torch 1996
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

This is a non-profit piece of fan fiction. Don't try to sell this story or I'll have to hunt you down and cut your heart out with a blunt spoon. Spoiler warnings: contains spoilers for everything up to Queen of the damned and for And death shall have no erection. This is the third story in the Roman Holiday series, which takes place in the same universe as And death shall have no erection. Do not archive this story without permission.

Sex and the single vampire

"Odero, si potero; si non, invitus amabo." — Ovid

"I heard you didn't want to see me."

"Ah. So here you are."

"Yes."

Tension gripped him, starting at the base of his spine and rising rapidly, knotting his muscles. Marius turned around slowly, knowing what he would see. This small room had seemed like a haven only a few moments ago. Now, this.

A tall, strong figure stood in the doorway, dressed in worn, non-descript black garments, straight black hair tumbling around a pale face. Wide black eyes watched him intently, eyes that gave nothing away. Even dressed as a vagabond, this one looked like a king in disguise.

"Santino." Marius sighed. "It did not occur to you that we would both be more comfortable if you had accepted what you heard?"

Santino stepped forward, walking into the circle of light cast by the lamp on Marius' desk. Even under this soft illumination, his preternatural nature showed clearly; the white, reflective skin, the glassy nails, the way his eyes gleamed, all colors falling through them before the basic black returned. Of all of them, Marius reflected, Santino was probably the most classic vampire type. And he wasn't even trying. Beauty and menace were second nature to him.

"Comfortable?" Santino shrugged. "Comfort has never been my main aim. I prefer to keep my life interesting."

"So you decided that forcing another confrontation would add a little zest to your dreary existence," Marius said dryly.

"And to your dreary life, Marius," Santino mocked, sitting down on the edge of the desk with nicely calculated insolence. "I don't just think of myself all the time, you know."

Marius put his book aside and leaned back in his chair. He looked around this small rented room, taking in its simple comforts: the books piled on shelves and tables, the window that looked out on a quiet courtyard, the plain wide bed, the television set. A refuge, though he tried not to think of it that way.

It was still early in the evening. Perhaps this could be dealt with quickly, and his whole night would not be ruined. He had had plans, before Santino's appearance. Marius wanted to hold on to his good mood, though he knew it to be nearly impossible. Already the feelings were there and waiting for him. But he would not give up control and he certainly would not show fear.

"Well, then. Suppose you tell me whatever it is you want to tell me, and then you can leave again."

"You know what it is," Santino said, still looking intently at him.

Marius felt a familiar lump settle in his stomach, cold as ice, hot as fire. There were memories there, memories he wasn't ready to bring up at all. It had been some time now, and he had hoped it was all buried and gone. The same hope, denied yet again. The fears, and Santino, would not leave him alone.

"We've been through all that."

"No," Santino contradicted him bluntly. Perched on the edge of the desk, he towered over Marius, tall and dark and imposing. Marius had to lean back and tilt his head to look at Santino's face, which he did not really want to do, but did anyway. The first flutters went through him, fear and disturbance, sharp-edged and wicked. He could not look at Santino without that sudden rush, the sensation of going down in a fast elevator.

With seeming patience, Marius reiterated his oldest argument. "I've said that I've forgiven you."

Penetrating black eyes held him captive for a moment. "You don't mean it."

In an instant, the calm mood vanished as something inside him struggled for freedom. Marius slammed both fists down on the desk; the book went flying; the desktop cracked and splintered. "What the hell do you know about that!"

Santino had jumped away at Marius' violent reaction; now he stood to one side of Marius' chair, regarding him with one eyebrow sardonically raised. "It's just an educated guess, but I don't think you'd be breaking furniture over nothing. Now, either I make you really mad, or those memories make you really uncomfortable, but in either case, it means things are not settled."

"They're as settled as I care to make them," Marius said, breathing heavily, already regretting his outburst. He prided himself on his even temper, one of the few Roman virtues he approved of. Somehow Santino was always able to provoke him, get under his skin. He sat back into the chair again and let his head slump forward. "And what does it matter to you, anyway?"

