Tangible Schizophrenia


Crossing VI: Chessboard

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: Heavy R for very graphic violence.
Pairing: Fred Abberline/Dean Corso/Ahmed, a little G/Peter Godley.
Feedback: What you liked, what you didn't.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine, dammit.
Note: Crossover of From Hell, The Thirteenth Warrior, and The Ninth Gate; parallel-universe 1880s London where bisexuality was the norm. ::words:: in Arabic. G is the girl who protects Dean in Ninth Gate. Tiny reference to Interview with a Vampire.
Summary: Matters wrap up. Almost.


"Pain in the ass, he is. But smart, and nice when he's not pretending he's made of stone." G sighed and picked up her pace a little, buttoning her coat as she went. Wouldn't do to get herself taken in for public indecency. "It would help if he mentioned what was going through his head, once in a while."

Peter nodded and helped her over a puddle, then offered an arm. He gave her a sideways grin as she hooked her arm through his. "I know what you mean. The Inspector's been almost intolerable these past few weeks. Always ducking into dens for a pipe, then passing out cold. I can't tell you how many times Sir Warren's nearly caught me bringing him in."

They shared a knowing laugh, then fell silent with only the sound of their fast footsteps to keep them company. This corner of town, at least, was surprisingly empty; G hadn't spotted a constable for at least five minutes. On the other hand, that was mostly in their favor as it meant that one, the Masons had taken her warning seriously, and two, they wouldn't have to deal with local interference. G was very thankful that the days of witch-burning were more or less over, but she didn't fool herself that the mob mentality behind that phenomenon was gone.

Speaking of…"You're taking this all very well," she noted. "Any reason why?"

"I never thought the people running this city were all that straight. The men that run the brothels and protection gangs aren't, and generally people are the same no matter how they're dressed." Peter tugged her down a side-alley, then led her through a tangled maze of back-streets. "This way's faster."

"But what about the magic part? Aren't you skeptical at all?" While they were hidden from view, G slipped out her knives and checked their edges, then put them away. She winked away his dubious expression. "Well, I don't always have a friend to walk me through the uglier parts of town."

He replied with an incredulous snort, but didn't mention her weapons. "If I believe that Inspector Abberline can do what he does, then what you told me isn't that much of a stretch."

A few minutes later, G was starting to feel the first tingles of an ongoing fight in her bones. She tried to probe deeper for more details, but the moment she did, she stopped sensing it. "Damn. Hurry up."

"One thing, though." He shot her a look, and G suddenly found herself reaching for her hilts again, just for the reassurance of holding them. "Anything happens to him, and I'm holding you and your friends responsible."

"I wouldn't worry about that. As long as Ahmed keeps his stupid head on his stupid neck." She sped up, then broke into a dead run. No need for a guide when the screaming itself was a burning-bright beacon. Liana had a very impressive set of lungs, G had to give her that.

Remarkably, considering his physical appearance, Peter managed to keep up with her respectably well. Even if he did break into huge gasps when they stopped in front of Fred's building. Then they both jerked about as the front door slammed open and Fred and Dean came clattering out. G rubbed at her eyes, then threw her hands up in the air as she made for the back. "Every time I see any of you, you look even worse than before. God, this is impossible."

"Wait-you're not-so he's not dead?" Dean panted, his voice frayed and beaten as an old rug. Not waiting for an answer, he shoved her out of the way with Ahmed's cane and headed into the alley, Fred dogging his heels.

G started to growl in exasperation, then caught a similar expression forming on Peter's face. He shrugged, resigned and ready, and waved her forward. "Suppose we should go after them."

"As always," she agreed. But first, she flipped out her knives. No point in adding to the count of courageous idiots.

* * *

Still stunned from the fall, Ahmed ducked the blow a little too late and got a brutal hit to his shoulder as a result. It jarred the bones and sent him back into the wall, but he immediately threw himself down to miss the follow-up he knew was coming. Brick fragments pattered down on him as he blocked the kick, then turned it into a grab at Liana's ankle and threw her into some crates.

Not quite a great idea, as she came up with a long piece of wood, its end studded with nails. But then thudding feet at the far end of the alley turned into Dean, who threw something. Ahmed dodged left, rolled, and was back on his feet. With cane.

