...and then some.
Beware of disturbing imagery, violence, mayhem, shock, angst, witchcraft, and grief.
But I promise... it'll be okay.
PS - Heavy up on the other-language italics. All mistakes are mine. Much love & healing magic.
"I think I'm falling in love with you."
Blaze rushed for the sink, praying in a silent chant of, No, no no, that the drops wouldn't become a deluge.
"Holy shit," Arik panted behind him in the tone of the thoroughly stunned stupid. "You're bleeding."
"What did you think would happen, exactly?" Blaze muttered, more to himself than Arik.
"But it's… black?"
Because it's old. "So I've noticed."
"Holy shit," Arik repeated, in awed horror.
Turning on the tap and shutting his eyes, Blaze splashed water on his face. He wanted to be angry at Arik for that little psychology Quest experiment, but he was too tired. And even this bit of theatre was old news; a bad magic trick. It wasn't the first time someone pushed the boundaries just to see what would happen or if Blaze was lying. One of the many reasons Blaze kept information to himself was the damnable temptation some men had that involved testing the edges of razors to see if they would still slice.
"Are you… is it stopping?" Arik asked, hovering, now, and flapping his wings. Blaze snatched a wad of toilet paper off the roll and shoved it up to and into his nose. It came out mostly clean, if damp, and Blaze and Arik breathed a sigh of simultaneous relief.
"Well," Arik said, after a moment of silence punctuated by dripping sink water. "I guess there are worse ways."
Blaze reminded himself that he had sworn long ago only to use his powers for good or for what the Universe required, but his look still made Arik flinch. "Worse ways, what?"
"To find out that one's boyfriend loves… one?"
"Boyfriend," Blaze said dully.
"You have a better word for it?"
Inmate. Stalker. Bitch. Punch line in the Universe's Eternal Bad Joke. "Maybe." Blaze's head ached, and there was simply too much shit to comprehend. He thought about renouncing his Visions and the Quests right then and there, just to die and get it over with, already. "What the fuck, Arik?"
"Hear me out," Arik said, quickly.
"Do I have any choice?"
Blaze rolled his eyes, snatched up a towel off the floor, and brusquely dried off while gathering up his clothes. Arik followed him out of the bathroom. "Everything was fine until you said, 'No.'"
"It usually is," Blaze retorted, tossing aside the towel and starting to get dressed.
"No, listen, please, I think we can…" Arik paused. "You going somewhere?"
Blaze realized he'd been reaching for his shoes. He realized he'd been about to run out the door and not stop running until he was a pile of shining, stinking, stale goo to be scraped off a sidewalk by some poor fool with a shovel and a gas mask. And he realized that there was exactly no point. Where the hell would he go? How far did he think he could get before he dissolved? One pace? Ten? And what about Arik? What about holding him in the shower and being the one whom Arik trusted? Talked to? Cared for? What about feeling the strength in his arms, the heat of his skin? What about the fire poker of desire that had speared Blaze when Arik had promised dinner, dancing, and then to make a blissful ruin of Blaze's body? The Vision came back -- of Blaze with his arms held and their joined cries to heaven. That one, and a dozen more that may be Visions or might be simple daydreams, of bedrooms and the interior of cars and shaving together and holding hands and seeing where Arik lived and worked and what color he'd painted his home's walls and where he stored the pans in his kitchen, if he had pans in his kitchen, and…
"Does it… do you hurt?" Arik stood directly next to Blaze, his dark eyes wide and full of concern. It was real, that affection, and Blaze knew it. He started to reply only to discover he'd been making soft sounds of distress. He clapped a hand over his mouth.
Blaze shook his head. "Not in the way you think."
Arik rested a hand on Blaze's back, and Blaze wanted to tear off the shirt he'd just put on so that he could feel the spark between skin-on-skin.
"What I meant was that you haven't bled the entire time we've been together until you said, 'Arik, no' when I told you that I'm falling for you."
Knees weak, Blaze sank onto a convenient sofa. "And?"
"And…" Arik knelt in front of Blaze. "I think you know what it means."
Arik was wrong. Blaze didn't have a clue. Or, if he did, it was buried beneath too many years and too many deaths. He stared intently at anything that wasn't Arik. "I think I'd rather hear your version."
"You're going to make me say this, aren't you?" Arik complained.
"It's your damned theory. Speak it."
