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The importance of the 'recall email' feature

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Henry's been staring at the message in his inbox for a good twenty minutes when there's a frantic knocking at his office door. He ignores it for longer than he should, still absolutely baffled by what's in front of him, but eventually he hears someone swearing in what sounds like Spanish on the other side of the door and decides that he cannot very well leave the mystery alone.

"Come in," he calls, and hears another – much quieter – curse being uttered before the door is being pushed inward.

Henry shouldn't have answered. It is becoming clear to him now that his only real options for career progression lie in other countries, far away from—

"Alex Claremont-Diaz, is it?" he says, trying very hard to retain his composure as he sits up a little straighter and indicates the chair on the other side of his desk. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Bad word to use. Really bad word to use. Henry's going to get fired and he deserves it for lusting over his students like some kind of perverted criminal. Of course, Alex is neither a child nor a mind reader – he's in his mid-20s and has not yet kicked Henry directly in the balls, so the latter must be assumed to be the case – but he's still a student. Henry is a professor. He therefore considers himself to be less than vermin when his eyes go to Alex's bicep as he sighs and pushes a hand through his dark curls.

God, he's going to Hell. They probably have a room reserved just for him.

"Sorry, Professor Fox – I was wondering if I could speak to you about... About something. I made a mistake?"

Henry blinks at him. Alex still isn't sitting down. "A mistake. On one of the in-class tests?"

Alex lets out an aggrieved, groaning sort of sigh that does things to the precise fit of Henry's trousers – because, as previously noted, he's a bad person. "No – this isn't test related."

"Then I'm not sure how I can—"

"I sent you that email from my sister's account by accident," Alex interrupts him shortly, looking absolutely mortified. "I tried to recall it, and I don't even know why my sister was logged in on my laptop, but I sent it before I remembered to change a couple things and I couldn't get it back. So I'm here to confess, apologise, and say that it... definitely wasn't June Claremont-Diaz who sent that."

Henry sits through all of this with the dawning realisation that he is in way over his head, though he is at least now following. "I see."

"It's not like I call you that or anything," Alex hurries to say, sitting down suddenly like his legs have stopped supporting him properly. This is a very bad time for Henry to notice that his student is wearing grey sweatpants that are, right now, not leaving much to the imagination. "I swear, it was – God, I'm so sorry? It was really disrespectful."

Henry's eyes stray back to his computer, where the email in question is still up on his screen.

From: C J Claremont-Diaz
To: H G E J Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor
Subject: DEADLINE

Dear Prof Fuckin-Mountme-Windsor—

"I'll be honest with you, I didn't get around to reading the rest of the email," Henry says with a sigh, taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose before sliding them back onto his face. "I was a little taken aback."

"Yeah," Alex says, looking a little green. "Look, I'm here on a whole bunch of scholarships and grants and I really cannot afford to get flunked just because I was an idiot for thirty seconds when I didn't have the brains to use Outlook. I'm really sorry for coming onto you via my sister's email account - which just makes this extra weird—"

"If this is your usual courtship ritual, I should certainly reconsider the early stages, yes – regardless of its success," Henry says without thinking, then immediately wonders if there's a post available for him in the Outer Hebrides. Somewhere nice and quiet where nobody is criminally beautiful and he can stop having impure thoughts about people almost ten years younger than him who send him accidental lewd emails and barge into his office in grey sweatpants when he's feeling delicate.

"Its success," Alex repeats after a moment, and Henry remembers then that his window doesn't open all the way. He wonders if that's because his predecessors had this problem, or if it's because of the overly aggressive pigeon population that routinely nest nearby, and who have taken to trying to peck their way through the glass to get at the faculty members' sandwiches.

"Now, there's something here about a deadline," Henry says loudly, scrolling through the email and refusing to look at Alex. "I can give you a 48-hour extension on this particular paper given your overall course load and your ADHD, but if you need anything more—"

"That's perfect," Alex says immediately, shooting out of the chair like he's spring-loaded or something. "That's – yeah. Thank you, Professor Fox."

"Not a problem," he says easily, not bothering to mention that he would do this for any of his top students – of whom Alex is one – and also that he very much does not want to extend this visit for longer than necessary. He'd have offered Alex a week of extensions if it had meant his speedy exit from Henry's presence.

"I'll see you in class on Monday," Alex says quickly, then leaves the room like a beautiful, hyperactive whirlwind, the devastation of Henry's mental faculties nothing but collateral damage.

Henry lasts all of five minutes before he's panic-texting the group chat that serves to calm and rile him in equal measure.

Gender & Sexuality Study Participants

Henry

Red alert - HWMNBN encounter. Window in office unequal to task. Please tell me you're both available for lunch or I may be forced to eat whatever Prof Mulholland is growing in the Humanities fridge as a last resort. Would serve as both punishment for my crimes and a swift exit from this world.

Pez

Bankston's in 30 mins – they do inadvisable all day mimosas with free refills, a booze-free alt called Moon Boots, and have a higher safety rating than whatever Karl is growing in there.

Henry

It alarms me to remember you're on first name terms with him.

Bea

Pez's terrible choices alarm all of us. I'm in, brother mine – I assume you're buying? I am, after all, a struggling artist.

Henry

When did you get up exactly?

Bea

20 minutes ago. Glorious.

Pez

Hang on just a moment, my newest dalliance is a complete delight!

I will admit that Karl was an error.

Henry

Save it for lunch - and for God's sake don't bring him. Knowing my piss poor luck at the moment, he'll be best friends with HWMNBN or something awful.

Bea

The horror.


"Liam," Henry repeats flatly, pushing a hand through his hair and barely even noticing when it flops back over his forehead. "You know, Pez, when I said you might be dating one of The Plague's best friends, I had been attempting a delightful comedy bit. A joke, based on my run of poor luck. It was, I flatter myself, quite funny."

Pez nods gravely. "Devilishly so," he agrees.

