Title: If Not for Hope

Authoress: ANT-chan

Rating/Genre: Romance/Mystery/NC-17 (for language, violence, dark themes, SLASH, and sex. Individual chapter warnings included.)

Summary: Private detective Tarantino Monetari has one last chance. One last chance to make this job work. If he can't make it big with this one case, he'll have to admit defeat and call it quits. But why couldn't he have chosen a simple investigation? Six years before One Moment. (2004) M/M

Special thanks to Shadowing the Heart and mackenziecullen for reviewing! You guys are awesome! As always, please review! I love getting feedback, both good and bad. I just like to know what you think!

If Not for Hope

"If it were not for hope, the heart would break."

Chapter 7: Strange Bedfellows

It took them just under three hours and enduring two more minor attacks from Aelden to reach the Crimson Valley harbor. And by that time Zosimos was no longer in the mood for talking. While Baal's little charm helped to ease his pain, it didn't do anything to calm his nerves.

Which, was severely unfortunate for him, because Terri just seemed to want to keep talking.

"Are you sure you'll be okay? You're looking kind of pale…"

"There's really nothing we can do until Baal finds someone who can get that collar off you. I mean, I'm gonna help. I've got people I can ask."

"Say, are you hungry? I mean… when's the last time you ate?"

"I hope Gracia's going to be okay… she looked kind of like she was going to pop any second."

"Detective." Zosimos' hiss came out much, much more threatening than he actually intended it to. Not that he minded. "Would you kindly shut up for three seconds?"

The catty bastard proved to be particularly obnoxious. The kobalos easily picked up on the three second countdown going through his head. "…Aaannnd three."

"If you weren't my ticket to freedom, detective…" He growled as Terri nudged him gently.

"Oh, come on, Zosi. Lighten up. And no more 'detective.' Just Terri is fine. I mean, we're going to be staying together for a-"

That was as far as the trickster could take it. "Do not call me that. And I am not staying with you." The whole idea seemed ludicrous. Underneath the mask of that infuriatingly light-hearted attitude, Zosimos could sense the man watching his every move.

"Right. Where else would you stay? I'm helping you. You're helping me along the way. So you're staying with me. My place is big enough."

Zosimos couldn't voice his protest, as he was being pulled (which only heightened his irritation further) up and onto the dock by an overly-talkative detective. He didn't listen as their saviors shared their goodbyes, only moving to wrench his arm away from Terri's hold. He followed the private investigator wordlessly, trying to fight off the pounding headache that stemmed from his constant mental barriers.

"Bennie!" the shorter man cried as they reached the parking lot, making Zosimos growl under his breath. To his utmost confusion the detective ran up to a car and not a person. And then the idiot proceeded to stroke the roof of the vehicle lovingly. "Hey there, girl. Didja miss me? Sorry for leaving you out here for so long-"

"Are you talking to your car?"

Terri jumped, turning to the kobalos with a defensive frown. "Of course I am. Benatar's my baby! Ain't that right, sweetheart?"

Zosimos was struck by the sheer idiocy of this whole situation. Why did he have to choose this goof to be his ticket to freedom? "As in… Pat Benatar? The singer?"

"Yeah." Terri placed his hands defiantly on his hips. "You got a problem with that? And how do you know about Pat Benatar anyway?"

"I've been a slave for the past few decades. Not under a rock."

"Oh. Well… get in!" Terri opened the passenger door and ushered the blond into his car. He was quick to hop in himself, and started the car without hesitation. He wanted to go home. The solitary word sounded a thousand times more amazing than it ever had. He was so eager that he didn't even feel the need to speak as he drove. It looked like his new companion wasn't in the mood for conversation anyway.

It took them another half hour before they arrived at Terri's small home in the suburbs – way out in the outskirts of the city. It was just a simple one-story home with a small garden out front (that he'd been neglecting). But it had a nice look to it and an expansive backyard.

