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in the fight, in the attempt

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“Why are we on the floor again?”

“Because it’s closer to the radiator,” Marti comments, drawing his legs up under the duvet he brought down from his bed.

They’re watching something on Marti’s laptop — or, half watching. Down by the window in the corner of Marti’s room cuddled in a makeshift floor fort of pillows and blankets.

It’s actually quite nice... if they were alone.

Marti’s leg crosses over Nico’s and distracts him, their hips so close. Nico’s in the mood for wearing half of the clothes they’ve got on and kissing instead. But Marti’s mom is home, and she still makes them crack the door.

“Why? Are you uncomfortable?”

“No,” Nico pouts. “Just cold.” He pulls the collar of his hoodie up over his nose, forcing a dramatic shudder. He prefers they were at his with some more privacy, but Marti’s weak radiator is better than his broken one. Maintenance can’t even get to it until tomorrow.

“The one in the living room works better if you want to move,” Marti suggests with that tone Nico knows is a bit teasing, a bit sarcastic. The one he uses when he can read Nico so well. Because it’s not really about the heat at all; Marti wishes they were more alone too and Nico is being more transparent about it than his demeanor usually suggests.

“No, that’s okay,” Nico sighs again, worming his way more horizontal with an intentional scoot closer to Marti.

Which makes him chuckle and move the laptop from his knees to the ground, hitting the spacebar to pause it.

And he twists to lean over Nico, hands on the floor flagging his waist over the blanket. Faces close so Nico has a good view of the details: Marti’s heavy eyes, edged in black lashes that make his slow blinks devastating; the light scruff on his jaw, indiscernible at a distance; his lips, the bottom one a little dry. Like an impressionist painting: the closer you get the more you appreciate the brushstrokes.

Only it’s like they’re in a museum and Nico can’t touch the art.

Nico’s breath immediately hitches, and he tips his chin to free it from where he buried it in his sweatshirt. Clearing his face for Marti like a reflex.

“No?” Marti hums, still over him. His elbows bending to tip in tighter. “I can warm you up?”

The way he says it, soft and flirty, lures Nico into half a daydream. Involving lots of skin and little thinking.

Work has been stressful, it’s been a few days since he’s seen Marti and, of course, to top it all off, it’s raining outside. Nico feels a bit silly letting these minor inconveniences get to him so bad, but he needs an anchor to keep from floating off into the perilous open sea of his mind as they churn together; the best one he’s ever found — that doesn’t drag on the sand of his conscious, that’s secured by the strongest knots — is Marti’s body.

He just wants one kiss, damnit.

And Marti gives him one. An unintentionally quick and irrevocably dirty one — leans down, opens his mouth, slips his tongue in to meet Nico’s only for a moment. It immediately blanks his brain, shutting it off so his body can turn on. But it ends because there’s a shuffle from down the hall and Marti pops off faster than Nico can open his eyes.

There’s a swift blur in the crack of the door Nico notices through his peripherals: Marti’s mom walking by in the hall, trailing with her the scent of clean laundry to hang.

He wishes that was enough to turn him off, but he can still taste Marti’s tongue, still see the shadow of him on top. His blood is hot and he’s restless and half-hard, wants to be close and unplug his brain so Marti can rearrange the wires with his skin. Just that one second of lips on lips was too divine to deter him now.

Settling back, the laptop readjusted in position, Marti snakes a hand under the blanket, under Nico’s sweatshirt — hot palm on his stomach. He rests his head on Nico’s shoulder and cuddles close.

Nico can feel the breath from Marti’s nose on his throat, feel Marti’s chest draw in and out against his ribs. He wants to be closer than even this.

And Marti must sense how fiery Nico’s skin is, because his fingers trail over Nico’s middle and start playing with the waistband on his sweats. First at his hip, drawing circles with his pointer finger on the bone. Then dragging along the inner hem with his bent knuckle just far enough below his belly button to tease Nico crazy before he goes back again.

He pretends to watch what’s on the screen.

And Nico tries not to squirm, angling his body inward a fraction of a degree to indicate he likes it. But it’s hard to keep completely still — and when he manages to, a soft, swallowed sound escapes him at the torment.

Marti, knowing, turns his head — and Nico can’t see his face curved into his neck, but he knows Marti is smiling. Probably pleased with himself at Nico’s reaction. He breaths on the skin there, kisses the divot where Nico’s jaw meets his neck right below his ear lobe.

