Is this how it felt to the first people to have an indoor hearth? The fire that had bullied and tormented your ancestors, even after they learned to use it to cook their food and warm their bodies, was now yours to keep in a little stone kennel, to stir as though stroking a sleeping animal. Until, like the little cat that purrs under your hand can latch on with its teeth and claws, it scorches your poor flesh.
That's a little overly dramatic, isn't it?
Ritchie might be excessively vulnerable to flights of fancy, but even he can recognize self-indulgence. John's not a force of nature. He's not even a house cat. What he is is greedy for attention. And not entirely sure he wants it once he gets it. What Ritchie is, he knows, is lucky to have caught him, even for a moment.
Lucky? Or unlucky, depending on what John is doing at that particular moment. He'll make you feel like you're the only person in the world who matters, and he'll make you feel like you'd do anything for him. For him, you'll do things you never thought you could do. Never thought you would.
But let's save the bitterness. There's always time for that; later, when it blooms organically and can be properly savored. The next time John spills tea on one of his books, or stays out most of the night and comes in slamming doors and knocking over anything in his path, or tells one of those ridiculous and insulting lies that unravel halfway through. They're having a nice moment, now.
'Nice' isn't punk rock. Ritchie's younger self is rolling in his grave. When you're young, 'nice'- having it forced upon you, nevermind enjoying it- feels like nothing less than a personal insult on the part of the universe. 'Nice' is for the middle-aged. Synonymous with 'living dead'. Being middle-aged must be worse than actually being dead, you think; worse, even, than being old.
He remembers his fearful revulsion at it, but time has worn away its visceral meaning: he can't have it anymore, because he's outgrown it. What remains is like the nightmare horror that accompanies you into waking, after sleep has been scraped away. It's nice to sit up in bed at ten o'clock at night, to have the luxury of being sufficiently untroubled by either fatigue or anxiety to read a book, while John does the same next to him. The bed isn't made for two people, and one or the other of them occasionally gets an elbow or a knee someplace unfortunate. Is this what he was so afraid of? Why John, who retains so much of those old feelings, wants to do this, Ritchie doesn't know. Doesn't want to ask. It's a spell, a delicate one.
Like the silken tissue that is his somnolence of late. His dreams are laden with interminable journeys to no place in particular. Train stations, and airports. Luggage that is either misplaced or never packed. At random points in the night, he wakes. With a sudden and horrible awareness, a shivering breath caught in his throat. For some reason, though, his sleep is less troubled when he shares his bed. He doesn't care to know what that reason might be.
It's been two years since John quit his afterlife of sorts and rejoined the world of the living. It's the feeling of a stopped clock that suddenly started ticking again. Or of a new one, now given electricity, clicking into motion for the first time. The old clock having been smashed into a thousand pieces. How does it feel for John, the resurrected, himself? Ritchie still doesn't know the entire story surrounding the fiction of John's death; he doubts he ever will. Does anyone know? Chas, or Charlotte, or John's friends from England- Gary, who Ritchie got to know pretty well, when he came to the states a few times to visit John; Ann Marie, who Ritchie hasn't met, who is one of the few people John will admit taught him anything. All of the nameless and unknown others Ritchie hasn't even heard of but knows must exist. It's true: dead men tell no tales.
Outside, has unfurled one of those deliciously ferocious winter nights. One of those rare storybook nights of wind that bellows at the trees; these are whittled to spindles, crusted in grayish peeling bark, totally oblivious to the rage around them. The sky is a curtain of rippling black silk, splendid with its complement of astral freckles, and a full moon like a cheery, pitted face. In the sites of childhood injuries, Ritchie feels the cold, rapping at the door of old pain, gnawing at the frame. He wraps his sweater more tightly around himself, pulls the bedclothes up higher.
“Cold?” asks John, an inane question unworthy of an answer.
But Ritchie's grateful for that acknowledgment. It's what John does: he takes the obvious and repackages it as something precious. That makes him something of an alchemist, doesn't it? “Yeah. A little.”
John puts down his book. “Let me warm you up.”
