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David tended to lose track of time when he was working on the portal. Which was ironic, since to his eyes it resembled a clock more than anything else. It was a sprawling machine, constantly being expanded and adjusted, but the permanent central frame was an upright steel ring, nine feet in diameter, studded with exactly three thousand and six-hundred nozzles which – well, which didn't do anything, yet.

All day he'd been up and down his stepladder, preparing each tiny component of the gigantic device for a test which he wouldn't get to run until tomorrow: his first attempt to project an energy field on such a large scale. Of course, the fabric of reality would be left intact, for now. Even so, sustaining such a large field for long enough to study it would still require an enormous amount of power, which was why it had to be done at the weekend, to minimise disruption to the rest of the base. By now everyone was so used to weird stuff going into or coming out of the science department that they barely bothered to take notice anymore, but it didn't hurt to be careful, as David was constantly having to remind Colin in his impatience. Sometimes he wondered which of them was really more grown-up.

Not that he minded. David loved it when he got to be the responsible one; it helped to make the gulf between them seem a little smaller, though of course it could never be closed altogether. When they first met, Colin's advantage over him in almost every respect had frozen David in his tracks for a while, made it almost impossible for him to enjoy the company of this man he admired so much. Now, whenever he had to bring Colin down to Mars from some ridiculous daydream or remind him to wear his goggles, it was almost as if they were equals. David smiled dreamily at temporal destabiliser two hundred and ninety-eight as he tightened the screws around its base. Equals! How lucky he was to even be allowed to entertain such a fantasy!

Their entire lab had long since been given over entirely to the portal and its many support structures, safety features, and prospective or discarded parts. This room was absolutely forbidden to outsiders; its only door led directly into Colin's office, where he sometimes had to hold meetings over the noise of David drilling or hammering in the lab itself. They'd done their best to soundproof the door, but portal-building could be very, very noisy work.

It was getting to the time of the evening when they didn't have to worry so much about intruders. Right now the door stood open, so David could see that Colin had finished his paperwork, or maybe just grown bored with it. He was doodling, as he sometimes did – he wasn't bad at it, as such (Colin wasn't bad at anything), but his drawings were always weird and uncomfortable to look at. Eventually he sighed, took off his headphones, leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. Oh, hell, when had he rolled up his sleeves? David tried not to stare and to focus instead on checking temporal destabiliser two hundred and ninety-nine.

It didn't do him much good, since a few moments later Colin was lounging against the doorframe, hands in his pockets, watching him appraisingly. "Hey, man. How's it going?"

"Not too bad." David pretended to be fiddling with something on the portal. If he took his eyes off the metal in front of him, he would have to look at Colin's exposed forearms and perfectly tousled hair, which wouldn't do at all. "We should be on track to run the field generation test tomorrow. If you still want to, that is."

"Sure. Why wouldn't I want to?"

"Oh, I don't know. You've got a lot on your plate, that's all. I'd hate to think I was dragging you away from important departmental duties just for our little passion project."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Colin smile. "You know I only stay in this stupid boring job so I can keep doing fun stuff with you."

A warm, fuzzy feeling fuzzed its warm way through David's insides. He decided to try a similar track. "No social commitments either? Aren't there a dozen or so employees you've promised to take out for drinks at this point?"

"Oh, whatever..."

"It seems like you're always arranging dates, but it's been a while since you actually followed through on one."

Colin laughed. "Like you can talk! When was the last time you even had a date to cancel?"

"That's different, though," David reasoned. "People like you."

"People like you!"

David paused, trying to figure out if he was being accused or complimented. Eventually he settled on the latter, and tried to brush it off. "They don't, not really."

"Yeah, they do! You used to have lots of friends."

"That's a gross exaggeration. I had one or two... admirers at school. But it's been almost a year since I left, and not a single one has bothered to stay in touch." David kept his tone light, to show that he couldn't care less about his former classmates one way or another. "There's your proof that nobody ever really wanted me around in the first place."

Still grinning, Colin shook his head. "I think you're way more likeable than you give yourself credit for. Who wouldn't want to be friends with such a charming, accomplished, well-bred, good-looking young man? Or more than friends?" Had he continued on this theme just a few seconds longer, David might have fallen right off the stepladder in a fit of ecstasy. So it was probably for the best that he stopped, turning abruptly thoughtful. "Hey, wait a minute. Does that mean your birthday's coming up soon?"

David was now fiddling so aggressively with the temporal destabiliser, and paying it so little actual attention, that he would need to tune it up all over again before the test. "Um," he replied. "Actually. It was today. But I don't –"

"What!" Colin did a little jump of excitement. "No, it isn't!"

"Yes, it is. But honestly –"

"Dude!"

Colin bounded over and insisted on helping him down. David was more than capable of getting to the floor by himself, but he could not have been more thankful for the supportive hands on his elbows if they'd been lifting him out of a vat of boiling soda. Any excuse for physical contact with the man he adored. "Why didn't you say anything?" Colin fretted, peeling the goggles off David's head and tossing them in the general direction of the box where they were supposed to be stored overnight. "I can't believe I forgot, dude, I'm so sorry! And I don't have anything to give you. What must you think of me?"

