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Dancing on Broken Glass

Chapter Text

Elio bites absently at the skin surrounding his thumbnail as his eyes flick around the large drawing room of the even larger townhouse he and his mother have been waiting in for the past half-hour. 

 

They'd been ushered in by a serious-looking butler who barely spoke three words to them before leaving them to entertain themselves, and Elio's admittedly short patience is starting to wear thin. Everything around them radiates wealth, from the vintage furniture they’re sitting on to the original artwork ostentatiously decorating the walls.

 

Patrons of the arts really could be pretentious fucks sometimes.

 

His mother shoots him a pointed look from the seat next to him, and he forces himself to straighten, hand moving away from his mouth and down to the armrest of his chair. His foot continues to tap a rhythmic beat against the floor; there’s too much energy building inside of him for him to be completely still. 

 

Today is important, probably one of the most important days he’s had since graduating from Juilliard in the spring. His four years at the prestigious college succeeded in rigorously honing his natural talents, but in addition to that they also curated the performative spark that’s always simmered inside of him, fanning the flames of desire not just to compose, but to play.

 

His parents have been nothing but supportive since he announced that he wished to try his hand at becoming a concert pianist, but while they’re both abundantly knowledgeable in their own respective areas, the intricacies of classical performance have proved to be uncharted territory for the entire Perlman family.

 

It didn’t take long for Elio to discover that lurking underneath the innocent simplicity of recitals and concert halls lies a cut-throat industry, where talent can only take you so far without the money and contacts needed to get you in the door.

 

Talent Elio has in spades, but the other two have proved to be far more elusive. Which is why they're here today, to try and win both from one Ms. Delilah Cunningham.

 

Elio's mother has assured him that Ms. Cunningham is one of the most high-profile sponsors in New York, and that a nod from her will do more for his career than he can imagine. A large part of Elio continues to balk at the idea that his raw skill isn't enough in and of itself, but he trusts his mother more than practically anyone else in this world. Honestly, it's only out of deference to her that Elio is still waiting like an obedient pet for the mistress of the house to grace them with her presence, rather than having abandoned this farce a good twenty minutes ago.

 

He's been told time and time again that he's too melodramatic for his own good, but he supposes that's neither here nor there.

 

As if summoned by Elio’s very thoughts Ms. Cunningham sweeps into the room in a flurry of movement and expensive perfume. She’s younger than Elio expected - thirty-three still sounds so mature to his twenty-two year old ears - dressed in an impeccably tailored power suit, all sharp edges and perfectly pressed lapels. Elio can’t help but be impressed by the figure she cuts.

 

She shrugs off her jacket, handing it to the butler who materializes seemingly from nowhere. “I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” she apologizes sincerely, pulling off her gloves as she approaches. “It never fails to surprise me just how bad traffic in New York can be.” 

 

Elio’s mother rises to greet her, and Elio finds himself doing the same. She greets Elio first, her lips just barely brushing each of his cheeks in the European-style greeting that always feels forced coming from Americans. 

 

“Elio Perlman, it’s wonderful to finally meet you.” She doesn’t wait for an answer before moving over to repeat the gesture with Elio’s mother. “And you must be Mrs. Perlman. Welcome, welcome.”

 

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us,” Elio’s mother says with a warm smile, comfortable with strangers in a way Elio never will be. It’s one of the many reasons he asked her to manage his career after he graduated; music comes easy to him, but the rest of it? The networking and the schmoozing and the constant promoting of himself? Not so much.

 

“The pleasure is all mine,” Ms. Cunningham waves them back into their seats, and accepts a cup of tea from their butler friend. “I’ve been to a number of your recitals, Elio. You’re marvelously talented.”

 

Elio nods his head briskly, still uncomfortable receiving such overt praise. Especially coming from another Dominant, it always feels like more of a power-play than a true compliment. He knows he doesn’t much look the part himself, with his wire-thin frame and delicate features. He’s lost count of the number of times someone has done a double take after seeing the outline of his mark on his wrist, and so it always feels like he’s being sized up, testing how he reacts to the positive words. Are you really one of us? Or are you just pretending?

 

“He has an audition with the New York Philharmonic next week, we’re very excited for him.” His mother starts to expertly maneuver the conversation and Elio tries to concentrate, he really does. He can’t help his attention from wandering, though. There’s something about this room, about this whole house that he can’t seem to put his finger on. He’s sure he’s never been here before, but there’s an indescribable air of familiarity that he can’t place, almost like an imprint scattered across the various - probably outrageously expensive - surfaces.

 

The front door rattles as it’s opened from the outside, bringing Elio back into the room and away from his musings. 

 

“Ah, that must be my submissive,” Ms. Cunningham says as she stands up. “We only recently moved to this neighbourhood and he simply can’t get enough of exploring.” Her words hold an indulgent, faintly patronizing edge that makes Elio bristle. He knows he shouldn’t judge other people’s claims, but the overt condescension towards submissives he often sees, especially among the old money of New York, never fails to set his teeth on edge.

 

“Come join us, darling, we have guests,” Ms. Cunningham raises her voice so that it travels out into the hallway. There are faint sounds of movement outside the room, and Elio barely has time to acknowledge the man who enters before he’s sharply catapulted back five years into the past. 

 

All of a sudden he’s not drinking tea in an upstate New York brownstone, but sunbathing in the blistering heat of an Italian summer. Sounds and smells and sights overwhelm him, but the sharpest of all is the phantom touch of lips against his own. A kiss he’s desperately tried to forget, but knows he never will. A gaze he still dreams about now pierces him in the brutal light of reality, because standing in front of him, in all of his ridiculous Adonis glory...

 

Is Oliver.

Chapter Text

“I have some news.”

 

Elio laughs, giddy with delight at hearing Oliver’s voice after so long. 

 

“Oh yeah? You’re getting claimed I suppose?”

 

Instead of a returning chuckle there’s silence, and Elio feels his heart drop out through the bottom of his stomach.

 

“Yeah...yeah I might be. In the spring.”

 

“What?” Elio can barely hear his voice over the sudden pounding of blood in his ears. “You never said anything.”

 

There’s another bout of silence, finally broken by a heavy sigh down the crackling line. “This was...this was the deal I made. One last summer of freedom, and then I settle down. Enter into a good claim like my parents wanted.”

 

“Oliver.” Elio can feel the tears start to form in his eyes as he grips the phone tighter to his face. He doesn’t know what else to say. “Oliver.”

 

“Do you mind?” Oliver sounds defeated, broken. So unlike the creature of light and laughter Elio had fallen in love with time and time again this summer.

 

“How can you ask me that?” Elio knows his voice is starting to get thick with emotion, but he can’t help it. Oliver, his wonderful Oliver, entering into a claim with someone who doesn’t know him, who can’t possibly love him like Elio does, who won’t treat him like Elio did.

 

“I can claim you.” The words fall from his lips without thought, but once they’re out it seems so right. He scrambles onto his knees, the phone pressing so tight against his face he’s sure it will leave an impression. “I get my mark in two weeks, I can claim you then. If you just wait-”

 

“Elio,” Oliver interrupts softly, “I can’t do that.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Another heavy sigh. “Even if I were selfish enough to let you tie yourself to a claim this young, when you have so much ahead of you still to experience. Even if I were that sort of sub, my father would never allow it.”

 

“So what, I’m not good enough for him?” Elio knows he sounds exactly like the petulant child he’s trying to convince Oliver he isn’t, but he just can’t help it.

 

“Nobody is good enough for my father,” Oliver says, sounding so utterly dejected that Elio knows he’s not just talking about Elio any more. 

 

The tears start to slip down Elio’s cheeks, and he slumps back down against the wall. “Elio,” he whispers desperately, wrapping the phone cord around his fingers again and again until he starts to cut off circulation. “Elio, Elio, Elio, Elio, Elio.”

 

Another silence that cuts through him like a knife. Who knew silence could be so painful? It goes on for so long that Elio thinks they might have gotten disconnected.

 

“Oliver.” Practically breathed down the line. And then, “I remember everything.”

 


 

There’s movement, and talking. Elio is sure that the world is continuing on around him but he can’t seem to focus on anything other than Oliver. The older man has paused in the doorway, his eyes widening in barely-concealed shock as he stares at Elio. Elio can see a hundred emotions flicker across that expressive face; surprise, joy, pain, and just a touch of resignation. He wonders what his face is broadcasting in response. 

 

“Oliver, darling,” Ms. Cunningham beckons for Oliver to join her, seemingly oblivious to the suffocating history that has suddenly suffused the air. “Come meet the Perlmans.”

 

“We’ve actually already met,” Elio’s mother says with an easy smile, crossing the room and embracing Oliver with the familiarity of an old friend. “It’s so good to see you again, tesoro .”

 

Elio watches as Oliver practically folds around his mother, their hug carrying a weight that Elio wonders if he’s imagining. “Annella,” Oliver says fondly as he straightens and - oh - Elio had almost forgotten what that beautiful voice sounds like. “Long time no see.”

 

“Oliver here was one of my husband’s graduate students a few years back. He spent the summer with us in Italy,” Annella explains to Ms. Cunningham as she pats Oliver’s cheek affectionately. 

 

“Ah yes, the famous Professor Perlman,” Ms. Cunningham says with a wide smile. “Of course, I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection.” She sits back down again and beckons Oliver over with a lazy wave of her hand. “I do hope he wasn’t too much trouble.”

 

“Not at all, he was the perfect houseguest,” Annella replies, squeezing Oliver’s arm before returning to her own seat. Elio can’t help the pained wheeze that escapes him at his mother’s description of Oliver, which unfortunately only draws attention to him and his obvious lack of greeting.

 

“Hello,” he forces himself to say, the single word sounding clipped and stilted as he twists his mouth into what he’s sure is a painful approximation of a smile.

 

“Elio,” Oliver replies with his own forced smile. “You’ve grown since the last time I saw you.”

 

“Well you know, I’m hardly the same seventeen year old I was back then.” He doesn’t know why he says it, doesn’t quite know what he’s hoping to achieve, but whatever it is he knows he’s succeeded when the flash of hurt flickers across Oliver’s features.

 

“No, I don’t suppose you are,” he says quietly, bowing his head and moving over towards his Dominant. 

 

There’s a seat next to Ms. Cunningham but instead he gracefully slips to his knees next to her chair, his neck curved so that she can stroke her hand lazily along the top ridges of his spine. The gesture makes something hot and vicious curl inside of Elio. He doesn’t belong there.

 

“Our Oliver was a bit of a wild child in his youth wasn’t he?” Ms. Cunningham says with an air of someone indulging a small child. “But we’ve worked through those impulses now, haven’t we pet?” 

 

Her nails scratch along the short hairs at the back of Oliver’s neck, and he shudders and drops his head lower. “Yes Miss,” he says softly. 

 

Elio’s fingers ache with how tightly he’s clutching at the armrest of his chair. He can’t do it, can’t sit and watch as someone else puts their hands on Oliver. Oliver who hasn’t been his for years, who never was and always will be.

 

“I do feel bad, though,” Ms Cunningham continues, seemingly oblivious to the tempest starting to unfurl in Elio’s chest. “I’ve been so busy since we moved here, what with my new position at the gallery and the fundraisers I already committed to before I knew about the promotion, poor Oliver has been left to his own devices most days.”

 

“I can show him around.” The words are a painful facsimile of the ones he spouted all those years ago, sitting at the breakfast table opposite a loud American who didn’t know how to crack an egg, whose laugh made Elio want to crawl inside his chest to find out just where it came from.

 

Three pairs of eyes round on him, and Elio coughs roughly, instantly regretting his words. “I know this area well, I often walk when I’m looking for inspiration.” Not exactly a lie, but also certainly not why he’s offering. “Two birds, one stone.”

 

Ms Cunningham is silent as she stares at Elio, her sharp eyes appraising him as her equally sharp nails continue to rake along Oliver’s spine. The scritching sound sends shivers down Elio’s own, but he forces himself to cooly hold her gaze.

 

Eventually she nods, smiling as she moves to ruffle Oliver’s hair. “That’s very kind of you dear, and I’m sure Oliver would love the company, wouldn’t you pet?”

 

Oliver nods his head silently, his gaze fixed back on the floor, and Elio wonders if he’s made a terrible mistake, invading Oliver’s private time like this. He can’t help it though, the need to be near Oliver has always superseded all other logic in his brain. The dark, possessive creature inside of him screams that Oliver is still his, even after all this time. 

 

The conversation moves on after that, back to auditions and recitals and galas that Elio might want to attend. Elio tries to follow along, truly he does, but time and time again his gaze slips back to Oliver, still and unmoving at his mistress’s feet. He had never been this still in Italy, not even after- 

 

Elio shakes his head roughly, forcing himself not to think of after . That’s a path he can’t afford to go down, not if he wants to keep Ms Cunningham’s patronage, and perhaps more importantly his sanity. Like he just said to Oliver, he’s no longer the lovelorn teenager who’s heart was torn into a thousand tiny pieces by the ending of a summer fling. He’s grown since then, matured, and this should be his opportunity to finally put the past behind him. 

