CSI
A Certain Sunset by Saras_Girl [Reviews - 31]

AN – I always said I would never write AU, and I’m not entirely sure whether I have broken that promise or not! This isn’t strictly set in the CSI-verse that we know, but is – to my mind – set 8 years pre-season one, rather than in an alternate universe. (does it matter, Nat? No. Well, then).

In this story, Nick is 21 and Greg is 17. If that squicks you or offends you morally in some way, turn back now. I’m sticking to the birth years of their characters...though I shifted Nick’s d.o.b from August to July because it bloody well suited me ;) (I know everyone has different views, but here in the UK the age of consent is 16 anyway, so to me it’s not a big deal. Please don’t flame me for this, I won’t be amused).

Thanks to Van for tirelessly answering my questions on the US Postal Service, high school system and putting the kybosh on any accidental Britishness. Cheers mate :)

Thanks to Laura for being my number one cheerleader. For encouragement, ass-kicking and welcome distraction (mostly in the form of conversations about pie), as well as indirectly inspiring the ending.

This story was inspired by a song, but is absolutely not a song-fic. Lyrics at the end are from ‘Eternity’ by Robbie Williams. The song Nick sings in the middle is ‘Tequila Sunrise’ by the Eagles.

I don’t own CSI. I don’t own Back to the Future, or Robbie Williams, or the Eagles, or any other random cultural references I may have made. I own only a laptop and a vivid imagination.

Reviews are my oxygen...please don’t let me suffocate (gosh, how emo) Er, yeah. A review would be fab. Thanks :)

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August 1992

“Beer?”

Nick looks up from his spot on the rickety front porch as his uncle appears behind him, bottles in hand.

“Oh, yeah,” he sighs gratefully, accepting one and relishing the feeling of the cold glass against his skin. “Thanks, Uncle Bernie.”

The worn wood creaks slightly as the older man lowers himself carefully to sit beside Nick, bare legs dangling over the edge. Nick idly regards the sinewy, salt-n-pepper-haired thighs next to his own for a moment or two, before he raises the bottle to his lips and gulps gratefully at the cold beer, the bubbles prickling at the back of his throat as he attempts to slake a raging thirst built up throughout an afternoon’s hard graft in the California heat. He swallows and drags the back of his hand across his mouth, tasting salt on his skin.

“Warm day,” comments Uncle Bernie, draining half of his bottle in one go.

Nick smiles and looks away, his gaze resting on the bridge and the early evening sun glittering off the ocean. Since he got here less than a week ago, he has been amused to observe the ways in which Bernie differs from his sister Jillian. He is a man of few words, that’s for sure, unlike Nick’s mother. Much as he loves his mother, Nick has found he rather likes the change. There’s something relaxing about spending whole mornings or afternoons sanding or painting or putting together furniture in relative peace. If Bernie is as opinionated as his younger sister, he doesn’t force them on Nick, and so far, their sparing exchanges have centred around sport, the house, and Bernie’s beloved Eagles.

Despite more rotations of ‘Hotel California’ than are healthy, Nick has found his first week in San Francisco entirely relaxing and does not regret spending his last four weeks of freedom, as Anna puts it, out here helping Bernie. When his mother first suggested it, Nick was not convinced. The idea of a month in a place where he knew no-one, helping an uncle he barely knew to renovate his house, did not appeal. However, a man can change.

“Don’t get views like that in Texas,” remarks Bernie, following Nick’s gaze.

Nick laughs and leans back on his hands, the wood pleasantly sun-warmed under his skin.

“I didn’t come for the view.”

“I’m fairly certain you didn’t come for the company,” Bernie points out mildly. Nick smiles, still not looking at him. “I know I’m not much of a conversationalist.”

“Plenty of those where I came from,” Nick says with a wry smile, dark eyes flicking to meet his Uncle’s soft grey ones in a brief flare of understanding. “I kinda needed a break.”

“Gotcha.” He drains his beer bottle efficiently. “Your mom never did know how to shut up.”

Nick grins and stretches, rotating his ankles and easing the kinks out of his back. He’s fine with the physical labour; he’s confident in his own fitness, but six hours on hand and knees isn’t good for anyone.

“Think I’ll go for a run down to the beach,” Nick says, finishing his beer and wiping sweat-damp hands on paint-spattered shorts.

“I wish I had your energy,” Bernie sighs wistfully. “Oh, to be twenty-one again.”

Nick smiles politely and runs upstairs to change, sandals slapping on the uncarpeted concrete.

**~*~**

There’s something about running that clears Nick’s head. For as long as he can remember, he’s always done his best thinking during a long, uninterrupted run. Not that he can’t concentrate the rest of the time – he isn’t graduating from A&M with honours for nothing – but there’s something about running. Something about the smooth, automatic co-ordination of limbs and breathing, the rhythm of footfalls on rough ground or asphalt, the minor distraction of looking where he’s going, that all combines to free most of his mind for abstract thought. Having barely worked up a sweat during the mile or so between Uncle Bernie’s and the beach, Nick ups the pace as he makes his way along the path that follows the curve of the bay.

His uncle’s words echo in his head and he pushes himself harder, almost unconsciously. The funny thing about twenty-one that no one tells you, Nick thinks, is that nothing really changes. He’s sure he’s not alone in that he has grown up being led to believe that it’s a magic age. That when he reached that magic number of years, he would suddenly feel like a grown up. That he would be free to make all of his own choices, and that making them would be easy, because after all, he would be a man.

Not so. Nick’s inner voice sounds almost bitter to him and he hates it. He slows almost to a halt as he glances up and down the path, looking for the place he has found where it is possible to scramble down the ten feet or so of rocks and drop directly down onto the beach, instead of continuing to the steps.

There. Pushing damp hair out of his eyes, he retraces his steps and half jumps, half climbs down to the sand. Waits, just for a moment, shifting from one foot to the other and adjusting to the new surface; damp sand that gives slightly and fragments under his weight when he moves. The cool breeze flies in from the ocean and lifts those strands of hair from his forehead. Nick closes his eyes gratefully and tries to block out the thought of his mother telling him to get a haircut that crams, unbidden, into his head.

No one is going to respect a cop who looks like a vagrant, Nicholas.

Because unfortunately, technical grown up or not, Nick’s mother shows no signs of giving up on telling him what to do. He opens his eyes and drags a long, deep breath of ocean-scented air into his lungs, holds it until his chest hurts and pushes it out with satisfaction, as though he can repel his frustrations with the simple act of exhalation.

Shaking out his arms and legs briefly, he sets out along the beach, muscles tightening and flexing as the sand shifts beneath him, slowly relaxing into a pleasant languor as he focuses on the warm colours of the setting sun.

