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They argued in whispers — Rachel and Steckle adamant about taking Nelson to the hospital and Joe saying it might not be a bad idea, either. Dead for a minute or two was one thing, but this? Nelson could protest all he wanted, but he'd been dead over ten minutes, his chest was bruised from the CPR and paddles — hell, Dave wasn't certain he hadn't cracked ribs — and he was still shivering.

Dave was more stubborn than the three of them put together, though. "What the hell do you suggest we tell them? Or are you looking to get kicked out, too? I got suspended for saving a life; what do you think they do if you kill someone?"

They hesitated, Rachel opening her mouth, and Nelson's voice dropped into the silence like a stone. "I'm fine."

They all looked over at him, startled. Dave grimaced, remembering how after his first time under Nelson had rhapsodized about the hum of the streetlights; of course he'd heard them.

Rachel shook her head, walking back to him. "You're not fine, Nelson. You —"

"I…will be."  He winced as he interrupted quietly, his voice rasping. His lips quirked in an almost-smile he probably meant to be reassuring. "What can the hospital do for me," he shook his head, "that you haven't already?"

"Thank you." Dave strode back over, running interference. Anything to keep from dwelling on this hesitant, quiet Nelson that was just wrong. "That's what I've been trying to say." He put one hand on Rachel's elbow, turning her toward the door.

"Oh, so the nearly dead guy agrees with you," Steckle remarked snidely. "That's really reassuring."

"Yeah, well, he's the important one. Or were you planning on forcibly dragging him into the ER?"

Rachel hesitated and glanced back at Nelson, then at him. "You have to at least stay with him, Dave," she insisted in a low voice. "Please? You know all the complications there could be. His heart, his brain, his —"

"I know," he said reassuringly as he hugged her briefly. "I know, Rachel. I'll stay with him."

She searched his eyes, then nodded. "Okay. But if he's not better tomorrow —"

"I'll get him to go in. Promise." I'll try, he thought but didn't say. The look she gave him told him she heard it anyway.

She shook her head at the pair of them. "Call if you need anything."

"I will."

She left, Steckle scowling and muttering behind her. Joe eyed him searchingly, then nodded and followed. Dave watched them go, steeling himself before turning back to Nelson. "Okay, no hospital. Come on. You good to walk?"

Nelson nodded and slid from the table, surreptitiously keeping one hand on it until he was sure his legs would hold. He shuffled forward, shivering with each step. Dave sighed, dropping Nelson's coat over his shoulders, then after a moment of consideration, wrapped his arm around him. Nelson startled, then settled against his side. "Thank you."

It was just as quiet as everything he'd done since waking up — coming back to life, damn it — and that right there, that was what worried Dave. To hell with contusions and hypothermia and hypoxia; Nelson had laughed off a broken leg on a skiing trip, and that probably hurt a lot worse. But something had gotten him to this point, a point where he was ready to kill himself, point blank, no plans for coming back.

"Come on, Nelson," Dave urged, his voice harsher than he'd meant it. "Let's get you out of here."

He hustled Nelson out to the Jeep and into the passenger seat without another word. Nelson stared out the window, watching the city pass by as Dave drove, but Dave wondered if he was even seeing it. They were parking down the street from the mausoleum Nelson called an apartment before he spoke up, his breath misting against the window.

"Do you think —" He sighed. "Could you ever really forgive the person who killed you?"

Dave looked over at him, disbelieving. "Let's hope it never comes up."

"Billy forgave me, I think. He didn't say anything, but he's gone now."

Dave shook his head. "I think there's this saying about gift horses and mouths." He patted Nelson's leg. "Come on, let's get you in and changed and warm. I want to listen to your heart again, too."

Nelson nodded and carefully climbed down. They walked as quickly as he could to the apartment building, but the wind picked up and they were both shivering by the time they made it. Nelson fumbled with the key, nearly dropping it before Dave took it and nudged him aside to get the door open.

Fortunately, Nelson liked it warm, and Dave could feel his fingers thawing as soon as they made it into the apartment. He eyed the extra locks on the door, but Nelson ignored everything in favor of dropping to sit on the bed, so Dave just threw the deadbolt before ditching his coat and bag on the floor and sitting next to him. "You ever thought about getting a couch? Maybe a table?"

