And now a word from my partner in writing crime...
I sincerely hope that nobody's fingertips are too raw from clinging to the edge of that cliff-hanger that Kelly left us with last week.
Fun fact -- I rewrote this chapter three times. I told myself I had a direction for it, and I was damned and determined that was the direction the story was going to go. Vision Quest merely laughed at my insistence, and waited patiently for me to recall the fact that this story will be controlled by no mere human.
I am glad I finally caught on.
Which brings us to chapter sixteen, and the opportunity to draw a couple of more loose strings into our fist. Our boys have their work cut out for them...
Then watch this.
"Do you need to sit down?"
Blaze's voice was remarkably calm, and Arik caught his gaze and held it. Arik opened his mouth, tried to force his tongue into motion, and succeeded, mostly, with a choked, "No."
Whether Blaze winced at the pitch of Arik's voice or at the expression on Arik's face, Arik didn't care to take a guess.
Just a game, right? Just a trick of his mind, wasn't it? Psychosomatic, if I recall—
"Maybe you should sit down."
Blaze stepped forward, reached out, and Arik couldn't stop his body from flinching away from the touch. The look that darkened Blaze's face twisted through Arik's guts as if it was a tangible thing – a snake. With hooked fangs. On fire.
"I'm fine." Arik tried not to speak through his teeth. He attempted a smile in order to loosen the clamp of his jaw. Both failed miserably if Blaze's unspoken, but obviously wounded response was any indication.
You wanted to see the disease. You wanted to know. You, and you alone, opened Pandora's Box. You do not get the option of losing your mind when you finally get to see what's hiding inside.
They should have been on their way to an E.R. They should have been staunching the flow of blood—black blood—with towels and shirts, trying desperately to keep track of a digit in dire need of reattachment. Except... there'd been no need. There'd been no gore. Instead...
Arik pulled a breath far shakier than the previous one and snapped his eyelids wide when they tried to fall. Vertigo was so much easier to fight with one's eyes open.
Instead there'd been the slow creep of a finger that should have been lying dead towards a hand that should have been spouting blood, and a nauseating squelch and shuffle while skin found skin and merged. Reattaching. Becoming whole. The process literally unfolding, refolding, and Lord-God-Almighty-tentacling in some space-oddity, science-would-love-to-study-this-shit amazement right in front of Arik's eyes.
Arik had been stunned. Blaze had just looked sad.
"M-maybe water..." Arik stammered.
"Fuck water." Blaze sighed. He snagged the bottle of whiskey and handed it to Arik, foregoing the offer of a glass. "Drink."
Arik stared hard and long at the hand wrapped around the bottle. Perfectly normal. Beautiful, even. Still with the long, slim fingers and the pale, unmarked skin. That hand had been around his cock, those fingers in his hole. They'd twined, palm to palm, each digit wound as they'd lain in bed, letting the connective sparks that existed between their skin shine. But that had been when a hand was a hand, and a person was a person, and mortality wasn't a joke.
It was a statement, not a question, and even as his heart leapt towards the empathy, Arik shook his head. "I'm fine."
The argument made no sense. Of course he was afraid. He was very fucking afraid. In a heartbeat, everything Arik had known about reality had been proven a lie. Fuck science. Fuck religion. They were just playground talk; bullshit drilled into ears to appease and pacify. Oh no... Arik shook his head and laughed hollowly at the carpet. The shit that was out there made it more than apparent that the Brothers Grimm should have been the ones writing text books, and that every parent that had ever scoffed at their child for whimpering over an open closet door was an asshole.
"If you say so—"
"Did it hurt?" Arik cut Blaze off, still staring at Blaze's hand. And though his fingers trembled as they made their way towards Blaze's offering, Arik didn't let the fear stop him. However, it wasn't to the bottle that they ended up moving. Arik's fingertips danced over Blaze's knuckles and stroked the delicate design of bones underneath skin. Blaze still felt the same. He looked the same. Blood pumped, ripples suggested muscle movement and tendons being twinged to life; fine hair rose in response to connection. Spark ignited.
He lifted his attention to Blaze's eyes, leveled their gazes, and repeated the question in the echo of Blaze's silence. "Did it hurt?"
Blaze swallowed loudly enough for Arik to hear. He nodded.
"On a scale of one to—"
"A lot." Blaze nudged the whiskey against Arik's hand. "Almost as much as telling you the story did."
Arik took the bottle and set it back on the desk. Drinking would be good. Just not yet. At the moment his head was screaming for him to focus. "I'm so sorry. I'm just... I don't even know what to say about that. I have no words that can come close to telling you how much I hurt for you right now."
Blaze shrugged; a movement too casual to convey anything other than a pain so heavy, that the only way to deal with it was to disregard it. "One gets used to pain when one is forced to face it for so long."
"How did you..." Arik's words drifted off, and he squeezed Blaze's finger to inspire direction that his words didn't want to provide. "...You know, figure out that you could do that?"
