by Darth Stitch
DISCLAIMER: As stated in first part. Song lyrics appearing in this section are from the band "Within Temptation." No copyright infringement is intended.
WARNINGS: I really shouldn't have to put this up… but just in case. There's a bit of lovey-doveying at the end. Nothing explicit but implications are all over the place. Consider yourselves warned.
Stand my ground, I won't give in
No more denying, I got to face it…
Won't close my eyes and hide the truth inside
If I don't make it, someone else will
Stand my ground …
"Stand My Ground," Within Temptation
Seth felt it almost at once, the strange, dark energy surrounding the Panzer Magier. Pure instinct caused her to assume Crusnik form immediately. Everything in her called out to destroy her eldest brother's creature now.
Before it was too late.
Isaak von Kampfer smiled and it was not pleasant. "So you can feel it too, the old magic. It was a souvenir from our little adventure in Drakovia. That old library was most informative."
"Ion, get behind me," Seth bit out, not wanting the young boyar to be caught by friendly fire.
"If he wants you, he'll have to go through me first!" Ion snarled.
The Panzer Magier clapped his hands in delight. "So very brave! Ultimately, very foolish. Crusnik 03 will reduce you to salt particles, my young Count. You are only in her way."
Ion flushed angrily and would have rushed at him had not Seth stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"Stand down, Ion Fortuna," Seth commanded him. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I can take him. But you are Bell's only chance. And I need someone to watch my back."
"My Lady!" Ion wanted to protest more, Seth could see that, but ultimately, he knew where his duty lay. He bowed his head and stepped behind her, sword at the ready. "As you command, Your Majesty."
Seth faced Kampfer. "If you want to play, play with me."
"Oh but I will, Crusnik 03," Kampfer purred. "Keep your Count with you – he shall be our new little toy."
He spoke a word.
Seth knew nothing of that word's meaning, much less the language it came from. But it filled her with dread and fear for Ion.
Shield your mind! Do it now!
The command rang so clearly it her mind, it was as if someone had actually spoken aloud. Somehow, also hidden in those words, Seth found how to do what she was being told.
She closed her eyes.
Kampfer laughed triumphantly. "There were so many interesting things to play with in that library. How to bind and control a Revenant… or should I say, a Crusnik, was one of them."
Kampfer's spell slammed right into the defenses she managed to build up for herself and she could literally feel the power trying to break through. Seth was able to discern its intent and she was horrified at the single mental image it conjured.
Ion, with his throat ripped out and Seth holding him, covered in his blood.
"Dispense with your tricks, magician," Ion roared. "Fight fairly!"
"Your brother should also be enjoying the effects of this spell at this very moment," Kampfer said with relish. "And he has that little nun to play with."
God have mercy. Abel. Esther! Seth almost faltered.
Hold firm. That voice came again, gentle yet reassuring. A voice like a child's, light and clear as a bell's. Stand your ground, Seth Nightlord.
For my will is stronger than yours… and my kingdom great… The snatches of a well-loved fairy tale came to Seth's mind and that was when she heard the music, somehow giving her the additional strength.
Stand your ground, Seth Nightlord. Do not give in.
The Panzer Magier frowned as he finally realized that something had gone completely wrong with his spell. He hissed out another command and the shadows behind Ion and Seth began to take the form of Kampfer's familiar demons. Faced with the Auto-Jager and Kampfer in front of them and the demons behind, they were completely hemmed in.
The demons rushed at them and Ion held them back with his sword, wasting no motion, making every strike of his count. No harm would come to his Empress while he, Ion Fortuna, drew breath!
Seth finally opened her eyes. And then, she smiled sweetly up at Cain's magician.
"I don't like this game. I don't want to play anymore," she said with deliberate childishness. And then:
"Nanomachine Crusnik 03. The Fire of Sound!"
Isaak von Kampfer had just barely put up his Shield of Asmoday to block against the attack. His ears rang with the deadly sound of Seth's assault as his Auto-Jager dissolved into salt and ash.
