Author's Note: I think this is even more taboo-shattering than my Mpreg fic. A non-Damien/Gerald-centric fic? Good Lord, the world must be ending! But, while we're waiting for all of creation to crash down around us, please read and review, 'cause I've never paired either of these two with anyone besides each other and I'm nervous. At the same time, you can't deny that there was definitely chemistry there in the canon: there was just so much more UST between Gerald and Damien that Karril kind of got overlooked. I really do love his character as well, though - and despite how I sometimes portray him, he's not just comic relief. He had some serious depth in parts of the books, especially Crown of Shadows, when he defied his own brother to help Gerald and Damien, even though he had to break Iezu law to do so. Even in When True Night Falls, though - it went against every law he had to go by, but he was still always there, helping Gerald. When I started writing it was a little awkward, but I quickly adapted, and I find it's not as much of a struggle writing this pairing as I thought it would be. Obviously, since this is the longest one-shot I've ever posted! (Please, don't kill me, Damien. Karril's just borrowing Gerald, I swear, you can have him back soon!)
Warnings: Slash, violence, mentions of child abuse, some angst, some fluff, nothing too serious really.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Coldfire Trilogy, and I am making no profit from this fic. (AGH! A format disclaimer! OH, THE HORROR!)
A.N.2: I normally don't really care for writing in first-person, but the bunny refused to be expressed any other way. Fic title is from the song Stolen Child: I was working from the version by Loreena Mckennitt, though Heather Alexander does a good version too. Soundtrack is Shelter From The Storm by Bob Dylan, Book Of Golden Stories by Runrig, and This Is Where I Belong by Bryan Adams (from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron). The names that I came up with for the various kingdoms of Erna are my own invention, but you'll see them in some of my other fics that I'll be posting soon: they're part of my evolving fanon.
A.N.3: Even though this is listed as complete, I'm considering a Part 2 of this story, from Gerald's POV. Anyone interested?
A.N.4: I know what someone out there is sure to be thinking. Karril's gender switches to fit the preference of whoever he's talking to, so why have this still be slash? Easy answer: I just don't do het. Actual reason: because in case you hadn't noticed, Karril stayed male every time he was around Gerald. You can argue a case for self-preservation, but the most of the second and the entire third book was devoted to proving how hard it is to hurt an Iezu: I don't think Karril was particularly scared of Gerald. You do the math, people. That just leaves one reason.
When I saw the distant figure fleeing from the sprawling manor house into the shadowy woodlands, I thought at first that I was hallucinating. No one set foot outside their doorways after dark in those days - not unless they wanted to be caught dead, literally. Yet, I couldn't have imagined it: I had seen the brief spill of light when the door opened, then heard it slam closed, and seen what looked like a young boy running from the house into the shadowy forest. He stood out in the darkness like a diamond on black velvet, pale against the shadows until the trees swallowed him up. I moved a little closer, intrigued, then the door banged open again with shocking force and a deep voice bellowed furiously out, across the moonlit manor grounds.
"Fine then, you ungrateful little fiend! Fucking changeling - don't you dare set foot on my doorstep again, you hear? Go plead your case to your bloody demon friends, filthy, worthless devil!" The door slammed shut again, so hard that the glass panes shattered.
I was shocked. Granted I hadn't gotten a clear look, but the boy I'd seen had been just that - only a boy. Certainly not older than twenty. Generally I was indifferent to emotions beyond my aspect, but at that moment I felt a hot coil of something that must have been anger stir in my gut. Who could possibly say such heartless, cruel things to someone so young? Feeling strangely ill at ease with the entire situation, I decided to follow the boy, despite the Iezu code of non-involvement.
I found him in a clearing some distance into the woods. He was curled up against the base of a willow tree, mostly shielded from view by the curtain of branches, crying: I could hear his sobs from quite a way off. I parted the branches gently, stepping soundlessly into the little shelter, and stopped dead in my tracks, amazed and - quite frankly - already a little entranced.
He wasn't very powerfully built, with his slim shoulders and narrow waist. Between his lean build, the delicacy of his facial structure, his large grey eyes, and the long dark lashes that framed said eyes, he looked almost feminine. His hair was thick and wavy, an almost unnatural shade of spun gold, and his skin was alabaster pale - neither feature did anything to add to his masculinity. I couldn't have cared less, though: the boy was beautiful.
Even curled at the base of a tree trunk, young and vulnerable and crying his eyes out, Gerald Tarrant managed to completely captivate me. He hadn't seen me yet, too lost in his own misery. He was pressed as close to the tree as physically possible, as though trying to bury himself in its smooth bark: I could see the fae swirling around him in the most remarkable patterns, little swirls and whorls forming around him where he sat with his knees drawn up to his chest. My curiosity was piqued instantly, and I stepped forward a little, albeit hesitantly.
"Are you alright?"
