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Lilith

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Several days after having returned from Chicago, Divia decided it was time she upheld her promise to Ballard Braun. The timing seemed to be perfect; Urs Bellefleur was in town, visiting her husband no doubt - but that was hardly a barrier to the Tzimisce's plans. As the head of Vindicta, Krauss was busy more often than not, running about and hunting down clues or traitors to the Erebos cause. He was hardly ever at home and even less so, past twenty-one hundred hours.

That was the prime time, Divia thought, to put the wheels of her 'machine' into motion.

Everything was proceeding just as she had foreseen. The Kindred telephoned Mrs. Krauss the previous night and requested a meeting regarding a possible development of the Crimson Lights into a franchise - a series of similarly themed burlesque nightclubs across the nation. Having piqued the Toreador's interest, Divia asked only that Urs keep the information to herself, for now. The meeting would be private, just between the two of them. To her satisfaction, Ursula agreed. The meeting was scheduled for tonight, at 9:30 PM.

Divia's personal limousine would be picking Urs up at the main door to her apartment building.

Glancing at her watch, the Tzimisce determined she needed to leave now, or else she'd be running late. The limousine was already waiting below, and Divia intended to ride up in the front with Ballard Braun seated in the back. As promised, she would give the two as much privacy and space as only the circumstances could afford.

Looking up and across the expanse of her office, Divia caught a glimpse of a young man seated in a high chair, sporting a seemingly relaxed pose, his gaze transfixed upon some unknown point in space.

"It is time, mister Braun," was all she said.

Pending his readiness, the two Kindred would leave the room immediately and descend down the elevator before boarding the black Erebos limousine. The completely darkened windows would ensure the vehicle's occupants perfect anonymity while the proposed reunion and first meeting between a Sire and her Childe took place. Eager to see the event take place, Divia sent a quick text to Urs, announcing that she was on her way and that she would see the Toreador siren in one quarter of an hour ...

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"It is time, mister Braun," was all she said.

He nodded in return. "It certainly is." He offered a smile and gently twirled a white and black pin striped fedora onto his head. He always did like the hats. something professional and serious. The pinstripes just added the sense of absurdity he enjoyed in most things. Well that, and his new scooby doo watch. He had to admit, Divia was more than generous. He had to figure out some way to repay her. though he got the nagging feeling, just being up and around would. It was the only reason he could think that she didnt ask him for a thing in return.

He followed her out and took his seat, crossing his leg over and using it as a small desk to open the paper he had stowed away under his arm. He at least liked the pretend of normalcy, even if he was reading the funnies. He found world politics and sports of very little interest, but the humor in things he was truly starting to appreciate more and more.
 

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Urs received a text reminder just as she finished getting out of the bathroom. Having given one final go over her lustrous blonde hair with a brush, she donned a silver-grey business suit along with matching stilettos, and proceeded to the living room, where she began collecting her purse, keys and phone. A quick glance to her watch confirmed that she still had fifteen minutes to spare. Plenty of time to relax with a glass of warm O-negative while listening to the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald's "Summertime" - which is exactly what she did, enjoying every minute of the soothing melody from a time when class, romance and passion ruled the world of music.

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Rolling down the privacy partition, Divia turned her head to glance back at Ballard from the front seat she took, next to the chauffeur. "I hope you don't mind that this first meeting - or reunion with your Sire - will take place inside this very vehicle. I know it's not ideal, but we cannot afford to have anyone bursting through the door to your apartment, or hers. I would have arranged it to take place at my domain but alas, I did not wish to make either of you ... uncomfortable." The Tzimisce would not follow that last bit with any explanation, but continued onward in calm and typically listless fashion. "Once the initial ice has been broken, we can then discuss other meeting places and ... possibilities."

Having thus concluded her introductory speech of reassurance, Divia bid the driver to head to Mrs. Krauss' apartment without delay. When the vehicle began accelerating, she turned to Ballard once more and grinned invitingly. "Do you have any questions before we arrive, mister Braun?"
 