Just before he decided to fade into the shadows and retreat, Kampfer was almost sure that he heard the sound of a child laughing.
This was hell.
The tiny part of Abel's mind that was still rational could only manage a desperate prayer.
Punish me for my sins, O Lord, but spare her. Help me!
Oh, but this was torment.
The sight and sound and smell of her.
The softness of her skin.
The taste of her blood, the sweetness of it on his tongue.
He'd fed on Methuselah before, but there was never such dark, terrible pleasure as this. Primal instinct drove him, making stake his claim, to make her his, to drink deeply of her and her life…
I love you.
He could still hear the sweet music of her beating heart as he drank her in. Its rhythm began to slow, began to fade, as her life was starting to slip away…
With her blood, he could taste the salt of her tears…
Abel raised his head from Esther's throat and howled. He knew he had to fight this spell, this power… whatever it was that had made him lose all control of himself.
She was so still, so deathly pale and fragile in his arms, one small hand still fisted around a lock of his hair.
Do you love her?
A question in a child's sweet, gentle voice chimed softly in his mind. The Crusnik would have snarled back at it but something told him that what he would say next was of dire importance…
I would give my life for her!
He heard the smile in that voice as it replied. Then that, Abel Nightlord, is your answer.
"Abel," Esther's lips moved, her eyes trying to flutter open.
Your life for hers. Heart to heart. Blood calling to blood. Two made one.
Abel abruptly remembered the Prince Alyardi, saw him lift a finger to his throat, draw it down, the blood beginning to flow. And he knew what he had to do.
Break the spell, Abel Nightlord. Do it now!
Gently, tenderly, he lifted Esther up, guided her mouth to the newly opened wound at his throat. His wings lifted up and then curved around her, protectively, possessively. This time, he welcomed the pleasure that coursed through him at the gentle press of her lips against his skin, the sweep of her tongue against his wound.
One beat. Two. He could hear it again, the steady beat of her heart, this time answering in time to his own.
"Yours," Esther whispered against his throat.
It was done.
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nicolaievna Romanov stood in her empty throne room, again gazing at the picture of her many times great-grandmother, the Tsaritsa Catherine the Great. It was fitting that Catherine be here now, to witness her great-granddaughter's victory.
There was no light in the room other than from the moon and its twisted twin. Tatiana's throne was cast in shadow.
She had held on to the memory of her lost family for far too long. Now was the time to let them go, to shed the weakness from her soul, the cloying, sickening emotions of grief and guilt that had kept her shackled for far too long. She would be as a goddess, untouchable, remote,
beyond pain, beyond sorrow, beyond fear and suffering, free from all human emotion and feeling.
She was Romanov and she would rule, the way her weakling father should have done in the first place.
Tonight, if the Rosen Kreuz Orden's Panzer Magier had done his job well, Seth Nightlord was finally dead, together with her trusted courtiers. Tonight, Seth's brother would come meekly to Tatiana's side, firmly under her control. She was not so foolish as to completely trust the Orden and Abel would be her protection against his brother Cain. The Tzara Methuselute would be hers and Russia would become its new center.
Tomorrow, the citizens of Russia and the Empire would wake up to see a new Empress crowned.
Tatiana was at the moment of her greatest triumph and she was all alone.
Except for a tiny, stuffed toy turtle, with wispy white-blonde hair and an affable grin.
Sparkling angel, I believe
You were my savior in my time of need.
The song rang sweet and true, playful, mocking accompaniment to the little turtle who somehow managed to walk right up to the vampire and sketch a graceful little bow.
Blinded by faith I couldn't hear
All the whispers, the warnings so clear…
The situation was so ridiculously absurd that Tatiana couldn't help but cry out:
"Who are you? What is the meaning of this?"
I see the angels, I'll lead them to your door.
There's no escape now, no mercy no more.
The turtle flew – there was really no other word for it – back into the arms of its owner.
