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Chiaroscuro: Aurora

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THOOOM.

It sounds like an explosion as one of the heavy ornate doors to the great hall slams open, and everyone in the room is on their feet. Johannes shoves you behind him just as you bring your energy shield up, and across from you, Henrik puts himself in front of Jonas, teeth bared.

All the ghouls, Papa, and Damiano are ready as well, and even the boys from H.E.A.T. have manifested weapons, ready for whatever threat has appeared. Your heart is pounding, your hands clammy as you wait.

“Show yourself!” Jonas roars, looking every ounce the imperial king he’s not when alone with you.

The first through the door makes your heart stop for a moment, before pounding all the harder. Taller than Papa, but shorter than Jonas, the man’s black hair is spiked up. A lit cigarette dangles from his lips, and piercing eyes sweep the room, taking in the dinner party. A long coat sweeps against his calves, red bands against the black cloth on his biceps. Beside him, a man who’s Papa’s height, a cheerful look in his eyes and a smile on his face, his hair in a bowl cut. Behind them are two people of rather massive height, taller than Johannes, but both rail thin under their clothes, one darkly handsome, sporting a goatee, the other clean-faced with glasses and a hawk-like nose. Even behind him is another, a man with curly hair that brushes his shoulders, wearing what looks almost like a chainmail shirt.

Your jaw is on your chest before the last man walks through, and you erupt in a blush. This final man is around Johannes’s height, maybe ever so slightly shorter, but it feels like he dwarfs the wolf in sheer presence. He’s thick with muscle, his eyes—blue? green? both?—taking in every detail of the room, booted feet thumping as he steps in. A surprisingly sensitive face does nothing to ease his intimidating stance, and as his eyes meet yours, you sit down hard. “It’s...It’s Rammstein.”

“Good god damn FUCKING christ!” Johannes hisses, taking an aggressive step forward. “Who the fuck do you think you are barging in here?”

Jonas growls. “Johannes—”

“Fuck diplomacy, Jonas,” Johannes snarls back, his furious gaze never leaving the newcomers. “Fuck that right off. You fucks are lucky you’re not already dead.”

Paul, the shorter man next to Richard, puts up his hands. “Sorry, sorry! I tried to tell them to maybe have one of your people announce us, but—”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Richard says with a wide grin, taking his cigarette out of his mouth. “The bigger the entrance the better!”

“Not when it ends with us getting attacked,” Flake mutters, and Richard rolls his eyes.

“Did we get attacked? No.” Richard shrugs. “So it’s fine.”

Flake’s gaze dances around the room, taking in the tension and your loves poised, ready to strike. “I don’t know...we might yet.” Richard merely scoffs as he returns his cigarette to his mouth and takes a step...

Henrik, Johannes, and Beta all move at nearly the same instant. “Don’t come any closer,” Henrik says, his voice smooth with menace. “Not just yet.”

Damiano is still watching them suspiciously, but Papa has relaxed, looking down at you, still caught by Till’s gaze. He’s fighting not to grin as he clears his throat and looks to Jonas. “My king, I know their entrance was...dramatic—”

“Who is lecturing whom on dramatic?” Damiano mutters, which Papa ignores.

“—but they are our allies, yes? Perhaps there is no reason to be so aggressive?”

Johannes snarls again as Jonas tilts his head, considering the band of newcomers. “Perhaps not aggressive...but caution is wise. After all,” he raises an eyebrow as he studies first Richard, then Till, “we were not expecting them for another several days. Their abrupt arrival is...suspicious. Wouldn’t you agree, Herr Kruspe?”

Till starts forward, ignoring the bristling wolves and ghouls. He tromps up to the table, sits down, and starts piling food onto a plate, finally tearing his gaze away from you. “We decided that coming sooner was a good idea.” The man’s voice was deep, but softer than expected. “The angels will be attacking within days. We wanted to warn you.”

“And also offer our service in battle,” Schneider says with a slight bow.

