Memento Mori

(Malexmale) Struck by tragedy, Calael Black - a popular young artist - isolates himself in his new home in the countryside in a desperate bid to save his sanity. However, Semper Place is far from empty and abandoned, and the ghost that haunts the property is neither malevolent nor disinterested in him. On the contrary, the spirit of the beautiful Artemus Moon has been alone for too long, and the two isolated souls soon find themselves locked in a dark, toxic romance, reliant on each other for happiness.

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10. Chapter 10

Calael woke the following morning weighted heavily by aching muscles, but through the dull pain, he still smiled wearily and stretched out his arms, causing a strain against his bare chest that was strangely reminiscent of the pressure of Artemus' hands against his skin.  As the man opened his eyes slowly, his gaze was drawn to a single beam of light from the window, capturing dust in its midst. Calael sighed and watched this with an absent mind, entirely relaxed, content and - in that moment - devoid of any kind of anxiety. 

 The crimson duvet was draped over his hips loosely, bunched at the edges where Artemus had been lying against him. The sheets beneath him had been pulled loose from the mattress at the corners, and the throw had been discarded onto the ground beside the bed. A trail of his clothes leading out into the hallway from the study caught the man's eye now, making him chuckle lowly. The expert ease with which Calael had been seduced was practically breathtaking..

Sensuous thoughts from the previous night began to return to him; of lying between Artemus' legs, eliciting such beautifully musical moans that Calael quickly became addicted. Of watching his back arch, and his golden head rock back, and feeling the sting of nails raking down his back in passion. The memory of their several desperate rounds only threatened to reignite his desire, and so he groaned softly and sat up, glancing down at the empty bed. He didn't mind waking up alone. He anticipated finding Artemus downstairs making bacon, or out in the garden tending to the peony patch.

Smiling to himself, he got to his feet slowly and picked out an outfit from the clothes rack; a V-necked tee and a pair of skinny jeans, in simple, block colours, so as to avoid gaudiness. After fixing the sheets and straightening the duvet and throw, he combed through his hair in the mirror, and washed his face in the en-suite. It was an entirely lazy, casual morning. He just wanted to ensure he looked attractive for his Artemus, because the blonde always looked so beautifully desirable without even trying.

Upon heading out into the hallway, Calael noticed that - strangely - the light in the studio was on. Brow quirking slightly, he followed the source and stepped into the room, to see Artemus standing over the desk in his underwear with his hands pressed to the wood on either side of the opened laptop.

 The expression of dismay on his face made Calael's heart stop. It was a look of hurt, but also of pure, livid anger as he turned his gaze to the artist in the doorway. His words came with a rough quality, as though restraining himself from releasing a primal growl. 

"He's alive."

Calael took a deep, uneven breath. Shit. "Artemus-"

"He's alive. Bemus is alive, and you didn't fucking tell me!" Artemus snapped, whirling to face him and approaching fast, gripping Calael's shirt in his hands. The white-hot anger on his face was unlike anything Calael would have thought the soft hearted man capable of; it made his eyes widen and his chest turn tight.

"Oh, god, Artemus- Artemus please, I'm begging you to hear me out about this-"

"I slept with you! I made love to you, Calael Black, and you betrayed me! That is what this is, it is betrayal!" he cried, shoving him back hard against the wall. His voice tore as he spoke, his eyes filling with tears. "You would have kept my redemption from me.."

"Please, I didn't mean to cause this- I didn't mean to hurt you!" Calael pleaded, his face flooded with grief. He touched Artemus' wrists as though to remind him of the tenderness of his touch. "I only meant to keep you with me.. I was scared, scared that you'd go and I would be alone again!"

"Don't you dare presume to touch me.. You're a selfish bastard Calael!" Artemus lamented, grabbing the man's hands and forcing them away from him.

Had hindsight been in place, Calael might have realised the cruel irony of his lovers words. But how could he? In that moment, he felt like he had been plunged back into darkness. He stepped back away from him slowly, uttering his name in desperation as the blonde walked away from him to lean over his memorial in the window. He ran a hand back through his blonde locks and yanked on them in frustration, taking quick and rapid breaths as he attempted to compose himself in his fury.

"Artie.. Artie please-"

"Fuck you. Fuck you, Calael Black!"

A knock at the door downstairs broke the silence. For a long moment, Calael just stood in the doorway with a look of devastation, and begged to be heard. "Please Artie, I'm asking you to understand.."

Artemus said nothing other than, monotonously, "You should answer that."

The knock came again, and this time he couldn't ignore it. Biting his lip hard, Calael turned on his heel and headed quickly down the steps, calling up to him, "I am going to fix this, I'm going to, I promise!"

