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Mornings like these, John Silver daydreams about what life might have been like if he had followed another life. He remembers when he picked up a guitar at nine years old, taught himself the chords, the simple tunes, the not-so simple tunes. He had sold it when he was twelve so that he could afford to buy a new Gameboy, and never picked up a guitar again. He thinks about what might have been, had he carried on playing through his teens. He could be playing stadiums by now, taking six hour naps while his tour bus rolled across states, fame and riches and hugely unqualified for much else in life.

Instead, he was here, in his flat, twenty seven and drowning in books and papers.

He’d had high hopes when a sudden flood of inspiration had made him want to go back to school to get the degree he’d missed out on earlier in his life. He had images of himself pouring over romantic literature in a dimmed library, glasses perched on his nose and a Starbucks at his side. He had thought that his savings would take him far enough through the degree that he wouldn’t have to worry too much about working, that he could support himself with bar work one night a week. Then he would have time to study hard, keep himself motivated, get the degree he so wanted, and get a career in…something. He hadn’t quite got that far yet.

Oh, how wrong he had been.

He was nearing the finish line of his school work, but there were still multiple essays he needed to work on. He had abandoned going to the university library for research, finding himself almost totally unmotivated to leave the flat at all, and could find pretty much all of the resources he needed online. Printed copies lined his walls, books sat dog-eared and with notes poking out of them on every surface, and he couldn’t even sit at his desk anymore. What was worse was the financial situation. Having run out of savings months ago, he’d had to pick up another few nights a week doing bar work, and then his friend Jack had mentioned a golden opportunity to him: paid gig reviews for a national magazine, not handsomely paid, but enough. Jack had said, and rightly so, that it could be a possible opening for a future journalism career, which John had thought worth considering. His writing wasn’t that bad, even if it had needed to be seeped in analysis for school, he could definitely twist it into a more journalistic style. So now, on top of the school work, and on top of working nights at a loud, sticky, local student bar, he was getting paid to watch up-and-coming bands perform in dingy clubs. The money kept him going, but he was approaching his wits end.

Then, of course, there was James.

James who had been recommended to him by Max, who lived on the outskirts of the city and owned an antique book shop, who was ten years his senior and made John think of the kind of professors he’d pictured in daydreams before actually getting to university. His actual professor was a fierce woman, almost as young as he was, and often dressed more casually than most of the students. James, though, was the glasses and waistcoat wearing bookish archetype of his fantasies, something Max had known when she’d set them up on a coffee date weeks ago.

He was already beginning to be swallowed up by his projects by the time the date came around, and in a fit of anxiety and nerves he had texted Max to cancel on the morning of, claiming he was too exhausted and had too much stuff on his plate to really be thinking about dating at the moment. Max herself had stormed into his flat not an hour later, heels clacking and girlfriend in tow, to talk him around to going on the date. Well, yell him around, really. She had picked out his slimmest pair of skinny jeans and a clean t-shirt, while Anne had sat on his counter with a beer stolen from his fridge throwing unhelpful comments his way. They had made him promise that he would at least try and get along with the nice, handsome man. Anne had suggested that he might be less pissed off about university if he got a good fucking, a sentiment which Max had concurred.

Any unwillingness had evaporated completely by the second he saw James, already sitting at a table with a latte. Max had shown him pictures before the date, so he had known roughly what to expect, but the man had left him speechless. He was, quite simply, gorgeous. He tried to swallow down his beating heart as he introduced himself, prayed that James wouldn’t feel his pulse thumping hard at his wrist while they shook hands. James offered to buy a drink for him, and they had talked about books, talked about Max and Anne, about the weather and the news and the city, and suddenly John found himself three hours later with, if nothing else, a new friend. He liked that they shared a similar sense of humour, that any snark he threw James’ way had been answered in kind, and they had still the grace to laugh about it moments later. They arranged to meet each other again, and just as he was about to leave, James had pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. His face stayed flushed all the way on his walk home, and he had stuttered a little when he told Max over the phone about how well the date had gone. He felt like a damn school boy.

The second date had been timed well for John. One of his essays had just been handed in, the bar had only needed him to come in on a Friday night, and the magazine had just paid him for a month’s worth of articles, and so he’d needed no prompting from Max to dress up well for dinner. They were going to try a new Greek place James had heard good reviews of, only five minutes walk away from John’s flat. He had felt so good on the day of the date that he’d even motivated himself in a fit of energy to tidy up the flat, arranging his desk and his notes ready to get back to studying on the Monday morning, clearing away the cans of coke and crumpled up notes, even putting fresh sheets on the bed. He arrived at the street of the restaurant with a skip in his step, even despite the rain, only to find James stood outside of the place looking rather annoyed.

“Closed, apparently.” he sighed, shifting so that his umbrella sheltered John too. “Family emergency. It’s a shame, I hear their plate smashing is great to watch.”

“We could come back another time?” John suggested, tugging his leather jacket in closer to his body. “I’m only a few minutes away, if you want to get out of this rain while we decide on something else?”

