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Zen and the Art of Scheming

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Scene The First: In Which Zen Is Lost.


"We have lunch with Tarantino tomorrow, E," Vince says.

"Yeah, I know. I'll meet you at the restaurant, okay?" And E gives a casual little wave and just like that, he's out the door.

They have lunch with fucking Tarantino tomorrow, and E is all "uh-huh, whatever, see ya".

Thing is, Vince has exactly three things going for him, and he knows it. Three things – may not sound like that much, but it's plenty, least when you know what they are. He figures where most people go wrong is that they just don't get that they can't really act, or that they're never gonna have the slightest clue about business, or that they're just not that smart in general. But Vince knows all that, and he doesn't care. It doesn't matter.

First thing is, he's pretty. Always was. People used to come up to his mom and ask her to send him to kid beauty contests and soap commercials. She just never got her shit together enough to go, or Vince might've been caught up in this showbiz gig far earlier. He's kinda glad he didn't though, it'd probably just have screwed with his head. So that worked out alright.

Second thing – he's got charm. That, he figures, is just another word for being easy-going and laid-back. He's calm about things, lets people talk, listens and doesn't jump in their faces waving hands and talking a mile a minute like half the people here in L.A.. He tells it straight and he doesn't sweat the little things, just keeps calm and remembers that none of this is really important, that what's really important is just friends and staying cool and not losing sight of who the fuck you are.

People like that. It relaxes them. He figures they like spending time with Vince because it's not stressful and they feel good with him around. They call it charm, and he's willing to go with that. He likes being charming – girls dig it, and so do casting directors.

Anyway. Being nice to look at and charming to be around, that's pretty cool, and Vince has made a pretty good career on the strength of those two things. They're not enough by themselves though, and they don't have to be, because Vince also has E.

E's the single most important thing Vince has going for him. Vince has always known it. He knows these things, maybe because he doesn't let all the stupid unimportant shit clutter up his brain and hang out on his frontal lobe taking up essential realization space.

So now there's this thing E and Sloan have going.

Vince likes Sloan. Seriously. What's not to like? She's cool – beautiful, and sexy, and classy, and real smart. She's the first of E's girls who's actually in E's class. Plus, she's willing to take the lumps. She has to have found out by now that E has a mean temper, and that he's worse than a bulldog once he's sunk his mental teeth into something, and that he's the worst passive-aggressor this side of the Pacific Rim. But she's sticking it out. Hell, when E went to Colombia with Vince to film "Medellín", Sloan was good with that, too, even though it meant she didn't see E for six months.

So yeah, Vince likes her just fine. He just doesn't like how she's starting to screw with E's head.

The first warning sign was when E tried to ditch Vince for the vacation they'd planned together, so he could be alone with Sloan.

That? Not cool.

E always had time for Vince before. Even when he was doing his weird on again, off again thing with Kristen and was a wreck most of the time, he'd been around, like always. When he first hooked up with Sloan he'd still been around, too. He'd spent the weekends sprawled out on Vince's couch playing Grand Theft Auto and smoking pot and eating Johnny's organic cupcakes, as per usual. He'd gone to parties with Vince and Johnny and Turtle. He'd hung out with them. When Vince had needed him, he'd been there.

He'd just been there, period.

But now... ever since they've come back from Colombia, it's like Sloan's revved up the relationship motor and left Vince to eat her dust. Now it's nearly impossible for E to hang with the guys because he has to do whateverthefuck with Sloan. Now when Vince talks to him E's distracted and just "uh-huhs" him like Vince is an annoying relative or love-struck chick or something.

E's not even doing his managing job properly anymore. He should have been just as excited as Vince about "SPQR". He likes the script as much as Vince does (he says) and he agrees the hard-talking anti-hero is perfect for Vince. But that's just words, because he clearly cares more about squiring Sloan to some debutante ball or whatever than about meeting with famous directors – fucking Tarantino, damn it! – to arrange Vince's next movie.  

Not cool, strike two.

Vince's hotel suite has a room that has been officially declared "E's room", but E's never in it. E and Sloan have more or less moved in together. E claims they haven't, but he's always at her place, and pretty much all of his stuff is there, too. She stored it for him when he was in Colombia with Vince, and he never moved it out again.

When Vince hints that his suite is plenty big enough for E's stuff, E just says that the hotel is only temporary. Vince will get a real house again soon enough. So (E says) there's no point in moving everything now when he'll just have to move everything again in a little while, right?

Yeah, right. Like it'd take more than half an hour tops to move E's stupid boxes.

What with Johnny letting Turtle crash at his ritzy new apartment, Vince is pretty much always alone at night, unless he brings home some girl. Which is nice, and he does do that, but it's not the same thing. Sex always feels good, and the girls are usually fun to spend some time with, but... in the end, in all the ways that count, he's still alone even when they're lying right next to him.

Vince doesn't like being alone. He starts thinking too much about unimportant shit and loses track of the really important stuff.

So not cool.

Bottom line: This thing E's doing is uncool. In fact, it is uncool in a way that Vince really doesn't know how to deal with. He doesn't want to deal with shit like this. It messes up his Zen.

Take today. Vince is supposed to have lunch with a famous director who's thinking of doing a dark, slightly surreal tale of murder, politics and mystery, which is going to be needing a hero. Anti-hero. Whatever. Point is, Vince really wants this role. He doesn't want to wear spandex with fins again in "Aquaman 2" or play some stupid cop in "Matterhorn". He can *be* Marcus Iustus Gallio, he fits, the part's perfect for him. And if Vince doesn't sleep because he's losing his Zen and then shows up tomorrow to meet Tarantino looking like shit he'll be screwed, because who wants their cynical but soft-hearted Ancient Roman private detective to look like the creature from the black lagoon?

Vince can't do this alone. He needs E to be there with him all the way.

E gets this way – not often, but it happens. Happened once in seventh grade when he decided he wanted to join the math and chess and whatever clubs, and never had time anymore. Happened again when Vince came out to L.A. to be an actor and E decided he needed to stay in New York to have some kind of regular career.

It'll pass. Vince knows that. At some point E will be back with Vince full time, just like he's meant to be.

It still sucks. "At some point" is all well and good, but right now E is missing in action, and Vince feels off balance and uncertain and doesn't know what to do, and he really hates losing his Zen like this.

And so he decides he's just not going to put up with this. 


Scene The Second: In Which Scheming Commences.


Vince calls Ari's office and tells Lloyd he wants Ari to meet him at Dunkin' Donuts. Lloyd nearly has a heart-attack (or so he claims dramatically) because he seems to assume that the world must be ending for Vince to actually pick up a phone in person and call his agent.

Lloyd's not too far off.

Ari doesn't like donuts, Lloyd said, but he buys one all the same, grabs a coffee and comes to sit down across from Vince, mouth going a mile a minute before his ass even hits the seat. Vince wonders if he'd recognize his agent with his mouth shut.

Ari doesn't like E any more than he likes donuts. Probably less, though these days he puts a good face on it because he knows that if he can't work with E, he's not going to work with Vince. It's some kind of territorial thing. If Ari and E were dogs, they'd be pissing all over Vince.

Good thing they're not, really. Vince does handcuffs, sometimes, if the girl is really persuasive, but he pretty much draws the line there.

"Uh-huh," says Vince, because Ari has stopped rambling on about whatever it was he was going on about and is looking at Vince expectantly, clearly waiting for a reaction.

