The Proposal

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Rising

Previous Story in the Arc: Wedding Pictures by Seraphic Flame (Sunday, October 02, 2005)

(posted Saturday, January 10, 2009)

Striga Island was not, perhaps, the most scenic of locations. Heavily industrialized--and equally heavily infested with the warring factions of the Family, the Warriors and the Council, it was a rather dangerous place to live.

Yet Stephanie Peebles, old and frail in appearance, still lived here. Seraphic Flame was not entirely clear on why. Some old memories, perhaps, or just pure stubbornness. For whatever reason, here she stayed, at her corner of the Mermaid Tavern, and served as both a consultant on magical matters and as a dispensor of tips on where the next trouble spot was--or perhaps, being as she was reputed to be a witch, would be.

Flame and John Murdock had taken more than one assignment on her prompting, with quite a nice record of success, so when she asked them for the personal favor of getting back her wedding band from the Warrior who rather arrogantly called himself Heracles, they had readily agreed.

The warehouse that Heracles and his small retinue of minions were holed up at was only a short jaunt away from where Stephanie usually dispensed her advice. The building was as nondescript as many were in Striga; used for storing incoming or out-going goods for the cargo ships that used Striga for their port.

To say that Heracles had been reluctant to surrender the ring was like saying the surface of the sun was a bit warm. Nonetheless, under the combined onslaught from Flame and John, Heracles was "persuaded" to submit, turning over the ring before being transported to a police holding pen.

With the warehouse now holding nothing more than crates and silence, Kheldian eyes looked into Flame's, and she sensed a smile coming from those mandibles and smiled back.

Using a broadrange telepathy that was inherent with this form, John was able to communicate instantaneously with anyone close by. Great job, love! John projected warmth and pride with his thoughts, all of it directed towards Flame. Another unique gift that he was able to share was a muted telempathy; this bond was especially strong with her.

She basked in the approval; for a telempath, as she was, it was very like being in warm and comforting sunlight. "Can't do it without you, beloved," she replied, making her words into a kind of caress. "Ever and always...." She paused for a moment; it was a rare moment of peace for both of them, as the pleas for help had been coming thick and fast since John was returned to himself. But...how could one turn those pleas down? It was what they were both here for, after all. "Well, beloved, we should return her property to Mrs. Peebles."

John's fusion with a Kheldian had left him with the inherent ability to assume the energy pattern of previous hosts that the Kheldians had joined with. One such species was vaguely squid-like in appearance called Mefnamin, able to fly and project devestating energy attacks. With a thunderous clap John returned to human form, melting back into his familiar visage. Concentrating,he directed his Kheldian essence, infusing himself with it. Soon, his feet left the concrete, lifting him toward the sky. "Yep. I'll see you there, love." With a smile, he flew back towards Mrs. Peebles.

Flame followed him flying a little slower than he. Oh, how she had treasured that moment when she finally regained the power of flight! And yet that moment had been bittersweet,for it had come only a day before John had been--both saved, and lost, by miracle and sacrifice.

Now though, flight was all joy. Sometimes she just flew for the sheer pleasure of it, a habit she shared with Bella.

She landed beside him just in front of the courtyard where Mrs. Peebles stood, and kissed him. That was another thing she never tired of doing, actually....

"Oh!" she said in surprise--for the clouds and the glare of city lights often obscured much of the sky over the mainland districts of Paragon City. "The moon is rising!"

It was a glorious full moon, too, and seemed to fill half the sky. "It is lovely---"

John dipped his shoulder down so that he could take her hand into his. Holding her hand, he gazed up at the heavenly globe; even through his glove he could feel the warmth emanating from Flame. Whether it was imagined or due to the fact that she had her powers "full flame", he could care less; he was with her, enjoying something beautiful.

Bella lived for music; Flame, while having in some ways been music for most of her existance, was not often moved to song except when alone...but this time and place tickled a melody out of memory, and she found herself singing it. "La luna della notte dolcemente ci proteggera, La luna della notte , dolcementa ci proteggera---"

It was the "Song to the Moon" from an opera called The Rusalka; she didn't know much more about it than that, but the song was beautiful.

And the words certainly fit the moment. "Do you know what that means, beloved? Bella taught me the song--"

Blaze shook his head, pulling down his scarf as he did so. He rarely removed the scarf in public; it usually was only done when he was finished patrolling or when he needed to drive home how serious he was. Around Flame, though, he was able to "let his hair down". Besides, he loved the freedom not having his mouth covered allowed him. "Never have been too good of a study of the romance languages."

Flame gazed up through the silver-gilt moonlight at the orb itself. "The moon of the night will sweetly protect us--" And she felt protected, somehow, as if the light would shelter them from the rest of the world, at least for a little while. "The night falls and it is there, it reigns over the whole sky, it will watch us with kindness illuminating the evening....."

She sighed, then turned towards him, and lifted her face to his to kiss him, just as both their comm units beeped, signalling someone in need of them. Again. Tonight, it was Komrad Vex; he required assistance in collecting certain artifacts from less than friendly "owners". "The moments never last long, do they?"

