A Slumber Did My Spirit Steal: Prologue

Warnings and Intro: Okay, this was (years ago) originally an idea for a fanfic. But it was so AU, it became apparent to me that I was simply using pre-existing characters as I had no faith in my own ability to create them. And quite simply, they didn't fit with what I had planned. So I put it to one side, spent a year cruising around Germany and Eastern Europe under the pretence of University-related study (and all those foreign language comics did wonders for my vocab if not for my work ethic), and RL seemed to throw more ideas at me. So I decided to revive it and this time stop trying to tie it into any existing fandoms. Except for the ol' slash one. There's more than a vague whiff of that in this. So, if you don't like the idea of more types of relationship than the normal boy/girl, you're probably going to be better off hitting the back button than getting all indignant. And I currently have a very important 16th Century essay looming that I'm determined to actually /research/ for once, so updates may be sporadic for the near future. And this is nearly a chapter on it's own now so I'm shutting up.

There was just something about candlelight that made it so much more appealing than the usual overhead fluorescent strips that bleached the cell block, Mephisto decided lazily. After much observation of the effects from both forms of illumination, Mephisto privately thought that he knew the explanation. As with any form of light, it was the shadows that provided definition. The flickering, dancing forms on the walls of the room had more life to them, more presence, than anything the harsh electric lights could replicate. Mephisto sighed delicately as he leaned back and stretched, feeling the darkness shiver across his exposed skin. People had no concept of art anymore.

That went just as much for his employers as the average idiot on the streets. With a disdainful sniff, the young man studied his surroundings again. He'd done what he could to improve the aesthetic values of his current surroundings, but blood and candlelight could only take a room so far. It was still a far cry from being a suitable setting to display his beauty. An impeccably manicured hand brushed the stray strands of pure white hair from his face, easing the silky hair back into its gathered tie. With a final check of his clothes for any unsightly marks or stains, Mephisto made his way into the corridor towards the cell where they kept the prisoner.

He had been instructed to check on the prisoner once every two hours, but frustrated dissatisfaction at his earlier artistic efforts was causing him to forget about the schedule. Assigning him to a task like this was ridiculous in the first place, Mephisto reasoned. And he knew the motives behind it, his superiors wanted to keep him away from the other little project, worried about how that little treasure might attract his attention. So he was to be kept down here, bored out of his mind.

Not that the prisoner would be able to provide any source of intellectual stimulation, the hunched figure in the windowless cell barely moved and hadn't spoken so much as a word since Mephisto was escorted down yesterday with the bunch of Apostles who were currently decorating the office. Perhaps the screaming had stirred the silent figure closer to reality, the young man mused with another flick of his hair. At the very least, he expected a little curiosity.

Mephisto stopped by the bars to the cell and leaned against the wall to one side, jutting out his slim hips to show off his figure at its best. Propping one hand upon his hip, he used the other to idly comb through the waist-length hair. It slipped through his fingers as smoothly as the finest silk and Mephisto permitted himself a small smile at the sensation against his skin. Then he turned his gaze towards the silent figure on the other side of the bars. "I hear you're quite a sight to see," he commented lightly. "The others said they removed the lights from your cell because they couldn't bear to look at you any more. Are you really that hideous to look at?"

His only answer was the slightest clink of chains as the prisoner turned his head slightly. The gleam of the candles reflected for a moment in narrowed eyes before the man turned his head away again. Mephisto was not perturbed by this reluctance to speak. "I'm going to be here for quite a while, you know, so it's probably in your best interests to be as pleasant to me as possible. And a good way to start that is to move where I can see you properly."

"No." The voice was low and tight from repressed emotions.

Mephisto quirked an eyebrow at the unexpected response, in all the reports he'd been given, there had been no mention of the prisoner ever speaking. There was something about the tone of that voice that Mephisto found appealing and infinitely appropriate for the surrounding. It added to the atmosphere and he wanted to hear it again. "Why not?" he demanded mildly. "I'm the only other one down here. The Apostles from earlier have been put to better use."

"You killed them." There was undoubtedly something about that rich timbre, given depth from an extended period of suffering and grief. The twisting emotional undercurrents present in those spoken words quickened Mephisto's pulse. Such a sound was perfectly crafted for the aesthetic adjustments he'd been making earlier.

Drawing his attention back to the diversion before him, Mephisto felt a sly smile playing on his lips. "I redecorated. I saw it as improving the natural beauty of this place." At the sound of what could have been a snort from the prisoner, Mephisto shrugged. "I won't pretend it wasn't hard, but I am an artist and you'd be amazed at what you can achieve with such a limited medium." A short pause followed as he cast his mind back over his efforts with a distinct sense of satisfaction before returning to the matter at hand. "And now I want to see you. So move."

"Will you kill me if I refuse?"

"No, but if you're lucky I might be tempted to after seeing you."

At the continued silence, Mephisto shifted his weight and sighed. It appeared the prisoner was going to remain being difficult, thereby causing severe problems for Mephisto's hopes of alleviating his boredom.  With a final glance at the figure hunched on the cell's floor, Mephisto pushed himself away from the wall and felt the corners of his mouth pull down in annoyance. Now he had to find some way of occupying himself until the Baron saw fit to leave him to his own devices like usual.

A sudden clanking as he stepped away from the cell was Mephisto's only warning before a hand clasped firmly around one of his calves. "Wait."

Turning in surprise Mephisto glanced down at the hand and then more carefully into the cell. All he could see with ease in the candlelight was an arm reaching out of an oversized and torn shirt. A pair of clear green eyes glared at him from further in the cell obscured by tangled strands of reddish brown hair. However it was the arm that caught Mephisto's attention. Pale lines of healed scars snaked over almost every visible inch of skin and each other to form an intricate pattern. Not all the marks had healed neatly, causing raised welts and puckering to add texture to the bizarre design. Mephisto stared at the markings, totally enthralled.