The lamp had fallen to the floor when the desk collapsed, and now the light was nearly non-existent in the small room. Santino was a shadow within a shadow, black on black. That shadow spoke softly. "I risked my life to save you, Marius."

"Just so I could forgive you?" Marius spit out.

"Yes, of course." There was a biting edge to Santino's voice. "Did you think it was Pandora's charm that made me come?"

Marius had thought that he could not move, but when he heard that he was out of the chair in an instant, grabbing Santino by the throat, slamming him against the wall. "Don't speak about her that way," he said with as much control as he could manage. "You call yourself her friend? You've never even tried to see her."

"I've never called myself her anything," Santino said, maddeningly calm despite the fact that he was pressed against the wall by Marius' hand around his neck. "And you're no true friend to her, the way you treat her."

"What!" Marius gasped. "I do everything for her! I try to make her take an interest—"

"You're being an idiot." Santino's voice bit like acid. "She needs to go into the ground, to sleep and rest. You shouldn't keep her from it the way you do."

"You pretend to care for her—"

"I do care for her—"

"Or else she'd never have gotten you to go north with her—"

"As I tried to point out, I went to rescue you."

"And everyone agreed that you had repaid your debt in full, and I said I forgave you, so why are you here again?" Marius knew he was losing his grip; he'd practically screamed the last few words. "Why won't you leave me alone!?"

The echoes of his words rang through the room. Marius caught himself up, appalled. What was he doing? Everything pressed down was boiling up dangerously close to the surface. He let go and backed away slowly; Santino recovered his balance and then set about adjusting his sleeves and smoothing the collar of his shirt, pointedly not looking Marius' way. Marius continued to back away until he came up against the other wall. Cool glass against his shoulders. Window.

The light wavered where the lamp rolled slightly, responding to the floorboards' shifting under their feet. Flickering.

He fought down the panic that threatened to engulf him. It was so unreasonable. Ridiculous. To still fear the memory of something that had happened centuries ago. And to hate the sight of this man because it would never have happened without him. Now Santino did look up and smiled, a small cold smile that chilled Marius to the bone and then, paradoxically, set him on fire. He seemed to feel it running up his arms, down his chest, licking at his hair. Crackle of flames. He could smell the smoke.

Gasping for air did not help. He kept expecting hands to tear at him, or the walls to begin to collapse. With an inarticulate shout, Marius turned around, broke the window open and threw himself out.

The fall and the fresh air soothed his panic. Some deeply buried instinct alted his fall, began to bring him back to himself and he swung upwards effortlessly, his previous terror transmuted into a desire to get away, just far far away. He rose high and for a moment almost strove for the stars, then dropped again, soothed by the sheer physical exertion.

It had happened again, he had allowed Santino to spark his temper, spark the memories. Marius groaned. He would be fine, he would be perfectly all right if Santino would just stay away from him! It had been years since the last time. Marius would have been happy to postpone this for at least a few years more.

But Santino was here now, and he had been forced out of his comfortable little room. Sighing, Marius reviewed his options. The memory of his original plans for this night returned to him. He had been in San Francisco for a couple of weeks now, and there was a call he meant to pay.

Perhaps this was not the right moment — he was definitely not in the right mood — but all the same he let that direction take him, for want of anything better to do. For a vampire, the distance between Russian Hill and Pacific Heights could be crossed in an instant. But Marius let himself drift, tried to calm down. Now that the all-engulfing fear had receded, he felt embarrassed at his reaction, and at his earlier violence.

After all, he was genuinely grateful to Santino for helping Pandora free him from the ice. Really. And though that meeting had been prickly and difficult enough, it had given Marius hope that both of them could put some things behind them. That they could forget. But forgetting the past did not seem to be what Santino had in mind at all.

Marius knew would be quite all right if only he didn't have to think about it! Marius wanted to eradicate those memories more than anything else. Forget all about the fire. Over and done with. Long past. Not important any more. He shivered. Seeing Santino invariably brought it back. He had to stop thinking about it.

