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You Don't Own the Situation, Honey

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'I would like to point out that the majority of sex scandals do in fact happen to people who have partners, and having a girlfriend wouldn't exempt me from having sex with someone else.' David Cameron, twenty-five, fresh-faced, employee of Lawton Media, and regrettably single (according to his boss), ran a hand through his hair. 'And usually lobbyists don't have to worry about them.'

'It's not about sex scandals, Cameron,' Elizabeth Windsor, the aforementioned boss, said. 'Though if you have one, so help me, you will not only be fired, but I will make sure no lobbying firm, even the American ones, will hire you. You have potential, but right now you're also a wild-card. If you can prove that you're settled enough, you're in line for a promotion. Do you really want to squander that?'

'I thought Gordon Brown was next in line?'

'There have been concerns raised about Brown's suitability for the position. You have a definite chance, but you can help it by proving that you're a little more settled than people think you are with a long term relationship,' Elizabeth said.

'Long term?' David asked.

'At minimum a year.'

'You expect me to not only find a respectable partner, but convince her not to break up with me for a period of a year.' David frowned.

'Or him. If you're remotely inclined that way, it could be a very good move. And as for respectable...just make sure they don't embarrass you at formal dinners.'

'You're insane,' David said.

'Yes,' Elizabeth replied. 'But on the other hand, I do do PR for a living, and have for the past thirty years. I know what I'm talking about. Now, you've been invited to a formal dinner for a week from Thursday. Are you RSVPing just for yourself, or do you wish to bring a guest?'

David sighed and muttered, 'I'll bring a guest.' He had no idea how he would go about doing so, but it was clear he didn't really have a choice.

'Why not bring Maggie?' William asked.

'Too many reasons to even list,' David said. 'Let's just say it's an awful awful idea and leave it at that.'

'Okay, fair enough,' William said. 'None of your uni friends will do it? Or an ex?'

'You're my best bet,' David replied.

William started to laugh, then stopped. 'You're serious? Bloody hell. No.'

'I thought you'd say that.' David frowned. 'Back to plan A then, let her give the promotion to Gordon.'

'No,' William said. 'Absolutely not. Gordon's not suited to the job, you know that as well as I do. Clearly we're just going to have to find someone for you.'

'I don't think this is a good idea,' David said. 'It's morally shady, it could backfire in a major way, and I'm not sure it's worth it.'

'It's not a matter of you vs. Gordon personality wise, it's about who could do the better job. Just imagine how much he'll mess things up,' William replied. 'You're doing this not for yourself, but for the good of the company as a whole. So clearly the answer is simply to hire an escort. Male or female?'

'Male,' David said.

William raised an eyebrow at him.

'I'm not going to sleep with him,' David said.

William made a sceptical noise.

'If I was gay you would know before I did,' David muttered.

'Exactly,' William said.

David punched William's arm. 'You have any idea of how to go about finding a male escort?' he asked with a smirk.

'Actually, yes,' William replied. 'I'll talk with one of my friends and see if I he can put us in touch with someone.'

'Get in the car,' William announced suddenly, grinning over the text he was in the middle of sending.

David set down the drink, his first, and frowned. 'We only just got here,' he said. 'I haven't even begun to drown my sorrows yet.'

'And a good thing that is,' William said. 'Because no drowning is necessary. We, my friend, are going to meet your potential escort.' He clapped David on the back. 'Unless you've decided promotions are lame and you're just going to roll over and let Gordon have this one without opposition.'

David groaned. 'I'm going.' He looked sadly at his beer as William dragged him out of the pub.

'Where are we going precisely?' he asked, when they were both seated in the car and William was driving down an only vaguely familiar road.

'You're going to meet him for a coffee,' William said.

'Neutral location, and it should be practically deserted at this time in the evening, but still open. Works for me.'

'I can't believe you're actually doing this,' William said.

'Sometime life gives us no good options,' David replied. 'And yet we cope.'

William's mobile buzzed and he fumbled it out of his pocket. He tossed the mobile at David. 'It's probably about your Nick,' he said.

David frowned. 'Is that supposed to be a euphemism?'

'No, it's his name.'

David scanned the text message. 'It says "Assuming you meant legal age-wise, yes. I'm 25." Same age as me. He also uses proper punctuation in text messages. I'm sure we'll get along smashingly.'

William snorted.

William's mobile vibrated again as William did what could be called parking the car if David were feeling particularly generous. 'He says, "I'm wearing yellow". Who even wears yellow?'

'Someone who wants to be recognised,' William said, turning off the car and removing the keys. He held his hand out to take his phone back. 'Or someone without much choice of clothing. Either way, all further sexting will have to take place on your own phone,' he said.

'Ha bloody ha,' David replied, sending a reply before handing the phone back.

William looked at his phone. 'You said "Blue"? That's it?'

David shrugged. 'It's true.'

It was immediately obvious which of the three people in the room was Nick. One of them was David, who had just entered, one was the Starbucks employee, and one was dressed in a yellow shirt that defied reason. David flashed him a smile and joined his table. William had agreed to wait in the car, but David knew perfectly well that his friend would be watching him through the window.

'David Cameron,' he said, holding out his hand.

'Nick Clegg,' Nick said. 'Pleased to meet you.'

David gave a nervous laugh. 'I have no idea what's been explained to you,' he admitted.

Nick smiled, and David was more than a little surprised by how innocent he looked. 'You're looking to fake a long-term, up to two year, relationship to gain a promotion. You want it to be a man so you look progressive. And because you're afraid of taking advantage of someone. If you agree that you like me I'll accompany you to a variety of dinners and semi-formal events. In exchange I'll be given some kind of monthly amount and be expected not to contract to anyone else or talk about the actual nature of our relationship. I'm sure there are more details, but before we discuss them I rather suspect you want to offer me a coffee.'

David blinked at Nick a couple of seconds. 'Would you like coffee?' he asked.

'Tea would be lovely,' Nick said, with another beautific smile.

David muttered something about it being not worth the money, to which Nick responded with a tighter smile. 'I rather think you can afford it,' Nick said.

'Cream or sugar?' David asked, deciding that he thought he could work with this man, and therefore it didn't make sense to alienate him.

'Milk, please.'

David set the tea in front of Nick and sipped at his own coffee.

'Did I have it about right?' Nick asked.

'You did,' David said.

'And I think you're a practical man, which means that you think it could work or you wouldn't still be here,' Nick continued.

'Right,' David said. 'Money wise, it would be £2000 per month.'

Nick ignored him. 'That being said, I'll give you my conditions. Condition the first,' Nick said.

'But I'm hiring you,' David said. 'Why are there conditions?'

'Because I refuse to work without them,' Nick snapped back. 'Condition the first. You don't get to hit me. No physical violence.'

'Oh,' David said, and he had the feeling that his voice was half what he'd wanted it to be.

'Second condition.'

Nick paused, forcing David to nod his assent to him continuing.

'If I want to leave - and I can tell you I don't foresee having any difficulties with fulfilling the terms of our arrangement, but I don't like to be trapped anywhere - then you have to let me.'

David considered it. Clearly Nick had started with his first condition not just because it was important to him - though it was - but because he knew it would put David off guard and more likely to agree to other conditions. 'In the event of that happening you'll have to tell me why,' he said.

'Fine. Third condition. I live with you.'

David raised an eyebrow. 'You don't literally live on the streets now, do you?'

'No, but where I do live isn't appropriate for someone you'd look to connect yourself to. Plus, you gave the impression you wanted this to look serious. If I move in with you it makes Us look serious.'

'Surprisingly logical,' David said. 'I agree.'

'The fourth condition,' Nick said, 'Is about sex.'

David held up his hands quickly, in an attempt to placate. 'Don't worry about it.'

Nick shook his head. 'I think you're misunderstanding me. It's not really fair to either of us to expect celibacy for the next two years. I, for one, happen to quite enjoy sex.'

'I'm not queer,' David said.

Nick smiled, and David suddenly felt the other man's foot brush against his upper leg under the table. 'You are,' Nick said, confident.

David backed his chair up with a rapid glance out the window at where he knew William was.

'I see,' Nick said. 'I guess we can table that discussion point, then.' He smiled like he'd thought he'd won, and David just hoped that Nick had a couple more points to raise before David would have to stand up and walk out of the Starbucks. 'Fifth point. What it it you do, exactly?'

