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a thousand julys

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“I want every piece of me to crash into every piece of you. I swear to God that’s how they make stars.”

When it comes to Harry, the space between clothed and unclothed can be bridged with about a million kisses, and they’re already halfway there. Laughing and greedy and coy, Harry’s fumbling Nick out of his clothes, dropping them to the floor one by one until Nick’s down to only his pants. Harry’s sat on the couch next to Nick, still clothed but for the shirt he’s shrugging off. Nick stares for a second before Harry moves close to him again, eager hands skating over Nick’s bare skin. Nick lets out a little moan against Harry’s mouth when Harry slides their tongues together, scratching up Nick’s back gently as they kiss. It’s a curious push and pull for Nick, falling halfway into the steady hold of the kiss and being tugged back into the present by the sharp tender lines Harry’s etching into his lower back.

Harry pulls away and moves to swing his leg over Nick’s lap, hovering overhead so Nick has to tilt his head up to look up at him. Harry’s lips part as he meets Nick’s open gaze, lifting his chin so Nick can dip down to Harry’s neck and kiss the tender skin below his jaw. Harry doesn’t bruise easy, but Nick still wants to try, encouraged by Harry’s hand cupping his cheek, thumb brushing Nick’s yielding mouth as he sucks at the skin. Eyes closed, Nick doesn’t know if he’s made progress, but the starts and stops of Harry’s breath hitching in his throat make him want to keep going. He’s so focused that he almost misses the words that sprawl, lazy and sudden, from Harry’s mouth.

“I was thinking maybe we could do something a little different tonight."

Nick hums encouragingly, half-listening, and keeps at it until Harry laughs and pokes his cheek.

“Stop that a second,” Harry says, breathless and a bit flushed. He sits down right in Nick’s lap, one hand on the couch behind him and the other clutching Nick’s shoulder.

“What’re you thinking?” Nick asks, wrapping his arms around Harry to secure him. “Is it the candle thing again? I still don't think that candle was meant to be quite so close to my privates.”

“No, not that.” Harry laughs and looks down, his hair falling over his face.

“Good, ‘cause it’d be horrible if we had to call the fire brigade. They'd have a right laugh at me, I’m sure. An injury of a delicate nature." Nick huffs.

“D’you have another guess?” Harry asks. His eyes are still downcast, but the small smirk on his face is making him dimple, and he brings his hand over to Nick’s neck so he can skim his hand through Nick’s hair.

Nick shivers, and thinks. “Have you learned a suggestive new yoga pose?”

“Yes, actually, but that’s not it either.” Harry’s hand drifts around to Nick’s face, brushing his fingertips over Nick’s lips.

“What is it?” Nick asks, kissing Harry’s fingers. “What are you thinking?”

"I was thinking, like. A normal scene? Just that you'd be dominant first and then I'd get to kind of, like, take the power from you. Or make you give it up, really.”

“How would I know when it was time, though? To switch."

“Rules, I think." Harry shrugs. "The rules would stay the same, it’s the result that would be different. Instead of you having to do something, you’d have to give me the power and let me be dominant.”

Nick hums and considers it, his cheeks flushing from the warmth of being wanted. While he’s always up for the bright and fresh, he’s hesitant. They’ve been in their roles so long, they’ve gotten into a good, smooth rhythm. Nick feels a certain reassurance in knowing his place, in being able to anticipate. He’s comfortable, with Harry. They’re happy.

“You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Harry chews on his lip. Nick remembers tugging on it earlier; he can still hear the way Harry had gasped in his ear, startled and pleased.

Nick licks his own lips, and runs his hand through his hair. Harry’s dominant most of the time, and he’s been so good at it, always giving Nick what he needs. Nick wants to be sure he can please Harry as much as Harry pleases him.

“Not that what we’ve been doing isn’t great,” Harry adds. “Just, I think I’d like that. Being sub for a bit and then being dom for you."

Despite the comfort of the familiar, Nick does have to admit that there’s something thrilling about trying new things, and even moreso in knowing that Harry wants to explore uncharted territory with him.

The way Harry had laid it out, it suddenly seems simple. There’s more, always more, that Nick can give — and he wants to give it all.

"We don't have to, like. If you don't want to. We can get out some toys and —”

"No, no," Nick says, his voice gentle. He meets Harry’s eyes. "I do, I want to.”

“You’re sure?”

“Let's play like that,” Nick says, a bit more confident. If Harry believes he can do it, he can do it. “Toys, too, if you want."

“Cool.” Harry grins. He smiles as he kisses Nick, then, and Nick knows he’s made the right choice. They kiss until Nick’s woozy from it, his arms around Harry holding him close, flush against him. Nick’s keen to stay like this for a while, chest-to-chest, mouth-to-mouth, nothing between them but some flimsy cotton and denim.

And yet, there’s so much Nick wants, it makes his head spin. There are so many stretches of skin that Nick wants to touch, to lick and bite and caress over and over until Harry pushes him away, gasping because it’s too much. There are so many noises Nick wants to coax from him, keening moans and trembling sighs and breathy gasps.

Nick leans forward, bowing his head so he can press a kiss to Harry’s shoulder. He’s always struck plain dumb at the way Harry’s biceps bulge in a tight t-shirt, and all at once it feels selfish and overwhelming and so achingly right to have Harry so close: all his, half-undressed and straddling him. He traces Harry’s side with one of his hands, brushing against the place where his ribs start. Nick bites his shoulder and slides his hand up to the crook in Harry’s underarm. Harry lets out a little gasping moan. Harry’s upper inner arm is one of his favourite places to be touched, the tender skin smooth and sensitive. Nick keeps his touch light, running his hand along Harry’s arm with gentle lingering pressure.

When Nick’s reached Harry’s armpit, he tilts his head up so he can watch the way Harry’s eyelashes flutter, pursed lips exhaling like they’re curled around a smoke. He strokes the hollow where Harry’s arm and shoulder meet, dark and damp and sensitive. Once, Harry had let Nick kiss his armpit, and, given one chance, Nick had done his damnedest. Tongue and everything. Turns out, Harry had liked it so much he’d nearly fallen off the bed. They’d both learned, then, how nice new things could be.

“Want you,” Harry murmurs, his exhalation unfurling the two simple words into the air.

“Y’want us to start?” Nick asks, ticking down Harry’s back as he pauses for breath.

“Mmm,” Harry says, nodding. His eyes are still closed.

“Safe words the same?” Nick asks.

“Yeah,” Harry says.

Nick’s quiet for a second, stalling. He takes a steadying breath and asks, "Should I, like, give you orders?"

Harry pauses, his hands curled hard on Nick’s shoulders, his erection pressed against Nick’s belly. He purses his lips again, thinking.

It makes Nick want to laugh, but instead, a humbling thought crosses his mind: Harry’s still figuring it out, like he is. The thought calms him a bit.

"Tell me what you want to do," Harry decides.

“I want to, um. Hm.” Nick pauses, letting his eyes drift over Harry’s full lips. He knows what he wants, but the words feel foreign and clumsy in his mouth, like marbles. As a rule in his life, Nick doesn’t take orders from anyone, even Harry. Especially when it’s Harry. But in bed, it’s different. When it’s just the two of them, vulnerability nestled against cockiness, trust settled alongside ribbing, Nick finds relief in letting go. There’s comfort in being led — and there’s no one but Harry he’d want to be led by.

“Tell me,” Harry says softly, tipping his forehead against Nick’s.

“I want to suck you off,” Nick says, daring to meet his eyes. “With you standing, pressed against a wall. Hands behind your back."

“Okay. Yes.” Harry’s bobbing his head now, a grin illuminating his face. The knot in Nick’s chest loosens. “What else? You want my hands tied?”

"Not tied. Too easy if you had them tied. I want you to hold them there and keep them to yourself."

"Ooh, you're good at this." Harry laughs and pokes Nick in the chest. "You're a natural."

"Don't laugh at me, I'm serious.” Nick sits up a bit straighter, indignant. “That’s what I want."

"So am I," Harry says, grinning. He kisses Nick once and then pulls away, laughing. "Okay, okay. Sorry." He puts a hand over his mouth, trying to compose himself. "Where d’you want me to go? Is the wall in here what you were thinking?"

“Nah, changed my mind. You ought to lay right on the kitchen table. That’ll be fine."

“For real?” Harry’s eyes are big.

“No," Nick says, through a laugh. He feels excitement swooping in his belly, eclipsing the apprehension. “Got to save something for next time, yeah?”