Liana tried an overhead slice, which he parried with the cane held horizontal in both hands. Then he kicked her back and pulled out his sword while she was recovering her breath. ::I should have done this the last time.::

::I was going to offer you a place beside me, if you gave up the books. I thought you might listen to reason-Lucifer could show you the spirits of your less holy relatives. But now I see that was a foolish thought of mine.:: As she spoke, she wiped at the blood and thick fluids clotted over her shot-out eye, scraping that away to reveal it had already regenerated. She laughed at Ahmed's start of surprise. "What? You didn't think I did nothing for all those years, did you?"

"Frankly, I'd hoped someone had killed you by now." Ahmed cautiously rounded the narrow space, noting positions of bottles, loose stones. The cut on his arm had partially reopened; he'd also landed on that one so the bone had broken, and was not yet completely mended. In consequence, his grip on the sword wasn't steady, and he knew she could see it.

When she walked up to meet him, Liana dropped the length of lumber and reached out to the side. White flames swirled about her wrist, then shot away as a long, gleaming black blade appeared in her hand. "What? Didn't want your own revenge? Somehow I doubt that."

::What I wanted was peace. But you never understood that.:: His sword wasn't going to stand a blow from hers, which was demon-made, he supposed, and a fine one. At least Fred and Dean had the sense to stay back, and G was there with them. She was far stronger than Liana suspected, so even if Ahmed were to falter, the other men would be taken care of.

Except he would much rather do that himself. Yet another thing that would never make sense to Liana: fighting to live, instead of fighting to kill. Or to die. Because what was death, after all? When so many years had passed, so much had happened and yet someone like Ahmed could find a portion of happiness?

Death? Death was nothing to fear. His friends had taught him that, but he'd forgotten for a while. But no longer.

"Lo, there do I see my father," Ahmed whispered. He lifted his foot and placed it on the ground, as fragile as setting down a teacup and as solid as planting a cornerstone. "Lo, there do I see my mother and my brothers and my sisters."

"You will in a few minutes," Liana promised. She brought the sword around to point at his heart and took up a stance.

In response, he angled his blade to meet her. "Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. And they do call me to me, to come take my place in Valhalla, where the brave may live…"

"…forever?" she laughed. Then the amusement fled from the anger twisting her face, and she charged. Their swords clanged, rattled apart, and when Ahmed regained his pose, he was missing half of his. Someone called out from behind him, but it was like hearing voices through the mist, muffled and distorted beyond recognition into the same moan. "They're calling, Ahmed."

Liana came in again, low and sweeping, then rose at the last minute to take off more of Ahmed's sword two inches above the hilt. He let her, and let her sword tear through the side of his leg on the next pass so he could step into the circle of the blade and shove his remaining metal shard into her throat. "Regretfully, I must decline," he breathed, hearing the ragged words straggle out of his mouth.

As he chanted the deathspell, red poured over the hilt and his hands and painted them in vivid life. She dropped her sword, reflexively clutching at his arms. Fiery pain screamed up his thigh then, forcing him to his knees. Liana's fingers loosened, and she jerked off the end of the broken sword, seizing her throat though the blood nevertheless kept flowing. Light nearly gone from her eyes, she smiled at him: defiant and beautiful and coy, just as when he'd first met her.

::You can answer it for me.:: He nearly collapsed to the side, but exerted his last bit of willpower to crawl over and shut her eyelids for her.

"Ahmed, are you-" Fred went down beside him and held him up.

"Coins. Do you have any?" Ahmed asked.

The other man gave him a hard look, and seemed about to say something sharp, but at the last minute a shred of comprehension entered his eyes. He dug in his pockets and managed to produce one gold coin, which he handed to Ahmed. "I don't have any more with me right now."

"That's fine. They already know us, down there, so the price isn't as expensive." Ahmed tucked the coin beneath Liana's tongue, then allowed the other man to help him stand. Someone else supported him while G and Fred fashioned a bandage for his leg.

When they were finished, the man almost shyly edged around to nestle into Ahmed's side. Dean winced every time he took a breath, and his throat looked horrible, bruises interspersed with trails of blood from the ripped-up underside of his chin, but when Ahmed kissed him, he didn't hesitate to return it.

