There had been too many nights like this, Stephen Rimbauer thought when he woke up and squinted at the early-afternoon sunlight. Too many nights of booze, cheap take-away, and crying until his eyes ached, drinking until he passed out and dreamt of blue eyes and a rumbling laugh. Too many nightmares of never-ending corridors, the sound of a hammer striking wood, and his own voice desperately wailing the same name over and over, searching with increasing desperation for what he had lost.
Rose Red haunted him, day and night, and it just became worse the closer they got to the demolition. He could not stop thinking about what had happened over Memorial Weekend: how he had met the love of his life, the hero of his dreams, the man that had haunted him since he was eight and started dreaming of blue eyes, and lost him in the span of two days. Lost Nick to the house that tormented his nightmares. Lost him to the darkness, to the evil that lurked in that building. But Stephen made a decision, as he stumbled towards the bathroom, that he had had enough. He was going to go back to that hellhole, and he would tear down every wall if he needed to. He would rip the place apart, nail by nail and board by board, until he found Nick. Because he was still there. He had to be. If he wasn’t, Stephen was going to have to live the rest of his life without him and that was unthinkable.
Rose Red loomed towards the sky like an old gothic castle in a bad horror-flick, which Stephen thought was a rather accurate description. He stood in the driveway, just inside the gates, and huddled against an icy wind that seemed to come from nowhere yet chilled him down to the bone. In hindsight, going alone and without telling anyone where he was heading was probably not the best idea he had ever had, but he simply could not risk anyone trying to talk him out of this mad scheme. He simply had to go back: his heart ached too much, his soul despaired too much to stay away any longer. And in two days, the demolition crew would arrive. He had two days to find Nick. He walked slowly towards the house, like a rabbit knowing full well it's walking into the jaws of the wolf. He stopped in front of the heavy entrance door, suddenly wanting nothing more than to run as far away as he possibly could. But then he thought of Nick. Thought of how it had felt to be in his arms, taste his lips, hear his name being spoken by that voice. How quickly he had fallen in love, once he finally met the right person! He shivered slightly as he remembered how exhilarated he had felt to sneak out of the bedroom he shared with Joyce to see Nick, and the ecstasy of being intimate with him. If he ever wanted to know Nick's touch again, he had to enter his own worst nightmare.
But first, there was something he needed to do. He wandered around the grounds slowly, imagining that once upon a time there had been two children playing there. Now the gardens lay overgrown with dead greenery, weedy and worn, cracked pavements and dead twigs and brambles in a never-ending chaotic bundle. He walked slowly, trying to shake the feeling of being watched, now and then adjusting the straps of the pack he was carrying. He would have only one chance at doing this, and he would do it. He would get Nick back from the clutches of the evil powers within these grounds; he would save his love, come hell or high water.
After having circled the grounds (which took the better part of two hours), he found himself back in front of the main entrance door. He stood on the steps for several minutes before he could force himself to open it and step inside. The warm evening outside was immediately replaced by the chilly, dusty air of Rose Red’s foyer, but so far he could hear no sound. He stepped inside and the door closed behind him with a click that seemed almost satisfied. He shivered with fear, but then he remembered how Nick had taken his face in his hands and asked what it was that frightened him, just after their arrival. He remembered the warmth in those wonderful hands, how the touch had made him tremble and barely hear the question, lost in the feeling of Nick’s hands on his skin. The memory made him tremble too, but this time with longing. He stood for several moments in the foyer and wondered where to start searching. The Hall of Dimensions? The Kitchen? The room they had slept in? The hall they had danced and eaten in? The mirror library? The sitting room they had come together for an illicit tryst that had turned into a night of passion?
“Where are you my love?” He asked aloud, but the only reply he received was the silence.
Stephen began his search in the kitchen, which was completely deserted and quiet. He remembered that morning, how Nick had looked at him while making eggs, the secret smile they had shared as they toasted in champagne. It had been a toast to the love they had just discovered, the love that they had spent the night affirming over and over again. He remembered how it had felt to stand there and eat eggs, chatting to the others, acting like it was a normal morning while he could feel a trickle of semen leak from his well-used asshole. How his stomach had fluttered right before... His mind shied away from the tragedy that had occurred, focusing instead on running his hand over the surface of the counter. Nick had sat right here, and Stephen fancied he could still feel the warmth of his body under his hand. He was so lost in his memory he did not notice the pantry door creaking as it opened, just a fraction, just enough for someone to watch him.
