“Tại hạ chậm trễ nên chẳng còn bàn trống. Các hạ liệu có thể cho phép tại hạ ngồi vào ghế trống ở bàn các hạ không?”
Giọng nói trong đầu Diệp Khai im bặt rồi lui vào một góc tăm tối trong tiềm thức, chờ cơ hội khác trỗi dậy. Diệp Khai bừng tỉnh, liếc nhìn bàn tay. Sạch trơn, không có máu cũng chẳng có tiểu đao. Hắn ngẩng lên và nhìn thấy một nam nhân đứng bên bàn. Nam nhân trạc ba mươi tuổi – đương độ tuổi sung mãn, thành thục nhất, sở hữu diện mạo tuấn tú ít người bì được. Không chỉ vậy, dù hắn chỉ thong dong cầm quạt đứng đó thôi, toàn thân cũng tỏa ra mị lực khiến nam nhân muốn kết bằng hữu với hắn còn nữ nhân sẵn sàng sà vào lòng hắn. Nếu nói tướng mạo chỉ là một phần thì mị lực của hắn phải là mười phần mới tạo nên khí chất của con người đang đứng trước mặt Diệp Khai. Loại người như hắn trên thế gian không nhiều, khi xuất thế chắc hẳn là một nhân vật truyền kỳ. Diệp Khai bỗng vô cùng tò mò muốn biết thân phận thật sự của người khách đầu tiên mà hắn tiếp xúc từ khi đặt chân vào Niệm Lâu.
“Mời ngồi,” Diệp Khai cười, làm động tác thỉnh. “Còn nữa, tại hạ chỉ là một lãng tử, huynh đài hà tất phải khách khí.”
Người nọ cũng mỉm cười, ngồi xuống đối diện Diệp Khai. “Nếu huynh đài đã nói vậy,” hắn nói. “Tại hạ họ Sở. Dám hỏi tại hạ nên xưng hô với huynh đài thế nào?”
Người nọ chỉ xưng họ, không đề cập tên, nguyên nhân có lẽ vì hắn vốn là một nhân vật tiếng tăm trong giang hồ. Niệm Lâu là chốn ngoạ hổ tàng long, Diệp Khai không lấy làm lạ. Tuy nhiên, những người bước vào đây đều đã rũ bỏ quá khứ sau cánh cửa sơn đen sờn cũ; họ Sở không chừng chẳng phải danh tính thật sự. Diệp Khai nhận ra ý tứ đó, liền đáp lại theo cách tương tự. “Tại hạ họ Diệp, chữ ‘diệp’ trong ‘diệp thụ’.”
“Ra là Diệp huynh. Dám hỏi Diệp huynh phải chăng mới vào Niệm Lâu?”
Diệp Khai hơi bất ngờ trước câu hỏi của người nọ. Ở đây có bao nhiêu người, chẳng lẽ hắn đều quen mặt?
“Sở huynh thật tinh mắt, tại hạ đúng là mới ở đây được đôi bữa,” Diệp Khai đáp, rót hai ly rượu và đặt một chén trước mặt người họ Sở. “Mời.”
Người nọ không khách sáo, cầm ly rượu uống, động tác nhanh nhẹn nhưng không mất thanh lịch. “Diệp huynh quá khen, tại hạ chẳng qua chỉ là suy đoán dựa trên phản ứng của huynh khi nghe khúc tấu kia thôi.”
Tò mò trong Diệp Khai lập tức dâng cao. “Phản ứng của tại hạ sao?”
“Vì những người ở đây được một thời gian đều đã quá quen thuộc với khúc tấu của y, chẳng ai có biểu tình giống như huynh. Từ đó tại hạ mạo muội suy đoán Diệp huynh là tân khách.”
Trái tim Diệp Khai giật thót, không khỏi nghĩ đến ảo ảnh đốt xương trắng cùng giọng nói buộc tội cay nghiệt trong đầu. Lẽ nào tất cả đều do khúc nhạc gây ra?
“Nói vậy hẳn Sở huynh đã quen thuộc với nhạc khúc của vị Hoa công tử kia nên không bị ảnh hưởng?”
Hắn không ngờ người họ Sở cười khổ, đưa chén rượu lên miệng nhấp một ngụm rồi hướng ánh nhìn về vũ đài bây giờ đã trống không. Ánh mắt hắn tràn ngập một thứ tình cảm Diệp Khai không dám gọi tên nhưng lại vô cùng quen thuộc: hắn chắc chắn đó là thứ tình cảm đong đầy ánh mắt hắn mỗi khi hắn dõi theo bóng lưng gầy gò của Phó Hồng Tuyết.
“Tại hạ không dám khẳng định bản thân hoàn toàn miễn dịch với cầm khúc của y,” người họ Sở cười đáp. “Đôi lúc cầm khúc ấy cũng khiến tại hạ nhức nhối tâm can, tất nhiên là những lúc như thế, y vô cùng cao hứng.”
Diệp Khai không khỏi ngạc nhiên trước những lời của người họ Sở. Họ là hai người hoàn toàn xa lạ, mới chuyện trò được đôi câu vậy mà hắn không ngần ngại để lộ tâm tư trước một người mới gặp. Ở chốn giang hồ lòng người nông cạn khó dò, chuyện này có lẽ không bao giờ xảy ra. Tuy nhiên, nơi đây là Niệm Lâu, là chốn mà mọi ranh giới đều bị xoá nhoà, bởi thế mà lòng người cũng rộng mở hơn chăng?
“Sở huynh dường như hiểu rất rõ vị Hoa công tử kia. Huynh và y có quen biết?”
“Y và tại hạ từng là bằng hữu. Tiếc là tình hữu đã chôn vùi dưới mấy tấc đất.”
Diệp Khai đặc biệt chú ý đến chữ ‘từng’. “Còn hiện tại?”
Không còn là bằng hữu tức là đã trở thành kẻ thù? Diệp Khai tự hỏi. Nhưng cả hai lại cùng là khách nhân của căn lầu, sớm tối đều có thể nhìn thấy nhau, chẳng lẽ mỗi lần chạm mặt là một lần người sống ta chết?
“Là ‘niệm’ của tại hạ,” người họ Sở thản nhiên đáp.
Ra vậy. “Ý huynh Hoa công tử kia là nguyên nhân huynh bước vào Niệm Lâu?”
“Khách nhân của Niệm Lâu đại khái được phân thành hai dạng: dạng thứ nhất do chính lâu mời vào, vì được mời nên dạng này có quyền từ chối. Dạng thứ hai bước vào lâu do trong tâm có niệm, và dạng này hiển nhiên không có quyền lựa chọn.”
“Vậy Hoa công tử kia có lẽ thuộc dạng thứ nhất còn Sở huynh thuộc dạng thứ hai rồi.”
Người họ Sở nâng chén rượu, nhấp một ngụm, trên gương mặt anh tuấn thấp thoáng vẻ bất đắc dĩ. Không phải sầu não, không phải bất lực hay căm phẫn mà là cảm giác dù biết mười mươi nhưng vẫn không thể tránh được điều đó xảy đến với mình, tuy nhiên, chính điều đó lại là điều bản thân thầm mong muốn nhưng ít khi dám đối diện thừa nhận.
“Huynh nói không sai,” người họ Sở đáp. “Tại hạ ôm chấp niệm trong lòng, tìm kiếm Niệm Lâu trong nhiều thời gian, cuối cùng cũng đến được. Tại hạ đã nghe nhiều về những truyền thuyết nơi này, cũng biết đến việc người bước chân vào Niệm Lâu không thể trở ra, nhưng tại hạ không tin vì sau đó tại hạ vẫn có thể trở ra thế giới bên ngoài.”
“Nhưng sau cùng, tại hạ nhận ra đó chỉ là ảo tưởng không hơn không kém. Thứ trở ra thế giới bên ngoài chỉ là niềm lưu luyến của tại hạ mà thôi, còn bản thân tại hạ trước sau chưa từng rời khỏi chốn này.”
Trái tim Diệp Khai nhói đau nhưng thình lình bị một chiếc kim đâm vào. Hắn từng muốn rời đi và thiếu niên Vân Thâu cũng không hề ngăn cản hắn, tuy nhiên rốt cuộc hắn lựa chọn ở lại chỉ vì một bóng lưng hao hao Phó Hồng Tuyết. Hoàn toàn tự nguyện, không hề bị ép buộc, hắn đã cho là thế. Bây giờ nghĩ lại, liệu đây có phải cách mà chốn huyền bí này dùng để giữ chân hắn hay không? Nếu hắn vĩnh viễn không thể tìm được Phó Hồng Tuyết, có phải hắn sẽ vĩnh viễn ở lại đây? Như Hoa công tử, như người họ Sở, như bất cứ khách nhân nào khác.
Như Phó Hồng Tuyết.
Diệp Khai trước sau vẫn là lãng tử, cho dù hắn đã đánh rơi gần hết cái hào sảng, phóng khoáng của một lãng tử, mà đối với lãng tử, bị bắt buộc vĩnh viễn dừng chân lại một chốn là một bi kịch tương đương với chém đứt đôi cánh của chim ưng và nhốt nó trong lồng, chỉ tưởng tượng thôi cũng đủ khiến mồ hôi lạnh bò dọc sống lưng.
Nhưng, nếu trong lồng có một thứ đủ sức hấp dẫn để giữ chân chim ưng, khiến nó quên đi nỗi đau bị tàn nhẫn tước đoạt tự do thì sao? Huống chi con chim ưng già nua, mỏi mệt từ lâu đã chẳng còn thiết tha bầu trời rộng lớn, chỉ biết ngày ngày tự rỉa vết thương mưng mủ, hoại tử của mình đến toét máu.
Trong đầu hỗn độn bao luồng suy nghĩ, Diệp Khai nhất thời chưa biết phản ứng thế nào.
Người họ Sở thấy hắn trầm mặc, ánh mắt thất thần bèn lên tiếng, “Vào cũng đã vào rồi, huynh đã tìm thấy ‘niệm’ của mình chưa?”
Diệp Khai như bừng tỉnh, vội hỏi lại, “Xin hỏi Sở huynh đã ở đây lâu chưa?”
Người họ Sở nhướng mày, nét mặt thoáng hiện vẻ ngạc nhiên trước câu hỏi đột ngột từ Diệp Khai. “Tại hạ ở đây chưa thể tính là lâu nhưng cũng không phải mới bước vào hôm qua, hôm kia.”
“Tại hạ mạn phép hỏi, huynh có quen thuộc hết những khách nhân ở đây không?”
“Tại hạ không dám nhận quen biết nhưng đại khái cũng biết được sơ lược danh tính. Phải chăng Diệp huynh muốn đề cập đến ‘niệm’ của huynh?”
“Hắn họ Phó, tên là Hồng Tuyết. Không biết Sở huynh đã từng tiếp xúc chưa?”
Trái tim Diệp Khai co bóp mãnh liệt trong lồng ngực còn lòng bàn tay rịn mồ hôi. Đây chính là lúc hắn xác nhận sự hiện diện của Phó Hồng Tuyết trong Niệm Lâu. So với cách nói lấp lửng của Vân Thâu, lời của người thứ ba, không có liên hệ gì với hắn hay Phó Hồng Tuyết có tính xác thực hơn nhiều. Trên hết, người họ Sở này là người đầu tiên ở Niệm Lâu dường như không có ý định làm loạn thần trí hắn.
“Phó Hồng Tuyết sao?” người họ Sở lẩm bẩm. “Có phải thanh niên mặc độc một màu đen, chân phải có tật, ít nói ít cười?”
Diệp Khai tưởng chừng xương lồng ngực đã gãy trước nhịp đập dữ dội của trái tim. Hắn mở miệng nhưng không nói nên lời, móng tay cắm sâu vào lòng bàn tay trơn trượt mồ hôi nhưng hắn không cảm thấy bất cứ cảm giác gì.
“Diệp huynh không sao chứ?” người họ Sở thấy sắc mặt Diệp Khai cổ quái liền ân cần hỏi thăm.
“Tại hạ không sao,” Diệp Khai nặng nhọc đáp. “Sở huynh quen biết Phó Hồng Tuyết sao?”
“Tại hạ đã có vinh hạnh thử đao pháp của hắn. Đích thực là khoái đao thiên hạ vô song, vượt xa bất cứ cao thủ dùng đao nào vào thời tại hạ. Nhưng Phó Hồng Tuyết và tại hạ chỉ là sơ giao, hắn và Diệp thành chủ mới là thân giao.”
Diệp Khai không để ý đến cách dùng từ kỳ lạ của người họ Sở hay Diệp thành chủ được nhắc đến là ai; lúc này, hắn chỉ quan tâm một điều duy nhất.
“Sở huynh biết Phó Hồng Tuyết ở đâu không?”
“Việc này…” người họ Sở ngập ngừng. Một cách vô thức, Diệp Khai đếm từng nhịp chờ hắn lên tiếng. “Tại hạ không dám khẳng định chắc chắn, chỉ vài lần loáng thoáng nghe được gian phòng của Phó Hồng Tuyết là gian phòng cuối cùng của cánh đông.”
Trái tim Diệp Khai rơi thẳng xuống đáy vực.
Bạn Joel thừa nhận từ lúc hình thành ý tưởng viết fic này bạn đã nhất quyết phải lôi lão họ Sở mà chắc ai cũng biết đấy là ai cùng vị mỹ nhân nào đó thường xuyên dây dưa với lão (ít nhất trong đầu bạn Joel là vậy) vào fic.
Bạn tính viết dài hơn nhưng tính lười lại nổi lên nên bạn để cliffhanger, đợi chương sau giải quyết tiếp.
Vừa hướng ánh mắt đến người đó, Diệp Khai liền ngây ngẩn, trái tim bất giác lỗi một nhịp. Thân vận trường bào tuyết trắng tương phản với cổ cầm cùng mái tóc đen nhánh như dòng thác đổ xuống vai, cầm sư trên vũ đài đích thị là một mỹ nhân hiếm có, mắt tựa tinh tú, môi tựa cánh đào, phong thái thanh cao, thoát tục, so với Điệp Vũ không hề kém cạnh.
Diệp Khai tỉnh dậy trên một chiếc giường, đó là điều đầu tiên hắn nhận ra. Có giường ắt có phòng, chỉ là ánh mắt hắn quét một lượt khắp phòng cũng không nhận ra dù chỉ nửa điểm quen thuộc. Đây không phải phòng hắn, Diệp Khai khẳng định, căn phòng này nhỏ hơn, đồ đạc cũng ít hơn mặc dù đồ đạc phòng hắn vốn chẳng nhiều nhặn gì. Ngoài chiếc giường hắn đang nằm, căn phòng gần như trống trơn, không bàn ghế, không tủ kệ, càng không có vật trang trí. Trên bức tường trắng toát không có ô cửa sổ, Diệp Khai vô phương biết được thời điểm hiện tại.
Căn phòng này tựa hồ không phải nơi ở của con người mà giống như một gian nhà kho đương lúc vật chứa vừa được chuyển đi. Nhận định đó khiến tâm tình sau khi tỉnh dậy vốn không mấy tốt đẹp của Diệp Khai càng trầm xuống. Hắn chống tay, ngồi dậy, trong lòng bất giác gọi tên gã tiểu nhị.
Ngoài cửa có tiếng bước chân. Diệp Khai vừa ngẩng mặt lên thì cánh cửa nhẹ nhàng mở ra và một người bước vào.
Diệp Khai ngẩn người, trái tim trong ngực đã vọt lên cổ họng, tắc nghẹn.
Hắn lại nhìn thấy Phó Hồng Tuyết.
Phó Hồng Tuyết vận áo vải thô xám, mái tóc chảy xuống vai, lưng như dòng thác đen nhánh. Trên tay bưng một chiếc khay gỗ nhỏ đen tuyền, Phó Hồng Tuyết tiến đến bên giường.
“Khách quan, ngài đã tỉnh, xin ngài dùng chút canh giải rượu cho nóng,” ‘Phó Hồng Tuyết’ nói với chất giọng trong vắt như dòng suối mát.
‘Phó Hồng Tuyết’ vừa mở miệng, ma thuật liền tan biến. Con người trước mặt Diệp Khai lại là gã tiểu nhị nhỏ tuổi, lễ độ và không bao giờ nghỉ ngơi của Niệm Lâu.
Nói đúng ra thì gương mặt Vân Thâu không hề biến đổi, điều biến đổi chẳng qua là góc nhìn và nhận thức của Diệp Khai.
Từ ngày đầu tiên bước vào Niệm Lâu, trông thấy Vân Thâu, Diệp Khai đã nghĩ gã rất quen thuộc. Giờ phút này hắn mới rõ thì ra Vân Thâu có nhiều nét rất giống Phó Hồng Tuyết. Tất nhiên gương mặt gã không giống hệt Phó Hồng Tuyết – nếu không Diệp Khai đã chẳng thể bình tĩnh ngồi trên giường nhìn gã – nhưng ở góc độ và ánh sáng nhất định, không riêng Diệp Khai mà bất cứ ai quen biết Phó Hồng Tuyết cũng sẽ khẳng định Phó Hồng Tuyết và gã là song sinh huynh đệ.
Diệp Khai dụi mắt bằng cả hai tay. Khuôn mặt Vân Thâu tựa như biến đổi, lại tựa như không.
“Ta đang ở phòng của ai?”
“Là phòng của tiểu nhân,” Vân Thâu đáp. “Ngài say quá, không thể tự trở về phòng mình, mà tiểu nhân chưa được ngài cho phép nên không dám bước vào phòng ngài, đành đưa ngài về tạm phòng tiểu nhân.”
Diệp Khai cười nhạt, đón lấy chén canh, uống một ngụm. Nước canh thơm mùi thảo mộc nhưng không nồng, trôi xuống cổ rồi vẫn còn đọng lại vị ngọt thanh trên lưỡi. Nước canh dịu dàng sưởi ấm và làm đầy bao tử từ hôm qua đến giờ chỉ có mấy ngụm rượu của hắn.
“Ngươi cứng nhắc vậy sao?”
“Quy tắc là quy tắc, phận tiểu nhân nào dám bất tuân, nhỡ khách quan trách phạt, tiểu nhân gánh không nổi.”
Diệp Khai cười nhạt. “Nếu lần sau tại hạ lại quắc cần câu thì đành phiền tiểu huynh đệ dìu ta về phòng mình. Tỉnh lại ở phòng lạ, lại còn là phòng của một mỹ thiếu niên, ta bối rối lắm.”
Vân Thâu như không nhận ra ý cợt nhả của Diệp Khai, từ tốn đáp, “Ước muốn của ngài là mệnh lệnh với tiểu nhân.”
“Thật chứ?” Diệp Khai cười cười. “Bất cứ điều gì ta muốn sao?”
“Hiện tại ta muốn thêm một chén canh giải rượu nữa. Ta thật sự rất đói.”
Vân Thâu nở nụ cười ra chiều thông cảm. “Nếu vậy thì ngài thật sự may mắn rồi.”
Diệp Khai nhướng mày. “Ta may mắn?”
“Hôm nay Hoa công tử cao hứng xuống bếp làm món chay đãi mọi người trong lâu. Không phải tiểu nhân tâng bốc nhưng trù nghệ của Hoa công tử thật sự là thiên hạ vô song. Chỉ tiếc là y không nhiễm khói bụi, rất hiếm khi trổ tài, nếu có trổ tài cũng chẳng đến lượt chúng ta được vinh hạnh nếm.”
“Vị Hoa công tử này là nhân vật thế nào, sao ta chưa từng nghe danh y.”
Diệp Khai tự phụ nếu trên đời có một trù sư thiện nghệ như thế, hắn không thể không biết tên.
