Kind of a funny thought to entertain for this chapter: Imagine that whole scene in the parking garage taking place when the top of Vincent's head comes up to… oh, just about the height of Xeraph's clavicle. (Dammit, Xeraph, why must you complicate these things?) And as a side-note: Jasper's race can be addressed by several different names, all of them being accurate: felis daemon, feli'dae, feline/cat daemon, etc...

In Harm's Way

Chapter Five

"It's chilly out tonight," Grim murmured, casting a wandering gaze over the nearby streetlamps as he sniffed back a breath, and followed Jasper up the slick stone steps to the townhouse he shared with Xeraph.

"Tell me about it." Breath escaping his pierced lips in a frail plume of mist, Jasper searched the pockets of his down jacket for his keys and fit them into the numerous locks on the front door; he glanced back briefly with a smirk. "Good thing you'll be keeping me nice 'n' warm tonight then, eh? Otherwise I'd be all huddled up in my bed freezing."

"Mm, don't think we'll have any need t' worry about that." Releasing a hushed chuckle into the wintry night air, Grim leaned in and pressed a warm kiss to the soft flesh beneath the daemon's feline ear, lowering his voice until it dipped down into a husky purr. "'Cause I'll make you burn like a torch all night long, if you'll have me."

Cringing away from Grim's mouth with a giggle when he flirtatiously nipped at the albino's ear, Jasper twisted his key in the last lock and playfully darted through the door into the dark, balmy warmth within.

"Y'know, I still can't believe ye actually used th' excuse that someone was bein' racist," Grim mused, absently fingering his cold car keys in his pocket as he followed the daemon into the vacant townhouse. Closing the door behind him, he couldn't help but remain implicitly aware of the feline's every move, devouring the sight of him from within his subconscious.

The way Jasper tossed his decorative keychain onto the side table was ripe with dismissive impatience, and a nonchalance that openly declared how impeccably comfortable he was within the fire daemon's house. There was an inherently fluid quality to the motion of his lean torso as he shrugged out of his down jacket and abandoned it carelessly on the same scarred wooden surface, but more than anything, it was the slender line of his extended wrist as he flicked on the nearest set of homey golden lights that ensnared Grim's notice. For some reason, that single gesture reminded him of nothing more than the tantalizing flash of porcelain-pale skin a geisha – coy smile flirting on the edges of ruby-red lips – might expose to her client while pouring him tea.

And the longer Grim remained content to stare at the narrow, milky strip of flawless skin at the albino's nape – peeking over the neck of his suit and out from beneath a downy fringe of snow-white hair – the deeper that likeness became. As things were, the sight was tickling none-too-furtively at his imagination, and Grim soon found his thoughts wandering into places of maddening silk-clad intimacy.

"Yeah, well, part of it was true," the felis innocently sniffed with a feigned indignation, sweeping past Grim as he finished toeing off his shoes and nudged them aside. "The guy that left just as you came in kept staring at me, so I did his negligent mother a favour and taught him that it's bad manners to gawk at people just because they look different... or don't have to use tweezers in order to take a leak." He shot a mischievous crimson glance back over his shoulder as he peeled off his suit jacket, dropped it on one of the stools in the kitchen, and turned his attention next to the task of yanking out the neatly tucked tails of his shirt. Grim was actually rather surprised Jasper had deigned to tuck them in, in the first place. "The rest was all you."

"Oh, really now?" Grim lethargically rumbled, brows casually arched in mock skepticism. Listening with a fond ear to the daemon's curt, melodic hum of affirmation, he hovered near the island, propping a hip against it, while casually observing the albino's feline movements about the kitchen with a faint smile playing about on his lips.

"Yup, all your fault," Jasper chirped again. He glanced back at him over his narrow, white-clad shoulder as he paused at the sink with an empty glass in hand. "By the way, you want something to drink? I think Sparky had some vodka or whiskey or something 'round here if that's more to your liking. Or, y'know, milk, if you want that." A single flip of his wrist, and the sound of running water filled the momentary silence of the kitchen.

"Mm, no, thank you." God, the way that ear cocked towards him at the sound of his voice was adorable; it was impossible for Grim to resist the temptation to quietly shamble up behind the white-haired thief, to wrap his arms around that narrow waist and steal the moment his head was tilted for a drink to kiss that long, smooth throat, relishing the sensation of movement beneath his mouth. "I think I'm good, for the time being," he purred, trailing his lips down Jasper's warm neck as the young man finished his water, chuckled, and grinned back at him. "But there are other things that I'd like – very much, as a matter of fact – t' have my mouth on." Whispering into the daemon's feline ear, he couldn't resist gingerly brushing his lips against the soft, downy fur covering the back of that frail shell as a slow smile bloomed upon his lips.

Lightly nipping at the edge of the flexible tissue, he supposed it shouldn't have come as a surprise when it flicked and a laughed protest erupted from Jasper before his ear flattened and he winced away once more from Grim's mouth; he knew exactly how ticklish his little albino's ears were, in both his human and daemon form… but there were just some times when he couldn't resist the appeal of making him squirm.

After all it was one of his guilty pleasures, watching his lovers squirm.

The daemon set his glass aside and spun in his embrace, linking his arms around his neck as he beamed up at him with a sly, feline smirk. "I'm sure that can be arranged," Jasper impishly purred, his smirk widening as the tip of his pierced tongue swept out and wet the corner of his lips, a gesture so suddenly erotic that it made everything within Grim lurch and groan with yearning. "But would you mind terribly if I took a shower first?" The albino's nose crinkled in disdain, "I smell like restaurant."

Grinning, Grim affectionately nuzzled his nose into Jasper's fragrant hair, spilling over his face in choppy, chunked strands, and kissed his temple. "I'm not complaining. Ye still smell ravishing to me."

Jasper pulled away with a lop-sided grin and a roll of his eyes. "And you're still human," he lightly snorted, his fond smile remaining snugly upon soft lips as he ran them through his teeth once again. His voice dropped to a mellifluous, if somewhat meekly vain, murmur, "And I don't really want to smell like twenty different kinds of cheese, potato and steak when we're having sex. A cat's got their pride, after all, and even besides that… It's a good way to kill the mood." Fixing him with a moody pout, Jasper idly played with the shaggy strands of Grim's hair at the nape of his neck until a muted chuckle split his lips in a smile.

"And if I say I don't care?" Grim jestingly inquired, his brows raised into two lazy arches as he peered down at the albino and gave his ass a light squeeze.

"I'm gonna go have my shower anyways," the daemon haughtily fired back, his head poised high and to the side in pride. A warm, lean body pressed its length suggestively against Grim's own, hinting at fluid muscles and soft, tantalizing curves of flesh and bone, as the albino slid him a salacious glance from the corners of titillating garnet irises. "But I know you'll let me," Jasper purred, smirking, as he languidly stretched up on his toes to melt his mouth against Grim's own, "Right?"

Smiling against Jasper's hot lips, Grim's fingers found themselves instinctively drawing languid, intricate patterns on the small of the daemon's back beneath the fabric of his dress shirt, distractedly stroking the thin line of indescribably soft hair leading down to his tail. "By all means," he whispered gently into their kiss. "After all, I've got no reason t' object – I'm sure you're just as delectable wet as ye are dry, if not more so."

Pulling back with a sassy, dubious grin on his mouth and dancing in his glimmering eyes, Jasper chuckled. "Wet pussycat? You sure about that?"


"Good," Jasper smirked, breaking free from his embrace and twining their fingers as he led Grim away from the sink. They felt so frail, so small, when linked with his own, like the fingers of an artist, or a musician – not like the rough, calloused hands Grim had received from work. Hell, the bandages he wore now were a testament of their own to how much suffering he put such seemingly fragile extremities through.

Then again, he mutely acknowledged, he'd been doing a lot more than just stealing in the last couple of years. A lot more that had left him with scars and calluses both seen and unseen – but this couldn't have been farther from an appropriate time to start brooding over something so unavoidably depressing. Not when he was so close to tumbling into warm, fragrant sheets with the little lynx that had been teasing him with a relentless depravity all day long.

Silently marvelling the contrasting tones of their flesh, melded at the hands as Jasper led him upstairs – the stairwell shrouded so thickly in shadows that Grim could see almost nothing but the white beacon of the daemon ahead – he forced his mind to move along, to entertain the thought of the events to come instead of those that had already passed long ago.

The albino had said his partner figured he was in heat again, after all… That had to be a good omen for their night together. Grim couldn't honestly remember with any great deal of accuracy the last time they'd had a tryst like this, but those times Jasper had made no indication of such a thing, and even then he was as feral and zealous as any other young tomcat his age. For a notion like this – his being 'in heat' – to suddenly spring up…

Oddly enough, the first and predominantly only thought that immediately rose to the surface of his conscious awareness was, I thought males didn't go into heat. Sure, Jasper's effeminate, but he's definitely male. I've been with him enough to know that there haven't been any sex changes or anything screwed up like that. His inner self thoughtfully drummed three of its fingers against its chin as it pondered away in its corner. I'll have to get him to explain this whole 'in heat' thing to me… Keen cobalt irises found themselves entranced by the slight, hypnotic sway in the daemon's hips as they climbed the stairs. Later, though, he concluded, devouring the sight of Jasper's lean frame as he looked back to him with a subtle, lascivious grin. Definitely, definitely later.

He couldn't help but return Jasper's grin. That good mood was setting in again, and why the hell shouldn't it?

Obediently following the daemon as he led him by his hand into the bedroom, Grim was defenceless against the way Jasper's light, brushing kiss wiped his mind of everything save his soft lips as he lured him deeper into the room and gently shoved him down onto the bed. Tugging the albino into his lap, relishing the feeling of his warm thighs straddling his lap in the darkness, Grim skimmed the backs of his bandaged knuckles over a pale, flushing cheek and kissed him again, with a growing hunger.

Huskily chuckling, the daemon leaned away, staring entranced into his eyes for one brief moment before he grinned and returned to Grim's smirking mouth, lightly sucking on his lip. "Mmm god," he hotly breathed, "you're a sexy beast, you know that?" Breaking away once more only for Grim to follow his retreat, nipping and kissing, Jasper somehow managed to make himself both heard and coherent between the periods when they were languorously sampling one another's mouths. "Gonna go shower… be right back... okay?"

"What if I don't wanna let ye go?" Grim smirked into Jasper's lips, raking clawed fingers and blunt nails over the enticing globes of his ass, dragging them down the taut cylinders of his thighs.

"Then I'll have to make you," the daemon purred, his voice honey-sweet in its breathlessness as he stroked a path of warmth over Grim's chest, idly stroking the fine teal silk of his tie and following it up to the knot, where it made a makeshift collar around his neck. "And you wouldn't like that, would you?"

