After Darkness, LightAuthor:
I own neither the Anitaverse nor the Buffyverse. Rating:
PG13 / RUniverse:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter CrossoverCharacters/Pairings:
BtVS, Seasons 1-6; Post Older and Far Away
. ABVH, Books 1-15; Post The Harlequin
Character Death, Canon-Typical Violence, Underage Romance, Dark ThemesBanner by me, Skaldic. Todd Mane as Asher and Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn.
It was a burning sort of jealousy, crippling if he let it be, but Asher regarded envy's strangling embrace with an odd sense of nostalgic weariness, an aching sort of recognition. I know you
, the pain whispered. Like the punishing tightness of his scars, he had lived with rejection and scorn for so long, that to hold them close once again seemed the natural order of things. Since Julianna's murder, jealousy had been his most intimate bedfellow, his hatred and resentment warming his nights when no one else would. It was frighteningly easy to twist love into sustainable hatred and even easier to turn lonely discontent into a bright, burning flame of righteous anger.
was not the only one who drew comfort from her rage, who wrapped it about her like armor and wielded it as one might a shield and sword. No, contrary to what she might think, wrath was not Anita's sin alone. She did well for a human, but none could match a vampire when it came to suffering, either dealing it or enduring it. Humans thought in minutes, hours, days. Months, if they were exceptionally patient. Vampires thought in years, decades, centuries, millennia.
In her cultivated belligerence, she hurt all who would foist what she saw as unreasonable expectations upon her. She hurt all who would dare to make her feel uncomfortable, or give her the unvarnished truth she so often demanded but never really wished to hear. She hurt and she could be hurt, but it was a transient sort of pain, a childish, foot-stomping sort of pain. There one moment, gone the next. One argument traded for another or simply pushed aside, unresolved, forgotten until someone backed her into an emotional corner and she needed it again.
It made Asher feel old.
She claimed to love him, but unless he purposely drew her attention, stirred her ire, she relegated him to the bottom of an ever-growing list of romantic entanglements, little more than a piece of furniture, or an outfit she only wore when nothing else was clean. It was infuriating. If he had wished to be overlooked and ignored, he would have followed the Traveler and the Master of Beasts back to France.
When he had accepted Jean-Claude's invitation to remain in St Louis as his témoin
, Asher had thought to reclaim what they and Julianna had shared so long ago. It had been a faulty, intuitive leap that if Anita loved them both, then she would truly love them both and it would be a happy, healing thing, as it had been with Julianna. He now had to wonder how much of Anita's initial warm regard was colored by Jean-Claude's memories and necessity.
Love -- true, lasting love -- was borne out of more than the ardeur
and an unflinching stubbornness to make much of, what was in reality, simple kindness; and that was what it had been, he knew now, simple kindness. Human decency, if the phrase could be applied to vampires. Anita had treated him well when all others looked on him with horror or morbid fascination. Asher would always love her for that, but there were many forms of love, and unlike most who found their way into her bed, he would not settle for subsisting on scraps from her table.
He had known from the onset that he would never possess as much of her heart as Jean-Claude or even her tragic, conflicted Ulfric, and he had been content with that. A little love was better than none at all. Asher had not realized what he was consigning himself to, how painful it would be to remember being the centerpiece of someone's life while barely rating a kiss hello
in the hierarchy of Anita's affections.
More and more, Anita reminded Asher of Belle Morte. Not in power or sheer callousness, but in that unspoken, expectant knowledge that the men around her would simply wait for her to turn her attention to them. Even Jean-Claude, her master, waited for her to acknowledge him whenever she entered a room, gauging her mood before he acted. It left a bitter taste in Asher's mouth.
The bond between a master and his human servant was, at its best, a partnership, a marriage. At worst, slavery. But regardless of the gamut it ran, it was sacred, holy in a way. That Anita treated it so irreverently, so casually, only recognizing the connection when it suited her purposes... It made the emptiness where Julianna had once resided in Asher's mind, comforting and breathtaking in her gentleness, echo dully with pain that would never quite fade.
A hand, familiar and welcome, touched his face, and Asher allowed his eyes to flutter open. Jean-Claude was crouched at his feet in front of his chair, staring up at him with lovely, purposive stillness. Only the tiny line between his brows told of a frown that had died stillborn.