"I laughed," Bea says solemnly, sipping on her Moon Boots as she slowly runs her pointer finger down the extensive food menu. "I mean, it's possible I was laughing at your general misfortune - given that I am your older sister, and it is my duty – but I definitely laughed."

"So now what you're telling me is that you're dating—"

"Dating is a very strong word," Pez interrupts, picking up the jug of mimosa in the middle of the table and topping up both his and Henry's glasses. "What we are doing is enjoying each other's company, often in an extremely carnal way."

"What in the name of buggery is that meant to mean?"

"We're fucking," Pez translates helpfully, and Henry resists the urge to simply co-opt the mimosa jug and ask Zahra for a straw.

"Yes, thank you, Pez – that wasn't the part I needed translating."

"They're seeing each other," Bea says, leaning forward conspiratorially and pushing the menu at Henry. "I'm going to have the shrimp and grits, whatever the hell those are."

"Sounds like a disease," Pez says jovially. "I think I shall join you – heavens, can you add things? Ms Bankston has certainly spruced up the menu since we were last here, hasn't she?"

"I'm sure she did it for you personally, Pez," Bea says with a grin, and he winks at her.

"I really hate it when people say they're 'seeing each other'," Henry says with a sigh, pulling the menu a little closer to him and squinting at it. "I'm never entirely sure what it means."

"Well, Hazza," Pez says in that patient tone he uses when he's about to verbally destroy his best friend, "it's what one might have called 'courting' back in the day, but with less marriage potential and more orgasms. I'm sure you remember—"

"You are the worst person I have ever met," Henry says simply, getting to his feet and picking up the menu with a beleaguered sigh. "Two shrimp and grits—"

"I want jalapeños with mine," Pez says brightly.

"Noted. I shall consider myself blessed to not be sharing a bathroom with you this evening then."

"Very wise," Pez says with a grin.

Henry orders a French dip sandwich, because he's already a mess today so he might as well get jus down the front of his shirt while he's at it. He's going to be grading papers while smashed by the time Pez is through with him; it's not as though he has anything left to lose.

"—and I don't think he believed me, but I really didn't mean to send it, it's not my fault I dream about his – oh, fuck."

Henry turns away from the bar at precisely the right time to see Alex – the man he came here to avoid – clocking him and almost choking on his own tongue. He's not wearing sweatpants anymore, but the tight jeans he has on aren't much better, and Henry has absolutely no idea where to look.

Alex is with two women; Henry assumes that the first is his sister – the likeness is there, though she isn't as dark as Alex – but the other is a complete mystery to him. She has wild hair and an aura of 'fuck you' energy that radiates from her like lamplight, and Henry finds himself immediately sick with jealousy at the obvious closeness between her and Alex.

"Professor Fox," Alex says, sounding a little faint.

"Alex," Henry says, even though saying his name out loud will likely only make things worse somehow; Henry's not superstitious, but Alex pushes every button he has and makes him wonder if there isn't some kind of witchcraft involved in how he's always where he shouldn't be. "Out for lunch?"

Alex licks his lips and Henry wonders briefly if it would be too dramatic to run out of one of the available exits without a backward glance. "Yeah. Oh, this is my sister – the one who was logged into her emails on my laptop—"

"I sent you seven texts telling you to log me out," she says patiently, throwing Henry a small smile. "I hope he takes notes in your class."

"Excellent notes," Henry says without thinking, then bites down a little too hard on his own tongue when Alex looks pleased by the admission.

"Suck it, Bug. Sorry, Professor – this is Nora, June's girlfriend."

"Hey," Nora says, cocking her hip and saluting him. Her gaze is oddly assessing and Henry finds himself straightening up slightly, as though her opinion might mean something to him. It sodding well does not.

"Lovely to meet you all," Henry says, like he has had any say at all in the matter; like his life isn't spinning horribly out of control as a result of his own villainous tendencies.

"Oi, Hazza," Pez calls across the room, and Henry has just enough awareness to think, 'oh no, oh fuck no,' before Pez is continuing, "are you done ordering our food or are you stuck in a daydream about darling Alexander again?"

Henry wants to die. He wants the earth to swallow him whole; for his private room in hell to be waiting for him, so that the torture may begin for him as swiftly as possible.

He also wants to stab Pez in the throat with a cocktail umbrella.

"Enjoy your lunch, Alex," Henry says firmly, embarrassment and anger distilling themselves into something like serenity in his gut. "June, Nora – a pleasure to meet you both. I hope our paths will cross again."

Then, eyes flashing, he makes his way back to their table and fixes Pez with a stare that peels back even his robust layers of bravado. "Percy Okonjo, I am going to murder you and donate your body to medical science. They shall look at your brain, and their first thought will be, 'oh, goodness me – there's absolutely no evidence that there was any logical activity in here prior to his untimely demise'."

"I am so sorry," Pez says seriously, while Bea hides a smile behind her hand, feigning a cough. "I had absolutely no bloody idea he was there, Hen. I swear on my honour – alright, don't look at me like that, Beatrice... I swear on Bea's honour that I had absolutely no intention of embarrassing you in front of your boy."

At that particular phrasing, all the wind goes out of Henry's sails. "He's not my boy," he says quietly, refilling his mimosa glass so that there's barely any space between the rim of it and the top of the beverage itself. "He can't be my boy. Man. He's a student, he's almost ten years younger than me—"

"Eight," Bea corrects him calmly, and Henry ignores her.

"He's obviously been making fun of me with his sister—"

"What did that email even say?" Bea interrupts him again, and he glares at her.

"He was asking for an extension."

"Scandalous," she says drily, and he rolls his eyes, stealing the umbrella from her mocktail and wondering whether or not he could use it to end his misery.

"He... addressed me in a fairly comical way. It was quite rude, but apparently unintentional. We've all been there."

Pez nods solemnly. "I once called my tutor 'Carrie' when in fact her name was 'Carey'. Incredibly embarrassing. I couldn't look her in the eye for a week."