"Maybe I would."

Smirking and releasing a throaty laugh into their kiss, Jasper lightly nipped at his lower lip and retreated for the last time, taking the heat from his body with him as he slid fluidly and without resistance from Grim's lap, the fabric of Grim's tie slipping through his fingers. "I won't be long," he smiled, "so be good, 'kay sexy?"

"But I'm so spectacular at bein' bad." Pulling a devilish grin onto his lips, Grim casually leaned back onto his elbows on Jasper's mattress, knees splayed, and watched him disappear with one last sultry, calculating smile through the bathroom door. The light flashed on beyond the crack under the door, casting a thin, insipid wash of illumination across the carpet at its foot; otherwise, Jasper had abandoned him to the shadows.

Allowing his smirk to fade as the sound of cascading water overtook the wintry hush swelling within the townhouse, Grim absently hooked a finger behind the knot of his tie and jerked it loose, gaze restlessly wandering the confines of the albino's bedroom. Sandy tan walls had been reduced to a deep, murky grey by the shadows in which Jasper had left him; straggling limbs of clothing draped over the lip of an overflowing laundry hamper, and a small mound of discarded fabric had begun to develop at its foot. Jasper's flamboyant outfit from earlier in the day blazed conspicuously amongst articles of sunshine yellow and lime green, and yet somehow, instead of standing out like a pink elephant running with a herd of brown mustangs – as it assuredly would have in the wardrobe of anyone else – it seemed to casually melt in, just another zebra amongst its family.

CDs and DVDs roamed the surface of the low dresser upon which Jasper had assembled a small entertainment system, while an assortment of paperback novels towered atop the speakers flanking a modestly-sized flat-screen TV. All in all, the room was for the most part neat, but typical of what one might expect to see of a young man living away from home – not that Grim would know what that was like.

The only thing other than his brilliant taste in clothing that set Jasper apart from the norm, was the carefully maintained collection of sex toys he kept in open sight, a grove of rainbow-coloured glass, silicone and rubber – all of different sizes, shapes and functions – dominating one quadrant of the same dresser the daemon used to stash entertainment objects of a much more innocuous origin.

Heaving a sigh while he waited for Jasper to be finished with his shower, he permitted his body to flop limply back onto the daemon's bed. He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, then craned his neck and twisted around to glance at the night stand next to the bed. A desk lamp shared the space with a scattered mess of jewellery, a digital clock, and lovingly framed photos; Grim didn't need to see them in any great detail to know that in each and every one, positioned somewhere amongst the countenances of friends and coworkers, Xeraph's bronzed face would be staring back at him. And Grim didn't need enough light to know that the largest of the photos had been reserved for one in which Jasper was laughing, arms locked around the fire daemon's neck, while Xeraph managed an awkward half-grin in return.

A soft, snorted breath punched itself out into the silence as Grim resettled himself with his arms folded behind his head. It wasn't as though he'd suddenly begun to regret his choice – and even if the smallest fraction of him found that it had, he probably would've savagely beaten it into conforming with his greater being – but… He could feel it, deep within the very marrows of his being, how something was beginning to shift, to twitch the dust from its coat and restlessly pace through the dark, empty corridors of his soul. Unease, maybe – but for what reason was there any need, any reason, to worry?

Somehow he just couldn't imagine Xeraph and Vincent suddenly storming up the stairwell and bursting into Jasper's room spitting fire and brimstone. They were both at least eight years his and Jasper's senior, true, but they weren't really that old. While Xeraph was both their elder and superior professionally, he wasn't prone to mothering, and Vincent simply couldn't be bothered; he'd merely shake his head, roll his eyes in disgust, and move on with his life.

Perhaps that wasn't the thought that had abruptly roused this discomfort. Then again, it wasn't really discomfort at all, now that he took a moment to consider it. It was more…

Keeping a well-trained eye on Graves's expression, he cautiously edged his fingertips closer to his hot flesh until he felt it burning against his touch. Enthralled with its silken texture, he unconsciously drew the tips of his middle and ring fingers down the muscled line of the blonde's pallid abdomen, watching how his brows furrowed and his soft lips parted. Drawing a faint, delicate design around the Englishman's navel, Grim's very breaths were caught within his chest when another hushed moan escaped Graves's throat. There was something dangerously erotic, he noticed, about the way the Englishman mutely tilted his head to the side, pressing it closer to the wrinkled surface of his sheets…

Ah, yes – that was it.

There was no denying it, now, how part of him could all but see his partner in that washroom, his acerbic little Englishman in that shower stall smoothing his sodden hair back from his face, damp tendrils of it falling over his shoulders, spilling down his naked back in a bleached blonde and black cascade. Dark lashes would flutter against fine cheekbones flushed a heady pink from the steam, and water-beaded lips that were of the perfect fullness for a man so disciplined, so severe, would purse before parting with a muted breath of pleasure. He wanted – so badly in that moment he could have died from want alone – to smell Vincent on the covers warming beneath his body; he wanted to smell his earthy musk, his clean sweat, every scent that rode on him as a human being.

For one aching instant when he closed his eyes, he could have deluded himself almost entirely, imagining with precise accuracy the Englishman's bedroom. The white queen-sized bed placed with its head to the white brick opposite of the bedroom door and the very mirror where Grim had seen him braiding his hair this evening; the tall windows lining the western wall that looked out over the city, and the gauzy white drapes that would drift in the breeze he knew Vincent so loved to linger in, gazing pensively at the outside world, when he couldn't sleep. The wooden bathroom door, as pristinely white as anything else in the room, was always partially ajar, while the slatted entrance for the man's walk-in closet – a few scant paces to the left – was always closed.

God, he could very nearly feel the warmth of the illumination on his skin, the delicate, golden phosphorescence sweeping in cone-like rays up the brick wall on either side of Vincent's bed and catching on the subdued canvas paintings that sat in their way. Two pieces, each one a half of the other, depicting black silhouetted trees stripped bare of their leaves and enshrouded in a lonely night mist. On the left shone the moon, sending dappled rays down through naked, withered branches; in the right, a lover waited, illuminated only by the light from the stars and the haze of the fog as they curled, as vulnerable as a newborn, within the embrace of the tree's roots.

If he could have, he would have crossed that welcoming white carpet, would have gently pushed the bathroom door open and enveloped himself within the steam to take that wet body from its bath and stroke the hair back from its face; he would have given anything to kiss the lips and the lids that had commissioned paintings so filled with a barren desolation, hopeless longing, and bitter loneliness. If he could have, he would have whispered into those lips that he knew that hell; that he had walked through it each and every day he woke up breathing until the evening he'd passed through the cold glass doors to a masquerade ball that had offered him the chance, the meagre, frail possibility, of a fraction of a new life.

As his body shifted, rolling himself onto his side and his legs drawing themselves into him, Grim felt a bitter smile pluck at the edges of his lips. Here he laid imagining and visualizing all of these things so clearly, and yet what was he actually doing? Waiting for a soul just as despondent and miserable as his own to lift a mirrored weight from his shoulders, even if only for one night. An irrational and uncommon shame pressed its deathly cold hand to his chest as his mind wandered beyond the barricade separating himself and Jasper, wondering if the daemon even realized the irony of what they'd been doing.

Both felt a love, a longing, for someone who could not or would not return it, and so they leaned on each other for support, for the fulfillment and satisfaction of their fantasies… their yearnings.

The very definition of low, his thoughts numbly muttered to themselves. How'd I ever get to be so pathetic?

"Caleb…"A warm palm touched itself to his cheek, hard fingers gently stroking, calming, the round pad of a calloused thumb wiping terrified tears from his lashes as he clung to that comforting, soothing heat. "It's all right, Caleb – I'm here, and I always will be. I won't let anything hurt you ever again, understand? These nightmares, these memories… everything we have to deal with now… Caleb, just say the word, and I will be your Pandora's Box."

Clenching his eyes shut tight against the legion of nightmares that swarmed on the outskirts of his thoughts, hoping, praying, that such a simple action would keep them at bay, Grim nearly jolted from the sheets when the water's flow ceased, when he heard the familiar creak of a warped glass door open and slight, wet feet stepping onto chill tile. Sniffling back the waves of tainted memories warring in the very blackest pits of his mind, he pushed himself up onto an elbow just in time for a slash of light to cut through the darkness, spilling a fragrant steam across the soft carpeted floor.

And for just one split second, he saw that familiar pale, creamy skin overlaying the albino's beneath his plush yellow bathrobe; a tall, lanky shape superimposed itself over that of Xeraph's slight partner. And for just one split second, he thought he saw those same icy blue eyes of endless depth peering at him, reading his very soul, from beneath a black fold of towel.


"-im?" Jasper's voice, hushed and uncertain, instantaneously became a rock to shatter the mirror of the abandoned life that had struggled once more to overthrow his new reality. The illusion fell away from the daemon's petite, limber figure like shards of glass as he minutely frowned in the light and steam of the doorway and continued to gently towel his snowy hair. "Are… you all right?" With but another few steps towards him, his arms lowering, Grim could clearly distinguish Jasper's fine, feline features from within the shadows. "If you've changed your mind –"

"No." Grim shook his head to purge himself of the last of the whispering, hissing demons. "No," he murmured again, struggling to soften the desperation that had suddenly taken to his voice. The last thing I want right now is to be alone. Finally forcing a smile onto his lips, he commanded that his eyes take in all of who Jasper was, to love and desire him for it, to allow the sight and smell of him to banish the thoughts of anything else that sought to lay siege on his mind. "Nah, I'm fine." Just make me forget everything I am and help me feel like a human being tonight, Jasper… please, I beg of you.

But the daemon persisted to linger awkwardly before him, only a few strides away – a minor gap between them that suddenly seemed like a never-ending chasm – until Jasper ran his supple lower lip through his teeth and pulled his towel from his head; darkened garnet irises darted to the floor, peeking shyly up at him every few moments that passed. "Grim, if you have changed your mind," the albino softly whispered, his long-fingered hands wrapped perilously around the edges of the cloth draped around his neck, "all you have to do is say so. I-I won't be angry – I mean…" A weak, slightly forced chuckle escaped his slight frame. "After all, this is hardly what I'd call… conventional behaviour between co-workers, I guess." A shrug drenched in strained carelessness lifted Jasper's shoulders and a helpless smile touched at the pierced corners of his lips, "Who could blame you for feeling awkward in that kind of situation?"

Taking in the way Jasper's silken ears had slowly cocked themselves back against his head, the diffidence raging rampant in his eyes and the limp, dejected poise of his tail, Grim felt himself as though from far away call a comforting grin to his lips as he pushed himself off of the daemon's bed and went to him. He looks so young, standing there like that – a shy, despondent little kitten, waiting for someone to love him.