The strangled cry of “Sigmund!” registers a fraction of a second too late. Not that it would have made a difference anyway; the whole thing happens far too quickly. All Nick can be certain of is that one moment he was running, and the next moment he’s sprawled messily across the sand in a tangle of limbs, wet fur and what appears to be rope. Somewhere, at some point during the intervening seconds, he thinks there was a collision. Unfortunately, he’s not sure with who or what, and then he realizes he still has his eyes shut, instinctively braced for impact.

“Fuck, dude, I’m so sorry,” comes a male voice from somewhere to his left, sounding more amused than contrite.

He looks around to see a lean figure crouching over him, glaring at a thoroughly wet dog and attempting to free Nick from the leash that is somehow wrapped around his legs. Nick shifts in the sand and resists the temptation to rub his bruised ass, choosing instead to brush the sand somewhat ineffectually from his thighs. He can’t decide if he’s embarrassed about being sent flying onto his ass by a wet dog or angry about this guy’s obvious lack of control over said dog. In the meantime, he opts for shooting the shaggy beast a malevolent glare. The dog seems to smile at Nick, and wags its tail enthusiastically, sending a spray of dog-scented water across his heated face.

“Thanks,” he mutters drily. Nick wipes his face with his fingers and turns to the owner with a ‘can’t you control your god damn dog?’ on his lips. Just at that moment, he successfully frees Nick and turns. He’ll try in vain to explain it later, but in that moment, there is something so disarming about the stranger’s apologetic smile that Nick’s complaint falters and dies on his lips.

It’s dazzling in its brevity, just a half-second flash of both rows of white teeth that lights and transforms the thin face with its slightly pointed chin. The dark eyes that meet Nick’s flash with amusement and Nick smiles back before he knows what he’s doing, he holds the eye contact and the whole thing is almost involuntary.

Shattered, suddenly, as the dog barks joyfully and attempts to take off in the opposite direction, and Nick is oddly relieved for about half a second. The owner of the smile and the dog, however, isn’t anticipating this move any more than Nick, and in an almost slapstick move finds himself jerked from a kneeling position onto his ass, legs flailing and still hanging onto the leash for dear life.

Having given up on his attempt to stand, Nick stares, struggling to keep his face straight. He knows he’s fighting a losing battle, and as the dog pulls heroically and manages to drag its owner several feet across the sand, Nick lets go and laughs until his chest hurts. He knows he shouldn’t, but the guy reminds him of an upended beetle and for some reason, this thought only increases the intensity of the paroxysms. He rests his elbows on his knees and tries, helplessly, to breathe.

“A little help?”

Nick’s head jerks up and he attempts to compose himself, but the indignant expression on the dog owner’s face, dark eyebrows knitted together, teeth gritted as he lies flat on his back, leash wrapped around thin wrists is too much for him.

Shaking with silent amusement, Nick crawls across the sand and grabs the leash, adding his weight to the other poor guy’s. The dog scrabbles pointlessly, kicks wet sand over both of them and then promptly gives up, flopping down onto the sand in defeat.

Nick flops onto his back alongside the stranger and breathes slowly as his laughter dies down, no longer caring that he’s liberally coated in scratchy grains of wet sand, he smells of wet dog, or that he’s lying on his back instead of running. He’s trying not to think about what his mother would say if she could see him now.

Instead, he turns his head and studies the man’s profile as he lies motionless, limned with soft golden light in the near-darkness. He, too, is breathing hard from the exertion. As he finally dares to unwind one hand from the leash, he brushes messy dark-blond hair from his eyes and flashes that smile, turning to meet Nick’s eyes.

Not unreasonably, Nick thinks, he waits for the blond guy to say something, but he remains silent. Smiling softly as though it’s perfectly normal practice to lie on wet beaches at sunset with strange men. Perhaps it is, Nick muses, half-serious. San Francisco is a pretty weird place.

“So...” Nick offers at last, just wanting to break the silence. “Your dog’s name is Sigmund?”

And that’s the best you can come up with? Great job.

Nick cringes apologetically but the stranger only laughs. It’s a dry, careless sound that makes Nick’s self-consciousness melt away, just for a second.

“I didn’t name him,” he replies, rolling his eyes. Still making no attempt to get up. He tilts his head toward Nick again and a strand of wavy blond hair falls into his eyes. He’s younger than Nick first thought, sixteen or seventeen. “He’s my mom’s and he’s evil. I’m Greg.”

And before Nick knows it, Greg is wiping his free hand on an obscenely bright t-shirt and holding it out across the two feet of sand that separate them to be shaken. Taken aback by the unexpected decorum, Nick blinks. Hesitates for a split second. One dark eyebrow arches inquiringly and he grasps Greg’s cold hand in his gritty one and shakes it firmly.

“Nick,” he offers. “Nice to meet you,” he parrots automatically, and it’s too late when he’s heard it, and realized how ludicrous it sounds in this bizarre situation. He colours instantly, heat rushing to his face and he groans softly.

Nice to meet you? Three years of college, of frat parties, of spending most of the year away from his family, and he still sounds like he’s at one of his mother’s garden parties. Fuck it.

Rolling away quickly, Nick scrambles to his feet and flicks the worst of the sand from his shorts and shirt. He’s not in the least surprised that Greg is snickering, shoulders convulsing lightly, long legs drawn up. His eyes are warm, though, and it’s this that makes Nick stand over him and hold out a hand to help him up. Surprised, Greg takes it and allows Nick to pull him to his feet easily. He does not loosen his death grip on the dog’s leash, much to Nick’s amusement.

“You oughtta learn to control that dog,” Nick says as he lets go of his hand. His tone is much softer than the words require, and he curses inwardly.

“I certainly oughtta,” Greg agrees, eyes wide and innocent. “Such lovely manners.”

Realizing he’s being mocked, Nick frowns. “Next time I’ll leave you to get dragged across the beach.”

“Good Southern boy like you? I doubt that.”

Before Nick can reply, Greg flashes him another smile and he’s almost irritated to find himself smiling back. With some effort, Greg braces himself, digging one foot into the sand, and drags the dog to its feet. He pulls lightly on the leash and the dog trots obediently behind him, looking for all the world like it’s perfectly behaved all the time. Nick stares after them for a moment, undecided. He could turn back; he’s certainly not been invited to tag along. But then again, he was running in that direction anyway.

Ten seconds later, he’s slowing to walk beside Greg. He’s not sure what possesses him, but he leans and ruffles the damp dog’s straggly ears. Sigmund grunts pleasurably and leans into his touch.

“He’s not so bad,” offers Greg. He wraps the leash several times around his wrist to keep the dog close to his side. “I don’t usually lose control of him like that. It’s only when I’m not paying attention that he makes a break for it.”

Hearing the smile in his voice, Nick shoots him a sidelong glance and the dark eyes once again sparkle with mischief. Nick wants to ask, but he’s not entirely sure what he wants to ask.

“I have a dog at home...a retriever.” Nick shoves his hands into his pockets. “Well behaved, too,” he adds, pointedly, but he knows he’s smiling.