 

He makes a decision in that moment, straightening slightly in his chair as he mentally commits to it. He’ll use this time with Oliver to finally close the door in his heart that has always been left open a crack, no matter how hard he tried to wrench it shut. Perhaps after all of this they can finally be friends, like they said they would be.

 

Friends would be good, Elio viciously tells himself as he and his mother finally rise to leave, shaking hands and saying their goodbyes with promises to follow up soon. Friends is something that he and Oliver can hope to achieve, he just has to try hard enough.

 

He repeats this mantra in his head throughout the whole of the journey home, keeps it running all through dinner and his nighttime shower. He repeats it so many times he even starts to believe it, until he finally slips into unconsciousness and his dreams are filled with Italy, reminding him exactly how unattainable that goal really is.

Chapter Text

Elio takes a long, protracted drag of his cigarette, holding for a beat before exhaling just as slowly. His feet kick idly against the wall he’s sitting on, their steady beat a sharp counterpoint to his racing heart.

 

What on earth had he been thinking? Agreeing to meet Oliver like this? It had taken him years months to get over him the first time, days filled with pain and regret and self-recrimination. And now here he is, willingly subjecting himself to it all over again just to have the chance to spend a few short hours with the man.

 

Foolish. Stupid and naive and oh-so foolish.

 

He stubs his cigarette out on the bricks next to him, wondering if there’s still time for him to cancel. He can see a phone box just down the street, but he doesn’t have the Cunninghams’ number. He would have to phone his mother to get it, and then he’d have to explain why he wants it, why he’s suddenly unable to do what he offered so eagerly before...

 

The decision is taken out of his hands as a large shadow falls across him, and he looks up slightly to see Oliver hovering next to him on the sidewalk, hands shoved in his pockets and a soft smile quirking at his lips.

 

“Hey,” Oliver says, his American drawl exactly the same as Elio remembers.

 

Elio swings down off the wall, landing lightly in front of him. “Hey,” he replies, sure his greeting is far less convincing.

 

There’s a pause, where Elio chews at his lower lip and Oliver seems conflicted about what to do next. Eventually he shoves out his hand in offering. “It’s really good to see you again, Elio.”

 

Elio can’t help his slight frown at the formal gesture, but he clasps the proffered hand nonetheless. “You too,” he says, hating how unsure his voice sounds to his own ears.

 

Another heavy pause. It was never like this in Italy, when the silence between them was just as comfortable as conversation. 

 

“So,” Oliver finally says, drawing out the single syllable. “Where did you have in mind?”

 

Elio blinks once, twice, then roughly forces himself back on track. “Have you been to the Botanical Gardens yet?” he asks, digging in his jacket pocket for his cigarettes while he waits for an answer. He taps a stick into his hand, then offers the packet to Oliver.

 

“Can’t say I have,” Oliver replies as shakes his head at the offered packet. Elio raises an eyebrow but doesn’t question it. Maybe he’s grown out of the habit. People can change a lot in five years. He certainly has.

 

“Delilah doesn’t like the smell of them,” Oliver offers in answer anyway, and Elio has to bite down sharply on the jealous flash that sparks in his chest. It’s of no consequence to him, it’s not.

 

Another heavy beat of silence, where Elio regrets everything that has ever led him to this moment. Eventually Oliver exhales heavily, almost a sigh. “Want to lead the way?”

 

It’s easier once they start walking. Elio is able to focus on pointing out particular landmarks and buildings of interest, and Oliver seems genuinely interested in what he has to say. 

 

“That building over there, the neoclassical monstrosity?” Elio gestures to his left. “That’s the Brooklyn Museum. The sculptures around the edge were designed by the same guy who sculpted the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.”

 

Oliver huffs a soft laugh. “I forgot just how much you know about everything.”

 

“It’s there anything you don’t know?”

 

“If you only knew how little I know about the things that really matter.”

 

Elio clenches his jaw at the sudden memory, chancing a glance at Oliver to see if he’s similarly affected. He seems unfazed by what he just said, but there’s a slight twitching at the corner of his eye that suggests he might not be as calm as he’s letting on. 

 

Elio considers pushing it for a moment, forcing Oliver to acknowledge the last time he’d said such things, but quickly decides against it. The past is the past, what’s done is done.

 

“You know me,” he says with a sharp smile, “I’m a veritable cornucopia of information.”

 

“Is it any good? The museum I mean.” 

 

Elio shrugs. “Its art collection is pretty impressive. There’s a decent amount of stuff from the Italian Renaissance if you like that sort of thing.”

 

“You know me,” Oliver parrots Elio’s own words back at him, a small smile on his lips encouraging him to share in the joke. ”I’m a lover of all things Italian.” 

 

“I could take you there next time.” Elio’s brain gets caught on lover of all things Italian, and his mouth decides to forge ahead without it.

 

Oliver raises an eyebrow at him, as if wondering if he really meant to offer that. He hadn’t, of course. He’d been planning on getting through this afternoon with as little pain as possible and then never speaking of it again. But Elio has never been one to back out of anything, so he juts out his jaw determinedly and stares Oliver down.

 

And if the idea of this being the last time he gets to spend any considerable time with Oliver is just that bit too much to bear, then Elio doesn’t have to acknowledge that just yet.

 

Oliver’s expression softens, “I’d like that,” he says genuinely, and despite himself, Elio can’t help the small smile that twitches at his lips in response. 

 

They reach the gardens not long after, and Elio is immediately reassured of his decision to bring Oliver here when the other man’s face lights up like a kid in a candy store.

 

“Will you look at this place,” Oliver says in delight, bending down to admire the vibrant flowers blooming along the pathway. 

 

“The Japanese Gardens are just over this way,” Elio nudges at Oliver with his hip to get his attention. “I think we’re at the right time of year that the cherry blossoms might be in bloom.”

 

Oliver twists to look up at him with such wide-eyed rapture that Elio thinks he can actually feel his heart stutter in his chest.

 

“Lead the way,” Oliver says with a sweeping gesture as he stands, and Elio has to cough roughly to stifle the soft groan that almost escapes him.

 

The cherry blossoms are just as impressive as Elio remembers, and Oliver’s unbridled enthusiasm is contagious. He practically runs down the pathway, turning and waving for Elio to keep up every few feet. Elio muffles his laugh behind the sleeve of his jacket as he tries to keep pace, ignoring the looks they’re getting from passers-by at their unreserved actions. At one point he thinks he hears someone muttering about behavior unbecoming of a submissive, but before he can turn and glare at whoever said it Oliver has returned and resorted to physically dragging him along the pathway with him.

 

Elio rolls his eyes but allows himself to be pulled along. Oliver’s actions are adorable, and anybody who thinks otherwise isn’t worth the breath wasted on them. 

 

They reach the end of the esplanade, and Oliver flings himself onto the grass underneath one of the trees.

 

“Beautiful,” he says, placing his hands behind his head as he stares up at the pink petals.

 

So beautiful, Elio’s brain supplies, not at all thinking about the trees.

 

“We’re lucky,” he says instead, lowering himself slightly more sedately to the ground next to Oliver. “They only bloom for a few weeks a year.”

 

“The best things in life are always too short,” Oliver says wistfully, and Elio wonders for a split second if he’s talking about more than just the cherry blossoms. 

 

He almost breaks. He opens his mouth to say something, anything about the time they had together that was too short but still felt like a lifetime, but before the words form he notices something that sends a chill through his entire body.

 

“What’s that?” he asks sharply, tugging at Oliver’s sleeve on the arm closest to him. The fabric slides down and the bruises that were previously just peeking into view are suddenly on full display. 

 

Thick, red lines criss-cross along Oliver’s forearms, all the way from wrist to elbow but leaving his claim mark conspicuously unblemished. Elio knows the imprint of rope-marks when he sees them, has caused them himself a fair few times over the years, but he never thought he’d see them on Oliver. 

 

“Oliver,” he says, something thick and painful lodging in his throat that stops any more words from forming.

 

Oliver hurriedly sits up and shoves his sleeve back down again. “It’s nothing,” he says forcefully, but the hasty repositioning of his shirt pulls at the neckline, and Elio can see that the marks aren’t confined to his arms. 

 

“Oliver,” he says again, instinctively reaching out to touch the sensitive skin of Oliver’s neck that’s covered in the telltale marks of fingerprints. Oliver flinches and Elio immediately snatches his hand back, cursing himself for his lack of control.

 

“It’s not…” Oliver’s expression twists as he tries and fails to find the words. “It’s all from Play. Delilah likes it when it’s rough.”

 

“But you don’t.” Elio can’t help himself. He remembers, of course he remembers what Oliver was like in bed. His sweet submissive, whose impressive stature belied a desire to be considered worthy of gentle treatment. To be cared for, to be treated as precious. He still dreams of the look on Oliver’s face when Elio praised him, called him good, and sweet, and his as he slowly pressed inside of him.

 

The Oliver he knew didn’t like it rough, would never have begged to receive marks like the ones that litter his body now.

 

Oliver’s expression shutters, and he firmly buttons his shirt all the way up to the collar. “Maybe I do now,” he says, his voice taking on an edge. “People change Elio, maybe this is what I like now.”

 

“Is it?” Elio can’t hide his disbelief. “Is this really what you want?”

 

“What I want,” Oliver practically hisses, the words sounding like they’re being forced out between his teeth. “What I want is to make my Dominant happy. You might not understand this yet Elio, but this is what relationships are like. It’s about compromise, and sometimes that means doing things for the other person, not for yourself.”

 

“Oh so I’m too young to understand, is that it?” Elio hates the way his voice is shaking, hates that his emotions are always so close to the surface, just waiting for the chance to be unleashed. “I might not be as worldly-wise as you Oliver, but I’m not some green Dominant who’s only been with one sub.” Who’s only been with you hangs unspoken between them. “I know that there are always ways to make your partner happy that don’t involve sacrificing your own limits.”

 

“I don’t...that’s not what I meant,” Oliver brings his hand up to rub at his temples, suddenly sounding beyond tired. “You know I never thought you were too young, that’s never what it was about.” They’re both dancing closer towards that forbidden topic, to finally putting into words everything that has so far been left unsaid. 

 

Oliver takes a deep breath, seemingly collecting himself, and when he looks at Elio again his expression is softer. “I’m happy for you, you know,” he says, and Elio blinks as his brain tries to keep up with this apparent change in direction. “I’m glad you’re getting to have these experiences, to find out what works for you.”

 

“Oliver,” Elio says, practically pleading with him not to do this, but Oliver holds up a hand to stop him from going any further. 

 

“Please, Elio,” he says, and fuck, Elio could never resist Oliver when he begged. “I know this might be hard for you to believe, but Delilah is good to me. She’s good for me. Can we just...I don’t know...can’t we just enjoy our time together in the here and now?”

 

Elio groans, dropping his face into his hands. He’s overstepped, he knows he has. He promised himself he wouldn’t do this, to Oliver or to himself, and yet here he is, demolishing all of the careful walls they’ve both spent the last five years building. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he says, but the words are muffled in his hand. He sits upright again and tries again. “I’m sorry. Your relationship is none of my business, it’s not my place to get involved.”

 

Oliver blinks back at him, a soft crease furrowing between his eyebrows, and Elio frowns. Is Oliver not going to accept his apology? That doesn’t seem like him at all, but maybe Elio really doesn’t know him as well as he thought he did. “I’m...very sorry?” he tries again, knowing that it comes out as more of a question this time.

 

Oliver shakes his head roughly, as if dislodging a particularly sticky thought. “No, no you’re okay. It’s all good.” He laughs roughly, one hand coming up to run through his hair. “I’m just not used to Dominants apologizing, even when they’re in the wrong.” He quirks his mouth at Elio, inviting him to laugh along with the good-natured ribbing, and Elio forces himself to smile back.

 

“Maybe Dominants don’t apologize, but I’m pretty sure friends are supposed to.” He holds his hand out to shake. “Tregua?”

 

Oliver laughs at that, and Elio feels his smile morphing into something far more genuine at the light sound. He shakes Elio’s hand, “Tregua,” he says, butchering the word just as badly the second time around. 

 

“Friends?” Elio makes himself ask, still holding on to Oliver’s hand.

 

“Friends, definitely.”

Chapter Text

The music swells on the other side of the curtain, the orchestra on stage building to their impressive climax as Elio paces nervously in the wings. He wrings his hands together before shaking them out at his side, exhaling heavily as he tries to calm the tempest raging inside his chest.

 

This is far from his first recital, but it’s certainly the largest crowd he’s ever performed in front of. Elio knows that the scale of tonight’s event is an easy excuse for this uncharacteristic show of nerves, and he’s almost willing to pretend to himself that that’s the case. Almost.

 

He picks up the pages of sheet music on the stool next to him, staring down at the title of his most recent composition: Pink Petals on Tanned Skin

 

These past few weeks have found Elio with more inspiration than he knows what to do with. The notes have flowed thick and fast from his heart, to his brain and out through his fingers, to be met with near-universal praise from those he shares them with. More than one of his teachers has enquired about changes to his circumstances that might account for his newfound creativity, and when Elio merely smiles and acts coy they laugh and tell him that whatever it is to keep hold of it. 

