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By this point, Beverley mostly had the process of getting the harness on down pat, but I still liked to help her out anyway. There was just something about it that helped me settle down--helping her adjust the straps, checking to make sure it all lay like it was supposed to.

“All good, then?” I asked, glancing up. It ought to have felt a little bit like I’d stepped into a porno, seeing her like this, but Bev--well, she looked like Bev with a harness and dildo on her. Bev, my girlfriend, gorgeous as ever.

Beverley’s face was warm with affection as she looked down at me, her full mouth curving up in a smile. “You look good on your knees, you know that?”

My cheeks went hot, even as I smiled up back at her. “Would you like me to stay here, then?”

Beverley made like she was thinking about it, but finally laughed and said, “Up on the bed, Grant.”

On impulse, I kissed her hip, right above the strap of the harness, and went to do as she said. I settled in on top of the covers on my stomach, like I usually did when we did this. If I kept my face buried in the pillow, I could pretend Beverley wouldn’t hear my embarrassing babbling, and Beverley was fine in abetting this delusion. Mostly because she liked hearing me babble during sex, for reasons that passed understanding.

The bed dipped a little as Beverley climbed on, I could feel the warmth of her body as she leaned in to kiss my shoulder.

“Are you trying to sweet talk me?” I asked, turning my face to the side so she could better hear me.

"I think you're kind of a sure thing by this point, Peter," Beverley retorted, lightly swatting my arse as she said it.

I snickered but didn't protest. Instead, I pillowed my head on my arms while Beverley stretched me out, two slick fingers sliding right into me with little resistance. I’d worked myself open earlier, but Beverley always took prep seriously--as she’d put it once, she’d be damned before trying to explain any sex injuries to Nightingale, or worse, Dr. Walid, and I couldn’t argue with that.

After a minute--or more, I wasn’t exactly keeping track--I finally cracked, pushing back against her fingers as I mumbled, “Come on, I’m ready, I swear.”

“Shh,” Beverley said, but not in her usual brusque tones. Instead her voice was abstracted, almost dreamy, and it send a shiver along my shoulders. “Just let me play with you a little bit.”

I exhaled loudly. “Yeah,” I said, and my voice sounded rough in my ears. “Yeah, okay.”

So Beverley kept going, until I was bracing myself on my arms so I could fuck myself back onto her strong fingers, my breathing going ragged until it was the loudest sound in the room.

At last Beverley stopped. Placing a soft kiss between my shoulderblades, she murmured, “Still good?”

Yes, you’re killing me here,” I groaned, and Beverley just laughed against my skin before she moved into position, her free hand gripping my hip as she slowly pushed the head of the dildo in.

I panted for air as she kept pushing it in, the dildo thick and cool inside of me, stretching me open. At last Beverley’s hips were flush against my arse, her breasts soft against my back as she panted into my ear.

She didn’t move, and didn’t move, and finally I was left to say, through gritted teeth, “Any time now, Bev.”

“Oh,” Beverley said, only a little bit breathless, “--was there something you wanted?”

“Jesus, will you just--” I tried to push up on my elbows, and Bev’s hand was between my shoulderblades, holding me down, putting her weight into it.

I held myself still, and Beverley said, “Don’t move.”

“Not moving,” I said, my cock aching, wanting nothing more than to reach down, to fuck myself back onto that dildo, to just move and--

But I did as she said, I didn’t move, I kept myself still and slowly, slowly Beverley started to move, with little jerks of her hips as she worked out the angles, testing until I gasped as she hit the exact spot--

“Good,” Beverley said, her voice properly breathless now. “That’s--oh, that’s good.” Her breathing was getting louder too, picking up along with her thrusts.

I wasn’t exactly quiet myself, gasping at each thrust, sparks flying up my spine, something building up inside of me until it tore at my throat, until I was just left groaning, “Fuck, please--”

“Please what, Peter?”

I couldn’t believe she was capable of full sentences at this point. I gritted my teeth, but the words bubbled up anyway. “Harder, I want--I want it harder, Christ, will you just--”

She was, though, she was giving me exactly what I wanted, thrusts hard enough to make my bones rattle, the bed creaking beneath us all the while. It was all so much, enough to make my head spin, to make desperate noises rise up from my throat, totally independent from my brain.

And it was only like this, with my heartbeat thundering in my ears, that I could admit Beverley didn’t like to hear me babble during sex--she liked to hear me beg. And I did, I did, I gave it up as easy as breathing, the pleasure rising up until I came without a single touch to my cock.

I collapsed onto the bed, boneless, and Beverley slowly pulled out, gently, but I still hissed at the sensation. “Come here,” I said, still panting as I turned onto my side, my thighs slick and my stomach a mess.

