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The key would not turn. Measures had to be taken if they were to sleep inside tonight, and with a pry bar inserted between door and frame, Joseph prepared to open the way by main force. Just as he pulled with all his might, Nicholas shouted, “Wait a moment!”

It was too late. With a shriek of wood and metal, the door popped open, showering Joseph liberally with splinters and dust.

“You could not have said so sooner?” He inquired, as Nicholas jogged over to him. “What was so urgent?”

Nicholas rubbed the back of his neck, smiling sheepishly and holding up his new camera. “I suddenly had the thought the house would be a nice first photograph.”

Looking between the door, now swinging relatively freely, the rest of the slightly shabby house—though more so than the agent had represented, certainly—and Nicholas, Joseph raised his eyebrows. “I can shut the door...?”

“Would you?” Nicholas smiled and reached out, brushing bits of wood from Joseph’s hair.

Laughing quietly to himself at the turn of events—Nicholas had had many occasions to wait patiently while Joseph had quickly sketched a plant or animal, or a landscape over the centuries—Joseph pulled the door closed and went back to the Phaeton to begin unloading their luggage.

Since the daguerreotype, Joseph had watched Nicholas’s enraptured enthusiasm with every new development of the art with bemusement. It wasn’t that he was against it; some of the new cameras were very convenient and he had seen quite a few skilled portraits and landscapes by photographers with a keen eye for light and composition exhibited in their travels. The plates, though, were expensive, the cameras unwieldy and the chemicals…he wrinkled his nose in remembrance. Nicholas had thankfully left the large case he had purchased for his older photography equipment behind to be shipped with the rest of their furniture in favor of the new, much more conveniently sized Kodak Brownie he had ordered.

Sliding back into the driver’s seat to wait while Nicholas eyed his subject and lined up his shot with his usual attention to detail, Joseph took the time to admire the Phaeton afresh. It could go above forty miles an hour, though of course these country roads hardly permitted such speeds.

Joseph could and would admit he was nearly as enthusiastic about the automobile as Nicholas was with his camera. He had won it in a bet against a man with far too much time and money on his hands and the two of them had been quite a sight to the locals as they drove into the nearby town. Several people had come over curiously and Joseph had been happy to talk about the inline 4 engine, steel panels over the steel frame, the retractable roof, and surprisingly comfortable leather seats until Nicholas had finished speaking with the man who had sold them their new house.

Of course, it had been all over dust from their long drive out from the city. He would have to clean it after they moved their baggage inside. They planned to stay here a year at least, until or unless Andromache or Sébastien contacted them.

Past the windshield, Nicholas seemed to be finished photographing the house and the two of them carried their trunks inside. Once settled, Joseph found a towel to wipe down the inside of the Phaeton. He stepped out onto the porch with Nicholas and frowned, squinting worriedly up at the clouds encroaching from the east.

“Do you think there would be room in the barn? It looks like rain,” Joseph said.

Nicholas lifted his camera. “I wanted to get a few shots of the outbuildings. I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you, darling. Be careful, though, that barn looks worse off than the house.”

Nicholas smiled brightly, leaning over to kiss Joseph. Then he drew back, laughing and brushing at the dust that had transferred from Joseph to himself in the process.

“I’ll be back shortly,” he promised, setting off at a quick pace toward the barn.

 

It was very late in the afternoon when Nicholas returned, both repentant and radiant. Joseph had dragged their trunks into the largest of the bedrooms, swept the dust and spiders out, wiped down the kitchen and bedroom as best as he could and started making a list of everything they would need to purchase and fix to make the house properly habitable. The window shutters were wide open to let in the light, as there wasn’t so much as a stub of a candle to be found in the house.

“How did you go?” Joseph asked, smiling up at him.

“I hope at least one or two good photographs will come out of all of them,” he said. He surveyed the room and smiled at Joseph. “I’m sorry I was gone so long. There seems to be plenty of room in the barn, though.”

Joseph waved a hand. “It’s nothing. I’ve started the list. I was thinking about inquiring to get the house wired for electricity. And putting in a modern bathroom.”

“There is an outhouse and a well,” Nicholas pointed out, mouth twitching. “I’m not sure the electrical lines come out this way yet. It will likely be a very expensive endeavor.”