“Had me going, there,” Harry mumbles. He eases himself off Nick with the grace of an elephant on a beach ball, but even the elbow shoved in his stomach doesn’t discourage Nick from enjoying the view once Harry’s gotten to his feet. Nick watches Harry’s abs flex as he walks over to one of the bare walls, and feels his mouth water.

Once Harry’s backed up against the wall, his hands hang loose at his sides. He looks at Nick with an open expression, waiting for direction.

“Hands,” Nick says, like he can’t even be bothered with a full sentence.

They’ve not switched roles often, but enough times that Nick can remember how Harry likes being submissive to a condescending dom. Harry fancies the flick of his eyes, the derisive curl of his lip. Harry likes the harsh edges, gets off on the thought that Nick’s deigning to give him attention.

Harry tucks his hands behind his back, the most loyal schoolboy Nick’s ever seen. Taking in the taut canvas of his body, though – devious eyes, tight jeans, clenching abs – the role seems absurd. But it’s just as absurd to regard Nick – flushed chest, damp-licked lips, blazing hard-on — and see anything besides the way he’s blatantly gagging for it, so Nick’s pretty sure they’re evenly matched.

Nick drinks Harry in with his eyes, waiting to see how long Harry’s stillness will last. Hands behind his back, his biceps look even bigger, and Nick wants to bite them some more. But mostly he wants Harry to use his strength to be rough with him, pinning his wrists and pressing him down with his whole body. Harry probably wouldn’t, not unless Nick asked; he’s not forceful unless Nick needs him to be.

Harry lifts his gaze, then, and Nick wonders if Harry can read his mind. In the periphery, Nick can see Harry lick his lips, and he feels a pang of desire in his gut. There’s a distance in the way Harry holds himself, his proud chest sticking out. Their lusty eyes locked, Harry’s keeping his cool.

Nick steps forward and puts his hands on Harry’s waist. He looks down to see how his thumbs press into the flesh just this side of hard, and then leans in toward Harry’s ear. He brings Harry’s hair behind his ear and begins to follow the curve of it with his tongue. He breathes hard in Harry’s ear, keeping one hand on Harry’s waist while the other hand wanders up Harry’s torso. Nick can feel Harry’s stomach seizing gently as he bites his earlobe, alternating between pleasure and pain as he licks and bites.

Nick slides his hands up to Harry’s nipples; beneath his fingers, they’re already hard. Nick dips down, dragging his teeth across Harry’s collarbone as he runs the pads of his fingers over Harry’s nipples. Lazy touches, as if he’s got all the time in the world, and Harry knows it, grunting softly, frustrated. With his hands restrained, he’s allowing Nick complete control, growing all sweaty and squirmy as Nick teases him with barely-there grazed circles and gentle tweaks. There’s something irresistible about calling the shots, Nick’s finding; he could get used to this.

At last, Nick gives Harry the pressure he wants, pinching his nipples as hard as he can and watching the way Harry’s face seizes up — lips curling, eyebrows knitting — before it relaxes in pleasure. Nick presses his face to the warm curve of Harry’s neck and shoulder, kissing the skin with an open mouth as he goes back to teasing. He runs his hands all over Harry’s chest, pausing only to flick Harry’s nipples in passing. Harry’s so sensitive, biting his lip and making little gasping sounds in his throat.

Nick’s not sure if Harry’s had enough or if he’s the one who has, but he pulls away. When Nick kneels down, his knees pop in protest, one and then the other. Harry stifles a laugh. For a few seconds, both of them are quiet.

“Sure you don’t want me to lay down?” Harry asks.

“No, you’re fine,” Nick says, distracted. It’s true that he’d just had a birthday, but surely he wasn’t old enough for his body to be making funny sounds, and certainly not creaky ones.

“Because, I mean, you’ve got your bad back, and your arthritis and everything…” Harry’s speaking slow, his words weighted and drawn out with intention. There’s a smirk in Harry’s voice, intensifying his brazenness.

Harry’s shameless, and that won’t do.

“Pushing your luck, Styles.”

“I’ll be careful not to tug around your hairpiece,” Harry says. “I know you’re sensitive about that.”

“Hey,” Nick’s voice is sharp, startling to his own ears. “That’s no way to talk to your dominant.” Nick puts his hands on his knees and starts to stand, making as if he’s going to get up. “I have half a mind to leave you—”

“No, please. Please don’t,” Harry says. There’s a note of panic in his voice. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“That’s right, it won’t.” Nick squares his shoulders and sits back down. It’s hard to keep a poker face, but he tries, concealing the elation stirring inside him.

Even from where Nick’s sitting, he can see the veins tighten in Harry’s neck. Harry’s holding his breath, watching and waiting. Nick likes being watched; having an audience is encouraging. His movements feel smoother and he’s more focused, more willing to be the dom Harry’s asking him to be. It feels good to be anticipated.

Nick runs his hands over Harry’s stomach before pressing his face against it, sucking at the sensitive skin where the laurel leaves branch out. There’s a soft thump as Harry’s head falls back against the wall, and when Nick bites Harry’s hip, the rough low sound Harry makes goes straight to Nick’s cock. Nick drags his tongue along the thin strip of hair leading downward, then licks a stripe beneath Harry’s waistband. Nick is hungry for him, wants his mouth on any bit of Harry he can get.

“Say it,” Nick says. He’s poised and ready, hand on the button of Harry’s jeans. He wants Harry's cock in his mouth so, so bad, but first he needs to have Harry say it. Or, well. Harry needs to say it. Harry needs to think there’s the slightest chance he could change his mind.

(Nick would rather die, in a painful and undignified way, than surrender any chance to suck Harry off. But Harry doesn’t have to know that.)

“Please.” Harry’s voice is almost inaudible, running thin around the edges.

Nick undoes Harry’s jeans, sliding down his pants so Harry’s cock springs out and bumps his lips. He gets a taste, flicking his tongue against the precome dripping down the tip. Even the slightest touch makes him want to moan. But he gets himself together, exhaling warm air on Harry’s cock, to drive him mad. Drive them both mad, really. Harry lets out a shaky sigh, his cock twitching, fucking twitching, and okay, fine, maybe Nick can speed things up. A little.

Nick wets his lips before he lets Harry’s cock in his mouth, swirling his tongue around the head. His eyes close against the rhythm, circling over and over until he’s dizzy, spit slicking his mouth and chin. He licks the slit and kisses the tip before he laps along the underside.

“Oh — Oh," Harry moans, and it's punctuated by a sharp intake of breath that makes Nick glow.

Nick sets his mouth over the ridge, hollows his cheeks so the suction will bring a bit more into his mouth. He lets the ridge slide in and out as he sucks, working his muscles so much he knows he’ll feel an ache afterward. The way Harry’s breath keeps hitching makes it more than worthwhile.

Nick wants to grab the base of Harry’s cock and squeeze, wants to stop this bloody teasing and take in as much as he can, let his hand work the rest. But he knows that while Harry would be delighted, he would also be disappointed. So Nick sits back and lets Harry’s gasps wash over him, basking in the feeling of the stretch in his jaw and the sound of the sloppy wet noises he’s making against Harry’s skin.

Nick pulls away slowly, feels the burn of Harry’s eyes on him as he watches Nick drag his lower lip along the underside of his cock. There’s a string of spit connecting the two when Nick pulls off, and Nick’s quite proud of it.

“Fuck,” Harry says, admiration in his voice. Nick’s glad he’s watching.

Nick has to dig his fingernails into his palm to restrain himself this time, taking Harry's cock back into his mouth and bobbing his head steady and slow over the first two inches. Each time he gets to the ridge, he licks at the underside, drawing a constant hum of whimpers from Harry.

Breath tight in his chest, Nick settles into the rhythm, the strain in his jaw only a vague memory. Denim’s scraping against the wall as Harry squirms underneath him. Harry’s cock is wet and slick, and Nick’s so, so hard. He presses a palm against his cock and makes a bit of a choked noise at the pressure.

There’s a proper, dirty sort of ache about Nick opening his mouth wider to get a bit more in, adding a little graze of the teeth. It’s something a lot of blokes shy away from, but not Nick — Nick owns it. And what it does to Harry is breathtaking, coaxing a long keening note as he brings his hand out to pull Nick’s hair.

“Sorry,” Harry breathes, letting go of Nick and tucking his hands back behind him. They both know Harry’s not allowed to do that, but if Nick’s being honest, he simply isn’t disciplined enough to deliver a reprimand or a punishment. He pulls off just long enough to remind Harry he means business.

The contact’s still got Nick reeling, stoking the desire deep in his belly. He’s eager to get Harry’s cock back, so eager he almost forgets his breathing technique once he takes Harry in deep again. He has to breathe through his nose, not moving but holding Harry’s cock there as his eyes sting from the effort.

