"I never knew such beauty could exist." Daniel slumped back in his chair, eyes wide and hands clenched on his thighs. "How have I never heard this before?"
"You have." Alexander crossed his leg and tapped his cane on the floor, the staccato bursts conveying his annoyance. "You used to go on at great length about how much you missed your music, your symphonies and your operas. Music and books were all you would ever talk about. That and mourning your-" He stopped abruptly, the cane falling with one final thump on the floorboards.
"Mourning who?" Daniel tried to fight the daze the music had lulled him into. Reluctant as he was to leave this blissful state, his curiosity was a powerful thing. "Who was I mourning?"
"Your former life. Your damned England and your even more damnable excursions to grope through the secrets of the past."
Liar, he thought, but even after almost ten years as the man's forced companion he was no wiser on the ways of parting Alexander from information that he did not want to share. He picked up the hat that he had thrown on the empty seat beside him and began to turn it around over and over in his hands. After a while Alexander reached over and plucked it from him. He set it on his own lap, a spidery hand over the top of it to keep Daniel from grabbing it back.
"I do not remember." He said, finally breaking the silence. He gestured over the edge of the box Alexander had reserved just for the two of them. "I don't remember liking the orchestra or even if I can play any of those instruments down there. You tell me I loved books just as passionately, but I cannot even tell you a single author I might have read. I remember the names of the famous ones, the ones everyone knows, but only as that: names. I have no," He spun his hand around searching for the words. "imprint of myself on them. Did I like them? Hate them? Had I even read them?" He pulled on a lock of his hair. "You have no idea how frustrating it can be."
Alexander was quiet a moment, his yellow eyes fixed on a point in the middle distance. "You're wrong. I do know how frustrating your continued amnesia is. I know all too well."
Daniel stood up and went to the edge of the box. Leaning over he watched the musicians begin to file in and once more pick up their instruments, preparing them.
"Is that why you brought me here? To see if you can jar something loose in here?" He tapped his head. There was no answer behind him. He grasped the railing so tightly his knuckles whitened. "Why would you-"He stopped himself from asking the question, not wanting to hear the answer, already knowing the answer.
Alexander had never stopped hoping, in all these years, for his Daniel to return. Whoever that man had been before the amnesia tonic, it had been the one person that Alexander had ever loved besides himself. The Daniel now before him was just a memento mori of sorts, something to hold at night and lie to himself with because they shared the same face and shape, but this Daniel was lacking that special spark that had attracted in the first place. He could feel the loneliness in Alexander sometimes late at night when the other man thought him asleep. It was like a howling maw of despair and self-pity threatening to devour the man whole. The only thing that kept it at bay was that preposterous hope; hope that his Daniel would come back.
It was on the tip of his tongue to share with Alexander an insight he had had, that even if a miracle occurred and the damage from the Damascus Rose undone, he would still never ever love him. There had been a reason he had taken the damned stuff in the first place after all, there had been a rift that Alexander had created between them himself. The fell creature seated behind Daniel could never be capable of love let alone be the recipient of it.
A pain bloomed behind his eyes. His vision blurred and he bit his lip, his hold on the balcony the only thing keeping him upright. Why do you always forget that I listen in? The mind-voice was a bestial snarl. Daniel struggled against it for a moment then admitted his defeat and submitted. One last growl that echoed in his head and set his ears ringing and Alexander was gone, curled up in his own mind to lick his supposed wounds. Daniel shook his head, tried to wipe the last traces of Alexander from it.
An eerie sound rose from the below them. It gradually increased in volume, notes trembling in the air. The orchestra was signaling that they were ready to start the last half of the concert. "Oh!" Pain and his 'lover' forgotten, Daniel stood on tiptoe to see the stage better.
"Come sit down, you look like a child." His voice was weary, but it held the slightest hint of fondness. Daniel frowned, but complied, taking his seat beside Alexander once more. He closed his eyes and let the music wash over him. It echoed through his bones, coursed through his blood. Shunted aside every dark though and terrible fear and left only a blessed blankness behind. It all felt so…purifying. It made him believe, for the first time since this new life had been foisted upon him, that it was possible to be cleansed, to rid himself of these sins that weren't truly his own and become…something else, something utterly his own.
When Alexander put an arm around him he barely noticed, too caught up in this new love that was awakening within him. He did not even stir when lips were pressed against his hair or hear the pleas in the other man's mind as he was held and for a brief time allowed it.
They dined somewhere extravagant and scrumptious, but Daniel did not care for the richness of meals and all the restaurants Alexander tried to impress him with bled together in his mind. He imbibed more wine than his usual amount-due to their conversation being more strained than usual- and was a bit ashamed that when he stood up he found that he needed Alexander's help walking to their carriage.
