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This Evening's Exercise

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“Relax, Harold.”

Harold tries to relax, he really does, but he feels self-conscious enough already, lying here stark naked with John stooping over him.  He’s flat on his back on the bed, laid out like a corpse, with his hands folded over his heart, no less, and oh, yes, morbid thoughts were just what he needed to make this whole exercise easier.

He sneaks a glance up at John’s face, braced for mockery, but all he sees there is grave kindness.

“We don’t have to—” John begins quietly, but Harold cuts him off.

“Go on.  I—this is what I want.  Please,” he adds, which makes John’s gaze soften further, which in turn makes Harold’s face heat but, paradoxically, also prompts his body to actually release some of its tension.

He tears his eyes away from John’s and fixes them on the ceiling, takes a slow breath in and lets it out even more slowly.

“Go on,” he repeats, and John answers, “Whatever you say.”

Harold can’t tell from his voice whether he’s smiling or not.

After Harold’s next exhale, the mask comes down over his eyes.  He can’t help startling, but he stays in place, keeps breathing—calm, calm, relax—as John’s hands raise his head a little to slip the elastic strap into place.

“There.  That okay?”

John’s matter-of-fact, gentle tone—as if he’s taking care of a child or an invalid—makes Harold bridle in spite of his good intentions.

“It’s fine, Mr.—John,” he replies stiffly.

John’s chuckle comes from surprisingly close above his head.  He must be kneeling beside the bed now, rather than standing.  A sensible choice, given his height.

“Mr. John?  That a porn star or a kids’ TV show?”  His voice is velvety with amusement.  The sound sends warmth stealing through Harold’s body, and he focuses on that sensation, tamping down his embarrassment over his own awkwardness, the way he sounds, the way he must look. . .

Breathe, he reminds himself, just as John’s hand cups his shoulder and John, too, tells him, “Breathe, Harold.”

He inhales; exhales.  John’s hand squeezes his shoulder reassuringly, then slides slowly down his arm, over the crook of his elbow and his wrist, to cover his joined hands. Another gentle squeeze.  His other hand comes to rest on Harold’s stomach.  And waits there.  Harold’s muscles tense beneath it, as much in anticipation as anxiety.

“Now what?” John asks.

Harold’s face burns.  He’s probably flushed bright red—just what he needs, to look even less dignified than he already—but no, he forces that train of thought away.  Dignity is not the point of this exercise.  Is, in fact, precisely the opposite of the point.

He swallows.  Clears his throat.  John’s hand still doesn’t move.  Harold can picture John waiting, patient, silent. . .attentive.  Watching him.  Waiting for his word.

He licks his lips and manages to say, “Touch my—my chest.  With both hands, please.”

If John is laughing at him, he’s careful to do so silently.  Harold does his best not to wonder about that as John coaxes Harold’s arms down to rest at his sides. Then John’s palm covers Harold’s sternum. It lingers there for a moment, heat leaching into Harold’s chilly skin. So hot, and huge, John’s hand.  Harold knows how strong it is, too, but it touches him deftly, delicately, the thumb skimming his clavicle, not quite tickling.

Together, John’s two hands go a fair way to encircling Harold’s entire ribcage.  The palms rub up and down his sides twice, three times.  Then the fingers start slowly, delicately exploring every inch of skin between his shoulders and navel.

Harold itches to move, to touch John in return, to do something to deflect John’s scrutiny.  Instead, he concentrates on truly feeling John’s caresses, the singular pleasure they evoke.

The strangely loud sound of his own unsteady breathing calls his attention to the fact that the room is otherwise silent.  Which means that he isn’t holding his up his end of the bargain, here.  He tries to moisten his mouth, muster some words for John.

“Now,” he rasps.  He sounds as breathless as an out-of-shape jogger.  “Your mouth.  Still on my chest, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind, Harold.”  Harold can hear John’s smile this time, indulgent and honey-rich.  John’s kisses feel much the same way on Harold’s skin.  Soft, moist lips linger on each spot they touch.  After some time, John’s tongue begins to paint secret messages of affection and desire all across Harold’s ribs.

John pauses to ask, “Is this what you want?”  His breath makes a cool draft across Harold’s damp skin.

“Yes.”  Harold’s throat is tight with emotion.  “Yes, that’s—very good.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”  Under other circumstances, Harold would bristle at the fond amusement in John’s tone, but just at the moment, all he feels is a swell of affection—and, yes, gratitude, unmixed with bitterness, for once.  It’s a strangely pleasant sensation.

“What next?” John murmurs, his mouth so close to Harold’s left nipple that Harold imagines he can feel the sound vibrations along with John’s breath.

