Deprivation, Part 14.
Previously, when Devin had asked his colleagues for help, it had been in vague terms; he queried about vampires in general, and about the Faerie and any knowledge of their blood. Now he dropped the Faerie component entirely, lest the combination of the two topics arouse dark suspicions, and began to ask directly about cures for vampirism. At this point, he didn't care that some of these older mages might think him a fool for trying, or that some might suspect the true nature of his relationship with his "client". He was fighting to save a life, he knew.
No matter how hard Allistair tried to keep things light, the vampire seemed to grow a little darker, a little more distant every day. Without being told, Devin knew instinctively that the man was losing the will to continue his existence at the price of blood. The situation was beginning to look as hopeless as Devin had first thought it would be, but now he had a very personal stake in the success of this task.
Since all of his books were doing him little good right now, the mage took to spending more time with Allistair, the two of them talking quietly about their lives. Luciel tended to wander off at these times on the pretext of finding more information; Devin was certain that while the angel honestly was keeping an eye out for anything helpful, he was also leaving the two of them with some privacy. Luce liked Allistair, the mage knew, and it was probably as hard for the angel to watch Allistair's depression as it was for Devin.
And it was hard. It was very odd for Devin to be in a situation where he had to be the optimistic, hopeful one. But dammit, he wasn't going to just give up! Now after realizing what he truly had now with Allistair.
Did that make him some kind of possessive, creepy boyfriend? Not wanting to let go? He did wonder occasionally, but given how Allistair had just broken out of one such relationship, Devin couldn't see him falling into another one. Or maybe the vampire was like a woman who continually falls for abusive, controlling men. Devin rather hoped that wasn't the case.
At the very least, if he were acting in such a way, he was pretty sure Luce would have something to say about it. And on top of that... Jason had enjoyed Allistair's suffering, was the one who caused it, in fact. Devin was doing the exact opposite... wasn't he? What made him unsure was the fact that sometimes, love was a torture in and of itself — particularly, he imagined, when it was the only thing holding you to the world. It seemed that way sometimes, that Allistair would have disappeared by now if not for Devin's presence.
It wasn't possessiveness, Devin had realized; his clinging to Allistair, holding him to life, was selfishness, nothing more grave than that. And stubbornness, too, probably. The mage was not one to be beaten by a dilemma. He had lived his entire life that way, so it was no real surprise, he knew, that he brought that mindset into his romantic endeavors, as well.
But did he have the right?
Did his love — yes, he admitted it — did his love for Allistair weigh more than the vampire's self-loathing? Devin could care less that suicide was supposed to be a sin; he knew what it was like to be in such despair that you wanted to give up. And if that were truly Allistair's wish, did he have the right to keep him from it?
The living can always decide to die, he thought more than once, but the dead cannot decide to live. It's a very permanent decision.
While Devin's new willingness for contact and comfort was very welcome, Allistair could still count on one hand the times they'd really gone all the way since the mage's return from Faerie. Not that he blamed Devin for his hesitation, not at all. And not that Allistair felt that their relationship should be defined by the physical — he had had more than enough of that with Jason. It just made him a little sad that he hadn't succeeded in drawing Devin all the way out of his shell, and that there were all too few memories of their making love. It was always so sweet, always, even with Devin's awkwardness (perhaps that simply made it all the sweeter).
Tonight, the vampire promised himself, tonight they would make memories well worth carrying into the next world. Even if he had to drag Devin to bed by his hair. Not that the mage was that reluctant, but sometimes it seemed like he was waiting for a sign before proceeding.
Well, tonight Allistair would give the sign. He looked up from the rather dry volume of alchemy he had been reading, his eyes resting on Devin's bowed head as the mage took rapid notes from his own dusty tome. His hair had grown to his shoulders in the time he'd been here; the vampire wondered if he meant to cut it when he returned to the States, or if it was a permanent change. He rather liked being able to run his hands through Devin's hair — but of course, what he liked wouldn't matter for much longer.
He didn't feel the fear he might have expected as he contemplated his own end, merely a sort of relief, and worry for Devin. But it was fear for his lover's well-being that had hardened his resolve to begin with. The mage would never be safe with him, not really, and the vise-like grip that Devin had on his heart guaranteed that simple separation, "breaking up", would not be enough. He knew himself well enough, felt the compulsion strongly enough, that he realized he would eventually track Devin down, and probably entrap him the way Jason had trapped Allistair himself — very likely with the same results.
