You know you love something when the thought of it coming to an end breaks your heart a little, no matter how awesome the ending is going to be. We're almost there, folks.
So... let's see what Arik has to say about all of this.
And Blaze smiled.
Arik choked on the stream of words that tried to tumble out of him. He gripped Blaze's body hard enough to snap a weaker man's spine, and hugged Blaze to his chest. The floor beneath them was slick with blood, and every time Arik shifted, his ass slipped over the mess in an odd, disconnected slide – like neither of them were really quite bonded to the ground. "You're alive," Arik whispered, and then, in a sudden moment of panic, "You are alive, right? Tell me you're alive."
"I'm..." Blaze paused, tried to move his legs beneath him, and groaned a note of pain. "I hurt. Everywhere." He grimaced another smile. "What... happened?"
Arik lifted an eyebrow. "You don't remember?"
"Some," Blaze admitted. "I ran. To you. There was screaming..."
The water felt good on Arik's face; refreshing, cool. The library hadn't seemed that hot when he'd first entered, but over the course of their conversation, a feeling of unease had settled over him and brought such an intense flush with it that Arik had considered peeling off his clothing. The nausea had hit when... Arik shuddered, drew a breath, and splashed his face yet again with the water he'd pooled into the sink... when Blaze had said he'd killed the witch.
"Murder," something whispered, rising from the dark depths of Arik's mind. "Murder most foul."
"No," Arik shook his head. "Okay, maybe. But he'd only been trying to lift the curse. Some acts of retribution are deserved."
He opened his eyes to seek out his reflection. It was easier to argue when one could stare at what one was fighting with. His eyes widened. His mouth fell open. But only until the liquid cooling on his face dared to slip past his lips. Arik choked and reached blindly for a towel.
The "water" wasn't water in the least. It was as black as ink. It was blood — Blaze's blood.
"You came, yes." Arik smiled, because of course Blaze had come – spitfire Blaze with his eyes flashing and his jaw set, ready to battle anyone or anything; his knight, his lover.
"You were in the corner?" Blaze's statement was a question. As though he wasn't quite sure it was truth.
The blood stole Arik's ability to speak. He wheezed soundless gasps at the mirror. A vision, surely. For a moment Arik thought he was going to be the next one to start melting away, and suddenly all the dark water thoughts on the way to Lucas's had become a pattern. Dark water, black blood. Everywhere. How had he missed it? More so, what did it mean?
A click of a sharp step to his right had Arik searching out reflections in the mirror. He almost laughed – hysteria-driven, high-pitched, manic chuckles that Arik heard in his head while he readied them for sound. But as he stared at the likeness of the mini-golf goat, somehow alive, walking, and holding Arik's gaze in the mirror, the creature beat him to breaking the silence of the bathroom.
"Hello," it said, a comedic grin painted on its wooden face. "Great to see you again, Arik."
Documents shuffled, light wind on tissue-fine, gold-edged papers; a sound that Arik knew, would always know, without seeing it. Both Arik and the goat turned their eyes to the left. And the moment Arik registered who he was seeing, his father's image began to preach.
He used the same matter-of-fact voice he'd always used to start a lesson; the same power stance. The same righteous expression. "There you shall offer him up as a sacrifice on a height that I will point you."
The goat snorted, Arik flinched, and his father continued, fading in and out, as though the image fought for existence. "God himself will provide the means for the sacrifice."
Abraham's story. One of his father's favorites. Blessed were those, after all, who offered up their everythings.
His father stopped, and locked their gazes in the glass, "And I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars..." Arik would have laughed if he could have maintained his breath. As if there was any reward great enough for something so heinous.
"You getting any of this, Arik," the goat broke Arik's eye contact with his father by sliding that much closer. "You starting to catch on? Sins of the father, my friend. Sins. Of. The Father."
"You were hurt." Blaze made another try to lift himself up, already patting down Arik's chest and arms as though, somehow, the blood around them could have possibly been Arik's.
