The Altar of Shinigami (cont)

He burst into laughter, the sound heard only inside my head but surrounding me nonetheless with a pleasant sense of amusement and well-being.

~That is all that troubles you?~
he asked at last as his laughter subsided. ~My dear, sweet, innocent child--my principal realm of existence is not perpetually dark; nor is it dreary, nor is it 'under' anything. These...these are terms put into use by mortals at the beginning of time, to explain and define that which they could not know, that which frightened them.~ I could almost feel him shrug. ~I never concerned myself with correcting their perceptions...it did not seem important. Besides which I found them amusing.~ He chuckled again. ~No, Wufei, you needn't give up light and cheer to be mine. We shall inhabit many realms, many planes of reality...my child, you cannot begin to imagine the wonders that shall be yours...~

He told me fantastical tales of the godly realms the rest of that evening; until at last, on the verge of sleep, I asked him one more question.

"Why, then, do you call me the light in your darkness, Master?"

He paused a moment, then answered softly. ~My life, Little Dragon, is dark simply for want of love, of companionship; my darkness is my loneliness. You...you alleviate such dreariness; and the night we join, I shall finally live as I never have...~ I drifted off then, snug in the warmth of his imagined embrace, barely hearing his last words:

~Precious Child...you shall be my soul...~

Some small subconscious part of me grasped the full aspect of his statement and thrilled with the awesome nature of the very idea; but my conscious mind simply took his words at metaphorical value and fell comfortably into sleep.

The years passed swiftly, and pleasantly. I grew closer and closer to Master Shinigami; it soon came to a point where I could not imagine my life without him in it. He was always there, always willing to listen, always able to grant me comfort when needed, or share wisdom, or bring a smile to my face. He had a very quick wit, which I had never expected from the God of Death, and delighted in making me laugh. He would grow teasing and mischievous from time to time as well, and I soon came to realize how much more there was to him than the kind, somber solemnity with which we mortals viewed him. My admiration and respect and simple awe of him grew, swelling and deepening with each conversation, each ethereal visit. It was not long before I accepted the fact that I had fallen hopelessly in love with him; and while it felt highly unusual to make such a claim upon my god, it could not be denied.

Nor could the fact that I nursed a silent desire for him.

Somewhere in the passage of the months, his presence had begun to warm me in an entirely different manner at times. My developing body, my young hormones, my ever-growing love for him...these things conspired to stir lust in my belly whenever I felt him near. The silent sound of his voice sent little thrills of excitement to shiver through me; I often imagined what it might someday be like to know the feel of his skin against my own, to taste the heat of his mouth and the undoubtedly sweet brush of his lips. He had steadfastly refused to show himself to me in any form; I was left to envision him as I saw fit. I imagined him a handsome man, regal, charismatic, sensual, alluring; I could not fathom that he should be any other way. I dreamed of seeing his face, of knowing his smile; I dreamed of finding myself at his mercy, disrobed in his bed, held gently beneath him as he ravished me over and over...

I guiltily prayed that he was incapable of knowing my thoughts.

My fantasies grew to the point where I would awaken abruptly in the night, tangled damply in my sheets, on the verge of screaming his name while my body throbbed, burned, with unfulfilled need. When I did not feel his presence in the room with me, I would hastily finish off, biting my tongue to keep from crying out when completion took me. I never summoned the audacity to repeat nor expand upon my performance of the afternoon he first confessed his love; but always I imagined him watching me, pleased by me, perhaps even touching me...

And shame would haunt me in the wake of my self-induced passion; for who was I to harbor such lascivious thoughts about my god? Had I no respect, no reverence for him whatsoever?

Yet always I was calmed by the knowledge that he loved me, that he had chosen me; and no one need ever know what transpired while I lay alone in my bed.

I savored those dreams, kept them close to my heart, eager for the time when they might be brought to pass. I had no interest in pursuing such relationships among my peers; I felt no pressure to 'experience life' before my time among my fellow mortals ended. I saved my touches, my kisses, my body for the pleasures of my god alone, certain that he would be delighted with such a gift. He had chosen me. He had confessed his love for me. I would do all in my power to ensure that I was worthy of such an honor.

As the years before me grew shorter and shorter, the waiting began to wear at me. I would miss my friends, my family, yes; but I would have my god, my love. I longed for the day when I could finally be with him, could touch him, feel him, know him, simply see him; I longed to be his, truly and completely.

That day was upon me at last.

+

I blinked as I lay in the bathing pool, coming back to myself to note that the water had begun to cool somewhat. I sighed and slid down beneath the surface, basking in the feeling of weightlessness, coming back up when I ran out of breath. I swam back to the steps, taking up the soaps and sponges there, bathing myself as had been intended when I entered this room, all the while running the same sentence over and over through my mind:

Tonight I would be his. Tonight, I would be his at last...

