|Calling III: Church of Hecate
Author: Guede Mazaka
Seth wanted to go back to sleep. "Look, I'm really not in any kind of shape for driving."
Mig bit him on the ear. That spring-headed son of a bitch-Seth turned to yank the yapping little bastard off his side, but halfway through he noticed the road was disappearing. Right. Mountainside. Very narrow, very twisty, so he should probably jerk the hell out of the wheel and get the car back on pavement.
"You know, I agree. I'm thinking someone else should drive." Micah in the back, looking rather pale when Seth checked the rearview mirror. And tucked very closely to a stone-faced Gabriel.
"Turn left at the landslide." Which was Van Helsing's only contribution to the conversation. He'd been like a robot ever since he'd got up and mechanically hacked apart the last bits of roasted chicken for breakfast. Not even a cheery beep or whirr to break the repetitiveness of his monotone one-liners.
It made Seth wonder if maybe he should've taken an interest in the bizarre courting deal in the hallway last night. If maybe he should've ignored Mig's strangely cute possessiveness and made Micah sleep in their room instead of Gabriel's. Because even a two-year-old spoiled twit could tell that that was the start of Van Helsing's uncharacteristic silent act.
Well, it wasn't Seth's fault he hadn't. Sure, he'd spent most of his life watching over Richie and generally being the guy that tried to keep the leash from breaking, but that didn't mean he was a professional caretaker. It just meant…
"Mig, hands. Goddamn it, it's like you want me to go over the fucking cliff."
…it meant that Seth had a whacked-out affinity for psychos and people with other mental issues. Didn't mean that he was some saint that could magically deal with every single fuck-up they sent his way. Anyway, he'd figured that a bit of fun would lighten up Gabriel.
Guess not. Or else it'd been less fun and more calculating. Snuggly as he was being right now, Micah was no shrinking violet. There'd been actual bruises on Gabriel's face-though by now they'd faded almost completely away-and earlier, the man had been moving a little slower and stiffer than usual. And Seth had the great honor of knowing exactly how much damage Gabriel could take before he started to stagger.
Fingers hooked around Seth's arm, curled up his cuff. "Where are we going?"
Oh, right. Mig probably didn't have much of a clue as to what was going on-and yeah, Seth had decided he believed all of Mig's story. No, that judgment call had nothing to do with the sex. Or the surprisingly enjoyable blowjob wake-up alarm. Really. Mig was just too…well, new at everything to have any secret agenda up his sleeve. No surprise that he couldn't fight as well as his reputation said he could; he still wasn't used to moving with time, instead of against it. "The…um, some Latin name that Gab says translates to Church of Hecate. That's where the gauntlet is supposedly kept. Comte-that's the necromancer-has to get a fresh body every night in order to keep up his power. Last one was about a day behind us."
"So we're getting this gauntlet first and then killing him." Mig nuzzled into Seth's neck, and Seth let him because frankly, the whole hand-slapping thing just made Seth feel like a pinched stick-dry granny.
"If we're lucky." For the first time all morning, Gabriel showed a spark of emotion.
For a moment, Seth seriously contemplated wrenching off the wheel and using it to beat in Gabriel's piss-moody face. Then some fucking stupid furry thing ran across the road, and Seth decided he needed the wheel to stay put. The car, too, for that matter. "Look, will you knock that off? It's a simple, straightforward assignment, but if you're going to have that attitude, I might as well say fuck all and start an apocalypse on the side."
Gabriel promptly shut up and slid a little further away from Micah, whose face showed a flicker of surprisingly deep hurt before closing up. Damn it.
And Mig's hand was creeping up Seth's shirt. Shit-oh, to hell with that. Seth slung an arm around the other man and chewed on Mig's neck, absently turning the wheel with his other hand. At least this still hadn't blown up in his face.
The Church of Hecate was actually more Christian Gothic in styling, so Miguel assumed it'd been rebuilt by later worshippers. It was a nasty, slouching spike of a temple jutting out from the bleak slopes, which for about a mile around were absolutely bare of life. Past that mile, moss and scraggly plants and even a few gnarled treelets stubbornly clung to the rock, but that all ended in a jagged border that relentlessly guarded its patch of dead space.
"Not the most welcoming kind of place." Van Helsing stepped up next to Miguel, two huge rifles balanced on his shoulder.
"I wouldn't know. Most places don't welcome me." And a smirk to go with the sarcasm. Miguel took advantage of the judgmental moment that followed to size up the rifles.
