y_c_reverse (y_c_reverse) wrote in yaoi_challenge,
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Followers (Vagrant Story, Ashley/Sydney)

Title: Followers
Fandom: Vagrant Story
Pairing/Character: Ashley/Sydney
Author: Blinks Midnight
Recipient: prestidigitator
Rating: G
Warnings: Game ending spoilers.
Summary: In which the Dark always gets what it wants.



It was fortunate, Hardin thought grimly, that he knew the Bardorba estate as well as he did from Sydney's clandestine trips to the Graylands. Amidst the hue and cry as the Cardinal's Blades tore the manor apart looking for Sydney or the rest of the cultists, it was easy enough to slip into darker passages and disappear, even with the Duke's young heir tucked under one arm. The boy almost seemed to want to go with him, silent as a church mouse, hanging in his grip without struggling. It wasn't as if Joshua hadn't seen him before. Perhaps the boy thought the attack was merely a game.

It was no game to Hardin, though he hesitated to claim Sydney felt the same. By attacking a nobleman's estate--a Duke's, no less--the Müllenkamp cult would no longer be ignored as a group of harmless pagan zealots. The VKP would be on their heels shortly, and if Sydney hadn't found the key he was looking for by then--

Hardin tried to push that thought away before it could stir darker musings, but the things he'd seen that night refused to fade. They'd already met one of the VKP's Riskbreakers, and Sydney had nearly--

No. Sydney probably had died. Only to someone that strong in the Dark, death meant comparatively little.

Though he knew it was foolish, Hardin worried over Sydney regardless. It wasn't as if Sydney had ever tested the protection of the Dark quite so thoroughly before. When Sydney fell, the dull thump of his body meeting the floor had been all but drowned out by the oddly-sweet clatter of his metal arms against the stone, like a chorus of silver bells ringing out of time with each other. Watching Sydney get up again and pull a crossbow bolt from his chest was certain to haunt his nightmares for years.

"Almost there, lad," he murmured to Joshua, though there was really no reason to keep his voice down. Peering quickly around the corner as he reached a turning lit by magelight rather than torchlight, he found the rusty-hinged side door that opened on a set of stairs that would take him far below the manor, deeper than wine cellars or dungeons, to a teleport circle that would take them to Leá Monde.

In the darkness of that final room, only the dim blue glow of the circle pierced the shadows until Hardin breathed a word Sydney had taught him. He wasn't certain until the spell ran its course that there would be anything here for it to act on, but he needn't have worried; the same artisans who'd made Leá Monde's Cloudstones had hung sconces on the walls that lit instantly, throwing wide circles of bluish-white light across the floors.

Hardin looked down when he felt Joshua tugging on his sleeve and felt a burst of shame for carrying the boy like an indifferent sack of grain for so long. Hefting the lad to sit in the crook of his arm, he waited for Joshua to settle on his hip, fair head resting sleepily against his shoulder, before taking a better look around. There wasn't much to see, just dust and cobwebs, but it was sanctuary of a sort. The only people who knew this place even existed were the Bardorba family and--

Sydney swept into the room suddenly, and if it weren't for the heavy door sliding noiselessly shut at his back, it would have seemed like he'd materialized from the shadows. Perhaps he even had; Sydney had gone far beyond any of them in his mastery of the Dark, and Hardin no longer pretended to know what their mad young prophet was capable of.

"We'll be leaving for Leá Monde now," Sydney said by way of greeting, striding to the teleport circle with an impatient air. The blue glow turned the pale gold of his skin transparent, almost ghostly, streaked greenish fingers though his fair hair until he looked like something a Undine would drown out of pure envy. When a pair of grey eyes slid expectantly his way, Hardin could only nod though he'd rather have questioned. "Are you well? Are you certain?" He doubted he'd get the opportunity to ask.

"And the others?"

"I sent them on already," Sydney replied dismissively, shrugging with a faint rasp of silver on silver. Claws glinted wickedly as Sydney flicked his fingers as if to shoo the question away, and Hardin thought ruefully that he should have expected as much, though how Sydney had managed the feat without a teleport circle he didn't know.

He didn't try to hold the boy when Joshua lifted his head from Hardin's shoulder and decided suddenly to struggle after all. Stooping to set the boy on the floor, he watched as the lad ran straight for Sydney, the two as like as twins in all but age. Sydney gave the boy a faint smile but knelt down regardless, holding his arms out wide so that Joshua wouldn't impale himself on Sydney's claws as the boy threw his arms around Sydney's neck.

