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the world was prose

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Before you came the world was prose. Now poetry is born. -Nizar Qabbani



One of the things Joe had been looking forward to about being in business class is the partition between his seat and the next, which should provide him a modicum of privacy. Or it would if it would stay raised.

Joe's barely seen the man in the next seat; he caught a glimpse of floppy brown hair and large hands, but that's all he knows. Well, that and the fact that he's the bane of Joe’s existence. For the last week, Joe's been in one city or another all over Europe, meeting with clients and smoothing the way for future business. It's been productive, but he's exhausted. The last stop had been Rome; Joe is officially done with being jostled, bumped, and overwhelmed by noise, and now he's getting ready to do the same thing all over again along the west coast of America.

He's got ten hours left in this flight, and all he wants is to sleep. With the footrest up and his sleep mask on, Joe hasn't given up on the idea of getting some real rest, but every time this guy kicks the partition, and it slides down with a loud thunk, Joe feels his time for sleep disappearing.

The first time, Joe sat up and slid the partition back into place himself, only grumbling a little. When it happens again, the guy on the other side has the partition most of the way up, but Joe shoves it the last few inches, and from the other side, he hears a lightly accented voice say, "Pardon me, I'm so sorry."

By the third time, Joe is preparing a scathing rebuke as he sits up. Any words die in his mouth when he sees his nemesis face-to-face. 

'Oh no. He's really cute.'

"Sorry," the man says again, ducking his head until his hair flops into his eyes. He's still struggling with the partition, only to have it slip from his fingers at the last second and crash back down. Joe decides to cut him a little slack.

"Yeah, no problem," Joe says, returning to his pillow and the increasingly unlikely chance for a good night's rest. 

He's just drifted off when the partition crashes down again, and Joe sits bolt upright. Glaring at the man on the other side, Joe asks, "Are you doing this on purpose?"

"What?" The guy's eyes are enormous, his expression of innocence tight at the edges with embarrassment. "No, of course not! I just keep knocking it with my knees or my legs. Everyone always said I didn't know how long my limbs were, and now I see what they meant." 

Looking at the man's chagrined smile, Joe can feel his righteous indignation drain away. How can he be mad at that smile?

"I'm just very tired, it's been a long week, and I'm hoping to get some sleep. So I would appreciate it if you could be more careful."

"Yes. Yes, of course. I promised my mother I'd try to get some sleep, too. She said, 'Nicolò, you can see all those movies at home, get some sleep, so your mama doesn't worry about you driving home after you land.' So, how can I argue with that?" Joe watches as he lifts surprisingly broad shoulders in a helpless shrug.

"Right," Joe says. As he's pulling the blanket back up over his shoulders, he thinks, 'That's a nice name to go with a nice smile.'


Unless this guy's legs are two meters long, there's no excuse for this, and Joe is starting to get fed up.

Joe sits up with a face like a storm cloud, and Nicolò almost cringes when he sees it. "I don't know how this keeps happening; I'm so sorry, I really am."

He wants to keep being angry, but instead, Joe takes a deep breath.

"I wish there were some way to latch it up so it would stay," Nicolò says, and It's everything Joe can do not to smack himself in the forehead. 

"So you haven't been putting on the lock when you raise the partition?"

Nicolò looks at Joe with the biggest, bluest greenest eyes and says with horror, "There's a lock?"

Flinging back his blanket in frustration, Joe gets up and stalks around to Nicolò side of the seats. Reaching across, nearly draping himself over Nicolò's seat, Joe slides the partition all the way up. He looks at Nicolò to make sure he has the man's attention and then flips the toggle that locks the partition.


Joe looks at him. "Yes. Oh."

"Again, my apologies. Hopefully, this will be the last you hear from me."

Frowning, in confusion rather than anger, Joe says. "Probably not. You're sitting next to me." He slips back around his side of the seats before Nicolò can answer.


