CHAPTER 12

A/N: It's been a while since I've worked on this story, but I'm glad I found it again. Enjoy :)


Strauss smiled. Everything was falling into place now, and the fruit of his labours was only now just starting to ripen. Turning around at the fireplace, his smile broadened at his spy standing timidly in the doorway. After having listened to the spy's report, detailing every move and countermove made upon that rooftop outside The Last Round, the spy waited patiently for his master's response. All in all, Strauss was surprised by only one thing: that both Nines and Rosalynn hadn't been put to final death. As much as he appreciated the delicate history between the two, part of him expected nature to trump nurture. Not that it mattered. It was better they both still be alive to torment the other. Strauss' strategy was simple enough: distracting Nines was the only way to defeat him, since the boorish kindred was too strong and too well-guarded to be killed by conventional means. The only trick was to use something powerful enough to distract him – such as turning his guilt into his reality. The only one who could defeat Nines was himself.

"Sire, what is your command?" The spy drew Strauss out of his almost euphoric state.

Strauss returned an eerie smile to the lad. "You've done well, Thomas. I implore you to return to your haven; speak of this to no one. You have earned a night's reprieve."

"Thank you, sire." Thomas bowed respectfully and departed the lounge, leaving the Regent alone to mull over the latest report.

Once alone, Strauss turned to the fire; his smile turning to a grimace. As much as it pleased him to learn Nines was falling for every trap he set, there was still much to be done and much danger to face. Now more than ever the charismatic rebel leader would be protected by his crew; no matter how isolated Nines made himself on account of Rosalynn. Then of course there was the danger of turning the New York Prince against her own blood and organisation; that Nines' roguish charm would cast its spell and make her fall in love with him again. In that case Strauss had to rely on the nature of kindred: love was not a part of their nature.

Provoking the Anarchs these days was a risk, but one that would only grow as time distanced them between recent events. At the moment the group was most likely in the worse state it will be in for some time. Outweighing the risk and benefits in his mind, a new idea formed in Strauss' mind - one that would possibly earn him the wrath in the Camarilla, at least in the short term. After all, placing one of their esteemed Princes in peril would not be a favoured strategy. Then again, anything that would supplant Nines' obsession with the Anarchs cause was worth the risk. As the idea took root in his mind, Strass reached for the cell phone in his pocket and dialled a number he never had to use before...

"Yes, it is I." He answered the grating voice on the other end. "I have a new request of you."

"I've done you enough favours, Strauss." The hostile kindred spat.

"I understand. Now I am asking on account of our arrangement that you acquiesce to me one final time."

A weary sigh told him his counterpart yielded. "Speak, Strauss. I have much to do."

Strauss took himself to the sofa and settled in for a long conversation. "I need you to find me more information on what happened to one Emily Rodriguez..."

~~~ The Last Round ~~~

Damsel, Skelter and Kali all hovered around the Prince for the second time that night. A few minutes earlier Skelter had carried Rosalynn's limp body, with the stake still embedded in her chest, over to the cold steel table. As per Nines' instructions, they chained her down as Kali began the arduous task of cleaning blood and the stench of rat off Rosalynn's skin. Already the mask of blood was gone from her face, giving all three their first real look at the kindred who had caused such a radical change in Nines.

"Damn." That had been Skelter's reaction.

"Bitch." That was Damsel.

"She's pretty." Kali observed as she dragged a wet cloth along Rosalynn's arms.

"I can't believe she's Nines' wife." Damsel situated herself on a seat by Rosalynn's head. The night's stunning revelation had knocked the fight right out of the usually igneous former college student.
It was safe to conclude none of them saw this coming, probably not even Nines. That poor bastard probably had to be going through all new levels of hell, to have his past catch up to him like this. They were all in a whole new ballpark now; a new war of uncertainty looming thanks to the dishevelled mass strewn across the table.

"Has this ever happened before?" Kali looked to Skelter, the most senior of the three.

Skelter couldn't take his eyes off Rosalynn, but knew the question was for him. "I... yeah, I heard it happening before. But man, very rare."

Replaying everything in his head, he couldn't believe how rare it was. Kindred never usually remembered much of their mortal days, except when their immortal nights were defined by some lingering pain from life. The amount of times he recalled something like this happening in Los Angeles was, well... none. Skelter had heard through the grapevine of former spouses encountering each other after their respective embraces... without a shred of the former affection. That is why Nines' strange behaviour around Rosalynn intrigued his right-hand man so greatly. Skelter looked over Rosalynn as his thoughts wandered back to Nines' fierce and almost protective demeanour of the Prince when the others converged.

Damsel glimpsed Skelter's intense thoughtfulness and jabbed an elbow into his ribs. Skelter jumped at the stab and threw a mean glare at the petite kindred.

"What do we do with her now?" Damsel wondered.

"More importantly, what the hell does Nines want with her? Wife or not, she's still Camarilla."

"Nines never does talk about his past..." Kali quietly interjected from her spot on the chair across the table from them both. She looked mildly at Rosalynn, a faint smile appearing on her face. "Maybe she's the reason why."

Damsel and Skelter rolled their eyes. Trust Kali, the gentle hippy of the group, to take a romantic spin on this whole mess. But she had a point – an annoying habit Kali had of being on the mark when she didn't even realise she was doing it.

Skelter made a very male-sounding grunt and studied the Prince the way Beckett often studied artefacts or clue to the beginnings of kindred society. "Whatever happened between them might be key in helping starve off the vermin in New York from trekking our way."

Damsel, with a sour face that hadn't really disappeared since Nines first carried her in, gave the unconscious Prince a look promising pure pain if she got the chance at her. Much to her chagrin, she held her temper behind a vicious snarl. She respected Nines too damn much to make matters worse right now, though it betrayed every inclination she had.

"Maybe we should find Jack." She suggested, otherwise blank for suggestions. She felt strangely effete in the aftermath of tonight's turn of events.

"He'd tell us to do exactly what we should: destroy her." Skelter answered with what they all knew to be true.

Regardless of Nines' demons, Jack wouldn't hesitate to finish off the Prince which he had been denied of doing early in the evening. He had no regard for the haunts of even his Anarch brethren, and tolerated no bullshit excuses – even ones as strange as this.

The three kindred fell into a silent vigil, each detaching themselves from conversation to conciliate tonight's unusual turnings into something that made one goddamn bit of sense...


Silence followed him for the first time in many nights, and for that Nines mutely thanked God or whoever was responsible. Stepping in and around the aftermath of Rosalynn's battle with Jack, he took sight of the damage through vacant eyes. In truth, Nines was elsewhere – far gone from tonight, his thoughts locked in a cage guarded by raw pain. If let loose, those thoughts would drive him to madness and that would do no one any good.

By God, Rosalynn's alive. Sort of. Out of nowhere he found himself swimming in those gorgeous eyes he never thought he'd know again, and in them he found the same memories of their life together play out. It was just the spark of heat through him he needed to swallow the nausea that came with knowing the woman he once lived and died for has become entrenched in the organisation he swore to put an end to.

A lapse in control saw the emotion simmer to the surface, and Nines couldn't conceal the pain tearing him apart. Thankfully he was alone, or else he wouldn't have hesitated to transplant that pain onto someone else. The physical energy alone might sap the bloodlust out of him he had for Rosalynn. The thirst to kill her felt as natural as loving her. Straddling two worlds; two versions of himself – Nines never felt more torn.

At the tips of his boots, he stared down into a small pool of blood. Kneeling, he dipped a finger into the crimson puddle and brought it to his nose. Immediately the foulest taste assaulted his keen senses. Ventrue blood. Rosalynn's blood.

Taking in the carnage, Nines couldn't understand how it came to this. How could he never have known what, in retrospect, was so obvious? That snivelling bastard Strauss, who must have set them up on this collision course, vaguely told him Rosalynn's fate – she disappeared not long after Emily did. A hole of dread grew where Nines' dead heart should have beat. If this had been Rosie's fate, then what of Emily...?

No. Nines shook his head before entertaining such perverseness. He did not need to know how Emily died – much less if Rosalynn was responsible. The end result of the fight painted a bloody tale, and Nines had seen and been involved enough fights to read the mess like a book. Rosalynn had impressively held her ground against the old-timer; her limited years no more a detriment to her in battle as they were to her becoming Prince.

Prince. That was another thing that made Nines completely lose his shit. His wife was Prince of one of the toughest goddamn cities in America; a city his Anarch brethren at this time harboured only dreams of capturing since it was so logistically treacherous. Yet Rosalynn managed to somehow quickly ascend the Camarilla ranks to assume the ultimate throne of power, and had all that power and wealth at her designer-sheathed feet.

"Holy fuck," Nines cursed behind a hand he ran wearily over his mouth.

The agony in his eyes mirrored only part of what he felt, since shock continued to numb his core. Maybe it was for the best, for he knew if he felt all the infringing emotions and the heat they assailed his cold body with, he'd be as helpless as any fledgling.

His gaze turned to the three main walls of the common room – all broken and dented; a testimony to the monumental strength carried in a kindred body that was thrown into it. None of the holes gave up who had actually caused the damage, but Nines was impressed. So much damage caused in the space of a couple minutes. It didn't surprise him since Jack's disdain for those of the Ventrue kind was only surpassed by his contempt for the Camarilla in general.

Situating himself on the edge of the destroyed sofa, Nines had a new battle to deal with – the one warring in himself.

"God, Rosie, what happened to you?" Nines murmured a broken whisper.

It broke his dead heart to meditate on her fate. Had he known it was a possibility he would have ditched California to take up guard of his family for however long it took – even if it meant having to endure them moving on and being happy with some other man. Then it occurred to him: The bastard he saw with Rosie and Emily in Los Angeles, for Emily's birthday.

"I'll end him." Nines gritted out the thought between clenched teeth. It stung him – the idea that he had been so near this family's murderer, and hadn't the wits or the balls at the time to intervene.

But before anger could fully take him hostage, Nines was rescued by the kind utter of his name...
"Nines?"

He looked up as Kali entered the room, her face wrought with worry. Nines stood and tried to save face, but it was too late. Kali saw it all. To her credit, she made no mention or even reacted to it.

"What are you doing, Kaliyah?" Nines gruffly answered as she came up to him.

"I... just came to tell you that she's awake." Kali kept her eyes on her feet, not too keen to feel any more of Nines' anger.

Nines gave her a militant nod and walked around her. He didn't know exactly what he would say to Rosalynn, but he didn't trust his mind to come up with anything helpful. At the entrance, Nines stopped and looked back.

"Kali?"

"Yeah...?"

Nines paused. "Stay here."

She nodded obediently as he then left the haven...