He had been smiling, soaking up her beauty along with that of the moon, cast down with its light. At the reminder that there was always something getting in the way of their time together, though, his brow furrowed. He was frustrated; this always happened. Oft was the time when he'd crunched a comm unit under his boot, only to have a new one issued by HQ, much to the Commissars' displeasure. He thought a moment, and then spoke with a certain conviction in his voice. "We're taking a vacation. Soon. I dunno how, but I'm determined to do it. You up for it?"

A vacation...she would happily share a concrete bunker with him if it gave them a day, two, three of privacy together. "Ah love....so long as I am with you..Wilderness were paradise enow." This time the kiss that she claimed from him was much, much longer. She would have been perfectly happy to stand there on tiptoes within his arms all night, but duty---and the importunate Vex, who evidently could not find any other CCCP members to help him---was still calling. "Hmmmm," she sighed. "Let us return the mementos before Vex turns himself inside out."

Having been deflated by reality, that duty had to come first, he nodded.

But Flame had a surprise in store when she tried to return Mrs. Peebles' treasured momento to her. With a smile, the old woman pressed a ring back into her hand---and the murmured explanation made her eyes go wide. "This ring--and ones like it that I loan to heroes--I create them to help protect you for a time. The magic doesn't last forever, but while it does, the love that my late husband and I shared is part of it, and it will help shelter you from harm...."

The words were astonishing but more so was the surge of emotion she felt from Stephanie Peebles and--from the ring itself.

"Oh!" she exclaimed involuntarily. "Oh---my----"

Sharing in the emotional wash with Flame, John asked her expectantly. "Did you recieve a ring as well, love?"

With tears in her eyes, she nodded. Only now was she beginning to sort through the complexity of what she held in her hand.

"Oh, Flame..." He pulled her close to him, cradling her gently. "What's wrong?"

She struggled to understand this; this was mortality at its most precious and most fragile. This---this was new to her. "It---it holds her love---for her husband----oh John---"

Nodding, he understood what she was feeling. He'd felt something akin to it the first time he'd assisted Mrs. Peebles; an awe at the sheer immensity of her gesture. "It's a beautiful, wonderful thing...a very special bond that Ms. Peebles has preserved."

As slow, silent tears traced their ways down her cheeks, she lowered her empathic shields, and shared with him her awe at the power of this love. Somehow, hers, for him, had grown even greater...until this moment she had not understood, emotionally, the power of the love of a husband and wife. Now she did, now she understood mortal love in all its splendor, and--

---and there was nothing to match it in all the Infinite.

Flame's thoughts and emotions translated over to John, who felt everything that she had through their unfettered empathy. He came to an understanding of his own, right then. Something he'd known for quite some time, but hadn't really been conscious of. He decided that right then was the absolute perfect time to confirm it...If she's willing... "Flame...can I ask you something?" He spoke in a whisper; what he was about to ask was delicate, and should be said delicately.

With her eyes still shining with tears, she responded immediately, and without hesitation. "Anything, beloved. Anything," she whispered back "Ask and it is yours."

"No...I really want you to think about this...okay?" His voice was still lowered, his eyes fixated on her own.

Something about the way he spoke stilled the words on her own lips, and she nodded, watching his face expectantly.

"Well..." He dropped whispering, then. This was something that needed to be announced proudly. "Hell, guess I oughta say it; will you marry me, Flame?"

Of all the things in all the world she might have anticipated that he would ask, this was not one of them. Perhaps a mortal woman might have already guessed but...she was rather new to mortality. Marriage? That he---and she---

She gasped; with surprise. And---with a joy that shocked her. "You---you---"

"There's nothing in any world that could change how I feel for you. I'm pretty sure the same could be said 'bout how you feel for me...so...there it is." He stood there, her still in his arms. This was the one moment that would decide the rest of his fate. For one of the first times in his life, John Murdock held his breath.

The only reason she did not answer him immediatly was because she was trying to catch her breath. But shen she did, the answer poured from her like a song. "...oh....oh yes, yes, YES!"

The last, a note of purest joy and love.

And she held him so tightly then that she nearly made his ribs creak. For all her fragile appearance, her very nature made her, well, quite deceptively powerful.

The breath he had been holding was forcibly evacuated from his lungs in a weak, though relieved chuckle. "Easy, love. You're stronger'n me by a good measure." He still gazed down into her face, smiling wide.

With a self-conscious laugh, she released him a little, and held her face up to his for a kiss. She sensed...something portentious, hovering just on the edge of the moment.

Still smiling, he craned his neck down to kiss her. He was a cup, overflowing with the finest ambrosia in all of the universe. He released his emotional inhibitions, the mental walls that protected him from psychic intrusion. Every hope, every dream... all of his love went with his kiss. This was Creation, and it was good.