"Sometimes." There was that almost-smile, strained and unsure. "I just haven't."

"I noticed." At least that got him an almost genuine smile. He shook his head and hauled his bag over, digging for a stethoscope. "Okay, you know the drill. Pulse, heart, and lungs. How are those ribs?"

"A little sore. Probably cracked," he admitted, sounding almost like he was apologizing. "It hurts…to take deep breaths."

"That's what you get when you kill yourself," Dave couldn't keep from saying, scowling at Nelson even as he tugged his shirt off gently.

Nelson jumped a little.

"Cold hands," he explained, still sounding apologetic, and how wrong was that? Dave took a deep breath. Hell, maybe the arrogant shit should apologize for scaring the crap out of all of them, but that could wait for after the being a doctor part, and maybe even the being a supportive friend part.

"Sorry." Dave rubbed his hands together and blew on them. "Not a lot of bruising yet, but I bet you'll be fun colors in the morning." He prodded as gently as he could. "This one?" Nelson shook his head. "How about here?" Another shake. "This —" a gasp of pain interrupted him. "I'll take that as a yes. Okay, how about here?"

In the end, there were two high on the left that were at the least severely bruised and possibly cracked, and the paddles had left him tender and sore on both sides. His heart still sounded okay, though, so that was something. "Some aspirin'd probably do you a bit of good. Look here." He held up a finger. "You tracking me?"

Nelson nodded. "Aspirin might be nice. My head seems fine. I'm just sore."

"Pupils look okay," Dave admitted. "You'll forgive me if I hold my medical opinion on brain damage, though, since you clearly had to be damaged already or you never would have tried this. Jesus, Nelson, what were you thinking?" And okay, maybe the anger couldn't wait. "You could have fucking died for good!"

Nelson sighed, looking down at his lap, hands clenched together. "I had to apologize. To try to make amends."

"And how was dying supposed to help that? Did you even try, I don't know, making amends to his family or anything? Something concrete and not deadly?"

"I didn't think it would be enough."

Dave stilled. "You were. You weren't just being stupid, you were trying to kill yourself. That was the 'making amends' part." Nelson didn't look up. "You asshole. Did you even think about what that would do to the rest of us?"

Nelson gave a little laugh that didn't have much humor in it. "Joe'd run damage control like a politician, Steckle'd add it to his memoirs, and you and Rachel could use it as an excuse to cry in each other's arms." His lips twisted mockingly, and Dave thought he should probably feel bad, but it was the most Nelson he'd looked in hours. "Or did you think I'd forget I called you and got her?"

"She was upset; she needed someone who understood," he found himself explaining.

"It's okay, I get it." That little huff of laughter again. "You were just…" He paused. "Being a good friend. Completely selfless."

"And you're being an ass." Dave pushed himself off the bed, glaring down at Nelson. "She was seeing her dead father, Nelson; it messed her up, okay? If you'd been there for her instead of me —"

"I wouldn't have slept with her." His voice was still soft, but firm and definite.

Dave scoffed. "Oh, right. That's why you throw a fit whenever she looks at me. I'm not blind, you know."

"No." Nelson's slight smile was sad. "Just…predisposed to see what you expect."

"What's that supposed to mean?" He crossed his arms and frowned at Nelson's downturned head.

"Nothing." Nelson sighed. "Forget it."

 

 

He did, mostly. Nelson recovered physically, and if he was a bit quieter, a bit more serious, they all were after everything that had happened. After a couple weeks of awkward looks and uncomfortable silences, Dave threw his gear in the back of the Jeep and headed to the nearest tall rocks and uninhabited land for a bit of head-clearing. Somewhere between testing one foothold and looking up for the next, he resolved to wait out the suspension and head back to classes after all; quitting never got you anywhere.

When he reached the peak, squinting against the wind and sun, even the boring, normal landscape looked phenomenal. It was amazing, seeing everything laid out before you, all of it beautiful in its own way. He breathed deeply and stretched, smiling, then wished for a moment that Nelson could be there with him.

