Tonight was a moonless night, and Ava had thrown herself into a furious run as soon as she was past the wall around the clan's house. She ran until she had found herself at the old maple tree in the heart of the city. There she stopped with a hand on the rough bark, and breathed in the smell of the tree deeply. She looked up through the branches, and imagined the stars above twinkling madly. Here she couldn't see them, but the tree gave her a sense of a companionship. Few were old as her, few had weathered the time as she had, and none had spent it in seclusion.

Often the old vampire questioned her choice to clan, not just because of her possible curse, but because she had grown accustom to the silence that pervaded her moments in time. The hush of an empty sleeping country side was beautiful as a lone soul. The rush of the cities at all hours was foreign to her, but Ava knew that she couldn't always live in seclusion. The vampire had watched the world fill up with people, and watched as they expanded across the land and seas. There were few places left untouched by the human's hands, and soon she would be forced to live among them. To do that effectively she needed to live among them while eccentrics were just that, and not monsters. Ava needed to learn about the humans to live with them as one.

Ava let out a sigh as the traffic noise pressed at her, and closed her eyes. She longed to escape for just a little while, but her clan leadership required that she was available to her clan members should they need her.

How was she going to do this? How long could she resist the need to flee before it was too much? How long before she couldn't take it anymore, and did run? How long would she be gone for? How would the clan fair without her?

"Must you always follow me?" She snapped as there was a rustle behind her pulling her from her internal self-questioning.

"You come here often; I only want to understand the woman I may spend eternity with."

Ava's eyes slid open, and a sneer curled across her lips before vanishing behind her composure. "Seven hundred and thirty three years," Ava drawled, "surely you have felt the press of time."

"Often."

"Little human brains were never meant to live this long. They rebel, desperate to be free from their prison, and we as their jailors only confine them." Ava spoke softly.

"That is why we clan, the press of time is less significant then." Damien approached Ava, and now stood directly behind her.

Ava held her tongue. She knew well that wasn't the reason their kind clanned, but she wasn't the one to free him from the silly notion.

'We would have been better off to be the body of our other side rather than the frail human, but then we would never achieve the humanity that most see as a burden. Then we would be no more than senseless monsters that live only for killing and the horror and fear it inspires.'

"You don't agree."

"You don't sound surprised that I don't."

"Acacia, my dam, withheld a lot from me, and I know that she didn't know everything that a first does. As a second there could be so much more that you know, from watching you I think there is a lot more."

Ava ignored the obvious that he wanted her to challenge him on. "You think your dam dead, and the firsts alive; that's unusual among our kind these days."

Damien walked past Ava, and stopped with his back to her. "I saw her die with my own two eyes. She fought in the war against humans, and she gave her life so that our kind could flee the lost battle. Her sacrifice gave many of our people a chance to flee, and saved so many lives." Damien turned to look at Ava. "She was great woman," he said forcefully.

"I'm sure she was, and your respect for her speaks it more clearly than any words could." Ava replied. She had quickly noticed that the younger population of their kind often didn't acknowledge their sire or dam; they were just a footnote in their vastly expanded lives. Few carried the respect, devotion, and often love that the elder vampires had for their parent. Damien was one of the few.

"How much do you know?" Damien asked suddenly.

Ava studied him closely, and then awarded him a rare smile. "So that's what this is about. Was that it all along? No just as soon as you realized it was me." Ava spoke more to herself than to Damien, but she wanted him to hear her words and understand that she finally knew is motives behind wanting to mate her.

Damien took a step back from Ava in surprise at eh viciousness of her smile. "What are you talking about?"

Ava's smile vanished. "At the contest your clan didn't know what you were doing when you asked me to mate you. You had always planned to win the contest, and win the ruling clan class. Then you heard about me, and maybe even in the beginning had an idea of who I was, but it was the fight that really showed you.

"You easily guessed my heritage, and you knew that I am a second generation. That was when you decided to propose the mating. You even tried to use my fears against me; you tried to get me to make an emotional decision.

"All you wanted was to rule, but now you want my knowledge."

Damien knew that he couldn't refute it, Ava would see right through any lie he might tell. "True enough, but still a very valid reason for mating. How often in your time of your first life were political marriages used?"

Ava chuckled. "You think that my first life will sway this choice? Twelve hundred years changes many things, and I do realize that a mating is forever, have you forgotten?"

Damien scoffed, and began to pace in a circle around Ava and the tree. "Of course not, but I think there is so much here that would be for the good of both of us."

"Then tell me what would be so 'beneficial' to me."

Damien smiled at the opportunity she had given him. "You want to run so badly. As much as you are driven to clan all your years in seclusion avoiding this," Damien gestured to the city around them, "has deeply rooted in you." Damien stopped next to Ava behind her so he was speaking into her ear. "You want to run away from here, from the clan, from me, from all of this, yet you are bound by your duties as a clan leader. You can't run away like before. You can't escape this.

"But if you were to mate then those urges wouldn't be so hard to resist, and if you needed to run away for a decade you would know your clan is in good hands."

Ava smiled with a chuckle. "You think you know me so well from watching me? You think you know me, and how to manipulate me because you know of my past?"

Ava rounded on the man behind her. "You don't know nearly half of what you think, and that arrogance is a fatal flaw. That arrogance will get you killed because you are too cocky to really look at those around you.