Beverley was still worked up, pulling impatiently at the harness until it came free. “Lie back,” she said and I did, hissing a little at how sore I was, my sweat-slick back sticking a little to the sheets.

I knew what she would do next, I was prepared for it as she climbed up, her thighs straddling my face, and I barely had to lean in as I licked into her, used my tongue and lips to work at her wet cunt.

Beverley wasn’t talking anymore, just making these quiet sounds as she ground down her hips until my face was slick, until she was coming against my mouth with a soft moan.

I wiped at my face with the back of my hand and the corner of one of the sheets as Beverley stumbled to the bath on shaky legs to grab a washcloth. “Ought to make you do this,” she called out, her voice gratifyingly hoarse.

“I’d find that a bit rude, given how you just fucked my brains out,” I called back, and when Beverley came out, she leaned against the wall, arms folded beneath her bare breasts, a faint sheen of sweat still on her skin and God, but she was a magnificent sight.

Beverley was trying to keep it cool, but I could see how smug she was as she looked me over. Finally, a smirk appeared across her face. “Yeah, I did, didn’t I.”

I reached out for the washcloth as she came back to bed, but Beverley waved me off, taking care of the cleanup with a gentle touch. She went to toss the washcloth over onto the floor, but I made a protesting noise, and Beverley groaned, getting up to drop it into the laundry hamper.

“Suppose you want me to get the dildo too?” she asked next, and I shrugged.

“Well, since you’re already up…”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Beverley said, but she still did it. She slapped my arse as she got back into bed, asking, “Any other requests, lazy?”

“Yeah, pull the blankets up, I’m getting cold,” I said, and got another slap to my backside for my pains.

Once we were settled in underneath the sheets, Beverley wrapped her arm around my waist, her breath warm on the back of my neck. She preferred to spoon up like this whenever we spent the night together, and truth be told, I liked it more than I was willing to admit out loud.

“Good?” Beverley asked me softly in the darkness.

My eyes were already drifting shut. “Yeah.”

“You’re making breakfast in the morning, by the way,” Beverley informed me in lofty tones, only a little bit undercut by the yawn at the end.

Eyes closed, I smiled. “Yeah, s’all right by me.”

And in the morning, I did make breakfast, out of the meager rations to be found in Beverley’s refrigerator and pantry. Thank God, the eggs weren’t expired, and the vegetables I’d brought over from last time were still good. We ate the omelets in Beverley’s tiny kitchen, our knees brushing beneath the table. Beverley was reading the Mirror on her phone, and would read off the day's most interesting--or ludicrous--headlines to me out loud.

I couldn’t linger after breakfast, though, as I had to get back to the Folly. Beverley saw me to the door and, just as I was about to go, tugged me back in close with a hand on my jacket collar. She looked me over for a moment, her face almost unreadable, and then leaned up to press a soft kiss to my mouth.

“Tell Nightingale I said hello,” Bev said as she pulled away, her breath coming in warm puffs against my lips.

“I will,” I said, and kissed her again before I left.

We’d gotten up early, early enough that traffic wasn’t too terrible and I made it back to the Folly in very nearly decent time. Nightingale was still at the breakfast table, and smiled at me over that morning’s Guardian. (He’d switched newspaper subscriptions nearly a year ago and showed no signs of going back to the Telegraph, even if he still sniffed sometimes at the opinion columns.)

“Good morning, Peter,” he said as I took a seat next to him, snatching at a piece of toast.

“Morning,” I mumbled, and Nightingale just watched me in amusement.

“I’d ask if you had a nice evening, but that’s rather obvious,” he said, voice dry. I knew he couldn’t see the faint bruises on my hips, but I still blushed anyway.

“You’d be right on that,” I admitted once I swallowed, and Nightingale just gave me a faint smile and turned back to his paper. I looked at him for a moment, at how easy and comfortable he looked there, and said, “Thomas.”

Nightingale looked back up immediately, and I only hesitated for a second before moving in to kiss him, softly, replicating Beverley’s gentle touch as best as I could. When I pulled back, I murmured, feeling oddly shy as I did, “Bev says hello.”

Nightingale looked at me, and he and Beverley aren’t a lot alike--they’re not anything alike, if I’m honest. But the look he was giving me now felt weirdly similar to the look Beverley had given me at her doorstep earlier this morning, that same measuring look, as if they were seeing something when they looked at me that I wasn’t even aware of.

Then Nightingale leaned back in and kissed me, slow and sweet, and I kissed him back, forgetting everything else.

*

There was a football match on, and I could not tell you the first thing about it, even with the television right in front of me.

Of course, I wasn’t watching the match, but rather kissing Nightingale on the couch, so I could be forgiven for not noticing which team was about to take a corner kick at that precise moment.

