Etched in Silver

by Farad
Universe: Maygra's Shadowriders
Pairing: Chris/Vin/Buck
Rating: FRAO, adults only - no sex, but lots of weighty issues
Warnings: knives, chains, molten silver, not your average kink
Author's Notes: As ever, many many thanks to the wonderful Maygra for creating this lavish and complex universe and sharing it.
This is in response to the February, 2010 Challenge, Choice 2:set the timer for 30 minutes, go look at this picture, and write whatever you like.
I cheated a little, in that I used the picture and time in every scene. Interestingly, water appears to be something that draws me to this universe. The first time I saw the picture, part of this story came to mind, and I can't look at the picture without thinking about it.
This story follows Adsum. The index to Maygra's Shadowriders universe is here.
Thanks to Stan, Dail, Artisan, Kim, Jen, and all the wonderful people on WEC for their comments and suggestions. All mistakes are my own!

1946, outside Le Cateau, France

Vin stared at the water, forcing his attention to it, to the little crests and peaks that formed as the early morning breeze blew over it, to the sheen it took where the sunlight touched it. It would be cool this time of the day, cold almost, the chill of it cutting through his skin to his very bones. This close to the Pyrenees, it wasn't too warm to begin with.

He clung to that, to the memory of its color, blue, bluer than the sky, the sunlight silvering the tips, then prisms of color as the wind picked up droplets and scattered them wide. Color, so much color, not this grey, this dismal void of color that came with his loss of control, that surrounded him when Akmanna took over.

Blue and sparkling, and so cold it was hot, he thought and just as he did, the color came back, his body became his own - and before he could brace himself, the heat became real, cutting through his concentration, bringing with it a flare of fire, burning from his lower back all way the up his spine and exploding in his head. He heard a scream and knew it was his own, not by the sound, which was one he hadn't made before though he knew he would make again, but by the rawness of his throat. It was a second burning pain, but so mild compared to the conflagration in his lower back that it was almost soothing.

Something tickled at his cheek, sliding lower in a long curve along his face until it teased at the corner of his lips. Salty and wet, like the water - he forced his eyes open, forced himself out of the fire, back into the blue blue water -

A sharp cut, sliding through flesh, severing skin near the fire in his back. He jerked, his arms pulling inward only to catch as the chains stretched as far as they would go. The manacles were tight, the chains short, and another layer of skin on his wrists rubbed away. It wouldn't be long, it couldn't be. Even with the quicksilver burning in his gut, the demon could heal the incision quickly if they didn't fill it.

"Easy, now. We don't want to mess this up." Josiah's voice was low, and it should have been soothing. But Josiah's big hand pressed down between Vin's shoulder blades, pushing him into the thin mattress of the bed. "Not long now, not long -"

The rest of his words evaporated in another whirl of fire and torment, another scream, that, like the last, ripped away his voice and his throat and his strength.

The fire burned deep and hot, so hot it was cold, orange flames dancing behind his eyelids, sweeping away the blue.

"He's all right," Josiah said quietly as he wiped his hands on a hand towel yet again. "It was a good idea, Ezra."

Ezra didn't look at him, staring out the window instead to the estate across the way. The house was large and blocky, unattractive compared to some of the finer estates he had seen, but right now, he'd have paid his fortune to belong to it, and not to this life, these men, this horrible, hellish nightmare.

He sighed as Josiah stepped closer to him, reaching out to drop a hand on his shoulder. Damn the man.

"It's not your fault, Ezra," he said, still quiet. "It was a good idea. We know it works - "

"We suspect it works," Ezra snapped, unable to accept this travesty of comfort. "We don't know that it does. All we know is that the silver shards left from those bullets seemed to have kept the demon occupied longer than usual. I never meant for this to happen, I never meant - " Words failed him, as they often did when he let himself think about what they were doing.

"If we could keep him locked away in a metal box, like the gypsies did, we would. But we can't. He would go mad. Is that a more fitting fate than this for a man we call friend? For that man?" It was a sort of irony, Ezra thought passingly. It hadn't been that long ago that he'd been the one reminding Josiah of what they stood to lose if something happened to Vin, what Vin meant to them. Then, though, it had been Josiah's arrogance that had almost cost them their 'soul', as Ezra himself had put it.

This - this was his arrogance, his off-handed, snide comment in a moment of anger. Ezra refused to look over his shoulder at the bed where this butchery had been, would continue to be, committed. At the man they called 'friend', yet upon whom they perpetrated such monstrous acts. All in the name of friendship.

