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Time yet for a hundred indecisions (aka the CEO AU)

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One.

Marcus is the only person at the convention wearing a tie. He’s probably the only person in this entire zip code wearing a three-piece suit. A few of the men, and more than a few of the women are wearing blazers, some with the sleeves rolled up, a few artfully rumpled, but he’s the only one in a tie.

He’s not sure what he was expecting—it’s the biggest software conference in the world, and developers aren’t known for business formal attire. But he put on his suit anyway. He’d like to say it was without thinking, but he knows why: some stupid, little boy part of him thought it might armor him against having to face this, the last gasp attempt to save his father’s business.

He’s got the deal with Seal Analytics, of course, but that looks like it might not go through. His lawyers are hammering it out with Seal’s lawyers, but the last time Lutorius called, he said it didn’t look good. So now Marcus has to find something else, some promising company that they can buy and save Calleva Software, because nothing else will work. There's nothing Calleva can do on their own.

He takes off the tie halfway through the first session. He meets a few people he knows from years in the industry, and gives a self-deprecating smile when people ask about the suit (a smile Fortune called charming, God, five years ago—now, they’d probably call it weak) and doesn’t answer the question.

The panels run together as the day goes on. The speakers are kids with weird hair. Kids too young to call themselves CEOs or CTOs or Innovation Gurus, or whatever the fuck they are. The older hipsters are here too, with big, black-framed glasses, short spiky hair, too much energy compared to their younger, and more blasé counterparts.

He checks his email a dozen, a hundred, times on his Blackberry. Nothing from Lutorius, nothing to tell him that he can actually enjoy this event instead of desperately hoping that at the next panel he’ll meet the person, the company who’s going to save him.

Marcus is exhausted by the end of the day, even though all he’s done is listen to some speakers and shake some hands. There’s a happy hour at the Javits Convention Center, hosted by Placidus Enterprises, but Marcus doesn’t want to see the youngest Placidus’s smug face. He inherited his father’s company and did something good with it where Marcus let his father’s company auger into the ground.

As soon as the last panel ends, Marcus leaves the center and starts walking east. He plans to stop as soon as he finds a bar far enough away that he won’t see any convention-goers. The sky overhead is blue, with high clouds, but behind him, in the direction of the convention center, it is an ominous gray. It’s fucking perfect.

The bar he finds is a little dive-y, but at least it doesn’t look like anyone from the conference is here. Marcus orders a Jack and Coke and sits down. He won’t let himself get too drunk, no matter how much he wants to, but one or two will take the edge off, give him the strength to call Lutorius and find out that their last, best hope is gone.

He isn’t planning on trying to get laid. He doesn’t need yet another reminder of how he’s not living up to his father’s legacy. But then the bartender says, “Yo, Esca, the usual?” and Marcus turns, and sees him, and it only takes that instant to change his plans.

Esca. It’s an unlikely name for an unlikely-looking individual. He’s built on a smaller scale than Marcus, but so perfectly proportioned that Marcus’s gym-honed biceps suddenly feel ridiculous, excessive. He’s got expressive eyes and a mobile mouth with a tendency toward a wry twist (if Marcus weren’t feeling so charitable, he might call it a smirk). Blue ink lines lead from the sides of his neck down under his t-shirt. Small black plugs decorate his earlobes.

His hand rests on the bar, black painted nails on the fingers that tap the wood, in time with no music that’s playing here.

Marcus turns to face him, leans in and asks, “What kind of name is Esca?”

Esca takes a long drink of his beer then sets it down deliberately on the counter. “It’s a none of your fucking business kind of name,” he says. The words are rude enough, but Marcus is too charmed by the British accent to take the hint and back away immediately, and it’s good he stays, because a faint smile ghosts over Esca’s lips, and he seems to back down from the belligerent pose. “It’s a family name.”

“I’m Marcus,” he volunteers. Esca reaches around with his free hand and shakes Marcus’s. It’s a good handshake, for all that it’s at an odd angle because he’s still leaning against the bar. Marcus has had years of business handshakes, good and bad, too hard, and too clammy. But he’s not here to do a business deal; he’s here to get laid, here outside of the stifling confines of Groton, Connecticut, population: everyone he knows. Lutorius and his bad news can wait for morning.

If Esca’s not into it, Marcus will find someone else, someone who doesn’t heat his blood as much, but someone.

“You here for the conference?” Esca asks.

The bar’s only a few blocks east of the Javits Center, so it’s a good bet, but Marcus doesn’t want to talk about it, and so he does what he learned at his father’s knee, and doesn’t answer the question. “Can I buy you drink?” he asks instead.

Esca still has a third of his beer left in his glass. He thumbs the side of his mouth and gives Marcus a long look up and down. “You can pay for this one,” says Esca. “I’m sharing my apartment, but—unless you’re thinking about the bathroom. Which, I wouldn’t.”

Marcus hopes he’s a mouthy fuck, because his voice is doing things to Marcus that he wants repeated when they’re naked, and alone. “I’ve got a hotel room,” he says.

They make small talk while Esca finishes his beer, Marcus his drink. Marcus puts a twenty on the bar, and they’re out the door before the bartender has put down the change.

Marcus’s hotel room is tiny, overpriced, and dingy, but that’s New York. Downstairs is a beautiful dark bar, the breakfast costs thirty dollars and comes on fine china, and the rooms look like shit. The view is gorgeous, though, floor-to-ceiling windows facing back across the Hudson toward the Jersey City skyline, with low summer thunderclouds dusting the tops of the buildings. A bolt of lightning makes the closest clouds glow from within.

“Nice,” says Esca, looking out. “The storm will get here soon.”

As Marcus watches, the clouds swallow up the farthest buildings, and soon closer ones are backgrounded with blank, gunmetal gray. It’s eerie.

But Esca is here and his skin smells fresh under the leather scent of his jacket. It’s pale where it’s not tattooed, and darkens when Marcus runs a firm thumb over the side of his neck. The room flashes with another lightning strike as Marcus kisses him there, just where the ink starts.

“No marking,” says Esca, but he reaches up to wrap his hand around the back of Marcus’s neck. Marcus makes his touch lighter, just a whisper of lips against skin. Esca shivers.

“Show me where these go,” says Marcus, tracing a finger over the point of ink that’s he’s just tasted. Esca pulls off the t-shirt and lets it fall on the floor behind him. For a moment, he’s caught in silhouette against the pink-gray sky, and Marcus can only see the lean, slim lines of his body in profile, but the light fades, and Marcus see them, the filigrees of ink that thicken into wider lines, running down the sides of his neck, then over his back. They are blunt, primitive designs, in dark blue, like nothing Marcus has ever seen before. He runs his fingers over them, where the skin is slightly raised, until Esca turns around, and pulls Marcus’s mouth down to his.

He nips Marcus’s lower lip between his teeth, the twinge of pain going straight to Marcus’s dick. He presses Esca up against the window, opening Esca’s mouth with his tongue, his hand held hard to Esca’s jaw. Esca fights him back, and Marcus doesn’t know who is invading who, who is winning and maybe it doesn’t matter. When they come up for air, Marcus’s lips are raw.

Esca puts his hand to Marcus’s dick, molding his fingers around it through the fabric. His fingers are hot through the thin, summer-weight wool, and Marcus’s hips twitch involuntarily against him.

He smirks slightly and runs his other hand up over Marcus’s waist, over the waistcoat that feels way too tight and hot with Esca looking at him like that. “How are you still wearing this?” Esca asks.

“Good question,” says Marcus roughly. The buttons don’t want to come open under his fingers, which have gone slippery and shaky.

“Let me,” says Esca. He undoes them slowly, one at a time, giving Marcus a minute to admire the fine line of his eyelashes shadowing his cheek. In the light from the open bathroom door, he can see the faint, fine blond hairs that dust his shoulders, making the skin soft enough Marcus wants to run his lips over it again. He bends down. But then Esca’s pushing Marcus’s waist coat off his shoulders and tugging at his shirt.

“Too many clothes,” says Esca. Now Marcus is free enough to take his shirt off over his head and pull Esca down on top of him on the bed.

Esca rolls his hips against Marcus’s and Marcus bucks his hips up against him. “Are you going to make it?” Esca asks archly. He palms Marcus’s cock again. Tracing the outline. “I want you inside me for a good long time.”

“Fuck, I’m not,” Marcus admits. “I should just take care of this.”

“I would have helped,” says Esca, “but now I want to watch.” He grins wickedly and sits back on his heels.

Marcus wants to say no, it’s too intimate—he thought—he doesn’t know what he thought—that he’d whack one off in the bathroom or something, but now Esca’s watching, helping him tug down his trousers, fingers skimming the sensitive skin of Marcus’s thighs, making his dick jump. Esca licks his lips when he runs his hands over the muscles along his hips.

“You’re some kind of fucking beast, aren’t you?” Esca says admiringly. Marcus is in no position to answer him, though—he’s whatever Esca wants as Esca watches him wrap his hand around his cock. He gives it the twisting stroke he likes; he’s not putting on a show now, his heart is already in his throat with Esca looking him like that.

“Wait,” Esca tells him. He bends down and takes Marcus in his mouth, hot and wet, slicking him up. His tongue slides along the bottom ridge, and Marcus makes a choked off noise—he’s going to come any minute—but Esca releases him again. “I said I wanted to watch.”

Fuck, he’s sensitive when he closes his hand around his cock again, now slippery with Esca’s spit. He only gets a few strokes with the weight of Esca’s gaze on him, in before he’s coming over his hand, his whole body bucking up with it.

The rainstorm hits the windows then, a splatter, then a deafening roar. If Esca has any more instructions to give him, he’ll have to do it in mime. Marcus feels light and free, washed clean after his orgasm. He wishes for a moment that they were out in it, under the pounding rain, but this is close enough.

“Lie down,” Marcus tells him. He goes to his suitcase and gets out the lube and condoms and puts them on the bedside table.

Esca looks absurdly young lying back in the sheets wearing only his jeans. “How old are you?” he asks.

“Old enough to buy beer.” Esca’s scowl makes him look even younger.

Marcus laughs and pulls Esca’s jeans off over his slim hips. He’s not wearing anything underneath.

He’s not as big as Marcus, but he’s uncut, and sizable enough, hard and flushed red against his taut belly. He doesn’t have the sort of skinny flab that Marcus associates with—let’s be honest—the twinks he usually likes, instead he’s lean and defined, muscles rippling under his skin whenever he moves.

Marcus works a nipple between his fingers and watches it tighten and peak. The tattoos cover his flanks as well, framing his waist. Whoever designed them was a genius. He’s getting hard again watching Esca like this, so he moves lower.

Marcus wants to taste Esca's cock, nudge the foreskin back with his tongue and taste his come and maybe later—maybe next time—he'll make Esca come like this, feel Esca thicken and shudder into his mouth, but now, after what Esca said, he wants to be inside Esca for a long time, too. A little taste will have to be enough. Esca’s hand lands on his shoulder when Marcus licks a stripe down his cock. He makes a choked off noise when Marcus swirls his tongue around the exposed head.

“Turn over,” Marcus tells him. The rain has slowed enough that he can make himself heard, but the light in the room is strange, charged with the storm.

“That was fast,” says Esca as he moves, but Marcus just smiles.

Esca’s ass is as pert as the rest of him, a high curve that Marcus palms admiringly, before running his fingers lightly into the cleft. Esca wriggles, pushing his ass up against Marcus’s fingers. “Patience,” Marcus whispers against the unmarked skin of his lower back. From here the tattoos look like wings.

He wets a finger in his mouth and traces it over Esca’s entrance again, teasing around the edges as Esca moans. “Fucking put something in me already.”

So Marcus spreads him open and licks a line down between his cheeks. Esca makes a choked off sound that might be a protest, but he just breathes as Marcus fucks him with his tongue, holding himself very still except his hand opening and closing around a wad of sheet.

“Please,” says Esca after a few minutes of this. “I really need you to—”

Marcus pushes a well slicked finger in, cutting him off, making him swear and push back against Marcus again. “You don’t have to stop begging, though,” says Marcus. “I liked that.” Esca saying ‘please’ went right to his dick, which is standing up at attention as if he hadn’t already stroked himself off tonight.

“Oh, was that begging?” Esca answers, a little breathless. “I thought that was asking nicely.” His last word turns into an abrupt groan as Marcus finds the sweet spot.

“I can take more,” Esca tells him after a moment.

“One more—I want to fuck you. How do you want it?”

Marcus adds more lube and slowly pushes in another finger. He can feel Esca’s muscles slowly yielding around him. Esca makes another choked off sound. “I want to ride you. Think you can take it?”

Marcus works his fingers in and out a few more times. He likes watching them disappear inside, but he’ll like it even more when Esca’s on top of him, so once Esca’s good and open, he lies down and slides on a condom.

Esca straddles him, rolling it down the rest of the way. His cock is still standing at attention, butting against Marcus’s, but then he comes up on his knees and slides two fingers into himself.

“You’re fucking huge,” he says as he positions himself over Marcus’s cock. He puts some more lube on his fingers and rubs it over the condom. “I might need a moment.”

He is incredibly tight as he slides down, millimeter, by millimeter, engulfing Marcus. It’s pleasure yes, but so intense that Marcus has to fight to stay still and let Esca do the work. Esca stops halfway, his hard-on flagging, and stays still, eyes closed, long enough that Marcus is suddenly concerned. “I don’t want to . . .”

“No, it’s—” he gains another inch “—fantastic. Just. A lot.” Marcus reaches up to his face and traces Esca’s lower lip with his thumb. Esca sucks it into his mouth, before sighing out and letting Marcus in to the hilt.

“Tell me when I can move,” says Marcus. The urge is overwhelming, but Esca’s fingers, digging sharply into his bicep, anchor him there.