 

Elio fully intends to, even though he knows full well that Oliver isn’t his to hold.

 

The piece he’s showcasing tonight is the culmination of almost a full month of having Oliver back in his life. It’s designed to invoke the delight of renewed friendship, the invigoration of genuine connection. It hints at something more, an undercurrent of passion that’s still left unspoken, that will probably never come to light but will never truly go away. Petals is his and Oliver’s relationship made music; really it should be no wonder he’s so nervous about performing it.

 

Applause echoes from the stage area, and Elio can hear footfall as the orchestra starts to move. He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes and focusing on his breathing as he forces himself to calm. He’s performed in front of crowds hundreds of times by now, this is no different.

 

He waits for a stagehand to beckon him, then strides purposefully out onto the stage, head held high. The lights are a little blinding, which stops him from being able to pick out individual faces in the crowd. A blessing, he thinks as he bows to the anonymous masses before moving to take a seat at the grand piano in the center of the stage.

 

As soon as his fingers touch the keys his nerves fade away, as they always do. It’s just him and the piano, and for the next eight and a half minutes he loses himself to the music. Loses himself to the memories weaved lovingly in-between the notes. 

 

The time he and Oliver visited the Brooklyn Museum and spent an entire afternoon wandering its halls, the conversation flowing just as easily as when they were back in Italy. The day Oliver dragged Elio to a weekend market and they came away with more produce than either of them could ever know what to do with. The dozens of cafes they’ve tried and discarded before finding one they both agreed was perfect, and the single patisserie shop they both instantly fell in love with the moment they walked in. Little moments, all so simple in their own right, but when stitched together make up such a rich tapestry of joy.

 

He comes back to himself as the last chords fade into silence, to be replaced with rapturous applause from the audience. He exhales, allowing himself to smile as he stands and bows once more to the audience, clasping his hands behind his back to stop them from shaking as he exits stage left.

 

They loved it. They loved his love for Oliver.

 


 

“Elio, darling, you were incredible.” His mother kisses him on either cheek before embracing him warmly. Elio tightly returns the hug and tries his hardest not to blush at the praise. He always has been his mother’s son, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of her affection.

 

“Thank you, mama,” he says, smiling softly. “I really think they liked it.”

 

“They loved it, cherie ,” Annella says, patting him fondly on the cheek. “You are impossible not to love.”

 

Elio ducks his head in embarrassment, but is saved from having to respond by other well-wishers approaching. He shakes hands and gracefully accepts their compliments, biting the inside of his lip to prevent any sly remarks that may reflect badly on him or his career. He’ll never be a natural at this part, but he’s learning.

 

His face is getting slightly tired from plastering on a smile for so long by the time Ms. Cunningham approaches, but all fatigue is instantly banished by the sight of Oliver by her side. The pair of them look stunning together, with Ms. Cunningham in a floor-length gown cut to accentuate her figure, the baby blue fabric a perfect compliment to Oliver’s eyes. Oliver himself is wearing an immaculately tailored tuxedo, a slim black collar worn in place of a bow tie as has become the fashion for submissives recently. Elio feels all the moisture disappear from his mouth as he drinks in the sight in front of him.

 

“Bravo, Elio,” Ms. Cunningham says, holding out her hand for Elio to take. “You were utterly divine up there.”

 

“Thank you,” Elio says after he remembers how to speak, lightly clasping her hand in response. “You are too kind.” He makes sure to keep his eyes on his patron and not Oliver, worried about what his expression might reveal.

 

“We’re having dinner at the Le Bernardin this evening , you and your mother must join us,” Ms. Cunningham says. “I have some dear friends you simply have to meet.”

 

“We would love to,” Annella replies before Elio can say anything, shooting her son a quick look. It’s almost like she doesn’t trust Elio to respond, which Elio thinks is awfully unfair. He hadn’t even reacted to her terrible French pronunciation.

 

“Wonderful,” Ms. Cunningham says with a clap of her hands. “We’ll collect our things from coat-check and meet you outside. We can share a cab.” She turns, one hand coming up to Oliver’s arms to guide him to follow her, and it’s only once Elio is faced with their retreating backs that he realizes Oliver hadn’t said a single word.

 


 

The restaurant is an upscale French establishment that looks like the owner visited Paris exactly once exactly a decade ago. It’s exactly what Elio expected, and he resolves to steer well clear of the Moules Mariniere .

 

The table they’re lead to has only eight places set, and Elio can’t help raising his eyebrows in surprise. Given Ms. Cunningham’s connections, he had been anticipating a much larger gathering. 

 

“It’s so lovely that we have the chance to do this,” Ms. Cunningham says as she hands her coat to a waiting member of staff. “I’ve been wanting to introduce you to this group for some time now.” She sits down at the table, rearranging her dress and waiting for Elio and his mother to take a seat before continuing. “The Dwights are huge fans of yours Elio, they saw you perform at Carnegie last fall. And then we have the Tooleys - as you probably already know Edmund Tooley is on the board of directors for NYFA, and then the Marks will be joining us a little later...” 

 

She continues to rattle off names, Elio only half listening as he scans the table in front of him. He knows he’s coming off a performance high and everything is still running a bit slowly, but he’s sure she’s naming more people than there are places set for. His attention drifts - as it so often does nowadays - to Oliver, still meticulously stripping out of his overcoat. He watches as Oliver folds it neatly, handing it to Ms. Cunningham who passes it on to the hovering member of staff, then drops his gaze to the floor as he gracefully kneels next to her chair and oh.

 

Elio’s fingers tighten almost painfully around the edge of the table as he looks again, this time noticing the plush cushions placed next to each seat. He knows that a lot of places still prefer the traditional dining setup, but it’s been so long since he’s experienced it himself. His parents and their friends have always embraced a more casual approach - Elio thinks he’s seen his father kneel for his mother about three times in his entire life - and it’s a formality that’s been steadily dying out within younger generations. Not that there was much opportunity for fine dining while he was a college student anyway.

 

He can feel his mother’s attention on him, obviously noticing the sudden tension radiating from his body. She follows his gaze, noticing what he’s fixating on, and carefully covers his hand with her own. “Easy,” she murmurs in Italian so that only Elio can hear, her fingers gently uncurling his own from their death grip on the table edge. “Restaurants like this are always traditional.”

 

Elio opens his mouth to argue, but no words come out. What would he even say? Nothing that won’t offend his patron and her friends, which is the whole reason they’re here in the first place. He slams his mouth shut again and nods sharply to let his mother know he understands, but the hard set of his jaw makes it abundantly clear that he’s not happy.

 

Annella pats the back of his hand, in approval and sympathy, before returning it to her own lap. Elio grinds his teeth and chances a glance at Oliver, whose attention is still fixed dutifully on the floor. It’s such a sharp contrast to the Oliver who used to sit and laugh at their table in Italy that Elio can physically feel it in his chest.

 

The other members of their dinner party start to arrive, and Elio dutifully plasters on his most genial smile as he stands and greets each of the Dominants in turn. They’re all effusive with their praise, many of them having heard him perform live at one point or another. Elio tries to be gracious with his responses, but his focus keeps being drawn to their submissives sitting to heel, purposefully excluded from the conversation.

 

However, despite Elio’s misgivings the evening ends up progressing relatively uneventfully for the most part, with conversation focusing mainly on the arts in their various forms. It’s an easy topic of conversation, and Elio finds he’s able to contribute a number of meaningful points that gain him murmurs of approval. By the time they reach the coffee and digestifs, Elio is starting to think that he may actually be able to survive the evening without things going too disastrously wrong.

 

Which, of course, is when things take a turn.

 

“So, Elio,” Edmund Tooley says as he takes a deep sip of his Cognac, his voice just a little bit too loud to suggest he’s completely sober. “Where is your submissive tonight?”

 

Elio stiffens at the question, and out of the corner of his eye he’s sure he sees Oliver do the same. Oliver has been the picture of perfect submissiveness all evening, accepting food from his Dominant with demure reverence every time it’s offered, his posture remaining flawless despite the many hours they’ve been here. This is the first time Elio’s seen even a hint of emotion from him the entire night, and it’s almost more of a shock than the question itself.

  

“I’m sorry?” Elio says after a beat, wanting to make sure he hadn’t misheard.

 

“Your submissive,” Edmund repeats, his grin getting widers as he raises his glass at him. “You can’t tell me a talented Dominant like yourself doesn’t have a line of them waiting on their knees outside your door.” He snorts at his own comment, and Elio bites his lip against the polite titters in response from the rest of the table.

 

“I’m not currently in a claim,” Elio forces himself to respond neutrally. 

 

“You’re not?” Edmund sounds genuinely distraught at the concept. “Not even a temporary one?”

 

Elio shrugs, his casual mannerisms at sharp odds to the heat that is suddenly coursing through his veins at being put on the spot like this. “I was in a few short-term claims while I was studying,” he admits. “But I suppose I haven’t found someone I’d be willing to enter into a permanent claim with yet.”

 

Lies, damned lies, his brain screams at him as he forces himself to smile congenially at Edmund. The someone is kneeling next to another Dominant just a few chairs away.

 

“Don’t worry, dear,” Elizabeth Marks says sagely from across the table, exuding the aura of someone far more worldly-wise than some upstart twenty-two year old. “I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful submissive next to you in no time.”

 

“Perhaps,” Elio concedes, and then, because he’s also possibly not quite as sober as he thought he was, “But if I did, I think I’d rather have them sitting on a chair than kneeling at my feet.”

 

There’s a sharp intake of breath from around the table as everyone - including Elio - acknowledges what has just been said. A long beat of silence where the words hover in the air, the sentiment spinning like a coin with no indication of which way it’s going to fall, and then the table bursts into laughter.

 

“I do so love the younger generations and their idealism,” Elizabeth says, brushing an imaginary tear from her eye. “They’re so innocent, so full of these high minded paradigms.”

 

“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Elio can’t help the bite in his voice now. He’s never been much good with condescension. 

 

“Elio, oh Elio,” Edmund says, oblivious to the hackles steadily rising on Elio’s back. “Give it a few years, a few more claims under your belt and you’ll see that this is exactly where submissives want to be.” He reaches down and scratches through his own submissive’s hair, “Isn’t that right, pet?”

 

“Yes, sir,” the slender man by his side replies - Elio hadn’t been introduced to him, so he doesn’t even know his name. His voice is the perfect cadence of breathless that could equally be genuine or performative, and Elio can’t help rolling his eyes.

 

“I’m not saying no sub wants to kneel. I just think there should be a choice, the option to sit if that would make them more comfortable.”

 

“So tell us then,” Edmund’s hand leaves his submissive to rest underneath his chin, looking genuinely delighted with the turn of conversation. “What else would you do differently, in this brave new world of yours?”

 

Elio flicks his gaze to his mother - expression serious but not objecting to his responses so far - and then to Oliver - still determinedly studying the floor in front of him. “Well for a start, any submissive of mine wouldn’t need permission to speak.” He says, his eyes lingering on Oliver for a beat longer before turning his attention back to the table at large. “What fun is a conversation if half the attendees aren’t allowed to contribute?”

 

Edmund tilts his head to the side, the twitch of his mouth suggesting he may concede the point. The reaction prompts Elio to continue, sitting up straighter in his chair as he invests properly in the debate.

 

“And why in this day and age is it still assumed that submissives will give up their careers when they enter a claim?” He says, “You’re all patrons of the arts, think how many paintings have never been painted, how many songs have never been composed, how many books have never been finished.” He hears a soft hitch of breath from Oliver’s direction, and like a coward he doesn’t turn to see what impact his words have had. He still remembers their conversation a couple of days ago, when Oliver had told him he’d never finished his manuscript after being claimed. It just didn’t seem important enough to push for, he’d admitted softly while Elio almost bit through his tongue trying to hold it. Not when I was still learning how to be Delilah’s submissive.

 

“Think how much society has missed out on,” he says instead. “All because we cling to this single-minded concept of submissives needing to be taken care of in every aspect of life.” 

 

There’s a pause, while the table considers his words and Elio pointedly doesn’t let his gaze stray from the Dominants in front of him. 

 

“Well you’re an eloquent one, I’ll give you that,” Edmund finally says, raising his glass in salutation. “I’m sure some day you’ll find yourself a revolutionary submissive that will be just perfect for you.”

 

Another round of soft laughter breaks the ice, and Elio forces himself to smile as the rest of the table start to weigh in on the subject. It seems his opinions have been treated as an amusing personality quirk rather than the call to action Elio had meant them as, but all things considered he supposes this is probably the better outcome; for his career prospects at least.

 

There’s only one member of the table who doesn’t seem impressed with the turn of events. As the conversation moves once more to less controversial matters, Elio can’t help noticing that Ms. Cunningham doesn’t contribute. Her expression remains steely, her hand resting posessively on Oliver’s neck, and as the evening wraps up Elio has a horrible feeling that he’s somehow made a terrible mistake.

