringly.

"I love roses," she acknowledged. "I've always wanted to have a rose garden."

"Archon has room for a garden," stated Julian. "I'm sure he'd let you plant whatever you wanted."

Alexandra broke into a delighted smile. "Do you mean it? He'll really let me have a garden?"

Julian laughed at her enthusiasm. "Yes, I really think he will," he said as they entered the carriage which had just arrived.

* * *

It may have been the liquor in the blood of those they had drunk from, but Alexandra remained exhilarated all the way back to the mansion.

Julian took her to the stone paved courtyard where neglected plants now resided. Alexandra immediately began to plan where and what type of roses would look best. Julian was pleased. For the first time, she seemed actually happy. She was beautiful.

Impulsively, Julian grabbed her and began an impromptu polka. Alexandra laughed as she spun around the courtyard with Julian. Stopping next to a stone wall, Julian kissed her with a passion that was unmistakable.

Immediately, Alexandra began to struggle. Puzzled, Julian released his grip on her.

"I'm not a whore," she spat at him. "And I'm nobody's card game winnings."

Julian leaned against the garden wall. "I never said you were."

"You think just because I was one man's mistress, I'll go with anyone. Well, I won't! Eddy was good to me. I wasn't a streetwalker and I won't be treated like one."

Alexandra turned away and bit her lip, trying not to cry. The evening was ruined. She heard him come up behind her. Tenderly, he held her in his arms.

"I don't want you to be frightened of me," he said softly.

"I belong to you, don't I." It was a statement. She had felt the answer all along.

"Yes," Julian replied truthfully. Then he added, "Until you can survive on your own and I present you to Archon, you belong to me. But there will always be a link between us."

She shuddered as he nuzzled the back of her neck. "I'm not a whore," she repeated.

"Let go of your human morality," he coaxed. "It's only made you unhappy. You're free now, you can act on your own wishes and desires without thought of human convention. Let go..."

It was like listening to a snake charmer and Alexandra soon ceased to resist.

* * *

"That wasn't so bad, was it?"

They were in Julian's room in his large mahogany bed. He lay close to her after lovemaking, gently stroking the bare flesh of her arm. He hadn't used Dominate on her or any supernatural power. He didn't have to. Decades of experience had taught him that the right kind of encouragement could unleash a torrent of passion from the primmest of women. It had been the same with Alexandra.

"No, it was rather...pleasant," Alexandra admitted shyly. She had been afraid that he would be rough and violent, but Julian had instead coaxed and cajoled her into bed. His lovemaking had been intense and ardent, but his touch was gentle. She didn't want to think about how easily Julian had turned her into a shameless wanton. It had never been like that with Eddy. It had never been like that with anyone. She shivered.

Julian drew the blue velvet counterpane around her bare shoulders.

"I've just realized," he began conversationally. "I know almost nothing about you."

There was much in Alexandra's past she would rather not talk about. "What do you want to know?" she asked hesitatingly.

He kissed her lightly. "Oh, where are you from, how did you get here...?"

"I was born in a mining town," Alexandra replied. "My father was a Greek miner. My mother's family came from back East."

"How did you end up with Talbot?" Julian asked.

"He was a business partner of the mine owner. I was working in the laundry. He treated me like a lady, even though my hands were rough and raw from the soap. No one else ever did."

"Was that the town you were from?"

"No." Alexandra realized Julian would be the last person to be shocked by what she would tell him. "When I was young, I was in love with a miner. We were going to get married, but we didn't wait. There was a cave in, he was killed, and I found out I was pregnant. My father threw me out."

"What happened to the baby."

"I had a miscarriage. I left town and got as far as the next mining settlement. They needed a washerwoman and I was tired of being hungry. I stayed there until Eddy found me, seven years later." She didn't mention the other engagement suddenly broken, or the constant advances of the mine foreman. There was only so much she wanted to remember.

The bedroom door opened. Archon entered. Embarrassed, Alexandra buried her face in the pillows. Julian was unconcerned by his Sire's presence.

So was Archon. As far as he was concerned, the two could have been playing chess instead of lying together in bed.

"I need you to do a job for me, Julian. Come to the library."

"Of course." Archon left and Julian quickly got up and began to dress.

