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[center As Leviathan seemed lost to his thoughts, at least for a short time, Dante busied himself with the task of fetching plates. He cared not for meat too well done, his preference very much for it on the rare ride, so his work was to be quick. He paused in between only to flip the steaks. The vegetables he’d put in the oven were now coming along nicely, he’d discovered. With a low, triumphant hum he set off to fetch a bottle of wine and set it out to breathe. Better to give it the time now.
As he worked, he was very much aware of Leviathan—more than he would’ve liked to be. While it seemed foolish to think it entirely independent of self preservation, he could privately admit to a morbid interest in the other man. He was, after all, not of his realm, having emerged from deep within the earth from a place he didn’t care to imagine. He also possessed abilities which he had barely experienced but knew well enough to be fearful of. In this case, he decided it best not to know, but still—he could wonder.
The sudden recollection of his warning to Leanne bounded to the forefront of his conscious mind. Ha. To think those words should pay him a visit at such a time. He was no more curious than he possessed the desire to die. And with that, he supposed he cared not for learning too much too quickly about his newest flat mate of sorts. Sure, he was—formidable. That, however, lent not to justification for foolish endeavours or hapless ventures. No, he much more desired to maintain some semblance of comfort even in his newfound circumstances.
Ambling away from the standalone breakfast car where he’d set their places opposing one another, he reached for the Cabernet he’d set out for the evening. It was a lovely, rich blend that would compliment their dish well, and as he took in the aroma, he could practically taste the individual components. The most prevalent, however, were the berries. Blackberry and perhaps blueberry if he was correct. Hints of chocolate and the faintest bit of tobacco.
Despite everything, he was polite in setting out a pair of glasses for them and pouring the appropriate amount, relegating the wine to the space between them for easy access. When Leviathan next spoke, he did make a fair point. Perhaps it was best not to dwell on the past. Perhaps this was to be the start of a new and exciting chapter, but truthfully, only time would tell. Dante had never been one for speculation. Everything about his life seemed to rely on the facts. His profession, his outlook, and all that guided his decisions. Blind faith or strong opinions based in emotion felt rather useless where practicality was sure to prevail.
With the passing of their dinner, he seemed to fall more deeply into his contemplation, succumbing to the depths of more serious and demanding thought. He’d cleaned up, of course, had taken himself straight to the shower, and once entirely clean had taken the care to dry and slither between silk sheets for the night with his still-damp locks. Despite Leviathan’s presence in his home, he slept soundly, and come the morning when he rose to brush his teeth and cleanse his visage, the blond actually felt refreshed.
The first thought to cross his mind was the relief Spencer’s death had brought him. He was sure it wasn’t misplaced, but it certainly wasn’t something to remark on to anyone but Leviathan, perhaps, if ever, and a trusted therapist. He had no present interest in either option, so he decidedly would keep his sentiments to himself.
Stretching as he left his room, Dante recalled vaguely what he’d explained to Leviathan the night before of his plans for the day. Being that he had work, that meant going to the society, but once he was finished there for the day, a tour of the city could be arranged. Now, as he ventured into the kitchen, the man rubbed drowsily at the back of his head, locks sticking up at humorously odd angles. If Leviathan wanted to be entertained he would try his best, but he would only allow so much disruption where his life was concerned.
Upon his entrance to the kitchen, he barely seemed to register or acknowledge the other, lids heavy and movements most relaxed. There came something of a morning greeting as he set about the preparations for a smoothie, perfectly comfortable in his skin and—apparently nothing else. To his credit, he [i had] very plainly stated his habits, and if Leviathan thought they would shift simply for him? He was deeply mistaken.
Now in his bare state, his skin revealed a few secrets. Like the tattoo that crept along his left hip and gracefully wrapped backward and swept a short distance along his thigh or the dimples set just above his backside. He was relatively free of flaws or uncomely marring of his flesh and lucky for it. “Hungry?” He said at last, seemingly returned to his reserved self. Perhaps it was the morning... or perhaps he truly was this fickle. Open and very much willing to be known in one moment but entirely distanced and polite in the next.
Today, he intended to show him a bit of his work and what his world looked like on a daily basis, but who knew how [i that] might end up. Of course, he was also free to roam if he trusted that he would be able to find his way back to Dante’s home, but he didn’t doubt that while that could have been the case that he might just go along with his whims for the day.
Selfish? Undoubtedly. That is the very nature of man. [i But, you’re not a man, are you?]
It was subtle, a quick flash of something that seemed to bubble suddenly from beneath the surface of his shallow, green pools. In the same instant it had appeared, it vanished, its trace gone as soon as Dante turned his head. It seemed familiar. To a lesser demon, it might have invoked some sense of unease, forced them to quit while ahead. But Leviathan had fought, welcomed, and banished all manner of otherworldly beings from his domain and beyond. There was little the Gatekeeper had come to fear in his long - some would say, [i too long] - life. This was no exception.
All the serpent could do, really, was listen. Dante seemed intent on speaking for long, unbroken periods of time. And Leviathan was none too interested in interrupting him. It had been so long since someone had spoken to him so freely. Perhaps he should have removed the man’s heart, as opposed to giving him some mercy with just the gust of wind. Would he be so casual, then?
He set himself against the island counter, back facing the other. His bare foot up against the dark wood as he eyed the grey granite tops. He listened to the sound of the knife against the butcher’s block. Listened to the sizzle of the oil as it hit the hot pan, the rendering of the fat as the steak cooked in the cast iron skillet. Forget the last time he’d carried on a conversation, one sided as it was, for now… It had been longer still since he had tasted something other than the raw flesh of an insipid little imp.
Was the response of his so ‘funny,’ as the other had put it? Was the simple conclusion of simply ‘not knowing’ him sufficient? Was it [i appropriate]? Leviathan turned his head to glance behind him, skeptical, brows knitted together with the first genuine inch of concern, as little as it was.
Hell is a deep place. Far be it from Leviathan to admit he remembered every soul that had the misfortune of coming into contact with the Gatekeeper, or incurring his wrath. There had been many - not all dealt with directly. The easiest solution was to simply [i ask]. The more entertaining solution was to observe.
When Dante was finished, Leviathan stood upright. After a moment, and a breath, he spoke. “Well, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you were somehow so… undignified a creature.” If Leviathan should be an indisputable exception to man's imperfection, so too, should his companion when the subject is of humanity. It was the singular quality that made them so precious to their creator. A caring and a compassion for others. A quality which Dante was clearly, severely, lacking. There was a wickedness behind the snake’s gentle smile that followed his statement. “Perhaps it is time that we stopped dwelling on the past, and looked towards the future. Where shall you take me tomorrow? I’d like to see what a human of your stature does in his everyday life.”
The silence shared over dinner - and into the night - had been a nice change of pace, for the serpent, at least. It gave him time to suffer with the thoughts of his unusual predicament. Standing perched outside against the railing of the guest room’s balcony, Leviathan began to ponder. Who might be able to answer his questions, should he choose to return to the depths for a period of time? It wasn’t the notion so much that gave him pause - it was the [i lecture] he would receive from his brothers. He could hear Lucifer now:
[i “You’re always out gallivanting on the surface with those urchins. Gone for hundreds of years at a time, ignoring your responsibilities!”]
