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you can't cross the line (but you can't stop trying)

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He called Nick.

Nick heard his voice through the receiver, low and heavy, stinging with sweat in the raw summer. “Come over,” Tom said, and then paused. Nick saw him then, clear in his mind — Tom, in his easy chair, anything but easy, with a ramrod-straight back and squared shoulders and riding boots planted firm on the linoleum. “You’re not doing anything, are you? Come over.”

“Oh,” Nick said. It was a little past 3:30, and rather late for lunch. “Do you and Daisy have something planned? Will Jordan be coming?”

“Daisy’s out.” Tom coughed. “She and Jordan. They went out somewhere. It’s just as well, I’ve been meaning to take you down to the stables.”

“The stables,” Nick replied. “Of course.”

“So you’ll be over?”

Tom’s voice was like his body. Hard, insistent. Something both repulsive and intriguing to Nick.

Nick chewed on his lip, dry with heat. He’d thought about Tom, obviously — thought about him since New Haven. He didn’t think about him too often, thankfully. It was something that came and went. But he stared out the window, across at East Egg, and made his choice.

“Of course,” Nick said again. Tom hung up first.

It was July and the afternoon was punishing, the heat crashing down on Long Island in unrelenting waves. Nick drove alone, his neck sticking to the headrest of the car and his hair to his forehead. Noon had passed hours ago, and the sun was sinking down into the bay.

Tom was waiting on the porch for him as he pulled up, dressed in a smart polo shirt and riding boots. His skin was fresh and flushed and glistening with sweat from a recent game, and his eyes were fixated on Nick as he got out of the car and went to meet him.

For a moment, Nick wondered who, exactly, he played polo with. He didn’t suppose anyone in college still contacted Tom. They had no reason to. He stood in silence, waiting at the foot of the porch steps, until Tom directed a curt nod towards him as if to let him speak.

“Awfully warm today,” Nick tried.

Tom grunted in approving agreement, and motioned for Nick to follow him. “Come. We’ll go inside. You must be thirsty.”

The front hall was cool. A momentary relief. Tom’s boots clicked harshly on the floor as he walked. He led Nick into a new space at the end of the hall that Nick had never been in before — a wide library with a cluttered desk and bay windows overlooking the water. A small liquor cabinet sat in between two of the bookshelves, the wall behind it covered plaques and medals dating back to more than a decade earlier, the gold plates flaring when the sun caught them at just the right angle.

“Sit,” Tom urged, one hand driving under Nick’s shoulder blades and forcing him towards his armchairs. Nick knew to sit at the smaller of the two, the one with the itchy floral fabric. He was facing away from Tom while he fixed them both drinks, so he just looked ahead at the books and at Tom’s faded leather chair. His arms were clammy, stifled inside the sleeves of his sweater.

Tom lay down a glass of scotch for Nick on the coffee table between the chairs, holding onto his own. Nick didn’t touch his, and just let the tremors in the glass go completely still. He stared across at Tom, less to make eye contact and more looking just to look. When Tom’s arm shifted, when his hand brought the drink up to his sweat-reddened mouth to take a sip, Nick saw the muscles move, piston-like, under his shirt. Tom caught him staring.

”It’s fine to look, you know. Just know that jealousy never appears good on anyone,” Tom said, not bothering to laugh. His chest heaved slowly with his breathing, and he looked at Nick with dark eyes. “It’s been a long while since we really got to talk.”

“Not since New Haven, I suppose,” Nick said. “Or Chicago. I don’t believe we’ve really had something one-on-one like this. Always with Daisy.” He neglected to mention Myrtle — something Tom was fine to do, too.

“Always with Daisy,” Tom repeated, staring down into his glass. “Women,” he said then, scoffing derisively.

Nick nodded.

“You’ve been enjoying East Egg?” Tom asked.

“I live on West Egg,” Nick replied.

“West Egg isn’t a place to be enjoyed. It’s a place to be tolerated,” Tom said with scorn. He combed his hair into place with his fingers, but strands of it fell back down across his forehead. “You live next to that Gatsby fellow, don’t you?”

Nick nodded again.

“What do you think of him?” Tom asked.

Nick’s head lolled against the back of the chair as he tried to think of an answer that would only offend Tom just the right amount. The fabric scratched at the back of his neck, irritating the sweat that had already gathered there. “A nice man,” he settled on. “Quite a large house.”

