Into the Fire

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Rising

Previous Story in the Arc: A Rage In Heaven by Seraphic Flame (Wednesday, July 06, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Retrieving John Murdock by John Murdock (Tuesday, September 27, 2005)

(posted Friday, July 22, 2005)

Seraphic Flame contemplated the view from the top of her favorite building in Steel Canyon; the one that looked like a cathedral roof. The last six days had been remarkable by any standard.

This was because for her they had been two years.

It had begun with a call from Victoria Victrix, who was in New York City on business. An unexpected call, with an unanticipated proposition.

"Flame," Vickie had said, after a moment of chat about publishers, agents, and the new line of superhero romances she was to be lead author for. "I'm seeing a shrink. Not just any shrink."

Flame had blinked. "I think I follow—"

"Red deserves—someone who isn't a neurotic mess. Or at least no more of a neurotic mess than most other heroes. Ria Llewellyn has someone special on tap. Her Significant Other went to her for a while." There was a pause. "She has a special program. Takes you Underhill, one of those asynchronous time areas. You spend one real-time hour Overhill but it's a month Underhill with her assistants. A year of therapy in six days."

Flame had felt her eyes widen. They went even wider when Vickie added, "She does elves, mages, all sorts of other oddities all the time. She told me she'd have no problem with an angel."

"Once-angel," Flame felt moved to say, with a gut-stab of pain.

"Whatever." A pause. "You want to try this? She says she thinks you'll need two daily sessions, so it'll be two years of therapy."

Continued pain or healing? There was no real choice. Flame was in a LlewyllCo limousine within the hour on the way to New York.

And now….now she waited for Blaze Phoenyx.

A great deal of their talk seemed to take place in high places. He had not yet ventured to her apartment, which was just as well. It was a sanctuary of sorts for her, and the thought of him in it left her fluttering in confusion. Better to meet on the roofs of Steel Canyon.

She felt him nearby, dimly, and called him on his comm. unit. When he appeared, it was in his Kheldian form, but he quickly transformed to—

To one far too familiar and no familiar enough. Even after two years of therapy—she wished he would stay Kheld. It would be easier….

"How've you been?" he asked, as if she had not been gone for a week.

"I am sorry I have been absent these many days," she said gravely.

He looked at her oddly. "S'alright. Nothin' to apologize for."

She took a deep breath. Now for it. "I have been seeing a psychiatrist."

The explanation took time; he listened, brow furrowed sometimes with puzzlement, but what he didn't completely understand he at least accepted. Then she got to the heart of the matter. The hard part. The painful part.

"And this is what—I have concluded," she said, steeling herself. "In my mind and heart, I must learn to make the difference between you and John."

He did not look happy. Well, in his own mind, he was John. The problem was, he was not the man with whom she was still desperately in love. His brow furrowed again. "Yeah..."

She closed her eyes a moment. "I am sorry, but there is no easy way to say these things."

He grimaced. "I know...still, they need to be said. Don't they?"

She nodded. "Based upon what Doctor Fisher knows....it is not likely that you will retrieve his memories. So, in effect....."

She knew this would hurt him, obscurely at least. She did not want to hurt him. But—better the truth.

He looked at her, imploring. "In effect?"

This had to be said, put between them, aloud. "Even if I were not bound by my own vows and laws....it is unfair to expect you to--to---take his place."

He reached out and placed his hand atop hers. She turned hers over to clasp it. "I---I am---rather old-fashioned, I think." She said aloud. "I was two years there, because I was one year in mourning."

Stunned silence on his part. Then, falteringly, he spoke into the silence. "I---Flame...the doctor...Fisher? Was she certain? Is there no chance of me ever...y'know?"

He had heard, and did not want to understand. "She does not think it likely. She said I should accept that John Murdock would never return, and plan my life accordingly. Because—" She looked away. "---because to plan my life for the other---she thinks I would go mad--or---find a way to die."