The hours crawled by as Stephen wandered through the house slowly, as if he was a tourist visiting, seemingly aimlessly opening doors and wandering up and down staircases. Now and then he would stop and touch an object or a piece of furniture, but he never stayed anywhere for long. He knew by now he was being watched, but it did not seem that whoever was watching him thought him a danger or object of any greater interest, since he had not seen or heard anything paranormal in the time he had been there. He knew it was only a matter of time, but he thought of Nick and felt his resolve strengthened. He would do this, and not run like a frightened little boy. If he did, he would forfeit any and all chances of ever seeing Nick again.
He opened another door, seemingly identical to the others, and found himself in a room he remembered well, although it had moved since the last time he saw it. This room was a sitting room, with elegant furniture from the turn of the century and expensive paintings on the walls. It was done all up in reds and the windows looked out over one of the many hidden gardens of Rose Red. All in all, an ordinary sitting room (as much as anything in this house was ordinary), but it was as far from that as possible to Stephen. Over there was the sofa Nick had bent him over that night, thrusting into him until he saw stars, screaming and squealing and clawing at the upholstery. He could see the scratches in the worn fabric. Over there was the wall Nick had leaned against as Stephen wrapped his lips around his cock, there was the rug that had dug into his back as Nick placed his legs over his shoulders, nearly bending Stephen in half as his every thrust unerringly hit his prostate… and suddenly he was back at that night, and he remembered…
Nick’s hands seemed to know every single hot spot on Stephen’s body, finding them with unerring precision. He knew just how to touch, stroke, and pinch to have Stephen in an erotic frenzy within minutes of dragging him into the room and devouring his mouth with hungry kisses. The passion that had burned between them since the first time they saw each other, the night Joyce gave her presentation, was exploding now and Stephen found himself frantic in a way he had never been in his life; desperate to lose his clothing, lose his mind, lose his virginity ’- he had never been with a man before but he wanted everything now. He wanted this man on top of him, inside of him, wanted to scream loud enough to be heard in every single room in this house. Never mind who watched them. Because he did feel watched. But it didn’t matter as Nick’s mouth painted a burning trail down his neck as he whispered how beautiful Stephen was, how badly he wanted him, what he wanted to do with him. They stumbled, frantically kissing, through the room and divested each other of their clothing along the way. Not that there was much to divest: Nick was in loose sleeping pants and a shirt, Stephen only slept in boxers, so within moments they were both nude. Nick kissed him until he was delirious, then sank to his knees in front of a Stephen who could do little more but keen with want. That this man, this man who set him on fire, would want to - Oh, his mouth was perfect, and Stephen thrust desperately into that glorious mouth. Nick’s hands kneaded his buttocks and he felt his body clench with need, the need to feel him inside. He didn’t say anything, but he did not need to as his lover could read his mind. Stephen made a noise almost like a sob when Nick abandoned Stephen’s throbbing cock to bury his face between the clenching cheeks, finding his asshole with unnerving precision. Nick bit both his butt cheeks hard enough to leave marks, before setting about eating him out so thoroughly that Stephen could do little but wail and moan, writhe and arch and scrabble to find something to hold on to. He found the edge of the sofa, and gripped it so tight the old fabric groaned from the strain. Nick’s tongue was relentless, licking around the rim of Stephen’s hole before plunging in as deep as possible and twisting in a way that was maddening to say the least. It was a mockery of what Stephen really wanted him to do, needed him to do, and he sobbed as he tried to say that. Nick’s only reply was a low groan, but then that maddening tongue was gone and he could feel something stiff, hard and wet pressing against his opening. The hole refused to budge first, but Nick was insistent and soon the head of his cock sank into Stephen’s virgin ass. It hurt, but it felt too good for the pain to matter and Stephen pushed his hips back, impatient for more. Nick took that as encouragement; burying himself to the hilt with one savage thrust before starting to fuck him at a punishing pace that made Stephen bite his lip until he tasted blood to keep from screaming too loudly. It hurt, it was amazing, he wanted to come and he never wanted it to stop. Every thrust from Nick’s cock set him alight from the inside, and gods, nothing had ever felt half as wonderful as this…
Stephen came back to himself with a gasp and a whimper. That night had been the most passionate night of his life, they had been insatiable, almost ravenous for each other. Desire throbbed in his veins, his cock was rock hard in his jeans. He bit his lip, embarrassed and a bit frightened, but then he figured why the hell not? If he was being watched he had been watched since he entered. Might as well give whoever it was a show. And Nick was so close to him here, the memories of their wonderful night together so strong, that he could not resist them. Stephen leaned against the wall, unzipping his jeans. He palmed his throbbing erection, closed his eyes, and remembered...