“I’ll do it,” says Esca, and then he is, rocking his hips back and forth, not as much as Marcus wants, but tantalizing, hot and tight, just enough movement to edge Marcus closer to coming, each hitch of his hips adding a layer of sensation. Esca’s getting hard again, a bead of moisture on the tip, and Marcus wraps his hand around it.

“Wait,” says Esca, “I want you to get closer.” He rocks back and forth more, his eyes half closed, one hand pressing on Marcus’s chest. Finally he opens his eyes and licks his lips. “You can move.”

It’s like a burst dam, now that he can thrust up into Esca, meet his motion in the middle. He sits up and pulls Esca to him, kissing him brokenly. The rain starts up again, so he feels more than sees the noises Esca makes, as Marcus thrusts up into him.

He guides Marcus’s hand up and down his cock, and then he’s coming, spurting hot on Marcus’s chest, his muscles tightening around Marcus so he follows him over the edge, holding Esca’s hips down firm against his, and shooting into him.

The rain doesn’t stop when the waves of pleasure finally do, when he starts to soften and Esca climbs off him, looking dazed, but grows even louder against the window. Esca’s lips are bruised red, and his eyes are very dark. Were they blue before? Marcus doesn’t remember, but there will be time enough to find that out later. He’s already decided he’s seeing Esca again. New York isn’t that far from Groton.

“That’s hail,” says Esca, over the noise.

“You should stay then.” He pulls Esca against him. No, this isn’t just a fuck. Whoever Esca is, Marcus wants to see him again and again. Maybe he’d come up to the mansion for the weekend. It’s way too big for Marcus, but if Esca were there, they could fuck in every room, and it wouldn’t feel so empty.

“Can I call you if I’m in New York again?” Marcus asks.

Esca smiles, and it’s not a smirk now, but gorgeous curve of lips, deeply satisfied. “Of course,” he says. He sits up and sprawls half over Marcus so he can scribble his number on the notepad by the phone.

He lies there, chest pressed to Marcus’s stomach for a few minutes looking out at the storm, but then flops over on his back. His fingertips are just touching Marcus’s arm, making his hairs stand on end in the electric air. The hail is tailing off, the clouds rising and letting more city light in. Maybe they’ll doze for a while, and Marcus can wake him up with a blowjob. Maybe Esca will want to see him tomorrow.

The sound of techno music cuts through the noise outside, and it isn’t until Esca starts rummaging through his crumpled jeans that Marcus recognizes it as a cell phone ring.

“What? You arsehole,” he starts yelling into the phone. “No. Don’t sign anything. I’m coming over.”

He hangs up and glares at the phone like he wishes it was land line and he could slam the receiver down. Pushing the button doesn’t look nearly gratifying enough.

“I need to go,” he says. His eyes look wild. “My fucking business partner is doing some kind of deal without me. I wish . . .”

He leans over Marcus and gives him a lingering kiss, a kiss full of promises and regrets, a kiss that turns hot and hungry again. Marcus puts his arms around Esca and tries to push him back down onto the bed, but Esca breaks off the kiss. “I really. Have to. I’m going to kill him.”

“Go,” says Marcus. “Kill him. I’ll call you.”

Once Esca leaves, Marcus looks at the clock. Not even eight. And he hasn’t had dinner. And he should call Lutorius. Nothing could bring him down right now.

“Marcus,” says Lutorius. “I was just about to call you.”

Marcus rolls his eyes. Of course he was. He was rushing to be the bearer of bad news.

“We did it. Seal Analytics is ours. You might not like some of the terms but—”

“Don’t worry about it. I told you to do whatever it takes. We’ll go over the contracts later. Thank you. Can I take you out to dinner? Should I take our new partners out to dinner?”

“No. I’ve gotten us a room in your hotel so we can meet up tomorrow. Get things started. Liathan is bringing his chief scientist, Dr.—”

“I know, the young one with the Scottish name.”

“You should learn his name now. Dr. MacCunoval is part of the package. Without him, there is no Seal Analytics.”

“MacCunoval. I’ll remember.”

*

The meeting is at eight the next morning, before any of the panel sessions at the convention start. Marcus gets there first, and Lutorius joins him.

He hears Dr. MacCunoval before he sees him. He won’t soon forget that voice and accent—it just left him twelve hours ago. That voice is yelling now. “This is the fucking death warrant for this company,” he says, and then he’s in the doorway, wearing the same leather jacket as last night, and a different faded t-shirt. “Fucking Connecticut,” he says to Liathan. “But of course you don’t care. It’s not your fucking company anymore.”

He looks up and sees Marcus. Marcus can see the moment when he recognizes Marcus, realizes he’s the guy who fucked him last night, but he doesn’t show it beyond a slight widening of his eyes. “You,” he spits. “I hate you and everything you stand for.”

Two.

The meeting goes downhill from there. Lutorius briefed him on the contracts last night. If Marcus had read them himself, he would have seen Esca’s name all over them, and been prepared, but now he’s shell shocked.

Liathan is going to make a tidy profit selling his controlling interest. The terms require that Calleva employ Esca for at least a year. Marcus wondered at that when Lutorius told him—was this Dr. MacCunoval so difficult to work with that he needed that guarantee?—but now he’s not wondering at all.

He gives his prepared welcoming remarks to a sheepish-looking Liathan and a glowering Esca: they’re going to work well together, he’s excited about the partnership, blah blah blah.

“It’s not a partnership,” says Esca finally. He turns to Liathan. “Should you even be here?”

Liathan smiles tightly, and claps Esca on the back before he leaves. “Good luck, mate. This is going to be brilliant, I know it.”

“Why don’t we have a seat,” says Lutorius. He looks between Marcus and Esca as if he’s wondering if he might have to defend Marcus bodily.

“I’m sorry you’re not happy with the terms,” says Marcus.

“I wouldn’t be happy with any terms—we were doing fine. The product—”

“The product is wonderful, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have customers. A CEO needs to sell. Liathan wasn’t, and he knew it,” says Marcus.

“The product is six months from delivery.” The words are clipped and precise. Marcus would prefer yelling to this cold fury. Esca is as stunning angry as he was gasping and wanting last night, but Marcus wishes more than anything else that it wasn’t directed at him.

“Gentlemen,” says Lutorius, “I’m sure you’ll have many meetings about this—” Esca jaw tightens “—but for now we need to discuss next steps. Dr. MacCunoval, you’ll be moving your office to Groton. We need the teams co-located.”

“Lutorius, can you give us a moment?” Marcus asks.

Lutorius gives them both dubious looks and then steps out into the hall.

“The terms are—” Marcus begins.

“I read the terms. You can’t fire me.”

“And I don’t want to. Calleva Software needs you and your product.”

Esca’s chin comes up. “You won’t survive without it.”

Marcus nods. “And we own Seal Analytics now. We need each other. But you’re right. I can’t fire you. You can refuse to have anything to do with this, get paid for a year of doing nothing, and I can’t do anything about it. That’s your choice.”

“I wouldn’t. It was my idea, my data modeling. I’ll see it through until it’s ready to be released.”

“Then deal with this. You don’t want to move to Connecticut—well, I don’t want to be there either—but it’s where the company is, and I need my people to get up to speed so we can sell it, and ship it, and support it. I’m sure you read that part of the contract as well.” He takes a deep breath and spreads his hands out on the table. Maybe this will be okay.

“Are we done here?” Esca asks. “I have a talk to give.”

Marcus shrugs and Esca walks out without saying another word.

*

Marcus attends the second day of the conference. Esca’s talk is brilliant, of course. He’s still wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and he still looks absurdly young, but he speaks with competence and mastery, and has the charisma to hold his audience’s attention.

Marcus doesn’t understand the math, or the technology behind it, but the upshot is that Seal Analytics is going to revolutionize internet ad targeting, and they’re using cutting edge technology to do it. Calleva is going to look smart for doing this deal.
Esca only falters slightly when the question and answer period starts, and someone asks him about what the acquisition by Calleva means for the product. A flicker of annoyance passes over his face, and he pauses for long enough that Marcus starts to get nervous before saying, “As you can see, my expertise is not in the business side, but Marcus Aquila, the CEO of Calleva software, is in the audience. Perhaps he will answer.”

Marcus stands and makes his way over to the microphone, feeling obscurely pleased that Esca noticed him there. He gives a pat answer about how proud he is to have made this acquisition, and how excited he is to be working with a brilliant mind like Dr. MacCunoval. It doesn’t answer the question, but it doesn’t need to. He waves off any more questions, but not before noting the carefully blank expression on Esca’s face.

*

Liathan, of all people, gives Marcus a call that evening. “I didn’t realize he’d hate the idea so much,” he tells Marcus.

If Liathan had talked to Esca for five minutes he probably would have, but Marcus keeps that thought to himself. “Any tips for how to deal with him?” Marcus asks. He still doesn’t think it’s going to be that bad. Esca is upset, sure—his life just underwent a massive change without him getting a say in it—but he’ll come around. Right?

Liathan sighs. “He’s the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.”

Great. “Anything else?”

“He won’t admit it, but he’s terrified of leaving New York. He doesn’t have a drivers’ license. He probably doesn’t even know how he’s going to get to Groton.” Liathan pauses. “He’ll hate that I told you that.”

“No, this is good.”

“He’ll work too hard, but he’ll never quit. If he gave his word . . . he sees things through—long past when they’ve become lost causes.”

There’s a story there that Marcus desperately wants to hear, but Liathan’s making noises like he needs to go. It’s probably nothing that matters for work, and Marcus will be better off thinking of the Esca from last night as an entirely different person. Maybe he’ll get to see that person again, maybe not, but he has to deal with the here and now Esca, who is scared and pissed off, and focusing his anger at Marcus.

He takes a deep breath and calls Esca next from the number he scrawled on the hotel pad. Esca picks it up on the second ring. So at least he gave Marcus a real number. That’s something. “Yes?” he asks impatiently.

“Pack enough stuff for a week. I’m driving you up to Groton tomorrow. What’s your address?”

Esca doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Then he sighs and gives Marcus an address in the West Village. “I’ll be there at nine,” Marcus tells him. “Late enough to miss the traffic.”

He picks Esca up in front of a beautiful old brownstone the next day. Esca has a small duffle in one hand and a computer case under his arm. He says nothing when he slides in beside Marcus in the passenger seat of his Lexus.

“You can pick the music,” Marcus tells him.

Esca attaches his iPhone to the car’s stereo as Marcus maneuvers them onto the FDR. He plays a mix of indie rock that’s too obscure for Marcus to recognize until they get out of the Bronx, but then he switches it to political podcasts. Very liberal. One after another. Esca is clearly trying to annoy him, and Marcus doesn’t feel like denying him the knowledge that he’s succeeding.

After the second Noam Chomsky speech starts up, Marcus says, “You know, I’m not very political.”

Esca doesn’t answer. Noam drones on.

“You know,” says Marcus a few minutes later. “This is isn’t actually music.”

“It’s your car.” Esca switches back to the indie rock. “And I am your employee.”

The music carries them up along the coastline. At Bridgeport, Esca looks out the window over the sparking water, and Marcus almost drifts into the other lane watching him.

When they get closer, Marcus says, “I know you don’t have a place yet, so the company can put you up in a hotel. But I’ve got a guest house, and no one ever stays there.”

Esca says nothing, but he does look over at Marcus. “It would be just like having your own place,” Marcus adds. “You can’t even see the house from there. And it’s within walking distance of the office. There’s a path through the woods.”

“You spent everything Calleva had in the bank and then some to buy us, correct?” Esca asks.

“Yes.”

“And you’ve got a year at the current burn rate before your company goes under?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll stay in your guest house and save you the $150 a night.” He sounds like he’s doing Marcus a favor, which, Marcus supposes, he is.

Marcus pulls up in front of the guest house and starts to undo his seatbelt to help Esca with his bag. Esca stops him with a hand on his wrist. “You own me for the next year,” he says. “And I will do everything I can to make it a success.”

His eyes are wide and blue. His mouth has lost that hardness that it’s held since the deal went through. Marcus wants—damn, he wants to take Esca back to his house, not the guest house, and see if they make it to a bed or just fuck on the floor. This is stupid. They work together now. But if Esca says the word, he will. Marcus licks his lips.

“I’m not going to let you ruin what I’m trying to build,” says Esca. “And, just so you know . . . I promise you . . . we are never going to fuck again.”

Three.

They spend the first week planning. Esca goes over the future of the product. They list features, argue them out. They plan—or rather Esca tells Marcus—the testing and release schedule. Marcus tries to hurry it up, because that’s what CEOs do, but Esca does this thing where he clenches his jaw and juts out his chin, his eyes glittering dangerously, so Marcus backs off.

Esca meets Calleva’s advisory board, but he flat out refuses to have anything to do with them after the first meeting, and Marcus resigns himself to the fact that his job is going to be a lot of running interference between them. Being CEO is a lot less glamorous than it sounds.

At night Marcus can see the glow of the lights in the guest house, the slim silhouette of Esca walking around. He tends to walk as he thinks. The office Marcus set aside for him is big, with a table and a work desk that he can stand at. Esca looks pleased when he sees it, lips quirking in that slight smile that makes Marcus’s chest tighten.

Esca behaves professionally enough, aside from his attire, which continues to consist of jeans and t-shirts fraying to the point of transparency. He wears scuffed combat boots, and the polish on his nails is chipping. When Marcus sees that, he suffers a brief fantasy of watching Esca apply it. He probably wears the same scowl of concentration then as he does when he’s bending over his work bench, sketching out some brilliant data mapping that he’ll explain to his engineers later.

