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Darren toes off his shoes, coffee cup gripped in one hand, the other pressed against the wall to keep him from falling over. He's about five minutes late, but he figures it's a good buffer for anyone else who might be trying to figure out where they are on the first day. It's a third year class though, so most of the kids know exactly where they're going, and Darren grins at two of the second years as they run past him, flinging open the door down the hall. This is why Darren always shows up late. Someone else is always bound to.

He nudges his shoes into place near the rest of the pile of flipflops, sneakers and one pair of rainboots, despite the weather, finishes his coffee and tosses it out, before opening the door to the class.

There are about twenty students, and they all clam up when Darren walks in, and he lets the door close behind him and saunters over to the desk that’s pushed against one wall.

"Hi guys! I'm Professor Criss, but most people call me Darren. You're currently in Advanced Movement class, and I know it’s eight am on a Tuesday morning, but I hope you’re all awake. The rules of the studio are no shoes, no food, no drinks apart from bottles of water. Other than that, pretty much anything goes. Now," he says, clapping his hands together and grinning broadly. "Let's stretch, motherfuckers."

He takes a deep breath and raises his arms above his head, grinning when there's a beat before the students scramble to their feet to follow. He leads them through a variation of a sun salutation, talking through it.

"So, the official description of this course a bodily analysis and development of basic physical skills as well as group improvisation and characterization through movement. All that technically means is that we're going to move around a lot, learn how our bodies can help us with creating a character. Also we're going to have fun, I hope."

He looks around from his cobra pose to see a few of the kids smirking, the ones who already know him. They know he's serious, and he knows he'll be able to convince the rest of them with time. He is fun, and it's theatre, after all. He can teach them better when they actually like him, anyway. There's one kid who doesn't look at all convinced, and Darren takes note of it. He'll figure out who it is when he takes attendance. He thrives on challenge.

The department is small; it's only four associate full time professors, two part timers and three or so guest teachers at any given time. He's taught Movement for three semesters now, and he's picked up Theory of Theatre as well this semester, after the previous professor retired. He's the youngest professor in the department, the kids are probably closer to his age than the other profs, and he likes to think it helps when he's teaching.

"Ok, so a couple rules for the class, in addition to the aforementioned studio rules," he says, and he claps his hands, once he's back to standing. "Three skips and you're out. That's non-negotiable. I'm flexible in terms of due dates; there aren't written assignments for this class, so if you need to present something later, and you have a good reason, we can figure something out. It's not like I have a life outside of you guys, let's be honest."

A few kids laugh, and Darren grins for a second, before clearing his throat and making sure he has everyone's attention.

"One last thing. This is a space where we're all going to look like idiots, probably a lot of the time. So I'm saying this now, and I'm saying it once: I don't tolerate anyone making anyone else feel bad about something. We don't make fun of other people's body shapes, or how they move, or how they do anything in this class. We're all different and every single person has something amazing they're going to bring to this class. So let's not stifle that. No exceptions. You bully, you're out," he finishes, and he nods. "Alright. Let's get this party started."

-

There are a few familiar faces in his Theory class, including one kid who comes in late. It's the same one from Movement, who'd looked like he wasn't ready to give Darren the time of day. He'd been involved in Movement class, but only to a minimum. He'd performed the exercises that Darren had taught them, but he was one of the most inhibited of the students. Tough nut.

Darren's leaning on the table at the front of the class, coffee next to him. He's dressed up, as much as he ever gets, because it's the first day of this class, two days after the start of the semester and the start of movement which means at least a blazer and a clean pair of jeans. And his fanciest sneakers, thank you very much. He takes a sip of his coffee and waits till the last kid is settled before speaking. He takes attendance, pausing when he reaches--

"Colfer, Chris," he says, and he looks up, meeting the eyes of the kid from yesterday. He's sitting midway though the room; not far enough back to be a slacker, but not close enough to be a keener. Just close enough to slip by unnoticed, Darren bets. "Don't be late again? There's a penalty for that. I take a medium drip, two sugars."

He holds up the coffee, and a few kids titter. Chris looks a little stunned at being addressed, but he forces out a smile and Darren moves on, calling the next name.

-

"Well, it's good that you've got a 'project'," Joey says, and he rolls his eyes when he makes the air quotes. He takes a sip of his beer, and Darren does the same, frowning.

"He's not a project. He's just. A kid," Darren protests, and he pushes at Joey's shoulder when Joey makes a face at him.

Joey's been his TA for two semesters now, working through a Master's degree. Darren's helping him create his thesis; a movement based show. So far it involves a lot of string, some limes, and a complete timeline of the Spanish invasion of Mexico. And a lot of beer.

They tend to end up at the pub on campus, The Elm. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with cheap beer and even better desserts. Joey and Darren spend a lot of time there.

"Aren't you supposed to have office hours right now?" Joey asks, and Darren shrugs, sheepish.

