"Alexander, you found us!" Alexander stopped, the ready and genuine smile that graced Daniel's face never failing to stun him.
"It was not easy. You said you would be in Gaza." He shaded his eyes from the merciless sun that beat down on them. He studied Daniel's face as a man dying of thirst and seeing an oasis at last. "You have taken too much sun. I told you to take care of yourself."
Daniel waved away his rebuke, walking towards him. This close and Alexander could smell the sweat on him, the faint floral scent of his soap underneath it. "We had our license for the Gaza dig revoked. Some small squabble with the French at the embassy. Luckily we were able to snatch this place out from under their noses."
He began to walk towards the tents, not even glancing to the side to see if Alexander would follow. Of course he did, he always trailed behind Daniel like the most obedient of curs, not like the boy ever noticed. "And how were your travels, Alexander? Did you get that dreadful business with the banks sorted?"
"That 'dreadful business' gives you the funds to play around in the dirt another season." His hand hovered over the small of Daniel's back. He longed to rest it there, to pull the young man to him and hold him as tight as he could, making up for the long, long nights they had been apart. But as Daniel often had to point out, public affections between the same gender were still forbidden even in this desolate country.
"And I am thankful for it, do not misunderstand me. I do not understand how you can keep it all straight! Stocks and bonds…all those numbers…" He shook his head and made a face as if there were a foul taste in his mouth.
"You use numbers everyday with your little excavations. I know you are adept at your maths." A small smile flickered in the corners of his mouth.
"That is very different."
"How is it different?"
Daniel slowed until they were walking side by side. He leaned towards him ever so slightly so that his arm brushed against Alexander's. "Because this is fun." He grinned and quickened his pace before Alexander could grab for him, that slight touch of skin almost his undoing.
They made the rest of the way to the camp in companionable silence. Alexander's hands clenched in his pockets so he would not forget himself.
"Here." Daniel pointed to a tent that looked like the rest.
"What is here?" Alexander wondered if he could convince Daniel to let them travel into the small town nearby so they might enjoy the meager civilization offered by the local inn.
"Something that needs your attention." He grabbed Alexander by the front of his shirt and pulled him into the stifling confines of the tent.
As soon as the tent flap had fallen behind them plunging them in gloom Daniel had his mouth against Alexander's. Surprised though he was, he was no fool. He hastened to return it, hands seeking Daniel's still too slim waist and drawing him nearer. Eager fingers combed through his silver hair, muffled sighs and pants escaping between the wet sounds of their mouths. Damn self-control. He knelt just enough to slide his hands down to cup Daniel's thighs and then straightened, the young man having the presence of mind to wrap his arms around his neck as he was lifted or risk toppling them both over.
Daniel untangled himself enough to point at the small camp bed. Alexander did not even bother to nod, he just let them both tumble down onto it, trying to get as close to Daniel as was possible. And Daniel laughed. Bless him and damn him, he laughed as Alexander tore at their clothes and then took him with the barest wink at preparation. Even when his mouth became too preoccupied with the delicious moans and cries, the laughter was still there dancing in those green eyes right through to the end when Alexander finally gave a growl of triumph and stilled against him.
"Were you not worried that your workers would hear us?" He didn't care if they heard. He wanted them to hear, to know that this lovely man reclining beside him was his. He trailed his fingers down Daniel's back, splayed his hand against it. Daniel was almost the same coloring as he was now, the pale waif of Brennenberg a thing of the distant past.
Daniel shrugged and then leaned up into Alexander's strokes, very much like a spoiled feline. "They should all be either at the site or in town on leave. Besides, I could not wait another instant." He turned, a hand curled under his cheek, the other reaching out to play with the strands of Alexander's hair. "I missed you."
The emotion he felt was so intense, so tangled a thing, he did not know if he could ever name it. "I missed you too." His voice more husky than he would have liked.
"You will stay a while." It was more a command than a question and Alexander did not mind in the least.
"I will. I have no further matters at the moment. I thought you said the sun did not agree with you?" He cupped Daniel's cheek, thumb running along his jaw line.
"It was more the heat than the sun. I have to be careful still, but most of the work is in the caves which stay tolerable if it is not midday. The clothing of this decade is also more breathable than it was when I was…younger."
"Are you happy?"
Did that smile dim just the slightest? "I am. I am happy enough." He kissed him to stop further questions, drew Alexander over him once more to distract.