It was a relief when Josiah's hand fell away, returning to the cloth he still held. "Vin agreed with this plan - he's been the one most supportive of it. It was his idea to go forward with it today."

"Plan," Ezra said, the word bitterly. It wasn't a plan, it was a comment he'd made one night years and years ago, in the heat of anger, after he'd dropped his guard and let the demon get too close. 'No wonder the gypsies were so poor - they used their silver to bind that thing in a box. Maybe we should use our fortune to tattoo him in silver, see if we can control his damned hands.'

Tattooing hadn't worked, not the traditional form of using a needle and thin silver-laced ink; the demon pushed it out of the skin. But the demon had a hard time with silver slag, as they'd learned the hard way.

"Since we did his wrists and ankles, Vin believes he has more control over his hands and feet. You're right, we don't know for sure, but we do know that Vin thinks so. And that's what matters, isn't it?"

Ezra shook his head. Across the Selle, on the grounds of the large lawn, he saw movement, the swirl and sway of cloth, then he heard a faint tinkling sound. It took him a second to realize it was laughter, and he wondered when he'd forgotten what that was.

The skin was swollen and red, rising in welts on either side of the silver lines. The flesh was black were it touched the metal, charred by the heat they'd had to use to keep the silver molten.

It wasn't pure silver; even though it wouldn't kill Vin like it did other men, it did make him weak, too weak to do what they needed him to do. There was a middle point, a mixing of the silver with other plasma and marrow and certain bonding agents that would dilute it enough, but not too much, to bind it to the flesh, at least enough for it to stay. They'd experimented for years, he with the mix, Josiah with the words, and Vin with the placement.

Nathan reached out, lightly pushing at a place where the flesh had drawn away from the silver. Beneath his touch, Vin flinched and made a noise. It wasn't a cry or a groan - he didn't have voice for that, not now. The screaming had taken it from him.

"Looks good," Nathan said, more from habit than thought. "Looks like its going to take." He looked toward the window, where JD was perched, surprised to see the young man sitting there, naked and frowning. "What?"

JD stared at him, his face drawing tighter. "You're smiling," he said, pushing away from the window and crossing his arms over his slender chest. "You might want to stop that before Chris and Buck wake up."

Nathan stared at him - and realized he was right. He schooled his face, embarrassed that he'd been caught - more embarrassed that it had happened. Didn't matter that he'd been working decades on this mix, not really. Until he could figure out how to do this so that Vin didn't suffer, it was always going to be wrong. He knew that. He felt it.

JD shook his head but looked away, out the window. "They're going to be really mad."

Nathan looked once more at Vin's lower back. He was going to hurt, he always did, but for a while, the daevas would leave him alone, sulking around in Vin's subconscious, quiet and still. Vin said it was worth it, these days when he could be himself without worrying about hurting one of them.

Nathan resisted the urge to touch again, instead catching up the light cotton sheet and drawing it back up and over Vin's bare body to his shoulders. Vin stirred, but it was more a low murmur. One arm moved and Nathan glanced at the damage to his wrists. They had covered the manacles, trying to protect him, but each time they did this, it got more involved, taking longer, and hurt more.

"I still don't see why we can't drug him - with something other than quicksilver," JD said as Nathan touched Vin's forehead, checking for fever. He was hotter than he should be, hotter than the human side of him should be, but not as hot as Nathan had ever felt him. He leaned over, one hand moving towards Vin's face when JD said shortly, "It's not Akmanna. Can't you tell by smell?"

Nathan glanced over at him, more put off by the sharpness in JD's tone than by the actual question. But instead of saying the words that came to mind, he drew a deep breath through his nose and did as JD suggested. JD was right; while the sickly sweet smell of the demon was there, it was not strong enough to be in control of Vin's body. He straightened and turned to look back at JD. "If we drug him, we can't tell if the mix is working, if it's keeping Akmanna in check."

JD made gave a sharp bark, but it was quiet. "But we can make him drink enough silver to kill one of us. Yeah, that's fair, making him too sick to heal the cuts you're making in his body."

Nathan sighed, wondering when the youngest of them had become the most cynical. "All right," he said slowly, stepping the short distance to lean against the opposite side of the window frame. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the water, darkening the blue in places to rich purple and even black. Nathan liked this time of the evening, the day giving way to night. Before, he'd been a morning person, knowing that the rhythms of the body were stronger during the morning and early afternoon. Now, though, their rhythms were stronger as darkness came, when they were seven.

"If we drug him afterward, for the pain," he said quietly, dragging the words from that place inside him where he had locked them, and the truth of it, away, "we can't tell if it's killing him."

