Lucca walks into the room. It’s a very elite group of individuals that have been invited to this meeting. They host it a building on the other side of the West Bank far away from the palace. He’s dressed in his best but honestly he’s dressed to kill…politically that is. He wouldn’t dirty his hands getting into a real fight with Santos.
King Aiden is there. Lucca looks over at him. Lucca isn’t really impressed by Aiden. He always thought Aiden was too patriotic. He always cared way too much about Eden for Lucca’s personal tastes. For Lucca Aiden loved the city and the city loved him back. It was stupid in Lucca’s opinion but Aiden was there. He was the most powerful person in Eden and everyone knew it.
“Can he really do this? Can he really divorce me?” Aiden asks the table.
The table consists of Arianna. She doesn’t speak. She’s doesn’t have much of a title. She is here to report back. She’s a representative of Countess Roxanne, the King’s top Advisor. Roxanne couldn’t be seen with this group of course. It would be treason. Roxanne was much too smart for that.
Right next to Arianna is Count Cicero. Cicero is an attractive man who is probably 150 years old but is stuck in the body of a 20 year old. Cicero is the blood collector in charge of the blood department. It’s the most important department in Eden. Lucca would have to keep Cicero close with the blood shortage. He’d bribed him several times but Cicero was in love with Camilla…Lucca’s partner in crime. In Eden politics you had to keep these people close. Cicero’s department was vital for Eden. They were in charge of collecting the blood from blood suppliers outside of Eden. Clearly Cicero hated Santos as this whole Lilith blockade was causing a blood shortage. Bad for business.
“He can…but just because he can doesn’t mean he will,” Countess Livia states.
Countess Livia is big in the military. She is a war hero. Apart from Aiden she is the biggest figure in Eden. She was tough, strong and ruthless. Right next to her is Countess Lucretia and Count Ortero. They are both in charge of city defense.
“He’s not stupid,” Countess Lucretia states, “King Nero is making empty threats.”
Ortero nods in agreement, “Just make up with him. It’ll be fine.”
“No it won’t.”
They all turn to the dark horse at the table. Armando. His tan Spanish skin gleams. Lucca can’t help but to stare at him. He’s always been so attractive to Lucca. How many times had Camilla not suggested a threesome with them and Armando. Camilla would be interested to know that Armando showed up for this little meeting to bring down Nero and Santos.
Lucca agrees, “We should listen to Armando. He knows the dynamic between Nero and Santos more than anyone of us.”
Armando nods, “You’re all fools if you think Nero won’t divorce Aiden.”
Livia seems distant, “He wouldn’t do something so stupid.”
“You must have never been in love,” Armando argues with the countess pushing his arms on the table, “Aiden he will divorce you and he will marry Santos…”
Gasps cross the table.
Lucca clutches his chests. He is inclined to agree with Livia. King Nero was in love with Santos---yes, but to marry the son of Lilith? Santos was the most hated person in Eden. Armando was a good military person but maybe he wasn’t as in tune with political decisions.
“Nero wouldn’t marry that piece of shit,” Lucca says.
‘Lucca don’t call him that,” Aiden responds.
Lucca rolls his eyes. It’s the weakness that Lucca knows Aiden to be. Aiden had a history with Nero. It was history that got in the way. However unlike Nero, Aiden seemed to love Eden just a little bit more than he cared about Santos. Lucca could use that.
Armando stares at Lucca, “Nero loves that piece of shit that you mentioned by the way. And he will marry him. Like it or not.”
“People will rebel,” Livia responds.
“There will be a coo,” Count Ortero states.
The elders are right. Aiden married Nero to keep the peace. There would be a revolution if Nero divorced Aiden.
“And he’ll still do it…not for political reasons. He doesn’t care about politics. He’s in love,” Armando states.
“But marrying…Santos…” Lucca laughs. He can’t help the thought of it.
“He’ll do it,” Aiden states.
They all look at the King. They were all very influential in pairing Aiden up with Nero. The others said they had done it to keep the peace in Eden. They wanted a King that the country believed in. They felt like Aiden could best protect them against Lilith. Nero had the bloodline but Aiden would be the true king.
Lucca had other reasons.
“Are you sure?” Lucca asks Aiden.
“Yes. I’ve tried to get between Nero and Santos before. It didn’t work,” Aiden responds, “If I can’t do it. Then no one can.”
“We kill him,” Livia suggests.
Armando laughs, “You can’t…let’s be serious…”
Livia pounds her arm on the table, “You want to test that theory Armando?”