“Nice? Really?” Tom sipped his drink, quiet distaste simmering in the heat. “I don’t trust him. Those parties — I just don’t trust him. You don’t know much about him, do you?”

“No,” Nick lied.

Tom grunted. They sat in silence for a few moments before he spoke up again. “Well, you like our house?”

“Your house? It’s a nice place.”

“It really is,” Tom said. “We ought to see the stables after this.”

Nick couldn’t help but sink a down into his seat in protest. His skin slid along the upholstery again, scratching him up. He didn’t say anything — his throat felt far too dry — but Tom could see that he was exhausted.

“Well, it is a rather sluggish day. We can’t all rouse ourselves, I suppose — all a matter of personal strength,” Tom said, finishing his drink, and stood. “I always thought you should stay more active. It does a man nothing but good.”

From Nick’s position, lying sunken into the cushion of the armchair, he looked like a statue. Something menacing, and ancient, and carved from marble a long time ago by the Greeks. Despite it, disgust twisted his stomach.

Nick’s scotch sat untouched on the coffee table, and Tom glanced at it. “Do you not take scotch?” he asked.

Nick looked at the full glass. “I guess not.”

“I’ll take that one, then. What do you drink?”

“Just a water would be nice,” said Nick. Tom disappeared behind him, boots treading lightly on the carpet, and came back with a slightly dusty glass of soda water.

“It’s odd to meet a man that doesn’t drink,” Tom remarked, putting the soda down for Nick. He took his seat again and crossed one thick leg over the other, leaning back to look lazily down at Nick.

Nick shrugged. “I know men who don’t.” Him. Gatsby. Gatsby flashed in his mind for a moment, a sliver of gold in a river pan; Nick felt more comfortable dwelling on his soft edges and his kind smile. Tom stamped it out just as quickly, with polished black riding boots.

“It’s odd, is all I’m saying,” he insisted again. Nick finally reached over with one broiling, wool-clad arm and drank a small sip of soda. It stabbed at his throat, cold little bubbles popping all the way down. But it was refreshing nonetheless. “I’ve always found you a bit odd, truth be told.”

“Oh,” Nick said. He wasn’t sure how else to respond.

“You don’t seem to be the type for girlfriends, or drinking, or things like that,” he said. “I suppose it’s just something I don’t understand. I’ve always found myself to be more — conventional. Traditional. but I’ve never thought of that as a bad thing.”

“Mm,” Nick said mindlessly, taking a bigger gulp of the soda.

“I want you to see the bay,” Tom said suddenly, looking over at the windows. “We’ve got such a beautiful view of the bay. You can’t leave this room without having seen it up close. We can look at from right here.”

Nick waited for Tom to stand and indicate where he should go. He felt a steady hand just off his right shoulder, guiding him to the other end of the room, to the desk with its scattered papers and books, to the bay windows lined with white wooden sashes.

“What do you study?” Nick asked Tom, craning his neck back at the desk. “The books you’re reading. What are they about?”

“I’m sure I’ve told you about The Rise of the Colored Empire? Goddard?”

“Yes, you have,” Nick said quickly.

The windows were closed. Tom kept them closed, instead choosing to clamp his free hand onto Nick’s other shoulder. Nick didn’t want to ask and instead just let himself sweat. Tom’s company, he reminded himself, wasn’t to be enjoyed. It was to be tolerated.

But the view was something lovely — the bay drifted gently below, stretching boundlessly around them, glimmering with the afternoon sun, and he could see the bright green line of West Egg lurking in wait at the other side of the water. He tried to lower his gaze to the water so the sunlight wouldn’t blind him. Tom’s breaths were heavy on him.

He always forgot how large Tom was. What a presence he could physically be in Nick’s space, a presence that he could never seem to rid himself of once Tom compelled his way in. He was pushing exhale after exhale down the back of Nick’s neck, harsh and hot, nostrils flared like a bull, mouth damp and the color of fresh, bitter cherries.

For a moment, Nick’s pulse spiked.

“It’s a beautiful view,” Tom said quietly.

“It is,” Nick agreed.

“How’s yours?” Tom asked. “From your cottage.”

Nick swallowed thickly. It felt like something had been stuffed in his throat, jamming up his airways. He knew what Tom wanted him to say — that it was nice, but not as nice as his. “I can see the beach,” he said.