"What are you thinking about so strongly, mon chardonneret
?" Jean-Claude asked, the freshly fed warmth of his fingers sliding back into his hair.
Asher sighed and leaned into Jean-Claude's touch. This was all they allowed themselves, small touches, barely there intimacies. He, too hurt over the past to go any further without some kind of guarantee, and Jean-Claude too wary of Anita's probable reaction should she find him with another. No matter that Jean-Claude had been Asher's centuries before she was ever born, he was hers now, and she did not share her men, not even with her other men.
"Love," Asher answered quietly, honestly.
The faintest of flinches, a very slight widening of his eyes, that was Jean-Claude's only reaction. "Ah." He pulled his hand away and let it settle against the curve of Asher's knee. "Have you finally decided to leave us, then?" he asked. Such careful emptiness. Anita had made him so very careful.
Asher let his sorrow fill his face, let his eyes fill with the blood-tinged shine of unshed tears. It was a purely human expression of grief, but Jean-Claude deserved the effort; he always had. "Non, mon corbeau, non
," Asher said, cradling his face. "Je t'aime plus qu'hier et moins que demain
Jean-Claude shuddered, the hand on Asher's knee tightening to the point of pain. "I can taste your unhappiness," he said, "your heartbreak. Has Anita done something?"
Asher laughed, and it was a startled, bitter sound. "No more than she ever does," he said. He smoothed away the beginnings of a displeased expression on Jean-Claude's face. "I grow weary of this. She will not love me as I desire, cannot, I think, and I refuse to sit and wait for the day that she grows comfortable enough with her appetites to allow you to love me in her place."
The frown bloomed anyway and spread, as thorny and as hard to navigate as a briar patch; it was Anita's expression and it cut Asher to see it twist Jean-Claude's face. "What are you saying, Asher?"
Asher let out a slow, unneeded breath. "I want to be loved again. I want to see devotion shine in someone's eyes and know that I am lovely to them, scars or no." He looked away. "I wish..."
The frown melted into something more understanding, something softer. "What do you wish, mon amour
?" It was a whisper, nonjudgmental and willing to listen even if it was painful to hear.
Asher closed his eyes and the tears finally fell. "I wish we had Julianna with us again."- - -
Halfrek stood beside the two vampires, unnoticed, absently wiping her eyes. It wasn't often that someone's sob story moved her, especially when she was simply picking up the slack on somebody else's quota. Exhaling sharply, she stared hard at the blond vampire. He'd made a wish and she had to dispense justice. The thought of hurting him more than he already was, made her feel... vaguely ill.
She blamed it on spending too much time with Anyanka. Her humanity was catching.
Thinking over his wish, Halfrek stretched her power out, turning the possibilities over in her mind. She honestly believed that her job was justice, not vengeance. It was why she championed children so fiercely; they couldn't protect themselves, not from the world and certainly not from their families. Someone had to hold the adults in their lives accountable.
Halfrek tapped her amulet with a nail, her thoughts traveling to a lonely, neglected girl two dimensions left of this one. She had tried to help her, but as all things that involved that particular family, it didn't go exactly as Halfrek had planned. Things had improved, at first, they always did, but, eventually, everyone fell back into old, established patterns and the girl was right back where she started. Ignored. Forgotten. Abandoned.
It made Halfrek want to slaughter them all.
But she couldn't, not without a wish to act on. Halfrek walked around the vampires, peering closely at what little she could see of the blond one's scars through his hair. Holy water scars; this breed of vampire wasn't as lucky as the ones back home.
She wanted to help them both, the girl and the vampire, but someone had to be punished, and demon magic was always two-fold. The wisher had to be punished for making the wish in the first place, wisher's remorse was often good enough to placate D'Hoffryn, and someone, or several someones, had to be the wish's intended target. Someone had to hurt. Demon magic didn't give anything for free.
But if the fallout was good enough, the effects harsh enough, if it was permanent
Halfrek's lips curled in a slow, satisfied smile. Depending on how everything fell into place, this could be the best job she'd ever done. It would certainly top Anyanka's standing record. After all, darling Anyanka
had never worked with a pan-dimensional energy matrix.
