Tag Archives: M/m

Innocents, Part 1

This short serial takes place about 500 years before the start of Glamourhai.

Falthro examined the kneeling human the guards had brought before him. He detected no sign of the evil lurking in the man’s soul, but evil always conceals itself well. Two of his victims were missing. Two children whose mutilated bodies hadn’t been found and who might still be alive. Their families had petitioned for Falthro’s help. Another fae could have used his glamour to compel truth. Unfortunately, Falthro had…limitations…most fae didn’t. He would need to resort to other methods.

He seized the man’s chin, forcing his head up. The human was passive in his hands, but fire lurked in his eyes.

“Take him into the play room and prepare him for me.” His collared servants grabbed the prisoner and dragged him away. Falthro turned to the guards. “My page will show you to the kitchen. I will get the information you need as quickly as I can.”

“Yes m’lord.”

Falthro entered the glamourhame a few minutes later. The prisoner had been stripped, and hung from the ceiling by his wrists. His legs shackled to the floor, stretching his body painfully. Left there long enough, his own weight would suffocate him, and even a short stint could cripple him. Falthro wasn’t interested in coddling a child killer.

They would start slowly. “Do you know why you are here?”

“No.” Falthro tasted the lie in the curt answer. His whip flashed out, laying a searing line on the man’s face that stopped a half inch from his eye. Falthro smiled as the man jerked in the restraints and bit back a cry.

“That was one lie. For the next lie I will take your eye.” Falthro’s lip curled and he fought down his desire to spill blood. “Four children disappeared from Elm Grove. The guard found two bodies. You are a dead man for what you have done, but your death will be easier if you tell me where the others are.”

The prisoner said nothing, staring through Falthro as he struggled to breath. The lash this time wrapped itself around his neck. His eyes bulged out of his head as Falthro yanked the whip taut, cutting off his airflow. Falthro allowed him to jerk and struggle until his eyes began to glaze, than pulled the whip off of him. The man gasped and choked, tears streaming down his face. Falthro waited until he was quiet. “Where are they?”

The man sagged in the chains, chin dropping to his chest. To Falthro’s surprise he reeked of hopelessness and despair. The strength of the emotions seared Falthro’s glamour so badly that when the human spoke, Falthro couldn’t understand him. The fae lord placed the handle of his whip under the prisoner’s chin and lifted his head. “Repeat yourself.”

The fire in the prisoner’s eyes was gone, his gaze vacant. “You won’t believe me.”

Falthro stared at him. Something in the man’s emotions, his demeanor, made Falthro’s stomach twist. “Tell me. I will know if you speak the truth.”

“I can’t tell you where the kids are. I didn’t take them. Didn’t even know they were missing until the guards dragged me from my home.”

The strength of the man’s belief was a spike hammered into Falthro’s mind. Long experience allowed Falthro to block out the pain, but nothing could help face the horror filling him. He heard only his own silent scream. For the first time since childhood he came near to cursing Dannu. How had She allowed him to trap himself like this?

The man stared at Falthro. “You believe me?” the hope in his voice nearly broke Falthro.

Releasing the winch and lowing the man to the floor took only a moment. Falthro undid the shackles holding the man’s arms and one ankle, leaving the other ankle chained. “I will be back shortly.” Falthro grabbed a small chest with balms and bandages and shoved it at him. “Care for yourself.”

“What–”

“You spoke the truth.” The flavor of it still lingered on Falthro’s tongue, taunting him with his own guilt. “You are innocent. I must deal with another matter, and then I will return.”

Nearly out the door Falthro stopped and turned back. “Do you know anything of what happened to those children?”

“No…”

Falthro nodded and hurried down the hall.

The guards waited in the kitchen. Falthro ignored both the cook and her helper, approaching the guards with an expression schooled to regret. “The prisoner cannot tell us why all the bodies weren’t found together. I will speak with your town council and the presiding judge on this matter. They are to present themselves here as soon as possible.” He had questioned these two earlier—they believed the story they had told him. His answers would be found elsewhere.

He turned to leave and one of the guards said, “M’lord, we have orders to witness the prisoner’s execution.”

Falthro face them, as his expression hardened into a granite mask. “I swore to Dannu I would punish this man for the deaths of those children. You will go and leave the matter in my hands.”

They left.

Falthro allowed himself ten blessed minutes alone. Ten minutes where the emotions and thoughts surrounding him did not burn like fire through his mind, and he could just be. Ten minutes to grieve for the children he had failed. Ten torturous minutes to agonize over what he must now do. “Dannu, show me the way. Will you spare me the burden of more innocent blood? Will you release me of my oath?”

He hands trembled as he raised them to his face. The lack of Dannu’s presence was an empty ache. He gathered himself and left his sanctuary, returning to the glamourhame, and his victim.