David laughed awkwardly. "Honestly, I don't mind! I was glad you didn't mention it, in fact. I was hoping to get away without any celebration at all this year."

"Oh, David, that is so tragic. You say the most tragic things sometimes. What was I just telling you? You're a cool guy. And you're turning seventeen, that's a big deal!"

In truth, David didn't feel any bitterness, so he hated the hint of it in his own voice as he mumbled, "Well, clearly it's not. Since nobody remembered except my stupid parents, and they didn't even get me a card."

"Come on, don't make it sadder than it already is. C'mere, let me get that." Colin pulled the lab coat off David's reluctant shoulders and flung it after his goggles. "Our shift finished ages ago. You and me are going up to the bar on level six right now, and we're going to celebrate as best we can, considering you didn't give me any advance warning. How does that sound?"

"Oh, there's no need, really... I should probably stay and carry on with the preparations for the test, you know?" David looked nervously up at the portal. "You don't have to stay with me, if you want to go out for a drink. Or go home and get some rest – it's a big day tomorrow..."

"Stop arguing!" Colin shooed him into the study with one hand on the small of his back. "We already agreed, it's been too long since either of us had a date. It'll be fun. Nothing too stressful, just the two of us. You'll like that, won't you, buddy?"

At this point, David had no option but to surrender. He smiled weakly as Colin locked up the lab, swept his drawings into the bin and switched off the lights, then followed him out into the corridor and towards the lifts. The whole time, one thing kept echoing in his head, getting louder with every synchronised step they took. A date. Been too long since either of us had a date. A date, a date, a date. Maybe it was a good thing that his birthday wouldn't pass unnoticed after all. By the time they arrived outside the bar, he was starting to feel pretty enthusiastic.

And then they went inside.

The chorus of "Surprise!" was not what made David's heart freeze into a dead, heavy lump. It was the dozens of faces, all turned towards him, all those eyes fixed on him, seeing him, seeing through him, judging him.

Some of the people here he remembered all too well from school, others less well, but they were all students (and a few early-graduating interns) of around his own age. In terms of demographics he would prefer to avoid, they were not at the top of the list – that honour would probably have to go to his parents' snobby friends – but they were pretty damn close. An uncertain but significant proportion of them were people he'd once had sex with in a desperate bid for acceptance. Most of them were smiling, but the sight of their teeth activated some primal part of his brain that made him want to turn around and run until his legs fell out from under him.

"Happy birthday," Colin beamed, pulling him into a hug. Perhaps the worst part of the whole thing was that David was too shocked to enjoy the feeling of Colin's body pressed up tight against his for a few should-have-been-glorious seconds.

"What," he began, when he could finally breathe again. "Wh... wha... what? Why? What?"

"It's your birthday party, duh! I had you going, didn't I? You really thought I'd forgotten my best mate's big day? You're such a stupid idiot sometimes!"

David blinked. "You invited all these people? Are they really here just... f-for me?" He stared around at the cheerful students, still struggling to process the idea that so many of his peers would willingly choose to be near him. "A-and you didn't have to lie to them to get them to come?"

"No, silly! I told you, you're cool."

"I... I don't know what to say, I..."

"I did have to pay them, obviously, lol, but don't worry about that."

Well, at least now the world made some kind of sense again. "Of course you did," David sighed, as the ground started to solidify beneath his feet. "Colin, this is so... sweet. So sweet of you. Thank you, so much. But, ah..." His voice sounded to his own ears little more than a squeak. "I really don't think I can do this. I think I want to go home."

His smile fading, Colin lowered his volume to match David's, and drew him in close. "Are you serious?"

"I, ah... it's not that I don't appreciate the effort. Honestly. But this just isn't my scene."

There was nothing fun in the air between them now, only a look of severe reproach in Colin's eyes. "Hey, man. I went to all this trouble and expense for you. I know you wouldn't know this, but it takes a lot of work to put a party together, and especially to keep it a surprise like this."

David felt his throat start to tighten. "I-I know, and I really appreciate it, it's beyond kind... it's more than I deserve..."

"It's not about that. That's just what best friends do for each other. I would put myself out for you twice over, a hundred times over, because I know you'd do the same for me if I asked you to. But to have you throw it back in my face? That's what stings, David."

It was all David could do not to burst out crying. "I'm sorry," he blurted. "I'm really sorry, Colin, I didn't mean it. I was just a bit – overwhelmed, at first, that's all. But you know, this is great! I love it! I'm so –" he swallowed hard "– so happy!"

In an instant that beautiful smile was back, and it was like someone had flipped a switch to turn on the sun. "That's more like it!" Colin nudged him towards the bar. "Come on, let's get you a drink. That'll help you shake those nerves in no time."

"Oh, no, I really don't think I should."

"And why ever not?"

"Well, I want to be on good form during the test tomorrow, for one thing. Besides, I'm... not good with alcohol. You've seen me, you know how I get."