"Ari, tell me about Sloan," Vince says a moment later, when Ari has already started making noise and flapping his hands again.

Ari looks astonished for a split second before his hyperactive weasel brain kicks in, calculation flashing behind his eyes. "Sloan McQuewick? Your midget manager's main squeeze? Vince, you sly dog. She doesn't fuck actors, though, sorry. Now don't tell me you and E have broken up – it would break my heart."

"Yeah, I'm sure. And I know she doesn't fuck actors. I wanna know what else you know about her. You must have known her for a long time, right? Being her father's partner for all those years."

"Do not talk to me about Terrence," Ari hisses, and he's off calling his ex-partner a client-stealing money-grubbing back-stabbing tyrant with a god complex and no morals.

They must have been great together.

Vince finishes his donut and waves down a waitress for a refill. She blushes and asks for an autograph and he signs the menu "To Shellay," (seriously, she spells it for him and it's Shellay with AY) "love, Vincent Chase", and considers asking for her phone number, but then he decides he needs to concentrate on this E thing right now. He can always come back to get it later.

"Shut up, Ari," he says after he's taken a sip of his topped-up coffee. Ari shuts up. "Just tell me everything you know about Sloan."

Ari stares for a moment, but eventually he does, and of course it's a lot because Ari is like that. All about Sloan's degree in business administration and her job as manager with some uninteresting IT firm and her relationship to her parents and the guy she'd been with for years before she kicked him to the curb because he was cheating on her, which had been about a year before she took up with E.

It's a lot but none of it is useful, and Vince wonders what he was expecting, or what he was even hoping for. 

Vince makes Ari drive him to the hotel and then throws himself onto the sofa to think.

Vince isn't a scheming kind of guy. E does all the scheming around Casa Chase, pretty much – at least all the successful scheming. Turtle does most of it overall, all of it aimed at getting girls into bed, but Vince doesn't think scheming should really stand up and be counted unless it actually leads somewhere. Somewhere that's not lots of alcohol and hairy palms, that is.

Johnny and Turtle drop in a bit later and want him to go to a party with them, but Vince needs to plan this thing out first, so he sends them off alone.

In the end, he has a couple drinks to jumpstart his scheming efforts. It would probably help if he had some idea of where to start, but since he doesn't, the best he can come up with even with Johnny Walker's help is "tell Sloan to ease up on E because she's screwing with his Vince time." Yeah, like Sloan gives a fuck about the state of Vince's Zen.

Also, maybe Vince can manage something slightly less ninth grade than "but he was my friend first!"

Around midnight he smokes some pot, which finally, finally trips the scheming trigger in his brain. Suddenly he knows exactly what to do, and it will definitely work. He takes down notes of all the details, just in case, and is pretty damn pleased with himself. Of course he's also too wired to sleep, and calls E's cell to tell him he's got his scheme all worked out and everything's going to be great. E doesn't answer the phone, so Vince texts him instead.

His euphoria doesn't carry over into next morning, which is a shame. He turns up late, hungover and wearing sunglasses to the meeting with Tarantino, who's already chatting with E. E gets that exasperated, priggish cast to his mouth when he catches sight of Vince, but Vince ignores him. It's his own damn fault for making Vince lose his Zen, and he should have picked Vince up himself if he wanted him to be on time. He's only known him for twenty years, jeeze.

Tarantino's kind of weird, but in a good way, and he loved "Queen's Boulevard", which makes Vince think he really is as cool as everyone says. Plus he loves the script of "SPQR" and says he's pretty sure he'll go for it if the studio agrees to do things his way, and before he leaves he says that he's decided Gallio's mother should be a freed slave from one of the more remote regions of the empire, because that would explain a part of Gallio's problems with fitting in, and that a Mediterranean complexion with light eyes, for example, would really work well with the mixed heritage thing.

"What does 'bring pie tmrw – no wirries all is cake' mean?" E asks after Tarantino has left.

Vince stares at him. "What?"

"That's what you texted me." And E grins a little, and Vince snatches E's phone from his hand and checks. Sure enough, he claimed that everything's cake.

"I must have meant 'fake'," he mutters, though that doesn't make all that much more sense. E laughs and takes back his cell, just in time to catch a call from Sloan.


Scene The Third: In Which Scheming Should be Left to the Pros.


Vince soon discovers that he might have meant cake after all, because last night's notes about the brilliant sure-fire scheme are mainly concerned with baked goods.

In a weird way, that almost makes sense, because pie is kind of a historic landmark for their friendship. E had come up to Vince one day when they'd both just been snotty little brats and E'd been about half Vince's size, stick-thin with a mess of straw-colored hair, all sharp chin, bony elbows and attitude. "My name is Eric," he'd announced. "You're going to come play with me after school. My mom's baking pie."

So Vince had come play with him and eaten Mrs. Murphy's pie, which had been really fucking fantastic, and E had taken it from there.

E's still pretty much half Vince's size – if he were a girl, people'd totally be pissing him off all the time by calling him a pocket-sized Venus or shit like that. And he's still all attitude and big mouth, even though he's learned to hide his sharpness and go-get-em-tiger belligerence behind puppy-dog-eyes and a deceptively shy smile.

It's kind of weird people ever buy it, but they do. At least they're usually pretty surprised when the puppy's big damn teeth come out. 

Anyway. Baked goods. Now that he's not stoned anymore, Vince can't really say he has much of an idea how to employ them as a cunning secret weapon to set E's head straight again. (He calls room service to order some danishes, though. All this thinking about baked goods is giving him an appetite.)

Once he has a mouthful of sugar and crumbs, he smoothes out the crumpled napkin he decided to jot down his master plan on and tries again to make sense of it. Damn, his handwriting sucks when he's zonked.  

In one corner, half obscured by a splotch of what looks like tomato sauce, is the triumphant but not very helpful exclamation "do it yourself!!!"

First everything's cake, now he's advising himself to put up some shelves or fix the sink. Yeah, that ought to distract E from whatever's going on with Sloan, alright – at least for the time it takes him to laugh himself sick at Vince's two left hands.

The only other remnant of his brilliant scheme is right in the middle of the tomato splotch. Vince puzzles over it for a couple of minutes before he decides that it pretty much has to be either "diff girl?" or "deaf girl?". 

Which, not a bad idea in principle, but kinda hard to pull off. E's never really gotten behind the whole "what she doesn't know won't hurt her" thing. Plus, he's got his own notions about girls – Vince hasn't had too much success in hooking E up even when E wasn't already in a relationship. E's just as much of a horndog as the next guy, but he's way more stubborn about letting it out.

Hours later, when Vince is halfway across town and a girl whose name he didn't catch is leaning purposefully into his side, something jogs loose in his brain and the connection falls into place – maybe pushed by the cocktail he just tossed back. Of course: The two tomato sauce notations are connected.

He considers this while the girl makes a serious attempt at dragging him off somewhere. She's pretty, in the usual airbrushed Hollywood way, but right now he's too distracted to care that he can see down the front of her dress all the way to her toes.

A different girl, to distract E from Sloan. That could work – if E went for it, which is a very huge and looming "if" that's pretty much impossible to do anything with, scheming-wise. Or Vince could do it himself. Which... well, Vince has no idea about the kinds of "ifs" that are connected to that idea, actually.

