When the phone rang, Antonio rolled over, squinted at the screen - 12:03 - and the Nathan-flamingo. "'lo?" he mumbled.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie. I wasn't able to get away as early as I hoped..." There was road noise in the background.
"Yuh," he agreed. "Sorry, I'm..." he broke off to yawn.
"I should let you go back to sleep," Nathan said. "Maybe I shouldn't have called."
"You're still coming over, right?" Antonio tried to yawn silently. Wait, Nathan was trying to say he wasn't coming over? He sat up and rubbed his face.
"You want me to?"
"Yes!" Even with his brain fogged by sleep, he knew some of the right answers. "We can... uh. I need a minute." He fumbled for the lamp by the bed, and blinked in the light.
"It's not like this is our only chance to meet up."
"You're not right at my door, are you? Come on over. I'll be fine."
"Well, if you insist," Nathan said, sounding all coy.
"Yes," Antonio said firmly. "I do. Get over here."
After they hung up, he ran his hands through his hair. He had five or ten minutes, probably... should he shower? No, he'd showered right after he got home, he should be okay. Brush his teeth, he decided. Check for lube and condoms and all of that. Quick sweep of the living room for empty bottles or anything else. When the doorbell rang, it occurred to him that he could have included "put on pants" or "comb hair" in the list, but it was a little late now. No one would be on the street to see him in his underwear anyway. He opened the door.
Nathan looked him up and down, smiling. All right, pants would have been a waste, Antonio thought, even as he felt his face heat up and his groin stir at Nathan's appreciative survey. "Happy to see me?" Nathan asked.
He was torn between embarassment and fondness, but his voice just came out gruff. "Shut up and get in here," he growled, pulling Nathan in by the hand and shutting the door.
"It's your gracious manners that really won my heart," Nathan said, but then he kissed Antonio, saving him from responding to that. He pulled back after a moment, Antonio's face between his hands. "I mean it, baby. You look exhausted. Did you get any sleep last night?"
"A little?" he said. "I was worried I'd pissed you off."
Nathan smiled slightly. "You did, a bit, but nothing to lose sleep over. I know I kept you up the night before that..."
"That was more me," Antonio admitted. "I was kind of freaking out. Can we go back to the kissing part?"
"No, you just reminded me. What's so scary about me?"
"It's not you," he said, regretting he'd ever used that word. "It's... I'm not good with words, you know that." He covered one of Nathan's hands with his, and turned his face enough to kiss the palm.
Nathan just rested his head against Antonio's chest, but after a moment he said, "I think I know what you mean."
Nathan looked up, wearing that half-smile again, and kissed him softly on the lips. "You should go back to bed. We can talk more in the morning."
"You comin' with me?"
Nathan just smiled at him, and kicked his shoes off. His toenails were painted pink, Antonio noticed. "Lead the way," he said.
He hadn't actually meant to - he'd been thinking he'd prove he was fully alert and ready to go - but he fell asleep while Nathan was taking off his makeup. He didn't even notice when Nathan came to bed, sleeping too soundly for any creaking of the mattress or fight for the covers to get through to him. He woke around six, just before his alarm, to find a warm, very solid body in bed next to him, and then he remembered. He shut off the alarm, then rolled over onto his side, draping an arm over Nathan's waist and curling up against his back. Of course Nathan slept naked. He didn't know why he hadn't expected it. They could both sleep in a little, he thought. Probably.
Except apparently Nathan wasn't a very sound sleeper, because Antonio had barely gotten comfortable before he felt Nathan's hand covering his. "Aren't you chipper," Nathan said sleepily.
"Well, one part of you is," Nathan said.
Antonio felt his face heat, but he managed to say, "Hey, can you blame me?"
"Mm." Nathan snuggled back into him a bit. "I'm a mess, though."
"Huh? You mean you haven't shaved? I don't care. I guess if you do..."
"Morning breath, stubble..."