Embracing his warm, wet figure – his grin widening at the way Jasper's oversized bathrobe created such a soft bulk around his slender figure – Grim affectionately nuzzled past the damp strands of snowy white hair and pressed a soothing kiss to his pale forehead. "It's nothing, kitt'n," he purred, serenely combing his fingers through sodden ivory locks. "If I'd changed my mind, d'ye think I'd still be here?"

"No," Jasper weakly murmured, curling his arms between their chests and leaning his fragrant body into Grim's.

"Exactly." If he'd had half a heart, Grim could've sworn that the way Jasper – all warmth and moisture – nuzzled under his chin just then to place a sweet kiss to his throat would have lit it on fire. He felt nothing now, though, but a frail, smouldering affection, a guardian-like protectiveness of this small, seemingly fragile daemon huddled in his arms. And for a moment, nothing in the entirety of the world could have forced him to believe that Jasper was almost nine whole months older than he and far more promiscuous besides. "Mm, y'smell good, Jasp," he whispered into his hair, inhaling the sweet, citrusy aroma enveloping the albino's figure. A teasing smirk twitched at the edges of his lips, "I'm looking forward to seeing what this shower's done to the rest of you."

Faced with a drowsy, desiring smile and heady crimson irises, it would have been impossible for Grim not to kiss those sweet, damp, tempting lips as Jasper thoughtfully wound his arms around Grim's neck. It would have been impossible not to wind his fingers through the wet, matted locks of Jasper's snowy hair, or invite himself into the albino's scalding mouth to hungrily court and toy with his slick tongue. All the while, the daemon pressed himself warm, and close, as Grim's spare hand slid behind the loose knot of his robe's belt and tugged it free.

And somewhere, within the depths of his mind, the shadows writhed, coiled tighter about him, and then dissipated beneath the glow of Jasper's tender presence.


"And… ding!"

Unable to stifle the laugh that escaped at the sight of the molten-eyed daemon's high-kicking Nazi step out of the elevator car, Vincent shook his head with a fond smile and hooked a rogue black lock of hair behind his ear, following briefly – and much more gracefully, he thought – in the man's wake. "You're completely and totally pissed, you realize that, yeah?"

Emphatically batting away his observation with a snort, Xeraph failed to notice the rather impressive pothole in front of him before he planted his foot in it, tripped, stumbled, and, in a flurry of jacket and scarf, whipped around as he caught his balance to point an accusatory finger at it. "That was not there when I first got outta th' car!" Straightening himself once more with the sea-legged grace of none other than Captain Jack Sparrow himself, the Aussie leaned down to him, his molten eyes twinkling in good humour and his sunglasses shoved up into his hair. "Y'know what th' plo- what th' problem is? People who drive vehicles that're too bloody fuckin' heavy an' blocky like those fuckin' new…" A single finger circled in mid-air as his gaze wandered, "Lincoln Navigators!"

Giving one of the conveniently present, heavy-set vehicles a firm kick to the bumper scant seconds before Vincent had a chance to dart over to the teetering daemon and drag him away with a laughing reprimand, Xeraph sent the luxury SUV a dirty glare that he was almost certain could have melted the chrome right off of its shiny black surface, had the walking fireball been sober enough to actually think about it.

"I concur that the things are rather unsightly and garish indeed," Regarding the massive moving grille with a minute grimace of his own as they passed it by, Vincent tightened his grip on Xeraph's arm and tucked his jacket closer about him to stave off the night-time chill. "But let's not make a habit of kicking in the bumpers of people who typically happen to have large sums of money readily on hand and at least five different lawyers with the habit of prolifically lying and exaggerating everything that comes out of their ass, all right?"

"Y'know if y'could give me five minutes mate," the daemon slurred, "t' get me brains back together, I'd bet you yer next pay check tha' I could melt th' chrome right offa that repugnant… offence t' all things o' beautiful vehicular design."

Turning a bright, cheeky grin up to the man still fuming back at the Navigator, Vincent airily patted his arm and continued on. "Why bet my next pay check when we can bet yours?" He saccharinely cooed, with perhaps a bit of a buzzed bat of his lashes. "After all, you do make more money than I do."

As was expected, Xeraph's magmatic irises flickered towards him in the dark chill of the parkade and he sluggishly shook his hands – index and little fingers both raised – as though to ward the fact away. "Nah, nah, see, there's a problem with that, mate." In one amazingly smooth move, the daemon lurched down to him and maneuvered an arm around his shoulders, tugging him in close as Vincent giggled. "I have this thing in my house… 's called a 'Jasper', savvy? Savvy?"

Xeraph licked his lips, and Vincent couldn't help but laugh in amusement as the daemon peered off into the distance, his outstretched hand closing into a decisive, emphatic fist as he spoke. "It likes sniffing out my pay check an' sucking that money – that hard-earned income – right outta me pocket before I even get a chance to put it in th' bank." Xeraph straightened, but his arm remained right where it was, contently curled around his shoulders with his large, warm bronze hand draped over onto his chest.

"Oh I'm sure he's not all that bad," Vincent murmured with a humouring roll of his eyes, shivering only lightly as a chilly breeze drifted through the concrete underground parking garage to slither down the back of his neck. 'Twas a sad heating system they had down here – a very sad one, indeed, and Vincent was remembering the exact reason now as to why he so disliked being out and about late at night next to the coast during the winter. The daylight hours weren't so bad… After sundown, it quickly became another story entirely.

"Then I'll give 'im t'you an' see how you like 'im," the daemon moodily snorted. "Like the wife I never had or will have, that one. Thanks be to god." His ex-partner pulled a mask of absolute reverence onto his bronze face and made the sign of the cross – only backwards, and with his left hand – and Vincent couldn't help but laugh.

Sniffling back a brisk breath in the easy silence that followed after the echoes of their voices faded, Vincent tore his gaze from the clearly inebriated Australian long enough to sweep his gaze around the parking garage.

Before he could even think to ask which vehicle they were looking for, however, the daemon's voice erupted, close and hot, against the sensitive flesh of his ear. "'Re y'cold, Vince?"

Jolting against the abrupt, airy burst of heat, Vincent's hand flew up to clutch at his chest as he staggered a drunken half-step to the side. "Jesus fuck, Xeraph," he hissed, pinning the equally startled daemon with a wide-eyed and exasperated stare. "Don't scare me like that!"

"Sorry," the Aussie sheepishly grinned. "Th' attempt wasn't intentional mate, but th' question still stands." As the man's lop-sided grin softened, molten irises slid towards him before flitting up to the ceiling, as though suspiciously watching for overhead cameras that might eavesdrop on their conversation. "Th' heating's shit down here, an' I keep tellin' Mel to tell whatever bloody booners manage this place t' crank it up in th' winter but does he listen? Nah, 'course not." Xeraph gave a comical scowl. "What does th' local fire-crotch's 'pinion matter? After all he just wimps out when the cold comes anyways," the daemon's hands dropped from where they'd waggled themselves by his head – one flopping over Vincent's shoulder – and the satirical expression on his face darkened into an indignant scowl. "Load o' shit, when it all comes down t' it. I can handle th' cold just as well as any o' you C'nadian's can."

Waving away Xeraph's somewhat scrambled offer, Vincent gently smiled and shook his head. "I'm fine, thank you, but I would like to know what we're looking for so when I see it, we can both head home and to bed – because I don't know about you, but I've got work to do tomorrow."

When Xeraph paused in his tracks, that feverishly warm hand trailing away from its perch on Vincent's shoulder, Vincent turned to look back only to see the daemon skeptically eyeing his figure, thoughtfully running his lower lip through his teeth and wagging a single finger in consideration.

He raised his brows and cocked his head at him. "Is something wrong, Xeraph?" Straightening, his gut sank with an unpleasant possibility and a slight grimace curled upon his lips. "You're not going to be sick, are you?" After all, a similar gesture had preceded such an event before; one moment the redhead had been up and about and joking as normally as any drunk daemon could, and then an instant later, he'd been keeled over behind a pillar vomiting up his dinner.

Ironically, next to a Lincoln Navigator. Fortunately, once the explosive popping of the tire – flecks of bile had burned right through the rubber – had startled Xeraph comically into awareness, the daemon had at least enough common sense left to him to admit that he should probably retire for the evening. He'd then knifed the SUV's other three tires for good measure before bolting off into the parking garage, giggling like an unruly teenager, while the car alarm wailed like a banshee behind him.

It certainly hadn't been what Vincent like to think of as one of his ex-partner's finer moments – unless it served to annoy him with the morning after. That had always been fun, and more often than not, the momentary amusement had also served the dual purpose of lessening the agony of Vincent's own hangovers, even if only minutely… and until Xeraph cuffed the back of his head, at which point, Vincent had typically punched him right back.

Good days, those were, Vincent hummed to himself with a tiny, mute smile of reminiscence. None of this paranoia about my partner coming in to hump my thigh while I'm sleeping. If anything, his grin quirked the slightest bit wider at one corner as his gaze appreciatively wandered down Xeraph's tall, athletic figure, it would have been the other way around.

Stroking long fingers along a sharp jaw, however, his lips pursed in the most ridiculous fashion, the Aussie simply cocked his head at him, angling it this way and that until he shrugged, wrestled his thigh-long jacket from his shoulders, and jerked his chin at him. "C'mon, getcher li'l pom ass over here."

Vincent's increasingly salacious reverie found itself rudely shattered by the demand. "Beg your pardon?"

Raising his brows, Xeraph simply held up his jacket in reply, waiting a moment or two before emphatically wiggling it. He seemed utterly oblivious to the fact that frail tendrils of steam had begun to develop around him, undulating upwards from his chest and shoulders in the cool air of the parking garage.

"No, Xeraph, really, I'm not cold at all."

Despite Vincent's protest, the daemon heaved an exasperated groan – smartly accompanied by an exaggerated roll of his lava-like irises – hung his head, and then impatiently waggled his coat again.

"Really, I'm not – and even besides that, what about you? You're even less accustomed to these temperatures!"

With another dramatically annoyed roll of his eyes, the red-haired fire daemon quickly closed the scant distance between them – trailing the ethereal manifestation of his escaping warmth behind him – and swung the heavy jacket over his shoulders. Trying his very best to ignore the way the heat rushed to his face at the realization of how dwarfed he felt in Xeraph's clothing, Vincent focused on the intense warmth left over from the daemon's body that had clung to the fabric. Immediately, he felt something within himself melt, unconsciously accepting the gesture as he tentatively tucked the heavy fabric around himself.

It's so warm…

"I've got plenty o' body heat t' spare," the redhead succinctly muttered, and Vincent did everything within his power not to think a little more directly about how that heat radiated from the daemon's fine, bare bronze skin. It was easier said than done, considering Xeraph had unbuttoned an almost scandalous portion of his shirt during their nightcap with Cervantes, and now that tantalizing V of exposed clavicle, pectoral, and sternum was staring Vincent straight in the face.