And Flame knew that in that last, at least, Tania Fisher had been right. The impulse had been there, tempting her, waking and sleeping, since the day John had been transformed into Blaze.

He sighed. "That makes sense."

Her powers were weak---but she could still sense profound unhappiness rolling off him in waves. "I am sorry if this distresses you."

He smiled shakily. "It's...it's alright. I'm fine."

But he wasn't, and she moved closer, urged by the need to comfort. "I still need you," she said softly.

He nodded, but looked away. "Yeah...I know, kiddo."

His unhappiness deepened. "Blaze?" she said in a small voice. "Please do not be sad."

He forced a smile. "Sad? Kiddo, I'm happy for ya..."

But he wasn't, and now waves of guilt and regret poured over her. "I have hurt you, and---I have made you sad."

He shook his head. "Naw. I'm alright, really. Just weird, is all. But, like I said...s'alright." He looked into her eyes. "Flame?"

Tears stung hers. It was more than guilt and regret now, it was---a conviction that no matter how wise the doctor had been, she was not wise enough in the ways of the heart. "I would not have done this if I thought it would make you unhappy. And you are---terribly unhappy—"

"No...this is the best thing you could've done. 'Member what I said? You've gotta live for yourself, too."

She had cut him to the core. It was not worth her healing to have hurt him so deeply. She blinked away tears.

He shook his head. "I'm fine...or I will be. Hey---I'm a trooper, right? I'll make do."

She made a gesture of denial. "I am still myself. Diminished, but myself. I know. I have hurt you, deeply."

He dropped his eyes. "It's not your fault, Flame. My own. Trust me on that."

This would not do. She threw the last two of her years out the window, and braced herself, to speak the name, the name she had not been able to give him, falteringly, softly. "J-John?"

He looked up quickly, his eyes brightening slightly. "Yes?"

The doctor was wrong. Or if she was right---Flame would bear the consequences. "If you wish to find your---old self---I will help you."

The relief on his face, the easing of his pain, made it all worth while. "I do...and thank you. Wait---" His face reflected uncertainty. "I don't want you to do this...if it's just gonna make things worse for ya..."

It would. It did not matter. This much those two years had given her, she was somewhat stronger now. "John---we will---work this through together."

He nodded. "Thank you. Favor for a favor."

Silence. Then she broke it. "This silence between us is---most uncomfortable."

He laughed uneasily and looked out at the War Wall nearest them. "Yeah... Tomorrow...can we meet again?"

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow again," she pledged. And no matter that the pain she thought she had conquered was back. She would bear it.

"Thanks," he laughed shakily. "Maybe ya can teach me how to make it at least look like I know how to fly. Thank you, Flame." He stood up to go.

She held out her hand "John---I care for you."

"I---I know," he said, reaching down and taking it. She held it to her cheek, feeling a confused tangle of emotions, sensing that they were leaking out, but unsure how to stop them. His brow furrowed as she looked up at him and suddenly---

She was enveloped in something, something powerful.

….twinge...swirls...colors...caring...twinge….

She gasped, and felt herself falling into it, pulled into it, like a swimmer caught in the undertow. Image…memory…caught….

She found herself in the Heart of All Time---

---home---

---home---

Dimly she heard him speaking. But his voice was not what held her now. "Flame? Come out of it, please..."

Home.

Her heart slowed; her breathing slowed---she dropped further into song. The Song of the Seraphim. In the Heart of All Time, where memories were always alive….

Alive---

And he was there. Not Blaze. John. Her John.

With a stab of joy that transfixed her like a spear, she flew to him. "Beloved!"

They were two things of light and air and song, swirling about one another. She had "wings" of fire, he did not; that was the only difference. His heart was a great as hers; greater, perhaps, for all the experiences of being mortal "Flame...we're here...how?"

"I do not know---" she said in wonder. "But it is you! it is you! oh, my beloved, who was lost to me!"