And the best way to set about that was to do something else. Floating like a feather on the breeze, Marius gradually settled down outside a certain house. He had long ago ascertained exactly where Lestat's newest fledgling had established himself. On the night of his arrival in San Francisco, Marius had investigated the place closely. Since then he had kept his distance, but now he was here, he was feeling better, and he might as well make himself known to this David Talbot.

If, of course, David Talbot was here. Marius smiled a little, more relaxed now. That wasn't necessarily the case. There were no lights on anywhere. But that was not the most certain sign of vampiric presence. Some kept every lamp and candle blazing all night, others preferred near-darkness, as close to true night as they could get.

Still smiling, Marius leaned back against a tree and opened up to scan the house for Talbot's presence. Of course he did not know what that new fledgling's mind would feel like, but he would be able to tell a strange vampire easily. Having settled his fears and quelled his panic, he was relaxed, open. And something slammed into his head and took his breath away, something hot and insidious and seductive.

::mm so soft so smooth [tu es beau] yes like silk and hard i like that too everything about you [et je t'aime, ah, mon ange] the way you feel and taste and smell the sounds you make [permette-moi, tu sais bien ce que je veux] your hands your mouth::

He was hugging the tree now, almost frantically, his cheek pressed against the bark hard enough for the pattern to imprint itself on his skin. Marius forced his eyes open, made himself breathe. He felt dizzy. What the hell was that?

The emotion that had poured into him left him weak. It was still in him, so powerful. Passion, simple and complex.

Not David Talbot. Marius could be absolutely certain of that. Because he had known that mind, the mind broadcasting its needs and its pleasures so unreservedly to anyone who happened to be listening. The mind of a vampire. Indeed. His dear brat prince, and no other.

It was a horrible breach of privacy to have heard even that much. Yet at the same time, what he had sensed was so intriguing, and so seductive, and so incomprehensible, that Marius was almost frantic with the need to find out more.

He knew he should not spy on this intimate moment. But there was something he just did not understand in that, something he had never expected to feel from the mind of one of the undead, and so he crushed his scruples for the moment, consigned them to a closed compartment in his mind, and opened up.

Again, very cautiously.

::yes like that oh touch me there right there [oui, je sais] you always know just how to [mon amour, je veux que tu—] your hands do things to me that i hadn't even realized [que tu me prennes] god yes please that hurts don't stop yes now that's right oh god i love you love you love you::

And that was familiar, too. Familiar, and so bizarrely unexpected that Marius could not fathom it. Was that indeed Louis, wild and uninhibited, crying out in sensual delight?

The thought set Marius' mind reeling. He should leave. He should leave now, right away. Pretend he'd heard, sensed nothing. This was so very far from being his concern.

But the sheer heat of it, the impossibility of what these two minds were sending out, made him hesitate and draw closer. He had to see. He had to find out for himself. It couldn't be. Moving silently, oh so silently, knowing he probably shouldn't, unable to stop, drawn by a powerful curiosity and something else, some long forgotten feelings.

Following their mental voices, Marius found himself outside a window looking in. Nothing would have made him not do it, not even had he believed they would catch him at it. And when he did he instantly regretted it. Could not look away. Could not believe his eyes.

Dear gods, they were — they were—

They would certainly not see him, having eyes for nothing but each other.

Blond hair spilling over white skin. Legs tangled together. Green eyes hazy and sightless, lost in pleasure. The soft moans, the almost mortal sounds. Bodies moving together in a heated rhythm. Joined.

Not possible.

But it was happening.

And the sheer force of their feelings, of their passion, slammed into his mind again as he let his guard down, suffusing him with second-hand ecstasy. He reeled with disbelief, and then belief, unable to hold out against that overpowering wave.

Marius staggered backwards, made himself turn away. Gods, he couldn't stay here! He needed to get up into the cool air, away from this.

But no matter how high he went, defeating gravity, his mind would not relinquish those images, or the feelings that went with them. Oh impossible. Impossible. He tumbled around, down, drunk on this, a tiny whisper in his mind telling him to get back to his room and forget this had ever happened.

