torch 1996

This is a non-profit piece of fan fiction. Spoiler warnings: contains spoilers for everything up to Tale of the body thief. This is the fifth story in the Roman Holiday series, which takes place in the same universe as And death shall have no erection. The whole series is rated NC-17 for language and explicit sex. Do not archive this story without permission.

Burn baby burn

"Run baby run, from the ashes of the past
And oh, I could commit violence..." — Jeremy Kidd, 'Petals and ashes'

A man and a woman are walking together on a terrace; she leans on his arm, clearly in need of support. It is quite dark, perhaps around midnight. He is slim, not too tall, supple and graceful like a dancer; she is sturdier, a curvaceous beauty with a long mantle of dark hair.

Pandora: I am going to kill him.

Eric (after a brief silence): Which one of them?

Laughter catches her unawares and leaves her coughing, and they have to stop for a moment.

Pandora: Both. But Marius first, I think. He's the one who set the fire, after all.

Eric (sighs): I still find it hard to believe.

Pandora (snorts): You find it hard to believe! (she carefully runs a hand through her hair) I find it hard to believe I'm still alive.

Eric: I'm glad you came here.

Pandora: It was close. (smiles) It was the first place I thought of. If I'd known the world was getting this interesting I would have come to see you long ago, and asked a few pointed questions.

Eric (smiles back): I didn't know much... still don't, really. I had no clue this kind of thing was likely to happen.

Pandora: I damn well hope so. (cuffs his cheek gently) Or I would have expected a warning.

Eric: Well pardon me, but when Santino came to me to talk about his life I didn't draw the obvious conclusion that this would lead to Marius trying to set you on fire. (curiously) What exactly did our little saint say to Marius anyway, to cause that kind of reaction?

Pandora (develops a sudden intense interest in her own toes): I dont' think it was what he said...

Eric (eyes fill with suspicion): Oh?

Pandora: much as what he did...

Eric: And what did he do?

Pandora: Let's just leave it.

Eric: No.

Pandora: You're not going to like it.

Eric: I'm already not liking it. Spit it out.

Pandora: It seems they all of a sudden got very intimate.

Eric (mockingly, tries to hide his pain): Blood brothers. Bit of mutual nibbling?

Pandora (shakes her head): No. At least that's not what Marius said.

Eric (surprised): They didn't—? But in that case—

Pandora (seeing she won't get any peace until she's explained): Eric, they made love. Like mortals.

Eric: What?

Pandora (nods)

Eric: But that's not possible. (puzzled) What a bizarre idea.

Pandora: Look, that's what Marius told me. And he, well, he had no reason to lie to me. He made it quite clear.

Eric (reluctantly, almost as if he doesn't really want to ask): What did he say, exactly? I mean what did they

Pandora (shakes head very resolutely): Oh no. There has to be some degree of privacy.

Eric: But I want to know.

Pandora: No, you don't.

Eric (annoyed): Oh, thank you. You know I'm going to imagine things...

Pandora: Feel free.

Eric (with sudden sadness): I'm sorry, Pan. (bites his lip)

They take another turn around the terrace in silence. It is clearly an effort for Pandora to move and she is taking it very easy, concentrating on what she's doing; it isn't until they are moving back in the direction they came from that she looks at Eric and discovers that he is crying.

Pandora: Sweetie... (puts her arms around him) It hurts, doesn't it?

Eric: Like hell. (bends his neck, rests his head on her shoulder) Gods, Pan...

She guides him along carefully, and they sit down on the same balustrade where Eric and Santino sat once. Eric is wiping at his face, trying to erase his tears.

Eric: I just love him so much.

Pandora (not unkindly): You could have told him. Before all this happened. You've had a few centuries to get round to it.

Eric: I couldn't. (pause) You don't understand, I love him. He is so — so— (breaks off, sobs)

Pandora (draws him closer again): You're right, I don't understand.

They sit in silence for a while; Eric cries, Pandora rocks him slowly. Looking closely at her it is possible to see traces of the fire, particularly on her hands. Her lashes, eyebrows and hair are so perfect by contrast, it is obvious they have grown out again during the daytime.

