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Hearth and Home

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Henry breathed a sigh of relief as Jim pulled his truck to a stop outside of the market. After 12 hours flying and waiting on his way from New York—with threats of more delays in the offing as a new storm started to sweep down into the Plains from Canada--it was good to be home.

"Here you are, safe and sound," Jim said, climbing out and going back to the tailgate to reach in for Henry's suitcase. "See, as promised: place is still standing and Pike's puttering around inside."

Henry tried to smile at Jim, but he just wanted to get inside. He knew he'd been miserable and worried and probably not hiding it well. "Thanks, again, for coming to get me, Jim," Henry said. "I know with the storm coming and Pike not able to get away from the store--"

"Yeah, yeah," Jim said good naturedly, nudging him on with his own suitcase. "You're welcome. Again."

When they got through the door, bell tinkling above them, Henry just paused and soaked in the familiar surroundings. And seeing Pike turn anxiously towards the door and start to beam at him, he could only smile in return. "Home at last," he said, holding his arms out.

Pike moved towards him, his smile open and slightly bashful. He stopped short, though, before reaching for Henry when someone said, "See, Pike, we told you Jim would get him here okay."

Turning, he saw the boys in their usual spots, chairs pulled around, all beaming like doting parents watching over their troublesome but talented young children. Henry knew they took great pride in their parts when Pike had been "courting" Henry (as Fulbright put it), but as much as he shared their affection, he really just wanted to go sit by a fire with Pike alone. Now.

Pike smiled back at him, and reached to hug Henry tight, as if it had been weeks instead of a weekend that Henry had been gone. Henry understood the feeling though, as he hugged Pike back, the large man whispering in his ear, "Missed you."

Henry swore he heard an "aww" from at least one of the seated men, but ignored it as Pike released him, allowing him to bend down to greet the unusually active Frances as she yipped happily in greeting at him, tail wagging furiously.

"How's our girl doing?" he asked her, happy to have something to distract him from just pulling Pike's head down and kissing him right there. Pike would have let him, and Henry would have loved the pleased blush on his face, but Henry didn't trust himself not to go beyond just a peck, even with the full contingent right there in the store to see.

Fortunately, Jim was far more astute than the rest, for which Henry was grateful, and said suddenly and loudly, "Alright, everyone, better head home before the storm sets in."

Lloyd, having gone back to his book, said without looking up, "Storm won't be here for hours yet, Jim. Plenty of time."

"Well, now," Jim said, moving towards the group and starting to physically roust them all, "then you'll have plenty of time to get home and start your fires and get the houses nice and cozy, won't you? And leave Pike to close up for the night," he said pointedly.

The group, which had been grumbling, turned to look back at Pike and Henry and Henry saw them each appear to understand why they might want to leave the two of them alone. He smiled at them as they became more cooperative and filed out the door. Henry knew he failed to stop himself from blushing as they each smiled and nodded knowingly at them, one or two even winking broadly at them as they passed.

Henry didn't turn to look at Pike, but reached out and caught Pike's hand as he wished them each a good night. Pike squeezed his hand tightly, as if afraid Henry would disappear if he let go.

"Well, you boys have a good evening," Jim said, beaming at them. "Stay warm."

"Thanks, Jim. Good night," Pike said pointedly. Henry held the door open for him, hoping the man wouldn't want to linger and chat, as was his wont.

Jim chuckled to himself, gave them one last nod, and left.

As soon as Henry closed and locked the door, he found himself turned and kissed as if his mouth held the secrets of the universe and Pike could extract them no other way. His large hand cradled the back of Henry's head, protecting it from banging against the door, even as he pushed Henry back into it.

God, he'd missed this, Henry thought as he curled his own arms up under Pike's, kissing back, feeling himself relax for the first time in days as he melted into his embrace.

The first time he'd had to go back to New York for a gallery opening, he'd nearly canceled his flight five times, so afraid if he went back, something would happen and he'd never return. Afraid that if he left and came back, Pike would see how much easier his life was without his neurotic lover, would be reminded of what it was like before and find he preferred it. He'd been afraid that the little bubble of happiness he'd found here would somehow disappear like smoke, all self-delusion and fantasy.