Having so much of Harry’s cock in his mouth makes him begin to think about Harry's cock inside him up to the hilt, makes him think about Harry taking, fucking him hard and so deep he can’t even moan. Nick's hand finds its way back down to his crotch, and his mouth slips a bit from Harry's cock. His jaw slackens when he gets his own cock out of his pants and squeezes, presses his thumb against the head. He could come like this, just like this, on the floor with his knees spread and his mouth stretched and his jaw slack and his heart pounding and his toes curling —

“Not yet," Harry murmurs. "You know the rules.”

Nick’s eyes snap open. With a start, he realises he’d gotten carried away, had given his cock a few strokes. He feels a flush of hot shame that he’d broken a rule, and pulls off Harry’s cock so he can steady his breathing. He’s unsure if Harry will let him come back.

Harry fumbles out for him, reaching out and kneading the top of his spine once he gets there. He slides farther up Nick’s neck, clasping it and squeezing hard with his thumb and middle finger on either side. Harry’s got the heel of his hand pressed to the back of Nick’s neck, not his throat, but Nick feels a press on his windpipe anyway, and suddenly it’s like he can’t suck in air fast enough. Breathless, Nick leans back into the touch; the muscles are tender, and this much pressure on them hurts, but it also feels right — so right. He thinks maybe one night he could be into this, welcoming Harry’s hand against his throat the slightest bit. A higher plane of submission.

But for now, it’s an urging, owning gesture, and Harry cups the back of Nick’s head as he pushes Nick forward.

“Bossy,” Nick mumbles, smiling. Yet he’s relieved that Harry’s reclaimed his dominance. Submissive is a role Nick loves, a role Nick knows. And dominant is a role Harry loves almost as much, so there’s gratitude in the unabashed moans Harry lets out as Nick bobs his head. Long and loud and throaty, the sounds cloud Nick’s head, bringing him into a euphoric fog.

Nick pulls off to get a good look at Harry's cock, shiny and pink with a slight upward curve. He feels a little faint at how flushed and veiny it is, how glossy he’s made it. He gets his lips wet all around before closing his eyes and leaning forward. He loves the slick weight in his mouth, the warmth of it even hotter than Harry’s skin. With an open mouth, he kisses whatever bit of Harry's cock is closest, letting it bump him and rub up against his cheeks. He turns his head so he can lap along the side and make every ridge hot and slick. Harry’s hand is heavy on the back of Nick’s head, and Nick moans at the constant reminder of Harry’s control.

Nick's in a joyous daze as he tongues the ridge of Harry's cock, closes his lips to rub back and forth against the shaft. It's so warm and slippery, Nick thinks he might never want to stop. He opens a bit for the head, but lets it slip out as he hums against it. He licks the shaft from base to head, making wet noises when he presses sliding kisses to Harry's cock. It's messy, absolutely filthy, and Nick bloody loves it, every moment.

Harry nudges him back toward the head, so Nick closes his lips around it, rubbing it against the roof of his mouth and tapping his tongue against the underside of the shaft.

“Fuck, mm, yeah,” Harry groans, the word fading out into a low, throaty sound. There’s a sweet hot joy in drawing those noises from Harry, in sucking him off just right.

Harry squeezes Nick’s shoulder while his other hand scritches against Nick’s scalp, and as Nick sucks Harry’s cock, the corners of his own mouth turn up. The constant stream of sound fuzzes Nick’s mind. High off the echo of Harry’s voice in his head, the shadows of Harry’s hands on his skin, he thinks he could just close his eyes and float away, like a released red balloon. Still, sharp among the blur and haze is a certain determination, and Nick grounds himself by grabbing Harry’s hips for stability.

Harry gasps, thrusting deep into Nick’s mouth. He hits Nick’s gag reflex indirectly, and Nick chokes a little. It’s enough to make his eyes water. Taking it gives him tingles everywhere, and makes his stomach twist tight with desire. He wouldn’t mind letting Harry choke him, if that was what he wanted.

But Harry pulls back, until Nick’s mouth is over only the ridge. Harry takes hold of his cock with one hand, guides it into Nick’s mouth so it slides slippery-slow against his tongue. Harry stops about halfway in, just deep enough for his hand to meet Nick’s mouth on his cock. Harry’s other hand settles back down on Nick’s neck, and there it is, that pressure that has Nick soaring, moaning around Harry’s cock as Harry starts to thrust. He goes slow, sliding deep as he wants, and yet still careful that Nick’s comfortable. This is good, this is enough, probably more than enough for Harry, his breath stuttering and stopping and his curses not words anymore but murmured syllables that Nick breathes in like he needs them to live. And maybe Nick does, maybe he does need them swirling around inside him, body and mind, because he can’t imagine a higher purpose than this.

When Harry’s fingers bump against Nick’s lips, the contact is almost enough to unhinge him, the crimson thrill of it resonating through him every time, and Nick wonders if he’ll be able to go on, how he’ll be able to go on, with the remnants of this feeling still buzzing through him in every moment onward. Nick wonders how any feeling could be better than the bold brash clumsy thrill of that, how any touch could be stronger than their hands grounding each other as Nick pleases Harry in exactly the way he wants to be pleased.

“Nick — Nick —” Harry cries his name out like an incantation, and no other moment has ever mattered as much as this moment does, every molecule in Nick’s body halting for a split-second to hear his name dropping boundless from Harry’s lips as he thrusts so deep tears spark to Nick’s eyes. But Nick stays, mouth open and palms spread wide against Harry’s hips until Harry’s gone, spent, pulling out and breathing hard.

Harry’s legs start to shake, and he lets his hand go soft and still against Nick’s neck. At the cue, Nick sits, leaning his weight back on his arms and tilting his head back as his breath continues to catch. And then Harry’s melting, too, sinking down against the wall, to the floor where Nick is. Nick’s mind feels fuzzy, his vision blurred, euphoric. He can hear Harry, not see him, shared slowing gasps hitching and receding as they get back to themselves.

When Nick’s eyes focus, his gaze catches on Harry, and he can’t look away. Harry is luminous in the kind of messy way only Harry can be, his hair fuzzy with static. His face is shiny, glowing with the same light and heat Nick feels inside him. Under sleepy heavy lids, Harry’s eyes linger for a few seconds on something before flitting onward, always onward. A calm like a fresh-ironed cloth settles over his features, smoothing his forehead and softening his eyes. But his body’s still recovering, shoulders shaking with the effort of catching his breath.

Harry’s gaze drifts over to Nick’s face, and his lips curve up, in recognition. He gets up halfway, to walk over on his knees the few paces to Nick. There’s something almost bashful about the way he sits beside Nick with his legs folded underneath him, close enough that Nick can smell his sweat and feel his body heat. He’s striking up close like this, and even more beautiful when his pleased calm is directed at Nick, and only at Nick. Harry puts his hand on the back of Nick’s neck, the touch warm at first but fading once Harry begins to speak in his ear.

“That was so good,” Harry whispers. “You’re so good for me. Always. M’so lucky.”

Nick bows his head as Harry starts to kiss him, quick sweet kisses dropped all over his cheeks and his ears and his forehead. A thrum of pleasure hums beneath Nick’s skin. Nick preens. More than the touch, it’s the words; he loves knowing he’s been good for Harry.

“Really good,” Harry says, bringing his hand up to smooth Nick’s hair and rub the top of his head. “Brilliant.”

Nick leans up to meet Harry, closing his eyes so they can kiss, rich and deep. He wants Harry to know he’s grateful he’s been given the chance to please him. That’s all he wants, to make Harry feel the same wild happiness he does — and the thought that he actually has makes him feel a kind of uncontainable joy. The sort of joy that leads people to erect monuments and paint masterpieces for their lovers, so the world can know even a droplet of the way love can make somebody feel.

Harry pulls away and grins at him, unbashed. Nick’s put that light in Harry’s eyes.

“Let’s go,” Harry says, getting to his feet and holding out his hand. Nick takes it, glad for the help up.

When they get to Harry’s bedroom, Harry goes around flicking on lamps until there’s a glow in every corner. He sets about rearranging the bedding, starting with untucking the duvet. Harry’s got this gorgeous bed, the frame of it made from rich dark wood with ornate designs carved into it. It’s sturdy and elegant and the perfect height for Nick to hold onto, when it comes to nights like these.

Nick watches as Harry folds the duvet, patting it smooth and straight at the foot of the bed. There are ivory-colored sheets laid beneath, and Nick wants to feel the coolness against his skin immediately. Harry’s got half a dozen throw pillows nestled up against the bigger, more practical pillows, and Nick laughs as he watches how gently Harry places them all onto the floor.

