Joe was pretty sure Nick wasn't actually aware he was doing it, or he would just never fall asleep, but Nick has always been a thumb-sucker. There were a few years, like ages eight through twelve where Nick didn't. After Nick turned thirteen though, started feeling less like his skin fit on his body and like there were too many shadows clogging up the world he lived in, Joe noticed the thumb slipping between his lips again, probably hooked behind his teeth. Joe knew it wasn't really a healthy habit, that it messed up your teeth, or something, but Nick already had his adult teeth and it was something Joe was sure he could tease Nick about at some point. He'd been tired of his baby brother always gaining over him when they made fun of each other. This was sure to blow Nick out of the water.
He never ended up using it though, because Nick only did it on particularly hard days, and then months before he was diagnosed, it was almost like he was too tired, too out of it to even lift his thumb to his mouth. That had made it a whole lot less funny, actually, and sometimes it made Joe curl around his baby brother in the backseat of their van like he was this lost little boy needing comfort. Joe was pretty sure that was exactly what Nick was, at that point in time. He'd known something was wrong, but he didn't know what it was until Nick had spent an hour in the hospital.
After Nick started feeling a little better, insulin helping to regulate his blood better, Nick slipped back into the pattern, right after he got over his stage of being stubborn as hell, a real man, and apparently even in his unconscious, he was aware that meant nothing should be in his mouth other than his very own tongue. Nick must have let sleep become actual sleep again, at some point, because the next thing Joe knew, Nick had begun sucking his thumb while he slept. It definitely wasn't funny anymore, just sweet.
Eventually, when they got bigger, started sharing rooms and Nick wasn't lost in the dark, coat covering him like a fort, when Joe could actually see him, nearly every night, going at it like an alcoholic to the bottle, Joe got used to it. It was still nice, almost comforting him as much as it settled Nick. Just, Joe didn't find himself staring at Nick while he did it as much, didn't curl around Nick, maybe partially because that would freak his brother out, but mostly because Nick was growing up, and he didn't want Nick to lose it, that thing that would always keep him about the age of seven to Joe.
One night, just to see, Joe put his own thumb in his mouth when Nick had fallen asleep. He suckled at it, tried to match the little noises Nick made when he did so, but it just wasn't the same. It kind of felt suffocating and Joe took it out after the fifth suck, swallowing all the excess spit from his mouth and inhaling to breathe again. He didn't know how Nick did it, and a sudden renewal of interest struck. Not only did it become sweet again, but it was actually kind of impressive.
Nick was sixteen the first time Joe let his eyes slip closed after watching closely, mesmerizing the movement of in and out as Nick sucked, slurped around his thumb, and his mind drifted a little further than his pretty normal urges to kiss Nick on the cheek or make a grab for his hand and swing it between them. More than anything, in that short moment, he wanted to pull Nick's thumb from his mouth, take Nick's lower lip between his own and kiss Nick into slumber, wondering if it would have the same effect. And maybe if not, Nick could suck on his tongue a little instead? Maybe he could help calm and relax his baby brother who so often would stay awake with too many thoughts in his head when for some reason, he just couldn't get his thumb between his lips in time.
He didn't really know what that thought was when he shook it from his head, his eyes shooting open a little, but he couldn't help but smile when there Nick was, laying on his side facing Joe, thumb between slightly puckered lips. Joe felt it in the bottom of his stomach, how much he still wanted to kiss Nick, how much that feeling had already taken up permanent residence, but he ignored it and fell asleep.
In December, after Nick had turned seventeen and Joe had turned twenty, Joe had almost gotten over Nick's habit, almost over wanting to kiss Nick (though not really; mostly he just liked to think he did). But then the summer had ended and slowly it built up until it was cold outside and flurries of snow fell outside their hotel window. Joe had been especially cold, even gotten the chills, though he didn't have a fever, wasn't actually sick. Nick, being the amazing brother he was, rolled his eyes at Joe's whining, pulled the blankets off his own bed, threw them on top of Joes', and then climbed in, only groaning in fake frustration when Joe pushed his cold nose into Nick's warm collar-bone, only tensed a little when Joe's hand curled around his waist, and just rubbed his foot over Joes' when he placed his frigid ones' between his own, sighing, but refraining from kissing the top of Joe's head.