The only thing that kept him going through with it was Pike's assurance that he should go, that Pike would be waiting here for him when he got back. That and Pike's reminder of Mary Margaret's reaction if he didn't show up for the opening at this point, no matter the reason.

Pike pulled away, and Henry wasn't sure which one of them moaned in regret. Pike didn't move very far, though, and just smiled down at him from close range and said again, "I missed you."

"Mmmm," Henry said, reaching up for another quick kiss. "I could tell," he said against Pike's lips.

The next kiss quickly heated up, and Henry would have been happy to continue, but Frances' whining and nudges against their knees because increasingly persistent, until it felt as if they were on the verge of being knocked over.

They parted on a laugh, and Henry looked down at the dog who wagged her tail happily at him. "I missed you too, girl," he said.

"I think she's missing her dinner more right now," Pike said, reaching down to give her a pet on the head, even as Henry kneeled down to scritch her fur and let her lick his face.

"Why don't you finish closing up," Henry said as he stood up, giving Pike one more quick kiss. "And Frances and I will head through to get some dinner."

Pike leaned down for his own quick kiss and seemed to let him go reluctantly. "There's soup on the stove," he called back as Henry moved through the hall that connected their house with the store. "Should be about ready."

"I know, it smells wonderful," Henry called back, as he came into the kitchen, resisting the urge to stick his head over the pot bubbling warmly away as he entered the kitchen and instead reaching for Frances' food bowl first. The smell of squash and ginger filled his nose, enveloping him in the ephemeral feelings of home and love as Pike's cooking, no matter what he made, always did.

"The way to a man's heart...," the Widow Thayer would have said, trailing off in her patented coy way with a smile and a nod. Henry thought about that, as he lifted the lid on the pot and breathed in the steam rising from the soup. It was the way to his heart, though perhaps not the way she thought: it wasn't that Pike handed him delicious food that made him fall in love, though that didn't hurt. It was that Pike poured everything he couldn't put into words into his cooking. He may have gotten better with his words—at least with Henry—over the years, but his cooking was still Henry's favorite way for Pike to tell him he was loved.

Second favorite, Henry corrected himself as Pike came up behind him, leaning down and wrapping Henry in his long arms, breathing against Henry's head. "Smells wonderful as always, Pike," Henry said, leaning back and just allowing himself to be held for a moment.

"Mmm, it's a simple one," Pike said against his ear as he nuzzled it, squeezing him just a little tighter.

Henry laughed. "You always say that," he said, and turned around in Pike's arms.

"No, really--" Pike allowed the familiar argument to die as Henry kissed him. Henry sank in to the kiss, reveling as Pike kissed back with equal enthusiasm, and Henry felt the last four days of tension melt away as he finally felt home.

"Next time," Henry said, coming up for air, but staying close to Pike's lips so he could continue kissing them between words, "I'm going to tell Mary Margaret to hold the show without me."

Pike smiled against his lips. "She'd kill you," he said.

Henry pulled away slightly, but held on to Pike, even as his back started to get warm, as close to the stove as he was. "She keeps telling me I'm selling more pieces than ever. How did she put it? 'Your recluse, Montana wilderness art savant plays much better than a New York City shut-in to the art community.'"

Pike pulled back, smiling but slightly bewildered. "This is the wilderness?" he asked, indicating the house, the store, the town with one raised shoulder.

Henry laughed, pulling away reluctantly, thinking about all his New York friends as he started taking down bowls for their soup. "It is to a lot of people I've met. To a lot of people in the city, the Hamptons is the middle of nowhere. This is practically outer space."

"I think those people need to get out more," Pike said, following Henry into the living room where he’d already laid a fire. Pike handed the warm soup to Henry as they settled side-by-side on the couch.

They sat in silence for several minutes while they ate their soup. Henry felt the last of the stress from the the trip—since before he left on the trip—melt away with each spoonful.

