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 fourth 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 the occasional scene of wild and uninhibited sex. Do not archive this story without permission.

Vestigia flammae

"I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing." — Pet Shop Boys

Marius walked inside quickly, carrying the sweet scent of heat and tropical flowers with him. This was his home now, far from the ice and the snow. He paused once inside the door and looked around, past the hallway into the long shadowy rooms with their treasures of art and fine furnishings and precious objects, this place of wonder and comfort that he had built for himself, a safe haven, a refuge. The place that would never trap him. He waited for it to work its magic on him, to soothe his soul.

He was raw, burned. Emotions churned just beneath the surface of his conscious mind and he did his utmost to keep them there, to keep everything battened down and shut away. Had his body still been mortal, the turmoil inside might have made him physically sick. As it was, he shivered and shook, and the muscles of his back were pulled tight with nerve-thrumming tension.

His footsteps echoed against the floor, its tiles perfect replicas of medieval designs, muted reds and greens and yellows in a pattern that seemed random, but pleased the eye. Leaving the entrance hall, he walked left through an arched doorway into a room where each of a row of tall windows left six neat squares of moonlight for him to walk in. Glass-fronted cabinets along the other wall held objects a museum curator would have killed for. Marius strode past them unseeing.

When he finally stopped, aware that to increase his pace one more fraction would be to start running, he was in a small, square room with a floor of polished wood, its walls painted a shade between gold and yellow. He lazily used his mind to light the candles in the candelaber, small dancing flames. The flowers he had put on the low table were beginning to wither, petals had fallen to the polished surface and down on the floor, but they looked beautiful even now.

Marius sighed, and looked instead at Pandora.

She sat still, in the same chair. The rust-colored dress she wore was the one he had persuaded her into when they had come to this house. Her hair fell in ordered waves over her shoulders and down to her waist. The large brown eyes were open, but still and unseeing. Pandora's hands were placidly crossed in her lap where he had put them once.

It did not grow less painful with time to see her thus. With all his heart Marius wished for her to rouse, to come back to life. He loved her and he was caught in caring for her. Half-remembered words whispered to him, You should let her go into the earth.

But then he would be alone.

"Do you know what I've done?" he said to her. She didn't answer, of course. She never did. "I have... oh, gods." Marius clutched his head for one moment, certain that it was about to burst apart. "Oh, dear gods."

Stepping forward, he began methodically to collect the fallen petals, crushing them in his hand. There were many of them, and he took them one by one. When he accidentally brushed against the table, the flowers quivered and more petals fell. Marius swore softly.

He sank down to the floor, resting at Pandora's feet, not looking at her any more. Every time he moved, he could feel it. There was no forgetting, no glossing over. Marius opened his hand and let the petals scatter as they would, blowing the last ones off his palm. He rose carefully, as slowly as an old mortal man might, and walked around the room.

Putting his hands in his pockets, he turned to his silent companion with the air of a teacher about to explain an intricate theory to a dim-witted pupil.

"You know what vampires can do and what we can't do, don't you?" The pause, waiting for her agreement, was not very long. "You know our abilities, and what we have to give up to become what we are. The sun; food and drink, some other things. I taught you all of that. Told you."

He laughed, but it was dry, humorless. Marius remembered that well enough, his long and careful explanations of what a vampire nature entailed, and Pandora's impatience and her certainty that she knew it all already.

"Turns out I was wrong about a few small details. Oh yes, I've found that out the hard way. That was a pun, wasn't it?" Marius shivered. Things were getting too close to the surface now. All the way here he had made himself ignore what he knew full well. But the truth was struggling to be let out; his body was screaming with it.

And if he couldn't tell her, then who could he tell? He took a deep breath and wondered what it was that had happened, if he could find any way to speak of it. Words would mean definition, would mean truth. He'd long been aware of the power of words to shape the mind's world. To speak of a thing is to make it real. And he really could find no suitable truth for this. Finally he fell back on something deliberately wrong and awkward, as if hoping that he could talk the whole event into shape and insignificance.

"I've been sleeping around, Pandora," Marius grated out. "I've been — I let him — oh no oh no oh no—"

The barriers went down that fast, as his mind raced ahead to what had really happened and started to replay it to him. He dropped to his knees in the center of the room, completely disoriented by the physical memories that hit him. Santino's hands on him. Santino, inside—

Marius cried out. He could feel the fire. All around. He was on fire again. Oh, it wasn't possible. He could not have done this. It wasn't true. But he could still feel it. Thinking back, he shook dizzily with vertigo of the mind. Flames licked along his skin.

