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Not another lifetime without you

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"Hi. You're from Anchor Beach's elementary school?"

"Yup," the woman behind the wheel replies, "I'm Samantha Matthews and the man in the back is Jude Jacob. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too. My name's Connor Stevens: I'm the one who will show you around."

He shakes her hand, waves at the kids and nods his head at her workmate.

"You can pull in here," he says, showing a free space in the courtyard of the fire station, "if you want. The kids will be able to get off the bus in completely safety."

"Thanks, Mr Stevens."

"Please," he adds while she's operating the vehicle, "call me Connor."

"Sure. By the way, call me Samantha."

After the bus is parked, he leaves so that the two teachers take care of the schoolchildren, looks around him and sees his best friend Asher talking to Trent away from the others: they must be up to something and wonders who will be their next prey. While he's still paying attention to his fellow workers, he feels like someone stares at him and thinks it must be the driver.

Here we go.

Connor can't help but sigh inside: it's true he's used to girls checking him out since the end of the middle school but, as time goes by, he got less and less patience for that. But, as he isn't rude and doesn't want to hurt their feelings, he takes on himself.

If it was flattering to be popular with girls first, it gradually got on his nerves. Especially since he knew they weren't his type.

Connor - determined to set things straight with her - turns around and faces not the woman but the most handsome man he's ever met: his thin and delicate pale face highlights his black hair and his deep dark eyes in which Connor feels like he's drowning and his sexy mouth which seems to hesitate between smile and smirk makes him want to kiss him. He can't take his eyes off his slender chest under his burgundy jacket and his grey shirt and notes that he wears around his neck a chain to which is appended a blue unicorn.

"Hi," the man says, "I don't know if Samantha introduced me to you: I'm Jude Jacob, the other teacher."

"Hi, Jude! Er, I mean Mr Jacob."

"Just Jude."

"Well, I'm Connor."."

He feels pleasant goose bumps when they shake hands. Then he takes a few steps back, forces himself to look at everybody - even if he can't help but glance at Jude from time to time - and takes a deep breath inside before speaking.

"Hi, everybody and welcome to our house. I'm Connor Stevens and I'll be your guide. Well, does anyone have questions before we're starting the tour?"

"S-Sir," a little girl asks after raising her hand shyly, "w-what does the word on your shirt means?"

"It means I'm a newbie here: I've worked here for six months. I'm the new candidate on the fire truck you see just behind me. I'm here to learn how to be a firefighter..."

"So you're not a real one," a boy next to the girl states.

"Mark!" Jude coldly admonishes him. "He's a real one: he's a full operating fireman like his fellow workers. No one can be an experienced one overnight..."

Did  Jude just stand for me? How nice!

Connor can't help but grin: as soon as he smiled, he sees Jude blushing.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to..."

"It's all right. Your teacher's right: I have to be prepared for different eventualities otherwise I'd endanger the life of my friends, Mark."

"Apologize to him," Jude adds. "He deserves your respect. Even if he's a new one, he risks his life every day."

"S-Sorry."

*******

What happens to me? It's the first time I talk to a kid like that.

But Jude must admit it's been a long time since a man has such an effect on him. Connor is really breathtaking with his short sandy hair, his amazing hazel eyes his sun-kissed skin and his kissable lips. And he doesn't even talk about his body.

He's so hot with his t-shirt all tight like it spray-painted him on. There ought to be a law against that!

He can't keep his eyes off his chest, trying to keep a low profile. Even if it's really difficult not to glance at his skin every time his shirt is lifted. And Jude's eager to see more!

I'm beginning to think he's doing this on purpose. Look at his huge pecs and his nipples! I so wanna touch them, feel the softness of his skin and the firmness of his muscles. It must be so nice to caress his abs and kiss his collarbones too...

Jude slightly shakes his head.

Easy, easy, J! You sound like Marcus right now! If he were there, he'd laugh at you and you're sure he'd remind you your sassy comments on men and women who fantasize about firemen.

He smiles, while thinking of his best friend.

I can only imagine what would happen to me if he decided to take off his shirt: a geyser of blood would spew from my nose. Like the old pervert with his shell.

He can't help but chuckle: everyone looks at him all of a sudden. He looks away while rubbing the back of his head.

Take a deep breath and focus on his words and not on his body.

"I have something for you," Connor says, "if you'll come this way."

They walk into a small room where there are some fire helmets on a table: the kids shout for joy when they see them.

"Why don't Mrs Matthews and Mr Jacob have ones?" Another girl asks after every schoolchirdren picked one.

"You're so right," he replies while looking for two old hats and handing them to Jude and Samantha. "It's safer."

The kids break out laughing when Jude's helmet falls down over his eyes. Then they leave the room. So Jude decides to remove his hat, puts it under his arm, looks straight ahead and is immediately mesmerized by Connor's back.

This guy must spend his day and night at the gym! Look at his trapezius and his lats!

"I got another surprise but you must close your eyes! No cheating, right!"

The kids and Samantha obey.

Only Jude doesn't play along.

There's no way he closes his eyes because he knows his imagination will run wild: he would fantasize that he would slide his hands against Connor's sides, underneath of his shirt, caressing his soft and firm skin, feeling its heat. Then he would bring one hand to his abs and the other one to the top of his chest, his finger would keep sliding on his pecs and they would play with his nipples before taking slowly his shirt off. After that, he would brush his hand across the curves and the bumps of his back and finally...

Stop it right now, J!!!!

The other firefighters gradually form a guard of honor, according to Jude.

"All right, open your eyes!"

The kids are overtook by the show and, when Connor asks them to follow him, the schoolchildren hesitate for a while before deciding to walk a few steps behind him. Jude, who brings up the rear, looks amused that some boys even stick out their chest.

"It's an honor we reserve for the great figures," he explains.

Then they pass in front of a little gym which makes it possible to keep the firefighters busy and get their exercise too.

And Jude can't help but imagine Connor pushing the weight, shirtless and sweating. He discreetly shakes his head again to dodge the image.

Then Connor shows them the restroom, the kitchen, the equipment room and the locker room.

And Jude pictures Connor walking into the changing room, undressing - slowly, of course - and taking a shower.

"May I use your bathroom, please?" He suddenly asks, slightly stuttering.

He can't keep this up : he must cool down because he's just a bundle of uncontrollable emotions right now. As soon as he's in the bathroom, he closes the door, rushes to the washbasin, splashes his face with cold water, looks at his reflection for a while, chews out himself - while cursing Connor too - and wipes his visage. After taking a deep breath, he goes back to them.

He finds them in front of the rest room: the kids and Samantha, sitting cross-legged around Connor, carefully listen to him.

"Welcome back," he says - grinning at Jude who immediately melts inside - before showing something on his outfit. "So this is a pass alarm: if a fireman is totally still for more than eighteen seconds, a loud alarm goes off until he moves again."

Jude cautiously sits next to Samantha: he doesn't trust his legs anymore.

"Why?" Mark asks.

"Well, if he's hurt or trapped, we'll know where he'll be."

So he turns on the alarm and some kids immediately cover up their ears. After his little display, he keeps describing his equipment, while answering questions from time to time. Jude absentmindedly listens to him, gradually loses track of time and feels like he's under anesthetic.

After a while, Connor suggests to take a break in the restroom so that the schoolchildren have a little snack.

"We got a lot of good things like carrot and cabbage."

They immediately make a face.

"And some junk too," he adds, grinning at Jude again. "But don't tell your teachers."

No doubt he wants me dead.

The kids beam, follow Connor as far as the desk, take what they want and sit. When it's done, he looks at Jude and Samantha who opt for juice and is going to sit next to his workmate and in front of him. The three of them make small talk for a while.

"Who's this?" Samantha asks Connor, showing a picture behind his back. "There seems to be a family resemblance."

"My dad," he just replies and goes silent.

Jude looks up after hearing the tone of his voice and watches the picture of a man with a stern look, despite his smile and says to himself that he doesn't like him.

"So, what's next?" he inquires to change the subject.