They jogged to John’s flat as the rain grew heavier, and by the time they had gotten inside the warm, John had already decided against leaving again before it had stopped pissing down. He praised himself for having had the energy to clean up earlier on as they settled down onto the sofa, and James brought up a takeaway app on his phone.

They spent the night sharing Chinese takeaway, still in the little metal dishes, drinking through John’s beer supply, and watching some new, crap action film on Netflix. John found himself not quite drunk, but pleasantly buzzed, and when James’ hand had reached across his thigh during a helicopter explosion he found himself yearning to reach into the touch. They made out on the sofa, beers long forgotten, and John had whispered to him an offer of staying the night as he straddled his thighs and ground his hips down into James’.

It had been a while since he’d last gotten fucked, but he needed to get under James, needed to feel him pressing into him. The sex had been incredible, and he had wrapped a strong arm tight around John’s waist once they had finished and cleaned off. John felt himself sinking into the embrace, feeling warm and sated and easily falling asleep.

They hadn’t spent much time together in the morning, as James needed to be across town early enough to open up the shop, but he had thanked John for the hospitality, promised to try again with the Greek place, and left with a slow, lingering kiss at the door, leaving John twitching in his sweatpants. He called Max once again to fill her in on some of the details while he cleared away the beers and metal dishes, and found himself grinning to himself as he strolled around the flat.

That had been three whole weeks ago.

A sudden rush of gigs he couldn’t really turn down, plus the looming deadlines of the last of his essays, had blindsided John as the summer came in. The more he wrote, the more he realised exactly how much he enjoyed his venture into journalism, and he’d spoken with the magazine editor about his ambitions. As a result, he’d been in a different part of the country for the last three nights running, seeing bigger and bigger bands perform, and going backstage to talk to band members. Most of them were dicks to the press, and so John had to bite his tongue, force himself to get the thankless job done, and run to make sure he got the last train home. He’d quit his job at the bar the week before, money becoming less of an issue with the increase in interviews. He’d felt some guilt in leaving them in the lurch during what was going to become a busy summer season, but there was no way he could cope with working so late so frequently on top of everything else. He’d left his analysis on Middlemarch right up until the last minute, and had tried to study his worn copy of the book on the trains home, even as his eyes drifted shut. He hadn’t abandoned James completely, though. They had been texting on and off, James checking in on him regularly, giving him updates on his own life, and being overwhelmingly understanding when John had explained that he was too busy to see him at the moment. He hadn’t told James the full story, didn’t want him to see how much of a rut he was in at present, but all the same it had hurt his pride to admit exactly how much he was struggling.

That morning, he’d woken up later than he’d have liked, even though he knew he needed to catch up on his sleep, and ambled into the living room. Despite the exhaustion, he still hadn’t managed a restful night for around a week now, and he had gotten to the point where coffee alone wasn’t working during the day. He picked up a lukewarm can of Red Bull from the coffee table, covered in notes and wrappers, and took a swig as he slumped onto the sofa. A food delivery was coming at some point today, and he’d praised himself for ordering the groceries while he’d had a minute yesterday rather than just living off of bread and takeaways for the next few days. Small victories, after all.

Which had meant that when the sharp knock came at the door, John had stepped gingerly over the messy floor, can in his hand, shirtless and without much decorum, and had been rather surprised to see that the person at the door was not, in fact, waiting with his grocery delivery.

“Hi.” James said, a sheepish smile on his face. “I, um, I was in the area, and I thought…well, I thought you could do with this, if nothing else.” he said. Only then did John notice, having been too dazed when he’d first opened the door, that James was holding two paper cups from the cafe they had first met at. James shifted where he stood, holding one of them out to John. “It’s what you ordered that first time. Mocha with an extra shot, right?”

John stifled a yawn, reaching out a grateful hand to take the coffee. It probably wasn’t going to do much for his energy levels, but the thought had been lovely all the same. James’ finger stroked along his wrist as he passed the drink over.

“Thank you. You didn’t have to, honestly.” he said, ducking his head. He suddenly felt a wave of embarrassment wash over him, becoming incredibly aware of what he must look like. James would have been able to easily see inside the flat from his position at the door, the flat that had been so clean and tidy when he’d come over the first time. John knew that the bags under his eyes were dark and heavy, his hair lank and unwashed since god knows when, and he’d run out of deodorant more than a few days ago. Yet here was this man, in his flawlessly pressed shirt and neatly trimmed beard, trying to woo him with coffee. He saw James frown at him, and for a second his heart had jumped up into his throat, panicking that now was the moment he would realise what a fucking awful state of a man John really was.

“Are you doing okay, John?” he asked, voice gentle. It was then that John realised that James spoke with not horror, or revulsion, but concern.

His eyes met James’, and he found the sea green gaze he’d so recently found himself fascinated with searching for something, anything, within John’s own.

“I apologise, now’s not the best time for you to be seeing me like this, I’m…” he gestured up and down his body, ending with a shrug and a dry laugh. “Quite frankly, disgusting.”

James snorted, pushing himself to lean against the doorway. “Really, I’ve seen worse.” he said, looking him up and down again. John felt himself blush, feeling James’ eyes lingering on his bare chest. “Let me help you. I insist on it, really.”

