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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12. Chapter 12

Calael woke the following morning sprawled out across August's sleek leather sofa, faced by the large glass wall of his apartment leading out to the landscape of Manchester. His head was pounding and his throat was screaming at him; everything hurt. Including his jaw, which felt terribly sore, as though it was bruised, although he couldn't tell.

He couldn't even remember getting here. How had August hauled his drunken self up to the twelth floor? What time had they even left the Basement? Groaning, he sat up slowly and glanced around with steadily clearing vision at the rest of the lavish, modern apartment. He spotted an array of paintings and prints on the clean white walls, including a couple of his own, and a range of matching furniture; glossy black pieces, with silver embellishments. August had always been the stylish sort.

He spotted him finally, making tea at the kitchen island, already immaculately dressed and with his hair slicked back. He glanced up at his friend and gave a smile that seemed uncharacteristically reserved. "Ah, Calael. The dead rises. Still take two sugars?"

"Three today, I think.. What the fuck happened last night?"

August fell worryingly quiet for a moment, then chuckled nervously. "Well, you stopped me getting laid, for one thing.."

"Oh, Christ- what did I do, August? I remember some.. red head, giving me too much to drink. Not that you helped, I bet," Calael murmured, burying his head in his hands and attempting to clear his mind. "Abbandoning me like that.."

August sighed, watching him for a moment as the kettle boiled. "You weren't making any sense. You gave the lad this fake name, then started using the same name like.. Like they were an actual other person. It was all so confusing, I don't know, I figured you must have been off your head and took you home. But you can't stay all day, alright? I gotta work in an hour so I need you gone."

"Woah, August, slow down - what do you mean I gave a fake name? What name?"

"Artemus."

Calael's heart dropped into his stomach. "Oh. Oh, I see.. I've never met anyone with that name before. I must have been really pissed.."

"Are you sure? Because you were pretty damn sold on the whole thing up until you got your facts mixed up," August stated, looking skeptical. He brought the man his cup of tea, and sighed heavily as he sat down beside him. "Calael, you really freaked me out last night. You were acting like a complete mental case, mate, I'm worried."

"I was just drunk! There is nothing to fucking worry about!"

"People do weird shit when they're drunk, but not that. That was next level. That's like, split personality, schizophrenia levels of crazy!" August pressed.

Calael's lips drew into a thin line with irritation. "You're beginning to sound just like my dad; you're blowing this completely out of proportion. You can't just get a C in A-level psychology and assume you're fit to psycho-analyse all of your friends!"

"I'm not psycho-analysing, I'm showing completely justified concern. What happened to Harry was horrible, yes, but disappearing for months, dodging all my calls, then suddenly reappearing with no explanation..? I could have accepted that, I did accept it. But don't accuse me of abandoning you! Besides.. When you did finally show your face, getting black out drunk and acting like a basket case isn't really a recipe for some god damn normality! If this were reversed, you'd worry too. And just to top it off, you were mumbling the name in your sleep. 'Artemus, Artemus..' It's like you've made up this character and become convinced in it!"

Calael stood up abruptly now, his eyes narrowed. "I'm tired of this! I'm tired of people finding any excuse to label me as crazy just because Harry is dead! He's dead! I'm done with it, I'm over it, I want to move on on my own without anybody else examining my personality against a list of mental illnesses! It's ridiculous and it's insulting!"

"All I'm trying to do is help!"

"I don't need your god damn help!"

August stared at him, hurt flashing across his face, before he steeled himself and scowled deeply. "Then what are you even doing here?"

Silence fell for a moment, and then Calael scoffed loudly. "Fine," he snapped. "I'm leaving." 

Without hesitation, he headed for the door, which he slammed hard behind him once he was out in the hallway.  He checked only then that he had his phone, his wallet, his jacket, and his car keys; as there was no way in hell he was going back to August's apartment. Artemus had been right all along. His friends weren't worth pursuing, and he never should have called August.

