CHAPTER ONE: THE END
It was always going to end like this.
Nox and Luce faced off against each other on a rooftop in Horizon’s Edge. The sun set behind Luce while night rose up behind Nox as if it were his cloak. This was how it had to be. It was right. It made Nox calm.
“Nox, it doesn’t have to be this way!” Luce yelled.
Luce's Changed name properly pronounced should have been "Loocha" but he said it as if it was spelled "Loose." The irony was that Luce was anything but loose. In Nox's opinion, he was a Boy Scout. A do-gooder to the extreme. His moral code bound him tighter than titanium chains. Luce's beautiful face showed the strain of two weeks of constant fighting between them. For all those people Luce saved, Nox put ten times more in peril.
“This is exactly as it has to be,” Nox said and the wind whipped his voice to the other man.
Luce's blue eyes narrowed and he shook his head. His mane of blond curls caught and reflected the fading light. A modern-day Adonis. Gorgeous. Light to my dark, Nox thought and the irony that their natures were as opposite as their looks was not lost on him.Nox's hair was midnight black and spiked up in all directions while Luce's was a bright sunny blond. Nox's skin was the color and texture of white marble while Luce appeared to have a constant golden tan. Nox's eyes were the same color as the twilight that crept up on them at that moment while Luce's were a startling crystalline blue.
“You’re his pawn, Damien,” Luce said Nox's born-name as if that was somehow going to reach him when his chosen name would not.
"I'm surprised you'd go so low, Jamie," Nox replied using Luce's born-name as well.
How many times did that name slip off my lips with a moan of pleasure? His brain whispered, but Nox batted the memory of Luce's sweat-slicked skin.
“You must listen to me. Cain is using you."
Asmosdeus Cain was their foster father. The man who had raised them as his sons even as the world rejected them, called them the Changed. The Changed were the children of those abducted by the Grays, alien beings whose motives and natures were unknown, and then returned. The children born to the abductees after they came back were different.
These children developed powers like the ability to conjure fire from the air, the ability to fly or in Nox's case the ability to read minds and bring shadows to life. Convinced that the Changed were the Grays' first wave of world domination, most of them were killed. But a very few were kept alive by various countries' militaries and the wealthy elite like Asmosdeus Cain. Cain had saved both Nox and Luce from lives that would have been dark, desperate and short. Nox shook at Luce's intimations that their foster father was somehow the evil one. And Luce's suggestion that he was not in control of himself lit a fire in Nox's veins.
“I’m no one’s pawn!” Nox's voice cracked as it rose. He swallowed. He sounded brittle. But he was not. Even as the exhaustion of playing with the citizenry of Horizon's Edge almost 24 hours a day had strained even his Changed powers. "You dishonor our Father with your vile talk!"
"He is not worthy of your love. If only you could remember what he has done to you to make you into this!" Luce's shoulders slumped.
"This? What about me don't you like, Luce? That my Changed powers are greater than anyone elses? That I use them to protect my family against the pathetic vermin who would harm us?" Nox gestured towards the city sprawled out around them.
"They have acted out of fear. Fear that Cain has justified as he's set up you and the others to take over the world," Luce retorted.
"They have earned our hatred! They have earned their fate!" Nox yelled back, his pale face suffusing with anger at Luce's determination to defend the indefensible. "Have you forgotten how you came to Father in the first place?"
"No, Damien." Luce took a step towards him. "I haven't forgotten. But you have. Let me show you what Cain has done."
"You lie! You always lie!" But even as Nox shouted the epithets at his former brother, his former best-friend, his former lover, something in him rejected the words.
Luce had never lied to him. The other man was the only one whose thoughts were not tinged with dishonesty. His soul had been poisoned from learning people's secrets. This one beat his wife. That one fantasized about fucking preteen boys. This one dreamed of the money she stole. That one imagined the ones he killed or would kill. Everyone had secrets and Nox knew each and every one.
Except for Luce. He was always honest with me. His bright exterior matched the spotless interior. But now ... now he must be lying.
"Damien, listen to me. Read my thoughts. See if I'm telling the truth or not. I'll let you in. Let you see everything," Luce offered, palms raised towards him.
"I don't need your permission!" Nox growled.
He sent one of his Shadows to tug at Luce's lovely golden body. The Shadow glided over the gravel roof between them. It’s amorphous body grew larger as the last ray of sunlight was snuffed out. Now the Shadow was hidden in the greater darkness. Luce must have sensed it’s approach as he cast his gaze from one side to the other, but he didn’t know for certain where it was. Nox chuckled as the Shadow lunged and took a bite out of Luce’s ankle. The other man didn’t scream. His jaw clenched with pain, but that was all. Lightening, so bright it hurt Nox's eyes and sent the darkness fleeing in all directions, erupted from Luce's fingertips. The Shadow gave out a wail before it was obliterated.
“Cain has poisoned you, Damien,” Luce said calmly even as blood poured out of the wound in his ankle and pooled around his feet.
“Poisoned?” Nox repeated the word with a laugh, but a strange niggling started in the back of his brain as if he had forgotten something important.