“Well, is the view of it nice?”

“It’s fine,” Nick said. “I spend most time indoors, anyway.”

“There’s no point to moving to Long Island if you’re going to spend most time indoors,” Tom said. “Remind me to get you in on a game of polo. We can find you a pony down by the stables.”

“The stables,” Nick parroted. Tom kept insisting upon the stables when it was abundantly clear to them both that they would remain here, looking out at the bay, with Tom imposing himself onto Nick in every sense of the word. “Do you know when Daisy will be home?”

“Late,” Tom said. His hands slid down Nick’s shoulders, coming to rest on his upper arms, loosening slightly around his biceps. Nick turned his head inwards, forehead pressing against the side of Tom’s face, taking in the pure, cultivated kind of musk that had gathered at his neck.

“That’s a shame,” Nick murmured. “We’re having such a nice time, you and I.”

“Women,” said Tom.

Women. “Don’t you have a girl?” Nick asked. A girl, a wife, a child. Tom had lots of things.

Tom grunted, refusing to answer with any intelligible words. His skin was warm and alive, veins pulsing just under the surface with heat, with the aggression he secretly enjoyed using around men like Nick and the both of them knew it. He surrounded Nick on all sides.

Nick moved with intent then — the intent of them both — with a soft rock backwards against Tom’s torso. Someone’s breath hitched. Nick wasn’t sure if it was his.

“It’s been a long time since New Haven,” came Tom’s voice, quiet but coarse. Nick didn’t speak. The air in the room had been permeated by a heady scent, one that mixed with the liquor and the damp smell of the bay.

Nick nodded. He rested his hand on Tom’s thigh, feeling the muscle underneath, solid and warm. Tom’s leg instinctively recoiled at his touch, but Nick felt the grip around his arms tighten. Tom also moved his face in towards Nick, nose turned in towards his hair, mouth just centimeters away from his head.

“We’ve got a lot of time on our hands,” Nick said. A small boat passed by the dock outside, leaving a trail of white froth in its wake. “We ought to…”

“We ought to not just waste an afternoon,” Tom said. His body had grown hostile and rigid against Nick, unable to make the first move as his hands felt around the hard muscle of Nick’s arm. He felt Tom, pressing insistently against the back of Nick’s thigh, too busy trying to rationalize the circumstances to himself to grind it in towards him.

For a moment, Nick wondered if this was planned. If Tom had invited him over specifically for this. He supposed it was and it wasn’t, and he wouldn’t let that affect his enjoyment of the situation any less. But this seemed like something alien for Tom. Something he wanted but was afraid to want. Afraid to even admit that he’d want.

Nick decided he’d allow himself to humor Tom, and enable him to once again slip into the role he’d had with Daisy, with Myrtle; with him and Gatsby and Wilson made physical.

He’d do it just this once. Just for the both of them.

And with that, he turned his face up towards Tom’s, crashing their mouths to one another’s, jerking his arm from Tom’s grip and sliding his hand up the curve of his jaw to tangle in his hair. It was enough — Tom kissed back with bruising ferocity, grabbing Nick around the waist and turning him to face him with ease.

“Have you ever —” Nick regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth. Of course Tom hadn’t, Tom would never. Tom would never think about it. He pictured Tom and Myrtle and the creaking of the mattress springs in her apartment in the city, and Tom and Daisy and the accidental bruises he’d leave on her. This was something new entirely, and he could feel Tom’s anger in every touch and the hot red blood that ran under his chest.

“Don’t talk,” Tom said with desperation, and kissed Nick again.

He bit. Tom dug his teeth into Nick’s lip, at the very brink of drawing blood, and shoved his tongue into his mouth with some kind of vengeance. The hand at his waist pushed Nick in towards him, letting Tom hunch over him as he drove his clothed cock into Nick’s. His cheeks and forehead were covered in a thin, damp film, slick against Nick’s face. He hulked, Nick recalled. He hulked over Daisy and he liked to hulk over Nick.

At one point, Nick reached for him, trying to unbutton his fly, but as soon as he tried, there was a hand around his wrist, stopping him. Tom used his hands, Nick noticed — as soon as he could prevent Nick from getting to his pants, he let go in order to grab at Nick’s ass.

