Next to You
Nick yawned tiredly. He was already out of bed and eating cereal at the table, too exhausted to cook anything more, but he didn’t feel any more awake. He probably would have ended up with his face in his bowl if Maddie didn’t very kindly shove some coffee under his nose.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, taking a sip automatically.
“Oh my god, that’s hot,” he choked, his eyes watering and his throat burning.
“Well, you’re awake now,” Andrew put in unhelpfully.
Nick sipped some milk from his cereal just to soothe his stinging throat. “Yeah, burning my throat—great way to wake up,” he deadpanned with a roll of his eyes.
“Sorry,” Maddie apologized, sitting down with her own cup in her hands. “I kind of thought that you’d see the steam and feel that the cup was hot.”
Andrew broke apart his English muffin with his fingers and smeared some jam on it. “Yeah, what’s up? You’re usually only this tired at the end of tax season.”
Nick took a sip of his still-too-hot coffee to hide his bashful smile. He’d been up late to genuinely work on some tough cases with a time crunch—which he had been struggling to pay attention to when he was forcing himself not to text Vincent again.
To text his boyfriend again. His boyfriend. It was hard to hide that smile, but Andrew and Maddie had been so wrapped up in whatever post-engagement haze they were in that they had given him some time to practice.
“I got a few tough cases that I’ve had to stay up late on,” Nick said truthfully, waving away their concern. “The clients only gave me a week to go through years of numbers.”
“Wow, I hope they’re paying you well,” Andrew mused.
Nick shrugged. “Overtime, yeah.” What he didn’t say was that the only thing getting him through the slog was having dinner with Vincent that evening.
Andrew took a bite of his food. “This is why I like working in a dental office—the day is always over at five.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you,” Maddie joked, nudging him playfully.
Nick zoned out of the conversation after that, focusing more on his coffee and cereal. He yawned even after two cups, and even after a shower. Apparently, hot water and caffeine couldn’t quite jolt him all the way awake after a whole week of exhaustion.
He still smiled at his phone though when he saw Vincent’s text. Is tonight at five-thirty still okay?
I’ll have my case finished by then, Nick confirmed. I can’t wait.
It was their first date. Well, first date as boyfriends. Nick felt that silly smile on his face again, which he had to take a few deep breaths to tame before he was walking out the door to finish out the work week.
Nick did indeed like his job, but work definitely did not make him smile that day. Constant calls and more numbers to run made him just want to sleep, and he purposely skipped lunch to make sure that he wasn’t late for Vincent.
But he finally got his work done, five o’clock finally came, and Nick was rushing out before anyone could tell him to stay to do just one more thing. He still ended up staying a little late, but he arrived right on time to meet Vincent at five-thirty.
“Sorry if I made you wait,” Nick apologized sheepishly. He hoped that he wasn’t too sweaty from running down the street.
Vincent shook his head, unbothered. “I had to stay a little late too, so it’s alright.”
Nick straightened himself out, trying not to look to harried with his wrinkled shirt and tired-feeling eyes. “Big book emergency at the New York Public Library?”
Vincent slipped his hand into Nick’s and smirked. “You would be surprised at how often that happens.”
Nick felt his heart skip pleasantly. He leaned down to give Vincent a kiss, managing to keep it relatively chaste. Relatively. He felt some mix of fire and relief as the day’s stress melted away, uncurling from his chest to be replaced with those tingles. It was difficult not to want to press the two of them more closely together, regardless of how many people might be walking by.
Vincent’s green eyes shone brightly when they separated. “Come on, Nickolas. You look like you need a break.”
Nick let himself be tugged forward by Vincent’s hand in his, feeling content as his heart flipped. “So, tell me about these book emergencies? Is it like hunting down missing books or something with the archives or did someone mess up one of the exhibits?”
“It’s nice that you think I could handle all of those things,” Vincent quipped. “I was doing a lot of cataloging and transcribing today, and yes, there were a few missing books. And a lot of researchers for some reason,” he recalled, looking curious.
Nick yawned into his elbow before he could speak. “And they all come to you? That sounds like a lot of questions.”
“And a lot of walking. It’s a big place,” Vincent commented, “But you’re the one who probably fields people’s questions all day.”
Nick groaned. “It’s like you literally saw me working today.”
“Oh, Nick,” Vincent said sympathetically. “I hope I haven’t been distracting you too much this week?”
Nick looked to him, smiling tiredly. “Going on a date with you is all that’s been getting me through this week.” He couldn’t stop himself from yawning again. When he looked back at Vincent, he saw the man’s eyebrows crinkle in concern.
“You look tired, Nick,” he said softly. “Are you sure that you really want to go out tonight?”
“I definitely do!” Nick exclaimed. He felt a little betrayed when he yawned for a third time. “Sorry, sorry. I really do want to go out with you, Vincent.”
Vincent looked up at him, and gently, he reached up to run the pad of his thumb over Nick’s cheek, right under his eye where he was sure were dark bags. Nick closed his eyes for just a moment to relish in the feeling.