“We can afford it,” Joseph said feelingly. He had spent the last few years with only very sporadic creature comforts; this would be money well spent, in his opinion. “And don’t call me spoiled, you know you love modern conveniences as much as I.”

“I would never! Besides, I’d like a new stove.” Nicholas turned around the kitchen again, inspecting the bare pantry and cupboards. The previous inhabitants had left behind a rickety table and a chair with one leg shorter than the others, on which Joseph was balanced as he made his list.

“The food we brought along should last us through tomorrow, at least. May I?” Nicholas asked, gesturing toward the stub of pencil in Joseph’s hand.

Joseph handed it over, then let out a surprised whoof of air followed by a delighted laugh as Nicholas sat down sideways in his lap, looping his arms around Joseph’s neck. The chair creaked alarmingly but neither of them paid it any mind.

“How do you feel?” Nicholas asked. His fingers were stroking distractingly through the short curls at the back of Joseph’s neck.

After a moment of consideration, Joseph answered, “Better. Lighter.” He wrapped his arms around Nicholas and lifted his chin for a kiss. Nicholas obliged at once.

“This is the only chair in the house,” Joseph told him once he had free use of his mouth again. He wrapped one arm around Nico’s waist, settled his other hand low on his back. “We’ll have to sleep on the floor tonight; the furniture won’t be delivered until tomorrow.”

“We’ve slept in worse places,” Nicholas said, absently, as he tapped the list with the pencil. “What do you think the chances would be of finding some fresh basil?”

“Nil,” Joseph told him regretfully, “unless there’s an exceptionally worldly green grocer in that village, or we drive all the way to the city.” There was an ominous pause, and Joseph hurried to say, “Which we can do, but not for a few days, at least. We’ll need to set up the house, and see about the roof. In any case, it would be better to call ahead to the shops to make sure the order is ready, and the only telephone is in the post office.”

When Nicholas still looked stubbornly ready to drive the seventy miles back to the city at once, Joseph said, with only a little flattery, “I’m sure you’ll manage wonderfully with the local food.”

“True,” Nicholas said, turning to write busily his own list on the opposite side of the paper. Joseph sighed, silently relieved. He did not want to make that drive again so soon. Their Phaeton was quite luxurious for the species, but the roads were demonstrably not.

As a cloud passed over the sun and left them in gloom for a long moment, Joseph emphatically repeated, “Electricity.”

With a laugh, Nicholas agreed, adding it to the list with a flourish. Then, with a satisfied nod, he set the pencil down and turned his attention back to Joseph. Where, Joseph decided, it ought to be. They were on leave, after all, and beholden to no one but each other.

They kissed leisurely until thunder rumbled in the distance. Joseph ran out to put the Phaeton in the barn for the night, joking that it would be more comfortable than they would.

As he walked back from the barn, the skies opened up with a downpouring of rain. By the time he reached the house again, he was soaked through.

On the back porch, Nicholas met him with a towel. Even if they weren’t miles from anyone, a curtain of rain cloaked them from sight and he stripped off there, leaving his clothes draped over the railing to dry.

Nicholas had disappeared inside while Joseph dried off and, draping his towel around his shoulders, he followed.

It was hardly light enough to see inside, though Nicholas had gotten a fire going in the woodstove. Joseph hurried back to their trunks and grabbed dry clothes, already feeling the autumn cold. Dressing in front of the fire was a relief and he huddled close, smiling up at Nicholas as he came back into the room with the hamper of food.

“What do you think?” he asked, between bites of his sandwich.

“Nice view,” Nicholas said blandly, eyeing Joseph.

Laughing, he leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, my love. What do you think of the house?”

“Nicely situated. The kitchen is not the worst I’ve seen. The roof, though...” he grimaced.

Joseph nodded. The steady drip drip drip of a leak in one corner of the room was going to get on his nerves.

“We’ll fix it up.” Joseph took a drink from the cup of water—his husband was amazingly resourceful, he wasn’t even sure where the water pump was on the property—and leaned back on his hands, looking out the window as the rain slowed to a light drizzle. “Maybe get some horses in the spring. Andy would like that when she visits.”

Nicholas hummed as he finished his own food, closing the basket and pushing it aside. “Perhaps. Shall we sleep in front of the stove? I think it will be quite cold tonight.”