The doors creaked as they were opened; and I looked up, startled from my thoughts. Quatre slipped quietly into the chamber, smiling as he met my eyes, shutting the doors behind him. "How goes it, Wufei?" he asked, a light note of teasing in his voice. "Are you clean enough yet to make a decent offering to the Master?"

"Hmph." I crossed my arms and flashed him a mock-scowl, turning away. "If you would be kind enough to wash my back, then yes, I will be."

"I would be honored." He crouched at the edge of the bath and took the sponge I handed to him, drawing it softly across my shoulders as I held my hair up out of his way. He scrubbed gently in soothing circles for a moment in silence.

"We will all miss you, Wufei," he said at last, dropping the sponge to the stone tile beside him, finished. "I will miss you...you've been a good friend..."

I turned, looking up into his somber face. "I am still a good friend," I said gently. "I may be leaving this plane of existence; but I am not prohibited from visiting when I feel the need." I flashed him a mischievous smile. "I fully intend to be present at your wedding, Quatre; and perhaps even on your wedding night..." My smile grew broader as he flushed and sputtered.

"You wouldn't...you couldn't...could you?" He looked at me nervously.

"If I am capable of watching over you without being seen myself...well...you will never know, then, will you..." I ducked the sponge he lobbed at me.

"Wufei, if you even dare, I will know it; and I swear, I'll make Trowa figure out a way we can both come pay you back..."

I laughed at the look of panic on his face. "Be assured, Quatre--I would never intrude upon such a thing. I am pleased beyond measure that you and Trowa have found yourselves in each other...he needs you. You give him a purpose beyond leading the order, beyond being the Voice of Shinigami on the mortal plane. You give him life."

Quatre was blushing faintly, now; I continued nonetheless. "It was for you he overcame his disappointment and confusion at not being Chosen," I said softly. "You have become his soul...I leave this world a happy man knowing that the two of you have each other."

"Thank you, Wufei," he said, just as softly, the color in his cheeks heightening marginally. "He...he means more to me than anything, now...tell Master Death that I will take good care of him."

"Then Master Death will be pleased," I replied. "Trowa is...very dear to him." I gazed beyond my friend, remembering in a rush all the times Shinigami had spoken to me of his most faithful servant, of the palpable affection that accompanied those tales. "Very dear," I repeated softly.

Quatre lifted one eyebrow, his expression taking a mischievous turn. "Oughtn't that to make you jealous, then?"

I blinked. "Jealous?"

"Yes." Quatre smirked. "My mate could have the power to steal yours away..." He winked.

I shook my head, grinning at such a ludicrous thought; then, faster than he could react, I reached up and pulled Quatre forward, using his higher perch and precarious balance to heave him over my shoulder and into the pool.

His startled cry was cut off abruptly as he plunged head-first into the cooling water; he resurfaced an instant later, sputtering indignantly, coughing and wiping plastered blond locks from his eyes. "Wufei!"

I stared at him calmly, meeting his pouty frown with a bland expression as the waves caused by his dive settled once more. "You stood in need of a bath."

He waded to me, sodden robes floating leisurely in his wake. "How so?"

I reached up and tapped one fingertip against his forehead, smiling as he went cross-eyed attempting to follow my motion. "To cleanse this dirty mind of yours, Quatre."

He folded his arms with a 'hmph', his eyes betraying his amusement.

The sound of the doors opening again drew both our attention; it was Trowa who entered this time. He took in the sight before him--myself, naked in the water where I belonged; and Quatre, still fully dressed and in the pool as well--and burst into laughter.

"Boys, boys, boys," he said amusedly at last. "The time for play is done." He crossed to the pool and extended a hand, helping the soggy Quatre out of the water. "Come, my Lovely One--let us leave Wufei to dress in peace and get you into something dry..."

As soon as they had gone, I climbed out of the pool, dried off, and dressed in fresh clothing, leaving the bathing chamber behind for the Meditation room.

The rest of the day was spent in meditative preparation, both alone and with Trowa, harmonizing mind and body for the ceremony to come. When the sun set at last, we emerged. I donned my ceremonial raiment--a robe of white gauze linen interwoven with golden threads, through which the lines of my body were frankly visible--kissed my mother and my father goodbye, hugged Quatre for a long moment, then turned to Trowa.

"I follow where you lead, revered Priest," I said formally, offering the proper bow of deference.