Xeraph always had possessed a fine – if not downright divine, drool-worthy, erection-inducing – body, scarred beyond comprehension or not. If anything, Vincent pensively recalled, those battle scars merely made him that much more attractive.

"Besides," the daemon wryly continued, utterly oblivious to the way Vincent's heart gave a stupid little flutter in his chest at the sight of the thin, ragged scars marring the left upper-half of his countenance. "You're th' human here. Proud though y' may be, ya've got a weaker immune system than I do."

The heavy weight of Xeraph's firmly muscled arm came down on his shoulders again as he started them back on their course, and Vincent felt the searing warmth in his face intensify when the daemon leaned into his ear once more, his arid breath tickling slowly rousing nerves.

"An' even that aside, given my last sober memory of what happened when you last fell ill," the daemon archly murmured, "I don't really want it t' happen again, an' therefore I won't if I've got any say in th' matter. So suck it up, Vinny-kins. Doctor Daemon's orders."

Feeling himself flush yet further at the indignation Xeraph's proclamation had aroused – amongst certain other things, not the half of which were at all decent or particularly prudish – Vincent figured there wasn't much else he'd be able to get away with if Xeraph continued to hold him so close to his side, so he feebly attempted to placate himself by quietly fuming within the depths of the man's furnace-like coat. And he'd be damned before he openly admitted that it had slowly begun to banish the chill that had been creeping into his bones since they'd left the elevator. The absolute last thing he wanted was to encourage a bout of smug and victorious gloating, because then he'd be forced to find some way to shut Xeraph up, and the only things that were immediately coming to mind had everything to do with tongues and throats and other overtly prurient notions that encouraged his blood to boil in only the most troublesome of manners.

Even so, his mind couldn't help but persist in racing back to the weight of the daemon's arm slung companionably over his shoulders, absently taking note of the way his heart anxiously trilled in his chest from the man's close proximity and the hot memory of his breath against his ear. It was, he thought, entirely too much like the touch of a warm desert breeze.

He's plastered, Vincent, and so are you, his rational self muttered. You know it's a plain fact that he's a ten-beer queer and I'd hate to imagine by how much he's surpassed that limit tonight. A soft, muted sigh escaped him before he could successfully manage to pounce on and smother it. Even so… He stole a fleeting glance of the daemon's finely sculpted bronze countenance, his dark red hair, lined with a streak of obsidian, pulled back and pinned by his sunglasses, as they strolled aimlessly through the rows of vehicles. A pang of yearning stretched, long and sensual and slow, within him before he even realized it was there.

No. No! You are not attracted to him Vincent King, do you hear me? I know you're lonely, but using him of all people as an outlet is most definitely not the answer!

But the daemon wouldn't have a qualm in the world with the fact that he was a man, right now. He wouldn't have a qualm in the world with Vincent suggestively pressing himself against him, or hooking a hand behind his neck and pulling him down to kiss those fine, smirking lips. Christ, the sheer multitude of things he could do to that man, without Xeraph uttering even the briefest breaths of complaint…

No! His mind screeched at itself. For the love of bleedin' Christ on the cross, no! If he could have properly slapped himself without arousing suspicion, he would have. You haven't bedded anyone or been bedded properly without it ending catastrophically in the last three months and that's all it is. That. Is. All. Understand? And you will not take advantage of Xeraph when he's up to his ears in his cups just to satisfy some apparent internal satyromaniac because you know that he wouldn't give half a damn about genders right now!

Being said like that, though… He had to admit that it did make for an awfully tempting- wait. No! Absolutely not!

The second they came around a bend in the concrete parking lot, however – the very instant Vincent found himself gawking at the sleek figure of a familiar, isolated carmine '87 Corvette – each and every thought he'd been entertaining found itself systematically wiped from his awareness. His breath snagged on something in his chest as he slowed to a halt, his heart hammering against the cage of his ribs until he thought it would burst.

"Xeraph," he uttered, his voice coming out shaky and tattered despite his best efforts to keep it level. "Is that…?"

But he'd no need to even finish what he'd been saying. A lazy smirk painted itself on the fire daemon's face when his wandering gaze landed on the old corvette. "Ah…" he drawled. "There she is. I was startin' t' wonder where she'd gone off to."

Wide eyes snapped up to his ex-partner's visage the instant the mist from his voice faded away. "You kept her?"

"Yeah, 'course I did," Xeraph snorted, pinning him to the spot with a dubious lop-sided grin. "Why would I wanna get rid of her? She's a good car an' she's got good memories written all over her."

In moments, he found himself within reach of the very vehicle in which he recalled so clearly outrunning the long arm of the law, stalking unsuspecting targets through clogged and complicated weavings of traffic, and lurking safely out of sight near the homes of the rich and unsuspecting. Breaking away from his ex-partner, reverently walking along the old corvette's side, his palm gently caressed the sleek surface of her hood as one would the flesh of their lover, his touch light, his fingers trailing. He could permit only the slightest of breaths to escape through the vice that had secured itself around his throat and clenched it shut as he did so.

Nothing had changed about the old girl since their partnership had been extinguished; her paint was still pristine and clean, a deep blood red that so often resembled her daemonic pilot's hair. There were no chips, no rust, nothing that would even dare to imply the slightest trace of abuse or neglect. Her windshield was devoid of the spidery web of cracks that stray rocks or a rough escape had often marred it with, and beyond that, gazing through the weak, sickly yellow light supplied overhead, the black leather interior looked just as inviting and well-kept as it always had.

With his fingertips lightly, indecisively, dancing over the door's handle, Vincent couldn't help but bend to gaze inside, his eyes sweeping appreciatively over the bucket seats he remembered sharing with Xeraph as they sped away from another successful heist. Straightening and pensively taking note of the pang of nostalgia, he glanced back over his shoulder at the daemon waiting behind him, his hands tucked patiently in his pockets, watching his every move and reaction with flickering irises and a warm, amiable grin.

Chuckling in vague embarrassment to be caught all but humping the vehicle like an animal in rut, Vincent meekly tucked a rogue lock of hair behind his ear and shot another indicative glance at the car. "Would you mind…?" To complete the implication, he gently nodded his head at the Corvette; it would have been impossible to keep his mouth from curving into the hopeful curl that it did.

Xeraph only laughed, however, stepping forward to genially open the door for him, bending minutely at the waist and waving him in with a smile. "I was startin' to wonder how long it'd take for you to ask – not like you'd really any need to." He added with a lethargic shrug as Vincent shyly chuckled and slid into the chill leather seat. "She's as much yours as she is mine, after all."

Giving a noncommittal hum under his breath, Vincent lovingly traced his palms around the rim of the steering while, adoring the feeling of the cool material beneath his skin and regaining an innate awareness of the scars Xeraph had found on his hands just a few days prior. He realized soon after that he must have been grinning like a fool and fought to bring the smile under control as he glanced up at the redhead leaning casually on the open door.

"No, it's better that you own her. I would've… Oh, god…" Breathily sighing the last sparse words of his statement as he imagined what could've happened had Xeraph not retained ownership of her, Vincent smiled once again, and nodded as he wet the corner of his lips. "It's most definitely better that she's yours. I would have ended up abusing her something fierce."

Glancing up at the daemon's loud, incredulous snort, another laugh was jostled from Vincent's chest when he saw the stern expression on his ex-partner's face. "I'll grant that you're a downright hellish driver on your best days, but you're not bad enough to warrant the need for a thought like that. After what this ol' gal's been through…" A soft mist took to Xeraph's glimmering eyes as he lovingly stroked her frame, the grin on his mouth diminishing to a nostalgic quirk; a veritable eternity seemed to pass in his eyes before they retracted to twinkle at Vincent in the shadows. "She'd probably be able to take anythin' you can throw at 'er an' still treat ya kindly at th' end of the day."

Absent trailing his fingers over the stick-shift, Vincent grinned and thoughtfully nodded his assent. "Yes, I suppose so." When his touch came to brush gently against the slot for the ignition, his heart gave an excited little shiver, and Vincent felt another memory teasing the brunt of his temptations. "May I-"

He glanced up to see the keys dangling from a long set of bronze fingers, with Xeraph's broad, knowing smirk hovering in the background. "Don't even hafta ask, mate."

Feeling a hot flush rushing to his cheeks at the notion of his predictability, Vincent bowed his head and let a single amused chuckle drift out into the silence before he humbly accepted his ex-partner's offering. He had to admit, as well, that – even if only for the briefest of moments – he wanted to let his fingers linger against Xeraph's warm caramel skin, to take his hand and bring it and its heat to his mouth, his cheek, and hold it there. After all, that warmth was just another thing that hadn't changed over the years; not in Xeraph's personality nor in his flesh, and every time it had left Vincent yearning to curl against him, long arms protectively encircling his body, as he fell asleep.

But such a thing had been a fantasy then, and the circumstances hadn't changed since, although now he found it painfully necessary to provide himself with a reminder.

The roar of the old 'vette's engine, thankfully, swept the thought almost entirely from his mind. Echoing beautifully within their surroundings, a sharp, nearly orgasmic pleasure shot through his veins at the sound of it as he laid his hands on her wheel, his head lolling back against the seat with a hushed moan, gently biting the corner of his lip and allowing his lids to flutter shut. It was pure power he heard in the 'vette's throaty, rumbling purr, the husky murmurings of promises and expectations that would not only be fulfilled, but surpassed completely, and it was still as intoxicating as the first time he'd ever heard it, those many long years ago.

"She still sounds like a lioness, Xeraph," he murmured, his heart pounding against the confines of his ribs as he restlessly caressed the leather-bound wheel. "That's beautiful…" he whispered, more to himself than anyone else before he dragged himself forth from a dream of speed and adrenalin and the ability to, for once, stop caring about the world around him. "I can't believe she's still in such good shape. I'd thought for sure that when our partnership was, eh…" Faltering as his mind scrambled after a word to appropriately describe their professional relationship, Vincent's eyes were drawn up to his ex-partner's placid countenance as the daemon languidly found it for him, and left him wondering why it had ended in the first place.