"We will simulate an MVC but I shall say no more right now: there are some prying ears."

"Con?" a young woman calls him. "You mind helping me out here?"

"Sure, Em. If you'll excuse me..."

Jude notices that the woman tries not to burst into laughter and frowns. So, curious, he stands up and remotely follows Connor. As soon as he sets a foot outside, Jude hears a whistling noise and Connor yelling. So he rushes and sees him soaked from head to toe.

His brain can take it no more. Connor in a tight shirt is already overwhelming but Connor in a wet shirt which makes it see-through is beyond words.

"Jude? Jude?"

Jude who feels like he hears Connor's voice from a distance is unable to say a single word and can't take his eyes off his shirt - chest? -, try as he might.

All of a sudden, a bell rings and a voice announces over a speaker.

"Accident. Construction site. Truck 77. Ambulance 59."

The firemen and the paramedics equip themselves straight away, get on the fire truck and the ambulance and move away at full speed.

"The tour's over, kiddos."

 

The next day

 

"What's wrong, Connie?" Emma asks while he helps her to clean the ambulance.

"It's all right," he grumbles. "Let's say I woke up from the wrong side of the bed."

Connor didn't have a very good night: as soon as he closed his eyes, he saw Jude's face. He wanted to see him again. No, he needed to see him again. It's been awhile since a man had such an effect on him. Actually since his first boyfriend.

"Liar," says Asher who brings some medical stuff to Emma. "He's just falling in love, Em. Right, Con?"

"You, I'm not talking."

"That hurts. I was just trying to help you. You needed to cool down: you were on fire."

He pauses.

"You think I didn't see the way you looked at that teacher? You can't fool me: we've known each other for far too long."

"You've got a shot," Emma comments. "She's into you: her eyes were locked on you."

Connor and Corey burst into laughter under her questioning look.

"He gets used to," his best friend explains after regaining his composure. "No, I was talking about the other teacher."

"Oh, cool!"

Then the three of them resume their work until a deep voice is being heard in the courtyard. Connor sighs, while his best friend looks at him sympathetically.

"It's been awhile since we saw you, Colonel. We missed your visits lately."

"Is my son here, Chief?"

"Yes, Colonel. He's here, despite it's his day-off."

"Like father, like son. The Stevens don't know what taking a rest means. Hahaha!"

"He must be in the ambulance with Emma and Asher."

Connor hears his father grumbling, as soon as his best friend's name is mentioned in front of him. He carefully listens to the creeching wheels of his wheelchair.

"Hey, son."

"Dad," he answers coldly.

"Colonel!" Emma exclaims.

"Mr Stevens," Asher says, smirking because his father has never been able to stand his sassy attitude.

"I was told what you did yesterday. Great job!"

Connor can't help but roll his eyes: he knows that his father only congratulates him because there are people around them. They would be alone, he would just be entitled to some grumblings: everything Connor does is never enough.

"It's true he was amazing," Emma confirms. "Without him, we don't know if Trent might've made it."

Then they have a small talk in the rest room until his father has to leave.

At the end of his "shift", he decides to spend some time in the gym to clear his head: he didn't stop thinking of the best way to see Jude again without that it seems strange or worse. He carefully listens to a verse of a song at some point of his workout.

 

We've seen the sun setting in their eyes.

It could be worse, it could be us.

Not another lifetime without you.

 

So he knows he's going to take his shot. "Whatever happens, happens" his grampa said. As soon as he gets out of the shower, he'll find an excuse to go to Anchor Beach. 

"Con? You there?" Asher asks him who relaxes under the warm water for a while.

"What d'you want?"

"Someone's looking for you. I hold 'em off in the restroom."

Connor doesn't have time to ask their name: his best friend isn't there anymore. As he's still wary of him, he takes time to finish to wash: he's sure it'll be another Corey's joke. So he won't be fooled today. He takes some underwear, black shorts, a purplish tank top - but he immediately drops it in case his best friend gets the idea to water him again - and his sneakers in his locker and gets dressed, while going to the room. As soon as he walks in, he sees the back of a man which seems familiar.

"Well, what are you up to, Ash?"

"Mr Stevens," starts the voice which is familiar too, "I mean Conno..."

As the man turns to him, Connor recognizes Jude - who is suddenly unable to speak  - and he can't help but beam at him. So happy to see him again, he rushes to the dark-haired man and hugs him before stepping back quickly.

"I-I'm so-sorry, I-I don't know what I-I was thinking."

Jude is not only mute but also crimson. And Connor can't help but smirk.

"Well, how can I help you?"

But he still doesn't say a word so Connor suggests him sitting down and offering a drink. Then he patiently waits that Jude gets his voice back. After a while, he notices that the man gradually regains his composure. Meanwhile, Corey, between the hallway and the restroom, doesn't waste any minute of the scene.

"I'm so-sorry," Jude eventually says. "I came by to check on you...Er, your t-team. Some k-kids learnt that you had some problems on the construction site and one of you had been injured. S-So I promised them to come by."

"It's really nice of you... and them. Unfortunately, as you were told, the ground collapsed under Trent's feet, while he helped the last worker and he fell one floor lower. He hurt his back but we could rescue him..."

"You rescued him," Asher cuts him off. "Don't listen to him, he's far too modest: he went downstairs and quickly found a way so that we could take him upstairs and then it was his turn."

Connor, awkward, chases him away.

"Don't mind him. Well, you'll be able to comfort your students now."

"Yeah, they'll be happy. I like you... Er, I mean we liked the tour."

Then it becomes eerily quiet.

"Thank you again for coming by," Connor eventually says, even if he doesn't want Jude to leave.

"I-I wanna ask you something," Jude blurts out.

Connor quietly looks at him.

"It may be uppish... D-Don't get me wrong but I'd like t-to t-take you out sometime... I don't remember... I think..."

But he doesn't manage to finish his sentence and lowers his head.

"I'd love to," Connor replies without hesitation.

Jude immediately looks up and beams. And Connor feels like he's drowning in his deep dark eyes again.

 

Chapter Text

A few days later

 

"Hey!"

Jude is unable to speak once more as soon as he sees Connor - gorgeously dressed all in black - so he just nods his head.

"H-Hey," he eventually says after a while, "y-you're g-great."

"Thanks," Connor replies with his irresistible smile. "You too."

Jude - who is melting inside because of his grin - smils back but doesn't believe him: he is just wearing a blue shirt - his favorite color - and dark grey pants with black shoes.

"So you found the place okay?"

"Yeah," Connor answers, while looking at the restaurant facade. "I already knew it because Ash spoke very highly of it after dining with his girlfriend Maddie."

Jude is already happy, even if he's still nervous: he wants the date to be perfect. So there's no way something or someone will ruin it.

"Well," he asks, while they were taking place at a table, "how was your day?"

"It was pretty quiet, even if I haven't been idling. Being a candidate isn't easy: I was often given the menial tasks that the others don't want to do. But don't think I'm complaining: it keeps me in practice. What about yours?"

"A bit exhausting, I must admit. One of those days. By the way, the kids were happy to hear from you: as I told you, we, er, I mean, some of them were worried after what happened to the construction site. And they said you were a hero. Even Mark, the one who..."

"I'm no hero," Connor gently cuts him off, "I was just doing my job: our first duty is to save life without putting yourself in harm's."

He pauses.

"Anyway, let's not talk about work tonight: we're here tohave fun. You know, I've been counting days for this day: I couldn't wait to see you again."

Jude - completely taken by surprise - blushes.

"Sorry, I didn't want you to be uncomfortable. It's been awhile since someone did ask me out."

"You're kidding me, right? A hot guy like you..."

"People usually thinks I'm straight because I'm a firefighter," Connor explains, sighing. "As if a gay man can't be a fireman."

"I've never liked labels," Jude adds, remembering what he went through because of them. "But I have to apologize: I also fell into the trap first."

"What d' ya mean?"

"I saw the looks between you and Sam..."

"You're wrong," Connor immediately corrects him. "I don't look at her."