He was also dressed for the ritual, in a white linen kilt and sandals that laced up his calves, a silver collar set with dark gems laid over his shoulders. Matching bracers adorned his forearms; a circlet of silver was coiled 'round his right bicep. He carried his staff of office and wore nothing else. He smiled down at me and led the way to the ceremonial grounds at the rear of the temple.

These grounds were bounded by large pillars of stone, grouped in threes--two upright and one crosswise atop them. These crude arches formed a large semicircle; at their center stood the Altar of Shinigami. It was not, as one might think, an altar of sacrifice and dark worship; no. Rather, it was a place of power, where Trowa could bring those in direst need of healing to call upon the mercy of Shinigami on their behalf. It was also used on occasion for other ceremonies of high importance, such as this night.

It was a sacred place, holy ground to Master Death.

The altar itself stood slightly more than a meter tall, wide and long enough for an average man to lay spread-eagle upon it. It was hewn from rough stone and draped with the fur of wolves, with a slim obelisk at each corner set with niches to hold large pillar candles and a bench to the side, also of stone, to hold any paraphernalia needed for the ceremony to be performed. Tonight it held a small earthen bowl half-filled with rosewater, a large silver basin full of a dark crimson liquid, a slim silver dagger, a silver goblet, and an ornate silver jar.

Trowa led me to the steps at the foot of the altar and motioned me to ascend. "Lie down, Wufei," he instructed softly.

I did as he bade me, shivering in the cold night air, grateful for the fur beneath me as I lay on my back. Trowa set his staff aside and gently guided my arms above my head, securing them in the manacles intended to hold those so ill that they seized and raved; I allowed him to chain me without question, sure that he followed Shinigami's wishes. He moved to the foot of the altar when he finished, binding my ankles in similar fashion to either corner.

He then took up the earthen bowl and dipped his fingertips into the rosewater, moving next to touch my forehead, cheeks, and chin with the fragrant liquid, combing some through my hair and sprinkling the rest over my body until I shivered from the damp as well as the cold. I voiced no complaint, trusting that Master Death would warm me sufficiently upon his arrival.

Finished with the preparation, Trowa set the bowl aside and took up his staff once more. He dropped to one knee at the foot of the altar, facing away from me, head bowed, waiting.

A moment passed, during which the thin clouds overhead melted from the face of the full moon, leaving the clearing below bathed in soft white light.

Abruptly, a warm wind swept over us, and my pulse quickened. Here; he was here--my love, my god, my Master.

And then I saw him.

He had appeared suddenly, without a sound, with no announcement but that wind, and now stood before Trowa. He wore a dark robe, hooded, its edges embellished with silver runes. His hands were tucked into the sleeves in front of him; nothing of his face was visible within the hood.

Another moment passed in this fashion; then, slowly, Master Death reached down and laid one pale hand to Trowa's shoulder.

"Rise, faithful servant." His voice was familiar, yet new at the same time; it was lent an entirely different dimension in being heard by my ears and not simply my mind.

Trowa stood, head still bowed, hands clasped firmly about his staff. "Great and Merciful Master," he said softly, a tiny tremor in his voice. "Your offering awaits..."

The hood turned in my direction, and I thought I caught a glimmer of violet light in its depths.

My heart began to beat faster.

He came over to the side of the altar with unhurried steps, the moonlight revealing more and more of his visage to me the closer he came. When he stood directly over me, the bottom half of his face was plainly lit while the top half remained in shadow, twin spots of purple light glimmering where his eyes should be.

"Master," I whispered; and his solemn expression melted into a smile that stole my breath away.

"At last we meet in person, Little Dragon."

His voice sent warm shivers of anticipation down my spine; his fingertips reached out to trace over my face, the gesture so familiar and yet again still new. I had felt his phantom touch this way many times over the last six years; feeling it now from his physical self only made it all the sweeter.

His hand lingered for a moment, gently cupping my cheek; he then lifted both hands to his hood and drew it back so it settled over his shoulders.

I caught my first full look at his face, and my heart very nearly stopped.

He was absolutely breathtaking.

His physical form was that of a youth no older than myself, and only his eyes showed his true age. They no longer glowed, but they were indeed violet, shining large and beautiful in his lovely face, full of emotion as he looked upon me. His hair was beautiful as well, scattered over his forehead and gathered into a loose plait that he pulled free of his robes and laid over one shoulder, the moonlight catching glints of red and gold shimmering among the richness of the brown as it fell past his waist. And his smile...it still took my breath away.

I felt utterly unworthy all over again.

"My Wufei," he said softly, and leaned down to kiss me.

