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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9. Chapter 9

Living with Artemus over the weeks that followed, Calael's world narrowed. It was only them, and that house, but he felt safe and comfortable and positively jovial with the blonde by his side. There was no need to fake a smile because when it came to him, he was secure. He made things brighter.

Night times were close and intimate now, in an innocent, calming sort of way. Calael liked holding Artemus in his arms - it had a nostalgic kind of muscle memory to it that filled him with sweet bliss. Artemus would curl against him to seek out his warmth, smiling even as he slept, his head curled against his shoulder with his hands burrowed in his shirt, or sometimes resting against his bare chest. He knew why. Artemus was lonely. He hated being by himself and needed the contact of another human being to remind himself that he was one. Calael thought nothing more of it than that.

Mornings of lazy, casual touches often followed their nights, and they would get ready for the day separately, like doing so in the same room was crossing some kind of line that sharing a bed did not. He had begun to notice more and more however that Artemus did not mind dressing or undressing infront of him. Sometimes, he forgot to close the bathroom door when he went to change. And sometimes Calael forgot to look away.

By day, Artemus was often by Calael's side as he did the shopping online or got along with his art up in his studio, but equally as often he'd be out in the garden, tending to the flower beds and ensuring that each bulb was opening as it should be for the Summer.

The bitter spring was melting away more and more with each passing day, and the old house warmed substantially with the approach of the new season, as weeks poured by like condensation on the bathroom window. Sometimes Calael's friends called, and his father did so every day. He'd answer to his dad for the sake of avoiding argument, but he had become a master at dodging calls from everyone else. The thought of conversation with them was draining, and pointless. He knew they only called to feel good about themselves; like it was some act of charity to check in on him. He had asked Artemus about this, to check he wasn't being too pessimistic, and he had quickly agreed that calling them back wasn't worth it. "You have me," he'd said. "You don't need to waste your time with them."

Each morning, breakfast would be eaten together over music on the radio, or a television show that Artemus found understandable enough. The television was the window to the outside world for him, where Calael could not fill in the gaps. Explanations of modern cities and societies could only stimulate the mind so much, while actually seeing it was different. Artemus both loved and hated watching the morning news, to catch himself up on the fascinating chaos that was the 21st century. It was all at once thrilling and devastating for him. So much had changed, much for the better, like Polio vaccinations and civil rights and votes for women and gay marriage. But equally, there was a hole in the ozone layer, and nuclear weapons were a great and terrifying fact of life. Last night in fact, Artemus had watched the news report on advances in North Korea, seeming dark and sombre as he spoke of the history he had lived through, and how he wished he didn't have to watch it repeat itself. Calael hadn't realised quite how hideous the outside world really was until he heard it from someone like him.

Something was different this morning, however. Artemus had woken first, and when Calael followed, he saw the man smiling coyly up at him, his blonde locks spread across the pillow as he watched him unashamedly.

Calael raised an eyebrow in slight amusement, and chuckled sleepily as he came around, exhaustion still weighing heavily on him. "Well good morning.."

"Good morning to you too," Artemus breathed.

Noticing the heat of the bedroom as blinding sunlight crept under the blinds, Calael pushed back the sheets and went to get up, but Artemus audibly whined and pulled him back into the bed, his arms draping around his neck to keep him there. Calael was suddenly very much aware of the man's smaller body overlapping his, his knees positioning themselves on either side of his leg, and his face burrowing into his throat. He swallowed hard.

"Artemus?"

The blonde chuckled softly. "Come on, stay in bed a while.. Hold me," he murmured, that saccharine voice so tantalisingly close to his ear that his lips brushed against the lobe. "Don't you want to hold me?"

"You know I do," Calael answered with a sigh, rigidly allowing his hands to trail over his waist before flattening together against the curve of his back. He was tense, very tense, and his brow was furrowed in confusion at Artemus' unusual attitude today.

"Hm," Artemus mumbled after a moment, somewhat irritability. "It shouldn't be a chore.. You really aren't a morning person, are you?"

"Hang on, what do you mean by that?"

"You hold no interest in taking the chance to touch me, it seems."

Frowning now, Calael propped himself up on his elbows and stared at him in puzzlement. "What? Artie, you mean you want me to touch you? I- I am so confused.."

"You are so clueless," the blonde sighed, tilting his head with an expression of critical dismay. "Perhaps I do. Perhaps I miss being touched. Don't you miss touching?"

