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

If I was stronger, I could be a mountain range…
If night were longer, could I escape the rage?

~Raven~

My eyes are closed as I wait for Sebastian to return with the special cuvée of Perrier-Jouet. It's part of the tradition, you see. There are Things That Need To Be Done before tonight can begin…and therefore, end…properly. Sebastian and I will share a drink and a moment of silence in remberence of our dear, departed Philip. There may very well be tears- perhaps his, perhaps mine- either way, it's hardly important. It has been the same for a decade, our coming together on the eve of Philip's death. Sebastian, who under normal circumstances can wield his words like razor blades, will fumble with the simplest sentiments when he tries to absolve me of my guilt.

And that, my friends…that will be my undoing.

Not my guilt itself, because I've learned how to live with it. Just hearing the way Sebastian will stammer, the catch in his throat when he speaks Philip's name. Not natural, for one that's been gifted with such a glib tongue. We will both systematically shred the walls we've built around Philip's memory until we're both left bloody and raw.

And then, the circle will be complete for another year. Life will go on.

The most horrible, heart wrenching part of all? The fact that I am sitting here in body, but not in spirit. Going through the required motions of mourning, but not drowning in my guilt and loneliness.

I feel like a traitor.

And my eyes are closed, not for the purpose of reliving memories past…or lingering on the contours of Philip's well-loved face…but because Sebastian insists on keeping this room so well lit that if I open my eyes, I will feel as if I have been struck snow blind.

White walls, golden filigree, almost every conceivable surface mirrored.

Sebastian loves his finery.

I immediately miss my stained glass windows, and their fractured beams of jewel toned resplendence. I miss the way the colors light my skin, and give me the appearance of warmth and life. I miss the darkness, the scent of dust and cinnamon that has somehow become synonymous with the all encompassing peace that has stolen into my life- borne on lithe, pale limbs and caught in cerulean blue eyes.

But, this is tradition. I owe Sebastian a few moments of remembrance for all that he's given to me.

"Have I complimented you on your choice of companions? That boy is absolutely edible, Christopher. Golden." Sebastian's voice startles me, but not nearly as much as his use of my name. It's been so long since another person has called me by my given name that I've nearly forgotten what it was. But, of course- this is part of it the tradition. The need to share with another who knows and understands the path that we've either chosen, or had forced upon us.

He sits beside me, the perfect picture of grace- and it's always shocking to see someone of his size move with such fluidity. Heavy limbs move as if they are weightless, and they would never dream of doing anything that wasn't perfectly under his command. He sits a tray containing two bell shaped glasses beside us on a low table. Reaches for a gilt-handled dagger, and presses the razor sharp tip against the pliant, pale skin of his wrist.

His eyes have never left my face. Thick, generous lips stay formed in that achingly familiar smile…as if this is the most natural thing in the world.

And for us, I suppose it is. Our yearly ritual, although I can't help but feel as if something has shifted perilously off balance.

"You haven't, and thank you. Your approval means the world to me, Sebastian." For all my fear of hearing him stammer, I'm the one who's doing it now- and there is something utterly comforting in hearing the catch in my throat. Something comforting in the way our thighs brush, as if each touch conveys the secrets that we share. The unspeakable horror that has been ours, and ours alone- no words could describe, but to feel the flesh tremble against another so familiar…yes, that is how we share ourselves.

Bodies speak, when words somehow fail.

"He makes you happy. How could I disapprove? Although, I would be careful. The world can be quite an unforgiving place." His voice is nearly drowned out by the enormity of the sound…crimson droplets from his wrist splashing into the clear amber liquid. To me, it sounds like a crashing tide. Crimson ribbons swirling through the pooled amber, creating an altogether more exotic cocktail.

"The world is a different place than it was when you were alive, Sebastian." I say, through suddenly parched lips. Strange, alien- this isn't our usual ritual. And yet, I manage to gift him with a smile. I've always found his concern for my well being touching, and I know this is one area where Sebastian speaks with complete and utter expertise. "I'm not about to fall from grace. The world knows all about my preference for boys, and to tell you the truth- I think it adds something to the myth."

I've nearly forgotten how hearty his laughter can be, and how free he looks when he laughs. "Oh, my darling boy. You frighten parents and bespell their children. Have I told you lately how proud I am of you?" Riotous laughter, wide smile without a hint of sadness or regret. One large, smooth hand holding out a glass even as the wounds on his wrist melt back into the illusion of flawless skin.

Pride. He is proud of me, and I can't think of a damned thing to say. I've always wondered what exactly it was…is…that he feels for me, besides a misplaced father's devotion. Philip was his lover, and I was the unwitting soul who led Sebastian's Heart's Desire down the road to true and final death.

