torch, November 1995
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

This is a work of speculative fiction. It is not to be distributed for profit. Mirror is the last story in the Velvet Underground trilogy that began with For all tomorrow's parties and continued in The black angel's death song.

Spoiler warning: this contains general (minor) spoilers for Queen of the damned and Tale of the body thief, and more specific spoilers to the two previous stories in the series, Parties and Black angel. Do not archive this story without permission.

I'll be your mirror

We have arrived in our new-found land. And who is the beloved stranger standing next to me, the child with the man in his eyes? Every time I think I have solved his riddle, he challenges me again, and I am drawn deeper and deeper into his endless mysteries.

His blood tastes of eternity.

This land is filled with new scents, the earth different, all living things strong and secure in their place. We have left behind the urban decay, the spreading deserts, of our one-time home.

"Daniel," he says, "Daniel, look, birds!" And he who has seen civilizations fall is delighted to watch the flight of an owl at midnight. "Come, I'm sure this is the right way."

And he runs. He moves the way humans do in their dreams, with effortless speed and an economy of motion that is transformed into grace. It reminds me of the way he dances, and I shiver, follow him, leaping into the night. Oh, how we danced on board the boat. All night, for as long as the band would play. I felt eyes on us, baffled, envious, happy, sad. And as I held him in my arms he seemed by turns light and insubstantial as a feather, and as solidly and unshakeably there as the granite bones of the earth.

He is my certainty and my doubt, the solid weight that keeps me grounded in life's reality, the wild wind of change that sweeps me up into dreams and the splendor of the impossible.

Am I chasing him? I'm following, that's all. The beauty of this wilderness seems made for him. And I cannot resist. Something has happened to him, something that was slowed down has been speeded up. I was on a quest for change, but he is the one who changed.

And it is so strange to see.

We're running together, and there is the wonderful feeling of the body exerting itself, muscles moving with strength and precision. Yet we do not get tired.

I have asked him at times if he would like to be able to fly. And he has always said no. The last time I asked he gave as his reason, "It seems so undignified, and so last century. I mean, do I look like Superman?"

And I don't know if flight could be any better than this. The dark muted colors, green and blue and brown, scents and sounds blending to create the forest, and above us the pale moon carved from bone. We are the wild hunt. Reaching a pool of water he stops, looks back over his shoulder at me, and I can see him smile. The beauty of him. His presence should be announced by angels blowing trumpets. Then the slow arch of his dive.

A spray of water. Moonlight on his hair, glistening, thick and wet, curls plastered to his face, his neck. And the way his clothes cling to his body...

"You are doing it deliberately," I whisper. "Well, I won't play. Remember the bath tub?"

He smiles. I can see his fangs. "Suit yourself," he says and disappears under the surface.

When ten minutes have passed and his head still has not broken the water again, I relent and step into the little pond. The water is cool and lovely and dark, and I let myself sink into it. But I cannot see him anywhere. It's too murky down here.

Then I lift my head and see him step out of the pool at the other end. "Really, Daniel," he sighs, "frolicking in the water, and at your age, too."

I snort water out of my nostrils. "Who started it? You are obviously entering your second childhood."

He laughs. "Second childhood, what nonsense. As if anyone ever got out of their first one. Come on, Daniel! You must try to keep up!" And he's off into the woods again.

Even as I am thinking that I must rise with all speed and follow him, my body moves out of the water and onto land in one swift leap, faster than my thoughts can keep up. I'm amazed. I've never been able to do that before. Then again, I don't think I've ever tried.

It is so unlike us, this merry chase, this forest so far from civilization. Most of all, it is so unlike him. And he knows it, I feel certain of that, he takes an inordinate pleasure in confusing me.

Yet I feel so free here. This land does not sadden me, it is new and old, and the stars are different, and I can't fear them.

Following him, I find that he has entered a clearing where a house has been built with such care that it blends into the surrounding forest. Old wood, yes, and moss growing on the roof. Creeping vines twist about the drainpipes and reach for the windows. And out on the deck are small trees. A light shows in one window.