The boy's head snapped up and he stared at me, his eyes wide with something that I recognized as fear. When he spoke, his voice, although hoarse from crying, was still the sweetest thing I'd ever heard.
"Who are you?"
At the time I was still a young Iezu, only a hundred years old or so: I had already learned pretty much everything there was to know about my aspect, but I knew very little about the world beyond that. For once, that was reflected in my form - I'd unconsciously shifted so that I looked like I was no older than the boy, about eighteen, with black hair and dark eyes. I gave him a tentative, but hopefully reassuring smile.
"My name's Karril. What's yours?"
The boy blinked, looking a little taken aback. "Gerald Tarrant. I guess a better question would be what are you?"
It was my turn to blink, then. I was both startled and impressed. "How did you know?"
Gerald shrugged a little, wiping at the fresh tears still glittering on his cheeks: he looked embarrassed. "I... I'm good with the fae. You don't read like a human. You sort of glow..."
"Oh!" I was surprised by that, but only because Gerald was a teenager. He was too young to have that level of training in sorcery - only the most skilled sorcerers I had encountered had been able to see me for what I really was - and there was no way he could be that good. Naturals didn't have that kind of talent, they tended to show more in the way of telekinesis and accidental Divinings. That only left...
"You're an adept!" I was so surprised that the words slipped out without conscious direction: Gerald grimaced.
"Yes." He looked down, flushing. "Do you... do you mind...?"
It took me a minute to work out what he meant: I wasn't all that good with human customs, and it would have been rude to just read his mind to figure out what he was really asking. I got it after just a few moments, though, when I remembered what I'd heard the person at the manor say. "That you're an adept? No, not at all. How could I? I'm pretty much nothing but fae, just packaged differently - how could I possibly mind?"
The ghost of a smile flitted over Gerald's face, and for just a moment, I caught sight of a different person entirely: a flash of something radiant and breathtaking, like a rainbow just glimpsed through the grey rainclouds. "You must not know much about humans. They can be awfully hypocritical."
I tilted me head curiously. "You said 'they'. Aren't you human too?"
Gerald grimaced again. "I would prefer not to be." he muttered, leaning his head back against the tree trunk and closing his eyes. "Maybe if I actually was a changeling like my father believes, there might be some fairies or something who would actually give a damn about me."
I wasn't quite sure what to make of that. "Aren't you awfully young to be so gloomy?" I ventured, completely unaware at the time of what that was going to sound like.
Gerald's eyes snapped open and he stared at me for a moment: I think he thought I was joking. When he realized I was serious, he burst out laughing.
I didn't know what I had done that was so funny, but I was glad nonetheless. His laugh was even more beautiful than his speech, cool and clear like spring water, free and airy as the wind. My kind can hear the fae sometimes, and Gerald's laugh instantly reminded me of what starlight sounded like: bright and sparkling, yet somehow soft and secretive at the same time.
When he finished laughing he looked up at me, his grey eyes suddenly much brighter than they had been: a sort of silky grey like willow catkins, instead of resembling dark stormclouds as they had earlier. "You were actually serious, weren't you?"
I blinked. "Um. Yes?"
Gerald chuckled. "Well, trust me, age doesn't have that much to do with it. Being 'gloomy', as you put it, has much more to do with how much shit the world's dumped on you than how old you are."
I decided to take a chance. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
Gerald shrugged, a faint smile still playing over his lips: his entire mood seemed vastly improved all of a sudden. "Go ahead. This is called the Faerie Wood, you probably have more right to sit here than I do."
I sat down, frowning. "I'm not a faerie, I'm an Iezu."
Gerald stared at me. "An Iezu? I've never heard that word before. What does that mean?"
I hadn't actually had anyone ask me that: no one understood what it meant, but none of them were bold enough to ask. Because of that, I had to think for a few minutes before I answered. "Well, I suppose most humans would think of us as demons, but we aren't really like other demons. We don't eat people or anything horrible like that, that's just gross. We feed on emotions."
Gerald's eyes brightened further: he actually looked interested. "Really? How does that work?"
I thought about it for a minute more, then shrugged and grinned. "No idea, frankly. It's all a bit vague, and we didn't exactly get an instruction manual when we were created. We just sort of instinctively know what emotion we feed on - we call it our 'aspect' - and we seek out people who are feeling that emotion and feed off the energy that produces. We only have one aspect each, but some of us can feed on a select range of similar emotions as well, though not as easily."
Gerald seemed fascinated. "How many of you are there?"
I shrugged again. "Again, no idea. We don't keep in contact much, since so many of our aspects clash. For example: my aspect is Pleasure, but one of my brothers' aspect is Sadism. As you might guess, we don't get along very well."
I caught a glint of humor sparkling in Gerald's eyes. "Pleasure? So that makes you, what - the God of Sex?"
