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Hold On, I'm a Little Unsteady

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The Folly is quiet, which in itself is not suspicious, but Nightingale went out on what he called a routine case this morning and hasn’t been in contact since. Granted, his idea of staying in contact varies depending on exactly how hypocritical he’s feeling from day to day, but I can usually expect at least a quick phone call to say how things went, or that he was absolutely right and my time was definitely better spent practicing formas. Formae , I mean. I like to think that that’s his way of admitting the case was boring as fuck, but I’ve got no actual proof of that, except that I’m pretty good at wangling my way onto the interesting ones by now.

But there hasn’t been a call since the morning. It’s late enough that I’m considering going to bed and still not a peep. I wander into the kitchen to see if Molly knows anything but she just tilts her head in a way that I’m pretty sure means she’s worried but can’t find a way to blame me for it, and passes me Toby’s lead. Toby and I walk three times around Russell Square, which is long enough for Toby to mistake a pile of leaves for a squirrel twice, but there’s still no sign of Nightingale when we get back.

He’s a dangerous immortal wizard, I tell myself, and he’s a hundred years old. Stop worrying and go to sleep.

I go to bed, but that’s about as far as I can take my own advice.

This turns out to be for the best when Molly wakes me up what feels like half a second later, framed in my doorway like a particularly determined wraith. Living with her wears off a lot of the terror incipient in  being startled by a gaunt, pale, Edwardian maid who makes no sound and has teeth like something from the dark part of the ocean, but there are definitely still times when she can make me jump. Like, say, appearing out of the dark in the middle of the night and staring at you while you’re asleep. That’s yet to wear off.

The scare has me sitting bolt upright with adrenaline, but I’m clear-headed enough to ask, “Is he all right?” Molly wouldn’t be here for anything less than Nightingale needing help or a natural disaster, and I’m honestly not sure about that second one.

Molly shifts slightly so the hallway light lets me catch her expression: it is distinctly unimpressed.

“All right, I’m coming,” I say, and swing my legs out of the bed.

It’s not until I’m following her out of my corridor and up a flight of stairs that it occurs to me I’ve never thought to ask where Nightingale’s bedroom is. It’s partially comforting - if anything were seriously wrong, like, fatally wrong, Nightingale would be in the atrium, surely, not up the endless flights of stairs - but following a night haunt through candlelight to an unknown location when you’re just in your boxers and a ratty t-shirt is not the most conducive situation for rational thought.

Molly leads us down another long corridor, stops in front of one of the many indistinguishable wooden doors, and gives me a look.

“Here?” I ask, stupidly. Molly’s look narrows. “All right,” I say, hastily, and knock. “Um, Inspector Nightingale?” There’s no answer. Molly hasn’t moved an inch. “Hello? Sir? Are you all right?” Still nothing. There’s a light flickering in the tiny gap between the bottom of the door and the floorboards. I try the handle. It’s not locked. “Sir?” Molly makes a gesture of impatience and I make my mind up. “I’m coming in,” I call, and push the door open.

Nightingale’s room matches his handwriting: it’s not as neat as you’d expect. There are books strewn over the floor and a pile of shoes underneath the shuttered window. I don’t really take any of this in, though, because as I step into the room, I catch sight of Nightingale darting through a door at the opposite side. I’m going to assume it’s an en suite, and I’m going to assume there’s a reason, or I’m just going to start being insulted. Hey, it’s the middle of the night. I’m allowed to jump to conclusions.

“Sir?” I call through the far door. “Are you all right? Molly was worried.” Nice, Peter. Solid deflection work there.

“I’m fine,” says Nightingale in a clipped voice. “Nothing to worry about.”

“I’d be more convinced if you weren’t hiding in a bathroom,” I say. “Just so you know.”

“It’s nothing,” says Nightingale, which is also clearly a lie. “Go back to bed.”

I look over my shoulder. Molly is in the doorway. She shakes her head emphatically.

“Don’t think I can do that,” I say. “Is it the case? Did something happen?”

The bathroom door looks sturdy, like all the old doors in this place. Still, I eye the hinges speculatively, calculating my odds against it if it came to bursting my way through. I don’t hold out that much hope for my strength or an impello against a door in the Folly, though, let alone one with Nightingale on the other side to do one of his ancient magic tricks to keep me out.

I hesitate. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” On this, at least, Nightingale sounds sure. “I’m not hurt. It’s all right, Peter, go back to bed.”

That’s the second time he’s asked that.

“Not sure if you know this, but I’ve never been much for doing what I’m told,” I say, like a smart arse. “You want to come out so we can move on with our lives?”

Nightingale sighs exasperatedly. “Peter,” he says, and there, that’s better, he sounds more like himself with that edge of annoyance, “trust me. It’s nothing you need to concern yourself about.”

That, I notice, using my keen and penetrating policing skills, is not that same thing as saying that nothing is wrong.

“Then come on out and show me,” I say, “and I’ll say, sir, you’re right, and you can tell me I should respect your orders more, and we can all just move on.”

The door remains stubbornly closed. I start to feel properly worried, the way that makes me feel cold in the hollow of my throat. “Please,” I say, hearing my own voice dip low without my conscious input, and, miracle of miracles, the door handle turns.

I step back to let Nightingale into the room and he looks - fine. Huh. He’s still in his suit, a dark pinstripe, although it has to be gone one in the morning, but there’s nothing visible on him to speak to an altercation or anything else of immediate concern.