Joe tried not to think about it, about when Nick would let sleep claim him and his thumb would just be there. He tried not to keep his eyes strained open, just waiting until he heard the soft noises, but he did... Joe felt it happen, when Nick raised his arm, and heard it, those sweet, barely-there sounds of Nick's youth betraying him. Squeezing a little tighter against Nick, Joe willed himself to stay put, not to look up. But he did... His eyes softened, his stomach curling warm inside at the sight, and he felt the sound at the back of his throat before it even emerged, a hum, too happy to even keep it all inside.
First, slowly, he rose from the bed a little, using his knees to give him more height as he moved forward. Nick didn't stir. His little brother always sucked on his right hand, Joe laying at his left, so there was space on the left side of Nick's face. Tentatively, Joe lowered himself, lips puckering just a little, and placed a soft kiss at the wet, left corner of his baby brother's mouth, feeling even more warm at the little moisture left on his lips after he pulled back, looking down and studying Nick. "Nicky..." Joe whispered carefully. He knew that wouldn't wake him, but it was out of courtesy or something.
One of Joe's arms was on one side of Nick, and the other was bent on his elbow, holding him up at the other side. He raised the one to Nick's right side, brushing softly over his stomach, careful and soothing whether Nick needed it or not. He probably would if he knew his older brother had just kissed him part-way on the mouth, if he knew Joe wanted to kiss him more. Because he didn't want to take advantage, if he hadn't already, Joe settled for kissing the end of Nick's fist, the one sort of bobbing toward, and away from his baby brothers' face, kissed it firm and warm, before settling back down. His nose nudged into the curve of Nick's ear, just to feel closer, and he pressed one small kiss to Nick's cheek before watching until he drifted off to sleep.
A few days passed after Nick shared Joes' bed and kept him warm. Joe waited it out, trying to shake the need to kiss Nick, even just once really, if that was all he could ever have. During those three or so days, he kept reminding himself that he couldn't even have that. What made it worse was that Nick was all smiles after that night, his eyes sort of unnaturally bright and Joe sort of wanted to hug him for it, did, several times. Nick liked to feel needed, he guessed, and Joe had definitely needed him that night, and probably wouldn't have been able to go to sleep if Nick hadn't stopped his chills.
After crawling into bed that night, twenty minutes passed and Joe found himself to be pretty restless, shutting his eyes tight and trying his best to fall asleep, even as he twisted himself in the sheets. He flipped over onto his stomach eventually to see if that might work better. When it didn't he buried one of half of his face in the pillow and breathed out, frustrated. "Cold?" Nick asked from the other bed and Joe opened his eyes, not really able to see Nick, but his outline. He sighed a little. There were two options... Say he was restless and just - nothing, maybe talking, which would be nice but not totally helpful. Or, he could make Nick feel needed again (obviously it would be for Nick, and not at all for Joe who basically loved him way too much, and Nicks' smiles had been fading, but just a little).
Nodding his head, Joe huffed out a, "Yeah," and pulled his blankets up close, shivering in them a little. Without any provocation, Nick pulled up the top layer of his bedding and threw it over his brothers' bed, even walking around and tucking it into one of Joe's sides. Then, Nick rounded to the other side, and though Joe was laying in the middle of the bed, Nick didn't even make him move, just slid in beside him, stomach down, and a little over Joe. Joe felt himself get sort of tingly everywhere; it was dull, but there and he breathed in slowly as his eyes adjusted to the dark and he could see Nick smiling softly at him, his lips so there, and beautiful. Closing his eyes, Joe snuggled a little closer, but didn't kiss his brother (which was a plus and if he were in school, he would have totally earned about six million gold stars). "Thank you," he said, his voice little. Nick chuckled, and his arm seemed to guide itself across the middle of Joes' back. "I'm glad you're my brother, Nicky," Joe felt the urge to say, opening his eyes when he did to see how Nick would react. His little brother laughed a little more.
"Thanks Joe... I'm glad you're my brother too." It sounded kind of condescending but that was okay with Joe. He just liked hearing it, his insides getting kind of fuzzy-warm at the words. They fell quiet for a while, but Joe realized then, why Nick wasn't falling asleep, or at least part of the reason. In this position, he couldn't suck his thumb, not really. His conscious mind wouldn't let him with Joe so close, who would feel the retraction of his arm.
