|Calling IV: Dead Man's Hand
Author: Guede Mazaka
It didn't take long to find the errant Gypsy; as tortuous as the back-passages of the Church of Hecate were, their walls were decorated with thousands and thousands of symbols in several languages, fragments of which Gabriel recognized. They led him to a small room, not so far from where he and Miguel had found a reviving Seth, and to the absolute last thing he wanted to see.
Comte with the gauntlet, already in his spell-casting circle. And at his feet, an unconscious Micah.
"Fuck," Seth hissed, shoving Miguel back out of the room. They wisely let Gabriel enter first.
Wisely, because Gabriel knew that crackling dark lightning that was gathering around the necromancer far better than they, far better than was good for him, and he was slightly far too gone to recognize them if they'd tried to push him from it.
His gun dropped down and snapped its half-used clip out. Gabriel didn't bother putting more bullets in. Ordinary metal wasn't going to be able to do anything to this kind of power. "Comte."
"Van Helsing." The necromancer was tall, emaciated and white as a shroud. Looked as dead as the bodies of his victims, as if his magic was sucking him dry. Which it may very well have been, as Seth and Gabriel had kept him running too fast to get as many fresh bodies as he needed to keep up his strength. "I'm deeply honored. To be classified with such luminaries as Vlad Dracul…"
"You've garnered no such recognition." Gabriel took another step inside, careful to show his gun dropping to the ground. After a moment, he lost the hat and the coat as well. He had just enough rationality left to remember that he liked them, and he wouldn't be able to keep liking them after what he was going to do.
He hoped Seth would be able to bring him back again.
Then again, if he made even one move toward Bain, that wouldn't be a problem. "I stopped working for the Vatican some time ago," Gabriel said.
"Exactly what I was referring to." Comte lounged back, apparently too certain of his spells' strength to worry. "They don't know anything of true evil. They only know opposition. Whereas you…"
The prickling gathered around Gabriel's shoulderblades, at first little more than vague sparks of pain, but quickly growing to sharp stabs that threatened to send him onto his knees. It must have showed on his face, because satisfaction beamed from Comte's face.
"…but that's a discussion for a later time. Right now, I have work to do." Comte bent down and, with his gauntleted hand, touched the back of Micah's neck, just over the spine. Then he ripped the sharp edge of a knuckle guard down Micah's backbone.
Gabriel could see that it was just a shallow cut, but what he was smelling was blood and heat and flooding hurtshockfear as Micah jerked awake. He curled his hands and forced himself to wait, to clamp down until he was ready to go all the way. "You really shouldn't have done that."
"And why not? Don't tell me you've become fond of another one of those slippery cheats." Squatting beside Micah, Comte held down the other man's hands and expertly cut a sigil into one tattooed shoulder. Micah twisted, getting in one good hit, but he was quickly re-seized and slammed down. The room began to echo with old chants, with dying screams and fire sputtering. "Especially this one. Got himself cursed, same as the Wandering Jew-though that must have been not so long ago, as he's still in his original life-and came here for the gauntlet so he could take it off."
A little corner of Gabriel's mind filed that away for further notice, but the majority of him was focused on the shift and swirl of power before him. It was fast-increasing, feeding off the warm red liquid trickling onto the rock, which seemed to gulp up every drop. Comte gripped Micah's wrists till the flesh beneath his fingers went black, cutting more symbols down one side of Micah's back.
Behind, Seth was very quietly loading a gun. But not moving. Simply waiting.
"Always moving, never allowed to settle in one place, never allowed to die…it's not a good fate. But he managed to get that removed. Very clever. So clever, in fact, that I begin to wonder if he ever meant to destroy the gauntlet afterward."
"I did." Micah tried to yank away and consequently received a rough cuff to the head, which bloodied his temple. His dazed, pained eyes rose to meet Gabriel's. "I did. What the hell was I going to do with that damned thing, when I was back to being mortal?"
"Oh, sell it to me." Comte paused to lick off some of the blood and tiny bits of flesh that were clumping on the gauntlet's claw-tips. "You never did answer me, when I asked. That's why I made those villagers drag you out for the werewolves."