Before John could answer he had squeezed past him, and was now standing in the middle of the messy living room. John tried to swallow down his shame, mentally picking up on all of the things he’d neglected in his exhausted state. He watched as James went to the sofa, not even blinking while he piled books together that took up the space of the seat.

“I’ve been worried about you, you know.” he said, observing him from the space he had cleared for himself on the sofa. John hadn’t moved from the doorway still, arms wrapped around himself self consciously.

“It’s been a difficult few weeks, like I said, and I know I didn’t text back but I’ve just…there’s been so much.” he said, letting out a deep breath. “I’ve got deadlines for my reviews, I’ve made almost no progress on my essays, and I’m just sort of…floundering at the moment. So I’m sorry if I’ve come across uninterested.”

James stood up, eyebrows furrowed, and walked over to him. John didn’t respond when he placed his hands, large and strong and cool, either side of his neck.

“That isn’t what I’m worried about. I’ve enough faith in you that I believe you’d tell me if you wanted nothing more to do with me. If you wanted to hold off, or to end this before it really begins, you should know that I would listen to you.” he said, and John leaned into the touch of his hands, eyes drifting shut.

“I am interested. Truly. I’m afraid that there may just have to be some patience, on both sides, with how I am at the moment.” John said, voice quiet. “Though the care and attention hasn’t gone unappreciated, I assure you.” he added. James nodded.

“Seems reasonable. Just tell me whatever you need me to be.” he said, thumb running along John’s cheek. John allowed himself to sag, the energy starting to leave him as he looked at a point just over James’ shoulder.

“Can I be honest with you?” he asked, still not meeting James’ eyes.

“Of course.”

John took a deep breath. “I can’t remember the last time I washed my hair, or showered properly. I stink of gigs, and cigarettes, and stale booze. It just gets so hard when the exhaustion sets in, not just sleep exhaustion but like…that kind where it seeps into your bones. Does that make any sense?”

James nodded, lips pursed together as he mulled over John’s words.

“It makes perfect sense, actually.” he said. His thumb stopped moving back and forth, and John met his eyes once more. “There’s always help if you need it, though. From Max and Anne, from me, from this Jack I’ve been hearing so much about. We’re all here to help you.”

John searched James’ face for even the faintest trace of insincerity, and found none. He sipped at his coffee in lieu of an immediate answer.

“Thank you.” he finally said, voice low. “Thank you, for all of this.”

James nodded, picking up and gulping down some more of his own coffee.

“Now, first things first. You’re going to take a shower.” he said, shaking the last of the liquid around in the cup. John stretched, trying to wake himself up a little more.

“Right. Yes. Good place to start.” he said, nodding along in agreement. A shower would clear his head, make him feel fresh and clean again, do him a whole world of good.

“While you do that, I’m going to try and sort some of the mess out.” James started, before seeing John look around the room anxiously at the messes of paper. “I won’t throw anything that looks important, don’t worry.” he said quickly. “Anything that looks work related, I’ll put on the desk. We can tackle that together later.”

James shooed him away into the bathroom with the cleanest towel he could find, and tried to stop him when John had insisted he had better things he could be doing with his day rather than cleaning John’s flat. James had won that argument.

When he stepped under the spray, he groaned at how good it felt, even as the water almost scalded his skin. He closed his eyes with a sigh, letting his head droop forward onto the cold tile as his hair fell around him in curtains. Idly thinking about how he should be beginning to soap off right about now, he hummed to himself, a track one of the bands had played at his last gig that had gotten stuck in his head. He pushed all thoughts of the flat, and of his work, to the back of his head,

John wasn’t sure how long he had zoned out for, but the sound of banging on the bathroom door shook him from his reverie.

“John, are you alright?”James called from the other side of the wood. “If I don’t get a reply in ten seconds, I’m coming in.”

“I’m alive, it’s fine!” he calls back, shaking his soaked hair out of his face. The banging on the wood ceased. He hadn’t even begun to actually wash himself still, too busy enjoying the few moments peace the water had offered.

“You’ve been in there half an hour!” James shouted, mirth in his voice. Ah. Maybe longer than a few minutes, then.

“I’m sorry. I’m fine, I promise!” he said, before biting his lip in thought. “You can come in, if you want. I mean, if you wanted to talk, or whatever. I’ve been an awful host.”

It took a moment, in which John suddenly thought he’d made a horrible mistake, but then the door opened and James stepped into the steam-filled room. He laughed, looking around.

“Honestly, it’s a miracle there’s still hot water.” he chuckled, undoing his top two buttons. John watched him through the fogged up glass, lingering on the few inches of skin now on show. “Have you even washed yet?”

He shook his head and turned to inspect the various bottles on the shower rack. He heard a cough over the water, and twisted his head enough to see that James’ hands had reached back up to his shirt.

“Let me help.” he said, staring at John, an unreadable expression on his face. “If you want to, I mean-”

“Yes.” he said, before James could even finish. “I’d…yes, that would be nice.”

