Inside Martin’s flat, there is a corner bookcase, filled floor to ceiling with records. There is another corner opposite filled likewise.
Benedict can’t determine Martin’s filing system. Alphabetized, no. A couple of spines of the Super Furry Animals starts seventeen spaces to the left of Martha and the Vandellas, and Brook Benton sits sandwiched between a compilation of classical guitar by two brothers named Romero and a copy of Between The Buttons frayed down to the cardboard. So, chronological and genre-based order both seem unlikely as well.
He crouches down to scan the bottom row. Within seconds, something nudges him insistently in the backside. Benedict reaches a hand back, finding a wet nose and floppy ears and the soft head of Martin’s dog leaning into the scratches Benedict gives him automatically.
On one shelf, the sheen of plastic catches the light, catches Benedict’s eye, and he wobbles on the balls of his feet, still petting Archie — who’s encouraging him with sporadic little swipes of his clammy tongue — and attempting to shimmy the plastic-encased record forward so he can read it without any glare.
It’s Kid A. Flashes of tall stalks lit up amongst utter darkness and windscreen glass too close to his face kick in with a tightness in his chest, the physical memory of fighting to breathe, pushing out in any little way to stay alive, make it through a night that seemed so long ago, like it happened to someone else. Except for moments like now. Benedict isn’t sure if he’s disappointed that Martin never opened this one or if he’s relieved.
There’s a creak in the floorboards and Archie abandons Benedict, to circle Martin’s feet, no doubt. Then Martin kneels beside him, Archie doing figure eights between the two of them.
“You want to put that on?”
And christen it?, Benedict thinks. But he fingers the top of the record, feels the plastic part beneath him, already opened. Then he thinks, no, yes, no, and slides it back into place, flattening his hand so it lines up evenly with all the records alongside it.
“Probably not then.”
Martin has heard the story — during a late night on set when coffee and Mars bars were the only things keeping them upright — and Benedict can tell by the softness in Martin’s voice that he remembers. The tone also suggests: you probably never want to hear this record again.
So Benedict says, “Not just now.” Because it isn’t all bad, the memories this album conjures. It isn’t bad to be reminded that you nearly died and didn’t, that you’re here, now, and there’s no reason to detach, no desire to remove yourself from it.
Benedict stares at the rows of records packed tightly together. Choices. Names blur, titles disassemble into random letters. It’s late, and his body still has only just recovered from the string of night shoots that tangled morning up with evening until they seemed indistinguishable, daylight lost behind blackout curtains. And Martin is close beside him, with the warm, solid weight of Archie shoehorned between them.
“It’s your collection. You pick.”
“Because you can’t.” Martin is grinning, like he can see straight through Benedict’s scattered thoughts, none of them able to settle.
“Yeah, okay, pretty much.” Benedict eases back onto his heels, toes starting to go numb. “But you’re king of the records here. Enlighten me.” His mouth quirks with his eyebrow, an involuntary twitch in tandem.
Martin narrows his eyes, pretending to read him. Benedict wants to amend his title to vinyl soothsayer, imagines Martin waving his hands over the turntable like a crystal ball. In reality, Martin’s left hand reaches past Benedict, his right elbow resting lightly on Benedict’s thigh as he leans over him to tug a sleeve from the bottommost shelf. Squished between them, Archie lets out a low woof.
“Hush, you,” Martin says as he pulls back with a cover decorated in oblongs of teal and white held firmly between his thumb and forefinger. John Coltrane.
Martin says, “Consider this a step away from Radiohead.”
“So not a giant step then?” Benedict smirks.
“Hilarious,” Martin deadpans. “No, the saxophone on their last record, err, last last, I think, reminds me of this song.” With that, he gets up, and walks to the turntable behind Benedict on a high, narrow stand. Benedict shifts until his back is against the wall between the turntable stand and the built-in shelves, and watches Martin slip the record from its sleeve, fingertips nimbly holding it from beneath the center label before lowering it and queuing the needle at the first track.
Benedict’s no jazz expert, but this sounds like straight-up 60s jazz to his ears, not anything like any Radiohead song he knows.
“Wait for it,” Martin says, dropping down onto the floor between Benedict and the stand. Benedict attempts to shimmy over to make room, but his elbow bangs into a shelf when he does, and the spark of pain is enough to keep him from caring how close they are. Martin chose to squeeze in there, after all.