Man, he'd love this. Maybe I should drag him out here after exams. He never leaves the city unless I yank him out, despite the fact he always seems to love it once he gets here. He could picture the last time he'd insisted Nelson come camping with him, and the happy grin that Nelson had turned on him almost whenever he'd looked over.

He tried to remember the last time he'd seen Nelson that happy, and his heart sank when he realized how long ago it was. Before the experiments. Before Rachel dumped him. Hell, he never looked that happy while he was seeing her. Then his thoughts stuttered to a stop. Predisposed to see what you expect. His stomach dropped and his head spun; for a moment, he thought he was falling. Oh, fuck.

 

 

After he'd regained enough focus to rappel back down, he found the nearest campsite and settled in. He'd been planning on staying just one night before heading back, but now the thought of facing his apartment and "normal" life, let alone his friends, was just something he couldn't handle yet. Not before he'd gotten a few things straight in his head.

Instead he focused on pitching the tent, getting dinner ready, all the small things you needed to get comfortable out here. And then he lay in the darkness, staring at the canvas above his head and thinking.

Nelson's my friend. He's brilliant and driven and interesting. He's also an arrogant, overconfident asshole. Not that he could really throw stones on that, he supposed, if he was being honest.

And isn't that what so much of this shit lately comes back down to? Being honest to yourself and everyone else. Being a decent person.

Okay, so he liked Nelson a lot, sometimes in spite of his behavior. And he was pretty sure the feeling was mutual. It doesn't mean there's anything else there. Or that he meant what it sounded like he meant. I would've known years ago, right?

He thought back to that night after Nelson's second death, right before he'd ordered Nelson to sleep and sat on the floor on a self-imposed suicide watch. "Predisposed to see what you expect." That could mean a lot of different things, right? Maybe he just meant he wasn't jealous. Or he was jealous of the attention; lord knows he's a spotlight-hog.

Or he had been. Contrary to expectations — Rachel had said she kept waiting for the other shoe to drop — Nelson had shown no inclination to go public with any of their experiences. More than that, Dave now realized, Nelson had been quiet all around; he'd never exactly been a party animal, but when they could coax him out these days, he just sort of faded into the background, watching everything rather than participating.

The more he thought about it, the more he wondered if he should really start worrying. About any number of things. Damn, Nelson, what's going on in your head?

 

 

When he got back, Dave resolved to keep an eye on Nelson for a few days, maybe a week. Just watch for a while, figure out as much as he could before he jumped in. That lasted as far as the next time he saw him.

Dave was supposed to meet the others at the library after study group; he showed up a few minutes early and hung out in the hallway, watching and listening in. Joe and Steckle were arguing about the medical ethics and scientific merits of experimental design, Rachel was taking notes and cutting in occasionally on either side.

Nelson was sitting quietly at the end of the table, a textbook in front of him. He highlighted something, made a note in the margin, flicked a glance at the others, then went back to his book. His expression was focused and intense when he was reading, but he never seemed to really register or care what the others were saying.

Whatever was going on with Nelson, this weird quiet was just wrong. And Dave couldn't shake the feeling that if he didn't get it out of him, Nelson might just try something even more stupid than he already had. When the group broke up, Dave nodded and smiled at the guys and gave Rachel a quick hug. "Hey, guys, I'm just gonna borrow Nelson for a bit, okay?"

Rachel eyed him with a faint frown. "Everything okay?"

"Oh, yeah, just got to go over some things." He caught Nelson's elbow, ignoring his look of faint alarm and confusion. "I'll catch you guys later, okay?"

"Okay." She looked a little confused, but shrugged and let it go.

Nelson frowned at him. "What things?"

"Tell you later. Come on."

By the time they got out to the Jeep, Nelson was clearly exasperated at the lack of answers, and Dave was perversely satisfied at getting at least that much of a rise out of him.

"Dave, what are we doing? I thought we were going for dinner."

"So we'll order a pizza or something. You're coming back to my place, we're pulling out the beer — hell, maybe the whiskey — and you're talking to me." He crossed his arms and stared until Nelson relented and opened the passenger door.

