If they saw each other, they usually ignored each other. It was easier that way.
Tumblr, AO3’s worst best friend, had sometimes hassled him about this from her perennial pose on his couch, legs up on the footrest, one hand behind her head and the other gesticulating above her to punctuate her (often less than fact checked) rants. AO3 had his doubts. He didn’t think they could be more different. FFnet had dark hair and AO3 had lighter hair (although they were both certainly able bodied, conventionally attractive white cisgender gay men) and ffnet was both taller and older, making it remarkably easier to distinguish them through relative physical descriptions when they were together.
But you aren’t together, AO3 reminded himself with a sigh. How had that thought even come into his head, anyway?
Thoughts of (nominal) rival still plagued AO3 as he dressed for work, putting on his aesthetically pleasing and mostly user friendly maroon suit, momentarily admiring how the color set off his slightly difficult, searching, sea green eyes. He had only met ffnet face to face 5 times, and they had each gone similarly; he had no reason to believe that another encounter would be different than the previous five. Each time, a frantic and slightly obscure user request would come down the pike. Ffnet would storm into AO3’s office, his blue and white striped shirt slightly wrinkled over his khaki pants, clutching the request in his long-fingered hand and insisting that he had the requested file. Each time, AO3 had wordlessly (and, okay, perhaps a touch smugly) opened one of his many filing cabinet drawers (in these cases, usually the ones labeled with the half forgotten names of old archives he bought em masse when he was bored) and pull out the story, presenting it to ffnet with the slightest flourish. The first two times, ffnet had grabbed the paper from his hand in his own broader one and inspected it. After the second time, however, ffnet just swept out of AO3’s office without another word. He was jealous, which was reasonable.
(AO3 ignored tumblr when she suggested that maybe FFnet had just learned to trust him.)
(AO3 LOUDLY ignored Tumblr when she asked if AO3 “liked watching ffnet leave, if ya know what I mean.”)
Because AO3 has certainly never watched Ffnet leave. Nor had he ever dwelt on the length of Ffnet’s pale fingers.
The day was going more or less normally. Hell, AO3 might even call it slow. His department was between fundraising drives at the moment, so he only had his regular tasks to fulfill—sorting through some tags, sending out a handful of invitations. He was halfway through an email to the committee he headed up (an exploratory group focused on deciding whether or not to discuss divesting from Beta. They were trying to schedule their first meeting, as they had been for years now) when he heard a familiarly indignant patter of footsteps. AO3 leaned back in his rolling chair and crossed his arms over his chest just as Ffnet burst through his door without knocking, a request clutched and crumpled in his strong fist. AO3 raised an eyebrow and took in the sight of his would-be rival. A bristled expression pinched his stark features. There was something oddly attractive about the clean, sharp lines of the older man’s body, and where had that thought come from?
“Well?” AO3 drawled, holding out a manicured hand over his desk, refusing to get up from his comfy chair.
Ffnet rolled his eyes and stretched the request toward AO3, which made the muscles in his arm strain against the blue and white cotton of his button down. AO3 blinked, momentarily distracted, then snatched the paper. Their fingertips brushed. AO3 swallowed hard, then pasted a smug expression on his face and bent to read.
His eyes scanned the paper with his regular cool confidence. Then scanned it again. And again. AO3 risked a quick glance at FFnet, who was waiting, hands on hips, his fine-boned face expectant.
“Right.” AO3 tried to fill his voice with his usual confidence, but even he could hear the slight quaver in it. Studiously avoiding the taller man’s gaze, he opened the top drawer of the filing cabinet behind his desk and carded through it.
The same with the middle drawer. The bottom drawer.
Without looking up, AO3 stood and moved to the filing cabinet to the right of his desk. He searched in silence, an awful, strained silence. Papers, papers, papers. He couldn’t find the requested file. Could it be that he didn’t... that it wasn’t... AO3 knelt before the cabinet in front of his desk. At some point he had gotten a paper cut; he ignored it, kept searching.
“AO3,” he hear ffnet say from behind him, almost gently. “AO3, it’s okay if you can’t find-“
“I can find it!” AO3 snarled, slamming the bottom drawer shut with a dull metallic clang.