“There,” he says, pointing. And Benedict looks up, as if there’s something to see. There nearly is — the notes rumbling and rippling up from a low start like an explosion in slow motion. It’s a rapid gunfire riddling the air with arpeggiated notes and scattershot notes and notes that shouldn’t fit but do. It’s Gatling gun jazz. But as soon as it erupts, it all falls down into something slow and easy, walking bass line just keeping on, carrying on, like survivors after a war.
It’s only as the dust settles on Coltrane’s sudden assault that Benedict realizes how fast he’s breathing. Caught up that quickly with the music... he didn’t know.
“Yeah?” Martin’s grinning at him again. Those eyes lit up like Christmas and his face all childlike and contagious.
Benedict follows, breaks into an open-mouthed smile, still catching his breath, coming down from the music. He doesn’t have the heart to tell Martin he was thinking of the wrong Radiohead record. “National Anthem,” Kid A, South Africa, just before it all went to hell, limbs on top of limbs....
Martin’s gaze drops to Benedict’s chest, still rising and falling rapidfire. His smile disappears behind licked lips as he presses a hand over Benedict’s heart, as if he could calm it.
Benedict’s heart beats harder. He looks away, a knee-jerk reaction to watching Martin, bites his lip when Martin pulls his hand back. “No, I—”
“Right,” Martin says, in a way that sounds wrong. “Right. Sorry.” He pushes up on his left foot, and Benedict can feel him start to get up, so close the tension of his muscles can be felt against Benedict’s arm, his bent legs.
“No, that’s not....” Benedict grabs Martin’s hand, small inside his own but strong. He resists at first, then relaxes as Benedict traces the outer edges of his fingers, weaving their hands together, then pulling back until only their fingertips touch. Benedict’s so immersed in exploring the lines and slopes of Martin’s hand, the movement of wrinkles along his knuckles as his fingers flex and release, that it takes him a few moments to look up and meet Martin’s eyes.
Martin watches him, unblinking.
“Okay?” Benedict says, his touch lighter, though inching up under the cuff of Martin’s jumper, where the inside of his wrist is almost as soft as the thin cashmere.
Martin does that thing where he laughs like he’s sighing — a small huff, a small smile, the corners of his eyelids softening so sweetly Benedict could kiss them. And when Martin nods, he does. The hairs of Martin’s eyebrows tickle Benedict’s lips as he presses his mouth to the edge of each lid, now closed.
Mouth open, Martin’s breath ghosts over Benedict’s neck.
Cupping Martin’s jaw, Benedict bends his head until they’re breathing in the same space. But he hesitates, hovers there.
“Come on now,” Martin says, and cranes his neck upward, pulling against Benedict’s lips with his own. It’s a hard kiss, a claiming kiss. Benedict slides into it, his legs folding over to the side, knees nearly tucked under Martin’s thigh, as he tries to hold onto any sense of balance he can manage with Martin aiming to topple him, the way he bites Benedict’s bottom lip, brings a gasp out of him, sneaks his tongue inside. And besides their breathing, there’s the low reedy, loping saxophone and feather-light rasp of brushstrokes filling the room, like a replica of moans and the rustling of clothes. It’s a soundtrack Benedict would like to add to, that.
The pad of his thumb trails up, along Martin’s jaw, against the grain of the stubble starting in, past the short sideburn, and over, around the curve of his ear. It’s a light touch down, but it’s enough to make Martin shift beneath him, sigh into his mouth, so quiet.
Martin’s hand strokes up and down the length of Benedict’s body, hip to armpit and back again, his other hand caught in the fabric of Benedict’s t-shirt, clutching enough to stretch the collar away from Benedict’s clavicle. As Martin tucks his head down into Benedict’s neck to suck wet kisses there, scrape bottom teeth against the jut of bone, Benedict slips his hand down. There’s a clash of limbs, Benedict’s elbow hindering the movement of Martin’s arm, hand stalled along Benedict’s side. His fingers twitch impatiently, dancing over Benedict’s ribcage, and Benedict laughs, buries his nose into Martin’s sandy hair. He brings his arm closer to his own body, closer to Martin’s chest, awkward but manageable, and runs his hand along the center of Martin, breastbone to soft belly to waist, until his fingertips touch the head of Martin’s cock, distorting the crotch of his jeans. Then Martin’s hand is on Benedict’s upper arm, kneading a rhythm Benedict will repeat as soon as he gets his hand where he wants it. And, there. Martin fits into the space of Benedict’s palm. Heat seeps through the thick denim and, when Benedict squeezes tentatively, it’s met with dampness. Martin spreads his bent knees wider, hisses a yes against Benedict’s skin. It begs for a teasing, and the word is out of Benedict’s mouth before he has a chance to think it over.