"I left a note," he says, and takes another sip of his beer. "Mind you, it said, 'I'm at The Elm, get there quick - I'm fine before three pints, and useless after four.'"

Joey laughs, and they clink glasses. Joey opens his mouth to say more, but never manages it. Dianna sets another pint in front of Darren and then passes up the nachos he's ordered, before turning to Joey and raising an eyebrow, waiting.

"Marry me," Joey says to her, and Darren snorts into his new pint. Dianna nods, unmoved, and pours Joey another pint, shooting a scathing look his way when she moves back to the other end of the bar to serve another customer.

"She'll come around," Joey says, certain. Darren shakes his head. Joey's been hitting on Dianna since they'd starting coming here, and she's been turning him down since day one. But Darren's pretty sure she'd miss it if he stopped.

"He's not a project," Darren repeats and Joey shoots him a look.

"Sorry, are we still talking about this? I was just making fun of you, but it sounds like maybe I wasn't far off." Joey knows him better than most anyone Darren hangs out with, at this point. When Darren doesn't answer right away, Joey sets his beer down, hard. "He's cute, isn't he."

Darren looks determinedly at his beer, then sighs. "Sure, he's cute. He's also a student, and clearly off limits. So, it doesn't really matter."

"Sure, and Dianna's totally ready to walk down the aisle with me. Keep telling yourself that."

-

The fourth week of class falls on a damp, rainy October morning, and Darren’s socks are wet and his coffee is mostly cold and he leads the class through half their sun salutations before he gives up, frowning.

“Is anyone else just not feeling this today?” Most of the class mumble something in the affirmative, and Darren notices more than a few disinterested faces, and one or two that look positively bleak. “Fuck this, let’s go get breakfast.”

He checks his watch and zips his hoodie back up.

“Be at the Elm in fifteen, whoever gets there first grab a table for--” He counts, quickly. “About twenty. If you can’t afford breakfast, it’s on me. That is not, however, an invitation for you all to take advantage of my generosity. You have student loans, so some of you technically make more than me.”

He makes it to the bar last, and Dianna’s already done taking orders from one end of the table and is working her way to the other end, where there’s one open seat left, across from Chris. Darren spares a second to wonder if he’d done it on purpose, but then dismisses it, plunking himself down and shaking out his hair.

“You’re like a wet dog,” Chris says, and Darren grins brightly at him. Chris hasn’t said much in the four weeks of classes they’ve had together, though he’s more vocal in Theory class than in Movement.

“Here’s hoping you’re a dog person,” Darren answers glibly, as Dianna finishes taking everyone’s order and comes to stand next to Darren, smiling. She leans down and kisses his forehead and Darren gives a pleased hum.

“How’s babysitting?” Dianna asks, and she glances at Chris. Darren gives her a look, and she smiles, all innocence. “Fine. Coffee?”

Darren nods enthusiastically and Dianna vanishes, reappearing a few moments later with a coffee mug for him, and the carafe to top up everyone else’s. She doesn’t bother taking Darren’s order, just tells him she put in the usual, and then she’s gone again, after another look to Chris.

“Did I do something to offend her?” Chris says, and he’s watching after Dianna, looking worried. Darren laughs, shaking his head.

“No, she’s just touchy this early in the morning. She’s also probably pissed that I ruined what should have been a slow Tuesday by loading two dozen twentysomethings into her otherwise empty pub,” Darren says, and he winks at Chris. “In other words, tip her well or it’s my ass on the line.”

Chris cracks a smile. Darren takes it as an invitation for further conversation.

He manages to work some information out of Chris: where he’s from (Clovis, California), what he’s doing there (script writing), what he likes to do in his spare time (read George R. R. Martin and watch television). Darren doesn’t manage to figure out if Chris has a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend.

Not that it matters. Nope, not at all.

By three bites into breakfast Darren’s made it his life goal to have Chris smile at him, and by the time their plates are cleared Darren’s waving his arms around, telling a long involved story that’s currently receiving Chris’ most thoroughly unimpressed look, tinged with just the hint of a smile.

“So then she says ‘You can’t just like, throw it in there!’ and I’m like ‘Uh, pretty sure I can do exactly--’” Darren cuts his story off as Dianna slides into the vacated seat next to him. “Oh, where did everybody go?”

The bar is empty again, and when Darren glances at his watch, he notes with surprise that about two hours have passed, and he and Chris are the only two left at the table. Dianna gives him a look and then runs her fingers through his hair, ruffling his curls.

“Where’s your boy?” she asks, and Darren snorts.

“Probably still asleep. We have a date later, though. We’ll come by afterwards?” Darren makes a pleased noise when Dianna rubs his head again, he’s about to ask for more, but the door of the pub dings, and Dianna sighs, standing.

“See you later tonight,” she says, and she pecks Darren on the cheek as she goes.

Darren looks back at Chris, and wraps his hands around his coffee cup, smiling. Chris looks closed off, suddenly, and Darren’s smile falters.

“We aren’t together,” he says, abruptly. “Dianna’s a friend, probably my best friend. We aren’t. Yeah.”

