Devin lay awake in bed, the faint strains of someone playing classical piano in the upstairs apartment tickling his ears. It wasn't horrifically loud, but it was precisely enough to keep him from sleeping. This wasn't the first time the upstairs neighbor had gone on playing into the wee hours, and on this particular night, Devin was feeling just annoyed and disagreeable enough to consider doing something about it.
Grumbling under his breath, the mage climbed out of bed and dressed quickly. Technically he was the landlord of this building; it had all belonged to his master, and having little need for so much space, Devin had rented out the top floor. That made for a palatial apartment, and he had little trouble keeping the space rented out to good, honest people.
Of course, he didn't handle the details himself. He hated that kind of tedium and let his lawyer deal with it. And he had seldom had any problems that necessitated his even meeting his tenants. He couldn't even remember who was in the apartment now — man, woman, family, whatever. Though a late-night piano player was probably single...
He closed his door behind him with a sigh before heading up the back stairs, letting his footfalls ring out as a forewarning of his approach. In spite of this, the piano playing continued unabated for the moment. It was really very skillful playing... just unwelcome at 2:00 AM. Trying to summon a sense of graciousness, Devin knocked on the apartment door firmly.
The playing stopped immediately and there was a pause before footsteps approached the door. Bolts were slid and locks were turned before the door opened a few feet, and Devin finally saw his current tenant.
His first impression was "fey". The man appeared to be in his mid to late 20s and had a build similar to Devin's, slender and not tall; his skin was unnaturally pale and made his razored black hair stand out all the more against his face. And his eyes... they were an odd color that fell somewhere between gray and blue. They were mesmerizing — and as Devin thought of that very word, he realized what this man was.
He backed up several steps in alarm, only to see that the man was looking at him in equal astonishment and fear. As Luciel materialized next to the mage, silently summoned by his protégé's sudden surge of emotion, the vampire in the doorway gasped and staggered backwards, eyes wide in something like terror.
"Daniel? Daniel, what's wrong?" As Devin stood there, stunned, a young man, no older than twenty, certainly, came to the vampire's aid. He was human, but Devin could tell from the way he regarded this "Daniel" that they were lovers, and he felt a sharp pain in his chest.
You're making the biggest mistake of your life! he wanted to shout as the youth looked at him for some explanation, but he struggled to hold his tongue. If this vampire was not a killer, he had no right to interfere, did he?
"I'm... the landlord," the mage finally managed to say, rubbing his left temple. After what had just happened in the space of the last few seconds, that sounded absolutely ludicrous, but he had come up here for a very specific, and very comfortably mundane, reason. "Devin Mercure."
The vampire stared at him in disbelief for a long moment, then seemed to draw on some inner sense of composure as he took a deep breath to steady himself. "Daniel Renard. Pleased to meet you." His smile at this ironic bit of pleasantry was rather wan. "Joshu here," he indicated the young man, "is a visiting friend."
Joshu nodded politely to Devin, watching him with worried eyes. He knew precisely what Daniel was, it seemed, and was now afraid that Devin knew also.
"..." The mage was at a loss for something safe to say. As he looked at Daniel again, he noted how the vampire seemed to be trying to avert his gaze from Luciel. Frowning, he reached out to the angel telepathically.
He can see you? I don't like it.
He's got very unusual gifts, that one, was Luciel's unruffled reply. If he were human, I'd call him a psychic. He has very powerful "sight", so to speak.
But not mage-sight? This was crucially important to Devin; if the vampire was a mage or had the potential, he could either be a danger in and of himself or as a pawn of some unscrupulous sorcerer.
It doesn't seem like it. But he can see both of us for what we are, and it must be quite terrifying. Luciel sounded sympathetic, and in Devin's mind, that sealed his conclusion that this Daniel was no monster. Just give him a summary so he's not left wondering, and leave it be. He has enough burdens, I think.
Right. The truth was, Devin really did not want to get involved. He would have been happier not knowing of the vampire in the upstairs apartment with his little mortal lover. It seemed some sort of slap in the face from Fate to find them here, where he really couldn't escape from them, now that he knew of them.
He cleared his throat slightly, looking from the nervous Daniel to his companion. The dark-haired boy was the taller of the pair by a few inches, and looked as though he would try to protect Daniel if it came to blows. Of course, that was patently ridiculous; any vampire would be able to defend himself against a normal human's physical strength. But, as Devin knew, love didn't take such things into account.
"I didn't come here to... DO anything," he said finally. "Yes, I'm a mage, but..." Unable to find anything really sensible to say at this point, he shook his head.
"I... see." Daniel was watching him intently, his posture still showing his tenseness, and Joshu simply stared, unable to see the proof of Devin's bizarre statement. "I promise you, Mr. Mercure, I am no murderer."
Joshu inhaled sharply, realizing that Devin did know precisely what Daniel was, and that Daniel had answered in kind. He looked between the two of them, biting his lip.
