Where: A party
When: Their early 20's
Warnings: Blood, self-inflicted pain, general twistedness
Summary: Salazar and Rowena meet again.
The buzz of social pleasantries in the room holds little interest for Rowena, who is standing off to one side. Removed, as always, from the centre of things; she pays little heed to the snatches of conversation around her, and she is only half-watching the other occupants of the room. Her gaze is distant– Rowena has no taste for parties.
Salazar has been circling the room, speaking in quiet tones to the key figures that are the reason for his being here tonight. It has reached the point where most of the serious conversations have been replaced with empty pleasantries, and the ambiance strains his patience, but it is yet too early to leave. Turning, he halts, seeing the young woman by herself outlined by one of the arched windows. Something about the way she holds herself, the way the torchlight outlines her long black hair and the pale skin of her shoulder, sends a quick, intense thrill across his nerves. Suddenly heedless of anyone else, he pushes lithely through the crowd separating them and comes up behind her silently, laying his hand lightly on the bare skin on the back of her shoulder. “Rowena.”
Rowena does not turn. "Salazar," she says softly. "Was I right?" She does not really need to ask it; she is certain she was, both by his presence in this room and the faint, sleek thrill of his power she can feel where his hand touches her skin. Rowena knows the answer to the question, but something in her, absurdly and senselessly, wants to hear him say it.
He smiles and moves a step closer, watching her profile. “Yes,” he answers, voice soft and intense, “it was as you said. And you did show me my path, that morning in the woods. I have followed it since.” His hand still rests on her shoulder. He strokes the bare skin slowly with his thumb and leans in to murmur, close to her ear, “I knew it would bring me to you again sometime.”
Rowena tilts her head slightly, and though her gaze does not shift, does not waver, still fixed in the general direction of the crowd, the lids of her eyes fall half-shut, just for a moment. "It never really took you away," she says.
“It took me out of touch, most regrettably.” He moves around, stepping into her line of vision and sliding his hand up her neck to trace her jaw and lift it, meeting her eyes. He smiles, slowly. “My water spirit. You are as mercilessly bright as I recall you.”
Rowena curls slender, pale fingers around his wrist, and she can feel the blood thrumming beneath the skin there. "You have harder edges than you once did, I think," Rowena says, "but you have not lost your spark." The faintest of smiles curves her lips. "I would know you anywhere."
“I was a child before I met you.” Something in his tone derogates this time as useless. “And what has befallen you? You have been in my thoughts.”
"A child." Rowena's voice is distant. "I do not think I have ever been a child. A missed opportunity." She blinks, slowly. "Befallen? Everything," she says, "and nothing. Anything you like."
His smile sharpens a little, mirroring in his eyes. His hand is still on her jaw, the touch light enough to almost not register. “And what,” he answers, low, for her ears alone, “would you like, Rowena?”
"All experience is worth having," she tells him, focusing intently on his eyes; their gazes lock. "Loving, hating, losing, gaining, the sight of the sea, the taste of the snow, the light reflecting off a mayfly's wing, and all things between these. Beginnings, ends, and all that is caught 'twixt the two."
“I am not caught, nor are you. Nothing can hold us except our own weaknesses.” He meets her eyes unflinchingly, silently relishing the sudden intensity, the brightness of her. “And those are subject to our will. Our strength.” He shifts closer, places his hands on her shoulders, skin to skin. “Stay with me.”
"We are all of us tied to something," Rowena says, "and I have never left."
She does not shrug his hands away.
“I am tied to you, then.” It isn’t a compliment so much as an expression of old conviction. His smile has vanished, replaced by an intent, sober expression.
Something in Rowena's gaze flickers. "And will you stay with me, Salazar?"
“Always.” He whispers, the sincerity of the quiet word catching in his eyes, darkening them. “We should never be apart.”
"Should never, should never." A slight shake of her head. "I think you are lying to me, though perhaps you do not know it. You will leave me, one day. You will leave everyone."
He is silent for a breath, two, three, before he answers, “I shall never leave you; as you never truly left me, though we’ve been far apart since our last meeting.” He steps closer, quite heedless of all others in the room, though more than a few people have paused their conversations to throw glances their way, None approach; the silently intense closeness between them discourages interruption.
Rowena merely looks at him; there is something inexpressibly melancholy veiled in the depths of her eyes, though her expression remains neutral, still. She gives no reply; the silence is both condemnation and acceptance.
Salazar is silent, as well, content for the moment to drink in the sight of her. If he sees the mute sentiments in her gaze, he gives no sign. Instead, he cradles her cheek with his hand once more and leans in, quickly and lightly, to brush his lips to hers.
Rowena does not move, just watches him. "Tell me something."
He straightens, lips slightly parted, hands stilll on the soft flesh between neck and shoulders. “What would you know, My Lady?”
One dark brow quirks up, very slightly. "Something new."
He knows the challenge for what it is and smiles with an edge, sliding his hands down her arms, to catch hers. “I shall do better. I shall show you. Come.”