Snarl. "So that's why I got-"
"Mig, shut up." Seth pulled the two of them back even further, just in time for Gabriel to lose his hold on himself.
"Comte." Was the last thing Van Helsing said, and then Gabriel completely took over. And it hurt-it always did, melting and recasting bones, and creating divine forms from mortal flesh. And letting the chains break, letting the alien feeling crush down all the humanity Gabriel had gained so he could-
Micah had never understood why everyone insisted of thinking of angels as gentle, white-winged creatures. Angels were the soldiers of God, and it was in the very Bible how they destroyed and killed without mercy, with only obedience to God's will. So it only made sense for them to be, oh, something more like a hawk.
Well, he was right, in a way. And now he wished he'd been wrong.
One moment he was biting down on the agony being sliced into his back, the drain of his strength. One moment he was watching a man, trying to plead with Gabriel to understand that he hadn't really been lying. He just hadn't told Van Helsing the entire truth, and why would he? Some sources considered the Wandering Jew a sign of evil, bringing catastrophe wherever he went, and considering the conflicting stories Micah had heard of Van Helsing, he couldn't have been sure that the man wouldn't kill him. The man.
And the next moment-and now, it wasn't a man. It was something terrifyingly glorious, something with huge rusty-brown wings, color of dried blood, and it was blowing apart the temple. Stone rumbled, split apart in less time than it took to blink, and then the entire roof flew up.
There was a shocked gasp above Micah, a slight loosening of fingers, and he acted: bucked up to throw the necromancer off-balance, then twisted around to kick the bastard all the way off. One spidery hand whipped out as Comte fell out of the ring, grabbing Micah's arm, but a good punch sent the prick skidding across the floor. Where Gabriel was leaping, seizing the necromancer and winging upward with his capture in one single fluid motion.
"Shit! Shit! Gabriel, you stupid fuck!" Seth ran into the room, aiming his gun and then disgustedly lowering it when he saw the shot was too hard to make. "We need that idiot to bring the gauntlet back down, or they'll be at it forever. Fix it, or I'll blow your head off."
He yanked Micah to standing and pointed so Micah could see the necromancer abruptly rip into a new shape, becoming one of the harpies he'd sent against them and wrestling free of Gabriel. The two winged beasts drew apart, fluttering in space for a moment, then rushed at each other. "Get him down, so I can get rid of that fucking gauntlet," Micah hissed, rubbing a hand over his back to collect blood. He couldn't take much without passing out halfway through the spell, so Gabriel would have to get Comte closer. "Get him down! I can't do it from here."
"Yeah, yeah. Give me a second." Miguel propped his rifle up on the leftovers of a wall and sighted. "Which one am I supposed to shoot?"
Seth smacked him. "The necromancer! And-" fiddling with some of the rifle parts "-go ahead. It's already in range."
Which Bain did, several times. At first, Micah thought the airheaded psychotic was just fucking around again, but when the spindly bat-like creature that was Comte began to spiral downwards, he realized the truth: Miguel was forcing down the bastard while keeping him alive by shooting the wings.
Very professional, Micah supposed. Not precisely necessary for-well, then again Micah had never tried this particular casting before. And the lightheadedness wasn't going away. He wasn't going to be able to do this and stay on his feet. Hell, he was beginning to wonder if he would be able to get through all the words.
Fuck. Don't think that. He had to get through the spell, if only to prove to Gabriel that he hadn't been lying about that.
The necromancer was only a few hundred feet above, and falling like a stone. So close Micah could see the bloody lips writhe and spit out curses. Time to end this show.
Micah stepped up, flicked some drops of his blood in the air as a preliminary offering, and started his spell.
Seth wasn't going to enjoy this one bit.
Not the shit with the necromancer; that fuck was going down if Seth had to hack off his head with a butter knife. The deal with Gabriel, or whoever the hell Gabriel thought he was at the moment. Shit, Seth's partner was circling so high in the sky that he wasn't more than a speck, and Seth could still feel the waves of implacable anger reverberating down.
At least it did look as if Micah was destroying the gauntlet, no matter what the Gypsy had been up to before. While Mig fended off Comte with expertly-chosen shots, the other man had thrown apart his arms and was screaming some eerie, ululating chant to the howling man-beast. And as he did, the flesh was literally rotting off the necromancer, pattering to the ground with ugly splats.