He and Grant had loved the place. The fact that he was already invested in the house was the only reason Terri still lived there after Grant had left. He pulled into the garage house in the back. The floor above the garage was where Terri kept everything important to his job. His home office, in a sense. And the place to house his wistful dreams of a real, tidy office instead of his little hole in the wall.

"I've got a spare room you can sleep in," he mumbled wearily as he got out of the car. "Are you hungry? I think I'm still stocked up. So I could find you something."

"No." Zosimos sounded just as tired as he was. "I just want to sleep."

'Yeah,' he thought. 'Me too. For like, three days straight.'

Zosimos lingered behind the detective, studying the garage and yard as they moved towards the house. By the time they had gone into the den through the back door, he'd reached his opinion of the little place. It was certainly no hovel, even if a bit sparsely furnished and a bit messy. There was an old, albeit comfortable looking leather sofa against one wall. A couple arm chairs and a TV formed a cozy little sitting space. Even still, Zosimos was almost ashamed to admit that his years as being a slave to the wealthiest and most corrupt businessmen had taken a toll on his taste.

It was… humble. Zosimos tried to keep it at that. Because like it or not, this man was going to help him become free again. The kobalos wasn't really in a position to be picky.

He didn't say anything as Terri gave him the briefest of tours, ending in the small guest room that sat on the opposite end of the house than Terri's own was. At least it had its own bathroom. "I'll… let you sleep. We can go out and get you some clothes to wear tomorrow if you like…" Terri's words died in his throat as the man's clothes simply seemed to melt off of him, leaving him standing completely naked in the room. His warm eyes immediately lowered, widening farther and farther as they traced down the lean, muscled form of his back. And straight to his lovely, lovely backside.

"I think I'll take a shower first," Zosimos murmured slyly, well aware of his gaze. "And I don't really wear clothes. What's the need when I can just transform myself to look like I am?"

Terri was left, utterly speechless for once, as the shape shifter seemed to strut – throwing an extra sway to his hips because he knew it would drive Terri insane – into the bathroom. It took the dark-haired man a few minutes, about the time the water switched on, to finally regain enough capacity to leave the room.

Zosimos chuckled until he was standing under the shower spray. He stretched languidly, groaning in relief as his stiff joints and muscles began to unwind. But still the smirk stayed. The memory of the detective's shocked gasp and the sudden silence of his mind was enough to lighten his mood. He was coming to the conclusion that he would enjoy these next few… weeks, or however long he was to stay with Terri. As long as he could continue to shock the man into speechlessness.

With a quiet snicker, Zosimos tipped his head back, raking his fingers through his hair to soak it evenly. He was never denied a shower as a slave, but he never got to enjoy them like this. Even if it was only a bid for freedom, it was already making the small things be so much more exquisite. He stayed there like that, just standing under the warm spray, for a long time. He cranked the heat up to almost scalding, until the room was filled with a thick curtain of steam. The heat felt painfully good on his tired form, both mind and body. For once, he almost felt like he could relax…

The instant his defenses stared to lull, an invisible, white-hot knife seemed to plunge into the base of his skull and sent shocks of lightning to every nerve ending. Zosimos' knees buckled, and he slammed his hands against the tile to keep himself upright.

'Aelden!' He mentally shoved against his master's intrusion, the only sound leaving his lips a choked snarl. It took him an agonizing moment to fight back, but after he managed to recover his breath it was easy enough to force Aelden from his mind. He was far stronger than Aelden had ever suspected, and now that he was free he was no longer going to hide that fact. The absence of pain came with a horrible sense of vertigo and numbness. Zosimos gave up on standing and simply slid to the floor of the tub, panting and wincing as the hot water pounded against his neck. The skin under his collar was starting to blister.

For that moment, hopelessness, pure and agonizing, swept over him.

He would never be free of Aelden. No matter how far he managed to run, Aelden would always be there.

