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Eric measures out the coffee and pours it in the maker then flips the switch. He looks up to see Orli coming into the kitchen. "Just in time to tell me. Omelets or French Toast?"

"Coffee. Just coffee," Orli croaks out, having gotten out of the habit of being upright at this hour of the morning. He collapses into the kitchen chair and rests his head on his arms. "Why did I take an 8 o'clock this semester?"

"I think it was because it's 'the only God forsaken time that the stupid git of a professor offered it'. Or something like that," Eric chuckles as opts for French Toast for one.

"Oh yeah," Orli mumbles, watching the tantalizing brown liquid begin to drip into the glass carafe. "Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much of my summer sleeping by the pool."

Eric frowns and shakes his head. "Can't say I'm sorry about that one bit. Your tan is gorgeous." He cracks an egg into a bowl and begins to beat it.

Orli forces himself to his feet and wraps his arms around Eric's waist, pressing his cheek again his lover's shoulder. "Then it was worth dragging me along on your book tour all summer?"

Eric smiles as Orli hugs him. "Absolutely. I don't think I could have survived it without having you there to come home to at night." He dunks a thick slice of brioche into the egg mixture before dropping it into the melted butter in his pan.

Better me than a bottle, Orli thinks. He kisses Eric's neck and then releases him, plucking two mugs from the cabinet. Leaving them by the coffeepot he hops up on the counter and swings his legs back and forth. "But now it's back to the real world."

"Aah, yes. Back to the daily grind." Eric checks the bread to make sure it isn't burning before he looks over at Orli. "I can't pretend to be too upset though, the daily grind isn't so bad now that I have you to share it with me."

Orli smiles back. "What's your schedule like this semester? Maybe we can have lunch together or something a few times a week."

"It's heavier than last semester. I'm taking up some slack for Dr. Rainey, the Shakespeare professor. He's still out on medical leave so I'm taking two of his classes. One of them is a night class. The dean promised to get me some help though. Maybe a TA." Eric flips his toast and grins in satisfaction at the golden brown color.

"So maybe an early dinner that night," Orli says, just as the coffeepot gurgles and spits out the last of the caffeinated liquid. "The house will be so quiet that night." Filling the mugs to the brim he carries them to the table, pushing one across to Eric's spot.

"Look on the bright side though, it's a night that will be free of me and you can study," Eric points out as he reaches for a plate for his toast.

"True. You do have a habit of interrupting my studies in the middle of the night," Orli teases, sipping the dark brew.

"You know you love it," replies Eric as he slips the toast onto the plate and grabs the syrup and two forks, just in case Orli has changed his mind about eating anything.

"Maybe," Orli says slyly, finally starting to feel human again. "Coffee works miracles," he sighs taking another long drink.

"Sure you don't want a bite?" asks Eric as he holds up one of the forks, syrup dripping from the French Toast on the end of it. "I put cinnamon in it. Just the way you like it."

Orli leans in and takes the bite from the fork, chewing thoughtfully. "Yummy," he pronounces before settling back in his chair. "But still to early to eat."

Laughing at Orli's proclamation, Eric takes of bite of the toast and chews happily. He looks at his adorably grumpy boyfriend and reminds himself again how lucky he is to have such a wonderful man in his life.

~*~*~

Orli shoves his backpack up higher on his shoulder as he rounds the corner near Eric's office. The first day of class hasn't been bad, mostly distribution of syllabi and chatting about their summers. He taps lightly on the door to Eric's office but gets no response so he leans casually back against the wall to wait.

Saying goodbye to a group of his students, Eric looks down the hall to see Orli standing near his office door. A smile breaks across his face as he starts to walk a bit faster. "Mr. Bloom. How nice to see you," he says formally despite the grin on his face.

"Dr. Bana," Orli says with a tilt of his head. "I had a question about our final exam from last semester," he prattles on as Eric unlocks the door. "You see I was giving it some thought over the summer..." Eric steps through the threshold and Orli follows close behind, pushing the door shut with his foot as he flings himself into Eric's arms.

Eric enfolds Orli into his embrace, lifting him up and claiming his mouth for a hungry kiss. Walking backward, Eric carries his lover to his desk. "Missed you all day," he says breathlessly when they finally come up for air.

"Class is not nearly as fun when I don't get to stare at you for an hour and a half." Orli sits on the edge of Eric's desk with his legs wrapped around the back of Eric's thighs and his arms draped over his lover's shoulders.

With a soft growl of desire, Eric kisses Orli again as he lays him back on his desk. Eager to feel the silken softness of Orli's skin beneath his fingers, Eric's hands slide under his lover's shirt and push it up until one dusky nipple is exposed. Latching onto it with his mouth, Eric teases the tender nub with the tip of his tongue.

Orli knows they shouldn't do this here but he can't resist. It's so cliché that it actually makes it exciting... the eager student laid out over the desk of the ravishing professor. He arches into Eric's touch, the heat of his mouth a contrast to the cool wood beneath his back.

"You taste so good," murmurs Eric, his hand dropping down between Orli's legs to palm the hardening flesh there. "You feel good, too," Eric smiles as he rubs the growing bulge behind Orli's zipper.

"How can you tell through all that fabric?" Orli asks with feigned innocence, his body responding immediately to Eric's intimate touch.

"You're right... I need to take a closer look," agrees Eric, his smile turning almost wolfish. He begins to unfasten Orli's jeans when he is startled by the sound of his office door opening. He looks up to see a young man peeking his head around the door.

"Dr. Bana?"

"Fuck," Eric whispers beneath his breath as he hurries to pull Orli's shirt back down.

"I'm sorry. I knocked, but I guess you didn't hear me," the young man smiles. It's obvious that he's interrupted something.

"Would you mind waiting for me outside?" Eric asks as he struggles to compose himself.

"Sure thing," the young man grins then closes the door again.

Orli pries himself up off the desk, his pulse racing. "I guess I forgot to lock the door," he says sheepishly as he does up his pants.

Eric runs his hand back through his hair with a sigh then he leans in and kisses Orli on the cheek. "Not your fault. I forgot, too."

Orli straightens the collar on Eric's shirt, smoothing the cotton back into place. "Why don't I head on home and help Rosetta get dinner started and you can take care of this."

"Okay," Eric nods, the frustration of the situation written all over his face. "I'll see you at home."

"Love you," Orli whispers, kissing Eric's cheek. He grabs his backpack off the floor where it fell earlier and gives a parting smile of encouragement to his boyfriend before slipping out into the hallway.

The dark-haired student is lingering in the deserted hallway, a respectful distance away from the door. Orli clears his throat and gives the other man a half-hearted wave as he walks the other way, not envying Eric's position.

Eric opens the door wider and beckons for the young man to come into his office. Once he's inside, Eric closes the door and gestures for him to sit down as he takes the seat behind his desk.

"Thank you for waiting. I apologize for..." Eric hesitates, waving his hand for lack of his vocabulary to describe what happened.

"I'm the one who owes you an apology. I should know better than to open office doors without an invitation. Dean Richards said that you would be expecting me. But that's no excuse, I know."

"Dean Richards?" Eric gives the young man a puzzled look.

"Yes. I'm Ian. Ian Somerhalder. Your new TA?"

"Oh! Right," Eric nods. "The new teacher's assistant to help out with the Shakespeare classes. He sent me an email about you."

"I thought I should drop by to find out what you need," explains Ian.

"Right," Eric says again with another nod. "Right."

 

~*~*~*~

Eric hits the button to close the garage door then enters the house through the kitchen where Rosetta and Orli are having a chat while she finishes with their supper.

"Something smells really good," Eric says as he leans over Rosetta's shoulder to see what she's making, giving her a quick kiss on her cheek when he sees that she is making his favorite dish, crawfish etoufee.

"I warned her you might be in a foul mood," Orli says warily as he tilts his cheek up for his own welcome home kiss.

Taking hold of Orli's chin, Eric turns his face to give him a proper kiss on his lips. "Everything's fine," he smiles.

"Yeah?" Orli asks, smiling against Eric's lips.

"Our visitor? He's my new TA."

Orli raises an eyebrow, remembering the students striking dark hair and pale skin. "And he's ok with... with what he saw?"

"Yes," Eric nods. "Would you believe he just laughed the whole thing off? Said I wasn't the first professor to have some fun in his office."

"Wow. Sounds like we lucked out there." Orli gets up to help Rosetta set the table. "Still, it's probably best if we invest in a better lock for your door."

"I called Facilities Maintenance. They're going to replace it with one of those that automatically lock when you close the door." Eric smiles and waggles his eyebrows at Orli.

Rosetta just shakes her head as she stirs the etoufee.

Orli stifles a giggle. "Did they ask why?"

"Yes. I told them that I keep forgetting to lock my office," Eric replies. "Technically, it's not a lie."

It's Orli's turn to shake his head as he pulls the salads and drinks from the fridge and sets them out on the table. "You're bad," he laughs.

"And you're an accessory," reminds Eric as he gives Orli a Cheshire Cat grin.

Orli tries out an innocent look but it doesn't work and he plops down in Eric's lap with a laugh. "Sure. Blame it on me."

"Not all the blame," Eric concedes before he kisses Orli again. "But you are irresistible."

"You just wanted to check out my tan again, didn't you," Orli murmurs, his arms snaking around Eric's neck.

"Actually, I wanted to check a little lower than your tan line," Eric whispers only loud enough for Orli to hear.

"I'll have to tan naked next time. Save you the trouble," Orli whispers back.

"Supper's ready," Rosetta announces as she puts a large bowl of the etoufee on the table.

"You'll stay and eat with us, won't you?" asks Eric.

"Not tonight, mon chou. My grandbabies are coming by tonight," she smiles.

"Your grandbabies are more entertaining than us?" Orli teases.

Rosetta just laughs as she begins to take off her apron. "Do y'all need anything else tonight?" she asks.

"No, this is great, Rosetta. Thanks for making supper for us. You go enjoy those grandbabies and we'll see you on Wednesday."

Orli waves as Rosetta sees herself out. He slides his salad over in front of him and starts to pick at the bowl. "So other than the ending, how was your first day of the semester?"

"Good. How about yours?" Eric pushes the salad aside for now and reaches for the bowl of etoufee, spooning a large serving onto his plate.

"Fine. Didn't do much in most of my classes." Orli takes the bowl that Eric passes and puts a small serving on his plate.

"That's good though, right? I know my students gripe like crazy if I start of the term with heavy assignments. Of course, my students seem to gripe about whatever I assign so who knows?" Eric takes a bite of the etoufee, murmuring appreciatively as he chews.

"I never griped," Orli points out with a smile. "I was too busy staring."

"And here I thought that I was the one always staring at you." Eric reaches over to caress Orli's cheek.

"Luckily for both of us the staring was mutual," Orli smiles, digging into his dinner.

*~*~*

Gerry jogs up the steps and leans on the doorbell. While he waits for Eric to answer to door, he props his foot up on the railing and stretches out his hamstrings.

Eric opens the door and waves his friend inside. "Come on in, I'm still looking for my shoes," he tells his friend as he heads toward the kitchen to ask Orli if he's seen his running shoes.

Gerry steps into the foyer and continues his stretching. "I'm ten minutes late, you'd think you would be all ready to go," he yells after Eric.

"I can't go running without my running shoes!" Eric retorts as he walks into the kitchen. "Hey babe, have you seen my running shoes?" he asks Orli.

"Check the hall closet. Rosetta tosses things in there when they get in the way of the vacuum," Orli says absentmindedly, bent over his homework.

"Thanks," replies Eric, turning back toward the hall. He finds the shoes in the closet and hurries back toward the front foyer. "Hey... got 'em," he tells Gerry as he slips them on then kneels down to tie them.

"'Bout time," Gerry grumbles playfully. "I could have been halfway done by now."

"Oh quit your bitching already," Eric grouses as he finishes with his laces and stands up. "A little extra wouldn't hurt you anyway," he teases as he opens the front door and runs out ahead of Gerry.

Gerry chases him down the steps, overtaking him just as Eric reaches the front gate. "Wanker," he calls over his shoulder as he passes his friend and turns left onto the sidewalk.

Eric hurries to catch up with Gerry. "You and Orli and your Britspeak. Stupid git! See there, I'm learning a few things myself."

Settling into an even pace, Gerry falls into step with Eric. "I'm sure you are," he says lasciviously.

"Jealous?" Eric grins, sticking his tongue out at Gerry as they continue a steady jog down the street.

"Nah," Gerry says with a wave of his hand. "I'm fully educated in that discipline."

Eric laughs and shakes his head. "I bet you could still learn a few tricks. Even an old dog like you. You just haven't found the one to teach them to you yet."

"Oh I've found plenty of them," Gerry grins, jogging backwards for a moment so he can wink at Eric. "I like a more well rounded education."

"I know what you like well rounded," Eric shoots back.

Gerry tilts his head and swivels back around by Eric's side. "Touché."

"The happy bachelor. Not one to get tied down. Playing the field. Keeping his options open. Is there a cliché that I haven't used?" asks Eric as they turn another corner.

"Nope, think you've got it covered." Gerry's heard it all before, but Eric isn't usually the one coming down on him so hard. "So now that you're all happily domesticated you think I should be too? Is that it?"

"Yeah, I guess so," admits Eric. "I'm really happy with Orli. I wouldn't mind seeing you happy with someone, too."

"I don't know that settling down would make me happy. I just don't see the whole white picket fence and 2.5 kids thing in my future."

"You're 2.5 kid enough for anyone Gerry. Believe me," jokes Eric.

Gerry punches Eric playfully as they pause to let a car pass before crossing the street.

"How's your semester so far? Off to a good start?" Eric decides a change of subject might be for the best.

"I think it's shaping up alright. So far I don't want to strangle any of my students. That's good, right?"

"Always a good sign." Eric gives Gerry a sarcastic smile.

"And you? Any brilliant ones, cute ones, or annoying ones?" Gerry asks.

"A few of each. Nothing out of the ordinary though. You?"

"Definitely a few I wouldn't mind seeing after class, if you get my drift," Gerry laughs. "Of course it's kind of hard to out do you in that department."

"Hey!" Eric protests, his record for student relations spotless until he fell hard for Orli.

Gerry slows to a stop at the corner, needing to catch his breath. "That was too easy," he laughs.

"That reminds though, I meant to tell you. My new TA walked in on me and Orli. In flagrante' no less. I had him on top of my desk."

Gerry leans over and rests his hands on his knees, laughing so hard his side hurts. "You've got to be kidding me. The first week and you're already fucking in your office?"

"We hadn't seen each other all day! It's hard getting back into a schedule when you've been on vacation all summer." Eric shoots Gerry a pouting frown.

"So did the TA run off to the dean?" Gerry hadn't heard any juicy gossip in the faculty lounge, but it was possible that something had slipped by him.

"No! Lucky for me, he didn't seem to be fazed by it one bit." Eric shrugs as he resumes some stretches to keep his muscles relaxed.

"Yeah but now he has some dirt on you, so be careful." Gerry stands back up, his side stitch starting to ease.

"You don't think he'll use it to get out of grading Shakespeare finals, do you?" Eric gasps, feigning shock and disbelief.

Gerry whacks Eric on the arm and starts off down the street. "I think that's the least of your worries," he calls back over his shoulder.

"You know what your problem is?" asks Eric when he finally catches up with Gerry again.

"No, but I have a feeling you're gonna tell me," Gerry smiles.

"You don't trust anyone. Am I right? That's why you don't want a relationship. Because relationships require trust." Eric nods his head, affirming his theory as they continue their jog.

"Whatever you say, Dr. Phil," Gerry says, shaking his head.

Chapter Text

"I couldn't believe it. I don't think I could have done a better job myself on those play synopses. He's a really good student and an even better TA. Serious about his subject and a hard worker." Eric extols each one of Ian's virtues as he slices the carrots for his and Orli's salads.

Blah, blah, blah, Ian, blah blah is all Orli hears. For the past month, all of Eric's work related chatter has involved that name and glowing praise. Orli concentrates on dumping the boiling pasta water into the sink without burning himself, tuning out Eric for the moment.

"I got my invitation to the literary convention on Wednesday. He had me registered and confirmed at the hotel by Thursday afternoon. And he made my flight reservations." Eric smiles and dumps the sliced carrots in with the lettuce greens. "He's so efficient."

"Sounds like he doesn't waste any time, that's for sure," Orli mumbles under his breath as he shakes the colander, getting the last of the water off the spaghetti before dumping the noodles back into the pot.

"My literary agent is always telling me that I need an assistant to help with my writing. I'm beginning to understand why. It's easier to be organized when you have someone like Ian helping you with everything." Eric opens the door to the fridge and searches inside for the salad dressing.

Orli takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He knows Eric means no harm, that he can't know how each virtue Eric extols in Ian is like a little jab right in his side. There's nothing to be jealous about, he reminds himself. "He sounds like the perfect man," Orli says as he pulls the bubbling marinara sauce off the burner.

Eric finds the bottle he's looking for and sets it on the table, turning back toward Orli as he's pouring the sauce for their pasta into the bowl. "Well, no. He's not perfect," Eric says with a sly smile, sliding his arms around Orli's waist and kissing him on the back of his neck. "That position is already filled," he whispers."

While he wasn't fishing for a compliment, Orli can't help but be pleased by Eric's response. "Good," he says quietly as he leans back against Eric's broad chest.

"That smells fantastic. Are you as hungry as I am?" asks Eric as he releases Orli and takes a seat at the table.

"Depends on how hungry you are," Orli teases. "I think you could eat me under the table pretty much any day of the week." Orli sets the dishes on the table and slides into the chair across from Eric.

"I wouldn't be too sure about that. I've seen what you can do to a jar of peanut butter, remember? I'm still not sure where you put it all though. Must be that hollow leg that Rosetta mentioned when I asked her to pick up another jar at the grocery store for you."

Orli's face flushes remembering how Eric laid him out over this very table last time he was eating peanut butter. "Well you seem to make me burn off a lot of calories," he laughs.

"That's right, so eat your carbs because I'm sure you'll need it for our work out later." Eric grins as he puts a large helping of pasta on Orli's plate.

His eyes widening at the mound of pasta Eric serves him, Orli looks up at Eric's face. "That's some workout you are planning."

"Just consider me your personal exercise program." Eric takes a bite of his own pasta, still grinning around his mouthful.

"Helping me keep my svelte figure? Or just don't want to date me if I get fat?" Orli teases, carefully shoving part of his pasta aside.

"I wouldn't care if you got fat, you know. I love you no matter what size you are," Eric says sincerely.

"I know," Orli smiles. "I was just teasing." He takes a bite of his salad, chewing thoughtfully. "So this literary conference... when is it again?"

"Late October. It's in Chicago this year."

"So Ian gets to keep track of your classes for you then? That will come in handy." Orli mentally reviews his schedule for October, wondering if he can sneak away for a few days with Eric.

"Yeah, it's over a weekend so I'll only miss a Friday. That's not too bad," replies Eric before he devours another fork full of pasta.

"That's convenient," Orli smiles to himself, happy he has no Friday classes this semester.

"Yeah. It's just too bad it won't be baseball season. I would have loved to catch a Cubs game while I'm up there."

"Well if they're in the running for the playoffs," Orli stifles a laugh, "they might still be playing."

"I'll keep my fingers crossed," Eric smiles. "Now eat up," he gestures toward Orli's plate with a wave of his fork. "Workout, remember?" he says teasingly.

"I know, I know." Orli digs into his salad with earnest, his mind racing with the possibility of surprising Eric in Chicago.

~*~*~

Gerry whistles as he strolls down the hall, carefully side-stepping the streams of students that wind through the halls. It is a beautiful day outside and he wants to see if he can convince Eric to spend the afternoon in a long lunch outdoors. He rounds the corner and finds his friend's door propped open and thinks that must be a good sign. "I'm here to kidnap you from the terror of academia," he says conspiratorially as he pokes his head into Eric's office.

"Oh really? What are you asking for the ransom?" Ian asks, smiling at the dark-haired stranger who thinks he was speaking to Eric or who has the wrong office entirely.

Gerry pulls up short and leans back, checking the nameplate outside the office. "You're not Eric," he says, confused.

"No, I'm not," agrees Ian without offering anything more.

Taking a closer look at the younger man, Gerry tries to gauge if he's a student. "Are you waiting for Dr. Bana?"

"Wrong again." Ian knows he should introduce himself and let the stranger know who he is, but he's having too much fun with the other man's confusion.

"Eric?" Gerry says with a confused laugh. "Did you take some sort of anti-aging potion?"

"No..." Ian shakes his head and laughs at the idea that he could pass as a younger Eric Bana.

"Hmmmm," Gerry says, pretending to ponder the situation. "Mass murderer praying on English professors? And I'm next?"

"You're getting colder with each guess. Should I just take pity on you and tell you who I am?" asks Ian, a wide smile on his face.

"Any time now," Gerry grins.

"I'm Ian. Dr. Bana's TA."

"Oh yes," Gerry nods. "Now I remember," he says tapping his fingers to his temple. "Is Dr. Bana around? There was that whole matter of kidnapping..."

"He should be here any moment. Unless some other kidnapper got to him before you, of course," jokes Ian, knowing that Eric's class ended about five minutes ago.

Gerry smiles, intrigued by Ian. "Who else would kidnap him? I can't imagine he'd command much on the open market."

"You'd be surprised. Handsome English professors are quite the commodity." Ian nods, widening his eyes for effect.