"He thinks about you still, you know." Alexander kicked his heels against the ledge in the cave-like room, a small ball of pale flame the only illumination in the eternal darkness of the place. He almost wished Daniel were here. The young man would press against him so tightly in his terror, would be begging Alexander to comfort. He shook himself from pleasant daydreams. "Does that make you happy? That even though we have found some meager joy in this world he still thinks of you, considered you a friend?" He sneered at the last word.
Silence settled around them. Then, Have you come only to gloat, you old fiend, or will you finally finish what you started?
Alexander raised an eyebrow at Agrippa's head, lying where he had let it drop nearly sixty years ago. "Gloat? I suppose I do have a great deal to gloat about. Also I should thank you, I suppose." He paused, licking his teeth as he waited for the small strand of curiosity to cross his mind. Ah, there it was.
Thank me? For what?
"For Daniel. It was a good ploy, to drive us apart, to convince him to go along with your asinine scheme with the Damascus Rose. It did seem to succeed at first, but you did not count on how frail a thing human memory truly is. He was in my bed the first night we left this hell. Less than a decade and he was willingly in my arms and a half century after that, the memory of this place is faded enough for him to love me again. He's mine now, more mine than he was before that damned potion, still beautiful and now unbroken."
Agrippa began to laugh. Is that what you truly think? That he loves you? I'm sure he only gives you access to his body as a way to keep you on a leash, much like the one you have him on. I can feel it, you know. That bond between you two. It must have hurt him. Did you rape him in body as you raped his very mind?
Alexander smiled, teeth flashing in the dim light. "I always did think you were jealous of me, old friend. Did you regret not having a body when you first met him? Do you still wish there was a way to know how lovely it is to be between his thighs and hear him whimper your name?"
You are depraved. I never wanted anything more than for him to get away from you and find some peace. If he freed me as well, so much the better.
"He a fantastic creature. Each tremble, each sigh completely bewitching. I would give him this world on a plate if he would just look at me through his lashes and ask me."
A sigh in his mind. I very much doubt he wants worlds, Alexander. More than half a century with the lad and you still know him no better. The boy is little more than a whore to you-
A whip of thought across the severed head's mind and Agrippa cried out. Alexander's smile widened. Fascinating that even when one was no longer strictly corporeal, one could still feel pain. "Do not talk of my love that way, please."
My apologies. In my day that was the term for a person who sells their favors for personal gain.
"And what does he gain besides my company? I give him gifts, yes, but they are not asked for and if I suddenly withdrew them he would never think to ask why. He would assume I had a good reason. You forget that we are bonded now. His thoughts are mine."
He buys your distraction. He buys, what he thinks, is peace. Have you started up your old tricks yet, you devil?
Alexander laid down, hands tucked underneath his head. He stared up into the darkness, the ceiling not visible in the gloom.
I will take your silence for a yes then. That poor boy. All he wanted was a life without horror and you are too selfish to even give him that.
"I give him the illusion of it. Is it not the same thing? He does not know where I go on my business trips, what I do while I am not by his side." He shrugged. "And honestly, why should he ever learn?"
I am appalled that he is still so naïve as to trust you. Then again, with your bond it would be a simple thing to make him overlook certain discrepancies.
"How dare you. I do not meddle in his mind. He needs no prodding from me to feel as he does, to think as he will."
Did you tell him that you have given up on your quest for your world?
I see. Would you? Could you put your pride aside enough to live with him here if it made him truly happy, if you could have him in truth if you only let go?
Alexander turned to look at the head beside him. He wondered briefly if Agrippa could see him or only sense his presence. "I can have both. For all of his changes, he is still human in his heart and fears the unknown. I can work on that, I can convince him-"
That exact line of thinking is what led to you losing him before. You never learn! I hope he gains the knowledge and the strength to leave you. I hope he tears your soul to shreds and spits in the ashes of your heart.
"And on that note…" Alexander sat up. "It is always a pleasure to speak with you, old friend, but I really must be on my way. I only came to gather some things I needed and perhaps to say goodbye."
You meant to rub your supposed triumph in my face.
Alexander's smile raised into something bestial. "That as well."
He'll find out, you know. That you aren't as selfless as you seem. That at heart you'll always be a petty creature who would not let go of a grudge or a-
"Do you know how many times he's wondered if I actually did throw you through that damn gate? Not once. Not once has it crossed his dear, trusting little mind."
It was Agrippa's turn to fall silent.
"I will admit that at times he is a naïve little fool, but he is my naïve little fool and I love him for it. Besides, if he ever does wonder we will be far from here."
You cannot have gathered the necessary vitae so soon! It took you two centuries and a castle as a conduit before!