~~~ TEN MINUTES LATER ~~~

As quickly as he had arrived in the Elysium, Nines had ushered Damsel and Skelter out to the street; Skelter shouldering the well-bred human they had lured to the bar to feed Rosalynn. He didn't care where they went, as long as it wasn't here. Once alone, he had only a few seconds between him and the storeroom to gather his wits. Nines baulked at the closed door.

He wasn't ready for this – to look at the face that encapsulated his humanity, knowing she was no better than a monster. Closing his eyes, and before he could stop himself, he opened the door.

Upon entry his attention zoned on the table – where Rosalynn sat, heartbreak etched in her eyes as she stared at her feet; one hand idly rubbing her chest where the stake had been. She looked a right mess – cleaner, but still a mess. Unlike Nines, she didn't bother disguising the battle beneath her cold front. Her clothes were torn, dirt-ridden and bloodied. Her skin was as white as his and washed clean of the blood.

She heard him open and close the door. Rosalynn had smelled him the minute he walked into the bar, and it was a mighty effort to not look at him. Doing so meant fighting to look at him the way he is, not the way he was. She was just too tired for that fight right now, but of course Nines wasn't about to let her get away with that.

After a minute passed and she still didn't acknowledge him, Nines gave in to the upsurge of anger that propelled him forward. He crossed the short distance and snatched up the chains that bound her wrists, latching her to the steel table. Rosalynn's protests fell on deaf ears as Nines forced her to look up. The moment their eyes met, they both fell quiet.

Nines wasn't quite prepared for what he found in her eyes, and immediately he released her. There was his old Rosalynn, attacking him with the sweetest moments their short mortal lives had bound them together in. A deep growled rumbled in his throat, and her assault forced Nines to look away. At least he had her attention now. No longer needing to be so near, he stalked to the other side of the room. It was the least he could do to appease the horrific mortal sensations pricking at his skin.

Tense minutes ticked by without a word passed between them. All that time was spent studying each other, trying to overcome mutual feelings of disbelief blended with apprehension and, damn it all, fear itself. Nines leaned an arm along the wall, and bowed his head. Pinching the bridge of his nose, and fighting off some imagined headache. He had to end this silence before it turned him stark raving mad...

"This is ridiculous." Nines growled; his words bitingly cold as he threw an intense gaze sideways to Rosalynn.

There she was, in still all her beauteous glory, watching him with nothing but apprehension. She didn't look scared, but through tired eyes, she didn't look like an emotionless robot that most Ventrue assholes do.

"We can't sit here pretending we don't know each other. Rosalynn..." Nines turned fully to her, and fell against the wall. He needed it to stop him from tumbling to the ground; that was the sheer strength this woman had in her eyes. They had him in her power during life, and it seems that hasn't changed with death. Saying her name again was surprisingly easy.

Rosalynn stared at him, completely guarded. Her arms straightened at her sides as she clutched the side of the table.

"Do we?" she finally answered, her voice hoarse.

"What?" Nines somehow continued his joy at hearing her speak; this time without the added shock he met her with earlier that night. Her musical voice sounded sweet in his ears, having lost none of its potency to dissolve his resistance since the time they first met.

Rosalynn sat back regally. She may look and feel like hell, but she'd be damned if she acted like a pathetic wounded dog. Pinning Nines with a powerful stare, she tiled her chin up slightly.

"Do we know each other?" She elaborated, clearly trying to bait him into something.

"Don't play this game, Rosie..."

"Then what do we do, Nines?" Rosalynn idly tugged at the chains securing her to the table. The other Anarchs had done well in choosing a specimen to feed her with, but it wasn't enough. Her body had been punished so severely it wouldn't be long until it craved sustenance again. "We can't pretend everything's the same now, can we?"

It felt strange to address each other like complete strangers, but neither were fools – that's exactly what more than seventy years had turned them into. Neither ever anticipated meeting the other again; both content to fight only memories and be somewhat at peace with that. Nines and Rosalynn knew they were out of their depth, and both fought to salvage the last of their pride from what was a weary night.

Nines tucked his hands under his arms and lowered his chin to his chest. His gaze never left her though.

"I want to know why." He said it in a way that made hotness climb up Rosalynn's spine, thawing her controlled expression into something kinder.

She knew exactly what he wanted to know, and it came to mind whether to deny it. After all she spent decades clamouring to know what happened to her husband; it wasn't a stretch to think he wondered the same of her. Yet the proverbial elephant in the middle of room wasn't going anywhere – Nines is a damn Anarch. Everything she fought against.

"Rosalynn!"

Her head snapped up, like a deer in headlights. "What?"

Being the one not in chains, Nines clearly had the upper hand. The emotion barely controlled beneath his surface was starting to show in the way he nervously started to pace and the forced way he pressed his mouth closed. Finally he had enough and closed the distance between them. Much to Rosalynn's surprise, instead of receiving his anger, Nines cupped his hands under her jaw and gently urged her head up. This close, her eyes bled more memories. He only hoped she'd give up the ones he wanted to know.