With a nod, Joseph took Nicholas’s outstretched hand, letting him haul him to his feet. This late in the fall, the sun set early and even though the rain stopped soon after, it was already dark. They retrieved the few blankets they had brought and bedded down on the floor.

Joseph sighed and tightened his arm around Nicholas. There were layers and layers between them; even with the fire it was too cold for them to sleep less than fully clothed. With his back to the fire and Nicholas at his front, he was warm enough, at least, and sleep beckoned. But Nicholas was tense in his arms.

“Nico?”

“It’s too quiet,” Nicholas said, pillowing his head on one arm and lacing his fingers with Joseph’s.

Compared to their life for the last several years, it was quiet. Inside, the only sounds were their own breathing and occasional pops from the fire. Outside, only the soft sounds of the countryside.

“We’ll have your guitar tomorrow,” Joseph said. “I could sing, if you like. Or tell you stories about the stars; the clouds are gone and I can see the constellations now.”

Nicholas laughed softly. “Thank you, my love. You’re tired; sleep.” He relaxed a bit and Joseph smiled to himself. “I’ve heard of photographing starscapes,” Nicholas mused, quietly. “Leaving the exposure open to capture the movement of the stars across the sky. Perhaps I should try it.” He went on, softly, about his plans to test out his new camera.

To this quiet monologue, Joseph fell asleep.

 

The next few days were busy: cleaning the house, arranging the delivered furniture, and advertising for workmen to begin the more involved electrical, heating and plumbing renovations on the house while Joseph and Nicholas worked on fixing the roof, painting and wallpapering, and laying carpeting.

Somehow, Nicholas always found time to catch Joseph with his camera, usually on the roof or standing on a ladder, asking excitedly for him to hold still but a moment while he took a photo. Joseph was indulgent of these requests, as he had already taken the time to lay down several pencil studies of the house, with workers marching around like busy ants as the addition of the bathroom was laid in, the kitchen was expanded for the new range, and wiring was laid in for the new electric lights.

A few weeks later, after the house was their own again, Nicholas asked Joseph if he might photograph him.

“I’m beginning to get an ego, my love,” he laughed, handing over the last dish to Nico to be dried. “I’ve been photographed more in the last month than I have been since you first picked up a camera.”

“Is it too much?” Nicholas asked.

“No, I’m only teasing. You’ve sat for me a hundred times more. What should I do? Is there enough light now?” Joseph dried his hands and turned to Nicholas, waiting for instruction.

“I have two different scenes in mind,” Nicholas said. “First, tonight. In our bedroom,” Nicholas said with emphasis.

Joseph grinned. “That sort of picture.”

Nicholas hummed and went to get his equipment while Joseph went to their bedroom. He stood by the bed, wondering if he ought to get undressed or wait for Nicholas. Having drawn and painted many portraits of Nicholas and others over the years, and even sitting for a few himself, he had an idea of what was expected.

But he had never cared overly much for the opinions of friends and strangers about his body. Joseph imagined the intensity of Nicholas’s loving gaze behind the dark eye of the camera and shivered.

“Cold?” Nicholas asked from the doorway. He set his equipment down and immediately turned to check the new radiator.

“No,” Joseph said. “I’m fine. What did you have in mind?”

“I thought you might wear those undergarments you bought when we were in Austria.”

Joseph frowned, trying to remember any particularly noteworthy purchases from that trip. Then his face went hot as he recalled the masquerade, the embroidered corset and stockings, and the drawers with the bows hidden under his dress. And the scene after the dance had ended, when he had dragged Nicholas into a locked room, unable to wait any longer.

“I have them here,” Nicholas said, already digging through a trunk tucked in the closet.

“You…why? Have you been carrying those around all this time?” Joseph asked, laughing, as he began to strip.

Nicholas stood, a pile of fabric over one arm, the rolled corset in his other hand. “I picked them up from the house in France while we were there. I had hoped you might have occasion to wear them for me.” His eyes were dark as he held them out to Joseph. “I fixed the rip in the seam.”

Flushing hotter at the memory of how that rip had come to be, Joseph took the clothing, the filmy material catching on his renewed callouses. “You want a dirty photo of me?”

“I don’t think dirty is the word. Erotic, perhaps,” Nicholas said thoughtfully, turning his attention to Joseph. “It was a nice night. I wouldn’t want to forget it.”