Somehow, Colin was already pressing a plastic cup into his hands. "I do indeed. And I love it." He winked. What the hell was that supposed to mean? "Come on, David! You've got nothing to be shy about! Show us that smile!"

David stretched his mouth into a grimace. "Okay, I'm smiling."

"Perfect! And now drink up!"

He forced down a few gulps, suppressing a gag at the taste. Colin seemed pleased. "There you go!" he cried. "Drink, smile, drink, smile, drink, smile. Just keep repeating all night. The beers are on me. So it's not that hard to have a good time after all, is it, eh? Eh?"

David shook his head obediently. It was fair enough, he thought. Maybe if he got drunk now, the night would pass more quickly, or at least the details would blur into one vague, manageable whole.

Then the music changed. The generic electronic loop that normally played all night in this bar faded out, and something else faded in. At first it sounded like a fire alarm, which caused some concern among the guests, but David recognised it straight away. It was something he never would have expected to hear over a loudspeaker in a public place under any circumstances. It was an Earth song – one that he'd cried to more than once, curled up alone in bed with his headphones on. There was a lull in the general hubbub of the party as the students looked around uncomfortably, then resumed their talking and dancing as best they could when they decided they were in no immediate danger.

"Double surprise!" Colin laughed at the shock on David's face. "This was the hardest part. I persuaded the staff to let us play sick Earth tunes all night, just for you! All our favourites! Isn't this such a jam?"

David was torn. On the one hand, he was mortified at having his private, perverse tastes broadcast to the world like this. He'd always thought of music as something intimate between himself and Colin, a secret almost as sacred as the portal itself. On the other hand, it was a jam. And Colin was already dancing away from him. David quickly danced after him, trying his best to avoid touching or looking at any of the students who were swaying and bobbing their heads in a crowd on the dance floor.

"This was really thoughtful," David yelled over the music. "I don't know what to say!"

The graceful shrug Colin gave him in response seemed to signal 'then don't say anything,' and so much more besides, if only David could decode it. But he couldn't. He wasn't built for all that subtle, non-verbal stuff. He could only sway with the music, doing his best to mirror the movements that seemed to come so naturally to Colin, who always danced as if he was somehow having fun. Colin, he reflected, was not afraid to look foolish, and therefore he rarely did. David, though he was not objectively worse at dancing, carried his intense fear of humiliation on his sleeve; he felt the judgemental eyes of the whole room burning into him, and it was only his sense of obligation that kept him from sprinting straight for the nearest exit.

Seeming to sense his discomfort, Colin reached out and nudged David's drink towards his face, encouraging him to take another slug. Yes, that was the only solution. After a few more songs and a refill, David began to feel marginally less anxious, until he could almost lose himself in the moment: in the pounding, otherworldly music; in the kind but insistent light of Colin's eyes.

They didn't normally get to spend this much time together in public. Even when David managed to tag along to parties, Colin would always spend most of the night schmoozing with the other grown-ups. David would be left to hover awkwardly around the buffet table, sniping at anyone who tried to talk to him and watching from a distance as Colin danced and flirted with people older, prettier, better than him.

But not tonight. Tonight they were the centre of each other's worlds. If enduring this party was the price David had to pay, just to feel the full force of that extraordinary social magnetism turned upon him outside of the privacy of the lab, then it was more than worth the sacrifice.

All too soon, their intimate bubble burst, giving way to the ugly noise of the party at large. Colin started glancing over David's shoulder at someone or something behind him until at last, with a frown, he seemed to make up his mind to pursue the distraction in earnest. David tried to follow but Colin pushed him back into the middle of the dance floor, communicating through gestures alone that he would be back soon, and that in the meantime David should try to mingle with his guests.

David stared helplessly after Colin's back as it disappeared into the crowd. He was alone, surrounded by the enemy on all sides, hopelessly outnumbered and defenceless. Well, not wholly defenceless; if he could only put enough beer between himself and the others, he would be safe. They were starting to close in now that he was alone, talking and smirking at him, some trying to dance with him, others offering birthday wishes which he could only assume were sarcastic.

What did they want from him? Why couldn't they just leave him alone? Why wasn't he sitting across from Colin at a table for two in a quiet corner, sipping bottled water, giggling seductively at one of their secret in-jokes?

A girl with a shaved head bounced over to offer him yet another beer, which he accepted in exchange for a strained smile. She had not been in his class at school, but he recognised her face, which was no consolation as she put her hand on his hip and pushed her mouth up close to his ear. "Dawn Cox, Red! How's it going, birthday boy?" He shrugged. His new friend ran her hand up his side, giving him the strong desire to shed his entire skin. "Not dancing with your daddy anymore, baby?"

David felt himself turn red in record time. "Don't call him that. It's not... it's not..."

"Ah, commitment issues, is it? Your fuckbuddy, then?"

His heart was doing backflips at the implication, mocking though it was, that he would ever even have a chance with Colin. That didn't mean he wasn't also dying of embarrassment. "We're just good friends, if that's something you can wrap your filthy mind around," he snapped. "And I'm his assistant."

