[Tiêu Liên] Like I’m Gonna Lose You

168fe44fece306da62191b4a1f4fc048
Art: Victoria Frances
Pairing: Tiêu Liên – Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang x Liên Thành Bích (Tân Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang)

Genres: BL, fantasy, alternate universe – AU

Rating: 10+

Nhân vật: Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang, Liên Thành Bích, Thẩm Bích Quân

Chú ý: Hình tượng và tính cách Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang, Liên Thành Bích và Thẩm Bích Quân lấy từ phim truyền hình Tân Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang (2016).

Preview:

Đôi tay anh nhấc lên rồi dứt khoát hạ xuống, mười ngón tay thanh mảnh dồn sức bóp chặt cổ người nằm trên giường.

Không chống cự.

Liên Thành Bích chỉ buông tay khi âm thanh “tick, tick, tick” tắt hẳn. Anh nhìn xuống đôi tay mình, mỉm cười nhẹ nhõm.

“Xin lỗi, Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang.”

“I found myself dreaming

In silver and gold

Like a scene from a movie

That every broken heart knows”

(Em thấy mình đang mơ

Trong màu vàng và bạc

Như một cảnh trong phim

Mà mọi con tim tan vỡ đều biết)

Liên Thành Bích nghe thấy ca khúc mà anh vô cùng yêu thích. Giọng ca dịu dàng của Jasmine Thompson từ xa vọng lại, thoáng chìm, thoáng nổi như ý thức của Liên Thành Bích lúc này.

Dạo gần đây Liên Thành Bích hay mơ. Mỗi lần như thế, tuy ý thức anh như chiếc phao thả trôi dòng nước nhưng anh đều nhận thức được là mình đang mơ. Và chính vì biết mình đang mơ nên anh không cảm thấy dù chỉ là một tia sợ hãi.

Cảnh tượng xung quanh không hề thơ mộng như ca từ trong bài hát, đối lập là đằng khác.

Xung quanh Liên Thành Bích không có màu vàng, màu bạc hay ánh trăng mà chỉ có lửa.

Bốn phía là lửa, khắp nơi đều là lửa.

Lửa bén đến chân Liên Thành Bích rồi, chỉ mấy phút nữa thôi sẽ thiêu cháy anh.

Đó là nếu như khói chưa giết chết anh trước.

Liên Thành Bích từ từ khép mắt, tận hưởng cảm giác bàn tay của thần chết chầm chậm bóp chặt tim, phổi.

Sẽ không lâu đâu, Liên Thành Bích tự nhủ.

“We were walking on moonlight

And you pulled me close

Split second and you disappeared

And then I was all alone”

(Chúng mình đang đi trên ánh trăng

Rồi anh kéo em lại gần

Chỉ một khắc thôi và anh biến mất

Rồi còn mình em ở đây)

Giai điệu của bài hát vẫn nhẹ nhàng và êm dịu như thế, tựa như lời an ủi một người sắp chết rằng cái chết chỉ là một giấc ngủ sâu, không có gì đáng để sợ hãi, hoảng loạn. Cuộc đời cũ chấm dứt, cuộc đời mới mở ra, tươi sáng hơn, tràn đầy hy vọng, không còn âu lo, đau khổ, vĩnh viễn yên bình. Nhưng đó không phải lý do Liên Thành Bích bình thản tiếp nhận cái chết của chính mình. Anh không sợ hãi chỉ vì anh biết chắc chắn đây là một giấc mơ, và một giấc mơ dù kinh khủng đến mức nào cũng sẽ chấm dứt. Chỉ cần anh chết trong giấc mơ, anh sẽ bừng tỉnh, biển lửa không lối thoát này sẽ trở thành một câu chuyện phiếm lúc nhàn rỗi.

Liên Thành Bích bình thản đón nhận cái chết, người khác lại không thể. Lẫn trong tiếng hát của Jasmine Thompson là một giọng nói đang tha thiết gọi tên anh, và nếu Liên Thành Bích mở mắt, chắc chắn anh sẽ thấy khuôn mặt tràn đầy kinh hãi và đau đớn của Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang vì cố sức vượt qua bức tường lửa và thất bại.

Liên Thành Bích không mở mắt.

Đã bao lần Liên Thành Bích bảo Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang bỏ cuộc nhưng Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang, với bản tính bướng bỉnh của mình, chưa lần nào nghe lời. Một là cùng thoát, hai là cùng chết, Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang nói. Kết cục luôn là cả hai đều bị lửa nuốt chửng trong khi lẽ ra một người có thể sống sót.

Liên Thành Bích căm ghét kết cục này nhưng không thể nào thay đổi nó. Việc duy nhất anh có thể làm là không nhìn và chờ giấc mộng này chấm dứt.

Lửa đã tắt, trần nhà mà Liên Thành Bích nhìn lên là một màu xám xanh, bốn bức tường xung quanh cũng là màu xám xanh.

Khi sáu bóng đèn neon đồng loạt bật lên, chúng trắng toát lạnh người. Khi đèn tắt, chúng thành màu xám xanh ảm đạm.

Chúng không bao giờ trở thành màu đen bởi vì vẫn còn ánh sáng lọt qua khe cửa. Bên ngoài phòng là hành lang quanh năm suốt tháng một màu trắng toát.

Đã quá nửa đêm nhưng bước chân người chưa hết hối hả.

Trong phòng, tiếng hát của Jasmine Thompson dịu dàng nhấn chìm âm thanh của những đôi giày vải trắng vô trùng miết lên sàn gạch…

… cùng những tiếng “tick, tick, tick” khô khốc đều đặn.

“I woke up in tears

With you by my side

A breath of relief

And I realized

No, we’re not promised tomorrow”

(Em bừng tỉnh trong nước mắt

Và anh ở kề bên

Em thở phào nhẹ nhõm

Và chợt nhận ra

Không, chúng mình không được hứa hẹn ngày mai)

Tiếng hát phát ra từ chiếc máy phát nhạc mini đặt trên chiếc tủ cạnh giường. Tối nào cũng như tối nào, Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang đều bật bài hát này, không chỉ vì đây là bài hát Liên Thành Bích thích nghe nhất mà còn để giảm bớt tiếng ồn. Bằng một cách bí ẩn và diệu kỳ nào đó, bài hát đã len vào giấc mơ của Liên Thành Bích.

Tất nhiên Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang không biết, Liên Thành Bích không hề thấy phiền vì những âm thanh đó. Ngày nào cũng nghe, sau một thời gian bất cứ ai cũng quen mà thôi.

Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang đang ngồi bên giường ngủ gật. Anh vẫn mặc nguyên bộ com lê như ban sáng đi làm, chỉ tháo bỏ cà vạt cùng cởi vài chiếc khuy trên cùng cho dễ thở. Một tay chống đầu, tay còn lại nắm chặt tay Liên Thành Bích.

Như thể anh sợ chỉ cần mình buông lỏng ngón tay một chút thôi, Liên Thành Bích sẽ trượt khỏi tay anh.

Bản tính của Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang là hễ có được thứ gì, anh sẽ nắm thật chặt, nhất quyết không bao giờ buông tay. “Dogs with bones,” Liên Thành Bích từng trêu anh như vậy. Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang không giận, chỉ tếu táo sửa lại: “Sói, không phải chó. Và tôi không ngậm chặt xương, chỉ giữ chặt cậu thôi.”

Không cần nói cũng biết lúc đó Liên Thành Bích cảm động như thế nào. Chỉ là bây giờ, anh rất mong Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang buông tay.

Hình ảnh cả hai cùng chết cháy trong mơ không phải sản phẩm của trí tưởng tượng mà là ẩn dụ của tương lai, là nhắc nhở không ngừng của tiềm thức.

Cơn ác mộng trong đời thực này sẽ kéo dài bao lâu nữa? Năm năm? Mười năm? Cả đời?

Không chỉ tiềm thức mà ý thức của Liên Thành Bích cũng hiểu rõ.

Nếu Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang không buông thì Liên Thành Bích phải là người dứt khoát.

Liên Thành Bích ngồi dậy, bước đến bên Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang.

Dù đang ngủ nhưng nét mặt Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang không hề thư giãn. Căng thẳng, phiền muộn, mệt mỏi hằn lên từng đường nét anh tuấn.

Đây không phải nét mặt một người mới hai mươi sáu tuổi nên có.

Liên Thành Bích vòng tay ôm Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang thật chặt, đồng thời hôn lên trán, lên khoé mắt, sống mũi.

Đôi môi Liên Thành Bích chạm vào môi Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang, nhẹ như cánh hoa đào lìa cành, đáp xuống mặt hồ như gương dưới gốc cây.

Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang vẫn say ngủ.

“So I’m gonna love you

Like I’m gonna lose you

And I’m gonna hold you

Like I’m saying goodbye”

(Vì vậy em sẽ yêu anh

Giống như em sẽ mất anh

Và em sẽ ôm anh

Giống như em đang nói lời vĩnh biệt)

Điệp khúc chấm dứt, Liên Thành Bích rời Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang, trở lại giường. Đôi tay anh nhấc lên rồi dứt khoát hạ xuống, mười ngón tay thanh mảnh dồn sức bóp chặt cổ người nằm trên giường.

Không chống cự.

Liên Thành Bích chỉ buông tay khi âm thanh “tick, tick, tick” tắt hẳn. Anh nhìn xuống đôi tay mình, mỉm cười nhẹ nhõm.

“Xin lỗi, Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang.”

Thẩm Bích Quân bắt đầu ngày hôm nay như mọi ngày khác. Cô đến bệnh viện đúng bảy giờ bốn mươi lăm phút sáng—cũng là giờ bắt đầu ca làm việc, thay đồng phục, vấn mái tóc dài đen mượt thành một búi gọn gàng sau gáy và đội lên đầu chiếc mũ của y tá. Môi điểm nụ cười, cô sẽ đến phòng y tá trưởng làm thủ tục có mặt. Tiếp theo, cô sẽ ghé phòng B204 để kiểm tra tình hình của bệnh nhân phòng đó như thường lệ. Sau khi đã ghi đầy đủ các chỉ số như huyết áp, nhịp tim… vào sổ theo dõi và chắc chắn bệnh nhân không gặp vấn đề gì, cô mới thật sự bắt đầu ca làm việc của mình.

Năm năm qua, mỗi sáng Thẩm Bích Quân đều thực hiện chừng ấy công tác, chưa từng thay đổi. Cô làm việc ở bệnh viện này được năm năm, bệnh nhân ở phòng B204 cũng nằm tại căn phòng đó được năm năm.

… và người thân duy nhất của bệnh nhân đó, một thanh niên trạc tuổi anh ta, đã đi lại bệnh viện này được năm năm. Ngày mưa cũng như ngày nắng, ngày thường cũng như ngày bão, người ấy đều đúng giờ xuất hiện tại phòng bệnh: một lần vào tám giờ sáng trước khi đi làm, một lần vào sáu giờ chiều sau khi tan sở. Thỉnh thoảng anh sẽ qua đêm tại phòng bệnh và sáng hôm sau, Thẩm Bích Quân sẽ gặp anh trước tám giờ. Cả hai sẽ trò chuyện vài câu không đầu không đuôi trong lúc Thẩm Bích Quân làm nhiệm vụ rồi cô để anh lại với bệnh nhân còn mình thì đi làm việc. Buổi chiều cũng như vậy, sau khi thăm khám xong xuôi, cô liền từ biệt người thanh niên ấy để ra về, kết thúc một ngày làm việc.

Qua những cuộc trò chuyện chóng vánh như thế, Thẩm Bích Quân biết được bốn điều: một là thanh niên mỗi ngày đến thăm bệnh họ Tiêu, đang làm việc tại một công ty tương đối lớn, thu nhập cũng không tệ, vì vậy khả năng tài chính của anh không những đủ để duy trì sự điều trị của bệnh nhân phòng B204 mà còn đủ để bệnh nhân được ở phòng riêng, không phải ở chung với nhiều người khác.

Duy trì sự sống cho một người hôn mê không biết chừng nào tỉnh là một việc rất tốn kém.

Thứ hai, thanh niên họ Tiêu đó là thân nhân duy nhất của bệnh nhân, ngoài ra không có người thứ hai. Suốt năm năm, Thẩm Bích Quân chưa bao giờ gặp ai khác ngoài thanh niên họ Tiêu trong căn phòng đó.

Thứ ba, bệnh nhân ở phòng B204 mang họ Liên và nguyên nhân khiến anh ta rơi vào tình trạng này là do ngạt khói từ một vụ hỏa hoạn.

Đó là một vụ hỏa hoạn lớn, chấn động thành phố, dĩ nhiên Thẩm Bích Quân đã nghe tới. Tuy nhiên, điều khiến cô chú ý là những vết sẹo chằng chịt trên cả hai bàn tay của thanh niên họ Tiêu. Bình thường, anh đều đeo găng tay đen, chỉ khi ngồi xuống bên bệnh nhân, anh mới tháo chúng ra.

Thẩm Bích Quân không dám hỏi, cô chỉ dám phỏng đoán những vết sẹo đó có lẽ là do bỏng lửa.

Thứ tư, thanh niên họ Tiêu chắc chắn rất yêu bệnh nhân trong phòng B204. Bằng quan sát và bằng trực giác nhạy bén của mình, từ ngày đầu chứng kiến họ, Thẩm Bích Quân đã nhận ra điều đó. Thời gian chỉ chứng minh cho nhận định của cô mà thôi.

Ngoài bốn điều trên và những thông tin cơ bản về bệnh nhân được lưu trong hồ sơ bệnh viện, Thẩm Bích Quân không biết gì hơn. Theo quy định của bệnh viện cộng với bản tính nhạy cảm, cô không đào sâu vào quá khứ của hai người họ.

Thế nhưng điều đó không hề ngăn cản Thẩm Bích Quân yêu mến cả hai con người ấy; cô xem họ không chỉ là một phần của công việc mà là một bộ phận trong cuộc sống của mình.

Sáng nay, khi Thẩm Bích Quân đến phòng y tá trưởng, cô nhận được chỉ thị là từ nay trở đi, cô không cần theo dõi chỉ số sức khỏe của bệnh nhân phòng B204 nữa.

Vì sao? cô hỏi.

Bởi vì bệnh nhân phòng B204 đã qua đời vào rạng sáng hôm nay, thi thể đã được khám nghiệm và đưa xuống phòng lạnh, y tá trưởng đáp.

Thẩm Bích Quân rời phòng y tá trưởng với cảm giác phân nửa linh hồn cô đã bị sụt xuống một hố đen.

Mới hôm qua các chỉ số còn bình thường cơ mà, làm sao hôm nay lại ra đi đột ngột như thế, cô không hiểu.

Chầm chậm đi dọc hành lang, Thẩm Bích Quân tình cờ nghe được hai y tá trò chuyện.

“Chị nghe tin gì chưa? Bệnh nhân phòng B204 vừa qua đời rồi,” một y tá nói.

“Sao đột ngột thế? Nguyên nhân là gì?”

“Em nghe các bác sỹ nói là trụy tim, nguyên nhân hoàn toàn tự nhiên.”

“Thật vậy không?”

“Bác sỹ nói vậy mà, nhưng em thấy hơi lạ…”

“Lạ gì cơ?”

“Thì em nghe các chị y tá bên kia nói trên cổ bệnh nhân có một dấu nhàn nhạt, tựa như ngón tay ấy.”

“Không phải là… chứ? Nghe nói đêm qua người nhà bệnh nhân đó ở lại phòng…”

“Nếu vậy thì bác sỹ phải phát hiện ra ngay chứ, đằng này… nhưng chị nói không phải không có lý.”

“Thì thế. Chị nghe nói là năm năm trôi qua rồi nhưng bệnh nhân đó không hề có dấu hiệu tỉnh lại. Có khi nào thân nhân kia tuyệt vọng quá rồi—”

Thẩm Bích Quân bước nhanh qua hai y tá nọ, không quên tặng họ một ánh mắt sắc lẻm khiến cả hai sững người, gián đoạn cuộc nói chuyện.

