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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6. Chapter 6

It took a long while to console Artemus when he finished speaking. Calael had pulled him in close to comfort him in an embrace, letting him bury his face in his chest as he got out the rest of his dry, wracked sobs. He couldn't imagine such pain. To have to recall your own murder, just to know that you wouldn't be forgotten. Artemus' lithe frame trembled and his skin felt like a smooth block of polished ice beneath his fingertips as he held him. Eventually, he'd asked him if he could sleep. If he wanted to.

Artemus hadn't wanted to be alone again.

They lay at opposite sides of Calael's double bed, facing each other, the two men curled in on themselves under the heavy duvet with a respectful space between them.

"This used to be my room," Artemus whispered into the heavy darkness. His voice was quiet and small now, as voices often become after crying. "You tore down my floral wallpaper?"

Heat raced over Calael's cheeks as he recalled his own hatred of it. It seemed so much prettier now at the thought of it being his. "I've just never been a fan of patterns like that."

"But you're an artist, are you not?"

"Well.. A repeated image isn't really art to me. I was never a fan of Warhol. Or anything particularly abstract. I like drawing real beautiful things. Portraits, and depictions of nature, and -" he hesitated. "I'm not sure where I was going with that."

"I did miss hearing people ramble about their passions," Artemus smiled wistfully. Calael felt him shift as the blonde wrapped his arms around the pillow, pulling the duvet up over the back of his neck. "You should rest. It might take me a while longer. I don't get tired, so if I want to sleep I have to concentrate. Sometimes if I'm lucky I'll sleep for days."

Calael gave a sympathetic look, though Artemus couldn't see it in the darkness, so he reached out and gently squeezed his shoulder instead. "Goodnight, Artemus.."

"Goodnight Calael," he whispered, his cold hand briefly running over the others before drifting back down to the pillow again.

Calael however could not sleep right away. His mind buzzed with activity, half confused by how pleasant he found it to be lying beside someone again, particularly someone as good and as kind as Artemus.. The other half was preoccupied replaying the image of what he'd been told again and again. No doubt, Victor Moon would be dead now, and he'd have died with his secret, no justice ever coming for his long deceased boy. Calael wondered however whether Bemus would have outlived them all - whether the traitorous, envious brother had had to live thinking he himself had killed his brother, having prompted an untimely suicide.

Did Bemus Moon deserve that? Perhaps. If he hadn't done what he did, sweet Artemus would have lived a long and happy life. He would surely have found love easily. He would have been adored by everyone he ever met, and spent his nights going to village dances, and pressing flowers in books like the one he'd found in the attic..

And Calael would never have met him.

It was the following morning after a restless night that Calael woke, finding Artemus still resting peacefully, so still, pale and unmoving that it was as though he was little more than a pretty corpse.

Still, a slight smile tugged at his lips uncontrollably at the sight of him. He slipped carefully, silently from the bed and wrapped himself up in his dressing gown to fight the chill of the drafty old house. Heading downstairs to the kitchen, where thankfully the cutlery and appliances were unpacked and in place, he reached over for the TV remote and switched on the appliance in the next room, flicking to a radio channel. It was definitely a perk of having a joined living room-kitchen; he assumed that must have been an extension installed by a past owner of the house.

Calael realised only as he was making pancakes for two, lost in these mundane thoughts, that he hadn't considered the absolute insanity of this situation all morning. He'd shared a bed with a ghost, was cooking for a ghost, and was assumably now going to be roommates with said ghost; the situation was so bizarre that it was as though it had been constructed in the realm of fiction.

"Cooking up a storm?"

Calael whirled around on his heels at the abruptness of Artemus' voice behind him, reaching a hand back to the counter instinctively, however yelping in pain as he touched the hot pan instead. He immediately jerked his scolded hand away and cursed loudly. "Ah, shit!"

"Oh god - I'm so sorry! Here, here, let me help," Artemus said quickly, his eyes slightly wider in alarm as he rushed forward.

He guided Calael away from the stove and to the sink by his elbow, where he ran the cold water, and quickly thrust the man's hand underneath the stream to soothe the pink burn before it could blister. His gaze was fixed on the task, his own smaller hand gently supporting his by the palm and the underside of his wrist.