'I'm a lobbyist,' David replied.

'You a good one?' Nick asked.

David sputtered. 'Yes.'

Nick smiled. 'Good. If you get the promotion, and only if you get the promotion, I want you to lobby for reform to the laws governing sex workers.'

David watched Nick's face, trying to figure out how serious he was about this and considering it.

'I understand that some of these conditions probably mean it's practical to pay me less,' Nick offered.

David shrugged. 'I'll pay you the amount I said I would.' It really wasn't an issue.

'Does that mean we have a deal?' Nick asked, a little of his calm demeanour deserting him.

'It does.'

Nick looked instantly calm and in control again. 'Am I going home with you now?" he asked. "Or would you prefer to pick me up tomorrow?'

'Now?' David asked.

'I don't have an automobile,' Nick said. 'I also don't have any material possessions worth relocating. And the mobile is borrowed, so I'm not necessarily that easy to get in contact with. Really though, it's entirely up to you.'

'No, now is good,' David said. He'd get teased by William for it, but he thought they had found a workable arrangement. Besides, if he didn't let Nick out of his sight then Nick couldn't tell anyone he shouldn't about what David had agreed to.

'Excellent,' Nick said.

They both finished off their beverages and stood. Nick took off for the door and David took care of the trash before following.

In the entryway of the Starbucks Nick stopped suddenly, forcing David to do so as well. 'Your friend can't see here because of the angle,' Nick whispered, before leaning in and pressing his lips to David's.

David made a startled noise and the next thing he knew Nick's hand was sliding behind his neck and Nick's tongue was in his mouth. David knew that he should pull back, and that he shouldn't be conflicted about pulling back, but he couldn't, and he was. After far too little time had passed Nick pulled back, well and truly grinning now.

'My fourth condition?' Nick asked, and David didn't consider it very fair that Nick could even think right now.

'Yes,' David said, swallowing the instinctual whatever you want. 'We'll talk about it.'

'Productive meeting?' William asked when David slipped into the seat in the back, next to Nick.

'This your pimp?' Nick asked.

David choked on his response.

'You sure he won't embarrass you at dinners?' William asked.

'No,' David said. 'I'm not.'

Nick made a slight sound of protest and put his head on David's shoulder.

William raised an eyebrow at David, who would have shrugged if it wouldn't have disturbed Nick.

'Where are we dropping him off?' William asked.

'We're not,' David replied, deciding that he wanted to shrug Nick off his shoulder after all.

'Treat us like we've been dating for five months already,' Nick said, a little bit of a non-sequitur, but David understood why.

'Three,' David quickly corrected. 'And we've just decided to move in together.'

'So is this why you broke up with Maggie?' William asked.

David groaned. 'Why does everything have to be about Maggie, even in the imaginary background I'm concocting right now?'

'Because your life was about her for the better part of a year, maybe?' William said. 'You can't actually write an ex out of existence just because you don't know now why you were together in the first place.'

'That's no reason not to try,' David replied.

'This is home,' David said as William steered the car up the rather long driveway, past the neatly trimmed hedges.

'Yeah,' Nick said, 'I've definitely never lived in anything a quarter as nice as this.'

'And you haven't even seen the house yet,' William remarked dryly.

'Right,' David said, not quite sure why he was being made to feel embarrassed for being wealthy. It wasn't precisely something to be ashamed of. 'One thing is that it's certainly quite large enough for you to have your own room.' He cast a firm look at Nick, whom David suspected of thinking something he shouldn't be.

'Sure thing,' Nick said, winking.

David shook his head and wondered why he wasn't happier that Nick was obviously very comfortable with the idea of pretending to be his boyfriend. Maybe because it was putting a strain on him that he hadn't expected it would. David didn't much like it when his assumptions of what the right thing to do were challenged.

William pulled up in front of the house. 'See you tomorrow evening at the pub?' he asked.

'You will,' David said. 'Both of us. And William? I don't think it has to be said, but, don't let anyone else, none of our friends, know of the precise nature of this arrangement. You can tell them that I'm bringing a friend if you insist, but let me decide how much of everything else I'm sharing.'

'You're right,' William said, 'It didn't have to be said.'

'You ashamed of me?' Nick asked as they exited the car. David's heart stopped beating for a terrible second before Nick grinned. David was again taken by surprise by just how genuine Nick's expressions looked. 'Joking,' he said. 'I think I already know the answer to that question.'

David was seized by the urge to reassure Nick of...something, but he had no idea what he would say.

'Shall we see about my bedroom?' Nick asked.

'You don't have any clothes,' David said suddenly, unlocking his front door.

'That doesn't necessarily have to be a problem,' Nick said.

'I'll see if I'll have time to go shopping with you tomorrow,' David said.

Nick raised an eyebrow. 'It is the weekend, how much do you have going on?'

David suppressed his first instinct, to say quite a lot, because it wasn't actually true. 'Fine,' he said. 'But payment for things like this come out of your pay-check.'

'Not that I have a problem with that,' Nick said, 'But if that's the case then we're going to have to go somewhere with what I would consider reasonable prices.'

David grumbled. 'We'll talk about it tomorrow,' he said, ushering Nick into the main hall.

'More pressing manners right now?' Nick purred, as David clicked the lock on the front door and turned to face him.

'That is,' David started, trailing off when he found that he was backed up against his own front door.

'Here's the thing,' Nick said, punctuating each word with a rapid kiss that left David leaning forward every time he pulled back a little, 'I would quite like to have sex with you. Now, will you let me?'

David tried to muster his objections but couldn't. 'Upstairs,' he said instead.

Nick leaned it for another kiss before heading for the staircase.

David followed, resolutely resisting the urge to rid Nick of his yellow shirt and dump it on the floor here and now. That could be taken care of just as well in his bedroom, he was sure.

David caught himself and stopped outside his bedroom, the roaring of his conscience making itself heard, and possibly a hint of desperation as well. This isn't me, he wanted to yell, loudly enough that Nick couldn't ignore his objections any longer, except he couldn't lie.

'Please tell me you weren't leading me on,' Nick yelled from inside the bedroom and David took a breath as he realised he couldn't really do anything but what he was doing and hope it turned out for the best.

'You can have your sexual identity crisis later,' Nick said, purring again, when David did enter the room, and David cursed him again even as his dick responded. Nick rifled in David's bedside drawer until he found a condom, which he removed with rather more triumph than David thought it deserved.

David, meanwhile, had given up on most of his verbal responses in favour of removing his belt. He spared half a thought for removing Nick's but Nick's murmured 'You're not ready for that yet' had him reaching for Nick's shirt instead.

'Yellow is an awful colour on you,' David managed, not quite sure why it was important he say that.

'It's the only colour I'm comfortable in,' Nick replied, gracefully sinking to his knees.

'What kind of gay man are you?' David asked, in what he was sure were going to be his last coherent words for a while.

'A very good one,' Nick whispered, 'Let me prove it.'

David woke up, with surprise, to Nick's arm thrown over him. On the one hand, David was feeling a little bit less like panicking with it there, but on the other he'd been sure Nick would be the one to draw all the boundaries. Maybe he just hadn't been able to find another bedroom? Who was David trying to kid, there was a guest room next door, and it was even set up. Nick had stayed because, for whatever reason, he wanted to.

That being settled, David began to panic. Sure, he might be able to pass it off as the fact that kisses were kisses and a blow job was a blow job, but David knew that it was Nick, not a mental image of a woman, that made him get off.

He was attempting to wriggle out from under Nick's arm when Nick woke. 'Mmm?' Nick hummed.

David thought suddenly that he should take advantage of Nick being less than coherent to set down boundaries and make it clear this wasn't going to happen again, and that he was sorry. 'I'm going to go take a shower,' was what he said instead.

Nick rolled away, gaining his wits back by the second. 'I forgot to ask last night,' he said. 'Do you have staff?'

'Staff?' David asked.

'Like people who clean your house for you?' Nick replied.

'Oh,' David said. 'No, I don't.'

'Ah,' Nick said.

There was another significant pause, so David left the bed and headed for the shower.

'What should I wear?' Nick asked, when David had almost left.

'Anything from my closet is fine,' David tossed back.