No, he would break the chain of misery here. The question was if Devin's help would come willingly. But... that was a question for later. Right now, it was time for bed.
"Devin," he said in what was virtually a purr, closing his book with a snap.
Much later, Allistair had to smile softly to himself as he lay next to the sleeping mage. Devin had surprising stamina, they had discovered together some time ago, but tonight Allistair had managed to exhaust him completely. It would, indeed, be a memory to treasure, and he hoped Devin would feel the same way.
It was hard to summon the will to sit up. The scent of their exertions was in the sheets and on their skin, but it was a human smell, a mortal smell, and very welcome to his supernatural senses. Threaded throughout was the scent of Devin himself, cherished, familiar, and comforting. Allistair focused on it for the span of several breaths, but was forced out of his reverie by a twinge of blood thirst. He winced inwardly. It was nothing he couldn't control, but it made him feel like a monster.
Slowly, the vampire sat up and turned to look at his lover — his savior — for a long moment, eyes traveling over every inch of his sleeping form. After a pause to gather his nerve, he reached out to slip a finger under the cords of Devin's beloved necklace.
Forgive me, Devin, he thought, but you'll have it back by dawn, one way or another. With a quick flick of his wrist, Allistair snapped the tightest cord and pulled the whole thing free of Devin's neck. As the mage began to stir, Allistair bolted for the door, hastily retying the cross at his throat. At the front door, he was confronted by Luciel. Allistair couldn't afford to be caught in the house; he stared up at the angel hopelessly.
The spirit had seen fit to show his wings, for whatever reason. They were basically brown and cream, but the large feathers were patterned with remarkable eyes, bars and speckles, like a pheasant's tail. In a different situation, Allistair thought, they would seem as warm and interesting as Luciel himself, but right now, that enormous wingspan seemed like a nonverbal threat.
Luciel's eyes were narrowed, one of the most unfriendly expressions Allistair had ever seen on his handsome face. "Is this the choice you make, then?" he asked quietly.
Allistair shuddered. The angel knew exactly what he meant to do. "Yes. For Devin's sake."
"Allistair?" came Devin's sleepy voice from the bedroom, followed shortly by a curse. Evidently the mage had noted the theft of his necklace. Allistair looked at Luciel desperately.
In the blink of an eye, the angel moved aside, clearing the doorway. "Then so be it," he said, his voice sounding like a pronouncement from on high, even though Allistair knew he spoke softly enough to not be heard by his protégé. A quick glance told the vampire that Luciel was watching him with a look of... regret?
He didn't have time to mull it over as he raced out the door, shifting into wolf form as he did so. In this body, he heard Devin's cry of betrayal all the more clearly.
Devin cursed again and frantically threw his clothes on, not caring that his buttons were mismatched and half of his shirttail was caught in his belt. "Luce! Stop him!"
The mage looked up from tying his boots, his expression one of stunned disbelief. "...What?"
The customary brightness in the angel's eyes seemed dimmed to gray, and his good cheer had likewise faded into grimness. "This is between the two of you now, Devin, and at this point, I will not interfere."
"Is this some kind of joke?" Devin asked as he rose to his feet, but his guardian's distant look told him there was no humor to be found in this situation.
"Find him, Devin. I will be by your side, as always, but... this is your task, and yours alone." With that somewhat ominous pronouncement, the angel faded from view. As promised, Devin could still sense his presence nearby.
What was this about? Allistair knew what that necklace was, and what it meant to Devin. Stealing it was a guaranteed way to get Devin to follow him. But follow him where, and for what purpose? Luciel had seemed unhappy, and if it were a game, Allistair surely would have awoken him before taking off, to ensure his participation.
The mage bit off a savage curse in Abyssal. What else had been on Allistair's mind — on both of their minds — so heavily in these past few weeks? Hating the very thought, but too practical to ignore it, he grabbed the enchanted stake from the corner of his desk before making his way outside. Pray to whoever's listening that I won't need it.
Unsurprisingly, there was no sight of Allistair, neither as man nor wolf, when Devin stepped out. He would be long gone, but of course, Devin could easily track him; they both knew that. Finding Allistair would not be the problem, so much as doing so safely. With a few minutes' head start, the vampire could be planting traps.
Or perhaps, Devin heard the doubting whisper in his mind, he's simply looking for a good place for a last stand...