Arik caught Blaze's wandering hand with his own, and rested it over his chest. "Only here."
"You..." Arik fought to keep his voice steady. "Whatever it is you think you can make me do..."
"Oh, for God's sake!" His father slammed the Bible shut one handed, gripping the spine. "I'm not here, Arik. That thing beside you isn't here. We're in your head!" He reached forward and tapped Blaze's skull with a sharp knuckle-rap. "You're preaching to your damn self. You always have been. So if you want me to go away, if you want this to go away," he swept an arm around the bathroom, "then figure out what the hell it is you're trying to tell yourself."
The goat's grin widened. It stepped back. "Yeah, Arik. Before it gets worse."
Cued, it seemed, the water in the sink began to rise. Black, fetid, slippery – it rose with a fury, easily filling the few inches that Arik had left empty, and the water spilled onto the floor.
Arik's father put a hand on his shoulder, and where the years in the gym should have made the touch all but unnoticeable, instead Arik felt the weight of an adult's hand on a very small boy. "The time for questioning ourselves is over. The sacrifice must be offered for the greater good."
Arik saw red. He lifted his fist and slammed it into the mirror as hard as he could in an attempt to shatter away the sight of both visitors. The mirror responded to his lash with the same level of fury – no simple shatter or crack followed his punch. The mirror exploded into jagged shards of glass that spun, danced, and took all but forever to give in to gravity. When they did fall, they cut the air with a note that was almost musical. When they landed, the music grew into chimes and cymbals. But they didn't smash; they didn't dissolve into bits on the hard tile. They fell into the black water, and in a turn that made Arik gasp, the glass simply reversed itself, flew back to the mirror, and reassembled broken into whole.
It took a full minute for Arik to realize that the whine he heard belonged to him. Then it was Blaze's voice that Arik was hearing as though from a million miles away. "My curse was that so long as her blood was upon this earth, so was I doomed to wander it."
Arik's father began to repeat the words. "So long as her blood was..."
"He killed her," Arik hissed, his voice shaking.
"Her blood remains."
"No!" Arik jabbed the reflection of his father so hard Arik thought he'd have to witness the entire display of magic glass again. "Not a single member of that family remains. Not one."
"Oooh," the goat lifted a finger, silencing the both of them. "I've got this one. One minute, please."
It cocked its head, and the whirring of machinery madly rewinding filled the room. It was Blaze's voice that responded, coming from the goat's wide mouth as though the demonic animal had become a recorder, and was playing the words back for them. "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."
His father lifted a single eyebrow. "And just how do you imagine that blood can be cleaned from the Earth, Arik?"
Again, Blaze's voice, "It's my soul that's the problem..."
The goat chuckled low in its throat, exchanging Blaze's soft rumble for its own grating, maniacal speech, "Make him bleed; set him free."
"We should probably get him showered," Lucas said; stepping closer, yet doing his best not to soil his shoes. His face was twisted with barely-contained disgust, but his eyes shone with interest. "And give my butler some room to clean this up."
The butler's "tsk" in the background went unacknowledged.
Arik eyed Blaze carefully: pale, shaking, exhausted, but Blaze's fists were clenched on Arik's shirt, and Blaze's jaw was set as firmly as if it had been wired together. "Can you stand? Are you broken?"
Blaze paused and made what Arik could only assume to be a mental assessment of body and skeleton. "I think I can get up? If you help me?"
It wasn't nearly the struggle Arik had assumed it would be. He hoped that was a good sign. Arik felt Blaze's tremble at the edge of the tub, and caught the question of "What's wrong?" before Arik spoke it. There would be time for questions. Now, Arik had to get Blaze clean and on his feet. While he would have loved to simply scoop Blaze up and carry Blaze away, Arik was more than sure that even with a million dollars in his fist, there wasn't a cab this side of New York that would take them the way Blaze looked.
"Why now?" Arik shouted. "Why here?"
