Retrieving John Murdock

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Rising

Previous Story in the Arc: Into the Fire by Seraphic Flame (Friday, July 22, 2005)

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

(posted Tuesday, September 27, 2005)

She who was once a source of peace and stillness had no peace within her now, and the restless fever inside her was mirrored in her pacing. Days, days had gone by since that promise--a promise that had not been kept. A dozen times a day her hopes rose, only to fall again. At this moment, hope was at nadir.

And at that moment came a knock at the door, and the voice...the voice. His and not his....

"Flame....ya home?"

She froze, and faltered out a reply, fumbling open the door. "Blaze?"

Blaze Phoenyx stood there, looking down at her, as if he had not been out of touch for days. "Hi! How're you?" And as if he presented himself at her door all the time.

Which he had not. He had never been to her apartment in all the time he had lived in this building. Not even though Vickie's was just down the hall, and Bella's, that had been their sanctuary in those last days, across from Vickie's.

Shock made her blurt that out. "You have---never come here before."

"I---" Pausing for a moment, he wondered if he'd been too forward in coming to her apartment uninvited. Pulling down his mask, he continued tentatively,"Is that alright?"

She couldn't seem to find her balance. "It is fine, it is only---you have never done so before---" She looked around wildly, "Um---come in?"

Still unsure if he'd made an error in coming, he decided that he was committed. Might as well grin and bear it, John. "Sorry---thanks." He took a step into the apartment, closing the door behind him, keeping his eyes averted from Flame's as he did so.

How was one supposed to play the hostess? "Ah---please, sit down? Can I get you---anything?"

Nodding stifly, he murmured, "Thanks."

To keep his gaze focused on something other than Flame, John began surveying the apartment; a dusty television, an expensive stereo system covered in stacks of CDs, a bookcase filled with oft-used books. All in all, it looked like the apartment was inhabitated, not actually lived in. There was no furniture, other than a daybed and a few floor pillows. Feeling at a loss for anything else to do, he pulled up a single pillow to sit on.

Settling in, he looked up to Flame again to see her waiting expectantly.

Remembering that she had asked if she could get him anything, he said,"No, I'm alright, thanks. I don't think I can stay long."

"Oh..." she said, biting her lip as her eyes stung. So. Another delay...and it would have mattered less, far less, if he had just left things alone...left her to deal with the loss of John Murdoch, with her grief, and not promised that her John would return again. So much better if she could have sorted out her tangled feelings for Blaze Phoenyx...tried to understand how much of him was the John she loved.

Perhaps he was already regretting that promise. How could she blame him? It would mean at best a fundamental change for him and at worst---

The only "he" that he knew would be gone.

She gave him the excuse he surely wanted. "Of course. You have very important things to do." More important things than to cater to one mortal--one increasingly confused, uncertain, and unhappy mortal who did not know even her own mind.


"Ah---it's nothin' wrong with you, Flame; I've just heard the news 'bout October Star, is all."

Ah. With October Star vanished, how could she be so selfish as to think of her own needs? He must be thinking badly of her now. "And---you are wondering why I am here instead of --- of doing something, of course--"

Since taking up the hero bit, it had seemed there'd been one thing after another he'd have to attend to. He hadn't really had a chance to let go and talk to anyone about more personal matters. Seemed like heroes had less time for that sort of thing than "normal" people...So this was his attempt to make time for it. "And this is important too---"

She interrupted him, "I understand. I will call HQ and see if there is anything I can do---" She felt her eyes stinging and turned away, looking for where she had left the comm unit.

"No! It's just---I---" What had been awkward was rapidly going south. Why couldn't you take apart emotions and clean them the way you could a rifle? He sighed, finally admitting that this wasn't the sort of thing he was used to. "This isn't goin' the way I've planned."

The unit was where she always left it, on a small stand by the door. She fumbled for it and dropped it.

Bending over from the pillow he was sitting on, he picked up the comm unit. Standing up with his new cape trailing behind him, he offered the unit to Flame, almost apologetically.

She took it from him with shaking hands, so rattled that she inadvertantly left all her barriers down. Their hands touched, and she was so lost in her own chaotic feelings that she had forgotten to keep watch on her barriers, and they had dropped before she knew it.