Joe gets nearly five hours of sleep before the seat's stiffness, the awkward angle of his legs, and the smell of coffee wake him. On his way back from the lavatory, one of the cabin crew asks if he'd like coffee. "That would be great, thank you." As he slides back into his seat, Joe can hear one of the other cabin crew talking to Nicolò, can hear him answer her with rapid Italian and a low, throaty chuckle. 

Having had some rest, he finds himself feeling more inclined to forgive and forget. If, in some way, he thought about Nicolò's eyes over the last five hours, that's between Joe and his conscience. Once he has his coffee in front of him, Joe taps lightly on the partition. 

It slides down half-way, and Joe sees those soft eyes again. Somehow, the man is even cuter after Joe's gotten some sleep. 

"Yes?" he says, with a hint of apprehension in his voice, like he's preparing to be scolded again. Joe's heart sinks. He's not the type to court conflict, and he hates letting it linger.

"I wanted to apologize for earlier. It's been a very long week, with a lot of work, and I was quite tired. Not at my best, really, and I took it out on you."

Nicolò's eyebrows lift in surprise. Whatever he'd been expecting, it wasn't an apology. "If anyone should apologize, it's me. I feel terrible for keeping you awake."

"You didn't do it on purpose."

"True, but that doesn't change the end result."

"The end result is that I got more uninterrupted sleep than I've had in two weeks. More than enough to understand how out of proportion my reaction was last night."

Nicolò smiles. "Shall we both apologize one last time and consider it settled?"

Joe smiles back, looking at the way the grin crinkles the corners of Nicolò's eyes. "Yes, I'd like that."

"I'll start. Please accept my apologies—" he gestures like he's indicating the space where a name should go.


"Please accept my apologies, Joe. I kept you up unnecessarily because I was too stubborn to ask for help."

"Apology accepted. I'm sorry—" Joe raises his eyebrows in question "—Nicolò?"

With a grin that makes Joe’s fingers tingle, he says, "Nicky, please. Only my mother calls me Nicolò."

"I'm sorry, Nicky. I was feeling irritated with the world and took it out on you because you were closest rather than helping figure out what the problem was from the beginning."

"I accept your apology, Joe." 

A member of the cabin crew comes by to see if they'd like breakfast. Once they've ordered, Joe gives Nicky his best smile, glad to have his poor behavior in the past.

"Would you like to have breakfast together, Nicky?"

"I would love that."

Everything thrills Nicky. The fact that he has his own little salt and pepper shakers is mind-blowing, and Joe can't help but laugh.    

His cheeks pinking up, Nicky says, "I know, it's probably ordinary for everyone else in here, but this is my first time flying anything but economy, and it's amazing."

"I remember that feeling, and you should enjoy every second of it."

"So," Nicky says. "You were busy with a lot of work this week, you said. May I ask what you do?"

"I have the most boring of office jobs. I do product support and presentations." Joe can almost see Nicky's eyes starting to glaze over, and he can't hold back the laugh. "I know, believe me. Sometimes, particularly on planes when no one will know the difference, I think about other things I could say. I could be a Hollywood stunt man."

Nicky looks him up and down. "Yes, that's believable. I would suggest you say you are a doctor who works in one of those labs that require you to wear a pressurized suit. Then you could see how long it took for people to request a seat change."

The mischievous tone catches Joe by surprise, and he barks out a laugh that's much louder than he intended. He's on a roll now. 

"Hmm, how about if I told them I'm a writer?"

"But then they'd ask you if you've been published or what kind of stories you write."

"Horror stories. Then I'd tell them the most gruesome plot I could imagine."

Nicky is laughing around a cherry pastry, and Joe thinks he can't remember the last time he had a breakfast this nice. 


They talk about Nicky's job--he's a professor, modern languages--and what he loves about it. From there, they move onto stories about their favorite teachers and embarrassing school stories. Joe gets to talk about his art and how as much as he loves it, he's not sure he'd want to do it for a living because it would introduce a layer of anxiety to something that's currently an uncomplicated joy. Nicky asks questions about techniques and inspirations, and Joe finds himself sinking into the topic more than he ever has with someone who wasn't an artist themselves. 

