When Arik Beltrán checks into a hotel on business, he expects the tedium of unfamiliar beds and boring meetings. He expects to meet a financial client and be home before the solitude of being a stranger in a mundane land becomes too much to bear.
Instead Arik finds Blaze: a mysterious man with an inner fire that lives up to the name. Nothing in Arik's life, not his deranged father nor even his faint brushes with the magic only Arik can see in the woven web of life could have prepared Arik for the man in the hotel lobby who casually invites Arik to room 1109 for late night ... Well, anything at all.
Blaze Zaituc, on the other hand, knows exactly who Arik is and what Arik needs: Blaze. He has crossed land and sea to find the man who has appeared in Blaze's Visions as the next target in the Quest that comprises Blaze's life. Arik is someone for whom the Universe has plans, and Blaze must make sure Arik complies. Or else.
Unaware of the lives and risks hanging in the balance, Arik untangles himself from the sheets in the silent hours of the morning. He wonders if he will find the door to 1109 open and waiting. He's not a risk taker, but this one time, just this once, maybe he'll take a chance ...
"Told you. Here for you."
The words played through Arik's mind like a song being whispered by unseen, unknown spirits through treetops. And he answered them, albeit it in silence: well, now, that's probably a whole lot of foolish.
A prick of sweat lifted the hairs on the back of Arik's neck. One ... he told himself. Two. Three. But before he was granted the liberty to continue the journey of his mind's eye, Blaze countered with speech.
"You do far too much communicating with yourself than you do out loud. That seems ..." Blaze paused, considered, "pointless."
Arik lifted the coffee to his lips in an effort to hide a grin. He tried to tell himself that the brew needed a touch more sugar, and knew it was a lie. It was perfect. As though Blaze had counted the granules, and weighed them with scientific accuracy against the preferences of Arik's tongue.
"Did you sleep well?" Arik asked, his eyes drifting to the clock that hung on the wall behind the counter.
Senses sharpened to the movement of the arms of the piece, the incessant click, click, click that monitored the passing seconds and turned them into moments. And his head took him to places long gone and instances passed, while his father drew on his cigarette and forced Arik's chin to wherever it needed to be in order to make Arik's eyes follow, "Are you watching? Arik? Are you really, really watching?"
"Segue?" Blaze's voice forced Arik's attention back. "Or attempt at distraction?"
He felt a frown crease his forehead and caught Blaze's gaze. "Casual conversation."
"For what purpose?"
Arik's expression softened with a smile, and he caught all other thoughts together, drawing them by the ends of their reins into his fist and tying them to the side. Out of the way. Kept, for future reference and consideration, but contained for the time being. He had a beautiful man in front of him. A man who, apparently, had a skill for tweaking caffeine into the perfect elixir, and an obvious interest in Arik's ... something. That's where his focus needed to be. That was, at least, where he was damn well going to put it. Regardless of advancing clocks or possible theories on time and place.
"Let's just say that I want to get to know you." Arik lowered his eyes to the bag on the floor of the coffee shop. "Is that your luggage?"
He registered Blaze's nod, considered the brevity of the gesture, and felt his attention get drawn back to it. "So are you local then?"
As Arik had packed, his expectations had been for three days. One to arrive, one to scope, and one to make good on whatever the hell he'd been led there for. Even with that limited duration, his suitcase was twice the size of Blaze's bag, and had been shoved so full that Arik had to force the clasp.
"No," Blaze shook his head to match movement to word. "I travel light."
While his lips twitched into a grin, Arik reacquired Blaze's eyes with his own. "Damn. Here I thought maybe that bag of yours would be full of the kinds of things a person just felt too self-conscious to leave in his room. Guess it's probably just clothing, then?"
"Would you like it to be?" Blaze asked, the quip of his tone lightening the cryptic nature of his reply.
"Full of clothing?" Arik asked innocently, drawing out the game.
He felt the connection of Blaze's eyes with his skin. Once again long, slim fingers lifted, tripped up the length of Arik's forearm, and God-be-damned and Christ-almighty, but Arik would have sworn he felt a charge leap from digit to limb. Clarity sharpened, like something was tuning the focus in Arik's brain. "What are you doing here, Blaze?"
Blaze paused. Pressure suggested the contemplation of disconnection, but something must have made Blaze reconsider because, instead, Blaze laid his palm flat on Arik's arm and wrapped his fingers around the muscle. His voice was slow and careful when he spoke. "Should I know that answer any more than you do?"
Something creepy and unwelcome slithered down Arik's spine. "I know why I'm here, Blaze. I'm here to soothe a petulant customer and convince him that it's way too late in life to start thinking about modifying his retirement visions."
Blaze tilted his head. "Are you now?" He didn't give Arik a chance to reiterate. "That sounds like something that could be easily done by telephone or web conference."
Arik shook his head. "No. Not this time. This was --"
"Different," Blaze finished for him.