Welcome to this week's Vision Quest Chapter. In which the boys make excellent use of the hotel shower.
"Now, where would the fun be in easy, hmm?"
"Now, where would the fun be in easy, hmm?"
Blaze had to chuckle, and he let Arik lead them up the wide, sweeping front steps of the Victorian-modeled hotel. The doorman tipped his cap, staff swept away their bags, except for Blaze's, which Blaze refused to relinquish, and the welcome-wagon hurricane landed them in front of an intricately paneled, solid-wood reception desk. Arik made nice with the receptionist, and Blaze took in the faux-candle chandeliers, the oriental carpets, the late nineteenth-century antiques, and the lofted ceilings, which had been such a necessary luxury when the building had been originally constructed. There were some inaccuracies in the architecture where modern builders had repaired molding and fixtures, but Blaze liked the old-world atmosphere of the place immediately.
"Ah, you have the Master Suite!" The receptionist handed a real iron key to a brown-skinned man with friendly eyes, brilliant white teeth, and a name plate that said, Jakob - Guest Coordinator.
"Jakob will see you to your rooms, gentlemen, and explain all our amenities on the way. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call any time, day or night, and all the details are outlined in your guest welcome book." She handed Arik an honest-to-God book with a leather cover and gold embossed lettering. "Enjoy yourselves."
"Thank you," Arik said, politely. And tightly. And as though there was a pole up his shapely, narrow ass. A pole that did not belong to Blaze, personally, but might have Blaze's name on it, so to speak.
"First time at the Fireward?" Jakob asked, making small talk as they headed for an old-fashioned elevator with golden grating.
"It is, yes." Arik's smile was civil but dismissive. Jakob didn't take the hint.
"Well, you've made a fantastic choice, sir. Let's see." Jakob shoved aside the grating, and the three of them stepped into the elevator car. There were mirrors on all sides, gold trim, and a lever that set the floor destination, as opposed to buttons. Jakob set the lever to floor three, the topmost floor. "There are two restaurants on-site, and both deliver to the room, free of charge, so long as you order within operating hours. Breakfast is served in the ground-floor dining room every morning at eight, sharp. Great spread. Fresh everything, but especially the seafood. Town is within easy walking distance, about six blocks, but there are horse-drawn carriages, too, that can take you. It'll cost a little, but you can't beat the ambiance, and it's faster than walking. There are also Smart cars to rent if you'd rather drive around. Top speed on those things is thirty-five miles an hour." Jakob chuckled as though this were amusing. Arik's smile could have given Blaze's mother a run for the Evil Eye.
"Everything can be set up through me or through the front desk," Jakob said, with plenty of perk.
"Excellent," Arik said.
Jakob beamed, pushed aside the grating, and led them onto the third floor. The carpet was so thick beneath Blaze's shoes that it swayed with his weight. "That way is the Marsh Rooms and the North End Rooms. They share the bath at the end of the hallway, just there." Jakob flourished the iron key. "You gentlemen, however, are in the Master Suite, which has its own sitting room, covered balcony, private bath, and bedroom." He turned the key in the lock and pushed open a wide door. Blaze and Arik stood just inside the sitting area, watching Jakob flit about, opening sliding doors and revealing views of the beach by rolling up hanging shades. "Your bedroom is through there," he pointed to the sliding oak double doors, through which Blaze could see a massive, King-sized, four-poster bed, a dresser, and a sliding glass door with a screen leading onto a balcony. Arik's luggage was at the foot of the bed, neatly stacked on an antique bench.
"The sheets are Egyptian cotton, though other linens are available upon request. The bathroom is off the bedroom, and is fully stocked with towels, robes, and toiletries. Your balcony has a view of the private beach, which is open to guests. There's a fridge behind this panel, here." Jakob demonstrated by opening a wooden door that was set in a series of built-in bookshelves in the sitting room. "And the wine, cheese, and finger foods are compliments of the hotel." Jakob finally paused, clasping his hands. He seemed to hesitate, but smiled through his deliberation. "The hotel has an excellent spa package that takes couples downtown for massage and other treatments, if you'd like to indulge. And on-site we have a barber who does an old-fashioned straight-razor shave and warm toweling that I've not been able to live without since I went the first time."