Humming in agreement, Joseph held the chemise up to his chest. “Will I still fit in this? You’ve been spoiling me with your cooking.”

Nicholas only raised his eyebrows, as if to say, ‘try and see’, before turning to set up his equipment.

“Wouldn’t the Brownie be easier?” Joseph asked as he finished stripping off, laying his clothes aside neatly before picking up the translucent chemise and easing it over his head. It still fit, perhaps a little tighter around his chest than it had been the last time he wore it. He looked up to see Nicholas watching him.

“I don’t have the means to develop that film here. And these are photos I don’t intend to share with anyone.”

Joseph saw the sense in that. He shimmied into the drawers and then sat down on the bed to roll the stockings up each leg. It was a strange feeling, his memories of the last time he wore them mingling with this time and place. Tying them loosely above his calf with the matching red ribbon, he stood up again and reached for the final piece of the picture.

“Help me with this?” Joseph asked, holding the corset to his chest and turning his back to Nicholas. Doing so brought him face to face with the bureau mirror. He caught his breath. Then he had been clean-shaven everywhere, along with wearing a wig and face paint thick enough to be a mask. Now, the neatly trimmed mustache he’d taken to wearing was joined by short stubble that had come in since his morning shave. Where it didn’t show over the neckline, his chest hair was a dark shadow under the chemise. It was an interesting dichotomy with the delicate pale pink undergarments that he liked more the longer he looked.

“You look lovely,” Nicholas said softly, coming up behind him. His hands slid over Joseph’s chest, then downward, strong and tanned against the pale chemise. It wrinkled and snagged under his movements, catching on Nicholas’s clothes as he pressed tight behind him. His nipples pebbled under Nicholas’s touch and his cock was slowly stiffening, already enjoying the sensation of soft cotton drawers brushing lightly against him.

Joseph’s gaze was drawn back to the mirror where both of them were reflected again and again. He let out a slow breath, biting his lip at the picture they made, until Nicholas took him gently by the cheek and turned his head to draw him into a slow, sweet kiss.

Then those hands plucked the corset from Joseph’s limp grasp, as if that had been his plan all along. “Let’s see. If I remember correctly this was easiest to put on over the head, rather than re-lacing it, no?” Nicholas asked briskly.

Hoarsely, Joseph answered, “Yes.” He lifted his arms, bracing himself as Nicholas pulled the corset down over his face, then his chest. It was perhaps a little dulled with age, but the embroidery was still very fine. He stroked his fingers over the pattern lightly.

Behind him, Nicholas was pulling on the corset strings. Joseph had forgotten the feeling the undergarment gave of being constrained and contained that not even the most well-tailored vest could imitate. Each tug of the laces tightening the corset seemed to go straight to his cock.

“Tighter,” he said.

Without question, Nicholas pulled the strings tighter. Over his own shoulder, Joseph could see Nicholas’ expression in the mirror, eyes wide and intent, cheeks reddening. “Yes?”

Joseph inhaled experimentally and nodded. “Perfect.” Impatiently, he waited for Nicholas to finish tying the knots then turned around to face him, reaching for him—

“Not yet,” Nicholas said, taking a deep breath and two steps back. “Photographs, first.”

Joseph groaned feelingly. “You are a terrible man.”

Laughing, Nicholas stepped out into the hall, coming back a few moments later with one of their dining chairs. He positioned it in a small amount of clear space between the bed and bureau. “Sit, please. This won’t take long.”

As one who had been witness to Nicholas’ perfectionism, Joseph resisted commenting. Instead, he determinedly thought back to every time Nicholas had stayed still for hours for Joseph to draw, and sat in the chair. He could already see Nicholas’ expression shifting into one of deep concentration.

“Turn to the side a bit,” Nicholas directed. It wasn’t quite absent, but he had stepped behind his camera and, half-hidden by it and the tripod it rested upon, his voice seemed remote. “Tilt your chin up. Stay still for the next minute.” He snapped the photo. Then, after an interminable wait, he popped back up, eyes appraising Joseph. The same expression he had while holding a length of rope or silk just before tying Joseph up in some decorative manner. He licked his lips and shifted in his seat.

“Done?” Joseph asked, hopefully.