JD didn't say anything, but after a time, he relaxed. When he did speak, he changed the subject, or so it seemed. "I keep thinking about the hills," he tilted his head to point with his chin toward the distant mountains. "When I was running," he said, referring to the years after his son was killed and he lived in his other form, rejecting human contact and all of them, "things were simpler. Every time Vin screamed today, I started for the door. How - how can you do that, listen to what you're doing to him and still . . . "

Despite himself, Nathan flinched. He hadn't been expecting that. He wished that Josiah were here. He was better with JD, and he was better with this tangle of thorns.

"Because we have to," he said after a while. "Because sometimes, to make something better, you got to make it worse, first. It's at the heart of healing people, to get the infection out."

JD turned slowly from his contemplation of the hills, his gaze so heavy that Nathan could feel it. He didn't have to say the words, Nathan heard them in his own head, knew them for the truth that they were, too: they weren't getting Akmanna out, they were binding him more tightly to Vin.

JD moved away from the window, sliding past Nathan as if he were afraid of touching him. And perhaps he should he, Nathan thought, turning his eyes back to the scene outside the room. Somewhere in the decades they'd all been together, he'd stopped healing people and started using his talents to hurt. He could think of it as helping Vin - Vin claimed that it did, said that trapping the demon more tightly to him made him able to control it better.

But it didn't take away the echo of those screams, the ones that came in the middle of the night, in the few quiet hours that he let himself sleep. Even though tonight would be one of the most peaceful they'd have, Akmanna more unconscious than Vin, he knew that there was no rest for him, no escape from the things he'd done this day to a man he called friend.

It wasn't a surprise, not really, and Chris would know that when he took time away from his anger to think about it. Hell, Buck thought, staring out the window into the darkness, Chris probably knew it already and that was part of why he was pissed. Pissed enough to walk out on Vin at a time when Vin couldn't follow.

"He's been putting it off," Vin said. His voice was rough, grating as it pitched in and out. "We should have done this two months ago, but he - "

"He knows," Buck said, cutting him off. Because Chris did know, they all knew. Vin better than most. "You could have told him, could have told us. The five of you - "

"It's not on them," Vin cut back. "I made the decision, it was me."

Buck smiled even though there wasn't a damned thing in this to be amused about. "You chained yourself down, drew all those symbols on your own back, then cut them and poured in that boiling silver mix, all on your own?"

In the distance he could hear the water lapping against the dock, and across the way, the soft sound of music from the houses, the murmur of voices. There was a woman over there, beautiful and elegant, one he'd been watching for weeks now. She was a guest, maybe the sister of the woman whose husband owned it, he wasn't sure. All he knew was that she had arrived several weeks back and that she liked to stroll under the moonlight, through the well-manicured gardens behind the buildings. Mourning, maybe, even though most people were still celebrating the end of the war. Long ago, he might have offered to comfort her. Now, though, he thought he'd be the one getting comfort.

"I asked them to," Vin said after a while. "It had to be done."

Buck stared across the way, wishing his biggest concern right now was getting invited into the big house, getting into the arms of the woman. "Don't reckon any of us are arguing that," he said.

Vin shifted on the bed, the sound slow and careful, and Buck turned, moving to help before he realized it. Vin's face was scrunched with pain and the effort, but he shook his head as Buck drew near. "I'm good," he ground out as he tried to push himself into a sitting position.

"Yeah, I can tell," Buck answered, catching one of Vin's arm and helping him lever his legs off the mattress. Vin had been on his stomach and sitting up was going to require either rolling or twisting, neither one of which was going to be easy with his lower back in the mess it was in.

"I don't need help," Vin grunted again, but he belied his words by clutching at Buck's arm as he twisted, getting his ass under him and his upper body vertical. He swayed for a few seconds, and Buck got a hand on each shoulder, holding him.

"You look like hell," Buck said, but his own anger was gone, melting away in the face of Vin's determination. Damned stubborn fool.

Vin panted, sweat beading on his forehead and dropping down the side of his face. His hair was tangled and knotted, and he was still clutching Buck's upper arms hard enough to leave bruises. He was naked, which normally was something Buck could appreciate, but not tonight. "Where we going?" he asked when Vin's breathing slowed and his grip relaxed a little.

"Gotta piss," Vin answered, more air than sound.