Storming down the long and winding stairs, he thought about how joyless he had been upon seeing the man again, and how he should have trusted his own intuition then. The only person who truly understood him, who could truly excite happiness in him, was that beautiful blonde back at Semper, and he was going to make it up to him and win him back. The spirit couldn't hate him for the rest of an eternity; he wouldn't allow him to. Artemus might have said he didn't need him, but Calael felt undeniably that he did need him. Being apart from him was almost unbearable.

Upon finding his car, he drove fast in silence, with far more vigour than he had the previous day. He only stopped briefly at a supermarket to pick up a bouquet of roses, which - when asked who they were for by the friendly old lady at the register - he said, "For somebody who means a lot to me."

Everything brightened slightly when Semper Place finally came into sight. However, he was not alone. Parked outside the property was Seamus, who quickly got out of his car and stood on the porch as Calael stepped out as well. The artist's cheek was visibly bruised, his hair and yesterday's clothing disheveled, and with the crimson bouquet tucked under his arm. His father raised an eyebrow.

"Who are those for?" he demanded immediately. "You look like someone dragged you backwards through a bloody hedge.."

"It's really none of your business who they're for. Maybe they're just for me. Why the hell are you here, anyway?"

"Because we left things badly, and because I'm your father, and because I got a call from August," Seamus stated, which made the artist's jaw set and his blood boil. He sometimes hated that his friends had once been close with his parents; August had no right to do that!

"Whatever he said, he over reacted.. You know how theatrical August Vice can be."

"From what I heard of the twenty four hours you've had, you were the one pulling the theatrics. Calael, I think it's about time you told me who this 'Artemus' person is you've come up with," Seamus said accusingly, "I hear you talking to them with nobody else in the house having some heated argument, then suddenly you're.. You're, what? Pretending to be them at a club? I think you need to accept that your mind is playing tricks on you.. This person is of your own invention. It's exactly like how I told you; grief can do strange things to people, and you're letting it over-ride you. You need help, son, and only you can get yourself that help!"

"Dad I don't need any fucking help!"

"I'm begging you here, Cal, I am pleading because I love you!"

Calael couldn't take anymore of this; anymore suspicion and accusations. He wanted to scream but he knew that would only make this worse for him. He needed an excuse. Any excuse that would get his adamant father to leave him alone, in peace. "Artemus is my boyfriend," he blurted, and Seamus' brows slowly furrowed. 

"Excuse me.. Boyfriend?"

"Yes, boyfriend! Excuse me if I felt kind of ashamed to tell you that I'd moved on so quickly but, yes; I have a boyfriend. These roses are for him when he next comes to visit. He.. Makes me happy. When you heard me talking it was over the phone, we were just having a row.."

Seamus saw the flaws in this excuse immediately and appeared wholly unconvinced. In fact, all hope seemed to deplete from the man, although he would never have allowed his son to see this. As a brief silence fell between them he merely smiled sadly, and stepped forward towards the younger male. "..I see. Of course, son. Of course. I'm so sorry to have misunderstood."

Slowly relaxing as he was wrapped sparingly in his father's arms, Calael sensed a certain reservation to the man, a hesitance to believe him; but he at least wasn't pushing the issue any further. "You know, you need to stop driving all the way out here just to check on my mental well-being and just call from time to time, old man," he teased halfheartedly. 

Seamus chuckled somewhat weakly. "I, uh - I like visiting. Are you going to invite me in, Calael..? Show me photos of your new beau perhaps?" he asked. "I can fix up that bruise for you.."

"Oh, well - not right now, dad, I left the place in a complete state.. I'll see you in a couple of weeks at my next auction, though, I promise," he said, before advancing towards the front door and pulling out his keys. 

Eyes widening a fraction, Seamus stopped him by quickly catching hold of his sleeve. "Calael.. Are you certain you're in the right frame of mind to be back in the art community so soon? It can be.. overwhelming."

"Dad, I know what I can and cannot handle. I'll admit I'm not looking forward to it on the grounds that it's tedious, but I need the money. Prints aren't bringing in enough. Now.. you should head home. Drive safe, alright?"