The beat of his heart grew faster and faster.

"If you could read my thoughts, Pandora dearest, what would you think?" Then Marius shook his head, trying to clear it. There was a connection here if only he could see it. "I was trapped in the ice, I was caught in the fire, but the fire won. I've been burned. Oh gods, I'm burning."

He tore open his shirt and looked at his skin, expecting to see it blackened, searching for the brands left by Santino's kisses. He could feel those too; he could have said exactly where he had been touched and how, could remember every single excruciating moment of their encounter.


Marius knew he would never forget.

The subtle gold of the walls closed in on him, and breathing grew difficult, yet he persevered, gasping out the words. "Pandora! I never knew this could happen! Don't you see," he was frantic with the realization of it all, "I never even dreamed that I would burn so quickly, so completely."

The night outside the windows mocked him with Santino's eyes, Santino's voice. Every pool of darkness was shadowed with the black silk of Santino's hair. Shiver. Shake. He knew so well that he could break Santino to pieces with his bare hands. And yet he only had to look at him—



The smell of smoke.

Something's burning.

Marius struggled to his feet, tried to smooth his hair out of his eyes. The open shirt clung to him and licked with tongues of flame; he tore at it again, ripped it to shreds, desperate for air. Something that would cool him. It could not go on like this.

Picking the candelaber up from the table, he looked at the silent figure of Pandora in her chair, hoping to see the faintest spark of life, the flicker of an eyelid. But she did not move.

"I wonder if he was ever your lover," he said conversationally. "I never could get a straight answer about your friendship with him out of either of you."

He walked to the nearest window and stroked the rich red velvet curtain with the hand that wasn't holding the candelaber. The nap was smooth under his fingers, but the sensual memories it raised were prickly. Sharp. Outside was darkness until, far below, his eyes rested on the distant gleam of water.

Marius let go of the curtain, then held the candelaber to it instead, waiting to see whether the cloth would catch fire, or smother the tiny flames first. It took some little time of confused flickering, but then the velvet caught, burning slowly.

He moved on to the next window, and the next. Then he set the candelaber down and tore off his shirt, and twisted it together. There was a bottle of lamp-oil in a drawer in the escritoire, and it did not take him long to construct a make-shift torch.

"When I was mortal," he said, his back to Pandora, "I never let anyone do that to me. Never."

He poured the remains of the oil directly onto the wall and lit it. Then he left the room and set out around the house, leaving a blazing trail of little fires. There were plenty of huge curtains, wall hangings, soft stuffed sofas and chairs that did not need much coaxing. Eventually the walls began to catch on, too, and there was that sound he remembered so well, the dull roar and the sharp crackle blending together into a terrifying whole.

The library went up splendidly, crisp pages crumpling together, leather bindings cracking and bursting apart, spilling yellowing paper into the fire's eager maw. His paintings burned, the few he had managed to save from the last wreckage, that had not been ruined by snow and exposure.

It was all going. His sweet, comfortable home. The place where he felt secure. Nothing was safe any more; there was destruction all around him. Marius half ran to the bedrooms, setting all the bedcovers alight, tearing open closets to torch his clothes. Everything was on fire. All that red velvet.

Finally he stood still at the heart of his house and listened, tried to breathe, felt the heat and the smoke that would have suffocated a mortal. His muscles were locked in rigid spasms, his skin slick with blood sweat. He breathed in quick gasps, not for need of air, but because he was crying out softly, continuously. It hurt. The flames were coming closer. Marius tensed, quivered, then broke and ran, faster than ever before, breaking down walls, tossing away furniture, until he threw himself out of a window and felt the glass slash at his skin.

Cool air, a desperate leap over the balustrade, and a long, long fall down into water.

He let himself sink down deep beneath the surface, sinking as he might into dreams or a lover's arms. The water held him and cradled him and soothed his hurts, eased the thunder in his ears. Marius drifted, arms outstretched, before slowly making his way to the surface again. Lying there, he floated and looked up. The fire lit up the night, threw reflections of gold all across the lake. He stared up at it in awe, and then with a slow dawning of awareness that there was something he should have remembered.