We’d been at it for a while, truth be told, long enough that my lips were pleasantly buzzing and my limbs had this sweet heaviness to them--and then Nightingale pulled back, a gratifying flush to his cheeks. “Lean back, will you?” he asked me.

Never let it be said I wasn’t good at taking direction. At least, when I was motivated. So I settled myself back against the seat cushions and watched, wide-eyed, as Nightingale settled himself on the ground, on his knees, between my spread legs.

My breathing was getting short by this point, and Nightingale didn’t hesitate. He just calmly unzipped my jeans and pulled my cock out, his hand warm and firm as he stroked, and I bit back a moan.

Nightingale looked up as though he’d heard it anyway, and smiled a little. “Are you doing all right there, Peter?”

I made a show of shrugging my shoulders, even if my voice was fairly breathless as I said, “Oh, you know. Keeping entertained.”

Nightingale raised that eyebrow of his. “Glad to hear it,” he said, and lowered his head to take me into his mouth.

I exhaled, shakily. God, but he was good at this--his hot mouth, the weight of his hands on my thighs, holding me down and keeping me still. I couldn’t even watch, not really, because the sight of it, Nightingale’s bowed head, his mouth stretched out around my cock, it all became too much.

So I closed my eyes, and let my hand curve around the back of Nightingale’s head. Never pushing or tugging, Nightingale didn’t like that. But I still liked to feel his hair beneath my hand, how soft it was, the faint movement of his head as he bobbed up and down.

And I bit at my mouth, to keep from making any embarrassing noises, or worse yet, to keep from talking. I’d have grabbed at one of the couch pillows if I dared, but that would just lead to Nightingale pulling off and saying in his poshest tones, "I would prefer it if you didn't try to smother yourself with a pillow. It says the most appalling things about my performance."

So I held still to keep from thrusting and tried to keep quiet, and mostly failed at the latter. But I couldn’t help it, Nightingale’s mouth was just--and God, the sight of him right then. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t stop myself, and once I did look at him the words came out, lying in wait all the while. “God. Oh my God, Thomas, look at you.”

I could see his eyelashes fluttering a little at that, but he kept on at the same steady, relentless pace, while I spiralled down harder, falling apart against his hands and his mouth until I was a wreck on that couch, panting helplessly for air as he took me apart with a slow, achingly thorough blowjob, until my entire body felt like I’d been caught on the edge for eternity.

At last I said, my voice cracking, “Please. For fuck’s sake, please,” and Nightingale, whose jaw had to be aching by this point, finally sped up. And as if by accident, one of his hands reached up to press down on my hip, right where Beverley had left bruises just a few days earlier, and I came in his mouth, my mouth caught on a wordless gasp.

The match was approaching halftime on the television, but I frankly couldn’t have given less of a fuck. Not when I had Nightingale moving to straddle my lap, not when I could kiss him and taste myself in his mouth, while my hands quickly worked to get his trousers open.

Nightingale held my face in his hands as he kissed me, hissing against my mouth as my hand finally closed around his cock, the head already slick against my thumb. “Dear God,” he mumbled, and I smiled against his mouth as I started to move my fist, my free hand creeping up underneath his jumper and undershirt to palm the warm skin at his hip, my fingers spread wide.

It didn’t take long before he was coming into my hand, hot and slick, his breath hitching as he did. I kissed him through all of it, and then someone on the television scored and the yells from the announcers had us both jumping in surprise, and then Nightingale started to laugh.

“Jesus, is that still on?” he wondered out loud, and I snickered into his shoulder.

“Five quid if you can tell me anything that’s happened in this match,” I said.

“Well I suppose you had twenty-two men running around a field chasing a ball,” Nightingale said, dryly, but when I looked up, his face had broken into a grin, his eyes crinkled, and I couldn’t be blamed at all for kissing him then, I really couldn’t.

Much later that night, when we were in Nightingale’s bedroom, I got a text from Beverley, asking if I wanted to go to the cinema that weekend. I got involved in texting back and forth, making plans, and Nightingale, who was in bed next to me reading a book, glanced up and asked, “Is that Beverley?”

“Yeah,” I said, mostly preoccupied with attempting to find a decent emoji to send as a reply to Bev disparaging the action film I wanted to see.

“You should ask her if she’s interested in watching the rugby match this weekend,” Nightingale said. “Wales versus England. It should be good.”

I sighed. Beverley, to my surprise and Nightingale’s delight, turned out to be as passionate a fan of rugby as Nightingale was, and the two of them could spend ages together (and had done) enthusing and lamenting the national rugby team in equal measure. “Yeah, all right.” I glanced over at him and suggested, in a fairly casual manner, “But you could invite her over yourself too, you know.” At Nightingale’s raised eyebrows, I said, “It’s not like your phone doesn’t work. And I know you’ve got her number programmed in there.”