It's not that E's not attractive, because he is. Vince'd totally do E, if E was a girl. Or if Vince was a girl. In fact, if either of them was a girl, Vince would have done E already – ten, fifteen years ago or something, probably pretty much as soon as they'd both hit puberty.

Of course, then one day Vince would have looked elsewhere because he does that, and E would have gone all weird because *he* does *that*, he's just no good at all with casual sex, it's like he's wired wrong, like they hooked him up with chick wiring when they put him together. His dick is directly connected to his heart. E dips his wick, and bam, he's gone... all starry-eyed and nervous and raring to run out and buy flowers and chocolates and jewellery and shit.

So, they'd have fucked, and E would have done his thing with the getting mixed up when his dick saw some action, and Vince would have done *his* thing with the casually drifting off without officially ending things... and then everything would have been shot to hell, and by now they'd probably hate each other.

Vince blinks down into the annoyed face of the girl thrusting her barely-clad breasts into his chest – what was her name again? – and wonders, because he really can't imagine that... the hating each other bit. The rest of it, sure. But that?

So, if they didn't hate each other, maybe they'd still be fucking, and E wouldn't be all hung up on Sloan and destroying Vince's Zen.   

He frowns a little because he's pretty sure his train of thought derailed somewhere along the way. He should probably stop with the cocktails, if he wants to get any more scheming done tonight.

Johnny shows up then and looks after the girl, who's flouncing off. "Damn, bro, when a woman like that –"

"Hey Johnny," Vince says. He's not that drunk yet – it's all good. "E would totally do me, right?"

Johnny looks like he's about to swallow his tongue, so Vince clarifies. "If I was a girl. Or if he was. You know?"

His brother stares at him for a moment longer before shaking his head and shifting, looking around almost as though he was planning to bolt. "Uh. I guess?"

So basically, all Vince has to do is get E to sleep with him. It's totally failsafe. Sure, that neither of them is a girl is kind of a potential wrench in the works, and it's kind of skeevy to go after someone who's already taken. But the scheme itself? Perfect.

Vince can work it.


Scene the Fourth: In Which Nothing Changes.


E comes home in the early afternoon – earlier than usual these days. He seems kind of broody, so Vince leaves him alone for half an hour or so before coming to find him in the suite's main room and dropping down on the couch next to him.

"Hey, E," he says, and grins. E smiles back and puts the script he's reading down on the coffee table, stretching a little.

He looks tired, Vince notes; there are dark smudges under his eyes. So not everything is roses in Eric and Sloan's wonderful world of romance, is it?

Could just be E and his usual relationship neurosis, though. E always half kills himself over every little thing – overthinks and backs himself into corners and panics. What did she mean when she said she was tired and wanted to go to bed early? And what did she think he meant when he said he liked her mother? And was the threesome with her best friend going to change their relationship? And so forth and so on.

E's never been very Zen. But that's okay – he has Vince to make sure he doesn't lose sight of what's what.

"Everything okay?"

For a moment, just a tiny sliver of time, everything seems to be righting itself. E meets Vince's eyes and lifts his eyebrows wryly, saying "you know it's not" just as clearly as though he was speaking the words, and the connection between them is right there, strong and vibrant as ever. E sighs and throws himself backwards, sprawling over his half of the couch like an octopus. If octopuses (octopi?) came with that few tentacles.

Vince leans forward, putting a hand down on E's knee to keep his balance, and E rolls his head to the side on the cushions to catch Vince's gaze again. It's like Vince can breathe again after a too-long period of holding his breath – something relaxing, something slotting into place, the sudden rush of warmth and certainty that tells him that everything's going to be just fine.

And then something shifts, and E's expression goes distant.  

"Yeah," E lies. Vince can practically hear the walls slamming down between them. "Just... fuck. Can we go out somewhere tonight? I think I need to get drunk."

You need to get laid, Vince thinks, even while he's agreeing. And you need to stop this. Whatever it is you're doing.

Good thing Vince has this all worked out.


Scene the Fifth: In Which There Might Be Dating.


He may not have done the dating thing with a man before, but he figures it can't be wrong to go with the tried and true methods. Vince does more or less just what he'd do if E were a girl he thought was really cool. E'd make a really cool girl, temperamental and smart and sharp and quirky and loyal and funny and just all-around  great to be with, so it's easy. Just subtract the girl part and it's all clear sailing.

E likes fancy restaurants for his dates, so Vince dresses up in his latest award ceremony suit – and E should definitely know to appreciate this because Vince only dresses up when there's no other choice – and wanders out of his bedroom with the top button of his shirt undone and his tie slung over one arm.

E – wearing faded jeans and a short-sleeved dress shirt – blinks at him. "Thought we were going to Adam Levine's party."

"We are. Later." Vince grins and stands in front of E, holding out the tie. "I have reservations at the Fenix – be a shame to let them go to waste."

That gains him a suspicious look, but E's already reaching up to fasten Vince's top button. "The Fenix, huh. We meeting anyone?"

Vince considers doing the mysterious sphinx-like smile thing for a sec, which is a good look for him and almost always works, but then he decides that if E were a girl, he'd be the kind who'd prefer the straightforward approach. "Nope. It'll be just you and me."

"Uh-huh." E raises his eyebrows and snorts wryly, signalling his amused willingness to go along with whatever it is Vince is planning, even if he knows perfectly well it's something weird.

In a couple of seconds E's flipped up Vince's collar, knotted his tie, and tucked the collar neatly down over it again. In a couple of minutes more he's changed into his own award-ceremony suit.

When E emerges from his bedroom, his dove-grey tie is already fastened around his neck. It takes Vince a moment to place the weird little sinking feeling in his stomach as disappointment, and to pinpoint its source.

Vince loves fastening girls' dresses for them, slowly pulling up their zippers and hooking necklaces around their necks while they hold up their hair, bending forward to kiss their throat afterwards. It's intimate – more intimate than a lot of more overtly sexual gestures.    

E's shoulder brushes Vince's as he goes for the door, and Vince grabs him without thinking, turning him around. E gives Vince the hairy eyeball, but doesn't say anything as Vince reaches to straighten the knot of his tie and settle his jacket just so.

He smells good. Vince doesn't think, just goes with the flow. He bends down to sniff at E's throat – which smells of E and a little bit of E's shower gel but not of much else, and that makes sense because he's not a girl and of course he doesn't have aftershave on his throat – and then bumps his nose painfully on E's jaw as E grabs a handful of his curls and pulls him back and up by his hair like he's an unruly puppy.

Okay, ow. Way to kill the mood, E.

"Nice aftershave," Vince hears himself say. "Gaultier?"

E stares at him for a long moment before snorting and grabbing the car keys. "Same one as always. Can we go now or do you maybe wanna sniff me some more?"

Tough choice, but E doesn't wait for Vince to make it. He just walks out the door, not even waiting to see if Vince is following him.

E's always used Gaultier, even back when none of them had any money at all and he really couldn't afford it. He always hides the bottle in the medicine cabinet, though, probably because he thinks the torso shape is silly or something.

On the ride to the restaurant, Vince watches E drive and wonders why he's never before thought about having sex with E. Hell, E had always been around when Vince had been 14, 15 and had thought of nothing else but sex. Why had something so perfectly obvious – almost inevitable – never even occurred to him?

