Friday, I'm In Love by alyse [ - ]
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Category: Primeval > Het > Other Pairings, Primeval > Slash and Femslash > Slash
Characters: Helen Cutter, Nick Cutter, Stephen Hart
Rating: R
Genres: Angst, Character Study, Established Relationship, Friendship, Pre-slash
Warnings: None

Summary: I don't care if Monday's blue.

Pairing: Nick/Stephen pre-slash, Nick/Helen established relationship

Story Notes:
Written for the Primeval Ficathon for aithine, whose prompt was How did Nick and Stephen end up working together if Stephen was Helen's student first?.

Lyrics from 'Friday, I'm in Love,' by The Cure.

I don't care if Monday's blue

The first time that Helen stormed out, after a row, it was a Saturday. Nick wasn't sure what had started it that time, but he knew how it ended. It ended how it always ended - with the door slamming behind Helen, her bitter words still ringing in his ears. They were nasty little things that buried under his skin until he itched and ached with them; Helen had always known just how to twist the knife so that when the pain came, it came dully at first but then built and built, even in her absence.

She'd left him without an outlet for his slowly simmering anger, and that was like Helen, too. He spent the morning stamping around their pokey little flat, slamming doors himself until the neighbours below started hammering on the ceiling. The sound made him jump and he stared down at the floor, breathing slowly and heavily, thinking about stomping louder, just because.

But that was a Helen thing to do - the kind of couldn't care less bravado he'd always admired before they were married, at least until he'd been on the receiving end of it.

What Nick did instead was let the breath he was holding out slowly, counting to ten. When he fetched a beer from the fridge, the movement was just as slow, just as deliberate.

He settled down on the sofa and turned the TV on, barely registering the first half of the match. By the second half, he'd calmed enough to at least pretend to pay attention to what was going on, tracking the tiny players as they ran to and fro on the small screen, but it was growing later now, and all of the time half of his attention was on the door, on the phone. Waiting.

It was gone two a.m. before she finally walked back through the door. He'd gone back to pacing, and if he eyed the phone now it wasn't because he was expecting her to call.

Would the police even listen when she'd only been gone for hours, not days?

She didn't say anything, not at first, just watched him for a moment with dark eyes and that small smile she wore sometimes, the one that played around the corners of her mouth. He couldn't read that smile - couldn't read her at all when she was in one of these moods - but everything else was drowned out by the relief; the relief and anger, which came in equal measure.

You scared me.

Where have you been?

Why didn't you call?

There were a thousand questions on his tongue, and he didn't ask any of them. Maybe he was scared of the answer. Maybe Helen stole all of his questions away when she kissed him, all heat and strength and need.

He pushed her up against the wall in the hall, fingers tearing at her clothes as her teeth nipped at his lip, a sharp pain that had him swearing into her mouth. She laughed breathlessly into his, strangely exhilarated, and he wasn't surprised to find her already wet when he pushed his fingers into her, swallowing down her gasp. Her nails dug painfully into his scalp when she tugged at his hair, as demanding as always.

When she came, her cry was triumphant and if the neighbours banged on the ceiling then, he wouldn't have noticed, not with her legs wrapped around his hips and her cunt tight around him.

He came with her watching him, her fingers still tight in his hair and dragging his head back so that he had no option but to meet her stare. When she smiled this time, it was possessive and satisfied, and something in his stomach twisted, at least until that smile faded and she kissed him, slow and sweet like honey while his knees sagged. He had to lean into her, lean both of them against the wall so they didn't fall. When they finally made it to the bedroom, they left a trail of clothes behind them

That morning, Nick slept until noon. He half expected her to be gone again when he woke but she was still there, curled up asleep next to him with her arm over her eyes, blocking out the morning light. She'd stolen the covers again, and that was familiar and normal and welcome.

He rolled over and buried his nose in her neck, just inhaling the scent of her and ignoring her soft sound of complaint as she stirred, pushing back against him. She smiled softly when she felt him, hard against her backside, and the smile lingered as she rolled her hips sleepily. His stomach twisted again at that smile; yesterday he'd thought he'd not see it again. Yesterday he thought that she'd left him for good. The weight of it was heavy in his chest.

