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Between the Legitimate Parts

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"And... fancy meeting you

"I--hello." It's a brilliant reply, and Nick grins at him--a big shit-eating grin that makes him wonder if he's missing something. And then Nick's pointing at him, rude as shit, big index finger close enough to make him cross-eyed. It is not a finger he's missed.

"You, Mister, stole my part. Oh, don't try the innocent act on me. Of all the parts in all the shows in all the studios in the world, you had to walk into mine."

"I-- sorry?" Just right now, he thinks, I'm playing myself. Nick would probably counter that it was better than playing with himself, which is why he doesn't say it out loud.

He isn't sure what he means by it, either, because there is just no way to Method act your own life. He's tried it, failed at it, and watched the audience--a whole series of ex-somethings--find the aisles mid-performance.

Nick's apparently auditioning for something. He's got on one of those Sinatra hats tipped low on his head, a pair of plastic-rimmed Clark Kent glasses, a grey t-shirt and a dark grey jacket, baggy jeans, and perfectly clean, very new-looking checkered Vans. Oh, and he's wearing a beaded necklace. It's probably all very fashionable if you're... well, seventeen and carrying a skateboard, which Nick is not.

Two hours ago, James was reading for a part himself, trying for gritty and rumpled and jaded. The stubble on his face feels wrong. Hell, looking at Nick, his whole body feels wrong. One of them's been miscast, but Nick seems unconcerned, which is... classic Nick.

"It's okay, really. It's not like I needed it or anything. No, I'm fine... just coasting on the residuals, flying by the seat of my pants, doing a little dinner theater in between rehabs, and did I mention I bear no lingering resentment about the whole part-stealing thing?"

"Nick, I didn't--hang on a minute. I earned that part."

Nick's got his pointing hand back in his pocket and is casually leaning in the doorway.

"I'm sure you did. The question is, in what position did you earn it?" The grin turns into a smirk and the bastard waggles his eyebrows like a low-rent Groucho. Broad comedy and somewhat clever wordplay--that was always Nick's gig. That and the strange cadence of his speech--something off about it, just off the beat, turning everything into a punchline and somehow making it funny even when it isn't or, more to the point, shouldn't be. Like now.

"And fuck you very much. What the hell are you doing here?"

"Not working, obviously," Nick says with a little shrug.

And yeah, James is remembering now why they never did get to be friends or even casual working buddies. Drinking aside, it was the asshole factor, not to mention the immaturity.

But then Nick laughs, an easy, uncomplicated laugh that's a little too high-pitched to be very manly, not that Nick seems to care.

Nick's got a belly. The first guy James ever slept with was built like Nick. Asshole kept calling him a twink, but hell, he was a twink back then, and it took him a few years and a few fistfights to come to terms with that. But he's over that now, even if the job keeps him looking like a twink, or whatever a twink grows up to be when he's middle aged.

Nick's still easy on the eyes--difficult everywhere else, absolutely, but in some ways... easy. Not his ideal, exactly, and certainly not with that wardrobe, but put him in leather or take him out of it...

He used to be easy once, too, he thinks, and suddenly, he's not sure why he gave it up, because it's like cigarettes; he can live without it, get a substitute and stick to it (literally), but man, the itch is still there, just under the skin. It never fucking goes away.

Then again, neither does Nick.

Things slide and click into place, and he's rubbing at his own jaw again, wondering why he bothered with it. If he couldn't bring it to them, the stubble wasn't going to make it happen, and at worst, he looked like a poseur, trying too hard. He's trying too hard now, and he can tell because Nick's all ease and grace and confidence--and where the hell did he pick that up?

Just act natural, a little voice in his head advises, with a codicil of "no sudden moves." But Nick's full of sudden moves, unpredictable and large and still blocking his way out of the room, his body loosely draped against the door-frame like he doesn't notice he's doing it. Was Nick coming or going? James hadn't noticed him either way--he was just suddenly there, in the outer office, the only person there aside from the receptionist who was thankfully ignoring the both of them.

