|Calling I: Raising the Dead
Author: Guede Mazaka
For an ageless whatever-the-fuck with a gift for mass-chaos, Gabriel could be remarkably shitheaded at times. Like now. Seth mentally kicked himself for helping out that brujah in El Rey, no matter how good of a fuck she'd been. Immortality was such a fucking bitch, slinging him out of a nice sunny retirement and permanently back into a game of werewolves and vampires and really, really stupid Vatican-connected partners. "Okay. Let me get this straight. We're tracking a necromancer. We come here because that's where the evidence points. I park the car and you go out for supplies."
Gabriel nodded. At least, Seth figured that shaking of hat and thick leather overcoat and various dirty splotches was a nod. Christ. It was like living with a medieval precursor of the hillbilly shotgun gangs.
At their feet, the bundles of rough cloth rustled. Two hands, messily bound with rope, poked out. Seth tried to nudge them back in with his boot-tip, but they grabbed on and refused to let go until he smacked the humps with his gun. "I asked you to get me a beer! These aren't even remotely alcohol-related! Hell, they aren't even fucking dogs, so we could use them on those damned hellhounds."
God, he hated the mountains. If it wasn't the freakishly inbred villagers, it was the bad weather and constant shortage of tequila. And whiskey. And anything else that would make life a little less obvious, if not easier.
"No," Gabriel acknowledged. "They're smarter." Pause as he glanced down. "I think they're smarter."
Seth gave up and threw himself down on the porch, which whined like a two-bit whore and bucked him. So he slapped it. "You know, when I said to get a fucking sense of humor, I meant so you could help improve the situation. That is not improving the goddamn situation."
"Well, I couldn't just leave them there." Brown swirled and flapped as Gabriel stalked off with the rest of the supplies, apparently not in the mood. If the fucker ever was in the mood. Wasn't even that to console Seth, up here; all the women were crawling with parasites and hostility, and all the men were smushed-nose ugly. And apparently, Gabriel was an unofficial monk. Too bad. Getting banged good and hard might have made him tolerable.
"Did you at least kill the werewolf?" Seth yelled after the other man.
"Take it that's a no. Fuck." So on top of everything else, they had a hungry man-beast running around, looking for a nice bite to replace his stolen weekly offering. Sort of like a biker on Saturday night, but hairier. And hell, the sun was going down.
Seth suppressed his annoyance and got off the porch. He kept his gun out as he found a free corner and yanked.
Dust whirled up in the air, great fucking masses of choking stuff, then exploded apart before a clumsy lunge. He dodged sideways, grabbed at the black top and found out it was really thick curls, then had the thing on its belly with his knee across the back of its neck and his gun pointed at the other thing. "Look, I'm really pissed off right now. So you want to stay out here and take your chances with the bumpy night, go ahead. You want inside, you behave."
"Motherfucker." Well, whoever it was spoke English. And was pretty damn strong, to judge by the way he braced his arms and shoved up, nearly knocking Seth over. One flailing leg came damn near to socking Seth in the stomach, but he twisted so it just bruised his side and whacked the butt of his gun on the other man's shoulder. And repeated that until the bastard settled. "Okay, okay. I'm stopping. See?"
"I see, but I'm not so sure I believe." Very nice body, lean muscle and silky gold skin, and what looked like a rather pretty face, considering the bits Seth wasn't crushing into the ground. And Spanish accent. Had to be a tourist. "Got a name? That's pronounceable?"
Strangled sneer. "Miguel Bain."
"Oh, the assassin? I thought you bit it in the Caribbean somewhere." Very slowly, always keeping his eye on the quick fucker, Seth rocked back so Miguel could roll free. Which the man did, somehow managing to look fresh as a daisy despite the mud-caked patches and bruises. And cocky as fuck. Seth attempted to restrain his urge to cuff the smirk off the man's face.