Feeling a little giddy, Halfrek gave the blond vampire's shoulder a comforting pat, though she knew he wouldn't feel it. "Wish granted," she said, her smile spreading wide. Then, very quietly, in case anyone was listening, "Good luck."CHAPTER 1
The priests came for her and she just stood there, trembling, crying, too frightened to move. She didn't know why, but she was disgusted with herself. She should have run. She should have used the candlestick she'd been holding as a weapon, instead of dropping it. Only when they touched her, did she finally begin to fight. She came alive kicking and screaming, the fog of indecisive terror parting before the certainty that these men meant to kill her.
She might have been strong, fast, and weirdly durable, but, God, she did not
know how to use it. She bit, she scratched, she slapped
She fought like a girl
That mocking, incredulous assessment of her own capabilities made her breath catch and her eyes widen in sudden, bone-deep mortification. Sweet shillelagh, what was she doing
? Okay, yeah, she wasn't the best fighter ever, but she was certainly better than this
It was a helpful thought come too late.
Her vision flared white and she went down, red spattering the floor like a warm spring rain. Choking on a ragged moan, she peered up through her bloody, brown ringlets. One of the priests had a fire iron in his hand. The curved point was wet. There was a dark clump of... something clinging to it.
They really were
going to kill her. Honest surprise ran through the thought. It made her blink. Usually they just wanted to sacrifice her, or use her as bait.
Another man, their leader, couched down and pushed back the hood of his traveling cloak. It only served to underscore what she already knew; they never let you see their faces if they were going to let you go. The man was human, ordinary, old
, and that mocking incredulity surged back.
How could she have let them win so easily?
The angles of the old priest's face were oddly rounded, disjointed, like it had been shattered into a million pieces once and then put back together wrong. His eyes were a pale watery green. As she met them, she expected them to burn with passion, with righteousness and zealotry. Instead, they seemed sad, apologetic. He opened his mouth to speak and she didn't care if he did feel bad, she glared at him. He was about to kill her, how dare
he try to justify it? She didn't know how she knew what he was about to say, but she did; with perfect, ringing clarity, she did. Maleficos non patieris vivere.
Exodus 22:18. Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.
Someone came behind her and bound her hands, wrenching her up onto her knees. A fresh wave of pain screamed through her head. Blood ran down her back in a hot, wet rush, soaking her nightgown. And through it all, their leader stared at her, stared and stared, as though he was nerving himself up to do something he knew was wrong. At last, he looked away, crossed himself, and stood.
"The Key is the link," he said softly. "The link must be severed. Such is the will of God."
Dawn Summers could only look at him in stunned, uncomprehending horror as she was dragged out into the street.- - -
Asher longed for the days when his only desire was to cause Jean-Claude pain. Then, perhaps, he would be able to look into his eyes now and find solace in the agony he saw there. Instead, Jean-Claude's pain was his pain, and the words of Asher's wish, heartfelt and utterly selfish, hung in the air between them like an ugly truth. They rarely spoke of Julianna outside of Anita's hearing; even after three centuries, the wound they were dealt that night still bled freely. To speak of her, their mutual silence said, was to injure each other needlessly.
Even so, Asher occasionally wondered if he was alone in his grief. A petty, uncharitable thought, he knew, but he felt like being petty and uncharitable; the anguish in Jean-Claude's eyes hurt less than the knowledge that he had moved on and Asher hadn't, couldn't.
Jean-Claude released a shaky breath. "As do I," he said very quietly, finally breaking the silence. He smoothed out the wrinkles he had made in the loose fabric of Asher's trouser leg. "Sometimes, I think on what I have done, on what I have yet to do. I wonder if she would approve."
Asher followed Jean-Claude's cheekbone with a fingertip. "You survived; nothing else matters."
Jean-Claude huffed an unhappy laugh and drew away, rising from his crouch. "As ma petite
would say, mon chardonneret
, pretty to think so."
," Asher repeated, firmer, harsher. "She would forgive you anything but final death."
Jean-Claude was silent a moment, then nodded. "Oui
, she was exceptionally forgiving. I had forgotten."
Asher looked -- not away, but up
-- at their painting hung above the mantelpiece, at her
painting, and sighed. "I haven't." He stood, moving his chair back to its original position just left of the lounge; he was the only one allowed to upset Jean-Claude's careful, if endearingly monochromatic, decorating. It warmed him that not even their petite chérie
could say the same.