“Yes, please.”  Harold’s voice cracks like a teenager’s.

John doesn’t move.

“Yes, what?”

“Kiss me there.”

“Where?”

“My—my nipple,” Harold manages to say.

John complies, kissing once lightly, then wrapping his lips around Harold’s nipple and massaging it with his tongue.

It’s like nothing Harold has ever felt before: the wet caress on one isolated bit of his skin—an erogenous zone, to be sure, but such a tiny area—causing pleasure to spark in his groin, in his fingers and toes, at the tip of his tongue and behind his eyes.  He can practically feel the chemical and electrical signals racing along each individual chain of nerves, leaping from synapse to synapse.

John’s tongue moves on to explore the other nipple, and Harold twitches like a landed fish, emitting an undignified squeak.

Some people, he reflects, are fortunate enough to sound sexy in the throes of passion.  John, by way of not-at-all-random example.  When John loses control under Harold’s touch—when John allows himself to lose control, because there is very little that could shake him if he were determined to resist—his groans and sighs are beautiful, deeply arousing.  Just as John, naked and tense with approaching orgasm, is a feast for the eyes, a work of erotic art.

Harold wonders what John looks like right now, as he bends his head to tend to Harold with lips and tongue.  Is there a crease of concentration between his brows?  Are his cheeks, perhaps, lightly flushed, his lip beaded with sweat, his eyes bright as he looks at Harold’s naked body laid out before him, at Harold’s undefended (if partially obscured) face?  Is he smiling as he delicately tastes Harold’s sweat—the all-too-rare, startlingly sweet smile that surfaces when John forgets himself?

Is John hard, kneeling naked and untouched at the side of the bed?

“More?”  John’s voice startles him back to self-consciousness.  “Something else?”

Harold struggles to formulate a specific request.  He’s aroused, he wants—John, his touch, his attention—but even the thoughts he was so caught up in a moment ago elude articulation.  Having hesitated too long, he tries a cheap ploy: “Use your initiative. . .John.”

“Not tonight, Harold.  I’ve got my instructions.”  It’s a reminder: less of the rules themselves, which Harold of course remembers perfectly well, more of the fact that they’re playing this game at Harold’s request, and he can end it any time he wants to.

He doesn’t want to.  Unfortunately, willingness doesn’t magically translate into the ability to actually perform this self-appointed task.

“Talk to me,” John whispers in his ear, his breath damp on Harold’s skin. “Come on, Harold.  Tell me what you want.”

“I—I want—”  Harold swallows, tries to think, and then tries not to think.  Just feel.  Just let it come.  Damn it, this is what he wanted, he asked for it, it’s supposed to be easier this way.

“Yes,” John murmurs.  Not a question, not even really a prompt.  Only agreement.

“I want—I want to touch you.”

“Harold,” John says reproachfully, but Harold repeats, firmly, “I want to touch you.  That’s what I want.”

He pats the bed beside him, and almost immediately feels the mattress dip under John’s weight as John sits beside him.  Harold runs one hand over John’s knee, up his hairy thigh, until he finds—there.  Yes.  John is, indeed, erect.  His penis is smooth and firm and alive in Harold’s hand, and he sucks in a quiet gasp when Harold fondles him.

“Yes,” says Harold, because this is something he always treasures, longs for more of.  Something he can ask for.  “I want to hear you, John.  Your voice.”

“This isn’t about me right now,” John protests, but Harold grips him more firmly, starts up the steady stroke John prefers, and repeats, “I want to hear you.”

“All right then.”  John chuckles, then lets the sound turn into a guttural sigh as Harold gently massages the head of his penis.

He doesn’t get loud; that simply isn’t his way, and Harold doesn’t want him to put on a performance.  But his quiet sighs and grunts and half-swallowed almost-moans make Harold shiver with delight and arousal.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal angle, but Harold’s wrist and shoulder are only just starting to protest when John says, not concealing his breathlessness, but in a tone that brooks no argument, “Not that I’m not enjoying this, but aren’t we getting kind of off track?”

“I enjoy watching you come,” Harold insists, teasing the head of John’s cock between his fingers.  He hears John breathe out hard and fast through his nose.  “Or hearing.”

“I know you do,” John says, and waits.

“It—it arouses me.”  Harold swallows.  “Can’t you see. . .how you’re affecting me?”

“I see a lot of things, Harold,” John murmurs.  “You want to be more specific?”

Harold bites his lips.  Pushing the vocabulary past his lips is a stumbling block, yes, but John has inadvertently offered him a still harder challenge.  He releases his hold on John’s penis and deliberately rests his hands down at his sides.

