"You owe me a life story," I said. "You're going to sit for a portrait."

Nate raised his eyebrows and held my gaze until I looked down.

Right when I was at my most shamed, when I was sure that this would never work and why had I called him, reminding this God-come-to-earth exactly why it was that we had broken up and why he was better off...he spoke.

"All right," he said. "When are you free?"

I should have taken the time to prepare; I should have told him next Wednesday.

"You can follow me to the apartment," I said. "I'm collecting the debt now."

The air in my car was utterly devoid of Nate, and it helped me focus on the short drive back to my apartment. Rachel would have woken up and gone to work by now; it was seven-thirty p.m. There would be no one in the apartment but Nate and me. No one but me, the stupid fuck who'd told him to leave, and him, the dumpee that won the break-up.

We got out of the car and I led him through my apartment to my improvised studio, which had kind of become my dumping ground recently.

"Been painting still-lifes?" Nate asked, nudging aside the piles of crap.

"Not really," I said. I haven't been painting at all, but Nate doesn't need to know that. "I haven't really been painting at all."

Wait, the fuck did I just say?

"Oh, Corey," said Nate, and his eyes were big like a basset hound, all full up of pity. I knew he was just mocking me. "You've been suffering without me, haven't you?"

"Oh, shut up," I said. "Don't think everything that happens to me is your doing. Come on, living room."

"You're too thin—"

"Alchemist thin?"

Nate continued undaunted. That's a good word for him: undaunted. Or un-fucking-stoppable. "Everything's a mess, you haven't been painting, you're not feeding yourself..."

"I'm painting now," I said. I reached out a hand and gave him a nice shove so that he stumbled back onto my couch. I did not at all caress his chest. I just shoved.

Nate laughed a bit and sat down, heavily. Then he sat like he always sits, one foot propped up on his other knee, one arm spread across the back of the couch. He turned away from me, probably wanted to show off his goddamn chiseled profile, and ran his fingers lightly across the couch. The man has great fingers—not as great as his mouth, but, you know, pretty nice.

"We had some good times on this couch, Core."

I tried to meet his eyes, but I gulped too quickly and looked down. I wanted to have more times with him. I wanted him to claim every hour on the clock.

I spoke quietly. "Don't move." I set up my canvas.

Nate looked over at me, probably trying to read me, trying to read why I was speaking softly. Which of my many, many weaknesses was coming out to play this time?

"I said don't move. For this one I want you looking off to the side."

"For this one?" Nate asked—no, demanded. Nate always demanded. While he waited for the answer I snapped a quick photo, just in case.

"I'm doing a triptych," I said. "Don't worry, it won't take up too much of your precious time. Not as long as a goddamn novel. Not how long you had to study me for that, not two goddamn years—"

"I wasn't studying you, babe," he said, cocky as hell, like always. Not being able to watch me while I missed the base colors for his skin and his clothes and the couch...why the hell would that bother a man like him? "I was dating you."

"We were dating each other," I corrected while I tried to capture a basis for his skin tone. How did he manage to look like a Greek statue and a sun-kissed surfer at the same time? And where did I leave the green?

I wanted just a touch, just a hint of light mint-green to add an undertone to the color, when Nate said, "Really? Because I don't remember you putting much effort into the relationship," and I spluttered and the green went fucking everywhere and this color wasn't going to work unless I was painting Martian-Nate.

I looked up from my ruined mixing and Nate was looking at me, again, even though I told him not to. And the bastard had moved, too! He had both his feet on the floor and his elbows on his knees. He was leaning over his clasped hands and looking up at me with those damn eyes of his. They weren't basset hound eyes anymore; they were motherfucking cliché-ridden stars. I picked up the camera and took another shot of him, just as he was, looking like he was going to get up off that couch and come after me.

"You shouldn't have moved before," I said. "Now that you're here, you shouldn't move again. And you definitely shouldn't have said that."

Nate smiled at me, and I stared, because this wasn't his same cocky I-own-you smile. This smile was sad. This was the way I smiled at Nate when he complimented me; this was the way that...I'm not the writer here, OK? It was just weird, and he looked sad, and for the first time in basically ever, I wanted to comfort him. I wanted to hold him, instead of him holding me, and to kiss him instead of being kissed. I wanted to curl my body, skinny though it was, around him and shield him from the world.