"I know, I know: I got it later. That's why I took a shot the other day."

The two of them can't help but laugh while trying not to bother the other customers. Then they have a small talk until a waiter gives them the menu, while offering something to drink.

"So," Connor inquires, "how are you enjoying San Diego?"

"I like the town," Jude begins to reply before staring at him and asking. "How do you know I'm not from here?"

"I hear a slight accent from time to time."

"I'm from Broken Bow, a small town in Nebraska: I moved here last year. I always wanted to live in California so I jumped in as soon as I finished my degree. Anyway, there was nothing left for me there."

Jude fights back a tear: the past is past. He's just there to have a good time with a hot man.

"I joined my best friend Marcus who moved here four years ago. And you? You always lived here?"

"Yup," Connor replies before adding, grinning again. "As luck would have it, I know well Ank."

"You mean Anchor Beach?"

"I spent the best years of my teenage years there: I met my closest friends Ash, D, Tay and her brother Josh. We were all over each other and we were pretty wild too."

He pauses.

"Some houses still remember," he adds with a nostagic smile. "The five of us sneaked out one night..."

But Connor doesn't finish his sentence as the waiter is coming to them. So they order and then resume their conversation but Jude absent-mindedly listens to him: his eyes linger on his upperbody and he increasingly wants to touch it through the fabric of his shirt before unbuttoning it so that he will be able to caress his skin. He can't get Connor's chest out of his head since they met: it fills his days and his nights.

"Jude? Earth to Jude?"

"Sorry, you saying something?"

"Yeah," Connor - smirking - replies, "I asked if there was a stain on my shirt: you stared at it for a little while."

Jude can't help but go crimson.

"So-Sorry again," he says, looking down at his glass. "I don't want you to be uncomfortable..."

"I'm not," Connor hastens to answer him. "It's true I don't like that usually but..."

Connor stops once again as the waiter is bringing their food. They thank him and start eating.

"I don't know how to tell you," he eventually says. "I like the hungry look of yours..."

He pauses.

"I, I mean I don't feel like this piece of meat - which is so tasty and melts right away in my mouth by the way - but like someone who is loved. Your eyes are very gentle, a bit sad too."

As soon as Jude hears his words, his heart starts beating awfully fast.

Am I an open book to Connor? And why I ain't scared, like the other times when I started getting closer to my ex-boyfriends? It's true I'm not a teenager nor a young adult anymore. But what's different about him? I feel like he's able to understand me and my life like Marcus. If it's true, how long I've been waiting for this moment!

Don't get your hopes up, J! Marcus would say. And he would be right. But I've never felt that with another guy: no doubt about it, he's not like other men and he's taking away my common sense.

"Did I say something I shouldn't have?" Connor hastens to ask. "I'm sorry if I did."

"No, no, you've just caught me off-guard but I don't want to talk about it right now. Sorry."

"Don't be. I'm too rash sometimes."

Congrats, J. You and your issues... It's our first date and there's an awkward silence between us now.

Jude plays with his fork for awhile and doesn't dare look at Connor for fear that he's mad at him, even if he knows he's wrong.

Stop! You're just psyching yourself out. Talk to him!

"How do you pass the time when you're not in the fire station?" He inquires after awhile.

"I have to forget my private life as long as I'm a candidate, according to the chief. But Ash is extra helpful at such times: he's very creative."

Connor starts telling him what his best friend had planned once while the waiter is taking their plates and then adds a few amusing anecdotes after the man went back to the kitchen. Jude gradually feels reassured, laughing with him and forgetting his issues for awhile. Later, the dessert is brought to them: the two of them quietly enjoys it.

"What's next?" Connor asks after Jude settled the bill.

"I can't hide anything from you but it's a surprise," he replies, unable to hide his grin. "Just follow me."

They're coming out of the restaurant, walk down an alley at the end of which there's a little building called Chiara O'Kay.

"I hope you love singing songs."

"You should hear me in the shower."

I'd rather see you...

And Jude is going crimson straight away.

"You okay?"

"Nevermind," he answers before going into the building.

A woman who stands there at the entrance is greeting them.

"It's been awhile since we saw you, Jude. We missed you."

"I've been busy lately. How you doing?"

"Good. I've saved your regulary table for you and your guest. Have fun."

The two of them walks into a room with many tables and a stage in which someone is singing "Two Princes" from Spin Doctors, one of Jude's favorite old bands, sit at a table in front of the stage and order some drinks while Jude is explaining the rules. When he's done, they take a laptop and choose three songs. When his turn comes, Jude takes the stand and looks at Connor.

 Every endless night has a dawning day

Every darkest sky has a shiny ray

And it shines on you baby can't you see

You're the only one who can shine for me

 

It's a private emotion that fills you tonight

And a silence falls between us

As the shadows steal the light

And wherever you may find it

Wherever it may lead

Let your private emotion come to me

Come to me

....

 

When the song is finished, everybody applauds him.

"You are awesome!" Connor says before kissing his cheek.

Jude, caught off-guard once again, blushes.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't want to embarrass you."

"You didn't. I like it: you can do it again."

What he hastens to do before it's his turn to sing.

 

When I was twenty two the day that I met you

When you took my hand through the night

It was getting late and you asked me to stay

And hold you until we see the light

Shut the door and turn the lights off

And put up your dukes tonight

 

Cause this love is getting dangerous and I need some more tonight

Your touch is contagious you know what I need tonight

I can't run and I can't hide

I'll be wasted by the light

I'm undone but I'm alive

Don't ever wanna see the morning light

...

As soon as Connor starts singing, Jude feels like he was talking to him, whispers the lyrics and Connor invites him to come up on stage so that the two of them sing it together. The other costumers stand up and applaud them at the end of the song before begging them to sing a second title together. So, as soon as they return to their table, they look for another one for a little while.

When it's their turn again, Jude starts singing the first verse, the  first bridge and the chorus.

We meet at the night in the Spanish cafe

I look in your eyes just don't know what to say

It feels like I'm drowning in salty water

A few hours left 'til the sun gonna rise

Tomorrow will come and it's time to realize

Our love's finished forever

 

How I wish to come with you

How we make it through

 

Just one last dance

Before we say goodbye

When we sway and turn round and round and round

It's like the first time

Just one more chance

Hold me tight and keep me warm

Cause the night is getting cold

And I don't know where I belong

Just one last dance

Then Connor sings the second verse and the second bridge.

The wine and the lights and the Spanish guitar

I'll never forget how romantic they are

But I know, tomorrow I'll lose the one I love

 

There's no way to come with you

It's the only way to do

Jude - who can't keep his eyes off him - finally sings with him the chorus before everyone gets going.

"Thanks," Connor says when they left the building, "I had a wonderful time..."

"I know it's late," Jude gently cuts him off because he wants to prolong the moment with him as long as possible, "but I thought it would be cool to take a walk along the ocean."

I'm definitely hooked.

"Yeah, you're right."

They quietly go around for awhile before stopping and Jude gets closer to him before intertwining their fingers. Then Connor suggests him to walk on the beach and Jude agrees so they take their shoes off: he immediately likes the sand on his feet.

"I wanna test the water," Connor says, while rolling up his pant legs. "C'mon."

Then he takes Jude's hands and drags him towards the ocean: he hears Connor laughing like a kid and can't help but chuckle too because his laughter is contagious. After a while, they go back to the beach and sit next to their shoes. While they looks at the last rays of the day's sun, Jude takes the opportunity to put his head on Connor's shoulder: Connor slowly turns to him, cups his head and kisses him. Jude melts as soon as their lips touch.

Then he's riding him, leans over Connor who is lying down in the sand and Jude deepens the kiss

What happens to me? This is, this is way too fast.

SHUT UP, J! You're safe. You know it! Enjoy: his lips are so sweet. Put your hands on his shirt and tell me you don't like that.

So he's caressing Connor's chest through the fabric of his shirt while kissing his neck but lifts his head when he hears him moaning.

"Please, Jude, don't stop..."

