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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7. Chapter 7

The following morning when Calael woke, he was greeted by a beam of intense sunlight shining in through the crack in the blinds, making him squint and groan softly. "Artemus.. You didn't shut the drapes," he murmured, stretching out his arms with a yawn. However, as he glanced over he saw that the bed was empty, and the duvet was made perfectly.  Artemus must have already got up. 

Calael's gaze was promptly drawn to his phone on the arm of the chair, his LED flashing blue. Upon investigation, he was greeted by an onslaught of emails from clients. A sick feeling came over him at the vast number of requests regarding when his next auction or gallery event would be, what his next range was going to feature, and a few distinguished members of the clientele daring to request specified colour pallets to match their opulent, middle class homes. Though he himself was raised in an undeniably wealthy environment, Calael had far more of a respect for new money than old money. It just so happened that his new-money family, who had kick started him in the world of art by trusted word of mouth, happened to mix socially with both.

Somehow to the rich and extravagant an undiscovered, unknown young artist recommended by a fellow purveyor of extravagance was far more tasteful and delightfully bohemian than one simply trying to get by without help. Calael was known now in the world of art, not just for his last name but for his particular style, which had gained attention quickly once it was purchased and displayed in the right social circles. After a few years of consistency and notoriety, forcing his introversion not to become a hindrance at the events where he would popularise himself, one painting could earn him hundreds if not a thousand or more. With art as a full time career, he'd had plenty of time to produce his work.

That was, before the incident. Now, the thought of dragging himself to a gallery party trying to charm people he couldn't stand was one equal to dragging himself out in the middle of a lightning storm wearing a suit of copper armor.

Worst of all however, he lacked motivation. He'd expected to be flooded with the renowned inspirational power of nature upon moving to the countryside, but instead he was stuck for any kind of subject matter for his art. Art was his pride and joy, but after Harry's death, everything joyous in his life had lost a little of it's sparkle. Yesterday, painting the peonies on the wall for Artemus, had been his first real reminder of how fulfilled he was by his chosen career. How dearly he'd missed it. He just needed to find some goddamn inspiration to get him back on track..

Sighing softly, he pulled himself up from the armchair and cracked his back as he made his way to the mirror, regarding his tired features for a brief moment. Past his square, stubbled jaw, waves of brown hair and his roman nose, were the lingering ghost of blue eye bags that had stuck with him for months. They were only slightly alleviated these past two days, having slept undeniably better with another person present.

After washing his face, dressing himself in jeans and a jumper, and actually bothering to drag a comb back through his hair for the first time in a while, he headed downstairs, to find Artemus hard at work making breakfast in the kitchen. He seemed to be struggling to work the newly renovated appliances to some degree but thankfully there was no burning smell, just the scent of bacon and sausages; a full English breakfast. It was almost enough to make his mouth water, his mind returning to the comforting thoughts of his childhood home. His mother was a persistent vegetarian, but every Sunday when she went to her yoga classes him and his dad would sneak an array of meat into the oven and go wild. It was their little secret, and he'd always looked forward to Sunday morning.

"Cooking up a storm?" Calael asked, leaning against the doorway and folding his arms.

Artemus turned around promptly, and chuckled upon hearing his own words quoted back to him. "Well good morning to you too, sunshine. I hope you don't mind, I wanted to cook breakfast today, since you slept in the chair all night.. I'm terribly sorry I fell asleep so fast - I must have been in a jolly good mood. You should have just gotten into the bed anyway, I feel rather guilty!" 

Calael momentarily pictured himself squeezing into the tight space that had been left, pressed flush against Artemus, and his cheeks warmed. He had to look away. "It's, uh, it's really no problem.. The food smells great. Thankyou, Artemus."

The blonde smiled brightly at that; the kind of smile that could light up an entire room. It was practically dizzying. "You're welcome! Oh, the gardener you called saw your message and let himself into the back garden. I made sure to leave a note about the sorts of flowers I'd like out there. I promise you, it's going to be a spectacle! He's even re-turfing the lawn by the looks of it. A good thing, I say; that grass could barely be considered grass anymore."

Distantly, Calael dreaded what was meant by 'spectacle,' but he didn't object. It wasn't exactly going to be his garden; not really. His bank account was paying for it, yes, but the objective was to make Artemus happy, not to be on the front page of 'botanist weekly.' "I'm sure it will be beautiful, Artemus. I'm gonna to go out and speak to him, alright?" he said with a small smile. There was an odd, yet warm feeling surrounding a morning like this one; one that once again made it very difficult to consider Artemus as anything less than an ordinary house mate. Everything was so nonchalant, so wonderfully mundane, that it was not in the slightest bit apparent to him that Artemus was dead.

