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Edinburgh

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Orlando nodded politely at another student and his parents as they passed him in the busy residence hall hallway. It was Fresher’s week at the University of Edinburgh, complete with the trademark influx of students that made it impossible not to brush against someone and in some cases their parents.

Orlando had arrived alone unlike most other freshers. His mother hadn’t been able to accompany him, and he’d turned down his older sister’s offer to take her place. It wasn’t that he didn’t want anyone to be there with him; he just hadn’t thought it necessary. He wanted to get used to the idea of being on his own anyway and didn’t think he could do that with either his mum or sister holding his hand. They weren’t even that far away–less than a day’s trip away by train or plane should he need them. 

Based on the room numbers, there wouldn’t be too long before he arrived at his. He gripped his backpack strap tighter, eying a tall, dark haired male student, who–despite having effortlessly caught Orlando’s attention–barely took notice of him as he swiftly made his way down the hallway. Orlando turned back to the task at hand to find that he’d arrived at his intended destination–the room that he would call his home for the school term.

~

Eric snaked his way through the steady flow of freshers pouring through the hall of residence, making his way to the community bathroom on the building’s first floor. He passed a slim, dark-haired male student–a little on the pretty side. Guessing from his expression, he was another first year, though he was lacking the typical mum and dad escorts. 

“Shite. Was that supposed to feel like a journey?” he mumbled to himself.

It’d only been a year since he’d arrived here as a first year with his brother–who he’d managed to convince his parents to send in their stead–in tow to help him, but he’d been too wide-eyed at his new independence to notice the traffic and how crowded the halls were. He remembered hardly being able to tell the graduates from the undergraduates then, but now the freshers were as easy to spot as rainbow colored rhinos and not solely by their still doting, clinging parents, but also their innocent faces. He didn’t think and sure as hell hoped he hadn’t looked that naive his first year. It was just asking for all kinds of trouble. God knew, there were some students here looking for exactly that.

Eric looked up at the blond man in front of him. “Sean. Decided to hide out in the bathroom, too?” 

“We should have taken up at Karl’s flat this week. I can’t take a step without walking on someone’s mum,” Sean answered.

“No way in hell could you get me to stay at Karl’s for a friggin’ week.” Eric scowled, walking up to one of the urinals. There was no way he’d stay anywhere for a week with Karl. Even if Sean would be there. He doubted the presence of Sean or anyone else would make that much of a difference.

“Why? You have something against Karl? Since when?” Sean asked when Eric shrugged. He was perplexed, considering Eric had never mentioned or even implied once in all the times they’d hung out together that he and Karl were having problems again. He turned the other way as Eric relieved himself, wanting to give him some privacy.

“He’d have me up the arse in my sleep.”

“Nah, he’d at least wait until you were awake,” Sean laughed. He didn’t really care to talk about Eric and Karl’s sex lives. Even if they were friends, he didn’t want to hear about the details. He’d have thought Eric would have liked it that way anyway.

“Oh, that’s much better,” Eric replied sarcastically. He didn’t want Karl anywhere whether he was asleep or awake. “Not willing to risk it, mate. He’d think I owed it to him or some shite like that.”

“He still seems to rate you anyhow. He sure as hell doesn’t try to hide it. ‘s that why? … Didn’t know you were still in the closet, Eric.”

Eric could hear the grin in his voice, and he was slightly annoyed. Of course, Sean thought it was funny. He retorted, “No, you’re the only one in the closet, Sean. Too fucking afraid you’re going to be called a pansy.”

“No, lad, I’m not afraid of anything because I’m not fucking gay . Seems like I’m the only damn straight one,” Sean responded vehemently.

Eric couldn’t help but smile at Sean’s too defensive response. He’d seen it coming before he’d even spoken a word. Sean was all too predictable and, obviously, all too willing to defend his sexuality and masculinity. Eric loved it.

“Uh huh. I’m bi, by the way.” He added before Sean could speak, “Yes, there’s a difference.”

Sean grunted in response, not quite convinced.