So he leans over him again, leaves his mark on his neck and then starts unbuttoning Connor's shirt while sucking his collarbone. Meanwhile, Connor lifts Jude's shirt, slides his hands as far as his upperback but suddenly stops.

"Jude," he says panting. "I live just around the corner: we won't be disturbed."

They quickly stand up after Connor has shaken the sand out of his pants and his shirt, tucked it and the two of them put their shoes on and brush their hair back. They quietly walk to Connor's appartment, unable to take their eyes off each other. As soon as they're at the door, Jude pins him against the wall, kisses him again and feels Connor's smile against his lips. Once inside the appartment, he frantically rips Connor's shirt and eagerly caresses his chest, his fingers lingering on his pecs before going down to his abs.

Jude doesn't recognize himself: he feels like he's feverish. But he doesn't care because all that matters now is Connor's body whose eyes are shining with desire.

"Gross!!!!" He suddenly hears a voice behind him. "Get a room."

He immediately freezes and doesn't dare look at the man behind him while Connor laughs out loud.

"We're on our way, Ash..."

Connor takes Jude's hand, brings him upstairs, drags him to his bedroom while taking his shirt off and closes the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

The morning after

 

When Connor wakes up, he's turning his head to Jude who's still sleeping, stares at him and grins before getting up quietly, putting on some clothes and leaving the room on tiptoe. Then he's going downstairs and joins Asher in the kitchen.

"Already up? I thought you were off today."

"I am," Connor replies, sitting on a barstool. "But I've always been an early riser."

"Sure. But I thought you would enjoy staying in your room with your date."

His best friend turns around and switches on the coffee maker like every morning.

"How's Maddie doing?" Connor inquires.

"She's fine. She told me she would be home by the end of the week. By the way, she said hello. She thinks it's too bad she missed you."

"Me too. I'm happy to see her again soon. How long was she In France?"

"It's been almost two months between the premieres and the Festival."

When the coffee is ready, Asher gets two mugs and the coffee pot.

"Still no cream, I guess."

"You know it: I take it black. Like my men."

The two of them can't help but burst into laughter.

"I won't get tired of that line," his best friend says after regaining his straight face. "Well, how was your night?"

"It's been awhile since I got my rocks off that much..."

"I noticed," Asher cut him off before adding smirking. "It's gonna give me nightmares for days."

"I'm sorry," a voice suddenly says behind them.

They immediately turn around.

"Hey!" Connor says, beaming.

"H-Hey," Jude stutters, unable to look straight at them.

*******

"Why are you apologizing to me?" Asher inquires. "You didn't do anything..."

"What happened last night," he blurted. "It, it's so n-not me."

Asher doesn't like the sound of it and can't help but look at Connor whose smile vanished: he had already heard these words years ago. They're bringing up very unpleasant memories.

 

It was a very sensitive time for Connor: he just told his closest friends he was gay. If Asher and Taylor immediately showed their support, it hadn't been quite the case for Daria who had a crush on him for a few months and Joshua - Taylor's brother - who was cold and distant while they were almost like two brothers before. Besides, Connor was infituated with one of Asher's friends - Nash - who seemed to share the same feelings and also had to face his father's prejudice since his coming out.

It was then or thereabouts that it got harder and harder for Asher to tolerate Connor's dad while he admired him before.

As Connor and Nash had been dancing around for some time, Asher worked on a plan so that the two of them confessed their feelings for each other: he offered them to go to the movies. He was really happy when his two friends started getting closer, despite everything that got in their way.

Until the day they were invited to a special party.

Connor - very excited - didn't stop talking about it and he told Asher that he had a little surprise for Alex. Knowing that the two of them couldn't say anything to their parents without causing a scene, Asher suggested them to change at his place. Connor - a bit late - walked into his room when Alex - who borrowed one of his older brother's suit - finished getting dressed.

"You're great," he said with his eyes shining.

Asher never saw him so happy. Then Connor got a shirt out of his bag and proudly showed Nash: I'm not gay but my boyfriend is said right on it Asher couldn't help but burst into laughter: his best friend had a gift for seeing the funny side. But his boyfriend just stared at the shirt without saying a single word.

"It's a joke," Connor - whose smile had vanished - explained to him.

"I know."

Asher frowned, wondering what was going on. He felt like there was some tension between his two friends but didn't say anything: he didn't want to spoil their night. When the two of them were ready, he called his mom who brought them to the place where the party was. He couldn't wait to hear from them after the party since they slept at his place. So he spent part his nights with his parents.

He knew something was wrong when his dad brought back only Connor who seemed distraught: Asher got that his friends had a fight. As Connor was his best friend, he went to take care of him: he invited him to sit on the couch, sat too and waited. After a while, he leaned over Asher who quietly folded him into his arms and started crying. When he had regained his composure, he said what actually happened earlier.

No sooner had the two of them set foot in the dancing room than Connor felt something would be wrong but he immediately shook that thought away... to reassure him, he guessed. What could possibly go wrong? It was just boys with boys, girls with girls, boys dressed like girls and girls dressed like boys. Nothing unusual.

Connor nervously laughed.

"I won't lie to you: I wasn't uncomfortable, it was just so new to me. But, as soon as I saw all their happy faces, I relaxed. So I looked at Nash who's got a sad look on his face. I couldn't help but look down..."

He paused and wiped his tears.

Two people quickly came to them

"Hey, welcome. I'm Morgan, I'm gay."

"How you doing? Ruby, genderqueer. When you'll talk to me, use the pronouns they and them, please."

"Okay. I'm Connor. Gay."

"I'm Nash."

Morgan and Ruby looked at each other before staring at him.

"And?"

"Just Nash."

"You guys are a couple?"

"Yeah," Connor replied a bit embarrassed.

"I guess it's your first gay dance."

Connor and Nash could only nod.

"Well, enjoy!"

"You thirsty?" Nash suddenly asked me.

While he got the drinks, Connor joined a small number of girls and boys and started talking to them to get to know them: they took to each other immediately. he was comfortable with them until Nash joined them too.

Connor paused again and loudly sighed. So, to take his mind off of things, he went dancing. Nash, as for him, just stood there. After a while, he got some drinks and met Morgan again.

"Have fun?"

"Sure."

"So, how about your boyfriend? He's not gay or bi. He's just Nash..."

"Well, he doesn't like labels."

Connor didn't lie: Nash had explained it to him some day. But it didn't seem to convince the older boy.

"I see. Let me give you some advice: when someone says that, maybe it means he's not really gay."

As soon as Asher heard his words, he clenched his fits. Why did this guy who didn't know them could have told Connor that? Asher knew how insecure his best friend was when it came to feelings. If he were there, he would have punched him.

"What, what do you mean?"

"You know, some boys keep finding himself at your age: that's why they're unable to say they're gay."

When he finished to fill his glass, he went outside: he needed some air. There, his mind didn't stop racing. he've thought about what he went through since I came out because of his dad and his boyfriend. Connor couldn't finish his sentence: he was making a real effort not to cry again.

"That's when Nash came."

"Hey, I was looking for you everywhere. You okay?"

Connor turned around and mustered up his courage and asked him if Nash liked him like that. He immediately looked away before looking down. Since hehad no answer after a little while, he asked him again and Nash eventually told him the truth. Connor felt so betrayed that he didn't listen what he said: he barely heard he didn't want to hurt him.

Connor couldn't help but laugh bitterly before taking refuge in Asher's arms again. Asher clenched his fists again: he'd like to have a word or two with Nash as early s possible. he didn't tell Connor what he did to his ex-boyfriend because he wasn't proud of it. None of them heard no more of him.

 

"I regret..."

Connor doesn't let Jude finish his sentence, stands up and leaves the room.

"I-I'll go shower."

"Con, wait."

But it's too late: his best friend is already going up the stairs two at a time. Asher turns to Jude and can't help but glare at him who looks surprised.

"What's going on?" He says before staring at Asher.

"I think it's time for you to leave," Asher coldly states.