He blinked them back open tiredly when Vincent removed his hand. “I’d love to go out with you, Nick, but how about we make this date a little more casual? You look like you’ll fall asleep standing, and we both already know that I’m not strong enough to carry you back.”
Nick huffed out a tired laugh. “Do I really look that bad?”
“You look like a rumpled kitten,” Vincent answered, which Nick took to be a good thing based on Vincent’s fond gaze. “Let’s go—you need some sleep and I remember where you live.”
Nick pouted. “I don’t want to sleep through our first date though.” Despite his words, he was completely unbothered by the fact that Vincent began to lead him back to his own apartment. He was so exhausted that it actually felt nice to let the other man pull him along.
He was very aware of how warm Vincent’s hand was when the man spoke, “How about I lie down too then? I can’t leave in the middle of our date now, can I?” He said it with this little smirk that made his green eyes crinkle.
Nick wanted to hug him right there, but he contented himself with giving Vincent’s hand a squeeze and letting him lead the way.
Both Andrew and Maddie were out when the two of them got back. So much for Andrew being done at exactly five. Maybe he was going on a date with Maddie or doing errands or something and Nick had missed it while he’d been zoned out that morning.
“Oh good, I did make my bed,” Nick murmured when he got his door open.
“Do you not usually?” Vincent chuckled from behind him.
Nick took a seat on the queen bed, sighing in relief. “I think I was on autopilot this morning because I don’t remember doing it.”
He had a moment of nervousness when he saw Vincent in his room. Nick definitely didn’t think that Vincent would first see his room like this, and it didn’t help that he hadn’t exactly cleaned up everything. At least he’d put away all of his laundry, and his nightstand and closet looked sufficiently clean. It was his desk that looked like a bomb had hit it, with papers, a few granola bar wrappers, and some empty cups spread around.
Vincent only smiled sympathetically though. “Looks like you’ve been having some late nights.”
Nick let his lips quirk up tiredly. “All week.” He had to fight the urge to shut his eyes still sitting up. The bed was just so inviting beneath him.
Vincent simply walked around the mess and slipped off his shoes. He leaned in close and pressed a kiss to his lips briefly. Nick had a hard time opening his eyes again when Vincent pulled back. “Go to sleep, Nickolas.”
“Only for a little while,” Nick murmured, loosening a few of the buttons on his shirt.
Vincent nodded. “Just a little while,” he confirmed, his voice hypnotic.
Nick didn’t remember how he had gotten from sitting up to lying down with his head on his pillows. He could feel Vincent get into bed beside him, but he was too tired to move so that they could lie underneath the comforter. He drifted off before he could tell Vincent that he could use the blanket at the end of the bed.
Even without a blanket, Nick was warm when he woke. Warm and comfortable and close to someone—Vincent, his brain supplied, recalling their date.
Vincent. A lazy smile slipped onto Nick’s face as he shifted, feeling something hit his nose. As much as he wanted to forget about it and fall back asleep, Nick opened his eyes.
He must have slipped closer to the man in his sleep, because he was currently tucked into that space underneath his jaw, his nose at Vincent’s throat and his hand on the man’s chest. Nick could hear the man breathing softly and could feel his chest rise and fall. He thought that he should feel nervous for being so close or maybe guilty for being so tired, but all he felt in that moment was contentment.
Nick stretched out his legs and settled down, seriously contemplating just inching closer and going back to sleep.
The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he was ravenously hungry, and he could hear that Vincent clearly was too.
Nick stretched again, silently enjoying that last moment of closeness—and hoping that he would get another moment like this—before he had his elbow underneath him and was rubbing his eyes. He got this fuzzy feeling in his chest when he looked at Vincent.
The man was obviously still asleep, breathing evenly. His black hair was rumpled and sticking up against the pillow he was lying on. The contrast between his dark hair and the white pillow was striking. His glasses had been deposited on Nick’s nightstand.
Nick felt some sort of fond lump in his throat when he saw how absolutely relaxed Vincent looked as he slept there. He lightly brushed the man’s hair back, and froze when Vincent shifted, but didn’t wake.
This man really was beautiful—that was Nick’s most prominent thought. Even with his rumpled vest and messy hair, Vincent was simply easy on the eyes.
Nick smiled down at him, sitting up more fully. Based on the dregs of light coming in from the window and the silence outside his room, it had either only been a few hours and his friends were still out, or it was morning and those two were asleep. Checking his phone for the time, Nick was glad that it was the former.
He reached down to the foot of the bed for the blanket hanging there, and shook it out to drape it over Vincent. The man went on sleeping, completely unbothered.
Nick’s resolve to get out of bed almost crumbled when he leaned down to kiss Vincent on the forehead, but the empty feeling in his stomach gave him no other choice but to get up—as carefully as possible so that he didn’t wake his boyfriend.
Quietly, Nick padded to his door and shut it softly behind him. He flipped on the lights to the kitchen and got to work.