Though that only lasted for a moment. Ahmed skimmed a hand up Dean's back and received a bitten lip and a pained groan. "Ow."

"I agree," Ahmed replied, licking at the fresh blood on his lips. "Inside, I suppose."

"Maybe you'll all manage to stop fighting long enough to heal this time. Hmm?" G raised her eyebrows at them as she walked over to the body. "So?"

"Burn her. And G? Thank you." He grinned back at her smirk, even though that stretched very stiff muscles, then turned his attention to the task of getting indoors.

* * *

Dean grumbled and burrowed away from the stripe of warmth playing over his eyes, damning whoever'd left the curtains open. Then he swore with considerably more violence as his ribs thoroughly chastised him for moving. Two days, and even with Ahmed's foul-smelling but effective medicines, he was still too sore to make it past the kitchen.

But the hand rubbing over the side of his throat was very, very welcome and lovely, and yes, he was bending into it. And possibly making embarrassing little noises of bliss. "Do you want breakfast?" murmured into his ear.

"All right." He summoned enough effort to lean up and meet Ahmed's mouth, thereby keeping the other man there for a few extra moments, but then the complaining of his body was too much. Dean flopped back, flinched again, and snuggled against the warm thing lying next to him.

Which twitched and grew a ruffled head. "Ouch."

"Sorry." He shifted closer, and got thwapped on the arm as Fred rumpled himself into a sitting position. "Ow!"

"Sorry. Hmm…I think everything but my leg's back to normal." The other man scooted over to the side of the bed and tried to stand. Promptly crumpled to the floor. "Damn it."

"Your fault for stressing that ankle over and over and over." G had replaced Ahmed in the doorway, and only the large plates of food she was carrying saved her from being pelted with pillows. "Ahmed, get back here. Fred's on the floor."

Fred was mumbling protests and attempting to crawl back into bed by himself, so that wasn't quite accurate. Not that it mattered, since it brought Ahmed sauntering back in to help the other man. If Dean didn't enjoy watching that silent, graceful walk so much, he'd feel disgusted at how quickly Ahmed had recovered from a sword wound.

G set down the plates on the side-table, thus forcing Dean to drag himself up against the headboard. She showed absolutely no sympathy at his hisses and pained jerks. "Stop that. The bones are healed now, so it shouldn't be that bad."

"Shouldn't be. Of course, you're not me right now, are you?" But it was a half-hearted jab at best, and at any rate, Dean had to say it to her back because she was rather hurriedly making for the door. "Where is she rushing off to? Isn't everyone dead? Or too frightened to bother us?"

"She has a date." Ahmed's face was carefully bland as he resettled Fred in the blankets, then circled round the end of the bed to pass them the plates and silverware. "And before you ask, yes, Godley knows she has to leave. They're just having fun."

"I was beginning to think that was just another one of your tricks to put us off," Dean muttered. He desultorily munched on his food, ignoring how good the taste was. "But you're serious, aren't you?"

In apparent reply, Ahmed took off his coat and unbuttoned his vest, then climbed on the bed. Of course, Dean didn't mind that, but the action still didn't make sense. Even though it was nice to have Ahmed lying between him and Fred, head bumping his hip, and…

…damnation. Concentrate. The last time they'd all been on a bed, it hadn't ended well. And considering the less-than-stellar state of his chest and sides, Dean reluctantly had to admit he wasn't in any shape for any really entertaining pursuits.

"Yes, I am. Part of what I do is travel. A lot. And I'm needed elsewhere in a week." While he spoke, Ahmed idly picked up Fred's hand and turned it over, tracing the lines of the palm as the other man instantly stopped eating. In fact, Fred looked rather like he was going to trance, and even more so when Ahmed pressed a playful kiss to each fingertip. "Seven days. But I'll come back in three months, and then you can decide if you still want to join me. For good."

"Eternity and everything. Right." Whatever fruit they were, the preserves dripping off Dean's spoon were an unappealing muddy blue and too sweet; he scraped them aside and forked up a few more mouthfuls before returning the plate to the table.

Ahmed's eyes flicked in his direction, then over at the desk to which they'd moved the books, engravings and notes. "So. We're short an engraving?"