Dawn leered. "Is that what they're calling it these days? I wouldn't mind lending him some assistance, if you know what I'm talking about! Woof!"

"Yes," David sneered, "I think I know what you're talking about."

"Woof woof!" she repeated, though David was prepared to bet she wouldn't know what a dog was if it woofed in her face. "Seriously though, you never even let him feel you up a bit? Everyone keeps telling me how you used to be the biggest slut at school, though that is not the vibe you're giving off in this moment. You all reformed now, huh? Standards too high? I guess he is like, super old..."

"He's only twenty-nine," David hissed, but she didn't seem to hear him.

"Still hot, though! To be honest, that's the main reason I came, and I don't think I'm the only one. If he touches me up, there'll be no complaints here." Dawn chugged thoughtfully on her beer before wiping her mouth on her sleeve. "Mate, are you absolutely sure he's not trying to fuck you? Because I'd never throw this many tokens after someone I wasn't trying to fuck."

"Shut up! Colin's not like that!"

"Huh, whatever you say. Maybe it's a colour thing? You True Blues do crazy shit all the time." She nudged him painfully in the ribs. "Either way, I think you owe him a chance after this! Make the offer, at least, hahaaa!"

Before David could order her to elaborate, she was carried away by the crowd, whooping and gyrating with her idiot friends. David stared after her, then at the drink in his hand, then around at the crowd, then down at his own feet. They were still moving to the music, quite without any conscious input on his part.

Stupid girl didn't know what she was talking about, thought David. There was no way on Mars that this was all an elaborate plan to get into bed with him. Even apart from the obvious fact that someone as beautiful and popular and sexy as Colin would never go for someone so pathetic and weird, it just didn't make any sense. Surely Colin knew by now that if he wanted him, he didn't even have to ask? David would open up and fall to pieces for him at the very first touch, no presents or parties required. That was one of the few things he knew for sure about himself, and if it was meant to be, he felt certain that Colin would sense it too.

Still, David would be the first to concede that True Blues did indeed do crazy shit all the time. So maybe his new friend had a point. He tried not to dwell on the concept of Colin 'touching her up,' as she put it, because the last thing he needed adding to the bonfire of his adolescent turmoil was jealousy.

Speaking of which, where the fuck had Colin got to?


It was asking for trouble to throw this many kids together and give them beer, even weak beer. Most of them were only there for the tokens they'd been promised, and they knew they wouldn't get paid if they left early, which would impede their natural, gradual dispersal to sleep or make out or take recreational drugs in more secluded locations. The inevitable result was a dangerous restlessness which, at this stage of the evening, was starting to show itself.

How fortunate that Certified Trustworthy Adult Colin Denham was here to supervise the little dears, he thought, as he waded politely through a sea of hormones. Otherwise some unscrupulous creep would certainly try to take advantage of them.

Most of the time, Colin thought of himself as a sort of elevated teenager, but actually spending time with them – normal ones, not just David – reminded him what a bizarre mix they truly were: arrogance and insecurity, greed and naivety, all cranked up to eleven. On his way to his destination he was accosted multiple times by individuals who wanted to dance with him, mostly by rubbing parts of their body up against parts of his. He did his best to humour them, and to let them down gently when they came on too strong, pointing out as best he could that any hint of sexual contact in this context would be inappropriate.

He impressed even himself with his restraint, and wondered if it would survive the rest of the night. All these pert, willing young bodies were tempting enough already; once they were all a little more intoxicated, it might become vanishingly difficult to maintain the role of 'cool but responsible older brother' without any slip-ups.

For now, though, he had a party to manage. He sloped up to the bar and came to a stop next to the figure who had caught his eye, a young man with shiny hair and shifty eyes, who looked slightly too old to have been on the invite list. His jacket was bulging with the unmistakeable outlines of an ashtray, a few handfuls of loose nibbles, and at least two beer bottles. Colin carefully refrained from rolling his eyes as he caught the interloper's attention. "Hey, man, what's up?"

The young man startled and stood up straight, smacking one hand down flat on the bar. "Nothing much, my good sir," he blustered, remembering half-way through to affect an accent. "Totally delightful party you've got here! And whatnot."

"I don't think I've had the pleasure." Colin smiled and offered his hand. "Colin. And you are?"

"Dave Dalling! Blue, obviously!"

"Oh, really? So that would make you the younger brother of Tom, I suppose?"

"That's right! They don't talk about me much because I'm not very good at machines! I can make an electric toothbrush out of a sex aid and a regular toothbrush, but that's about it!"

At this point the kid was still shaking his hand, so Colin took the opportunity to push back his sleeve and yank the exposed wrist up for inspection. The impostor yelped and pulled his arm away a moment too late; his orange tattoo had already given him away. Colin put his hands on his hips and did his best teachery 'I'm waiting for an explanation' face.

The Orange cringed. "That's just a... rash," he offered, without much appearance of hope. Colin's expression didn't change, and he gave up. "Fine, you got me. Sigh! Dave Price, Orange."

"That's better. Nice to meet you properly, Dave."