Obviously uncomfortable at the fixed attention on his scars, the prisoner slowly let go of Mephisto's leg and withdrew his hand and arm back into the relative cover the darkness of his cell provided. "I … I needed to know …" His voice trailed off and the prisoner shifted again, rendering the eyes once again invisible as a head dropped to stare at the ground. "You've seen him, haven't you? Is he alright?"

Mephisto tilted his head in amusement. "You mean that divine little dream upstairs? His time is running out. Won't do what they want him to, and is far too powerful to just be left alone. That boy is going to have to make a decision quickly." Moving back to the edge of the cell, Mephisto crouched by the bars and peered into the gloom, trying to catch some sort of response as well as a better look at the young man inside. Just how far did that scarring stretch anyway?

"They're not … they're not going to kill him, are they?"

Mephisto felt a smile spread across his lips as the tightly repressed emotions of earlier began to make their way to the surface of the prisoner's voice. He liked the effect immensely and wondered how much more prodding it would take before that voice broke down completely into sobs. "Unlike you, my dear boy, letting that one's blood splash about a bit won't result in some sort of catastrophe. The only thing holding them back at the moment is the simple fact that they cannot find anyone who could take his place. But I'm sure that's soon to change."

There was a slight intake of breath as Mephisto's words were given due consideration. "That's why I'm still here, isn't it? To try and force him into doing what you want."

Frustrated with squinting into the gloom, Mephisto pulled back slightly and waggled a finger at the cell's occupant. "I'm not talking anymore to someone who hides in the darkness. You want information, then move where I can see you. Eye contact is generally considered polite in these circumstances."

For a long moment there was no response and Mephisto wondered if he should have issued his demands before giving away the information about the boy upstairs. Then with another rattle of chains, the prisoner slowly shuffled forwards allowing Mephisto his first real look at the man he was supposed to be guarding.

He was painfully thin, that much was obvious despite the large shirt that hung loosely about his form. The sleeves had been tugged back down over his arms, hiding the network of scars that ran across that pale skin. Mephisto wondered idly if it was kept that pale as a deliberate attempt by the prisoner not to emphasise the silvery ridges of flesh. His hair hung raggedly around his face, some of the strands long enough to brush against extremely prominent collarbones. The tangled and matted locks had been cut badly and Mephisto had to fight a grimace of distaste at the clearly appalling condition of the hair. Its only redeeming feature was that intriguing shade of maroon.

What little Mephisto could see of the man's face didn't do much to spark his interest. The cheekbones were extremely defined, but that was probably again due to the young man's state of malnourishment. He clearly hadn't shaved in a while for a few days' growth further darkened the hollows of his cheeks and chin. His skin was pale and obviously thin if the dark circles under his eyes were any indication. The eyes themselves were a pleasant shade of green, but what truly made them stand out in that drawn face was the emotion behind them.

All in all, what Mephisto found most interesting about the young man in front of him was the vast amount of scarring he had glimpsed on that extended arm. As if picking up on the other man's thoughts, the prisoner seemed to draw himself into a smaller heap. The movement caused the collar of the shirt to fall briefly over a collarbone and from the pink lines Mephisto glimpsed in that moment, the knife-work was far more extensive than just his arms.

Obviously extremely uncomfortable with being so closely examined, the prisoner glared at Mephisto with surprising intensity. "Well? Had a good look?"

Not in the least bit bothered by the hostility, Mephisto smiled slightly. "I believe so. How old are you anyway?"

"Twenty-two." The expression on the man's face all but added an obstinate enquiry as to what business it was of his anyway, causing Mephisto to bite down his amusement.

The blond raised an eyebrow again in surprise. "Really? Younger than I thought. You don't take very good care of yourself, do you? That level of personal hygiene is a positive disgrace."

The prisoner snorted and looked away. "It makes little difference whether my hair's washed or not when I look like this. And anyway, it's not like they provided me with a selection of shampoos or anything." The man's voice trailed off and he glanced up at Mephisto through the twisted and knotted hair that covered his face. "I don't suppose your sense of insult will stretch to getting me a razor to shave this stubble off?"

Mephisto found the sudden calculating look on the other man's face much more appropriate for his features. It brought out the slight slant of his eyes and showed his lips to far greater advantage. So rather than have the man go back to sulking and general self-loathing, Mephisto decided to play along. It served the Baron right for trying to make him follow the rules anyway – the old coot should have known better. "What's in it for me? You can't get something for nothing these days, you know."

There was a pause as the prisoner thought for a moment then gave that half-smile again. "You get the satisfaction of having a more aesthetically pleasing dungeon, and not having to look at me."

Mephisto laughed slightly. "Oh, I think I might want something a little more than that, never know what you could get up to with something sharp in your hands after all." Pausing to think, he tapped his fingers absently on his chin for a moment before shrugging. "Why don't we call this a favour you'll be expected to repay next time we meet? With any luck I'll have thought of something by then."

Another glint in those green eyes as the prisoner answered without hesitation. "Done. Get me a razor."

"Gladly," Mephisto spun on his heal and wandered back into the main room of the cell block, trying to keep the smirk off his face. He knew exactly what that man had planned and at the very least it would be entertaining to watch the results. Plus the idiot had agreed to a bargain with him without even knowing the specifics of what he'd be asked for in return. Mephisto picked up a razor from the bathroom and grinned at his reflection. Some people never learned.

Never make a deal with the devil. Things are bound to end badly.