Arik took a moment to gather wit and balls. "Okay. You believe - no. I believe that we're together for a reason. I believe in the Visions, that you have them, and I have my own version, too. I believe that not all of my father's crazy was… actually crazy, though what he did with it and how it drove him made him an asshole. I believe the seeing-shit thing is hereditary, just like you seem to think, but I have more control over what I see and how I use it than you think you do."
"Know," Blaze corrected. "I know you have more control over it than I do, and that's a good thing, Arik."
"I agree, and I can see how you or… whatever happened to…" Arik took a breath. "There've been too many coincidences that aren't, actually coincidence that have happened since we've met for me to think anything other than we're supposed to be doing something together. Fixing something, solving something. And I believe you when you say you think it's your fate to wander the earth helping people out by using your gifts."
"By going where the curse takes me, yes," Blaze said, and he flinched when he realized he'd used the word 'curse.'
"What is it?" Arik asked, hushed and glancing around.
Blaze touched beneath his nose and put the other hand to his throat, feeling the steady thud of his pulse. "Oh, nothing, just dodging lightning. Go on."
"Yeah. Okay." Arik swallowed and didn't, in fact, continue.
Blaze glanced at his current lover, who was managing to look pale and ashen beneath a dark flush brought on by half an hour of hot water and by embarrassment amassing by the second. "Arik?"
"Your belief in what you do is so strong that when you believe you deviate from the course, it presents as a physical ailment," Arik said in a half-yelled rush. "And since this Quest is about you being able to love someone again after you got hurt so badly by whatever or whomever it was that made you like you are now, when you said you didn't, in fact, love me or denied it or whatever you started to--"
There was a metaphoric axe in Blaze's torso, it's blade hovering over the pounding wad of muscle that was his withered heart. "What?" he asked, and Arik flinched, staring up at Blaze as Blaze got off the sofa. "What are you saying, this love that hurt me? What do you know of it? Of Doru? Have you seen Doru?"
"Answer me, damn it!"
Arik sprawled on the rug in the sitting room, towel loose, eyes huge, and legs akimbo. "Blaze? I don't speak… Is that Romanian?"
Blaze's lips smacked shut so hard and so fast that his jaw popped. He'd been speaking the homogenized Romanian that was his native tongue and hadn't even realized he'd been doing it. He was scaring the shit out of Arik, and it was only going to get worse from here. There'd been a corner, somewhere, that they'd rounded; a line, at some point, that they'd crossed, and from here on out, there'd be nothing but pain and anguish and suffering. Misery, decay, blood… loss. Death. Grieving. Weeping.
Blaze took a step toward the main door, reconsidered, and spun, taking strides to the balcony. When he heard Arik hot on his heels, Blaze rounded on the other man. "Do not follow me, Ves'tacha. Not now. Not like this. A moment, give me. A moment."
Arik's face was so full of wonder and shock that it hurt Blaze to see it, and he spun away from that handsome face, those tender hands, that young and vibrant and unmarred body. He yanked open the door and stepped onto the balcony off the bedroom. By all rights, it should be well into nighttime, but it was not even twilight. The sun shone, the clouds rolled, but the stretch of private beach was nearly deserted. The roof overhead offered Blaze's fair skin some shade, and he sank into a wicker chair made plush with striped cushions.
He'd thought he'd come out here to think and organize his overtaxed brain, but Blaze's mind was blank and quiet. For long moments of endless lapping waves, he wondered if he was in a kind of shock or denial, but realized, at last, that he was resigned.
Arik was right. About everything. Blaze had known it the first time Arik made his crazy proposal about being there for Blaze, and Blaze had been fighting the truth tooth and nail, fang and claw. And now that the panic had passed, Blaze understood that Arik didn't have to know about Doru to understand Blaze had been hurt by love, though the details were not exactly accurate. Arik was even more sure of Blaze's feelings than Blaze, himself. Arik was braver than Blaze had been. And truer to self.
With a heavy sigh, Blaze glanced over his shoulder. Arik was not in the bedroom, nor in Blaze's line of sight, which was fortunate. Blaze didn't want Arik to see what Blaze had to do to prove to himself what Arik already knew. Blaze pulled off his shirt, wadding it up and already mourning its loss. He stared at the worn fabric and hunched over it. He took several deep, cleansing breaths.