"It would appear so." With a little help, Dean managed to get off the bed without wrenching his ribs too much, and by savaging his lip, he avoided any more embarrassment while Ahmed was steadying him. He grabbed his glasses, then gingerly made his way over to the desk and scooped up everything. Once there, he hauled it back to the mattress and dumped it across the blankets.

Then Ahmed somehow maneuvered him into the other man's lap, and to his absolute horror, Dean squeaked and blushed. He glared at greatly-amused Fred and determinedly focused on the woodcuts. Ignored the hands folded over his stomach and spread out the eight pages. "See? These all have 'LCF,' which I assume is abbreviated 'Lucifer,' and they differ from their forged counterparts. For example-" he pointed at the second one "-in what I presume is the authentic one, the keys are in the left hand."

"Sinister." Ahmed rested his chin on Dean's shoulder.

"Yes." Just a few days ago, Dean thought with some ire, he had been dying for this kind of contact. Now, he had it and he couldn't do anything with it. Infuriating. "In the fake, they're in the right hand. But in the ninth engraving, there aren't any differences between it and the others."

Fred was picking up a loosely-tied packet of papers. Frowning, he flipped through the pages of manuscript. "French? What is this?"

When he'd reached the middle of the bundle, a loose sheet fluttered out and sailed through the air to land on Dean's lap, face-up. "Another…ninth engraving," he said incredulously as he picked up the paper.

"Initials 'LCF.' And…" Ahmed snagged one of the three copies and flipped through, then held its ninth engraving against the newly-discovered one. "Difference."

Dean let his head fall back against Ahmed's shoulder. "I do not believe this. I do not. All this time…it's been sitting in here."

"Which book was that other one from? Can you tell?" Fred asked.

"Ah…the one from the…Cenizas." Maybe Dean could blame his slowness on the many head blows he'd taken during the week. Artist forgers. Eccentric as hell, and a bit too knowledgeable about certain forbidden areas. He wondered how much of their time they'd spent reading the very texts they repaired, or imitated. "Oh, Christ. They took out one, and put a forgery in its place. Except…why?"

"To keep people from Liana from getting their hands on it, and altering things too much. There's a point when even hell cannot take any more changes, lest it shift out of existence." It was an unexpectedly cool, bitter voice that spoke, and it took a moment for Dean to realize it was Ahmed. The other man grazed his lips behind Dean's ear, then added a little more. "It wouldn't surprise me if they were taking orders from the same-I work for many different…entities is the best word, I suppose."

For a few minutes, all Dean could do was stare up, then at Fred, who seemed equally stunned. Then he twisted about and looked Ahmed directly in the eyes. "One of them being Lucifer."

* * *

Well, they hadn't started throwing Biblical condemnations at Ahmed yet, so that was a fairly good sign. On the other hand, Fred and Dean had become very quiet and still.

"Yes. When I find that the case merits my attention." Ahmed carefully lifted his hands away from Dean, just in case the other man decided to bolt. It was still their decision, he reminded himself. And after everything that had happened, they deserved the truth. "Incidentally, it doesn't interfere with my faith in Allah, but that is a very long discussion that I won't start if you don't want to."

Dean blinked, and then blinked again. He ducked his head and took Ahmed's hand in his own, then nestled beneath Ahmed's chin. "Good thing I'm not anything near religious. When you see him, you should tell him to be more careful about what he allows to get published."

"I will." Ahmed stroked a hand along Dean's side, zig-zagging to avoid the spots he knew would hurt.

On Ahmed's other side, warm flesh curved around his arm. Fred nipped at his jaw, then slid down to touch foreheads with Dean. "I'm still saying yes."

And this, after all, was why Ahmed bothered with an unnaturally long lifespan. For the chance at something like this.

Even if half of him still thought it would come crashing down after the other men had had a few weeks to think about life without supernatural intrusions and violent interruptions, like he brought. But for now, he would sit and absorb the memory.

* * *

G made one more pass around the cemetery, then headed back for the center, where Ahmed was waiting. She hopped tombstones and alighted next to the neat triad of books and engravings, which were laid out in a flattish patch of ground. Ahmed was smoking a cigarette, which she hadn't seen him do all week, and it was obscurely reassuring in a way that a thousand jokes weren't.