"Really?" Gerry says, raising an eyebrow. "What do you think they could get for me? Maybe I'll trade myself to the kidnappers in exchange for Dr. Bana."

Ian looks Gerry over then shrugs his shoulder. "Depends on the market, I guess," he replies, seemingly unimpressed.

"Ouch." Gerry leans back when he hears footsteps in the hall and sees Eric walking toward them. "There he is now. I'd better protect him from those marauding kidnappers," he says with a smile.

"Good luck," Ian says brightly as Eric appears in the doorway.

"Hey!" Eric says in greeting when he sees Gerry. "What brings you here?"

"Thought I might abduct you for a long lunch. It's a gorgeous day."

"Sounds great," replies Eric as he lays his briefcase on his desk. "Can I bring you back anything, Ian?" he offers.

"No thanks, I'm good," Ian tells him.

"Have you met Ian?" Eric asks Gerry, looking from his friend back to his assistant.

"Ah yes. We've just been getting to know one another," Gerry smiles.

Ian smiles politely and returns his attention back to his work.

"Where are you taking me to lunch? I hope it's somewhere expensive," jokes Eric.

Gerry gives Ian one last look before turning his attention to Eric. "As long as you're buying, the sky's the limit," he says as they set off down the hall.

~*~*~

Orli rolls over, rousing slightly from his sleep and reaches over to pull Eric closer. His hand lands on empty sheets, still cool to the touch. He cracks open an eye and looks at the clock, the red numbers betraying the fact that Eric should have been in bed long ago. Orli had left him downstairs working on his next book and he wonders if Eric has fallen asleep at his desk.

With a yawn and a stretch, Orli rolls out of the bed and goes in search of his lover. He doesn't bother to get dressed, just pads softly down the stairs. Light floods out from under the door to Eric's study and Orli taps lightly on the heavy wood door before opening it just enough to see in. "I thought I was the only one allowed to stay up all night," he says with a sleepy smile.

Eric looks up to see Orli peeking around the door. "Hey, baby," he smiles. "Guess time got away from me," he says after a quick glance at his watch.

"The bed is big and lonely without you," Orli whispers, slipping through the door.

Eric smile widens when he sees that Orli is naked. He likes the fact that Orli doesn't like to wear clothes because he loves looking at his beautiful body. Reaching out, he enfolds Orli in his arms and pulls him into his lap. "Did you miss me?" he whispers next to Orli's ear, breathing in the intoxicating scent of his bed warmed lover.

"Yes," Orli exhales against Eric's neck. "You're working too hard. I worry about you."

"Don't worry, love. I'm always like this. When inspiration hits, I have to go with it. No matter what the time," explains Eric before dropping a kiss on Orli's bare shoulder.

"No time for a break?" Orli says softly, unconsciously rubbing against Eric like a cat.

"I always have time for you, baby," Eric croons, his hands gliding over Orli's bare skin.

"You can find new inspiration in my body," Orli says as he shifts in Eric's lap, straddling his thighs.

"I couldn't asked for better inspiration than you." Eric takes hold of Orli's hips and pulls him closer. "Want to take this upstairs?"

Orli shakes his head, leaning down to capture Eric's lips in a kiss. "You stay right here. I'll be back," he says breathlessly when he finally breaks Eric's hold on his mouth.

Figuring he's wearing too many clothes for whatever Orli has planned, Eric begins to undress.

Quickly gathering supplies, Orli hurries back to the study and pauses at the door when he sees Eric stepping out of the last of his clothing. The light from the lamp spills across Eric's back, highlighting the way the muscles move under the skin. His breath catches and Eric turns at the sound and his smile propels Orli forward.

"And you say I'm the beautiful one," he teases softly.

Eric's smile is almost sheepish at Orli's compliment, but the words fill him with a warmth he never had before meeting his young lover. "You are the beautiful one," he says as he wraps his arms around Orli again, lifting him up as he kisses him.

"Whatever you say," Orli says with a happy sigh, wrapping his arms around Eric in return. "Now back in your chair," he says with a devilish grin.

"My chair?" asks Eric. "You want me to sit in my chair?" He gives Orli a confused smile.

"Yes." Orli plants his feet on the floor and starts to push Eric backwards towards his desk. "Don't you trust me?"

"Well... yes. I trust you. I just thought we were going to..." Eric smiles, his voice trailing off as he sits back down in his chair.

"You thought we were going to what?" Orli purrs as he returns to his spot, straddling Eric's bare thighs.

"You know..." Eric laughs as he reaches out to rub his hand along Orli's arm.

"My best-selling author can only come up with you know," Orli says, sitting back on Eric's knees with a twinkle in his eye. "How mundane and run of the mill."

Eric's mouth drops open in surprise then he starts to laugh. "Okay, okay. I thought we were going to fuck. There I said it. Is that better?" He slips his arms around Orli's hips and pulls him against him. "Or is that too mundane? How about 'I thought you were going to let me sink into the tight, clenching heat of your lithe and lovely body'? Mmmmmm?"

"Much better." Orli rocks his hips beneath Eric's touch, urging them to explore more of his skin. "And that's exactly what we are going to do."

Smiling when he realizes that Orli means for them to remain in the chair, Eric squeezes his lover's delectable bottom and quickly gets on board with the program.

"You've never done it like this?" Orli asks, his lips brushing against Eric's ear.

"Not in a chair... no..." replies Eric, his fingers slowly caressing the cleft of Orli's ass as their bare erections rub enticingly against each other.

"I think you'll like it." Orli presses the tube of lube into Eric's fingers and then leans forward, working his right knee up onto the arm of the chair. Pushing his hips back he spreads his thighs wide, giving Eric's fingers full access to his body.

Eric exhales a ragged sigh at the vision of his lover opening himself up to him this way. "You are..." He squeezes the lube onto his fingers, warming it by rubbing them against one another. "Absolutely..." Eric slides his slick fingers along Orli's crease and gently fingers the area around his opening. "The sexiest man that I've ever known." Claiming Orli's mouth, Eric kisses him as his finger slides inside Orli's heat.

"Ever?" Orli mumbles into the kiss, his breath hitching as Eric breaches his body.

"Ever," replies Eric, growling possessively as he slips another finger inside of Orli.

Orli gives up on words and drops his head to Eric's shoulder as he starts to rock his hips back.

The soft gasp of Orli's breath is next to Eric's ear. He's learned so much about his lover these past months that he can tell when Orli is ready for him by the simple sounds he makes.

Eric's hand slips higher on Orli's hip and he adjusts automatically, shifting forward until he's lined up with Eric's cock. "Want you inside me," Orli moans softly in Eric's ear.

"Put the condom on for me?" asks Eric before his fingertips brush against the small bundle of nerves that draw another gasp from Orli.

Orli shivers as Eric's fingers drive home and it takes effort to open his eyes wide enough to fumble with the latex. He rolls it on slowly, fingers teasing at the velvet heat of Eric's cock.

Eric holds Orli's hip and guides the head of his cock against Orli's hole. He looks up, staring into Orli's dark eyes as he slowly pushes inside him.

Meeting Eric's gaze, Orli relaxes and sinks further into Eric's lap, driving his length to the hilt. "See how fun this can be?" Orli gives Eric a sensual smile as he starts to raise and fall in Eric's lap.

"Very nice. I should have never doubted you." Eric's hand slides up along Orli's back, supporting him as he arches and leans back while continuing to ride Eric's cock.

"Having your hands free is a nice bonus," Orli groans as Eric's hands slide over his skin. He closes his eyes and lets his head fall back, trusting Eric to support his weight as he moves.

"One of which I plan on taking full advantage," he says with a smile, one hand on Orli's lower back as the other hand wraps around his cock, slowly stroking him with the same rolling cadence of their hips as they continue to move together.

Orli's lips part, hissing out his pleasure as Eric strokes him. "So good," he repeats over and over, losing himself in the steady rhythm of their coupling.

"Yes," Eric sighs, watching Orli's face contort in pleasure when he angles his hips in search of just the right spot.

"Right. There." Orli grunts out, tightening his body so Eric drives into the same spot over and over. He's rapidly losing control, but he doesn't care, he's safe here with Eric.

"Come for me, baby..." groans Eric, his eyes transfixed on every nuance of Orli's expression as he thrusts harder into his lover's clenching heat.

Orli forces his eyes open, knowing the look of absolute rapture on Eric's face will be enough to release his trembling hold on his climax. He moans Eric's name as his body spasms, spilling onto Eric's fingers and stomach.

"So beautiful..." Eric whispers, wrapping his arms around Orli when he lies limp against his chest. Holding Orli tighter, Eric continues to thrust into the sated and yielding body of his lover.

Orli's breath whimpers out with each thrust and he lays open mouth kisses against Eric's chest, urging him on to completion.

Eric cries out, a wordless sound of release. Head tilted back, gasping for air as his hands stroke over the skin of Orli's back.

Draped across Eric's lap, Orli is afraid to move, not wanting to lose the intimacy of the moment. He can hear Eric's heart still racing in his chest and he matches his own breathing to the rise and fall of Eric's breath.

They stay like that for a long moment until Eric is sure that Orli probably needs to move to return the circulation to his legs. Before he disturbs the quietness between them, he whispers against soft, dark hair. "I love you, Orli."

"I love you too," Orli murmurs against Eric's chest, finding the words come out now with no hesitation.

Chapter Text

Ian shifts the stack of papers he's holding from one arm to the other. He's thinking that maybe it wasn't his best idea to try to deliver the memos about the upcoming meeting for the English department all at one time. Eric has the dubious privilege of chairing the meeting this time around and he's asked Ian to notify everyone and pass out the itineraries.

One by one, he lessens his load as he fills in boxes or slides the memos beneath locked office doors. He's focused on the remaining schedules in his hand when he reaches up blindly to knock on another door, looking up in surprise when his closed fist taps against something other than wood.

"Oh... sorry Professor Butler. I wasn't watching where I was knocking," Ian apologizes for rapping the other man on his chest.

Gerry looks down, startled to find someone standing just outside when he opens the door. It takes him a moment but he recognizes the dark hair and piercing eyes. "Uh... Ian right? Eri... Dr. Bana's TA?"

"Yes, sir." Ian smiles and hands Gerry an itinerary for the meeting. "I'm delivering these for Dr. Bana."

Gerry takes the paper, glancing at the heading before setting it aside. "Leave it to Dr. Bana to put off doing that to the point where there wasn't time to send these through campus mail," he smiles. "Good thing he has some slave labor around to save him."

"I did offer to send them through email but Dr. Bana said some of the staff don't check their email very often." Ian looks over his shoulder to see if anyone is within earshot of their conversation then leans in as he lowers his voice. "The older staff seem to like things done the old fashioned way."

Gerry laughs at Ian's observation. "We're the English department. We like books and papers and things we can put our hands on." He tips open the door to his office a bit wider so Ian can see the piles of books stacked everywhere.

Ian snickers softly as he nods his head in understanding.

"Foiled any good kidnappings lately?" Gerry asks, wondering if Ian remembers their last conversation.

"Oh yes. It's a constant battle. Dr. Bana is quite in demand," replies Ian, playing along with Gerry's reference.

"Oh I doubt that," Gerry teases. "They'd give him back as soon as they got him."

Ian laughs, a genuine sound of amusement, his bright blue eyes sparkling.

"You going to the show on Saturday?" Gerry asks, pointing at Ian's black concert t-shirt.

Looking down at his shirt, Ian is reminded of what he's wearing. "I didn't know they were in town on Saturday?"

"Yeah they're at the House of Blues. Have you ever been there? It's a great place to see a show."

"Yeah, they have bands I'm interested in every now and then," he replies. "So... are you going to see them Saturday night?"

"I am. They're one of my favorites." Gerry pauses for a moment before continuing. "You should check and see if there are tickets left."

"I'll do that. Thanks!" Ian smiles and nods then looks down at the papers in his hands. "Well, I better get going. Have to finish my deliveries," he says, taking a step back. "See you later, Professor Butler."

Gerry raises his hand and nods as Ian leaves. "I'm sure we'll run across each other again," he smiles.

~*~*~*~

"Are you sure that's a word?" asks Eric as he stares at the tiles that spell out YIRRS.

"You could always challenge," Orli says with a sparkle in his eye.

"Use it in a sentence." Eric leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest.

"I just played yirrs in our game of scrabble," Orli gloats triumphantly. "On a triple word score no less."

Eric scowls as he looks at the score. Orli is beating him by more than double. "Skunk," he says petulantly as he turns his attention back to his own tiles. All vowels. Great.

Orli sits back and tucks his foot up under him as he contemplates his rack of tiles. Eric usually beats the pants off him but he's riding a wave of lucky tiles and he's going to milk it for all it's worth.

Eric finds an open R and plays EERIE with four of his vowels. The score isn't even a dent in Orli's lead but at least he's drawn a letter other than an E.

Orli fights back a smile as he shuffles the tiles on his rack. He holds a tile over the board, pausing for just a moment before he plays. "You sure you don't want to just forfeit now?"

"Never," Eric replies without hesitation. His pride in tact despite the lopsided score.

Placing his tiles carefully, Orli adds up his score and adds it to the scrap of paper with their totals. "ZOEA for 26 points."

"What the hell is a zo ee ah?"

"It's 26 points, that's what it is," Orli teases.

"You can't just put a bunch of vowels with a Z and pretend it's a word," mumbles Eric.

Orli leans over the board and gives Eric a kiss. "Let me enjoy it for just a minute, ok?"

"Sorry. You're right. You're beating me like a drum and you deserve to gloat a bit." Eric gives him a slight smile and pulls him close again. "Let me have another one of those consolation kisses."

Orli obliges, letting Eric distract him from the game for a moment. He shifts closer and lets Eric's arms engulf him.

"We should play the next game for kisses," suggests Eric.

"Or strip Scrabble," Orli laughs, snuggling closer.

"Now that's what I'm talking about!" Eric agrees enthusiastically before kissing "his" spot behind Orli's ear.

"You'd definitely be too distracted to win." Orli tilts his head, letting his eyes fall closed as Eric's lip brush against his skin.

"Yeah, but what a way to lose," jokes Eric.

"Is it really losing if I end up naked?"

"Good point." Eric rolls Orli on to his back, the Scrabble board spilling tiles everywhere.

~*~*~

"You have to stop calling me. I've told you over and over..."

Orli sighs, resting his elbows on the counter raking his fingers through his hair.

"I said I'm not..."

"You know I'll say no..."

"Will you just let me finish a sentence? I can't meet you, even just to talk."

Orli holds the phone away from his ear, letting the voice drone on and on.

"I have to run. Goodbye," he says firmly and hangs up.

~*~*~

Ian sighs and rolls his eyes as he is pushed against the wooden railing yet again. It's a packed house with barely room to move and he knows if he loses this spot near the upper bar, he won't even get close to actually seeing the band.

Gerry welcomes back one of his friends with a kiss on the neck as the next round of drinks is passed around. Justin had scored passes into the VIP section which is roped off along the left side of the balcony. He isn't sure what or who Justin had done for the passes but Gerry is pleased at not being stuffed into the general crowd.

"Speak of the devil..." he laughs as the bouncer lets Justin pass through the ropes. Gerry's voice is lost in the din of the crowd, but it doesn't matter because a boy with dark hair and a piercing gaze standing near the upper bar has caught his eye. He waits until the eyes pass his way on a scan of the room and he lifts his glass to call attention to himself.

"Ian," he calls out, wondering if his voice will carry that far.

Ian tilts his chin up and gives Gerry a smile, the space squeezed between the two people on either side of him too small to wave in response.

Gerry holds up one finger, hoping Ian will stay put for a moment. He slips over behind Justin and whispers in his ear, digging his fingers into the other man's jeans pocket. Justin shakes his head but Gerry insists and comes away with one of the elusive passes. He holds it up so Ian can see and puts on a questioning expression.

"You want to come down here with us?" he asks, wondering if Ian can read lips.

Frowning when Gerry holds up a piece of paper, Ian shrugs apologetically and tries to keep his place when he's suddenly shoved from behind again.

Gerry can see that Ian will never be able to hold his own in the crowd so he decides to go play knight in shining armor. Asking Tim to hold his drink, he smiles at the bouncer and pushes into the pulsating crowd. He snakes his way by force through the press of bodies until he reaches Ian, finding him clinging desperately to the railing to keep his place.

"You know," Gerry says as he's carried up against Ian's body by the force of the crowd, "it's much safer down there if you are interested."

Ian looks surprised at Gerry's offer. "Can I?" he asks hopefully. "I mean yes. Yes, I'm interested!" he blurts out quickly in case Gerry changes his mind.

Gerry smiles and hands Ian one of the passes. "Guard this with your life. This crowd is brutal." He takes Ian's hand so they don't get separated in the crowd and winds back toward the VIP section.

Grateful for the rescue, Ian lets Gerry guide him back to their reserved seats. He knows that this band usually attracts a rowdy crowd, but he's just about had enough of the pushing and shoving.

"Thanks," Ian says breathlessly after they have cleared the crowd. "I think you just saved my life."

"Don't mention it," Gerry says with a smile. "If you head to the bar for a drink make sure you take your pass so you can get back in. There's couches and stuff back through there," he gestures behind him, "and chairs up here to see the stage. Most of these guys are grad students like you, so they're a friendly bunch," he says, indicating his companions. "Make yourself at home."

"Great," smiles Ian. "Thanks," he says again as he watches Gerry move toward the two young men he was standing with before he came to rescue him. Ian recognizes them from Loyola, but not from the English Department. One of them, the blond, eyes him suspiciously over Gerry's shoulder and Ian quickly turns his gaze away, looking out over the crowd below.

Gerry accepts his drink back just as the opening act goes on stage. He turns his attention to the stage for the beginning of the first song. Not terribly impressed he slips away from the rail and back towards the couches that are sheltered somewhat from the sound.

Ian glances at Gerry as he disappears into the back room, his eyes meeting the two steady and disapproving gazes of Gerry's companions staring back at him. Quickly getting to his feet, he brushes past them and hurries into the back room to find Gerry.

Gerry looks up as Ian's shadow falls across the couch. He scoots over and makes room for the younger man. "Opening act not your thing either?"

"Not so much," he says as he takes a seat on the couch. "Um... Gerry? Are you sure it's okay that I'm here?" he asks almost hesitantly.

"Yeah," Gerry says, distracted as he waves to another friend who's finally made it through the crowd and into the VIP area. "Why?"

"Just wondering..." murmurs Ian as he watches Gerry greet the new arrival.

Gerry turns his attention back to Ian. "Did someone say something to you?"

"What? No... not exactly."

"So..." Gerry says expectantly, leaning back on the couch. "What then, exactly?"

Ian's smile is timid and he can feel his face warming with embarrassment. "I just wanted to be sure that I'm not... intruding."

"You're not intruding," Gerry says drinking in the intoxicating sight of Ian's flushed cheeks. "You have a pass right?" he says with a cheeky grin. "Then you have just as much right to be here as everyone else, no matter how catty they might seem."

"Okay." Ian nods hesitantly, still a bit unsure of what he's getting into. "If you say so," he adds with a smile.

Gerry slips his arm around Ian's shoulders, lowering his lips to the other man's ear. "They're just jealous of you," he whispers.

"Wh..what? Why?" sputters Ian, his skin tingling where Gerry's lips touched him.

"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" Gerry says quietly, lips lingering just for a moment before he pulls away and smiles.

Ian lowers his eyes at Gerry's compliment, the VIP room seeming to get warmer by the minute.

Gerry pulls back away and downs the rest of his drink, passing off the empty glass to one of the guys headed toward the bar. "I'm glad you decided to come tonight."

"Me, too," Ian says quietly. "And I'm glad you had an extra VIP pass," he adds, a smile returning to his face.

"Don't thank me, thank Justin," Gerry smiles, looking up as Justin walks by.

Ian's smile slips a bit as he looks up at the blond when he stops behind the couch and drapes his arms around Gerry's neck and whispers something in his ear.

Gerry tilts his head up, nuzzling against Justin's neck while protesting that the doesn't really want to get up and dance. Justin won't take no for an answer though and starts to pull him away from the couch. "Talk to you later?" Gerry says to Ian, as Justin's hands slip around his waist.

"Later," Ian nods, feeling very much like a third wheel. He can hear the sound of the warm up band starting a new song and decides to remain on the comfy couch for a while longer, the time spent wondering about Gerry and his friend. After another song, Ian decides to return to the balcony where he finds Gerry dancing with not only Justin, but the other blond as well.

Make that a fourth wheel.

The sight of the English professor dancing with the two young men catches him by surprise at first, but then he's heard the department gossip about Gerry.

Different guy every time. Students aren't off limits. Total player.

Nothing Ian is seeing makes it hard to refute the rumors, but it's not his place to judge right? Gerry seems nice. He has a good sense of humor. He's sexy. But he's a player. Definitely not Ian's type.

Gerry sees Ian return to the rail and he beckons him over but Ian doesn't see and Gerry is swept up by his friends as the main show starts.

Chapter Text

Eric folds the section of newspaper that he's been reading and lays it on the stack at the end of the bed. He lies back and stretches languorously as the soft patter of the rain outside does its best to lull him back to sleep. There's nothing better than a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon.

Orli hands over the next piece that he's just finished with, and leans in to kiss Eric's cheek. "Last piece," he says as he snuggles back down under the covers.