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He nodded and looked up from his paper. now on the crossword. "Yes actually I do. I was wondering what this clue meant. ' This book was delivered by sitcom creators with their usual twisted humor to a Broadway stage.' " He offered her a small smile and shook his head. "Nothing about the situation. I understand completely. It is probably best this way anyway."

He left it at that for now and returned to his paper. Actively avoiding any actual news if he could avoid it.
 

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"I would not know. Crossword puzzles were always a quaint form of entertainment that has eluded me over the centuries."

As Braun returned to his paper, Divia shrugged.

"She will be joining us the moment we arrive. I will not be partaking in your conversation and in fact, it is best that you do not mention me at all," she accentuated the last phrase of her sentence the privacy screen came up again, completely obscuring each from view of the other. In several minutes, the limousine pulled up in front of The Arlington and came to a pause, waiting for its guest.
 

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After one quarter of an hour, Urs got up from her comfortable chaise and headed to the door. Moments later, she was seen traveling down the elevator and crossing the lobby of the Arlington before slipping out the main door, dignified and serene. She was doing her best to keep her cool - after all, it was the Duchess of Vindicta she was meeting - and she had a very exciting proposition for Urs, though she would not divulge what it was! Regardless, the Toreador nearly let the news slip to her husband, but managed to cover at the very last moment. Tristan suspected nothing. She felt somewhat guilty for keeping this from him but once Divia divulged all of her scheme to Urs, the Toreador would happily explain everything to Tristan. And Tristan would understand - because that's just the kind of man he was.

So, bashing unnerving thoughts aside, she eyed the black Erebos limousine waiting for her at the curb and began her approach. As she did so, the chauffeur jumped out of his seat and moved toward the passenger side rear door facing Urs, and gallantly opened it for her as she neared it. She thanked him with a quiet smile and, without hesitation, slid into the darkened vehicle ...

"Hello...?" she intoned quietly, wondering why it was so dark in here. "I'm here, as you requested."

Crossing her legs, Urs leaned back in her seat, and waited for the eerie silence to break as the car door closed beside her.
 

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Braun nodded to Divia before she closed the screen. "As you wish." With no hint of sarcasm about it. Enjoying the rest of the trip making wild and often dirty, guesses at the crossword even though he knew they were wrong.

As they came to a stop he lowered the brim of his hat a bit and let the Chauffeur do his job. He suddenly felt, nervous. ~knock it off~ being the only thought her would allow. He had no reason to feel nervous now, of all times. Being confident was what was called for, period.

He waited for her to finish speaking before pulling his hat off and onto his lap, setting the paper folded next to him. Purposefully leaving her in the dark for longer then was comfortable. "I apologize,"
Turning on the car light as he spoke. Might as well work with shock, and see where that got him. "for the underhandedness of this meeting. But I fear I cannot simply walk to your door and ring the doorbell." He foldlded his fingers into one another on his lap. "Hello again Mrs. Krauss."
 

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At the sound of the voice, Urs froze. Not because she suddenly became afraid or unsettled, but because she was genuinely surprised. Shocked perhaps, even. There was very little that surprised her these days, especially after the mess with Elena and Tristan rocked her life. One of such things would have been the sudden return/reappearance of her Sire - whom she had not seen for many decades since they separated in Chicago without Urs even realizing he had gone until it was too late. Second ... well, yes. That. It would have been the sudden re-emergence of her 'lost' Childe. The man that Tristan would never accept into their family: Ballard Braun.

Hello again Mrs. Krauss.

She was suddenly apprehensive; not wanting to turn, defiant to confirm that which in her heart of hearts she already knew, was true. Even though Tristan had made every effort to put her Childe away where no one would find him or assist him to make his way back to the world of the undead, here he was, plain as night. Despite all the precautions, all the extra measures her husband had taken to prevent this seemingly destructive and very unpredictable man from surfacing, he had found a way to return. To her. He had returned to his Sire. Was this some form of ... acknowledgment, then?