Chapter Text

Elio doesn’t hear from Oliver for almost a full week after that. Each time he calls the Cunningham household he’s told that Oliver is unavoidably indisposed, and by the time the end of the week rolls around without a response he’s convinced he’s somehow managed to do irrevocable harm to their friendship. 

 

When Oliver finally calls him back he’s so relieved just to hear his voice he doesn’t even question the radio silence, immediately agreeing to Oliver’s suggestion that they meet the next day at their regular coffee shop. He arrives almost fifteen minutes early, anxious as he is to see the other man. It feels like it’s been infinitely longer than seven days since they last saw one another.

 

Oliver arrives exactly on the hour, his eyes darting around the coffee shop as he searches Elio out. Elio stands and waves, letting out a breath he didn’t even know he’d been holding when Oliver smiles and waves in response. 

 

“Hey,” Elio says as Oliver takes a seat opposite him, pushing a large mug across the table. “I already got you a coffee. Milk, two sugars.”

 

“Thanks, I’m dying for a caffeine hit,” Oliver says, picking up the cup and humming in appreciation as he inhales the steam. Now that he’s closer Elio can see the dark rings under his eyes, the tired set of his jaw as he sips the hot drink.

 

“Are you okay?” Elio can’t help asking. “I called the house a few times…” he trails off, not knowing how to finish the sentence. He doesn’t want to accuse Oliver of intentionally avoiding him, even if that was the case.

 

Oliver sighs heavily, putting his drink down and massaging at his temple with one hand. “Yeah, sorry about that. It’s been...it’s been a week.”

 

“Its okay, I don’t mind,” Elio hastens to assure him. “I was just worried about you, is all. I thought - I don’t know - I thought something might be wrong.”

 

Oliver simply hums in response, giving a small smile that Elio is sure is supposed to be reassuring but in reality is anything but. He looks like he hasn’t slept since Elio last saw him, he looks like...

 

“Did you drop?” The question slips out before Elio can censor himself, and he winces as Oliver’s gaze immediately snaps up to meet his. He should really know better than to ask about something as personal as sub-drop. “Sorry, I’m sorry. It’s none of my business, you don’t have to answer.”

 

“No, it’s okay,” Oliver says, massaging at his temple again. “It wasn’t a drop, not really.”

 

“Are you sure?” Elio can’t help probing. “Because it kind of looks like-”

 

“I’ve just been feeling a bit out of sorts lately,” Oliver interrupts, waving his hand like he can physically cut Elio off. “Delilah and I had a bit of a strange scene and, I dunno, I guess it’s been hard to shake.”

 

“Oliver,” Elio begins, his voice hesitant. He doesn’t know whether he should ask this but he knows he can’t not. “Are you still dropping?”

 

“I...what...no of course not,” Oliver replies sharply, but his body tells a completely different story. Elio can see it in his rigid posture, in his hands that don’t quite know what to do with themselves, in his thousand year stare that shoots straight past Elio’s face to bury in the wall behind him.

 

“Oliver,” Elio tries again, pitching his voice to be low and soothing. His heart breaks to see Oliver like this, and he knows he’s not his Dominant, knows that he doesn’t have any right to this, but he can’t just sit here and watch as he suffers. “It’s okay.”

 

Oliver opens and closes his mouth a few times, his brow furrowed like he doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know how to respond. He teeters on a knife-edge of indecision for long, agonizing seconds, and then his whole body crumples. “I’m sorry,” he practically whispers as he folds in on himself, sounding so painfully small. “I don’t know what’s wrong.”

 

“It’s okay,” Elio repeats, sliding his chair around the table. He pauses, part of him screaming that they’re about to cross a line that they won’t be able to come back from, but he firmly ignores it as he places his hand between Oliver’s shoulder-blades, rubbing small, soothing circles along his spine. He can worry about the future later; right now Oliver needs this and he won’t deny him it. “Shhh, it’s okay, you’re okay.”

 

Oliver practically melts into Elio’s touch, his whole body swaying closer to Elio as he draws a deep, shuddering breath. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he says again as he buries his face in Elio’s shoulder, the new qualifier painfully apparent to Elio even if Oliver doesn’t seem to notice what he’s saying.

 

“Nothing’s wrong with you, you’re just feeling a lot of things right now and that’s okay, it’s normal.” Elio wraps his arms as best he can around Oliver’s wide frame, making sure to keep as much contact as he can while still keeping his touch respectful. He’s been through drops with subs before, of course, but never one who technically wasn’t his to care for.

 

“Shall I phone Delilah? Would you like to go home?” he asks, making sure to keep his voice calm, free of judgement. “I can make sure you get back safely.”

 

Oliver shakes his head vigorously, the movement rustling Elio’s shirt underneath his cheek. “Not yet, please not yet.”

 

“Okay, that’s okay,” Elio quickly reassures him, resuming his steady stroke along Oliver’s spine. “We can stay here, that’s completely fine.” He catches a waitresses eye, who is watching them with a mix of sympathy and understanding. Elio mouths his request, and she nods, disappearing and returning moments later with a large mug of lemon and ginger tea.

 

“Oliver, love, can you try and drink some of this for me?” Elio cajoles as the waitress places the mug on the table, gently repositioning Oliver so that he’s still tucked into Elio’s side but his face is free. He picks up the mug, blowing on it to cool the liquid down before holding it to Oliver’s lips. Oliver’s eyes are wide and confused as they flick between Elio’s face and the offered drink, but he obediently takes a sip.

 

“That’s good, you’re doing so well,” Elio praises, nudging the rim of the mug against Oliver’s lips to encourage him to take a second sip. “Yes, just like that, so good for me.” He keeps up his steady stream of approval as Oliver slowly finishes the drink, the decaffeinated tea soothing in a way that his coffee surely wouldn’t have been. 

 

Once the drink is drained Elio maneuvers them over to a couch in the corner of the coffee shop, mercifully close to where they were originally sitting. Oliver goes willingly, his grasp on Elio almost painfully tight, but Elio makes sure his face doesn’t show his discomfort, simply offering soft words and endearments as he arranges them side by side. Once they’re seated he wraps his arm around Oliver’s shoulders once more, and Oliver immediately pillows head against Elio’s chest. Elio thinks it can’t possibly be comfortable - he’s filled out slightly over the past five years but he’s still more bone than muscle - but Oliver doesn’t seem inclined to move. Elio starts up a steady stream of nothing, his words regaling Oliver with nonsense facts while his hand traces nonsense patterns along his arm. Oliver doesn’t appear to be listening too closely to what Elio has to say, but bit by bit his body starts to relax in Elio’s arms.

 

“That’s wrong,” Oliver finally interjects, his voice sounding scratchy like he’s forgotten how to use it.

 

“Hmm?” Elio replies, his hands still dancing along Oliver’s bicep even as he pauses to let him speak.

 

“What you said about Holst being a submissive, it’s wrong.” Oliver sounds quiet but firm. “It’s a common misconception because he was shy and disliked public appearances, but his family have refuted that claim again and again.” 

 

“My mistake,” Elio says with a soft smile. He’d been wondering when Oliver would come back to himself enough to counter some of his more outlandish statements. He drops his head to meet Oliver’s gaze, and finds his expression almost clear. “Welcome back.” 

 

Oliver heaves a deep sigh, and slowly pushes himself upright. “Fuck,” he says succinctly once he’s supporting his own weight, roughly scrubbing his hand across his face. “ Fuck .”

 

“You crashed pretty hard there,” Elio says, making sure to keep his voice free of judgement. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Like death chewed me up, got bored and spit me out,” Oliver says, finally sounding more like himself. His hands move up to scrape through his hair and his gaze suddenly turns sheepish. “Shit, I’m really sorry about...all of that.”

 

“Don’t be silly, it happens to the best of us,” Elio immediately replies. The last thing he wants is for Oliver to feel self-conscious about what he just went through. “That looked like a pretty bad one though, are you sure you’re okay?”

 

Oliver waves a hand at Elio. “I was just being silly, you don’t need to worry, really.”

 

“Oliver,” Elio says, letting a hint of steel creep into his voice. “You don’t get to drop on me for the better part of an hour and then tell me not to worry.”

 

Oliver at least has the decency to look chastened at that, huffing a heavy sigh. “I know, you’re right. I guess I was worse than I thought.” 

 

“How did it get this bad? Where was Delilah?” Part of Elio thinks he shouldn’t be badmouthing Oliver’s Dominant quite so blatantly, but a much bigger part of him thinks it’s justified given the state Oliver was in when he arrived.

 

“I don’t...I didn’t want to worry her.” Oliver admits, raking his hand through his hair again. It’s poking up in all different directions and Elio’s fingers itch to smooth it back down.

 

“Oliver!” he chides instead, sitting on his hands to resist the temptation. “It’s our job to look after you, that’s our side of the contract.”

 

“I know,” Oliver admits, refusing to meet Elio’s gaze. “I just...she’s been busy.”

 

“That’s not an excuse, for either of you.” Elio can feel his temper starting to flare, knows he should be trying harder to control it, especially with Oliver still so tender and raw, but he can’t help it. The more he hears about Oliver’s claim, the less he understands it. “Christ, the two of you are as bad as each other.”

 

“Elio, please,” Oliver says plaintively, sounding so defeated that all of Elio’s anger immediately disappears. “I know it’s hard to understand.”

 

“Then explain it to me,” Elio begs, taking one of Oliver’s hands in his own. “Explain it to me, please, because right now all I can see is your pain and it’s killing me.”

 

Oliver sighs, but he squeezes Elio’s hand tightly as he replies. “Delilah is...she’s smart, and driven, and ambitious. She’s going to go such great places Elio, you don’t even realize.” Oliver’s expression has grown soft, and Elio can see the genuine pride in his eyes as he talks. “She’s going to do amazing things in her life, and sometimes that forces...other things to take a back seat.” He pauses, choosing his words carefully. “I know this all looks bad, but I swear to you Elio, she’s not a bad Dominant.”

 

“I don’t doubt that,” Elio says, even though he sort of really does. “But that doesn’t tell me why she’s a good Dominant for you .”

 

“Her family and mine are close, we’ve known each other since childhood.”

 

“I’ve known Mariza since I was three, and we were terrible together.”

 

“She looks after me.”

 

“She provides for you, it’s different.” Elio practically growls in exasperation. “Tell me one thing, just one, where she gives you something you actually need, and I’ll let it go, I swear I will.”

 

Oliver opens his mouth, but no words come out. The two of them stare at each other for a long beat, and then Oliver huffs in defeat. “It doesn’t matter. It is what it is.”

 

“You can’t honestly believe that?” Elio can’t hide his shock at Oliver’s casual acceptance of his situation.

 

Oliver raises an eyebrow. “And what exactly is the alternative? I break my claim, go back to live with my parents? That is if they’ll even accept me after causing such a scandal.” Elio opens his mouth to interject, but Oliver charges on, his voice turning hard and bitter. “And if they don’t then where would I go? I have no career, no money to my name. I’m sure it all seems so easy to you; you’re a Dominant with the world at his feet and a family who would kill for you. Me? I’m a washed up sub with nothing to offer and nobody to turn to.”

 

“Bullshit.” Elio’s heart breaks at Oliver’s easy dismissal of himself. “You’re amazing, Oliver. Any Dominant would be lucky to have you.”

 

“What about you? Would you be lucky to have me?” Oliver counters like the answer is an obvious no, and Elio almost can’t believe what he’s hearing.

 

“Yes!” he exclaims, surprised he even has to say it out loud. “I’d have you in a heartbeat, how can you not know that?”

 

Oliver blinks, like he really hadn’t known that. Elio can practically see the different waves of emotion flowing across his features; the surprise, the hope, and then the crushing resignation. He scoffs, rolling his eyes dismissively. “You would throw away your whole career for me? Delilah would ruin you.”

 

“Fuck it, we’ll run away to Italy and start again, I don’t care.”

 

“You don’t understand what you’re saying,” Oliver is practically pleading, begging for Elio to take it all back. He thrusts his arms out in front of Elio, wrists upturned so that Elio can see his submissive circle with Delilah’s mark inside of it. Her claim tattooed on his skin. “You would really want a sub who’s double marked? Really?”

 

“I would want you!” Elio’s voice pitches upwards with emotion, frustrated beyond measure that he can’t show Oliver just how desperately he desires him. He takes a deep, shuddering breath and lifts his hand to cover Oliver’s mark, his thumb tracing across the raised skin of the circle. “I just want you,” he repeats more quietly. “Whatever way you come.”

 

Oliver inhales sharply, his wrist shivering under Elio’s touch. “I-” he starts, and for one short, wonderful moment Elio thinks he might actually be about to accept what Elio is offering. Then he snatches his arm out of Elio’s grasp, holding it to his chest like his touch is scalding. 

 

“I have to go,” he says abruptly, the words coming out choked and muffled as he stands and turns his back on Elio.

 

“Oliver, no, wait!” Elio begs, hurriedly standing up himself, but Oliver has already bolted for the door.