"Interesting look. Very un-sharp and pointy. Got a sort of Sonny Crockett vibe going." Nick's hand is suddenly up and cupping his jaw, thumb pressing against his cheek and tipping his head up, all of it happening too quickly for him to pull away. The touch only lasts a few seconds before Nick's hand leaves him and Nick's grinning again--or still grinning--and James shakes his head and laughs and claps him on the arm.

"You look good," he says, because it's what you do, and Nick does look good--clean and sober, as they say, if you can believe the press, and he only realizes he's staring when Nick stares back, the grin suddenly gone.

"You too. It's been awhile."

He nods, acknowledging their mutual participation in the small, empty pleasantries, and this is where he lies and tells Nick it's been good seeing him, sorry about the part but other fishes in the sea, cliches abound. But what comes out is, "You wanna grab dinner?"

Apparently, years of being polite to fans have finally come back to bite him in the ass. 

Nick looks as surprised as he feels, and then the grin is back. "I could eat."

Of course you could.

He watches Nick turn and leave, but it's too late to make a clean exit because Nick stops just outside the door and ushers him forward so that he's forced to walk ahead of Nick while Nick's following him down the hall and then down the next one, like some stray he's picked up and is not going to shake. He takes the stairs just so they don't have to do the awkward elevator experience, because he thinks he'll run out of small talk before they hit the ground floor.

The office is on the eleventh floor, and so they go around and around in circles, and he takes them fast, expecting Nick to fall behind, but he keeps up, right on his heels, and, on the street, he's just slightly out of breath and more than a little dizzy, but Nick isn't. Fucking too many years of smoking, he thinks, and then, fucking getting old. And then, fucking show-off, because what's the fucking point of running down eleven flights of stairs anyway?

"So which way? Where were you thinking?"

Nick's taken his jacket off and there are sweat stains on his shirt, but there are sweat stains on his own, too. It's unseasonably hot out, and he has no answer to Nick's question, because he has no fucking idea what he was thinking. He isn't even that hungry, he almost says, but that's a lie. It's just that it's almost eight and he's still trying to stick to not eating after that, and what the hell does it matter? The anger comes on suddenly, and he wants a cigarette and a retake of the last twenty minutes, so he can de-invite Nick to dinner.

But he looks at Nick, who's suddenly not looking so confident and so he grabs Nick's arm and steers him to the parking lot, where they get stuck trying to figure out which car to take, talking about how maybe they should take both of them and meet at the restaurant, except he still doesn't know where they're going. And suddenly, the whole conversation strikes him as tremendously idiotic. After all, he knows what's going to happen--he can see it all unfold ahead of them, the whole unlikely scenario like some plot from a very mediocre film (bad enough that he might not even want the part, though he suspects Nick would). He's still got his hand on Nick's upper arm, on his skin just below the cuff of his t-shirt, just over one of his tatts, and he's feeling the bulk of biceps shifting under his fingers as Nick talks with his hands, making broad gestures and saying very little, just filling the space between them with words as James finally steers them to his own car.

Twenty minutes later, and Nick's still talking, apparently not noticing or caring that it's a one-way conversation, and they've pulled into a spot across the street from the restaurant.

They go inside and it's going to be a short wait, but Nick's stopped talking and is staring at the fish tank set into the wall. He's put his jacket back on again and James watches as Nick takes his hat off and runs his fingers through his hair, watching himself in the glass of the tank. He leaves his hat off and turns around and winks and James realizes he was reflected in there, too, and Nick was watching him the whole time. He wonders what Nick saw.

And the host calls out, "Nicky," and they're being seated at a table near the window, overlooking the street below. The glass is a little mirrored and he blinks at himself, not used to the beard, or seeing Nick sitting opposite him.

"Looks good," Nick says, the menu opened up in front of him. But Nick isn't looking at the menu, and James has to force himself not to drop his eyes first or blink or... fuck, what is this entirely uncool, bullshit posturing?