If he were free, he could go anywhere he wished. He certainly did not need to be here, of all places. And with her. Something became blatantly obvious to Urs just then: Erebos had a hand in rescuing him. Divia might have played a large part, herself - though Urs refused to speculate on how large, at this point. Suddenly, she found her voice and replied without turning her head.

"Ballard Braun."

Finally forcing herself to look at him, Urs confirmed in silence that it was indeed, the man himself.

"I did not think you would be looking for me." She admitted quietly. She was, after all, the reason he was imprisoned in Torpor, in the first place. "Do not apologize. I am afraid it should be I who is expressing contrition."

Her hands reached out to him, instinctively, eager to take his. She did not know what to say beyond this point. She would wait to see, what he did.
 

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He didn't resist her grab for his hand. in fact, he seemed a bit taken aback by the entire experience. He expected. Something different. Something not so awkwardly peaceful. Something so...open. He sat there silently for a moment, chewing on the awkwardness before simply stating. "Its is probably likely that we both owe each other a apology. But, to the reason I am here. I only have a couple of questions to ask, then, we don't have to see each other again."

"Well, lets start simple." He offered her a small smile. "For what exactly do you owe me contrition for?" Obviously trying to get her to take over the conversation for a bit at least. So he could confront meeting her again. For the past couple of days. Feeling anything but just...empty was something he actively avoiding. seeing out comedy in the absurd, from videos of cats playing the keyboard to dressing in a suit and accenting it with a scooby doo watch. anything to feel something akin to the fun he once had, instead of the blankness he now felt about almost everything. He was starting to figure out that passion about anything in this new life of his other than feeding was hard to come by. He started seriously wondering if he would end up very much like Divia. He owed her a great deal, but was starting to learn was someone who very much embodied this...blankness in his mind.

With Urs here now he suddenly didn't feel so blank. It was a one tone picture of something akin to simply feeling good around her. But it was a feeling he didn't actively have to try and force. Which was nice to say the least. But also quietly disconcerting. As far as he was aware what he owed her was nothing. He certainly had no reason to be comforted by her presence. the last time he seen her, it didnt go so well for him.

In short, he thought the awkwardness would be a struggle to be anything but hostile, either openly or passively. now he was finding it was hostility he felt, but some sort of strange care. To say the least, he was not prepared.
 

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Urs watched Ballard for a long moment, still disbelieving it was really him, sitting next to her. It wasn't until his hand slipped into hers that she was fully convinced the man facing her now was no illusion. His question took her aback, even though she fully expected it to be asked. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that he would not inquire about certain things directly and so soon, but now she had no choice but to respond. Silence would only raise more questions. Managing another smile, she nodded slowly as if in appreciation for his trusting her with tactile contact.

"I should have been the one to find you, and much sooner. I just ... I got put off by slamming my head into a dead end, every time I tried. But that is no excuse. You are my Childe. I never wanted you to go through anything like this: being left alone and abandoned in a state of utter helplessness ... I just hope you can forgive me or at the very least, allow me to make things up to you, somehow. And I realize that I have no right to ask anything of you, but I hope you understand if I do so, anyway. Whatever you do from this point onward, don't let Tristan see you out and about. I believe he may seek to do you great harm if he learns you are awake. As for my part, I will do whatever I can, to ensure your safety but do realize that my ability to do so might be significantly stunted by the fact that any light of suspicion cast Tristan's way might result in putting you in grave danger."

Sighing, Urs fell silent for a moment and glanced into Ballard's eyes, wondering if he believed her or not - even if the tone of her voice could not have been any more sincere.
 

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He left her finish before leaning back and considering carefully his next words. It would be so easy to make a new enemy here and now. Yet what he needed were friends. Something within him screamed at the idea of letting the woman off so easily. Almost assuredly he would have been in that hole since horsemen ride and bell toll if he was waiting on her. He offered her a small smile despite his anger at the situation she shoved him into though. Because in the end, it wasn't her fault. she was associated, but the fault lies only with someone else.