"I have found another way. We were fools back then, Daniel was right about that. We had stumbled upon one way to open a door between worlds and did not think to search out if there were better, more expedient ways. We were so lazy when we were young." He stood up and dusted off his trousers. "With the passing of years, this world is growing smaller. It is easier to come across rumors and lore from lands that were almost inaccessible in our time. I will be home before the end of the year. This truly is a farewell, old friend."
You cannot mean to leave me like this! Kill me! You owe me that much!
"I owe you nothing. I've come for the Orbs that remained here and that is all. Enjoy eternity."
He jumped from the ledge, landing cat-like on his feet. Agrippa's mind-voice was an inarticulate wail of despair and he grinned. He'll never follow you! He will refuse and he will find me!
"As if I would give my darling any choice in the matter," he muttered, bending to retrieve the satchel with the three Orbs in it.
The first sight that greeted him as he walked up to the hotel in Cairo was a gaggle of filthy street urchins. It took Alexander a moment to realize that the man they were surrounding was Daniel, seated on the dirty ground, beaming at them. As he drew closer he realized that Daniel must have been telling them one of his stories. A little girl was petting his hair and a small boy was in his lap, sucking on a grimy thumb and staring up at Daniel with solemn, wide eyes.
Daniel would have made a great father. These gutter-snipes could attest to it. Scarce a week in Egypt and they had given up their cries of baksheesh and would seek Daniel out just for the sole and soothing pleasure of his company. It was too easy to picture the man at a fireside, a book spread on his lap and a litter of adoring children at his feet, a slightly plump wife looking fondly on. A pang of vicious possessiveness pierced Alexander's breast. Such an old fool to be jealous of a make-believe wife Daniel might have gained in another life! But when it came to his mate he oft times had trouble with rationality.
"Daniel." His voice was a bark and the children scattered before it.
Daniel's shoulders rose and lifted, but the face he raised to him had fondness, if not a little annoyance, in it. "Alexander. You've returned I see. I trust it was a pleasant trip?"
"Oh?" Daniel stood up, concern in those eyes that Alexander could have spent a small eternity trying to categorize the exact shade of.
You were not with me. One finger down his cheek and a tap on his chin. Daniel rolled his eyes, but there was a smile on his lips now. "I am a bit weary. Let us retire for a small while. I trust you chose rooms that are acceptable this time?"
"The rooms last time were perfectly fine, Alexander. We need not have opulence every moment of our lives." He stooped and picked up one of Alexander's bags, wincing slightly at the weight of it.
"It had fleas."
"It did not!"
As soon as they were in the shade of the hotel and a surreptitious glance showed they were unobserved, Alexander wrapped his hand around Daniel's hip and pulled him close. He buried his nose in his brown hair, laid a kiss on his brow.
Daniel shoved him away. "Behave until you're in our rooms."
"You are too cruel to me." He tried to capture him again, but Daniel stepped out of reach.
"You can wait a minute more, love."
"Then I may do whatever I wish?"
Daniel smiled. "Can I ever deny you anything?" Alexander pretended not to notice the slight tang of bitterness that rubbed up against his mind, only taking Daniel's hand and leading him down the hall.
"How was the excavation while I was away? Did you find more dinner plates?"
Daniel huffed, reaching down to stroke Alexander's hair where it spread over his thighs. After their usual period of getting reacquainted after a lengthy absence, Alexander had claimed Daniel's hip as a pillow and seemed in no hurry to move. "Do not belittle my work. And yes we did. I am very happy with our findings this year."
Alexander brushed his lips over the tight belly underneath him. "Do you not hunger for glory though? To find a lost treasure, a pharaoh?"
Daniel shivered. "I have had enough of lost treasure for a lifetime. They tend to come with curses I've found." He shifted, but Alexander would not be dislodged, a hand tucked itself under Daniel's knee and squeezed. "Besides, this work is important even if you cannot understand the value."
Alexander harrumphed, warm breath on Daniel's skin making it twitch in an appealing manner.
"Finding out how the ancients lived, how they worked and dined and played, in a hundred years that will prove to be the greater historical finding than some stray jewel overlooked by grave robbers."
Alexander rubbed his cheek against the bone beneath him, enjoying the feel of the velvety skin covering it. He wished that Daniel would gain in weight at least a little. He was nothing but skin stretched over a skeleton and a thin layer of hard muscle. How Alexander longed to hold something more soft and pliable in his arms, to have Daniel be as he ought to be: completely spoiled and kept.
"That is an appalling thought. I will not get fat for your pleasure, Alexander." He slapped at the hand that had been caressing up his chest. "Besides, if I was the least bit out of shape, I would not be able to crawl into the excavation pits as easily as I need to."
