CHAPTER THREE - TRUE BEAUTY
Beauty, true beauty, Alex’s father had said, was rare. It was more than just symmetrical features. It could never be posed or captured truly on film. No, it would be found in a completely unguarded moment that would have more to do with a person’s soul than the light streaming down upon them It would be at this moment, this unguarded moment, that true beauty would be revealed.
“And you’ll never forget it, Alex. It will mark you forever,” his father had told him. Those words were whispered as his father had little strength at the end just before cancer had eaten him alive.
Alex was twelve when his father died; the same age as Peter was now. He’d been his caregiver as his mother had started her running then. He was there when his father had taken his last breath.
True beauty … Dad was right.
True beauty was what Alex was seeing now in a figure up on the balcony above the dance floor. His breath stuttered and stopped as he caught sight of the man leaning on the railing.
It’s Demetrius Black. It has to be.
Demetrius had wavy dark hair with red and copper highlights. It was drawn back in a loose, low pony tale at the base of his neck, but there were stray strands that curled around his face and over his pale, wide forehead. His skin was nearly as white as the shirt he wore tucked into a pair of dark pants. His shirt flared open at the throat and was undone to the middle of his chest. The defined muscles of his chest were revealed and they were as pale and perfect as his high cheekbones.
Open your eyes. I have to see your eyes.
Demetrius’ eyelids flew open and he stared unerringly down at Alex. His eyes should have been too far away to see their color, but they seemed to glow a luminous aquamarine for a moment. Those eyes widened as Demetrius realized that Alex was seeing him.
He didn’t expect to be seen. How could he believe he was invisible up there? Looking like he does?
The dancers swirled around Alex. None stopped. None pointed and cried out Demetrius’ name. Not even Darin as he slowed as he spun in place, yelling something about heaven. No one did see him. Except Alex.
How is that possible?
Demetrius’ slender, elegant hands rose from the balcony’s railing like fluttering birds and he retreated a step. Alex’s heart skipped and he found himself reaching upwards as if he could grasp Demetrius and hold him there. Limned in silver moonlight.
Don’t go! Seriously, don’t go!
Demetrius paused in his retreat. He stepped forward again. Tentatively. Uncertain. His long fingers curled around the edge of the stone railing. Alex let out a relieved breath. He wasn’t leaving. He was staying! A slight smile lifted the corners of Demetrius’ sculpted mouth, evidently amused at Alex’s relief. The boy’s heart beat quickened. That smile spread. Alex was grinning back like an idiot.
Now how do I get to talk to you? Too far to shout. Is there a set of stairs?
That was when the blast of music came. The DJ switched to a song with an opening that was began like a wall of sound. Alex flinched, but Demetrius’ body seemed to experience a physical blow from the sound. His beautiful face contorted with pain. His already pale skin became paler. His body curled over the railing. His lush mouth opened and he let out a silent cry of agony.
“Holy shit! Hold on! Hold on!” Alex cried. “What’s wrong?”
But Demetrius didn’t answer. He was now on his knees. His arms were helplessly wrapped around his head, his hands over his ears like the sound was causing him agony. The ground quivered from the base as the song went on and on. Demetrius jerked with each beat.
I have to get them to turn off the music.
But when Alex spun around to get to the DJ through the crowd, he realized how impossible it was. There was literally a sea of tightly packed people between him and the man controlling the music. He swung back to face Demetrius. He was shaking, seemingly overcome and suffering from the pounding music. That image was burned into Alex’s mind.
“I’m coming!” he called up to the figure on the balcony.
If he couldn’t get the music off then maybe he could get Demetrius back inside.
I’m betting the second floor is soundproofed or at least it’ll be better than out here.
Alex cast around for a way to get up to the second floor. But there was no staircase up to the second floor outside. There wasn’t even any convenient carvings for him to climb up. He had to find a way in on the inside.
There must be stairs to the second floor inside. But where? I didn’t see any on my way in.
But he had to get inside first. He’d figure out where the stairs were second. He turned towards the back door. Like the path to the DJ, the area was packed with people, but as everyone pressed closer to the stage there was slightly more space to get to the French doors. Everyone it seems had come out of the club and had begun to dance. The song that had felled Demetrius was driving all the club goers crazy. Their arms waved in the air. Most were jumping up and down. Their faces were shining. But it was only Demetrius’ face, taut with agony, that Alex saw in his mind’s eye.
“Alex, where are you going?” Darin grabbed his arm as he started to push his way through to the doors.
“Gotta go! I’ve got to go! He’s in trouble!” Alex tugged his arm from Darin’s hand.
“What? Who?” Darin’s forehead furrowed.
“Demetrius! Up there!” Alex pointed to the writhing figure.