He openly stared at James through the glass as he stripped carefully, folding up his shirt and jeans and putting them neatly next to the grey bundle of sweatpants that John had kicked off before getting in. He watched James keep his head bowed down as he shuffled out of his boxers and toed them over to the pile, not looking up until he was pressed in the small space alongside John.

“Hello again.” John joked, turning so that they faced each other.

“Hello. Do you have a shampoo preference, or do all of these things basically do the same thing?” he said, gesturing towards the bottles.

“Basically, yes, but my favourite one at the moment is the coconut scented on- hold on.” he said, stopping sharply. He frowned at James. “Are you offering to wash my hair?”

James’ arm froze, halfway up towards the bottles behind John.

“Well, at this point it’s more of a safety precaution to make sure you don’t fall asleep mid-shampoo and collapse to the bottom of the shower and die a horrible watery death.” he said, resuming his task and seeking out the bottle of coconut. “But, yes, essentially.”

John stifled a giggle and tilted his head back into the spray. “Fine with me. Just be careful of the knots.”

James worked up a lather in his hands, studying John as he did so. When his fingers first threaded through the tangle of wet curls, John let out an involuntary moan.

“Now this…was a really good idea.” he hummed as James ran his fingertips in circles along his scalp. His eyes closed, he felt James’ hands danced across to his temples, massaging the tension there away. He moved back and down, kneading the back of his neck gently. John braced himself with hands on his chest, enjoying feeling the muscle move below him.

“Has anybody ever done this for you before?” he heard James say while he was pushed back a step towards the water. He prepared himself for water and soap in his eyes, but James’ hands cradled his head forward just so, so that the flow missed his face.

“No. Never.” he said. He felt a sudden weight in his chest at just how true that statement was. He pushed it away, not wanting to ruin the moment. “I could do it for you, if you want.”

James barked a laugh, and John finally opened his eyes. It had been worth it, just to see the way the skin crinkled at the corner of James’ eyes. He wore a sharp grin, joy apparent all over his face.

“I’ve got a lot less than you, but feel free.” he said, voice still full of laughter. “I quite like the coconut too, actually. So feel free to use that on me.”

John obliged, squeezing out some of the shampoo while James rinsed his hair out, winding the curls around his fingers. They came close together as they tended to each other, John pulling at the strands and being a lot rougher than James had been with him. Not that he seemed to mind, if the thickening cock he could see between them was any indication.

“You’re not one of these men who get incredibly fussy about what goes on their beards, are you?” he said, edging his fingers down near James’ ears. “Organic vegan beeswax oil-enriched soy-based beard balm, all that stuff? I’ve met a lot of those types at gigs. Insufferable.”

“I’m not, thankfully. You can do what you like with it.” he said, grabbing John’s hands and moving them to his jaw. John ran his fingers through the thick hair, spreading bubbles as he went.

“I swear, somebody carved this jawline straight from marble.” he said, stroking along the lower half of his face. James barked a laugh at that, before he brought his hands come up to sit on the dip of his waist.

“Preference for body wash?” he asked, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. Maybe he could ask James to tend to those, too. He hadn’t looked after his in a while, either, and they were probably starting to get a little unruly.

“Anything you like, if you’re willing to keep those hands on me.” he said with a lazy grin, still rubbing circles along his cheeks with his thumbs. James reached past him again, bringing their bodies together and aligning their groins.

“Mango, mint, cinnamon…” he mused, pretending to deliberate while he rubbed the length of his body up against John’s. He dropped his head down onto James’ shoulder with a gentle gasp as they moved together. “No one man needs all of these options, really…”

“Just pick one, please.” he groaned, breath warm against James’ neck. He felt, rather than heard, James chuckle, and then the scent of cinnamon filled the small space.

“Are you quite done with the beard yet? You seem fascinated by the damn thing.” James said, hands drifting back up his torso. He hadn’t moved apart yet, still rubbing up against John even as his hands moved between them.

“Fuck the beard.” John breathed as he felt slick fingers mold to his ribcage. “It’s a lovely beard, but right now? Fuck it.”

James washed over his chest, letting the soap slide down as he massaged as much as he could from his current position.

“Not what I had in mind for right now, but maybe we can find a way another time, if that’s what you so badly want.” James said. He moved up towards John’s nipples, pinching them one by one into hard peaks. It was something he’d quickly discovered the last time they had met, when John had begged him to fuck him into the mattress and had come with James’ name on his lips.

“That wasn’t what I mea- oh god.” John croaked out, voice breaking as James bent his head down to bring a nipple between his teeth. His hands now traced down his back, thumbs digging into his spine as he moved downwards.

“You’re so fucking responsive.” James said, breathing out against his sternum. John shuddered a laugh, which quickly turned into another long moan as James dragged his tongue up, chasing the droplets that dripped down his chest. He followed one up to near the source, John’s drenched head of hair, and pressed a gentle kiss at the hairline before dipping to suck an earlobe into his mouth. “Turn around.” he whispered roughly, hands already pushing his hips around. He allowed himself to be twisted to face against the tile, and resisted the urge to shudder at the sudden cold when he felt James press him in, chest tight against John’s back, cock oh so hard against his arse.