Nick's sipping the glass of water the waitress poured, and it's in a stemmed glass that looks fragile with his large hand wrapped around it. "I'm thinking meat. What're you thinking?"

"I...haven't decided." Oh, and isn't that a lie, because he has. Yes, because it's predestined, clearly, and that means there's no point in fighting it, and somehow, that's the most comforting lie he's told himself in weeks.

"Well, make up your mind, Marsters, because waitress in three, two, and--"

"Hi, I'm August. Can I take your drinks order?" The waitress--a pretty girl in her twenties with her hair swept up in a clip at the back of her head--looks at Nick with a flicker of recognition and then back at him with just the smallest hesitation that she masks with a perfectly bland smile, and he realizes their waitress is just another actress and smiles back at her.

He nods at Nick, who says, "I think we know what we want," and James frowns and skims the menu, knowing what he'll order already--the baked chicken, a vegetable, no bread, no rice, thank you very much, and he's opening his mouth to say just that when suddenly he's saying instead, "I'll have what he's having," though he wasn't listening and isn't sure just what Nick ordered.

"Living dangerously," he says at Nick's raised eyebrow and Nick shuts his menu and hands it to the waitress.

"And to drink, sir?"

James wants something--a glass of wine, or a beer--hell, a scotch would be good--but instead says, "iced tea?"

"Water's fine for me, August," Nick says, and their waitress smiles because he's looking her in the eye as he orders and has said her name, personalizing it. Nick's flirting and it's working, but then he looks at James and winks again, and the waitress--August--leaves and they're alone. But they're not alone, since the restaurant's full and there are people all around them, reflected back in the wall of windows and the mirrors that flank the wall to their right.

James is drawn to watching Nick's hand again as Nick draws a circle around the top edge of the glass. Nick dips his fingertip in the water and draws it around the edge again, and this time, the glass sings.

"I am a man of many talents." Nick cracks a crooked smile and for just a half-second, James finds himself liking him just a little. "Now you, on the other hand... how is that rock star thing working for you?"

James hesitates before responding to that, knowing he's doing that a lot tonight, because he isn't sure if he's being mocked. Probably--yes, he is, sure he is, but hell, he's earned it, and he just got the part that Nick didn't, so it's the least he can do. "It's a living." Part of one, anyway.

"Living is good," Nick replies, and James is on the edge of saying that that's really fucking profound, wanting to mock Nick back, but actually, it is sort of profound and hell, who is he to take that away from Nick, who, last he worked with him, wasn't living very well?

The glass sings again, a note that Nick stops quickly. "So this is where you ask me about my life, but since I told you all about it on the way over here when you weren't listening--"

"I was listening."

"Uh-huh. Not gonna take it personally, but you really weren't. In fact, I'm pretty sure you were too busy regretting this little dinner invite which I could've just turned down, but I figured it might be fun to waste a little of your time instead of wasting it on my own, and--"

"So you're not seeing anyone?"

"Yeah, you really were listening, obviously, and for the second time, the answer is a big, firm, no on the seeing anyone front. So what about you--that girlfriend of yours actually exist?"

"What do you--"

"Nah, 'course she exists. What's her name again?"


"Yeah, right. Small breasts, curved hip, dark eyes, full lip, small hands, long arms, touch me, I'm gone. Back home to Germany, right? That's pretty convenient. You're like one of those war brides--like Cary Grant, but much better looking in a dress. And I'm gonna assume at least some of that is true. So which is it? I'll ignore the breasts entirely and take a guess and say you aren't really a big fan of small hands, although I suppose small might be a relative thing depending on what the hands are holding onto and how big that is. That, or maybe your memory's going. It's been a few years after all, and a man your age has to--"

James rises to his feet, bumping into the table and rattling the table settings.

"Whoa there, Jimbo. We have an audience."

And people have turned to look. Dammit.

And so he shakes his head, sits back down, and shuts his mouth and does not say what he was going to say. And just then, their server arrives to refill their waters and, about ten torturous minutes after that (with neither of them saying much of anything in the meantime) their waitress is back with their meals.