His father's eyes held sympathy, but impatience. "It was never about the where or the when, Arik. It was about you coming to the realization that it needed to be. The goat was just your mind's way of providing a metaphor for the sacrifice that needed to be made. You finding your 'Goat Man' was just a way to put it together. You chose the when by finally understanding."
Arik dropped to the floor, put both hands over his ears and screwed his eyelids shut. "I will not listen. I will not listen. I will not listen."
The door to the bathroom flew open, as though the gods themselves had torn through the lock.
"Don't come in!" Arik screamed. It was only when he heard Blaze advance that he knew he hadn't said the words aloud. Blaze kneeled, Lucas spoke, and Arik opened his eyes. He saw Blaze reach for his face, and felt his heart fall into his guts, knowing even before they touched, that the two of them connecting during Arik's full-blown vision might not be a great idea. "Blaze, don't..."
Connection snapped like electrical wires crossing in windstorms. A knife of heat flared from Blaze's fingertips and into Arik's skin. Tremors raced down Arik's spine worse than any shock he'd experienced, even the time he'd been dumb enough to let his screwdriver slip when he'd been putting a faceplate on a plug. "They don't tell you to disconnect this shit for nothing," the electrician had told him the next day.
Arik shook his head, dragged himself back to the moment, and shouted another "No!"
It was too late. "Mul!" Blaze gasped, and his eyes hazed over like frost creeping across a window.
"Does that feel okay?" Arik squeezed the cloth over top of Blaze's shoulder, washing Blaze through his clothing. Blaze's expression was soft and relaxed, like a child seconds away from falling asleep.
Blaze nodded, fumbled for Arik, and when he found nothing else within reach, he gripped Arik's arm. He squeezed through the weave of the jacket and the cotton of Arik's shirt. "Thank you."
"Get him out," Arik hissed at Lucas, doing everything in his power to force his own senses back to reality. "I need to get him out of here."
Lucas rushed both of them, dropping to his knees. "What's happening?"
"Nothing good," Arik mumbled. "They're trying to bleed him out."
"They—?" Lucas stopped, bit his lip, and even Arik could tell Lucas was reconsidering his question. Perhaps, some things didn't need to be known. "Why?"
Arik's hands fisted in Blaze's shirt. He dragged Blaze closer. "Does it look like I have the time to explain this to you? Look at him... watch!"
Blaze's body buckled in a grotesque pantomime of some poor soul being served an alarming dose of electro-shock therapy.
Arik swore, and Lucas gasped.
"I can call a priest... or... someone..." Lucas looked up, his eyes desperate.
"You're joking with me right now?" Arik didn't have to be told the glare he gave Lucas was sour enough to curdle milk. "Tell me you're joking."
Lucas barked a frightened half-laugh. "I just... I mean... How do you know this is what 'they're,'" he finger-quoted the word, "trying to do?"
Arik stopped holding Blaze's trembling body still. He slid Blaze to the ground and sat back against the wall. "Because I told them."
Arik shuddered with the memory of his statement. The clarity that had flashed through his mind the moment he'd uttered the words had been staggering. All those instances of watching visions melt, bleed away, had suddenly made so much sense. Of course Blaze had to rid himself of the foul blood to break the curse — it was the very thing that the curse had convinced Blaze he should not do. The very thing that had happened anytime Blaze tried to wander off the path. Any time Blaze had dared to counter his gift.
"I can't lose him," Arik said, turning his eyes to Lucas, watching Lucas's face through his tears. "I love him. I need him. Maybe if we can get him out of here... maybe if we try and break him out of the trance... I-I don't even care if the curse gets broken. I'm more than happy to take him as he is. Please, Lucas. If you know anything that could help..."
"And Blaze?" Lucas asked. "Does Blaze want to remain the way he is?"
Arik didn't need to voice the "no."
"Then, perhaps," Lucas lifted himself from his knees and leaned against the counter, "this is a lesson for both of you." He silenced Arik's attempt at a reply with a lifted finger and a frown that made Arik want to snap said finger and rip off Lucas's face. "Selfish love is no love at all. There is no greater sacrifice than one made for the sake of a loved one. I think that your Blaze could attest to that truth, no?"