"Why?" Jude asks, unable to understand why Connor's friend is suddenly mad at him. "I said something I shouldn't have?"

Asher can't help but roll his eyes.

"Drop the innocent act!"

Jude alternately looks at him and the stairways.

"Why do you tell me to stop dropping the innocent act? What did I do that was so bad?"

When Asher sees that he seems like he's about to cry, his anger falters.

Why is he getting all teary eyes? He wasn't about to tell Connor that last night was a misunderstanding?... Calm down, Ash.

"What did you mean when you said I regret?" Asher asks after taking a deep breath: he wants to be sure that none of them jumped the gate too quickly.

Jude stares at him before answering him.

"I, I just wanted to apologize because I got caught up in a fever and I make you uncomfortable. Straight people are a bit..."

Asher can't help but burst into laughter under jude's unbeliever glance: he's relieved.

"My turn to apologize. Me and Con thought you were gonna dump him because you made a huge mist..."

"I can't do that!!!" He yells out before looking down. "So-Sorry."

"Don't mind. Will you excuse me a minute? I'll be right back."

As soon as Jude nods, Asher rushes to Connor's room.

"He left?" Connor asks, looking up at him. "Me thinking he was different..."

"No, he's still here. We were wrong. It was a misunderstanding."

Connor looks at him in disbelief. Asher knows that he's insecure as soon as it comes to feelings. So he sits next to him.

"He just wanted to apologize because he thought what I saw last night gave me some discomfort."

He pauses.

"By the way, you're in desesperate need of a shower," Asher adds, while pinching his nose.

Connor balls up his shirt and throws at him. So Asher goes downstairs and joins Jude who's still on his feet.

"Sit, make yourself at home. I told him. He won't be long. And sorry again."

"Stop being sorry. I know what it is when a gay boy has a crush on a straight one. Especially if he's fooling with your feelings."

Asher nods: he will never forget Connor's plight. So he had promised himself to look after him as long as they would be friends: for ten years he's keeping his promise.

"You want some tea, coffee or something else?"

*******

"Coffee, please."

While Asher is pouring it in a mug, Jude's eyes are lingering on the various pictures on the wall next to him: he sees a band of boys and girls on a large majority of them - they must be Connor and Asher whom he's quickly recognizing and his closest friends - but it's another photo which is getting his attention. He sees Connor in his fireman's uniform who carries over his shoulder a very young girl. Jude is standing up and is coming near it.

"She's a smart kid," Connor says behind him. "We saved her from her burning house. She locked herself in her room, blocked the bottom of her door so that the smoke didn't enter her bedroom and took refuge in her closet when the fire reached the first floor."

He pauses.

"I visit her every week in her house or in..."

But he doesn't finish his sentence. Asher puts his hand on his shoulder.

"There are your friends here?" Jude asks to change the subject.

"Yup, here are Tay and her brother Josh next to Ash and D who didn't stop sticking to me."

Jude is quickly noticing the love eyes of the curly-haired girl.

"You were really closer," he states, looking at the other photos.

"We still are, even if Tay and Josh moved to Frisco after graduation and D works in NY as a model. We all see each other as much as possible."

"By the way, Con, Josh will be in town this week: he called me after Maddie. So he asked if we could have a dinner. I told him we could but I didn't know about your shifts. Maybe you could call him."

"Great, I will! Did you tell him he could sleep here instead of going to the hotel?"

"Yeah, he'll think about it. But you know..."

Connor is raising his hand and his friend stops talking.

"I should go," Jude states while putting his mug on the bar.

The hazel-eyed man is suddenly disappointed.

"Or you can stay... Or maybe you got better things to do?"

He's not very subtle and Jude can't resist is puppy eyes.

"No. But I wouldn't want to disturb..."

"You wouldn't," Asher replies. "Con'd be mad at me. By the way, I..."

But he doesn't finish his sentence: someone's knocking at the door. Connor and Asher arelooking at each other before Asher opens the door.

"Hi," Jude hears him greeting their visitor coldly, "Mr Stevens. Come in."

He sees a man in a wheelchair who stares at him angrily after looking at him from head to toe and remembers the photo in the fire station.

"Hey, dad. Here is Jude Jacobs, a friend I just met."

"Please, son, don't play gay with me... I forgot you were. Your "friend" is wearing one of your old shirt."

Jude doesn't like the man at all: he feels like he thinks Jude is a kind of call boy or someone like that.

"But I didn't come to argue. I know I dropped by unexpectedly: I just wanted to have lunch with you."

Jude is noticing that Connor and Asher can't help but roll their eyes: they must be used to his unexpected visit. Connor is going to open his mouth but Asher put his hand on his shoulder.

It sounds more like an order than an invitation, according to Jude. Indeed, the old man doesn't even wait for him to reply and closes the door.

"Sorry," Connor says after an awkward silence.

"No big deal. As I said earlier, I should go."

"There's no way you're leaving. My dad ain't gonna ruin this day. Right, Ash?"

"Right."

"I'll just spend some unpleasant time with my dad at noon. I wanna have a good time with you before and after lunch..."

"Oh, GROSS!" Asher exclaims, laughing.

"You've really got a dirty mind," Connor replies while pretending to punch his arm. "I didn't think about that!"

"You didn't but he did. Look at his smile."

Jude can't help but blush: as soon as Connor had talked about good time, he thought back of his night with him.

"I've got an idea to embarrass your dad," Asher says before turning to him. "If you agree."

Connor  strongly nods, while staring at Jude who's unable to resist his doggy eyes. So Ash explains his plan, while Connor and Jude carefully listens to him: a growing smile gradually appears on Connor's face and Jude restrains himself from breaking out laughing. He feels like he'll have fun. Maybe not as much as the fun in Connor's bedroom.

JUDICORN!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

His dad booked at Le Gourmet, one of the city's finest restaurants, but that doesn't totally surprise Connor: Adam has always loved that kind of place. The headwaiter brings him to a table where he sees his dad with two other people. Connor can't help but sigh inside: he should have suspected that his invitation wasn't particularly innocent.

"Welcome, son. Let me introduce my old friend Adrian Nelson and his granddaughter Tessa."

Connor inquiringly looks at him before greeting the old man and the young woman and sitting next to his dad. The four of them start talking about nothing and everything while waiting for someone to bring the menu. After a while, the conversation turns to Connor.

"Well, your dad told us you worked in the fire station he started his career. Your choice or a coincidence?"

"Sir, it was my choice: it's always been my second house so I didn't see myself going elsewhere."

"When he wasn't at home," his dad adds, "he was spending his time between his baseball team and the fire station and then quickly became our unofficial mascot."

Connor can't help but grin while thinking of that simplier time when his parents still loved each other and his dad wasn't the bitter man he is now.

"You must have seen stuff," the young woman suddenly blurts.

"Not that many," he replies smiling. "Lucky most of our interventions aren't dramatic. Right, dad?"

"Sure, son. Even if we have to think ahead to the worst possible outcome. And Connor experienced it once. Tell them what happened last month."

Connor inquiringly looks at his dad again, wondering why he wants him to speak about that intervention. He doesn't really like to talk about it. He remains silent for a few minutes before speaking.

"Someone set fire to a dumpster just outside of local premises in which there were tanks of various combustibles", Connor eventually says after a few seconds of hesitation. "So the chief asked some of us to rescue the men inside and evacuate the tanks while me and Dave from the team squad had to break windows on the roof so that smoke can get out of the building. I told the chief that I'd love to be inside but he made me get that someone untrained for that kind of operation like me would be more helpful outside."

"He was right," his dad just states. "It's a question of speed so no one has time to keep an eye on a rookie.

"So I quickly took my breathing apparatus under the smiling eyes of Dave and the chief who had to think I was too cautious, even if they didn't make comments. Then we climbed up onto the roof and we started breaking the windows. Things were going well until the fire touched and blew up a tank. A column of gas rose to us very quickly. We didn't obviously have time to react but I was lucky to wear my breathing apparatus. Unlike Dave."

Connor pauses.