Nick's got another broad smile for August, who blushes just a little at Nick and ignores him entirely. He'd like to believe it's the stubble. He's damned near unrecognizable with it and... hell, it's that or the fucking crow's feet, so he's just going to go with the stubble. And the hair. Definitely that. Tonight is just a festival of half-truths.

Nick, meanwhile, is eating as if--well, as if the evening's going exactly the way he wanted it to go.

"This? Is pretty good. Have to remember this place. Then again, it's not like I'm down here all that often. But there's a steakhouse near my agent's place that's..."

Eating and babbling on again, pointless, empty goddamn endless talk, stuffing his face with steak and potato like he couldn't give a goddamn about his weight or his waistline, neither of which are doing him any favors in this town, and yet... James frowns, because he wants... something. He's... hungry, and he looks down at his own plate and then back up at Nick and makes the effort to cut his own steak into bite-sized pieces, ignoring the potato that's just begging to be drowned in butter the way Nick's is.... and if he kissed Nick now, his lips would be slick with butter. Full lips.


"Not hungry?" Nick asks, so James makes a point of picking up his fork and taking a bite of the steak, and oh Christ it's good. Nick laughs. "Yeah, told you so. That's orgasm quality meat you're swallowing."

Crude. But Nick's always been the very opposite of subtle, and James swallows and takes a drink of his iced tea, the glass sweating and slick against his palm, and he's sweating, too and takes the cloth napkin to wipe his face, feeling a trickle of sweat along his spine and more under his arms, though the restaurant's air conditioned and slightly too cool. He shivers and Nick just looks at him, a steady, long look from beneath long, dark lashes. And oh yes, he is well and truly fucked.

Or he will be, and that's a promise, Nick says just with a look, not babbling now and just coolly watching him. Soberly.



James sighs, because he has to ask, and it's been too long if he has to ask, but if he's wrong... of course, if he's wrong, he'll look pretty stupid asking, which is a very nice Catch-22 designed by a man he wouldn't have thought was smart enough to set him up.

"Look, man, you're flirting with me, right?"

Nick laughs, and puts his hat back on, tipping it low on his head and tapping the brim. "I might be, yes. Why? Is that a problem?"

"Let's get out of here," James says, because yes, it's a problem, but one he's resigned to accept, and dread mixed with anticipation is making him faintly nauseated. He takes another drink of his tea because his mouth is suddenly dry. Nick just nods and sets his fork down, wiping his hands on his napkin a little daintily.

James catches August's eye and a she brings them the check, and he hands over his Visa, not looking directly at her, not wanting to play the "Now you know who I am, right?" because hell, maybe she doesn't, or maybe she does and doesn't care. She knows who Nick is, though Nick's not looking at her now. He's looking at James--staring at him, his eyes dark and serious.

And Nick's pushed his chair back and his legs are stretched out under the table. His hands are folded over his stomach and he looks too confident--too sure of himself--and what the hell makes him so sure of himself?

No--he's sure of James, that's what it is.

And it's a sobering thought, and again, he really does wish he could've been impolite enough to buy himself a drink so he could have some less sobering thoughts. But he hadn't because he'd been thinking that it wouldn't be fair or right to drink in front of Nick. And he'd also been thinking about later, and whether Nick would want to taste it on him, and hell yes, he really is that easy.

He offers Nick a smile as he stands up and can feel it waver a little, so he doesn't force it. Instead, he turns and heads for the door and the street. Nick follows.

In the car, they buckle up in silence, and he almost says, "Your place or mine," but it's a Wednesday night and he remembers the nanny reminding him of that sleepover, so his place is empty, and that's good, because if this happens, it's got to be on his turf.

If... because he could just drive them to the parking lot and drop Nick off. But he's going the wrong way for that, and it's quiet in the car until Nick turns the radio on, taking it off his favorite station to some damned station playing New Wave, and it's okay except Nick's humming along and tapping on the dash, irritating as hell, and he almost misses his own turn-off.

