Seeing is a Curse

an excerpt

Chapter One

Erik looked around but all he saw was mist, white mist. He waved his hand back and forth before him, trying to dispel the cloud but to no avail. It parted around his hand and then simply reformed behind it, as if he were swirling it through water. It felt neither cold like fog nor warm like steam. What was it?

How did I get here? For that matter, exactly where in the hell am I?

The last thing Erik remembered was relaxing on his deck, talking to Nick and Kevin. He and Kevin had finally stopped circling each other, and admitted their feelings for one another. It had felt amazing having Kevin's fingers twined with his, the warmth of Kevin's palm against his own.

Nick, on the other hand, was a ghost. And hadn't that been one hell of a shock, when his murdered partner and best friend, returned from the dead. Well, technically, he was still dead.

Erik couldn't see Nick, but Kevin could. That strange mojo of his allowed him to see and communicate with the dearly departed.

Killed by a mob thug and, for some reason, back as a ghost, Nick was attached at the hip to the man who had witnessed the murder. A surprising romance had developed between Nick and Max, the only one able to touch and fully interact with Nick. The two of them were a perfect fit. Max was a nice guy, and Erik liked him.

Nick had figured out a way to somehow use electronics to talk to Erik. Then Max and Nick discovered that if Nick maintained any contact with Max, he could interact with the real world, to a point. Even if Erik couldn't see him, he could feel Nick and watch him move things, provided he was touching some part of Max's body.

Then so-called "accidents" began to happen to Max. Both Erik and Nick suspected that the mob thug was trying to remove the only witness to the crime. Now, they were all at Erik's home after a sniper's bullet had narrowly missed Max and killed his best friend, Alfred, his cat. Max no longer denied that someone was trying to kill him, and had agreed to stay at Erik's place for safety. And where Max went, Nick went. Not just because he wanted to but because he had no choice. An invisible tether connected the two of them.

They had been enjoying the nice weather, preparing to grill some steaks, when Erik heard Nick suddenly yell through the phone's speaker. Then the phone, which Nick was using to speak with, teetered, and fell to the deck from the railing it had been perched on.

Erik had flashed Kevin a concerned look. He'd followed the direction of Kevin's gaze and although he couldn't see Nick, he got the idea from the way Kevin was staring at the patio doors that Nick had bolted for the house. The two of them had jumped to their feet and raced for the patio doors.

The memories began running through Erik's mind like a DVD on a crazy fast forward. Images flew before his mind's eye of a gunman threatening Max. Then the gunman began to fight an unseen assailant. Erik saw flashes of orange, and for a moment thought he saw Max's cat attacking the man before the lunatic began to blindly fire his gun at it.

He recalled lunging for Max, pulling Max down to the floor and out of the way of the wild gunfire just as intense pain exploded in his chest. Erik gasped for breath, panicking when he couldn't pull any air into his lungs. It felt like an elephant sat on his chest as he lay on his side, unable to move. Max entered his limited field of vision, his expression filled with horror. Erik assumed the gunman had been disabled, otherwise Max would not have been hovering over him like that.

"Kevin!" Max had screamed. "Erik's been shot!"

That explained the fire in his chest. He had been shot. Damn it! Been there, done that, and didn't like it the other two times either. The sound of a cell phone clattering to the ground echoed nearby on the hardwood floor as Kevin slid to his knees beside Erik. Max helped Kevin gently roll Erik onto his back, flinching as Erik groaned in agony, and then he shifted out of Erik's line of sight. It was a damn good thing that Kevin was a doctor. Erik knew he could trust Kevin to help him. He had absolute faith in Kevin's abilities; the man was a genius, after all.

Kevin gently loosened Erik's hand from where he had been gripping his chest and pushed it aside. He tore open Erik's shirt, and Erik remembered thinking that it was okay to do that, because he'd never get the blood out of it anyway. The funny things you think about when you are badly hurt.

Erik heard Max mutter, "Shit, shit, shit."

Well, that can't be good.

Feeling dizzy and unable to watch the troubled look on Kevin's face, Erik closed his eyes.

"Max, are you alright?"