“Listen. Even if you did try to kill him and you succeeded…Nero would burn us all alive,” Lucca argues.
It’s something they can all agree on. The room gets quiet.
“We need to do something…drastic,” Armando suggests.
“I can talk to Vigorosa from batchat. She’s on the payroll. Propaganda will work,” Lucca suggests, “We’ll have the people speak for us. We’ll REMOVE Nero as King.
“Excellent idea,” Aiden states, “Attack Nero instead of Santos. Do it.”
“What will I get in return?” Lucca asks.
“I should have known,” Aiden responds, “I suppose you wouldn’t want to be doing this off the fact that we were friends.”
Lucca laughs. Friends.
What the hell was that?
Lucca shakes his head, “When you sit on the throne alone you marry Camilla.”
Aiden sits there for a second.
Lucca is way too smart to be king. Kings were under the spotlight too much. Lucca liked working from the shadows. That’s why he kept his number 2 around. That’s why he kept Camilla round. He’d be able to rule through her but with none of the scrutiny.
“You marry Camilla and I’ll make sure Eden hates Nero. He’ll be the Marie Antoinette of Eden. And we all know how she ended up.”
Armando shakes his head, “That’s not enough. We need something more drastic…”
Lucca looks at Armando. The rest of the room as well. There is something sick about a man in here plotting to destroy his own son. It was honestly pretty low down even for Lucca.
“Thanks Armando but I believe this is drastic enough,” Lucca responds.
Armando isn’t in agreement. It’s clear.
It’s not clear what he has planned though.
“Deal,” Aiden agrees with Lucca.
Lucca smiles. Down with the King….
“We'll start up again first thing in the morning.”
It's been day 15 that Justice has been missing. 15 days for someone to go missing is a lot. I realize that the elders aren't the only ones who blamed me for Justice being kidnapped. They feel like I have some connection with the Thirsts. They feel like I can control them because of who my mother is. I don't know how they make the connection. It's pure speculation. It's pure bullshit but it doesn't matter. The news has been reporting it as if it were fact.
It's interesting that Coco is the one with me. She's been with me this entire time. These 15 days were tough. The Elite team were tasked with finding Justice as priority number 1 but Coco and I were the only ones taking this serious. It wasn't safe in the streets as well. People attacked me out of no where. I always turned the other cheek. I always ran away when people on the streets of Eden came at me.
I wasn't sure if I could be doing that for much longer.
“No problem...oh...dam...” Coco states.
Something stops her right in her tracks. We are on our way to my apartment. Coco is walking me to my room. At first I'm annoyed by it but people are less likely to act crazy if I'm not alone. They have some sort of respect for Coco because of her family line or whatever. I'm thankful she walks me to my room.
When I realize what has stopped Coco in her tracks my mouth drops.
My apartment door and the apartment that Nero rented out for me next door both have been broken into. I walk into the room. My shit is all over the place. All of those beautiful clothes that Nero had gotten me...were ripped to shreds.
All of the beautiful gifts that Nero had gotten for me...were missing.
“I should call the King's guard. We should make a report,” Coco suggests.
She has this look in her eyes. She looks sorry for me. It's sad when someone pities you. You start feeling sad for yourself. You start believing them. I want to cry. I'm not even going to lie. It isn't the material stuff. It's the fact that these were gifts from Nero.
These were things that he gave me to show me he loved me. They were all either stolen or destroyed.
“It's OK,” I state, “No point.”
On the wall there is something smeared in red. It's blood. There are three phrases.
“Let me get a rag. I'll help you take it off,” she states looking at the wall.
It's a message. It's a clear message. It doesn't matter who it's from. It could be anyone. They all hated me. It's probably someone I didn't know. It's probably someone I'd never even met before. Right now everyone in Eden hated me and it was clear.
We sit there in silence trying to clean the blood from this wall. Coco is quiet. It's not until the chanting starts that she seems bothered. She looks outside my window but I know who it is. It's people of Eden. A hundred vampires sitting outside my apartment chanting.
“Find Justice! Free Milan! Bury Santos!”
They chant it over and over and over.
“You don't have to deal with this,” I tell Coco, “You can leave if you want.”
“I'm not going anywhere,” she responds.
She scrubs at the wall harder. The words are coming off but the walls are smeared with blood now. The red has tinted the walls and the stain isn't coming out. No matter how hard I scrub it doesn't come out. It's...useless.
“Why are you being so nice?” I ask her.
Coco shrugs, “I'm a leader not a follower.”
“And you don't want anything?” I ask.