Nicholas was already busy changing one plate out for another. “I’d like to take a few more, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well,” Joseph said, doing his best not to sound put out. He followed the new directions—rest foot on chair, arm over knee, chin on arm—and tried not to fidget. There was the wait while Nicholas changed plates, followed by another position, standing this time and leaning forward over the back of the chair. All the while with Nicholas’ eyes burning through him.

“Habibi, haven't you taken enough photos?” He was not whining. Possibly he was pouting, just a tiny bit. “There are much more pleasing things we could be doing.”

“Be patient, darling.” Nicholas stepped around from the camera and Joseph brightened. But alas, he had only come to guide Joseph back into the chair and move his limbs about as if he were a doll before leaving him to take another photograph.

After the camera clicked, Nicholas made a dismayed noise. “Stay still, please, Yusuf.”

Joseph sighed heavily, leaning back against the chair and crossing his arms over the corset. “Nicholas, I love you more than life, but I was not made to be still.” Then, catching Nicholas’ eye, he smiled slowly. Looking at Nicholas with his best come hither eyes, he said, “Unless you plan to make me.”

Standing straight, Nicholas eyed him. A slow smile spread over his face. “Perhaps I will. Provided you do exactly as I say for the next half-hour.”

Damn. Joseph pouted. Looked back at Nicholas hoping for some slight softening of stance—but no. With a sigh, he said, “Very well. But you had better make it worth my time.”

Nicholas only chuckled as he went to fetch the mantel clock, setting it ostentatiously in Joseph’s line of sight, before coming to stand before him once more.

He allowed Nicholas to adjust him. He did not squirm in his seat. He was very patient when Nicholas went back behind the camera and asked him to smile—no, not that much, there, perfect.

As much as he wished to move, he kept still except when Nicholas directed him otherwise, determined that he would not miss out on his reward. Joseph thought about what might come after. They had silk ties in the nightstand drawer. Or perhaps the candles…? But what he was really craving was something that didn’t require any accoutrements whatsoever.

Exactly one half-hour later, Nicholas finally stepped back from the camera with a satisfied nod. “I should check the plates,” he started, then grinned when Joseph let out a disgruntled noise. “But that is for later.” He stepped around the tripod and walked over to Joseph, holding out his hand gallantly. With a grin, Joseph accepted it and was pulled to his feet

“Finally,” Joseph quipped, grinning up at Nicholas—in his bare feet and Nicholas still in his boots their usual height difference was reversed—then he let out a groan as Nicholas fisted his hair and tilted his head back, slanting his mouth over Joseph’s. The banked heat of his lust came roaring back at the firm hold. Nicholas held him still to control the kiss, slowly at first, then more deeply, neck craned just at the cusp of discomfort. Joseph whimpered against his mouth and Nicholas drew back. His eyes were fixed on Joseph, and Joseph was just as entranced by his reddened lips.

“You were very good. Do you still want your reward?” Nicholas asked.

Joseph blinked and refocused on his whole face, recognizing that calculating expression. He nodded eagerly.

Pacing past him, Nicholas adjusted the mirror to angle downward. Then he removed his vest and shirt, unbuckled his belt and took off his shoes, laying them in their place with more care than he ever took normally.

Joseph found himself biting his lip impatiently, hands fisted at his sides to keep from touching himself as Nicholas moved with glacial slowness, before finally sitting down in the chair. He looked up at Joseph with a knowing expression and patted his knee.

“The chair will break,” Joseph said warningly, even as he tugged his drawers down around his hips and cautiously settled himself across Nicholas’ spread-wide knees.

“We have three more,” Nicholas said. It took a moment for Joseph to gather his wits back around himself and pick up the thread of conversation and by that time, Nicholas was already running his thumb along the bottom edge of his corset. It dug into Joseph’s hips and under his arms, and with Nicholas steadying him he shifted carefully. Once he was as comfortable as he could be, hands braced on the floor on one side of the chair, feet outstretched on the other, cock temptingly positioned to rub against a muscled thigh, he stilled and turned his head to nod back at Nicholas.

“Ready?” Lower, almost as if to himself, he asked, “What should I do with you?”

Joseph squirmed slightly in his lap and felt his face warm, “You know what I want.”

“Tell me.”

Drawing in a shaky, anticipatory breath, Joseph said, “I want you to make me come just from your hand.”