"No sooner had Dave inhaled gas than he fell to his knees and looked for air. So I rushed to him and dragged him far away from the windows. "Mayday! Mayday! Firefighter down!" I screamed, while taking off my breathing apparatus and pressing it on Dave's face so that he was able to breathe again. Then I sat next to him, started talking so he wouldn't be knocked out, strongly held his hand and nervously waited for the others."

He pauses again.

"When Emma and Ash took him to the hospital, the chief told that I went there too because I had to run some tests. I didn't object: I was feeling responsible for Dave.

"So what happened to your colleague?" The young woman inquires.

"He received excellent care, he quickly went home because he needed some rest. But he wasn't out of the woods: he had inhaled some magnesium."

"Is it bad?"

"Unfortunately yes. I saved his life - according to the doctors - because I quickly hooked him up with some oxygen. But his lungs were burnt by shavings of magnesium and he developed a respiratory infection."

He deeply sighs.

"He visited us a couple days later but he avoided me. I got that he was mad at me, even if I didn't know why."

"He's not very grateful," the young woman can't help but say angrily.

Connor immediately looks up and she looks away, blushing.

"You're wrong. I can't blame him: he just found out that he couldn't be a firefighter anymore because he was in the early stages of emphysema. It means that his lungs will gradually stop fulfilling their role. So he must think he'd rather be dead: being a firefighter was his whole life. It'd been almost fifteen years since he started his career and then it stopped all of a sudden."

"You're too nice," she states.

"I don't think so," he replies before looking at his dad and adding. "I already witnessed that kind of reaction."

While the four of them keep talking, Connor notices that the young woman doesn't stop glancing at him but looks away and blushes as soon as he looks at her. He also sees his dad's sparkling eyes: he finally gets why he had invited him. Connor can't help but shake his head slightly.

"Lady and gentlemen, welcome to Le Gourmet. My name is Jude, I'll be your server."

As soon as he hears that voice he knows since yesterday, Connor's eyebrows immediately go up while his heart races up and a broad smile pops up on his face. Jude smiles back and Connor doesn't pay attention to what surrounds him anymore: he can't keep his eyes off Jude who is so classy and hot in his waiter's outfit.

"We are honoured to have with us the famous Colonel Stevens", Jude adds, while handing the menus. "So we'll buy your drinks."

Connor can't help but smirk after recognizing the ironic expression that Asher is used to employing to describe Adam. His dad obviously doesn't get it because he's flattered.

"Thank you, young man."

"You're welcome," Jude replies with a sassy tone. "Take your time to look at the menu, while I'll go get your drinks."

He pauses.

"I'll be right back," he says to Connor with a flirty tone. "Let me know if you need anything."

Connor watches him move away and stop at a table where Asher discreetly waves at him.

The joke's on ya, dad.

"Son", his dad whispers, while the old man and his granddaughter talk about the menu. "What are you doing?"

Adam quickly looks at the same direction as Connor and slightly sighs.

"Please, don't stare at a man today: you'll hurt Tessa. Did you notice how she looked at you earlier?"

"Course!" He replies angrily. "When will you put in your mind that I'm not into girls?"

"Unfortunately, I know it but you can pretend to be now. As a favor to me."

Connor instantly glares at him: he's upset now. There's no way he comes into the closet again for his dad's sake.

"Sir, is something wrong?" Jude discreetly asks frowning, after coming back to their table.

"I'm okay now", he replies with a weak smile before whispering. "You're back. Thank you."

"Lady and gentlemen," he inquires, while giving them their drinks. "Have you made your decision?"

"We think so", Adam - staring at Connor and Jude - answers.

So Jude listens to him and the two other people but, when he turns to Connor, this one stays silent.

"Do you need some advice?"

"I'd love to," Connor says with a flirty tone, while glancing at his dad who seems a bit uncomfortable because he knows which game Connor is playing right now. "I must admit that it looks like delicious."

So Jude answers Connor's questions until he makes his decision. The two of them don't stop smiling at each other. Thus intensifying his dad's discomfort, while the young woman and her grandfather don't seem to notice the little game between Jude and Connor who does everything so that only Adam feels uneasy.

"Son, stop bothering this poor boy."

"Sir, he doesn't. Besides, I'm at your service."

He pauses before adding with a smirk.

"So it's my duty to please and satisfy him."

"I'll take the citrus-marinated sardines, the chicken with peppers en cocotte and the gratin of quinces," Connor - who can't help but blush after hearing Jude's last words - finally says.

He shivers when his hand and Jude's briefly touch when he returns his menu and can't help but let his eyes linger on Jude's back when he's going back to the kitchen. Adam starts relaxing as soon as Jude left them. As for Connor, he absent-mindedly listens to the conversation and gives short answers when someone asks him a question, while waiting for the return of the dark-hired young man. He also notices how hilarious Ash is: he had planned well to trap Adam.

After a while, Connor apologizes to them because he must go to the bathroom where Ash joins him shortly after. As soon as the door is closed, his best friend breaks out laughing.

"I love it when a plan comes together," he says, still chuckling. "I wish I could see your dad's face!"

"You're so mean sometimes," Connor states with a grin. "I've never seen him so uncomfortable: he didn't stop glancing at his friend and his granddaughter lest his plan falls apart."

"He tried it once again, didn't he?" Ash asks, shaking his head and putting a hand on Connor's shouder. "He doesn't still care about your feelings. I remember the last girl he introduced to you when she left crying. What was her name?"

"Daria."

"Yes, Daria. She was a nice girl..."

Yeah, she's really a nice one who didn't deserve what she had been through because of my dad.

"Seriously," Connor inquires so that they talk about something else, "how did you do it? I guess it's not easy to involve such a place, especially in such a short time."

"You're mistaken. I know everyone: I've eaten with Maddie here so many times. You can ask what you want to when you date someone famous. If you knew what I heard about some celebrities..."

"Really?... Anyway, how did you convince Jude to play the waiter?"

"He'll tell you himself," Ash replies, smirking. "By the way, I think you must come back to your table."

"Yeah," Connor says, pushing the door. "You're right. Besides, I'm not done with my dad yet."

"Can't wait."

While he's going out of the bathroom, he sees Jude carrying their starters, follows him - his eyes lingering on his back again - and sits at the table.

"Nice view," Connor says - so softly that only his dad can hear him - when Jude's back is turned.

"Glad you like it," he replies as soon as he hands his starter.

His dad quickly glances at his friend and his granddaughter again before glaring at him. Connor can't help but smirk.

"Are you okay, Mr Stevens?" The young woman inquires. "You're really pale all of a sudden."

"Sir," Jude adds, "don't hesitate to tell me if you need something."

"I'm fine," he answers Tessa before glowering at Jude and growling. "No, thanks."

"Bon appetit," Jude wishes them before staring at Connor with a grin. "Enjoy."

"I do," Connor states, his eyes lingering again on the body of Jude who moves away.

Then the four of them talk about family and friends, while savoring their starters. Connor can't help but glance at Jude - who's next to Ash - from time to time and his dad seems to be more and more upset. When they are done, Jude comes back to clear the table, asks if they like their first courses and checks in on Connor's dad who doesn't hide his hostility to the dark-haired young man anymore.

"What happens to you, Ad?" The old man asks him. "What did this young man do to you? I don't get you. He's nice and takes his duty very seriously."

"I think he's condescending with me," his dad replies, taken unawares.

The old man and his granddaughter can't help but look at each other but don't say anything. His dad immediately glares at Connor, tacitly reproaching him for his embarrassment. There's no way he looks down because he's clean as a whistle: Adam has only himself to blame. So he prefers to ignore his dad and focuses on the conversation between the young woman and his grandfather who are talking about work and private life.

"Glad you learned my lessons, Tess. But you need to socialize too: don't make my mistake. Enjoy life! Am I right, young man?"

"Indeed. Even if I must devote a lot of my time to my training, I need to relax too."

"You're a wise young man..."