Mưu sát ư? Thật vô căn cứ. Không đời nào người thanh niên họ Tiêu kia lại làm vậy, không đời nào! Anh ta yêu bệnh nhân phòng B204 đến thế cơ mà. Thẩm Bích Quân cảm nhận được, và cô dám khẳng định anh ta không tuyệt vọng đến mức làm nên chuyện này. Lần trò chuyện gần đây nhất cô còn thấy hy vọng lấp lánh trong đôi mắt mỏi mệt của anh ta.

Nhưng, cô hiểu được anh ta bao nhiêu phần mà dám khẳng định?

Bước chân Thẩm Bích Quân chuyển hướng, không đến phòng bệnh y tá trưởng mới phân công mà đến phòng B204.

Phòng trắng toát, trống không như chưa từng có một bệnh nhân đã ở đây chẵn năm năm.

Trên chiếc tủ cạnh giường là chiếc máy phát nhạc mini.

Thẩm Bích Quân nhận ra chiếc máy. Ngày nào thanh niên họ Tiêu cũng bật bài nhạc duy nhất trong đó, để chế độ tự động lặp lại mỗi khi bài hát kết thúc. Anh từng nói đây là bài hát mà người nằm trên giường lúc trước thích nhất.

Trong lòng dâng lên thôi thúc lạ kỳ, Thẩm Bích Quân cầm nó lên, nhấn nút “play”.

Kỳ lạ một nỗi, bài hát dài gần bốn phút trong máy giờ đã bị thu gọn chỉ còn đoạn điệp khúc.

Da diết và ám ảnh như lời trăn trối.

“So I’m gonna love you

Like I’m gonna lose you

And I’m gonna hold you

Like I’m saying goodbye”

(Vì vậy em sẽ yêu anh

Giống như em sẽ mất anh

Và em sẽ ôm anh

Giống như em đang nói lời vĩnh biệt)

Nếu lắng tai nghe thật kỹ thì Thẩm Bích Quân sẽ nhận ra một giọng nói lạ ẩn sau giọng hát:

“Xin lỗi, Tiêu Thập Nhất Lang.”

Hết

Đây là lần thứ mấy bạn trẻ Joel viết truyện có yếu tố hoang tưởng lấy bối cảnh bệnh viện (và phải phòng B204 mới chịu)? Chắc bạn bị bệnh viện ám ảnh…

Cảm hứng để bạn viết fic này là lửa (tại sao thì bạn không rõ), chết cháy (please đừng hỏi tại sao >”<) và quan trọng nhất là ca khúc Like I’m Gonna Lose You bản cover của Jasmine Thompson (mà bạn nghe được trong tập 11 – Wild at Hearts của The Originals mùa 3). Nếu bạn muốn nghe thử, hãy nghe bản này, đừng nghe bản gốc. Cá nhân bạn Joel thấy bản gốc hát vừa nhanh vừa giật, không còn chút cảm xúc nào. Có lẽ vì nghe bản cover trước nên bị ấn tượng như vậy.

Đây là fic bạn Joel viết với hy vọng sẽ hack não người đọc một tý. Bạn không thấy hack não? Okay, bạn Joel fail rồi ~~.

[Trilijah] Haunting

Haunting

Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners

Fandom: Wasted on the Young x The Originals

Rating: T

Pairing: Trilijah – Elijah Mikaelson x Tristan de Martel (though they merely appear around the end)

Genres: fanfiction, canon divergence

Preview:

As long as Darren was dead and unreal, he could deal with those spontaneous ‘visits’. Ride through them like he had ridden through a mediocre college and a mediocre decree and this mediocre auto repair shop in this mediocre backwater no-where.

As long as Darren wasn’t flesh and blood.

Until he was.

Set after the end of Wasted on the Young

In his regular darkest, loneliest hours, filled with cheap booze and nicotine, Zack allowed his thoughts to cling onto the tendrils of smoke and wandered from his addled head. Somehow, no matter where they strayed to, when the tobacco bags were crumpled and the bottles drained, smashed, they all spiraled back to one subject: Darren.

Zack had experienced his very first dark and lonely hours with Darren. Darren who had bound him to the couch and sat next to him, silent as a ghost waiting for the light of heaven. Before them was the device Darren might have intended for the end-of-year project, yet Zack was sure as hell no criteria had been associated with a loaded pistol that pointed at each of them every time a vote was counted. While Zack’s confidence was chipped by the seconds, for the number of times the gun directed its mouth to him was as many as the number it did Darren, his step brother’s expressions were serene as when he was playing one of his favorite computer games. His hands, whole and broken, folded on his laps, and his blue eyes seemed to emit a soft, eerie glow as he gazed into the gun’s hole as though it were something to be adored, lost to the world at large.

Zack wasn’t above begging him to stop, although all his pleas went deaf in Darren’s ears. He had been adamant in his murderous attempt.

The gun pointed at Zack and he squeezed his eyes shut, expecting a sharp, charring pain between his eyes to signal the abrupt conclusion of his life. Then he heard a “click” sound and felt the sticky warmth plastered on half of his face. Too warm that his skin felt burning. When he dare open his eyes, the gory sight scene of Darren’s head lolled to a side, blood gushing out from where his left eye used to be was enough to haunt him for life.

The gun veered at him, its muzzle a grotesque eye staring questioningly at him. Zack was torn between the suspense that the gun would fire and the flimsy hope that it would not.

He saw the trigger move, and nothing came out. There had only been a single bullet in its chamber.

Zack spent the next hour in the company of a corpse, finding himself unable to stop staring in Darren’s wide-open, remaining blue eye and wondering whether it was his own life rather than Zack’s that his step-brother had planned to snuff in the first place. All the menacing speech and the voting had merely been a farce.

It may have been Darren’s greatest and most well-played farce.

Zack got out of it clean, just as he had gotten out of every of his mess clean. The evidence was clear – Darren’s handprints all over the gun and device, Zack being immobilized and the party goers’ witness – so the case was quickly closed, or rather, silenced by Zack’s father. And Xandrie’s shaky video too, while he was at it. The perk of having a hugely influential father with an enormous account. Cassi didn’t buy it though. She screamed and screamed and might have torn Zack’s face off with her bare, bony hands but for the police officers’ restraining and sedating her. Gave her enough to tranquilize a horse, he heard the officers mutter. It never occurred to him that the gold digger loved her son that much, judging from the abundant time she had left him to his own device, quite literally, for partying and fucking men. Zack supposed it would surprise Darren also, were he alive to witness his estranged mother’s love and grief.

Zack heard that Cassi had been sent to an institution and died soon afterwards. Somehow she had managed to sneak a razor blade into her room. Perhaps a visitor had given it to her, no one knew. What happened next was a poor cliché: a staff member saw her to bed safely and found dear old Cassi a rigid cadaver the next morning when he came in to check on her. Had cut her own wrists sometime in the death of the night and bled all over the sterile white floor. Left a nastiest stain as a souvenir for the janitor. Like mother, like son. All nut jobs. When Cassi’s news reached him, Zack wondered, like he had wondered many a time about Darren and Xandrie, if they were ever united in the afterlife, or whichever place the dead would go to.

Zack stretched his arm and reached into the old, worn hardwood drawer. His fingers rummaged for a few good seconds before they found the object of his drunken scavenger hunt – a sleek, black gun, the same model as the one Xandrie and later Darren had held against his face. Inside the chamber a single bullet was lodged.

He held the gun to his left temple, his forefinger toying with the trigger while his mind conjuring the myriad scenarios in which his corpse would be found. “Not today,” he mumbled to no one in particular, repeated it in louder volume and finally shouted. No one would hear him since the auto repair shop was only inhabited by homeless ghosts and Zack at this odd hour. Some day, yes, but not today. He put the gun into his drawer and locked it securely.

Zack purchased it some days after Darren had come back to haunt him. Not the kind of 24/7 haunting though. Sometimes his step-brother popped out from the middle of nowhere, across the street, at the table in the darkest corner, behind the shop’s smudgy glass door, in the broken mirror. Sometimes he was with Xandrie, the two of them in big matching hoodies that hid away most of their faces save huge, sunken eyes that drilled into Zack, and sometimes he was alone. Sometimes he appeared whole, sometimes with a bloody hole going all the way into his skull for an eye. He did nothing, merely looking until Zack could take no more and shouted at him, smashing every surface Darren could use to make his presence known, and then he simply vanished. Another day, or another month, and he would appear once again – the cycle never ended. Heck, this sapped sanity quicker than quick sand. So guess what? No scholarship for a nutty boy who had survived a trauma architected by his step brother: people pitied him and said all kind, encouraging words to him in front of his face and yet, when they turned their back, none would want to take a ghost-seeing student into their college. Zack guessed it was fair and square – after all he could no longer give them any medals. Swimming champion now became hydrophobic – the biggest irony. Couldn’t even go anywhere near water. Truth be told, it wasn’t water that scared the shit out of him. Not all kinds of water anyway. It was the pool that did, really. The pool with its chloride-filled water that no matter how he looked, it was nothing but Darren’s huge eye.

Nevertheless, Zack could live with that, as the last thread of rationality in him was able to determine that the ‘Darren’ he saw again and again was not real, but rather a fragment of… of what? He would not call it guilt, for if he did, it only meant that little fucker had won and Zack, no matter how messed and failed his life had become after Darren, would not lose to a teenage apparition. As long as Darren was dead and unreal, he could deal with those spontaneous ‘visits’. Ride through them like he had ridden through a mediocre college and a mediocre decree and this mediocre auto repair shop in this mediocre backwater no-where.

As long as Darren wasn’t flesh and blood.

Until he was.

Zack’s cloudy eyes lit up at the sight of a sleek black Ford steering towards him and making a halt. It was the first car to stop at Zack’s shop after a whole morning and half the afternoon of idleness, and a very fine one at that. The door open and from the inside a man stepped down, all in black and handsome as the vehicle itself. Probably a CEO or some important figure, judging by his designer suit, his cuff links and his watch. Heck, Zack used to possess the exact same one – daddy’s big present to compensate for his absence at his son’s coming-of-age birthday. He had loved it until the day he was forced to sell it.

He eyed the man with some fascination as the opposite door opened and another figure came into his sight. Designer suit again, adorned with gold cuff links flashing blindingly in the intense July sun. Zack had to squint his eyes in order to get a relatively decent view of the second man’s face.

He wished he hadn’t. In fact, he’d rather be blind than see that face.

Darren’s face. An exact duplication save few minor modifications. He looked older, for one, his face’s being a man’s instead of an adolescent’s, and there were some stubbles on his chin – a fully grown man – while Darren’s had been smooth. But the eyes were the same, a winter blue that seemed to pierce to Zack’s soul when his gaze glided over Zack.

There was not the slightest hint of recognition in those irises. Yet Zack was shivering despite the glaring heat.

Things processed like a hazy fever dream. Darren and his companion gave some instructions regarding their car – the usual maintenance job, gas fill and a wash. Zack found himself nodding but not really listening. He wondered if they took notice of his staring – couldn’t peel his eyes off that haunting face. Even if they did, Zack had a distinct impression that they wouldn’t give a damn about it. Men in expensive suits like them avoided unnecessary quarrels like germs: getting worked up over something as trivial as an inappropriate look was just too beneath them.

While they spent their wait in a poor excuse for a fast food stall at the back of the auto repair shop and ordered food out of politeness rather than necessity, Zack found himself wandering back to his locker. He unlocked the rusty drawer, rummaged through various trinkets and papers to seek for one thing.

A single gun. A single bullet.

“This is the day,” a voice whispered to him. “This is the day,” he repeated.

Wendy was dozing at the counter and her only two customers were having a chat in soft voice when Zack stalked to their seats, the pistol in his hand – safety lock flipped, ready to shoot. Darren’s companion saw him first. His dark eyes fell upon Zack’s face, then his arm, his fingers clenched around the grip. He must have noticed the strange thing in his hand too, for his eyes widened just a bit. Mildly surprised, not scared though. Strange man. Zack had half expected him to freak out.

Only when he paid attention to the subtle change in his partner’s countenance did Darren’s ghost turn his head, eyes slightly enlarged as if only now had Zack’s existence been registered to his brain. Funny how that used to be the other way around during high school: Zack, captain of the swimming team, the school’s golden boy and Darren an awkward nerd mostly invisible. Look at them now: the golden boy had become an alcoholic barely holding his job in a no-name shop and the nerd at the top of the world. Are you satisfied, Darren?

Zack laughed an ugly laugh and pulled the trigger.

The bullet drilled into Darren’s left eye and burst through the wall behind, giving its greasy surface a new coat of crimson. Avant-garde, that was the only word in Zack’s head, Zack who had basically skipped every art class. But, like some wise man once said, you could not appreciate art until you’d seen true art.

This was true art: the wall wet with Darren’s blood and Darren a warm cadaver sprawled face-down on the dusty floor.

…Except Darren hadn’t fallen. The force of a close-ranged bullet caused him to stagger a few steps back and that was it: Darren, standing and blatantly living in spite of a hole in his skull. His face, half-painted in blood, was relatively calm.

Mildly surprised, the same as his partner’s.

Zack wanted to scream his lungs out; nonetheless, his screams were muffed before they were released out of his throat.

Then Zack was laughing out loud, the kind of laughter that was no different than howl. He was witnessing the most bizarre freak show in the world and it was too amusing he wouldn’t want to stop laughing: Darren’s damaged flesh was restored like a movie clip in rewinding, his eye and face becoming whole and perfect as if nothing had happened.

Perhaps no event had truly occurred and everything was in Zack’s head. He blinked, feeling acutely the ache of having strained his eyes for too long. He looked down at his right hand, which was still holding the gun, his index finger hooking the trigger. Wendy was still dozing while Darren’s ghost and his friend were still sitting at the table, the food in front of them hardly touched. The space around him was him was buzzing with the old, familiar sounds of this auto repair shop he had called home for the last seven years.

Had his mind finally given in to his madness named ‘Darren’?

Shortly after the Ford left, disappearing beyond the never-ending highway, Zack saw Darren again. Sitting at the corner table where the pair had been and donning a costly dark suit instead of his usual hoodie. The face, however, was the teenage face Zack had gotten used to seeing.

Zack laughed, pressing the gun’s muzzle to his temple…

… and found it an empty gun.

Epilogue

Tristan loosened the cerulean tie around his neck. The air-conditioner in their car seemed powerless against this diabolical heat.

He started to regret taking this ‘runaway’ adventure with Elijah. A break from sire line war and constant family drama, with crazy sister and psycho brother to boot, Elijah had told him and he had been convinced. He must have been under compulsion back then, for now he regretted it deeply, along with the sour fact that neither of them had brought anything other than suits.

“You missed a spot,” Elijah casually remarked, holding out a handkerchief with one hand while the other was on the wheel.

Tristan flipped down a mirror attached to the roof and checked for said spot. Yet even when his face was clean, his jacket and shirt were beyond help.

Vampire blood was a nasty thing.

With an exasperated huff, Tristan ripped his tie, took off his jacket and carelessly threw them on the back seat. He considered getting rid of the shirt too but decided against it the very next second the idea was formed. Spending the rest of the journey in half-naked state wasn’t something he felt comfortable with.

“Well, it’s not every day that we stop at a backwater shop and I get shot in the face,” Tristan bleated. “Certainly a rare novelty.”

Elijah sniggered. “He had his eyes on you the moment we walked in. Still, I hadn’t imagined that he would do something to such extreme.”

“From what I saw from his mind, I wouldn’t call it ‘extreme’. That alone prompted me to spare his miserable life. Not without a small souvenir, of course.”

“What was it that you saw?”

Tristan smiled, reaching for the flask he kept in the car. He untwisted the cap and drank leisurely, using the time to stir Elijah’s curiosity.

“What if I told you that madman had been haunted by a ghost… one that was an adolescent doppelgänger of mine?”

End

Kiss Me Goodnight (II)

*Characters and events belong to Joel7th

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Face claim: Michael Fassbender as Azazeal (Hex)

II.