Nicholas’s hand moved lower, drawing the fabric of the chemise up and out of the way with teasing brushes of fabric. Then his palm settled heavily on the swell of Joseph’s ass. “Yes?”

“Yes,” Joseph managed to keep his voice steady. If he tilted his head back he could just see the side of Nicholas’s face reflected in the mirror and found himself watching him pleadingly, lip caught between his teeth. Since he’d put on his newly rediscovered undergarments, the memories had already primed his arousal. Now he was fully hard between Nicholas’ thighs and it was a struggle not to rub against him.

Still, that was not what he wanted. “Please!”

A light smack, the impact of which faded far too swiftly, was his reward.

“Nico!”

“Is this what you wanted?”

“I expected more, but…” Joseph looked into the mirror, smiling cheekily at Nicholas’s unimpressed face.

It had been too long since they had the time and privacy for this, a fact of which Joseph was harshly reminded when he didn’t realize at once that Nicholas’s response would be to simply lay his hand heavily across the small of Joseph’s back and say, “Perhaps you do not want it so badly, after all.”

Joseph sucked in a sharp breath. “Please, Nico, please,” he said again, not bothering to downplay anything anymore. “Nicolò, pl—“

The slap caught him mid-plea. He whined at the sharp bloom of pain.

“Thank you,” he gasped out. A pause, in which Joseph inserted another plea, was followed by a light slap, then a harder one, alternating steadily between hits that all led to a deep, bruising ache.

Just as abruptly, it stopped. Joseph found himself panting, tears running from the corners of his eyes. He was so hard it hurt, surely dripping all over Nicholas’s trousers and the chair below. When nothing else followed, he looked over his shoulder at Nicholas. “Nico, please!”

Nicholas hummed thoughtfully as his hand pressed against the rapidly disappearing bruises. “Are you still enjoying yourself? Perhaps I should stop.”

A sob of frustration burst from him. “No! I want it, more, please!”

“Very well,” Nicholas said. One arm circled over Joseph’s back, hand grabbing at his side to steady him. He sighed and let himself relax into the hold. Another rub of his ass, healed but for a tingling oversensitivity, made him whine in anticipation.

And more he received. Nicholas did not ease into anything this time; one slap fell, then another, hard and fast, countless hits layered one over the other and enough that it soon felt like his whole ass was one heated bruise.

Each indrawn breath exhaled a sob. Every hit drove him closer, closer, until he was crying out, flexing his hips under Nicholas’ hand as blinding pressure bloomed behind his eyes. His whole body jerked and shook as his vision went dark.

Joseph floated, lost in a haze of pleasure. Somewhere, Nicholas was speaking in low, soothing tones. At some point, he was coaxed into standing and helped to crawl into the bed. The corset was removed, which prompted a muffled protest, and then the drawers, leaving him only in the soft chemise. A damp cloth wiped at his face, then the lights were put out one by one until only the lamp was still glowing, surrounding them in a warm circle. Behind him, the bed dipped and Nicholas circled him in his arms.

“How do you feel, darling?”

A positive hum. When Nicholas prodded him for more, Joseph swallowed a few times to wet his throat, letting out a murmur of thanks when Nicholas helped him sit up and a glass of water was held to his lips.

“Good.” Joseph took another drink and handed the glass back for Nicholas to convey to safety before collapsing back on the bed and closing his eyes, smiling broadly. “Amazing, even.”

“Yes?” Nicholas sounded pleased. He stroked soothing lines down Joseph’s chest, over his shoulders, and Joseph opened his eyes to find him smiling softly. Nicholas’s hand reached out to fondle Joseph’s mostly soft cock, thumbing the head idly and looking up to watch him. He twitched with oversensitivity and Nicholas tutted, moving to tug the fabric down. After covering his cock in a parody of modesty, he leaned further up to pinch his nipples lightly through the thin cotton.

“You were wonderful, tesoro. It has been too long since I’ve seen you like that.”

“It has,” Joseph agreed. Settling more comfortably back into the pillows, he tugged at Nicholas, pulling him closer until he was draped over him like a living, laughing, blanket. Joseph could feel him, hard against his thigh, and smiled to himself. “I’m not done.”

It was like a flip had been switched. Nicholas leaned up on to his elbows and licked his lips, eyeing Joseph as if strategizing which of his weaknesses to attack first. “No?”