E, for his part, spends the ride casting glances at Vince and saying things like "I got something on my face?" and "You're kinda weirding me out here, Vince."

Vince doesn't know how to respond to that, so he ends up doing the mysterious sphinx-like smile thing after all.

There's antelope foie gras at the Fenix, and porcini scallops, and lobster bisque and salmon with caviar chive sauce, and of course there's a hushed atmosphere and menus hand-written in exquisite calligraphy on parchment and immaculate and unobtrusive waiters with that perfect, subtle hint of arrogance to their every move that so often passes as good breeding.

Vince's waiter has a French accent. Maybe it's even real.  

E loves the Fenix. Privately Vince thinks it's all kind of pretentious, but then a lot of L.A. is like that, and the food really is amazing.

They talk about "SPQR" and Ancient Rome and videogames, and E comes up with some ridiculous theory about how the classics like Space Invaders and Pacman were the last real video games and everything afterwards is basically just movies with active viewer participation. Then they segue into how Johnny's series is looking better and better in the ratings, and how he's beginning to get fanmail and Lloyd's calling him with invitations to events and the TV network's parties. And Vince doesn't really remember how they get from that subject to a discussion of which dinosaur is the coolest, but E is totally full of it and roots for the stegosaurus, of all the ridiculous things.  

By the time they get to the villa Levine shares with his best friend, it's late and the party is in full swing. Someone Vince doesn't recognize stops Vince as soon as he's through the door and tries to talk business. Usually he'd let E deal with this guy, but right now E's here as his date, not his manager – whether E knows it or not – and so Vince just ignores the guy and pushes past.

They've hardly found a nice spot when a knot of girls surrounds them and tries to convince them to dance. Vince knows one of them and even almost remembers her name (which is Melinda, it turns out, but the music is so loud that she doesn't realize he called her Glenda).

By the time he's managed to turn her down, E has ducked out from underneath Vince's arm and disappeared.

He finds him again ten or twenty minutes later, ensconced at the bar with a drink in his hand and a pretty girl attempting to catch his eye. No doubt he hasn't even noticed she's there, the way he's knocking back his cocktail. The very picture of a man on a mission to get smashed.

Yeah, trouble in paradise, alright. Vince feels vindicated in advance for what he's about to do.

Vince considers. A bit of alcohol circulating in E's bloodstream would probably help Vince's plan along  – but E seems determined to drink himself into a stupor. He doesn't do that often, but when he does, he does a thorough enough job of it that it could mess up Vince's scheme completely. It'd really suck if he got E in bed only to have E just fall asleep, or forgot everything by morning, or both.

Not to mention that he really wants E to be up to things, so to speak. No real point to it all otherwise.

In the end Vince simply walks up and slings an arm around E's shoulder. When E shoots him a quizzical look, Vince grins and pulls him away from the fount of scheme-threatening alcohol, steering him past a bunch of girls in bikinis grinding to the beat and heading out through the wide-open glass doors to the pool.

The crowd is less thick here and the air is considerably better. Vince even manages to find a corner half behind the pool-house that's almost private – at least as private as you can ever be at a party with several hundred guests. No-one seems to be paying much attention to them, anyway, and that's good enough.

"Hey, E," he says, and pulls him in a bit closer. E's hair sticks up in the back from where Vince's arm (still slung tight around his shoulders) mussed it, and he looks up at Vince quizzically.

If he were a Loony Tunes character, big question marks would be dancing around his head.

If he were a girl, Vince would kiss him now. A girl would be expecting Vince to kiss her now – would be tilting her head up invitingly, eyes sparkling with expectation.

There's no expectation in E's eyes, only curiosity and amusement and something like exasperated affection. "What the fuck is with you today?"

"What do you mean, what's with me?" he stalls. Which is stupid, because he knows what E means, and E knows Vince knows what E means, but the thing is, Vince also knows that this is the point at which he kisses the girl, but E's not a girl, he's E, and he's not expecting to be kissed, and it's throwing Vince off stride.

E, meanwhile, just stares at him, openly disgusted at Vince's transparent stalling.

Vince hasn't thought about how to do this part of it, beforehand. Planning this kind of thing is counterproductive, in his experience, and he hasn't tried to do it since he was, oh, seventeen or so. Which (coincidentally) was also the point after which he didn't need to plan anymore, because girls required increasingly less effort after his growth spurt finally ended and Vince managed to acquire some muscle to pad out his newly tall frame.

Even when he did still try to plan this kind of thing, it never worked the way it was meant to. Only look at what happened – or rather, what didn't happen – with Cindy on prom night. All in all, better to just go with the flow and let it all happen naturally. No good forcing it.

Right now, though, the flow just isn't flowing.

The problem, Vince decides, is not that E isn't a girl – because while Vince might not have done this with guys before, it's not like he's averse to the idea, and the basics are the same – but rather that E's not acting like someone on a date. E thinks they're just hanging out together, as usual.

It's probably not that surprising that E hasn't realized he's here on a date. Vince took him to dinner and stared at him a lot and stood real close and demanded his exclusive attention and herded him where he wanted him and put his hands on him every chance he got. Not all that different from how Vince usually behaves with E, really.

So, Vince will just have to be clearer. And not think about it, just go with the flow.

"Vince. What. The. Fuck."

Patience has never been E's strong suit.

There's a huge palm tree just a few steps to the side, and Vince steers E over to it, allowing his grip around his shoulder to loosen as they go, his hand sliding smoothly down E's back. E's body is solid and muscular underneath the soft cloth of his lightweight suit, and E allows himself to be turned and pushed up against it with only a speaking look and an imperious command to spill all, delivered by means of raised eyebrows and the traditional E Face of Impatient Pissiness.

Vince steps up closer, so close that their chests brush against each other, and reaches out slowly to put his palms against the bark of the tree on either side of E's head. He leans in, leans down.

He's close enough that he can smell the Gaultier aftershave again, fainter now and changed into a lighter, spicier note that's even more familiar, infused with the scent of E's skin. It's distracting, and Vince grows aware of a strange urge to lick E, taste him, right where a sharp shadow cuts along the side of E's face from where the lights strung up among the trees by the patio and pool give way to the night. From this close, there's a hint of dark-blond stubble visible on his cheeks, and his eyes are murky in the twilight.  

This would be a good time for a compliment, but Vince can't imagine using any of those that usually fall from his lips so easily. It's not that E doesn't have beautiful eyes, because he does; they're stormy and steady and deep like the ocean, and somehow always more blue than you expect. And his smile – the happy, subtly wicked one – is certainly worth a praising phrase or two.

His lips... Vince has actually never thought about E's lips before, but now that he does, he thinks the curve of them is perfect, almost irresistibly alluring, especially parted slightly as they are right now, when E's once again preparing to speak. 

It comes as a complete surprise to Vince how much he suddenly wants to kiss E. It hits him in the pit of the stomach and tingles outwards with the thrill of arousal – so familiar and yet strangely unexpected.

"Alright, you know what? This is officially –"

"I don't think I can do this without you," Vince blurts. He has no idea where that came from, he just knows this moment is slipping through his fingers and somehow spiralling completely out of control. "Any of this."

It's not a compliment, it's just the truth, and E has stopped speaking and is watching him, waiting for the rest. Vince is kind of afraid to open his mouth again in case more words fall out.

E's expression has gone soft and puzzled, and he looks a little stunned.

"Don't –"

Don't leave me.

