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but the heart beats on as warmly now

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so, they move in together after the war. they share a small house, work the good-sized garden early in the morning and then lend their labor elsewhere for the day, coming home in the evenings to a companionable dinner over the rickety little table placed by the stove. albert teases jeff about the old ladies down at the general store and jeff blushes and stutters, flings a half-hearted spoonful of mashed potatoes that albert ducks, laughing.

at night they’ll go their separate ways into their own drafty little rooms and settle in for bed. sometimes, they’ll both crawl into one or the other’s cramped little cot, for warmth or comfort or both. they don’t talk about it; it’s something carefully sidestepped during daylight hours, packed neatly into the same box as the episodes that albert sometimes has or jeff’s awful proposal.

as a result they are left in this strange limbo, close friends who are somehow more than that, who share affectionate kisses on occasion.

when jeff wakes to the creaking noise of his door being pushed open, then, he’s neither surprised nor alarmed, and instead half-drifts back into sleep, listening vaguely to the scuff of socked feet over the floor. the old mattress sags, slightly, right at the edge- jeffrey sleeps on his back and there’s no other place for albert to sit- and albert pokes him in the ribs, hard enough to make jeff grunt with discomfort and wake more fully, then climbs over him and settles so his knees bracket jeff’s hips. 

albert’s blue eyes look very, very dark in the gloom, and the two of them sit there like that for a moment, scarcely daring to breathe. jeff is awake, now, and very aware of every point of contact, of the blanket between them. albert wears only his peculiar nightclothes- a shirt and soft trousers, thick woolen socks- but seems unbothered by the night’s chill, content to just sit and watch.

“al?” his voice comes out a harsh whisper and jeff swallows thickly past the lump in his throat. “’s everythin’ alright? nightmares?”

albert just blinks at him, apparently as taken aback by his speaking as he himself had been, then nods, a jerky, uncoordinated movement. strange. “no,” he says, voice rough, “no, i’m fine, just — ”

he cuts himself off and jeff can see his brows furrow in the dim light, something like consternation sweeping over his expression; jeff lays a comforting hand on the other man’s thigh and albert looks at him for a long moment, then leans forward. 

it’s soft, at first, sweet and nervous like so many of their kisses before. jeff allows it, even encourages it; he squeezes albert’s thigh where his hand rests, tilts his chin up into the kiss. albert sighs- a little puff of air- and leans into him, one arm braced over jeff’s shoulder, other hand pressing down against his chest. jeffrey’s hand moves, sliding up from albert’s thigh to press briefly at his hip and then settle at the small of his back, pulling him closer. 

one of them breathes in, sharp, and jeff isn’t sure who it was but he thinks that it was him, judging by the way that albert nips at his mouth and sucks at his bottom lip. he can’t help the reedy whine that rises in him at that and albert pauses, pulls back to peer at him consideringly, looking far more settled than before. 

“jeffrey n. davis.” they’re breathing hard, the both of them, and jeff has to fight not to shift his hips when albert leans back and away, to not grind up against him. albert’s dark, dark eyes snap up to look at him and jeff slides his hand down to albert’s hip, pressing with his thumb against the sharp jut of bone there. “you’re awfully pretty, you know that?”

it’s one of those frank statements that albert throws at him, occasionally, out of the blue, and jeffrey can’t stop the hot flush that he feels creeping up over his ears. “aw, c’mon now,” he says, flopping back against the mattress. albert’s hand is curled in his nightshirt, pressed against his shoulder. “stop tryin’ to butter me up, you rat.”

albert leans in to kiss him again, all but sprawled over his chest; he’d had to scoot up in order to be able to reach jeff’s mouth again, instead now perched on his stomach. the blanket is thin, anyways; there’s no hiding anything. jeffrey wraps an arm around albert’s waist, tangles a hand in his hair; albert, in response, bites a bruise into his neck, hard enough to make his breath catch. 

they’ve kissed a few times, sure, but nothing more than that, one or the other breaking things off before things went too far, careful not to leave marks. but albert’s teeth dig into his skin and jeff can’t help the way his hips buck at the sting, his head thrown back against the rather sorry pillow. he can feel more than hear albert hum as he presses a kiss to the area he’d bitten- no blood, no broken skin, but there would doubtless be a rather stark bruise come dawn- and sits up, leans back against jeff’s propped-up thighs.

this is normally where they’d part ways so jeffrey is bracing himself, taking a deep, steadying breath to watch albert clamber off the bed and out the door, back to his own room for the night. instead, though, albert looks right at him and says, “can i?”

and jeff pauses, his heart beating fast, confused, “wh-what? can you what?”

