Retrieving Blaze

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Ascendant

Previous Story in the Arc: We Are Family by Seraphym (Thursday, November 03, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Intercession Part One by John Murdock (Thursday, November 24, 2005)

(posted Tuesday, November 08, 2005)

(((This took place shortly before John Murdock proposed to seraphic Flame))

It had been a long, hard day of patrolling. Striga, mostly. So far, Seraphic Flame and John Murdock had been working parallel assignments along the waterfront, but they both sensed that it would not be too much longer before they took the fight inland, towards the Council base they both knew was there from the explorations of other members of the CCCP.

But that would be for another day. There was only so much even a hero could do in a single day. Contacts would need to mine their sources before anything new would turn up for a while.

And meanwhile it was just good to sit here together, together at last, watching the sunset colors fill the sky outside the apartment window, and feel a certain level of peace. Like the peace after a terrible storm, part recovering from weariness and woe, part a feeling of relief at having survived it all.

But for Flame, at least, there was a sense of unease beneath the peace. There was still unfinished business...a debt that needed to be paid.

There was still Blaze Phoenyx...somewhere in the Heart, slipped into the place where John had once been. And she did not know how he fared. And that troubled her.

He was not exactly a separate soul, or at least, she didn't think he was. But having lost her angelic nature, she couldn't be certain of that, either. She had only the vague feeling that until Blaze and John reconciled and became one, there would be a part of her that still owed a debt, and part of him that would be, oddly, missing.

She sipped at her cooling tea, and even that recalled thoughts of Blaze to her. John was a coffee drinker...Blaze hardly touched it, preferring Vickie's stockpile of exotic and herbal teas. Odd choice for someone like him. Not something she would have expected. And she had to wonder: in how much else did Blaze differ from the John Murdock of the original time and place?

Without thinking, she reached for John's hand, as if for comfort, and found both.

Since he had "returned", John and Flame's empathic connection had strengthened measurably. Though John didn't have Flame's experience, or Bella's training, he could still sense the turmoil under his love's calm exterior.

"Love, what's bothering you?" He spoke softly, gently squeezing her hand.

She sighed. "Unfinished business," she replied, reluctant to bring it up further. "Nothing more...." John cocked his head to the side, trying to think back to what she was referring to. His face went suddenly blank, and he sat up straight in his seat.


SHe winced. "Yes." How could she ask him to help her find the one who had, in some ways, taken his place? And how bizarre a situation was this, that a man could be the rival to himself? It was not often that a seraphim saw new things but this...this was new, unexplored ground, and perhaps treacherous. When Blaze and Flame had retrieved John from the Heart of All Time, she had hoped that the two would somehow...reach an accord and meld into one, with the memories of both. At this point, neither of them was certain how the meld would affect John; would he still retain his sense of self, or be subsumed? What facets of his personality would change? Questions without definite answers, the search for which held some potential and irrevocable dangers.

And yet...Blaze Phoenyx had been a kind and caring man. He had done his best to help the angel with a shattered heart and broken wings, even though he did not know how or why she had come to be this way. He had given her the strength of friendship, unasked. Had stood beside her---more than that, had leapt to defend her---in the confrontation with the Fallen Archangel Xavier. She owed that personality so much....

And then, he had given way to John and allowed her to bring her beloved back again, against all odds. She owed him for that as well. Owed him more than to let him fade into nothingness, or to be locked in some kind of dark limbo as John had been. John felt indebted towards the shard of himself that had given up his corporeality so that he might rejoin Flame. He still held a low opinion of himself at the time in his life from when Blaze's personality had been formed; he had been a "yes-man", performing atrocities in the name of "counter-terrorism" and "duty to country". Still...from all accounts, Blaze had turned out to be an upstanding individual. Perhaps being thrust into a world of heroics had impacted him fundamentally, changing his very core.

It was not in Flame to leave debts unpaid, business unfinished. But there was no way to find out what had happened to Blaze Phoenyx without the help of John Murdock.

At what point does a shard become a soul? At what point does a personality become a person? She didn't have any answers for those questions either. But memory compelled her to treat Blaze Phoenyx as a kind of twinned soul-self to John Murdock, and she could not leave his story incomplete.

