The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
--Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
The police force was a long time ago. Sonny had retired. Quit. It didn't matter which he'd done, or that he'd been without a job for the past thirteen years.
He'd had ample time to turn investments made during the last century into wealth, and playing detective had only been a way to get close to Frank and watch him. The contacts Sonny had built up before the years he'd worked with Frank were more than enough to keep him manipulating the police from behind the scenes.
Frank Kohanek was older. A lieutenant now, and off the streets. Safer, both for him and the Kindred community. He didn't need to know it was Sonny's influence that did it, and Sasha who kept the Brujah crime sprees under the police radar, and, therefore, away from Frank's ears.
No one needed to know that the Ventrue Primogen and the Brujah Primogen worked together, for that matter. They were both Julian's children, in different ways, but the appearance of rivalry was important. Sasha liked playing a dangerous game, and Sonny was no different. He wasn't sure if that came from Julian's blood, mortal or immortal.
The dawn was just breaking over the sky when Sonny got to the diner. Frank was eating breakfast, a stack of pancakes covered in the butter his doctor had told him to avoid, and a plate of bacon next to that. He looked up just as Sonny slid into the seat across from Frank.
"You ever regret quitting the force, man?" asked Frank. There were more lines in his face, and gray streaks through his hair. "Time was, I thought all you lived for was being a cop. Of course, that was before I found out you were a vampire."
Sonny shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "That didn't stop me from loving my job, Frank. It just meant there were extra complications to it."
"I'm still pissed." Frank speared a piece of pancake like he wanted to stake Sonny, then waved it at him. "I'll be pissed fifty years from now, when I'm dying in my hospital bed, and you show up exactly like you do today."
"I guess we'll find out in fifty years," said Sonny. He stayed calm. They'd been having breakfast together every week since he'd resigned and Frank got his first promotion, and, at least once a year, Frank brought the same old topic up again.
Frank was going to be even madder when Sonny made him police captain in about five years. That was the benefit of staying friends with his former partner. He could pull some strings from the inside, instead of staying behind the scenes the whole time.
"Why are you doing this?" asked Cash. He stalked into Sasha's office, slammed the door behind him, and tossed a folder full of papers down on the desk between them. Coming over at midday didn't matter. Some things were worth the daylight exposure.
"It's just business, Cash," snapped Sasha. She stood up, her arms planted on the desk, and leaned forward. "I've spent thirteen years cleaning up the Brujah in this town, making them play nice, and what do you do? You stalk in here and start complaining that we're getting into the conservation business?"
"That's Gangrel territory!" shouted Cash. His voice was loud enough to carry out the door and down the hall.
"Yeah?" Sasha crossed her arms and started to yell. Nothing else would get through. "Better get used to it. Thought we'd open a wolf refuge next. Bring in some zookeepers. What do you say?"
"I don't believe you, Sasha," said Cash, grimacing, still yelling. "I never thought you'd turn out this way."
"You sure?" Sasha's eyes widened in mock innocence. Her voice was loud and furious. "Maybe you can move in. I'll get you one of those cute little radio collars and all the kibble you can eat."
Cash growled and leapt over the desk, slamming Sasha back against the wall. Her head collided with a loud thud. "Radio collar?" he asked, in a low, amused voice.
"What, you think I overplayed my hand?" asked Sasha, whispering. She grinned. "I'm a Brujah. Everyone expects me to be bitchy. Especially around you."
"Your clanmates aren't known for their subtlety," said Cash, leaning his forehead against Sasha's. "I thought Julian taught you better."
"Idiot," muttered Sasha. She grabbed Cash, fisting her hands in his leather jacket, then pulled him close and kissed him.
Caitlin stopped typing and glanced out her window. The sun was well below the horizon, and the lights of San Francisco had started to turn on. She'd stayed up all day again, caught up in the whirl of a story that had to be written. Sometimes it felt like there was a story inside her that would never be finished, and all the words in the dictionary couldn't contain it.