Anyway, his sense of humor was usually irritating as hell.

"No one's around for miles. If we're going to do it, we'd better start." She pulled out a knife and put a shallow cut across her palm, then splattered blood over the ground. Ahmed did the same before they retired to a nearby grave and waited.

The meeting didn't take very long, which was probably for the best. G wasn't particularly attached to the thought of Hell or Heaven anymore-most said that was ample proof of her corruption by the earthly realm. Which was perfectly fine with her. It was certainly more fun here, and people weren't serious all the time, unlike many of her former colleagues.

Moreover, a quick exit kept everyone's tempers smooth and not offended. Even if Ahmed did choose to take cases for Lucifer, it wasn't out of any sense of devotion to the Fallen One. If anything, he was more faithful to his conception of God than most saints she'd happened across during her travels. He simply felt that humanity should be preserved from the mistakes of outside forces, like The Book of the Nine Doors, and allowed to work out its own destinies. Under God's will, or something; having lived it, G had never been interested in philosophical theology, and she didn't particularly care how Ahmed reconciled his belief in a higher power with the idea of free will. She just cared that however that was, it worked for him.

G popped out a pocketwatch she'd nicked from High Street and checked the time. "Done early. Good. I can do some grocery shopping, then." She looked up to see Ahmed laughing very quietly, and put her hands on her hips. "Would you like to share?"

"Lucifer offers you a position in return for retrieving the books, and you turn it down. Then you talk about groceries." Still shaking his head, he took her arm and bent down to kiss her brow. "I love you as well, you know. Not the same as-"

"I do know. And I understand, now." She beamed up at him as they strolled away from the bare ground, like any other couple taking the air.

He twirled his cane, and G nearly passed out from shock. Ahmed arched an eyebrow at her expression. "Yes? Am I not permitted to be childish?" Then his face smoothed over in thought. "What is it they say? 'Better reign in hell than…'"

"It's 'Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.' John Milton. And while the man made a great deal of sense, not for me. I prefer to wander on earth." She pulled in her skirts as they passed through the gate, then directed them toward the center of town. "With good company, of course. Peter is a lovely man, but I still haven't found mine own."

"It will come," Ahmed said, corners of his mouth turned up. Then his pessimism reasserted itself and he gazed down at the dirt and pebbles their feet were brushing aside. "I prefer to believe that, at least."

So the blind fool still thought they would change their minds at the last minute. G methodically weighed the advantages and disadvantages of her next contemplated action, found them tipped toward the former category, and immediately smacked Ahmed with her purse. She dodged his retaliatory blow, then smoothed down her dress and assumed a decorous air as they approached the edges of a bustling crowd.

"So what are you doing with Godley?" Ahmed whispered. He absently tipped his hat at some passing ladies, and ignored their sighs of admiration.

G stared down the other women's jealous looks before she answered sweetly, "I'm helping him court a nice young lady who lives down the street. I make a good tutor, don't I?"

He covered up his choking rather well, she had to admit. Grinning, G searched about for the nearest sweetshop.

* * *

Dean tried to read a few more lines, then gave up and slammed his book-a normal trashy novel-shut. He bowed his head and rubbed at his nose. "Fred. He said they would be back in three hours. It's only been one."

The other man made an irked noise, but he did stop fidgeting. With a put-upon sigh that Dean should have been heaving, Fred went back to the paperwork Godley had dropped off, just after breakfast.

Two minutes, and Fred was playing with the blankets again. Dean regretfully slid a scrap of paper between the pages as a bookmark, then set the novel on the table by the bed. Then he did the same to Fred's papers.

"What are you do-" the other man started, clearly annoyed. When Dean drew back after interrupting, Fred looked considerably happier. "Oh."

"Watch the ribs," Dean muttered as Fred crawled on top of him and began kissing down his neck. He tilted back his head and put his hands on Fred's hips, then skated them up under the other man's shirt until they touched bare skin. "If it'll keep you still…"

"A fine excuse." Huffy. Rather cute expression, actually.

However, before Dean could come up with a suitable rejoinder, he had a tongue in his mouth. And then he had other preoccupations.


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