Stephen fell to his knees and finally got a good look at what had brought him so much pleasure. Nick's cock hung half hard, wet with semen and anal juices, and he simply had to taste him. He hesitantly licked at the tip, savouring the taste of them both. He had thought it would be gross, it had just been in his ass after all, but somehow the taste just turned him on and he crawled closer, trying to fit as much as possible into his mouth. He got about halfway when Nick's rapidly hardening dick hit the back of his throat and he had to pull back to avoid gagging. But he was determined, and so he kept trying. On his sixth attempt he could bury his nose in the older man's pubes, relishing in the moans spilling from his throat. Nick's hands were stroking his neck and shoulders in a way that was both possessive and comforting, which heightened Stephen’s excitement and he set about giving the best blow job he could, using all the tricks he enjoyed himself. The hands tightening their grip on his hair and the moans increasing in volume and occurrence, told him he was doing it right.
Stephen moaned helplessly, pinching his stiff nipples with one hand and furiously stroking his cock with the other.
“Nick” he groaned. “Fuck, Nick, touch me…” He abandoned his nipples, slid his hand down to cup his balls. Mm, it felt so good. If he kept his eyes closed he could imagine that Nick was there, Nick touching him, stroking him… pressing a finger into his tight, tight ass. Stephen groaned with pleasure and pushed the finger in further, losing himself in the memories of that night.
Nick laid Stephen out on the opulent rug like a tender husband with his virgin bride, covering his neck and chest with kisses. This was so different from what they had just done; this was gentle, loving, Nick was making love with him now that the desperate need to fuck had been satisfied. He kissed Stephen all over his body, licking the inside of his thighs and soothing the bruises his fingers had formed in his previous passion. He whispered endearments and adorations into Stephen’s overheated skin, making his heart tremble as much as his body. The older man knew, at this point, how to set Stephen aflame and did so easily, with a familiarity that made his heart sing. He parted his thighs and raised his hips, inviting his lover to possess him again, take what he wanted, and Nick did. Stephen arched his back, crying out in ecstasy as Nick sank into his hungry body again, placing Stephen’s trembling legs over his shoulder and leaning forward, bracing himself on his elbows on the floor. This made Stephen nearly bend in half, but the angle with which Nick pressed inside him made any discomfort vanish in place of such intense pleasure he thought for sure he would pass out from it. He screamed, he sobbed, he begged, he clawed at the rug beneath his back, and when he came - shaking, shuddering, eyes rolling back in his head, toes curling - it was with one last ear-splitting howl of his lover’s name, blind and deaf to anything but his orgasm.
Stephen cried out, snapped his hips forward into his hand one last time and came hard over himself and the floor. He sank back towards the wall, shuddering in pleasure, tears leaking from his tightly closed eyes. That night he had realised without a doubt that he loved the other man. He ached with longing and grief at the realisation that less than a day later he had lost Nick, lost him without every saying what he felt. The older man had probably known - mind reader and all - but it hurt not to have said it. HIs heart was empty, his body empty, he wanted Nick. Needed Nick. Stephen drew a deep trembling breath and took one last look around the room in which he had spent the happiest night of his life.
“Nick” he whimpered, desperately. “Nick, where are you?”
Interlude: The Watchers
They watched the young man wander aimlessly through room after room, his pain radiating through the house like a beacon of warmth in the frigid night. He could not see them as they swarmed around him, drinking his energy, his life, taking away his hope and his energy little by little. They took their sustenance from him, and used it to build. Another wall, another room, and another, and another… as long as they kept building, they would live forever.
But one of them did not build, did not take from the living soul. He followed that living soul like a forlorn, lost dog, trailing him, protecting him from the Dark Ones that whispered in the walls, gazing at him with woebegone eyes, begging him in a voice that went unheard to leave, to run, to get out while he could. But the living man did not hear him, did not see him, was unaware of his companion, who whispered his name with so much aching, heart-wrenching longing.
Many, many hours later and Stephen felt both exhausted and lethargic, almost on the verge of sitting down on the floor and crying. He was still a bit weak-kneed from his orgasm but knew that he had to continue: the house was already influencing him to dawdle, wait, rest a bit, stay… but he refused to give in to its seductive whispers and kept going. He knew exactly what he had to do, and he would do it.