One side of Caitlin's mouth quirked up into a smile. There'd been a time that writing a story had been a technical challenge. She'd loved it, or she wouldn't have gone into journalism, but the thrill had come in the chase of a story, in editing the paper. She'd loved investigating the mysteries of San Fransisco and bringing the corrupt into the light of day.
Caitlin saved her work. She'd lost a term paper once in college, and sworn that it would never happen again. There was a rustle of silk, then, and Caitlin turned to look back at her bed.
"There was an artist inside you all along," said Lillie. She lay in the bed, languid, like almost always, and smiled over at Caitlin. She sat up and held one hand out. "All the rest of it, that was just how you honed your art."
"How long have you been watching me?" Caitlin stood and moved over to the bed, reaching out for Lillie's hand. Lillie tugged her down, then rolled on her side and faced Caitlin.
"At least an hour." Lillie leaned forward and brushed Caitlin's hair back. "You're never more beautiful than when the need to create takes hold of you." She paused. "I need to take you away from your computer tonight. There's a meeting of the Primogen Council. I need your support."
"I look forward to the internal squabbling," said Caitlin, with an exasperated smile. "I'm bringing my laptop. Sasha's going to be late, and I've got a deadline to meet."
"As long as you're there," said Lillie. She leaned closer, nuzzling against Caitlin's throat. Caitlin let her head fall back and her eyes fluttered closed. "It's not until midnight, though. We have time."
"That's just perfect, then," said Caitlin. She smoothed her hands down the column of Lillie's back. "I had plans for you tonight that didn't involve other Kindred."
The grunge bands she'd brought in once upon a time had faded away years ago, but the style of music didn't matter. The heavy, pulsing beat and the bass thrumming in Lillie's bones spoke of the passion mortals and Kindred alike could bring to life. It was all she asked for, but, in order to enjoy it, Lillie had to hold a secure position in a city at peace.
The owner of The Haven had ostensibly changed, of course, and Lillie had done half a dozen renovations before 2005, and two more in the five years since.
The upper rooms hadn't been touched. Lillie used them to hold court. She stood in the window that overlooked her club and raised a glass of wine to her lips. The clock above the bar counted down the minutes to the dawning of a new year.
"Too many years," said Daedalus, walking up to her. He stood at her side, surveying the crowd as she did, but looking for something other than mortal passion. He was cold contemplation, analyzing the mortals and Kindred gathered below.
"It always feels like that on New Year's Eve," said Lillie. She leaned against the sill and sipped at her wine again.
"Because Julian died on New Year's Eve," said Daedalus. He lay his hand on her shoulder. "The mantle of Prince lies most heavy on your shoulders this night."
"Maybe so," said Lillie, turning. The Primogen Council awaited her as the countdown to midnight began in the club below them. "It doesn't matter. We have to move on."
The Primogen Council awaited her. Sasha, who'd earned the spot by disgracing Cameron, then killing him after his role in Julian's death had been revealed. Somehow she still held the Brujah under her sway, despite holding the favor of the Prince and Primogen Council.
Sonny, who'd held the role of Ventrue Primogen after Archon's death. His loss was another that Lillie didn't often dwell on. Sonny had been a steady presence in San Francisco for decades, taking more of the city's mortal functions under his wing. She still counted on his loyalty.
Lillie's age showed in the weariness she felt. Cash, on the other hand, had a youthful zeal as Gangrel Primogen that had become something she relied on. Nights such as these were easier to bear when the vitality of others supported her.
Caitlin, even, youngest of the San Francisco Toreador, but Primogen as one of the few who could control the madness that her writing brought on, rather than letting it control her. Their clan walked a fine line, but Caitlin had a strong will and strong mind. Those who created as mortals could always balance Toreador passion better than those who came to it as Kindred.
Daedalus, who had always been Primogen of the Nosferatu in San Francisco, was the only one who could bring up Julian's death without facing Lillie's rage. Maybe it was because he had loved Julian as long as Lillie had, though in his own way.
They all supported each other, ensuring that the city moved forward and that peace was kept between the clans. Lillie moved, taking her rightful spot at the head of the table as Prince of her city.