A tiny little girl stood casually in front of her, smiling cheerfully, her dark hair twisted into two little braids. One arm was curved around the toy, which gave Tatiana an impertinent wave with a cream-colored paw. The other hand was holding onto a sheathed broadsword that was much bigger than she was.
No remorse 'cause I still remember,
The smile when you tore me apart…
And then, the last few notes of her song still lingering in the air, she began to change…
She grew taller, older before Tatiana's very eyes. She turned into a young girl, perhaps Seth Nightlord's apparent age, curves just barely beginning to form on her lithe body. Her toy turtle flew out of her arms and was settled back on Tatiana's throne, seeming to survey everything with amusement. Her body now able to handle the sword, she drew it out of its sheath, black blade somehow managing to gleam in the darkness.
Tatiana knew all the old tales, especially those that concerned their kind. Storyteller. Spellsinger. Sorceress.
But she had also known this young girl by another name.
"Mother," Tatiana gave her the name that she had known her by, when she had been lost and alone, bleeding slowly to death from gunshots and bayonet wounds.
"When I gave you my blood, I did not expect that you would use it like this, Tatiana Nicolaievna," said the girl softly, losing her sweet smile, her eyes turning a cool frosty gray.
"Are you here to kill me then?" Tatiana asked her coldly. "Your own Child?"
"No," The answer came back to her and the eyes lost their coolness, turned back to a paler blue, filled with sorrow. "I am here for all my children. To see justice done."
And Tatiana turned around to see who had called the girl who had once been Bell her truest name.
Seth Nightlord stood behind them, accompanied by Ion Fortuna. Her smile was Isabel's smile.
The resemblance was uncanny.
Except for the color of her eyes and the different hair style, Seth Nightlord could easily have been Isabel's mirror image. Ion Fortuna kept looking at Isabel and back at his Empress, obviously comparing them both.
"Two of them!" he kept muttering. "How on earth am I going to manage with two of them when I couldn't even keep up with one?"
Seth was trying to formulate a smart answer to that one when she was suddenly startled to see Isabel right beside her. The other girl's eyes were sparkling with mischief.
"Is he always this adorable?" Isabel whispered.
Seth rolled her eyes. "Sometimes he's just plain cute."
The comedic byplay sailed completely over Tatiana Romanov's head.
"I suppose I should've known better than to trust in the Orden. Your brother's men are rather unreliable," Tatiana remarked acidly.
"You should have known better than to make a deal with the devil," Seth answered her in turn.
"They were simply a means to an end. If I didn't bend my knee to you, what makes you think I would do that for your mad brother?"
To an ordinary human, Tatiana would have seemed to disappear and then suddenly reappear in front of Seth, a sword aiming straight for her heart.
Instead Tatiana's weapon met hard black steel with a loud, oddly musical clang.
"I will not have my children murder each other right in front of me!" Isabel bit out. With surprising strength, she pushed Tatiana back.
Tatiana expected her to press the advantage, to attack, knowing how good Isabel was with that sword but instead, the one who brought her over as a vampire simply stood in front of Seth Nightlord.
For some reason, it was becoming very difficult to look at her Sire in the eye.
"Do you think that you can finally forget about your family when the Empress' crown finally sits upon your head?" Isabel asked softly. She rushed forward, sword raised high. Tatiana saw that move coming easily enough and blocked it without a second thought. Isabel was obviously holding back.
"Do you think that power will keep the nightmares away?"
"Enough!" Tatiana snarled.
Isabel lowered her sword and Tatiana could finally see that she was weeping.
Ion had sprung up, his own sword at the ready, when Seth raised her arm to block him. He chanced to look at his Empress and saw her eyes were filled with the same sorrow.
"I wake up in the morning and I think of something I want to tell Kyrys and Elora. But then, I realize that they're no longer there. And it hurts so much that sometimes I wish I'd never known them at all, that I could forget it completely.
"I try and try to purge the memories from myself and I sleep the centuries away, feeling nothing, knowing nothing. And I am nothing.
"That's all that waits for you, Tatiana Romanov. Nothing."