"I believe you," Devin said with a sigh. This entire confrontation was making him literally heartsore. "But if I hear of anything — suspect anything —"
"Do you threaten me out of some sense of duty?" Daniel said a little sharply. There was pain in his eyes, however, as Devin met his angry glance. They stared at each other for a long moment, until the vampire let out a little gasp and looked away.
"Maybe I do," Devin said lowly, eyes narrowed. What had the "psychic" just seen?
"Your heart isn't in persecution," the vampire said with quiet certainty. "Evict me if you wish, but kindly do not delve into my personal life."
Devin shook his head. "I won't. Do either of those things, I mean." His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. Oh, he did want to intervene, all right... He wanted to talk some sense into young Joshu before he ended up—
No, that was far too painful to think about right now. "I just," he managed to continue, "wanted to ask you to tone down your playing this late."
Daniel stared at him blankly, then laughed quietly. There was little mirth in the sound. "Of course. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
"Maybe you should consider a rug," the mage said vaguely, now just wanting a way out of this encounter. He gave Luciel a slight signal, and the angel obligingly disappeared.
"I suppose that couldn't hurt," Daniel was musing. He jumped in surprise as Luciel made his exit, then seemed to relax. Devin supposed he had never seen an angel before, particularly one as strong as Luciel; it couldn't have been a comfortable few minutes having something shining like a small sun a few feet away from you — especially if the sun was your enemy.
"I'll pay for it, if you want," Devin offered, "but... as nice as the music is, it's keeping me up at night." He began to back away from the door, making a slow retreat.
"That's all right, Mr. Mercure, I'll take care of it." The vampire came up to the door to see his visitor off. "Please, if it's still bothering you in the future, let me know."
A bit surprised at the man's civility, Devin simply nodded. "Er. Well then... good night." He glanced from Daniel to Joshu before turning away and heading down the stairs.
"Good night, Mr. Mercure," came the soft reply behind him, followed by the closing of the door.
The mage all but fled back to the safety of his home, his room, his bed, where he collapsed in a fit of violent shuddering. He struggled to contain the gasps, almost sobs, that threatened to choke him as he lay there, curled in fetal position. Luciel, of course, was at hand, hovering nearby protectively, but letting Devin wrestle with his grief in privacy.
He didn't really want to wrestle; it was very tempting to just slip into blackness and give up for the night, but he knew that dreams would haunt him as he slept, just as memories haunted his waking mind now.
"Why, Luce? Why? Why do I have to see this happening again?" he struggled to say. God, why was he so weak? It sickened him, even though he knew, rationally, that he had the same right as any other human to mourn his loss.
Luciel's presence was immediately closer, and accordingly, Devin felt the weight of another body on the bed. "It's merely coincidence, Devin, although a cruel one." The angel laid a hand comfortingly on Devin's arm.
"What the hell do I do? Just leave them? And know that that boy is going to be totally fucked, one way or the other? That this Daniel could be digging his own grave?" Frustration at his helplessness was subsuming the black despair now, as Devin rolled over to look at his guardian.
"I think they both know the risks," Luciel said gravely, "just as you and he did."
That stilled Devin for a long moment. If they really knew what lay in store, they wouldn't take their chances. But... it was of their own free will. Hell, maybe they would be the lucky ones to cross that perilous bridge successfully. Devin couldn't know, and he had no right to intrude, no right at all.
But damn it, it hurt!
"Try to forget about it, Devin," the angel advised, with a small smile that acknowledged how very difficult a feat that would be. "And get some sleep."
Devin wiped his eyes roughly with his sleeve, although he hadn't actually shed many tears. His eyes burned, but his little fit had passed. "Heh. I don't know about sleep tonight, Luce. I might be better off staying up reading..."
Luciel frowned. "I'm not sure I agree, Devin, sleep heals... But if that's what you think is best..." He rose to leave the room, turning to look at his protégé as he stood in the doorway.
The mage sighed deeply. He was still afraid to go to sleep right now, to let his unconscious roam into locked places; a few hours' worth of dry reading would perhaps still his whirling thoughts enough to give him the mercy of a dreamless sleep. "I'll get some sleep sometime, Luce... just not right now."
"All right. I'll be around," Luciel said with a slight smile as he faded from view. He had stepped off of the Physical Plane for now, but Devin knew he could be summoned back by a thought if need be.
However, Devin had no intention of doing anything for the rest of the night that would require the angel's assistance. No, he was just going to exhaust his mind as thoroughly as possible. With another sigh, he picked up the tome that sat on his bedside table, turned on the lamp, and sank into some old sorcerer's account of negotiating trade with a cantankerous dragon.
Daniel leaned heavily against the door for a long moment after he closed it, eyes shut tightly. Cautiously, Joshu laid a hand on the composer's shoulder.
"Daniel...? Did he do something...?" the young man asked worriedly. Their visitor hadn't seemed overly aggressive, but there was something sharp and cold about him that made Joshu concerned for Daniel's safety.
