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Neha’s first half-formed thought when she wakes up is that it’s freezing. She sluggishly reaches down and pulls her sheets up to her neck, her fingers tugging until she’s covered. Her head is pounding- what the hell did she do last night?

This is when she realises that she’s cold because she’s naked.

She’s finding it hard to concentrate because of the intense pain in her head, but even in her semi-conscious state she can realise that this is odd. Neha may be a starving tech worker but she does own pyjamas.

She opens her eyes and tries to focus on her clock. She can’t remember if she turned her alarm off last night.

Except it’s not her clock.

It’s not her room, either. Neha is waking up naked is someone else’s room.

And what’s worse, she knows who’s room she’s in. She’s been in here enough times, writing out coding or just listening to some stupid music and getting drunk off her ass. Stuart’s clock blinks at her and Neha wonders if this is some bizarre dream.

She’s a virgin. The most sex Neha’s ever had is a guy dressed as the Green Lantern palmed her chest as Comic-Con last year, so the fact that she’s naked and hungover in Stuart’s room is really fucking weird.

And she can’t remember anything after meeting up with Yo-Yo and Stuart at the dance club- an actual dance club, not the stripper kind- but if she’s gone and lost her virginity and she can’t even remember it then she’s going to be pissed.

Her head is throbbing and Neha knows Stuart’s apartment well enough to know that the half-opened door she’s got her eyes on leads to a bathroom.

She reluctantly shrugs off the sheet and is met with icy cold air as she sits up.

Her head swings as she rises but not as much as her stomach does when she turns around and finds out she’s right.

Stuart is asleep and more naked than Neha is comfortable with, a sheet covering choice body parts. He’s sprawled all over one half of his tiny bed. She shivers, probably from the cold, and drags herself into the bathroom.

Closing the door, she catches a glance of herself in the mirror and really wishes she hadn’t. Her hair looks like it’s matting and her make-up is smeared all over her face. To make a general statement, she looks like shit.

She steps into the shower and it provides a warm comfort to a situation that’s a mix between a movie and Supernatural fanfiction.

And Neha’s had boyfriends who she’s dated for ages with no talk of bedroom activities, and she’s known Stuart for what, eight months? And she’s suddenly having a shower after having sex she can’t remember.

It’s not that she doesn’t like Stuart. She really likes Stuart. She would totally be down with having sex with Stuart. Except she would have preferred to lose her virginity in a romantic, world-stopping, life-changing way.

Or involving chains and collars, Neha’s fine with either.

If she’s counting the few advantages, she can’t remember the pain of having her hymen stretched. Her thighs are sort of sore, but it’s drowned out by the throbbing in her head.

Also in advantages: she’s had sex with Stuart.

Neha smiles to herself. She bets it was great sex. Really fun, casual, sex. Which she can’t remember.

Neha’s seen movies so she knows how this is going to go. A bit of awkwardness, probably followed by a couple of weeks of avoiding each other and thick sexual tension until finally they make out in front of a sunset.

She turns off the stream of water and steps out of the shower. She’s only realising now that she doesn’t have her own towel and she has no idea where her clothes are. Hopefully somewhere in the house or that’s just going to get embarrassing.

She towels her hair down and then dries the rest of her body. Her head still feels fragile but she’s awake now, and she can deal with whatever mess she’s created. She wraps the towel around herself and opens the door again.

Despite the sunlight flooding the room from the flimsy curtains, Stuart is still sound asleep. Neha spots her bra in the corner of the room and she picks it up, not really wanting to put it back on until she’s got the rest of her outfit. She goes out into the hallway and finds her underwear right outside the door. It feels like a weird game of Hide and Seek, not helped when Neha finds her dress on the kitchen bench.

Whoah, her drunk self is one adventurous bastard. She puts her clothes back on, and they feel crumpled and backwards, but she drapes the towel over one of the chairs and pours herself a glass of water.