“Oh, I didn’t think so,” Chris replies lightly. In a sort of defensive nonchalance. “I mean, you just said you had a date, and with her asking about your boy, I just figured you were gay.”

“Oh my god, I am not dating Joey,” Darren says, and he actually has to laugh at that, because the very idea. “And I don’t have a boyfriend. Not that I wouldn’t! I just. Don’t. Right now. I don’t have a girlfriend either, I’m not excluding the idea, but--”

“You’re bisexual and single. I get it, Professor,” Chris says, and he rolls his eyes at Darren, who stammers to a stop.

“Yeah, exactly. Thank you,” Darren says, and he hopes he’s not blushing. Fortunately Chris is looking at his coffee and not at Darren.

“I have to get to class,” Chris says suddenly, and he stands, knocking back the last of his coffee. He reaches for the bill and Darren waves him off.

“I got this one,” Darren says, and there. He’s managed to make Chris smile again.

-

“Are you playing this weekend?” Joey asks as Darren tosses him the extra towel from the first row of seats in the theatre. Darren dries his face on his own towel;; they’re both sweating. They’d spent three hours trying to meld tai chi with something resembling commedia and just a touch of tango, but they’d gotten some good stuff, so the sweat is well worth it.

“Yeah,” Darren answers, smiling. Elm is having the November edition of their monthly open mic, always the last Saturday of the month. Darren tries to play each month, when he’s not busy, but he’d missed the last one because of a workshop, so he’s looking forward to it. “It’s been ages, man. I have some new stuff I’m excited to try it out.”

Joey nods, and they head out of the basement studio theatre and up the steps. It’s just twilight outside and Darren stops just outside the door, taking a deep breath. It’s just starting to get cold, and he glances over at Joey, who’s watching him.

“What?” Darren asks, and Joey shrugs, then fiddles with his gym bag, before sighing.

“You should tell your class that you’re playing,” Joey says, and Darren raises an eyebrow.

“Uh, ok? I always do,” he answers, and Joey nods, looking nervous. “Why is it so important now?”

“Just, uh. You know. Because. It is,” Joey fumbles, and he drops his eyes from Darren’s.

“You’ve been talking to Dianna,” Darren says accusingly.

Joey flushes and holds up his hands. “Yes, ok, I have. And hey, she’s right, dude,” Joey says, and he nudges Darren with his shoulder. “You’ve been alone for a while. This kid got your attention, and let’s be honest, no one’s done that since Mia. Not really.”

Joey’s right; Darren’s breakup with Mia had been rough, and even though it’s been nearly a year, Darren hasn’t been looking. Not that he’s felt bad about it, but maybe it’s time he should. Clearly Dianna’s worried, and she’s always had a better sense of his own wellbeing than he has.

“I’m inviting them anyway,” Darren says. “But just because I noticed him doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean he’s noticed me, ok?”

“Ok, dude.” Joey says, looking pleased with himself. He starts to walk away, heading in the direction of his apartment, the opposite direction from Darren’s.

“And he’s still a student,” Darren calls after him. Joey turns, shrugging. “And so are you, asshole!”

Joey flips him off, smiling, and then turns back around. Darren watches him leave, and then sighs. Fucking friends, man.

-

Darren helps guide Megan through the last form and then smiles at her, before clapping her on the back and standing up, facing the class.

“Everyone got that? Awesome; practice. We’ll be presenting them next week. If you need more help come let me know, I’ll show you,” he says, and the class starts packing up, grabbing hoodies and water bottles. Oh, and one more thing. I know you’re all way too cool for me, but tomorrow night I’m going to be playing at The Elm for the monthly open mic. I go on at nine, which should be before curfew for all you kiddies. You should come, I promise it’ll be sick.”

A couple students laugh at the face he makes when he says that, and he makes a pouty face, then reassures them he is actually that hip as he turns around to start erasing the sequence instructions off the whiteboard.

“Professor?”

Darren turns around, and Chris is there, standing near the door. Darren’s been watching him; they’re a month or so into class now, and he can’t ignore the fact that he’s been looking at Chris. A lot.

“Chris,” Darren says, mentally shaking himself. “What’s up?”

Chris looks determined, and Darren’s got a feeling that determined is a look Chris wears a lot. Chris has done the minimum in Movement, and he’s excelled in Theory. It’s clear to Darren why Chris at school; and experience in experimental movement techniques isn’t it. Though Darren can’t complain; Chris comes to class in yoga pants and t-shirts and Darren’s not going to pretend he doesn’t like to watch Chris bend and flex. And sweat. Yup.

“I wanted to tell you I’m missing class next week. I’ll bring you the note the week after,” Chris says, light, and Darren swallows, glad Chris can’t read his mind. His traitorous, evil mind.

“Sure, no problem. Just this class, or Theory as well?”