Arik rinsed filth from the sides of the bath, then grabbed a towel from the rack. He wrapped it around Blaze and lifted Blaze from the tub. "A couch?" he asked over his shoulder, in the general direction he believed Lucas was standing.
"A bed would be better, maybe, hmm?"
A couple of weeks of connection was all they'd had, but they'd been the best weeks of Arik's life. He'd said himself that the pain had to end. No more puppet, he'd insisted. No more whoring for the Universe. Blaze deserved freedom. Lucas was right.
He touched Blaze's cheeks, eyebrows, and jaw. He fisted Blaze's hair, and trailed his fingers down Blaze's neck. Then he leaned as close to Blaze as he could, felt the gathering tears fall from his eyes, and rested his lips against Blaze's ear. "I love you," he whispered. "And it's time. Renounce the curse's hold on you. Walk away, Blaze. And don't stop until you're free."
Arik hesitated, weighing his words on his tongue before letting himself say them. "I believe in you."
The bedroom had been lit with a small fire, and a dressing coat draped over the end of the bed. Arik's mother would have gushed over the dark, thick drapery and the velvet, claw-footed furniture. The four posts on the bed, at any other time, would have inspired playful games of binding and teasing. At that moment however, all Arik wanted to do was leave. Drag Blaze off to somewhere safe, and spend the next several days clinging to Blaze as if their lives depended on it.
Instead, he stripped Blaze out of the wet clothes—just for an hour Lucas had said, just until they'd dried—then wrapped Blaze in the dressing coat, and tucked Blaze under down and wool.
The first stream of blood came from Blaze's ear. Within seconds it was too hard to identify the source of any of it. The pain that streamed off Blaze's body was intense enough to numb Arik's heart and mind to any further thoughts of loss. "Keep going," he chanted in silence. "Keep going."
"Arik?" Blaze's voice forced Arik's eyelids up and he blinked for several seconds at the unfamiliar room. "Arik, are you awake?"
"Yeah," Arik mumbled, his garbled words belying the reply. "Everything okay?"
"I remember some of it."
There was so much sadness in Blaze's statement that Arik's heart wept for it. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Yes." Blaze paused. "No. I don't know." He turned in Arik's arms to face Arik. "I loved him, Arik."
Arik nodded, bracing himself at the lance of hurt the statement brought him. "I know."
"He forgives me." Blaze reached up, but his fingers only hovered over Arik's cheek. "And I forgive myself. For doing that to him."
"Hush," Blaze said firmly. "And I forgive myself for the terrible things I've done."
"You've done more good than—"
"Hush," Blaze repeated, louder, firmer still. "More than anything, I forgive myself for loving you instead of him. Because I do, you know. Love you. Thank you for listening to devils you didn't want to hear, for watching horrors you didn't want to see, and helping me find peace inside the chaos."
Arik snorted. "You're not the only one who has thanks to say or regrets to forgive. We have time to do that later. Rest now."
With a smile Blaze let his fingers fall on Arik's face. A soft buzz of connection lighted between both of them, and it made Arik's heart skip a beat. For all of about two seconds. Then everything inside of him seemed to fall with disappointment. He gripped Blaze's arm in a rush of panic. "It's still there. Fuck, Blaze, it's still there!"
He sat up, dragging Blaze with him. "It's supposed to be gone! That's why you suffered! That's what all this was for! Why the fuck is it not gone?"
"It's gone," Blaze said, quietly. He caught Arik's hand, pushed aside the robe, and rested it on his chest. Arik's eyes closed, memories of a heated night in a boring hotel bloomed in Arik's mind, and ended with the thought of a single charge being snapped between his fingertip and a door handle. Infused, he recalled his thought, by Blaze.
Maybe a person never got rid of the charge of true love. Maybe real connection came with surprise wonders that the worldly mind didn't understand.
"And maybe," Blaze murmured, "they left us a gift."
To be continued...
Until next time!
Tune in next week for more.