While Nick was pleased that Andrew and Maddie were out for the simple reason that he wasn’t quite ready to tell them about Vincent yet, he was also glad that neither of them could see him humming happily as he grabbed some leftover chicken, some marinara sauce, and a few spices. Here he was, humming and with this light feeling in his chest, and he had literally just slept next to his boyfriend. Unbidden, the possibility of not so literally sleeping with his boyfriend flashed through his mind.
Nick felt warm again. He couldn’t attribute it to the heat of the stove, nor did he want to.
He tasted his sauce, dumped the chicken in, and added some extra spice. Once he had everything on some good sandwich rolls, he threw in some cheese on top. It wasn’t the fanciest thing, but Nick wanted to be back before Vincent woke.
Vincent was indeed still asleep when Nick returned with two plates in hand. He had to set those plates down before he crawled back into bed and shook the man lightly.
“Vincent?” Nick called lowly. “Vincent?”
The man in question groaned and curled up, looking even more adorable. Nick smiled down at him and shook him again. “Time to wake up and eat, honey.”
The pet name had genuinely just slipped out. Nick wasn’t exactly sure if Vincent had been awake enough to register that he’d said it though; the man sighed like the prospect of waking up was too much work and murmured, “’m tired though. An’ it’s nice to sleep next to you.”
Nick smiled bashfully. “You’re also really hungry. I can hear your stomach, you know.”
Vincent sighed again. “I was excited to see you. Didn’t eat much for lunch.”
“No. Just didn’t cross my mind to eat.” The smell of food must have been tempting though, because Vincent gave another sigh and forced himself to sit up. He rubbed his green eyes sleepily and turned his attention to Nick.
Nick leaned forward to give him a kiss. It only lasted for about a second, but it felt surprisingly intimate. “I made dinner,” he said lightly, reaching over to get their plates.
Vincent smiled tiredly at him. “How sweet,” he mumbled. He only seemed to wake slightly after he’d taken a bite. “Whoa, this is delicious. You made this?”
Nick nodded and shrugged. “It’s nothing impressive. Just some chicken and sauce.”
“It’s like… deconstructed chicken parmesan,” Vincent mumbled, sounding amazed. “You’re pretty impressive, Nickolas.”
Nick hid his bashful smile beneath a mouthful of sandwich. “You’re just impressed because you’re starving.”
Vincent hummed. He had to swallow before he could speak again. “Sure, but this is really good. If there’s one thing I’ll do as your boyfriend, it’ll be to get you to accept a compliment.”
He said it so casually, but Nick felt his face go red. There was something about the word “boyfriend” mixed with that easy confidence in Vincent’s voice that made Nick feel his heart grow in his chest—like Vincent truly believed that him and his boring job and cooking skills were truly something impressive.
“I, uh,” Nick stammered, choosing to take another bite of food to avoid spewing out his disconnected thoughts.
Vincent shifted to sit a little closer to him, smiling lightly. His eyebrows pinched in confusion. “Hey, are my glasses over there? You’re blurry.”
Nick reached over for his glasses and slipped them onto Vincent’s nose. He let his hand drift over Vincent’s hair for a second before he lowered it. “I…” Nick started, still not quite sure of what he wanted to say.
“Do I still jumble up your thoughts then?” Vincent asked softly.
Nick chuckled under his breath. “Oh, for sure. You’re going to have to not judge me too hard when I stammer around on a date that doesn’t involve sleeping.”
He wasn’t sure if it was presumptuous that he hoped that they would be going on a second date when they had just slept in the same bed, but Vincent smiled pleasantly. “I’ve seen you drunk and I’ve seen you exhausted. You’re going to have to try pretty hard to scare me away.”
“Next time I’ll have to get sick. But seriously, no—I hate being sick,” Nick finished, frowning at the thought of jinxing himself somehow.
Vincent patted his knee, giving it a little squeeze. “Since we’re crossing our fingers that you’ll stay healthy, what do you want to do for our second date then?” He took another bite of his food, and Nick had the feeling that he would have to make more sandwiches for them.
“Wow, was I really that impressive today that I get a second date?” he joked.
“Well, you don’t snore. Definite second date material,” Vincent joked in return. He finished his food—which Nick was thankful for when he got another chance to lean forward for a kiss.
Vincent kissed him gently, with a smile stretched onto his lips. Nick sighed at the comfortable pressure between them and grabbed onto Vincent’s shirt, pulling him just a little closer. Despite the fire Nick felt run through him, the kiss remained slow, making Nick’s heart jump in some kind of excited way in his chest.
When he pulled back, he smiled breathlessly down at Vincent. “I could really get used to kissing you like that.”
Vincent looked just as breathless. He leaned in for another peck on the lips. “Am I ruining you for women everywhere?”
He said it as a joke, but Nick said seriously, “Oh, definitely. Do you want anything else to eat, hun?”
This time, Vincent had definitely heard the pet name. He didn’t leave Nick any time to feel nervous about it though, not when he smiled pleasantly and handed his plate over. “That would be great, Nickolas.”
Nick usually hated it when people called him by his full name, but he had a feeling that the way Vincent said it would one day make him spontaneously combust.
What a way to go though.