It was already well into the early hours of the morning when Richard found himself at Till’s front door. Rain had been pelting the streets for over an hour, and a chill had crept up through the soles of his trainers straight into the marrow of his bones. That was the only reason he had come, or at least that's what he told himself: A chance to dry off, some warm clothes. The cold made his jaw clench and ache, or maybe that was just part of withdrawal. He’d never managed this long before; He couldn’t manage any longer. That was why he was really there, hand raised and ready to rouse his best friend and ask for help. He didn’t know where else to turn.
He took a deep breath, longed for a cigarette to borrow a few more minutes of his time, and knocked on the door. The curling paint stabbed at the rawness of his knuckles and he welcomed the burn.
Richard stood on the doorstep, willing his hands to stop shaking. He was glad it was cold: he could blame it on that instead of telling the truth from the start. He’d gotten good at lying in recent months, almost enough that he didn't feel it anymore. Almost.
It was a few minutes before Till finally opened the door, rubbing at his eyes in a way that suggested a long night rather than interrupted sleep. Typical. His brow creased, eyes searching his face for… something.
Richard knew he must look wretched, all eye bags and sunken cheeks, and a significant amount of mud soaked up into his clothes. It seemed to take a moment for him to even realise it was Richard: he was far from the man his friend had last seen a just few months ago
‘Richard? You know you don’t have to knock, you can just walk in. That’s what your key is for.’ He noted Richard’s footwear, squelching as he shifted from foot to foot, ‘Get in here already, you’re soaked through.’
Eyes fixed firmly to the ground, he followed Till inside.
The flat was warm, and his fingers, numbed by the cold, burned as they thawed. He stood there, silent save for the tick of water dripping into the doormat, until Till returned with some towels. Humiliation rose in his chest when Till sighed and started to unbutton his thin coat for him, sliding the sleeves off his arms as he just stood there catatonic. His words caught in his throat: he didn’t know how to begin explaining himself, anything he thought to start with just seemed selfish or demanding.
He leaned his head down, hoping the rivulets of rain streaming from his hair would camouflage any tears that forced their way out.
‘How are you doing? I’m sorry if I woke you up.’
‘How am I doing? You’re the one showing up on peoples doorsteps like a drowned rat.’ Till took a step forward, resting his hand on his shoulder trying to look at his downturned face.
He couldn’t answer that. He turned towards Till, maintaining eye contact for an excruciating few seconds, and then fell into a hug. He pressed his face into the crook of his neck, arms curling around his ribcage, clutching fistfuls of fabric so hard he felt his nails digging into his palms. Till froze, but only for a moment. He buried his nose in Richard's hair, seeming not to care that it was damp or greasy, and held him tight to his chest. Richard couldn't be sure if he was shaking from cold or nerves, but he desperately hoped Till wouldn't notice either way.
Richard was almost drifting off to sleep when he felt more than heard Till chuckle. He gave Richard one last squeeze before pulling back. His nose scrunched, ‘You smell like wet dog. Come on, we need to get you cleaned up.’ Richard was too deep in thought to respond, but he followed.
He wasn’t surprised by Till’s welcome, but he was relieved; He’d survived the first week, barely, but that was always the easiest. Richard knew he needed help, he just wished it didn't hurt so much to seek it out. He also knew he was lucky, but logic didn't hold much weight any more. He felt ashamed of himself, mostly. Showing up the way he had, desperate and willing to beg if needed. He didn't even want to imagine what Till thought of him, what he was keeping to himself. Uncharitable to his dearest friend, but the thought was there all the same. This was the right thing to do. This was the responsible thing to do, better for him, his loved ones, and his bandmates. He ran it through his head on a loop and hoped at some point he would believe it.
Till placed a hand against Richard’s lower back, guiding him towards the bathroom. He helped him peel off the rest of his clothes, throwing them in a pile on the floor by the basket, and turned on the shower to warm up. Richard, feeling suddenly very vulnerable, crossed his arms over himself to hide the worst of it: He needed Till’s help, but he still didn't want him to see just how much weight he had lost, or all the bruises he’d gained in its place. He could tell Till was trying not to look, but he also saw the frown lines deepening across his brow.