They'd never forgive him if they knew.

He could never ask them about it.

Marius swallowed, his throat dry. Oh gods. So beautiful, they had been. And impossible — only their pleasure was still setting up echoes inside him, so strange and disturbing, tiny flames burning under his skin and he couldn't think. It had happened, he really had seen, it was possible.

Back again.

The window was still open, easy to enter without being seen. The fallen lamp still burned, set upright now behind the destroyed desk. Everything that had happened to him might have been a strange dream. He took in the details but did not really see, mind preoccupied with other far more alluring images. Yet it slowly registered on him that something was wrong. His book wasn't there. Marius spun around.

Santino stood by the door, reading. Relaxed now, his body language spoke of predatory grace rather than dignity, and his hair had slipped free and fell about his throat. As if sensing eyes on him as a mortal would, he lifted his head and gave Marius a long, cool look.

"Forget something?"

Marius opened his mouth and closed it again. Strange heated waves swept through him, disorienting him, making him doubt the reason of any words he might have said. Nothing seemed quite right; the world had tilted.

He crossed the room and stretched his hand out to take his book back, reclaim normality. Only his hand had ideas of its own, closing around Santino's wrist, tracing along the dark vampire's arm all the way up to his shoulder. Wanting something.

"I'm on fire," he said. Fingertips drifting across that shoulder, lightly caressing the bare throat. So smooth, so beguilingly straight.

Santino's black brows drew together in what Marius would have called concern in anyone else.

"And you said you did not want to talk about this?" Santino looked threatening, really. A cruel and handsome devil, with the way his lips curled, not quite a smile, not quite a sneer. White teeth glinting. Fangs. And was that the very tip of his pink tongue? "Marius, we must—"

"No." The heat was rising; impossible, this. He really was going up in flames, burning up. Marius leaned closer, putting his other hand against the wall on the other side of Santino's head. Shivering with unreasoning fear of this vampire, shivering because of the feelings inside him. "No talking. Impossible."

And he was so close now, really, really close. Tongue tracing the lines of Santino's mouth, his silky soft lips. Hands clutching shoulders, kneading them through rough black cotton. And then Santino's mouth opened under his and they were kissing and he was falling.

Lost. On fire.

* * *

Santino could not believe it. He'd expected confrontation, yes. Yet he'd pushed it. He always did. He'd rather have Marius' anger than nothing at all; he thrived on reaction. Silence was death. But that Marius would actually jump out the window rather than talk to him, that had been something of a surprise, and not precisely what he had been aiming or hoping for this evening. The little hurt of it he could bear, but he wanted more.

So he had decided to wait, hoping that Marius would come back eventually. And he had, sooner than Santino had expected. Still agitated, though. Uncontrolled emotion had glittered in Marius' eyes. Something must have happened to him, though Santino could not work out what that might have been.

And now this.

Santino did not understand why Marius, who was normally so concerned with keeping a proper distance, came so close to him. It made him shiver, though he took good care to hide it. And then Marius touched him, something almost feverish about the older vampire's movements, his words.

It was all Santino could do not to fall into Marius' arms right then and there. Only confusion held him upright and seemingly sensible. Every light brush of Marius' fingers burned along his nerves. Then at the first touch of Marius' lips against his own, his mind had practically short-circuited.

No, no. This is not happening. This cannot be happening.

It was, in fact utterly impossible. A thousand thoughts chased each other through his mind: that it was a test of his good intentions, that it was a sign of peace, that Marius had gone crazy and did not know what he was doing.

And then he thought, I don't care. Slowly he let his hands settle against Marius' back; Santino parted his lips, returned the kiss. Allowed his secret desires to unfurl like black banners in the blackest night. I don't care why he's doing this; I don't care if he's gone crazy.

I'm holding him in my arms.

He tightened his grip, feeling Marius' body press against his own. He had never expected this to happen, had certainly never expected Marius to touch him with such an almost mortal passion. But it was sweet. Wonderful, this kiss, so heated. Santino ran a hand up Marius' back and down again, tracking the curve of the spine, tickling the bumps with his fingertips.