"Doesn't he ever knock?" Alexandra sat up and held the bedclothes to her.

Julian shrugged. "It's his house; he doesn't have to knock." He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. "Go to sleep. Fledglings need lots of rest. I'll be back later."

Alexandra lay back down and in spite of her jumbled thoughts, drifted off to sleep again. She had no idea of how long she slept. At first she was in the grip of disturbing dreams. She was running. From what or from whom, she didn't know. Once, she dreamed of Eddy. But no matter what the dream she was terrified in all of them.

Then the dreams suddenly changed. She felt safe and calm and peaceful. When Alexandra woke, she was surprised to find Julian lying beside her, still dressed for the day. He was gently stroking her hand.

"How long have you been back?"

Julian shrugged. "Not long. I just had to go and -- talk to certain people. It didn't take long. What were your dreams about?"

"I don't know," Alexandra replied honestly. "I was frightened, though. Then I wasn't." She yawned. "What time is it?

"Almost dusk." He smiled. "We have more lessons to do." He kissed her hand before getting off the bed. "Oh, I almost forgot," Julian reached into his breast pocket. "I went back to the jewelers."

Puzzled, Alexandra took the small box and opened it. She was delighted to find the rose enameled locket she had admired the previous night.

"You remembered," Alexandra was stunned.

Julian undid the clasp and draped the locket around her neck. "It's a little thing, but you seemed to like it."

Alexandra didn't know what to say. "No one's ever given me something I really wanted before. Thank you."

Touched, Julian leaned forward and kissed her again. "You're welcome."

* * *

The days turned to weeks and the weeks into months. Alexandra continued to live at the mansion and continued to live openly with Julian. Any fears that Julian would want to keep her in the subservient "fledgling" position were groundless -- Alexandra learned quickly and the moment he was sure she could survive on her own, Julian presented her formally to Archon. Archon had simply nodded his assent and that was that.

True to his word, Julian had gotten permission from Archon for Alexandra to work on the garden. As Julian suspected, Archon had been totally uninterested in the project. "Let her do what she wants with it," he had said. "Maybe it will keep her out of trouble."

For Alexandra it was a dream come true. The rocky soil of the mining areas did not encourage flowers and she had lived in hotels with Eddy. This was the first place she had lived that even had a garden. Rose trees were purchased at her command, regardless of expense, and planted according to her specifications. Soon, the courtyard was full of their perfume.

Alexandra told herself that was the reason she liked sleeping in Julian's room, as it overlooked the courtyard. But the reality was -- she had grown accustomed to being with him. She missed him when he wasn't there, gone on some mysterious errand for Archon. And she enjoyed spending her evenings with him, and sleeping beside him during the day.

Julian had opened a different world for Alexandra. He taught her things of the mortal world she had never considered. Billiards (a game he loved) and how to drive. The sole motorcar in the household belonged to Julian. She was beginning to realize that her lover was a quiet modernizer in his own way.

But more importantly for Alexandra, was the feeling of financial independence. Julian no longer paid all her bills because she was developing her own resources. He had started with explaining simple finance and asking her to help him with some accounts. Later, he started leaving financial papers around that she began to read.

One evening, she expressed her opinion of a new venture Julian and Archon were discussing. It was slightly unorthodox.

"Clever girl," Archon had commented. "Julian, give her some money. Let's see what she does with it."

"Some money" had turned out to be ten thousand dollars. And Alexandra was doing quite well with it. She looked forward to one day returning the money to Julian, with interest. It would put them on a equal footing.

She was starting to enjoy her new life. But she almost brought it crashing down around her.

* * *

Alexandra had found she could brave the setting sun armed with a parasol, gloves and veil. She liked being able to go out and shop like an ordinary woman. And since she had accounts set up at many of the better stores, she was treated respectfully, like a real lady. Alexandra liked that even better.

Past and present collided in the dry goods store. Alexandra turned -- and found herself face to face with Irene Talbot, Eddy's widow.

Alexandra almost didn't recognize her. Irene was now pale and thin, which the dull widows weeds accented even more. Alexandra could see nothing of the once proud woman who, the one other time she had encountered her husband's mistress, had drawn in her skirts so they wouldn't be contaminated by the creature. Now Alexandra pitied her.