Till cleared his throat, ‘I'll be right outside the door. You know where everything is, yeah?’ Richard looked around unseeing. Till nodded to himself. ‘Right, okay. Well, there's soap and all that in there, towels are in the cabinet.’ He hesitated for a moment, then clapped him on the shoulder and closed the door behind him.
Richard pulled back the shower curtain and stepped under the spray. A bar of soap rested on the shower shelf, so he grabbed it as he clambered in, unsteady on his feet. He couldn’t see a cloth through the steam, so he just lathered the bar in his hands. He was sure Till wouldn’t mind.
The heat made his head spin, but he propped himself up against the cold tiles and painstakingly massaged his aching muscles directly with the bar. He realised how much he had missed feeling clean. He wished he could wash away a lot more than the accumulated sweat and grime.
He bent to work his legs over, but his vision doubled and swayed. He tried to brace himself on the wall but his legs gave out from under him. The world went grey; he barely felt himself falling.
Till’s panicked shout seemed distant. He wondered if he had imagined it. He wondered where he was. It wasn’t until he felt a sharp throb and pressure at his temple that he began to come back to his senses. He opened his eyes to glaring blue light and Till pressing a warm washcloth against his face, muttering obscenities under his breath as he mopped up what must have been blood. Richard blinked, acclimating his eyes to the brightness.
Till tried to brush the wet hair off Richard’s face. ‘Fuck, shit, I’m so sorry. I shouldn't have left, should’ve thought this through. Come on, sit up a bit.’ He manhandled Richard until he was upright and supporting his own weight, and then turned to shut off the shower and run a shallow bath instead. Richard fought to stay conscious and mostly succeeded. The water was a little too hot, but the prickling heat roused him somewhat. His head had begun to throb, though, so he closed his eyes and laid his arm across his face to shield them from the light.
He could hear Till lathering the shampoo between his hands. ‘Tip your head back, you don't want this in your eyes. Or the cut, for that matter.’’ Richard tried to lean further, but only succeeded in slipping down the bathtub. Till huffed a humourless laugh, ‘Here, let me help.’
He cradled the base of Richard’s skull in one large hand, keeping him at a steady angle. With the fingertips of the other he massaged small circles into his scalp, washing away the oils and polluted rainwater. Richard didn’t think to hold back his sigh, ‘Sooo tingly, feels really good. W‘s in it?’
‘Tea tree,’ Richard hummed in approval, ‘you need it because you’re a little greaseball right now. When’s the last time you washed your hair?’
‘Er… What day is it?’
‘Wednesday. Well, thursday now I suppose.’
He strained to remember, counting back the days, ‘...Two weeks? ‘s a bit before I quit. Too tired.’
‘No offence but no wonder you smell so gross.’ Till jabbed him in the side with a smile. Richard half-heartedly swatted at his hand. He knew the comment wasn’t meant to sting, but part of him longed to lean back and breathe a lungful of water.
‘Yea, I've just...too tired. Getting out of bed is hard enough.’ Richard looked up at the ceiling, letting his eyes unfocus as Till rinsed the shampoo from his hair with a cup of cooler water. It cleared away a little more of the fog in his head.
Till pressed his lips into a tight smile, unsure how to ask kindly. Richard hummed to urge him on.
‘I'm guessing you also haven't brushed your teeth since then?’
He glanced down and nodded, suddenly aware of the foul stale-cigarette-and-coffee taste in his mouth, the fuzz of plaque coating his teeth. His throat tightened: he wondered if there was a limit to how much shame a person could feel. Till got up and opened the medicine cabinet to grab an unopened toothbrush and his toothpaste. He squeezed some onto the brush and turned to look at Richard, pausing for a moment before asking, ‘Do uh… do you need help with this too?’
Richard’s head snapped around so fast he had to fight to stay upright, ‘Please don’t try! Hand me it, please, I can do it.’
Till passed him the toothbrush and squeezed his shoulder. He was, Richard realised, being a lot more gentle than usual. He wasn’t sure he wanted that.
‘Are you feeling any better? A little more human? I… you know I understand that part at least.’ he said it with a smile in his voice, but Richard knew without even looking that his eyes would be distant.
‘Yeah, a li’l,’ Richard mumbled through a mouth full of foam. Till handed him a cup and he spat as neatly as he could manage, wiping his lip against the rim to catch a viscous string of minty spit.
