Author's Note: Reviews are serious amounts of love. :) Also, wow, new season! I have to admit, despite being sceptical, I'm really liking Rudy. :D Thanks for coming on this journey with me folks. Much appreciated! Please do consider reviewing at the end of this chapter; since there won't be anymore, and it means so much.

Nathan has always been remarkably lucky in that, no matter how much X he'd taken the night before, he was still always able to sleep. And unlucky in that, no matter how happy he'd felt hours before, he was still having nightmares. He gasped himself awake, swallowed around a sore throat, and burrowed his head beneath the blanket because the light was hurting his eyes. His jaw ached, and he was confused, had it been Fagin? Had he been beaten last night? Fagin had landed more than one solid kick and punch to the jaw in the past. He raises fingers to his face and cradles it, whimpers a little, thinks he's still recovering at the Community Centre before he remembers that he'd gone out clubbing last night.

He squeezes his eyes shut, as the events start coming back in bits and pieces. He remembers dancing, he remembers that a few of his favourite songs were played, and then he remembers Amy. His eyes open. Amy? They were dancing together. And then Simon was there, and it was all serious, and Nathan groans when the whole night really does come tumbling back and snatches of dialogue along with the over-saturated images come bleeding through.

And then he sits up.

'Is he back? Is Fagin back? Do I have to go through it all again?' He says it into the whole apartment, his voice high and breaking.

Simon walks out of the kitchen with some cereal for himself, and hands Nathan some water. He sits on the bed and starts crunching on the sugary flakes.

'No. It's fine. I called her this morning.'

'This morning? What time is it?' Nathan says, but he's distracted. His powers reversed, he could have died last night. This doesn't bother him as much as he thinks it should. And Amy, goodness, he remembers thinking that she'd be a good clubbing partner, and now he knows that if her powers reversed, she'd never be a good clubbing partner. He vaguely considers never going clubbing again, on the off chance that she'd be there.

'How is it fine?' Nathan says, confused.

'She had a friend whose powers also reversed, and he could banish them. She said he arrived and fixed everything and that it's fine. She also said she probably wouldn't go clubbing without him, which is understandable.'

Nathan drinks the whole bottle of water at once. His throat hurt, his jaw was sore, and it all reminded him of other things. Flashbacks intrude and his eyes skate away from Simon's and he stares at the wall.

Simon sighs and places a warm hand on Nathan's shoulder. He can't quite hide his cringe at that, but Simon doesn't withdraw, and eventually Nathan settles. He remembers the end of the evening, Simon holding his head in his hands and kissing him, and his own drunken, high rambling. He closes his eyes and winces even though no one can see his expression. He could be talkative at the best of times, but last night he was practically wearing his heart on his sleeve.

'Jesus.' He says, and laughs. 'What a night.'

Simon withdraws his hand and puts his bowl of cereal down on the floor. The clink of ceramic on concrete is oddly loud in the apartment, and Nathan hears it echoing in his head long after it's finished making any noise. Simon lifts both his legs onto the bed and crosses them, scooting closer to Nathan, and Nathan realises this might be the most forward Simon's been since the hotel. He turns to see the expression on Simon's face, but he can't read it.

'I talked a lot last night, didn't I?'

'You did.' Simon says with a half-smile. 'You did. I liked it. I've been thinking about it all night. I've been thinking that you're right about some things. You're right that this is a messy situation, and maybe I want it to be neater, and more organised, and safer, because your intensity frightens me and-'

'This coming from the world's most intense invisible homicidal superhero.' Nathan says in an undertone, and Simon's half-smile broadens into a full one, like it's somehow a compliment.

'I was never going to tell you how I felt about you. I had planned to never tell you. I was going to wait until it went away, and it never did. I...I like you, Nathan. I can't help it. But what do we do? You're...damaged. And not just by what happened to you, what he did, not just by that. I don't know how we could ever have a healthy...whatever we have, while you're not healthy.' Nathan can read Simon's expression now, it's earnest and open, appealing and sad all at the same time. Nathan kicks the blanket off him and shifts closer to Simon.

'You've never heard of fuck buddies? Friends with benefits?' He says, and then laughs at himself. 'I don't want anything serious, Barry.'

'You'd still want to...fuck?' Simon says, awkward and efficient all at the same time.