Flame opened herself to the wonder of it, eyes wide at first, then closing as she reveled in it. This...there had been nothing in her life like this save the Song of the Seraphim...and it was fully as powerful and pure. It was Divine, in the truest sense of the word. A song of the same Love that created the universe...She heard herself whispering to him. "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. Against the world, for now and always. Through darkness into light, through sorrow into joy...."
Into joy...into the realization of every hope and more. she opened her eyes again and gazed up into the eyes she loved so dearly.

He rested his forehead against hers, his eyes still searching the depths of hers. It always struck him how...old her eyes were. It was as if she had seen everything there was to see. And she had. They were her most beautiful feature, eyes that had gazed upon the Infinite and still remained...alive, flashing. "I...I don't know what to say, now." He laughed, equal parts of relief and joy mixed with it.

The smile that answered his laugh was unshadowed, with not one iota of the pain of the past to dim its brilliance. "You don't have to. I feel it," she told him, thinking as she did so that there was nothing on this planet as intoxicating as the emotions pouring from his heart into hers.

"Love...I love you. More than ever, and the same forever." He couldn't suppress the wonder he experienced, looking and being with this creature in his arms. A being of Fire, of Love...and of Sorrow. He was giddy simply existing with her near, happier than he'd been in years.

Nothing could have made her turn away from his gaze now. The rest of the world had simply ceased to exist for this time out of time, this place at the heart of the universe. Now and here were all there were. Now and here were all that needed to be.

"I---We're---huh." He simply couldn't find anything else to say that would do justice to what he was feeling for her, his completeness with her. So, he kissed her again.

If ever there were mortals prepared for this---it was the two of them. These were not "barriers" she began to lower, but they were boundaries, the veils that generally kept even empaths separate from one another. Even angels, when incarnate. Only when disincarnate were they gone....she sensed him beginning to feel everything that she felt...and his lips on hers, hers on his, where one ended and the other began started to become hard to distinguish...everything blended between them; neither could have hidden anything from the other, even if the will was there. There were no secrets, no sorrows, no pain that they did not share, and in sharing---in sharing, it was halved, made bearable. Not erased, but eased. Healed. Transmuted.

The true Alchemist's Stone, beloved. Leaden sorrow into golden joys.

There came a sensation of things changing and shifting between them, rearranging themselves, until---there was the feeling of two halves settling into a whole, infinitely more than the two were separately.

John spoke to her, soundlessly. Words were unnecessary in this state. ....Flame....?

Mind to mind, heart to heart, she answered. ....beloved...

This is something...new....oh, and wonderful... What a shame it was that everyone couldn't connect together like this!

Heart to heart and mind to mind they shared her awe, her surprise, her song. .....oh....this....yes!...oh new to me....too..I...I think now...we.can never lose each other...

....couldn't if we tried, love.... He caressed her mind with his...it was the strangest sensation, but soothing beyond measure as well. Flame...thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

She was laughter, laughing fire, brushing against his white light, coiling around, and through it, changing it and being changed by it. ....this....this is half you, half your doing, beloved.....oh blessings and thanks be on thee for this gift, this new creation, ever and always...

They stood there silently for a long while, reveling in each other. After a time, John opened his eyes and spoke aloud. "Flame?" It was less of a question; they were each other's answer, from then on.

She knew as his eyes were opening; gaze met gaze, and she smiled up at him. "...John.... Beloved." They were each other's affirmation, too.

"I love you, Flame. I've never known anything like I know that." He spoke with a sureness, like a man who's convictions were unshakeable.

He was her foundation; she was his. They lifted each other up to the stars. She held him and was held by him and showed him that in the moment between thought and thought.

"Love?"

"Hmm?" she replied, and then---then the world came back and claimed them, with the sounds of some other hero in the near distance arresting some felon or other. And she chuckled, and felt, rather than heard, his deep, melodic laugh. Not even an intrusion was intrusive now, for nothing would ever really come between them again. "The world is with us, isn't it?"

He smiled, looking back toward the moon that hung over them, watching. "Yeah. I think it just might be." Every worry, every care had melted away from both of them. Nothing could pose a problem, nothing could even begin to. The solutions were somewhere within the two of them, and with time, they knew those solutions would always be found.

John's comm beeped. Flame chuckled again, knowing who it must be. "Shall we rescue poor Vex?"

John glanced at the comm unit at his side before returning to Flame's face. "I think we better. We've been keepin' him waitin' long enough." Time had also melted away as they had stood there together. This moment had stretched on forever, with no beginning and no end. Throughout it all he had smiled, and felt as if he'd never be able to stop.

She lifted one hand and placed it over his heart. John covered her hand with his own, grasping it tightly. They were together, now and forever; a fact that echoed through both of them, displayed for all of Creation and beyond to see.

Choices had brought them to this moment; choices that had brought pain and sorrow and loss, only to have it all evolve into bliss. Not even Flame had been able to see past the turnings of the path that led here. Only faith and hope, shining through the long dark nights of both their souls. But this was irrevocable. This was, and would always be, immutable, and pelucide.

Mortal they both were, two novas intertwined that would burn the brighter for the brevity of their lives. But their Song, their love, and their spririts would burn in the heart of the Infinite forever.