“Sir,” I say, in the carefully pitched tone of constables everywhere responding to a question whose optimum outcome is unknown.

Nightingale pulls down the hem of his suit jacket like he’s straightening out imaginary wrinkles. “As you can see,” he says, “I’m not hurt.”

I narrow my eyes. He looks unhurt and he sounds unhurt but there’s something… there’s something. I think - finally - to check for vestigia . Yes, it should have been the first thing I did. What can I say? It’s late. I was worried.

“Molly,” Nightingale says, across me, while I let myself relax into the room, “I’m quite all right, thank you.”

Molly might respond, but I’m not looking. I let the something tug at me, that faint undercurrent that’s trying to turn my attention away from it, until - there, yes, I’ve got it: it’s like Nightingale’s signare , the sharp scent of pine and the feel of laughter, something warm and old and powerful, but beneath that there’s a throughline of lust. Not the regular kind of yeah I’m into it horny, a rawer, baser thing that tugs at my cock and quickens my blood. I take an involuntary step back as it hits me, almost as strong as a physical punch.

“What the fuck,” I say, succinctly, and all the colour drains out of Nightingale’s face.

Vaguely, behind me, I hear the bedroom door close.

“Peter,” Nightingale says, “it’s nothing, I assure you, it’s -” he steps towards me as though he’s trying to comfort me but wobbles, swaying on his feet. I lean in to steady him without even thinking about it, catching his elbow and keeping him up, and, as I grab him, Nightingale makes a long, low moan.

“Um,” I say, and Nightingale looks mortified . “What the fuck is happening?”

“You should go,” Nightingale says, trying to move away, but I’m looking at him more closely now and I can see the sweat darkening his hairline, the way he’s not just pale but palid, grey at his edges. “Get yourself away.”

“Away from what?” I ask. “Sir, what happened? Don’t tell me you’re all right again; it’s insulting.” My hand is still on his elbow, keeping him steady. I soften my voice. “What’s going on? What happened?”

Nightingale sighs, and I know I’ve won. He only sighs like that when I’ve worn him down into an explanation earlier than he was planning to give it. I’ve become particularly proud of eliciting that sound, especially because he never seems annoyed about it, just resigned. Fond, almost, if I let myself think about it.

And I haven’t been letting myself think about it, because the last time I did, we’d kissed, fast and hard against the side of the coach house, both of us flying on adrenaline from a near miss with a vampire nest and Nightingale shockingly beautiful all lit up with exhilarated success.

“Excellent work, Peter,” he’d been saying, and I had looked at him, at the way he had started to smile at me lately like an invitation he was on the verge of giving, and I’d thought, better to know than not , and kissed him. He’d gasped against my mouth, this one fleeting moment of surprise - surprise , I’d realised with a thrill of victory; I’d surprised him - and then pulled me against him, the pair of us making out like teenagers with Nightingale pressed up against the coach house wall and my hands all over him, roaming underneath his suit jacket, finding his neat waist and fitting my palms to it, feeling him groan at my touch. He’d pulled me in closer by my arse, his slender fingers digging in tight, and I’d made such a noise of appreciation.

It had been this heady, dizzying, sprint of a kiss, both of us frantic in a way I couldn’t have expected, and then there’d been a noise from outside the Folly, some stray passerby of London going about their lives, and it had been enough of a distraction to bring us back into ourselves.

“Peter,” Nightingale had said. He didn’t need to say anything else; the tone of his voice had done it for him. It was the kind of tone people get when they’re about to let you down easy, or when they’ve thought about what they’ve just done and can’t look at it yet, aren’t ready to reconcile it with what they know of themselves. I tried my very hardest not to take it personally.

“Yeah,” I’d said, pulling back properly. “You don’t need to say it, sir, I know that was inappropriate.”

There had been a moment, just one, where I’d thought he might argue with me, or reel me back in. His chest was still heaving, both of us still breathing hard. I could still feel his grip on my arse, could still see him hard in his trousers, breaking the perfect line of his suit. I’d waited, but -

“Yes,” he’d said, and tugged on his suit jacket. I didn’t recognise it at the time but since then I’d started to think it was a tell, a small nervous habit. God knew he could do with one. “That was inappropriate, I apologise. I’m your.. Well, I’m your boss, and I shouldn’t have.” I hadn’t heard him struggle for words like this in the whole time I’d known him. It helped, somehow. Softened things. “I’m sorry, Peter.”

I could have pushed him on it, I know. I could have pointed out I’d kissed him , could have told him how completely unsorry I wanted him to be, how I’d be thinking about his hard mouth on mine for days and weeks to come. But I didn’t, and he didn’t, and we sort of nodded the nod of British men ending an awkward interaction, and went our separate ways as though we’d never kissed at all.

I’d figured I’d made myself clear enough, though, that if he’d thought about it, if he’d reconsidered or whatever, he’d know what my feelings on the subject were. But he never mentioned it, and I never mentioned it, and enough time had passed that I could almost look at him without remembering that I knew what he tasted like when he kissed, how he felt against my body when he let himself want.

But I’m thinking about that too much, now in his bedroom with an unspecified lust spell reverberating in the air and Nightingale unsteady on his feet, and it isn’t going to help either of us if I get distracted. And getting distracted by wanting to kiss your boss when the man in question looks like a good breeze might knock him down, well, I don’t need the DPS to tell me that that’s not okay.

“There was a demon trap,” Nightingale says, and my hand tightens on his arm entirely unconsciously. Nightingale’s breath comes quicker for a moment. “Don’t look like that, it was nothing to worry about.”