"Well, I'm not that easy." Still smiling, Miguel tilted his head, eyes flicking all over the place. And the nearest drugstore was another country over, so Seth told himself to forget about the Ritalin mainline. "Aren't you supposed to have a brother?"
Seth got rid of his gun and flicked out his dagger. "You want to be dog food?"
"We getting inside any time soon?' broke in the other wolf-bait, who was dirty and blond and whipcord lean. But mostly dirty. "Micah, by the way. Nice to meet you, Seth, now get me the fuck away from that howling."
Okay, backtrack. Both of them knew who he was? And they were obviously not from the area, and they were somehow all meeting in the middle of some really, really obscure mountains. Something was off. And it fucking reeked. "What's going on?"
In the distance, wolves shrieked at the full moon. Just like a housewife catching her man in bed with her sister.
"Goddamn it, I hate that sound." Seth put his dagger away and yanked a cigarette into his mouth. While lighting it, he suddenly noticed that the other men had gone strangely quiet. They had their heads turned toward the godawful noise, ears almost visibly pricking up, and Miguel almost seemed to be growling.
Which was somewhat understandable, if the nearest troupe of villagers had decided to offer up the strangers as food to the wild. But still…not exactly the normal reaction.
"We might be able to help with that necromancy problem." Micah appeared to be Irish. But then he sounded vaguely American. East Coast, definitely, so maybe Boston. "If you'll be taking us inside before they get here."
"Christ, you aren't scared, are you? They're more annoying than anything." Seth sucked on his cancerstick, then stubbed it out and screamed back. High, keening, and telling those mangy furballs to fuck off before he turned them into smashed meatballs.
That finally brought Gabriel back. "I thought I told you not to do that. It lets them know where we are."
"And you don't think they do already? Fucking God, man." As he pulled out another cigarette, Seth raised a hand for quiet.
One distant yelp. Then silence.
"Just plain wolves, and a free pack to boot. Won't be messing around us if they can help it." Miguel, Seth was oddly gratified to see, looked suitably impressed. "Gab, you really need to spend a few weeks in Mexico. Might learn something about handling wild things, instead of just knowing how to kill them."
And with that, Seth grabbed Miguel by the back of the neck and hauled the protesting, squirming bastard inside. Gabriel had brought them, so the least he could do was deal with the other one. Seth already had enough shit on his plate, and he damn well wasn't going to eat it if he could fob it off on someone else.
Gabriel watched the other man stomp off, then bit down on his retort and turned back around.
"Take it you're not precisely friendly, are you? Bit of trouble communicating?"
He ignored the verbal jabs and simply grabbed the man's wrist bonds, using them to pull him inside. Micah cursed, but hurried along. Wise, as evening was very short here.
Once inside, Gabriel dropped the other man off in a corner and locked the door, a process that involved not only locks, but also strings of charms, garlic, a spritz of silver nitrate, and a bit of red chalk. It wasn't quite as bad as Transylvania, but it was a little too close for comfort. "What are you doing here?"
"Sightseeing, mostly. Thought I'd take in the sunsets-was told they're abso-fucking-lutely beautiful." Instead of getting up, Micah chose to sprawl further across the floor. He rolled onto his back and stretched, pushing his arms above his head in a disturbing parody of a stained-glass martyr. Blue eyes slitted open, slid down Gabriel. "Van Helsing?"
"You seem to be well-informed for a passing traveler." Inside the unusually substantial house Seth had somehow found-Gabriel had stopped asking about that particular talent of the man after Morocco and the mummy-there were sockets for lightbulbs, but apparently no bulbs. Gabriel searched about a bit and dug up an old-fashioned candlestick and some thick tallow candles, which smelled abominably but did throw off a beautifully clear yellow light.
"Well, I'm not your average passing traveler, you see. I've been looking specifically for you. Though I've no idea what Bain's doing here, honestly." Micah flipped over and pushed up on his elbows, then rested his chin on his hands. The tattoos on his arms rippled, went darker blue as Gabriel shifted the light away, then-
--Gabriel whirled back and shoved the other man against the wall. "What was that?"