The whole thing feels like Nico stuck his finger in a socket. Hot and staticky. He breathes out heavy through his nose, shifts his hips unthinking to who knows where.

Marti’s fingers keep dragging, farther down his pants. Lips still fixed on the side of his throat. He positions his arm more secure around Nico’s hips, grabbing the far one tightly in a sort of hug that lets him feel how hard he made Nico against his forearm.

It makes Marti giggle into Nico’s ear, the heated breath quiet in theory but loud in proximity.

He moves to touch Nico under the blanket and outside of his sweats but —

“We are not going to fool around while your mom is home,” Nico hisses, half in jest but only because he’d second guess himself if he were sure they’d get away with it. He grabs Marti’s arm and gently pulls it back. “Don’t tease me like that.”

“How boring,” Marti shrugs, zig-zagging his cold nose up Nico’s neck, a soft kiss to follow in the hollow behind his ear. Not helping.

The inside joke makes Nico laugh, even more so since this situation is usually reversed and Marti is the one currently pulling a Nico.

He can’t be mad, though. Nico sighs through his nostrils, turns his head and bumps their noses to indicate he’s about to kiss Marti.

“Hm. Wonder who I got that from.”

“Pfft. Asshole.”

This kiss is sweeter — Nico feels Marti mumble a vague fuck you over his lips, and their rush to part is less startled when they hear the door to the balcony close in Mrs. Rametta’s room.

A few seconds later, she’s popping her head through the crack in the door.

“I’m about to go to the store. Marti, do you want anything?”

Nico draws his legs up, embarrassed, so the blanket isn’t flat against him.

“Where are you going?” Marti prompts her to clarify.

“Just to Simply. Why?”

He sighs, animated enough Nico doubts how genuine the sulk in it is.

Mrs. Rametta squints her eyes. “What?”

“If you were going to Eataly, I would ask you to get me those orange ricotta cookies they make.”

Nico turns his head, sees Marti’s puppy dog eyes. Back to Mrs. Rametta, who looks like she’s waging a war with the decision. They’re in a standstill of unblinking, nonverbal conversation for at least thirty seconds.

“Fine,” she deadpans. “I’ll go to Eataly instead for the cookies if you help me with dinner, I’ll be too tired after.”

“Don’t worry,” Marti rushes to agree, a smile overtaking him. “I’ll cook. And dishes. Thanks, mom.”

Leaving, she rolls her eyes and bites her cheek to keep her lip from tipping up. Affectionate with punch. Marti and Nico both stay frozen as they hear the jangle of keys, the shuffle of bags, and the closing and — finally — locking of the front door.

Immediately Marti pounces on him, stripping the blanket away and stealing Nico in a straddled kiss with no build-up. Their foreheads knock together and Marti’s tongue finds Nico’s, his hands on his shoulders.

“She’ll have to take the bus,” Marti pants, mumbling over Nico’s lips that burn with the urgency. “We have at least an hour.”

Marti spreads his legs to sit in Nico’s lap, their comfy loose clothes leaving nothing to the imagination. The feeling forces a breath in, and Nico can’t keep up.

“You’re the devil,” Nico manages, breathy and giggly and choked when Marti rocks his hips.

He’s hard. Nico feels him against his lower stomach when Marti scoots them both down horizontal, Nico laying flat on the floor now with Marti on top of him.

Supportive elbows kneel around his ears with free hands to rake through his hair.

“You like it.”

Right now, yeah. He does.

Marti’s easy, he always wants him. But it can usually be broken down into two categories.

1) Mostly: Marti wants Nico in an almost futile way — unable to truly communicate the effect Nico has on him with programmed responses. His body carnal, responding to Nico’s not with exaggerated moans or mapped hands, but completely transparent with the blows of his heart, with the shake of his legs.

2) And more rarely: Marti wants Nico like he wants to worship him. Canonize him. Bless him.

Right now, Nico can tell it’s the latter.

And yet, neither ever get off balance. Looking back, it’s hard to describe the way they love each other bodily without it seeming asymmetric.

But there’s a lot Nico’s unlearned with Marti: about what he likes. About what turns him on, what makes him comfortable. For the better.

Nothing is ever a dress rehearsal, a play he’s reenacted a thousand times. The gaudy costumes have been put away and Nico’s forgotten to memorize all his lines. But the only one in the audience is Marti, a smile on his face and a standing ovation.

Marti’s quick to put his hand down Nico’s pants, touching him outside of his boxers. The pressure immediately makes his stomach curl.

“How do you want me?” Marti breathes into the kiss.