"Do you have any more of those cookies I made for you?" Pike asked as he set aside his and Henry's now empty bowls, and laid his arm carefully behind Henry's shoulders.

Henry snorted. "Of course not. You expected me to return with anise cookies when visiting the Brood?" As much as Mary Margaret was a fan of Pike and his cooking, her husband Ben was even more so, and their son Mark was practically in love with him. "Anything I don't hide gets instantly snatched away, you know that. Even what I do hide, in fact."

Pike reached into the drawer and pulled out a tin. "Well, lucky for you, I saved some," he said, and offered Henry a cookie from inside.

"I don't say I love you enough," he said worshipfully, taking a cookie. As always, no matter how many times he said it, Pike blushed slightly and smiled.

During that first trip back to the city, as reluctant as Henry had been to leave, Pike had seemed to distance himself more and more, ramping up Henry's anxiety. It wasn't until Grace took him aside one day and said, "Pike's afraid you're going to go back to New York and realize you're happy there without him. And you're going to fix that, right?" that Henry realized what was going on.

Things were never as simple as Grace and Mary Margaret seemed to think they were, no matter how much they insisted it was so. But that night, Henry had laid down next to an unusually distanced Pike in their bed, and whispered in his ear, "You know I'm coming back, right?"

"Sure," he'd said, sounding completely unconvinced.

Henry had leaned up and kissed him until Pike reached up and wrapped his arms around him. When he finally pulled back, he could see all the anxiety Pike had been trying to hide and said, "I love you," and looked him in the eyes until the fear finally started to leave them.

When he flew out the next day, it was with a flask of soup, some freshly baked shortbread, and about five pounds of cured elk and antelope meat, as if Pike thought Henry needed a reason other than Pike himself to come back.

Pike always sent food with him since then, and when he found how much Mary Margaret's family loved his cooking, he always sent along extra. Henry joked he was going to have to start packing two bags for the trips, one just for the food. Mary Margaret bought him a new suitcase the next birthday for "no reason," she said.

Henry munched on a cookie and felt Pike watching him, apparently content to just watch Henry's happiness. Henry had no idea how he had earned this.

"You got Sam's house closed up okay without me?" Henry asked around bits of cookie, the licorice flavor melting delicately on his tongue.

"Of course," Pike said against his head. "Dean and Anna helped out. Not a lot we had left to do, but I was glad for the company."

Henry smiled, snuggling deeper into Pike's arms. He'd have to remember to thank Anna and Dean later, he thought as he glanced at the coffee table Dean had made for them for their fifth anniversary. Dean and Pike had been awkward around each other after Henry and Pike first got together, but they'd seemed to come to an agreement at some point. Henry suspected a conversation took place between them, though neither would say anything about it, and Henry tried not to think too hard on what could have been said, even if his mind did wander in those directions on nights he couldn't sleep. Mostly, he was just glad that he got to have his best friend and his lover, and boggle at the love he was still certain he didn't quite deserve.

"You're thinking too loud," Pike chastised him and kissed him again.

"I'm thinking how lucky I am," Henry said in response. "Doesn't that make it okay?" Henry soon found himself turned on the couch, on his back, with Pike blanketing him from above.

"I'm the lucky one," Pike said softly, and leaned down to kiss him again.

As their kissing progressed, and he felt Pike's fingers undoing the buttons of his shirt, a thought floated in the back of his mind that they were a little too old to be necking on the couch. The rest of him didn't care so much as he reached up to push his hands into Pike's hair, to push it away from his face as he returned the kisses as enthusiastically as they were given.

They might have gone farther if not for a loud pop from the fire and the logs collapsing as they hit a breaking point. Startled, Pike looked up, and they both laughed.

"Time to move this to the bed, I think," Henry said, though he kissed Pike again when he didn't immediately move.

"Mmm, comfortable here," Pike answered, starting to nuzzle against his cheek again, even as his hands continued to move under Henry's two shirts.

"Mmmhm," Henry said into his mouth, reveling in the warmth and closeness for a moment, before kicking Pike gently on the back of his leg with his one free leg to get his attention. "Come on, up. Bed, bed, bed."

