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The professor has already been droning on for what seems like an age when the back door to the lecture hall bangs open. Nicky doesn’t have to turn around to know that it’s that infuriatingly attractive frat boy who can’t seem to turn up before class starts to save his life, but he turns to look anyway.

Sure enough, Frat Boy himself is slipping none too subtly into an empty seat in the back row, accompanied by a stocky, scruffy guy wearing the same Greek letters on his sweatshirt who Nicky has deduced to be Frat Boy’s best friend. Fellow Frat Boy, or Frat Boy 2, sits beside his friend without finesse, scraping the metal chair harshly across the floor.

Nicky rolls his eyes.

It’s Biology 101, one of the general education requirements, so it’s held in an enormous lecture hall, which means that these two repeat offenders can continually skate by without personal callouts from the professor. Nicky doubts she even knows all the students’ names, at this point, nevermind Frat Boy 1 and Frat Boy 2, who, Nicky would guess, are probably both strikingly unexceptional in their studies.

Not that Nicky knows their names, despite the mild infamy they’ve garnered in his mind. And why would he? He doesn’t hang out around frats, or bros, or dumb jocks. He doesn’t hang around anyone, really-- he’s only two weeks into his junior year here after transferring from another university. He’s been assigned to live in what he considers the transient dormitory, made up of tiny single rooms occupied largely by transfer students, older students who choose to remain on-campus, and the occasional displaced sophomore. It’s fairly difficult to make friends when he’s not forced to congregate with others in shared spaces aside from classrooms.

Difficult but not impossible, though: he has made friends with Nile, a displaced sophomore from Chicago who lives in the room across the hall. Or at least she seems to find him tolerable enough to accompany him to the library three or four times a week, and occasionally to the campus favorite coffee shop. Sometimes she just comes over to hang out, and he cobbles some red sauce together which they eat with spaghetti or fusilli whilst sitting on his bed, drinking cheap wine from plastic cups and watching the History Channel. She hasn’t chosen a major yet, though she’s leaning towards art history, and she’s terribly funny and smart. She’s taking Italian for her language requirement, too, which Nicky is more than happy to help her with.

Muffled laughter and rustling papers pull Nicky from his thoughts. He glares over his shoulder. Of course it’s the Frat Boys, giggling over something that Frat Boy 1 wrote in the margins of his notebook. He’s smiling (rather brilliantly, to Nicky’s chagrin), tongue caught between white teeth, hand flying over the paper as his best friend bites his fist to stifle a guffaw. There’s a tuft of curly dark hair poking through his bright orange backwards baseball cap, and Nicky’s palms begin to sweat as he wonders if his hair is as soft as it looks.

It’s of no use, of course--look at him. There’s no way that he’s even remotely interested in other guys, nevertheless a quiet, focused, academically-driven person like Nicky. Not that Nicky would even want to date someone like him, probably, considering that they couldn’t be more different from one another: he’s just about the frattiest frat boy who ever did frat, loud and athletic and charismatic, constantly orbited like he’s the sun by Frat Boy 2 and other equally fratty guys alongside, more often than not, a harem of pretty girls.

And the way he dresses leaves much to be desired. He looks like he’s coming directly from the gym at all times, always sporting some sort of loose-fitting mesh tank top or a sweatshirt emblazoned with giant Greek letters and basketball shorts or joggers with white stripes that run down his long legs. He does have an impressive, seemingly endless rotation of colorful sneakers that look like they’ve never been worn before, and of course, no outfit would be complete without a vibrant backwards hat, which he also seems to collect by the hundreds. It’s infuriating, the way they draw the eye upward, forcing Nicky to stare at him and that sweet little floof of curls every time he inevitably barrels into their loathsome shared class at least five minutes late, looking far too pleased with himself.

Nicky doesn’t realize that he’s still staring until the object of his scrutiny catches his gaze. Nicky freezes, startled to be at the epicenter of two big, brown eyes, then he’s on the business end of a megawatt smile and a full blown wink.

Frat Boy winks at Nicky.

Nicky spins back around so quickly he nearly gets whiplash.

The next several classes continue like this: Nicky finds his seat before the lecture, like any normal person who gives the barest minimum of fucks, and the Frat Boys show up between five and ten minutes after the start of class. Nicky turns to look, only in disapproval, of course, certainly not to sweep his eyes over Frat Boy 1’s bare, muscular arms, or to ponder the softness of his full lips, or even to think about how much weight he’d have to deadlift to get an ass that round and perfect.

Anyway.

Frat Boy inevitably catches his lingering scowl and makes it known with a little wave or a wink or a salute, causing Nicky to avert his eyes and spend the remainder of class trying to slow his heart rate.

Today, however, the absolute thorns in Nicky’s side show up fifteen whole minutes late, which has to be a new record. Nicky makes sure to set his face in a particularly scathing glower before turning it on Frat Boy 1.

He notices right away, like he was waiting for Nicky to look at him, and instead of the usual acknowledgment, he lifts up his neon purple tank top to reveal an absolutely flawless, mouthwatering six pack.

Nicky blanches. He didn’t realize guys could look like that in real life, nevertheless guys he knows (rather, guys who are within irritating proximity to him due to gen ed requirements). He doesn’t know what to make of the gesture, either--can he tell that Nicky is gay, overheating as he stews in his growing yet reluctant desire? Or is he just having a laugh?

He drops his shirt with a smirk, then proceeds to have the audacity to blow Nicky a kiss. Nicky inhales sharply, but by the time he remembers to school the arousal on his face into a pissy glare, Frat Boy’s already facing forward, jotting down notes, looking for all the world like an innocent, diligent biology student.

What an absolute prick.

Nicky has a very difficult time concentrating after that, due in no small part to the very insistent semi poking against the zipper of his jeans.

As if a class geared towards a group of students who largely could not have cared less about the subject needed to be less enticing.

The second it’s over, Nicky’s shoving his laptop into his backpack, hoping that Nile will be up for a quick cram session in the library so he can get his mind off of that cheeky kiss and that absolutely sinful body for long enough to pass his French history quiz this afternoon.

“Hey.”

Nicky’s head whips up. Standing in front of him is none other than Frat Boy, backpack slung over one shoulder. He smiles, revealing deep dimples that are entirely too appealing through his stubble. His friend is lurking in the back row, texting furiously, clearly waiting for him to do whatever it is on God’s green earth that compelled him to approach Nicky in the first place.

Met with nothing but Nicky’s awe-struck stare, Frat Boy’s smile widens. “I’m Joe,” he says, splaying a hand over his chest, and Nicky absolutely does not notice how large his hands are, nor the length and elegance of his perfect fingers. “What’s your name?”

“Why?”

Frat Boy’s—Joe’s—eyebrows shoot up, intrigue passing across his face. “I figured I’d put a name to the face, since you’re always looking at me.”

“I am not always looking at you,” sputters Nicky as the apples of his cheeks grow warm. “You just make yourself difficult to miss.”

Joe laughs at that, an honest to God laugh, and the warmth in Nicky’s face spreads lower to curl in his belly. He notices that Joe has a light smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks, which doesn’t help alleviate his growing frustration.

“Fair enough. Although…” Joe steps close enough that Nicky can smell whatever woodsy cologne he uses. “You kind of make yourself difficult to miss, too.”

Every word in every language Nicky knows evaporates from his mind. Before he can recall enough of them to form a witty, ferocious comeback, Joe is taking the steps two at a time and rejoining his friend, who punches him in the shoulder with a smirk. Joe answers with an almost bashful smile before slinging an arm around his shoulders, and they gallivant out of the room.