Nathan laughs, loud and long.

'Barry, mate, have you met me?'

There's a beat, and Simon laughs as well. They conversation winds up after that and a lot goes unsaid, they end up watching Youtube videos and pornography and DVDs, and Nathan thinks this might be one of the better days he's had in a while. Not fantastic, just...better.

Despite them both being okay with the friends with benefits situation, nothing happens for the next week. Nathan's nightmares persist, and he still has flashbacks during the day, except that a lot of the time he's alone because Simon is out working and because he's too scared to get another job in case his next boss turns out to be a total douche. He knows he can't continue like this forever, but Simon assures him that he won't. That he can give it a few weeks, a few months, a year, and that's not forever. However long it takes still won't be forever.

Simon starts asking direct questions about Fagin; not about the crimes he committed, but about everything else. The first time it happens, Nathan is taken aback, and then decides to talk about it anyway.

'He used to give me a lot of free food. And it was really good.' Nathan hears himself say, and shakes his head as he butters the toast; a constant staple at Simon's apartment, since neither of them are particularly good cooks and they can't afford to eat out all the time. 'I mean, you'd think at a scummy chew'n'spew it'd be the worst, right? A botulism breeding ground. But it was fucking orgasmic, that food. Life changing.'

'I want to say something about 'the way to a man's heart...'' Simon says, with a small smile.

'It was more than that, I think. Like, I suddenly realised, what is someone that talented doing somewhere like that? I mean, if I had a talent like that, I'd be a fucking five star chef in some French restaurant, banging the wait staff and maybe even making my culinary masterpieces on some kind of reality show, banging the crew too. He was just so wasted in that place.'

'You admired him.' Simon says, a statement more than a question, and Nathan winces, and steps away from the toast so that he can maintain a safe distance from Simon; so he can give himself the illusion that this isn't a difficult topic. But Simon knows, he can tell by the way Simon just leaves the silence there, and doesn't ask anything else.

'I also kind of felt a bit sorry for him, you know? At that point I thought maybe he'd been done for burglary or some shit, and he was stuck squandering his talent in a place like that. And he wasn't such a bad guy. So he just seemed like some down on his luck guy making the best of a bad situation. I related to that. I've been that guy all my life.'

The reality of what he's talking about, the outcome of that whole situation washes over him in a wave of nausea, and he folds his arms, tense, and then walks towards the elevator.

'I'm going to clear my head.' He says.

Simon lets him go.

A few more days pass, and they hang out with the group a couple of times. The group dynamic has clearly changed, but they all seem to be settling into it, and Nathan thinks he might even enjoy not having to come up with increasingly offensive things to say. He also thinks that he might actually enjoy listening to the others talk about their own lives, even if he finds Alisha occasionally tiresome despite how fit she is.

Kelly pulls him aside often, and he listens to her talk about it all. About the aftermath that she is dealing with and can't share with anyone else. He feels guilty every time, but he knows that Kelly isn't talking about it to make him feel guilty, and she says that talking to him helps. It's this repeated insistence on Kelly's behalf that makes him wonder if it really does help. He still doesn't want to talk about it with anyone. But if he were going to talk about it, he thinks Simon might be one of the first candidates, since he has always been a pretty good listener.

The second time they hang out, they go and play snooker. Nathan is terrible at it, but Simon reveals a talent, and he admits that his grandparents had a snooker table and taught him when he was young. Simon ends up scooping a few quid from all their small bets and he can't stop smiling for the rest of the night. He films quite a bit, too, taking out his camera for the first time in a while and getting shots of everyone. His eyes are bright and he seems genuinely happy; Nathan wonders if any of them would have ended up in this social group if it hadn't been for Simon's eagerness to see them become one.

It makes Nathan feel warm inside to watch Simon like that, and he doesn't say anything; just enjoys the novelty of being consistently attracted to the same person.

It isn't until they're halfway home that Nathan realises he was able to crack some jokes, even, and that he felt more like himself than he had in weeks.

But when they pass an old geezer who comments lasciviously on Nathan's looks, and then lecherously throws out a statement of what he'd like to do to Nathan, he finds himself having a panic attack down an alleyway while Simon stands in front of him helplessly. Nathan tries to slow his breathing down, he tries, he knows how stupid it is, and he can't calm down.