“Was this what you imagined? When you offered to take care of me?” John asked, moving his hips back in a maddening circle. He wanted to see James respond in the way that he did, wanted to see him come apart completely purely because of him, his own actions.

“I told you.” he said, brushing the hair away from his neck, leaving the skin there bare. “Whatever you need me to be, I’ll be.”. He pressed his lips to the nape of John’s neck, gentle in comparison to the nails that were scrubbing bluntly across his chest and stomach. “If this is what helps you get out of your own head, even for a little while, then this is what I’ll do.”. Fingers scratched down through the line of dark hair leading down John’s stomach, trailing more soap south, following it along to the hard jut of his cock. He kept on at his war on John’s nape, alternating between nipping at the sensitive skin and leaving open mouthed kisses to soothe the pain. He felt his heart flutter and wished he could do more for James, besides grinding up against him.

“You’re so fucking good, John.” he breathed hard and heavy in his ear, panting when he finally took him in hand, trailing his thumb up the length of him. “So fucking good for me like this.”

James ran his thumb over the head of his cock, massaging the bundle of nerves that turned John’s bones to jelly. He put his weight backwards onto James’ chest, wanting to feel as much as he could of the man, from where his beard rubbed up against the side of his face, to the width of his torso, to where his cock had slipped in between his legs and was rubbing up against his hole in a torturous slide.

“Want you to fuck me again.” John panted, reaching a hand back behind James’ head and grabbing him by the hair. “Felt incredible last time, didn’t want you to stop.”

James closed the gap between them, bringing their lips together in a fierce clash. He kissed like he wanted to devour John whole.

“Been thinking about it every damn night.” he said, breaking the kiss and breathing the words into John’s mouth. “I’d think about it at work, how tight you were, and that mouth of yours, god…”. He brought a thumb up to John’s lip, dragging it over the pink skin before he sucked it into his mouth. “I’d get so fucking hard for it, hard for you.”

He looked down and watched James’ hand move on his cock, twisting on each stroke, and was about to make a comment about how likely he was to come if James kept at it, but then the pair of them jerked simultaneously and John let out a rather high pitched shriek.

“That’s the fucking hot water all gone, then.” James yelled as he rushed for the shower controls, John having ducked down to take cover under James as the freezing cold stream soaked them through. They shivered as they got out of the shower, and were appalled to remember that the sharing had been an impulsive decision.

“One towel.” John sighed, hands on his hips. They stayed close, both dripping onto the small rug on the cold, tiled floor. James gestured forward towards the towel.

“You go first, I’ll cope for a minute or two.” he said, edging John forward while he stayed on the growing damp patch. John quickly hopped over to the towel, drying himself off as fast as he could to try and be courteous to his guest. His guest, who had just brought him coffee and washed his hair and jerked him off in the shower to near completion. Really, it had been quite an unexpected morning.

He threw the towel at James’ chest before he bent down to pick at the sweatpants he’d discarded before the shower.

“You can’t put those back on. Defeats the whole point of the shower.” James said, voice muffled by the towel currently scrubbing his hair dry. “Do you think you’ve got anything clean?”

John bit his lip, anxiety returning back to him as he remembered his current life situation. “Possibly not. I’ve not done laundry in a fair while. Might have a clean pair of beach shorts or something?”

“When did you last sleep? Like, a proper good nights rest?” James asked, eyes narrowing at him. John shifted between feet, trying to look as innocent as possible, which proved difficult to do when naked and with a flagging erection.

“An actual solid nights sleep, you mean?” he replied, voice going up an octave. James frowned at him as he carried on toweling down.

“Go and get in bed.” James said sternly.

“Okay, but what about…” John said, trailing off while he nodded towards James’ crotch.

“It’ll go down, it’s fine. Your priority is rest right now, we’ve got plenty of time for all that in the future.” James sighed, fixing John with a unyielding look. He smirked at the prospect of any kind of future that involved having plenty of sex with the man before him.

“If you’re sure.” he said, throwing a grin over his shoulder as he walked out of the room. He could feel James’ eyes on his arse as he left for the bedroom.

Climbing back under his sheets, he had to whole heartedly agree with James; this was exactly what he needed. The warmth of the duvet engulfed him and he found himself not even minding where his hair made a damp patch on the pillow. He was exhausted enough to even ignore the midday sunlight pouring through the windows. He sank down into the mattress and closed his eyes, comfort taking over him.

Which is when he realised that he’d forgotten one essential element of his routine.

“James!” he called, muffled from underneath the duvet. “Is my comb in there?”

A few beats of silence, then came a reply from the bathroom.

“A tortoiseshell one?” James replied.

“That’s the one. Bring it in, would you?” he said, already dreading leaving his newfound comfort to brush his hair. James came into the room, hair a little drier and lighter than it had been, but still very much naked. Which John didn’t mind at all.

“Please tell me you didn’t call me in here just for the view.” James said, passing the comb with an exasperated sigh. He’d noticed the path of John’s eyes drifting across his body as he’d walked in the room, clearly.