Offering a hand to Richard, Till lifted him up and out of the bathtub, supporting most of his weight and likely avoiding another accident. He unhooked his fluffiest dressing gown hanging on the back of the door. A gift, he knew, from Paul, a joke they all knew was just a fragile excuse for owning it. The thing had fluffy ears stitched onto the hood. They claimed to wear it ironically. Richard held out his arms, allowing Till to dress him. He was past the humiliation of being dressed like a child, not least because it was his closest friend doing it. Till might not have seen worse from him, but he’d seen plenty, and Richard had seen him right back. If anyone could understand it would be Till.
Still, despite knowing this, Richard felt guilty for accepting any amount of comfort. He didn't deserve it, and Till didn’t deserve a parasite disguised as his friend. It almost felt manipulative to him, to seek out warmth, like he was tricking him into caring. A man like Till could never resist taking in any pathetic, sodden creature that showed up at his doorstep. The cats were evidence enough of that. God, at least the cats had something to offer back. Richard? Stress and obligation weren’t usually the most welcome of gifts. Till would take it and Richard would love/hate every second.
Richard grew lightheaded again as Till led him to the bedroom, stopping several times to lean into the wall or Till to right himself. His legs faltered a few times, but Till didn’t let him fall. Till really was too good to him, apparently not caring that he’d done this to himself. He sat down on the edge of the bed and watched as Till dug through the dresser drawers. Richard pulled the bath robe tighter around himself, trying to trap what little warmth his body still gave off.
‘I thought I still had some of your clothes here but I can’t find any. Probably stored them away somewhere,’ Richard translated without pause: “I borrowed them because I, yet again, got distracted and neglected to do my laundry”, ‘so I hope this will be ok?’ Till held out an armful of clothes to Richard. He took it and nodded, grateful and stamping down the thought that he was somehow sullying Till’s clothing by wearing it himself. Till took hold of Richard's hand and squeezed lightly. ‘I know you've always prided yourself on being independent, “the only person you can rely on is yourself” and all that, but I'm… I’m so glad—relieved— you felt you could trust me when that proved to be untrue. I hope you know I will always be here. I'll be right back ok?’
He snorted at the contradiction, but the moment he was out of sight a lump formed in Richard’s throat. He didn't want to cry, he didn't want any more pity, but it was too much. He forced himself to swallow and took a few deep breaths. He pretended not to notice the way they trembled. Richard concentrated on the mismatched outfit in his lap. Standing up carefully, one hand on the bedpost for stability, he managed to pull on his—Till’s— clothes. The sweatpants and t-shirt Till had given him were both much too big, but he didn't mind. The fluffy blue socks on the bottom of the pile were possibly the softest things he’d ever seen, and he delighted in the feeling as he slipped them on.
Till cracked the bedroom door open just enough to poke his face though the gap, ‘All dressed?’
Richard smiled at him, small but genuine, still caught in his tiny bubble of bliss, ‘M’hm’
He gingerly nudged the door the rest of the way open and made to sit next to Richard at the foot of the bed, creeping at a snail’s pace so as to avoid spilling whatever was inside. He handed Richard a mug of the most decadent hot chocolate he had ever seen; Whipped cream melted slowly into the rich, dark cocoa, and on top of that, a smiley face in miniature marshmallows. Toasted, of course. He shot Till a sceptical look.
‘You need the energy, clearly.’
Till took a sip of his own, similarly decorated but, he knew, with a sprinkle of cinnamon. After the first mouthful went down easily, Richard drained his mug in record time, not caring that it was hot. He used his fingers to dig out the marshmallows and cream that had stuck to the bottom of the mug. He realised he’d barely eaten or drank in days and it was catching up to him.
‘How’s your head feel?’ Till asked, squinting at the cut on Richard's face. A bruise was starting to form around it, a black and purple halo ringing the open gash. Richard had forgotten all about the fall, assuming the headache was instead just part of withdrawal.
Richard moved his head away from Till's prying fingers, ‘It's fine, I'm fine.’ Silence filled the room for several minutes, or maybe just seconds. Reality warped around them. His head throbbed.
‘It’s an open head wound, it’s okay to not be fine. Did you forget why you’re here?’
Richard thought he would rather not remember.