God, yes, Calael thought as he allowed himself only momentarily to glance down at the map of soft, pale skin visible past the slip of shirt that came to Artemus' thighs. But should he? What right did he have to enjoy that tempting notion?

"Calael," Artemus sighed, moving closer to him still if that were possible. "You and I cannot deny there is something here other than simple companionship.. You sleep beside me night after night and you know the depth of my appreciation for that fact.. But I have never slept beside someone for so long that hasn't reached out with a wandering hand!"

"A wanderi-? Oh. Oh I see.. Artie, I need you to understand, it isn't because I don't want to.. It's because of my respect for you," Calael explained, which wasn't a lie. It just wasn't the full truth. Was he scared of intimacy? No. But was he haunted by guilt and feelings of unworthiness? Completely.

"Oh, Cal.. You do respect me, you have respected me, and I don't want that to go away, I just also want you to want me," Artemus sighed, looking at him with a pleading sort of gaze. "Is it because of what I am? I suppose that would be very understandable.. Or, are you nervous because of what I told you about Marcel and my other past lovers..?"

"No! No, that isn't it at all," Calael said quickly, his cheeks warming up above the line of dark stubble. He wondered, should it be about that? "It isn't you. It really isn't-"

"It's not you, it's me? Oh, Calael, don't you dare use that on me."

"It is me! It's me and my moral compass, my fucking inability to function like a person again after what happened to Harry!" he blurted, and this shocked the blonde into still silence. Quiet settled over the room again, and Calael took a deep breath before he went on. "It's why my dad calls me everyday.. He thinks it's messed me up beyond repair, and I refuse to admit that, but I will admit that the loss has changed me.. I caused his death, indirectly or not, like Bemus caused yours - and is it not disrespectful to him to just forget he ever lived and move onto another?"

"You don't have to forget him to move on. I have never forgotten Edward, and yet here I am, begging to be desired again! Every person in this world needs somebody, be it a friend, or a lover. You shouldn't deprive yourself of that because of one mistake, because you lost someone; if you dwell on it forever it will rot you, Calael," Artemus breathed, his hand coming to rest tenderly on his cheek.

Calael stared at him, his eyes glistening with emotion. Then finally, he leaned in, and pressed their lips together hard, kissing him with all the harboured passion of weeks of restraint. Artemus made a soft sound of acceptance and Calael felt the man kiss him back, now half straddling his lap with his arms still twined around his neck.

The kiss did not last nearly as long as it felt, but both men were smiling uncontrollably as they drew apart. Calael exhaled softly as he gazed up at Artemus, who returned the look with tenderness, his thumb sweeping over Calael's cheekbone. There was no need for words that acknowledged what had transpired, or for anything further. They both understood the significance.

"Come on.. We'll get you some breakfast," he breathed, finally climbing away from the artist and out of the bed, not willing to push the affection any further than that for now. He'd gotten what he wanted; he'd won his attention.

Calael had to sit there for a minute longer, however, just staring at the spot where Artemus had been, his fingertips ghosting over his lips as his heart thudded in his chest.

He was still pondering on it, in fact, when he got out of bed and ate breakfast, and even as he dressed himself and headed up to his studio.

The kiss wouldn't leave his mind. Artemus wouldn't leave his mind. That golden haired man was haunting him in more ways than one - it was like whenever his brain wasn't sinking into the dark space that Harry's death had enforced upon him, it was preoccupied with thoughts of his house mate. The scent of him, the softness of him, the gracefully androgynous way that he walked and carried himself; he was, in essence, everything Calael wanted. The man's notion that he did not desire him was entirely ludicrous; Calael was certain that any rational human being with a working pair of eyes would desire Artemus Moon.

Sighing softly, he picked up his brush and dipped into the water, then his paint, attempting to perfect the tone of Artemus' skin in the painting. He did find it therapeutic to paint in watercolour, watching the varying hues blend so seamlessly together as the water rippled over his outline.

Hours of work were poured into this painting. He sat there as the colours of the sky changed outside, detailing individual lashes and the precise shade that underlined his cheekbones until the work was almost finished, and truly pulling together wonderfully. But even with some calming music on the vinyl player, he still felt couldn't get his mind to slow down. Not for one minute he sat there did he feel entirely relaxed. That kiss, and the knowledge that Artemus wanted him, had only stirred within him a rampant desire not to lose this chance at real, genuine happiness fate had thrown his way.