“Vì y vốn không phải trù sư,” Vân Thâu đáp. “Trù nghệ chẳng qua chỉ là một trong những tài năng của y mà thôi, ngoài ra còn có cầm, kỳ, thi, hoạ, không gì không trác tuyệt.”
Diệp Khai thấy rõ sự thay đổi trong giọng điệu Vân Thâu. “Người dường như rất ngưỡng mộ y?”
“Tiểu nhân ngưỡng mộ rất nhiều người,” Vân Thâu cười đáp. “Bao gồm cả ngài.”
“Một gã khất cái ngay đến mấy lượng để trả tiền rượu cũng không có nổi như ta thì có gì để ngươi ngưỡng mộ?”
“Tiểu Lý phi đao mà không đáng ngưỡng mộ thì hỏi trên đời còn gì đáng ngưỡng mộ?”
“Nhưng cái ngươi ngưỡng mộ là thanh đao, không phải con người ta.”
“Không có người thì đao chẳng qua là con dao cắt thịt, gọt trái cây, chẳng có gì đáng ngưỡng mộ.”
Diệp Khai cười lớn. “Đối đáp khá lắm. Sư phụ ta hẳn sẽ rất thích ngươi, tiếc là ngươi sinh quá muộn.”
Vân Thâu lắc đầu. “Thúc phụ lẫn tiểu nhân đều vô cùng ngưỡng mộ Lý thám hoa, tiếc là Niệm Lâu không bao giờ có cơ hội đón tiếp ngài ấy, cho dù ngài ấy chưa tạ thế đi nữa.”
Ngưng một nhịp, Vân Thâu thốt, “Vì niệm của ngài ấy không ở trong lâu.”
Diệp Khai cũng đoán được điều ấy.
Một ý nghĩ chợt loé lên trong đầu hắn. “Hôm nay dưới sảnh rất đông người?”
“Vâng, nhưng ngài yên tâm, tiểu nhân đã chuẩn bị sẵn một bàn cho ngài, chỉ cần ngài bước xuống ắt sẽ có chỗ.”
“Có phải tất cả khách nhân trong lâu đều có mặt không?”
Như thể gã đọc được suy nghĩ trong lòng Diệp Khai, mà có khi thật sự là thế, ánh mắt Vân Thâu ánh lên tia sáng còn nụ cười bên khoé môi càng sâu hơn. “Hoa công tử cả trăm năm mới cao hứng một lần, dĩ nhiên hiếm người muốn bỏ lỡ.”
“Hiếm người” không đồng nghĩa với “tất cả”, Diệp Khai thất vọng than thầm. Còn đang đứng ở lưng chừng cầu thang, hắn đã quét ánh mắt một lượt khắp dễ đến trăm khách nhân trong đại sảnh. Nếu hỏi hắn còn chút tự tin nào ở bản thân, Diệp Khai sẽ nói là nhãn lực; hắn tự tin trong các khách nhân đủ mọi lứa tuổi, đủ mọi phong thái ở đây, hắn chắc chắn sẽ nhận ra sắc áo đen của Phó Hồng Tuyết. Nhưng nhìn một lượt chưa đủ lại thêm một lượt nữa, hắn vẫn không nhìn thấy sắc áo của Phó Hồng Tuyết đâu, ngay đến người áo trắng lần trước kề cận bên Phó Hồng Tuyết cũng chẳng thấy bóng dáng. Nghĩ đi nghĩ lại, Diệp Khai dẫu thất vọng nhưng không thể phủ nhận việc Phó Hồng Tuyết và người áo trắng kia không xuất hiện là lẽ đương nhiên. Phó Hồng Tuyết chưa bao giờ là người thích náo nhiệt, nếu không nói hắn còn muốn tránh xa; còn người toàn thân tỏa ra kiếm khí còn lạnh hơn băng giá, nói y là kẻ ưa náo nhiệt e chỉ có thể là chuyện đùa.
Diệp Khai nghe thấy bụng mình sôi lên òng ọc. Phải rồi, vì hắn than đói nên Vân Thâu mới mời hắn xuống đây thưởng thức mỹ thực của vị Hoa công tử nào đó. Nhắc đến hắn không khỏi tò mò rốt cuộc vị Hoa công tử kia là nhân vật thế nào và trù nghệ của y diệu tuyệt đến mức nào.
Y như lời Vân Thâu nói, vừa đặt chân xuống đại sảnh Diệp Khai đã thấy một chiếc bàn nhỏ còn trống ở mé tây, trên bàn đã bày sẵn mấy món thức ăn cùng một vò rượu gốm đen còn nguyên niêm phong. Đại sảnh rất đông, người người chen chúc ấy vậy mà một chỗ còn trống lại không ai vào ngồi. Là khách nhân ở đây quá tôn trọng quy tắc hay tiểu tử này bản lãnh chẳng vừa?
Bàn nhỏ nhưng vị trí đắc địa, từ đó có thể nhìn trọn vẹn vũ đài. Chỉ khi ngồi xuống, Diệp Khai mới phát hiện điều này, đồng thời để ý đến người ngồi so dây cầm trên vũ đài. Không phải mỹ nữ Điệp Vũ múa những điệu tiêu hồn, thu hút cả ánh nhìn lẫn trái tim khách nhân, trên vũ đài hôm nay là một người ngồi xếp bằng, trước mặt là một thanh cổ cầm đen tuyền. Vừa hướng ánh mắt đến người đó, Diệp Khai liền ngây ngẩn, trái tim bất giác lỗi một nhịp. Thân vận trường bào tuyết trắng tương phản với cổ cầm cùng mái tóc đen nhánh như dòng thác đổ xuống vai, cầm sư trên vũ đài đích thị là một mỹ nhân hiếm có, mắt tựa tinh tú, môi tựa cánh đào, phong thái thanh cao, thoát tục, so với Điệp Vũ không hề kém cạnh. Có điều mỹ nhân lại không phải mỹ nữ, y phục trên người cùng hầu kết đã rõ ràng nói lên giới tính của y. Diệp Khai thở hắt một hơi, đã đoán được chín, mười phần thân phận của cầm sư. Nếu đây không phải vị Hoa công tử Vân Thâu đã nhắc đến thì có thể là ai? Tuy nhiên, điều khiến Diệp Khai không khỏi băn khoăn là vì sao một nhân vật xuất chúng như vậy mà hắn chưa một lần nghe nói đến? Chẳng lẽ y không thuộc giang hồ mà là một quý công tử danh môn? Không, như vậy càng không đúng; nếu là quý công tử thân phận cao quý, không giao du với nhân sĩ giang hồ, cớ gì y chế biến mỹ thực chiêu đãi khách nhân ở đây, hơn nữa còn tấu đàn cho mọi người thưởng thức?
Niệm Lâu quả nhiên chốn ngoạ hổ tàng long, càng ở lâu càng bắt gặp nhiều điều bất ngờ.
Thức ăn trên bàn bày biện đẹp mắt nhưng nếu nhìn kỹ thì tất cả đều là đồ chay, không món nào là thịt cá, đúng như Vân Thâu đã nói. Diệp Khai mỉm cười, gắp một tai nấm hương mọng nước còn bốc khói. Cũng may hắn bình sinh dễ tính, chay mặn đều xuôi chứ không như một lão bằng hữu họ Tề của hắn, bữa cơm nào không có chút thịt mỡ thì gã đều chê nhạt miệng, nuốt không trôi. Nếu là lão Tề ngồi ở vị trí này thì mỹ thực của Hoa công tử ngon lành đến mấy gã cũng không thèm đụng đũa. Nhắc đến mới nhớ, đã bao lâu rồi không nghe giọng cười sang sảng của gã?
Vân Thâu không nói ngoa, trù nghệ của Hoa công tử đúng là thiên hạ hiếm gặp, hương vị thanh tao, ngọt lành, khiến người ta ăn rồi liền muốn ăn nữa. Diệp Khai cho rằng chén canh khi nãy Vân Thâu mời hắn dùng cũng tính là mỹ thực nhưng so với các món ăn của Hoa công tử thì vẫn còn kém một bậc. Xem ra hạnh vận của hắn vẫn còn rất khá nên mới may mắn được thưởng thức.
Diệp Khai ăn rất nhanh, chẳng mấy chốc trên bàn chỉ còn chén đĩa không. Khi hắn buông đũa, bắt đầu nhấm nháp bình rượu được dọn kèm thức ăn cũng là lúc Hoa công tử đã so dây đàn xong.
Đại sảnh đang rộn rã bỗng im phăng phắc. Diệp Khai kinh ngạc nhìn quanh, thấy tất cả khách nhân đều hướng ánh mắt về vũ đài. Trên môi vương một nụ cười phớt, Hoa công tử bắt đầu dạo đàn.
Nói về âm luật và cầm nghệ, Diệp Khai tự nhận mình là kẻ dốt đặc, bảo hắn phân tích một bản nhạc thì hắn đành bó tay chịu chết. Tuy nhiên, hắn chưa tệ đến mức “đàn gảy tai trâu”, ít ra hắn còn biết được đâu là bản nhạc hay, đâu là cầm sư giỏi. Khúc này Hoa công tử tấu lên một chữ “hay” chẳng đủ diễn tả một phần tinh hoa của nó, tiếc là khả năng miêu tả của Diệp Khai có giới hạn. Nếu thần tiên thật sự có thật, tiên nhạc có lẽ cũng đến nhường này thôi.
Đây không phải một khúc nhạc bình thường, Diệp Khai cũng không phàm tục đến mức cho rằng Hoa công tử kia sẽ tấu một khúc nhạc bình thường, phổ biến đến mức người ta có thể nghe thấy ở bất cứ đâu, dưới bàn tay của bất cứ cầm sư nào. Khúc nhạc này rất lạ; cái lạ không nằm ở giai điệu hay tiết tấu mà ở chuyện nó vẽ ra trước mắt người nghe một khung cảnh chân thực đến nỗi chỉ cần khép hờ mi mắt, người ta liền thấy nó hiển hiện như thể nó thật sự tồn tại trước mặt họ.
Diệp Khai chưa bao giờ tin một khúc nhạc có thể tạo ra điều kỳ diệu như thế nhưng sự thật rành rành, hắn bác bỏ thế nào được. Chưa kể, không nhắc đến thì thôi, nhắc đến rồi hắn liền thấy mi mắt nằng nặng. Hắn chậm rãi khép hờ mi mắt, để ngòi bút của khúc nhạc vẽ lên bức họa trong tâm tưởng hắn một cách rõ nét nhất.
Diệp Khai trông thấy cát, bốn bề đều là cát. Trời xanh trên đầu, cát vàng dưới chân, cảnh tượng này khiến hắn nghĩ ngay đến sa mạc ở Biên thành.
Sa mạc ở Biên thành ư, hắn chột dạ nghĩ.
Ý nghĩ vừa thoáng hiện, khung cảnh được dệt nên từ trí tưởng tượng đã xuất hiện một bóng lưng. Người đó vận y phục đen tuyền, giữa sa mạc cát vàng như một chấm đen nổi bật mà đơn côi. Chân phải hắn có tật, mỗi bước đi đều chậm chạp và khó nhọc, chân trái bước lên một bước dài, chân phải kéo lê theo sau, để lại trên mặt cát một vệt đỏ thắm vô cùng chói mắt. Người vận y phục dường như không biết đến đau đớn, cứ một đường thẳng tắp tiến về phía chân trời cát vàng mù mịt.
Diệp Khai thảng thốt kêu lên một tiếng. Cho dù không thấy được diện mạo, hắn vẫn nhận ra con người cô độc đó là ai dựa vào bóng lưng. Đó là hình ảnh đã khắc sâu vào linh hồn hắn, đến chết cũng không thể quên.
Diệp Khai muốn đứng lên đuổi theo người áo đen. So sánh tốc độ của hai người và khoảng cách giữa họ, hắn tự tin mình có thể đuổi kịp. Thế nhưng, tay vừa chống xuống bàn, Diệp Khai lại nghe thấy tiếng đàn da diết như một lời nhắc nhở cay nghiệt rằng những gì hắn đang chứng kiến đều là ảo giác, là hải thị thận lâu giữa sa mạc bát ngát, chỉ có thể nhìn thấy chứ tuyệt không thể chạm đến.
Tiếng đàn mỗi lúc một mãnh liệt, nắm tay của Diệp Khai siết mỗi lúc một chặt, móng tay đã khảm vào da thịt ứa máu.
Người áo đen rốt cuộc đã ngã quỵ, dòng máu tươi nhanh chóng bị sa mạc khô cằn nuốt lấy. Gió đại mạc lạnh lùng cuốn cát vàng phủ lên thân thể bạc nhược, vùi lấp nó như thể thiên nhiên thương xót con người bất hạnh, tiến hành mai táng hắn, tiễn đưa linh hồn hắn về với đất, với trời…. Cho đến khi những gì còn thấy được chỉ là một đốt xương trắng gầy guộc nhô lên khỏi cát.
Tiếng nhạc dừng lại, Diệp Khai mở mắt, ngơ ngẩn hướng ánh mắt về phía Hoa công tử nhưng chẳng hề nhìn thấy y. Trong mắt hắn chỉ còn đốt xương trắng cùng nỗi sợ hãi khi hình dung thi thể Phó Hồng Tuyết vùi dưới nấm mộ Diệp Khai chính tay đắp.
Vì ai mà Phó Hồng Tuyết phải chết?
Diệp Khai nghe thấy một giọng nói trong đầu.
Vì ai mà Phó Hồng Tuyết phải chết?
Câu hỏi lặp lại một lần, rồi một lần nữa, mỗi lần giọng nói càng giống giọng hắn hơn.
Vì ai mà Phó Hồng Tuyết phải chết? Nhớ ra chưa?
Vì Diệp Khai.
Diệp Khai là ai?
Diệp Khai là ta.
Vậy Phó Hồng Tuyết vì ai mà chết?
Diệp Khai nhìn xuống hai bàn tay mình. Đập vào mắt hắn là màu đỏ chói mắt.
Chính ta đã giết Phó Hồng Tuyết.
Phải. Chính ngươi. Ngươi không chỉ lấy đi vận mệnh của hắn, cuộc đời của hắn mà sau cùng còn tước đi mạng sống của hắn.
Ngươi nghĩ hắn có hận ngươi không?
Giọng nói trong đầu hắn không đáp, chỉ cười nhạt.
Lòng bàn tay truyền đến cảm giác lành lạnh. Diệp Khai nhìn xuống tay. Hắn trông thấy ánh mắt thẫn thờ của mình phản chiếu trên thân ngọn tiểu đao.
Lại là cameo của một nhân vật (tương đối) quen thuộc với những ai đọc Cổ Long và có đọc nhưng fanfic khác của bạn Joel. Chương sau cũng có cameo nữa.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandom: Fate/Grand Order
Pairing: Siegfried x Karna
Characters: Siegfried, Karna
I will never set you free
Till I break you
~The Devil Within~
Featuring Karna Alter
Warning: torture, a bit of body horror
The first thing to be registered in Siegfried’s mind after unmeasurable span of losing consciousness was that he was submerged in some sort of mud up to his waist.
The second thing was this mud was… strange, for a lack of more descriptive word. It felt like mud – thick and clinging to your body, sinking you slowly – and didn’t feel like mud at the same time, for no mud should be blood-red and scalding hot. In fact it seemed to resemble molten lava more than mud in the way it burned and consumed everything it made contact with until there was nothing left. Siegfried could feel the intense heat on his skin and if he had been someone else, he would have been reduced to liquid. That he hadn’t was probably all thanks to Fafnir’s blood giving him draconian traits, one of which being the immunity to every sort of heat. Heat wouldn’t kill a dragon, for they were a magical species born out of and reveling in heat. Still, that wasn’t to say his sensation was numb enough to not be bothered by the discomfort; he just suppressed it to deal with other, more urgent matters.
Matters such as the grim realization that he was restrained. The flesh of both his wrists was pierced and threaded with chains, which bound his hands together and hung them above his head; even if he craned his neck, he was unable to see where the chains began as they seemed to extend into the fathomless dark sky. Strangely enough, he felt almost no pain despite such severe crippling wounds. His wings received the same gruesome treatment, pierced at the roots with chains. Siegfried couldn’t help a rueful smile at the irony of his state: the only reason he hadn’t sunk into this bottomless mud was because he was suspended by those chains. The only part of him that was free was his tail, but his tail alone couldn’t do much anyway.
With a grunt, Siegfried yanked the chains above his head with everything he had, testing them, and was unsurprised but nonetheless disappointed that they were sturdy enough to render his dragon blood-imbued strength futile. Should have guessed so. Who- or whatever had subdued him must have employed a kind of magic that ensured he was unable to break free by himself. After all, they had nullified his armor of Fafnir enough to injure him. The chains didn’t serve only that purpose though. Where they bit into his flesh and bones, it seemed there were thousands leeches latching their tiny hooks to his open wounds and sucking off his already diminished mana. Just sweet. At this rate, very soon his energy would be dried up, and then he would be completely useless, a lamb on the altar waiting to be sacrificed.
But the boiling heat, the bindings and the mana-leeching aside, what truly gnawed his insides was the mysterious matter lurking in the mud. He had no idea what it was, only that it was pure, undiluted evil far beyond the scope of his imagination, or the capability of one individual. From the mud it seeped into his pores, penetrating him, searching and trying to reach the core of his being, devouring each and everything that made up the Heroic Spirit Siegfried. This was a fight he could not prevail; and worse, he wasn’t able to defend himself against the corrosion force. That bred into his mind a horror he had never experienced in his entire life and the next.
“You’re very resilient, aren’t you?” A voice echoed in the otherwise mute endless space, alienly familiar. The paradox squeezed his heart and jabbed his guts. “Is it in your nature or the armor of Fafnir’s power? Formidable, I’d say. Well, either way, you will give up eventually, just like every other. All it takes is a little more time, and time is what we have in abundance.”
The voice became clearer and more like a real voice than a distanced echo as Siegfried felt slight waves of movement slapping his body. A figure came into his vision, emitting ominous vibes. When he finally saw who that was, he couldn’t contain a gasping sound.
No, this couldn’t be Karna. Something was wrong, so incredibly wrong. Surely this Servant – even this was an assumption – bore remnants of Heroic Spirit Karna’s appearance, but that was as far as resemblance went. Everything else just screamed different and alarmingly wrong. His armor had been discarded and the golden lines on his body had all turned red and glowing like highlighted blood veins. The red gem embedded in his chest had lost its brilliant shine and dyed black, and from afar it looked like a gaping hole left behind after his heart had been gouged out. His exposed skin was starkly pale as always; however, there was tortuous crimson markings that crisscrossed on his chest, crawling up his neck all the way to his cheeks. What made them a truly grotesque sight to behold was that those markings seemed to be squirming beneath his skin as if possessing a life of their own. To add to this nightmare-fueled appearance, his eyes, once blue and clearer than the clearest ocean, had turned scarlet and the whites had become pitch-black so that it looked like his eyeballs had been removed and glaring embers had been stuffed into their places.
This was not how the Heroic Spirit of the sun should appear. This was the form of a malevolent spirit, rising from the pit of hell to seek vengeance on the living.
“Who… are you?”
Pale lips moved, and a cruel smile was carved into the marmoreal visage. A sultry voice spoke, “So ironic that you ask me who I am while you just uttered my name.”
A hand gripped Siegfried’s chin and lifted his head so that he was gazing straight into those embers. “I am Heroic Spirit Karna, son of the Sun God Surya. Aren’t you the man who whispers my name every night as you hold me in these arms?”