Rowena's fingers curl softly around his. "Lead, then."
He does, keeping their hands linked as they slide through the crowd and out the ornate double doors, attracting stares and frowns. Outside, the garden is covered in snow and moonlight, shadowed oddly by naked trees. Salazar walks leisurely, pausing only to whisper a quiet charm of warmth, until they reach the edge of a small frozen pond. He lets go of Rowena’s hand and kneels, tracing a sigil in the snow with his left hand. With a soft sound it melts in a small circle, revealing wizened grass and black leaves, and an almost invisible small hole in the ground. Salazar smiles, it looks odd with the moon-shadows on his features, and makes a fierce, sibilant sound half-way to a hiss. For a breath, nothing stirs.
Then a pale, flat head with slitted eyes appears, hissing softly, and sliding out of the earth to coil around Salazar’s wrist. The serpent is white like the snow surrounding them, with reddish translucent eyes like gems; he traces his fingers down its back gently and rises, looking at Rowena.
Rowena watches coolly, her gaze now focused very sharply on the snake. "An adder, albino," she says, "not new. As to Parseltongue, a fine gift, to be sure, but not unique." Her accent sounds a bit stronger than usual when she speaks, and her voice more immediate. "You can do better, I am certain."
Salazar’s expression sharpens, the smile slipping. He doesn’t move, but the snake around his wrist rears and hisses with naked threat at Rowena, baring its fangs. A touch from Salazar quiets the pale thing, though it remains swaying with its head raised in her direction, restlessly. He watches her with a narrow, cold gaze. The heat spell have slipped, and the cold and anger makes him look whiter than usual.
Rowena's eyes narrow, very slightly; there is something unpleasant but difficult to place in her ice-pale eyes. "I do not need to be a Parselmouth to know it desires to harm me. Let it."
Something glitters in Salazar’s eyes, bright and sharp. He speaks no word and makes no movement, but suddenly the snake in his hands shudders violently, deep gashes appearing against the pearly skin, showering blood over his hands and the white of his sleeves. He drops it, and the serpent falls to the ground, ruined and empty. His gaze never leaves Rowena’s. “I will let no one and nothing harm you,” he answers, in a low, icy voice.
Rowena gives no immediate reply; instead, she kneels and picks up the snake, limp in her hands, ivory scales slick with its blood. With a subtle flick of her fingers, the snake's jaw falls open, exposing the fangs, and Rowena lays them against her forearm, the tips pressing at the skin, but not quite breaking it. Not quite. "You would deny me that which I desire?"
Salazar’s eyes flicker, briefly, to the fangs pressed to pale flesh. He shrugs. “Her venom will not kill you now.”
"It would not have killed me before, either," Rowena says, and pushes down on the snake's head; the fangs sink into the soft flesh of her arm, blood welling around them, but if it hurts her, she gives no sign.
Salazar gives no visible reaction, but watches the blood against her skin with half-closed eyes. He reaches, with slow deliberation, wetting his fingers and bringing them to his lips. He closes his eyes for a moment at the taste, a light shiver catching his breath almost invisibly.
Tension has run subtly through Rowena's slender frame; it hurts, and hurts badly, though she does not wince, does not make any sound of pain, merely stays where she is, kneeling on the cold ground with her skirts belled out around her. Her gaze flicks up to Salazar. "What does it taste like?"
“Pain. Winter. Death. Betrayal.” He shivers again, tension settling into his shoulders, and slides to his knees in front of her. When he looks up, his pupils have dilated far enough to make his eyes seem black. “Desire.”
He has a smear of her blood on his bottom lip; Rowena's gaze fixes on it, sudden scarlet against the pallor of his skin. "What for, do you think?"
“You.” It’s the wrong answer, but the only one he can find, looking at her, surrounded by a white, dead world, the white snake’s fangs buried in her arm. On impulse, he reaches again, stroking his fingers down her wounded arm, lightly. “Does it hurt you?”
"Yes," says Rowena, "that is the point. Perfectly horrible, horribly perfect. Why me?"
He licks his lips, slowly. The bottom lip is bleeding. “There is no one else,” he answers, just short of a whisper.
She smiles, very slightly, and sharply. "You can do better than that, Salazar. Make me think."
Without warning, his left hand whips out and catches her wounded arm, pressing on the snake’s head and forcing the fangs in deep, until he feels them impact on the fragile bone of her forearm. An almost palpable twisting of magic arches between his fingers where they dig mercilessly into her skin, and he whispers, just short of a hiss, “I’d rather make you feel."
Rowena inhales sharply, a low gasp, and her eyes squeeze shut, her head falls back. When she lets her breath out again, it is with a shudder that doesn't look quite like pain, and she grabs his hand with her good arm, grabs it tightly and twists, until she can feel the fangs scraping bone.
With a harsh movement he grabs her with his other hand and pulls her into his arms, her back pressed tight against his racing heart, and doesn’t cease his hold of the grotesque, dead creature embedded in her flesh. The dead snake’s body twists and writhes in an ugly mockery of life.