"I'm sure you've seen the way your second looks at you. I'm sure you know that she wants you desperately, and yet you don't see the anger and hatred festering in her. She is devoted to you and that's all you care about. It's all you think you need from her to insure her loyalty, but that hate can shift so easily. What happens when she finally realizes that you won't mate her, and never planned to? What happens when she realizes that you have just been using her?"

Damien made to protest, but Ava didn't let him. "Then there's Sam. He wants to be second, and realizes that he is far fitter for it than Elvia. You even treat him as second, and give him duties that should be hers. He knows that you only have Elvia as a second to appease her and lead into her notion that she might get to be your mate. He sees that he is the stronger and better choice. How long before he leaves your clan to take a position as second like he truly deserves? What will you do with the gaping hole he is sure to leave behind?

"Did you notice that Liana and Tina are on the verge of leaving because of what Elvia puts them through? Elvia sees them as rivals for mating you, and so using her power as the second she unjustly punishes them if she feels that they have infringed on her claim on you. They are getting sick of it, and are actively seeking other clans to not have to deal with it any longer.

"Your clan is about to fall apart and rather than fix it you are looking to mate. What does that say about your "good hands" as you put it? You think I would trust you to lead my clan in my absence when you can't even repair your own?"

Damien stepped back from Ava because of the venom in her last question. He tried to formulate a rebuttal to her accusation, but was unable to. He knew of Elvia wanting him as mate, but was everything else she said true? Was he so focused on the power the challenge would bring and now mating Ava that he was blind to his own clan's issues?

Without a word Damien took off to his house.

Josh sat next to Ava at the kitchen table. It was day, and all the windows were closed so that not even a scrap of light could enter the house. Ava was in a terrible mood after her talk with Damien, and everyone was avoiding her.

"They send you to calm me down, or are you just the only one brave enough to talk to me?"

Josh smiled at Ava easily. "I thought I would brave the danger, and have a talk with you when we're guaranteed to be left alone."

"You haven't spoken to me in a week. Were you just waiting for the right time?"

"I guess you could say that." Josh fell silent as one of their humans, Adam, slid into the kitchen and hastily left.

Avoiding the subject he really wanted to broach, Josh went for the safer of the two topics that he wanted to discuss.

"So word is that you ran into Damien last night."

Ava chuckled humorlessly. "I guess you could put it that way."

"Didn't go well?"

"Swimmingly actually."

"Then why are you in such a crappy mood?"

Ava sighed, and tapped the table. "I told him about the flaws in his clan. He didn't take it too well."

"And?"

Ava smiled. Josh always knew when there was more with her. "It makes me wonder if there are issues in this clan that I'm failing to see."

"If you couldn't see them then I would and I would tell you." Josh replied.

"Why isn't anyone in this clan mated?" Ava asked watching Josh closely.

The vampire was taken aback by Ava's forwardness. He had the sudden urge to flee the kitchen and her, but pushed back the desire. Once past that he really began to think about her question. Forever was a long time, but vampires usually did mate to another by their third century. Yet none of their clan was mated.

"I-I'm not sure."

Ava nodded. "You- we follow the old rules which limits the clan size because most aren't willing to comply like they need too. Still I would think that by now at least one member would have found a mate."

Josh nodded still trying to think of an adequate reason.

"But that's not what you really want to talk to me about." Ava said at last filling the silence that had stretched around them.

Josh looked around to be sure that none of the others were listening or nearby.

"No, but you've known that all along. And as much as I've been avoiding you, you've been avoiding me too.

"It's a lot to handle when you find out that you're clanned with a second gen that you bullied into leadership. Not to mention the fact that the governing body has been lying to the species the entire time, and the saviors of the species are likely the ones that also damned it."

Ava studied Josh's face. "So you're thinking what I am then."

"That the council used the war between humans and vampires to become even more powerful in letting the species decline into the state it's in now? Yes, and it's rather disturbing." Josh was frustrated to say the least. Everything he believed, the people he looked up to the most had not only betrayed him, but the entire species. Josh could see that if things continued as they were there would soon be nothing left to save.

"Then the question becomes what do we do about it?"

Ava instantly went on high alert.

"Nothing!" She hissed. "We do nothing about it."

Josh stared at her dumbfounded. "We can't just do nothing. We have to do something to save vampires, or they will fall into worse ruin, and become just what they are known as now: myths. Do you want our species to become nothing more than a myth?" Josh demanded.

"No, but think about it Josh, what will a successful coop take? Have you stopped in your anger at being betrayed to think about what it will take to fix our species? The council will have to go, and the enforcers stand in the way of that." Ava whispered urgently. She was leaning over the table with a hand gripped onto Josh's arm as if to stop him from leaving to overthrow the government at that moment.

"Then what we just wait for the species to die off and the council too and hope we survive to start it again?" Josh seethed back. "I'm not willing to do that!"

"And so you will take the clan and wade into battle against the ones that are to police our species until you all are dead? How long do you think the clan could last against a team of enforcers? How well against an army of them?" Ava released Josh, and stood. "I'll not be part of another clan's demise. If you choose to do this then it will be alone."

Ava left Josh at the table gapping. He hadn't thought about that, but knew that something needed to be done. Regardless, he wasn't willing to risk the clan to what would only be suicide, and he wasn't stupid enough to go it alone. He would wait for Ava to calm down and try to discuss it again.