John looked up from his mug of coffee, which he had been staring intently into. " would you like to venture into the Heart, this evenin'?" he said with no small amount of trepidation. John was well aware of what the consequences might be. Sometimes, you've gotta just go ahead with things.

Flame answered the question---which had startled her---with a swift intake of breath. "Do you think we're ready?" she whispered, feeling herself shaking a little inside. Untested ground this, and dangerous....

But I will not lose you a second time, John. I swear it. If all fell to pieces, this time she would fall with him.

John paused, rolling around the question in his head. After mulling over it for a few moments, he spoke. "I'm not sure I can be. But, I suppose that if we don't try sometime soon, we'll just keep making excuses not to." They had talked about this before, but had always found a reason why each particular time wasn't a good one to explore the possibility of bringing Blaze out.

But that very hesitation had an all-too-familiar feeling to it. Flame remembered vividly how she had felt, just touching John in the Heart---where the memory-trace left in John/Blaze's spirit had led her. How Blaze had promised that he would help her to find John again, and bring him back.

And how, time after time, there had never been---according to Blaze---the "right" time, until she lost all her hopes in crushing despair again, the worse for having been so close to having John back.

"Finding excuses," she said "....just as Blaze did...."

The silence hung between them for a moment, heavy with a turbid mix of emotions. Finally, Flame set her tea aside, and stood up. For this, she felt more comfortable sitting zazen, and she settled herself at John's feet, putting one hand lightly on his where it rested on the arm of his chair. He turned his hand palm up, holding Flame's gently. Then, nodding, he stood to position himself on the floor. Releasing her hand, he removed the scarf that hung limp around his neck and settled into a cross-legged pose that mirrored hers.

She took his hands, one in each of hers, and lowered her shields, the ones she had learned from Bella. Mirrored postures, outwardly serene. Mirrored emotions: turbulent. "Ready love?"

He exhaled, releasing his burgeoning control over his own emotional and mental defenses. "Yes" He closed his eyes, focusing on connecting with Flame.

But this, at least, was well-trodden ground for her. Breathe with me, she said, mind to mind, extending the link of self to him so that he could feel her breathing, and what she was doing in order to fall into trance. She closed her eyes and with careful deliberation, began to slow her breath-rate.

Each inhalation and exhalation were synched to a count of 10....then 15....25...45....1 minute.....2....

Her beating heart slowed in synch with her breathing, under much more control now than the last time she had done this....60 beats in a minute....55...45....30....20...

If there had been anyone in the apartment to take measurements---well, paramedics would certainly have been called.

But they were in no danger. Yet. The Heart of All Time was a beautiful place, but that beauty could be dangerous and seductive; enraptured by it, they might stay, stay too long, and might allow their corporeal selves to expire.

With the feeling of pushing through a barrier, they found themselves together in a place of glowing, silvery swirls of fog. Through it laced a bright silver ribbon. This, of course, was only how their minds pictured what was really there; incarnate minds needed images to fix on or they became swiftly confused and lost.

Here she was an androgynous, graceful being with great wings of fire. He was brilliant white-blue energy, iridescent and vaguely human-shaped. She embraced him for a moment with her wings. And in that moment, though they remained separate entities, something joined them into a single unit, moving together, reacting together.

Then she turned to seize the trace and follow it to the source.

The two-made-one followed the trace, wings of fire wrapped around both. Out of the fog and through the darkness...through the shadows...into the Light....and finally, bursting into the Heart of All Time itself.

But this time they were met.

As if waiting for them was a Being of Fire. Flame knew him of old in this form---it was Michael Azir, the Archangel Michael, who was now her guardian and guide as she had once been for her charges.

A thought washed over both their minds. :Follow.:

Azir sped away, along the periphery of the Heart, avoiding the center. They followed; Flame could not resist one longing look back, as a trace of the Song of the Seraphim touched her and made her tremble with the desire to join it. But she only allowed herself the one look, and did not allow herself to be drawn into the Song. That was not for her now. Perhaps not ever again....

But she had something that was so much more now. The Song held Love, but not her love. He was here, by her side; thinking of that, the Song did not seem quite so tempting.