“Anyway, he’s a slut. He’s always all fucking over me. That’s what he doesn’t try to hide. That’s why I don’t like him. I’d rather step on someone’s mum,” Eric answered, motioning with his head towards the hallway door.

Sean didn’t say anything about Eric’s slut-shaming of Karl for a moment. He supposed that was all true. Karl was a bit on the slutty side. That was how Sean had met him when Karl had made a not so inconspicuous pass at him. He probably still did even now. Sean didn’t really notice anymore; he guessed he was used to it.

“…You’re still upset about it then?” Sean asked. There’d been some discord between Eric and Karl last year, and he was beginning to think that Eric wasn’t as over it as he’d made himself out to be–that maybe he was still bitter about all of it. Sean felt somewhat responsible. Eric hadn’t come off as “fresh” as the rest of the freshers last year when Sean had met him, so he hadn’t thought to warn him about Karl when Eric had taken an interest. Sean thought he would figure out easily what Karl was after. It wasn’t exactly a secret. 

“What?”

“About what happened last year,” Sean replied somewhat gravely. He shoved his hand in his pockets and stared at the door, hoping he hadn’t just said the wrong thing by bringing it up. Eric wasn’t rash and didn’t have much of a temper, but he wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around when he was angry.

Eric was confused for a second before he caught the meaning behind Sean’s metaphor. He shook his head in denial. “No… I just wish I’d never made that mistake.”

“I don’t think he thinks it was a mistake,” Sean replied. He knew Karl didn’t.

Eric zipped up his pants and turned around. “I don’t give a fuck about what he thinks.”

~

 

“They’re everywhere,” Sean explained. 

Eric and Sean had decided to simply avoid the halls altogether for the rest of the week. If they reduced their time there to sleeping and leaving, theoretically they would have nothing to worry about. The plan was now in action.

Eric sat back in his chair, relaxed, as he listened to Sean complain to Karl across the round table. He played with his cup aimlessly and tried to ignore Karl. Usually, he had no problem putting the past behind him and hanging around Karl—he wasn’t usually the indignant type—but he couldn’t help but feel Karl somehow knew that he and Sean had been talking about him less than an hour ago; even though he knew he couldn’t have. 

“You could stay at my place if you want,” Karl smirked, looking Eric in the eye purposefully.

Eric was taken aback for a second. He wasn’t exactly sure why. This wasn’t anything new–Karl was acting like Karl, only maybe slightly subtler. Despite the short time they’d been involved last year, and how abruptly they’d ended, Karl always made it clear that there was an open invitation for a second round. One that Eric wasn’t interested in accepting.

Eric narrowed his eyes warningly, nearly snarling at him. Karl only laughed but turned back to Sean. “There’s room.”

Coffee with Karl had been Sean’s fucking idea, so Eric glared at him, too. 

“No, but thanks,” Sean declined, the episode between Karl and Eric not going unnoticed by him. He didn’t want to take Karl’s offer now that he knew Eric wouldn’t, not wanting to ditch his roommate at the halls by himself. He wondered why Eric was acting so miffed, and if it had anything to do with their previous conversation regarding Karl.

Eric sighed heavily and shifted restlessly in his chair, sliding down farther in his seat and stretching his legs, only to jerk his feet back quickly and sit up straight again when his feet touched Karl’s. Just what he needed, Karl fucking smirking at him again like he’d meant to do it on purpose.

Karl raised an eyebrow, and Eric swore if he felt Karl’s foot nudge back at his, he’d fucking kick him. He didn’t even bother to glare this time—just safely tucked his feet under his chair and looked elsewhere. He wondered how long they were going to stay here because he was ready to leave now.

“What’s wrong with you?” Karl asked Eric, clearly ignoring the fact that Eric was ignoring him. Eric furrowed his brow, trying to act confused. Karl stared at him, waiting for his answer.

“What?” was his brilliantly witty reply. He glanced at Sean next to him, who had turned to look at him, too. “Nothing.”

Karl’s eyebrows rose and fell skeptically as he reached for his drink. “ Nothing ? Why are you acting strange?”

