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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8. Chapter 8

Inspiration had come at last. It was a tremendous thing, to look at a person and be able to visualize the precise lines, curves and gradients required to transport their visage onto canvas, and that man could inspire art with a mere glance in Calael's direction. He had found his muse at last. After that first sitting in the studio, Calael was not satisfied. He was teeming with ideas and desperate to draw him again.

It soon became a regular, daily event. Sometimes Artemus would be posed in the studio where he would sit still for him elegantly poised, and sometimes Calael found reason to draw him at at bursts around the house, where he would notice him looking particularly exquisite whilst going about his daily tasks and quickly fetch his sketchpad; attempting to capture his beauty on paper while he relaxed reading a book or sat in the grass tending the garden. He'd not yet successfully created a piece that he could say accurately reflected just how spectacular the blonde was, however. Whether that was a testament to Artemus' attractiveness, to Calael's skill level, or simply to the level of deep idolatry he seemed to have for him, he did not know.

Artemus did not seem fazed in the slightest by his newfound obsession. Rather, he reveled in it, and was almost entirely uplifted whenever he'd see a pencil in his friends hand. After all, that meant he was looking particularly pretty, and how could he be bothered by that? Calael could tell whenever the man caught him staring, he would angle himself in such a way that his body arched, and his eyes caught the light just right. 

"Tilt your head a little more towards me," Calael murmured, watching the light from the spacious studio window travel across Artemus' face, eventually underlining his cheekbone. "There! There, perfect," he smiled animatedly, adjusting himself in his chair to lean over his sketchbook, drawing with feverish energy. He hadn't felt such passion for anything in months, though it had been empty time, and seemed to him to have lasted far longer. 

It was the morning, and Artemus was sat lounging luxuriously across a plush red chair, in a long white shirt he had slept in. One knee was drawn up slightly, causing the fabric to ride just over his pale thigh, and Calael had to admit to himself that it was incredibly distracting whenever the material moved an inch. Artemus adored catching glimpses of Calael's focused gaze faltering downstairs. 

"Have you finally figured out which pencil to use?" he inquired. 

Calael shushed him softly, his eyes glancing down at the page then back at Artemus' delicate jawline, following the curve intricately. "Don't move your lips for a moment."

"What if I want to move my lips?" Artemus retorted playfully. But, the artist only had to give him a pleading look, and his subject caved, scoffing before staring off into the distance again and pursing his lips lightly.

After a few moments of careful outlining, Calael murmured, "Speak now, forever hold your peace."

"The pencil, did you find it? You seemed quite adamant that it had to be the correct H gradient last time.."

"Because the H gradient is soft. And you embody softness," Calael said matter of factly. Artemus seemed very pleased with himself at the compliment.

"Now why is that?" he breathed, tilting his head back a little more, causing his loose blonde locks to tumble back over the frame of the chair. He was grinning just a little, almost undetectably. "I'm a man, just as you are. And men aren't usually associated with.. Softness, as you put it."

"That's, I suppose, a gender based assumption that doesn't apply so much these days.. That's how my mum would put it, anyway. Men can be feminine now. Women can be masculine. A person can be beautiful no matter where they fall on the spectrum, and likewise, the qualities of, well, delicacy and softness, aren't attributed to women alone. A man can be pretty, and gentle. A girl can be rough, and strong. I understand that that's probably not something you were taught growing up," he explained, with an almost apologetic smile. "But that's how things are now. Especially when it comes to art - softness is desirable, in a male or a female. It's far more aesthetically pleasing than rough edges and scrawled colours, more pleasant to the eye. Most have to create it with watercolours and intricate blending but with you, it's like you just.. Are. And I'm struggling to capture it in the way that most artists struggle to create it."

Artemus' lips parted a little, then squeezed into a line once more. He adjusted the flowers that leaned in his lap and then looked down at them, smiling to himself. Calael took a moment to realise that he was blushing. "Ghosts can get flustered too, then?" he teased.

The blonde scoffed again, and attempted to compose himself, looking somewhat embarrassed. "You can't give a compliment like that and expect anything else.."

"It's not so much a purposeful compliment, Artemus. It's just stating facts."

An expression of beguilement quickly tugged at Artemus' lips, which he found mirrored in the artist. "You and your bloody facts.. What is it with that, anyway?"

"I'm a realist. I accept things as the way that they truthfully are and deal with things accordingly."

"Yet you paint like an optimist," he observed, examining his fingernails in the light now with the faintest of grins. "You paint like everything and anything is beautiful and perfect."