"I am terribly sorry." He mumbled for the hundredth time as he was handed into the cab.
"Think nothing of it. You were much worse in your days of laudanum stupor." A white flash across his brain and an image of himself standing in the rain, not a stitch on and Alexander watching him with a yearning and a lust so hard that it was akin to pain.
"I think you preferred me in that state." He huffed, a flush on his cheeks not altogether the fault of the alcohol.
"I did not at the time." A stab of regret and then Alexander settled his thoughts more firmly around himself. The image of a fowl fluffing out its feathers as it seated itself came to Daniel's mind and he burst out laughing. Alexander almost reached into his head to find the source of his sudden merriment, Daniel could feel the invisible fingers scratching their nails along his skull, but he seemed to lose interest and withdrew.
Daniel curled up on his side of the seat, immediately closing his eyes and pressing his forehead to the cool window. He felt Alexander climb in, the carriage tilting slightly at his weight. He was surprised when Alexander settled beside him, their clothes brushing in the cramped space. Of late Alexander seemed to want to distance himself from Daniel, always choosing the seat opposite, keeping that empty air between them as an impenetrable barrier. Alexander rapped his cane on the floor tock tock tock and the carriage lurched forward to their apartments.
"Is Paris agreeing with you?"
Daniel jerked, almost having fallen asleep. He pondered the question. "No more or less than any other place we've traveled."
"I see." A quiet that screamed with things unsaid fell.
"Why do we never go to England? It seems we have traveled the width and berth of Europe, but never once have we set foot there. If you were to find what you are looking for, it would be there, I dare say." If anything would trigger memories, surely it would be the land of his birth. He didn't need to open his eyes to tell that Alexander had his lips pressed together in a firm, immobile line and that the frown lines in his brow were as deep as chasms.
"Perhaps there are some things I am thankful you do not remember." Was all he said.
"Hm." Daniel thought of his fear of the dark and the scars on his back and did not press further. He wanted to tell Alexander that he was dreaming of a little girl of late, not the one in Brennenberg whom he had murdered, though she was often in his dreams as well. In this reoccurring dream the two girls played together in the sunlight, pausing when they sensed him, heads shooting up like startled deer. One's face held a trepidation, a wariness, that shamed him, but the other…She always smiled so broadly, so unreservedly, and he would think of stars cutting the darkness and warm fire keeping the shadows at bay. He bit his tongue. Alexander would never answer him if he asked, but oh, how it pained his heart that those sweet children would forever remain unnamed and barely remembered.
The air was cold tonight; winter was on its way. He stretched, and, after a moment's deliberation, turned to curl up against Alexander; the man was always warm. Alexander went stiff. Daniel had his cheek by his heart, unable to hear its beating through the thick wool of the cape he wore. A thought struck him. He opened his eyes and leaned back enough to see Alexander's face. Alexander hastily put a hand on his waist to keep him from tumbling onto the floor. "May we go again tomorrow?"
A slow blink of those yellow, feral eyes. "Where? The restaurant?"
"No, I don't care about where we eat, I never shall! The symphony. May we go again? Will you take me?"
A thoughtful expression, just shy of calculating, crossed Alexander's expression. "We will have to see."
"Please, Alexander, I really want to go."
Long fingers were tucked under his chin. "This is the first time you have ever asked me for anything." Was that the faintest of smiles tucked in the corners of that cruel mouth?
"Do not pout so. I will think on it."
They would see it again tomorrow, Daniel could tell by the glow that suddenly warmed against his mind and a stirring deep in the depths of the former baron's mind, as if something were about to take flight.
Alexander had thought hell had been those long centuries stranded in a dull and primitive land alone and half mad with despair. He had not conceived that it could ever become worse than those seemingly endless grey days. Then a cursed ingenue from England, all pleading eyes and too soft lips, had proven him wrong. The young man-and such a frail, harmless looking creature he had seemed-had given him his wildest dreams, his eternal hopes, on a platter and then flung them cruelly away. His chance to a homecoming: lost. The promise of an adoring and adored lover: dead before the consummation.
Alexander would be the first to admit that at times he took out his rage and despair on the man who wore the shape of his heart, but was he not also justified in it? Everything, everything, lost lost lost because of him.
But as cruel as he could be, Daniel still proved the cruelest of all. He watched his paramour bounce on one foot and then the other, eager for the opera to begin. "You will explain it to me, won't you? If I cannot understand it?"
"Yes, Daniel. I already gave you my word that I would." He tried to be annoyed, but could not help the traitorous smile from his lips. Still so beguiling in his manner, still so child-like in his pleasures.