Yes there was love there, the love for the John she knew, a kind of love for Blaze, fear, terrible fear for him, a fear so great it was agony. He was Kheldian now, and...fragile at this stage. What if something happened to him? What if, like Star, he vanished? What if she never saw him again? He knew, surely now, he knew how she felt, but she had never told him, not aloud, not in words...

Exercising his own meager telempathy, he relaxed, allowing Flame's emotions to wash over him. Concentrating, he focused his own feelings, letting them crest and overlap with Flame's.


With her barriers down, she felt engulfed for a moment in his feelings; warmth, concern, sureness.

But not what she was looking for, hoping for. Not what would signal to her that Blaze was, truly, John. That he could learn to care for her as John had cared. Oh these were the feelings of a friend, a dear friend, a loving friend but--

--only a friend, and no more. Filios, not Eros. Close in relative terms...but as distant as star from star.

Her eyes widened involuntarily; they stung as she held back the tears that filled them.

Careful not to move too quickly, Blaze lifted his hand from hers, lifting his prescence in the same way. Opening his eyes to meet hers, he whispered, "Flame...did you just feel anything?" There was hope there, in his voice. Hope that sharing his feelings for her would help her to understand why he was here.

She whispered an answer before she could take thought. "I love you....you do not love me." Gone. Gone. Ashes on the wind. If only she had taken Michael Azir's advice, and allowed her memories to be taken along with his...had known only that she had sacrificed her nature for some great cause, but not what.

No, that was wrong, wrong, to lose the memory of such love--

His jaw dropped at what she said. This had gone horribly, horribly wrong. Had he misinterpreted something? Had he mistepped in coming here, in speaking with her in the first place? "Oh, Flame..."

She turned away, turned to the window and stared out at the view of Atlas Park, eyes unseeing. "I am sorry," she whispered. "I should not presume." She was shaking. She could not help it.

He took a step forward, bringing him less than a foot from her. He lightly rested his hand on her shoulder, and could feel her shaking beneath it. He was causing her pain through being here...and that was the last thing he'd wanted. Especially after what he'd learned she'd done for him, his past self. "Flame---wait."

"You make me feel---as if I have all my skin off," she said, out of her own anguish. "There is nothing between me and the world!" She wrapped her own arms around herself as if to keep everything inside. As if she could. But she had to try.

Tentatively, he removed his hand from her shoulder. John, you're just torturing each other with this. He took a blind chance, then. He gently wrapped his arms around Flame, hugging her from behind.

When he touched her, she stiffened, slamming all her barriers up and locking them in place. "You---you need not---stay--" she said, carefully, around grief she swore she would not let him see, or be burdened with. It was her grief, after all, not his. He was not responsible for it...grief because of her memories, her expectations. He must, must be free to make whatever choices he made without that knowledge or burden.

"I---I don't know what to say, Flame. I'm not sure how I feel about you. I do care for you; alot, actually." He chuckled nervously, "I just don't know, though...I---"

She shook her head. "I---my feelings should--must have---no bearing--"

Blaze backed off slightly, still holding her. His voice was resolute. "Flame...stop. You ought to know me better'n that by now...Every choice I've made has been made freely."

The rules by which she had entered this still held. She had paid too little heed to them, perhaps, and this was the result. "But---I must keep reminding you. Myself. Both."

He was baffled, now. What was he missing here? "Of what...?"

Tears burned her face, silent tears she would not let him see. "That---that what we were--does not matter. That how I feel---does not matter." It could not, must not matter. In the end, this was about him, not her. Those were the rules, the roadmap by which she must operate. There were no exceptions to that.

He let go of her, walking around to speak to her face to face. "Flame. Please...stop that." He saw that she had been crying soundlessly, hopelessness spelled out with her tears. A pained expression flitted across his face. How could he explain this to her? She seemed so set in blaming herself for everything that had gone wrong. "Your feelings do matter, damnit. I don't understand why you don't think so...but they do. If not to you then---" he looked down at his feet, unable to meet her eyes. Whispering, "to me."

She looked at his face, then looked away. "My feelings are only---a burden to you," she said, interpreting what she read there. And a hopeless, wretched anger arose in her, and out of that anger, an outburst. "Oh WHY did you come here?"