Marius was sucking delicately at his lower lip, just a hint of teeth, not breaking the thin skin.

Santino bent his neck just a little, and then let his left hand drift to the back of Marius' head and undid the ribbon that held his hair together. Running his hand into that silky mass and gripping it hard, he bent Marius a little backwards, and Marius allowed it. Another kiss, Marius a captive in Santino's arms, though he could easily break away did he choose to.

He didn't. Marius clung to Santino, so close.

It was too much to believe. This could not be meant for him. If anything could have held him back, it would have been the sheer amazement he felt. But here was Marius, sweetly eager, too utterly gorgeous to resist, and Santino kissed him again and again for the delight it was, and saw Marius' lips slightly swollen with those kisses, and suddenly all the ripe fruit similes made sense. He tracked kisses along the jaw line, brushed his lips over the ear lobe and heard an indrawn breath.

It was going too fast. As beautiful as Marius was, he deserved a thousand caresses everywhere, but at the same time, urgency fired Santino and made him want to claim every inch of Marius' skin all at once.

This, he thought absently to himself, letting his mouth wander down Marius' arched throat, was how he had made love to mortals once, when his blood had been hot and his passions human. And had that ever felt like this, this overwhelming frantic desire that drove him on?

Marius' hands tore at his shirt, wriggled in underneath it and stroked his back. The touch raised a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of Marius' flesh. And then the hands were tugging him along, and with stumbling steps they came to the bed and fell on it, refusing to let go of each other in the fall.

Santino was grateful. His knees had buckled when Marius' nails tickled the back of his neck. Now he twisted, and raised himself on one elbow over Marius, and looked down into Marius' face. Lids drooped slightly over blue eyes, and Marius' lips were parted, moist, so intoxicatingly inviting.

Impossible to resist kissing them again. Santino struggled for tenderness, tried to make his hands gentle on Marius' body, even knowing he could do no real harm. But Marius' red shirt he could and did tear at with unsuppressed violence. Those shoulders, perfect. He licked at them, sucked at the hard flesh, nipped it gently.

Marius moaned, and went wild. Santino's own clothes were ripped away with a savage speed that left him breathless. He hardly dared to believe in the urgency he saw in Marius' face, or in the caresses he felt, though every touch thrilled him. A hot kiss pressed into the hollow of his throat, and then light random kisses scattered over his chest, butterfly-flighty and sweet.

This was not, Santino tried to think as he sank back into the mattress, what he had expected, ever. He was, in fact, being seduced.

And it was absolutely wonderful.

Turning his head, he kissed the palm of the hand that had been caressing his cheek, then licked at it, and drew his tongue up along one finger before sucking the fingertip into his mouth. Marius made a small sound, halfway between moan and gasp. Then Marius leaned down and bit off Santino's nipple. At least, Santino thought that was what happened. His back arched helplessly, and he cried out as much in surprise as in pain.

Seconds later, sensation returned and he could feel a tongue licking at him, and realized he was still whole and still hurt. But the pain was beginning to change. It was a torment to his nerve-endings, but he did not fight to make Marius stop. Tongue and lips teased him, and he shivered.

And then it began, the low sweet buzz that coursed through his entire body, making him gasp with disbelief. Had he thought he felt desire, before? That feeling was being obliterated by this. If that had been desire, this was need. If he had wanted Marius before, now he craved him.

In the crudest and most mortal of fashions.

Clever fingers teased his other nipple too, and Santino could have screamed. He did not care that this wasn't supposed to be possible; it was damn well happening to him. And Marius, did Marius know what sensations he was raising? Had he any idea exactly what it was that Santino burned for now?

There was only one way to make certain. With a great effort he moved, turned, managed to pin Marius down. Santino looked into Marius' face and almost lost what little sense remained to him. Marius' pupils were dilated, his cheeks flushed. There was something purely carnal about the way his lips parted and his tongue pressed against his teeth.

Santino wanted to take him, right there and then.