"I, Blaze, of the Zaituc Vitsa, son of Oraj, Rom Baro of our tribe, long dead… do not…" Blaze buried his face in his shirt. "I do not love one Arik Bel--"
Blaze didn't get to finish. A horrible chill stole through his insides, hollowing him out, and he gagged, heaving up a mass of black blood bile that he caught with his shirt. For a horrible second, he didn't think he'd get the chance to breathe, but after the next spasm that left him coughing and hacking, Blaze managed to gasp, "I love him… I love him, gods and ancestors help me…" The chill was dissipating, the pain vanishing as though it'd been a bad dream. "I love him with heart and soul, as I have loved none other since Doru Machwaya, son of Tritin, brother of Meerna, my… long-dead betrothed."
The blood dried. When he could, Blaze sat up, and he wadded his befouled shirt into a ball. He wiped his mouth with a sleeve, dropped the ruined mess onto the boards below his feet, and collapsed back into the chair. He let himself wallow in the unfairness and the insanity of it all. He said all the things to himself that he thought he should say -- how unfair this was to Arik, how Arik deserved better and more, how much of a bitch the Universe was for afflicting them both with a fate that had been Blaze's to earn and Blaze's to suffer without having to share it with a good, sweet man.
And when Blaze was done uselessly denouncing the Universe on both his and Arik's behalf, he stood. It was evening, now, and cooler, and it was a relief to feel the relative warmth of the hotel room after he slipped inside. Arik was in the sitting room at the table with a laptop, clothed now in a robe instead of a towel, and he leapt to his feet when he saw Blaze. Arik touched his own chin, frowning at Blaze, and Blaze diverted into the bathroom. Blaze washed the dried muck off his face, swished with mouthwash, and, after thinking it over, stripped and grabbed his own robe. He put it on and was tying the sash on the way out when Arik met him in the bedroom.
"Hey," Arik said.
"Hi." Blaze tried a smile. "Where'd the laptop come from?"
"Jakob. He brought whiskey, too."
Blaze took, squeezed, and kissed Arik's hand. "Good." Blaze headed for the table, passing by the computer and seeing the sealed bottle of imported Scotch. "What were you doing?"
"Trying to learn Romanian. Or, well, Roma, I guess, right?"
Blaze didn't answer, fetching a pocket knife out of his bag and going for the bottle. He cut the seal and poured two glasses.
"Because it's like… a dialect? Slang, sort of, I found a few words." Arik blushed and fidgeted with the back rung of the dining chair.
"It's a lot of things now that it wasn't, then," Blaze said, handing Arik a drink. "To me, it's just my mother's tongue. My father's. My people's."
"Where are your people?" Arik asked.
"Dead." Blaze drank deeply. "They're all dead."
Blaze checked the lock on the main door and sat on the couch next to Arik, facing him. Like mirrors, they put their arms on the rear of the sofa, and their fingers touched briefly. Sparks flew, and Blaze inched away. He wouldn't be able to concentrate on what he had to say if they were connected like that. "You're a sweet man," Blaze began, "for thinking that my urge to avoid love is a simple one."
"I never said it was simple," Arik protested.
"No, but you think it's for a hurt done to me," Blaze said, and Arik's lips twitched. "What?" Blaze asked.
"Nothing. It's just that I've never heard you speak with an accent, before."
"I can stop. I learned to stop a long time ago."
"No, I like it, though it makes you sound..."
"Older?" Blaze asked, amused.
"That, too." Blaze sipped his drink. "I'll tell you what happened, and then we'll see."
Blaze shrugged. "What happens next. What you believe."
"If you tell me, I'll believe it. You wouldn't lie to me."
"Only once. I've lied to you only once."
Arik's lips parted, pressed, and he licked them. "I'm listening?"
"Okay. Well." Blaze got up, fetched the bottle, and poured himself another. "Once upon a time…" He paused for Arik's soft chuckle. "There was a boy with auburn hair and fair skin born into a Roma clan who believed such things were the markers of great power. They called me Stea or Bobot, which means 'star' or 'flame' or…"
"Blaze," Arik filled in.
"Exactly." Blaze settled onto the couch. "My clan or Vitsa was Zaituc, and the gifts were strong in our blood, as I've told you. We were a medium-sized clan who tended to stand apart, as our power was that of Fire Vision, which was both revered and feared. Many of my people could see things to come in the flames, and because I had red hair and I was a boy, it was thought I would one day be a strong leader, taking after my father.