"Flame, I---" he sighed heavily, defeated. "...I'm sorry....I'll go, if you want." Resigned, he turned to leave.

"WHY do you raise my hopes only to let them fall again?" she cried in despair. " Men are so cruel---" "Men," she said, and meant it, thinking how love for Zachary was tormenting Bella, how Djinni's reactions had driven Vickie into the depths of the Park to take on a task she knew would kill her--and now Thea, poor Thea, mad with grief and loss, and though it was not Alexei's fault some man, somewhere, had engineered this...

"What? You think that I'm trying to hurt you?" Blaze whirled around, the first hint of anger in his voice. "That I like seeing you---seeing you like this?" Flame hung her head. He restrained himself, not willing to be mad at her. Shaking his own head as he spoke, "I didn't ask for any of this...I don't think that I wanted things to turn out this way, before I forgot. Right now, though, I'm trying to deal with it as best I can."

There it was, spoken plain. The words hung between them, the insurmountable barrier of rule and duty. "And that is why my feelings must not matter to you," she said, dully. Why was he so stubborn? Why would he not understand? Why did he make her keep repeating herself over and over, each time stabbing the blade deeper into her own heart?

"I'm trying to remember, trying to get my memories back. For my sake, and yours...but damnit, Flame---I don't know what to do with you. I'm trying as best I---I'm..." He lost his words then. What could he really say to comfort this woman in front of him? Someone that had sacrificed everything she'd ever known, and was now finding out what the real cost of that sacrifice was.

With her head still dropped, she whispered aloud the chaos in her soul "I do not know what to do with myself. I am neither human nor seraphim. I feel things and cannot control them..."

"Flame...I don't have the words...here." Without hesitation he reached up to take her hands, releasing all of his mental and emotional guards. His thoughts flooded forth in a torrent.

I can't tell her...she'd only feel like it was ingenuine...

But it's nothing out of gratitude, or owing her anything...but she just won't get the idea out of her head...

You might really...but she doesn't, not for you...Who you were, sure...

Slowly, cautiously, as if she was walking on broken glass, she let her blocks and shields down one at a time. Hoping again, and fearing, both.

He was getting through to her, at least somewhat. He could feel her barriers coming down on the edge of his perception, one at a time. After what seemed like an eternity, there was just one final barrier between him and her.

...damnit! Can't she see you're the same guy?...just...not back yet...?

At last there was only the single shield in place, and she was engulfed in a tornado of mingled fear and hope. If this one came down, there would be nothing between them. And she feared what she might learn---and hoped---and hoped---

Her hands were shaking as she let the final barrier down, slowly, painfully.

Can't she see that you still love her?...that you just don't remember it?...yet?... There was hope mingled with that last thought. Infintessimal, but hope all the same.

There were no words in this state, only emotions, tangled emotions, as she let go and it all came flooding out. The bottom was truly out of her universe...only a week ago he had said he wanted the memories of John Murdock back and now...now it seemed that this was the last thing he wanted. The confusion was tearing her in two; she was used to an orderly universe, in which things were or were not permitted. The rules were clear, the course charted. But now there were no rules, people changed in the blink of an eye and nothing remained stable. She would grasp at something only to have it vanish from her hands, and there was nothing she could count on.

Nothing.

Her emotions were all tinged with a sense of foreboding. Everything that she'd once depended upon had left her, and it was causing her world to crumble down around her. She had been fighting for control of it, but was slowly watching it all fall to pieces. The most tragic thing was, she couldn't see this herself. And she had no idea how to stop it from happening.

He squeezed her hands once before breaking contact with her. There was a lot of turmoil within her, and he had just been exposed to the brunt of it. "Flame..." Without meaning for it to happen, his voice broke as he said her name aloud.

At the sound of his voice, her barriers snapped up so quickly it was almost a physical sensation. This had been a mistake. She should never have let him in.

He knew exactly what had to be said, no matter how much it'd torment him. It needed to be done now, or he'd never get another chance from her. "I need to tell you this---I know you need to hear it, I know that---for certain now....Before---I didn't think I should've told you...I'd come to the conclusion, but---I guess I was scared..." He took a moment to breathe, steeling himself to continue no matter what. "Flame---I, me, John Murdock....I love you. That's never changed...I just need to remember, s'all...Do you---you understand?" He choked out the last few words, virtually in tears.