"Morning," he murmured, pressing a kiss just below her ear, pulling her closer to him.

"Mmm." She stretched, pushing back against him more deliberately this time and, when he resisted, opening her eyes and just looking at him.

"We should -"

"Talk?" she interrupted, rolling to face him, the sheet falling from her body as she rose up on her elbow, watching him with another one of those smiles. "We had a fight. It happens, Nick." She reached out with her free hand and trailed her finger lightly down over his bare chest. "We're both very passionate people..." Her hand dipped lower, sliding under the sheet, and her smile turned wicked. "We're bound to argue every now and then."

"Helen -"

Her hand reached its goal and cut his words off. She leant in, lowering her voice in the way that always got to him - and she knew it, used it. Sometimes even against him. "Let me make it up to you, hmm?"

A twist of her fingers, and the twist to her mouth, and he was helpless, just glad to have her back with him, wherever she'd been.

Later, much later, it occurred to him that maybe he hadn't been just scared of the answer. Maybe he'd been as scared of Helen, sometimes, as scared for her. Helen was right. They were both passionate about what they did, but for Nick that passion was focused and aimed.

Helen was a whole different mammal.

Sometimes they fought, and continued to fight. Sometimes Nick stormed out and slept in his office. More often, she was the one who did the leaving and the one who did the coming back, and went who knew where she went?

But she always came back. Always.

Until one Monday, when she didn't.

Tuesday's grey...

He went three rounds with the police before they finally started to take him seriously - or at least started to pretend that they did. Maybe they were just humouring him, realising that he wasn't just going to accept that she'd walk out on him, start life anew, and that he was going to push and keep on pushing until they found her.

Maybe they had their own thoughts, ones that ran to wondering whether he'd had something to do with Helen's disappearance. Maybe they were keeping him close while they decided what to do about it. He couldn't tell anymore, not up from down or in from out or right from wrong, not with the pain of Helen's absence paining him each and every day.

He missed her. No, that didn't even come close to describing how he felt now that a large part of his life had been ripped away, leaving nothing but this ache, this hole that nothing else would fill. There was a space in their bed, too, one she'd always come back to; each morning, when the sun rose and started to flood the room, he found himself reaching for her, half awake, and then it hit him all over again.

She wasn't there. Wasn't going to be there. With Helen, there'd never been a certainty of it but it was those few moments of hope when he woke, before reality pressed in, that were killing him slowly, one sunrise at a time.

He threw himself into his work, and into Helen's work, trying to lose himself in the rhythm of it all. Her papers were neatly set out, and her workspace much tidier than Nick's own desk, but all of it was completely opaque, hiding the mysteries of the woman, the scientist from him. Helen never been good at sharing, choosing to share only what she had to for her career, never for the thrill of discussion, for the sheer joy she took in her field. She played everything close to her chest, all of her cards tucked in close to her, where only she ever knew what hand she held. But in spite of that, she'd wanted him to see something that night, something that she wouldn't explain because Helen never explained.

It was because she wouldn't explain - because he was sick of Helen's games - that he hadn't gone with her, and his world reduced to a series of 'what ifs'.

Maybe if he could find some reference to what she'd found, some clue...

But Helen was as difficult in her disappearance as she'd been in their marriage, and he was left scrabbling for answers and explanations. It had been a habit of hers long before she'd left.

But this was his life now. Every morning, he'd chase the police for information, and after that he'd palmed his lectures for that day off to anyone who would take them, ignoring the pity and the curiosity in their eyes. And then the retreat into Helen's office, looking for something, anything that would help his life make sense again.

And every evening he went home with the same questions before starting over again. Before drowning in it all.

So he barely noticed when, one Tuesday, someone new walked through the door.

"Doctor Cutter?"

His first thought, on looking up and catching sight of a young man - dark hair and light, old eyes - was that this was one of his errant students, tracking him down. He didn't recognise the man, but that was nothing new. Half of them skipped his seminars and the rest of them hid in the back of the lecture halls, where he couldn't see them once the lights had dimmed. Plus, how many weeks had it been since he'd started avoiding them? Too many, maybe. He couldn't find it in him to care.