"What are we talking about, anyway?" Nelson eyed Dave a bit uncertainly.

Dave held up a hand. "Nothing before food and booze."

Nelson sighed and rolled his eyes but settled back into the seat, staring out the window. At least this time he looked like he might be tracking some of it, and he wasn't quite so hunched into himself. Dave supposed that was progress.

 

 

Back at his place, Dave got out the whiskey and glasses while they waited for the pizza. Nelson shot him odd looks all through dinner, but Dave pointedly ignored them, knowing if they started talking now he'd get mostly Nelson deflecting and obfuscating. A few weeks ago, it would have been all cocky smirks and innuendo; now he seemed more likely to get quiet exasperation. Neither of which would get him any answers.

Once they had a few shots under their belts, Dave settled back into the couch and did his best to look casual, keeping a sharp but unobtrusive eye on Nelson. "I was thinking; I probably will go back after this stupid suspension is done."

Nelson smiled at him, the smug triumph there still a fragment of what he was used to seeing, but Dave rolled his eyes at it anyway.

Nelson nodded. "I'm glad; you really should." He pointed his glass at Dave in that overly precise way that meant he wasn't quite drunk enough yet, but well on his way to it. "You wanted to be a doctor to save people's lives; that hasn't changed." He finished his drink and Dave leaned in to fill it without asking.

Nelson smiled again, a little crookedly, and Dave tilted his head back enough to focus, only then realizing how close they were. He blinked, a little disconcerted.

"You saved me." Nelson's hand brushed his, so light and quick he almost thought he'd imagined it, but then Nelson was leaning back and finishing that glass, too.

"Whether you wanted me to or not?" Dave asked. He refilled Nelson's glass again, but his eyes stayed on his face, and his words came out more harshly than he'd intended.

Nelson flushed and looked down, toying with his glass. "I thought we had been through this already."

"Yeah, and you turned it into a joke." He leaned forward, scowling. "Do you really think none of us would care about you if you died? We're your friends."

Nelson drank a bit more and sighed. "So was Billy."

Dave hesitated, then barreled ahead. "Do you want to talk about him?"

"Not particularly." Nelson huffed in that weird half-laugh of his. "Was that your plan — to get me drunk and talking? I don't think that's an approved analytical technique, Doctor."

"Bite me." Dave gave him a dry look, ignoring the fact that was exactly what this was. "I'm not the one with a psych degree here."

"And I don't plan on touching counseling with a ten-foot couch," Nelson retorted. He finished his drink and held out his glass for a refill. "Go on. Might as well get all the booze out of you I can."

They drank in silence for a while, Dave carefully letting Nelson stay a shot or two ahead; this discussion might be easier for him buzzed, but smashed was another story. Eventually, Nelson started sinking into the couch, his eyes going unfocused, and Dave braved the conversational waters again.

"Why med school anyway, Nelson?"

"Hm?" Nelson rolled his head to look at him, blinking a little.

"Why med school? You said it yourself — I became a doctor to save lives. That's never been your focus, though." He chuckled. "I remember when we met, you said all psych students went into it to find out why they were so fucked up. You can do that without a medical degree, though. There's got to be more to it than that."

Nelson shrugged. "The exciting work was all in drugs. Chemicals of the brain." His words were starting to slur, and the next drink Dave poured him, he kept it to half a glass. "Medical research. No fucking way I'm gonna get involved as some sideline consultant when I could be deciding things, getting answers."

And wasn't that Nelson through and through? Never sitting on the sidelines when there was a spotlight to be had. "It's all about the glory with you, isn't it?" He shook his head, fond and exasperated at once.

"No." Nelson frowned, struggling to sit up. Dave helped him with a hand on his elbow, and Nelson leaned into him, one finger close to his face. "Fuck the glory; the glory's a tool. You get the recognition? You can do more. If people know you. If they respect you. It is all about the answers."