"Nathan, you always look good to me." Nathan turned halfway over, enough for Antonio to kiss him on the mouth. Okay, the breath was pretty rank, but his was nothing to write home about either, and stubble, well... he didn't see or feel anything he'd even call five o'clock shadow, not that he'd have cared if he did. He slid his hand up Nathan's chest, rubbed a thumb over one nipple, and then tried kissing his collarbone when Nathan threw his head back.
"Now you're just not playing fair."
"Nope," Antonio agreed. "You can get out of bed whenever you want, though," he said, then lowered his head to Nathan's chest, flicking his tongue against the nearest nipple before he closed his mouth over it.
"Really unfair," Nathan groaned, but he laid there for a moment, breathing heavily, letting Antonio continue. Then he pulled away, pushed Antonio over onto his back, and climbed on top of him.
"Okay," Antonio said, running his hands up and down Nathan's thighs. "You're the boss. Might work out better if you let me take off my underpants, though."
"Oh, fine," Nathan sighed, and Antonio was grinning at the mock-petulance as he peeled them off. "I might ask you to roll over onto your stomach..."
"You don't have to be all sneaky about it," Antonio said. "Being with you is worth a sore ass the rest of the day."
Nathan seemed speechless for a moment, but he came back with, "It's not being sneaky. It's being persuasive."
It turned out the persuasion started with a backrub - "you're gonna put me back to sleep," Antonio warned - which then focused in on his ass, but once he got over trying not to laugh about that, he found himself instead hiding his face in the sheets. Nails and fingertips trailed over skin, waking up nerves he was barely aware of the rest of the time. He hadn't realized exactly how good this could feel, and while he couldn't hide his breathing, the way he shuddered when Nathan's light touch hit certain spots, he could at least keep his face hidden. "I want to see you," Nathan murmured, but he didn't stop what he was doing, and Antonio couldn't hide his reactions any other way. He felt Nathan's fingers spreading him, stroking along his crack, stopping just short of the hole, then lifting his hips, nudging his legs open enough that he could stroke the sensitive skin just behind his balls. That was when he groaned, and while Nathan seemed to pause for a moment, he didn't stop. Antonio felt something warm and soft pressed against his ass, then the hot flick of Nathan's tongue, and he groaned the other man's name, his hands clenched in the sheets.
"Are you saying you want me to stop?" Nathan asked, and Antonio nearly sat up just to give him a disbelieving stare.
"I just want you to... I just want you."
"Normally I'd ask you to finger yourself for me, but I know you better than that."
"...yeah," Antonio mumbled, face flaming. Of course Nathan wasn't going to ruin his manicure every time he fucked a guy, but going on display like that...
"Can you roll over for me, baby?"
Antonio complied. "Figured you'd want to see my best feature, though," he said.
"I want to see your face," Nathan said, and kissed him lightly before he leaned over for the nightstand, opening the drawer to look for what he needed. Antonio watched him, the muscles moving under smooth, dark skin, and felt the same rush of affection and fear he'd had in Nathan's kitchen. Nathan turned back to him, his smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.
"Of course you found a pink condom," Antonio said, mostly just for the delighted laugh that got. They spent an awkward handful of moments sorting out where Antonio's legs should go, but then Nathan was pushing into him, more easily than Antonio had expected, but slowly, so slowly.
"All right?" Nathan asked, and Antonio nodded, most of his attention on the way it felt to be stretched around Nathan's cock, the electric jolt when Nathan hit his sweet spot, the slow rhythm of his thrusts. His hands roamed over Nathan's arms, his chest, his back - there was so much of Nathan he didn't know, hadn't touched, and he needed to fix that. He wrapped his legs around Nathan's hips, urging him in harder, deeper, and Nathan shifted position enough that he could wrap one hand around Antonio's cock. Antonio groaned, closed his eyes, and gave up to Nathan's skilled hands, stroking in time with his body.