Nicky doesn’t know what just happened, but he does know that he is not always looking at Joe, and he certainly doesn’t appreciate the inflammatory remarks. Sure, despite his irksome tardiness, Joe is one of the most objectively attractive guys Nicky has ever seen in his life, with dimples deep enough to drown in and beautiful dark eyes and muscle definition that could bring a grown man to his knees, and, apparently, an intoxicating constellation of freckles on his face just begging to be kissed—

Fuck.

“Nicky. Nicky. Earth to Nicky.”

Nicky’s pulled from his reverie by Nile, who’s sitting in the chair beside him, looking concerned as she waves her hand in front of his face.

“Is...everything okay?”

“Yes. Of course. Sorry.” He clears his throat and stares down at his copy of de Tocqueville.

“Sure.” Nile narrows her eyes. “You know you can talk to me if something’s bothering you, right? Or if something’s exciting you? Or not bothering you, or not exciting you? You can just tell me whatever you want because, you know, we’re friends?”

Nicky’s lips quirk up. Nile nudges his foot with hers. “Come on. Spill.”

Nicky frowns. He hasn’t told Nile he’s gay yet, though he’s sure she already knows. He’s been out for a couple of years now, even to his family, but he still can’t fully tamp down his anxiety when revealing his sexual orientation to a new person. Probably something to do with the lingering, soul-crushing guilt that accompanied his religious, conservative upbringing. “It’s nothing, really. It’s stupid.”

Nile stares at him, not buying it for a second. In slow, decently-pronounced but shaky Italian, she says, “Go on, my friend. Tell me.”

“That was good,” he replies, chuckling. “Your diction has really improved.”

This earns him a little smile, but her eyes are resolute. Nicky sighs. It would feel good to talk to someone about this. Maybe it would be a sort of exorcism, and Joe and his stupid mesh shorts and his stupid little hair floof poking out of his stupid backwards cap and his maddeningly kissable full lips would stop haunting his thoughts.

“There’s this...guy.” He pauses, watching Nile’s face. She leans forward with a rapt nod, like what he’s just said doesn’t matter. Good. A bit of tension leaves his shoulders. “I don’t really know him, but he’s in my biology lecture.”

Nile pulls a face. “Bio? I thought you were a history major.”

“I am, but one of my science requirements didn’t transfer.”

“Oh. That sucks.”

“Yes.” Nicky shakes his head. “He’s always late to class, and he always looks like he’s just come from the gym, I think he only owns workout clothes and frat gear. He’s...he’s very good looking, but so obnoxious, always making so much noise, like he’s trying to get everyone’s attention.”

“Well, it worked.” Nile shrugs at Nicky’s confusion. “He got yours, didn’t he?”

“In any case,” he says crisply, “he approached me after our last class and ah, called me out for looking at him, but he wasn’t upset about it. He introduced himself, wanted to know my name. It was...annoying.”

“Yeah, wow, sounds so annoying to be approached by a hot guy, God, I feel so bad for you, Nicky. What frat is he in, do you know?”

Nicky’s seen the lettering so many times he barely has to think about it before jotting it out in the margin of his book. Nile leans in to look. “Oh, no way! DAE.”

“You know them?”

“Yeah, sure! Bunch of jock guys. My friend Andy’s on intramural soccer with a few of them. They actually throw a pretty kickass party.”

“I didn’t take you for the kind of person who hangs out at frat parties,” says Nicky, immediately regretting the judgment in his voice.

Nile just laughs and gently nudges their shoulders together. “They’re way more fun when your friends are there, trust me.”

“Hmm. If you say so.”

“I’m gonna take you to one on Saturday. I was gonna anyway, but I mean, now, I have to. What’s your frat boy’s name anyway? Maybe I know him.”

“First of all, I’m not really one for parties. And secondly, he is not ‘my’ frat boy, he’s—”

“Will you just tell me his damn name, Nicky.”

“Fine. It’s Joe.”

“Joe?” A grin splits Nile’s pretty face. “Like, Joe al-Kaysani?”

“Er, I don’t know, I didn’t ask for his ID.”

“Big brown eyes, built like a brick shithouse, always rocking a backwards hat with a little—” she gestures over her head wildly with her fingers “—sticking out the top?”

Nicky hates the way he blushes. “That sounds like him.”

Nile claps her hands together and lets out a little whoop. “That’s Joe al-Kaysani alright!”

An angry, owlish young woman pokes her head into their stack and hisses, “Do you mind?”

Nile bites her lips into her mouth as Nicky raises a placating hand. “Sorry,” he whispers before turning back to Nile and stage-whispering, “You know him?!”

“Yes! He’s on intramural with Andy. He used to be on the varsity soccer team, but then he got injured and couldn’t play for almost a year, so now he just does it for fun. He’s a really nice guy. Smart, too. And a senior.”

“Nice? Smart?” Nicky spits the words out like poison. “Then why is he in idiot biology with me?”

“You can ask him yourself when we go to DAE this weekend.”

“Oh, no.” Nicky shakes his head fervently. “I’m not going to one of those parties, I’m—”

“He’s also gay as fuck.” Nile leans in close, makes a contemplative face. “And while we’re at it, I’m bi, so. There you go.”

“S-sorry?” Nicky feels his eyebrows shoot towards the ceiling, wholly unprepared for both of those revelations.

Nile pats him on the arm. “I’m just saying you’re not alone, okay? And I’m not gonna judge you. But I am gonna insist that you come to this party with me. I can introduce you to my friends Andy and Booker, and you can, like, have an actual conversation with Joe. He might be interested in you, and you’ll be able to see there’s more to him than a pretty face and a kickass body with muscles on muscles—”

“Will you stop, please.” Nicky floats his book in front of his face. Nile immediately slaps it down, only to be met with a furious, disembodied ”shh!” from the next stack over.

She shakes her head and lowers her voice. “You’re coming though, yeah?”

“Yes! Fine. Anything to get you to stop talking.”

“Deal.”

Nicky doesn’t quite know how to feel by the time Saturday rolls around, and he still has to decide what to wear. It’ll be nice to meet Nile’s friends, but he’s worried that he’ll stick out like a sore thumb. He’s not really a jock, and he’s never been to anything that could even remotely resemble a frat party before. The Greek life scene was all but nonexistent at his first university, and even if it hadn’t been, he would have assumed that guys who weren’t affiliated with the frat wouldn’t be the most welcome of guests. Nile had corroborated this theory, but handwaved all of Nicky’s concerns because apparently this frat is different—so many guys are on various sports teams, so it’s inevitable that other players show up, and no one seems to mind.

And, okay, that’s fine, but that still doesn’t solve the problem that Nicky has absolutely no idea what to wear.

Which he’s guessing would not be half the problem he’s made it into if he didn’t know that Joe would be there, and that Joe is gay, and possibly interested in getting to know Nicky, which means that Joe is, theoretically, well within Nicky’s reach, if he manages not to sabotage himself along the way.

Nile shows up at Nicky’s after her day shift at an upscale bistro with a large pizza and salad, which they slowly demolish together alongside a bottle of Sangiovese as she balances helping Nicky go through his closet with preventing him from imploding from nerves every fifteen minutes. Blessed be the transient dorm, though it’s small and dilapidated, at least Nicky doesn’t have to deal with the added humiliation of a roommate witnessing this particular strife.

“This is nice, Nicky.” Nile picks up a blue, grey, and green plaid button down that Nicky had discarded on the bed. “Here, try it on. Let me see.”