'God damn you…'

There was someone knocking on his door. Zosimos came awake on the second knock and cursed, not for the first time, that he was a light sleeper in all circumstances. "Go. Away. Detective," he groused, and was almost surprised to hear a touch of Greek in his voice. Huh. He'd thought he'd lost all traces of his accent decades ago.

"You okay, Zosi? You sound pretty bad…"

"M'tired. Go the hell away." If the infuriating nickname hadn't been enough to pique his temper, the oh-so-insightful comment on his condition was. It was his third day living in Tarantino Monetari's modest home, having spent the past two days keeping Aelden from tormenting him and watching the detective attempt to find someone who could undo the enchantments on his collar. The man had exhausted all of his own connections, and had been forced to admit that they must wait for his ally, Baaltazar, to find someone for them. But while that had been an annoying, if expected, setback, Aelden was driving him insane. The bastard would not rest. Zosimos could feel him at almost all hours, just lurking at the edge of his defenses. Just waiting for Zosimos to drop his guard even a little.

He couldn't even sleep, because Aelden was awake and waiting for him. Zosimos was forced to remain awake as long as Aelden did, which was practically until dawn. To make things worse, the man only slept for a couple short hours. He was trying to wear his slave down – to make him either give up on running away or make it easier for Aelden to locate him. Not that Zosimos was going to allow it.

Which brought him back to the biggest reason he wanted to strangle the good detective.

Aelden had yet to start his daily torture.

"Sorry Zosi. Baal called. He wants me to go see where they've put Gracia."

The name didn't even register at first, he was so tired. But he ended up frowning deeply. "So you go. …And don't call me that." What was Tarantino trying to do? Was he planning on presenting him to the woman as Evala's murderer?

"I would," the detective said hesitantly through the door. "But I can't just leave you here by yourself. What if Aelden tries something and you need my help?"

'You mean you don't want to leave me unattended in your house,' Zosimos wanted to accuse. No matter what Terri claimed, Zosimos could feel the distrust that lingered in the back of the detective's mind. Zosimos would have actually applauded such suspicion, had the man not continually pushed it away. Despite whatever common sense said, Tarantino Monetari wanted to trust him.

It was utterly baffling.

"I can take care of myself just fine. Now go away and let me sleep."






Zosimos glared murderously at the door. He could almost feel the detective smirking on the other side. "I have a little brother, Zosi. I can do this allllll day."

"I'm sure you could."

"Uh-huh. So you can either get up and come with me, or stay there and we can keep this up. Your choice."

Out in the hall, Terri waited with his arms crossed, straining to hear any signs of movement. Despite what he said, he knew that when it all came down to it, he couldn't force Zosimos into anything. And that wasn't just his morality talking. Still, he could bluff and talk his way through it. He was rather good at that when he needed to be.

The guest room was completely silent. Terri steeled himself for another round. "Zosi-" The door opened just as he spoke, revealing the blond kobalos – dressed in fitting black slacks, a half-opened button-down, and a gauzy undershirt. He looked sexy and stylish and just as fucking perfect as he always did. Even having lived with the man for the past two days, the startling effect that the shape shifter had on him had not faded in the slightest. Just looking at him made Terri's breath catch! And it certainly didn't help that he knew for a fact that Zosimos wasn't actually wearing clothes. At least not ones that he didn't transform himself into.

A smirk flitted over those gorgeous lips. Terri flushed red. "Stop getting in my head!"

"Who said anything about invading your mind, detective? I don't have to with how loudly you think."

Terri looked away, and tried in vain to think of nothing. But all it seemed to do was amuse Zosimos even further, as he caught that smirk widening out of the corner of his eye. "L-Let's just… go. Yeah. Go."

'Real smooth, Terri. Reeeaaalllll smooth.' He turned and walked out through the den and straight to the garage without looking to see if Zosimos was following him. He heard a chuckle as he started to climb into his car, and knew that he had. The detective sighed irritably and glanced up.

Only to find that he was alone in the garage.