When Falthro entered the room the man stood from a crouch. Falthro stopped and searched his memory for the human’s name—Dannel… Dannel’s face gleamed with a thin coating of one of the housekeeper’s creams, something to help the lash heal cleanly. He rattled the remaining ankle shackle, “If you believe I’m innocent, is this necessary?” He tried to sound relaxed, but Falthro tasted both hope and fear.

The fae shook his head, “Perhaps it is not, however I cannot permit you to leave.”

The flavor of fear grew stronger, and Dannel’s hands clenched. Still, the human managed a chuckle. “Well I’m definitely not returning to town any time soon.”

Falthro handed Dannel a loose robe and turned his back while the man shrugged the it on. “I was a fool, and I have done you great wrong. I am unable to make it right, or change what must happen. I can only tell you that I regret it. If it is with in my power both the true guilty party and those who wrongly brought you too this place will be punished.”

Dannel stared at him, wide eyed, “Lord Falthro, I won’t pretend this wasn’t one of the most horrific experiences of my life…expecting to be tortured to death for something I didn’t do…” He stopped, and when he spoke again his voice was a harsh whisper, “I was locked in my own mind, screaming in horror while my body carried me to my doom. You believe me.”

Falthro made himself face the plea in the man’s eye. “I am sorry. When the town first asked for my intervention, I swore to Dannu I would punish you for the deaths of those children. She accepted that oath.”

Life itself seemed to flow out of the young man’s face, a death of the spirit that was far worse than death of the body. “You can’t…you can’t, you know I am innocent. You know!”

“Yes.” Falthro forced himself to show no sign of his own pain as the man’s shock and horror ripped through his mind.

Frozen, Dannel stared about the shelves lining the glamourhame, at the many tools Falthro could use to tear him apart slowly. Killing by inches. “What kind of monster are you…”

“Not quite as much of one as you think.” Falthro allowed himself a small sigh. “I have prayed to Dannu to release me of my pledge, but she does not answer. I do no know why. I do not know why she accepted such an oath. I do have some discretion in how I fulfill it.”

“Discretion? Earlier you offered me an ‘easy death’ if I gave you information. Is that your ‘discretion’!”

Falthro took a deep breath. “Dannel, formerly of Elm Grove, falsely accused and falsely condemned. Your punishment may take three forms, I offer you a choice. You may be given an easy death, to fall asleep and not wake up. No pain, no suffering. If you prefer, I can castrate you, brand you and exile you from these lands. You will live, and you will have your freedom.”

“And the third choice?” The question tried to be a challenge, but the anger and despair behind it were all too clear.

“You may choose to become one of my slaves, bound to obey me by sigil. Once a week you will come to this room, and I will torture you to feed my glamour; no permanent harm will be done to you, but you will suffer greatly. The rest of the week you will have duties throughout my manor. Your needs will be supplied, and you will be able to witness what punishment I can craft for those who falsely accused and condemned you.”

Dannel was silent for a long moment, then asked. “And what is your punishment, Lord Falthro? What of my executioner?”

Falthro’s grim smile showed no hint of pain as the strength and rapid shifts in the human’s emotions made stars explode behind his eyes. “If you become my slave, your presence will be my punishment. If you stay, and only if you stay, you will learn why. Suffice to say I do not speak of anything so ephemeral as guilt or shame.”

Dannel looked skeptical, but allowed the question to drop. Taring at his hands, he asked,“Must I choose now?” ***give some emotional context here***

“No.” Falthro pulled a bell rope. “Rest the night. Sleep, as best you can.”

The door opened and one of Falthro’s servants entered. “My lord?”

“Escort Dannel to one of the guest rooms. Bring him anything he wishes.”

“Yes, lord.”

She bent and undid the shackle then gestured for Dannel to precede her from the room.

“I offer no apologies, for they are meaningless. You may speak with any of my people and explore the manor as you wish.” He summoned his glamour, imposing his will on the other’s mind. “You will not leave this building, nor seek to escape.” Dannel rocked on his heels as the force of the order went home. Falthro turned away. When the door closed, the ripping pain of using his glamour added to the agony of enduring Dannel’s emotions brought him to his knees.

Falthro stayed up through the night, praying. Dannu ignored him, responding to neither his pleas for absolution nor demands for an explanation. Finally, as dawn broke the east, he braced himself for the day to come.

Breakfast was an ordeal, but he was used to choking down food—both physical and spiritual—no matter how much he suffered. He was grimly certain that on this morning, Dannel’s suffering was far worse than his.

Almost as if the thought summoned him, Falthro’s personal servant escorted Dannel into the room. Before either could say anything Falthro asked, “Have you eaten?”

“No, Lord Falthro.” Dannel swallowed, hard.

His servant…was this one Beattie? No, Beattie had been the last one. Regardless, she knew his ways. She set a second plate on the table and filled it. Falthro pointed at it. “Eat. No matter how badly you feel, no matter what you face each day, unless you wish to die, you eat. Food is life, and not eating makes it that much more likely you will die.”

Dannel glared at him, but Falthro didn’t notice. The man’s emotions had lit a fire behind his eyes, a fire only partly eased by his servant’s soothing presence. He chose his people for that quality.