Hardin could no longer remember whether he was supposed to know that they were brothers or not, though anyone who saw them together could surely guess. They had the same eyes, the same sharp-boned face, though Joshua's was still rounded with baby fat and Sydney's was maybe twenty years leaner, hardened by age and experience. Joshua's adoration of his brother was instantly visible, and Sydney, who was never gentle with anyone, would sit patiently with the boy for hours, watching him play and listening to his incomprehensible tales revolving around this doll or that. Perhaps Sydney used his power to hear what was unspoken even then, and to him the boy's babble made sense. Certainly Joshua was permitted liberties no one else would have been; when the lad pulled back to pat at Sydney's now-unmarked chest with a woeful look, Sydney didn't bat his hand away.

"Don't trouble yourself over me," Sydney soothed with a smile. "Nothing can hurt me while the Dark still has use for me."

"Don't deny us our worry, Sydney," Hardin said gruffly, Sydney's morbid trust in the power he was bound to sitting uneasily with him. "It's not easy to watch someone you care for get skewered through the heart."

Sydney's glance sharpened along with his smile as he flicked his eyes up to meet Hardin's, but all he said was, "Wrong faerie tale, my friend. A stake through the heart is nothing."

Hardin shifted uncomfortably, half turning his face away but unable to take his eyes from the younger man crouched before him. There was something more uncanny than usual about Sydney today, a feverish brightness lifting the shadows from grey eyes. Sydney looked like he ought to spark with magic or snowflies, like the Dark had momentarily lost its grip on him and left Sydney truly alive for the first time since Hardin had met him.

Sydney looked down with a surprised jerk of pale brows when Joshua planted a quick, innocent kiss on the bare skin above Sydney's heart. For all that he was son to a mage and brother to a prophet claimed by the Dark, it was the only sort of magic Joshua knew.

"We should go," Sydney said abruptly, staring down at Joshua as if caught by something in the boy's eyes. "Don't forget...we're being followed."

"The Riskbreaker," Hardin agreed heavily. "I wish you wouldn't encourage your enemies so. He may be a hound of Parliament, but he's still dangerous."

Even at their most light-hearted, Sydney's smiles were often edged, barbed like his words. Hardin was used to that. Even so, he didn't know quite what to make of the feline curl of Sydney's lips or the way his voice dropped into a purr as he said, "I know."


***


The first time Sydney laid eyes on Ashley, he was knocked all but breathless by hunger, curiosity, want. It took the space of three shallow, hitching breaths to realize that half of what he felt came from the Dark, half a dozen lurching heartbeats to realize that the other half came from the Riskbreaker himself. Not on the surface, no, but underneath, where only Sydney could hear it. There was a part of Ashley Riot that was locked away, buried memories or an entire buried self that took in the bundle of impossibilities Sydney represented and saw in him the answer to all of Ashley's ills.

Sydney knew magic, was magic. If magic couldn't unlock what magic had barred away, then there was no hope of freedom anywhere.

He was used to being lusted after, to being loved without sense or reason; the Dark had no sense of proportion in how it chose to protect what it claimed, didn't seem to realize that it might do as much harm as good when it drew people to Sydney. The Riskbreaker was different; being so desperately wanted in ways that had little to do with sex was novel enough that Sydney rejected the urge to toy with the man. And yet--

We want him, the Dark whispered at him, avarice and intrigue woven through its fractured speech.

'We' do not want anything, Sydney countered. If you want another toy--

We want him.

And it showed him then, showed him why. In a bare instant it held up the Riskbreaker before him and peeled back layer after layer of lies--beautiful lies--to expose a core of violence and honor and unbending will. The Riskbreaker could be broken, had been broken, but even ruined, he was a work of art.

Want him, the Dark crooned to itself, its interest thoroughly caught, and Sydney knew from experience that nothing would sway it now.

If the Dark wanted the Riskbreaker, then it would have him. And as he himself was of the Dark....

"Want him," Sydney mused aloud hours later with a tiny, unthinking smile. Somewhere not too far distant, the Riskbreaker would be coming closer, following him with the tenacity of a hellhound as the man made his way down through the wine cellars that had once been Leá Monde's pride and joy, on his way to meet his first test at the blunt-clawed hands of a Minotaur.

Did he want the Riskbreaker? He wasn't certain. It was sometimes difficult to tell what was his own and what was the Dark, but by that token it hardly mattered.

Stubborn as a Fury, bold and driven and utterly fearless, the Riskbreaker was theirs already. Ashley had followed, after all, and a man leashed was a man already claimed.


***


Ashley slumped against the cold Undercity wall, watching his latest kill evaporate in a cloud of snowflies, taken back to rejoin with the Dark. He hadn't believed that there could be such things in the world, monsters from every legend and campfire tale he could think of and many he couldn't place at all. Dragons, Minotaurs, ghosts and spirits, and an entire legion of the Cold Ones...Leá Monde showed him them all, and no matter how many he fought, there were always more.

This is madness, he tried to tell himself, though he was less certain of that as he caught his breath, as strength returned to tired muscles. Even a Riskbreaker knows when the odds are stacked too high against him. But he'd made it this far, hadn't he? The Valendian army couldn't clear these ruins.