Greg makes a face but lets it drop. “Where’s home?”

“Small town near Dallas. I just graduated from Texas A&M. Going into the Dallas PD come September.” And we’re very proud of you, Nick can almost hear his father add. He walks a little straighter and pulls his hands out of his pockets.

“A cop, huh?” Greg’s voice is speculative. “Should have known. All that politeness, and you are freakishly strong.”

“I guess,” Nick replies, suddenly unsure whether that’s meant as a compliment or an insult. “I...ah...played a lot of football in high school,” he adds weakly.

The evening is far from cold, but the breeze sheeting in from the ocean makes the hairs stand up on Nick’s bare arms.

“Football...hmph.” Greg snorts and drags Sigmund away from the water’s edge. He stomps up the beach into a small cove sheltered by rocks; Nick follows him, grateful to escape the biting wind. “I wasn’t allowed to play football,” he continues casually, dropping gracefully onto a large, smooth rock and drawing his knees up under his chin.

Nick stares. “You weren’t allowed?”

“Right. No contact sports. My mom’s....weird.” He looks up, mouth twisted into a wry almost-smile. “She has some pretty weird theories about sports. I don’t know, it’s all just one giant pissing contest anyhow, right?”

At a loss for what to say to that, Nick exhales carefully and sits on the rock next to him, resting hands on his knees. “I didn’t have much of a choice. Six sisters and me,” he explains. “Someone had to at least try and be a jock, for my dad’s sake.” Nick grins over his shoulder for a moment.

“Did you want to?”

Nick shrugs. “I guess. Wouldn’t have mattered either way. My family, you know...”

“Resistance is futile,” intones Greg. Nick laughs, shaken from his momentarily maudlin thoughts.

“Exactly.”

“Anyway,” says Greg airily. “Let it not be said that I’m not a sportsman. You’re looking at the president of the Chess Club, three years running.”

Nick really laughs this time, and as he reaches out to brace himself against the rock for balance, he realizes that he can’t remember the last time he laughed so much. When he meets Greg’s eyes, he is rewarded once more with that smile. Just for a second, he is reminded of the bright, genuine smile of the girl back home has been out with a couple of times. Amber has a lovely smile, he thinks, but it has never thrown him off balance like this.

“When you’ve quite finished laughing at me,” Greg says, cutting into his thoughts. He dispels them gratefully.

“Chess is not a sport, Greg.”

“Is too.” Greg pokes his tongue out, and, forgetting that he’s supposed to be a grown up, Nick mirrors the gesture.

“Nick, man...what happened to your manners?” Greg grins and elbows him lightly in the side.

“I was told I wouldn’t need them in California,” he teases. Looking out at the molten orange of the sun as it dips below the waterline. “I guess I left them over there where your dog tried to break my neck.”

“Stupid dog,” mumbles Greg.

Falling silent, Nick, Greg and Sigmund stare at the sunset. Nick, feeling warmer and bizarrely comfortable as he listens to the myriad sounds of sea, city and the gentle exhalations of his messy-haired companion and his equally messy-haired dog.

When they part ways, it’s dark. Nick is thinking so much that the run back to Bernie’s seems to take no time at all.

**~*~**

It’s almost sunset by the time he and Bernie down tools the next night, but Nick still gives in to his compulsion to run along the beach again. Nothing strange in that, he’s done it almost every night so far. Last night was the first time he ran into another person down there – quite literally, as it turned out – and however much he tries to convince himself otherwise, he didn’t mind the intrusion on his solitude. In fact, he’s half hoping to see him again. Greg is like no one he’s ever met before, and Nick is intrigued.

As he prepares to scramble down the rocks onto the beach, he catches sight of two familiar figures in the distance, silhouetted in the fading light. One tall and skinny, one distinctly canine in appearance. Nick smiles and jumps the last four feet down to the sand. Jogging slowly, he closes the distance between them, pausing, unseen, behind Greg. Watches him bend to retrieve and throw a piece of driftwood into the ebbing tide. Listens to him laugh unreservedly as an already-wet Sigmund charges into the water after it.

It’s a long moment before Nick realizes that he’s just standing there watching, and he gathers himself and calls out a greeting.

“Hey.” Greg turns and smiles, shoving hands inelegantly into the pockets of his jeans. “I see you’re totally amazed by the capabilities of Sigmund the wonder dog.”

He turns back to the water as Nick draws level with his side. Nick snorts. From what he can see, Sigmund seems to be doing a great job of displacing water and very little else.

“Will he actually bring it back?”

Greg tilts his head on one side in mild contemplation.

“Probably not,” he admits. “But I like to throw stuff, and he likes to get wet, so it’s pretty much win-win.”

There’s that smile again, and the expressive eyebrows seem to move independently of each other. This time, Nick returns it without hesitation. The breeze feels warmer on his skin than it did the previous night, and Nick watches, entranced, as it ruffles blond hair that already sticks out in every conceivable direction.

“So, ah...” Nick starts, hoping inspiration will hit him mid-sentence. He is saved, unexpectedly, by the return of a triumphant Sigmund and the lump of driftwood that is dropped unceremoniously at Greg’s feet.

They both stare.

“No way,” Greg breathes, shaking his head. He bends slowly to pick up the soggy wood and examines it with quiet disbelief. Eyes meeting Nick’s for a split second, wide with astonishment, before he shrugs and pitches it back into the water. The dog leaps after it immediately.

“Look at that,” he laughs. “Maybe I should go into dog training.”

“It’s good to have a career plan,” Nick observes drily.

“You kill me.” Greg rolls his eyes and turns away. Nick watches him pick up and examine smooth pebbles, discarding several before finding one that seems to satisfy him. “My parents would have a fit. My mom wants me to go to med school.” He laughs shortly and stares out at the sunset. “She’s a shrink, in case you were wondering.”

Nick nods, momentarily flooded with empathy. The weight of parental expectation is nothing new to him.

“Let me guess...she a fan of psychoanalysis?” Nick asks, as the question occurs to him. Greg says nothing but his answering smile is tinged with warmth and surprise. “Starting to understand about the dog, now. Good to see Psychology 101 came in useful for something.”

“My mom would love you,” Greg says darkly, turning the pebble over and over in his hand. “I’m not doing it, anyway. Med school.”

“Don’t blame you,” Nick offers. “I hear the pressure’s insane. And the grades you need are frightening.”

“I have a 4.0,” replies Greg. He scowls at the ocean for a moment, and Nick feels instantly guilty.

“I didn’t mean to offend you, dude,” he backtracks. “I’m sorry.”

“S’alright.” Greg shrugs and flashes a brief ghost of a smile. “I don’t want to, that’s why.” Taking a step back, he throws the pebble expertly and Nick watches as it skims the surface of the water five times before sinking out of sight.