“y’know,” albert says, sounding almost frustrated, and jeffrey could have sworn he saw the other man’s cheeks darken in the gloom, his chapped, kiss-swollen lips pressed into a thin line. “aw, c’mon jeff, don’t string me on like this.”

“i don’t — al, darlin’, i really don’t think i follow.”

albert makes a noise low in his throat- one that goes straight down jeff’s spine- and makes a rather obscene gesture towards his mouth. 

“oh,” jeffrey breathes out, a bit stunned, and swallows thickly, licks his lips; even in the dark, he can see albert’s eyes tracking the movement. “i s’pose — yes, yes please.”

something in albert’s expression changes, then, at that breathy little please. he moves so he is no longer straddling jeff’s hips and jeff clumsily kicks off the blanket and then albert is kissing him again, hard, almost triumphant, pushing him back against the old mattress. he drags kisses along jeff’s neck, snakes his cold hands up under the nightshirt; jeff tugs it off, nearly tearing it in his haste, pulls albert back for another kiss.

albert allows it, for a moment, then continues downward, nipping at jeff’s clavicle. he pauses a moment, then almost as if experimenting, drags his thumb over one of jeffrey’s nipples; the response is immediate and gratifying, from the way that jeff breathes in sharply to his arched back, and albert grins and files it away for later. for if they ever do this again.

it’s inelegant and graceless, the way he scoots back as he kisses and nips down jeffrey’s chest and stomach until he’s nestled between the other man’s legs, takes a moment to look him over; jeff is flushed down to his chest, skin red with embarrassment or arousal or both, and he’s watching albert with wide, wide green eyes, breathing hard. and he’s quiet, too quiet; the jeff davis that albert knew could never shut his damn gob.

“never done this before,” albert says almost conversationally, his voice quavering just the tiny bit, and jeffrey barks out a laugh, his smile lopsided in the way it was only when he was nervous. “scoot up.”

“neither’ve i,” jeff tells him, but he scoots up the bed, long legs splayed on either side of albert’s shoulders as the smaller man settles on to his stomach. something flutters deep in his chest, and he presses an affectionate little kiss to the inside of jeff’s thigh. he hears him sigh in response. “kissed a few people, ‘course, you and then a few young ladies back in belvidere before the war, but that was real different, nothin’ like this, and — ”

his rambling cuts off in a strangled moan as albert takes him in hand, drags the flat of his tongue over the head of his cock and then swallows down as far as he can. they’re both inexperienced: albert, too ambitious, chokes a little, and the shiver that runs through jeff’s body tells him that he won’t last very long. even so he threads his fingers through albert’s short hair, not pushing or pulling, but rather just leaving his hand as a comforting weight against the back of albert’s head. 

albert’s eyes flutter closed as he finds a rhythm, taking as much of jeff as he can in his mouth and fisting the rest, slick with both saliva and precum. it’s a clumsy rhythm at best, and he braces his forearm over jeffrey’s hips to keep him from moving, but despite his own shortcomings jeff’s fingers tighten in his hair, his thighs tense.

“al — “ jeffrey’s voice comes out as a warning, sounding like a choked-up sob.

he doesn’t stop- instead increases his pace- and hums in acknowledgement, and that’s what seems to tip jeff over, his back arching, one foot lifting off the bed. he tastes bitter, really, but albert only draws back once he’s sure jeff’s finished, his face screwed in distaste. there were no spittoons in the house- neither of them chewed tobacco- and the chamber pot was downstairs, tucked away until it was too cold to actually walk to the outhouse in the winter, so —

albert swallows reluctantly, coughing, and grabs jeff’s discarded nightshirt from the floor to wipe his mouth with. 