When Marcus drives home from work on Friday, he sees Esca with a bag hitched over his shoulder, walking toward the bus station. If he thought Esca would accept, he'd give him a ride. Give him a ride all the way to New York or where ever he wanted to go, but the closest they've come to detente is when Esca ignores him, so Marcus drives on.

Another weekend alone. He could go up to Boston and see a baseball game, or see the girl he takes out from time to time. Or maybe one of his buddies in Hartford has time to get a beer, but fewer of them do these days. Most of them have kids and mid-level jobs now, rather than the legacy Marcus’s father left him, the company like an albatross around his neck. They’re always happy to see him, but it feels more and more like they don’t live in the same worlds.

Instead he goes for a long run around the wooded hills around his house. It’s a warm summer weekend with a heaviness in the air that presages a thunder storm. On Saturday night he finally reads the more detailed briefing material Lutorius prepared for him on Esca. Dr. MacCunoval.

It’s dry enough that he doesn’t feel like a voyeur: college—university—at 16, Cambridge; Ph. D. in Applied Statistics at 23 from MIT. Started a post-doctoratal fellowship, but didn’t finish because his friend Liathan, his rich friend Liathan, convinced him that his thesis project had the makings of a business. Marcus imagines some details between the lines: lonely, driven, always too young, he must have known he stood out, so he embraced it with the look and the attitude. The piercings, the ink, the nail polish.

And now at 25 he’s here, abandoned by his friend to the wilds of Eastern Connecticut.

The internet doesn’t yield much more beyond some race results—he’s a runner, a good one, sprint, distance and everything in between. One summer he did some climbing and put up a new route on some remote rock in Colorado. There’s a picture of him at the top, hands white with chalk, hair crazy, longer than it is now. He looks fierce and happy, with freckled shoulders, squinting against the sun.

When Esca comes into work on Monday, he has a bite mark on his neck and a blissed-out expression on his face that sets into something stiff as soon as he sees Marcus. It's a punch in the gut. Esca was getting fucked this weekend, by someone who wasn't him.

For a moment, Marcus thinks that given a chance, he could come to hate Esca as much as Esca hates him, but then one of Esca's engineers comes over to him, and Esca smiles that little, wry smile at what the engineer says, and the thought vanishes.

They spend the next week on logistics, getting Esca’s team settled in, and the week after that training the sales staff and Marcus so they can go out and sell the Seal Analytics package.

“Now don’t sell anything we can’t do.” Esca scowls. “I know how sales people operate,” he adds darkly.

Marcus has come to enjoy being ordered around by Esca, because at least then Esca isn’t insulting him or ignoring him, but he hides his smile, because Esca would surely stop if he knew Marcus liked it.

When Esca is assured that the sales team has some idea what they’re talking about, they spend a week creating presentations and practicing. Marcus divides up the team into new territories because, unlike their previous server log management products, this one will mostly be sold to agencies and big publishers. Big media markets like New York, Chicago, LA, Houston.

Marcus is going to need to let some of his sales team go, and hire people who know their new customers better. His father always said that being a CEO is half selling and half recruiting. And half running the damn thing, he always added. But Marcus will deal with that later. Maybe some of the old guys can learn new tricks over the next couple weeks.

Marcus leaves on Sunday night for a big two week sales trip. He stops by the guest house before he goes. Esca answers the door wearing only low slung sweatpants cut off at the knee, leaving Marcus momentarily speechless.

“What do you want?” he asks, but without malice. He yawns and raises a hand to his mouth, exposing his dark underarm hair, and flexing the lean muscles in his torso. He looks at Marcus suspiciously.

“I’m, umm, leaving tonight,” says Marcus. “Call me if anything, if you need anything.”

Head tilt. “Anything?”

Damn him, he knows exactly the effect he’s having on Marcus. And he’s finding it amusing.

“You know, if you need someone fired or something. I can do that.”

“I’m sure you can.” Esca sounds patronizing now. “Is that all?”

If Marcus is going to be mocked, at least he’s going to enjoy the view, so he takes another long look before saying, “No. Have a good trip.”

*

The trip is exhausting. This is the soft sell part of the process, the meeting people, the having drinks, playing golf, taking people out to ball games. It should be fun, but Marcus always has to be on. His dad was a natural at this. His dad liked golf, and could make conversation with anyone. Marcus has his father’s natural charm, the family name, the athletic background—it should make him a good sales person—but it feels painfully false. And maybe he’s doing okay, but it doesn’t feel like it should be so hard.

He makes some good contacts in the incestuous little worlds of New York and Chicago agencies, although it will take a while to reach the decision-makers. He’s about to board his flight to Los Angeles the next Wednesday when he gets a call from Lutorius.

“Dr. MacCunoval hasn’t been in to work for a couple days. Do you know what happened?”

Shit. Marcus had convinced himself that of all the problems he was going to have over the next year, Esca wasn’t going to be one of them. At least not professionally. “Have you talked to his engineers?”

“They have no idea. But they don’t seem that surprised.”

Marcus gets on the first plane home.

*

By the time Marcus’s flight lands in Hartford, he has put together a plan. He’s going to drive to New York and promise Esca anything he wants. He can keep his team in New York, and Marcus will drive down there when he needs a meeting. It will be much more expensive and they’ll run through the company’s cash much faster, but without Esca, none of that matters. Esca will listen to reason and they’ll be back on track.

He’s convinced himself of this, and is ready to head down to the city that night, when he sees the lights on in the guest house, and decides to check there first. It’s probably just the housekeeper tidying up, but maybe Esca left something, and that will tell Marcus if he ever plans to return.

He lets himself in. The first thing he notices is a faint scent of vomit in the air. There’s a wadded up blanket on the couch, but Esca’s not there. Lights are on all over the house, which isn’t Esca’s usual pattern. Marcus has spent enough time watching to know.

He goes through all the rooms and finally finds Esca in the upstairs bathroom, curled up on the floor. A stab of fear clouds Marcus’s vision. He kneels down next to Esca, who groans a little when Marcus shakes his shoulder, but doesn’t wake. Marcus bends down and gets his arms underneath Esca to pick him up. He feels surprisingly light, which worries Marcus further.

He deposits Esca on the couch, because it looked relatively clean, and goes to mix him up some powered Gatorade. Esca’s definitely dehydrated, and should probably be in the hospital, but Marcus doesn’t want to abandon him to the impersonal care of doctors and nurses just yet.

Thankfully he’s a little more aware when Marcus returns with the glass. He holds it up to Esca’s lips, and Esca takes a sip, too weak to glare at him or say anything haughty. When he’s drunk about a third of the glass, Marcus asks gently, “How long have you been like this?”

“What day is it?” Esca asks.

“I’m taking you to the hospital.”

Esca grabs Marcus’s wrist—his grip, at least, isn’t weak. “Please. I can’t—I hate hospitals.”

“Okay,” says Marcus dubiously. “But you have to drink this, and another glass. And I’m not leaving until I think you’re okay.”

Esca does muster up a slight scowl at that, but he doesn’t protest.

When Esca gets the whole glass down, Marcus brings him another, and then goes to start turning off lights. He finds wadded up sheets with dried vomit on them in the bedroom and strips them off and throws them in the hamper. There’s an empty Pepto-Bismol bottle in the sink in the bathroom, but he finds some clean sheets in the linen closet. He makes up Esca’s bed.

When he goes down stairs again, Esca has the glass of green Gatorade cradled on his chest, only a few sips gone. His eyes are closed, and he seems to be sleeping. Marcus slides the glass from his hands and puts it on the end table, then pulls the blanket up higher around his shoulders.

He sits on the floor next to the couch for a while, listening to Esca’s breathing and leafing through the magazines on the coffee table, Sports Illustrated from a few years ago. There’s a focus piece on Jacoby Ellsbury from when he was a rookie. Reading it makes Marcus feel old.

Esca keeps sleeping, which he probably needs, so eventually Marcus gets up and goes to rest in one of the other bedrooms.

He sleeps fitfully and wakes in the middle of the night to check on Esca. Esca’s sitting up when Marcus gets downstairs, holding the glass again, although no more liquid is gone.

“How’re you feeling?” Marcus asks.

“Like shit,” says Esca. “But better than before.”

Marcus feels his forehead. He doesn’t know what to check for, but one of his only memories of his mom is her cool hands on his forehead when he was sick. It’s what you do for sick people. It seems like Esca doesn’t mind because at Marcus’s touch he closes his eyes and lets his head fall back on the couch cushions. He’s neither too hot nor too cold, and not clammy. Marcus lets out a sigh of relief.

“What happened?” Marcus asks.

“On Monday I took a bus to Mystic and ate at this sandwich shop—”

“Lennie’s?” Marcus frowns. “Yeah. Don’t eat there.”

Esca gives him a look like, now you tell me, but all he says is, “Yes, Lennie’s. Something tasted off. And now I’ve spent the last forty-eight hours puking and shitting, and I can’t keep anything down. Even this—” he eyes the Gatorade with suspicion “—has me worried.”

“You didn’t call anyone?”

Something unreadable flickers across his face. “No.”

“Call me next time,” says Marcus. “Call anyone. Just . . .” Esca presses his lips together and sets his jaw, and Marcus decides not to pursue it. He can’t tell if that’s a shut up look or an I’m-going-to-be-sick-look, so he stands up. “I’m going to get you a bowl, just in case.”

When he comes back with it, Esca’s managed to drink a bit more of the liquid in his glass, and his eyes are closed again.

“Do you want to . . .,” Marcus begins. “I mean, would you be more comfortable in bed? I can . . .”

“Carry me again?” Esca asks, squinting up at him. Marcus nods. Esca is silent for a long moment. “I would,” he says. “But I can walk.”

He gets as far as sitting up before swaying dangerously. “Fuck. I’ll just stay here.”

“Don’t be an idiot.” He scoops Esca up again before he can protest. Esca makes a displeased noise, but then his tiredness gets the better of him and he rests his head against Marcus’s chest, warming the skin there. He smells sour and sick, but his hair is very soft where it brushes Marcus’s neck.

Marcus deposits Esca on the bed and goes to get him yet more to drink. “You’re extremely dehydrated,” he tells Esca when he gets back. “If you’re not feeling better tomorrow, I can get a nurse to come here and give you a saline drip, or I can take you to the hospital.”

Esca yawns. “How do you know so much about it?”

“I played football in college. Pre-season practices were pretty hard. Some guy usually ended up puking or passing out from heat exhaustion at least once a week.”

“Did you?”

“More than once,” says Marcus. It seems like a lifetime ago now.

“That’s stupid,” says Esca, eyes already closed. “I would never do this voluntarily.”

Marcus waits for more, but Esca’s asleep.

*

Marcus hears Esca shuffle to the bathroom just before dawn. And, more gratifyingly, shuffle back out again under his own power. The next day while Esca dozes in bed, Marcus calls Lutorius to tell him that Esca will be out for the rest of the week, and that he, Marcus, will be working from home.

He goes out in the morning and brings back a selection of fruit smoothies from a health food store in Mystic. Esca manages to drink half of one before letting the rest melt and sweat on the bedside table, until it’s an unappetizing, separated mess when Marcus goes to check on him in the afternoon.

Marcus brings his laptop into the guest house kitchen, and spends the day researching potential customers, reading white papers about ad targeting, and planning a focus group. He gets the housekeeper to come by and clean up, bring food for them, bland things that maybe Esca will be able to tolerate.

He doesn’t know whether to be worried or pleased that Esca doesn’t try to kick him out that day. In the evening Esca makes his way downstairs and lies down on the couch.

Marcus has the Boston game on. He offers to turn it off, or change the channel, but Esca says, “No, I’m feeling just stupid enough for baseball.”

“Like cricket is much better,” Marcus answers, hoping for some good, old-fashioned trash talking, but Esca doesn’t answer. “Are you hungry?” Marcus asks.

“Maybe a little.”

Marcus brings him some crackers and another smoothie from the freezer, warmed up a little and stirred back to something approaching the right consistency, and a beer for himself. “If you want something else . . .”

“No, this is good.”

They watch the game in silence for a while. Esca nibbles on the crackers, takes small sips of the smoothie. Toronto is getting spanked so thoroughly by Boston that it’s not that interesting a game, but Marcus has always had a crush on Mike Lowell, from before he even realized he wanted men that way, so at least he can appreciate Lowell’s George Clooney-esque salt and pepper hair, and strong-legged batting stance for a while.

“You don’t have to stay,” says Esca after a few innings.

“I know,” Marcus answers. He takes a drink of his beer. It’s some Massachusetts micro-brew he’s never heard of, but it’s delicious, wheaty and citrusy. Esca’s been doing some exploring.

“Why are you, then?” Esca asks.

Because I can’t stand the thought of anything bad happening to you, is the answer that springs immediately to mind. Because seeing Esca pale and weak, and too sick even to glare at Marcus or insult him properly pulls at something in his chest and he can’t walk away.

Marcus can’t answer truthfully, not and retain any shred of dignity, so instead he says, “Because I think you’re stubborn enough to die of food poisoning rather than ask for help. I’m protecting my investment.”

Esca gives him a skeptical look, but leaves it alone. The Red Sox win, 11-2. Esca rouses himself from his doze and goes back to sleep upstairs.

*

By the weekend, Esca is feeling a bit better, but he still isn’t eating much. Marcus leaves him alone so he can go back to his house to work out, shower and change. Saturday morning is his long run day. He got in the habit when he did the New York Marathon last year, and never really dropped it, so it’s almost noon when he gets back to check on Esca again.

“You really don’t need to be here,” Esca says pointedly when Marcus lets himself in.

“You’re still too dizzy to answer the door, which is why I’m using my key rather than knocking like a civilized person.” Yesterday he knocked, and yesterday Esca was panting and leaning on the door frame when he got there to open it.