‘Just let me stick a butterfly stitch on there and I promise I'll stop poking. Yes?’
Richard sighed, ‘Fine.’
Till clasped his hands together, and Richard knew that meant he was relieved he had a problem he could solve. He grabbed a tube of antiseptic cream and a small box of butterfly stitches from the bedside drawer. He didn’t ask.
He had to admit, it felt nice to have Till tending to his wound. It had been a long time since someone had fussed over him, held his head in their hands and fixed him up. Wrestling, maybe? Guilt crept back in, souring the moment: A grown man shouldn’t need to be babied, he could do it himself. He didn’t move, though.
‘I don't know if you're quite ready to talk yet, but i think it might help. I don’t really even know why you’re here, though I can guess.’ Till glanced over at Richard, who was staring resolutely down into his empty mug.
‘It just… got to be too much, y’know? I just had to quit right then, cold turkey, or I was gonna… I dunno. I knew it’d be hard but...’ He trailed off, unable to gather the energy to say anything else. Fatigue leached into his bones, leaving him exhausted and sore, and more than anything what he wanted was to sleep. He fell back on the bed, arms over his face and perfectly willing to sleep where he was, until a familiar gush of saliva flooded his mouth. He felt suddenly sick to his stomach, so he jerked up onto his feet, hurrying to find anything he could safely throw up into.
He didn’t make it.
His stomach cramped and spasmed, violently rejecting what he had just consumed. He found himself on throbbing knees in the middle of the floor, staring down into a pool of mostly-liquid vomit. His body continued to purge itself of what Till had so lovingly made for him, and that thought was what finally broke him. His eyes, already streaming from the strain of throwing up, overflowed with tears. He couldn’t hold it back any longer. ‘Till I’m, I didn’t mean to I. I’m so sorry , I swear I—‘ A wet sob wracked his body. His diaphragm ached with misuse, continuing to contract against nothing. He sniffed, coughed, fought the urge to spit as if it would make the mess worse.
When he thought his stomach was well and truly empty he shuffled back until the knobs of his spine knocked against the bed and then curled into a ball in an attempt to hide himself. He was careful not to touch any of Till’s clothes with the mess running down his face.
Till knelt down next to Richard, rubbing the aching muscles of his back, ‘Please don't apologise for not feeling well, honey. It's okay, I promise. I should’ve realised you’d be feeling sick, brought you something less rich maybe.’ He helped Richard off the floor and sat him in a chair. Till left for just a moment, returning with the bathroom trash can, some tissues, and a cold glass of water.
Richard didn’t look up, but he did take the tissues with gratitude and attempted to clean his face up. He glanced at Till, at the genuine concern in his eyes, and despised himself for putting it there. Fresh tears bloomed, but he tried to talk past them, ‘Fuck, Till. I’m sorry I’m, s— I’m such a fucking mess I don’t... I don’t know what to do any more. I thought this would help, that maybe i’d get better . What am I meant to do?’ He sniffed, trying to ignore his own disgust, ‘I can’t keep using, I can’t stop using, so what else is left? Please, tell me what’s left for me, I can’t—‘ He stopped to gulp for a full breath. Till tried to pull Richard to his chest, but he resisted. It was extremely important, somehow, that he didn’t soil any of Till’s belongings, as if he was an infection that needed to be cut off, an infestation they needed to contain. If he didn’t touch it he couldn’t ruin it. He questioned whether he should have come.
Till pulled away, and for a moment Richard was terrified he had succeeded in his efforts to scare him off, but he seemed to sense it and reassured him, ‘I just need to clean this up before it seeps into the cracks and it starts smelling like curdled milk every time this room gets warm.’ He pulled a face. Richard faked the hint of a smile, but Till seemed to know what he was thinking and added, ‘You can help if it’ll make you feel better. Just pull out a load of those tissues to soak some of it up, I'll be back with the cleaning stuff.’
The room fell silent, save for his own laboured breathing, but he knew Till would come if he called and that was a mixed comfort. Richard dutifully began to pile the tissues over the puddle in front of him. He watched, transfixed, as the liquid absorbed, leaving the paper translucent and wrinkled where it wasn't sodden.