Nick’s quite fond of watching this part. Generally, Harry makes sure to keep his bed neat and clear of clutter, the bedspread always tucked in. Harry treats the whole room well, actually, keeping it smelling good and looking presentable. He gives care to it that he doesn’t give any of the other rooms in his flat, and the thought that Harry’s taking it apart just for him – well, it makes Nick a bit breathless. Nick doesn’t know precisely what Harry has planned for tonight, but he knows it’s going to be good.

When Harry’s done, he steps away from the bed and surveys, hands on his hips. He looks at Nick, then, his smile turning into a smirk. He closes the space between them, wrapping his arms around Nick’s waist and meeting his lips. Harry exhales against Nick’s mouth between slow sliding kisses, breathless despite the steadying hold he’s got on Nick.

Harry pushes Nick down on his back along the foot of the bed, Nick's legs so long they still reach the floor. Nick expects him to climb on top, but Harry stays standing, just out of reach. Nick's breath hitches in his throat at the heat and hunger in Harry's eyes – and he stops breathing entirely when Harry's gaze lingers on his cock, straining in his pants. Harry leans down so he can slide Nick's pants off, and the sensation is so freeing that Nick wants to say something. But Harry's hands are so close to his skin that the words evaporate on his lips.

Harry steps back, stays half-clothed and watches Nick as he props up on his elbows. Harry bites his lip, quiet like he's making a decision. Harry's making Nick wait, his stomach turning with anticipation. Surrender washes over Nick, stripped under Harry's stare. Submission is a state Nick returns to effortlessly, like he’s slipping on a well-worn article of clothing.

"Hands and knees," Harry says. "By the pillows."

Nick nods, runs his tongue over his lips and holds Harry's gaze for a beat. He turns on his side so he can crawl up to the pillows, aglow with quiet satisfaction. He sets his head on one and tucks his hands underneath his chest, arse in the air, the way Harry likes it. Behind him there's the scratch of Harry pushing down his jeans and pants, the pad of his feet when he steps out of them and walks away from the bed. The scrape of a drawer means he's at one of the dressers, probably poking around the drawer with all the toys.

Nick closes his eyes and waits, feels goosebumps rise on his arms when he thinks about what Harry could be getting from that drawer. Harry pads back over and sits on the bed, between Nick's legs. He squeezes Nick's ankles, scrapes his fingernails up his calves and lets his hands explore Nick's thighs. He runs them over the smooth skin, up and back down again, and all the attention Nick's getting gives him a rush. Harry has such strong hands, and Nick loves when they’re on him.

Harry slides his hands in between Nick's legs, runs them up to Nick's inner thighs and over the curve of his arse. The slight groove where his arse meets his leg is tender, and Nick gasps as Harry brushes over it. Nick feels warm inside when Harry kisses his arse cheeks and then slowly down his thigh. His body is tingling, like it’s charged. Harry pauses when his mouth reaches the back of Nick's knee.

Nick had been skeptical when Harry’d had first pointed it out, but they’d found it to be quite sensitive. Vulnerable. Harry kisses it a few times, his breath hot, and then drags his lower lip over and over against the skin. He opens his mouth and flicks out his tongue, licking it with broad strokes. Nick grins against the pillow, breathing out against shivery chills.

Harry licks back up to Nick's arse in a shaky wet line. Nick moans when Harry bites one of his arse cheeks and gives the other a hard squeeze. Having his arse right in Harry's face makes him feel a downright filthy kind of shameless.

Something melts in Nick when Harry pushes apart his arse cheeks, a rush of anticipation. Harry goes for right for Nick's entrance at first, teasing the muscle with short laps and flicks of his tongue. Nick moans low in his throat. Already he can feel himself opening up, unclenching to meet Harry's tongue and the heat of the breath he exhales. When Harry blows against the ring of muscle, the warm air draws out a hum Nick feels in his entire body.

Harry licks the cleft above Nick's entrance, long slow licks that make Nick grab the sheets hard, knuckles pressed against his chest. Harry kisses up to the dimples on Nick's lower back, and then drags his tongue all the way back down, down to Nick's bollocks.

"God, fuck," Nick says when Harry takes his bollocks in his hand, slicking them with spit and teasing them with the flat of his tongue. The long full strokes of his tongue are driving Nick mad, the heady pleasure amplified by Harry's very proximity to the base of Nick's cock. Harry pauses to slick his hand a bit more, so he can caress them with less friction, rolling them together in his warm hand. Nick can feel his erection getting firmer and more urgent, even though he’d thought sucking Harry off had made him as hard as he could be. Nick cries out when Harry licks between his bollocks, along the line of his sensitive raphe.

Harry gives more attention to Nick’s whole arse, sliding licks from the cleft to his entrance, and lapping at his perineum. It steals Nick's breath every time Harry's tongue slides over his hole. Harry's been slicking it up, and then, finally, he allows Nick that quiet lulling pleasure. He licks with the flat of his tongue, wiggling it against Nick's entrance. The feeling is distinct, meditative, a pleasure that unfurls in wisps instead of intense dark blue bursts. Nick's eyes are heavy-lidded as he rocks back against Harry's face in lazy rhythm. Harry nudges the tip of his tongue in a firmer way, and Nick tries to control his breath, tries to open enough for Harry's tongue to get inside. Harry can get it barely past the surface, but it feels good anyway, more intimate than licking the outside.

There’s a shock of cool air when Harry pulls away, and then Nick can hear the tick of the lube bottle opening, the tap of it against Harry’s hand. His stomach swoops a bit over that, the image in his head of Harry spreading the lube all over his fingers.

Harry sits back between Nick's legs and strokes the cleft of Nick's arse cheeks with two slick fingers. He keeps them stilled there while he thumbs at Nick's entrance. Nick lets out a tight breath, feels his hole relax against the pressure of Harry's thumb. Harry starts to circle it, and Nick can feel the muscles in his legs tense. He wants those slender fingers inside him more than anything.

"Maybe you could get on to fingering me before I turn forty,” Nick says, the words softened by the way his voice shakes at the end.

"I'll think about it," Harry drawls, pushing his thumb past Nick's rim and turning it back and forth. A shudder rolls through Nick, despite the shallow touch.

"More," Nick gasps.

“Be patient.” Harry’s warning him, voice husky but calm. Always so composed, even with Nick squirming underneath him.

Harry reaches down, presses his slick fingers against Nick’s bollocks, to rub them, fondling while circling Nick’s taint with his thumb. Nick moans at the flush of pleasure. It’s unfair, everything is so fucking unfair.

Every thought Nick has is something more he wants Harry to do to him, but he knows he can’t voice any of them. This is Harry’s game; he’s got to obey Harry’s rules. He’s not sure his cock wants to play, though, and the ache between his legs makes it even harder to keep from protesting.

So it's relief that floods Nick’s gut when Harry takes his thumb away and replaces it with one of his other fingers. Nick clenches tight and erratic when Harry begins to slide it in, and the motion stills him at the first knuckle. Nick pushes himself up on his elbows and wills himself to relax, dropping his head against his arm when Harry gets his finger in deeper. His eyes flutter at the friction, at the solid press of Harry’s finger inside him.

"Yeah, that's it," Nick breathes. Nick bows his head, slides his hands forward so his chest is flat against the bed. It's a pose of total submission that keeps his arse at a higher angle. He knows Harry will like that.

“You’ve been so good,” Harry says. With the flat of his other hand, Harry starts to rub the back of Nick’s thigh, up and over the curve of his arse. Nick shivers. It makes Nick feel all warm inside to have Harry’s full attention, to have Harry lend his complete focus to pleasuring him.

Harry thrusts his first finger until Nick’s accommodated it easily enough for him to add another. Even though Nick’s ready, Harry has to stretch him to fit both, massaging him inside as he pushes in, one knuckle at a time. Two always feels a lot different than just one, something about having more round edges to cling to and tighten around, maybe. Harry can get into more of a rhythm with two, thrusting and twisting his fingers until Nick groans low in his throat. There’s a lush, gritty kind of pleasure when Harry crosses and uncrosses his fingers, first when he’s entering and then while he’s inside, to open Nick up more. The motions turn Nick’s head into fuzzy static, all the thoughts in his mind rearranged, shaken-up and small.

When Harry adds a third, the sensation of the stretch is delicious and intense. Nick’s gasping by the time Harry gets past the second knuckle on each, crowding his fingers to get them in.