“Yes,” Luce said quietly and took a pained step towards him. “The mind-control drug Cain was developing –"
“It doesn’t work on me!” Nox snapped as his hands clenched into fists. “It was designed not to work on the Changed! You know that.”
“Wrong, Damien.” Luce was only an arms-length away. “It was made to work only on the Changed. And you were going to stop it. We were going to stop it. But then Cain got a hold of you and only now are you letting me close enough to show you what he’d done.”
Nox's chest felt tight. He took half a step back. Confusion ate at him. It nibbled. He wanted to knock it away, but somehow he couldn't.
Retreating, Nox? Cain's amused chuckle seemed to reverberate in his mind. It was something the older man often said as he trained Nox to become the warrior he was now.
I'm not! It's just -- he's just -- god, the smell of him. So good. Like sunshine bottled. Nox leaned forward, his eyes fluttering shut. Over the gaseous smell of the tar roof, the iron bite of Luce's blood, and harsh exhaust, there was that elusive scent that was his former beloved's essence.
"Let me show you." Luce's breath flowed over Nox's face.
Nox was shaking. His powers slipped through his fingers like water. His defenses cracked as Luce's golden scent flooded his senses. "I don't ..."
"Don't be afraid, Damien." A flash of a smile and a snippet of white teeth.
Nox was opening his mouth to object to say he was never afraid. But then Luce was touching him. He felt the heat of Luce's hands framing his face, then the soft brush of the other man's palms on his cheeks, and finally the press of Luce's lips against his own matched by the press of Luce's mind against his. Nox tried to wriggle free like a worm on a hook. But Luce's hands were smoothing down his arms, linking their fingers together, as his tongue dove into Nox's mouth. Luce tasted of citrus.
Nox was suddenly pulling the other man against him. His body was thrumming with desire. His cock ached in his pants. It twitched against Luce's firm thigh. Their matching heights meant that he could feel Luce's arousal just as easily.
How could I forget this? Nox broke the kiss, but he wasn't done. He was moving in to suck on Luce's golden skin. Salt burst on his tongue as he licked along the other man's jaw. Glad I didn't kill him yet, because I need this. Like a drug. A drug ... a mind control drug.
That's right, Damien. Let me in and let me show you what Cain has been doing to you, to us, to this world. He's not what he seems, Luce's mind voice was gentle.
Nox's eyes shot open and Luce looked back at him straight on. There was no lie in the other man's blue gaze.
"If we do this, I have a price to ask in return," Nox said.
"Yes?" Luce asked. There was a hopeful note in his voice. Nox wondered if what he was going to say next would squelch it.
Nox unlinked his hands from Luce's. He adjusted his long black leather coat. The scent of animal hide surrounded him. He turned his head from side to side, cracking his spine, preparing himself to join his mind to Luce's.
"My price will be," Nox paused and slowly let a smile crawl across this face. It wasn't a nice smile.
"Whatever it is, I'll pay it!" Luce's voice rose and cracked.
"Your death, Luce," Nox said. He watched as the knowledge of what he wanted sunk in. For a moment, all the brightness left Luce's eyes. Something in Nox's chest hurt like ground glass.
"You want my death?" Luce asked.
The wind blew hard then and Nox's coat fluttered out behind him like black leather wings. "Yes. You're standing in the way of progress. You're standing in my way. It'll be so much easier if I can end your intransigence here."
The moon as it rose, silvered Luce's blond hair. "That's Cain talking. You're even using his turns of phrase. And you don't even notice."
Nox's mouth open and shut. There were times now when he couldn't distinguish between his own words and Cain's anymore.
"You used to make fun of Cain for being so ... how did you put it? Like a comic book villain," Luce continued, mimicking Nox's ironic tone.
Something twisted in Nox's guts. He remembered for one moment sitting in the tower on Cain's property, tipping his head back, and laughing his ass off at some phrase Cain had used. Luce and he had been sharing a bottle of wine he'd purloined from the cellar. It was expensive, something Cain wouldn't want his children to have.
But that's why I took it. Because I wouldn't be denied anything. I wouldn't have Luce denied anything. I called Luce Jamie back then, Nox thought.
"Now you talk like him. Dress how he always wanted you to. You're even wearing that cologne he bought you. The one he made special just for you." Luce's mouth twisted and he shook his head. "Has he gotten you to do everything he wants?"
Nox was silent. Even up on the roof, he could feel Cain's hands running along his back, the possessive press at the base of his spine, the line of heat from his foster father's too close body. He swore that he could hear Cain's low voice murmuring in his ear, the amused laugh, and then the whispered seductive promises of power. If they worked together. If they were together.
"Has he, Nox?" Luce's voice was quiet, but the strain was evident in it. "Such a good father --"
"Still want to do this?" Nox interrupted. "Willing to die to show me whatever it is you want to show me?"
Luce smiled sadly. "Yes, you can take my life, Damien. If that's what it takes to get through to you, I'd die a million times."
Nox's hands hovered over Luce's temples. "Then let's begin."
Luce didn't look away even as Nox's fingers touched his skin. Luce didn't look away even as he began to scream.