Nelson's eyes were hot, and all his focus was on Dave. It was a look Dave knew made Joe and Steckle uncomfortable and had scared off more than a few annoying assholes. Dave had always liked it, though, all that intensity zeroed in on him. He put a hand on Nelson's shoulder, holding him still. "You don't get any answers if you're dead, you know."

Nelson laughed bitterly. "Yeah." He tossed back the rest of his glass. "All that crap, and what answers did we get? Only more fucking questions!" He drew his arm back.

Dave grabbed the glass before he could throw it. "No breaking things, okay?"

Nelson sighed and slumped back. He was close enough that when he turned his head, his breath was warm against Dave's neck, making him shiver in a mixture of emotions he wasn't sure he wanted to analyze. "Sorry."

Dave looked down at him and pushed at his head half-heartedly, ruffling his hair. "At least you drank the whiskey first."

"Never waste whiskey," Nelson muttered. "You might really kill me."

"Damn straight." He pushed Nelson. "Wasted enough of it on you tonight. You ready to talk yet?"

"Talk about what?" Nelson settled more comfortably against him, and Dave sighed and wrapped an arm around him. It felt a little awkward, but maybe it would at least be comforting.

"Billy." That seemed the best place to start.

Nelson's head moved against his shoulder. "Don't wanna talk about Billy."

"Why not?" He nudged him. "You were friends, right?"

"Friends. Yeah," Nelson said firmly. "I liked him. Just liked!" he insisted, pushing against Dave in a way that might be an annoyed punch if he were more coordinated and farther away.

"Yeah?" Dave asked weakly, beginning to suspect he might be right about things he wasn't sure he wanted to be.

"We were eight!" Nelson scowled. "We didn't know shit; we were kids!"

Dave scrubbed a hand over his face, sighing. Whether this was what he thought or not, it didn't sound good. "What happened, Nelson?"

Nelson chuckled sadly and crumpled against him. "We were just kids. Never knew a goddamned thing about anything. It was nice, just hugging, joking around. But that's not allowed, is it? Can't stand closer than arms' length unless you're a fucking queer, and no son of mine…" He trailed off in a wounded sound that made Dave hug him closer, rubbing his arm. "Fuck. We'd never even thought of doing anything!"

Dave floundered, and could only come up with a muttered, "That's fucked up, man."

It startled a strangled giggle from Nelson. "Not fucking, though, that's the important part, right? So much better to make fun of the fags, push them around, fucking stone them. Might infect you otherwise."

"Nelson —" He had no clue what else to say. He was beginning to wish he'd never started this conversation. He only hoped it was doing Nelson some good, because he was sure he'd have nightmares for weeks. And people thought he was the fucked-up one for not believing in a god that made people do shit like this.

"You wanna know what's really funny?" Nelson snorted against his shoulder, his voice low and dark. "Billy used to sneak his older brother's porn out. Girls with big boobs and long hair. Was just starting to notice Amanda Henderson might be looking okay." That odd, wounded sound again. "Me, I always liked her brother better."

Fuck. Dave rubbed a hand over his face. Even if he'd been half-expecting this, it was still a bit of a shock. He thought back over the years he'd known Nelson, the time they'd spent together — should he have noticed? Nelson never had dated much, but he'd always seemed the more focused-on-work type. "You're saying you're gay?"

"I —" Nelson shook his head against Dave's shoulder. "I guess so."

Dave stared incredulously down at him, the effect of which was utterly lost on Nelson, who had his eyes closed. But really, what the hell kind of answer was that? "You guess so? It's not the sort of thing you're not sure about, Nelson! Do you like guys or not?"

He was quiet for so long Dave started to wonder if he'd fallen asleep. Then his throat worked as he swallowed and one word came out in a whisper. "Yes." He cleared his throat and seemed to draw further into himself. "I guess I always figured if I just ignored it, it'd go away. Stupid, huh?"

"You're a lot of things, you know, some of which are pretty damn obnoxious. But stupid isn't one of them." Dave shifted, then moved out from under him, grabbing up the near-empty whiskey bottle and both glasses. "A lush might be if we don't stop now." Not to mention I could really use some space to think. He shifted everything to one hand and squeezed Nelson's shoulder with the other. "You look ready to fall over, anyway. Get comfortable; I'll bring a blanket and pillow, okay?"