Chapter Text

Elio spends the rest of the day engulfed in a haze of self-loathing. After Oliver all but runs away from him at the cafe, he returns home on auto-pilot, his brain tripping over the events of their surreal encounter.

 

He still can’t quite work out how they got from meeting up for coffee to Elio asking Oliver to leave his Dominant and run away with him. He meant every word of it - of course he did - but he still can’t believe it actually happened.

 

His fingers itch to pick up the phone. To call Oliver and...do what? Take back everything he said? Double down on his offer? Mostly he just wants to make sure he’s okay. Regardless of his thoughts on Oliver’s domestic situation, it was undeniably shitty of Elio to throw it all in his face just moments after coming back from a drop.

 

He so desperately wants to talk to him, to calm the raging animal inside of him that’s railing against the idea of Oliver being alone, hurt and suffering in silence like he always does. But after the way Elio acted today, he knows he needs to let Oliver decide on the next move. He was out of line, and if Oliver doesn’t want to talk to him ever again…

 

Well Elio isn’t quite sure if he’ll ever get over the heartbreak of losing him from his life a second time, but it’s Oliver’s decision to make.

 

Midnight finds Elio curled up on his couch, a thick blanket pulled up to his neck as his eyes lazily track the heavy droplets of rain that hit his window and begin their steady slide towards the ground. It’s been raining for most of the evening, and the steady patter of raindrops is almost hypnotically soothing. He’s on the cusp of sleep - that point where everything falls halfway between dream and reality - so when he hears the frantic knocking on his door, his first thought is that he’s imagining it.

 

The noise doesn’t disappear though, even when he blinks himself back to full wakefulness, and Elio frowns as he slips off the sofa and pads over to the door, his blanket wrapped around his shoulders like a cape. Who on earth could be calling at this hour?

 

He opens the door, and gasps.

 

Oliver is huddled on his doorstep, soaked from head to foot. His arms are wrapped tightly around his waist, his head bowed in a poor attempt to keep the rain off his face. 

 

“Did you mean it?” he says by way of greeting, the words shuddering as his teeth chatter from the cold.

 

“Christ, Oliver, get in out of the rain.” Elio grabs his arm and bodily drags him inside, closing the door hurriedly behind them. 

 

Oliver stands in his living room, staring at Elio like he’s the only thing in the world that matters. Water starts to pool at his feet, his wet clothes plastered to his skin, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. “Did you mean it?” he repeats urgently.

 

“Did I mean what? Oliver what the hell, are you trying to catch your death?” Elio whips off his blanket and hastily throws it around Oliver shoulders. It won’t do much with his soaking clothes still underneath, but it’s better than nothing. 

 

Oliver doesn’t grab the blanket to keep it around him, doesn’t do anything except stare at Elio with those piercing blue eyes of his. “I left her,” he says simply, and the ground beneath Elio’s feet promptly vanishes.

 

“I...you..what?” Elio stammers, his hands fluttering ineffectually along Oliver’s arms as he tries to process what he just said. “You left her? You left Delilah?” He’s pretty sure that’s what Oliver means, but he has to be certain. He needs to be certain.

 

“I left Delilah,” Oliver confirms, his whole body starting to shudder underneath Elio’s hands. Elio doesn’t know whether it’s from the cold or the stress, but his hands settle more firmly on Oliver’s biceps, rubbing up to his shoulders and down again. 

 

“It’s okay, you’re okay,” he says soothingly, even though he feels like he’s anything but. “Come sit down, let me make you a hot drink. You must be freezing.”

 

Oliver opens his mouth to say something, but he closes it before any words come out. He gives a small nod, letting himself be guided across the room and down onto the sofa. Elio tugs the blanket tighter around him, patting the front awkwardly before moving over to his little kitchenette. He’s never been so grateful for living in a studio apartment, he doesn’t think he could bear to be in a separate room from Oliver right now. 

 

He fills the kettle and sets it to boil, taking out two cups and adding chamomile tea bags to each. He’s briefly thankful for his European-style kettle - he still doesn’t understand how American’s function without them - as he pours boiling water into each of the mugs and carries them back over to the sofa. Oliver hasn’t moved, his eyes tracking Elio’s every action instead.

 

“Here, careful, it’s hot,” Elio says as he passes one of the mugs to Oliver, who takes it in both hands. Elio hesitantly sits on the sofa next to him, wondering if Oliver minds them being in such close proximity. 

 

He desperately hopes not. 

 

For a few minutes there’s silence, the two of them cradling their hot drinks and occasionally blowing the steam that curls up from them. Elio is waiting for Oliver to say something, but the other man seems lost in his own head. Eventually Elio can’t bear the silence any more, he has to say something. Anything.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks cautiously.

 

Oliver heaves a great, heavy sigh, his whole body crumpling as he shrinks in on himself. “I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he says, sounding so lost, so broken. “I couldn’t stop thinking about...about what you said at the cafe, and then Delilah came home and... I could tell she was stressed.” 

 

He pauses, eyes flicking from his drink to Elio, as if asking for permission to continue. Elio nods in what he hopes is a reassuring way, and Oliver’s gaze returns to his drink as he continues. “She’d clearly had a bad day at work, and when that happens she likes...she likes me to be the big bad sub that she gets to tear down and put in his place and I just couldn’t .” Oliver’s voice breaks around the last word, and Elio is sure he’s not imagining the tears in his eyes. “I wanted to be good for her, I always want to be good for her, but I hate playing that role. And after everything that happened with you I just- I safeworded, and she was so disappointed. She needed this and I couldn’t give it to her and I failed-”

 

“Shhh, no, you didn’t fail,” Elio does his best to soothe the rising panic he can hear in Oliver’s voice. He hastily puts his drink aside so he can shuffle closer to Oliver, hand coming up to rub small circles along the path of his spine. “She’d had a bad day, but so had you. Relationships are a partnership, or they should be. It can’t be one person always taking and the other always giving.”

 

“I asked her if we could do something else, anything else,” Oliver says, and Elio wonders if he even heard what he said. “But she told me a submissive should want to make their Dominant happy and I said...I said maybe I didn’t want to be her submissive any more.” Oliver heaves a deep breath. “And as soon as I said it, I knew it was true. I didn’t want it any more. I didn’t want her any more.”

 

“Oh, Oliver ,” Elio says, his hand still stroking along his spine, trying desperately to sound comforting. “That must have been awful.”

 

“She was so mad,” Oliver practically whispers. “She was so mad and she told me that if I left she’d never take me back, never. She told me that my parents wouldn’t want me, that no one would ever want me, that I was stupid to think I could ever do better than her.” His voice is a dull monotone, like he’s taken every one of her threats to heart. Elio’s teeth almost go through his tongue as he bites it so hard to stop himself from saying something he’ll regret later. “Maybe she’s right, maybe no one will want me, but I think...I think I’d rather be on my own than stay with her.”

 

“That’s so fucking brave of you.” Elio can’t think of anything to say except the awed truth.

 

Oliver snorts mirthlessly, clearly not believing Elio, and Elio doesn’t think as his hand slides up Oliver’s back to clasp lightly as his neck, fingers just resting on the pressure points on either side of his spine.

 

“No, I mean it. That must have been terrifying, but you stood up for yourself and that’s amazing. You’re so amazing Oliver and you don’t even realize it.” 

 

“I’m stupid,” Oliver says quietly. “What was I thinking, storming out like that? All my stuff is still at her place, I have nowhere to go-”

 

“Nonsense,” Elio interrupts firmly. “You’re staying here.” 

 

Oliver turns to look at him, his eyes wide, and Elio belatedly realizes how that must have sounded. Barely out of a five year claim and here Elio is trying to force a new one on him. “I don’t...I’m not expecting anything from you,” he hastens to clarify, releasing Oliver’s neck and flexing his fingers like the touch is scalding. “This isn’t a proposition, I just want to help. I don’t have a spare room, but we can make up the sofa. Or I can take the sofa and you can have the bed, I’m probably a better fit for it anyway.” He cuts off his rambling with a slightly hysterical laugh. Oliver is still staring at him like there’s nothing else left in the world.

 

“Did you mean it?” Oliver asks for a third time, and Elio finally, finally thinks he understands what he was trying to say when he first arrived. “Did you mean it when you said you wanted me?”

 

All the air leaves Elio’s lungs in a pained whoosh. “Of course I did,” he says quietly, reverently. A confession spoken to the silence that’s hanging between them. “Oliver, you have to know, I never stopped wanting you.”

 

There’s another beat of silence, where Elio’s words slowly register, and then suddenly Elio finds himself being bodily dragged into Oliver’s lap,


“I missed you, every day,” Oliver mumbles into the dip of Elio’s throat, his hands tightening on Elio’s hips as he draws them closer together, Elio’s legs bracketing Oliver’s on the sofa. “Every damn day.”

 

Elio yelps at the sudden change in position, but his arms instinctively come up and around Oliver’s neck. Even after so many years it feels so natural for them to settle there, like they never stopped doing this.

 

Oliver moans and his hands tighten against Elio’s hip-bones before stroking back and up to his shoulder-blades, wide hands splayed to cover as much of his body as possible. Elio can’t help the whimper that escapes his lips as he grinds down into Oliver’s lap, the heady rush of being so close after so long momentarily overriding his common sense. He feels Oliver’s lips press against his neck, his tongue laving almost desperately at the flushed skin there, and he has to bite his lip against the groan that threatens to break out of him.

 

“Wait, Oliver wait,” he gasps, pushing against the other man’s shoulder to force a bit of space between them. The blood is rushing in his ears, his inner Dominant screaming at him for what he’s about to do, but he can’t let this go any further without being sure.

 

Oliver is looking up at him with lust-blown eyes, two spots of pink high on his cheeks. He looks confused, and a little hurt at why Elio is suddenly wriggling backwards in his lap.

 

“Are you...are you sure this is what you want?” Elio makes himself ask. “Tonight had been all sorts of crazy for you, are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do?”

 

Oliver’s expression crumples, his brow furrowed in consternation. “You don’t want me?” he asks, sounding very small indeed.

 

“Oh, sweetheart no,” Elio cups Oliver’s face gently in his hands, making sure Oliver can’t drop his gaze. “I want you so much. You have no idea.” He takes a breath, making sure to properly think through what he says next so it can’t be misconstrued. 

 

“If you want to be with me, then I promise you, there’s nothing I’d love more. But I don’t want you to feel like you have to be with me because you can’t see any alternatives.” Elio pauses, just the idea that Oliver might see his love as an obligation, a lesser of two evils...he harshly stomps down on the hurt churning in his gut. This isn’t about him, it’s about Oliver.

 

“I can’t even imagine what you’re going through right now, what you’re feeling after such a huge upheaval of everything in your life. If you want to take the night, or even the next few days or weeks to think about what it is you really want, then I need you to know that that’s okay. My feelings for you won’t change, nor will my offer for you to stay here, for as long as you need.” Elio strokes his thumbs along Oliver’s cheekbone reverently, smiling at the way the other man’s eyes flutter closed at the soft touch. “I just want you to be happy, Oliver. That’s all I ever want.”

 

Oliver inhales a long, shuddering breath, then exhales just as slowly. His eyes slowly open, filled with affection and just a hint of amusement.

 

“What happened to the Elio I knew who grabbed my crotch and asked if he’d offended me?” Oliver teases, his thumb coming up to stroke gently along Elio’s lower lip.

 

Elio instinctively nips at Oliver’s thumb, leaving teeth marks in the soft flesh of his thumbprint. Oliver hisses at the sensation, and Elio immediately licks over the indents to soothe the sting.

 

“I’m older now,” he says, a soft smile on his lips as he moves to kiss each pad of Oliver’s fingers in turn. “Wiser.”

 

Oliver snorts. “You were always too wise for your own good.”

 

“Maybe so,” Elio concedes, his lips moving down to kiss at the pulse points on Oliver’s wrist. “But at least it brought me you.”

 

He feels more than hears Oliver’s breath catching in his throat, and when he looks up from his ministrations to meet Oliver’s gaze his own breath is taken away by the depths of adoration he sees shining back at him.


“Please, Elio,” Oliver says, his voice steady and unwavering. “Remind me what it feels like to be yours.”

 

And really, how could Elio ever say no to that?

Chapter Text

Their first kiss begins with that electric spark of the unknown. Elio starts to lean forwards, his arms coming up to wrap around Oliver’s neck, but he only gets halfway before Oliver is surging towards him, frantically closing the last of the space between them. 

 

Oliver’s lips are warm, and soft, and slightly damp like he couldn’t help but lick them before moving in, and Elio groans as he instinctively deepens the kiss. His tongue flicks out to trace along the seam of Oliver’s lips in silent request, and Oliver immediately obliges, mouth falling open with a soft sigh as he allows Elio to delve inside. 

 

Oliver tastes exactly like Elio remembers, and the sense memory is just enough to temper the urgency starting to build inside his chest. He allows the kiss to slow, turn more languid, embracing the familiarity of the action as they re-learn each other’s mouths after so long apart. Oliver seems content to follow Elio’s lead, and for a while they lose themselves in one another with no thought to what might come next.