Rowena's vision is swimming, and it's just as well that Salazar has such a tight hold on her, or she would likely fall over; as it is, she has the strange sensation that nothing is properly solid, and her breaths come faster now, chest heaving a bit despite the tight confines of her gown. Her eyelids flutter.
Salazar has closed his eyes as well, and gone rigid. His grasp on the snake loosens a little, fingers tracing patterns in the blood and his other hand mirrors them over her heart. The spell takes, and he shivers violently, breath shortening in time with hers.
Connection, Rowena thinks, though hazily; it is difficult to piece thoughts together through the pain, and the swirling, tilting feeling of the world around her. Only Salazar still feels solid, pressed against her back with her head on his shoulder. She is shaking, almost violently so, but whether it is from the venom, the pain, the cold, or Salazar's proximity is anyone's guess. There is a low, strained moan; it takes her far too long to realise that she is the one who made it.
Salazar echoes the sound, breathlessly and very nearly unconsciously. The part of his mind that remains detached whenever he does things like this whispers to him about blood and poison and the necessity of breath, though he is almost entirely subsumed in the frail, shivering body in his arms. Fear, bright and searing, coils through him, spilling through the bond like blood.
"Salazar," Rowena whispers, and pushes his hand from her arm, wrenches the serpent's fangs free with one sharp, sudden motion that tears cruelly at the flesh. She is aware, very distantly, that she is crying, tears running down her pale cheeks, though she does not sob, she never does. Rowena pushes the snake away and grabs hold of Salazar's hand, tightly, though she is trembling harder now.
He flinches badly when the pain blossoms through her, his, arm and returns the grip on her hand, bruisingly hard. Instinct screams at him to heal, to fight the overwhelmingly real illusion of poison in his blood, the very real danger to the slender, luminous being whose breath he is sharing. Cruel effort of will is all that prevents it.
“Rowena," he whispers, half plea and half command, threaded through with invocation just short of real power.
"Wait." It takes, it seems, more strength than she even knew she possessed to turn around and bury her face in the crook of Salazar's neck, her breathing harsh but weakening against his skin; her head spins, and she leans heavily against him. Just wait.
Her movement almost makes him crumble. He is trembling badly now, each breath short and insufficient and there is a flickering in the magic that binds them, though it does not break. Not even death will break this spell, and therein lies its purpose, and its danger. The hand over her heart tightens painfully, desperately, sharp nails leaving deep marks in her skin. He isn’t certain he can stay like this for longer than one more breath.
Rowena draws a sudden, deep gasp of air when his nails dig in, and something about it clears the haze over her mind, if not her vision or the pain. She frowns, focusing, focusing, and pushes a hard rush of power through her veins without a word. It will neutralise the toxin, and her body will take care of the rest, but the spell hurts, hurts in a way the fangs and the poison did not, it burns in her blood as though she has flooded her body with embers, or acid, and her grip on Salazar tightens.
The purifying spell echoes through the bond, and Salazar gasps harshly, just short of crying out as every muscle tenses in violent protest. The world comes back into focus with dizzying sharpness, and his arms tighten convulsively around Rowena. Free to breathe at last, he leans his head back and draws deep, shivering breaths of the icy air. There are tears on his cheeks he had not been aware of shedding.
Slowly, the violent tremors that had wracked Rowena's body begin to fade, until she is only shaking gently, her face still hidden against Salazar's neck. She makes a low, indistinct noise in her throat and curls up into a ball against him, and she finally loosens her hold somewhat. She does not speak, does not open her eyes, but her mind is finally sorting itself out, her thoughts beginning to race through her head once more.
He shifts, folding both arms around her and pressing his cheek against her hair. With a voice roughened by strain, he murmurs a sigil, and the connection between them unravels, coming apart sharply, as if cut by a dagger. His lips are cracked and bloody, his body feels heavy and slow after the searing immediacy of the bond, and he swallows thickly against the sick, cold feeling. The only parts of him that feel warm are where their bodies are pressed together, crushing expensive silk in a mute attempt to touch.
They stay thus for a time, almost still, the only sound that of their breathing as it slowly returns to a normal pace. Rowena can feel the rise and fall of his chest against her, and, less clearly, the beat of his heart; on a sudden impulse, she presses a brief, soft kiss to the side of his neck.
The caress makes him shiver a little and turn his head, brushing his lips across her hair. With his eyes still closed, his left hand finds her wounded arm and he closes his fingers around her slender wrist, whispering a few words. The healing spell is not kind; he has never mastered those arts. But the torn muscle and skin seals at his command, leaving white-pale smooth skin smeared with poison and blood.
"You should have left it," Rowena murmurs softly against his neck. "It would have healed on its own."
He makes no reply to that, but tangles a hand into her hair, not quite gently, and murmurs instead, “Has your request been satisfied, alannah?”
"Yes," Rowena answers. "For the time being, at least."