"Tell me what I want to know." Nines whispered it, but Rosalynn easily picked up the threatening edge to it.

The son of a bitch still knew how to pull her under his spell, and suddenly hypnotised, she could only comply. Unable to stop a fresh swell of emotion pooling in her eyes, Rosalynn sucked in a breath she didn't need to temper the hot flames singeing her chest. Feeling heat when one's entire being was as cold as ice felt like an invading force. Memories were trying to revive her into mortality, where she could totally embrace the affection that felt so foreign to her now.

Nines stayed close, his hovering presence seeming to do the trick in expelling the stubbornness right out of her. Of course he remembered that from life. Yet in a bizarre twist, being this near to Rosalynn sapped his own determination from his bones. Being so close to her made him swim in the lively memories. Being this close made him want to be alive again.

It was pure skill by now that kept him from losing it completely and snapping her out of those chains to hold her again. Nines quietly tamed the invasion of mortal desire behind fierce eyes. Pulling up a chair to the table, he deliberately seated himself in front of Rosalynn so that she couldn't avoid him. Rosalynn looked down at him with more need throbbing in her chest than she cared to think of. Damn her memories for betraying her this way. Damn her dead body for not staying at peace.

How Nines managed to do it, amazed her. And he wasn't going anywhere until she told him what he wanted to know.

"I can't believe it's you." Rosalynn couldn't stop herself from saying it, as though only now just slapped with the truth. Her beloved is still alive.

Reaching out a hand she touched Nines' cheek. He didn't react, but the look on his face didn't exactly seem welcoming either. Nevertheless, he let her do her thing. Rosalynn swallowed a hard lump that had somehow blocked her voice.

"I wanted this for so long." She added truthfully. Probably when she has time to reflect later, she'll loathe the admission. But right now it felt more wrong not to say it.

And kudos to Nines for holding it together. Inwardly he was about to burst. She still remembered him, and that strangely good.

"Rosie." Nines relented just enough to say her name with a touch of raw emotion. "What happened to you?"

Rosalynn opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. The truth stood ready on the tip of her tongue, but something held it captive there. She could tell him what he wants to know, and lose herself to the weakness of confronting her past face-to-face. But then along came nature to her rescue, resurrecting the Camarilla strength she cherished. Supplanting the want in her eyes with renewed resistance, Rosalynn braced herself against his nearness and took back her hands.

"What does it matter?" She said quietly, her voice filled with new acidity. "It's over with."

The challenge was laid, and it was his move.

"Who the hell did this to you, Rosie?" Nines said a bit more forcefully, his patience wearing thin.

"No. It isn't happening. I won't betray my sire."

Nines let out a furious roar and pushed away. He stalked around the room, exercising his frustration the best he could – occasionally throwing damning looks Rosalynn's way. He wanted more than anything to know what son of a bitch turned his woman into one of them - a rat-sucking Ventrue Prince who for some reason had no problem getting her hands dirty. That alone was an intrigue. But a more annoying trait Rosalynn had picked up since her embrace was her ballsy attitude. Nines figured that being worshipped as Prince of New-fucking-York for thirty years would booster any person with an ego. Never in his wildest imagines did he put his quaint, kind, loving, obedient Rosalynn in the same league as the arrogant fuckers he dealt with every night. Only the Camarilla boasted the meanest of them.

"You're not going to let me go?" Rosalynn's husky voice - wearied by the night's toll on her bones - dragged Nines from the depth of his despair.

Nines glowered at her. He never looked at her like this before, but knowing what she was couldn't help but drag loathing from the deepest pit in his dead heart.

"No." He strictly answered. "Like it or not – which I strongly suspect you do – cunning is still part of the Ventrue make-up. I don't trust your blood."

Rosalynn's silence told him she reluctantly accepted it – or at least couldn't put up a good argument against it. If their roles were reversed, she would have done the exact same thing.

The woman in the same room with him was not the woman he married, though she carried the same face. Thank God she was not the same, or else it would've stung him a great deal more when Nines gave into impulse and stormed across the room. He snatched up her chains and forced her roughly to her feet. Rosalynn yelled at him to stop, but had no strength to match his as Nines snapped the chains and lifted her from the ground – forcing her against the wall, and keeping her there.

"Tell me the bastard's name so I can make sure he sees his last night!" Nines hissed; his face wrought with madness. "Tell me who did this to you."

The quickness of what he did still held Rosalynn in a trance of shock. When it finally subsided, she gave him the foulest look she could muster. Straight into his eyes, she spoke coolly...

"Never. I will not betray my sire. He's shown me greater loyalty than any man. Living or dead." She meant that last part to hit him exactly the way it did.

Nines blinked; the verbal blow cutting him deeper than any blade could. His blood curled with hot rage and he held her harder to the wall.

"Say that again." He dared, his tone edging closer to absolute frenzy. "C'mon, honey."

Encouraged a little more, Rosalynn shoved him away and landed gracefully on her feet. They stood only inches apart, but never more did they feel so distant from each other than right now. Rosalynn dragged a cool gaze over the man she once loved beyond reason. Crossing her arms over her chest, she poised herself like a true Prince...

"You want the truth, Nines? About how I ended up like I am? As kindred?" Rosalynn side-stepped Nines and slowly roamed the small storeroom. She eyeballed the door and quickly fathomed that any escape attempt would be met with swift violence. Nines would be on her before she could get the door open – and not in a good way. Not that she was eager to leave just yet. They had seven decades of history to reconcile – and serious issues to settle.

As soon as she reached the other side, Rosalynn whirled around and pinned Nines with her fiercest glare yet. Nines saw decades of harboured emotion spilling out of her eyes in the form un-sanded hatred.

"Take a look in the mirror." She snarled, baring her fangs viciously.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"It means exactly what you think it does. None of this would've happened if you hadn't been such a victim to your own fucking pride, Nines."

Realisation quickly came over Nines. "You're talking about the night I left," He quickly figured.

Rosalynn chuckled bitterly. "Not just that one night, I assure you."

Try as she might, she couldn't contain the resentment she had been wanting to spit in his face for decades – and it felt really good. Feeling better than she had in many nights, Rosalynn felt the confidence return to her as Nines faltered under the guilt she dug into him.

"Don't look so damn surprised." She added, not feeling one iota of sympathy for him. "You made the first betrayal, honey."

Rosalynn said the last word with so much venom it burned Nines' ears. It pleased her to watch his reaction – a noose of guilt binding him to the spot across the room. Feeling a little more free, Rosalynn embraced the noble blood her sire embraced her with and made quick work on her husband.

"Don't you remember, Nines? That first betrayal you made. Since then I've taken measures to ensure it's the last time you ever do that to me."

Lulled into a false sense of advantage, Rosalynn didn't have a chance to process when Nines rushed her with the speed that belonged to a Brujah who knew fell well how to use celerity. Before Rosalynn knew what was what, Nines easily picked up the lithe kindred off the ground and forced her into the wall again, this time with just a little more force to make her realise the fire she was toying dangerously with.

"You son of a bitch!" Rosalynn seethed, cringing against the new rush of pain seizing her muscles.

"You will tell me what I want to know or I'll fucking end you right now." Nines threatened; the threat tasting disgusting in his mouth. Threatening his own wife had to be the lowest point of his existence so far. Luckily Rosalynn caught him out on it easily.

It was that threat that made her instantly forget the pain, and narrowed disbelieving eyes onto the Anarch.

"No you won't," Rosalynn easily called his bluff. "Hate to burst your bubble, darling, but you won't kill me anymore than I can kill you. At least I got the dignity to admit it."

"What dignity, rat-sucker?" Disgusted, Nines roughly let her ago and stalked away to deal with his rage alone.

As much as he wouldn't admit it, Rosalynn was right. She sensed the same weakness in him that they both knew was in her.