Top-notch, but with a few extra parts that he hadn't ever seen on any kind of gun. The steel crackled black-blue, with occasional crimson haloing the odder additions, and it made his palms itch. Badly. He had to curl the nails in and-
--"Mig," rumbled Seth, who was digging through the car trunk. His tone was warning, but its ultimate effect was to roll through Miguel's bones, softening them with slow heat. It even took off the minor sting of getting himself such a…humiliating nickname.
Anyway, there was Gabriel to deal with. Because no matter if Seth still had an edge to his glances at Miguel, it was undeniable that between themselves, they were fermenting something that was acid and raw and definitely not easily dismissed. But it was also apparent that Seth had some kind of deal with Gabriel, and so Van Helsing also had to be handled. Which Micah didn't seem to be doing too well, seeing as how Gabriel had practically shoved him out of the car before the wheels had completely stopped. That, however, was not Miguel's problem. He didn't want to fuck Gabriel. He didn't even want to fuck with Gabriel, mostly because he had a feeling that Van Helsing wouldn't be much fun. He just wanted to set out some boundaries so he could go back to teasing Seth into a good reaming.
"So we go in, find this gauntlet, and then wait for the bad guy to show up?" Sounded easy, even if Miguel's knowledge of necromancers was slightly less than nothing. It couldn't be too much more difficult than learning to assassinate Russian mobsters. Paranoid fucks.
"I don't know if I'd call Comte bad. I've come to find that evil's a matter of perception." Gabriel absently rubbed his thumb over a very heavy, ornate ring he wore. A bit old-fashioned, but whatever. "People have a way of surprising you. Even in the moment of death."
Miguel snorted and dug into his pockets, picking out the cigarettes he'd swiped from Seth. He hadn't gotten any of the weapons, sadly, but he had gotten those. Shoved the pack up to his nose and inhaled, scenting the faint traces of cheap alcohol and blood and Seth's skin. Then he stuck a cigarette in his mouth and flicked the lighter to the end
He looked up to catch the last traces of an intensely scrutinizing look on Gabriel's face. "What?"
"Just what kind of immortal are you?" From the expression that followed, Van Helsing was probably trying to figure out which methods would work for killing Miguel.
"I'm like Seth." Miguel hoped that that would be the end of that strain of conversation, because he honestly didn't know much more than that. And even if he was trying to make a truce with Gabriel, he still didn't feel like exposing a weakness.
Unfortunately, he continued to get a blank face. But the implications of that reaction were interesting…Seth and Gabriel had never discussed that?
Van Helsing seemed to understand that as well, because almost immediately after speaking, he flinched and turned half-away. "I know he became immortal through the help of a brujah, who had an affinity for wolves and coyotes. Other than that-his type are very rare. I don't think even he knows how he does what he does, a good deal of the time."
The intent here was to convince Gabriel to not actively oppose Miguel's presence, so Miguel figured that deserved a response with a bit of substance. "I was shot dead and left in an abandoned building. When I…resurrected, I was surrounded by feral dogs. I assume they had something to do with it, but otherwise, I am also clueless."
That gave Gabriel visible pause as the other man jerked about, gaze sweeping up and down Miguel. Which was why Van Helsing completely missed the dark, fast-moving speck that was sweeping toward them.
The rifles were right there. And Gabriel's grip on them was going slack with his shift of focus. "Dogs?"
"You smell a little like one," Miguel absently replied, eyes on the growing black spot in the sky. His peripheral vision kept track of the rifles, then flicked further back to note the annoyed expression on Micah's face. Oh, for fuck's sake. What was that man's deal? If Miguel had wanted Gabriel, he would've already had him. Wasn't like it was difficult to figure out how to hit either Van Helsing's or Seth's buttons. "I don't mean that as an insult."
Van Helsing had stiffened, and the air prickled with him, suddenly full of seething menace. And now Miguel saw the truth in all the varied rumors that swirled about the man, talking of near-darkness and closer kinship to the evil Gabriel fought than to the humanity he wanted to protect, for whatever reason. "So. You know what I am?"
That the thing diving out of the sky was large, and had very wicked-looking claws, and also didn't seem happy. So Miguel said to hell with conversation and yanked that rifle away from Gabriel. Steel against his palms, and it felt like getting back a piece of himself, but he didn't have time to sigh in ecstasy like some bare-bosomed heroine. He whipped up the rifle, not bothering to aim, and shot holes in the wing-webs.