A few hundred years worth of work never hurt [i anybody]. Least of all the crown prince, who had spent the last 700 years or so, sealed away by his own foolish doing.
[i ‘I’m sick of covering for you, Leviathan.’] Behemoth might say to him, snarling and breathing hot stench through flared nostrils. Stomping his hooves and shaking the depths. Such a temper on that beast. Satan might rise from the earth himself and attempt to drag his brother back to his home in molten rock himself. Even if it meant incurring the wrath of the angels. Leviathan chuckled in spite of himself. No one [i wanted] another Holy War, but what he couldn’t say was that none of his brothers would [i begin] one, if it meant serving their own needs. It is what they were best at.
Dissension would overtake his brethren for a few days, weeks perhaps, before everyone would return to their rightful duties. They would argue fiercely over who had to shoulder Leviathan’s post. How he would love to be the imp on the ground, watching patience wane on everyone as time wore on. For now, he would immerse himself in the lifestyle of his new pet. Just as soon as the sun rose, he moved his way back into the kitchen… and waited.
[center Ugh, how [i rude]? Dante blinked for a moment, more surprised and offended than anything. His remark about them not being equals was unnecessary as he was very much aware of this much. It also made him feel particularly irritated to acknowledge such a high-handed remark, so he simply rolled his eyes. How... dramatic. Was such a violent gust so necessary? Dante fixes his clothing, caring not for his tousled hair. Really, it should’ve shocked and unsettled him, but after what he’d seen today, there was nothing that would likely surprise him immediately.
Was he in shock? He didn’t feel to be in shock, but perhaps you didn’t know it even when you were. Yet he was functional, perfectly capable of thought and reaction and emotion. How could he be in shock? Perhaps disbelief was a more appropriate descriptor for the emotion he was experiencing.
It was more than he felt even when those eyes had been more or less peering into his soul. They should’ve invited fear, but something very different had stirred in its place, and Dante was unsure he approved of it. “I am eerily accepting? You gave me very specific options regarding my choice. Yours or death. I am a selfish being. I chose life, and my choice was not wrong. As for my alleged ambivalence—“ he began, his eyes—which had wandered over the course of his explanation—returned to Leviathan’s. “I’m unsure what you want me to say.”
Was he expected to agonise? Death, however shocking, came to them all. It was the result of being so fragile in comparison to all of the ancient and more permanent things that rivalled their existence.
“It should also be noted, I never beg. Maybe that’s your cup of tea, but it isn’t mine. And where your final question is concerned—“ Something dark slithered in the depths of his eyes. Something which might have gone easily missed. It flickered across his clear pools—a shadow—something sinister and unknown. “You wouldn’t be the first nor the last to inquire.”
However, the response seemed to come from somewhere—different. His disposition had been markedly calm since their first initial tête-a-tête, but it seemed to be steadily giving itself over to something more composed and terribly inclined to accept the passing of horrors before his eyes. Dante turned away from him and moved to the fridge to look about what he’d prepped for dinner the night before.
“Spencer, my husband, whom you so callously dispatched. I wished for it. I wished him gone. I wished him dead. It’s not an uncommon emotion for me. There isn’t anything misplaced about it.” He explained, drawing out something that had been wrapped and deposited in the fridge on a platter.
The mysterious thing went onto a butcher’s block and he saw to cleansing his hands. The oven went on for the purpose of preheating, and he tied a simple black pinny on to avoid ruining his clothes. A rather vibrant and aromatic slab of meat was unwrapped, clearly having been in the process of marination, and from a nearby knife block, he drew an impressive implement to commence his work.
“Spencer was,” he began, making his first cut. “Lovely to start. But he was, like all of us,” he offered giving Leviathan a pointed look to mark him an exception to his statement. “Imperfect. Most of us,” Another sure cut of the blade as he carved some rather delectable steaks. “Come to terms with the imperfections of our partners. I loved him, I married him, I risked much for what turned out to be very little. No amount of apologies, hate fucking, or promises could reconcile for the sorts of flaws he possessed. So we were in the course of getting a divorce. His death is a lot more—absolute. But it freed me of my obligations to him nevertheless.”
Was it cold? Yes. Did he care? No. He had loved Spencer once, or at least he believed he had. He must’ve to have gone to the trouble of marrying him, right? Yet, this seemed to have no bearing on what he felt now—which, remarkably—was hardly anything at all. He was meant to grieve a man he had wished gone on many occasions, but he had no desire to play the bereaved. “I think that’s the problem with most of us. Very much concerned with the expectations of others. I do what’s necessary in my profession to be successful, but I have no desire otherwise to waste time or energy on pretences. Towards the end, I very much detested him for a myriad of reasons, but I suppose I was still fond enough of him to resent his death. How I feel about you is still something in the making.” He announced, laying down his knife.
The slabs were carefully arranged on what looked to be cast iron, and he busied himself next with preparing some vegetables. “While I can respect that you have more than enough ability to dispatch me in much the same fashion, I can’t say that I particularly feel concern regarding this. I don’t know why. I’ve always been this way.” One of the reasons he didn’t have friends to show for all his wealth.
“So I find it funny that you seem to be perplexed by my reaction, but I suppose that’s because you don’t know me well enough.”
[i He will soon know us very well. The way Spencer did.]
“I suppose what I’m saying is—he would have met his end. One way or the other. Whether you were responsible or not.”
[i Yes.] came a small assent. [i We would have ensured it.] He had little tolerance for what annoyed him, but unlike others, his desire to be rid of it surpassed what might’ve been considered acceptable. Divorce had been the closest to a death they could come by legal standards, so he’d taken the out, but this was much more preferable. He’d never have to see him again, wouldn’t have the guilt of Spencer’s family saying he’d abandoned their marriage, and his assets would be safe. All in all, it had worked out rather well.
The man was on a pendulum, Leviathan concluded. As such, there was little time to respond appropriately to the wealth of information spilling forth from the other’s mouth. The serpent stared blankly, eyeing through the clothes he’d been given while Devon – David? – prattled on. He wasn’t listening to the content, but to the tone, cadence, and distinct loss of diction. It may have been normal to any other human, but to a demon, it all sounded quite like hysterics. There was no nuance to be had in the way he spoke – just unbridled annoyance. It is generally easy for a demon to discern a human’s underlying thoughts, meanings, and motives. But this Damon – God, what [i was] his name again? – seemed particularly transparent.
He’d finished talking, and Leviathan’s head perked up, bringing him out of his own thoughts. Well, that was certainly a [i turn].
And it was also a problem.
Leviathan took in a deep breath as he finished donning the shirt that he was graciously gifted. Underwear, socks, and slacks to follow. Much more comfortable, but now, there was the issue of the insect in his face. A simple tap to the chest is all it was in gesture, but in action, a gust of wind erupted from nowhere and everywhere in the draftless house. “You’re too close.”