Vince chokes down the words just in time and steps back, throat closing. He doesn't want to see E's face, so he turns his back to him and stares out at the pool, where a starlet he thinks he should know is playfully splashing about with a colorful cocktail in her hand.

Fuck. This is so very not how to seduce someone.

"I think we should go home," E says from behind him, and puts his hand on Vince's back.


Scene the Sixth: In Which Too Much Planning Is Counterproductive.


They don't talk on the way home. E breaks all the speed limits, and Vince stares out the window watching the lights flash by.

By the time the hotel's valet comes out to take the car and they're in the elevator, on their way up to the penthouse floor, Vince has regained his poise and decided that he'll just ignore his outburst and go on with the plan as though nothing had happened. That works out particularly well because he really doesn't know just what happened, except that he still hasn't managed to kiss E, and it's getting to the point where he should just go stand in the corner with the geeks and Turtle and all the other hopelessly dating-inept schmucks.

E pushes him out of the elevator and to the suite's door, keeping a hand in the small of Vince's back as though he's thinking Vince will try to make a break for it if left unsecured.

He doesn't think anything of it, Vince is sure, and yesterday, Vince wouldn't even have noticed the casual touch. Now, it sears right through the layers of his jacket and shirt to his skin, fuelling the slow burn deep in Vince's gut.

His scheme is still on track, he knows that. It feels weirdly as though it isn't, though, and somehow that feeling is connected to the heat in his blood and the way words just fell from his lips by the poolhouse. The way he suddenly can't imagine that he has ever looked at E without wanting to shove him up against the nearest wall and touch him everywhere, push him down and tear his clothes off and lick him all over until he shouts Vince's name.  

They're inside and E drops the keys on the small table by the door. For a long moment his hand lingers on Vince's back, and Vince doesn't move until he drops it.


Vince really needs to get this show on the road before he freaks out entirely.

He strips off his jacket as he walks further into the room, letting it slide down his arms slowly before slinging it over onto the couch. Then he turns a little, giving E a slow smile over his shoulder while loosening his tie.

E's eyes are wide, and he closes his mouth over whatever he was going to say, pressing his lips together in a not entirely encouraging way.  

Vince slides the tie from around his neck without looking away from E; he relaxes into the moment, something inside him unclenching. He's found the flow at last – this feels natural, easy. 

When he slips open the top button of his shirt, he takes a slow, lazy step closer to E, allowing the smile on his lips to turn slightly wicked.

"Aquaman," E says, irrelevantly.

It kinda throws Vince off. He tries to ignore it and just go on, but – well, really, how can he?

"What the fuck?" He's not going to play Aquaman while he has sex with E. If that's what E has in mind... It's not that Vince is necessarily averse to roleplaying, but Aquaman? That's way more kinky than –

"What, you thought I wouldn't recognize the seduction scene from Aquaman?"

Vince just gapes for a moment. That's real anger in E's tone, and Vince can't wrap his mind around the fact that E thinks he's acting out a seduction scene from a movie. How fucking lame (on a scale of 1 to 10) would that be – 11, or 12?

Except that in the movie, when Aquaman meets up with Aquagirl in his cover identity, he takes her to the opera, and afterwards she accompanies him to his apartment, and he takes off his tie and he turns to her and throws her a smouldering look over his shoulder, and starts unbuttoning his shirt as he walks towards her.  

Fuck. E's right, Vince's groove wasn't a groove at all, but just some choreographed scene his subconscious dug out when groping desperately for inspiration. Vince's heart sinks with the realization, because while it wasn't on purpose – it was really just an accident – coming on to someone as Aquaman is just not cool any way you slice it.

"What the fuck is going on, Vince? You've been like something out of 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers' all night. You have some kind of fucking bet with Drama?"

Vince shakes his head and opens his mouth, but nothing comes out except for an oddly offended-sounding huffing noise. He has no idea what to say.

Daring Vince to make a pass at E is the kind of thing Johnny would find hilarious, and it actually could be pretty damn funny under the right circumstances (read: any circumstances where Vince wasn't seriously trying to seduce E).

But... Not funny now, when Vince is standing there like a moron with his stomach doing flips, and when there's a flash of real hurt in E's eyes underneath the pissiness and reproach. Really not.

This whole thing has stopped being funny about a million years ago.

Vince folds. He's done; he's tried, and he's fucked it up, and he has no idea where to go from here. It's time to call it a day and cut his losses.

It's over.

"You know what, let's just strike this entire day from the annals of history, ok?" he says, and holds E's gaze for a moment before turning and heading for his bedroom. "Seriously," he says over his shoulder, because he can feel E's pissy laser gaze tracking him. "Just... forget about it."

Hah. As if. He's only known E for his entire fucking life – did he really think E would ever just let something rest?

Like the human bullterrier he is, E pops up in Vince's path, blocking his escape.

"No, Vince, I won't just –"

Vince leans forward and kisses E.




Scene the Seventh: In Which There Is Kissing.


It's like gravity. It just happens. Afterwards, Vince is never quite sure if he did it to startle E into letting Vince escape, or to provide the explanation E was insisting on, or just because in that moment, there was simply no way not to.

It's the kind of kiss that's no more than a brush of lips on lips, the kind that can mean anything from 'hello' or 'bye' to 'so how do you feel about me' and 'I really wish we were alone right now'.

At least that's what it starts out as, but E's lips are soft (if unresponsive) beneath Vince's, and his eyes are wide and almost comically startled, and his scent is in Vince's nose and Vince just can't pull back. He steps forward instead, opens his mouth slightly, angles his head and coaxes with all his considerable skill. 'Don't you, won't you want me? I will make it so good for you –'

E makes an aborted movement and huffs a low, pissed-off sounding noise against Vince's mouth.

Vince wants him, pissy or not. It's just a fact, and he's through questioning it now that his lips are on E's and his hand is on E's back, sliding up over a tense shoulder, curling gently around the nape of E's neck, into soft hair that's shorter than Vince is used to.   

The lips under his move, shaping his name almost soundlessly.

"E," Vince whispers against his lips. His body is urging him to push closer, the need for E thrumming in his blood like a physical ache. "Come on."

He doesn't really know what he's doing. This isn't how he seduces people. It's way too desperate and uncontrolled, and he should just step back now and apologize and get the hell out before E decides to –

E puts a hand on his chest to shove him away and without even thinking Vince pushes forward against E's palm and clutches at his shoulders with both hands. This should be really fucking embarrassing, but right now he doesn't give a damn, can't think past the moment and the need, or desire, or whatever the hell it is that's unfolding inside him. "E, come on, I swear I'm not fucking with you, I really need you –"

If he were operating at anything like full brain capacity, Vince would be horrified, because begging for a pity fuck like a horny high school virgin is even less cool than copying Aquaman's moves.

Now, all he knows or cares about is that E relaxes a bit in his arms and stops pushing at him, and that when Vince finds his lips again they open under his and then he's finally really kissing him. It's awkward, though, still not working right because E is kinda hanging back like the kid who was dragged to the party by his friends even though he really wanted to stay home and play video games.

Vince breaks the kiss and takes a moment to breathe and calm down (at some point during the last couple of minutes he's skated past 'butterflies in stomach' and into 'cold clammy palms' territory). Then he licks the tip of E's nose and grins at him from up close, and when E starts back and snorts and his lips quirk up, Vince catches his mouth again.