"My father was Rom Baro, or head man, of my clan. He was chosen for that position by our Phuri, or elders, and my grandmamere was the Phuri Dae, or wise woman, who advised him most directly. She was very old -- well over two hundred -- and--"
Blaze smiled. "And thought to have gained much wisdom in that time. It was to her that I was given to be trained in our art. It was said that being so close to flames and the pictures in them burned out impurities within the soul seeking knowledge."
"Impurities." Arik had the sorting-it-out face. "You mean diseases?"
"And other things, but yes. Hence her age and the longevity of my people."
"And this is why you look younger than you are?" Arik asked, half teasing and half terrified of the truth.
"I'll get to that." Blaze gestured for Arik to take a drink, which he did. "Anyway," Blaze continued. "I had the gift, I had my training, and when I was twelve, my father and our elders made a pact with a Natsia, or nation, of Roma. It goes family, clan, Kumpania or tribe, and then Natsia. The Machwaya were gaining in power and influence, and an alliance with them would have been very beneficial to our much smaller and unallied clan. The Rom Baro of the head family of the Machwaya nation had a son and a daughter, and I was betrothed to the daughter, Meerna. She was only eight, and even then, girls were not wed before they bled, so I had to wait until she was of age. Our circuit that year took us through Budapest and near the Machwaya lands, and I became friendly with Meerna's older brother… Doru."
"I think I see where this is going," Arik said, quietly.
"Probably. Doru was older than me, seventeen, and being groomed to carry on in his father's footsteps. Doru was… beautiful. Charismatic. He laughed all the time. He loved what I could do with fire, and, as it turned out, what I could do with my mouth." Blaze rubbed his eyes. They were dry, as though full of smoke.
"You must understand, in my culture, women were thought of as unclean. Men only married and mated for children. Women were powerful, but not to be trusted, and some clans and families almost celebrated homosexuality." Blaze had to laugh. "They were, of course, systematically destroyed by the ones who thought of pretty much any sex as an unclean act. But my family…" Blaze shrugged. "It wasn't the biggest crime or sin. That was denying power or using it for ill. So fucking a boy? Less an issue than cursing said boy.
"Unless, of course, you were the redheaded, powerful son of the family leader who was engaged to the daughter of a powerful family in a massive nation."
"What happened?" Arik whispered.
Blaze closed his eyes. "I saw it in the flames. I was nineteen. Doru and I had been lovers for six years, and finally Meerna, was ready to be my bride. Two nights before our wedding day, I was seeking wisdom in a campfire, and I saw… Well, what I saw sent me running. When I crossed into Doru's family camp, I was taken, hooded, and beaten. I don't know for how long. I remember the smell of the sack over my head, potatoes. I remember thinking they'd kill me with their boots and their fists, and I remember telling them that my father and my family would avenge me. They laughed at me, tied me, and dragged me by the ankles through leaves and brush. When they took the hood off my head, I was surrounded by the Machwaya elders and sons. Meerna…" Blaze drank, finished his glass, and had to put it aside, else he drink the entire bottle.
"Meerna had been killed for her association with me, the unclean, unlucky son of fire. And Doru had been treated much the same way as me. He was tied and on his knees in front of me. They'd cut out his eyes. And while I was made to watch…"
"Oh God, Blaze…"
"While I watched, they stripped him, raped him, cut off his penis, and finally slit his throat."
Arik dropped his empty glass and tried to reach for Blaze, but Blaze pulled away. He'd never finish if Arik touched him. "The lie I told you was when you asked if I'd ever felt the punct luminos, the spark… the connection with anyone else other than you. I told you no, but… with Doru, I had it. With us, it's gentler, actually, at least for now. It is only when we touch skin, but with Doru, it was all the time. When he was closer, it sang louder. When we touched, it screamed for joy… and when he died, I watched him fade and… I felt it, too."
The silence lingered until finally Arik let go of a shaky sigh. "Jesus Christ." He sniffed and wiped tears off his cheeks. "The police? The authorities? What… were they caught? Did your family fight them?"