He returned, with a goodnight kiss and promise of bedtime stories

He returned the next night, when the grandfather clock struck twelve, and did so the night after, and all the nights that followed. Exactly at midnight, never a second late. I knew because after the fourth night, I began counting every remaining minute while telling myself the butterflies in my stomach didn’t come from the anxiety and anticipation of cigarette smell blending in the air. Didn’t come from him. And when the time came and I turned my head, I would see a deceptively young man sitting cross-legged on my creaking bed, a half-burnt fag between his fingers. With his fine tailored suit, his slightly wavy locks slick with brilliantine, his polished Italian leather boots and expensive fags, Death posed sharply as a privileged fop most welcomed in every casinos or red-light districts. He might be one when he was not on his “deadly” business. Yet, instead of being there, he was here, sitting on a low, tiny bed that would probably get his long limbs cramp. Instead of having voluptuous pretty girls on his lap, he was in the company of a scrawny kid who was debating whether to grudgingly welcome him or just shove him out of the door. “Good evening,” he would say, and thus our nightly tête-à-tête began.

He was the first I hoped and the last I expected to see upon turning the brass doorknob of my attic room the second night he paid me a visit.

The grandfather clock was chiming its ominous tune as though welcoming him.

It had been a long day indeed. Rushing back and forth between the East and West ends of the town gave my soles blisters that would not heal in a week or two and my leg and thigh muscles a burning soreness that numbed whatever kinks Lord Abner tried on me later in the evening. Having been instructed a handful of new “pleasure” plays from an exotic trader, he was more than eager to try, as my mother had been more than eager to pick the golden coins from his heavy pocket. But I had been a disappointment, he remarked furiously. Lying impassively on his four-poster red satin bed like a bloody dead log. Had he known beforehand, he would have just paid for a pretty cadaver to be delivered to his mansion – corpses were far cheaper, especially in this town where peasants died like flies every day. Where was the youthful and rigorous passion he had expected after paying an absurd sum for one pleasure night? Cheated! Conned! He roared and finally resorted to the old trick of leather bindings, masks and crop. Venting out the frustration in the familiar way he knew all too well. At least in the end, he was generally satiated; otherwise Mother and I would have been in great trouble.

I staggered step by step on the wooden stair, a basin of water and a spotted, worn cloth in my hands, to the door of my room. Mother were already sleeping in her room, probably stone-drunk on the better-than-average whiskey her ample payment tonight had allowed and never aware that her child might have lost her yet a generous client. My sporadic footsteps woke only Janek, who was the unfortunate light sleeper in this house of nocturnal creatures. Glaring at me with bleary eyes, he muttered gibberish before covering his crinkly head with his faded, patched blanket – its foul smell reached even where I was standing. Sweet dreams, I mouthed, and ascended the rest of the stair to my room.

For a moment I had imagined Death behind the door, grinning at me when I came in. It gave my heart a jolt to step in and see the real one.

“Good evening.” A greeting that would sound much mechanical and pretentious were it not coming from Death. He uncrossed his legs and shifted to the edge to allow me the most space should I need to lie down, and I nodded in brief acknowledgement. Jumbled by his unexpected appearance, my mind failed to find its voice. What to do now that he was in my room just as I had wished? Honestly I didn’t know. I could greet him with the same cliché. Maybe not. Or perhaps I could go on doing whatever I had intended to do, never mind his presence. Though I had hoped (against all hope) for his return, I wouldn’t imagine myself giving his company a warming welcome. Death didn’t seem to mind though; he might have picked it up from my mind already.

I laid the basin on the table and opened the window, facing the streets and a row of cypress trees. It had been drizzling for hours and the moon was shy; all I had was the dim, yellow lamplight that could be put out in any minute. Since I had displeased the lord, I hadn’t earned the extra coins that I might have used to purchase some candles and oil. Forget them. The state my legs was wouldn’t have allowed me another few more streets.

The rough fabric rubbed against my back. I grimaced at the first taste of pain, which would last for a couple of days if I were lucky to have no client, and tried to be less haste and more gentle. As soon as I stripped off my soiled clothes and put them away in a small heap by the bed to be washed tomorrow morning, I felt Death’s gaze on me, rolling slowly down my spine like small fireballs. Made my skin crawl just a little. Still, I didn’t begrudge his staring; my back and backside must be a sight to behold now, as was the skin of my thighs and legs. Lord Abner had been fervently determined to get his reimbursement. I supposed I deserved all these nasty slashes, as mother would later chastise me once she found out about my “terrible service”. The thickheaded child that refused to learn, that was I.

“The water was cold.”

I turned around at his voice, perplexed by his sudden statement. Did he mean the water in the basin? Of course it was cold. Warm water at this late hour cost three pence and I simply wouldn’t want to risk mother’s fury. Besides, I only needed something to cleanse myself so that I could have a better sleep. Cold water served the purpose just fine.

I soon understood as I turned to basin. Steam was rising from the surface and for a moment I stood still, allowing the moisture to wash over my face. Pleasure, the warmth and moist on my cold skin. And the scent of fresh, clean water passing through my nose was much purer than the variety of oriental perfumes Lord Abner arranged on shelf after shelf of ivory in his lavish pleasure chamber.

Thank you. I found my voice at last. Dipping the cloth in the water, I began to dab at my skin. First were the wounds. A sharp sting. Though I had anticipated the pain, I still could not feign nonchalance in the face of its sharp bite. Mother once said I was blessed with skin that was never plagued with scars, something she envied and would trade all she got to possess. But I wished for the exact opposite: had my skin become calloused and thickened then I might not have to endure much pain every time it was torn open.

The steady gaze of Death’s eyes appeared to heighten my sensitivity. No one had watched me the way he was doing at present: persistent, scathing yet devoid of lust. Lust I knew well, having dealt with it since my first “client”, but this I had never; this was foreign, alien; this confused me. My usual pace reduced; what would normally take a few minutes felt like hours.

I took in a deep breath, and briefly prepared myself for the final part. Cold air filled my lungs, barely sufficient to cool the shimmering heat within my stomach. Most injuries had been cleaned, leaving only one remained. I felt a ridiculous need to turn my head around, and decided against it. Perhaps I was petrified to meet the vivid color of his eyes. Red like the burning fire ready to wash away all the unclean.

I had not been ashamed to present him with the hideous details of my life. However, showing him the memory was one thing, letting him see was an entirely different matter. It wasn’t shame that fanned the boiling in my stomach; it was something worse, something I couldn’t name yet.

I swallowed the rock in my throat and spread my legs, bring the cloth between them. Lord Abner’s remnants clung stubbornly onto the raw, swollen flesh. I scrubbed at it and hissed audibly with the burning pain, squeezing my eyes shut. I felt warm dampness on my cheeks; the unmistakable scent of nicotine swam in my nasal passages.

He kept mum the entire length, letting only the smell of cigarette to speak of his presence. I was grateful for his grave silence. I couldn’t have known what to say if he had asked.

Again, he did not need to ask really.

I put on my nightshirt, taking time to do each button and to unravel the knots in my stomach. The water was dirtied, the sight of which caused me to wince. Leaving the basin on the table, I closed the window, fastened the rusty bolt and climbed on my bed.

The bed moaned when I settled myself on the mattress. To my surprise, Death pulled the blanket to my chest.

I suppose you’re in no mood for a bedtime story,” he said with a tiny hint of smile.

I shook my head slightly. My body was sore all over and my eyes felt heavy as stone. I imagined I could sleep for weeks if I were allowed to have my way.

“Too bad I’ve prepared a few.” He shrugged. “Maybe tomorrow.”

My eyes shot open at the hint. He looked at me, his smile widening to a grin. He patted my head.

“Yes, child, tomorrow, and all the nights after tomorrow. I will be harassing you from now on, whether you like it or not. But now, you will sleep.”

I felt his kiss on my forehead, a quick brush of his lips on my skin. He vanished into thin air the next second, leaving me to debate with myself whether I should be fond of his “harassment”. It didn’t last long as I soon fell into the loving embrace of dreamless sleep.

I awoke before dawn the next morning, feeling full of life and free of pain. The fabric of my nightshirt scratching my skin didn’t pain me, and when I ran my fingers on my shoulders and back, the skin was impossibly smooth.

I noticed something off as I descended the stair, carrying the basin in one hand and my soiled clothes in the other. The flat was eerily quiet; Janek’s usual loud snoring couldn’t be heard.

Curiously, I approached his makeshift bed. Odd. My footsteps didn’t wake him, the old bat. I pulled down his blanket, and poked his shoulder with my forefinger.

No reaction.

My eyebrows knitted. I pinched him.

Normally Janek would jump and yell at me in his thick Southern accent. Not today though. Today he remained still like a log.

I slapped him hard on the shoulder.

Not a stir.

Dubiety rose in me. I placed a finger in front of his nostrils. A jolt ran through my being. There was no breathing.

Dead as a door nail, he was. Unannounced. Quiet. As if Death had swooped down in the night to take his miserable soul to the afterlife, or whatever it was after death. I had to smile as the comparison. It was not without a warning though; Janek had been constantly complaining about a pricking pain in his chest for some time, but no one, including himself, had been paying real attention to his deteriorating health. Not having enough money, he hadn’t seen the doctor. Here was the result.

I stared at his rigid corpse for a good few minutes, uncertain of my own feeling. I supposed there was sadness in me, grief even, for his sudden death. Janek had been the only one in this entire flat to possess the patience to talk to me, a mute child, to teach me bits and bobs of his own knowledge about the world, warped as it was. I supposed he had loved me, as many a time he had caught me in his booze-stinking embrace, whispering to me how I resembled his “precious beautiful child”, who had been lost years and years before to the “wretched old bitch”. I also remembered after each time he had ravished me with kisses so passionate that my lips had been red and swollen for hours later.

I had never told Mother about any of those.

With confidence, I opened his drawer, where I knew he stored all his belongings, however scarce they were. I rummaged through the objects, most of which were as useless to me as to the world, until I found something that caused a satisfied smile to creep on my face. The arsenic he had kept to exterminate the rats – those furry devils from Hell that nested in this shambles. I put the brown packet deep in my pocket, leaving the rest in the drawer.

I stood by his bed and bended down to place a kiss on his wrinkled forehead. Farewell, old Janek. Farewell, Father.

And off I went to wash my clothes.

Mother always complained about how often Janek’s snoring woke her up in the middle of the night. I bet she would be delighted to learn that her sleep was no longer disturbed.

(To Be Continue)

Kiss Me Goodnight (I)

*Characters and events belong to Joel7th

I.

The Groaning Bed, Cigarette Butts and Death

I have no friends. And if I did indeed have one, I would not consider him a “friend”. Friendship is a luxury I cannot afford.

Like me, he does not have a name, and so, “Death” is how I call him.

He never discloses his true name to me. Never speaks of it once. Perhaps he’s not allowed to. Perhaps he has forgotten. Perhaps he doesn’t have one to begin with.

The name I take the liberty of giving him is not inappropriate. Death is what he does. Death is what he is.

And death is the only gift he brings to a human when he stands at their doorstep uninvited.

Death looks nothing like the ghastly image humankind has conjured up since they were conscious of “death”: pit-black robe spanning like the endless night in stark contrast with bone-white, inanimate face that seems only skin and skull. Black and white aren’t his permanent colors, though occasionally he wears either, when he is “in the mood” as he puts it. When he is not, he simply puts on other shades, mostly grim but I have a feeling it is his personal preference rather than an obligation.

As black and white are already a fallacious association, so is scythe as his main choice of weapon. It isn’t. In fact, the only object he seems to carry is his beloved Sterling silver zippo that I have never seen him without. That, and his seemingly unlimited supply of fags. The heaviest smoker I have the non-pleasure to meet. Why bother, he once replied to my curious query while casually dragging out a long, tortuous trail of smoke from his thin lips. For the style, perhaps, I answered. I knew I would have one if I were Death. Carry it around like a proud treasure. He snickered, mocking the idea as he does now and then with every mortal assumption he finds amusing. Why bother carrying a cumbersome weapon, he repeated, while he has no intention to go on a battlefield. If death was war, he would be the all-time victor, no argument.

So, scythe is a no, then what does he reap souls with, you ask. Contrary to common belief, he never does. The very thought of cutting a soul from its flesh nauseates him to no end. Gives him goosebumps, he remarked with disdain. It still baffles him how humans have managed to invent such scurrilous notion of something as beautiful and elegant as death. His business is not that of a gardener but rather of a guide, and he would like to handle it with as much grace and dignity as it certainly deserves.

Sadly, not many a man face death with the same grace and dignity, I told him. Often they tremble, piss themselves or wail like a baby. Sometimes all. He shook his head ruefully in agreement.

I found that gesture almost too human.

Anyway, if you have a rich imagination of how “deadly” and macabre Death should appear, once you meet the actual Death – sooner or later – you will be thoroughly disappointed.

As I were in our first encounter.

When I turned the doorknob and stepped inside the shadows of my attic room, he was the first thing I saw with the light from my candle.

“Huh? You are not afraid of me?”

Death’s voice straddled the line between a purr and a whisper, with a hint of semi-lisp. His accent was exotic and dripped with seduction; I found it more amusing than offending.

I shook my head.

“Of death?”

Shake again. And Death smiled.

Another wrong assumption humans have about Death is that Death constantly wears a stoic, grim and dead-like expression on his bony face. Neither is Death’s face bony nor are his facial expressions anywhere close to their imagination. As if flashing his perfect gleaming white teeth will somehow lessens his deadly presence – if he has any, Death smiles a great deal. He even grins, more often than proper.

Oh, did I forget to mention “proper” never exists in his dictionary, whatever the connotations?

“How utterly failed I am!” exclaimed Death rather dramatically, one hand clutching his chest in mock pain.

Was he having a heart there? If yes, would he feel pain when it got pricked ?

“Not even scare a little child!”

I wasn’t afraid of death, truth be told. I wasn’t afraid when I crouched into the narrow attic I called my bedroom to find, on my rusty bed, a perfect stranger sitting cross-legged. With a fag I knew cost more than Mother’s weekly income tucked between his lips, he flashed me a smile many others would describe as “predatory”. Who he was and how he had gotten in here was a mystery; what he wanted in this flat that was just a little better than the slums down the street, god knew! The worst scenario was he would kill me, a defenseless child, and dump the body down the gutter. Or he would rape me and do the same. Didn’t matter. No one would bat an eye at the sight of ravenous mongrels gnawing the putrefying remains of some nameless corpse. Deaths in such manner happened every day in this godforsaken part of the town, why should I be afraid of becoming yet another victim?

“Because, you know, witnessing others’ death is not the same at being in its presence yourself,” he elucidated. “It is so far human’s greatest fear. Unrivaled.”

Suddenly I heard his voice while his lips remained tight. No, it wasn’t ventriloquism. Janek downstairs used to be a ventriloquist (now a stinking drunkard that neglected his rent on regular basis) and from him I had learned that even the best ventriloquist could not produce such clarity and effect this voice had. It was as if he wasn’t merely speaking to me but rather punching each syllable on the surface of my brain.

I let out a sigh, finding a little comfort in the fact that he was not a lunatic loafer trying to mess with a child.

Not every human’s, I conveyed my thought to him, finding it far more convenient than reaching for my wad of paper and pen. My sign language wasn’t developed enough to catch up with my thinking – one huge disadvantage.

“Well, true, I’ve seen a few myself. But I haven’t imagined a little child that doesn’t show the slightest fear looking at my face.”

I’m not a little child. The words blurted out before I realized it was plain childish to say so. And neither was his face any “scary” as he boasted.

“Pardon me?” Death looked me up and down. “You look every bit like one.”

Just the look. Then I unlocked a drawer in my mind and showed him. Pushed away to a far corner in hope it would disappear, my memory, up until now, of burly men pressing me down Mother’s bed, breathing their foul breath into my mouth, taking me, tearing me for their sadistic pleasure. Of aged men forcing me on my knees and thrusting their no longer potent lust down my throat, making me swallow their filth like it was a great delicacy. Of young gentlemen binding my limbs and flagellating me while moaning the name of God.

Some of Mother’s clients had a taste for children. And a child who could not utter a word seemed to turn them on like no other.

Not a child. The first time one of them had touched me, the child had been cannibalized, leaving an empty shell to be paid for and used over and over.

Well, we all have to work our ass off to feed our stomach, Mother’s words. She had shrugged the matter off when I came crying to her and gone for another shot of bourbon.

I hid nothing from Death, no mortification. This body was no longer my own.

Death sat on my bed, still like the timeless stone gargoyle in front of the chapel. Even his countenance looked stony, inanimate; gone was the easygoing smile that had been there mere seconds ago. At this moment he was really dead-like.