“No, just this one,” Chris says. It sounds like the end of a conversation, but Chris hasn’t left yet. Darren’s done wiping the board off, and he sets the brush down, wiping his hands on his track pants. They’re sweating, just a little, and he inwardly curses Joey and Dianna. He’s pretty sure if they’d stopped bringing up the kid they’re now referring to exclusively as ‘Darren’s Project’ then he’d be holding it together a lot better.

“Something else?” Darren urges, and Chris pauses just a little too long.

“You’re really playing the open mic on Saturday?” Chris says, and Darren grins, finally on solid footing.

“Yeah, I am. I do it most months, actually.” Chris nods, like that was what he was searching for, and then turns to leave.

“Hey, Chris?” Darren calls after him, just as Chris opens the classroom door. Chris turns and Darren leans against the board, smiling a little, his heart racing. “I really hope you can make it.”

-

“Thanks guys,” Darren says, setting his guitar down. People are catcalling and he smiles, ducking his head. “Seriously, thanks. I’m gonna take a break and get a beer. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses, and if you’re underage don’t even try to order a drink; the bartender can and will kick your ass. Trust me. She is both beautiful and deadly.”

A few people laugh and Dianna winks at him. He climbs off the small stage, smiling and shaking the hands of the few people complimenting his performance. It feels good. He hasn’t played for anyone in awhile, and it feels amazing to get up and have people sing along; to forget the words and smarm at the crowd and feel the rush of doing something he loves and does really well.

He gets to the bar, swinging up onto a stool next to Joey, who spent Darren’s entire performance staring at Dianna.

“So,” Darren says, and Joey tears his eyes off Dianna’s ass (she’s bending over, and even Darren has to admit she has a gorgeous ass) and looks at him. “What did you think?”

“The first one was good, the second one was stellar, loved the bridge,” Joey says, taking a sip of his beer then frowning when Darren steals it from his hand, taking a long swig. “And the cover choice was good. Can we make a rule though?”

“What,” Darren says, and he grins at Dianna when she sets a pint in front of him. Darren nudges it to Joey, since he’s well on his way to finishing Joey’s bottle.

“You are not allowed to rap,” Joey says, firmly.

Darren starts to argue, something about rhythms and creative allowances, when Joey clears his throat and abruptly turns away. Darren’s about to protest, but then someone taps him on the shoulder, and Darren turns around.

“So,” Chris says, and Darren’s eyes widen. Chris is wearing a slightly tighter t-shirt than Darren usually sees him in, and his pants are. Uh. 'Painted on' is the only term Darren can come up with on short notice. He drags his eyes back up to Chris’ face and thanks god that Chris is seemingly avoiding eye contact and didn’t catch Darren’s blatant failure at having any kind of tact or subtlety.

“So,” Darren answers, and then groans inwardly because it’d taken him way too long to get that single word out.

“You’re really good,” Chris says, and he finally looks at Darren and oh. Chris is blushing, just a little, and it’s fetching. It gives his pale skin just a little colour and Darren just wants to keep it there.

“Thanks, I try. I’m glad you came,” Darren says, and he turns so he’s facing Chris a little more, and takes another sip of his beer, just for something to fucking do. He’s not sure what it is about Chris that makes him so fumbling, but at least at the moment Chris’ normal composure seems to have left him, as well.

“Well, you asked,” Chris says, and there’s the blush again and his tone is almost. Flirting? Is Chris flirting with him?

“Can I get you anything?” Dianna says, and she leans over the bar, raising an eyebrow at Darren, before looking at Chris. “How about a beer?”

“Uh, thanks, but I’m only--” Chris starts, but Dianna purses her lips, shaking her head minutely and slamming a bottle of Heineken on the bar in front of Chris. As soon as she’s gone, Darren looks at Chris in amazement.

“Uh, you better drink that and never, ever ask why that just happened,” Darren says, and Chris nods, taking a sip of the beer and frowning almost imperceptibly. Darren figures there’s not a lot of beer in Chris’ diet.

“She must like me,” Chris says, and he takes another sip of his beer. “Prof-- Darren?”

Chris is blushing again and it takes Darren’s brain just a second too long to catch up with his mouth (Chris’ lips around the bottle of beer is an image that should be outlawed, seriously).

“Yeah?” And they’re close, like this, Darren leaning in just a little, Chris pressed up against the bar next to Darren’s stool.

“Darren, you’re up!” A voice calls from the stage, and a few people cheer. Darren opens his mouth to tell them to wait, just a second, the world is about to stop spinning, they can wait ten more--

“I’ll see you in class,” Chris says, and he walks away, leaving his beer sweating on the bartop.

-

“You gave him a beer?” Joey squawks and Dianna glares at him over the clipboard she’s using for end of night inventory, and she pats Darren’s arm, comforting. You never gave me a beer when I was underage.”

“You really think that’s the important part of this story, Joey?” she says, and Joey looks abashed, turning back to Darren. “At least we know he likes you?”

Darren shakes his head. They don’t know that, not really. They know there’s something. But how much of it is Darren projecting and how much is real? Chris hadn’t actually said anything.

