It was September 4, 2019, Labor Day weekend in a villa in the mountains of Southern Spain. He felt the cold air coming in; autumn had arrived early that year. The heat was on inside the house, making the atmosphere toasty, warm, and comfortable. There were fireplaces ablaze in all the rooms, upstairs and down. He wore a royal blue sweater, blue denims, and thick, green woolen socks.
He was upstairs in his bedroom—their bedroom, the room he and his lover shared. He had showered, quickly dressed himself, and then used the hairdryer to dry his thick black hair. It was past his ears now, but he liked it that way. He wore a beard, neatly trimmed. He was a civilian now, so he could relax. He and Rodion had gotten into their routine.
He could hear Rodion, and two other men--their friends—talking downstairs. It was early, around eight o’clock in the morning. They were in the kitchen, probably making breakfast, but he wasn’t hungry right now. The smell of rich coffee enticed him downstairs and into their company.
He was greeted by everyone there. “Good morning, Daniel,” Hector said first with a smile.
“Morning, Hector,” was all Daniel said, with a soft smile.
“Good morning, sweetheart. How are you?” Rodion asked, as he moved toward Daniel, held him in his arms and kissed his lips gently. He spoke in his Russian accent, his broken English prevalent. He knew it comforted Daniel, and that was what he mostly cared about. Daniel’s comfort and the love they shared together.
“Good morning, Rodion. I’m okay. I’m only tired,” Daniel murmured and returned his lover’s kisses. He found that comfort in Rodion’s Russian accent, and his broken English. It was one of the many things he loved about him. They shared a love so deep and it got him through everything.
“Good morning, Daniel. Are you hungry? We made pancakes this morning,” Stefan announced. He beamed loving glances in Hector’s direction while awaiting Daniel’s reply.
“No, thank you, Stefan. I’m not hungry right now. I. . .just. . .maybe. . .some coffee,” Daniel answered and smiled warmly at the tall, handsome blond German man.
“Yes, of course,” Stefan answered, and he moved to the coffee machine, poured Daniel a cup of coffee, then added coffee creamer and sugar.
“Thank you, Stefan, it smells good,” Daniel said as he took the mug between his hands, allowing the mug to warm his palms.
“Are you sure you are not hungry, sweetheart? I can make you some oatmeal with blueberries, and bring it to you in living room,” Rodion offered, but didn’t push Daniel.
“No, thank you. Maybe later. The coffee is good for now. It’s going to be a cold day today. I can feel it. Autumn and winter are coming,” Daniel said as he sipped his milky sweet coffee. It was delicious and made him feel good. Being in Rodion’s arms last night had helped too, but he needed to be calm.
“Glad to see you’re feeling better, Daniel,” Hector said with a smile.
Daniel gave Hector a small smile and seemed to retreat inside himself. Rodion saw the change in him and drew Daniel into his arms. “Is okay, sweetheart. Why don’t you go sit in living room and warm yourself by the fire? There is blanket for you on the back of your chair. I will be along shortly,” Rodion spoke softly, in his Russian accent, his broken English prevalent in the room, as he kissed him softly.
“Yes, that sounds nice. I will see you soon,” Daniel murmured and returned his lover’s kisses.
Daniel turned and walked from the kitchen into the living room. The room was inviting, the fire crackled enthusiastically, and warmth radiated toward him as he approached the comfortable chair he and Rodion usually shared. He sat down and placed his coffee mug on the end table, then drew the blanket across his legs and lap. It was a plush blue and green velvet blanket, embroidered like a coat of arms—their coat of arms.
He picked up his coffee mug again and sipped the hot brew. Hot liquid warmed his insides as it made its way down, but it did little to diminish the events that still left him shivering. He closed his eyes and tried to let the sounds of the villa drown out the echoing memories that chased him inside his head. The soothing voices of his three friends reached him from the kitchen and he could feel himself beginning to relax. He allowed his mind and his body to unwind as he drew in the sounds of the crackling fire, the voices from the kitchen, and the sound of the wind blowing through the trees outside. Leaves were falling from the trees all around the villa now, and the landscape had become like the flames; burnt orange and yellow and red. Only a few leaves remained green, the stubborn holdouts from a quick-fading summer. He could hear the leaves softly thudding on top of the pool cover, a lulling drumbeat that worked to quiet his racing heart.
He meditated, using the villa’s comforting effect to romance him into serenity. He began his breathing exercises and felt his racing heart begin to calm. The tension in his back and legs abated and his stiff posture relaxed into the plush coziness of the chair. After several minutes, he drifted into a quiet and peaceful slumber.
He drifted, dreamless and serene, the walls he’d built up inside himself easing down around him. His anxiety evaporated and he knew a moment’s peace before the first horrific vision lashed out at him. Darkness. Claustrophobia. Two small rectangles from which to see only that which his captors allowed. The heavy burden of the iron mask. Then, the forest in the narrow field of his vision. The uneven ground. The awkwardness of his feet as he ran. The heavy mask throwing off his balance. The unstoppable sounds of a cruel pursuit. The sweat pouring across his face as he ran. Then, the inevitable knowledge there was nowhere to hide and the roaring unmistakable sound of the flamethrower as he threw himself to the ground and tried to protect his body. The flames enveloped the fire-retardant suit they’d dressed him in, and the iron mask heated around his head like an oven. He heard his own screaming as his skin began searing and parboiling in his own sweat. Soon. He hoped it would be over soon.
In the cozy living room, Daniel cried out in his sleep. “No!” He was trapped between sleep and wakefulness. At last, he jolted awake, the scream still on his lips. His fingers relinquished the hold on his mug and the mug shattered against the nearby hearth.
Rodion and the others rushed in from the kitchen. Rodion kept the others at a distance as he approached Daniel, who was sitting in their chair, slumped over under the weight of his emotions, and sobbing uncontrollably.
Daniel flinched violently at Rodion’s touch. “Is okay, sweetheart,” Rodion soothed, moving his hand along Daniel’s back.
Daniel turned in the chair and Rodion pulled him into his embrace. “I’m lost!” Daniel sobbed and resignedly leaned against the man he loved. “Why didn’t they just kill me?”
Rodion held Daniel for a moment and then moved his hands to Daniel’s bearded face so they could look at one another. “We are going to get through this. You and me. I promise.” Then, he pulled Daniel back into his embrace.
Daniel laid his head on Rodion’s shoulder and tried to calm down. His sobs were beginning to lessen, but he trembled, knowing it was soul-cold and not body cold that had left him shivering. Maybe Rodion would make the nightmares go away but Daniel couldn’t see how, and he couldn’t shake that horrible vision. . .