Michael paused at the "edge"--though there really were no "edges" here, and the boundaries were really that of lesser "reality" and greater--where Light met Shadow. The Shadow was a sad, and in many ways, terrible place. Not because it represented any real threat to them, but because it was the place where the spirits of those who had perished and fallen into unending despair were enmired in gloom. They could leave--if they lost their despair. Flame shuddered. Her despair had been so nearly like theirs. The only difference was...she had at least remembered what she had been, where she had come from, and that there was something, somewhere, more than despair.

:Here.: There was something here, waiting at the boundary, half in one space, half in the other, sharing the qualities of both. It was a shadow-form curled around a faint core of light. Michael Azir withdrew a bit, but remained watching. Flame understood. He would watch, but do nothing except to protect the rest of the Heart. This problem was hers and John's to deal with.

Free Will.....

John could sense Flame's trepidation; this thing that they had happened upon was something totally...other. He projected his love and warmth, blanketing her in it, meeting her wariness with his assurance. :Love...what is it? Is it Blaze?: He could get a vague sense that there were two separate yet intertwined components to the form, and that one was...familiar, of all things. Which one, however, he had no notion, though he desparately hoped it was the lighter "feeling" of the two.

She studied the form carefully, allowed some of what was there to slip across her shields. There was a familiar feel to it.... :I think---yes,: she said after a moment of contemplation. As she regarded the form, something else came to her. :As he called me, I think I must call him.: She hesitated again, then added, doubtfully, :He---doesn't look anything like you did, here. Maybe because he's a kind of shadow of you?:

:I...I don't know...: He tentatively extended his own senses, trying to probe deeper into the nature of the form. Still untrained, he was unable to form a clear understanding of what he made out.

Flame extended a mental "hand", gently, and "touched" the form, as if she was carefully touching the tips of her fingers to someone's shoulder. :Blaze? John?:

The darkness stirred, shying away from her touch. Sound came from everywhere and nowhere; two voices overlapping, it created an unnerving dissonance. :Who's there?:

She winced. As attuned both music and the Song as she was, the disharmony was...painful. And full of pain. :Flame. And your older self.:

The shadows seemed to quiver at the sound of her name, coiling around themselves tighter. The core of light bobbed on the shadow's eddies, a boat on a pitching sea of darkness. After a pause, it "spoke" again. :...What do you want?:

She felt an aching deep inside; there was so much pain here, and--and she was at least in part the cause. But she sensed she must go carefully. This could go terribly awry. And what that would do to John? She had no notion, and that frightened her. :For talk. To know you are well.: He wasn't "well," of course, but that had honestly been their intention when they first came here. She extended an aura of comfort.

The dual-form shied away from the aura, staying on the very edge as she extended it out. The dissonant voices sounded out: :Why?:

Flame groped for an answer. It had to be true; untruth was painfully obvious here. It had to be sincere; insincerity would be felt. :Because we care for you: she sighed. Because you are my friend. You supported me without being asked to. You helped save my life twice at least.: That all sounded incomplete. :Because...I needed help, and you gave it without thinking twice. Now it is my--our--turn.:

:And you helped her for me,: John added. It still bothered him to an extent that he hadn't been there for Flame when she most needed him. Well, he had been there, but not as himself. It amazed him that his older self had turned out to be an upstanding individual.

Flame looked around, over the edge of the line between Light and Shadow, and shivered to think that any part of John might slip over to that other side. :We cannot leave you alone,: she said, half coaxing, and half anxious.

The form shifted in place slightly. It "felt" as if it was poised to run at the slightest provocation. :Why are you here?: The being sounded petulant, like it wanted to be rid of them and everything else. Guarded suspicion and pain poured from it in near visible waves; from what portion, the core of light or the shroud of darkness, neither could tell.

Flame considered both the words and the tangle of emotions. :In a way, that is for you to decide,: she said gently. :But I owe you more than I can say, and we do not want pain to be your portion: More and more it felt as if Blaze truly was more than a shard, a pruned branch from the tree that was John Murdock. As if...he was a John that might have been...

:You're together, now. Reunited. What else can we do? I am here, and you are both there,: it snarled. The form continued to sit in place, just outside of their influence, ready to bolt.

Flame hesitated. Dared she even suggest merger at this point? But it had to be said some time. :You could join us. At least---meet your older self.: Perhaps if he knew her John--perhaps--

The shadow spasmed around the core of light, barking out what resembled a coarse laugh, like two stones being clapped together. :What? You've found a spare person laying around, someone else I can boot out of their own body?: The response was tinged with anger, the sarcasm biting and thick.