“Feel that?” Harry says, his voice low. Nick lets out a strained noise in response. All three of Harry’s fingers are rolling inside him, nudging against each other. It feels so intimate, like Harry’s reaching the dark delicate places no one else gets to see. Harry’s coaxing out pleading moans with his curled fingers, sounds that turn desperate when Harry replaces three with two and begins to nudge around for Nick’s spot.

Nick’s mouth falls open when Harry finds the spot, fingers crooked and rubbing slow. Pleasure flows straight to Nick’s cock, like Harry’s found a direct connection, and Nick's face heats as he whimpers against the pillow. The feeling spreads out in gentle waves to numb Nick's thighs, and grows stronger when Harry circles it, the way he likes. Nick's breath comes in shallow bursts, and he can feel his chest start to heave. He clenches and releases cramped fingers before digging his nails hard into his palm, the sharpness of the pain cracking through the lull of heaven.

Nick murmurs a string of distraught no's when Harry slips his fingers away, pulling out to the rim of Nick's hole. Harry’s more prepared when he pushes back in, reaching Nick's spot with one fluid movement. The firm nudge of Harry's finger sends a more robust pleasure echoing through Nick, layering waves over waves, sounds over sounds as Harry does it again. Nick's head is spinning, heart in his throat.

Nick arches his back to jerk his hips forward, but meets only air. He spreads his legs a bit more so he can press his stomach to the bed. The movement makes him even more aware of Harry's fingers and the way they'd shifted inside him. He lets out a shaky moan when he starts to roll his hips against the bed; the angle isn't perfect but it might as well be, pressure against his cock and Harry's fingers stilled all the way inside him.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah —" Nick says with gritted teeth, a rough voice he doesn't quite recognise. He sucks in a breath between each word, and soon all he can hear is his own ragged breathing, gritted words turning into whimpers that aren't words at all as he rubs his cock against the bed, finds a rhythm that lets him nudge back against Harry’s hand, sends tremors through his body as he fucks himself with Harry’s fingers circling his spot, makes his chest tight from the steady pleasure, moving faster and faster until he's spinning out, careening toward orgasm…

And then Harry stops, sliding his fingers out and away.

A shudder shakes Nick's body, but there's no release, just an empty longing that seems to stretch on forever. Nick's breathing fast, startled.

Why the fuck would he do that?

It’s a surly thought, really, and Nick instantly regrets it, but in his confusion, he can’t hold back.

"Not yet,” Harry says.

Nick’s legs go weak with disappointment, won't support him anymore. He drops onto his stomach, laying flat against the bed. The euphoria is draining away, fading back into the heavy ache in his thighs and the pure need between his legs. There’s a damp spot underneath him from when he'd started to come.

"Get back up for me, love," Harry says, patting his arse twice. Briskness in his voice and his touch, Nick knows it’s not a suggestion.

Nick allows himself one sigh -- a good one, a thorough one -- before pushing himself back up, on his hands and knees. But Harry doesn't come back to him, doesn't even touch him. Instead, Harry gets up, walks over to the dresser and rummages around. When Harry shuts the drawer, Nick cranes his neck for a glimpse of what he's holding.

You're joking," Nick says, incredulous. He laughs, bowing his head against the pillow.

Harry stands in front of him, doesn't say anything for a moment. Nick stares at the plug in Harry's hand, not as long as his cock, but visibly thicker. It starts off small, and gets bigger and wider to flare toward a base that can be held. It’s sleek, the matte black finish reflecting the light, and it's even sexier with Harry's fingers wrapped around it. The plug is daunting, yet he can’t keep his eyes away from it.

Nick gulps hard, mouth dry. It would fill him so well.

"We've played with this before," Harry says, tapping the plug against his palm. He's smirking the slightest bit, more wry than smug. “You remember, don’t you?”

It clicks for Nick, then, in a vibrant rush of senses.

He was laid out on his back, on sheets warmed from their body heat. The air felt thick, and a sheen of sweat glittered on Harry’s body. His arms were held above his head with cuffs, but his legs kept free so Harry could fit between them, pressing against the plug as he’d sucked Nick off. Nick remembers the softness of the velvet, silky against his skin but fastened tightly enough that any strain had chafed his wrists, turning them the same pink as Harry’s mouth. It was hard to keep still, with Harry’s rhythm and the pressure of the plug setting his body awash with fierce pleasure. Harry held Nick down when he came, writhing and crying out. When Nick was spent, Harry led him over to the edge of the bed and indulged, kneeling on Nick’s chest and thrusting into Nick’s mouth as deeply as he could.

“Quite the night,” Nick says, clearing his throat. He remembers how Harry had lifted restraint that night, helping himself to everything Nick had offered gladly.

“Yeah,” Harry says, voice low.

Harry walks back to the bed, and Nick hears the tear of a condom wrapper. Harry must be preparing for the plug. Nick flinches a little, tense like every muscle in his body is standing at attention. There’s the click of the lube bottle and Nick bites his lip hard. He remembers the dirty burn and harsh stretch from last time; in their eagerness, they hadn’t given Nick all the time he’d needed to be completely ready.

Once Harry’s settled behind him, he spreads Nick’s arse cheeks with one hand and rubs the slick head of the plug over his entrance. Pressing it against Nick makes him contract, pulsing quickly and so tight Harry couldn’t even get a finger in if he tried.

“Fucking hell," Nick mutters, another wave of heat rising to his face. There’s a shifting on the bed as Harry sits back.

“Try it again.” Nick’s not convincing. He gets quiet when he’s nervous, and in that moment, Nick hates that Harry knows that about him. But what Nick especially hates is that he’s nervous. There’s no reason to be; Harry’s gotten better at pacing, and he can read Nick like no one else can.

Harry puts the plug down and stretches his body over Nick's. He places his open hands on top of Nick’s clenched fists and noses the spot where Nick’s hair meets his neck. It’s damp with sweat, but Harry hums against it before he whispers.

“I’m going to take care of you,” Harry says, kissing the nape of Nick’s neck. “Such good care of you, yeah?” He murmurs with a soft laugh. Nick’s eyelids flutter, and he almost purrs when Harry presses a kiss between his shoulders. Harry sits back up slowly, running an appreciative hand down the dip in Nick’s back. He’s melting all the tension away, edging Nick back into it.

“Okay,” Nick says. It’s flimsy, dreamy, more of a sigh than a word.

“Take a deep breath and then relax for me,” Harry says, curling one hand around Nick’s hip for the leverage he needs.

Nick inhales for a five-second count, and exhales deep when Harry presses the plug against him. This time, the first inch or so glides in, so easy Nick wants to laugh. His jaw goes slack as he adjusts to it, savouring the erratic rise and fall of his chest.

“There you go, you’ve got it.” Harry rubs his fingers against the jut of Nick’s hip, humming his approval.

Nick smiles, hiding it in the sheets. He’s starting to feel tingly, on the top of his head and the back of his neck. The room around him seems soft and kind of dreamy, like he’s looking up from under shallow water. They’re the only two people in the world, and Harry’s attention on him is the one thing that matters. As long as Harry’s there, everything is safe. Harry’s got him.

“C’mon, let’s do a bit more,” Harry says. “You can do it.”

Nick nods, and a soft moan slips out. He’s embarrassed by the sound, but it’s soon eclipsed by the warmth spreading through his chest at Harry’s faith in him. There’s more pressure against his entrance as Harry pushes the plug in a little deeper. Nick feels himself begin to stretch. It feels good, in a rich, satisfying way, and Nick knows there’s more to come.

“That’s good, that’s so good. Keep relaxing for me.” The words are soothing under Harry’s breath.

Nick’s never been a patient person, but he tries to relax because Harry wants him to. He wants to, because Harry wants him to. Harry’s always had a certain sense of him, after all. He knows Nick’s body well, and he tries the plug against Nick’s entrance with as only much pressure as his body will accept.

Despite the trust Nick has in Harry, it’s hard to not crave more. It’s hard to keep his hands out in front of him, instead of between his legs, the way he’s so tempted. His need intensifies with every hastily sucked-in breath, with every commanding, encouraging word from Harry, with every second he’s being stretched. It’s hard to concentrate on anything with Harry sitting behind him completely naked, so close, and so ready.

Suddenly, a whine slides out of Nick’s mouth. It’s an ugly, pleading noise that seems like it came from the darkest recesses of him. It has no place here, and Nick is seized with the urge to explain it away.

But before he can say anything, Harry speaks.

“Be patient, love. Let me. You’ll get there. We’ll get you there.” Harry sounds so assured, Nick’s eager to believe him. The notion of us makes Nick’s stomach turn, twisting with cresting waves of desire. He’s encouraged by what Harry’s promised, but even moreso that they’re doing this together.