He pulls in and turns off the car and stares out the windshield, seeing Nick peripherally. "Man, this is such a bad idea. You know that, right?"

"You may remember me as someone not exactly known for his stellar judgment," Nick answers with a shrug, and James nods and gets out of the car. That's good enough for him.

He opens the front door and Nick follows him in, and Nick's just cleared the door when James turns and pushes Nick into the wall with his right hand while shutting the door with his left. It's a tricky maneuver, but Nick goes along with it, wrapping his arm around James' waist and pulling him in close to kiss him.

It's a little awkward at first, and James takes Nick's hat off and tosses it away, and even then, he keeps bumping into Nick's glasses, so he takes them off too and folds them into his hand. He can feel the rasp of his own stubble against Nick's face--a strange feeling he doesn't much like, and so he pulls away.

"Hold that thought. I'm just gonna go shave, because I, uh--yeah. You just hang on a few minutes."

"Um... okay."

"TV's over there, games over there," he points out, though it's right there in front of the sofa.

And he ducks into the bathroom and hears the TV turn on, the flip of channels being changed and then Nick stops on ESPN, and James leans against the closed bathroom door and takes a deep breath.

And then he shaves, making quick work of it because Nick's out there waiting and damn him if he's going to let either of them change their mind. This is just necessary, and yes, it's a bit hard to shave without looking in the mirror, because god knows what expression he might see on his own face, but he's had twenty seven years of experience so it's not impossible.

He finishes and wipes the towel across his face and then takes off his jacket and shirt and shoes and socks and then unzips his jeans and takes them off, too. And finally the underwear, and he thinks of taking a shower and decides against it, because that would be stalling.

He opens the bathroom door and steps out and Nick turns around on the sofa, saying, "You're... fast" as his eyes widen, and he does a bit of a double-take, his mouth dropping open. It would be funny, but it's genuine, and sort of flattering.

James nods at him and walks over to the sofa, more comfortable with this part. Nudity is easy, and he doesn't spare much thought about what Nick thinks about his body now because people change, and Nick's not likely to cast stones in that department.

He walks around to the front of the sofa and stops to shut off the TV and then gets up on the sofa and straddles Nick's lap.

"Hey--my glasses--"


"Okay," Nick says, and he's a little breathless.

"Okay," he agrees, and Nick rests one hand on his hip and the other he wraps around James' cock, direct and confident and getting right to it, which James likes. He likes the look of concentration on Nick's face as he watches his own hand, but James wants to kiss him and tips his chin up, kissing that mouth that he likes more than he should--the mouth he's thought too much about over the years in a way that's a little embarrassing because he's really never particularly liked Nick before. Though he's starting to like him now--this new, improved, clear-eyed, confident man who jacks another man off on a first date with only a little awkwardness.

James breaks the kiss to ask, "You done any of this before?"

Nick giggles. "That obvious? Um... that would be a no, unless you mean kissing, which yeah, I've done that plenty, but this?--" Nick squeezes and James gasps because Nick's thumb brushes across the head of his dick almost as an afterthought--"This is new and yet... not so new, since I am intimately familiar with Mrs. Palmer and her five daughters."

"But men--"

"Other men, not so much, no, not that I remember, and there're definitely times I don't remember, but I don't think I have at all, really, unless you count that one time I sort of kissed you--or you sort of kissed me--and I think I kissed Seth once, but that was--"

But James kisses him again, because Nick's starting to babble and James does not want to reminisce about on-set pranks. He wants to fuck, in the here and now, so he gets a grip on the hem of Nick's shirt, but before he can do more, Nick's shoving him backward, lifting him up off his lap, and James backs off and lets Nick stand up.

And Nick inhales suddenly and then frowns and holds up a hand. "Having a belated moment of heterosexual panic here. Just..."