Calael gave a short laugh. "On the contrary, I paint the few things that are," he said, his gaze still locked on his page as he added finishing touches to the piece. Finally, he drew away, putting his pencil down to mark completion and holding the sketchbook at arms length beside Artemus. Gazing at the work of art, and then at the golden haired man in his chair, he nodded to himself. "I think I've done it.."

"In my opinion, you did it the first time, and the second and third," Artemus chuckled, rising from his chair and setting down the flowers. He padded across the room with his bare feet and leaned on Calael's shoulder to peer at the drawing.

It was stunning. Calael's style was fascinating, and gave the impression that it had taken years to perfect. Every brush stroke was perfectly, tactfully placed to depict softness and grace. Artemus was taken aback by the sight of it, seeing that he was once again respected and admired and seen as something more than ordinary; something exquisite. His finger traced very lightly over the floral arrangement drawn in his lap, careful not to smudge the pencil, and he smiled helplessly. "You're completely incredible."

"You honestly think so?"

"I know so. Calael, you are extremely talented," Artemus praised, looking up at him with an expression of delight. "Are you going to paint this?"

"Of course, I have enough sketches to start the canvases very soon," Calael smiled, reaching out gingerly to tuck a loose strand of blonde hair behind the man's ear for him. "You're a great subject, you know. I think you've accidentally turned into my muse.."

Artemus chuckled softly at that, lifting his hand and touching Calaels, trapping the man's palm against his face. Calael's breath hitched, but he resisted the voice in his head telling him to draw away, and instead gave into the desire not to let this moment pass him by. His fingers spanned gently over Artemus' cheek and he held his jaw, with a certain tenderness. "You know.. You're the first person since the accident that I've been able to stand. You actually make me feel something other than.. Guilt, and mourning, and self pity. It's like.. God, this must sound ridiculous. Its like outside this house, everything is dark and cruel. But here with you I'm able to feel real, unscrutised happiness again. Happiness that I don't have to talk myself into or act out, you know?" he explained, with a little smile playing on his lips. "See, I used to tell myself all that ridiculous shit, like 'fake it until you make it.' But I don't have to fake anything with you, it's real and it's something I missed so bloody much.."

"Then stay," Artemus whispered, gently slotting their fingers together, like a jigsaw puzzle "Stay here, at Semper, with me."

"I am.. I am staying. You know that."

"You won't move though, will you? Promise me, Calael, so many people have left before - I can't be abandoned here again.."

Calael mustered up a comforting smile and before he could help it, he leaned across and pressed his lips to the man's forehead in a tender kiss. It was an innocent gesture, but it was the first kiss of any kind that both men had felt in too long, and it warmed the cold hollow in Calael's chest immeasurably. "I promise you, Artie, that I am not going anywhere.."

Artemus gazed at him. But, before he could even move, Calael had slipped away, setting his sketchbook down on the badly cluttered work desk, then indicating for Artemus to follow him from the room. "Come on now. I promised you we'd have that picnic in the back garden."

"Oh but.. Not today, surely. You'll be freezing!"

"I'll be fine, I've definitely done worse," Calael shrugged nonchalantly, smiling. Artemus, however, seemed unconvinced, so the artist pressed further. "Oh come on, I even ordered little cakes with the shopping! We can get a couple of blankets and I'll even wear a hat to cover my ears, you told me yourself that you missed strawberry jam and chocolate.."

Artemus fumbled with his fingers for a moment, then peered up at him. "Strawberry jam and chocolate, you say..?"

Calael grinned triumphantly.

Before long, they were sitting out on the fresh lawn atop a picnic blanket, with the thermal throw from his bed draped over their laps. For all intensive purposes, Artemus had borrowed some winter clothes and a jacket, although he did not feel the cold the way that mortals did. External influences could not effect him positively nor negatively; he merely registered the cold as a fact and went on unabashed by it. However, it had seemed wrong to sit there on the dew covered grass wearing next to nothing while Calael was wrapped up looking reminiscent of an Eskimo.

The last few days living together had been uneventful, in a somewhat wonderful way. Calael had completed several drawings, and a new gardener had been hired to continue planting the colourful flower patches that bordered their lawn. It was finished now, and an array of different types could be seen, all of which Artemus was happy to identify and tend to. Calael had given him access to his amazon account, teaching him with difficulty how to use the laptop and place orders on gardening supplies, so that he could sow his own seeds as well. Currently, he had his flower pressing book salvaged from seventy years prior in his lap and was pointing at the various breeds, describing them animatedly to Calael. The artist couldn't bring himself to be bored. Infact, he never would have believed prior to this moment that he could find himself so mystified by something as uninteresting as botany. The way Artemus described it, it was like fairy magic. The blonde could have told him that pixies fertilised the soil with enchanted dust and Calael would have believed him, and likely praised him for being so knowledgeable and fascinating.

