(I did some edited on Part 10. This chapter is pretty innocent I think unless I forgot something!)

Dak’kon felt a warmth wash over his body when Nikolai hugged him. The hug was unexpected, almost foreign in concept. His relationships had been fragmented at best, sex without love, sex without even a prerequisite connection. He’d never been in love, never even entertained the possibility. Every feeling had been harnessed into his libido, into his music, into some vast, ambiguous space as of yet undefined within him. Though it took him a moment to respond, he did eventually return the embrace. There was something kind of nice about overlapping with another person.

Pulling away Nikolai looked intently into his eyes and just like that he was drawn into the cradle of oblivion.

Once on the other side Dak’kon’s brain was a bit slow to get working and Nikolai beat him to the punch. “Did you find out anything interesting?”

“He talked quite a bit about you actually. He told me that when you came here you had amnesia. Do you remember anything about how you got here?” Dak’kon felt a little bad for putting Nikolai on the spot, it wasn’t like he suspected the man of wrong-doing, he was just trying to piece everything together. For a long time the red head said nothing but it didn’t seem so much an act of defiance as an inability to find the right words.

“I don’t really know myself. I remember floating through the mirror, the broken one in the bathroom. A bundle of energy not much larger than a fist. Your grandfather was there and he showed me the picture of a young man. He told me to imagine that form. So I did and I became that person. I don’t remember my true form or anything about my former life. He gave me a name too but only a first one. I don’t know where I came from but every time I look in the mirror all I see is smoke and fire. I think I owe him my life.” Nikolai looked generally tormented and took a seat on the mattress holding his head.

For a while Dak’kon said nothing. Nikolai’s story confirmed him as being other, as being supernatural but it did not designate him as good or bad. Based on everything he’d felt and witnessed Nikolai was good, possibly tainted, but who the hell wasn’t?

Taking a seat beside the red head he took the man’s hand. The last time he’d held hands with another person was the day his mom died. He’d been there despite her absence in his childhood not just in that final moment but through the treatments as well. What was the point of holding grudges against those too weak to fight? Had his grandfather summoned Nikolai here to save himself or in response to some distress call? Could Nikolai be the key to defeating the entity? Was their really an entity? He’d never actually seen the demon only its off-putting human disguise.

“Xyven also said something about healing abilities if that’s the case why did you think you’d died?” Dak’kon asked Nikolai was toying absently with his fingers.

“I came here as an energetic being. If I had a corporeal body it probably burned up in that fire. I think that technically meets the definition of being dead. I am probably not human so maybe that definition doesn’t apply but without knowing what I was I can’t be sure. I honestly thought I’d disappear when your grandfather died like it was his magic holding me together when that didn’t happen I realized it was mine. I have only been as far as the garden for all I know I’ll disintegrate if I step foot off the property.” Well that certainly explained the other man’s anxiety about leaving. If Xyven’s time line held then the chef had arrived first, followed by Nikolai, and lastly the demonic entity.

“How did you learn to speak the language? And how long after you arrived was it before the statue appeared in the foyer?” Dak’kon asked a wave of calming endorpins flooding through him as Nikolai traced his palm.

“I don’t remember much about the time before the demon possessed me, when it was inside it damaged something in my head.” He said looking up now. “Do you think that place in the mirror was hell?” Having seen the mirror himself Dak’kon could understand where the other’s concern originated.

“First of all hell is more of a mental construct than a physical location but even if it did exist I can’t find any reason why you would have been condemned there. And anyways why would the old man mess around with something so dark when his whole purpose was to restore the light?” Dak’kon asked and this seemed to settle things well enough with Nikolai. The possibility that the other was a ghost, well that was still up for debate, but an evil entity? He didn’t buy it.

“We won’t be leaving any time soon. There’s about a foot of snow outside now and it looks like it’s only getting worse. As for the ghost thing I don’t think I can completely reassure you, your story is strange, but like I said before everything about you feels real.” He was starting to feel a bit loopy in the head at this point from the prickling sensations. “One more thing before I drop it. Xyven said you were some sort of empath is that true?” Nikolai obviously recognized the word but it was apparent that he had not quite fastened the concept to his identity.

The red head’s fingers wrapped around his more securely. At first all he felt was the warmth and strength of the other’s hand. Then a wave of energy passed through him, causing all the little hair’s on the back of his neck to stand. He’d never experimented with drugs but he imagined this qualified as getting high. His muscles let go, the light in the room softened into a halo of color and everything slowed down to a crawl. Even his thoughts became oddly squishy and opaque, his words dissolved before ever escaping the confines of his throat. His sense of contentment was just one notch away from giddiness. And just like that the demonstration was over and he was left feeling warm and tingly all over.