She’s on her third glass and her hangover is lessening when she thinks she should probably do something about the one-night stand situation.

Leaving without saying anything would be immature, and waking him up would be rude, so Neha makes herself coffee and is just stirring it when Stuart walks out scratching his head.

He’s wearing boxers, thank god, because honestly if Stuart walked out naked then Neha really doubts this conversation would go in the dignified way she wants it to. As it is, she can’t stop her eyes from raking his body.

He freezes when he sees her, then looks down at himself, as if wishing he’d taken more time to dress.

“Neha,” he chokes out, “so we really-”

“Yeah,” Neha finishes, saving him the trouble of saying ‘had drunken sex’.

“Yeah,” Stuart agrees, then looks at the cup of coffee she’s holding.

“Oh, do you want one?” Neha asks and Stuart nods.

“I’ll just… get dressed,” he says and disappears back into his bedroom. Neha makes another cup and by the time it’s ready, Stuart is fully clothed and wincing at light. Neha passes him the coffee and he thanks her.

“So is this it?” Neha can’t help but ask.

“Um,” Stuart says, ducking his head. He’s not wearing a beanie for once, which means at the back of her mind she’s thinking about running her hand through his hair. “I don’t know. Is it? I mean-”

“Hey, no obligation here. I’m cool. I’m totally cool.” And she is. Neha is a 21st century woman who can have casual sex with one of her closest friends.

Stuart considers her for a second before saying “Okay.”

They drink their coffee in silence for a while until Neha says “You haven’t got work today have you?”

“It’s Saturday,” Stuart says, the cool dude façade so painful Neha considers stabbing herself with the nearest butter knife.

“Last time I checked the internet still worked on Saturday.” Stuart rolls his eyes and it’s all so familiar, except something’s a little offbeat.

“Last time I checked I don’t get paid barely enough for them to make me work Saturdays.”

“There’s such a thing as overtime, you know that right?”

“Yeah, because they really want someone who’s been working for a grand total of two months to be manning the desks on a weekend.”

“Do you really think one of the largest companies in the world would give a shit who works a couple of extra hours?” Neha asks, and Stuart groans.

“I’m too hungover to argue about our jobs.”

Neha looks at him and then says “That’s two of us.”

Stuart looks at her through his glasses and says “Sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“Why don’t I go?” Neha bursts out and then stumbles on with “we’re both tired and probably don’t want to talk right now. I should just go.”

“Yeah,” Stuart says, and then repeats it like it makes sense. “Yeah, maybe that would be good.”

Neha picks up her purse (recovered from behind the toaster, what the hell is she like drunk?) and heads towards the door. As she steps into the hallway she says “We’re not going to change, right?”

Stuart shakes his head, and it’s the last glimpse Neha gets of him before she closes the door.

-

She spends the rest of the day emailing her parents and programming apps and other stupid, mindless, activities that she doesn’t pay attention to.

She loves not working weekends because it’s so conventional, so average. She texts Lyle, talks about his latest project. It’s a new app that he’s been commissioned for and Neha’s impressed; it’s a big deal for him.

She doesn’t feel changed, like’s she’s been touched by some magical virginity fairy, but she doesn’t feel let down either. She’s lost her virginity. Awesome. She’s not going through some external crisis because of some guy’s penis.

Except it’s Stuart? Which is weird. Like in some ways she’s glad because she likes Stuart, and she trusts him which is better than some guy off the street. But this logic falls apart when she realises she has to spend every day with someone who she’s seen naked.

Even if she can’t remember it.

-

He doesn’t text her all weekend. So much for them not changing because if they hadn’t had sex then her phone would be buzzing every few minutes with some irrelevant comment from him.

They both turn up at work on Monday and make a show of being as friendly as usual. He holds open the door for her and it’s so ridiculous that he must realise it and keeps a solid two feet of distance for the rest of the walk to Lyle’s office.