When Till came back he removed the handful of tissues, throwing them into the waste bin with a wrinkled nose, and drenched the section of hardwood in some kind of cleaner that prickled at his sensitive throat. He watched Till clean up his mess, a pit of shame and guilt deepening in his empty stomach. Richard was afraid to ask how much patience Till had left for him, but he was sure it was running out. He buried his face in his arms and tried to stifle his sobs, but the strain just made his head pound harder. Till must be sick of him. He was sick of him. Till was just too nice to actually say it.
‘Did you get it anywhere besides your hands and face?’
Richard shook his head, ‘Didn’t want to ruin your stuff.’
Till rummaged once more through his bedside cabinet and handed Richard a packet of baby wipes.
Once he was cleaned up and fresh Till helped Richard up off the floor and led him over to the bed. Richard tried to pull himself together, always embarrassed to show weakness but especially so with tears. It wasn’t quite as bad with Till, but it was difficult nonetheless.
It didn’t matter in the end: Till kneeled in front of him instead of sitting on the bed. He pulled his hands gently away from his face and held them, fingers curled around wrists, as he talked.
‘I need you to know, first of all, that I'm glad you came to me. I was worried. I have been for a while now.’
Richard attempted a mumbled apology, but Till shut him down with a gesture and continued, ‘Uh-uh. I know you. I know what you're probably thinking. Just… don’t worry, okay? The only thing that matters right now is getting you through this. It’s not instantaneous, you know that, but it’s not just you dealing with it alone any more.
‘Don't feel like you have to apologise for anything. I can already see that you're trying really hard and I'm so proud of you.’ He stood, letting go of Richard’s wrist to move the damp hair away from his dressing. Richard leaned into Till’s hand, only realising when the hand moved to cup the back of his head and pull him closer. Richard accepted the embrace this time and leaned into Till’s chest. They sat quietly that way for a long while.
The silence was broken by a metallic jingle, and then further by a dampened squeak from somewhere in Richard's throat, as a large ball of cream fur launched itself up onto the bed. Till snorted and reached down, bundling the cat up in his arms and placing it in Richard’s lap. It was heavier than it looked, denser and determined to stand on only his most delicate body parts. It made a few turns in his lap, but instead of lying down it twisted to face Richard. Stretching its neck out, it reached forward until they were nose to nose, and then proceeded to rub its face against the patch of stubble on his pointed chin. Without moving he looked up at Till, who only smiled down at him.
‘...Till?’ He spoke in a high, too-calm voice, as if it was a tiger rather than a regular cat in his lap.
‘I guess he likes you. You’re acting like he’s the first cat you ever met!’
‘It’s— He’s the only one I've ever been nose to nose with. Your cats don't usually even let me stroke them.’
‘Well, he’s a good one to start with. Gentle as anything, that cat.’
Reassured, if only a little, he went to run a hand down his back, but Till caught his arm before he made contact.
‘Try offering your hand for a sniff first. It’s only polite.’
Richard nodded, leaning back a fraction to offer his knuckles to the cat still inches from his face. He sniffed at them for a while, perhaps confused by the lingering scent of… well, Richard would rather not dwell on it. Eventually, he seemed to accept what he was sensing, pushing his face against Richard’s hand and guiding it down the side of his neck.
The fur was soft, tan blending into black when it reached its edges, and the cat rumbled beneath his shaky fingers. It was comforting, something unusual for one of Till’s strays.
‘Something tells me this is the first time I’ve met this one?’
‘Ah, yes, well.’ He looked a little sheepish, as if he was caught out on an embarrassing secret, ‘I found him a few weeks ago when I was out in the woods, all skin and bones. Usually housecats can still hunt but I think his depth perception is a bit off.’
‘His depth perception?’
‘He’s a little clumsy, Siamese. Look at his eyes.’
Richard looked back down at the cat who was at that point nuzzling into his arm. He tilted up his chin and, after focussing his own vision, was met with the most thoroughly crossed eyes he’d ever seen in a cat.
‘I think I see your point, at least they’re a pretty blue. What’s his name?’ he asked, but the only answer he received was Till’s face trying in vain to hide a goofy smile. Narrowing his eyes at his, he twisted the collar until the tag appeared.
‘...Richard?’ Till said in the exact same tone.
‘Did you name this cat Richie or did he just happen to show up with this collar on?’