As the pain subsided, hissing through his teeth, Calael looked up at the blonde, and found himself as captivated by the sight of him now as he had been yesterday. His hair was not bound by a ribbon, but instead golden tresses fell loose over his shoulders, a little tousled by sleep. Gazing at him, he noticed everything from his delicate hands, to the crease marks on his face where the pillow had sunk into his soft skin, and thought how much the boy looked like art without so much as trying, and how men and women alike must have mourned his beauty whenever he left their company.

Artemus finally looked up at him, the pale morning light from the window turning his eyes to a winter sky, and he offered a pretty smile. "Better?"

"Ah, yes- better," Calael answered, finally breaking from his trance like state. "I, uh- I think we need to set a few ground rules though, if we're going to be living together."

"Oh? Well, yes of course, anything."

"First off, plain and simple, no sneaking up on me," Calael stated, mustering up a good humoured grin.

Artemus snickered, and nodded his head as the brunette returned to the stove to scrape the remaining pancake from the pan. "That, I can understand and oblige."

"Second.. You can't show yourself to any of my family. They're skeptics, they'd probably check themselves into a mental hospital before believing that you're real."

"How do you know I am?"

"Don't toy with me, it's too early for existentialism," Calael murmured, then picked up their plates and led the man into the dining room, taking his seat. He could hear Artemus laugh delightedly again behind him.

The blonde sat opposite him at the table, with a flashy smile, resting his chin innocently upon his spread palms. "My apologies. Might I suggest something of my own?"

"Of course," Calael obliged, looking up from cutting his pancakes to listen. "Anything, Artemus."

"I would appreciate a small amount of compromise when decorating the house.. I would really like some more flowers everywhere. We could perhaps fix that awful garden too? It used to be blossoming and beautiful," he sighed wistfully, as though grieving the splendour of what once was.

Calael felt saddened by his disheartened expression, and was infused with new energy to remedy the issue immediately. "Of course.. Of course, we can. I'll even get a gardener to come and make it look pretty, and you can pick the flower beds."

"Truly? Oh, thankyou, thankyou very much, that shall mean a great deal to me!"

However, a question came to mind as he watched Artemus smile and gush with happiness, his thoughts returning to the weeds he'd found in the vase in the attic. "I suppose it must have upset you a great deal, when the memorial flowers died?" he asked tentatively.

Artemus' smile slipped from his face within seconds. He looked down at his plate as he cut a square of pancake, and eyed the food with a certain lack of enthusiasm. "Actually, I refilled that vase again and again with garden flowers myself. Having it empty, just.. Reminded me that I was forgotten. I needed to feel that there was some memorial to me somewhere, some flowers in my name, even if I had to put them there myself. Even when the garden died, and only thistles remained. Does that.. make sense?"

"Of course it makes sense," Calael assured him softly, although the unfamiliar act of self love did take some thinking to comprehend. He supposed that a lifetime of adoration and appreciation of beauty would make it very difficult to live alone and neglected, not that he could exactly relate to such a situation. The man swallowed a mouthful of food, then noticed Artemus' stillness, and reached across to nudge his plate towards him. "Aren't you hungry?"

"I don't get hungry. My body doesn't waste away.. It as though no matter what I do to myself, I simply regenerate as I was, every few hours," Artemus sighed in irritation. "So no. I'm not hungry. But I do appreciate the food! It would simply be eating out of greed.."

"There's nothing wrong with eating out of greed, we have plenty of food. Just try a square, hasn't it been decades since you've eaten?"

"Yes.. And I never forgot the taste of strawberries and chocolate," Artemus chuckled rather sadly, before finally popping the sugary pancake into his mouth and closing his eyes to savour the taste. A soft hum escaped him. "Ah.. Yes. I've definitely missed this. You're a saint, do you know that Calael? You truly are like my own personal angel," he breathed, beginning to cut himself another piece. Calael couldn't contain his gleeful smile and smothered it with his food.

It was after breakfast that the doorbell rang, and Calael went to collect his Amazon arrival. Artemus lingered close behind, his head leaning against the door frame and his eyes fixated on the small interaction. When the brunette returned, he enquired, "When did you order that?"