"What turned your mind to such sad things?" Jean-Claude asked.
Asher waved a hand, dismissive. "Bitterness, loneliness; what does it matter?" He came to stand beside Jean-Claude, both of them staring up at Julianna's silent, unchanging beauty. "She is never far from my thoughts," he admitted. "I think of her even when I'm not thinking of her."
"And I don't think of her enough," Jean-Claude said, the words slick and edged.
"I did not say that."
, you did not, that is true." The tension around Jean-Claude's eyes relaxed. "I apologize."
"Grief makes us all cruel," Asher said. He tipped Jean-Claude a faint, self-depreciating smile. "Some more than others."
It was Jean-Claude's turn to protest, "I
did not say that."
Asher snorted. "I know how I am, mon corbeau
," he said. "Even before, I wasn't the easiest to, how do you say?" He flicked his fingers. "Get along with."
Time and tragedy romanticized the past. They made one forget the little annoyances, the irritants and unthinking everyday slights. Asher stared into Julianna's bright blue eyes and allowed himself a slight frown. They made martyrs and saints of the dead.
The thought caught, spun, repeated: bright blue
Asher took a step toward the fireplace. Julianna's eyes were a warm honeyed brown, a shade lighter than her hair.
Except they weren't.
The eyes captured forever by painter's brush were a clear, clean blue middling somewhere between his light and Jean-Claude's dark. Julianna's eyes had always been blue, but... hadn't he only recently compared Anita to her and her to Belle Morte? All three small, dark haired, and dark eyed.
Only that wasn't right, either.
Julianna had been tall for a woman, two inches shy of looking Jean-Claude square in the face by her nineteenth birthday. Oh, how she had hated it.
?" Jean-Claude touched his arm. "Asher, are you well?"
"The painting," he said, gazing up at it. His voice sounded odd, muffled, as though he was listening to himself speak from very far away. "Mon Dieu
, Jean, the painting."
A convulsive shudder worked up Asher's spine, stealing his grace, making him stumble as he backed away from Jean-Claude, away from Julianna's inexplicable blue eyes. Pain ripped through his skull and he fell back, tripping over the sharp ebony edge of an end table. His head hit the floor, thudding dully against the thick carpeting. Non, pas bleu
, Asher thought, dazed. Brun
. Julianna's eyes were brown
She'd been a delicate woman. Small, but amply curved, possessing the sweet softness that most women of means had once had. Tall
, the word knifed through his mind, blue-eyed
. It covered the world in a pulsing red haze.
Her hair had been brown, but it had also been long and straight, no natural curl or wave to speak of. Didn't he remember
spending hours styling it into perfect, spiraling ringlets whenever she asked? Didn't he remember
how envious she had been of his and Jean-Claude's hair?
Distantly, Asher felt hands move over him in a worried panic. Someone called his name, whispered it through his mind on a chill wave of power, but he pushed both the hands and the call away. A different power demanded his attention. Familiar and alien, it gently fluttered against the roof of his mouth like a butterfly in a bell jar. It sang to him, the melody faint and heartbreaking in its silent uncertainty. It took him only a moment to recognize it.
Only a moment and everything stilled, everything changed
Asher stopped fighting. The power trembled, hesitated at the sudden lack of resistance, and then, seemed to exhale
. It relaxed, washing through him, warm, welcome, and as deep as the ocean. Asher let the memory of a slightly different, but no less precious, Julianna settle into place. He let the aching void where their bond had been so viciously torn away from him, fill with her presence once again.
To do anything else would be unthinkable.- - -Julianna?
Yes. I-I mean, no. Oh, God, I don't know. Maybe?
Where are you?
I don't know! Outside. Can you-- Can you find me? It's cold.
I can do that, yes.- - -Vampire to English Dictionary:
Corbeau [Fr.]; cor-boh
Je t'aime plus qu'hier et moins que demain. [Fr.]; I love you more than I did yesterday and less than I will tomorrow.
Amour [Fr.]; ah-mohr
Petite chérie [Fr.]; p'tee sha-ree
: little darling
Non, pas bleu. Brun. [Fr.]; No, not blue. Brown.