Death’s eyes were pale, unlike his hair and his suit. In the room lit only by the ominous moonlight and one feeble candle, I hadn’t been able to determine their true color. Yet I was now. It would be hard not to, considering how Death’s eyes were shining with brilliant light.

I remembered one odd occasion when Mother had taken me to an event held and joined only by the aristocrats – those she often told me to stay far away from. She was dressed in her most beautiful pearl-white gown, her face powdered, her lips rogue, her golden hair meticulously done and she was wearing every bit of jewelry she possessed. She had even dabbed some perfume – not the cheap kind that cost a penny she usually wore but the tiny vial from France she treasured more than her life; once I had tried to lift it from its altar and she had punished me dearly.

“There,” she whispered, hot breath tickling my ear, “that is your father. Can you see him?”

She pointed a long, bony finger at a man in fancy frock coat and silk cravat standing on the stage, and her tone was dripping honey, something I couldn’t remember hearing for years and years. “See how handsome he is! How rich is his voice! He told me he loved me with that voice! See how strong his arms are! He held me with those arms!” She was crooning. Not wanting to disappoint or enrage her, I nodded despite seeing him but not truly seeing him. He was too far and the best I could make out were his outfit and the vague features of his face. Hawk nose, I recalled, a tall, shining forehead and a crown of silvery strands – those were all I could use to describe my own father despite having been staring at him for God-know how long. Mother’s honey had turned to venoms; she was hissing into my ears with a vehement hatred I was not a complete stranger to. Her manicured fingernails dug into my skin, forming painful crescent imprints that I did not feel until much later as she was dragging me to the entrance.

“You see him now! But he doesn’t see you. Never! Never! Never! He doesn’t know you exist. A bastard swimming in a shithole! A worthless child from a belly of a whore!”

I barely heard her, too captivated by the sight of the crystal glass held in his gloved hand. The smooth liquid in its bowel was shining with brilliant red light.

Just like Death’s eyes.

“You must think I’m one of those depraved souls?”

I didn’t need to answer. Death didn’t need to hear.

His expensive fag fell to the floor and was crushed underneath his sole. Death took another out of thin air, tucked it between his lips and lit it with his Sterling silver zippo.

Why was he using a zippo when obviously he didn’t need one? An imitation, perhaps?

As the fag lit up, smoke dulled the light in Death’s eyes until his irises returned to their pale, indistinguishable color.

I sighed inwardly. At least I had gotten to see it. A color so ravishing. A color so… alive.

You can take me.

Even with the fag tucked between his lips, Death still managed to show a formidable portion of teeth when he grinned at me and reached out a hand with lean fingers to muss up my hair.

I flinched but didn’t try to brush his hand away. Briefly I caught a scent from his fingers, faint and clear as water. I found it more preferable than any kinds of eau de parfum.

Yet I had thought Death would smell deadlier, more like fresh blood.

“Not yet, child. Not today. Your day is yet too far.”

I must have stared at him in some way he dubbed “dumb” or even “stupid”, because all of sudden Death burst out laughing. Whatever left of the stoic, solemn air he had managed to put on in the previous moment was shattered pathetically with his outrageous laughter. He even leaked some mirthful tears from his eyes.

“No need to thank me, child. But if you really have to, I won’t mind a hug.”

Death extended his arms as if expected me to launch myself at him in any minute.

I evaded him and climbed on my bed. The bed creaked with my weight – my too-old pal – but it had been silent with Death the whole time.

If you’re not going to take me then stop occupying my bed. I want to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day. With that I blew off the candle, leaving the moon the only source of light.

His eyebrows drew together. “Not going to embrace me in sheer happiness?”

I made a derisive sound and squeezed myself into the tiny space left of my bed, trying to make myself comfortable with what I was having.

Death moved subtly to the edge until he was almost perching on it. To my surprise, the rusty frame had groaned with my movement but was quiet with Death’s. I might start thinking his body was not corporal.

In mere coincidence, my shoulder brushed his thigh, and I was mildly fascinated by the warmth beside the smooth texture of the fabric. Death felt like human, more pleasant even.

“Thank you.”

Death either heard my thought or spotted the tiny smile I did not know I’d been having until I saw the hint of mischief in his own.

“A bedtime story, perhaps?”

Pulling the cover up to my chest, I squeezed my eyes shut.

“A goodnight kiss?”

I might have heard a small chuckle before I felt the weight on the bed shifted and vanished. The bed did not make a sound. I was half tempted to open my eyes when a warm, soft sensation brushed the skin on my forehead. It lingered even after the clear scent of water had melted away in the night air. Only by then was I certain I was alone in my room. Only by then was I finally able to drift off to sleep.

I had had my dreamless sleep for years and woke up the next morning to find the wooden floor free of cigarette butts.

Nothing except my memory indicated Death’s presence in this narrow attic the previous night. That might as well be another warped dream of my unlimited stock. What was my unconscious mind trying to tell me this time by introducing a figure such as Death?

Nevertheless, I hoped against hope that he would return.

(To Be Continue)

Kiss Me Goodnight – Prologue

*Characters and events belong to Joel7th

Kiss Me Goodnight

Prologue

“No longer mourn for me when I am dead…”

***

I feel her cool, pale gaze on my skin, peeking through the spidery cracks on the window. Watching me. Smirking at me – I know she is, always is. Ridiculing me. Her little fun to while away her time. She, the everlasting beauty that rises night after night and I, the short-lived, anonymous mortal that will fall tonight. She, who is loved and revered by men and I, who is hated and loathed by them, provided that they knew my name.

Oh wait, I don’t think I have a name. Never have had. Mother called me whatever she pleased – fancy, aristocratic nouns I didn’t think she fully grasped the meaning when she was euphoric and the trashiest, foulest four-letter words she could come up with when she was hopelessly inebriated on cheap bourbon.

Never mind. Even if I did have a name, I would not tell you, liebe.

Barefooted, I skitter on the hardwood floor, avoiding all the rusty nails that jut out. I know the floor as if I know my palm and its treacherous little booby traps could not steal a single drop from me. I do intend to bleed to night, just not this kind of bleeding. Lame.

With a merciless sweep of my arm, I send the various trinkets off the table, sparing not a glance at them. Useless, superfluous objects that have long outlived their charms. A sense of void satisfaction runs through me as I listen to their wails upon meeting their swift end, a litany of vociferous cries resonating between the four moldy walls. My old, attic room moans for them in its silent way, allowing their tiny voices to be heard, ability shortly, before their descend into silent oblivion.

My eyes are on the two sole survivors – my private treasures: the timeless gramophone and the sheathed silver knife. Moonlight penetrates the fine veil of dust to dance on their brass and silver skin, their luster somewhat dulled by years. I lower my face and exhale all the air in my lungs, loving to watch tiny particles of dust flutter in front of my curious eyes. Dust could pass for miniature snowflakes, Mother once told me, and we could fancy ourselves the same as the noble class, privileged to enjoy winter without fears of starvation and freezing to death the likes of us suffered. Her words I have never doubted.

The dust disappears between cracks on the floor, the little show over. Grabbing the knife, I put the needle down and turn the gramophone on for another.

The aging machine comes to life. Smooth as new.

“No longer mourn for me when I am dead

Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell…”

In Herr Makaber’s mellifluous tenor singing his magnum opus inspired by a Shakespeare’s sonnet, I unsheathe the knife, holding it out to inspect the blade. Flawless. Beautiful. I place a soft, moist kiss on its gleaming edge nearest to the hilt. A crimson drop fills the delicate carvings along the blade to its tip. Still sharp as a lover’s chastising, my dearest friend time cannot tame.

“…Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell…”

My hand glides the tongue down the row of buttons on my flannel nightshirt. Slowly. Carefully. Why need to rush, love?

“Nay, if you read this line, remember not

The hand that writ it; for I love you so…”

The buttons make pearly sounds when they hit the floor beneath my soles. The fabric slips from my skin like warm spring water and I stand naked as the blade in my hand.

A gush of euphoria fills me from head to toe. My legs ache terribly with the urge to dance.

“…That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot

If thinking on me then should make you woe…”

I go on tiptoe and stretch out my arms as though holding a partner to my chest. I take the lead – always trust the born dancer in me – and together we move, twirling gracefully around and around in the little space my room offers. Never mind the pitiable remains of those I swept off the table moments ago being crushed under our steps.

“…O, if, I say, you look upon this verse

When I perhaps compounded am with clay…”

When the back of my knees touch the edge of the bed, I sink heavily down the straw mattress like my partner has suddenly abandoned me – a marionette without strings – and hear the rusty frame groan with my weight. I smile a sheepish smile, stroking the bed sheet. Just indulge this naughty child for a little while, old friend, and soon you’ll be free of me.

“…Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.

But let your love even with my life decay…”

The blade’s tongue casts a flickering metallic gleam on my skin as I meticulously draw a straight red line along my body, from my abdomen to my chest, and point the tip at the hollow of my throat. All I have to do is press down…

…Not the time yet. I smile, laying down the knife.

“…Lest the wise world should look into your moan

And mock you with me after I am gone…”

The song reaches an end. A short pause before a new, same song begins. This peculiar vinyl record of mine plays one song and one song only.

“No longer mourn for me when I am dead…”

The grandfather clock on the wall tick-tocks, tick-tocks. When it strikes twelve, I know he will come. Like he has done so for the last fifteen years. With absolute accuracy. Without fail.

That should be the time.

It is twenty to midnight still, thus I close my eyes, submerge myself in the haunting, angelic melody and wait…

… wait for Death to arrive.

(To Be Continue)

***

Note: The song is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71

[VC] My Immortal

queen-of-the-damned-800-75

Disclaimer : Characters belong to their respectful owners

Fandoms : The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice

Rating : M

Pairing : Lestat de Lioncourt x Louis de Pointe du Lac, Lestat de Lioncourt x Nicolas de Lenfent, implied Louis de Pointe du Lac x Claudia

Genres : Fanfiction, slash, dark, horror

Characters : Lestat de Lioncourt, Louis de Pointe du Lac, Nicolas de Lenfent, Claudia

Warnings: slight gore

Summary :

“Say my name.”

It breathed into his mind like a breeze, the command. He obeyed. “Nicolas.”

A pair of arms twined around Lestat’s neck. The arms was white, ghostly white in a way that the moon’s pale shade appeared livelier, and the skin almost transparent as light, little as it was in this dark room, passed right through to the flesh and bone. However, they were undeniably beautiful as they were grievously lacking: where the hands should be to complete this eerie artwork were only two blood-crusted lumps.

I’m so tired of being here, suppressed by all my childish fears

And if you have to leave, I wish that you would just leave

Your presence still lingers here and it won’t leave me alone

These wounds won’t seem to heal, this pain is just too real

There’s just too much that time cannot erase

When you cried, I’d wipe away all of your tears

When you’d scream, I’d fight away all of your fears

And I held your hand through all of these years

But you still have all of me

You used to captivate me by your resonating light

Now, I’m bound by the life you left behind

Your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams

Your voice it chased away all the sanity in me

These wounds won’t seem to heal, this pain is just too real

There’s just too much that time cannot erase

When you cried, I’d wipe away all of your tears

When you’d scream, I’d fight away all of your fears

And I held your hand through all of these years

But you still have all of me

I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone

But though you’re still with me, I’ve been alone all along

When you cried, I’d wipe away all of your tears

When you’d scream, I’d fight away all of your fears

And I held your hand through all of these years

But you still have all of me, me, me

Evanescence

“Lestat, do we ever suffer from illness, us vampires?”

Lestat turned away from the laptop screen to the sight of his beloved’s face grimacing in a silent pain, his right hand clutching his chest.

“Louis, you look dreadful,” Lestat said, a deep concern manifesting in a crease between his elegant eyebrows.

It should amuse him that he had once spoken the exact words to Louis once-upon-a-night, when his lover, after hours of brooding, once again questioned him about the nature of their unholy species. In a half-amused, half-mocking tone he had commented on Louis’s expression, just to spite the man he loved more than his arrogant, egotistical self but couldn’t help antagonizing now and then.

Now he said them again, free of mocking and sarcasm.

A soft, bitter laugh. “Do I?”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, really,” Louis replied. “It’s just once in a while I have this sort of pain in my chest, beneath my rib. Most of the times it’s faint, like a baby’s hand touching my heart, squeezing it a little bit. Rarely does it become intense so I try to ignore it and wait for it to fade away eventually. It never lasts too long; nor is it unbearable.”

“Why did you not tell me earlier?” He snapped at his lover, startling the latter.

The green eyes he was so enamored with widened, staring at him with a subtle hint of hurt. The moment was brief, and they lowered, seemingly contemplating the checkered tiles. His thick eyelashes were the blackest ink smeared on white marble, the sheer beauty a butterfly knife slicing into his heart.

“Right. Because I wasn’t with you…” he whispered, the volume of his voice amounting to the sound of snow falling. He wasn’t sure if the other immortal was able to hear him.

Lestat signed – a mortal habit – and pressed his palms against the cool, smooth flesh of Louis’s cheeks. Holding his face, he touched him with his forehead, a gesture endearing to their time together in the past. Then he captured his lover’s lips with his own, a gentle, chaste but lingering kiss, breathing in warm breath. He smiled against the kiss, feeling his beautiful one’s shy yet eager respond to his affection.

He leaned back, smoothing the crease between dark eyebrows with the pad of his thumb. “Serve you right for eating unhealthily for the first few years of your immortal life,” he chastised, not harshly.

“I brought this upon myself, huh?”

“No, I’m shitting you.”

The green orbs stared at him incredulously.

“Means I’m joking, this age’s slang.” He smiled. “Vampires don’t get sick. Long ago they might, the sort of spontaneous combustion you read in my autobiography, but not now, not with us.”

His hands moved down to the other’s neck, idly playing with the hair at the back of his head. “You haven’t fed properly, is all,” he said. “Go now, find some healthy-looking mortals and don’t return until you’re bloated with warm blood.”

“You aren’t going?” Louis asked. Slowly rising to his feet, he was hesitant to depart from Lestat’s affectionate ministrations.

How he missed the nights they went side by side, hunting together. Two Lucifer’s angels on the loose as Lestat had dubbed them. One forever incomplete without his significant other.

“Tomorrow night, mon cher,” he promised. Grabbing a leather coat – his coat – on the coat stand, he draped it over Louis’s shoulders, helped him get into it and fixed his hair and garment to perfection. “I have a few matters to consult Marius. Just go, je t’aime.”

He stole a quick peck on the brunette’s lips and ushered him to the door. “No rats, OK?” he called out, and grinned at his beloved’s dirty look in reply.

The grin died out along with Louis’s sight.

Locking the door, he retreated to their bedroom, where darkness claimed sovereignty and light, coming through cracks on the tight-shut French window, was its submissive servant. To the darkness he whispered, voice soft like a prayer, “Tell me what’s happening.”

No answer.

He repeated the words more earnestly, more urgently.

Still silence.

“Say my name.”

It breathed into his mind like a breeze, the command. He obeyed. “Nicolas.”

A pair of arms twined around Lestat’s neck. The arms was white, ghostly white in a way that the moon’s pale shade appeared livelier, and the skin almost transparent as light, little as it was in this dark room, passed right through to the flesh and bone. However, they were undeniably beautiful as they were grievously lacking: where the hands should be to complete this eerie artwork were only two blood-crusted lumps.

Lestat stared into the hideous lumps as if he could witness blood, warm and liquid, drip from them again. “Tell me what’s happening to him, Nicki,” he demanded.

“How should I know? Don’t ask me.”

The chuckling voice sounded clear and melodious yet it was edged with a clammy chill so familiar to the depth of Gaia’s bosoms.

The blunt ends of the arms touched the skin of Lestat’s neck, lingering, caressing, yearning for the prominent blue vein underneath. He felt damp and sticky and an unearthly warmth, despite the blood had long gone dry.

“Don’t play with me, please, Nicki.” He was close to pleading. “Drink me as much as you like, drain me if you so wish to, but please tell me. Only you know what’s happenening.”

A low chuckle. “Me? Really? Why don’t you ‘consult’ your precious, admirable Marius-Know-All?”

“Nicki…”

A snigger. Then it was on his skin again, the damp, sticky warmth, lowering his collar, baring his slender neck to a pair of gleaming fangs.