"Antonio," Nathan said, and it was his voice that took him over the edge, left him gasping and panting, too lost in sensation to be self-conscious or embarrassed, even when he could see Nathan licking semen off his own hand. It didn't take Nathan much longer, and Antonio was still recovering when Nathan's movements slowed and finally stopped.
"Don't move," Nathan said, before he pulled out, and Antonio ignored that to reach for the box of tissue on the nightstand. When Nathan pouted at him, though, he left it that, laying still while Nathan disposed of the condom and returned to the bed to dab Antonio's belly and chest clean, then his own.
"Get down here," Antonio said when he seemed to be done, tugging Nathan back into the bed.
"You could have just asked," Nathan said, but he curled up against Antonio's side, head on his shoulder, like he'd been made to fit there.
"This worked," Antonio said. "Besides, I probably don't have you for too long."
"As long as you want," Nathan said, and sighed.
"What, really? You don't have anything this morning?"
"This morning? I meant more in the long term." There it was again - fear, and affection, and happiness. Nathan could probably hear his heart pounding, but he gave no sign of it as he continued, "No, I have a meeting at ten."
With the arm that wasn't around Nathan, Antonio reached for one of the hands on his chest, covering it with his own. "Long-term, huh?" he said softly. "Good."
"So was it my voice that did it for you, or saying your name?" Nathan eventually asked. "Antonio." He drew it out, with relish - he'd always enjoyed Antonio's name. Part of the reason he'd never shortened it. "Antonio," he repeated.
"I'm not Italian," Antonio complained. "That's how you're saying it."
"So? You'd rather be Tony? Answer the question."
Antonio sighed so heavily Nathan could feel it, and let the subject drop. "I don't know what it was. Why are you asking about this?"
"Because I'd like to know. Voice is versatile. Saying your name, not so much. I guess we'll just have to experiment."
"Damn," Antonio said happily. "Don't know how I'm gonna live with that."
Nathan smiled, and part of him would have liked to leave it at that, but he didn't want to spend any more time worrying about this. He propped himself up on one elbow, and Antonio turned his head to meet his eyes. Nathan drew a deep breath. "Sweetie, I have to ask... I'm serious about this. Are you?"
Antonio lifted a hand, fingers grazing Nathan's cheek. "Yeah. It's... scary. It feels sudden. But I ain't going nowhere."
"Sudden? I think I should have seen it coming miles away. On my side, anyway."
"Maybe I should have, too, if you weren't just joking around all the times you groped me."
"Did you think I'd grab just anybody's ass?"
"Kinda? If they were hot?"
"There you go," Nathan said, smiling as Antonio's eyes widened in realization, then flicked away from his with sudden self-consciousness. Nathan sat up. "I wish I could stay longer, but I need to get ready to go. You're welcome to sleep in..."
Fortunately, Antonio wasn't as interested in additional sleep as he was in helping Nathan shower. Nathan called it an experiment in refractory periods, and Antonio called "I don't want to make you late or nothin,' but don't stop doing that," and fortunately they didn't discover the limits of Antonio's hot water heater. Antonio managed to find a spare toothbrush - something to do with a health promotion - and Nathan took over the sink. Antonio watched from the edge of the bed as Nathan carefully put himself together as best he could with a borrowed razor and only the lipstick and lipliner he'd stashed in the pocket of his jacket. Nathan tried not to look his way. Antonio was watching him with open admiration - desire, even, and tenderness - and while Nathan was used to inspiring that kind of look, seeing it on Antonio's face was different. "I should have carried a purse," he lamented. "I can keep one of almost everything in a little clutch bag."
"You know you look good without any of that, right?" Antonio said. "You look good first thing in the morning with a pillowcase crease on your face."
"I think you may be biased," Nathan said, warm as that detail had made him feel.
"And I like you with stubble."
