Peter is cold.
This is one of the peculiarities Nikola notices in this less-than-glamorous tryst of theirs. Peter's skin is grave-cold. Even the flush of his otherwise pallid face had little warmth to speak of, easy to sap away.
Peter is a strange man too. They say you can tell someone by their hands. (Nikola, to mar his credibility, can't remember who exactly had said that.) Peter's are thin, long, nails bitten clean down, knuckles jutting out at odd angles. They twitch and shudder unnaturally, but in patterns, as if spiders made their home in the cobwebbed veins underneath ink-stained palms.
It’s laughable, he thinks, walking out of the rain and into Peter’s studio at the earliest hours of the morning, before the sun has even begun to rise.
They must be a sorry sight. Two men long-limbed as the other, Nikola ungracefully stumbling upstairs with Peter leaning against him. He feels the shift of sticky summer heat to the studio: cool, dry, and drafty. Freezing for Nikola—to Peter, it must feel like an embrace.
He can't understand how Peter lives like this. One usable room with sickly yellow lighting; wooden flooring creaking underneath their feet; a rug worn-down from pacing and stained with a variety of substances that Nikola isn't sure he wants to know; bottles strewn across the room. There's no bed to be seen, but in the middle of the room there is an antique bathtub he once caught Peter sleeping in. If that’s how he always sleeps, no wonder he complains of back pain.
They've stopped just past the doorway. Peter looks at Nikola with that expression Nikola's seen on his face before, that glassy-eyed quizzicality (and yet piercing, far too sharp, glass has its edges) when he's contemplating something beyond himself.
It’s wrong. That kind of look is too much for someone like Nikola, neither as fascinating nor divine as Peter's most ordinary dreams.
Nikola has to look away.
He tucks his face in the corner of his coat. It is not quite drenched, they had gotten inside before the rain truly began to pour, but it still remains unpleasantly damp. "You go first," he mumbles. (They didn’t even have any plans.)
Even despite almost being sober, Peter reeks of twyrine. The spicy, heady scent lingers on his clothes no matter how thoroughly they’re washed. This state of near sobriety does not seem to be one that will last long. His first move is to fetch and uncork a bottle.
To Nikola's surprise, he is offered the bottle first.
"The first drink of the night is yours, Nikola. You’re the guest, and what host would I be if I took everything for myself?" Peter chuckles, a sound better felt than heard.
Nikola hums. "Thank you for… the honor.” He wastes no time in taking a swig himself. The urge to cough is hard to hold back— he’s never been a fan of twyrine, not in this incarnation, and it burns all the way down. That could be blamed on the variety, as he recalls black twyrine being smoother than this.
It’s not long before the two find a place to sit. Not a comfortable place, as leaning against a bathtub has never been particularly comfortable, but good enough for the two of them.
Their conversations are idle. Stilted. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
He doesn’t particularly remember what they’re talking about by the time they’re on their second bottle, and that’s the funny thing about twyrine, or maybe just Peter. Dulls the senses, yet it’s all clear as can be. They were saying... something about rats. Peter leans against Nikola, dead weight. Lethargic.
Nikola tries something the next time he goes to pass Peter the bottle they share. "Come here." Nikola speaks in a hush he finds too soft for the kind of people they are, too rough when he pulls Peter in by the collar of his shirt. He's satisfied enough when he holds his jaw firm-yet-careful to tilt his head back, and by that point Peter understands Nikola's intent.
Something about it feels wrong, the way he’s indulging the man’s habits like this, as surely one day this vice of his will kill him, but against his conscience Nikola places the bottle against Peter’s lips. Peter drinks from it readily— a sight oddly picturesque. If he were a better painter, he’d paint the yellow shine on ink-black hair still damp and plastered to Peter’s skin, his shirt half-undone; if he had a pen and paper, he’d follow the line of his throat. Nikola, damn him, wishes he was on his lips instead.
Nikola pulls the bottle away. He realizes belatedly that the drink had spilled down Peter's chest. Nikola can't help himself from staring at the trickle of twyrine that Peter didn't seem to be in any hurry to wipe off. Clarity comes to him, and he suddenly takes great interest in the floor.