Masking his distress with expert precision, Seamus half smiled again and nodded his head, slowly releasing his sleeve. "I always do.."

Calael waved him off to his car then unlocked the door and took a deep, exasperated breath as he stepped inside and closed it behind him. However, he was only greeted by the heart wrenching sound of sobbing coming from upstairs in the house. Brow furrowing and his heart beginning to race, Calael clutched the flowers in his hand and began to hurry up the staircase quickly, scarcely noticing how the broken frame that had been hurled at him the day before had been taped desperately back together and was hanging back on it's spot on the wall.

Upon following the sound to the bedroom, he saw Artemus - visible once more - lying sideways in their bed and clutching Calael's pillow to his chest as he wept uncontrollably. No tears came, but the sound was sorrowful enough that he could practically envision them flowing down his porcelain face. He sounded distraught and overwhelmed and utterly broken; it was practically unbearable to witness, and Calael's voice trembled as he spoke. "Oh- Oh, Artemus.."

Artemus looked up, and a pained whimper escaped him. He immediately scrambled up from the bed and leapt towards him, throwing his arms around Calael's neck in a fervent embrace and sobbing harder still into his shoulder, making him stagger back and almost drop the roses. "Oh God! Calael! I thought you had left me forever - I thought I was alone again!"

Calael's eyes widened, gathering his senses and immediately wrapping his arms around him, lowering his head to rest affectionately atop the blondes. "Artemus I could never.. You know I could never. Even when I was gone my thoughts were on you, you haunt me Artemus, you know that don't you?"

"Cal.. I chased you out, I hurt you! I was wrong to do that, I was wrong to say I didn't need you, because I do need you; oh so desperately.. I was just so angry! Where did you go? Who did you see?" he sniffled, drawing back just enough to examine the bruise that darkened his lover's cheek. "You're hurt.. Oh, you must have been so alone as well!"

"I was, believe me I was.. And I promise, the bruise is nothing. I went and saw an old friend, and he got me drunk and I got into some trouble.. I thought I could trust him but, he's changed. Christ, Artie, I missed you like hell, just leaving here made me realise you really are all I have.."

"Then don't leave again! You don't need to," Artemus said quickly, pressing himself closer to him, and lowering his voice once more. "I'm all you need.. I can be all you need," he whispered, then pressed their lips together in a passionate kiss, which was deeply returned. Their lips only parted in fact as Calael held up the flowers he had brought.

"I brought you these, as a peace offering.. I know how you love roses."

Dismay fading, Artemus smiled somewhat coyly and looked up at him with a sultry expression. "Calael.. That's much more than three."

"Oh.. Oh, that.. wasn't what I-"

Before he could even finish, their lips were pushed together once more, and this time Artemus wasted no time in gripping Calael's shirt and pulling him desperately towards the bed. Calael was surprised, and perhaps a little overwhelmed, but the man was a skillful and opportunist seducer; and it took no time at all for him to relent, submitting to his desires and allowing himself to be led to the mattress to show his dear Artemus just how much he still worshiped him. 

The love making that followed said so much more than words could. Round after round consumed much of the day, sweet nothings whispered into breathless kisses, passionate touches healing the fresh wounds of their fight. By the time they were done, they lay side by side in tangled sheets, their legs twined together as they slowly relaxed into each other, having reconciled.

"I'm sorry if that was sudden," Artemus whispered, slowly tracing patterns on his lovers bare chest with one finger as they came down from the ecstasy of sex. "I just.. I fear losing you. There is an entire world out there that can steal you from me so easily."

"I almost lost you. That was my doing, not yours," Calael replied softly. "I lied to you, and there is no excuse. Except perhaps, maybe, one thing.."

"And what is that?"

"That I love you. And I fear losing you too."

A smile captured Artemus' rose bud lips, and he moved his head to kiss him tenderly once more, his thumb running over his cheekbone. "You aren't going to lose me.. I love you too, Calael Black. So much that it terrifies me."