Cold, dark eyes stared down at Dante’s position. Unnatural. Unforgiving. Unwilling to compromise. “Make no mistake – this body may look mortal,” He made a vague gesture with his hand in front of his chest, “but you are [i not] my equal.” It was uncomfortable to think about, the ache in his shoulder had started to burn. The stress of having someone so [i near], and without reason, made him want to boil over. The feeling threatened to consume him. But the distance he had created between them seemed to be enough to stop him from lashing out. Though he pondered the thought for a moment. He placed his right hand over the opposite shoulder and sighed, eyes closed.
It would have been a humorous moment; had he not been so spectacularly irritated. “As for your question… It’s simply unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.” It was, perhaps, the least insulting way to describe their time together. For Christ’s sake, he had watched a man he knew pulled into the ground and dissolved by hellfire, had his eternal soul tainted by, and bound to, a demon, who had given him a choice between servitude and death. What would [i anyone], demon and man alike, make of such a lackluster response?
It didn’t matter the reason – What was clear, was his subject’s disposition, and its hindrance to what the ancients would commonly refer to as ‘a good time.’
“Someone you know,” Leviathan paused, opening one eye to peek at the other, “Someone I presume once loved – dispatched in front of your eyes, and you are… you seem eager to accept me as his replacement… No, that’s not quite it. You seem…” More willing than anything, and dare Leviathan say, welcoming and accepting. As though his calling had been on purpose, indeed. What was he to do in such a situation? “You’re begging for him back one moment, silent the next, and eerily accepting of it all. What [i ever] is wrong with you?” The corner of Leviathan’s mouth perked to the side, and he folded his arms. A small taunt, for which he wasn’t expecting any sort of wit in return. But if there were an answer to be had here, the serpent wanted to know.
Leviathan was never in the business of frightening his subjects into submission. Not like Lucifer, who openly remarked from his eternal prison that he would sooner see the human race extinguished than to forge a contract with one. Or Belphegor, who was more apt to devour a human – flesh, bone, soul, and all – than to speak to one. But if it was one thing he and his brethren could agree on, it was that humans made the perfect puppets. Blank canvases on which demons could project their wants and desires. They were so malleable that way. In this regard, the blond posed an unattractive challenge. The only way, Leviathan thought, that he might have any chance of rectifying this unexpected turn of events, was to bide his time. After all, he had 1,000 years to figure it out.
[i [b Everyone]] breaks, eventually.
[center If there was anything in the way of objection, none of it showed. Despite his tense demeanour, he didn’t feel the clawing need to escape or the desire to further complicate his already positively wretched entanglement. If this was to be the way of things, then it seemed he would simply have to accept his circumstances.
Yet... did it not come a bit too easily? Was it not—strange not to feel worry? Fright? Even discomfort? After a time, he’d even managed to relax enough to have the other attendant his back as he’d led the way up, and he wasn’t sure what that could possible mean, but it was something that he didn’t dwell too long upon.
Instead, he tossed his keys into a ceramic bowl housing a beautiful little likeness of medusa atop a sleek credenza. His shoes were already off, and in the span of time that Leviathan had disappeared to raid his wardrobe, he’d decidedly taken two Valium and swallowed down an obscene glass of water.
Much... much better. Well, soon to be. Turning away from the sink once his glass was washed and put away, he wandered into the living room and plopped into the buttery leather embrace of his couch. What a hateful day... he’d have to eventually deal with Spencer’s disappearance, too, but for now perhaps that was the biggest highlight? No more nagging soon to be ex husband. It took a weight off his chest and it shouldn’t have.
Where was all of his terror and languish over the man’s death now? Why had it so quickly faded? Did that make him a monster? Was he evil? Did he care? Probably not. No—decidedly, he did not care. Heaving a grand sigh, Dante allowed his mind to wander back to Leviathan’s remark.
His ambivalence was disturbing? Just that? It would be the least of what others found disturbing about him, he was certain, but hearing it from a literal daemon—he was a daemon, right?—did not bode well. Eyes slipping shut, he marinated on the thought, only roused from his reverie by the sudden resurfacing of his new flat mate.
“In order of submission, my name is Dante.” He peeked one eye open at him and had to stifle a laugh. How ridiculous. He could understand his desire for coverage, but this simply wouldn’t do. Picking himself up from the couch, the blond ambled into the guest room and sought out the clothes he still possessed of Spencer’s. Well, in name, anyway.
“Here,” he said upon his return. “You two are about the same size-wise, so that’s convenient. He never wore any of this, so there’s plenty there. Too rich for his tastes, I suppose.” He snorted. “Heavens forbid I should ever shop for him for an occasion. He always ended up in jeans and some generic button-down anyway.” That and his late husband seemed to always have a complex regarding his spending money on him.
The garb he offered were a pair of dark grey tailored slacks, silk boxers, socks, and a black cashmere turtleneck. “Perhaps they weren’t actually meant for him. Who knows. And as much as I can appreciate a good physique,” he began, giving him a proper once over. “It’s rather illegal for you to be out in the world like that. They’d sooner fine and jail you. Within the bound of my home, I don’t care if you want to dress or not.”
He slept naked, rose naked, and consumed his breakfast naked . “As for your quarters, you can take the room where all of those clothes are. I’m not sure any of the shoes will fit you, but I suspect we’ll have to shop regardless for some such. And for the record, what is so disturbing about my ambivalence? Why should you care?”
To his own surprise, he got right up in the male’s face. A head taller or no, proximity was no issue for him. There was barely a few centimetres between them as he inspected his features, more puzzled than vexed by his evaluation. “Disturbing.” He scoffed.
[i Awfully Quiet]
There were two types of humans that Leviathan detested the most: those that blathered on senselessly, and those that were formidably pensive. It was obvious which one his new toy was. Yet, he still could not decide which would have been worse. The blond did little, said less, and had the demon wondering all the while. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, or acceptance? Where was his pretty little head at? Leviathan refused to stop studying him. He cast his eyes over every feature - the glassy, detached look in his eyes, the way his jaw clenched when he thought hard, fingers coiling the reigns of his steering wheel. He remembered how the other had surprisingly few questions concerning the duration of his contract, amongst other things, that those who were initially unsuspecting or unwilling to take Leviathan's proposal, at first, might want to know.
"Your ambivalence is quite disturbing."
Those were the only words spoken from one to another on their uncertain chariot ride through the grove of pointed arches and the trees that kept each home company.
Leviathan took in the sights, letting out a pleased hum through closed lips. What a peculiar village, he thought, for each individual to be so wealthy that they might afford such large, spacious living quarters. It had been [i a while] since he had last seen the surface. Never could he have imagined that so many humans could own so much land without titles of nobility.
Yet, who was to say that was the case? During his previous visit alone, there had been one-hundred year's worth of turmoil brewing across a single continent with seemingly no end in sight. Between the bloodshed, betrayal, crusading, pillaging, lying and stealing, there had been a goddammed plague. Could they have advanced so much, in so little time? What prompted it? There was much he needed to know, to see, to experience.
His new home wasn't much different from the rest he had seen on the way, save for its size, and for the second time, the snake let out a hum. Higher in pitch, and shorter than the last.
