This Ascension: The Cool Air of Mourning, Chapter Three
Copyright 1999-2001, Niko Wilde
All Rights Reserved

"Through love we steal from the time that kills us a few hours which we turn now into paradise and not into hell. In both ways time expands and ceases to be a measure. Beyond happiness and unhappiness, though it is both things, love is intensity: it does not give us eternity but life, that second in which the doors of time and space open just a crack: here is there and now is always. In love, everything is two and everything strives to be one."
-Octavio Paz

~Dylan~

"Just relax." He says with a smile, as if even the idea of such a thing were possible. Just relax, standing in the doorway with his long legs kicked apart and as unmovable as twin marble towers.

He isn't the one stepping into the lion's den.

"I was relaxing." My voice sounds too petulant, and I know if I'm not careful, I'm going to turn this into a full fledged argument. Right here, right now- in front of all of these people…half of whom are looking at me like I'm about to be dinner. I take a few careful, measured steps forward, until our bodies are pressed tight, and my hands find his hips. I may not be able to soften the tone of my voice, the disappointment is too great…but I'm not about to waste the opportunity to touch, to remind myself of what I'd been missing for all of this time. Bone, muscle, cool flesh…spun glass and fairy tales, all wrapped up in one neat, beautiful package.

My touch is hesitant, careful. I'm afraid, afraid that he's going to turn insubstantial in my grip and fade from view again. He has a habit of disappearing for months at a time…and I cope as best as I can.

I cope the only way that I know how.

His hands on my back like wind-chilled marble, pressing and stroking. Distracted, I can tell without looking up to meet his eyes. Distracted, because this is what he wants. This is what he lives for, even though he would never admit it to another soul, living or dead. I can feel the excitement crackling through is body like barely restrained electricity, a livewire just waiting for the chance to snap and spark to life. One chilled hand slides from my back, and cups the nape of my neck. Gentle pressure, until our eyes meet…and I have to swallow hard against the bitter words that are choking the air out of my throat.

"Go and find Dara. Have a drink. After I talk to Sebastian, we'll get this circus sideshow on the road, and the rest of the night will belong to us."

He sounds so sure of himself…his words are solid, even. Written in stone and unchangeable, just like him. All I can do is nod mutely, and wait with breathless anticipation for the moment when his lips seal against mine. I never get tired of touching his cold flesh, feeling it's dead resiliency beneath my lips.

And his kisses never disappoint. Full of dark promise, reminders of dim and dusty places that no sane human would willingly visit.

Sanity…I want to scream just be my anchor for a little while longer…I want to burrow into his flesh, stay in the circle of his arms for a lifetime. In a place where nothing else matters, and I don't give a damn that there are probably upwards of thirty people watching us. Thirty people with cameras, no less…who are probably straining and tripping over themselves, trying to catch a word or two from this half whispered conversation.

I have his lips, and I'm not letting go. I'm fascinated by the burn of his mouth, the ice cold burn that could blister if I lingered here long enough, freezing my tongue like nitrogen…listening to the quiet gasps of surprise from the people around us that are watching, but trying so hard not to be obvious.

Fucking vultures is what they are. He pushes me back with a finality that lets me know that no clinging will be allowed. He has things to do, you see- things to do that are important, and no matter what he feels for me, they will be done. Again, I nod…and find my voice, frozen somewhere in the back of my throat. I have to push it out of a mouth that still tastes like death and frozen honey.

"Yeah, I'll find Dara. Give Sebastian my best, huh?"

I'm proud of myself for sounding sincere. Sebastian…well, Sebastian is a mystery to me. Every time I see him, I can't help but think he looks so vaguely familiar that I should recognize him. Like we've known each other before. Certainly, there's nothing striking about him. Just a man, an older man…his precise age impossible to tell. Stocky build with heavy features and thick, sensual lips. Always smiling, as if he's sharing an inside joke with you. If I had to peg the one thing that I truly liked about him, it would be his accent. Thick, cultured, and oh-so-utterly British. More exotic than anything I'd ever known before; but then again…what do you expect. I'm not exactly what you'd call well traveled.

For one instant, I can see tangible jealousy flicker in his eyes, and I'm reminded of a simple but powerful truth: he isn't human, and he is mine. My entire body relaxes, nearly goes limp from the release of built up tension…and he's smiling at me in a way that reminds me of a wolf- all gleaming white teeth, sharp…oh so sharp. Trained to tolerate human companionship, but never really needing it. My heart swells in my chest, because I know down deep he needs me. The moment is there and gone, passed between the two of us like a well kept secret…even though there can be no such thing as a well kept secret in a room full of vultures.