"What was what? Hey, you'll be dripping wax in a moment if you're not watching. Ruin your nice leather." Chin up, Micah lazily grinned and leaned back, as if he was simply lounging in a café.
Slightly puzzled, Gabriel didn't immediately respond. Apparently, that emboldened the other man, because Micah snaked his hands up between them, rasping the rope over Gabriel's coat. At one point, it caught on a button, and he took his time freeing himself. His voice dropped a few notes as he stroked fingers up Gabriel's chest. "Don't tell me you're liking the wax…that'd just be too damn lucky for my life. Anyway, about getting us away from those fuckheads with the pitchforks-" his lips were on Gabriel's nose and then gone, leaving a feather impress in their wake "-that was nice of you."
"You're welcome." Sarcasm flooded Gabriel's voice as he let go and drew away. "If you're from Rome, or any of their affiliates, I don't care. I don't work for them now. Not after World War II."
Micah's eyebrow went up. "The Church? Do I look like a religious man to you?"
"If you washed up a little, you might just pass for an altar boy." Seth wandered into the hallway, then out. "Speaking of, we got any soap? Or floor cleaner?"
"Soap." Gabriel briefly wondered if the nighttime racket had finally gotten to his partner. "Seth…"
"Never mind. Found some." Gecko strolled back through the hall, flipping fingers over his shoulders. And then an amused look. "Hey, don't let me interrupt."
Liquid shrug of shoulders, and Gabriel's attention snapped back to the man against the wall. He narrowed his eyes, sent his gaze along each line of every marking, comparing them to the engravings and woodcuts of his memories until he got a match for one.
Left side of the stomach. Black dragon, tail curling down one hip and disappearing into the grubby waistband, with sheep's-knuckle dice clutched in one pair of foreclaws and a human skull in the other. Then shaggy spikes obscured his view as Micah twisted to look at him upside-down. "Would you be done judging the goods, or should I turn around and drop my pants like a good boy?"
"Gypsies." Gabriel pivoted on his heel and walked into the back room, which he hoped was the kitchen. His stomach was beginning to gnaw at him.
"Well, you weren't thinking that the Valerious family was the only line of us, did you?" Footsteps jangled next to him, and then passed him with seemingly little effort. Micah quirked his lips and nodded at his hands. "Bit rude, isn't it?"
"I'm not so fond of your people as I was in the past." Not bothering to look, Gabriel whipped his knife out and through the rope. He tossed the blade at something skittering in the corner and started flipping open cabinets. The dust billowed out at him, coating his already dry throat with suffocation. He coughed, slammed the doors shut and went back to the meager bit of food he'd managed to buy from the locals before he'd noticed the struggling at the other end of the town. "What are you doing here?"
The creak of water in ancient piping answered him. Disgusted, Micah flicked his hand through the brownish stream that issued from the faucet. "Christ on his throne. It's cleaner in New York."
New York. It had been a nice city, relatively speaking. At the least, its natives didn't seem to give a damn about what Van Helsing was killing, as long as he kept the bodies off their doorstep. And he could easily imagine Micah shifting about the back of an NY bar, laughing and play-wrestling with friends and relatives as they planned out the next bit of mischief. In the mountains, the man still had that easy-flowing, silken kinetic assurance, but that only marked him out as a disturbance, an outsider. The rocks were hard and solid and resistant to change, and the men they bred were as alike to them as twins. No wonder he'd gotten picked for werewolf feeding.
Regardless, he seemed to be taking everything in stride. After his initial complaint, he'd gone ahead and ducked his head under the water, splashing big handfuls over himself so trickles ran down his back and detoured along his ribs. They soaked into his trousers, making the top of it cling closely to his hips.
