Much Abides
Part Twenty-three
by Antigone


--My lover's gone;
I know that kiss will be my last
No more his song;
The tune upon his lips has passed.
I sing alone while I watch the ocean
My lover's gone
No earthly ships will ever bring him home again.--
Dido; "My Lover's Gone"

The blood was fresh on his hands, warm and red from the heart of his oldest friend. Blood tears streaked down his face as Wedge looked up. He couldn't see Merando, or the chamber around him. He saw nothing but the golden hair of the man who lay before him.

His shoulders shook with grief. He reached out, fingertips brushing the fallen body.

"What did you do with Tycho?" he asked softly, his voice breaking. "I thought I saw him in you once."

His ears registered the sound of Merando rising, the swishing of his robes, the incoherent rumbling of his voice. Fear prickled the back of his neck, and he threw himself sideways as the fire came at him.

It landed on the stones where it should have brunt out. There was nothing for it to feed on, yet, inexplicably, it grew. It reached out for him as he scrambled away, tongues of flame licking him as he searched for the exit. Merando's high, mocking laughter reached his ears, and he dove toward the sound. The Ventrue raised his hands, fire dripping from them as they had from the Warlock's, but larger, hotter-- the flames behind Wedge grew as Merando pulled at them, forcing them to stretch along the floor and cover the walls.

Fear propelled him forward, into the body of the living Prince. Merando stumbled, his hands falling to push at the Gangrel, but the fire raged on. He called to it, tried to reign it in, but the flames snaked across the floor and ate at the hem of his robes.

The floor cracked under Wedge's hands, the heat pushing at the ancient fault lines in the stone. Maddened, he tore at his clothes and sank his claws into the man blocking his path. Merando howled as the flames crept higher, tasting his skin as he fought blindly for escape. He reached the door, pushed it open. The clear air of the corridor beckoned to him, and he gratefully sank his face into its coolness.

A solid body blocked his path. He grabbed at it and it fought him. The flames followed, creeping up on him, but the figure didn't seem to notice. It slammed him against the wall and held him there. Hot breath rasped against his skin as it spoke. "Do you remember everyone you've killed?"

Merando shook his head. "Fire. There's fire--"

His head rattled as it knocked against the stone wall. "Do you?!" The voice calmed. "Do you remember a woman, two days ago? Was it you, or was it him?"

The calm, conversational tone was the worst thing he'd ever heard. "Let me go or we'll both die here!"

"Who killed the woman at Celchu Towers? Either Celchu ordered it, or you did."

He'd held the picture in his hands-- a woman, dark, curly hair; she belonged to one of Celchu's men. He wanted to send a message, a stronger message--

"Time's up," the voice said. Merando fell backward into the swirling flames.

Derek glanced after him, then stepped over the pools of flame. He stared impassively at the body peeling in the flames. As he watched, its hand twitched. Another body crouched against the wall, dark hair hiding its face. It flinched away from Derek's touch, and he reached down and hauled it upright, covering its eyes with his hand.

"Come with me," he murmured. "Don't look up."

Good advice to follow. The inferno raged around them, burning on nothing at all. It bit them hems of Derek's pants and he closed his eyes and felt his way along the wall.

"I didn't get Merando." They climbed the steps to the great hall. Derek shrugged.

"He's not a problem anymore."

"But are you still a problem?" Derek felt someone hit him, hard, and he fell to the ground. A golden blur moved over him, straddling him. His hands were pinned to the ground and the weight settled on his chest.

"You look like a problem," the woman said, pulling back a hand tipped with wolf-like claws. She struck out, then shrieked, falling to the side as a dark blur plowed into her. The two figures grappled with each other, fighting with teeth and claws until the woman raked her hand down Wedge's side. He cried out and tried to strike, but she twisted around and had her claws at his throat before he realized it.

"Well, well." Her voice was soft, angry. "And there I was, mourning for you."

"Tori?" His eyes darted to the steps where the fire crept along, eating away at the very stone.

"So I came here for you, because it's what you would have done. I came here for revenge." Her claws dug in deeper. "I came because you haunt me, and I love you and I hate you. I thought this would purge my soul of you."