He wants to apologise for ruining Simon's night, but once they get home, all he wants to do is sleep. Panic attacks – it turns out – are completely exhausting.

A few days later, Nathan borrows some of Simon's money and goes out on his own. He wants to get something as a way of saying thank you; thank you for letting me crash at your place, thank you for not being a total wanker, thank you for turning out to be a completely solid friend, thank you for lending me your money with no questions asked. He has no idea what to get. Simon doesn't strike him as someone who wants for inexpensive material goods; and he can't afford something like a new video camera.

He wanders in and out of all kinds of shops, and ends up in a bookstore. He's not a big reader, so he meanders through each aisle, uncertain. He thinks about picking up a book on spy gear, another on famous assassins as a joke, but he thinks Simon won't take that too well.

And then he finds himself in the cookbook section. He stares at all the books, picks one up for beginners and is surprised at how few ingredients are needed to make spaghetti Bolognese. He flicks through some more pages and looks at the price sticker on the back and realises he could probably afford a couple of books.

But he wouldn't be getting them for Simon, per se. He's interested in them for himself. He wonders if it's wrong, that he wants to learn to cook and finds it so fascinating. Is this some kind of sick attachment to Fagin? Or is it something else? He tries to think it through, but the sales clerk is watching him like he's a deviant and he decides his window for getting a five finger discount has passed. He purchases two cookbooks for beginners, and can't ignore the way his heart hammers in his chest.

'Just move out of home?' The woman asks, as she processes his order and hands him the receipt.

'Oh, no, no, nothing like that. I've decided that I want my hookers to know how to do more than just blow and fuck, you know? Maybe they could make a pimp a meal sometimes, too. They can't all be prosties forever.'

She mumbles a 'fuck off' under her breath, and he does.

He ends up on a bench, flicking through the books again, trying to figure out what he's done. Why he's done it. And he thinks...maybe one of the reasons he liked Fagin so much, is because he could create memories with his food. So many of his good and bad memories about Fagin focus on specific dishes, and Nathan wants to be able to do something like that. He wants to know how to create memories with food. He often reminisces over having chicken nuggets with Kelly, and how real it had felt after so much vending machine food. And he's clever with his hands – if his wanking is anything to go by – and he doesn't see why he couldn't learn how to cook. Fagin was going to teach him, and Nathan had been genuinely looking forward to it before all the shit had gone down. He had disturbing visions of inviting people over for fantastic food, fantastic fucking. He wanted to learn.

'Fuck,' he mutters shakily, at these revelations.

In the end, he dog-ears the pages of two recipes, and goes to pick up some fresh ingredients. He's not going to give the books to Simon, but maybe he can show his gratitude in other ways.

That evening, he orders Simon out of the house and tells him to come back in an hour. He looks at what he has to work with. Simon wasn't one to make anything that complex, and ate a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables to compensate for the fact that everything else came from a tin or a packet. Still, he finds some pretty decent pots and pans, and thinks he can go ahead with his plan. He decides on a stovetop pasta dish and a dark chocolate mousse for dessert, with whipped cream.

He makes the chocolate mousse first, melting the chocolate in the microwave. At first he overheats it, and he throws out the first batch and starts again. The second time around everything comes together quickly, too easily, he's sure that he's screwed up somehow and gotten it wrong, but every taste of the bowl seems creamy and promising. He puts the coffee mugs with chocolate mousse in them to cool in the fridge and then starts on the Bolognese sauce.

When Simon comes back, Nathan has already set the table and the pasta is nearly done. He's flushed and almost shy, but he's feeling confident too. The sauce tastes good. He's tested the pasta so often that he's starting to lose his appetite, but he knows that's nearly good to go. He's found a colander and serving spoons and alongside the worry that things might royally balls up, he's excited.

'It smells good.' Simon says, appreciatively.

'Well, technically, smell doesn't always mean it'll taste great. But it'd better, considering how much those onions made me their tearful, whimpering bitch.'

When they sit down to eat, Nathan watches Simon like a hawk. And then he thinks that this is creepy, so he twirls pasta around his fork instead and still manages to drop sauce on the table and then on his shirt. He swears around the pasta, and then laughs, and then realises that he's actually made something edible. He who screws up just about everything he touches, has made something that tastes like food.