But I lost that chance eight months ago.

"Don't worry," Nate said, and I hated this new sad Nate. No matter how crazy it made me, I loved when Nate looked at me like he wanted to throw my easel aside and have it out, fight or sex or probably that combination of both that the two of us perfected. No one else has ever looked at me like that—like they didn't care what we did next as long as I was involved.

"I didn't come here to get you back," Nate finished.

"Oh," I said, because I'm clever like that. I moved to the next canvas and started to paint basic outlines of Nate's shape. I wasn't capturing him yet; I was only trying to prepare the canvas for him. I was only trying to calm myself before I really had to study him. Maybe I should just ignore everything that was real about painting and work from photographs, so that he wasn't in my house all the time. Why the hell did I invite him over again?

I was staring at my own hand moving around the canvas when I said, "I'm sorry."


Nate was probably making a beautiful face, or changing his pose, but unfortunately the texture of the back of my own hand was way too interesting for me to be able to report on it.

"For...whatever it is that...for thinking that I was putting enough effort into us, when I must not have been."

"Oh, Core—"

"Fucking hang on!" I interrupted him—I. Interrupted him. And I was way too loud, too. And I was supposed to be being nice. "And thank you for putting in the effort. Those two years were...shit, Nate, you sure know how to make a guy feel wanted."

I looked to see how he was taking it, and he was staring at me again, that rock-hard gaze that I wanted to capture in the painting, if I would pay attention to painting Nate instead of just Nate.

Nate might not be here to get me back, but I was. Here to get him back, I mean. I dragged him here, made him pose. Fuck the painting. Maybe some day, I'll paint Nate, but I wanted Nate back.

I sat down next to him on the couch. He didn't put his arm around me, and I didn't know how to put my arm around him.

I just said, "Why did you write me into your book, Nate?"

"Authors steal all the time from—"

"Nate, please," I said. Yeah, that was more like our relationship, me begging. "Did you really see us like that? Did I...was I...shit, I just wanted to strangle Elias! And I don't know how Irene put up with him!"

"That...that was really how you read it?" Nate asked, and his leg was pressed against me and he ran his hands through his hair. God, he had fucking perfect hair. "Core, Irene was desperate and sad. Elias was using her—I mean, he was using her for pain, but it's still use, and by the end she was left...hell, Corey, only you can make me lose my words like this."

"Did I use you?" I asked, very quietly. "I didn't—I really didn't—"

"That part wasn't based on us, Core," said Nate.

Then I did the single stupidest fucking thing that any ex can do after a break-up. I did it because it looked for just one second like Nate might tell me the truth.

I asked him, "Then what was wrong with us?"

Nate flopped his hands onto the bed. "You know me, babe. I'm an asshole, always have been, a genuinely bad—"

"The truth, please," I said, and my voice was low, and somehow we had shifted on the couch. We weren't sitting next to each other like he's my prom date and I'm meeting his parents. He sat, and I hovered next to him. I didn't know how much of his personal space I could invade. I didn't know if he was seeing anyone else. I didn't know if I cared. I had managed to put my arm behind his back, resting on top of the couch.

Nate looked me straight in the eye as he told me, "Core, sometimes things don't work out. Once the novelty burned off, there was nothing substantial beneath it all. The sex was great, but we were never going to last."

His eyes were wide, trying to fix my gaze but my eyes kept wondering up the line of his jaw and the bump on his nose and the tiny pale scar across his eyebrow. In my head I was painting him. In my head I was kissing him.

"I said the truth, Nate. You never look at me like that unless you're lying."

"Shit. Core, I—"

I inched closer to him. Somehow with my leaning and his reactions he was against the side of the couch and I was on my knees on the cushions, looking at him, every ridiculously handsome inch of him. I reached out a hand as though to brush his stupid fucking gorgeous hair out of his eyes, but I paused with my hand hovering and then yanked it back to my side, to prop up my weight on the couch as I leaned forward.

"Tell me, Nate," I said.

"We're bad for each other," Nate said, looking away, and that's how I knew it was the truth because of the shame. I had always thought of Nate as shameless.