"Sounds nice," Blaze ventured when Arik seemed lost in his own thoughts, again.
"Good." Jakob beamed. "And if I may say, and forgive me for imposing, but you two make a lovely couple."
Blaze laughed, mostly because he couldn't tell if it was a dig for a better tip or not, but if it was, it was a good one. Arik's eyes had gone wide as saucers, and his tongue was still tied. Blaze slipped his arm around Arik's middle. "Thank you," Blaze said.
"Of course, sirs." Jakob winked and started to leave.
"Thank you for your help," Arik said, catching the kid and tipping generously.
"If there's anything I can do to make your stay more pleasant..." Jakob glanced first at Blaze, shot a quick glance at Blaze's crotch, and smiled winningly at Arik. "Do let me know."
Jakob left with a gentle click of the door, and Arik stood with his back to Blaze. Arik's shoulders shook, and his fists clenched. "Well, they're certainly friendly on this island," Blaze said, unslinging his bag and setting it next to a sofa. "Must not get out much."
"Evidently." Arik shoved his wallet into his pocket and stalked toward the bedroom. Blaze followed, admiring the furnishings along the way. Their rooms were done in rich, mahogany with creamy cushions and fabrics. The rugs over hardwood were plush and patterned in trumpeting cherubs and elegant fleur-de-lis. The heavy curtains were rose and cream striped, the shades were deep brown, and the smell of lemon polish, soap, and ocean was in the air. Through the open bathroom door, Blaze could see a claw tub elevated on a corner platform, which had been mosaic-tiled by a master-craftsman. There was also a modern corner shower with a glass door, pedestal sink, and hidden commode.
"It's a beautiful hotel," Blaze said.
"It is," Arik agreed.
Blaze sighed. Arik violently unzipped his suitcase and began stuffing clothing into dresser drawers one item at a time, and, while Blaze watched, Blaze concluded a few things. First, he had to remember this was the man's first vacation in years. Quest-driven or not, the guy deserved to enjoy it. He had obviously paid out the nose for it, and he was trying to do something nice for Blaze, while he was at it. Blaze wanted nothing more than to wallow around in such consideration like the starving dog in need of affection that he was, but he resisted. It didn’t pay to get used to such luxuries. The next Quest might find Blaze homeless with an asshole who was trying to kill him.
And speaking of Quests, Blaze's current strategy of Beat Him Over The Head Until He Cracks and Talks was not working. Not even a little bit. Blaze wanted to kick himself over fumbling that pass, but, honestly, he'd been so caught up in the idea of hemorrhaging, thanks to Arik's particular brand of Visions, that he'd gotten too goal-oriented. Quests never worked if Blaze focused on his own fears, desires, or wants. He knew this. He was there for the other guy not--
"Maybe I'm here for you."
Blaze shivered. He put aside his own urges to wrap around Arik and just not let go until Kingdom Come, and he thought of what had worked to get Arik to open up, to relax, to talk, and to trust Blaze. The exchange of information and intimacy worked. Honesty worked with Arik, which was a rare and wonderful thing. And if the man was absolutely convinced that it was his purpose to be there for Blaze, for once, then denying the man the right wasn't going to get Blaze anywhere but uphill without a paddle or a creek in which to row the damned canoe.
"The last guy killed himself." Blaze put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the doorframe. Arik froze in the act of refolding socks, though he didn't say anything.
"I was in London, and my target, as I call them, was this kid in the fashion industry. Big name, at least in the UK." As Blaze spoke, Arik turned around, sat on the bench next to his suitcase, and toyed with a zipper, listening. "Despite having what had to be millions, the kid lived in a shitty room over a wine and spirits. He ate out of tins. He shot up heroin between his toes. He liked to scream himself to sleep." Blaze swallowed, pushing away that particular memory. Kip's nightmares had put even Blaze's to shame.
"God," Arik whispered.
"I thought I was there to help him. He didn't seem suicidal, just lost. I helped him get his finances in order. I helped him get away from his ex-boyfriend. I stood by him while he spoke to his parents for the first time in years, came out to his friends who didn't know, got out of the hotel and into a respectable flat, as he renegotiated his contract with a new manager and agent, got a better deal, more money... Hope. There was a lot of that, near the end." Blaze rubbed his face.