"There have been many opportunities." Blaze held his hands in front of him, fingers spread and flipping them palm to back, back to palm, as though assessing them as well. "Experiences. Issues."
Arik licked dry lips with a sandpaper tongue. He would have sworn he could hear the sound of it scraping. "I'm going to jump at assumptions and take a guess that it's not just your hand, right? Or that one magical finger?"
Blaze nodded stiffly. "You could assume that safely, yes."
Arik frowned and pursed his lips. "I think we can drop the cryptic half-answers now, gorgeous. Besides, if we don't keep talking then my head is going to start drifting back into review mode and to be completely honest, I'm not quite ready to spend the next few hours recalling a collection of atrocities that were rendered on a couple of men—" Arik held up a hand, as if stopping himself, "No, fucking boys—who didn't do a damn thing wrong except fall in love."
"Love is not always enough." Blaze smiled and reacquired the whiskey. He held it up, tilted it towards Arik in a salute, and took a shot directly from the bottle. He sucked through his teeth to dispel the burn, and then released a long breath. "Rarely is, in fact."
Arik shook his head, and crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't believe that. If you'd been left to your love, everything would have been fine. Love wasn't the issue; it was the assholes at the other end of your ropes. Love would have been more than enough if—"
"If, if, if." Blaze chuckled a low, unpleasant sound, the likes of which could have never been mistaken for mirth. "Maybe, someday, except, and but." He brought the bottle with him and flopped down on the couch. "Hate those words. They seem so fucking pointless."
"I don't know." Arik softened his expression and stepped closer to the couch. "I kind of like butt."
Blaze lifted an eyebrow. "Really?"
"And..." Arik pointed, ignoring the I-can't-believe-you-just-said-that look on Blaze's face, "'If' isn't just for looking back, you know. 'If I had done this,' bites a lot harder than, 'If I do this now.' It's not just for berating yourself over what's been, but also for offering yourself solutions and suggestions for what could be."
He rested a hand on each of Blaze's shoulders. "If I had never loved him, then he would still be alive. Harsh thought. Now that is a fucking pointless if. But if I let myself love again, then it won't all have been for nothing. That's a good if, see? There is nothing pointless about that little two-lettered baby, at all."
The right-side corner of Blaze's lips twitched. "Look at you being all conversational and wise."
Arik leaned forward, using his weight to force Blaze back against the cushions of the couch. "Oh, I can be wise. I can be so fucking wise that... uh... " He twisted his lips in a feigned ponder, "so wise that wise-men come see me for wisely-spoken... uh... wise words."
Blaze's hands fell on Arik's wrists; Blaze looked up, and shook his head. "Wow. That was brutally unintelligible."
"Don't you use your multi-syllabic words on me when I'm trying to sound wise." Arik straddled Blaze's lap and grinned at the brow-lift he was offered for his efforts.
"And don't you try to seduce me when I'm trying to tell you that I'm next best thing to Frankenstein's monster."
Arik brushed his lips over Blaze's forehead, ear, and jaw, before resting them against Blaze's mouth. "You just travelled way, way too far back in history to come up with a bad reference, love. I'd say you're so much more like the Walking Dead."
Arik growled and nipped at Blaze's lip. "Zombie!"
"You realize Frankenstein's monster was a zombie, right?"
"So not." Arik shook his head. "That is so not true."
"Dead person brought to life—"
"Reanimated," Arik insisted. "Not the same as not being able to die."
"Except, completely the same..."
"Are we actually going to argue about this now?" Arik pulled back and stared at Blaze in mock-disdain. "I'm just saying, I have friends on the Zombie Squad. So... you know... I can totally get a professional to call this complete lack of judgment and common-sense on your part if I need to." He grinned. "Or we could chase down distraction and do something much cooler."
"Why are you not running?" Blaze tightened his grip on Arik's forearms. "Why are you not horrified?"
"I am," Arik admitted. "But I'm not leaving you. No fucking way. This feels too strongly like it's going to be something. That it means something. I've waited too long for it to turn my back. Besides," he leaned closer and rested his chin against Blaze's forehead. "I'm sick to fuck of the idea of you hurting."
"This will probably not be healthy for either of us," Blaze warned, starting to stroke Arik's arms instead of merely holding them in place.
Arik snorted. "I'm pretty sure we just proved that you being with me is probably the most healthy thing you can do right now."
Blaze stopped rubbing to grip again. "And you can't be with me because you think you have to in order to protect me from myself."
The rod that seemed to jam itself up Arik's spine snapped him upright. He pinched Blaze's chin and yanked until Blaze's eyes were in line with his own. "Don't you say that. That's not what this is about."