They talk all through breakfast, through a drinks service and hot towels, and when the captain announces they're an hour out from their destination, Joe thinks he's going to be sorry to reach the end of this conversation. More than that, he's going to be sorry not to get to talk to Nicky again. It's not that he suddenly hears music whenever Nicky smiles or that he feels a shock of lightning when their hands brush as one of them holds out his phone to share a picture. What's compelling here is how easy this is now that they've gotten the apologies out of the way. 

Joe's sense of humor isn't butting into Nicky's, and there aren't any awkward pauses, though there are a few companionable minutes of silence. As a young man, Joe believed in love at first sight that came with fireworks and being struck speechless. As he's gotten older, as he's experienced a few relationships like that, he finds that what he really treasures is someone who makes him feel at ease. He isn't looking for someone who makes him feel like he's found his missing half; he's looking for someone who makes him feel like he's perfectly complete just as he is, someone who wants to see what the future looks like together rather than someone who is waiting for Joe to be their destiny.

"So, is Seattle home for you?"

Nicky nods. "Yes, for about five years now. You?"

"No, this is my last stop on my business trip. I'm based in San Francisco, and I live just north of there." Apparently, Joe's home town is a favorite of Nicky's. They spend some time talking about what parts of the city they love, how nice it is to come home to your own space after a long time away, and the kind of grief that you can only feel when trying to get a specific kind of food somewhere other than it's normal distribution area.

It's only when the cabin crew makes them raise the partition during landing that Joe realizes how long they've been talking and how much he doesn't want to stop. The partition is up for perhaps fifteen minutes, but Joe finds he misses Nicky during that time. It seems he wasn't alone because as soon as they're able to start talking again, they dive back in like they never started. They stay together through passport control and customs as well. 

When they get to the point where Joe has to head in one direction to meet his ride, and Nicky has to go the other direction to pick up his bags, he fancies that Nicky might look a little sad about it. 

"Did you not have luggage to pick up?"

Joe shakes his head. "I believe that checking bags on an outbound international flight is like looking at the fates and saying 'Show me what you've got.'" He fidgets with the handle of his carry-on for a second. 

Nicky clears his throat. "Joe?"

Joe's head whips up from where he's been contemplating the zipper of his backpack. "Yes?"

"If you don't have other plans, I would love to treat you to dinner, as one last apology."

"We said all of our apologies already."

Nicky hums. "Fine. Then we'll say this is me giving you a better first impression of the city than knowing it's home to someone too stubborn to ask for help before keeping someone awake for hours." 

"I'm not sure. That sounds awfully close to an apology. Then again, I have no dinner plans and would value a local guide."

His eyes sparkling, Nicky says, "Would you like to see my favorite place in the entire city?"

Joe was already going to say yes, but something about the way Nicky is smiling like this is a place of absolute wonder that he wants to show off makes him think there's no other way he wants to spend the evening, no matter how exhausted he'll likely be by then. "You know Nicky, I would love that."

"Phone, please," he says with his hand out. When Joe passes it over, Nicky sends himself a text then replies to it with an address and the words, 'it's Nicky here.' "We'll start there, and then, if you are not sick of me, I know someplace we can go for dinner."

"Do I get a hint about where we're going?"

Nicky grins. "No, because I don't want you looking it up ahead of time and spoiling what you'll see there. I suggest comfortable shoes you don't mind wearing outside."  

"So clandestine! What time?"

"Today?" Nicky looks at the sky, checks his watch. It's seven in the morning. "Four at the latest, but three would be better? We can have an early dinner, and you can be back at your hotel and in bed before your eyes start drooping."

Joe, who is nearly asleep on his feet, smiles. "It's a plan."

Once he's checked in and showered away the smells of airplanes and airports, Joe lays down with a book for just a moment and wakes up four hours later, starving. It's after one, and he doesn't want to ruin whatever Nicky's dinner plans are, so he asks the concierge for guidance, and she sends him to a place nearby. Joe eats like he's never seen food before, the sandwich is gone in seconds, and he forced himself to slow down and enjoy the pickled carrots and the cupcake he'd gotten because it was too gorgeous to leave in the display case. 