He was still talking. "I was too controlling, and you said that you hated yourself—"

I started laughing then, half relief, half hilarity, and maybe some hysteria so I should adjust the proportions and calculate some real percentages. I don't know; I'm rubbish at math. I might have kept going for longer, giggling and bubbling over like New Year's champagne but Nate looked like he was in intense pain, and I realized that he didn't understand. He stood up abruptly, almost knocking over the couch, and started to leave. I grabbed his hand.

"Nate, I've never stopped hating myself!" I said, grinning like a madman, like my shitty self-esteem was the best news in the world. "Our relationship wasn't what fucked me up; I'm just fucked up, you see?"

Nate wasn't coming back, but he wasn't in the process of leaving anymore. Progress!

Nate said, "No."

"Our relationship isn't crazy, I'm just—well, at the risk of making you realize something you should've a long time ago and sending you running, I'm crazy. I'm crazy, and I'm sorry for making you think you were responsible. I'm sorry for everything I said and everything I expected of you, and I think I've been in love with you for years."

Nate didn't say anything. He was just frozen there, looking like he was about to jump out of his skin for all that he wasn't even moving.

I snatched up the camera and took a picture so that I'd never forget, and maybe so that I'll have a muse captured in digital to last me years afterwards. Nate would make a good muse, I think.

"So," I said, placing the camera carefully back down. I had taken the picture just in time; Nate was moving now. To be precise, Nate was advancing on me. "That's—um, I don't need to—to paint more. But—"

Nate backed me up against the wall, and my legs were a bit wider than was technically necessary. Nate pushed too far, pushed against me. He was hard. So was I.

"Don't you dare," he hissed at me. "Fuck with me for a goddamn picture."

I thought about telling Nate that I meant every word, and the picture was just because he was gorgeous—these were perhaps related concepts, but I definitely wasn't manipulating him. But he had me up against the wall and I liked it there.

I asked him "Or what?" and bit my lip. I had sharp canines; the dentist had wanted to file them down when I was younger, but I'd refused. I liked the way I looked when I bit my lip, sometimes. And I liked the sharpness.

Not that my teeth were anything compared to the feeling of Nate's mouth on mine, taking ownership of my abused lower lip and mouth and my tongue and my cock and really everything, the man's always had me for his own. We tasted each other thoroughly, remembering each other. I wrapped my arms around his neck and Nate laughed against my lips.

"Clingy," he said, slapping at my arms. I pouted at him, so he grabbed my wrists and pinned them above my head with one strong arm, so that I was writhing beneath his careful ministrations. He was the musician and I was the instrument, he was the poet and he made me feel like fucking poetry.

He started kissing his way down my neck, and I was moaning for him, and then he was biting and the moans were curses but they still meant the same thing and I was melting into the wall, spreading my legs further. I wanted Nate to have everything he wanted; with every part of my brain that wasn't occupied with feeling I wanted it.

Nate stopped his downwards progression at the collar of my shirt, with only one button undone and my nipples hard as rocks. His mouth was right next to mine, and I tried to kiss him but he pulled away. I cursed inelegantly. I think the phrase "Jesus fuck" might have been involved.

"You have a filthy mouth," he said, even as my lips sought his out, almost blindly and desperately. "I missed it."

"I missed you," I said, because he was telling me the truth and I was telling him the truth and it was intoxicating though that might have just been the sex. He was all that I could smell, like an old book store and nutmeg mixed together and smeared across my skin.

"Well, you shouldn't have broken up with me, then," said Nate, breaking off a kiss to tug my t-shirt over my head. With my newly freed arms I unbuttoned his dark blue shirt, running my fingers across his chest almost wonderingly. God, I had forgotten how gorgeous this man was; clothes didn't do him justice; he should never wear clothes. He should never leave my apartment either.

Nate kissed his way down my neck, following the source of my unsteady breathing down to my lungs and my chest. He bit my nipple, and I yelped. I yelped, and my already-hard dick jerked, and I could feel Nate smiling against my skin.

"Bastard," I said, and Nate twisted my other nipple before running his fingernails down my back in one shudderingly long movement.

Then, "I love you," I said, because I had already said it once and the words felt perfect on my lips.

Nate smiled again, big, and my heart lurched a bit. But I could have been mistaken, because all parts of me were lurching at the moment. My blood kept redistributing itself to rush to wherever Nate's skin touched mine, and Nate moved his fingers across my skin like he was trying to read me in Braille.