"Don't you understand, Nines?" Rosalynn's crisp voice drew Nines' attentions over his shoulder. At least she didn't look like one of them smug Camarilla assholes. It still pained him greatly to know that is what exactly what his woman became. It sickened him to think he once loved that.

Rosalynn sat herself on a nearby stack of boxes, eager to keep the wall at her back. Even from this distance she managed to catch his eyes.

"As much as I hate what you are... I know I can't kill you." Rosalynn became quiet, as a peaceful truth embraced her. She turned her gaze to her feet. "I don't want to kill you."

Nines found himself fighting again. Hard to love Rosalynn for what she had become; harder to hate her for it, since it wasn't her fault. He just couldn't accept her like this - a monster.

"This is crazy," He ran a hand over his hair. "This ain't right."

"No shit."

"You're not leaving her unless you tell me what I want to know."

"To what purpose and end, Nines?" Rosalynn said, growing tired of these games. "I already assumed I'm not leaving here at all."

"I want to know-"

"Who turned me, right? Why the hell does it matter to you so much, since you clearly aren't too keen on me now." Rosalynn's resentment shone through right there and then. It hurt her to know Nines no longer cared for her the way he should – had they both not been damned to exist with mortal emotional attachments. That begged the question of why it cut deep now.

"I want to know the motherfucker who turned you into this." Nines answered as though it were the most obvious answer in the world.

Rosalynn shouldered the stab of heartache behind an impressively held stoicism. "That doesn't concern you. What's done is done."

"Not until I tear the bastard's head off his neck," Nines pointed out with a bloodthirsty smile curling his lips. "I'll make him bleed for all the seventy odd years you've been walking around as that."

"And what's so wrong with it, Nines?" Rosalynn tried a new approach. One that felt a lot truer than outright antagonism. "You've taken to it well."

"I had no choice."

"Yeah, well neither did I."

Nines sighed. This was impossible. Resigning himself to the fact that Rosalynn was not about to give up all her secrets, he leaned against the wall again and crossed his arms across his impressively broad chest. Tucking his chin to his chest again the way he always did when thinking, he let the next few seconds go by without a word until he finally couldn't take it anymore.

"Will you at least tell me how?" He asked this time rather than demanded. Surprise, surprise – Rosalynn actually appeared to soften. "C'mon, Ros... gimme that much. It's been tearin' me apart for decades."

Immediately she returned to him and sat down on the chair where he had been.

"It was three years after you... well, you know," Rosalynn started with a faulty smile. Willing reaching back into her vast pool of memories wasn't exactly an endeavour she looked forward to. But with Nines there, looking at her the way he used to, she managed to continue. "It was after Emily went away. I... I started drinking a bit."

That revelation made Nines' brows shoot up curiously. Rosalynn was never much of a drinker in life, save for the occasional sips of wine. Rosalynn noticed his reaction and gave a weak smile, somewhat embarrassed.

"Yeah, I know," She read his thoughts as clearly as though he'd spoke them. "Anyway... One night I got cornered in an alley. I was already wasted so I didn't really notice when I got hauled up. The next thing I knew, I woke up in a plush hotel with two gaping holes in my neck and my sire lying in bed next to me. Naked."

Rosalynn deliberately revealed more than she had to, just to test him. It was true, that she and Marius had one night of sex that she couldn't remember though she was sure her sire did. Not that she cared to remember. What mattered was the moments after she realised she was dead – and right now, to see the angry flare of Nines' nostrils and how tense his whole body became. So he does still care. Deciding not to let him dwell on it too long, she continued.

"My sire explained to me about kindred society and our need to protect it. He told me the importance of the Masquerade, and..." Rosalynn hesitated.

Nines gently touched her arm. "And?"

Rosalynn willed the words into her mouth. Pathetically they came out barely above a mouse squeak. "And... what happened to you."

Nines damn near lost his mind. "Wait... what?"

Rosalynn gauged his reaction carefully before going on. "I was barely two months as kindred when he told me why he selected me from all the other women in the bar that night." By this time her eyes were glassy and her voice barely reaching Nines' ears. She was clearly lost in the memory. Emotion thickened her voice. "He told me it was because of you."

"Me?"

"Yes. He said that three years earlier you had been taken by kindred. That you were powerful in kindred society, and that he had to have me once he discovered I was your wife."

Nothing could have prepared Nines for that. Struck dumb, he left Rosalynn's side and moved across the room. "Holy shit." He spun around and levelled her with an incredulous look. "You've known I was kindred all this time?"

Sadness swept over Rosalynn's face and she managed a ghost of a smile. "I've spent seventy years trying to find what happened to you." Her voice was on the verge of crumbling under the weight of heartache.

"Fuck it." Nines abandoned all restraint and crossed back to her, snatching up her head in both hands and bringing her mouth perilously close to his. He wanted to kiss her. And kill her. The torrent of conflicting desires had him on the edge of sanity, and it didn't help that he couldn't look away from her eyes.

"You knew all this time," He grounded out the words in an animalistic growl. "You knew, and you're still Camarilla?"

Rosalynn forgave the harshness with which he blasphemed the Camarilla. Such insolence was not unknown to thuggish Anarch, as hard as it was to swallow the blatant fact that everything her sire fed her about Nines' embrace and subsequent 'demise' was all a lie. Deflecting Nines' scathing accusation as well as hardening herself against the hurt that cut through her, Rosalynn nodded.

"He fed me everything I needed to know to bring me to the cusp an insatiable need for revenge. He told me you were leading the cause for the Camarilla. He told me you were turned to ash just before my embrace, by the Anarchs. That became my cause." Rosalynn stopped as the memory replaying in her mind stripped her of the ability to talk. She needed a moment to recover before going on. "That's why I decided to join the Camarilla. To avenge you. To discover the truth."

That was all it took to snatch the heat out of Nines' temper. Since meeting his wife for the first time in decades, he knew only her fierce temper, arrogance, cunning manipulation and her not-so-elegant adoption of the modern adaption of English. To learn that it was her love for him, and the burning need to avenge him that rode her to the heights of Camarilla success, floored him. Rosalynn wanted to giggle at the astonishment that overcame him, but the sombreness of the moment kept her face dull and tired.

It occurred to her then that Nines was still inches away from her lips. Hungrily taking sight of his mouth and then his eyes, and then back to his mouth, Rosalynn felt the upsurge of desire tantalise her cold blood. A glimpse at Nines' eyes told her he was going through the exact same thing. Without meaning to, her hands went to his waist. The same thickness of muscles she remembered committing to her memory on their wedding night greeted her fingers. She was remembering so much more than she wanted to. Inhaling sharply, Rosalynn fought to tame the flare-up of old-time feelings that weren't at all as out-dated as she'd hoped.

"I spent the first decades doing nothing but rising up through the Camarilla, establishing alliances and forging friendships, all to find my way back to the one who murdered you," She forced herself to go on, to at least salvage a little dignity. Neither she nor Nines attempted to let the other go. "The ones after that became a blur. New York became my husband and my child. The city needed me to rule, and I knew only I could bring the order the warring factions needed."

Nines had to bite his tongue, disturbed to be hearing the voice of a Prince supplant the once-independent, free-spirited woman he had loved. She was as warped to the Camarilla as a Prince of her standing should be. Sensing she wasn't done, he didn't try to interrupt. Politics can wait for another night, since he will make damn sure she won't be going anywhere.

"I never forgot you though," Rosalynn whispered breathily, her voice snagging on the tears her dead heart shed. "I've always dreamed of finding you again. But that's where I kept you. In dreams."

"I'm here. Not a dream," Nines tried his best to crack through the resolve of Rosalynn, so entrenched in her loyalties to the Camarilla. "Not Camarilla."

Nowhere near Camarilla.