He takes his time getting dressed, trimming his beard, and making sure he looks presentable. Not knowing the dress code for the rest of the evening, Joe opts for jeans and a button-down in a dark green he thinks doesn't look too bad. He laces up his walking shoes and throws on his leather jacket. If he's not dressed correctly, they'll think of something.

The rideshare pulls up as close to the address Nicky provided as it can get, directing Joe to walk just a bit further and look for the glass-covered walkway. "Right across from the flowers," he says.

"From the…"

"You'll see."

Joe thanks him and heads off in that direction. There are, indeed, three enormous flower shapes, striped in impossible colors and several meters tall. To the right is a lobby entrance, and in front of the door is Nicky.

"You made it!"

"I did!"

"Do you like glass art?" Joe blinks at him, and Nicky grins. "Do you like fire, bright colors, and potentially dangerous chemicals that result in breathtaking beauty?"

Joe can't help but laugh. "I think I do."

"In that case, welcome to my favorite place in my adopted home. This is the Chihuly Gardens. Come come," Nicky says. "I got tickets already."

It becomes immediately apparent why this is Nicky's favorite place, why it would be anyone's favorite place. All the colors and contrasting shapes should feel chaotic, but every room feels so peaceful. In the Sealife Room, Joe stares at a tower of what looks like mixed blues and greens in swirls and tendrils that somehow look like water itself while being made entirely of glass.

Nicky snags his sleeve and pulls him closer. "Look up close, and you can see that some of the pieces are clear, some are purple, there are blues and greens. Some are flat; some are thin, some are big, and reaching out like they want to touch us." He brushes a finger across the shoulder of Joe's jacket. It's not meant as a come-on at all, just Nicky's natural enthusiasm. 

Clearly, Joe's body doesn't care; it shoots goosebumps down that entire arm.

"It's so beautiful," Nicky says, "and then you see the little creatures." He points to a gold-colored glass starfish. "I'm never sure if they are playing in the water, or if it has caught them up in its movement and is taking them somewhere." He looks up to see the sculpture rising to the ceiling. "Perhaps they will find themselves shooting out the top."




His eyes are so bright they practically glow, and Joe is transfixed. "Where to next?" he finally says.

"The ceiling," Nicky says, darting ahead and waving for Joe to follow. 

If the Sealife Room had felt like staring at water, The Persian Ceiling feels like swimming through a school of tropical fish. Light filters down through the glass shapes and colors everything below it. Nicky's face is blue now, with orange stripes, and Joe can see his hands all shades of pink and purple. He'd stay here and stare at it for hours except that he knows his neck would give out after the first thirty minutes.

"Nicky, it's extraordinary." 

"The next room? It's my favorite." 

It's easy to see why. Nicky is someone who is fascinating and fascinated. He's curious about everything and takes in as much as he can, letting his imagination turn it over and over until it's polished like a river rock. The Mille Fiore Room looks like someone upended a box of crayons into a fever dream, and it's glorious. Nicky ducks in around, pointing out the things he loves, showing Joe how the seemingly solid colored tendrils of the largest sculpture are often clear with color only at the ridges and tips. He turns to Joe, asking his opinion about something, and Joe's never wanted to kiss anyone so badly in all his life.

They're in that room for at least half an hour, soaking in as much detail as they can. At some point, Nicky takes Joe's hand to pull him down into a crouch so he can point out one particular piece of glass. When they stand back up, he doesn't let go. 

As they wander past the float boat, gape at the chandeliers, and let the brilliant colors of the Macchia Forest wash over them, Joe tilts his head, listening to Nicky and drinking in the infectious joy of this beautiful man showing off a thing he adores. He squeezes Nicky's hand. "I can't wait for whatever's next."

Nicky blinks at him, a slow smile curling his mouth. "I think you will really like it."

