Author's Note: Herdcat, thank you so much for all your wonderful reviews! In this rather suffocated fandom, getting even one review is a miracle, much less three! Of course, your wish is my command. Did someone request more enmity?
Warnings: Serious slash, bit of vampirism, blood and guts getting spattered around, Gerald being snarky - you know, the usual. When I say serious slash, I mean it - this is hard M, no kidding.
Further Warnings: This is dark. Really, really dark. No trace of fluff herein. When I write something for these two, either it's fluffy enough to choke on or it's really, really horrific. This definitely falls into the latter category. I suppose technically they're in love... but neither of them thinks so, at least at first. And believe me, if anything, Gerald's even crueler than in the books with how he's manipulating Damien's feelings. Because really, if those two fell in love, it wouldn't be what fanfiction writers like myself usually like to imagine. It would be a lot darker and a lot harsher... a lot more like this.
Disclaimer: If I was the creator of the Coldfire Trilogy I wouldn't be this overworked. Nor would I be writing slash fanfiction at 2 AM. Such is life.
A.N.2: Oh, in this version, Ciani hasn't broken up with Damien yet when he leaves for the Eastern Continent. Also, Hesseth survived the mess with the Immortal Prince, and Calesta is already dead, killed on the Eastern Continent.
A.N.3: Fic is titled after the song/album by The Moon And The Nightspirit. Chapter title is a line from Dragon's Mist by Manticora. Not one of my favorite bands, really, but there's something about the lyrics of that album - and this song in particular - that appeal to me.
A.N.4: Um, this wasn't originally meant to be multi-chapter... oh well. The more the merrier, isn't that the expression? (Never mind that there's absolutely nothing merry about this piece.) Incidentally, there's something weird going on here. For reasons I cannot possibly fathom, I can apparently only write good smut at, like, 2 or 3 in the morning. It's ridiculous. Most of this fic was written at said very very late (or very very early) hour, so please forgive any grammatical errors you might find.
He was running. All around him, the Forest breathed, sharing in his eagerness as the Hunt played out. He moved through the night-darkened woodlands with the lightness of a wraith, flitting between the trees with unerring grace, never needing to glance down to avoid the tangled roots beneath his feet. The trees around him hummed with life: a dark and twisted life, undeniably, but life nonetheless. He could feel that life pumping through him, the haunting melodies of the dark fae singing in his blood as he Hunted, at one with the Forest that he had shaped. Molded by his hands, formed to his will, it was a part of him - and nothing could ever surpass the feeling of just being here, running free in the realm he had created.
He could feel his prey close ahead. An unfamiliar kind, this time: this Hunt had been so different, unlike any he'd had before. No fragile flower, this one, no delicate maiden who fainted at the very sight of him. No, this one was special: a true adversary, an equal, never letting him win but making him work for each step closer to victory. It was thrilling, intoxicating, and he knew that he would never be able to give this up. Not now, not when he had finally tasted true ecstasy...
Moments later, it was over: he had trapped his prey, pouncing from the shadows like a hunting cat, sending them both down into the fallen leaves that carpeted the Forest's floor. He had stopped seeing the world through his human vision some time ago, but his other senses were in overdrive: the scent of rich earth, dead leaves, and the heady allure of his prey's fear-warmed blood. The icy bite of a northern wind and the deliciously human warmth of his prey. The swirling luminescence of the fae, beautiful and terrible... and the light in a pair of hazel eyes, warm enough to melt even the ice that shielded the Hunter's heart.
Gerald dragged himself back into wakefulness with a start, eyes snapping open, his whole body stiffening. He lay perfectly still, absorbing his surroundings, letting the real world wash away his dream. The soft creaking of wood, the gentle roll and sway: he was in his cabin on the Golden Glory.
Hellfire. He let his head sink back into the pillows, struggling to suppress the wild emotions surging through him, to regain his customary composure. He rarely slept, and even more rarely did he dream, but apparently this was one of those rare occasions. The question that weighed most heavily was why in Heaven's name he had been dreaming of... that.