And something about the words melt all of Nico’s bones.

“This is nice,” he manages, arching himself up into Marti’s hand. “Too many clothes, though.”

Marti’s quick to drag Nico’s pants down, hobbling off of him so Nico can kick them loose. A sweatshirt comes off. Marti’s shorts. More clothes. Until they’re both left in their socks and underwear and Marti is right back on top of him where he belongs.

“Better?” Marti asks, laughing and kissing him again. All tongue and sideways head tilt so it’s real deep but not too fast.

Nico doesn’t think they’ve ever kissed like this. Like Marti’s giving him something warm and exciting he feels travel to his chest, to his stomach, to the tips of his toes. He just nods into it, trying not to smile at how good all the bare skin feels on his palms. Smoothing down Marti’s shoulder to his waist. To Marti’s hips that dip down over his own.

Rocking into him. Finally. In a rhythm that builds nice — so nice they lose their breath after a minute or two and Marti has to stop their kiss. But their foreheads stay pressed together, breathing hard with little smiles that break open to let loose little sounds as they continue to grind.

Marti’s thighs squeeze his hips. His socked feet curl around Nico’s calves. Everything about them tight together so each shift is lava hot.

Marti has to pause. In the stillness, Nico feels how hard he is against his hip, twitching.

“I could come from this,” Marti admits, finding Nico’s lips again after he catches his breath.

That thought is tempting — Marti too hot to hold back, whimpering into his mouth, his hips buckling.

So Nico arches up lazily and continues the movement they’ve stopped at half the pace. It makes Marti moan, his head roll back, his eyelids flutter.

“Then come from this.”

Nico bites his lip. It sounds wicked in a wonderful way, even to himself.

Marti lets Nico rock under him, lost and useless with the pleasure before he matches it. He humps his hips forward until he’s completely spread over Nico and heavy on him in a comfortable pattern of pressure. Feeling how hard he is against himself. Pausing sometimes just to press down slow and savor that effect. Unable to hide a whine, to swallow a sound. Marti’s own movements make him loud in Nico’s ear, and there’s something so hot about Marti controlling everything except the effect Nico has on him.

One of Marti’s hands finds Nico’s on his side and grabs it, drags it to the floor and holds it down above Nico’s head.

The action redirects Nico’s heart rate and forces him to be aware of all the blood moving in his body. Of where it’s concentrated and of where it’s hot. Suddenly each thrust of Marti’s hips feels compounded, making everything south of his belly button tight.

And, actually, he thinks he could come from this. From just kissing and skin and being so turned on the simplest of frictions will do it. Of knowing this is how their bodies would be moving if Marti was really fucking him. Of Marti on top of him — getting off on him.

Nico feels his limbs go heavy and his stomach start to thaw like he’s melting from the inside out.

This feeling creeps up until it pushes him just over the edge and he’s falling — unable to focus on kissing Marti back because he’s coming — trying to squeeze Marti’s hand pinning his down to let him know.

Marti can tell, too — smiling over Nico’s lips and letting up just a little. Something so defenseless about it all; Marti easy and beaming and attentive while Nico shares with him the sounds and the motions and the parts of his body he doesn’t share with anybody else.

It can be scary for him to let go of everything, to climb to the peak of vulnerability and be completely wide open. And then, even when he gets to the top of that hill, to wave that white flag and surrender so valiantly he can enjoy it.

But when he can, it’s just an attestment to how much he trusts Marti.

Who he thinks — especially in these moments with a brain clouded by a mixture of love and lust he can only pity the people who’ve never experienced it intertwined — deserves everything.

Marti lets up — to not overwork Nico’s tender coming down — and Nico reaches forward with his free hand to put it down Marti’s underwear.

To find that he’s already come too.

They both laugh, faces still close. And Marti dips down to kiss Nico with wet lips hot and raw that almost pulse. The blood of their bodies finding its forgotten parts again.

Nico hums into it, content.

“I should do the laundry before mom gets home,” Marti mumbles, breaking away. But not before he bumps Nico’s nose with his own. “Give me these.”

Marti tugs on Nico’s waistband, getting his underwear off and collecting his dirty clothes with the rest in the basket. He strips completely nude and throws a fresh pair of boxers at Nico before gathering a change of clothes for himself.

Nico laughs while he puts them on, watching Marti’s socked feet and naked butt with a laundry basket on his hip exit the room.

By the time Nico’s fully dressed, he hears the start of the washing machine and Marti pad into the bathroom, running the sink.