“No, I genuinely do need that comb.” he chuckled, first smoothing out the curls with his fingers. “These things are a bastard if you let them dry tangled.”

James sat down on the edge of the bed, twisting his body so that he could watch John work. When he had eased out most of the major knots by hand, he reached for the comb that had been dropped on top of the sheets, but James beat him to it.

“Turn around for me?” he said, shifting himself so that he sat cross legged facing John. He did as he was told, more than a little curious.

“I take it you’re fond of the hair, then?” John asked as James began combing the hair back. He closed his eyes, the treatment sending shivers down his spine. James hummed in assent.

“You could say that.” he said, voice deep and low near John’s ear. He wound a perfectly formed curl around his finger, letting it bounce back into shape. John sighed, long and languorous, while he combed through, the scrape of plastic massaging his scalp and making his limbs feel loose.

All too soon, the combing ceased, and James finished off with a kiss to his bare shoulder.

“Sleep. You need it.”

He slipped away from James without another word, shuffling back underneath the sheets and pulling them tight around his shoulders.

James had only made it halfway across the room before John was already itching to reach out and drag him back.

“Would you…” John started, making James turn around to look at him. He took a deep breath before speaking again. “Would you stay with me? Just for a little while, I mean.”

James raised an eyebrow, but slunk back towards the bed wordlessly. Dragging the duvet over himself, he shuffled up behind John, pulling his back to lay against his chest, thick arms wrapped tight around him. John sighed, melting into him. He stared down while a thumb ran back and forth over his skin, and he tried to count the freckles on James’ forearm, mentally cataloging each and every one he could make out. His eyes grew heavier, and the steady push and pull of James’ chest as he breathed lulled him closer and closer to sleep, until he could only imagine waves crashing on a distant shore.

***

He noticed the lack of James’ skin against his almost immediately.

Blinking open his eyes and fighting back against his sleep-fogged brain, he sat up and pushed the sheets away from his body. He checked the bathroom first, but only found James’ carefully folded shirt on the toilet seat. He decided, based on the lack of steam in the bathroom, that he’d been napping for a while, and wondered exactly how long James had spent holding him.

When he shuffled into the front room, still nude, he found that James had been busy making more progress on the flat than John had done in a week.

“I was expecting you to be out for longer, you must be shattered.” he said in lieu of a greeting. He was carefully neatening the throw cushions back on the sofa, jeans clinging to his hips. John grumbled in response, shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight pouring in through the curtains.

James chuckled, standing up straight and walking over to him. When he got close enough John leaned forwards, resting his forehead on James’ chest.

“Thank you, for all this.” he mumbled into James’s skin. “I’m sure today wouldn’t have gone nearly as well if you hadn’t come over.”

“I told you, it’s fine.” James said above him, bringing his hands up to sit on his hips. “Although…” he began to add, “…you’ll definitely be paying for the Greek food when we go.”

He chuckled, tilting his head up to see James looking down at him with a lopsided smirk. He stared at that tantalising mouth for a moment before he leaned in to capture it in a kiss, slow and deep and sending warmth all the way to his toes. James rubbed circles with his thumbs on his hips, and the simple touch stirred his still half-asleep body into action.

“Come back to bed.” John sighed against his lips, rubbing himself up against the rough material of his jeans. “We can carry on from earlier.”

James let out a soft huff, hands sliding down to cup his bare arse.

“You sure? You look like you could drift off halfway.” he laughed, leaning in to nip at his jawline.

“Mmhm. Who knows. Might just be enough to wake me up.” John said, walking him backwards towards the bedroom. His awful navigational skills ended up walking James into a floor lamp on the way, at which point James took over and guided him instead, dragging him by his hand towards the bed.

John fell backwards onto the still-warm sheets, pulling James down on top of him. They exchanged lazy kisses, tongues sliding against each other, while John’s hands roamed down his chest until he reached the waistband of his jeans. He traced over the denim covered bulge and heard James gasp, before he finally freeing his cock.

“Want you back inside me.” He panted against James’ cheek while he stroked him, bringing him close to full hardness. He watched as James pulled away from him, bearing a shark-like grin. He sat up to pull his jeans off, before returning to John and latching his mouth to his neck.

Moving downwards as John writhed beneath him, he sucked a trail of red marks past his collarbone, peppering bruises all over his chest. By the time he’d reached John’s cock, there was a tapestry of kisses against his tanned skin.

James licked up the underside of him as John slid his fingers into the soft copper strands, grip tightening when he reached the head and started laving over his slit.

“Feels so, so fucking good.” he panted. When his hips tried to rise to meet him, James brought his hands up and pushed them back down, pinning his lower half to the mattress. His fingers traced his forearms, feeling the strong muscle there and wondering if James would be able to hold him up fully one day while they fucked. “The stuff, it’s in the drawer.” he managed to breathe out after James had started to swallow him down bit by bit.

He pulled off slowly, running his tongue along as much as he could on the way, before giving one last kiss to the head. Stretching across John’s body to get to the drawer, he grabbed a half empty bottle of lube and a condom. John took the time to privately marvel at the muscles of his back, running his hands along the toned, freckled skin there. When James pulled back and saw John luxuriating on the mound of pillows, eyelids heavy and chest covered in kisses and a thin sheen of sweat, he snorted.