"Don't try to be all smooth with me," Dave scowled. "I've heard all about you."

"Ah, only good things, I hope?"

"Yeah, only good things, which is why I don't trust you. It seems like you just go around deliberately charming the socks off of everyone you meet. Well, I like to think of myself as pretty charming too, when I want to be, so let me tell you – it won't work on me."

Colin tilted his head to one side. "You're a very shrewd young man, aren't you? What do you do?"

A flattered smile passed across Dave's face. "Uh, well. I'm a messenger right now, but that's only temporary. I'll be stuck with it two more months, tops. Then it's on to bigger and better things for me – much bigger, and much better!"

"Oh, I know I've only just met you, but I'm already certain of it! You are definitely going places, dude." And Colin gave him the Look – the look of complete understanding, of support, of admiration – the look that everyone wanted to receive without ever really knowing how badly they wanted it. The pitiful creature melted in seconds. Why were they all so fucking dumb? "Now, please don't take this the wrong way, Dave," said Colin gently, "but this is a private party, and I don't think you were invited."

Already, the will to argue was crumbling before his eyes. "Well, y'see... I'm not here to cause any trouble." Dave tugged at his collar, making the bottles in his jacket clank together. "I just like sneaking into these fancy parties for a bit of fun. To feel like someone else for a while, you know? And for the loot, sometimes, obviously."

The fact that this qualified as a 'fancy party' for an Orange immediately leapt into first place on the list of tragic things Colin had heard that day. He could only imagine that its head would instantaneously explode if it ever set foot inside the mine. Instead of saying this out loud, he nodded sympathetically and said, "Listen, I feel you. But you've got to understand, the atmosphere in here is already pretty volatile, so we don't want any rogue agents complicating things further, yeah? Plus, if you're a full employee then you're probably too old to be here anyway. It's really just for students and interns."

Dave smirked. "Which are you?"

Colin laughed politely for about a second and a half. "I'm just here to keep an eye on things and make sure my friend has a good time."

"Uh-huh, sure." Dave cast a sceptical eye over the surrounding teenagers in various stages of inebriation. "Whatever, man. Knock yourself out. I'll get out of your way, I guess."

"I'd appreciate it."

Dave stepped away from the bar, dislodging a few pieces of vegetarian finger food from his jacket and sending them scattering across the floor. "I was about to go anyway," he retorted as he turned away. "The music is fucked up in here tonight."

When he finally saw the Orange leave by the back door, Colin could have sworn the air in the room became a little more breathable. He'd been fully prepared to bribe him to fuck off, but he'd turned out to be even more spineless than expected. Thinking to reward himself for a job well done, since he was already at the bar, Colin tried to explain to the BarBot that the ban he'd imposed against strong drinks did not apply to himself. It took longer than he would have liked, but he walked away with one of his signature absinthe-champagne combos at the end of it, which was a better outcome than that of most of the tedious conversations he had to have in the course of his day job. A particularly powerful bop had just come on, and while the kids still didn't seem to be vibing much with the Earth music, Colin took a moment to feel pleased with himself.

Meanwhile, however, poor David was probably pining half to death for him. He started navigating his way back across the dance floor, making only a few detours to dance with his lovely guests. He didn't dare linger with any of them, partly because he was worried about leaving David alone any longer than he already had, but also because the temptation to stray was torture. Why hadn't he invited more ugly kids? These ones were all so healthy and juicy and delicious-looking. As their eyes glazed over and their flirtations became more and more shameless, it was increasingly tough to pretend that he didn't want to put his hands all over them.

To make matters worse, David was not where he'd left him. Dammit. Whether he'd wandered off deliberately or just been carried away by the crowd, that wisp of a boy was always easy to lose and hard to find again once you'd lost him. It wasn't an especially large bar, so in theory there were only so many places he could have got to... unless – an ugly thought sidled up through the noise and commotion – unless he'd snuck out and gone home. But he wouldn't, not before the cake. Would he? If so, they would be having words tomorrow.

Colin was scanning the room, trying not to get distracted by any of the bodies on display, when one danced right up to him. It was a stocky female whose buzzcut only made her face look even more babyish. To judge by the way she was jumping about, she was really getting into the music – or, more likely, she just wanted to make her impressive breasts jiggle. Either way, they were jiggling. A lot.

"Hey, handsome," she yelled over the music, giving him an exaggerated wink. "Looking for something?"

"Yes, but not you! Sorry, kiddo!"

Even a flat rejection didn't seem to discourage her. "Well, you found me anyway. Isn't that lucky?" She waited for a response, but got only a distracted glance as Colin sipped his cocktail and kept scanning the horizon. "Always the way, huh? You finally come back for your toyboy and he's been carried off by someone else..."

Colin managed not to choke, just about. "My – my assistant – do you know where he went?"

"Aye. But who cares about him? He's weird and rude and lame. Wouldn't you rather stay for a dance?" And she made a face that she must have seen adults make when they were trying to seduce each other.