Reminded vividly of the double-edged mix of emotions that had rampaged through him when Cervantes broke them apart – relief, laden thick with a hidden misery and defiance – Vincent returned his gaze quietly to the car's wheel and nodded with a faint, mirthless smile. "It's a bit more dramatic than what I'd had in mind, but all the same, I suppose it's accurate enough." He tore himself from his memories. "In any case, I was almost certain that you'd take her in to sell or-"

"Why in the seven names of hell would I wanna do that?" Xeraph laughed; when Vincent glanced up at him again, he felt his heart clench at the sight of the daemon as he gave a flippant shrug. A modest grin marked his lips while he bashfully rubbed at the back of his neck. "I mean, sure, she's long overdue for an oil change, but overall she's been taken good care of and in turn, she's taken good care o' me. Besides," sparse strands of blood red hair escaped the barrier of Xeraph's sunglasses and wandered into his face as he cocked his temple onto a fist, and grinned down at him with a thoughtful smile. "Like I already said, she's got good memories in 'er. Wouldn't trade those in for the world, and wouldn't dare sell 'em to some spoiled brat just so they can run 'em into a goddamn wall."

Laughing as the daemon concluded his statement with a distasteful grimace, Vincent felt his face warm somewhat in the shadows at the thought that…

Well, perhaps some maudlin part of him had been longing for a sign that Xeraph had treasured the better days of their partnership as he had. True, he'd taken quite fondly to reacting with hostility when the daemon was around – such as the day of that horrid corporate Halloween party – but he'd had reasons for it. Whether they had been subconscious or conscious seemed to be of little importance. Since their severance, he'd tried to keep himself from falling victim to the same charm that had ensnared him when they'd met, to think the absolute possible worst of Xeraph in the hopes that he wouldn't unwittingly walk into the same damned void he'd fought so hard to free himself from the first time.

He'd wished that things had gone differently, yes – but he'd never regretted being the man's partner.

Maybe his only regret was falling for the wrong man, the wrong daemon, and botching everything up in seemingly every way possible back then – not consciously, of course, and most certainly not intentionally. Just…


If it weren't for him – if it weren't for the bond that had forged them together – maybe Xeraph would still be able to see out of his left eye. Maybe then, he wouldn't need to hide the portion of his face that had been laced with shrapnel and scars.

What I would give to be able to go back and tell myself never to love him. Were that possible, maybe things wouldn't be as they are now. His thoughts paused, a weary sigh leaving his shoulders wilted and his head bowed as he stared down at the clever-fingered hands resting loosely on the curves of the steering wheel. I feel so old, all of a sudden…

Regaining a painful awareness of Xeraph's presence – his insightful, molten lava eyes trained raptly on his countenance, wandering over his features and stroking his flesh with hot, nearly physical strokes – Vincent abruptly cleared his throat, struggling to reclaim his composure from a looseness induced by too many drinks and the awkwardness of the moment that had stolen it away.

He knew that it was futile to try and convince himself that he didn't enjoy the way Xeraph's voice flowed to his ears, caressing his senses like fluid aural silk heated over warm stones, but when his drawled words finally registered, Vincent felt every aspect of his being blacken and frost over.

"Why couldn't you be a woman, Vince?"

Vincent paused for a moment, battling with himself over whether or not he'd really heard what he thought he had. He couldn't have… No, he must have misheard. The car's motor was distracting him, muddling words already slurred by the alcohol swimming through Xeraph's veins.

Silencing the corvette's engine, he hesitated a moment before he frowned, and cast a bewildered glance up at his ex-partner, leaning on the vehicle's door with a warm, pensive mist softening his gaze. Vincent tore his eyes away, and incredulously scowled down into the foot well of the driver's side, mind tripping over itself in a jumbled haze induced by drink, before he decided that for now, it'd be best if he left the car to its own devices.

He slid out of the seat, acutely aware of the way the daemon retreated a step to allow him the clearance he needed, levered himself onto his feet, and shut the door behind him. His hands didn't know what to do with themselves as they hung idly at his sides; he'd barely even remembered that he was still wearing Xeraph's massive coat until he distractedly rubbed at his forehead in troubled perplexity.

"I'm sorry I must be hearing things," he unsteadily muttered with a self-deprecating grin, hoping to all that was good in the world that he was, and what he'd thought he'd heard was simply that… A misunderstanding. A wistful delusion or auditory hallucination spawned by booze, bottled lusts, and a long, painful history of repressed emotions. "Would you mind running that by me again?" He peered up at the Australian with brown eyes narrowed by apprehension.

Before his very eyes, the entire conversation posed by Xeraph's body language began to shift, and adopted an air of gauche discomfort. A frail, lopsided grin found itself spread neatly along that fine bronze mouth; a delicate furrow etched itself into the flesh between Xeraph's brows as abashedly dimmed eyes wandered to the concrete at their feet, and a hand lifted to rub self-consciously at the back of his neck, before they dared to flick up and meekly meet his gaze again.

"I was just kinda thinkin' out loud, y'know?" The daemon wet his lips, and Vincent could see, plain as day, the way his throat moved as he swallowed. "Just…" The grin withered into a mild, frustrated line as the crease between his brows deepened. Lids dragging themselves shut, Xeraph chafed his fingertips over his forehead, a deep breath pulling itself into his lungs, before his hand dropped and he morosely stuffed both of them into his trouser's pockets. Weakly smouldering eyes wandered aimlessly across the pavement at their feet, and Xeraph darkly scowled as he massaged his eyes with the fingers of a single hand in frustration.

"This would all be so much less complicated if you were a woman," the daemon finally admitted, his voice heavy and barren of jesting or humour.

With his mind straining to make sense of what the daemon was telling him, Vincent absently wet suddenly parched lips and conflicted eyes darted down to scrutinize the still-buttoned folds of shirt at Xeraph's stomach. Uncomfortably aware of the way his fingers had begun to shake, he inhaled a long, slow pull of the crisp winter air and idly flexed them at his sides, stroking his thumbs over the loose balls of his fists in the hopes of coaxing some warmth into them.

"I, eh…" The words didn't seem to want to make themselves known, edging reluctantly off the tip of his tongue. "I don't understand, Xeraph, I have to admit." A weak flicker of a smile flashed across the outskirts of his lips, and his dark eyes were restless as they darted about their surroundings. Even though they took in everything there was to absorb, Vincent remained blind to all but the brief glimpses he stole of the redhead's expression, so sincere that he could only bring himself to look at him for a handful of seconds before something within him lurched and shuddered, and made him look away. He hated the way his voice suddenly gave out beneath the weight of the painful words that came next, but he forged on regardless. "What, exactly, are you talking about?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

Staring intently into the molten pools of fire within his ex-partner's irises, Vincent's gaze ran itself, completely against his will, over the jagged scars born from shards of glass and metallic debris that had lacerated the left side of his face. Faint snicks and knife-like trenches laced his skin, ranging from the middle of his lean cheek to the outskirts of his jaw, slashing across his cheekbone with near invisible nicks and flecks peppering one side of his nose. The healed remnants of the carnage stretched all the way up over his left eye, to his temple and forehead, before vanishing beneath the thick mantle of his red and black hair. His mouth had been saved by the protective hunch of his shoulder, but Vincent knew – and oh, how he wished he didn't – how those scars continued to the flesh most never saw, cutting into his back, his arm, his side…

In spite of the moment, Vincent's memory, and his heart, gave a sympathetic pang as it recalled the explosive events of the night when Xeraph had gotten those scars. One half of his shirt had been left in ribbons, flames licking up from his wounds and igniting cloth the instant his blood touched it; Xeraph's face had been draped in crimson, his sharp canines bared, laboured, hissing breaths straining for life as stiff and trembling fingers hovered uselessly over the shredded remnants of his countenance. And he remembered, with an acute, painful vibrancy, how Xeraph had shoved him away, his smooth voice transforming into a roared demand not to touch him, when Vincent had tried in vain to assess his wounds.

He'd always thought it a miracle that Xeraph hadn't lost his eye, although as things were now, he'd been left as good as blind and partially deaf on that side – a weak spot, he'd grimly confessed once. If someone wanted to take him off-guard, all they had to do was piece the evidence together and strike him where his abnormally sharp senses had been compromised.

And it made him heartsick, knowing that the only reason why Xeraph had been scarred like that in the first place was because he'd wanted to protect his vulnerable human partner.

Because... he'd wanted to protect me.

Overtaken by memories of their partnership – the touch of Xeraph's fingers against the scar on his palm, the gore masking the daemon's face and neck after the explosion, the times they'd spent bantering with a quiet, wry familiarity during their stakeouts being only a scant few of them – Vincent's bones all but liquefied when the backs of warm bronze fingers brushed a lock of bleached hair out of his watering eyes. Were his heart capable of bursting in his chest without killing him in the process, he was certain that it would have done so as Xeraph mutely approached him with a look of pained comprehension.

"Vincent…" His touch slipped down to tenderly trail over Vincent's burning cheek, but when Vincent twitched his head away,furiously blinking back the scalding moisture gathering in his eyes, the daemon faltered.

"Xeraph, you're drunk and probably overdosed on painkillers," Vincent brusquely rasped. "You don't know what you're doing. I think we ought to-" Just as he turned to retreat to the other side of the car that harboured so many good, heart-warming memories, a firm grip closed around his bicep and gently pulled him to a stop.

"I think we ought to get this settled, Vincent," the daemon murmured, his irises smouldering around the dilated ebony discs of his pupils, a bed of coals still brimming with the fire's heat.

"There's nothing to settle," Vincent defensively spat, every muscle in his body trembling as his heart drummed to a furious beat in his chest. "Everything that needed to be settled was said and done when our partnership was obliterated. There's nothing left."

A frail smile tweaked at the corner of the felon's lips as he shook his head and released Vincent's arm. Xeraph merely watched him for a moment, silent, unmoving, before he wet his lips, scrubbed at the back of his head, and turned away before pivoting back to face him a minute later. "This hasn't got anything to do with the past, Vince. Just the now. Look…" Xeraph approached him again and grasped him by the edges of his shoulders, and Vincent could do little more than stare helplessly, obstinately, at the exposed V of the daemon's chest. "I feel for you, all right?" The daemon gently murmured. "I don't know if it's sexual or purely platonic or something in between, but I know there's something there and it's-"

Lids winced shut against the reminiscent ache that bloomed in his feverishly throbbing heart; his head sagged forward under the weight of the carefully smothered memories suddenly punching through the walls of his defences. "Xeraph, that's not fair," he shakily uttered under laboured breaths. "Don't you dare play this game with me, Xeraph. Don't you dare – I'll not have it-"

Tepid fingertips tenderly wandered over his cheekbone, and much as he yearned to cringe away, to lash out at the inebriated Australian with all of the pain and frustration he carried burgeoning inside of him, he found he hadn't the strength when a feverishly warm mouth touched itself to the top of his forehead.