"Trust me when I say I have no intention of ever seeing Tristan Krauss until we meet in whatever hell there happens to be. Considering the breadth of life I have left to live that will not be for a very, very long time. If your worry is I will take revenge on the eternal fool don't. It is far too much trouble for far too little gain. Though I cant say I am the only one he makes an enemy of. He seems very capable of doing so." He gently cupped her hand with his own. enjoying the simple intimacy for a moment, as well as trying to give some sort of comfort and validation to her. "If you wish to make it up to me. Then answer my questions and I will consider us square."

He waited a moment for any responses before asking. "Speaking of what you wanted. Why me? I was made aware one only chooses another for this experience if they have a specific reason to. Considering the trouble that was had trying to make sure I was your childe, I want to know why."
 

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Looking away for a moment, Urs recalled the fateful text she received from Gaius Reman just prior to meeting Ballard Braun in person. Oddly enough, she could recall this particular event - and every one that followed in conjunction with the latter - with perfect clarity of mind. Without looking back to him, she spoke with a voice that was quiet, yet firm:

"It wasn't exactly a choice I wanted to make, but one that was the better one of the two evils in the unfortunate dilemma I was faced with. Gaius Reman - I'm sure you remember him - demanded that you'd be 'dealt with' by whatever means, as long as you did not bring trouble to the Saligia crime organization. He felt, that at the time, you were a ticking bomb, so to speak - and unless you were 'neutralized' somehow, you would have to be killed. See, he did not want any information, no matter how insignificant - but relating to Saligia - to get out to the public. As Kindred, we are sworn to maintain the Masquerade, which is an organized effort to convince humans - Kine - that vampires do not exist.

Gaius was afraid that you were going to jeopardize the Masquerade, and as you came to meet with me I realized that the last thing I wanted, was to take your life. See, whether you would have divulged anything about Kindred existence or that of Saligia was not the point. That there was such a -possibility-, was. I knew then that if Tristan or Wasyli would be left to 'deal' with you, that they would simply kill you. They don't like to take chances and rarely ever do. But until either of them walked into the picture, I was there with you - and I could make a different decision, but a life altering one nonetheless. This is when I made up my mind that I would Embrace you rather than let you die. Of course, as you recall I'm sure, things did not go at all the way I planned. But the bottom line that I want you to consider is that I wasn't trying to take your life - I was trying to save it. I am still trying to save it and will do my best to do so - if you let me. But if you wish for me to walk out of your existence and never make contact with you again, I shall honor your wishes. It's whatever you want, Ballard Braun. All I want you to know is ... that I wish you well."
 

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He sat back a bit and chewed on the information a bit. Sadly, it provided him nothing. Maybe it was the fact his identity was now vanished. Everything he had worked for, family, even any hint of societal structure was slowly decaying. Everything he found fun or pleasing in some sense was falling down around him. He realized in this moment he had no identity. No sense of self. He had hoped, maybe vainly, that her explanation of why him would be some sort of vision of what she wanted him for. At least then he could have something he could accept or reject. It turns out, she simply didn't want to go through the trouble of killing him on a moral level. He could accept that, even admire the choice. Had it been while he was living he would have certainly made the same choice. Now, he was not so sure.

Yet again, that was the same with just about everything. He was obviously disappointed, even conflicted with the answer. though the brief window into his mind ended as he addressed her again. Instead of offering a supposed window, simply stated.

"I, have no idea what I want. That is the problem. Its why I am here. I appreciate the thought for my life, and I know I took the decision willingly. Now that I am here, Ballard Braun of all intensive purposes is indeed dead." He sighed and shook his head. "I'm also unsure why you want to help me. In fact its the one question no one seems to want to answer or have a answer that is anything but, 'So you can live.' I know this is rather foolish for someone to ask but I simply need to know. Why is it do you want to help me, even though you have completed what you set out to do? The threat of me is long over, if there was any to begin with."
 

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An empathetic soul, Urs realized that her words likely brought him no relief. Unlike her, Ballard Braun was truly alone in the world. Well, almost. He was a fledgling Kindred, what would be judged a newborn in the world of Kine, and yet he was his own man. And he had at least one person who cared, even though she did not have much of a chance to show it. In many ways, he reminded Urs of herself when she was first turned by Vachon. He too, thought he was doing the best thing for Urs when he Embraced her. Only she ended up resenting it for quite a long while, never truly relinquishing her ties to mortal life. And now, she had a Childe of her own - only unlike Vachon, she had very little idea about helping him get on in this strange new world. Still, she resolved to at least try.

