The air was a prickling, stinging cold on his cheeks, but Johnny felt a peaceful lightness, standing out front of the house where the rickety caravan had stood not so long ago, his face turned up to the stars.
He’d come to realise that he liked the stars. He didn’t mind the night-time, and he’d never been afraid of the dark, even as a kid. But it was only recently that he’d got into the habit of stopping on nights like this to look up at the sky, instead of down at his boots.
The farm was fairly close to the nearest town, but a clear night’s darkness was still deep and true enough here that you could see the stars winking back at you. If you gave them a chance, at least. Something about giving your eyes long enough to adjust to the blackness. That’s what Gheorghe had told him, that rare summer night a few months ago when they’d laid together on their backs on their hill, seeing and hearing. Touching. Kissing . . .
Johnny’s stomach swooped pleasantly at the memory as he turned to head back to the house, the cows finally fed and everything sorted till the morning.
He had flatly refused to let Gheorghe help settle the farm for the night; not after all the work he and Nan had put into Christmas dinner.
“Sit in wi’ Dad and Nan,” he’d told him when he’d got up with Johnny to put on his boots. Johnny had stroked his cheek when he’d said it, right there in front of his family. Gheorghe had looked a bit stunned by the gesture, which was hardly surprising. It was unusual. Johnny still hadn’t really got used to showing that kind of affection to Gheorghe in front of other people. Even family. Especially family.
He’d left them settled on the sofa watching telly, wandering out and away from the house in a kind of trance, shocked at himself for having done it. He’d just wanted to. He’d wanted to reach out and touch him so badly. So he had. He hadn’t really even thought about it.
He’d been on autopilot the whole time he was out, getting everything done as quickly as he could. Despite the way the clear, icy cold Yorkshire winter night made the sky sparkle and the air clear as crystal, below zero temperatures weren’t good news on the farm. They’d need to keep an even more ready eye on the weather forecast than they normally did, mindful of pipes freezing up, keeping the beasts warm and well-fed.
But Johnny’s contentment felt irresistible at the moment, in spite of those worldly worries. They’d had time to prepare for the cold snap. Besides, he’d seen enough of the more usual mild, drizzly, sodden, grim Christmases on this farm to appreciate this year’s weather. It was sort of nice to feel the crunch of frost underfoot, to get back to the house without being caked in mud up to the knee. It stayed dark till gone 8am at this time of year, and by 4pm it was well on the way to darkness again. When the hours of wintry daylight in between were weak and leached of colour, it was easy to feel that life itself was leached of colour too.
For some reason, Johnny just didn’t feel that way this year.
The warmth and welcome of the house hit him like a wave when he opened the front door. It had been hot and full of smells the whole day. Good smells. Christmas smells; warm and spicy.
Gheorghe came to him before he’d got the door closed, the red paper hat from a Christmas cracker still perched on his head from dinner. He helped Johnny out of his coat and boots, and he felt that feeling again. Glowing to his core but overwhelmed somehow, like he needed, but just didn’t know what. Anyone else would have seemed pathetic to Johnny, wearing a daft paper hat like that. On Gheorghe, it made him want to kiss him. Then fuck him into the mattress, bollock naked. Except for the hat.
Johnny nuzzled a sneaky kiss to his neck, noticing with a joyous sort of arousal that the smell of sage and a hint of cinnamon had clung to Gheorghe’s skin while he’d been cooking. It made Johnny feel warm and safe and like he wanted to cry. There was a word for it. Johnny just couldn’t quite get to it . . .
Gheorghe winced when their skin touched, pulling away a little to gently cup a warm palm around Johnny’s ear. The corners of his mouth turned down in sympathy when he felt how cold it was, then he smiled knowingly, covering Johnny’s other ear with his other big warm hand. Johnny loved Gheorghe’s hands. They made him think of bear paws, his hold on Johnny a great big grounding bear hug.
“Fuck off,” Johnny laughed, wriggling away and rolling his eyes. He knew there was something about the way his ears went red in the cold, and when he blushed, that turned Gheorghe soppy. It was one of the load of things about himself that he just couldn’t imagine could be attractive to another person, but that Gheorghe seemed to find nice.