With another vicious oath, Gerald sprang to his feet and stalked up the deck. It was the middle of the night, and the deck was all but deserted: the Hunter strode to the bow and braced himself against the rail, tilting his head back and drinking in the sight of the distant, icy stars.
Who am I trying to fool, exactly? he asked himself bitterly, sighing quietly as the night wind ruffled gently through his hair. He closed his eyes, trying to relax some of the tension that made his body so rigid. Karril's been taunting me for weeks, and he's probably not bluffing. Most likely, he really does know. I determined that I would not attempt to deceive myself. I don't give a damn what the rakh thinks. That just leaves... him, as usual. Always the exception.
He hissed in frustration and reached up, raking his hand absently through his hair. He had tried for centuries to repress the nervous habit, a leftover from his difficult youth, but sometimes it crept up on him when he was stressed. This definitely counted as one of those times.
Yes, he was bisexual. Yes, he had accepted that in his teens, and had been involved with both men and women during his lifetime as the Neocount of Merentha. Yes, he was deeply attracted to a certain Knight of the Flame. On their own, these things would not have been so bad. The trouble came when he considered the other details.
Like the fact that Damien Vryce had a woman waiting for him back in Jaggonath. Like the fact that Damien Vryce was quite emphatically straight. Like the fact that he was a goddamned Knight of the Flame, and thus totally out of Gerald's reach thanks to the Unnamed. Or the fact that Gerald himself was more or less the embodiment of everything Damien Vryce hated. Just thinking about it made Gerald feel sick. He didn't want this: he didn't want to suffer this kind of complication. He had severed all ties to his humanity when he made his sacrifice all those centuries ago, but somehow, Damien managed to make him feel again. That was both frightening and angering - even more so because it made Gerald weak, and if Damien found out how the adept felt, the priest could easily use those feelings to strike at him.
Not that he would, more than likely. The priest was too damn noble to stoop to manipulating Gerald's feelings... hopefully.
A faint footstep sounded behind Gerald, and he tensed instantly: a tiny tendril of fae, though, was all that was needed to tell him the identity of the individual. It was Hesseth, which was in itself surprising: the rakh avoided him like the plague whenever possible. She moved purposefully across the deck until she was standing at the rail next to Gerald. Concealing his surprise, Gerald inclined his head slightly, keeping his voice cold but carefully level.
"Mes Rakh. What can I do for you?"
"I think we need to have a little talk about the Reverend Vryce." Hesseth said bluntly. Gerald stiffened instantly.
"What exactly do you mean by that?"
"I mean just what exactly are you planning?" Hesseth asked him, golden eyes narrowed. "Don't think I haven't noticed how you look at him - like he's an unbonded female and it's almost mating season. I don't understand human tastes, but I'm not here to judge. However, I also would hate to see this mission fail because you two can't sort out your issues. Are you going to continue to pretend there is nothing happening, or do you intend to do something about this strange attraction between the two of you?"
Gerald glared at her and unconsciously ran his hand through his hair again. "It is no concern of yours. I assure you I am quite capable of managing my own actions."
Hesseth hissed faintly, but apparently recognized the dismissal. She started to turn away, frustration clear in her gleaming golden eyes, then paused. "He feels the same, you know."
Gerald froze: even his impeccably cultivated mask couldn't hide his shock. "What?"
Hesseth glanced back at him, a hint of amusement replacing frustration in her gaze. "You humans aren't all that observant, are you? He's attracted to you, too. I don't think he'll protest if you want to court him." With that, the rakh turned and vanished back into the belly of the ship.
Gerald just stood there for a long moment, wondering, turning over possibility after possibility in his mind. Was what she had said plausible? Why did he even care? He couldn't possibly take that risk, and he shouldn't want to anyway... but in a moment, a plan came to him - a way to ascertain once and for all if the priest had feelings for him. After all, if Damien could use those feelings as a weapon, Gerald could use them a hundred times more efficiently. He was, after all, at least a hundred times more ruthless than the Reverend Damien Kilcannon Vryce. Wearing a grin that would have terrified any sane man east of the Dividers, Gerald headed back to his cabin. Time for a little experiment.