“Look at you. A goddamn pillow prince.” he laughed, a thumb rubbing over one of the more prominent bites on his chest.

“What in the world is that supposed to mean?” John asked, tone mock-offended and eyes suddenly wide as they stared at James. He couldn’t stay that way for long though, as James wrapped a hand around his cock again, lazy strokes as he smiled up at him.

“It’s a term Max taught me. It’s someone who just sits back and lets the other person do all of the action during sex. Thus…” he said, bringing John’s cock back up to his mouth. “A pillow prince.”

It was John’s turn to laugh now, which he did even as James swallowed him down again.

“You…you just wait and see.” he said, voice becoming breathless again. “You wait until next time. I’ll ride you so hard you’ll be begging me for mercy, I’ll let you fuck my throat, whatever you want. I’ll- oh god!” he whined, head thrown back as James brought a lubed finger to his entrance, dipping in just enough so that his body began to give way before taking it out again. He bobbed his head while he inched his finger in bit by bit, and looked straight up at John when he crooked his finger and found that one sweet spot.

John practically mewled, the combination of sensations with the view of James with a mouth full of his cock staring up at him, his cheeks pinked with arousal, an image he knew he would revisit when he needed something to get him off the next time he was alone.

He writhed while James opened him up, alternating his mouth between sucking John’s cock and pressing gloriously hot open mouthed kisses along his lower stomach and inner thighs. He had added another finger, and by the time he was stretched open enough to take James, John was leaking against his stomach.

“Please.” John moaned, pushing his hips down to meet James’ fingers. “Hurry up, for fucks sake.”

James stopped his movements and sat back, hands spreading John’s thighs. His cock stood hard and flushed, and John watched through hooded eyes as he slid the condom on, wondering how the fuck he’d gotten lucky enough to have this gorgeous, caring, incredible beacon of a man in his bed again. Slicking himself with more lube, he shuffled up closer into the space of John’s hips, hands gripping his thighs as he sat back. Just as he began to line himself up, John jerked to realisation and put both hands on his chest.

“Wait, hold on, I…” he said, hands drifting across the broad chest, fingers catching on the hair there before finding perked nipples. He took a deep breath before continuing, looking away from James’ concerned gaze. “Could you…could you hold me? Just like…” he said, hesitantly hooking his arms over James’ shoulders and pulling him down to lay on top of him. He hovered, face inches away from John’s own, and with his arms braced either side of his chest.

“Like this?” he asked, breathless as he lowered his weight onto the man, bringing their skin together all the way from their chests to their toes. John wriggled a little underneath him, and James brought his hands up behind him, one resting on his back and one nestled in the damp mess of hair. John had thrown his arms around his neck, and he leaned in to brush his lips against James’.

“Just like that. Here, holding me like this, it feels…” he said, before trailing off. Intimate? Loving? John struggled to find a word to fully translate what he was feeling in this sleepy passionate haze, something that would fully communicate how grateful he felt to James and how much he wanted this thing between them to develop. “Safe.” he finished, whispering against a bearded cheek. “It feels safe.”

James watched him carefully for a moment, sea green eyes cutting him deep. Then the hand that had been in his hair came forward to caress his cheek, a finger stroking down the bone there, and he captured John in a deep, soul-warming kiss.

He felt James line himself up and the first push against his hole, gasping against James’ open mouth when he felt the head slip inside. Clinging to his back as he inched slowly inside him bit by bit, he could feel James pressing heated kisses against his jaw. At the first roll of his hips, John shuddered underneath him, feeling the dual sensation of James inside him and the friction of his own cock between their stomachs. His hands found that gorgeous hair again, carding through the sweat-slicked strands there while James thrusted.

“If this is what makes you feel safe,” James huffed out above him, “If this is what you need, to be taken out of your own head like this, then I’ll be there. I told you, whenever you want, whatever you need.”

“You’re fucking incredible.” he whispered against his temple, awe struck and so damned full of pleasure he thought he might burst. His eyes drifted shut as he buried his head in his shoulder, near whimpering when James slowed down the speed of his thrusts. He rolled languidly into him, fucking him over and over so deeply that John swore he might feel every inch and every vein of his cock.

“You feel like heaven, I don’t know how much longer I can-” James started, voice reedy near John’s ear, before he hushed him.

“It’s alright.” he said, body strung tight as his hips pushed downwards to meet the lazy thrusts of James’ cock. “You can let go, I want to see you when you let go.”

He lay back fully against the pillow and dragged James away from his neck with the hands in his hair. He brought their faces close together, foreheads slipping against one another while he moved a hand south to rest on James’ chest. His fingers found a nipple, and he ran his nail over it to watch James shudder and moan. When his hips began to piston without rhythm he held James tight and watched his face twist into one of pleasure, giving one final gasp as his climax took over him. He crashed forward, lips crushing into John’s own in an uncoordinated clash of teeth and tongue, but John wouldn’t have had it any other way as he felt James wrap a hand around his cock, jerking him fast and hard while they kissed. He tightened his calves around James’ legs as he felt the pleasure wash over him, coming in spurts against both of their stomachs as they slowed.