"Aw, honey." Nathan blotted his lips with a tissue and came back into the room to kiss Antonio on the cheek. This time it did leave a lip print. He rubbed it off Antonio's face with a tissue as he continued. "I know you do. This isn't about just looking good... how do I explain this? It's about how I want to look."
"I just don't want you refusin' to have sex with me in the mornings," Antonio said, slipping his arms around Nathan's waist. "You look good with it, you look good without... seeing you without any makeup or anything was kind of, uh..."
"Really? I thought surely you'd seen me that way before. In the locker room?"
"Yeah, well..." He was looking down again, all bashful - how could a man this massive be this adorable? "That night I crashed on your couch? You were just wearing some pajama pants... hey. If you wore those to sleep before, why'd you sleep naked here?"
Nathan giggled. "Why do you think? Besides, I couldn't very well answer the door naked. If I don't wear anything to bed, I keep something around in case of emergencies." He pulled away, dropped his towel on the bed, and began retrieving last night's clothes. Would he have time to drop by his apartment to freshen up, or would he have to do a walk of shame right into his office? "But go on."
"Oh. Uh... that was it. Hadn't seen you like that before. In the locker room you always, you know..." He mimed holding something up to his chest. It was true, that was how Nathan always wrapped up in a towel.
"Just because I'm stuck using the men's locker room doesn't mean I can't maintain some semblance of modesty."
"That wasn't... I dunno how to say it. It was like it changed how I see you?"
Let Antonio see him as male, not as androgynous, or feminine. Nathan wondered if he should feel hurt, but he wasn't blind; he'd seen how Antonio looked at him recently, even when he was made up to perfection. Just a catalyst, he hoped, not an ironclad preference. "Still want to see me in that dress?" he asked lightly, just to check, and the way Antonio reached for him was all the reassurance he needed. Maybe later he could try to explain how he preferred to present himself; he suspected it would take a while.
It wasn't really a priority, anyway. Not when they could sneak in furtive makeouts at the training center (nothing more - Antonio didn't find the risk of discovery to be the least bit of a turn-on) and spend free nights together, ruining what little semblance of a healthy sleep cycle either of them had ever maintained. It wasn't that they didn't talk at all when they were together, but they'd had four years to talk.
One of the things they didn't bother to discuss was whether or not they were going to tell their colleagues about the relationship. The question was answered for them after a couple of weeks when Nathan saw an opportunity to sneak up on Antonio and took it; the undignified shriek Antonio let out would have been plenty of reward even if he hadn't had a handful of Antonio's derriere at the same time.
"How are you so damn sneaky?" Antonio demanded. He wasn't doing anything to shake off Nathan's hand, though. Nathan slipped his other arm around Antonio's waist, reaching down in front, but Antonio caught that hand before it could reach its destination.
"I needed to see if I could still make you scream," Nathan explained. He'd been trying for an innocent tone, but laughter bubbled up through it.
"When you just ambush me like that, yeah!"
"That wasn't how you reacted last night..."
"Last night we weren't in public," Antonio countered.
Someone made a sort of choking sound in response to that, and both men's heads whipped in the direction of the noise. Karina had one hand pressed to her mouth, completely failing to hide her wide, gleeful smirk. Next to her, Sky High was simply staring at them, eyes wide, mouth hanging slightly open, face distinctly red. Not quite as red as Antonio's, but then, he was starting from a paler base, Nathan thought. "So, we have some news for everyone!" Nathan said brightly.
"I think... I think we get the general picture," Karina said. "We'll just be going!" She caught Sky High by the elbow and towed him out behind her. Then she poked her head back in and gave Nathan a thumbs-up. In full view of Antonio, but that was unavoidable. Nathan grinned and blew her a kiss, and she ducked back through the door, letting it hiss shut behind her.
"There, that wasn't so bad," Nathan said soothingly, and kissed the back of Antonio's neck. "I wasn't even molesting you."
"Depends on how you define it," Antonio said, but he turned so he could kiss Nathan again.