"I had a thought." He sat down beside him. Alexander's breath caught ever so slightly when Daniel pressed against him. It was rare for him to touch Alexander willingly and he hungered for it, was starved for it.
"And what was that, my love?" His head canted ever so slightly to the right, just enough for the soft strands of Daniel's hair to brush his cheek.
"Can we…" A feather-light touch against his mind. Alexander flinched slightly, remembering when the boy had not been as trained. If thoughts could have left bruises… But as much as Daniel had protested his lessons at first, he had accepted them as necessary and shown some finesse with the subtle art of it. Alexander forced himself to relax and even let Daniel be the one to lace their minds together. It was hard to give up that control. He had had precious little control when he fell to this dreary world and the little he could grasp, he held on to with a death's grip. He hoped Daniel realized how much the gesture cost him and valued it for the precious gift it was.
I realized it would be easier this way than having you have to whisper to me throughout. You don't mind do you? A small squeeze on his arm and a tightening of their binding.
Alexander shivered. Not at all. The lights dimmed and Daniel's hand found his own. The fear of the dark was soon forgotten though as the music started. Daniel hung on every word, every note, and Alexander was enthralled with the emotions and the depth of the feelings that reverberated through the slight frame at his side. Who would be able to tell at a glance that the too slender man with the haunted eyes kept such passion hidden under that paper-thin skin and those oh-so-breakable bones? Alexander had known though, he had always known. He had seen it in the young waif that had found his way to his doorstep, the devil behind him, years and years ago. Had seen it instantly and had wanted to claim it-protect it- for his own. He had forgotten them, those feelings when he had first laid sight on his Daniel. He had lived almost a decade with naught but burning resentment and a stubborn attachment to a ghost in his heart and oh, it had hurt. But now, in the dark-Daniel's hand still in his own-with Daniel caught up in the music and Alexander very much caught up in Daniel, he realized that he was still capable of forgiveness, and still very much in love.
At the end of the opera Daniel withdrew from him. Alexander's thoughts clutched, like the grubby paws of a child, at Daniel's as they separated. He regretted that he had taught the boy too well, as Daniel deftly evaded their grabs. Daniel smiled, a small and mischievous lift of his lips, and he suddenly plunged his mind deeper into Alexander's, trailed mental fingers down a certain part that led to a spark of synapses like fireworks behind Alexander's eyes. He had to bite his lip hard to keep from moaning. Thank you. Then Daniel was back behind the barriers of his own will and standing up, walking away. Alexander wondered if he could throw the young man down, have him here and now. It had an illicit thrill to it.
Daniel laughed and shook his head. He pulled back the curtain that separated their private box from the hall and ducked through it. It was several moments before Alexander could follow.
The second seduction of Daniel was an easy thing. Alexander found himself for the first time being thankful to the Damascus Rose. What fine wines on his tongue and finer clothes against his skin could not do, librettos and concertos could spring open with no effort at all. Every night Alexander wooed with tickets and theaters; their pillow talk was fevered, whispered discussions on Dickens and Hugo. Daniel was finally not shrinking from the caresses and affections Alexander gave, so wrapped up in their discourse that he barely noticed a hand on his thigh, a kiss on his forehead.
"I wish I remembered these things. I wish I hadn't forgotten them." Daniel murmured sadly, their bodies entwined. Alexander's head was resting between Daniel's too prominent shoulder blades, a place Alexander revered almost as much as the scared hollow of his hip.
"I'm glad of it. Seeing you fall in love with them again, to be able to introduce them to you" He kissed the nape of his neck and smiled as Daniel leaned back against him. "It is the highest of honors."
Daniel turned around in his arms, still pressed tightly against him. Alexander rose up until their noses touched slightly. His little love looked so solemn. He was about to distract with kisses and deliciously lascivious thoughts, when Daniel put a finger to his lips, halting him.
"May I speak my mind? For a moment?"
"Of course, my love." He was instantly wary, his expression guarded.
"This has been nice, has it not? These last few weeks?"
"I have been very happy. So have you." It was accusatory.
"I have." Daniel admitted, long lashes obscuring his eyes. "I have been very happy. For the first time since I awakened in that darkened hall ten years past." He took Alexander's hand and laid it against his heart. "I would like to remain so." When Alexander did nothing but study Daniel's face, Daniel took a breath and continued. "I can sense your growing restlessness, I can feel the plans formulating within you once more. You want to try again for your portal. I'm not surprised by it, but am a bit astonished that it has taken you this long for these stirrings to begin."
A silver eyebrow arched. Daniel laced his fingers through his lover's. "Can you- Could you…not?" He plunged on in a deluge of words. "It's just that I feel we could find some sort of peace here, we might even find some sort of happiness as we are. Do you really need to ruin it? Cannot you content yourself with things as they are and not start up the bloodshed once again? Surely any journey that would cost so much would be damned."