Nightingale’s eyebrows went up even higher, but he said, in a thoughtful tone, “I suppose I could at that.”

Not five minutes later, I got a text from Bev. Forget the crap film, it’s rugby all the way with me.

It figured, I thought, but I was still smiling as I set my phone down on the nightstand and went to turn out the lamp. I woke up in the morning to find Nightingale’s arm slung around my stomach, his head on my shoulder and his hair in total disarray--no matter how we went to sleep, I’d always wake the next morning to have him curled around me like an octopus. I also had two texts from Bev on my phone, and Nightingale had three from her, all of which he ended up reading aloud to me at the breakfast table.

And if you haven’t seen Thomas Nightingale try to verbally describe an emoji, then you just haven’t lived.

*

Three months later, I woke up in a private room at UCH, my head clouded, a dull ache in my stomach that promised to turn into thundering agony should I move even an inch, and Nightingale’s even voice reciting out loud, “The dragon removed the claw from its mouth in one graceful movement and caught the high priest, who was just sneaking away, a blow which knocked him high into the air. When he was screaming at the top of the arc the great mouth came around and-- ‘Gosh!’ said Lady Ramkin…

I licked my dry lips and turned to the side, and sure enough there Nightingale was, sitting in a chair in a dark blue suit, my dog-eared copy of Guards! Guards! in his hand.

“Thomas, he’s awake,” Bev’s voice said from the other side of my bed, and Nightingale’s head shot up as I turned to look at her. She was rather underdressed, for her, in a black t-shirt and jeans and, oddly enough, a ball of yarn with knitting needles stuck through it in her lap.

I peered at her, then at Nightingale. I was about to open my mouth and ask if he was really reading Pratchett to me, but then my memory returned and I remembered exactly what happened to land me in hospital.

As it turns out, being stabbed is not the sort of thing one forgets easily.

“Fuck me, I got stabbed,” I said aloud.

“Yes, and I would very much urge you not to do it again,” Nightingale said, rather tight-lipped.

I’d have pointed out that it wasn’t exactly like I’d gone looking to get stabbed, but there was another pressing concern at the moment. “Is the kid okay?”

“Yes, she’s fine,” Nightingale said, and Beverley interjected, “And you’ve got thirty stitches holding your guts together. Just in case you were wondering about that.”

It wasn’t quite thirty, as I found out later, but Bev wasn’t too far off the mark.

My head still felt muddled, so much so that I didn’t think of anything to say but, “They’d just thrown the kid off the roof, Bev. I had to take my shield off, otherwise I'd have never gotten to her in time.”

Bev stared at me for a moment, her mouth as tight and as unhappy as Nightingale’s, before she came in to gently sit at the edge of the bed next to me and leaned in close to whisper into my ear.

“If you ever get yourself stabbed again,” she said softly, her breath warm against my cheek, “I’ll throw the kind of fit that will make what I did at Covent Garden look like a leaking faucet, do you understand me?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I hear you.”

Bev lifted her head to look me over, and then glanced over at Nightingale. “I’m not as bad as Thomas, though,” she said archly. “At least I wasn’t throwing fireballs around.”

“Only just the one,” Nightingale said, dry.

(I would later find out that one of the suspects--the one that had stabbed me--died via a fireball to the heart. The other one died thanks to a sudden and massive hemorrhage in his lungs, and Dr. Walid's autopsy report would pointedly note how it was as if the suspect had drowned in his own blood.)

My eyelids were growing heavy despite myself. “You’ve been reading Pratchett to me.”

“Yes, it’s not bad,” Nightingale said. “Judging from the condition of the book, I’m guessing it’s a particular favorite of yours.”

I hummed in agreement, and Bev laughed a little. “Don’t tell me--Sam Vimes is the reason you decided to join the Met. You read this book as a spotty teenager and thought the police force was the closest you'd ever get to fighting a dragon."

"It didn’t happen exactly like that. I'll tell you someday,” I promised her, and I would, because there would be time. With her, with Nightingale, countless more moments when I had the two of them on either side of me, where I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Minus the gaping stab wound, obviously.

I was on the verge of drifting back into sleep, and all of us knew it, but I managed to force my eyes open just long enough to say to Nightingale, “Keep reading. I like hearing your voice.”

Nightingale gave me the smile of his I liked best, soft and sweet, his eyes seeming to light up for just a moment. Then he turned back to the book and continued, “There was a groan from the watchers…

Bev’s hand slipped into mine as Nightingale continued to read.

I fell asleep long before Vimes and Carrot arrested the dragon, but that was all right. I knew how the story went, anyway.