"Er, yes," Henry says haltingly. "Yes, just like that."

Bea narrows her eyes at him. "What did he call you?"

"It's not really important."

"Agree to disagree."

"I don't think-"

"Spill it, Henry."

"Fine – Christ," Henry mutters, twirling the miniature umbrella in his fingers and wondering where that direct portal to hell is, and why it's taking so long. "He addressed me – accidentally – as 'Prof Fuckin-Mountme-Windsor'."

There's silence at the table for a moment as Pez and Bea digest this information. Henry knows that Alex is in here somewhere with his sister and her girlfriend, probably whispering about how much of a freak and a pervert Alex's lecturer is, and he's just sitting over here enduring the worst kind of tortured silence while his career prospects disappear down the toilet.

"Okay," Bea says calmly, pushing her half-full drink away from herself and looking her brother dead in the eyes. "It pains me to say this – it really does. I might actually need therapy after this, in fact. But... that boy wants to fuck you. He wants to fuck you so badly it's embarrassing. It's possible – and I didn't think this was actually a thing that could happen – that he wants to fuck you more than you want to fuck him. I don't know about anything else, but he definitely wants to climb all over you, and do things that I never want to hear about as long as I live. Anything to add, Pez?"

"What she said," Pez says gravely. "Except louder and with more pizzazz."

"You're both insane," Henry croaks, then feels a cool hand on his elbow. Bea yanks him closer across the table and flicks him between the eyes; he doesn't even react. He's had siblings his entire life, this is not a new occurrence.

"Maybe so," she mutters, "but your boy is coming over here right now so look sharp."

"He's not my – sorry, what?"

"Hey, Professor Fox?" Henry looks up, Bea smoothly releasing him and busying herself once again with her mocktail, and Alex is indeed standing by their table – he looks vaguely nervous, and incredibly beautiful, and the way he's biting his lower lip is knocking out Henry's higher brain functions as effectively as a brown-out after an electrical storm.

"Alex – how can I help?" Privately, Henry is impressed with both how put-together he sounds and the fact that he doesn't immediately ask if Alex wants to go somewhere private so Henry can do a bunch of things to him that feel incredibly illegal.

They're not – he's checked. Several times. It still feels wrong though, deep in his soul.

"Can I talk to you for a sec? Sorry, I didn't mean to disrupt your day or anything—"

"Yes, of course," Henry says immediately, wondering if he need add that he would die for these people, but also abandon them without a thought if Alex wanted a few moments of his attention. "This is my sister, Bea, and my best friend, Pez. They'll be fine without me for a few minutes, won't you?"

"I've no doubt we can amuse ourselves, yes," Pez says grandly, waggling his eyebrows at Alex, who's now squinting at Pez in a way that suggests he's thirty seconds from figuring out that he recognises him.

Henry stands up and puts a hand on Alex's arm, which is obviously a mistake, but he's expecting that hole in the floor to open up any moment now, so – living while he can, he supposes. "Shall we go outside?"

"Yeah," Alex says, and a few minutes later, that's where they are – outside. It's the middle of the day, even though it hadn't felt like that inside the bar, and Henry's had enough mimosas that the sun is slightly too bright, but not enough to think this is a good idea. Any of it. Alex being this close to him? Terrible. Alex being in the same geographic area as him at any given time, in fact? Cataclysmic. No number of mimosas could change that.

"So, how can I help you, Alex?"

"I'm really sorry about the email," Alex says immediately, the words flowing out of him like a dam's broken somewhere inside his body. "Like, I know it was rude – it was really rude – so I think it's probably best if I drop your class? I'm not usually into the whole 'teacher' thing, so I was pretty sure it was gonna pass, but you just keep sort of... getting hotter? And I know we're both adults but you're the adultier adult in this situation, and you literally can't remove yourself from it, so I just want you to know that me dropping you as my free elective has nothing to do with your class and everything to do with how much I wanna do illegal-feeling stuff to you."

Henry stares at Alex, who's breathing hard. "Illegal... feeling stuff?"

"They're not actually illegal things," Alex clarifies, "they just feel illegal."

"Alex," Henry says after a moment, mouth dry and his heart in his throat. "Do you mean to tell me that you're harbouring some kind of... crush?"

"No," Alex retorts immediately, scowling. It shouldn't be attractive, but Henry is a horrible, no good, very bad person, and it makes him want to drop to his knees anyway. "That sounds juvenile. I have very adult feelings for you, that include wanting to do stuff to you on your desk."

"On my desk," Henry repeats flatly, and Alex rolls his eyes like this is somehow inconveniencing him.

"Yeah, on your desk, Professor."

"Please don't call me that right now," Henry says tightly, then closes his eyes and rubs a hand over his face. Why isn't he wearing his glasses? He's fairly certain it's the lack of eyewear that's giving him a headache here, not the confusion or the alcohol.

"Prof—"

"Alex," Henry says dangerously, opening his eyes and fixing him with a stern look. "Just... don't. Did you know you're only a few marks off passing your elective with me? Once you've handed in your next essay – for which you have until Friday, following your extension – you can stop turning up to class or submitting assignments without any consequences at all."

Alex stares at him and swallows. "Oh."

"Yes," Henry says levelly, unsure where he's getting all of this ability to be reasonable from. It might be because everything he's wanted for several months now looks dangerously close to possible; it's too soon to say. "If you give me an essay that isn't absolute garbage, I will mark it as a final assignment, deliver your grade to you, and no longer expect you in my lectures."

"Okay," Alex says, still looking a bit bowled over by this. "And then—"

"And then," Henry interrupts him, voice low, "you can do whatever the hell you want to me on my desk. Or in a bed. Or on the floor, frankly, because I'm very, very tired of having to look at you in a crowded lecture theatre and know I'd feel like some kind of Bond villain if I so much as touched you."