He felt his skin torn and blood, the essence of his kind, being drawn to a frozen cavern framed by lips as cold as ice.

Pain and pleasure danced madly together. The rapture of the bite was eternal, the following swoon inevitable; still, soon as he plunged himself into the center of it like each and every vampire would, it turned to nightmare.

The blazing red of the flame burnt into his vision. He squeezed his eyes shut. But even when so, he could still see its furious rhythm behind his eyelids. It was scalding. It hurt, hurt so much. Pained and horrified he was beyond the limits of words.

And the most horrifying of it all, Nicolas’s insane laughter which sounded akin to cry.

Nicki made him experience the final moment of his short life over and over every time he sank his ghostly teeth into Lestat’s artery. Lestat, feel it! Feel the most horrendous torture of being kissed by fire. Feel its blaze consume your body and ravage your soul. Feel it, for I felt it, in your abandonment, your absence. If only you had been more patient, more forgiving. If only you had stayed. If only you had returned.

Nicolas never said these words. He needed not. Lestat’s agony had conveyed it all.

Lestat sobbed and wept like a broken child. When Nicolas’s fangs withdrew from his vein, he roared and broke into a litany of miserable apologies.

Cradling him, Nicolas soothed him, tenderly as a mother to her spoiled son. The blood didn’t warm his embrace; nor did it give some life to his lips and tongue while he kissed and licked away Lestat’s blood tears. Blood could bring life to this form no more, not even an imitation of it, wasted as it flowed one-way into oblivion.

For this being Lestat called ‘Nicki’ wasn’t living, mortal or vampire, and this form, this ghostly form, was merely a persistent shadow of its former self, anchored to the world by the curse of its blood.

“It’s alright, my love, I forgave you long, long ago.”

Then what was the meaning of this endless cycle of torment? Yet Lestat never asked. He deserved all of them, all of Nicki’s rage and cruelty for leaving him behind when he had needed him the most. If it was a penance for his sins, if it could bring peace to Nicki, then…

“Please tell me,” Lestat beseeched him, his eyes crimson from the tears he had shed. He clung onto Nicolas’s form as though he himself was the ghost and Nicki the strong, powerful and living immortal. “Marius doesn’t know anything about this. He has never experienced it. Only I have. Nicki, please…”

Fingers, elegantly long and delicate, gathered the blood tears on their skin. Nicolas brought his hands to his lips and began licking at the leftover blood, savoring each scarce drop like a true worshipper.

This illusion, though couldn’t be brought back to life with blood as could a vampire, could be ‘fed’ and ‘fixed’ to a sight more preferable to the eyes that were allowed to lay upon it. For instance, the restoration of severed limbs.

“What can you do about it once you know?”

The violinist’s hands were on his gaunt throat, closing about it as if meant to crush, frail as it was now.

What can you do about me?

The fingers hovered just above his throat like a butterfly, absently touched his skin with carelessly deliberate flaps.

Lestat remained silent, his body trembling under Nicolas’s ministrations.

This body was a violin and Nicki the violinist. The Divine Violinist with the hands of Lucifer’s.

What can I do about you, Nicki? Beside yielding to your vengeance and wanton desires?

My personal Hell.

“Nothing,” he answered tiredly, at last, “absolutely nothing.”

“Then you’d better not know,” Nicolas cooed. “You’re exhausted and starving. Why don’t you go out, into the night and hunt to your full glory, mon lion?”

“I’ll go and hunt, that I will,” he said with resolution, “but I want the answer first, Nicki.”

A ghostly sigh.

“Just like you, huh? Never giving up before getting what you want. Alright, I’ll tell you. She’s no stranger to you. She who was the china doll you carved out of death, your Oedipal daughter.”

Lestat stared at his lover, his sunken eyes wide and speaking of immense horror, as though only now did he realize his ghostly state, and was so appalled by it that time and space stood still, encasing him in an eternal echo of his silent, muted scream.

“That shocked expression doesn’t become you, my love. She was a vampire, wasn’t she? You know so well when we die, there’s only one choice for us.”

“Why Louis…? Why Louis…? Why… not me?”

His frame was shaking like a dry leaf ravaged by strong gale. Nicolas embraced him, keeping him still.

“Then answer me, why am I here, with you and not someone else? Not Eleni, Laurent or Felix. Not even my merciless tormenter Armand.”

Because you hate me. The same as Claudia hated me when she slashed my throat.

He bit his lips.

Nicolas’s fingers, nails trimmed and glossy as his own, traced the contours of his face. “Lestat oh Lestat, how your negative thoughts prick at my phantom heart.”

He turned Lestat’s face so that his dark eyes, two portals to unfathomable darkness vanquishing all radiance, bored into Lestat’s.

He was forever terrified by Nicki’s darkness, the vast nothingness that consumed everything of life.

“It’s love, mon amour. Love ties us to you, granting us a place in this world we no longer belonge while we could be aimless, scattered apparitions waiting restlessly for the End of day. Who would I have but you? Who would she have but him?”

“Love…” he mumbled. “Is it so?”

“It is so.”

“If it is love that she holds, why has she been torturing him?”

“Torturing?” Nicolas chuckled, wryly. “Your penchant for dramatization never ceases to amaze me, my love. Has your beloved Louis been suffering? Has he been harmed?”

“He’s been in pain for God-know-how-long!”

“A small, bearable discomfort,” Nicolas corrected. “No more than what you’ve gotten from me. Probably less.”

Lestat shuddered at the thought Nicolas’s inferno. What vision had Claudia been showing Louis? Could it be the deadly sun that had reduced her lovely petit form to ash and dust? Could it be whatever that had caused her blood to drench her dress?

“She couldn’t help it, just as I couldn’t help it. We long for life even in death. We find relief from the vitality and memory of the living, without which we’re forever in pain. Whatever causes pain to the living will be multiplied tenfold in us…”

As he spoke, his frame began quivering, losing focus like a bad-signal image.

“Nicki…”

He took Nicolas in his arms, relishing in the joy that he was still able to touch Nicki, that Nicki had yet to become an incorporeal thought, a trick of light.

“Louis doesn’t know about Claudia,” he said. “If he was aware of her presence, he would never have complained; he would have been…”

“…silently enduring her, right?” Nicolas finished for him. “The same way you’ve been enduring me?”

More acid on his tongue, just like back at the Théâtre des Vampires. His eyes were simmering, the blood tears threatening to burst out any moment. Vulnerable, Lestat thought. Frail. Yet every bit alluring. The Nicolas of his young heart. His first and earnest love. His first and greatest regret.

“To tell the truth, Nicki,” he said, cradling Nicolas’s head, “I prefer your torment, inevitable as it is, than never knowing what has become of you, of your soul? Heaven? Hell? Or someplace reserved only for us damned creatures? And what would await us there, which of us could tell? The possibility that you could be suffering is greater a torture than the knowledge of your suffering, I swear.”

He felt Nicolas’s smile against the fabric on his shoulder.

“What will you do about her?”

“Should I not tell Louis? Should he not be allowed at least to know?”

“Then what? Tell him about me. Let him know you’ve been hosting a wraith for decades before your reunion?”

Nicolas laughed. Dry, hollow.

“Now he’s the same, only his wraith is the little girl whose demise he could never forgive himself? Pardon me if I say that will not sit well with his gentle heart and guilt-ridden, fragile soul. He may drive himself to the sun…”

“Stop it! Please, Nicki!”

Nicolas’s eyes were dark and his gaze cold. Nevertheless, he said not another word.

A moment stretched between them, long as eternity yet quick as sand through fingers, before Lestat asked, “How does she look?”

“You want to know whether she looks like me when I first appeared to your eyes? A pile of ash grudgingly put in human shape?”

Silence. Eyes wide. Hurt.

The look in Nicolas’s gaze softened.

“Like a doll, Lestat, the way you created her to be.” His voice came gentler, less acid. “But does it matter really, her appearance, as she is now?”

“No, Nicki,” he answered. “yet it puts me at peace, lessens my guilt in some way.”

“Egoism of a man.” A pause. “I love you for that.”

“And loathe me for that.”

Nicolas smiled, cupping his face with both hands. “Yes, loathed you for that. Now, go out and hunt, my beloved. You’re weak. Don’t bother yourself with Claudia’s presence. Just our little family increases by one. Our princess daughter.”

Lestat sighed, feeling drained to the core, which wasn’t very far from truth. Nicki had always been a voracious eater. So, no Gentleman Death in silk and lace tonight, only a starving beast with its bestial lust, he thought with sarcasm. Though his knees could give out under him any moment, he asked, “You’re not going with me?”

Nicolas looked him up and down, a mischievous light gleaming in his dark pupils. “Much as I love to watch you hunt, it’s a crime to make you carry me in this state.”

“You’re underestimating me, mon ami.”

He felt grateful nevertheless.

“The moon looks gorgeous tonight and she insists that I play for her compliment. Better not to waste these hands while I have them, right?”

He contemplated his hands, the delicate outlines of which coated in silvery moonlight, intently as if watching a painting in the Louvre.

“Beware of Louis,” Lestat reminded. “He usually comes home early.”

“Not to worry, love.”

Nicolas kissed him soundlessly on the lips.

“What a spectacle you present, little girl.”

Nicolas’s fingers fondled the lacquered body of a violin, willed to this world by the vitality in Lestat’s blood. This violin – the Stradivarius – had been his and like its master, it had been broken beyond repair. But perhaps it was for the better. He couldn’t imagine any other instruments could sing better his songs of doom.

Tiny sounds of tiny footsteps. The darkness in front of him seemed to move. From it a little figure gingerly revealed herself in tattered taffeta and lace. Her head hung strangely on her twisted neck, a doll’s head suffered the hands of a cruel child. Her eyes were also like a doll’s, wide and glassy, as she stared at him.

“No wonder you choose not to reveal yourself.” Nicolas smirked. “You could scare him to Hell.”

She kept staring, unfazed by his taunts.

“Still no talking?” A sigh. “And I thought you were finally fed up with silence and wanted to converse.”

“You’re not the best conversationalist, you know.”

Her voice was rasp with an enmity too large for her petit form to contain. She wasn’t trying to, either.

Oui. The only one you have, by the way.”

He studied her, briefly. “I’m curious as to why you never take enough to restore that doll-esque beauty of yours, only a nibble now and then.”

“Sorry if my appetite disturbs you, but it isn’t your business.”

“Of course it isn’t,” he said. The violin had been fixed on his shoulders. In his hand a bow manifested. “Then certainly you don’t mind my telling Lestat?”

“What can he do?” Claudia’s chuckles were ringing like bells. Hell’s Bells if Lestat were to hear them.

“Exorcism, perhaps?”

“And Louis would let him?” She laughed. “The truth is, Louis can’t escape me, no more than my dark father can escape you.”

“I’m glad at least we have something in common,” he laughed with her. “We’ve been so distant while we should be the closet to one another on this earth.”

“Actually we have more in common than you may have realized. That we loathe sharing what we deem ours, for instance.”

“Do I?” His tone was edged with mischief.

“Uh huh.”

Nicolas’s laughter echoed. “Claudia, oh lovely Claudia. You should have been my daughter instead of Lestat’s. The altruistic side in him can’t do anything but share.”

“And what’s been taking you so long to take action?”

“After you, my never-to-be daughter.”

He faked a bow.

Her pale doll eyes locked gaze with his dark ones. A sense of unspoken mutual understanding was conveyed.

“Well,” she breathed softly, out of habit, “I only want to make sure that I have an ally instead of an obstacle. I don’t like things that upset my plan.”

“What could be the goal of such plan, Claudia dearest? Another wraith to cling to Lestat, invading my territory?”

“That’d be too convenient for Lestat, wouldn’t it? No, my ultimate goal isn’t such. Only in that state could I truly have him, free and unfettered by the bewitching spell of my dark father.”

“You’re certain you can wrench him from Lestat?”

Claudia’s marble-white lips curved up. “Did I ever tell you that I’ve always had a way with Louis? No matter dead or alive.”

“That I never doubt, Claudia,” he said. The bow in his hand slid swiftly against the strings. The first note shrieked. Frowning just a little, he turned to face her. “You wasted a precious night with your beloved Louis just so you could talk to me? I’m surprised.”

“Like I said, I want things clear between us and my plan undisturbed.”

“What would you have done if I had proven to be an obstacle, little china doll?”

“Why do you care when you aren’t?” She replied with a smile on her small mouth, a true smile this time, which softened her eerie countenance. “We know each other well, Devil Violinist.”

He returned the courtesy with his own.

“Would you care for a song from this Devil Violinist, my fair lady?”

“Save them for my dark father,” she said, “for I have no need for your music.”

Her voice trailing behind, she walked with her head oddly angled, retreating to the darkness from which she’d emerged. Her steps and posture were graceful beyond expectation.

Nicolas watched her until her figure vanished entirely. Leaning against the wall, he began sawing. The voice of the Stradivarius was divinely dark as it resonated through the large house, empty but for the pair of ghosts.

End

Note: Some elements, like Lestat’s remark “You look dreadful” and Louis’s mention of “two Lucifer’s angels on the loose”, were drawn from the musical.

My inspiration came from Evanescence’s My Immortal and the horror movie Shutter.

[Cherik] Bolito – 01

1 – Counselor

4d79d749-705b-4fc1-ba28-ae89719648d3_zps57a5fa76

The very first time Wesley had seen that man, he had not looked like this.

If ‘this’ was to be put into words (which Wesley really didn’t want to), it would be ‘like a dog’.

A stray dog, dirty, drunken and hunted.

“Counselor,” Sloan spoke to him. “He has shown up in the Loom.”

The Loom weaved the names that would cause deaths to others. Preventing that was their duty.

Killing one to save thousands, killing thousands to save millions – the Fraternity’s code.

Wesley supposed he was a Fraternity now.

“The fuck with that name?”

Sloan was unfazed, being too used to the boy’s snarls and swears. He continues, tone ever serene, as if he was merely discussing dinners.

“Not his real name. Everyone calls him that though.”

“I thought the Loom would show true names, not aliases.”

“Not always. It shows the name everyone around him gets by.”

“Great,” Wesley snorted, “who knows how many fucking ‘Counselors’ there are in this country.”

There were thousands counselors, but ‘Counselor’ – only one.

It turned out finding Counselor wasn’t as hard as Wesley had imagined. Wherever he was, the man stood out from the crowd. The center of attention. The ladies’ choice. The men’s envy.

Wesley did envy him, yes. For even a pair of sunglasses Counselor was donning probably cost twice his monthly paid as an accountant manager. And that was only when he hadn’t taken any sick leave. Nor enraged Janice.

No wonder the Loom had spoken his name. Just the way he’d thrown a pool party this luxurious was big enough a crime.

To envy him was easy, to kill him was hard…

…especially when the man had smiled at Wesley – a wide smile, kind of shark-like – and crossed half the pool to offer him a drink. Scotch – Wesley’s favorite.

…especially when Wesley had grabbed the collar of his polo shirt and pulled him into a rough, bloody smash of lips and teeth, stunning him for a good minute before the man punched Wesley square in the face and stomped off. Gazing at his retreating figure, Wesley licked his split lips and smirked. Counselor had tasted like Scotch – strong and sweet, perfection with only a hint of nicotine to mar.

…especially when that night, Wesley had dreamed about pinning the taller man to the wall, making him moan in all variations of obscenity, and woken up in the middle of the night with a damp patch in his crotch. It was bullshit, Wesley admitted, but Counselor had turned him on more than Cathy or Fox ever had.

To kill him would be extra-hard, especially when Wesley didn’t want to kill him at all.

He would return to the textile mill empty-handed and make up some lie. Sloan would probably see through him and take the cue, sending Fox or someone else instead – he was too wild a card to offend, at least not before he destroyed Cross. As for Wesley, so long as it wasn’t his bullets pulverizing Counselor’s skull he was cool. He wasn’t that sick, thank you; having the desire to fuck and to kill the same man at the same time was definitely not his thing.

Sloan saw through him, as expected; and Wesley could not careless about who the old bastard had sent after Counselor’s head because not long after, Wesley buried the Fraternity with his own hands.