She crammed both her hands to her mouth, as her eyes widened. It was a mistake. A grave mistake. "Please---please---you must not---feel---you must not be---sad--"

Sad! What an inadequate word! And--she was breaking the rules again. Shattering them in fact. And---be damned to the rules. She had to make this right. Somehow. Though she had no idea how...."I have made you sad---" And she called him by the name she had not been able to use until now. "---John?"

He shook his head, wiping away the few tears that had slipped past him with the back of his hand. "Flame...?"

She fumbled blindly for his hands, unable to see through her own tears. Blaze caught and held her searching hands in his own.

Her barriers came crashing down, and she flung at him the only thing she could think of to comfort him, her own deep memories of the Heart of All Time. He had the trace. If he could find his way there....there would be comfort for him, if not for her....

At first he resisted, gripping her hands tighter as she led him through the connection. He'd never before been to this place, though somehow he instantly knew what it was. Trusting in Flame, he released everything in his being...amidst all that he was and had become, deep within him was her John Murdock. And something more. Somehow within him was the path to this place--and the path led to---what? Whatever it was--she was racing there, faster than thought.

Like a swan felled by an arrow, she was jolted into deep trance. Her knees gave and she dropped to the floor, drawn into the Heart, all contact with the outward world shut out. Within an instant, heart and breathing began to falter---

Blaze was pulled down with her, dragged into that strangely familiar place, and physically falling to the ground with her.

---Flame?---

As they plummeted together, he was able to retain some sense of their physical forms. He could feel her...her body...and it was failing. She was letting go of herself, her ties to reality.

She responded instinctively. ---John--

She didn't know what was happening outside of this place. It was going to happen again; she was losing herself. "Flame...? No...we've got to go back..." His words were barely a whisper, dredged from where he and Flame had gone to. He struggled to speak more, but was unable to.


Quickly she steadied herself, stabilizing her own heartrate and breath. ---I am---well--- she reassured him.

There was another voice here, in the Heart. It was quiet at first, but grew as it continued. ...I'm still in here...I know that, even if you don't...I need your help to find me.... It was...it was John, here in the Heart of All Time.

She needed no encouragement. She followed his memory trace, racing along the pathways heading straight for the John she could sense like an arrow to a target.

Blaze could only follow her. He was lost here, and was becoming dissociated from himself. He couldn't identify his place in space. ---Flame....we aren't ready for this...Flame? He was pleading with her now, fighting his way back to his corporeal self. Regaining some control, he released Flame's hands. His eyes, which felt weighted beyond belief, began to open.

She stopped, a form of fire, hovering between here and there, what was and what might be. This was not about her. It was about him, What he wanted, was ready for. She sighed bitterly.

Blaze still felt a connection to her, thin as gossamer Flame...?

Her breathing steadied and began to increase again, slowly. Her heart slowly returned to normal. With a feeling of anguish, she pulled back from the John Murdock she could sense just beyond her touch. Once again...loss...mourning...and hope dying a little more. How many times would hope fade before she could not bring it back again? How many times could she bear the agony of it dying?

She took a deep, deep breath. Another.

His eyes now fully open, he spoke. "Flame?" Worry crept into his voice. Was she going to lose control again? "Please...say something..."

Slowly, she opened her eyes and swallowed down her sorrow, as her barriers snapped up again, tighter than before. "I apologize," she said quietly, under rigid control now. "I should not have allowed that to happen."

Blaze wiped away the remanants of his tears, a puzzled look on his face. "What...? Where did we go? I had caught a glimpse of it the last time we...went under. But I was there, this time..." He cocked his head to the side. "What's wrong?" He still had no conception of what he'd just done, nor what he'd forced Flame to go through.

She clamped her control down over everything until it was absolute. "You do not remember the Heart of All Time," she said. "It was my home. Before."

Nothing out...let nothing out. He must not know, must never know the pain.

Still concerned, he continued to inquire. "That's the place...the place you took me before, right? Flame, what's wrong? You're different all of the sudden."