'I don't know about you, but I actually think this is kind of alright.' Nathan says, swallowing, and Simon nods, smiles, keeps eating. About halfway through he stops eating long enough to say it's the best meal he's had in a while.

When Nathan brings out the chocolate mousses, Simon's eyes widen and he actually says:

'You're joking.'

'They set and everything! This is ridiculous. Oh, can't forget the cream.' For a few seconds he fakes a quick wank and coming all over the desserts. And then he goes back and gets the cream and Nathan doesn't even care what Simon thinks anymore because he has decided that this is it. This is something he actually wants to do. He wants to learn how to make things that other people enjoy eating. He hadn't realised until his conversation with Simon, how important that was to him. Fagin had showed him something about himself that he hadn't realised he cared about.

And he wants to hate Fagin, he knows he should. But he knows that this is way more complicated than just making Fagin out to be a two-dimensional villain, and he knows that this is why he's finding it so hard. This, and he hates himself.

'This is good, right?' He says, suddenly, and Simon grins and sits back, replete.

'I don't know how you could think it would be anything else.'

'Good. Good. Because, this was kind of a thank you. A sort of, 'cheers for helping me out with that horrible period and letting me live here for free.' A kind of, 'thanks for giving me that wicked blowjob and turning my brain to mush, and you know, for everything.' I mean, it's not much, and I was actually going to get you something, but you're kind of hard to buy for and-'

'Nathan,' Simon says, serious and sweet, 'this was perfect.'

Nathan wants to feel weird about it all, but he just can't. This was a good night, he decides. This is one of the best nights he's had in a long time.

They watch Tron and sit side by side on the couch. Nathan is still buzzed from the night he's had, so halfway through he just crawls over and straddles Simon, and then starts kissing him. He finds it hard to grab fistfuls of the shorter hair, so he settles for just clutching the back of his head and grinding his hips against Simon's, tasting the harsh bitterness of dark chocolate and the beer they'd both been drinking.

Simon doesn't hesitate, doesn't say anything, just anchors Nathan's hips to his own with his hands, and returns the kiss enthusiastically. This is the first time they've ever come close to exploring the friends with benefits part of their friendship since they had their chat, and Nathan can understand why, but he's missed this too. He misses the taste of Simon's mouth when all the food tastes have gone away and he's left with that astringent, fresh, compelling taste that is just Simon. He's missed the way Simon smells. And he's such a fool for Simon's kissing, that he can't even stop the whimper when it comes.

Their hands fumble at each other's jeans so clumsily that they break away, Simon ruefully shaking his head, and work on their own jeans instead. Nathan has just finished pulling down his fly when Simon's hand moves with an incredible amount of confidence under his boxers, twists his hand in the constrained space and grasps him.

Nathan arches, presses his forehead into Simon's shoulder and just rests there for a moment, trying to assimilate the fact that Simon's hand is on his cock, and failing. And then he feels Puckish, and moves his own hands into Simon's trousers, insinuates long fingers around Simon, and realises – with a shock – that this is the first time he's actually felt Simon's cock in his hands, the first time he's actually touched Simon like this. It's heady, leaves him with a sense of power and tenderness all at the same time.

Simon's breathing goes shuddery and he inhales and exhales deeply.

'N-Nathan,' he stutters, and Nathan decides the stutter is even more adorable in situations like this. He lifts his head, presses it against Simon's ear, licks and thrusts his tongue until Simon actually swallows a groan and his head falls backwards.

'Welcome to the mutual appreciation handjob society.' Nathan says on a deep chuckle, moving his hand back and forth, letting his breath coast over Simon's ear. And Nathan is just starting to enjoy having the upper hand when Simon's fingers, which had previously stilled around him, grasp firmly, start moving in that dogged, persistent manner that he uses in his approach to everything else in life.

'Jesus fucking Christ.' Nathan gasps, hoarsely, and Simon chuckles too; a deep, knowing sound that makes Nathan feel like he's already close. Ridiculously close.

'You little bastard,' he manages, and kisses Simon again.