Till’s voice cracked as he tried and failed to hide his amusement, ‘I missed you and he reminded me of you, I was powerless,’ Till laughed, plainly a little embarrassed. Richard felt his cheeks warm at the idea someone had missed him, so he supposed he was one to talk.
‘How does he remind you of me?’ He asked, voice flat in anticipation of an answer he already knew..
‘Oh you know, you both have the uh…’ Till gestured vaguely towards his eyes, ‘Don’t worry, you both pull it off well!’
He tried to suppress a smile. ‘I can’t tell if I should feel insulted by that.’ Richard shot him a disapproving look but couldn't stave off a smile.
He caught Till glancing at the clock. ‘What time is it?’
‘4:37, maybe time for you to try and get some sleep? You look exhausted.’
Richard nodded, suddenly reminded of the weariness in his muscles, ‘That would be a good idea probably, yeah.’ He scooped the cat off his lap and placed him on the floor, giving him one last scratch on the chin for good measure. He stood to pull back the covers and slide in, letting the silky sheets envelop him almost entirely as Till rounded the other side of the bed.
He thought for a moment that Till might be about to join him, but his heart sank when Till picked up a pillow and said, ‘I’ll be right out in the living room if you need anything, okay?’
He knew he would be fine there by himself. He knew Till wouldn’t be far away if he needed him, assuming he could bring himself to call for help. Assuming he could call at all if he needed help. He knew this, but if he wanted to go through this alone he wouldn’t have come. He’d still be at home, or wandering the streets in the rain maybe, alone . He watched Till turn his back to him and reach for the door handle. With a distinct tightness in his chest, Richard spoke up. ’Hey, uh, Till?’
‘Do you think maybe... ‘ Richard wracked his brain for the least needy phrasing, ‘You don’t need to sleep on the couch. It’s your bed, after all, and it’s not like we’ve never shared before.’
‘Oh, okay. I didn’t want you to be uncomfortable is all.’
‘I’d prefer it if you stayed, if that’s not weird? I don’t want to be alone right now.’
A look of realisation crossed Till's face, ‘ Ah , of course. Of course I can stay.’
Till flipped the lightswitch off, walked back over to the far side of the bed, and replaced the pillow back where it belonged. He hesitated for a moment before pulling off his shirt and tossing it in the chair by the bed.
Richard couldn’t help but feel manipulative as he watched Till settle in. He was pulling the blankets up over the both of them, making sure Richard was tucked snugly in, and Richard really didn’t deserve him.
‘I’m— I don’t, I'm sorry, if it’s too much trouble I can…?’
‘No, you came here because being alone wasn’t working. I was planning on sleeping on the chair at first, ‘ he nodded towards the tatty armchair in the corner, ‘but I thought maybe you’d prefer privacy. I’d rather be in here where I can keep an eye on you.’
He didn’t know how to respond to that. He studied Till’s expression, or at least the parts of it that were visible in the moonlight. There was no set jaw or furrowed brow, no signs of anger or frustration that he had become acquainted with over the years. Instead he saw kind eyes, the sort that never failed to make him feel seen down to the depths of his soul.
Till broke off first, continuing to fumble with the blankets. ‘You’re still shaking, do you want me to find another blanket?’
He felt himself shivering, but it wasn’t from the cold, ‘No i’m fine, It’s just… like this when you’re…’ He wrestled with his shame, avoiding certain words as if saying them cemented it in reality, ‘When you’re sick like this.’ He turned his face away, shielding his expression from the light. He could feel tears welling in his eyes again and he knew Till would be able to tell, light or no light, but he was past caring if Till saw him cry after everything that had happened over the past few hours. It was instinct that made him shy away.
The bed shifted as Till moved closer in the darkness, and after a moment a strong arm curled around him, guiding him onto his side until his head was pillowed against his shoulder. He didn’t hesitate, too tired and touch-starved to deny himself the affection being offered. Till’s cologne was familiar and comforting, finally something pleasant to focus in on. Till’s fingers drew shapes across Richard’s skin, and he found himself being pulled into those sensations, away from the racing thoughts and the guilt and the aches radiating from deep inside his bones.
From somewhere close and far in the distance came a rumble that sounded a lot like ‘I love you’.
For the first time in a long time, he didn’t have to fight for sleep.