"How about we get you - " But before he could finish the suggestion, he felt Vin's muscles bunch, and then Vin was pushing himself up, trying to stand. It was a damned good thing Buck had a hold on Vin or he'd have ended up on the floor. Instead, he ended up against Buck's chest, Buck's arms holding him tight. Buck held his tongue as Vin cursed and struggled to get his body to work. But in the end, Vin's legs wouldn't do what he wanted and Buck eased him back onto the bed, helping him lean forward and prop on his knees. "How about I get you a pot?" he said, finishing the offer he had started before.

Vin didn't look at him, but he nodded, and Buck grinned. As he stood, he reached down and brushed back the strands of hair sticking to Vin's forehead. "I know you and the others did it to protect Chris," he said, "but that don't make it any easier, Vin, not for him. And not for me, either. We'd like to be there for you."

Vin looked up at him, his eyes tired. "You're here for me all the time, Buck, you and all the others. It's the only reason you're here. Seems like this is the least I can do, try to make things easier for all of us."

Buck shook his head. "It don't make things easier, just makes us feel bad that you're all lying to us."

Vin dropped his head, his hands knotting into fists between his knees. Then, with effort, he looked back up. "No one lied," he said, his voice firmer than it had been. "We didn't tell you and you didn't ask. You knew it was coming, you and Chris both." He directed his look to where Buck stood at the bedside table, holding the small pot they used for situations like this, when one of them was too hurt to make it to the toilet or outside, depending on their living conditions. "You didn't go to Nathan to get that, you knew it was here already."

Buck looked down at the pot in his hand. It had been on the floor between the table and the bed, as he had known it would be. As he had seen it last night when he and Chris had been in here, bleeding Vin to weaken him, so that Akmanna would be weak. Vin was right, Buck had known then. But he'd let himself be distracted by the things they did after Vin was himself, when he was as much in his own mind as he could be, when he wanted the reassurances of feeling his human body.

Buck should have known then, too, he realized, and maybe he had. Vin had been more receptive of affection last night, cuddling against Chris after, when they were all relaxed and sated. Vin usually waited for Chris to make the first move, but last night, he'd been the one to reach out, to want Chris' strength.

For this.

Buck walked back, handing the pot out to Vin. Vin took it with a nod. "I think I can handle this," he said.

The flippant reply came to Buck's lips without thought, but he caught it. Instead, he walked back to the window and stared out into the night, listening to the sounds of water sloshing in front of him and behind him and wondering how many more times they'd play out this scene. Across the way, he heard a woman's laughter and felt more homesick than he had in decades.

It was almost dawn before Chris came back, easing in the door so silently that only Buck, on guard, noticed him. Buck started to get up from his chair before the fire in the hearth, but Chris motioned him down. He didn't want to talk to anyone, didn't want to see any of them. He wanted to be left alone and had he been able, he'd not have come back here at all.

But the first glow of dawn was growing on the horizon and he could feel it twisting in his gut, the inner clock that was tied to the sun ringing in his body. He turned, thinking to head downstairs to the cellar and then lower, into the old crypt under the old house, but even as his hand fell onto the door latch, he knew he had to go upstairs.

He turned, staring at the stairs, furious, still, that Vin would ask the others to do this, furious that Vin would even consider doing it without Chris there. Furious with himself for not listening when Vin had said it was time, furious for thinking that he had any say in this matter.

That wasn't right, though. He had a say, had the main say. Vin had waited, then he'd pushed, and eventually, when it was clear to him that Chris was delaying for no good reason, he'd taken matters into his own hands. He'd done something of his own free will, and as Josiah had pointed out before Chris stormed out the door, that was to be commended. Vin so rarely made decisions about himself anymore, feeling that he had the least right to do so. Feeling that any decision he made was tainted by the insidious demon inside him, feeling guilt for the things that happened when the demon took control of his body.

Chris wasn't aware of moving, of climbing the two flights to the third floor, of walking down the short hallway to the attic room that housed and imprisoned Vin. The door wasn't locked, not tonight; the silver would prevent Akmanna from being able to heal the wounds easily or quickly, if at all, so Vin's body was weak. If he had been half-way able to move, Buck would have been upstairs with him instead of downstairs with the fire.

The lamp was burning low on the table beside the bed, casting the room in shadow as much as lighting it. They'd turned Vin so that his head was at the foot of the bed, facing the window, and he was positioned that way now, on his belly, his arms under the pillow, his head turned away from the door. The sheet covered his legs, but nothing else. In the darkness, the silver letters on his back glittered, bright within the ugly wounds that bore them.

