Time is like those flames. That’s the thought that keeps fluttering at the edge of Papa’s consciousness where he sits pretending to warm his bones by the fire. It dances and shines and consumes, but in the end what is it but a passing illusion? A spark of brightness soon to be snuffed out by nothingness.
Time. He shakes his head. Is he really thinking about time, or about Him?
He shifts in the chair and leans his head against the velvet cushion. The fire leaps and roars, extending beyond its reach, snapping and crackling with sparks that shoot towards heaven, only to fall and die at his feet. So much like the young men who used to court him in hopes of hellish favour.
He frowns. How odd it is to inhabit a frame that remembers how to desire, but whose flame is sputtering weakly, barely mustering interest in a fantasy before sleep takes him. To know, to remember himself as the most lascivious fuck who ever drew breath, and yet what remains of all that wickedness? A bitter sarcasm filed down to bite size. Mouth-watering oaths a mere whimper.
His biggest passion now his biggest loss.
Maybe he shouldn’t dwell on it, but then again, why not? It’s the prerogative of the decrepit: to reminisce and ramble, to remember and regret. To dream of the young men he can no longer satisfy. To conjure the phantasms of yesteryear and have them dance anew for his pleasure.
His chest contracts with a twinge of pleasure-pain. He tries to pretend that he misses them, all the young men who came to the church, longing to don the garb and the paint, desperate to please him. He forces a smile at the memory, all to confuse himself and muddy the truth. And as distractions go, those men aren’t bad. Eager young things, prepared to burn. They thought they were making a sacrifice, but discovered a bitter chalice they could never again forgo. They never reached their goals, because the price they paid was goal enough. They never made it past his halls, never bothered to take his gifts into the world.
Except one. One gentle, stone cold soul who came to him for more than the usual. Who meant to sacrifice everything for Papa’s benediction and his curse, his crown and his seed. An eagle-eyed little monster, a whisper-thin veneer of self-control and a set of sharp, sharp teeth. A special ghoul.
My Special Ghoul.
Papa closes his eyes on the dancing flames and conjures old fires instead. Sparks flying from hands that learned the crossroads lesson. Well, not so much hands as… voice. Papa shudders at the thought. Yes, the thought, because he hasn’t listened to the voice for a long time. He doesn’t like who he becomes at the sound.
Of course it’s almost impossible to avoid it these days. The gift he gave was lavish. The promise is delivered, and his Special One is out there reaping the rewards, paying for the pleasure of Papa’s company with endless fame and fortune. And he thought it was the other way round.
A bitter truth squeezes Papa’s throat: he wants his sweet bird to return, to choose him instead of the glittering path he’s on. The steep and thorny path, wouldn’t you know. He sits here, having given everything, and his beneficiary is out there drowning in applause, deaf to all other sounds. He knew what would happen when he set the wheels in motion, of course he did. But he never thought the eagle-eyed one would have such stamina, such persistence. And so he didn’t hold back, didn’t think to keep some secrets.
Didn’t think to protect himself.
Behind his closed eyes, that lithe young form takes shape, slithers snake-like into his consciousness. They all swoon at those thighs, that swagger, but have they laid their hands on hot flesh and felt it burn for them? No. Special hasn’t burned for anyone but Papa.
The wording jars him out of bliss. Damnation. Put that way, it sounds like a sordid erotica, when it’s anything but. What they had – what he still has, on his own, in the furthest reaches of the night – can’t be measured in human words. They’re not related, and yet they’re one blood and one soul. Lesser beings would say there’s an age gap, but what do years matter after millennia? Papa is immortal, Special is not. Together they straddle eternity.
Well, straddled. Papa swallows down that ancient ache, burning cold and vacant in his throat. Now Special straddles all on his own, wide-legged and confident like a king, living the dream they dreamed together. Papa doesn’t begrudge him the limelight, but when the lamps die down he wishes there was a sliver of shadow left for him. If nothing else, that he could travel the globe in a glass coffin of patience, waiting for Special’s reviving kiss.
He should have kept to the eager young hopeless. Should have seen trouble coming a mile away when that baby-faced fucker came in the door. Should have shut it right there, should have slammed it in his face – you haven’t got it, son. But he was powerless to resist. The preening lads who tripped over themselves to catch his eye where he sat on his throne and gave out grains of attention, wisps of favour… they all disappeared from his vision when that vision stepped over the threshold.
He was older than the others and yet so young. He was a child wrapped in man-skin and tied up with a leather bow. He was ecstasy waiting to happen, he was grief in human form. He was trouble and grace, a double-edged sword with a gilded hilt waiting to plunge into a sheath grown weary of masculine charms. He was all and nothing, a wormhole of want, a death’s head of desire. He needed Papa like these worthless maggots had never needed him, and not only his power, not only the worldly gifts he could bestow. He truly wanted to become one with him.
It had seemed an exciting game. Papa had welcomed the deceiver in, safe in the belief that he was the wily one. Not so this time. Special had taken all he had to give and set fire to the rest. No one could ever touch him again after a single caress from hands that made mortality a virtue. Not after fingers that raised to an art the banal and the everyday, that injected evil into beauty and opened wounds to show the colours – masking in vulnerability the dominion of the world. So much like Christ you might even say it was plagiarism. Damien’s second coming, a return to the stage in the starring role of Jesus. The horn-bearer donning the thorns to confuse the final few.
But that was for the humans! The whole plan had been for humanity, to call them all into his fold. It had never been for Papa. The snares hadn’t been designed with him in mind – and yet they had. The Special One had weaved a silver thread from Papa’s cloak into the trap, and when he stepped into it, oh, he’d been lost at once. He’d felt it the second the jaws snapped shut, and yet he’d revelled in the feel of it and drunk the liquor of love from Special’s tongue, pretending it was his own free choice because it was, it was.
And so he’d let himself be loved and lost and left behind. Special’s touch a faint scar on his skin, his damned voice a constant echo in these cold halls.
Opening his eyes, Papa blinks at the bright flames. They bear no warmth, no comfort. Sitting here is just a ghoul’s charade, a ghost’s pretence at Hallmark perfection. That’s what happened when Special touched him: he made him human. Debased him with his flawlessness, stripped him of his robes and burned him with his brand. Made him feel. And now here he sits with his feet on a stool and his heart in shards and feels, and feels, and feels, but the ultimate gift is denied him. Human in spirit and human in heart, he’ll walk his castle forever, because the only thing Special didn’t give him was death.
Even as he thinks it, there’s a flutter of wind, a whisper of change. The candles gutter, the big door bangs.
Chest a ruin, he looks up.