"No. That night, while I watched Doru's blood dry on the ground, a woman who was the wise woman of one of the other Machwaya families, came forward. Her family had power, too, but it was darker. A blood-fed power. She sent everyone away, and I was alone with her and the corpses of my lover and my bride-to-be. She told me that her family had to destroy my family, else we see what she and her sisters were planning for the nation. It had been the plan to poison us all at the wedding, but my transgressions had given her another way. A faster, more bloody way that would feed her abilities all the more. She apologized to me, for what I had come to represent and for all I would suffer. She was evil and crazed, but like all truly mad people, she had her version of compassion."
Arik made a quiet noise of pain, and Blaze pressed on. "That night and over the next three days, my entire Vitsa was slaughtered. I was kept in that clearing with the rotting bodies, without food or water, and the wise woman worked a curse. She used pieces of Doru and Meerna, bits of herself, and a lot of my blood. She made me drink. She cut me. She bled on me. She did all sorts of unspeakable things. I remember most of it as though I was watching it, not living it, and I have to think I was near dead because of that."
"And this is compassion?" Arik blurted.
"No, the curse was. Instead of killing me, she enhanced my gifts, though she took away my ability to see what I wished to see. Instead, I would receive Visions of those men who were like myself, who needed my help on their paths in their lives. She could not give me back Doru, but she could give me countless men who would want me as Doru had wanted me, even if it was only for a time. She could not give me back my family, but I would carry on my family's creed to use our skills to benefit others, and I would do it for far longer than any of them naturally could have done, even my grandmamere. And she could not undo her magics or her need to destroy us and me and Doru, but she could ensure that my curse would end when the last of her blood dried from this earth."
"The last of her… Well, how long is that?"
Blaze smiled, ruefully. "Well, it's been three-hundred-seventy-one years, and I'm still here. So who knows, really."
"Three… hundred… and…" Arik blinked. Arik sat up straight. Arik squinted at Blaze. Then he laughed. "Are you trying to tell me that you're…"
"And that you died when you were…"
"Cursed," Blaze corrected, one finger held aloft in the air. "I was cursed when I was nineteen. I'm still pretty lively."
Arik got up, unconsciously moving away from Blaze, who couldn't blame the man. "And pretty, for that matter," Arik said.
"I know. I'm well-preserved."
"Which means you, what, can't die?"
"Nope. I've tried it. In between Quests, I mean."
Arik was backing away slowly. "Wha… What are you saying?"
Blaze studied Arik, sighed, and got up. He circled wide, making sure Arik knew he wasn't giving chase. "Ever seen Groundhog Day? Bill Murray? It's like that. I've tried drowning, guns, knives, jumping out of a plane and not opening the chute, and pretty much any other peaceful or horrible way you can think to die. Doesn't work. I black out, wake up somewhere else, and am fully whole. The Universe doesn't seem to mind those little side jaunts. It's only when I buck against the curse's plan for me that I start to melt from the inside out, and then I get to feel like I'm dying. Or wish I was."
"But that's impossible," Arik said stubbornly. And adorably. "All of this is, really. I mean, I might buy that this nightmare with your families happened, but… I mean…" He raked his fingers through his hair.
"I'd say I could prove it to you," Blaze said. "Thanks to the Internet and the constant data stream, there are scanned pictures of me that date back to the thirties. There's a tiny cult based in Germany who thinks I might be Jesus. Even the Zaituc clan has a Wiki page. But…" Blaze shrugged. "If you're like the last guy who tried to comprehend all this, you'd just tell me that--"
"The evidence can be doctored," Arik said. "Photoshop. It's all… It could all be altered. There's no way… Oh God." Arik ran into the doorframe leading into the bedroom. He wrung his hands. "There's no way. You can't be crazy. You just can't be, Blaze. What fucking God would put us together after all that shit went down with my…" His eyes flew wide. "Am I supposed to make sure you don't jump off a… do you need a… Do I even know a shrink? My therapist is good, but she's not that good. Christ…"
"Do you love me?"
Arik's entire countenance softened, and he crept closer. "I do. I was lying when I said I was falling. I've already--"
Blaze chose his words carefully. "Are you watching?"
Arik stiffened, freezing in his tracks. "What?"
Blaze could see Arik trembling from where he stood, and it killed him, but Blaze waited until Arik nodded and said, "Yeah. Blaze, I'm… I'm watching. What are you--"
"Then watch this."
Blaze picked up the knife he'd used to open the Scotch, slammed his left hand down onto the table, and sawed his index finger off in a few, brutal hacks of the honed blade.
To be continued...
Until next time!
Tune in next week for more.