Unfortunately, Irene Talbot recognized Alexandra as well.

"You!" she breathed in shock. "You killed my husband."

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about." Quickly, she brushed past Irene and out of the shop. Irene followed her.

"Whore! You took my husband from his wife and his family and when you had taken everything from him you killed him. I know the truth! Eddy didn't kill himself. He wouldn't have. *You* killed him and I'm going to prove it."

Alexandra braced herself against a post. Julian, Archon, and Eddy's corpse. Julian killed Eddy, he admitted that much. Would they spare his widow if she got too close?

Alexandra seized Irene by the arm and dragged her into an alley and faced her.

"You're wrong. I didn't kill Eddy. I'm sorry about what happened. I'm sorry about everything."

"If you didn't kill him, then who did? It wasn't suicide, I know it wasn't."

"I can't tell you," Alexandra replied sadly. "They'd kill me too." For good, she added to herself.

Irene grabbed at Alexandra's arm. "If you know what happened, you could go to the authorities. They could protect you..."

"Listen to me," Alexandra hissed. "You don't know who you're dealing with. They killed Eddy because he double crossed them and they'll kill you if you dig into this anymore. Do you want your children to be orphans? Do you?"

"No," Irene whispered.

"Then go home," Alexandra advised her. "And maybe you'll get to live."

She watched Irene totter from the alley. But she didn't see Stevie Ray standing on the corner.

* * *

Alexandra caught a ringing slap from Archon. By the time she returned, Archon knew all about her encounter with Irene. And he was in a fury.

"What did you tell her?" he demanded.

"I told her to leave it alone. That pursuing it will only get her killed."

"So you told her Talbot *was* murdered."

"She already knew that! I didn't want to see her die too -- or end up like me."

"Get out of my sight."
Alexandra gladly left the library, glaring at Julian (who had remained silent through the interrogation) as she went.

"You keep saying she'll be no trouble!" Archon roared at Julian when the door shut. Julian sighed. It was going to be a long night.

* * *

Towards dawn, Julian came to Alexandra's room. Calmly, he undressed and joined her in the bed.

"I didn't think you would come to me," Alexandra whispered.

Julian shrugged and closed his eyes.

Alexandra nestled closer. "I'm glad you came. I couldn't stand it if you turned on me. You're the only thing that makes my life here bearable."

Julian pulled her into his arms. "You've got to be careful," he said. "Archon is not someone you can safely cross."

"Please don't kill Irene," Alexandra begged. "She's no threat, you know she's not a threat." She rested her head on his shoulder. "I'll do anything if you convince Archon not to hurt her. I won't cause anymore trouble. I promise."

Julian looked into her eyes. "I may have to hold you to that."

* * *

Alexandra heard no more about Irene Talbot. Archon glared at her whenever he saw her, but otherwise said nothing. Alexandra spent as much time as she could in her garden.

One evening, Alexandra passed by the guardhouse and overheard two of Archon's guards speaking.

"Where's Luna?" one asked.

"Finishing up the Talbot business. Don't know what's keeping him."

Alexandra froze. Talbot! But he promised! A sob caught in her throat. Tears wouldn't help Irene and her children. But Alexandra could.

The bird transformation took all of Alexandra's concentration. She flew to Irene's house and re-formed across the street. She was expecting various kinds of carnage, but not the scene that met her eyes.

A carriage stood in front of the house. The children's nanny were leading them inside. On the pavement, Irene was talking with -- Julian.

Alexandra was too far away to hear, but at the end of the conversation, Julian kissed Irene's hand and handed her into the carriage. It drove off into the night. Alexandra came out of the shadows and crossed the street.

Julian didn't seem surprised to see her. "I told you I'd speak to Archon," he said with a glimmer of humor. "Irene's going back to Chicago with the children. That should be far to keep her from investigating what happened to her husband. She said she had already decided to put it behind her and concentrate on her children. I just -- emphasized -- the point a little. She'll be safe for the rest of her life."

Alexandra threw her arms about his neck and kissed him. They stood in the street locked in a passionate embrace. Neither noticed the slight rumbling beneath their feet. It was a few hours to midnight -- and April 18, 1906 was going to be a very long day.

The End