No response came, but he noticed Artemus leaving the study finally, arms folded across his chest and his eyes dull. Calael had to tear his distressed gaze away from him to open the front door,  where he was faced by his parents standing on the front step. His mother - her vibrant burgundy curls cut to her shoulders and layered with a vintage riding scarf - was in her business suit and a light overcoat, lips painted her signature crimson shade. She was a woman of high fashion and an impeccable aesthetic, viewing herself at all times as a representative of her business. Beside her, Seamus was in a shirt and waistcoat with his military style jacket, both looking equally as expensive as each other, and equally as concerned. 

"Calael dear," said Lucia, with a nervous, mild smile. "It has been such a while since we have seen you in person! Do you have someone in there?"

"No, mother, I don't. Why are you both here?"

Lucia looked disheartened, and all the more troubled, turning her gaze to her husband with a glass-eyed, uneasy expression. The man pressed his lips into a tight line in return. "Calael.."

"What? What is it?"

"While we were stood waiting, we heard you talking to somebody. Who were you talking to, if nobody is in there? Who is Artemus?"

The pin dropped in the back of Calael's mind. He took a deep breath and tried to appear collected, fighting to formulate any kind of response at all. "Nobody. I'm perfectly fine," he blurted, but Lucia looked unconvinced.

"That's not what we asked, Calael.."

"I meant, that I don't need you coming and checking up on me all the time! Can't you see that I am doing fine? Look at me; I'm dressed, I'm washed, the house is clean and decorated.. So can you stop giving me that pitying look like I'm some catatonic mental patient? I don't need to see Aunt Margaret for 'help' and I definitely don't need to be babysat, I'm a grown man!" he snapped. "Is that all that you came for? Checking that I'm not dangling from a rope?"

Lucia closed her mouth again. A brief, uncomfortable silence fell, Seamus burying his hands into his pockets, and his wife correcting her scarf with awkward precision. "Is it such a crime to want to see our son..?" 

Calael scoffed mockingly at that. "You don't come here to see me, you come here to check that I'm not cutting my wrists or drowning my sorrows in alcohol; but maybe I'm getting on with my life just fine without your help, did that ever occur to you?"

"The ability to function and pretend that you're fine doesn't mean that you aren't depressed, Cal," Seamus said tentatively, his brow furrowed in worry. "Can't you damn well listen to us? For two minutes, I just want you to realise that we're your parents and you don't have to-"

"Dad! I'm done with this! I want you both to just leave," Calael stated firmly.

Hurt flashed over Seamus' face, but he covered this quickly by setting his jaw, nodding his head and wrapping an arm around his wife's waist. "I'm sorry that you think that way.."

 Before they could even get to their car, Lucia burying her face into Seamus' shoulder and muffling gentle sobs, Calael stepped back into the house and swiftly shut the door behind him, his heart thudding in his chest.

At the other end of the entryway, Artemus was now standing with his arms tensed by his sides, and a deep scowl carved into his face. "You make my blood boil," he whispered. "You can't even see how lucky you are! You know, I don't need somebody like you!"

"Artemus, I'm begging you to listen to me right now," Calael pleaded, rushing towards him in a desperate attempt to embrace the man. However, in the instant, Artemus had completely disappeared, and Calael merely passed through the empty space where he had stood, his arms falling slack.

There was no tell-tale breeze or ripple in existence; rather, Artemus seemed to just cease to be anymore. The house fell entirely still and silent, and it seemed rather as though he had never been there at all, aside from the changes that he had made. The dark lovebites on Calael's throat, and the beautifully flowering garden, remained as small indicators and reminders that Artemus had ever been there at all.

Calael felt like he was going to vomit. He exhaled shakily, then spoke with a wavering voice, "Artemus..?"

Nothing followed. All was quiet, and the overwhelming, sick feeling only intensified. "Artie? Artie, don't do this - please, don't do this!"

Silence. His heart began to race so rapidly as he backed away from the spot where he had stood that he could have sworn he could hear it pounding in his ears. He clasped his hands around his lower face and shook his head quickly, then gripped at his hair instead. "I don't understand! Why are you doing this to me?!"

There was a dull scratching sound, and then Calael's gaze was drawn to one of the water colour paintings on the wall. It moved only subtly at first, but then began to lift. The frame hovered very briefly above the nail in the wall, as though supported by an invisible force, before it was hurled like a javelin towards him.