"You know, you remind me of a character from a fairytale," he grinned, and Artemus giggled delightedly.

"Which one? Prince charming or Rapunzel?" he joked, earning a good humoured laugh and a shake of the head from the artist.

"Nobody in particular.. I don't know, maybe one of those guardian angels from the Bible would be a better bet," he shrugged, giving him a coy smile as he took a bite of one of the Jammy Dodgers laid out on a plate.

Artemus' smile was milder now. "You know I'm no angel, Calael."

"I'm yet to be shown clear cut evidence of that. You know I like my facts, Artie."

"You're yet to be shown clear cut evidence that I was murdered, but you believe that," Artemus reminded him, making the man falter with surprise. "Don't get me wrong, I am a good person," he went on quickly. "I stand by my belief that I didn't deserve what happened to me, that I deserved better than what I got.. But when you're alone for seventy years you're left a long time to start doubting your own morality."

"Artemus, you realise that what happened to you wasn't your fault, don't you?" Calael frowned, setting down his biscuit and reaching across to place a hand over his. "You were murdered, in a hate crime. There's nothing more to it than that."

"Because I was outed. Because Bemus caught me having sex with a man in my bedroom, while my boyfriend was away in the army."

Calael shut his mouth. Slowly, he sat straight again, letting his hand trail away. He knew that some parts of Artemus' original story didn't quite add up, but he had happily overlooked them. Now Artemus wanted to talk about it? "You don't have to go into this.."

"No, I do. I really do. I need you to reassure me that my death wasn't just bad karma for acting adulterously while my lover was gone," he said quietly, looking down at his hands in shame. "I.. I was lonely, Calael, I was lost, and people would look at me like they desired me and I just wanted to hold onto that, to be desired again for a night.. It didn't mean anything, I loved Edward until the day he died, but he was gone and I needed somebody, something, to remind myself that I was worth wanting.."

He sighed, looking away for a moment at the flower bed to relax himself, before speaking again in a soft voice. "I used to have many lovers. All a gay man with a basic sex drive could do back then was find whoever else partook, find someplace private, and have at it like animals set loose from a cage.. There were certain, codes, we'd employ. To find each other. For me, the first man I slept with was when I was seventeen. He was much older - he was a widower with a couple of children, maybe in his mid thirties.. He'd seen me around the village and he sent me roses to test the waters, I suppose. Three red roses. I sent only one flower back of what he had ordered at my shop, with a note telling him he'd have to come and get the rest. And he did," he breathed. "I suppose the man was in contact with a couple of others like us, because he told them about me, and soon sending me three red roses became a way of winning my attention for a night or two, for the limited circle of queer men in the community. None were my age. That was, until I met Edward.. I was a little older then and I wasn't naive enough to mistake love for lust, I knew that I loved him, and there is nothing in the world like that feeling that things are falling into place exactly where they should be.. He was everything I wanted. I didn't need to sleep with every queer man in town for a shred of pleasure, I had Eddie and he was all I needed. We promised each other fidelity and courted in secret.. It was far from perfect, and had I as much choice as a straight man I might never have looked his way, but he was poetic and thought I was beautiful and he was terribly good in bed compared with those grunting old men.. It was just wishful thinking that we could go on like that, though, and everything hit home when the war broke out. He was a patriot, with a patriotic family to boot, and he enrolled within weeks to rush off and serve king and country, promising me he'd write to remind me how dearly he loved me.. He did, of course he did, but letters aren't the same as making love, as being held and kissed; and I'd never been good at being alone. It's like I said, I needed someone to see me, to want me, to worship me the way lovers do in bed.. And there was this - this stranger - at the village dance.. He was the most beautiful individual I ever did see! Marcel, his name was, a fascinating foreigner who spoke like he was from a different time; so mystifying that I barely remember a fraction of how we realised each other, how we kissed in the alley and stumbled home to bed, and how for once in my life I forgot to lock the bedroom door.. He was gone the next morning but that didn't faze me, I had always accepted that sex was sex, although he had promised me he would return one day despite mentioning he too had a lover.. I just hadn't expected, or desired, anything more from the encounter than the night I got, which left me feeling so refreshed and fulfilled that I was ready to continue faithfully with my darling Edward without any thoughts of another. It was the medicine I needed for my loneliness, and it was perfectly fine in my mind because how could anything my moral compass was screaming at me to do be wrong? Edward had abandoned me, after all, he'd left me by myself and expected me not to grow so terribly lonely, starved of affection, and how is that fair? I needed - I deserved - more than that.. But God, sometimes I wish I hated myself a little more! How could I ever have convinced myself that I was immune to divine punishment? That such a sin could lead to anything but my downfall?"