It was all over in a few seconds, so fast that Seth hadn't even recovered his breath. Fucking anticlimax. It figured.
And that was when he remembered about Gabriel's current state of mind. "Oh…fuck. Down!"
Confused, Mig half-turned toward him; Micah didn't turn at all, but instead collapsed against the chest-high remains of the wall. Swearing in more languages than he remembered learning, Seth lunged forward and toppled them both to the ground, just in time for Gabriel's first swoop to miss them.
"What-" Micah didn't seem completely there, pupils dilating and refocusing as if he'd barely woken up. Or taken too many blows to the head. "What-"
"He thinks we're evil." Seth dodged Mig's reflexive grab in his direction and shoved the pair of them back behind him. "That's what he feels. His little talent, for telling who gets to die and who doesn't Stupid fucker got programmed with a shitty moral code way back, and never managed to get it updated. Been too many years-goes fucked when he's like this-shit!"
Son of a bitch came out of the blinding sun, coming close enough to rake claws over Seth's arm. He forced himself to spin with the lacerations, then braced himself and roared, fierce and deep and rumbling. Up in the sky, an answering howl came back as Gabriel wheeled sharply for a third dive.
"How do you snap him out of it?" hissed Micah, struggling to his feet.
Seth would've shoved him back down where he couldn't get in the way, but Mig was busy aiming and no matter how much of a pain in the ass Gabriel was, he still was…a friend, fuck it. And Seth didn't have many of those. They kept dying on him. "Get that down, Mig. No killing. Usually, I just go at him until he realizes that it's me he's kicking around."
"So you transform, too?" Micah's face showed he already suspected the truth.
"Uh…no. I fucking don't. I have other talents." Anyway, Gabriel was ass-ugly when he changed, and if Seth didn't have to look that bad when he wasn't also drunk, then he figured he was better off. Even if the days after restoring Gabriel to sanity felt like absolute hell. "Get down. He's already pissed to hell about you."
Eyes shifting from the rage-mad problem above to Seth, Micah reluctantly did so.
Thank God. Someone with sense-wait. Seth whipped back around and made a futile leap for the idiot just as Micah was hopping onto the wall and running along the top out to the outermost edge.
"What the hell does he think he's doing?" demanded Mig.
"I have no idea, but don't you copy him," Seth snapped back, climbing up and going after Micah. He wasn't nearly as nimble on the crumbling rock, however, and so he was still ten feet away when a huge dark blur plunged at Micah, blotting the man out of sight. "Fuck! Goddamn it, Gabriel! Don't! It's a-you're going to fucking well regret it, and brood like a-don't!"
Seth had said Gabriel had the power to sense good or evil.
If Gabriel did believe the necromancer's false hint about Micah's intentions, then it was seriously doubtful that Micah would be allowed to leave alive, even if he had destroyed the gauntlet. If Gabriel didn't believe the lie, then Micah still was probably going to die, just because Gabriel was in no mood to distinguish friend from foe and Micah was the only non-immortal currently around. So really, Micah had nothing to lose, except the sweet satisfaction of proving himself to be in the right.
So he told himself as he was loping out to meet Gabriel's dive. It had absolutely nothing to do with an urge to find out just what that furious, frantic episode in the hallway had meant to Gabriel. Nothing to do with the urge to see if it'd left imprints as deep as the ones on Micah.
Seth was yelling something behind him, but he could barely hear due to the loudness of the wings rushing toward him. Gabriel had a huge pair, which almost seemed to overshadow the rest of him. He also had developed long, sharp teeth and a decidedly wolfish cast to his face-a strange combination, terrifying yet oddly beautiful. And his eyes had become jet-black mirrors, reflecting some eternal flame that threatened to burn Micah where he stood.
Well, many of his ancestors had suffered that, so that shouldn't be anything new. At least he would go knowing that he'd gotten under the skin of the great Van Helsing.
Except he didn't. Go. At the last moment, Gabriel pulled up so his claws didn't puncture straight through Micah's eyes, so his wickedly gleaming teeth didn't slash open Micah's throat. The backlash of the wings did come very close to knocking Micah off his perch, but as he went down to his knees, his hand caught a jutting spike of rock and he managed to cling on.