Alex folds his arms across his chest and digs his fingers into his biceps, looking very much the way Henry feels; as though he's twenty seconds from saying 'fuck it, actually' and pressing Henry into a wall.

"Do we have an accord?" Henry asks, and Alex closes his eyes for a second then nods.

"Yeah," he says hoarsely. "Yes, one thousand percent."

"Okay," Henry says, then takes a deep breath. "Okay. You go back inside first. I'm going to finish my lunch and then I'm going to grade papers or stick my head in the freezer and avoid you until you've handed in your final assignment. Please, whatever you do, do not seek me out."

"What if I finish it on time?" Alex demands immediately, and Henry wants to take him by the shoulders and shake him, or possibly kiss him. It's unclear.

"Without the extension? Alex, the deadline is—"

"Five, I know," he says quickly. "I can do that, I don't need the extension."

"Then why did you—"

"Because I didn't have an incentive when I asked for that extension," Alex hisses, looking enraged and – Henry suspects – disconcertingly turned on. That part is, at least, incredibly relatable. "How quickly could you mark it if I turned it in before five?"

Henry does some quick mental maths. "If I ignore every other responsibility I have and you promise not to use this as an opportunity to goad me with the written word, I could have it done by six, given travel time. I always do my marking at home."

"Right," Alex says, biting his lip in thought, like that's fair or reasonable. "Okay. You submit our grades electronically, right? I've had some at, like, eight in the evening."

"Yes," Henry says evenly, pushing down the hope and nervous arousal jumping in his gut and trying to push him forwards. "Your grade would be provided to you immediately. The system doesn't close, as it were, until nine."

"Give me your address," Alex says immediately.

"Sorry?"

"Give me your address, Professor, so I can be at your door for seven."

"Stop calling me that," Henry says sharply, even though he thinks his hands might be shaking. "I'll get a complex."

"Address," Alex repeats, digging around in his pocket and holding his phone out impatiently. "Come on, I need to go home and write this stupid fucking essay."

"It's almost like you don't care about the subject," Henry murmurs, taking the phone from Alex's outstretched hand, doing his utmost to ensure their skin doesn't touch. "Should I be offended?"

"Shut up," Alex says firmly. "Phone number. Address. Any other pertinent info you think I need."

"Blood type?" Henry asks with a raised eyebrow, doing as he's told and feeling only a slight jolt of guilt when he realises Alex is – as of right now – still technically his student. "Perhaps my inside leg measurement."

"Condom size," Alex suggests, and Henry practically throws his phone back at him.

"Go away," Henry says seriously. "I don't want to see you until you're no longer my responsibility."

"You mean you don't wanna see me until you can—"

"I beg you to not," Henry interrupts him loudly, and Alex's answering grin is both wicked and charming; it makes Henry's knees seriously reconsider being in a state of solid matter. "I'm going to go and eat a sandwich now."

"Cool," Alex says brightly, taking a step towards the door without really looking where he's going and almost tripping over his own feet. "I'm gonna go and tell June and Nora that they're on a date, then I'm gonna go home and write that essay."

"Marvellous."

"And jerk off."

"Alex."

"God, it's so hot when you say my name like that. All annoyed," Alex says dreamily, before pushing open the door to the bar and disappearing inside like he's not the most frustrating person on the sodding planet.

Henry takes a moment to compose himself before following suit, and when he sits down at his suspiciously silent table, he notes that his sandwich has already arrived. Pez and Bea are staring mutely at him, cutlery in hand, spoons hovering above their bowls like they can't eat until he's provided them with a full play-by-play of the last ten minutes.

Which means they'll go hungry, he thinks viciously, because he's not telling them a damn thing.

"Our food arrived then," he says lightly, and Pez makes a noise like a dying whale and drops his spoon onto the table with an unnecessarily dramatic clatter.

"Henry, if you don't relay to me the minutiae of your time spent with Alex immediately, I shall perish. I shall waste away to nothing, having driven myself mad with wondering."

"You're already mad," Henry points out, cutting his sandwich in half and raising his eyebrows at Pez. "Completely barmy. Several very large sharing platters of sandwiches short of a picnic."

"You wound me."

"I mean, you are a bit mad, Pez," Bea points out reasonably, before turning to her brother. "He's right though – we really do have to know. Familial duty, I'm afraid. In fact, bugger Pez – tell me and leave him in the dark."

"I am being set upon by Fox-Mountchristen-Windsors," Pez booms, hand pressed to his chest.

"Eat your gritty prawns," Henry says calmly, "and if you leave me alone for the next 48 hours I promise you I will provide the level of detail that Bea requires to be satisfied."

"What about the level of detail I require?" Pez asks, tone mocking and sullen as he scoops up a good spoonful of parmesan-laced ground corn and scowls – somehow good-naturedly – over the dripping mouthful at Henry. "Did you think of that, hm?"

"Yes," Henry says firmly as he raises the first sandwich half to his mouth, already liberally soaked in jus. "And there is a very good reason I chose Bea as a yardstick."

"I'm not liable to get anyone arrested for the breach of indecency laws," Bea clarifies, in a way that suggests – quite rightly – that she's had to say this more than once in Pez's presence.

"Indecency laws," Henry echoes semi-apologetically, before taking a bite of his sandwich.

"You people have no sense of fun," Pez comments loftily.

Henry has quite an advanced sense of fun, in fact; he would just prefer that it didn't involve either his best friend or his sister.

Pez attempts to refill Henry's mimosa – presumably to get him drunk enough to acquiesce – but Henry pointedly puts his hand over the top of his half-full glass to stop him.

"I have papers to mark this afternoon," he says firmly. "And, more to the point, a desire not to throw up on the walk home."

"I can count on one hand the number of times I've been the cause of such excess," Pez says, looking wounded.

Henry narrows his eyes. "And how many feet?"

"Oh, both of those, old boy. I'm running out of appendages to count on, truth be told."

"You're getting too old for this," Bea says, shaking her head mournfully and taking a delicate bite of her lunch.