 

After a certain period of time - Elio honestly wouldn’t be able to say whether it was minutes or hours - he becomes aware of movement between his legs. Oliver is slowly pumping his hips, small rocks back and forth that seem to have no discernible rhythm. Elio is reasonably sure Oliver isn’t even aware of his actions, but he doesn’t hesitate before grinding down into Oliver’s lap in response. He’s rewarded by a startled hitch of breath against his kiss-slicked lips.

 

“Elio,” Oliver groans, his name like a prayer on his lips as his hips jerk more violently, seeking out the contact again. Elio grins and willingly complies, gyrating so that their crotches grind together roughly. The groan that tears through the air could have come from either of them; it probably came from both.

 

“What do you want?” Elio asks against Oliver’s lips. “What can I give you?”

 

“Take me apart,” Oliver immediately replies, his words almost lost in the desperate kiss they come together for. “Make it so that the only thing I remember is your name.”

 

“My name? Or yours?” Elio asks as he drops his head to start pressing hot, open mouthed kisses to Oliver’s neck. “Call me by your name-”

 

“And I’ll call you by mine,” Oliver immediately finishes, sending a thrill of pleasure down Elio’s spine. He remembers. He remembers everything.

 

Oliver whines as Elio’s mouth continues its exploration of his neck, tilting his head to expose even more flesh to Elio’s touch. “Oliver,” he says. “Oliver.”

 

Elio,” Elio replies, something hot and victorious uncurling inside his chest. How could anybody have even thought to try and rival what they have, what they’ve always had?

 

“Oliver,” Oliver repeats a third time, sounding completely dazed, and Elio takes that as his cue to start moving things along. He swings himself out of Oliver’s lap, settling himself on the sofa and cupping Oliver’s cheek when the other man pouts at the loss of contact. 

 

“Tell me your safeword,” he commands, tilting Oliver’s face to meet his gaze. The first flushes of subspace are unmistakable on Oliver’s expressive features, and he needs to make sure he’s still coherent enough to consent properly before they go any further.

 

“Traffic lights,” Oliver responds. “Red, Yellow, Green. Like before.”

 

“Thank you." Elio feels an irrational surge of pleasure at the fact that Oliver wants to keep their safewords from the last time they were together. “And have any of your limits changed since... since last time?”

 

Oliver is already determinedly shaking his head. “Not for you,” he hastens to reassure Elio, and Elio makes note in the back of his brain to ask about that particular wording later on, but for now he’s comfortable that they’re both on the same page enough to continue.

 

“Okay darling, down you go.” He guides Oliver to kneel on the floor between his legs, making sure to keep as much skin-to-skin contact as possible between them. “Show me what a good submissive you can be for me.”

 

Oliver nods eagerly, his eyes slightly glassy as he stares adoringly up at Elio. “I can be so good for you, let me show you, please.”

 

Elio smiles, his hand carding through Oliver’s hair as he purposefully widens his legs, his hard cock visibly straining against the seam of his pants. “Oh, I know you can. Go on love, you know what to do.”

 

Even after all this time, Oliver knows better than to use his hands as he buries his face in Elio’s crotch, his mouth tugging and biting at the fabric until Elio is exposed. It’s a slow process; Elio isn’t wearing the most cooperative clothing having not exactly expected this turn of events. But Oliver is nothing if not dedicated, and Elio makes sure to keep up a steady stream of compliments as he works. Oliver’s growl of satisfaction as Elio springs free causes a fresh surge of blood to rush southwards, and Elio groans as his cock flexes in anticipation, rubbing against Oliver’s cheek and leaving a streak of precome in it’s wake.

 

“Fuck, look at you.” His voice turns low and gravelly, like it always does when he allows his Dominant side free reign. “Still so good for me.”

 

Oliver hums happily at the praise, and immediately gets to work suckling at the tip of Elio’s dick. It’s such a sharp rush of pleasure that Elio can’t help his head from thudding backwards against the wall behind the sofa. The noise startles them both, but Oliver doesn’t let it distract him from the task at hand, his mouth opening wider as he slips further down Elio’s length.

 

“Fuck,” Elio repeats, all of his usual eloquence abandoning him in the face of Oliver’s masterful mouth. He can feel it all around him, the slick heat almost burning him in its ferocious pleasure. 

 

“Hands,” he orders, and Oliver immediately offers his upturned wrists, his head still bobbing in Elio’s lap. Elio takes one wrist in each of his hands, and holds them down by his hips on the sofa. He slowly slides them along the fabric, away from himself and towards the arms of the couch, until Oliver’s arms are held straight and taut, limiting almost all movement of his upper body.

 

“Good,” Elio croons as Oliver stills, lips still wrapped around his cock. He thrusts upwards experimentally, not too deep into Oliver’s mouth but enough to clearly signal his intentions. Oliver groans around him, the vibrations travelling straight to his balls and making him almost impossibly harder. He thrusts again, this time slightly deeper, and when Oliver continues to suck eagerly he starts up a steady rhythm, pushing further and further into Oliver’s mouth until he’s buried the whole way down the submissive’s throat.

 

“Look at you,” he gasps when Oliver’s nose is nestled in the soft thatch of hair above his crotch. He can feel Oliver trying and failing to swallow around him, his throat fluttering desperately against the intrusion. Elio lets go of one of Oliver’s wrists, knowing he’ll keep it in place regardless, and wraps his slender fingers oh-so gently around Oliver’s neck. He can feel the slight bulge of himself through Oliver’s skin, and that in itself is almost enough to send him over the edge. He waits until Oliver’s eyes prick with tears before drawing out of his mouth and letting him take a deep, shuddering breath.

 

“That felt so good,” he praises as Oliver hastily takes in as much oxygen as he can. “You feel so incredible, I can’t even tell you.” He starts to lightly thrusts into Oliver’s mouth again, his hand sliding up to grasp Oliver’s chin. “I would do this all day if I could, have you here between my legs, pleasuring me with that amazing mouth of yours.”

 

Oliver groans, his eyes fluttering closed, and Elio can tell that he likes the suggestion. “Maybe I’ll put you underneath my grand piano, have you suck me while I practice. You know how engrossed I get, you might be there for hours.” He pulls out completely and wipes the tip of his cock across Oliver’s lips, smearing spit and precome across the flushed skin. “Your knees would probably start to cramp, and your jaw definitely would, but you’d keep on going wouldn’t you? Because you know how good it makes me feel.”

 

“I would,” Oliver agrees readily, tongue darting out to lick at Elio’s dick as it swipes past. “I’d do anything for you.”

 

“I know you would,” Elio said, pushing just the tip of his cock through Oliver’s lips again, letting him suckle on it like a lollypop. “And you know I’d let you.”

 

Oliver’s tongue teases against his slit, distracting Elio from whatever he was about to say next. He can feel himself edging dangerously close to his climax, and he’s not nearly ready for this to be over just yet. He lets go of Oliver’s other wrist and stands up, slipping a hand underneath Oliver’s elbow to guide the submissive upwards and determinedly ignoring his soft huff of protest at having to abandon Elio’s dick. “Come on, the bed is much more comfortable for what I want to do to you next.”

 

Oliver nods as the sentiment registers, and Elio just about has time to see the glint in his eye before hands cup his ass and the floor disappears from underneath his feet. He yelps as Oliver bodily lifts him, instinctively wrapping his legs around Oliver’s waist and throwing his arms around his neck.

 

“Fuck,” he exclaims as Oliver starts to walk them both over to his bed in the far corner of the room, the thrill in his voice betraying just how desperately the act turns him on. Oliver’s hands clasp firmly at his thighs, holding him steady against his chest, and Elio takes the opportunity to bite down on the delicate skin of Oliver’s neck, working him over with his tongue and teeth. He’s brought up quite an impressive bruise before Oliver deposits him down onto the mattress, immediately crawling down after him.

 

“Show off,” Elio chides fondly as he rolls them both so that Oliver is on his back and Elio is straddling his hips once again. He pins Oliver’s hands firmly against the bed, above his head, before returning his attention back to his neck, bringing up another delightfully angry mark to mirror the first. Oliver moans, hips bucking at the sensation, but Elio shushes him with a scrape of teeth against his jaw. 

 

“I’m going to fuck you tonight,” he says matter-of-factly, nipping at the curve of Oliver’s chin. “Is that going to be a problem?”

 

Oliver shakes his head so violently Elio thinks it must hurt. “Oh, fuck. No, no problem. Please Elio, please .”

 

Elio silences Oliver’s begging with a harsh kiss, licking into his mouth with fierce determination. When he finally draws away Oliver’s pupils are blown wide with lust, and he’s reasonably sure his look exactly the same.

 

“It’s been a while since I had you there,” he says, forcing his voice to sound almost conversational even as Oliver moans and bucks at the lewd implications. “Will you still be able to take me?”

 

“I can. I know I can,” Oliver pants, straining upwards in a futile attempt to reclaim Elio’s lips. “I...I would use my fingers.”

 

And well, that wasn’t exactly what Elio had been expecting him to say.

 

He blinks slowly, trying not to let the surprise show on his face. “You would use your fingers,” he repeats.

 

Oliver nods vigorously. “When I was on my own. I would- I would pretend it was you.” He suddenly blushes, ducking his head and looking embarrassed as he tries to avoid Elio’s gaze. “I know that wasn’t very good of me, thinking of another Dominant…”

 

“No, hey, don’t say that,” Elio immediately soothes, dropping his head and tilting it to capture Oliver’s lips again. “There’s nothing wrong with fantasies.” He pauses, wondering whether to admit this next bit. “I did the same. I never stopped thinking of you.”

 

“You didn’t?” Oliver sounds like he can’t quite believe it

 

“Never,” Elio reiterates firmly, suddenly getting an idea of how he can use this revelation to their advantage. He lets go of Oliver’s wrists and shimmies off his lap, ignoring Oliver’s whine of protest. “Show me,” he says, settling himself cross-legged on the edge of the bed. “Show me how you would touch yourself and think of me.”

 

Oliver blinks slowly at him, and Elio can practically see the cogs whirring in his brain. He’s about to repeat himself when Oliver scrambles into motion, shedding his clothes like a man possessed before settling himself on his hands and knees, facing the headboard and away from Elio, ass on proud display. He balances his weight on his left forearm as he sucks the first and second finger of his right hand into his mouth, moving them back to rest lightly against his hole.

 

Elio has been told many times in the past that he possesses close to perfect recall, supported by a vivid imagination that is only too eager to fill in any gaps he might have missed. Nothing, nothing he’s imagined over the past five years comes even close to the sight he’s presented with right now. 

 

The sound of appreciation he makes is practically punched out of him as his lungs forget how they’re supposed to work in the face of Oliver’s inhuman perfection; flawless skin stretched tightly over rippling muscles, bunching and flexing as the submissive forcibly holds his own desires in check, waiting for the signal from Elio to continue. Elio licks his lips - a man about to sample the most delectable of feasts - and hungrily swallows down Oliver’s increasingly desperate whines of anticipation.

 

Finally, when it looks like Oliver is about to shake right out of that beautiful skin of his, Elio relents. “You’d do it just like this?” he asks, voice low and encouraging, and watches the full body shudder that ripples through Oliver as he pushes the tip of his forefinger inside himself.

 

“Yes. Just like this.” Oliver gasps as he slides his finger in and out of his tight hole. “Sometimes I’d pretend it was your fingers. Sometimes - ah - sometimes I would imagine you telling me how good I look getting myself ready for you.”

 

“You look so good,” Elio immediately agrees, pressing his heel down against his crotch to stifle the attentions of his all-too eager cock. “You look fucking amazing.”

 

Oliver hums happily, his breath exhaling in a rough gasp as he buries his finger all the way to the last knuckle before drawing it back out again. It’s an undeniably tight fit, and Elio can see that spit isn’t quite enough to completely smooth the way as his pucker moves in and out with his shallow thrusts.

 

“Ah, oh god,” Oliver moans, the hand in his ass speeding up as the other clutches at the comforter beneath him. “Elio, mmm, fuck.”

 

“Faster,” Elio commands, quickly discarding his own clothes before moving to grab the lube out of his bedside drawer. “Get yourself nice and loose for me.”

 

“Elio,” Oliver’s voice breaks around his name as he adds a second finger, starting to fuck himself roughly with both digits. “Elio- ah- please.”

 

“Shh, it’s okay, I’ve got you,” Elio immediately reassures him, the time for teasing over as his fingers wrap around Oliver’s wrist to still his movements. He gently guides his hand away from his entrance, placing it down on the bed next to them. “It’s my turn to look after you now.”

 

Oliver pants heavily, bracing himself on both forearms as soon as Elio lets go of him. Elio can feel the blood pounding throughout his body, his cock almost painfully hard where it strains out in front of him. He grabs Oliver’s hips and forces himself to move slowly, casually, as he drops his head to lick a long stripe along Oliver’s crack, from perineum to coccyx.