Gabriel hovered in place, only moving enough to put him and Micah face-to-face, close enough for Micah to see the individual flecks of blood on the lips and cheeks. There was intelligence, and recognition in those darkly opaque eyes, but none of it was remotely human.
"Christ…" Seth whispered from somewhere behind. His feet knocked broken fragments of rock to the ground as he tried to edge forward.
The wings instantly snapped through the air, and claws were suddenly locked around Micah's sorely-abused neck. If he made the slightest move in the wrong direction, he would bleed out before his heart could beat twice. "What's going on?" he asked, as quietly as he could.
"Fucked if I…if it wasn't completely insane, I'd say he's recognizing you as…as…" Seth wrestled with his voice, sounding as if he was saying something in a different language and then trying to translate halfway through. "As pack."
"Pack?" The feral, mesmerizing face nudged nearer, starting long whiffs along the scabs that crusted one side of Micah's face. He twitched, and the claws clicked a little tighter. Pricking his skin, but not quite breaking it.
"Yeah. That's why he gets confused. Now he's partly what he fights." Seth stayed where he was, obviously not going to dare coming any closer. "If he is, then you're below him. Hell, I'm mostly below him, though I'm good enough to give him a run for his money."
That did explain a lot, although it still didn't give much of a clue as to how Micah was going to extricate himself from the current situation. And then a long tongue, almost snake-like, slipped out of Gabriel's mouth and gently traced up Micah's face. Its tip curling around the bruises, bathing them in long, soothing licks before the face bowed and curved so Micah felt the ghostly touch on the nape of his neck.
The part of his mind that was still working wondered if he really wanted to get out of this. Broken curse aside, it was unlikely that his tribe would take him back, and…
…oh, Christ. The claws were also moving, grazing sharp tips ever-so-lightly over Micah's tattoos, drawing lines of shivering from him.
"I take it he had some of your blood?" Seth asked.
"He might have," Micah allowed, not really able to remember at the moment. His eyes were closing, he was swaying backward and there were hands to catch him. Hands. Nails. To the sound of Seth's muffled cursing, Micah's eyes opened to see a shocked human Gabriel staring back at him. "Great. I suppose you're throwing me out now?"
"I think…I need a mouthwash, a bath and a meal. And then I need to do some thinking." Stone-faced again, Gabriel helped them both off the wall.
As soon as Micah's feet hit the ground, his vision figured it was a good time to go completely fucked. He knew he was going to crumple like a stupid ragdoll, but he couldn't do anything to stop it-
--Gabriel caught him. Again. And carried him to the car before putting on coat and hat.
Normally, Micah would've been very annoyed and humiliated, and definitely wouldn't have put up with such babyish treatment. Normally, his mind wasn't blinking in and out on him. As it was doing so now, he gritted his teeth and let Gabriel and focused very hard on the fact that Gabriel's clothes didn't transform with him. Damned well-hung. Jesus…at least there were no worries in that department.
It'd been a very disappointing fight by Miguel's standards. No frenzied exchange of bullets, not much blood shed-the building hadn't even fallen all the way apart. Pathetic. And now they were sitting in a vacant farmhouse with plumbing that actually worked.
All right, not everything had gone wrong. Also, he really needed to bug Seth until the other man told him how to find such good resting spots in such shitty places. He also needed to work off all the unused energy that was still jangling his system.
Come to think of it, that could also be done by annoying Seth. Slightly happier, Miguel stored his rifle in a safe place and went off to find the other man.
"…so I needed the gauntlet to reverse the curse. But I was always planning on destroying it afterward. It's killed too many of my people." Cold stinging bubbles dabbed onto the cut along his spine, biting at Micah's skin. He winced, but dug his fingers into the sheets and held still for Gabriel's ministrations. "Didn't tell you that because, well, technically the curse made me something you hunt."
"I wouldn't have. I can distinguish between innocent victims and willing sacrifices to evil." Cleaning done, Gabriel dribbled a little water onto the cut and then began to rub some sharp-smelling salve into it. Every little circle of fingertips froze Micah's skin, making him choke down whimpers, and then as the rubbing gradually moved downward, the warmth began to spread. He did his level best not to arch too much, but Gabriel was definitely not helping with that. Or he was. Depended on how Micah chose to look at the situation.