"We weren't lovers. It usually does go that way, I'm not going to lie, but not that time. He liked that I slept on the couch and never asked to touch him. He told me so on the last day he was alive." Arik closed his eyes, but Blaze carried on: "He said it again in his suicide note. He credited me with helping him get all his affairs in order so he could die well. And that must have been what it was all about, that Quest, because any time I wasn't helping him get organized, I was staunching nosebleeds. I remember this one time I suggested we go for a walk. This was early on, when he wouldn't leave the room. He agreed, which shocked the hell out of me, and we went into the sunshine. He took my hand, and he smiled at me, and then blood shot out of my nose and mouth, all over his shirt, and sort of ruined the mood." Blaze chuckled, but Arik covered his mouth with one hand.
"Anyway," Blaze said. "The last one... was hard. And this one isn't. You... aren't. And it'd be so easy to get used to that. To all of this. To want it. More than I already do. And that scares me. A lot. And the thing is, I never know what the point of the Quests is, and it is rarely ever what I want. It doesn't go down like I think it should or like I wish it could. Last time affection cost me. This time, I spent days doing nothing but rolling in bed, and I'm intact. So..." Blaze shrugged. "I don't know what this is all about, and I need your help." Arik got up and started for the bathroom, though he came to a jerky halt when Blaze pushed away from the wall to give chase.
"And you may be right, for the record," Blaze said, hurriedly. "It could be exactly as you said. That you're the guy who finally gets to be with me, even a little, and--"
"I'm not going to fucking kill myself," Arik snarled, with volume and venom. He was facing away from Blaze, shoulders set in a rigid line.
"I don't think you will, either," Blaze said carefully, studying and inching closer to the vibrating man. Every word about Kip had been true. Blaze hadn't wanted to say a damned thing after hearing about Arik's father, but now Blaze hoped he'd chosen wisely and not made a critical error.
"I am not crazy."
"You're right. You're not. You might be the sanest man I know." Blaze resisted the temptation to touch Arik's arm.
"I will not go crazy."
"I believe you."
Arik didn't seem to hear Blaze. "I don't have to do this. I'm not going to end up on a... on a... I am not my fucking--" Arik cut himself off, growled in his throat, and started for the bathroom.
This time Blaze did reach out and catch Arik's arm. Arik jerked away, and Blaze wrestled to regain a hold. "Hey," Blaze said, tussling with Arik like a couple of school boys fighting over a toy. "Hey," Blaze said again, but without frustration, this time, because he could feel Arik shaking all over.
"I'm not going to jump off a..." Arik panted, shaking his head, refusing to turn or look at Blaze, and all but gasping. "I'm not going to be like... I'm not going to do... Fuck him. Fuck you. Fuck that. I'm not..."
Blaze got an arm around Arik's waist, hugging him. Arik leaned forward and thunked his head against the wall, and Blaze pressed himself flush against Arik's back. "It's not going to go that way," Arik insisted through clenched teeth. "I didn't bring you here to watch me die well."
"I never thought you did, Arik."
Arik rocked his head side to side. "Supposed to be nice. Supposed to be peaceful. Trying to be the good guy." Arik was heaving for breath, wheezing mumbled words in between. "You're not here to have to... I'm not going to let that... it won't..."
Blaze shushed Arik, rubbing his shoulders, his neck, and sliding fingers into Arik's hair. "You call the shots, here, Arik. It'll go like you want it to go."
"Goddamnit," Arik hissed. He breathed. Blaze waited. Minutes ticked by. The quality of light through the windows changed as clouds rolled across the sky. Arik gasped, gulped, and finally spoke. "You don't... You really don't think--?"
"No," Blaze said. "I don't think you're insane at all. I don't think you're anything like your father. I don't think I'm here to help you harm yourself. I think I'm here to help you see that what you've always been able to do is a kind of beautiful, not a kind of curse."
Arik sucked a breath. It was watery, but Arik's voice was level. "Like it is for you?" He laughed, low and mean and dripping irony. "It's really fucking beautiful for you."
The words stung, and the real truth was on the tip of Blaze's tongue, and he nearly bit it off to keep from confessing his entire life's story.
Him. This is about him.