The second time Wesley had seen him, it had occurred on a street of Argentina, a whole year and four months after the first. Though no longer a Fraternity, Wesley could not have returned to his former job as an accountant manager (not after his grandeur ‘farewell party’ on the day he’d quitted). Changing career was a big ‘no’, because Wesley Adam Gibson, besides accounting and killing, had no other degrees that could give him a decent job to survive his ass in Chicago. Fortunately, before he’d downed to his last penny, Pekwarsky had asked him if he would want to ‘succeed’ his father. Wesley had shrugged and sure, why not; he hadn’t had many choices, had he?

So that was how Wesley had ended up in a freelance assassin career and for fuck’s sake, his business was booming.

Wesley’s target this time was an Argentinean drug-dealing mob boss and he’d gain a handsome sum just to load the cartridges into his brain – something Wesley would enjoy even without the pay. Money made it all the more pleasant.

Counselor stood out among the parading crowd like a sore thumb – a solid Caucasian in a sea of colors. Wesley spotted him at once, mildly surprised and thoroughly excited; it seemed a lucky day for him indeed. After forfeiting his ‘mission’, Wesley had never thought he would one day see him again – the man who had had the taste of Scotch. He was certain Counselor had been executed by the Fraternity, probably by Fox or the Butcher; yet here he was, all well despite looking a bit disheveled.

Counselor stood out among the parading crowd like a sore thumb – a solid Caucasian in a sea of colors.

Compared to the first time Wesley had seen in the pool party, Counselor was looking less than his best: his hair tousled, his designer cream-colored suit spotted and there was some grime and dirt on his cheeks, greasy with sweats – the heat in this country was even worse than Chicago at its worst. However, instead of the flush, Counselor was looking unusually pale.

Had he not already on a rented R1 running at insane speed with a covered sniper rifle too conspicuous on his back, Wesley would have come up to him and said hello just to test whether Counselor still remembered the man who had given him probably his first man-kiss. Would he punch him again and run off like a shrinking violet like he had one year and four months ago? Or would Wesley grasp him, ravish his lips and make his own wet dream a reality?

The thought brought a devious grin to Wesley’s face hidden behind the helmet. Maybe next time, thought the assassin with a hint of hope. If there was a second time, the chance of the third wouldn’t be unlikely, would it? And even if there wouldn’t be the third, then Wesley would just make it. If he had been able to hunt down Sloan – with his wits and slyness of an old fox – Wesley didn’t see how he was unable to find a man who didn’t even know he was being tracked.

Indeed third time came, as Wesley had expected. What had him surprised instead was the state he found Counselor in.

Like a dog. The words were a sudden lump of bile clotted in his throat, turning the taste of fine Scotch vile and bitter.

A dimly lit bar at a deserted corner of some street was where Nam had picked for their ‘rendezvous’. The talk had been brief since his Asian-rooted handler wasn’t the loquacious type; he had left almost immediately after placing a thick brown envelope in Wesley’s lap. “Enjoy yourself,” the words left his thin lips in haste and the man hurried out of the entrance, his lanky figure quickly melted into the late afternoon’s orange hue.

Enjoyed himself he had, for a man whose pockets stuffed with dollar bills was always a content man. And the Scotch in this dingy looking bar wasn’t half bad at all, which was a plus. Wesley knew he could always trust Nam to have good taste in booze.

He was savoring his Scotch in the least noticed spot when his acute hearing picked up the yelps of the barmaid and the distinctive sound of flesh being punched and kicked – he was too used to mistake it for any other, being the receiver countless times during his training. Normally he would mind his own ass and ignore whatever was occurring in the bar if his too acute hearing (again) did not recognize the soft, barely audible whimpers as acquainted. He jerked his torso around, nearly knocking his Scotch, and was greeted with a overly familiar figure. The cream-colored suit also helped, despite its terribly discolored state, the once expensive fabric smeared with dirt, sweats and a few blotches of brownish stains – others’ or his own Wesley couldn’t tell.

The bulky middle-aged bar owner yelled something in Spanish and raised his hairy arm. Like a bullet Wesley sprang up from his seat and dashed forward barely in time to stop another blow to Counselor’s guts. The barmaid gasped. The man glared at him and jerked his arm forcefully to break free of Wesley’s grip. However, Wesley’s hold was unyielding as his blue eyes bored into the older man’s, a gaze sharp and cold as a killer’s should be. It was only when the older man’s panic and fear were reflected in his own eyes and the bulky wrist in his hand became slick with perspiration did he loosen his grip. Wesley asked the bar owner what had happened for him to start beating the crap out of his customer, to which the man replied in rapid-fire Spanish rendering his own shitty Spanish useless as best. His gaze shifted to the young barmaid, silently demanding an explanation; he had seen her speaking English with a few Western patrons earlier and he knew she was able to manage simple conversations.

“He… he suddenly grab me,” her tone heavily accented and shaking, the brunet was on the verge of tears and Wesley softened his eyes in a pang of guilt for scaring her unnecessarily. “He grab me and call me Laura. Papa saw and got angry…”

Wesley glanced at Counselor, who had curled up in fetal position, saliva mixed with blood formed a little pool on the floor. He winced slightly and looked up to meet the barmaid’s eyes.

“He’s just drunk, that’s all. Here,” Wesley pulled out a wad of dollar notes from his jeans pocket and placed them in the young barmaid’s trembling hand. “For his purchases and mine and your troubles. Sorry about that.”

Apologizing even when it wasn’t really his fault – old habit died hard.

“Not enough?”

The brunet and her father both shook their heads so violently Wesley was briefly afraid they might snap their necks and erupted in a stream of Spanish that he could only pick out “gracias”. Guess that’s settled then, thought Wesley as he bended down to hook his arms under Counselor’s and lift him up. At close distance, Wesley could tell the man was reeking, a mixture of sweats, dirt, alcohol and puke that burned his nose. He ignored it as he walked them both, slowly, out of the bar.

That was when it hit him that he had no idea where Counselor was staying. Though he doubted Counselor would hear it, Wesley muttered an apology when he let the wall supported his weight while his hand dived into the man’s breast and trousers pockets in a slight hope that he might find something useful, a cell phone, a hotel card, anything to give him a clue. Instead, the only thing he found was a crumpled photo in Counselor’s left breast pocket. The woman in the photo looked comely and nice; Wesley wondered what relationship the woman and Counselor were sharing for him to treat her photo in such contradictive manner.

Wesley smoothed a few creases out of habit before folding it up and returning the photo to its place. Great, he spoke to himself, Wesley Allan Gibson, with his shitty Spanish and a stone-drunk man he’d barely known, out in the middle of an Argentinean street as the night sank in, entirely clueless about where he should go next. Fox would definitely be laughing at him for making a fool out of himself  if she was here to witness.

He briefly pondered if Counselor had any acquaintance in this city but when he glanced at the man’s dirtied face, he dismissed the thought. If he had, he would not have been in this bar drunk as a skunk and have had his ass beaten out. And even if he had, which number on Earth should Wesley call?

On the other hand, Wesley could just take Counselor back to his apartment/safe house left to him by his late father. The man could use a rest, maybe a little wash and a change of clothes – though Wesley doubted their sizes matched – until he was sober enough to find his way back on his own. Wesley could not help but laugh a little too loud at his own out-of-the-blue kindness. Saving the guy’s ass was already out of his character; now he even brought him home and intended to take care of him. Who was Counselor to Wesley Gibson after all?

Well, consider it ‘return the favor’.

The walk from the bar to his apartment wasn’t awfully long and Wesley could make it in less than fifteen minutes on foot. Yet today it took him twice the time as he was supporting a dead-drunk grown man. Counselor wasn’t heavy, to be fair; the man was almost skinny and Wesley winced slightly every time his bones accidentally jabbed his side. Weight Wesley didn’t mind but height difference was another problem. The man was fairly taller than Wesley and it took the assassin great effort to keep them both balanced and not tumbling over. Wesley was considering shouldering him like a sack of potatoes for the rest of the way when he heard a retching noise from his side. He reacted quickly and helped the man to a trash heap – thanks God there was one nearby – where he emptied the content of his stomach in a noisy manner. As Wesley half expected, the man probably hadn’t had any proper food for the last forty-eight hours, only burning alcohol to fill up his empty stomach. What had caused him to torture himself so, Wesley wondered while patting Counselor’s hunched back in an awkward fashion. That was when he felt it, a surge so forceful that almost had him off-balanced.

Wesley Gibson couldn’t mind-read; such was his estranged uncle’s ability. It was a piece of information he’d only learnt after Sloan’s death, that he still had a living relative and said living relative was – what the media called it nowadays – a mutant. The man was currently running a private school full of mutants in Westchester and much as Wesley had been impressed by it, he had to admit school life, with superpower teachers and superpower teenagers to boost, wouldn’t suit him. He had turned down the offer the moment it had been projected into his mind. To be honest, he was a little scared to be close to a person who would, literally, read others like a book. Not to mention his current ‘partner’, a man who grazed his nerves as much as Sloan, who could bend bullets far more effortlessly than any Fraternity members ever could; Wesley didn’t want a taste of his medicine, thank you very much.

Though Wesley couldn’t read minds, he was able to catch murderous intents right at the moment they entered his vicinity. The scenario played out in his mind like a video footage fast forwarding at highest speed, showing him how the assailant in question would approach, what sorts of weapon he would use, what moves he would pull and whether Wesley could react fast enough to counter or not. He wasn’t sure if it was a by-product of his training or a hidden factor in his DNAs recently awakened – family legacy and such – yet it had saved his ass a few handful times. Had it not for this mutation, Fox would have blown a hole in his brain that day on the train.

But this time was tad different; it wasn’t his own scenario that came to his vision. In fact, he was watching everything from a third person’s point of view, like a specter removed from reality – their reality. In his vision he saw a man in black hoodie carefully crept out from the dark of the trash-littered alleyway they were standing. He had no guns, knives or anything that came remotely close to a weapon except a small bizarre device Wesley had neither seen or gotten a hold of how it functioned. The hooded man sneaked behind Counselor easily enough, considering how drunken, weak and defenseless the latter was, and looped the funny-looking device around Counselor’s neck with abundant efficiency that Wesley couldn’t think it was his first time. He fled the scene as fast as he had shown up; no further effort was need; the device did its job beautifully.

The sound of clock ticking. Wesley counted.

At first second, the electric motor started.

At third, the noose tightened.

At fourth, the man started feeling something was wrong, despite his intoxicated state. He brought both hands to his neck, frantically trying to loosen the noose.

In vain.

At sixth, he fell to the muddy ground, rolling wildly while yelling.

At eleventh, his yells turned to chocked noises in sync with the motor’s.

At sixteenth, his fingers left him. Blood gushed out like broken pipes, from both his hands and his neck.

At twenty-third, the noose reached zero.

At forty-second, a stray dog went into the scene, sniffing at the motionless body. With a slight nudge of his muzzle, the head left the body. The vision went blank and dissipated.

The 'Vision'
The ‘Vision’

Whoever had invented this device had to be a genius, a fucking sick one. When Wesley rubbed his eyes – sore from the vision – he wasn’t surprised by the dampness on his fingers. Without much of a second thought, he wiped out his gun from his bell, aimed at the dark and emptied the chamber of its content. The bullets curved around the lamppost before they found their target. He felt the steel penetrate flesh and bones the same time Counselor collapsed. Wesley caught him and finally gave up the thought of walking the unconscious man the rest of the way. He piggybacked the man in a rather ungraceful fashion (unconscious man had no right to complain) and walked over to his victim. He founded the hooded man lying face down under the shadow of the lamppost, paid him only a quarter a second and picked up the strange device in his hand. Nam might know something about it, maybe even able to trace its origin. Wesley’s blood raged at the thought of the device’s inventor, of putting bullets into him and whoever had assisted him.

This was not saving the world or exacting justice or anything. This was just his own aching on the vehement urge of killing. Maybe he had been wrong about it. Maybe killing also had to do with the right person after all.

First thing first, he had to get Counselor to his place. The thought of taking the man back to his own place vanished like smoke; he would be dead the very moment Wesley left him on his own.

Strangely, Wesley didn’t question how Counselor’s safety had become his business.

Note:

1) Wesley is a mutant and he’s Charles Xavier’s distant nephew.

2) Nam is my original character.

[Cherik] Bolito – Prologue

0 – Killer

Wesley

Killing aroused Wesley as much as sex.

Perhaps, even more. Sex had to be with the right people – Wesley admitted deep down he was rather old-fashioned – but killing… well, killing didn’t.

Wesley wouldn’t deny he was every bit a psychopath.

Born to be a killer – bad. Born to enjoy being a killer – worse.

With a playful smirk that didn’t quite match his boyish features, Wesley gave a nudge to the gun in his right hand. The gesture was fairly teasing in nature, except the muzzle of his gun was kissing the other man’s left temple.

The man didn’t flinch, bracing himself against Wesley’s deliberate taunt. He had guts; Wesley was pretty fond of him.

“Why do you want to kill him?”

Perhaps he took Wesley’s sudden interest in conversing as a chance to escape with his life, the man swallowed dryly and opened his mouth.

“Someone wants him dead.”

His answer was brief and to the point. Wesley nodded.

A hired killer. Much like himself. The only difference was…

“Do you like killing?”

“What?”

“Do you like killing him?”

Wesley was barely able to contain his laughter at the look the other man was giving him.

“That means no, right? Well, too bad, I’ll have to kill you and I’ll fucking enjoy it.”

“Have we met before?”

“Nope,” Wesley grinned, giving the man a show of his perfect white teeth. “First time seeing your unattractive face.”

“Did I kill someone you knew?”

“Nope,” his grin became wry chuckles. “I killed most those I knew.”

He was satisfied when he felt the man flinch.

“Does someone want me dead?”

The man was being rational, Wesley could tell. Unfortunately he was dealing with some sort of a maniac.

“Wrong again. In fact I’ll get no penny out of ganking your sorry ass.”

The other assassin had but a moment to stare at Wesley with disbelief before he swiftly removed the muzzle from the man’s temple to press it into his mouth.

Blood and brain matter splashed over the horrible graffiti on the wall. It could be a good thing now that they would have a reason to erase it, the eyesore. Wesley amused himself with the thought while cleaning bits of blood and brain off his hands and face. He didn’t mind the persistent odor; the stickiness was what really bugged him – one of the two reasons why he loathed jelly. The other was his eavesdropping two cops joking how his mother’s face looked like ‘bad jelly’ after she had had acid poured over it.

Once he was done, Wesley glanced down at the corpse at his feet. His face, or what was remained of it, kind of looked liked jelly now – bad jelly.

“I killed you because I wanted you dead. Simple as that.”

He spared the corpse no other glance as he sauntered leisurely out of the dark alleyway.

“…and because I want him to live.”

This was the third. He wondered how many more would come.

Not that he minded blowing a few more asses to hell.

[Dịch] Cơ Hội Thứ Hai (Cherik)

Cherik Fanfiction

Tác giả: ximeria

Nguồn: http://archiveofourown.org/works/1790926

Phần 24 của series 2014 Fic-A-Week (all the XMFC AUs)

Ngôn ngữ: tiếng Anh

Người dịch: Joel7th

Thể loại: BL, fanfiction, AU, dark, dystopia (mạt thế)

Fandom: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Pairing: Cherik- Erik Lehnsherr x Charles Xavier (X-Men: First Class)

Nhân vật: Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), Charles Xavier (Professor X), Henry Phillip “Hank” McCoy (Beast), Raven Darkholme (Mystique), Sean Cassidy (Banshee), Armando Muñoz (Darwin), Alex Summers (Havok) etc.

Tóm tắt:

Trong vũ trụ tồn tại vô vàn thế giới song song*.

Ở thế giới này, nhóm X-Men đã mất Charles trên bờ biển vào ngày định mệnh đó. Erik thành lập ngôi trường dành cho những dị nhân để tưởng nhớ Charles.

Nhưng ở một thế giới khác, Erik mới là người chết trên bờ biển. Dù chiến thắng nhưng nhóm X-Men chỉ có thể hoãn chiến tranh hạt nhân được vài năm ngắn ngủi.

Ngẫu nhiên, số phận mở ra cho họ một cơ hội để sửa chữa những sai lầm ở một trong những thế giới song song đó.