Tatiana found herself lowering her own weapon. In her mind's eye, she could see that precious memory of the last day they were together as a family.
Mama's gentle touch, her eyes worried and fearful for all of them. Papa's soft voice, trying to be reassuring, comforting them. Alexis trying to be brave and be strong for his sisters, like the Tsars of old in his fairy tales. Her sisters, all taking turns in caring for Mama and watching over frail Alexis.
Even in those last moments, just as the bullets exploded, she could remember Papa throwing himself over Alexis to shield him.
Always, she could remember the love that had always been there.
Then, the world burst into flame.
Isabel was thrown back against the wall, covered in wounds. The Count of Memphis had thrown himself over his Empress and the two of them were slightly better off.
Tatiana had recognized this spell, the feel of that power. The room was surrounded by that magical fire.
"Rasputin," she said hoarsely. "Stop this. It is over."
"I knew that you would be too weak to make that final step for glory," Rasputin sneered at her. "Just like your father. Weak and useless!"
Tatiana snarled and rushed at him, only to be thrown painfully back by his flames. It had taken her precious strength to put the fires out, keep them from burning through flesh and bone, turning her to ash.
Seth had assumed Crusnik form immediately, summoning forth her tridents.
Nanomachine Crusnik 03. The Fire of Sound!
The younger Crusnik and Ion Fortuna gasped when Rasputin coolly shielded himself against the onslaught of power. He walked over to Isabel's crumpled form and kicked away the black sword that had lain just within reach of her fingertips.
"Did you know how one must become Revenant, my dears?" he said conversationally, his hand shaping itself into a sharp bloody blade. "One must reach into the Revenant's chest and take out her heart."
A gale suddenly burst into the room, blowing the windows inwards and shattering what remaining glass there was. The gale brought in ice and frost, dousing out Rasputin's flames.
"Kyrys…?" Isabel whispered wonderingly.
Rasputin looked down to see the end of a blood-red scythe appearing from his chest.
Abel was behind him, dark wings spread wide, crimson eyes blazing.
It had only taken a quick flick of Abel's wrist and the vampire monk was shredded to pieces. The blood from his corpse flowed easily to both Abel and Seth. Even now, Rasputin was frantically trying to find some spell, work some magic to save himself.
Isabel had managed to reach her sword and stumble to her feet. She knelt at Rasputin's side, icy blue eyes feral bright.
"There will be no dark resurrection for you, Rasputin," she said softly. She reached into his chest and took out his heart.
And then, she drank the life's blood from it.
Seth rushed to her brother, seeing that look on his face, the rage and loathing and fearing the very worst.
"Abel…?" To Seth's horror, she saw Esther's still body on the floor.
Ion had already rushed to the nun, trying to wake her up.
Abel had simply sidestepped away from his sister, still holding on to his scythe, going directly to Tatiana.
Tatiana had realized immediately that her spell had failed. But she stood her ground, accepting her death.
"You live, because she does," Abel growled. "And because I too know your pain."
It was those last words, the remnant of humanity and pain in the Crusnik's eyes, rather than his anger that made Tatiana Romanov sink to her knees.
Just after that, Ion exclaimed, "Esther's alive. She's breathing!"
Abel went back to her, scythe disappearing into thin air. Carefully, he took Esther back into his arms again. His eyes were now somewhere between crimson and blue, still filled with sorrow.
Father Tres and the others finally burst into the room and stopped short at the sight of Abel and Seth in Crusnik form.
"Grandmother," Ion was the first to speak. "You're all right!"
"Thanks to this young priest here," the Duchess of Moldova answered him. "He was able to blast a way out for us. Father Tres worked very well with Lady Astharoshe and Lord Baybars."
"Father Tin Man's a good man to have behind your back," Astharoshe affirmed.
"Mission: Accomplished," Father Tres said. "And, Lady Astharoshe, I've already stated that I am not made of tin…"
"Yes, yes and if I could steal you away from the good Lady Cardinal Sforza, I'd do it in a second…."