"Mmmm," Eric turns, enfolding Orli into his arms and nuzzling against his lover's neck.

"Never get the paper finished that way," Orli murmurs, lips pressed against Eric's temple.

"I've read all I need to..." he replies groggily as his hands map the warm, bare skin of Orli's back, his fingers slipping below the elastic band of his cotton boxers.

"My ass is more stimulating than world politics?" Orli teases, enjoying the way Eric's hands feel against his flesh.

"No, but my fingers can be," Eric says as he slips them between the cleft of Orli's ass. "Want me to demonstrate?"

Orli gives up on coherent words as Eric's fingers find his hole. He spreads his thighs, hooking his top leg up over Eric's body. Moaning softly against Eric's skin, Orli rests his head on the broad expanse of his lover's chest, letting the other man drive him slowly insane with pleasure.

"Like that?" Eric purrs next to Orli's ear as his fingers slide in and out of Orli's entrance.

Nodding, Orli drags his lips across Eric's chest, his tongue darting out to lick Eric's pebbled nipple. He's perfectly content to lay here all day, listening to the rain and letting Eric touch him like this.

"There's another part of me that's getting jealous," Eric chuckles softly as he presses his hardening cock against Orli's thigh.

"And you want me to do something about that?" Orli says with a languid grin, lifting his head to see Eric's face.

"I already have an idea of what I'd like to do... just making sure you don't have other plans or that I'm keeping you from something more important..."

"No plans that don't involve us naked and in bed." Orli curls his leg tighter around Eric, drawing him closer. "But I'm intrigued to hear what your idea might be."

"My idea is to be inside you." Eric pulls Orli closer, pressing harder against him. "Deep, deep inside you," he whispers.

"Good plan." Orli dips his head and captures Eric's mouth in a slow, lazy kiss.

Tugging at Orli's bottom lip as he pulls away from their kiss, Eric smiles as he reaches for the bedside table in search of a condom and lube.

Orli pushes back the covers and crawls over between Eric's legs, letting his fingers walk softly along the elastic of Eric's boxer, carefully staying away from the tented fabric covering his cock.

"Getting an idea of your own, lover?" asks Eric as he watches Orli's careful touches. Eric reaches up, his large hand cupping Orli's cheek as his thumb caresses over his lips.

"Nope, just expounding on your idea," Orli smiles. "Kinda hard to get deep inside me with your boxers still on after all."

"Good thinking. Beauty and brains." Eric returns Orli's smile, lifting his hips invitingly.

Orli hooks his fingers in Eric's boxers and slowly tugs them down, letting his lover's cock spring free. He bends down and gives it a kiss before extricating Eric's legs from the soft fabric.

"Care to do the honors?" Eric holds up the condom between his fingers, a sly smile on his face.

"I'd love to." Orli slips his boxers off before tearing into the foil packet. He straddles Eric's thighs and wraps his fingers around his length, fisting it slowly before rolling on the latex.

Eric squeezes some lube onto his fingers, rubbing it along his latex covered length before pulling Orli closer. Capturing Orli's mouth in slow, languid kiss, Eric's fingers return to the task of teasing his lover's hole. He slips them inside then quickly pulls them out, repeating the motion until Orli is rocking his hips back to meet him.

"More," Orli whispers, arching his back. "Need more than just your fingers."

Taking hold of Orli's hip, Eric guides his cock so that it rubs teasingly against Orli's entrance. "So beautiful like this. Tell me what you need, baby," he croons softly, enthralled by his lover's beauty.

"You," Orli repeats like a mantra. "Only you." Reaching back Orli grasps Eric's cock and slowly lowers himself onto his lover's length.

Letting out a hiss of pure pleasure as he's surrounded with Orli's heat, Eric's hands rest on Orli's hips as he resists the urge to thrust harder into the welcoming tightness of his lover's body.

Fully seated, Orli bends forward, taking more of his weight onto his knees so Eric can move his hips. "Excellent idea you had."

"Thought you might like it..." Eric groans, bending his knees as his feet slide against the sheets. "Damn, you feel good..."

Orli gasps as Eric struggles for leverage, shifting inside him. "Have a better idea," he says breathlessly, tugging on Eric's shoulder until they tumble onto their sides. "On top," he urges, lifting his legs and pulling his knees toward his chest.

Hooking Orli's legs over his shoulders, Eric wastes no time taking advantage of the new position as he pushes deeper with each thrust of his hips.

Reaching up, Orli slips his hand behind Eric's neck, pulling himself up so he can kiss him as they move together. He stares up at Eric's face, thinking about how lucky he is to have him in his life.

Staring down into the dark depths of Orli's eyes, he can see the emotion in them. "Love you," Eric rasps before he claims Orli's lips again.

Eric drives deep inside him, and Orli greedily pushes into every thrust. He keeps his arms tight around Eric's neck, drowning in his kisses.

Wrapping his fingers around Orli's length, Eric begins to stroke him with each thrust of his hips. "Come for me..." he moans softly.

"Already?" Orli says, his breath hitching at a particularly wicked twist of Eric's hand. "Thought we were just getting started," he whispers.

"Okay... if you think you can hold out..." Eric's lips curve into a wicked grin as he works Orli's cock faster with each push.

"Fuck..." Orli hisses under his breath, grinning like a fool as Eric redoubles his effort. His body squirms under the dual assault, his hips pistoning between Eric's hand and his cock.

"What's wrong, lover? You're not close, are you?" Eric taunts as he teases the sensitive underside of Orli's cock with his thumb.

"I'm not if you're not," Orli manages to get out, biting down on his bottom lip.

"You... first..." Eric growls playfully as he stops his thrusts, staying buried in the tight heat of Orli's body as he continues to fist his cock.

Orli clenches around Eric's length, smiling when it elicits a groan from his lover. "Age before beauty," he teases.

Removing his hand from Orli's cock, Eric reaches up and pinches Orli's nipple. "Tease."

"You bet." Orli nips at Eric's lips, digging his fingers into Eric's arm as he tries to pull him even closer. "Only solution is to come together."

Eric can't help but laugh as he starts to move again, slowly pulling out then pushing in.

Orli takes up where Eric has left off, slowly stroking his cock in time with Eric's thrusts. He can feel Eric's body tensing, his hips moving in stuttering bursts of movement.

"Close," Eric growls, his breath ragged pants of air as he nears his climax.

Nodding, Orli speeds his hand, the sound of Eric's voice doing more for his arousal than his touch. "Wanna feel you come," Orli urges. "Pulse and shudder and explode in me."

"Together," is Eric's response through gritted teeth. He can't hold on much longer, but he doesn't want to let go until Orli goes with him.

"Now," Orli agrees, his back lifting up off the bed as sticky fluid spurts up onto his chest.

Orli's clenching muscles tighten around him and Eric can't hold back any longer, his body shuddering with its release.

Orli continues to stroke his cock until he's completely spent as Eric trembles above him. He splays his fingers out over Eric's chest, feeling the other man's heart thundering under his skin.

Eric collapses to the bed, lying on his back as he tries to regain his breath. He throws an arm across Orli's chest, pulling him close. "You are such a tease," he says breathlessly. "Just one of the things that I love about you."

"You're just the perfect target." Orli curves against Eric's side, his head resting on his shoulder.

"Oh yeah? I think I was the one hitting the target." Eric smacks one perfect butt cheek with the palm of his hand.

"Is that what you were trying to do?" Orli laughs.

Eric's jaw drops even though he knows that Orli is only joking. "What? You're telling me my aim is bad?"

"No, your aim is perfect," Orli says, taking pity on Eric. "You shot me right through the heart and I never stood a chance," he says quietly.

Eric smiles, brushing some of Orli's wayward curls away from his face. "I love you, Orli."

"Love you too." Orli turns his head and kisses Eric's palm just as his stomach rumbles loudly. "Breakfast time?" he laughs.

"Let's go raid the fridge and bring it back here for breakfast in bed," suggests Eric. "Then I'm going to be ready for a nap."

"You have the best ideas." Orli says, rolling over and stretching. "Race you to the kitchen."

Reaching out to pull Orli back in the center of the bed, Eric bounds over him and hits the floor running. "Age before beauty!" he says over his shoulder as he disappears through the door.

Orli laughs but quickly recovers, dashing out of the room and down the hall after his naked lover.

Chapter Text

Gerry whistles softly as he strolls down the hall, one of the songs from last night's concert wedged firmly in his brain. He'd thoroughly enjoyed himself the night before but had to admit that he'd left feeling somewhat unfilled. As the concert wrapped up he'd found himself swept up the in group as they moved on to the after-party and hadn't had a chance to find Ian to ask him to come along. He hadn't dwelled on it at the time but now found himself headed for Eric's office in the hopes he might find the grad student there.

Tapping his knuckles lightly on Eric's door, he pokes his head through the opening and sees Ian's dark hair, bent over a stack of papers. "Hey there," he says with a smile when Ian looks up from his work.

"Hey," Ian says, returning Gerry's smile. "I'm afraid you just missed him. He left about five minutes ago heading to another meeting," Ian tells him as he finishes with a stack of papers waiting to be graded.

"Thanks," Gerry says, his smile faltering slightly at Ian's apparent lack of interest in him. "But actually I was looking for you, not Eric."

"Me?" Ian's eyes widen. "Oh, I'm sorry. I just assumed you were looking for Dr. Bana."

"I didn't get a chance to say good-bye last night." The words sound lame to Gerry's ears and he wonders why he's bothering to apologize. "You just kind of disappeared."

"Yeah," Ian admits quietly. "You were kind of... pre-occupied. I didn't want to bother you. I did want to thank you for sharing the VIP section last night. I really did enjoy it."

"Great," Gerry says, taking a seat in the chair across the desk from Ian. "I still have the songs stuck in my head," he laughs.

Ian's smile widens. "Me, too," he says, ducking his head shyly.

"You should have been with us at the bar after the concert. You would have thought it was karaoke night. Drunken karaoke that is." Gerry imagines Ian singing loudly and drunkenly and it makes him smile.

"Consider yourself lucky that you were spared then. My singing is not for public consumption." Ian chuckles softly, his fingers idly toying with the edge of the desk mat.

"What about private consumption? Singing into a candlestick in your tighty-whities?" Gerry laughs. "Or have I just outed myself as a helplessly old and out of touch man with that reference"

Ian laughs and shakes his head. "Lucky for you, I get the reference because I'm a connoisseur of the classics." He chances a direct glance toward Gerry for the first time since the other man entered the room. "And you're not old."

Gerry's smile softens when Ian's eyes meet his. "Thank you for the kind ego boost. Most of the students around here would have looked at me like I had two heads when I said that."

"Well most of the students around here don't appreciate 80s movies like I do. And I'm sure that your ego doesn't need boosting from me." Ian looks back down at the desk.

"What if I want my ego to be boosted by you?" Gerry keeps his teasing tone, but the question is serious.

Ian exhales a nervous laugh without looking up. "Bet you say that to all the boys."

"I bet I don't." Gerry lets the silence between them stretch for a moment before continuing. "And I wouldn't call you a boy."

Ian can feel the butterflies in his stomach and hear the pounding of his own heartbeat in his ears as he struggles for the right thing to say and the will to say it. It would be so easy to just give in... Ian looks up at Gerry and takes a deep breath. "Professor Butler..." His voice hitches and he has to swallow hard to clear his throat.

"Let me take you out to dinner," Gerry says, fearing what the end of Ian's sentence might be. "To make up for ditching you at the concert."

"You ditched me?" Ian asks, surprised by Gerry's reason. "No... you didn't ditch me. I left."

"Well maybe ditching wasn't the right word. How about 'being too preoccupied to notice you were leaving'?"

"Well yes. Exactly." Ian nods.

"So dinner? What night would be good for you?" Gerry presses.

Ian pauses in the wake of Gerry's persistence. "I can't," he finally answers. "I'm not a prude, Professor Butler. I know that students and teachers have relationships other than those in the classroom, but I'm not one of them so... thank you for your invitation, but no thank you."

Gerry can't remember the last time someone turned him down and he's surprised by how much it stings. "It didn't have to be anything other than dinner, you know."

Ian feels momentarily abashed for assuming that Gerry would want more from him, but he's resigned to suffer the embarrassment now instead of later. "Then I hope you'll accept my apology as well as my answer."

"No need to apologize. It's not like I can't see where you were coming from with that assumption. And I freely admit I wouldn't have protested had dinner led to something else." Gerry can see the pink stain grow in Ian's cheek and he knows the other man is embarrassed. "Don't worry about it ok? I understand if you don't want to go."

It's not that I don't want to go... Ian remains silent, a nod of his head his only response.

Gerry looks down at his watch, feeling suddenly uncomfortable in the small office, his ego slightly bruised from Ian's rejection. "I should probably get going. I've got class..."

"Me, too," Ian says as he gets to his feet. "Thank you again for last night," he adds quickly when Gerry reaches the door.

"You're welcome. I'll make sure and let you know the next time I have tickets for a good band. It's nice to have found someone who appreciates my taste in music."

"And movies..." Ian says before thinking about it. He gives Gerry a weak smile before turning to get the papers he'll need for the class he's teaching.

"Yes, can't forget about that," he says, mustering up smile. "Tell Eric I said hello."

"I will," Ian smiles as he moves toward to the door. "Bye, Professor Butler."

"Goodbye," Gerry says as he steps into the hall and heads back to his office, muttering having replaced his earlier whistling.

 

**EC**EC**EC**

 

Ian looks out of the window that he is sitting by, sheets of torrential rain flowing down the glass as another roll of thunder can be heard across the river. The large shutter doors of the café are usually open to the tables that line the sidewalk, but the rainstorm has them closed and all of the patrons crammed into the small dining room inside. The dozen tables are all filled with customers escaping the weather, enjoying a bowl of gumbo or a crawfish poboy while they wait.

His attention drawn to the entrance when the bell over the door rings loudly, Ian recognizes the latest escapee from the storm. He sits still as the man shrugs off the raindrops clinging to him then watches as the familiar green eyes scan the small, standing-room-only space, his heart beating a bit faster when they come to rest on him. Alone. At a table with one other empty chair.

Ian gives a nervous smile and an acknowledging lift of his chin before his eyes dart to the empty chair then back to Gerry.

"Lovely day, in'it," Gerry says as he tries to wipe some of the water off his arms before taking a seat at Ian's small table. "Thanks for letting me sit with you."

"No problem," replies Ian as he rakes together the papers that are scattered all over his table. "I was just doing some work and hoping that the weather clears up."

"I was on my way home when the skies opened up. The water wasn't too bad but the lightning made me think twice about trying to tough it out any further." Gerry helps shift the papers over but waves his hand at Ian to continue working. "I won't bother you if you're trying to get stuff done."

"It's okay. I was thinking about ordering something to eat. Maybe," Ian tells him.

"Maybe?" Gerry runs his fingers through his hair, squeezing out more water.

"Yes, well it doesn't look like it's ready to let up," he says, referring to the rain outside. "So I thought I might get a bite to eat. Since I'm here and all." Ian shrugs and tries to smile casually.

"Well since you wouldn't let me take you out to dinner, and since I've completely taken over your table and interrupted your work, would you let me treat you to some food?" Gerry isn't sure how Ian will react, given his reaction last time they talked.

"Oh you don't have to do that..."

"But I want to. What do they pay you... 600? 700 a month? Let me pay for dinner, I promise no strings attached."

Ian hesitates then smiles, slowly nodding his head. "Okay, thank you. That would be great." He looks over at the next table. "I've had my eye on that bowl of gumbo ever since the waiter brought it to that table."

"The starving grad student is definitely not a cliche'." Gerry raises his hand and flags down a waitress as she struggles through the dense crowd.

"No. It's not," Ian laughs softly. The waitress arrives at their table and Gerry orders Ian's gumbo and a roast beef poboy for himself. Ian nods when Gerry also offers to get them both a beer.

"So what's Eric got you slaving away over?" Gerry says, nodding toward the stack of papers.

"Homework from the Shakespeare class," replies Ian. "I'm trying to help him out with that as much as I can since it was an added workload that he wasn't expecting."

"Awww, don't let him fool you. Before we got tenure we used to have much heavier teaching loads. Don't let him pawn stuff off on you." Gerry shifts slightly, his soaked jeans somewhat uncomfortable against his skin. "You tell him I said so if he talks back," Gerry laughs.

Ian smiles, lowering his eyes to the table. "Dr. Bana's not so bad. I've had a lot worse. Professors who dump all the dirty work onto their TAs."

"As long as you stand up for yourself you should be fine. Eric's a good guy," Gerry smiles.

"Have you known him long?" asks Ian, curious about the friendship between the two colleagues.

"Several years now. But have you ever met someone that you'd swear was your brother or something like that in a past life? Like you'd known them forever even when you just met?" Gerry can tell it sounds hokey but he continues. "It was like that with us. Joined at the hip from the moment we met, for better or for worse."

"That's great. To have a friend like that. Someone you are close to."

"It has it's ups and downs." Gerry isn't sure how much of Eric's life Ian has been privy too and he doesn't want to bring up anything that Eric would rather keep private. "Did you do your undergrad here as well or did you move here just for grad school?"

"Just for grad school. I graduated from LSU last December and started at Loyola last semester." Ian pauses as the waitress delivers their beers. "How did you end up at Loyola?" he asks when she's gone.

"They offered me a tenure track job," Gerry laughs. "I wasn't picky. I was adjuncting and just kind of drifting aimlessly before I decided I needed to shape up and do something productive. I came here on my interview and fell in love with the city. Of course I interviewed in December and they neglected to tell me how hot it got here in the summer."

Ian laughs at that and nods his head agreement. "That was sneaky," he snickers. "I'm from Covington, Louisiana so I'm used to the heat."

"I swear half my paycheck goes to my air conditioning bill in the summer. You can probably see your breath in there."

"I'd expect that from a Scot. I imagine that you were probably used to a bit cooler weather back home." Ian takes a long swallow of his beer.

"Colder weather and warmer beer," Gerry says as he makes a face after sipping his drink. "I'm all out of whack."

Ian laughs again, finding Gerry even more amusing than he first realized. Intelligent. Great sense of humor. No wonder the other man has his pick of companions.

Gerry is pleased to see the smile he managed to elicit from the other man. "So how are you liking grad school so far? Regretting the choice yet?"

"No, not at all. In fact it's reinforced the idea of making academics my career," replies Ian. "If I can cut it, that is."

"I'm sure you can. You wouldn't be here if you couldn't." Gerry traces his finger along the rim of his mug. "Besides, 90% of it is knowing how to sound like you know what you're talking about."

"So I only have to learn about 10% of everything? Wow, that's a relief!" Ian feigns a wide-eyed expression as he jokes with Gerry.

Gerry laughs as they settle into a comfortable banter over their food while the storm continues to rage outside. He and Ian continue to enjoy light-hearted conversation with topics ranging from co-workers in the English department to movies and music. They finish with their meal and finally notice that the small cafe has emptied out considerably and there is a lull in the rain outside. Gerry pays the tab and they gather their things to try and take advantage of the break in the storm.

"Thanks again for the gumbo. And the company," Ian tells him as they make their way outside.

"Thanks for the chair and letting me buy you dinner." Gerry holds open the door, letting Ian pass through.

"Which way are you heading?" Ian asks as he hesitates near the door.

"This way," Gerry points. "'Bout six blocks or so. You?"

"I'm going that way, too," admits Ian, smiling shyly as they begin to walk.

"Looks like we might get lucky with the weather," Gerry says, looking up at the sky only to see it illuminated by a streak of lightning. "Or not," he grumbles as the rain starts to pour again.

"Uh oh..." Ian starts walking faster as the rain gets harder, holding his arm over his head to keep the drops from slapping him in the face.

"I jinxed us," Gerry complains as the rain soaks his shirt, leaving it clinging tightly to his body. "Totally my fault."

"Even you aren't that powerful," laughs Ian as they start to run for cover.

"Punishment for my sins?" Gerry laughs, spotting an alcove that seems to be sheltered from the storm. "In here," he says, tugging on Ian's sleeve.

"Then you must have been a bad, bad boy," Ian gasps as he takes shelter under the overhang with Gerry. He wipes away the water from his face, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly as he tries to catch his breath.

There's hardly room for both of them under the small overhang but they cram together and just manage to fit. Gerry is suddenly very aware of where Ian's body touches his. "I just can't help myself," he says with a mischievous grin.

Ian gives Gerry a sideways glance, a small smirk curving his lips. "And that excuse works for you, does it?"

"Sometimes." Gerry's reaches out, fingering the hem of Ian's dripping t-shirt. He knows he probably shouldn't but he really can't seem to help himself. "I have poor self control," he laughs.

Looking down at Gerry's fingers then back up to meet his gaze, Ian's breath hitches as he realizes how close they are, the heat from Gerry's body radiating through their damp clothes.

Gerry is worried that Ian will flee any minute, but he knows that if he doesn't make a move now he'll regret it. Sliding his hand up Ian's chest, Gerry can feel the other man's heart racing. He leans in slightly, giving Ian ample opportunity to turn away before brushing his lips across Ian's mouth lightly.

There's a soft whimper when Gerry's lips touch his and Ian is surprised when he realizes the sound came from him. "Gerry," he murmurs against the other man's lips before the sound is swallowed in another kiss, this one firmer and more insistent.