“It’s your life,” Nick agrees. If only it were that simple.

“Sure is. Why d’you want to be a cop?”

“It’s a good career,” Nick replies instantly. “It’s challenging, diverse work and I’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of serving the local community.”

The words fall effortlessly from his lips and he freezes, ashamed of how well-rehearsed he has become. College interviews, assessments, applications and screenings. The right words to impress the right people, used over and over until they become meaningless.

Predictably, Greg laughs scornfully and turns to him, eyebrows raised in challenge. “That’s not a real answer. Sounds like you’re reading it from a book.”

“Force of habit, sorry.” The dark eyes soften and Nick casts around the corners of his mind for the real reason. It’s been a while since he’s had to think about it. By the time he finds it, he’s smiling; long-lost congruence sparking welcome relief. “Well...twenty percent because my dad wants me to, and eighty-percent because I want to catch bad guys.”

Greg laughs with genuine amusement. “Without the cape and tights.”

“Right.”

Greg opens and shuts his mouth like he’s about to say something but thinks better of it. Instead, he hunts for more stones and is preparing to throw the third one before he speaks again.

“I’m going to be a scientist.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m good at it.” Greg colours slightly but holds Nick’s gaze and continues. “Because chemistry is as close to certainty as we can get. Well, actually, math probably is, but mathematicians don’t get to play with all the cool chemicals or make shit blow up. I checked.” He grins, and the familiar image of the mad scientist isn’t far from Nick’s mind. It fits.

That said, Nick doesn’t know what’s so great about certainty. Certainty is inevitability, and his life is full of that. He doesn’t voice the question, but Greg answers it anyway.

“You know where you are with science. It’s kind of beautiful.”

He doesn’t look at Nick but he smiles, looking utterly peaceful. Nick holds his breath. The serenity of the moment is shattered when a soaking wet Sigmund dashes out of the water and Greg drops to grab him, allowing the dog to lap at his face with an enthusiastic tongue.

When Nick exhales, a strange cavernous ache opens up inside his chest, like he’s missing something.

**~*~**

On the third night, the beach is deserted. Nick runs slowly and steadily, right at the water’s edge. It’s hard going. The sand is waterlogged and sinks under his feet, making him work for every step. A solitary band of orange is all that’s left of the daylight when he spots Greg sitting on a rock in the sheltered cove, knees drawn up under his chin. Sigmund is nowhere to be seen.

Thigh muscles burning, Nick slows gratefully and heads over to join him.

“You forgot your dog,” Nick teases when he gets his breath back.

Greg hugs his knees and flicks sharp dark eyes to meet Nick’s. “He’s a boring bastard anyway.”

Nick laughs. He’s always felt there was something about darkness that inspires confidences, so it’s no real surprise to him that their conversation flows effortlessly now. During an exchange that is both seamless and surreal, he finds out that Greg hates president Bush, spiders and pickles; and that he loves coffee, rock music and movies about time travel. That Greg is seventeen (and three months) and has been fed the same line about turning twenty-one as Nick had.

He tells Greg about Bernie’s renovation project, about college and about living with six sisters. Greg tells him about spending the summer with his grandparents while his parents tour Europe; in Greg’s candid opinion, as a ‘last gasp attempt to save their screwy marriage.’ Greg is strangely evasive on the subject of girls, and Nick soon finds himself, instead, staring at the sharp end of that line of questioning.

Nick squints into the distance, allowing the silvery ripples of the water in the moonlight to mesmerize him. He’s not sure what to say about Amber. She is, in his mother’s words, ‘a lovely, polite girl’. She’s pretty and smart and certainly isn’t short of opinions. It’s not that Nick finds her offensive, it’s just that more often than not he feels as though he’s just along for the ride. They go out to bars or for nice meals; she talks, he listens. Occasionally they sleep together, and it’s...fine, Nick thinks. He can’t help thinking he should care more.

He sighs. “I’m sort of seeing someone,” he manages eventually. And that doesn’t sound pathetic at all, he adds silently.

“Don’t you miss her?” Greg asks at last. “Being here for half the summer?”

Nick frowns, temporarily stumped. Something squirms uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach and he inhales sharply, staring up at the stars. “I guess,” he whispers.

The truth is, he has barely thought of her at all.

**~*~**

“I have grand plans for today,” announces Bernie on Saturday morning, regarding Nick serenely over the top of his newspaper.

“Oh? What are we doing?” Nick asks. He gulps down cold orange juice and tries to hide his disappointment behind practicality, having hoped to have a day to himself. “Did you want to start on fixing the porch?”

“Not really.” Bernie pushes his wire-rimmed glasses up to sit on top of his head and folds the paper in half. “I’m planning to sit out in the back yard and drink iced tea.” He grins at Nick. “Now, you’re quite welcome to join me but I suspect you can find something more interesting to do with your time.”

Light with relief, Nick agrees that he probably can.

By 11am, he has had his fill of window shopping, walking and arguing with street vendors and heads for Moretti’s, the cafe overlooking the beach that he found during his first weekend. And that, Greg tells him, has great coffee. It’s a small, family-run establishment and the grey-haired Italian lady behind the counter has taken somewhat of a liking to him.

“Such a handsome young man,” she opines, handing over his coffee and squeezing him on the shoulder with surprising strength. “Good strong shoulders.”

Nick watches her disappear back into the kitchen, laughing to herself.

He sits outside, at a white plastic table that has seen better days. The midday sun is glaring, but after several attempts to erect the striped parasol that emerges through a hole in the centre of the table, Nick gives up and allows the heat to beat down upon his bare shoulders. His gaze drifts from the traffic on the bridge to skim over the water. The tide has brought the ocean all the way up to the rocks along this section of the beach, and his eyes are drawn to the spot where he and Greg have been sitting to watch the sunset. That entire reach of sand is covered by water now.

He sighs. He’s never minded being on his own; silence is rare and precious in the Stokes family, but Nick kind of wishes he’d asked Greg what he’d be doing today. Not that he’s thought much about it, or anything. It might have been nice to have some company, that’s all. Fishing a pen out of the pocket of his stone-washed jeans, he tips several shiny postcards from a brown paper bag onto the table.

Dear Mom, he writes. The weather is great here in California, and everything is going well at the house. We’ve almost finished work on the second floor now. He pauses and chews on the corner of his thumb nail, thinking. In reality, there isn’t a lot to tell her, not since he last wrote three or four days ago. Part of him thinks sending postcards is pretty lame, but it stops his mom from calling him and asking a thousand questions. It’s somewhat of a tradition now, having started when Nick first went away to college. He quickly became fed up of queuing for the one payphone in his block, and never had enough to say for a regular letter. Plus, she likes postcards. Apparently, written communication is a dying art.