It doesn't take either of them long. Despite Nathan thinking he's the one who's totally going to come early, it's Simon who ends up unravelling first, his breathing becoming shallower and shorter, small sounds choking out of him, Nathan fucking his mouth with his tongue. Nathan's wrist is not even starting to cramp yet, possibly because he has so much experience getting himself off with jeans, but he starts shaking anyway when Simon's spasms lead to Nathan being tugged harder and with more force. Nathan almost says 'take it easy,' but the increased pressure does the trick, and he explodes into his boxers, biting down on his own lower lip and ducking his head, supporting himself with one arm on the couch.

'Jeeeeeesus,' Nathan shivers, removing his hand and moving on the couch until his head is on Simon's lap.

'Now I'm sleepy,' he adds, yawning at the movie.

'So sleep.' Simon says, and Nathan closes his eyes, and is surprised at how quickly he drifts off.

If things could be perfect, love would cure him; he'd have no more nightmares, he'd be cured. A good relationship with a truly caring person would set him free. But it's not a movie, and a couple of hours later, when Simon is dozing and the movie is over, he thrashes awake, accidentally thumping Simon in the chest and then rolling off the couch.

He hits the concrete with enough force that he's immediately back at the Community Centre. The words 'look man, I'm having a really bad night,' chase themselves through his head over and over again. The utter despair he'd felt ricochets through him, and then he flinches when his body remembers the kidney punch, the feeling of hands all over him.

'Shit shit shit shit shit,' he says, over and over again, and he claws at Fagin, grasping at him over and over again, until the hands disappear and he's lying fetal on the concrete, wondering how he ever managed to earn such a respite.

Except that he's not outside, and there's a coffee table in front of him, and his back is against a couch. Except that Simon kneels awkwardly in front of him, concerned and his jeans still unzipped.

Nathan opens his mouth to say something, but the tears come and he has to close his mouth to stop the sobs from following. He can never tell if the crying happens because what happened was so shitty, or because he actually started to cry at the Community Centre, begging for a break, for Fagin to just let up, because he didn't understand why Fagin had turned on him like that; only that it was his own fault, and he should've known better.

Simon gathers Nathan to him, and Nathan's uncomfortable because the position is awkward, but he can't move, because he doesn't want to be alone right now, because he's tired. He doesn't think he can handle it. He presses his head into denim and his tears soak into Simon's jeans. When Simon feels it, a few seconds later, he starts to rub small circles on his back.

'Nathan, Nathan, I'm sorry,' he says, 'I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do?'

But Nathan can't talk, he can't even move. He cries himself out, feeling ridiculously young and vulnerable, and then he turns and looks up at Simon. Nathan has no idea how much time has passed, and Simon watches him, wary and waiting.

'I'm so sick of the nightmares, hey man.' He says, his throat hoarse. 'I bet you are, too; can't be good for your beauty sleep.'

'I don't mind.' Simon says, and brushes his fingers against Nathan's forehead.

'I didn't hurt you did I?' He says, referring to his flailing, and Simon shakes his head.

'No. I mean. You punch like a girl.' He adds as an afterthought, and they share a wry smile; because if they can't have a black sense of humour at a time like this, what else do they have?

A few more days pass, and two things change.

The first is that Nathan now tries to cook at least once a day. His most spectacular failure was an omelette, which he turned into burnt scrambled eggs; but everything else turns out well.

The second is that Simon starts sleeping in his own bed again. Nathan talks him into it, and the air mattress gets put away, and Nathan falls asleep each night to a warm body beside him. Despite Simon's frequent insomnia attacks, and his inability to fall asleep; once asleep he doesn't toss and turn and is a heavy sleeper. Only the most extreme of Nathan's nightmares wake him up, and they don't happen quite as often anymore.

Nathan finds that when he wakes up frightened and feels Simon beside him, it's easier to fall asleep again. For the first time in ages he starts really catching up on rest. It's amazing on the one hand, because it gives him something aside from nervous, exhausted energy to live off. And on the other hand, it gives him more energy to think about everything that happened. It's an unexpected side effect, but Nathan decides that he has to start thinking about it sooner or later.

Another week and a half later, Simon is running his index finger through a bowl of cake batter, and licking it in a way that is totally erotic, with no idea that it's totally erotic. Nathan smiles at him, and starts to say something about it, when he remembers doing the same thing at Fagin's cafe. He remembers grabbing a bowl of cake batter, licking it from his fingers, Fagin watching him through lowered lids.

