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In celebration of being safe

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Nikolai would be far more excited about being alone in this new home if it weren’t for the headache that wraps around his head, cradling it from the back while blooming up between his eyes.

“It’s our first home on our own,” Nikolai mutters as he stumbles over the threshold. Seth’s hand on his arm steadies him, and Nikolai leans into that touch.

“We’ve stayed in houses since the fire, but not one where it was ours,” Seth agrees quietly. His voice is carefully low, which is good, because every single sound seems to set Nikolai’s nerves on edge. “This one we get to keep. We can decorate it. Make it feel like a home. The things on the bed aren’t musty. They’re new. Quilts that are soft and clean. We have food that isn’t just old tins. Ethan even made sure there’s some cheese in the fridge. And crackers. Homemade, but he says they’re good. A lot like the wheat ones we used to get out of a box.”

Nikolai’s stomach rumbles, followed by a wave of nausea. “Um. I think I’m hungry. Except maybe not.”

Seth closes the door carefully, even that small thud echoing loudly inside of Nikolai’s head. “Tell me what you need,” Seth says firmly.

That requires thinking.

“A bed,” Nikolai says, because that seems easiest. “I want to lie down. I probably need water. Maybe even food, although I don’t want it. Because this has to be at least partly because of overusing energy. I need to rehydrate and replenish. Do we have anything sugary?”

“I’ll bring you an apple, and cheese and crackers, and water,” Seth decides. He turns Nikolai, points him down the hall. “Bedroom’s in the back. Go. Lie down. Let me take care of you.”

That sounds like such a wonderful idea, and if Nikolai’s head weren’t pounding, he’d have a better response to it. As it is, he strips as he walks, pulling off his shirt first, then undoing his pants and shoving them down along with his underwear so he can step out. It occurs to him that the door isn’t locked, and it’s possible that someone could walk in. He trusts that they won’t. His clothes feel constricting, hot against his skin, and he wants them gone.

The bed is heavy and oak, the scent of fresh-cut wood bright in the room. It’s not the same bed that was here while the house lay abandoned for a decade, but something new, brought in and assembled in place, just for them. Nikolai touches the brightly colored quilt that lies on top of it, and the hand knit blanket thrown across. There are grey sheets underneath it all, slightly rough, but he figures they’ll soften with use. He knows there’s a second set of everything in the wardrobe by the windows, as well.

They’re clean. No dust. No smell of must and mildew.

This feels like luxury.

He climbs up onto the end of the bed and stares down at it, the quilt a star spreading out in orange, green, red, and blue beneath his feet. It calls to him, begs for him to collapse in place.

He turns, and lets himself fall back, sighing as the bed catches him.

Nikolai closes his eyes, and lets himself drift. The cool breeze from the open window wafts over his skin, and he sighs at the sensation. It feels good against his overheated skin.

“I cut up some carrots, too, and brought up enough for both—oh.” Seth’s footsteps pause at the door, then move slowly into the room. A soft clink of the plate being set down on the low bureau that lines one wall. “Is that an invitation, or did you just feel like being naked?”

More movement, and the scrape of curtains along a rod as Seth draws them closed over the window. It dulls the breeze, but doesn’t stop it entirely.

Nikolai opens his eyes cautiously. The room is dimmer with the curtains drawn; Seth is back-lit from the light around the edges as he stands by the window. Nikolai’s pulse still keeps tempo in his ears, but it’s better now. He holds out one hand, motions Seth closer. “Maybe you could help with the headache.”

“Maybe some food and water first,” Seth says. He comes close enough to touch Nikolai’s forehead, his fingers blessedly cool. When he nudges, Nikolai moves to allow Seth to plump both pillows together so that Nikolai can sit up against the wall.

“What did I do to deserve you?” Nikolai knows that this is a part of their bond—Empath and Dreamwalker. That they will always take care of each other like this, and that they will always somehow know what the other needs. But in the midst of chaos, this little bit of pure light seems incredible, and Nikolai is thankful for it every day.

He understands why Dreamwalkers go mad without being bound. He can’t imagine a life without Seth in it.