“How did you do that?” Dak’kon asked trying to gather together the threads of his thoughts but not sure that he really wanted too. Couldn’t he just feel good for a while?

“I just visualize this gold light, an almost liquid really and I imagine it leaving my body and entering into yours.” The experience was a little too similar to the blow job he’d received in the dream. Had Dak’kon simply given a narrative to what was an unconscious surge of energy? He was sure he’d climaxed and that was not a feeling easily mistaken.

Dak’kon had brought this one himself but it further confirmed Nikolai’s more mysterious aspects. Without the man’s memories to draw on it was unlikely they’d ever successfully identify him. What was the red head’s true form? What of the original? Who was the man in the photograph? Just then he had an idea. “Can I take a picture of you?” Nikolai looked surprised by the request but excited too. “Of me really? I don’t mind…” The other man started to fuss a bit with his hair but it didn’t really have an appreciable effect other than to make Dak’kon laugh. He got the impression that this was a new experience for the other man.

Dak’kon snapped a photo using his cellphone, he didn’t even give the gardener the opportunity to put on any of the usual affectations. The image showed up in the phone but there was a weird gold light around it. A second picture repositioning the man in a better angle to the overhead light did not diminish the glow. Shrugging he sent the picture to Kite knowing the man would respond quickly.

“Can I see it?” Dak’kon held the phone up for the gardener’s inspection. Nikolai seemed more amazed by the picture as a concept then by his own physical appearance. “Looks like we’ve got a response.” The response was sloppily typed but understandable. Greetings, inquiries about the house and the weather, and most importantly an expressed interest in the man in the photograph. Dak’kon didn’t respond but he had confirmed that other people could see Nikolai. But could they talk him? All he knew about ghosts and demons came from the movies or else his mom’s strung out ramblings. A junkie with a fear of prescribed pharmaceuticals it had never made much sense to him but then again neither had she. In the movies ghosts rarely used the telephone and even when they managed it, it was always distorted.

“I am going to ring Kite up.” He said not waiting for Nikolai to acknowledge him. Hitting dial he passed the phone over to the perplexed red head. “Just talk to him, see what happens.”

“Is this him?” Nikolai asked pointing to the image on the phone. The man in the photo had chin length, blond hair hidden under a toboggan, green eyes, a healthy tan, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose (the freckles were not clearly visible in the image). The angle of the photo suggested a selfie. “Hey, I am surprised you called! Is something up?” Kite answered apparently Dak’kon was known for his lackadaisical policy on phone etiquette. Dak’kon motioned for Nikolai to put the phone to his ear.

“I am the guy from the photograph, Nikolai. Dak’kon wanted to see if you could hear me. Can you hear me?” On hindsight Dak’kon probably should have given Nikolai a script.

“Yeah I can hear you just fine Nikolai. Are you helping Dak’kon out with the house? How’s it going?” Kite asked assuming that Dak’kon couldn’t even be bothered to conduct his own phone conversations and not the least insulted by the fact.

Dak’kon took the phone so as not to waste batteries (there was at least a chance of losing power if the weather got worse). The experiment had been successful in more ways than one. First and perhaps most importantly they could make calls. Second Nikolai was tethered to this world in some way. He said thanks before hanging up. Kite texted back a series of quizzical emojis but Dak’kon didn’t respond. “Some amazing social skills you got there Dak’kon.” Nikolai joked even though he was on the other end of the spectrum they were both bordering on dysfunction.

“Funny but noted.” Dak’kon had never given it much thought before but Nikolai was probably onto something. “When the weather clears I say we take our chances and head into town.” He felt a lot better knowing that Nikolai was capable of interaction with the outside world. He also felt slightly less crazy, but only slightly. Nikolai appeared to feel better too, in fact, he looked positively delighted. “How cool was that?!” Dak’kon laughed shaking his head. Just as Xyven had said Nikolai was amazed by the simplest things. Amnesia did quite explain that, as people with amnesia didn’t tend to forget such commonplace occurrences. Apparently the demon had rattled the man’s brain. Was there anything they could do to recover the man?

“I’d like to take a look around the house see if we can find anything. Xyven should be more or less inert around midday.”

For the next hour or so, while they waited for Xyven to settle in, Dak’kon taught Nikolai a couple of chords on the guitar. He was still dodging the issue of their sexual tension. It was hard being so close feeling like he felt and not at all sure how far he could take it


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