"I came to Los Angeles because my city is falling apart," Rosalynn admitted without taking note of what he said. Nines saw it in her face, that she was forcing herself to admit it. The poor girl didn't have it in her to lie to him, not when her heart and body were spent of all its energy. "New York has been besieged by those fucking mongrels, the Sabbat. I had to get out after they ambushed us. I came here because Strauss has contacts that I could use."

"Strauss knew you were coming here?"

"Yes." Rosalynn paused to take note of Nines' surprise, and she rolled her eyes. "Oh come on. Don't tell me you don't think he was playing us both."

"I knew the ol' bastard had it in him. Just didn't occur to me he'd use one of his own as bait," Nines admitted, thinking it strange that Strauss would stoop to Lacroix-levels of deception. Usually the Regent, as repulsive and arrogant as he was, actually kept to obeying the rule book he so tirelessly worked to enforce.

"Neither did I, since Lucas assured me of his credibility as an anti-Lacroix," Rosalynn lured him out of his mediation.

Nines frowned. "Lucas?"

"My Lieutenant."

"Oh." Of course Rosie has a second-in-command to order the dirty deeds of her office; as Lacroix had the Sheriff.

Then something else equally intriguing occurred to him. "You hated Lacroix?"

At ease for the first time, Rosalynn quirked a brow in amusement. A flighty smile graced her lips. "Who didn't?"

Even odder was the slight smile that caught Nines by surprise. It hurt his damn cheeks, it had been so long. Knowing Rosie was not a fan of Lacroix appeased his disgust of her affiliation just a little. Now he didn't feel quite so disgusting for touching her without bleeding her.

"You belong with us." He said; the joy nowhere evident in his voice.

Rosalynn's whole face dimmed when her smile went away. "What?"

"Don't play me for a fool, Rosie. You know better," Nines said. "You fight like a Brujah, and are as passionate as any Anarch. You have the cunning of the Camarilla but aren't clouded in bullshit like Lacroix or Strauss. You ain't Camarilla in heart, and you know it."

Rosalynn's benign eyes turned dangerous. "Excuse me?"

But it was too late to extinguish the idea that excitedly gripped Nines. The idea of having his wife by his side, with her affinity for fighting and using the depth of her influence in a city such as New York, together they'd be a formidable team. His demons would finally be slayed. And he'd have his Rosalynn back. Maybe fate wasn't quite a mean-spirited bitch after all.

"I'm here, Rosie. Not dead. Not Camarilla. I ain't ever had anything to do with them. Come join us." Nines drew her closer until his mouth was hovering on hers. The promise of a kiss would seal them in a new, eternal life – and destroy everything Rosalynn had worked for. As tempting as the promise was, she couldn't do it.

"You've got to be kidding me." Rosalynn stepped out of his arms and backed away.

"Trust me, sweetheart, I'm far from joking. You got no reason to stay there. Your whole reason for joining them is a lie."

The more he thought about it, the more Nines was convinced Rosalynn would make a formidable ally. The more his excitement grew. She could infiltrate them into the top ranks of the Camarilla – after all, one doesn't ascend to the top of New York kindred society without making it to the top order of the whole organisation. That city was prized by any Camarilla kindred clammering for power.

Seeing she needed more convincing, Nines slipped easily back into the role of the comforting husband. Cornering her, he drew near to her and caught her in his arms. Rosalynn tensed and braced herself against him, whispering for him to let her go – but heard the emptiness in her voice. She didn't want him to let her go. The longer they spent together the closer she came to harnessing the old Rosalynn.

"I'm here Rosie," Nines drawled softly, easing the tension from her back with softest caresses along the length of her spine. He caught her eyes before she could avoid him. "I ain't Camarilla. Gimme a chance to make up for walkin' away that night. Your blood is Ventrue but it ain't gotta be Camarilla, honey. Let me show you the night the way you're meant to experience it. No laws. No Masquerade. Just you and the night."

Spellbound by his eyes Rosalynn came close to renouncing her affiliation on the spot. She felt his charm coursing through her. Biting back her lip to keep it down, she fought his words as they weaved through her. That, and his touch, would've turned a lesser woman into a puddle of emotions and oestrogen. Thank God she no longer carried either. Well, at least not the latter.

"You have no idea what you're asking me." Rosalynn darkly said, and untied herself from his arms.

Nines sighed. This was gonna be harder than he wanted. Glancing at his watch, the night was soon to give way to morning. 5:03am.

"You sure have developed a spine since 1936," He remarked cynically, catching an icy stare from the woman.

"Fuck you." Rosalynn spat as she finally regained sense, shaking her head free of its vice. Trust her to nearly lose herself to his charm. Nines hadn't lost an ounce of it since he died.

Nines snorted, and crossed his arms over his chest arrogantly. "Sorry, baby. Not my thing. But you remember, don't you..."

He again intruded on her space, and followed her across the room. Rosalynn tried to shrink away, but being vastly underfed and facing two days straight without more than a couple hours sleep, she gave up resistance easily as Nines backed her into the corner for a third straight time. This time he pinned her to the wall; arm out-stretched to either side.

"You remember, Rosie," Nines smirked, searching her eyes. Oh yes, she remembered alright. Shame and fury blended together gave her an expression he couldn't readily identify, but it was amusing nonetheless. "Remember this..."

He didn't wait for permission to steal her mouth in a kiss, claiming with such a force that he forced Rosalynn's back to the wall. Her mind reeled against the fleshly urges consummated in the one kiss. This is exactly how she remembered him during their marriage. Fortunately this time Rosalynn held on to what she was – and what he was trying to do. She wasn't about to let him use his charisma to devastate her senses again. Running her hands up to his pectorals, she shoved him away and abruptly ended the kiss.

"Don't you fucking dare," She skewered him with a devastating glare. "I know what you're trying to do."

Nines crossed his arms, and returned an intimidating stare. "And what's that, darlin'?"

"You can't charm me like you do those pathetic sheep you got following you around," Rosalynn stated, referring obviously to Skelter, Damsel and Kali. "I'm not the weak-ass woman you married. And I sure as hell won't tolerate your bullshit anymore, Nines Rodriguez. Our vows died the moment you did."

"A'right Miss Prince, tell me then how you're gonna explain to your Cammy dicks just how it came to be that in life you were married to me." Nines settled directly across from her.

Rosalynn blanched. That was something she never considered. If and when her superiors discovered her marriage to Nines, they'd quickly move to expel her from the top ranks of the Camarilla. She'd lose her status, through no fault of her own – but she was well-versed in Camarilla codes and regulations. Anything that smelled even faintly of impropriety was a justification for dismissal and, in more serious cases, execution.

"They won't find out." Rosalynn answered hotly, though not entirely convinced of that. By the looks of it, neither was he.

Nines snorted. "Sure, princess. Tell yourself whatever you need to be convinced of that horseshit."

That's another thing she didn't like. Being mocked was not something a Prince tolerated much of, and for anyone else would've earned them a brutal end. Yet Nines sat across from her knowing she wouldn't make such an attempt on his unlife.

"What else do you need to realise the Camarilla isn't necessary?" Nines added when Rosalynn came up with no response. "When are you gonna wake up and smell the shit stinkin' up that pretty head of yours, sweetheart?"

"Don't, Nines. Don't bring your politics into this now." Rosalynn warned.

Nines arched his brows again. "This isn't about politics."

"Then what's this about?"

"I don't want you infected by them anymore." He answered her with surprising honesty.

Rosalynn let out a hollow laugh. "Such a fool." Her expression darkened. "Just like in life."

"Look what they turned you into." Nines continued his verbal assault without much consideration for insulting her. If insulting her meant pulling rescuing her from the web of deceit she was embroiled in, then so be it.