Nick smiles to himself and scribbles a few more lines, asking after various family members, and then sets it aside. He’s almost finished his coffee when, almost as an afterthought, he picks out a second postcard with a picture of an ocean view and attempts to write to Amber. He stares at the blank card, chews his nails, chews his pen and finishes his coffee. Stares at the card some more; the stark, empty space staring back at him mockingly. He has no idea what he wants to say or, perhaps more worryingly, if he wants to say anything at all.

He’s less bothered than he thinks he should be when he gives up and starts writing one to Anna instead. The words come easily now; he’s never had a problem winding up his youngest sibling.

When a shadow falls across the table, Nick tenses his shoulders, anticipating another manhandling from Mrs Moretti.

“What are you doing?” comes the familiar, slightly scratchy voice instead.

Nick smiles. Warmed by the pleasant rush of recognition, though he does not turn around. Midsentence, he continues to write.

“Guess.”

“Ah...running for congress? Riding a unicycle? Giving a dog a haircut? Want me to keep going?”

“If you want to,” Nick replies, amused. Continuing to write, though he can see Greg practically jumping up and down on the spot out of the corner of his eye. Fidgeting. The guy just can’t stay still, it seems.

“Writing a screenplay? Making spaghetti? Playing strip poker? C’mon!” he sighs impatiently.

Nick looks up, meeting brown eyes that contain a strange hybrid of agitation and hope. “Strip poker, Greg?”

Greg grins, showing an unfeasible number of white teeth, but says nothing. He flops into the chair opposite Nick. “So?”

Nick hurriedly signs off his postcard to Anna and looks across the table at Greg, who is leaning back precariously in the flimsy plastic chair. It creaks ominously even under his slight weight, but that doesn’t stop him from lifting the two front legs off the ground.

“Postcards,” Nick says absently. Greg’s jeans are ripped in several places, and the exposed skin of his thighs and shins is much paler than that of his arms and face. His sneakers are untied, but Nick resists the temptation to tell him. “My mom likes them, and I like not having to speak to her on the phone.”

“Nice logic,” Greg nods approvingly. He rakes a hand through the blond mop, which seems lighter under the midday sun. In fact, Nick realizes, this is the first time they have seen each other in daylight. Which sounds odd.

Nick jumps slightly at the sound of Greg’s laughter. He blinks. Greg has returned his chair legs to the ground and appears to be in hysterics for no reason that Nick can see.

“You look different in daylight, too,” he manages at last.

Oh, god. As Nick’s insides turn cold, his skin heats. His hands come up to cover and rub at his face reflexively. “I...” he attempts, knowing there’s no point. “Never mind. Coffee?”

“Now you’re talking.” Greg leaps up and slaps Nick on the shoulder. “I’ll get it.”

When he’s gone, Nick winces and rubs his abused shoulder. As he sweeps his pens and postcards off the table and shoves everything into his pockets, he can’t help but wonder if Greg came looking for him here.

Why would he, though? Surely he’s had enough of you every evening this week?

“Apparently not,” Nick mutters to himself. He seems to amuse Greg without really trying. And the thing is, he thinks he should be more irritated by being laughed at by a guy who’s not even out of high school yet.

He thinks he should be less tolerant of Greg’s need for constant movement and conversation.

He knows he’s losing his mind when there are rapid footsteps behind him, a brush of warm skin against his, a coffee cup placed in front of him; and all he can think about is that Greg smells like warmth and fabric softener and the ocean.

Something unexpected but not unpleasant flutters in Nick’s chest as he watches Greg blow the steam pointlessly from the top of his coffee. He looks down and focuses on tipping white sugar from paper packets into his cup. Greg is talking but he’s only half listening. The crash of the waves and the rapid-fire conversation of Mr and Mrs Moretti seems to swell and flood Nick’s senses. He glances up, caught in warm dark eyes, and scatters sugar across the table top.

“Are you even listening?” Greg inquires, leaning forward slightly.

“Of course, you were talking about, ah...no,” Nick admits. He rubs damp palms on denim-clad thighs. “Sorry.”

Greg drains his cup and pushes back his chair, scraping plastic on concrete. “Doesn’t matter. I gotta run. I said I’d help out in my grandfather’s store this afternoon. But, um...” he pauses, suddenly looking nervous. One hand worries the messy hair anxiously. “You’ll be around tonight, right?” His eyes flick down to the beach.

It’s the first time they’ve actually arranged to meet, and as Nick nods, something unspoken passes between them.

“Don’t you have hundreds of friends you’d rather hang out with?” The question is out of his mouth before he knows it.

Greg’s answering expression is part grimace and part smile.

“Friends? Huh. Friend, singular. He’s on vacation. It’s cool if you’re busy,” he adds, a flash of disappointment in his tone immediately offset with a cocky smile.

“No, I’m not busy,” he says softly, watching the smile turn warm. Nick takes a second to bask in the resultant glow. “I guess I just thought you’d have some big crowd, y’know...”

Greg laughs and stretches both arms above his head. “Nope. Most people think I’m weird.”

“You are weird,” Nick replies, gaze drawn down to trace pale, angular hips.

“Yeah, but you don’t mind. I’ll see you later.”

Nick watches, unblinking, until the lean figure disappears out of sight. It isn’t until his face starts to hurt that he realizes he’s grinning like an idiot.

Gripping the table top hard. Heart racing. The warmth that is nothing to do with the summer sun.

“No,” he groans. Drops his head to rest on the table. Jerks it quickly back up again when he notices Mrs Moretti watching him with a curious expression on her wrinkled face. Flustered, he brushes away the grains of sugar that have stuck to his forehead. “I’m fine,” he mutters under his breath.

Nick takes a deep breath. He’s fine, really. If he believed that, he’d be all set.

**~*~**

“Want some of this?” Greg asks as they sit side by side in sand that is only slightly damp, backs against the smooth, sloping rock. The night is warm and close, the sunset an impressive array of pinks and golds.

Nick jumps, startled. “What?” he asks, sounding calmer than he feels. Greg doesn’t need to know that he’s on edge, that’s for sure.

His eyes widen as he turns to see Greg unscrewing the top of a half-bottle of bourbon.

“Where did you get that?” he hisses, looking around instinctively, even though he knows as well as Greg does that no one has come past here after sunset all week.

He waits, expecting an eye-roll at least, but Greg just smiles. Pushes several rebellious curls out of his eyes. Keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Nick, he raises the bottle to his lips and takes a deep swallow.

Nick bites his tongue as his mouth fills with saliva, eyes following the movement of Greg’s throat as he swallows, the tongue that darts out to lick his lips, the hair that falls across his face as he bows his head for a moment. He feels Greg’s slight shudder as though it’s his own, nostrils assaulted with the strong, sweet scent of the alcohol from the open bottle.

“Where did you get that?” he repeats. The words are stilted, and Nick feels like they belong to a real grown-up, not to him.

Greg glances up, his face pure mischief. “Do you really want to know?”