Nick sounded so worried. Had Max been shot, too? Erik quickly opened his eyes and then peered around him in bewilderment. He was standing and could see Nick beside him...but he could also see himself sprawled on the ground. And he was no longer in pain. Erik slapped a hand to his chest, and then held it out in front of him. No blood. How?

Max glanced up, trying to give Nick a reassuring smile that quickly faded. Max's mouth fell open, his eyes widening in shock as he and Erik stared at each other.

"Max?" Nick frowned down at him.

"Nick?" Erik asked him in confusion. "Why can I see you when I couldn't before?"

Nick turned at the sound of Erik's voice and gaped at him. "Erik?"

A sound almost like a pained whimper had Erik returning his attention to Max. Max swung his gaze from Erik standing beside Nick to Erik's prone body next to him and back again. Erik's mind couldn't seem to grasp the situation before him then his body suddenly began to struggle for breath. He turned fearful eyes to Nick who looked back at him in alarm.

"Oh, hell no!" Kevin shouted at Erik's body. "I've just got you, and I am not letting you go!"

Erik watched Kevin working frantically on...on him! He glanced back to Nick who wore an expression of utter heartbreak.

"Ah, buddy, no." Nick reached out and pulled Erik to him in a sideways hug. "I'm so sorry."

"Does this mean..." Erik waved his hand between them. "I'm dying or that maybe I'm already dead?" he asked Nick, fearful of the answer.

"I don't know, but I think so," Nick said sadly.

"Nick?" Max called to him, his voice barely above a whisper. "Nick?" Louder.

Nick and Erik released each other and looked over at Max. Max raised a shaking hand to point at them. Erik sucked in a sharp breath as he realized he could see through Nick. He patted his own body. Although he felt solid, he could see though himself, too. They were both slowly fading away.

Is this it? Is this the end?

His heart broke as he watched Kevin desperately trying to save him. Kevin was right. They had just begun their relationship. How could they be torn apart so soon? It wasn't fair!

"No! Don't leave me!" Max screamed, startling Erik. Max imploringly held out his arm towards Nick.

Nick lunged for him, but his hand passed through Max's. He stared at his hand as if he couldn't believe his own body had betrayed him like that.

"Max," Erik called to him, trying to get his attention. He knew Max, knew what the man might do. Erik had to get through to him before he ran out of time. "You have to help Kevin. He's gonna need you as much as you are gonna need him. He has no one. You have to stay here for him."

Nick's gaze snapped to Erik, then panned to Max as the meaning of Erik's words dawned on him. "No, Max, you have to live your life."

"My life isn't worth living without you."

"You are so wrong. There so many stories in your head waiting to be told. Tell them. Erik's right. Be there for Kevin. Promise me."

Tears were pouring down Max's face as he slowly nodded, his hand still outstretched toward Nick. Erik and Nick were fading fast, they were barely outlines now. Kevin was trying so hard to save Erik that he obviously was unaware of what was taking place behind him. Maybe, that was a good thing. Erik couldn't bear it if Kevin knew he had failed to save him, although Erik supposed Kevin would find out soon enough. He couldn't leave it like that. Kevin had to know, even if he never got the chance to say the words to him.

"Please, tell Kevin that I love him, would you?" Erik asked, longingly memorizing Kevin's features.

"I will, Erik. I swear."

"Good." Erik felt grief threaten to overwhelm him as pain pulsed inside his chest. He swore his heart had just shattered.

"Max?"

Max turned back to Nick, his hand still outstretched to Nick, whose hand was phased into his. "I love you, Max. I will always love you."

The room faded from around Erik, and he saw no more until he became aware of this damnable mist completely surrounding him. It was utterly silent. Was this place heaven or...?

Erik rotated in place. "Where the hell am I?" he demanded of the white nothingness.

He could hear himself so at least he wasn't deaf. That was something, a small comfort. But this thorough isolation definitely had the potential to drive him mad.

"I wish I knew, Erik."

Erik recognized that voice. He spun towards it. "Nick?"

"Yeah." Nick seemed to materialize right in front of Erik, walking towards him.