And he kissed him. No, it was wrong to call it a kiss as they were in this state. It was a forceful press of his lips on Siegfried’s own, followed by brutal invasion. His fingers on Siegfried’s chin dug into his jaws, forcing them to open and keeping them that way so that his tongue was free to ravage his captive’s mouth in a sinister manner the real Karna would never have known. He licked the slightly pointed tips of Siegfried’s teeth and nicked his tongue, spicing the kiss with the coppery taste of blood. Then, in an act of unjust retaliation, he bit Siegfried’s tongue, drawing his blood to mix with his own. Leaving no chance for protest, his tongue roughly coaxed Siegfried’s into a sanguinary tango.
This savage encounter of lips tasted like rusty iron, charcoals and soot. Most of all, it tasted like hell and despair.
“That wounds me,” Karna chuckled, giving a final lick to Siegfried’s abused lips. “You’re usually more passionate. Where has that fervent passion gone?”
“Where is Karna?”
The chalk-white face looked shocked. Feigned, Siegfried doubted. “Why, standing in front of you, of course.”
“It can’t be. He has—”
Siegfried cut himself short because his mind suddenly conjured a vivid scene of inferno.
It had started a normal mission with the two of them accompanying their Master to a singularity. Find the Grail. Fix the disturbances. Restore the timeline. Bring the Grail back to Chaldea for safe keeping. They had gone unscathed through several missions like this before; this one should have been the same. And yet…
There was something abnormal about this timeline’s Grail. Siegfried and Karna had both felt it, but they had been unable to neither put it into words nor find a ground reason for it, only a nagging feeling that just couldn’t be shaken off, lurking at the corner in their minds like an obnoxious pest. When they could finally put a name to it, it had already been too late.
This timeline’s Grail had been tainted by an evil possessing far more powers than the likes of mages could ever imagine. However, that wasn’t the worst of it. In a desperate attempt to decimate the corrupted Grail, his Master had ordered Siegfried and Karna to unleash their Noble Phantasms, resulting in a catastrophe of the biblical scale. The matter inside the Grail – the same thing in which he had been being marinated, Siegfried only realized now – spilled out from its crack, indiscriminately consuming everything in its way like the fiery wrath of God.
They had lost sight of their Master in the midst of chaos and soon, their hope of getting out of this hell. The events in Siegfried’s head were jumbled and hazy like a hay fever dream, and the only thread binding him to the reality being Karna. The mud-like matter from the Grail was lethal to Servants like them, and they soon came to a grim discovery that neither Siegfried’s armor of Fafnir nor Karna’s Kavacha and Kundala could protect themselves from its insidious effects.
Their manifested bodies were created by the Grail and right now, they were up against the Grail itself. Needless to say, they had been on the losing side before the fight even began.
“Consumed by the Grail’s matter after he used his last strength to push you out of the way?” Karna finished for him.
A loud bang shook Siegfried’s brain. That was exactly what he was recalling, and what his mind had forgotten up to this moment. The mind had its own defense mechanism, which had tried to shield itself from the traumatic image.
Karna flattened his body against Siegfried’s, seemingly clinging to him with his arms winding around Siegfried’s neck and his naked chest touching Siegfried’s. Frigid yet burning, an icy flame his skin emitted. Siegfried’s armor allowed him to be immune to all kinds of flame but not this one. His skin was seared and he bit back a groan, grinding his teeth.
“Shall I give you a taste of what he went through after that? Just so you know, he did struggle, just like you have, and failed. And you will too. I’m looking forward to it.”
Karna kissed him again, but this time it was only a ghostly brush.
A blood-curling scream tore its way out of Siegfried’s lungs.
At his apparent suffering, Karna smiled, a diabolical curve on his otherwise expressionless face. His hands cupped Siegfried’s face, and he brought his mouth close to Siegfried’s yet not making contact, nearly drinking in the Dragon Knight’s heavy pants. His smile widened in the sadistic enjoyment of Siegfried’s torment.
“Such a lovely sound. I can listen to it all day,” Karna let out a soft, sinful moan. “Got it now? That Karna is gone, and I need you to be gone, too.”
He caressed Siegfried’s cheeks with faux tenderness while leaving a charred mark that completely erased the glowing pattern on the skin. His blood evaporated in pinkish puffs of smoke. Like a wounded animal, Siegfried hissed. On his tongue was the taste of his burnt flesh.
“I have no use for you as you are now, futilely opposing the inevitability,” Karna murmured to his ear, nibbling the lobe. “I need you to disappear so that another you will be born, a ‘you’ who loves me and fights with me the same way you did him. Together we will—”
“Incinerate the world and every single living thing in it?”
“I prefer the word ‘renovate’. For new, better things to be born, the old things must be wiped clean. That is how the god Shiva is both destruction and creation.”
“You talk a lot, but sorry, I have to pass.”
“Your answer is no.”
Karna faced him, looking taken aback. “Are you clinging to the foolish hope that he could return? He won’t, I assure you. The Grail has already obliterated him. Don’t you want to be united with him?”
“No,” Siegfried stubbornly repeated. “I’m fully aware this is a fight I haven’t the slightest winning chance, but if I gave in, it’d be the greatest betrayal to us both.”
Siegfried thought he had shocked Karna, if his expression was to be trusted. He wondered if this altered Karna still possessed the ability to discern truth. If he did, he would know Siegfried meant his every word. Perhaps that was the reason he was looking flabbergasted.
“It’s a shame,” Karna muttered, shaking his head.
What is he talking about?
“It’s truly a shame. If possible, I do not desire for you to be hurt more than you already were. Unfortunately, you just have to be difficult and although I may have time in abundance, I cannot say the same about my patience.”
Siegfried wanted to say something to rebuke but suddenly his intended words all liquefied into blood. Then the blood burst out of his mouth, drenching his chin and dripping down his chest.
It was so quick that he almost felt no pain except a bizarre tightness in his right chest, like being short of breath except he wasn’t. Looking down, he saw a wrist at the place where his heart was. The reason why he didn’t see the hand was because it had disappeared into his chest, breaking his ribcages and at the moment, was literally holding his heart. He swore he could distinctly feel each and every small callus on weapon-seasoned fingers. The hand gave his heart a teasing squeeze, like a naughty child’s hand kneading a clump of model clay. But even a seemingly harmless act as such could have a ghastly result: another gush of blood came out of Siegfried’s mouth in a heart-aching cough.
That was just the beginning of it.
A small ripping sound like a leaf being plucked from its stem registered in Siegfried’s ears. He wondered what it was and looked down to his chest. There he was treated with a morbidly surreal sight of his own heart thumping with twice its normal beats as though trying to grasp onto whatever life that was about to extinguish.
“Such an intriguing little thing,” said Karna, tilting his head to examine the heart in his palm. “I imagined it had to be… different, maybe bigger or something due to the dragon blood. Turns out it is just the same as a normal heart, which means if I squish it, you’ll die.”
He would. Siegfried knew that he could survive a few minutes without his heart, but he wasn’t immortal and that was his limit. Odd was how he had a vague dejà vu that something similar had happened before, which was his entire base to believe he could go on a little more after his heart, his mana core, was removed.
“You see, the truth is I cannot kill you since, I don’t know, it’s just a terrible idea. But I still need another ‘you’, so I’m going to do this.”
Karna scooped a handful of the mud with his free hand. Just when Siegfried had an inkling of his intention, and was horrified by it, Karna dripped the sinister matter onto Siegfried’s heart.
Would you feel something on your heart once it’d already left your body?
The answer was yes, at least in Siegfried’s case. He felt each and every drop as it fell onto his heart, hot and melting like pure acid. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. The rhythm was maddeningly steady and serene, bringing forth a deceptive illusion of droplets of rain falling from branches and leaves to be received by the generous soil. Scream after scream ripped apart his vocal cords as excruciating agony penetrated his every cell. Violently his body twisted and turned and yet once again failed to relinquish his bounds.
He barely registered the moment his heart was unceremoniously shoved back into the hole in his chest, this time, without the accompaniment of Karna’s hand. Flesh grew on its own to fill the wound and in a blink of an eye, his chest was whole and spotless as though everything had been nothing more than a drug-induced hallucination. Was it assuring? Not in the least, for the very instance his wound closed up, Siegfried felt it, the pure, undiluted evil that had given him the enormous sense of dread. He had felt it inside him, eating him away; now he felt it all over him, drowning him, choking him, killing him. He wanted to scream – needed to hear his own sounds – and yet all that was left for him was the crunching noise of parts of his soul being voraciously masticated. Death was his final thought, and it resounded in his mind in the form of Karna’s chuckles, before all things were drenched in the color of the sinister mud.
Siegfried opened his eyes to darkness, sweating. Surrounding him was darkness and a dead silence that usually accompanied it like a faithful servant. It was a moonless night where the clouds were thick enough to block any starlight. He reached out blindly with his hand and only when he felt the steady rising and falling of a chest that the bud of panic in his breast was squashed. Although the body lying beside him was merely a replica of the living and the breathing, as well as other bodily functions, more of a lingered habit than a necessity, it still radiated reassurance to calm the irritating dragon inside Siegfried. He hugged the body close to his own and was mildly surprised when slender fingers intertwined with his. They were frigid like a cadaver’s while they used to be warm like sunlight but he didn’t mind; right now coldness was what he needed for his rising temperature.
A snap of the fingers and darkness cowered before a ball of flame dancing around the place.
The electricity in this complex had been long cut off but who needed electricity when you could easily control fire?
“That dream again?” Karna asked, touching Siegfried’s scaly cheek with his free hand.
“Ah,” Siegfried agreed. “It fades a little every day but it’d take a while before it’s gone completely.”
“I underestimated his resolution,” Karna sighed. “It seems he put all his strength in that final moment just to torment you even though he knew it was futile.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from the other ‘me’. He held on until the end although the moment he truly broke was when you told him about the other ‘you’.”
“And yet he boasted such bold words. If he had given in, it would have spared him the agony.”
Stroking Siegfried’s barbed tail, Karna smiled. While the tail had been pretty intimidating before, now it was undoubtedly an eldritch abomination in its own right. Still, Karna boldly smoothed his hand along the length, not minding the possibility of the barbs injuring him. The tail flapped lazily in response to his ministrations.
“Though I get most of it was necessary but weren’t the mutilations a bit over the top?”
Karna shrugged. “I did what I had to. It wasn’t that I enjoyed it.”
“Is that so? From the look on your face back then, I have to say otherwise.”
“Fine, a little. However, ‘he’ wasn’t you, so breaking came pretty easy. You know I can never hurt you.”
“Can’t say you never try,” Siegfried deadpanned, then proceeded to make Karna swallow any rebuttals by locking their lips. Stunned only for a second, Karna quickly regained his footing and responded in kind. It was a far cry from any passionate kisses but rather a vicious battle to see who would triumph and who would eventually yield to the other’s dominance. After a while, Siegfried emerged victorious thanks to his slight advantage in stature. He pushed Karna down the old mattress and settled between his open knees.
“Are you certain you don’t want to get some sleep?” Karna said, chuckling. “It’s still some hours before the dawn breaks, and we’ll have a long day ahead.”
Even if he said so, Karna had already dematerialized his outfit, leaving his slender body bare to Siegfried’s hungry stare. Littered along his body were numerous scarlet marks that emitted eerie light on top of wriggling underneath his patsy skin like living creatures. What might appear abominable in normal sense didn’t dampen the intense lust raging in slit-pupiled eyes as they raked along the body, drinking in every small curve, every dip, every remnant of a lifetime’s battles. Siegfried raised a clawed hand and drew a red, spiderweb-thin line from Karna’s chest to his abdomen, then lowered his head and lapped the swelling blood with his forked tongue. He even went so far as to dip his fangs into his lover’s flesh, leaving neat twin holes on either side of Karna’s navel, eliciting a lengthy moan from pale lips.
“I’m feeling rather low on mana. Would you care to replenish some?”
He too got rid of his outfit in a cloud of mana, revealing toned chest and abdomen. It would be a body worthy of admiration, a perfection sculptors throughout the eras had tried to achieved, if it weren’t for the dark scales covering the majority of the naked skin. The pattern on his chest, once glowing with green light, had turned red and now resembled molten lava. His wings had enlarged, and when he spread them, they would cover them both.
“Didn’t we just have mana transfer a few hours ago, you insatiable beast?”
“Weren’t you who made me the way I am?”
“I have myself to blame then?”
Siegfried flicked his tongue against one of the numerous red marks on Karna’s skin the way a snake would feel the ambivalent environment, only he wasn’t teasing rather than feeling. By the disapproval moan Karna made, he knew he was doing right. “At this rate I’d soon turn into a dragon.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Karna replied. “It doesn’t change a thing between us. I’m used to laying with a hungry beast anyway. Let’s do what we must so you’ll have enough for the day ahead us.”
“How generous, o Hero of Charity,” Siegfried laughed. “If you so insist, it’s be rude of me to decline, wouldn’t it?”
Karna made no comment other than a mix between a chuckle and a moan as he felt Siegfried slowly, but surely, penetrated him, body and soul.
This is a break from my usual fluffy crack SiegKar fics. I was inspired by some fanarts featuring Siegfried Alter with red eyes, red marks and a muzzle over his mouth (why? He bites?).While I personally loved the idea of the muzzle, I also wished to create my own version of Siegfried Alter. As for Karna, I’ve seen some fanarts of Karna Alter with red, slightly longer hair – probably based on one of his unused designs; however, I still prefer him with his usual short white hair so I kept that.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandom: Fate/Grand Order
Pairing: Siegfried x Karna
Genres: fanfiction, fluff, humor
Characters: Siegfried, Karna
Siegfried needs warmth. Karna is warmth.
Surrounding Chaldea was a boundless area of rocky mountain ranges, gnarly trees that had only branches on which snow clung instead of leaves and blinding white. Siegfried didn’t know how the outside world, the actual world, was like – he had accidentally overheard the Doctor and Mash discuss a few times but hadn’t really paid any attention – but here, in this world where Chaldea resided, Chaldea itself was the only spot where life could be found, and even that was a bit stretched since the major population of this facility wasn’t qualified as ‘living’.
The inhospitable, desolate environment, of course, didn’t bother Siegfried at all; he had seen, had been to, worse areas, being a traveling knight during his lifetime. Moreover, in Chaldea it was always bustling with all sorts of activities that it was impossible to be distressed over the lifelessness of the landscape. What bothered the fabled Dragon Slayer was the weather, trivial as it might sound. Under normal circumstances, Servants weren’t affected by temperature, and even in the most severe condition, a number of them were still wearing entirely weather-inappropriate outfits – bearing too much skin or burying their whole bodies in fur. The same could be said about Siegfried: his outfit wasn’t the most covering, showing most of his chest and back and not once had he felt the slightest touch of chill. However, all had changed when Siegfried’s Master succeeded in his third stage ascension. Fafnir’s blood flowing in his veins had given him both significant boost in all stats and draconian features: he had grown a pair of curved horns, wings and, to his own embarrassment, a scaly tail, all of which he still hadn’t figured out the uses for; it wasn’t like he would use his horns to gorge or his tail to whip his enemies – that was unsightly and unknightly. And his wings could only carry his own weight in a short distance at best, never minding another. His youthful Master was quite fond of his new half-dragon hybrid look though, and he had openly announced Siegfried his “coolest-looking Servant”, much to a couple other Servants’ chagrin. As long as his Master was pleased, he guessed he didn’t mind Elisabeth’s childish nagging or the looks of disdain from a certain King of Heroes; the king had nothing but insults and scorn for just about everyone in Chaldea anyway, deeming them all “lowly mongrels”.
Siegfried supposed it made perfect sense that once his humanity receded for him to lean toward the slumbering dragon inside, drawing its powers and using them with more ease, he would share its weaknesses, too. Dragons, big and small, were creatures of fire and even the strongest of them wouldn’t fare so well in freezing weather.
In short, Siegfried felt cold. Much as he was bothered by this newfound affliction, he didn’t breathe a word to his Master; the young Magus had already had his hands full with fixing the singularities and seeking required items (most of them painfully rare) for his Servants’ ascensions, so Siegfried wouldn’t want to add to the heap of responsibilities. This issue of his was entirely personal, as he appeared to be the only Servant to be at inconvenience. Kiyohime seemed comfortable enough in her usual thin kimono, but again he and Kiyohime were fundamentally different from each other – her full-blooded while him only a human imbued with dragon blood.
So, the Dragon Knight dealt with this matter in his own way of solving most problems in his life: if he could not fight it and triumph then he would endure it with all the stoicism his years as a knight had trained him with. It was not something fatal, Siegfried told himself, and his stats as well as fighting capability were not reduced so he could still go to battles when his Master required him to. Compared to that, his own discomfort was trivial.
Nonetheless, he still subconsciously expressed some reluctance when asked by Karna for a sparring session.
Siegfried and Karna had been summoned to Chaldea in the same occasion. Needless to say how elated their young Master had been to see their forms materializing in front of his eyes; the chance of summon each of them was abysmally low and it could be a miracle itself to get them both at once. Their Master had declared that he had used up all his luck in this lifetime, jumping into the magic circle right after the completion of the ritual, flinging his arms on Siegfried’s shoulders – he would have done the same with Karna but for the fear of being charred by the Lancer’s cloak of fire. His grin had been so wide that Siegfried had feared that it might hurt.
Perhaps his Master’s delight has been contagious, perhaps he had been immensely pleased with this unexpected turn of event, Siegfried had felt a warm tinge of happiness in his heart. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt such a pleasant feeling. Always putting others’ needs and wants before his own, such was the essence of his knighthood, and he had followed that way of life to the extent he had forgotten how it felt to be happy on his own, not because he had fulfilled others’ wishes, making them happy. When he looked to his left side, Siegfried saw a small smile clinging at the corners of Karna’s lips, and he knew it was mirrored on his own.
Not so long after their collective arrival, on a random day when they had scavenged some time to relax before the next fighting chapter began, Karna had asked Siegfried to spar with him. There had been no malice or challenge in his even tone, only an earnest desire to cross weapons with a worthy opponent. Naturally Siegfried had agreed; he too had been yearning for a chance to see for himself if the son of the Sun God Surya was as great a warrior as history had recorded.
It didn’t surprise Siegfried in the least that Karna had chosen the vast landscape outside Chaldea to be their fighting ground. Siegfried would have suggested the same location for two reasons: one, the training ground in the facility, although huge, was never not crowded. The number of Servants were growing by the week and not all of them were taken to the battlefield, so naturally, those who found themselves off-mission would want to sharpen their skills or simply have some constructive fun with a like-minded fellow. Siegfried didn’t fancy the rambunctious atmosphere and closed, crowded space – his Master had told him that he might be a little claustrophobic, and he suspected neither did Karna. Another reason was that both his fighting styles and Karna’s were highly destructive in nature, therefore a large space in the wild where they could stretch their limbs freely was much preferred than an indoor area. When Karna suggested that they headed out of Chaldea, Siegfried simply nodded.
From then on, they had been continuing their sessions on a weekly basis at least, or whenever they could procure some free time and wanted a little exercise. The Saber had enjoyed them to a great extent; the Lancer had proven that he was true to his legend and much more. Siegfried had an impression that he had crossed swords with Karna before, perhaps in a different timeline, but even if he raked his brain, he couldn’t recall it. That didn’t matter though; to be able to encounter an opponent of such caliber, Siegfried considered himself extremely fortunate in spite of his pathetic E-rank luck.
It hadn’t posed a problem to Siegfried, fighting in this lethal weather that would normally kill a mortal, until recently. He felt the sharp blade of the chill acutely in his marrows and to say it was inconvenient was a blank understatement. Much as he tried, the Saber sometimes failed to contain the light quiver in his arms. Needless to say, his sparring companion had seen right through him.
Karna, being Karna, had to point it out. “You are shivering,” he said.