Purposefully, no doubt. Carl had eventually gotten very fond of the openhanded double-dealing that characterized most Gypsy bands, and he'd settled for a while with one bright-eyed girl. The area had been overrun with kelpies, and so the Vatican had agreed to let Gabriel stay put for a while. And during that while, he'd learned a lot about Gypsies. Enough to know that Anna and her family had been about as different from the majority of them as he was from the majority of humanity.
"So what? One of us cheat you out of a horse, back in the day? Steal your girlfriend? Steal your gun?" Micah cast a coy look over one shoulder as he finished washing up with a shake of his head. Water splattered everywhere.
Aggravating as they were, however, they had been staunch allies when the ax came down, or the moon rose, or the helpless cry split the night. So Gabriel swallowed his exasperation and instead nibbled morosely at his food. Seth had been right to be annoyed with him; now they had to take care of the werewolf. And that was going to bring attention just when they didn't need it. "What do you know?"
"Well, you and the necromancer-you're both going for the same relic. And as my family had a hand in the making of said relic…come to think of it, probably a few rolls in the hay, too…I thought I'd come up to this godforsaken land and give you a hand." Level look in the eyes, insolent quirk of the lips below.
Gabriel was being played, damn it. Again and again. Churches and vampires and ordinary, scared people trying to protect themselves instead of being sensible.
"Do you want a piece of this?" He proffered half of his sandwich. The cheese was yellow, and what was supposed to be the meat had a vague red tint, but aside from that Gabriel didn't know and didn't care. Same principle he used whenever Seth suddenly displayed a talent that bore a dangerous resemblance to those of the creatures and people they hunted. Beneath all the sharp words and sharper action, Gecko was a reasonably good man. Reliable, at least, and not interested in betraying Gabriel. That was about all that could be expected of a partner, nowadays. Everything had gone hard and glittering steel, full of electron-speed like the cell phone Seth had talked Gabriel into carrying. It wasn't like the old times.
And yes, Gabriel had remembered. It was just predictable that once he had, he'd wished he hadn't.
Micah suddenly went wary, sidling up to Gabriel like a dog knowing the kick was going, but unable to resist the offered scrap. He took the sandwich half with the very tips of his fingers. "Generous of you. Thanks."
So the odds were tipping out of Gabriel's favor. He was used to that. And…he'd been thinking about ways to get around that. When Seth could be kept sober and focused, he was a remarkably smart and clever man. A good teacher about the current century.
Seth rubbed his knuckles across his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he tightened his grip on Miguel's nape and shoved the other man face-down into the really, really fucking antique bathtub. Claw feet. Dragon-head faucet. Jesus. Where were they, the set of a string-budget horror movie?
He swigged from the bottle of tequila that Gabriel, thank that man for getting something right, had somehow found. "Mig, do me a favor and don't make me knock you out. I clean off enough blood just doing my job."
"Fuck. You." More thrashing. A few hits actually did connect, but Bain was surprisingly bad at hand-to-hand. Or maybe Seth had just learned a lot from bashing in wendigos-which were very, very good reasons why Canada was a lousy country to visit. The northern parts, anyway; Montréal could be damn fun.
Rolling his eyes, Seth ground his thumb further into the top of Miguel's spine. The other man froze. "Thank you, God. Or Satan, whichever one of you actually gets things done."
"Atheist?" Slowly and quickly, the way a snake uncoiled in less than a blink and still seemed to do it in stretched-out time, Miguel's back curved so Seth's thumb slid into the hollow at the base of Miguel's skull, where it joined the neck. He sank into the already muddied waters so particles of brown slicked over his muscles.
Okay. Right. Seth thought about it, considered the fact that this was probably going to be dangerous to his health, and then forgot about that when Miguel bumped his hip against Seth's hand, asking. Obligingly, Seth glided the sliver of soap over the other man. He pressed his tongue against his teeth. "Who's asking?"