They sit on the couch and watch stupid action movies. Esca eats a quarter of a bagel, chewing slowly and carefully.

“I’m bored,” says Esca after the second Fast and Furious movie.

“How can you be bored of Vin Diesel?” Marcus asks. Esca just gives him a look.

“I could read to you.”

“No.”

“Play cards?”

“No.”

“Paint your nails?”

He gets a slight smile out of that. “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice before that you were an enormous girl,” says Esca.

And you would have, Marcus thinks, but he doesn’t say it. He likes this slightly more friendly relationship they’ve fallen into. Esca’s prickliness is just habit. He’ll wear down.

“I’m not the one who wears nail polish,” Marcus points out. “Plus, it’s chipped.”

“You actually are a girl, aren’t you?”

Marcus goes to rummage in the bathroom. There he finds both Esca’s black nail polish and the remover.

Esca gives him a disbelieving look when he comes back downstairs. “You’re serious.”

Marcus thinks maybe he’s going too far, but Esca hasn’t actually said ‘no’ yet, and now it feels like a game of chicken, like, which one of them is going to blink first and not go through with this?

“Yes I’m serious,” says Marcus “I’m bored too.” Esca still looks skeptical. “C’mon. I’m good at this. You want your toes done too?”

That look is a definite no, but he does offer a hand. Marcus kneels so he can get the best light. He takes the old polish off and starts reapplying. Esca has long, mobile fingers, interestingly callused. Marcus wants to ask what hobby gives him those, but he doesn’t want to break whatever spell is over them right now by speaking.

Esca does, though, and says, “You are good at that.”

“I used to do my girlfriend’s toes in college,” he says quietly, not wanting to look up and maybe mess up the smooth lines he’s painting.

“Your girlfriend?”

“Yes,” says Marcus, more defensively than he means to. “I date women sometimes.”

“Date women, and fuck men on the side.” Esca’s tone is suddenly venomous.

“You’re really determined to dislike me,” says Marcus, still trying to make it a joke. Esca’s not wrong, though. He doesn’t date men. He’s never wanted to. He knows how to date women, there’s an easy script to follow. Until he broke up with Helen, he always imagined himself married, with kids, a wife with shoulder-length blonde hair, expertly coiffed. He’d give up men. She’d give up her job. He’d thought Helen wanted the same thing.

“Have you ever dated a man?” Esca asks.

“No,” says Marcus, getting annoyed. “And I don’t think it’s any of your business. You made that clear.” He stands up. “I thought you just didn’t want to move up here, didn’t want anyone meddling in your company, but it’s me. You really hate me.” He’s still more incredulous than angry. People like him. He’s always had that.

But Esca doesn’t look like he’s going to deny it. “Liathan was going to sell your company,” Marcus adds. “Be mad at him.”

“Oh, I am,” says Esca.

“Then what? What did I do?”

“Do you know how many pricks like you I met at Cambridge?” Now Esca’s standing as well, the anger blazing in his eyes enough to burn off whatever weakness he was feeling. He shakes his head. “Different accent, same fucking entitlement. I’m sure you can be nice, but in the end you’re just using people and throwing them away. Is there anything in your life that wasn’t handed to you on a silver platter? You’ve been fucking up your father’s company for ten years, and now you want to fuck mine up as well.”

It’s like getting slapped. It’s worse than that; it’s everything Marcus has feared was true about himself thrown in his face. Marcus must look as stricken as he feels, because Esca’s voice is almost gentle when he says, “Go home, Marcus. Just go.”

Chapter Text

Four.

Marcus goes. He realizes he’s left his laptop there as soon as the door closes. Maybe he’ll send Alicia, his administrative assistant, to pick it up tomorrow, or use his key to pick it up during the day when Esca’s at work. He can wait. But he’s not going back now.

He mopes that night, watches TV, drinks too much beer, and tries not to think about it. He doesn’t sleep well, and wakes early to go for another run. He usually rests the day after a long run, but he can’t face the day alone, so he sets out through the cool dawn air.

Running makes him feel better, as it always does. The sky turns from gray, to pink, to blue as the sun rises. The air heats up as he does, but every so often he’ll cross a stream, or run by a shaded hollow and grow cool again.

He never used to like running, but after he blew out his knee, and moved back here, it was a challenge—could a guy built for football run a 5K, a 10K, a marathon? He’s still not built for it, too heavy and thickly muscled ever to be good at it, but he can run an eight-minute mile for just about ever now. And he loves it, the hours alone in which he doesn’t feel lonely.

But he doesn’t feel better enough this morning that he can stop thinking about what Esca said.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this—he was supposed to play football, and his father was supposed to run the business, and then when Marcus retired from sports, and his father wanted to retire from work, Marcus would come and be the face of Calleva. He’d have good advisers. He wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

When his father died, Marcus had left everything up to the board of advisors, while he’d spent years feeling sorry for himself and living down to every awful idea Esca probably had of him. Why should he pay attention to the company—how could he do a better job than people who’d been working for his father for years? It was easier to stay out of the picture. Until it became clear that they weren’t.

God, they’d sunk money into a packaging plant in 2003. They were still talking vertical integration in 2005 when Marcus had finally finished his MBA and come in to take a more active role. He’d done what he could, but they hadn’t innovated in years, and their customers had moved on. It would be a slow death, as help contracts expired and old customers failed to renew, but death nonetheless. The only good thing Marcus has done is find Seal Analytics, and Lutorius handled all the heavy-lifting on that deal.

Marcus has just passed mile ten when his knee gives out with a sharp stab of pain that leaves him heaving and gasping, clinging onto a tree at the side of the road.

After he gets a ride home from a friendly mom along his running route, he puts his leg up and ices his knee. He’ll probably be limping for a week, off running for two, and ramping up his mileage slowly and carefully for the six weeks after that.

He sighs. Good a time as any to get on the road and actually try to do some good for Calleva Software. Because even since he came back, he hasn’t been doing what he should. If he’d been doing his job, he would have recognized the name Esca in the bar that night.

Marcus flexes his knee and winces. He can’t wish that undone, no matter what else has gone wrong since then. But if he’d been doing his job, acting like a professional, he wouldn’t be mooning over Esca now, finding excuses to stop by his desk at work, and generally acting like a love-sick teenager.

Nail polish, fuck, what was he thinking? Marcus can’t change that, but he can try to get through the next year without embarrassing himself anymore.

*

He waits until Esca has finished his morning stand-up with the engineers, and calls out, “Dr. MacCunoval, may I see you in my office please?”

Esca takes a few minutes to join him, while Marcus waits nervously, but when Esca enters, he puts Marcus’s laptop down on his desk, the power supply neatly coiled on top. It doesn’t feel like a peace offering.

“I want to apologize,” says Marcus stiffly. “I invaded your personal space this weekend, and it was unprofessional. It won’t happen again.”

Esca swallows. “I should apologize too—”

“Not necessary,” says Marcus. “Thank you for bringing my laptop.”

Esca nods tightly. “Is there anything else?”

“Next time you’re sick, send an email to HR. Or Alicia will go by your house and check on you. And she will call 911. Understood?”

A flicker of amusement crosses his face. “Yes.”

“I’m going on the road for a while, but I want a demo of the weekly build. It comes out on Tuesdays, right?” Esca nods. “Then pick someone from your team to walk me through it Tuesday afternoon. If I’m not in the office I’ll call in.”

“I can do it,” Esca offers.

“Your time is too valuable. Delegate it. Rebecca’s your head engineer, right? Consider her, but it’s your choice.” Esca pulls out a little black notebook and notes that. Marcus looks at the list he wrote up yesterday. “Someone from your team—it can be you—should send me a status email with what happened last week, what’s happening this week, and anything that’s slowing down or blocking the team.” He checks that item off. “That’s all I have. Is there anything you’d like to bring up with me?”

Esca opens his mouth, then closes it again, and shakes his head.

“Thank you, then, that’s all,” says Marcus.

“Thank you, Marcus,” says Esca as he leaves.

It’s harder than he imagined, going through his daily round of meetings and visiting with various sales people in their offices without trying to catch a glimpse of Esca. He must have been doing that a lot, all that teenage mooning shit.

Well, it stops now. Esca’s not his friend, and certainly not his boyfriend. It was foolish to pretend anything else.

*

Marcus spends August on the road. It’s not a good time to visit agencies, since most of New York goes on vacation then, but his team makes a few small sales, and Marcus helps turn them into medium ones.

Rebecca is a good liaison from the engineering team. She does the demos and listens to Marcus’s suggestions. Some she likes; some she argues about. She’s a solid employee, and passionately loyal to Esca.

In September Marcus starts dating Barry, a navy captain who’s trying to decide what he thinks of the coming end of DADT.

“It’s not like it’s going to be easy to be out, no matter what,” he tells Marcus over dinner at Mystic’s nicest seafood restaurant. Marcus’s back is to the door, and every time it opens he feels a prickling between his shoulder blades.

“The more people who do it, the easier it’s going to be,” says Marcus, feeling like a hypocrite. He’s not ‘out’—it’s hard for him to think of that word having any meaning for him. Everyone at work knew about Helen, and everyone after Helen was none of their business. Marcus wonders what Esca tells people at work, or if they’re all too scared to ask.

Barry’s cute, dark haired, a few inches shorter than Marcus, and about the same age. They trade enjoyable blowjobs after date three. Barry spends the night after date four.

It’s only after they spend a chilly weekend together in Maine that Marcus has to admit to himself that it’s not working. He can date guys, sure, it’s not that different than dating girls, but all he can think of, trapped inside the cabin by rain squalls all weekend, is that he wishes Esca were there instead.

He breaks it off with Barry, who seems kind of relieved.

He spends the fall going on more sales trips. A few of their prospects have suggestions, so Marcus calls an all-day meeting to prioritize features, which involves fighting with Esca about what is (a) possible and (b) a good idea. Rebecca backs him up on a few, and those he wins.

Sometimes he sees Esca when he goes running. They both run in the mornings, although not always on the same days, and not the same routes. At first it spooks him, and he worries that Esca won’t want to see him, will view it as an invasion the bubble he’s built around himself, but Marcus nods hello if they pass, and Esca does too.

He finds some happy medium of being friendly but impersonal to Esca at work, but it never gets easy, just forms a new habit of fakeness. How are you, how was your weekend, some weather we’re having, huh?

Marcus finally breaks through the awkwardness between them one unseasonably warm morning in October. The leaves have started to change, but the air is still summer-mild, and he’s running without a shirt, setting an easy pace and enjoying the last taste of warmth before the New England winter sets in. He sees Esca in front of him, wearing those low slung, threadbare sweats and no shirt. The ink lines on his back ripple in time with his smooth, strong strides.

Marcus would love to watch for a while, but that would be creepy, so he puts on a burst of speed. Esca glances back, sees him coming and speeds up as well until they’re full out sprinting. Esca pants out, “Stop sign?” and Marcus agrees, and they’re both gasping and laughing when they make it, Esca an undeniable half step ahead. He’s red-faced from the running, flushed over his chest. Sweat darkens the edge of his hair, and he’s smiling as he catches his breath, a full, wide smile that Marcus has never seen him wear before.

“Good race,” he says, that wide grin turning into his wry, knowing half-smile. Marcus grins stupidly back, and is trying to think of something else to say when Esca takes off running again, this time down a steep hill that Marcus knows better than to attempt with his knee.

He thinks maybe Esca is friendlier to him after that, or maybe Marcus is more willing to notice the fact that Esca does take his suggestions at work with a minimum of attitude, does nod hello. He catches Esca watching him from time to time. To be fair, Esca looks at him a lot, but previously those looks seemed to say you’re going to fuck something up or otherwise be a bonehead, aren’t you? Marcus has grown used to those looks. These are still measuring, but a little friendlier.

Marcus spends Thanksgiving with his favorite of his father’s former girlfriends. They still stay in touch, although now she’s living in New Hampshire with her son from a previous marriage. Marcus brings the kid, now a sullen teenager, a signed Jason Varitek baseball, and buys his affection for the weekend.

He looks up an old friend from college who’s living in Hong Kong now and makes plans to spend Christmas diving with him in the Philippines. He’s not going to hang around Groton this year.

*

Calleva software has its annual holiday party the Monday before Christmas. They’re running lean these days, but Marcus authorizes food and drink in quantity over quality, and they take over the top floor of the building, high enough that they can see the lights shining on the harbor. There’s a DJ playing Top 40, and even early in the evening, a few brave people dance. Lutorius and his wife take ballroom dancing lessons, so they give everyone a show when “Time After Time” comes on.

Esca wears his version of dressed up: a slim fitting suit that hugs his waist, black with this cream pinstripes, and narrow lapels that hardly deserve the name. The pants are too short, but it looks like that’s on purpose, because they expose sheer socks and wing-tip styled shoes with heavy soles. As the evening goes on he takes off his jacket and rolls up his sleeves. Marcus sees him in a t-shirt every day, but now he can’t stop glancing at Esca’s firm forearms, and the hollow of his neck above the collar.

Esca spends the evening with the engineering team and chats briefly Lutorius, whom no one can dislike for long. A few of the braver daughters of the advisory board try to talk with him, but Esca is polite and chilly and they leave disappointed.

“You could have made a lot of trouble tonight,” says Marcus, after watching him send another disappointed daughter on to preppier pastures.

“Now, why would I do that?” Esca looks up at Marcus, his eyes wide and very blue. Marcus loses the thread of what they’re talking about. If it’s anything at all. “You want to get out of here?” Esca asks. “I’m too pissed to walk home alone.”

Marcus just manages not to blurt out “yes”, and instead makes a show of looking around checking his watch. They have the restaurant until midnight, and it’s 11 now. He’s given his toast and embarrassed some people with praise. He could leave, and give everyone an hour free of the boss.