One bite at a time he forced himself to finish his pastry. When the last crumb was gone, he shoved his plate away. Across the table, Dannel half swallowed, half choked on, a mouthful of eggs. After a few more bites he set his fork down and met Falthro’s eyes.

“I can say nothing to sway you? No plea, no argument.”

Falthro looked away. “I cannot break my oath to Dannu. Not will not, cannot.” The last of Dannel’s hope died, but the man only nodded. “They say there is a special black stone fae are helpless against.”

Falthro sat back in his chair. The anger and hate pouring of Dannel told him where this was going. Something other emotion flickered behind them but subtleties were lost on the fae. “Starmetal. I have seen none since we came to this land.If you did manage to find any and use it against me, I would call it be justice.”

Dannel’s eyes widen. “Would you?”

“The crime you were accused of is so very heinous, no lesser punishment will fill the terms of my oath. And yet does that not make my crime against you just as heinous?” Falthro shrugged, “Note I do not say I would stand still while you plunged starmetal into my heart or any such dramatics. Only that if you managed to do so, I would call it justice.” Closing his eyes, Falthro saw the coming horror clearly. Dannel had choosen exile and to seek revenge, no matter what it cost him.

The taste of determination overwhelmed that of hate and anger. Determination and…respect? The slither of cloth broke the silence. He opened his eyes. Dannel knelt before him, hands fisted and face strangely calm.

“Lord Falthro, I doubt I will ever forgive what you do, but you have been honest with me. Of the choices you offer me…I will be your slave.”

Falthro gripped the table with trembling hands and whispered a prayer of thanks. The next several decades would be pain filled, but his hands would not bear more innocent blood. “So be it.”

For the first time in his long life, the fae lord bowed to a human.

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Salvage

Hey, I’m excited to announce that my novel-length webserial Glamourhai starts tomorrow at 6pm ET. Stop by and check it out!

ETA: Trigger warnings for transphobia.

Aidohán, formerly Skerrie, was dragged before the new king. He had failed to overcome the young challenger, and lost his throne. Such was the way of the Skul Skerrie. What happened next was not.

The new king–Aidohán never even learned his name–tore Aidohán’s seal skin from him and slashed it to pieces. Trapping him forever in human form. He had expected the king to turn on him next. Instead, the king turned his back, saying, “Leave him for salvage.”

Aidohán screamed then. Screamed and fought with every ounce of strength left to him. But he was old, and injured. The guards were young and hale.

They brought him out of Skul Skerrie and to the human realm. With strong ropes, they tied him to the piling of a pier. As the tide was going out, they left him there. Unless someone salvaged him, when the tide returned, it would cover his head, and he would drown.

Throughout the long day, the tide slowly receded until his feet hung in the air, then crept back in, covering first his feet, then legs, hips, stomach… He listened in silence to the humans walking the pier above his head. He thought of calling for help, shouting loud enough for the humans to hear, and come find him. But he feared being salvage more than he feared death. Or thought he did.

When the sun set, the waves were rolling across his chest. The courage, or foolhardiness, that held him silent through the day ebbed with the light. A clean death, he could have faced unflinchingly. A sword, a shark, a hunter’s harpoon even. But to drown, slowly suffocated by the sea which was Ruler and Mother of them all…He would have called for help then. Begged, pleaded, screamed. But the pier was silent. The humans gone. And what little pride he had left would not allow him to weep. So he closed his eyes and waited.

John stuck to the shadows. Going out at night was a foolish risk, but he needed to get away for a while. Needed to get somewhere he could just relax, be himself. He loved his family, and they tried, they really did. But they didn’t understand. After two damn years, he shouldn’t still be hearing, “Joan—oh, sorry, John, can you— ”

He crossed his arms across his chest, flattening his thankfully-small breasts. Maybe this time the docs would come through for him and he’d be able to start on T. Ya just gotta keep going, he told himself, never give up, cause when you give up the fuckers win. Which didn’t keep him from needing a break sometimes.

Lost in thought, he didn’t see the figures standing in the warehouse door until it was too late.

“Hey, Joanie, here for the party?”

“Fuck off, Ned.” He started walking faster.

John’s ex-boyfriend and his friends swung in beside him. “Aw, don’t be like that, hon. I’m just trying to be friendly.”

“I said, fuck off.”

Ned grabbed his arm. John tried to pull away but couldn’t.

“Let go.”

“Make me.”

John rolled his eyes, “What are you, five years old?”

“What you running away from?” Ned spat on the ground. “Real man doesn’t run away. Guess you’re not a real man, hey Joanie?”

John took a deep breath and carefully didn’t think about the knife tucked in his boot. He started carrying it with him after a bad incident last month…

A police car turned down the street, and they all froze. It slowed as it passed the small group. Ned cursed and dropped John’s arm.

“See you next time, Joanie,” he called as he and his buddie headed back to the warehouse. John nodded to the officer—no one he recognized—and hurried down the street. It was only two more blocks to the pier.