Dead silence meets that announcement, and then everyone but you is talking (or swearing) at once. After a few seconds Jonas roars, “Enough!” All eyes turn to him. “How do you know this?”

Till says nothing, just begins to eat, his gaze flicking back to you.

Finally, before Jonas roars again, Oli answers, “Overheard two of them...said the trigger would be pulled soon. Not sure when.”

You flush darkly at Till’s gaze on you, and the corners of his lips turn up ever so faintly. “How do you know this?” Johannes growls at the taller man, who’s looking calm and a little like he’d rather be somewhere else.

“He’s the spy of the group,” John says, meeting Oli’s gaze with his piercing blue one. “Aren’t you?” Oli nods, almost curtly.

Johannes begins to pace, but in a small back-and-forth pattern so that he’s never more than a few feet away from you, muttering curses the entire time. Jonas frowns. “I’m afraid that is not enough of an explanation for me. Where did you overhear this? How do you know it’s true? What kind of trigger?” He stares at the newcomers. “How do we know you’re not possessed by angels and leading us into a trap?”

Richard stares back. “You really want to have a long drawn-out chit-chat over coffee? They could attack right now.”

Papa sighs and picks up a glass of water, muttering something in Latin. There’s a soft flash of light from his left eye, and the water in the glass goes dark for a split second before reverting to normal. He walks down the table and stops next to Till, dipping his fingers into the water. “May I?”

“Do I have to stop eating?” the bigger man grunts, and Papa snorts and shakes his head. “Then do it.” Papa sprinkles the unholy water over Till’s brow, who shows no reaction at all.

Papa does the same to the other newcomers, who all submit to the sprinkling with little more than a blink. Jonas, arms crossed, watches with his eyebrow cocked so high it practically buries itself in his hairline.

“What the hell is he doing?” Tim asks, his face a picture of confusion.

Damiano snorts, a sound of pure derision as he looks to Tim and Jonas. “Demons react to holy water, yes? Angels would react to unholy water in the same ways. It is really not that—” You reach out without even looking and smack the Emeritus brother on the shoulder.

“Don’t be a dick.”

Johannes barks out a laugh in spite of his agitation, as do the ghouls. Papa’s smile is tight but amused. “Thank you, my love. Kungen,” he continues, tilting his head slightly, “they have no angels within them.”

“Very well then. Please, if you all—”

“His love? You’re taken then?” Till rumbles in your direction, and you flush darkly.

“It’s c-complicated,” you stammer, swallowing. “I-I’m married to Papa and Johannes,” you point them out, “but I love all of Avatar and Papa’s ghouls, and they love me.”

Richard whistles as he and the rest of his bandmates take a seat. “Sounds fun.”

“Sounds complicated,” Flake snorts.

Till says nothing, just stares at you, hard, considering. You try to hide a shudder, but the quirk of his lip says he saw it anyway.

Papa smirks then moves to your side, caressing you softly, and his touch warms you. “Why don’t we sit and let these guests tell us what they know?” he says, his voice smooth despite the worry that the newcomers’ warning has introduced.

Still a little on edge, everyone returns to their seats. Richard sits back, props his feet up on the table (earning an eye twitch from Damiano), and lights another cigarette. “We have a longstanding...issue with the rogue angels. They like to attack...our home, and we like to defend it.” He shrugs elegantly. “It’s a thing.”

Paul nods. “During our most recent skirmish, Oli here was doing some recon and managed to overhear some interesting discussions.”

The tall, quiet man speaks up. “One of them mentioned Avatar Country, said the trigger was ready to be pulled, they needed to be prepared. The other said that they should cut short their latest attack on us in order to be ready. They switched to angelic, which I don’t understand very well, but I thought I heard the word for ‘week’...made me think they weren’t going to take their time.”

“And since we were coming here anyway, we figured we’d just come early and warn you,” Schneider shrugs.

“...and that’s it, really,” Richard says, putting his cigarette out in an ashtray that Special had conjured up for him.