“Slut.” He smiles into Martin’s hair, moving lower to snake his tongue into the concave of Martin’s ear.
“Fuck,” Martin says. He growls, angles his head to bite the underside of Benedict’s jaw. “Fuck you. I’ll have you spreading for it too before the night’s over, Cumberbatch.”
Benedict moans loud into Martin’s ear, clamps his fingers around Martin’s erection, wishing it were his own at the same time. He’s so hard the zipper of his fly is digging into his cock, pain and pressure, but not the right kind, not enough heat, though Martin’s giving off enough that Benedict is sweating. And Martin too — Benedict feels a bead of sweat roll down behind his ear and swipes his tongue out to catch it.
He wants everything. Touch and taste and that smell of musk he knows will be on his hand if he raises it to his face now. He keeps rubbing hard circles up and down Martin’s length, unconsciously picking up the tempo of the music. It’s a new song now, flirting with mania, notes jumping out like a jittery pulse. Two pulses, fighting and fitting together, then disengaging again.
Pulling back, Benedict kisses Martin quickly, then says, “Bedroom? Or here?”
Martin flattens his palms against Benedict's chest and pushes up. Answer enough.
They almost fall over twice trying to get up at the same time, nearly trip over Archie as they stumble their way down the hall, stretching downward, upward, to bring their lips together as long as they can before the wall interrupts them, the doorjamb, the too-long expanse of Martin’s jumper and the longer obstacle of Benedict’s shirt. Button-down shirts, Benedict thinks. This is why they make button-down shirts.
His thoughts are stopped in their tracks by Martin, who’s kneeling on the edge of the bed, staring up at Benedict with eyes so dark Benedict forgets what color they’re supposed to be.
“Get rid of these,” Martin says, hooking his fingers into one of Benedict’s belt loops and tugging sharply.
Immediately, Benedict, undoes his jeans, pulls them down with his pants, fingernail scratching clumsily down the back of each ankle as he tries to rid himself of his socks and shoes at the same time as the rest. When he kicks them away, he finds Martin staring at him. Following the direction of Martin’s gaze, he looks down at himself, so pale even in the low light. The wet head of his cock bobs below his navel — exposed, the foreskin pulled back — as he shuffles from one foot to the other.
He reaches out to Martin, mumbles, “You too.”
But Martin’s head ducks down, lips parting over one of Benedict’s nipples, tongue tip teasing as he pulls it into a taut bud.
It’s like a lightning strike, what it does to him. Benedict grabs the backs of Martin’s thighs and drags him forward. Their hips buck against each other. The sensation of Martin’s jeans against Benedict’s naked skin makes him shudder, thrust forward again. He splays his fingers wide on Martin’s arse, holds him still while he grinds into him several times before his hands find their way to the front, fumbling over Martin’s button and zipper.
Martin sits back, does the rest of the work himself, bottom lip caught beneath his front teeth. He takes too long with his shoes. And there aren’t even laces, Benedict thinks. He’s ready to pounce when Martin finally gets them off, is finally naked before him.
Accelerating his momentum, Martin pulls Benedict down on top of him, hands exploring his back, his neck, his hair, fingers combing through curls. Benedict lets his knees fall to either side of Martin’s hips. And then Martin’s hands are searching downward. Fingertips graze the cleft of Benedict’s arse, spread his cheeks apart ever so slightly, then knead into the muscles at the tops of his thighs.
Their kisses are uncoordinated, more teeth, more spit, more shared panting than anything. So Benedict almost misses Martin’s mouth completely when he feels a finger go deeper into that space between his legs and press against his hole.
Martin retreats. “Have you done this before?” Martin says, one hand smoothing up the back of Benedict’s neck, the other still holding onto his arse. It’s almost possessive, that touch. Benedict flushes, knows he’s gone red, doesn’t know if Martin can see it though. He doesn’t answer, just drags his hips forward, sliding their cocks together.