A shriek shattered the air, and it started to plummet. Then-it recovered? The fuck? It shouldn't be able to fly-
"Goddamn it, down!" Something slammed into Miguel from behind, and as he instinctively twisted around the rifle, he felt the white-hot graze of a single claw tip across the side of his face. "You-you-shit."
Miguel dimly heard gunfire as Van Helsing opened up with the other rifle on the bat-thing, but he was more than slightly preoccupied with tongue quickly licking up his blood, soothing his cut, and with tattoos filling his vision as Seth's throat stretched above him, vulnerable to attack. He could've killed Seth right there, without any trouble. And he couldn't have if his life had depended on it. Something held him down and forbade him to even think about it-the thought was pushed up by old reflexes that assessed every situation in terms of killing, and was slapped apart even quicker by new reflexes from…well…
"Here." Seth slapped the rifle, now with glowing bits, back into Miguel's hands. "Shoot, you fucking moron."
Which Miguel obediently rolled over and did. It was a complete anticlimax when the thing promptly crashed to the ground and then stayed down, and for the first time, the kill didn't do anything for Miguel. Because he'd just realized he had, in fact, managed to find something better.
"He's closer than we thought." Squatting by the rotted, deformed corpse that had been shot from the sky, Gabriel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he looked at the world again, his face had become shuttered and hard. "Into the temple. Seth, take Micah and find the gauntlet. Miguel and I'll watch the entrance."
What? Was Micah mishearing things, or had the attack completely addled Gabriel's brains?
All right, it'd been made clear that whatever Micah had seen in the other man's eyes last night-and there had been a kind of dark enjoyment in them-Gabriel hadn't appreciated anything of yesterday's tumble. Fuck, denial was irritating. Especially when it was acted out in such obvious, childish ways. Micah had known teenagers to be more mature than this.
Some of that must have shown in his face, because Gabriel's gaze stopped on him and went even cooler. "We need that gauntlet destroyed as soon as possible, and since you say you know how-"
"I do know how. For Christ's sakes, you could've just told me to fuck off." God, Micah wanted a cigarette. Maybe he could pity-guilt Gecko into surrendering a few. And maybe roosters would lay eggs.
"No, I couldn't-" Gabriel began, tone strained with impatient condescension.
Micah's temper might have been fraying. Just a little. "Not then, you dumb fuck. Before that-Virgin Mary have mercy, but I was as obvious as a whore in a strip club. And you never told me to stop."
"Should we leave you two alone?" Seth asked, amused. Well, he could afford to be, given how Bain was nuzzling up to his neck. And cuddling that rifle. Psychotic weirdo.
"No. Get going." Very much not in the mood to argue, Gabriel walked over and yanked Bain off Seth.
And promptly got a rifle in his face, which he knocked away, only to find two pistols in their place. Micah blinked, because his vision was also blocked by a gun: the one he'd swiped while helping Seth unload the trunk. He…hadn't expected his own reaction to be so…aggressive. That wasn't part of the plan.
"Okay, this is officially ridiculous." Surprisingly, it was at Miguel that Seth glared. "All right. Micah."
"Hmm?" Still bemused, Micah almost missed the flash of startled openness on Gabriel's face. So it seemed that Van Helsing wasn't used to people springing to his defense. Fair enough. Micah still wasn't sure why he was taking his flirtation this far.
"Put down your fucking gun; you already know you can't kill any of us. Gabriel-you ever touch Mig like that again, and I'll throw you through the fucking car. Mig, you even think about being smug, and I'll fuck you until your pelvis breaks. And then we can't fuck." At the end of his little speech, Seth jerked up his chin, eyes narrowed in a challenging look. At Gabriel.
The air turned blue, electrified-and snapped back to normal. Gabriel's head made a slight incline, and Seth grunted. Put away his gun and peeled Bain off of him, then stalked past Micah. "Come on. Christ, I never get any luck around here," Gecko muttered.
Behind him, an uncharacteristically quiet Bain shuffled forward a pace.
Seth stopped and sighed, then looked upwards. "Oh, fuck it. Like you ever answer." He glanced back. "You said you wanted a gun. Now you've got one. Shut up and don't bug Gab into killing you, because I cannot deal with any more shit right now. Get me?"
"Bastard." But Miguel, Micah was interested to see, stayed.