"On the computer, yesterday.. We can use the Internet - kind of like a, uh, a digital encyclopedia - to get onto shops and buy things now. Delivery is pretty quick," Calael explained, with the sort of difficulty a person might face when trying to explain a rainbow to the colour blind.

Artemus' face lit up with fascination. He looked both dumbfounded, and completely awestruck, simultaneously. It was almost adorable. "Ingenious!" he whispered. "Does the little device you carry with you use the digital encyclopedia?"

"I'm not exactly tech savvy.. Honestly I have no idea how it all works. But yes, my mobile phone has the Internet it that's what you mean."

Humming with intrigue, Artemus followed Calael hurriedly up the stairs as he carried the box, and watched closely as he unpacked the small ornaments and trinkets, including a few new light sources to dot around, and a mandala wall hanging for above his bed once it was painted. Artemus seemed to be deeply considering the man's tastes.

"Are you painting today?" he asked, eyes dropping to the pots of paint Seamus had left in the hallway. "Can I help?"

Calael returned his gaze to the blonde. He had a look of light on his face, of an eagerness to spend time with him. And Calael didn't have to think twice about saying yes.

The remainder of the day was spent doing just that. That was, after showering and getting dressed, to see Artemus had spent half an hour doing his hair. He didn't blame him. If he had such perfect hair, he'd spend a great deal of time looking at it too. It was nice to think that he cared about looking appealing for just him, anyway.

Painting began soon after. They settled on a red wall for the bedroom, and Calael thought that Artemus looked terribly pretty in there surrounded by scarlet, particularly when it became smudged against his pale hands and face.

As they were just finishing off, peeling the masking tape from the skirting boards, Artemus asked a whole host of questions about what was playing on the radio. He seemed reminiscent of some bizarre intergenerational cross, of an elderly man recollecting his youth and making sense of the new, and a tiny toddler just beginning to learn the way of the world for the first time. "How do people dance these days? To this, I mean. It seems like it would be very difficult to dance to indeed," he hummed, placing the roller back on the tray and whirling himself across the room experimentally.

"People just don't dance in the way they used to," Calael said simply, a smile tugging at his lips as the golden haired man threw out his arms and twirled. "I'm the wrong person to be asking about dancing.. I never go to clubs or parties - I have two left feet."

"But you are invited?"

"Well.. Yes. Sometimes. My friends live far away now, though. Often I'm invited to events hosted by fellow artists," he explained quietly. "I just prefer my own company."

Artemus stopped his dancing. "You're invited, yet you toss away the opportunity? Oh, how I wish I could go to parties again! I miss dancing, I miss being in a room filled with people! The energy, the noise of it.. God, I crave it all."

"That sounds like my own personal hell, Artemus."

The blonde only laughed in amusement, apparently not sensing the depth of sincerity. "So that's why a young city boy would be living on his own in a dark old country house, then?"

Calael glanced up at him from beside the bed, and arched an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Come now Calael. Your introversion is written all over your demeanor. You're young, you're free to do whatever you like, and you managed to afford a place like this so you must be well-off. You're actually quite attractive too, you know, if you don't mind me saying. But you're here.. Away from everything. Spoiling your youth! The village is a fifteen minute drive from here and I doubt it is anything like it used to be, since nothing else is," Artemus stated. He knelt with him, and took Calael by the shoulders. "You've put yourself away from the world for a reason. I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong! In some awful way, I'm relieved that you've chosen to isolate yourself, because I had grown so tired of being alone.. But I'm curious about you, Calael. You and I are so very different. I want to know why you'd choose to be here, when I hate it more than anything."

Calael looked up into his eyes, and it was like every reluctance and inhibition trickled away. He felt.. Safe, perhaps? Secure with him? He knew it was ridiculous, considering he had only truly known the man one day. But Artemus had such a likeable, endearing, and utterly trustworthy quality to him. He felt as though he could talk to him honestly. As though anything he had to say about his past wouldn't just recieve those pitying looks he hated so much, but instead genuine understanding from a man with his own tragedy.