Cảnh báo: có chi tiết nhân vật chính chết

**Chú ý: Bản dịch đã có sự cho phép của tác giả

Capture

Lời tác giả (ximeria): Khi tôi nhắc đến việc nhân vật chính chết, chi tiết đó sẽ không trực tiếp xuất hiện trong fic mà chỉ hiện hữu qua lời nói hoặc suy nghĩ của nhân vật khác mà thôi (dùng thì quá khứ trong bản gốc tiếng Anh). Và không chừng tôi sẽ có thêm ý tưởng liên quan đến universe trong fic này *thở dài*. Fic mạt thế nhưng tôi đảm bảo không có mấy chi tiết ám ảnh kể cả sau khi bạn đã tắt đèn đâu. Tôi viết chủ yếu để dỗ giấc ngủ ấy mà.

——–******——–

Tiếng thét của Sean đánh động tất cả bọn họ, đồng thời đập vỡ vài cánh cửa sổ xấu số.

Erik nhíu mày, nén xúc động túm thằng bé lại và quát cho một trận nên thân. Nhất định phải có một lý do nào đó cho vụ om sòm này, vì kể từ sau vụ Cuba, Sean đã kiểm soát sức mạnh của mình khá hơn trước nhiều rồi. Đây không phải lần đầu tiên Erik nhớ Charles kể từ sau ngày định mệnh năm năm về trước, không phải chỉ vì Charles đối phó với bọn trẻ (dù cả đám đều trưởng thành cả rồi) tốt hơn mà còn vì khả năng của Charles phát hiện dị biến trong khuôn viên trường dễ dàng hơn nhiều. Cũng nhanh hơn nữa.

Erik vẫn dụng năng lực tìm kiếm những mảnh kim loại anh bắt tất cả học sinh phải đeo trên người, ngay đến đứa nhỏ nhất cũng không thoát khỏi bài diễn văn ‘vì an toàn bản thân các em mà thôi’ từ anh. Anh cảm nhận chuyển động hỗn loạn khắp toàn trường, nhưng có một nhóm không nhỏ tập trung ở cổng chính cùng với một lượng nhỏ kim loại lạ ngay phía trước chúng. Khẽ chạm vào những mảnh kim loại, anh báo cho chúng biết mình đang đến. Bọn trẻ đã vô cùng may mắn khi ngôi trường thành lập và tiếp nhận những dị nhân xã hội kiêng dè như chúng, dù vậy, Erik vẫn tin rằng chứng đa nghi của mình là một thế mạnh thay vì điểm yếu.

Đẩy tung cánh cửa dẫn ra bên ngoài, Erik dùng từ trường của Trái Đất nâng mình lướt tới vị trí những học sinh đang tập trung thành một hàng đối diện với một bóng người lảo đảo, tưởng chừng một cơn gió cũng dễ dàng thổi bay mất dạng.

Trước mắt chưa có mối nguy cụ thể nào, thế nhưng khi Alex quay lại nhìn Erik, khuôn mặt cậu trắng bệch như tờ giấy, bước chân loạng choạng sắp ngã và vai cậu va vào Darwin. Darwin chừng như không phát hiện Alex va vào mình, cậu và Sean đang nhìn chăm chăm vào ‘vị khách’ không mời mà đến viếng thăm trường họ.

Khi Erik nhìn rõ hình dáng ‘vị kháck’, cánh cổng lập tức rung chuyển, sẵn sàng biến thành bất cứ loại vũ khí nào anh tưởng tượng ra.

“Đừng mà bạn của tôi, tôi không có ác ý đâu.”

Ngước đôi mắt xanh biếc không thể quen thuộc hơn, người đó mở miệng. Anh ta nhìn chăm chăm Erik giống như đang trông thấy một điều không thể nào tin nổi.

“Cậu… chết rồi mà…” bốn chữ ngắn ngủi là tất cả những gì Erik thốt ra, giọng anh bình tĩnh hơn nhiều so với tưởng tượng của mình.

Người đó phát ra âm thanh khò khè và Erik tự hỏi trong thoáng chốc liệu đó có phải tiếng cười hay không.

“Tôi biết điều này nói ra thật kỳ lạ,” người đó đáp, “nhưng tôi hoàn toàn có thể nói một câu tương tự về anh.”

… Hồn ma nhìn một lượt từ Erik đến Sean, đến Alex rồi ngưng lại một chút khi đến Darwin. Rồi ánh mắt anh ta lại dán chặt lấy Erik, say đắm.

Erik đột nhiên nổi lên thôi thúc muốn tống khứ kẻ… mạo danh này khỏi trường. Nhất là trước Raven trở về. Hắn… hắn giống Charles như đúc, chỉ là ốm hơn, không, phải nói là gầy nhẳng mới đúng. Đôi mắt trũng sâu như bao lâu rồi không có một bữa ăn tử tế còn da dẻ thì tái nhợt như chừng ấy thời gian, có khi lâu hơn, không tiếp xúc với ánh mặt trời.

Giằng xé giữa cảm xúc muốn đuổi ‘hồn ma’ này đi và quy tắc không từ chối bất cứ dị nhân đang gặp khó khăn nào của trường, Erik chỉ biết đứng yên tại chỗ và nhìn chằm chằm vào ‘hồn ma’. Lần đầu tiên sau ngần ấy năm anh mới nhớ lại cảm giác bối rối, không biết làm thế nào mới phải.

Vị khách ma quái lảo đảo, Darwin vội vươn tay đỡ lấy trước khi anh ta ngã sấp xuống mặt đất. Đỡ người trong tay, Darwin quay lại nhìn Erik, khiếp sợ trên vẻ mặt vẫn chưa tan biến nhưng không đủ áp đảo kiên quyết.

“Đưa đến chỗ Hank?”

“Gắng đừng để các học sinh trông thấy.” Erik gật đầu, bàn tay mỏi mệt xoa khắp mặt. Anh thấy lạnh, từ trong ra ngoài, cái lạnh mà ánh nắng gần trưa cũng không xua tan được.

“Chúng ta từng thấy những thứ kỳ lạ hơn.”

Véo sống mũi, McCoy kết luận. Ánh mắt cậu chuyển dời từ vị khách đang bất tỉnh sang Darwin. Đáp lại, Darwin cười nhẹ.

Erik muốn phản đối, muốn hét đến khi giọng anh khản đặc. Hoặc làm điều gì đó, bất cứ điều gì. Anh vẫn thấy lạnh cóng, đáy lòng quặn thắt thành một quả cầu băng giá đầy đau đớn.

Nằm trên bàn thí nghiệm, bất tỉnh nhân sự là… Ánh mắt Erik né đi trong thoáng chốc – Nó… Hắn… quá giống Charles, nhưng không phải họ đã an táng Charles rồi sao? Ngày ấy, trên bờ biển, Charles nằm trong vòng tay anh, ánh sáng từ từ biến mất khỏi con ngươi mở to vô hồn cho đến khi cậu hoàn toàn ra đi.

Nhưng anh không thể phủ nhận. Suy dinh dưỡng nặng, cơ thể kiệt quệ trầm trọng, theo như kết quả thăm khám của McCoy. Chưa kể dấu hiệu nhiễm độc phóng xạ trong tế bào, nhưng điều khiến McCoy ngạc nhiên chính là các tế bào dường như có khả năng tự tái tạo.

Tuy Erik hiểu chưa đến phân nửa những điều McCoy nói nhưng lo âu vẫn quấn chặt lấy tâm anh, nhất là khi McCoy nhắc đến dấu hiệu nhiễm độc phóng xạ. Vì một người lạ ư? Đây nào phải Charles. Đây làm sao có thể là Charles.

“Tỉnh thì báo tôi,” Erik quay lưng rời phòng y tế, để lại một lời dặn ngắn gọn. Kẻ lạ mặt mang diện mạo quen thuộc này đang khiến Erik vô cùng rối trí. Tất nhiên, ngoài việc nghi ngờ toàn bộ chuyện quái lạ này là một âm mưu xếp đặt tinh vi, Erik tự hỏi không biết gã… Charles này có năng lực giống như Charles hay không. Nếu hắn có và hắn muốn moi móc bí mật trong đầu mọi người, Erik cũng đành bó tay bất lực.

Nhưng rồi Erik vẫn quay lại phòng y tế, ngồi trong không gian im lặng, lắng nghe tiếng beep đều đặn phát ra từ máy móc gắn lên ‘người lạ’ và quan sát dấu hiệu biểu thị sự sống của hắn trên màn hình. Ngày nào cũng như ngày nào, anh dành vài giờ chỉ để nhìn chăm chăm vào ‘vị khách mời’ của họ. Raven cuối cùng đã trở về và Erik chứng kiến những cảm xúc chính anh đã trải qua nối tiếp nhau hiện lên trên mặt con bé. Hoảng sợ, ngờ vực, đau đớn và cả… hy vọng.

Anh nghe Hank cố gắng an ủi con bé. Mặc dù nhà khoa học thiên tài của họ rất có thành ý, thỉnh thoảng cậu ta hệt như một gã ngố ngáo. Đó là lý do thỉnh thoảng Raven lại đến phòng y tế và ngồi yên cạnh Erik hàng giờ liền.

Ngày thứ chín, khi Erik chỉ có một mình trong phòng y tế, bệnh nhân của họ sau cùng đã có phản ứng và mở mắt. Erik biết sớm được mấy giây, khi anh cảm thấy một tâm trí khác phớt nhẹ qua tâm trí mình. Không phải xâm nhập, chỉ là… giống như xem thử anh có thật sự tồn tại hay không. Anh không thể giải thích vì sao mình biết điều đó, anh chỉ có cảm giác như vậy mà thôi.

“T.. tôi…. tôi thật sự xin lỗi,” Charles nói, hoặc cố nói, giọng cậu không khá hơn tiếng thở khò khè là bao.

Erik đứng dậy và đi rót một ly nước cho Charles, đỡ cậu ngồi dậy để cậu khỏi bị sặc. Chăm sóc Charles, đó là một phản ứng vô thức của Erik. Đó cũng là thứ vớ vẩn tồn tại trong đầu anh từ ngày anh mất cậu mãi mãi trên bờ biển, muốn chăm sóc Charles, bảo vệ Charles như Charles thực sự còn trên cõi đời này. Erik biết rõ ý nghĩ đó quái đản đến mức nào, bởi vì, thứ nhất: Charles không cần bảo mẫu và thứ nhì: Charles đã qua đời rồi. Hay… đó là những gì họ đã nghĩ, những gì họ biết.

Charles truyền đi lòng biết ơn và lần này Erik chắc chắn mình cảm thấy một bàn tay vô hình phớt qua tâm trí.

“Tôi xin lỗi,” Charles thều thào, “nhưng rất lâu rồi tôi mới cảm nhận được một tâm trí không… lụi tàn.”

Erik nhìn thẳng cậu và “Cậu không phải Charles” là tất cả những gì anh thốt ra, cảm thấy như trút bỏ gánh nặng trong lòng từ lúc ‘người lạ’ này bước qua cánh cổng trường. Nhưng rồi anh bắt được điểm mấu chốt trong câu nói của Charles.

“Tâm trí lụi tàn?”

“Tôi… không phải Charles anh biết, cứ cho là vậy đi,” cậu ngập ngừng. “Tôi chỉ có thể nói với anh rằng vũ trụ tồn tại vô vàn thế giới song song và trong một số thế giới, tôi không tồn tại còn trong một số khác, anh không tồn tại.” Charles ngưng lại, cổ họng phát ra âm thanh bực dọc. “Không được rồi,” cậu lẩm bẩm rồi dùng ý nghĩ nhờ Erik rót một ly nước nữa. “Tôi nghĩ, để anh hiểu tôi phải hỏi một chuyện – chúng ta… mọi người có ngăn được Shaw không?”

Erik nuốt xuống khó nhọc và gật đầu. Charles không biết chuyện gì đã xảy ra ở thế giới này và cậu cần được biết, kể cả khi điều đó nghĩa là xé rách vết thương chưa kịp lành trong lòng Erik.

“Charles… của anh đã chết rồi?”

Erik xiết chặt nắm tay, lần nữa gật đầu. Anh chưa từng muốn nhớ đến ngày định mệnh ấy, chỉ là ký ức đó vẫn luôn tồn tại, một bóng ma lẩn khuất trong tâm trí anh.

“Ở thế giới của tôi anh đã chết trên bờ biển,” Charles tiếp tục. “Anh không chú ý và viên đạn của Moira đã cắt đứt một động mạch. Tôi muốn ngăn anh phóng tên lửa vào tàu, nhưng không phải bằng cách đó.”

Charles ngước nhìn và thở ra một hơi. “ Tôi biết chuyện này có vẻ xa vời-“

Erik cười nhạt, ngắt lời cậu, “Vậy hả, cậu cho rằng thế giới song song là xa vời?”. Anh lắc đầu, cảm thấy trong lòng nhẹ đi một chút. “Tôi có một học sinh có thể thao túng thời tiết, cậu có thể đọc ý nghĩ còn tôi thì điều khiển kim loại – tôi nghĩ định nghĩa ‘xa vời’ của chúng ta cần nhiều hơn một cốt truyện phim khoa học viễn tưởng.”

Charles nhìn anh một lúc lâu, rồi khóe môi cậu hiện lên một nụ cười nhẹ. “Trong hai chúng ta anh luôn là người dễ chấp nhận hơn,” cậu lẩm bẩm. “Mà khoan, anh nói có học sinh? Anh đã thành lập trường, hay là-“

Lần nữa lắc đầu, Erik cuối cùng đã chịu ngồi xuống. “Chúng ta đã bàn với nhau trước trận chiến với Shaw và tôi nghĩ mình có trách nhiệm thực hiện điều đó, vì cậu, đúng hơn là vì Charles.”

Bởi vì Erik không phải kẻ dùng những lời dối trá để che đậy, anh để Charles thấy những gì đã xảy ra trên bờ biển, cùng tất cả ân hận, dằn vặt kìm nén trong anh suốt năm năm qua.

Charles cau mày. “Tôi rất tiếc.”

Erik nhún vai. Lỗi lầm anh đã gây ra với Charles, anh sẽ dành cả đời để trả, bằng cách biến giấc mơ của Charles thành hiện thực.

“Còn bên cậu thì sao? Mọi người có ngăn được Shaw không?”

Charles gật đầu, cau mày. “Erik của chúng tôi đã qua đời trên bờ biển, mất máu đến chết. Chúng tôi cũng suýt nữa mất mạng, may mà tôi kịp xóa ký ức của những người trên tàu, nhưng hai năm sau đó thì tất cả chẳng còn ý nghĩa gì nữa.”

“Chuyện gì đã xảy ra?” Erik tò mò hỏi. Anh lập tức hối hận, vì anh nhìn ra đau đớn tràn ngập trong đôi mắt xanh biếc của Charles.

“Tôi nghĩ chẳng ai biết chuyện gì đã xảy ra,” Charles hạ thấp giọng. “Bom rơi xuống – không biết ai khai hỏa trước – các quốc gia ăn miếng trả miếng với nhau và thế giới chìm trong biển lửa.” Cậu ngưng lại một chút. “Phần lớn chúng tôi ở trường khi chiến tranh nổ ra, nấp dưới hầm ngầm trú ẩn – Hank  tái tạo Cerebro và chúng tôi dùng nó tìm hiểu chuyện đã xảy ra ngoài kia. Hank đặt giả thuyết trong bom nhất định có thứ gì đó ngoài các đầu đạn hạt nhân, bởi những người sống sót sau vụ nổ đầu tiên cũng không sống thêm được bao lâu. Chúng tôi đã trải qua một mùa đông nguyên tử, mức phóng xạ cao vượt mức. Đâu đâu cũng thấy xác chết.”

“Còn bọn trẻ?” Erik không gọi tên cụ thể – làm vậy khiến anh cảm thấy toàn bộ những điều khủng khiếp này quá chân thật.

“Ý anh là Sean, Alex, Raven và Hank? Sean về thăm nhà khi tên lửa rơi xuống. Cậu ấy quá gần vùng zero** nên không thoát được. Những người còn lại lần lượt nhiễm bệnh. Chúng tôi tiếp nhận một dị nhân tình cờ gặp được trong quá trình tìm kiếm những người sống sót – Logan – anh ấy có khả năng phục hồi tổn thương. Logan ở cùng chúng tôi một thời gian và Hank bắt đầu nghiên cứu một loại huyết thanh tạo ra từ máu Logan nhằm chữa bệnh nhiễm xạ – căn bệnh gây ra từ những thứ trong tên lửa. Rồi Logan rời đi… Tôi không biết đi đâu. Khi đó Raven và Alex đều đã qua đời, Hank cũng bắt đầu nhiễm bệnh. Cậu ấy nói mình không thể chữa được nữa và tiêm huyết thanh cho tôi – Hank qua đời trước khi có thể tạo ra thêm huyết thanh.”