But Connor doesn't pay attention to the old man's words: Jude is coming to them, carrying their main courses. No doubt about it: he's hooked on the dark-haired young man. As soon as he shows up, the real world doesn't matter anymore. But he notices how more and more nervous his dad is on his chair.

"Your veal medallion. Lady, be careful: the plate is piping hot."

"Thank you, Jude."

"Sir," he says to her grandfather, "your lobster risotto."

"Thank you very much, Jude."

"Colonel Stevens, your beef slab of steak."

Connor's dad just glares at him.

"Sir, your chicken en cocotte. I hope you'll like it."

"No doubt about it after savoring the starter you suggested to me. Thank you, Jude."

"You're welcome," he replies before adding with a clear wink which nearly chokes his dad. "Know I'd do anything to sate you."

"You okay?" The old man worries.

"Yeah," Connor's dad replies with a nasty look at Jude who slowly goes back with a satisfied grin.

Adam's friend glances at his dad from time to time and his granddaughter keeps looking at Connor who casually looks back and smiles.

"This looks delicious," she eventually says after a while.

"It does. What about your veal medallion?"

"It's succulent. Jude has some very good advice. Besides, he's very thoughtful and sensitive: that's very rare in a server."

"Yes," Connor confirms with a grin, "he's a surprising young man: I feel like he has many tricks up his sleeve."

"What's with your smile?"

"Nothing," he replies, taken aback.

Except I think I'm falling in love.

"Connor? You okay?"

"Yeah, sorry. I just zoned out."

So he decides to move on to other topics, while finishing his plate. Adam, the old man and his granddaughter then start talking about anything and everything, while waiting for the dessert. As for Connor, he isn't in the mood for a slight conversation and can't wait until the lunch is over so he will join Asher and Jude. He remembers the great moments of the night at the restaurant - and in his bedroom - to kill time between the dessert and the bill.

"Thank you very much," the old man and the young woman say to Jude. "You deserve this generous tip."

As for Adam, he remains silent, despite the look of Adrian and Tessa. Then Connor thanks him too.

"I'd love to see you again," he adds with a smirk.

There's an expression of amazement on Adrian and Tessa's face as soon as he utters these words.

"That'd be lovely. Besides, my shift is almost done. If you wouldn't mind waiting a little while..."

"Course not," Connor replies, before saying goodbye to the young woman and her grandfather and meeting Asher.

He takes one last look at his dad who becomes very pale and doesn't dare look at the two other people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

One week later at Jude's apartment

 

"So, how was Mexico?" Jude says while pouring his best friend Marcus a glass of wine.

"It went well. It was even better than I already told and showed you even if I wish I'd enjoy the country more. But business before pleasure. By the way, I took more pics just for you."

Marcus unpockets his phone and scrolls through the photos of his shootings while commenting some of them.

"You recognize the twins Mae? Oli's always hot but Ocean's a real looker now, right? It was our first photoshoot: we were in Monterrey."

"She had to turn many heads there," Jude replies before asking. "Who's he? His face seems familiar."

"He's a newbie: his name's Dakota, Dakota Cox. He told us he has occasionally appeared as a guest on that show a few years ago... What's the title?"

"Fully fostered!" Jude immediately exclaims. "I liked his character: he played the youngest son of the neighbours and became the best friend of Foster. The two of them were quite characters: they never did things by halves."

"He's a nice guy. A bit nervous even if he did some photoshoots when he was in that show. So I gave him some advice and we quickly bonded over."

Marcus then kept scrolling his pictures until dinner was ready.

"These ones are from our last night in Mexico: our agency threw us a pool party. We got wild as you can see! We needed it. But I can't wait to see you again."

Jude has always been connected to Marcus, even after his best friend ran away to Los Angeles because his parents didn't accept his gayness. Unlike Jude's family that unconditionally supported him.

"Boy, I wonder what I'd do without you Juju."

The two of them kept in touch before Jude decided to join him in California after graduating. He didn't almost recognize his best friend: he burnt candles at both ends. Jude moved to Marcus appartment so that he felt much safer if he knew where he was. It had been a long time coming but Jude saved him and became his anchor.

"I could say the same thing," he said, thinking back to what he went through a few years before and shedding a tear.

So Marcus clenches his hand with both of his and hugs him tightly.

"They didn't deserve what happened to them," he whispers. "I missed them so much too."

A few minues later, the timer of the oven dings. So the two of them split up: Jude takes the dish out of it while Marcus returns to the counter. Then they eat quietly until Marcus checks in on him.

"What about you?" He asks, pouring Jude a new glass of wine. "What did you do while I was gone?"

"Just routine," Jude replies after a few seconds of hesitation.

Marcus suddenly looks up, frowns, stares at him and gradually smiles. Jude is like an open book: he can't hide things from his best friend.

"You met a guy!"

Jude - blushing - nods.

"You cagey devil! Why didn't you text me?"

He doesn't know what to answer so he just shrugs.

"Tell me everything. You owe me this!"

So Jude tells him about the visit of the fire station, his meeting with Connor, their date - but doesn't mention the end of the night - and Asher's prank. Marcus doesn't stop cutting him off in order to find out more than he says. When he shows him his waiter's outfit, Jude expects that his best friend makes fun of him but utters a little whistle of awe.

"Been a long time since I saw you in such an outfit. How long was it? Six years? Seven? Anyway, I'm sure he only had eyes for you."

"I must admit: he didn't stop teasing me..."

"You got a picture of him?" Marcus cuts him off once again.

So Jude scrolls through the photos slowly until he finds the best one and hands his phone so that his friend can watch the picture.

"HE'S HOT!!!!!" Marcus can't help but exclaim. "LOOK AT THAT FACE WITH THESE AMAZING HAZEL EYES! AND THAT BODY!!!! I SWEAR IT'D BE ILLEGAL TO WEAR SO TIGHT CLOTHES!"

The more Jude listens to him, the redder he becomes: he can't help but relive his night in Connor's bedroom.

Connor had no sooner closed the door than Jude brought him to the bed where he rode him. There they kept kissing each other feverishly: Connor took his shoes off while Jude helped him wriggle out out of his pants and caressed his strong thighs. Then he pressed his mouth to his abs before going to his pecs, his nipples, his neck and his earlobe. He heard Connor moaning and smiled so Jude - overwhelmed with desire - got rid of his own clothes. As soon as their skins touched, he shivered and his hands madly browsed every inch of Connor's body: Jude quickly became intoxicated with the softness, the scent and the taste of it.

Then Connor rode Jude in his turn: his strong hands smoothly roamed all over his body...

"Juju," Marcus suddenly inquires, "you still there?"

"Yeah, yeah," he replies, trying to hide his embarrassment.

But his best friend doesn't seem persuaded: he stares at him as if he's trying to read his mind again before exclaiming after a little while.

"DON'T TELL ME THAT YOU AND HIM..."

"His whole body is knockout," Jude - who can't help but grin - cuts him off.

"And you are the one who always told me that I was all about sex!" Marcus says, pretending to be offended.

"I couldn't resist. No one couldn't."

Marcus doesn't add anything but keeps his smile throughout the dinner. While they're about to move on to dessert, the intercom buzzes.

"Hey," Jude asks, pressing the button. "Who's that?"

But there's no answer, just one deep breath. Then he turns to his best friend and shrugs when Marcus looks at him inquiringly. So he reiterates his question.

"It's just me, Jude."

He instantly recognizes Connor's voice even if he doesn't sound fine.

"C'mon up. It's on the the first floor and the fifth door to your left."

While awaiting Connor, he takes a third plate and gets a box that contains a variety of pastries out of his fridge and Marcus gets some coffee before taking three cups. As soon as he hears a knock on the door, Jude - his heart racing - rushes to the door under the amused eyes of his best friend.

"Please, come in."

Connor is very pale and seems distraught;

"I hope I'm not interrupting..." Connor starts saying but doesn't finish his sentence when he sees Marcus before adding. "Maybe I should go."

"Of course not, don't mind me. By the way, I'm Marcus. Dunno if Juju had time to talk about me. Nice to meet you."