"Um, Nick...?" Joe tested, lifting his chin so he could look more into Nicks' eyes through the dark. Nick answered with silence, which made things a little more difficult, but Joe got it. "I don't - mean to be a pest... But it's okay, if you - if you need to do something to help yourself fall asleep. If you can't stay here, I think you've warmed me up enough. If you need to." He didn't want Nick to leave, at all, but he was almost certain his baby brother wouldn't like finding out Joe knew he had a habit that Nick himself wasn't really aware of. That just earned him a questioning look. "Nicky," Joe sighed, letting his eyes fall closed.
"What, Joe?" Joe cringed even as he did it, as he lifted his thumb to his mouth and sucked on it a little so that Nick would get the idea without actually having to hear it. After a minute, Nick said an enlightened, "Oh." Joe pulled his wet thumb from his mouth and nodded. "That?" Eyebrows raising surprised, Joe silently asked, 'Oh. That? What do you mean - Oh. That?' Nick wasn't supposed to know... He wasn't supposed to be okay with it. Nick laughed softly at the expression on his brothers' face. "What, Joseph?"
"Well," Joe drawled out, "I mean - you're okay with that?" Brows pushing together, Nick showed Joe his disapproval in the choice of words if Joe hadn't meant to offend him. "No, no," Joe corrected quickly. "That's not what I mean, I guess. Nick, I don't mind it." Smiling softly, Joe said again, "I don't mind it at all, but you just - you're..."
Thumb rubbing over Joe's back through the cloth of his shirt, Nick answered, "It's okay. It was just like, once anyway." Joe's jaw fell open a little. "I don't know why though..." Nick continued, as if he'd thought about this and just couldn't figure it out. Nick's face turned somewhat serious then, not off and thinking, but completely in the room, in the bed, by Joe. "Now would probably be a good time to tell you that you woke me up."
Eyes widening slightly, all the sound Joe could form was an "Um..."
"You kissed me," Nick said, tone suggesting Joe wasn't aware, but Joe let the words sink in and slowly began to nod. "It woke me up." Opening his mouth, Joe meant to apologize, so Nick brushed over it with more words of his own. "Was that a... Did you want to again?" Stomach tightening inside of him, Joe breathed out a soft, 'yes', surprised by where this was going, though feeling a sort of inevitability about it. "Okay," Nick said. It was with an air of finality, like that settled it. Joe would kiss him again. "I don't have to be," Nick paused, feeling a blush on his cheeks, "Sucking my thumb or anything, do I?"
It felt like something had fallen on his stomach, air flying out of his lungs like it was knocked out of him. "No. No, of course not. That wasn't like - I just think it's cute, Nicky, that's all..." Joe explained, rushing to make sure Nick didn't think he was just some sort of kink. The way it made Joe feel wasn't really sexual. Maybe a little bit, sometimes, but he'd felt that way about Nick in general, at some point anyway, one he couldn't pin down. Nick laughed, his voice kind of shaky, suggesting he was blushing even brighter though Joe didn't really see it the first time. "So I can...?" Joe pushed forward, and Nick nodded beside him. It was like something was pushing at the back of his head, urging him forward as he lifted himself up enough to get his lips closer to Nicks', his little brother closing in on him, too. They kissed, pecking at each others' lips a few times, each time threatening to turn into something longer, hotter, but they didn't let it go much farther, both pulled away at almost the same time. "I love you Nick, just - so you know." Nick smiled.
"Yeah, Joe, I think I do," he smirked. Joe could tell he'd have to prove it though, that the smirk was a put-on. Nodding his head, Joe rubbed at Nick's lips with his thumb a little. He'd just kissed him, Jesus. After a second, Nick pulled Joe's hand away, just holding it. "Love you too." It sounded careful and nervous, but Joe squeezed at Nick's hand and smiled. Rolling onto his back then, Nick closed his eyes and Joe tried, even still, not to wait for it, but after he heard Nick's soft breathing last for what had to be over five minutes, Joe realized the thumb-sucking was gone, at least, tonight. Maybe he could take the place of it...