Someone else might find the Lancer’s bluntness offending but not Siegfried. He hadn’t detected any malice the first time he had found himself at the receiving end of Karna’s straightforwardness, and over the time, he had grown rather fond of this particular quirk. Honesty made for a more relaxing relationship.
It was no use hiding things from Karna, who was hailed as a walking lie-detector, so Siegfried opted for the truth. “I’m cold. It wasn’t an issue before but after my third ascension, I’ve inherited more of Fafnir’s traits. Being susceptible to cold weather is unfortunately one of them.”
If Karna was someone else, he might suggest the Dragon Slayer do something about the cold, perhaps putting on more fabric or covering his bare chest, but this was Karna and it’d rain candies in Chaldea before he said such things. Instead, to Siegfried’s surprise, he simply stepped closer and took the Saber’s hand into his slightly smaller one. Karna’s fingers were long and delicate and it was a mystery how he was able to wield his enormous lance with them. However, such thought did not occur to Siegfried until their sparring session was over, late into the night. Right now, all that was on the Wandering Hero’s mind was how warm Karna’s skin was. Not the kind of warmth that made you uncomfortable but the pleasant warmth like the first sunlight signifying spring’s arrival after a long, arduous winter. That kind of warmth had spread from his fingers – where their hands were connected – to his every muscle and bone like a gentle stream of water chasing away the cold that had been nestling in his body. Siegfried could help neither the small sign from his lips nor the blush on his cheeks.
“Do you feel better?” Karna asked, his face still wearing that serenely emotionless mask. Yet somehow Siegfried could detect an iota of concern in his voice. It could be his optimistic imagination though.
“Yes, it’s really warm,” replied Siegfried. He didn’t clarify whether “it” referred to Karna’s hand or the bloom in his heart. Unconsciously he touched the light on his chest with his free hand while the other remained in Karna’s, daring to interlace his fingers with the Lancer’s nimble yet powerful ones. Karna didn’t comment on Siegfried’s remark or object to the small gesture.
The vast barren landscape outside Chaldea suddenly became small and its flesh-biting blizzard seemed a little more tolerable.
The Wandering Hero’s cold could only be warded off for a while but not vanquished and so from then on Karna continued providing Siegfried with his sun-warmth in a similar manner: touching. Somewhere along the line, Karna’s touch extended to other parts of Siegfried’s body, not only his hand. And he did it so casually, so naturally, that Siegfried almost couldn’t believe it had happened. One late afternoon, after a satisfying fight, Karna asked in his usual, familiar even tone whether Siegfried felt cold. Siegfried was about to open his mouth when he had to swallow his words back because a warm palm was pressed against his chest, right on the pattern of light. Jaws slack and speechless, he searched Karna’s face for any unordinary signs and found none, his face still pale and beautiful and showing no visible emotions. Yet he was touching Siegfried’s chest, causing his dragon heart to jump in surprise and then thump wildly against his rib cages. He wondered what was in Karna’s mind if he felt his raging heartbeats.
And if he really did, he said not a thing; the riddle of whether Karna was aware of his effect on his sparring partner remained Siegfried’s to be solved.
Karna did ask for his permission if he could touch the Saber’s back. It might be cold, he explained, feeling the need to assure the Saber as it was a sensitive spot for him, pun not intended. Siegfried momentarily tensed, startled by the sudden offer, and then relaxed. Indeed it was a spot he’d rather have no one touch, not even his past lovers. The only time it had been touched, with the tip of the betrayal blade, he had ended up on the side of an untrodden road, bleeding to his death. Yet Karna would never hurt him in such a cruel manner, stabbing him behind the back, and he trusted Karna and his sense of fairness and honor more than he trusted anything in his life. Then, with a light nod, Siegfried gave his consent.
For a millisecond Siegfried thought he had been scalded, that despite his trust for the revered Indian Heroic Spirit, Karna had tried to harm him. It had felt so hot where Karna’s hand made contact with his skin but Siegfried soon came to the realization that it was an overreaction produced by the very sensitive, very human part of him that had been neglected by touch for so long. The heat quickly faded into a warmth which was just a notch higher than the one he had grown accustomed to. It made his toes curl and a strange sensation traveled down his spine. Siegfried wasn’t sure what it was but he didn’t like it, so he tried to quench it down with the shameful thought that he had hastily doubted the purity of Karna’s intention. Seeing how he was unable to restrain a soft moan from escaping his throat, Siegfried was sure he had failed.
It took a while for him to notice that Karna had retreated his hand. The heat pooled on his leaf-shape patch of skin and wormed its way into his flesh. It would keep him warm for days, he didn’t doubt, while Karna was taken on a new mission.
Karna was as expressionless as ever but somehow, by a trick of light or a transient hallucination, he thought he had seen the Lancer’s lips form a tiny smile. His heart skipped a beat; his gaze was magnetized towards those pale, thin lips. Had they always looked so tempting or he had only realized it just now? Tempting enough to touch them with his own lips, feeling the texture, tasting the flavor, if there should be any. What was wrong with him? Siegfried mentally slapped himself. To harbor such thought toward his respectful opponent and companion, how could he?
Fortunately for him, Karna saved him from dwelling deeper into his own embarrassment and probably not finding his way out: he brushed his hand on Siegfried’s wings, making the Dragon Knight nearly jump out of his skin. “Can you fly with these?” he asked, his tone hiding a childish curiosity.
“Not really far,” Siegfried answered, feeling the urge to scratch his… horns, “and I’m unable to carry an extra weight.”
He was not sure if Karna’s soft hums were of disapproval or something else. He seemed to be quite fascinated with Siegfried’s wings, smoothing his palm over the thin, velvety skin that made up most of the wings or lightly picking a scale with his fingernails. He had probably never seen a dragon in his life before, and Siegfried had heard that the Eastern concept of a dragon was vastly different from the Western one.
The Dragon Knight nearly dropped his jaws when Karna asked him for a demonstration.
At the end of the day, Siegfried obliged the Lancer’s request, seeing no point in not granting such a simple wish and disappointing a friend although he found the notion that Karna would be disheartened by something so trivial very unlikely.
Siegfried was not fine. The blizzard had been raging outside the walls of Chaldea for a few days, resulting in the temperature dropping abysmally lower than normal, which, of course, was bad news for Servants with draconian traits. Even Kiyohime, who never appeared to care about the weather, was complaining. For Siegfried, it was another example of how his E-rank luck was trying to screw with his life. Between the diving temperature and Kojirou’s snores (the Assassin usually didn’t but it appeared to be a temporary condition caused by the weather; otherwise the Japanese swordsman was fine), Siegfried had been having sleepless nights.
Technically, Servants didn’t need sleep. Nor did they require food, drinks, rooms or entertainment. Nonetheless, here in Chaldea, the staff had aimed to provide the majority of the population the living conditions as human as possible. Servants were spirits now, but they used to be flesh and blood and though some of them might never admit it, they did miss being a human and indulge in mortal pleasures. They might not need food to fill their stomach, but their taste buds delighted in flavors. They didn’t drink to survive but to enjoy the pretense of getting lightheaded from alcohol. And some, like Siegfried, found comfort in having a feather-soft mattress under their back after a hard fighting day and just drifting off to dreamland.
Siegfried hadn’t known he was having circles around his eyes – or capable of having them for that matter – until Karna pointed it out. Their young Master was quick to confirm that.
“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed the magus in a rather dramatic tone – such was his flair. “Did you not sleep well, Saber?”
Shame burnt his cheeks hotly for allowing such trifle to concern his Master. “I’m sorry, Master…” he opened his mouth, ready to brush the matter off by telling his Master that he was alright and it wasn’t something worth his attention.
“He’s been cold,” Karna said matter-of-factly.
“Karna…” Siegfried groaned softly. Some time ago he had shifted to calling the Lancer by his true name instead of his class like the normal courtesy between Servants. In turn, Karna had grown used to addressing Siegfried by his name.
His Master’s face lit up as if he had made a great discovery. “Right! The weather has been beyond horrible these days. I keep hearing Kiyohime’s complaints but have never realized that you’re affected too. Sorry, Saber. What terrible Master I am.”
“No, Master. It’s not your fault.”
“Siegfried can come to my room.”
Did he hear it right, Karna’s suggestion, or were his ears deceiving him?
“Brilliant idea, Lancer!” the young magus applauded. “You’re the only occupant so there’s plenty of room, it’s super-warm and Siegfried’s half-dragon so he should be fine.”
“… half-dragon so he should be fine”, what was the meaning of that?
Karna nodded in agreement.
While Siegfried was busy picking up his jaws from the ground to voice his protest, his Master had already made the arrangements for his moving into Karna’s room.
Thus when the night came, the Wandering Swordsman found himself wandering the corridor outside Karna’s room, his pillow in hand. The door was closed, and no sound was coming from the inside. Should he knock or just wait? It would be rude if the Lancer was taking a shower or doing something private.
The door was noiselessly pushed open and Siegfried’s dilemma was solved. Karna’s sharp gaze softened to see the swordsman towering awkwardly in the glaring fluorescent light, a pillow stuffed under his arm. His glacial eyes sparked with amusement when they lingered on the white pillow case, decorated with a chubby dragon. There was only one Servant whose pastime was embroidery in Chaldea and sometimes, he’d give out his products to those he deemed a worthy warrior. Karna himself had a towel with a sun sewn on it.
Karna opened the door fully in an inviting gesture and Siegfried wordless entered.
Karna’s room was about the same size as his and Kojirou’s but the sparseness of furniture made it appear more spacious. This was due to a rather unpleasant fact that his cloak of fire tended to spread fire to the things around it and to prevent such a grievous disaster from taking place, his room was especially insinuated to be fireproof and furniture was kept to minimum. Having led a minimalistic lifestyle, the son of Surya had never breathed a complaint.
“So… we’re going to sleep on the floor, aren’t we?” Siegfried asked after scanning the place and finding no sight of a bed. Frankly he didn’t mind lying on the marble tiles; soon as he set foot inside the room, he had immediately felt the gentle warmth – Karna’s warmth – dancing on his skin. Having been a traveler in a dark age for most of his life, he found this to be a luxury.
“Not really,” answered Karna before laying his cloak of fire on the floor. Without its fluffiness, the Lancer looked really thin and fragile, as if he could be easily swept away by a gush of wind. Siegfried could trace the outlines of his protruding hip bones underneath the skin-clad suit. His face felt hot for no obvious reason. Karna lied down on the cloak and gestured Siegfried to do the same.
Fire could not harm a dragon, Siegfried had learned that from his battle with Fafnir. That explained why when his skin was touched by Karna’s cloak, although he immediately knew it was neither fur nor fabric but a flame mystically shaped and weaved into a piece of garment, he wasn’t burned. The distinctive heat of fire was there and were it not because of his dragon blood, he would be instantly reduced to smoking charcoal. The grim realization did not deter him from curling on the cloak so that he could get the maximum contact. It felt so nice, really, to have the heat coursing through his body, chasing away every vestige of the cold. The dragon in him reveled in the fire, energized by it. Siegfried nuzzled his cheek into the cloak, feeing blissful sleep descending on his eyelids.
Never did he know that from a short distance from him, Karna was watching his exposed back with a smile.
The nights after that, they continued sleeping in the same room even after the blizzard had passed and Siegfried was no longer plagued with chill. He hadn’t felt it for a while; Karna’s warmth during the night was more than sufficient to keep him well during the day. Still, he was hesitant to return to his former dwelling: for the very first time in his life he had harbored a selfish desire. After having spent most of his existence being a wish-granting hero, to want something for himself was a foreign and thrilling experience. As long as Karna was willing to accept him, Siegfried was determined to indulge himself, and as far as he was concern, the Indian Heroic Spirit didn’t seem to mind.
Days turned into weeks and weeks to months since Siegfried’s migration to Karna’s room. During that time the distance they’d put between their bodies out of a taciturn agreement had grown shortened little by little every night so that every morning, they woke up just a little closer to each other than the night before. Neither paid any mind to their body’s tendency to gravitate towards the other, thinking it a natural occurrence, until one day…
Siegfried woke up somewhat disoriented, not knowing what time it was or whether it was day or night; there was neither clock nor window in Karna’s room – their room now – to tell the time. Judging by his grogginess he assumed his Master wasn’t in need of him; otherwise his Servant system would flare in full operation in response to the Master’s summon. In a rare bout of indolence, the Saber decided to close his eyes and treated himself to some more sleep when he was jolted by a newfound realization. He was pretty sure he had he had kept his arms by his side when he drifted off to sleep last night, and yet at the moment he found his left arm in a rather compromising position: draping on someone’s waist, with his hand splayed over said someone’s stomach. Okay, it wasn’t “someone” since this room had no third inhabitant. Siegfried’s face felt scorching as though his skin was set aflame, and he’d rather face Fafnir one hundred times than learn what had happened during the night for him and the Lancer to be loosely spooning. This position spelt intimacy and though Siegfried wasn’t abhorred by the idea of getting intimate with Karna (maybe because it was Karna and not someone else), the thought of them lying together, back to chest, and sharing more than just warmth had never crossed his mind. His era had had a less than accepting attitude towards intimacy between two men and Siegfried doubted if Karna’s had been any different. But time had changed, and humans had become more tolerant of one another’s differences. It was the knowledge the Grand system had given him, perhaps so that he wouldn’t experience a social shock. He hadn’t thought it was necessary, seeing that he had not been exactly averse to that kind of relationship as a human. As a Spirit, he had even fewer reasons to care. This thing between him and Karna was just… overwhelming, to say the least, but not necessarily bad.
On a trivial side note, Karna’s waist was really small, or should he say “slender”; he was not stranger to the Lancer’s figure – the spearman’s outfit didn’t leave much to imagination, but to actually trace its hard curves… Thin and fragile though might he look, Karna was still a man in every sense and his body didn’t possess the softness of a female one. Siegfried preferred the hardness anyway, as it was partially proof of his merit as a warrior. And to hold a warrior in his embrace, feeling his waist fit into his hands… Verdammter Mist! He had to stop this train of thought before it got out of hand. It was… indecent to think about your friend and companion that way! What had gotten to him these days? Had he been possessed by some unknown force lurking in Chaldea? His magic resistance wasn’t the highest of all Sabers but it was certainly not that bad.
Anyway, first thing first, he had to take his disobedient arm back and put some appropriate distance between himself and the Lancer. Quietly as the shadow of the moon moved so that Karna wouldn’t be roused from his sleep. And then he only needed to think this was a passing incident and act like it had never happened. Just like that and they were back to friends and sparring partners.
A voice drenched in silky drowsiness startled Siegfried, causing his dragon heart to skip several beats and race up to make up for that. Almost at the same time, a hand quickly caught his wrist midway so that any hope of quiet retreat had become a pipe dream. The Dragon Knight felt as though he had been caught red-handed, pun somewhat intended.
“Ah… y-yes… I j-just woke up,” Siegfried stuttered. He was mildly relieved Karna had his back to him so he couldn’t see the Saber’s flustered face.
“We have a day off,” Karna casually replied. “Master informed me no mission is carried out today so every Servant has the day to do whatever they want.”
Siegfried had no idea while Karna was telling him this – actually he did understand why Karna was telling him this: yesterday he had missed the Master-Servant session – but what puzzled him was why Karna was using such a relaxed tone. Was he not aware that the Saber had had his arm around his waist and they had been spooning throughout the night? Was he not offended by such an unchivalrous and disrespectful act?
“What’s your plan?” Karna’s voice once again disconnected him from his thoughts.
“I… Actually I don’t have any plan.” Five minutes ago he hadn’t even known that their Master allowed them a day to do as they pleased.
“Good, I have a plan,” Karna said, and to push Siegfried to a whole new level of confusion, his hand catching Siegfried’s wrist pulled with a subtle yet unyielding force so that the Saber’s arm resumed its former position: on Karna’s waist. Siegfried was pretty certain that was a deliberate act; he just failed to fathom the message Karna sent him. So, not only was he not offended, but he actually… encouraged the intimacy? Whatever it was, it made Siegfried blush so hard the tips of his horns might be turning red.
Karna, whether genuinely ignorant of his effect on Siegfried or feigning to be, continued seamlessly, “I’m thinking about spending the morning replenishing our energy with sleep. How does that sound?”
Others might be surprised by Karna’s proposal but not Siegfried. For his time of acquaintance with the Lancer, Siegfried had learned that he was quite a sleepworm whose greatest pastime beside fighting worthy opponents was holing up in his room and slumbering the day away. He had knocked on Karna’s door one day only to find the Heroic Spirit flesh out of sleep even though it was mid-noon.
Wait, the key word in Karna’s sentence was “our”. Did he mean for Siegfried to join him?
“You mean, you and I?” Siegfried blurted, somehow getting his hope up for no sound reason.
“Yes, unless you are occupied with another plan.”
Karna’s hand hadn’t let go off his wrist but he could sense a molecule of hesitation. “No, I have no plan,” Siegfried answered truthfully. Sleeping didn’t sound too bad, especially with Karna. Especially with Karna spooning against him. Gott, what had happened to him?
“Good. How about a little fun after lunch?”
Blood rushed hotly to Siegfried’s face. “A little fun?” he echoed, his mind running amok on what this “little fun” could be.
“A spar outside, how about that?”
Right. A spar. What else could he be expecting? Siegfried mentally exhaled a sigh of relief. “A spar would be great. Since Master won’t be expecting us, we could fight to our heart’s desire.”
It was likely his imagination running wild but he heard Karna’s light chuckles. They were contagious and Siegfried soon found himself smiling. They were decidedly his favorite sounds.
After a while, Karna became quiet, his body going lax and inching closer to Siegfried’s, his back pressing against Siegfried’s bare chest. The warmth seemed to go all the way into his heart. It made him lightheaded and drowsy. Sleep found his way back to his eyelids easy enough.
Little could Siegfried guess this was the beginning of something special.
I had considered myself extremely lucky to be able to summon both Siegfried and Karna in one go. Perhaps I had used up all my luck in this lifetime and if I ever became a Heroic Spirit (unlikely) or a Counter Guardian, I would be granted with an E-rank luck. Perhaps the fabled wish-granting Hero had heeded my wish and the Hero of Charity had decided to show his charity. It was impossible to tell really; all I knew was that I was on clouds nine to have the both of them in my little party.
And the icing on the cake was the two seemed to get along pretty well. The biggest pain in the ass was having two archenemies on the same team. Trust me I’d been through that once. On a good day they’d go at each other’s throat every chance they got, giving me a migraine and grating the nerves of every other Servant. On a bad day I’d have to use a Command Spell to stop them from killing each other. In the end I was forced to give up both of them for peace’s sake. And so I’d clasped my hands and thanked The Man Upstairs I hadn’t summoned both Karna and Arjuna (how low was the odds?).
I felt terribly bad once I’d learned Siegfried had been enduring the cold. My poor Dragon Knight, too polite, too gentle to demand his Master’s help even though it was my responsibility to keep my Servants in their best condition. While I was raking my brain for a solution, Karna offered one. A perfect one, if I might add. The world needed more people like this ethereally beautiful Lancer, who was always so eager to give his help to those in need.
So far, so good.
Wearing a beam on my face, I strode to Siegfried and Karna once the battle was over to give them my congratulations.
“So, how’re you doing? No longer feeling cold?” I asked.
“Thank you for your concern, Master. I’m not cold anymore and ready to fight in full strength.”
That was just Siegfried being Siegfried.
“I’m just wondering if you’d want to move back to your room. Kojirou made a passing comment the other day about the room being too empty without you. I think the guy kinda misses his roomie.”
Soon as the words left my mouth, I felt a surge of heat licking my back. An enemy’s sudden attack? How could this be? I was having Siegfried in front of me and Karna a few steps behind my back; how could they not sense anything and act? Taking a gulp, I whipped my head to see what had just happened. To my surprise, there was no sign of a threat, just my Lancer casually leaning against his over-sized spear. The heat kept rolling though and I soon realized the source was Karna’s eyes. Had I ever mentioned that he could shoot sun beam from his eyes?