And so, he kept wondering about Bemus. He needed to know if he was alive, if there was any chance of he and Artemus meeting; because he would need to prevent it. He couldn't bear the thought that anger over Bemus was the only thing anchoring Artemus to Earth, because if that was truly it, then there was a chance of resolution. And resolution meant losing the only person who seemed to make the world brighter.

He couldn't take it anymore. He span his chair around to his desk, opened up his laptop and pulled up Google, hurriedly searching for the man's name; Bemus Moon. It was certainly unusual, and so he hoped that any results would be related to the man himself. Only the details would tell.

Calaels gaze scanned across the webpage, until he saw a local news outlet and clicked, bringing him to a fairly recent article..

Centurion veteran Bemus Moon educates local children on world war history.

The photo of the old man standing beside small, uniformed primary school children and holding up his war medals was very unassuming. He was slightly hunched, though for his age he appeared healthy, in spite of his sagging, wrinkled skin, deep set eyes and wispy grey hair. He was smiling kindly, genuinely, upon a face that was very plain, giving no indication that he had ever been attractive; and from Artemus' descriptions of him, he hadn't been.

Calael released a shuddering breath. If Artemus had been born in 1918, and Bemus was only slightly older, then the dates added up; added to the fact that the paper was local. He doubted very much that Cumbria boasted a whole host of war veterans named Bemus Moon.

The artist quickly told himself that this didn't have to mean anything. Artemus would never discover he was alive of his own accord with no ability to leave Semper place, and he didn't have to tell him. He wasn't going to tell him.

Taking a few deep, steady breaths to recollect himself, Calael continued to scroll his way down the page for more details, until he heard a faint knock at the studio door. In an instant, he grabbed the top of his screen, and slammed the device shut, pushing it back to the edge of the desk and draping a sketchbook inconspicuously over it. "Come in!" he called, fetching his paintbrush and whirling his chair back around to return to the canvas.

Artemus did not walk into the room, but rather he sauntered, every movement perfected and purposeful. There was not a singular moment where he allowed his bare feet to drag across the floor or his body to grow rigid; he moved with a seemingly effortless grace that captivated and enchanted. Uncontrollably, Calael was lowering his brush and staring at him.

The man was dressed in only Calael's white bath robe, very carelessly tied, allowing one bare, pale leg to slip through the fabric, and his chest to be displayed as the robes dropped down across his shoulder. The sultry blonde somehow managed to look outrageously expensive even whilst wearing so little, and Calael wasn't sure whether it was that model-like androgynous quality, or the romantic aroma of roses that hit him like a tidal wave as he grew closer, that made it all so utterly dizzying.

"I took a warm bath, with some rose petals from the garden.. I know that it won't matter once I regenerate but it just relaxes me a great deal," he breathed, and gave a soft, content little sigh, perching himself on the corner of Calael's desk and slowly crossing his legs. The brunette dry swallowed hard, and tore his gaze forcibly away from the mans thighs to meet his gaze instead. Artemus had to know what he did to him when he acted that way. In fact, he was certain he did know, and used it exactly to his maximum advantage.

"Did you need something Artie..?"

"Not at all. I just thought I'd mention that the water is still warm, if you'd like to re-use it.."

Calael relaxed just slightly, and gave a mild grin. "I did explain to you, that's not really necessary these days. Water pressure is kind of a big deal," he teased, prompting the blonde to scoff quietly and roll his eyes.

"That.. isn't really what I- nevermind. How is the painting going?" he asked, leaning forward to rest his arms across Calael's shoulders. The mere touch of the exquisite man was highly distracting, however, and the artist almost coloured the whites of his eyes with topaz blue in surprise. His cheeks grew warm and flustered again as he spoke quickly.

"Well.. Very well. People are going to really like this one I think - they're going to adore you."

He felt delicate hands roaming over his chest from behind, and had to fight to keep his breath from hitching in his throat. "My, do you truly think so?" Artemus whispered, his rose-bud lips ghosting tantalizingly close beside his ear, as they had that same morning.

Calael took a shallow breath to gather up his confidence. Something about the golden haired man - particularly when he looked so inhumanly divine - sent the artist's carefully bolstered defenses crumbling down and left him weak. "I know so," he said softly, "I'm not sure that anyone could be immune to you, Artie."

He flashed a helpless smile over his shoulder at him, but did not anticipate that the blondes face would be lingering quite so close. Artemus smiled back with an amused sort of expression, although his eyes drifted down to the other man's lips. Calael stared uncontrollably at his eyelashes.

