Bats in the Belfry

by Tenshi

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how
express and admirable! In action how like an angel!
In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the
world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not
Hamlet, Hamlet, II.ii

Dantalion's refuge of choice was in the school bell-tower, where he could brood undisturbed and still maintain a fine view of the surrounding area. The dusty and gloomy nature of it was only an added bonus, as far as he was concerned. Only one trifling detail kept it from being perfect, and that was the fact that bats could fly.

"Lord Dantalion! Lord Dantalion!"

Dantalion groaned, putting his face down in his folded arms as though that could conceal him from the sight of his servants. "Go away," he said, knowing they would ignore him. They often did, when they felt their meddling would serve their master better in the long run. They showed no signs of retreat now, the wind from their beating wings buffeting his hair. Dantalion shrugged down harder into himself, too miserable to order them away.

His mouth still burned from the heat of William's lips-- a guilty warmth. How could Dantalion have been so coarse as to kiss him like that? It would not return Solomon's memory to him, not for all of Dantalion's wishing. But under William's shock and confusion the feel of him had been the same, and Dantalion shuddered with a longing that four thousand years had not quenched.

"Lord Dantalion?"

Dantalion had not noticed that the beating wings had stopped. He started at the touch of a small hand upon his arm, and looked up into Mammon's bright blue eyes, which were now framed in the worried face of a towheaded boy in an underclassman's uniform.

I must look perfectly awful, Dantalion thought, to make them put on human forms.

"What's wrong?" This was Amon, leaning in one of the open arches of the belfry, his pale forelock gleaming in the dusty shadows. "Is it Solomon?"

"It is William," Dantalion said, before he could stop himself. When had he started making such a distinction between his master's past and present forms, anyway? Solomon's Memories. William's face. Two sides of the same coin, each distinctly minted.

Mammon alighted on the windowsill beside his master, something fluttery even now in his movements. "Has he been cruel to you, master?"

"You should just drag him down to Hell and be done with it," Amon put in, cross in both his expression and his arms. "This silly schoolboy charade--"

"He is not my subject," Dantalion cut in, with a warning sharpness. "And I will not have you speak ill of him, Amon, is that clear?"

Amon bit his lip, chastised, and then switched tactics. "But how can he not remember you, Master? After everything you have done for him--" Amon would have said more, but Mammon shook his head, and the darker twin went abruptly silent.

"Done for Solomon, perhaps," Dantalion said, and there it was again, the sharp definition between two men with the same face and the same soul. "But I have done nothing for William Twining save to throw his life into chaos." Dantalion's laugh was short, bitter. "To him I am only a nuisance, and a persistent one. He has made no secret of how gladly he would be rid of me."

"He has hurt you," Mammon sighed, and leaned into Dantalion's shoulder. His hair smelled of burnt sugar and fog, and Dantalion shivered as the frustrated need for William mellowed into a simpler, more familiar hunger, one far more easily sated. Mammon must have felt the change, his hand creeping up into the hair at the nape of Dantalion's neck and working at the taut muscles there. The little demon's blue eyes were suddenly smoldering. "How can we comfort you?"

Amon was on Dantalion's other side at once, heavy and welcoming, his scent all smoke and licorice to complement Mammon's vanilla sweetness. It would be so easy to give in to their potent ministrations, as Dantalion had countless times in the past. But William's face swam before Dantalion's vision, in wide-eyed shock at Dantalion's unconscionable liberty, and he shrugged away from his bats' embrace.

"No," he said, roughly. "Not now, you two."

He heard Amon sigh through his nose in exasperation. "If it is Solomon you want--" he began.

"It is not Solomon," Mammon countered, knowingly. "It is William."

"Either way," Amon continued, unswayed. "It is within your power to provoke love from the heart of any mortal. A snap of your fingers and he would be yours, so why do you not just make him so?"

"Because I want--" Dantalion started, and then stopped. What, exactly? He wondered. For William to be Solomon? The thought made his heart twist inside of him. No. Solomon had become something else by the end, a cruel stranger. But William was Solomon as he had been once, before the wars and the blood and the compromises, before the moment when his only escape lay in death by Dantalion's hand. But if William could only remember those other days... if he could only accept Dantalion's love, his loyalty, his service. If he could only accept Dantalion at all. The appointment as interim ruler meant nothing to Dantalion, nothing but that it would give him reason to stay by William's side.

"Master." Amon plucked at Dantalion's sleeve. "Please. Give us something to do to help."

Dantalion looked down at Amon without quite seeing him there, his gold hoop earring flashing like a diminutive star. "As the indifferent children of the earth," Dantalion murmured, half-aloud.

"My lord?" Amon's clever little face bunched up with unasked questions, with worry.

I am unkind to make them fret over me, Dantalion thought, and ruffled Amon's fur-soft hair with grateful fondness and a strained smile. "Tell Baphomet to make one of his best custard tarts and then bring it back to me," he said. "Right away."

"Yes, master!"

In less than a blink the two boys were gone, as black and white leathery wings flicked past Dantalion off into the night. It would not be enough to make up for his outburst, Dantalion knew. But he also knew that much like the king he had once been, William was much more receptive to a demon who started off an apology with sweets.


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