“So guys,” Lyle says when they’re both standing in front of him, “you know I’ve been working on a project.”

“Yeah,” Neha nods, “the app.”

“Which is great and all,” Stuart says, not insincerely, “but what does that have to do with us?”

“Well,” Lyle beamed, “Andrew’s given me a lot of leeway and I guess I’d like to extent it.”

Neha and Stuart glance at each other and he says “You’re asking us for help?”

Lyle is practically buzzing when he says “No, I’m offering you an opportunity. You’ll get to help me present this in front of the board when it’s done and credited when it’s out on the web.”

They’re both hesitant. It’s a big ask with a lot of pressure and Lyle knows it, which is probably why he adds “You’ll both get paid extra, of course.”

“Okay,” Neha agrees, just as Stuart says “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Lyle looks like he could burst.

“I’ve got some plans laid out. Okay, more like a blueprint than plans, I mean, I don’t have a schedule or anything yet. I was hoping that you guys would help me out without the finer details, like the marketing plan won’t be us, obviously, but we’re expected to make some contribution.”

Neha and Stuart both nod slowly. It seems safest.

“So,” Neha says brightly, “where do we start?”

-

It starts with coding, obviously. They throw ideas to each other and when something doesn’t sound overly ridiculous they write it down, line after line worth of ideas until Lyle finally decides says enough and they try and pull it together into some sort of manageable work. It’s going well, really well, and Neha’s enjoying it. What’s better than a genuinely motivating job with two of your closest friends?

Actually, now that she thinks about it some tequila would be nice. But you can’t have everything.

“I think this would be a good time to break for lunch,” Lyle says, his eyes not leaving the screen. Stuart groans.

“We’re just getting started,” he protests.

“We can’t break flow now,” Neha agrees.

“If we don’t break now we’ll be here all night,” Lyle says, still not turning to look at them. The other two know that Lyle’s going to be here all night and most of the morning no matter what protests are made, so they wordlessly get up and make their way to the café.

Free food is literally Neha’s lifeblood, so the fact that she gets it every day she works is a major plus. She sips coffee as she takes her seat, a bagel in her other hand. Stuart hesitates for a second before he sits next to her. He takes a bite out of whatever pastry looked particularly appetising today. Neha makes an effort not to watch.

“Do you ever think about how insanely lucky we are?” Neha finds herself asking as she chews.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know,” Neha says with her mouth full, “the job. Firstly, it’s awesome. Like, I don’t think you get how awesome the job we work at is.”

“That sentence is a grammatical mess,” Stuart says, “and I know we’ve got an awesome job.”

“But it’s like, even if it wasn’t freaking amazing we’d still have a job. I mean I have friends who did the same degree as me and they’re still living with their parents. Which isn’t bad, but compared to here…”

“Dude,” Stuart says, and he says it in such a way that it’s enough to make Neha look at him, actually look. He says “you think we’re lucky?”

“You don’t?” Neha questions.

“We got the interview. We got through the internship with as much dignity as possible in those stupid hats, and we’re the ones who landed the job. Everyone in this building is here because they’re the best.”

“Because we’re some of the best,” Neha corrects. “What makes us better than the rest of the best?”

Stuart pauses for a moment before he says “Charisma.”

-

When they go back up to where Lyle’s working only to be waved off.

“Take the day,” he says, his eyes not moving from the screen. “Nothing personal, I just need to do this alone for a bit.”

“Is that the best idea?” Neha asks.

“Yeah, man. We can help you out,” Stuart says.

“I know,” Lyle replies, “but right now I’ll work best without distractions.”

Neha’s beginning to feel like she’s spending her life being told to relax by the most uptight guy she’s ever met.

“C’mon,” she says to Stuart and she shoves some notes into her bag. He follows her in a weird puppy-like way until they get to the front steps and Neha says “Are you taking the bus?”