Gerry almost pulls away when he feels Ian's hesitation but just as he's about to move he feels Ian relax. He knows it's a bad idea, knows it's exactly what Ian accused him of wanting but he isn't sorry because now he knows how Ian tastes and how he feels under his fingertips.

Ian isn't even aware of being pressed against the wall, his entire focus centering on the feel of Gerry's mouth on his. His lips part under the forcefulness of the kiss and he moans when Gerry's tongue traces the outline of his mouth.

Cupping Ian's face in his hands, Gerry parts long enough to take a deep breath, his teeth grazing along Ian's bottom lip. The sounds of the traffic and the city around them dissolve into a dull echo in the storm, leaving just the sound of their breath in the tight space between them.

Ian lifts his eyes to meet Gerry's gaze, his breath catching in his throat when he sees the intensity in the other man's stare.

Paralyzed by Ian's eyes, Gerry can feel his heartbeat in his ears, loud enough to echo off the walls. He wants to kiss Ian again but he can't move, afraid at any moment the other man will end it.

"I... I have to go..." Ian murmurs, pulling away from Gerry and stepping out onto the sidewalk despite the downpour. He backs away at first, still watching Gerry as water soaks into his hair and clothes, then turns and runs down the street, disappearing in the rain.

Gerry wants to call after him but he can't. Wants to apologize for doing exactly what Ian had worried he might, for living up to his reputation. He leans back against the wall, listening to the rain and wondering what it is about Ian that captivates him so.

Chapter Text

Gerry lets himself in through the front gate and bounces up the stairs to Eric's door. It's an impromptu visit but Gerry hopes his friend has some time for him. He pushes the bell and then pokes his head to the side, watching through the window to see if anyone is moving inside.

Eric shoves the last of his sandwich into his mouth, still chewing as he answers the door and waves his friend inside.

"Hey, you busy?" Gerry asks, shoving his sunglasses up on his head and shutting the door once he's inside.

Eric shakes his head as he swallows. "Just finishing lunch. What's up?"

Gerry glances around and listens for a moment, but finds the house silent. "Just you here today?" He asks, clearly not ready to jump right into anything deep.

"Yeah... Orli's shopping..." Eric smiles in confusion at his friend's wariness.

"Shopping?" Gerry asks but then shakes his head, not really wanting the answer to his own questions. "How have you been?"

"Since you saw me yesterday?" Eric chuckles. "Fine. Just fine. How 'bout you? Getting along okay?" he asks teasingly.

"Not really," Gerry says, following Eric as he heads back into the kitchen. He sits down on one of the kitchen stools and runs his hand through his hair. "I think I'm losing my touch."

"Your touch?" Eric takes a seat as well. "What are we talking about here? Your teaching? You haven't been gambling over at the casino, have you?"

"No, no." Gerry sighs and looks up at his friend. "I've finally met my match."

"Gerry... what are you talking about?" asks Eric, his expression now worried.

"Ian." Gerry says forcefully, like Eric should have been following his train of thought.

"Ian?" Eric's face scrunches up in even more confusion. "What about him?"

"He doesn't want me."

"Gerry... what the fuck are you talking about?" Eric asks the question as calmly as he can manage given the situation.

"They always want me," Gerry rambles, lost in his own thoughts and not directly answering Eric's question. "And I could care less if they didn't, there was always more around. But no, not him. Can't take him to dinner, runs away from a kiss, what am I supposed to do?"

"When did you kiss Ian? Why did you kiss Ian?" Eric is desperately trying to follow a plot line for which he hasn't the first clue.

"After dinner and because I think I like him," Gerry says by way of explanation. "What's wrong with me?"

Eric's eyes widen then he blinks as he stares blankly at Gerry. "You like my assistant?"

"I think so," Gerry admits with a sigh. "This is bad news."

"Gerry." Eric forces his friend to meet his gaze. "What's going on? Has something happened with Ian?"

Gerry forces himself to slow down and back track. "I asked Ian out on a date and he turned me down. We met up by accident last night and had dinner together. I kissed him and then he ran away. You know me, I don't bother chasing boys that don't want to be caught. Life is too short and there's too many cute boys to be had. This one is different though and it's driving me nuts."

Eric's confused expression slowly breaks into a wide smile. "No way. It just can't be..." he laughs.

"What are you laughing at," Gerry asks, his eyes narrowing.

"You. I'm laughing at you. Gerry Butler. The Impervious Playboy."

"Is this how the rest of you live your love lives? If so, let me tell you, I'm not a fan."

"Of course you're not. Because this is the part where you always bolt. When things get messy and not so easy." Eric slides off his stool and goes to the refrigerator. He returns with two bottles of Coke and takes his seat again. "Except maybe now something is different?" he asks, still smiling as he twists the cap off his bottle.

"Exactly," Gerry says as he gratefully takes the drink, happy to see there is no beer in Eric's fridge. "For the first time in my life I don't want to just walk away, and it sucks."

"And why don't you want to walk away?"

"I don't know. It's not like there aren't a ton of other guys to chose from who wouldn't give me half the trouble. There's something about Ian though. Can't put my finger on it." Gerry buries his head in his hands and sighs again. "It sucks."

Eric smiles and takes another drink of his Coke, reminded of their conversations when he tried to explain his feelings for Orli. "Ian is a nice guy."

"There's a million 'nice' guys out there though. Why is this one different?"

"I'm afraid I can't answer that. You're the only one who can tell you that, my friend." Eric holds his bottle between his hands, slowly turning it. "So... you kissed him, huh?"

"Yes. And evidently it was enough to send him running. I'm not a terrible kisser, I promise." Gerry looks up and watches Eric play with the bottle. "How did you know Orli was the one?"

"Because I knew that I'd never be truly happy without him. And all I've ever wanted to do is make him happy, too." Eric stares at his bottle as the smile on his face turns wistful.

"So what do I do now? He's made it clear he doesn't want me the way I want him. Do I give up and be miserable?"

Eric's smile turns into a smirk as he gives Gerry a sideways glance. "Doesn't sound like the Gerry Butler I know."

"The Gerry Butler you know would just move on to the next willing boy," Gerry points out. "No muss, no fuss."

"Okay... give up on Ian and move along then."

"I don't think I want to," Gerry complains. "You see the problem? I've never been a masochist, but I don't know if I can keep myself from chasing after him."

"Oh, I see the problem," Eric chuckles, lifting his Coke bottle to his lips.

"Quit laughing at me and start helping," Gerry says plaintively. "You're better at this love stuff."

Eric sets his drink down and looks at Gerry. "The way I see it, you've only got one option. If it's really love stuff we're talking about here. If it's not, then you need to just let it go. Ian is a good kid and you're my best friend. I don't want to see either of you get hurt."

"It's not love. At least not now I don't think. But there's something there that I want to know more about. It's so comfortable when I'm with him, we can talk and laugh about the same things. We like the same music the same movies. I want to know if there could be more, but he doesn't seem to be willing to give it a chance."

"Then you need to talk to him about it. Ask him why." Eric can see that his friend is really bothered by his situation and he wants to help him.

"Ok," Gerry nods, trying to think about how to approach the other man. "And if he runs again?"

"I said talk. Not kiss," Eric says with a smile.

Gerry glares at Eric but he can't hold it and ends up smiling. "I'll behave myself, dad," he laughs.

 

**EC**EC**EC**

 

"Ian?" Eric smiles when his assistant looks up from his work. "I'm late. Would you mind delivering these for me?" he asks as he hands Ian a stack of papers then continues to walk toward the office door. "That top page needs a signature so if you could get that for me, I'd really appreciate it."

"Sure thing, Dr. Bana," replies Ian as he takes the papers. Scanning the top page, he finds the empty signature line and the typed name below it. Gerard Butler. "Dr. Bana!" he says quickly, looking up to see that Eric is already gone. Oh no.

 

Gerry looks up from his computer when he sees a shadow darken his door. His smile dies on his lips when he sees Ian, his mouth suddenly as dry as the desert. "Hello Ian."

"Hello," Ian replies quietly, shifting nervously when the silence lingers between them. "I'm sorry to bother you. Dr. Bana asked me to deliver these." He holds out the papers in his hand, afraid to move from his spot in the doorway.

Reaching out for the papers, Gerry laughs when Ian doesn't move any closer. "I'm not going to bite you or anything."

Ian's face heats instantly when he realizes how ridiculous he's acting. "I know... I'm sorry..." He walks toward Gerry's desk to give him the papers.

Gerry takes the stack and gives them a cursory glance before dashing off his signature. "Listen...." he says as he hands them back. "I'm sorry about the other night."

Ian takes the papers and shakes his head. "Please. Don't apologize. I'm the one who should be apologizing to you."

"No really, it's me. I did exactly what you accused me of wanting to do." Gerry places his pen back in the coffee mug on his desk and leans back in the chair. "I promised I wouldn't and I did anyway, so for that I apologize."

"It's okay. Really. It's not like I didn't want you to do it..."

Gerry is ready with his next apology but Ian's words stop him in his tracks. "But you...." Gerry shakes his head.

"I told you that I don't want to get involved with you because you're a professor and I'm a student," Ian replies. "Which isn't exactly the truth either... but I never said that I wasn't attracted to you."

"Then why..." Gerry stops, and takes a moment to formulate what he wants to ask. "Then what is the truth?"

Ian hesitates, having come this far, he's suddenly afraid to say the words out loud.

Gerry can see Ian debating with himself and he has a bad feeling about what is going to come out of his mouth. "Trust me, nothing you tell me here and now is going to be as wounding to my pride as what happened last time."

The regretful expression on Ian's face deepens. "I didn't mean to wound your pride. Your pride is one of the things that I like about you. Your confidence is very... appealing."

"Obviously not appealing enough," Gerry tries to joke but the joke falls flat.

"The opposite actually. You appeal to a great many people," Ian says quietly. "But I don't want to be one of them. Just another one of your boys."

"Oh." Gerry rocks back in his rolling chair, digesting what Ian said.

"So you see..." Ian attempts a small laugh, but it sounds hollow in the suddenly too small space of Gerry's office. "It's not you. It's me."

"No, it's me," Gerry says with a tentative smile. "I can admit it."

"And there's nothing wrong you," Ian says quickly.

"That's debatable I guess," Gerry laughs thinly. "I suppose one could argue that I'm getting too old for that kind of behavior."

"Or maybe it's because you haven't found what you need."

Or maybe I have, and I've driven him away already. "Maybe," Gerry says softly. "The student schooling the professor on what he needs."

Ian shakes his head. "I'm not trying to tell you what you need," he says apologetically. "I only know what I need."

Gerry nods. "I respect that."

The silence returns as they both reflect on what the other has said. "Well..." Ian gives a tentative smile. "I should get going. Let you get back to work."

"Oh yes, work," Gerry sighs. "I suppose I should do some of that sometime." He wants to ask Ian for another chance at dinner but he doesn't dare.

"Bye," Ian says softly as he takes a step back, the single word holding more meaning than just this particular parting.

Gerry raises his hand to wave goodbye. "See you later," he says as Ian backs through the door. I hope.

 

**EC**EC**EC**

 

Orli pops the DVD into the TV and picks up the remote before settling into the couch next to Eric. It was a rare free night for them both, early enough in the semester that homework and grading hadn't taken over their evenings. A bowl of popcorn rests in Eric's lap and Orli grabs a handful and starts tossing kernels in the air, seeing if he can catch them in his mouth.

"What is this that we're watching?" asks Eric as he dips into the popcorn bowl himself. "I hope it's not another one of those weird sci-fi movies that I can't ever seem to follow."

"No, it's one of those literary adaptations that you like to tear apart," Orli laughs. "I figure it will get you in fine shape for grading your first set of papers that should be coming in any time. Get that criticism up and going."

"Excellent," Eric smiles, relaxing as he munches happily on the popcorn.

Just as the opening credits finish rolling, Orli hears his cell phone go off in the other room. Eric shifts over so he can get up, but Orli pulls him back into place. "I'll let it go to voicemail," he says.

"You sure?" Eric gives Orli a questioning look but settles back into place when his boyfriend nods his head, apparently intent on watching the movie instead of answering phone calls.

"Positive," Orli says, kissing Eric's cheek. He rests his head against Eric's arm and resumes munching on the popcorn as the movie gets underway.

Twenty minutes into the movie, Orli's cell phone rings again and still he doesn't get up to answer it, telling Eric to just ignore it. When it happens again in less than ten minutes, Eric picks up the remote and stops the movie. "You should get that. It must be important if they keep calling."

Orli sighs, but gets up. "I'm sure whatever it is can wait for a few hours," he grumbles but dutifully goes into the kitchen. He flips open his phone and gets a sick feeling in his stomach when he sees the list of missed calls. As he's debating what to do, the phone starts to ring in his hand, causing him to jump. He glances back into the living room and can see that Eric is still on the couch. Pushing through the French doors and into the back yard, he leaves the door cracked so he can get back in.

"You need to stop calling me," he says as soon as he pushes the talk button. "This is getting ridiculous."

Eric looks over his shoulder toward the kitchen, wondering where Orli got off to when he doesn't hear him talking. Getting up from the couch, he decides to get a drink while he's waiting for Orli to finish. He pauses on his way to the refrigerator when he hears the hushed sound of Orli's voice.

"I can't talk about his right now..."

Eric knows he shouldn't be eavesdropping, but something in the tone of Orli's voice startles him.

"I have to go. Don't call me anymore tonight."

Eric hears the final whispered words and snap when Orli closes his cell phone. He hurries back into the living room so Orli won't find him in the kitchen when he comes back into the house.

Orli turns his phone off and leaves it on the kitchen table. He leans against the counter, composing himself, not wanting Eric to realize anything is wrong. Taking a deep breath he heads back into the living room. "Want me to grab you something to drink while I'm up?"

"Yes," Eric replies quickly. "That'd be great..." he says in a more normal tone of voice, his mind racing as he ponders Orli's mysterious phone call.

Grabbing two Cokes from the fridge, Orli pops them open and hands one off to Eric as he returns to his place on the couch. "Sorry about that. I turned it off, so we can finish the movie in peace."

Eric takes the coke and nods his thanks. He takes a steadying breath before reaching for the remote. "Everything okay?" he asks, attempting to sound as casual as possible.

"Fine," Orli lies through his teeth, knowing how Eric would react to the truth. "Just someone from one of my classes who's really persistent about getting a study group together."

"Oh..." Eric nods again, pretending to understand.

"Doesn't know when to quit," Orli says truthfully as he picks up the remote and presses play.

Eric watches Orli's profile for a moment then slowly turns back to the movie. His attention is no longer with the film though as his mind begins to race with possibilities, all of them negative.

Orli wouldn't.

The words echo in Eric's brain.

He loves me. We're happy. He wouldn't.

Chapter Text

Eric puts his hand on Ian's arm, stopping him from pulling out his wallet as they push their trays down the line toward the cashier. "I got it," he says firmly, handing over some cash before Ian can protest. He'd suggested grabbing some lunch before they settled in to lesson planning so it's only fair that he pays. "See if you can find us a table," he asks while he waits for his change.

Ian spots an empty table near the exit, quickly claiming it before it's snatched up in the busy student union. "Thanks for lunch, Dr. Bana," he says politely when Eric joins him.

"Do I have to remind you again to call me Eric?" he teases. "Dr. Bana makes me feel like I should be giving a lecture, not having lunch."

"Oh yes. Sorry. Eric." Ian takes a seat and begins to unwrap his sandwich.

"No problem." Eric dunks one of his fries into his cup of ketchup. "So I had this crazy idea," he says before popping it in his mouth.

Ian looks up at Eric. "This isn't about dressing up as a Shakespeare character again, is it?" he asks tentatively.

"No," Eric laughs, taking a sip of his drink. "I promise not to do that to you again. I was thinking more along the lines of that conference I'm going to in a couple weeks."

"The one in Chicago..." Ian takes the top piece of bread off his sandwich and carefully removes the tomatoes.

"That you did such a wonderful job getting me all set up for," Eric reminds him. "I was just thinking back to my grad school days and remembering how much I wanted to start attending professional conferences to get my networking going before my job search started."

"It is a good opportunity to meet a lot of people," agrees Ian.

"So my crazy idea is that you should come with me." Eric takes a bite of his sandwich and waits for Ian's response.

"Really?" A surprised smile breaks across Ian's face. "That would be..." His smile slips as he recalls the department's mandate on expenses. "But the department won't pay for a student..."

"No, but they've paid for my hotel room, which has two double beds, and my per diem easily covers meals for two if we don't go anywhere too fancy. So it's just a matter of conference fees and flights." Eric reaches down and pulls a flier out of his bag. "There's a small amount of grant money out there for grad students that can be used for professional development. Anything that it doesn't cover, I'll pick up as my contribution to the profession."

"Dr. Bana... Eric..." Ian is surprised and happy with the offer yet hesitant due to the personal expense to Eric. "That is a generous offer, but..."

"But nothing," Eric says with a wave of his hand. "We were all in your shoes at some point and someone gave us a hand. I'm just passing it on."

Ian can tell that he is not going to talk Eric out of his decision. He smiles and says, "Thanks, Eric."

"You're welcome. I know you already know what needs to be done, so I'll leave the details to you," he laughs. "And we'll have to cancel class that Friday. I know the students will be devastated."

"Oh yeah. Heartbroken," Ian laughs, returning his attention to his sandwich. "I've never been to Chicago," he tells Eric.

"We'll have to leave time to see the sights then. You can't go to sessions all day long or your brain will explode. Anything in particular you want to see?" Eric catches sight of Gerry in line and gives a wave but his friend doesn't notice him in the chaos of the union.

Ian follows Eric's line of vision to where Gerry is, his throat suddenly going dry when he sees the other man cheerfully chatting with a fellow student, the blond boy from the night of the concert.

"Earth to Ian," Eric says playfully when his dining companion doesn't answer his question.

"What?" Ian's gaze returns to his dining companion. "Oh sorry. Um... maybe Sears Tower? Or whatever it's called now," he says quietly, stealing another glance at Gerry.

"We can do that." Eric can't help but notice Ian's distraction. "Want me to call him over here?" he asks playfully.

"Oh no..." Ian says too quickly. "He's... uh... obviously busy. No reason to disturb him." Ian turns his attention back to his lunch, determined not to look at Gerry again.

"I don't think he'd mind one bit to be interrupted by you," Eric says seriously before breaking into a smile. "But we can leave him in peace if you'd rather."

"He seems to have all the company he needs," is Ian's quiet response.

Eric isn't sure how to respond. He knows Gerry wants to be with Ian but he isn't sure how much of that sentiment his friend has shared with the younger man. "I wouldn't be too sure about that," he says under his breath.

Ian shrugs then takes a bite of his sandwich. I'm never sure of anything where Gerry is concerned.

"So anyway," Eric says, shaking his head and steering the conversation back toward the conference. "Sears Tower... or whatever it's called now. I think we can swing that."

Ian smiles. "Thanks again for including me on this. It really will be a great experience for me."

"We'll get you hooked up with all the movers and shakers in the field. Get you lots of job prospects," he smiles. "Have to reward you somehow for practically teaching this Shakespeare class for me this semester."

"I've enjoyed it actually. I think it's even help me realize that this is what I want to do when I graduate. I love teaching."

"You're definitely a natural." Eric polishes off the last of his sandwich and wipes his hands on his napkin.

"Then I can count on you for a good letter of recommendation?" asks Ian. No time like the present to get his much needed references.

Eric laughs heartily. "Of course. Glowing recommendation."

"Glowing's good. Glowing's really good." Ian's smile widens.

 

**EC**EC**EC**

 

Eric drops his briefcase and keys on the table in the foyer and follows the sound of the television into the living room where Orli is curled on the couch, watching one of the reality shows that he likes.

"So who gets voted off tonight? I hope it's not someone you like. You pouted all night the last time that happened," Eric teases his boyfriend as he takes a seat on the couch next to Orli.

"You're safe. The team I don't like lost so they have to kick someone off. Everyone I like is safe." Orli stretches his legs out over Eric's lap and rolls onto his back. "No pouting."

"Good. It's been a good day with good news so far and I'm not ready for my streak to end just yet," smiles Eric as he rubs Orli's legs.

Orli checks that the DVR is recording his show and then punches the button to turn off the television. "Oh really?" Orli says with a grin, ready to share in a celebration of good news.

"Yes indeed," Eric answers with a nod. "I got the word back today that the expense for my attending the conference in Chicago has been approved."

"Great!" Orli had been secretly checking out plane tickets but hadn't wanted to buy until he heard the official news. He loved the idea of surprising the other man by showing up at his door. "I know how the budgets have been lately so you must be worth a lot to the University if they are paying for you to go."

"I definitely wasn't expecting it, but I'm glad it worked out. Now I have the chance to introduce Ian at some of the workshops. He's really very grateful for the opportunity. I've never seen someone that excited about attending a work conference," Eric chuckles.

Orli is already deep in thought about his plans when something sinks through and he rewinds Eric's words, listening more closely. "Ian?" he asks. "You're taking Ian to Chicago with you?"

"Yes! I can work it out that his meals are covered with my per diem and he's going to share a room with me so the only extra expense is the actual travel. That will be covered with some extra grant money the department has. It's great how it's all worked out. I can't think of someone who deserves it more than Ian."