Nick broke apart from him, a string of saliva connecting their mouths, just to see the way Tom looked like this — red face and blown, dark eyes. But Tom immediately pulled him back in, large hand flying upwards to push against the back of his neck. “We’re going to move,” Tom rasped in between kisses. “The sun’s in my eyes.”

“Where do you want me to go?” Nick asked.

“The chair,” Tom said, “go to the chair.”

Tom’s breaths were heavy as he followed Nick, making sure he did as he was told. Nick waited for him at the leather armchair without being ordered to, and was silent when Tom settled in his seat. He looked up at Nick with hungry, resentful eyes, and Nick could see an anger. A hatred. For him, for Wilson, for Gatsby, and a desire to overpower.

“You want to sit in my chair?” Tom asked. “My nice leather armchair?”

Nick obliged. His cock was still untouched and he nodded, tongue-tied and desperate.

“You can’t. You want to sit in the chair, you’ll have to sit in my lap,” Tom said, spreading his thighs apart to let Nick take a seat. Nick felt awkward as he clambered into Tom’s lap, his steadying hands against Tom’s shoulders then sliding down to his chest once he got settled. He brought his face close to Tom’s again, close enough for them to breathe the same stuffy air, fisting his hand in Tom’s hair again as he ground his hips down against Tom’s groin.

The room seemed so much smaller than when they arrived — no bookshelves, no desk, no liquor cabinet with the plaques and racquets. It was just him, and just Tom, sharing the same breaths between them in the empty afternoon.

Tom began to bite at his neck, the drag of his teeth at the skin hurting with a dull pain. Nick thought of Daisy again, if Tom was ever this rough with her on intention. He’d break her, naturally, but Nick supposed he’d be fine with breaking another man. Nick, to Tom, treaded the line between delicate and hard. Certainly less of a man, but still a man. Still a creature that could withstand Tom’s aggression.

Nick felt the knock of Tom’s teeth scraping against him, sucking purple bruises into where his neck met his collarbone. He rolled his hips into Tom’s, cock aching for some kind of touch, and it wasn’t enough. There were too many clothes in the way, too many layers of boxer and khaki and Egyptian cotton to make room for stimulation.

Nick knew he had to ask.

He pushed Tom away lightly, and he drew back. “Can I…?” The question trailed off, left hanging in the air. Tom wrestled with it for a few moments, depriving Nick of what they both wanted.

“Since you’re asking,” he said, finally. “I’ll let you. Just the pants.”

Nick’s hands were steady as he undid each button on Tom’s fly, popping them open with deft fingers, a little too steady for Tom’s liking. Tom wrestled Nick’s hands away and he did it himself, pulling out his cock and letting it rest in his hand, thick and hard and flushed. Nick felt the heat from it radiating out towards him.

“You want to touch it?” Tom asked, voice gruff. A whine pulled, unconscious, at the back of Nick’s throat. “Strip for me first.”

Nick shuffled off of Tom’s lap quickly, stumbling backwards onto the carpet, and felt the rest of the library rush back to him in a dizzying sensation. He noticed his soda again, a little flatter than when he last left it. He wanted to reach for it. He wanted to reach for Tom. He wanted Tom to reach for him.

But he followed orders. He kicked off his shoes, feeling the soft carpet underneath, and undid his shirt one button at a time. Tom was watching him intently, kneading his cock with thick groans occasionally bubbling up in his throat. His chest and cheeks were flushed and his dark hair was plastered against his forehead from the roiling heat, and his lips were swollen and red. His irises were nearly taken over with black, teetering on the brink of deliriousness, and his eyelids were fluttering softly; he almost allowed himself to be lost in what was happening.

The light outside was a pale pink now and it brushed on his face with a light touch. He looked rosy. Almost gentle.

Nick didn’t dare say that out loud to him.

Once his clothes were scattered on the floor, little pools of fabric on the carpet, Tom allowed him to crawl back onto his lap. He reached for Nick drowsily, taking both their cocks in one spit-slick hand and stroking them together. “You like that?” he grunted, and then removed his hand and used the back of it to wipe some saliva from his mouth. “Keep touching yourself. Do what I did.”

Tom threw one arm around Nick’s shoulders, drawing him in towards him, while the other hand then found his ass, squeezing hard. Nick yelped and buried his face against Tom’s neck, back arching so he could give him more to grasp. Tom continued to bite at him, leaving marks on his collarbone, and curved his shoulders around Nick to cage him in.

