November 10 - December 10

Disclaimer: No volcanoes were harmed in the writing of this story. Written for shalott for the 2004 while we tell of yuletide treasure challenge. Many thanks to elynross and Merry and everyone else who was around during the creation process. :) Do not archive this story without permission.


He had a room of his own, because this was a place now where people slept in rooms and paid outrageous sums to do so, though the indoor plumbing still left something to be desired. Strange, somehow, to be sleeping in this small, private space, crazy-expensive and shining new, and not in a tent, in a ship's cabin, in a cave, on the cold, hard ground. Strange, somehow, to be no longer in motion.

Strange to be, after so long, completely alone.

Damien Vryce put his crossbow on the floor, leaned his sword against the headboard, and stretched out on the bed, hands clasped at the nape of his neck. The walls were fresh with paint, the ceiling rough in one corner where someone had skimped on the finishing, and there were no wards over the window. Everything was new and incautious. There was no dust on the lampglass, even.

He wriggled his toes inside his boots, bought new to replace the ones ruined by the Lethe's rushing waters. Still not quite broken in; they wouldn't do to cross a mountain range in, to walk deep underground in the dark, to set out on foot over an unknown continent.

Not that he knew if he'd need to do any of those things, ever again. He could lie here on these new sheets in this new bed in this new room until his money ran out, and then he could... what? Become a clerk, a shop assistant? Damien snorted to himself. Not likely. A tour guide, perhaps, for all those who came to look at the place where the world changed.

Oh, he could show them things, places where the world had been made over bit by bit, though some were too far away for even the most dedicated. Places where the world had changed, and places where he had changed. This is where Zen died. This is where Hesseth died. This is where Jenseny died.

Others were not so distant. This is where the Patriarch died. This is where Gerald—

Damien sat up and swung his legs off the bed. It wasn't that late. He could go down to the common room, have an overpriced ale, perhaps, and listen to the latest theories and plans spun by every eager, ignorant tourist who had come to watch, to investigate, to exploit. He could hope that no one would spill red wine tonight, as last night, each drop like blood.

Perhaps the ale could do something to fill the empty places inside him. The place where his calling to the priesthood had been. The place where his soul had been linked to another's. That had been a taint and a horror, yes — and a strange kind of comfort, for the little while it had lasted.

His quick burst of energy carried him no further than the dubious indoor plumbing, though. Ale might dull memories for the moment, but could not alter their significance. At least he only had to deal with them while he was awake. His sleep was perfectly peaceful. Damien suspected this was because it felt like a peculiar waste to have nightmares when there was no one there to feed on the terror.

Instead of going down to join in the revelry, he cleaned up, because fresh water and soap were still a pleasure, and ended up back next to the bed in his new, clean, solitary room, taking his clothes off slowly and folding them with excessive care. They were new, too. One layer was purple, no longer fashionable, but a bright memory of Ciani, years and worlds away. There was a bit of soot and gunpowder on his sleeve, from the afternoon on the observation deck.

One shot from a pistol, one brief conversation, and his world had been rearranged once again.

Damien got into bed and extinguished the lamp. He lay back with his hands under his head and stared up at the ceiling he could no longer see.

After about as long as it took to recite the Prophet's Creed, the door to his room opened. Damien reached for his crossbow.

"I think it would be best," a soft, cultured voice said, "if you didn't say anything." The door closed again, and there was the faint snick of the lock being turned. "And didn't shoot me." Quiet footsteps across the floor, certain even in this poor light. "In fact, it might be best if you kept your eyes closed."

Damien drew a quick breath, and then a hand covered his mouth, gently, but firmly. He uncurled his reaching fingers one by one from the crossbow shaft and breathed in deep. The hand smelled of soap and glove leather, and underneath that, of gunpowder. Before he could think about it, he slipped his tongue out and licked, sliding it between the fingers and tasting the soft skin at the base. Warm skin. Ordinary, warm human flesh. A silk sleeve brushed against Damien's jaw.

