FIRST, A NOTE FROM HENLEY:
Arik, Arik... *tsk, tsk, tsks*
Have you not yet figured out there's no hiding things from Blaze?
On a completely unrelated, and yet terribly necessary side-note, I have to take this opportunity to thank everybody for following along with the story. I know it can be an act of faith to invest time and interest in a story that posts like this, and it thrills me to no end that we have people not only reading, but looking forward to the submissions every week. All too often authors don't get a chance to offer love back to the people behind the views and the purchases. That's one of the things that endears me to a forum like this -- the ability to communicate in a relaxed environment without fear of saying the wrong thing or speaking outside of industry expectations. So, thank you, a million times over, for reading, commenting, and doing all the things you guys do to make this enjoyable for Kelly and I. I know I don't speak for myself alone when I say that we appreciate, and are honoured by, each and every one of you. It's not just a tag-line or a fall-to-phrase when Kelly says that "we do what we do for love" (paraphrased, badly, and boldy self-inserting into the proverbial "we"). The love for the story, the love for the person/people you work with, and the love from those who support it, are quite literally (nope, totally figuratively XD) the things that sustain us. Thank you for being part of it.
((Also, after formatting this post, I have come to the conclusion that I use italics way, way too often.))
(((And bastardize punctuation to shameful levels.)))
AND NOW A NOTE FROM ME, KELLY:
Yep. What he said. Except the quote is...
What we do, we do in and for love.
And Henley? I'm completely okay with your self-insertion.
So long as I get to watch. *wink*
"Welcome to Alana Island, gentlemen..."
There was a tension in Blaze's tone and stance that annoyed Arik to no end. This was supposed to be enjoyable—something cool and new, exciting and adventurous. And that kind of cool didn't come cheap; not that Arik didn't have more than his fair share of expendable income. But he hadn't amassed those funds by throwing them into the wind on a whim. So as much as the thought was, if not outright smug, then at least ignorant, Arik had expected some kind of appreciation. A flicker of interest would have been nice. He most certainly hadn't been expecting Blaze to tighten up into a ball of nerves, or to be frowning at the driver as though the man had just said: "Please step inside. Satan's waiting."
Right... it's the money that's bothering you...
Maybe Blaze was just nervous over the loss of control? Perhaps Blaze was offended by the fact that Arik had jumped at something without negotiation or warning? Maybe Blaze was just letting himself get wound up over what he believed was going to happen if he didn't "get on the case," so to speak?
Or... Arik caught Blaze's gaze and smiled, attempting to mask the way his heart lurched with his next thought. Maybe Blaze was caught up in musing over a certain lost boy and a "very badly" ended relationship. A relationship that Blaze wished had gone better. Did he still? When Blaze closed his eyes and groaned over contact, was he seeing somebody else's smile?
Arik's fists clenched. His jaw hardened. He told himself the emotion wasn't jealousy. He insisted it was anger. One couldn't be jealous of what had been. One had no right even to consider jealousy when the concepts had been explained, and the outcome already decided. So it had to be outrage—vengeful, spiteful, fury.
Sure, Arik... it's Blaze that's got you upset...
Arik took a breath, nodded at nothing, and stepped toward the door being held open by the driver. He was offered a bright smile and a flash from the driver's intense green eyes. Pretty. Like spring grass. The kind of sweet grass one would expect to see being ground between the yellowed, square teeth of livestock... Arik tore his gaze away, and forced himself to climb into the back of the limo.
"You coming?" Arik peered through the opening, not tucking back to the right side of the seat until Blaze moved toward the car. Blaze was granted the same stunning smile from the driver that Arik had been, gave an uncomfortable grin back, and slid in beside Arik.
"He's cute," Blaze whispered, nudging Arik's side with a light elbow dig.
Arik cleared his throat, and trailed his line of sight over the driver again, avoiding the man's eyes. "He's all right. Not nearly as cute as you are."