The sea was calm. If it hadn’t been, the waves would have been rolling over his face long since. Instead, the swells passed just under his jaw—if he lifted his chin as high as he could. When Aidohán heard the first steps on the pier, he thought he was dreaming.

“Ho!” The cry was torn from his lips. An unusually large wave washed over his head. He sputtered and spat sea water, gulping for air. Pride tried to rear up, but was strangled by survival. “Under the pier! Help!”

Only silence answered him. Silence and the sound of footsteps, walking away.

John enjoyed visiting the pier at night. It was peaceful and quiet. He could watch the stars and forget about the shit he dealt with everyday. Just be for a while.

He hadn’t gotten halfway across the pier when he heard a voice. He cursed. There went some time alone. But looking around, he didn’t see anyone. He heard the voice again. This time it sounded like it came from below. From under the pier. Shaking his head, he walked off the pier and went looking for the stairs down to the beach. Some fool kid might have gotten stuck down there when the tide came in.

It was pitch black under the pier, and there was nothing to hear but the waves slowly rolling in. John nearly decided he had been imagining thing. Then he heard a sputtering cough. Cursing, John plunged into the waves. “Where are you?” he called.

After a moment, “Here.”

John hurried towards the voice, first wading, then swimming. “Keep calling!” he yelled, then had to spit out sea water.

“I’ll try.” A pause. “Over here.” A pause. “The waves are too high.”

It was the calmest sea John had seen in months, but by then he was close enough to see what looked like a head, leaning against a piling. As he watched a wave rolled over it. When the wave passed the voice cried again, “Here!”

Now that he had a target, John was able to reach the person before another wave passed. “I’m here. Just grab hold of me. I’ll get you to shore.”

“I can’t. I’m tied.” Up close, John could see the face more clearly. Long brown hair floating in the water to matched the beard on the chin held above the waves. For a moment, John couldn’t understand. Then his eyes widened in horror.

Taking a deep breath, he ducked below the waves, feeling in the dark water for whatever had the stranger trapped. It took only a moment. He was cocooned in rope from nipples to knees. Pulling his knife, John went to work on the first coil. The rope and the water both fought him, but he managed to get half way through by the time he needed to go up for air.

As he gasped for breath, the stranger watched him with despairing eyes. “Not enough time.”

John ignored him and dove again. It took him a moment to find the cut, but he managed to finish sawing through the first loop. It uncoiled and fell away. More rope remained.

Surfacing, he saw the waves were getting larger. As the trough of a wave passed, the man, or at least, he presents as a man, and isn’t that a stupid thought to have at a time like this, gasped for breath. “Go.” he said. “Don’t…” another wave cut him off, but John knew what he would have said. A whisper in the back of his mind agreed—it was foolish to risk his life for a stranger. If he got himself tangled in the rope, or a wave bashed his head into the piling, they’d both die. Even more foolish to risk his life pointlessly, for a stranger he had little hope of saving. He heard the whisper, and ignored it.

Never give up. Another dive.

Two dives later, he had cleared the ropes to the strangers waist. He was tiring, losing focus. So at first he didn’t realize that the waves had completely covered the man’s head. Cursing, nearly weeping from exhaustion, he took a breath and grabbed the strangers chin. Leaning down into the water, he pressed his lips against the stranger’s and opened his mouth. Air passed between them. The breath of life, John’s mind conjured the phrase from somewhere.

He dove again. The rope that fell away this time freed the stranger’s hands. The stranger grabbed him. John cursed and kicked—if the guy didn’t let go they would both drown. A hand grabbed his wrist. Another tried to wrench the knife away from him. Unable to fight any longer, praying the guy knew what he was doing, John let go. As soon as he released the knife, the stranger grabbed it, letting John swim for the surface and fresh air.

A single breath and he dove again. The stranger was bent over in the water. Sawing at the remaining ropes. As John came near, he exhaled, a stream of bubbles tickling John’s nose. Desperate, John grabbed him, pressing lip to lip and giving the maniac air. For a moment, they held each other in a desperate embrace. Then John lunged for the surface. Understanding came. He would breathe for both of them, while the stranger cut the last of the ropes.

A few minutes later, the stranger flailed free. For a moment, he just floated in the water. John grabbed his arm, pulling him to the surface. Clinging to eachother, they swam for shore.

Aidohán lay on the sand, desperately dragging air into his abused lungs. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his salvager sputter beside him. By mutual agreement, they had staggered out of the shadow of the pier before collapsing. Under the water, Aidohán would have sworn he felt small breasts press against him, but in the moonlight it was a man who knelt on the sand and wrung water from the hem of a brightly colored shirt. In the end, he ignored the confusion. The stranger had salvaged him from the sea. That was all that mattered.

And he was delaying.

He forced himself onto his knees. If anyone had asked him that morning, he would have said that lowering himself to kneel before another would be the hardest thing possible. It was ironic to find how hard it was to RAISE himself to his knees. But he managed it. Managed it and bowed his head to the stranger before him. “Thank you… Master.”