"I will. Now, go and do…whatever it is you do to get loose, and this place will be a memory before you know it."

The wolf-like smile has already faded, and in its place is the most perfect human mask I've ever seen. I watch him go, fading from the small room like a fever dream. Down the hallway, stopping only long enough to sling an arm around Sebastian's shoulders. Together, they disappear into the shadows and I'm left on my own with the taste of his kiss lingering heavy and sweet on my tongue.

I push my way through the throng of reporters, all here to catch a glimpse of Raven…the mystery, the enigma, the greatest talent to spring from this hellhole in decades. They don't know his secret- no one does. I'm the only one who has managed to catch a glimpse of another reality.

I'm the only one who has been gifted with the knowledge that reality is the true illusion.

My head aches suddenly, the thoughts twisting in my mind are too hot and I don't want to remember how long it's been since I've known that life is different from what we're taught as children. My eyes close, fists press against them to shut out the light, but it's too late- I do remember. Late- dusky summer, the sun dying a brilliant bloody sunset in the sky. The noises, muffled whimpers, the rustling of leaves…being drawn to the hedge, where a child's baseball had been swallowed. Small legs had propelled me forward, even as the solid knot of dread had settled in the pit of my stomach. Don't look, don't look, don't look

But I had looked, hadn't I? And what I had seen that shimmering summer day had twisted reality in on itself for all time.

A pool of sludge, blackened and oily…emitting those horrible whimpers each time a bubble rose to the surface and popped like a festering boil.

There were eyes, peering at me from that great pool of death. Eyes that still glittered with fierce intelligence, and inhuman avarice. Still alive, still aware, and…and…

Hungry.

They were the same as Raven's, on some primal level.

Of course, he's not the only one. There are others, and I spend most of my free time scanning crowds and looking for that inhuman glitter, that sparkle that sets them apart and speaks of secrets that we…the collective we, that is…could never dream of.

Sebastian has those eyes. There are others in this room that have those eyes, and I wonder for one sharp instant how they could go un-noticed by the rest of the world. I've finally found my way to a couch in a quiet corner of the room, away from the low buzzing of voices, and the clink of ice cubes in well filled glasses. Here, I can curl into a ball and find my center, grasp at a paper-thin shred of peace and wait for the real madness to begin.

A warm hand on my arm nearly sends me through the roof.

Dara. For the second time tonight, the relief is so overwhelming that my bones seem to melt, and all I can do is grin stupidly up at her while gathering myself up and making room for her on the couch.

Dara is beautiful. This is not an observation so much as it is simple fact- heart stoppingly beautiful with her copper skin and soft ebony eyes. Dark chocolate hair in a mass of plaits, ripped blue jeans, and white tank top that shows off her well muscled arms. And best of all, she is barefoot- here, with press swarming everywhere, watching our every move and cataloging our eccentricities…she's kicked her shoes into a corner, and walks around barefoot.

"Been lookin for you, babydoll." She says, and I admire her calm. She sits, holds out a vodka and orange, and I take it without question. Why shouldn't she be calm? This night is big, huge, important- and she doesn't know the secret. She actually gives a damn about being here, whereas I…I'm beginning to think I'd rather be anywhere else.

"I'm not hard to find." Fuck, Dara- I don't wanna be here. That's what I wanted to say. That's what she should have heard. My lips manage to twist into something that resembles a smile, because I know it's expected. I don't want to ruin tonight for her…I don't, I swear.

But she knows already. Ever since the first day we met, she's had an uncanny ability to read between the lines, know what's really on my mind. Sometimes, it's comforting- other times it's damn near annoying as hell. She's staring at me with those huge, soft ebony eyes- and at times like this, I'm almost convinced she could see straight through to my soul, if she really wanted to.

And if she did, so what? All that's there any more is Raven- black wings imprinted on my heart, for eternity, however long that may be. I just wish I could get that warm and weightless feeling back. I like it when the two of us are cut off from the rest of the world, when it's just us and nothing else matters. Those moments could define eternity for me, but they're always too short…over too quickly.

"Not hard to find." She says, with a short laugh. "Honey, even when you're here, I don't know where you really are. Where are you, right now?"

She knows exactly how to make me stop and think, at the very moment I'd like to be doing anything but. Where am I…and where did that vodka and orange go? I don't remember drinking it. But wait, I do- I remember thinking that there wasn't nearly enough alcohol in that glass. Didn't even burn when I swallowed. Didn't even thaw the chill out of my throat…

I know where I am. I'm still sitting on that old monstrosity of a desk, still wrapped in that quilt…and maybe if I had chosen my words differently, instead of rubbing salt into old wounds, we would still be there instead of here.