Goddammit, Col. Look anywhere other than her tits. Yes, they're charming, but they're not so big you can't find something else to look at. Pull yourself together! You've got a reputation to uphold. How would it look if you paid all these kids to get drunk just so you could creep on them? It's not like there's any shortage of people your own age throwing themselves at you, and some of them even have nicer tits than these.

But that wasn't the same, he protested to himself. This energy, this foolishness, this wild innocence; they were overflowing with it, crying out for someone to tap it before it went to waste. They wanted it. Wasn't that what mattered? Wouldn't anybody else do the same?

But you're not anybody else. You're Certified Trustworthy Adult Colin Denham, loved and respected by all, and you never, ever do anything to compromise that.

"Look, I care about him, and I'm worried about him," he told her. "I'll pay you extra if you tell me where he is."

The girl looked disappointed, but jerked a thumb towards the toilets. "The guy he was with came back out, but I think your friend's still in there."

Colin sighed. "I see. Well, thank you. I should probably go and check if he's okay."

The girl brightened. "Want me to come with? I'm sure I could lend you a hand, if you catch my drift, ey!"

The clumsy innuendo actually made it easier for Colin to turn away from her. "No, thanks!" he called over his shoulder. "You've been very helpful already! Have a good night!"

Before she was swallowed up behind him, he heard her sulk, "I guess the freak was right – you're really not like that..."

 

The noise of the party muffled into the background as the bathroom door swung shut. The air in here had a much worse ratio of sweat and beer to even less appealing scents. Colin peered down the stalls, hoping against all common sense that he would be able to scoop his runaway up quickly and get out without any more uncomfortable encounters. "David?" he called, rapping on the nearest cubicle door. "You in here?"

From the far end of the row came a tiny whimper, barely audible over the muted music from outside. Colin marched down to the last cubicle; finding the door ajar, he pushed it open and sighed at the sight that greeted him.

David was slumped on the floor, his head resting on the rim of the toilet. Somehow he still hadn't managed to find it when he needed it, judging by the vomit all over his shirt and hands. His eyes squinted sightlessly towards the door. "C-Colin?"

"That's right, buddy. You're going to be okay. Come on, let's get you cleaned up."

"They all hate me," David slurred as Colin hauled him off the ground. "I think one of them poisoned me."

"I think you poisoned yourself, champ. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You haven't built up your tolerance enough yet, that's all."

David grumbled weakly, allowing his hands to be held under the tap until they were clean. Then Colin wiped his face, silently noting the dried semen mixed in with the sick around his mouth. The shirt would have to wait until later, he decided. He brushed it down as best he could with another handful of paper towels, steadying David with an arm around his waist. "There we go. Now, let's get you home, okay? You can drink some water and sleep this off."

"Oh," David whined, "we won't be able to do the test tomorrow..."

Colin squeezed him reassuringly. "That's okay! We'll do it on Sunday, once you've had a chance to recover. No biggie."

"We won't do it ever! I'm going to be grounded for a year when Mother sees me like this! Stupid David ruined everything again, stupid, stupid, stupid..."

"Shh, shh, don't say that! We can make up some story for you parents, and they needn't see you until you're good and ready. You don't have to go home. Crash at mine tonight instead."

At this, David cracked open one hazy eye and stared at him. For a while it seemed like he was trying to argue, but eventually his drunk brain gave in and he simply mumbled, "Okay." Then, almost as an afterthought: "Love you."

"I love you too, buddy. Come on, let's get out of here."

It was amazing how much easier it became to move through the crowd when half-dragging, half-carrying a drunk and belligerent David. There was no question of anybody trying to entice him into a dance this time, and as for David, he was no heavier than a particularly clumsy handbag. Colin apologised kindly to all the kids who stared at them as they passed, assuring them that they would still get paid if they chose to leave now, even while David was yelling barely-coherent accusations of treachery and poison at them.

When they finally made it out into the corridor, David slumped against him, and Colin sighed. All his earlier self-restraint might count for nothing now if the rumour mill decided to take this the wrong way. But that was the whole point of the self-restraint in the first place, he reminded himself – he refrained from doing anything remotely creepy in public, so that when people saw him going home with a wasted barely-seventeen-year-old, everyone would give him the benefit of the doubt, whether or not he deserved it. Popular opinion wasn't shaped by whatever he actually chose to do with the boy upon getting him home.

At this moment in time, all that Colin was plotting was exactly what he'd promised in the bathroom: water, clean pyjamas, and bed. David would even get the bed to himself; Colin would sooner stoop to sleep on the sofa than face the temptation of lying next to a hot passed-out boy all night. He didn't know if that made him more or less of a sick fuck, but he knew it made him less likely to end up in trouble with the Knights for molesting their son, which was the main thing.

They made it back to Colin's quarters without incident, and without talking much. Occasionally David would mutter something incoherent, or wail half a line of a song from the party playlist. Colin only ever replied to tell him he was doing great, and that they would be home soon. And indeed, here they were.

David staggered over to sit on the bed while Colin fetched water from the bathroom. He guided the glass into David's limp hands, and from there to his lips. "Drink up, now. You can do it."