Seth brings over two large glasses filled with water, hands one to Nikolai, then reaches past him to set the other on the night stand. He puts a plate on the bed, and Nikolai’s stomach rumbles again when he smells the sharp cheese and the sweet, crisp apple. He takes a long gulp of the water, then sets his glass aside.

Seth pauses. “Okay, so, I guess we’re getting crumbs in bed, and you’re naked—”

“Strip,” Nikolai answers the question that hasn’t come out yet.

Seth nudges his glasses back up his nose, grinning. His skin flushes warmly, the blush spreading across his shoulders and chest as he undresses. Chest hair curls across his pecs, forms a thick line that disappears under his waistband. Nikolai knows exactly where it points, but he still watches as Seth hops on one foot, trying to get his pants off without falling over.

Once his clothes are off, Seth carefully folds them up, setting them on top of the bureau. “It’s strange not to have to rush,” he says. “Eating naked feels weird. Vulnerable.”

“We’re safe,” Nikolai replies, and pats the bed next to him. Seth joins him, settles in hip to hip so they can share the pillows against the wall; they hold the plate on their laps.

Seth is such and interesting mix of angular and soft, and Nikolai loves that this once, they can take their time. He can look at Seth, pay attention to all the little differences between their bodies, and appreciate him the way he deserves to be seen.

Nikolai picks up one of the crackers, tops it with a piece of cheese and holds it out to Seth. When Seth raises a hand, Nikolai shakes his head, moves the hand away, instead placing the cracker in front of Seth’s mouth. “Go ahead,” he says.

The flush on Seth’s skin intensifies. Seth is darker-skinned than Nikolai, but more prone to blushing. Nikolai loves the warmth of him, the way everything Seth feels is written in his skin if you know where to look. Seth works so hard to keep control of his emotions, making sure they don’t leak out to touch others, yet they are still right there, simmering under his skin.

Seth takes the cracker carefully with his teeth, bringing up a hand to catch the crumbs as he bites into it. Nikolai leans closer, to steal a taste with a kiss, but Seth is there with a piece of apple. Nikolai carefully takes it from him, nipping his fingertip along the way.

It’s crisp, as if it were picked yesterday, not last fall. Maybe with Amaranth around it was, Nikolai can’t be sure.

Havenhill is amazing.

This new home, this community, this place. It is everything they haven’t had this last decade, and more.

After that, it’s easier to just eat than to feed each other. Nikolai settles into the crunch of crackers and apples and carrots, followed by the sweet, pungent taste of cheese. It’s a simple meal, but the most flavorful he’s had in a long time, even compared to their first meals after arriving in Havenhill. That might be because it’s their first in their house. On their own.

Seth brushes at his legs, crumbs falling onto the sheets beneath them. “This might not have been our most intelligent idea.”

With the plate empty, and the ache in his head fading, there is nothing left to distract him. Nikolai touches Seth’s face, presses his palm against his cheek, and leans in to kiss him slowly. “I am not going to kick you out of bed for eating crackers,” he mutters.

Seth laughs, a soft burst against Nikolai’s lips. “That’s cheesy,” he murmurs, before kissing him again.

Yes, it is. A flirtatious line from deep in his memory, in a space Nikolai isn’t sure he wants to touch, especially not right now. Maybe later, when it’s safe to think about his mother gently teasing his father, and all the people that he’s lost.

Right now, Seth kisses him like he expects Nikolai to forget.

Seth’s good at that.

Nikolai falls back, and Seth goes with him, straddling him. Nikolai can’t remember the last time they were both completely naked and safe, able to take their time exploring each other. A time when they didn’t have to worry about leaving soon, or freezing, or someone stumbling into their hiding place and trying to kill them.

It feels like bliss.

Nikolai nudges the plate away, trying to make space for them both. When Seth pulls back to grab the plate and put it on the nightstand, Nikolai just watches. He catalogs the laugh lines around Seth’s eyes, soft and relaxed for once. The way his round face brightens as he smiles, and the strength in his thick hands.

There was a book Nikolai read once; he found it stuffed in a nook in some place where they were stuck for a week during torrential downpours. The heroine described herself as peasant stock: sturdy and strong, heavy with both muscle and a warm layer of fat. She reminded Nikolai of Seth, and he reveres that strength, the way that no matter how much they have starved along the way, Seth has always had such deep reserves that he has energy to go on.