His salvager shook his head, spraying water across the sand. “What did you say?”

“I said, thank you, Master.” Remembering the feeling of breasts, Aidohán asked, “Should I say Mistress?”

“I am not a woman!”

Aidohán heard the sea’s rumble, and held up a placating hand. “Master, then. I meant no offence.”

John blinked. “You…you don’t care?” Then realized how stupid he sounded. The poor guy was nearly dead, and probably shocky. How could he have any clue that John was trans?

The guy chuckled. “In one day, I have lost my throne, been left for salvage, and rescued by a human even as the sea stole my breath. Whether my rescuer is a man or woman is not exactly a concern at the moment, Master.”

For one moment, the idea of someone who just accepted John as he was shut his brain down. Then the rest of the guy’s words registered.

“Hold on a bloody moment. Master? Throne? What are you talking about, anyway?”

The stranger looked up at him. His eyes seemed to shine green in the light of the full moon. “I was king in Skul Skerrie. Early this morning I lost a challenge. The new king ordered me brought here and left as salvage. You pulled me from the waves. By the law of the sea, I am yours now.” The words were full of bitterness, but the man took a deep breath and said, “I mean my thanks truly, Master.”

“Oo-kay. I think we need to get you to a doctor.” Did near-drowning cause hallucinations? John thought he remembered something about divers hallucinating if they stayed down too long.

The man looked down and rubbed at the raw patches the rope had left on his skin. He moved like something was wrong with his side, too. Definitely needed to get this guy to a doctor. “If that is your wish, Master.”

John took a deep breath. “Don’t call me that. I’m glad I was there to help, and I’m gonna stick around and make sure you land on your feet, but I’m no ones ‘Master.’ You’re no ‘salvage,’ or whatever you call it, of mine.”

Aidohán gaped. In all his nightmares, in all his worst fears and imagings, never had he imaged this. He would have begged, but pride closed his throat. Head bowed, he crouched on the sand and waited for the end. It came quickly. With a roar the sea reached out and grabbed its stolen prize. He didn’t bother trying to fight the wave that dragged him from the beach and pulled him to the Deep. He was cast off, not even worth claiming as salvage. At least, it would be quick.

John had no warning. One moment, the stranger was staring at him like John had just stuck a knife in him, the next a monster wave knocked him head over heels. He caught a single glimpse of the stranger, an arm flailing in the waves. Then he was gone.

Without stopping to think, John dove after him. Two steps in it was like the sand disappeared under him, and he struggled through a malestrom of water far to deep to be a few feet from the beach. Blind in the dark water, he flailed desperately. Seeking air, seeking the stranger, seeking something to grab hold of. But there was nothing.

Aidohán floated in the dark of the Deep, feeling the burn of his lungs and waiting for the end. The sea cradled him one last time, and with utter hopelessness came a kind of peace. A few minutes more and it would be over.

Suddenly, someone else was there in the deep with him. Even in human form, he could hear the vibrations of their flailing. See them in the phospherescent outline of the plankton they disturbed.

He recognized the shape. The human who rescued him and cast back to the sea. Bitter grief nearly had him turning his back on his might-have-been master. But there was no point in that now. The human probably didn’t know what he had done.

There should have been no way for the human to enter the Deep, and there was no way out now that he was here. The sea did not easily release what it had claimed.

With powerful strokes, he approached the half-seen shape and grabbed a flailing arm. They were both dead, but they did not need to die alone. The man stilled, and Aidohán pulled him close. The burning in his chest was unbearable. He couldn’t hold his breath any longer. He found the human’s lips, and pressed his against them. As he released his last breath, he felt the man’s lips move.

The feel of bearded lips against his pulled John out of his panic. He didn’t know what had happened. Didn’t really need to. He and the stranger were underwater–again. Even as his lungs screamed, his mind and body reacted. “Salvage, then.” The words bubbled from his lips, lost in the water. He didn’t care, he hooked an arm under the other’s shoulder and started swimming. Didn’t matter where. Didn’t matter that it was hopeless. You never gave up. “Salvage us both, I will.”

Aidohán awoke to the feel of sand under his belly and an arm across his back. Stunned, he sat up slowly and looked around. Next to him, the man who had twice pulled him from the sea coughed weakly.

Not knowing what else to do, Aidohán helped him sit up. The man coughed up a pint of sea water, then looked at him with bleerly eyes.

“The laws of the sea, hey?”

“Yes, Master.” Aidohán shuddered.

“Call me John.” John slowly stood up, and offered Aidohán his hand. “Ah…will that be a problem?” He looked nervously over his shoulder at the now-calm sea.

“Not if it is your wish…John.” Thankfully, the sea stayed quiet.

“Ah…I’m thinking it’s best we stick together for a bit. But there is something you should know.”