Overjoyed, Erik rapidly closed on Nick and pulled his best friend into his arms. "Thank God. I thought I was alone in this twilight zone."

Erik sighed, sorry that Nick was trapped here, too, but thankful for the feel of Nick against him. He was solid, something to hang onto in this nightmarish place.

It was hard to tell how long Erik clung to Nick like a lifeline. It could have been seconds, minutes, or hours. Thankfully, Nick didn't seem to care. They were not alone; they had each other, and come what may, they would face the unknown together.

Erik took a step back but never let go of Nick. He hung on to the other man's arm afraid to release the only other tangible person in this place.

"Do you have any idea where we are?" Erik asked, hoping Nick would know.

"Not a clue." Nick squeezed Erik's arm, apparently not willing to let Erik go either.

They both slowly gazed around them trying to see through the disorienting fog. The mist swirled about them, sometimes forming vague shapes before dissipating once more. Even the ground beneath their feet was a shifting white mass that made Erik dizzy if he stared at it too long.

"You know, this place does seem a bit familiar to me." Nick mused as he scrutinized the mist.

"How?"

"It's like I've been here before."

"Before?" Erik parroted.

"If I'm right, and I'm pretty sure I am..." Nick sighed in defeat as he looked directly at Erik, his expression crestfallen. He paused, glancing away before meeting Erik's gaze again. "This isn't the first time I've died. I'm sorry, buddy."

Erik took a step back. Then his eyes widened as the words registered. He gripped Nick's arm tighter. "You mean...I'm really dead?"

Nick covered Erik's hand around his arm with his own. "Yeah. I think so. We both are." He sighed sadly again.

"Shit. I had hoped..." Erik's mind seemed to shut down at the awful reality of his situation. He clenched his eyes closed tightly, desperately willing that when he opened them again he would wake with white hospital walls surrounding him and not this strange white mist.

Then he heard a sound, somewhere between a whimper and a moan. He looked over at Nick whose eyes were also closed. Misery radiated from every line of his body. He fisted his shirt over his heart.

"Nick? You okay?"

"Max." That one anguish filled word said it all to Erik.

"At least you got to spend time with Max, as miraculous as that had been. Me? Kevin and I had just begun before that bastard ended it all," he said, bitterness lacing his words.

Nick nodded. "They are going need each other if they are to survive our...passing."

Erik swallowed hard. "How surreal is that? Our passing. Do you hear me?" The emotion building in Erik's chest suddenly erupted and he tipped his head back, angrily yelled into the air, "I want to go back to Kevin!"

"Please don't, Erik," Nick said quietly. "We're done. There's no way to return." His voice broke on the words.

Erik turned on him and clasped both of Nick's arms giving him a little shake. "You did it once! How?"

"I don't know."

"Well, figure it out!" Erik shouted into Nick's face.

Nick stood there, head hanging down, looking utterly defeated. Silently, Erik watched a huge tear squeeze out from behind one eyelid and work its way down Nick's face. Another quickly followed, the tears becoming a torrent. Nick's distress was a punch to Erik's gut and he suddenly felt like a monster. Nick was suffering just as much as he was.

"Aww, man, I'm sorry," Erik apologized as he pulled Nick to him.

Erik had never seen Nick cry in all the years they had known each other, and they had known each other a very long time. They were brothers, if not by blood then by the bond they had. He truly understood Nick's pain. Not only had Max and Kevin lost the two of them, they had lost Max and Kevin. Erik's heart ached at the thought that he would never see Kevin again. He tugged Nick close once more. At least they had each other.

A soft, feminine voice drifted around them. "Be at peace, my dears."

The two of them jerked back, startled, looking about them to see where the voice was coming from. The mist seemed to fold back, and a stunningly beautiful woman appeared, walking toward them. Rooted in place, Erik exchanged a sidelong glance with Nick. Who or what was she? Erik silently asked Nick. Nick shrugged his shoulders, watching her approach them.

She stopped before them and clasped each of their wrists, smiling kindly up at them.

"Are you an angel? Are we really dead?" Erik hesitantly asked her.

"Yes."