Oh, allow me to clarify myself. Karna wasn’t shooting sun beam at my back – he was too nice a Servant to try that; in fact, he was just standing there, leaning on his giant spear and staring at us with his glacial blue eyes. And yet somehow in his stare I could feel the heat. I knew I wasn’t imagining because when I turned to Siegfried, the big guy was giving me one of his smiles that spelt “I’m sorry”.
He really needed to change his habit of over-apologizing.
But why was he apologizing anyway?
“Sorry, Master, but I think I’d like to stay at Karna’s.”
Wow, wasn’t this the first time I’d ever hear him express his preference. Before, when it came to personal matters like this, he’d merely gone with whichever assigned to him. That was definitely an innovation.
“Well, that’s fine as well,” I said to him, patting his armored shoulder. “Karna’s is good. Fire and dragon, can’t find a better match.”
Just like that, the heat on my back vanished.
Siegfried lightly bowed to me and walked over to Karna’s side. He flashed Karna a smile, and the son of the Sun God instantly returned the gesture with a small but genuine one. Wasn’t that something new? I hadn’t seen him smile at any other Servant. Then Siegfried leaned down a little and whispered into the Lancer’s ears, which broadened the smile on his lips.
Looking at them, I couldn’t help an inkling that there was absolutely something going on.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandoms: The Walking Dead
Pairing:Desus – Daryl Dixon x Paul “Jesus” Rovia
Characters: Paul “Jesus” Rovia, Daryl Dixon, Rick Grimes, Carol Peletier, Michonne
Warnings: Probably crack, Smut with plot
Summary: Jesus came to Alexandria to do trade and to see a certain grumpy hunter. However, he didn’t see said hunter; instead, just outside the walls of Alexandria he found a black cat – wait, was that really a cat?!
Paul asked with concern when he saw Daryl push away the bowl, barely touching its content. They were having pasta with tomato sauce tonight because Paul had received a fresh, juicy batch of tomatoes from Alan the gardener. Pasta was his best shot and he had hoped to impress Daryl. Though there were neither candles nor violin, having dinner together could be considered a date, right? Their first date. Paul had kept himself amused with his little fantasy as he boiled and strained the pasta while keeping an eye on the pot of simmering sauce. To see Daryl wasn’t enjoying the food in the least brought forth a profound disappointment.
His fingers twiddling, Daryl hung his head low and avoided eye contact with Paul as he spoke, “Food’s fine, very delicious. ‘s just I don’t have an appetite right now. Sorry.”
Although he was awkwardly trying to hide his face, Paul with his keen eyes could clearly see the odd blushes on his cheeks. The glaring light bulb above their head helped, too. Strange. The night wasn’t hot, quite the opposite actually, it was rather chilly, being autumnal and all. Despite that, there were beads of sweat rolling down his neck and blotching his shirt’s collar. Concern growing in his stomach, Paul watched Daryl shuffle back to their temporary-shared bed. There was an unsteady sway in his gait and a light tremble in his limbs. His pert ears had flopped and his tail trailed limply on the floor.
Paul pushed the chair back and crossed a few feet to the bed. “You don’t look fine to me,” said Paul with stern voice. Without asking for Daryl’s permission, he swept Daryl’s bang back and pressed his palm to the hunter’s forehead. God, he felt like freshly baked bread. As expected, there were sweats sticking to his palm.
“High temperature, excessive perspiration…” Paul muttered, “You’re having a fever?”
Daryl weakly swatted Paul’s hand away. “ ‘m not. ‘s jus’ too hot in here. Need to get out for some fresh air’s all.”
Daryl briskly stood up but his wrist was caught in Paul’s firm hand. He tried to shake it off but despite his lean form, the scout’s strength was no joke. His grip wouldn’t slacken even a little bit. “Nonsense,” he scowled. “The night is getting cold and yet you’re feeling hot, meaning there’s something wrong.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with me.”
“Well, that doesn’t look like ‘nothing wrong’ to me. We should go to Dr. Carson and have him check you up.”
Daryl’s tone was dry. “Lookin’ like this?”
Paul bit the inside of his cheeks. He almost forgot Daryl wasn’t very keen on revealing his secret to more people than already had. Moreover, Dr. Carson was adept in treating humans; he doubted the good doctor had any experience in dealing with cat people.
Yes, cat people. Since “mangorath” was too cumbersome Paul had opted for “cat”. Mangoraths were a type of cats too, weren’t they?
“At least tell me what’s wrong so I can help.”
“ ‘s not somethin’ ya can help.”
Paul scoffed, feeling offended even though there was no ground reason for him to. Daryl’s problem might just be well out of his scope. Still, he disliked being dismissed like this without learning what was wrong first and in what way he might be able to offer his aid. It hinted at the hunter’s distrust of him, which twisted and twisted in the pit of his stomach until it became a heavy knot he couldn’t untie on his own. And there he thought they had gone passed that phrase. Paul crossed his arms in front of his chest, lifting his chin. “Oh, I believe I’m more capable than you give me credit for, Dixon.”
“Sure ya do, Mr. Know-All,” Daryl snorted.
That one liner was the last straw.
“I’m just trying to show that I care, OK,” Paul snapped, his voice louder than he would normally like, close to a shout. “Look what I’ve got: a hostile attitude like I’m being a nuisance.”
“Who asks ya to care anyway?” Daryl retorted, voice equally loud.
The seams of Paul’s lips curved into a smirk. “No one really,” he said, “but you’re a valuable ally of Hilltop and a dear friend of Maggie—”
“What great sense of responsibility ya’ve.”
Paul continued, unfazed by Daryl’s cutting him off, “and because I regard you as a friend who I can trust my back to in battles. If I didn’t trust you, I’d have kicked you out of the trailer the moment I saw you turn back.”
He locked gaze with Daryl, huge blue eyes glinting with muted challenge. Challenge Daryl to use his abrasive demeanor to defy that, to deny the bond that had been formed and reinforced between them over their time of acquaintance, whatever it was. Stubbornly Daryl glared at him with slit eyes, refusing to back down from challenge. His flopped ears had perked up, and his tail raised and wagged. Dogs wagged their tail when they were happy but cats did when they got angry – a tidbit of knowledge about animals Paul had gathered from books. The scout imagined Daryl wanted to bare his fangs and hiss – like the few furious cats he had seen – but had to restrain himself from displaying more animalistic behaviors than he already had. The blushes on his cheeks darkened, by anger or whatever was riding his nerves. Sparks flew in the dense air between them, the tension rising, simmering, bubbling, condensed; the tiny trailer became one huge balloon with too much hot air, waiting to burst.
Paul was about to open his mouth and burst the balloon – damn it, he was so not enthusiastic in a staring contest – when his vision experienced a horizontal shift. He should thank God there was a mattress beneath him when Daryl pounced on him in one swift movement; otherwise he would have had hit his head on something and gotten a concussion. It was safe to say Paul hadn’t expected this turn of event at all; a punch to his jaw, yes, he had anticipated it and even envisioned how he would dodge or counter, but this, not at all. He gasped in genuine shock, temporarily unable to comprehend the situation and commence proper reaction when Daryl climbed on top of him, straddling him. His thighs squeezing either side of Paul’s waist, Daryl bent down until their foreheads were inches from touching. Paul’s eyes opened so wide it hurt, enraptured by the blazing blue irises and slit pupils up close. Later he would claim that they possessed hypnotizing attributes.
“Ya wanna know what’s wrong?” Daryl roared – he fucking did, like a lion or tiger. “ ‘m fuckin’ in heat an’ yer scent’s drivin’ me insane. Bein’ in a tight space with ya drives me insane. I want to fuck ya senseless and that’s what wrong!”
Paul’s brain was racing to compute the meaning of Daryl’s words – he’d heard them perfectly fine alright but he was completely stunt by how raw and blunt they were as they had come out of the normally reserved hunter. His jaw slackened but no sounds were made. He lay very still, his need to breath temporarily forgotten as astonishment filled him. Out of sudden the sound of fabric ripping tore at his eardrums, snapping him out of his trance. What the—? He glanced down just in time to see a button flying into the air and his chest revealed to the hungry eyes of the cat man. R. I. P his favorite shirt, he moaned internally.
Paul couldn’t believe this was happening. To be pinned down to a surface (the mattress was a welcome luxury) by a weight on top of him and have his shirt ripped in the ravenous desire to get him naked was the wildest of his wild fantasies, reserved for the spectacularly lonely and horny nights, emphasis on the latter. However, his fantasies had involved a faceless man since he had had no particular object of infatuation – hadn’t had anyone for a long while. Until recently. The faceless man had gradually taken features: matted dark hair, narrow blue eyes, a beauty spot above his upper lip. Sometimes his fantasies had been so intense it caused Paul to subconsciously avert his eyes from the Alexandrian hunter the following day; he’d rather die than have Daryl know that he was harboring such impure thoughts about him. Nonetheless, this wasn’t a wild fantasy; this was very real and happening. Paul couldn’t decide if this was a most awesome stroke of luck or a foreshadowing of his impending doom as whoever up above had decided to allow him a wild ride before he officially kicked the bucket the very next morning.
Positive thinking, Paul Rovia, he reminded himself.
All of his jumbled thoughts were cut short by a sharp wedge of pleasure when a tongue licked a lengthy stride from the dip between his clavicles to his naval. Being caught entirely off-guard, Paul exhaled a sharp breath and then bit his tongue as the prickling sensation of stubbles on his areolar shot to his brain. Lips closed around his nipple like a hungry pup latching on its mother’s teat and tongue, the same tongue that had raised goosebumps on his skin, lavished the hardening nub. Gosh, his tongue! He had learned from a discovery show that the texture of a feline’s tongue was very different from a human’s and had had a cat licked his hand a few times before but never once had he imagined how it would feel on one of his erroneous zones! He was sure he’d remember it till the day he died.
So… Daryl had cat ears, eyes, tail and tongue. Paul wondered, with intrigued apprehension, what else on Daryl’s anatomy resembled that of a feline’s. He considered himself explorative but he couldn’t be sure he could handle it. And yes, he had enough brain cells left to figure where all of this was heading. It was very unlikely someone ripped your shirt in half and proceeded to lick your nipple and just wanted to cuddle innocently on the bed like five-year-olds. Plus, Daryl had said (more like yelled) that he was “in heat” and as far as he was concerned, that had only one meaning.
Never had Paul imagined their first time, if there was ever a first time, would be a mating. While he didn’t know how he should feel about it, he was sure he was very excited by the prospect. That his jeans had been reduced by one size at certain area was evidence.
Daryl spread his fingers across the firm plane of Paul’s abdomen while his mouth began to give the other nipple the same attention its twin had. Paul squirmed beneath him, trying to gain some friction through layers of clothing. It simply wasn’t enough. “Ouch,” he cried, feeling a sharp sting below his ribs. His cry seemed to wake Daryl from his lust-haze, for the cat man lifted his torso and stared at Paul with wide eyes, filled with something like horror. Instantly alarmed by his bewildering behavior, Paul sat up a little, looked down his body and sighed in understanding. There were three pink diagonal slashes from his ribs to his navel. Cats loved to scratch, whether they were angered or excited, and well, Daryl was a cat person with cat-like features. This shouldn’t be surprising at all.
“ ‘m sorry…” Daryl mumbled, voice shaking and brittle.
“It’s alright,” Paul assured him, fingering the marks. “Just some scratches. I’ve had worse.” He wasn’t lying; the marks stung but not enough to cause pain; they were mild annoyance at best.
“ ‘m sorry,” Daryl repeated, more desperately this time. “ ‘m really sorry.” His taut shoulders were shaking.
Then he clambered off Paul and appeared to be ready to bolt out of the trailer.
It took about three seconds for Paul to realize Daryl wasn’t just sorry about scratching him. He grunted in frustration and before Daryl had the chance to deal with the situation in his distinctively Dixonian way – meaning running away and possibly never showing his face to the Hilltop scout ever again, Paul got enough time to grab him by his tail.
Not his most elegant move but it worked. Daryl stood as still as a statue. His ears flattened on the sides of his head, black fur blending with dark hair.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Paul scowled.
A multitude of questions paraded through stormy blue eyes, so blindingly fast he couldn’t catch any of it. Paul almost felt pity for the man. Daryl’s jaw moved as if he wanted to open his mouth and say something, but then nothing came out. Paul could practically hear the gears inside his head grinding together to come up with something. He waited, his grip on Daryl’s tail not loosening, but even he could feel his patience was wearing as thin as a paper; it was difficult to remain patient when you were having a raging hard-on, but Paul tried, forced himself to because if he didn’t, he would lose the man for good.
“Outside,” he spoke at last. “I’ll sleep outside.”
Paul’s eyes were huge like goose eggs. “Looking like this?” he echoed Daryl’s earlier words, gesturing to the tail in his hand. His rhetorical question implied a fact Daryl had already learned during his time here: there were always a couple Hilltopers working late-night shifts who would pass Paul’s trailer on their way home and there was high chance they might spot a man with feline features. Just imagine the chaos.
Daryl was muted.
“Leaving me like this?” Paul went on.
Daryl’s eyes wandered down Paul’s torso to the visible bulge in his crotch and immediately averted his eyes. Paul licked his lower lip, feeling weirdly satisfied to see the cat man’s face reddened like the pasta they’d had.
“Ya’ll regret it,” he mumbled, just barely enough for Paul to hear.
“Oh, don’t say what I will and won’t, Dixon. You’re not me.”
“Feels like ‘m forcin’ ya into this, or worse, rap—”
“Don’t say that word,” Paul cut him sharply. “You really think you can force me into something I don’t want?” He laughed wryly. “That wounds me, really, that you think so little of me, that I’m incapable of at least defending myself. You and Rick don’t call me a ninja hippie for nothing.”
Paul’s hand let go of his tail to land on his chest. He flattened his palm against Daryl’s heart, feeling its frantic beats beneath the thin cotton fabric. Well, at least his heart was more honest than himself. Going on tiptoe, he captured Daryl’s lips in a chaste kiss. This would either make it or break it so Paul was extremely carefully. He kept it chaste so as not to shock Daryl but firm to convey to the man how determined he was in this matter. Assurance was what this man with a painfully low self-esteem desperately needed; he needed not only to know but also to feel that it was okay, that he wasn’t forcing or hurting anyone, that he was accepted. Paul’s heart ached for him as he kissed him.
Taken by surprise, Daryl stood absolutely motionless.
“Is this enough consent for you?” asked Paul once they parted.
A guttural snarl was his reply, and then Paul was sprawled on his back again, with a familiar weight on top of him. Guess that was a yes, he mused, before any musing thoughts were washed away by a tongue lapping at his skin. The same tongue with the bizarre and stimulating texture. This time it wasn’t his nipple but the scratches below his ribs. It stung a little but mostly it just tickled him. His skin there was notoriously ticklish and he really couldn’t help the giggles that rang in the quiet confined space. Sometimes he giggled like a little girl, he was aware. Daryl, however, was unaffected by Paul’s reactions, absorbed in his diligent task of ‘treating’ the injuries inflicted by himself. Another cat-like behavior which Paul really couldn’t complain. Tiny sparks were ignited inside him, quickly feeding to the center heat between his thighs. His jeans were very much in the way and he yearned to get rid of them.
Perhaps Paul’s desire was telepathically transmitted to Daryl because his hand stalked to the waistband of his pants and he started undoing the buttons and zipper with all the deftness and grace of a feline without disrupting his current task on Paul’s stomach. Cats, big and small, were smart creatures and Paul imagined this task would be easy as cake for them if they were to have hands and fingers instead of paws and claws. Well, this was a cat with hands in place of paws. Still, that was as far as grace went because soon as the button came undone and the zipper down, Daryl hooked his fingers on both Paul’s pants and underwear and just yanked them past his knees, effectively rendering the Hilltop scout from remotely appropriate to decidedly indecent in one go. Not that Paul minded though; rather, he encouraged Daryl’s act by lifting his long, slender legs and kicking the garments out to land haphazardly somewhere beside the bed.
Daryl hovered above his exposed member, proudly in full mast, and looked at Paul as if asking for some sort of permission to proceed. The Hilltoper gave him a tender smile marred by just the slightest hint of smug and buckled his hips; he wanted Daryl to see, or rather, feel the effect of what he had inflicted upon him. And perhaps that should be enough incentive for Daryl’s next move. Delightful anxiety rose in Paul’s stomach. Daryl was truly unpredictable and although he had lead Paul from one surprise to the next, Paul had an inkling he hadn’t reached his quota yet. The night was still young, and Paul had time to spare.
Paul gasped audibly when he felt the peculiar texture of Daryl’s cat tongue on him, this time not on his nipple or his stomach skin but directly on his pulsing member. It wasn’t a surprise he had anticipated but that didn’t mean it was any less welcoming. Daryl started at the root, a few swift strokes at first to test the waters, and then moved in smooth glides along the length to the tip. His tongue swirled around the head, lapping the sensitive skin there and eliciting a couple of ragged breaths from Paul, before flicking at the slit as if carefully tasting the early dews swelling from which. Paul’s fingers threaded into Daryl’s shaggy hair, finding the ears and scratching them with his blunt nails while Daryl worked on him. If Paul still had any intellectual capacity left, he’d describe Daryl’s technique, or lack-thereof, as very similar to a cat savoring its favorite treat; still, all of his focus now was on processing the toe-curling sensation from between his legs and how skilled Daryl was in giving head. Yet, there might be a chance the man might not be experienced in this expertise at all – he was just guided by his instincts and who would disagree that cats had excellent instincts? Certainly not Paul.
Finally Daryl had played enough, intentionally or not, and took Paul into his mouth. All thoughts seemed to fade for a moment as Paul squeezed his eyes shut and lost himself in the warm and wet cavern of his mouth.
In that moment, he wouldn’t have any regret if tomorrow was his doom.
“Mind your fangs, please,” Paul breathed upon feeling a grazing of sharp teeth along his shaft. Daryl’s hummed softly, contrite or defiance unsure, but he was more careful with his sharper-than-average teeth, which Paul was grateful for. He wasn’t a fan of pleasure mingled with pain after all.
Daryl didn’t finish what he’d started and let go off Paul with an obscene ‘pop’. Paul might have verbally complained if he were naive enough to not know Daryl’s intention. He wanted penetrative intercourse, and that was fine by Paul as long as they worked out their position. Since Daryl was quite literally a predator, Paul assumed he was a top – seemed natural that way. So was Paul, in most encounters, but being quite versatile in the matter of passion, he didn’t mind switching, especially when his partner was Daryl. He had immensely enjoyed the few times he had bottomed for his other partners; as a matter of fact, each time had left him wondering why he didn’t bottom more often.
“Let me help you,” Paul offered, his hands eagerly undoing the button of Daryl’s pants while the man fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. He retained enough self-control to not ruin the shirt like he had done Paul’s unfortunate one since it was borrowed. Their hands moved almost in tandem and by the time the shirt had joined the small heap of clothes on the floor, Daryl could shimmy out of his pants and boxers. Then there was no barrier to obstruct Paul’s appreciation of him. Like his fantasies, Daryl was well-built, just the right balance of hard, toned muscles and soft flesh promising gentleness to the touch. So Paul touched him, running his palm along Daryl’s body like Daryl had done to him, and halted as he reached the heat between the man’s legs, thankfully very human. Paul let out a mental sigh of relief and began to gauge Daryl’s size using both his eyes and hand. To accommodate this size, he would need some preparation. He only hoped the lube he kept in his drawer hadn’t expired yet. And the condoms too, while he was at it.
