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Fallen Embers

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I cannot help but feel his absence
As a physical void
One which grows deeper as days pass
With no hope of refilling

But when he comes, it is magnificent
To behold him is an unparalleled triumph
Sweeter than any ever known
By a man with a sword in his hand

Time and time again
I find him hard
To parse, which only
Deepens my intrigue

To be beside him
Brings about divine bliss
Second only to lying beneath
Earth itself, whence God above may reclaim me

 

Thomas sat in the light of a flickering candle and admired his work. The paper and his hands were smeared with ink. He did not often endeavor to write poetry, but when he did, he always muddied multiple pages.

Now, though, this one felt complete. It also felt bold. Too bold, certainly, for any other eyes than his beloved James. Even now, the thought of watching him read it thrilled Thomas. He could perfectly picture the faintest blush that would rise along the chiseled edges of his face—his cheekbones and the tips of his ears—while his expression would remain decidedly neutral. His reaction upon finishing, though, was a delicious mystery.

The poem was somewhat reckless, no doubt. Thomas had never penned anything so blatantly erotic in his life. Though surely if James took it with him, it might appear as though a woman had written it. That assumption might even work in their favor. He therefore left it unsigned.

“What is that?” came Miranda’s voice.

He found her beside him with a start. “It’s … Well, it’s a poem. For James when he returns.”

James’s assigned errand south of London would only keep him away for a couple weeks at most, but after a few days, Thomas was already impatient.

“May I see it?” she asked.

Thomas hesitated just long enough for her to sense his reluctance. A brief pained expression crossed her face as she turned toward the window, looking down at the dark street.

“It’s not a secret,” he clarified, standing up and going over to her. “It’s just that I wrote it for him. About him.”

“It’s private,” she said, nodding, perfectly translating his sentiments into one word.

“I feel that it should be. I do hope that doesn’t offend you in any way.”

“Thomas. I’m not offended. But if it is truly so personal between the two of you, I am concerned that it exists at all, written down. After he sees it, you must destroy the page. You know that, don’t you?”

“Well ... yes. Of course.”

She appeared unconvinced. “Do you think anyone would hesitate to share it as enticing gossip if it fell into the wrong hands? Share whatever you wish with him, but for God’s sake, burn it afterward. Promise me.”

Given her reaction to the mere knowledge of the poem, Thomas was very glad he had not let her read it.

“Alright,” Thomas relented. “I promise. It will burn.”

Miranda leaned into him, and they held each other. They said nothing for some time.

“I’m sure he misses you,” she said, softly breaking the silence, “just as much as you miss him.”

 

***

 

In the past, when James had been intimate with women, he’d experienced them as an audience for which he was to perform. Even when he desired the physical act, or appreciated the company, there was the role he had to play that made it possible. While he touched them gently, there had been a lingering rigidness in his posture that became obvious in hindsight. For he assumed that it was what they wanted, to be with a powerful and confident partner who trained his focus on the task at hand.

With Thomas, everything James thought he knew about pleasure, and indeed about intimacy itself, had shifted. To be with him was to melt, to merge with someone, in a way he’d never imagined possible.

To touch him, to feel the warmth of his skin, stirred something beyond desire—it awakened a craving, so long dormant, and now untameable. To be touched in return, to feel held and adored by him, was to ignite a fire that seemed likely to consume him whole as they grasped at each other in Thomas’s bedroom.

James felt Thomas’s hand stroke him, fully erect and free of his trousers, and they gasped in unison. He felt kisses pressed to his neck, then, just below his ear, which left him dizzy, chest heaving with desperate breath. And then Thomas moved down, swift and eager, and there came the slick heat of his mouth that had James cursing under his breath and grasping his shoulders.

It didn’t take long. When Thomas stood again, rosy-cheeked and proud, James seized him and kissed him again. Ready to return the favor, he eased Thomas into the bed and pressed kisses to his thighs before taking him carefully into his mouth. With practice, he had become more confident in this act, encouraged now by a jerk of Thomas’s hips and a happy gasp. James paused for a moment and reached up toward his face, inviting him to part his lips, and Thomas smiled and gave the extended index finger a very deliberate suck. It was in place a moment later, just as James knew he liked so much. Shortly thereafter, Thomas’s completion was mutually euphoric.

In the afterglow of their passionate reunion, they lay together in the nest of white sheets, Thomas’s cheek resting on James’s bare chest. James was always struck in these tender moments by the depths of his own fondness. He had never known anything so beautiful, so precious, nor could he have guessed that he’d find it here, like this, with his closest friend. There was a part of him that never wanted to let go, to never leave the bed, to shut out the world and exist only as the truest forms of themselves.

Thomas chuckled against him, ever so lightly.

“What is it?” James asked, running his fingers over his blond hair.

“I can hear your heart like this. It sounds like a war drum.”

“That’s funny?”

Thomas shifted to look at him. “I missed that sound. The sound of you.”

They kissed again. James felt wholly unravelled, and it no longer frightened him. With Thomas, more than any other person in the world, he could relax.

“I have something for you,” Thomas said with a certain twinkle in his eyes.

“Oh?”

“I was going to show you before we got in bed, but... Well.”

James chuckled now; the house was otherwise empty and it had taken all of thirty seconds for them to shed their clothes. “Yes, I see.”

Thomas got up and went over to his shelf, where he took up a book and fetched something from between the pages. When he returned, he seemed oddly shy, clutching a folded piece of paper with both hands and sitting on the edge of the bed before he spoke.

“It’s a poem,” he said. “That I wrote for you. I hope you’ll like it, but know that it was a bit … experimental. And, well, I’ll have to burn it after you read it. Given the contents.”

“Let’s see it, then,” James said, more than a little intrigued.