"Artemus," Calael whispered, staring at the man in muted dismay. No, he had never condoned cheating, but placing this man he was so enamored with into the context changed everything. He couldn't help but feel only that Artemus was penitent in his own way, that he was judging himself too harshly for something done in desperation. That Artemus was the victim of the story, after all, a victim of a completely different society. Calael couldn't accept that the man was capable of purposefully hurting or using anyone. "Artemus, it was a different time then. You were used to doing things that way, and you definitely aren't the first man or woman in history to be unfaithful in the name of loneliness."

"I suppose you are right.. It just troubles me sometimes. When I think too deeply about things I start to wonder why it is I did the things I did in life, and whether those reasons are just. The trick, Calael Black, to surviving nearly 80 years in your own mind, is to think on the surface. To focus on the present. When you live in the past or think too deeply, when you misplace the power of distraction, you lose your head completely.."

"If you're thinking in the present, do you ever wonder about why it is you're still here?" Calael asked, tentatively.

Artemus just scoffed. He reached out and finally picked up a chocolate muffin. "I used to wonder all the time about that. About whether this was actually purgatory, then later, whether it was hell. When I figured out that I had gone no where at all I thought back to reasons why a soul might refuse to budge, why it might stick around, carrying the essence of humanity that you can see and touch and hear.. Unfinished business, is all I can think of. Unfinished business regarding my brother, and my father, and why I never got the justice I deserved because of them."

"You know I can't help with that, Artemus.. The world wouldn't understand how it is that I uncovered the truth. And, I'm certain that time would have killed your father by now," he said with a furrowed brow.

Artemus sighed, and looked down at his hands. "I wonder about Bemus.. Marcel will certainly be dead now, but he was just a lover anyway. And if he ever did come back like he said he would he'd be greeted only by a small, small grave in the church yard, and an obituary telling of my suicide. Bemus, however.. He always did have good health. But for all I know, he died in the war. My parents left this house only three weeks after my death, because my mother couldn't bear it. They moved far away - to Coventry, I believe."

Flashes of distant history lessons entered Calael's mind. Coventry. Death by fiery brimstone might have been a rather suitable end for a man like Artemus' father. Calael had to contain a sadistic smile at the thought; maybe that would be too much.

"But Bemus," Artemus went on, sighing heavily. "If he were alive, I'd want to tell him I'm here. To show him what he did to his little brother. In the back of my mind, I know that that desire keeps me here. I wonder, if I could amend that - would I be free?"

Calael swallowed hard, his heart aching at the thought. "Maybe so, Artemus. Maybe so. Here, finish your cake.. You've barely touched it.."

And so he did. Artemus ate his cake in a bid to redirect his thoughts, and Calael wandered the perimeter of his new garden, admiring the newly sprouting flower buds and tamed shrubberies. His mind was preoccupied, though, with all they had discussed, and absentminded fingers wandered the petals of those plants that were already grown.

Hepaused over a bed of small, purple buds that caught his attention. The dark hue was sombre, yet against the soil they appeared vivid and striking. He noted that they were far from fully grown. They appeared to have been planted fairly recently.

"I wouldn't touch those ones," Artemus said, making him turn around. He had cake in hand, and an angelic smile came quickly to his lips. "They're delicate."

Calael thought nothing of it then. The plants left his mind as quickly as they had entered it, once he returned to Artemus' side.

Later that day, after a home cooked dinner, the conversation had moved to the warmth of the living room. Artemus was sprawled luxuriously across the lounger, his elbow leaning on a fluffed pillow, and his bare feet overlapping Calael's lap; who sat far more bundled into the corner. Calael didn't mind the closeness, though. It used to bother him when Harry put his feet on him, but somehow such agitations seemed trivial now, and the contact was simply comforting.

On the television was a broadcast showing ex-president Obama shaking hands with Donald Trump, and Artemus had never looked quite so confused as he tried to keep up with it all, almost like he was piping in on the eighth season of a TV show without having seen the very first. "A negro?" he said, quite suddenly. "Did they say that man was - president? How on earth did the states have a negro president?"