“Oh, sure,” I say. “Those demon traps, notoriously easy prey.”

Even in his current state, Nightingale manages to level me a glare. “I disarmed it,” he says. “But… it had an element I’d overlooked.”

I can’t help myself. “The trap was a trap?”

“Enough of that,” he says, but he rolls his eyes. “Yes, all right, the trap was a trap.”

I am a magical genius, this is the only conclusion. But back to the matter at hand. “What happened?”

“There were consequences,” he says, which he can definitely add to his collection of Obtuse and Unnecessary Statements, and I’m about to tell him so when he staggers, sways to the side.

“Whoa, whoa,” I say, catching him round the waist before he can fall, and he moans again, doubles over like he’s in pain. The vestigia from before roars back suddenly, stronger, and I’m achingly hard in my boxers just like that, longing to be touched. My mouth is dry.

“Let me go,” Nightingale says, hoarse-voiced, and staggers to the bed. He sits down hard on the edge, his head bowed, and I’m panting, trying to breathe through the sudden wave of need that’s crashing through the room, when I notice his hands tremble on his legs. I force myself to think, stumbling my way to his side.

Never let it be said that Peter Grant can’t string a case together. The lust vestigia ; Nightingale’s reluctance to admit the effects of the trap; the way Nightingale had sounded, caught in a paroxysm when touched. If I was wrong, I was going to sound seriously deluded, but I’d said stupider things for the sake of narrowing my options, so: “Is this.. a sex spell?”

An endless pause hangs in the air. The room smells like sweat now, and sex, thick and heady. I can’t tell if it’s real or a remnant of the spell, lingering on Nightingale’s skin.

Slowly, Nightingale nods. He brings his hands up to cover his face, rests his elbows on his knees. “I’m sorry, Peter,” he says, which takes me spectacularly off guard. “I should have told you earlier. I thought I could hold the effects off until you’d left.”

“The effects,” I say, stupidly, before it clicks. “Oh. Oh.

“Yes,” Nightingale says, stiffly,  behind his hands. “Please don’t go on about it.”

But I can’t stop thinking about it. Nightingale came just then, with my hands on him, right there in his room where I could see it, could feel it. The roar of the spell right afterwards, dragging me along in its wake. He came in his suit trousers , I think, desperately. There’s come on his skin right now.

“Oh,” I say again. My voice is a croak. “Um, has it… helped?”

Nightingale makes a much more embarrassed sound. “Not as much as I might have hoped,” he admits, “no.”

Keep it together, Peter. “How long will this last?”

“I don’t know,” Nightingale says.

“How do you make it stop?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will anything help”

“I don’t know ,” Nightingale snaps, bringing his head up. His cheeks are flushed now, pink streaks along his aristocratic face. “Don’t you think if I knew, I’d be doing something about it?”

It’s almost definitely not his intention but the phrasing makes me think immediately of Nightingale with his cock in his hand, head thrown back, working himself up to a pitch. It must show on my face; I can almost feel it.

“Yes,” Nightingale says softly, holding my gaze. “Yes, I’ve tried that. That didn’t help either.”

I swallow as hard as I can. I vaguely remember reading something about this somewhere in one of the many vast and dusty tomes I’ve been valiantly defeating with a battered Latin dictionary. Magicians were just as randy as the rest of us, I’ve been learning. If I really concentrate, I can just about remember the rest of the page on sex spells. At the time I’d been all, yeah right, a sex spell, sure, but now it seems anything but laughable.

Next to me, Nightingale is a strung line of tension, holding himself unnaturally still. I swallow. “Sir,” I say, because erring on the side of reserve seems like the best way through this next part, “shouldn’t you be… you know -” Keep it together, Peter “- um, taking care of this? The, um, old fashioned way?”

I don’t look at Nightingale for this, trying to leave us both that. “It seemed disingenuous,” he says.

“To what? Find some bloke in Soho and say, hey, fancy a quickie?” Nightingale makes a stifled noise and shifts in his seat. I can’t help but look over; he’s hard still, so obvious in his pristine trousers. The vestigia in the room isn’t helping me look away, isn’t helping me think of literally anything but the way he’d felt against me when we kissed, the demand of his body against mine, his cock hot and firm against my thigh. I swallow again, my throat much drier. “That seems the best way out, right?”

“I suppose,” Nightingale says. He shifts again, restless, before going still. I glance over: his hands are clenched in the blankets, white-knuckled. God.

I don’t remember if there were side-effects from spells like this. Some of the stuff I’ve been reading about is fucking nasty if you leave it, so it’s not outside the realms of possibility for some angry wizard to have rigged some sort of lust trap that leaves its victim hard and unable to get off to their satisfaction until they explode or something. Look, don’t ask me. It’s all in Latin and from what I can tell, half the people making these things up needed a lot more socialising with humans rather than books.

But I don’t think Nightingale is that self-destructive. At least, not when I’ve still got so much shit to learn. Maybe it’s just a matter of waiting it out? Still, it’s obviously uncomfortable. Nightingale is pink-cheeked and the air smells like sex; the vestigia has me on edge - I’m hard in my boxers still, doing my wilful best to ignore it - and I’m only getting side effects by proximity. Nightingale set a trap off on himself. Even knowing it’ll wear off, that’s got to be painful.

“Seriously,” I say, pushing it. “It’s not like anyone’s going to, you know, turn that down. Nice gent like you? You could have your pick.”