Orli wants to scream You're taking Ian to Chicago? He's staying in your room? The room where I was going to surprise you with hot hotel sex? Ian, Ian, Ian, the golden child?, but he doesn't, managing to school his features into what he hopes is a calm expression. "That's great," he says, his voice sounding somewhat insincere even to his own ears.

"Ian's never been to Chicago and I think he's really looking forward to seeing it in person. I just hope we have some spare time to do some sightseeing while we're there," Eric continues. "He's a great guy, it should be fun even with the conference."

Orli's head is buzzing and he only hears about half of what Eric is saying. "I hear it's beautiful this time of year," he says softly, trying to picture himself with Eric walking along the lake but only seeing Eric and Ian walking arm and arm.

"It should be. Cooler than here, of course, but very nice. I'll need to take a couple of sweaters, just in case." Eric pulls Orli closer. "Since I won't have you to snuggle up to," he adds with kiss to Orli's temple.

Orli leans closer, letting Eric nuzzle against his hair. He tries to tell himself that Eric wouldn't stray that he has everything he needs, but he doesn't do a very convincing job. "The school is okay with you sharing a room with one of your students?" he asks finally.

Eric is surprised with the question. "Well... Ian isn't my student. He's my TA. More of a co-worker really," he says after a moment of thought.

"He doesn't get credit hours for TA'ing your courses?" Orli says and then bites his lip. He knows he shouldn't press the issue.

Leaning back so that he can see Orli's face, Eric can see that his lover is trying hard not to say something. It's reflected in the depths of his brown eyes. "You're worried about what people think of me and Ian?"

"No," Orli says, letting the moment pass and forcing his face to relax into a smile. "Just didn't want you to get in trouble, that's all."

"Orli..." Eric says softly. "I can see that something is bothering you about this. Won't you tell me what it is?"

Orli shakes his head and reaches out his hand, brushing the back of his fingers against Eric's cheek. "Nothing's wrong," he says, meeting Eric's eyes steadily. "I'm just tired. Long day and all. I'm happy that you're happy about the conference," he says.

Eric feels that Orli is still not telling him something, but he doesn't press the issue when Orli says he's tired. "I'm sorry, I'm all talk about my day and haven't even asked you about yours."

"Just one of those long days," Orli says. "You wouldn't think sitting on your ass all day in class would be tiring but some days I feel like I've been hit by a truck by the end of it all."

"Information overload. It can exhaust you as much as running laps around the track. Maybe you should call it an early night, get some extra sleep in before tomorrow's classes?" Eric suggests as he runs a hand through Orli's dark hair.

"Excellent idea. Looks like you have quite the stack of papers to grade though" Orli says, inclining his head toward the stuffed bag Eric had left by the door when he came in. "Want me to go on without you?"

"Sure. I won't be too far behind you though. Those papers aren't urgent so I'll be upstairs in a bit," Eric tells Orli before giving him a tender kiss.

"Love you," Orli says, trying not to let any of the desperation he feels creep into his voice.

"Go get comfortable and I'll be there before you're off to dream land," smiles Eric, not realizing that he didn't respond with the words Orli needs to hear from him right now. He watches his young lover uncurl from his place on the couch and walk slowly toward the stairs. He knows that Orli hasn't told him about whatever it is that's bothering him, but Eric reminds himself he needs to trust more and suspect less as Orli disappears up the stairs.

Orli pauses at the top of the stairs and looks back, but Eric is already digging into his bag. He wants to run back down and confess his stupid petty jealousy but he doesn't. Instead he heads for the bathroom, wanting to take something for his pounding head and go right to bed.

As Eric heads into the kitchen to get a drink of water, he hears the beeping sound that Orli's cell phone makes when the battery is almost dead. He smiles as he thinks about Orli and the way his boyfriend couldn't care less about things such as cell phone chargers and their regular use. Following the sound of the beeping phone, it leads Eric to Orli's backpack which is sitting on the kitchen counter. He unzips the side pocket where Orli usually keeps his phone and finds it there. He fishes it out of the backpack and turns to attach it to the charger they keep in the kitchen. The screen on the phone lights up and Eric can't help but read the text message still showing on it.

"Meet me at our special place. Tomorrow at noon. I'm counting the minutes until I can hold you again."

Eric reads the words over and over, his heart struggling not to be betrayed by what he's seeing with his own eyes. A lover's message. For his lover. Grabbing the phone, Eric hurries upstairs and rushes into their bedroom, slamming the door against the wall as he enters. He holds out the phone to Orli.

"Tell me!" Eric demands. "Tell me who sent this and how long have you been seeing him?"

Orli's head had just hit the pillow when the door slams open. "What?" he asks, eyes squinting at the bright light streaming into the dark room.

Eric reads the message aloud, his voice dripping with bitterness. "Who is he, Orli? Tell me!"

"Why do you have my phone?" Orli asks, sliding out from under the covers and grabbing for the phone, knowing who the message is from but wanting to see it with his own eyes.

"It was beeping because it needs charging," Eric answers. "Now stop diverting and tell me who sent you that message!"

"I'm not trying to divert you," Orli mutters, grabbing the phone away from Eric. He glances quickly at the message and then deletes it, a sick feeling in his stomach. "It's a former client who can't seem to get it through his head that I'm out of the business."

"A former client? Or a current client?" Eric asks, his anger now fueled by his suspicion.

"Are you accusing me of cheating?" Orli asks, his temper flaring. "Is that what you think of me?"

"What am I supposed to think? Your 'special meeting place'? That doesn't sound like someone who is a former anything."

"Once a whore, always a whore, right?" Orli throws his phone across the room in frustration, watching as it shatters into pieces at the impact.

Eric flinches as the cell phone explodes against the wall. "I didn't say that," Eric growls through his tightly clenched jaw.

"I bet you thought it though," Orli says, his eyes flashing with anger. "And to think, ten minutes ago I was feeling guilty because I was upset that you were taking your golden boy TA with you to Chicago. To share a room with you no less. Good thing I'm the whore and not you."

"What... what are you talking about?" Eric stutters in surprise when Orli brings up Ian. "What does Ian have to do with anything?" he asks loudly.

"I was planning on surprising you in Chicago. Showing up to spend some time sightseeing and enjoying being away even if you had to work. Instead I find out you are bringing your boy toy along to keep your bed warm." The words are more hurtful than Orli intends but his emotions are too high to hold anything back.

Eric is astonished by Orli's accusation. He knew that something was bothering the other man, but he could never have imagined that Orli would believe he's cheating on him with Ian. "Ian is sharing my room. Not my bed," he says firmly. "The only one who does that is you. Can you say the same?" Eric throws the question at Orli like a weapon.

"I can," Orli spits back. "Not that my word is apparently good enough for you."

"That street goes both ways. You've just accused me of sleeping with Ian. So my word must not be worth much to you either," Eric points out, his anger slowly giving way to the pain squeezing his heart and making his chest tight with the waning emotions that flooded his system only moments ago.

"I didn't question you after you denied it," Orli points out. He looks down to find his fingers clenched into fists and he forces himself to relax his hands.

"And if you'd found a text from Ian on my cell phone?" Eric says quickly. "A text like the one I found?"

Orli looks away. "I didn't need to find a text, I got to listen to you extol his virtues live and in person every single day." He grabs his jeans off the top of the hamper and slides them on, cutting off Eric's attempts to protest with a wave of his hand. Shoving his feet into shoes and pulling a fleece over his head he starts for the door. "I hope you two are very happy together," he says and slams the door on the way to the stairs.

"Dammit Orli!" Eric yells at the closed door, but refuses to chase after his departing lover. He has his pride, too, and if Orli can believe he's sleeping with Ian then his own distrust can't be too far off base.

Orli pauses by the front door, eyes scanning the room quickly. He picks up his backpack and checks to make sure he has his wallet. His fingers pat his front pocket where he usually keeps his cell phone and then he remembers the shattered remains upstairs and his resolve strengthens. He glances up the stairs and sees nothing but the closed door so he turns and leaves the house, not entirely sure where he plans to go.

Chapter Text

Ian looks at the large clock behind the counter at Gate 17 and worries for the gazillionth time that Eric is not going to arrive in time for his flight. He's called Eric no less than a dozen times, all with no answer, and Ian is certain that three panicked sounding messages are surely enough for anyone. He circles the small lounge area designated for this gate as he tries to decide what to do next. They've already announced that they will begin boarding the flight soon and Ian has no idea if he should try to go to the conference without Eric or if he should stay until he's found out why his boss is a no-show.

Gerry hikes his bag higher up on his shoulder and steels himself, then taps Ian on the shoulder. "Hey there," he says, struggling to be heard over the general ruckus of the boarding area.

"Gerry!" Ian is shocked to see the familiar handsome face smiling back at him. "Why are you... where's Eric?" he asks, lifting up on his toes to look over Gerry's shoulder.

"Eric had a... a personal issue come up. He's sending me to the conference in his place. He knew someone needed to go or the University would cancel the reservation and you'd be stuck." Gerry can feel the tension radiating off Ian.

"A personal issue? Is he all right?" Ian asks, suddenly even more worried about Eric than before when he was pacing and waiting.

"He's fine. Just some stuff that needs to be taken care of and he didn't feel like he should be leaving town for three days right now." The P.A. system booms overhead, telling them it's time to board. "So it looks like it's going to be you and me this weekend..."

Ian doesn't have time to think or respond as Gerry takes his elbow and guides him toward the attendant who takes their boarding passes and directs them toward the ramp that leads to their plane. Another attendant checks his boarding pass for his seat and directs him to a large, comfortable leather seat in first class. Ian is still too stunned with the news that Gerry is replacing Eric that he doesn't even comment on the special accommodations.

Gerry isn't sure what to make of Ian's silence. He settles into his comfortable seat and gives a silent word of thanks to Eric for paying extra for first class. He gives Ian time to digest their new arrangements while he stows his bag and fiddles with his seat belt.

Ian steals a glance at Gerry, a worried frown creasing his forehead. He almost winces as a disturbing thought flashes into his consciousness. Did Eric do this on purpose? Did he set him up to be with Gerry? He turns and looks out the small window. No. Eric wouldn't do something like that to him. Something important came up. That's all.

"Have you flown before?" Gerry finally asks, breaking their silence.

"Once before," replies Ian. "My family went on vacation to Disneyworld and we flew to Orlando," he explains. "You probably fly quite often... when you go to visit your family?"

"Yes, unfortunately. Never done it in first class though. I'll have to see if Eric will spring for tickets next time I go home," Gerry laughs. "This is definitely the way to travel."

"It is nice," Ian agrees as he takes a moment to look around at the other seats in first class, most of them still empty. "It cost a lot more than coach, doesn't it?" he asks quietly, leaning in so no one else can overhear his question.

"Yeah," Gerry whispers back. "Eric can afford it though," he promises. "And he gave me a list of people he was planning on introducing you to," he says in his normal tone of voice. "He had your weekend all planned out."

"Except the part where you take his place..." Ian voices his silent worry, needing to hear it from Gerry despite his own mental assurances.

"Yeah that." Gerry can hear the hesitation in Ian's voice. "It is what it is though, right? We just have to make the best of it."

"Right, right," Ian says quickly, feeling foolish again for even doubting the circumstances of their situation. "It is what it is," he repeats quietly.

 

**EC**EC**EC**EC**

 

Gerry gathers up the keys and thanks the lady behind the desk at the hotel for her help. He finds Ian in a chair on the other side of the lobby surrounded by their luggage. "All set," he says, tossing a key to Ian. "1162."

Ian catches the plastic card and gets to his feet. "This is a nice hotel," he says as he starts gathering his luggage together again for the elevator ride to the eleventh floor.

"Yeah they have to have them at a nice place or no one will come." Gerry wrestles his luggage and once he has it under control he and Ian start for the elevator.

"Have you been to a lot of conferences?" Ian asks as the elevator doors slide open and he and Gerry step inside.

"I try to make it to one or two a year. Just to stay current in the field and to keep up my professional contacts." Gerry watches the numbers go by down the hall until they reach their room. "Home sweet home," he sighs as he struggles to make the key work. He is finally rewarded with the green light and he stumbles into the room practically tripping over his suitcase. "Uh oh," he groans under his breath.

Ian backs into the room, pulling his uncooperative suitcase. Turning around when he hears Gerry's groan, he immediately sees the problem. "They gave us the wrong room," he says flatly as they both stand there staring at the one and only bed in the middle of the room.

"The lady downstairs confirmed two double beds," Gerry promises. "Let me call down there." Gerry unloads his bags into a pile and takes a seat on the edge of the bed, scanning the instruction list for how to contact the front desk.

"They were really busy. Checking everyone in. I'm sure it's just a simple mistake," Ian says as he takes a seat in the chair at the desk to wait while Gerry talks to someone to get the mix-up straightened out.

Gerry waits for the desk to pick up and when it finally does a harried young man answers. Gerry explains the problem and listens to the man clack away on his computer. He argues with the man for a few moments to no avail and finally hangs up.

"It's this or nothing. They're completely booked," he says as he turns back toward Ian. "They apologize for the error, and so on," Gerry says with a wave of his hand, "but we're stuck with it."

Ian can see that Gerry is not happy about this new development either so there's no use in getting angry or making him feel worse than he already does. "It's okay," he says quietly, looking at the bed. "I can sleep on the floor," he offers with a slight smile. "I'm a college student so I'm used to that, right?" Ian tries to joke despite the uncomfortable situation.

"You don't trust me to be good?" Gerry asks, toeing off his shoes. It's been a long day of travel and he doesn't want Ian sleeping on the floor.

"It's not that..." Ian replies quickly. "I've no reason not to trust you. All that other stuff has been settled, right? So there shouldn't be any problem with us sharing this room... and the bed. If that's okay with you."

"It's fine by me. I trust you," Gerry says with a smile, trying to ease the tension in the room. "We're both adults, right? We can make the best of a bad situation."

"Absolutely." Ian nods, wondering if he sounds more assured than he feels.

"Do you have a preference on which side?" Gerry asks as he stands up and moves his bags to the corner, dropping his shoes along with them. He yanks open the zipper, ready to be in some more comfortable clothes.

"Uh... no, not really. I just have a single bed at home so I don't really have a side." Ian bends over and unzips his own suitcase.

"I'll just take this side then, I guess," Gerry says, flipping open the lid to his suitcase. "Do you snore?" he asks, with a hint of teasing in his voice.

Ian straightens up to look at Gerry, his mouth opening and closing in a great imitation of a fish. "I don't think so," he says finally.

Gerry laughs at Ian's indignation. "Sleepwalk? Talk in your sleep?"

"No," Ian says firmly. "Do you?"

"Yup," Gerry answers, struggling to hold back a smile. "All of the above."

"Am I going to be able to get any sleep on this trip?" asks Ian. "Or do I need to go buy some earplugs and a something to tie you to the bed to keep you from wandering away in the middle of the night?"

Gerry has to bite the inside of his cheek to resist making a crack about being tied to the bed because the last thing he wants to do is shatter the tentative peace that seems to have been reached. "Just teasing," he says finally. "But you lucked out, Eric snores like a bear."

Ian laughs despite his attempt to remain irritated with Gerry, finding the information about Eric particularly humorous for some reason.

Stripping his shirt off over his head, Gerry bends down and tucks it along the edge of his suitcase. He pulls out his clothes for tomorrow and pulls a hanger out of the closet. "You'd think by now they'd make clothes that didn't wrinkle in your suitcase."

Ian's soft laughter is abruptly stifled when he looks up to see that Gerry is half naked. He drops the shirt that he was hanging as he stands and stares at the other man's bare chest, admiring the muscular form that's been hidden beneath Gerry's clothes.
"Maybe I could invent that and make millions," Gerry continues on, unaware of Ian's staring. "Course I know nothing about clothes so that could be a problem."

Clothes. Who needs clothes? Ian tears his eyes away from Gerry and bends to retrieve his fallen shirt. He moves to hang it in the closet, sneaking another peek at Gerry out of the corner of his eye as he misses the bar with his hanger the first two tries.

 

**EC**EC**EC**EC**

 

Returning to an empty hotel room, Ian unloads the stacks of brochures, handouts and outlines that he's accumulated throughout the day onto the desk then promptly collapses onto the bed. He's enjoyed the different seminars and lectures, but now that the day is over, he doesn't mind indulging in a moment of relaxation. It's been a long day endured with too little rest from the night before thanks to his and Gerry's impromptu sleeping arrangements.

He had to hand it to the other man though, Gerry has been a perfect gentleman. No flirting, no innuendo, nothing inappropriate at all. The man didn't even snore. Ian wishes that he could be pleased by it all, but there's no sense in lying to himself that he doesn't miss the kind of attention that Gerry gave him before he put it to an end. That had been his choice, right? Right.

Ian yawns and his eyes begin to droop. Gerry had attended a different seminar from him at the end of the day so they had agreed to meet in the room before going to dinner.

A quick cat nap won't hurt... thinks Ian as he curls up on his side and quickly slips into sleep.

Gerry tries to balance his arm load of papers while he digs out his key card and just barely manages to get the door open without sending the papers flying. He can see a matching stack of materials on the desk so he knows Ian has already arrived. He pokes his head around the corner and finds Ian sound asleep on the bed. He tip toes around the room, using the bathroom and changing his clothes. Though he had managed to get enough sleep the night before, the few times he did wake, Ian was tossing and turning so he doesn't think the other man got much rest.

As the sun slips lower toward the horizon and the room starts to grow darker, Gerry's stomach gives a loud rumble and he decided he needs to wake Ian up so they can get dinner. He carefully sits down on the edge of the bed and rests his hand on Ian's shoulder. "Hey," he says softly. "Time to wake up sleeping beauty."

Ian blinks sleepily, a slight smile coming to his face when he sees Gerry. "Hey," he murmurs, still drowsy from his nap.

"Too worn out for dinner?" Gerry asks, unconsciously stroking his fingers along Ian's arm.

"Mmmmm, no. I don't think so," Ian replies but makes no immediate move to get up from his place on the bed. "You look ready... nice. You look nice," he says when he notices that Gerry is already dressed for dinner.

"I thought we could try that Italian place a few doors down. A few people in my afternoon sessions went for lunch and were raving about it." Gerry realizes he's still touching the other man and abruptly drops his hand away from Ian's arm.

Ian notices when Gerry stops touching him and regrets the loss. "That sounds good. I love Italian food," Ian tells him as he finally moves to sit up on the bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Give me just a minute to get ready."

"Take your time. I'll call and see if we can go ahead and put our name in so we don't have to wait as long when we get there." Gerry scoots over to give Ian room to get out of bed and starts pulling open drawers trying to find a phone book.

Ian goes to the closet, pulling out a fresh shirt and a pressed pair of trousers before he goes into the bathroom to finish getting ready. He emerges fifteen minutes later looking refreshed and much more awake. "Ready when you are," he says brightly, feeling revived after his nap.

Gerry looks up and his breath catches. "You look nice," he manages to stammer out, knowing it doesn't encapsulate what he is seeing. "Our table should be ready by the time we get there," he says as he recovers.

"Great. I'm starving. Who knew that sitting through seminars could make you so..." Ian pauses as he gives Gerry a slow smile. "Ravenous."

"So what did you think of the first day?" Gerry asks as he slides his key card into his pocket and holds the door open.

"It was good. Very informative. I'm learning a lot of helpful things. I'm sure that Eric will be sorry he missed it." Although I can't say I'm sorry he couldn't make it.

"His loss is my gain I guess," Gerry smiles. They reach the elevators and Gerry takes a moment to look out the floor to ceiling window which affords a beautiful view of the city. "I can't say I had to think too long or hard when he asked me to come in his place."

"Oh?" Ian asks as he looks away, his attention captured by the view of the Chicago skyline. "Enjoying your seminars?" he asks off hand as he continues to stare at the city at night.

"Oh yes. The seminars," Gerry says just as the elevator dings. Saved by the bell, he thinks. "Did you meet anyone noteworthy today?"

"Several. They have a very impressive list of speakers and guests," replies Ian as he follows Gerry out of the elevator and through the lobby. "I understand now what Eric told me about the opportunities for networking," he says as they step outside of the hotel and begin the short walk to the restaurant. "I have a collection of business cards that I am hoping will come in handy when I graduate."

"Sounds like I won't have anything left to teach you. No wisdom to impart," Gerry teases. "You're a natural at this."

Ian goes quiet, a slight flush infusing his cheeks. "I'm sure you could still show me a few things," he says, not daring to look over at Gerry as they walk side by side.

Gerry shoots a sideways glance at Ian, trying to gauge whether the innuendo he could swear he heard in Ian's voice was really there. "I'll see what I can do."

 

**EC**EC**EC**EC**

 

Ian takes a deep breath, sighing with contentment. The night air has a pleasant nip to it, signaling the fast approaching season. It is still warm in New Orleans and Ian enjoys the autumnal feeling of the evening breeze. "That was an excellent meal," he tells Gerry, smiling at his companion as they slowly make the trek back to their hotel. Ian is pleasantly full and slightly buzzed from the numerous glasses of wine that accompanied their dinner.

"I'm so stuffed," Gerry protests, rubbing his stomach. "But it was so good." They reach the corner for their hotel but Gerry looks the opposite way. "Do you want to walk down and see the lake?" he asks. "Work off some of this food?"

"Sure," Ian agrees easily then follows Gerry across the street. "Chicago's a nice city," he says, making conversation as they make their way toward Lake Michigan. "So big..."