The blonde just smiled back and nodded in confirmation, returning to his cooking as the brunette slipped on his boots and headed out into the garden.

Passing over the doorway, the temperature dropped immediately. Calael shuddered and had to blow into his hands as he approached the gardener, who was rolling out strips of fresh green turf across the newly dug land. "Hello?" he called, and the fellow looked up through his dark hair, standing straight again and regarding him up and down with a faint grin.

"Well hello sleeping beauty," he said playfully, pressing his shovel into the dirt and leaning on it nonchalantly. "My name is Rhys, the village gardener. I got your note. Cute writing, mate; I actually expected a lady."

"Oh, uh, no- that'd be mine," Calael said quickly, thinking back to the sight of Artemus' shamelessly pretty, swirling cursive, and clearing his throat to reassert his masculinity. "Sorry that I slept in for so long, I did intend to meet you out here sooner.."

"It's no trouble, though I would've loved your company," Rhys breathed, and flashed a wink at the artist before turning to grab the next roll of turf. Calael's mouth turned dry.

"I'm Calael, by the way," he said quietly, burying his cold hands into his pockets and avoiding looking right at him. Rhys, however, was staring shamelessly when he turned back around, and Calael got the uncomfortable feeling that the man was undressing him with his eyes as his gaze scrolled lazily up and down.

"Hmm.. A pretty Gaelic name, that. Irish?"

"Scottish. My grandmother was Scottish.."

"I can imagine you with a Scotsman's accent, but I reckon this one is cuter."

The grin on the gardeners face was overwhelming, and Calael felt distinctly uncomfortable. How was it that queer men always seemed to identify him at a glance as one of them whenever he didn't need them to? "Uh.. Whatever you say," he chuckled somewhat nervously, beginning a few subtle steps back towards the house as Rhys turned his back to finish off the lawn. However, the moment the man was done and saw him retreating, he engaged him in conversation again.

"What is it that a man like you would be doing so far out here anyway, Calael?"

"A man like me..?"

"You know. Young," he drawled, as he advanced towards him with slow steps. "Attractive. Living all alone up in the lakes? It seems practically criminal.."

Calael had to withhold an expression of repulsion. It wasn't that Rhys was unattractive; on the contrary, he wasn't in the slightest. But forwardness had always been incredibly unappealing to him. To him, jumping forward to flirtation was representative of a complete absence of character. "I have my reasons."

"I bet it gets lonely.. Maybe you need a friend," he breathed, lifting a large, gloved hand and resting it on his shoulder, where he seemed to investigate the material of his jumper between finger and thumb. Calael swallowed the lump in his throat and struggled for words.

"Uh.. Really, that's quite alright, I need my flower patch fixing quite a bit more," he said with a joking expression. He was only half kidding.

Rhys huffed at that, his hand trailing down to rest on Calael's chest as he moved himself closer, close enough that the artist could smell cheap aftershave and the scent of petrichor. He was still smirking rather suggestively. "Come on, now. You know I'm only toying around with ya'. You are cute, though, in that boy next door kinda way.. You'd do well for yourself in the city, the club guys would eat up a lad like you. Hey, are you a top? I bet you're a top. You'd switch though, wouldn't you?"

Calael became very aware that one of Rhys' hands had dropped to his waist, and then suddenly, it wasn't there at all. The man cried out in pain and stumbled forward, as though he had suddenly become top-heavy. He staggered and Calael immediately steadied him, wide eyed, before the man dropped to one knee in the grass and gripped at the back of his head. As his neck bowed, Calael saw a thin streak of blood trickling down the back of his head from his hairline, and a decently sized stone from the patio lying in the dirt a couple of feet away.

"Oh, shit! What happened?" the brunette cursed, hurriedly kneeling beside him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders to pull him up to his feet. Rhys was heavy, but he seemed to compose himself after a couple of dizzy moments, groaning and gathering up his strength. "Damn it, something hit me! Pretty bloody hard, too- is there someone else on the grounds?!"

"No! No of course not! I'm guessing a bird must have dropped a rock on your head or something," Calael said quickly, though his gaze was drawn towards the kitchen door, which had been shut now despite him having left it open.. Through the window, he could see Artemus cooking in the kitchen in a rushed sort of state. Could he have done it?