A thin finger tapped his lips, while his left arm crossed his body to touch the right, under the elbow. "Times have changed." What he meant was that tastes had changed. But, not necessarily in a way that was unbecoming.
What surface wasn't taken by the large, looming windows was tastefully covered by art. On the walls, on the shelves, as busts, paintings, even decor. Each piece had its place, and each place represented a picture in time. There were some works whose styles Leviathan recognized, or was otherwise taken with the sense of nostalgia they brought him. Most of it did not illicit such a response. But it was beautiful to look at, nonetheless. "You do quite well for yourself, er... I don't believe you've given me your title. Tell me. Are you a Marquis? A Duke, perhaps?" The answer itself wasn't as important as the way it was answered. What would he receive? More measured calm, nervousness, fear, anger? He was dying to know.
Leviathan gave the other time to answer, and quickly moved his attention elsewhere, making short work of the layout of the house. From the moment he had determined the location of the other's wardrobe, his only focus was to rid his still nude body of the chill he remembered feeling outside.
It was just a shame nothing fit.
The shirt he had chosen, one of many to be tried, failed to button all the way. The pants were a bit short, tight on the thighs, and difficult to move in, but would work... For now. "Is this what passes for dress these days?" He eyed the other up, then down, taking into account the cut of his clothes. Aside from being a head taller, Leviathan was a bit more broad chested, with longer limbs. "I feel ridiculous." He likely looked the part, too. "Don't you have anything just a bit more appropriate?"
It was almost a pleading, his voice, a cry for help, even. If there were nothing else he would receive from this human for the duration of their time together, he would pray it would be a well made, tailored suit. Leviathan smiled coyly, "Unless you'd prefer me in the nude."
[center Had he known this was how his day was fated to end, he never would have left bed, but upon closer inspection of his claim, he realised his error immediately. For someone who believed in simple actions and consequence, it seemed more befitting to think this a debt come due. How much he must’ve gotten away with, allegedly, before this point to incur such an outcome. It seemed foolish to dwell for too long on what he couldn’t change, however, so instead he took a moment to gather himself in the relief that followed the extraction of that terrible hand. Rubbing uselessly at his chest, Dante barely moved an inch when Leviathan stalked off to his car.
So [i demanding]. Feed me, clothe me, house me... and more still servitude would be a depressing existence to lead, it seemed. Out from under Spencer’s thumb to fall right into the jaws of another. The irony in it was... well, pretty revolting, if he was being honest. Straightening himself out, he moved to the car and wordlessly opened the passenger side before rounding to his door. His slender form folded effortlessly into the vehicle, and a moment later he was belted in, foot depressing the break and shifting gears. He waited only until Leviathan was within to lock the doors. He had no interest in explaining a safety belt this go around, but at the very least he would ensure there was no temptation to shove him out of a moving vehicle as they crossed the bridge that would take them back into the city proper.
The area immediately behind the society’s bounds was quaint. All gothic architecture, antiquated structures that remained still for no more than their charms, and trees. Endless greenery tucked between every house or building. Gardens overflowed from one yard to the next. From what he understood, this town celebrated some sort of witch come each autumn, but he’d never been very much interested in the details.
As they crossed the bridge, all else fell away, coziness giving way to open water on both sides for at least a good three minutes. When he crossed into the city glass, steel, brown brick, and stone rose all around them. Dante lived in the part of the city considered more affluent. Considering the cheque he took home every month, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.
For the most part, he was silent, content to sit in the comfort of classical brilliance until he reached the garage for his building. Before long, he parked, unbelted, and swiftly exited the car, none too keen on much more time with the man in such a small space. Perhaps he was in shock. It was the only explanation he could find for his calm. He should have been running to the authorities. Or perhaps a priest.
[i Ha. You have to ask for salvation to receive it, and non-believers would be sooner denied and damned.]
Ah, but wasn’t he already? Asking why it had been him at all was foolish as it just as well could have been anyone else, he supposed. Perhaps that was it. Resignation to his circumstances. There was no good foreseeable outcome now that he was beholden to this... no, he wouldn’t even think it. Who knew what powers he held? What if he could read minds and would punish him for thinking ill?
[i But he freed you from your husband. Does that not count for something. It was a kindness.]
Soft rose-kissed lips pressed into a firm line, his brows dropping in contemplation. Perhaps this was for the best... Oddly, he wondered what he would think of his abode. It was a luxurious modern affair, outfitted with glass, beautiful stones and marbles, and rich wood floors. It was a three bedroom, plus the study, but he had full run of the master bedroom since very definitively putting Spencer out. After all, it wasn’t like they were on the best terms. He preferred not to have to suffer the man’s presence needlessly.
A single snicker rooted in unabashed satisfaction grew to a throaty and obnoxious roar of laughter upon receipt of the answer he’d been hoping for. “I should regard you more highly. You’ve chosen wisely,” About as wisely as anyone in their right mind could with options so bleak. Perhaps he was driven by fear, simple self-preservation, or intrigue. Whatever the reason might have been, the serpent had acknowledged it fully in an instant.
Leviathan could feel some strength leaving him as he slowly retracted his hand from the other’s chest. The unwritten law that he abided by stipulated that, though he did not need express permission to enter the human body, he did need a host’s permission to stay. In general, humans were weak. It wasn’t often that someone possessed such strength of will that they might, in fact, be a danger if they ever came across a means to banish him. In place of his physical presence, he would leave but a remnant of himself, a small and sure insurance that would guarantee his new servant’s cooperation. A leech that would bind their existence together, and yet, if he should need to, he could dispatch this servant quickly without himself suffering too much damage. He had lived for nearly a millennium. The least he could do for himself, was to make sure he died in a holy war against the angels, as opposed to being outdone by a mortal with a vendetta.
An incantation in an ancient language rolled off of his tongue and into the bitter chill of the night air.
[i A bond in soul and body,]
[center [i my pain is thy pain, my blood shall run with thine, ]]
[right [i I am thou… thou art I.]]
Staining such an impressive soul would normally wear on his conscience. By no means was he a sentimental being, but it was difficult not to grow curious about – and subsequently closer – to the humans he indentured. The other didn’t know this, but he was now faced with an insurmountable fate upon his natural death. Alas, it brought no satisfaction to Leviathan to burden him with such information. That would be his own little secret, for now.
Finally, they were parted. It remained to be seen if the blond could stand on his own two feet, after having suffered such an assault. It would behoove the blond man to compose himself, Leviathan thought, for his demands were many and from now on, he would be insistent about the other moving with purpose.
“I am a simple being, with simple needs. You will house, clothe, and feed me the finest meal you might offer. I require chambers, and…” His fingers slipped effortlessly through the overabundant silver tresses cascading around his nude body. “Do something about this [i mess] I’ve come to your world with.”