My eyes narrow instinctively. My head tilts, and I study him. The importance of this moment is suffocating in its intensity, because I've waited a decade to ask. The glass in my hand is too heavy, too slippery with my own un-natural sweat.

"Why, Sebastian? You didn't have to take me in. I was an outcast, but I would have survived on my own. How could you make me…how could you allow me to be a son to you after Philip…" Stammering again, mouth too dry to form the words. Like a dessert has taken up residence in my throat, and the only thing that will clear away the grit is a sip from the glass I hold in my hand. "After I killed Philip?"

I wait for it.

I wait for the crushing sadness to descend, I wait for his expression to change from jovial to mortally wounded when the name is spoken aloud. I wait through hammering heartbeats, and a complete lack of regret for having done it.

I wait here in the total vulnerability that can only be evoked by being in the presence of someone else who knows my birth name.

And do you know what, dear friends? That moment never comes.

"Christopher, stop. You were no more responsible for Philip's death than I was. He was arrogant, prideful, and entirely too sure of himself. He loved you like the brother he never had, and if he had survived…do you really think he would blame you for his own shortcomings?" Sebastian has set down his glass, and one large hand has circled my wrist. To stop the distraction of another drink, undoubtedly…to make sure I hear and understand his words. What he doesn't realize is that I'm listening to the cultured British accent, trying to pick up any stirring of the faint and nearly forgotten Irish beneath it.

I hear, though. I hear, and feel nothing but relief. Yes, I'd known it all along but I'd buried a deep-rooted need to hear it from him, as well. To be absolved by the only one who owned the right to give me what I most needed.

His smile is gentle, his expression one of extreme patience. And his grip on my wrist is like a glacial vice.

"I took you in because you were in need of someone to teach you, and I knew I would relish the task. You live in a world of your own making, the landscape of your imagination. I was envious of the way you so easily twisted reality to your own liking. Such an intelligent boy, grown to be such an intelligent man." I'm no longer sure if he's speaking in words, or if the whisper is inside my mind. Or perhaps words are no longer necessary at all, because his fingers have begun their careful dance from my wrist, to my shoulder, to my back. Heavy and weightless all at the same time.

Only one other person touches me like this. Only one other person makes me doubt my reality, makes me wonder if I'm not some magical creature from a fairly tale.

But the tentative tracing of my spine suddenly stops, and thick fingers grip my chin. Our eyes meet, and in his gaze I see the faintest glimmer of what eternity must feel like.

"I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age...The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring; I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the color of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder...I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mod of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram." It was an old recitation, from a nearly forgotten memory…a glimpse into a life that I had never been a part of, but felt as if I'd known ever since I was old enough to remember. He pauses, making sure that I feel the weight that hangs in the air between us even as his thumb presses gently against my bottom lip.

Silence between us, as my heart hammers on in anticipation…of absolution complete, finally finding the answers that I'd always wanted, but never found the courage to ask for.

"You, in your own way, are the same. My son, in this wretched existence that we both love so much."

One last smile, and his fingers release their grip on my chin. He reaches again for his glass, and waits for me to gather my bearings. Leaning back against the velvet brocade of the couch, looking precisely like the epitome of elegance and grace.

If I'd had any bearings when this conversation started, I can now say with some certainty that they have all but disappeared. I feel…free. For the first time in years, the weight on my soul is well and truly gone. Even drawing in breath after ragged breath is pleasurable, because my lungs are no longer being crushed by the memory of what could have been. The glass in my hand is drained in two long swallows, and I'm even able to enjoy the bitter tang as my tongue unceremoniously separates the flavors of sweet grapes and potent, acrid blood.

"This wasn't what I expected at all." I say, with a chuckle escaping my throat. The sudden freedom has gone to my head, and I remember very well how it feels to be drunk. Toying with the glass in my hand, listening to the raucous voices of the mortals just outside this door. To breathe again, without the constriction of thorns around your heart is truly a miracle.

"I imagine not." He says, with a chuckle that matches my own. His eyes are shadowed by thunderclouds for an instant, too quick for a human eye to comprehend- but I saw it. And just as I was beginning to rejoice…my breath catches heavy and thick in my throat. "I did call you here for a reason, you know. I noticed a stranger hanging about earlier this evening. Not human, but not purely what we are, either. The strangest and most difficult being to read that I've ever stumbled across. I wanted you to be aware, just in case this creature meant you any harm…considering the date, Christopher."