I'm suspicious. People in Eden didn't do things from the kindness of their hearts. Coco had something up her sleeve and I just haven't figured it out yet. I knew Coco. She was clever. She was shrewd. If she was helping me like this there was a reason.
Coco smiles, “Listen. Do you hear them. Justice is their martyr. Now that he's gone they want you to pay for it whether it's your fault or not. You need a friend right now. Don't push me away.”
Regardless what her motivation is Coco is right. I needed a friend right now. The people had all turned against me. No one smiled at me. No one gave me a nice look. I hadn't been able to see Nero because he's been so busy conducting his own thorough searches for Justice. He hadn't had time to give me much attention at all. If it wasn't for Coco I'd be alone.
I hated being alone. After 100 years of being alone....I just didn't want to be alone anymore.
“I'll get through this.”
“It's OK to cry.”
I take a deep breath.
“I'm fine,” I state and attempt to change the subject, “Do you think they'll release Milan?”
It's strange that people have taken up this banner. It has become something like a movement to release Milan. You would think Milan was some sort of Nelson Mandela or something. You'd think he was the answer to everyone's problems. Milan would come out of prison. The people would cheer in the street. Viva Milan. He'd supply them blood. He'd get rid of the thirsts. He'd get rid of Lilith and people would be able to come and go out of Eden as they pleased.
Free Milan was a war cry of a nation.
“If he is released Milan is coming after you. He's coming straight after you. Don't pass Go---don't collect 200.”
I had no doubt about that.
“I'll kill him,” I say bluntly.
It's cold but I don't care. They were branding Milan a hero because he tried to go after me. They were saying he was jailed wrongly. People hated me and they wanted Milan to get out of jail. They felt like the twins were their best hopes.
“That's what they wants,” Coco states, “They just want you to really cross that line. They want you to go full evil. You kill Milan and it'll work against you—-whether it's self defense or not.”
She's right. Coco has been around these Eden politics long enough to offer some good advice but a blind man can see that my enemies wanted me gone. Milan had become the poster child of taking down Santos.
“So I just sit around and let him kill me?” I ask Coco.
“You fight back.”
“That's what I'm trying to do.”
“Not that way,” Coco responds, “You fight back through the people. You need to tell your story Santos. People are afraid of you because they don't know you. They are afraid because you are strange to them. Maybe you need to find a way to show people that you aren't as bad as they think you are.”
She makes it sound so easy. It's nothing. She's wrong. This is something serious.
It's late that night when Coco leaves and I get a knock on the door. A part of me thinks it's just her coming back. When I open the door though it's a hooded man. I jump back ready to attack. Fangs come out and all. I don't trust anyone and I have a reason to. I'm ready to go in on this person but the person turns around and for a minute I think it's Justice.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I ask Nero.
He isn't with anyone. It's really strange. It's the middle of the night. I don't get it.
“You don't seem so happy to see me,” Nero responds.
He walks into the room. I haven't seen Nero in almost two weeks. Seeing him makes my heart jump though. I hate that he has this effect on me. I'm not upset that I haven't seen him. In fact I wanted not to see him. I wanted for him to be so busy trying to find Justice that everything, including me, came second place. However now that I see him I feel guilty that I am excited with Justice out there missing.
I cut to the chase, “Why are you here? Shouldn't you be looking for Justice?”
“I snuck away. I haven't seen you in forever. I've been depressed looking for my son. I just needed to I don't know...see you for a while.”
“Have you found him?”
Nero shakes his head, “Not yet.”
“This city isn't that big. I don't get how a Thirst just...disappears with a prince,” I explain.
Nero walks into the room without an invite. He paces around the room, “Because no one's concerned with the Thirst. Aiden has the entire city distracted with you. Clearly. What happened here?”
He looks around the room. It looks like a hurricane has gone through here.
“Someone broke in.”
Nero sighs deeply.
“Fuck bae. I'm sorry. I...”
He punches the wall at that moment. I can see the anger build up in Nero. It's a rare time when Nero loses his cool but when he does you can tell. He's pissed off at that moment.
“It's OK. It's just material things...”
I say that but truth is I'm really hurt. Those things Nero gave me had real value. The fact that people who didn't know me would come take those things away hurt me. There was nothing I could do about it. That included making Nero more upset than he already is.
I try to calm Nero down. I touch him on the arm. I pull him close. I try to hug him but Nero isn't having it. He pulls away. He's angry. He punches the wall again this time leaving a dent in it. These aren't sheet paper walls either. These are real walls. These are old fashioned Roman architecture walls. That was no easy task.