James collapsed on top of him, happy and spent and careless about the come cooling between them. His head pillowed on John’s chest, and he took a moment to catch his breath while playing idly with James’ hair again.

“Well.” he said after a few minutes of peaceful silence in the bedroom. “That certainly didn’t do a fantastic job of waking me up. In fact, I think I rather need an extra few hours sleep right now because of it.”

James snorted a laugh against his still-flushed skin.

“Honestly, you hardly had to do anything. You talked about riding me next time, you’re gonna need a whole day in bed after that.”

John sighed happy and contentedly, laying back and looking out of the sun-filled window. It had almost definitely passed lunchtime, and he was starting to feel it.

“I’m perfectly fine with that if you are. Although, on second thought, maybe we should save the whole riding thing until after this essay is done.” he said. In the back of his mind, he was still dreading the rest of the work he had to do, but not quite as much as he had been as soon as he’d woken up that morning. James propped himself up on his elbows, looking at him.

“The analysis, I can help you with that, to a degree. Talk over some of your notes, try and find some references, make you cups of tea.” he said, fingers drawing patterns on his collarbone. “The music reviews? Not so much my area, I’m afraid. Unless you were seeing a Led Zeppelin tribute band, which I doubt somehow.”

John giggled, hand cupping his cheek gently.

“You’re such an old man. A proper tea drinking, classic rock loving old man.” he said, leaning up to pepper kisses all over his cheek. James gave him a gentle shove back onto the sheets, a feral grin suddenly on his face.

“I’ll show you who’s an old man.” he said, bringing their groins together again in a slow thrust. John gasped from the over-stimulation, and even James winced a little. “Maybe later then.” he said, pushing himself off of John to lay next to him. He fumbled with the jeans left puddled on the bedroom floor and pulled out his mobile. “God, it’s later than I thought.” he sighed, swinging his legs over the side and picking up the jeans.

John gave a noise that might have been agreement, had he not dived his face back into the crease of the pillows.

“Right. I’m going to clean myself up a little, get dressed, and head to the shops. Grab us a late lunch, then see if someone will pick me up and swing by mine to grab you some clean clothes, and I know there’s some books there which might help you out.”

“Mmm hmm.” he replied, muffled and drowsy.

He heard movement nearby, then felt the bed dip down with the weight of James next to him. Fingers brushed away the curls covering his eyes, and lips gently pressed against his forehead.

“I’ll be back soon.” James whispered, tucking the strands of hair behind his ear. John gave a grateful hum, already half asleep. Warm and content, he quickly slipped into darkness.

***

This time, the repeated buzz of his phone on the nightstand woke him up.

He groaned, flopping himself over as he grabbed blindly for his phone, if nothing else but to shut the fucking thing up. He saw the contact on the screen and swore loudly.

“H'llo?” he grumbled, bringing the phone to his ear.

“You inconsiderate asshole, John Silver.” Max hissed at him down the line. He buried his face in his pillow, praying for it to be a short call.

“You’re probably right, but why?” he asked, already knowing what she was about to tell him.

“I have just had a phone call from none other than Flint himself, asking if I could pick him up from the city center in ten minutes and drive him home to grab some clothes and books. And then take them back, back being the key word here, to your place. For you.” she said, blunt as ever. “Am I to assume he spent most of the morning fucking you?”

He sighed, shuffling inside the warm sheets. “You assume correctly. It wasn’t planned at all, I swear, he just popped by and then…well, he looked after me.” he said, feeling his cheeks turning red as he found himself wanting to explain to Max just exactly how much James’ care had brightened his day.

“I’m sure he did.” she said, a laugh on her voice. “You should have texted me as soon as he came to your door, though. Is there no loyalty between us? Am I not deserving of this much?”

“I like him, Max.” he interrupted, feeling his voice catch as he told her. His feelings came to him, true and clear and strong. He thought about how no other partner of his had ever cared for him quite as much as James had managed to do in a mere few hours, nobody had made him feel as wanted and valued and valid as James had done this morning alone. “Like, I really like him.” he said, completely inarticulate.

“I was expecting it.” she said, a conspiratory touch adding to the lilt of her voice. “Do you not think Max knows her people well enough to know when two people may simply be made for each other? I introduced you for a reason, John.”

He bit his lip, thinking about the truth of it all, and the trust he had in Max.

“Thank you.” he said simply. “I know I’m a git sometimes, and you didn’t have to do this for me, so thank you.”

He could hear the smile in her voice as she laughed down the line. He lay on his back, sheets falling off him while he gazed out of the window. He idly wondered how long James intended to stay tonight, and whether he could get enough work done in the late afternoon to allow them a trip to the Greek place later on.

“So, John.” she asked, voice like a cat stretching out in the sun. “Were you thinking a Spring wedding, or Summer?”

He laughed, loud and full of joy, and flopped back onto his stomach to continue gossiping with the woman.