Henry can't even argue with her.


By the time Henry gets home, it's 3pm and Alex's essay is sitting neatly in his electronic submissions folder with everyone else's.

"How in the name of God," he murmurs wonderingly, and when he checks his phone he's unsurprised to see a text from an unknown number that holds only one, single emoji.

[From: unknown number]

😏 

"Well then," he says to the mostly-empty flat – bar a sleeping beagle on the sofa in the next room – then sits down at his desk with a very large glass of water and opens the file.

Half an hour later, Henry finds himself both annoyed and incredulous at how good the bloody thing is. Frankly, as intelligent as he knows Alex is – and that has always been at least fifty percent of his appeal – he's had less than a handful of hours to finish this, proof it, and submit it before deadline. Henry had been expecting something he could feasibly give the minimum grade, so they could both put this behind them. He had been expecting very little.

Now, he'd be surprised if Alex didn't have the highest grade in the class for this assignment. He's impossible.

Henry should probably be less turned on by this whole thing, actually.

He submits Alex's grade and then decides to tidy up the flat a bit just for something to do with his hands. Everything's already pretty spotless, however, as his mother and Bea visited recently and he hasn't really had a chance to mess it up since then; he doesn't have much to do.

It's perhaps fortunate, then, that Alex leans on his buzzer before it's even gone 4.30pm.

"You're several hours early," Henry points out when Alex's voice crackles to life through the intercom.

"You submitted my grade," Alex points out. "You gonna let me up?"

Henry is.

When Alex knocks on the door of his flat, Henry takes a deep breath, counts to five – ten would be pushing his limited restraint – and opens it as calmly as he knows how. "Hello. Like I said, you're—"

"Early, I know," Alex says, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans and chewing on his lower lip. Again.

"It's not a problem," Henry hurries to add, stepping back so that Alex can come inside, and feeling some of the tension drain from his own shoulders when Alex takes the unspoken invitation; the sound of the door closing behind him feels monumental. "I don't have any other papers that need grading immediately."

Alex looks at him, hands still in his pockets. "And if you did?"

"Well," Henry says slowly, then decides to just be honest. "I'd be ignoring them, I should imagine."

"I'm dropping your course," Alex says, taking a step forward and putting an oddly tentative hand on Henry's waist. It feels hot even through his shirt, and Henry is usually the kind of person to consider something fifteen times and take an average before making any kind of big decisions, but he's very much done not feeling that very particular heat anywhere he can get it.

"Good," he says firmly, then pulls Alex in by the back of his neck and kisses him.

It's better than Henry had imagined it would be – and he has imagined it extensively, for his sins, so that's saying something. Once he's over the initial shock of being reeled in, Alex kisses back with confidence and heat, his mouth moving against Henry's like he too has been thinking about this; like he's been waiting a while to finally get this close. He pulls Henry in by the hand on his waist, rests the other on his hip, presses in tight against him like the space between them hurts.

"Can I blow you?" Alex asks breathlessly, pulling back so Henry's view becomes well-kissed lips and the mesmerising sweep of long, dark eyelashes. "I've thought about it a lot and I just really wanna do it. To you, specifically."

Something about that sentence makes Henry pause – and not just because the idea of having Alex on his knees is incredibly compelling. "You've thought about it."

Alex nods vigorously, his fingers tightening on Henry's waist and reminding him of just how close they are still; how much he can feel where they're pressed together. "Yeah – like I said. A lot."

"But you haven't done it," Henry says, realisation dawning when Alex bites his lip again and shrugs like it doesn't matter.

Like hell.

"Alex, is this your first time being with a man?"

"You're making it sound like a big deal—"

"Alex," Henry interrupts him firmly, moving his hand from the back of Alex's neck to cup his jaw instead. "This is a big deal. I'm not going to pretend it isn't, and I'm not going to let you pretend it isn't. While I won't deny that I've had some incredibly impure thoughts about you for some time, I'm in this for more than just a one-time, experimental shag. Are you?"

Alex looks at him with eyes that speak volumes, and they're so close that Henry can practically hear the dryness in his throat as he swallows and nods, leaning a little more fully into Henry's hand. "Yeah."

"Then let me do this properly," Henry says softly, and this time when he kisses Alex, he tries to make it perfect. He tries to make it precisely what he didn't get when he was first on this journey, making inadvisable choices in club bathrooms and letting himself be the dirty secret of whoever was willing to take him home for the night. Alex deserves better than that, and Henry's going to be the one to give it to him.

Henry takes Alex to his bedroom and kisses him again by the bed, fingers curling around the hem of Alex's t-shirt and tugging gently until Alex pulls back with a quiet laugh and an, "okay, jeez." The t-shirt ends up on the floor and Henry lets Alex's eager hands deal with the buttons of his shirt until he has to take over, snorting perhaps a little inelegantly at Alex's indignance.

"Your shirt is wrong," he says as Henry pulls said shirt off and lets it drop to the floor as well. "The buttons are bad and they should feel bad."

"There's not a single sodding thing wrong with my shirt," Henry argues, and Alex smiles crookedly at him and pulls him back in by the waist.

"It's a little better now."

"Now that it's on the floor?"

"Yep," Alex agrees, then kisses him again like he needs it more than he needs oxygen. Henry drinks him in, all the breath going out of him when Alex moves a hand between them to press his palm firmly against where Henry's cock is straining at the zipper of his trousers.

"Do you still want to—"

"Yes," Alex says immediately, eagerly, moving his hand again so that his fingers are resting on the fastening at Henry's waistband. "I really, really want to blow you. You can... You can tell me how to do it, if you want. Tell me how you like it?"

Henry steadies himself against a wave of arousal that threatens to drag him under, and allows himself to kiss Alex hard on the mouth, just briefly, before responding. "If you call me 'professor' even once—"

"Stop pretending that's not doing it for you," Alex says with another crooked grin, which completely misses the point. Of course it's doing it for him, but Henry would really rather it wasn’t; he can't very well go around being reminded of how Alex sounds saying his job title in bed when he has to function as a competent adult on a day-to-day basis. He'd never get anything done.