Nick pauses. Watches the dark liquid swish from side to side in the bottle suspended loosely between Greg’s forefinger and thumb. He thinks about the lifetime of responsibility that’s waiting for him back in Texas, and registers that this is probably the last time he’ll conceivably be able to drink bourbon with a seventeen year old on a public beach, so he might as well go with it. Nick thinks that particular logic is probably questionable, but he’s sick of being sensible. The spark of rebellion flares and roars in his chest.

“No,” he says decisively. “I don’t.”

“Good.” Greg’s grin is electric as he hands Nick the bottle, and his eyes glow as Nick raises it to his lips and drinks.

It could be the smile or the eyes or the bourbon; Nick’s not sure, but either way, the warm rush that envelops him is delicious and he gives in to it without hesitation.

**~*~**

“All I’m saying is, if you don’t want people to know you’re a dork,” Nick expounds some minutes later, “You probably shouldn’t walk around with E=mc2 on your t-shirt. It’s like...advertising.”

He leans back against the rock to look at Greg, who is peering down at his t-shirt, face scrunched up in contemplation. Frowning, Greg glances up, resting the half-empty bottle on his bent knee.

“Are you disrespectin’ the theory of relativity?” he asks, mock-horrified. He’s almost pouting, and Nick reasons that it’s entirely reasonable to be looking at his lips.

“’Course not, Einstein.” Nick grins and accepts the proffered bottle. As he drinks, he pushes away the high school-worthy comments in his head about swapping spit, and fights down a cough as the harsh liquid catches the back of his throat. He’s never liked bourbon.

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” Greg says. “Unless you meant the dog,” he adds, turning narrowed eyes to Nick and lifting an eyebrow accusingly.

“What dog?” Nick squints at the pale face inches from his in the darkness, baffled. He can feel Greg’s hot breath on his cheek and the intensity of his stare is squirm-inducing from this distance. Nick’s heart is racing and he’s barely breathing. He wishes Greg would just answer the damn question. “What dog?” he presses, nudging Greg’s shoulder with his. The warmth of the contact sends aftershocks rippling down his arm.

Greg blinks. Long eyelashes casting spidery shadows against his cheek. “The dog,” he explains slowly, as though Nick is a very stupid person, “From Back to the Future.”

Nick frowns. He’s not that drunk, just pleasantly hazy, and Greg should be making more sense.

“That dog was also named Einstein,” Greg clarifies.

Right. He should have known.

“Ah,” says Nick. Passes the bottle back and decides to look at the sky instead of looking at Greg. Just in case. “I didn’t mean the dog.”

Quickly finding that tipping his head back against the rock is somewhat uncomfortable, Nick sighs with dissatisfaction and scrabbles clumsily to change his position. Fingers sinking into almost-dry sand, he shuffles away from the rock and lies down full-length on his back. It’s cold, even through his jeans and t-shirt, but Nick doesn’t much care. He takes a final gulp from the bottle, coughs, wipes his hand across his mouth and then folds his arms behind his head. Looks up at the stars, and at Greg, who is staring down at him thoughtfully. Beautiful.

Both.

The stars are beautiful, and Greg is beautiful.

The thought strikes Nick hard in the solar plexus and for a second, he feels like he’s fighting for breath. And then Greg is draining the bottle and flopping down beside him, and all Nick can taste is salt and bourbon and the smell of Greg’s hair. It’s intoxicating.

“The thing about time travel,” Greg says, trailing his fingers through the sand at his sides, “Is that if they did it properly, we wouldn’t know anything about it.”

Nick closes one eye and traces the conversation back a few steps. Back to the Future. Right. “Hmm,” he says. “That’s assuming they didn’t go back and screw their moms, or whatever it was they weren’t supposed to do. Or was that Deliverance?”

Greg laughs and rakes up more sand. Nick jumps as the sliding fingers accidentally glance off the exposed skin just above his waistband.

“What I mean is, I could be doing it right now, and you wouldn’t know. If I returned to the exact moment I left.” Greg snaps his fingers, spraying Nick’s chest lightly with sand.

“Are you?” Nick inquires, holding perfectly still as the same hand casually brushes the sand off his t-shirt. He forces himself to bite his tongue hard as the touch forces the brush of cotton against a sensitive nipple.

“No. I’m all here.” Greg almost whispers it, and Nick feels it all over his skin, but he doesn’t dare look.

**~*~**

“Have you ever like...just looked at your hand?”

Nick twists his neck to look over at his companion as he seriously considers the question. He hasn’t moved from his position sprawled flat on his back at Nick’s side, but he is holding one hand up in the air and examining it critically. The dark eyebrows are lowered in deep thought. Tearing his eyes away from Greg’s face, he regards the displayed hand along with Greg. The fingers are long and slender, and Nick can’t help watching the bones shifting under the skin as Greg clenches and unclenches his fist.

“My hand?” Nick repeats. “Ah, no, not really.”

“You should. If you look at it now...if you look at it long enough, it starts to look really weird.” As if to demonstrate his point, Greg picks up Nick’s hand carelessly and holds it up in the air between them. Nick breathes in sharply. “You have nice hands, actually.”

“Thanks. I think,” Nick murmurs, staring at their joined hands.

“What do you mean, you think?” Greg drops Nick’s hand back onto his chest and folds his arms indignantly.

“Well, that’s a pretty weird compliment, Greg.”

“No it’s not.” Greg frowns. Nick holds back a smile. “Are there only certain parts of the body that are supposed to be complimented? What do you want me to say...Nick, you have a really hot ass?”

“No, I just...” Nick freezes. The words go straight to his thighs and he gulps. “You think I have a hot ass?”

He’s not sure what he wants Greg to say, but holds his breath anyway.

Greg shrugs. “It’s ok, I guess.” When Nick slides his eyes slowly over to his companion, he can just see the outline of his small smile in the moonlight.

Feeling warm and deliciously blurry, humming with well-being, Nick doesn’t even try to stop himself as his eyes travel inexorably down Greg’s body. Down over slender, tanned arms crossed over his chest. Past the concave stomach cloaked in black cotton, the jutting hips and long legs in jeans that are wet around the bottoms. Nick’s not sure at which point Greg discarded his tattered sneakers but now he digs bare toes into the sand. There’s something carelessly hypnotising about the action and Nick watches until Greg coughs lightly. Knowing at once he’s been caught, Nick looks away, heat creeping up his neck.

“Glad you approve,” he whispers, feeling like he should say something.

At the first brush of hands in the small space between their prone bodies, Nick takes care to hold very still. It’s accidental, he knows that. No need to panic. Regardless of the fact that it sends electricity spiralling down his spine, and despite that stir of interest in his groin.

It’s ridiculous, he tells himself. Totally insane. He stares very hard up at the night sky and reminds himself to breathe.

The second graze of warm fingers against his sets off prickles at the back of his neck. As much as he wants to know if Greg is doing it on purpose, Nick can’t quite bring himself to look at him.