My eyes fluttered shut and my heart surged as he touched his lips to my mouth. They were cool, as his fingertips had been; and oh-so-tender as they moved against mine. It was the first real kiss I had ever been given; I felt I could die in that moment simply from sheer happiness.

Strangely, however, I sensed no such response from him. It felt as though...as though kissing me was an empty gesture, one from which he derived no pleasure at all. There was tender affection, yes; but no...no passion. No lust.

I began to doubt, even as he kissed me still. Had I been wrong to assume his desire for me would be the same as mine for him? Was I perhaps not good enough, after all?

He ended the kiss slowly, his mouth lingering over mine, pulling gently at my bottom lip as he drew away at last. I let my eyes drift open, only to find myself lost in the warm lilac depths of my Master's. I could see the love he held for me plainly in those eyes; and yet still he felt...empty.

My newly-surfaced confusion and insecurity must have shown on my face; for he smiled that softly dazzling smile and traced his fingertips over my forehead again, tucking a wisp of hair behind my ear.

"Do not fret, my child," he said gently. "You will understand shortly..." He kissed me again, briefly, and withdrew, walking around the altar and addressing Trowa.

"My most faithful servant..." He took hold of Trowa's shoulders, and the rich affection in his voice was nearly tangible. "You have served me well these centuries past...it is time to fulfill my promise." He released Trowa and moved to the stone bench, staring down into the crimson liquid in the silver basin and pushing one of his sleeves back to the elbow.

"The ritual blade, my Priest," he said softly, holding out his hand; Trowa laid the silver dagger in his upturned palm. "Now light the candles..." He sighed. "There is much to be done, and never enough night to do it in..."

Trowa moved to obey as Shinigami began murmuring some incantation over the silver bowl. He spoke in a language I could not understand; his words were soft and sibilant, their cadence hypnotically soothing. He fell silent as Trowa finished with the candles; when the High Priest was standing before him again, he laid the edge of the dagger's blade against the wrist of his own bared arm.

"The blood of the One Who Does Not Bleed is a powerful thing, to be bestowed only upon those who have proven themselves deserving," he said solemnly. "This I give to fulfill the promise made so long ago." He sliced the blade sharply down across his wrist, drawing but a single drop that lingered at the dagger's tip as the wound closed swiftly behind it. He turned the dagger, holding it so that it pointed down into the bowl, and let the tiny bead of blood fall from its tip.

The crimson liquid steamed as his blood splashed into it, the color pulsing with incandescent light, darkening in soft surges until it was pitch black. Shinigami set the dagger aside and waved away the lingering steam from over the bowl. He then dipped two fingers into its shimmering contents and motioned Trowa forward with his other hand; Trowa stepped closer obediently.

"Trowa, most beloved of all my faithful acolytes..." Shinigami spoke warmly, holding up his two fingers; the potion clung thickly to them, mercurial and nearly alive, glistening with a metallic black sheen under the full moon. "Do you truly desire the gift of immortality, and all responsibilities and consequences that accompany it?"

"Yes, Master," Trowa answered, voice soft, eyes fixed steadily on the face of our god.

Shinigami touched his fingers to Trowa's bottom lip; the potion flowed from one to the other seemingly of its own accord. "Then accept, my Priest," he commanded gently. "Accept this gift; and with it, the power to share..."

And then, to my utter surprise, he took Trowa's face softly between his hands and kissed him tenderly on the mouth.

I could scarcely identify the emotions that surged through me at the sight. There was jealousy, shock, a sense of betrayal, yes; but overlaying those baser instincts was a higher understanding, a warm acknowledgement of the beauty and innocence of the act, and a quiet thrill of awe at its power.

The negative reactions could not be justified, and swiftly perished.

My master drew back from his high priest after a long moment and gave him that gentle smile. "In this fashion do you share my gift," he said softly. "Your kiss now holds the power to catalyze the potion." He indicated the bowl with a wave of his hand. "Without the touch of your lips, this brew will be quite useless; any glory-seeker who should steal it for himself will be sorely disappointed, and shall taste my wrath as well." He moved to lift the silver basin. "The jar, my Priest," he instructed; and Trowa brought the ornate vessel to him and removed its cover.

Shinigami poured the unearthly black liquid carefully into its intended container as Trowa held it steady. When the last drop had rolled cleanly from the bowl, my master placed it aside and twisted the cap onto the filled jar, then took it from Trowa and set it on the stone bench.

"Guard this blessing well, most faithful of my servants; for neither does your kiss alone hold the power. Only in combination with my blood will it cause the desired change to be wrought. And as a matter of safety, never let it be known that your kiss is the key."

"Yes, Master," Trowa answered, his tone reverent. "You are most wise, and generous as well..."

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