The mage shook his head sharply and began setting the locator-spell. Usually, one used what the modern world called genetic material to provide the "target" of the spell: hair, fingernails, blood, or the like. The realization that he had of enough of Allistair still on him to set the spell easily made the mage first flush in embarrassment, then draw a shaky breath as he finally divined Allistair's intent earlier this night.
That was his farewell, Devin thought, his mood darkening further. A last hurrah. He ran his tongue over his teeth, still tasting a hint of the vampire's blood. It had taken a bit of that liquid euphoria to convince him to participate in the evening's revelry, but he hadn't regretted it. The fear of contact was instilled so deeply in him that he wasn't sure they would have been able to thoroughly enjoy themselves as they had without that bit of help.
Before he could fall into the trap of pleasant reminiscence and distraction, Devin pinched his arm sharply and focused on his spellworking. This was a matter of life or death, and he would need every iota of his iron concentration.
The locator-spell's effect was a bit hard to describe; you simply felt that your target was in a certain direction with an uncanny certainty. Following that mental compass now, Devin trudged deeper into the woods, lighting a mage-light as he reached the point where moonlight no longer penetrated the dense foliage. There were some disturbances in the leaves on the forest floor, evidence of a hasty flight, but the trail seemed to follow no existing path, and if Allistair had a specific destination in mind, Devin didn't know what it could be.
He walked on for the better part of an hour, following the psychic tug until he came to the edge of the forest. He now stood on the border of a fallow field, and several hundred yards in front of him was a run-down wreck of a barn. The locator-spell pointed firmly towards the dilapidated building.
Surely this was the barn where Allistair had sheltered until he came to live with Devin. But did he wait there now, or had he simply wanted to pass by a familiar place?
Cautiously, the mage approached the barn, keeping an eye out for anything that might be a trap. As he reached the threshold, his locator-sense flared into brightness — Allistair was here, and very close.
Perhaps because he knew he was about to be found, Allistair chose that moment to speak.
"So you came." His voice sounded flat and tired, as if he hadn't the strength for emotion.
"I did." Devin glanced around slowly, but he was now too close for the locator-spell to be useful, and he did not see Allistair with normal eyesight.
"I see you came prepared, at that." There was a hint of bleak amusement in the vampire's tone.
Devin looked down, grinding his teeth against the wave of despair that began to rise, inexorable as the tide. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Yes," was the simple reply.
"Allistair." Devin took a shuddering breath. He had never been good with words, but this was one argument he could not afford to lose. "This is stupid. I'm not going to fight you" — he couldn't bring himself to use the word kill — "over my necklace. Let's just go home, all right?"
"I'm sorry, Devin, but I can't pretend it's that simple anymore." Allistair's sigh was audibly pained. "I know it must gall you, but face it — there is no cure."
The comment stung in more ways than one. Of course, not finding the cure was supremely frustrating, but Allistair's implication that that academic concern meant more to him than Allistair himself...
"Dammit, Allistair, I don't care about the cure!" he exploded. "Christ, we've gone this long without it, we can keep on going." He faltered, his tone dropping from angry to hesitant. "Don't take the easy way out..."
"I've been trying to warn you, Devin. I can feel everything Jason said I would, one step at a time, right down the path to Hell." Allistair's words spilled out faster and faster until he came to a dead halt. "I will not," he continued in a more deliberate tone, as if through clenched teeth, "put you through that."
"So you'd rather I'd have to kill you instead?!" Devin demanded, his voice breaking.
"At least you'll be alive! And that's all that matters. It's too late to try to change my mind, love." The mage heard a footstep, and the wink of his mage-light reflecting on dark metal caught his eye. Desperately, he raised his arms in defense, scarcely in time to block the full body-blow of the black wolf. As it was, he was sent stumbling back several steps, trying to regain his balance and keep his ears open for the next attack.
His stagger had been costly; he only heard the single "thud" of a pair of paws before he was bowled over from behind, the wolf's breath hot on the back of his neck. The mage whipped his head to the side, hearing the wolf's jaws snap closed on the empty space where his ear had been. With Allistair slightly off-balance from the miss, Devin had a chance to roll to the side and jump to his feet.
The beast wasn't caught off guard for long, though, and before Devin could put together some defense, he pounced again, this time from the front. Now Devin could see the cross necklace dangling around the wolf's neck like an ornate dog tag; getting it back would not be simple.
