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Darkness Its Own Kingdom

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It was nearly 2am when Zoe let herself in to her condo.

Her head was pounding, too much cigar smoke and obliquely threatening conversation; she left the lights off and navigated dropping her purse, coat, and shoes by the pinprick illumination of the nighttime skyline. The tiles were cool against her bare feet, and she padded down the front hall into the great room toes first, sinking back into the muscle memory from long-ago ballet classes to avoid the shudder of impact traveling up her legs and spine to worsen the throbbing behind her eyes.

She filled a glass of water at the fridge and wandered toward the windows, sipping it. The world was blessedly silent, and in between sips she held the cold glass up to her temple for the little relief it provided.

Then, between one slow breath and the next, she knew that she was not alone. She kept her breathing even and took another sip of water, mind racing to her panic button (three long strides to the wall behind the dining table) and her nearest weapon (the glass in her hand was heavy-bottomed and should shatter nicely against a skull). Not ideal. Hopefully her intruder was interested in talking first.

She turned her back on the cityscape, scanning the shadows. There was an inkier darkness in the corner, in the tufted leather armchair by the bookcases, and when her eyes fixed there the darkness shifted, revealing sharply tailored lines and the stark contrast of a white collar against a black coat.

“Harold told me you were dead.”

John let out a sound that was almost the memory of a ghost of a laugh. His voice was even rustier and more graveled than before. “I’m surprisingly hard to kill.”

“Does he know?”

In a blink John was up and closing the distance between them. His eyes were nearly colorless in the moonlight, burning with an otherworldly light.

“Don’t tell him.”

Zoe sighed. She was too tired for this. “What do you need, John.”

He fell back a step, intensity dropping away and leaving confusion in its wake. He looked lost. Zoe had never seen him without a purpose before.

He opened his mouth, and Zoe knew that if she let him speak he’d be out the door and she’d never see him again. So she spoke first.

“Yeah, all right. But first you’re going to do something about these knots in my neck.” Zoe started towards her bedroom, sure that John would follow.

Zoe left a trail as she walked: glass on the table, blouse in the hall, bra on top of the dresser; the skirt and panties dropped by the side of the bed, and she didn’t reach under her pillow for the negligee because they were going to end up naked anyway. She sat on the edge of the mattress, back still to the doorway where John was lurking.

“Come on, take your clothes off and get over here.”

John huffed that barely-there laugh again. “Yes, ma’am.”

The first touch was on her shoulders. John had great hands, big and warm and dextrous; he attacked the knots with gentle confidence, patiently working them loose. He moved slowly, from the top of her spine up to the base of her skull, and Zoe felt the tension that seemed like a constant companion these days melting away.

After a bit, he began working lower still, digging into her shoulder blades; the angle was bad and his hands were too dry, so Zoe pulled out her nightstand drawer and lay down on her stomach, trusting John to take the hint.

The air filled with the scent of bergamot and vanilla as John warmed the oil in his hands, then began deeper, longer strokes with the heels of his palms, sweeping across and working under her shoulder blades. Zoe felt herself sinking deeper into the mattress, her body filling with a creeping lassitude, everything in her humming with relief and pleasure.

Eventually, John’s strokes gentled and slowed, smooth long sweeps across her whole back. They came to rest at her waist, stilled but still soothing, then John pressed a kiss to the dip where Zoe’s spine curved into her tailbone. He kissed her again, and again, scattering them around her back in a pattern Zoe soon realized followed the path of the worst of the tension he had just worked out.

When he reached the top of her back again, the only points of contact between them still his hands and his lips, Zoe rolled over to pull him into a proper kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck and tugging him down so they were chest to chest.

His skin was cool to the touch. Zoe wondered how long he had been sitting, still and silent, waiting for her.

His kisses were cool too, distant and almost mechanical, and Zoe considered being insulted for a moment. But now that she had her hands on John, she could feel all the places where he had grown new scars since the last time they’d come together like this, and that made her hesitate. She wasn’t a nurturer by nature, but she felt obscurely like she might like to take care of John. At least for tonight.