For a moment Flame felt sorrow weigh on her, like wings made of lead instead of fire. How to reach him? She had to reach him. Had to. There was no other option now. She sensed that if this went would harm the John she knew and loved, somehow. She must risk more. She looked to Michael for confirmation of her insight; knowing that although she was no longer one with the minds of the other angelic spirits, he, and they, were still as one with hers. Michael nodded. She opened herself more.

:Will you take my hand?: she begged. :Will you trust me as I trusted you?: Instead of comfort now, she allowed an aura of entreaty to envelope them all.

The form tensed again, but then settled, almost as if defeated. :Flame...please, just leave me alone. What can come of this?: The voice was broken, resigned. Every word seemed laden with its own brand of sorrow.

This was not the disharmony of two voices. This single voice---the sorrow, the resignation--had all the flavor of Blaze, but a Blaze that had given up all hope of--anything. Anything more than mere...existence. Yes, this was a creature in utter despair, and it cut her that he had come to this. There was---something---that was keeping him from falling into the Plain of Ashes to join the others who had nothing but despair. Could she touch that, awaken it? :I hope, peace. Even---even happiness. But we will force nothing on you.: she added quickly.

John felt that now would be the opportune moment to interject, to take a chance. He spoke firmly, but also while trying to sound placating as well. :Blaze, we want to make you a propo---:

: Shhhh! : Flame swiftly interrupted him, sensing before he did the creature's reaction to that name. Blaze. The name he had never taken as his. It was his call-sign. But in his mind, he was always John. John Murdock. And it had hurt him that she would never call him by that name. Perhaps almost as much as it had hurt her to see that well-loved face that somehow was not the much so that she could not bear to call him "John."

The shadow-form spasmed violently, seeming to grow as it fully covered the core of light. Its disjointed words boomed from every direction. :Don't call me that! My name is John!:

Flame extended her wings with a snap, one to shield John, one to embrace John/Blaze. One to protect, one to enclose, to embrace. :Your name, too, is John.: she asseted, and truly acknowledged, for the first time. :You are the Phoenyx Rising. He is the Phoenyx Ascendant. You are both John. Will you trust me?:

The form squirmed, trying to find a crack in her embrace through which it could seep out of. It's efforts, after a time, were more than a little half-hearted, the shadows becoming slightly more transparent. :I'm nothing more than a Shadow of someone, Flame. I don't even have body, a self, outside of this place.:

She had a name for that fear now; the fear of dissolution, of losing himself. So far as he was concerned, he was all the self he knew. And if that was gone...oblivion?

:One thing at a time,: she said quietly. :We must walk before we can fly. Will you trust me?: Slowly, she pulled in her wings, releasing John/Blaze, and removing the protection from her John. Trust. She was showing it now, herself.

The form became perfectly still within her embrace. :Flame...god, Flame. I can't say no to you...but why are you here? Why won't you leave me to just be?: The voice was singlular again, and calmer than it had been for the entire exchange.

She hesitated. These next words must be chosen with great care. :Because...because when I was sent, it was to give people informed choices. And you...plunged into this existance with little information.: Little. Perhaps none. Yes, he had sensed the Heart, but dimly. He had not entered into it as John had. Perhaps he did not even believe it was more than an halucination. And belief--or rather, expectation--was made manifest here. :I do not think that you are happy here.:

:I don't even know what I am, can I even feel anything?: A chord of the same despair was there, but less pronounced than it had been previously. He was listening to her, and actually mulling over her words.

Flame touched John's mind with her own, in a kind of mental whisper, as each passing moment began to confirm her suspcion of the moment before. :I don't think he can See where he is.: she confided, before she went on to address John/Blaze's fear--not just of dissolution, but of never having---actually----been.

:You think, therefore you are. You are, therefore you feel.: Logic. John had, in her memory, always responded well to logic. Now, with more emphasis, she asked again. : Will you trust me?:

:I don't think that the shadow is him...: John extended his senses out again, brushing upon the form. Yes...they were two very distinct, and different, entities, not one and the same as he had thought earlier. The darkness still had an "imprint" that felt like himself, felt like Blaze...but it wasn't nearly as strong or pure as the real thing. It clicked for John at that moment.