Thomas wet his lips before handing it over, seemingly bracing for the reaction, like a schoolboy passing on a love note. It was strange to see him act that way, rather than proudly reading it aloud, but James’s confusion vanished when he began reading.

Oh.

He took care to read the entire work without looking up, all the while conscious of being acutely observed. Each stanza burned with a specific hunger that Thomas had never expressed so plainly—one that James deeply understood, but that he too had avoided voicing outright. Taking in the sensual, playful verses drew up warmth in his face as his heart drummed with new vigor. But there wasn’t only desire there on the page. There was also the purest form of courage, for Thomas was granting him a glimpse of his innermost thoughts. With his pen, he’d unspooled a few threads of his soul and laid them bare.

“You hate it.” Thomas abruptly half-asked, just as James had read the poem a second time.

James looked at him. The casual smile on Thomas’s face seemed to suggest that such a reaction would be of no consequence, as though the poem were merely a silly thing. Taking care to refold the page and set it aside, James stood from the bed.

“On the contrary,” he said, now towering over him. “I’ve never read another poem I liked as much.”

He swiftly moved to grab Thomas by the shoulders, haul him upward, and kiss him as deeply as he had when he’d first arrived. This time, though, they were nude, and he clutched him tightly, leaving no gaps between their bodies. Within the embrace, he heard a little whimper, and it was only when Thomas squeezed him in reply that James realized the sound had come from himself.

“Listen to me,” James breathed when a gash of space had emerged between them. “Anything you want from me, you can have it. You needn’t hesitate to ask, ever. You must know I’ve missed you. I’ve been … I’ve been sick for you. To be together again. I’ve never known greater happiness than this. And I’ve never—never—wanted anyone so completely.”

“My darling.…” Thomas began, visibly emotional, only to stop short.

“My love,” James answered easily, as though they’d used those words hundreds of times. “You write beautifully. You think beautifully. I am honored to know you. And I am yours.”

They fell into bed again, of course. This time, no longer mad with urgency, they did it in the way that required preparation with a lubricant, which James massaged into him in the manner he’d learned, relishing the way Thomas’s cheeks flushed and he gasped at turns. After a while, when he whispered that he was ready in a voice drunk on pre-pleasure, James moved into place, and they both cried out as they were joined.

He took it slowly, rocking his hips and pumping the fist around Thomas’s cock, letting it build toward a glorious crescendo for both of them. Every time they did it this way, James found it extraordinary that they could fit together so well, that through the union of their bodies they could find such perfect harmony, such ideal pleasure, made possible by love as much as anatomy.

He always arrived at the same conclusion: Nothing in the world could possibly be more natural, nor more sacred.

 

***

 

This time, as they lay panting together, Thomas felt as though he were floating among the clouds, so blissfully fulfilled. His head was foggy in a good way, enough so that his daze was only broken when James abruptly laughed.

Hard to parse?” James quoted, blue eyes meeting Thomas’s gaze.

“Liked that one, did you?”

“I liked all of it. I loved it. I want to memorize it before you burn it.”

“You don’t need to memorize it,” Thomas said, touching his cheek. “I can always recite it for you.”

“Still. I want to.”

“Alright. I had half a mind to give you the page, until Miranda wisely advised against it.”

“She read that?” James asked, with an amusing hint of alarm.

“No,” Thomas said, laughing. “She only saw me writing it. And she’s right, of course. It would be a foolish risk.”

James was silent for a moment, his expression unreadable. He tended to retreat inward at any mention of possible consequences for their affair.

“Read it to me,” he said.

Unable to fight his smile, Thomas retrieved the page and read his own words aloud—a few times over, at James’s request.

 

***

 

In the early morning, when dawn was breaking, James watched Thomas deposit the page into the fireplace, where it caught a bright flame and then curled in on itself.

“Thank you.”

Thomas turned to face him. “For the poem?”

“Yes. And everything else. For your courage. You made this possible.”

Smiling, Thomas put a hand on his shoulder. “Without your courage to match it, mine would have been fruitless.”

James spared a glance back at the fire, where the paper was fully alight. He hated to see it burn, but even more, he hated that it was necessary. The thought of the two of them being discovered stirred fear in him, but each time, that fear quickly gave way to an alarming rage. He could stomach the thought of facing consequences himself, but the mere notion of Thomas suffering because of their bond made him want to break bones.

“Sometime in the future,” Thomas mused sadly, “loving someone won’t require such courage. I believe that.”

Struck by the tone of his voice, James seized him once more.

“If anyone ever hurt you, I’d kill them,” he blurted, his voice low and heavy in a way he did not intend.

“James,” Thomas said, taken aback, “I honestly can’t tell if you’re being hyperbolic.”

Thinking it wise to say nothing more, James pulled him into a new embrace, and they held each other as the poem turned to ash.

 

***

 

Years later, in the captain’s quarters on the Walrus, James sat at his desk in the glow of candlelight. The night was quiet, save for the creaking of the ship as it rocked, most of the crew asleep.

Rubbing his eyes, he took stock of the maps before him and thought about retiring to his bed, but then had another idea. Taking out a blank page, he dipped his pen and wrote, from memory, the words of an old poem—one that he reproduced on rare occasions when he was alone and the mood struck him. Writing out the words proved that he hadn’t forgotten, and as he watched them appear on the paper, he could hear the kind voice that once read them aloud.

With the text written out, he held it in his hand and read it over. He wondered if one day he would become numb to those words, or less nostalgic, perhaps. But seeing the poem never failed to move him, still, the way it did when he first read it. He was swiftly transported back to that bed, that room, that warm embrace.

The one he would have held onto forever.

As smoke twisted up from the corner of the page, held over a candle, he thought of it as something like a prayer, carrying those private verses into the ether. And he let his eyes shut, just for a moment, willing himself to be grateful for the memory above all else.