Darin looked up at Demetrius. But he had no reaction to the figure in such pain. He turned back to Alex. “Who?”
It was Alex’s turn to become confused, “Demetrius! The man that’s on the ground up there! In agony!”
“What the hell are you talking about? There’s no one up there.”
Alex grasped Darin’s chin and directed his gaze to Demetrius. But there was nothing to register the man in Darin’s gaze.
How can he be so heartless as to not react?
“I don’t see anybody,” Darin said.
“You don’t … see anyone?” Alex stared up at Demetrius. Still in pain. Still alone. Still in need.
I’m not crazy. He’s there. For some reason I’m the only one who sees him.
“I’ve got to go. He needs me,” Alex said.
“Your invisible friend?” Darin scowled at him and plucked at Alex’s pockets. “Did you get some stuff? I can’t believe you didn’t share with me! Do you have any more?”
“What? No, I don’t have drugs! Let go! I – I have to get up there!”
Alex fled from Darin. He shoved his way into the crowd of dancers. He was buffeted on all sides, nearly elbowed a couple of times, but he ignored it all. He needed to get inside. Who knew what damage Demetrius was suffering every second he was out there.
Those people he couldn’t slide by in the crowd he pushed from his path. Others he physically lifted. He hardly remembered how he managed to get up the final few steps to the French doors. He burst into the dining room. He saw the bartender that had turned down Darin and him earlier. The man’s black skin was gleaming with a sheen of sweat as he frantically made drinks for dozens of people. Alex shoved his way to the front of the line even as people cursed him. The bartender saw him and was already shaking his shaved head.
“Look, kid, I already told you,” the bartender began, “that you aren’t being served--”
“I don’t want alcohol! Just tell me where the stairs are to the second floor,” Alex said.
The bartender froze. “No one goes up there, kid. Not even people that Mr. Black lets in.”
“Mr. Black is the reason I have to get up there. He’s on the balcony out back! He’s collapsed!” Alex cried.
At first the bartender’s dark eyes had widened and his mouth had parted, but then his expression darkened with disbelief and annoyance. “You saw Mr. Black on the balcony?”
“Yeah, he’s up there now. He’s in pain--”
“Mr. Black would not be outside,” the bartender spoke over him.
“If Mr. Black were outside, you wouldn’t have seen him,” the bartender said.
“I’m the only one who did,” Alex said.
So it’s true. Crazily no one but me does see him.
The bartender paused one moment as if he wondered if Alex was telling the truth, but evidently it was just too unbelievable for him to consider it for long. He shook his head. “Sorry, kid, but I’m not helping you disturb Mr. Black. And if you try to get up there, you’ll be in big trouble. Trust me on this.”
Alex slammed his hand on the counter. “Where are the stairs?”
“I’m not telling you and you’re not getting upstairs. In fact, I’m going to get Hans to--”
“I don’t have time for this.” Alex broke away from the bartender.
Where would I be if I were a staircase?
He dashed into the adjoining room that he and Darin had passed up to get outside. It looked to be an old greenhouse. One wall and the ceiling were arched glass. There were sofas and small tables with flickering candles on them. People were sprawled across them. The scent of sex and alcohol hung heavy. Strangely, there was also the bitter, metallic tang of blood on the air.
Alex’s gaze unerring went to where the scent originated. There were two attractive women on the couch. One had hair that was black with red tips at the end. She was curled against another girl who wore a dress more like a slip than anything else. The two-toned hair girl had her mouth between the other girl’s legs. She was sucking on her inner thigh. Alex could have sworn she was biting her. But other people’s fetishes at this point held no ability to shock or embarrass him.
This is taking too long. Demetrius is in pain. I have to get to him!
He passed through the greenhouse into a parlor and from there another room that could have been a library in the past due to the shelves lining the walls. Beyond there were various sitting rooms, a curving observatory, and a new hothouse.
This place is a freaking maze!
But there was no sign of a staircase either up or down.
Darin will be disappointed. No basement VIP room.
He made it into a final room. But there was only one way in and out of it and that was through the door Alex had barreled through. It looked out onto the front porch. Alex could see the line of club-goer wannabes out the bow window. He clenched his hands into fists.
Think, dammit. Think! Alex began to pace. They modified this place from when it was a single family home. He paced to the right and nearly ran into a wall.On the other side of this wall would have been where he and Darin had come into the house. Wait a minute. This wall is thicker than it needs to be by a lot. There’s at least three feet of space between this wall and the wall where we came in. He stared hard atthe wallpaper, which was black with a faint flower pattern. Staircases are often in the front of the house by the door. The staircase is hidden!
It was brilliant really and practical as well. Considering the fact that people in the club seemed to want to get it on wherever they could find a flat surface, if a staircase had been revealed they would have constantly been trying to go up it to find a bed. Too much of a hassle to keep people out. But a hidden staircase would do the trick.