Just before the roof fell down, something broke though it and rose like a comet into the sky. Marius let out a brief cry. "Pandora!"

But she didn't answer.

So it was over and he stayed where he was, watching the spectacle for as long as he could. Nothing else was damaged; the trees around were not close enough and there was no wind. Marius knew better than to attribute this to luck, as he breathed in and filled his lungs with the acrid tang of smoke.

Something was burning.

And it was his heart.

* * *

There was not very much left. Smoke still rose from the charred ruins, nearly invisible in the twilight. Some of the walls still stood, jagged, helpless now with no burden to bear. All the angles were wrong, every edge sharp. Seen like this, the space where his home had stood looked disturbingly small.

Marius walked forward, picking his way delicately between fallen roof-beams and twisted metal pipes. Glass crunched underneath his feet, as did the remains of his beloved tile floor. Small clouds of fine grey ash marked his every footstep. Soon, his boots were covered with it; his pants were grey to the knee.

People had been here already, but no one had ventured this far in, frightened of crashing through what remained of the floor, perhaps, thinking they might find themselves fallen into a cellar or trapped beneath part of a wall. The truth was that this house had no cellar, and that was one reason why Marius had chosen it. Never again the underground vaults, the long stairs leading down, the trap in the earth. He had built himself an attic cell, like Lestat's. That had crashed down fast, heavy as it was.

This, he thought, bending to brush at what remained of a corner, had been the long room where he kept his collection of random trinkets. Sweeping away a layer of ash and soot, Marius smiled to see that bronze coins had melted into the marble floor. How long would that last? Would anyone ever see it, and be surprised? Or would this site be razed to the ground soon enough, to make way for another splendid pleasure palace?

He had no intention of stepping forward to proclaim himself alive, or to claim insurance money. He fully intended to vanish. Completely. To be, for all intents and purposes, dead to the world. Having freed himself so completely from all that bound him, he felt ready to make a fresh start.

When he looked at the remains of the house he thought he knew how a snake must feel, shedding its skin.

Freedom, he thought, exhilarated, a new life, and then another thought followed that one too fast for him to defend against it: I'm not myself any more.

It was a jarring dissonance in the paean of his euphoria. Marius stumbled, put out a hand to steady himself, and felt a sharp pain as a coil of metal wires sliced at his palm and cut it open. The scent of blood hung in the air, powerful, even as the cuts closed. He lifted his hand to his face and licked at it, wondering at his own taste.

A new existence, he thought desperately. I have to free myself from all this. It can't drag me down any more. I burned it, burned it to the ground. Burned all the memories.

What memories?

When he pulled at the throat of his dove-grey polo shirt, blood smeared across it and began to soak into the fabric. Marius swore. He had come here to say goodbye, but now he could feel that the past was not done with him, no matter how he felt about it; it was coming again, to lay an insidious claim to him.

His life wasn't going to let him go that easily.

Marius knew exactly what he had done last night. He had set fire to his home in an attempt to exorcise the burning demons that plagued him, the twisted terror and fascination in his mind that kept returning at the most inopportune moments. He'd tried to purge himself, a trial by fire.

And he thought it might have worked, to some extent. When he searched inside himself for the place where the panic lived, he couldn't find it. Standing here in the ruins brought nothing more than thoughtfulness, and the occasional cough. The flames did not return to haunt him. Not those flames.

He sifted ashes between his fingers, felt the weight of the past as no weight at all. He was lying to himself, and he knew it. But it took a lot of courage for him to try to remember. Remember what he'd done and what he really wanted; remember just what it was that had made him set fire to his home.


Marius took a deep breath, then coughed violently. He had to lean against the remains of the wall for support, and knew that his clothes were hopelessly dirty now. There was no release here. When he closed his eyes, his mind replayed memories of Santino's kisses.

And that was where the panic lived. Marius felt it begin to uncoil, the mind-numbing fear, the absolute...



And each half of it sparked the other, fed it, terror and desire dancing upwards in a widening spiral that threatened to consume him whole. The only clear thought he had was the awareness that he was not thinking clearly. Marius pushed himself upright and then continued the motion up into the air, rising up to breathe, to free himself of the wreckage.

He didn't know where he was going, but he knew full well where he wanted to be. Back in Santino's arms again. And that thought terrified him.

* * *

Roman holiday V: Burn baby burn

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