Insane, he reiterates silently. He’s not a blushing virgin, for god’s sake. He’s been with enough girls in college not to have had his masculinity called into question. And then of course there’s Amber. She’s touched him plenty of times, but it’s never felt like this. He’s held onto his denial for so long, and this person, this scruffy blond nerd lying beside him, is taking it from him. Exposing him.

He can no longer pretend that he’s not attracted to Greg. There’s just no way.

Closing his eyes tight, Nick focuses on the solid feeling of compressed sand underneath him, and the fresh, cool tang of the air. He’s grateful that it’s dark. When he feels the touch a third time, he’s almost lost. Light but insistent, Greg’s thumb traces small circles against the sensitive inside of his wrist. It’s barely there, and surely such a simple touch shouldn’t incapacitate him, surely...but Nick lies there as though paralysed, every nerve ending tingling sharply, the alcohol buzz fading to distant memory.

Abruptly, the caress ends and Nick is left confused. Only for a moment, though, before he realizes that Greg has pulled his hand away to support his head as he rolls onto his side, facing Nick. Feeling curiously vulnerable sprawled on his back, Nick hurriedly mirrors his posture, finding out seconds too late that in this position, head propped up on his elbow, he has nowhere to hide.

Greg’s eyes are dark and intense, but his face is maddeningly inscrutable. When he speaks again, though, his voice is dry and strained.

“So, is it true what they say about Southern boys?”

“What’s that?” Nick half-whispers, hanging onto coherency by a thread. “That we’re all in-bred rednecks? That we’re repressed and think God is the answer to all life’s problems?”

His weak attempt to second-guess Greg makes the blond smile fleetingly.

“No.”

“What then?”

Greg shifts in the sand, brushing denim against denim as he slides a fraction closer.

“That you all spend your formative years rolling in the hay...”

Nick laughs, or at least he tries to. His chest feels impossibly tight and the sound that emerges is somewhere between a croak and a gasp.

“No,” he manages. No, and if I did, I might feel more prepared for moments like this, he wants to add. “I hate to disappoint you, but I did very little, ah...hay rolling, and...” Nick looks down at his free hand, distractedly reminded of the earlier compliment. He supposes his hands are ok. Swallowing hard, he finishes the sentence. “and I didn’t even sleep with a girl until I was in college, so...”

“I’ve never slept with a girl,” Greg offers, so matter-of-factly that Nick is forced to look up.

His eyes are warm and appraising, and Nick wants to touch him so much that he aches.

“You aren’t missing much,” he says, without thinking.

And they stare. The hand in Greg’s hair tightens, he bites his lip thoughtfully. Nick’s mouth turns dry.

The next touch makes Nick come undone. It’s just a brush of fingertips across his forearm, but it’s enough, and before he has time to rationalise it, he’s pushing Greg onto his back in the sand and kissing him. Greg’s small sound of surprise quickly melts into a soft, low whimper as his hands come up to tangle in Nick’s hair. His lips are soft and dry, and like nothing Nick has ever experienced before. Pliant and yielding but in no way passive, Greg kisses back with enthusiasm and something approaching desperation that seems to flow from him, mixing and reacting with Nick’s sharp, sweet relief and exploding between them as they collide again and again.

Lying half on the sand and half on top of Greg’s warm body, Nick slides closer. Feeling his rapid heartbeat through thin cotton and thinking of nothing but more, closer, harder, now. At last, Nick threads his fingers into that unruly hair and opens his mouth willingly to the tongue flicking over the seam of his lips as Greg takes control of the kiss. The brush of tongues is hot and delicious and messy; Greg tastes like bourbon and salt and something thrillingly new. Over and over, Nick holds him firm as he dips into the hot mouth. Lost in sensation, no longer thinking of anything at all.

As he presses down harder, the shift in position brings his growing erection against the unmistakeable hardness straining against Greg’s zipper and the delicious friction makes them both cry out.

“Oh, god,” murmurs Greg as they separate for air, faces inches apart.

The sound of his words startles Nick and he blinks, staring down into open, lust-glazed brown eyes. He’s breathing hard, running a pointed tongue over swollen lips and winding Nick’s hair around his fingers, face flushed, looking like the picture of wicked abandon.

In an instant, Nick’s head clears and just for a moment, he feels nothing. He’s wide open, a blank canvas, waiting for some emotion to swoop in and claim him. Exhilaration, desire, panic and confusion circle uncertainly. Panic wins.

Rigid with fear, Nick hurriedly disentangles himself from Greg and scrambles back onto his knees, heart hammering, nausea welling in his stomach. Greg’s eyes are hurt and confused, and somewhere in the back of his head, Nick registers his pain.

“I have to go,” he mutters, getting unsteadily to his feet and almost tripping over the empty bottle in his haste.

So, you’re getting drunk and groping underage boys now, are you? is all he can hear in his head as he tries not to stumble. Good going, Nick. Just fantastic.

“Nick,” attempts Greg, sitting up.

“I have to go,” he repeats. Guilt swallowed and squashed by the panic as he turns and jogs unsteadily back to Bernie’s house. He only hopes his uncle will be asleep by the time he returns because he definitely does not want to talk about it.

**~*~**

The headache and general feeling of unease is not unexpected when Nick wakes from a fitful sleep, and he accepts them readily. Probably, he deserves to suffer. That’s what he tells himself, anyway. He’s always suspected he would have made a great Catholic; guilt comes naturally to him.

Bernie’s still asleep when Nick slips out of the house without even looking in the mirror and wanders down to Moretti’s. Coffee and fresh air should help with the physical symptoms of his hangover, he thinks. The rest might be a little more complicated.

It’s a cool, clear-skied Sunday morning, and almost all of the outside tables are occupied by people chatting and laughing and eating breakfast. Mrs Moretti takes pity on Nick and shoos him back outside to the one remaining table, offering to bring his coffee over for him. He’s grateful to sit and stare out over the water, folding his arms on the tabletop and trying not to think.

He sighs heavily.

“Is as bad as that?” asks Mrs Moretti, setting the cup down on the table.

Nick looks up at her and forces a smile that makes his jaw ache. “’Course not. I was just thinking.”

She stares down at him with eyes like little black buttons. “Thinking. Hah.” She shakes her head and grips Nick’s shoulder hard. “Thinking,” she repeats disapprovingly as she stalks back into the cafe. “Is no good for you, thinking...”

Nick wraps both hands around the scalding-hot cup and breathes in the fragrant steam. He can’t help but wonder where his night might have ended up if he hadn’t started thinking. And for the first time since the panic abated, he feels a sharp twinge of regret.

**~*~**

He can hear the familiar music as he approaches the house, even before he opens the door. Bernie is in the master bedroom and waves an emulsion-coated roller at Nick in greeting before turning back to the wall.