"Call me Henry," he says firmly. "Or I'm keeping my trousers on for the duration of the evening."

"Is it weird that I'd still find that hot?"

"Yes," Henry says gravely. "You're sick in the head. Depraved beyond measure, and without peer."

"Henry?"

"Yes, Alex."

"I'm gonna blow you now."

"I suppose you shall have to remove my trousers after all then."

"You'll probably get over it," Alex says, quite correctly, before unbuttoning Henry's trousers and easing down the zipper. The sound of it is loud and oddly obscene in the sudden quiet of the room, and Henry lets himself be undressed until he's standing there in nothing but his underwear, hard and on the precipice of experiencing something he's been thinking about for quite some time.

"We should make use of the bed," Henry says, voice a little hoarse, and Alex tucks his fingers inside the waistband of Henry's underwear and raises his eyebrows.

"I know you're tryna make this good for me, but I have a very specific fantasy about this, so just..." Alex trails off and then, quite without warning, folds to his knees, tugging Henry's underwear down as he goes. Henry reaches out automatically to steady himself on Alex's shoulder and tries to keep his brain online at the image currently assaulting his eyes.

"Condom," he manages to say, waving a hand vaguely towards his bedside table. "In there."

"Are you sure?" Alex asks, looking a little put out but reaching for the drawer anyway. "I kind of always imagined it without."

"Rule number one," Henry says firmly, even though he's now quite seriously thinking about it and he's surprised it doesn't show in his voice. "Even if someone tells you they don't have anything, they could be lying. I'm not sure you realise quite how compelling you look when you're on your knees."

"You wouldn't lie to me though," Alex says easily, fishing a condom out of the drawer and tearing it open reasonably carefully with his teeth. He says these things so easily; has thrown himself into all of this with so much enthusiasm and trust that it makes Henry feel a little weak.

"No," Henry admits, then takes in a sharp breath when Alex gets a hand around the base of his cock before rolling on the condom. "Christ."

"Tell me if I'm doing anything wrong," Alex says a little breathlessly, then leans forward to take Henry into his mouth.

Alex – with an enviable lack of gag reflex that appears to come naturally to him – has taken most of Henry's cock into his mouth by the time Henry manages to force his eyes open again, and if he'd thought Alex on his knees was a good image, this blows his previous feelings on the matter out of the water. He's looking up at Henry through his eyelashes, one hand gripping the base of his cock as he swallows around it, lips red and hair wild where Henry's hands are – quite without his knowledge – making a mess of the dark curls.

Alex looks, in short, sinfully good, and Henry's distantly concerned that he's going to embarrass himself if he's not careful. He's in his 30s, but right now he feels like a teenager who's never had another human being so much as touch them before.

"Feedback?" Alex says eventually when he pulls back for breath, continuing to jerk Henry off with slow, spit-slicked passes of his fist. Even that is almost too much for Henry to take at this stage, but he endeavours to answer the question.

"You're doing very well so far," he says hoarsely, and Alex practically glows with the praise. He's kneeling on Henry's bedroom floor, half naked and determined, and he's asking for feedback like he needs it. It's possible Henry's not going to survive this. "You're relying quite heavily on your lack of gag reflex, which is by no means a criticism," he continues, because he thinks he's starting to understand precisely what Alex needs from him now. "You don't need to take it all at once even if you can, and it might mean your jaw aches a little less."

"But it's good for you," Alex confirms, and Henry wants to fucking cry.

"Yes, Alex," he says tightly, moving one of his hands out of Alex's hair so he can cup his jaw, running a thumb over his swollen lower lip. "It's very good for me. Christ, do you have any idea how you look right now?"

Alex swallows, tongue darting out to catch the tip of Henry's thumb. "Tell me."

"You look like you were made for this," Henry says quietly, sliding his thumb past Alex's lips and groaning when Alex immediately curls his tongue around it, as though he's been feeling empty without something in his mouth. "I keep thinking you can't possibly be real because you look like every fantasy I've ever had, love. You're so eager for it. I feel like I could fuck your mouth and you'd take it and beg for more, and that's not precisely what I'd been expecting from your first time."

Alex moans around Henry's thumb and then pulls back, looking desperate. "Please – fuck, you can do that. I want you to do that."

Henry thinks about it; imagines how it would feel to have Alex looking up at him with those doe eyes, jaw relaxed beneath Henry's hands as he fucks into the wet, welcome heat of his mouth. Alex could, apparently, take it. He's been invited to find out.

"Not this time," he says, with a considerable amount of effort. "As tempting as that is – and trust me when I say I am tempted – it would be remiss of me not to mention that I've been thinking about having you inside me for weeks now."

Alex makes a noise in the back of his throat and turns his face to press a kiss to Henry's palm. It's a bizarrely sweet gesture, given that he appears to be having something of a mental breakdown over Henry's suggestion, but he gives Alex the time he needs to recalibrate; this has the added bonus of giving Henry a moment to come back from the edge too. He really would prefer to last.

"You want me to... I mean, you like it that way?" Alex asks, and Henry can't help but smile just a little.

"I like it numerous ways, Alex – and I daresay all the more with you – but yes, I like it this way in particular."

Alex seems to consider this for a moment, then asks a question Henry hadn't honestly been expecting. "Okay, but can you go twice?"

Alex is going to be the death of him. "Unlike you, I have now reached the heady heights of thirty-three," he says gravely. "So, while I would like to say yes, I cannot guarantee it."

Alex looks up at him with a thoughtful expression, then grins. "I think you can go twice."

Then he leans forward and resumes his previous task, sucking Henry off with a renewed enthusiasm that has him crying out and tumbling over the edge less than five minutes later.