“You goin’ to stand out there all night, John Saxby?” they heard Nan call from her armchair in the living room.
Gheorghe smiled indulgently. “Now. You sit down. Tea?”
“Aye, ta,” Johnny sighed with relief.
Five minutes later Johnny was nestled on the sofa, full and warm, with Gheorghe beside him. He watched Gheorghe furtively out of the corner of his eye as the old Two Ronnies Christmas special that was blaring out of the telly made him laugh; that low rumble that always set Johnny’s heart weak.
Johnny felt himself melt where he sat. Gheorghe liked slapstick British comedy. Silly jokes, word play. His sense of humour was cutely childlike for someone so adjusted and grown up. No wonder it turned out he liked Christmas so much.
Resting against the sofa cushions, Johnny felt his eyes growing heavy, the sounds and smells all around him blending and blurring.
- - - - - - -
“John. Come on. Bed,” he heard Gheorghe whispering distantly, rubbing his arm.
Johnny stretched as he looked around himself. The telly was off and the lights were out. He must have dozed off at some point.
“Wha’ ‘bout Dad?” he asked reflexively.
“Deirdre and I have helped him to bed already. He is fine. Come. Bed.”
They climbed the stairs, avoiding the creakier floorboards so as not to wake Dad or Nan, Johnny’s legs still unsteady from slumber.
In their bedroom they undressed quickly by the low lamplight, the cold too uncomfortable to take their time.
“Bloody freezin’ tonight,” Johnny gave an exaggerated shiver as he climbed into bed beside Gheorghe, switching off the lamp and plunging the room into darkness.
They’d both got into the habit of sleeping naked, even when it was cold. Johnny told himself it was because they could share their heat better that way. He was scared to admit that it was about closeness; the kiss of skin together as they drifted off to sleep in the bed that was just theirs.
Johnny rested his head on Gheorghe’s chest, turning his face a little to gaze at the patch of sky visible from their bedroom window. He ran his fingertips lazily through the dark hair that trailed invitingly down Gheorghe’s body. Gheorghe stroked a wayward lock of Johnny’s hair away from his forehead, pressing a kiss to his temple.
“Yes. But the sky. The stars are very beautiful, no?”
Johnny balled the hand that had been resting on Gheorghe’s skin into a fist as the feeling, that feeling, hit him again, harder this time, dealing him a dizzying, stunning blow.
Gheorghe shifted in the darkness, so they were lying facing each other. Johnny could just make out the silhouette of him by the starlight, but he could feel his gaze on him anyway.
“What is it?” Gheorghe whispered, his tone concerned, his face barely an inch from Johnny’s.
Johnny curled into himself, aware of his breathing coming in ragged gasps. There was no way he could convince Gheorghe that nothing was going on, and he felt too naked, too bare to pull off a lie anyway. His heart was racing, his body trembling with a fear that was laced with the relief, the realisation of what he was feeling.
“I . . .,” Johnny hesitated, his voice shaking, “I love you.”
He felt Gheorghe smile broadly against his lips, just like he had the first time they’d kissed.
“I love you,” Gheorghe answered, running a thumb over Johnny’s cheekbone. “I love you too. I love you very much.”
Johnny couldn’t help it then, a sob pushing at his ribs, rising out of his chest before he even had time to think about stopping it.
“It scares the shite out of me,” Johnny whispered into the darkness, “Never said that to anyone before. Never felt it before.”
“I am scared too. I have never felt this way about anyone. You are shaking. Are you still cold?”
“No,” Johnny answered, sucking two of Gheorghe’s fingers into his mouth, moving them to where he so desperately wanted Gheorghe to touch. He was weak with wanting it - what he’d never had before. The courage to say the words. The feeling of Gheorghe inside him, filling him.
“You . . . are sure?” Gheorghe’s voice broke. Johnny wondered if he was as nervous as Johnny was himself.
“Have you ever?”
Johnny felt his cheeks blaze. The fact was that all of his times with other blokes had been more or less the same - one-offs, with Johnny taking what the other had to offer, low stakes, no strings. He’d never thought he would ever feel a want for this, to be taken, to be taken care of. But then he’d never thought he’d fall in love, either.