But Nick exhales and then inhales again and nods. "Okay. It's over. Let's do this. Really. I'm good. I'm--hang on. Lemme just--" And then Nick's pulling his shirt over his head.

James watches and when the shirt's off and Nick's looking at him again, he smiles at Nick, not forced at all this time, because he doesn't want Nick to worry about this. Nick's monologue clarified things a bit, and he gets now that what they're into is just an experiment--and James is the test subject, or maybe the laboratory, a safe space and a safe person for Nick to try this on. And somehow, knowing that, it all makes sense in a way James finds he can live with, because he's not going to tell anyone or laugh or mock, and so he is safe, relatively speaking.


"What? Oh, yeah. People say that about me all the time. That Nicky's a real colorful character. That's exactly what they say. Not sure if that's supposed to be a compliment or--"

"It is at this moment," James clarifies, needing to stop the flow of nervous patter.

Nick's holding really still, but nods as James puts the flat of his hands on Nick's shoulders--broad shoulders and nicely muscled, with well-defined lines. He lets his hands drift down and over Nick's chest--waxed, not really a surprise, though he sort of wishes he weren't, because he prefers hair.


He traces along Nick's necklace and then down over the heavy pecs, pinching and rubbing at the flat brown nipples until they come erect and Nick draws in a shaky breath. Nick's no longer thin by any means, but he's still strong; James has seen Nick lift, back in the day, and he knows he's not in Nick's league because James personally can't ever let himself put on enough weight or muscle mass to get a chest that broad or have that much power. It's a body he can't have, except in this sense he can, and it's hotter than he thought it would be to touch.

And that pretty, soft, almost feminine mouth--Clara Bow lips--entirely masculine. Entirely... promising.

Nick steps out of his shoes, kicking them aside, and James moves in to kiss him before he can start talking again.

"Bedroom," he suggests, and takes Nick's hand in his own and leads him there. At the bed, he reaches down and undoes Nick's button and zip and the jeans come off, then his boxers.

He's actually heard Nick brag about his cock, but now that he's seen it, he's duly impressed.


No talking is necessary now, though at some point, listening to Nick chatter on, he decided that he sort of enjoys it, since Nick isn't too demanding; it's nice to just be and not have to perform, and to let the words just sort of move over him like Nick's hands are now, everywhere at once, overwhelming and insistent, quantity rather than quality, because Nick really is new and nervous. His hands are sweaty and a little cold, but he more than makes up for it with his kissing, which he does well--really well. And James is glad he shaved, because he likes the way Nick's beard feels pressed against his now smooth and very sensitive skin.

"Wow--oh wow--that's--"

"Good," he agrees, and pushes Nick back until he takes the hint and gets up on the bed. He isn't sure how he wants Nick, at first, but once James climbs on the bed, Nick seems to have his own ideas about where he wants him, and James lets himself be positioned. Whatever Nick wants. This is his show.

He stretches out and lets Nick look his fill, not minding at all as Nick seems to study him, first just looking and then touching again, his touch moving from curious to confident.

"This--I am so glad I waited until..."


"Just glad I waited," Nick says. "I'm going to remember this," he adds, and James hears that as this is a one-time thing, and some part of him thinks that's a shame, really, though anything else really wouldn't work--would make things infinitely complicated personally, professionally... and hell, it's stupid to think about it even a little, because right here, right now, it's good. In the moment, man, and right now, Nick's warm and soft and eager. Tomorrow, Nick will be back to annoying as hell again, and did he really want to spend any more nights kissing Nick just to get him to shut the hell up?

It's a rhetorical question, but just then, Nick leans in and kisses him again and murmurs, "Yes," against his mouth like Nick was just inside his head, which is spooky and wrong--it's the wrong answer to a question he had no right to ask, because this definitely is a one-off, even though Nick jacks him until he's slick and then tentatively moves down his body and licks him, root to tip, inexpertly but with a growing enthusiasm. He's watching James through lowered lashes and pulls off with a wet sound to rise up and kiss him on the mouth again, so that he can taste himself.