And right, Micah was supposed to go. Well, he'd go. He wasn't happy about it-actually, he should be. Hadn't he been wishing he could deal with Seth and not Gabriel?
Of course, now that he had what he wanted, he suddenly discovered that that wasn't really what he would've liked to get. Seth was straightforward and easy-to-read, yet fully capable of flipping the odds around. And had a great ass, and tattoos, and yet…
…lovely. Micah had gone and decided to keep chasing after the great Van Helsing, who in person was annoyingly-and yes, a little intriguingly-human. Also in deep, deep denial. Deep as the piles of sewer shit in the ghettos.
And Micah came to a decision. So maybe he wanted a little more than just a spectacular fuck-obviously, Gabriel wasn't going to give it to him. Fine. He'd just go back to his original plan, and get the hell out of these mountains as soon as possible. This kind of landscape was supposed to be friendly to his people, but this particular range had brought him nothing but bad luck. "Right, then. Mind if we get going before the sun goes down?"
The inside of the church wasn't much better than the outside, corners slashing at odd angles and low ceiling cramping what little air manages to filter in. It made Bain nervous, and the consequent bounce-jitter that served the man for a walk didn't do very much for Gabriel's nerves. At least Bain did know how to be silent; in fact, it was almost eerie how Miguel twitched and backstepped, wary and frenetic and still somehow graceful in its lack of noise. Gabriel supposed that there was some truth to the man's claim to be an assassin.
An odd pairing, Miguel and Seth made. On the surface, anyway. If Gabriel didn't think about it-if he just tried to see it, to sense it, then it made perfect sense. Push-pull, shove-take, and Miguel seemed to find some kind of balance in Seth, while in his turn Gecko apparently thought Bain a good outlet for his…more animalistic impulses.
Lucky man, Seth. He had rather good control on the side-effects of his immortality, and if he wanted, he could probably still function in normal society with barely a sideways glance at him. Whereas Gabriel…
…had been clenching his teeth into his tongue till the blood ran down his throat, had locked his hands into fists, had been fighting during the entire car ride over not to simply turn and crush Micah to the seat. To rip off that annoying clothing, which covered up all those twisting dark-light lines whose edges peeked from collar and cuffs, teasing and calling and-and completely unbidden, scorched-edge memory of bare throat and stomach, of sweet skin and sweeter fear.
Damn. Damn, damn, damn. It wasn't anything like what Gabriel had known before: Anna's passion and unexpected tenderness, Carl's quirky and forgiving friendship…Vladislaus' sensuous dark temptation. It wasn't even like the strange, often-strained interaction between him and Seth.
He still wasn't sure why the other man stayed around, aside from an inexplicable desire to make sure Gabriel stayed in touch with humanity's reality. Because that was essentially what Seth did. He was strong enough to stare down the beast within Gabriel, and was alike enough to understand what that wild call did to Gabriel. To reverse it.
Micah, on the other hand, brought out the worst in Gabriel. The damned Gypsy had no idea just what kind of razor-toothed blackness with which he was trying to toy. Unfortunately, explaining all those ramifications to Micah would also involve revealing far more about Gabriel than he was comfortable doing.
"And you think I'm scatterbrained." A quick, mocking whisper-rasp before Miguel whacked Gabriel to the ground with the rifle butt.
"Kreeagh!" Denied of her prey, the harpy swooped towards the back of the temple. Then a shot rang out, and it crashed into a grotesque carved face, sending chunks of rock thundering to the ground as it smashed green. Over the din of cracking stone rose the angered screams of more harpies.
Gabriel scrambled out of the way of another one's stoop, whipping out his guns as he did. Miguel was already three up on him, rifle effortlessly spinning from one target to another, but Gabriel soon evened things up. "I never said that," he hissed, avoiding raking claws and watching with grim satisfaction as his gunshots quickly decimated their owners.
"But it's in your face every time you see me and Seth." The other man rolled his eyes and leaped for the protection of a pillar as one harpy dove too close for the rifle's range. It completely ignored Gabriel. Fatal mistake.
He stepped left and slammed his gun butt into its passing wingtip. Got his sleeve sliced open, but the monster was sent careering off into a column of brooding black stone. His blood was running hot down his arm, but Gabriel barely noticed in the rise of adrenaline. "Your actions don't help your case. Do you even bother to think about the consequences of anything you do?"