Nicky obeys begrudgingly, feeling a creep of self-consciousness as he pulls off his Henley to shrug it on. Nile eyes him appraisingly, nodding in approval as he awkwardly turns to one side, then the other.

“It’s...good?”

“Molto bene!”

“Are you sure?” Nicky eyes himself in the cheap, shitty mirror he has leaned against a cinder block wall. “I don’t look like, I don’t know, an asshole?”

Nile laughs and shoves a pizza crust into her mouth. “You look great. And the colors of that shirt really bring out your eyes.”

“Stop.”

“Nicky, I don’t know if you know this, but you’re a very attractive man. You could rock a burlap sack and still be the hottest guy in the room, my friend.”

Nicky furrows his brow. “I don’t think so.”

“Well. It’s true.” Nile stands behind him on tip-toes to smooth down his collar. “Plus, even if you weren’t a knockout stunner, which you are, that Italian accent adds about a zillion charm points to just about everything.”

Nicky scoffs, but their eyes catch in the mirror and she smiles. He gives himself another once over. On second thought, he does look good in this shirt, and it does bring out the color of his eyes. He’s never considered himself remarkably attractive, but he supposes that he’s certainly not difficult to look at, and he allows himself to briefly consider that Joe might also appreciate how he looks. If he doesn’t, well, too bad for him. Yet another check in the column of poor taste, alongside his too-long mesh basketball shorts and garish, oversized tank tops that hang off his body in such a way that showcases the full range of his chest depending on how he’s sitting or moving, including the occasional nipple.

Not that Nicky’s been looking, of course.

His confidence wavers slightly when he and Nile arrive at the frat house, despite the wine and bonus shot of middle-shelf vodka that they’d consumed beforehand. He can hear the music from the street, bass heavy enough to shake the windows in their frames, and there’s a crush of people filing in through the front door. There are so many sexy girls and jacked guys, some of whom look like Hollywood stars in their fashionable outfits. Nicky feels very much out of his league in his old plaid shirt and worn jeans, but Nile smiles at him, squeezes his hand, and he follows her in.

It’s dark and dank inside, and the soles of Nicky’s Converses stick to the floor with every step. There’s a mingled haze of cigarette and marijuana smoke hanging in the air, colloidal in the multicolored flashing lights. It’s crowded everywhere Nicky looks, with people dancing and talking and drinking and smoking in every hall, doorway, and corner. The kitchen is overrun, with giant bottles of liquor in various states of consumption strewn across the countertops. It also serves as the entry point to what appears to be a substantial fenced-in “yard” where people are congregating en masse.

“God help me,” mutters Nicky, instantly filled with regret.

“Oh, stop.” Nile turns, two overfilled plastic shot glasses in her hands. She gives one to Nicky, and it sloshes over the side onto his fingers. “Bottoms up.”

Nicky downs the shot and shudders violently. “What was that?”

“You don’t want to know,” says Nile, face puckering.

“Nile, hey!” A strikingly attractive girl with short dark hair in a tight black tank top that shows off a gorgeous, intricate sleeve tattoo swoops in from the side, grabbing Nile around the waist and lifting her into a bear hug. Nile squeals and returns the embrace, giving the girl a long look with soft eyes before turning back to Nicky.

“This is my friend, Andy,” she yells over the thumping house music. “Andy, this is my friend Nicky. The Italian transfer student I told you about?”

“Hey, Nicky.” Andy goes in for a decidedly less boisterous but still warm hug, which Nicky happily accepts. “Nile always talks about you. It's nice to finally meet you.”

“You, too.”

“So.” Andy raises an eyebrow and pours them each a shot from an unlabelled clear plastic jug. “You’ve got a thing for Joe al-Kaysani, huh.”

Nickys mouth falls open. “Nile!”

Nile shrugs theatrically. “I was trying to help you out! Andy’s friends with him.”

“No judgment from me.” Andy passes them the questionable shots. “He’s super hot and nice and he’s gay as fuck. And he finally broke up with Keane, so…”

Nicky frowns, throat still burning from whatever was in his glass. “Sorry?”

“Oh.” Andy scoffs and waves a dismissive hand. “Joe’s ex. Big, dumb soccer player with a mean streak, definitely not good enough for Joe. If you ask me, I—”

“Ladies! You made it.” A clearly intoxicated guy who Nicky immediately recognizes as Frat Boy 2, Joe’s friend in biology, nudges his way between Andy and Nile and throws an arm around each of them. His head lolls towards Andy, and he smiles, then it lolls towards Nile. His smile widens and he leans in to plant a sloppy kiss on her face.

Nile squeezes her eyes shut and lets out a laugh, but ducks out of his hold and immediately wipes her cheek on her sleeve.

“God, Book, take the hint, Nile’s never going to hook up with you.” Andy pulls his head down for an aggressive noogie until he raises his hands as best he can and shouts, “Uncle, Andy, uncle! I surrender!”

“Good.” Andy relents with a smirk. “Now apologize to our beautiful friend Nile for disrespecting her personal space yet again.”

He turns to Nile, lurching a little, spilling beer onto the floor as he covers his heart with his hand. “I sincerely apologize, mademoiselle, for inf—infringe—disrespecting your personal space. I was overcome by your beauty and could not help but smooch. I will never do it again.”

Nicky searches Nile’s face for any signs of discomfort but finds none. She accepts his apology with a laugh and a good-natured punch to his shoulder.

“Now that that’s done.” Andy turns Booker’s broad body towards Nicky. “Nicky, meet Booker. Booker, this is our friend Nicky, he’s—“

“Hey, whoa! It’s bio guy!” Booker’s eyes light up, and before Nicky can process the situation, he is swept into a body-breaking hug, wincing as he feels beer dampen the back of his shirt. Booker releases him with a mournful look. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry, man, I spilled on you.”

“It will dry,” says Nicky, evading Booker’s half-hearted attempts to wipe his shirt off. He’s not sure whether to be more vexed by the fact that he is now wet and reeks of Rolling Rock, or by his apparent title of “bio guy,” but he doesn’t have much of a chance to focus on anything before Andy is pushing an overflowing Solo cup of beer into his hands and an uproarious clamor from the other room seizes everyone’s attention.

Booker grins and disappears, and Andy leads Nile and Nicky through the sweaty throng of partygoers to what Nicky presumes is the living room. One of the brothers is manning a solid-looking DJ setup where they enter, the source of the music, and a crowd has gathered around a massive keg.

On top of said keg is Joe, inverted in a handstand while two guys hold his legs and one holds the tap to his lips. His leopard print backwards cap is somehow still on his head, despite him being upside down, and he’s wearing loud tie-dyed mid-calf socks, even louder Nike sneakers, and black mesh shorts that pool around his thighs.

He’s also blissfully, woefully shirtless.

Nicky takes a long sip of his beer as he rakes his eyes over the godlike body Joe’s barely been attempting to hide with gym clothes: strong arms, muscles flexing impossibly as he holds himself up, broad shoulders, tight, defined pecs adorned with a healthy thatch of curly dark chest hair that leads down to a perfect abdomen, the six pack he’d briefly revealed to Nicky swelling just enough to pop as Joe sucks on the tap, throat working madly as slurred cheers of chug, chug, chug, chug and al-Kaysani! al-Kaysani! nearly eclipse the music.

Booker runs up to Joe, yells something unintelligible while pointing to his watch, yanks the tap out of his mouth, and the room erupts into cheers. The guys on either side of Joe slowly release his legs to let him down as Booker tilts his head back and opens the tap down his own throat. Joe swallows the beer in his mouth and throws his hands in the air with a cry, and everyone cheers even more.