"Yeah, I've really only ever seen this little downtown part. I know from flying in it stretches out forever and ever. Everything is so tall here too."

"Yeah, not quite as low to the ground as our little city, huh?" Ian laughs softly as they cross one more street to reach the sidewalk that lines the lake.

"Ours has more charm though. This is clean and sleek and modern... so different from New Orleans." Gerry reaches out and tugs on Ian's arm, pulling him out of the way of an oncoming bicyclist who looms out of the darkness in a flash.

Ian bumps into Gerry, holding onto him to steady himself. "Wow... where'd he come from?" Ian murmurs as his eyes follow the biker and without letting go of Gerry.

"That way?" Gerry points with a laugh. "I just barely saw him in time and I was looking right at him."

Realizing that he's still clutching at Gerry's shirt, Ian finally releases him and immediately apologizes as he smoothes his hand over the wrinkles he's made. "I think I may have had too much to drink," he says with an apologetic smile.

"Lightweight," Gerry teases, enjoying the heat of Ian's hand as it brushes against his chest. "I promise I won't let you fall in the lake."

"Thanks," Ian says with a soft chuckle. "Go back without me and I know a professor who'll be teaching some extra Shakespeare classes," he jokes as they start to walk again.

"Serves him right," Gerry laughs. They make their way down to the path that runs along the water's edge and start to walk, Gerry keeping closest to the water although he doesn't really believe Ian is drunk enough to fall into the lake.

"I mean you!" Ian says with a laughing snort followed by an unexpected hiccup which makes him laugh even more.

Ian's laugh is infectious and Gerry's side starts to hurt. "Yes but if I jump in after you and drown with you then Eric has to teach them all!"

Ian's eyes widen and he lets out another loud guffaw at the thought of Eric trying to handle a class case load like the one they are laughing about. "No falling in the lake. Definitely. Eric would miss you too much."

"He'd miss you too you know." Gerry points out. "And if I wasn't dead at the bottom of the lake I'd miss you too."

"I'd miss Eric. I like him. I'd miss me." Ian stops walking, staring at Gerry when he turns back to see why Ian isn't still walking beside him. "I'd miss you."

"Yeah?" Gerry asks, surprised by Ian's confession. "You would?"

"Yeah. I would," Ian says softly.

"I have to admit I'm a bit surprised," Gerry says, stepping back closer to where Ian is still rooted to the ground.

"Good surprised?" asks Ian. "Or bad surprised?"

"Good surprised. It makes it sound like there might be a chance for me yet," Gerry says with a grin.

Ian smiles, wondering if it's the wine and the soft breeze from the lake making him feel this way, open to the possibilities instead of cautious and careful. Whatever it is, he's hoping that it won't disappear.

Gerry takes advantage of Ian's silence and steps even closer, wrapping his arm around Ian's waist.

Ian doesn't resist, his breath catching in his throat and his heartbeat pounding loudly in his ears.

Throwing caution to the wind Gerry leans in and presses his lips first to Ian's neck and then to his mouth, breathing in the scent of Ian's skin mixed with the night air.

Ian's fingers curl into the soft fabric of Gerry's shirt as he holds onto him, eagerly returning his kiss.

Gerry doesn't realize he's holding his breath until he feels Ian respond and he relaxes, the tension flowing out of his body as he presses tightly against the other man.

When the kiss finally ends, Ian lowers his head, pressing his face against Gerry's chest, still holding onto him as he tries to steady himself.

"Thank you," Gerry whispers in his ear, oblivious to everything around them.

Ian looks up, smiling softly. "You're welcome. Although I'm not quite sure what you're thanking me for..."

"For not running away this time," Gerry smiles.

"Oh yeah," Ian says. He's glad it's dark because he can feel his face flushing. "But you know... I wasn't running away from you."

"Oh really?" Gerry chuckles, rubbing his hand over Ian's lower back. "Could have fooled me."

"Yeah... well I know it definitely looked that way, but no. I was running away from me more than you. Trying to get away from how you make me feel."

"And how do I make you feel?" Gerry asks, completely unsure whether he is actually ready to hear Ian's answer.

"Like I'm the only one in the world," Ian replies quietly, his arms unconsciously tightening around Gerry.

Confused, Gerry asks, "And that's a bad thing?" He is more aware now of other people out walking the path but he makes no effort to move them from where they stand.

Ian shakes his head, but averts his eyes. "No... but..."

"But what?" Gerry prods gently, not wanting to force Ian into talking about something he doesn't want to, but also not able to stand not knowing.

"But maybe I'm not the only one who feels that way," is Ian's soft reply.

"You're worried that you're just another notch in my belt, aren't you," Gerry asks, finally putting together all the pieces.

"I'm sorry, Gerry..." Ian begins, "I'm not passing judgment. Really I'm not..."

Gerry rests his fingers on Ian's lips, cutting off his words. "Would you be willing to give me another shot? Let me try and show you that what I feel for you is different than anything I've felt before?"

Stunned by Gerry's questions, Ian can only nod. His lips tingle where Gerry is touching him and they curve into a smile beneath his fingers.

"I can't make any promises. I'm not stupid enough to think that it's easy for an old dog to change his ways. But I'm telling the truth when I say there is something about you that makes everything else just fade into the background. I'm just asking for a chance."

"Okay..." Ian kisses Gerry's fingers then takes hold of his hand. "Let's give each other a chance."

Chapter Text

Gerry pushes open the door to the hotel room and peeks inside, hoping he's beat Ian back from the last sessions of the day. Finding the room dark and cool he slips inside and drops off his papers on the desk, the top of which is littered with handouts from the past two days. He opens his suitcase and tucks the plastic bag containing his drugstore purchases inside, not wanting Ian to see them in case he's been overly optimistic by stocking up on supplies. He hasn't had a chance to see a lot of Ian today, they used a "divide and conquer" approach to the multiple sessions that sounded interesting all at the same time. During their debriefing over lunch they'd agreed to meet back up in the room at the end of the day and decide what to do from there.

Piling up the pillows, Gerry stretches out with his head propped up and flips on the TV, waiting for Ian to return.

Entering the hotel room, Ian spots Gerry on the bed and smiles. "You beat me back to the room tonight," he comments as he unloads his armful of papers onto the desk next to the others already there.

"I may have possibly snuck out a bit early from the last session," Gerry admits. "My brain was full."

"I know the feeling. They really cram a lot into these few days, don't they?" Ian walks toward the bed but doesn't join Gerry, lingering by the side instead.

"Non stop," Gerry agrees, looking up at Ian. "Got anything in mind for dinner? Any place you want to try?"

"Anywhere is fine with me. Was there a restaurant that you wanted to try?" replies Ian.

"I'm sure there was but my brain is too tired to come up with it at the moment," Gerry laughs. "I made the mistake of lying down, I should have known better."

Ian looks toward the desk. "We can order room service if you'd rather just stay in tonight," he offers.

"You don't mind? I know how much you've enjoyed getting to see the city. You don't have to stay in just because I am," Gerry says, silently hoping Ian won't go out without him.

"No, it's fine. I'm kinda wiped out myself really." Ian walks over to the desk to retrieve the menu before returning to the bed. This time he sits on the edge after handing the menu to Gerry.

Gerry opens it up and glances through the list. "Is it sad that with all this fancy food listed a cheeseburger sounds really good?"

Ian laughs and shakes his head. "Not if that's what you want..." He leans over to take a closer look at the menu, too. "Can you get fries with that?"

"Yes, or onion rings." Gerry holds the laminated paper where they can both see it. "Oh, and a hot fudge sundae for dessert."

Ian's smile widens at Gerry's excitement for the ice cream. "Cheeseburger and fries for me." No onions for Ian since he's hoping for a kiss or two before the night ends.

Handing the menu back to Ian, Gerry rolls on his side and dials down to put in their order. Deciding that they are really in for the night, he kicks off his shoes and socks and wiggles his toes as he settles back against the pillows. "So how were your sessions this afternoon?"

"Good. Although it does seem like they are repeating some topics the further we get into it," replies Ian as he follows Gerry's example and kicks off his shoes. "How about your sessions?"

"Yeah there are always the 'hot topics' that get beaten to death each year. Mine have been good, some that are just full of good information and ideas and others that are a total waste of time. Pretty much standard for these things. After awhile you'll learn which presenters to avoid all together - they just give the same presentation year after year with a different title."

"How many of these conferences have you attended?" Ian asks him.

"Usually two a year. There's this one in the fall and then one in January. They know better than to have them in the summer, no one would show up," Gerry laughs. "The one in January has a lot of job interviews that go along with it, so you'll definitely want to go when you are ready to go on the job market."

"Sounds like another good opportunity. Only..." Ian bites his lip as he hesitates. "Those jobs are usually for other schools. Not in New Orleans."

"And...?" Gerry asks, rolling onto his side and bending his knees.

Ian meets Gerry's gaze but then looks away again before he replies. "And I don't think I want to move away from New Orleans. I love it there. It's my home."

"Definitely narrows the job possibilities but it's not impossible," Gerry says, pondering the idea. "Several schools, if you can develop a good network of references..."

"I hope so. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to find something."

Me too. "It's a ways off yet anyway. Plenty of time for something to come along."

"Do you think I can get a position with only my master's degree? I'd like to go further with my education, but that's really going to depend on where I can get a job."

"Tenure track no, but you can probably pick up an adjunct position pretty easily. Get some experience under your belt and then decide if you want to go on for your PhD. Lot's of different paths, just have to find the one that's right for you, you know?"

"I just want to be able to get my foot in the door. That's the first step..." Ian is interrupted by the sound of a knock at the door. "That must be our food. I'll get it," he tells Gerry as he quickly slips off the bed and hurries to the door.

Gerry sits up and swings his legs off the bed. "Just charge it to the room," he calls out, "after all it's on Eric's credit card," he chuckles to himself.

Ian signs for the food, adding a tip for the waiter who delivered it. He shows him out then returns to the tray of food, anxious to peak underneath the silver domes that cover the plate. "Wow, these look great," he says with a bright smile, snagging a French fry and popping it into his mouth.

"Perfect," Gerry agrees as he snags one. "Hits the spot," he adds as he munches on the fries.

Ian scoots the tray so that it's in between them then makes himself comfortable again as he gets prepared to enjoy his cheeseburger. He makes an appreciative moaning sound after the first bite, nodding his head in approval while he finishes chewing.

"Good choice?" Gerry asks as he doctors up his burger with ketchup and mustard.

"Mmm hmmm," Ian smiles around his mouthful, giving Gerry a thumbs up when he releases his cheeseburger to reach for another French fry.

Gerry laughs and settles into his own burger, quickly agreeing with Ian's assessment. "Just as good as going out right? And we couldn't lay in bed to eat if we went out."

"That might be all I'm good for after eating this burger. Laying in bed and digesting," jokes Ian.

Let's hope not, Gerry thinks. "They tend to frown on that in the better restaurants," Gerry teases.

Ian laughs then takes another bite of his burger. They had a wonderful meal last night, but he likes this very casual dining just as much, mainly because he enjoys Gerry's company. It's easy to laugh and talk with Gerry and the sparks of awareness growing between them makes him want to know the other man even better.

Gerry takes another bite of his burger and ketchup spurts out, landing on the collar of his white oxford shirt. "Oops," he laughs, reaching for a napkin. "That's gonna stain."

"Yeah it is... do you want to take it off? See if you can get most of it out before it sets in?" asks Ian as he sets his own cheeseburger aside to help Gerry.

"Yeah probably should." Gerry wipes his hands on his napkin to keep from getting anything else on his shirt and thumbs open the buttons. "Cold water or warm water? I'm no good at this laundry stuff."

"Cold. Here let me," Ian says as he takes Gerry's shirt and goes into the bathroom. He returns a moment later, his own shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows now. "I think I got it out," he says with a smile as he resumes his place on the bed. Ian tries not to stare at how good Gerry's arms look in his wife-beater style t-shirt, but it's impossible for him not to notice the strong muscles.

"You do laundry too?" Gerry asks with a slight teasing twinkle in his eye. "You might be the perfect man."

Ian laughs softly, ducking his head shyly as toys with a French fry on his plate. "Let's just say I have some experience with ketchup stains and leave it at that."

"Oh now this I have to know about," Gerry says intently, propping his head up on his hand as he lounges on the bed. "Do tell."

Ian laughs again. "Okay... imagine having a big lunch with all of your family, dressed in your best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. White shirt, khaki pants. Everyone's there. Aunts, uncles, grandparents. And my annoying cousin, Billy Ray, who gets his kicks by flicking his peas at me. Well, I wasn't going to sit there and not retaliate. One thing leads to another. Billy Ray gets a piece of cornbread smashed on his head and I get a bottle of ketchup splattered all over my nice white shirt. Needless to say, my mother wasn't the one who had to clean it up."

Gerry rolls on his back as he laughs, the sound echoing off the ceiling as he imagines starched and pressed young Ian in a food fight. "Well I'm glad to be of service in making sure your ketchup removal skills stay sharp."

"And don't worry, I promise not to smash your burger on your head," Ian smiles, finally taking a bite of the fry that he's been fiddling with while telling his story.

"I was more worried about flinging chocolate syrup from my sundae," Gerry says truthfully, finishing off the last of his burger.

"No flinging or flicking without retaliation," warns Ian, shaking a French fry at Gerry.

Gerry leans over and snatches the fry from Ian's fingers with his teeth. "Agreed."

"Hey!" Ian says with a smile and a chuckle. "You're quicker than a snapping turtle."

"Are they fast?" Gerry asks. "I don't know that I've ever seen one." Laying his empty plate back on the room service tray, Gerry pulls over the dish of ice cream that had been nestled in a bed of ice to keep it from melting.

"Very fast. You don't want to get between one and whatever he's trying to get at, that's for sure." Ian puts his plate on the tray then moves the tray to the desk before lying down across the foot of the bed.

"I'll keep that in mind," Gerry says as he licks chocolate off the back of the spoon.

"They're a menace when you're trying to fish. Stealing your bait or chomping on the fish that you've already caught." Ian stops talking, thinking maybe he is boring Gerry with talk of obnoxious cousins and snapping turtles.

"Why did you stop?" Gerry asks when the silence stretches between them. "I like listening to you talk," he admits before taking another bite of ice cream.

Ian shrugs and shakes his head. "I don't know. It sounds dull to me so I thought it must really sound boring to you," he smiles.

"Nope, not boring. Promise." Gerry scoops up some hot fudge on his spoon and holds it out toward Ian. "Ice cream?"

"Oh... um... yeah," Ian replies, leaning forward to take the bite of ice cream that Gerry offers, his eyes locking with Gerry's as he tries to swallow.

"Good, yeah?" Gerry asks, completely distracted by the sight of Ian's lips wrapped around the spoon.

Ian nods, holding Gerry's gaze as he nervously wipes away a non-existent drip of ice cream from his chin.

Gerry sets the unfinished ice cream on the nightstand, the cool treat discarded in favor of the heat of Ian's stare. He reaches out and traces his fingers along the path that Ian's hand just took before letting the tips of his fingers brush across the other man's lips.

Leaning into Gerry's touch, Ian presses his lips against Gerry's fingers with a soft kiss.

Pulling Ian closer, Gerry slides his hands around behind Ian and replaces his fingers with his lips.

Ian makes a soft sound of pleasure as he parts his lips beneath Gerry's and melts into his embrace.

Gerry can taste the chocolate on Ian's lips and underneath the taste that is uniquely him. He fights the urge to rush forward, wanting to savor each moment and feeling of Ian pressed tightly against him.

When they finally come up for air again, Ian feels breathless and shaky and all together wonderful. His ever building attraction to Gerry has him vibrating with anticipation and desire.

Gerry searches Ian's face for any sight of doubt and sighs softly when he finds nothing but happiness tinged with lust. Stroking his hand across Ian's back, he covers the other man's lips with his own once again.

Ian moans softly, his fingers threading through the hair at Gerry's nape as he doesn't hesitate to pull him closer, the kiss intensifying once again with their building need.

"Wait, wait, wait," Gerry mumbles, pulling away from Ian.

Ian stares at Gerry, eyes glassy from pleasure, his expression stunned because Gerry pulled away. "What's wrong?" he asks quietly.

"Can't do this with CNN blaring in the background," Gerry murmurs, groping for the remote and silencing the television. "Don't want to be distracted" he smiles as he pulls Ian back into his arms.

"Oh... okay," Ian says as he relaxes into Gerry's embrace again, nuzzling against his neck and breathing in his scent.

"Didn't mean to scare you," Gerry assures him, resuming the slow stroke of his fingers across Ian's back.

Ian looks down at the ridged pattern of Gerry's undershirt. He slides his fingers along the subtle lines to feel the warmth of Gerry's skin beneath the fabric. "I wouldn't blame you if you'd changed your mind..." he whispers.

"Change my mind," Gerry asks, his breath stuttering as Ian's fingers slide across his shirt. "Anyone who changes their mind with you in their arms is a fool."

Ian lifts his face to look at Gerry, searching the green eyes now dark in the low light of the room. Ian tilts his face closer, wordlessly begging for another kiss.

Gerry complies, sucking slowly on Ian's bottom lip. He grasps the bunched fabric at the small of Ian's back and pulls upward, untucking his shirt.

Following Gerry's lead, Ian blindly tugs at the hem of Gerry's shirt as they continue to kiss.

Working together they manage to free themselves of their shirts until there is nothing but warm skin as their chests press together.

Ian gasps, the contact with Gerry's bare skin making him ache with the desire to feel even more.

Gerry forces himself to move slow even though he wants to race ahead. Sliding the palm of his hand along Ian's shoulders and down his back, he cups the other man's butt as he grinds their bodies together, moaning softly from the friction.

Rocking against Gerry's body, Ian returns the soft moan with a low groan of his own. "Gerry," he growls, his body pushing and straining for more.

Left with no doubts about Ian's feelings, Gerry tackles Ian's belt, deftly working it open and then slipping open the other man's pants. His fingers brush across the straining cotton that covers Ian's erection and he smiles when the other man writhes in his arms.

"Oh god..." Ian moans, his hips jerking as he pushes against Gerry's touch. "You're going... going to make me come in my pants like a high schooler," he says with a hoarse whisper.

"No, no, no, can't have that," Gerry whispers back, slowly withdrawing his hand and moving it to the safe haven of Ian's back. "I've waited too long for this to have it over too soon."

Gerry's words make Ian feel flushed and warm all over, the idea that this handsome and extremely sexy man wants him.

"Unless," Gerry murmurs, his voice low and wicked, "I make you come now and then we get down to business and you come again later when I'm inside you."

Another low groan escapes from Ian's lips. His heart is beating a frantic rhythm against his rib cage and he understands what it means to feel like you might explode any minute now. Unable to manage the actual words to respond to Gerry's more than acceptable idea, Ian settles for nodding his head.

A devilish grin playing across is lips, Gerry presses the flat of his palm against Ian's crotch, cupping his arousal before sliding his fingers back into the open flap of his pants. He finds the patch of damp fabric that covers the tip of Ian's cock and strokes his fingers across it as he captures Ian's mouth in a forceful kiss.

Ian's cry is smothered in the kiss as his body jerks in response to the slow stimulation. He meets the kiss with a hunger of his own as he clings to Gerry's shoulders.

It's been a long time since Gerry had someone this responsive in his bed and he relishes the thrall of Ian's emotions. His fingers work along Ian's length, seeking out the spots that make him moan and thrash.

Throwing his head back, Ian comes with Gerry's name on his lips, his body shuddering with release.

Slowly stilling his hand, Gerry nuzzles against Ian's neck feeling the other man's racing pulse beneath his lips. "Good choice," he whispers, holding Ian tight as he comes back to earth.

Ian takes deep breaths, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart. "I'm sorry about that," he murmurs, suddenly feeling young and inexperienced in the arms of his mature lover.

"Don't be sorry," Gerry tells him, his lips still tracing along Ian's neck. "That was hot."

Ian smiles, ducking his head shyly but still leaning into Gerry's kiss. "Guess I was a little pent up," he admits as he runs a shaky hand along Gerry's thigh.

"We'll definitely have to make sure that doesn't happen again," Gerry smiles. "Not good to go too long without letting that out."

"No, it isn't," Ian chuckles softly. "'s not entirely my fault though..." he says softly, his fingers slowly trailing along the line of Gerry's hip.

"Oh it isn't?" Gerry teases, hyper aware of Ian's fingers.

"Nope. Who do you think got me that way?" ask Ian, meeting Gerry's eyes as he boldly presses his hand against the bulge behind Gerry's zipper.

"You were the one who rebuffed my advances," Gerry reminds him, tilting his hips into the contact. "You could have been un-pent-up a long time ago."

"I'm not refusing now," Ian points out with a gentle squeeze.

"Thank God. Wasn't sure how much longer I could go without having this." Gerry gives Ian a quick kiss as he hooks his fingers into the top of Ian's pants. "Now that wet spot has to be getting uncomfortable..." he says with a grin. "Wouldn't want you to suffer any longer than necessary," he says as he starts to tug them down.

Ian laughs as he reaches for the waist band of Gerry's pants. "How about we both get a lot more comfortable?" he suggests as he begins to unfasten and unzip.

"I like that idea." Gerry peels the fabric down and away from Ian's skin and he can't take his eyes off the pale expanse of his abdomen set off by the flushed pink of his cock.

Ian squirms a bit under Gerry's gaze, fumbling with Gerry's pants as he sends a silent prayer that he'll be enough for his experienced lover.