He had searched dozens upon dozens of rooms, and was now helplessly lost in the never-ending windling corridors and endless parade of rooms, one more twisted than the other. No trace of Nick. His heart ached, his feet ached, and he no longer had any idea where he was. Not even which floor he was on. He had lost count of how many stairs he had gone up and down, but it did not matter anyway in this house. Nothing mattered much here, and maps were useless. He opened another door, exhaustion making his hand tremble, and carefully made his way through.
He found himself back in the corridor that seemed to go on forever. He kept walking, and finally found himself back downstairs, in the billiard room. He stood for a moment and he could almost see the others moving in there, ghostly apparitions that were there and yet not. But they were unimportant, as his focus was completely on the man by the billiards table, leaning against the pool stick and smiling at him. His heart skipped a beat and it took everything in him not to run straight into his arms - it was his Nick, and yet it wasn’t. The eyes were all wrong, and the smile too. Nick would never have had that note of cruelty in his face, was not capable of it.
“Not there” he muttered, as if he was channeling Emery. “Not there, not there, not there!” The apparitions disappeared and Stephen stood alone again, feeling a chill that came from nowhere seeping into his bones. He hugged himself briefly, and then moved further into the room. He would not give up now. Not when he was so close to finishing what he had come to do. A few places were left to visit, then he would go to the one place that terrified him more than anything else in this hellhole. The tower. He wandered on, following the distant sound of building.
The mirror library was as he remembered it: a particular piece of nightmarish architecture. He wandered slowly around it, careful to avoid the middle where the floor was rippling like a lake full of hungry fish, running his fingers over the books, then onwards. Onwards, steadily deeper and deeper into the house, listening to the sound of building sounding so close and yet distant. The feeling of being watched intensified, but he pushed on. His pack was lighter now, almost empty, but he still had a few places to visit.
The rooms were growing steadily darker and more twisted the further he walked. The walls seemed almost crooked this far in and the colour schemes were getting steadily darker. His thoughts kept slipping back to memorial weekend, and his mind replayed every single memory of Nick that he had. His smile, his laugh, his eyes, his scent, his kiss. It all swirled in Stephen's mind. He wondered when he had fallen in love with him. He knew he was in love that night in Rose Red, when Nick laid him out on the rug, but surely he had fallen in love earlier. After all, when he first saw the man at the information meeting that Monday evening, it had been like reuniting with an old friend. He had been dreaming about him for years - since he was eight years old, in fact. This man had starred in his dreams when he was a child and his erotic fantasies as a horny teenager. If he was honest with himself, the only reason he dated that football player in senior year was because he was tall, blonde and British. Oh, and his eyes were almost the correct shade of blue.
The room he was in now was as large as a ballroom, but it was the ballroom from The Mask of Red Death - the windows were dark red like blood, the drapes black, and the chairs twisted iron. It was like the scenery in a vampire movie, and if it wasn't for the fact that Stephen was all alone he would probably have found it funny. The tiny part of him that was amused shut up, however, when he saw the noose. It hung just above a lone chair placed on the side of the room, turning slowly as if touched by an unfelt wind. It was just the right height for him to climb onto the chair and put the rope around his neck like Uncle Posey had done once, and kick the chair away. The urge to do so was nearly overwhelming, and he had started moving towards the chair when once again the memory of Nick saved him. ...was he into roping or branding? his amused voice asked from out of nowhere, and Stephen snorted with laughter. The spell was broken and Stephen turned his back on the rope, opening a door that had not been there before. It led, unsurprisingly, to yet another corridor.
He followed the corridor, wondering if maybe he was getting himself permanently lost in the darkness, wandering there forever. But at the same time - something, a sense maybe or a feeling, told him he was heading in the right direction. He opened another door and found himself back in the garden. A few feet in front of him stood the tower in from which John Rimbauer had fallen, and Stephen shivered slightly. This was the epicentre of the dark energies of Rose Red, and if he wanted to save Nick he would have to go up there.
“Alright” he muttered in an attempt at humour, “time to go have a chat with great-grandma herself.”
He took the first step on the staircase that would lead him to the tower, keeping the memory of Nick’s arms around him close to his heart as both protection and comfort. It was time. He had only one card to play, he would have to gamble everything on it. Both Nick's soul - and his own.
Stephen hesitated only briefly before ascending the stairs.
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.