Nelson blinked up at him, squinting a little in a way that said drink and tired eyes were conspiring against his ability to focus. "Okay," he answered after a moment, his lips twitching in an attempt to smile. "Thanks."

"Hey, what're friends for?" He patted Nelson one last time and headed to the kitchen.

He was almost too far to hear by the time Nelson answered, "I'm not sure I know."

He took his time washing the dishes and getting everything put away; more and more he was wondering what had possessed him to start this entire discussion. He couldn't help but think that if he kept pushing, he would find out more than he wanted to.

He also couldn't stop thinking about what might happen then. Or picturing it, hot and disturbing at the same time.

He shook his head and tossed the towel down on the counter, resolutely not dwelling on any of it as he dug out a blanket and pillow. When he brought them back, Nelson was lying on the sofa curled into himself, half asleep already. Dave tossed the blanket over him and propped the pillow behind his head, but Nelson barely twitched. Dave watched him for a moment before stepping out onto his postage-stamp-sized balcony and leaning against the railing with a sigh. "Damn it, Nelson," he told the sleeping man inside, "you never make anything easy."

Dave wasn't sure he'd be able to get to sleep at all, but he did his best to try. He could hear Nelson on the couch, breathing steadily, shuffling and huffing occasionally as he moved. They'd done this a hundred times before, and he'd crashed barely paying attention to his friend on the sofa. And it wasn't like he thought Nelson was going to wake up and jump him or anything; hell, he probably couldn't walk straight if he did wake up.  Or get it up. But that didn't stop his brain from running in circles around the whole thing. Nelson's gay. He's my best friend. What if he wants more? I love him like a brother; what if he thinks I want more?

One half-formed thought followed him down into restless sleep: What if I do?

 

He woke to the sun glinting off the mural on the far wall, and winced and hid his face in the pillow. He might not have had as much to drink as Nelson, but it was still way too early for this much light. Crap. Nelson. The worries of the night before came back, and he knew he had no chance of getting back to sleep.

With a sigh, he scrubbed one hand over his face and sat up. He could just see the top of Nelson's head over the back of the couch, and was guiltily relieved he'd have a bit more time alone before he woke up.

He didn't really feel like breakfast, but scrounged up an energy bar, following it with a glass of water as he watched the slow drip of coffee into the pot. It was nearly done when the shuffle of bare feet against the floor announced Nelson was up. Dave turned as he came in the room, and chuckled. His shirt was askew and pulled half out of his pants, which were twisted to one side. The tweed of the couch was imprinted along one cheek, and his hair was sticking up every way possible.

Dave opened his mouth to joke, Wow, you're sexy in the morning! Then hesitated, sighed, and shook his head. "Morning."

Nelson squinted up at him blearily. "Did I have my glasses last night?"

"Not on. I think you stuck them in your bag." He shook his head. "Need some coffee?" Nelson never was terribly coherent first thing in the morning.

"God, yes." Nelson winced and covered his eyes. "And aspirin?"

"Help yourself." He waved vaguely at the bathroom, and Nelson nodded and muttered his thanks, then turned that direction.

Dave poured the coffee and carried both mugs to the couch, settling in as Nelson came back out, glasses on and hair combed back, shirt straight but still untucked. "Coffee." He waved at the other mug. "Feeling better?"

"A little." Nelson sat down and drank, shaking his head just slightly in a way that said more movement might be a bad idea. "Did you really have to get me that drunk?"

"Yep," Dave answered, unrepentant. "You needed to get some things out of your system." Whatever else might come of all of it, he was sure of that much.

"I thought you weren't the psychiatrist," Nelson answered dryly.

"You don't need a psych degree to see things are eating you up inside, Nelson." He eyed him closely. "Were you ever planning on telling me? Or anyone?"

Nelson flushed and looked away. Dave waited. After a few minutes, Nelson shook his head, speaking quietly. "I wasn't even telling myself." He grimaced. "Hell, some guys manage it all their lives, right?"

"Yeah, and they're probably miserable, too," he shot back. "What's plan B?"