One eye, rich color of the coffin wood around here, gleamed at him. Then it shuttered in long velvet eyelashes. "I'm just curious. And bored."
That stung, so Seth stung back. He dropped the soap in its dish and pulled the plug, then cranked the knobs so he could splash fresh water over the other man. It was icy cold, and every bit that hit Miguel provoked a violent shudder. Didn't seem like the man really minded, though. Fuck.
Maybe. "So how'd you get up here?"
"I did die, back in the fight with Rath. And then I came back." Miguel shrugged. "Asked around, found a few of your Mexican friends-"
"Guitars?" Seth scraped off the last suds, then flopped Bain out of the tub.
Smirk. Hands, their wrists still raw red from the ropes, splayed across Seth's thighs, soaking his pants. Clammy as fuck. Seth half-heartedly smacked at them and got a faceful of wet curls as Miguel protested by scrambling even closer. "Hmm. You're a hard man to find, these past few years. I had to do a lot of digging."
"You're good at that, I hear. Obsession with Rath-I was just a bank robber, and I heard about that." Seth reached past Miguel and slopped some more tequila into his mouth. A few drops fell on a pink-stained graze in Bain's back, and he shivered. Nudged into Seth's neck and fucking sucked his way down one black flame. "Sorry, was that a sore spot?"
Of course it was. Before he could get an answer, which might not have been pleasant, Seth tipped over the bottle and sluiced the alcohol across every single bruise and cut he could see on Mig.
Frantic Spanish swearing was the answer he got, but Bain stayed put. Dived a little deeper, actually. A thumb drawn slow over one dark spot elicited a hiss, and a little pressure, a full whimper. And then Mig was abruptly all wriggles, softhard and slippery from the soap, nosing and licking and bumping. Cock into Seth's leg, hands on Seth's chest, chin on Seth's collarbone as tongue and lips played over his tattoos. And teeth-the fucker wasn't anything near gentle. So Seth cut his nail down Mig's backbone, forced the writhing body still by pinning it to the ground, and took his time about finding out what Mig tasted like. After all, there was going to be a catch somewhere, and given the local population, he didn't know when he was going to get another fuck.
Nutmeg, oddly enough. No-chili pepper. Cinnamon. And fuck all, tequila. Seth slurped his way over the other man's back, sucking off every drop and pressing teeth into every bruise. At that, Mig growled and jerked up. A bite to the neck, held for a minute, took care of that. "This what you came for? Because I don't actually know shit. I just kill things."
"Not really, but I'll take it. If you would just-" push of ass into erection "-get-" bite at arm "-to-" groan as Seth snapped teeth into Mig's shoulder "-goddamn it, fuck me."
"What do I look like, a walking sex shop?" Seth wrenched the other man's hands in front and clamped them there with one hand, then yanked down his pants. Fucking God, that was a relief. Grinding flesh against flesh, and Christ. Sweet, sweet curving groove between buttocks, that just hugged tight and gave in all the right places. "Don't have anything."
"Then you'd better get some." Mig bucked back, twisted and whipped against Seth. Was like trying to tumble a frisky tornado, but damned if it wasn't the most fun Seth had had in weeks. "Oh-fucker-motherfucking-"
Seth raked his nails over Mig's belly, caught the upwince in his mouth and suckled on the point of Mig's shoulder. Swirled his tongue over the scrape there and tasted molten metal. He pressed down. Crushed, even, and the tip of his cock brushed over a slight dip, caught on the hole, and God, it was so, so fucking frustrating to not be able to just shove in. Ream his armful of cursing, warm, bouncing eagerness six feet into the ground. But then Mig moved down a fraction, the way their bodies fit together shifted, and Seth's mind crashed into a new gear.
Lips were desperately licking at his other hand, which was slammed against the floor for balance. They pried off his thumb from the floor, sucked it into wet heat. Seth literally had to headbutt Mig to get the other man to release it. That earned him another round of gasped grumbling, but that stopped when Seth grabbed for Mig's prick. Put it in a firm grip, then tightened a little more so Mig's voice dropped an octave to low earthy rumbling.