Flash images of a sweaty, panting threesome threatened Arik's focus for a moment, and he turned his eyes away in disgust. Not a vision. Definitely hadn't felt like one, anyway. Not even a shared moment of recollection. It had just been his own head's attempt at making him miserable—at fueling the green-eyed witch setting up camp in his soul. Which was stupid. After all, he'd just stood there, right there, on that ferry, and told Blaze that he'd be willing to be "that" guy. The one who was "there." Who'd wait around. Let Blaze come stumbling back into town. Whenever. If ever.
So now we're telling ourselves that it's your love life, are we, Arik?
Arik closed his eyes, and dropped his head back on the seat, willing the voice pinging inside his skull into silence. Nothing was going to wreck this. This was going to be fun. They were going to—
Blaze's expression was warm, sincere, concerned. His voice was quiet and respectful. But the question made Arik want to growl.
A frown played across Blaze's forehead. He turned to reach for the silver toggle that would activate the divider between them and the driver. "Excuse me," Blaze smiled into the front seat. "This needs to be private."
The driver's, "Of course, sir," was lost to the ascent of glass. A light in the back seat brightened to automatically adjust for the loss of daylight, and Blaze fiddled with the other controls until he found that one that would turn it off.
"Okay." Blaze turned to look at Arik and rested a palm on Arik's knee. The now-familiar buzz of desire and need, of connection and stimulation, began to flow between them, and Arik couldn't stop himself. He reached out, snagged Blaze's hand, and gripped it hard enough to make Blaze startle. Blaze didn't pull away, though. Instead, Blaze lifted both their fists and kissed Arik's knuckles with the same ferocity that Arik gripped.
"Now," Blaze started again. "We should talk about what you saw on the ferry. The snack vendor—"
"He died, didn't he?" The words tumbled out of Arik's mouth before he even realized he was going to ask them.
"Wait—" Blaze tilted his head, confused. "He died?"
"Your lover," Arik frowned.
"My..." Understanding dawned on Blaze's face. "Oh. My..." Blaze huffed a short sigh and rolled his neck. "So your vision? On the boat?"
"Your lover," Arik prompted again.
Blaze sat back and caught a breath. "This is not the time to discuss my past. There are more important things that we need to talk about right now—"
"Did you love him?"
A different voice, far less mocking, yet insistently firm, jumped in with its warning: Shut up, Arik. Don't do this.
Yet even as the words rolled through Arik's head, he ignored them to repeat the question when Blaze didn't respond. "Did you love him?"
The tone of Blaze's reply seemed to break something vital inside Arik's chest. It wasn't clipped or hard like Blaze's responses had been in the hotel or on the ferry. It was sad. Tired. It was a tone that said, "Please don't."
"And you?" Blaze asked. "Did you love your Mr. Long Time Ago?"
"I thought I did." Arik shrugged. "But afterwards, you know, well, it's kind of hard to keep saying that you were in love with someone who you find out was so terribly not in love with you. But I think I did. I missed him when he was gone."
"So are you saying that you think the vision has something to do with—?"
"Jesus." Arik pulled his hand away and turned toward the window.
Blaze paused. Though Arik couldn't see his face, he could almost hear the gears of Blaze's mind grinding to try and work with that comment. "You think the vision had something to do with Jesus?"
Arik snarled at his own reflection in the tinted window; the attempt at humor lost on him. "It was short for Jesus Fucking Christ, Blaze! Enough of the vision questions. Let it go."
Seconds turned to minutes while silence crawled through the limo. Arik had no idea what Blaze was doing beside him; he couldn't turn to check. He was too busy keeping emotion from crowding into the corner of his eyes.
Not sadness. Not even the previously considered jealousy or anger. The tension, the aches, even the nudges of conscience had not a damn thing to do with the lie Arik had told himself about wasted cash. Or wounded pride over the lack of kudos. It wasn't about lost chances, or memories of other lovers. It wasn't even the dismal mental images of future nights sitting alone and forgotten.
A chill spread through Arik's body like winter frost growing on glass.
Spending one's life sifting through universal suggestion was one thing. Having an eye for the differences between coincidence and meaningful potential wasn't that much of a "thing." Any financial advisor or stock investor that was worth their salt could attest to that.