“Please,” says Esca.

“Okay,” Marcus answers. He doesn’t trust himself with more.

Marcus says his goodbyes and collects his coat. He meets Esca by the elevator, where he’s leaning against the wall, eyes closed, and belatedly translates “pissed” as “drunk,” rather than Esca’s usual state of being annoyed at everyone.

They walk home the long way, around on the roads, rather than brave the wintry forest, drunk, at night.

Esca is drunk—he refuses to zip up his jacket, and when he looks up and sees a few gentle snowflakes falling, breaks into a few off-key lines of a Latin Christmas carol that Marcus doesn’t recognize.

“Did you enjoy the party?” Marcus asks.

Esca isn’t so drunk he can’t give Marcus a look that says that’s a stupid question before sighing and saying, “Not really my scene.”

“What is your scene?”

He gives Marcus the same look again, which Marcus thinks is probably not warranted this time, and says, “You know me . . . dark room, loud music, fucking in the bathroom. It’s hard being gay up here.” He gives Marcus a measuring look. “Although you probably know that.”

“I don’t know,” says Marcus mischievously. “You just have to know where to look. Lots of navy men.”

Esca stops and puts his hand on Marcus’s wrist, somehow finding the thin strip of skin between his coat cuff and his glove. “You never let me apologize. I’m sorry I was such a twat this summer. I still don’t like it here—”

“Really?” asks Marcus, deadpan.

Esca ignores him. “But you’re not bad. You didn’t deserve . . . all that history. I am sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” Marcus says gravely.

At the guest house walkway, Marcus tells him goodnight. Esca stops him before he turns. “Do you want to come in?” he asks. The porch lamp highlights the planes of his lean face, his open lips, and the set of his chin. He looks up at Marcus speculatively, like Marcus is something tasty he would very much like to sample, and Marcus is about to say yes, when Esca adds, “I’m lonely.”

Marcus takes a deep breath. Esca’s lonely. And drunk. And Marcus is stupidly in love, and Esca’s boss for the next six months. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s not a good idea.”

Esca gives him an unreadable look. “As you wish. Good night, Marcus.”

*

Marcus is in hell. Granted, it’s a good kind of hell, or will be, once he catches his breath. It’s definitely better than the last few months, but it is still, objectively speaking, hell. The first, and more easily solved, problem is that Esca runs faster than him, and Marcus has a competitive streak a mile wide.

When they started to run together, Marcus knew Esca was holding back, and that drove him crazy, so he started running faster, and now it’s some kind of death race every time they go out together. He could probably ask Esca to slow down, but he won’t let himself do it. Yet.

Which is the other part of the hell, because they’re running together now, every other morning for the last few weeks, and afterward they go to the gym in Marcus’s house. And Esca stretches.

Marcus stretches too; he’s been involved in team sports since he could walk, and they always did stretching after practice, before practice, while waiting on the sidelines. He can still touch his toes, which is better than everyone else he knows, but Esca bends over and puts his chin on his shins like it’s as natural as breathing. And Marcus stares, every single time, wondering how he missed that when they were together that night, and kicking himself for not going home with Esca after the Christmas party.

They’ve become much friendlier since then, but the offer hasn’t been repeated, and Marcus tortures himself every night, and now, every other morning, with fantasies about what would have happened if he’d said yes. Maybe Esca would hate him again now, but even that doesn’t seem so bad when his body can’t decide if it wants to fall over from exhaustion or fuck Esca senseless.

Marcus came back from the Phillipines on January 1, and went to a party in New York, hoping that the stars would align and Esca would be there too. Of course, he wasn’t, because life isn’t a movie. Instead a cute, buff guy grabbed him and kissed him at midnight, and Marcus turned him down too.

His dick is not happy with him. His dick is even less happy with him when Esca takes off his jacket and stretches his shoulders. His paper thin t-shirt rides up, showing the trail of blond hairs tracing over the sweat sheened skin below his navel.

Esca bends over again, this time with legs spread. His head touches the floor. If he reached a little, he could probably put his legs behind his head. Marcus stands up and goes for a little walk around the room instead of watching, slack-jawed. “Exactly how stretchy do your hamstrings have to be?” he asks, because it’s better than just staring.

“You’re jealous,” Esca answers.

“No, no, I’m really not. That’s freakish.”

“It’s good for rock-climbing,” says Esca. “Especially if you’re short.”

“Rock climbing?” Marcus asks. Of course he knows already, but revealing his google-stalking might put a damper on this new and tenuous friendship. “Where do you do that?”

“There’s a wall in my gym at home. And one summer I went to Colorado with a friend—a boyfriend.” He looks a challenge at Marcus, but one that Marcus doesn't know how to respond to.

Marcus swallows down his jealousy, and says lightly, “I thought you were a dedicated city boy.”

“I don’t like the suburbs,” says Esca.

“This isn’t—”

“It is. Trees, houses, highways.” He grimaces. “Office parks.”

“Do you go climbing around here?” Marcus asks.

“No car,” says Esca.

“I thought it was no license.”

Esca shrugs. “That too.”

“I could teach you,” Marcus offers, before he can think better of it. He’s kicking himself before he’s even done saying the words. He’s trying to play it cool, and this? Over-eager helper guy? Not cool. “Or not,” he says, when Esca doesn’t answer.

“I can drive,” says Esca. “I’m just not supposed to.”

Marcus waits for a story to follow, but Esca doesn’t volunteer anything more.


Five.

In late February version 1.0 of the Seal Analytics and Ad Targeting platform launches. Marcus lets Calleva throw them a little party and takes the team out to a lunch that involves too many bad margaritas and stretches until five in the afternoon.

The sales team has assembled a roster of agencies who have promised to try to sell the tool into whatever new business they get over the next year, and some small ecommerce companies are using it, but it’s not enough, especially with their billing structure. By June, Calleva will be out of money, and someone will buy them for the Seal software and sell off the rest.

Marcus calls a company meeting. “New strategy,” he tells them. “We need to partner with a company who wants to ship us as part of their solution. We’re not making any headway with the big social or ecommerce sites, but maybe a content management company like Documentum or Picturish will want to bundle Seal with their next version which comes out in six months. That’s cash up front.”

He finds Esca’s face in the crowd. “If we do a deal like this, it will probably mean changes to the product. Even if it doesn’t need it, a partner like this will want to feel loved, like we’ll jump through a few hoops for them.” Marcus mostly wants to make sure Esca’s not going to put up a fuss about the changes to his baby, but he hears the double meaning in the words as he says them, and has to look away.

He can’t get in the door at Documentum, but the first meeting with Picturish goes well, and a few weeks later they want someone from the tech team to come out and tell them that everything they want can be done.

“Bring Rebecca,” says Esca.

“I can’t. I could convince them to take the CTO, but we don’t have one, so Chief Scientist will have to do.”

“Promote her. I don’t do sales.”

“Esca.” Marcus turns what he hopes are pleading eyes on him. “They’ve read your papers. They want to meet you. It will make them feel like we’ll take them seriously as a partner, and then they’ll sign. Please.”

Esca scowls. “When is it?”

“Thursday morning meeting. Chicago. We’ll leave Wednesday night, and probably have to take them out on Thursday night, then fly back Friday.” At Esca’s impassive expression, Marcus adds, “You can fly back directly to New York if you want to.” He doesn’t know how many weekends Esca spends in New York, because he’s really trying not to be stalker-guy, but it’s more than a few. At least if he has bite marks after these recent trips, they’re not where Marcus can see them.

“Very well,” says Esca.

“You’ll need a suit,” says Marcus. “Do you have one?” Belatedly, he remembers what Esca wore to the holiday party, and prays that he has something a little more acceptable to business sensibilities.

Esca tilts his head slightly. “Will black do?”

*

Marcus drives them both to the airport after work on Wednesday, and they board the small prop plane that will take them to Midway.

Marcus has to stoop to walk down the aisle, and so he doesn’t notice how green Esca looks until they’re sitting.

“Are you okay?” Marcus asks.

“I don’t like flying,” says Esca. He puts his head back against the headrest and closes his eyes, but he doesn’t look relaxed.

“Flying, driving, you’re not good with transportation, huh?”

Esca cracks an eyelid enough to give Marcus a dirty look. Marcus is, perhaps, a little too gleeful to find a chink in Esca’s armor. He tries not to grin.

“Okay, okay,” he says, “I guess that wasn’t helpful. Ummm, you’re a scientist, haven’t you read all the evidence that flying is safer than driving?”

“I don’t drive,” says Esca. “I’m not scared. I just don’t like it.”

“Right. Well. It will be over soon.”

“That is comforting,” says Esca sarcastically.

Lutorius calls with some last-minute instructions about what Marcus can and can’t negotiate with, and then the door close and they start taxiing down the runway.

Marcus glances over at Esca. He doesn’t look any worse, but he doesn’t look better, either.

The plane lurches into the air. Hartford in the winter is known for some rough take offs and landings, but even Marcus’s stomach feels like it’s not where it’s supposed to be as they start to pass through layers of clouds.

The plane dips again and Esca grabs his hand. Marcus carefully avoids looking over, but returns the pressure. “You must fly a lot when you visit home,” says Marcus, pitching his voice below the whine of the engines. Usually he likes the sound of a plane, the cocoon of privacy it gives him, but it doesn’t seem like it’s soothing Esca the same way.

“I came over here for grad school,” says Esca. “I went back to deal with some Visa stuff. Now I’m here.”

“Four flights, ever?”

Esca nods, and turns to look out the window, his fingers, cool and dry, still clasped in Marcus’s hand. Marcus has contracts he should read, and briefing information about Picturish, but if Esca wants to go on holding hands, Marcus isn’t going to do anything to discourage him.

Esca is still looking away, at the gray waves of clouds illuminated by the crescent moon, when he slips his fingers between Marcus’s, caressing the sensitive skin between them. Marcus mouth goes dry. It’s like being fifteen again, when holding hands meant something, when the slightest touch of fingertips against one another went straight to his dick. Like it is now. Marcus tries not to breathe.

The flight attendant comes through offering drinks. Esca keeps a hold of his hand, looking defiantly up at the her, as she asks for their order. Now Marcus wonders if he’s being tested, if this is some sort of prove-you’re-not-an-entitled-asshole thing that Esca is doing. “Alcohol makes flying better,” he tells Esca. “Can I buy you something?”

“Mmm, vodka and lime,” says Esca.

Marcus has to let go to get his credit card, but once they have their drinks, he dares to ask, “Was that a test?”

Esca gives him a slight smirk then takes a long drink of his vodka. “You’re smarter than you look.”

“And you’re a pain in the ass,” says Marcus. Did I pass? he wants to ask.And what do I get if I did? But Esca yawns and curls up in his seat with his head pressed against the window. Marcus gets a blanket from the flight attendant to cover him and settles into his reading.

*

Esca does have a lovely black suit, still cut trendier than what’s probably appropriate for this meeting, with a nipped in waist and eye-catching stitching around the pockets, but Marcus will take it. He still doesn’t wear a tie, but since he’s the talent, it will probably be fine. Marcus is the one who needs to be ingratiating, and fit in, and make the customer feel like they’re the cool ones.

That morning Esca talks a little bit about their process, the unique data manipulation techniques that Seal’s package does that gives more sophisticated targeting than any other package in the market. Picturish brings in representatives from their tech team, who question him. Marcus braces himself for Esca to become caustic when the questions get pointed, but Esca answers patiently, and in the end, Marcus is confident that even if they don’t get the sale, there’s nothing he or Esca could have done differently.

They take the Picturish execs out to dinner that evening. Esca speaks little and answers any personal questions with as little detail as possible, but this sort of thing is second nature to Marcus, and he makes jokes about Chicago sports franchises, tells a few stories from his days playing PAC10 football, and makes the guys feel at home.

“I gotta tell you, Marcus, you guys impressed us today,” says the New Business Director.

“Thank you,” says Marcus. “Esca’s team is doing some amazing work.”

“I’ll send over the paperwork tomorrow, but I wanted to tell you tonight, we want to make the Seal package part of our top tier bundle. Exclusive in the content management vertical, of course.”

Marcus smiles. “That’s great news. The board will be very happy.” He buys another round of drinks for the table, and picks up the check.

The Picturish execs give them a ride back to their hotel.

“I want to shower,” says Esca when the elevator reaches their floor, after which announcement Marcus thinks that he’ll see Esca next at breakfast. He strips out of his suit and pulls on his pyjama bottoms. A half hour later, he hears a knock on his door.

It’s Esca, in gray gym shorts and a v-necked white t-shirt so worn that Marcus can see the dark circles of his nipples under it. “Can I come in? This is good news, right?” he says.

It takes a moment for Marcus to register that he’s talking about the deal, and not him showing up at Marcus’s door. He opens it further so Esca can enter.

“They sell about a thousand seat licenses for their top tier each year,” says Marcus. “That’s . . . it’s good. But we need five more deals like it to buy us another year. And they want an exclusive agreement. I can delay and play them off against some of the bigger players for a while but . . . a lot of the big guys know that they can wait and just buy the company in a year. It’s not a secret.”

He puts his hands on the back of the desk chair and slumps over a little. “I’m sorry—I know was your—yours and Liathan’s company.”

Esca covers one of Marcus’s hands with his own. “He . . . we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

Then he’s pulling Marcus’s face to his, and kissing him, and Marcus half picks him up to kiss him back until they’re both breathless and laughing. Esca looks up at him. “Is it still a bad idea?”

“Yes,” says Marcus, without letting go of Esca’s waist. “You’re still my employee.”

“You can’t fire me. Does that make a difference?”