"I'm not playing a game with you, Vincent. I know I'm drunk, and I know what I'm like when I drink too much and I know I've done that tonight," the redhead quickly amended. "But I'd never do something like this to you if I didn't mean absolutely every word of it." Smooth knuckles stroked themselves down the side of his face before a palm spread open against it, lifting it, the hard pad of the daemon's thumb absently grazing his lashes and caressing his cheek. "There are so many limitations and restrictions placed on someone when they're in their right mind – they think too much an' what needs to be said often stays silent out of the fear that…"

Hot breaths brushed against his trembling lips as Vincent gasped in a mouthful of cool air and closed a hand around the daemon's wrist in protest when a thumb brushed against the edge of his mouth. But it didn't stay there. The fire daemon shifted, wound an arm around his waist and intimately tugged him close, while pale fingers clutched at the firm length of his forearm in the only gesture of objection he was capable of.

So long he'd wanted to feel Xeraph's body against his like this, to feel the warmth of his naked flesh through the barriers of their clothing and feel the expanse of relentlessly trained muscles under his hands. But now… He could think of nothing else other than the notion that this shouldn't be happening… That this wasn't real and would all disappear in the morning…


That something in him was breaking, shattering to pieces with each syllable that escaped from Xeraph's lips.


The Aussie's words, when they finally came, were soft and scant breaths against his mouth. "Out of the fear that you would rightly reject me, after how I treated you."

Lids shut tight against the look he knew he'd find in Xeraph's eyes, Vincent could do nothing but wince when he felt the first hot, tentative brush against his lips. An electric shiver rippled through the flesh of his mouth, rolling in a heady wave down his neck and over the rest of the body when Xeraph returned for a second, torturously sensual caress. A long hand tantalizingly combed itself through the loose locks of his hair as the daemon lightly caught Vincent's lower lip between his own, warming his blood with the ginger graze of fine teeth and a slow, seductive suckling of receptive flesh.

"Xeraph..." But even as he moved to break away, to deny his inebriated and clearly delusional ex-partner yet further access to his lips, a lone finger drew a hot line down the naked flesh on the back of his neck, snuffing all protests at their roots. Feverish lips came gently against the corner of Vincent's own, pressing a delicate kiss to his flesh seconds before a steaming tongue teased at his skin, nipping at the corner of his mouth, and, once again, he found Xeraph's mouth fused with his.

Not for an instant did the convict give any sign that he'd planned on retreating – and far too quickly, Vincent found that he hadn't the strength to try and push him away.

The pressure of Xeraph's hand on the small of his back, the shiver-inducing strokes along his throat, the heat and sturdiness of Xeraph's body against his own... All of it he'd dreamed about. All of it he'd yearned for with the entirety of his being and more, while knowing that it would forever be denied him, knowing that he had no other choice but to force himself to take solace in the redhead's company, and nothing more.

And yet... After all of these long years...

A bolt of molten heat lanced into his core as the daemon's hot, slick tongue invited itself past his lips, his teeth, to slip tentatively against his own, tasting exquisitely of hops and cigarettes. When his control finally burst free from its manacles, there was no silencing the hungry moan rumbling in his throat as he hooked a hand over the back of Xeraph's neck, jerking him down a little further to ease the strain on Vincent's; he barely even noticed the way the taller man staggered a moment, forcing him back, practically pinning him against the corvette's side as he buried his fingers in the daemon's rich carmine hair, feasting on his mouth. The coat slipped from his shoulders, slumping down on top of the car's roof, but he ignored the chill creeping over his skin.

It didn't last long, anyways. Not with Xeraph's hands appreciatively smoothing themselves up his torso like that, massaging perked nipples with his thumbs, or with his thigh wedged quite completely between Vincent's own, virtually taunting him to rub himself against it like a horny and promiscuous teenager-

Except Vincent wasn't a teenager anymore. He hadn't been for almost a decade, and yet here he was, making out with his ex-partner – his co-worker, his superior – in the middle of the parking garage as though they'd both just come from a rave where there had been both booze and ecstasy in abundance. When Xeraph's mouth migrated to his neck, kissing, nipping, suckling on his skin, trying to fondle a breast that didn't exist... That was when his mind came screaming back to him. That was when he realized precisely what kind of position he'd allowed himself to become trapped in.

He had to struggle to lift his lids, but the misery and anger and humiliation saw fit to rouse themselves on their own. "Xeraph," he croaked, hissing in a breath when one of the daemon's large hands clenched over his ass, thigh nudging itself up against his groin. Christ, what in the hell were they doing? And why in the name of all the hells known to mankind did it have to feel so goddamned good? "Xeraph..." Squirming with the discomfort spawned by the earthy, scintillating warmth that had begun to unfurl in his pelvis, slender fingers reached back, tightening around the daemon's wrist. "Xeraph stop, damn you."

The ravenous mouth on his throat froze, and Vincent fought to suppress the shiver he could feel creeping under his skin when the cold air in the parkade came in contact with the hot, moist, blushing patch of flesh Xeraph had left behind.

"Stop," he breathed. With his palms lying with a strained delicacy on the daemon's broad, burning shoulders, he gently eased himself out of his embrace and backed away until a safe distance resided between them, ignoring his urge to pluck the fabric of his trousers out of his crotch. He didn't realize that he'd pulled the daemon's coat away with him, clutching it to his chest, frightened half to death that Xeraph would know exactly what he'd been doing to him if he didn't hide himself. But lost, flickering flames merely peered at him through the sallow light as the redhead's chest rose and fell – and god, how divinely feral Xeraph looked to him then, his true nature unblemished by the business suit meant to disguise his wild, intractable carnality – straining to recapture lost breaths.

Breaths that had been lost because he'd been too busy trying to devour Vincent's mouth and body whole, by any means made available to him.

Oh, god, what in the hell had they been doing...?

"I'm sorry, Xeraph," he shakily uttered. "I can't do this. Maybe you can without seeing any error in it, maybe this whole farce was even genuine for you," his voice cracked with a hopeless laugh beneath the weight of his words, and Vincent had to force himself to swallow, trying to wet the parched wastelands of his throat, before he could continue. "But I can't. I can't do this again, because we both know that come tomorrow morning, you'll be the same as you've always been." Despite his best efforts, a tiny quaver escaped into his voice as he pulled the warm jacket away from his chest and handed it back to the bleak-eyed Aussie. "You're a ladies' man, Xeraph, through and through, and I'm not a lady. I never will be. This entire thing..." Helplessly gesturing around them, Vincent chuckled and folded his arms against his chest to preserve the warmth he could feel slipping away from his body like water cupped in his hands. "It's just a drunken fancy. Nothing more." Progressively backing away from the daemon towards the street exit, Vincent thought he felt part of his heart break when fiery irises stared, lost, down at the coat in his hand before they returned to his retreating figure.

"Vince, wait-"

"Don't worry about driving me, Xeraph," Vincent called back to him. "I'll catch a taxi, and you should, too. You're in no shape to be behind the wheel right now."


Pivoting on his heel, turning his back to his ex-partner and crushing a knuckle against his trembling mouth, Vincent deafened himself to Xeraph's hoarse, beckoning voice, blinded himself to the knowledge of the look that would be on his face as he watched him walk away. For the moment, he focused every last resource he had on the task of trying to erase the thought of the daemon from his mind, to ignore his presence entirely, but as the space between them continued to grow, he could feel Xeraph's eyes burning into his back – could feel his lips scorching their mark onto his heart – and knew that it was all for naught.


"Jasper, d'you ever… feel bad, for doing this?" Sending a wondering glance down to the happily flushed albino snuggled against his chest, Grim readjusted his head on the arm folded beneath it and waited for the dozing daemon's response.

A languid smile pulled at Jasper's pierced mouth as he nuzzled his burning face into Grim's pectoral, a single tufted ear contently flicking and a long, full tail lethargically sweeping itself about to drape over their legs. "Mm, not really…" The albino murmured, his ashen lids closed beneath the dense, omnipresent darkness that had persistently reigned over his bedroom throughout the course of their tryst. Slender fingers absently stroked his side as that long white arm rested across his abdomen, and, just as Grim had previously mused, created a contrast that was almost awe-worthy under the veil of shadows.

But that was hardly important, now. His lusts had been sated, crude as the notion suddenly seemed, and he'd been left with nothing other than an abnormal and unexpected shame lying thick upon his thoughts. He'd assumed that if Jasper truly cared for Xeraph as he claimed, he would have felt at least the slightest twinge of disgrace for doing something so… debauched. The warmth that had permeated even the furthest reaches of his body when they'd made love ebbed with a flaring pulse of uncommon self-reproach, and Grim found that he couldn't have possibly kept the weakly frustrated sigh building in his chest silent. "You never…?"

The words died in his throat, hanging in the air unsaid above his casual paramour's head of snowy, sex-tousled hair, strands strewn delicately across his chest. Jasper remained silent for a long moment as Grim's thoughts clamored about in his head, all rushing and screaming at the top of their lungs until he couldn't hear anything intelligible anymore from within that infernal ruckus.

A single dark eye cracked open in the shadows and sleepily glided up to him. "Something wrong?" The daemon lazily inquired, his smooth, melodic voice transformed into a beautiful rasp that – under any other circumstances – would have been replied to with a sound kiss on the lips. "Your heart's beating faster."

Severing himself from the whirlwind of his thoughts before he found himself face to face with that grotesque specter, Grim gently shook his head and traced a slow path down the line of Jasper's naked spine. "No, no," he murmured, forcing a tiny fragment of the smile he'd intended onto his lips as he exhaled again. "It's nothing." Couldn't be farther from that, but what kind of conversation is this to have with someone you just slept with? After all, boy-o, you're one of the reasons why you wound up in his bed in the first place. Don't start making him feel like shit now, too.

Soft lips pressed a light, absent kiss to his naked chest. "You sure?"

Smoothing a hand back over Jasper's disheveled hair, lightly stroking the back of his neck with his fingertips, Grim injected more sincerity into his smile and bent his lips to the top of his head. "Aye." The knot in his stomach should have loosened when the daemon began to purr, resting his cheek once more over Grim's heart and allowing his lids to flutter shut, but the tangle of shame and self-contempt only tightened. It writhed over his chest now, wrapping poisoned tendrils around his ribs, his lungs, until he thought he would be suffocated – or worse, crushed – within its lethal embrace.

They both claimed to care deeply for their partners even if such a sentiment wasn't returned, and yet they arranged trysts with one another, venting the yearning and desperate desire they felt for the men they couldn't have. What they were doing was absurd and he was certain that Jasper must have acknowledged that himself at one point or another, but…

A tight smile of irony twisted his lips as he inattentively combed his fingers through the daemon's mussed white hair. What kind of fetid devotion is this…? To claim that we care for them, and yet we do such things while screaming their names in our minds beneath the touch of another… As stiff fingers tiredly found his eyes, kneading out the abrupt ache that had bloomed within their cores, Grim inhaled from the center of his being and rested his head back against the pillow. How very pathetic we are.