"Work." Nelson finished his coffee and toyed with the mug. "Finding all the answers I can. I feel like we were almost there…" he trailed off and shrugged.

"But no more experiments, other than the kind that pass the HSRB. Right, Nelson?" Nelson winced, and Dave grabbed his arm, scowling. He forced Nelson to look at him. "If I so much as get a hint of you trying to kill yourself again, I will notify the dean and the nearest emergency services. I'm not going through that again!"

"Didn't know you cared." Nelson's lips twisted in a bitter smile, but it sounded more self-deprecating than accusing.

"Bullshit." He narrowed his eyes at him. "If you couldn't see that, you'd better give up your credentials now. You're my best friend and you know it. Hell, I died at your say-so and trusted you to bring me back. Not to mention rappelled with your crazy ass anchoring me."

Nelson smiled sadly. "Thanks." And Dave didn't think he was imagining the wistfulness there, or the way Nelson was holding something back still.

Dave was self-aware enough to know that he had a tendency to jump and trust his instinct that more even-headed people thought of as unfortunate. He also knew they could go screw themselves, because his instincts were almost invariably right, and he'd saved lives in spite of conventional, level-headed idiots. And he had died for Nelson, risked jail alongside him; how the hell could sleeping with him be any worse?

He let his eyes wander to Nelson's mouth. Heck, a lot of guys experimented with their friends, right? It might be hot. It might help Nelson come to terms with it all. It didn't have to mean anything. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself and leaned forward, tilting Nelson's face to his and meeting his lips in a kiss.

Nelson froze, and Dave could feel the swift intake of breath as he gasped. Dave pressed forward; Nelson's lips were soft and warm under his and contrasted with the hint of stubble under his hand. It was odd and a bit disconcerting, but Dave focused on the familiarity of the movement and the thrill of intimacy.

Nelson's hands came up slowly, one settling on his neck and the other at his side, and his lips moved to hesitantly deepen the kiss. Dave closed his teeth gently on Nelson's lower lip and tugged, then flicked his tongue into Nelson's mouth. The hand at his neck clutched tighter and Nelson shifted closer with a desperate sound low in his throat.

"Dave, you —"

Dave growled and tugged on Nelson's hair sharply. "Nelson, shut up and get with the program already."

Nelson laughed against his mouth, and it barely sounded hysterical at all.

It was strange, the flat planes of Nelson's body against his. He was muscled but lean, and that wasn't too different — there had been Daria in his climbing club with arms to rival his and thighs to die for. But she'd had breasts and a distinct lack of chest hair. And — fuck! He jumped as they pressed closer, clothes shoved aside or discarded — no dick. But Nelson was warm and kissing was kissing and hell, at least he knew what a guy liked, right?

Nelson's leg slid over his, and Dave turned, pressing him back onto the couch. Nelson slid down to lie under him, his expression open and vulnerable, and Dave took a deep breath, just looking at him, one hand on his knee. He was good-looking (and didn't he know it), healthy, fit. If Dave ever wanted to look at a guy like that, Nelson would be right up there. And he really did care for him.

 He slid forward and settled between Nelson's legs, their cocks pressed together between their stomachs. His own was barely interested yet, but then Nelson groaned and he felt a thrill of arousal. Damn, but the man had a voice made for porn. Dave focused on that, on enjoying it all and not thinking about what it might mean.

He moved, sliding their cocks together, and the pressure and friction were good, and then Nelson met him thrust for thrust, and it was even better. He tuned out the differences and the oddities, the stubble and the flat chest and the extra dick involved, and let the pleasure take over. Nelson gasped and moaned into his ear and his arms wrapped around him and it was both hard and ridiculously easy to forget the complications involved and just move, just experience, like the zen of mountain climbing. The next hold up, and the next, higher and higher.

Nelson came first, a whine escaping his throat as his cock jerked and warm come spread between them. The extra slick feeling and the thought that he'd done that to him, made him felt like that, had Dave speeding up, Nelson's hands on his ass guiding him until his climax hit like a sudden shock.

