Chapter 5 - 'Matt's Sanctuary'




     Jason opened his eyes slowly and tried to sit up. His head pounded and he fell back again. He tried again, this time just opening his eyes as slits and looking about him. He was lying in a soft white bed light streaming down from overhead, filtered by leaves and branches so that everything had a greenish tinge.


     He slowly sat up, pulling the sheets around his naked body. The room was round, as if part of a greater circle, the bed rested against the central point while the opposite wall formed the perimeter. The room was crafted from living wood, flowing naturally to form the floors, ceiling and walls.


     "You know, I'm starting to notice a pattern here." He said to himself as he once again awoke to find himself in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar bed. He staggered to his feet, keeping the bed sheet wrapped firmly around his waist.


     Through the doorway, he could see the branches of other trees, a warm breeze rustling the leaves. He exited the room onto a wooden broad walk. He leaned against the rail and looked down. The roots of the massive tree could be seen at least a hundred feet below. He swallowed hard as his vision swam and he stepped back, leaning against the smooth bark. He edged his way along the wall until he found the doorway back to his room and quickly darted inside. He found his clothes, neatly folded on a wicker chair in the corner and pulled them on, discarding the bed sheet.


     He noticed another door on the far side of the room, and grasping the wooden handle, pushed it open. There was a small living room, in the same circular setup, with wicker furniture, complete with stone fireplace built into the wood. Two more doors led off from the room, one at the central point, and the other on the far side of the room. He opened the door on the central point to find a flight of curved stairs winding upwards. He ascended slowly and emerged into a bowl of the tree, surrounded by a natural railing of branches. There was a small raised platform rear the railing, and Matt sat crossed-legged on top of it with his back to the stairs. He was clearly deep in meditation.


     He was wearing a pair of loose cargo shorts, but was barefoot and shirtless. Jason's mind raced as he looked at Matt's muscular arms, coated with a fine sheen of sweat, making him look like he was glowing in the morning sun. God, he just wanted to reach out caress his broad shoulders and arms! Jason's vision swam and he blinked. When he opened his eyes, dissipating circles of light expanded from under Matt, like ripples on water. His shoulders began to glow and golden sparkles cascaded down from them. Jason was blinded by a flash of light and his head throbbed. He felt his knees give way and he groaned as he sank to the floor.


* * *


     Matt was startled from his deep meditation by a groan and heavy thud. He sprang to his feet and whirled around to find Jason collapsed on the floor. He rushed to his side, scooped him up in his arms and carried him downstairs.


* * *


     Jason slowly came to as Matt gently wiped his face with a cool cloth. He was sprawled on the wicker couch in the living room. Matt's concerned face came into focus as he opened his eyes.


     "Hey there," he Matt smiled. "What happened up there?"


     Jason gazed at his perfect features for a moment before he realized he was starring. "Uh, I guess I must have fainted. Maybe from lack of food..." he trailed off.


     Matt stood and disappeared around the couch. Jason heard a door open and Matt's feet pad down a hall. After a moment he returned and came around the side of the couch carrying a bowl. He set it on the floor and helped Jason up into a sitting position before handing him the bowl. It was filled with what looked to Jason like white porridge. He raised an eyebrow in question.


     "Is there anything more...substantial?"


     Matt chuckled, "Don't knock it 'till you've tried it, you might be surprised."


     Jason looked dubiously at the bowl before grabbing a spoon and trying some. He smiled as soon as he tasted it. It was perfectly sweetened and tasted somewhat like maple syrup. He instantly felt stronger and more aware. He wolfed down the rest of the bowl and Matt returned with an earthenware mug of herbal tea. Jason hadn't even noticed he'd gone.


     Jason pulled his feet up onto the couch so his knees were near his chest. Matt busied himself at the hearth by lighting a fire. Jason was about to protest a fire in the middle of the day, when he glanced out one of the circular windows and noticed evening had fallen. The fire began to crackle and Matt took a seat at the opposite end of the couch. Jason slowly sipped his tea until he realized Matt was staring at him.


     "What?" he asked.


     Matt looked back at the fire. Then after a moment of silence, "You shouldn't have lost your temper."


     Jason was completely bewildered, "Pardon?" he asked again.


     Matt sighed, still gazing into the flames, "Back at the council, you shouldn't have lost your temper."


     Jason felt his face reddening in anger and he clenched his fist, "Well sorry," he snapped sarcastically, "but they weren't exactly being reasonable." Matt looked at him crossly and he hung his head. "Sorry, I know it wasn't your fault."