Erik felt his heart plummet. I'm dead. I'm really dead. Nick latched his free hand onto his wrist but Erik twisted his arm so they were hand-in-hand, brothers facing the unknown.

"And no."

Nick tightened his fingers on Erik as Erik gripped him hard in return.

She turned to face Erik. "You have a decision to make."

The woman released them and waved her hand in the air. A few feet from them appeared a white door lit with a bright golden halo.

"You may choose to end your time on earth and continue on to the next step of your journey or..."

She waved her hand once more. Another door appeared alongside the white one. The second door swung open, revealing the hazy image of a hospital room. Erik inhaled sharply as he realized that it was him, or rather his body, that was lying in the bed hooked up to several machines. A man sat hunched over in a chair beside the bed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Erik watched the man gently pick up one of his limp hands, his face becoming clear as he pressed Erik's hand to his cheek.

"Kevin," Erik softly whispered Kevin's name, his heart thumped painfully. Kevin looked so pale and tired. He had lost weight and his normally wildly wavy hair hung limp.

Kevin's voice flowed from the doorway, sounding tinny as if it were being broadcast from an old-fashioned stereo.

"Come back to me, Erik. Please come back. I need you."

The pain in Kevin's voice sent shards of agony through Erik. Gaze fixed on him, Erik took a step toward the door as if in a trance, his world narrowing to that bright doorway. He had to get to Kevin. Now. The need was overwhelming him, but the woman placed a hand on his chest to stop him.

Erik opened his mouth to say something angrily to her when movement in the doorway caught his attention. Another man had moved into range. He was slighter than either Kevin or Erik. He stepped up behind Kevin and put his hands on Kevin's shoulders. His face came into full view as he turned his head.

"Max." Nick sighed, his voice filled with longing. Like Erik, he took a step forward and was brought up short by her gentle but firm touch.

Max rubbed Kevin's shoulders, silently giving his support, but it was clear he was suffering, too. Large, dark shadows painted the skin beneath his eyes, and his clothes hung on his frame. It was obvious he had lost weight, more than he could afford to with his smaller body. Just how long had he and Nick been held in this misty limbo? It felt like it had been hours but from Max and Kevin's appearance it could have been days--weeks?

"Baby..." Nick whispered.

"The time has come, Erik James," the mysterious woman said firmly. "Will you leave your mortal life behind or return to a changed life?"

Erik tore his hungry gaze off Kevin. "What do you mean changed?"

"Your life will not be as it was before. You will have responsibilities that will require strength, sacrifice, and, yes,"--she smiled--"love."

It was really no decision at all. "I choose Kevin."

A radiant smile bloomed on the woman's face. Apparently, he had made the right decision. He just hoped his "changed life" was not a "deal with the devil" as the saying went.

The woman pointed to the door with the hospital scene. "Good. Go, then, and fulfill your new destiny."

Erik took a couple of steps, then paused spinning around to face her. "What about Nick?" he demanded.

The woman looked at Nick sadly. "He no longer has a mortal form to return to. Dominik has no choice but to stay with me."

Erik felt his chest tighten and turned to Nick. Grabbing Nick around the nape, he pulled Nick close until their foreheads touched.

"I hate this," Erik said after a moment. "It's not fair. I'm gonna lose you again."

"I know. This really sucks." Nick patted him on the back. "Go to him, Erik he's waiting for you."

Erik nodded slowly then stepped back. Head down, he walked towards the doorway with a heavy heart knowing he was leaving the man he considered his brother behind.

"Erik?"

He stopped, and looked over his shoulder back at Nick.

"Keep an eye on Max for me? Please."

"I will. I promise. I'm gonna miss you something fierce...again."

"I'm gonna miss you, too." Nick straightened and tried to put on a brave face, but failed miserably. "Have a good life. I'll catch you on the flip side." It was his favorite saying to Erik when they had to separate for a takedown or raid.

"Amen, brother." Erik gave him the response with a small wave. He took a deep breath then marched through the doorway and into utterly silent darkness. Just before he lost awareness, Erik thought he heard Kevin begging him to come back because he loved him.

"I'm coming, my love."