Without waiting to see if his mouse had recovered, Leviathan stalked off in the direction of the contraption the other had sprung out of during his futile bid to save his friend. Through the open door, he could feel a constant, enveloping warmth, even from the distance he was standing. It called to him, beckoned him. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not he was going to enter, but whether or not it would prove to be the chambers that he had asked for just moments before. If that were the case, he would re-open the earth and sooner cast him inside than accept such close quarters. Leviathan did [i not] like feeling so… desperate. Soon, the man behind him would be the least of his worries. How did humans live like this, in weather so unbecoming? Surely, there were other lands, with more temperate climates. His new follower was by no means destitute. And his master’s blood was running a bit… cold, as time went on. “Will you hurry it up, already?” There was some marble of irritation, though his tone and cadence remained measured.
[center Daft? Seriously? Were he in a different state of mind, he might’ve found it in himself to feel more indignation for such insult, but given the precarious circumstances he found himself surviving thus far, it seemed a better choice not to risk angering this man further. Not that he could properly be quantified as a—man, per se. Being? Daemon? Plague? It remained to be seen what his presence could mean here, but for him to think that Dante had anything to do with his ascension to this realm was madness.
To think that not too long ago, he’d been so deeply dissatisfied with the state of his life. In comparison, this was far worse. Too often was the fragility of circumstance taken for granted. They bitched about that which wasn’t ‘fair’ and excused themselves from the responsibility of their actions, placing all fault on silly concepts such as fate or misfortune. Really, all there seemed to be was what you did and didn’t do. Cause and effect. Act and ramification. That was it. That was all. It was no more complicated than this cold, bare quantification, and acknowledging to himself in that moment was something he couldn’t refuse in the face of Leviathan’s demand.
Would he deny it? It was no question as to whether or not he could, but it’d been made abundantly clear that to do so would result in suffering he’d have rather not incurred. Already, he seemed dangerously close to an agony more absolute...more tangible than just the trauma of watching Spencer’s awesome demise.
Perfectly manicured brows furrowed, he attempted to follow but found the potential in his statement was far too grand for his meagre offerings. What would have been something better to ponder was any possible reason he could’ve possessed for remaining in the presence of someone who clearly cared very little for any value a human life presented.
Shock knocked him momentarily off balance, olive green pools growing wide as they fell to the sight of a hand quite literally buried in his flesh. Where there should’ve been pain, there was something far worse, but no sound would pass his lips. His heart faltered, fluttering erratically in the cage of his bosom as fingers wrapped the essence of his being. Fingers redirected his visage and he found himself once more looking into the other’s eyes. A multitude of emotions flickered in the depths of his own, but his mind could put a name to none of them.
Teeth grazed his lip and a shudder took his spine, a hand reflexively coming up to wrap slender digits about the wrist of the hand trapping his jaw. His choices were rather limited, it seemed. If they were servitude or death, wouldn’t it be obvious—his choice? He was a coward, in reality. He hid his emotions from the world, dancing behind a veil of measured interactions and a veneer of amiability that served no greater purpose than to bolster his status in the eyes of others. And yet, within, there was something unseemly—revolting, really, that he worked tirelessly to conceal by any means necessary.
[i And yet, we slipped. You did threaten Leanne, didn’t you, naughty boy?] This time, his flinch had naught to do with Leviathan. If anything, he had more to fear of himself than of anything or anyone else—man, beast, or otherwise. He supposed Leviathan must’ve counted as otherwise. Neither man, but clearly too cunning to be labelled a beast per se. No matter how violent his debut.
“Servitude...” The word was barely a whisper, warm breath pluming in the space between them and dispersing in the chill.
Whatever Leviathan speculated he may have been may not have been far off. Perhaps it was the reason he was the way he way. He was... what? Something more? Something ugly? Something worth exercising caution in the presence of? Something worth possessing? He supposed that was better than complete obliteration but not by much. Perhaps it would be worth exploring—his true nature. That is... if he managed to survive this.
"Are you daft?" Words have the power to create and destroy - they are a man's greatest weapon, gifted upon him not by God, but through his own merit, his own volition. It is, unfortunately, one of their only redeeming qualities. Obscured by the breadth of their ego and their hedonistic nature. Scholars in days of old knew this well. They wrote instructions by which their peers could examine and regard their own humanity with some measure of humility. Had no one lent their ears? Had no one truly listened? Short lives couple with shortsightedness. The nature of man – and especially a man who does not know himself, Leviathan could not help but think – was inherently wicked. “You’ve seen it with your own eyes, and you’d still deny it?”
‘What is a human?’ lesser demons would often ask the serpent. Enraptured by the legends of his time spent among them. Before he took the form of a monster and resigned himself to spending his eternity blissfully slumbering beneath pools of molten rock. Leviathan would often have little to say. He was always rather guarded on the subject of his time spent among them – how it came to be, and how it had ended. [i ‘They are much like you, or I. As demons, we know them best.’] Better than the disciples of the God, himself, that put them here.
Perhaps it was not just the words, themselves, but maybe coupled with the will and the wish and the strength of the soul, it prompted [i something] in the cosmos to allow this to happen. Leviathan wondered for a moment, if this was some scheme imposed by the Heavens… Surely not.
The implication of these ‘just words’ was not lost on the serpent... A brief glance at the ground, where the smoke had not quite wafted away, made it clear. No incantations had been made, nor had this human admitted as much, no sigils marred the area... Leviathan poised three fingers under the other’s chin. "You may not be a 'maker,' as you claim... But you are..." The serpent closed his eyes and opened them again, slow, taking in the sight and scent of the petrified summoner. There was nothing remarkable about him. Just a man - a timid man - whose body might betray him if the demon made any sudden movements. [i He's already frightened, Leviathan, no reason to embarrass him.] The thought, however, was deserving of a chuckle. But it was wiped away at the other’s admission.
Leviathan's gaze sharpened considerably. What did he mean, [i ‘nothing’]? "Allow me to answer your question with something a bit more...tangible..." As opposed to telling. In the blink of an eye, he plunged a hand into the blond's chest. Not rooting around for his still beating heart, but for the part of him that nested somewhere on a divine plane of existence. “Humans will always have something to offer.”
...It was larger than he might have imagined. He felt his hand strain to contain it all in his grip, this second, and last, great quality of man. For once the demon looked mildly concerned. But he would play his hand, anyhow. Leviathan gave the proof of life a firm squeeze, hoping to force a squeal from his newfound friend. “Can you feel that?” The hand holding the blond’s chin kept his head firmly rooted facing forward, and the demon caught his bottom lip between his teeth. In spite of himself, he smiled. “This is your life’s essence in my hand. All that you are, and all that you will be.”
To remove the beacon of the human body itself was such a cruel way to die – crueler still than how his friend might have gone. A seeing, feeling husk. Without thoughts, without memories. Without consciousness, the human being ceases to exist. "Since you cannot decide outright, I will give your choices. You'll either become my [i servant]... Or I will [i devour] this soul of yours." How unpleasant it might be, to attempt to throttle the entirety of this formidable spirit down his throat at once. But what power it might grant him. Just what was this man in his past life? What monster would a soul this large create, should he be allowed to pass on naturally? Worse yet if its reincarnation achieved enlightenment. There was little time to ponder these thoughts in full. He felt his skin grow colder with each passing moment.