Stuart looks at her through those stupid glasses and Neha is suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to tear off his jacket and kiss him so hard she leaves bruises but she constricts herself with biting her bottom lip. He must notice because he looks away and grunts “No.”

“Okay then,” Neha says, heat rising to her cheeks, “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Stuart says, “see you then.”

Neha waits for her bus for a good fifteen minutes, and she spends most of that time fuming. She’s mainly angry at herself- having sex with Stuart what the hell was she thinking- but at the same time it’s not like it was solely her decision (at least, she’s pretty sure she didn’t). It was a mutual agreement between two consenting adults so why the hell should one night ruin one of the best relationships in her life?

She knows that if they got half the day off before last weekend they’d go out, get food, get drunk. Now Neha’s waiting alone without so much as a text.

Fuck Stuart. Neha doesn’t need some stupid hipster beanie wearing tech genius to re-affirm her sex appeal. If that asshole doesn’t want anything to do with her, fine.

Except Neha likes him. Stuart’s funny and smart and understands Neha, and isn’t that what matters?

Of course, that doesn’t really matter if they never talk again.

-

Neha watches four episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist when she gets home. There are bills she has to pay and she hasn’t called her mum in weeks but right now she really just needs to watch Ed’s struggle with the seven deadly sins.

Neha’s done with anything that involves thinking. She’ll quite her job, her job where she gets free food and there are slides in the foyer and-

Okay, Neha loves her job.

But she is up for something mindless. Neha just wants to relax without having to stress and worry through every second.

For example-

And completely without meaning to, Neha is already typing out ‘Are you home right now?’ And sending it to Stuart without really realising what she’s done.

She gets a text back in a matter of seconds reading ‘Yeah, y?’

The reasonable thing to do right now is to make up an excuse and browse Archive Of Our Own for the rest of the night.

If Neha was a reasonable person she wouldn’t have got her job.

It’s like a ten minute taxi ride to Stuart’s house and when she gets out she’s suddenly hit by nerves. She’s had sex a grand total of once, a time that she can’t remember. She has no idea if Stuart wants to get it on with her, or if she’s even good at sex. But she rings his apartment buzzer because she really doesn’t think she should over-analysis this situation.

She buzzes and a moment later the door clicks open, and Neha takes a breath and then tackles the flight of steps to Stuart’s apartment (the elevator broke ages ago).

She knocks on the door and Stuart opens it, his jaw hanging slightly.

“Neha,” he states.

“Can I come in?” she asks, trying to keep her tone neutral.

“I-yeah” Stuart stutters and swings the door open. Neha shuts it behind her and they stand in his kitchen for a second, just staring at each other.

“I think we should have sex,” Neha blurts out, “I mean, again. You know.”

Stuart looks like he’s been hit over the head. He’s trying to get words out but can’t quite manage it.

“Okay,” Neha breathes and takes off her shirt. Stuart makes a strangled noise from the back of his throat that Neha takes as a go ahead, but just in case she asks “So do you want-” And then he’s kissing her, his lips are crashing into hers and she presses herself into him, her hands travelling over his stomach, pulling off his jacket and beanie, running her fingers through his hair.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” she gasps and he laughs, his lips travelling down her neck and then lower, and after that there’s not much talking.

-

With the data gathered, Neha realises that she likes sex. Maybe not all sex, but fucking Stuart is pretty great. Better than M rated fanfiction and a couple of shots, anyway, which was her alternative to tonight.

She sits with her back to him as she pulls her shirt back on, the fabric suddenly feeling rough and uncomfortable against her skin. She can hear Stuart shifting behind her and thinks about how it felt to have him move beneath her, his hands clutching at her as she drew all sorts of noises out of him.

“Are you going already?” he says, and Neha’s sure it doesn’t sound like a whine to him, but to her he’s a puppy that’s had his tail trodden on.

“Why?” Neha teases, letting her hair fall over her shoulder. “Do you want me to stay?”

