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strike softly

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The first time, it was at the tail-end of a sparring match. Breath short, bones creaking, sweat-soaked. Alive. Daniel’s shoulders hit the wall; Johnny’s back hit the floor. They were both aching for days.

The second time, it was at the crescendo of a fight - probably caused by the first time. They yelled about form and method and ideology until pushes became pulls. Johnny held Daniel’s arm behind his back. Daniel grabbed Johnny’s hair. They dared each other to be the first to let go. Balance, Daniel told himself. Didn’t quite believe it.

The third time didn’t seem to be for any reason at all.

That’s why it had to be different.

Ritual was important, and Sundays were promised to the dojo. Afternoons were for skimming the pond, trimming the bonsai, raking the leaves. Upkeep of a sacred space. Then, kata at dusk. Now that - that was balance.

Except.

When he crossed the threshold to retrieve his shears, he just about barreled into his partner, and his delicately crafted serenity fell out of alignment. He threw out a hand to steady himself with a curse.

At least Johnny gave him a few charitable seconds to right himself before he moved.

“Why are you here,” he asked, when Johnny hustled him up against the doorframe. One foot inside, one foot out. 

A hand gripped tight at his waist. Another laid flat on his chest, keeping him in place. Johnny scanned his face, quick and haphazard, and then said, “To help.”

“You never help.” Daniel’s nerves were waking up, muscles tensing. Preparing.

Johnny licked his lips and swallowed. “Things change.”

The low-hanging sun was only lighting up half of his face. It made his eyes look like two different shades of blue.

Daniel wondered if this was the sort of help Johnny meant. The shears were leaning against the wall across the room. He thought he might fetch it, but when he tried to push off the frame, he was held fast.

He moved to curl his hand around Johnny’s wrist. Solid, but not tight. Tilted his chin up and locked into Johnny’s eyeline.

“If you’re going to do it, do it.”

That was all it took.

Johnny closed the gap between their bodies in an instant. Slid his hand down and around, from Daniel’s chest to the small of his back and pulled, hard. His kiss was as bruising as it’d ever been. He laid claim to Daniel’s mouth, bit down on the meat of his lip and released it with a pop. It was all teeth, tongue, and heat.

Daniel had no choice but to meet him there, to rise to the attack. Every self-preservation instinct demanded it. 

He tried to reach up to touch Johnny’s face. Too slow - Johnny’s forearm shot up to block him. Grabbed Daniel’s wrist and wrenched it down to his side.

Something unpleasant twisted in his chest. “Johnny,” he rasped, an imploring whisper. Attempted a sidestep, but Johnny was quick to intercept. He squared his shoulders, an unmovable wall, and ground their foreheads together, panting hot between them. 

Not like this. He tried to project the thought outward, tried to think it so loudly that Johnny would hear it. There’s another way.

But Johnny had a tight handful of Daniel, was yanking him close. Shoulder-checked him with a grunt, tried to twist him in place, and all Daniel could do was hold his ground. He closed his eyes and let out a long breath when Johnny bit down on his jaw. 

Johnny handled him like he was trying to win. Like he still hadn’t realized they were on the same side of this.

“Stop,” he mouthed, soundlessly, because there was no air left, the way Johnny pressed him back, doorframe digging into his spine. It had felt right the other times, but now... now...

He curled a foot around Johnny’s calf and threw himself forward, knocking Johnny off balance, making him stumble back, confused and heated. Reached for Johnny’s elbow and held him steady. Kept him from falling too far away.

“Johnny, stop. Stop. Just... stop.”

For a long, precarious moment, they blinked at each other. Johnny’s hands were at his sides then, curled into fists. 

Daniel coaxed him closer. Once back in his space, he slid his hold from Johnny’s elbow up to the ball of his shoulder. Set his other hand, softly, on Johnny’s neck.

“I don’t—” Johnny started, but Daniel shook his head. 

Even if he could explain it, he wasn’t convinced Johnny would hear him. But - demonstrating. Leading by example. That was something he could do.

“C’mere,” he said, low, before guiding Johnny back down. He reintroduced their lips, sweetly this time, no bite at all, and Johnny was tense with the bearing of it.

The unease in his chest began to unfurl the moment he lapped over Johnny’s mouth and Johnny let him in, tongues prodding at each other carefully. His thumb stroked the skin behind Johnny’s ear, other hand picking up a rhythmic caress up and down Johnny’s arm until he felt the tightness ebb away. Better. Yes. This was better.

He broke the kiss but stayed close as he tugged the hem of his T-shirt up and over his head, tossed it to the side. Johnny mirrored him, expression blank, a little curious. They stood there, exposed, casting shaky shadows along the dojo floor, and looked at each other.

Johnny’s fists were loosening but restless energy still rolled off him in waves. Daniel could practically see it. He had to play this right. Johnny was trusting him to lead.

When he guided Johnny’s hand, it reminded him of teaching the kids how to pet a strange dog. Gently, he’d tell them. Gently, that’s right. He placed Johnny’s hand on himself, moved it along his ribcage. Slid it around to the center of his chest and laid his own on top, holding it in place.

After a moment, Johnny’s eyes widened. Daniel’s heart was hammering under Johnny’s palm, and when their eyes met, he knew, for the first time, that Johnny saw him. He wasn’t an enemy. This wasn’t something to conquer. They were just men, made of flesh and blood and disorienting need, traversing the same path.

Armed with this new understanding, Johnny cupped the crown of Daniel’s head and pressed in to conduct the next symphony of rich, sinuous kisses. Fingertips swept over skin. Hair wasn’t pulled, but combed through. Breaths synced. Warmth passed back and forth. In tandem. Cooperative.

Balanced.

The very muscles under Daniel’s hands softened with each careful touch. He fastened his mouth to Johnny’s neck. He took his time. Hooked an arm around Johnny’s waist to hold him up - his legs seemed close to buckling.

This sacred place had seen its share of transformations over the years. And now, one more. On a warm Sunday evening, the thing between them changed shape, settled into what it was meant to be.

As the sun touched the horizon, Daniel found himself straddling Johnny’s lap, both of them more bare than they’d ever planned to be. Johnny sat against the wall just inside the doorway, head tipped back, eyelids drawn, jaw trembling, while Daniel worked him with deliberate tenderness.

Daniel leaned forward. Let his lips brush the shell of Johnny’s ear.

“It can be like this,” he whispered, “all the time.”

And before he saw it coming, he was enveloped in strong, unyielding arms, held against a hot, heaving chest. Johnny tucked his chin over Daniel’s shoulder and let out a noise so soft and broken, Daniel might’ve imagined it.

Releasing just one arm, Johnny slipped his hand between them, took hold of Daniel with the same exact care that he was shown. In turn, Daniel slipped his free hand behind Johnny’s back. 

They reminded him of a yin-yang, reflecting one another. Fitting together perfectly.

When they came, it was as one, and it didn’t feel like winning. It was better.

It was harmony.