Nick snickered at that, but if he had a verbal reply David didn't hear it.

David returned to his room, a towel wrapped around his waist, to find that Nick had cleared out. David pondered his wardrobe as he dried his hair, finally deciding on an outfit he thought he wouldn't be ashamed to walk into some of the posher shops in, but wouldn't make him look too formal.

He had just started preparing breakfast when Nick made his appearance. The suit he'd chosen kind of fit him, but David hadn't thought he owned a yellow tie so he was more than a little confused about its appearance around Nick's neck. The precision with which it was tied did prove something though, David thought. Even if it was unnecessary. 'You do eat meat?' David asked as he moved breakfast off the burner and walked to where Nick stood to remove his tie and set in on the chair.

'I do,' Nick replied, looking a little lost at the tie.

'Good,' David said. 'We're going shopping,' he then explained. 'It's not something you need to dress up that much for.'

'Right,' Nick said. On impulse David leaned forward to drop a kiss on his cheek, then removed himself hurriedly. He had no idea why he'd just done that.

'Breakfast?' David offered again.

'Sure,' Nick said.

'If you're really going to insist on working yellow into every possible outfit, I can still cancel our agreement,' David said, and he'd meant it as a joke, but Nick's face goes suddenly stony.

'I'll tell the papers or your boss or something,' Nick said, but for the life of him David couldn't read Nick's tone.

David wanted to ask why it mattered, why this was so important to Nick, but it would probably turn out to be because of money or something mundane like that, and David would just be disappointed. 'Know this,' David growled, 'You can't actually ruin me.'

Nick just shrugged, but he wasn't meeting David's eyes anymore.

'I think in this case the yellow works, though,' David commented brightly.

Nick was blinking at the cashier as David produced his credit card. 'You expected me to be able to pay for this?' he whispered into David's ear. 'You'd have to be paying me a good deal more.'

David shrugged. 'Forgot how fast these things add up,' he said.

Nick looked like he badly wanted to say something, but David had no idea what, since Nick had apparently decided not to actually say it.

'Where to now?' Nick asked instead, when David had finished making arrangements to pick up the clothes when they were finished.

'Now you need something you can wear to the pub this evening,' David replied. 'This is the fun bit.'

'Is it?' Nick asked, and David nodded enthusiastically.

'Maybe if it doesn't take too long I'll buy you a gold watch or something and then you'll be covered,' David offered and was rewarded by that look from Nick that meant he couldn't tell if David was serious or not. Not that David could think of a reason he would want to lie about that.

'I can't let you buy this for me,' Nick said, looking at the watch on his wrist with what David thought was supposed to be a degree of distaste but came off more like longing.

'Don't be silly,' David said. 'Why not?'

'It's not necessary and I have no idea what I'll do with it,' Nick replied.

'Wear it?' David suggested, frankly finding Nick's whole response a little preposterous.

Nick unfastened it from his wrist and handed it back to the shop employee.

'Frankly, I'd rather look at you wearing that than another preposterous "colour of sunshine" tie," David said.

'If you want, get both our names engraved on it and give it to me as a six month anniversary present, or something,' Nick said. 'But understand that you're doing it because you want to, rather than because I asked.'

'Okay,' David said, taking in with interest the way Nick's eyes widened. 'Fine with me.'

'You ready for this?' David asked, forcing Nick to pause outside the pub.

'Sure,' Nick said. 'I just have to pretend to be your adoring boyfriend.' He shot David a look that had David swallowing hard and forcing himself to look away and remind himself that it wasn't real. 'I think I can manage,' Nick continued, clearly oblivious.

'I apologise, in advance, for them,' David said, and cursed the fact that Nick was still so damn difficult to read most of the time. 'Right, shall we go in now then?'

David held the pub door open for Nick. 'Just stay by my side and you'll be fine,' he said.

'Certainly not bored,' Nick suggested.

David added his laugh to the noise of the pub as they fully entered and walked towards his friends. 'Never bored,' he promised.

'William said you were bringing a friend,' Liam said.

'Who's this, then?' Theresa asked, and David suppressed the urge to put his body between her and Nick.

'Nick, this is Theresa,' he said, allowing himself to wrap a protective arm around Nick and telling himself it was merely for appearances. 'Theresa, this is my boyfriend.' David really wished he'd had a chance to getting around to warning Nick about Theresa.

'How charming,' she drawled.

'So we finally get to meet him,' William said, cutting across the tension as if he hadn't even noticed it. 'I hope you live up to your reputation,' William added to Nick.

'This isn't new?' George asked.

'You didn't tell them?' Nick asked, raising an eyebrow at David. David could kiss him, but he actually has to focus on the conversation, which is going remarkably well.

'Right,' he said. 'Nick and I have been dating since a couple of weeks after I broke up with Maggie, so a little over three months now.'

'I thought Margaret broke up with you,' Theresa said.

Distraction achieved, David thought. 'It was a little bit mutual,' he said.

'She obviously wasn't doing much for you,' Nick added. 'Now, I'm tired of standing and I think someone promised me a beer?'

'Of course,' David said, reassessing his initial idea that Nick would need to stay at his side at all times to be comfortable or not mess up. 'Something dark?' he asked, hoping Nick wouldn't feel pressured into drinking something he didn't want.

If Nick did, David couldn't tell. 'Of course,' he replied, dropping into a seat next to George.

The bartender had taken forever to hand him the drinks, and David was starting to fell a little anxious by the time he made it back to the table.

'What happened to my seat?' he asked, careful not to let that anxiety show.

'You don't want to sit on my lap, dear?' Nick asked, all careful bemusement.

'As if David's anything but the top,' Theresa muttered, more vitriol in her voice than David ever would have expected.

'I'll thank you not to speculate on my sex life, thank you very much,' David snapped back.

'Too many "thank you"s in one sentence,' Nick murmured into David's ear, and David found himself obscurely relieved that Nick was standing next to him.

Theresa rolled her eyes. 'I didn't bring it up,' she said.

'You did, actually,' William said. David wasn't surprised that William was supporting him but it was still a relief to hear.

'I'm perfectly willing to call it a night and go home now,' David offered, to push those who hadn't said anything yet.

'Don't be ridiculous, David,' George replied.

'I'm sure Theresa didn't mean harm,' Liam said.

David raised an eyebrow at her. 'That true?' he asked.

'Oh for God's sake,' Theresa said. 'I'm sorry David, and I'm sorry Nick. Better?'

'Much,' David said. Nick was still standing behind him, and David decided that the situation had been delicate enough that he was entitled to a kiss now that it was mostly resolved.

He pulled back away from Nick, a little more flushed than he had been a moment earlier, to meet William's incredibly amused raised eyebrow.

'So, chairs for both of us?' David asked with a grin.

'You're brilliant,' David declared loudly, many hours and drinks later, as they left the pub.

'And you're drunk,' Nick replied, apparently not bothered by it. Not that David was necessarily aware enough to tell if Nick was bothered by something or not. A slight part of David tried to make note of the fact that Nick wasn't drunk, but the realisation was quickly lost.

'It's like,' David said, trying to articulate it, as Nick led him somewhere. David hoped they were going in the direction of his car, though he'd apparently lost his keys. Oh, there they were, in the hand of Nick that David hadn't claimed to keep himself upright. 'It's like you're actually really well suited to me. Like, we could totally be together, if it weren't that I'm gay. Not gay. Right, that.'

Nick snorted. 'You're definitely gay,' he said.

'I'm not,' David said. 'I am?'



'Here's the car,' Nick said, like he couldn't keep a grin out of his voice, though David couldn't think of what was so funny.

'You're driving?' David asked.

'I do know how," Nick said, and maybe what David had thought must be amusement was just Nick's normal tone of voice, because it seemed to still be there.

'What, what else do you know?' David asked.

'You'll probably find out,' Nick replied, and now, now he definitely sounded amused.

David lurched into the unfortunate state of awareness with a headache but, fortunately, lack of desire to vomit.

'You're such a hilarious drunk,' Nick said.

David cracked an eye open to find that there actually wasn't much light and that he'd somhow gotten to his bedroom. He forced himself into a sitting position.

'Here,' Nick said, pressing a glass of water and a pill into David's hands.

David obediently took the pill. 'I'm fine, you know,' he said once he had finished the water and handed the glass back to Nick.