“Yeah,” Stuart admits as he moves over to her, his fingers tracing the line of her shoulder. “Please?”

Neha contemplates it, she honestly does, but she’s never been a clingy person, virgin or not.

“We’ve got work tomorrow,” she reminds him, standing up and pulling on her skirt.

Stuart nods, accepting defeat.

-

Neha beams as she walks into work the next morning. It’s stupid and cheesy and something out of an indie movie starring Zooey Deschanel but what the hell? Neha’s not even halfway through her twenties and she works in one of the best jobs in the world, and yeah, she had sex with Stuart. Again.

Neha’s a little bit in love with her life.

She’s the last one in the office to get to work and to her chagrin, everyone is on their phone. As she enters, Lyle looks up and beams at her.

“App’s finished!” he exclaims, “Up for download this morning.”

Neha’s got her phone out before he even finishes his sentence and is downloading Lyle’s app, which as far as she can work out involves an airplane and a Google + connection.

“Awesome,” Neha says with completely sincerity, and it’s worth it to see the grin on Lyle’s face.

She’s not really needed for the rest of the day, so she spends some time manning the pones. It’s simple, mindless, work, but Neha likes it for that reason. Simple pleasures, she thinks, and drinks her free coffee.

When she clocks off at the end of the day, she hangs around the foyer before heading home. She’s not sure what she’s waiting for but then Billy stumbles out of the bottom of a slide and Neha lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“Neha!” Billy exclaims, “I haven’t seen you around lately. What have you been doing?”

Neha shrugs. “You know, work. Haven’t had much time for anything else,” she adds with a smile.

Billy has this stupid look on his face like Neha making small talk is the most interesting thing he’s ever heard, and he nods and it honest to god makes Neha feel better, which is ridiculous, because she obviously doesn’t need the help of some almost middle-aged guy who may have got her this job.

“I’ve got a stack of work to do,” he says, “but you take care of yourself, alright?”

“Yeah,” Neha says and Billy walks off to do whatever Billy does in his spare time.

Neha isn’t alone. She knows that. She has siblings and friends and colleagues and that hobo that lives in the park across from her apartment and sometimes shouts abuse at her.

Her phone buzzes.

“Hey” is all the message from Stuart reads and Neha almost groans, because are they seriously going through this again, they’re not fucking 14 years old.

“Hey” she texts back anyway.

-

You deprive someone of air and you kill them. This is general knowledge and common sense, and honestly it’s how Neha feels right now. She doesn’t know what’s wrong- she’s got a great job, amazing friends, supportive family, and let’s be honest, Neha herself is pretty wonderful. And yet she feels like her ears are blocked, like that moment when your foot slips when you miss the last step.

She doesn’t work on Wednesdays, which is nice, because she has to catch up on Game of Thrones at some point.

Her phone rings and her first words to Yo-Yo are “I haven’t showered in two days.”

“You should probably work on that,” he replies, “maybe invest in some soap.”

“Shut up,” she laughs, and then “So did you have a reason for calling?”

“Yes, actually,” he says, his voice now cautious. “I’m not being rude, but what’s up with you and Stuart?”

There’s a slight hitch in Neha’s voice when she asks “Why do you say that?”

“No real reason, he just keeps sending these constant texts asking if you’ve said anything to me, how you’re doing, stupid stuff.”

“Oh, really?” Neha asks with a strained voice. “Weird.”

They talk about how undeniably odd their mutual friend is and how time consuming their job is and how Lyle and his girlfriend are doing and whether it’s weird to keep frogs in your flat.

When she hangs up half an hour later, Neha’s smiling and not feeling empty, she’s brimming.

-

She’s watching anime when there’s a knock on her door.

It’s not that late, she supposes, but it’s always late when you’re in your twenties with an unsteady sleep schedule.

It’s not really a surprise when Stuart is at the door, and she kisses him like she’s been wanting to for ages and it’s not a movie ending, but it’s pretty close.