He hesitated. "I'm here...how long has it been?"

"Weeks----" she said, with some hesitation of her own.

Bewilderment. "Weeks? It's only been moments...god, the gulfs that those moments were...Flame…."

She opened her memory to him in a flash, disclosing to him the agony of those dreadful days that had begun when he looked at her with no recognition---as if at a stranger---

Then she banished them. But not before he had taken them in himself.

This was---not where she should be. This was lost to her. That she had been allowed here, however briefly was a blessing. "Beloved---I---we---cannot remain here."

Pain on his part, as great as the joy. "I didn't think we could...when will I see you again?"

Oh, Infinite! To find him, then lose him again---

"I--I do not know---I do not know if it is right to do so," she admitted in agony.

Bewilderment. "What---what do you mean? Didn't everything work? Am I---am I dead?" His light dimmed as he circled in agitation.
"Oh, beloved---" she said in anguish, "Your body lives, but---it is as we---I--feared. You lost six years. You did not know me. I wished only to die." She looked about herself. "I think---this may be the true Heart of All Time---linked through your memory."

The words she had longed to hear for so many horrible days---"I...love you, Flame. I'm still here. I'm still alive."

And in that moment she made her decision. And began to let go, allowing her heart, her breath, her body to begin the descent into stillness. "I--I will remain," she told him, wrapping her "wings" about him. "I cannot lose you a second time."

"You haven't lost me yet, Flame. And you won't." he said

No. She would not. If it took violating promises she had made to Red Djinni and others—she would not lose him.

She felt her heart falter, and repressed the impulse to strengthen it. "I will not lose you again," she vowed. And prepared herself for the pain of true death.

A shudder, a ripple, passed over her being.

"Flame...are you alright?" he asked, perhaps sensing it.

It would be a moment. No more. "Death will have no....dominion...." she repeated, as much to herself as to him.

And she felt her breathing stop. And then her heart.

A quake of pain shook her.

Silence, and the dark wings of death shadowed her. Only a moment….only a moment.

________________________________________________________________________

Blaze Phoenyx: woke up from what he had thought was one of his "fits," the things he called "twinges," with a sense of panic. And rightly.

Seraphic Flame was in his arms---a still, unmoving form. "Flame...what's goin' on? Flame!" He laid her down quickly. What the hell had happened? "Flame! Can you hear me?"

He saw that her breathing had stopped, and placed a finger to the vein in her throat. There was no pulse.
.
He swore, and started with chest compressions, administering CPR. What the hell had happened? One minute she'd been---fine---then he'd had one of those twinges and---
He completed two cycles, then checked her vitals again. "Flame?!" he said, urgently. There was nothing; her skin was already cooling. He continued with CPR, performing rescue breathing and chest compressions. "Damnitdamnitdamnit!" He paused only long enough to switch his comm. back on, and saw with a surge of relief that there were not one, but two healer types on duty and free, New Adam and New Eve. And at that moment, it was New Eve who called urgently over the open comm. for the very person who needed her.

"Lady of Flame!!! Lady respond to me!!"

He keyed an urgent SOS to her, continuing with the CPR. "Come on, Flame...come on!" he muttered, as the two answered his SOS. "Get up here! She's stopped breathin'...CPR isn't doin' nothin'!" he cried in anguish.

The response was immediate; a double teleport onto the roof behind him.

He stepped back, and let them take over, biting his lip in anguish.

"If she wants to live, we will make it so," New Adam said, as New Eve knelt at Flame's side.

"She's been like this for a full minute...I don't know..." Blaze felt overwhelmed by helplessness and agony. "She just lapsed into a trance...damnit!"

New Adam nodded. "I will sustain whatever vital signs she has."

"He needs you! We all need you!" New Eve urged, as she poured healing energies into Flame's still form. "You will never lose anyone!"

New Adam regarded them all dispassionately. "But you can not force a person to stay alive. At best I could keep her body alive, but if her mind has decided to end it, then there is nothing I or anyone can do for her."