Nick feels filled to the brim with gratitude. He’s been given another chance.

So Nick tries, closing his eyes and concentrating on his breathing. The pleasure burns white behind his eyelids, and he clenches his hands in the sheets against it. His breath comes quick as he tries to open up, thinking about the delicious pressure of the plug once they make it all the way inside.

“Stay open for me, you’re doing so well,” Harry says.

Nick’s body feels like it’s buzzing, a current running from the tips of his fingers to his toes, curling them so hard it hurts. He’s trying to send all of the energy out toward Harry, not letting any of it escape from anywhere else. He’d thought compressing himself would help him concentrate, but as the seconds pass, he can feel himself tensing up again.

“Just a little more to go. You’re almost there.” Nick can feel Harry’s hand insinuating itself back on his waist, and the touch makes Nick squirm. He wants to hold everything Harry has to give, and he’s not sure that he can.

“Concentrating on relaxing only makes me nervous,” Nick blurts out, his cheeks growing hot. He shouldn’t have said it. He shouldn’t have said anything. Harry’s going to think he’s being disobedient, and then he’ll stop, and he won’t give Nick any more.

Harry’s quiet for a second, his hand sliding over to the small of Nick’s back while the other hand still holds the plug steady. Nick holds his breath and looks down at the sheet, clenched between his two spread hands. He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Maybe don’t concentrate at all,” Harry says, like it’s simple. “Don’t think about it. Just be. Just, like, let yourself be. Feel your breath flow through you. All the oxygen you’re taking in, think about it traveling through you, giving you life and light and energy.” Harry pauses, then adds, “I learned that in yoga.” He sounds almost proud of it.

“Of course you did.” Nick huffs a small laugh, relieved.

Harry laughs, too, a soft slipped olive branch. “Try it. I promise it’ll work.”

Harry keeps his hand on Nick’s back, rubbing a soothing circle. He doesn’t have the leverage he needs to push the plug any further, so Nick knows he’s not going to try.

Nick splays out his fingers and closes his eyes again, feeling a little lighter. Nick tries to replace his other thoughts with calming thoughts. Trouble is, the only thing he can think about now is Harry in yoga class, sitting in the sunlight with his legs crossed, palms pressed together. In his mind’s eye, Harry’s face is serene as a palm tree’s gentle waves in a gentle breeze. A parade could march by and that look would stay right on Harry’s face.

“Feels silly,” Nick admits, opening his eyes. He can still feel the burning, a smolder deep in his belly. He wants to be touched.

“It’s working,” Harry says, his voice tipping up in excitement. “I can feel a change in your back, you’re relaxing. You’re doing good.”

Harry’s hand skims back over to his hip, but Nick doesn’t tense up this time. He can do this. He can. He takes a deep breath, thinking about the energy entering his body through his fingertips while breath enters his nose and mouth, drifting through his body until it reaches his lungs. In his mind’s eye, he sees the energy going on to some great beyond through his exhalations, becoming part of the air someone else breathes, becoming part of the atmosphere and the particles that make up everything. Old particles rearranged into something new and beautiful made of recycled bits of matter and starstuff.

And then, there, through the haze, he realises Harry’s speaking, telling him that he’s there, he’s got it, and then –

Nick’s whole body melts as the last of the plug slides in.

“Oh, fuck,” Nick moans, rocking forward and then back at the impact. He comes back to himself all at once, jerked out of his trance at the same time his body rides the initial wave. He’s trembling, clenching uncontrollably; every quick clench of his body brings the base of the plug against his taint, and the plug even further inside of him. Each small thrust is firm and heady, filling him up in a way that’s unlike anything else Nick’s ever experienced. It’s so much, it’s too much, the bliss and the triumph colliding. All Nick can do is whimper, feeling everything at once, unable to comprehend anything but the simmering need between his trembling legs.

Gradually, the smoke clears, the tidal wave ebbing out into smaller and smaller ripples. The plug has settled inside him, a steady pressure that has Nick still gasping. A feeling of deep satisfaction is flooding through him, into all the hollow spaces inside, even the ones he hadn’t thought needed filling.

And then Harry’s there, so close, a hand between Nick’s shoulders and a voice in his ear.

“You did it,” Harry says. “You’re amazing.” Harry’s voice is breathy, like he’s witnessed something awe-inspiring. Nick feels himself smile as Harry kisses his ear and then nips at his earlobe.

It’s Nick. Nick is the fantastic thing. He is.

“You took it so well, Nick. You’re so good. That was so good.” Harry sits back up, smoothing his hands over Nick’s shoulders before squeezing them in tandem.

Big and bright, happiness blooms inside Nick’s ribs, settling over him and covering him like moonlight. This feeling isn’t ever going to end. He’s going to exist in it permanently, he’s decided. He’s going to take it with him and carry it always. Everything’s golden; it’ll all be soft and safe and stay that way, just the two of them.

Harry’s skimming his hands over Nick’s back, now, fingers nudging against the bumps of his ribs. Nick’s gathered every last bit of Harry’s attention, and he basks in it, soaking up Harry’s gaze and his touch. It makes him feel like he’s going to burst from his skin. There’s a lightness in the space Nick’s occupying, like he’s transcended, given up external trappings in favour of the all-encompassing satisfaction he feels.

“Get on your back for me, yeah?” Harry’s voice brings Nick back, despite its softness.

Even the mere concept of motion seems exhausting, so Nick has to prepare himself, especially because bumping the plug on anything firm has the power to completely undo him, rattling him down to his bones. Nick doesn’t want to wait, but he does, letting a beat pass until he’s ready to move. Harry kneads the base of Nick’s neck with a steady hand, and it’s the kind of thing that makes Nick melt, completely pliant.

Nick maneuvers onto his back, trying to be as careful as he can. He’s positive that no one has ever achieved this feat with as much grace as he has. He settles down with his legs folded up all nice.

Facing Harry, Nick isn’t quite ready for what he can see, now: all of him. It’s startling, taking in all the expanses of flushed, tan skin. It’s so much, the jut of his hips and the line of his jaw and the muscles flexing in his thighs.

“Keep your legs up for a second,” Harry says, slipping out of Nick’s line of vision and coming back with a pillow. “Up a bit more,” Harry says. With some configuring, they get it underneath Nick for leverage.

“There you go.” Harry’s voice is warm, the corners of his lips turned up.

Harry stretches over him, his body flush with Nick’s. He holds himself up over Nick, and leans down. They kiss with tongues and teeth, biting and licking; savouring. The swooping, floaty feeling takes Nick over again as he gets lost in the closeness, the rhythm of their bodies in time. There’s something so simple and easy about the press of their lips. There’s comfort in the weight of Harry’s body, the damp heat of his skin, his hair brushing against Nick’s cheek. Nick wants to curl up in the warmth he feels at having Harry there on top of him, close and pleased and sated.

Gently, Harry shifts, laying a kiss at the pulse point of Nick’s neck. Harry kisses all the way down Nick’s chest; Nick’s body rolls and shivers at the touch. Nick loses his breath when Harry reaches his stomach, tensing in anticipation. Harry lifts his head up to meet Nick’s eyes, running his hands over Nick’s hips. He looks up at Nick from beneath the hair framing his face, and there’s so much heat in his gaze.

“I’m going to touch you now, but you can’t come. I don’t want you to,” Harry says, sitting back on his heels. His hand is wandering, now, drifting over the tender flesh of Nick’s inner thigh. “Can you do that?”

Nick pauses, looking down at his chest. The yes is on the tip of his tongue. He wants to do what Harry’s asked, but his mind keeps coming back to his steady aching need, and the relief he wants, and it’s so hard to move past the thought of how good it would feel to just –

“Grim.” Harry pats his thigh to get his attention. There’s a captivating expression on Harry’s face, now; Nick is drawn in, despite himself. The lust from before remains, but beneath it is a downy layer of generosity and care. It’s the foundation of Harry’s role. It’s been there the whole time.

Before Nick knows what he’s doing, he’s nodding. Harry’s going to take care of him. Harry’s going to do what’s best.

And then all the thoughts go out of Nick’s head as he watches Harry moisten his fingertips with a darted tongue and bring his hand down, running the tips of his fingers along the shaft of Nick’s cock. Nick’s breath seizes; he can feel it pulsing beneath the gentlest touch. His nerves are buzzing with need, but he can’t let himself. He won’t.