"Let me get you cleaned up," Calael murmured, leading the man back inside to the kitchen. He saw Artemus frown and press himself back against the counter, but Rhys still bumped him, and like a waver in reality Artemus' form rippled when the gardeners arm passed through his chest, momentarily glitching back to transparency. Rhys' gaze did not shift to the spirit for even a second, for he had no idea that he was there, and Artemus' made no move to touch anything that might reveal himself as he watched the two intently.

"Sit down here," Calael said softly, easing Rhys onto the living room couch and fetching the first aid kit from a kitchen drawer, ignoring Artemus to the best of his ability as he did. He would have to discuss his potential role in this with him later. For now, he perched on the stool infront of the couch and started to dab at the gardener's graze with a sterile wipe.

 Rhys seemed uneasy, and was fidgeting a great deal. Between winces of pain, he kept staring over the artist's shoulder towards the garden with large, glassy eyes. "Thankyou, Calael," he murmured, tonelessly. Taking a deep breath, he placed a hand on the mans knee and squeezed it.

Artemus moved only now. As Calael was tying off a bandage around his head, Artemus - biting down very hard on his bottom lip - stood straight from the counter and took three steps to the sink, where he reached out and turned the tap. Nonchalantly, he folded his arms and leaned there as the water ran, watching fear settle into Rhys' face.

The man's eyes widened. He immediately moved his hand from Calael's leg and sat bolt upright, before getting to his feet. "The water-"

Calael returned his gaze to the kitchen. Noticing Artemus' blank, almost smug expression, he couldn't help but feel that he had been involved in the incident in the garden afterall.. He was deliberately causing trouble. 

"The waterworks are faulty, it's a very, very old house," he said, pointedly, with a subtle glare and a questioning look in the direction of the spirit. 

Artemus took no heed. Looking directly at Calael, he moved again, strolling casually with one leg swinging infront of the other to the light switch. And he pressed it once. This alone drew the gardener's gaze like a moth to a flame, but then he flicked it back the other way. And then again. And then once more. He seemed to know that Calael couldn't jump into action to stop him, and he was going to push this as far as he could take it.

Rhys shook his head quickly at that, swallowing hard as his eyes moved rapidly from the running water to the flickering light. His voice edged on hysterical. "Is your electric faulty too?"

"Yes," Calael blurted, and now looked directly at Artemus, mouthing desperately for him to stop this.

But Artemus wasn't done. In a final act of mischief, he pulled slowly on the handle of the cutlery drawer, leaving a petrified Rhys to stare in horror as it was drawn out further, further, and then finally hit the ground with a loud crashing sound, scattering knives and forks across the floorboards. Calael's eyes widened and Rhys let out a cry of shock and fear.

"Oh hell no!" he exclaimed, immediately advancing for the door, almost tripping over a landslide of cutlery. "I suppose you're about to tell me the house is built on a forty degree bloody angle?! I'm not liking this. At all. I'm sorry, but, I'm gonna leave now- and I'll be back tomorrow for my supplies."

"What?" Calael frowned, getting up and following him to the door. "You mean you aren't finishing the job?"

"Are you kidding me? Either your entire goddamn house is broken or there is something else here that I can't explain! You can transfer me money for the turf and the first flower bed, but that's all. Someone else can finish the job. Good bloody luck with this place, city boy," Rhys scoffed, then opened the door and was gone outside in an instant.

Calael looked at Artemus in complete shock. For a moment, he couldn't even find words. He just reached across, turned off the tap before the sink could overflow, then gestured in dismay at the mess of the cutlery drawer.

 Artemus crossed his arms. "Oops."

"Artemus! Why, why the hell would you do that? What did that man do to deserve that? I wasn't going to blame you but, I see what you're capable of; I know it was you who threw the rock! Christ, you made that man bleed, I know it was you!" Calael snapped accusingly. Artemus' big blue eyes widened a fraction.

"Calael.. You think I intended to hurt him?" he breathed. "I would never! I've never hurt anyone, not ever in my life, not on purpose!"

"But you did," Calael stated, pacing the kitchen as he wrung his hands together. He groaned in dismay and dropped to the floorboards to begin tossing knives, forks and spoons back into the drawer with loud clatters. "Why? Why?"

"I- I saw in the window- I thought he was harassing you! I only meant to startle him enough that he would leave you alone, not to hurt him!"

"Then why did you keep acting out in the kitchen? You terrified him!"