Let nothing out. "I should never have permitted myself to lose control in that way," she said, with the formality that was her only shield against revealing too much.

"In what way? Flame, I don't understand..." He shook his head as if to clear it.

She sat up, took the zazen position. It centered her, mostly. "I should never have permitted myself to---to reveal---emotions. It was very wrong of me."

"Why?"

He wore her down, he wore her down like water on a stone. "Because----because it is an---an imposition."

He was truly at a loss. Though the entire evening had gone in the complete opposite direction he had expected, this one moment was the worst. "But---I thought I'd shown you---" I thought I had shown you that everything was alright...that we didn't have to hide all of this pain. He bit his tongue, willing to become a hypocrite in his own mind rather than to finish that sentence.

She was suddenly out of energy, out of strength to resist him, and sagged. She looked up, lost in confusion, barriers half up and half down for a moment, then the barriers snap back up again, but half-heartedly.

His resolve broke at that moment. He realized he'd only hurt her more if he stayed, that anything he could possibly do would be for naught. This knowledge hit him almost visibly, like a sledgehammer blow. "Oh...oh, damn..." He stood up, shaking his head as he motioned for the apartment door. "I'm sorry, Flame...I'm sorry..."

She could not bear that. Could not bear to see him in pain. "---John---please---this is not your fault--- It is not anybody's fault."

He turned to face her. He felt completely drained, weighted down knowing that he'd failed her...and himself. "Flame...I---really came here to tell you that I want to get my memories back...I was going to ask to do it tonight...but I just heard this news about October Star...And---I'm sorry..."

She should be angry. She could not be. All she could do was tell him the truth as she saw it, out of her own despair. "There will never be a good time to do this thing. Something will always interfere." And so it would. On and on, forever, until the time was lost forever in being put off.

He looked away from her. Why was it that he couldn't express himself to her? Why did he keep sending mixed messages? "Shit...that's not what I meant...I---"

The sorrow, the inevitabilty, was almost more than she could bear. It was all too plain now. "Nevertheless, is it not the truth? Will there not always be another crisis, another urgent mission, another soul in need of rescue? And will it not always be our duty to tend to these things unselfishly?"

She was right. He knew it; there'd always be something that would get in the way. Always someone else to save...but how could he save anyone if he couldn't even save himself? "I---" He bit his lip. There might be one last thing he could do, one last gesture that'd make up for everything he'd failed at. There's only one way to find out. "Goodbye, Flame." He took a quick step, coming to right in front of Flame. Taking her face into his hands, he bent down and kissed her, bringing his own telempathic barriers crashing down as he did so. He expanded his consciousness to encompass both of them, and could feel her own barriers resist before falling.

He was aware of everything, here. Beneath his identity and Flame's presence...was another. No...it was him, reflected back...but at the same time, altogether new and different. As if struck by an epiphany, Blaze knew; this was his old self. Or rather, it was who he had become. This was the John Murdock that Seraphic Flame had sacrificed everything to save. The John Murdock she loved and mourned the loss of.

She felt him, felt her John, knew he was there, could almost hear his voice, and everything in her reached out towards that John, but without being in trance, he was out of reach. She sensed her John twisting, writhing forward, trying to reach her. She tried, stretched and tried again---felt herself starting to collapse, unable to touch, trying anyway, and falling, falling, torn in half, no, overwhelmed as she stretched herself too thin---and lost her anchors, lost herself---

Blaze felt her drowning, floundering in the sea of emotion. He was losing her. He couldn't let this happen. His mind screamed out to her. FLAME!

And for one terrible, glorious moment came the temptation, sweet, seductive, calling her into the deeps----give in---give up--let go--

But she had resisted that temptation before. She had made promises she must keep. She gasped and broke free.

His connection to her was torn away suddenly, too fast for him to disentagle himself. Gasping for breath, he fell to a knew. "Flame..." He felt as if he wouldn't be able to stay awake, much less continue.

She dropped down beside him, drained. There was all the sound of heartbreak in the single word she whispered. "John---"

Gathering his wits, he noticed that he was still...himself. He was still Blaze, and not the John Murdock of this time. "Why...didn't you...get me?" He was ragged, and could barely muster the strength to speak.