It was my turn to burst out laughing then: it was the first time anyone had made that connection so fast, and it caught me completely off guard. Gerald looked rather pleased with himself when I finally managed to reign in my laughter, still chuckling slightly.
"I suppose it does, really. That was fast, it takes most people hours to think of that side of it."
Gerald shook his head, smirking. "I'm not most people."
I've known Gerald for an insanely long time now, but that statement is still the most accurate way to summarize him that I've ever heard. Not most people. At the time, though, I had no idea of just how true that was, so I just grinned. "I guess not." I hesitated a little then, my wariness returning. "Not to seem pushy, but you never did answer my first question."
Gerald's smile faded, and he didn't have to ask me to repeat the question: because of that, I knew that he hadn't just forgotten, he'd been avoiding it. "Why wouldn't I be alright?"
"I may not know that much about humans yet, but I know you don't venture outside during the night without a very good reason." I said as gently as possible. "Besides, I kind of heard what happened at the house."
Gerald winced. "Oh. Yeah. That was my father."
I frowned. "Why was he so angry?"
Gerald sighed. "Take your pick. Because he thinks I'm the devil's spawn for being an adept, because I remind him far too much of his dead wife, because I won't bow and scrape at his every whim... there's more. Tonight he was drinking, and he tried to hit me, and I finally snapped. I told him to go to hell and bolted - not one of my finer moments, obviously. As you obviously heard, I'm not going to find a very warm reception when I go home."
I was appalled. "Why go back?" I demanded, shocked that he would even consider it. He seemed far too smart to put up with that kind of abuse. "Why don't you just run away?"
"Where would I go?" Gerald asked softly, his eyes dimming. "I don't have any other family, Karril. My brothers hate my guts and my father would be happy to see me dead, but they're still all I have. You think his reaction to my abilities with the fae was bad? It won't be any better out there. I'm a freak of nature, I won't be any more welcome anywhere else."
"That's not true." I said firmly, strangely angry at the thought of anyone else hurting Gerald. "A lot of people might be shallow and cruel, but they're not all bad. There must be somewhere you can go. What about that king fellow down by Faraday? A lot of young people are signing up for that big war he's planning, and apparently there's no questions asked. I've already steered a few of my... eh, acquaintances in that direction."
Gerald arched one of his eyebrows, looking rather skeptical. "You think he'd take an adept?"
I nodded. "Pretty sure. Gannon seems like a decent guy, all around: he sure as hell wouldn't treat you like that." I gestured through the trees toward the manor, and Gerald got a strange half-smile on his face.
"Maybe I should give it a try... it never used to be this bad, but after Mother died he just got worse. Between father and Conrad, I hardly have a day's peace. He did say to never set foot in his house again - I wonder what he'd think if I really didn't come back?"
I grinned, pleased that I was making headway. "Forget that - imagine if you go off to war and come back a decorated hero covered in medals and glory! Trust me, I've talked to this King Gannon, and he's not like the other would-be tyrants that have been popping up. He's got plans. He's going to streamline things here in Gallivea, and as soon as that's done he's going to take over Mornoth. King Vladek won't know what hit him. You seem like a pretty smart person, Gerald - I bet you would do spectacularly in a war."
Gerald smiled at me. "Thanks." He glanced up at the sky, apparently gauging the stars. "If I sneak one of the horses out of the stable, I can be in Merentha proper by sunup, and well out of father's grasp." He looked back at me then, hesitating. "Listen - thank you. For everything."
I smiled right back. "Don't mention it. I'm always happy to help. Listen, you ever need anything, just Summon me, alright?" I knew I was pushing it, but I couldn't stop myself from adding, "You're far too good-looking to wandering around on your own, you're bound to get into trouble."
Even though he's still not quite forgiven me for that comment, it was so very worth it. That was the first time I ever saw Gerald blush.
You'd think that might have been the end of it, but far from it. That was only the beginning. Over the next week, I tried my hardest, but nothing I did could get that adept out of my head. I was obsessed, even though I didn't want to admit it at first. Even then I usually waited for followers to seek me out: when I caught myself actively seducing every blond in sight, I realized I couldn't deny it any longer. I had it bad.
It wasn't hard to find Gerald again: his influence on the fae was easily discernible from miles away. I knew I was probably getting in over my head, but I just didn't see what else to do. I'd never had someone get under my skin like that before then - mind you, I haven't since, either. Only Gerald can do that to me, it seems.
I caught up with him in the little trading town of River's Bend, about halfway between Merentha and Faraday. He was outside the town when I appeared, on a hilltop a few hundred yards away, watching the sunset. I watched him for a minute, admiring the way the fiery light caught his golden hair. I knew that physical attraction was a part of why I was so drawn to Gerald, but I could also tell that it wasn't the sole reason, and I wanted to find out the whole list of reasons. Gerald Tarrant was a mystery, an enigma, and I never was good at restraining my curiosity.