"Calael.. Are you immune to me?" he asked softly.

Calael's brow quirked at that. "What? You know that I am not," he breathed, lifting his hand to Artemus' cheek and trailing his thumb along the line of the narrow jaw that he had studied so closely. "Have you already forgotten this morning?"

"How could I? You kiss in the way that it is described in poetry.. Are you certain you don't entertain literature? I thought only writers could be so boldly romantic," he breathed.

Calael chuckled softly at the flattery. "Perhaps artists share in that," he suggested, thinking to himself that he was certain any man as enraptured with somebody as he was would kiss with all the passion of a supernova.

Artemus smiled, and stood up from the desk completely to move himself beside Calael's chair, where he ran his fingers idly through his brunette waves. Calael gazed up at him from his seat like one might gaze at the sky on a clear night, and only noticed the man subtly swaying as his hand moved instinctively to the side of his leg. "Artemus?"

"This music," Artemus began, turning his gaze distractedly towards the source of it like he had just now noticed it's presence with the changing of the song. Calael frowned as he now drifted from his side again, fingers slipping from his hair. The man instead lingered beside the stereo, his hands grazing briefly across the small, pulsing speaker. He shut his eyes and felt the beat of the Arctic Monkeys song like a blind man, an almost strangely nostalgic smile drifting to his lips. "Is this the music that people make love to nowadays?"

The question caught him just slightly off guard, but also plucked a lopsided smile from him. "I suppose so. But, it's also good for art. Good for painting someone like you."

"A lot of things change over a century. The music of passion doesn't. Is that what you feel for me?" Artemus breathed, peering up at him now through his girlish lashes. "Passion?"

"No. No, I-" Calael paused for a moment. He took a very deep, careful breath, and then finally held his gaze with steel. "It's more than that."

"More than that, eh? Now you speak with mettle. Come here, Cal," Artemus grinned, extending a hand to him and stepping a pace closer. "Come and dance with me. Do you know how?"

"Oh, god," Calael laughed breathlessly, rising to his feet and approaching with awkward reluctance. "I haven't ever danced sober. I told you I have two left feet."

"Sober or not sober, you're going to humour me," the blonde grinned, and draped one arm around the taller man's neck, his other hand lacing their fingers together so that their arms were out to the side. "You only have to sway. Follow my footing.."

"The very idea of foot work is paining me," the artist joked mildly, his free hand moving to cup Artemus' waist. However, it was as though all things dissolved when the spirit looked into his eyes. Those clear, crystal pools ran so deep that he would happily drown in their depths just to feel the water. He forgot the messy studio around them and the dying light outside, even forgot the music. He just swayed to the rhythm of Artemus' body and followed his footing with mirrored movements.

Artemus gave a soft sigh, and inclined his head forward, leaning it against Calael's shoulder and pressing them chest to chest. Butterflies erupted in Calael's stomach when the painful distance between them finally closed. "Artemus. You're absolutely beautiful, do you know that?" he whispered. "Maybe it's ridiculous to even say that, of course you know that you're beautiful.. But you have a beautiful soul, too. You were right to maintain your memorial yourself for all those years; because you deserve flowers. You deserve flowers and poetry and dancing and all the old notions of romance that I am so shit at.."

"Calael Black, I won't hear a word of that. You did not just give me flowers, you had a garden built for me. Your art is poetry. And unless I am mistaken, we are dancing right now," Artemus uttered, peering up at him with an illuminating smile. "Cal; I just want you to kiss me again like you kissed me before.."

"Then why didn't you say that sooner..?"

"Because I've always loved myself too much and thought my kisses needed to be earned. But.. I want them to be stolen sometimes too," he whispered against his lips, and barely a moment later Calael did just that.

He kissed him deeply, and felt Artemus' hand go weak against his. Freeing himself, he slipped his fingers into the mans golden hair, pulling gently on its ribbon to let it down. Artemus groaned as Calael tangled his hands in the long locks and tugged him closer by the back of his head.

"Calael," he breathed, and hearing his name in that sensual purr was enough to make desire overpower the artist's mind. Hand clasped around his waist and kissing him passionately, he began to lead his golden muse from the study, where they stumbled into the bedroom and did not emerge from the scattered red sheets until late the following morning; the sounds of love making rupturing the silence of Semper Place.

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