Chris hesitated, but he'd come this far. He moved silently over the bare wooden floor until he stood beside the bed, looking down at what his men had done today while he was dead. It was ugly, a mess of scorched flesh and raw skin. But within it, the silver figures were bright and sharp. Sanskrit, Josiah had said, Vedic sanskrit, one of the oldest languages on earth, one from the time Akmanna had been let free in the world. Josiah had told him what the words said, but he'd been too caught up in his fury to remember.

He forced his eyes away from the carnage, looking instead at the smooth, bare skin above and below it. It wouldn't be this way long, not if Vin had his way - and Vin certainly had had his way about this. They would carve the binding curses in as much of his flesh as they could, everything that clothing would cover and a few places it might not. Josiah had spent years collecting the languages and the words, the rituals constructions that they needed. Then he'd spent another few years figuring out how to get as many as possible onto, into Vin.

Into the smooth, clean flesh, flesh Chris cared for more than his own. Dammit.

His belly knotted, but it wasn't all from his thoughts; the sun was reaching higher into the sky. Below, he could hear someone moving, someone other than Buck. Nathan, or Josiah, coming to check on Vin.

He needed to go, but he couldn't move, not yet. He reached out, his fingers hovering close over Vin's spine, the hard knots between his shoulder blades. He didn't have to touch to feel the heat, the human heat. After all this time, he knew the difference between the demon's cold fire and the soft warmth of the man.

Vin shifted then hissed, his body tensing as the movement shifted the injuries. Chris saw Vin's eyes jerk open, saw the instant fear and worry. It was a feeling he knew too well himself, his own awakenings wrenching him from the nothingness of death to a sudden, abrupt sensation of breathing but not having enough air in his lungs, of the pounding of his heart as if it were trying to escape, of the excruciating rigidness of every one of the muscles in his body as rigor mortis eased. Dying in reverse.

For Vin, it wasn't dying, it was the possession, that instant when Akmanna had crawled into his body through every orifice, taking control and trapping Vin inside, watching and unable to do anything as the demon wearing his face raped and maimed and killed as it pleased.

For Vin, it was this instant of pain, where all he knew was the hurt and the fear that it would never end and the worse fear that it would, that the demon would be free.

It was that instant and the look in his eyes that wore away the last of Chris' anger. "It's all right," he whispered, letting his fingers connect with Vin's back, a light touch. "You're okay."

Vin took a deep breath and turned his head as far as he could without moving any other part of his body. When he saw Chris, he blew out the breath and grimaced, then he pulled his hands from beneath the pillow. "You still pissed?" he asked, his voice uneven and rough. He got his arms under him and pushed up, rolling to his side and into an awkward lean, but the movement took his breath and Chris saw his jaw lock and his eyes close as he fought his way through the hurt.

Without a thought, Chris reached out and slid his hand along Vin's face as he leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Don't ever do that again," he murmured, resting his forehead against Vin's. "Tell me if you think you need to have it done, but don't - don't - " He swallowed as the words evaded him.

But Vin nodded, his nose brushing against Chris'. "Lot more to come," he said. "You'll get your chance." Chris felt Vin's lips quirk in a grin.

He drew back enough to see Vin's face. "Let's see how this works, first," he said, his fingers tracing over Vin's cheekbone.

Vin blinked slowly and nodded, the grin slipping. "Dawn," he said, not looking away from Chris. "Best get below."

Chris nodded but he didn't move. It seemed like there was more that he should say, but the words were still elusive. Instead, he watched Vin watching him, until the knot in his belly was so hard that it hurt. Only then did he close the few inches between them and kiss Vin once more before pushing up and turning toward the door.

As he glanced out the window, the first few rays of the sun were reaching out, catching in the water below and turning it into the same blue of Vin's eyes.

Akmanna slipped around the edges of the human's awareness, watching from the background. He ached, the damned silver heavy on the part of him caught in the human. It pressed down on him, a weight to overcome. Damn these keepers - they were a particularly crafty lot, willing to do things that not even the Hanash had done - not that the Hanash had been smart enough to think of these things. Carving into the very flesh and filling it with silver . . .

He looked out the human's eyes, out the window. The water was particularly busy this morning, kicked up by the wind and some swirl of bad weather. A storm would be nice, lightning brought lovely fires, but rain, water itself, he had little use for - disdained it, actually. He wondered if these half-humans knew that and choose to settle in places so close to water.

Across the water, though, was a large dwelling, filled with people, all sorts of possible hosts. He needed to get there, needed to find a new form. This one had become quite the problem.

For now, though, he had to bide his time. This daespan was still his, despite what the humans sought to do by controlling it. He would have it back, in time, for time was on his side, more so than that of those who fought him for what little was left of his one's soul . . .