Nick concentrates on the motion of Harry’s hand, instead of the way it feels to be touched. That only makes it worse, seeing the way Harry caresses his painfully hard cock like it’s a rare vase: something valuable that needs gentle handling. A hot flush colours Nick’s cheeks and he bites his lip hard; he wants to cry out from how good it feels. His breath starts to catch when Harry circles his corona, not unlike the way Nick swirled his tongue around Harry’s, earlier. At that thought, Nick starts to gasp, sucking in breaths quicker than his body can accept them. He can’t stop.

But Harry stops, pausing his hand’s path as he looks up at Nick. Nick doesn’t meet his eyes.

“You’ve got to breathe, sweetheart,” Harry says slowly. “Do it with me. Watch my chest. Seven seconds in, seven seconds out.” Nick forces himself to watch Harry’s chest, the way it puffs up for the seven-second count, and then the way Harry lets go, back to normal. “Now, you do it. Three sets.”

Nick squeezes his eyes shut as he does the first count. He’s shaky on the exhale, and it makes him feel worse. Harry’s patience makes him feel worse. He can’t even breathe right. His face heats with shame and the ever-present hunger; his desire is inescapable.

“That’s good. Do two more for me. It’ll keep you calm.”

Nick keeps his fists curled to steady himself as he does the next inhale, then the exhale. One more inhale, then the exhale.

“It’ll feel good. You’re going to feel good. That’s all I want.” It’s a reminder, and Nick tries to hold it in his head when Harry brings his hand down once more, rubbing gently over the precome on Nick’s slit with his slick thumb.

Nick winces, sucking in a breath sharply between his teeth. He jerks his hips away from Harry, curling away from his touch instead of rocking up into it the way he isn’t allowed to. The motion brings the plug further inside him, and Nick cries out, startled, the steady pulsing pressure rippling out through his already-aching pelvis.

“Nick,” Harry says. He sounds sympathetic, but his spread palms on Nick’s thighs feel like an insult. Like a test Nick can’t pass, an exercise designed to frustrate him forever. “I know you can do it. You did so well before, you were mindful. I’ll help you. Do another inhale with me.”

The words don’t hold the same weight they did before, the haze in Nick’s head blinding and stronger than Harry’s voice.

But it’s a command, so Nick does it, breathing in and out even though he doesn’t think it will help. He’s certain Harry’s expecting some kind of life-changing revelation, at that, so completely convinced it will make him calmer. But the only revelation Nick finds is remembering anew that he’s so hard it hurts, and he’s become this bottomless black hole of want. It’s all he can think about.

“Look at me,” Harry says. There’s a slight edge to his voice, and it startles Nick enough to finally look at him. Harry’s blurry, but comes into gradual clarity as Nick takes it all in, lifting up onto his elbows and holding himself still so he can focus. Harry’s curls are mussed and sticking to his neck and his face. He’s knelt on his knees, his cock bobbing with no one to touch it. He’s sweaty and beautiful and in control, like he always is.

And then, a curious thing happens. Beneath Nick’s gaze, Harry’s breath begins to catch. On Nick’s thighs, his hands are curled not to comfort Nick, but, Nick realizes, to restrain himself. Lips pressed together in a hard line, he’s needed the soothing words as much as Nick has. Harry’s faltering, grasping for the strength it’s taking to hold himself back.

A warm feeling comes over Nick, a quiet calm that floods his whole body. He sets his shoulders back and holds Harry’s gaze. It’s different, now, with his glimpse behind Harry’s veneer. It’s not just contact they share – it’s the same longing.

There’s a line set between Harry’s brows as he reaches his hand forward again. Nick’s cock twitches when Harry touches it, his fingers skimming along the underside, caressing. Nick takes in a breath and tries not to think about the shaky exhale that follows. He walks a tightrope as Harry touches him, trying to restrain himself while trying to let go, but not too much. Every time Nick thinks about slipping, he meets Harry’s eyes and watches his chest, like before. It grounds him, helps him to not lose control of himself. It would be so easy to just sit back and let Harry take him there with a tight pressing grip and a slick sliding thumb against him. He can’t. He won’t.

As Harry touches him, Nick eyes flutter and his stomach dips. Harry’s hand is still mostly dry, his fingers navigating seemingly aimless paths, but he skims over every sensitive spot, making Nick’s thighs tense and running small shudders through him. There’s that ache still radiating through him, but over the layers of need settles something new: the feeling of trusting Harry completely. Mingling with the fullness from the plug inside him, every touch feels brighter and sharper and more , and Harry’s led Nick to those sensations. He’s gifted that.

Harry pulls away. His shifting is slow, but it still seems sudden to Nick, like a splash of cold water. They’re stopping just as things are getting good.

“I’m going to take it out now, okay?” Harry says. “Bring your legs up for me. I’ll go slow but it’ll be quick, I promise.”

Nick folds himself up, pressing his legs against his chest like before, and nudging his hands in the crooks of his knees. He steels himself, trying his best not to grimace.

“That’s my Grimmy,” Harry says, rubbing his shin. Harry meets his eyes all of a sudden, his head hovering above Nick’s knees. “Are you alright? I know you hate this part.”

Nick isn’t doing a great job at not grimacing, it turns out.

Nick nods despite himself, trying to give Harry a neutral expression. It isn’t taking it out that Nick minds, not really — and besides, it’s not like there’s anything Harry can do. It’s ending the scene that Nick doesn’t like. It’s the way his body starts to feel like a weight, heavy and useless and spent. It’s the aching emptiness afterward; it makes his stomach lurch. It’s the fact that nothing can replace this closeness, and they both know it.

“Give me a few big breaths and let them out slowly,” Harry says, taking hold of the plug. Nick does, and Harry talks him through it, murmuring to him until they’ve finished. Afterward, Harry climbs off the bed, still murmuring. Nick isn’t sure what Harry’s saying or what he’s gotten up to do.

Nick lays back, drained. He’s hollow and numb, the emptiness surrounding him. A moment passes before Nick realises Harry’s back on the bed, eyes on him. The scrutiny makes Nick shift, uncomfortable all of a sudden. Harry’s gaze is hot on his skin, burning like a slap he didn’t ask for. It feels different, after the end of the scene. It’s too much, now, the feeling that Harry can see everything Nick’s ever tried to hide. Every secret and every fear.

Nick turns away on his side, knees to his chest. Feels better that way. Nick closes his eyes; the light’s too bright. Everything feels like too much – and yet like nothing at all. Nick can’t quite tell. He thinks he must be laying on the bed, yet he can’t feel a pillow beneath his head or sheets against his body. Feels kind of like he’s floating. He must be.

Nick wants to speak, but he isn’t sure if anything would come out of his mouth, or if anyone’s even there to hear it. There isn’t the heat of Harry’s body next to him, so it seems that Nick’s alone, or he might as well be. Nick wants to be alone, he realises. He’s craving it. Being alone is what he wants most in the world. Solitude seems appealing. Irresistible. Time to reflect, to decompress. It’d be good for him. Some time by himself, unfettered, unruffled.

The feeling lasts for maybe one moment, maybe five, before being eclipsed by something else, so sudden and all-encompassing it takes Nick by surprise. The need to be alone is drowned out by something louder and stronger. Nick wants to be with Harry; Nick wants to unite. He wants to bridge every molecule of space so there’s nothing left between them, nothing separate and nothing sacred. He wants to unhusk them both layer by layer until the scrubby raw cores are exposed, examined and held and seen.

The numbness ebbs to a chill Nick can’t shake, and Nick shifts, looking for warmth. Or something. He’s not sure. Nick can sense Harry’s heat just enough to know he’s there, and there’s a motion on the bed that makes Nick think Harry’s shifted toward him, too. Nick looks down to see Harry’s hand on his chest; Harry seems to be rubbing it, but Nick doesn’t know. The touch feels distant, as if it’s happening to someone else. There’s something shimmery and unreal about his awareness, like he’s half-asleep. He might be.

Nick breathes in and out slowly, waiting for things to feel more real again. Harry’s right: it helps. The rise of his chest is steady, even when nothing else seems to be. Dimly, Nick begins to realise Harry’s scratching him, tracing figure-eights on his chest. Nick watches the continuous motion of Harry’s hand until he can feel Harry’s fingernails against his skin and identify the scratch by touch, not sight. It’s soothing.

The room comes into gradual clarity, Nick’s reality focusing like his eyesight in a dark room. There’s a pillow behind his head. A mattress beneath him. Sheets over his legs, but not his feet. His feet feel cold. He’s leaned against Harry. Harry feels very warm. Nick can hear his heartbeat.