'You were pretty out of it last night,' Nick said.

'I'm sorry,' David said.

Nick shrugged. 'Like I said, you're a hilarious drunk.'

'Whatever I said, I'm sure I meant it,' David said, because being drunk lowered his inhibitions, it didn't make him a liar, and he'd had more problems with people thinking he didn't really care than with thinking that he cared too much.

'Even when you claimed you weren't gay?' Nick asked.

'That might have just been me trying to work through my personal issues,' David admitted.

Nick rewarded the confession with a smile. 'I'm very glad to hear that,' he said. 'Now up and at 'em. You've a day to start.'

'It's Sunday,' David said with a frown. 'There's not even anything I have to do.'

'We're not going to church?' Nick asked.

'No, we're not going to-Oh! You can stop teasing me now.'

'You're right,' Nick said. 'You are fine.'

'So what am I supposed to do while you're at work all day?' Nick asked over lunch.

'What did you do before?' David asked.

'Tried to solicit people,' Nick said, and David thought there was a false casualness in his tone, but he didn't know what that meant. 'Mostly unsuccessfully.'

'Shit,' David muttered. 'You need to get an STI test, don't you?'

'Probably wouldn't hurt,' Nick said, still far too casual, David thought.

'You can drive, right?' David asked. He thought he remembered that from last night, but he wasn't sure. He certainly hoped he hadn't driven home last night, though.

'Yes,' Nick said, 'I can.'

'Great,' David said. 'I'll leave you a car and set up an appointment for sometime this week.'

'And the rest of the time, I'm to?' Nick asked.

David shrugged. 'Stay out of trouble. Maybe join me for lunch at a nice restaurant once or twice. Read books. Surf the internet. Talk to friends.' Nick frowned at that suggestion. 'Bake elaborate four course meals,' David continued. 'Do the laundry. I don't know. I don't care.'

'Right,' Nick said, looking resolute, though David didn't think he'd given him a very difficult task. 'And I meant to ask, do you want me in your bed at night? We're still having sex,' and this time David was relieved rather than nervous at the assertion, 'But the question is whether or not I should be there in the morning.'

'It's up to me?' David asked.

Nick nodded.

'Sure,' David said, as lightly as he could, though he couldn't help feeling that this was big. 'Yes, I'd like you still in my bed in the morning.'

Nick didn't give any indication of how he felt about that.

'Which tie?' David asked, holding up two of them for Nick, who was perched on the bed in slacks and a shirt, watching David with amusement.

'The one with the most yellow in it,' Nick said. 'What did you expect I'd say?'

'Very funny,' David muttered, choosing one on his own and moving in front of the mirror to tie it.

'You have a library in this mansion?' Nick asked.

'Of course,' David replied. 'Ground floor.'

'It a good library?'

David finished with the tie and picked up his jacket. 'I suspect you'll make your own judgement on that,' he said, leaning over and leaving a kiss on Nick's forehead. 'You can tell me about it at dinner.'

David walked downstairs to gather the rest of his belongings, trying not to think about how rapidly domestic he'd become, or how much he was looking forward to hearing Nick gush about the library, as David was sure he would.

'Cameron,' Elizabeth said when he walked into work. 'In my office?'

He nodded, first stopping by his own deck to check incoming papers and looking up his e-mail on his blackberry as he walked to hers.

'I want you to go over the projections with Gordon of the council elections,' she said. 'And, of course, finish up the summary report on the lobbying we did for Trident by Wednesday.

David nodded. He wasn't happy about the first, but it was only natural. As the two most junior members of Lawton Media - excluding the interns, of course - he was expected to work with Gordon a fair amount.

She smiled at him. 'Get to it, then,' she said.

David didn't know why he'd expected her to say something about his date for Friday, but he had. In her mind, though, it had probably been sorted ever since he had said yes, he would be bringing someone.

David shrugged and began his work for the day.

Lunch break brought a text message from William that took David a couple moments to decipher. 'u need 2 update yr facebook 2 say u r in relationshp. n has no fb, i take it? :/'

David frowned and pointedly replied with full periods and capitalisation and everything that made messages actually readable. 'Good idea, if I understand it correctly. I'll do it this evening.'

William's response was swift, and entirely predictable. 'wt, no fb at work? v. lame, cam. and this is wk-related.'

David read the message and snorted, opting to finish his sandwich, rather than get into this particular argument again.

William had pointed out, rightly, that if David suddenly started keeping Nick at his side constantly it would undermine any explanation he would have for why he'd kept the relationship private, or something approximating hidden for three months. So when work was done, work which David had managed to do without once punching Gordon in his face, the smug bastard, David headed home.

He highly doubted Nick had taken him up on the three course meal suggestion, so he stopped at a store to pick up some pre-cooked chicken that could go with rice and help him have dinner ready in half an hour.

David was rewarded by having his presence at the front door go completely unnoticed. With a grin he left the groceries in the kitchen and headed in the direction of the library to find Nick.

He didn't know what kind of books he expected Nick to have picked out, but they certainly weren't the ones piled on the main table. David walked fully into the library to see Nick in the most comfortable armchair in the house, a quarter of a way through some book David only owned because a friend of his had recommended it and it was modern and hip.

'You actually like that drivel?' David asked.

Nick looked momentarily offended, then shrugged. 'It passes the time,' he said.

David wanted to take back what he'd said, or take back whatever had made Nick quell the sudden flash of intelligence he'd shown, but he didn't know how. 'I just. Dinner will be ready in half an hour,' he said.

'Oh,' Nick said, back to sounding bored. 'Was I supposed to do that?'

'No, of course not,' David replied. 'Enjoy the book.'

He withdrew, not quite sure why he felt so awkward in his own house, talking to his own hired boyfriend.

'You have e-mail you want to check or anything?' David asked after dinner, when he was sitting in an armchair in the living room, Nick on the couch across from him.

'No thank you,' Nick replied.

David frowned as he clicked the wrong tab on Facebook first. He didn't use it very often, better things to do, but William had a point. 'You want me to set you up an e-mail account?'

'No,' Nick said, turning another page. 'Unless you think I should have one.'

In which case it was very clear he would only use the e-mail to communicate with David. 'Probably not a bad idea,' David said. 'E-mail is probably the best way to contact me when I'm at work.'

'Okay,' Nick said.

David had finally found the correct Facebook page to enter his relationship status. 'How do you spell your last name?' he asked.

'Two g's,' Nick said. 'C-L-E-G-G.'

'Right,' David said. He finished that and, on second thought, changed his 'interested in' from 'women' to 'men', then closed out the tab. He then attempted to google Nick, without much success. While it wasn't a common name, it wasn't precisely an uncommon one either. If it was Nick's real last name.

'You want the laptop for anything?' David offered.

'No thanks,' Nick said, so David finished putting it to sleep just as the phone rang.

'Right on time,' he muttered, opening the phone and heading for someplace more private. 'Hello mum,' David said. 'No, I don't hold what you said about Maggie against you, that's not why I didn't tell you. It just seemed that if I didn't tell anyone then I didn't have to deal with it yet.'

'Right. Of course.'

'Love you too.'

'That's in no way even a possibility. No, but. Fine. If I plan on marrying him I will of course tell you first.'

'See you for dinner for Clare's birthday? Yes, I know that's a whole month and a half away, but I'm really busy with work right now.'

'You want me to? Fine then, I'll bring Nick.'

'Right, love.'

David re-entered the room, a little bit disappointed to not even see the slightest hint of curiosity on Nick's face.

'Where did you even find him?' He sent the text to William before sticking his phone back in his pocket. David knew he wouldn't get an immediate response, if he got a response at all. That wasn't how William worked.

'This is your big dinner, right?' Nick asked, somehow dressed and ready while David was decidedly not. Maybe the fact that David had decided for Nick exactly what he would be wearing made it easier for him.

'It's the first of many big dinners,' David scolded, frowning at his ties.

Nick nodded. 'So this is where I earn my pay-check. The one on the left looks good,' he suggested.

David considered it, feeling quite a bit better now that he could see how calm Nick was. He picked the tie off the rack and held it against his shirt. Definitely not the one on the left. He started to put it back, but a glance at Nick later decided to wear it. If Nick wasn't so good at never letting it show when things did matter David would suspect him of wearing his heart on his sleeve. As it was, it just made David confused.