This was different. This was getting different, anyway. These images weren't flashes of red or blue or yellow out of the corner of his eye. It wasn't the sound of bells, or the recurring placement of a rose. What Arik had been seeing, the games his eyes or mind or heart or, fuck, every piece of him in tandem, had been playing... they were nightmares.
And Arik was scared.
Not scared of what he was seeing or if the images had any power of harming him. He was scared of stepping too close to the edge. Terrified that he was going to end up chasing invisible monsters. Worried to all fuck that once it started, he might never be able to reel himself back.
Just like his father.
Are you losing it, Arik? Now that you've started to maybe, kinda, sorta, possibly believe some of this crap might be real... are you slipping?
And how could a voice in his own head sound so very much like the man it mused of? As if it spoke of itself in third person?
Scenery rolled past the windows at an uncomfortably slow rate. Not that Arik was watching.
That's right, Arik. Keep staring at the wall. Don't focus on any one thing for too long. Keep your mind clear. That's how this works, right? Just tell him that you don't see anything. That you didn't see anything. That you never see anything.
Whatever you do...
Don't tell him...
The problem was that Blaze was right. There was a connection—from vision to vision—and it wasn't simple or pretty.
The vendor, just a harmless snack guy, a deep-chuckling dude with a wee-pudge belly yet crazily skinny arms, had made it all make sense. Arik was sure the guy hadn't meant to; the man probably hadn't even realized that his sleeve had slipped past the tattoo on his lower forearm. After all, the skin had been pale, much lighter than the revealed portions of hands and neck and face. It was skin, the color difference advised, that was usually covered, even in moments of relaxation and holiday. Poor choice of design? Bad decisions? Regret?
Or, more likely, something, somewhere, had decided that Arik needed to see, for the sole purpose of exposing Arik to the hidden trigger—the tattoo that Arik hadn't told Blaze about.
It had been a pentagram, and spooky enough in itself, what with its upside-down design and its devilish undertone, but it was what sat over that design that brought the liquefying flesh, and rivers of blood, to Arik's eyes. That one symbol that seemed to be the pentagram's life partner in every tattoo shop, horror novel, or poster design—a goat's head.
Which made not only the cause of the vision a pattern, but the resulting effect a pattern as well. It was a very particular, neatly-printed out formula: Arik + Blaze + Goat = Vision of Melting Flesh and Runnells of Blood.
And that made it all real.
That meant that Blaze really was there for reasons beyond Arik's understanding, and not just because fate had decided to twine two lovers out of casual strangers. While that didn't mean their story couldn't end as a happily-ever-after, it did, however, mean there was a good fucking chance that it wouldn't. So be it heredity, seeing the visions themselves, or dwelling on the concept that it was all going to be for nothing, insanity was all but guaranteed.
The limo rolled to a slow, smooth stop outside the massive three-story Plantation-style mansion that Arik had admired from the resort's website for the last several years running. The landscape surrounding the building was meticulously maintained. Pillared porches wrapped the entire structure on both main and second level. A couple of dozen concrete stairs led to the grand, double-doors wherewith a uniformed doorman waited. Century-old trees clung valiantly to leaves weakened by advancing color. Pumpkins and baskets of bright fall mums added splashes of cheerful orange and gold, burgundy and red, to almost every available nook and corner. It was beautiful and prestigious; set up like a scene in a romance novel from ages past. Arik almost expected to hear the rustle of hoopskirts and the click of walking sticks.
Good enough place as any to lose one's mind, Arik figured.
The driver's voice, deep but cheerful, rolled into the back seat from the speaker system of the limo. "We're here, gentlemen. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to The Fireward Hotel and Resort."
Arik didn't wait for the driver to step out of the vehicle. He snapped the handle, fumbled for the lock when it didn't give way the first time, and would have pushed his way through the door had Blaze not stopped him with a palm on his shoulder.
"You know," Blaze smiled when Arik turned with a lifted eyebrow and a question on his face. "These conversations would go a hell of a lot easier if you had them out loud."
To be continued...
Until next time!
Tune in next week for more.