Somehow, though the day had been relatively gray earlier, the warm afternoon sun is pouring into the Glasshouse. Every wall is a window and a ribbon of intricate shapes in yellow, red, and orange glass dance across the room just below the ceiling. Joe stops dead in his tracks to stare at it. After a second or two, Nicky nudges him out of the doorway, but otherwise, he simply stands next to Nicky, still holding his hand, basking in the results of a master of his art let loose to play.

Quietly at first, Nicky points out shapes he loves and talks about how the movement of the piece makes him feel. Their heads are tilting closer and closer together until Joe can feel the warmth of Nicky's skin.

"Thank you for bringing me here, Nicky."

The tips of Nicky's ears turn pink. "Thank you for coming and for listening to me talk about glass for two hours."

"Listening to you talk about a thing you love is hardly something I need thanks for." He bumps Nicky's shoulder with his own. "I see more outside. Is that where we go now?"

Nicky nods, grinning. 

They make their way past more sculptures, reeds shooting up out of the earth, and huge snaking tendrils. Intricately patterned glass balls the size of beach balls sit nestled in the landscape and ornate, writhing chandeliers hang over the walkway to one side. Throughout the entire garden, the only time Nicky loosens his grip on Joe's hand is to lace their fingers together. His thumb brushes over Joe's knuckles and Joe thinks he would give anything for this day never to end. Their last stop is an enormous sunburst sculpture that Joe thinks is what the word 'exuberant' would look like if you had to make it into a shape. 

Near the exit, Nicky thanks him again for coming. "Hey, Nicky." Joe tugs at his hand until Nicky is facing him. "I can't think of a better way to be introduced to this city than to see beautiful art by the side of someone who loves it as much as you love this. Your enthusiasm is infectious, and I'm so glad you were the one to introduce me to this. 

As he's talking, Joe can see Nicky's eye's flick down to his mouth time and again. He wonders if Nicky even knows he's doing it. 

One hand still holding Joe's, Nicky scrubs at the back of his neck. Something about that blush gives Joe the boldness he needs to duck forward and press a light kiss to the corner of Nicky's mouth. It's over almost as soon as it starts, but every instant of that kiss warms him to his bones. 

"Come on," Joe says. "I heard your stomach growl, and you promised me dinner."

"Yes! Dinner." Happy for the distraction, Nicky squeezes Joe's hand and leads him in the direction of the exit.

The restaurant Nicky's chosen is not at all what Joe expected, though, when he thinks about the riot of color and shapes they just experienced, he's not surprised. It's loud and busy and starting to get crowded, but Nicky seems determined. He politely requests a table outside for them, and Joe has the pleasure of watching a somewhat-gruff server melt when confronted with Nicky's smile.

Joe knows exactly how she feels.

Once they're tucked away at a table and Joe has a chance to look around, he can see the appeal. It feels like a comfort spot, the kind of place you come for familiar food, and the usual suspects. From the size of the crowd starting to arrive, Joe's glad they got here when they did. He picks up his menu and scans the options.

"Have you been here before?"

Nicky nods. "Oh yes. Too often, probably." There's that lethal grin again.

"What do you recommend?"

Tapping his finger against his lower lip, Nicky ponders the question. "I think the guidance I would offer is this: The more likely your choice is to earn you a lecture from a cardiologist, the better it will be." Joe can't help but laugh. "This is a place for comfort food, and you really can't go wrong. I would say, though, if you are deciding between something with chicken and something without chicken, get the chicken."

After some consideration, Joe chooses something both fried and covered in gravy. When he sees Nicky grin at his order, Joe winks at him. Their server takes their menus and promises to be back with drinks and then they're alone again.

Thinking about the risk Nicky took by keeping hold of his hand back in the garden; Joe decides to make his own leap of faith. He reaches across the table and takes Nicky's hand, not as a precursor to a declaration or some grand overture, but just because he wants to hold Nicky's hand while they talk.

Nicky rambles about his students, about his favorite classes to teach and about why glass art appeals to him. Joe, who knows nothing about the academics of modern languages and four hours ago wouldn't have known a Chihuly if he sat on one, is enthralled. 