Gerry lifts his hips, helping Ian lower his pants and then he kicks them off and pushes them onto the floor with his feet. Ian's pants join his shortly in a puddle of fabric on the floor. "Lights on or off?" Gerry asks softly when he notices the faint blush creeping across Ian's skin.

Ian's brow wrinkles as his gaze moves to the lamp. "Uh... you can turn it off if you want..." he says quietly, wondering if Gerry would prefer not to be able to see him after all.

"On," Gerry decides, his fingers skimming across Ian's chest. "Don't want to miss a single detail," he says, drinking in the sight of Ian stretched out before him.

Ian releases a shaky breath, biting his lip as he smiles. His skin tingles where Gerry touches him and his heart begins to beat faster again from the intensity of his gaze.

Gerry rolls toward Ian, covering the other man's body with his own. His cock presses against Ian's thigh and he rocks his hips slowly, feeding the slow burn of his arousal.

"Ohhh," Ian moans the word, the simple contact making him heady with anticipation. Wrapping his arms around Gerry, he holds him tightly, never wanting to let go.

"Shit," Gerry whispers, realizing that he forgot to grab the sack from the drugstore out of it's hiding place. "Need condoms."

Ian's eyes go wide with Gerry's reminder. "Oh yeah... I uh... actually... I..." He closes his mouth and swallows hard. "Iboughtsometoday," he says in one rushed release.

Gerry throws his head back and laughs, breaking the tension in the room. "So did I. Hid them away so you wouldn't think I was thinking you were a sure thing." Gerry kisses the top of Ian's head and then rolls away to dig his stash out of his suitcase. "Great minds think alike I guess," he laughs as he crawls back into bed prepared with supplies this time.

Laughing softly, Ian reaches out and pulls Gerry closer. "I'm glad we're thinking alike," he says with a tender kiss.

"I'm glad that you were planning this all along. Makes me feel sure I'm not taking advantage of you," Gerry says as he resumes his place over the top of Ian.

"You're not taking advantage of me, Gerry. I want this," Ian says softly. "I want you."

Gerry didn't realize just how much his subconscious wanted to hear those words but when Ian utters them it hits him right in the chest. He pulls Ian into a voracious kiss, arching their bodies together from toes to lips.

Winding his arms around Gerry's neck, Ian holds on tight as their lips and bodies move together. He can't ever remember feeling this right, this perfect.

Gerry manages to rip open a foil packet without breaking his hold on Ian and deftly rolls the latex into place. He cups the packet of lube in the palm of his hand, warming the cool gel.

Reaching down, Ian wraps his hand around Gerry's condom-covered cock, inhaling quickly with the thought that it will be inside him soon.

A strangled moan escapes Gerry's lips when Ian's hand closes around him. He closes his eyes for a moment to gather his concentration, not wanting this to be over all too soon. He opens them again with a steadying breath and coats his fingers with slick fluid and urges Ian's legs up and apart.

Opening himself to Gerry, Ian watches as his lover rubs his slick fingers against him, teasing around his opening before slowly sliding his finger inside.

Gerry whispers dirty things in Ian's ear as he strokes his finger in and out, slowly stretching and preparing him, readying him for the actions to follow the words.

"More..." Ian mewls, his body writhing against Gerry's fingers.

"All ready for me?" Gerry murmurs in Ian's ear. "Ready for me to fill you up?"

"Yes... yes..." Ian gasps, his fingers digging into the muscle of Gerry's biceps.

Gerry slides his finger away from Ian's tight entrance and replaces it with his cock, sliding home slowly, inch by inch as Ian's body opens for him. "Ahhhh," he moans softly as he comes to rest fully inside the other man. "You feel so good."

Wrapping his legs around Gerry's hips, Ian arcs and shifts beneath him. "You, too," he murmurs softly, kissing whatever patch of skin that his lips can reach.

Gerry starts to move, shifting his hands down to the bed to gain the traction he needs to thrust. He's imagined this moment since the time he first met Ian but reality is much better than any fiction his brain had come up with.

"Aaah," Ian moans in pleasure, eyes closed and head back as he moves beneath Gerry's powerful thrusts.

Swallowing Ian's moans in a kiss, Gerry snaps his hips forward again and again, driving Ian into the bed.

Ian clings to Gerry, holding onto him as he's filled again and again, his spent cock beginning to fill again with each thrust.

Shifting his weight to free his hand, Gerry wraps his fingers around Ian's half-hard cock and starts to stroke, feeling it grow in his hand.

"Gerry," Ian gasps against his lover's lips, his body arching into the dual pleasure of Gerry's cock moving inside him and his hand working Ian's cock.

Gerry can feel Ian's body tighten around him and he groans, fighting back the growing wave of pleasure, trying to ride it as long as possible.

Ian tenses beneath him then cries out in pleasure as he comes, his release covering Gerry's fist.

His hips stuttering to a halt, Gerry's back arches and his body empties itself in a wash of pleasure. He clings tightly to Ian as he tries to regain his breath.

Brushing his lips against the damp hair at Gerry's temple, Ian murmurs soft, soothing words as his fingers slowly, stroke along Gerry's back.

"Good?" Gerry asks with a hint of his earlier devilish smile as he turns his head to give Ian a kiss.

Ian smiles against Gerry's lips. "Good," he says softly before giving Gerry another kiss.

Chapter Text

"I'll take care of that, too," Ian says yet again when Eric tells him about another impending deadline. He'd only been gone a few days, but apparently his absence has been felt.

"Have I mentioned that I'm glad you're back?" Eric smiles, handing Ian the last of the mid-term assignments. "And how did you like the conference?"

Ian looks down at the papers on his desk, shifting them unnecessarily. "I liked it. It was a great experience."

"Good. That's good. I'm sorry that I had to bail out at the last minute, but I'm glad it didn't keep you from going." Eric takes the seat next to Ian's desk. "How'd it go with Gerry?"

"Good," Ian nods and smiles.

"Good," repeats Eric, wondering why his assistant's face looks like it's flushed.

Gerry whistles under his breath as he strolls down the hall, some tune he'd heard earlier that had stuck in his head. He's refilled his coffee cup for the third time in the faculty lounge, in desperate need for caffeine following his lack of sleep the past few days and has decided to stop in and see Eric to make sure whatever emergency had prevented him from attending the conference has been resolved. Rapping lightly on the door he steps right in, not waiting for a response.

"Morning," he calls out as he rounds the door. "I fucking hate Mon..." he stops short when he sees Ian. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt."

"Hey. No problem," Eric greets Gerry with a warm smile. "Ian is probably tired of me right about now anyway considering all the work I just gave him."

"Good morning," Ian says, his smile widening as he stares at Gerry.

Gerry clutches his coffee tighter as flashes of Ian naked in bed dance through his mind. "Morning," he says with a smile and a nod. "Trying to recover from our long weekend," he says as he raises his mug to his lips.

"Was it a busy one for you?" asks Eric, noticing that Gerry hasn't taken his eyes of Ian since his arrival.

"You know how it goes, they schedule every moment of your time," Gerry says noncommittally.

"That they do. Usually too many seminars to digest in a matter of a few days. I hope you found it useful though. Ian?" Eric startles the young man out of his obvious reverie.

"Yes? I mean, yes. Very useful," Ian nods again before stealing another glance at Gerry. "I should be going. My class starts in a few minutes," he explains as he gets to his feet and walks toward the door, his arm brushing Gerry's as he passes.

Eric waits until Ian closes the door behind him to say anything. "Okay. What's going on? What happened in Chicago?"

"Long story," Gerry sighs as he settles into the chair Ian vacated. "But it has a happy ending," he grins, his eyes twinkling.

"A happy ending?" parrots Eric. "You slept with him, didn't you?"

"There wasn't much sleeping as I recall," Gerry says, tipping his head back to look at the ceiling to hide his smile.

"Gerry..." Eric shakes his head, a smile tugging at his lips despite his effort to appear neutral to his friend's revelation about the weekend.

"All that worrying that he didn't want me was all for naught." Gerry tips his head to the side. "Were you behind the mistake in the reservations that gave us a king bed instead of two doubles, or was that just lady lucky on my side?"

Eric's mouth drops open then he laughs and shakes his head. "That wasn't me, buddy. But then I didn't know you'd be seducing my assistant either."

"You knew how I felt about him," Gerry reminds him. "I wouldn't put it past you to play matchmaker."

"Not this time. I swear. My card was filled with looking after my own match this weekend."

Gerry sits upright, remembering why he came down to Eric's office in the first place. "Is everything okay?" he asks. "You sounded pretty upset when you called about the conference."

"Yeah, well. It's always been a bit volatile with me and Orli, right? It'll work out though," replies Eric, plastering on a smile. "I do appreciate you filling in for me with the conference. By all appearances, it seems to have worked out well for you and Ian, too."

"That it did." Gerry drains the last of his coffee and sets the mug on the desk. "I'm sorry that you and Orli have hit a bump. Sounds like some things happen for a reason."

"I think maybe they do," Eric says quietly. "Life's little way of teaching us a lesson."

"That's profound Mr. Professor." Gerry sits in silence for a moment just watching his friend.

"Oh yes," Eric nods. "Maybe I should have studied philosophy instead, mmm?" He smiles and stands up to give Gerry a pat on the shoulder. "I'm happy for you Gerry. Ian is a nice..." The word "kid" almost escapes Eric's mouth. "Young man."

"So are you going to tell him that you know about us or do I get to break that news to him?" Gerry asks. "His face might blush so red it actually burns right off."

"It would probably be better coming from you, don't you think?" laughs Eric. "And you said that amazingly well for a confirmed bachelor." He continues when Gerry gives him a questioning look. "The word 'us'. Will wonders never cease?"

"If I start calling him my boyfriend then you have cause to worry," Gerry laughs. "Us could mean so many different things, I think I can handle it."

"Nothing wrong with having a boyfriend," assures Eric. "Anyway... I'm not worried about you. Just the opposite in fact."

"Worried about Ian?" Gerry asks, his forehead creased with concern.

"No! That's not what I meant. Ian's a grown man. And I'm pretty sure he knows what he's doing. I have a feeling that you'll both be fine."

"And you'll tell me if he's having second thoughts, right? Friend takes precedence over TA?"

"Second thoughts?" Eric snorts. "Are we talking about the same Ian who couldn't take his eyes off of you a moment ago?"

"He's still in the afterglow," Gerry says, remembering the glow on Ian's face. "He might sober up and have regrets later. After all, he resisted me for a long time."

"Well something made him change his mind," Eric points out. "Maybe he wanted you to change his mind all along?"

"Maybe," Gerry says, mulling over Eric's words. "I just hope that I don't hurt him in the end, you know? Make a stupid mistake or something. I'm not used to caring about that stuff."

"The fact that you do care about 'that stuff' means that he's different. If you know you don't want to hurt him, then don't. At least if you can help it. Sometimes it just can't be avoided, but that's when you try your best to work it out." Eric shakes his head when he hears his own words and knows how they should have applied to him as well. He needs to find Orli.

"If the field of English ever dries up and finds you out of work you could go into relationship counseling," Gerry smiles softly at his friend. "You always have a wise word."

"Somehow it's easier talking about someone else's relationship," admits Eric.

"So true. So how about we dissect yours over lunch today? I have class in 10 minutes."

"I think I'll pass on lunch. What I need to do is find Orli and have a talk with him."

"Well good luck then." Gerry hoists himself off his chair and grabs his coffee mug. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."

"Thanks, Gerry." Eric pats his friend on his back before he leaves, silently hoping that he can fix what's been broken between him and Orli. Reaching for his cell phone, he hopes that Orli has replaced the phone that he'd smashed in their bedroom the night he left. Eric holds his breath as it begins to ring then releases it with a disappointed sigh when the call goes to Orli's voice mail. He doesn't leave a message, pressing the button to end the call.

 

EC**EC**EC**EC**EC

 

Orli stays in his seat for a moment after class is dismissed, wanting to jot down a few reminders to himself. He pulls out his phone to check his calendar and sees that he's missed a call while he had it on silent. He doesn't have all his numbers programmed in to his replacement phone yet so he has to think for a moment when the digits appear on the screen. When it dawns on him who's called, he sits back in the chair, unsure what to do.

The students for the next class start to trickle in so he shoves his stuff in his bag and gets up. He checks the clock and thinks back, remembering that Eric should be on office hours right now.

Ian is unloading his backpack, a stack of papers from the Shakespeare class littering his desk. He looks up when he hears the office door open. Expecting Eric, Ian is surprised to see Orli instead.

"Hey!" Ian smiles brightly in greeting as he zips his backpack closed and sets it on the floor behind his desk.

"Ian," Orli says, barely biting back a heavy sigh. "I was hoping to catch Dr. Bana during his office hours."

"Oh... I'm sorry. He's not here right now. He left a message that he wouldn't be in the office this afternoon," explains Ian.

"And he left you in charge?" Orli can't help but asking. "His right-hand man?"

"Well..." Ian is caught off guard by Orli's question. "I wouldn't say that exactly," he smiles nervously and shakes his head.

Orli didn't expect this renewed sense of anger but seeing Ian has thrown him right back into the emotional space of the night of his fight with Eric. "I suppose when you are sleeping with a professor it gives you quite a bit of pull around here."

Ian's smile quickly disappears with Orli's words. He doesn't know how Orli knows about him and Gerry, but apparently he does. "No. No it doesn't. And that's not why I'm with him."

With him. He's admitting it right to my face. "Of course it's not," Orli practically sneers.

"It's not," Ian defends. "I would never do something to hurt him professionally. Or in any other way. I care too much for him."

"Right," Orli says shaking his head and slowly backing toward the door. "Wouldn't want to hurt anyone."

Confused by Orli's reaction to his feelings for Gerry, Ian gets to his feet as the other man begins to retreat. "That's why I resisted at first..." he confesses. "I don't want anyone to get hurt."

So Eric pursued him. Orli is surprised by how much that tidbit hurts. "I need to go. Got class in a few," he says, trying to make his escape.

"Orli wait!" Ian calls after the other man, but is stopped short when the office door slams in his face. He doesn't understand why Orli seems so upset about his being with Gerry. Is he worried for Eric's friend? Ian would never hurt Gerry, but he doesn't think that Orli believes that about him. He's sure that Orli sees him as some kind of manipulator who is taking advantage instead of someone in love, but what more could he say in his defense?

Orli can feel his eyes stinging with tears and he ducks to the left quickly into the bathroom, not wanting anyone to see him so upset. He steps into a stall and closes the door, letting his head fall forward to rest against it. He can't believe he'd been ready to seek out Eric and reconcile.

 

EC**EC**EC**EC**EC

 

Eric walks down the sidewalk toward the building where his office is located. His thoughts are a million miles away as he wonders where Orli is and how is he going to get the other man to talk to him. Turning toward the stairs at the front of the building, Eric looks up to see Orli descending them.

"Orli." Eric reaches out to take Orli's arm when it's apparent that he has no intention of stopping when he sees Eric.

Orli is hoping that Eric hadn't seen him in the bustle of students coming in and out but the touch on his arm says differently. "I have nothing to say to you," he says quietly, hoping that his brief respite in the restroom had erased the signs of his emotion from his face.

"Fine. Then you can just listen then because I have something to say to you," Eric says firmly. He isn't angry and he hasn't raised his voice, but the seriousness in his tone is evident.

Orli says nothing but he stops trying to walk away. He does pull his arm out of Eric's grasp, not wanting to draw unwanted attention from the other students.

Looking at the other students nearby, Eric gestures toward the top of the stairs with a tilt of his head. "Let's go to my office where we can have some privacy."

"No thanks, I was just there. Very... illuminating," Orli says, shoving the strap of his backpack up higher on his shoulder.

"What?" Eric's brow wrinkles in confusion. "What are you talking about, Orli?"

"Just had a nice talk with Ian. He explained to me how he 'resisted at first' but just couldn't help himself." Orli can't meet Eric's eyes so he stares at his chest, wishing he were a million miles away.

"I don't understand..." Eric shakes his head then takes hold of Orli's arm again. "We have to talk, Orli. Come on..."

"It's over, okay?" Orli yanks his arm back. "It was great while it lasted, but it is time to just move on."

"No it's not okay! I'm not about to let you just walk away. Either come up these stairs with me or I will drag you up them. One way or another, you ARE going to talk to me about this."

"Don't talk to me like that!" Orli says harshly, trying not to raise his voice. "I'm not some boy you can boss around like that. Not like your one upstairs."

"Are you referring to Ian again? I've told you that nothing is going on between us. Just give me five minutes. Come back to my office and he can tell you himself." Eric reaches out for Orli, but he doesn't grab him again. He just holds his hand out, palm up. "Please," he says quietly.

"Five minutes," Orli says with a sigh, knowing Eric won't give up easily. Five minutes and I can be gone and never have to let someone make me feel this way again.

Eric doesn't move until Orli turns and takes a few steps up the stairs, then he goes too, joining Orli at the top and following him inside. They walk down the hallway to his office, nothing but silence between them. Eric opens his door and holds it for Orli to go inside before him. He spots Ian at his desk and the immediate uncomfortable expression on his TA's face.

"Dr. Bana..." Ian gets up from his seat and looks at Orli then back to Eric. "I should go. Let you two have some privacy..."

"No, wait," Eric tells him as he shuts the door behind him. "Orli and I do need to talk, but there's something we need to clear up first."

Ian shifts nervously, still confused from the conversation he had with Orli just moments before Eric arrived with him in tow. "Okay..."

"Orli is under the impression that we are... involved. I'd like you to tell him that nothing is going on between us." Eric looks from Ian to Orli, confident that Ian's denial will clear up his lover's misconception.

Orli actually feels bad for Ian, the younger man is obviously uncomfortable being forced to lie like this to cover Eric's indiscretion.

"Involved? With you?" Ian shakes his head. "We just talked about it a few minutes ago..." he looks at Orli, clearly confused. "I thought you knew that I'm seeing Gerry. Dr. Butler."

"What?" Orli asks, finding it his turn to be uncomfortable. "You said you were sleeping with Eric. You tried to resist but eventually couldn't."

"No, no..." Ian says definitively, shooting Eric an apologetic look. "I'm sorry if that's who you thought I was talking about, but I meant Gerry. When you asked about me being with a professor, I thought you knew about me and Gerry and that you thought I was using him or something..."

"Did you put him up to this?" Orli asks, turning his gaze full force on Eric. "Make him lie for you?" His head is spinning and he doesn't know which end is up.

Eric gives Orli an incredulous look. "Of course not! If you want to be stubborn and not believe me, that's one thing, but you don't need to accuse Ian of lying as well."

Orli looks over at Ian, who looks stricken, his face almost white. "Can you give us some privacy please?" he asks quietly, sinking down into the chair next to the desk.

"Yeah... of course," Ian grabs his backpack and moves to leave, pausing at the door as he speaks to Orli. "I'm really sorry about this... but it really is just a misunderstanding. Dr. Bana is a great mentor, but no more than that. And everything I said before was about Gerry. I'm sorry if I made you think I was talking about Dr. Bana. It wasn't my intention." Opening the door, Ian starts to leave.

Orli bends over, resting his head in his hands. He hears a few quietly murmured words pass between the other two men before the door clicks shut. He shakes his head slowly trying to straighten out the tumultuous turn his emotions have been through in the past hour.

"I didn't go to Chicago, Orli. Gerry took my place and went with Ian. That's when they got together, just this past weekend," Eric explains.

"You didn't go to Chicago?" Orli asks, clearly confused. He looks up and finds Eric leaning against the desk right next to where he is sitting. "But the conference..."

"Gerry. He went instead," replies Eric. "I didn't know it, but apparently Gerry and Ian were kind of seeing each other before and it came together for them in Chicago. I'm not sure Ian knew that I knew about it. Gerry only told me this morning."

"And before that? Nothing between you two?" Orli asks.

"Nothing but work. And there never will be anything between us because I don't love Ian. I love you," Eric replies, reaching out to caress Orli's cheek.

"Never be anything between us?" Orli looks up, meeting Eric's eyes. "You were ready to believe at the drop of a hat that I was hooking again. You didn't even trust me enough to ask me what was going on... or to worry about my safety."

Eric's hand drops and he sighs. "Don't say I don't worry about you, Orli, because it just isn't true. And did you trust me? Trust me enough to tell me about the guy who was calling you and texting you? No. You let me discover it in a way to make me think the worst thing possible. I'm sorry I jumped to the wrong conclusion, but so did you with Ian so surely you know how easily it can be done."

"I was handling him," Orli says with a sigh. "He'd stopped calling and I thought it was over, just a quick blip from the past that didn't even deserve a mention."

Eric moves from his place by the desk and kneels down in front of Orli. "I'm sorry I assumed the worst."

This time it is Orli that reaches out and touches Eric's cheek. "I felt like I was losing my place at the center of your world," he says softly. "All I was hearing day in and out was how wonderful Ian is. How smart and how much like you. I may have had your bed but I felt like he had your heart and mind."

Shaking his head, Eric presses his face into Orli's hand. "Never. The only center I have is you. And no one can take your place. Heart, mind... everything I am and that I have is yours, Orli. I love you."

"I never had to deal with this before, you know? It was my job to be emotionally detached. I never realized how much it could hurt when you factored love into the equation."

"So you do still love me then?" asks Eric.