So his, "Yes?" was impatient as his fingers held his place in one of Helen's older papers, resenting the intrusion when all he wanted to do was immerse himself back into her world, hunting down the elusive traces of her.

The young man hesitated, his face composed in the face of Nick's scowl as he tilted his head to one side, eyeing Nick for a long moment. In spite of his composure, there was something almost wary in those eyes, something that never quite came to the surface, but after a moment of deliberation he held his hand out to Nick and answered, simply, "Stephen Hart."

The name was familiar, confirming Nick's suspicions that this was one of his more lacklustre students, the ones with whom his only familiarity was the student lists circulated each quarter. The impression didn't really go with the cool façade the boy was projecting, or the way he held himself, but Nick couldn't bring himself to care about that either. He dropped his eyes to Helen's papers again, his fingers idly tracing over the words that at some point she'd typed - straight from her complicated brain into the computer and now here, in Arial point 12 - and wondered how rude he could get away with being before people finally took the hint and left him alone.

"I think Doctor Magnussen is taking today's lecture. The admin office will know where."

As a dismissal, it didn't work. Hart just continued to watch him again, his face now expressionless rather than composed, just waiting until Nick looked up again, even more irritated this time.

"Look," he said, more forcibly this time, the irritation - the anger - seeping into his voice in spite of his attempts to keep his tone civil. "I'm a little..."

"I'm your wife's grad student."

Hart's words stopped Nick in his tracks. There was a moment of disassociation while his brain tried to switch gears, to grasp that person, standing in front of him, was a part of Helen's life with which Nick only had a passing familiarity.

Helen's paper dropped from his shaking fingers, and, when he placed his hands on the documents on the desk, the sweat on his fingertips smeared the ink a little. Helen had kept her work couched in vague terms and her students in even more vague ones, but at least explained why the name 'Stephen Hart' was familiar - Helen must have mentioned Hart at some point, which said a lot of good things about Hart. She hadn't suffered fools gladly, not even Nick.

"Oh." Hart had referred to Helen in the present tense. It was easier for Nick to stare down at his fingers than it was to look at him. People mentioned Helen to him each and every day, but every day more and more of those people slipped into using the past tense, probably without even realising it.

Every time they did, something inside Nick twisted a little further, a little more tightly, pressing his heart into a smaller and smaller box until it was close to disappearing altogether.

Maybe Hart didn't know about Helen, and the thought of having to explain it, yet again, to someone who stared at him incomprehensibly as he stuttered through 'missing' and 'no reason' and 'police don't have any idea' was unbearable. But if not him, no one else would.


"Yes." Only now did Hart's face lose some of its immobility; it settled instead into lines that Nick was intimately familiar with. He saw them each morning when he looked into the mirror to shave - the lines of grief and guilt and loss, carving out scars in the landscape. "I..."

When he trailed off, Nick heard those same things in Hart's voice, too, and Hart was far too young to look that old - he couldn't be more than twenty four, surely, but Nick supposed that was the age when these things hit the hardest. At twenty-four, you thought you were invulnerable. At twenty-four, even the loss of someone at one remove like a thesis advisor reminded you that you weren't.

Nick nodded, unable to find anything to say and turned his head to stare out of the window on the pretext of giving the young man some space, because it was easier than looking at Hart and seeing a pale reflection of his own confused loss staring back at him. He tried not to resent Hart feeling like that, tried not to go to that dark mental place where no one got to grieve Helen but him. He'd been twenty-four once, unable to comprehend a loss as great as his own now. Twenty-four and stupid.

He'd met Helen when he was twenty-five, and thought the whole world would be theirs for the taking.

"What can I do for you?" he asked when he found his voice again in the face of Hart's silence. Keep busy, that was the trick.

It was one he had yet to master fully.