“We still work together.”

“Do you care?” Esca asks.

“Not enough,” says Marcus, and he pulls Esca to him.

It’s a revelation to be touching Esca again, the wiry strength he’s been admiring for months now, finally under his hands as he runs them over the smooth skin of Esca’s back, and under his mouth when he kisses Esca’s neck. Esca’s fingers dig into his bicep when Marcus nips at the skin and his dick grows harder where it’s pressed to Marcus’s thigh.

Marcus wants—God, he wants everything—but right now he wants most of all to taste Esca, to make Esca lose control, to come in Marcus’s mouth. He kneels down before he or Esca can think better of it, and pulls off Esca’s shorts, palming Esca’s ass and pulling Esca closer to him. Esca’s off balance, which is just fine with Marcus; he can hold Esca up like this against the bed.

“In a hurry?” Esca asks. Marcus doesn’t answer, but he is, he’s scared that this is his only chance and at some point the clock will strike midnight and Esca will change his mind.

He licks a long stripe up the underside. Marcus hasn’t given a lot of head to uncut guys before, so he goes slowly, licking around where the skin is pulling back to uncover the head, and is rewarded by Esca making a pleading noise and curling his hand around Marcus’s neck. He tries it again, pushing his tongue under the skin and this time Esca moans. Esca’s fingers stroking the side of his neck are a message of urgency that Marcus can understand, so now he pulls the head into his mouth, pushes back the foreskin with his lips, and gets a long stroke over the length.

Marcus sucks Esca some more, burying his face in the blond curls, still damp from Esca’s shower. He smells clean, too clean, but there’s a hint of fresh sweat too that drives Marcus crazy. He runs his tongue around the length of Esca’s cock and settles into a rhythm for long enough to feel Esca’s leg nudge against his shoulder to meet it, and then backs off again.

“Marcus, please,” says Esca.

Does he know how helpless Marcus is when Esca says his name, when he says “please”? Probably not, or he’d use it, at work, anywhere. Marcus runs his tongue over the head one more time before working into a rhythm again, now swallowing Esca’s cock as far into his throat as it will go.

“Oh, God,” says Esca. Now his hand cups Marcus’s cheek, and he’s suspended against the bed, his hips rising as Marcus finishes his movement. “Yes, yes, like that,” he says, and he grabs hard on Marcus’s shoulder as he twitches and, a few strokes later, comes into Marcus’s mouth. Marcus holds him there through the aftershocks, and then trails kisses down Esca’s thighs, which shake and shiver under his lips, the fine blond hairs tickling his chin.

“Marcus . . . that was . . .,” says Esca. He shakes off his dazed expression and grins wickedly. “I still want you to fuck me.”

“Greedy,” says Marcus.

“Always,” says Esca, and he pulls Marcus down on top of him.

*

The alarm goes off when it’s still dark, but they have an early flight to catch that morning. Marcus wakes without difficulty—he didn’t sleep much anyway, awake and high on happiness, or endorphins, or maybe just sex. Esca burrows under the duvet to sleep, so only a disheveled tuft of blond hair is visible, but that doesn’t stop Marcus from glancing over at him, wearing a big, stupid smile.

He’s gotta stop it. They’re not boyfriends. Still. Last night was—who knows?—Esca was still lonely, definitely a little drunk from the dinner, and maybe wanting to prove to himself that he could have Marcus whenever he wanted, prove how fragile Marcus’s ability to Do The Right Thing is in the face of that much temptation.

Whatever. Marcus is going to grin like a loon, and that’s the way it’s going to be. They fucked face to face last night. Marcus can still feel the way Esca’s hips fit into his hands, when he pulled Esca to him, how Esca rose up to meet him. Esca looked at him, after, running appreciative fingers over Marcus’s body. Marcus knows he’s in good shape, of course, but seeing himself through Esca’s eyes, and touch—

“Will you turn that fucking thing off?” says Esca from somewhere under the pillows.

“It’s just a country station. Plus, we have to catch our flight.” Marcus slides out of bed. “I call first shower.”

Esca’s gone when he gets back, which makes sense because he has his own room in which to shower and pack. He’s waiting downstairs when Marcus gets there, cradling a cup of coffee like it’s something precious. Marcus brings the car around and loads their luggage into it with a minimum of words. It seems like the best strategy. Esca is pretty silent when they go running in the morning too.

The drive is smooth for a few minutes, but then they pull onto the highway and the traffic grinds to a halt. Rush hour in Chicago. Marcus remembered this when he was setting the alarm last night, but he’d blissfully forgotten about it this morning. Esca slouches down in the front seat, turtling inside his wool coat, and still wrapped around his coffee.

Marcus turns on some classic rock, but it’s pretty painful hearing all those great road-trip songs when they’re inching along like this. He switches to ESPN Radio.

They’ve gone five miles in the last thirty minutes, when Esca sits up and starts to fuss with his hair and generally look more alert. “This sucks,” he announces.

“Chicago traffic,” says Marcus.

“Are we going to make the flight?”

“We should,” says Marcus.

Mike and Mike are talking about basketball on the radio, which Marcus has a hard time caring about until March. Esca tips his head back against the seat and closes his eyes. Marcus keeps sneaking looks at him. He didn’t quite know what to do with the little plugs in Esca’s earlobes last night, but now, in the thin wintry sunlight streaming in the car windows, they look very touchable. He’s calculating exactly how annoyed Esca would be if he reached over, when Esca opens his eyes, and says, “This. This is what’s wrong with this country.”

Marcus doesn’t know if he’s talking about sports radio or the traffic, but he doesn’t think he’s going to have anything useful to add to that kind of conversation, so he makes a noncommittal noise. They really are going nowhere. The woman in the car next to them has been putting on her makeup for the last twenty minutes as she inches along. Marcus can’t blame her. He wishes he had something to do.

“I could suck you off,” says Esca.

“What?” It’s sort of a yelp, and Esca smirks at him.

“No? I thought Americans did everything in their cars. It wouldn’t be dangerous. We’re barely moving.”

“No, no, I mean yes, God yes. If you want to.”

Esca undoes his seatbelt and flops over the center console. He undoes Marcus’s belt. Marcus has to hitch his hips up so Esca can pull his pants off enough to free his dick. He’s only half hard yet, but it only takes Esca wrapping his hand around it for all the blood in his brain to go instantly south.

Someone behind him honks. A space of fifty feet has opened up in front of him while he’s been watching Esca in his lap. Marcus eases his foot onto the gas pedal and moves them forward. As they’re inching forward, Esca gets the head into his mouth, sending a jolt of sensation that makes Marcus have to slam on the breaks at the last minute to avoid hitting the car in front of him.

Esca stops and looks up at him. “Are you going to be alright?”

“Yes.” Only one right answer to that.

“Then watch the road.” Esca grins. “Not me.”

Easier said than done. Esca’s lips are glistening wet, and he closes his eyes when he takes Marcus in his mouth. He’s making these obscene little slurping noises, but Marcus stares resolutely at the car in front of him. It’s an odd angle, and Esca’s taking his time, so it doesn’t feel urgent, just amazing, the hot wetness of Esca’s mouth around him. This traffic could last forever, and Marcus wouldn’t care.

Except. “Uh, Esca. There’s a toll coming up.”

Marcus means that maybe they should take a break, but Esca takes it as some kind of challenge to get Marcus off before they get to the toll. He slicks up a finger and pushes it behind Marcus’s balls, a millimeter away from his entrance, and presses and suddenly Marcus is coming like freight train, like the traffic just opened up and he could floor it. He wants badly to close his eyes and ride this out, but, fuck, there’s a toll worker walking between the mostly still cars. Marcus holds himself very still as Esca’s mouth releases him.

“Uh, thanks,” he says, when he can trust himself to speak again. He puts his dick away quickly before he gets to the toll booth.

They start moving after that, a stately twenty miles an hour that is still much better than what has come before.

Esca’s flight to New York is before Marcus’s back to Hartford. Marcus walks him to his gate, and as they’re calling Esca’s row number, Marcus grabs him and kisses him, a quick goodbye kiss, but right on the lips in front of everyone.

If he gets any weird looks, they slide right off him as he walks down the hall to his gate. Who knows what Esca’s doing in New York, what will happen on Monday? Marcus smiles like today is the best day of his life.

*

Marcus spends the weekend trying not to think about Esca too much, working on plans to make the necessary changes to the Seal software to make Picturish happy, and trying to figure out who might be willing to pay them enough to keep them afloat for another year. After another year, he’s sure that they will have enough customers to keep going, but they need that year.

He has to go to Placidus. Anthony Placidus III, the successful CEO of Placidus Enterprises, everything Marcus is not. He might be willing to ship the Seal software with his for a similar deal to what Picturish got. It still won’t be enough, but it will get them closer, and Marcus can swallow some pride for that.

He could also try to bring in investors, of course, but they would smell blood in the water, and demand more than he could give. Controlling interest, most likely, and they’d probably get rid of everything in the company that isn’tt necessary to support the Seal product. Maybe they’d move that team back to New York. Esca’s right—it is easier to find good engineers there.

Truthfully, he should lay off most of the Connecticut staff, and focus on the Seal package. He could outsource their service contracts for the old software, stop selling it, and move the company to New York, but his father would never have done it, left a hundred people out of work in a down economy. At least next year their operating costs will be a little lower, because the contracts of most of the board members will have expired, and Marcus predicts that within two years, Calleva will need those hundred people again. If they survive.

On Monday Marcus announces what good news there is. Esca comes in around noon, his bus having been delayed by bad weather. Marcus discusses the new plans with him and his team.

Esca is annoyingly able to act as if nothing happened between them last week. He has some changes to the schedule, he and Marcus negotiate more days of testing for fewer of development, and he goes off to put the plans into practice.

Marcus sits at his desk, disappointed. He’s not sure what he expected—Esca couldn’t very well pull him by his tie into an empty conference room in front of everyone. Or maybe he could, but Marcus will have to wait for him to do it, because he is still Esca’s boss, and he doesn’t know where he stands.

He works late every day that week, and manages to be deep in some meeting, research, or phone call each night when Esca goes home. On Friday night he’s going over some projections, and trying to see if maybe cutting back some support hours could give them a month’s more of operating costs, when the noise from the cleaning service vacuuming the halls grows louder, and he sees Esca standing in the open door, leaning against the door frame.

“What is this, Marcus?” Esca asks. He has the most direct gaze of anyone Marcus has ever known. He feels unpleasantly naked under it, but he wants it too, Esca looking at him clearly, even if he sees what Marcus would like to keep hidden. “Are you hiding from me?”

What can he say? “I . . .”

“I don’t want you to.” He crosses the room. He pulls at Marcus’s tie, running the silk between his fingers. “I want this now. Do you?”

“Yes,” says Marcus, voice rough. “Do you even have to ask?” Now is not forever, but it’s enough. Marcus pulls Esca too him, leaning against his desk so he’s not looming over Esca too much.

“I want you fucking me in that suit,” he says in Marcus’s ear. He palms Marcus’s cock through his trousers.

“Fuck yes,” says Marcus. “But I don’t have anything—”

Esca smirks and produces a little packet of lube and a condom from his pocket, with a showman’s flick of wrist. “I guess I’m pretty predictable,” says Marcus.

“Don’t worry.” Esca undoes Marcus’s belt. “I like you that way.”

It’s a fast, sloppy fuck, Esca sitting on the desk, one ankle over Marcus’s shoulder, the other leg hooked around his waist. He pulls Marcus toward him by his tie when he wants Marcus’s mouth on him, and so they’re kissing when Esca comes on that tie, with Marcus’s hand wrapped around his cock. Marcus stays still until Esca lets out a shuddering breath.

“I still need some time. I can . . .” Marcus starts to pull away.

“Come inside me, Marcus.” Esca looks up at him. “I want you to.”

He tries to move slowly, shallowly, but Esca’s legs pull him all the way in. He cups Esca’s face. “I . . .” he starts to say something foolish this time, but Esca turns his head to suck Marcus’s thumb into his mouth and when he finds it with his teeth, Marcus spasms and shoots into him, collapsing against him and spilling a can of pens over the floor. Weak-legged with pleasure, he puts his mouth to Esca’s neck where he can murmur whatever stupid things he wants against Esca’s pale, sweaty skin.

“Can I give you a ride home?” Marcus asks after he strips off the tie and puts himself back together. It’s a short enough walk, but the weather report called for sleet so Marcus drove.

The night sky is clear, though, with the first scent of spring in the air, when he pulls up in front of the guest house. “Or you could come over,” Marcus says, his heart suddenly in his throat.

“What about your housekeeper?”

“Come.”

“I’m not stupid,” says Esca. “I never asked you to—” he sighs “—I know it would look bad if anyone found out. That’s why—you don’t need to do anything you’ll regret later.”

Marcus might regret all of this later, but Mavis seeing Esca in his place will be the least of it. “Come.”

They eat a late dinner in Marcus’s kitchen and then end up in the hot tub. “This is nice,” says Esca, lying back so only his face is above the water.

“No room for one of these in a Manhattan apartment?” Marcus asks, splashing him so Esca sputters and resurfaces. His hair is slicked back by the water, making his face look very lean.

Esca glares at him. “Not unless I win the lottery, no.”

Marcus sits up on the edge of the tub to cool himself off. “What’s this?” Esca asks. He traces the scars around Marcus’s knee, made bright from the hot water. There are the tiny little dimples from the first orthoscopic surgery, but the ugly red gashes from where they had to repair it primarily dwarf those pinpricks.

“My father died right before the Rose Bowl,” he says shortly. “I thought I’d be okay. It was a big game. And then I blew out my knee.” Marcus climbs out of the tub. Suddenly he doesn’t feel like being there anymore.