Within moments, Jasper's soft breathing leveled out over the flesh of his chest, dipping into the light, rhythmic patterns of sleep as Grim lay wide awake, his mind racing about and helplessly colliding with topics that couldn't have chosen a worse time to surface; all too quickly he felt them cluttering around him, swarming up against his sides and tearing at his skin, clawing at his face with sadistic, malevolent fingers. Clenching his lids tightly shut, he eased himself out from beneath Jasper's warm body and inched to the edge of the mattress, hunching there and raking his fingers through his mussed hair as he stared down at the carpet.

Never before now had these trysts bothered him; never before now had he given them any more than a second thought aside from one of content yearning to experience those sensations once again. Vincent's face, masked and stony as it had been during dinner, flashed before his mind's eye just as the blonde turned away from him. Resting his forehead in his hand with a strangled, quavering breath, Grim shook his head at himself and rose from the daemon's bed. It was the way he'd been fantasizing over the man before Jasper had finished his shower, he was certain – but then, he'd done just such a thing before, as well, and it had never bred the same response wreaking such havoc on him now.

Quietly dressing beneath the shadows veiling the bedroom in a dark fog, slinging his loose tie around his neck, Grim tugged the sheets over the albino's slim body and tenderly pressed his lips to his brow as Jasper furled into a warm ball in his sleep. He made sure not to make even the slightest of sounds as he closed the door between himself and the innocent being he'd knowingly tainted.

Lingering with his hand on the brass knob, Grim thrust the thought from his mind and tread lightly down the black hallway; turning to the stairs, readying to descend them with the same stealth, he froze in his tracks when he saw a frail golden light flood against the wall at their foot and heard the soft click of the back door being pushed shut. His heart froze in his chest, stuttering into silence, but his mind raced. Xeraph was home. Xeraph, the astute daemon who'd shot him that curious glance in the boardroom, who'd let those burning irises linger on him at dinner when he and Jasper had returned to the table.

Xeraph, the partner who knew everything about what he'd been doing with Jasper, who'd hesitated to verbally acknowledge it before their company.

He found himself questioning how that silence might change, now that they were alone.

A biting frost trailed its touch around his heart until it iced over in his ribs. Everything that had been roiling within his body and mind – the anxiety that had been gripping his chest in a merciless fist – stilled with a suddenness that left Grim absently wondering if he was even breathing. A feral awareness settled into his psyche, threading its roots deep into his mind and only then permitting him escape from the notions that had ruthlessly battered him; only then permitting him peace, tranquility, letting everything go and committing all of his focus to the impressive presence lingering between himself and the door. The tension occupying his muscles drained from his figure like water and left him lax, his hands hanging restlessly at his sides with a ready looseness to allow for the dexterity he knew could bring even an inhuman beast like the fire daemon down with a single inexorable blow were push to come to shove.

Just because Xeraph's blood burned anything that it touched didn't make the man a god, after all… and even gods bled. Even gods died – Grim had seen to the fruition of that particular myth himself.


Catching himself on the side-table, Xeraph could do nothing more than press the back of his hand to his mouth, lids squeezed shut, as the nausea slithered up his throat like a serpent, burning the sensitive passage with acidic bile and clenching an inescapable vice around his neck. He could feel it playfully kneading his stomach – the happy kitten from Hell – compressing his chest as it wriggled up his esophagus. Such a simple action as pressing a fist to his lips was the only thing he could think of to keep that repugnant monster where it belonged – in his gut instead of all over the floor.

It wasn't from the booze, of this he was certain. Just as he was certain, as a matter of fact, that such a thought was not one of comfort.

The instant he heard that clothed foot lightly step down on the landing, pausing at the sight of his presence, a scarred lid cracked open.

"Oh, you're home," the Scotsman murmured, his pallid eyes wide and guileless as he ran them over his hunched figure. "And not looking well at all," He added, bringing those chill irises up to his face once more as dark brows arched."That nightcap at Cervantes' place must've turned into a real party, eh?"

Forcing himself to straighten against the table on which his unused car keys rested with a loud sniffle, Xeraph thumbed his nose and fought back the notion of vomit spilling past his lips instead of words when he opened them. "I s'pose that must be it," he groggily uttered. A strained grin touched only the corners of his mouth. "Good company's a killer when it's mixed with booze." And so's the fact that I just ruined whatever relationship I had with Vincent partnered with the fact that I can smell my partner on your skin. He didn't even have to try – Jasper's potent, heady scent was all over the Scotsman, slathered across his flesh and clothing like an overwhelming perfume.

Grim matched his half-made smile with an icy one of his own as he slung his coat around his shoulders and threaded his arms into it. "Aye, I s'pose it is."

Hunching over and propping his ankle on his thigh as he leaned on the table to remove his shoe, Xeraph realized that he was asking the question he hadn't wanted to before he had a chance to stop it. "I'm assuming Jasper's asleep?" His gaze only flitted up to the black-haired convict once the inquiry had passed, and only for an instant before it returned to his legs as he tossed the black leather shoe aside and bent to its brother.

"He is. An' he won't be giving you any trouble tonight, either, of that you can be sure."

Straightening as he dropped the shoe to the floor, Xeraph absently hummed, running a calculative eye over the fully-dressed Scotsman as he leaned on the banister, his gaze wandering thoughtfully across the tiling in the entranceway. It slipped up with a malevolent grace to meet his own after a long moment of silence; the Scotsman swiftly descended the last of the stairs and nonchalantly reclaimed his footwear. The aroma that wafted off of him – and the dark, frigid aura that accompanied it – had Xeraph's head spinning until Vincent's partner tugged open the door.

Closing a firm hand around the banister at the foot, he could only partially glance back over his shoulder as he sent a half-hearted farewell to the man they knew nothing about. "Have yourself a good night, mate."

"Aye, you too." Grim didn't look back as exited out into the chill night and shut the door behind him.

Lowering himself with a breathless groan to the soft, welcoming embrace of the carpeted stairs, he laced his fingers together and wearily leaned his forehead into their support; had the strength fleetingly abandoning his body been something material, something visible, he could have sat there, watching under the fan of his fingers, as the rush of it flowed down like a small waterfall to the tiled floor of the entranceway. He hadn't even the muscle to shiver when the outside chill Grim's exit had welcomed into the townhouse whispered through his clothing and brushed against the hot expanse of his skin.

But then, was the temperature really the source of that shiver? Or was it the pallid, murky abyss that had seemed to engulf Grim's eyes from the moment he'd seen the Scotsman come down the stairs? He'd had the look of an animal – something even wilder, more feral, than what Xeraph had seen in his own reflection at the worst of times. And what made it even worse was the fact that he could tell from his own untamed roots, how that savage challenge had been directed at him

Without warning, his mind brusquely shrugged the thought aside and wrenched him around with iron fingers welded to his jaw to face the memory of his encounter with Vincent in the concrete bowels of the parkade. More important, it hissed in his ear – it would have been downright ignorant of him to think for even a moment that he could argue with that. Grim could think of him what he would, and Xeraph would deal with it accordingly if it became problematic, but Vincent…

Clenching his lids shut, he heaved a groan under his breath and tiredly chafed his face. Of all the things to do, he'd had to go and say what he did… He'd just had to go and kiss him, for Christ's sake! It wasn't even just a kiss, no. It had to be the whole kit and caboodle, too!

You idiot, his mind seethed. You fucking stupid, shit-faced idiot!

Nonetheless, no matter how fiercely his sober self chastised him, he found himself recalling the texture of the Englishman's lips against his own – they hadn't been moist, like a woman's, or particularly smooth at the time, either, but by God, they'd been something that could have ripped his still-beating heart out and he would have loved them for it. It had been their shape, the fullness hidden by the fact that they were so commonly tensed into such a thin line; it had been the flavor bursting ripe against the tip of his tongue when he'd dared to touch them with it. And his body, the size of it against Xeraph's own, the lean muscles that accentuated it and made Vincent anything but effeminate…

Xeraph was unabashedly drunk, he knew this much – he was more than innately aware of how shameless and nonchalant he became in regards to sexual preferences or boundaries… And the fact that he'd done that to Vincent, that he'd admitted that he had some breed of feelings for him and felt the truth of it with the entirety of his daemonic heart…

Never mind the fact that he'd felt a distinctly familiar – not to mention lewd – warmth budding inside of him when he'd let his hands do their roaming… Quite frankly it confused the piss out of him. As a matter of fact, it exceeded mere confusion and quite kindly directed itself towards complete and total ambivalence. Not only did he find himself completely, utterly mystified by nearly everything that had crossed his mind in the last four hours, but he realized in a fraction of a second that what he'd said and done in that damnably cold parkade was quite possibly the most stupid thing he'd ever done… and said… in the entirety of his life! Sure, he looked like a young man but he was safely thrice Vincent's age when it all came down to synchronizing their aging systems.

And he'd been on the verge of throwing human civility out the window to mate with the hacker like a horny adolescent going through their first heat! And what was more, it wasn't even a case of mutiny-by-hormones – Xeraph had wanted to fuck Vincent, quite possibly more than he'd ever wanted anything in his entire life. Even before they'd had their little go in the parkade, he'd been bombarded incessantly with temptations while they'd been visiting with Mel; he didn't know what it was, but the sharpness of Vincent's jaw, the wry quirk of his lips, the open neck of his shirt, exposing the smooth muscles in his throat, the graceful jut of his clavicle, the way he'd licked the corner of his mouth after a sudden joke had almost prompted him to spew vodka everywhere…

Christ almighty. When was the last time that he'd been so enthralled by a single human being?

Even that aside, if he'd gone and done something like that only to scrutinize himself when he was sober to find that the feelings he felt really were nothing more than platonic… Vincent would be furious with him. No, he'd be more than furious. He'd hate him, despise him – he'd think him an opportunistic, shallow-hearted and lecherous wanker who'd only tried to swindle his way into his bed!

To say that the more logical and sober part of his psyche was kicking the shit out of him for it would have been the understatement of the century. And then of course all one had to do to cap off the ever-pleasing course of his evening was permit him to walk through the door just as Vincent's partner was about to take his leave from shamelessly bedding Xeraph's own. Sprinkle on the crude, stomach-wrenching nausea that had seized his gut in an iron fist and fastened a clamp over the base of his brain and all that was left to be added was a goddamn cherry.

How sickeningly typical that the most pleasant notion should suddenly become the most unattainable. Jasper hated real cherries – the only kind they ever had in the house were those abhorrently sweet, candy-coated monstrosities known as maraschinos.