“No,” he answered defensively. “I . . . please. I want . . .”
Johnny felt Gheorghe’s chest rumble with a filthy-sounding growl as he lifted Johnny’s chin, bringing him into a kiss before reaching for the lube they kept in the bedside table on his side, coming back to stroke soothingly over Johnny’s face, his arms, his chest.
Johnny gasped at the intrusion when Gheorghe finally pressed a finger inside him, breathless with the perfect intimacy of it all.
“OK?” Gheorghe asked, his voice panicked.
“Yeah,” Johnny breathed back, “fuckin’ love your hands.”
I love everything about you, he thought with wonder. That’s what I’ve needed to tell you. It’s love I’m feeling. It’s been scratching to be let out.
Gheorghe worked Johnny open, his calm movements not enough to disguise the thumping of his heart under Johnny’s palm or the heaviness of his breathing. But the determination to go slow was still there in the smallest, briefest touch.
By the time Gheorghe laid back and guided Johnny to sit on top of him, Johnny felt like he could scream with the need of it.
When he felt Gheorghe’s cock breaching his body, the dull ache only lasted a few moments, giving way to a feeling of being indescribably full. Full of another person. Full of Gheorghe.
“Fuck,” Johnny gasped as he leaned into the sensation.
“You are hurting?” Gheorghe stilled Johnny’s hips suddenly.
“Stop frettin’ will you? It’s bloody amazin’.”
“You feel . . . beautiful,” Johnny could hear the smile in Gheorghe’s words, could just make it out in the low light.
Johnny eventually found a slow, deep rhythm, feeling as if the whole world was just him and Gheorghe, bound together in the moonlit darkness of the room.
Leaning back, the change of angle set heat coiling in the pit of Johnny’s stomach and the base of his spine as Gheorghe’s cock hit that sweet spot inside him, once, twice, again and again, Johnny biting on his lip to keep from moaning and crying out. As he gave himself over to Gheorghe, the phrase ‘making love’ danced around the edges of his mind. It had always made him cringe. He’d thought it was soppy rubbish to make something as dirty as fucking feel like more than it was. Then Gheorghe happened, and it started to feel like a thing.
It had taken this moment for the truth of it to make sense to him.
Gheorghe had been laying still, letting Johnny decide the pace, but the firmness of his grip on Johnny’s hips, the way he was beginning to grind upwards, his strong palms moulding the curves of his arse, told Johnny he was getting close. When Gheorghe’s hand came round to stroke Johnny’s cock, Johnny could feel that Gheorghe wasn’t going to last much longer.
A moment later, he felt Gheorghe release into him. Johnny looked down and realised that his eyes were seeing more clearly in the darkness now. He watched as Gheorghe threw his head back, his mouth open in a silent moan. The sight pushed Johnny over the edge, a few final strokes enough to bring him off with Gheorghe still inside him.
A few minutes later, cleaned up and sated, Gheorghe pulled Johnny back to rest on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” he said with a sigh.
“What for?” Johnny asked, tracing circles on the soft skin of Gheorghe’s stomach.
“For . . . that. What you have said. What . . . what we have just done. I know how it feels. The . . . trust. The . . . I don’t know the word. Thank you. For giving that to me.”
Tears pricked behind Johnny’s eyes. It was Gheorghe all over. Waiting quietly with his thoughts. His feelings. Letting Johnny decide when he was ready. Never asking Johnny to hand over control he didn’t feel ready to lose.
Johnny wished he had the courage to say everything he wanted to say. He hoped that kind of strength would come to him more often in time, like it had tonight.
“Have you had a nice Christmas?” he asked instead.
Gheorghe giggled. “Very nice, yes.”
“Fuck off, I weren’t on about that,” Johnny shoved him playfully and Gheorghe laughed, deep and rich. That laugh that felt like a reward to Johnny whenever he heard it.
Johnny brought his head back down to Gheorghe’s chest, staring out of the window and listening as Gheorghe’s breathing slowed and he started to snore, quiet and contented.
Johnny closed his own eyes. Gheorghe was right, he thought. If you wanted the stars, you had to give yourself a chance to see in the darkness.