Just when he thinks nothing could bring him further under Nicky's spell, the food arrives, and Nicky takes his first bite. The sound he makes is low and guttural and shoots straight to the pleasure center of Joe's brain. He does it again and Joe can feel his jeans starting to get uncomfortable. To his eternal relief, Nicky seems to settle in after that and contents himself with just happy little hums and a broad smile. 

Now that he's gotten himself under control, Joe ventures his first taste and before he can help himself, he groans, and the sound is almost identical to the one Nicky made. Glancing up, Joe can see Nicky's eyes go wide and his throat bob as he swallows. Good. I'd hate to be in this alone. Joe winks at him again.

While they eat, Joe tells Nicky about his most recent trip, the places he loved best, and the frustration of business travel. "The inside of one conference room looks like the inside of any other conference room. If you don't have time for yourself to explore, you may as well be in your own town." He talks about his spoiled cat, and the sister he hopes has been feeding her.

It's so… easy. It's effortless, being here with him. Maybe it's something that feels meant to be because they're not quite in their real lives right now, but Joe is beginning to hope that's not true. 


He doesn't argue when Nicky pays; he's too busy thinking about how to make the next move. Standing on the street, Nicky takes his hand again, and Joe brushes his thumb over Nicky's fingers. This should be it. Joe means to say goodbye, get into a car and let Nicky go on about his life. It was only supposed to be dinner.

Nicky frowns and Joe wants to kiss him right between his eyebrows until that furrow disappears.

"Joe, how long--"

"Come back to my hotel," Joe says. It was pure impulse and he hadn't even been aware Nicky was already talking. "I'm sorry, I interrupted. What were you going to say?"

Nicky shakes his head. "I'm not--oh, yes. How long will you be--did you say back to your hotel?"

Oh, this is terrible. Nicky is somehow even more adorable when he's confused. Joe is in so much trouble. "Three days, and yes, I did." He squeezes Nicky's hand. "Please. Not for anything--I really just want to keep talking to you."

Staring at him, Nicky seems to be deciding whether or not to even consider a moral quandary before deciding that, on balance, they're adult men who aren't doing anything dangerous or even irresponsible.

"I would love that," Nicky says, an echo of his words at breakfast while they were still in the air. 

Joe is thirty-three. He's a grown man who has no business feeling like he's sneaking around by bringing a cute boy back to his room, but that's precisely how he feels. There's a brief moment of awkwardness in the seconds after the elevator door closes, but Nicky effectively crushes it by leaning into Joe's space and kissing him breathless.

"I want to keep talking to you, too, but I also wanted to do that." 

Joe blinks at him, grinning widely. "I'm glad you did."

The room Joe has for the next three days is a junior suite, so while it has a nice sitting area, including an unexpectedly comfortable couch, the bed is in the same room, and Joe worries it will loom over any conversation they have. It both does and doesn't, as it turns out. Joe makes them both tea, and they sit talking for another couple of hours. If Joe hadn't had that afternoon nap, he'd be asleep in Nicky's lap right now, which isn't such an unappealing prospect. Where they get tripped up is during lulls in the conversation. Whenever it's silent, even for a moment, Joe is painfully aware of the bed, so close. Even when he tells himself he won't be dragging Nicky to the bed, his own brain helpfully adds, 'You don't have to. He's right here on the couch already.'

When their mugs are empty, Joe excuses himself to use the bathroom, and Nicky follows directly after. When he comes back, instead of sitting on the couch with Joe, Nicky crosses his arms, leaning against the counter of the kitchenette. "Joe, I have had more fun with you today than I've had for years."

"I'm glad; I've had fun as well." If this is all Joe's going to get, at least nearly every moment of it was perfect. This day will make for a great memory. It takes Joe a couple of seconds to recognize that glint in Nicky's eyes as a kind of impish intent. 

"Do you know what else I haven't done for years?" 

Possibly what Joe's about to say will be the wrong thing, and in that case, he's got a plausible excuse planned, but he'd be a fool not to try.'

"Please tell me it's making out on a couch with a boy."