“Gatsby,” Tom groaned. Nick looked up, startled by the mention of his name. “You and Gatsby. He’s like you, isn’t he? Leanings towards men. He’s got such an ugly house. Don’t tell me you’ve been there.”

“He’s thrown parties,” Nick slurred, too focused on trying to stroke both of them at once.

“I’ve never known what you see in him.” Tom’s thick finger slid down between Nick’s ass cheeks. It was too dry, it was all too dry. The finger, the texture of his polo shirt on Nick’s bare chest. Not good enough.

“Get it wet,” Nick said, and the words came out like a plea. Tom, in response, grabbed Nick by the chin, squeezing it in between his thumb and his forefinger, and forced his other fingers into his swollen mouth. Nick’s tongue curled around them the best they could, letting his cheeks hollow out around them, continuing to touch himself and Tom through it. Tom withdrew them, now shiny with saliva, and Nick grasped the corners of Tom’s collar with knuckles turning white. Tom slid his fingers back down the cleft of Nick’s ass, sliding past his rim but never quite pushing in. Afraid to push in.

“I’ve seen you with Jordan,” Tom said, voice heavy and rough. “Daisy thinks you would be good together. I’ve always said a man would be good for her but I think she’d need one of more substance to keep her contained.”

Nick didn’t say anything, content to just moan raggedly into the damp crook of Tom’s neck, body pliable in the seat of his lap.

“Does she know how badly you wanted this?” Tom asked him. There were beads of sweat rolling down his forehead, gaining momentum in the stagnant air. “You’d take me. You’d take Gatsby, wouldn’t you? You’d let him take you.”

Nick had imagined it with Gatsby before. He knew it would be soft, and that Gatsby would lay him down and do it gently. The fantasy, when pushed up against the thick, tangible reality of Tom Buchanan, was something he could take or leave. Tom’s hand was back in Nick’s hair, fingers twisting around and making it sting at the roots.

“Get on the floor,” Tom barked, beginning to push down on Nick’s head. The force managed to get him a good way down, and he scrambled back off of Tom’s lap to let his knees buckle onto the carpet. “We’ll go to your house next time. Let Gatsby see me doing this to you.”

Tom stood up. There were sweat stains on his khakis where Nick’s thighs had been imprinted on them, and his cock was stiff and leaking, the flushed head glistening with moisture. He gave it a few strokes before shoving it in Nick’s face.

“Suck it,” he ordered.

Nick’s mouth closed around Tom’s dick, unable to get too far onto it before Tom was grasping his hair again and forcing him onto it until he choked, his large hands sweaty and shaking. Nick breathed through his nose and looked up at Tom, grabbing at his hip with one hand and kneading his cock with the other. The carpet was soft on his knees.

“He can watch,” Tom said, spitting the words out with aching contempt. “He’s going to stand there on his ugly Goddamn porch and watch me fuck you. You like that idea? You want that?”

Nick moaned around Tom’s cock. Tom kept rambling —

“See how he likes it. Lets my wife go to his house and get on her knees and suck his cock like he’s actually worth something — and now he’s gonna get to watch me shove my cock in you like you’re some cheap whore. Cheap enough for West fucking Egg —” He drove his cock into Nick’s mouth to emphasize those final words, making him gag on it. His fingers fumbled in Nick’s hair, slipping on the combined sweat from Nick’s forehead and his own palms, and Nick could tell that they were both close.

“Don’t you dare come on my carpet,” Tom said. “It’s nice carpet. We paid good money for it. Such good money. Shit —”

Tom hit the back of his throat a few more times in quick succession and, throwing his head back, breaths heavy and gasping, he used his leverage on Nick’s hair to jerk his head to the side and come all over his cheek and mouth. It dribbled down Nick’s face. Nick was able to taste some of it, bitter on his tongue, and he followed soon after, spilling into his own hand, careful not to get any on the carpet.

Nick looked up at Tom. From what he could see in the silhouette cast by the evening, his face was red. Cheeks red with sweat, lips red from worrying. He looked nervous, shoulders slightly trembling, ready to topple. The library dimmed behind him; lines of golden sunlight hung itself all over the shelves like strings of pearls.

“Do you want to tell Daisy I stopped by?” Nick asked.

Tom shook his head.