San Francisco, California
Saturday, November 1st, 1969
When you live forever you're bound to make a few mistakes. It goes with the territory, especially if you're still partly human. To err is human--isn't that how the saying goes? It doesn't matter how old or how careful or how intelligent you are. Every now and again there's going to be something you fail to take into account. It's inevitable. There's really very little in this world more prone to miscalculation than the human heart...or even the mostly human heart.
It wasn't that Conrad Quintano thought himself immune to such failings, but after almost twelve hundred years he had grown a bit complacent. How many missteps could there be left for him to take? He thought he'd seen it all--everything new and old under the sun--life, death, comedy, tragedy, the rise and fall of civilizations; all the glory and depredation of which humankind is capable. But he hadn't ever seen anything like Suzanne Marie Fischer. Lovely. Desperate. Dying.
Suzanne, or Desert Rose as she was calling herself at the time, had been living on the streets of San Francisco when he met her. A petite, free-spirited, dark-eyed waif, she was only one of countless teenage runaways drawn to the city by Scott McKenzie's lyrics in the waning days of the 1960s.
She certainly wasn't the first pretty face to ever cross Conrad's path and even he knew she wasn't likely to be the last. All the same, he fell for her the way old men have always fallen for young girls--hard. He was blinded by his feelings for her, by his lust, his love, his passion, his need. Call it what you will. He was rendered thoughtless, selfish, reckless, ruthless. And so he came to make what was, quite possibly, the biggest mistake of his very long life.
"My babies?" Suzanne gasped the last time he saw her, her agony finally beginning to make itself apparent, determination blazing suddenly in her dark eyes. "They're... Are they...?"
"They're fine," Conrad responded automatically, gazing at her helplessly; the woman he'd loved. The woman he'd killed. He had no idea how it was she could still talk, or even breathe. Certainly her heart was no longer beating. If it was he'd have heard it. "A boy and a girl. They're both...fine."
"No." Her head rocked back and forth. "Not fine. They're your kind, aren't they? They're like you?"
"They're Vampire, yes." He'd known them for what they were the moment he'd laid eyes on them--even though the idea ran counter to everything he'd previously believed to be possible. Newly born vampire twins. That was something even a millennia's worth of experience hadn't prepared him for.
Vampires were made, not born. He knew that to be an indisputable fact. And, yet...
"I could tell. I could feel them growing inside me and...and I knew."
But Conrad couldn't face thinking about what she'd known, what she'd felt, all she must have gone through these past months in order to carry her babies to term. "Who did this to you?" he demanded instead, gesturing at the bandages that covered her savaged throat, focusing his rage on a matter he could do something about--exacting his revenge on her attacker. "Who hurt you like this? Tell me."
Suzanne shook her head. Perhaps she didn't know the answer. Perhaps she no longer cared. "Take them," she murmured, her gaze holding tenaciously to his, her voice even fainter than before. "Safer with you."
"S-s-save them. For me?"
Them? It took a moment for her meaning to become clear to him. She was asking him to care for her children, the babies who should not have been born, whose very existence spelled disaster, both for them and for anyone foolish enough to try and shield them.
Conrad roused himself from his own feelings--from his grief, his confusion, his pain, his loss--long enough to consider hers. He met her gaze and nodded. "I will, mignonne. I promise. I'll protect them with my very life. Forever."
Suzanne seemed satisfied, but then the fire went out in her eyes, leaving only the pain. "Hurts," she whimpered weakly. "Kill...me. P-p-please..."
Conrad stared back at her sadly. Even if he could have brought himself to honor this final request, it would have been too late. As her eyes closed and she slipped away from him for what would be the very last time, he stroked her hair and answered softly, "I already have, little one."