Jude immediately glares at him as soon as he got his best friend's intent who can't help but smile.

"Me too," Connor replies with a weak smile before shaking his hand.

"Want some coffee? I guess you needed it after a hard day's work. Mar just did some. C'mon, sit down, please."

"Thanks Jude. Sure you two don't mind? By the way, I was told to take a day off today so..."

Connor doesn't finish his sentence again: he seems tired too. Jude starts being worried: something must be really bothering him. So Jude does everything he can do to let him relax. He and Marcus resumes their conversation and Connor gradually joins the conversation but has just monosyllabic answers when questions are asked. Besides, he barely tastes his cake. Jude and Marcus then tries talking in generalities and tells a few anecdotal and humourous stories that happened when the two of them still lived in Broken Bow: it seems to work.

"No way?" Connor asks incredulously.

"I swear: there's more to Jude than meets the eye. But I think you already got it..."

Jude glares at him once again but Marcus doesn't pay attention to him.

"We barely know each other, I find this regrettable but because of my shifts..."

"I can imagine. But I've plenty juicy pieces of gossip, just ask."

Before Connor even says a word, Marcus looks at his best friend, smirks, gets up and starts to get close to him.

"Mar," Jude warns him, "do not take another step."

"You know you're no match," He just replies - his smile growing - before turning to Connor. "Juju's the most ticklish guy I've ever met."

Then Marcus throws himself onto Jude who bursts into laughter as soon as he feels his friend's hands on him while begging him to stop. He's also a bit mad at Connor because he just looks at them with a large smile but he can't be at the same time because it seems that Connor forgot what concerned him earlier. During their friendly fight, Marcus brings down a laptop by accident after Jude finally succeeds in pushing him back but Connor is able to catch it at the last minute. The device turns on and the first page of The SD union Tribe appears on the screen by accident: Connor goes pale again while his legs give out.

Jude who sees what happens to Connor escapes from Marcus and rushes to him.

"What's wrong?" He asks before turning his eyes to the headline: "Death of a child on the underground". "Oh, Con..."

So Jude immediately takes Connor in his arms, hugs him tightly and gets chills when the hazel-eyed young man lets go his cry of pain. He turns his head to his best friend who seems as helpless as him: Jude is unable to search for the right words that would help him to ease Connor's pain so he just taps his back. Very quickly, Marcus - who knows that he isn't helpful - takes his leave quietly after promising to call Jude later.

After he's gone, Jude and Connor neither move nor speak for a while.

"I'm sorry for ruining your dinner," Connor finally says, wiping his tears.

"You don't. As I already told you, you're always welcome. I'll get you some more coffee?"

"No thanks. Just water, please."

While jude takes a glass, Connor starts telling his story.

"We were called yesterday because of a tube driver who thought he had hit someone. So we searched for a victim under the train while paying attention to the third rail that could still be hot. After a while, my lieutenant found a teenage boy, Jose, who told him he and his sister Maria came in through a service door that just closed behind them. So they had to get out by the tunnel. My lieutenant asked me to search for her..."

Connor stops and begins to shiver so Jude quietly hands his glass and puts his arm on his shoulders because he know Connor needs to tell his story without being interrupted.

"I, I called her name a-and checked under each railcar u-until..."

He starts shaking and drops his glass, his face is pale again. Jude, watching his reaction, can't help but shiver : he can't imagine the scene who took place under Connor's eyes. So he hugs him again and hears him crying once more.

"I, I heard m-my lieutenant c-calling him b-but I was m-mute: I, I felt like my jaw was n-numbed, my eyes s-stung me. I, I, I wanted to close them but I, I, I j-just c-couldn't d-do."

Connor pauses for a long while.

"We found the other victim: we need two body bags, more lights and latex gloves": his w-words s-still echo in m-my m-mind."

He pauses again.

"He s-stayed by my side while the others... I t-tried t-to get up but I just couldn't do either."

Jude keeps listening to him without saying a word. As soon as Connor was back at the fire station, he went on auto pilot: it allowed him to forget what he had seen for a while. But he was aware that his colleagues were keeping an eye on him. What he didn't get was their reaction: he felt like it looked like a normal day for them. He knew all of them already witnessed that kind of horror but he wondered why it didn't affect them: a young girl just died that day.

"Why didn't you talk to your friend Asher?" Jude expresses surprise. "I guess he'd be able to explain to you, right?"

"He could have if he hadn't taken days off," Connor tells him after a full minute of silence. "Maddie just came home two days ago so he wanted to spend some time with her: they went on vacation. They go hicking across Alaska: it's a good way to let loose after being unable to see each other for a few months."

He sighs.

"I also tried to talk to the others but I can't put it into words. After my shift, the chief suggested me to take a day off. Unfortunately, it wasn't really helpful: no matter what I'd do, I still saw the girl's body. I wasn't able to sleep either and I hit the streets like a zombie all day long. After a long walk, I didn't know I was going to your building."

"You should have come sooner. We didn't still know each other well but my door's always open."

Jude hesitates a few seconds.

"By the way, stay here tonight."

Connor is about to decline the offer when Jude raises his hand

"Just don't say no, please. You can't sleep in a vacant flat: it's just good to have dark thoughts."

"You're right," Connor replies after a while, "you're right, you're exactly right."

"Don't worry, I won't throw the biggest hump into you..."

"You're disappointing me," he can't help but say, teasing Jude.

Then the two of them immediately burst into laughter. Jude is glad: Connor isn't out of the woods yet - he will need a lot of time to succeed in handling what he witnessed - but he seems a bit fine. Despite Jude's protests, he helps him clean the kitchen, wash and dry the dishes and put away the plates and the cutlery.

"I'll be your roommate tonight. So I won't sit down and do nothing."

No sooner has Jude heard the word roommate than he keeps himself fom blushing: he must admit that he likes the idea. Maybe he could suggest Connor to live with him until Asher comes back from vacation. But he instantly shakes his head: he definitely turns Jude's head.

"You okay?" Connor asks, frowning.

"Yeah, yeah. Just tired. I had a long and trying day too..."

Jude doesn't finish his sentence: he'd slap himself.

"Sorry, sorry..."

Connor just shakes his head and smiles at him so that he doesn't feel uncomfortable.

"Well," Jude says when they're done, "your choices are my couch and my... bed that is really, really comfy."

He pauses, blushing.

"Besides, if you need hugs, I'll be just next to you."

"Like the second option: I miss your hugs."

Then, while Connor sits on the couch, Jude goes to his bathroom and showers. When he's done, Connor doesn't keep his eyes off his body before entering in the room in his turn. Jude flinches when he hears Connor's phone: he hesitates a bit but, after looking at the name on the screen, he finally answers.

"Con, I've been trying to reach you for hours. I was told what happened to you yesterday: you okay?"

"He's in the bathroom, Asher."

Jude only hears silence on the other of the line at first.

"Jude, it's you?"

"Yes."

"How is he?"

"He's pretty shaken up but he seems a bit better right now. Sorry for answering in place of him."

"Thanks god. And don't be: you're there, that's what matters right now. He mustn't stay alone."

"Don't worry, he won't be. I suggested him to sleep here tonight."

He pauses.

"With the most honorable intention," Jude points out to add.

"It's a very difficult time for him. I remember too well what I went through..."

Jude hesitates before expressing his views fully.

"I was thinking he could stay here until you're back. Still with the most honorable intentions."

"Great. And don't be embarrassed: he likes you too."

Jude is suddenly speechless.

"You still there?" Asher inquires after a while.

"Y,Yeah."

Then the two of them talk of anything and everything until Connor - SHIRTLESS!!!!!!! - goes out of the bathroom. Jude's a mess once more.

"It, It's Asher. I, I t-took the liberty of ans-answering: I hope you're not m-mad at me."

"Why?" He asks smiling. "I'm sure you reassured Daddy Ash."

So Jude hands him his cell phone before going backwards to his room because he's eager to see every inch of Connor's chest.

It'll be quite a night.