 

Oliver practically howls, thrusting backwards against Elio, and Elio has to dig his nails into the sensitive flesh of his hip-bones to stop himself from being knocked completely off the bed. “Stop moving,” he commands, putting a bit more force into his grip. “You stop, or I’ll stop.”

 

“Don’t stop.” Oliver begs, holding himself so still his whole body seems to vibrate with the effort. “I’ll be good, I won’t move I promise.”

 

Elio waits for a long beat, drawing out the suspense for as long as isn’t cruel before ducking his head and resuming his ministrations. He feels Oliver’s toes curl into the sheets, his hands crumpling the fabric viciously in their grasp, but the rest of his body stays perfectly, obediently still as Elio works him over again and again. 

 

He only draws away when Oliver is practically dripping, noticing with satisfaction the little crescent lines dotted across his upper thighs from where Elio’s nails have dug in. Oliver whines at the loss, but Elio shushes him as he quickly uncaps the lube, slathering himself with a generous amount of slick before shuffling back between Oliver’s parted legs.

 

“You ready?” he asks, one hand back on Oliver’s hip as the other strokes circles into the base of his spine. 

 

“So ready, never been more ready,” Oliver babbles eagerly and Elio can’t help the wide grin that spreads across his face as he thrusts forwards and bottoms out in one long stroke.

 

The groan sounds like it’s ripped right out of Oliver’s throat, deep and guttural, and Elio immediately echoes the sentiment with his own moan of euphoria. Oliver feels exactly as amazing as he always did, hot and tight and fluttering all around him. Elio stills, hips flush with Oliver’s ass, and bites his lip harshly to stop the wave of pleasure that threatens to overwhelm him. He already knows that this is going to be over embarrassingly fast, but it can’t be that fast.

 

Oliver whines and starts to gyrate his hips in small circles. “Elio, Elio. You have to move.”

 

And honestly, Elio has never been able to deny Oliver when he sounds like that.

 

He draws almost the whole way out, then slams his way back in again. Oliver keens, throwing his head back in pleasure, so Elio does it again, and again. He can feel the telltale tightening in his balls as his climax barrels towards the surface, but he can’t stop, can’t even slow down as Oliver writhes underneath him and begs him to keep going.

 

“Fuck, you look so amazing, just like I remembered.” The words spill from Elio’s lips without conscious thought, his movements getting steadily less coordinated as the pleasure starts to overwhelm him. “So good, so perfect. My Oliver, my Elio. Voglio te. Ho bisogno di te. Devo averti.”

 

“Oliver, Oliver, Oliver,” Oliver chants back at him. “Please, please can I touch myself?.”

 

“Touch yourself and come for me, tesoro,” Elio orders, and Oliver’s hand immediately wraps around his dick, tugging frantically in time with Elio’s thrusts. 

 

Oliver,” Oliver moans, and Elio is gone. His cock pulses violently, and he knows Oliver can feel the moment he climaxes as he clenches almost painfully around him, joining him in his release with a scream.

 

For a long moment all Elio can hear is the blood ringing in his ears. He plasters himself along Oliver’s back, his breath coming in great, heaving gasps. He can feel Oliver shuddering underneath him, his whole body shaking with the effort of keeping them both upright, and he kisses Oliver’s cheek in silent apology before sliding out and flopping onto the bed neck to him.

 

Oliver immediately collapses onto his front, then rolls to press himself firmly against Elio’s side. Elio chuckles and wraps his arm around Oliver’s shoulders, drawing him closer against him and pressing a soft kiss to his forehead.

 

“Hi,” he says fondly as Oliver’s arms snakes around his waist, rubbing his cheek against Elio’s chest like an affectionate cat. “How are you doing?”

 

Oliver simply hums and presses closer, and Elio knows that he’s basking in one hell of a post-orgasm glow. Oliver has always been like this, Elio remembers; subspace manifesting on him as mute, tactile affection. Experience tells him that neither of them are moving until Oliver comes back up again, which could be a while based on the death grip Oliver has on him right now. He’s almost surprised at how far the submissive has dropped; they didn’t even do anything that intense.

 

“Hey, sweetheart, check in with me,” Elio says, suddenly needing the verbal reassurance that everything they’ve just done was okay. 

 

Oliver turns his thousand-yard stare on him, a smile tugging dopily at his lips. “Green. So, so green,” he replies with a contented sigh before pillowing his head back on Elio’s chest.

 

“You’re sure?” Elio doesn’t know why he’s pressing the subject, but after everything they’ve been through, after all of the heartache and the drama, he has to be sure. “It wasn’t too much? It wasn’t...too little?”

 

He’s talked a good talk these past few weeks about being older, wiser, more experienced. A small, but insistent part of him is abruptly terrified that Oliver might have been expecting more from him, might have found their encounter somehow lacking.

 

Oliver shakes his head adamantly, cheek sliding against the planes of Elio’s stomach. “It was perfect,” he insists.

 

Elio can’t help smiling at that, determinedly letting out the anxious breath he discovers he’s been holding. He drops his head to press another kiss to Oliver’s forehead. “You’re perfect,” he counters, wrapping his arms even tighter around his submissive as he finally lets himself give into the bone deep lethargy that’s seeping through his veins.

 

“Thank you,” he thinks he hears as he slips into a light doze. “For reminding me what it’s supposed to feel like.”

Chapter Text

Elio is woken by the soft press of lips against his forehead, and he blinks his eyes open just in time to see Oliver pad over towards the kitchen area, clad in only his boxers. 

 

Assuming that he’s just going to get a drink of water and then return to bed, Elio lets his eyes flutter closed as he sinks deeper into the mattress underneath him. His joints are stiff, his skin still tacky with bodily fluids, and the entirety of his left arm is numb from where Oliver must have been lying on it.


He doesn’t remember the last time he felt so good.


He smiles to himself and stretches like a cat, all the way from his toes to the tips of his fingers. Their dozing has somehow turned into a full night’s sleep, and bright rays of sunlight ripple invitingly across the bed as he shifts.

 

It’s only when he hears the telltale clanking of kitchenware that he opens his eyes again, frowning in confusion as he watches Oliver emerge from rummaging in one of his lower cupboards with two frying pans, turning his back to Elio as he places them both on the hob.

 

Not just getting a drink of water, then.

 

He slips out of bed and grabs himself fresh underwear from the chest of drawers next to his bed, tugging them on before crossing the room to lean on the small island that separates the kitchen from the rest of his living area.

 

“Morning,” he says fondly, grinning as Oliver immediately spins around at the sound of his voice. The smile that spreads across Oliver’s features at the sight of Elio is undeniably fond, but there’s something else dancing behind his eyes that Elio can’t quite place.

 

“Morning,” Oliver echos, sounding like his thoughts are somewhere other than this room. “I thought I’d make breakfast. I found some eggs in your fridge. I hope that’s okay?”

 

“Sounds great,” Elio replies, standing up a bit straighter. “Can I help with anything?”

 

Oliver shakes his head and waves Elio into one of the bar seats surrounding the island. “No, you just sit. This is my way of saying thank you.”

 

“Thank you?” Elio doesn’t quite understand, but he sits down anyway.

 

Oliver turns his attention back to the counter, but not before Elio sees a faint blush spread across the other man’s cheeks. “For last night.”

 

Elio laughs, “If that’s what this is for then I should definitely be the one making you breakfast, I don’t remember the last time I came that hard.”

 

Oliver chuckles in response, but the set of his shoulders tells Elio that there’s something else. ”No, I mean, for taking me in, looking after me. I did kind of just...show up on your doorstep.”

 

“Oliver,” Elio frowns at the self-deprecating tone. “You know I don’t mind that you came over. I’m glad you did.”

 

Oliver shrugs, focusing on the ingredients on the counter in front of him and not on Elio behind him. “You’re a good person, Elio, but know I sprung a lot on you last night without warning.”

 

“You didn’t spring anything on me that I didn’t already want,” Elio counters, standing up and starting to move towards Oliver before drawing up sharply, suddenly concerned that the attention might be unwanted. “What- what are you trying to say here?”

 

Oliver takes a deep breath, and Elio can see the way he steels himself for what he’s about to do next in every line of his body. He turns towards Elio with a wide smile plastered on his face that looks almost painful in how rigid it is.

 

“Look. Last night was amazing,” he begins, and Elio feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. No, no this can’t be happening, not again. “And you were so, so good to me. You cared for me so well, in just the way I needed. Even when I had no right to ask that of you.”

 

“Oliver-” Elio says faintly, the blood pounding in his ears making it almost too hard to hear what is being said, but Oliver holds his hand up in silent plea to let him finish.

 

“Things...escalated. I guess they always do between us.” Oliver laughs a sharp, brittle laugh that is completely devoid of mirth. “Look, I’m not naive enough to think that this can be anything more. I don’t deserve that, not after everything I put you through before. So- So I’ll make you breakfast, to say thank you, and then I promise I’ll get out of your hair.”

 

“You’re leaving me? Again?” Elio can’t believe it, he can’t believe history is repeating itself like this.

 

 “No!” Oliver sounds horrified at the implication. “No, that’s- that’s not what I’m doing.” 

 

“It kind of sounds like what you’re doing.” Elio knows he sounds pathetic, but he doesn’t understand. He can’t understand.

 

Oliver scrubs his hand roughly across his face, like he can wipe away the pain that’s so clearly broadcast there. “I can’t go back to Delilah, not after...not now. But I won’t guilt trip you into starting something between us that you don’t really want. I could never do that to you.”

 

“Oh for the love of-” Elio throws his hands above his head in frustrated anguish. This was not how this morning was supposed to go. “Do you honestly think, after everything we said and did last night, that I don’t want you with everything that I am?”

 

“You can’t,” Oliver’s voice starts to take on a pleading tone in the face of Elio’s vehement denial. “You can’t possibly want the person I am now, not when you’re-” he waves his hands at Elio like that explains anything at all “-everything you are now.”

 

“Do you not want me anymore? Is that what you’re really trying to say here?”

 

“Of course that’s not what I’m saying!” Oliver takes a step towards Elio then stops, hand outstretched but refusing to close the last few inches between them. “Of course I want you. So much it physically hurts sometimes.”  

 

“Then why are we fighting?!” The words stick in Elio’s throat, coming out wet and stuttering. “You want me, I want you. We both want this, so why the hell won’t you let us have it?”

 

His vision starts to blur with tears, and suddenly he’s engulfed in the comforting warmth of Oliver’s body as the other man finally - finally - closes the gap between them.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry,” Oliver chants into Elio’s ear as his arms wrap around his waist, and Elio immediately responds by throwing his own around Oliver’s neck, clinging on for dear life.

 

“Don’t do that,” Elio hisses, digging his nails into the tender flesh of Oliver’s shoulder. “Don’t be a martyr, don’t force us both to be unhappy because you don’t think you deserve anything more.”

 

“I know, I’m sorry,” Oliver repeats, burying his face in the crook of Elio’s neck. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

 

Elio heaves a shuddering breath, and makes himself draw away enough to look Oliver in the eyes. “You believe me, right?” he asks firmly. “You believe me when I say that this is what I want?”

 

Oliver nods his head determinedly. “I do. Or at least I’ll try to.” He huffs a slightly rueful sigh. “It might be hard, sometimes.”

 

“I know,” Elio says, cupping Oliver’s cheek with his hand. “But I promise I’ll tell you as many times as you need to hear it.” He pauses, a slightly surreal thought springing to mind. “Should I go out and buy some peaches so I can prove it to you?”

 

That at last gets a startled chuckle out of Oliver. Elio smiles, feeling marginally less shaky himself, and takes a deep breath as he forces himself to ask the question that will either make him whole again, or tear him into more pieces than can ever be put back together.

 

“And this is what you want right? I’m what you want?”

 

Oliver is already adamantly nodding his head. “More than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.”

 

Elio lets out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, letting the affirmation sink into his bones. “Then everything else is just window dressing.” He strokes his thumb lovingly along Oliver’s cheekbone, smiling to himself as Oliver’s breath hitches in response to the soft gesture. “As long as we’re both in this together, we can deal with everything else when it happens, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Oliver agrees breathlessly, the single word holding more promise than Elio knows what to do with.

 

This is happening. After all this time, it’s really happening. 

 

He tilts his head slightly upwards so that he can meet Oliver’s gaze, and makes sure the other man can see the smirk on his lips before he takes a pointed step backwards, out of Oliver’s embrace.

 

“You know, if we’re really doing this,” he says, quirking an eyebrow as he pointedly de-escalates the tension that has steadily been building around them, “stunts like the one you just pulled would probably call for some sort of punishment.”

 

Oliver inhales sharply, his body suddenly strung tight with anticipation rather than stress. He bites his lip, then slowly drops his gaze to the floor, clasping his hands firmly behind his back. “I’m sorry, Elio. Please punish me so that I can be better for you.”