"I'm brooding. Sorry, Dare. You know how it goes, he finally comes home and I don't wanna share with the rest of the world. S'not too much to ask, is it? A few hours, where it's just the two of us?" Yeah, petulant as hell this time…there isn't any point in hiding it. She won't be angry, she'll understand…and I have to let it out, or risk an argument later on.

Would be my luck. Finally get down to some serious business, and I'd blow it with an argument. Don't wanna fight, wanna fuck…and there, I finally admitted it to myself. Want to know that I'm half as important as I make myself out to be. Like I can only find my worth and myself in that one simple act.

At least I know that's one thing I'm good at.

She is still staring at me, and I know she's seen it all- even the things that I kept to myself. Our eyes meet, for just an instant…and I can see the way she's measuring out her thoughts in a way that won't send me off into a screaming fit of childish, righteous indignation.

"This is important to him, you know." She says, taking a deep breath. Holding my gaze, taking the empty glass out of my hand. Afraid I would throw it at the nearest wall, when I heard something that I didn't want to hear? Probably. "This is as important to him as the rest is to you. Compromise, Dylan. I know you hate it when he goes away, and I know you don't like all of this public…shit. But you signed on for it when the two of you hooked up, kiddo. He never told any of us that this would be easy. Conquering the world is never easy."

Brilliant flash of white teeth, a warm smile to take the sting out of the truth. She's right. She's absolutely right, and I hate how easy it is for me to fall into the mindset of a spoiled kid who can't play with his favorite toy.

"He's got something to prove, and so do you. I see it in both of you, especially when you're looking at each other and you think no one else is paying attention." She's lowered her voice to the barest whisper, and I'm straining to hear. For some reason, I suddenly feel like she's about to reveal some absolute truth, something that I've been missing in this mad rush of emotions. "He's got something to prove to the world, and you've got something to prove to him. Don't cancel each other out. Don't do that to each other."

So, that was it? The absolute truth I was waiting for? Fuck all, I already knew. Raven carried a silent and tangible grudge against most of the free world. This whole…this whole sideshow was his way of getting even. Ah, Jesus- when did everything get so complicated? Time for a deep breath, cause I was supposed to be getting loose- not winding myself up even more.

I push myself off of the couch, and get ready to elbow my way through the throng of bodies that seem to be packed from wall to wall. How did so many of them fit in here, anyway?

"Yeah, Dare- I know. I'll behave. I'm gonna go and grab some quiet time, get my shit together and everything'll be cool." I sound like I mean it. Maybe I do. Either way, I watch the crowd part like the Red Sea as I work my way towards the door. Funny, that- the way they all move out of my way, almost like the bastards think I'll burn them if they touch me. At this point, honestly- it's a distinct possibility.

I find my quiet place, not far off from the room full of vultures. I guess it's supposed to be a dressing room, judging from the massive rack of clothes pushed into the middle of the room. You know the sort- big metal rack on wheels, just sort of sitting there…completely conspicuous and untouched. One glance at the selection, even in the semi darkness, lets me know why it's still untouched: the clothes are hideous. Velvet in every color of the rainbow. Lace. Something that looks suspiciously like spandex. Enough to make me shudder, that's for sure. I find my guitar propped in the corner, and take it with me over to an abandoned couch…pluck out a few strings, find the hidden melody that matches my mood. For one sharp instant, I can't stop laughing- because here I sit, staring at some enormous rack of clothes that look like they've been time-warped from the early eighties.

Maybe I found a timeslip. And maybe I'm quietly losing my mind.

If I were a betting man, I'd wager on the second.

Dara, for all of her insight, doesn't understand one very important thing: I'm fucking terrified of being here. Raven tells me I'm good, the only one in the bunch who can come close to matching him. He says I push him, chase him, until everything and everyone else just melts away. From anyone else, it would sound pretentious as hell, but from him…I know it's the truth, or at least his version of the truth. The only problem is, it goes against everything I was ever told when I was a kid.

I don't want to disappoint Raven. I don't want to shatter his illusions. Maybe sometimes, when the mood is just right…I can pull it off. Follow his voice with my fingers, and create something beautiful and heart stopping out of nothing. But Jesse keeps telling me that it can't last.

Like he's done my entire life. Can't last, kid. You try hard enough, but you're a mess. Don't know what you're doing.