Harry’s fingers are underneath Nick’s chin, now, tilting it up. Harry’s started kissing his face, little moth-wing touches brushing against his forehead, his cheeks and chin. Nick gets all warm inside, at that. There’s still that foggy distance between Nick and his senses, but he knows enough to know that he likes when Harry kisses him, and he likes the way it makes him feel.

“Y’alright?” Harry asks. He’s rubbing Nick’s shoulder.

“Think so,” Nick says. It’s a strange sort of relief, to know that he’s able to speak.

“You need anything?” Harry asks.

“Will you still –” Nick stops. He feels too fragile for this question, like the answer could be too heavy for him to hold.

Harry just waits, watching him and holding him until he knows what to say.

“Will you touch me?” Nick asks.

“Yeah, of course I will,” Harry says, his voice the warmest Nick’s ever heard it. He rolls on his side to get the lube, pausing when Nick reaches out and taps his back.

“Use your spit instead?” Nick asks.

“Oh,” Harry says, shifting back to face him. “Sure, yeah. Anything you want, tell me.”

“Yeah, then. That. I like how it feels.”

“I do, too,” Harry says. He brings his palm to his mouth, and when he has enough slick, slides his hand down between them.

Harry comes closer so their foreheads touch, sharing one pillow even though he has at least five. Harry takes both their cocks in one hand, pressing them together and slicking them up with the spit he rubs in. It’s not much, but Nick’s crying out from the gratification of a firm touch, whimpering at the way it feels to have his cock aligned with Harry’s.

There’s light behind Nick’s eyelids as Harry starts to stroke them both, the pleasure woven and wound all around him, shining through him. Harry’s grip is firm slick perfect and the twist of his wrist is sublime, the pressure of his thumb against the head just heavenly, and before Nick can even think about it, his orgasm is hurtling through him, shattering him into a million shimmering fragments and then bringing all of his broken pieces back together. In the heat of it, Nick rises, reborn.

There’s a sweet haze fogging Nick’s head when he comes to. He feels very soft and very sleepy. Harry’s next to him, Nick knows, so close Nick suspects their shoulders are pressed together, but he can’t be arsed to open his eyes and check.

“So… you got spunk on my pillows,” Harry says. It’s the first thing Nick hears, and it takes him a few seconds to process.

“I did?” Nick feels his nose wrinkle.

“Don’t know how, but you did.” Harry laughs.

“Kind of impressive,” Nick mumbles. The warmth next to him is Harry’s shoulder. Nick presses his face against it.

“Well impressive, actually,” Harry says, and Nick is never too sleepy to preen. “Let me go get a flannel before it dries. You’ve got it all over you, too.” The mattress rises as Harry sits up. “Warm or cool?”

“Warm.” A warm flannel soothes Nick’s skin and helps him wind down after a scene, and a cool one refreshes him if they decide to stay up and talk. They do that, sometimes. Harry makes tea to go along with biscuits in bed, and Nick complains about crumbs in the sheets with his mouth full of cookie. It’s nice.

“Okay.” There’s a hand on Nick’s forehead, running through his hair. A press of lips to the crown of his head. Then there’s another shifting on the bed and the pad of Harry’s footsteps getting softer.

The buzzing under Nick’s skin has gotten noticeably calmer, his internal voice quiet and still. He feels a satisfied warmth in his belly and his chest, and everywhere else. There’s a pocket of heat where Harry had been laying, and Nick curls into it, listening to the running water and the downward snap of the light switches.

“Wait — did you come?” Nick calls, lifting his head. It suddenly seems very important for him to know.

"Of course I did,” Harry says. The bathroom door clicks shut.

"Show-off,” Nick says, laughing. His abs ache, but in a good way.

"S'not a competition," Harry says, good-natured. His voice is getting closer. There’s another shift, and Nick supposes he’s climbed back on the bed. " Do you want to go again? 'cause I'll go again."

Nick’s opened his eyes with the sole purpose of rolling them at Harry; he can see Harry facing him, now, starkers and cross-legged.

“I’m not kidding,” Harry says, trying to tamp down a smile. He can’t even take himself seriously.

“Oh, god, no.” Nick laughs, covering his face with his hands. “I don’t think my body would be able to take it. Poor heart would give out.”

“We don’t want that, do we?” Harry pouts.

“With you, I can never tell.”

“Ha.” Harry rolls his eyes and then seems to remember what he’s holding. “Here you are.” He passes the flannel to Nick.

Nick doesn’t bother to assess the damage, just sort of circles the flannel halfheartedly around his chest and stomach until he figures he’s got it all. He turns the cloth over and swipes his forehead with the clean side before handing it back.

“Thanks,” Nick says, lifting his head for a kiss. Harry leans down and meets him. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes since he’d last kissed Harry, but it feels like it’s been forever. Nick tries to think back, but it’s all dreamy and unreal, bathed in a cast of cloud. It’ll come to him later, he reckons. Talking things through with Harry makes their scenes come alive in a new way, gives them a new dimension.

Nick’s cotton mouth is a reminder that it all did happen, though, and when he asks for water, his voice is raspier than he expects it to be.

Harry bends down to get the water bottle at the side of the bed. Nick’s still laying down, when Harry brings the bottle to his lips, water dribbles down his chin. Harry laughs.

“You’re ridiculous,” Harry says. He tries to wipe off Nick’s face with his hand, but Nick ends up reaching for the duvet and using that instead. “Sit up, will you?”

Nick groans as he sits up. True, his muscles are sore, but mostly he wants the sympathy. Harry just looks at him. Nick lets out another cough, pointedly. It’s a quite spectacular one.

“Bit dramatic, are we?” Harry says, passing him the water bottle.

“I have a very fragile composition,” Nick insists. “I should start keeping an extra puff-puff at yours, just in case. Dodgy lungs.”

“I’ll get on right on that,” Harry says. He’s smiling. “Priority number one. The puff-puff.”

“Better be,” Nick mumbles. Nick can feel Harry watching him, amused, as he drinks half the bottle and passes it back to Harry. Harry drinks the other half of the bottle and drops it on the floor, unceremonious.

Harry’s smile fades as he turns back in Nick’s direction. He doesn’t make eye contact, and it’s almost like he’s looking past Nick. Nick thinks he’s spacing, but then he catches the slouch of Harry’s shoulders, curled in almost as if trying to seem smaller. Crinkles next to his downcast eyes, gentle creasing shadows underneath them, he looks boyish but wise in the lamplight. He’d seemed alright before, but maybe… Maybe he isn’t. Scenes can quite often be draining for him, too. Denying Nick is a skill Harry’s had to develop, as it doesn’t come to him naturally. Aftercare, too; it can be hard to so suddenly shift from taking complete care of Nick to, once again, setting him free.

Nick holds out his arms and Harry gets up on his knees to meet him for the cuddle he’s offering. It’s not the best angle, Harry’s shoulder pressing against Nick’s windpipe, but it’s well worth it. Harry loves to hug, and he gives his all, especially when he needs one. Harry’s got a tight hold on him, splayed fingers pressing into his skin like he’s trying to get as close to Nick as he can.

They’re quiet for a minute, sweat dissipating on their bare skin as they hold each other. Nick can feel his heartbeat slow. He feels safe.

“I liked that so much,” Harry says softly, his chin hooked over Nick’s shoulder.

“I liked it, too,” Nick echoes. The sentence feels flimsy, a whisper when he wants to shout. There’s a chill on his neck just thinking about their scene.

“Harry…” Nick starts. His mouth feels dry again. ”That was…” He falters, drawing in a breath and letting it go.

“I know,” Harry says. There’s a smile in his voice. Harry nuzzles his face into the crook of Nick’s neck. “Told you,” Harry mumbles.

“You did,” Nick says, fond. His arms tighten around Harry. “I get it, now. All of it. I do.”

“See, I do have good ideas,” Harry says.

“You have excellent ideas,” Nick says. “We’d best do them all.”

There’s a pause as Nick waits for Harry to speak. A beat passes before Harry retreats, holding Nick’s elbows. As he looks at Nick, a smile blooms on his face.

“Wait…. does that mean you’ll do the candle thing again?” His eyes are shining, devious and excited. Before Nick can answer, he continues. “Ooh, and the spreader bar? And the ice cubes, and the fancy rope? Daisy taught me how to do all these different knots. I’ve gotten really good.” Harry widens his gaze and raises his brows, imploring. “Can we?”

This time, Nick’s answer comes to him instantly. There’s a big wide world sprawled out before them, and with all of its winding peaks and valleys to explore, its endless pleasures to share… Nick wants to experience it all.

The world can be theirs; all Nick has to do is reach out and grab it.

“Yes,” Nick says. “But only if you ask nicely.”

Harry grins. “Don’t I always?”