Calael's heart almost leapt in his chest, resonating with the feeling of a caged canary being set free. He exhaled shakily as he stole yet another soft kiss from him, trying to withhold a flurry of humiliatingly poor poetry. "Artemus.. I understand that. I told my father about you, but had to tell him that you're a living, breathing man who simply visits, and there is no way I will ever be able to tell him the truth.. It was just to stop him thinking I'm completely insane," he sighed, his arms wrapping tighter around the blonde's waist. "I'm so stuck on what to do.. Everything is so difficult. It's like no matter how far I run from the world, it follows."

"He doesn't understand you Calael.. Not like I do," Artemus breathed, his brow furrowed in concern. "He might be family, but believe me when I say that family means nothing. You don't need him in your life if you do not want him; he's toxic."

"But Artie.. The hard thing is, he's always cared about me. We've been close for a long time. Hell, he even helped me buy this house. You said yourself that I have no idea how lucky I am and maybe I am just being - I don't know - cruel, towards him.."

"No, Calael, don't doubt yourself. I was wrong to say that because maybe he doesn't care at all. He cares because parents have to care to some degree.. That doesn't mean he has your best interests at heart. He thinks there is something wrong with your mind, you say? His only reason to worry about that is reputation. You realise that, don't you?"

The idea definitely made sense, and the more Calael considered it the more he started to believe it. Seamus had worked hard to build his company from the ground up, and because he had carried Calael into the art world on the back of his own success, the majority of their important clients were shared. If Calael's mental health were to decline or if he began to behave in a peculiar fashion, word would quickly spread around their social circles like ripples in a pond and reflect poorly on the entire family. Seamus would never abide that. Perhaps the only reason he bothered to be concerned was simple politics; attempting to shove him out of sight until he was once again at his best.

Calael swallowed hard and looked down at Artemus' pale throat distractedly. "Yes, I realise that.."

"You don't need him. You don't need to fear for his approval. You don't need anybody. I'm here; you have me," the blonde breathed, lifting his hand to his face and running a thumb so tenderly across his cheek once more in the way he knew utterly enraptured his lover. Calael's chest fluttered when their lips ghosted together. 

Only, the moment was disturbed as Artemus' form wavered, flickering momentarily from solidarity and causing the artist's hands that had been resting on him to fall to the mattress. He drew them quickly to his chest, and watched as Artemus re-appeared moments later exactly where he had been; having regenerated. He was once again dressed in the white shirt, black braces and dark, tightly tailored trousers of the 1930's, that had previously been discarded on the bedroom floor. His unruly blonde hair was once again tamed with his red ribbon, and his body was free of any remnants of sex. The spirit looked apologetic. "What terrible timing.."

"It always catches me by surprise," Calael chuckled lightly, and Artemus smiled sadly in response.

"I suppose it must be easy to forget that I'm dead.."

"Sometimes, yes. It was strange, going to the city yesterday and being so far from you. Here together we have our own little world with everything that we need, and it's easy to forget when I'm staying here myself willingly that you aren't just doing the same."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You aren't choosing to stay here forever, Artemus. You're trapped. And if you were given the choice to leave and move on to the pearly gates, I wouldn't blame you if you took it," he sighed, offering him a weak smile. "That's why I feared you asking me to bring your brother here.. I thought it might let you move on, reconciling with him. But I shouldn't have taken that choice from you; it was selfish.."

"Oh, Calael," Artemus said softly, his brow furrowing. "You think I'd want to leave you? You are more than a convenience to me; I love you."

Calael struggled to believe the first half of that statement, but he answered uncontrollably with a soft kiss and a whispered; "I love you too.."

"Stay there. Let me look at my flowers properly," Artemus smiled, sitting up and leaving his lover draped in their scarlet sheets as he made his way across to the dresser where they had been set. He lifted the bouquet and breathed in the familiar, romantic scent, a nostalgic look sweeping over him as he remembered the abundance of others who had gifted him with the flowers of passion. He also remembered the roses that his mother had left for him at his shrine. He returned his gaze to Calael, who in spite of his mundane appearance looked in that moment to be as serene and beautiful as a muse in any renaissance painting, his own image reflected back in his hazel eyes.