And Jesse is my older brother, so he must know what he's talking about. Right? Music is his life, not mine. I just played for the hell of it, to fill in when he and his friends needed someone. But now- god, everything is so different now. Raven heard us play, and he wanted me. Me, in more ways than one. Warned me to cut Jesse loose, but I couldn't do that. He's my brother, you know? And he doesn't do the greatest job of taking care of himself.

So now, Jesse's got the gig he always wanted. I start thinking that finally, I don't have to keep looking after him. He's got money, so he can afford a decent place to crash- but he spends it like water, and still has a preference for sleeping on the street. Most of the time, I swear to god- his blood has got to be pure heroin. I start thinking, finally- he'll stop with the ragging and teasing and hammering me into the ground, because I was the one that got us this gig in the first place.

Didn't work out that way. He still picks apart my playing. Tells me I need to practice. Gets me so nervous sometimes that I blow chords that I should know by heart. Tells me the only reason I'm here is because I'm shagging The Boss.

If I had a spine, I'd remind him that my shagging The Boss is the only reason he's here, too.

But I don't have a spine, and he's my older brother. I stay quiet. I cope.

It's what I do best.

My silence is shattered the moment that door swings open, and there he stands- the prodigal son. Blond hair in his bloodshot eyes, looking like he has no idea how he got here. He probably doesn't, I realize- and it's not until that moment that my thoughts become clearer, and I catch myself wishing that he hadn't shown up at all. I would have been able to play.

I would have been able to be good.

"Dylan!" He bellows, all sharp angles and drunken slurs. I can tell he's concentrating on staying upright, just the mere act of walking is almost too much for him. "Dylan, kid, are you READY for tonight? You catch a look at that crowd?"

Too fucking loud. The sound of his voice is embarrassing- the sheer volume combined with his total lack of co-ordination is infuriating. I hate sloppy drunks. They all remind me of…

"Yeah, huge crowd tonight. Packed to the rafters, Jess." I answer, not because he gives a damn but because it's expected. This is starting to become a habit, I realize with some dull amusement…always doing what's expected of me, and not really saying what's on my mind.

He's moving closer, staggering closer, and I wonder how in hell he's going to be able to manage the simple task of holding two drumsticks. Dara's going to kill him when this is over with, I'm almost sure…he's going to fuck up her timing so bad she's going to be spitting nails by the second song. Why, oh why, couldn't he have gotten lost? Not shown up on time? We could have borrowed the drummer from the band that's on now…the band that no one really cares about. I can already see myself when this is all over with, explaining to Raven and pleading my brother's case- even though I'd be silently happy if Raven just put his foot down and said "No more". Staggering closer in that way that drunk's have- trying to look completely straight and sober, and failing miserably.

"You better not fuck up tonight, Dylan. Man, I need this gig and I'll kick your sorry, scrawny ass to the moon and back if you fuck it up for me." I have no idea how he managed to get those words out without tripping all over them. His staggering stops, and he falls onto the couch beside me- grey eyes on fire with a promise that he fully intends to keep. He is reaching into the pockets of his jacket, and for a moment I'm expecting him to pull out a knife. It would be his style to try and slit my throat right here, right now…while threatening me not to fuck up. He's the one who can barely walk, and yet…I'm the one who's putting this gig in jeopardy.

But there's no knife, just the usual shit. A bag, a spoon, a needle, and a cigarette lighter. Powder in the spoon, the lighter underneath. I watch as the powder turns liquid, and bubbles under the onslaught of heat.

I watch the spoon, and he watches me.

Doesn't matter if I'm not looking at his eyes- I know what he's thinking. Don't disappoint me. You've already disappointed Mom, don't do the same to me. You owe me.

I'd like to say I don't owe you shit. It's not my fault that you can't take care of yourself. It's not my fault that Mom couldn't take care of herself, either. Your problems are NOT MY FAULT.

Did I say any of it? Course not. Because I have no spine, and because he's my older brother. And because on some level, I wonder if those things really are my fault. Besides, it's really not so bad. I'll get that warm and weightless feeling back, and I'll be able to play…unlike Jess, who'll be lucky to be able to walk the fuck out of this room.

Silently, I offer my arm. And strangely enough, his drunken clumsiness is gone the moment the needle is filled with that burning liquid. Graceful, gentle. He grasps my arm with the tenderness of a lover, thumb rolling small circles over the growing vein.

The needle slides in, with ruthless precision.

And all thoughts and fears are gone, in a rush of manufactured oblivion.

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