He was rewarded with a smile, a nod and Nick leaning over to straighten the tie, though David was sure it had been fine.

'Have you eaten at catered dinners before?' David asked, trying to make it sound like the right answer was yes without Nick picking that up.

Nick didn't disappoint. 'I have,' he said, casually, almost like he didn't realise that the answer for most people would be 'No'. At least, David thought it would be. He frowned, pondering the problem.

'So it's mostly a business dinner?' Nick asked, interrupting David's thoughts.

'It's exclusively a business dinner,' David said. 'With numerous people from my agency and a number of people representing potential clients. So I'm friends with some of the people there, but I'll be pretending to be friends with many more of them.'

Nick nodded. 'You ready?' he asked.

'Yes,' David replied, 'But it's a little early for us to leave yet. I'm trying to think if there's anything else I should make sure I cover.'

'Your boss will be there.'

'Oh, yes,' David said. 'Elizabeth. She's one of the people who will be at the dinner that I genuinely like, so if possible I'm hoping for seating near her. She will, however, be looking for some sign that we've not been dating for three months. On the other hand if you do slip in front of her, it's not a big deal.'

Nick frowned. 'You have the weirdest work environment,' he said.

David laughed. 'Very true.'

'There anyone you want me to avoid completely?' Nick asked.

David frowned as he considered saying Gordon, but he couldn't really get away with that. 'Want, yes,' he said instead. 'That you actually should, no.'

Nick studied the bedroom mirror carefully, and David knew he only completely avoided eye contact when he had no idea what to say. David always felt like that was somehow his fault.

'We should head soon,' David said brightly after a couple of moments had passed. He wanted to say something about how Nick shouldn't worry, about how Nick was actually really good at this sort of thing, but he wasn't sure how to phrase it. David also wasn't sure it would reassure Nick at all, or if Nick would just be offended that David thought he needed reassuring.

'Okay,' Nick agreed, just as brightly, and David wondered if he'd misread how Nick was feeling. All too possible.

'You must be David's boyfriend.' Elizabeth greeted them both near the entrance to the restaurant, though she only seemed to be focussing on Nick. They were still a bit early, then. 'I've heard so much about you,' she said, which had Nick glancing at David, who just shrugged. 'Okay, I haven't,' Elizabeth admitted. 'In fact, I don't think David's so much as mentioned you before tonight.'

Nick glanced back at David and David thought he was mouthing 'Weirdest work environment ever,' so he nodded.

'It's always hard to decide how out to be at work,' Nick said carefully.

'Unfortunately true,' Elizabeth replied, though she was looking sceptically at David. 'How long have you two been dating?' she asked.

'Three months,' David replied.

She raised an impossibly elegant eyebrow. 'I would have expected you to say something more like "Last Thursday",' she said.

Nick managed to look genuinely confused, and she shrugged it off.

David didn't get a chance to see if she was just going to change her angle or genuinely put a pause on the attack, because one of the clients entered the restaurant and she was all large smile and handshakes. 'Our table should be ready momentarily,' she said when David knew full well that it was ready right now, Elizabeth just liked to be able to greet the first people to arrive at the door. She was a born hostess.

Nick was amazing at dinner. David could actually admit, only to himself and after the first stress of introducing Nick to Elizabeth had passed, that he'd expected Nick to be amazing. But Nick was even more amazing than all that. David had to keep reminding himself that he was supposed to be the one charming the clients, when what he really wanted to do was sit back and watch Nick talk.

David couldn't help himself from wondering, in those moments when the best thing to do really was to let other people talk, how Nick had ended up in the position where David's offer looked good. Nick was intelligent, he was educated, and he belonged in a job like the one David had.

Elizabeth was still playing potential clients off each other, so David had the opportunity to ask himself what he'd really expected. A blank slate, someone with no real existence outside of their circumstances, he supposed. Someone who had failed the system, but when David looked at Nick he couldn't help thinking he was looking at someone who'd been failed by the system.

David stood up abruptly. 'Join me in the toilets?' he whispered into Nick's ear.

Nick nodded, so David left, trusting that Nick wouldn't be long but would still manage a graceful exit.

'Condition Five,' David said as soon as Nick entered.

Nick smirked. 'Here I thought this was going to be about Condition Four.'

'How do I do it?' David asked.

Nick frowned at him. 'You don't have to yet.'

'I want to,' David replied.

'No,' Nick said. 'For whatever reason you're feeling generous at the moment, so you thought you'd offer me something big. If you'd actually meant it you would wait until we were home. Or breakfast tomorrow. Or sometime that didn't have to be right now. I don't trust right nows.'

David blinked at him, feeling more than a little betrayed. 'Fine,' he snapped. 'Not like it actually makes a difference to me.'

'I'm glad you accept that,' Nick said, and he'd gone from frowning at David to glaring at him. David had no idea what he'd done wrong to make Nick overreact.

'I do hope you'll not be keeping that up through the rest of dinner,' David said. 'I think Elizabeth might notice something was up.'

'Don't worry about it,' Nick replied. 'I can be professional.'

'We need to talk about this,' David said when they got home and Nick was on him, trying to remove his clothes.

Nick snorted but didn't stop.

'You don't even want to have sex with me right now,' David said, stepping back.

'Don't tell me what I want,' Nick replied, taking the equivalent step forward.

David threw up his hands, both as a gesture of exasperation and a way to keep Nick far enough away that he could continue this argument without too many distractions. 'You're angry with me,' he said. 'I don't feel like just ignoring that, thank you very much.'

'Fine, then we'll talk,' Nick said, abruptly folding himself into a sitting position on the floor.

'Let's talk about what happened tonight,' David said.

'You mean the part where you decided I wasn't complete crap as a person therefore you'd try to help anyone like me falling into my position in the future?'

David was a little surprised that Nick had picked up all that, but Nick always seemed to be better at reading him than David was at reading Nick. 'Yes,' David said. 'What's wrong with that?'

'It makes you think you've a greater grasp of the situation than you actually do,' Nick replied.

'Then explain it to me,' David said.

Nick sputtered for a moment. 'It'd be like trying to explain hunger to someone who's never felt it. It's not reasonable for you to expect me to be able to make you truly understand.'

'Then just tell me what you want,' David muttered.

'I told you that already,' Nick replied. 'I gave you my conditions in the beginning.'

David swallowed his disappointment, his expectation that there would be something more. 'I'm sorry,' he said, even though he still didn't really know what he'd done wrong he was getting the sense that that didn't matter.

'It's okay,' Nick said.

At work on Monday Elizabeth took David aside to say that she was sorry that they had had to leave dinner early - and he could read the rebuke in her words - but that she had thought Nick very charming.

'He is,' David replied, annoyed that he himself hadn't been able to get below the charming surface.

'You must consider yourself very lucky to have found him,' Elizabeth said.

'I do,' David replied, not knowing if he did or not.

His relatively non-committal answers seemed to satisfy whatever Elizabeth was looking for, though.

'How did the dinner go after we left?' David asked.

'Fine,' Elizabeth said. 'Gordon did quite well for himself.'

David glowered at his feet to keep himself from glowering at her, because it wasn't her fault.

'It was nice to meet your boyfriend,' Gordon said, dropping by David's desk.

David looked up from the proposal he was working on to glare at Gordon.

Gordon held up his hands. 'I mean it,' Gordon said. 'He and I actually seem to have a lot in common.'

David glared more.

'If things don't work out between the two of you, he's welcome to talk to me,' Gordon said.

David upped his glare to 'death glare'. 'You're actually trying to steal my boyfriend?' he asked, because seriously. He knew he didn't like Gordon, but this was just going too far.

'I don't think you two are very compatible,' Gordon said.

David sighed. 'Go away,' he said, before Gordon had a chance to say that Nick deserved better. He didn't, because there wasn't better than David.

Gordon looked offended, but he left, which was all David wanted. If only the headache Gordon had caused him would be convinced to leave as easily.

As the weeks passed David grew more comfortable in his physical relationship with Nick, but also more aware of how stunted the emotional side was. He had, admittedly, entered into a business relationship with Nick, but when he had first been considering the idea he had thought he would only see whomever he hired for formal dinners. Now Nick was living with him and they were sleeping in the same bed. It would have been impossible for David not to grow attached.