Now there must be a way to get through this wall.
Alex bent down and looked at the floor. He noticed that there was an abrasion on the black and white tile. His gaze slid up to the wall and he saw the slightest seam on the side wall.
In plain sight, but totally hidden. Totally cool. There must be a way to open it. No books or candle scones to pull. Maybe something to push?
Alex started patting the wall. There was definitely a hollow sound. He was right. He pressed near the edge of the wall by the corner and the wall popped open. He let out a soft whoop as he pried open the secret door. Beyond it was a small three by three foot space where a set of stairs going up emptied out. Even though the club had been dim, this space was far dimmer. The only light came from the top of the stairs. It flickered and glowed redly. He realized it was a coming from candles.
Up I go. Demetrius is up there.
He took the stairs two at a time. The panic for the beautiful man flowed over him again. Adrenaline pumped into his blood stream. He burst out into a hallway that lead in three directions, but there was only one direction he was interested in, which was towards the back of the house. Candles were lit on small tables that lined the hallway. He felt like he was following will’o’wisps through the gloom. He wasn’t paying attention to the décor, but his impression was of old-time Victorian, gleaming antiques and oil paintings on the walls. He felt a bit like he’d stepped back in time. The hallway emptied out into a room. One whole wall was a series of blacked out French doors.
He pulled open one of the doors. The blast of sound from the band had him nearly staggering back. The second floor was soundproofed. But it was the sight of Demetrius, crawling towards the doors that had him ignoring the cacophony.
“Demetrius!” Alex skidded to his side and dropped down on his knees beside the other man.
“P—please, h—help me. I—inside,” the man begged. He was white as a sheet and slick with cold, clammy sweat.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got you. Hold on.”
He looped Demetrius’ arm around his neck and wrapped one of his arms around the older man’s back. Demetrius staggered to his feet as Alex used his strength to half carry the man inside. He shut the door to the balcony firmly behind them and the sound dissipated to a muted roar. They stood there for one moment, the loudest sound being their harsh breathing.
“My – my room, please,” Demetrius whispered. He was trembling against Alex’s side and he was still ghastly pale. He gritted his jaw and did not look at Alex as if to do so was painful. “I – I must sit down.”
“Of course. Where is it?” Alex asked.
“End of the hall to the right. There’s a – a fire inside. All the other rooms will be dark,” Demetrius said. His voice, though soft and uncertain now, had a lovely smoky quality to it that skated up Alex’s spine.
“Got it. You’ll be sitting down and safe in a moment,” Alex promised him as he caught sight of the open door at the end of the hall with red firelight playing on the wooden surface.
Demetrius let out a huffed laugh. “Safe? Yes, safe from the world and all it’s pleasures.”
Demetrius did not say anything else and Alex wasn’t sure how to respond. He concentrated on keeping the older man upright. Demetrius’ hair fell across his face and obscured his expression from Alex. That left no clue as to what he was thinking.
He’s more beautiful up close than far away. His beauty wasn’t an illusion caused by the moonlight.
As he helped the older man down the hall, Alex felt guilty for enjoying the solid feel of Demetrius’ muscled body against his own though the other man’s skin was oddly cool while Alex’s seemed to burn with every contact. Demetrius’ scent was also delicious to him: spicy and woodsy.
I shouldn’t be noticing these things. It’s wrong. It’s like I’m taking advantage of him.
They were outside Demetrius’ room. A fire was burning merrily in the grate. Before it was a high-backed chair with an ottoman both upholstered in a dark green velvet. A computer was sitting on the ottoman. The walls were covered with shelves filled with books that had obviously been lovingly read again and again from the broken-in look of their spines. The older man seemed to have a burst of strength as they entered what was obviously a welcome space for him. He took a few steps on his own before he sank down onto the chair. Alex kneeled down in front of him, unwilling to move away.
“Are you all right? Can I get you anything? Do anything?” Alex asked.
Demetrius held up a hand. “Quiet …please. For a moment, I need no outside sensory input.”
Alex nodded thought the other man did not see him. Demetrius’ eyes were now firmly shut. His rubbed circles over his temples. He was speaking softly in what sounded like Russian under his breath even as his limbs trembled. Alex saw a blanket on the ground. The man was so cold even with the fire burning hotly. He picked it up and began to tuck it around Demetrius’ legs and waist. He leaned in as he was doing so, his neck a few inches from Demetrius’ mouth and nose. The older man gasped and stiffened. Alex froze as well.
“I’m sorry. You seemed cold and I thought a blanket would help! I’m sorry if you didn’t want that,” Alex began to babble.
“Want? Want … I haven’t allowed myself to want in a very long time,” Demetrius whispered.