“Perhaps. . .” he whispers.  “Perhaps you could—could give me the catalogue.”

John gives a grunt of surprise and approval.

“Your face is pink,” he says in the efficient, matter-of-fact tone in which he reports the details of his situation when he’s out working a Number.  “And your neck, all the way down to here.”  A fleeting trace of his fingertip in an arc just under Harold’s clavicles by way of illustration.  “And your lips are shiny, ‘cause you keep licking them—yeah, like that.  Do you know you do that?”

Harold shakes his head.  “Go on.”

“You do it right before you drink.  Lick your lips.  Like you're going to. . .I don't know.  Roll up your sleeves and get to work.  Dive right in.  Like you have more important things to think about than how sexy you look.  So when you do it in the bedroom, even if you seem nervous, I figure. . .”  Another phantom brush of John’s finger, over Harold’s bottom lip, this time.  His mouth opens instinctively but the finger is already gone.  "Must be something else going on, too.  Not just nerves."

"I. . .expect you're right," Harold murmurs.

“Anyway. . .you’re throwing off heat now, that’s another tell.  I can feel it on my thigh.  And you’re tensed up.  Abs, thighs.  Hands.”

Self-consciously, Harold un-clenches his fingers.  John snorts a soft chuckle.

“Yeah, your hands talk for you, Harold.  Whether you want ‘em to or not.  But what you were really asking about was your cock.”

The word jars Harold, for all it drops so naturally from John’s lips.  Though Harold’s extensive vocabulary includes a wide range of vernacular, current and historical, he has never been entirely comfortable with sex-based profanity. . .or, indeed, with naming body parts in a sexual context, let alone specific acts.  He doesn’t object, he simply. . .can’t.

“Yes,” he whispers.  “I. . .I was. . .”  He swallows.  It’s a simple word, but for all he tries, he can’t force his tongue to shape it.  “That’s what I was asking.  Do—do go on.”

John’s soft grunt eloquently conveys that he hasn’t missed Harold’s evasion but he’s judged the effort good enough for the moment.

“Your cock,” he repeats, drawing out the word a little this time, as if savoring it.  “Well, Harold, if I were going just by your cock, I’d say you’re having a good time.  You’re pretty hard, there.  Aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Harold whispers.

“Looks like you’re even getting a little wet already.”  John pauses a moment, but when Harold doesn’t speak, he goes on, “Yeah, the tip’s kind of shiny.  And the rest is all pink and tasty-looking.”

Harold nearly chokes on his own saliva at that.  He clears his throat hastily.  John doesn’t comment, but Harold imagines that he can hear smug amusement in his silence.

He sucks in a breath and says, on the exhale, “Touch it, please.”

John makes an approving noise, but no touch is forthcoming.

“What do you want me to touch?” he asks.

“You know very well,” Harold forces out between his teeth, his cheeks fire-hot again.

“Mm-mm.  Not good enough, Harold.”

“Touch my—”  It’s only a word.  Words are Harold’s friends, his home ground.  He can do this.  He can.  “—My cock. Your thumb, on the head.”

Another approving noise, this one sounding like John is actually impressed.  And John’s thumb makes contact just below the crown of Harold’s penis and slides slowly up and over.  He was correct, there is moisture that Harold couldn’t feel until John spreads it in a slick circle, around and around. . .

“Like this?” he murmurs in a voice like sandpaper and sin, and Harold bites down on a whimper.

“What was that?” John asks, his thumb stilling.

“Yes.  Like that.  That’s—mnh—”  The movement resumes; hot tremors radiate through Harold’s thighs.  “That’s very good.  Keep—keep doing that.”

“Just this?”

“Well, you could—you could hold—you could m-masturbate me.”

“I could.”  John’s finger trails lightly along Harold’s shaft.

“Please do.”

“Whatever you say, Harold,” John purrs.  His hand closes around Harold’s penis; the sudden wave of pleasure makes Harold’s hips jerk.

“Yes,” he gasps out as John begins to stroke him steadily, slowly, focusing all of Harold’s restless arousal into a glowing nucleus of desire right there, potential energy gathering, building inexorably but so slowly towards climax. . .Harold feels his thighs clenching, his hands making fists in the sheets, his whole body yearning towards that locus of pleasure, yearning for more, for John, for the unnameable and unknowable, for the terrifying, exhilarating dissolution that never lasts more than a moment.  His breath clenches, too: a desperate gasped inhale, held in anticipation as he strains for what John will only give him at John’s own pace, every exhale an involuntary groan.  Almost. . .almost. . .but not enough, not yet. . .

“John,” he begs.