He must have sensed my presence, because he spoke suddenly. "I didn't think I'd see you again."
I sat down next to him, smiling. "I missed you."
He glanced at me, smiling wryly. "Right. I bet that one works very well on the girls."
I laughed and shook my head. "No, I'm serious. I missed you. Most people act so weird around me, just because I'm a demon - it's nice to talk to someone who doesn't act like I'm about to eat them."
Gerald looked pleased. "Really?" He seemed to realize how delighted he sounded, though, because he flushed slightly and looked away. I grinned.
"Yeah, really. You're absolutely adorable when you blush, you know that?"
Gerald whipped around to stare at me, blushing furiously now. "Are you hitting on me?"
I grinned, a bit sheepishly. I hadn't really meant to say that aloud, but it had slipped out. "Maybe. What if I was?"
Gerald blinked, then a slow smile spread across his face. "Well, you are pretty handsome yourself..."
I laughed, feeling a surge of triumph - perhaps his seeming obliviousness was just him playing hard to get. "Thanks, but that's entirely due to you: I've got this sort of instinct that makes me shift into whatever form is most appealing to whoever I'm with. Obviously your type is tall, dark, and handsome. I've had a few guys freak out about that, if I show up in male form: denial, and all that. I take it you've at least come to terms with your orientation?"
Gerald shrugged. "I'm already abnormal in pretty much every other way possible, I might as well go all the way. I think I'm bisexual, actually, but obviously I prefer males. Were you planning on just flirting with me, or did you have something more in mind?"
I had to fight the urge to punch the air in triumph. "Is that an invitation?" I asked, deliberately making my tone low and seductive.
Gerald was obviously bolder than I gave him credit for, because instead of answering out loud he leaned forward and kissed me. It was absolute bliss: he was a bit inexperienced, but he more than made up for that in enthusiasm. By the time we pulled apart, we were both a little breathless, even though I technically didn't need to breathe. He grinned at me.
I growled and pounced.
I was at the wedding when Gerald married Almea, ironically enough. I watched her walk down the aisle to meet him, her emerald eyes radiant, her red hair shimmering like fire in the sunlight. Between her flaming hair and her sheer white gown she looked like the Terran conception of an angel, beautiful and delicate and pure. I saw Gerald smile at her, handsome and resplendent in his formal robes - but my main focus wasn't on his appearance. I was busy listening to the thoughts he was throwing my way, a secret pledge for just the two of us.
I know she's beautiful, Karril, but I don't love her like I love you. She will give me heirs, and stability, and keep the hearth fire burning when I'm away - but I'll always return to you, love. Only you.
So I watched the wedding, and I smiled when he placed the ring on her finger, and I ignored the small, strange pang I felt when he kissed her. It was all illusion, like the illusions I wove to augment the pleasure of my worshippers. It was an illusion that Gerald was spinning for Almea, to keep her happy and content, and it was one that never need break. She would never know that her husband's heart lay elsewhere.
Gerald would know, and I would know. That was enough.
I wasn't there the night that Gerald killed his family, but I knew what had happened almost instantly. The ripples in the fae spread far and wide, perhaps across all of Erna: the dark fae came to life as it heard the call, dancing and writhing in triumph. I was at my small temple, at the outskirts of the fledgling city of Jaggonath - I felt the call in the fae like a bugle's shout, carrying the message of what Gerald had done.
Perhaps I should have been angry at his insane-seeming actions: perhaps I should have furious at his callous murder of his family. I won't lie, though - when I realized what had happened, the only emotion in my heart was fear for Gerald himself.
I dropped everything and willed myself to Merentha immediately, despite my dread of what I might find. My fears were groundless, though: I found Gerald in the cave beneath his workroom in the Keep's basement, the place where he had kept his darker Workings secret from the Church. He was unconscious when I got there, but I could see at a glance that he had succeeded - the dark fae was coiling around him like some kind of purple cocoon. It was a little eerie, truthfully, but I didn't let that deter me. I'd never let anything keep me from my adept.
The moment I touched him his eyes fluttered open. He looked a bit dazed, but I saw the recognition in his eyes and was relieved: he still knew who I was. I managed a stern glare.
"What exactly happened here?"
He had the decency to look a little sheepish, at least. "Ah... I took certain measures. To prevent my imminent death, and the subsequent trip straight to Hell."
I could feel my face betraying me as my lips started to twitch. "And you didn't think to inform me first? I'm deeply wounded, my darling, I wanted front-row seats. I can just imagine what the Unnamed made of you."
Gerald must have seen the amusement in my gaze because he relaxed instantly, grinning. "They were... surprised, to say the least. You're not mad, then?"
I shook my head, allowing the smile to spread across my face. "Not in the least. You were dying, for heaven's sake, I don't know what they expected you to do. Besides, call me selfish, but this way I can have you forever - how could I possibly be angry about that?"