He's trying not to be charmed by the little looks Nick keeps giving him, checking in, little apologetic smiles like he thinks there's something to apologize for. But there isn't. It's all good, even if it's strange to feel so fucking small in bed. It's strange to be manhandled, but he's missed this: callouses and the wet press of another man's erection digging into his hip, and the rough brush of another man's stubble rasping across his chest. Even the scents are so different, and that's good, that's right.

His body's pale against Nick's tan. He puts his hands on Nick's biceps, which are flexed hard and big enough that his hands don't go all the way around. And it's suddenly hard to remember why the hell he's confined himself to pretty, little, fragile girls when there's this. This is instinct--and yeah, he's trying to be considerate, but he doesn't have to, because sex with a girl is good--no mistake--but sex with another guy is rough, rutting glides against sweat-slicked skin, and a body that lines up against his own, and it's elemental, dick-level empathy and heat and this feels... fucking amazing.

Nick holds himself up above him and presses their dicks together in his big hand, his grip a little rough as he watches him for a reaction to each touch and squeeze, as he changes the rhythm of his strokes, all the while telling James in the most explicit language that'd make even George Carlin blush just what he imagines doing to him, all those words at odds with his shy glances and coy smiles. And James doesn't hear anything he'd object to, and an awful lot that he'd be willing to try if this weren't a one-off, which it is, even though man, he could get used to the sweet, rough little "ahs" Nick makes when the tumble of words stops and he's just feeling it.

James lets his hands slide down over Nick's back and onto his ass, scratching him a little with his nails and causing Nick to buck up against his hands. He wonders what it'd be like to fuck him. It's a startling thought, because he'd rather Nick do it to him. It's what he was thinking of when he sat down on Nick's lap, and now that he's thinking of it again, he's that much harder, that much more fucking desperate to get off--but he holds it back, because fucking's not on the agenda. It's not going to happen tonight--ever. It's not going to happen.

So when he comes, he comes hard and long, making it last.

Because it's just going to happen once.


He wakes up a few hours later and looks at the bedside clock. It's not that late--just past midnight--and Nick's still out, breathing deeply beside him, one hairy arm resting heavily across James' chest.

The sheets smell like come and his chest and belly itch with it.

He should wake Nick up, get him out of here--call him a cab to take him back to his car or offer him a ride there. A cab would be easier, but it'd be even easier to wait until morning, so that's what he decides to do. He tells himself he's being lazy and what's the worst that can happen if he lets Nick wake up in his bed?

But when he wakes up again, it's four thirty a.m. and the bed's empty. He gets up and finds a note on the kitchen counter that says, "Nicky's lost and found"--which makes no sense, but Nick's written his phone number under that and James scrubs at his eyes and picks the note up, putting it up on the fridge under a magnet before taking it down again. He considers putting it in his wallet instead, then changes his mind. He's not going to need it. He settles for putting it back on the counter where he found it and figures maybe he'll know what to do with it in the morning when he's had just a little more sleep. He goes back to bed, annoyed at how empty it feels all of a sudden when really, he prefers to sleep alone.


He wakes again and this time it's really morning, and he decides he needs coffee--a pot of it, at least--and gets out of bed. And as he gets up, he knocks the pillow to the floor, and there, on the bed, he sees it--a watch--one that must have been under the pillow. It's not his watch, and he stares at it a minute, trying to remember if Nick was wearing a watch last night, and he scratches at the edge of his nicotine patch and then takes it off, because he has got to take a shower and have some coffee and get a new patch.

He's coming out of the shower when something catches his eye, sitting on the top of the toilet cistern. He dries off and sees that it's a credit card. He leaves it there while he gets dressed and then comes back into the bathroom and picks it up and puts it on the kitchen counter alongside the watch. It makes a small pile on top of the beaded necklace, which he found sitting next to his comb on his dresser, and the man's silver ring that was in the medicine cabinet, sitting on top of his box of nicotine patches. He knew looking at it that it wasn't his, but he tried it on anyway and wasn't surprised to find it didn't fit any of his fingers.