 

The flush of pleasure that ripples through Elio at Oliver’s easy acquiescence is just enough to soothe the last vestiges of pain in his chest. His grin is all teeth as he taps his finger against his lower lip, pretending to consider his options. “I suppose technically this would all fall under negotiation - which we still need to do properly by the way - so I’ll let it slide. This time.” He slowly, pointedly sits back down on the bar stool, folding his arms in front of him. “But I do believe I was promised breakfast. And I think I’m at least owed a naked chef after all of that.”

 

Oliver chokes on his next inhale, his gaze flicking back up to meet Elio’s. When he sees that Elio is serious a wide grin spreads across his features. He doesn’t break eye contact as he hooks his thumbs into the elastic of his boxers, making a proper show of it as he slowly slides them down his thighs to pool at his ankles before kicking them to the side. His cock is already starting to swell between his legs, thick and inviting, and Elio doesn’t stop himself from licking his lips at the sight.

 

“Looks like we’ll be having breakfast, followed by some dessert,” Elio promises them both, hand dropping to palm at his crotch as Oliver turns around and focuses his attention on cooking, the toned globes of his ass wiggling just a bit too much to be completely incidental.

Chapter Text

Elio closes his eyes and lets himself get lost in the melody of the music playing from the stereo speakers next to his desk. His fingers tap out the rhythm against the bare skin of his thigh, just below the line of his shorts. It’s almost there, so close. 

 

“I don’t know, there’s just something missing,” he says with a huff, opening his eyes and frowning down at the sheet music in front of him. “What is it missing?”

 

There’s no response except for heavy breathing, and he swivels in his desk chair to look reprovingly over at Oliver. 

 

Oliver, who is currently naked and tied spread-eagle to his bed, a thick blue vibrator nestled between his ass-cheeks. 

 

“Oliver, did you hear me?” Elio repeats, getting up and moving to stand at the foot of the bed, crossing his arms as he stares down at his writhing submissive. “Are you not listening?”

 

“Mmm- ah- I’m sorry,” Oliver pants, his hips thrusting impotently into the air. “It’s just- sort of hard to concentrate right now.”

 

“Maybe you should try harder.” Elio tries not to smile as he raises a stern eyebrow.

 

“Maybe you should- hnngh - take this thing out of my ass and fuck me properly.”

 

Elio does chuckle at that, biting his lower lip to stop himself from grinning like an idiot. He refuses to reward Oliver for it, but he can’t help but love what a sarcastic little shit his submissive can be sometimes.

 

For a while it had seemed like Delilah had trained that particular character trait out of him, Oliver doing everything in his power to be the dutiful submissive he thought he was supposed to be. The first time he talked back at Elio during a scene he’d looked so horrified that Elio thought one of them might have to safeword out and talk it through. Instead Elio had laughed and made Oliver pay for it with three ruined orgasms in a row. Afterwards, when they were both cuddled tightly in bed, Elio stroking through Oliver’s hair and praising him for how well he’d handled himself, Oliver had haltingly admitted that he’d been terrified that Elio might decide he wasn’t worth the effort if he was anything less than perfect.

 

They’d had to do a lot of renegotiation after that one.

 

“Oh I’m definitely going to do that,” Elio replies, shimmying out of his shorts so that he’s equally naked, clambering onto the bed and over Oliver’s prone form until he’s straddling his chest. “But first I need to finish this draft.”

 

He grabs the lube from the bedside table and sneaks a hand down to quickly open himself up. “I think I need some alternative stimulation, get the creative juices flowing as it were.”  He pauses with two fingers buried in his ass, looking down seriously at Oliver, “You won’t come without permission, will you?”

 

Oliver shakes his head adamantly. “Never without your permission.”

 

“Very good,” Elio says, sliding his fingers out and reaching back to grasp Oliver’s hard dick. He strokes his shaft a few times, using up the remaining slick on his hand, then shuffles into position so that he can rise up and sink himself down on Oliver’s cock in one smooth motion.

 

The two of them groan in unison, Oliver instinctively jerking up into Elio’s tight heat. Elio gasps, and places a hand on Oliver’s chest to still him. “No, you just lie there and let me work,” he orders, closing his eyes as he wriggles his hips a few times to get settled.

 

“Yes Elio,” Oliver obediently replies, sounding completely breathless.

 

“Good boy,” Elio praises as he slowly starts to ride Oliver in time to the music still playing. He lets the melody wrap around him, engulfing him just as surely as his body engulfs Oliver’s cock. He moves carefully, making sure to avoid that sweet spot inside of him that will flip this from gentle stimulation to a frantic dash to the finish line.

 

After a few minutes he opens his eyes with a gasp. “That’s it!” he exclaims, scrambling off Oliver and back to his desk.

 

“Elio!” Oliver exclaims, hips starting to thrust wantonly again now that he doesn’t have Elio’s weight holding him down. “What the fuck?”

 

“Shhh baby,” Elio says, pen flying across the paper as he makes the amendments that have been eluding him all afternoon. “I’m almost there.”

 

“You’re almost there?” Oliver repeats disbelievingly. “But- you left.”

 

“And I’ll come back,” Elio reassures without looking up from his score, chewing at his lower lip in concentration.

 

“But Elio-”

 

Elio pauses and turns to raise an eyebrow at Oliver, who promptly slams his mouth shut. 

 

“That’s better,” Elio says, turning his attention back to the desk. “The sooner I finish this, the sooner I can reward you with that good, hard fuck you wanted.”

 

All he gets in response to that is a plaintive whine, only just heard above the sound of the vibrator continuing to buzz relentlessly away.

 


 

Elio returns to ride Oliver twice more before his composition is finished to his satisfaction, and after the third time Oliver is a quivering mess of arousal after having been edged so many times without release.

 

Elio takes pity on him the moment he declares himself done, gently drawing out the vibrator and replacing it with his own cock. He starts off fucking him just as slowly as the toy, his hips rolling almost lazily against Oliver’s ass as he takes the submissive higher and higher. Then, true to his word, he fucks Oliver hard and fast, the bed thumping rhythmically against the wall as he brings them both right to the very edge of release, holding for just a beat before thrusting them off the ledge together.

 

“Do you think Mama and Papa heard us?” he asks conversationally afterwards, his hands reaching to unclip the restraints from around the headboard. Oliver’s eyes widen in horror, and Elio laughs and kisses the tip of his nose in silent apology. 

 

“Relax, they’re visiting friends. They won’t be home for another hour.”

 

“That was mean,” Oliver pouts as Elio unbuckles the cuffs around his ankles, but there’s no real bite behind his words.

 

“I know. I’m a terrible, awful Dominant,” Elio agrees sagely as he presses soft kisses to the recently uncovered skin at Oliver’s wrists and ankles. There’s a faint redness from where Oliver was tugging at his restraints, but it should be gone in an hour or so.

 

“You’re the best Dominant ever,” Oliver argues. “But that was still mean.”

 

Elio laughs, bright and joyful, then leans over to grab something out of the top drawer of his bedside table.

 

“You might want to revisit that statement when you see what else I have planned for you,” he teases, waving the glass plug in front of Oliver’s face.

 

Oliver groans in vocal complaint, but Elio can see the flash of arousal behind his eyes.

 

“I want to keep myself inside of you, all through dinner,” Elio explains as he shuffles down between Oliver’s legs, one finger lightly brushing against the pinked skin of his used hole. 

 

Oliver hisses at the renewed stimulation, but keeps his legs obediently spread for Elio’s inspection. Elio hums in approval as he swipes up a few globs of come that have started to slip out, pressing them back inside Oliver’s body with his finger before following up with the plug. It’s a small one, and slips in easily after their activities, but Elio knows it must feel at least a little uncomfortable so soon after orgasm.

 

“You look so good, all plugged up for me,” he croons, patting the base of the plug and smiling at Oliver’s surprised yelp. “My parents might not know what we’ve been doing this afternoon, but I’m sure they’ll be able to guess when they see how carefully you sit down at dinner.”

 

“Elio,” Oliver groans, his cock making a valiant attempt to get hard again so soon after expending itself.

 

“The whole table will know that I’ve had you. They’ll all know just how much you’re mine.”

 

“Fuck, yes,” Oliver moans. “I’m yours, I’m all yours.”

 

“I know you are, sweetheart,” Elio agrees as he prowls back up Oliver’s body, capturing his lips in a brutal kiss before moving down to kiss at the unblemished skin of his right forearm. “And after tomorrow the rest of the world is going to know too.”

 


 

Dinner isn’t for another two hours, yet somehow they’re still the last ones to make it to the table. His mother and father are chatting amicably to their guests for the evening, a young couple they’d met in the village a few days prior. Elio smiles as he steps out in the warm Italian heat, taking a moment to breathe in the wonderful countryside air before moving to sit down. He loves New York, truly, but he’ll never not be glad to be here.

 

Oliver takes a seat next to Elio, smiling bashfully as he very gently lowers himself down. Elio bites the inside of his cheek to stop himself from grinning too obviously, and distracts himself by serving them both wine from the carafe in the middle of the table.

 

“Did you both have a good afternoon?” his father asks, and Elio can’t help the snort that escapes him.

 

“We did indeed,” Oliver replies, kicking Elio underneath the table. “Elio finished his composition.”

 

“Oh marvellous,” Annella replies with an easy smile. “And did you get much work done on your manuscript?”

 

“Not as much as I would have liked,” Oliver says, his expression impressively deadpan as he picks up Elio’s hand and places a soft kiss to his knuckles. “But there’s always tomorrow.”

 

“Indeed there is,” Samuel agrees, raising his glass in toast. “And we must always trust the creative process, fickle though she can be.”

 

“I’ll certainly drink to that,” Oliver agrees, raising his glass in reply, and the rest of the table joins him before they all dig in to the delicious food Mafalda has started to bring out.

 

“We might be a bit too busy tomorrow to get much work done,” Elio says all-too casually as he loads up his plate. “Oliver and I are finally going to get our claim marks.”

 

There’s a beat of silence as his words register, and then excited commotion as the table hastens to congratulate the pair of them.

 

“That’s so wonderful,” the girl - Shelby, Elio thinks he remembers her name is - says delightedly. “How long have you two been together?”

 

“A little over six months,” Elio replies, tangling his fingers with Oliver’s next to him. “But it’s been much longer in the making.”

 

“A true love story for the ages,” Annella says with a wink that makes Oliver blush. “You heard from the lawyers then?”

 

Oliver nods, a slight shadow falling across his features as it always does when Delilah is mentioned, his thumb instinctively rubbing at his old claim mark, now a solid black circle on his forearm. “All the papers were signed today, I’m officially a free submissive.”

 

“Not for much longer.” Elio nudges at his shoulder fondly, trying to bring the smile back to his face. “I’m getting my ink on you as soon as the shop opens tomorrow.”

 

Oliver chuckles and turns to kiss Elio, a chaste peck in deference to the Perlmans even though Elio knows his parents couldn’t care less. “And mine on you too, don’t forget.”

 

“How could I?” Elio replies, smiling against Oliver’s lips. He can’t wait to see his mark outline finally filled in, signalling to the world that someone loves him enough to claim him for their own.

 

“Well, this is certainly cause for celebration,” Samuel says, standing up with a clap of his hands. “I’ll get us a bottle of Spumante .”

 

“You okay?” Elio asks Oliver quietly as Shelby and her partner start to regale Annella with stories of their own claiming the month before.

 

Oliver nods, soft but determined, kissing Elio again before resting his head on Elio’s shoulder. Together they watch as Samuel returns with flutes of sparkling wine, passing them round before offering up a succinct toast of To the happy couple. Oliver and Elio clink glasses before taking a sip, and Elio takes a moment to bask in the simple joy of where life has managed to take him.

 

It hasn’t been smooth sailing to get here, not by any means. True to Oliver’s warning, Delilah had done everything in her power to ruin Elio after word broke that he had ‘stolen’ her submissive. Oliver had been practically inconsolable when for a while it looked like she might succeed, but Annella - wonderful and resourceful woman that she is - had always been three steps ahead of anything that she’d thrown at them. Eventually the scandal had blown over, just in time for Elio to officially get an offer to join the New York Philharmonic. 

 

Oliver’s family has been almost as bad, but what Oliver lost from them he assures Elio he’s gained a hundred-fold from Elio’s parents. Indeed, Annella and Samuel have been only too eager to welcome Oliver back as their surrogate second son, and Elio only gets slightly jealous when he loses Oliver to his father for one anthropological debate or another.

 

They’ve slowly been re-learning each other after so long apart, too. Elio is secure enough in their relationship to admit that there have been a few missteps, mostly when he accidentally uncovers one of Oliver’s residual insecurities from his old claim, or when either of them comes up against a limit that didn’t exist between them the first time around. They work through it all together, though, and Elio likes to think that each time they come out a little bit stronger on the other side.

 

So they have their life in New York, with Elio performing and Oliver writing again. They have their friends, and their family, and in the summer they have Italy, just like before. 

 

Just like before, Elio thinks to himself as he watches Oliver laugh and joke next to him, his hands moving in that animated way they always do when he’s talking about something that interests him. Only this time it’s all so much better, because this time it’s for keeps.