"I taught you to have enough manners to announce yourself when you enter my thoughts."
Daniel sniffed. "You never do."
Because I own you, but Alexander had enough sense to keep that thought tucked out of Daniel's grasp.
"Why did you leave me this time?" Daniel's change of topic was uttered in a small voice, one that had Alexander instantly on guard.
"To see to our funding, to befriend those whose donations keep your little projects going. What did you think?"
"Nothing. I was only curious."
Alexander reached out but met a wall around Daniel's mind. "Do you think I have another lover secreted away?" It was meant as a jest but it fell with a terrible weight. "Daniel!" He didn't know whether to be amused or appalled. "You know there is no one other than you! Even in my own world I could not find anyone who stirred me as you do. You are utterly singular and the only thing in all of the worlds that could ever ensnare me." Do you still not understand the import of our binding? What it meant for me to do it those long years ago?
Daniel shook his head, tried to roll over, but Alexander held him tight. "I know. I know I am being silly, but…" He shook his head again. "Sometimes I feel as if you are hiding something from me. Something big. If not a lover, then what?"
He could feel Daniel start on that path that would lead to where Agrippa had predicted. The memory of Daniel looking at him and not a flicker of recognition on his adored face flashed through his mind and burned. He quickly crawled up Daniel's lithe body, lay kisses on his face and murmured endearments and proclamations in his ear.
Daniel pushed him away. "What is it then? If not a lover then what?" He repeated, shaking Alexander with each word.
Alexander froze. It had to be perfect, the right mix of truth and lies. "I…have grown used to my creature comforts. Being so far from civilization is…hard for me."
Daniel snorted. "It is only for a few months out of the year and it's hardly the wilds of Africa! You could always wander into Cairo for a few nights if you feel too bereft."
"I knew you would not understand."
"And what of me? Am I not enough to keep you here, enough for you to bear the trials of a rougher life?"
Alexander regarded him for a long moment, then leaned down and kissed him between his brows. "As long as I have you, I can withstand anything."
Daniel raised a brow. "Then you will not be wandering away from me so often?"
Daniel wanting him, Daniel missing him, growing jealous of the moments they weren't together… It was so heady a feeling he grew dizzy from it. "My business overseas is concluded for the moment. I won't leave your side again this season."
"You'd better not." Daniel kissed him and the niggling thought that Agrippa might be right, that Daniel might not be as naïve as he seemed, that he suspected something and had learned how to wrap Alexander around his finger, was quickly derailed by much too pleasant diversions.
That night Alexander wound his mind through Daniel's slumbering one, almost mirroring their entwined bodies. It was so easy to manipulate his dreams now, to implant memories of his own. The spires and cliffs of his home, the architecture that once almost drove Daniel mad when he caught a brief glimpse of it. See, he murmured in his lover's mind. There is nothing to fear here. This will soon be your new home, our home. See how lovely it is?
Daniel stirred in his sleep, turned further into Alexander's body as if seeking comfort and shuddered.
Alexander brushed his lips over his temple. We have our ancient civilizations here as well and no one has ever thought to ponder them in full. The only curiosity my kind has is for the present, but you can discover our ancient secrets, delve into them, teach us about them. It has never occurred to us to wonder about our ruins and we will be fascinated by your discoveries. You will utterly charm my brethren. You so easily captivated me, you will remember.
Alexander reached out and touched the book that lay open on their bedside table. It had become a talisman of sorts to him since he had first came across it, this book of fairy-tales from a faraway land called Greenland. In it was a term he had never thought he would stumble over in this graceless world: Tuurngait, a creature that could move across dimensions without the need for a Traveler's Locket.
Home before the year ends.
Well, that is the end of Spirit! I hope it lived up to everyone's expectations. I left the ending up in the air as a sort of choose your own resolution kinda thing. Does Daniel break free of Alexander, rescue Agrippa and the two go off on strange and fabulous adventures together? (I want to write that one day. A boy and his severed head...) Or does Alexander pull him into his world where Danny realizes there are places that are still excavate-able and so is not that bothered? My personal belief for the ending of their story is something a bit darker, but that would not have been fun to read or write ^_^ I also wanted to do some of this chapter in Danny's POV, but he was not cooperating. I hope his thoughts and real feelings still peek through, even though we are looking at him through Alexander's rose colored glasses. Also I couldn't help but tie this in with Penumbra. Maybe Alexander is the reason the Tuurngait is so grumpy when Philip gets to it... Thank you for putting up with me and for all your lovely, lovely feedback. I have a new story planned and hopefully the first part of it will be posted soon!