As the coffee brews, he wanders around the living room and finds a pen he doesn't recognize and, when he opens the refrigerator, he sees Nick's hat sitting on the top shelf next to a carton of milk. He stares at it a minute before taking the milk out and then shuts the refrigerator door, leaving the hat inside. He's just not ready to face the hat yet.

The coffee's done and he pours a cup of it and puts enough milk in to cool it a little and then drinks half of it down.

It takes Nick six rings to pick up the phone--and while he waits, James decides that he's just lucky Nick didn't leave that as well.

"Monsieur Brendon speaking. And how can I help you on this fine morning?"

"Nicky, there's a hat in my refrigerator."

Nick's silent on the other end and then, "So this is where I say... huh. Y'know, I'm not sure I know that one. Have you heard the one about the elephant and the pajamas? See, there's this guy on safari and he says--"

"Nick, it's your hat, man. The one you were wearing yesterday."

"Huh. Now that is strange. Some might even go so far as to say it's absurd. It is a cool hat, though. Hey--that's it! It's a cool hat. Not the best punchline ever. Wait--we've got to start this one over. First, you tell me there's a hat in your fridge and ask me if it's mine, and then I say, 'I don't know. Is it a cool hat?' Badum-bum. Okay, maybe it still needs some spit and polish, but work with me here. James?"

And James is trying desperately hard not to laugh, because this sort of thing shouldn't be rewarded. It really shouldn't.

"James? You still there? Hey--James?"

James nods and takes a breath and picks the phone back up again. "You fuck--" and he's laughing too hard to talk and he can hear Nick start to laugh, too.

And Nick's giggling gets under control, finally, because he says, "I could come over and get my hat. Or you could come to my place. Either way."

"So this is all a setup to get me to call you again?"

"Uh... yeah? Why, were you planning on calling me?"

James almost says yes, of course, but that's a lie. He was absolutely not planning on calling Nick. "No."

"Oh, well, then I guess my evil plan is working. 'cause now we're over the whole awkward morning after gay sex thing, right?"

"Yeah. I suppose we are," he agrees. "But wait--why did you leave the pen and the, uh, credit card, watch, ring, and necklace."

"Well, I figured you might not notice the hat."

"I might not-- I might not notice the hat in my refrigerator?"

And that's it. He's lost it again. His side hurts from laughing so hard, and it's not even nine o'clock in the morning.

Nick's chuckling on the line and James finally gets it under control and says, "You win. Come over and collect your shit."

"Right now?"

"Now? I--Look, why don't you--hang on. Your key's sorta--"

Someone's at the door, and James takes the cellphone to the door and opens it. "Nicky?"


Nicky's hatless and still wearing yesterday's clothing and standing there with his phone up to his ear. He lowers it and slides it into his pocket, and James has a sudden premonition that when he sends Nick on his way, the phone will be somewhere under James' couch cushions.

"You never left?"

"I--I sure I left. I, uh, here--" Nick fiddles with the doorknob and then takes James' hand and tips it palm up and puts something in it. "Keys. To your car. Which I borrowed so I could pick us up some breakfast." Nick holds up a plastic bag. "Might be a little lukewarm, but I figured we could nuke it. I thought about donuts, but I figured you'd say no, or yes and then get neurotic about it, so I brought an egg-white omelet, for you, and something a little more like food for me. Uh... you are going to ask me in, right?"

"I--Nicky, this is--"

"Sort of early to be calling it a second date, I know, but--Also, the little ding on the driver's side door? I had nothing to do with that. There was this thing--one of those big blue things you stick the mail in?--got to watch out for those; they're fierce--and when I pulled up to the curb and opened the door--"

Nick pauses to take a breath and James seizes the opening and grabs hold of Nick's t-shirt and pulls him in close, kissing him before Nick can get too far into his apparently epic story of man versus mailbox. James has heard more than enough and figures he can already see how this is all going to end.