Twisting his torso, he reached for the small nigh table lodged between the bed and the wall but Daryl stopped him by pinning his hips to the bed with his large hands. Well, Paul could fight, yet he didn’t, puzzled by Daryl’s intention. It would be much easier if Daryl would just talk, but the cat man appeared to deem any sounds coming out of his lips other than words sufficient for communication. He gave Paul’s length a few quick strokes before situating himself above the scout.
Uh oh. Paul knew what Daryl intended to do. “No,” he protested, his voice edged with haste, “let me prep you first or else you’ll be hurt.”
Daryl didn’t reply. A stoic expression masking his face, he gingerly sunk down Paul’s shaft. Soon as his tip went past Daryl’s entrance, blissfully not as tight as he’d imagined and surprisingly slick – as though he had found the time to prepare himself, Paul choked on the words he was about to say. Literally choked on them. Another huge surprise he didn’t see coming. His mental capabilities were reduced to just be able to feel the warm and wet tightness clenching around his length inch by delicious, torturous inch. Tenacious as always, Daryl made no attempt to stop until he was fully sheathed and settled on Paul’s thighs. Both froze, prioritizing the fundamental need to find their breaths first.
“You’re alright?” asked Paul, brushing back Daryl’s long, damp fringes. “Did I hurt you?”
Letting a whiny breath, Daryl nodded and then shook his head as if he couldn’t decide which should be the answer. He bent down, munching on Paul’s lips while his lower half was motionless for several seconds. Paul happily obliged him even though the pleasure spiking up his spine was one step from driving him crazy. He suckled Daryl’s lower lip, tugging the fleshy part between his teeth, all of the previous chasteness gone. His tongue entered Daryl’s mouth, found Daryl’s own and coerced it into a sensuous tango. It was both the same and different to feel the texture of Daryl’s tongue with his own rather than his skin. He thought he tasted himself faintly in Daryl’s mouth. Saliva dribbled down the sides of their mouths but both were too far gone to care.
It seemed an eternity when their mouths parted, connected only by a slim silvery string. Daryl placed both hands on Paul’s hips and began moving, erratically and slowly to test his adjustment. Paul threw his head back, inhaling deeply. It didn’t take long until the hunter found and established a rhythm and pace that matched his burning need, which, of course, suited Paul’s as well. And then, there was nothing stopping him from chasing the pleasure to his heart’s desire.
Things were a tad hazy afterward, and Paul didn’t recall much detail besides ragged breaths, loud moans and maddening pleasure coursing through his entire body, head to toe. Paul’s rickety bed groaned with their combined weight and movements and in hindsight, Paul was thankful he lived in a trailer and thus having no neighbors; otherwise they would clearly hear his debauchery. It wasn’t that he was ashamed or anything; he just didn’t fancy gossips in a tight-knit community such as Hilltop. The two of them reached their peaks almost simultaneously, a rather impressive feat for their first time as far as Paul was concerned. While Paul coated Daryl’s inside with his seeds, Daryl spilled his on their stomachs and the sheets underneath them, and marked Paul with an impressive love bite on his collarbone that would take days to fade. Not that Paul minded getting a quaint souvenir to remember their heated ride; if someone inquired he’d just blame the cat – nothing sort of truth. The hunter’s face as he orgasmed was the most vivid memory in Paul’s mind because of its sheer beauty and perfection. Paul thought he had fallen in love. Scratch it. He was already head over heels in love with Daryl Dixon and this was the very first time he had felt so strongly and intensely with a man that his previous relationships seemed ephemeral and insignificant. It was as though he had never known love until he knew Daryl. He sincerely hoped this was not a one-time thing and that it would blossom into something meaningful and lasting.
The sheets were sticky with sweats and come and permitted a funny smell. Paul used his torn shirt to wipe the come off his and Daryl’s bodies. Doing the laundry should be on top of his agenda tomorrow but right now, all he yearned for was snuggling with Daryl and drifting off into a blissful sleep. The former was already fulfilled as the cat man’s arm was draping across his chest and his naked limbs were tangled with Paul’s underneath the sheet. His head was tugging beneath Paul’s chin while his tail moved lazily and disorientedly, tickling Paul’s calf. Paul stroked the roots of his flopped ears, earning low satisfied purrs from the hunter. Paul was certain he’d miss both the ears and the purrs once Daryl turned back into full human.
“You OK? Any sores?”
He recalled the haste penetration with no prep and heaved a sign. “Next time let me prep you first, OK? Don’t want you to feel any pain.”
Wait, had he already planned a next time while the outcome of this time was still pretty much uncertain.
“ ‘s fine,” Daryl replied, voice tired and sleepy. “My body has its own way of preparation, consider that a perk. Only minor sores. Though I may be walkin’ funny tomorrow.”
Sex appeared to make Daryl more loquacious, Paul noted. “Good thing you don’t have to leave this trailer until all of these are gone.”
Paul’s chest felt tight due to Daryl’s apologetic tone. “If you’re apologizing for tearing my shirt then apology accepted,” Paul said. “I’m well compensated anyway.”
“ ‘s not jus’ the shirt an’ ya know that.”
“I already told you that this thing between us was totally consensual. For the last time you didn’t force yourself on me.”
“I pushed ya down an’ tore yer shirt forcefully.”
“And I could have kicked you in the nuts and thrown you out,” Paul blurted out, without thinking. “Do you… do you metaphorically self-flagellate every time this happens?”
Paul felt Daryl tense against his body. Shit. Damn his stupid mouth. He could tell he’d poked a sensitive spot. No one liked being reminded that they periodically turned into animal, went in heat and fucked the nearest creature with legs.
Apparently Daryl hadn’t run out his surprise quota of the day (or month) because after a quiet moment, he mumbled, “With ya was my first time.”
“What? You mean you haven’t… Don’t tell me it’s the first time you turn into a cat!”
“Mangorath, right. What’s with that name anyway? It sounds like ‘mango’ and ‘wrath’. An angry fruit?!”
“Carol came up with it, dunno what she had in mind,” replied Daryl. “Anyway, ‘s not my first time turnin’. Been turnin’ since I was a teenager. Has somethin’ to do with puberty I guess.”
“But you said this was your first time?” Paul sounded incredulous.
“Before I ran into the woods and stayed there alone until the heat died. ‘s not so bad as when there’s a potential mate ‘round.”
His voice died at the last words and red crept up his bare shoulder. Affection swelled in Paul’s heart, threatening to burst his ribcage. “It appears I fit the bill of your potential mate. You don’t mind if I claim the position? Less hassle the next time you turn.”
“Don’t wanna force ya…”
“I happily, willingly volunteer myself,” Paul teased. “Besides, I happen to like you a lot, Daryl Dixon, so, no forcing at all.”
His teeth playfully gnawed the tips of Daryl’s ears, eliciting an embarrassed grunt from the hunter. “Ya kinda said it already… that ya liked me…”
Paul choked on his laughter, biting his tongue. “When? I don’t recall ever telling you about my feelings,” he yelped, “or anyone, for that matter, not even Maggie or Tara.”
Daryl snorted, pleased with himself for causing Paul a minor freak-out. It was simply unfair and annoying that the Hilltop scout always appeared calm and composed in whatever shit situation he found himself in. Daryl had made it his personal mission to make Paul lose his cool for once. “Ya told ‘Daryl’,” he deadpanned.
As realization dawned on him, Paul’s face darkened. “You… you furry little liar!” he stuttered, face flushed and heated.
“What did I lie to ya?”
“You said you didn’t remember—”
“Everythin’. This is among the bits an’ bobs I did.”
“Clever,” Paul scoffed, defeated. He didn’t know the Alexandrian possessed a devious witty streak in his stoic, solemn skeleton. There were a lot about Daryl he hadn’t known and he was terribly thrilled by the aspect of learning them day by day. Covering his face with his hand, Paul laughed, “Since the cat’s out of the bag, pun intended, I figure I can be perfectly frank about it and ask you whether the feelings are mutual.”
Daryl was so quiet that Paul began to think he might push too hard at the boundaries. From the first day he’d met him, he could tell the man had built wall after wall around him. To get past those walls required much time, and it simple couldn’t be done after one good sex, despite how satisfyingly mind-blowing it was. Before the scout officially freaked out and opted to take back his words, Daryl spoke, small-voiced, “At least I know who I should run to next time I turn.”
Paul breathed a lengthy sigh of relief. He hugged with all the strength of his body, trying to convey his overwhelming affection to the older man. “I’ll make sure to give you plenty of belly rubs and the best cream I could find.”
Daryl’s tail whipped Paul’s thigh, eliciting an undignified yelp. Despite the growl at the back of his throat, he was having a wide, toothy grin.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandoms: The Walking Dead
Pairing:Desus – Daryl Dixon x Paul “Jesus” Rovia
Characters: Paul “Jesus” Rovia, Daryl Dixon, Rick Grimes, Carol Peletier, Michonne
Warnings: Probably crack, Smut with plot
Summary: Jesus came to Alexandria to do trade and to see a certain grumpy hunter. However, he didn’t see said hunter; instead, just outside the walls of Alexandria he found a black cat – wait, was that really a cat?!
Paul retired to bed that night like every other night, with a bigger-than-normal cat occupying the remaining space of his single bed. He believed he should wake up in the morning like every other morning, with or without that said cat – sometimes ‘Daryl’ slept in, sometimes he didn’t. Certainly he didn’t expect to open his eyes to the sight of an arm draping across his chest, not in the loving ‘hold me, touch me’ way but in the unsexy and discomforting way. He blinked, stared at the arm for a few seconds, then blinked again, and again, and again. Still, the arm remained his reality, not his imagination. The weight felt very real though, making breathing a slightly more difficult task. He tried to rake his sleep-fogged brain for any indication that he had taken someone to his bed last night, and after a long while rummaging through the clutter of his memories, he came to a sad, disappointing conclusion that he hadn’t done that in years. His only bed companion was a four-legged animal that should be taking the space next to him. Alert coursing through him like electric current, Paul whipped his head to the side and saw a sleeping face.
It took all his restraint not to scream because said sleeping face belonged to the one and only Daryl Dixon. The human, grumpy one. As he dared to scan down Daryl’s form, the skin of his face was cooked by the heat of horror and arousal. His heartbeat went from 75 to 150 in a quarter of a minute, nearly giving him a heart attack. On his bed Daryl was curling in a fetal position, his shoulders bare, his arms bare, his entire body bare to Paul’s scrutiny.
Paul pinched his side hard, he just had to, and was barely able to muffle his yelp into the pillow. He needed to ensure this wasn’t a dream because it looked very much like a dream, a wet dream actually, one that left him panting and aching and needy in the middle of the night whether he was in his own tiny trailer or the room Rick had provided him in Alexandria, conveniently just a few strides from the dweller of the unsuspecting culprit of his predicament.
That Daryl was lying naked on his bed was not a dream but the reality, he told himself, feeling the soft warmth of his breath ghosting against his face since they were so close, noses almost touching. He took several quick breaths, trying to calm his overexcited heart. Daryl’s sleeping face helped a great deal too. In his slumber, the man looked breathtakingly peaceful, his perpetual scowl gone, his lines smoothed out and his sharp, slanted eyes hidden behind closed eyelids. His eyelashes weren’t particularly long but their length and curves put the finishing touch to the picture of Daryl’s visage. Paul subconsciously held his breath as he swallowed.
Something black on top of Daryl’s head twitched, catching Paul’s attention. Curious, Paul extended his head to shyly touch it. Silky fur and a familiar softness graced the tips of his fingers. Paul gasped in silence. Was it… an ear? Moreover, not a human ear but a cat ear!
Emboldened by his shock, Paul gave the ear a light tug to test whether it was an ornament (though chance that Daryl would wear any ornaments on his head, let alone cat ears, was a mighty zero) and would come off. It didn’t. Moreover it felt firmly attached to his skull as if a part of him. A part of him! Something in Paul’s brain clicked and thoughts started whirring in his head. Daryl was lying on his bed. The mangorath, which should be in his place, was nowhere in sight (except that Daryl might have crushed him with his weight but it was too absurd Paul didn’t even want to consider it). Daryl had cat ears on his head. Pointy and warm and soft to the touch. Like a certain mangorath’s. Daryl had mangorath ears. Daryl was part mangorath. Daryl was the mangorath!
Paul grimaced as a headache started pounding in his skull. How his brain had come up with such a conclusion and actually convinced him that it made some sense was beyond his comprehension. Morning drowsiness caused funny thoughts. He needed an aspirin or an explanation. Maybe both. Definitely both.
Daryl’s ear twitched again and Paul couldn’t help touching it again, relishing the sensation transmitted from the tips of his fingers to his brain. As he did, he began to think he might have developed cat-ear fetish and it mortified him tremendously; it wasn’t right to think that way about his ally, his friend, especially someone as stoic as Daryl Dixon. But if he didn’t tell, no-one, certainly not Daryl, would know, right? He just had to keep his less proper thoughts to himself and behave normally around the hunter, didn’t he?
Paul’s heart almost stopped when Daryl’s eyes suddenly opened, glacially blue with black slit pupils like a cat’s. During their time of acquaintance, he had observed and learned many things about the hunter, both in his features and manners, but he never knew that Daryl possessed cat eyes and eyes were the very first thing he took notice about Daryl, or any individual he met. The hunter’s eyes were narrow, blue and magnetically drew Paul in every time they locked gaze and most importantly, they were unmistakably human. Now those eyes had changed and they were staring at him unblinkingly. The mangorath often stared at him in the same way, with the same eyes, once again confirming Paul’s crazy theory that Daryl and the feline were one and the same.
Daryl let out a small whimpering sound that was more cat than human.
Paul sat upright as though being electrocuted and rushed to his drawer. He searched frantically for a shirt and a pair of pants that were Daryl’s size. Not once had he looked behind his back to see that Daryl had also sat up, stretched his muscles and was watching Paul piling up a small hill of clothes on the floor with his curious cat eyes.
“What yer doin’?”
“Finding some clothes for you,” Paul replied without thinking. Tch. Wasn’t that obvious? Then, amidst the hassle and embarrassment his brain actually stopped for a moment to think and realization sank in like a boulder. “What?! You can talk?!”
“‘Cuz I can talk,” Daryl retorted, his voice taking a higher pitch than usual. It sounded odd,… younger. “When couldn’t I?”
“I thought… Never mind.”
Coming back to his bed, Paul handed him a navy-blue shirt, a pair of dark jeans and a pair of black boxers. He looked anywhere but Daryl’s toned chest, uncovered and presented to his sight like a tantalizing treat. Daryl eyed the articles with suspicion.
“These haven’t been worn yet,” Paul felt the need to assure him. “A size too big for me.”
With that, he left the clothes on the bed and strode out of the door, giving Daryl his privacy. He closed the door behind his back.
The sky was still a peach-lavender hue. Paul leaned against the side of the trailer in only his cotton white shirt and sweatpants, taking quick, shallow breaths to calm his racing heart and clear his head. He supposed he ought to be thinking because this was the kind of situation that required thinking but he just couldn’t. Occupying his mind was the image of Daryl sporting a pair of cat ears and it kind of effectively blocked all other thoughts. He honestly had no idea what he should say to the Alexandrian hunter when he went back inside the trailer. Ask why he had transformed into an animal? Why he had turned back into human, sans the ears and eyes? What, too straightforward? Should he beat around the bush then?
The door to his trailer creaked open and Paul took that at his cue to come inside. His eyes swept over Daryl, who was sitting with his back against the wall, his knees hunched up to his chest, and he found relief in the sight of the hunter fully clothed. Less distracting if they wanted, actually needed, to have a serious talk about what was going on here. He looked somewhat bashful. Paul’s eyebrows hitched up to see a long, black… tail relaxing on the mattress. There was a pair of scissors on the multi-purpose table by the bed.
Daryl followed his gaze and lowered his head to hide the blush blossoming on his cheeks. “Sorry, can’t keep that in my pants. Cumbersome.”
Paul sat down on the edge of the bed, shaking his head. “It’s OK. You can keep the clothes. They don’t fit me anyway.” He made a vague gesture to the tail, Daryl’s tail. “I think I deserve some sort of explanation here.”
“Figured ya’d figured out on yer own already.”
“No I didn’t. All things seem to point out to me that you are my – what, mangorath pet, which ranks top in my list of most absurd things of this year, and that is something because we’re living in the world where the dead don’t stay dead. How is that even possible, beats me.”
“Not yer pet,” Daryl bleated.
“Well your family kinda sold you to me as such. Sorry I took their offer.”
Daryl made a low growl in his throat. He was displeased, Paul could tell. Clearly that hadn’t been his idea.
“ ‘m a shapeshifter,” said Daryl after a stretched moment. “Means I can change into an animal and back.”
Oh. That was the straightforward answer Paul had wanted but not expected to get from the tight-lipped hunter. Again, from the time he’d gotten acquainted with him, Paul knew Daryl to be the type not to beat around the bush. If he could use five words to express something, he certainly wouldn’t use six. And the explanation he gave made absolutely no sense and perfect sense at the same time. A shapeshifter in a world where the dead moved around? Not too far-fetched at all.
“I understand what a shapeshifter means but not how you can do that and why you haven’t changed back until now.”
“Dunno how,” Daryl replied, shrugging. “Was born that way I guess. ‘s in the blood. Comes at certain times o’ the year. Can’t control it, can’t do nothin’ ‘bout it.”
Paul nodded sympathetically. “Involuntary shapeshifter, I see. It must be real inconvenient.”
“Ya bet,” Daryl snorted.
Paul recalled the time when they had run away from the Sanctuary together. If Daryl could change his form freely, he would have escaped by himself long before Paul jumped off the truck’s roof and landed in Negan’s territory. Paul wondered what good it was being a shapeshifter who was unable to shapeshift at will. So far he only saw drawbacks. But of course he wouldn’t say it aloud in front of Daryl’s face; the man didn’t need someone to tell him it sucked being the way he was.
A bit lost in his musing, Paul let his hand inch closer and closer towards Daryl’s tail, driven by a subconscious desire to stroke it – a habit he had sort of formed during the last week. However, Daryl was one step quicker: his tail curled and retreated behind his back in a flash.
“Sorry,” Paul mumbled, face flushed. “Just a habit is all. Were you aware of everything when you were in that form? Do you remember anything?”
“I remember bits and bobs but not everythin’. Somethin’ the matter?”
A sense of relief and deflation filled Paul up at the same time.
“You don’t remember some of your behaviors… like demanding belly rubs, chasing the squirrels, stealing meat from the kitchen, et cetera?”
A hint of red spread upward Daryl’s neck. He shook his head. “While ‘m in that form, sometimes the animal instincts take over. Nothin’ too embarrassin’?”
“No, never mind,” Paul said, scratching his head. “How long before your… your eyes and ears turn back to normal?”
“Takes some time before ‘m fully human, two days normally, three at most.”
“Your family, do they know about your… special condition?”
“Cut yer euphemism,” Daryl grunted. “Ain’t necessary. Rick an’ Carol found out, then Rick told Michonne.”
Somehow Paul could picture the three of them throwing back their heads and laughing like a scene in George of the Jungle, pulling a prank on their brother like that. His family loved him to bits, there was no doubt, but they also had a really twisted sense of humor.
“Well, in the meantime, you can stay here until you change back,” Paul offered. “I don’t mind having a roomie.”
Daryl’s cat eyes peaked through his long bangs, his eyes perked as of showing Paul had gotten his full attention. “Ya sure ya don’t mind?”
“It’s not like you haven’t stayed here before. Besides, I can’t shoo you out of my trailer looking like this, can I?” Paul laughed in an attempt to mask nervousness spiking in his stomach all of sudden. Get a hold of yourself, Rovia. It was just two or three days; surely you can handle being in such close proximity with him without making a fool out of yourself and trampling your established friendship. Right?