“Yeah, yeah,” Martin says, distracted, absent for a second. Then, “Here, let’s try this.”
He reaches between them, hand somehow gripping them both at once and jerks them several times.
Benedict rolls his forehead into the crook of Martin’s neck, eyes shut tight. He feels that beginning surge, his balls just starting to draw up, when Martin stops. His thumb brushes over the heads of both their cocks, dipping into the slit of Benedict’s enough to make him shiver. Then his hand is gone, and Benedict lifts his head to watch Martin rub their combined precome onto his fingertip.
“Oh,” Benedict says before Martin even touches him. Then his finger is there, cool, sticky, slipping in nimble-quick strokes over Benedict’s hole. Then a circle, and Benedict’s pushing back into it, nerves thrumming, juddering for more.
The very tip of Martin’s finger pushes inside of Benedict, alien and amazing. He crooks the first knuckle, skimming the edges. The slow stretch leaves sparks in its wake, burns. It’s a good burn. Warm fire, all-consuming. Benedict feels like nothing but lit up endings, fuses flickering all over his skin, heat prickling at his temples, the back of his neck, under his arms, between his spread thighs. He mouths at Martin’s chest and neck, not sure if it’s wet from his saliva or Martin’s sweat. He doesn’t much care, just goes in for more.
Benedict’s humping Martin shamelessly now, desperate for friction against his cock, desperate for more of Martin inside him. Martin meets every thrust, hips rolling in counterpoint to the anticlockwise movement of his finger. Deeper, deeper, then, “Ah,” Martin says. It’s half-choked out, and Benedict’s not sure if Martin’s responding to the slip-slide of their cocks or reacting to what he’s just found. Not sure, not concerned either, because Martin has only glanced over Benedict’s prostate, but it feels like everything all at once. It’s too much, not enough. Benedict doesn’t understand how that works, and couldn’t give a fuck anyway.
Martin pushes in further. A jolt sends Benedict moaning, pressing one cheek, then the other into Martin, head turning this way and that, eyes closed and blind to the need for more, gibbering meaninglessness until words finally form.
“More,” he says. “Martin,” he says, clutching at Martin’s shoulders, fingers curling underneath, willingly trapped between Martin and the rumpled bedclothes.
“Ben,” Martin says into his ear, stroking, stroking, ceaseless. And Benedict comes so hard, so fast, senseless noise ripping from him, hurting his throat, muffled by Martin’s skin, masked by the lightheadedness, the waves of pleasure that say yes, yes, yes more articulately than he ever could.
There’s that cliché about time standing still, but Benedict thinks he just drifted off for a minute or two there, is all.
Martin’s saying his name, laughing at him, poking his shoulder with a wet finger. And Benedict moans, thinking of where it had just been.
“My turn, yeah?” Martin says into the space below Benedict’s ear.
Shifting onto one shaky elbow, then the other, Benedict raises himself enough to look at Martin, fighting the heaviness of his lids.
Hair sticking out at odd angles, lips shining, sweat pooling in the hollow of his neck, Martin is an open invitation to lick, kiss, mark. Benedict feels a distant stirring, knows if Martin could just hold on twenty minutes....
But, no. Benedict feels Martin’s cock hot and hard between their wet stomachs. Better yet, he thinks, and inches down Martin’s body. Neck, sternum, navel — into which he twists the point of his tongue, making Martin swat at him, laugh breathlessly. Martin’s hand settles into Benedict’s hair as he goes lower. Lower still, right past his cock, purple-red at the tip, Benedict takes Martin’s sac into his mouth. He lathes the underside of one testicle, lets it roll in his mouth and slip out, then sucks on the other, feels it tighten up as he swipes his tongue over it again and again.
Martin’s fingernails scrape at Benedict’s scalp. So Benedict releases him, gather his balls in his hand and pushes them up against Martin’s cock. He nudges his nose up Martin’s perineum, then follows it with a long, slow lick, pressure hard as he repeats the motion.
With both of Martin’s hands fisting Benedict’s hair now, Benedict can’t resist the temptation to tease him further. He moves away to trail his tongue up the crease of Martin’s inner thigh. He starts with the right, then left, then as he’s about to lick another stripe marginally closer to the coarse hairs that frame Martin’s cock, Martin stops him in his tracks.
“Benedict,” is all Martin says. But it’s sharp, ending consonants cutting Benedict short of his teasing.