Unfortunately Nick didn't seem to share that view. He had, in fact, put more distance between him and David as the weeks went by.

David hadn't the slightest clue how to proceed. He was out of his depth, and he would have freely willing admitted that, if he thought it would do any good.

'Could you be any more of a cliché?' William asked when David tried to talk to him.

'Excuse me?' David asked.

'Falling for the man you've hired to be your fake date? At least you don't have to deal with actual unresolved sexual tension. I suppose it would be worse if Nick were Dutch royalty in disguise or something.'

'You mean he's not?' David asked.

William laughed. 'Nope. Though if you're ascribing royal characteristics to him, you are in over your head.'

David shook his head, not certain what he was denying, because he was sure the latter was true, and William knew it.

'So, what do you want me to do?' William asked.

'Tell me what makes him special,' David said.

'Nothing. Your opinion of him. Everything. Hell if I know.'

David frowned.

'Your problem is actually, what?' William asked. 'That you don't think he feels the same about you as you do about him? It hardly puts you in a unique position. Listen, either it'll sort itself out or it'll all end in tears. Either way, you'll get your promotion, and Nick will be better off. So that's not really a bad worst case scenario, is it?'

'What events am I accompanying you to this week?' Nick asked.

David wanted to ask why he wanted to know, what difference it would make to Nick, but he knew better. 'There's a lunch engagement on Wednesday that I may want you at if the client says he's bringing his wife, and dinner with my family for my youngest sister's birthday on Friday night.'

'Your family?' Nick asked.

'Parents, a brother, two sisters, any dates any of the latter may or may not choose to bring, except for my brother, who will definitely be bringing his wife.'

Nick was carefully studying the sofa. 'You're not springing me on them, are you?' he asked in a quiet enough voice that David had to strain to hear him.

'They know I'm bringing a date,' David said carefully, and felt instantly guilty when Nick still warily avoided meeting his eyes.

'Do they know your date is male?' Nick asked.

'They do,' David said. 'They also know that your name is Nick and that we've been dating for four and a half months.'

Nick snorted at that, and David let himself relax into a smile.

'David,' Clare shouted when he arrived.

'Happy Birthday,' he said, engulfing her in a hug. 'This is my boyfriend, Nick,' he introduced. 'Nick, this is my sister, Clare.'

Clare held out her hand. 'Guess how old I am?' she asked.

David rolled his eyes, but neither Nick nor Clare acknowledged it. 'Nineteen,' Nick said.

Clare laughed. 'That answers what David sees in you,' she said.

David frowned. Just because his friends tended to think highly of him didn't mean he required them to lie about it.

'Come on into the kitchen,' Clare said. 'Mum and Dad will be wanting to talk with you.'

'You never call, you never write,' his mum said as David and Nick followed Clare into the kitchen. She hugged David and David made a note of how Nick was standing back, looking a little shocked, before David hugged his father. David couldn't blame Nick, anyone's family would be a bit much but his particularly so.

'So you're the one who's been keeping him from us,' Mum said, addressing Nick.

Nick looked momentarily defensive until he saw the smile on David's face and dropped to just looking confused.

'So how did you two meet?' Clare said, and David flashed her a smile because he knew how to deal with that question.

'Over coffee,' he said.

'It was tea for me,' Nick corrected, with a smile that still seemed strained where it wasn't supposed to be.

Mum smiled happily enough at him, so David continued.

'It was set up by a mutual friend.'

'Which one?' Clare asked, trying to draw attention away from the olive she'd just snatched from the dish their mum was preparing.

'William,' Nick said.

'William set you up with a guy?' his dad asked.

'He thought it would be funny,' David replied.

'To be fair, it was,' Nick said.

Clare giggled.

The dinner conversation wasn't all about Nick, but it did seem to keep drifting that way, with the help of an occasional nudge from Clare. She had declared her own relationship status off limits as a result of it being her birthday, and Tania was all too happy to cooperate in keeping the focus on David. Alex couldn't really care either way, but then he'd been married for two years.

Tania followed up a request that the bread be passed to her with another question. David would be interested in how much he himself was learning if Nick didn't always look so uncomfortable with the questions. 'What did you study?' Tania asked.

'Literature,' Nick said, with a little frown that meant he wasn't telling the whole truth. David thought that if Nick had wanted to pick something his family would all try to draw out of him separately but leave alone at the dinner table, Literature was it. Of course, knowing Nick he'd probably welcome the Cameron dinner table style of chaotic book discussion.

'Have your parents met David yet?' Alex asked, and David wanted to point out that not everything had to be a competition like that, but Nick was already speaking.

'My parents don't approve,' he said, and David turned to him with widening eyes, because Nick's voice was infused with too much pain for him to be anything but either a far better actor than David had thought he could be, or telling the truth.

'Of David or...?' David's mum asked.

Nick gave a bitter snort and David couldn't help himself; he moved his hand under the table to cover Nick's. 'They've never met David,' Nick said.

David could see on his mother's face that she was about to say something well-intentioned but not terribly helpful, so he shook his head at her. Under the table Nick turned his hand over and David felt Nick squeeze David's fingers.

'Do you want to talk about it?' David asked in the car.

'If by it you mean my family, decidedly not.'

'And if by it I mean your love of literature?'

David could hear Nick's frown in the words. 'I've asked you not to patronise me,' Nick said.

'First off, you haven't actually said that in as many words,' David said, and he wouldn't usually make an issue of that at all, but any point he can gain when their arguments go like this is a positive. 'Secondly, well, it's not patronising if I actually care.'

'You've had plenty of opportunities before now to care, and you didn't then,' Nick replied.

'I thought I was respecting your privacy,' David said.

Nick raised an eyebrow. 'That doesn't even make sense,' he said.

'To give you an aspect of your life now that you could indulge in without me forcing you to make small conversation about it? Why doesn't that make sense?'

'Because I left books out where you would see them. Because I tried to pick books you would have read. Because of the time I stole the book from your night-stand with your bookmark only halfway through it so then maybe we'd have read the same book and you'd know it, only you just picked up from where you'd left off without a word when I put the book back.''

'Oh,' David said.

'Oh is right,' Nick replied. 'So, you're a fan of Graham Greene?'

'Have been for years,' David said.

'Your favourite author, then?' David asked in the morning. He'd started waking up a good twenty minutes earlier when Nick moved in, at first because he wanted it to be less obvious how much of a lump he was first thing in the morning, and then because he genuinely enjoyed being able to talk to Nick in the morning without being rushed.

'J. M. Coetzee,' Nick said.

'Who?' David asked, and he had clue if he was supposed to be impressed or if Nick had just named someone off the best seller list.

Nick laughed, so David guessed the former. 'I think his books are very interesting, obviously,' Nick said. 'Though I'm not sure they're the sort of thing you'd like. They're a bit like, well, anti-allegories.'

'I see,' David said, though he wasn't sure he did.

Nick seemed to think David's attempt earned him a kiss, and well. They usually didn't kiss in the mornings for a reason, and it was only with reluctance that David was able to pry himself away from Nick in time to not be too late for work.

Gordon was even more irritating than usual, and by the time lunch rolled around David just wanted to be somewhere where he knew Gordon wouldn't be.

David couldn't say whether he'd chosen the café for lunch he had because he knew it had a bookstore next door or if the bookstore had actually slipped his mind, but either way he rushed through lunch so he would have a chance to browse in it.

He had no clue what section of the bookstore Coetzee's books could be found in and was forced to ask a clerk, who recognised the name and set off quickly with David trailing behind.

'Is there a particular book of his you would recommend?' David asked.

'That depends,' the clerk said.

'On what?' David asked.

'How surreal you like your autobiographies.'

David frowned. 'What of his would be good to discuss but wouldn't be too much over my head?'

'I don't know that any of them would be above you,' the clerk said, but then it was probably his job to say things like that. 'But I'd recommend Life & Times of Michael K as a good first book.'

'I'll take two copies,' David said. 'And has he written anything recently?'

The clerk frowned. 'Summertime is his most recent book, from last year.'

'I'll take one copy of it, then,' David said, glancing at his watch. He really should be heading back to work soon.