Peter .” Nightingale’s voice has gone strangled.

I look over again. His expression is taut; I think he’s holding his breath. It occurs to me - and, all right, it took me long enough - that if I were grappling with some sort of constant desperate orgasming thing, I might not want someone else staring at me the whole time I fought it off. If nothing else, then I could come without someone watching. Like, say, my subordinate someone, in Nightingale’s case.

My subordinate someone that I made out with frantically against a wall , I think, my pulse picking up, and I can’t keep it back any more.

“Sir,” I say, “about the other day,” and Nightingale’s leg is jittering, up and down and up like nervous displacement, and without thinking at all, I put my hand over his knee. I just mean it to help, to let him know I’m there, but as soon as I touch him, his back arches, and his face contorts, and his hips jerk up once, twice, and he’s coming again, just from the weight of my hand.

I let go at once, Nightingale’s pale face burning red. “Oh my god,” I say, “I’m so sorry. Are you… okay?”

“Fine,” Nightingale grits out. He’s breathless, and takes a long moment to steady himself. I can’t help looking, I just can’t; he’s still hard. He’s come twice, god, and he’s still hard.

Nightingale was so warm under my hand, even just for that fleeting touch. Sweat is starting to prickle at my temples, down the middle of my back. My pulse beats harder. I can’t tell if it’s the spell making everything stronger or if this is all me, but either way the brunt of this desire is mine. It’s like I’ve been leaning against a door for the last couple of weeks, keeping out everything I had to by brute force, but seeing Nightingale start to unravel has sent me staggering away, sent everything I want flying free.

Nightingale rubs a hand over his face. “It’ll work itself out of my system,” he says, clearly straining for his usual tone. “I should never have let you in to begin with. You should leave.”

I want to take his slender hand in mine, and tell him I’m sorry, that he’s okay. That it’ll be okay. But I can’t touch him like this, and he’s told me to leave, so I get to my feet.

He’s not looking at me. He’s pink from hairline to collar, the collar itself damp with sweat. His hands are still trembling. His trousers are going to be a mess, it’s clear: the faintest of stains is starting to show on his crotch, beading at the tip of his erection. It’s stupid, I know, but I get this sudden surge of anger. Some spell shouldn’t get to do this to Nightingale, shouldn’t get to unravel him on its command. He’s the most orderly man I know, the most held together, cards to his chest. He’d dress for breakfast if he could, never mind dinner, and he’s neat and sharp and beautiful and composed and I hate whatever’s doing this to him, stripping him out of his coating.

“I’m going,” I say, though it about kills me. Even without the sex whatever, it’s completely against the grain for me to leave him like this. You don’t leave a man behind. “Don’t be a martyr though, if you can help it. If you need something, at least let Molly know.”

That makes him laugh. “I’ll be sure to do that,” he says, wry. He looks up at me. His pupils are blown wide, his skin blotchy, and I just want to kiss him and kiss him and kiss him.

I clear my throat. “But about the other day.” I wait, just in case, but Nightingale just nods, tight-lipped. “I don’t regret it. I don’t think it was inappropriate. If you want, we can… go on not mentioning it, and if you want, it’ll never happen again. But if you do want -” I wet my lips “- well, I want. That.” Fuck it, if I’m doing this, then: “I want you.”

This is the least romantic announcement of feelings that has ever happened. Even by my own standards - low, at the best of times - this is scraping the bottom of the barrel. The room smells like sex, I’m almost painfully hard,, and if I ever had any pretensions to eloquence or whatever Nightingale might call it, they are well and truly deserting me tonight. I cough again. “So, um.” Eloquence right there. “I’ll just…. Go.”

I turn around, ready to go back to my own room and.. Okay, go back and wank, first off, because apparently lust spells don’t fuck around, but then I guess I’ll just curl up in a ball of sticky self-recrimination and try not to think about anything apart from being a Professional Adult in the morning.

But then, unbelievably: “Wait,” says Nightingale. “Peter, please.”

I turn back. He’s on his feet, hand stretched out to me. The effort of keeping himself together is starting to show on his face and it’s almost too much for me to look at, this baring of work.

“Peter,” he says again. He sounds like it’s costing him something, like he’s pushing past  a long-held restraint. His face is flushed and there’s come on his trousers but he’s as serious as I’ve ever seen him. “I don’t want you to think -  I don’t want you to walk out of here thinking I don’t want you. I do want you.” I see his throat move as he swallows. “I’m not sending you away because I don’t want you. It’s because I do.”

It feels a little bit like being electrocuted. I can feel my whole body respond to him, this throb of desire right through me. A deep bass note. Nightingale rocks back a little and I know it’s hit him too. I know part of this is the spell but, god, not all of it.

I breathe out hard. “Then what are we doing? Why aren’t we -” here I gesture between us, which hopefully conveys my general message, running the spectrum from talking about it to fucking like rabbits . Nightingale looks frozen. “Would it help?” I press. “Now, I mean. Would sex make the spell wear off faster?” I’m desperate not to fuck this up. “Because I want to help, of course I do, but also - “  I falter.

He’s stock still, intent on me. All of Thomas Nightingale’s focus is a weight, and I need him to know that I can take it. That I want his weight on me.