He actually wasn't looking. More like burying his face in the blankets and hoping that would hide the flush. "Could have fooled me. You've not been very polite, these last few days."
"I remembered-no, I was reminded of-how to change in mountains like these. The memory isn't a pleasant one." Gabriel's fingers were almost at the end of the cut, massaging the small of Micah's back only a few fingers-widths from…Micah uncomfortably twisted away, but promptly got pushed back and kept there with a hand on his shoulder. "Are you free to go back to your tribe now? I think I recall there being some odd rules about outcasts."
"Even if I were, I wouldn't." Micah gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the feeling of his pants being pulled down. Yes, the cut did go that far, so the little voice inside his head could shut up. "They don't go anywhere interesting, whereas I'm thinking I like traveling far and wide. Aside from the nastier tourist traps. Like becoming werewolf bait."
Amazingly, Gabriel let out a soft laugh at that. "So where are you going?"
Micah parted his lips and couldn't think of anything. In order to stall for a few more seconds, he pushed up onto his elbows and knees. Which somehow slid Gabriel's index finger from his backbone to just inside himself. He dropped back, a strangled gasp leaking out, and that finger gently, mercilessly glided further inside, sparking off all his nerves.
Gabriel's voice fell an octave, roughened, and suddenly Micah wondered who he would see, if he turned around and looked into the other man's eyes. "That was the first time I ever regained control of myself without a fight."
"So I could be of use? Is that it?" The pants were still bunched around Micah's knees, preventing his legs from spreading very far. He sank his teeth into the mattress, whipped himself back onto two fingers and shit. His breath was already disappearing, and Gabriel hadn't even done much yet.
A finger dawdled about Micah's shoulderblade, drifting down his side with one of the tattoos there. Then that hand snapped sideways to catch his in the act of tugging at his pants. Trapped one wrist against his chest, then twisted him on those prying, heaven-hell fingers so his other wrist could be taken. "Not quite."
"Ah…God, fuck it, whatever." Micah arched up, dropping his head at the same time. Inside, the fingers abruptly flexed. Gabriel growled once before teeth sank into the side of Micah's neck, pinning his thrashing body. Leather grazed along his skin, fell away, and then Gabriel's cock slammed into his half-stretched passage. Fuck.
Good thing he had weird tastes, and wasn't afraid to admit them. Christ, that was good-raw edge of too much pain, merging crazily into straining pleasure. He whipped his head around and bit into Gabriel's arm, chewing until hot, acid-sweet blood flooded his mouth. Like sucking on an electric cable. Micah's mind flew apart, staggered into crackling fragments while his body just drowned in the wonderful, brutal, intense frenzy of fuck-withdraw-fuck.
It soon reached the point of too much, and Micah gave. Probably screamed while he was doing it, and hell, he wasn't going to be able to walk for days. "Oh, God. I don't think I can keep up."
"You don't have to worry about that. If you don't want to." Gabriel rolled them over, letting Micah sprawl on top. He held up his bleeding arm. "There's still time to reverse that…"
Micah did think about it. For a moment. Then the feeling of absolute comfort took over, and he snorted. "Forget that. From the look of things, I'm going to need it."
Well, Gabriel seemed to have settled part of himself. Seth had just known that some regular company in bed would smooth over some of Gabriel's edges. Both wolves and men did better in groups, after all. Things weren't peachy by any standard, but they were definitely throwing less of their shit in Seth's face.
Something slammed into him and whacked him into the ground. He snapped out his gun and was about to ram it into…"Mig?"
Sucking on his jaw, and hands ripping down his pants. Seth threw the gun aside and smacked the enthusiastic fucker to the floor. "For Christ's sake, you're a grown man and-and you fucking pounced on me?"
"So?" That face was just begging for it.
Well, Seth was more than willing to give it. Especially since they had two weeks before they had to head for Morocco. God…Seth hated sand and scorpions.
He snarled and happily buried himself in Mig. Two weeks. Fuck it, he wasn't going to think about that now if he didn't have to. And he didn't.