Neither were convinced he had her best interests at heart – not when he was so keen to have her jump straight into another war with him. Knowing that gave Rosalynn the fortitude to reserve her refusal in her eyes, leaving no doubt that he saw it. Steeling herself against any Anarch was always something she did with ease. Doing so against the charm and natural likeability of Nines? Well that required a whole new realm of strength.

Being locked in this cage with him did not help matters at all. Every time he neared her, the ornery bastard nearly reduced her to her knees. In the few minutes she had between those three Anarchs leaving, and Nines arrive, she had tried to brace herself for the flood of emotions that threatened her harm. Then again no amount of preparation had conjured enough to repel Nines' annoying charismatic appeal. He had once seduced her with it when they were alive, and from then she had been his to manipulate and mould to his will. Tonight she won't let him do the same thing.

Nines reached out to touch her, but this time Rosalynn had it in mind to slap his hand away before he got anywhere near her face.

"I'm not your wife anymore," Rosalynn fiercely declared through gritted teeth. "You can't do that to me anymore, Nines. And I'll never be your puppet. I'll never let you use me."

Nines blinked, astonished. "Use you? When the fuck did I ever use you?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about." Rosalynn began to circle him; the hunted now the hunter as she paced slowly around him. "You used me and Emily in life to justify that ego of yours. It's because of you that we are like this now."

She made a sweeping gesture over them both, a definitive indicator of their wretched state of death.

"It's because of you that we are here tonight, and don't you dare deny it."

He wasn't going to. No one had to tell Nines Rodriguez he was responsible for his family's suffering – least of her all. Jaw and fists clenched, Nines quickly transformed from charming to monster in less than a mortal heartbeat.

"Don't you think I know it?" He spoke softly, though with a harsh edge. "Don't you think I regret every day the decision I made that night?"

"Well it sure doesn't look it." Rosalynn bitterly snipped. "You left me to raise our child alone. You leaving forced me to work where I should've been at home making sure she was safe. It was you Nines who steered this course for us. Not fate."

Using Emily to stab at him some more, she stormed towards him with a new proverbial sword to cut Nines down to appropriate size – as nothing more than an egotistical fool who had destroyed their lives to relieve the burden on his ego. Her eyes poured hatred and decades-old resentment out on him, a burn Nines felt all too easily.

"You were supposed to look after her. You were her mother." He gritted out, stoking his own anger.

Another fight was quickly upon them, only this time timid, young Rosalynn was just a ghost. Here stood Rosalynn – new persona, new attitude, and new power.

Rosalynn's glare stabbed him with her hate all over again. "That's right, Nines. I was her mother. And her father. And her provider. I had to become the things you were meant to be, but left in your absence. I had to work twelve fucking hours just to make sure we could eat. I blamed myself for years for not being there to stop what happened to her. But not anymore."

"You blame me."

"Damn right I do. And I know you do too."

"What about one after me?" Nines suddenly remembered the guy he found them with in Los Angeles for Emily's birthday. A jealous heat nearly bowled him over. He was livid.

Rosalynn looked at him as though he'd turned into an alien. "What other man?"

"The one with you for Emily's ninth birthday," Nines clarified. "You looked pretty cosy with him. Why didn't he take care of you?"

It took a few seconds for Rosalynn to catch on – and when she did, it hit her like a freight trains. Her eyes widened.

"You were there?" She said it accusingly.

Nines nodded only once. "I saw it all, darlin'. You just didn't see me. And if I find out he's the one who embraced you, I'll-"

He couldn't finish that sentence as anger nearly threw him into a blind rage. Thank god he was well fed, or else his inner beast would have come out right then. Rosalynn looked stunned, almost as if she couldn't believe he had discovered a dirty little secret of hers. Then when the shock went away, she looked guilty as sin.

"I... I... how did you see?"

"I came to L.A. to get away from you and Emily." Nines explained. "I didn't want you seeing what I became. Who was he, Rosie?"

The tug-of-war between them left Rosalynn reeling on the defensive again as he backed her up to a wall, the danger on his face just daring her to make him unleash on her.

"He was no one of importance." She said honestly.

The truth was she had tried to move on after Nines left. Since she couldn't support Emily alone, she had no choice to open her heart – or rather, her bed – to a new man. It worked for a while, until the ache of Nines' absence became too much to bear, and she told the Matthew Orion to leave. Rosalynn quickly explained it to Nines, and not surprisingly, it didn't abate his anger one bit.

"How the fuck do you know it wasn't him that took her?" Nines hissed, realising a terrifying thought.

And for the first time in decades, that same realisation smacked the anger right off Rosalynn's face. She clamped a hand over her mouth. "Oh shit."

It never occurred to her before that Matthew had a part in her daughter's disappearance. Throwing Nines a desperate look, Rosalynn saw the same conclusion in his eyes. She wanted to die all over again.

"I swear by God, Ros... tell me the truth, was he the one that took her?" Nines threw out a hand and caught her throat, squeezing until he had her secured against the wall.

Rosalynn clawed at his hand, but it was useless. Nines had more power in one hand than she did in her entire being right now. Damn it to hell that they gave her just enough fresh blood to sustain her for this torture, and not enough to fight. Typical Anarchs.

"I don't know," Rosalynn managed to choke out; her face wearing the panic that stormed through her. "Nines, I don't know—"

She didn't want to know. Nines roared angrily and threw her down, feeling disgust crawl over him. He paced around like a maniac, every so often throwing her his most damning glare. Rosalynn's eyes lowered. Why it hadn't been so obvious? Then again she never usually let herself dwell on Emily's disappearance. It was the one thing that destroyed her humanity day by day more strongly than Nines' disappearance ever had caused. After a while it became easier to assume he just walked away from them, of his own will. But Emily would never have run away. The child was too innocent for such recklessness. The thought that she had brought the reason for Emily's death into their house made Rosalynn want to vomit.

"Oh God," She uttered a broken whisper behind her hand. "It can't have been."

She dared to glance up at Nines, still pacing in front of her like a caged lion. He stopped in front of her. The trace of affection she had briefly felt in him was long gone, replaced with pure rage. Nines jabbed a finger at her, and came at her until that finger dug at her chest.

"You got our daughter killed," Nines accused; the accusation casting him in a dangerous new light. "For that I should put you down right here..."

Of course he should, if he was right. Ever the true diplomat, however, she made herself appear calm above the storm wildly thrashing her from within. Behind a front of impressive stoicism, Rosalynn gently pushed his finger out of her way.

"I don't know what happened to her, Nines. That's the truth."

Nines grunted. "You Camarilla fucks don't know what truth is."

This was getting them nowhere. There were other nights to talk about Emily, but with the raw energy stealing reason from them now, it shouldn't be this night. Rosalynn decided a change of subject was needed.

"So what happens now?" She said as defiantly as she could. "We can stay in here all day throwing accusations at each other; we've both had seventy goddamn years to rehearse them. What are you going to do to me?"

Nines huffed an angry sigh. Like it or not, she knew he couldn't bring himself to harm a dead hair on her head. Not yet at least. Even if the time came when he had to put her down, there was no way to enjoy it. If there was even the slightest chance to rescue Rosalynn from her brainwashed state, to join him, he'd take it. Not just because he was a selfish bastard and wanted his wife at his side, but for more practical reasons as well. Rosalynn could get him into the top ranks of the Camarilla and destroy them from the inside. She was also a formidable fighter from what he had seen of the mess she and Jack made.

Sensing she was waiting for his answer, Nines looked up – his frustration etched clearly in his weathered face.

"You're going nowhere, baby. You know I can't let you leave."

"Why? Scared of me?" Rosalynn smirked, teasing him when she knew she shouldn't. As he should be. Clearly Nines still looked at her as the pathetic woman he knew in life. That will change.

To her disappointment, Nines didn't react except with a shrug. "Another Prince trolling Los Angeles just nights after we've ended one ain't exactly gonna do us much good. Should've stayed in New York. Don't need you runnin' your mouth off to Strauss."