She needed to get him out of his head.

She pushed his shoulder until he let her flip him onto his back. He was hard, at least, one part of him warmly, definitively with her. He was also wearing that faint smirk that never failed to get her blood up.

So she grabbed his wrists and stretched his arms up over his head, wrapping the fingers of one hand around his opposite forearm. “Keep these right here.”

The smirk deepened. “Yes ma’am.”

She spent a minute surveying him in the moonlight. There were new scars on his torso too, small furrows and long gashes, healed over but still raw looking. There was less muscle tone — he wasn’t quite flabby, but there was a looseness to his skin that spoke to the inactivity of a long recovery. Zoe reached out, ran her fingertips lightly along one particularly nasty gash. John shivered.

“Does it hurt?”

John shook his head. Zoe stroked the scar again, then reached into her bedside drawer to pull out her lotion.

She worked lotion into every single one of John’s scars, the scent of cocoa butter melding nicely with the bergamot and vanilla still lingering in the air, fingers working just as gently and deliberately as John’s had on her.

So many little, jagged scars, places where the skin had been torn away or shrapnel had been buried. Each one got Zoe’s undivided attention in its turn. She counted at first, but when the number topped two dozen she turned the tally off resolutely.

There was a longer gash across the left side of John’s rib cage, just under the flat plane of his chest. The skin there was puckered, like it had been sewn together in haste, and Zoe took her time working the lotion into each twist and ridge. There was another low across the left side of his abdomen, just above the cut of his hipbone, that got similar treatment.

And then there was the neat, surgical line down the center of his chest. Zoe left that one for last, her brain shying away from what it meant, that someone, likely someone who meant John harm, had cut him wide open, had put him back together when those who cared for him had given him up for dead.

Her fingers lingered there the longest, and when she could work no more lotion into the skin she followed John’s lead again, leaning in close to press gentle kisses down its length.

When she reached the end, just an inch or so above his bellybutton, Zoe looked up; John’s eyes were squeezed shut, and his grip on his forearm was tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Zoe might have thought he was in pain, were it not for the persistence of his erection, and her knowledge that John found pleasure a far greater challenge to his equanimity than any number of agonies.

So she turned her attention to that erection, taking the head in her mouth and suckling, swirling her tongue around his circumcision scar, then working her way further down the shaft, cheeks hollowed. She felt John tense under her, abdomen and thighs flexing; it goaded her further, until she felt the head of his cock nudge the back of her throat.

She pulled back slowly, until just the tip was pressed against her lips, then she began to work her way back down again.

It was almost meditative, the painstakingly slow up and down, in and out. Little bursts of precome washed across her tongue, and John’s breathing deepened and sped, harsh interruption to the silence of the night.

Zoe’s jaw began to ache, and on the next upstroke she pulled off completely. John made a sound, so quiet Zoe might have thought she imagined it were it not for the way he immediately bit his lip, hard enough that he drew blood.

Zoe moved back up the bed to kiss him again, gently, coaxing his abused lip free of his teeth.

She checked in on her own body, felt the low throb of arousal between her thighs, and reached back into her bedside table to grab a condom.

She rolled it on John and then straddled him, hands flat against his chest for balance. She teased him at first, holding up most of her own weight, sliding up and down the underside of his cock, the head just nudging at her clit. She felt his chest and shoulders shift in preparation, and she quickly pressed him harder into the bed.

“No. Keep your hands where they are.”

John’s eyes slitted open, a little sardonic but a lot dazed. Zoe stayed still on top of him, pursing her lips imperiously. John sighed and closed his eyes again, nodding, then resettled his arms where she had put them before.

That deserved a reward, so she shifted the angle of her hips and slid down again, focusing on the sweet, long drag of engulfing him, pulling him deep inside herself until her clit was pressed tight against his pubic bone. She couldn’t help but grind down a little, circling her hips for more friction and moaning quietly at the shiver of pleasure that sent through her.