Shivering, he held still. No, of course he would not speak. Not a word — certainly not a name that could spell disaster. Damien lay unmoving, almost unbreathing, while the bed dipped and this safely nameless stranger knelt astride him with easy grace. The hand that had pressed down on his mouth trailed slowly along his jawline, fingertips brushing against the grain of stubble. Thumb just under the jaw, stroking the softer flesh there. Damien lay still and breathed while the light, confident fingers mapped his face, feeling his cheekbones, his nose, his hairline, and the arch of the eyebrows. One fingertip followed the scars, which he knew stood out more now that he'd shaved. He blinked once, catching a brief glimpse of a tallish, slim silhouette; then he let his eyes fall closed. Stretching his arms out, he put his hands on the other man's thighs just above the knee. The hand on his face lifted, and his wrists were gripped in strong hands and pressed out and down against the sides of the bed.

It occurred to Damien that he could almost certainly press back against that grip and break it.

Something about that thought disoriented him to the point of dizziness. He wound his fingers into the sheet and left his hands where they were.

As a reward, perhaps, he felt fingertips skim across his throat again with a light, certain touch, barely brushing his Adam's apple and the sensitive hollow beneath it. Those fingers, so warm, so wrong, so right, drew shivers from deep inside him. Damien trembled, and it took the grip of both his hands on the sheets, on the edges of the mattress, to hold him still. He breathed, deeply, and it shifted his body against the light contact; it was almost, very nearly, not at all like touching back.

The warm darkness in the room was like a caress on his skin, too. This darkness would birth no demons; it was strangely, exhilaratingly safe.

Hands stroked across his shoulders, down his chest, to the edge of the bedclothes, and then back up again. It was a slow and thorough touch, almost too methodical to be called a caress. A survey, Damien thought, as the exploring hands curved around his shoulders and slid down his arms, first to the elbow, then, more slowly still, to the wrist. Back again, wrist to elbow, then elbow to shoulder, fingers measuring the scarred span of his biceps while thumbs traced the sensitive skin on the inside of his arms. He'd almost relaxed into the way it felt when there were fingernails tracing across his skin instead, the touch so light that he had to strain into it. The sensation was neither hot nor cold, but somehow both at once, demanding all his attention, drawing all his awareness to the point where—

—where someone touched him. Damien gasped for air, then resolutely set his teeth into his lower lip. He would be silent. He would be still. He choked down the sound that tried to rise from the back of his throat as the shivertouch of nails moved across his chest. Down to the edge of the bedcovers. Up again.

The touch vanished, and Damien drew a deep breath. Once again, a strong hand closed around his wrist, this time to lift his right hand, tugging it away from its fervent grip on the bedclothes. Damien wondered for a brief moment if he would begin to fall towards the ceiling, and then he felt warm breath against his palm, and lips brushing across his sword calluses, the tip of a tongue tracing each line in turn. Each finger was investigated in the same thorough manner, breath and lips and tongue and then breath again on wet skin. When his index finger was sucked, slowly, joint by joint, he bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.

A fingertip stroked across his mouth, catching a slowly welling drop of that blood, and then that finger twined with his, both of them drawn hotly into the mouth that made him quiver. Damien breathed between clenched teeth.

Each of his fingers in turn was licked, sucked, tasted. That teasing brush of lips against his palm again, and then the same touch on the inside of his wrist, tongue tracing the veins, and all the way along the arm that was turned out to meet the caress, up to his elbow, back down again. He felt hot breath against his wrist, and something that might be a smile, and then teeth. Teeth. Biting just as slowly, oh, so carefully, sharp edges no more than teasing at the skin.

Damien groaned and beat his head against the pillow.

Much later, his hand was placed back on the bed, his fingers encouraged to curve back around the edge of the mattress. Damien had time for a slow breath before his left hand was grasped and lifted and the same slow, torturous process began. With his eyes closed, he could imagine that each deliberate press of teeth left marks, that the mouth working cleverly in the crook of his arm raised a heat blister. Scalding, that touch, and he could feel sweat break out along his hairline and in the small of his back.