Joseph cocked his head, smiling up at Nicholas. “No.”

“Greedy tonight,” Nicholas commented idly, even as he shuffled down Joseph’s body and casually shouldered his knees apart. The lacy hem of his chemise rode up over his hips, brushing over his stomach, and Joseph was caught for a moment admiring the sight.

Humming thoughtfully, he reached down to trace Nicholas’s lower lip with his finger.

“My mouth?” Nicholas asked, eyebrows raising suggestively. He dipped his head and kissed the scar on Joseph’s knee. “Here?” Without waiting for a response, he leaned forward to press his mouth to the ticklish inside of his thigh, then tracing a line up his leg, nudging the hem of the chemise out of the way with his nose to the slight jut of his hip bone. “Or here?”

Joseph bit his lip to keep himself from begging again so soon, as Nicholas worked his way down the inside of his other thigh. Looking down again, he was somehow surprised to note that his cock was already lying hard against his stomach.

Pausing with his lips hovering just over his knee, Nicholas looked up and said sweetly, “You know I can’t give you what you want if you don’t tell me what it is, sweetheart.”

“Your mouth,” Joseph said.

“My mouth…?”

“Nico…” Joseph grumbled. It sounded so prosaic. Still, when Nicholas only raised his eyebrows, waiting expectantly, he reluctantly elaborated. “Your mouth on my ass.”

Humming, Nicholas moved closer, sliding his hands under Joseph’s thighs and pushing them higher until his muscles protested. “Hold onto those for me,” he said, waiting until Joseph had a grip on the backs of his knees before letting go. Joseph craned his neck as Nicholas laid down on the bed but he couldn’t see anything. He could feel it, though: Nicholas’s hands spreading his cheeks further, his thumbs digging into his flesh to hold him open, and his warm breath cool on Joseph’s sweat-damp skin.

There was a brief moment where neither of them moved; Joseph occupied by holding his legs up and out of the way, Nicholas likely being the relentless tease he usually was. Joseph glanced over to the mirror. It wasn’t at a perfect angle, but he could see Nicholas lying flat on the bed, just looking at him.

“Nicoooo,” he complained. “Come on, please! I can’t hold my legs up forever.”

“I’ve seen your arms, Joseph, you can handle it for as long as it takes.” The words were puffed out, muffled against his ass.

Joseph grumbled at the back-handed flattery and hitched his legs higher. Then he drew in a sharp breath as wet-hot-pressure swept over his asshole. “More, please,” he encouraged, breath hitching.

Nicholas’s hands tightened, spreading him wider, tongue lapping at him with quick, delicate licks. Doing his best to drive Joseph mad with anticipation. It felt good, but also teasing. He opened his mouth to ask for more when Nicholas himself seemed to lose patience, diving in, lips and tongue doing their best to work him open with no preamble. As he looked down the length of his body, a drop of precome bubbled from the tip of his cock and rolled down onto his belly.

Then he closed his eyes, head grinding back into the pillow, as Nicholas worked his tongue inside. “Fuck, Nicolò!” Joseph cried out, trying to hitch his hips and then having to scramble to catch his leg, hands slipping on the sweat gathering behind his knees. “Nicolò, Nico,” he groaned. “Thank you, please, please, please,” he begged, hardly able to get the words out intelligibly.

Nicholas hummed or groaned—the feeling shattered through Joseph like an earthquake. Then his hand shifted, and something pressed down hard behind his balls, massaging his prostate.

His mouth fell open, groaning, stomach muscles jumping and tensing. “Don’t stop, don’t stop,” he said, or thought he said, but there was high, whining buzz in his left ear as his cock jerked and spat semen over his stomach. The pleasure-pressure seemed to go on and on until it was abruptly too much. He made a whining noise of protest.

Nicholas drew away at once, helping him lower his legs slowly back to the bed in an ungainly sprawl. His face was red and wet with spit, but fairly glowing with accomplishment.

“Come here,” Joseph mumbled, holding out his arms. Nicholas dragged the blankets up with him as he curled into Joseph’s tired embrace. He reached down to take care of him, but Nicholas gently drew his hand away.

“I’m spent,” he yawned.