"That was so hot, holy shit," Alex gasps once he's pulled off, still taking Henry through the aftershocks with his hand. "I just – fuck, I'm so bi. I'm seriously fucking bi."

Henry would dearly like to comment on the fact that resolutely heterosexual men don't daydream about fucking their male professors on their desks, but his tongue feels big and heavy in his mouth and all he manages is a noise of deep satisfaction. Alex doesn't seem to mind too much, and as he gets to his feet, Henry doesn't bother fighting the urge to reel him in, licking desperately into his mouth and feeling Alex's answering moan somewhere deep in the pit of his stomach.

"Does that count for extra credit?" Alex asks while Henry's busy disposing of the condom, and Henry feels completely justified in pushing him so hard in the chest that he overbalances, falling backwards onto the bed with a yelp of surprise.

"I haven't considered final grades yet," Henry says drily as Alex glares at him from the bed, looking about as threatening as a baby deer; he's flushed from his cheeks down to his chest – his skin tone not enough to hide the heat simmering there – and he's unmistakably hard in his jeans. "And if you keep trying to goad me into teacher-student roleplay scenarios, you can get yourself off."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this makes Alex worse.

"But, Professor," he says breathily, propping himself up on one elbow so he can palm himself through his jeans, staring at Henry with wide, beseeching eyes. "You said this was a group project."

"You're a plague and I wish I'd never laid eyes upon you," Henry says flatly, then knocks Alex's hand away and unzips his jeans for him. "Before you entered my classroom, I'd never in my life had an impure thought about a student. I thought you were all terrible."

"I am terrible," Alex agrees, wiggling his hips a little to help Henry get off his jeans and boxer briefs. "The literal worst. Do I need punishing?"

"Do you only stop talking when there's something in your mouth?" Henry asks hotly, frustrated with how much this is doing it for him and how bad that's going to be for his sanity.

"Pretty m— fuck," Alex cuts himself off, practically jack-knifing off the mattress when Henry kneels on the bed to wrap a hand around his dick, pressing his thumb to the slit at the tip. Alex is so wet Henry's not sure he even needs lube for this part, and it's not long before the man beneath him is babbling incoherently, swearing and clutching at the sheets as his cock slides in and out of Henry's grip.

Henry wants it inside him so badly he can barely breathe.

"Do you want to open me up or—" Henry starts to ask, and Alex makes a broken noise in the back of his throat and tips his head back, spilling hotly all over Henry's hand and his own stomach, shaking and gasping as he comes. Alex has always been beautiful, but right now he's breathtaking; if Henry could find it in himself to pull away, he'd almost be tempted to take a photograph for posterity. As it is, he just watches, taking Alex through it with his hand until he's whimpering and oversensitive beneath Henry's fingers.

"Fuck," Alex says eventually, finding his voice while Henry's cleaning him up with – regrettably – his own shirt. "God, that's so embarrassing. I'm so fucking sorry?"

Henry pauses, frowning at Alex where he has an arm slung across his face. His mouth is still visible, pulled down a little at the corners like he's upset. "Sorry for what?"

Alex takes his arm away from his face so he can glower up at Henry. "We were gonna do other stuff and I ruined it."

Henry probably shouldn't laugh, but he can't help himself. He tries to stop – Alex looks incredibly offended – but it takes him over so thoroughly that he ends up abandoning the task of cleaning Alex up so he can flop down on the bed next to him, shaking with mirth.

"What's so fucking funny?"

"You are," Henry says a little breathlessly, rolling over and pinning Alex to the bed with a grin. "That was one of the most effortlessly erotic things I've ever experienced, and you're apologising for it. I have the most beautiful man I've ever met in my bed, and he's saying sorry for coming."

Alex squirms beneath him, but his scowl has lifted slightly. "Yeah, but I was gonna fuck you."

"Yes, but then you were so turned on by the very idea of it that you came," Henry points out. "That is, objectively, a very gratifying thing to bring out in someone. Trust me when I tell you that I'm not even slightly disappointed by how this went."

Alex seems to consider this for a moment, pausing in his wriggling to frown thoughtfully. "So, you're not, like, upset?"

"Upset that I gave you an orgasm?" Henry asks, raising his eyebrows. "I'm not sure that would be quite sane of me. Besides – there's a question I should probably ask you."

Alex's frown deepens. "Yeah?"

"Yes," Henry says firmly, leaning down to brush his mouth very gently over Alex's, before pulling back to murmur, "do you think you can go twice?"

Alex's expression clears and Henry smiles down at him, shifting slightly so that Alex can feel where Henry's starting to get hard again.

"I think you can go twice."


"So," Bea asks, sliding into the booth opposite Henry a moment before Pez does the same. Pez is humming the Mission Impossible theme tune for some bizarre reason. "You were uncontactable for almost two days there – anything you'd like to tell us? For example, how you can sleep at night when we were both mere hours away from reporting you missing?"

"You didn't even try my flat," Henry points out, and Bea narrows her eyes dangerously at him.

"We tried your flat last night."

Henry nods slowly, his mind immediately going back to the previous night, and the precise reason he hadn't heard the buzzer.

"Fuck, Henry – there, don't fucking stop—"

Alex's curls fanned out across the pillow, a dark halo thrown into relief by the pale sheets beneath him. Henry between his thighs, one of Alex's legs thrown over his shoulder for easier access as he opens him up with his tongue through latex. Alex's desperate moans echoing around the room until it's all Henry hears, all he can think about.

Henry clears his throat and reaches for his glass of water. "Yes, well. I'm sure I was just in the shower or something."

"In the shower?" Bea repeats incredulously as Pez's humming gets a little louder; he appears to really be getting into the swing of the theme tune now. "Henry, I thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere."

"Sorry," he says with a grimace, then motions to himself with his free hand. "As you can see, however, I am alive and well."

"And you were unable to answer your phone because...?"

"I can take it, come on," Alex begs, clutching at Henry's shoulders and hooking a leg around his thighs to try and pull him closer. "I'm ready, baby, c'mon."