“Huyết thanh chữa được?” Erik chợt nhớ ra Hank có nhắc đến dấu hiệu bệnh nhiễm xạ trên cơ thể Charles lần đầu thăm khám.

“Chữa được – nhưng nếu tôi biết chuyện gì xảy ra sau đó, tôi thà chọn chết cùng mọi người,” Charles thú nhận.

Erik nhìn thẳng cậu. “Tại sao?”

“Chúng tôi đã tái tạo Cerebro và tôi nhốt mình dưới tầng hầm, chỉ mình tôi và cỗ máy, và tìm kiếm. Vươn xa và xa hơn nữa, cố tìm một ai đó, bất cứ ai còn sống. Và tôi chỉ tìm được…”

“Những tâm trí lụi tàn,” Erik kết thúc dùm cậu. Dù anh thậm chí không hiểu cảm giác đó như ra sao, nhưng anh suy được từ vẻ đau đớn trên khuôn mặt Charles. Cảm giác chứng kiến thế giới  xung quanh mình chết dần chết mòn không phải một điều ai cũng dễ dàng vượt qua.

“Tôi không rõ mình ở dưới đó bao lâu,” Charles thú nhận. “Ban đầu tôi cũng cố hạn chế – Hank đã nhắc tôi không nên lạm dụng – nhưng rồi tôi không còn muốn trở ra nữa. Có khi tôi chạm được tâm trí những dị nhân – những người kiên cường hơn – lần cuối, tôi tìm được một cô gái trẻ – cô ấy biết mình sắp chết, và cô ấy nắm lấy tôi, bằng cách nào đó, đẩy tôi ra khỏi thế giới chúng tôi đang sống. Cô ấy nói chẳng còn nghĩa lý gì khi tôi ở lại một thế giới trên bờ diệt vong…”

Erik rót thêm một ly nước và nhận ánh mắt cám ơn từ Charles. Anh biết người này không phải Charles, hay ít nhất không phải Charles anh đã quen biết, hay điều này sẽ khiến anh tha thứ bản thân vì đã hại chết Charles. Chưa kể sẽ mất một khoảng thời gian để những học sinh lớn nhất tiếp nhận Charles này. Nhưng anh đâu thể đuổi cậu ấy đi, phải không?

Nếu làm thế, hẳn Erik sẽ trở thành kẻ đạo đức giả. Đột biến và kiêu hãnh, thế đấy. Cố gắng thấu hiểu những gì con người này đã trải qua khiến Erik đau lòng vì cậu. Và anh biết những học sinh trong trường cũng sẽ dành lòng thương cảm cho Charles. Anh hiểu chúng quá rõ để nhìn thấy trước điều đó.

Anh không muốn đào sâu nguyên nhân, tận đáy lòng, anh đã biết từ lúc Darwin đỡ Charles khi cậu quỵ xuống – liệu anh có để Charles ở lại với họ không là câu hỏi chưa bao giờ tồn tại.

Erik đã mất một Charles rồi, anh sẽ chẳng bao giờ dám nhìn bóng mình trong gương nếu anh đánh mất một Charles khác. Lần này anh sẽ không phạm sai lầm. Lần này anh sẽ chiến đấu vì những điều mình muốn. Có thể anh không có được Charles anh muốn, nhưng anh có thể có được Charles mà số phận đã đưa đến với anh.

Không muốn nghĩ đến chuyện ý tưởng này quái đản đến mức nào nữa, Erik mỉm cười với Charles và rót thêm một ly nước cho cậu.

Kết thúc

Note:

*thế giới song song: timeline (bản gốc) – dòng thời gian. Bạn Joel cảm thấy dịch là ‘thế giới song song’ phù hợp và rõ nghĩa hơn ‘dòng thời gian’.

**vùng zero: ground zero – khu vực bom/ tên lửa rơi xuống, không một ai sống sót.

*** nói một chút về cách dùng ngôi thứ ba cho Charles: khi ý nghĩ của Erik chuyển hướng tiêu cực, bạn Joel cũng dùng ngôi thứ ba tiêu cực (hắn, gã); khi Erik nghĩ về Charles theo hướng tích cực (chịu gọi tên cậu) thì bạn Joel dùng ‘cậu’.

Chapter 6 : Sunset (I)

On the luxurious sofa in the living room sat the young and elegant lady of the house. A finely crafted cup in her hand, Tosaka Rin briefly inhaled the sweet scent of Chinese black tea before taking a small sip and placing the cup on its coaster. From the beginning to the end of the process, not a single flaw was found. ‘Always maintain your elegance’ was the Tosakas’ principle and so far, Tosaka Rin had been doing an excellent job in keeping her family’s reputation.

“How’s the tea ?”

The red knight who sat casually on the opposite seat, her Servant, asked.

“As always.”

Her reply was short and plain. Even if she was enjoying the best tea in the world, her pride would not allow her to add the faintest slice of satisfaction to her tone.

Knowing his Master too well, the knight just nodded.

“It’s not like you at all, Rin.”

“What do you mean ?”

Alarmed with sudden remark, Rin put on guard, all the while maintaining her harmonious tone.

“Usually, you won’t do anything that does not concern you. Yet a while ago, you wasted your mana healing Lancer.”

“Well, you think it as ‘wasted’, I don’t.”

“To begin with, he’s our enemy.”

“I know. However, I did it not for his sake but Sakura’s.”

“She was in fatigue. It would be critical for her if she had to spend her mana fixing her Servant.”

“Well, that’s the strange thing I mention. Isn’t Sakura our enemy as well since she’s also a Master.”

“I can’t disagree.” While her tone was serene, her blue eyes somewhat lost their sharpness. A quiet, distant grief filled her irises as she spoke the truth she had been keeping for years. “Yet she is also my little sister.”

This newfound truth dumbfounded the red knight. His steel-grey eyes locked intently in hers, expecting more explanation.

“My father gave her away to the Matous ten years ago, to fulfill an ancient promise between two families. Even if she’s become a Master, she’s still my only family member.”

“If you love her, shouldn’t you wish for her happiness ?”

“I’m not quite followed.” Alarmed with his tone which bordered on cynical edge, Rin eyed him anxiously.

“Heaven’s Feel is a ruthless battle. Once engaging, even family members become enemies. If you care for Sakura’s well being, shouldn’t you keep her away from the war ?”

“And by ‘keep her away’ you mean…”

“If she loses her Servant, her participation in the war will cease.”

“You mean I should not have saved Lancer ?”

“You understand it better than me.”

A smile grazed his lips, the red knight sipped the tea in his own cup ever gracefully.

“I did consider that.” Taking the blow, Rin admitted. “But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

“…”

“At Matou mansion, I could feel it, how deeply he cares for Sakura, risking his life for her sake. That exceeds beyond their positions as Master and Servant.”

“…”

“That’s a man loves a woman. I could assume the feeling is mutual. If I had let him die, would it break Sakura’s heart ?”

Archer took another sip, showing neither approvals nor protests but the sternness in his piercing gaze had softened quite a bit. Rin did not notice such change since she had already shifted her eyes to the unseen horizon outside the window glass.

Sakura was screaming.

Confined in darkness, her eyesight was rendered useless. Since she could not see, her other senses such as hearing, smelling and feeling were heightened than usual and that was the cause of her terror. She could hear thousands chitterlings beneath her bared feet; she could pick up the stagnant stench overflowing in the air. These brought up the nausea in her throat as they reminded her of the underground bug room she was all too familiar. Pairs of hands reached out from the darkness, gripping her ankles so painfully that she could taste the saltiness of on her tongue. What added to her horror were wicked laughters that had been haunting her life for ten years.

“You’re not going anywhere Sakura. Forever you belong to the Matous.”

So she screamed.

A streak of light pierced through the veil of darkness. In that light Sakura saw the tall figure of her Servant, her lover. Bliss overwhelmed her heart as she called out for him.

“Lancer, help me !”

Ever slowly, he turned back and glanced at her, mute as death. His golden eyes were no longer the honey that sweetened her bitter heart; in them, there was only a hollow as deep as the surrounding darkness that threatened to engulf her entire being.

“Diarmuid ! Diarmuid !”

Desperate, she shouted his true name, betting on a faint hope that her knight would come and save her. Despair trampled her heart as he turned away from her, shaking his head before his figure broke into thousands scarlet vermilions.

“Sakura-sama !”

When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was a familiar handsome face that she had come to love. Upon seeing that face, a surge of emotions went crashing down her being. Unable to withstand, Sakura bursted out into tears.

“What’s the matter, Sakura-sama ?”

A calm, sweet voice to solace her, as the same time, a pair strong arms immediately enveloped her trembling body, buried her teary face in his broad chest. The soothing beats of another heart quickly erased her anxiety. Her wails quieted down to sobs.

“I was having a nightmare.”

Her lover was not a human. However, whenever in his embrace, Sakura allowed herself to momentarily forget that he was a spirit materialized thanks to the Grail’s power and her mana to enjoy this blissful sensation of being held in her lover’s arms. Whether it was because of the war or not, Sakura was grateful that the Grail had brought this miracle to her.

“I was trapped in the darkness with Zouken and Shinji. And you, you looked at me as if we were total strangers.”

“That’s why it’s only a bad dream. Zouken and Shinji have died; they can no longer torment you. And there’s no way I will turn my back on you.”

“It didn’t just end there. Something even more terrifying happened.”

“Like what ?”

“You broke into thousands of vermilions.”

“Ha. That was partially true.” Caressing her hair, Lancer amusingly replied. “I would have ended up worse than that if it hadn’t because of Rin and Archer.”

“Tosaka-sempai saved us ?”

“Yes. Although you two are entirely different in terms of appearance, from the very first glance, I could tell you two resemble each other. Rin’s a bit haughty but deep down inside, she’s a kind-hearted girl, just like you.”

“You may not know this. I used to look a lot like her.” Sakura shuddered as she recalled her dark memories. “Before Zouken had his ways with me.”

“Easy, Sakura ! I doubt he could trouble you when he himself is burnt in flames of Hell. Besides, whatever you look like, I love you just the way you are.”

“Really ? You don’t feel disgusted knowing the inside of my body is filled with worms ?”

“I feel rather insulted when my Master is dubious about me.”

Despite his words, his tone was surprisingly amused. A mischievous grin lingered in his lips. “As a knight, I must regain my honor.”

Sakura let out a light yelp when the knight gently pinned her down the soft bed. His fully-armored body hovered over hers while Diarmuid sealed her lips in a sudden kiss. His hands did not stayed innocently as they were supposed to be; they began their exploration on the luscious curves under her thin pajama. She did not protest, allowing them to act as they pleased. Simply, she was more than welcome them.

When they finally broke the kiss, instead of getting pale due to lack of air, her face flushed deliciously; a sweet, ripe peach awaiting him to savor.

“Just how much honor have you regained ?”

“Not enough.” He replied with a teasing kiss on her collar bone before his lips traveled down her chest, hungrily inhaled and tasted her skin on the trail.

“For a proud knight, you’re truly greedy.”

On one hand, she chided him for doing as he pleased; on the other, she quickly worked on her buttons for more intimate parts to be revealed. Her milky skin seemed to glow in the dimly lit room.

“Only when I’m starved.”

She could not help but allow a sharp breath to escape her lips when a wet, teasing sensation invaded her most private part. The pleasant heat coiling in her stomach was steadily built up into a fierce flame as her sensitive nerves continuously received playful stimulation.

Diarmuid was a good kisser and apparently, it did not only apply to kisses on the lips.

“I didn’t know Servants could get hungry.”

Between shaky breaths, Sakura chided him.

“Of course they could. But not always for food.”

“Then what’re you starving for ?”

“For you.”

One last click of tongue and the sheer pleasure sent her out of control. Trembling, she repeated his real name in a mixture of soft moans and pants.

When she regained enough conscious to realize that she was in Tosaka mansion and her sister could have clearly noticed the bizarre noises that were leaking from her room, the girl’s already flushed cheeks turned an even darker shade. Though it would have been too late if there was a chance Rin had heard such intimate noises, the girl brought both of her hands to cover her mouth.

Lancer chuckled at her silly act, which he found very adorable at the same time. Amused, the knight took her hands, quickly placed a soft kiss on their backs before skillfully freeing her from her pajama. He was gentle and careful not to ruin the frail material, especially when it was something borrowed; they would not want to return it to Rin with a torn or two, leaving the girl space to imagine what they had been doing. And he was slow, oh so slow, as if such simple task would take forever to complete. Either he was over circumspect or he was teasing her, Sakura’s patience ran thin and she decided to help him up, earning a few giggles from her lover.

Not only was her skin as smooth as a baby’s, the Sakura who laid before his eyes was not so different from a newborn infant; yet, no babies could trigger the pristine desire deep within him as a man. Fixated on his lover’s nudity, Lancer did not even blink.

“It’s not the first time you’ve seen me naked !” Sakura chided, blushing to the ears under her lover’s stare.

“True. However, this is the first time I’ve had you, fully and freely, knowing that every of you belongs me, as mine to you.

“It’s not fair when you remain in your armor while I’m exposed like this.” Sakura pounded on his breastplate, very much akin to a cat. “I want you as bare as me !”

“Whatever you want, just command me with these lips. Your words hold the power that surpasses even the Command Spells’.”

“Is it really so ?”

“Well, trying is believing.”

With a mischievous grin, Sakura proudly pronounced her command.

“Then, take off your clothes ! I command you with-”

No other words followed at the end of her unfinished sentence, only a bold move of a girl who was not quite modest.

Giving her lower lip one last tuck, Diarmuid whispered to her ears.

“As you wish.”

Servants do have advantages in this kind of situation, Diarmuid realized. With only a mental click, he was able to cancel the mana flow that shaped the forms of his armor, gauntlets and clothes. It did save him some precious minute so that he could be quicker to answer her order.

Everytime she witnessed her lover’s bare body, which was as flawless as a sculpture of a Greek God, she could not help but held back a silent gasp. But a marble statue could not present to her touch a soft and warm sensation as she fingered his firm chest and abdomen.

“Satisfied ?”

“Not quite.”

“You’re one Master who is so difficult to please. Then how may I serve you ?”

“Make love to me, Diarmuid. That’s the best way to please me.”

“You’ve grown quite bold, haven’t you ?”

“Let’s say I’ve changed. You don’t like the new me ?”

“I love you no matter how much you change, you know. And it’s my pleasure to comply with your order.”

In attempt to sink his body into her luscious core, the knight was startled when Sakura abruptly halted him.

“One more thing : don’t call me Sakura-sama. Just my name’s fine. I’m no longer your Master.”

“I am your lover.”

Her declaration erased whatever confusion he might have had, the knight gave her another smile as he proceeded. This time she did not stop him.

Nobody would stop them now.

Saying goodbye was also a difficult task, especially when it was your sister, your only remaining relative, that you bade farewell to. To Sakura, there was no alternative; as long as the war was still going on, they remained enemies. It pained her as much as the farewell hurt Rin but Sakura knew it was better not to stay together.

The dying rays of sunlight weakly lit the stretching road they were walking on. The pair of Servant and Master left Tosaka mansion to march forth the road that opened up for them; somewhere at the end of that road laid the utopia they were searching for. Deep inside the hearts of the girl and the revived hero, they knew the path they had chosen was not meant to be an easy one and the happiness they were pursuing might even cost them their lives; still, neither of them looked back. From the beginning, the girl had never genuinely wanted to participate in this war and the hero had never genuinely wanted to obtain the Grail’s miracle. It was fate and loyalty that joined the hands of the ancient hero and the modern day human girl; it was love that united their hearts and dreams and together, they sought the same goal, the omnipotent miracle that could fulfill their one and only wish.

It was hope that led them out of the darkness and it was also hope that was about to fling them into despair.

Note : It’s the end of the first part. A little lemon to ease the tension before tragedy begins ;)).