Flame "whispered" back. :I think it is his despair. Or something that feeds on his despair. Or both. Perhaps it is what he has made to protect himself from the nothingness he fears is here.:

:Yes...I always have, trusted you, Flame...I just don't want this any more...I don't know what I can want, what I can hope for here.: The shadows had parted in some areas, revealing more of the core of light. The couple could sense he was being sincere, open with them.

Trust. It went both ways. She dropped all of her sheilds and protections and held out her "hand." Vulnerable in every way. :Then take my hand and come with me.:

:Where? Where are you taking me, Flame?: The shadows almost immediately began to roil, almost excitedly. Blaze spoke with a slight apprehension, but didn't seem conscious of what his shield was doing.

She spoke with quiet confidence. :To knowledge: she said, hoping that this promise would win him. Knowledge; both Johns had craved it. Both Johns had sought it. And it was lack of it that held him here.

John whispered to her quickly. :Careful, love...: He imperceptibly shifted stance, ready to place himself between Flame and his older self in a single motion.

:What do you mean?: The shadows were still churning, twisting around the core, covering it from view.

Her John was right to be cautious. John/Blaze could harm her in this unprotected state...yet she was never unprotected, now. :Guard me, love: she whispered back. With her John watching over her, she might be hurt, but she knew with absolute conviction that he would never allow harm to befall her.

She beckoned, slightly, with her whole self, making her entire being into welcome and invitation. :The knowledge of where you are. And what is possible.: she said gravely, and whispered to her John, :Your memories are not only in you. They are also here.: That might be the key. If he could embrace those memories here, and see and know and feel what it was John Murdock was...perhaps...perhaps he would be willing to become part of that whole. Would realize that this was not loss, but gain.

The shadow form changed suddenly, vibrating wildly. Blaze/John's voice came out as pitiful, and helpless. :Oh, Flame...just speak plainly...please, or leave me be.:

He didn't understand, of course. She wondered what it was that he "saw" here? An endless void? Shadows? Nothingness? :I want to show you exactly where you are. My home. I want to show you what choices you have before you.: Whatever it was...he was trapped inside his own expectations. John Murdock had sure that there was nothing beyond death but emptiness, until she had proved otherwise to him. That belief surely went back far into his past.

:What choices? What are you talking about, Flame? I can't go back; there's nothing to go back to...and there's nothing here.:

John whispered, though perfectly audible; here, intention was reality. :He really doesn't know where he is...he can't see it, he can't even feel it...he's isolated.:

:Do you trust me? Then take my hand.: It was all going to depend on that. He would trust her enough to make it possible to see through her eyes...or...

:He sees only nothingness,: she replied to John in the same way, :because that is what he expected. And yet, here we are, and we are, neither halucinations nor nothingness.: At the time in his life from when Blaze had been formed, John had been an atheist/agnostic, leaning more towards atheism than agnosticism. Things had changed for him recently, but that didn't mean that Blaze's expectations for the afterlife had.

Flame turned back to John/Blaze, and said quietly, but with conviction. :Trust me. Take my hand.:

Once again, the shadow receded ever so slightly from the core. :Flame...where?:

Flame smiled tenderly. :Not far. And as far as the farthest star.: She could not help it, a certain level of poeticism was part of her. :As you taught me, let me teach you.: She held out her "hand."

The shadows closed up, writhing intensly. More shadow, viscous and dark as pitch, seemed to well out of the center. The despair rose with it, radiating outward and washing over the pair. :Flame...please, just go.: Filaments of shadow began to break from the surface, and quickly thickened out into tendrils as thick as a man's arm. They lashed out randomly in various directions. One strand shot out, striking Flame full on. The blow was sudden, too sudden for John to interpose himself. Immediately, the strand retracted, as if burnt.

Flame let out a hollow gasp. :It's so cold--:

John stepped in front of her now, not willing allow a repeat. :Flame, get outta 'ere! Go!: John shouted over his shoulder to her, not taking his eyes off of the form for a moment. His own form, one of brilliant energy, constituted itself into an impediment, blocking off Flame. The shadow-form shot away, carrying the core of light with it.