Specifically, I need him to know this; I can almost feel him thinking about it. “I’m not offering because I think I should, and I’m not saying yes because I’m not thinking about the consequences,” I say. “I’m offering because I want you, and I think you’ve wanted me for just as long.” I spread my hands. The room is so quiet I swear I can almost hear my heartbeat pounding, pounding behind my ribs. “Thomas,” I say, and hardly recognise my own voice for how raw it sounds, how splayed open. “You’re not going to hurt me. I haven’t had second thoughts. I’ve been thinking about the other night for what feels like all my life now, and I’m asking you, do you want me to stay?”

Nightingale’s breath catches. For a long moment, he doesn’t speak. I feel like I could swallow my heart, like it’s thumped its way into my throat to stop me breathing. Then, very quietly, Nightingale says, “Yes. ”

I breathe out like a freight train. “And you want me?” I repeat. It’s overkill, but whatever. I’m desperate to be sure. “Because, before, you said we shouldn’t, and I don’t want to do anything you don’t want.”

“I said it was inappropriate.” His voice lowers, a confession past pride.. “Not that I didn’t want you.”

I’m so hard it’s making me dizzy, which isn’t helping, and I’m only getting the spell’s effects at a remove. I can’t imagine what it’s costing Nightingale to stay even as composed as he is. “Can I -“

“Yes ,” Nightingale says, much more raggedly, and I cross the room to him at what must be approaching warp speed. Close to, he’s radiating warmth.

“We can talk about it afterwards,” I say, my heart beating hard. He nods, staring at my mouth. “Any of it. All of it. But, right now - trust me? “

Yes ,” Nightingale says, and hauls me into a kiss.

It’s as bruising as our first, just as frantic. It’s sloppy, too, neither of us quite getting the angle on the first attempt, and both of us are breathing too hard to kiss for long. I press myself all along Nightingale’s body and he groans, actually groans.

“Peter,” he says, “god,” and I topple us both back onto the bed. Nightingale makes a noise of agonised relief when I cup him through his trousers, the fabric damp against my palm, and I hiss out appreciation as he pushes into my hand. I bury my face in his neck, kiss where his pulse is pounding under his skin. He’s making these noises, high and needy, and they’re driving me out of my mind.

“Fuck,” I say, pulling back enough to wrestle his jacket - his suit jacket, he’s still wearing a full fucking suit, jesus - off his shoulders. “How did you make it back here without getting off?”

Nightingale strips the jacket off his arms with clean efficiency. My mouth all but waters. “With difficulty,” he says.

I groan, picturing it. Nightingale, holding himself together by the skin of his teeth and the grit of his nails. “There are places,” I say. This is London; odds are good if there’s a private corner, someone’s getting off in it. Hell, not even just London. People are people wherever they are. I nip at Nightingale’s neck; I think it’s going to leave a mark. “You could have.”

“I couldn’t,” he gasps, “not in public,” and I moan into his skin, thinking about it. Nightingale gritting his teeth against agonising need until he found privacy, until he’d shut himself in his own rooms. Fighting back the inevitable with sheer force of will, all the way through the Folly and into his room, maybe being finally overcome by my hand on his waist -

“Fuck,” I groan, and Nightingale bucks against me. I can recognise a plea when I feel one, and right then I resolve to hear him make the word before the night is out. He’s pushing his hips clumsily forward, looking for any relief. We’re in an undignified sprawl, side by side, and I grapple us round for a moment until I have him lying under me, his whole strong body a taut line beneath mine.

“Yes,” I say, pushing my hips down to meet his, “ yes ,” and he bucks up again with a choked cry, comes in a rush and a shudder. His eyelids flutter. It’s extraordinarily beautiful. “All right?” I ask, when he opens his eyes, and he nods, panting for breath, and catches me by the back of my neck, pulls me into a kiss.

He’s still mostly dressed and I’m wearing pyjamas but I think it’s fair to say anything we’re wearing right now is going to be a write-off before the night is out. Nightingale is still hard, not flagging at all. I squirm a hand between us and cup him again, feel him straining hard against my palm, his trousers all but ruined.

“Again?” I ask, and Nightingale nods quickly.

“If you wouldn’t mind.”

“If I wouldn’t - “ I’m half incredulous until I see the look in his eye, mischief despite the whole ludicrous situation, and I have to kiss him for it, kissing him and kissing him until he’s making these soft sounds against my mouth, as close as I’ve ever heard him to pliance. I straddle his thighs, fumbling with his trouser fastenings. Nightingale groans again when my weight lifts off him, and as I’m trying to make my fingers work around a button, he presses his own palm against the line of his cock. Christ .

“All right?” I ask, but my voice doesn’t sound quite as light as I mean.

“There’s… some discomfort,” Nightingale allows, and I see the tendons flex in the back of his hand as he rolls his palm against himself, pressing relief while I’m busy.

Some discomfort . This man got shot in the chest and insisted he could manage without painkillers almost as soon as he was conscious. Fuck, he got whammied with a lust spell and made it all the way back across London without touching himself and now here he is, his hand on his cock, where someone can see him. Where I can see him. Where I can smell how much he needs this.

Some discomfort, I think, and shiver. I can’t imagine how desperate Nightingale must be to admit even to that.

The smell of sex only gets stronger as I peel off his trousers, dragging his underwear down too. There’s black boxer briefs, surprisingly modern, and a sticky mess in my hands. I drop everything to the side of the bed and Nightingale doesn’t make a single protest about it. Even if I had no other clue, that would tell me how far gone he was.