"I know," Blaze said quietly. "I just really need to know that what you're feeling isn't some kind of protection thing. Or some weird ass attempt at trying to fix something you couldn't repair in your father. When I hear you say that you love me... " Blaze shook his head. "It doesn't make any sense. Why would you want to be with someone like me? Think about it, Arik." He stopped Arik when Arik huffed and tried to pull away. "No. Think about it. You will get old. Have you stopped to wonder what you're going to tell people when you're sixty-five and I still look nineteen? Will we move from place to place? Chasing Visions? Spending your money? What do we do when it runs out? What do I do when you die? What—"
Arik stopped Blaze's questions with a kiss. He let his lips linger for a long moment, barely touching. He tasted Blaze's breath, felt the heat coming off of Blaze's body, and knew, without doubt, that none of what Blaze was saying mattered. "You don't choose who you fall in love with, Blaze. So it's too late to worry over the where and the what of tomorrow. All we can deal with is the how of today."
Blaze hummed, wrapped both arms around Arik's waist, and in a move that took Arik by surprise, chucked his hip, half stood, and flipped Arik on to the couch, face up.
"How do you fucking do that?" Arik sputtered.
"Zombie power," Blaze deadpanned.
Arik laughed, stretched out his arms to grab and then pull Blaze against him. "You know, this could have been way worse than it is." He waited for Blaze to look at him and frown in confusion. "I mean, you could have told me that you sparkle."
Blaze gasped dramatically. "Hell, no! There are just some things a man shouldn't have to live with."
"Mm hmm." Arik nodded. He met Blaze's lips with a light kiss, palms sliding down Blaze's back to cup Blaze's ass. "And this isn't one of them."
Seemed like hours. Bodies and sweat, lips and touch. Then there'd been whiskey. Lots of silence and internal musing. But it had been nice. Strangely exhausting, though.
Hence the sleeping.
Not sleeping. Or was he? He might be. That was good. Sleeping was good.
Quiet. Sleeping time.
Are you watching?
A shock raced up Arik's spine that made his whole body tremble. No. Not during dreaming. That wasn't fair. That's not how it worked.
Fucker's spot on with the prompts, isn't he? "Are you watching," indeed. Did you watch, Arik? Did you?
Had to. Blaze.
In his head, a voice that had to be Blaze's began to chatter along with his father's, a volley of description, met with calculation; a Round Robin of pain.
They cut out his eyes — Removed his sight, and such a clever concept, wasn't it, Arik? They took his Vision from him, see? — They stripped him — Bared his body to the elements and the eyes of his accusers — Raped him — Forced him to relive his sins in the most vile form of them — Cut off his...
"My God," Arik whispered, sucking the words back as quickly as he'd released him. As if he could pull them back to his tongue and deny their presence. After all, there was no point in calling to a god that didn't exist. God was dead. No. God had never existed in the first place. On that suspicion, Arik had been right all along. There was only the bastards. The heathens. The worst kind of sinners – those who took pleasure in reveling in the very sins they rebuked. Hypocrites. Monsters.
Are you ready?
He swore, loudly in his head, though nothing more than a whimper against his pillow. He chased away visions of horrifying substance: skin and blood, tearing and sawing, the past blending with the present, human shapes melting into braying livestock; clocks revolving, and counters adding up numbers that culminated at three-hundred and seventy-one. Tears. Loneliness.
"No," Arik mumbled. No more thinking. No more angst. The last thing he wanted to do was spend the rest of his life revisiting this world in his dreams. It was bad enough that the memories walked in Blaze's head. Those fuckers didn't get to do this to them. This was where it stopped. He was there to help Blaze, to make Blaze forget. He refused to spend the next forty years, or however long the universe decided to let him continue breathing, with all this review—
Arik cut off his own thoughts when his mind offered up the word. A light bulb went off in the deep, dark recesses of consciousness, and within seconds that one spot of light had become a billboard of blinking, revolving, flashing brilliance. Reviewing. Of course he was reviewing. Of fucking course he was! That's how this shit played out. Watch, review, record. Watch to see the issue, review to find out where the ends of the tethers were, and then record it all, bunch those tethers up in his fist and set them aside, so that they would be available when he needed them. To resolve something. To fix something. To benefit from something.
His mind went into the mode because something was about to happen, and he was going to need the information to deal with it.
The realization had Arik's breath picking up speeds that were not comfortable, and his heart pounded in time to that discomfort. But the flush drawing itself on to Arik's face was brought there by an emotion that put panic to shame – hope. There was a way out. There was a goddamn and halle-freaking-lujah way to fix this mess. He just needed to get his head in order, put the pieces together, and figure out what the fuck it all meant.
You can do this, Arik. I know you can.
He sat up in bed so quickly and with such a loud gasp that Blaze almost fell out of bed trying to react to the movement.
"Jesus Christ on a cracker," Blaze hissed. "What's wrong?"
Arik didn't even try to stop his words. His body shook so hard that his teeth rattled. "We can get out."
"Of here? Like now?" Blaze rubbed his forehead and stared at Arik as if the previous hours just might have stolen sanity. "Why?"
"There's a way out," Arik said, rephrasing in a desperate attempt for clarity. "There's a way out of the curse. There's a way to save you."
To be continued...
Until next time!
Tune in next week for more.