Eric: I think what I love most about him is his concentration and his sense of truth. I mean, he can be a right bastard at times, and mean as hell, but he doesn't lie.

Pandora (agreeing cautiously): No. I think that was... burned out of him.

Eric (nods): Yes. And that's why I knew...

Pandora: Knew what, for heaven's sake?

Eric (surprised): That he doesn't, didn't, love me. I always knew that. I could take it. But when he came around and confessed how he felt about Marius—

Pandora: Wait a minute!

Eric: What?

Pandora: How does he feel about Marius?

Eric (twice as confused now): How do you think? It wasn't mere chance that landed them in bed together.

Pandora (seemingly paying no attention to what he's saying): Santino is in love with Marius?

Eric (with exaggerated patience): Yes, Pandora dear, he is.

Pandora (bites her lip): Well. That puts a new complexion on things.

Eric (exasperated): Pan, will you explain what you're talking about?

Pandora (slowly): I thought Santino had been up to some fun and games, and just accidentally driven Marius more distracted than he intended to. Are you saying he loves him?

Eric: That's what he told me.

Pandora: Then I just may refrain from killing him after all.

Eric: What?

Pandora (with a grin): I've never in my life seen Marius as shook up as he was then. Probably did him a lot of good.

Eric: He burned down the house and nearly got you killed.

Pandora: It takes more than that to finish me off. I'm not saying I won't make him suffer for this, but...

Eric: He just about went crazy and you think it was good for him?

Pandora (thoughtfully): Well, he seems to be working through his fears in a very thorough way.

Eric (rolls his eyes): Isn't that wonderful.

Pandora: You don't know what a mess he's been.

Eric: And you do? You're the one who's been playing statues lately, not me.

Pandora (sharply): Don't go taking things out on me, laddie.

Eric (mumbling): Sorry.

Pandora (softer): It's okay.

Eric: Anyway, I didn't know he'd been, what you said. A mess.

Pandora: Oh, the worst. That man is so obsessed with presenting a perfect facade, no one has any idea what might slip through the cracks if he permitted any cracks to show.

Eric (enquiringly): I thought he was as sensible as he seems.

Pandora: He is.

Eric: Wait a minute. You just said—

Pandora: So? No one has just one facet to their personality. Don't get me wrong, Marius is very sensible and level-headed. He's an intelligent, well-balanced person. Mostly. But the thing is that he has spent too much of his time being responsible for things, and he just cannot handle a situation where he isn't in control.

Eric: Nobody likes not being in control. (laughs a little) I found that out when Akasha showed up. Gods, what an idiot I must have been.

Pandora (ruffles his hair): Hey. None of us wanted to die.

Eric: Well, everyone else did a better job of looking heroic... So, about Marius.

Pandora: He'd hate me for saying this. (grins) I love him dearly, I really do. But he needed to be shook up a bit.

Eric: I still say this was a bit exaggerated.

Pandora: Maybe... I won't say he didn't look like he was cracking up. But he didn't try to kill himself.

Eric (sarcastically): Oh that's all right then.

Pandora: There isn't all that much that Marius is afraid of. One thing used to be fire.

Eric: I could tell.

Pandora (ignoring him): Another is Santino.

Eric: You're kidding.

Pandora: No, I'm serious. He thinks I don't know, but I do. Our Santo unsettles him the worst way. (grins again quite wickedly) Even before their recent encounter, I mean.

Eric: I still want to know what they did.

Pandora: Don't play the stupid innocent, Eric, you know how humans make love.

Eric (thinks about it): Yes, but...

Pandora: I can't believe you missed out on any of those experiences when you were still a mortal.

Eric: It's been three thousand years, give me a break.

Pandora (smiles): Okay. But just one.

Eric: I don't know, I just can't picture it. Then again I don't want to. (sighs) So why is Marius scared of Santino, then?