With a deep frown, Terri righted himself. "…Zosi?" he called, looking around. There was no sign of the man anywhere. "Zosi?" There was no answer. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up abruptly, a relentless chill going down his spine. He managed to turn around just as a chuckle was breathed in his ear. His hand shot out on instinct, grabbing at the empty air now in front of him – and caught something.

The space in front of him wavered, and Zosimos appeared in front of him like a vanishing mirage. If it had been any other time, Terri would have felt proud of the almost impressed expression on the man's face. But the blond was standing too close. Way, way too close. So close that the man's scent completely overtook his senses. It was warm, impossibly warm, and deeply soothing. Like being wrapped in the warmest of blankets on a cold day. In front of a fireplace. Complete with hot tea or something and- Zosimos was smirking again.

"You actually caught me," he said slowly, leaning back and extricating Terri's hand from his shirt. The moment their hands touched, if felt like sparks raced up Terri's arm.

'Oh gods, Terri. You need to get a grip on your libido or it's going to send you straight to hell.'

"Not bad, detective. If anything, your instincts learn fast."

The private detective shrank against his precious car, trying to ignore how badly his senses were going haywire just being near the kobalos. "Don't do that."

Zosimos tilted his head, taking such light-hearted, sadistic pleasure in making his "new friend" squirm. "Do what?" he asked almost sweetly, just because he knew it would make it worse.

"You know exactly what, you… you…"

"We could sit here waiting for you to spit it out. But we would likely miss our… appointment." He didn't wait for Terri to answer, but simply walked around and climbed into the passenger side himself.

Terri allowed himself a few seconds to simply glare at the general location of the man through the hood before following him. "You did that on purpose," he muttered petulantly as he started the engine. "For waking you up this morning."

"Now you're catching on."

Terri didn't care whether it was from shame or if he was just being juvenile. He didn't say a word as he drove them out of his humble little neighborhood. He didn't even say anything as they drove to the west end of the city, the radio on and pointedly not looking at his passenger. In fact, the only time he looked away from the road was to study the directions Baal had given him.

It led him to a spacious little neighborhood – one of the older suburbs in the city. Quaint little two-story houses that were just old enough to have gained some history. "Well isn't this just… perfect," Zosimos finally broke the silence to sneer. "The perfect place to hide a pregnant woman who will no doubt be pursued by a criminal."

Terri merely rolled his eyes at the blond's sarcasm. He saw the street sign for Harvest's End Road at last and turned onto it. It was the last road in the neighborhood, which ended abruptly into a small, fenced in field and the small wooded area beyond. But there was only one house at the end of the road. With at least empty another lot between it and its neighbor. "That must be it," Terri murmured. "The lonely little house on Harvest's End."

They pulled into the strangely empty driveway, staring up at the white house with its red-brick front and spacious, white-columned porch.

And at the large, bronze plaque on the front left column which read, quite proudly, "PATROCLOS INSANE ASYLUM."

"Subtle," Zosimos chuckled. "Not conspicuous or easily located at all."

"Zosi, shut up." Terri got out of the car, a sigh leaving his lips. He looked up at the house, almost skeptical. "Patroclos… that's Baal's surname." Even as his logic was working against him, a part of him almost felt comforted by that fact.

"Hiding the girl with his family? That's not very smart."

"Baal knows what he's doing."

At least, he hoped so. He heard Zosimos scoff as he no doubt picked up the thought as it went through his mind. He didn't even try to get angry and tell him off for it. He was quickly learning that there was no stopping it anyway. "Let's just… go inside. And please," he allowed himself a tired little laugh. "Don't use any of those tricks on anyone in here. They've got no part of this."

"How self-sacrificing you are."

"Yeah. That's me. A glutton for punishment."

"It certainly seems that way."

Terri shook his head, walking up the little garden path. Zosimos allowed himself a – decidedly exhausted – laugh as he watched the detective stomp away. It definitely wasn't sobad being forced to stay in the man's presence until he could escape. At least he had entertainment. But perhaps that was his long-suppressed trickster nature talking.