"Something.. happened," he said, hesitantly. "At my last home, there was an incident that forced me out. I lost someone very close to me."

He stood again, bringing Artemus up with him, who's brow was knitted with focus as he hung on every word. The brunette sighed and slowly sank down onto the bed they'd pushed against the far wall, watching as the blonde took a seat beside him.

"Somebody died, and.. Afterwards it was like the whole world fell into grey-scale. I couldn't stand to be around people anymore. I couldn't stand to see life going on and time still passing normally like nothing at all had happened - teenagers laughing, couples kissing, friends taking selfies, businessmen snapping over the phone on the commute - it all felt wrong, and I know rationally how cruel that is. It was a cold and lonely way to live and I just needed to escape to someplace else, somewhere far away where I could be inspired for my art again and pretend that everything was okay until it hopefully started being okay," Calael murmured. "We found this place.. It was a steal. And it was perfect. I needed it."

"Calael.. Who did you lose, that could impact you so.. drastically?"

"My boyfriend. Harry. We'd had a fight over something stupid and trivial so, I'd gone to my art auction alone while he stayed home and slept early.. I'd left my candles burning, though," he murmured, overcome with grief at the thought. He could practically feel the intense heat against his face at the recollection, the smoke filling his lungs, his throat tearing with the effort of screaming. His words started to come out choked. "The fire service said that they caused the fire. The curtains lit first, but the bedroom door followed suit. Harry was trapped. He was burned so badly that there wasn't much of him left to retrieve for a funeral.. Hell, his own mother could hardly identify the body, but we all knew that it was him. He was already dead by the time I arrived and tried to get to him. I just kept screaming, watching it burn, seeing that the windows had already smashed from the heat. The downstairs tenants were outside in their dressing gowns, but standing there staring at me with this look of horror and pity. A fire fighter was yelling that the building was unstable, that we needed to get clear. They kept telling me as gently as they could that nobody in there would be left alive, that it was impossible, though they still had to hold me to keep me from racing in.."

Artemus' eyes were a little wider. He hadn't moved at all as the story was told. "Oh my god," he whispered, and looked down at his hands in muted distress, but his expression was not like his neighbours that day. It was different. Real, untainted empathy. "Calael.. It wasn't your fault. You know that don't you? It wasn't your fault," he said quickly, reaching out so that his hand brushed against the other man's. It was soft and unmarked compared with his, and Calael felt that that suited him.

He looked down at their fingers beginning to lace together, and inhaled deeply through his nose, then drew away from his grip after a long moment. "It is my fault. It is. You only have to follow the basic chain of events to see that.. I can't just run from my part in my boyfriends death. I need to accept it. Accept it and.. Deal with it.."

"You don't seem much like you're dealing with it. I understand the pain of losing a lover, Calael, but if you allow it to it will destroy you.. You can't unwind yourself at the downfall of another. He is gone. But you are still here, and just as deserving of happiness as anyone else!" Artemus pressed, "What are you doing exactly? Depriving yourself of pleasure because you don't think you deserve it?"

"Who said I was depriving myself of pleasure?"

"You've isolated yourself away," Artemus stated. "What pleasure is there in a place like this?"

Calael looked down, wringing his hands a little and chewing his lip. "Simple pleasures.. My artwork, music, cups of tea, good television.."

"There are, well, higher and lower pleasures, in my opinion. Yes, they can be subjective; but largely, a line can be drawn in the sand. When was the last time you even had sex?"

Calael's eyes widened and he scoffed, standing up almost immediately. "I'm not talking about my sex life with a ghost! Come on.. We're slacking, we still have to paint the guest room."

Artemus stared at his back as the man stalked away, looking as red as his bouquet of roses. He chuckled softly to himself, and followed behind with a faintly smug feeling.

It took almost all day to finish painting the guest bed room. Calael had assumed that Artemus would be using it most, so he'd wanted to make it special. Almost as penance for the sweet man having to live in a house for years that was never truly his, yet built by his family, he could have at least one room dedicated to him now. Using his ideas, he'd developed the perfect picture in his mind.