Orli realizes he's been rambling and has left Eric hanging about how he feels. "I do love you. Even when I thought it was over, I still loved you."

Wrapping his arms around Orli's waist, Eric pulls him into his embrace and covers his face with tender kisses.

Closing his eyes, Orli inhales deeply having missed the smell of Eric's cologne. "Missed you," he whispers, his lips against Eric's cheek.

"I missed you, too. So very much..." Eric whispers against Orli's lips before he kisses him.

Orli slips his arms around Eric's neck, pulling him closer and further into the kiss. "No place I'd rather be," he says, happy that those words are the truth once again.

Eric tilts his head back enough to look into the brown eyes that he loves so dearly. "Can I take you home?" he asks softly.

"Please," Orli says, suddenly realizing how much toll the emotional stress of the day has had on him. "Home," he repeats, liking how that word sounds.

 

EC**EC**EC**EC**EC

 

Eric cracks open the door to the bathroom and peeks around it to see Orli's eyes closed and his head tilted back against the rim as he soaks in the gigantic, antique, claw foot bathtub. Slipping quietly into the steamy bathroom, Eric holds a towel as he steps closer to the tub.

"You're going to turn into a prune if you stay in here much longer," Eric tells Orli, smiling when he opens his eyes and looks up at him.

Orli smiles back and lets his eyes fall closed again. "I think I missed this tub most of all," he says with a grin. "Hotel showers just don't measure up."

"I know. You've always had a thing for this tub. It was love at first sight, wasn't it?" asks Eric. "They don't make them like this one any more. It's a classic."

"I don't know why they went out of style. People are in too much of a hurry I guess. No time for leisurely pampering."

Eric holds up the towel and smiles. "Why don't you come out now and I'll see what I can do about that pampering?"

"Now there is a promise I can't turn down," Orli says, carefully sitting up. Grasping the edge of the tub he gets up on his knees and then to his feet, steadying himself on Eric's shoulder as he steps out onto the bath mat and into the embrace of the warm towel. "You warmed my towel in the dryer and everything," he says, giving Eric a peck on the cheek. "You really must have missed me."

"I missed you like crazy," confesses Eric as he wraps his arms around Orli in the towel.

"Missed you too," Orli says as he dips his head and nuzzles against Eric's shoulder. "Probably more than I missed the tub," he admits.

Eric chuckles softly. "Good to know," he says softly as he kisses Orli's cheek. "It's good to have you home."

Orli returns the kiss and then twists his body around, trying to get somewhat dry. "I think I need to go see how much I missed the bed," he says, trying to keep a solemn look on his face and failing miserably.

Smiling at his lover's antics, Eric nods in agreement. "I know it's missed you. It wasn't the same bed when you were gone. It'll be glad to have you back, I'm sure."

Orli tugs the ends of the towel out of Eric's grasp and lets it fall to the floor. "We'd better go find out for sure," he says, as he walks away, smiling as he looks back at Eric over his shoulder.

Eric follows Orli into the bedroom, admiring the view of his boyfriend's bare bottom as he crawls into bed. "You said 'we'..." Eric points out. "Does that mean I should join you?" he asks with a smile.

"Of course," Orli says as he lets himself sink into the plush bedding. "Just as good as I remembered," he says, reaching out his hand to urge Eric to join him.

"I think I'm a little over dressed," Eric mentions. "Unless you'd really just like to rest for a while..." he adds as he hesitates by the side of the bed.

"I can rest when I'm dead," Orli says glibly, rolling onto his side and propping his head up on his hand. "Right now though I need you to remind me what you look like without your clothes on."

Eric's lips curve into a wicked smile as he starts unbuttoning his shirt, never taking his eyes off Orli for one second as he removes each piece of clothing until he is as bare as his lover. "Bring back any memories?" he asks.

"Oh yes. Lots of happy memories," Orli says with a smile of satisfaction as his eyes drink in the sight of Eric naked. "Now come a little closer so I can remember how you feel."

"As you wish, my love," Eric says smoothly before climbing onto the bed to join Orli. He gently presses Orli back and hovers over him with a smile. "Is this close enough?"

"Oh yes. It's all coming back to me now," Orli says as he wraps his arms around Eric's neck. "Feels like home."

Eric's smile widens as he lowers his mouth to claim Orli's, pouring all the emotion of the past few days into the passionate kiss.

Orli wraps his legs around Eric's waist, clinging to his lover with all his limbs. He tilts his head up, devouring the other man's kisses.

Framing Orli's face with his fingers tangled in his damp hair, Eric thinks of how close he's come to losing the one person who means everything to him and how grateful he is to have Orli back in his arms where he belongs.

Feeling Eric's eyes on him Orli looks up and meets his lover's gaze. "I'm not going anywhere," he says, knowing exactly what Eric is thinking. "Not ever again."

Eric's stare is penetrating, the raw emotion evident. "Promise me? Even if I do something stupid again, don't run away. Stay and talk it out. Or fight it out... anything. Just don't leave. Because no matter what I say or do, I'm loving you. Always."

"I promise," Orli whispers through the lump in his throat. "And promise me you'll never doubt that you are the only one I want to be with."

"I promise," replies Eric, sealing his commitment with another passionate kiss.

Chapter Text

Gerry swings his shopping bag back and forth as he walks down the street. The sky is an amazing color of blue and the stark white clouds seem like they were painted in perfect places by some artistic hand. He clutches the scrap of paper in his free hand with Ian's address jotted on it. He checks the numbers and then shoves the paper in his pocket before rapping on Ian's door.

Clicking off the television, Ian gets to his feet to answer the door. He looks out the peep hole to see Gerry standing outside so he hurries to unlock the door and pull it open.

"Hey!" Ian's face lights up at the sight of Gerry standing on his door step.

"So I was finally unpacking from our trip to Chicago," Gerry says by way of greeting. "And I came across this," he says, holding out the bag. "Thought you might want it back."

Ian takes his shirt from Gerry. "Thanks," he says as he takes a step back and gestures for Gerry to come inside. "It was kinda crazy packing those last few minutes," he smiles.

"Just a slight rush," Gerry laughs as he steps inside. "Probably shouldn't have taken a shower together to 'save time'. At least we got our exercise in running for the gate in the airport."

"That was very good thinking on your part," Ian smiles, closing the door behind Gerry. "Time conservation as well as... other things."

"Water conservation is so important," Gerry agrees, smiling at the slight blush in Ian's cheeks. "I could come over every morning if you want me to. All for the environment and whatnot."

"That's very conscientious of you," nods Ian. He sets the shirt on a nearby table and takes a step closer to Gerry. "I must admit... I did miss you this morning."

Gerry unconsciously reaches out, his hand coming to rest on Ian's hip. "No one to roll over and hit the snooze button for you?"

Ian leans into Gerry's touch, the magnetism between them stronger than ever. "No reason to hit the snooze button. No use staying in bed if you're not there with me."

"You could fall back asleep and dream about me," Gerry says softly, pulling Ian closer.

"But the real thing..." Ian tilts his face so that his lips brush against Gerry's jaw. "Is so much better."

"Very true," Gerry says, unable to resist any longer. Cupping Ian's jaw in his palm he brings his lips down to Ian's mouth, pressing against them chastely before attacking the other man with hunger.

Wrapping his arms around Gerry's neck, Ian pulls him closer, lips and body pressed tightly against one another.

"This isn't what I came over here for, I swear," Gerry murmurs as he slowly backs Ian up until he's against the wall. "Don't want you to think badly of me," he smiles.

"I'll only think badly of you if you stop," Ian replies, breathless from their kiss and his growing arousal.

"Oh I don't plan on stopping," Gerry promises, sliding his hands up under Ian's shirt.

Ian's only response is a low moan as Gerry's hands slide against his heated skin. He tugs at Gerry's shirt, trying to get to some skin as well.

Gerry cants his hips forward, pinning Ian against the wall as he tugs the other man's shirt up and over his head, only breaking their kiss long enough for the fabric to pass by.

Gasping as Gerry reclaims his mouth for another hungry kiss, Ian fists the fabric beneath his fingers and holds onto Gerry.

Laying his palms flat against Ian's chest, Gerry drops his lips from Ian's mouth and trails them down and over the other man's shoulder to his collarbone and then down from there, tasting the expanse of bare skin as he moves lower and lower.

Tugging at Gerry's shirt as he moves lower, Ian manages to pull it off over his head. His fingers threading through Gerry's dark curls as he continues to move downward.

"Your stomach is so sexy," Gerry whispers as he traces his lips along the tiny peek of Ian's hip bone that shows above his jeans.

The muscles in Ian's abdomen quiver from the heat of Gerry's lips as they move against his skin. "Oh god Gerry..." Ian whimpers, sliding a bit down the wall when his knees threaten to buckle. "If you only knew what you do to me..."

"You do the same to me, twice over," Gerry says, grasping the denim along Ian's thighs and tugging, revealing another tantalizing inch of skin below Ian's navel.

Leaning over Gerry, Ian's hands caress his back and shoulders and he lets out another soft moan when he feels Gerry's mouth against his skin again.

Gerry worries his thumb over the button of Ian's jeans, content to continue to taste the smooth skin just above the line of fabric for now. He inhales deeply, taking in the scent of Ian's skin along with the hint of arousal taking root deep in Ian's core.

"I've been thinking of you all day. Wishing I could be with you like this again," Ian whispers his confession.

"I think I'm getting addicted to you," Gerry murmurs against Ian's stomach. "Crave you like a drug."

Ian cards his fingers through Gerry's dark hair. "I'm here for you, take as much as you want."

Gerry needs more, Ian's words only serving to encourage him. Popping the button of Ian's jeans through the hole in the worn denim, Gerry works open the other man's pants and slowly drags them down over his hips.

Ian shivers when the only thing left between his aching arousal and Gerry's intent gaze is the thin layer of cotton of his boxer shorts.

Resting his hands on Ian's hips, Gerry mouths his length through the thin fabric. He slides his fingers under the elastic at Ian's waist and pulls slowly, capturing the head of his cock as it bobs free.

"Oh god... Gerry..." Ian gasps at the feel of Gerry's mouth on his cock, hoping his knees really won't give out on him.

Gerry steadies Ian with his hands as he closes his eyes and pulls more of Ian's length between his lips.

Ian watches his cock slide over Gerry's lips and is quickly reduced to a trembling mass of desire.

Moaning softly, Gerry bobs his head so Ian's cock thrusts further into his throat, hollowing his cheeks as he moves.

His body rocking with the motion of Gerry's movements, Ian resists the urge to thrust harder despite the overwhelming sensation of pleasure surrounding him with each drag of Gerry's tongue across his cock.

Gerry concentrates on the way Ian's body reacts, rasping his tongue across a particularly sensitive spot on the underside of the other man's cock. He pulls away long enough to catch his breath and looks up at Ian's face, pleased by the bliss he find there.

"You're very good at this," Ian says in a hoarse whisper, a goofy, lop-sided smile on his face.

Gerry can't help but smile. "I try," he grins before delving back to the task at hand, loving the way Ian's cock fills his mouth and rests heavy on his tongue.

Any words that Ian might have replied with are stuck in his throat, the only sound escaping his lips is a strangled moan of pleasure.

Feeling Ian's body sag against the wall as if his legs cannot hold him up any longer, Gerry tightens his grip on Ian's hips and presses him tightly against the wall as he focuses all his skills on making the younger man come apart beneath him.

Ian closes his eyes, his head tilted back against the wall as his world spirals down to a pinpoint of pleasure and his release pulses down Gerry's throat.

Gerry's throat closes around Ian's cock as it spasms in his mouth, taking in the release of Ian's climax. He continues to suck lightly on Ian's length as the other man's body slowly relaxes before finally releasing Ian's cock from his lips.

Sliding down the wall, Ian lands himself in Gerry's lap. He rests his head on Gerry's shoulder and wraps his arms around his waist. "That was amazing," he purrs.

"My pleasure," Gerry whispers, nuzzling against Ian's temple, his own arousal an aching need that pushes to the forefront now without anything to distract from it.

"Want to continue this in bed?" asks Ian, his hand sliding over Gerry's thigh and rubbing against his crotch.

Gerry inhales sharply when Ian's hand find its mark. "Yes," he says, his voice strangled by the pent up air he can't seem to let go of.

Ian slowly unfolds himself from Gerry's lap and gets to his feet, holding his hand out to Gerry.

Gerry takes Ian's hand and hauls himself to his feet. He doesn't let go right away, letting Ian lead him toward the bedroom.

When they reach the bedroom, Ian guides Gerry, nudging him back onto the bed and crawling over him to begin removing his jeans.

Sprawling back across the bed, Gerry watches Ian move over him, happy to let the other man be in charge for now.

Ian removes Gerry's jeans and underwear, his lips curving into a very pleased smile when Gerry's fully aroused cock is revealed to him. Wrapping his fingers around it, he slowly strokes his lover, his eyes looking up to meet Gerry's hooded gaze.

"Nice," Gerry whispers, his voice thick with lust. He reaches out with his hand, letting his fingers brush Ian's arm as it moves, unable to resist touching the other man.

"Very nice," Ian agrees as his thumb rubs over the head of Gerry's cock. "I want to suck it. Feel it filling my mouth and throat. Feel it filling me."

Gerry moans, lust overriding any words he might have managed. His hips twitch up off the bed, his body responding to the visual Ian paints with his words.

Lowering his head, Ian takes Gerry's hard cock into his mouth, slowly sliding down his length and swallowing him as much as he can.

Burying his fingers into Ian's dark hair, Gerry rests his hands lightly on the other man's head.

Ian hums in pleasure as he maps the silken steel flesh with his tongue, teasing the sensitive spot just below the head and rubbing the flat of his tongue across Gerry's leaking slit.

Gerry squirms under Ian's masterful touch, resisting as best as he can the urge to lift his hips off the bed and thrust into Ian's waiting mouth.

Pulling back, Ian wipes his reddened lips with the back of his hand. "Gerry..." he says his lover's name with uncertainty in his voice.

Gerry wrenches his head up off the bed to look at Ian, hoping desperately that nothing is wrong.

"I don't want to be selfish... but I really want you inside me..." confesses Ian.

"Not selfish," Gerry says softly, reaching out and pulling Ian toward him. "Not selfish when we both enjoy it right?"

Ian nods, smiling at his lover. "Hold that thought..." he says quickly as he slides off the bed and hurries into the bathroom, returning with the pack of condoms that he bought in Chicago and a bottle of lube.

Gerry welcomes Ian back to the bed with a kiss. "I didn't know we had any of those left over," he laughs."

"We did use all of yours, but I managed to save a few," Ian smiles as he pulls one of the condoms from the pack and unwraps it.

"Such a Boy Scout." Gerry strokes his fingers down Ian's arm as the younger man deftly unrolls the latex down his length.

"Never hurts to be prepared," Ian says with a soft chuckle as he squeezes some of the lube onto Gerry's fingers. "No pun intended," he adds as he straddles Gerry's hips.

Gerry smiles but his thoughts turn quickly to more serious things as his fingers search out the tight pucker between Ian's cheeks. He rubs his fingers together to coat them with the lube before pressing one inside Ian's body.

Ian moans as he rocks back against Gerry's finger, so anxious to be ready for his lover's cock again.

Gerry loves how eager Ian is for him and he drags out the preparations longer than strictly necessary just to enjoy watching him. Eventually though the ache in his cock becomes too much to ignore and he wraps his fingers around his cock while using his free hand to guide Ian down onto his length.

Moaning again as Gerry slowly fills him, Ian dips his head and brushes his lips against Gerry's.

Letting Ian set the pace of their coupling, Gerry traces his fingers up Ian's thighs, feeling the muscles tighten and relax under his warm skin. His hands come to rest on Ian's hips, holding him steady as he rises and falls.

Holding onto to Gerry's arms as he holds onto him, Ian slowly rides Gerry's cock, his own cock filling again with renewed arousal.

"Gonna come again for me?" Gerry murmurs, sliding his fingers across Ian's stomach and onto his cock.

"Yeah..." Ian sighs. "But you first," he adds, squeezing his muscles around the hard cock inside him.

"Yes sir," Gerry smiles blissfully, his eyes narrowing to slits as he rocks his hips up and back in time with Ian's movements.

Ian arches his back, pushing his hips toward Gerry's touch and rocking back onto Gerry's cock.

The sight of Ian's graceful arch along with the shift in his hips is enough to send Gerry flying off the edge despite his effort at making this last.

Smiling as he watches Gerry's face contort with pleasure, Ian wraps his hand around Gerry's and urges him to stroke him faster.

Gerry takes Ian's guidance, letting the other man show him just how he wants to be touched.

"Love it when you're inside me," rasps Ian, his hips still moving in time with Gerry's strokes.

Sliding his free hand up Ian's arm, Gerry pulls him down so he can kiss him. "You feel so good around me," he murmurs against Ian's lips.

Ian snags Gerry's lower lip, seductively sucking on it before he finally releases it. Thrusting into Gerry's fist with a few more sharp jerks of his hips, Ian comes with a whimpered gasp.

Gerry holds Ian tightly against his chest as the other man climaxes, letting his spasms and trembles wrack through both their bodies. He claims Ian's mouth in another kiss as their hands slow to gentle strokes.

Lying there, sated and replete, Ian doesn't want to move from this position. Ever. Completely satisfied to stay like this with Gerry forever.

Gently draping his arms around Ian, Gerry traces his fingertips down Ian's spine and out across his back. "I hope you didn't have plans or anything this afternoon," he teases after letting the silence stretch between them for several minutes.

"If I did, I would have changed them for this," Ian murmurs against Gerry's chest. "Can you stay with me?" he asks softly.

"A thousand horses couldn't drag me away right now," Gerry whispers, his lips pressed up against the top of Ian's head.

Ian smiles, his lips curving against Gerry's warm skin.

Chapter Text

The doorbell rings just as Orli is topping off his glass of wine. "I'll get it," he calls toward the living room where he'd left Eric in charge of getting the music going. Carrying his glass along with him, he checks the peephole and then throws open the door, gesturing for their guests to come in. "Happy New Year," he says with a smile leaning in to give Ian and Gerry each a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Happy New Year," Ian replies with a bright smile as their host steps back to let them enter the house. He is glad to see Orli relaxed and happy, the misunderstandings of October now a thing of the past.

Orli shuts the door and sets down his glass so he can take their jackets. "Eric's in the other room," he tells Gerry. "You might want to check on him...I left him in charge of the electronics and he might have electrocuted himself by now."

After laughing at Gerry's expression as he leaves to go check on Eric, Ian gives the bottle of champagne that he's been holding to Orli. "A contribution to the night's festivities," he explains.

Orli takes the bottle and examines the label. "Excellent choice," he says. "Let's go get it on ice in the kitchen."

"Mmmm... something smells incredible," Ian comments when they enter the large kitchen.

"I'd love to take the credit, but we had Rosetta come in for a bit this morning to whip up a few things for us. We're so dependent on her," he laughs.

"Oh yeah, I've heard Dr. Bana talk about her. Especially her etoufee," Ian nods as he leans against a counter as Orli begins to search for an ice bucket for the champagne. "Do you think she would give me her recipe? I love to cook and Gerry really likes etoufee, too."

"Don't know if she'd give it up but we'll definitely have to have you guys over the next time she makes it. Maybe you can charm her out of it." Orli gives up on the ice bucket and pulls a large tupperware container out of the cupboard and starts to scoop out some ice.

"That would be great. Maybe I should get Gerry to ask her? He can be very charming," Ian grins with the thought of his lover's persuavesiveness.

"The two of you combined would be no match for her." Nestling the bottle in the ice, Orli sets it aside and pours a glass of the wine he is drinking for Ian. "Should we go check and make sure they haven't blown up the living room?"

"Sure," replies Ian as he takes his glass of wine and follows Orli into the living room where they find Gerry and Eric relaxing on the couch, the soft sound of jazz filling the air.

"Hey Ian!" Eric says with a wave of his hand.

"Hello Dr. Bana. Happy New Year," replies Ian as he moves toward Gerry.

"Eric. Call me Eric. None of that Dr. Bana stuff at home, okay?" he smiles.

Nodding in agreement, Ian takes the seat next to Gerry on the couch.

Orli snuggles in next to Eric and gives him a quick kiss. "We have to invite these two over the next time we have etoufee. Ian wants to wheedle the recipe out of Rosetta."

"Sure thing. But I don't know how forthcoming she'll be with her granmere's recipe," replies Eric.

"If she can resist these two then it deserves to stay a secret," Orli laughs.

"I know I can't resist him when he's after something," Gerry teases, tipping his wine glass toward Ian.

"Gerry..." Ian says bashfully, lowering his eyes to his wine glass as his cheeks darken in embarrassment.

Eric chuckles softly, amused at Ian's response, but he doesn't let his assistant's shyness fool him when it comes to Gerry. He knows that Ian has the other man completely smitten.

Orli looks around the room, everyone's faces shining with happiness. Three months ago he couldn't have imagined the friendship that would grow between them. "I propose a toast," he calls out over their laughter. "To friends...may the coming year bring us all health, happiness, and great success."

Ian raises his glass. "To friends," he toasts and clinks his glass against Gerry's.

"To friends," Eric says, too. "And lovers," he adds softly, stealing a kiss from Orli before touching his glass to his.

"Friends and lovers," Gerry says softly, clinking glasses and then leaning in to kiss Ian.