Of course, at the time Nathan had known that Fagin was into him. But he hadn't known that there was any ulterior motive behind it. He'd played along, teased on purpose. A heavy dread washes over him and he swallows hard.

He puts the cake tin down and leans heavily with his back to the bench, and closes his eyes.

'Why doesn't this get any easier?' He says.

'Tell me.' Simon says, putting down the bowl of batter immediately.

'Okay, okay,' Nathan says, like Simon has been badgering him to talk about it for hours, instead of just asking once. 'I was just...watching you. With your fingers. It was sexy, yeah? And I used to tease Fagin like that, on purpose, once I knew he was into me. I liked it, you know? People don't usually like me in that way. They think I'm pretty, or they think I'm like a slender waifish model or something, but they don't really...not that it ever really bothered me or anything, it was just a novelty to have that in my life and I tried to enjoy it.'

Simon says nothing, and Nathan pauses to put on an oven mitt and put the cake tin into the pre-heated oven. The distraction is welcome, and he settles the tin and straightens, removing the oven mitt slowly. He knows Simon is still waiting, and he's trying to think of how to continue, but it's not easy.

'I knew something was off with him; he was a total pervert, he liked kids to be way younger, he was like this savant chef in the middle of fucking nowhere. I mean even you kind of suspected something was up. I just didn't want to believe, you know? Or I wanted to think that he was just some dirty old man with a drug habit, or something. Just something benign and easy, not...'

He clenches his jaw down hard, his brow furrows. He doesn't know what he feels, in this moment, only that it's big and horrible, and all he wants to do is run away from it. Instead he turns, looks at Simon, shrugs.

'Technically I don't even know how you can stand there and look at me like I didn't cause this.'

'Because you didn't.' Simon says, simply. 'Because you were vulnerable and he was a predator. Because, like you said a few weeks ago, you'd been a target of abuse before and it happens more easily after it's already happened once. I learnt that from others in the facility. He played you, Nathan. You're so...cocky, and used to playing others; but he used you.'

'The stupid thing is,' Nathan says, like Simon hasn't said anything, 'it's that I think if it wasn't for all the fucking violence, that whole being beaten to death thing – which, may I add, is a ridiculous fucking drag, especially twice in the same day – if it wasn't for all of that, I probably could've put up with it. I was that desperate. How much of a pathetic little twat does that make me? I mean, he was a fucking monster about it, just so all over the place, all cooing and loving one moment, and so...cruel the next, and I still would've put up with it.'

Nathan looks up when Simon doesn't say anything, and he's shocked to see that Simon's eyes are wet, his face is drawn.

'Hey, Barry.' Nathan says gently. 'Should I not be talking about this?'

'No!' Simon says, emphatic and sure, he winces and then wipes at his eyes, even though no tears have fallen. 'No. Please don't stop.'

'Oh, well, I'd kind of finished.' Nathan says, because that was all the opening up he was okay with anyway. He runs a hand over his face, shakes his head to sort out the mess of curls. 'I didn't want to say anything else., anyway. And, Jesus, may I just fucked up am I?'

Simon smiles weakly.

'You're saying that to someone who's been in an insane asylum, who you have happily called mental for at least a year now. So, you're in good company.'

'I hadn't thought of it that way.' Nathan says. He feels scoured out and empty after the conversation. They stand there, uncertain of what to do, and then Simon steps forward and enfolds Nathan in a fierce hug. His arms squeeze him tightly, and he presses his head into Nathan's shoulder. Nathan returns the hug, he sighs heavily, closes his eyes.

They stay like that for a long time.

Nathan never feels that comfortable talking about his relationship with Fagin, such as it was. It leads to other pathways into his past, and it makes him realise that maybe he's not so much impervious to pain, as really, really good at hiding the truth from himself. But he prefers the idea that he's indestructible over the idea that his past primed him for an abusive relationship with someone, so when conversations start to turn in darker directions, he shuts them down.

Simon seems to know more about him than he does. It's obvious that he's done some research into topics relating to child abuse and trauma, because every now and then he'll quote a statistic or some piece of knowledge that is designed to soothe or enlighten, and Nathan is taken aback when he thinks that Simon cares enough to look into this stuff.

It still shocks him that he's living in Simon's apartment, that Simon hasn't kicked him out yet. It shocks him that Simon gives a shit.