“What...what’s going on?” Nicky’s voice rings in his head like it belongs to someone else as he whispers to Nile.

“Joe broke the DAE record for longest keg stand,” supplies Andy, grabbing Nicky’s arm and tugging him through the room with surprising strength. “Let’s go congratulate him.”

“Ah, um, I’m not sure if, ah—” Nicky can’t get the words out before he’s standing in front of Joe, who’s having an animated conversation with a lovely, short blonde girl with stars in her eyes.

“Just so you know,” she says, stroking a hand down his bare arm and raising a coquettish eyebrow, “my offer still stands.”

“And I appreciate that, Michaela, really, and you are very, very beautiful, a total catch, perfect 10, but I’ve gotta tell you, I’m more of a guys’ guy, if you know what I mean.” Joe smiles cautiously. A look of surprise crosses her face, then she dissolves into giggles and gives him a hug.

“Of course. You’re way too hot to be straight,” she says. “I’m sorry if I was kinda aggressive, you’re just…” She gestures to his body and lets out a whistle.

“Oh. Thank you, you are entirely too kind.” Joe ducks his head with a shy chuckle and reaches for a shirt that was draped over the keg as Michaela stumbles away. He notices Nicky and gasps.

“Oh, my God!” He clutches his shirt to his chest like a Victorian woman who’s bared an ankle to a strange man trying to reclaim her virtue. “Bio guy! You’re here! You’re in my fraternity!”

Andy lets out a throaty noise that can only be described as an ugly laugh, and Nicky’s mouth opens around the beginnings of about fifteen words.

Luckily, Nile swoops in. “Joe! Nice keg stand, very impressive, one for the books. Anyway, this is my hot, smart friend Nicky. Nicky, this is Joe. Uh, okay now, come with me, Andy, let’s go look at that empty beer can on the floor over there.”

“Have fun, you two,” purrs Andy as she allows Nile to drag her away.

Joe lets out a small laugh and rubs the back of his neck, sheepish. Nicky makes an expression that he hopes resembles a smile more closely than a grimace, but he can’t tell, because his face is on fire. Burning. Melting the fuck off. He wouldn’t be surprised to look in the mirror and see a flaming skull where his head is meant to be, because he might be a little drunk and Joe might be a little gorgeous and he is overwhelmingly grateful that he has a cup of terrible beer to clutch because otherwise he’d have absolutely no idea what to do with his hands.

“Nicky, huh?” Joe pulls his shirt over his head, not that it does much in the way of modesty, considering the arm holes are so giant Nicky can see most of his obliques, and the neckline is so low that his chest hair pokes out.

“S-sorry?” Nicky snaps to life, forcing his eyes away from Joe’s body.

“I’m sorry.” Joe runs his hands over his face. “I, uh. I’m kind of drunk, I don’t know where my manners are. Nile said your name is Nicky, and I am going to assume that that’s true, since I have no other choice, considering that you refused to introduce yourself when I tried to talk to you, so, uh. Nice to finally meet you for real, Nicky, the artist formerly known as bio guy. I’m—”

“Joe, yes, I know.”

“Of course you know.” Joe smiles at him. “So. Intro to bio, huh. You’re not a freshman, are you?”

“Junior, actually. I transferred, but one of my science credits didn’t, so…”

“Ah. Wack. I get it, though. I made the mistake of sleeping on my last core class, so now I’m trying to finish it up so that I can focus only on the classes that I want to take next semester.” Joe looks at the cup in Nicky’s hand. “Can I get you another beer?”

“Sure.” Nicky allows himself to stare at Joe’s perky bum as he bends to the tap. He deftly tilts the cup and sprays the beer against the sides, and when he turns and catches Nicky looking, he gives him a dopey little smile, eyes smoldering into Nicky's until the beer flows over his hand.

He curses, maybe in Arabic, before apologizing to the point that it’s ridiculous. Nicky waves him off and accepts the cup, wanting desperately to push him onto the sofa and kiss the excessive drunken guilt from his face.

Hmm.

“I swear, I’m usually a much better bartender.” Joe points to his head. “Must be something about chugging beer upside down that throws my groove off.”

“I believe that.”

“Your accent.” Joe closes a bit of the distance between them. “It’s very, very nice. You’re from Italy?”

“Check.” Nicky touches his cup to Joe’s, who rewards him with a million-watt smile. Emboldened, Nicky raises an eyebrow. “But be honest, you only knew that because I speak with my hands so much.”

“You got me there,” Joe chuckles. “No, ah, actually, I spent a few summers in Italy when I was a kid, with my parents.”

“You did?” Nicky can’t hide his surprise. “Where?”

“Florence. My aunt used to live there. Amazing city, I’d love to go back there as an adult, you know, now that I can appreciate it.”

“And you should! It’s absolutely lovely. Is your family Italian?”

“Tunisian, actually.” Joe refills his own cup. “I was born in the Netherlands, and lived there until I was about thirteen, when we moved here to the States.”

“That’s so interesting.” Nicky just barely manages to stop himself from swooning. “I would not have guessed that you were not American.”

“What, can’t you hear my accent?”

“Not really.” Nicky shrugs. “I’m still getting used to telling the difference between accents in English.”

“That makes sense. It’s barely there, but I’m so used to getting roasted by Book for it. All in good fun, of course, and I roast him right back.”

Nicky huffs a laugh. “So...parli italiano?”

“Un po. Just enough to really embarrass myself, I think.”

“Ah. Well, I’m helping Nile with her Italian classes, so...if you ever want to practice…” Nicky hides his smile in his cup, blush blooming high on his cheeks.

“With you? Oh, definitely.” Joe gives Nicky a look that nearly zaps the clothes off his body. “So, what are you studying, Nicky the handsome Italian transfer student?”

“I’m a history major.”

“Whoa, that’s awesome. History is so important for so many reasons, such an underrated field of study.”

“No one’s ever responded to my major like that before,” confesses Nicky, more than a little stunned. “Usually it’s blank stares and condescending questions about what I’m going to ‘do’ with it after school.”

“Oh, trust me.” Joe lays a gentle but reassuring hand on Nicky’s shoulder, and every hair on the back of Nicky’s neck stands on end. “I get it.”

“Y-you do?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m majoring in fine arts.”

“Sorry, what?”

Joe laughs. “See, now that’s the reaction I usually get.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean—”

Joe waves him off. “No worries. I know you didn’t. It’s not something most people expect someone like me to major in. My dad’s still pretty pissed I didn’t go the pre-med route, but my mom supports it. She thinks he’ll come around. I hope he does, but it’ll have to be soon, considering I graduate in the spring.”

Nicky’s head is starting to swim from the beer and information, belly growing warm with every new layer Joe reveals. He is incredibly easy to talk to, not at all the swaggering, chest-beating caricature Nicky had painted in his head, and infinitely more appealing than he already was—hot, funny, an artist, and an athlete? Nicky always thought it was one or the other, but Joe isn’t fitting into any of Nicky’s little preconceived boxes.

Nicky loves it.

He also really, really, desperately, wants to kiss him.

Instead, he leans against the wall and lets himself get a bit lost in Joe’s eyes. “So, what kind of art do you make?”

“All kinds,” says Joe, a spark lighting within him. “My preferred medium is paint, but I also love charcoal. And clay.”

The image of Joe sitting at a pottery wheel, shirtless under a thick canvas apron, up to his elbows in wet clay springs unbidden to the forefront of Nicky’s mind. What shapes could such strong arms create out of nothing? What delicate nuances could long, careful fingers press into clay?