“Mm-hm?”

John.

“Something you want to tell me?” says John in his ear.  Harold tenses at the shock of the words, though it isn’t as though he hadn’t known it was coming.  But John’s hand picks up the tempo without increasing the pressure, and pleasure arcs through Harold’s body, making him squirm because his back isn’t capable of arching the way it wants to, and the words are out of his mouth before instinct can choke them back.

“I want this.  I want you.  I think about it all the time.”

“Yes?”  This time it is a prompt, emphasized by a fingertip placed tantalizingly over his asshole.

“I think about you,” he manages.

“What do you think about me?” John presses, his voice velvet over steel. 

“I think about you—with your suit rumpled, buttons open—with that smile, the one—for me, only for me.”

“Yes,” John murmurs.

“I imagine—”  Harold has to swallow and suck in a breath before he can spit the words out. “I imagine bending you over my desk—waking you up in the morning with kisses and just never stopping—I imagine you doing things to me—things I’ve never done, things you know how to do—you’d do them so well, and I—you’d help me, if I were clumsy, if I—you’d make it good—John!” he gasps, as John’s finger presses inside him.

“Good, Harold.  That’s real good.”  John holds still while Harold inevitably clenches around his finger, then gently rotates it back and forth, coaxing Harold’s muscles to relax, while his other hand works Harold’s erection.  “More?”

“Oh god.  Like that, yes, yes.”  John strikes white-hot sparks from Harold’s prostate that flood him with heat, again and again, sensation and yearning pervading him, scattering his thoughts into kaleidoscopic and filling up the cracks in between. . .

“More?” John asks again, his hands keeping up their disparate, devastating rhythms.

“I—I’m afraid,” Harold whispers between ragged breaths.  “Most of the time.  Of looking foolish.  Of people.  Their cruelty.  Greed.  I’m afraid of what I might think of if I’m not careful.  The damage I could do.  I’m afraid of—of failing.”

“Harold. . .”  John sounds concerned, or awed, Harold can’t tell.  He’s in no state of mind to puzzle out nuances of tone; it’s all he can do to keep pushing words past his teeth in some semblance of order.

“I’m afraid of failing you.  I’m afraid of being alone.  Dying alone.”

“Harold—”  John’s hand falters.

“Don’t stop.  Please.  I need—I need—John, oh—”

John doesn’t give him reassuring words.  Instead, he stretches out alongside Harold and gathers him in, cradles him against his broad, solid chest as his hand resumes its motion, sure and steady, driving Harold smoothly, inexorably into climax.  Harold cries out wordlessly, and John wraps him in both arms and holds him as he trembles.

He should be embarrassed.  Humiliated.  Self-conscious, at the very least.  But somehow, he can’t be bothered.  He’s too limp and sated and comfortable in John’s embrace, with the rise and fall of John’s breath lulling him like the rocking of a hammock.

“All right?” John murmurs after a while.

“Mm hm,” grunts Harold, drifting.

John’s fingers brush his temple.

“Done with this?” he asks.  It takes Harold a moment to realize he means the blindfold.

“Mm, yes,” he manages, because really, after all John’s just done for him, a word or two is the least he deserves from Harold.

John gently works the blindfold free one-handed, his other arm still holding Harold close.  When it’s gone, he fluffs Harold’s hair with his fingers, then kisses his forehead. 

“Mm,” Harold sighs.  His eyes are still closed, but the quality of the darkness is different. He nuzzles the soft skin at the hollow of John’s throat, then kisses him there.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.  Was it. . .what you wanted?”

There’s a note of uncertainty in John’s voice, which Harold simply can’t allow to go unaddressed.  He opens his eyes and leans back to meet John’s, where he sees the same uncertainty mingled with hope.

“It was.  It—it helped, I think.  I hope.  And it felt—it made me feel. . .”  But he can’t put it into words.  It isn’t even a question of embarrassment; he simply can’t find the right words to express it.  He shakes his head and finishes, apologetically, “Good.”

But that seems to be sufficient for John.  An incongruously shy little smile tugs up the corners of his eminently kissable mouth as he nods.

“Good,” he echoes.  “That’s good.”

Harold cups John’s recently-shaven jaw in one hand.  He strokes John’s cheekbone with his thumb, murmuring, “Very good, indeed.”

John’s lips part, just a trifle, and Harold pulls him in for an affectionate, lingering kiss.

“And now, if you don’t mind, I believe I—I’d like to make you come.”  His face feels like it’s about to spontaneously combust, but he manages not to break eye contact, even after he’s finished the sentence.

John smiles, slow and sweet as honey.

“I don’t mind at all, Harold.