“So...they could attack any time within the next five, seven days,” Jonas says thoughtfully. “That’s a small window. But I think we’re ready.” He stands, looking to his men. “Tim, John. You know what to do. Put the kingdom on high alert.”

“Sir!” The two wolves salute their king, quickly kiss your cheeks, and shift, running from the rooms as fast as their wolf forms allow.

As the two wolves leave, a wave of murmured discussion rises up amongst those remaining at the table, which is interrupted by Erik. “So what are you all, exactly?” Till snorts softly, but none of the newcomers answer.

“What do you mean?” Jonas asks.

Erik sits back in his seat, props the edge of one foot on the table (not catching Damiano’s second eye twitch), crosses his arms. “Already told you we can sense auras. They didn’t say, but we can tell they’re...other.” He turns to Richard. “So. What are you?”

“They’re fae,” Johannes grumbles, hand on your knee. “We thought they’d only been descended from them, but John got curious and did some digging. They’re fucking fae.”

“Just tell all our secrets,” Richard says, scowling at Johannes, who just sneers back.

“We don’t have secrets between allies,” Jonas responds, and he gives his bodyguard a look that clearly says “calm down.” Johannes stares right back as Erik and the rest of H.E.A.T. stiffen in surprise.

“Well, then what are you?” Oli asks Erik softly.

“Ahh...well...” Erik glances first at his friends, then at Jonas, who nods.

“It’s fine,” the king says. “You have our protection.”

Jona nods, a little nervous. Erik swallows. “We’re grim.”

Richard’s eyes gleam. “Oh really?”

“We haven’t encountered grim in a long time,” Paul says cheerfully.

“Yeah, and the last one we met weren’t exactly fans of us,” Schneider murmurs, crossing his arms.

“I mean...we’re all musicians here,” Crash says, looking between them all. “And allies. I’d rather be friends.”

Jonas’s gaze bounces quickly from one person to the next, and he nods. “Well, I’ll settle for allies at the moment. We need to work together if we have any chance of defeating the angels once more.” His gaze returns to you. “My flower, are you all right?”

Till hasn’t looked away from you, and it takes you a moment to respond, finally tearing your gaze away. “Y-Yes, I’m fine.” You nod to him. “Should I head to the church to sound the alarm?”

Jonas nods. “I think that’s a good idea, yes.” You stand, and Beta with you, along with Papa and Damiano.

Johannes looks from you to his king, and back to you, clearly torn. “It’s all right, my wolf,” you murmur as you stroke his hair, and he grabs you by the hips and pulls you close, resting his head against your stomach. “I’ll be safe. Stay here with Jonas. We’ll be back as fast as possible.”

Johannes nods, not quite able to form words right now. Reluctantly, he lets you go, and you step backward into Papa’s arms. You smile reassuringly to your wolf, and then you, Papa, and Beta blink out. “Shit,” the wolf curses under his breath, feeling the ache of tears behind his eyes.

Earth pats Johannes softly. “Don’t worry,” he whispers before he and the other ghouls blink out one by one.

The wolf shakes his head, then stands and looks at his king. “I’m fine.” Till lets out another soft snort, and Johannes shoots him a look before turning back to Jonas. “I’m fine. What’s next?”

The king stands. “Let’s get staff in here to show our guests to their accommodations, and we’ll go from there.”

Everyone stands, save Till, who’s still finishing his plate. Jonas has the staff summoned, and the rest of the band filters out. Jonas stays behind, and as the door shuts behind a maid (who’s being flirted with by Richard), he sits diagonally from Till. Henrik and Johannes, still on bodyguard duty (and even more on alert), take up places a little farther back, to give the semblance of privacy. The king smiles to the bigger man. “Leave it to Rammstein to shake things up. It’s good to see you, old friend.”

Alone, Till relaxes, smiling and leaning back in his seat. “Good to see you too.” He looks up, eyeing the new stained glass. “You’re all in some shit.” Jonas barks a laugh.

“With the angels? Yes, that’s definitely one way to put it. But—”

“Not them.” Till nods at the ceiling. “With her.” He stares hard at Jonas. “You’re attached to her. In love.”