:Flame? Flame?!....Flame!: Blaze/John's voice faded as the form faded from sight, blotted out by the brilliance that surrounded it as it sped into the distance.

She had been the mistress of aerial pursuit once, and she still was here. Like a falcon, she furled her wings and willed herself to follow. She thought she understood the reaction; when nothingness is all you know, you still cling to it in fear that there is something worse. And perhaps...the Fallen, who fed upon despair, had slipped some tempting fragment of themselves across the border to insinuate themselves here, and bring another morsel into their realm.

So first, she must keep him from that border between Light and Shadow. Keep him from slipping across. Michael Azir paced her, but---but this was her fight, hers and John's. Michael could only watch and guard.

In the world of "reality" she sensed her body moving further into stillness, heartrate and breathing slowing yet again, as she put more of her "self" and her resources into this pursuit.

John gathered himself, becoming a coherent shape again. He sprinted after Flame, trying to keep pace. The Shadow raced along, seeming to gain speed as it went, darting randomly in this direction or that.

But she had a double advantage. This was her home. She knew ever molecule of it; it was mapped upon her spirit. She could see, John/Blaze could not. Time and again, she whipped herself between the shadowed form and a place where it might cross into the Plains of Ash. Time and time again, it evaded her, and evaded escape at the same time.

But this could go on forever. could go on until her mortal body, and John's, failed for lack of sustenance.

She reached in desperation into instinct. She needed something to break through the despair, to stop the fleeing shadow in its tracks. As it dove through the throng of her siblings, immersed in the Song, instinct handed her the key she had not known she had. And it came---from John. Through him. Augmented by him. By the love they shared. She was, after all, Fire and Love....

She sang a single Note. Her siblings answered with a Chorus.

Michael Azir stopped dead, astonishment radiating from him.

Startled, the form came to a sudden stop, resting in place. It was quivering madly all over, and ever so faintly...sobbing, from deep within the mass of shadow.

She Sang the Note again, and again was answered by her siblings. Hers was Entreaty. Theirs was Compassion. She hovered beside the shadow-form, wings extended, as before, all defenses down, open.

John caught up, stopping at Flame's side. This was her show, her territory, but he wasn't prepared to be reckless. Careful, love...very careful, now,: he whispered.

There was danger, such danger now....they were very, very near the Presence. They were amid a crowd of her siblings. And her own hold on her mortal self was tenuous at this moment. She concentrated on the shadow-form, and on John, ignoring the desire to stay, to stay.....

Here, all memories were always alive.

Even her own.

And so she reached, through John, for those memories; back, back, back, into her own memory, into a vocabulary she had not used since she became incarnate. She began to vibrate, to glow, and then, to transform.

She was Fire. Now she became Song.

Hers the verse, theirs the echoing chorus, wordless, speaking directly to the heart, pypassing conscious thought. She called on the essence of Blaze/John to open his eyes, not the eyes of the body, but the eyes of the spirit that had been closed against the glory around him. She Sang to him and him alone, concetrating on him, cutting across any conscious defences. The Song had been all around him, but it had not touched him, for it had not been specifically tuned to him. This was his and his alone. It had to reach him. Neither she, nor he, had any choice.

The choice lay in whether or not he would respond.

The shadows faded to translucence, then began to melt from the core of light. Slowly, the core reformed into Blaze/John, on his hands and knees, as if he'd just collapsed to the ground. He was panting, becoming more substantial with each shuddering breath. Finally, he turned his face up, taking in the full brunt of the Song.

She Sang of what was all around him, here, where all things were possible. Where there was always another opportunity, another path, so long as the path led to joy. Her siblings echoed with some of that joy, that wonder. Tempered, as it must be, for one who was not one of them.

His eyes cracked open, blinking against the brilliance of where he was.

See! she Sang. Look, see where you are! Not a void, not nothingness and most of all---you are not, are never, alone---

He glanced about, taking in his surroundings. It dawned on him, quite suddenly, that he wasn't alone. Flame, and the other John were here. Where's here?. He remembered this place...Flame had taken him here, seemed so long ago. Full comprehension, for the first time, came to him; he knew he was in the Heart of All Time, and it was humbling.:Flame...?:

She shielded him from some of the glory with her wings, as her siblings and Michael Azir swiftly moved to do the same. Convulsively, she reached for John, her John, her love...found him. Felt her longing to stay settle into something...bearable. She smiled a bit at someone else's stray memory. Yes. Like...chocolate that one is not allowed to have. Desireable...and not, at this moment, at all good for one...