Then Nicky thinks of Joe standing before a giant canvas, reaching up to add shading to the night sky, back muscles straining, a little hum of satisfaction passing his lips when he reaches his goal.

Nicky doesn’t realize he’s completely drifted away until Joe gently touches his arm. “I can show you some of my art, if you like. It’s in my bedroom.”

“Smooth,” teases Nicky, hoping that the darkness of the party obscures his ever-intensifying blush. Joe starts sputtering in his own defense, but Nicky cuts him off. “I’m kidding. I would love to see your art. But, ah, first, I have to use the bathroom. Where is it?”

With a relieved smile, Joe points over the crowd. “It’s right by where you came in, just to the left of the kitchen. If that one’s occupied, or, um, gross, there’s another one upstairs to the right. I’ll be right here, waiting for you to get back”

“Alright.” Nicky returns his smile, something lovely and comfortable and sadly foreign fluttering in his stomach. There’s a line for the bathroom, so he shoves his hands into his pockets and tries to remember the last time he felt this way.

It has to be back home in Genoa, when he was seventeen, with Piero, his next door neighbor, his oldest childhood friend, and the first boy he’d ever kissed. It was a golden autumn afternoon, and they were painting the side of the shed in Piero’s backyard. This quickly devolved into goofing around, roughhousing, and Nicky was playing keepaway with one of the brushes when Piero tackled him to the ground. Their laughter fled as soon as it had come, leaving Nicky pinned beneath Piero’s lean body, thighs parted around Piero’s waist, breathing hard. Piero had leaned down and kissed him then, and everything Nicky had known, everything he’d been trying to ignore, to suppress, bubbled to the surface as he opened his mouth and feverishly kissed him back.

They’d spent the night in Piero’s bedroom perfecting the art of the kiss, biting back gasps and moans as unsure hands roamed unexplored flesh to finally wriggle into each other’s laps. Piero had looked right into Nicky’s eyes as they brought each other off, sharing breath and kisses until they both came hot and messy all over each other’s hands.

A small, sad smile tugs Nicky’s lips. Piero had been his first love, and about six months into their secret relationship, he’d become his first heartbreak. It was inevitable, Nicky had known this even then--Piero refused to accept himself for who he was, and nothing can survive on a half-truth. This knowledge did nothing to soften the devastating loss of Nicky’s best friend and lover in one fell swoop, but Nicky hadn’t felt comfortable talking to anyone about it at the time, so the recovery had taken even longer than it should have.

Nicky hasn’t spoken to Piero since then, long before he left Genoa for university, but according to Piero’s Facebook, he’s now engaged to the nice girl from down the street.

Though he’d finally managed to put all of that behind him, Nicky had remained largely closed off to matters of the heart, leaving him rather inexperienced in the sex department. In fact, other than Piero, there had only been Dan, much later, a not-so-serious boyfriend at his last university. He was sweet and charming, and they’d had fun together, but even then their bedroom activities were limited to handjobs and the occasional blowjob. On one memorable, semi-drunken occasion, Nicky had let Dan finger him, an experience that he’d been shocked to find extremely sexy and hoped to repeat again, preferably as soon as possible.

Despite this relative inexperience, Nicky isn’t dumb, and he knows that, while Joe seems different, unafraid, confident in himself and his interests, unashamed of his sexuality, he’s still just a guy, and is more likely than not using his art to lure Nicky to his bedroom where he probably wants to try something.

Nicky has already decided that he will let him.

He sighs as he washes his hands, careful not to touch more surfaces than necessary (the cleanliness of the downstairs bathroom did indeed leave much to be desired) and heads back into the party with conviction, riding high on the alcoholic buzz in his brain and the notion that a very attractive guy is probably interested in him.

He sways as he weaves through the sea of unfamiliar faces until he spots Joe’s ball cap. He grins--right where he’d left him.

Joe makes a beeline for him, two Solo cups in hand. “Want to go upstairs?”

Nicky nods, perhaps a bit too fervently, and accepts the cup before following him up the stairs.

It’s much quieter up here, though the wood floors pulse with the beat of the music. Joe leads him down the dark hall and pushes open a door that is painted with a swirl of bright colors, periodically punctuated with giant, lifelike eyes.

“Wow,” says Nicky once Joe’s turned on the light. “Did you paint this?”

“Yeah, my sophomore year.” Joe brushes a fond hand over the door before shutting it. “If you think that’s cool, check this out.”

Nicky’s mouth falls open. Joe’s room is art, entirely: two of the walls are covered in masterpieces, one a lush, dreamlike garden with mushrooms and fairies, the other a series of swirls in more shades of green than Nicky realized existed on the color spectrum. The unadorned walls are covered in a veritable sea of canvases and pages ripped from sketch pads.The bed and dresser are almost an afterthought, the nightstand pure necessity. There’s a card table crammed against the wall, with an enormous monitor set up like a makeshift desk, and every surface is strewn with pastels, paintbrushes, even the odd glazed vase and bowl.

Nicky looks up and gasps. The ceiling fades from periwinkle to indigo to deep blue to black, swirled with an abstract Milky Way, dotted with golden stars.

“What do you think?” Joe asks quietly, just behind him.

Still trying to wrap his mind around the beauty surrounding him, Nicky says, “Your landlord...he’s going to be angry.”

Joe lets out another genuine laugh, the loveliest one of the night, and Nicky wants to eat him alive. “Good thing Greek life housing is very lenient when it comes to, uh, modifications.”

In a daze, Nicky meanders over to the nearest wall of canvases, pausing to examine a vibrant watercolor depicting a verdant vine flowering in blues and oranges. “Tell me about this one.”

“Ah, yes--this one’s from last summer.” Joe steps right beside Nicky, eyes crinkling up around the corners. “It’s my mother’s garden wall. The woodbine bloomed, so of course I spent five mornings outside, trying to get it just right .”

“A passion project, then? Not for school?”

“Not for school.” Joe tilts his head, gestures broadly to the painted wall beside them. “I painted a second one, another flower, for my mother to keep, but I knew this one belonged right here, across from the fairy garden.”

“It’s beautiful.” Nicky’s eyes flicker between the detailed petals and the painted wall before falling on the still life beside it, featuring a pomegranate, a skull, and heavy shading, a stark contrast to the lightness of the watercolor.

Joe chuckles. “Ah. That one I did last fall for an assignment. It was inspired by the myth of Persephone returning to the Underworld for the winter. My little sister wants it for her apartment, she’s kind of a goth chick. I told her after I graduate she can come here and have her pick. In exchange for helping me move, of course.”

Nicky remembers to release the breath he’s been holding. “It’s gorgeous. I can see why she’d like it.”

“Do you have a bit of a morbid streak, Nicky?” Joe’s eyes are sparkling, and he’s so close that Nicky can smell him.

“Don’t we all?” he asks, biting his lip.

“Ha. Good answer.”

Nicky drops his eyes and notices something by their feet. A canvas is leaning against the wall, covered by what appears to be a black shirt. Without thinking, he crouches down and pulls the shirt off to get a better look. It’s a portrait of a staggeringly handsome, built man, lying on his back. The dark sea swirls around him, touching him only to strategically obscure his nudity, blue-white foam surrounding his head like a crown. His deep honey eyes are so complex, so real, that their uncanny stare nearly jumps off the canvas and burns into Nicky’s skin.

“Wow,” breathes Nicky. “This is...I don’t have the words.”