One last casual, maddening stroke of thumb across the inside of his wrist as his hand was put back to grasp at bed and covers, and then the man who straddled him shifted his weight and folded the covers down a turn, two turns, to draw a new line of demarcation at Damien's waist. The slightly cooler air was welcome on his skin. He sensed another shift in weight, felt slim fingers on his jaw tilt his head to one side, and then those sharp teeth bit him, low on the neck, just where his pulse thundered close to the skin.

Damien couldn't help it, his whole body spasmed in response, bucking wildly. He thought he heard, through the pounding in his ears, a very, very faint chuckle.

The next touch came, unexpectedly, on his ear: breath, tongue, but for a wonder, no teeth. Then warm, enticing suction just beneath the earlobe, and Damien made an undignified noise. His fingers gouged into the mattress. The tip of a tongue traced every sensitive nerve down his neck, and then, then it was teeth again, biting at his shoulders. He felt a thrum inside, a vibration, as if he were trying to wrestle a fae current that was too strong for him.

He'd never do that again. He'd never thought he would do this, either.

The brush of slightly chapped lips was light and shivery, the teeth nipping at his flesh a sharp and lovely sting, a little star of sensation, and he tried to map the constellations traced on his chest by that curious, relentless mouth. Each touch seemed to light up another part of him, his body, his soul. His head spun.

Then the man's long, thick braid fell forward across Damien's chest, unfamiliar black silk caressing his skin, and the sensation was startling enough to sober him a little, a reminder of the realities of this strange and precarious situation. He drew a deep breath, and did not speak.

Impossible to keep perfectly silent, though, as he was tongued in unexpected places, shaking deep inside at the way it felt. Fingers skimmed over his sides, reading his scars in the dark. Damien's breath rasped in the back of his throat, and the fingers stilled, one hand resting on Damien's chest, over his heart.

For a moment, nothing happened, and then Damien sensed movement again. Breath on his face. Lips touching his, light as flakes of ash drifting on a hot breeze.

Something inside Damien cracked wide open. He let go of the bedding and reached up, catching this nameless man by the shoulders and pulling him down, threading his fingers into the soft hair at the nape of the neck, underneath the slowly unraveling braid. There was a moment of resistance, one brief attempt to hold back, and then they were kissing each other, deep, wild kisses, kissing with a frenzied hunger that only grew as they fed it.

Damien tasted salt from his own bitten and bleeding lip, and almost without thinking, he bit down, and the man, this man in his arms, this nameless man with the face of a beautiful stranger, quivered and made a soft, hurt, ecstatic sound as their blood mingled on their tongues.

That sound tore through Damien and left him shaking. He ripped at the fine silk shirt, tugging it off with ungentle hands and hearing buttons tear loose. Another moment of resistance, then, but Damien threw the shirt over the edge of the bed and rolled them over, mouth to mouth and skin to skin, before beginning his own explorations. He licked along the smooth jaw, so precisely shaved that he could only feel a hint of stubble, then traced the curves of a small ear with his tongue.

Because he was listening for it, he heard a barely perceptible change in the other man's breathing.

It was easy for Damien to find the spots along the neck where nerves hummed with sensitivity under the skin, to press kisses against the strong curves and soft hollows of shoulder and chest. He was guided by hands that stroked restlessly along his back, moving slower, then faster, in response to what he was doing. When Damien's tongue found the small, hardened point of a nipple, fingers dug in hard just below his shoulderblades. He chuckled, and did not stop. Quick breaths turned to quicker breaths and then, at long last, a vocalized gasp.

Damien lifted his head, and the hands on his back moved to his shoulders and shoved, hard. He fell back on his side, and when he reached out, he felt the other man roll away and rise from the bed. Damien sat up abruptly, and a hand brushed his shoulder for a brief moment, urging him back again. He could sense movement, and when he reached out, he felt first smooth leather, and then smoother, softer skin. Then the covers were shoved down to make room for cool air and a hot, naked body. Damien groaned, and the sound was smothered in a kiss. Pressed together, arms around each other, they kissed and kissed again, at a deep, intense pace. Damien stroked his right hand along the curve of spine, then trailed lower, tracing hip and thigh, feeling untested muscles shift under his touch.

