The further up into the tower he got, the slower he walked. He was frightened now, praying to a God he was not sure he believed in and who most definitely was not present here. But still he prayed - prayed for himself, prayed for Nick. Prayed for their freedom and their love and that he would be able to walk out of this nightmare with his love, both of them safe. He doubted that God was listening, but it was still a comfort.
He stood at the top of the stairs now, and he was greatly reluctant to touch the door handle. But at the same time he knew he had to. He could sense something beyond the door, something evil, but he could not give in now that he was so close. He drew a deep breath, forced himself to focus on the way it felt to have Nick's arms wrapped around him, and opened the door.
She sat in a opulent chair that looked antique, next to a small table set for tea. Just behind her chair stood a dark skinned woman in a servant's dress. Both women looked as lovely as they had been when they were alive, but to Stephen it looked like badly fitting masks and he could see the corpses underneath, twisted and haggard in eternal death. They were terrifying in their twisted ruin, monstrous in a way he had seen only once before but made himself forget so as not to go mad from the sight.
“Good evening, grandmother.” He said politely to Ellen RImbauer as he sat down on the other chair. The creature - it didn’t feel right to call it a woman - smiled at him, showing razor sharp teeth and Stephen could not restrain himself from recoiling in horror.
“Welcome, Stephen. Would you care for some tea?”
“Yes, please.” Whatever the liquid that was poured into his cup was, it definitely did not in any way resemble tea, but Stephen still made a show of adding a piece of sugar and stirring it.
“I need to speak to you, grandmother.” He continued, figuring that politeness might as well be used. After all, he only had one shot at this. Ellen smiled at him, a glint of triumph in her eyes.
“Of course, my dear. And after tea, we must get started. We have so much building to do.” Stephen put his cup down and took a deep breath. It was time to gamble.
“No, grandmother. After tea, I will be leaving. And Nick will be going with me.” Ellen frowned, clearly displeased.
“Do not be silly, Stephen. You belong to Rose Red. Nick is already a part of it.”
“Then Rose Red will give him back to me.” He tried to keep his voice steady, and he nearly succeeded.
“Dear Stephen” Ellen crooned, “Why so obsessed with just one man? There are many beautiful women here in Rose Red, all of them would be ecstatic to have you. Come now, forget these fantasies.” But Stephen would not give up, not now.
“Nick is the love of my life. I have loved him since I was eight years old and saw him in a dream. I will love him until I die and beyond death. And today Rose Red will return him to me, otherwise” he drew the item he had protected for hours from his pocket and held it up in front of the women, “Otherwise, I will press this button and your precious Rose Red will go sky high with a boom.” He smirked. “C4, grandma. A hundred times more effective than dynamite. And it's in every. single. room. I entered today. One push, and it's bye-bye Rose Red.” The gentlewoman facade fell away and a furious scowl took it's place.
“How dare you come into my home and threaten me! Threaten Rose Red!” She hissed, but Stephen would not back down now. Not when he had gotten this far.
“I propose a trade, dear grandma. Nick is freed, fully and completely, and he and I walk out the gates of Rose Red, never to return. Once we are safely past the gate, you will get this little plaything and I will leave the house alone. For the rest of my life. And I suggest you do not try to take it from me - I will keep my finger on the button until we are safely outside the grounds. All it takes is one tiny startle, and that finger will move.” Ellen hissed, the mask falling and her true face showing. It was a mask of horror, but Stephen was not afraid, not now. Sukeena put her hand on her mistress' shoulder, looking at Stephen with pure hatred.
“He speaks the truth, ma'am. This… C4… is in the house. All over the house.” Ellen's furious glare intensified, but Stephen did not back down. He had her pinned, and they both knew it.
Suddenly, a man appeared in the room, looking as healthy and alive as he had when Stephen last held him. Nick, his Nick, and it took everything in Stephen not to run into his arms. He clutched the detonator harder, thumb resting on the button that would, with one push, send them all sky high. Nick stared, shocked, looking wildly from Ellen to Sukeena to Stephen and back again.
“What... What is going on?” He asked.
“Read my mind, my love” Stephen said, “if you are my Nick you will know in an instant.” Nick's face softened, and he spoke softly, reverently:
“You came here… for me. To save my soul.” Stephen nodded.
“I love you” he said. “I could not bear living without you for another moment.” Nick came towards him slowly, placing a hand against his cheek. He felt so gloriously warm, blood pumping in his veins, his cheeks flush with life. Stephen was nearly overcome with the urge to kiss him, but first he had to get them the hell out of Rose Red.
Ellen, who had been silent and still for several minutes, her and Sukeena looking into each other's eyes as if they were having a conversation with only glances, spoke up.
“Men. Filthy sinners, liars and blackmailers, the lot of you.” She hissed at them, her voice low and raspy and full of fury and bitterness. “Very well. Sukeena, take them to the gates and ensure that you get the device from him.” Stephen wanted to whoop with joy, but pushed the urge down firmly. Instead, he took Nick's hand firmly in his and gave a short, mocking bow.
“Good night, grandmother.” He said, as he and Nick turned to follow Sukeena down the stairs and into the gardens.
They walked in silence, the fury emanating from Sukeena - and the house - enough to make Stephen's hair stand on end. He clutched Nick's hand tighter, and the blonde flashed him a quick, soothing smile. It made him feel marginally calmer, and his calm was increased by seeing the entrance gates just up ahead. He had a death grip on the detonator, making sure that his thumb was resting firmly on the button, and nervously looked around. They were so close now: he could not help waiting for something to happen. Thirty feet. Twenty. Ten. Five. The gates opened.
“You go first” he said to Nick. If this was trickery, Nick would not be able to leave the grounds. Nick gave him an understanding smile and walked through the gates with ease, walking several feet down the darkened street before turning and looking expectantly back at him.
Stephen whooped with joy and ran through the gates and into his arms. Then he turned to the woman who stood by the gates, waiting for him to uphold his end of the bargain. He threw the device at her and he and Nick watched as the detonator sailed through the late night air in an elegant arch, before being caught by a inhuman hand. Sukeena's fingers closed around the detonator, and she looked up at Stephen in sudden, horrified understanding.
The ground shook as the C4 detonated, and Nick and Stephen watched in amazement as Rose Red trembled violently before exploding in a storm of bricks and mortar. Curiously, the explosion was contained by the great wall surrounding the property, but inside it was chaos.
“You broke your promise” Nick noted, after a minute or two.
“As you will discover, I did not.” Stephen pointed out, pressing close to him and smiling. “It was Sukeena who pressed the button.” Nick laughed softly.
“A technicality, love. But still, very true.” They looked at each other for a moment or two. Then Nick spoke again.
“So, what now?”
“Well. I thought we'd start with a late dinner, and then we'd go home. I have a very nice couch that is waiting for you to bend me over it and make me howl.” Nick pulled him close and kissed him so passionately his toes curled in his boots.
And it was.