Gerald smiled, and I couldn't help but kiss him.
Iezu don't notice the cold. Kissing him felt no different to me than it always had.
I watched another woman collapse limply against the ground, her eyes lifeless but still wide and glazed with terror, her last heartbeat faltering into the darkness. I didn't exactly approve of Gerald's feeding habits, but I never tried to stop him: it wasn't my place. He fed on fear just as I fed on pleasure - it wasn't his fault that his aspect was darker than mine. Some of my own family did far worse than Gerald: at least the Hunter took only one woman every few weeks.
I could feel Gerald's pleasure in the kill wrapping around me like silk. It was something that I'd felt many times before, but that particular delicacy never became stale. I felt no shame in profiting from his kills: as far as I was concerned, humans attached far too many morals to this sort of thing.
Did I wish there was another way? Absolutely. Did that mean I was going to go hungry? Not a chance in hell.
Gerald rose from where he had crouched next to the body, turning toward me. I couldn't help but admire his grace, as always: rarely did the faeborn achieve that kind of fluidity, much less mortals. His eyes glittered almost silver in the moonlight, languid and entrancing. He smiled, a contented expression that contrasted oddly with the ruthless murder he'd just committed, even to my somewhat unorthodox sensibilities. "I ought to ask for you recommendations more often, Karril - this one was particularly... delicious."
I smiled, a bit ruefully. I still wasn't sure how he'd managed to persuade me into pointing out a suitable candidate for the Hunt, but the euphoric wave of pleasure that I was still riding was more than enough compensation. "I thought she seemed like your type. You owe me one, you know." I glanced distastefully at the dead girl's body. "Not many people in my position would put up with this sort of thing."
"I know." I almost jumped: despite my superhuman senses, it was still a mistake for me to take my eyes off Gerald. He'd gotten unsettlingly good at moving swiftly and silently these days - somehow, he was only inches away from me now, his eyes shimmering with humor as he prowled just a little bit closer. Just enough to make me shiver. "Of course, you realize that I'm extraordinarily understanding of your habits as well - how many people would put up with the sort of things you get up to in that temple of yours?"
I smirked at him, which in hindsight was probably not all that smart. "Well, and aren't you the perfect little saint, hmm?"
Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back in the leaves with a rather startling shortage of air in my lungs. Gerald pounced with the grace of a wildcat, more or less straddling me and bracing his hands on my chest, smirking triumphantly down at me. "Hardly."
It would have been all too easy to throw him off, but I recognized that gleam in his eyes, and I didn't even think of fighting. If Gerald was in the mood to play, I was more than happy to oblige him. An idle thought strayed through my mind: what would Patriarch Carzin, who excommunicated Gerald, have made of this little scene? He'd probably have had an aneurism on the spot, seeing his former Prophet pretty much entwined with a literal demon in the middle of the Forest.
Life was good.
I grinned up at my alluring adept. "Oh? You'd willingly categorize yourself as a sinner, would you?"
"I learned from the best." Gerald purred, diving down to catch my mouth in a heated kiss.
Damn, but I'd obviously taught him well. If I hadn't known that Gerald was such a fast learner - and so good at improvisation - I'd suspect he'd been cheating on me. The things he was doing with his tongue shouldn't even have been legal: I blame that for the fact that I didn't notice his deft hands slipping under my tunic at first.
I felt Gerald's laughter reverberate through me as his hands raked hard down my chest, his unusually sharp nails digging into my fae-woven flesh, sending tingling shocks of mingled pleasure and pain through me. Few humans understand just how close those two emotions are: Gerald had caught on fast. I know how gently he always treated his wife, and I think she thought it was just because he loved her so much: I know the truth, though. He was gentle with her because his heart wasn't in it, because he was exercising all his control to hold back. I'd taught him that when you trusted your partner, there was no shame in letting go, and because he never held back with me I knew just how vicious he could be in bed - even before his Sacrifice. I'm not sure if another mortal could have survived him for long if he truly didn't hold back: he was very, very good at balancing on that fine line between agony and ecstasy, and he had a distinct penchant for biting. I could afford to indulge him, since my body wasn't even technically real: just a flicker of thought was enough to heal any wounds he left on me.
And believe me, he left wounds.
Having finally returned from their voyage to the Eastern Continent, Gerald and Damien were holding a council of war in the Forest. I was in attendance, but I wasn't in a very good mood: I was feeling a bit neglected, with all of Gerald's attention going to the war, and I was beginning to harbor suspicions about the nature of his relationship with that damned Church Knight.
At the moment, Gerald was outlining the plan on how to move against Calesta. I wasn't listening in the slightest: I was busy glaring at Damien, who was starting to look a little unsettled by the constant malice. Finally, when Gerald paused for a moment, the Knight asked in exasperation, "Alright, what did I do?"