"You, ah - you really shouldn't call black people negros, Artie, not anymore."

"But why?" Artemus scoffed, speaking airily. "It's just a descriptor for what they are.."

"Everyone mutually decided a long time ago that it's de-humanizing, and I imagine that it would be," Calael murmured. "But, yes, an African American became president. Not anymore though. He was replaced by him after two terms."

Artemus hummed with interest, his brow lightly furrowed. "I saw that neg- sorry, that black man, on the television when the last family moved here. I didn't assume he was in a position of power, though.. Nevermind the president of the United States," he said in amazement. "It's practically inconceivable."

"I'd imagine a lot of things would be inconceivable to you. Like, women in the army."

Artemus' eyes widened, and he sat up straight abruptly. "Women are allowed in the army?! But how? Isn't that horribly dangerous? They could hurt someone, or themselves!"

Trying desperately to be patient and understanding, Calael took a deep breath before speaking again, turning to face the other man completely. He took a vaguely more eduactional stance, hands folded in his lap. "They've proven themselves just as capable as men are. Some women are actually stronger than men, and they're definitely equally as capable of firing guns and marching in formation as us. God, I know some ladies that would love to talk to you about this," he breathed, thinking back to the radically feminist couple he had been acquainted with back in University with a faint sense of amusement. They'd been the type to burn their bras, dye their arm-pit hair, and demand that Calael check his privilege on an almost daily basis. That much he could tolerate. It boiled down to personal choice. It was when they started calling out his supposed inferior intelligence that he felt a little hot blooded. Harry had hated them on a cellular level and Calael had never been fond of their level of extremity, but he had to admit he had learned a great deal from them as well. At least, the milder, less totalitarian side to them.

Artemus seemed to be deep in thought about everything, sighing heavily. He slouched, and began to rub circles on his temples with an aged weariness. "It's all just so strange, feeling like you're a part of the world, but, not really. This house poses the limits of my world.. It's like I'm just an alien looking in, or like it's all the makings of some strange utopian novel.. Or, dystopian, I haven't entirely decided yet."

"Hey, well, it's definitely not a perfect world.. LGBT people still have a long way to go to be treated completely equally," Calael shrugged, "Just like women, and people of colour."

"L-G-B- what?"

"Ah, well.. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender."

Artemus blinked hard, and appeared completely dumbfounded. "Trans-what?"

"Uh.. Perhaps you've had enough for one day," Calael chuckled nervously, and Artemus scoffed in agreement as he got to his feet, folding the blanket he'd had over his lap to place back on the stool.

"That would be an understatement.. I've only just wrapped my head around Russia."

Soon enough, after switching off the television and each little UV candle along the mantle place, the two men headed up to bed, Artemus rather quiet and thoughtful looking as he curled himself up under the duvet; the way that a person looks when they lose signal on their phone and have to simply stare wistfully out of the window on a long train journey.

They shared Calael's bed, simply without speaking of it now, as there was no need to. It was a wordless agreement. He supposed it was fair; it had been Artemus' room, once.

Artemus took the left side of the double and Calael took the right, closest to the door, because he liked the draft. They'd leave a respectful distance between them, only scarcely broken if Calael would want to show him something on his phone that he would explain diligently when his roommate showed interest.

Tonight his mind was also distracted, however, by thoughts of what Artemus had said earlier; before their evening watching television and before their home cooked dinner. He'd been completely unable to get it out of his head.

The nagging curiosity; would Artemus be freed from this current state if he could meet with Bemus? Would he chose to leave if he had the choice?

He almost laughed at himself for even considering that. Of course he would, as would any rational human being.. The distance between them in the bed told him that. That he wasn't some person of great importance to Artemus; he was a roommate. A friend. A convenience. Not somebody he would stick around with instead of passing on to whatever was next.

However, Calael did notice that Artemus was lying closer than usual. He observed this in silence, and his heart almost fluttered when the man's hand curled subtley around his arm, his golden head leaning against his shoulder. Even with Artemus' troubled, pondering expression, the gesture practically wiped his mind clean of all thought.

Such nostalgic contact would usually flood him with grief and sorrow, but he wasn't pondering on that right now. He allowed himself to relax into the pillows and smile warmly at the floral scent, the softness of his skin, the comforting intimacy. He took a deep breath, then draped an arm gently over his waist as he turned onto his side, watching the man he was growing so attached to fall asleep with a tender feeling cocooned within his chest.

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