"No, not at all." With a sigh and a small smile, the vampire pushed himself away from the door, slipping an arm around his companion's back and guiding him back to the couch. It didn't escape Joshu's notice that the older man's hand was shaking slightly before the two of them sank into the black leather cushions.
"Then... what's wrong?" Joshu finally asked after a few seconds of silence. He looked sidelong at Daniel, who was leaning into his shoulder. Usually, this position was reversed; the violinist knew his lover was truly shaken by what had just occurred.
Daniel's lips pressed together, as if he were trying to decide how much to say, then he raised his head to meet Joshu's eyes. "That man — Devin — he has known and loved a vampire before," the composer said softly, sorrow dimming the usual intensity of his gaze.
"Oh!" Joshu's eyes widened. No wonder Devin had stared at him almost as hard as he had stared at Daniel. But Daniel spoke in the past tense, and that simple fact would not have disturbed the vampire so deeply. "What happened...?"
Daniel closed his eyes again, then looked at Joshu with a small, sad smile. "The vampire, by his own choice, was destroyed before Devin's very eyes.
Joshu's gasp was muffled by the hand raised to his mouth. "Oh... oh no..." He could only begin to imagine what that must have felt like; Daniel, on the other hand, had probably felt that agony directly from Devin's mind, thanks to his peculiar psychic abilities. Doubtless, seeing Daniel, let alone Daniel and Joshu together, had brought such painful memories to the forefront of the mage's consciousness. No wonder he had all but fled. "Is that... going to be a problem for you?" Joshu finally asked softly. "Your living here, I mean..."
"Mm... I'm not sure. I'd like the chance to speak to him again in a less... surprised situation." Daniel smiled thinly. "Perhaps I shall write him a note and let him decide when he'd be the most comfortable."
The violinist nodded; that sounded safest.
"I think," Daniel continued unexpectedly, "that he felt some concern for you in particular, Joshu."
"Me? Because you're a vampire?" Joshu asked hesitantly.
"Mm. And because he fears you will go through the same pain he's seen and felt." The composer's eyes were distant for a moment.
"Oh..." After hearing all of this, Joshu could truly feel sorry for the haggard landlord. Some day, would he have to face such horrors? Was it inevitable? He knew Daniel was unhappy as a vampire, but enough to let himself be killed?
As if reading the younger man's thoughts — and maybe he was — Daniel raised a hand to Joshu's face and drew him into a kiss, telling him without words that no, he wasn't going anywhere. Maybe such a fate was inescapable anyway, but Joshu let himself be comforted by his lover's assurances. Didn't the saying go that "it was better to have love and lost"?
Daniel had no intention of explaining the full circumstances of the death of Devin's beloved to Joshu. It was very clear to Daniel that while Devin had been the one to strike the fatal blow, every bit of his body and soul had been against it. Daniel felt the black anguish that rose in the mage's soul when he had realized the extent of his and Joshu's relationship, and while he could speak of all this in words... he wasn't sure he could truly convey the depth of that pain to Joshu. Yes, Devin had killed his lover, but out of instinctive self-defense, rather than simply obeying the vampire's wish for annihilation. It was numbingly tragic.
He wished he hadn't been so dumbstruck by what Devin was; he had been too awed and disturbed to be polite or sympathetic. He knew he had startled the mage badly, both by his nature and by his very obvious sensing of the man's emotions. Normally, he would have apologized profusely for such a breach, but there had simply been too many things going on at the time.
With his first glance at Devin's aura, he had been wary. A sigil on the aura marked a mage, clear as day for someone with Daniel's sight, though not all mages bore them. Daniel smiled faintly now as he realized Devin's sigil was possibly an allusion to his last name: a caduceus, the winged staff of Mercury. He remembered his maker's strong warning to stay far, far away from such magic-users. Some of them had the power to destroy a vampire easily, and would not hesitate to use it.
And if that hadn't been alarming enough, the mage's aura had revealed yet another layer of strangeness; it sparkled, something his maker had warned him against with no real explanation. "Stay away from anyone with a glittering aura," she had told him, "far, far away. They're nothing but trouble, and odds are, they won't like you very much. They can drive even mortals quite mad..."
Well, here was Devin, and perhaps he didn't like Daniel very much, but somehow, he didn't seem as dangerous as Marissa had implied. What did that sparkling aura indicate? And did it come in different levels or degrees? Perhaps it was a specific type of mage, but the way Marissa had described it.... she had said "even mortals", not "other mortals". Some supernatural creature? Was Devin no more human than Daniel himself?
But these were ponderances for another time. As shaken as he was, all he wanted to do at the moment was curl up quietly with Joshu for the rest of the night. Fortunately, he knew Joshu wouldn't mind that in the least.
Clearly, this occurs entirely after Deprivation, probably by a few months. Devin doesn't seem to have much luck at all in living a quiet life ^^; But this is finally the event that ties the two storylines together. It remains to be seen how often everyone's paths will intersect from here on out...