There were other exclamations of concern made by the others but they were all overridden by Seth's decision.
"We are leaving," Seth stated with no room for argument in her tone. It was her turn to face the Grand Duchess. "The ties of friendship and fealty between our countries are broken, Tatiana Romanov."
"Is it to be war between us, Seth Nightlord?" Tatiana asked, only with the barest hint of a quaver in her voice.
"Only if you strike the first blow. If you truly wish to ally yourself with the Orden, then that is your decision. But come after me or mine again and there will be no mercy shown to you."
"And I swear to you, Tatiana, that this time it will be my hand to strike you down," said a much higher, childish voice. Seth started as she saw Isabel in four-year-old form, holding tightly onto Abelcrombie the turtle, her sword nowhere in sight.
Isabel leaned her head tiredly against Seth's leg, as if she had not just taken out a vampire's heart and feasted on its blood. "Don't squander this last chance, please. I've lost enough family already."
Tatiana covered her face with her hands.
They left Tsarskoe Selo that very night, making it back to the Imperial train before the sun rose in the sky. No one stopped them.
Abel could not or would not revert back to his normal self while Esther slept.
He'd barely left her side. They'd cleaned her up, changed her clothes, laid her out on a soft, comfortable bed. Miraculously, her wounds and injuries had all healed, possibly because of the infusion of his blood in her. He wasn't sure how else would she be affected because of that. The nanomachines in his blood had killed other humans when they were infused with them. Why was Esther different?
He could still hear her heart, beating in time to his own. The sound of it soothed him, probably kept him from going mad.
It had been two days since Russia and Esther still hadn't awakened. The one person who might be able to answer their questions – Isabel - had also fallen into an exhausted sleep and was also not waking up. Still a little girl, she slept in a bed next to Esther's. Of course, Abelcrombie sat next to her pillow, guarding her dreams.
Seth barely left them either. Her green eyes were often searching his but she was saying nothing. She'd seen him go crazed with grief before. He'd been so selfish – he should not have left her alone back then, when Lilith was killed. He knew she had mourned for Lilith too, had loved her just as much as he did.
He was aware that Ion, Tres and Astha and all the others were probably waiting just outside for them as well.
"She won't wake up," Abel whispered. "I can hear her heart beating, feel her breathe but she won't open her eyes."
"It's only natural," came a much-missed, little voice from the other bed. The siblings were startled to see Isabel sitting up, icy blue eyes still oddly adult in that child face. "The change takes a little time but she'll wake up very soon."
"What change?" Seth exclaimed. "The nanomachines had never worked for anybody other than us. She should – " At that last, she bit her lip and glanced at Abel.
"You are of our blood," Isabel answered. "That's why the nanomachines worked for you. And also why things are different for you than other vampires. Tatiana's spell worked on your desire for her but it didn't count on your love." She smiled a little wistfully. "Kyrys did it before, with Elora. Before other things happened and she became one of us anyway."
Slowly, Seth could see that Isabel's words were having an effect. Abel was changing again, his features less feral, his eyes less wild, the fangs growing a little smaller.
"A bond," Abel stated. "You're saying I've somehow managed to bind her to me and it worked instead of killing her."
It was something they'd all known long before, which was why marriages between Terrans and Methuselahs were so rare. Not all the Terrans were able to accept even the Kudluk bacilli that the Methuselahs carried in their blood. Seth herself had forbidden it in her own Empire, not because she had thought that one race was less than the other but because a marriage between Terran and Methuselah often cost the Terran his or her life. Sometimes, it did work but those occasions were rare indeed. And even the Terrans who somehow made the transition in the more familiar fashion – the master vampire simply creating a brood of childer – were not always stable. Few of them reached their first century without any trouble.
Isabel slipped out of bed and toddled over to Abel. Automatically, he picked her up and settled her on his lap. She was so tiny at four and they weren't sure why she was staying that way for now when they knew she was so much older. Small hands gently patted his face.