Simon comes home one day from shopping, laden with way more than usual. He stacks some bags on the table and points to them:

'Those are yours.' He says, as he starts to put away the toiletries and other things that he'd purchased. Nathan bounds from the sink to the table and pulls out new recipe books, some more cooking equipment, and even a chef's blowtorch. Nathan actually screeches in excitement when he sees it, and Simon comes over to the table and smiles.

'There are rules for that one. I had to think long and hard about what life might be like with you and a blowtorch.'

Nathan looks at everything on the table and places his hands on his hips.

'My favourite is the blowtorch.' He says.

Simon nods and then shakes his head.

'Yeah. Thought so.' And then he picks up the box himself and looks at it. 'It does look like fun, do we always have to use it for cooking?' He asks, plaintive.

'Hey, you bought it. You can use it for anything you want!'

The gleam in Simon's eyes is totally deviant, and Nathan grins. The first time they use the chef's blowtorch, they start a small fire in the apartment and the smoke alarms go off. There wasn't a crème brulee in sight.

It is pre-dawn when Nathan slides over to Simon's side of the bed and presses his face against the warm skin of his back and breathes deeply. He does it again, and again, keeping his eyes closed and unable to decide whether he wants Simon to wake up, or stay sleeping. The nightmare recedes quickly, and he doesn't bother chasing after it, he can hardly remember what happened. The content tends to be terribly repetitive, more memories on broken record than anything else, so he doubts he missed anything.

Nathan, overall, is doing better. The group has been beset by a few more dramas, a few more people with powers royally ballsing everything up – as usual – and they have worked together to sort the situation out – as usual. He hasn't died in some time, being more careful about the risks he takes, but he's been able to help Simon out a few times, and he's become less fearful in general. He flinches less, he's found ways to ride out some of the flashbacks. He's cooked dinner for the group twice, and as a result, Curtis has stopped griping about giving him free drinks at the pub.

He takes another deep breath and opens his mouth against Simon's shoulder. Presses his tongue to the smooth skin, and then turns his cheek and revels in this closeness. It's delicious, even post-nightmare.

Simon makes a small, lazy sound in his sleep and then turns to face Nathan. His eyes open and at first he looks happy to see him, and then his lips thin and his brow furrows.

'Nightmare?' He asks, his voice thick with sleep. Nathan nods and then shrugs. Simon smiles again as he realises it wasn't so bad, and Nathan is such a sucker for the expression that he used to belittle, that he leans in to kiss him. He doesn't give a shit about morning breath or any of those things, and he certainly doesn't give a shit about Simon's. He groans when Simon deepens the kiss in that late night, lazy way that commands him when he's just woken up. As uptight as he can be most of the time, in the moments when he's not fully awake, he orients to the world in sensual ways.

Nathan edges closer when Simon's hot palm sketches over his torso and settles heavy on his hip. That lasts for all of a minute before Simon rolls them both so that Nathan is on his back and Simon leans over him. He licks his way from the underside of Nathan's jaw, to his ear. Nathan shivers.

'Is this good?' Simon asks, not to tease, but as a genuine question. Nathan nods, heat rushing to his cock and his own hands exploring Simon's chest and the skin stretched over his hips. They've been moving closer and closer to having sex as the weeks pass, but the times they've gotten really close, Simon has always stopped. Nathan knows it's out of concern for him, but he's starting to get really impatient now.

'Fuck me.' He says, deciding to go the most direct route. Simon hesitates.

'I thought we were going to wait?'

'Yes, yes, of course we are, and until then, how about you fuck me?' He says, pressing a hand to Simon's cock through his tracksuit pants, and not even bothering to suppress the glee he feels as Simon's breath blows out harsh against his face.

'I thought you'd make some false play at being a top.' Simon says, a mischievous spark glowing in his eyes, and Nathan bit at Simon's arm.

'Honestly, Barry, so did I!'

They laugh, and that somehow leads to more kissing, which leads to dry humping as Simon fumbles in his chest of drawers for lubricant and a condom. He drops them when Nathan reaches both of his hands into Simon's trousers and grasps him in one hand, while he uses his other hand to run fingers teasingly along the skin of his inner thigh.

'Nathan, how am I suppose to – fuck – get anything done, when you're distracting me like this?'

'Man up, Barry. I'm just helping.'