“Sure, if we work on pure conjecture and a few heated looks and fumbled words. I’m not in a romance novel, Joey.” Darren says and he sighs as Dianna frowns and pops another beer open for him.

“I still think he likes you,” Joey says, and Darren smiles, dropping his head onto Joey’s shoulder.

“Thanks, man, but at this point, I’m not doing anything until I’m sure. A half-finished sentence isn’t exactly proof of anything,” Darren points out. “And he’s still a student. There’s too many risks to jump into anything without actually knowing.”

“So, what. You’re going to wait till he like, kisses you?” Joey asks, incredulous.

“Either that or till he professes his undying love,” Darren shrugs. “I’m twenty-seven, Joey, I’m not a college student with a crush. Now if you’ll excuse me, this grown-up is going to get himself to sleep. I’m old, I need my rest.”

“Night, baby,” Dianna says, and she leans over the bar, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Night,” he says, and he picks up his guitar case and wanders out.

-

Dianna says I should have walked you home

The text comes just as Darren unlocks his door. He sets his guitar down in the hall and unlocks his phone, texting Joey back.

I’m a big boy. I think we established that already.

There’s a joke in there somewhere. You ok tho? seriously?

Darren thinks about it, and then replies, his answer honest.

Yeah. Lonely sometimes, but I’ve got you, right? what more man do i need?

lol, you better believe it. do me a favor sometime and tell dianna tho ok? i’m starting to give up hope.

Joey’s answer is followed by another immediately after.

i’m kidding, don’t tell her i said that.

Darren chuckles, locking his door and kicking his shoes off, heading to his bedroom without bothering to turn on the lights.

don’t worry, Darren sends back. i’m sure she’d remain convinced of your enduring affection or whatever.

Darren’d asked Dianna about Joey when they’d started becoming regulars at the Elm, wanting to ensure he could talk Joey out of anything too detrimental early on, before he got too attached. Darren’d been walking Dianna home, arm in arm in the cold after her shift one night, and she’d told him that she was just waiting for Joey to realize that she didn’t want to be wooed. She just wanted to be loved. She was waiting for Joey to stop fucking around and ask her out; something he hadn’t gotten around to, having been too busy with the chase. Darren had pretty much left them to their own devices after that.

Darren pushes at his pants, tugging his shirt over his head and climbing into bed, his bedroom already dark except for the light from his phone. He’s going to be hungover tomorrow.

rehearsal at 4? Joey’s text comes in about ten minutes later, when Darren’s nearly asleep.

call me at two, Darren texts back, and he falls asleep, thinking of Chris and how he looked with a blush on his cheeks.

-

Two weeks later Darren’s hoofing it to Movement when he nearly barrels into Chris. Chris had missed the last class (which he’d told Darren already, but that hadn’t kept Darren from being disproportionately disappointed by Chris not being there) but he’s standing outside the classroom door now, holding a coffee cup in one hand, and a mildly perturbed expression on his face.

“Professor,” Chris says in greeting. There’s a hint of a smile on Chris’ face, and not a bit of embarrassment or awkwardness, and he smoothly tosses his now empty coffee cup in the trash.

Apparently Chris is happy to give Darren the monopoly on the whole awkward thing.

“Chris, hi,” Darren says, and he wipes at his forehead. He’s sweating from taking the stairs at a run (third floor, fucking hell) and he’s red-faced and out of breath and he looks like a mess.

Chris looks fucking perfect, goddamn him, and after he walks into class, Darren takes an extra ten seconds to compose himself before entering the class.

He swings the door open where the class is already stretching, and Darren works hard on keeping his eyes off Chris. He joins them in their stretching, catching up with a few of the kids, laughing and joking and praying that none of them notice what he’s sure is a giant sexually aroused elephant in the room.

“Ok, so today we’re going to talk about our body’s physical reactions independent of our conscious thoughts. Everyone stand up and pair up,” Darren says, and he waits till they’ve all got a partner before he starts moving. He walks around the classroom, explaining the exercise as he does. “There are some things that our bodies are conditioned to respond to. A loud noise startles us. If someone sticks out a hand to shake we do the same. We wave at people without even knowing who they are, and man, does that make things awkward when you realize they don’t know you but they totally know the person right behind you.”

He waits till they stop laughing and then continues, keeping his voice light.

“So, imagine you’re on a date. It’s all been going really well, and you’re at the person's front door. You’re both standing there, and the other person leans in and--” Darren inhales, sharp. “Nothing. They don’t kiss you, they just step back and tell you they had a great time, and they’ll call you. But your body was ready for that kiss, whether you were conscious of it or not. You were leaning in, you were physically readying yourself for a kiss you genuinely thought was coming. So that’s what we’re doing today. One person lean in and hold it, just like you’re going to make that magic happen and then pull back. Then switch.”

A few people titter and Darren raises his voice to speak over them.