"You look so much like Kyrys," Isabel said, still with that wistful smile. "And like him, even in the darkest parts of yourself, you know who and what Esther is to you. No dark magic can ever take that away."
"Pay attention, Seth – you're gonna be going through this sooner or later," Isabel quipped, turning her gaze to the younger Crusnik.
Seth turned red too and tossed her hair. "I just hope we can be spared all the trauma! But, Isabel, are you saying Esther will become a --"
Isabel sighed. "She won't become Crusnik; she won't be a Revenant. She's not going to be a vampire, not quite, anyway. The change for her will be very slow and it's always going to be tied to you, Abel and the strength of your bond. Heart to heart, blood to blood, two becoming one, remember?"
Isabel slipped down from Abel's lap and tugged on Seth's hand. "I'm hungry. Feed me? I could use some nice regular food right about now!" The words were plaintive and so very Abel that Seth giggled.
"I think we'd better get something for big brother to eat here too. Preferably something that's NOT milk tea and thirteen sugars."
"Ew!" Isabel's nose wrinkled.
"Hey!" Abel's protest was half-hearted. But the two girls were delighted to see him looking normal again.
Isabel rolled her eyes. "Abel, you doofus, you're bonded to Esther – as in, married to her now, like any sensible vampire would be! Don't you get it? She'll be fine, trust me!"
Before Abel could manage anything more, Isabel dragged Seth out of the train's hospital compartment, Seth's startled exclamation of: "Married?! Abel and Esther?!" still echoing in the air, only to be followed by more cries of shock and surprise from the others outside.
Abel was alone with Esther.
He felt the sudden change, rather than saw it. And when he looked down at Esther, hardly daring to believe, he found himself looking into those familiar and well-loved dark blue eyes.
Esther smiled sleepily up at him, finally wide awake.
Surprisingly the real events that took place during that Grand Ball in the Empress' honor were hushed up by the Russians. The attack had taken place when the guests had all gone home and for a ruler to be accused of treachery and deceit towards an honored guest and a recognized ally would only undermine the power of the Grand Duchess.
Seth wasn't too eager to kiss and make up again just yet. Realistically, she would rather have Tatiana Romanov in Russia, fully aware of what it meant to deal with the Rosen Kreuz Orden, instead of dealing with someone new and whose ambitions were not known.
Isabel had still chosen to stay as a little four year old girl. There was much to learn about this new world she had awoken to. She would always grieve for her lost ones, even Tatiana, but her immediate affection for Abel, Seth, Esther and all the rest, even as a child with no memory of what she'd been, still remained. Often, they could hear her singing in the Imperial gardens.
And there was that night when she finally revealed how she earned her nickname of Spellsinger.
Isabel sang to them her tale, the lives she had led, the adventures she had gone through. She brought Kyrys Alyardi and his beloved Elora alive for them through her song. In her memories, Kyrys was not just a fairytale prince under a terrible curse; Elora was not just the beautiful and spirited heroine. They were real people with their own faults and virtues, both ordinary and extraordinary. Abel and Seth finally knew something of their roots, learned something more about themselves and their past.
And then, Isabel asked Abel and Seth to sing with her and together, all three of them wove a new song on that bright, star-filled, magical night.
Seth was touched that Isabel chose to stay with her in the Empire.
"Is it too late to enter the priesthood, Father Nightroad?" Ion said plaintively when presented with the news. Abel and Esther had burst out laughing.
Astharoshe Asran had grown very fond of Father Tres Iquus, never mind if he was actually an android. Seth could only shake her head. Abel was boggled out of his mind when he heard about it and showed it openly, in typical goofy fashion.
But there was that little matter of Abel and Esther being "married."
It was as blunt as Isabel could be on the subject and after that, even she ended up blushing. "There's only so much I want to know about people's love lives, okay?!"
Well, Seth knew her brother was pretty popular among the ladies (even if the idiot was utterly oblivious to female attention) and that was as far as she wanted to know about the matter.