He lowered his head to Nelson's shoulder for a moment, then slid to one side, and they lay there for long minutes as their heartbeats and breathing slowed. The further the moment passed, though, the more awkward it felt, and Dave fought the urge to fidget. He found his excuse in the slowly drying fluid spread over their stomachs.

"We should probably get cleaned up." He pushed himself off the couch, trying to avoid getting come all over it. He headed for a washcloth, then realized he hadn't had a shower yet today, and might as well. "Hey." He poked his head back out. "I'm gonna grab a shower. You want to clean up a bit first, or just wait till I'm done?"

He realized as soon as the words were out — Crap. You just had sex, you don't offer to share? But it was too late, Nelson's flicker of uncertainty and hurt already buried under a smile.

"I'll just wait, thanks." Nelson waved at him. "Go on. Mind if I help myself to more coffee?" He was moving toward the pot before Dave even agreed, and Dave sighed and ran a hand through his hair, shutting the bathroom door behind him.

He ran the water hot and cleaned up quickly, then forced himself to think about what had just happened. What they'd just done. I just had sex with Nelson. It seemed insane, but the memory was there of long fingers on his back, digging into his shoulders and holding his ass. Of Nelson's voice urging him on with groans and gasps. Of Nelson's cock pushing against him and Nelson's come warm on his stomach. He couldn't deny it had been sexy as hell. And maybe a little off-putting. And fuck.

He pushed the heels of his hands against his eyes and took a deep breath, shoving everything aside. Focus. He called up his own personal judge instead — Are you sorry you did it? Would you do it again? The first part was easy — hell, no. He'd confirmed a theory, satisfied his curiosity, and gotten off. And with any luck, he'd shown Nelson he could be himself and gotten him out of whatever funk he'd been in since the experiment.

But then the second question taunted him. He sighed and banged his head against the tiles. Would I do it again? If it were a question of redoing the morning, yeah. He nodded to himself. He didn't know where he'd be going from here, but he wasn't taking that back if he could. But if it came up (ha) again — He sighed. I just don't know. One time, it's a thing. More than that, and what's Nelson going to think? We're not together or anything.

The problem, he reflected, with leaping before you looked wasn't so much not seeing the landing, it was making sure you had someplace to go after that.

When he came out of the bathroom, Nelson was dressed again and sitting at the table, picking at leftover pizza. He looked up and nodded at Dave, then went back to eating. Dave grabbed another glass of water and pulled out the chair next to him, turning it to lean on the back. "You still want a shower?"

Nelson shrugged. "I can wait till I get home."

Dave made a face. "I'm not sure which I want to know less — that you're still covered in spunk or that you cleaned up in my kitchen sink." He rolled his eyes, holding up a hand. "Just do not tell me, okay?" He quirked a smile at Nelson. Maybe if they could put it all in perspective, it'd be easier.

Nelson flushed and looked at the pizza box. "Sure, Dave. No talking about anything. It's like it never happened, right?" Dave frowned and opened his mouth, but Nelson angrily shook his head. "I get it, okay?" He finally met Dave's eyes, his own filled with so much anger and hurt that it took Dave's breath away. "You're not," he stumbled over the word, "gay, and I am and I knew all that. It's not like I thought you were actually interested. What are you calling it, then? Helping out a friend? Innocent experimentation? Revenge for making you face your own childhood sins? Pity fuck?"

Damn it. "Nelson, it's not —" Wasn't it? The traitorous thought made him flush.

Nelson's rough voice cut him off. "No?" He watched Dave a moment longer, then his lips twisted in a bitter smile and he stood. "Yeah, I thought so." He picked up his bag and strode for the door.

"Nelson, stop!" He stood and faced him, unable to let it end like this. "It wasn't pity or revenge or anything, okay? You're my friend. I love you like a brother, man."

Nelson snorted. "You always fuck your brothers?" He straightened his spine, still not looking back. "The difference is —" He swallowed. "I just love you."

The door clicked shut behind him before Dave could make himself move. His glass shattered against the frame, water and splinters glittering in the morning light.

On the bright side, he thought sarcastically, you got him out of his funk, you asshole.