My lovely, single-minded adept looked up from the map he was studying in bewilderment. "What?"
"Karril's apparently trying to burn holes in me with his eyes, and I have no idea what I did wrong!" Damien exclaimed, returning my glare. I'm not normally a violent person, but I would have dearly liked to punch that knight in the jaw at that particular moment in time.
"Oh, nothing's wrong." I said through gritted teeth. Gerald was staring at me now, clearly concerned.
"No really, I'm fine." I said caustically. I was a bit surprised at the venom in my own voice: I must have been spending too much time with Gerald. Formerly, that is - as of late I'd barely seen him. That thought just made me even madder.
Gerald was frowning now. "Alright, I know that look. What's gotten into you?"
"Nothing." I muttered. I was outright sulking now, but I didn't particularly care: dignity could go to hell, I was jealous and sexually frustrated and I wanted my adept to get his head out of the clouds and pay attention to me.
I thought I was being fairly cryptic, so I was caught off guard when a sudden flash of understanding lit Gerald's eyes, chased by a truly wicked smile. "Oh. My. God. You can't be serious. Karril, are you jealous?"
I folded my arms, glowering at him. "No."
Gerald snickered, obviously not falling for it in the slightest. Damien looked completely bewildered. "Wait, what? I don't get it."
Gerald ignored him completely, his laughter dying as he smiled at me. "Karril, you have absolutely nothing to be jealous about." he assured me, his eyes bright as he leaned forward and kissed me, rather hard, on the mouth.
Damn, but that felt good. It had been way too long since I'd gotten to feel those sweet, talented lips on mine, and even that slight contact was enough to set my skin on fire. I completely forgot about our audience of one as I wrapped my arm around Gerald's waist and pulled him closer: exhibitionist that he is, he didn't protest. Unfortunately, I was distracted from focusing completely on Gerald's sinfully talented mouth by an odd spluttering sound.
The spluttering, of course, was coming from Damien Vryce, who was looking a bit paler than usual and rather... perturbed. "Okay, that can go on the list of 'things I didn't really need to see or know'. And I'm afraid I still don't follow why Karril's been glaring at me."
Gerald, still nestled comfortably into my arms, shot the priest a rather pointed look. "I realize Karril's so-called 'logic' is terribly difficult to follow sometimes, Vryce, but do try."
Damien frowned - then something clicked and he, too, burst out laughing. "Oh God. He thought - you and I - oh, that's just absurd."
I was back in sulking mode at that point, holding onto Gerald just a little tighter as I pouted. "Well what was I supposed to think? You've barely said five words to me since you got back from the Eastern Continent, and he's obviously your type..."
"KARRIL!" Until then, I hadn't known that Gerald could still blush in his current undead state. Damien looked like he was caught between amusement and horror.
"Please tell me you don't mean what I think you mean."
Gerald was glaring at me, but I could tell he wasn't really angry: his eyes were still sparkling too much, and he hadn't tried to move away from me yet. "Clearly, we need to establish a few things here. I'll admit Vryce is aesthetically attractive-" he completely ignored the renewal of shocked spluttering at this point, "-but our philosophical views aren't exactly compatible."
"That didn't stop you and Gannon." I muttered.
Apparently I'd unintentionally struck a nerve, because Gerald punched me. In the face. And believe me, he may not be overtly muscular or intimidating, but when he's mad enough to lash out physically, it hurts. I was caught completely off guard by the sudden assault and I staggered back a little, shocked, reflexively clutching my aching nose even though the damage was already healing. I realized then that I'd obviously crossed some invisible line: Gerald looked livid.
"You know damn well that had nothing to do with what I wanted!" he hissed, looking like he might actually hit me again. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Damien backing hurriedly toward the door, but I couldn't spare any attention: instead, I lifted my hands in surrender, trying to placate my furious lover.
"I'm sorry, Gerald, seriously - you know I didn't mean it like that! I'm sorry, honestly."
I will say this for Gerald: he's far better at impulse control than I could ever hope to be. He stopped for a moment, and I could actually hear him counting to ten in his mind: even in his thoughts he sounded pissed. For my part, I was genuinely sorry - and quite confused. I hadn't thought that the Gannon-issue was still a sore topic, I'd joked about it plenty of times. It had only been a brief affair in the first place, designed entirely to help Gerald get an edge over the other young nobles who were clawing for position in the court. We both referenced it often, laughing about how Gannon had fallen for Gerald's charms. What had I said wrong this time?
Gerald turned slightly, his gaze zeroing in on a very apprehensive Damien Vryce. "Get out. Now." His voice was like a whipcrack, sharp and lethal. Damien fled without a word.
Gerald turned back to me, his grey eyes softening a little as he saw the remnants of the already-fading bruise that had bloomed on my face where he'd hit me. "Are you alright?" He sounded a little ashamed of his suddenly display of temper.