Blaze got it together. "Well, maybe we're here for each other, just like you said. Me here to help you deal with the strangeness without going nuts, and you here to break the... pattern. My pattern."
Arik tensed so tight that Blaze thought he'd break. "Maybe," he said, and then, with more confidence: "Yeah. Okay. Maybe." Arik shoved away from the wall, and shook off Blaze. "Going to shower."
Arik walked into the bathroom and shut the door without a glance at Blaze. A moment later, the water came on, and Blaze stood there, feeling torn and numb and ridiculous for being so helpless. Should he follow? Should he let Arik lead? Blaze wasn't sure. He yelled at himself about getting so close and so affected and blinded, and then he shut those thoughts down. He couldn't do a damned thing about the way he felt, right now, and feeling so much and so strongly for this man seemed to be the only thing keeping them on track and keeping the bleeding at bay. Blaze absently swiped a finger under his nose, and it came away clean. Something in Arik's philosophy had to be correct. They needed to be this version of together, needed to be here, on this island, and needed to carry on to the next step, whatever that might be.
Blaze stared at the bathroom door. For being so on track, he couldn't help but notice that there was still a wall between them.
The water continued to run, and Blaze paced. He did a lap around the bedroom and the sitting room. He was thinking everything at once, all muddled and confused, like Arik was his first Quest. First time around the block. First... first man in a long time whom Blaze actually... First man since...
"Did you love him?"
Blaze paused to stand in a beam of sunlight. It was warm and pleasant against his skin. Clouds danced across the sun, hotel guests played in the gentle waves below, and distantly, Blaze heard laughter that sounded a lot like hope. Real, honest, tangible hope that was in reach for the first time in... Well. The first time since...
Doru. Since Doru.
Rubbing his chest, Blaze broke his pacing pattern and drifted into the bedroom. He had the bathroom door open in the next instant, and steam smacked him in the face. He shut the door behind him, stepping out of shoes and stripping out of clothing. Arik was huddled, crouched in the shower, arms around his knees, back against the clear glass door, and head hunched forward. He looked so small for a man so large in Blaze's mind. Something cracked inside Blaze's chest, and for a second, Blaze was worried he might be bleeding. He checked the mirror and found no blood, only fear and worry and...
"Did you love him?"
Crossing to the shower, Blaze pulled the handle, and Arik startled, showing Blaze tears and the anger that came from being interrupted in private grief. Arik flew to his feet. "What are you--"
Blaze put a hand over Arik's mouth. Arik's eyes strafed back and forth, searching Blaze's, and Blaze stroked the stubble along Arik's jawline. "It's just me," Blaze said, as the spark came to life, and Blaze would swear it was more potent now than it had ever been before. Arik made a quiet sound of shock, and Blaze's next exhale was sharper. "Just me... Here... With you..." Blaze slid his hand from Arik's cheek to Arik's nape. The current sizzled and jumped between them, even before Blaze pressed them flush. Arik's eyelids fluttered, and Blaze kissed Arik's chin, tasting salt in the water. "Let me? Please... Arik... let me."
Arik's arms encircled Blaze, slowly at first and then like Arik wouldn't be pried away from Blaze by anything known to mankind. They clung to one another. The spray struck Blaze's lower back and legs, scalding skin, but Blaze didn't dare move. And after long, silent moments, the perseverance paid off.
"I fucking hate him," Arik said, the words spilling in that way they did for Arik when he finally started talking. "He... I'm... He made me hate... Made me see, more than I wanted, and so fast... Too fast. And then he... he left me. And I hate him, and it, and being so damned... and I really... I really..."
"I know." Blaze rested his head on Arik's shoulder, urging Arik closer, still. He was so warm, so solid... So real.
Arik hung his head. "I'm sorry."
"Arik, please shut up," Blaze whispered, nosing Arik's throat and stroking Arik's hair. "And let me hold you."
"You... you..." Arik's chest hitched, and Blaze held on until Arik stopped fighting the emotion and let it go. Blaze held on when they slid to the tile, held on while they rearranged, and kept holding on while Arik's storm raged and echoed in the small room.
And as they sat there, wrapped around one another, two people trying to deal with the strangest things life could put in their paths, Blaze knew without a doubt that he would keep holding on to Arik long after he had to let go.
To be continued...
Until next time!
Tune in next week for more.