Their arrival is met by the early dusk of an autumn afternoon. Jim has managed his end of the conversation remarkably well considering that it’s Martin at the other end. Neither makes a move to leave the van.
“So,” says Martin.
“So,” replies Jim.
Martin drums his fingers on the steering wheel in an attempt to look nonchalant that backfires when the horn, inevitably, goes off. Jim jumps a bit, but Martin really lets loose with a squeal, his body flailing against the confines of the seatbelt and his hands flapping up towards the ceiling. He brightens to a deep fuchsia. Jim’s laughing, and his eyes are fixed on Martin. There’s a flash there of something Martin can’t quite see, something fixed and full and dark. Martin laughs along, and they get out of the van.
Transporting the equipment to Jim’s office takes five trips each, and they shift down corridors wide enough for three gurneys to pass side by side. More than one medical personage gives Martin a strange look, but he chalks this up to looking out of place in his sweaty tee and mop of ginger curls. With the last of the CPUs deposited under Jim’s desk, the smaller man drops into his standard-issue office chair, spinning languidly as Martin leans against the wall and asks, “why do you need so many monitors?”
“I have to keep track of different things,” says Jim, “it’s my job.”
Martin shakes his head to clear a stray lock of hair from his eye. “Really? I thought IT people mainly help fix other people’s computers.”
“We do,” says Jim, still spinning, “but there’s also a lot of general maintenance and security. I’m basically in charge of keeping the networks secure.”
“Oh,” says Martin, wondering what exactly about network security would require one man to use twenty computer monitors.
Jim pushes his foot onto the carpet, jamming the movement of the still-revolving chair. He looks pleasantly dizzy. “You know, so the wrong sort of people don’t get into hospital records.”
“People do that?”
Jim nods, solemnly. “It’s terrible, isn’t it?”
They look at each other. The room is just as bright as Jim’s flat, yet somehow just as dingy.
“I know what it means,” says Martin, “your shirt. I…just thought you might like to know that I understand it. The joke.”
Jim looks up at him from the chair just as Martin’s going through the second of about seven distinct stages of blushing, and he says, “Have dinner with me.”
Martin isn’t sure what to think of the man in the tight tee with the twenty monitors, but he knows they both operate machinery. “Where?”
Jim appears at his side far faster than he had expected and Martin’s almost moving to close the gap, but then Jim’s walking out the door and Martin follows.
Across town and across dishes, Jim puts his hand over Martin’s and gently flips it over, palm up. “I would’ve been able to tell.”
Martin looks at him, wonders what’s behind his eyes. “It’s that obvious?”
“Hmm, yes,” says Jim, his forefinger outlining a callus on Martin’s left thumb, “It’s written on your hand.”
“No,” says Martin, “that’s…that’s ridiculous. Do we all have them, then?”
Jim nods, tracing down onto Martin’s palm. “Well, where’s yours?”
“Well, I don’t have them, obviously,” says Jim, and Martin gapes and grips the edge of the breadbasket.
“Well, yeah. Mine would be different,” Jim continues, that half-smile dancing across his lips again.
“So you’re not…well, obviously I have been under some misapprehension, as I was operating under the assumption that this was a—”
“Occupational markers,” says Jim.
Martin freezes. “I would have been able to tell,” Jim explains, “from the marks on your left thumb, that you are a pilot.”
“A…pilot,” Martin repeats, “oh.”
Jim smiles and rejoins his pasta with marinara sauce, the latter of which is most likely, to Martin’s great chagrin, the exact color of his own face. “But,” continues Martin in hushed tones, “you are…you know.”
Jim raises an eyebrow as thin as his smile, and Martin nods. “And we don’t all have identical…”
Martin feels like he’s exhaling more air than a hairdryer. “Right. I don’t feel much like dessert, do you?”
“Sometimes, but usually when I’m sick.”
“You asked if I felt like dessert. Avoiding the question of whether or not food is sentient, the only time I truly feel like a dessert is when I’m ill. You know, that oozy pudding feeling? Or perhaps a stuffed pastry, but gone wrong?”
Martin laughs. “Maybe coffee?”
“Oh, I never feel like coffee,” Jim confides, “but I do frequently feel like drinking it.”
Martin nods and raises his hand to flag down the waiter, but Jim catches his wrist.
Quick reflexes, Martin notes.
“I especially feel like drinking it back at mine,” says Jim, fixing him in place with a look so sharp it might have been a glare if it weren’t for the undercurrent of something else Martin thinks he can identify.
“I’ve actually got to be getting back soon,” says Martin, and it’s not quite an instinct, but he knows he really, really should.
Jim’s running his finger up Martin’s wrist, and Martin’s not sure why, but he thinks of fire ants. When they leave the restaurant—Angelo’s, Martin notes—he finds he can’t remember either of them having paid.
Across town and upstairs, Martin’s head hits the back of the door and he’s breathing Jim and it’s barely enough and also far, far too much. He grabs at delicate, small fingers only to have them slip away and pin his own wrists to his sides. The shorter man is biting at his neck; his collarbone, sucking on his lower lip, and Martin fights back and thinks of black and blue and the heat spiraling down into his groin. He manages to break Jim’s hold and reverses their positions, slamming Jim into the door, a satisfying crack and Jim growls and Martin closes his eyes and whispers, “bedroom.”
Jim breaks from the door, pulling Martin by the wrist and his shoulder almost slips out of its socket and then they’re on the bed and Martin wonders if this is what all those shy exchanges really meant, fingers tracing the outline of bone and a bite for every blush and it’s strange, but he’s not blushing now.