John pulled up his shirt, and Aidohán could clearly see that he did, indeed, have breasts. What he couldn’t see was why his salvager thought it mattered. He shrugged. Yes, it was strange for a man to have breasts, but it was no concern of his.

John stared at him a moment then stood and offered him a hand. Aidohán took it, and leveraged himself to his feet. “Let’s get you some clothes, and then I think I should hear about these ‘laws of the sea.’

“Hey, what’s your name?”

John found a tatty pair of sweats someone had tossed in a dumpster. It wasn’t much, but it covered things until they could get Aidohán some actual clothes. They’d need to call the police, but somehow he was pretty sure his ‘salvage’ wasn’t going to turn up on any missing persons list.

Distracted (again) he didn’t realize they were taking the same route home until Ned called out to him from a doorway.

“Hey, Joanie. Where’d you find this weirdo?”

John froze. He couldn’t deal with this right now. He couldn’t…

Aidohán strode forward, still favoring his left side. He grabbed Ned by the front of his shirt and lifted the bigger man into the air. “His name is John.” He waited a moment. Ned kicked and flaied in the air, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry!” Aidohán set Ned back on his feet, gentle as anything, and brushed him off. “I think you have somewhere else to be. Now.”

Ned took off.

John started breathing again. “I can usually handle that myself. And you aren’t in any shape to be picking fights.”

Aidohán ducked his head and chuckled. “You pulled us both from the Deep. I believe you could do anything, if you wished. That doesn’t me you should need to.

“And I fought for my throne for 30 years. If I couldn’t intimidate a fool like that while half-dead, I would have been all dead long ago.”

They walked on in silence. Each, in their own way, thinking that they could get used to the strange twist their lives had taken.

And under the pier, a ripped and tatted seal skin floated on the waves. Lost and waiting to be found.

I Vant to Suck Your…

Marcus woke unexpectedly, groggy and disoriented. Even before he opened his eyes, he knew he had woken early. Even buried in the basement, he felt the sun’s weight, sapping his strength. A huge man with ebony skin was standing over him, holding a stake to his chest. Apparently, the ancient vampire mused, there were still things in the world he hadn’t seen.

The man met Marcus’ eyes and froze. Marcus would have laughed if he could have moved that much. “Go on, hunter.” Speaking against the weight of the mid-day sun was like rolling boulders up hill, but then nothing came easy. “I couldn’t stop you if I wanted to. And I am not sure I do.”

For a long moment, the hunter just stared at him. Then the sun won, sending Marcus back into darkness.

 

Halogen lights broke the darkness outside the trail-cum-headquarters. Marcus paced the central room muttering under his breath and listening for approaching footsteps. A precise half step from the wall he turned a crisp about-face, and returned the way he had come. Five years earlier, rather than killing him, the vampire hunter he knew only as Chuck had taken him prisoner. He never knew why – maybe the hunter thought killing was too good for a vampire who wanted to die. Either way, Marcus woke up that evening in a tiny room, wearing a home-made electric collar that could take down an elephant. Chuck had used the collar to compel Marcus to obey and assist him.

What Chuck didn’t know, was that Marcus was old enough he could shrug off a lightning bolt. He’d played along for the amusement factor. At first. Totally unexpectedly, the ancient soldier had found a commander who earned his loyalty.

And now that commander had gone missing.

That morning, just before the sun had forced Marcus into his daily slumber, Chuck had set out after a new target. This time, a five hundred year old vampire that was terrorizing co-eds. Cliched, but effective. Marcus didn’t like seeing Chuck go out after the target alone – going by day there shouldn’t have been any danger, Chuck had hunted vampires for nearly a decade in the military before going private. He knew what he was doing. But this lamia was rumored to be sorcerer. Marcus tried to warn the human, but Chuck went out regardless.

When Marcus woke, Chuck hadn’t yet returned. Attempts to reach him by phone went straight to voice mail. Something had gone wrong. If the target had some way of functioning during the day, chances were Chuck was already dead.

After 2000 years of ‘chances were’, Marcus knew the unlikely happened. And he refused to believe the hunter would have gone down easy. Now he had a decision to make. He ran a finger along the collar, feeling how fragile the contraption was. How easy it would be to crush between his fingers.

No, he realized, there was no decision. The collar shattered. In an instant, all its stored power directly into his carotid. If he’d still be alive it would turned his brain to ashes. If he’d been even a century or two younger, it might have seriously injured him. As it was, the jolt knocked him to the floor, locking his muscles and driving a scream of agony from his lips.

As he lay, shivering, on the floor he smiled at his own arrogance. Humans, it seemed, built better lightning bolts than Jupiter these days.

It took a few minutes to dig up Chuck’s plans for the prior day. Then ten minutes cursing the Internet connection when Google maps refused to load. Finally, he opened the door and stepped out into the wider world.

The world was alive with scents and sounds he hadn’t heard in far too long. Most of the past five years had been spent in the trailer, and the scent of fresh blood on the wind tried to seduce him. Old habits let him file the sensation away, to enjoy later, and focus on the task at hand. Stretching his legs for the first time in years, he took off towards Chuck’s target.