“hey,” jeffrey says, but the protest sounds half-hearted at best, sated and content. albert shoots him a sharp look but jeff just turns on his side, back to the wall, and fishes the blanket back with his foot. “you’re the one that’s gonna wash that tomorrow.”

“not on your life,” albert returns easily, but he’s watching jeff closely, drinking in the sight of his bare chest and the dip of his hipbones. he’d seen jeff in the nude before, of course- on several occasions- but he’d always averted his gaze quickly, uncomfortable; he’d never been given leave to look, before. “i did enough of your smelly laundry down in dixie.”

jeff laughs, and pulls him into a quick kiss; the grin he flashes is still tinged with embarrassment, and he kisses albert again, deeper this time, and albert leans into it, his hip pressed against jeff’s stomach. a hand slides up his thigh and albert can’t help but tense on pure instinct; the hand pauses, begins to draw away.

“no,” he breathes out, bumping his nose against jeff’s, catching the other’s wrist and pressing his palm back against his thigh, if perhaps higher up. “this’s fine, jeff.”

“just fine?” his tone is teasing but mellowed, colored with something approaching concern, and albert finds it as endearing as he does exasperating. “it ain’t a trade-off, we don’t gotta do this —”

“it’s fine, jeff,” albert repeats, more confident now, the kiss this time little more than a brush of lips. he was nervous, of course he was; he’d spent years hiding away, and even though jeff knew, on some level, that didn’t mean that he knew. but albert trusted him- loved him, even, in his own way- and so he’d trust him with this, too. “i promise.”

jeff drags him down into a kiss and albert lets it happen, fingers curling into jeff’s hair and pulling, coaxing a soft moan from him even as jeff’s hand creeps ever higher on his thigh. albert shivered; it felt strange, someone else touching him there, but not necessarily in a bad way.

just… vulnerable, was all. 

the kiss was soft, meant to be reassuring, and albert appreciates it more than he can say. he moves to straddle one of jeff’s legs and jeff sits up, their foreheads pressed together, warm and sweetly intimate. jeffrey is more nervous than albert, more careful; he is at a loss and it is obvious, his movements far less confident. 

albert huffs out a laugh- there’s little else he can do- and feels jeff’s grin against his cheek as he takes his hand again, presses his fingertips between his thighs, rubbing small, tight circles through the soft material of the trousers he wore to sleep. he releases jeffrey’s hand once he’s certain that he’ll keep the rhythm, drawing him into a kiss with a comfortable sigh.

“awfully strange’ve you, wearin’ trousers to bed,” jeff says against his lips, teasing, and albert wants to pinch him.

“you’ve got a big mouth, jeffrey n. davis,” he replies, proud that he’s able to keep the faux-irritation in his voice strong. “careful i don’t make you use it.”

jeffrey stutters at that, his breath hitching, and albert pauses, leaning back enough to look at his expression. jeff, for his credit, meets his eyes head-on, but his cheeks are a furious red, eyes dark. albert, in return, can feel the heat rise to his own face.

he says, “jeff, that’s disgusting.”

“what?” and jeffrey, bless his heart, sounds almost offended on his behalf, expression going from abashed to vexed in the blink of an eye. he settles both of his (big, warm, albert can’t help but notice) hands on albert’s waist. “what’s so bad ‘bout it? albert, you did the same for me —”

“it ain’t a trade off,” albert mocks in a surprisingly skilled imitation of jeffrey’s drawl. despite all his supposed irritation, though, he doesn’t get up to leave, doesn’t try to shake off jeff’s hold on him. “i ain’t gonna make you do something you don’t want to, what kinda man do you think i am?”

“albert —”

“and besides, i can’t believe we’re having this argument,” and here he gestures vaguely, “while you’re… naked as a jaybird.”

jeff’s flush gets impossibly deeper and he prods albert in the ribs, hard enough to draw out a sharp hiss. “you’re not makin’ me do whatever i don’t wanna do,” he tells him firmly, uncharacteristically serious.

albert stares at him a second, the thought of jeff wanting to do this- of him wanting to… to put his mouth on him- adding to that knot of mingled arousal and apprehension sitting low in his gut. he looks away; the earnest determination painted across jeff’s face makes something uncomfortable twist between his ribs.