It was fast, and messier than a pick-up battering match in a backstreet alley, but it was the best fuck Seth had had in…well…oh, hell with comparisons. He was shoving like an animal, grunting whenever Mig wasn't moaning, and his thumb was rubbing over the tip of good, straining, heated flesh. And then everything was cooling, sticky and sweaty and fuck. Just…fuck.
Very much time to collapse. After a moment, Seth remembered to roll over and give Mig a chance to breathe. Instead, the manic little puppy-man wriggled on top and nuzzled into Seth's throat, murmuring even more curses like…gooshy love words, or something. Then he ripped a cut in Seth's shoulder with his teeth, which was more like it.
"Well, you found me." Seth tangled fingers in Mig's hair and dragged the bastard down for a kiss that turned Mig into moaning limpness. Still wasn't sure if any of it was good in the long run, but in the short, he didn't mind. At-fucking-all.
"Yeah." Sly look. "Do I get fed now?"
Gabriel stared down at his occupied bed. His back was sore, his legs were still aching from the fight two days ago with an undead stallion, and yet, he was planning to sleep on the floor. Something was definitely wrong with this picture.
On the sagging mattress, Micah made a little whistling noise and turned over, kicking aside the blankets so his entire front was exposed. The dim starlight silvered his skin except for the tattoos, which seemed to go even darker, like cracks in marble.
"Pretty." Following his whisper, Seth ducked into the doorway. He still had that damnable spark in his eyes.
"And why are you so cheerful?" It was odd; usually Seth spent the few minutes of rest they had during dusk griping while he polished his guns. Or moving silently around, occasionally pausing to cock an ear at distant sounds.
Now, Gecko was almost pleasant. "Because I fucked. Why do you think?"
Gabriel did his best to stifle his choking, and moved out of the room. He pulled Seth along by the arm until they were somewhere they couldn't be heard. "Micah's a Gypsy, from the line that made the gauntlet. He says he's here to help."
"And Mig says he's here for…hell, I don't know. Advice, or something." Seth shook his head and laughed as he slouched against a door. "We're being fucked, aren't we? Is it yours, or mine?"
"Probably mine, mostly." It was a relief to know that whatever Seth was doing with Bain, he wasn't blinded by it. On the other hand, Gabriel was rather concerned about the laidback manner in which Seth was taking their situation: in a very isolated land, with no allies except themselves, and with more than one enemy gunning for them.
Something of his worry must have showed, because Seth's face sobered. "Listen. I fucking know, all right? But we can't do shit about it now, so why nag?"
"You sound like you're in this situation a lot," Gabriel muttered.
"Yeah, well, you don't get immortality by walking into a shop and pulling out a fucking big shotgun." Seth tapped his chin. "Actually, you do in Mexico. But there's a whole shitload of other crap involved, too. None of it's nice, or predictable, so whatever."
For some reason, Gabriel found that bizarrely reassuring. He smiled, albeit ironically, and when Seth offered a cigarette, he decided to accept even though he didn't habitually smoke. They puffed grey past each other in companionable silence, listening to the groaning and cracking of the old timbers.
Somewhere in the house, a working clock doggedly hung on and chimed the hour. On the last stroke, a spectacularly heavy weight crashed to the ground outside the house, shaking the entire structure. "Well, fuck. Back on the clock," Seth said. He stubbed out his cigarette and shook a gun into his hand.
"You take the left. I'll go right." Gabriel got out two of his pistols, one of them loaded with ordinary bullets just in case it proved to be something that didn't need expensive silver. He glanced upwards, then over towards the room where Micah was sleeping. "You think they'll stay put?"
"Not on your life," Seth snorted. "Come on. I want to get some actual sleep tonight."