“Thank you.” Joe gingerly takes the shirt out of Nickys hand, and it’s only then that Nicky realizes what he’s done.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s okay.” Joe’s smile is kind. “I invited you here. You can look at whatever you like.”

Nicky’s just drunk enough to ask, “Why did you hide it?”

There’s a silence that feels longer than it is, and Joe exhales softly. “I’m no longer speaking to the guy in the painting, so I took it off the wall and covered it up.”

Nicky’s heart sinks. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, please, don’t be.” Joe tosses the shirt and takes Nicky’s face in warm, calloused hands. “You’re here, and that’s all that matters to me.”

Nicky’s heart stops when Joe leans in and kisses him, still clutching his half-full cup of shitty beer in a death grip as the din of the party below fades into nothing. All Nicky can hear is the rush of blood in his ears, all he knows is Joe’s hands, his lips, his tongue, his soft, eager breaths.

“I want you,” murmurs Nicky when they finally part, and he means it in a way he hasn’t meant anything in years. He doesn’t care that he has next to no experience, he wants Joe to do everything and more to him in this cramped room that smells like incense and fresh paint and Joe, Joe, Joe.

“Yeah?” Joe tilts his chin up and searches his eyes. “Tell me what you want.”

“I don’t know.” Nickys breath catches as Joe traces his lower lip with the pad of his thumb. “Everything.”

Joe lets out a quiet, aroused laugh and kisses him again. Nicky finds the hem of his tank top and lifts it over his head, then takes a long moment to stare as his mouth floods with saliva.

“It’s okay.” Joe takes his hands and places one on his pec, one on his rippling obliques. “You can touch me, Nicky.”

“Santa Maria, Madre di Dio.” Nicky’s brain short circuits as he lets his hands roam freely with permission, marveling at the sensation of all that rock hard strength against his skin.

“That’s so sexy,” murmurs Joe. “The Italian, and your accent.”

“Really?”

“Oh, fuck yeah. See?” Joe looks pointedly towards his crotch. Nicky’s eyes follow, bugging out at the substantial bulge making itself known through the thin mesh of his gym shorts. “That’s all for you. I got hard the second you started talking to me, baby.”

Nicky’s vision briefly tunnels. “May I...touch you there?”

“Please, yes.”

He feels big, bigger than Nicky, and Nicky can’t help but let out a shaky breath when he begins to rub Joe through his shorts, evoking a gorgeous moan.

“Your body…” Nicky trails off, unable to find the words to properly finish that thought, so Joe finishes it for him by kissing him until every ounce of blood in Nicky’s body is throbbing in his prick. Boldly, he presses his erection against Joe’s thigh.

Joe inhales sharply, an inferno in his eyes. He backs Nicky up against the wall and plunges his tongue into his mouth, hands sure and possessive on his chest, his waist. Nicky can’t stop himself from whimpering into Joe’s mouth as Joe squeezes Nicky’s ass through his jeans.

“Can I help you take off your clothes,” gasps Joe, already undoing the buttons of Nicky’s shirt.

“Yes,” says Nicky, hands shaking as he undoes his belt.

“You’re so fucking hot,” murmurs Joe once Nicky’s shirtless. He mouths across his collarbones, nipping at his chest, licking and kissing his soft stomach as he slowly sinks to his knees.

“Not like you,” replies Nicky, instinctive hands moving to cover his tummy.

Joe’s gentle hands stay his own. He looks up at Nicky through long, dark eyelashes.

“You are insanely beautiful,” he says lowly. Without breaking eye contact, he presses a kiss above Nicky's belly button.

“I’m not,” murmurs Nicky, toes curling. His hands fly to Joe’s head, still adorned with that backwards cap that has no right to look as good as it does.

”Insanely beautiful,” he mouths into the sparse hair below Nicky’s navel before pressing another kiss there. “Can I tell you something?”

“Yes.”

“On the first day of class, I sat in the same row as you. I noticed you right away, how could I not? Your profile alone is an artist’s dream. But the second I saw your eyes, I knew I’d do anything to get your attention.”

Nicky doesn’t know what he’d expected Joe to say, only that it had not been that, and now he’s reeling. His mouth opens and closes, incandescent at Joe’s admission, at the thought that he had unknowingly garnered the attention of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen.

“Uh-huh.” Joe catches the zipper to Nicky’s jeans in his teeth and slowly draws it down. “Of course, showing up late seemed to get your attention, even if it wasn’t necessarily in the way that I wanted it, but you kept looking at me, and you didn’t look away.”

“Oh,” is all Nicky can manage in response.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that,” says Joe with a chuckle on his lips as he undoes the button on Nicky’s jeans. “But it’s true.”

“No, I’m...I’m glad you told me.” Anything else that Nicky would have said fizzles and dies as he watches Joe’s lovely, large hand dip into his pants and find his cock, so hard it’s unbearable. “Oh, Joe, please, please.”

Joe lets out a harsh breath. “What do you want, baby? Hmm?”

“I want you,” he whispers, almost a plea. “I want to see you come.”

Joe gets to his feet in an instant. He’s just tall enough to look down at Nicky, which he does with great hunger before capturing his mouth. Nicky melts into the kiss, grinding against the lovely, solid mass of his thigh, then Joe’s voice is in Nicky’s ear, low and heavy with desire. “God, I want to fuck you, Nicky. Do you want me to fuck you?”

Nicky nods, hands at the waistband of Joe’s shorts. Joe helps him shove them down, kicking them off, leaving him gloriously naked, save for his neon-bright sneakers and tie-dyed socks and that hat. Nicky doesn’t think he’s seen a more spectacular sight in his entire life, and he grabs at him, but Joe steps just out of reach.

“Yeah?” Joe takes himself in hand, and Nicky’s eyes go round as dinner plates--he’s so, so fucking big. Nicky knows he should be nervous, but he’s blinded by his desperation to take everything that Joe will give him. “You’re gonna let me hold you up against this wall and fuck you ‘til you come all over my stomach, then let me suck the come off your fingers until I get so hard I have to fuck you again?”

God help him, Nicky's going to let him. He wants Joe to be the first guy to make him come stretched around his thick cock, he wants to know what it’s like to be as close as it is physically possible to be with another person, and he wants that person to be Joe.

“I need to hear you say it, baby,” says Joe, biting his lip as his eyes flicker down to his prick, slick and obscene in his fist.

“Yes, please, yes.” Nicky wraps a bold hand around Joe’s, intensifying the squeeze. “Fuck me, Joe”

Joe lights up at the permission and kisses Nicky until his knees buckle. Nicky’s never been this aroused in his life, and he can barely stand to be parted from Joe for a second, even when he quickly leans away to rummage through his nightstand drawer for a condom and a bottle of lube.

“Patience, Nicky,” he murmurs, planting a fat kiss to Nicky’s solar plexus before sinking to his knees. Nicky watches with glazed eyes as he hitches one of his thighs over his shoulder and runs an appreciative hand up sensitive flesh. “I want to go down on you a little, is that okay?”

Nicky squeezes his eyes shut. Of course Joe knows just what to do. He’s probably fucked dozens of guys, maybe more, maybe even right here, in this exact spot--

Nicky swallows and pushes that thought from his mind as he murmurs his consent.

Joe’s mouth is heaven, hot and wet and enthusiastic and just perfect. Nicky can’t remember the last time a blowjob felt so good, he doubts it ever has. He runs his fingers through his own hair as Joe sucks him, pinning his hips to the wall with one hand and fondling his balls with the other, sending little gorgeous bursts of arousal through Nicky’s veins.

He moans, long and loud, when the dry pad of Joe’s finger ventures further to rub lightly at his hole.