Hart hesitated again, the brief flare of pain that Nick had glimpsed neatly sliding back below the surface to be replaced by resolution. He dropped the backpack he wore slung over one shoulder to the floor and pulled the chair on the other side of the desk out, settling himself in it.

Nick stifled his sigh, wondering if there was a polite way to tell your wife's grad student to fuck off.

"I've been in Borneo," Hart began, pausing to check Nick's reaction, as though it was supposed to make sense to him. Nick made a brief 'come on' gesture, and hoped to God he'd managed not to let his irritation show. He didn't know how successful he was at it - probably not very judging by the way Hart's eyes flickered away for a brief moment before coming back, more resolved than ever. He tried not to care about that either. "I... I haven't been back long."

Nick's heart sank.

"Do we... know any more?"

'We'. Like Hart had a right to be concerned about Helen. Like...

Nick swallowed down his resentment - his grief and his anger - again, picking up a pencil and tapping it against the desk. Hart watched it move, his eyes tracking it as it bounced up and down, not looking back up at Nick until Nick stopped, abruptly.

"The police..." His throat tightened unexpectedly, because no one really asked, not any more. He supposed he owed Hart thanks for that, at least. "The police haven't found anything... I think the term they use is 'untoward'." He didn't do the air quotes around the word, but he might as well have done. His fingers tightened on the pencil instead and it snapped with a sullen crack. When he let the pieces fall where they lay, his hand dropped to lie listlessly next to them on the top of Helen's desk.

Hart nodded; when Nick stole another look Hart wasn't looking at him but down to where his fingers were rubbing idly along the side of the desk, leaving trails in the thin patina of dust.

Dust. She'd been gone long enough for dust...

He rose to his feet with enough force to push the chair back far enough to hit the wall. It scraped against the floor as it went, setting his teeth on edge, and he staggered, his hip catching the corner of the desk as he moved around it. Hart rose to his feet rapidly, his eyes tracking Nick warily.

"I -" Nick couldn't explain it, not to this stranger even if he had known Helen. "I'm sorry. I'm going to have to go." He flailed for the niceties, lost and floundering and consumed with the need to move, get out, be anywhere but here, where Helen and Hart had probably discussed a thousand little details, minutiae linked to his thesis and discoveries related to her work. But Hart didn't get out of his way; he moved closer, tilting his head a little again while he weighed Nick up and probably found him wanting. If he did, he didn't give that away either.

"There's a pub around the corner," he said, stooping slightly to pick up his bag. "I'll buy you a beer."

It threw Nick, his only thought, 'No.' No, he didn't want to have this conversation. No, he didn't want Hart in his space, memories of Helen clinging to him, to their every interaction. No, he didn't want it until Hart reached out to touch the documents scattered on the desk, his fingers gentle on the paper as he twisted his head slightly, reading Helen's words. He frowned vaguely, his lips parting as his eyes tracked across the paper, side to side, moving steadily down, as he absorbed her words. When he looked back at Nick that frown stayed. It was the most animation he'd shown so far.

"I take it you think that whatever Helen was working on, it had something to do with her disappearance?"

Nick hadn't expected the familiarity of Hart calling her 'Helen'. It threw him again, far enough off balance this time to answer Hart's question honestly instead of telling him where to go. "Maybe. I don't know. Just..." He ran his fingers through his hair, distractedly. "It's worth a shot, at least."

Hart nodded, decisively, his gaze never leaving Nick's face. "Okay," he said, sounding much older than he could possibly be from the look of him. "Let me buy you a beer, and I'll tell you what I can."

...and Wednesday too

As soon as the doorbell rang, Nick knew who it was. For a second, he debated simply ignoring it, pretending he hadn't heard it, pretending that he wasn't in, with the curtains closed and the answering machine on. The phone had rung six times already, even though Stephen had only left a message the first twice. But the doorbell rang again, a jangling sound that went on and on until Nick's teeth were on edge.

It was drizzling when he finally caved completely opened the door, and that suited his mood just perfectly; the sky grey and mournful. He stared up at it for a long moment while Stephen finally removed his finger from the buzzer, shifting on the top step so that he could watch Nick, like he always watched Nick.