She wept in despair and had not the strength to hold the tears back anymore. "I cannot reach---not that way--"

"How...then...?" He coughed into his hand, trying to compose himself. It was still felt like he had had the wind knocked out of him.

She lifted one hand tentatively to cup his cheek. "Only through the Heart......only through the Heart. Else I will be lost within you." And he was not ready for that. Might never be.

Face the truth. Would never be, Ashes on the wind.

He nodded, placing his hand over hers. He opened up, allowing the psychic and physical connections to hold. "Take us there...please?" His eyes bored into hers; this is what he wanted, what he needed to do for her. Even if she didn't know it yet.

She looked into his pleading eyes with a sense of shock. Surely she had misheard him. This could not---he wasn't---he didn't mean--- "But-- You said not---"

Blaze shook his head, cutting off her reply. "Please, Flame...I want this."

She might not get another chance. She knelt, wrapped the last ragged bits of control around herself, and dropped into trance, slowing her breathing and heartrate in a controlled fashion, going deeper and slowly following his memory trace. She moved down it slowly this time, bringing his "self" with her, until she reached the deepest trace, and followed it to the Heart.

And he was there. She sensed him there, a fire of memory, but more than mere memory.

As easily and naturally as breathing, she extended a psychic hand. She thought, to Blaze....

A hand took hers, firm and strong. It was a vibrant identity...but it was not Blaze...it was different, but very familiar.

The shock this time was of recognition, and a joy that made her shake. John?

This time a voice rang out, rich as a bell. It was John. Flame! My god!

Swiftly she sezied the link and dropped back into the Heart as the only safe place, taking the other with her.

He was falling over himself with joy and relief. You're back! Oh, Flame...

Before she answered, she let the peace of the Heart fill her. She needed the strength, needed the anchoring---John? she said and then, like a trumpet call, her own joyful acknowledgement. JOHN! Beloved! Then, quieter, but still full of relief and joy and so much love she felt that she was overflowing with it, Beloved---

He spoke quietly, still unsure if what he was experiencing was real ---Flame---most beloved, what's going on?

She would have wept for joy if such a thing was possible here. ---most dear, most precious, most beloved.... Wait, rest, be. She carefully examined the one she had brought into the Heart---and this was only the barest edge of the Heart, not as deeply as she had first brought her own John. Any deeper and the temptation to stay would be---overwhelming.

Confusion crept into his voice. This wasn't anything like what he had expected after his transformation. Flame...why are we here?

So he had no idea what had been happening. To make you whole again, she said, her mind racing, because you asked me to.

I---what's wrong with me? Did it work? It slowly dawned on him that something had gone wrong, that something grievous had occured in the midst of his change. Dread wormed its way through him.

She sensed a growing panic in him. Your body lives, but you have lost the last six years.

His dread confirmed, he dared to continue. Flame...what---what are you talking about...What year is it?

Quickly she corrected herself, soothing him as best she could. It is six weeks from the day when Michael Azir answered my call to save you.

Immediately, he switched gears; she was what was important. Concerned for her, he said Are you okay? You said I'd lost the last six years...what, Flame...what's going on...?

Carefully, she sought to discover how much of memory he had lost, if any. Do you remember Michael Azir?

He paused for a moment, striving to think back to the "ceremony", to what had been happening before he had found himself here. Yes...I remember you, him, Red, Home World...I remember the crowd...I remember saying yes...I remember waking here, in the Heart. You came to me before...and now you're back...am I dead?

She felt the dread, the panic again, and held him fiercely. You---the reborn you---has lost those memories, and all the rest going back six years---that is what I meant. Beloved, no, you are not dead. She held back her own tears and refused to be distracted by her own fears. This was too important. She had Blaze's consent, and she had John within her grasp. She would not let this pass a second time. Hold to me, beloved; I will not let you go.


He connected with her, determined to hold fast. I've got you, Flame...forever.

She had not felt such determination within herself since...since the moment she had decided she would give all to save him. It gave her a strength she had not known she had in reserve. I will bring you back, and reuinite you with yourself.

She detected a hint of his old playfulness in his 'voice'. I'm ready...please don't make me wait.