Cursing, Devin kicked Allistair away sharply and scrambled to his feet again, finally drawing the stake from his belt. The black wolf growled menacingly from the darkness, and Devin could see those pale eyes reflecting the blue mage-light as the animal circled him just out of striking distance.
The best Devin could hope for now was to incapacitate Allistair by injury, physical or magical. And clearly, that wasn't going to be easy. The mage hoped that the enchantment on his slaying-stake was as drearily literal as most of the magic from the Middle Ages was; the inscription was defined to burst into flame at "the taste of heart's blood". Hopefully, that meant a literal strike to the heart. It was very common for the term to be used in that sense, and he was gambling on that now. Perhaps a blow to the leg or the hindquarters could stop the wolf without killing him.
Or perhaps Allistair would force his hand, after all.
He didn't have much time to dwell on it. With a low snarl, the wolf came rushing forward again, and showed no sign of slowing down. At the last moment, Devin hastily sidestepped the low strike and lashed out at the wolf's flank. There was a spark of fire, and a pained yelp, but it appeared that Devin's guess about the spell had been correct — it would only activate for a blow to the heart.
Still, the mundane stab to the leg had made the wolf more wary, and Devin could hear him limping now. Apparently, however, the pain alone wasn't going to be enough to change Allistair's mind. "Allistair, for fuck's sake, this is going too far!" the mage pleaded. "Just... stop it, so we- augh!"
The black wolf hadn't stopped to listen to his words, and had taken the opportunity to leap in and clamp down on Devin's left wrist. Trying to concentrate through the sharp pain, Devin shoved the stake back into his belt and reached out to touch the animal's head, firing a bolt of electricity. Without being written out, however, the spell simply wasn't strong enough; the wolf only growled and did not let go.
"Dammit, you stubborn son of a bitch," Devin snarled, gathering more power into his right hand. After a moment, he threw the aetherical fireball into the wolf's face, pulling his mauled hand away as the animal flinched and ducked its head.
The mage didn't even stop to cast a quick healing spell on himself; there was no time. Grimly, he drew the stake again. One or two more injuries like that, and he would be out of this fight.
Almost immediately, the strike came from the right. Devin saw fangs flashing and smelled his own blood in the wolf's breath as it leapt at his throat, knocking him off his feet again. There was a crazed look in the beast's eyes, and Devin wondered, startled, if Allistair had lost control of himself. Those savage teeth closed around his neck, but even through the tearing pain, the mage felt his windpipe being squeezed shut. The wolf had a predator's stranglehold on him.
Frantically, almost instinctively, the mage struggled for his freedom, striking at the wolf with the only weapon he had. The stake hit the transformed vampire like a club several times, but as his jaws tightened on Devin's throat, there was a sudden lack of resistance and a sickening, wet plunging sound. Throwing himself away from the injured mage, the wolf cried out piteously and collapsed. Devin had to fight just to sit up, but as he gasped for breath, he saw the stake lodged in the animal's ribs.
"Allistair!" The rush of fear-fueled adrenaline numbed his physical pain, and the mage tottered to his feet. As he approached, thinking to remove the stake, the wolf dissolved into dark mist, which then coalesced into the vampire's familiar human form. The change triggered the stake's enchantment, and the runes set into it began to glow. Devin barely had time to recognize the ghostly smile on Allistair's blood-smeared face before the stake burst into supernaturally hot flames.
"NO!" the mage screamed, darting forward. Arms caught him from behind.
can't stop it now, Devin," Luciel said quietly, his normally expressive
voice sounding empty. "The enchantment has already triggered; the
fire burns on its own now."
In the back of his mind, Devin knew this was true, but there had to be some way—!
"Mercy," came a rasping voice from the flames. The light was so bright that Devin could hardly make out the shape of a human within. "Devin, this is mercy."
"It's no mercy for me," the mage whispered as he stared at the fire. He would have fallen if Luciel hadn't held him. Now the angel gently turned him away from the sight of the flames.
"Come, Devin. You don't need to see this." Luciel's tone held the same overtone of weeping it had carried when Levalier had been killed.
But Devin made no reply, no sign that he had even heard. He stared blindly at the ground in front of him, the light of awareness fled from his gaze. The fire flickered silently behind them, casting long shadows.
Well. That was only three or four years in the making, folks. Don't forget to read the Epilogue (like you would, after this ending)! Devin's story will continue in a new arc with a new name, never fear. He's too loud a muse to just shut up. ;)