“Don’t be embarrassed. We’re far enough into this class that I hope you can all push the inhibitions aside and really go for this. Don’t be afraid to get in close; if you’re hesitant then you’re not going to give the other person that opportunity to experience their body’s reaction,” Darren says, and he looks around the room. “And please, let’s take this seriously, guys. Go.”

No one moves and Darren sighs. He’d figured there’s be reticence, but he’d also figured someone would have had the guts to do it.

“Ok, fine. I’ll make the first move. Can I get a volunteer then?”

“I’ll do it,” Chris says and it’s all Darren can do to not shoot him down immediately. This is a terrible, terrible idea, but telling Chris he can’t volunteer is an even worse idea, because then he’d have to explain why.

“Ok, Chris, thanks,” Darren says, and he swallows, hard. “Come over here?”

Chris closes the distance between them swiftly till he’s standing close to Darren. It’d be too close in any other circumstance, but this is exactly what Darren asked for, so he can’t even take a step back. He takes a deep breath, instead.

“Who’s going first?” Chris asks, and Darren can feel Chris’ breath on his mouth and oh, he is so, so screwed.

“I will,” Darren answers and he leans in, rocking up on his toes just a little, because Chris is just a little taller than him, and how had Darren not noticed that before? He closes his eyes, keeps his lips a fraction of an inch away from Chris’ and he can feel Chris’ body tense, wanting to sway into him, to move forward just that little bit, and it seems like ages before Darren steps back, breaking the tension.

The class is mostly silent, and Darren clears his throat.

“So that’s pretty much how it works. Thanks, Chris. Back to it,” he says, and his voice is hoarse, fuck. He doesn’t look at Chris, and waits till he hears Chris move back to his own partner before he looks around to make sure everyone is working on the exercise. “I’ll be right back, guys.”

He makes it to his office, and clicks the door closed behind him before he slumps against it, eyes closed. Fuck, motherfuck.

He’s in so far over his head.

-

Darren steals one of Joey’s fries and makes a face. “Wait, who is the guy in the mask?” he asks, gesturing at Joey’s notes with another stolen fry.

Joey scrambles through a few more notes and then scrubs a hand over his face. “Do I really need a script?” he asks after a second, and Darren cracks a weak smile. “Hey, are you ok? Normally my incredibly lame humor is enough to work on you.”

Darren steals yet another fry and then explains what happened in yesterday’s class.

“Shit,” Joey says, sitting back in his chair as Darren finishes the story. “Do you think--”

“That he volunteered on purpose?” Darren finishes and Joey nods. Darren shrugs. “There’s no way to know.”

Joey takes a bite of his burger, chewing thoughtfully. He starts speaking halfway through his bite.

“What you need is a plan," he says, mouth full.

“No, no plans.” Darren says, and he snags the last two fries off Joey’s plate. “If anything, my reaction to him in class just confirms how much of a terrible, terrible idea all of this is. If I can’t control myself in class in front of all the other students, then how am I going to control myself in a more intimate situation? I nearly kissed him in front of everyone. What happens if we’re not in front of anyone. I’m not sure I could stop myself. He’s a student, and it’s just. I can’t.”

Joey frowns, and Darren shakes his head.

“I just have to put it out of mind. Get over it,” Darren says, firmly. “Now let’s get back to getting you through this Master’s degree? Please? The guy in the mask.”

-

“His paper is really good,” Joey says, and slaps it down in front of Darren, who looks up from his beer, confused. “Look at it.”

It’s an essay, something titled ‘Three Years of Brecht’ by ‘Chris Colfer’. There’s a big A- at the top and Joey’s scribbles cover most of the front page. Joey’s a good TA, and Darren has him mark the weekly assignment papers.

“I thought we weren’t talking about this anymore,” Darren says, and he turns away from the paper, taking a sip of his beer.

“We’re not talking about your need to get in his pants, ass. We’re talking about how this two-page paper is more groundbreaking than your fucking thesis, and how you’re treating a twenty year old like he’s twelve.”

Joey’s rarely angry, and Darren looks up at him, then takes the paper, sighing heavily.

“What do you want from me, Joe?”

“I just want you to realize that this kid knows what he’s doing. In school, in life. He came and talked to me, you know. After the last paper you handed back. He’s smarter than you think. He’s way smarter than you are, and about a thousand times more mature.”

Darren shakes his head, pushing the paper back at Joey.

“I’m not--”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re his professor, whatever. Look, I’m not telling you to destroy what few ethical standards you have,” Joey says, and Darren gives him a wounded look. “I’m just saying that sometimes you let what you think is right stand in the way of what’s actually best for you. And for him. Give him a shot, Darren.”

-

“Professor Criss!” It’s one of the first years he only sort of knows, and he turns, taking the red Solo cup from her hand, smiling. “Hey--”

“Celia, how awesome to see you. Thank you so much for bringing me this--” Darren takes a sip. “Vodka and redbull. My favourite, how did you know?”