She responded to that with yet more determination. ---or---no, there will be no "or". She would not let him know what she would do to bring him safely out again. She had given almost all once. If "all" would be required of her...she wrapped her "wings" around him like a cocoon. He was either coming with her, or they were both remaining in the Heart.

Shielded in her glorious wings, John let himself completely go; he offered no resistance as she began to carry both of them out and up to reality.

She moved with painful, careful slowness out of the Heart, along the memory trace and looked "ahead" for the anchor that was "Blaze Phoenyx."

On the periphery between his memories and the Heart, Blaze waited for her. A palpable air of sadness hung about him, though he smiled at the sight of Flame and her charge, his "old" self.

I will not lose you a second time, beloved, she whispered as they neared the boundary that divided "their time" from "all time."

Couldn't get rid of me if ya tried, Love. John was beaming with assurance, overflowing with his own joy at being reunited with his love.

She extended a mental hand to "Blaze Phoenyx" and allowed her body's heart and breathrate to increase a trifle.

Blaze, still separate from both worlds, reached down to Flame's outstretched hand, taking it into his own. He pulled her up to match his height, on the cusp between the Heart and the world.

She opened her "wings" and eveloped "Blaze" in the embrace, furling her "wings" around them both like the petals of a closing flower, a tightly-closed rosebud. Now free of the Heart, but still in deep memory and trance, she waited to see what would happen, she drifted closer to consciousness and the world.

John Murdock, now half-way returned to his corporeal body, began to wake. Clumsily, almost drunkenly, he stumbled back to consciousness.

Focused on John, she received a light sensation... Smooth and ephermeral, like silk on silk. And a whisper...

Blaze slipped from beneath her wings, and back into the Heart. Goodbye...

Before she could respond, John spoke his first word in his renewed body. "...Flame?"

It was...a shock. A shock to the spirit as well as to the body. Confused for a moment as to which of them had slipped away from her, she "looked" wildly about. --no--

John, now fully awake, looked upon Flame's still face. "Flame? Love?"

Panic took her. ---good----bye?---

Worried, he raises his voice, again pleading for her to wake up. "Flame...? Please...?"

Her whole self a cry of anguish, she called, no knowing who she called for. JOHN!

Suddenly, he felt as if he were punched in the gut. Some new sense...and he felt her! He felt her, and cried out for her as he physically cupped her face in his hands. "Flame!"

Caught like a fly in amber light, she fanned her "wings", calling wildly, but now she knew who it was she called for. Whether in the Heart or in the world above, it was her beloved, her beloved, that she needed as she needed breath. JOHN!

Gingerly, he flexed his new perception, and ventured back under consciousness to find her. Flame! Please, wake up, love!

She caught "sight" of him at last, and with a cry of relief, arrowed to him.

Grabbing her, John lunged back toward reality, his grip around her like iron bands. Awake again, he breathed deeply and cried out to find her still in his arms. "Flame!"

She lost her "wings" halfway there; exhausted, she could only rely on his strength now to bring her out. But she felt her body again, and told it to awaken. John?

Half laughing, half crying, he comforted her. "Flame...Flame, I'm here..."

She gasped twice, like a surfacing swimmer a heartbeat from drowning, took a deep, shuddering breath, and felt her eyelids flutter. She settled back into her body with another breath, opened her eyes, and stared up into that most beloved face, now truly the one she remembered, with everything she could ever have wanted to see in his eyes there, open, for her to read.

Another spike of concern struck him as she came back to reality. "Flame! Flame, are you alright?" He gazed down at her now open eyes, two windows into the soul he'd fallen in love with.

"John?" she whispered.

He almost lept in place, throwing both arms around her. His face pressed into her crimson red hair, he breathed his words out. Relief poured from him. "Flame...oh, Flame..."

She settled her arms around him and held him, held him, as she had longed to do for what had seemed like forever. All her barriers were down; never again would she let anything keep them apart, not even her own shielding. "Death will have no dominion," she whispered to him, tears of joy falling, washing away every tear of sorrow she had shed. "Beloved--"

He whispered back to her, his own tears flowing freely now. "Love...and lovers...will never be lost..." The poem, and their journey through the fires, was now complete. Not speaking, he sat there and held her, content to do that for the rest of eternity.