A shallow chuckle left Rosalynn. "What makes you think I'd turn to that asshole after what he's done?"

Good point. But still not a chance worth taking. Until Nines uncovered the real reason why she was here, and until she told him the full truth, he wasn't about to let her run her little games in his city. Not when Los Angeles – and California – had come so close to losing its Free State status.

Rosalynn slumped down on the nearest chair and hung her hair. Too many conversations rolled into one. She suspected the shock of being together again and too many unresolved issues that hung between them were to blame. Still that didn't stop her head spinning right now. Silent seconds turned to minutes as the Anarch and the Prince hung back in their respective corners, only now too pissed off to be near the other. Every so often Rosalynn caught Nines staring at her in a strange way, as an array of emotions fought to dominate his still handsome face.

Death only enhanced Rosalynn's ethereal beauty, not detracted from it in any way. Nines inwardly cursed her for it. A stunner in life, it was quite evident fate had bestowed beauty as a gift on her in death – no doubt to take full advantage of her domination discipline, as well as manipulation.

When the silence became too much, Nines slammed an open hand against the wall. The force startled Rosalynn as the walls around her shook.

"Goddamn it," Nines shook his head but the intense pressure wasn't lessening.

"What?"

He looked at her with the intent of seeing her as his enemy. Of course, he couldn't. Nines sighed dejectedly. "It's fucking impossible."

Intrigued, Rosalynn forgot to be angry with him when she left her perch to cross over to him. "What's fucking impossible?"

Nines took in her approach with wary eyes. Though he knew she wouldn't match him in a fight in the state she was in, he was careful lest she throw domination at him. It surprised him that Rosalynn hadn't even attempt to harness her disciplines. What surprised him more was that he hadn't used any of his own. It was like neither could bring themselves to bear down their nature on the other. The words on his tongue tasted foul, but Rosalynn was waiting for an answer.

"This whole damn mess," Nines quietly admitted, eased slightly by the gentleness of her face. She always had a way of putting him at ease. He made sure had her eyes when he said the next bit, "To want to kill someone you once loved beyond measure."

Rosalynn didn't expect the sharp stab in her chest where her stagnant heart lay. It was the kind of admission one, she was quickly learning, doesn't ever hear from the courageous Nines Rodriguez. Had she not carried the blood and knowledge she did, and had she still carried the mortal love for him she used to, she would've been dazzled by what her man has become – a champion for the poor; the oppressed; the weak. Just like he always wanted to do in life. If this were still life, she would have been so proud.

"I know what you mean," Rosalynn said in a low, yet dignified voice. "You want to kill me."

"Damn right!" Suddenly Nines was enraged again, his voice nothing but animalistic lust for blood. Rosalynn backed off as he stood, and towered over the sylphlike Prince.

"Goddamn it, Rosalynn." After marching a short distance, Nines turned and pinned her to the wall with his imposing glare. "You said you became Camarilla to avenge me, well look. Look around you, sweetheart. There's nothing to avenge. I'm here, right in front of you. Everything you know from that so-called sire of yours is bullshit. What does it got to take to pull you out of your blindness? 'Bout time you woke up, darlin'. Your place is here, with me."

He hadn't meant to say that last part, but it was the truth. Unaffected by his passion, Rosalynn channelled the inner-royalty she possessed as Prince – even if she didn't look it. Calm and not biting to his aggression, she met his eyes with a fierce challenge – one that possessed all the confidence of a woman who wasn't about to be bested.

"Is that so, Nines?" She quietly answered; her voice calm and dignified. "Just like my place was in the home, with Emily?"

To that, Nines had no clever answer. He stiffened. "That isn't what I was talking about."

"No, I know exactly what you're saying," Rosalynn hotly said and she seated herself on the chair once more, hooking one leg over the other. "Let's face some hard truths here. The reason why we're here now is because you didn't trust me when we were alive. Instead you went out crusading on your own, as if you could single-handedly find a cure to the Depression. You kept me in the dark, didn't tell me anything even when you were home, and then went out into the early hours and drank yourself into a coma. The fact is, honey, secrets were your game. I am not going to be played like that again, not by you or anyone. Look at me, Nines."

Rosalynn gestured over herself. True, she looked like shit. But she wasn't going to act weak, as Nines clearly expected her to. The bastard had the gall to believe she would still coming running to him after all this time – after all she had achieved.

"I've achieved everything I have without you. I've done it alone." Aside from some fragile alliances she had forged on her quest for Princehood in New York, Rosalynn wasn't lying. She trapped Nines with a gaze she reserved for when she was sitting across from other Princes. "Everything I am; everything I set out to do, I did it without you in my ear – or my bed – convincing me that you could handle everything. Clearly you can't. Look what happened when you disappeared. You really handled that one, honey."

Across the room her rant was stirring its desired effect. Nines' dark mood took on a sinister turn as his eyes clouded over to become unreadable. An ironic smile teased the corners of Rosalynn's mouth. She's getting under his skin. Meanwhile, Nines' ears bled as blind rage took his entire body hostage. He took it all back – she does have the filthy mouth and defiled heart of the Camarilla.

"Face it, Nines. I've become something more than you ever could. You can run around with your thugs, beat your chest, and roar as loudly as you want at the perceived injustices you so richly believe the Camarilla are responsible for. It does not make one speck of difference. You can't see that you need the Masquerade. But you can see what I am. I have standing over you, whether you want to believe it or not. I'm not your wife anymore, honey. I don't bow to you. I will not jump when you say to, or sit when I'm told. I won't sit back and let you destroy me as you did once, and then sit by why you try to turn our society into chaos. I won't sit back and let you destroy our centuries-old society just because you want a taste of the glory you were not man enough to achieve in life. Don't you see it, honey?"

Rosalynn paused to let the dramatic silence take effect. Her smile widened just a little as her words carved through his pride a little more.

"I succeeded without you. My place is not with you or at your side. My place is to govern New York, and give all kindred – even you ungrateful Anarchs – the freedoms to do as you please. I achieved it without you. I do not need you, Nines. I never will need you again. I am better than you, and you know it."

The final nerve was stepped on, and set off a reaction she should have anticipation. Nines snarled, baring his fangs as he charged her. Rosalynn went to move but found herself boxed in by a towering stack of boxes filled with alcohol. Panic swept over her, but not enough time to register it when a hard blow slammed her into the wall. When the dust settled and the dizziness stopped, Rosalynn blinked and looked around to find herself hauled up at least two feet off the ground. Unbelieveably she still managed to crack a smile – Nines immediately recognised it as the same smile belonging to all the arrogant Camarilla shits he clashed swords with on many nights. His throat constricted his anger in his throat before he could explode it on to her.

"Do it, honey." Rosalyn brokenly taunted as he squeezed his fingers tighter. Her delicate hands curled around the one hand Nines had secured to her throat. "Kill your wife for the second time."

He couldn't believe how badly the Camarilla infected her. All Nines saw was a spirit not belonging to Rosalynn, but one that had merely resembled itself to her likeness. Brimming on the edge of chaos spilling out of him, Nines roughly lowered her to the ground and slammed her into the wall again. He glimpsed the all-too brief flash of fear in her eyes before he spun her around and face-planted her to the wall; using his weight to flatten her stomach against the cement. Rosalynn screeched for him to let her go, but her furious demands were rebuffed when Nines hooked a thick arm around her throat – effectively turning her screeching into pathetic squeaks. He leaned into her ear; his fangs biting at the lobe...

"I'm sorry." He gritted out; the words barely reaching her under the heavy fusion of rage, regret and unspent heartache.

Rosalynn blinked her shock, since she couldn't exactly say anything. It was last thing she expected him to say. Nines easily ignored her thrashing; his strength overpowering her weakness without any effort at all. He kept his mouth at her ear, willing himself to say the apology he had practiced in solitude for decades...