Only he didn't have to clear them, did he? He only had to find Sydney.

He waited this time to see which way his emotions would shift, whether he'd be stung by rage or pricked by unshakable curiosity. The sheer novelty of feeling anything so strongly for one of his targets had bemused him at first, but it was beginning to seem natural to him, and that worried him more than the obsession itself. And it was certainly obsession; if they asked him when he reported in why he'd chased the cultist with such determination, he knew he wouldn't have an answer. He only knew that he had to find the man, and not just find him but trap him, pin him, and....

Things got hazy after that. He didn't know what he wanted of Sydney, much less what he'd do with the man if he caught him. Even though it would be the height of foolishness to trust in the Dark or its wielder, Sydney might be the only key he'd ever find to unlock the puzzle he'd been forced to confront when it came to his past and his memories. He'd suspected something for months--the headaches; the huge swaths of missing time he could measure in years, not days; the nightmares he never remembered when he woke--but he hadn't wanted to ask. Maybe he hadn't been able to ask.

Sydney's tampering was changing all that. And Sydney was....

It's the Dark, he told himself. Merlose warned me. Ashley didn't only want to track Sydney down for the answers he could provide.

But he didn't only want to fuck Sydney, either.

He wondered if that was what made Sydney gravitate back to him whenever he followed too slowly, if that was what occasionally turned the barbed comments into shared jests, put an admiring quirk on Sydney's lips. It wasn't that Ashley couldn't feel the pull of the Dark; it was just that he had enough control to ignore it.

When he thought he could walk without stumbling, he shoved himself away from the wall and pointed his feet at the stairs he could just see at the end of the corridor, the blue-lit steps no brighter than the rest of the Undercity, but no darker, either. He'd find his way out eventually. Sydney never led him anywhere he couldn't follow.

As to why he was following at all...perhaps Sydney could tell him that too.


***


Hardin had seen all manner of ghosts while he traveled in Sydney's wake, had seen the Dark take and shape those who gave themselves over to it, both the living and the dead. When he'd felt himself dissolve into snowflies at the end, he hadn't expected to keep his own mind, much less his own form.

It was Sydney who'd brought him back to himself, Sydney who joined him in Leá Monde a week late but not sorry at all, only regretful over not being able to share the truth with Hardin while they still lived. Hardin had forgiven him, of course, defenseless against Sydney even now, but Sydney wasn't interested in forgiveness. Sydney's only concern was the Riskbreaker.

Ghostly, transparent, but paradoxically stronger in death than he had been alive, Sydney paced the ruined heights of the Great Cathedral, scowling and fierce. The Atrium where the Rood Inverse had been flayed from Sydney's back was open to the elements now, the thick stone walls crumbled by the Riskbreaker's battle with Guildenstern and that battle's aftermath. Sometimes the scar itself glowed faintly when Sydney was in the grip of his magic or his moods, as if a deeper mark shone just beneath his skin, and while that had horrified Hardin the first time he'd seen it, he found himself resigned to the reminder now. Sydney belonged more thoroughly to the Dark than a child belonged to its parents or a wife to her husband, and nothing, not even death, would free Sydney or cause the Dark to abandon him.

"This is taking too long," Sydney muttered to himself, his hollow voice overlaid with the hiss and mutter of the power he served. Hardin's own voice sounded no different--at least to him--than it had while he lived. "If that fool gets himself killed before finding a successor, Müllenkamp will have my head."

It used to disturb him, how Sydney talked about the long-dead priestess who'd founded the Bardorba line as if she were still a living, breathing power in his life, but he'd learned. He'd learned a lot about Sydney.

You never were mine, he wanted to ask, were you? I couldn't have changed that about you or become what you wanted. Sydney belonged to the Dark, very nearly was the Dark, and unless he was very badly mistaken, one day the Riskbreaker would be the same.

It was oddly discouraging to find that the dead could still want, still hurt.

And then Sydney stopped in his tracks, tipping his head to the side as if listening to something very far away, and his eyes lit up like they hadn't since that moment in the depths of the old Duke's estate. It was what Hardin had been waiting for, dreading, for weeks, but Sydney's fierce exultation wasn't a force he could stand against.

"Well, well. It took you long enough, Riskbreaker," Sydney purred, and Hardin couldn't tell if the words had been meant for anyone else's ears or not.

He knew before Sydney turned to him what the man would ask, and he forced a smile to his face, nodding once, and said, "Go."

Sydney did hesitate. He'd remind himself of that at odd times, when he needed the comfort most. Sydney had hesitated.

But when Ashley called for him at last, he still went.
Tags: blinks midnight, rare fandom challenge, recipient: prestidigitator, vagrant story
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