As David obediently started chugging, Colin sat down next to him and reached across to unbutton his shirt. It was perfectly innocent; David was in no state to undress himself, that much was clear, and he couldn't sleep in his clothes while they were caked in sick (and possibly other bodily fluids). It was completely unavoidable, and nothing at all to get hung up about, for Colin's fingertips to occasionally brush the soft, warm skin underneath.

At last David clunked the empty glass down on the bedside table, leaving his arms free for Colin to peel the shirt off him, just as he'd earlier stripped him of his lab coat. That seemed so long ago, now, though it was scarcely a few hours. Colin got up to drop the shirt into his laundry basket.

When he turned around, David was watching him intently, with both eyes almost in focus. Perhaps the hydration and the cosy quiet of the bedroom were helping to sober him up, or perhaps this was merely a new phase of his drunkenness.

"What are you waiting for?" David slurred at length. "Here I am. Why don't you just do it already?"

Colin looked up at the ceiling. Dammit. We were almost home and dry. He started counting down from ten; when he reached zero, he would leave the room and shut the door and not return until morning. He was at five when he realised he was already back on the bed beside David. Fuck. Dammit. Fuck shit fuck.

"David," he murmured, pointedly keeping his hands to himself this time. "You know I can't."

"But I want you! You're the only thing I want in the world!"

"You're plastered. You don't know what you want."

"That's not true. I've known the whole time – I just needed to get drunk enough before I had the courage to say anything." David put his hands clumsily on Colin's chest. Colin thought about pushing them away, but didn't. "Look, I may not be good at people, but it's a simple cal-calculation. Why would you spend so many tokens on someone you didn't want to fuck? Why am I topless on your bed if you don't want to fuck me? Why did you wink at me if you don't want to fuck me?"

This surprisingly eloquent speech was belied by the almost tearful bleariness of David's eyes, and by the way he was swaying back and forth. Colin sighed and ran a hand through his own hair, partly to keep himself from running it through David's. "I never said I didn't want to fuck you, okay? I just said that I couldn't. It would be... frowned upon."

"Since when d'you care about that?" David's fingers tightened their grip on Colin's shirt. "I'm not – I'm not some precious, innocent flower that you have to protect, okay? I already sucked two dicks tonight – does it matter if the third one is a few years older? It's not like – mmff..."

The rest of the sentence was suffocated under Colin's lips as he kissed David hard, pushing him onto his back against the pillows. David melted under him as he ground their hips together and allowed his hands to roam freely for the first time all night. This went on for a few minutes before Colin suddenly pulled himself back, staring down at the boy who lay panting, smiling and spread-eagled in his bed.

How could he snap so quickly when he'd been doing so well? It must have been David's talk of blowing random guys at the party that had finally done it. The image it conjured – hemmed in on the floor of that dirty toilet stall, taking their come in his mouth and on his face – was a powerful one. Colin didn't know if he hated it or loved it, but either way, it made him want to possess those lips that had so recently been pressed to the service of somebody else.

To make matters worse, David seemed to be re-entering the incoherent and half-insensible phase of his drunkenness. He giggled as Colin clambered off the bed and began to pace, the better to think through the situation.

From here, Colin realised, he could see it was all a straightforward matter of cause and effect. He couldn't ever have met David without noticing how cute he was, and he couldn't have noticed he was cute without wanting to get him drunk, just to see what would happen. Once David was drunk, it was inevitable that Colin would get him alone, and once he got him alone it was inevitable that they would kiss. Now, the rest of the chain stretched ahead of him with an oddly liberating inexorability. They'd kissed, so Colin would have to finish undressing David; anything else would be ridiculous. After that, it would be insane to expect Colin not to undress himself, and after that it would be a violation of the physical laws of the universe for him to not stick his dick where it had wanted to go all along.

There was nothing he could do. It had all been predetermined at the birth of the cosmos. Whatever happened tomorrow, whatever the consequences might be, he would deal with that later; tonight, he was going to let nature take its course.

Colin grabbed his lube from its drawer and put it within arm's reach on the bedside table, next to the empty glass. Then he leaned over to unfasten David's trousers and pulled them off in one determined tug. A few seconds later, both trousers and underwear were on the floor and he was completely unwrapped, there for the taking. Colin was already hard at the prospect. He hurried to rid himself of his own clothes before he could change his mind. Then he sank back down on top of David, who had barely moved a muscle this whole time. Even now, as Colin kissed his neck and groped at his crotch, he only let out a sort of joyful groan. Otherwise he just lay there, breathing hard as Colin worked his cock.

It didn't matter. At this point, even if David passed out altogether, Colin was pretty sure he'd have to see this thing through to its conclusion.

David proved he was still conscious by whining and bucking his hips in protest when Colin removed his hand. "Don't worry, honey," he soothed, "you'll like this even more." He took both David's knees and pushed them up, opening his thighs as wide as they would go. The picture he made was so beautiful, so vulnerable – ass spread, cock leaking on his stomach, hands clutching weakly at the sheets, mouth open as if in shock – it was only while gazing at this view that Colin realised he'd failed to follow the chain of cause and effect through to its next logical step. Having tasted this once, he was definitely, definitely going to do it again before too long. And having done it again, he would then be compelled to do it again. And then, well, you didn't have to be a genius to follow that cycle step by step to the end of time.