'Asshole.' Simon chokes, borrowing from Nathan's extensive crudities, and then bites Nathan's bottom lip before thrusting his tongue deep into Nathan's mouth. Nathan hums, appreciative, and then withdraws his hands as Simon swats him away and starts to take off his own tracksuit pants. A small shiver of fear comes, then, and he pauses for just a second, checking himself before Simon can check for him.

'I'm fine, I'm fine,' he insists, and removes his own boxers, kicking them off the bed. When he looks up to see Simon gazing down at him, he wonders why he was even worried. 'Totally fine.'

In Nathan's head, he expects the sex to happen quickly, but Simon is having none of that. It is another fifteen minutes before Simon even slides a first, well-lubricated finger all the way into him, and he's coming apart at Simon's tenderness and the feeling of being gently, but thoroughly explored. It is so different to the exploding pain of Fagin that Nathan finds it startlingly easy to separate the two. Nathan's eyes widen in shock and arousal, because he didn't expect it to be like this, so different, and so intimate. Nathan tries to think of a swear word that accurately encapsulates what he's feeling, and comes up with nothing.

Fifteen minutes later, when Simon inserts the second finger, Nathan is already coming apart and sweating like mad.

'You have,' he gasps, 'iron control over that cock of yours.'

'Upside of being perverted.' Simon mutters, his voice gone deep with lust.

When Simon finally slides into him, on top and facing him, Nathan feels only slightly uncomfortable, and mostly just full and delightful. He decides to take matters into his own hands and shifts his legs further apart, arches upwards and keens in the back of his throat as Simon gets even deeper, rubs over his prostate as the angle changes. He's going to last a whole thirty seconds, he's sure.

'Nathan, I'm not going to last if you-' Simon gasps as Nathan continues to move underneath him.

'Me either, me either, fucking Jesus motherfucking Christ me either.'

Nathan can't help it, he starts to laugh as he comes, and then a moment later Simon is doing the same, and they giggle like schoolboys into each other's shoulders even as Nathan gasps and arches because the sensations are destroying his ability to think, even as Simon spasms against him. They stay like that until Simon gently withdraws, removes the condom, and they both roll sideways.

'That was so undignified.' Simon says, shaking his head. 'I probably shouldn't expect anything less with us, should I?'

'I don't care. I'm never letting you leave the house again.' Nathan says. 'We're going to do that every day. I'm going to find a way to make you immortal, and I swear to god, every single day until the sun fucking supernovas.'

They lay there, sweaty and tangled and fingers entwined.

'Are you okay?' Simon asks, as Nathan presses lazy kisses against his cheek and ear. Nathan nods, and then thinks about the question and decides that it's true. It's actually true. He's not better in the way that he wanted to be months ago, it's not all magically erased, and he's still having enough nightmares and flashbacks that he'd probably qualify for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and yet he's doing okay.

He's as surprised as anyone to realise this is actually true. For a while there, he was sure all of this would be what finally broke him.

'Are you?' Nathan asks, and Simon nods.

They both fall asleep and end up sleeping in. When Nathan wakes up, Simon is snuggling into him and he looks up at the ceiling.

He knows he's not done yet. That maybe he'll never be done. If his encounter with Fagin taught him anything, it's that metaphorical and literal invincibility comes at a high price, one that he's not sure he's willing to pay anymore. But he knows he's lucky too. Lucky that the strange, shy kid that he used to pick on was fiercely protective and saved his life in more ways than one, and lucky that in that process, he learnt how to save his own life. And he even discovered that he could care for another person in a way that he literally thought was beyond him. He'd never expected that.

When Simon wakes up, things are less light-hearted. Comfortable, but serious, as Simon traces a pattern on Nathan's chest.

'One day you really might have to talk to someone about it. don't have to, but I'm hoping it will be me.' Simon says, referring to those two nights with Fagin, and Nathan nods.

'You won't like it.'

Simon's hand stretches over Nathan's chest and pulls him into a one-armed hug.

'I'm not expecting to. I killed him because I didn't like it. And if I could do it again, I would.'

Nathan snorts.

'You're such a fucking superhero.'

Simon looks at him and smiles.

'Haven't you figured it out yet? We all are.'

Nathan opens his mouth to disagree, and then just closes his eyes and thinks that maybe Simon's right. Maybe they all are.