     "You have to understand, they don't know what it's like out in the world, most of them haven't left Heav--" He stopped suddenly as he realized what he'd been about to say. He swallowed and continued. "...haven't left that place for a long, long time."


     They sat in silence for a while before Matt spoke again, "What happened between you and Tobias?"


     Jason looked at him in confusion.


     "The old man, his name in Tobias." He prompted.


     Jason realized who he was talking about and opened his mouth to explain, "I--" He closed his mouth when no sound came out. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I didn't do anything, I swear!" he blurted. "Our eyes just met and... and I saw things." He fell silent and Matt didn't press him.


     "The council asked me to take you somewhere safe while they debated what to do with you." Matt commented after a pause.


     "By the way, where exactly are we?" Jason queried.


     Matt gestured with his hand at their surroundings. "This is my sanctuary. I usually come here to relax and think, but I haven't been here since you became my Ward."


     Now that Matt was beginning to open up, Jason leapt at the chance to learn a few things about his companion and the recent events. "Exactly how long was that?"


     Matt smiled, "Since you were born." Jason looked at him curiously, contemplating his age. Matt laughed, "I'm older than I look, a lot older."


     Jason inhaled as if to say something, but remained silent. Matt glanced at him. His pupils were dilated to pinpricks and he was holding his breath.


     "Jason?" he called softly. No response. The placed his hand on Jason's leg and shook him gently, calling his name.


     His touch brought Jason back to reality and he exhaled heavily as his eyes returned to normal.


     "Are you alright?" Matt asked, his voice laden with concern.


     Jason nodded absently and smiled, "Yeah, I guess I'm more tired than I thought. I think I'll turn in." He stood and sauntered off to his room. He paused at the door and looked back at Matt and snorted, "I feel like that's all I ever do anymore, sleep."


     Matt smiled, "Goodnight."


     "Goodnight," Jason answered and closed the door.


* * *


     Matt sat in the living room, his eyes fixed on the door Jason had just departed through. An hour passed before he stood and quietly scattered the coals in the fireplace and made his way up the stairs onto the deck. He alighted the small platform and sat cross-legged. The warm night air teased across his skin as he listened to the gentle chirp of crickets and blinking lights of fireflies.


     "Eight hundred years." He sighed. "Eight hundred years, and I'm falling in love with a mortal."


* * *


     When Jason awoke the next morning, Matt was nowhere to be found. Jason had entered the living room to find it deserted, so he'd made his way up onto the deck. Birdsong filtered down through the leaves, but of Matt there was no sign. Jason continued his search through the second door of the living room and found a curving hall that wound around the inner staircase. Two doors led off of the hall, Jason opened the first door and entered a kitchen of sorts.


     There was no stove or sink or appliance at all, and all of the cabinets Jason opened were empty. The only thing Jason found in the room was a bowl of porridge, perched on the breakfast bar, still steaming. He wolfed down the breakfast and made for the second door off the hall. When he tried the handle however, it was locked. He made his way back to the living room and headed towards the stairs. When he reached them, he was about to ascend, when he caught something out of the corner of his eye. He turned and faced away from the stairs.


     A new door occupied the wall opposite. He turned back to the stairs and did a double take. A third door was positioned near the base of the stairs, just past the living room door. He was standing in a small stair well with three separate doors, and yet it didn't seem at all cramped. He turned back to the first of the new doors and opened it. He stepped through into a stairwell with three doors leading off.


     He crossed the stairwell, opened the door on the far side and stepped through. He was standing in a stairwell with three doors leading off.


     "You have got to be joking!" Jason cursed. He ran and pushed open the door on the far side of the stairwell, and found himself in a stairwell with three doors leading off it. He kept on running and pushed through the door on the far side. Again he emerged into a stairwell with three doors leading off.


     "Arrgh!" He pounded the wall next to him. He had a sudden inspiration and pulled off one of his shoes and placed it on the ground. He walked slowly over to the door and pushing it open, stepped through. There was the stairwell, and there was his shoe.


     "Fuck!" he yelled and he kicked his shoe. It bounced off the wall and rolled to his feet. He sat down on the bottom step and pulled it on again. Sitting there on the step, Jason's mind was suddenly filled with words that his father had spoken to him when he was younger.


     "When lost, just retrace your footsteps." He'd said.


     Jason leapt to his feat and was about to run through the door on the opposite side of the stairwell, when he stopped dead in his tracks. He turned back and pushed open the door nearest the stairwell. It swung open and on the other side Jason could see brilliant green grass and the surrounding trunks of trees.


     "Well I'll be damned." He said as he stepped through. When his foot touched the ground, his head throbbed. His vision suddenly blurred and he collapsed, falling face first through the door onto soft grass.