"Acting out? I'm not a child, I did that because he kept touching you and I didn't like it! He made me nervous, I thought he might try something! I just wanted him gone.. We can get a new gardener. Don't you see why I did it, Calael? Are you telling me you weren't uncomfortable? Didn't I do you a favour?"

Calael looked up at him, biting his lip hard, but when faced with that beautiful vision of Artemus leaning into the kitchen counter, his golden hair faceting in the sunlight, he couldn't bring himself to raise his voice again. It seemed inconceivable in that moment that such a sweet faced man could do such a thing out of malice. Surely, Artemus just cared about him; that was all. He thought he was protecting him, and with all things considered, that really meant a great deal. "Yes," he whispered, weakly. "Yes, I see why you did it. I suppose you must have felt quite helpless if that's what you thought was happening.."

"I did," Artemus said softly, pushing off the counter to approach him. Calael noticed the way he peered up through his lashes as he got closer. It was difficult not to notice."So you aren't angry with me? You aren't going to leave?"

"Of course I'm not going to leave," Calael sighed, mustering up a little smile for him. It wasn't a false smile by any means; he didn't need to fake smiles for Artemus. He just needed to remind himself for a moment that everything really was okay.

The blonde looked so very relieved. He stepped forward, and wrapped his arms around his neck, burying his face in his shoulder as he hugged him tight. That permanent scent of roses that he carried was wonderfully dizzying, and Calael's smile widened a little as he hugged him back tightly, arms wrapped securely around his midriff. "Help me with the drawer," he said after a few long moments, and Artemus nodded quickly, drawing away and assisting him in lifting the heavy wooden drawer back into it's slot. It had left a dent in the floorboards, but Calael placed his foot there swiftly. Artemus didn't need to feel any worse. "Hey," he said, still smiling somewhat wearily. "You can go into the garden, yeah? How far from the house can you go?"

"Just to the pine trees, and the end of the drive way.. Why do you ask?"

Calael took hold of Artemus' sleeve. Swiftly, he was pulling him out into the garden, the blonde  following along behind him with a brow arched in curiousity. "What is it, Calael?"

"Hush, you'll see in a moment," Calael chuckled, and kept pulling him until they reached the brand new flower patch, adorned with an array of freshly planted pink peonies. The brilliant array of colour had already transformed this wilted and derelict demesne into the garden it was intended to be."Here.. Unfortunately, it's not much. But I thought that seeing this might cheer you up."

Artemus' smile in that moment could have outshone the sun in the sky. He was speechless, kneeling slowly beside the patch and letting his fingers dance across the fragile buds and petals. "Oh my god," he whispered. "Oh-  oh, it is marvelous! It's been so long since I've seen anything like this! Don't they smell wonderful? They are my favourites.. I recall learning that in medieval times, people believed that the scent of a peony could fight away demons and monsters," he laughed delightedly. "They were used medicinally then too. As painkillers during childbirth, and to cure headaches and treat asthma. God knows if it actually worked, but they're certainly pretty to look at.. I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"I think I rather like hearing you ramble. We'll fill this garden with flowers, Artemus, I promise. I'll get a new gardener to install them and they can be yours to take care of," Calael smiled warmly, resting his hand on his shoulder. "I swear to you that I'm staying at Semper Place. They won't have to die again."

Artemus looked up at him with such light in his eyes, that Calael felt helplessly captivated in his gaze. "Pick me one.. Pick me the prettiest flower. Just this once."

The man obliged without hesitation. He knelt down with him in the fresh new grass and regarded the patch of beautiful pink and yellow flowers for one with the fullest, most fascinating petals, finally reaching out and pinching it's stem with thumb and forefinger to pull it free. He looked up at the golden haired man, and tucked it gently behind his ear, holding back a long blonde curl.

Artemus looked exquisite. His pale skin was soft and perfectly unblemished in the generous winter sun, his eyes glistening and the pink of the peony fitting so beautifully with his delicate, androgynous features. Calael's admiring eyes followed the line of his jaw and his cheekbones, the curve of his full lips, and he thought of paintings throughout history of great beauties of their times that could not compare to this man. Hadrian's Antinous, the Mona Lisa, even the depiction of Dorian Grey in Oscar Wilde's famous novel could not touch Artemus Moon. He was art in motion.

Finally, his breath caught in his throat, and he stood up abruptly, a wonderful idea hatching itself in his mind. Artemus did not have to be dead to the world; not if Calael could help it. "Come with me; I've had a beautiful thought."

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