[center Did he know him? What was this? And if he couldn’t bring him back, then they really had nothing more to talk about. The manner in which he spoke suggested a finality that made further argument appear foolish even theoretically. And truthfully—if he was being honest with himself—it would make no difference. It would be in vain. It wasn’t like his pleas would be for Spencer’s sake. It was his own conscience that demanded retribution for such anguish. It was his own soul that would bear the mark of such guilt.
The horrid scent of burnt flesh clung to the interior of his nasal passages, and every inhale made his stomach roil with unease, threatening sickness more and more frequently as moments passed between them. Dante drew his coat a bit tighter about himself, gaze falling to the frosty ground underfoot. Why couldn’t he move? Why did he feel compelled to stay here? Something about this—creature’s présence demanded his attendance.
[i ‘Are you the one that called me here?’] He scoffed at the implication, but it was a smugness summarily quashed by the correction he wouldn’t have otherwise suspected to come. [i ‘Are you the one who fated that man to die?’] Every inch of him stiffened from crown to heel, his eyes lowered in a manner that did not quite suggest guilt. As much as he wanted to raise them, he found his actions were beyond logical control.
“They were just words.” He murmured. “Words don’t do that.” They didn’t split the earth. They didn’t wrench a life from the fabric of existence and offer it as tribute to some hellish crust-bound incinerator. “I’m no maker. I have no will over something so... it’s simply impossible.”
Wait. So a man crawling from some mysterious, fiery hole in the ground was impossible, but his words couldn’t possibly have killed Spencer? Really? That was too far fetched?
[i Tsk, tsk, tsk, we know better, don’t we? Denial does not suit us.] He really wished he could silence his thoughts and empty his head. And will that [i godforsaken voice] to just shut the hell up already.
As he returned to the present, his ears seemed to perk. No longer suffering? Eternal damnation? How painfully ironic in its juxtaposition, but who was he to argue? He had no reign over what souls were relegated to the heavens or to hell. He wasn’t sure, even after what he’d witnessed, that he believed in either still. He was not so ignorant as to believe that nothing beyond this existed. Beyond this world man had so arrogantly defined in its own terms. But there was too little information to go on here, and as far as he was concerned survival far outweighed exploring fantastical potentialities.
Even with this...whatever he was’ informative tidbits, he wasn’t sure what to make of him. At least, not until his introduction. Leviathan? As in... one of those ancient creatures of indisputable rank where daemonic hierarchy was concerned? Sure, his introduction had come long before reassurances, but it hadn’t quite hit home when the name had first reached his ears. Now that his brain was seeking to reorder itself, awareness had further established itself with him.
Despite each fractional advance, Dante couldn’t bring himself to break away, to run, to escape. It was natural to choose survival above all else, but his limbs refused to obey the commands of his heart. His head was barely of help here, still reeling not just with new information but [i curiosity].
This [i Leviathan] was so close that he shuddered, lifting his gaze despite his fear. And once ensnared, he couldn’t seem to look away, lower lip trembling as he sought words.
His [i wish]? This wasn’t the granting of a wish, this was [i murder]. The old axiom ‘be careful what you wish for’ sprang unbidden from the depths of his mind. Advice too little too late recalled now that Spencer has been relegated to a fiery doom.
“I have nothing worth granting. I never meant to wish for this.” Intention did not, however, nullify fact, and as far as facts went, Spencer was dead and an alleged debt was now owed. Blinking several times, he drew in breath and attempted at a step back. Contrary to his desire, he remained perfectly at attention. As if his being at its very core at least knew better. Recognised where deference was due despite his determination to neither know nor acknowledge any of it.
“What could I possibly have to offer you?” Surely, given how easily he’d dispatched Spencer he could have anything he wanted.
“Ah… You are…” Yes, he must be.
Leviathan craned his head to get a better look at the blond opposing him. This pathetic, trembling creature – searching for answers where there were none. What had taken the other through the gates of Hell was markedly beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, and yet he had witnessed it all. But he still stood. Determined. Angry.
Humans are such fanciful creatures. They invent stories of beings in-between, that govern the decision of whether they cross into the afterlife, and where they should go. Death is the abstract – it makes no decisions, it does not speak, hear, see, or judge. It merely [i acts]. It is swift, sure, and certain. No scythe will separate your soul from flesh and bone, no hooded figure will appear to guide you. Those that are sent below should be [i grateful]. The angels don’t even so much as show up to greet you upon your demise.
There was no use mincing words, no point in obscuring the point beneath poetry. “I cannot bring him back.” Leviathan was not a [i god]. No powers of manifestation, necromancy, no fantastical means of denying the natural progression of life, as it had been intended. Time does, indeed, move in a straight line. And he, despite never suffering the effects of mortality, was destined only to move [i with] the tide, not against it. None could defy nature, aside from God, himself. Lazy bastard that he was.
“Are you the one that called me here?” No, that was wrong. Coincidence had brought him here; sheer will had allowed him to break free beyond the earth’s crust and stand on two feet. Hadn’t it? “Are you the one who fated that man to die?”
In his own, selfish little mind, he had always imagined a bit more fanfare for his second ascent to the surface. Enthusiasts of a time long past would light candles in is honor, call upon his name, offer a meal, their home in return for his presence. Rarely ever did they get the conditions [i right], but when they did, they never subjected the serpent to such insolence. While no god, he was still to be feared, revered, admired. As any demon should – especially one as prolific as he. “When a [i man] falls into Hell, he cannot return to the midworld.” He’d seen it with his own eyes, hadn’t he? The charred remains of a man once known to him. A man whose flesh would be devoured by the creatures of the flames. Green with envy that they could not escape as Leviathan had, fueled by a hatred of the humans that walked above them. Hoping that by devouring flesh, they might return to a life they had experienced once before. Fruitless endeavors that would bring only frustration, and sorrow.
It was nice to have evolved past such consequences.
With arms outstretched, the serpent invited his challenger forward, “I am Leviathan.” A smile graced his lips, as twisted and sinister as it seemed, it was a smile, nonetheless. And it carried all of his intentions, though this human may not have known it yet. In a rare fit of compassion, he offered what little condolences were deserved, “If you’re worried about his body, fear not. He no longer suffers. It is only his spirit that is fated for torture. Eternal damnation.” A lie meant only to calm mortal nerves. If it was one thing Leviathan remembered of humans, it was their abject fragility, their fear, akin to timid doe. Push them too far, and they might never recover.
His upper lip curled with disgust. Though it had gone in an instant, only for a flash. Yet, he thought, [i disgusting.] Slender fingers glided through his long, silver locks, pushing them back and away from his face. The darkness of their surroundings obscured the vision in his still adjusting eyes. So much so that he took a tentative step closer. And closer. Yet closer. Closer, still. From a head above the man, Leviathan stared down into those pools of color, awash with a mixture of emotions. Studying. Watching. Waiting. Why him?
“I granted your wish,” A pause, as he measured the expression on the other, and then, “What will you grant me, in return?”