Nikolai relies on that strength.

Seth leans in, forehead to forehead, and smoothes Nikolai’s hair back. “How’s your head?”

There’s a soft rush in Nikolai’s ears, and a dull ache at the back of his head. “Better. The water and food helped a lot. It’s not perfect,” he admits. But there’s something so much more interesting to think about right now, even if there’s a possibility that it could make his head hurt more. “Distract me.”

“I will, if you drink some more water while I brush the crumbs out of the bed.” Seth slides off of Nikolai, tugs him to stand as well. “You might not want to kick me out of bed, but those crumbs are going to get into some uncomfortable places if we’re not careful. And I don’t want to remembering christening our home by thinking about trying to pick cracker crumbs out of—”

“I get it.” Nikolai silences him with a kiss. “I’ll drink water. You clean out the bed.”

The water is cold and fresh, with an earthy taste from the well. Nikolai drains the glass, feels the cool spread through him, and finishes just as Seth is patting the sheets back into place. Seth gestures, and Nikolai climbs into bed, pulling Seth with him.

He tries to stretch out over Seth, but Seth pushes until Nikolai is on his back again with Seth above him. “Uh-uh.” Seth shakes his head. “You lie back and enjoy. We get to take our time, and you want to be distracted. So let me distract you.”

Nikolai nods. “Okay. Consider me yours.”

It feels strange to just lie there, letting Seth look. As much as Nikolai likes to watch Seth, he never thinks about being the point of focus himself. He’s too skinny. Tall and rangy, like he never truly came into his strength. His skin is smooth across his chest, where Seth’s is covered in thick hair.

He stops thinking when Seth leans down to kiss his throat. That one gentle touch goes straight to his cock, and Nikolai groans. Seth presses a hand against his chest. “Relax. We can take all night if we want to. We could probably take tomorrow, too, but someone might interrupt us and tell us we have jobs to do. So all night is going to have to be good enough.”

He punctuates his words with soft nips to Nikolai’s skin. One at the junction of his throat and shoulder, one more just above his collarbone. Another and another, moving down the plane of his chest until Seth reaches Nikolai’s nipple. He laves at it with repeated strokes, until Nikolai shudders and Seth finally takes it between his teeth and tugs.

“Fuck,” Nikolai exhales.

Seth goes still. “Is that something that you want to do?”

They never have, not yet. Not that specifically. Penetration without good lubrication doesn’t sound like a fun idea, and it’s not like the safehouses and cabins typically included lube in the little caches of supplies left behind.

Nikolai has no idea what’s available in Havenhill, and even less idea how to ask.

“Let’s save that thought for another day,” he says, and Seth relaxes.

“Okay.” Seth brushes his lips against Nikolai’s, stretches out and arches against him with one delicious slide of cock against cock. “You just let me take care of you, then.”

“Mm, I could still suck you off,” Nikolai suggests idly. He loves the feel of Seth’s cock in his mouth. There might not be lube when you’re in hiding, but a good blow job offers a lot of spit to ease things along. It’s one thing they’ve both gotten good at.

“Not now. Maybe later.” Seth presses a hand against Nikolai’s chest, keeping him in place as he slides back. He straddles Nikolai’s knees, kisses across his belly. “Let me take care of you,” he whispers again, and it sounds like a benediction and a promise.

Nikolai wiggles his legs, and Seth moves, letting Nikolai spread his legs, knees falling to the side. It creates a cradle for Seth to lie in, and he does, his head pillowed on one of Nikolai’s thighs.

Seth draws a line on his skin from his knee, up the inside of his thigh, almost to his balls. “I love you,” he murmurs, then presses kisses along the same line, nipping lightly, tongue trailing warmth and spit all the way up until he nuzzles into the crook of Nikolai’s leg. Nikolai’s cock feels heavy, brushing against Seth’s cheek every time Seth moves and Nikolai lifts his hips in response.

“Yeah.” Nikolai wants to say it back, but the words tangle on his tongue, refusing to come out as anything more than a whining moan that ends with Seth’s name. Nikolai grips Seth’s hair, tangling in the curls, twisting and tugging until Seth captures the tip of Nikolai’s cock between his lips. Seth tongues the slit, teases him, and Nikolai bucks against him.