Predictably, Abel came down with a bad case of guilt and remorse after the whole debacle in Russia. Seth knew her brother's mind very well and had a fairly good idea of what happened between him and Esther, even if she didn't want to picture it in too much detail, thank you very much. Of course, Abel thought that he was a horrible monster and that it had been much too close and that he would rather keep his distance from Esther now that she was completely recovered and that if he'd ever hurt her again, he'd ask Tres to shoot him first or some such. Abel was definitely in full-blown angst mode.
Esther, bless her soul, was having none of that.
Seth hadn't really meant to eavesdrop on Abel and Esther's conversation in her private gardens, oh no. But they were loud enough that Seth couldn't help but hear everything.
Isabel knew it was rude to eavesdrop too but she was with Seth and they were in the middle of a good game of Scrabble.
Ion had just come in to bring his Empress a message from his grandmother.
Father Tres, naturally, was in the vicinity of the gardens, being a "chaperone" for Abel and Esther.
Astharoshe Asran had also just come in to bring the latest news from Russia.
"I knew perfectly well what I was doing, Abel Nightroad! If I was able to do that for Ion, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to bare my neck for you!"
Abel growled, which pretty much made the hairs on the back of Ion's neck stand up. "If you were ever foolish enough to try that with another Methuselah, even if he was a friend, so help me, I'll –"
Abel was cut off in the middle of his tirade and how Esther managed that was something Seth really tried not to imagine.
"Girl's got spunk, I'd give you that," Astharoshe remarked.
And then Esther's voice again. "…married, Abel?"
"Isabel's word, not mine," Abel said quickly.
"You dork," Isabel muttered, facepalming.
Astharoshe cracked her knuckles. "If I could only knock some sense into that featherbrain…"
"I'm sorry," Esther's voice was heartbreaking. "I didn't mean to do that to you… I…"
"Esther, love, you didn't do anything, it's not your fault. Oh Lord…I'm saying this all wrong!" Abel said in frustration. "You deserve much better than to be loved by a monster, much less being bound to one."
"I did say yes," Esther said in a tiny voice, that only the enhanced hearing of a bunch of Methuselah (and one Revenant) could catch.
The peanut gallery was thinking the same exact thing.
"Well… when you… you know… the blood and everything. There was a question. All I could say was yes or no. And if I said no, I would have gone… but I couldn't leave you, Abel. I just couldn't."
"Oh, love," Abel whispered raggedly.
"You'll always be on my side; you promised me that, remember?" Esther said, her voice sounding muffled. Abel would be an idiot if he hadn't taken her into his arms at that point. Given the way Esther sounded, Seth would bet her entire Empire that he was already holding her.
"I love you, Esther Blanchett."
"Finally!" Seth hissed in triumph. "He'd better have kissed her after that."
"It's the first sensible thing he's said since this started," Ion muttered, cheeks red.
"So…married?" Esther asked him again in that tiny voice.
"I rather like the idea," Abel's voice took on its more familiar teasing tone and then: "That is, if you like it too."
Oh, there were 900 years of loneliness and yearning in that one single sentence and Seth's heart ached for her brother, who always deserved so much more.
"A proposal is said to be traditional and also very nice and much appreciated," Esther said in an arch tone.
Abel laughed. "As you wish." And then, he asked that most important question, with so much love behind those simple words.
"Oh, that's beautiful," Isabel whispered, brushing away a tear.
Astharoshe was sniffling too.
Ion sighed but looked resigned and oddly at peace.
Father Tres was recording everything for the rest of AX to hear later.
And then, Esther gave Abel her answer.
Esther sleeps and in her sleep, her dreams are sweet - she is where she is safest, in Abel's arms.
Abel smiles ruefully as almost of their own volition, his wings unfurl to fold around her, to keep her warm. He is only thankful that once again, they are riding in a private train car, yet another gift from Seth. He doesn't dare imagine what other people might see - a terrifying black-winged demon with a young helpless woman in his arms.
Esther will laugh at his fears and tell him he is being silly. He is aware that she finds him beautiful in any of his forms and he supposes that is what it means when they say love is blind.