Under the circumstances, he wasn’t entirely surprised to find the old Victorian house (another cliches?) engulfed in flames and surrounded by cops and firemen. Obviously neither the target nor the hunter had gone down easily. Flames could be seen flickering through the windows, but most of the walls were still intact.

Strong and near indestructible he might be, one thing Marcus couldn’t do was turn invisible. Luckily, the chaos provided an invisibility of its own, and he was practically walking up the front steps before anyone took notice of him.

Inside the building was an inferno. The floor plan Chuck had hacked included an old cellar. If the hunter still survived he’d be down there, away from the smoke. One more reason to be grateful he didn’t need to breath.

Seeing through the smoke and flames was nearly impossible, and Marcus was badly burned before he found the basement stairs and dropped down to safer territory. While the fire was starting to spread below, it wasn’t as all consuming as the flames above ground. And out of the roar of the inferno, he was able to hear a familiar, pounding heart-beat.

Following the sound led him through ancient furniture and stacks of antiques, around a corner to a tiny hallway that hadn’t been in the plans. As he crept towards the hallway, he was nearly deafened by the roar of a magnum.

“Your gun is almost empty, my friend, and this game grows old.” Smooth, unctuous, seductive, Marcus nearly groaned aloud at the strange voice. Someone had watched too many Dracula movies.

Close enough now to see the speaker. The vampire was a near-twin to Count Orlock. He was flitting back and forth across a doorway, and laughed another gunshot emerged from the room he guarded.

Marcus rolled his eyes, “I’ve a game for you, bastard.” Pitching his voice to carry, Marcus launched himself at the Orlock-look alike. The other vampire whirled to face the unexpected threat, then staggered as Chuck took advantage of that distraction to shoot him in the back. With the target off balance and in pain, Marcus slammed him into the wall and speared a hand into the ribcage.

The other’s eyes widened in shock and horror, his mouth gaped open but nothing came out. Marcus’ hand found the heart and he ripped it out.

The enemy collapsed at his feet, and he froze as he felt the hot muzzle of a gun press against his temple. “Move and I will blow your brains.”

Marcus froze. “Finally ready to be rid of me, Chuck?” The pressure wavered for an instant and Marcus turned, knocking the gun from the hunter’s hand.

Even in the flicking light of the growing flames, Chuck was a mess. Marcus had trouble believing he could still stand.

Chuck blinked at him, then shook his head. “Marcus? What… what the hell are you doing here?”

“Survival first. We need to get out of here without being seen by the officials outside.” Chuck staggered and Marcus managed to grab him before he fell.

“Cellar has a back door,” Chuck said. Marcus followed Chuck’s directions, half supporting the other man. Once there, he carefully cracked the door and peeked out. While not completely unobserved, the back door wasn’t surrounded the way they front was.

Not seeing any other options, especially when Chuck collapsed against him entirely, Marcus picked up the hunter and burst through, running at literally inhuman speed. It drew the attention of far too many people, but none of them had a hope in hell of keeping up with him and none had cameras. And with the fire, all had bigger problems then two strange men who weren’t supposed to be there.

If there was any pursuit, he lost it quickly and returned to the trailer.

Chuck came to at the first aid station in the trailer. Memory took a few minutes to return. When it did, he bolted upright.

Marcus was next to him, preparing bandages. “By Vediovis grace, none of those burns need debriding,” the old vampire said.

Chuck stared, trying to think through the pain. The vamp was collar-less. That certainly checked with his memories. But the vamp was acting like this was no different from any night after a hunt. Why the hell was the monster bandaging him up rather than tearing his throat out? Why the hell that he saved Chuck?!

Well, the vamp was almost acting no different. Chuck had yet to get a good look at the other’s face. When the vampire turned back to the table for more bandages, Chuck finally caught a glimpse, and saw the lengthened incisors. Reflexively he said, “Go get a drink, before you take one out of me.”

Then stared in shock as Marcus grimaced, but obeyed.

Feeling light-headed, Chuck reached up and checked his face. Yup, oxygen mask. Probably necessary after all the smoke inhalation. Plus pain meds. As Marcus finished devouring the bagged blood, Chuck tried to convince himself he was hallucinating. But he was never good at lying to himself.

And sure sure as hell wasn’t hallucinating the burns he saw peaking through Marcus’ clothing. “Sit down.” Chuck pointed at a chair next to the aid station.

“You–”

“Shut up.” If the vamp wanted to pretend everything was normal, then damned it Chuck was going to take any backtalk. “You could have gotten yourself killed saving my ass, you sit the fuck down and let me see those burns.”

And damned if Marcus didn’t obey.

One of the blessings in Chuck’s line of work was that vampires didn’t actually heal all that fast. But Chuck figured out pretty damn quick that seeing the burns was all he’d be able to do. He had to let Marcus bandage himself, because Chuck was going to be good for fuck all for the next several weeks.