Meeting Martin’s eyes, Benedict curls his fingers around the base of Martin’s cock, cranes his neck forward, and sucks the swollen head into his mouth.
Martin’s hips buck. His eyelids flutter.
Benedict goes down again, farther, stretches his tongue around the thick shaft, tilts his head, and pulls up straight. Each time he takes a little more of Martin in, twirls a little more on the upstroke. He pauses to lap at the bundle of nerves below the glans, swirl a rough circle around the flared head.
Martin’s hands are heavy on Benedict’s head, but Benedict pushes up against them, jacks Martin, watching the precome that beads at the slit, the way it smears when he pulls enough to drag the foreskin over the head. Finally, he gives in to Martin’s insistent hands, urging hips, and swallows him down until his lips meet his fist. He returns to the twist and pull he’d begun earlier. Then he lets go of Martin’s cock, flattens his hands on the bed, arches his back, and plunges down all the way.
The head of Martin’s cock tickles the roof of his mouth, then hits the back of his throat. He chokes, but quickly presses his tongue down and makes room for Martin. He pulls almost all the way off before taking him in again, nose buried in the untrimmed thatch of hair.
“Oh god.” Martin gasps.
Again and again, each time, Benedict sucks him harder. Each time, Martin makes a new noise, quiet whimpers and soft sighs, barely audible past the rush of Benedict’s harsh breathing. There’s none of the loud, incessant babbling Benedict does, can’t help doing. Martin’s so quiet, Benedict strains to hear, relishing in the sounds he’s dragging from him all the more.
Benedict lifts a hand to tug at the center of Martin’s sac. He can feel how close he is, can feel it further in the way Martin’s fingers tighten in his hair, no longer guiding Benedict but holding on.
Lips already raw, Benedict goes faster. Martin starts to jerk, fucking up into Benedict’s mouth, once, twice, once more, and—
“Oh fuck, ohfuck, oh god.” It’s all but a harsh whisper.
Benedict’s mouth fills with sharp, thick come. He swallows as much as he can, but it’s too much. He feels it dribble down his chin, out the corner of his mouth. Sucking at the head, he draws it out for Martin as long as he can. Then Martin’s hands go limp, and Benedict releases him with a faint, wet sound.
Distracted by the way Martin’s cock falls back to his belly, still heavy with blood, sticking to the drying come from when he’d brought Benedict off, Benedict doesn’t initially notice the way Martin’s pulling at him, alternately petting at his hair, brushing it back from Benedict’s eyes, and grabbing at the back of his head. Then Martin twirls a lock around his finger and yanks.
“Ow,” Benedict says, making a face. But he gets the message. He drags himself up along Martin’s body, straightening his legs until they settle between Martin’s.
Fingers threading more gently through his hair, Martin brings Benedict to him, open mouth sliding against Benedict’s, lips fitting loosely together, then parting. Martin licks at Benedict’s chin, cleans him free of his own come. But when Benedict looks down at him, he sees a small string of it clinging to Martin’s upper lip and leans in to taste it, takes his time making his way into Martin’s mouth, tongues lolling, twining, lingering over teeth. Then it’s just lips touching lightly, catching momentarily. Benedict’s fighting the urge to drop his head onto Martin’s chest. Gravity’s stronger than him, and he’s not got much fight in the first place.
He’s almost there when Martin nips playfully at the tip of his nose. “Shove over, you. Too heavy.”
Martin knees Benedict in the thigh, gently, until he’s against Martin’s side instead of on top of him.
There’s that brief moment, piercing through the haze, where Benedict wonders — as he always does the first time, and sometimes subsequent times — if this is his cue to leave. But Martin’s arm drapes over his shoulders and gravity wins. There’s Martin’s chest, warm cushion of flesh, a perfect place to rest his head, lungs beneath relaxing into a steady rise and fall that lulls Benedict, lures him closer to sleep.
Outside of the room, there’s the scratch, scratch, scratch of the record stuttering at the end of its side, waiting to be turned over. It’s white noise, like crickets or rain beating a nonsense rhythm against a windowpane.
Benedict winds his arm around Martin’s middle, kisses the nearest patch of skin, and tucks one of his legs between Martin’s. Heartbeat and blood rushing fade to a soft static as Martin cards his fingers lazily through the mess of Benedict’s hair. Sleep comes right on time.