“Still okay?” Joe murmurs into the light hair on Nicky’s inner thigh. Nicky meets his eyes and nearly ejaculates on the spot—Joe is a picture of debauchery, nuzzling his cock with his nose, lips swollen, chest heaving, and Nicky watches his own cock drip a fat glob of precome onto the floor.

Joe sees it, too.

“Holy shit,” he says, eyes flashing. “Oh, Nicky.”

“That is all for you,” is Nicky’s thick response. Feeling like he’ll die without more direct contact, he strokes himself slowly, coaxing another bead out that Joe leans forward to catch on an eager tongue. Nicky has to look at the ceiling for a moment, heart pummeling against his chest, until Joe asks in a gravelly voice, “Can I finger you now?”

“Yes!”

The leg that Nicky is standing on shakes as Joe lightly sucks on the head of Nicky’s cock and slowly breaches him. His body yields for every knuckle on Joe’s slender artist’s finger, pulling him inside until there is nothing more to receive.

“Fuck, you’re tight,” whispers Joe hoarsely, rubbing a stubbly cheek against Nicky’s spit-slick cock. He slowly slides his finger out, only to push it back in, igniting something in Nicky that he has never felt before, and before long he’s rocking his hips down to meet Joe, pushing his prick into Joe’s mouth, begging for more.

Joe is happy to oblige, eagerly pressing a second slippery finger in beside the first, and Nicky tugs at the curls that spill out of the bottom of his hat as his back arches against the wall.

“Alright?” Joe stills his hand.

“Y-yes, just...slow. Go slow.”

“Of course.” Joe kisses his inner thigh, then returns his mouth to Nicky’s arousal, fanning the maddening blaze in Nicky’s gut with the heat of his mouth and the stretch of his long, divine fingers.

Then he nudges against a spot inside of Nicky that elicits a shudder that starts in his core and wracks his body, coming out of his mouth in a series of small, harsh gasps.

A small rivulet of drool leaks from the corner of Nicky’s mouth when Joe repeats the motion. He knows he’s talking, but he doesn’t know what he’s saying, if it’s in Italian or English or something else, unable to process anything beyond the hot drip of sweat gathering between his leg and Joe’s shoulder, the unbelievable sensation of his mouth and hands.

At some point, Joe lets out a string of hushed Arabic that could be a curse or a prayer, then he looks up at Nicky with glassy eyes. “Can I, Nicky? Can I please..?”

“Fuck me, Joe, please, fuck me,” Nicky hears himself beg, unable to control the whine that breaks his voice.

Joe gives his fingers one last stretch that makes Nicky’s standing leg quiver, then the fingers are gone and Joe’s tearing a condom open with his teeth. Before Nicky can fall over, Joe presses his back firmly to the wall and coaxes his thighs around his waist. Nicky rests sweaty palms on Joe’s shoulders, chest heaving as Joe lifts and manipulates his body.

Stunningly soulful, dark eyes lock onto Nicky’s. “Are you ready?”

Nicky nods, biting his lip as Joe uses his preternatural strength to anchor Nicky in place as he presses the thick head of his prick against him, teasing before slowly sliding in.

It’s so much, far more than his fingers, and Nicky's blunt nails dig into his shoulders.

“Okay?” Joe stops, mouthing at Nicky’s jaw, body trembling with effort.

“Yes, yes, it’s just, ah...big.”

“Hmm. Want to stop?”

“N-no, please, Joe.” Nicky gives his hips an experimental roll, hole opening hungrily to take more of Joe. “Oh, God.”

Joe groans, eyes shutting in bliss. “Fuck, baby.”

Nicky watches his face, body alight in all the places Joe’s touching him, back sticking to the wall as Joe teases him with the tip of his cock, and Nicky feels his body yield, like it wants Joe there, like they belong together. It’s overwhelming, the stretch, and it’s a little painful, and Nicky’s surprised to realize that he doesn’t mind this pain, he rather enjoys it. Joe slowly works his way in, inch by inch, and by the time Joe is all the way inside Nicky he’s trembling and gasping, but his cock is drooling on his stomach, and he can’t imagine stopping now.

Especially not with the way Joe is panting and sighing and moaning without shame, planting kisses across Nicky’s collarbones, up his neck and jaw and chin until their lips meet. Nicky opens his mouth for Joe, whimpering around his tongue, then Joe withdraws, just a little, then pushes back in

“Fuck, Nicky, I can’t believe how tight you are,” he murmurs. “You’re perfect, baby, so perfect.”

Nicky’s eyes roll back in his head as he pulls almost all the way out before slowly sliding back in to rub against his prostate, sending an electric shock up his spine. He gasps, and Joe does it again.

“Joe!” Nicky cries, clawing at his strong back as stars burst before his eyes.

“Yeah? Is that good, baby? Right there?”

“Yes, right there,” sobs Nicky, arching his back so his wet cock slides against Joe’s perfect abdomen.

“Oh sweetheart, I can’t believe I’m inside of you, God, Nicky.” Joe carefully unwinds Nicky’s arms from his shoulders, staring into his eyes as he pins them to the wall by the wrists, rendering Nicky completely helpless under his capable hands. Nicky shudders, squeezing his thighs tighter around Joe’s waist, and Joe licks his lips. “You’re already such a mess, you’re so beautiful.”

Nicky can only moan in response, because Joe’s breath is hot and harsh on Nicky’s overheated skin, and his eyes hold such rapturous reverence that Nicky can barely look at him, but he can’t bring himself to look away. He could have never anticipated the intensity of Joe, the sensation of his ardor coloring Nicky’s own cheeks, the bulge and strain of every single one of his muscles as he fucks Nicky slow and hard, slamming his back against the wall with every thrust, so deep Nicky can feel him in his guts, the molten myriad of supernovas erupting within him at every lovely word of praise from Joe’s lips.

He could not have anticipated the pain, either, exquisite in its own way, beginning sharp and overwhelming only to smolder into an indescribable ache that builds in his belly and radiates through his body each time Joe hits that place inside of him. All Nicky can do is repeat Joe’s name, gasp it, moan it, now cry it out in exaltation.

“I’ve got you, baby, I’ve got you, Nicky.” Joe plunges deep, and Nicky seizes up with a shock of pleasure.

Joe kisses him then, uncaring of the drool slicking Nicky’s chin, tongue plundering his mouth, and Nicky’s brain whites out when he releases Nicky’s arms to slide those strong hands up his thighs to cup his ass, squeezing as he picks up the pace of his hips, just a little, guiding Nicky onto his cock as he stares into his eyes.

Nicky’s stomach flips, wild and breathtaking, like he’s at the peak of a rollercoaster, about to rocket full-speed into the unknown. Joe’s heated gaze tethers him to the present, to their bodies, and Nicky drowns in his eyes as Joe wraps a hand around his cock and thrusts deep, again, and again. Nicky’s heart hammers in his chest as he pants out, “Joe, Joe,” before his mouth opens around helpless, pleasure-filled gasps and his heels slide through the sweat on Joe’s low back. On one particularly glorious, brutal thrust, Nicky feels his fingernails break skin as he cries out and comes and comes and comes all over Joe’s hand and trembling abdomen.

“Oh, my God, Nicky, oh, my God, fuck, that’s it, come, baby, come, Nicky.” Joe’s voice strains as he fucks Nicky through it, never looking away from his face as his hips pump with abandon, forcing every drop of Nicky’s sanity out through his prick before slamming him hard against the wall and stilling, releasing with a long, gorgeous groan that Nicky would sell his soul to hear again.