That was that, Nathan had thought, and been happy to consider things settled, but he hadn't counted on the fact that they worked together in a frequently dangerous pursuit. And that Antonio was exactly the kind of guy who got protective of his friends and loved ones; hell, that was what his whole power was about, even if he hadn't already been that way just by temperament.
Antonio was riding on the back of the Open Broil more and more these days; it spared him the launcher and gave him some mobility, and Nathan's hero division manager had given her usual long-suffering sigh and admitted she couldn't think of a reason for him not to do it. Antonio's managers didn't have any objections as long as he got points. It was another chase - escaping jewel thieves, this time, who'd staged such a brazen smash-and-grab that they couldn't have been surprised by Hero TV's involvement - which meant more coordination than the two of them had ever applied before.
Nathan spun the car to let Antonio jump off, checked to make sure he had a good footing on the rear bumper of the robbers' van, then spun back and zipped ahead to take out one front wheel with a fireball; he hoped that would make it less likely to overbalance onto Antonio. The driver tried to shoot at him, and he deflected it with an arc of fire as he swung back behind them - Antonio had drilled through the door in the back and collared at least one of the robbers - and around to the other side, where he took out the other front tire. The truck ground to a halt against a cement divider on its left, hopefully trapping the armed driver, and Nathan braked smoothly to a stop a few yards from them.
He saw Antonio step off the back, holding one of the crooks by the collar, and he saw the driver scrambling over to the passenger's side and pushing the door open. He was readying a fireball, shaping the flame between his hands, when suddenly Antonio shoved his arrest into Nathan, rumbling "Hold this." The fire fizzled out in his hands, Nathan grabbed the man by the arms in case he had more fight left in him than he seemed to, and a gun went off.
Of course. The driver. He heard Karina's voice some distance off, and felt a cool breeze, so she must have the other two, and Antonio was charging the driver, yelling something. Sweet of him to be so protective, Nathan thought, but really unnecessary. He could handle small-arms fire like this without breaking a sweat. The driver had pretty much frozen up at the sight of a brick wall armed with drills lurching towards him, and Antonio got another two hundred as he knocked the gun out of the man's hands. Nathan sighed - that should have been his, though it was hard to grudge Antonio any points - and began marching the accomplice over in Antonio's direction.
"I think this is yours," Nathan said, passing the crook back to Antonio. Nathan might not be burning up the charts either - his power was far too dangerous to be used as freely as most of the other heroes used theirs - but he also wasn't going to fire himself for poor performance.
"Hey," the guy protested.
"Nah, it's..." Antonio said, but Nathan persisted. "Okay, I guess." Antonio slung the man over his other shoulder, between the drill and the horns. He didn't get many escapes. Nathan hung back, enjoying the sight of Antonio walking away from him. They'd have to have a bit of a discussion about this. They weren't partners as heroes, but there was no harm in working together, as long as Antonio didn't get in his way. Which he'd done, however good his intentions.
He waited until the police cars drove off before he walked up to Antonio. He'd promised, so he got Antonio's attention with a hand on his arm, not his ass. Antonio turned. "Sorry about that," his voice echoed from within the helmet. "Sort of swiped your target there. It was just reflex."
"Mm," Nathan agreed. "Just don't let it happen again. Not if the gun is in front of me."
"Right," Antonio agreed, carefully putting one armored arm around Nathan's waist. "I know you're always watching my back. At least part of it. So I should have yours."
"Fair," Nathan agreed. "Baby, you have noticed there are still cameras around, right?"
"I know," Antonio said. "We're not doin' anything bad. Hands above the waist and everything." He tapped the side of his helmet, opening up the faceplate. "What d'you think? Enough room to kiss?"
Nathan studied his expression, but he didn't look the least bit uncertain. Kind of pleased with himself, in fact. "Only one way to find out," he said happily.
Nathan made sure to let one leg pop up when their lips met. A first kiss on camera needed to look perfect, after all.