Pandora (shrugs): I don't know everything. Probably because he still blames Santino for the fire in Venice. Or maybe...

Eric: Yes? Don't make me drag this out of you word by word.

Pandora: I was thinking, if the activity is familiar to you. What I was going to say was, maybe it's because he finds Santino terribly attractive and is scared to do anything about it.

Eric: Was scared.

Pandora: Is. Believe me, I doubt he's even admitted it to himself.

Eric: You're saying he slept with our little saint without admitting he's turned on by him? (groans, attempts to be casual about it) Why, why, when I would give a century of my life for just one night with that man, does it happen to a damn fool of a pig-headed Roman who doesn't realize how lucky he is?

Pandora (reaches out to brush the tears from his cheek): I don't know, honey, but I do know the world isn't fair and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. (smiles gently) I also know how to trot out the clichés, in case you hadn't noticed.

Eric (manages a smile): Pan, I do love you.

Pandora (jerks upright): Someone's coming.

They both sit quite still for a moment, scanning for the new presence, then turn to look at each other with identical expressions of comical dismay. A few moments later, a tall, black-haired man walks out onto the terrace, looking like a whole month of Monday mornings. He comes to a stop a few meters away from them and stares out towards the sea.

Eric (after a long silence): Nice to see you too, Santino. And when did my home turn into Grand Central Station?

Pandora: Piccolo santo, you shouldn't encourage people to play with matches.

Eric (to Pandora): Are you going to kill him now?

Pandora: Depends on what he's got to say for himself.

Eric: Not much, as far as I can tell.

Santino (sounds choked): Are you two quite finished?

Pandora: No. But please do sit down and tell us why you're here.

Santino (turns to look at them): I'm here to see you two. But if this is all the comfort you have to offer tonight, I think I'd be better off almost anywhere else. If you didn't want to be interrupted you should have told me to go away.

Despite the hard, controlled words, it's obvious he's on the verge of breaking down; his eyes are wild, and he keeps clenching and unclenching his hands.

Eric (softening): Sit down, Santino.

Pandora: As a matter of fact, you're the very person I wanted to see.

Santino (sits, looking like a dressed version of Rodin's 'Thinker'): What did you mean about playing with matches?

Pandora (neutrally): Marius set fire to our home last night. I barely escaped.

Santino (hands clench on the basalt blocks): Oh gods no, no no no no... (shakes head in violent denial)

Eric and Pandora stare at each other for a moment. Then Eric suddenly catches on, and grips Santino's shoulders.

Eric: He's not dead.

Santino (stares blankly at him)

Pandora (understanding as well): Santino, he's not dead.

Santino (slumps suddenly against Eric): I didn't think — I mean, he couldn't—

Eric (very hesitantly puts his arms around Santino): Relax, Santo.

Pandora: Sorry. I didn't mean for you to take it that way. (reaches out and strokes his hair) He cleared out before it got too bad.

Santino (looks up at her): But he left you in there?

Pandora (nods)

Santino: Why would he do something like that?

Pandora: I was hoping you could tell me. It seems you upset him quite a bit.

Santino (gasping with self-mocking laughter): I upset him... oh of course...

Pandora (frowns): You must have.

Santino: If upset is measured in terms of setting fire to things, I ought to have torched a continent.

Eric (really concerned now): Santino, what happened?

Santino: Oh, nothing.

Pandora: Santino, it's bloody obvious something happened, and Marius already told me part of it.

Santino (fixes her with a look of stunning, naked vulnerability): Pan... what did he say?

Pandora (looks away, unable to meet his gaze): That he... that you... the two of you...

Santino (blushing faintly): So you know.

Pandora: Yes.

Santino: But what did he say about it?

Pandora: He was upset.

Santino: You've already said that. (sighs and slumps down) It doesn't really matter anyway.

Eric (unsettled): Why not?

Santino (fiercely): Why should it? It's none of my business! I don't know what kind of game he was playing, but it's damn obvious I'm the one who lost.

Pandora (frowns): No, wait a little, Santino. You're still in control of yourself, at any rate. Marius hardly even knew what he was doing.