Joseph blinked in momentary confusion, then grinned. “Just from—”

“You know I find you irresistible, Yusuf,” Nicholas said equably, before leaning up over Joseph to grab the glass of water from the side table. He drank half in one go before offering it to Joseph, who sipped the rest, still smirking jubilantly. Nicholas fairly collapsed onto the pillows next to him, suddenly looking drawn with exhaustion. It must have been catching, because Joseph barely had the reserves to set the glass aside and switch off the lamp before falling asleep.

 

Joseph woke with the nagging feeling he was forgetting something. They were encrusted with various fluids that weren’t nearly as fun the morning after, and he was soaking in the tub, trying to scrub the semen from his pubic hair when it came to him.

“Nicolò!”

“What?” Nicholas called back. He appeared in the bathroom door holding an armful of sheets and in much better composure than Joseph felt, though he’d likely been up this hour at least.

“You said two scenes,” he reminded him.

“Yes. I wanted to take a photo of us both together. Around noon,” Nicholas said, “when the sun is out. Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes,” he added, taking the laundry and going.

With a shrug and a shout of thanks, Joseph went back to his bath.

Something about the request continued to nag at Joseph, though, and over their breakfast, he said lightly, “I’m not sure Andromache would like your new enthusiasm for portraiture. You remember how she was about finding one of my sketches in that exhibit.”

Nico hummed. “Perhaps it is a risk. I don’t plan for anyone to see them, but that means very little in our lives. Would you rather I not develop the plates from last night?”

Flushing hot at the memory, Joseph stopped and thought it through. Finally, he said, “I can’t see how anyone could connect the photos to us, even if you did lose track of one. And you have become quite good, good enough you could submit a few of your landscapes, anonymously, to exhibit.” Joseph returned Nico’s pleased smile before asking, “Did you wish to? If they didn’t show any faces, I don’t see why that would be dangerous.”

This suggestion made Nico shrug. “I don’t care about that. I started because I thought it would be a sort of art that I could enjoy. Setting up, getting the angle and lighting…I like the precision.”

Joseph nodded in understanding and waited for him to continue.

After another pause to arrange his thoughts, he did. “Sometimes I think that my memories are not as clear as I would like. Imagine if I could have photographed the people we’ve met or the places we’ve been over the years. Or…” he faltered slightly, before meeting Joseph’s eyes. “Or Quỳnh. I fear I have forgotten just how she looked.”

Joseph sucked in a pained breath and reached a hand across the table to clutch at Nicholas’s. “Yes. That is…I wish I had any of the sketches that I had made of her. Or that she had ever managed to sit still long enough for me to paint her.”

“Yes,” Nicholas agreed soberly. “I wish I could remember that terrible song she made up about Andromache.”

“Oh! How did it go? Something about Andy’s tongue being sharper than her axe?” he asked. “Now, the song she made up about you—” he laughed as Nicholas shushed him.

“I’ll be outside setting up,” he said, and was gone before Joseph had gotten his laughter under control. He was still chuckling as he cleared the table and started the washing up.

After the kitchen had been cleaned up, he went outside to find Nicholas. The bench from the front porch had been moved over to a sunny spot and Joseph settled onto it, watching as Nicholas fussed over his camera, muttering something about shutter time and distance.

Finally, he seemed satisfied and came over to join Joseph. The bench was slightly too narrow for both of them to sit comfortably side by side, so Nicholas settled on his knee, one arm around his shoulder, while Joseph’s arm was around his waist to steady him. The long wire for the shutter was in Nicholas’s opposite hand.

“Ready? The exposure is quick since it’s so bright, but you’ll still need to be quite still for—”

“—at least a minute,” Joseph finished for him. He kissed the inside of Nicholas’s wrist affectionately. “Yes, I know. I will.”

Nicholas looked down at him, smiling, before getting back into position. “Ready?” When Joseph nodded, he said, “Smile,” and pressed the button.

Sitting still and quiet for one minute was not nearly as trying as it had been the night before. He wanted this photograph—this memory—to be perfect for Nicholas, even if they took a hundred more together.

When it was safe to move, Nicholas leaned into him briefly in mute thanks. “Perfect. Again?” he asked.

Joseph laughed. He should have expected that. “Why not?”

As Nicholas hopped up and hurried over to the camera, Joseph laughed ruefully and sincerely hoped that the next hundred wouldn’t all be taken today.