"Not today, okay?" Nick's voice was gravelly and he knew he looked like crap. He needed a shave and a good night's sleep, and he hadn't had either for too long. "I'm just not in the mood, Stephen."

Stephen's expression didn't change. It stayed serious, hovering just this side of concern as his eyes tracked across Nick's face. He didn't comment though, instead saying, "I bring whisky."

He knew there was a reason he'd kept Stephen around, but he still hesitated, knowing he wasn't fit company, knowing that Stephen, of all people, didn't deserve his mood. He finally settled on a more civilised, "I don't feel like talking about it, okay?"

Stephen snorted, hefting the carrier bag he held in his hand; the bottles inside - and there must have been more than one - clinked against each other. "Do I look like a girl to you, Cutter?"

"Honestly? You could do with a haircut." Stephen's second snort followed him in.

He told himself he didn't care that Stephen was soaked to the skin - because he was an adult who was entirely entitled to make stupid decisions, including this one - but the first words out of his mouth once Stephen was through the door were, "There's a towel in the bathroom, down the hall."

Stephen smiled at him, his eyes crinkling, and shucked off his jacket, hanging it on the end of the banister. The rain had soaked through it; the shoulders of his t-shirt were dark with it, sticking to his shoulder blades.

"D'you need a shirt?" he called after Stephen, giving himself a mental kick as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He wasn't the man's bloody mother.

"I'm fine." Stephen's voice drifted back to him from the bathroom, closely followed by Stephen himself, busy roughly towelling his hair dry. He draped the towel around his neck and gave Nick a calm, assessing look before prompting him with, "Whisky?" and nodding towards the carrier bag he'd dumped by the foot of the stairs.

"If I didn't know better, Stephen, I'd think you were trying to get me drunk."

"Would it work?" Stephen's voice was still calm and it took Nick a second to catch up, get that underneath the joking there was a serious tone, the slightly flirtatious edge that was always there once Stephen got to know someone well enough to play.

He thought about lying - just for a second - but. This was Stephen, and for some reason, over the last several months, he'd stopped even considering pretending that everything was all right in front of the man. "Not really, no."

"But we'll give it the old college try?" asked Stephen with a small smile, the only acknowledgement he gave.

Which brought up another reason he'd been avoiding Stephen over the last few days.

"Talking of college," he began, knowing that the switch was awkward and wincing inwardly as the smile disappeared from Stephen's face. "The Dean cornered me the other day..."

"Now I'm the one who doesn't want to talk about it."


Stephen's mouth tightened, becoming a thin line, the playfulness gone. It didn't suit him, but Nick had had years of dealing with Helen and she could out-stubborn Stephen even at his worst.

"He's right. You need to find another thesis advisor -"

"I have a thesis advisor." The words were flat and low, and Stephen's face was also tight, closed off. Only his eyes showed anything, glittering with something close to anger. "Helen."

"Be reasonable, Stephen."

"Reasonable?" Stephen took a step back. "Reasonable, says the man sitting in the dark."

"Helen was my wife. Don't even -. Don't even compare the two. You find another thesis advisor, you get on with your life and you stop..."

"Like you have?" The tone was soft but the words were anything but. "It's been a year, Nick, and I don't see you moving on."

"You think I don't know that? You think I haven't counted every single minute?" He was too close to Stephen, inches away from his face, the words angry and harsh and brutal. "Every day." His voice broke. "Every single day..."

"I know." This time even the words were soft, and Stephen was the one to look away first. "I know, Nick."

Nick took a step back, pushing his anger, his grief back into that dark corner he had them pinned in, locking the door behind them, reminding himself that Stephen was only trying to help, that Stephen didn't deserve this pain being heaped on his head. A deep, shuddery breath later he was able to look back at Stephen, that wary look that had been so familiar in the early stages of their friendship back in the blue eyes that were now staring straight at him. "No," he said, with less anger this time but with almost as much force. "No, you can't know."

Stephen looked away again, a muscle in his cheek twitching, as he found nothing to say to that, and Nick immediately regretted his outburst. It wasn't Stephen's fault that Nick didn't want anything at the moment that even looked like sympathy. He owed the man at least a partial explanation.