He bent his head and echoed Marius' earlier actions, kissing and licking the broad, smooth chest, trailing his fingers along its exquisite lines. And then the quickest flick of his tongue over a nipple before he took it in his mouth.

Marius cried out, but did not struggle. Indeed he pressed closer, and tangled one hand into Santino's hair. Santino felt another wave of pure lust almost overwhelm him. The sensations he felt were unbelievable, a mortal sexual desire amplified a hundred times through the keen senses of a vampire. And this one, this precious one in his arms, it was Marius. Love charged him, left him tense and quivering.

It drove him on, just as much as Marius' soft moans. He knew that Marius wanted him now, wanted Santino the same way Santino wanted him. Yet he wanted to be certain. And he wanted to know how far this could go. How much self-control that remained to either of them. It was all so fast, an instant conflagration; he tried to fight it just a little longer.

Santino let his mouth roam, planted more kisses in a line downwards, pausing only briefly to lick the blood sweat out of Marius' navel and shiver at the way this delicious taste made his tongue tingle. Then he slowly began to unbutton Marius' pants, letting his fingertips stroke the hardness he found within. Not hard from this lovemaking, but from the change within vampire flesh. All the same, tremors were running through Marius' body at his touch.

He sat up for a moment to remove every last piece of clothing, leaving Marius as naked as Santino was himself. Gently nudging Marius' legs apart, he settled between them, pausing for a moment to take a deep breath and try to hang on to the last that remained of his sense. But with Marius lying like this, shuddering in anticipation of his touch, Santino felt himself falling fast. He bent forward, kissing the sensitive inside of Marius' thigh, moving his lips higher. Of course he knew where he was going, but getting there was half the fun.

Marius strained towards him and Santino pressed him back, having to use all his strength as Marius started to lose control. Incredible, the expression on his face. And then Santino brushed his lips along that long smooth hardness, and sucked the head into his mouth.

He thought for one second that Marius' body was simply going to explode in his arms. There had to be pain, considering what everything else had felt like, but the hand wrapped in his hair yet again was urging him on. And Santino did not want to stop. He took it in deep, then eased off again, teasing with his tongue. Strange how easy it was to remember. Yes, this spot right here. Marius could not keep silent, could not keep still.

Santino could have gone on with this all night, enthralled with the discovery and with Marius' incredible response to his caresses. But desire was winding his nerves tighter and tighter. And as if sensing that, Marius seized the next opportunity to gently slip away from Santino's attention and shift, turning over. His legs were spread in clear invitation and Santino thought his heart would stop. It was too much. Marius could not be offering him this. But he was, he was.

Love made his hands gentle. He stroked that long lovely back, kneaded the enticing curves below. Santino pressed his lips right between Marius' shoulder blades, then kissed his way down the spine, slowly, slowly, and did not stop where Marius clearly expected him to but went on, his tongue exploring, probing, until Marius cried out again and tensed and relaxed, and that secret rose, that delicate ring of muscle also began to relax. His fingers joined in, touched and pressed and stretched carefully, slipping inside and scraping delicately, maddeningly at that particular point inside.

Nothing in the world had ever been as intoxicating as the way Marius sounded right then, nothing as seductive as the heave of his back, the frantic pushing of his hips. Santino had to close his eyes. Now, it had to be now or he would simply die. He could not bear it a moment longer.

Marius whimpered when Santino withdrew his fingers, but easily let himself be pulled up on knees and elbows. He was so open, so willing, that Santino felt his heart would break. Slowly, he tried to go slowly but it was so easy and in one heated rush that drove all rational thought from his mind they were fully joined.

There was pain. There was a lot of pain, that he dimly understood had nothing really to do with how much or little they wanted this; it was the protest of the spirit that animated them. But this was not a moment when either of them could stop. And the almost instinctive movements they both made soon ceased to hurt, and then, ah, then...