He kisses Ritchie. An island of melting warmth in a polar sea. Ritchie reclines, and lets himself be overtaken; kissed and caressed until he feels a plume of heat unfold up his throat. First, one of the books falls to the floor, then moments later, the other follows. Around the rush of other sensations, Ritchie winces. His glasses come off, and are no doubt bound for the same fate. Before they can suffer it, he pats around the sheets for them, picks them out, places them on the table next to the bed. This gets him a small, dry laugh from John, and then a grand exhalation in effort as John leans across him and turns off the lamp. The touches resume, long and rich, with a quiet care that make him wonder if John isn't actually just trying to warm him.
Then, “Better?”- John asks him, grinning in the dark. The moonlight that comes in through the window dyes the room a glacial blue violet.
“I'm still a little cold.”
The chill that's still upon him is snuffed beneath John's hands; John's soft laughter pat-patting behind his sternum, like a shallow answer to the declarations of his heartbeat. His hands are so warm that Ritchie doesn't mind being relieved of his clothes. Slowly, piece by piece, so that the cold air doesn't shock him.
John's body, now bare, is against his, with all of its heat and beats. Most people get softer as they get older, but John, who's always tended toward a spareness that suggests self-punishment, is drawn in deeper and deeper relief each time Ritchie sees him. When Ritchie first knew him, he never had these angles, these edges of hard, angled shadow. His hips feel like abstract sculpture under Ritchie's hands; the bones of his spine, like machine parts of unknown function. It's a new topography to get to know. An unknown country. Unsettling but exciting. Not merely blasted with blank terror as in his dreams. This is a place he thinks he wouldn't mind inhabiting.
He digs his fingers into the slightly softer parts of John. The little bit of padding John has feels velvety, luxurious, next to the long line of bone, the chord of sinew and vein. With this pressure, John starts as though woken, then eases into it. With a harder touch, still, John exhales in a rough stream, rolls his hips against Ritchie's. It's that weird spark you'll feel all of a sudden: move in a slightly different way, and it changes the whole world. He holds tightly to John, hands now spread across John's skin, pulling John into him. Pulls him down, closer, holds the two of them there, so that they're locked together, moving in such a way that promises satisfaction but will be delayed in delivering. He's not cold anymore.
He's hot. Crackling with heat. His blood feels like boiling sugar. The sound of John's heavy breaths, the pounding of his heart blots out the roaring wind outside. This is all there is, now. John's mouth on his, stealing his breath. He presses his nails into John's skin, just to feel him tremble, hear the dry creak of a gasp. How thrilling. To make John react. To know how to work him, like it's an art he discovered and perfected. Like he's a drug lodged in John's veins, glutting his blood and tuning his nerves. Like this is something secret. When it's plain to see that John's always pulled tight, waiting to be plucked.
He does it again, digs in his nails and drags them upward, and John rattles like bells on a string. Rubs the tips of his fingers against the scratches he left, feels John unwind a little with a long sigh. John lets himself be tipped and revolved, so that Ritchie's on top of him, now. Lets himself be held down, kneaded further, scraped and bitten. For this, Ritchie is kissed, soft then bruisingly hard then soft again. Held onto as he moves, pushing their bodies together, fluid and crashing, toward the logical conclusion.
When they reach it, it's almost a disappointment. Separation must come next, and it's-
With John, it's inevitable. Everyone might have a piece of John, but a piece is all anyone's ever going to get. When he's feeling bitter, which he does much more than when he was young and convinced he was too cool for jealousy, Ritchie thinks that he should just let go, release the fragment he's futilely clutching. Dig the shard out of his flesh. In those moments, he's sure, it's all pointless. Why does he care about any of this? Why should he aid John in making him even more ridiculous than he already is?
But then, there are the other times. Like now. They've cleaned up, gotten dressed again against the liquid chill that fills the room. They get back into bed, and Ritchie turns off the lamp that he'd briefly turned on again. In the dark, he looks at John. John's looking at him, something in his expression that pulls Ritchie in, wraps him up and holds him there. They're close, but not touching, until John pats his hand down onto Ritchie's. He can feel John's pulse in his fingertips, like a telegraph signal bleating into the night. A piece might be all he has, but the holding of it seems to be something that it needs, as much as Ritchie needs to hold on. With his beating heart and his warm skin, John is next to him, definitely not dead.