"The police called this morning," he said. "Oh, I knew it was coming, but..."

"They're closing the investigation?"

He looked away from Stephen, unable to deal with whatever it was in Stephen's eyes. Not wariness, not this time. An echo of the pain that Nick felt, maybe. Faint but still too close for comfort. "They wanted to assure me that even though it's been twelve months, they'll continue investigating."

"They're closing the investigation." It wasn't a question this time; Stephen was anything but stupid.

"They didn't phrase it like that - some stuff about continuing to follow up on leads, and waiting for new information, and ongoing review of the situation, but... yes." Stephen's jaw clenched; he refused to look at Nick, staring at the floor instead. "I don't... Stephen, I just can't talk about it. Not... yet. Maybe not ever."

That admission jerked Stephen's head up; he'd moved so that his face was in shadows, not enough light spilling through the glass in the front door to illuminate it. "You don't think she's ever going to come home, do you?"

It hurt, hearing it out loud like that. Hurt even more that Stephen - normally so reserved, so tactful - would ride roughshod over his raw patches, and god knew he had enough of those these days.

"I think... I think that staying away for a whole year, without any word... If everything was okay? That would be beyond cruel, even for Helen."

Stephen digested that for a moment in silence, the shadow of his head still inclined towards Nick. When the words came, they rang hollowly. "I'm not looking for another thesis advisor. Not yet." He didn't plead - that was something Stephen had in common with Helen, like the ease with which he moved, comfortable in his own body, and the stubbornness that characterised some of their interactions. Like this one. "I... There's time. I can wait. And in the meantime..."

"You can't put your life on hold," Nick said, his voice tired. He was tired. Beyond tired, the last twelve months ageing him many years instead of just one.

"It's my life," said Stephen, mildly. "And in the meantime," he repeated, more emphasis on the last word as his body finally relaxed, a controlled, deliberate bleeding away of tension that was all Stephen. "I hear there's this newly tenured Professor who might be looking for a lab assistant."

It was unexpected enough to startle a laugh out of Nick. Now that was the kind of conversational segue Helen would have pulled, and if that thought bit into him, the laughter eased the worst of it. "Did you have someone in mind?"

Stephen shrugged, a low, slow roll of his shoulders. He caught hold of the ends of towel still slung around his neck, one end in each hand, and tilted his head back, looking at Nick in a way that was part challenge and part amusement. "Maybe," he conceded with another smile. "What's the pay like?"

"I can tell you something," Nick warned, reaching down for the carrier bag. "It'll take more than a bottle of whisky to bribe me."

"I know," said Stephen mildly, the beginnings of merriment dancing in his eyes, the playfulness back in a way that eased some of the tension knotted tightly in Nick's chest. "That's why I brought two."

Thursday I don't care about you

"Still at it?"

There was rain in Stephen's hair when Nick looked up. Stephen ran his fingers through it and shook his hands, splattering small droplets everywhere. Droplets also clung to his eyelashes, and darkened the collar of his shirt.

It was a good look on him, made him seem something wild and fey, dangerous and attractive all at once. Nick had long since passed the stage where the thought of Stephen's attractiveness bothered him too much, even if he hadn't quite yet reached the stage of doing something about it.

"You know, it's Friday. You've got the whole weekend ahead of you and you should be relaxing, not slaving over a red hot pen."

"You know, there's such a thing as knocking," he muttered, turning his attention back to the essays he was marking and ignoring Stephen as he started to make himself at home.

"So I've heard," Stephen answered, settling himself on the edge of Nick's desk and pulling some of the papers strewn across it towards him. His eyebrows rose as he read through what one undergraduate thought passed as a paper on cetacean evolution. "But I come with a peace offering."

"Is it whisky?"

"No," said Stephen, with a small smile. "Something better."

"Better than whisky? I think that skirts dangerously close to blasphemy, at least in this department." He looked up from his marking long enough to give Stephen a smile and get one in return, one that was broad and genuine and deepened the dimple in Stephen's cheek.