False modesty aside, Vince really is good at this. Plus, after another short moment of uncertainty, E stops playing reluctant maiden and gets into it. And E turns out to be really good at this, too.  

When the tip of E's tongue licks into his mouth, Vince's first, overwhelming response is a wave of sheer, blessed relief. It rushes over him like a flood and turns his knees wobbly and his stomach shivery, makes him want to laugh out loud and dance on rooftops. He hasn't known he's been wound so tight. He hasn't realized how anxious he's been until it all falls away in an instant and leaves him feeling light and free enough to do anything.

He buries one hand in E's hair and locks his free arm around his waist and pulls him in, drawing him tight against Vince's body. E doesn't feel like a woman – there are no breasts to press into Vince's chest, of course, and he feels somehow heavier, more solid as a whole. He's also a lot less shy about pushing a leg between Vince's... and about grabbing Vince's head and tilting it just the way he wants it, for that matter.

A moment later E starts taking over the kiss in earnest, and Vince almost laughs because of course, he should have expected this, and then E grabs his curls again and ouch, what the fuck is up with that?

Vince pulls back with a protesting noise, and it's a moment before E lets go. "Ow, Christ, E!"

E watches him for a moment. His tie is crooked, his suit collar crumpled, his lips reddened and his breathing noticeably faster. "Sorry," he says, but it's his fake-sincere voice, accompanied by the start of a slow, devious smile. Vince knows the smile, but not like this, not when coupled with an almost predatory glint in E's blue eyes. He looks...

It takes Vince a moment to realize he's the one who made that growling noise, and by then he already has E backed against a convenient wall. E's hair is too short to get a proper grip on, but it's enough to pull his head to the side. Vince leans in close and breathes in Gaultier and E and rising desire, and now there's no reason not to lick him. He starts out low, right where the starched collar of E's shirt lies against his neck, and drags his tongue over the rapid pulse beating in the side of E's throat and up.

"Jesus fuck." E's voice is so low that the comment is almost inaudible, but there's a lot of feeling there, and the choice of words makes Vince puff out a breath in almost-laughter.

E doesn't seem to be breathing anymore by the time Vince reaches his ear and stops to trap the lobe between his teeth, tugging gently.  

The sound E makes starts out as a roughly exhaled breath and ends up a moan, and he turns his head all the way to the side and lifts his chin, baring more of his neck. That's the kind of invitation Vince really can't refuse, and it's not long at all until E's clutching Vince's head with both hands (without pulling Vince's hair) and making low, helpless sounds every time Vince finds a new spot to nibble and suck on.

Vince fumbles with the knot of E's tie for a moment before giving up and just janking the front of his shirt apart with both hands. E opens drugged-looking eyes to look at him as Vince pushes a hand through the now buttonless gap to find soft hair, hot skin and firm muscle. Vince's palm slides over flat planes rather than soft curves, but the principle is the same, and when Vince rubs his fingertips carefully across a small, hard nipple E gasps and arches into the touch.

Then E pushes away from the wall, making Vince back up half a step, and takes his tie off. His gaze never leaves Vince as he strips off his jacket and his shirt and drops them in a careless heap.

"You –" Vince starts, and then stops because there are too many things he wants to say and he doesn't know where to start. 'You're beautiful' might come closest, but E's a guy and you don't call guys beautiful unless you want to start a fight. And 'I want you' would just be stating the obvious, and wouldn't be what he really means anyway.

The thing is. The thing is that E's slim and lightly muscled because he's vain (though he denies it) and works out to the exact point before bulkiness, and he's pale because he burns, not tans, and the freckles clustering on his shoulders and upper arms multiply whenever he goes into the sun without a shirt, no matter how high a factor of sunscreen he wears. 

The thing is that Vince has seen E shirtless countless times, has seen him in far less than this, but it's different now, when he's discovering that touching E, tasting him, having him, is pretty much the most urgent item on his agenda right after breathing. Or maybe before.

"What?" There's a subtle tension around E's mouth that wasn't there a moment ago, and Vince realizes he's just been staring at E – just staring, when there are a lot of better things he could be doing.   

Vince gives up on putting the thoughts jumbling in his mind into words; he just shakes his head and steps closer and puts his hands on the newly exposed skin, trying to push E against the wall again so he can get back to licking him.

E has other ideas, though, and E's always been a stubborn bastard. He grabs Vince's head and draws him in for a quick, too-light kiss, and then he pulls away and hooks a hand into Vince's waistband. The fabric pulls tight against Vince's erection and the sensation is distracting enough that it takes him a moment to realize E's steering him into E's seldom-used bedroom. Which, yeah – good idea.

When Vince grabs his shoulders and turns him around, pushing him back onto the bed, E goes down without protest.

Spreading E out on a bed and then licking.and touching him is amazingly good, and the breathless little almost-moans E makes are almost obscene, in a really good way. The chest hair is only weird for a moment; far more interesting is that when Vince finds a nipple and sets his teeth oh-so-gently into it before tonguing it, E immediately switches from almost-moaning to real moaning.

Vince lingers for a bit before he licks and bites his way down the center of E's chest, sticks his tongue into his navel, and sets his mouth to the skin just underneath. Firm abdominal muscles tremble underneath him as he sucks and bites down gently.

The waistband of E's tailored pants isn't so snug that Vince can't slide his hand beneath it. E takes in an audibly shuddery breath before Vince has even touched anything but cotton and heated skin; as soon as Vince finds his erection and closes his fingers around it, E makes a strangled sound and lifts his hips, pushing into the loose grip convulsively.

E's saying something, but Vince can't pay attention right now. He's too fascinated by the feeling of the hot, silken skin in his hand, by the faint pulsing and the bulging vein on the underside. The softness of the tip, the small surge of liquid that greets his questing fingers... E's cock is moving, filling even more in his hand as he strokes it once, from the root to the tip, and Vince puts his free hand on E's hip to hold him down because he just won't stay still.

"Christ –" E grabs his wrist and pulls him away. For a moment Vince's throat closes with apprehension – what if E changed his mind? – but then E's opening his pants, shoving them down his hips, and Vince catches on. With Vince's help it's only a second before they're out of the picture, right along with the boxers E wore underneath.

E starts unbuttoning Vince's shirt then – Vince has all but forgotten he's still almost completely dressed – but Vince puts a hand on the center of his chest and pushes him down again, and he stays down willingly enough. In fact, he kind of quirks his eyebrows and grins and makes an mock-apologetic 'sorry, keeping my hands to myself now' type of gesture.


There's a confused moment where Vince tries to do everything at once: kiss E and get a hand on his dick again and look at him and bite his throat and his collarbone and the soft skin just underneath his jaw and lick all the freckles on his shoulders. But then he straightens himself out and does them all in turn.

The next time E reaches for him he's more insistent, and Vince lets him get rid of Vince's shirt before he gets back to his exploration of E's body.

E's cock is pale pink and lying against his stomach, curved slightly to the left, thick and engorged with blood. It's a pretty decent size, Vince thinks (though he's not exactly an expert on other guys' erections). Maybe Vince's is just a bit bigger, but then Vince is just generally bigger than E.

Vince touches the flat of his tongue to the head, just trying this out, and E's entire body tenses. E's breathing is kind of heavy, and after a moment he puts a hand on Vince's shoulder. He doesn't push him – just touches him.