“fine,” he allows gruffly, and he can see jeff’s smile from the corner of his eye, warm. and then he’s being nudged off jeff’s lap, the two of them trying move around each other without tumbling off the narrow bed, and it’s a surreal enough situation that they both laugh, the nervous energy draining away.

“you’re gonna hafta take these off, y’know,” jeffrey says, sounding amused as he tugs at albert’s pant leg. a part of him resents jeff, for his comfort in his own skin, embarrassed not because he is naked but rather because there is someone to see his nakedness; as it is, he sits between albert’s splayed legs, his own too-long legs folded neatly, one of albert’s feet hanging off the edge of the mattress to accommodate him. “if- if you want to, that is.”

albert doesn’t move for a long moment, leaning back on his elbows as he takes a deep, steadying breath. he couldn’t exactly say that he’d fantasized about this- sex, while oft joked and bragged about in the army, had always been taboo for albert. sure, he joked with the best of him, bragging about all the girls he’d kissed when he felt mischievous enough to be included, but anything else was strictly off limits; some things would always be too far out of his reach, and albert had just resigned himself to being happy with his own hand.

but here, now, with jeffrey… well. he trusted jeff, with his life and with other things. 

so albert kicks his way out of his trousers, stony determination writ across his face, but he catches jeff’s hand when the other man reaches for his shirt, offering a minute shake of his head. “this stays.”

and that’s that. jeff scoots down and albert is still as a statue; teeth scrape over his hipbone just hard enough to sting, and he bites his lip. he’d only been a little nervous, before, but his his heart beats loud in his chest; it was scant consolation knowing that it wasn’t just his first time.

he tilts his head back and stares hard at the ceiling, just barely making out the slats of wood in the darkness. he can feel jeffrey’s hands- warm, calloused from work- slide along the backs of his thighs, pressing slightly and, dear god, opening him up. albert lets out a shaky sigh, louder than it was supposed to be in the quiet gloom, and he can feel jeff brush a kiss against the soft skin of his inner thigh.

and then — what can only be jeff’s tongue pressing against him, dragging upwards. albert makes a startled noise, hands reflexively grabbing at the sheets; he dares to look down, then, sees jeffrey’s face between his legs, eyes closed, brows slightly furrowed. it’s a foreign feeling, clumsy and probing and unsure, far different from his own fingers.

albert shifts his weight to one elbow and reaches to tangle his hand in jeffrey’s hair, pulling him closer; jeff’s grip shifts to albert’s hips and he makes a sound somewhere between amusement and a moan, cracking one pretty green eye open to glance up at him. he flicks the tip of his tongue over albert’s clit seemingly by accident and pauses only briefly at the soft little noise that albert makes, the way his thighs tense around his ears, and then closes his lips around it and sucks. 

“oh, lord, jeff,” albert can’t help the choked moan that forces its way past his lips, and he claps a hand over his mouth, breathing hard, bouncing back against the mattress. he can feel a slight scrape of teeth, jeff dragging the flat of his tongue over albert's clit, lapping at him until he's shaking with it. the knot that had gathered low in his stomach tightens and he arches against jeffrey’s mouth, strange and suspended and tense, before he goes slack all at once, blood rushing in his ears.

albert says emphatically, “fuck,” and plants a socked foot on jeff’s shoulder, nearly pushing him off the bed for the far-too-pleased expression on his face. he just laughs, though, and fishes for his nightshirt to wipe his face with; albert takes the opportunity to tug his trousers back on.

and then he pulls jeffrey into a kiss- poor jeff makes a surprised noise against his mouth before he leans into it- biting down hard on jeff’s lower lip. he tastes strange, albert decides as they break apart, a mix of bitter and salty, licking his lips. 

“that’s uncalled for, darlin’,” jeff tells him, rubbing at his mouth, and a scowl flickers over albert’s face at the endearment that just makes jeffrey grin.

“i could leave,” albert threatens, swinging his feet to the floor, glancing back over his shoulder. he felt loose and boneless and doesn’t really want to walk anywhere, but he supposes that he could if he had to. “i’ll do it right now, just watch.”

they both know it’s an empty threat, though, and when jeffrey smiles at him- a true smile, not a grin, warm and soft and full of something that albert doesn’t want to call love- albert smiles back.