“Please,” Nikolai manages. He can’t manage sentences, but he can beg just fine.

“Mm.” Seth closes his lips around the head, swirls his tongue around, soaking Nikolai. He slides down slowly, while Nikolai shudders with the effort of staying still, not wanting to choke Seth.

“That feels—” Nikolai cuts off, hips twitching up as Seth takes more in. “Your mouth. God. Just—yeah….” His grip tightens in Seth’s hair, keeping Seth perfectly still as Nikolai thrusts with shallow motion. He stops when Seth presses his hands into his hips, sinking back into the bed. “Seth. Please.”

“Don’t worry,” Seth murmurs, a vibration around Nikolai’s cock. “I’m going to suck you until you come. Just lie back. Let me do all the work.” That’s all the warning Seth gives before he slides down again, handing curling at the base of Nikolai’s cock, working him slickly.

It’s hard to stay still at first, but every time Nikolai thrusts, Seth stops, and that’s a good incentive to just lie back and let himself go boneless. Seth works him up to the edge, then pulls off, pushing Nikolai’s knees wider so he can trail kisses behind his balls, one wet fingertip teasing at the rim of his ass. Seth’s careful, his finger slick with spit, just barely pressing as Nikolai relaxes into the touch. It feels like a promise of things to come, some day, when they have lube and even more time to explore, but more than that, it feels good. Really good. Nikolai’s hands fall from Seth’s hair, and he closes his eyes. Everything is focused on the wet of Seth’s mouth, the grip of his fingers as he strokes along Nikolai’s cock.

Nikolai floats in a haze of sensation, relaxed enough to let himself completely lose track of time. It seems as if they are lost in their own little world here, as if nothing matters but each other.

His orgasm, when it comes, isn’t violent. It’s the crest of a wave that falls forward instead of receding, a rush through his body as his thighs go tight and he moans loudly. Seth swallows around him once then pulls off, hand working over his cock until the shudders fade, and Nikolai is left wrung out and limp on the bed.

Nikolai blinks his eyes open, and Seth kneels over him, his hand wet with Nikolai’s fluids and with spit. Seth twists his hand over his own cock, stroking quickly, his tongue caught between his teeth. His glasses are gone, set aside at some point when Nikolai wasn’t paying attention. His hair curls across his face, a sheen of sweat shining on his skin as Seth pants softly. Nikolai wants to help him, but he can’t find the energy to lift his hand, so he just watches as Seth jerks himself off until he comes, the sticky fluids mixing on Nikolai’s abdomen.

Seth’s brow furrows as he squints at Nikolai.

“I love you.” Nikolai finally manages to find the words and the ability to form them. He reaches up slowly, and Seth curls down to him; they end up on their sides facing each other as Nikolai cradles Seth’s face, kissing him carefully. “I love you,” he says again. “I know that this is home, I know that we’re safe now, but it’s all perfect because of you. It’s always home if I have you.”

“Mm. You and me,” Seth agrees. He stretches, his belly pressed to Nikolai’s, his foot sliding along Nikolai’s calf. “We’re a mess,” he murmurs, one hand curled over Nikolai’s hip. “But you know what? We have a hot shower. And a place to sleep where we don’t have to worry about being attacked. We can sleep naked, just you and me, all the time if we want. And we can take as many showers as we want.” He pats Nikolai’s chest. “Stay here.”

Nikolai watches as Seth leaves. It’s hard not to worry when he’s out of sight, to let go of the instinctive reaction that they need to stick together at all times. Knowing they’re safe and truly feeling it is going to take some time.

Seth returns with a damp cloth, and he cleans them both up with soft strokes. Nikolai’s halfway to thinking he could manage another round—something they’ve never had the luxury to do back to back—when Seth tosses the cloth aside and curls next to Nikolai in the bed. He pulls up the quilt, and it’s warm and cozy and smells like fresh soap and their musk.

“Sleep naked,” Seth says, patting Nikolai’s chest.

And yeah, that sounds like a great idea. They need rest. They need to recharge, both physically and magically.

Nikolai cradles Seth close, presses a kiss to the top of his head. “I’ve got you,” he whispers. “And you’ve got me.” And they are finally safe.