Damien was standing at the bow of the ship, staring out over the waves. After four months on this blasted boat, he was on the verge of going insane from forced inactivity. The steady lapping of the waves against the ship's hull did nothing to soothe him: since that damn tsunami in Ganji, he had hated anything and everything connected with the ocean. It was all too easy to remember the sound of wooden beams splintering like matchsticks, the terrified cries of men and women lost in the raging sea, the thunderous roar as the waters crashed over the cliffs...
Shuddering, Damien forced his thoughts away from that path. It was far in the past, no good could come of resurrecting those memories now. He sighed wearily. How much longer was he going to be trapped on this blasted ship?
That cool, cultivated, arrogant voice could belong to only one person. Gritting his teeth Damien turned to face the Hunter, who had somehow come up next to him without the priest noticing. "I don't like the ocean much." he said flatly. "What do you want?"
The adept's silver eyes glittered in amusement. "Who says I want anything, Vryce? Perhaps I simply came out to look at the stars..."
"Yeah, right." Damien growled. "You're always after something. What is it this time? Or did you just come to poke fun at your least favorite priest?"
Damien, who had already turned back to look at the ocean, jerked his head back around to Gerald once more. "What?"
The adept's cool silver eyes were fixed on him, the look in them indecipherable as the Hunter said softly, "Really, Vryce, you're by far the most tolerable of any religious individuals I've met. Although, considering the type I had to deal with during my time as Neocount, that's not saying all that much. Shortsighted fools..."
Damien's mouth was hanging open, but with an effort he shut it. Had Gerald actually just complimented him? "Uh, don't take this the wrong way, Gerald, but... are you feeling okay?"
The Hunter smiled at him. A strange, dark, chilling smile. The atmosphere around them changed: the temperature dropped, the wind died, it felt as though the air itself were holding its breath. Gerald moved closer to Damien, slowly, like a cat stalking its prey as he said softly, "Yes, actually, remarkably well."
Damien's mouth went dry and he edged backward, cautiously. "Gerald, you can stop now, you've successfully unnerved me... okay really, back off. I don't know what you think you're playing at, but stop it."
Gerald was still quite clearly stalking him, that unsettling smile never wavering. "You were the one who was so adamant that I was after something, Vryce. And as you are no doubt well aware, I always get what I want."
Damien could feel a cold trickle of fear sliding down his spine - and he knew the Hunter would be able to feel it too, damn him. The priest swallowed hard. "Gerald, really, what the hell do you want from-"
His words cut off suddenly, though, when he felt his back hit wood and realized that Gerald had somehow backed him around in a circle and pinned him against the mast.
The deck was completely deserted, not even a man in the wheelhouse. Damien knew there was something wrong with that, but he couldn't think: Gerald was too close to him now, those brilliant silver eyes boring into him, stealing his breath and thoughts away...
"Just this." Gerald whispered, then his lips were pressed against Damien's in a fierce, ice-cold kiss.
Damien bolted into a sitting position, waking with a scream on his lips. He choked it back - although barely - and looked around. Dark wooden paneling, a bare trickle of moonlight sneaking in through the porthole - he was in his cabin. The Hunter was nowhere to be seen.
A dream. A vulking dream.
Slowly, Damien forced himself to relax, slumping back against his pillows in exhaustion. His muscles throbbed softly, sore from tensing in fear. As he remembered exactly what had woken him, a wave of varying emotions washed through him: anger and disgust in no small measure, a fair dose of fear... and a single thin thread of excitement.
Damien grabbed that thought by its metaphorical throat and choked the life out of it. No. Not that. Never that.
Damien forced himself to lie down again, settle in as though nothing was wrong - but he was taught as a violin string, every muscle straining, as though expecting Gerald to melt out of the shadows at any moment.
It was going to be a long, long night.