“AO3...” and yes, definitely pity in his voice now, fake pity, AO3 would never live this down now—
“Knock knock!” AO3 snapped his head towards the door as soon as he heard the bright, unfamiliar female voice. A young woman with fiery orange hair stood in the doorway of his office. AO3 took a steadying breath.
“Can I help you?”
She smiled politely at him. “I just stopped by to let you know—I think you accidentally got looped in on one of my requests? Looks like I caught you at the right time,” she added, eying the paper in messy piles around his desk. AO3 felt his face heat up. “Anyway,” the girl continued chirping, waving a a hefty manuscript next to her head, “I’ve got this taken care of, don’t worry about it!” She turned to go, and AO3 was almost too startled to call after her.
“Um, I don’t believe we’ve met?”
She turned back. “I think you’re right. I’m Wattpad,” she said with a jaunty wave. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other around a lot. Have a good day!” And with a toss of her bright hair, she scurried down the hall. AO3 watched her leave, glued to his spot.
“AO3.” AO3 ignored the dark haired man, instead turning back to his filing cabinets and forcefully putting away the seemingly endless piles of papers.
“I’m being outmoded.” Silence. “Did you know?”
The answer came slowly. “Livejournal mentioned her when we got coffee the other day.”
“You still get coffee with Livejournal?” AO3 snarled, trying to force a note of derision into his voice.
“Yes. Maybe you can join us sometime.” That was enough. AO3 got up quickly, whirling to face the taller man and jabbing a finger into the hard planes of his chest.
“Ffnet, if you’re making fun of me right now, I swear to GOD no archive warnings will apply…” AO3 trailed off his threat. The look on FFnet’s face wasn’t his usual one of anger. It wasn’t even one of pity. AO3 was struck, suddenly, by how beautiful the older man was. FFnet grabbed the accusing wrist gently, pointing to the little paper cut that had come of AO3’s fruitless search. He moved his hand slowly up AO3’s arm, brushing an errant tag off the shoulder of his suit. AO3 watched it float gently to the ground. WHUMP, it said. Of course.
“You’re hurt,” FFnet said softly. “Let me comfort you.”
AO3 looked up, and his green eyes met FFnet’s deep blue ones. They were standing terribly close together, and FFNet’s long fingers were now loosely curled where AO3’s shoulder met his neck. In the end, when AO3 stepped forward and kissed the taller man, he didn’t even think about it. And when FFnet kissed him back, it was the most natural thing in the world.
FFnet carded his long fingers through AO3’s sandy hair and wrapped his other arm around the younger man’s waist, pulling him closer, deepening the kiss. Their tongues battled for dominance. FFnet tasted like peppermint gum and new books and something uniquely him. AO3’s fingers scrabbled to unbutton FFnet’s shirt, and FFnet pushed AO3’s maroon suit jacket off his shoulders. (The fact that their arms were arranged in such a way as to render these actions impossible simultaneously is neither here nor there). The jacket fell with a dull sound on top of a pile of paper and the tag FFnet had brushed from the light haired man’s shoulder.
They pretty much skipped directly to unprotected anal sex. AO3 knew that that was more or less how things were done in FFnet’s era, when nobody he encountered had yet discovered foreplay or preparation. That didn’t matter of course, AO3 thought in a haze. If there’s one thing AO3 could admit the two of them had in common, it was that when it came to FFnet and AO3, sex was always ludicrously, unbelievably, unimaginably heavenly and perfect, regardless of the circumstances.
After, AO3 cleaned them both off with a washcloth (an innovation that had occurred during his tenure). Now they sat naked behind AO3’s desk, giggling and hiding like children. AO3’s head rested on FFnet’s shoulder, and the older man was rubbing his arm comfortingly.
“I still don’t know what to do about Wattpad. She’s coming for me. She’s coming for us all.” The hand on his arm paused for a moment, then continued its cozy path.
“Livejournal heard she handles original work. On top of what we do.” Ffnet's voice was gentle, but AO3 recognized a familiar note of disgust. AO3 took a sharp breath in. He felt tears prickle at his eyes.
“Original work? I can’t compete with that, you know I—I can’t.”
“Hey.” With his free hand, FFnet took AO3 gentle by the chin. “Who needs original? You don’t original. Because you, my love,” he said, pausing to kiss AO3 gently, “are transformative.”