"I love you too," said Nate, almost gasping as I ripping his pants down so that his thick, dripping cock sprang free and slapped against his abdomen. "I have for quite some time now, I'd say."

He loved me. He really did, because this was a crazy nonsensical world, and maybe someone like Nathan King really could love me.

I kissed the skin of his hips, dusted with golden hair. I ran my hands up and down his powerful thighs and tried to make Nate feel the way he made me feel. I kissed and licked my way down to his impressive, cut erection, and tasted the salty pre-cum from the tip.

I looked up to see Nate, with his head thrown back and his mouth open. His lips were moving, but he wasn't making any sound. He was writing poetry for me too fast to speak out loud.

When his hands threaded through my hair, gently urging me forward, I sank down on his cock slowly, opening my throat for him. Then I began moving back up, suckling on Nate's cock while I stroked his heavy balls. Nate's energy threw every muscle across his legs and abdomen into sharp relief, but his hands were always soft as they caressed my cheek and hair.

After a few more minutes, I could feel Nate begin to writhe and squirm with his building pleasure. His hips thrust in little jerks, and I would have choked but instead grabbed him roughly, holding him down with my fingers splayed across his ass and my thumbs in that little indention below his hips I had always loved in Greek statues.

I still had art on my mind when Nate choked out a small warning cry and then began to spurt. I pulled off slightly so that his cream filled my mouth and I swallowed it all down, relishing the taste of his pleasure. His face was thrown back, eyes glassy and unfocused, as I licked him clean.

Then Nate's strong arms surrounded me and he pulled me into his lap, kissing me thoroughly. That horny fucker was always obsessed with the taste of his own spunk, but I was too blissed out on love and the scent of nutmeg to care.

I straddled him, my still-hard cock rubbing against his abs through the thick fabric of my jeans. I kissed him slow and then fast, again and again, from open mouthed kisses to little pecks on the side of his mouth and everything in between. Nate broke away, laughing breathlessly.

"I like putting effort into us," I said, laughing too. "It's fun. You make the cutest little noises—"

"Oh, shut up," said Nate. "Now, why the fuck are you still wearing pants?"

I jumped off him and grabbed his hand, tugging him back to my bed, which was still just a mattress on the floor (bed frames are fucking expensive, OK?). Nate sat down.

"Home sweet home," he said, tugging my pants off and then pulling me down to him.

"I will have you know," I said primly, "that this is a perfectly fine bed, and—"

"I meant it," said Nate quietly, and he kissed my hand. "Jesus, we're sappy as fuck today, aren't we?"

"Turn over," I ordered. I was still smiling; I don't know how long that smile had been there but it was probably since Nate had told me he loved me. "And I'll fuck you hard enough to make up for it."

Nate looked at me for a second, tilting his head. I had never topped him before, and I was worried that I shouldn't have suggested anything. I worried until Nate got down on his hands and knees and presented his perfect ass to me with a little wiggle.

I draped myself over his back, just taking a minute to feel his skin across mine. My cock was nestled between his ass cheeks and I rocked back and forth softly, letting the head slide across his tender pucker while I fisted his prick. I left him briefly to rummage around for lube in the patch of floor at my bedside that sort of counted as a table. Nate made a delicious sound of protest, but I quickly returned to him, stroking his back comfortingly.

I slipped one slick finger into Nate's hole, and he inhaled sharply. I waited several seconds before moving.

"Nate," I said eventually. "Exhaling is an important part of breathing."

The air shuddered out of him, and I stroked his cock while I buried my finger deeper in his ass.

"You OK?" I asked him.

"Shit, I never asked you that, did I?"

I kissed his left ass cheek. "I always was. Is that a yes?"

"Hell yeah. Give me another."

I obeyed, scissoring my fingers back and forth, seeking with the pads of my fingers one ball of nerves that I knew would—

When I found his prostate, Nate's whimpered and his shaking legs almost gave out. I held him up, holding one hand around his waist.

"Gotcha," I said, grinning.

Nate gave a weak laugh that quickly turned into a pant.

"Corey," he said. Every time he said my name, it was like a new word.

"Hm?" I teased him, pulling out my fingers to add more lube. His body fought to keep me in.

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