Celia flushes, and Darren smiles at her again and she scurries away. Darren knows the drink he took from her isn’t her first, and it won’t be her last tonight, but he has to keep up at least a semblance of responsibility.

It’s the cast party for the first show of the year, about a week before exams start. The cast is here, the crew and a few extra people who attend every single one of these. Darren’s not the only faculty member either; he’s spotted at least two of his colleagues as well. He hasn’t worked on the show, but he likes to come to these, especially since a few of his students were involved. The parties are always a good time, full of inside jokes and laughter and too much drinking and all the things he thought he’d miss about college, but instead found an outlet for here. He’s careful not to overdo it, and he finds he mostly has a good time.

He takes a sip of the drink and wanders through the living room where there’s both an enthusiastic game of beer pong and an impromptu group therapy session happening. He watches both for a few seconds, and evades the attempts of one of the third years to get him to play beer pong, though he assures them he’s pretty much a champion.

Joey’s somewhere, but Darren’d lost him pretty quick. Darren’s about ready to go, and he pulls his phone out as he walks into the kitchen. He fumbles with it a little, and he must be a little drunker than he thought because unlocking it and sending Joey a ping takes more effort than normal. When he looks up, he realizes he’s walked most of the way into the kitchen.

“Fuck,” he says, and he turns around, ready to head back out to dig his sneakers out of the pile of shoes near the door, but. Oh. “Chris.”

Chris is standing between Darren and the kitchen doorway, and the determined look is back. Chris is flushed, and his eyes are a little glassy, and there’s a Solo cup to match Darren’s in his right hand. Darren’s assuming it’s not his first either.

“You worked on the show, right?” Darren says, and Chris nods, taking a step forward and setting his cup on the table next to them.

“Yeah,” Chris says. “Sound design. I hadn’t done it before.”

“You did a great job,” Darren says, and it sounds weak, even to himself.

“I did three sound effects and some canned sounding pre-show music,” Chris says, deadpan.

“Oh,” Darren winces, and he downs the rest of his drink, setting the empty cup on the table next to Chris’. “Well, congratulations, anyway. I was just about to--”

“Kiss me,” Chris says, and he takes another step toward Darren, so they’re about a half foot apart. Chris’ lips are wet, a little parted and Darren can’t stop looking at them.

“Chris,” Darren says, half pleading, half scolding. “I can’t do this.”

“Why?” Chris demands and this is the determination Darren’s been leery to bring out. Chris tackles everything like it’s challenge he needs to conquer.

“Because I’m drunk and you’re drunk and all of this is a bad idea. Fuck.”

“Are you saying you don’t want to kiss me?” Chris asks, and Darren looks up at him, surprised. He’s not sure what Chris’ angle is and he’s just a little too inebriated to do anything but answer honestly.

“No,” Darren says, quiet, frustrated. “I’m not saying that. But I am saying that it’s a terrible idea.”

Chris opens his mouth to say something else, but Darren puts a hand on Chris’ arm and speaks before Chris can try again.

“I need to go,” he says, and he pushes past Chris.

-

The final exam for Advanced Movement is something Darren gets a lot of flack for, but he’s not sure how else to evaluate it. ‘Show me what you learned’ isn’t exactly the easiest thing to put a criteria to, but it’s also the only way to grade a class that’s so subjective in its lesson. Everyone in Darren’s class has gotten something different out of it, so Darren figures each exam should represent that.

It’s the third and last day of the twenty minute exam slots Darren had left sign-up sheets for outside his office. He’s got a coffee on the desk next to him, and his notebook and pen, and he’s scribbling a few last minute notes about Sharon’s exam when the door swings open.

“Sharon said she was done, sorry. It’s already half past, and my exam was supposed to be at two.”

Darren looks up and Chris is standing in front of the desk, about six feet away from Darren, his arms crossed and his eyes focused somewhere just above Darren’s head. It makes something in Darren’s chest clench, and he looks back down at his paper, flipping to a clear sheet and smoothing it out.

“Yeah, sorry. You know these things, they always run late. Good to go now, though.” Darren forces a smile and poises his pen over his paper, waiting, eyes on Chris.

Chris slings his messenger bag off and rolls his shoulders. Darren waits. Chris crosses his arms, and raises an eyebrow.

“Uh,” Darren says, unsure. “Whenever you’re ready?”

Chris sighs, and drops his hands to his side, impatient. “I need your help,” he says, and Darren blinks, fumbling his pen.

“Oh, shit. Sorry, I didn’t realize--” He stands up, chair scraping, and drops his pen on the table, moving around the desk to stand about three feet from Chris, careful distance. “So. What are we doing? Contact improv?”

Darren is shaking his shoulders out, tense from sitting in the chair and tenser now from trying to pretend everything is the same with Chris, like they didn’t-- Like Chris hadn’t--

He’s shaken from his mental flailing by Chris taking a few more steps towards him, then a few more, when Darren steps back in response. Chris keeps coming until Darren’s backed up against the desk, unable to go anywhere else.