Pike sighed and pulled away, but still looked far too pleased as he rose up and offered a hand to help Henry off the couch.

Henry reached up again, coaxing Pike down to another kiss with little effort as he led the way backwards back to their bedroom. "Bed," he murmured as they moved down the hall, as if he still had to entice Pike away from the fire. "Where we can be naked and warm under the covers."

"Sold," Pike said, still kissing him, and being careful to guide Henry through the doorway of the bedroom rather than into it, as he would have under his own backwards navigation. Once they reached the bedroom, they finally separated. Age and experience had taught them both that trying to remove each other's clothing simultaneously, while sexy in concept, rarely proved so in practice.

Stripping quickly both in eagerness to be with Pike as well as to escape the relative cold of the bedroom, Henry pulled back the covers and slid under the blankets, turning to watch and wait for Pike to finish. As Pike slipped in beside him, he felt the same awe at looking at him as he had the first time they'd slept together. The amazement that this beautiful man with his gorgeous dark skin and eyes would want him, too pale and too flabby from a sedentary life behind canvases in studios. Even more amazing seeing a similar look of awe in Pike's eyes, even now, as his hand glided over Henry's chest, firmer than the first time, but still light as if he was afraid he'd break Henry somehow.

When Henry had first left Big Eden for New York, he'd looked forward to living someplace where no one knew him and no one had any expectations of who or what he should be. He thought with so many people, he could lose himself and maybe find someone else along the way. But Grace had been right: you can't find someone else until you stop long enough to be found, and instead of what he'd felt was the suffocating confines of a small town, and the fear of people who'd known him all his life finding out who and what he was, he'd found the truly special, overwhelming loneliness only possible when you were in a sea of millions. In New York there was no shame because no one cared enough about him for him to feel it. It was as freeing as he'd always hoped—and a thousand times more crushing than he'd realized until he'd come back home.

Henry ran his hand up into Pike's hair again, letting the thick, heavy strands fall through his fingers like black water.

"You're quiet," Pike said, brushing his fingers on the side of his face.

"I'm happy," Henry said, pulling Pike down for another kiss.

Without clothing impeding them this time, their hands roamed freely and fervently, as they always seemed to, even after these short times away from each other. Under their blankets, which smelled of woodsmoke and cedar from the chest, they began to rub against each other, the kissing never stopping as if they'd forget how to breathe without the other's assistance. They moved together, Henry's hands moving down Pike's back, fingers catching on the scar there, down to his ass, which Henry had traced with his mouth and teeth more than once. Pike's hands never stopped, either, they seemed to be everywhere at once, and with every stroke and caress, Henry heard, "I missed you, stay, I love you," and he tried to return it in kind.

Later, that night or in the morning, they'd be more adventurous. They would fuck against the counters in the kitchen or on the couch or in the hallway. But tonight was a welcome home, and as all their welcome homes, they were too impatient for each other from a few days away—from lifetimes away—for anything more than this need for movement and touch and now.

Henry was close, his cock caught in Pike's broad palm which gently squeezed him, until he was just on the edge. But Henry wanted to watch Pike go first tonight, wanted to see him breathless and wrecked, so he reached down, past Pike's ass, and touched him there, just behind his balls where he knew Pike was most sensitive and watched Pike gasp and squeeze his eyes closed, even as he released between them.

That was all Henry needed to let go, finally, into Pike's loosened grip, just the knowledge that there, he'd done that, he'd made Pike look like that.

Afterwards, they lay side by side panting, more kisses slowly sliding into nuzzling until Henry turned, his back to Pike, and reveled in the warmth of his embrace, stroked his hands up and down Pike's arms.

"It's snowing hard," Henry noted as he looked out their window. He hadn't heard the ice pellets before, hitting the window as they came in mixed in with the snow. "We might be trapped here in the morning."

Pike nuzzled the back of his neck. "Not trapped," Pike said, sounding already mostly asleep, Henry thought as he drifted off himself. "You're here," was the last thing Henry heard under the tick-tick against the window, the arms holding him to the bed so he could sleep safely.