He didn’t say anything else until Marcus had gotten himself wrapped up, but damned if he wasn’t going to get some answers. “Now, not that I’m ungrateful, but what the fuck?”

Marcus stood and faced him. There was something about the way he was standing… “When you didn’t come back and didn’t answer your phone, I knew you were in trouble. I wasn’t going to sit back while got yourself killed, so I removed the collar and came after you.”

The cadence of the response, and the ever-so-respectful tone that still managed to convey “You fricking idiot” was as familiar as an old set of fatigues, and Chuck’s reply was damned near Pavlovian.

“That is by god the lamest ass debrief I have ever received. If you make me drag the answers out of you I will frag your ass and use your ashes for war paint!” Chuck was used to insane situations. Every vet was. Of course, this situation was a bit more insane than most.

Marcus barked his reply like an old sweat, “Your collar was worse shit than Pluto’s nail parings. I could have removed it anytime since you brought me here. When I determined you were out of contact I took steps to extract you. Cracking your computer gave me the address of your target. During the extraction the target was eliminated and we both sustained the injuries you are aware of.”

Chucked leaned back and crossed his arms. It suddenly occurred to him that he literally knew nothing of Marcus’ life from before he’d captured the vamp. But obviously, he’d been a solider long enough for the habits to stick with him.

“At ease. If you could have left anytime, why did you stay? Fuck, why didn’t you kill me?”

Marcus grimaced, seeming to search for words. “At first, I stay because it was something different.” The haunted look in his eyes reminded Chuck of the talking corpse that didn’t give a damn if Chuck staked him. Then the vampire shook himself, and the eyes meeting Chuck’s were fiery. “But even after a thousand years alone, I know a centurio worth following when I meet one. Why by the two-faced god should I walk away from that? To go back to the hell I was stuck in when you found me? As for killing you – or saving your meat-head tonight – if I’m lucky you’ll live another 40 years. I’m not so eager to be alone again that I’d stand back and let you get yourself killed off early!”

Chuck’s glare was a thing of beauty – he’d had years to perfect it. But he couldn’t quite make himself meet the vamp’s eyes as he pointed out, “I kill your kind.”

Marcus winced. “The last person I cared for was killed by ‘my kind’ nearly 1,000 years ago, and they nearly killed me as well. I have no kind.”

Chuck blinked, fighting through the growing pain-killer induced fog. That didn’t match anything he knew of vamp behavior. “Why?”

Now it was Marcus who wouldn’t meet his eyes. Chuck growled. “I asked you a question.”

Marcus chuckled, but there was no humor in it. Chuck barely heard his whisper, “Centurio indeed.” Then the vamp took a deep (and damned unnecessary) breath, and said, “Vampires share the hatred of the society they spring from, and medieval Europe hated many things.”

Chuck was really getting loopy. The way Marcus was trying to avoid giving a straight answer flashed him back to standing before the company commander, facing the question that was going to strip him of everything that mattered. What the fuck was so scary a frigging vampire didn’t want to talk about? He nearly told the vamp to forget it, but he had to know. “And?”

“I am a sodomite.”

The bitten off words didn’t make sense. Chuck nearly fell out of the chair as meaning penetrated the drug fog and then he started giggling. The world didn’t fucking change, did it?

The glimpses he got of Marcus’ face between convulsions suggested that he didn’t appreciate the joke, but Chuck couldn’t get control of himself. He managed to choke out, “Did I… Did I ever tell you why I left the army?”

After a moment, Marcus shook his head; confusion replacing anger in his face.

“Twenty years. Twenty goddamn years of service, and it meant nothing to them when I was outed. Marcus, I got kicked under DADT.”

Marcus grabbed a chair and collapsed into it. Apparently the ancient fiend wasn’t blind to modern politics. Or irony. After a few moments, he started chuckling too.

Eventually, the laughter died down. Looking over at Marcus, Chuck admitted to himself that he wouldn’t have kept the vamp around all these years if he didn’t like and trust him. And he wasn’t hard on the eyes, either. “So what now?”

Marcus spread his hands, “If you are willing to trust me, nothing need change. Unless you want it too.” A moments pause. “I wouldn’t object to a fresh meal once in a while.”

Chcuk couldn’t tell if Marcus was being humorous or not. Did he honestly think Chuck was going to sit back and let him- a yawn that nearly split his head open interrupted the thought.

Marcus chuckled, “And if I can make a suggestion, you can decide what to do with me tomorrow. Right now, I’m taking you to bed.”

Chuck jerked away, “Now hold on, just cause I like your company enough to put up with you the past few years doesn’t mean…”

Marcus picked him up, ignoring his protests, and carried Chuck and his oxygen tank towards the bunkroom. “I like my bed partners willing – and awake.”

“And just who’s in command around here?”

“Then consider yourself on medical leave until sunset.”

Chuck settled into bed, still protesting. As the room went dark he swore he’d get back at his erstwhile subordinate – as soon as he could keep his eyes open.