Peter coughs into his elbow. “Well indeed,” he pauses, “and do try not to choke me next time.”
Nikola stays silent.
"...Look at me, old boy," says Peter with a feeling Nikola can’t begin to parse, and so Nikola, reluctantly, shifts his gaze back to those red-rimmed green eyes.
Nikola wonders what Peter sees that he can’t when his thumb traces a line across Nikola’s cheekbone and down his jaw. Does he see him in geometric angles, harsh and rigid, or in organic line-work?
Peter's fingers are dry and callused. Nikola feels a brief snag on a bump in his skin. Neither of them are soft, he realizes. They are sharp and bony, features not cut from marble or stone but something else entirely, heavy eyes and heavy hearts. He's never wanted so terribly to take another man's burden.
He's never wanted to add more weight to his own.
It’s only as natural as they can be that they fall into a clumsy kiss. Twyrine tastes sweeter and twice as bitter on Peter's tongue. (Better.)
Nikola is uncomfortably aware of just how unromantic their location is, half-drunk and sitting on a dirty carpet, Peter’s back pressed against a bathtub he thinks might be beginning to mold. Nikola finds his hands tangled in Peter’s hair. Peter loops his arms around Nikola’s waist.
This is Nikola’s exercise in self-restraint, much as he’d like to see to it that this dream of his is left both breathless and senseless. He leans back for a moment, takes in the soft grin on Peter’s face.
A hand on the back of Nikola’s head, a heavy sigh, and he kisses along Peter’s jaw, down his neck. There, he rests. He takes in the sound of rain beating heavy on the roof and windows, and more importantly, a hum of confusion from the man before him.
Peter cocks his head to the side. “What are you doing?”
”I’ve found a spot I enjoy. I think... I’d rather like to stay here.” The response feels sufficient enough to Nikola, but doesn’t seem enough to Peter. “That, and can’t I admire the artwork?
“How interesting.... I thought you to be a philistine.” Nikola bites Peter in response. He jolts. Nikola laughs into the crook of Peter’s neck. Under normal circumstances, he’d apologize, but neither of them are a normal circumstance— and Peter didn’t seem to mind.
He kisses that spot, too. Wipes off a bead of blood from where a canine had sunk in too deep. It’s already beginning to bruise. It’ll be a nasty sight later, all purple and peach-yellow. Somehow, he doesn’t think either of them will mind. Andrey will be the one to question, and they didn’t have to worry about his approval or lack thereof right now.
Once more, they sit in the moments of silence between idle chatter. Their hands clasp together. They don’t fit quite right. Similarly shaped as they both are, the bones of their hands press against each other in painful ways. Digging in too far here, too thin to fit there.
When Nikola stands up, it doesn’t seem like Peter wants to let go.
He clears his throat, straightens his coat. “I should be leaving,” he mumbles.
“So soon? I can be many kinds of hospitable. Stay for the night,” comes Peter’s response. Though Peter sits below him, he doesn’t tilt his head up, only looks up through dark lashes.
Nikola shifts his weight. “There isn’t- er, isn’t... even anywhere to sleep.”
“I manage, do I not?”
“...That you do.”
Nikola is a man of little resolve when it comes to Peter. Easily convinced. He does not sit back down, but lifts Peter up, to Peter’s delight. The flooring creaks and shifts. “I’ll stay, then. For the night. Exactly what did you mean by- by hospitable?”
Peter meets Nikola’s eyes. There’s a glimmer in them. “Now, that... you will have to find out, won’t you?”
A smile crosses Nikola’s lips. “I certainly will.”
The one who moves first is Peter, this time. He drags Nikola down by the lapels of his coat and into another kiss, one that Nikola could not bring himself to deny if he tried. Outside, he hears the crows beginning to cry. Peter holds him like he’s something incredible, and so incredibly breakable, something that needs to be kept whole. Nikola thinks were Peter anything but human, and perhaps Peter has a soul that does not belong in his body, he could drown in him.
Peter is as pretty as the aura before a migraine.