I nodded, wary. "Fine. Gerald, you know I really didn't mean to upset you - what did I say wrong?"
We'd always had an unspoken rule between us, ever since this relationship began. I wouldn't use my mind-reading abilities on him, but there would be no secrets: we would talk about everything, especially if we were going through a rough patch. Gerald sighed and turned away, pacing over to the window and staring out across the Forest. I didn't follow: if he need some space, then I'd give him that.
He was quite for a moment, then he said softly, "It's not entirely what you said. I think Calesta must have filled the Immortal Prince in on our history, because the Prince took rather a lot of satisfaction in taunting me over my relationship with Gannon when our paths crossed, but that's not the real reason that I'm so on edge. I think I've figured out how to kill an Iezu."
I felt a chill shiver across my heart. Something in his tone made the icy claws of foreboding rake up and down my spine. "That's technically good, isn't it?"
He turned to face me: his eyes had turned dark and flat, almost slate-colored. "The opposite of the aspect."
I gaped. How had that never occurred to me? "You think that by forcing enough of the opposite of our aspect on one of us, it would actually kill us?" I thought it over for a minute after he nodded slightly. "Actually, that makes a lot of sense. So what's Calesta's opposite?"
Gerald's smile was so cold and empty that if I was human, my heartbeat would have faltered. "Altruism."
I had never understood the saying 'my blood ran cold' until that moment, when it felt as though I had just been drenched in ice water from the inside out. "No. Gerald, no, you can't -"
"I don't have a choice." he whispered, closing his eyes momentarily. "I can't let him win, Karril, he'll destroy all of Erna. It seems there's still a little of the old hero complex left in me after all."
I was hardly aware of moving before I was holding him, hugging him to me almost desperately, as if I could somehow anchor him to me and keep him safe. "No, Gerald, you can't do this to me. You'll die! You can't possibly survive!"
"I know." Gerald breathed, his arms wrapping around me gently, only intensifying the pain in my heart - the heart I hadn't even been certain, until then, that I had. "It's the only way, Karril. Mount Shaitan is the best bet: the fae there is strong enough to destroy anything, if the Binding is done properly. My death is what will make the Working hold. I wish there was another way... God, how I wish there was some other way. But there's not."
I felt an unfamiliar burning behind my eyes and I knew I was going to cry. Mount Shaitan: where it had all begun... and now, where it all would end. I thought of my creation there in those faeborn fires, of how empty my so-called life had been until I met Gerald that fateful spring night, and I knew what I had to do. I held him even tighter, trying to burn the memory of holding him into my mind forever as I whispered, "Yes. There is."
I held him just a moment longer, then I released him. He was staring at me, a hint of fear flashing suddenly through those grey eyes I loved so dearly. "Karril, what-"
"Shhh." I touched a finger gently to his lips, fighting down the tears that stung my eyes, drinking in the sight of his familiar aura: that soft dark glow in the fae that I knew as well as I knew my own. "Erna still needs you, Gerald. And-" I swallowed hard, then pressed my lips to his, stealing one last kiss. One last taste of the paradise I had been allowed to enjoy for so long. "I love you." I whispered finally, the words feeling foreign yet right on my tongue. I saw Gerald's eyes widen, saw the beginnings of understanding racing through his mind, but I could only touch his cheek one last time, feeling the warmth of his human soul against my empty fae-shell.
"I love you."
I vanished then, before he could stop me, before my fragile courage shattered. I heard him cry out even as my human semblance melted, heard his sudden desperate call of my name.
I let the tears fall then, as I dissolved into the fae and willed myself to Mount Shaitan.I was told that my siblings and I were made to feel no emotion beyond our own aspects, and I had believed the for so long. That was part of why I had never told Gerald the truth of where I came from, or that I had a human father. I hadn't thought it important: after all, there was nothing human in me, right?
I was wrong to ever think that. I could feel it now, twisting alive inside me, the wellspring of these treacherous tears. How had I ever thought that I could not feel beyond my aspect? Or perhaps I had not been able to, before I met Gerald. Maybe that's why it took me so long to realize that I loved him. I think maybe he realized it first: we always read each other better than we read ourselves. I think, from seeing the look in his eyes when I said the words aloud, that he had known for a long time - perhaps since his mortal life. I had denied it then, unwilling to believe that everything I thought I knew about myself was wrong. Now, though, it was clear as day: I did love him, so very much. I loved him, and that was why I would do this - not for Erna, not for the human race, but certainly not for myself either. Just for him.
It had always been for him.