When Vince looks up, E's gaze is very blue and very steady. E's flushed and panting and looks debauched and, yes, beautiful and utterly fuckable, and all of a sudden the desire that's been simmering in Vince on a slow boil surges up so wildly that he can't breathe, or think, or do anything at all except stare at E.

As soon as the wildness settles down just a little he puts his head down and looks at his hands on E's hips, tanned fingers spanning pale skin. He feels all shivery inside, like he could break apart if he isn't careful.

There's a stray freckle just between his thumb and index finger, on E's left hipbone. Vince bends down and tastes it before veering to the side and slowly licking up the underside of E's erection, from the root to the tip, and then taking the head into his mouth.

Maybe this should feel weird, but it doesn't. He knows blowjobs – he may not be winning any championships soon, but it's not rocket science, he knows what to do. And he knows E. The only strange thing is the fact that Vince has not been doing E for years.

He sucks lightly, running his tongue along the rim of the flared head at the same time, and then goes down on E as far as he can, sucking harder as he draws back up. E's hips try to follow him and E's making a whole lot of breathy and gasping sounds now. He's not loud, but he's definitely enjoying himself, and Vince grins as much as he can with E's dick in his mouth as he sinks down again.

He's only just got a good, slow rhythm going (he's enjoying himself too and isn't about to rush this) when E gives his shoulder a push and draws himself up the bed a bit, away from Vince. Vince barely has time to wonder what the problem is now before E urges him to slide up to follow him, and hooks a leg around him, and then suddenly Vince is flat on his back with E's tongue in his mouth and E's knee pushing between his legs and E rubbing against him pretty much everywhere.

It's unclear just how he loses his pants and briefs, but they're gone not too much later, and E's skin against his feels amazing. E shifts a little and nudges his thigh up higher, right up against Vince's crotch, and the delicious pressure against his balls makes him groan and grab E's ass, pulling him closer still.

E's erection is pushing into his stomach. Vince shimmies to bring it into line with his own and little sparks of sensation dance along his nerves like fireworks.

Fuck, yes. Vince is a fucking genius.

E's pupils are completely blown when he draws back, his grin dazzling. He's perfect. And he's Vince's. And when Vince reaches for him again he leans forward with a predatory gleam in his eye and kisses Vince like he's trying to make him come with just his lips and tongue.

From now on every scheme around here will be thought up by yours truly and his amazingly genius brain.

And then E goes down on Vince, and coherent thought pretty much leaves the building.

Vince has no idea how much later it is when E puts his hands under Vince's knees and pulls them up and apart, and at this point Vince would happily hang upside down from the ceiling as long as E keeps touching him just. Like. That. The finger pushed inside him doesn't even register at first; it's just another burst of sensation that makes him moan and writhe and try to remember how to breathe.        

But then E does something that feels kind of weird and definitely uncomfortable, and Vince's lust-sodden brain belatedly manages to grab hold of the fact that hey, E's got his finger (fingers?) up Vince's ass. There's a brief moment of 'what the fuck' that Vince will never admit to later, and then he gets it and freezes with surprise.  

"Vince?" E's voice is breathless and rough with desire, and it's very clear he doesn't want to stop. Vince doesn't want to stop either, they've found a really nice flow here and stopping is just about the last thing on his mind.

It's just that being fucked has never featured in Vince's flow before. 

"Yeah," he says, meaning he's thinking about it. He's trying to, anyway. It's a challenge when he's hard enough to cut diamonds and E's right there, hand curled around Vince and looking at him like he wants to devour him. Or maybe like he wants to fuck him, which is kind of the issue.

"You wanna fuck me?" Vince asks, just to get it out there.

E's eyes never leave Vince's face. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

Vince waits for a moment because he expects E to add something like they don't have to if it makes Vince uncomfortable, they can do something else too. But E just watches Vince with hot, hungry eyes, and his fingers are still in Vince's ass, and his other hand is beginning to move again on Vince's cock, fingertips pressing just so against the underside.

In the end, it's really not that difficult a decision. It's E, after all.

"Okay," he gasps, and when E's breath catches audibly in his throat and the hand around his cock tightens, he manages a rakish grin. "Come on, E. Do me."

E surges forward and kisses him hard and deep and dirty, twisting his grip around on the upstroke in a way that makes Vince's whole body shudder and brings his hips up from the bed entirely without his doing.  

And then E does something with his other hand that makes unexpected sensation starburst inside Vince like an explosion, and Vince almost thinks that was his orgasm right there until E does it again and it's just as amazing. Someone's growling like crazy and Vince has really had enough of taking it slow now, because if he doesn't come soon he's going to go right out of his mind.

E's fumbling with a tube of something and putting on a condom – where the fuck has that come from? – and Vince hates that he's not kissing him anymore, hates it right until E's finally within reach again and Vince can grab him and drag him up into a kiss that starts wild and spirals entirely out of control in a heartbeat.

"Any day now, E," Vince whispers, and bites E's neck, and E's voice sounds just as broken as Vince's own when he gives an unsteady moan at Vince's hand sliding down his stomach, closing around him.

The pain when E pushes into him doesn't really slow Vince down. E stops right after that first, careful thrust, though; except for a little tremor that runs through his body just once, he even kinda makes it look easy. It's not a surprise that E's the considerate kind who'll wait for Vince to get used to the cock up his ass before putting it to him, but Vince just isn't having that right now.

It doesn't take much. A little nibble at the sensitive spot underneath E's ear, some impatient wriggling, a fiery kiss, some groping – and E's gone.

His first thrusts are uncontrolled and almost rough, and his gaze roams hungrily from Vince's face all the way down his body and back up again, hot and possessive and so much like a caress that Vince arches into it.

It's amazing, watching E want Vince like this. Being fucked is pretty good too once the initial burn fades – and then E gathers himself enough to push Vince's legs up further and tilt his own hips back a little, and on the next thrust Vince's world melts down into blinding pleasure.

Vince finds his own hand on his rock-hard erection and it's a matter of moments before his body goes up in flames. It's only a few more thrusts before E's hips stutter and he loses all rhythm, and then he shudders and throws his head back as he comes and all but collapses on Vince's chest.

And then Vince falls asleep.

He's a guy, what can he say.


Scene the Eighth: In Which There Is Little Sleep.


"You've done this before." It sounds almost like an accusation. Somewhat belatedly, Vince tries to soften his words with a suggestive grin and a hand on E's back.

E's kind of... tempting... when he's sprawled out on his stomach in Vince's bed, looking sleepy and mussed and grumpy at being woken in the middle of the night. There's a large hicky on his neck, right underneath his left ear. There's another on his chest next to his right nipple, and a third one on his lower stomach, but Vince can't see those right now.

Vince's hand smoothes over the dip at the small of E's back and curves up over his ass, firm muscle that tightens under his touch and soft, sleep-warm skin. The slow throb of desire is starting again, his belly tightening, and Vince has almost forgotten what he said by the time E speaks.  

"Not like this," he says. His voice is rough and dark with sleep and arousal.

E's legs part, just a little. Vince wonders whether E even knows he's moved.

"Like what, then?" He slides his hand inwards, curling his fingers down into the warmth between E's thighs.

E shivers and makes a small, low sound deep in his throat. "Vince..."