"Come on...what's taking so long?!" Blaze muttered in anguish.


And then---

A gasp.

Another.

He went to his knees at her side.

As if from far away, he heard an echo of her voice in his mind.

"---death---"

No. No, not death, not death, he would not let death take her. "Flame...are you alright?" he blurted, and took her hand into his.

Another far-off echo. "---will have no---"

New Eve was murmuring something else. He had no ears nor eyes for her, only for that still, still face.

The voice, stronger now, as if responding to them. "---dominion..."

He heard New Eve cry out---"YES!" Then, quieter, "Enough."

And Flame took a deep, shuddering breath. And another.

Her eyes fluttered.

"Lady of Flame?" New Eve said, softly.

He looked away from Flame for a split second to look at Eve and Adam. "Is she alright?"

New Eve nodded reassuringly. "I think she will be fine."

He returned his attention to Flame, as New Adam scanned her with his eyes. "Flame! Are you alright? Wait---don't try to talk." He looked back at Adam. "Should we get her to a hospital, or somethin'?"

"No," New Eve said instantly, as Flame's eyes fluttered open at last.

New Adam nodded agreement. "A hospital would do her no good. Knowing the shoddy practice most of the medical professionals have they would prescribe her some useless drug and do her more harm than good."

He turned his attention back to her. "Flame...?" he said softly.

Her eyes were unfocused. "---beloved---" she breathed, but did not seem to see him.

Did she mean him? "I....Flame? What happened?"

Slowly she turned her face towards his and at last seemed to see him. "---a memory---"

"What did we just go through? I heard myself talking...what happened?" he asked her, groping for answers, as well as reassurance.

She seemed to be growing stronger by the moment, much to his profound relief and joy. "---a---a memory trace---a fragment---a path---to the Heart of All Time—" Her eyes suddenly lit up with a dangerous joy.

"That was that place...with all the light? The singing?" he asked, a little fearful in the face of such an unfettered emotion. "After I followed you...I don't know how I did that...But I started hearing myself talking...and then I woke up."

She sat slowly up; he and New Eve helped her.

She took a deep breath. "What do you---remember?" she asked.

He shook his head. Already the experience, dreamlike in the first place, was fading. "I...like I said...You went into that trance...I figured it might have something to do with my flashes...I followed you in---"

New Eve stared at him. "You just followed her into a trance?"

"Tryin' to get ya," he continued as she nodded slowly. "There was a lot of light, warmth...and singing...and then I heard my voice or somethin'...and I woke up here, with you flatlined....I---are you alright?"

"The Heart of All Time---is---was--- my---home," she said, answering him and not answering him.

So---it was real, and had a name? "That's where we were...?"

She nodded. "I took John Murdock there, before the---end."

'Was...was that me then? That was talkin'?" It had seemed as if it was himself, and yet---not.

She continued, now sitting up straight and looking fully at him "He was---*you* were---able to remain there longer than any other mortal I have ever known. And yes---that was you---him---both."

He felt as if a bomb had gone off in his head. "I'm so confused..."

He might be; she was not. "All memories live there, forever. Nothng is ever forgotten, there. I tried to stay. I could not lose you a second time---"

He felt a surge of irrational anger at that, and accusation leaked over into his voice. "And it almost killed you..."

She regarded him gravely, as New Adam and New Eve slipped away. "---yes---but I will not be so caught a second time."
He could only hope so---

But she wasn't finished. "You said you wanted your memories back. Now I can reach them. Through the memory trace, to the Heart of All Time and the Fire of the Seraphim, and back into your mind where they are locked away. I can bring them out. If this is what you truly wish."

He took a deep breath. "Is it dangerous to you?"

Her eyes measured him. "Life is dangerous to me. This is no more so."

"Then---" he gulped. "Let's do it. Not now but---let's do it."

Her smile glowed. "Together, then. Into the Fire."