He dragged himself out of the kiss briefly to bend his head and lick, tasting sweat on purely human skin. Then a hand on his jaw forced his head up again, and they kissed ravenously. Every shift of body against body sparked the desire for more. He would have torn himself open if it meant he could get closer. The hands moving over his body were not so much caressing as staking a claim, owning him piece by piece and touch by touch.

Sliding his hand up again along the long, lean thigh, over a sleekly rounded curve, Damien pressed quick kisses to cheek and cheekbone, eyelid, temple. A sharp bite to the corner of his jaw made him jerk, and his hand slipped. For a confused moment, he didn't understand the slick sensation against his fingertips; then the body in his arms stiffened, and he did understand, understood the implications, understood what had been planned.

He imagined what it would have felt like to hold still for that, flat on his back and whimpering under restraining hands. He knew it would have been slow and deliberate.

Damien growled, and then he was moving, rolling them over, pressing in. He knew dimly that he was too rough, but there was no protest, no resistance, only a fierce, biting kiss, and hands urging him on until they were fully joined and breathing in frantic gasps into each other's mouths. For a moment, they were balanced in stillness, a wave poised to break. Words trembled on Damien's lips, and he drove his hips forward desperately, silencing himself with blinding pleasure, drowning anything that either of them might have said in more kisses.

Not slow, this. Damien tried to gentle his touch, but he could not resist the hungry mouth, the hands dragging him down and holding him fast, the body arching into his own with such merciless determination. The rhythm between them was fast and hard, hammered out heartbeat by heartbeat at an inexorable pace that would not let them go.

Damien didn't know any longer if his eyes were open or closed. He saw with his hands and his mouth, with his heart and soul. What could they do but make love? It was far too late to unmake it.

He could feel the rising tension in the body writhing against his own as though he knew it on a level deeper than touch, as though he had heard those low, almost-suppressed sounds before. Without thought, he moved in response to every minute signal, reaching wordlessly and unhesitatingly for the other man's pleasure.

Fingers dug into his shoulders, muscles spasmed under his hands, and a quiet voice gasped on an indrawn breath, "Damien."

And that was all he could bear; reason burned out of him, leaving nothing but blind need and frantic motion, deeper and faster and more and more. He bit his lip bloody once again as the perfect, white-hot madness rolled through him, consuming him with ecstasy and leaving him clean and empty and new, just breathing.

They rested in each other, sweaty and sticky and close, melting together in the dark. Damien slept.

Cool air on his skin woke him. He was alone in the bed, and the sheet was unpleasantly wet under his thigh. The faint sounds he heard were simple to interpret, and for a few moments, he just listened.

When the rustle of clothing ceased, Damien moved. He rose, eyes still closed, took one small step, and reached out to touch. He felt the shirt, fastened askew, buttons missing. He touched the long, gloriously messy hair. He stroked his fingertips gently over the face he barely knew, touching every feature lightly, for remembrance. He pressed a swift, hard kiss to the soft lips, and then he let go.

Footsteps crossed the floor, the door opened and closed, and he was alone.

It took him several moments to open his eyes, and far longer than it normally would have to light the lamp. The sudden brightness made his eyes tear up, and when he took a step backwards, his bare foot came down on something small and sharp. Damien swore under his breath and sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed.

This was the same room as before, of course. Shining new, freshly painted, clean. A new place for a new age. His sword no longer leaned against the headboard; it had fallen to the floor, and he hadn't even heard it happen. The sheets were a stained and tangled mess. Several long, black hairs curved across the pillow. There were shirt buttons strewn on the floor next to the bed, and a crumpled piece of paper lying by the door.

Damien rose slowly, mindful of where he put his feet. He went to the door and picked up the paper, smoothing out the creases as best he could against his palm.

It was a flyer advertising a consulting agency in Jaggonath. The date of establishment made Damien's eyebrows climb towards his hairline, and the names of the two proprietors made him blink in stunned silence. The flyer promised expert advice on Earth sciences and Ernan lore alike, from genetics to demonology, for a not in any way modest fee.

Discretion guaranteed, naturally. Results guaranteed as well. Years of experience.

Years, indeed. A man could spend his life on work such as this.

In the peaceful night of a new world, Damien Vryce smiled, and went to pack his belongings.

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