Alone in the lull, he realizes how much he’s missed Marti’s room. Always tidy and eclectically colorful. How long it’s actually been since he’s visited, and how much about it has changed. Some of the posters have been switched. The sheets are new. His desk now sits across from his bed — swapping places with the bookshelf.

And all of the important moments that’ve happened in it.

And yet, he’s still always noticing new things for the first time: the fact that Marti’s coat pegs are a skateboard deck, the print of Michelangelo’s David behind his head.

And this, in green marker on the wall by the wavy mirror:

“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.”

But Nico’s attention is torn away before he can really absorb the words.

Marti pops his head back in the door, changed. “Tea?” He asks.

Nico nods, a smile pinching his lips. When Marti smiles back, tapping the door with a flat palm before disappearing again, it’s with an air of domesticity so comfy he almost forgot about Mrs. Rametta.

That is, until he hears her come through the front door. Lucky timing, at least.

Marti sounds surprised she’s back so soon. But Nico overhears their muffled conversation down the hall about how traffic was light and the store wasn’t crowded because everyone from the neighborhood is still at the Porta Portese Market. Coupled with the crinkling of packaging and the unfolding of bags and the whistle of the kettle that bear over their voices so Nico can’t make them out anymore.

His attention turns back to the wall.

The suffering involved.

His stomach clenches.

A moment later, Marti’s bumping the cracked door open with his hip, a cookie in his mouth and a mug of tea in each hand. Another cookie balanced on top of one of them — he gives that one to Nico.

“Careful,” he mumbles, taking the cookie out of his mouth when Nico grabs it and frees his hand. “It’s really hot.”

“Thanks.”

Nico scoots over so Marti can sit back down next to him, grabbing the duvet by their feet to spread over their laps.

“Have you had these?” Marti takes a bite of his cookie. “They’re my favorite.”

Nico snorts. “You like anything with orange.”

“Just try it,” Marti demands, laughing and leaning over Nico to shove the remaining half of his cookie in his face, its soft texture crumbling all over his lips and cheek.

“The tea!” Nico warns, giggling and holding it out of reach. He tries to catch the crumbs in his mouth, failing since he can’t close it while he’s laughing. “Okay! Fine!” He chokes. “It’s good, fucking delicious!”

Marti scoots back, scrunching his nose in a proud smile. He blows on his tea over the lip of the mug to cool it. “You’re not much of a sweets person.”

Nico raises an eyebrow. “Except for pop rocks.”

Marti grimaces. “And panettone?”

“Hm, that was mostly just because you offered. Does anyone actually like it?”

“I do.”

“Well, that’s because you’re a sweet person.” He purposefully leaves it singular and pokes Marti on the tip of his nose.

It still makes Marti blush.

“Did you…” Nico continues, glancing at the quote written on Marti’s wall in the corner. “Did you have that there then? On Christmas? I haven’t noticed it.”

Marti follows his gaze. “Oh, yeah. Eva actually wrote it there forever ago.”

“Eva?”

“I cited it once in a philosophy paper she paid me to write for her. And she must have liked it.”

The fact it’s been there since before Marti even knew Nico existed calms him slightly. He bumps Marti’s shoulder with his own. “Do you like it?”

But the silence that follows stretches — and with it — Nico’s anxiety. He takes a nervous sip of his tea and watches Marti stare at it like he’s reading it again for the first time with new eyes.

Or maybe remembering why he chose that quote in the first place. Where it belonged in the paper, or what argument he was trying to make. If any experiences that have shaped him since then apply and if the words can walk the walk.

Marti takes a long drink of tea. “I think there’s a lot of truth to it.”

And it’s not really Marti’s agreeance, but Marti’s hand which has come to find Nico’s and intertwine their fingers, that makes something in Nico sigh with relief.

He doesn’t like to remember the pain he knows he put Marti through. It’s especially pertinent because he knows the magnitude of the mirror of that pain.

In weird ways, Nico still tries to gauge how much he was worth it. And if the ending wasn’t a happy one, would Marti have ripped out the pages with his name on them.

But as time tells, he knows Marti isn’t that kind of person. That grief and peril have not hardened him, but rather took his virtue by the reigns and trusted it to be their guide when lost.

Marti rests his chin on Nico’s shoulder, looking up earnestly, slow blinking. “What about you?”

He looks like an angel. But Nico doesn’t tell him that, knowing he’ll call him out in his contradiction.

“I think it’s the truest thing.”