Sinking into the nest of his hands, too tired to emit a groan and too confused and livid with himself to think further, Xeraph could have almost grimly chuckled when a mental portrait of his cousin's pale, cynical face came to mind. He would have a field day with this if he were here, his thoughts bitterly mumbled to themselves. Makes me all the more thankful he does what he does for a job. Can't come check up on the little hellion fire-crotch cousin if you're up to your ears in paper, cigarettes, coffee, binary code, and bullets. A fragment of a smirk touched itself to the thin, ashen lips of his relative's foggy countenance, and Xeraph allowed his mentality to absently tack on one last addition to the list with an ever-present air of dourness. And let's not forget about the condoms. Wait… does he even – Ugh, god that's the last thing I want to think about right now! Delete! Delete, damn you brain! Just erase the whole lot of that right now before I go vomit you into the toilet!

Only minutely satisfied when the entire mess winked out like the switch to his thoughts had finally been flicked, Xeraph fastened his fingers around the banister and hauled himself to his feet with a tired expulsion of breath. Plodding sluggishly up the stairs – the passing evening plucking the last of his strength from his muscles like worms – his mind remained an impermeable mass slumped slovenly against the bottom of his skull. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant sensation, either; for once he found himself relieved that nothing found itself idly wandering through the corridors of his thoughts for him to gnaw on, leaving them serenely, if somewhat eerily, quiet. His migraine had backed itself into a corner, furled in upon its troublesome self like a fluffy white kitten, tucked its nose into its tail, and gone to sleep.

And only then, when he'd reached the top of the stairs, did he curse himself for using that particular simile. He might as well have been bashing his head in on a giant brass gong for all the good it did so far as keeping his thoughts quiet went.

Guided to his partner's bedroom door by a gentle, phantasmal hand, Xeraph rested a taut palm on the polished brass knob, and he remained there, gazing into a nothingness he couldn't describe; each second longer that he lingered, he felt the silence wrapping tighter about him until his heart began to race and what seemed like every ounce of the heat his body possessed rushed into his face. It wasn't because of the memory of the way he'd kissed Vincent – it had nothing to do with the fact that Grim, as he'd come so carelessly down those stairs, had been shrouded in a cold, macabre mist made invisible to eyes of flesh and blood. Were that the case, he wouldn't have felt the sour weight in the pit of his stomach that he did; he would have felt panic, worried for the partner the Scotsman could have left in any sort of horrible, grotesque condition the mind could conjure.

When the throbbing commenced behind his temples for what felt like the umpteenth time that day, Xeraph swallowed back the wave of nausea rushing up his throat. He knew Jasper would be all right – alive and whole to wake up for another morning full of teasing – but the abrupt, knowing ache laced through the flesh beneath his ribs, spearing his heart clean through, told him that if he opened that door, his mind wouldn't be left any easier. That frail sensation of peace would elude him for the rest of the night if he peeked in there, for some unfathomable reason that he couldn't yet comprehend, and yet…

He opened Jasper's door anyways, every inch of his skin burning, just in time for the fragile light from the hallway to spill across the albino's bed as he furled beneath his sheets, the tip of his tail protruding from under the edge. A soft sigh escaped his partner's pale lips, and even in Xeraph's inebriated state – his abnormally sharp senses dulled by liquor and the unintelligible chaos of his own thoughts – he managed to catch one breathy word riding on that sigh.


His shadow visibly wilted in the doorway as he slumped against the frame, lightly sniffling and thumbing his nose all the while his gaze remained raptly trained on the shadowed details of Jasper's slumbering face. He was relieved to see that Jasper was sleeping soundly, given how the albino was prone to sneaking into Xeraph's own room to clamber under the sheets and huddle near him like a frightened child, but the fact that he was sighing his name so soon after Grim's departure…

Pushing himself away from the frame, Xeraph fought to stifle his own hushed expulsion as he crossed the bedroom – absently tugging a fold of blanket over the exposed tip of Jasper's tail as he passed it by – to pull the comforters higher up on the pale curve of the albino's naked shoulder. Watching with a disappointed smile gracing the outermost edges of his lips as the youth nuzzled into his pillow, his face content and serene in the throes of slumber, Xeraph brushed the disheveled white locks from his forehead, absently smoothing his palm back over his tousled hair.

Sure, Jasper was capable of having moments of downright idiocy that made him wonder in earnest whether there was really anything going on in that head of his, but Xeraph knew he wasn't stupid. For him to do something like this, for only god knew how long… To see him hand himself out like some common tramp all the while sighing Xeraph's name, even if it was only a silly nickname…

"I wish you'd stop doing this to yourself, Jasp," he murmured, straightening at Jasper's bedside to peer down at his innocent, slumbering form with pained, flickering eyes. "It's just not worth it."

I can't give you the kind of love you want, and we both know that, but Jasp… don't go throwing yourself out at whoever'll take you to satisfy a fantasy. The daemon's potent scent wound its way into his nostrils only to make his heart ache. I'd be the last one to argue that people don't sometimes do desperate – if not utterly stupid – things out of love, but I don't want to have to break your heart in order to stop all of this. Pointed as I may be with you, I'll take care of you 'till the day I die – god knows you need it, A tiny grin curled at the corners of his mouth, thriving there for one brief moment before it withered. I just can't love you in the way you want me to, and I don't want you to go and do something stupid that'll get you hurt to try and make up for it.

He'd trusted Grim before. He'd known only very little about him, but he'd trusted him. Since that fiasco in the man's head – granted, spontaneous and invasive and utterly unsuccessful though it had been – he found himself toeing a dangerous line of suspicion. For all he knew it could be just that – suspicion, and nothing more. Paranoia. But that paranoia, that animal instinct that told him when something wasn't right, had kept him alive his entire life, and he'd be damned if he ignored it now.

Stroking a hand once more over the daemon's mussed hair, absently scratching the soft fur coating the bottom of the back of his feline ear, Xeraph quietly stumbled out and tugged the door shut behind him; his exit into the hall, however, seemed as though he'd walked headlong into a solid wall of nausea.

Bile surged up in his throat as the ground lurched beneath his feet, sending him reeling into the opposite wall to clutch at it for support. Without warning a thick, impenetrable haze took to his sight, blurring everything around him and leaving him nearly blind in his own home – a hand clenching over his mouth when his entire body convulsed in a forceful, choking gag – as a shrieking spear of agony stabbed itself through his temples. A cold sweat broke out over his skin within moments, his burning eyes watering, and every second longer that he fought to remain on his feet left him with that much less strength; it was seeping out of him like water, evaporating into thin air until it took everything he had to stagger to his bedroom.

A piercing, droning static wail, riddled with layer upon layer of manic whispers and shrieking accusations, overrode his senses, and he could do nothing more than clench his fists against his temples in a desperate attempt to silence it as he frantically scrambled across his room, muscles quivering with every forced step he commanded of them.

This was exactly what he'd encountered when he'd brushed against Grim's thoughts – the voices, the pain, the irrepressible torment of it…

His heart was caught in a razor-edged vice, each strained convulsion painful, each labored intake of breath pure, unadulterated torture; wincing as though a landmine had just gone off not ten feet away from him when a sharp, deafening scream fired through his temples like a bullet, he just barely caught himself on the edge of his bed before thrusting himself forward and skidding to his knees in front of the toilet to violently empty his stomach. The brunt of the assault seemed to pass with it, carried on the waves of half-digested food and alcohol and acidic bile as he hunched there, panting, weak, sweat beading on his face and waves of blackness sweeping in around the corners of his vision…

But even then, that malicious, whispery voice remained to unleash a maniacal cackle in the back of his mind.


To Be Continued...


So, like it? Hate it? Wish it would spontaneously combust? Leave me a review and tell me all about it! C'mon, I wanna know everything...!

That scene in the parking garage nearly fuckin' killed me. I don't even know why, but it just would not cooperate! That having been said, though, hopefully it came out... acceptable, if nothing else. (Maybe it was just Xeraph and Vince in general. It was like trying to pry apart a couple of particularly friendly octopi. You make one arm let go, fifteen more latch on. Jesus. Just do it and be done with it, ya horny bastards!)

Ahem. Yes. Anyways...

Review Replies!

Yaoi-sama: Okay, I'm about three months belated, but happy birthday! Haha, I'm glad one of my chapters could add a little extra something to your day – although to find out a favoured band broke up at the same time... Yeah, that's a good way to ruin things. It's always sad news when one finds out about those things. If you don't mind my asking, which band was it? Onto the story, though... Oh-ho, was Vince jealous? I dunno, I leave it entirely up to the discretion of the readers, so if you think he was jealous, maybe he was. –sly grin/chin-stroke- Or maybe he was just annoyed in general, oh ho ho... XD And nice call with Grim and Jasp, by the way! You'll have plenty of time to figure out whether you are or aren't okay with them, though, so no need to rush that particular process.

Pfft, as for Grim manning up and expressing his affections... I don't think it's humanly possible for him to do that without offending Vince in some way, shape or form. It's just... not how Grim works, y'know? He just isn't the subtle type when it comes to that kind of thing, so if he likes you, there's no way you won't know about it unless you're deaf, dumb, blind, and suffering from whole-body paralysis. XD

I agree with you wholeheartedly when it comes to the whole issue of, "if you have nothing to say, the writer's doing something wrong"... Which, I'm not going to lie, worries me constantly. Reviews have been getting pretty scarce lately, even when I do update things. I end up fretting that people don't like it or something. XD; But anyways, that having been said, thanks for reviewing, I hope to hear from you again, and one more very belated happy birthday to you!

Enelya: Hrmm, have you? I don't suppose you remember what penname you were using at the time, do you? Your name's not ringing any bells. (Then again, with my memory, that's not much of a surprise. –rolls eyes-) Bah, no worries about getting confused over the whole UG thing. That beast's kind of everywhere at the moment. The original is being rewritten though – that'd be Redux – simply because I couldn't stand the first three-quarters of the story anymore, and kept screwing up the last quarter. It needed fixing. Lots of fixing. If you have any questions though, you are more than welcome to pick my brain if it might help to clear up a few things! Although, with that kind of schedule... My god. Never mind the eating and sleeping... How do you find the time to stay sane? That's just... –splutters- Man, I think I'd be stark raving mad within a month!

As for Graves... Well, originally, Vincent/Graves is from London, probably South London, but he left the UK and moved to North America while he was still quite young, so I imagine that would have had something of an impact on his speech, as well. I always kind of pictured him having, what I understand, is called a "received pronunciation" accent, but I do apologize if he comes across as being very... stereotypical. I do try to avoid that, but it's hard to make accents/dialects sound genuine when one has such limited exposure to and experience with them. Well, that, and I'm reluctant to try and bring more obscure regional slang/speech patterns in, just because I worry that I'll bungle them up something fierce in the process. (As you can see, Grim's speech has lost most of the nae/dinnae/etc rubbish that he started out with. It's just not comfortable for me to write in without feeling ridiculous for having done so. XD; ) Anyways, thanks for the review, and I hope to hear from you again!

And that's it for now, folks! Thanks for reading and I'll see you all next time!