I watched as he gazed into the roaring flames with a smile on his face.
Thinking back on it, that was when I became obsessed. Before then, I had taken my feelings for Richard as a sort of crush for a childhood friend, the sort that you'd laugh about in a few years' time. At that moment, subconsciously I took a mental leap forward. A resolution against absolution. Before then, I had naively regarded his reappearance as an innocent opportunity. I had envisioned us having a drink and telling anecdotes of experiences during the past few years of separation. At that moment, as the surreality of what we were doing caught up with me, it became clear that much more was required of me in order to remain by his side.
But of course my realisation then was less clear, less of an epiphany than how I am making it sound now. My attraction to him was habitual, almost instinctual, and I knew not yet of the full extent of the danger that it would bring to both of us. Amid the tears brought on by the smoke and the stinging sensation of heat near my skin, I was more distracted by a secret flame of thrill that my conscience was trying to tamp down.
There was no way to tell whether what I felt was caused by the crime act itself or Richard's pleasure in it. God knows that I was never much of an adventure-seeker, (but I dare not evoke his name now) yet I could not convince myself that I hadn't taken a little pride in those childhood mischiefs of ours: setting fire to the school archives and picking the neighbour's back door lock at night. Could it be that I had been as much of an adrenaline addict as Richard all along?
He stood a few feet away with his back to me, reduced to a mere silhouette by the dim yellow-red flame and smoke that clouded my vision. It was getting unbearably hot. Sweat dripped down my chin and sizzled on the metal frame of the platform where we were standing. I could not stop fidgeting from the heat and the nerves, but he stood stock still, transfixed by the sight. I was starting to worry.
"We should probably go. The-the police would be here soon."
I shouted in his direction. He didn't seem to have heard me over the crackling embers. I stepped closer and observed that his slicked-back hair was curling slightly in the heat. Otherwise he was perfectly unaffected. Calmer, even, than his usual self.
He whipped around and tugged me closer. Not expecting the force behind his action, I flung out my arms for balance and held onto the railing, only to shrink back immediately from the hot metal. A red mark was left there, though the contact was brief.
"There's nothing like a fire." He pulled me back from the edge until my back was flush against his chest. He rested his chin on my shoulder and spoke into my ear. His breath felt cool on my fevered skin.
I was consumed, by this pretence of intimacy as well as the sight before me. From this vantage point I could see what fascinated him. The old, rundown warehouse lit up like a festival bonfire. Its hideousness and ugliness was transformed to a blazing brilliance. It became easy to forget about the laws and the rules when a fire like this sprung up in the world. In creating this punishing as well as cleansing fire, we were following in the steps of those before us, of Prometheus, Icarus and Faustus, who rose above the rules of society and did what none had previously dared to attempt. Now I think of the possibility that we could have plunged head down then like that, wrapped together and it would have been a more appropriate end to our lives. In my mind the metal frame under our feet buckled and melted. Then, a new start. My heart still races at the thought.
His heartbeat was a strong, unhurried rhythm, resounding through my chest because of how close I was pressed against him. It was incredible to find how soft he had turned in a moment like this, stripped now of his harsh words and hard gazes. A coolness radiated off him and his pliant body was a soothing pressure. Even the tip of his nose, which was pressed to the side of my neck just under the ear, was cool to the touch. Any protest I had was drowned out like a spark engulfed in the unforgiving flow of a stream.
One of his arms let go of my middle and found my burnt hand. Like a curious toddler discovering something for the first time, he teased and toyed with the irritated skin tentatively. This gentle pain made me go weak in the knees. That was when I heard the distant but unmistakable sirens. It took a few seconds for me to snap out of my trance, and together we fled into the chilly night air. He had that rare grin on his face the whole time despite the police's untimely interruption. I couldn't stop shaking as if I had taken something. The euphoria uncontrollable and overwhelming.
That night, there was a scroll in my dream, written and dripping with my own blood. The demon who offered it to me had Dick's face.