“I can't protect anything I love,” Nero growls, “First I lose Justice and now people are vandilizing you. Hell I can hardly protect my city from Aiden. He gets more powerful everyday.”
“I think it's a mistake to divorce him.”
“I don't love him. Ever since you came back in my life it's always been you.”
“But while I was gone Eden fell in love with Aiden. However we feel about Aiden they love him. They aren't just going to let you kick him to the curb,” I tell Nero.
Deep inside I think Nero knows this is the truth. Whether or not he is willing to agree to it is another story. His eyebrows arch. He crosses his arms. He's more defiant than ever and honestly he's sexier than ever as well.
“I'm the King. You understand. I made Aiden. I can unmake him. No one would ask my father for permission in something like this.”
“No offense but maybe that's why your father didn't get married. He wanted the power for himself,” I state.
“I believe in marriage. I just married the wrong one. I should have married you...” Nero replies, “And honestly Santos I don't think it's too late.”
The words coming out of his mouth are deep. It's everything that I probably always wanted to hear. Nero walking up to me and kissing me on my lips as he says this means the world. I know he means it. His lips tell me so. They don't tell me so through speech though. They tell me so as they press up against my lips. They are soft to the touch. They are tender. It's almost as though he's putting on this front as this strong powerful king with huge muscles and forceful voice to everyone else but with me he lets down his guard. With me he is that young vampire I met 100 years ago. His tongue enters my mouth and it's soft and wet. He allows me to suck on it and he gives me his tongue willingly. He lets me cup the back of his neck and pull him close. He bites on his lip when we are done and lets out a soft tender moan that lets me know he enjoys every moment.
It's just one of those moments like every moment I have with Nero. I'm loved. I know that now.
“I don't need a ring to know how you feel about me,” I tell Nero.
Nero sighs, “You deserve one though. You don't deserve for your King to be sneaking off in the middle of the night to see you because the media would go crazy if they knew I was here. You don't deserve to see the man you love have to call someone else husband. You don't deserve to be disrespected. If I'm king then you deserve to be king with me because I love you Santos.”
He isn't loving when he says this. He returns back to anger. A part of me wants to tell Nero that I told him so. I knew Aiden was up to no good. I knew he was a backstabber and he was going to try to replace Nero. Nero was seeing that now. I don't tell Nero that he should have listened to me though. He knows that.
That's probably why he's here.
“Would that make you happy?”
“If Eden didn't...hate me as much?” I state.
“Is that even possible? Have you been watching Bat Chat? Vigorosa has taken on the movement. Find Justice. Free Milan. Bury Santos. Haven't you heard it?”
The movement. Yes. There was a movement against me.
“You know what they say? If there is a movement against someone you should put your money on that person. These people are gathering around to stop me. It's about time I fought back,” I state.
“What did you have in mind?”
“This is going to sound crazy...but just listen to me...”
“I didn't mean you should do this...not with...her...” Coco tells me.
Coco is standing at my side. We are in a studio. King Nero pulled some strings to get me in this studio. I'm wearing a suit and I can see the stares all around me. My heart is racing. I don't know what's gotten over me. Nero tried to talk me out of it. Coco tried to talk me out of this. It doesn't matter. I have to do it. Coco was right. I have to tell my side of the story.
“Vigorosa is the most important news host in Eden,” I respond, “If I want to tell my story...I'll have to have a sit down with her.”
“She hates your guts. You're going into the lion's den.”
“Well I'm going to have to if I plan on fighting with the king of the jungle,” I explain crossing my arms and looking at Coco.
Coco gives me a hard look as though I've lost my mind, “Santos. Look at her. She's a viper.”
The two of us turn. Vigorosa isn't too far away from us. Her Bat Chat staff are doing her make up. She's a bit of a diva behind the scenes and she seems well aware. I am in her area now. Her pale skin is intimidating. Her eyes staring at intently in the distance. She is a predator of a different sort and for some reason I'm more scared of her than I am a thirst.
They are giving me dirty looks. They are giving me nasty looks actually. No one hates me but everyone is intrigued. They want to hear what I have to do to me.
“You'll be fine,” a voice says.
That's when I see him. Nero has arrived and I should tell because the news people are going crazy all of a sudden. Even Vigorosa has shooed off her people once Nero arrives on set. She drags herself up and her stares are intense as Nero approaches me.
Nero walks up to me. He kisses me on the lips in front of all of these people. He's not sneaking around. He has no shame. He's doing this IN a media building while he's married.