I look down. He’s still in his shirt, buttoned to the collar, but naked from the waist down, pale and bared. His thighs are strong; a muscle in one inner thigh is twitching in desperation. His cock, flushed dark and curving to his belly. I’m overwhelmed all at once, wanting to touch him everywhere. I’m dizzy with it, dry-mouthed. I smooth my hands along his thighs, against the grain of soft hair, trying to look my fill, but -

“Please,” he chokes out, hips shifting restlessly, and I stop teasing completely.

“All right,” I say, pressing my mouth to his neck, feeling his pulse jump against my lips. “All right, sir.” Nightingale makes a sound I’ve never heard before. That’s something I’ll have to come back to later, I decide, and reach for him. “I’ve got you.”

It’s not strange, to touch another man’s cock. Like, I have one of my own. It’s not a new sensation. What is new is the way it makes Nightingale groan brokenly at the touch of my hand, the way my own cock only throbs in response, doesn’t feel the drag of my hand. I don’t know what he likes but I know what I like, at least, and I start there, gripping this side of too tight, rubbing my thumb hard under the sticky head.

Oh ,” Nightingale says, almost as soon as I’ve started, and comes again, all his muscles tight, spilling hot and familiar over my hand. I start to slow down but he begs, “Keep going,” and so I do, working him onwards and just like that he’s coming again, a hairsbreadth from the last, shuddering all over like he’s breaking apart.

“Yes,” I tell him, awed beyond imagining, keeping my pace steady. “That’s it, that’s it.” I can’t stop staring at him. “God, you’re beautiful.”

He’s flushed pink from hipbones to hairline. His hair is a mess. He is a mess. He has an arm thrown over his face, elbow crooked to hide his eyes, and I bend down and kiss him, the soft skin at his wrist, the underside of his arm. I can’t say don’t be embarrassed , because hearing it would shut him down further - if there’s one thing Nightingale and I have in common, it’s the total stubborn reversal of emotion as soon as it’s pointed out - but I hope I’m saying it this way instead, with a careful brush of my mouth.

He’s still hot and hard in my hand.

“Fuck,” I gasp, bucking my hips, and that gets his attention.

“Peter,” he says, and his voice is shot, hoarse as you like. “Oh god.”

“Yeah,” I say, and press down against him again. He makes this sound in his throat, gorgeous beyond belief, pushes up to meet me. He’s bare and sticky, a mess, and my boxers have rucked up so his come is warm on my thigh now, the two of us rubbing together like there’s nothing to us but instinct and want, like there’s nothing beyond the pair of us on this bed, no suits, no Folly, no duty. Just Nightingale clutching at my arms like he wants me to pin him where he lies, just the way he moves against me, single-minded as ever, like all he wants in this world is to feel me go over the edge.

“I,” I manage, “I’m going to - come -” and Nightingale flips us over like it’s nothing, all wiry strength. He’s been letting me hold me down, I realise again, a hot rush of awareness. He wanted me keeping him there. “Fuck,” I choke out. “Oh god, can you - I need -”

Even like this, even with Nightingale messy beyond repair and his come on my hand, the smell of sex in the air, flat on my back with Nightingale’s hand - fuck , oh, fuck - stroking my dick through my ruined boxers, I struggle for the words. There’s still something so proper about him, even when I’ve seen the way his body arches when he comes.

“I need,” I try again. “I’m close.”

Nightingale makes a sound like he’s been punched and grabs for my boxers. I lift my hips instantly, letting him haul them off me, and still it’s only when he bows his head that I realise what he means to do. What can I say, my brain’s not exactly running on all cylinders. All the cylinders I have left are sex ones and they’re not that great at subtleties. Like really fast cars; good for one thing.

“You don’t have to,” I say, because it seems polite, and Nightingale’s face goes, god, almost unrecognisable with want. His hands are open on the tops of my thighs; I can feel the press of each of his fingers and it’s driving me out of my mind.

“I know I don’t have to,” he says, and he wets his lips. Oh, fuck, his lips. He’s a wreck, and he’s staring down at me like he wants to eat me alive. “But may I?”

May I ? This man is going to kill me. “You fucking may,” I choke, and he goes down.

He sucks cock like he’s born to it. Of course he does, I think, of course he fucking does, what in this world is Thomas Nightingale less than incredible at, and then I stop thinking about anything at all. His mouth is insistent, firm, one hand clenched hard on my hip, holding me down. It feels like - and I might laugh if I could, if I could do anything but grip the sheets and hold on - it feels like when I’m not quite getting something he thinks I can do, like the tone of his voice when he says, Again, Peter ; like encouragement couched in exasperation.

“Oh, fuck,” I say again, and it’s taking everything I have not to thrust into his mouth, his wonderful, demanding mouth. It figures he’d be just as stubborn in bed as out. “I’m going to - fuck, now , I’m going to -”

And Nightingale just makes a muffled noise around me, a noise that sounds like he needs it, and I raise my head just enough to see that his spare hand is between his own legs, working frantically. He’s getting himself off, I realise; sucking me off has him so desperate that he has to touch himself. We’ve lived together for years and I’ve seen him in pyjamas maybe three times at a push but he trusts me enough to let me see him needing.

That’s it, that’s what pushes me over. “ Fuck ,” I moan, and come like I’m being driven over, a flattening, obliterating pulse. It leaves me limp and gasping, but I still raise my head when I hear Nightingale bite off a sound, feel the bed move as he jerks, helpless, into his own hand.

His cheeks are still burning red. I force my jelly limbs to move, to get me up on my knees and over to him so I can grab him and kiss him, like I’m trying to kiss the self-consciousness out of him, let him see how beautiful he is. His cock brushes my belly; still hard. Still .