Or perhaps, love allows Esther to truly see...
Their future is uncertain; there are so many things that can go wrong and chief among them is what his brother will do if he ever found out about this. The "happily-ever-after" fairytale ending is not promised to them but then it's not truly promised to anyone else either.
But somehow, he has faith that things will turn out for the best and there is more hope in him now than there has been for so many years.
So here they are, ending where they had first begun or perhaps they are embarking on a new beginning. He briefly closes his eyes and sends out a fervent prayer, putting in it all his hope, a humble supplication, the childlike trust that his faith demands and is so difficult to give as a skeptical adult.
And then, he allows himself to drift into sleep, resting his cheek against his beloved's hair. Their hands are twined together, her small fingers are interlaced with his and the moonlight shines briefly on the silver wedding bands on their fingers.
The Morning After…
Abel was fast asleep and Esther just didn't have the heart to wake him.
She had stolen his hair ribbon yet again so his hair lay loosely on his shoulders but he hadn't taken off his glasses so they were dangling comically almost off the edge of his nose. Carefully, she removed them for him – it wouldn't do if they fell off and got crushed or lost somehow.
He had also partially shifted into his Crusnik form yet again so she was cocooned quite warmly in the shelter of his wings. Carefully, she stroked one soft, smooth black feather and knew that the things could also be diamond-hard and razor-sharp on occasion – a Crusnik thing that she would probably never understand.
Good thing they were in a private train compartment – it would be quite a scene if people saw her beautiful dark angel like this.
And then, she made a soft, startled sound when Abel suddenly shifted and nuzzled her neck.
"Mornin' love," he mumbled drowsily, pressing a kiss in the hollow of her throat.
She caressed his cheek and kissed him there as well. "Good morning, sleepy. I'm sorry – did I wake you?"
"Mmmph." The first new thing that Esther had learned about her husband was that Abel was very affectionate upon being awakened. That was plainly evidenced by the nuzzles and kisses she was getting now, not that she minded those at all because she was giving back as good she got.
"You're purring!" She exclaimed in delight, as her hands threaded through his hair, combing through the soft strands.
Also, Abel was mostly incoherent in the mornings. Not that she had any trouble deciphering what he meant.
"I love you too," she answered. "You're so cute when you're like this." And then, she meeped when he nipped her lightly at the base of her throat and then licked that very same spot.
Oh dear. As much as he was currently melting every bone in her body, they had to stop…
Somehow, Abel had managed to draw down the window screen.
And then, his mouth was traveling lower and his hands were rather busy undoing the fastenings of her collar.
The door was locked after all.
It was Abel's turn to render her mostly incoherent after that.
- the end (for now!) -
OH. MY. GOD. I can't believe I'm done! (does happy dance)
ETA: Had to add that additional scene for Isabel. We needed to get to know her a little better, without wandering into Mary Sue territory, of course. :P
There are a couple or so stories still left in me for this universe (well, somebody around here has to get crowned Queen first!) and there's a cute wee one who wants me to write his story. So, the Milk Tea gang will most definitely be back!
There is a Labyrinth reference somewhere around this part; I'm sure somebody out there will be able to figure that one out for us. I couldn't resist putting it in.
I'm flying by the seat of my pants on the whole Kudluk bacilli thing and the issue of Methuselahs mating with ordinary humans. There's a lot of deliberate influence coming from White Wolf and Vampire the Masquerade in there but that's the fun part of working with vampire stories, I've realized. You can pick and choose what works for you. As long as you write it well, you'll get away with it.
I love the band Within Temptation and Nightwish – there's a lot of songs there that just scream Abel to me. Hence, I couldn't resist using them for Isabel.
Again, thanks to all my lovely reviewers and to the folks making me fan art. (OMG, it makes me squee with joy every time…)
I'd also like to thank the nice authors who keep citing my stories as influence. OMG. You guys definitely inspired me too. Keep writing – we need all the good stories we can get in this fandom!