Once it was finished, the feature wall behind the bed was painted the colour of the sky, and against it at both ends were a couple of beautiful flowers in several shades of vivid pink. Artemus had described his favourite flower to him, aside from roses; peonies. A brief Google search had told him all the details he needed to know and now Artemus finally had a floral memorial in his name that could not die or wilt with time.

Re-entering the room from where he himself had been painting the bathroom, Artemus' breath hitched in his throat, and he could have sworn he felt his dormant heart beat again. Long, slender fingers drifted over the dried paint, tracing the lines of the stem and then the petals, and his expression turned to one of sentimental joy. "It's beautiful," he whispered, with a voice that caught as though he might cry. His eyes glistened at the sight, before returning his gaze to the artist himself to gush."It's really, tremendously beautiful! Thankyou, so much, this truly means more than you can possibly know, it's been so long since I've been presented with such a gesture.. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever really have. There's such a distinction between receiving real flowers - just picked from the ground without care - and receiving flowers like this.. But, God, this took you hours! You need to rest now right away - why don't we head to bed?"

Calael couldn't stop smiling, refreshed and energised by the notion of making another person happy again. But, at the prospect of sleep, his body did cave to the exhaustion of hours of painting, and he nodded his head quickly. "I would love to.. I really am so glad that you like it," he said softly, then followed Artemus into the other bedroom.

As the other male was walking, however, he noticed something very strange. The air around him, for barely three seconds, seemed to warp and ripple, like a dip into the water of a still river. He hadn't seen anything change, but in the instant - like one reality had morphed smoothly into another - his hair was bound again in its red ribbon, and the paint swatched across his face and hands was gone. Artemus certainly hadn't been kidding when he commented on a kind of physical regeneration, but seeing it was an entirely different thing to hearing about it. The blonde didn't say anything, however, so he decided to ignore the anomaly.

"I, ah - I don't suppose you want to go and get comfortable in your bed while I grab a shower?"

"My bed?" Artemus repeated, before something seemed to click in his mind. "Oh.. Yes, well, ah- it still smells of paint in there.. I do think I'd be better sharing with you again."

A smile tugged at Calaels lips at that uncontrollably. He could sense when a person was telling a little white lie. As much as he struggled to believe that a man like Artemus would want to share his bed purely for comfort, it was plainly obvious that he hated being alone, and had slept wonderfully beside him last night if the crease marks on his face had been anything to go off. "Is that why?" he enquired tentatively.

Artemus, now sat on the edge of the bed, seemed momentarily embarrassed, and glanced down at his hands before returning his gaze to Calael with an expression that - though his cheeks did not waver in their porcelain hue - seemed flustered. "Maybe."

"I did decorate that room with you in mind; don't you like it?"

"I love it! Just.. Company is better than flowers," he admitted, then gave a small, coy smile and tucked his long legs underneath the duvet.

Calael couldn't help but relent. Yes, it might have been a little too soon after losing his lover to be sharing his bed with somebody else night after night, but it wasn't like that with Artemus. He was just a sweet, wonderful man desperately in need of comfort that Calael could provide. And besides.. He was dead. "Try and get to sleep, then, and I'll be back very soon."

He wasn't sure what made him do it, but as he passed the shorter male to get to the en-suite, he placed a hand on his golden head and ruffled his hair affectionately, a gesture he had begun to miss since Harry's passing.

Artemus watched him go, a rush of warmth flowing over him, and a smile capturing his rose bud lips. He liked things like this. He knew in his heart that living with this devoted young artist was making everything in life seem bright and flowering again.

Calael soon returned from his shower though, to find Artemus had curled up in the bed and was sleeping contentedly. He was wrapped up under the blanket right in the centre of the mattress, eyes squeezed shut and his bare legs poking out of the other end.

Still rubbing his wet hair with a towel, Calael gazed at him for a moment and a soft sigh escaped his lips. Like this, the man looked so utterly still and tranquil, like a beautiful piece of art it would be a pity to erase. Rather than having to wake him, he grabbed a spare blanket from the end of the bed, made his way to the large arm chair in the corner of the bedroom and curled up with his knees leaning against the plush lining, where he slept for the night like a watchful guardian.

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