It… actually felt good to at least have that freedom again.

'Zosimos, you are one sadistic son of a bitch. …And you love it.'

He didn't know if it was because he was so exhausted or if his thoughts distracted him so greatly. But he didn't even see the symbol until he'd already stepped on it. He didn't even have time to think as a wrenchingfeeling ripped through him, starting at his gut and quickly traveling up and up until all that overtook him was an icy, reeling vertigo. He didn't even have the breath to yell out as his mind went painfully blank.

And it was only by some miracle that Aelden wasn't awake at the moment. Otherwise he would've had the perfect opportunity to rifle through his mind and find his location.

Small miracles.

Terri turned just as Zosimos let out a strangled gasp. His question died in this throat as he saw the man swaying dangerously on his feet. But more importantly, and what was making Terri's brain commit an abrupt suicide, was that the man's clothes were flickering out of existence. If he'd been any less worried, he'd have been scared that someone would see him.

Because while a part of him (a part of him below the belt) was drooling over glimpses of that naked body, there was no way he could ignore the lightning fast glimpses of how pale and exhausted he looked. Terri's eyes dropped to the ground; to the slightly smoking symbol that Zosimos was standing on. He was down the front steps in seconds, taking the man's arm and dragging him off it. Just like that the flickering stopped, leaving the kobalos standing clothed and perfectly healthy – if swaying on his feet a little. "Zosi? Zosi, what happened? You okay?" When the man didn't answer, he said louder, "Zosi?"

"Shut. Up. Detective."

Terri curled his lip at the angry growl. "I was just seeing if you were alright, you ungrateful ass."

"Well, I am." Zosimos wrenched his arm from the shorter man's hold, taking a moment to get himself back in order. Then he was silent for a long moment. "…..Thank you."

Terri blinked, at first not sure what to think about the quiet admission of gratitude. "Don't… Don't mention it," he said lightly, his lips quirking – mostly out of confusion. He decided not to ask about the state Zosimos had been in. He knew the man would never give him a straight answer anyway. "What… was that, anyway?" He looked towards the marking chalked out on the ground – a pentagram with obviously old, completely nonsensical symbols etched inside and around it. He'd never seen anything like it before.

Zosimos scowled at it. "It's an occult symbol made to keep back the supernatural, by the looks of it. I'm… not an expert. But it made my powers become ineffective."

"Oh. …And you said this was no place to protect Gracia," he chuckled. He patted the man's shoulder and motioned towards the door. "Come on. Let's go see who these people are." He climbed the steps again and waited for the blond to join him by the door. He stared until vivid purple eyes finally turned to him, and gave him an encouraging smile. And then he rang the bell.

Silence stretched on for minutes. He rang the bell once more.

Again, nothing.

"Maybe… they're not home right now?" He strained to listen for any movement on the other side of the door. When he couldn't pick up anything, he turned to Zosimos. "Can you pick up anything?"

If Terri didn't know any better, he'd almost say the man looked uncomfortable. "It's very quiet. And…" Here, he looked away. "My powers are still out of it. I can't hear their thoughts, if they are in there."

"Great." Terri sighed, and pounded on the door. "Hello?" he called. "Is anyone the-" He didn't get to finish. Just as he was bringing his hand down for the second hard knock, the door was snapped inward. A hand clenched around his wrist and tugged him forward before he could even shout. The world tilted dangerously, and the next thing he knew he was landing harshly on his back on the wood floor of the house's foyer, hand at his throat and someone sitting on his chest, glaring sharply down at him with glinting red-brown eyes.

"You have three seconds. Who are you?"

End Chapter 7. Walk on, Traveler of Worlds.

:D SURPRISE! I got this chapter finished this week, way ahead of my assumed schedule.

Basically... this whole chapter is just a tension builder for Zosi and Terri. Both sexually and otherwise. ^_~ There'll be some plot building next chapter, but this is really just to establish how both of them are pushing and pulling at each other. It's fun to write. :3