David left his copy of Life & Times of Michael K in his car, because he didn't want Nick to know if he couldn't end up finishing it, but took the other copy and Summertime into his home. It was clear as soon as he entered the house that there had been cooking going on, which smelled quite good. 'You made dinner,' David said as soon as he entered the kitchen.

'I tried,' Nick said.

'Smells like you succeeded.'

'I mostly just took pre-cooked food from the freezer,' Nick admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

'That totally counts,' David assured, though he wasn't sure that his opinion would mean anything to Nick.

'It still has half an hour before it'll be ready,' Nick said after a pause.

David took the opportunity to bring out the books he'd put in his briefcase. 'I bought these for you,' he said. 'Since I'm ninety-five percent certain there isn't any Coetzee in my library.'

Nick looked a little floored. 'You didn't have to,' he said.

'I know,' David replied. 'That's why I did.'

'If you ever do want to talk about your parents,' David offered, and it was a week after Clare's dinner and he was halfway through Life & Times and while David wasn't sure he liked the politics all that much he didn't think he'd have a problem finishing the book, so David was confident in his ability to talk Nick around if Nick decided not to take the offer at face value.

'It's not that I don't want to talk about them,' Nick said. 'It's that there's not really much to say. They were my parents and they said they'd love me no matter what but I guess I found out that they didn't really mean it.'

David wrapped an arm over Nick's shoulder and Nick didn't move away from it.

'They disowned me when I was halfway through my university studies,' Nick said. 'I was doing social anthropology, not literature. I couldn't really continue on my own.'

'I'm sorry,' David said.

'Not your fault,' Nick replied, flippantly enough, but obviously David hadn't meant that it was his fault, he'd just meant that he wished that hadn't had to happen to Nick. 'I just have no idea what I'm going to do next.'

'You still have almost two years until you have to deal with that,' David said, though he wanted to offer to Nick that David would pay for him while he resumed his education. David had the feeling that would be a rather hazardous overstepping of his boundaries, though.

'What do you do?' Elizabeth asked Nick at another formal dinner. The question had been bound to come up and David thought Nick would have come up with a decent answer, but apparently they needed to discuss what a decent answer was.

'I'm working on writing a novel,' Nick replied.

The client David was talking to look disapproving, but then he'd looked disapproving when David had first introduced Nick as his boyfriend, so David wasn't sure he cared.

Elizabeth, however, also narrowed her eyes a little and David did care about that. 'How far along are you in it?' she asked.

'Really, I've barely started,' Nick said. 'Why?'

'Well, it does seem that you've got interesting ideas, I just wonder about whether they'll still have the impact they do by the time you finish the novel and get it published. I think you'd be a wonderful journalist though,' Elizabeth said.

'Umm,' David said, because lobbyists hated journalists, or at least they were highly sceptical of the kind of journalist Nick would have to be, all bright ideas with his strong undertone that yes, sometimes the world did suck.

'He'd be brilliant at it,' Elizabeth said.

Nick himself looked pleased at the attention, even if it didn't seem he was going to get carried away by it, but David was going to say something about how it really wasn't a great idea anyway, when Gordon spoke. 'I would really enjoy seeing your articles in the paper,' Gordon said.

Nick said something about not being qualified, but all David could see was the pleased way he'd ducked his head when Gordon complimented him.

'You're interested in writing?' David asked Nick as they drove home, because he had told himself very firmly that he wasn't going to be a jealous idiot. He had no real claim over Nick's emotions and if Nick wanted to be flattered by Gordon, that was entirely up to him. Just, David kind of thought Nick could do better.

'I don't know,' Nick said. 'I kind of feel I should do something instead of sitting in your house all day.'

'Is there anything I can do?' David offered.

'Not unless you want to quit your job just so you can entertain me, or we can go insane together,' Nick said, and of course that was just a joke. 'But boredom's really not the worst problem to have.'

'If you do decide to write and want to show it to anyone, I'd be happy to find the time,' David said.

'Thank you,' Nick said, and David smiled. Mission don't drive Nick away with jealousy was a success.

Nick snorted when David presented him with the package. David took that to mean Nick remembered that it had been three months since they had actually met, and six since they were pretending they had.

'Does this go on my wrist?' Nick asked without opening it, but David thought Nick seemed pleased.

'That's one possible location, yes,' David said.

Nick rolled his eyes, but still didn't open the box.

'Did you like me better when I was less comfortable with such jokes?' David suggested.

'Nope,' Nick said, setting the box aside on the table in favour of leaning forward to press his lips to David's. 'I quite appreciate being able to do that,' he said, 'Without you attempting to pretend you aren't interested.'

David handed the box back to Nick. 'I'd really rather you get over the disappointment of it just being a pair of socks sooner rather than later,' he said.

Nick laughed, and David suddenly wondered if it would have actually been a better idea to just give him socks. Anything that would be unexpected and amusing would probably go over better than the watch, which was pretty much a straight up attempt to bribe Nick into liking him more. David knew it would never work.

Still, Nick carefully removed the bits of tape and opened the box to look at the watch in no small amount of awe. He turned it over to examine the engraving, which David had decided to leave at just both of their names. 'Put it on for me?' Nick asked, holding out his hand.

'Of course,' David said, plucking the watch out of Nick's fingers to do just that. 'Happy Anniversary.'

'What you should do,' William said, gulping at his pint in what David was sure was supposed to be a method of emphasis, 'Is play a game of Truth and Dare. Figure out what really makes him tick.'

'I don't think that's a good idea,' David replied, frowning.

'Why?' William asked, and he was so clearly drunk that David would be amused if William wasn't also managing to make remarkable amounts of sense. 'Because it would leave you just as vulnerable as he would be?'

'It's not exactly a game for just two people,' David said.

William shrugged. 'It's going to be your actual nine month anniversary and your fake one year one. You've already tried, and failed, to woo him with books, gold, and fancy home-cooked meals. Maybe it's just plain time to lay all your cards on the table, to hell with whether or not your method is the right way to do it.'

David knew the reason he didn't want to do this was that he kept clinging to the hope that Nick might feel something real for him, and that he didn't really want that illusion shattered. But David could hardly admit that to William, even a highly sloshed William. 'Or you could just tell me how you found him to begin with,' David said.

William frowned. 'I don't think that would actually solve any of your relationship issues,' he said. 'And, didn't I already?'

'You didn't,' David said.

'Oh,' William said. 'There's not really much to say. George just knows people. Not all of them are reputable.'

David would just snort at the idea that William had set him up with an actual street worker, if he wasn't avoiding actually thinking about it.

'Answer me this,' William said, and David could just tell he was going to say something uncomfortable and why couldn't David's friends just be loud and obnoxious when drunk, like most people's were? 'Would you rather have the promotion or have Nick return your feelings?'

'The second,' David admitted, because he was counting on William to knock some sense into him.

'And what do you think the odds that you'll get the promotion?' William asked.

David wasn't sure the relevance of that, but he was good at his job and Gordon kind of wasn't, so it wasn't a hard question. 'At least nine out of ten,' David said.

'And the odds that Nick feels something for you besides being gratitude that you were desperate and pathetic enough to be willing to take him off the streets.'

'A hundred percent,' David said. 'That's just not how Nick's mind works.'

'The odds that he's fallen completely in love with you?' William asked, raising his eyebrow.

'Zero percent,' David replied.

'So he's somewhere in between?' William said.

'Obviously,' David said.

'You really have no clue where on that line he falls?' William asked, and it was clear that as long as he had a beer he was content to dispense advice. 'So find out.'

David shrugged. 'I don't know,' he said.

'You have an advantage,' William said. 'He can't walk out on you, not easily.'

'So he's trapped with me,' David muttered. 'That makes me feel so much better.'

'It means the first thing you're going to try to do is work everything out and you're going to have less of a problem with pride getting in the way of that,' William said. 'Promise you'll think about it,' he continued. 'And if it works you have to name you two's firstborn child after me.'

David snorted.

Nick's boundaries didn't come down much, or at all, when he drank, but David's did and he knew the only way he would actually ask the questions whose answers he wanted to know was if he himself was fairly drunk. With that in mind he poured himself another glass of single malt. He offered Nick a refill but Nick declined in favour of continuing to work on his first glass.