Zoe was lucky — she was built such that she could come from penetration alone, with enough time. And John had endurance in spades. So she began another slow, languorous, up and down slide.

John was completely silent. Zoe wasn’t normally vocal in bed, but every time she made a sound, any small sigh or moan when a stroke hit just right, she could feel John clench underneath her, fighting the urge to move. The muscles in his arms were pulled taut, stretched high above his head, and she watched the fingers of his free hand stretch and contract in time with the rise and fall of her hips.

With his legs still stretched out behind her, John had little leverage; but as she began to speed up he started to thrust, little, aborted motions of his pelvis, working in counterpoint to her grinding. It felt fantastic, and Zoe moaned louder just to watch John react.

She was panting, sweating all over from the best workout she’d had in months. John’s mouth had fallen open and he was sucking in deep, shuddery breaths. Zoe could feel her orgasm building at last, rising up from deep within her core. She shifted positions, angling her hips so that the head of John’s cock was sliding along her clit from the inside. He managed a harder thrust, flexing his buttocks with enough strength to wring a gasp from her; emboldened, he dug his heels into the mattress to do it again, and again, and then Zoe was coming, deep, shivery waves seemingly rising up from her toes to wash her whole body in pleasure.

It lasted a long time.

As she began to come back to herself, Zoe could feel John’s heart racing under her hands. Every muscle was clenched tight, and he was holding himself painfully still, fingernails digging into his palm and forearm. He had his bottom lip between his teeth again, and the short breaths he was taking through his nose verged on hyperventilation.

Zoe tightened around his cock, shivering again through an aftershock. Then she leaned in close to take his hands in hers, uncurling them and pulling them down to her hips.

“Okay John. Now you can come for me.”

He whined, high in his throat; pulled his knees up and feet under him; then squeezing her hips hard enough to bruise he lifted her up just enough to slam her back down, once, twice, and then he stilled, coming so hard Zoe could feel him twitching inside her.

He whined again, and from the corners of his eyes, still squeezed tight, tears began to fall, running down his crow’s feet to melt into the sweat at his temples. His breath was shuddering in his chest, and the sounds choked off in his throat sounded suspiciously close to sobs.

Zoe fell back to his chest, wrapping her arms around his neck and cradling his head, and she kissed him. She kissed him on his lips, and on his cheeks, and on his stubbled jaw. She kissed his forehead, and his eyelids, and she kissed the tracks his tears left on his skin. She just kissed him, a little overwhelmed herself, using her lips to show her care for him in a way he might believe more than if she put it into words.

Eventually, they both calmed. Zoe found herself stroking John’s hair; John’s grip on her hips finally loosened, and he wrapped his arms around her waist, keeping her pressed tight along the length of his body. She could practically feel him pulling himself back together.

When Zoe spoke, her voice was hoarse, as if she had been the one crying. “I’m going to shower.” John nodded, but before he could think of moving, Zoe shook her head. She pushed herself up, but left her palm flat against his chest, pressing him back against the mattress. “Stay.”

John nodded, shifting enough that he slipped out of her but otherwise staying exactly where she put him.

Zoe didn’t look back as she walked to the bathroom.

She took her time in the shower. John might have been the one broken open, but Zoe was left a little unsettled too. Still, there was little that a hot shower couldn’t improve, and when she stepped out of the stall at last she just felt good, her body humming with pleasure.

Back in the bedroom, the sun was just peeking over the horizon, turning the grey pre-dawn light golden. John had changed the sheets and was sprawled on his stomach on the side of the bed closest to the door. He was snoring lightly, and the lines around his eyes and mouth stood out starkly in the slanted light. He looked exhausted, worn down and hurting.

But he also looked. . . content. At peace with the world at last. Zoe smiled. Whatever the war was that he had been fighting on Harold’s behalf, the one that tore down the global banking system nearly a year before, it looked like John had won. It looked like he felt he could rest at last.

Zoe was happy to let him rest with her a while.