[center Indeed, death had a way of making its mark. Stopping you in your tracks. Putting you in your [i place]. Dante knee most of them would end up in the ground some way, someday, but never like this. [i Never] like this. His eyes had barely left the rear view mirror when Spencer crumbled, a scream so visceral and raw that it cut through the white noise of the car’s ventilation and classical ambience bringing him to a dangerous halt. It swerved and screeched to a stop just short of a light post, not even so much as a metre or two away.
The shiny black driver’s door of Dante’s Maserati flew open In almost ridiculous fashion as the man scrambled from the cab, slip-sliding on slick pavement as flurries made their way to the earth. The bitter cold that swirled around them was nothing like the mild chill he’d stood arguing with his ex in just moments before.
“Spence—!” The sickening sight of flesh barely clinging to flesh and blood streaming along the man’s jaw nearly did him in. “I’m coming, just—“ God, the [i stench]. Flames rose and he doubled over mid run as the putrid stink of burning flesh filled his nostrils. The blond’s stomach rolled, and he laid a hand to icy gravel beneath him, retching.
When his eyes lifted to find Spencer’s again, the desperation in them cut straight to the bone and practically cleaved his heart in two. Had it been a stranger, it would have been horrifying, yes. Absolutely. In fact, he was entirely sure he was going into shock. Everything felt strangely distant, too warm, and he was sure the man he’d loved once was calling for him, but he couldn’t hear any of it.
Blinking, he watched as he entirely fell away, barely registering the new presence until the brunet had completely fallen from his view. Into this... gash in the earth. Into—what was that? How was it possible? Was he hallucinating? Was this it, had he lost his mind?
Quick, shallow breaths sawed up and down his throat, but the impossible weight of panic constricted his chest to the point of agony. This was a dream. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t happen on a normal, shitty day like this. They had just been arguing a moment before and any second now he would snap out of this horrific reverie and Spencer would probably be blowing up his phone about the divorce papers he refused to ever sign.
Trembling fingers brushed across his lips. Unwelcome though the kiss had been, it had surely been there. Was that truly the last contact he would ever have of him?
[i We wished for it.] He [i didn’t].
[i We [b wished] for it.] insisted the voice, darker now, much stronger in its conviction and absolute in its blame.
“I—I didn’t, I couldn’t-“ he shook his head, voice cracking. “This isn’t possible, I would never-“
But he [i had]. ‘[i I wish you’d die so much it hurts me.]’ The words echoed in his mind, guilt overtaking the features of his visage as he registered the tragedy. How could words kill a man? How could that have really been the last thing Spence would ever hear? That was too cruel! He might’ve found him unbearable at times. Selfish, ego-centric, absolutely unrelenting in his control, and ill-tempered, but His worst didn’t make him deserving of such an awful death.
Numbly, he turned his gaze up to the new presence, sure his grip on reality was being lost. “What the hell are you?” What a question. “You—you send him to that... into that horrid thing. Bring him back.”
Unsteadily, Dante rose to his feet, trembling from a mix of rage and absolute trepidation. “[i Bring him back.]”
But death couldn’t be undone. It wasn’t a door you could simply step back through. That was a one-way trip, and if you were lucky, you might be restored in some manner to the face of the earth. A terrifying thing to realise when death paid a visit in such violent fashion.
But how could this be a man before him? How could he have survived those flames—spring free from the earth like some hellish flower? Instinctively, Dante took a step back, prepared to run if necessary. “Hey—I’m talking to you, fucker.” He hated the way his voice betrayed his weakness, but he wanted [i answers].
Someone, somewhere, was blowing Gabriel’s horn.
This is of little consequence to the lesser demons milling about, content to spend their eternity never having graced the surface of the world midway. Most shielded their ears in disgust – such an awful, wretched noise. But, for those who knew what it meant, it wasn’t simply the sustained note of a warm, brass tone. It was a sign, a signal. An opportunity.
The serpent that had been slumbering in the fiery deeps shot upwards and into the tops of the earth, releasing a piercing scream on its ascent. Magma sent into the air came raining down on sinners and demons alike. A choir of voices sang, rejoicing; [i the gates! The gates!] Yet the screams of the damned could not drown out that shrill of Heaven’s most sacred instrument. Whoever was blowing that horn sensed the unrest, and the sound swelled. A legion of hands began to swarm any surface they could grip hold of, determined to fight for their right to the surface.
“Bigger, faster, don’t mean stronger!” An imp had scaled the walls and leaped to catch onto Leviathan’s scales, but his hand missed, and he plummeted to the ledge below where his brethren were waiting. Waiting to try once more.
“Don’t mean smarter, neither,” The snake had a long, long tail. They tried again and again, strategy never changing. Each flailing their grubby fingers about, until one lucky peon after the other had managed to sink its needling claws into the serpent’s skin.
A thick, rumbling baritone shook the depths. [b [i “Filthy creatures! Release me, at once!”]] The force of Leviathan’s head impacting the crust made the serpent shudder. Its long, uncooperative tail began to flail about, knocking the imps and other assorted otherworldly creatures into the magma pools of the ninth ring. The screams grew louder. The shockwave forced the footholds on the surrounding wall to crumble. He pressed with all of his might, unwilling to return to the depths from whence he came.
Underneath Spencer, the Earth [i cracked].
A searing hot pain around his ankle forced him to let out a guttural scream. He fell forwards in surprise, chin hitting the ground first. The force cracked all of his teeth. Blood spewed from his mouth, tongue hanging by a thread as he tried to shout for help, the opening in the ground growing wider. Ankle, calf, thigh, and lower body aflame, he had no choice but to grip the asphalt with all his might. If you were close enough, you might hear the sound of his nails splitting to pieces in a desperate attempt to save his own life. It was getting so dark. Spencer’s eyes darted side to side, chest heaving, final breaths rasping through his gaping mouth.
Death is such an awful thing to witness. They say that sight [i never leaves you].
The bitter air of the Earth breathed new life into the strange being crawling up the small of Spencer’s back. Humanlike in its appearance, leaving steaming welts on the unfortunate soul it was using as its stepladder. “Pleath…! I don’ wanth thoo die…!” The tears flowing from the newly minted damned evaporated as they fell. And over him was the serpent, standing on two feet, watching over the scorched earth that had opened to beckon him to the surface.
Something soft and silky covered his eyes, flowed down his backside. This hair was [i his] hair – newly found fingers lifted it to his face so that he could examine its uniquely silver luster. Is this what remained of his tail? The remnants. How interesting that he would take this form. The shock of the cool night was invigorating, forcing a shiver down his spine. Callously, he used his foot to unhook Spencer’s grip from the asphalt, sending him plunging below. The earth closed – slowly. A hand massaged an ache in his left shoulder, the site of an injury from a battle lost to time.