“Oh,” he moans, at the first brush of contact, and I kiss him again.

I’m cradling his face in my hands. “What do you need?” I ask. “Tell me what you need.”

Nightingale says, “I need something inside me.” I don’t just fall off the bed, for which I’m going to be eternally grateful. I can feel the tension in him despite the fact that he’s come, what, like five times at least. He’s strung tight with the asking. “Could you?”

If there was literally any way I could get it up again right now, I’m pretty sure my dick would just have bounced off my stomach with eagerness. As it is, I feel it twitch, but that’s all I can manage. Nightingale, by contrast, is turning desperate under my hands, all his tension melting into need.

It hits me again, the trust this takes. Just what it means for Thomas Nightingale to have someone listen to him ask.

It takes me an embarrassingly long minute to remember that I have hands.

“Do you have anything?” I ask, when I remember, and Nightingale pants, “In the drawer.”

There’s an awkward moment when, half naked, dick akimbo, I crawl for the edge of the bed and find a pot of lube in the bedside drawer, but whatever. If I minded whenever sex got a bit awkward, I would literally never have sex. I am not a man of permanent dignity.

That there’s lube by Nightingale’s bed is something I just can’t think about right now, can’t think about him taking himself in needful hand and making himself come, back arching, while I’ve been nothing but a flight of stairs away and both of us thinking about the other. There’ll be time for that later.

For now, here he is, watching me come back to him with dark, dark eyes.

“Peter,” he says again, still all hoarse, and although he’s still hard as nails, some of the painful urgency from before seems to left him. Now he just seems desperate, the ordinary kind. If Nightingale could ever be ordinary. “Oh, Peter, do you know what you look like?”

I shrug, as much as shrugging is possible when you’re using one hand for balance and another to hold lube.

His whole face softens. “You’re extraordinary,” he says, and he’s looking at me like I’ve done something incredible, mastered a formae on the second go. I don’t know what to say, what to do, so I kiss him again. I put it all into the kiss, everything that’s rattling around me and not quite making it into words. I love you , I think, and, from the way he kisses back, his strong, lean body yielding to me like we were made for this, I think he’s saying the same thing.

“I’ve not done this before,” I say, when I’ve pulled back and started to slather my fingers with lube. “Just so you know.” Nightingale raises an eyebrow, which - all right, is fair. “Not like this,” I amend, and that passes without comment. Or eyebrow.

I’ve got myself off like this, sure, and I’ve fingered ladies plenty, however they’ve wanted. It isn’t that different. It’s not like guys have some kind of magical arse. The only thing that makes this different is the person, the way Nightingale is watching me slick my fingers with the same consideration as he watches my hands when I’m conjuring lux .

How long could we have had this? How long have we both been shying away? I think of all the times we’ve worked together, trained together; all the times we’ve solved something, lost something, kept each other going. All the breakfasts, the late nights, the rugby matches on Sky Sports when neither of us can sleep, the corners Nightingale has taken at gleeful high speed in the Jag on empty roads. The way Nightingale says my name every time like it means something.

I think of the way I felt when I thought I’d lost him a year ago, a badly timed tunnel collapse when we were investigating reports of a ghost at the end of the Northern line. It was like something had collapsed in me too, like I was made of brick dust and jagged edges, and I swear to god I only caught my breath when he emerged from the rubble, brushing off the sleeves of his pristine coat. I think of the way he’d held me, there in the tunnel underground, all of London rushing on oblivious above us. The way he’d taken me into his arms like he’d never done before, like I was the one that had almost been lost. Like he’d thought he’d never see me again.

I could have kissed him then. I know I wanted to.

I kiss him now instead, and some of that must get across, because when we break apart, he says, gently as anything, “It’s all right, Peter. I trust you.”

My throat, stupidly, goes tight. It’s not that I don’t know that - it’s practically impossible to do this job, to know this man, and not know that - but hearing him say it is… well. It’s a lot, is what it is.

“I trust you,” I say, and he smiles at me, all soft. He doesn’t smile like that very often but when he does, it’s a wonder. I kiss him again, because what else can I do?

Nightingale opens his legs for me, all lean muscle, strong thighs. His cock is flushed and shiny with come, jutting hard towards his belly. I stroke him once, twice, listen to the way he sounds like he’s being strangled, the way he twists under my hands.

“Please,” he says, and there’s something in his voice, a fracturing note. “Oh, please.”

“Like this?” I ask, and stroke a finger in small circles around his entrance, the tight muscle. Nightingale makes a sound like a keen. “Like this?”

“You know damn well like that,” Nightingale says, but his voice is breaking. For the first time since this started, he sounds like he’s nearing relief. “Again - oh -” and I slide a finger all the way in. He’s so tight around me. “Oh, Peter. yes .”

Fuck, but the way he says my name. I must have heard it a million times, more, on cases and over breakfast and the times he wakes me up when I’ve fallen asleep in the coach house. I’ve heard him proud, scared, frustrated, celebratory, victorious - but I’ve never heard him quite like this. My name in his mouth, my hands on his skin, his shuddering thighs around my shoulders, urging me on.

Peter ,” he says again, desperate and high at at once, like he’s riding a crest, “ more .”

I add another finger, smoothing my spare hand down the muscle trembling in his inner thigh. He’s all over sweat now, quivering on the edge. “Like this?” I say, to tease more than anything, and watch his beautiful face contort in pleasure.