Alex moved to draw back from the older man but suddenly a very strong hand was fastened on the back of his neck, holding him in place. Demetrius’ eyelids flew open.
His eyes really do glow.
Demetrius’ dark eyelashes seemed incredibly long and almost delicate, framing his brilliant eyes. His skin was flawless. There was the slightest rose tinge to his lips. Those lips parted and his cold breath flowed over Alex’s face. It smelled of cinnamon.
“Alexander, I wish you to move away from me,” Demetrius said.
“Move away? No, I – I don’t think I should. And how do you know my name?”
Demetrius lips lifted in a smile that did not reach his eyes. “Go as far back as the door. You are not to come to me no matter what I say or do. You are not to approach me even if it is your heart’s deepest desire to be near me at that moment. You must resist with all your strength. Do you understand?”
Alex shook his head. “I don’t want to go.”
Demetrius’ eyes glowed the color of a sunlit ocean. Alex could have fallen into them. He didn’t need Demetrius’ hand at the back of his neck to keep him there. He would have stayed forever.
“I know. But you will do so. To please me. Now, Alexander, I am going to release you. At that moment when my grip relaxes, you are to move.”
Demetrius’ breathing had evened out. His limbs were no longer trembling. He seemed preternaturally calm yet Alex had this feeling that he was teetering on the edge of losing complete control.
“Just to the door?” Alex asked. His heart clenched to move even that far away.
Demetrius let out a soft laugh that was tinged with hysteria. “I should tell you to flee the building, but I’m not going to. Besides I don’t think any distance would be far enough if I cannot – cannot control myself. So the door will be far enough.”
“Flee …” Alex’s eyes widened in confusion, but he was not afraid of the other man even though his words should have inspired fear.
“Now, Alexander, go.”
Demetrius’ hand relaxed from the back of his head. It shockingly took all of Alex’s willpower to move, reluctantly, slowly out of the other man’s reach and then step by step to the door. His feet felt like they were encased in concrete blocks. His chest hurt as he moved away. Nearly all of him wanted to go back to Demetrius. To press his body up against Demetrius’.
That’s nuts. This is nuts.
“Good, Alexander. You are doing very well.” Demetrius’ long fingers gripped the arms of his chair.
“Why is it so hard to – to stay away?” Alex asked.
Another soft, nearly hysterical chuckle. “It’s part of my … condition. You mustn’t worry. It will ease soon.”
“Your condition? You mean the reason the music overcame you?”
Why would his condition effect me? But the thought flew away.
“That is part of it, yes. I can tell you – no, show you more -- if you come here to me.” Alex began to step forward. “No, no, Alexander, do not come! Remember what I said! Ignore these other words! Stay at the door.” Demetrius grimaced and his hands curled into fists. He slammed one against his powerful thigh and closed his eyes. “Such thanks I give you for saving me.”
“You don’t need to thank me,” Alex said. “You only stayed out there because of me. Because I – I reached for you.”
Demetrius’ sultry lips pulled back from his very white teeth for a moment. He dug his fingernails into his palms. “Like a moth to a flame. But that is not your fault.” Demetrius’ gaze swung over Alex’s shoulder. “Ah, Hans, thank goodness you are here.”
Alex turned around. A man with white-blonde hair, icy blue eyes and perfect cheekbones had appeared silently behind him. His gaze was riveted on Demetrius as if the older man was a treasure beyond worth.
“Demetrius, are you--”
“I am fine thanks to this young man here. Alexander, this is Hans. Hans, this is Alexander,” Demetrius said.
Hans cast one dismissive look at Alex before he was back to looking at Demetrius. “Then you were outside, Master?”
Master? Sounds like the bartender finally told someone what I said.
“Yes, foolishly, I ventured out and … paid the price.” Demetrius’ hands relaxed minutely. “I need some wine, Hans. A very, big glass of red wine.”
Hans let out a slight gasp. “Wine?”
“Yes, get it now, please,” Demetrius said.
“Should I take the boy with me?” Hans asked, gesturing towards Alex.
“NO!” Demetrius’ eyes burned hotly for a moment then he slumped back into his chair as if the effort exhausted him. “No, please leave Alexander here. I wish him here.”
“I don’t want to go,” Alex put in quickly. He had a strange, desperate need to stay.
There was silence for a moment. Demetrius’ hands flexed and released. “I know you don’t, Alexander. And you need not. Just … wine. Now, Hans.”
Hans cast a narrow-eyed look at Alex as if he was convinced the young man had done something to Demetrius. Then he disappeared into the gloom of the hall.
Demetrius’ voice drew Alex’s attention, “After I drink – and calm my nerves – I will be able to thank you properly, Alexander. I promise.”