"Ballard Braun is only dead if you wish him to be. You see ... Urs Bellefleur never died. She is inside here, still." Touching a free palm to her chest, Urs forced a small smile. "It is difficult, having to struggle against the Beast all the time - but it is possible. You only have to want it. As for your question, hmm. I suppose the best way to answer it is that I want to be your friend. Your mentor, if you will let me. I realize that I am not who you would have chosen for an eternal companion and I already made my choice for one ... but that does not mean that we cannot be close on another level. I want to be here for you, in whatever simple or complex ways you will have me. But perhaps I ought to ask you the very same question you have just posed to me: what good am I, to you, Ballard? Is there anything you wish of me? All you have to do, is ask."

In another time and place, Urs would have been his mother, lover and friend. But in this particular circumstance, the Toreador was uncertain if she was fit to be anything to this man - anything that would have made much difference, anyway. A light, reassuring squeeze was delivered to Braun's hand as she once again lifted her pale green eyes to meet his, and sighed.
 

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He smiled gently. A devious thing at times, especially as he responded.

"Indeed, you did choose such a companion. I most certainly didn't. But you do yourself a serious disservice in thinking before I would have refused that offer."

He let the statement hang until the silence became awkward. giving her all the time in the world to respond as his eyes bore hard into hers before smiling charmingly. "But! As the situation at hand. I need a mentor. and I will never say no to friends. Let us start there. See if you dont go mad after that."

Again, another very purposeful, and awkward silence before he let her hand go and gently clapped them together. "Enough of such heavy talk. I think its time for a bit of fun. Do you have a hour or two? Or is there something else you would like to talk over?"
 

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"It was a mutual thing," she corrected him gently. "We chose each other. And no, something tells me Tristan is not your type when it comes to choosing an eternal mate."

The final portion of that statement was ignored, mostly because Urs was unsure of what exactly was meant by it. She merely smiled, as if acknowledging a compliment then turned the conversation onto other matters.

"I can certainly try mentoring, although I must warn you - I am not very well acquainted with all the ways of our kind. I know the basics - nothing more." At this point, she stared at him in silence, as if saying, 'still want me?' As he let go of her hand she let it return to her lap, clasped lightly by the other. "You want to have ... fun?" Bewildered and amused, Urs shook her head and grinned. "Yes, I have a couple of hours. And I'll save my questions for another time; there is no rush - they are not that imperative. Now - what did you have in mind?"
 

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"The basics is certainly more than I know. Asides, that just means we get to learn together a little bit faster." He left it at that for now. Pondering himself what to do for a good time. He knew one thing. He wasnt going to be ferreted away in a room for the entirety of his life. The thought was honestly something that made him shiver.

"Well, I do know I need to get the out and about for a bit. Being stuck inside for as long as I have been around does nothing for my complexion." He gave a small smile. "But, it has been too long since I actually did anything I as passionate about. I think its time to do some karaoke." He would reach up to knock on the privacy partition.
 

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"Perhaps so, but it isn't safe."

Urs did not really want to object to the first thing Ballard suggested, but she did not fancy having him turn to a pile of ashes on the night of their first reunion.

"You do realize Tristan is in town and he's on the prowl? And if we don't run into him, then it's a safe bet that one of his Vindicta goons will eye you, instead. Either way, it's not a good idea."

There, she had offered her take on things. Now seeing him knock on the privacy partition Urs fell silent, waiting to see who he would be talking to.
 

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The privacy screen was rolled down, revealing the back of a chauffeur's head on the left, and a lady in a black pillbox hat (surrounded by a thick lace netting), to the right.

"Yes?" the Kindred chauffeur asked, his head turning slightly to catch a glimpse of Ballard's profile with his peripheral vision.
 
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