“It’s nothing, really,” Paul said, waving his hand. “Now, what do you fancy for breakfast? I sincerely hope it’s not squirrels because I can’t find any this early in the morning.”
“Yer ridiculous,” Daryl grunted, but couldn’t keep a tiny smile from the corner of his lips.
Daryl closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. The quintessential scent of blood was flooding his nostrils, making his head swim and his heartbeats quicken. It had been relatively calm, his heart, almost dormant in a sense as the paralysis had spread to his entire torso. But soon as Paul had come back – left for about five seconds – with a blood bag, it started thumping against his ribcage like an impatient fist knocking relentlessly on the door. It may be just his imagination but the numbness seemed to recede, if only a little, and he felt a prickling sensation along his spine as well as the tips of his fingers and toes. He started to grasp how essential blood was to a vampire, which he was about to become. The thought twisted a knot in his stomach, from anxiety or anticipation he couldn’t tell.
“I jus’ rip the bag an’ drink?”
“I brought a straw in case you need,” Paul replied, tone coated with light teasing. He sat down beside Daryl and resumed their earlier position.
“Nah.” A beat, and then Daryl asked, “Is that how ya often drink it, with a straw?”
During their time living together, not once had Daryl seen Paul drink. He always took his ‘daily supplements’ – his own words, to make it less awkward for the both of them – when Daryl was not home, taking extra care in clearing away the empty bag as well as the metallic taste in his mouth. Truth be told, Daryl thought he probably wouldn’t be too bothered if Paul was less meticulous in covering up his vampiric traits – surely he wouldn’t pass out if he happened to come across a used blood bag on the kitchen counter – but Paul, being Paul, was adamant. Daryl suspected this was a result of a past incident but he wasn’t one to pry into private affairs unless there was a valid reason. Now that Paul just mentioned a straw, Daryl wondered if that was how he usually did it: slurping the bag’s content like he drank a slurpee.
Paul rounded his eyes comically and then snorted. “No, drinking blood from a blood bag is weird enough, no need to make it weirder, right?”
“Weird as compared to chompin’ a random guy’s neck? Thought vampires prefer that.”
“I’d not like to upset my dentist, thank you,” he said. “But yeah, most prefer the veins to a blood bag. Hot meals beat frozen meals any day. Not to mention there’s the urge inherent to us, our natural inclination to violence. Some are just better at suppressing it than others.”
Daryl looked into Paul’s eyes, illuminated by the dying rays of sunset, and felt fear surging in his heart. “What if I belong to the ‘others’?” He didn’t realized he had sucked in a breath. “What if I start killin’?”
Paul’s gaze was the softest Daryl had seen as it was fixed on him like he was the only thing in the whole world worth seeing. He was transfixed by the subtle yet constant glide along the color spectrum Paul’s irises did. It was a mesmerizing challenge trying to figure out the true color of his eyes, one Daryl enjoyed but would never tell.
“I know it’s hard,” Paul began, “especially for newcomers. When I turned, it was like hell to me. New, perplexing, exhilarating hell. But I was fortunately to not go through it alone and you won’t have to either, I promise…” He took Daryl’s hand in his, giving it a squeeze. “I will be with you for as long as you want to have this old bat by your side… Even when you don’t want me anymore, you know how clingy I am.”
The playful smirk on Paul’s lips after he deliberately stressed the word had the tips of Daryl’s ears aflame with embarrassment. The pressure of Paul’s powerful thighs clamping either side of his waist in a few times they did it on the kitchen counter was too fresh on his mind for him to not react even though he was technically paralyzed from the neck down. Dam Paul and his knacks for innuendo.
“Ya sure ya ain’t proposin’ because that sounds hella like a proposal,” Daryl said, trying to gain some purchase for his embarrassment.
The playful smirk vanished entirely, replaced by a serious expression. The change had Daryl shoot him a quizzical look.
“Yes, Mr. Dixon,” he said, holding his gaze, “this is me proposing to you. Will you do me the honor of becoming my partner for life, or un-life, to be more precise?”
Daryl just stared at him, all the air knocked out of his lungs. It was as if his brain had been short-circuited, and in this moment, he entirely forgot his need to breath. The spontaneity and casual manner in which the proposal came would have led him to doubt whether Paul was merely making a joke but for the way he articulated each word. Paul might be a world-class joker but when he spoke like this, slow and clear, he meant every word coming out of his mouth, even if they were the most absurd of absurdity. The raw earnest blazing in his eyes set Daryl on fire.
This was just like when Paul said the three simple words and changed his life forever for good.
“Daryl?” A fearful note in his key. “Are you alright? Am I too sudden?”
Daryl sucked in a long breath, finally remembering that he needed to breathe. The heat on his face was almost unbearable and he doubted the color would be pretty – he knew he colored easily. Another proof that Paul was dead-serious was that he hadn’t jumped at the opportunity to tease him like he normally would.
“Might as well get on one knee,” Daryl muttered, and didn’t mean a word. He only needed to say something to distract himself from the maelstrom of emotions.
Yet Paul, having super hearing, didn’t miss a syllable. He gently let Daryl lean on the tree and immediately knelt before him.
That was not the end of Daryl’s surprise though, for Paul reached into his pocket and procured a small, velvet box. Daryl’s heart was one step from leaping out of his chest.
Like a scene from a romantic movie, Paul carefully opened the box to reveal a ring with a simple, almost plain design whose main highlight was a round stone. Dyed in the color of the clear night sky, it made a stark contrast to the silver of the ring. Daryl recognized what it was at once.
“A daylight ring?”
“Yes,” Paul confirmed. “Had my witch buddy Tara made them for a while now, you know, just in case.”
Paul beamed, wriggling his hand. On his ring finger was an identical, if slightly smaller, ring. “A pair. Figure it’s time I got a new daylight ring. Would love to have you put it on my finger but you know, the sun. Later, maybe?”
Daryl couldn’t help a smile as he shook his head. It wasn’t that Daryl daydreamed about Paul proposing to him every frigging day but he did entertain the thought once in a while. And when he did, his vision certainly looked nothing like this, with himself propped against the tree and Paul on one knee, a daylight ring in his hand. He imagined it to be normal and casual, the two of them sitting in their frequented bar, two shots of whiskey in front of them and some trashy music blaring at top volume above their head, and somehow the words just rolled off their tongues – did not matter who said them. Nonetheless, when you were in a relationship with an ancient vampire, ‘normal’ was rather off-limits.
“Tell me ya ain’t the first vampire to propose with a daylight ring an’ a blood bag ‘cuz it’s real romantic.”
“I’d love to claim it as my original idea,” Paul laughed, “but no, it was Maggie’s. She and Glenn have been happily married for seven years. Unlike how some movies tend to portray, vampire relationships can be healthy.”
He took Daryl’s hand and pressed it to his cheek, his beard tickling the skin of Daryl’s palm. “That’s what I hope for our future, also what’s been on my mind since I realized I had fallen harder than a teenager for the hottest cop in town. So what do you say, Mr. Dixon?”
Daryl wished he could move, even just his hand, so that he could physically expressed his affection, which was overflowing his heart at the moment. Unlike Paul, who was always able to eloquently put his thoughts into carefully crafted words, verbal expressions were never his strong front; he could never find the right words – and the courage to say them for that matter – at the right moment, right now for example. At the start of their relationship, he had been very certain that his tight-lipped tendency would bore the man as it had done his few previous partners, and eventually Paul would leave him for good. Contrary to his belief, Paul hadn’t once voiced his displeasure with Daryl’s stunted verbal capacity, nor had he left him, and this was the one time when Detective Dixon was actually glad that he had been proven wrong.
“A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice, you know,” Paul urged. “I’m still kneeling here.” He lowered his voice to whisper. “Please, please say ‘yes’.”
“Jus’ wonderin’ if ya got the right size ‘s all. Should be awkward as shit if it didn’t fit.”
Paul’s eyes lit up like the first creak of the sun after hour-long rain. “Only one way to find out, right?”
And with that he slipped the ring smoothly on Daryl’s finger. The lapis lazuli stone twinkled. He wondered what question Rick and Carol would pulverize him with once they saw the ring, knowing Daryl Dixon was never a man of accessory.
Paul cupped Daryl’s face and kissed him, slow and long. No tongues, just lips touching lips in the chastest manner possible without losing the intimacy.
“Next is to consummate our engagement,” Paul spoke against his lips.
He had braced himself against the taste of blood.
Even though the undead side of him had desperately craved for it, the human side, or what was left of it, was appalled by the thought that soon he would have blood in his mouth, down his throat. Human blood, which had been drawn from the veins of living human beings. It could be the young man he had passed on the street, the freckled cashier at the supermarket where he brought his groceries, or the young blond waitress (Beth?) at Carol’s diner who always served him with a smile. Knowing that the blood had been donated to the blood bank and no killing had been involved didn’t provide much help in easing his nausea. Daryl swallowed dryly a few times, trying to quench it but still feel it clawing at the inside of his throat.
“It’s gonna be OK, I promise,” Paul assured him, probably sensing his tension. He tore open the bag and carefully lifted it to Daryl’s lips. Daryl squeezed his eyes shut…
… and immediately fluttered them open when the blood filled his mouth. His earlier doubts vanished at once, his nauseous feeling washed away like footprints by the waves and the only thing that mattered on his mind was the taste on his tongue. Blood tasted like blood, metallic and thick, whether it was in a plastic bag or oozing from a nick on his finger; his peculiar undead biology didn’t give it a different flavor. He had thought he’d be repulsed by it but he wasn’t; rather, he was experiencing a sensation not unlike arousal, only it had absolutely nothing to do with sex. Shutting his eyes, he swallowed and swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing frantically. He vaguely heard Paul saying something but was unable to catch his words; the rushing of blood in his ears was thundering, drowning every other sound. There was fireworks exploding behind his eyelids and electricity sizzling beneath his skin, rapidly charging him, altering him, making him feel more alive than he ever had. Goosebumps raised on his arms, and his hairs stood on ends. Fueled with the virulent energy from the blood, his dead limbs came alive and before Daryl was aware, his arms had stretched out and wrapped around the only body available around here. The thundering of blood in his ears faded into two types of heartbeats: one erratic and arrhythmic, the other steady and calm. He focused on the calm one, trying to will his frantic heart to sync with it. Success came easier than he thought.
When the last drop blood had been infused with his system, Daryl snapped his eyes open. He was pretty sure the scenery hadn’t changed in a few minutes; rather, the one who had undergone a thorough transformation was him, for now he was seeing with the eyes of newborn baby who saw the world for the first time and was completely enthralled by the sheer beauty of every simple thing he had sorely missed before this moment. And Paul, when his eyes found him, was beautiful beyond any vocabulary he could racked his muddled brain for description, perfection etched in the curve of his plush lips, the small dip of his nose bridge, the ever-shifting blue of his eyes. How such an exquisite creature had fallen in love with him despite all his grievous flaws was an enigma Daryl could never understand. A single tear rolled his cheek, mingled with the blood on the corner of his lips.
“Daryl… Are you alright?” Paul’s voice was laced with genuine concern for the pained expression on Daryl’s face.
That was the last straw; the dam holding off Daryl’s emotions broke. He cupped Paul’s face and wasted no millisecond in pulling the man into a kiss. It was more of a crushing of lips than an actual kiss, all bare instincts and force and no techniques. He devoured Paul’s lips like his life depended on it, like this was the last time he was allowed to love Paul the way he desired before being flung into a barren, loveless land where he was all alone for eternity. His hands hiked up Paul’s damp shirt and roamed over the smooth, cool skin of his back, which was quickly covered in goosebumps. Paul’s hands blindly tangled in Daryl’s dark hair, scratching his scalp with his filed nails while he tried competitively to match Daryl’s burning passion with his own.
Despite the rawness, the blood, the messiness, it was perfect.
Neither knew how much time had passed when they pulled apart at last. The whites in Paul’s eyes had turned solid red, contrasting with his blazing blue irises in an alluringly freakish wonder. Dark veins surfaced around his eyes, slithering beneath his skin like having a life of their own. From his parted lips, his fangs gleamed. Daryl’s heart skipped a beat in consternation. This was the vampire Paul, the side well-hidden under layers and layers of carefree attitude, sweet words and bright smiles, the side which he had had no intention to let Daryl see lest it frightened and disgusted him. Until today. Without any warning, he laid bare the proof of his inhumanity to his lover. Daryl wouldn’t lie and say he was unaffected but his apprehension was transient as a heartbeat. In the mirrors that were Paul’s eyes he saw himself – same blood-red eyes, dark veins and fangs – and understood. Showing Daryl his bestial features was meant to be construed as neither intimidation nor menace; rather, its meaning was perspicuous in the gentleness of his eyes despite his look: an acknowledgment of their similar nature, that from now on they were equals sharing not only the same roof but also the same essence in their veins.
“How do you feel?” Paul asked once his face had returned to normal.
A multitude of words raced through his mind and he only caught one. “Thrilled,” he replied tersely.
“Thrilled?” Paul echoed.
Daryl looked into Paul’s eyes and nodded.
Thrilled at the privilege of being given the chance to witness how the flux of time was and would be constantly and eternally shaping what human called the reality. The endless possibilities. Thrilled at knowing the best part of it was that he wouldn’t have to go through time alone. They would have each other for as long as possible or as they could tolerate. Daryl was not such a wide-eyed romanticist that he would naively believe in an everlasting love, yet he was not too cynical to think that their relationship would reach a definite end too soon. Planning ahead of the future wasn’t his specialty because Daryl Dixon was a man of present. For now he would cherish having these brilliant eyes looking at him, and him alone, with all the affection their owner’s big heart could muster.
He said none of those but had a feeling Paul understood, having trained himself to be fluent in Daryl’s language of silence.
Paul’s lips were red and smeared with blood from their kiss. It was a temptation Daryl found himself unable to resist and so he gave in, titling his head and cleaning the blood with a swipe of his tongue.
It was sweet. Not honey-sweet but blood-sweet. That meant he was starting to get the hang of it.
Taken by surprise, Paul let out a soft gasp. After that he sought to meet Daryl’s with his own tongue but the detective was quicker by a millisecond.
“I’m hungry,” Daryl said as if it was the most usual thing in the world. He wasn’t hungry for food and he had a feeling Paul got it.
“Sorry, that was the only blood bag I brought.”
“Guess I can bear it till we get home.”
His first challenge as a bloodsucker, right. He wished he could spot the squirrel from earlier.
He was about to stand up – his legs felt solid again, strong even – when Paul reached out and pulled his wrist, telling him without word to not leave this spot yet. His eyebrows arched slightly in question.
Paul’s smile was leaning towards the mischievous side. He tilted his head, undid a few top buttons of his shirt and bared his neck. The last sun rays fell onto his pale skin, adding a golden glow to it.
Daryl didn’t miss the implication in this act. “Ya sure? ‘cuz I’m not sure I can control myself.”
He knew he couldn’t. Earlier, he had only stopped drinking simply because he had drained the bag.
“Absolutely,” Paul replied, his smile widening. “Vampire trivia number one: A vampire cannot drain another vampire to death. Worst case scenario is you have to carry my immobile ass back home. Vampire trivia number two: Blood sharing between vampires is very… intimate.”
“Erm… like naked spooning.”
Daryl felt a tinge of jealousy. Fully aware that it was unreasonable to be jealous of Paul’s past so he tried to keep it from his tone. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.
“Ya done it before?”
“Last time was roughly three hundred and sixty years ago,” Paul said defensively – he must have sensed something from his lover. “Hadn’t wanted to share my blood with anyone until you. Come on, I insist.”
Daryl stared at the blue vein barely visible under Paul’s pale, thin skin and gulped. He could hear the blood inside and it was practically beckoning him in a language that his new fangs were fluent. As he ran his tongue along his teeth, he found the pointy ends ready to pierce the delectable skin and sink into the veins. With one quick glance at Paul’s face, searching for any tiny signs of disapproval and finding none, he lowered his head.
Daryl inhaled deeply, allowing his mind to swim in Paul’s natural scent of sandalwood mixed with rains. He surprised the older vampire with a long, deliberate drag of his tongue along silky skin. He grazed the tender flesh just below his ear – not quite biting yet – and began to suck with the least amount of pressure. This was one of Paul’s erogenous zones, which he had committed to mind.
It appeared he had struck the right nerve because his enhanced hearing was soon filled with Paul’s audible moans. A mix of pride and affection was swelling fast in his heart. God, he loved this man so much there was no turning back now.
“Tease,” Paul breathed.
Daryl couldn’t help a smug grin before biting down for real this time.
Paul was right.
This was euphoric and intimate and the only thing that stopped them from trying outdoor sex was Daryl’s own stubborn conservativeness.
That and the guilt of draining Paul to the point of paralysis.
Despite his state, Paul teased and laughed at him all the way home while Daryl stoically endured.
He did retaliate, however, when Paul was full with blood and naked and shamelessly stretched out on their bed like a satiated cat.
And much later, he got to slip the daylight ring onto Paul’s finger.
That’s the end; hope you enjoy it. Thank you so much for all your kudos and comments and patience; they gave me the courage to finish it.
That’s the end; hope you enjoy it. Thank you so much for all your kudos and comments and patience; they gave me the courage to finish it.
I did say in one of my comments that I imagined Paul, as well as Maggie and his little circle of friends, to be a friendly neighborhood vampire – the kind of vampires that don’t hunt and kill, drink mostly from blood bags and try to fit in with humans – and I kept it in mind as I was writing. Daryl didn’t want to become a vampire but he didn’t abhor the idea either mainly because he hadn’t met any other vampires and thus hadn’t witnessed any atrocities that may be committed by ‘normal’ vampires.
“So, tell me again,” Tara drawled, putting the cap on her marker once she had finished the Pride flag on her best friend’s cast, “how in the world did our little ninja fall off the stairs and break his leg?”
Paul let out a groan, rubbing a hand over his face. Tara seemed to take immense pleasure in making him recite the reason he had had his leg broken; he was one hundred percent certain by tomorrow all of his class and probably half the campus would have known of his embarrassing accident. Talk about the power of gossip. He wouldn’t live it down for months to come.
“It was bad luck, Tara, sheer bad luck,” Paul bleated. “Remember when we went to a Tarot parlor and the–”
“Tarot reader warned me of an imminent accident?”
“Yeah, you kind of laughed about it ‘cuz you didn’t believe it. You only came because I dragged you with me and you were pretty tipsy.”
“Guess I’m a believer now,” Paul said, clapping his hands in a mock prayer. “I got up late and was rushing down the stairs when I stepped on something I’d left there and forgotten to clean up – and tripped. Next thing I knew, my leg pained so much that I couldn’t move an inch. From what I’d gained from the first-aid sessions, I figured I might have broken my leg.”
“You were binge-watching that zombie show the night before, weren’t you? What’s so good about that series that everyone’s crazy about it anyway?”
“It’s good and I’ve tried to engage you in watching it with me a few times. Besides, I put half the blame on my alarm clock. Damned thing was broken and didn’t go off.”
Tara reached for the apple and the knife on the table and began peeling its skin with deftness. She got rid of the seeds and quartered the apple before handling Paul a piece, which he took with a “thanks”.
“I’m still pissed off, y’know,” Tara said with a mouthful of apple, making funny crunchy noises, “that you didn’t phone your best friend first when you got the accident. I’d have rushed to your apartment.”
“Sorry, Tara, I was in panic. I was really lucky I got my phone in my pocket and didn’t crush it when I fell. I dialed the top number of my emergency list and–”
“Your roommate called the ambulance and raced home,” Tara finished for him. “I’m shocked you put your roommate’s number first in your list and not mine.”