More ,” he gasps, and that is begging now, really begging. There’s not a shred of hesitation left. I give it to him, have him open on my fingers, watch open-mouthed as he screws himself down. He’s fucking himself on my fingers, and he’s making these sounds , Jesus, unguarded and raw.

Thomas Nightingale, given over to want. It’s enough to make you weep.

I’m hard again now, because how could I not be? Nightingale, riding my fingers, one of his beautiful hands clenched white-knuckle tight in the bed sheets. I don’t have a spare hand to touch myself but my dick is throbbing again and I shift, press against the bed to try and hold myself back. Nightingale first. Nightingale first now, when he’s letting himself need.

“Please,” he says, and his hips are moving slower, jerkier. It’s the least graceful I’ve ever seen him, the least image-aware. “Please, oh, oh, please -” and he reaches down for his own cock, thrusts uncoordinatedly into his fist, Jesus, I can’t stop looking, I can’t stop moving “- oh, Peter - I’m -”

And that’s it, no warning. He clenches tight, so tight around my fingers, his back rippling into that climatic arch, and he’s coming, breathing so hard, so frantically that it sounds like he’s sobbing. Just like that, I’m coming too, not even a hand to my dick. Just the sound of Nightingale, lost in relief, and the slide of my cock against the damp bed, and I’m done, shuddering to the edge and over, so hard it almost hurts.

It feels like we stay like that a long time. Nightingale with his back bowed off the bed; me, fingers deep inside him, coming like I’m turning myself apart. It feels like the moment lasts and lasts, like everything has stopped for us, letting us have this. It’s absolute release, both of us caught up together, letting ourselves go.

Eventually, we ride it out, the peak ebbing into a deep contentment. Nightingale slowly, slowly, lets himself down. His breath sounds laboured, catching in his chest. He throws an arm over his face again, hiding himself away. I’m doing my best not to just lie down face first in the sheets and swear in satisfaction until I get my breath back, until I feel like a person again and less like a collection of extremely well shagged parts.

But I stay where I am with near Herculean effort, not wanting to move before we’re both ready.

“Okay?” I ask, and Nightingale nods behind his arm.

“Yes,” he whispers, and then reaches blindly for me. “Peter,” he says. “Come here,” and I ease free and scramble up the bed, dropping down by his side. “Peter,” he says again, pulling me closer. “That was… something else.”

“You’re still wearing your damn tie,” I say, completely unable to help it, and Nightingale emerges from behind his arm, flushed and rumpled and… happy , that’s the world, relaxed into the bed like I’ve never seen him.

Well, obviously I’ve never seen him after sex before, but I’ve never seen him like this at all. Not this… unguarded. He quirks that eyebrow again. “You’re choosing now to take offence with my attire?”

I shrug, but I can feel myself smiling. I feel like I’ve run a marathon, like I’ve jumped buildings. Like Thomas Nightingale lets himself lie naked with me, trusts me to take him apart, and looks at me like he wants nothing more than to take me to similar, desperate pieces.

I suddenly notice something. “Hey,” I say, like the smooth fucker I am. “You’re not hard anymore.”

He laughs. It ripples up out of him, this helpless, fond noise, and goes on for longer than I personally think the comment merits. I’m not going to stop him though; I’m not going to stop anyone who laughs like that, like they’re letting something go.

“No,” Nightingale finally says, wry. “No, I do believe we’ve quite taken care of that.”

“Peter Grant: one; sex pollen; nil,” I quip, and can almost feel him roll his eyes. We’re pressed close enough together that that doesn’t feel impossible.

I think about all the times I’ve imagined this, the two of us sprawled and post-coital, but I couldn’t have imagined it like this. It’s like some great wave caught us up and tumbled us along, let us down on the shore salt-sore and new. Nightingale shifts, his cheek against my shoulder.

“Peter,” he says. “Are you -”

“I’m wonderful,” I tell him, melting through with the truth of it, and feel him relax further by my side. “I’m great.”

“I’m tired,” Nightingale says, sounding surprised, and it’s all I can do not to laugh.

“I should think so,” I say. “I think you came a gallon.”

“Peter,” Nightingale says, It’s a commendable stab at his usual stern voice but I can feel him smiling too hard to make it stick. “Must you?”

I push the sweaty hair off his forehead, tug him closer. Maybe it should feel strange, considering we’ve not done this before, but somehow we just… fit. “I must.”

The room feels different now, too. There’s nothing frantic left in the air, no trace of seeking, desperate vestigia . There’s only the smell of sex - a lot of sex - and the sounds of our breathing, Nightingale warm by my side.

He yawns, and it makes me yawn too.

I can’t remember the last time I slept well, not properly, but lying here, I feel like, maybe, I could. “If I stay here, I’m going to fall asleep.”

Nightingale shifts, and for a cold moment I think he’s going to kick me out, but then he’s back, and he’s brought the duvet. He drags it over us both and, finally, pulls off his tie. I’m still only wearing my t-shirt, I realise, and neither of us is in any sort of state to sleep, cleanliness-wise, but even Nightingale doesn’t seem to care.

“Stay,” he says. He sounds half-asleep already, too asleep to be self-conscious, splayed across my side but still courteous to the core. “I mean, if you’d care to.”

The man I first met, all held together, unreadable lines in Covent Garden would never have been able to relax this much, and I would never have been able to trust that he wanted to. How far he and I have come.

“I’d love to,” I say, and we fall asleep just like we are, tangled together against the world.