“Nero you're here?” I ask.
“ You think I was letting you go out there alone?” he asks.
“Wait...you're coming on with me?”
“No he's not,” Countess Roxanne states.
I don't even notice her standing there. She is so small. It's hard to remember she is an older respected vampire in the little girl's body she has. She attempts to pull Nero away from me. Nero isn't having it.
He pulls away.
“I'm doing this with my man,” Nero tells her.
Hearing Nero call me his man is beyond anything that I can expect at this moment. He's by my side and he's not going anywhere. His advisors seem to be panicking. This could go bad. This could go real bad and I don't know why Nero would be willing to do something like this in the public eye.
I was the other man to the people of Eden.
This was like Bill Clinton appearing on television with Monica Lewinsky...holding hands.
This wasn't right and the Bat Chat folks were loving every moment of it.
Coco looks like she is about to protest the idea. Hell I kind of think it's a bad idea. I know Vigorosa is going to be tough with me but I'm kind of more scared for Nero. Like a shark smelling blood Vigorosa seems to be rushing her people to get this interview. She may almost know Nero could be talked out of this at any moment.
Nero and I are seated on a couch.
Vigorosa smiles over at King Nero, “King. I assume you'd be joining us.”
“There's no place I'd rather be. This isn't just about Santos. This is our story. This is our love story and we are going to tell it together,” Nero explains.
Nero is next to me. He holds my hand. He's strong. He's firm but I can feel the sweat in between his fingers. This has to be the hardest thing he's ever done.
“You don't have to do this,” I tell Nero.
“That's what the elders said too. They are all worried about you doing this interview. You have everyone shook to their core. No one was expecting this. And you know they are scared and their fear is the reason I know I have to do this.”
The elders were afraid of the interview.
Vigorosa smiles. I'm sure she's ready for ratings. I'm sure this moment is going to either make us or destroy us forever. It was going to help me or seal my fate forever. My mind is wandering. Coco is shaking her head in the distance. The King's people are there. All of them look like they are sick to their stomach seeing Nero holding my hand as the camera people get ready.
That is when I see Sinclair walk over to Nero.
“Not now Sinclair.”
“Sir...Captain Armando has a message for you.”
Nero and I exchange looks. My father was an asshole. We both knew what this was about even before Sinclair opens his mouth. My father was here to attempt to stop us from having this interview...just like everyone else.
“He's trouble,” I warn Nero.
Nero responds to me, “I know Santos. I'm not. Sinclair...go back to the old Captain. Tell him it's too late. I'm doing this interview.”
Why was this interview making them so nervous? They really must not want Eden to hear the story that we were going to tell the people. Were they so afraid that I'd finally be able to tell my side of the story and they wouldn't be able to make people hate me forever?
“Sir. You may need to go see him. He's in the wings of the set. He's waiting for you,” Sinclair states.
Nero ignores Sinclair, “Vigorosa...let's begin.”
Vigorosa signals her vampire producers. The set gets dark at that moment. The lights are on Nero and I. I don't know what Armando wanted from Nero but it's too late and I am kind of happy. They were just trying to stop Nero but nothing could stop Nero...nothing could stop Nero now.
“Camera's rolling...” one of the set aides says.
The cameras go to Vigorosa. The woman is made for television. She its in a couch facing Nero and I. Her eyes are probing and her posture is intense.
“Live on Bat Chat...an exclusive interview with the most controversial figures in Eden. The one and only Santos, son of the Darkest, joins us this evening after allegations of kidnapping have spread across Eden like wildfire...”
“Hold the camera...” a voice says.
It's strange. Nero is about to go off.
It has to be the Elders. It has to be Armando. I turn and I'm right. It is Armando. He's standing there off camera. The cameras seem to be eating this up though. They turn off set to see my father standing there ready to stop this interview.
“How dare you!” Nero barks getting up, “Get off the set---”
He's angry and he's ready to dig into Armando. Except when he turns to Armando nothing comes out. He just stops mid-sentence and I know why.
We all know why.
“No...” I say.
I lose my breath.
This isn't happening.
Nero falls back on his seat, “Holy shit. This isn't happening...”
We are looking over at Armando and we realize who Armando has brought with him. Armando has woken something. He's awoken a force that not even Nero was prepared for.
The man who is responsible for all this is standing in front of me.
“This interview stops now,” the man states.
Nero doesn't reply. He doesn't challenge it. He's just quiet as he stares.
Nero's father, the man who imprisoned me 100 years ago is here. King Arie has awoken from his sleep.