"I never wanted this," Wedge said desperately, watching the fire take hold of the wall hangings. He might be stronger, but could he get free before she tore his throat open? "I tried to let you go."

"And then you pulled me back," Tori snarled. "I should kill you for what you've done."

Eternity lay open before him. How good it would be to lie in it, to rest at last away from the hunger and the need and the pain. "Why don't you, then?"

"What good would it do? You are always with me. I cannot be free of you. I could kill you now, and you would still haunt me.... If you live, I will haunt you." She flung him away, and he landed in a heap on the marble floor.

"Merando is dead?" He nodded painfully. "Then it is finished." She glanced at Derek, and Hades behind him, and was gone in a flurry of blonde hair and wind.

"We've got to get out now." Derek grabbed his arm and half pulled, half dragged him toward the huge stairs leading to the main corridor. "The whole place is going up in flames."

"Tycho--"

"He's gone already."

"I killed him." Wedge looked back, eyes watering from the heat and the acrid smoke. "I-- Wes?"

The man stood with one foot on the bottom step. He glanced up at Derek and Wedge, then back at the fire. He shook, from fear or exhaustion or madness, but he did not move.

"Is it real?" He reached out toward the flames, his hand floating and diving in the heated air. Death crept closer, writhing shadows on his face, making firepits of his mad eyes. "Is it real?" He watched the flickering lights and turned his face to the men on the landing. "Is it shadow?"

"Wes?" Wedge shook off Hobbie's cautioning hand and slowly descended.

Tongues of flame debased themselves at Wes' feet. He smiled down at them beatifically, his saviours, the flames of his hell. "Shadow on the cave wall..." he murmured, as the leather of his boot smoked and curled.

"Those aren't shadows." Wedge grabbed his arm and gave a tug. "We've got to go, or we'll die here. Wes, come on!" The arm under his hand was hard as stone, and the man looked at him like he was a stranger. The fire raged across the floor and licked at the base of the steps. Alarmed, Hades let Wedge tug him up two steps, then suddenly pushed him away. Hobbie attached himself to Wes' right arm and tugged fiercely. They made it to the top of the stairs and pounded down the hallway to the main entrance. No guards roamed the halls-- all had fled or lay dead in the flames below. The huge main door was flung open and two men stumbled into the darkness.

"Wes?"

* * *

There was light. There was heat. Hades clawed and howled to get away, but Wes stood still.

There is a place where the sun never sets, where there are no shadows hiding dark things and no moon to pull the tides and the hunger. Wes dreamed of that place.

He walked into the light.

* * *

"We can't leave him in there!" Wedge struggled, trying to reach the door. Hobbie grimly held onto his waist, pulling him back.

"He's made his choice, Wedge. You can't bring him back."

"But it's Wes--"

"It isn't. Not the Wes we knew." Wedge slumped in Hobbie's arms. The Toreador relaxed his hold and rested his head against his commander's soft brown hair. "It was killing him, Wedge. He was dying inside and no one could stop it."

Sirens screamed in the distance. In a moment, the street would be crawling with mortals. The Rogues crept past the surrounding mansions, stopping in the shadow of an ancient wall. Wedge slid down its cool surface to sit in the dirt, resting his head on his knees.

"Is it over now?" he asked, his voice barely audible.

Hobbie stood beside him, looking down. "It is for me. I'm going home."

"You were right, Hobbie," Wedge said. He raised his head and laughed bitterly. "Tycho killed her. And I killed him."

"No, you didn't. Merando killed him long ago. You just... disposed of the body."

"That makes it all right?" Wedge shook his head and looked back down the alley. "It's not just him. I don't even know myself now. I'm a monster in this skin, and I can't live with it."

"Bullshit. You've been living with it. In fact, I bet it's the only thing you're living for, to show everyone else how sick and ashamed they should be."

Wedge looked up, startled. Hobbie stepped back, gazing at the waning moon. "I'm not ashamed, Wedge. I'm not sorry. And I'm going home."


Finis

* * *

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved Earth and Heaven, that which we are, we are--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Make weak by time and fate, but stong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
--Ulysses; Alfred, Lord Tennyson


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