“Perfect,” Chris says. “Now can I please take my exam?”

Darren nods, totally bewildered as Chris comes a few more steps, closing the distance between them and standing so he’s nearly pressed against Darren.

“I learned a lot from you, Darren,” Chris says, and they’re close enough that Darren can feel the heat of Chris’ body against his and he fights to keep his eyes open. “Especially about instincts. And how our bodies have responses that we sometimes can’t control.”

Chris tilts his head and Darren lets his eyes slide shut, because Chris’ are too, and Darren’s straining forward, trying to keep himself in check, but all he wants is to kiss him, Chris’ mouth on his and--

“The most important thing I learned in this class,” Chris says and Darren bites back a whimper, because Chris sounds breathy and turned on, like Darren’s never heard him before. “Is that even you aren’t immune to those responses.”

And then they’re kissing, and Chris is using his height to his advantage, pressing Darren into the desk, white knuckled grip on the edge. Chris kisses like he means it, like he’s on a mission and Darren moans into it, four months of wanting poured into one kiss. It’s just long enough, just deep enough that it leaves Darren’s head spinning as Chris pulls back.

Chris goes to pull back further, but Darren stops him, fisting a hand in Chris’ tshirt, and keeping him there.

“I just-- Give me a minute,” he says, and Chris blushes. Darren takes in the wet part of Chris’ lips and licks his own, his mind reeling with the fact that he actually knows what Chris tastes like, now. And now Darren’s blushing too.

“Say something,” Chris says, and Darren finally looks up, meeting Chris’ eyes.

“You sort of missed the point of the exercise,” Darren says, finally, and he smiles. He lets go of Chris’ shirt, and pushes himself up instead, off the desk.

“Did I?” Chris asks, sounding hopeful.

“Definitely,” Darren says. “In fact, I think you could use a refresher. After you pass the exam.”

-

“I cannot believe you think this is a script,” Chris says, and he riffles through a few more pages before shoving them across the table and back to Joey, who makes a hurt face. Their friendship is still new, Chris and Joey. Chris hasn’t been Darren’s student since he passed Theory and Movement two months ago, which means he hasn’t had Joey as a TA. As much as Chris and Joey got along then, and as much as their relationship is even friendlier now, sometimes when it comes to Joey’s thesis it gets. Tense.

Darren shoves another piece of toast in his mouth and snags the pages, pulling one out.

“No, see, the typewriter is how the timeline is set,” he explains to Chris, who scoffs.

“Yeah, thanks. I picked that up,” Chris shakes his head dismissively, and gestures, nearly knocking over his orange juice. “Look, Joey, you need help. Just. Let me help.”

Joey glares, and Darren sits forward a little, eyeing them, worried. He’s had to play peacemaker before, and he’s more than ready to do it again. He will not have his boyfriend and his best friend on bad terms.

“Look, Colfer,” Joey says, and Chris’ eyes narrow. Darren swallows. “Just because you’re getting banged by my thesis advisor doesn’t mean you get an opinion.”

“Can we not say banged? It’s so--” Darren pleads, but Chris cuts him off, leaning forward.

“Please, like he’s the one doing the banging. I’ll have you know that--” Chris starts, and Darren throws up his hands.

“Ok, that’s about enough of that,” Darren points at Joey. “You are going to let Chris help you. This is what he does, and we’ve been struggling with this script for months now. And you,” he says, pointing at Chris. “You are going to provide helpful criticism and not be a dick about it. You’re helping here, not hindering.”

Chris crosses his arms and sighs heavily. He gives in after a second though and sticks a hand out to Joey, who takes it. They shake and Darren smiles, satisfied.

“Thank god,” he says, and he steals some more bacon from Chris, and then the last of Joey’s toast, grinning widely. Dianna wanders over and sits herself in Darren’s lap, leaning down to whisper at him. It’s not really necessary; Joey and Chris are bickering again, though at a lower level of intensity.

“You think they’ll ever get along?” she asks and Darren nods.

“I think they get along great. I like the fighting. Keeps me young,” he teases, and she shoves at his shoulder.

“Yeah, that’s for sure, old man,” she says, standing up. “More coffee, Joey?”

Joey looks up, pausing mid-word in his discussion with Chris, and Darren bites back a laugh at the surprised expression on Joey’s face.

“Uh,” Joey stammers out. “Yes? Please?”

Dianna grins at him, and walks away, swaying her hips a little more than usual. Joey looks after her, his eyes tracking her movements until she disappears to the kitchen.

Chris raises an eyebrow at Joey, then smiles at Darren. Darren’s told him a lot about Joey and Dianna’s epic game of chase, and Chris is always intrigued when it gets played out in front of him.

“Did you look at me like that?” Chris says, leaning into Darren. Darren grins at him, and leans over just a little more, kissing Chris softly.

“I was disgusting. You should have seen me,” Darren answers, and Chris smiles, happy. “Also, for the record, I still look at you like that.”