"I'm sorry for walking out on you that night. I'm sorry for all those nights I left you alone in our bed. I'm sorry for all the times you had to lie to Emily. I'm sorry more than you'll ever understand," Nines' voice was an emotional-type of angry that was rare to hear these nights. His words pained with regret, it took a mighty bite out of his pride to keep going. "I understand and deserve your hatred, Rosie. I accepted it many moons ago. Now you'll understand why I gotta do this..."

On cue his arm tightened across her neck, and Rosalynn's eyes practically rolled from their sockets. Answering the silent question he felt burning beneath her skin, Nines kept his mouth at her ear.

"I'd rather you burn to ash rather than know you as this." With his free arm circled around her tiny waist, Nines had her right where she wanted him. All he needed to do now was twist that gorgeous head free of her neck...

Rosalynn couldn't say anything with the mammoth stretch of muscles putting the squeeze to her trachea, but the rush of blood to her ears confirmed her panic to them both. Her fight was waning, but still she had some kick in her.

"What are you doing?" She gasped out.

Nines pressed his weight into her, until Rosalynn was effectively sandwiched between him and the wall.

"Don't you remember, honey? You used to love being manhandled."

"Get your hands off me."

"Nuh-uh. Play nice, baby."

Now he was just toying with her. Driving her to the brink of total, irrational madness was something, as an Anarch, Nines took pride in. Rosalynn's furious scream was priceless. Since he had her secured against him, he took his time in marking each unique feature he had come to know in life. The long jagged scar cutting across the back of her neck retold the time when Rosie nearly drowned in a Canadian lake on the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary. Nines drifted into the memory easily, of the night when he and she fought like mad only to have the obstinate woman storm from the cabin in a right state of irrationality. In her blind rage, Rosalynn tried the easiest way to escape Nines – by stealing the boat from its place at the tiny dock and trying to row it anywhere far from him. Nines had watched on amusedly, partly fuelled by his anger that night and partly by the sheer comedy of watching that dainty wife of his try to do a man's job. His humour vaporised the moment the dingy capsized into the gelid water and Rosalynn's shocked scream was silenced by the frost. The moment she slipped in was the moment he dove right in after her, swimming against the sudden drop in his core body temperature to dive to where he saw her disappear. It seemed like forever but in within the second he had her in his arms. It was a gallant effort to take them both to shore, compounded by the artic freeze taking over them both. In short order he, by some miracle, had them both in the cabin and draped in every layer of blanket the cabin carried. Shrouded by the warmth of the fire, Nines held her as close to him as physically possible, pleading with her through the gravest pain in his heart to come back to him. The thought of losing her gutted him to pieces. Thank God his Rosie came back to him by the shallowest, quietest of whimpers – she had taken another breath.

Nines blinked, and the memory vanished – its power stealing away his resolve to end Rosalynn like this. Stunned into silence, he didn't notice his hold on her weaken and Rosalynn slid out of his grasp. She staggered a short distance away before turning around – keeping her back planted against the wall.

"You're out of your goddamn skull!" she fumed.

Rosalynn stared at him, and her anger settled into a gentle simmer when she noticed Nines' vacant eyes. He was definitely elsewhere – though his body remained committed firmly between her and the door. No escape possible.

"Nines!" Rosalynn snapped, hands on hips. She wasn't accustomed to being ignored. "What the hell is wrong with you? Look at me!"

At her command, Nines raised his gaze. Only then did he seem to wake up to the fact that somehow she'd ended up across the room. He didn't look angry, but Rosalynn hung back – she wasn't big on taking chances. Still, the look on his face wasn't right.

It took the Prince completely by surprised when he walked across the room, this time without an angry stride, and took out of his back pocket a length of rope. Rosalynn spied the item with a raised brow. She glanced at Nines with intrigue.

"Do you always just happen to carry rope around like that?"

Nines was unfazed, and picked up her wrists. Silently he spun her around and pinned her to the wall, ignoring Rosalynn's squirming as he bound her wrists. It wasn't until he turned her around again that he said anything.

"You're coming with me," He stated coldly. This time he easily resisted the allure of her eyes, only by remembering that this woman was no longer his woman.

"Where?" Rosalynn had to ask.

"You'll see…"

A SHORT TIME LATER...

Rosalynn stared at him as though he'd sprouted another head to go with that monolithic ego of his as she stared around the bedroom. His bedroom. "You can't seriously expect me to stay in here, do you?"

Nines crossed his arms, ending the debate with an insouciant shrug of his shoulders. "Can't leave you to tear apart now L.A., now can I? I'll keep an eye on you myself."

"I'm not going to fuck you."

To that, a bemused smile graced Nines' face, before it suddenly vanished. "Do you see me undressing?"

Rosalynn looked from head-to-toe over his larger than life build, and couldn't help but remember the when she knew that magnificent body more intimately than she knew her own. A pang to her chest told her she almost wished it was so again. But of course that didn't change the fact that the Nines she once knew was dead – and in his place stood this arrogant fool.

"So why are you locking me in here if it isn't to defile me with your filth?"

"It's the only way I'll know you'll be safe. That you'll have time to think."

"About?"

"About how you came to lose your damn mind, that's what." Nines coldly snapped. He refused to belief the old Rosalynn was completely gone, and he knew that in the way she talked and got all hot whenever he pushed her buttons. Just the way the old Rosie did. She's still buried in that dead heart somewhere.

"And then what?" Rosalynn challenged, forgetting for a moment that she was in mind-bending pain as she rose up off the filthy bed and came up to him – face-to-chest. Forced to crane her neck to reach his eyes, her chiselled expression didn't move. "Are we going to stay locked in this game forever? Nines, for once in your damn life and unlife, think about the consequences. We have three options here. One, you let me go and I do what I came here to do, and then leave forever leaving you with only the ghost of my presence. Two, we stay in this room arguing back and forth until another goddamn seventy years happen. Or three..."

Her eyes narrowed sharply. "You kill me. If you can."

"Yeah, the thing is sweetheart, none of them is good enough," Nines casually pushed away from the wall and strolled circles around her with an arrogant swagger; his arms loosely crossed over his chest. A dangerous gleam in his eyes completed the look he carried so well – pure danger. When he was in front of her once more, he reached down and snatched up the rope that bound her hands, wanting her to feel him in control. "I'm not letting you leave. And I'm not going to turn you to dust."

"You asshole!" Rosalynn couldn't think enough foul things to call him. Being called an asshole didn't heat up his anger at all – by the looks of it, Nines was used to it.

"You see, there it is princess. You speak like an Anarch, fight like one, and know the truth that your precious Camarilla lied to you at every moment. What more proof do you need then the fact that I'm standing right fucking here!"

"We need the Masquerade. We-"

"Don't. Don't you fucking dare, woman." Nines jabbed a finger in her face, as he wrenched her tightly against him.

The denial of more blood had worked wonders to sap the Prince of any fight she had in her, so it was easily for him to palm her around without much effort.

"Now… you're going to stay in here and behave," Nines said darkly and then guided her attention to her previous means of escape. "And don't even think about an escape. This time I'll have people posted at every conceivable exit out of here."

"You can't keep me locked in here like some caged animal!" Rosalynn shoved his chest, but like the brick wall he was, Nines didn't budge. Instead he smiled that way he always does when he knows he's won. He backed her up and threw her down on the bed.

"Get some sleep. You look like shit." Nines ignored the deranged look she levelled him with, and headed for the door – stopping only to spare a tired glance at the very reason he had all these years to cherish the measure of humanity he had claimed since his embrace. As much as he wished it so, he couldn't find that humanity in her at all.

And looking at her right then, Nines knew as he pulled the door shut that the devastation and heartbreak Rosalynn wore on her face was something else he'd never forget…