"Of course I do. I'm a professional." Miguel darted out and shot down two more, then ducked back to reload. "But I'm also not dead!" he yelled over the screeching. "I'm alive, and I act like it, you…fucking hypocrite, I think they say? I don't pretend to be what I'm not!"
"What do you mean?" Gabriel snapped back, not really listening. Too many-damn, they'd have to retreat. He dearly hoped that Seth and Micah had taken care of the gauntlet by now. "To the back! Get to the back!"
"I'm what I am, and I like it that way." Like a dancer, Miguel nimbly dodged attacks as he began to follow Gabriel further into the temple. His bullets continued to litter the floor with corpses. "It's not normal, or nice, but who cares? I don't. And even if I did, wishing it would change wouldn't do any good. Just makes things worse."
And that…made too much sense. The words struck deep into Gabriel's frustration, breaking the barriers and letting loose the midnight horror within himself that scared him and enticed him and it was all. Too. Much.
Oh, thank God. The back passages of the church-temple, whatever the architects that Micah definitely wasn't called it-were as twisted as the family trees of backwoods trash, and he'd begun to despair of ever seeing a familiar symbol. But there it was, big as his two fists put together and unmistakable.
So he whipped around and pointed in the opposite direction. "There!"
"What-" Seth wasn't turning fast enough, so Micah had to hit him while he was still partly looking at Micah.
It was a shame, really, but what had to be done, well, had to be done. And anyway, as Seth had said before, Micah couldn't kill them. Gecko would be on his feet in no time.
Fearing just that, Micah stepped over the other man's slumped body and hurried into the small room, following the line of archaic script as it arced around the walls. He trailed it to a block of stone that protruded just a little from its brothers, then knelt by it and pushed. On the other side of the room, part of the wall swung away, creaking like an old man's bone. He ducked into the tiny alcove and dropped beside what once had been an ornate box of silver-inlaid ironwork. All covered in tarnish and rust now, but the hinges still worked.
And there was the gauntlet. Massive, probably capable of crushing skulls with a slight tap. Micah carefully wrenched it free of its velvet-padding cradle and laid it on his lap, his lips and tongue shaping the old, power-drenched words. The metal began to glow blue, and-
--he must have blacked out. It hadn't been for too long, because the gauntlet was still rocking on the floor, where it'd tumbled when he had fallen backward. His side and cheek had gotten even more bruises to add to Gabriel's-but never mind that. Micah was free.
"In a manner of speaking."
The voice rasped his marrow raw, shot lead needles into his spirits. Very slowly, Micah turned over and looked up.
"Free of one curse. Very clever of you-just in time for your death."
Before Micah could react, the necromancer had seized him by the throat and slammed something hard into his temple. Pain exploded black, and-
"Goddamn fucking son of a bitch!"
What with all the swearing, it was easy to find Seth. He was just staggering to his feet when Miguel and Gabriel arrived, panting from outrunning the remaining harpies, and he didn't look in the slightest bit happy.
And no Micah. Gabriel scanned the surrounding corridors twice, feeling his chest tighten in confused anger. What-well, what did he think? Seth with a new blood-encrusted bruise on his head, Miguel growling even as he lapped the blood off Seth's face, and a missing Gypsy. The fury in Gabriel turned cold as ice, and he began to lose himself.
"Christ, what happened to you?" As was usual, Seth brought him back.
"Went nuts. Charged the harpies-I had to drag him out." Bain grumpily poked at Gabriel.
"Where'd he go?" Gabriel hissed, feeling the dark wash through his veins. And for once, he didn't mind in the least. When he found that traitorous…
Oddly, Seth hesitated before answering. And took a step back, gathering Bain to him. Weakness, fear, murmured the shadows to-
--"You fucking lunatic." Seth's eyes snapped white fire, then shifted back to normal. "I was looking that way when he hit me, so I'm guessing he went in the opposite direction. And damn it, Gabriel, get your head together."
"I'm going to-"
"Stop that." Gecko stiffened and bristled, his lips curling back in a snarl. Challenge, as if he could stand against Gabriel. As if he could actually be on equal terms with…with…
…the world whirled, shattered into heavy breathing and salt stinging the cuts on Gabriel's tongue. He forced himself to back up until he was sure that it was him thinking, moving. "Sorry."
"When this is over, you're getting yourself fixed. Gab, I like you, but this is getting to be too fucking much." Still casting sidelong looks at Gabriel, Seth clicked fresh clips into his guns. "Okay. Let's go."