He's heard 'beamed' as a synonym for smiling before, but Joe's never understood the full implications before. Nicky smiles and it feels like the sun has come out. That smile is a warmth made flesh.

"What a good guess!"

Joe sits back against the couch and drapes one arm across the back of it, creating an open space next to him. Nicky pushes himself away from the counter and takes that open space as the invitation Joe intended it to be. If kissing Nicky at the gardens had been quick and sweet and kissing Nicky in the elevator had been toe-curling but rushed, kissing Nicky on this couch, with nothing ahead of them for the rest of the day, is warm and intimate and seemingly endless. 

Their hands wander a bit; Joe grips Nicky's waist just above his hip, and Nicky pulls Joe close, splaying his hand across Joe's upper back. When Nicky shifts position on the couch, his shirt rides up, and Joe's fingertips trace across the skin it exposed—feeling Joe's skin against his, Nicky gasps and grins. He strokes up Joe's chest with one hand, dragging Joe's shirt across his nipple, and Joe can only groan. 

"Come here," Nicky says, tugging at Joe's belt loops until Joe is straddling his lap, arms looped around Nicky's neck as he bites at Nicky's nearly-irresistible lower lip. Nicky's hands gripping Joe's ass are separated from his skin by two layers of denim and one layer of boxer briefs, but that doesn't stop Joe from moaning into Nicky's mouth when he feels Nicky's fingers curl and squeeze.

"This seems unfair," Joe says. "I've wanted to get my hands on your ass all day."

Nicky pulls back from the kiss, cupping Joe's face, rubbing his thumbs across Joe's jaw. "Perhaps I am keeping that back as an enticement for you to spend more time with me before you go home."

Joe's fingers dig into Nicky's shoulders. "Nicky."

Eyes wide, Nicky has clearly misunderstood Joe's tone. "Not that—"

"If I had my way, we'd be in this room for the next three days straight, but I have to work. Whenever I'm not working, though? I would love to spend every spare minute with you."

There's that sunbeam smile again. "Good."

Nicky pulls Joe close for another deep, wonderful kiss, stroking his tongue against Joe's and sighing. Joe can feel the little puff of air from that sigh against his face, and he's smiling so wide they're barely kissing anymore. Instead, they're trading smiles against each other's mouths. While Joe is refusing to think about what comes after the next three days, he already knows he wants more Nicky, whether geography is against them or not.

They might have been like that for hours, but Nicky releases Joe's bottom lip from his teeth long enough to yawn, and Joe can hear his jaw crack. 

He can't resist stroking Nicky's face, brushing his hair from his forehead. "Do you know what I haven't done in years?"

"Please tell me it's dragging a boy into your hotel bed to spend all night curled up, sleeping."

Joe can't resist another kiss. "Now who's making good guesses?"

There's another chance for an awkward moment as Nicky excuses himself to brush his teeth and change into Joe's second pair of pajama pants. The plan—and maybe it's their sleep-deprived brains running on pure impulse, but who cares—is for them to spend the night in the same bed, sleeping with someone they haven't known more than twenty-four hours. Somehow, though, they can't bring themselves to change into their pajamas in the same room. Nicky saves them from that awkwardness once more. Nicky stops on his way past Joe and kisses him, soft and sweet, just behind his ear. 

"I'll be right back," he murmurs and Joe feels all the hair on his arms stand up. At this time the night before, Nicky had been irritating Joe so much that Joe lost his temper, a thing he does twice a year, at most. Yet here they are. It feels like not a single step, from the partition to the breakfast, the gardens, and dinner has been anything less than inevitable. Even wrapping Nicky in his arms and drifting off to sleep with his nose buried in the soft hair at the nape of Nicky's neck feels meant to be.


Will Joe wake up, silence his alarm, and slip from the bed while Nicky still sleeps? Does he kiss Nicky's cheek and leave a note in his hand saying to take the spare key and telling him what time Joe expects to be finished with work? Is Nicky waiting when Joe gets back, having brought a bag with a couple of changes of clothes and take-out for dinner?

Are those moments inevitable, as well? With these two, they could hardly be anything else.