“He insisted. Said roommates should look out for each other.”
Tara raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “Wow! My ex roomie couldn’t have cared less if I’d died and started decomposing in my room so long as I didn’t get in her way.”
Paul wrinkled his nose. “Good thing you moved out.”
“Yeah,” Tara agreed. “Did the doctor say when you will be released?”
“He said I could go home now that I was checked and no other injuries were found. As a matter of fact my roommate is checking me out as we speak.”
“Can’t say I’m not jealous that you have such a nice roommate. Any indication on his sexuality?”
Tara finished the question with a wink.
“Well…” Paul hesitated, lowering his head to hide a hint of a smile threatening to spread across his lips. “Probably not straight, from what I’ve gathered.”
A sudden clap on his shoulder would have made him jump if his leg wasn’t broken already. Tara sounded as though she had just come across an epic epiphany. “I say you go for this heaven-sent dude. Your ‘hot cop’ is definitely hot but last time you said he was straight as a flagpole. Believe me, my friend, pursuing a straight person only ensues heartbreak. Been there, done that.”
Paul was just about to open his mouth when Tara continued, “Tell me, what does he look like? I know looks ain’t important in a relationship but it’s a plus if he happens to be hot right?”
Paul was cut short by the door to his room being opened. Daryl stepped in, pushing a wheelchair in front of him. His black leather jacket slung over his shoulder, he was only wearing his navy blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up his elbows.
“Yer good to go,” he informed, moving toward Paul’s bed. His narrow eyes landed on Tara. “Sorry, ya must be…”
“This is my best friend, Tara Chambler. Tara, this is Daryl Dixon, my roommate…”
He deliberately stressed “roommate” as a reminder. “He’s a detective.”
Tara stared at the cop with rounded eyes for several seconds as shocking realization began to dawn on her. Daryl looked a little confused under her direct stare. “Oh right,” she spoke at last, sounding timid by her rather rude behavior, “Nice to meet you, Detective Dixon.”
She held out her right hand.
“Just Daryl’s fine,” replied Daryl, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet ya.” He turned to Paul and started gathering a few things in the cabinet by his roommate’s bed, which weren’t many, and put them into a small satchel. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah. Can’t wait to get out of the hospital.”
Daryl nodded in silence. Once again Tara watched in awe as he bent down and scooped Paul in his arms as if the young man was a little boy. His muscles flexed under the dark fabric of his shirt and darn, Tara had to admit, she was being momentarily straight.
Carefully, he put Paul on the wheelchair and wheeled him out of the door. Tara followed the two of them to the parking lot.
Once Daryl was done settling Paul on the passenger’s seat, Tara turned to Daryl and said, “Well, I guess I must go now. Thank you so much for taking care of my best friend, Daryl. It’s a pleasure meeting you.”
“It’s no problem,” Daryl said, a bit awkward. Tara took that he was the strong, silent type who could be occasionally socially inept. She also knew that her best friend was a sucker for this type.
Suppressing a chuckle, she gave Paul a meaningful look as she waved her hand. “Get better soon, Jesus. Our class surely misses your ninja tricks.”
Not five minutes after they left the hospital in Daryl’s car, Paul’s phone buzzed. He giggled, knowing without glancing at the screen that it could only be Tara.
“THE HELL JESUS? U NEVER TOLD ME UR HOT COP N UR ROOMIE WERE ONE N THE SAME?” Her text, written all in capitals, read.
“Pretty sure ‘hell’ and ‘Jesus’ shouldnt be in the same sentence,” Paul texted back. His giggles got Daryl’s attention, who gave him a questioning look. “Just Tara’s text,” Paul explained.
He got Tara’s reply five seconds later.
“IM RECONSIDERING OUR FRIENDSHIP”
“Dont be. Never said they werent one person either. Wanna give u a surprise”
“U BETTER EXPLAIN NEXT TIME WE MEET!!!”
“Rite rite. But until then plz tell none of our friends”
“Thk u. luv u”
He put a smiley emoticon at the end of the text before sending. Then he put his phone in his pocket.
“Yer friend Tara seemed surprised to see me,” said Daryl once he saw Paul putting away his phone.
“Because you’re hot?”
“Didn’t look like that.”
Paul chuckled. “She just texted me. She didn’t know my crush and my roommate were the same person.”
“Ya didn’t tell her?”
The question came out more like a statement.
Paul shook his head, smiling. “I love Tara, she’s my BFF but she’s tightly weaved into the gossip web at our college. Guess that’s part of being in the department of journalism.”
“Ya don’t want yer friends to know about… us?”
His voice lowered at the last word. Knowing his boyfriend, Paul immediately picked up the sign. “No, it’s not that I’m embarrassed or anything,” he assured. “Quite the opposite actually.” He didn’t realized his own voice went lower as well. “It just… I want to be certain this… thing between us is real, you know, before I tell my friends.”
Daryl frowned. “It’s real.”
Then Paul’s hand was gently squeezed by a larger, callous hand. Daryl’s sharp eyes spoke of earnest when they were fixed on his face. Paul’s chest swelled with emotions and he would definitely kiss him senseless if Daryl wasn’t driving right now. He longed for the moment they got back to their shared apartment just so that he could be affirmed that this thing between them was very much real and happening.
Looking down at his cast, Paul groaned internally. His leg would get in the way and they would have to find a way to get around it.
“What will we have for dinner?” asked Paul, changing the subject.
“We can get pizzas an’ drinks at Glenn’s an’ we can eat while watching that zombie show yer so crazy about in the evening.”
Paul’s eyes lit up at his words like the sky in the fourth of July. He beamed brightly at Daryl, who responded with a tiny smile.
Daryl had cut down his speed to no longer be at break-neck level, just barely within the speed limit. The impulse to indulge in reckless speed had died with the rain and now it was merely a scratch at his guts.
Something on the side caught his sight, and the brain part that was responsible for his curiosity deemed it worth a stop for closer inspection. He supposed he wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and could spare a minute or two.
It was the decomposing carcass of some pretty large animal, probably a buck, that he saw in the grass. Daryl got off his motorcycle and squatted in front of it. It was easy to tell the creature been dead for some time by the bones with brown chunks of flesh clinging to them. The eyeballs were gone, leaving vacant sockets from which streams of red ants poured out. It was a disturbing sight from which most humans should avert their eyes as they hurried past and yet somehow Daryl had been inexplicably drawn in. A part of him, a feeble, normal and human part, was weirded out and wanted to just get on his bike and ride away while another, stronger, more pressing part had his eyes fixed on the gouged out sockets as if there was an enigmatic pull from within the twin voids. His hand was halfway reaching out when he had to stop himself from actually touching it.
It was death, Daryl rationalized, which had prompted this bizarre fixation. Death was the one thing that he and this creature had in common. All living things had to die – that he had learned from a young age with his dearly departed mom, and the scene his eyes so drank in was the inevitable end of every human. It was his mom’s end when Daryl was but a snotty five-year-old and twenty-two years later, his old man’s. It was Merle’s end eight years ago and it would soon be his. Except it could not be his. While the concept of immortality was unnatural according to nature, it was also ironically nature that had permitted its occurrence. Paul had expired his lifespan for a couple centuries and his could be not be a unique existence – many times Daryl had pondered about all the vampires out there, cloaking themselves under civilian guise and blending in amongst their designated preys. Now the same existence was offered to Daryl. Had he ever thought about it or wanted it during the late nights he went to bed and woke up in the morning with a vampire snuggling to his side? Would he want it now that it was his only option to continue that mundane domestic routine, one that he would give the world for? Daryl couldn’t answer it, not yet. But he was beginning to consider it, whether he truly desired immortality. Weird as it may sound, the mortal fear of death inflicted upon him by studying this macabre scene did spark a light in his fog-shrouded mind. The light grew in intensity until it pierced through the confusion and uncertainty plaguing him since his body sprang from the bed. A final, concrete decision wasn’t within his grasp yet but he had seen a vague outline of it. Although there was a haunting dreadfulness in the notion of walking the earth till the end of time, he couldn’t deny a forbidden sense of thrill lacing with it.
When the rain had stopped he couldn’t tell, lost in his own mental world. Daryl stood up and made to his motorcycle. Not too keen on wearing a stuffy helmet with his dripping hair, he decided to forgo it.
The scenery was laminated in gold and silver when Daryl entered the woods – gold from the radiant sunlight after a heavy rain and silver from the myriad droplets of water clinging to the tree branches and leaves. He had switched off the engine and was walking his motorcycle so as not to wreck the perfect serenity of nature and scare off the little creatures making this place home. He took a moment to close his eyes, take a deep breath to enjoy the clear, cool air spiced with the soothing scent of damp wood before parking his vehicle a few feet from a particular tree. Under its canopy he spotted a figure that couldn’t be more familiar to him. He was leaning casually against the trunk, his hair wet and crudely swept back. His thin white shirt appeared transparent and sticking to his skin. In his hands was a small brown squirrel which his fingers were petting now and then. Signing softly, Daryl thought he should be surprised to find Paul here but in fact, he wasn’t in the least. Being a sneaky prick was one of Paul’s less endearing vice Daryl had learned to tolerate.
“Ain’t ya gonna eat it? Why bother playin’ with yer food?”
Paul’s huge eyes left the critter and traveled to Daryl, and the detective could feel his gaze lingering on the strands of dark hair cupping the sides of his face. Huffing, Paul laid the squirrel on the ground. It immediately ran off and disappeared in a blink.
“Detective Dixon,” said Paul, “please don’t jump right to the conclusion that I bore any ill will toward that poor animal when you’re having no evidence.”
“First time I met ya, ya were chompin’ a squirrel,” Daryl snorted, “an’ havin’ a couple more layin’ dead at yer feet.”
“Good Lord, you caught me at a bad time once and I’m never going to live it down. Firstly, that wasn’t our first meeting. We first met when I moved into the derelict house opposite from yours.”
“A brief glance–”
“But still counts. Secondly, I hadn’t made my contact with the local blood bank yet and was on the brink of starvation. You don’t like me when I’m starving.”
“I thought ya a weirdo. Turns out it ain’t too far from the truth.”
“So I’ve been told,” Paul replied with a small smile. He crossed the distance and stood close to Daryl. “You didn’t break up with me because of my quirks, crazy as they are.”
“I’ve met worse,” Daryl said, his hand itching to tug a loose strands of hair behind Paul’s ears. So he did, earning a wider smile from the shorter man. “Ya followed me here, didn’t ya?”
To his surprise, Paul declined, “No, believe me I did want to, but I didn’t. I just didn’t feel like showing up at my class so I called in sick. Having plenty of sick leave can come in handy. I thought a lot, you know, about us, about our life together all these years, about our future, if we have one. And I had a feeling that you would come here, seeing how this place has claimed a special spot in your heart. Now here we are. Must be destiny.”
Paul punctuated his speech with a nervous chuckle.
“I thought a lot too, ‘bout–”
Out of sudden, Daryl felt as if his legs had vaporized right under him. He would collapse face first into the thick carpet of decayed leaves on the ground if Paul weren’t extra-quick to catch him. His ample strength made up for his smaller stature and he supported Daryl’s most of weight with ease. Gently and slowly, he helped Daryl sit down under the tree. All the carefreeness had drained from his handsome countenance; now he was wearing the same pained expression Daryl had seen earlier in the morning. It caused an ache in Daryl’s side and erased his concern about his own condition, even just temporarily.
“What’s happenin’ to me? Why can’t I feel my legs?”
“It’s beginning,” Paul explained. “The paralysis that signals your time is running out and continues until you’re…”
“I’m dyin’, got it. Shoulda known I’m runnin’ on borrowed time. First it’s my leg, then my arms an’ torso and finally my head, righ’. Fuckin’ sadistic, I’d say.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Paul replied. “Have heard about it but never been through it myself, though.”
“How long did it take ya to make yer decision?”
Since they were sitting shoulder to shoulder, with Daryl leaning against Paul’s chest, he felt a puff of air on his cheek from Paul’s laughter. It wasn’t the full, hearty laughter Daryl had gotten used to hear; it was soft and deprived most of humor. “I practically leapt at the chance to be turned, so you can guess it took me no time at all. I was a vampire before I had even registered the weight of my own death.” Taking a short pause, he continued, “I had been severely sick for a while and my family ended up taking me to the House of Death, where they expected me to spend the rest of my remaining days. Fewer mouths to feed. Looking back, I couldn’t blame them; I expected to die there as well. Then my sire came to me with an offer in exchange for my indentured service. I guess I just didn’t want to die.”
His voice quieted at the last sentence, and there was a slight tremble in it.
“Ya never said anythin’ about this until t’day.”
“It’s no rainbows and unicorns so I’d rather not tell it at a drinking party.”
“Ya ever regretted it? Becomin’ a vampire.”
Paul brushed his dampened fringe out of Daryl’s forehead. “It’s had its ups and downs and there were some dark periods when all I wanted was to lie desiccated in the coffin like a dead man that I was. But, to be honest, I’ve never regretted. It’s a wonder beyond measure to see the world change little by little until it’s no longer the one you were born in, and to see yourself change with it in order to adapt. Given the chance a second time and I would have made the same choice again.”
Silence stretched between them after Paul finished. Daryl seemed to be in contemplation of what he’d said so Paul didn’t feel the urge to break the silence. Instead, he laced his fingers with his lover’s.
Daryl’s fingers only twitched but gave no otherwise response. Paul’s heart sank like a stone thrown into a cold, bottomless lake.
“Take my left hand,” Daryl said. “Ain’t numb as shit yet.”
Paul took his hand, the one that could feel, and brought it to his lips. He kissed every knuckle, mumbling, “I’m sorry.”
“Because you compelled Rick to forget what he saw?”
“Yes, Rick, the doctor, the nurses. I’m sorry I broke my vow.”
Daryl felt Paul’s hand gently squeezing his.
“On the way here, I thought a lot, ‘bout many things,” he said, picking up from earlier. “I thought ‘bout whether ya’d undo Rick’s compulsion, how he, Carol an’ a handful of people I know would react.”
“The compulsion would instantly wear off with a vampire’s end,” Paul said. Although his tone was light and maintaining its casualness that was very Paul-like, Daryl’s lungs felt chilled as he took in a cold breath.
“But ya won’t…”
“Nothing lasts forever, Daryl, even vampires. Sometimes the end comes sooner than we expect.”
“Where would vampires go?”
“Frankly I don’t know. No one has ever told me and I don’t know who to ask. Well, certainly not my late sire, God bless his soul, if he had one. Where do you think humans would go? I know you aren’t the most religious man I’ve met but ever given it a thought?”
Daryl shook his head. Paul shifted to give him a little more comfort even though Daryl’s torso was heavy like lead and just as numb. It took no Einstein to figure at this rate, he’d soon be completely paralyzed.
“I spotted some carcass on the road. Probably a buck an’ dead for some time. I was magnetized to it – death attracts death, I guess. As I looked, I remembered my mom an’ Merle, even the sick bastard I called my dad, how they all looked like this beneath the earth, an’ how I’d look like that too. I thought ‘Well, death sucks’.”
Daryl had always a man of few words and more actions; this was by far his longest speech. Thus Paul patiently waited for him to perhaps regain his breath and gather his thoughts.
“I ain’t hopin’ we’d be united in some sunlit heaven or shit. Ain’t no teenager. Maybe I’d end up in that dark limbo again, all by myself, an’ that’s fuckin’ scary. But what’s even scarier is that I know I won’t never see ya again, won’t never wake up to yer shit-eatin’ grin again, won’t never feel yer touch or yer warmth again. That hurts so much, ya know.”
“I know,” Paul whispered, his breath fanning Daryl’s cheek. “I know.”
“I don’t wanna die. There’s a chance I’ll regret it one day but right now I don’t wanna die an’ leave ya.”
A drop of water fell onto the skin below Daryl’s eyes, too hot to be the rainwater dangling on the leaves.
“So you’ve decided…” Paul croaked.
“Ya don’t mind haulin’ my immobile ass back to the house, right, ‘cuz I don’t suppose ya brought a blood bag along.”
When Daryl craned his neck and looked up, he saw Paul frantically wiping his eyes. A smile had formed on his lips, wide enough to show his white teeth. This was the first true smile Daryl had gotten from him today, same as the one which had caused his heart to skip a beat when he stared a little too long at the ponytailed young man carrying his stuff into the derelict house across from his. While his torso was still numb, the heaviness on his chest had been lifted.
“On the contrary, I always come prepared” was Paul’s reply.
To be continued
Finished it for a while but I was busy writing another Desus fic so I delayed editing and posting it. Immense apologies to you who have been waiting for an update. Next chapter is the last.
“Hop on,” Daryl instructed, lightly patting the passenger seat of his motorcycle.
Paul eyed the sleek majestic structure of steel with both awe and wariness. This beast had been the object of his silent admiration since the moment he first saw his roommate, clad in black leather and donning a pair of shades, riding it into the garage; but he had never actually touched it – that it was Daryl’s ‘lover’ was nothing sort of truth. Still, that hadn’t stopped him from fantasizing about sitting his ass on the passenger seat and wrapping his arms tightly around the rider’s firm middle as they raced along the endless highway into the blazing sunset. Okay, the sunset bit was a little cheesy, even for him. God knew how many times Paul Rovia had woken from a dream like that to the sad, disappointing reality that he had been harboring a heavy crush on his older roommate, Detective Daryl Dixon, since he moved in two months ago, and his feelings were probably unreciprocated because Daryl was likely as straight as a flagpole.
He had to be, right? One look at the guy and you can practically sense his machismo seeping out of his pores.
Growing impatient with Paul’s standing rooted in his spot while a dumbfounded look was painted on his face, Daryl patted the seat again, louder this time, to shake the art student out of whatever reverie he was having. “C’mon, we don’t have a whole day.”
“Err… Thank you, but I can take the bus,” Paul replied, internally groaning. While every cell in him was yelling ‘yes’, his rational mind was firmly stating ‘no’ and sadly, it was the one to have the final say about what could leave his mouth and could not. Don’t give yourself false hope, Rovia. You will only have many sleepless nights ahead.
“Bus stop’s ten-minute walk,” Daryl said, “five if yer runnin’. And ya were already half an hour late.”
Indeed today Paul had woken up half an hour later than usual – damned his late-night marathon of The Walking Dead and his broken alarm. He wished his hair was long enough to hide the flushed tips of his ears. Been thinking about growing it out for a while.
But wait, Daryl noticed!
A helmet was thrown at Paul and he deftly caught it.
“Unless ya wanna be late. Get on.”
Daryl put on his own helmet. Truth was Paul didn’t want to show up late at his favorite professor’s class and he could really, really use a ride. Especially when the rider happened to be Daryl.
Muttering a “thank you”, Paul put on the helmet, which was a little big for him but he would definitely not complain.
The seat, on the contrary, was a little small so he had no choice but to sit very close to Daryl, like body-touching close, which he would definitely not complain either.
The engine roared and in an almost careless move, Daryl stepped on the accelerator. The sudden movement had Paul let out an undignified yelp. Out of pure reflex, his arms wrapped around the detective’s torso, and he was holding onto Daryl so tightly it must be a bit uncomfortable. But Paul had spared it no thought; he was too busy being afraid that the next bump might send him flying to the side of the road.
Daryl was riding along the highway so naturally, he wasn’t going slow. Paul dared keep his hold on Daryl, emboldened by the fact that the cop hadn’t complained about having Paul’s chest pressing against his back. A giddy smile spread across his face. Maybe, just maybe, this is not false hope at all.
Little did he know, Daryl couldn’t contain a little smile either. Sure, he’d rather stuff his head in the sink than admitting the reason for his out-of-character move earlier was to have a certain roommate cling onto him for dear life.