Santino: Oh, thanks.

Pandora: When I saw him, idiot!

Eric (patiently): Look... Santo. Just tell us what happened, okay?

Santino (after brief silence): All right. (sighs and runs hand through hair) I met him in San Francisco and we had an argument. He left, then he came back and...

Eric (prompts gently): And?

Santino (dreamily): And we made love. It was... unbelievable. The way he gave himself to me so completely, I'd never even imagined...

Santino's voice trails off and he sits staring into the darkness. Eric is looking pretty sorry that he asked; Pandora squeezes his hand supportively.

Pandora: So he was fine when the two of you parted, then?

Santino (recalled abruptly to the present): I don't know a damn thing about that. We fell asleep together and when I woke up... (compresses lips tightly) When I woke up he was just gone, like — like it didn't mean anything at all. He didn't even say goodbye.

Pandora (dryly): Well, I think we can safely say that it meant something. As far as I can figure out he must have gone straight home and set fire to the house.

Santino (bitterly): Don't ask me. I thought he was — fine. Obviously I was wrong.

Pandora: You didn't feel that there was something uncharacteristic about his behavior?

Santino (incredulously): You mean apart from the fact that he pounced on me, kissed me and dragged me into bed?

Pandora (giggles): Point taken.

Santino: Exactly.

Pandora (chokes)

Eric (awkwardly): So now what?

Santino (every trace of humor gone again): Oh, I suppose I go off and kill myself quietly in a corner.

Eric: Santo!

Pandora: Knock off the melodrama, please. Besides, that wouldn't exactly do Marius any good.

Santino (starting to think rationally for the first time since his arrival): He left me without a word and went home and lit a fire. Pan, I don't want to pry, but did he say anything...?

Pandora (with a cautious glance at Eric): Well he told me what you'd done, and said he'd never done it before—

Santino: Since vampires aren't supposed to be able to do it, that's hardly a surprise.

Pandora: Never.

Santino (incredulous): Never?

Eric (to himself): I can't help wondering where he got the idea to try.

Pandora: Not... like that, no. It seems to have meant a great deal to him.

Santino: It meant a great deal to me, too.

Eric (distracted): Did you hear the doorbell?

Santino: No.

Eric (rises): I hope it's Jehova's Witnesses or something. We could all do with some refreshments.

Eric walks away and enters the house, walking swiftly through high-walled, cool rooms until he reaches a dimly lit hallway. He flings the door open impatiently.

Eric: Yes?

Marius (steps into the light): Good evening.

Eric (taken aback): It's the middle of the night actually... Marius! What are you doing here?

Marius (looks away): I—

Eric (recollects himself): Please, come in.

Marius: I don't know. I mean...

Eric (leans against the doorjamb, prepared to take his time): What, Marius?

Marius (mumbles): Is he here?

Eric: Is who here?

Marius (looks up, a hint of fire in his eyes): Santino.

Eric: Yes.

Marius: I want to see him.

Eric (under his breath): Figures. (louder) I see. I'll ask him if that's all—

Marius (takes a step forward and gives Eric a Look): I have to see him.

Eric: Right. Fine. Come on then, this way.

They walk through the house in silence, Marius one pace behind Eric, until they reach the door to the terrace. Eric steps outside, then turns around when he realizes that Marius has stayed on the other side.

Eric: Are you coming?

Marius (takes a deep breath): Yes.

Marius walks outside as well. Pandora and Santino are still seated on the balustrade and looking towards the door. She gets to her feet and strolls over to Eric and Marius; Santino stays where he is.

Pandora: Speak of the devil. (Marius gives her a guilty look; she smiles) Eric, what about those books you promised to show me?

Eric: I did?

Pandora (inflexibly): You did.

Eric (resigned): So I did. (turns to go)

Pandora: I'm sure they're fascinating.

Eric: Very. (sighs) It's hard work being the perfect host.

They leave.

* * *

Roman holiday VI: Phoenix of my heart

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