"Hmm?" E's balls are almost hot to the touch – crinkly, soft skin that shifts underneath his careful fingertips. E's legs spread further, and his mouth softens, muscles shifting beneath the skin of his back and ass and legs as he moves restlessly against the sheets.

Vince's fingers wander, slide over that sensitive spot behind the balls that Vince so far knows only on his own body. E jerks a little and makes another one of those delicious gasping sounds as Vince presses down just a bit, and again, building a light, teasing rhythm.

Just a bit further, and E says nothing, just catches Vince's gaze. His eyes are unexpectedly blue, completely open, heavy-lidded with sensual pleasure. The connection is alive between them, strong and vibrant, just as it should be.   

Vince rubs his fingers over E's opening, circles it, watches E bite his lip and pushes the tip of one finger inside him, just a little, just to see E watch him back, eyes huge and drugged-looking.

Vince has never touched another man like this. This is all still so new that he's amazed he can do this, touch E like this – amazed at every sound E makes in response, and just as amazed at his own body's reaction.

That he can do this to E. That E can do this to him. It's like a gift, something unlooked for that he never anticipated, but that he finds he isn't willing to let go again.

"It was just – trying it out, you know? Just messing around, just to see..."

Vince shifts, pulling back, and pushes E's legs apart far enough so he can kneel between them. E's ass clenches and he pushes down against the bed once and then stills, and then he fists his hands in the sheets and moans. It's a half-stifled, almost embarrassed moan, like he just can't help himself. Vince isn't even touching him anymore.

Somehow, that is the hottest thing Vince has ever seen, that he doesn't even have to touch E to arouse him like this, and he was more than half-hard already but now he is so hard so fast that the rush of blood to his dick almost leaves him dizzy.  

"E," he says, and doesn't recognize his own voice.

"Yeah," E replies. "Yeah, god, Vince."

He leans forward to kiss him, and they both gasp as his erection settles between the cheeks of E's ass, and then he sets his teeth gently into E's shoulder, right where the nape of his neck merges with his back.

"So, that wasn't like this, huh?" He doesn't know where the words are coming from, but somehow he needs to know, and E bucks up against him and pants.

"No," he says. "Jesus, Vince, you're an idiot."

Then he doesn't say anything anymore apart from a lot of heavy breathing and moaning, because Vince is a quick learner and has always been good with his hands, and he remembers just how it felt when E did this to him.

And later on, when Vince is buried inside of him as deeply as he will go, E gasps Vince's name.  


Scene the Last: In Which Zen is Not Regained.


Vince wakes up naked, sticky and thirsty and being spooned by naked, sticky and sleeping E. He extracts himself carefully, takes a shower, and orders a huge cholesterol-laden breakfast that would horrify his brother. He's finished the pancakes and started in on the scrambled eggs and bacon by the time the shower starts up again.

"Hey," says E, ducking his head a little and looking at Vince through his lashes in that weird, almost-but-not-quite-shy E way. His hair is still damp, and for a moment there's a flash of something like uncertainty, or awkwardness, or embarrassment – or fear? But over it all there's a smile that starts slow and self-conscious and that slowly, oh-so-slowly turns blinding and happy.

Vince realizes he hasn't said a word (or in fact done anything at all except gape at E like a moron) and shakes himself out of his stupor. The smile curving his lips feels strange and wrong, everything around him slightly out of tune. "Hey."

And, like magic, there it is. Right there, in the look and the smile and the looseness of E's shoulders, in the honey-smooth movements as he grabs his waffles and fruit salad from the room service cart and brings them to the table, in the sated contentment and contained excitement radiating from his every pore.

It's unmistakable. E's fallen again.

Just as planned. Right?

Right, of course. Except that at this moment, Vince can't really think. It's all gone just as planned, and yet...  

And yet Vince has never before seen it from this angle, when the one E is smiling at and watching with a hint of awe as though he can't believe his good luck and wondering if the florists are open yet and if they do express deliveries – when the person it's all aimed at and built around is not someone else, but Vince.

It's... for a long moment, Vince has no idea what it is. It's strange, it's unfamiliar and unknown when nothing about E has been anything but known for so long. It's even oddly frightening. His stomach drops and his mouth dries out and his mind empties, leaving only a confused buzz of "what the fuck" and "holy shit".

It isn't the usual morning-after feeling at all. If it was, he'd be glad to see E, sure, would feel affection and pleasure at the memory of good sex, and there'd be a hint of renewed desire, and it would all be settling calmly into a pleasant, warming hum in his chest and stomach.

But this? This is more like the sight of E kicked loose the moorings of reality and now everything is different, everything from the expensive but bland furnishings of the suite to the bustling city outside to the physical laws that govern the universe. Everything has taken a step sideways and turned itself inside out, to return looking the same, but somehow deeply and intrinsically changed.

Or maybe it's just Vince who's changed. Or Vince's perspective on E. His relationship to E. Everything.

Vince feels like the cameras are rolling and all the spotlights are on him and everybody on set is watching him, waiting with mounting impatience, while Vince has no fucking clue what movie he's even in.

E's in front of him, smiling, and Vince stands up and steps forward without thinking because E is wearing a ratty old t-shirt he's had forever and his eyes are caught right between silver-grey and sky-blue and he's smiling at Vince, and then Vince's hands are sliding over nicely muscled shoulders and the warm scent of E fills his world and he feels E's smile against his lips.

Who cares what movie he's in? Vince can wing it.

Later, E fends off Vince's latest advances and escapes into the elevator, laughing and promising to be back after his meeting with Vince's accountant (which E claims he can't possibly put off again or Marvin will take out a contract on both of them).

Vince takes a taxi into town.

He buys a small fern in an elegant but simple greyish-blue pot. There are roses in the shop, of course, but Vince has bought roses for lovers before. He chooses the fern because the color of the pot's glaze reminds him of E, and because he's never bought a fern before, and because E probably knows (or will find out) how to take care of it, and so it won't wilt and die. Vince likes the idea that the fern will go with them when they move out of the hotel.

He buys white champagne truffles and almond clusters and chocolate covered candied ginger. Then he crosses to a newsstand and buys a twinkie and squeezes it into the elegant gold-dusted, matte-black box with the expensive chocolates, because E likes chocolates, but has never abandoned the basics.

He stands in front of a jewellery store for minutes contemplating tie bars and cufflinks set with diamonds. Then he walks into the store next door and buys an 80GB ipod photo, and a digital reflex camera with a Leica lens to go with it.

So what if his scheme was primarily an object study in just why Vince should leave the scheming up to E. Fact is: It worked. He might not have won any style awards, but so what, times a thousand.

So what if his mind kind of drifts off in the middle of conversations with shopkeepers, and he can't remember much of his phone call with his brother that morning (except that he might have said "E and Sloan are finished" – not gloating, just passing on info – and Johnny might have moaned about the E-moping ahead, and Vince might have said "nah, he's in love again" and might have added "with me", and there might have been raucous laughter that will probably stick in Johnny's throat pretty soon; and damn, Vince is so looking forward to telling Ari).

And so what if he's been walking a little carefully, and if he's been half-hard all day because of the random flashbacks he gets to last night, and if his face is hurting from an idiot grin he can't seem to shake and he runs out to buy flowers and chocolates and jewellery. Yeah, none of that is Zen, but it's all good. It is, in fact, completely, incredibly awesome.

It's E. That's the thing. It's E.

So, really. Fuck Zen.


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