“Oh, shit,” breathes Joe around a laugh, resting his forehead against Nicky’s as he pants against his face. “Oh, fuck.”

Nicky tightens his grip around Joe’s shoulders, suddenly stricken by a wave of vulnerability that makes his eyes burn. He buries his face in Joe’s neck and inhales the scent of his sweat before planting a kiss there.

With a sated hum, Joe somehow musters the strength to coax Nicky’s chest against his own, wrap his arms around his waist, and carry him the short distance to the bed. He gently lays him down on the rumpled sheets, peppering his face with kisses before slipping out of him and tossing the condom into the wastebasket. Nicky bites his lip at the feeling of emptiness that follows: he’s stretched out and sore, clenching around nothing, already missing Joe. For one hysterical moment, he wishes he could feel Joe’s come trickling out of his body, hot and filthy and primal.

Joe topples onto the bed beside him, eyes soft, and Nicky pulls him down for a kiss.

“That was incredible,” he sighs, stroking a large palm over Nicky’s chest. “You are incredible, Nicky.”

“I could say the same about you.”

Joe gives him a fond smile that makes the skin around his eyes crinkle. He drags deliberate fingers through the come on his abdomen and sucks them into his mouth. “Mmm, and you taste so good, too.”

Nicky flushes spectacularly. Joe chuckles and leans down for a kiss, and if Nicky didn’t feel like an overheated, wonderfully sore, boneless pile of jelly, he’d feel aroused at the taste of himself on Joe’s lips.

“Stay the night,” murmurs Joe, eyes shining. “Please. Let me make you breakfast. Or we can go somewhere, just…

“I don’t want this to be a one-time thing,” he continues carefully as Nicky watches his eyes search his face. “I know we don’t know each other very well yet, but I think you are...I think we could...I think it would be nice if…”

“Alright.”

“Oh, good.” Joe lets out a relieved sigh and rests his head on Nicky’s shoulder. “I don’t want to come off as trite, but I feel so close to you, Nicky.”

Thrilled that he’s not alone in this sentiment, but unsure of how to respond, Nicky works an arm around Joe’s shoulders and pulls him close.

They lie there until Nicky’s eyelids begin to droop. He might even fall asleep for a bit, he doesn’t know, but suddenly, he’s acutely aware of a dull throb at the base of his spine. He groans and shifts.

“Hmm. Okay. Yeah. Should probably get cleaned up before we sleep,” mumbles Joe, clearly returning from his own journey towards the subconscious. He rolls off of Nicky and rummages in his closet. There are raw, pink lines scraped down Joe’s otherwise flawless back, and Nicky fails to suppress a shudder, loving that he put them there.

Joe wipes the come from his chest with the tank top he’d worn at the party before tossing Nicky a soft black tee shirt with DAE emblazoned in violet on the front, and a pair of familiar basketball shorts. “Figure you might not want to sleep in your jeans,” he says, almost shyly.

“Perhaps I prefer to sleep naked,” says Nicky, already tugging on the shirt, nostrils filling with the heady scent of Joe.

“I really, really hope you do,” chuckles Joe, pulling on an identical pair of shorts and a plain white tee shirt. “But it’s better to have something comfy around, just in case. Hey, I’m gonna go downstairs and get us some water, do you want anything else? I can order some pizza or something.”

“No, thank you, water’s fine.”

“Cool.” Joe smiles, soft and besotted, and Nicky thinks he finally understands why so many songs compare, even equate, love to sex.

Is it possible to fall in love with someone in just one night?

Nicky’s too busy staring at Joe to register what he’s saying to him, but he thinks it’s something about the location of the upstairs bathrooms. He opens his bedroom door, gives Nicky a long look before running back to the bed and kissing him hard on the lips, knocking the breath from his lungs and whatever remaining sense he had left from his head, then disappears into the dark, noisy hall.

When the door closes behind Joe, Nicky lies on his back, staring at the colors of the ceiling. It’s amazing, Joe’s art, like a lens to the world through his unique perspective. Perhaps that’s why Nicky feels the way he does—Joe has all but bared his soul tonight, and it’s gorgeous, bright and pure, how could Nicky not fall at least a little bit in love?

He closes his eyes. What would Joe look like in the early morning, sleeping off a night of drinking and fucking? Would he kiss Nicky good morning, despite their undoubtedly terrible morning breath? Would he want to fuck again? Nicky’s sore, but he would let Joe slide that thick, perfect cock back inside--another earth shattering orgasm like that would be well worth any initial residual discomfort. As would the sight of Joe on top of him, between his legs, muscles straining, face open and vulnerable.

A small pang of guilt worms its way into his gut. He hadn’t told Joe that it was his first time. Perhaps it should have been more important to Nicky, but he hadn’t wanted to put Joe off, and he had been so swept up in a desire that he’d never felt for another person, not even Piero, that it just...didn’t seem to matter. And it’s not like he’s having any regrets. In fact, he’s elated that his first time had been with Joe, caring and deep and gorgeous and already interested in nurturing this thing that’s blooming between them against all odds.

Nicky sighs, turning his face into Joe’s pillow and inhaling deeply. His bladder has been nudging him to get up for a while now, and it reaches the point where Nicky can no longer ignore it. He slips his bare feet into his shoes and ventures down the hall. The party is still going at full force downstairs, and Nicky checks his phone, half expecting to see texts from Nile. There’s nothing, which means, hopefully, that she’s having a great time, so he slips it into his pocket with a smile. He reaches the end of the hall only to be greeted by a closed door and the sound of the shower running.

Shit. He rests his fingers against his temple. He can’t remember where the other bathrooms are, and the hall is so dark and so full of doors. He would be mortified to barge into one of the brothers’ rooms, so he decides he’d rather head back downstairs to use the bathroom by the kitchen. Otherwise, he’s going to pee Joe’s pants, and that would absolutely not be the ideal way to end what Nicky is coming to consider the best night of his college experience thus far.

He has to press himself against the bannister to avoid being mowed down by a drunk girl in sky high heels, but as he nears the base of the stairs he pauses, scanning the lay of the land. He’s surprised to spot Joe immediately in the living room, fully recognizable by his hat. He’s speaking to someone, gesturing wildly with an unhappy look on his face, a bottle of water in each hand. Nicky’s eyes slide to the guy he’s speaking to, who’s leaning one hand on the wall, almost trapping Joe where he stands. He’s taller than Joe, and Nicky can tell even from his back that he’s built like a professional athlete, broad and strong, wearing clothes that fit his body as though they were bespoke. He turns to the side for a moment to reveal a striking profile--he’s terribly handsome, despite the anger on his face, and Nicky might not be at the top of his game, but he’s fairly certain he recognizes him as the guy in the painting that Joe had taken off his wall.

Nicky’s jaw juts out, teeth gritting. He wonders if he should go over there, maybe help Joe out of what is clearly a confrontation, then the taller man rests his hands gently on Joe’s shoulders. Joe drops his arms, defeated, averting his gaze. The man cups his face, tilting his chin up, and Joe looks up at him with those big, expressive eyes, oblivious to anyone else in the room, nevermind Nicky, who's frozen in place on the staircase, watching impotently as the man strokes a gentle thumb over Joe’s jawline and leans down to passionately press their lips together.

For a moment that could either be infinitesimal or everlasting, everything goes staticky and grey in Nicky’s mind. Before he realizes what he’s doing, he’s pushing past a crowd of people, flinging open the front door, and walking as fast as he can in the direction of his dorm as the sounds of the party fade behind him.