Coming into meetings of scientific societies was something Mic hadn't done very often in the period between the end of his Cambridge course and the early days at his research job. It was, like his bird photography, something he started picking up again once the initial shine wore off the job and he realised that the images of starving mice were beginning to take over his life the way he was forever seeing them with his mind's eye, there had to be more to life, and besides, going out and talking to other people could give him ideas for ways out. Not that he had much faith in his ability to use the connections he was tenuously holding onto, because of his background, but someone might still know something that he could look into, of less skilled work if necessary. He didn't mind getting his hands properly dirty, if there was a chance to work his way up. He certainly hadn't given up his belief that he's good at what he does, good enough to get a more worthwhile job than wasting his skills on starving mice.
The talk tonight was thoughtful, and he had happily dissected it with the friend he had found in the room before the start of the talk. Now, looking around, he saw a young man leaning casually against a wall, talking animatedly to a friend. He was very good-looking, but didn't seem aware of it, and certainly not one who took care of his appearance. Even across the room, Mic could see a stain on the collar of his creased shirt. Laughing to something someone had said, he turned his head and his eyes met Mic's, and there was this spark Mic felt, a connection they might have if they got to know one another a little better.
It takes Mic about half an hour to find out if he's right, during which he exchanges pleasantries with other people he knows who have come to the meeting, all the time aware of the progress the other man is making in the room, talking to this group and then that group. In the end, they find themselves in the one and same conversation, about tonight's guest speaker. Once the topic has been exhausted after some minutes, and the group begins to disperse, they find excuses to keep talking, and introduce themselves. The good-looking but scruffy man is Jan, he is geodesist, and neutrally interested in the work Mic does. Telling someone not in the field that his primary responsibility is starving mice tends to produce one of two types of reactions: one that doesn't see the work as worthwhile, the other seeing it as shocking and even cruel. Jan's neither; he seems to understand why mice are being starved for research, why it was a good opportunity for Mic, and why he's had enough. He's not sure why he hints at his background to Jan; it's not something he wants to talk about even with people he knows well, so bringing it up with someone he wants to get to know better is utterly strange and uncharacteristic of him. Maybe it's the resolutely non-judgemental air of freedom that seems to be hanging around Jan.
Jan is in Cambridge only temporarily; Mic never finds out about any specific plan to stay a pre-determined length of time, but both of them are finding excuses to meet as if there was only a short time available. They go out for drinks and Mic shows Jan his photos and Jan talks about rocks, and at the weekend they take Mic's car and drive out to the country and spend the day walking. When he's out with Jan, he can't fail to notice all the looks Jan gets from women and men alike. He's beautiful, but Mic has still never seen him aware of his looks or the effect they have on people, and he feels proud of being the one Jan chooses to take out. And he knows what he feels about Jan, with the thing with Colin behind him and no doubt whatsoever about what these feelings mean for his life in general. And they get on so well he thinks it has to be mutual, but he isn't sure. Not until Jan invites him in to his lodgings after the day out walking and they talk and have a couple of drinks and end up all tangled up on the narrow bed. Mic doesn't go home that night. It is clumsy and awkward at times and both of them nearly fall out of the bed at one point or another, but if he had any doubts about this being a good idea (and he mostly didn't), Jan's satisfied, sleepy smile afterwards is enough to evaporate them instantly. It all feels so right.
They keep seeing each other regularly. Sometimes Jan goes off on his travels for a few days, but then he's back and they're spending time with each other. They talk, they go out, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with a group of friends, they go for walks in the countryside. Even work doesn't grind Mic down so badly any more, and he's heard about a couple of possible openings Jan's encouraging him to explore. Mic is happy, and Jan certainly seems happy as well.
But it doesn't take long for Mic to understand that Jan needed to feel free and independent all the time. Pushing him into a corner and demanding commitment, either as a friend or as a (potential) lover causes an immediate flinch that Mic saw in action one night early on in their friendship. But it is Jan who proposes the trip to Scotland. With the skills to read Jan beneath the surface, he feels the trust in their friendship, but understands that anything else will probably not survive the trip. He grieves the loss of it that night, is a little more aggressive, wants to leave his mark on Jan so Jan can't forget about him. When Jan holds him tight afterwards, that seems silly. Memories will last longer than the faint bruises he left on Jan's chest, and although he's in no doubt about the pleasure Jan's experienced in bed with him, he's once again reminded of the fact that it just doesn't seem that important to him. So he resolves to try harder to keep him as a friend, and although he feels the loss, that seems enough, for now.