Despite all the needy sounds coming out of David, Colin took plenty of time lubing up and pushing into him. If something was worth doing, he figured, it was worth savouring – and while this wasn't a deflowering in the strict sense of the word, he still felt that their first time together deserved to be treated with a similar level of respect. Besides, the last thing he needed was another suspicious trip to medical in the morning. A ruined anus would be harder to pass off as a normal workplace accident than radiation burns, or plant bites, or any of the other injuries sustained in pursuit of their secret projects.

Hickeys were another matter, of course. Colin ran his mouth over David's throat again, kissing and biting, with the reasoning that he could blame any marks on one of the horny, faceless kids at the party if he had to. Everyone knew David was easy, after all. And it was worth it for the way he whimpered.

Am I really doing this? Is it too late to back out? The damage is done, but – never mind; I couldn't stop now even if I tried. And actually, when you think about it, why should I? Don't I deserve this? Don't I deserve to just treat myself for once in my goddamn life? 

Colin scooped David's slim torso into his arms and fucked him, carefully at first. It felt so good, after his evening of self-imposed teasing, that for a long time he could only swear and bury his face deeper in the crook of David's neck. Shareholders, even the scent of his skin was fucking adorable.

There was no point lying to himself now: this was, on some level, kinda, a little bit, maybe, exactly what he'd been angling for the whole time. All the flirting, the nicknames, the secret gifts. The party, the drinks, the cake. All for an adolescent piece of ass he could have had nine months ago by snapping his fingers. Ah, well. Maybe it was a symptom of that 'love' thing he'd heard so much about.

Oh, and he'd forgotten about the cake. The fucking garden cake with the fucking fuchsias and toadstools and everything, all modelled in icing by a baffled CookBot who owed him a favour. Well, the students had probably found and demolished it by now. Never mind. Here was David's head lolling on his pillow, David clenching and twitching around his cock, so could the night really be said to be anything other than an unmitigated triumph?

"Do you like that, baby? Doesn't it feel so fucking nice?"

Earlier, before they kissed, David had seemed to have at least a few of his wits about him. Either he'd already been much drunker than he'd appeared then, or his condition had deteriorated drastically in the intervening time, because he was no longer making speeches – or, indeed, speech of any kind. His eyes, when they opened, wouldn't rest or focus on anything, and his limbs may as well have been attached with string for all he could move them. There was a decent chance that he wouldn't remember any of this in the morning. Still, as long as he didn't throw up in the bed, that was okay. Some of the most exciting nights of Colin's own youth were the ones he could barely remember.

Colin was fucking faster and deeper now, rubbing consistently against David's prostate, so it was no surprise when cum spurted across both their stomachs. "That's good, you're so good, you're the best," Colin panted, thrusting harder. "I told you it would be nice, didn't I, sweetheart?"

David just moaned. If he was trying to make words, he didn't succeed. Colin kissed him, forcing his tongue to the back of his throat until the taste of stale beer and come became overpowering. The reminder that others had already shared this mouth tonight impelled him to screw David with every ounce of force he could muster – though whether that was out of anger or arousal, once again, he couldn't be sure.

When he was almost ready to finish, he pulled back and looked down at the beautiful, helpless thing cradled in his arms. Its face was flushed and its breathing ragged; bruises were scattered down one side of its neck, marking where he'd tasted it. Colin broke into a grin. "Happy birthday," he whispered, at the very moment his cock twitched and pumped his pretty little flower full of come.

When it was over, Colin pulled out and laid David back down on the mattress, watching fondly as he immediately settled into a deep, contented sleep. Colin was feeling pretty sleepy himself, so he did the bare minimum cleanup with a few tissues. They could shower tomorrow. Maybe they could even shower together? His heart was glowing; a whole world of possibilities had opened up before him. Or perhaps it was just more links in the inflexible chain of events which had led him to this point. Either way, he was looking forward to it.

Why on Mars had he fought this for so long? Why had he been so bothered about what other people would think? He would just have to make sure they didn't find out, that was all. He would strive twice as hard in public to be the perfect friend/acquaintance/boss, general role model and pillar of MarsCorp that he always had been, and nobody would ever even think to question his sexual conduct. And if they did, well, he would simply sit them down for a chat – win them round, undermine them, remove them from the equation altogether – the methods didn't matter. The point was that, after covering up so many unauthorised science experiments together, he and David were more than capable of keeping one extra little secret between the two of them.

In fact, a strong argument could be made that at that moment, even poor shagged-out David wasn't fully aware of the night's developments. Until the inevitable hungover conversation tomorrow, when it may or may not come flooding back to him, Colin was all alone in the knowledge of what he'd done. What he'd started.

He turned out the lights, slipped back into bed, and within minutes, he too was fast asleep. One arm lay like a sash across his boy's chest, rising and falling gently with every breath David took.