Of course, I remembered now. How could I ever have forgotten? Absolution will never be complete- never, in this lifetime. Not until my blood is spilled. But it could be a coincidence, and I have already deemed it to be so in my heart. Sebastian just mentioned how I have a habit of twisting reality to my own designs, and that is precisely what I'm doing at this moment.

"Thank you. My eyes are always open…you should know that by now." Utterly amazing, the finality in my own voice. The furtive glance towards the clock on the mantle is the only sign of my outward annoyance- something a stranger might miss entirely.

Sebastian is no stranger, and that heavy yet weightless hand has somehow found it's way to my back again, tracing every indentation of bone along my spine. "I've done my duty, and now you'll do yours. Relax, Christopher. Tell me about this new boy of yours. Let an old man live vicariously through your happiness." Old man…such utter bullshit, I'm tempted to tell him so. "If you wish to take him, you have my permission…I know formalities aren't your forte, but they are mine." He adds with another well-placed chuckle. Fingers moving effortlessly up and down my spine, calming me until I can breathe again, and the warning is nothing more than yet another of Sebastian's favored formalities.

Take.

I'm quite positive my thoughts on taking differ greatly from Sebastian's.

Tell him about Dylan? I wouldn't know where to begin. I could tell him of how we met, one late August night. How I had watched in utter disbelief and stunned silence as he played, wrenching notes out of thin air with such ease that I was left trembling afterwards.

I could tell him of Dylan's total detachment to his own talent, his stubborn reluctance to believe that I don't simply encourage him to hear the sound of my own voice.

Or, I could go on like a love-struck teenager-, which is nearly what I am. I could try to describe the way that Dylan's damp skin tastes, which is like a mixture of sea spray and late afternoon sunlight. Perhaps he would enjoy hearing, in great detail, about the paleness and fragility of Dylan's skin. The boy is nearly as pale as I am, and sometimes even the most gentle of touches will leave him marred with purpling bruises.

Or perhaps I could mention the fact that before me, he had never been with a man before. Or a woman, for that matter- but certainly not out of lack of interest by both sexes, I'm quite positive. Inside that boy resides the most deep-rooted sense of duty that I've ever seen, in all my time on this earth. Duty to a family that I know nothing about, save for the obvious: that Jesse is his older brother, by five years. I know nothing because he's never offered the information, and despite everything I can do, I cannot read minds. I've never bothered to learn. With Bianka, my pet…my near constant companion for the last decade, I can share thoughts. But I can not willingly sit down and read a human's mind.

Maybe Sebastian would like to know of Dylan's quirks and habits when we're hidden away in the old church that we call home. His total lack of shyness when he walks from room to room without a stitch of clothing, even when we have company. The habit he has of reaching for me mere heartbeats before I reach for him, as if he is the one who can read minds, and does so with uncanny ease.

How I've never tasted his blood, but that hardly matters when I'm inside of him…locked inside that raging inferno, and his hands grip any inch of flesh they can reach. The way his back arches, and his eyes close…and I know this has to be as close to Heaven as any creature can possibly dream of attaining. No matter how easily he bruises, it has to be hard and fast first. Hard enough that there have been times when I've been afraid of truly hurting him. And after, later…when the fires have cooled…then and only then is the time for painfully slow, brutally sweet.

But these aren't exactly the sort of things you would share with a man who you think of as a father.

Not that we've ever had a "by the book" father-son relationship.

And judging by the cheshire cat smile spreading across Sebastian's face, he already knows every detail, thanks to my unguarded thoughts. Living vicariously, indeed. I must have given him enough of a show to keep him warm through a lifetime of winter nights.

What were we speaking of again?

Another glance at the clock, and I know it's beginning to get late…and now, more than ever, I want to get the business end of this evening done and out of the way.

"Turning Dylan…isn't my decision to make, I'm afraid. It would be his choice, and I'm sure one of these days we'll talk about it. For now, both of us like things just the way that they are." I'm standing even as I speak, mind racing forward in leaps and bounds. I would be lying if I said I hadn't been looking forward to tonight…it would be a way for me to prove that even a nobody like me could come home again.

And I was home. Everything had come full circle.

"Then I'll wish you luck, which you certainly don't need…and I'll enjoy the show." He says, getting to his feet beside me. His hands grasp my shoulders, and I'm drawn close enough that he can place a chaste kiss on my cheek. I'm still warmed by his pride, still smiling inwardly…and silently determined to give this place the best show any of them have ever seen.

As I disappear through the doorway, I hear his voice one last time. Reminding me, as the door softly clicks closed…reminding me to watch for the Stranger.

But this night is too perfect to be spoiled by old grudges.

Too perfect.

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