Esca follows him into the bedroom, and sits down next to him on the bed. “I saw that,” he says. “My foster father—it was on at the pub.”

“Then you saw the worst moment of my life,” says Marcus. “You might have had everything all figured out at twenty, but I . . . didn’t. I didn’t deal with it well. I went back too soon and tore up the cartilage for good. And then I fucked around for five years and let my father’s company fail.” He looks at Esca desperately—this is what he wanted to hear, wasn’t it? Vindication of what he’d always thought of Marcus.

“Do you want to know why I can’t drive?” Esca asks.

It distracts Marcus, as it was meant to. He nods. Esca lies down and pulls up the blanket over his legs. Marcus is still too heat drunk for that, but he does lie down next to him, and reaches out to traces the pale line of his shoulder. “Tell me.”

Esca turns over and stares up at the ceiling. “I was nineteen, at Cambridge on scholarship. I was fucking an older boy who—well, I was stupid, it was first love, the first time I hadn’t had to hide it. Much.” Marcus can imagine something of where this story goes, and he clenches his jaw. “He thought it was a lark, though,” Esca continues, “and when I caught him with someone else, I went down to the pub, got pissed, stole his car and ran it into a stone wall. I almost got kicked out. I can’t get a license until I’m thirty.”

“I’d kill him for you, if I could,” says Marcus.

Esca doesn’t look as if he hears Marcus. “They let me take my exams, but they told the professor who was to be my advisor at MIT. He didn’t want me after that. I found someone else, of course, but not easily, and—”

“Shhh,” says Marcus. “I don’t mind driving you around.” He takes Esca’s hand and kisses his fingertips.

*

They fall asleep early, heat drunk and too tired from the week to stay up late, but Marcus wakes in the middle of the night and sees Esca is awake too, looking up at the skylight above Marcus’s bed. The moon is full, and directly overhead. A sprinkling of snow casts shadows on the glass.

“It’s light out,” says Esca.

“You want some water?” Marcus asks. “I’ll be right back.”

When he returns, Esca’s at the window. By this time of year Marcus, and pretty much everyone in New England, is tired of the snow, no matter how beautiful it is, but this is filtering down softly, like sugar on a donut, too lovely to mind. The lawn and trees are painted in shades of blue and silver.

He stands behind Esca so they’re touching. Esca’s skin is cool against his. “Come back to bed,” he says.

“You know I’m leaving,” says Esca. His voice sounds pained.

“Leaving?”

“I’m done. You’ll sell it, or you won’t, but I finished what I set out to do.”

He’s talking about the company. Marcus holds himself very still. “I though you said you’d stay.”

“I did stay. You’re shipping the finished product now. I’ll finish out the year, since you’re paying me—”

“What about the changes that Picturish wants?”

“Rebecca will stay longer. She likes it here. You—it needs maintenance, not innovation. It’s a waste for me to stay. Marcus, you need to realize—”

“I realize,” says Marcus. “I never thought it was . . . forever.” Of course he knew, but he hadn’t been thinking about it. There is now, and only now, because the money is running out. Everything ends in June, not just Esca’s time here. “Can you be here now, at least?”

“Is that really what you want?”

Yes, even this small slice of time is better than nothing, no matter the cost. “Yes,” he says. “Don’t worry about me.”

He kisses Esca and draws him down on top of him on the bed, and then Esca’s kissing him with more ardor than he ever has, as though the short time they have makes it sweeter. His skin grows hot under Marcus’s hands.

“I want you inside me,” says Marcus.

Esca sits up, straddling Marcus’s hips. “Really?”

Marcus props himself up on his elbows. “Yes, really. I wonder why you haven’t asked. You’re not shy about telling me what to do.”

Esca’s lips quirk at that, and he holds Marcus’s gaze for a long moment. “I expect I misjudged you again. If that’s what you want.”

“It is. I know what I want,” he tells Esca. And what I’m going to be allowed to have.

“Good to know.” Then Esca growls, and he’s kissing—no, biting—Marcus’s chest while he spreads Marcus’s legs with his knees. Fuck, he forgets sometimes that Esca can be kind of scary. And he didn’t entirely misjudge Marcus; it’s been a long time since Marcus had a dick in him. He tends to attract guys who want to be fucked, and it’s kind of a hard thing to ask for.

“Go slow,” he tells Esca.

It’s slow, but not gentle. Esca teases his cock with lips and tongue and teeth, while keeping a slicked up finger circling Marcus’s hole but never going in until Marcus is ready to start begging for it.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” Marcus says, trying to keep his voice steady.

“What was that?” asks Esca innocently. His finger never stops moving.

“’Go slow.’” Marcus flushes with equal parts shame and arousal.

“Am I not going slow enough?” Esca bends down again. Marcus never knew his thighs were so sensitive, but there’s a spot just a few inches south of his balls where Esca licks and it’s like a direct line to his dick, which jumps to attention.

Fuck shame. “Please, please, please, I want you in me,” says Marcus.

“You beg so pretty,” says Esca. “Are you sure?”

“Fuck yes. Please.”

Oh, he’s ready for it. Esca’s finger goes in easy, and he doesn’t make Marcus beg for another one. Instead his face is all concentration with no small amount of wonder in his voice when he says, “If I’d known how much you wanted it . . .”

“I want it,” says Marcus, “oh, God, I want it,” and he’s babbling now. He needs this; suddenly he doesn’t know how he went so long without.

Esca scrambles for a condom and then the thick head of his cock is pressing against Marcus’s entrance. But he’s not quite as ready for it as he thought, because his body clenches up against his will, throwing up some internal barrier that goes all the way to Marcus’s throat and chokes him.

Esca gets more lube and applies fingers again, his eyebrows furrowed with concern. “Marcus, tell me to stop,” he says. “Tell me. You don’t have to prove anything to me.”

No, because no matter what Marcus proves, Esca is leaving anyway. Fuck, that hurts. He pulls Esca to him and puts his arms around him. “Shhh,” says Esca, although Marcus is silent. It’s awkward, because Esca’s still half hard—they both are—the condom crinkled and cold against Marcus’s stomach. But Esca lets Marcus hold him there, until Marcus takes a deep breath.

“I do want it,” he says finally. “I do.”

Esca looks dubious, but now when he presses his fingers in again, Marcus can let him, and when he slides his cock home, it feels like everything Marcus was hoping for, like everything below his waist is one warm center of pleasure with no beginning and no ending. Esca goes slow, and maybe he’s leaving, but the slowness feels like tenderness, like maybe he wishes he wasn’t.

Esca finishes first, his last thrust pushing Marcus over the edge. It’s not an intense orgasm but it seems to last forever, holding him and Esca suspended here between the bright moon overhead and the snowy earth. “Oh, Marcus,” says Esca. “I wish . . .”

But he doesn’t say what, and Marcus doesn’t ask. If Esca wished what Marcus wanted him to, he wouldn’t have to wish, because he would already have it.

Chapter Text

Six.

Esca spends the rest of the night, but leaves for New York the next morning. They fall into a routine. Not every night, but at least twice a week, Esca will walk by Marcus’s office after six, and from the set of his head, the curve of his mouth, Marcus will know.

He takes Esca out to dinner at the Mystic Grill once, but Esca is jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

“What?” Marcus asks when Esca turns for the fifth time at the door opening.

“You have to live here,” he says.

“I don’t need you to look out for me,” Marcus answers. Oh, he’d love it if he could tell everyone here that Esca was his boyfriend, if he could buy Esca stupid presents and show him off, but Esca has his best interests in mind, so they don’t try it again and instead go back to Marcus’s house or the guest house after work.

Marcus pretends. He pretends Esca’s not leaving, he pretends that the company is going to be fine. In April he visits Placidus, who says he’ll consider it, but he and Marcus have no liking for each other. Placidus will almost certainly wait until he can buy Calleva instead, but Marcus pretends maybe that will change.

And Esca still goes down to New York without him most weekends. Marcus doesn’t ask why, but he does suggest a couple times that he could come too. Esca brushes that off. He’s approaching the end differently, already preparing for the day when he’ll be gone.

Esca takes a week off in May to let various companies fly him around the country for interviews. “Flying?” Marcus asks.

Esca shrugs. “It’s a necessary evil.”

He seems different when he comes back, more forgiving of Groton’s faults and Calleva’s, of the week of rain that floods the roads and keeps half of his engineers stuck at home. He can see the finish line. “I don’t know,” he tells Marcus. “I think I might go back to academia. Or there’s an NGO doing survey work in India that wants a statistician, to help get aid distributed better.”

Marcus hates hearing about it, but he forces himself to smile and say, “Well, it’s not as noble as helping companies target their ads better, but if you must.”

Esca must hear how false his cheer is, because he doesn’t tell Marcus anymore after that.

Marcus sends Lutorius to talk with Placidus. Technically, Lutorius is Calleva’s counsel, but he’s closed more deals on his own than any of the salespeople, and he was friends with Placidus’s father; he’s a better face to put in front of Placidus than Marcus.

“He’s thinking about it,” says Lutorius when he meets with Marcus on his return. “I think he wants to, but he doesn’t want to look too eager.”

It’s the end of May and they’re coming up on their deadline. Marcus needs to give notice and severance to everyone who’s going to be laid off, and that’s most of the staff. At this point it doesn’t matter if he gets investor funding or if he sells it off—people are going to lose jobs.

Maybe he will sell. He’ll end up with enough to do something, travel for a while. He could sell the house. He’s tried before; the market is terrible, but if he sells at a loss, maybe he can get something.

“There’s something else,” says Lutorius, breaking through Marcus’s reverie. “I saw Dr. MacCunoval when I was there.”

“What?”

“He was there. At Placidus Enterprises. Did you know that?”

“I—I knew he’d been interviewing,” says Marcus.

“I felt ridiculous, like some bad spy movie.” Lutorius makes a pained expression. “But I did take pictures on my phone. Do you want to see?”

Marcus waves him off. “No, I believe you.”

Esca. Interviewing with Placidus. Marcus looks at Lutorius as if through a fog. “Please,” he says. His voice sounds like it’s coming from far away. “Give me a moment. Let’s follow up this afternoon.”

He should wait. He shouldn’t talk to Esca when he’s feeling like this, when he wants to punch a wall and feel the bones in his hand crunch, when he wants to punch Placidus in his smug face for being everything, having everything that Marcus can’t. And now Placidus is going to have Esca too.

But he can’t do anything until Esca tells him the truth. He’s shaking when Alicia sends Esca in. He swallows hard, trying for some control. “Is it true that you’re interviewing at Placidus Enterprises?” He keeps the desk between them.

“I went on an interview there—.” Esca pauses and stops to look at Marcus, his face growing concerned as he sees how close Marcus is to losing it. “What is it, Marcus? You knew I was interviewing.”

“Not with him. Were you going to sell Seal’s product to him next? God, if you wait he’ll probably buy it anyway, but you just can’t wait to be gone from here.”

“Marcus,” says Esca, voice breaking. “Please—”

“Get out,” says Marcus. “Just, get out. And don’t come back.”

*

Marcus can’t stay at work today either. He can’t look at the people who depend on him, who won’t be able to anymore, or at Esca’s team, loyal and smart, who don’t depend on him, who will go out and get new jobs the first day this one doesn’t exist. He doesn’t know which ones make him angrier.

He beats himself into exhaustion at his gym, until he can’t lift his arms, and his breathing is coming in ragged gasps, and then he sits under the shower with the needle spray on him as the hot water tank drains and the water goes cold.

He’s sitting there, starting to shiver, when he hears the doorbell ring. There is not a single person he wants to see right now, but the sounds is enough to make him pull himself together, wrap a towel around his waist and go answer the front door.

It’s Esca, looking wild, his eyes wide and red-rimmed, his hair standing up as though he’s been running his hands through it. “Marcus, I wouldn’t. I would never take a job there. I would never sell our secrets. Seal Analytics and all its IP is yours. I went because I thought maybe I could learn something. Please believe me.”

Marcus crosses his arms. “And did you? Learn something?”

“Let me come in.”

Marcus opens the door wide enough that Esca can enter and closes it behind him. “Can I get you something to drink?” he asks dully.

“No,” says Esca. “Marcus . . .” He reaches out to put a hand over Marcus’s where Marcus is leaning against the counter. Marcus flinches away.

“What did you learn?” he asks.

“They want the Seal analytics package to ship with their software, like Picturish did. They’ll pay top dollar for it, enough to keep the company afloat. They’re losing ground to Chartreuse Ecommerce, and not sure how to pick it back up. If they think that Chartreuse is going to buy—”

“You shouldn’t be telling me this,” says Marcus.

Esca shakes his head. “I didn’t sign an NDA. They shouldn’t have told me, but that’s their problem.”

“Chartreuse isn’t interested. We already went to them.”

“Can’t you make Placidus think they are?”

Yes, Marcus can do that. He’s got a few friends at the tech blogs that he can arrange leaks to. Esca would probably be a good person to do the leaking—he’s more devious than Marcus gave him credit for.

Esca’s still looking at him, desperation written on his features. “I wanted to do something good for you, can’t you see that?”

Something good before he left. God, Marcus is so angry that hearing the truth can’t diffuse it. He’s angry at his father for leaving him with this mess, angry at himself for letting it get so bad. Esca for coming in and fucking him up so much he doesn’t know what his life will be like with Esca gone.

“I should go,” Esca says. He tries to meet Marcus’s eyes, but Marcus won’t let him. “Let me wrap some stuff up with my team tomorrow, but I’ll be gone by the afternoon.”

“I wish you’d stay,” says Marcus. “If you’re right, and the company can make it . . .”