The brunette smiled dizzily at him, then reached for his phone and started to scroll idly through Instagram. However, his feed was not nearly as interesting as the sight before him. It had not been able to capture his attention in days, in fact, nor had any social media, which was certainly unusual for an introvert raised in the digital age. Artemus was simply more beguiling than any idealised reflection of the outside world that could be found on aesthetically organised Instagram accounts and Pinterest boards and Snapchat stories. Some part of him wished he could post photo after photo of the blonde just to display his beauty to everybody, to show them how empty their lives had been before witnessing him in all his ethereal splendour; but the camera would not capture Artemus. He was not, after all, a physical body, but a materialised soul revealing itself to him. Artemus was Calael's private treasure, his own personal addition to the seven wonders of the world. 

It was in his art that he would soon be able to show him off to all, however. Adonis could turn in his marble grave because Artemus was going to outshine him like he could outshine any star in the sky; he was going to be marveled at. And privately, it would not be pride in his talent that would fill the artist with joy, but pride at the fact that he had the privilege of loving and being loved by such a man as he.

"You look beautiful holding roses," he said softly, and Artemus smiled slightly, peering at him through his girlish lashes.

"You flatter me too much.. If you continue to worship me so, I will struggle to fit my head through the bedroom door."

Calael chuckled softly at that. He sat up, and slipped his discarded underwear back on before he got out of bed and approached the other man, stretching his arms behind his back. "Do you want them in your memorial vase? The peony's are dying already."

"Ah, yes; tempus edax rerum. Time devours all things," Artemus shrugged, "Particularly beautiful things.. Well, the roses will be a beautiful replacement."

"And I can get you roses again and again if it will make you happy," Calael smiled, taking Artemus' pale, soft hands in his to bow his head and place a gentle kiss upon his knuckles. "I know you like to keep the memorial pretty. I do as well."

"It is also terribly sad, though.. I was blinded to the tragedy of it when it was only me alone desperately trying to keep a living thing in that cracked vase beside my photograph.. It was just a move to preserve my sanity, to convince myself that I was not forgotten by leaving some mark on the physical world.. But, alas," he sighed wistfully. "Cinera gloria sera est.."

"You know I don't speak a word of Latin.."

"It is an old proverb. It means, glory paid to ashes comes too late. No matter how well we maintain my shrine, it's still a shrine. A reminder of death, a memento mori. It does not reflect any love during life, of which at the end, I had none. Even with as many flowers as you have given me now, and the promise that my face will be seen once more, I feel unsatisfied.. It kills me inside that the life I lived was so rife with betrayal and tragedy and sadness!" he lamented, looking up at Calael with a sorrowful look. "Even roses are tainted for me."

Calael's heart ached for him and he moved his hands to cup his face tenderly, attempting to soothe him. "I know, Artie.. I know. You deserved so much better. But I am doing my best. am living, I am living and I love you and I remember you; you don't have to mourn yourself anymore. I swear, if it were possible I'd take all of your sadness on myself to keep you from feeling it."

Artemus let a smile drift uncontrollably to his lips. His hands slipped free and he twined his arms around Calael's neck in a warm embrace. "You have already done so much for me.. You bring me light. When you left, I practically collapsed in on myself, I had no idea what to do or how to handle the prospect of being alone again!"

"You don't have to be alone again; you won't be. The outside world to me these days is nothing more than an occasional necessity.. My life is here, with you."

"Don't you mind that we can't leave here? We will never have a normal relationship, Cal, we will never swim together or walk in the woods together or go to a party or visit the theatre.. I'll never attend one of your galleries!"

"Those things don't matter. As long as you're mine, I don't care where we are," he breathed, now running his fingers through his blonde locks, brushing away the ribbon that bound them. "God, it all sounds oh so painfully cheesy.. You turn me into a complete monstrosity."

"Ah, that matters precious little. Amor vincit omnia!" Artemus grinned, then captured his lips in a loving kiss once more.

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