"This is where we're going," he says as I catch up with him. And he puts an arm around my waist. He is so much shorter than I am, I can lean my cheek on the top of his head when he's standing next to me. He doesn't always like it when I do that. But tonight, he doesn't protest.

A door opens up above and a dark figure comes out on the deck, and leans out between two trees and calls down to us, "You can come in if you like, you know."

Armand laughs. "How kind."

We walk up the stairs slowly and decorously as though we did not moments ago chase each other in heated pursuit. David is waiting, his head slightly to one side, arms crossed. Dressed in faded jeans and a shirt, he looks at once old-fashioned and attractive, like one of those turn-of-the-century nostalgia clothing ads that are so prevalent now.

He looks at us, and raises an eyebrow. This is so very David. "Would you like some dry clothes?"

"I would," I say and then eye Armand, "but I like him best like that."

David breaks into his young man's laugh that still surprises everyone after several decades, and shakes his head. "I'm glad you're here," he says. "I haven't seen anyone for — six months, I think it is."

Armand asks, "Is Eric back in India?"

David shrugs. "I don't know. He didn't say."

I can sense his unhappiness, and so I hold off asking more questions, though I really would like to know more. Armand, who hasn't learned any manners in five and a half centuries, says, "I'll buy you a leash for him."

"Good, and then maybe he'll buy me a gag for you," I say.

David, fortunately, is laughing. "I was going to ask how things are with the two of you, but I think I can guess."

Armand and I look at each other and smile. There is a moment of silence, of intimacy. I know David can sense it. He isn't listening to our minds, he is far too polite, but this is something even mortals might pick up on.

"Change," David says softly, unobtrusively, "there's been a change."

"True enough," Armand says. I look at him, try to figure out what that tone of voice means, but I can't do it. "So you truly don't mind the company?"

David shakes his head. "I'm pleased. Stay as long as you like."

"You'll want to throw us out in a week," I predict.

"No." David smiles.

"Not even if we are disgustingly saccharine and kiss all the time?" That's Armand, of course, and for us to be on kissing terms for an entire week has yet to happen; he must be testing David's state of heartache.

He shrugs. "Actually, it gives me a certain pleasure," he says. "Watching your love can be like watching a painting or listening to a piece of music. Your togetherness is beautiful... I hope I am not embarrassing you. My solitude is mostly agreeable to me. But you have something so precious, in being witness to each other's life." He looks down for a moment, then up again. "I'll go get you some dry clothes."

David disappears into the house again. I want very much to follow him. I have heard from Lestat, who has been here, that the house is remarkable, a work of art. But then I look at Armand next to me and know that it can wait.

"He could see the change," I say. We step over to the wooden balustrade and lean on it next to each other. "It always amazes me how much David can see."

Armand looks at me with a small smile, the one that means, don't make me state the obvious. "You wanted change, didn't you? You pushed me into it."

And I know that's true. So much of my time has been spent on simply trying to cajole a reaction of any kind out of Armand.

"It's never worked before."

"And how do you feel now that it did?" He is serious. He really wants to know.

"Tired. Happy. In love." I grin at him, crookedly, and lean in to kiss his cheek. "Be pleased, my love. You have succeeded in surprising me yet again."

He laughs and puts his arm about my waist, and says conversationally, "I love you more than I thought it was possible to love. I love you so much that I hope you'll never give in to me, nor I to you."

I am not entirely sure what he means. But I know how he feels. That's good enough. Perfect understanding will probably never exist between myself and Armand, but then, I am not certain that that is what I want. I'm content to roam the labyrinth of his soul, and break down a few walls now and then to remind him of my strength. He'll build others. I'll get lost. He'll come to find me. It will go on and on. He is my mystery, and I have come to understand at last that I am his. There will always be more. Even this century will be bearable when he is next to me. And who knows, the next one might be just wonderful.

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