:Yes dearheart.: she answered Blaze/John's entreaty tenderly.

He folded in upon himself, gasping out his words. After everything he has gone through, he feels unworthy of this place, their prescence. :I thought...god, I thought I'd never get to see---:

The last echoes of her Song faded, and her siblings turned their attetion back to the Song of Creation. Only those nearest her had been distracted from their duty, but, this, too, was a duty, and slowly, the strand of this story was woven into the greater Song. She ceased vibrating and faded back into the form of Fire from the form of Song.
John sensed that she was exhausted, but satisfied.

She took John/Blaze's unresisting hands and lifted him. :No one kneels to another here.: He stood with her gentle help, his eyes full of wonder as they peered into her own.

:This is the Heart of All Time,: she said, confirming what he knew. :There is much here you can learn---but the most important is about yourself. Who and what you are, what you are a part of. It is dangerous knowledge and only the truly brave can face it. But---you will not face it alone. No one is ever alone here, not unless he chooses to be. If you choose to receive this knowledge, it will be yours.:

Blaze/John had been taking in her words with the wonderous sights all around him; he focused on her solely, now. :I want to. Absolutely.: He spoke without hesitation, neither in his voice nor projected in his feelings.

She gazed on him somberly. He must understand what he was committing to. That it might lead him down the path he had fought against. :Words and promises have terrible power here, John. They become Truth. Are you sure?:

:Yes...I am: He spoke with a certainty, a conviction. Now that he could See, he was far more sure of himself.

She smiled radiantly, her whole being become quiet joy. This was what she had wanted for him. Whatever else came of this, he was safe in the hands of her siblings. :Then go with Michael Azir. As he was the instrument of your birth, he will be the guardian of your path.:

He looked over to the regal and armor-clad figure, noticing him for the first time. To be frank, he was taken aback; it's not every day that one views an Archangel in full vestment.

Flame nodded. :You should be familiar with him. He is the protector of the warrior. He is also the guardian of the gate of knowledge. And--perhaps he will take you to Meme, who guards Memory. That will be up to you.:

Blaze/John walked over to stand beside Michael, ready to leave with him. He hesitated, though, turning back to see Flame. :Will I see you again?:

Without hesitation, she replied. :Yes.: She could not tell quite how he would see her, nor whether or not it would be as a part of her John, but if he wanted to see her, he would. This was her pledge.

But she also "whispered" to John. :Beloved, he needs an answer from you as well:

John nodded; this was slightly awkward for him, answering a question that sounded as if he had asked it himself.:You will...friend.: Turning to leave, Blaze/John cast one last look over his shoulder at the pair. The hint of a smile on his face, he turned back to his new Host, and walked into the ether.

And all came down upon her at once, as the strength that had sustained her in this ran out. She faltered. There was a quaking through her, through them both, as her strength suddenly faded and her hold on her mortal body weakened.

Her fires dimmed, and she reached blindly for John, whispering, :Help me:

John immediately mvoed to her side, wrapping his arms around her. :You're not getting rid of me that easy, love.: He began the process of carrying her back through to consciousness, raising them through the layers of the Heart.

She clung to him with the last of her strength.

The Song and the Light faded, and both of them emerged into the World again, John with a slight gasp, still clutching to Flame empathically.

Together, they breached the barrier between trance and waking. Heartbeats strengthened, breathing quickened, hearts beating as one thundered distantly in their ears.

They emerged into consciousness to find her clinging to him in reality as well as vision. She was shaking with exhaustion. John was holding her tight against his chest, not willing to let her go just yet. "Love...I think we are deserving some rest right about now." He kissed her cheek, readying himself to carry them both to bed.

"Let's---sit here a moment first," she whispered, resting in his arms, knowing that here was her shelter, always. "Just...sit. And be together."

He nodded, holding her fast against him as the dawn of a new day broke through the skyline, bathing their apartment in its glory. They were together, and their debt had been mitigated, unfinished business brought to an end. Now there could be nothing between them ever again. They sat there, falling blissfully asleep in each others arms.