He'd known Stephen for eight months before he'd even seen a hint of that dimple. It was weird to think that, looking back, remembering how quiet and reserved Stephen had been in those first few months after Helen had disappeared. How brittle. More than three years later, Stephen's smile, and Stephen himself, were a part of Nick's personal scenery, as familiar to Nick, it felt sometimes, as his own reflection in the mirror. He'd miss that smile if it ever disappeared from his life for any reason, more than he was willing to admit sometimes. He'd suffered one unimaginable loss already. He wasn't sure he could take another one, but sometimes, when Stephen's eyes were warm above that smile and it seemed almost as though he were flirting, it seemed worth taking the risk.

He refused to dwell on it. Stephen had spent the last two and a half years trying to help him move on, alternatively cajoling him along, listening to his sorrows and kicking his backside, and he owed the man more than wallowing. He refused to take a backwards step now. Instead, he took Stephen's visit as an excuse to stop working for a while, to smell the metaphorical flowers, even if those flowers came disguised as almost six foot of lab assistant, smelling vaguely of cologne and chalk and with a killer smile. Compared to that, his third year evolutionary physiology class could wait for a few moments.

He stretched his arms above his head and leant back in his chair, wincing at the crack as his spine stretched. Stephen winced in sympathy before the smile became a grin, and Nick moved to head off the inevitable 'old man' jokes that were heading in his direction. Three more years and he'd be able to start making some of his own when Stephen finally reached thirty. He didn't doubt that in three years Stephen would still be there, that they'd celebrate Stephen's milestone together. Not any longer.

"So, what's better than whisky, then?" He let his hands fall back down to his desk, rubbing at the callus on his middle finger where his pen had been digging in.

In answer, Stephen reached into his shoulder bag and pulled free a sheaf of papers, neatly held together with a large elastic band. Even from his perch behind his desk, Nick could see the red pen on the first sheet, with a grade he couldn't quite make out as Stephen waved it at him.

"First years?"

"First years," Stephen confirmed. "You owe me."

Nick's wince this time had little to do with physical discomfort. "How bad was it?"

Stephen turned the front sheet towards him, so that he could see the neatly transcribed '32%' in the top right hand corner.


"Ouch is the word," Stephen agreed, dropping the bundle of papers with a thud on Nick's desk. "One of them even posited that the gaps in the fossil record exist because evolution was assisted by alien intervention."

Nick blinked at him, not sure whether or not Stephen was joking, but then Stephen didn't joke, not about these things. Other things, yes, but not the work they both took so seriously.

"Do we need to get the Student Counsellors in to give them another talk about drug use and abuse?" he asked.

"Given that his primary evidence for such a theory was the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, I think that might not be a bad idea," Stephen answered dryly. "Yes, I actually am serious. Apparently he thinks that the aliens have been keeping it in stasis for all of these years."

"Wasn't there an episode of Doctor Who like that?"

"I don't know," Stephen said. "Before my time." He grinned again, a quick flash of amusement that he swallowed down. "But one thing I do know..." He paused, waiting for Nick's little 'come on' head nod before adding, "You owe me dinner." The dimple was now in full evidence and Nick couldn't help but smile back.

"Give me a précis of all of his arguments, and I might even spring for dessert."

Stephen smiled again, low and sweet, and leant in a little, his eyes warm. "Buy me dinner," he said, and there was something like hope in his voice, something that skirted around the edges of it and made Nick want to smile back, flirt back, "and I might spring for dessert."

"I think..." His voice was hoarse, and he paused, clearing his throat and looking down at Stephen's hands, the strong, square fingers spread on the desk, wondering if he had reached that stage after all. He was out of practice with flirting, but Stephen had stuck with him through worse things that this; he'd be lenient. He'd have to be. "I think maybe we should split dessert. Or you get dessert and I provide coffee?"

Stephen's smile this time wasn't sweet; it was full and sensual and, maybe, unless Nick was imagining things, a little dirty.

"As long as it's Irish coffee," he said, "you have a deal."

It's Friday, I'm in love

The End