The painting struck Calael so hard in the chest that he staggered back against the doorway, gasping in pain and his eyes widening. "Artemus!" he lamented, gripping the spot on his chest where the frame had connected. "You want me to leave that badly?!" 

He saw another frame beginning to rise, and his eyes overflooded with furious tears. The man swiftly grabbed his car keys from the hook beside the door, and was gone in an instant, slamming the door behind him. Barely a moment later, he heard the frame strike the other side.

"Fuck," he whispered. Tears flooded his eyes and he stormed towards his car, passing the front lawn and refusing to look back at the house. All he could do was swing himself into the driver's seat, slamming the door shut and burying his face in his hands. 

He didn't know what to do. He didn't know where to go.. He just knew he couldn't return to the house. Not yet. In his attempt to keep the man from abandoning him, he'd driven him away, and had wound up with a crushing loneliness weighing on his back that he hadn't felt in a very long time. It was such a sharp and painful feeling that he could not deny it to himself any longer; he needed Artemus. 

But did he really need someone who would hurt him so?

He was angry, perhaps more so than hurt. Artemus just couldn't understand him, couldn't understand his feelings; that he had hidden that information from him not out of malice but because of something else entirely.

Calael's chest ached. He wanted to drive as far away as possible and forget this, forget Artemus, but he couldn't. Every pain in his body reminded him of him. 

Hurriedly, he opened his phone and dialed the number of a friend. It had been a very long time since he had contacted August Vice; since the weeks after Harry's death. But he needed him now, needed somewhere to go. Ideally, it wouldn't be back into the heart of the city with the loudest and most overbearingly eccentric of his friends, but August was good for one thing; and that was distraction.

It took a few rings, as August wasn't the type to be glued to his phone, but when he did pick up it was in a loud and jovial tone. "Calael! Christ, mate, I thought you were kicking daisies; where the hell have you been? Char' told me you moved into the middle of bloody nowhere!"

"Well, yeah, I suppose I did; I'm sorry for going off the radar for so long. I guess I just, uh-" his eyes scrolled up towards Semper Place, and then refocused on turning the keys in the ignition. "I needed time to get myself together."

"Totally get it mate, totally get it! But why pop up now, eh? Did you need something or other?"

"Do you think I could swing by and visit? Maybe stay the night..? I know it's last minute and probably a lot to drop on you all at once, I get that, but you know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't completely necessary," Calael explained quickly, balancing his phone between his ear and shoulder as he placed his hands on the wheel and began to pull out of the driveway.

August seemed confused in the way that he hummed, but then - regaining his usual cheerfulness - he said, "Sure, why not? I'll have to meet you straight from work though, so how about we meet at the Basement?"

He had that suggestive tone of voice that told him he would be wiggling his eyebrows right now in person. The kind of tone that had gotten them into a series of bad decisions in university. It filled him with dread, and he bit his lip hard. He had never been one to go clubbing; never enjoyed it, anyway.. But the art scene at university had been one of extroverts, eccentrics and beer-pushers, who seemed to each be in possession of a mental map of every pub and bar in the city. It was almost an art form in itself, how smoothly they navigated their way from place to place and truly knew the establishments, knew the sub cultures, the scenes that displayed themselves there.. Manchester in particular had always been a hive of activity, attracting all kinds of people, none of whom had to fear showing who they were. Calael, having grown up near London as his parents expanded their business down South, had been a 'poshy' to the northern students; both a spectacle to behold and a laughing stock. Harry had always teased him relentlessly for his Oxford accent and articulate manner of speaking, although neither him or any of their friends had been particularly common or poor enough to have made it fairly into a laughable class distinction. Mostly, Calael had learned to keep it to himself that his parents had paid his tuition fees. He had never himself seen what the big deal about it was, but it tended to divide opinions, and he preferred not to be the subject for debate when he could help it. Going clubbing or drinking, he'd often offer to buy a few rounds from his own wallet, just to ensure that nobody actually believed he was Ebenezer Scrooge reincarnated.

He thought back to the times he had been to the Basement. An unusual place, founded from the indie scene, which was so prolific in Manchester. He'd never much enjoyed it, but it at least had an artistic flare he'd been able to appreciate, in contrast to the stark white, piss drenched walls of the clubs at the other end of the Northern quarter. Maybe it was exactly what he needed.

"Sure, yeah. It'll take me a couple of hours to drive up, I'll just bide my time until then.."

"It's been too long, Cal! This reunion is long overdue."

The call was promptly ended, and Calael dropped his phone into the passenger seat. With a deep, shaky breath, he attempted to clear his mind and think about nothing but the long, country road ahead, as Semper Place disappeared behind him into the pines.

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