“Sorry, lad… Wrong place, wrong time.” said Leviathan. That wasn’t true. With his ears tuned to the sky, he could hear the call of Gabriel’s horn fading away. Someone had summoned him here – whether it be an archangel, or an act of their ineffective God. They had offered a fitting sacrifice, one way or another. The Heavens gave their blessing to have his soul condemned. The gates were opened, and now…
Well, everything had gone to shit since he was last on the surface, hadn’t it? Evidence of humanity’s expansion surrounded him. Trifling inventions, testaments only to their growing hubris. Steel skeletons of concrete towers showed him they had no intention of stopping. And the [i noise]. Horrible, awful, constant – He stopped to breathe just as the glint of a mirror caught his eye, “At least they’ve given me a most appropriate vessel.” Sans clothing, of course.
[right [size11 Arrival]]
[center “You really shouldn’t smoke. That stuff‘ll kill you.” A soft, lilting cadence brought the blond’s head up from its hanging state, disinterested gaze landing on one of those assigned to his archiving detail for the season. Dante appraised her with little more than vague annoyance. He hadn’t the energy for any real upset, and she wouldn’t have been deserving.
[i Oh? Is that really how you feel or how you think you should feel?] needled a mischievous voice from some unwelcome place in his mind. Silently, he bristled at being more or less made out as a hypocrite. And by [i himself] no less. If that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing, he wasn’t sure what was. Still... maybe his inner daemon was right. Maybe little miss pin-up curls should mind her fucking business and worry about her own nasty habits before she rode in on her high horse to pass judgment on his.
Sucking another slow drag, Dante dropped his hand and regarded her through thick lashes, squinting against the harsh glare of an overcast mid-autumn morning. Her type really did a number on his nerves. Always so perky and quick to stick their noses where it didn’t belong. “Cat, right?”
Confusion coloured her features, unsurprisingly. “Actually, it’s Leanne—“
“Funny... I could’ve sworn it was Cat.” He mumbled, offering her a playful half-smile, even going so far as to pop a dimple.
Her nervousness seemed to dissipate, but he was sure it had much to do with the fact that the disgust in his eyes hadn’t registered with her. “No, not at all.” She snickered, fussing needlessly with one of her perfect, shiny spirals.
“Well, Miss. Leanne. I suppose you’re right. I’ll quit my habit when you quit yours. Deal?”
Another slow blink and pinched brow. He was losing his patience, but honestly, it was in relatively short supply these days. “My habit?”
“You and curiosity.” He enunciated politely, striding easily toward her. Dante’s warm tenor dropped to a playful murmur as he entered her airspace, happily disobeying the rules of the oh-so-sacred bubble. “That stuff’ll kill you.” The words rolled off his tongue, sweet as honey, and a moment later he made his retreat, venturing back into the belly of the beast to return to his work.
The visual of the colour leaving her face as she registered his warning was still at the forefront of his mind even when he’d made it through the vestibule. He was sure he wouldn’t have to deliver it again, and despite the fact that it may have been needlessly cruel, this gave him pleasure to acknowledge.
[i Why do we do that?] Incessant little bastard. [i Kindness was an option.]
And he knew as much, but kindness was something he could seldom afford to offer these days. Not with a plate that looked like his. Between all of this rubbish to take care of for the society, he still had auctions to sort out and new shipments to coordinate. If they were just talking work? His docket was looking a little bloated. Pile on a salty, belligerent ex with a God complex, and things got downright revolting.
Finishing the last of his hand-rolled, he took care to stub it out and dispose of the butt properly. His oxfords echoed on the way back to their restoration lab, ominous in the cavernous expanse of stone, marble, and glass. Soon, they’d have students rolling through here for tours, scholars asking too many questions, and fools making a muck of things for security. Not a day the man looked forward to given just the paperwork alone, but if he managed to get himself through it, a nice hot bath and a glass of wine might just remedy his nerves a bit. It was nothing close to a consolation, but it would certainly get him through the drudgery ahead.
O O O
Pain pulsed at his temples and heat burned at the tops of his ears despite the bitter cold of late morning. Had he known this would be awaiting him on his way out to his midday rendezvous, he might’ve opted for a better escape route.
“What the hell?”
“You haven’t picked up the phone in days.” Spencer waved his smart phone overhead like some sort of dramatic villain. Why he thought that theatrical BS really worked, who knew.
“Yeah. It’s kind of optional, you know?” Dante was poised with one foot in his car, fingers gripping in the inner handle tight enough that he was certain he could’ve damn well ripped the door off. “If you don’t mind, I’m at work? Like you should be.” Dante unapologetically reminded him.
“It’s funny, I actually had to take a couple of hours off to track you down, since you weren’t taking my calls, and I come here to find you making off to—where, again?”
“Is that an official line of questioning, detective? This is my place of work. So unless you have good cause to-“
“Cut the bullshit, will ya’?” Spencer was always pretty good about making someone uncomfortable, but Dante was too used to his foolishness to let it bother him much when he crowded in close. “I just want to talk things over. Your asshole lawyer keeps calling me.”
“Sign the papers.” Dante murmured, offering him only as much as his profile. “And kindly fuck off for the rest of eternity. Then maybe Margot wouldn’t call you so much.”
Hands came up in a dramatic flourish, the brunet’s head quickly turning from side to side. Mock incredulity was ugly on him. One of his less admirable traits had always been making someone else out to be the bad guy. Maybe that’s why they were here now. “Why are you doing this?”
Inhaling once, slowly, Dante imagined for the millionth time how satisfying it would be to slam his head into the door of his car and take off down the street. It took a saintly level of restraint for him to regulate his tone when he spoke next. “Spencer, please just sign the papers. I don’t want to do this with you anymore. You have to stop coming to my work, or I’ll be forced to-“ The world tilted for an instant and the smooth glide of wool against glass nearly sent him toppling headfirst to one side with the momentum.
“Or what?” He could smell the stale coffee on Spencer’s breath and the product he must’ve run through his hair that morning. The pressure of his hands around his biceps didn’t register as harshly through wool, but it still coaxed a little pit of nervousness to develop in his gut. “[i What]? You’ll file a restraining order? Come on, Baby, this isn’t us.” The unwelcome warmth of lips found his and Dante stiffened, lids pressing shut.
“I’m trying to be kind.” The blond murmured.
Disgusted, Spencer drew back, temper flaring at the rejection. “No, you’re trying to be blameless. If you would climb down off your pedestal for a second, maybe we’d do some actual talking. You walk around with all this shit to say, written all over your face, but you don’t have the balls to say it, sweetheart.”
“I wish you’d die.” Dante whispered, eyes coming up to meet clouded hazel pools.
Startled, Spencer loosened his grip, straightening a fraction. “You don’t—“
“I do.” The words were strained, his chest tightening with frustration. “I wish you’d die a miserable, horrible death, and that I’d never have to see your sorry fucking face and listen to your million excuses ever again. I wish you’d die so much it hurts me, Spencer. I [i dream] about it. We were a mistake. Accept it and fuck off.” The brunet more or less staggered back with surprise when he shoved at him, tucking himself back into the space between the car and door. “And don’t call me again. Prick.”
Anything else his soon-to-be-ex-husband might’ve said would have been entirely drowned out by the blast of heat whooshing through vents. Dante didn’t even wait for him to fully clear the space before he whipped it out of the lot. If it was the last he ever saw him, it would be too soon.
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