 "Christ, you're beautiful," Henry says hoarsely, and Alex makes a wild noise in his throat, pulling Henry down into a hot, messy kiss as Henry sinks into the tight heat of Alex's body.

"I had a lot of marking to do. Forgot to charge it. My mistake," Henry says solemnly, fiddling with a stray thread protruding from his shirt sleeve. "I really am sorry – you know I didn't mean to worry you."

"Well, you did," Bea says, leaning back with a weary sigh and elbowing Pez in the ribs so that he stops his increasingly cacophonous humming.

"Yes, we were very worried," Pez confirms promptly, and Bea rolls her eyes.

“You could try sounding a little sincere, Percy.”

“Well, I wasn't all that worried, Beatrice," Pez says with a grin, "because I had insider information. You may not have believed my 'wild' theories, but I'm sure Henry will be able to confirm their validity."

Henry immediately stops playing with the thread, staring at Pez. "What insider information?"

"Top tip, Hazza," Pez says brightly, propping his elbows on the table and resting his chin in his cupped hands. "If you're going to fall off the face of the earth in order to have an unscheduled shag-a-thon with someone, and you want to keep it a secret, don't pick someone whose best mate and roomie is sleeping with your best friend."

"I wasn't trying to keep it a secret," Henry says with a defeated sigh, leaning back against the cracked leather and folding his arms. "I just wanted to enjoy it for a little while longer before being treated to a full-scale interrogation."

"You're joking," Bea says, her mouth practically dropping open. "You were actually off having night of passion with one of your students—"

"He's not my student," Henry says immediately, at the same time as Pez says, "it was two nights, actually."

Henry glares at him. "That is so far from the point I don't even know where to start."

"Start with the shower part, if you like," Pez says, waggling his eyebrows while Bea makes a noise of disgusted rage from beside him and punches him on the arm.

"Let's not," she says, voice a little high-pitched, and Henry nods in vigorous agreement.

"Let us, indeed, not. What did Liam say to you, exactly?"

"Well, he was at home when Alex stormed through the front door a couple of days ago, not long after you'd had a chat with him outside Bankston's. Apparently Alex sat down in front of his laptop, drank a very large coffee, and didn't stop typing for at least an hour. He then stood up quite abruptly, went for what was described to me as a suspiciously thorough and lengthy shower, paced around for a while until he got an email notification not long before four o'clock, yelled what sounded like 'not his fucking student now' and left the house."

Henry wants to put his head in his hands. "That does sound rather damning."

"It does, doesn't it?"

"I'm sorry for worrying you, Bea," Henry says with another sigh, then glares at Pez a little bit more; it feels good to do it. "And as for Sherlock bloody Holmes over here, stop being such a busybody. You're worse than a bored 1920s housewife."

"And I look better in a tea dress," Pez agrees.

"I'm willing to forgive you," Bea says, both of them now ignoring Pez. "As long as you weren't planning on ducking out of our weekend plans for your new boytoy. We've had these tickets for months."

Henry had, in fact, forgotten about their plans – a gig at a local dive bar that Bea's very excited about – but he has absolutely no intention of cancelling. "Of course not."

"Fine," she says with a shrug, stealing his glass of water. "Forgiveness provided. The transaction is complete."

"So benevolent," Henry says drily, but he's saved from any further 'look into this bright light and answer all our questions very clearly' treatment by his phone going off in his pocket.

"Oh, so you'll answer it now," Bea says disbelievingly as Henry grimaces apologetically and does, in fact, answer it.

"Professor Fox speaking?"

"Oh my God, it’s me – I know you have caller ID, you fucking alien."

"No, I'm sorry – you must have the wrong number," Henry says seriously, biting back a grin and feeling Pez and Bea's gazes focus on him with laser precision. "I'm afraid you're going to have to find someone else for that particular service. I don't have the voice for it."

"You're the worst boyfriend I've ever had."

Henry’s heart leaps in his chest and he tries very hard not to let what he’s feeling show on his face. "Is that what I am? Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but you haven't actually had one before."

"You're... God, I don't know why I like you so much. You're the worst."

"Perhaps you feel a kinship?" Henry suggests, kicking Bea under the table to try and stop her pulling faces at him. They're adults now – this needs to stop. "You are, after all, also quite terrible."

"I'm waiting outside your apartment and I'm not wearing any underwear, so you should probably be a little bit nicer to me."

"Hold on," he says quickly, pulling the phone away from his mouth and trying to look apologetic when he meets Bea's eyes. "So sorry – medical emergency. Would you believe—"

"Not a fucking chance," she says, but she's clearly trying not to smile as she shoves him in the arm. "Go away, you're awful."

"I've been hearing that rather a lot lately."

"Go forth and procreate," Pez says warmly, then pulls a face. "Or rather, don't, I suppose. If you do manage to make a child, it's possible you'll be on the run from the greater medical community for the rest of your natural lives in order to protect your miracle baby from imprisonment and testing in a 'Stranger Things'-esque facility. Best not to risk it, so you should probably use protection to be on the safe side."

Henry blinks for a moment at Pez then shakes his head. "You are exceedingly odd."

"Aren't I? It appears to work for me."

"I'll be with you shortly," Henry says, phone back against his ear. "Stay where you are."

"Hurry the fuck up, Professor – you started talking and my body just sort of automatically reacted."

"Stop calling me that," Henry says, sliding out of the booth and waving vaguely at Pez and Bea as he makes for the door. "We've been through this. I'm begging you."

"I feel like you can beg better than that, baby."

"I'm hanging up now," Henry says firmly, incredibly glad that Alex can't see how hard he's blushing already. "Miscreant."

"Dickhead."

"Plague."

"Boyfriend."

Henry absolutely does not trip over a wonky paving slab.

(He also doesn’t speed up, making the journey home in half the usual time. Alex’s smile when he gets there is enough to make him breathless.)