Now he does meet Esca’s eyes, and wishes he hadn’t. “It’s your company, Marcus,” says Esca. “I hope it does make it. But I’m done here.” He lets out a breath and seems to shrink into himself. “And I should go. It’s not going to get any easier.”

*

Esca does leave the next day. Marcus wants to stay home and avoid the whole thing, but some stupid hope still survives that Esca will change his mind. He could probably get Esca to stay through June—his honor would require it of him if Marcus asked. There is one month left on his contract, after all.

But Marcus doesn’t have the stomach for it, and he does have a lot of work to do to try to get a deal signed with Placidus and keep the company afloat. He only asks that Esca make himself available for the next month for questions and advice for his team, and Esca agrees.

Part of him is relieved to see Esca go. It leaves a huge empty space in his chest, but he’s less distracted when he puts Esca’s plan in motion. Placidus does believe that Chartreuse is about to buy, and he quickly comes around to excellent terms for a five year agreement, with a year paid up front.

It saves Calleva. Marcus makes a speech to the company, giving special thanks to the Seal team. He thanks them for their sacrifices in moving up here, for staying even when things got close to the wire, for making Calleva into something worth saving. He hopes they will stay.

Some of them won’t; some of them only came to work on innovative technology with Esca, and they will move on to more interesting pastures, but Rebecca has met a guy in Bristol and she wants to stay, and at least half of the engineers seem to have settled in.

In June Marcus goes to same conference he went to the year before. He and Placidus announce their partnership in a talk about synergies between large companies and small. Esca isn’t there. His name isn’t on the mailboxes at his place in the West Village either. Marcus feels angry all over again, as if Esca missing from this event is personal slight.

Marcus finds a postcard in his mailbox from Delhi when he gets back, written in Esca’s spiky handwriting. I took the NGO job, he writes. I miss you. Marcus has been to India, but he can’t imagine Esca there, black leather jacket, black nail polish and all. If thinks it was hard to be gay in Connecticut—well, what does Marcus know. Maybe a big Indian city will be better.

*

Marcus still has to lay some people off when he runs the numbers from the Placidus deal. Not too many, but a few.

He goes on other sales calls, and tries to find other deals. It will be awhile before they’re in a position to buy another company, but that will be the way to grow, so he keeps an eye on small New York startups. Maybe this time Calleva will be solvent enough to let them stay in New York.

His house still feels too big. He puts it on the market, and manages to sell it in late October, although for less than he wanted. He moves into a smaller place, a rental, in Mystic. He feels strange and detached, like he doesn’t know what he’ll do next. He had no plans for what would happen after June, and in some ways he still doesn’t.

In November he gets another post card from Esca. I’m sorry, this one says. I miss you so much. I wish you were here. Marcus misses Esca. He’s angry at Esca. All he can think about is Esca. But Esca didn’t love him enough to stay. What are postcards stacked up against that?

Marcus runs the New York marathon again, slower than last time. A few of his college friends who live in New York come out to cheer him. He’s thankful they’re there, but he doesn’t have anything to say to them. They all have full lives and he has—what? A company. No real friends, no family.

The night after the marathon, Marcus stays in the same hotel he did the night he met Esca. He didn’t mean to, but it had a good rate, and he’d forgotten the name. He’s on the other side, so the view is different, but the room smells the same, and he’s struck with a sudden memory of that night. He’s thought of it so many times since then that he hardly knows what’s memory and what’s fantasy any more, but he does remember the rain and Esca lying next to him, Marcus not wanting him to leave.

But he had to leave. Maybe—maybe he wishes Marcus loved him enough to leave with him, but never believed he would.

It’s foolish. Esca never had any trouble telling Marcus what he thought, ordering Marcus around. Marcus smiles at the thought. Esca would have told him, probably in none-too-flattering terms, if he wanted Marcus to come with him.

Still, the thought won’t leave him as winter settles over Groton again. He has to try—if Esca didn’t want to stay with him, maybe he’d accept Marcus leaving everything he knows behind. Will that be enough? Esca was also quick to doubt him.

Marcus makes plans to take an extra week off at Christmas and go to India. He’ll stop in Delhi and—and no matter what happens, the beaches in Goa will be warm and full of half-naked beautiful people. As good a place as any to start getting over Esca.

He could call ahead, or email, or any of a million other things, but Esca sent a damn postcard, and so Marcus does the same: I’m coming. I miss you too. Maybe it’s a stupid romantic gesture, but he doesn’t want to have Esca reject him over email, or over the phone. They’ll talk this time, really talk, and if Esca still doesn’t want him, well, Marcus will have done everything he can.

He does call from his hotel room when he gets to Delhi. He’s not a total idiot. It’s afternoon, so Esca should be in his office. Marcus’s hotel overlooks M.G. road where it turns into a shopping district. Diwali is just passed and decorations still litter the street.

Marcus’s fingers are shaking as he dials the numbers. Esca picks up on the first ring, saying, “Dr. MacCunoval here,” in the impatient tone that Marcus has wanted to hear for the last seven months.

“It’s Marcus,” he says, but his throat is dry and the words hardly come out.

“Hello?” says Esca.

“It’s Marcus,” Marcus shouts.

“Marcus.” Suddenly Esca’s voice is much warmer. “It’s the middle of the night where you are. Are you okay? Are you drunk?”

“No it’s not. I’m in Delhi,” says Marcus. “Will you see me?”

“I just got your postcard. Like, yesterday.”

“Well, I’m here,” says Marcus. “Can we meet?”

“Dinner tonight? I’ll send a car. Where are you staying?”

“You don’t have to,” says Marcus.

“Don’t be daft,” says Esca briskly. “You can find your way around Delhi?” Fuck, Marcus missed that. He gives Esca the address of his hotel.

*

It’s a nice restaurant with white tablecloths, and décor reminiscent of the Mughal architecture all around them in the city. Marcus is glad he went with his instincts and wore a coat. No tie this time, though.

Esca’s wearing all back, slacks and button down shirt. He looks leaner, even, than when Marcus saw him last, eyes a little haunted, but maybe that’s just from the black outfit. He shakes Marcus’s hand hello. His nails are unpainted.

Marcus’s pulse quickens and he doesn’t want to let go, so he keeps holding Esca’s hand there until the waiter comes to seat them.

“How long are you in Delhi?” Esca asks as they clean their hands with hot towels.

“I’m on my way to Goa.”

Esca’s expression hardly changes, but his voice gets tighter. “Oh, just passing through.”

“No, you idiot,” says Marcus. “I came here to see you.” Suddenly a horrible thought occurs to him. “Are you seeing anyone?”

Esca shakes his head. “I’m not very good at that, am I?”

“I think you are,” says Marcus quietly.

Esca’s eyes widen. “Well then you must have some piss-poor comparisons,” he says with a forced chuckle.

A waiter comes by with menus and a wine list. They make small-talk about the city. Esca likes his new job well enough, but Indian bureaucracy is a nightmare. Calleva Software is doing fine. Rebecca is engaged to her boyfriend in Bristol. A few of the engineers have moved on.

It’s not the most awkward dinner Marcus has ever had, but it’s up there. How can he say I love you, I want to be with you, if it’s here or anywhere else, over a tureen of palak paneer? Esca hardly makes eye contact with him, but keeps up a steady stream of conversation, about living here, what Marcus can expect to do in Goa, filling silences that Marcus doesn’t want filled.

Neither of them orders dessert. Marcus tries to pick up the check, but Esca won’t let him. As they wait in the darkness of the portico for Esca’s driver to pull around and pick them up, Marcus reaches out for Esca’s hand again. “Why did you send that postcard?”

“I thought I wanted—I thought maybe a visit—” Esca takes a deep breath to steady himself. Marcus has never heard him at such a loss for words. The car pulls up and the driver opens their door.

“Come back with me to my hotel.”

“I have to send the driver home,” says Esca.

“Then do that. You can stay.”

He keeps Esca’s hand in his during the trip, shadowed in the darkness of the back seat, but neither speaks. He strokes Esca fingers until Esca’s hand entwines with his. There’s traffic even at this time of night and it takes far too long before the car pulls up in front of Marcus’s hotel.

“Come on,” he says.

Esca speaks a few words Marcus doesn’t understand to the driver and he pulls away. “I told him he could go home, and I could call a cab.”

Not promising, but they are alone in the elevator, and then Esca pulls Marcus’s face down to his to kiss him hungrily. They hardly pull apart in time for the elevator to open and admit a maid on the 4th floor, and when they get to Marcus’s floor, he’s flushed and giddy.

He fumbles with the key in the lock, but then they’re inside and Esca’s lips are on his again, and it’s like nothing’s changed. He pulls Esca down on top of him on the bed, and tugs off his shirt. Under his hands, the muscles in Esca’s back bunch and tighten. Esca undoes Marcus’s belt and works a hand around Marcus’s dick. Yeah, this is good, he’ll come quickly now so he can last all night. Tomorrow too. They have all the time in the world.

Except. “What did you mean you thought you wanted . . . ? Why did you send a postcard?”

“You’re not here for very long.” He seems to be trying for his reasonable, Marcus-you-fool tone, but it sounds desperate. “Can’t we just—” He slides his thumb over the head of Marcus’s cock, drawing an involuntary noise out of Marcus’s throat.

“I’m here for as long as you want me,” says Marcus.

“Okay, so a couple weeks. You don’t have to—” He releases Marcus and sits on the edge of the bed facing away from him. “It’s—I thought it would be easier.”

“You thought what would be easier?”

Esca stands up, and faces Marcus, all dignity and fury. “Look, I’m fucking in love with you, alright? I tried not to be. You’re . . . really not my type. I thought we could see each other, and I would be fine, like you were last spring, like things weren’t ending. But I can’t do it. You’re going to be gone again.”

“I wasn’t fine,” says Marcus, trying to wrap his head around this. Esca loves him. Esca’s angry as hell at him. “You’re the one that left. I wanted you to stay.”

“In your perfect little world, with no place for me? No thank you.”

Marcus spreads his hands. “I’m here because I—I love you too.” He looks down and swallows the words, but he’s said them. Finally. He meets Esca’s eyes again. “I’m not leaving. I’ll call Lutorius now and quit. That’s why I came. Not for some kind of one night stand. I don’t want to be there without you.”

Esca stands there staring at him for long enough that Marcus decides to pick up his phone and make good on his threat. It’s morning there. And Esca loves him. Everything is going to be fine. “Lutorius,” Marcus says when he picks up. “I need to talk with you after the holidays about taking over the running of Calleva.”

“Are you okay?” Lutorius asks.

“I’m fine. I’m in India. With Esca. We’re together, and we’re going to be together here for a while.”

He expects Lutorius to be shocked and ask for some additional explanation, but all he says is, “That’s great news, Marcus. I know how hard it was for you when he left.”

“You knew?” Marcus sputters.

“Marcus,” says Lutorius. “I’ve known you for a long time. You’re not . . . exactly subtle.” He pauses. “I’m glad you’re happy. We’ll talk more after Christmas?”

Marcus agrees and they say their goodbyes. “He knew,” said Marcus, still looking at his phone.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” says Esca. He runs a quick hand under his eyes, scowling at the wetness. “What about your company?”

“Lutorius can run it. I’ll keep my controlling interest so they can’t sell it.”

“You know there won’t be any profits for another couple years, right?” Marcus gives him a look. Esca shrugs. “Alright, alright, of course you know that.”

“I have the money from the house. I sold it.”

“You’re serious,” says Esca. He still looks disbelieving, but a smile threatens to break over his features. “You really just did that.”

He jumps on top of Marcus, takes Marcus’s face in his hands and covers him with kisses. “You really just did that.”

“I did.” Marcus rolls Esca over under him, and kisses him back. Esca’s hands find him again, as Marcus struggles to pull down his trousers, and they laugh and touch, until Esca’s hands grow urgent on him, and he sucks a mark onto Marcus’s neck. Marcus thrusts up into Esca’s circled fingers, and when Esca takes Marcus’s cheek and turns Marcus to look at him Marcus spills over them, calling Esca’s name.

He hardly has time to enjoy it, because Esca’s fairly bouncing next to him, asking, “What will you do if you stay?”

“I don’t know,” says Marcus. “Drive you crazy, probably. Make you wish I’d never come.” Esca looks sufficiently concerned that Marcus laughs. “Nah, there’s a volunteer organization I’ll hook up with. Putting in water purification systems. They just want someone strong who can put shit together and dig trenches and pay his own way. I can manage that.” He flexes his arms. “Put these muscles to good use.”

Esca rolls his eyes at him, but then looks serious. “And you’ll be happy doing that?” Marcus tries pulling Esca’s trousers off him again, but there’s a tricky zipper that Esca has to help him with.

“For a while,” says Marcus, after he’s gotten Esca naked. He wants to feel Esca come in his mouth again and after that, they can do anything else. Everything. “After that, I don’t know, maybe I can raise some money for them. I’m not bad at that.”

“This is only a year-long project for me. They want me to stay, but—”

“Please,” says Marcus. “No deadlines this time. I’ll go with you, where ever you go, if we both still want to.” His voice is breaking. “But please don’t decide the end yet.”

Esca laughs shakily. “That doesn’t come easy for me.”

“I know,” says Marcus. “Will you try?”

Esca pulls Marcus to him and kisses him so thoroughly Marcus worries that he’s going to side-step the question and leave Marcus wondering, so Marcus pulls away. “Will you? Because I can’t . . . I don’t want to go through that again.”

“I will,” says Esca. “If you can put up with me, it’s the least I can do.” He gives Marcus a look that is somehow both imperious and dirty. “Now, you can finish.”

Marcus scoots down and wraps his hand around Esca’s cock. “Finish what? I haven’t even started.”

Esca lies back on the pillows. “Well, you can do that too. We have time.”

The End.