Disclaimer: The characters and situations herein are not mine. No infringement is intended.

Thanks, as always, to Alamo Girl, whose encouragement led to the posting of this story.

Feedback is better than a Fenway Frank on a perfect summer day in downtown Boston.

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The ring on his left hand burns every time she's near. Not just momentarily; it burns uncontrollably, scorching him, scarring him. The heat lingers within him long after she's gone.

It doesn't matter what she does, how simple a sign she gives; the flames envelop him quickly, and he finds himself wincing and overcome at the encroachment. Every time she smiles or laughs, he feels the spark ignite in his chest. When she reaches for him, seeking or giving comfort and understanding, he feels the detonation of heat and warmth as it spreads. Each time she looks to him for guidance, for support, the coolness of her eyes are ironic, for as they wash over him, he is instead blinded by the myriad of orange and red hues that surround her gaze.

It doesn't matter how little time they've known each other. She's gasoline and he's combustible.

He can't stand the heat when it starts to spread from his hand. It threatens to consume him; he knows if he does not douse the flames, he will reduce to rubble. He knows he will not rise like a phoenix from the smoldering ashes; he will once again simply cease to be.

He seeks a balm for his blisters, and is caught between choices he does not wish to make. He could leave her, walk away in salving self-defense. But he has a promise to keep, to the Mystic Man, to himself, to her. He cannot, will not, leave her until the mission is completed.

He's considered removing the wedding band, the tether to yesterday, but somehow, he knows the feelings will still loiter even without the metal pressed to flesh. He is also unprepared to lose that which has been part of him for so long, a reminder that there are things worth fighting for, even if they're taken away in the end. So he keeps it on, despite the singeing pain.

He's trapped again. And again, there's nothing he can do about it.

He does the only thing he can think of. He pulls back from her; the fervor of the emotions that smoke around them when they're together cannot intensify if there is distance between them.

The flames still lap at his heels, but he runs as fast as he can.

He finds he is cold after a short time, so much colder than the tin that surrounded his body and his heart have ever made him. He is left feeling even worse than he did after being plunged into an icy lake.

The decision to choose the lesser of two evils is one he does not consider lightly.

He cements his selection on the forest hill before the Eclipse, when she offers her hand in thanks, and he instead pulls her against him.

The explosion from the fire is immediate and blinding. But he holds steady, refusing to flinch.

The combustion acts as propulsion, thrusting them to the inevitable. Not only into battle, but into something far more. The intensity of the latter is much greater than any piercing pain he's experienced up to this point.

He will not flinch.

The wind shifts after the Eclipse, and the flames begin to subside. It is still painful to get too close, but he finds he can at least stand the heat. In her, he finds just enough fire to warm and sustain them both.

In her, he finds the salvation, the balm he's long looked for.

FIN