It took me hardly any time at all to reach Mount Shaitan: it was just as I had remembered it, a fearsome and unforgiving landscape of fire and ash. The ghosts of the dead wandered in the mists at the mountain's base, and for the first time, I understood what bound them here. Emotion: admittedly fleeting, yet so unbelievably powerful... I wondered how many of those ghosts were those who had died for the ones they loved. Surely this kind of painful joy could drive anyone to give up their own lives, that the ones they loved might be safe from harm?
Calesta was waiting at the crater's brim: he seemed genuinely surprised when I materialized out of the mist and smoke, his glittering, insectoid eyes narrowing.
"Brother. I did not expect to see you here. Come to plead a case for your pet humans?"
I felt no anger at his taunts now. There was no room for anger in the human part of me: it was too full of my love for Gerald. I stood tall and proud, no longer intimidated by my older brother, no longer afraid - for what could scare someone who has already made their peace with death?
"No. I am here to end this."
I saw Calesta's eyes flash, suddenly filled with wariness. "Oh? And how do you propose to do that, brother dearest?"
I felt the faesong of Mother's mourning thrum through the air around us. She had sensed our presence and our conflict, and knew what I intended. I closed my eyes for just a moment, listening to her song, and felt my chest constrict painfully.
She was grieving for me. She was furious with herself for allowing Calesta to go so far astray. She was sorrowful, that her mistakes had forced me to make this choice.
And she... was proud of me.
My heart lifted, swelling with love and certainty as I opened my eyes once more, meeting my brother's uncertain gaze head-on. "I know what I have to do, to stop you forever, brother. And I will do, without doubt. You see, Calesta, I am more human than I realized: I can feel beyond my aspect. I know what anger feels like, how sorrow makes your whole being ache, how friendship warms your heart... and I know how much courage love can give you."
Calesta's face was a picture of shock. "You can't be serious. The adept? You believe yourself in love with Gerald Tarrant?"
"I know that I love him, Calesta." I said softly. "There's no room for doubt, when it's real. I love Gerald with every fiber of my being, and I know what I have to do to destroy you - and I will do it, for Gerald. I would do anything to keep him safe. So it's your choice, Calesta: you can back down now, relinquish this unnatural power you've gained, and I'll let you go back to being nothing more than a harmless parasite like I once was. Or you can stick to your guns, and I will destroy you."
Calesta's eyes flashed with hatred, and he snarled at me in defiance. "I call your bluff, brother. You can't destroy me - and I will never admit defeat!"
"So be it." I whispered, feeling acceptance numb the sudden surge of fear as I reached out with my mind, latched onto my startled brother like a leech, and opened us both to the wild fae of Mount Shaitan.
Damien shook his head, his hazel eyes shining with amazement. "You are one lucky damn Iezu."
I smiled happily, sprawling back against the luxurious pillows with a sigh. "I know. Believe me, I know." I finally let myself relax: it was good to be back in the familiar surroundings of my temple. Beyond the walls of the room, most of Jaggonath had flocked to the pagan temple to celebrate Calesta's defeat: in light of Damien's courage, the Church wasn't even complaining about the venue for the victory celebration, something that had shocked both me and my beloved adept. The waves of pleasure in the air soaked into me, recharging my depleted reserves.
Gerald's smile was just a little shaky as he settled himself on the couch next to me, his grey eyes warm but still undercut with shadows of fading stress. "And you've had the nerve to accuse me of reckless behaviour? I think we've found a new winner in that category: you're even more foolhardy than Vryce!"
I smiled as I carded my fingers lightly through his silky golden hair, knowing that his infuriated scolding was his way of expressing how terrified he'd been, thinking that he'd lost me. "I know." I said softly, both to what he'd said aloud, and the real message he was trying to convey.
I'd almost died on Shaitan that day. If not for Gerald's sheer stubbornness and defiance of all natural laws, I would have. I had heard the whole story, partly from Damien and partly from my sister Saris, who was also present: apparently, the second I was gone, Gerald had realized that I meant to sacrifice myself instead of letting him do so. According to Damien, my wonderful adept had absolutely panicked, refusing under any circumstances to let me die, and had shapeshifted into some sort of bird and flown like the wind to Shaitan. He'd traveled so fast he'd arrived only heartbeats after I abandoned Calesta and myself to the mercy of the fae. No one - not even Gerald - was quite sure how he managed it, but somehow the adept had Worked a Binding that tied me to him. Calesta had died in agony, torn apart by the savagery of Shaitan's unshielded currents, but Gerald had held me anchored until Mother chipped in and managed to reweave me out of the scattered threads of fae. It was anyone's guess how the entire haywired process had actually worked, but work it had: I reconstituted moments later, none the worse for wear from my ordeal.
It was the second time in more than a thousand years that I saw Gerald cry. I held him through the storm of emotion, understanding what his tears meant, even though he might never say it aloud. He loved me too, and he would have died for me if it had come to that. He didn't need to say it: I could hear it in his heart, louder than words could ever be. That was enough.
As long as I had him, that was all that I needed.