He felt it start, and spread, as if the pleasure was too strong to bear concentrated in just one place. Felt it rush outwards from their interlocked flesh, igniting all of him, making him so utterly sensitive that every careful thrust sent ripples along his entire body. It was incredible to realize that Marius, the marble god, could be so soft and responsive. Santino was holding tightly to Marius' bucking hips; then he let one hand slip down under the sweat-slick belly and close on the hardness he found there, gently at first, then with a firmer caress.

Marius was still moaning, one breathless sob after another. He was wild, nearly fighting in his urgency, pushing to take Santino in deeper, faster, to make this fire burn white-hot. Santino wanted to draw it out, to savor it, but he could not argue with the heat, with Marius' wordless plea, with the absolute violence of passion in him that would not be suppressed. He let both his hands slide forward along Marius' writhing torso, then down Marius' arms, until finally their fingers gripped each other with crazy strength.

It was building up fast now, too fast. Marius had already lost all control and was heaving under him, struggling for release; Santino felt insanity tug at him, the dark blaze of primitive lust that was about to steal his reason, and then the realization came to him. He could let go. There was no need for his control, or the last remnants of his disbelief. Here, now, the impossible had come to happen, and this was Marius.

Santino gave himself over to it. No fear, no doubts any more, just this all-consuming passion. They both wanted it; there was equal heat, equal eagerness on both sides, and it was as close to perfection as loving could get when all thought finally slipped away. It was savage and furious, spiralling too high, building up until some danger point had been long passed and they were utterly at the mercy of each other's bodies.

He felt it take him and was helpless. No telling who screamed, who was silent. It shook him inside and out, blinded him, turned his blood to molten silver and burned his mind to smoke and ashes. Words failed, would always fail here where no thought could go. And the stillness that followed was deep and heavy with a peace that would take no answer but sleep.

Carefully, he sought for his lover's lips, found them. One final kiss, and it healed his heart of any pain it had ever felt.

And then he slept.

* * *

The sun had barely set when Marius opened his eyes; he knew that though he could not see it, and lay quietly staring upwards in darkness for a few moments. All he knew was that he was incredibly comfortable, sheltered, safe. Then he moved, stretched languidly, and body-awareness returned to him. Unaccustomed feelings, little pains. And all at once memory came alive, rising like a fireball from the pit of his stomach. He threw himself off the bed, staggered to his feet and went to the window, ripping down a covering he could not remember putting up.

Twilight filled the room with blue and grey. The city outside was awake, speaking in shouts and whispers. This window faced east, but he knew in the west the sky would still blossom in yellow and red.

Marius turned slowly around and looked towards the bed. Santino was lying there; the deathlike sleep had caught him sprawled on his back, one arm flung to the side — the arm that had held Marius. Black hair fanned out against the white sheets. Black lashes lay silently curved over white skin.

Nothing saint-like about Santino now. His body looked powerful even in sleep. Marius' eyes tracked its sleek lines, the perfectly preserved shape of a strongly built man. He'd slept with his head pillowed on one broad shoulder, he realized. Slept cradled in Santino's embrace. On Santino's face was a small, sweet smile that sleep could not undo, a smile of utter contentment. Watching it, he felt the first stirring of a true and bone-deep panic.

Marius walked back towards the bed again. He bent to pick up a shirt, looked at it and threw it aside with a barely-suppressed shudder. Moving to the other side of the room he found and opened a suitcase, and dressed quickly in tan slacks and a crisp white shirt. He started to pull his hair back, hunted through his pockets for a ribbon and couldn't find one. All the time he kept stealing glances at Santino's sleeping form, his eyes darting that way again and again.

Finally he gave up and let his hair hang loose and unbound. He stepped into a pair of boots, not bothering with socks. Then he stood at the center of the room and looked towards the window, and towards the door, and towards the bed.

Marius twisted his fingers into the hair falling down across his cheeks and made a little sound of pure distress. His shoulders shook. He tried to brush away the tell-tale tears that slid, crimson grief, down his cheeks. One step towards the bed; then he turned swiftly, and almost ran for the door, wrenching it open and then shutting it behind himself with a hollow thud.

* * *

Roman holiday IV: Vestigia flammae

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