“I’m not.” He was. He was trying not to, but he was. Maybe because it was the beginning of the school year: the presence of all the new freshers was transporting him back to his first semester here when he first met Karl and reminding him how he’d abruptly found out that he wasn’t as astute as he’d thought himself to be.

Eric wasn’t looking at Karl again. He fiddled with his cup some more before mimicking Karl and taking a drink, hoping they’d back off when he had his mouth full. The liquid was cold and insipid in his mouth, and he wanted to throw it out. Just like this conversation.

Karl had other plans.

“You are,” Karl answered calmly after putting his drink down casually on the table. Eric scowled at him, annoyed at his presumptuousness. Did he have to have the last word? If he fucking said he wasn’t, then he wasn’t. When Eric didn’t answer him, Karl turned to Sean. 

“Do you want to come over to my place?” he asked, glancing back at Eric, who still had a scowl on his face, as he finished his question. Karl leered back at him, obviously tired of his moodiness; Eric rolled his eyes and looked out the window, brooding. 

“Yeah, sure,” Sean answered quickly, trying now to ignore the threatening vibes the two were throwing off at each other. He was sure getting out of here before something happened was the best thing to do. He could feel the anger rising off of Eric, and he assumed now Eric that was riled from the conversation they had earlier, but he wasn’t sure why Karl was angry, too.

“I’ll see you later,” Eric mumbled, sulking. He glared at Karl once more as he stood up, leaving his cup on the table. He didn’t see why he should stay and going to Karl’s place was the last thing he was going to do.

“Where're you going?” Sean asked, confused. Eric didn’t bother to answer him as he walked from the table, brushing shoulders with a young man as he walked out the door.

“Sorry,” he mumbled without giving him the slightest glance.

~

Orlando gazed curiously around him at the stunning buildings. Besides the prestige of the university, the beauty of the city was one of the reasons he’d chosen Edinburgh. He had toured it a couple of times during visits up here, but it had always been with other people, his mum, friends, or other students. It was definitely different wandering around alone. Now it seemed a little bigger and intimidating. The city was much larger and more populated than his hometown–another historical tourist spot–which was why he was searching for a place he could frequent: a bookstore, a café, or something of the sort. He needed something to make the campus and the city seem smaller, to help him adjust. He’d seen a couple of places already, but they all seemed too popular with the students, and he wanted some place relaxing and not too busy or loud.

He’d started Fresher’s week off anxious and eager, but he had not been disappointed by the experience. It had been somewhat of a blur with the countless events and the free booze at nearly all of them, but he had already met a good deal of people so far, including some fellow design majors who he planned to meet up with later. For now he was familiarizing himself with the campus. 

Up ahead, he spotted a place that looked like it might work as a bolt hole. He headed for it and walked into the coffee shop just as an angry looking bloke brushed by him in a hurry. 

“Sorry,” the man muttered, not even looking at him. 

“It’s okay,” Orlando responded, turning to get a look at him. The handsomeness of his face was accentuated by the anger displayed there, and Orlando watched until the broad shouldered man disappeared from his sight. He looked familiar. Orlando couldn’t place from where, but from the quick glance he’d gotten, he knew he had seen him before.

When he turned into the shop, two guys were staring in his direction, a blond and a brunet, and he blushed when he realized he had been standing there staring at some random guy—practically checking him out—and quickly walked over to the counter to order.

After he ordered, he noticed that the two guys he’d seen looking at him were talking to each other now, thankfully paying him no attention. He found a seat at a table where he could see them, but just as he sat down their movement caught his, and they both stood up. He panicked for a moment, thinking they might come over to him, but instead they walked towards the door. He shook his head, unsure of why he’d been freaking out, accrediting it to his feeling a little on edge from before.

Orlando watched as they left, both looking a little irate, and wondered if they had some connection with the guy that he’d bumped into before, what with the common anger. Maybe they had gotten into some kind of fight. But his thoughts were interrupted by the waiter bringing him his drink. Orlando thanked him, took his coffee, and tried to clear his mind.