'Let me get this right,' Nick said. 'You want us to alternate back and forth with truths and dares. For some undetermined amount of time but basically just until you get bored. And this is instead of you buying me something nice for our one year anniversary.'

'You can ask first,' David said, rather than making the excuses he could, because he doubted William necessarily remembered suggesting it and they had a rule about not holding things against each other that the person responsible couldn't remember.

Nick sighed. 'Truth or dare?' he asked.

'Truth,' David said, intending to be a good example.

'Had you ever consciously thought about being with a man before me?' Nick asked.

'Yes,' David said, and then, because he wanted Nick to share more when he answered the question, 'It didn't come to anything though. I rather suspect he wouldn't have been interested, so it's better that it took a while for me to realise it. Truth or dare?'

'Dare,' Nick said.

David would do something simple, like dare Nick to remove all his clothing, if he didn't want to distract himself that much. 'I dare you to write the first chapter of the book you were talking about,' David said.

Nick sighed. 'You're not usually this boring,' he said, leaning forward and taking David's drink from him.

David ignored him. 'Dare,' he said.

'I dare you to tell Gordon on Monday that you really admire him,' Nick said.

David frowned at that, not just because he didn't want to do it. He hadn't known that that Nick had picked up on his dislike of Gordon and he wished his thoughts were a little less muddled so he could figure out what Nick knowing meant. 'Truth or dare?' he asked.

'Dare,' Nick said, and David could tell he wasn't going to have patience with this much longer.

'I dare you to tell me what you really think of me,' David said.

'I think that you know full well that's a truth, not a dare,' Nick replied. 'And I also think you're not as drunk as you want me to think you are.'

David shook his head, denying it. His intention hadn't been to pretend he was drunker than he was but simply to be drunker by now. 'If you give me back my whisky I'll fix that,' he offered.

Nick sighed. 'This isn't working, is it?' he said.

'Wait, what do you mean?' David said, panicking. 'You can't break up with me.'

'Actually, I can,' Nick said. 'But I don't particularly want to. Look, if you want to know how I feel about you, you could have just asked.'

'No, I actually couldn't,' David said. 'Not and had you answer.'

Nick looked like he was all set to argue it.

'You still won't actually tell me your favourite dish,' David said. 'Or why you like that watch so much even though you're generally opposed to that kind of display of wealth. I think almost everything I've learned about you has come out during casual conversation with other people. You keep an emotional distance between us despite falling asleep on my shoulder every night. I can accept that you don't love me, but you can't blame me for wanting more,' David shouted and yes, that was definitely not him pretending to be drunker than he was.

'It's not that I don't want to,' Nick replied, in what David first took to be a deliberately calm tone of voice but turned to more of a flat tonelessness as Nick continued to speak. 'It's just that I don't have any more to give you, to give anyone, really.' Nick picked up David's glass from where he'd set it on the table and drained it.

'That's you, deciding that,' David said.

'Says the man living in a mansion provided by the parents who say they will always love him, and mean it,' Nick replied.

David found it hard to be actually hurt by Nick's words, built as they were on his own pain. 'Crap happens,' David said. 'And without attempting to minimize that, that has made you who you are. And given that, well, I have no problem loving you, don't you think you could grant the possibility of feeling something more than vague indifference for me?' David asked.

Nick sighed. 'I'm sorry that that's the impression you've gotten from me,' he said.

David was off his chair and sitting on the ground near where Nick's feet dangled off the sofa within a second. 'Don't you dare play the martyr,' he said. 'If I have it wrong, then tell me.'

Nick shook his head. 'I don't think I love you,' he said.

David began to rub at his forehead with the palm of his hand.

'But I could,' Nick continued. 'It might even be inevitable that I will be in a week, if you don't kick me out after tonight. And, well. Not vague indifference. I don't know how you could even think that.' Nick pulled David up to sit next to him on the couch and what followed was probably the best kiss David could say he'd ever had, as they both poured their desperation and their need to prove themselves to each other into it.

'Stay with me tonight?' David asked when they had both withdrawn to catch their breath. 'Not because you're obligated, or because I asked, but because you want to.'

'Okay,' Nick said. There was a pause, and neither of them spoke for a while. 'Is that all you need from me?' Nick asked eventually.

'For tonight, yes,' David replied. 'But ask me again in a week.'

'So I've been giving it a lot of thought,' Elizabeth said, and David wasn't sure if she was planning on firing him or telling him that to improve his image with the clients he needed to break up with Nick or what, but fortunately she didn't actually seem to intend to make him wait long. 'I'm giving the promotion to you, rather than to Gordon.'

It took a couple of seconds for the smile to reach David's lips, since he'd been preparing to sputter indignantly.

'Congratulations,' she said. 'You've earned it.' David was still blinking in surprise when she led him out of her office and called Gordon in to give the other man his less than good news.

He sent off a text to William and had just sent an email to Nick when he received the response from William. 'hea? :D i told u so. congrats though,' it read, in true William fashion.

David was forced to text a response asking what 'hea' meant.

'happily ever after,' was William's response, and David didn't really know how to respond to that so he just sent William a smily which probably made him seem overconfident, but better that than the alternative.

Nick's reply email didn't come until the day was almost over, but in addition to giving David his congratulations Nick said that they should start talking about the lobbying David could do now. Nick always seemed to think David's email was monitored, which it most certainly was not.

David sent back a quick promise that they'd talk about it over dinner, and was actually idly wondering if he should drop by Gordon's office to issue his condolences and bait the other man a little when there was a knock on his door. 'Come in,' David said, swivelling his chair to see, of all people, Gordon.

'I just wanted to give you my congratulations,' Gordon said, and he seemed too depressed for David to do anything but shrug. David had been looking forward to gloating so much too. 'Obviously if Elizabeth chose you that means you were the right decision.'

'She does have a knack for making difficult decisions that turn out for the best,' David said carefully. 'I couldn't imagine working under anyone else.'

'No, neither could I,' Gordon replied and David had to sternly tell himself that he wasn't going to smile. He didn't really enjoy having Gordon around, the man was a pain.

'Is this you acknowledging that we're not really rivals anymore?' David asked.

Gordon nodded. 'Also inviting you and Nick to dinner,' he said. 'My girlfriend thinks it would be a nice gesture.'

David felt the only way to appropriately express everything he was feeling was to lift his eyebrows. 'I'll ask Nick,' he said.

'You really don't have to if you don't want to,' Gordon said, and he seemed not to understand that he'd just issued David a challenge.

'I don't actually have particular plans on how to reform things so people's lives will be better,' Nick said.

'I didn't expect you to,' David replied. 'But I'm sure you can point to areas where additional legislation would help, or areas where the legislation could be better.'

'There are a lot of those,' Nick said.

'I rather thought so,' David said. 'And I'm sure you have a list.'

'Mental only,' Nick said, 'But I'll write it out and give you a copy.'

'Great,' David said. 'Thanks.'

Nick didn't say anything about it just being part of their agreement, and David smiled even as he wished he knew whether or not the omission meant anything.

'Also,' David continued, 'Gordon invited us to dinner.'

'He did?' Nick asked. 'I suppose you two aren't rivals anymore.'

'That doesn't change the fact that I still don't like him,' David replied.

Nick shrugged. 'Then don't accept,' he said.

David hadn't been expecting that as a response.

Nick laughed. 'Just because I'm a better person than you are doesn't mean I'm going to push you into being friends with him.'

'Marry me?' David said.

Nick blinked.

'Or we'll do the civil partnership thing, though really, I want to marry you,' David said. He wasn't blabbering because that would have implied him being more nervous than he was. If Nick said no David still had a year to convince him to change that to a yes.

'Aren't you supposed to wait for another year and ask me just when our original arrangement expires?' Nick asked.

'So you can nobly say no because you think I don't really care about you and then after you spend a night in the miserable London rain I find you and take you home and you die of pneumonia?' David suggested. 'I'd really rather not.'

Nick snorted.

'Besides, in a battle between the amount of money I promised you versus the percentage of my assets you'll get, the latter is considerably more.'

'I wouldn't be doing it for your money,' Nick said.

'Of course not,' David replied. 'You'd be doing it because you love me.'


'Is that a yes?'

'It is.'

David blinked.

Nick laughed. 'You didn't expect that to work, did you?'

'We're getting married,' David whispered.

Nick just grinned at him.