Jonas’s laugh turns softer. “Doesn’t take a mind reader to figure it out. That’s partially her fault, and partially ours.”

Till blinks, processing that. “There is fault to love now? That is one I haven’t heard yet.” He leans back, thinking. “Poetic, really.”

Jonas mimics Till, leaning back, stroking his beard. “She is...” he pauses, catches Johannes’s gaze. He shakes his head once, almost unnoticeably. “...different.”

Till’s turn to bark out a laugh. “Ah, is that what they’re calling beings like us nowadays?” At Jonas’s hard stare, he adds, “Don’t bother trying to hide it. I don’t know what she is, but I can tell she’s something more. Tell your rabid guard dog he can calm down.” Johannes, who Henrik is eyeing in case he leaps at the fae, growls and Till laughs. “How do you even begin to share her? Do you tranq him?”

Jonas stares at Till, and then begins to laugh, loud and long. Once he has a handle on himself, he clears his throat. “You know, if you were anyone else, I would throw you out of the palace. But by now I know your sense of humor.” He looks over at his bodyguards. “Johannes, please, try to stay calm. Our love is in no danger from Rammstein.”

“If we wanted to steal her away, she’d already be gone,” Till says bluntly, meeting Johannes’s eyes.

Johannes’s lip curls, his wolf close to the surface. Jonas’s expression sombers. “Don’t be so sure.”

Till scoffs. “Neither you nor your pups have ever been able to best me unless I let you.”

“Even if I agreed with that statement—which I don’t, you’ve yielded to me more than once—I wasn’t referring to us. Only a fool would go up against an alpha queen. Have the years turned you stupid?”

Till grins, but there’s no warmth in his eyes. “You are good, mein freund, I never said you weren’t. And your powers are all impressive. But fae are on an entirely different league. I yielded to you because I fucking wanted to, there’s no other reason. Building you up is better than tearing you down every single time. Had I used my fae abilities, which I never have, because it wouldn’t have been fair, you never would have won.” He snorts, glancing back up, seemingly content to let that particular conversation drop. “An alpha queen. Well, you aren’t wrong there. She feels...depthless.”

Jonas nods. “She is not to be trifled with. I have known that from the moment I saw her in the gardens. And now...” The king sighs. “She saved me, my friend. And continues to do so every day. So if that means I am ‘in some shit’, then that is where I stay.”

Till chuckles and claps him on the shoulder, before standing. “Well, I won’t say it’s a bad position to be in.” And with no further words he turns and starts walking toward the door, where a member of the staff is still waiting to take him to his rooms.

“Do you have to play ‘whose dick is bigger’ with every single person you meet?” Henrik asks Johannes.

“Fuck yeah, I do,” Johannes rasps as he tears himself out of Henrik’s grip and shoots a parting glare at Till’s back. The door shuts on a final snort from Till. Johannes turns to Jonas as the king strides toward him. “You know, every time I see him, he annoys me more.”

Jonas laughs softly. “You always dislike people out of your control, my friend.” Johannes just glowers at his king, watching as the monarch turns to the kitchen staff who come in to collect plates, thanking them and apologizing for how late it is.

He gives additional directions to the staff before turning back to his guards. Johannes’s glare only serves to make him chuckle. “Oh wolf, some day you’ll learn to calm yourself.”

Johannes snorts. “Not today.”

“Perhaps not.” The king draws up close to Johannes, palms his cheek then grips his shoulder, smiling. “What if we go upstairs and...ahh...prepare to make your spouses our spouses?”

Johannes’s mouth quirks. “You mean...?”

“I mean I want this...us...official before we find ourselves on a battlefield with regrets in our heads and angels in our sights.”

Henrik smiles as Johannes softens immediately. “Yes. Yes, we should absolutely do that.” He pulls Jonas into a tight hug. “Just...yes.” Jonas smiles, hugging his bodyguard, his friend, his love, just as tightly.