"Are we not already damned, beloved?"
"Maybe. Yes, I think. But I also feel we can make some sort of amends here, at least try to. Then maybe…maybe Providence will reveal another way for you to go home. One that does not bear such a hideous price."
"I must pay for my sins here and if I am a good boy I will be rewarded by a god I do not believe in and whose religion I have naught but contempt for. You are not winning me over, Daniel."
"But-" He started, stopped to gather his thoughts. "If you go that route, if you once more walk that path of carnage, I will not walk it with you."
"You do not get to threaten me, little one. "
Daniel took a shuddering breath and Alexander found himself enthralled by the quiver in his lips, the shine of resolve in his eyes. "Do it for me then." He pled at last. "If you love me, if you want to…keep me, then please, just let it be."
"And I should just give up then? Wait here in this world in the cesspit of the multiverse for some other method to fall into my lap from you Providence or resign myself to being stuck here forever? How did you ever summon up the gall to-"
Daniel pulled away from him, stood up, his back a straight pale line in the gloom, his arms crossed tightly in front of him. "You have the temerity to expect me to relive what ruined me once before. Which is the greater crime?"
"I did nothing wrong."
Daniel laughed. "Maybe you need to realize that you did. If you won't admit that torturing innocents for your own gain for centuries was the most grievous of sins, maybe you will admit that you wronged me. If your sin has a face, one you claim to love so very much, does it make it more real to you? Does it become something your lofty and superior intellect can grasp?" He turned slightly and Alexander was able to see the curve of a cheek and the dark hollow of an eye. "Start up your games again and I will find a way to leave you, I do promise you that."
"You haven't been able to so far." Alexander sat up and gave Daniel's pillow an angry smack. "Cease the toothless threats and come back to bed. Lie down beside me again."
Daniel faced him, he was smiling and Alexander tried not to flinch from it. "I haven't escaped your shackles," he tapped his forehead, "because I have not been trying in earnest and when we first began our travels together I did not yet have the training to utilize this gift you have given me."
"You still cannot break free of me; you can never be free of me. We are bonded, you idiot."
"And I am sure there are limits to it. I just need time and patience, things I find I have in abundance now. As you told me many years ago, we have eons before us…my love."
"I think I am being more than fair with you. Much more fair than you have ever treated me. You have a choice, either go back to your home as fast as you can and lose me, or…" His voice trailed off and he shrugged.
"You little viper."
"Ask yourself where your heart lies, my former lord. If it truly is not with me anymore, than let me go and the devil speed your homecoming." As he turned to leave their room, a vase from their bedside table hurled against the wall and shattered. A fragment of porcelain grazed his cheek. He sighed and resumed walking, Alexander hurling curses in languages not even human at his back.
Paris was rather pretty at night. It seemed to be a city that never slept and the houses and streetlights were continuously alight, defying the darkness and pushing it back. It was something Daniel could appreciate and admire.
A blanket was draped over his shoulders and Alexander roughly took hold of him, pressing him against his chest. "Have you no shame? If are going to take in the night air, at least make sure you are suitably attired."
"No one will look up at our window this late at night. Besides, who would wish to look upon me?"
"More than you deign to notice. Cover yourself when you go by the windows, or else I will have to fight more duels than I desire for your honor."
Daniel laughed and shook his head. "So prone to exaggeration, Alexander. No one wants me, save you. Do you still want me?"
Alexander's breath was against his cheek and then a swift lap of tongue across the wound he had caused earlier from the vase.
"Yes, damn you. You. I choose you. It honestly was not any sort of choice from the onset. It will always come down to you."
"So bitter sounding, my love."
Alexander turned him around, hands tight on his upper arms. He shook him. "You do not get to leave me after this. If I set aside my quest, it means you are at my side willingly. Forever. And you better be damned grateful about it."
"I thought that that would be understood, love."
Alexander crushed their mouths together, devouring Daniel, trying to bruise and brand and possess all at once. A little while. He could stand to wait a little while longer. To appease Daniel. He knew how to open the gate already; it would take him less time than the previous attempt and he would have such a charming companion this time around to while away the years as he waited, as he secretly gathered and searched. And what his beloved did not know would not hurt Alexander.
One more chapter of epilogue left! Will Alexander learn his lesson or will he somehow screw up this truce Daniel has come up with? I know what I would place my bet on... And I disagree with New!Daniel. Opera is much better when you don't understand a word of it. I think Old!Daniel would back me up on this! Thank you for the lovely reviews and critiques, as always. Keep them coming!