“You find something to do yesterday?” he asks without looking around.

Nick flushes instantly. “Er, yeah. Something like that,” he replies. Flooded with gratitude when Bernie doesn’t push the point, he lets out the breath he’s been holding and picks up a clean paintbrush.

Painting, he thinks, is almost as good as running for letting the mind wander. The trouble is, all his mind offers is question after question.

What exactly is he panicking about?

Kissing a guy? Ok, so it’s a first. But was it really that unexpected? Frowning with concentration, he carefully paints around the long edge of the doorframe. He knows the answer to that, and it doesn’t settle him any. No.

He wanted...he wants Greg. He’s beautiful, smart, funny...hot. Heart quickening, Nick pulls his brush away from the wall. Unsteady. Mind flooded with sensory memories from the night before. Greg’s warm body under his, the soft hair sliding through his fingers, his taste and small sounds of approval. Nick remembers that it felt right. So very right. His eyes drift shut.

Were his conscience not immediately prickled by simultaneous thoughts of what the hell would your parents say? What about Amber? And he’s seventeen, Nick...things would be somewhat simpler.

His eyes snap open, and he recommences painting with renewed vigour. They’ll talk tonight. They have to.

It’s earlier than usual when Nick heads down to the beach. He has given up the pretence of jogging, today not even bothering to change out of his paint-splattered clothes. He walks almost the full length of the deserted beach as the sun dips low in the sky. Picking up smooth stones along the way and throwing them into the receding water. Quickly giving up when he can’t seem to make them skip over the surface like Greg can. He feels clumsy, ineffectual next to Greg, and he’s not used to feeling that way. It’s unsettling, but then everything about this is. He’s never met anyone who doesn’t have any expectations of him before.

Slowly, he drifts towards their cove and slides down against the smooth rock. Rakes sand through his fingers and examines his hands carefully.

‘You have nice hands, actually...’

‘Nick, you have a really hot ass.’


He smiles. When the image of Greg’s pain-filled eyes flashes into the front of his mind, he winces and the smile fades. Fucking idiot.

As he watches the sun set, Nick whiles away the time by thinking about how he’ll apologise for fleeing the scene. Then they can talk about the other stuff.

It’s cold and dark by the time he gives up. He took off his watch when he started painting, but he knows it’s late, and he knows Greg’s not coming. Shivering, disappointed and embarrassed, he dusts himself off and retraces his steps back to the house.

He’s pissed off, but still, he can’t help but think he deserves it.

**~*~**

By the time Monday evening rolls around, Nick has pretty much talked himself out of ever seeing Greg again. But the fact remains that it’s a nice night, warm and breezy, and he’s worked his ass off waxing floorboards all day. He needs a break. When he tells Uncle Bernie – and himself – that he’s going for a run, the older man doesn’t even look up from his newspaper.

“Nice night for it,” he remarks vaguely.

Nick agrees that it is, and he’s only slightly sad as he changes into running shorts and sneakers. It’s fine, he assures himself. He only wants to go for a run, and that’s what he’s going to do. Best not to complicate things, anyway.

He pushes himself hard, taking long strides and deep, controlled breaths; wind on his face and sweat trickling down his back. He almost doesn’t see them, but when he does there’s nothing he can do about the smile of relief or the flip of his stomach. Suddenly overcome with uncertainty, he pauses, motionless by the water’s edge. Stares at Greg, slumped against the usual rock, knees pulled up to his chest and arms wrapped around Sigmund.

Somehow he looks smaller than the last time Nick saw him, holding onto the dog like a security blanket. Sigmund is curiously motionless, sitting obediently as though sensing Greg’s need for stillness. Nick wonders idly if Greg has brought the dog for the same reason that he actually changed into running gear. Just in case.

“Hey,” he says stiffly as he approaches.

“Hey.” Greg gets to his feet slowly, wrapping Sigmund’s leash several times around his wrist.

“I...I was down here last night,” Nick starts uncertainly. “Kinda hoped you would be, too.”

Greg snorts. His face is a mask of disbelief. He crosses his arms awkwardly. Nick belatedly realizes that perhaps he should have started with the apology.

“I’m sorry, ok? Don’t you think we should talk about what happened?”

Silence. Greg shoots him a long, cool look and stares at the ground.

“Ignoring me. Oh, that’s mature,” Nick retorts, kicking up sand in irritation. Trying to ignore the little voice in his head, the one asking him what he expected, getting involved with someone the same age as his little sister.

“Yeah? Well, so is kissing someone and then running away,” Greg shoots back, looking up.

His eyes burn and pin Nick to the spot, stripping away ten layers of bullshit effortlessly. He lifts his chin defiantly as though to make up for the negligible difference in their heights. Pulls Sigmund a little closer to his side and takes a step closer to Nick.

“I know,” Nick admits. “I panicked. It’s just...there are so many reasons why I shouldn’t do this. So many.”

Greg’s not stupid. He knows what they are, Nick knows that.

Rolling his eyes, he unwinds Sigmund’s leash from his wrist and lets the dog pull away from him again. “I’m not asking for a marriage proposal, Nick. I like you, and you seem to be able to spend more than ten minutes with me without wanting to kick my ass...” he shrugs. “Maybe we can just...just...” he trails off and smiles appealingly. The smile strikes Nick squarely in the gut and his control is shattered instantly.

“Just...yeah,” Nick whispers, covering the distance between them in three long strides and capturing Greg’s mouth for a second time.

This time, he just allows the sensation to wash over him. It feels as though he’s letting go of something and it feels glorious. Their lips seem to fit together. Without the haze of intoxication, the feeling is all the more intense and Nick maps every inch of the moist, mint-flavoured mouth with his tongue as he steadily pushes Greg back against the sloping cliff face. At some point between their lips meeting and Greg’s back hitting the solid wall of rock, he lets go of the leash and slips his hands under Nick’s sticky shirt.

“Like that?” Nick murmurs, pressing full length against Greg and trying to get his breath back.

“Yeah. Something along those lines,” Greg whispers. Lifting both hands to frame Nick’s face and pull him back into another searing kiss, neither noticing as Sigmund escapes and races in and out of the sea, trailing the leash behind him while the sun melts below the horizon.

**~*~**

Nick isn’t sure what he was expecting after kissing Greg for the first time with a clear head, but he definitely wasn’t expecting everything to feel so...normal. It’s as though there’s nothing unusual or different about what they’re doing. Just two guys on a beach. Talking, laughing, running after an energetic and recalcitrant dog. And kissing.

Were it not for the warm lurch of his stomach whenever he thinks about it, and the fact that he can’t stop thinking about it, Nick thinks he’d be convinced that he imagined the whole thing. He’s still replaying the last encounter of the evening in his head as he drops down onto the beach. Greg, taking him by surprise, wrapping a cold hand around the back of his neck, jerking him close and kissing him breathless, before grinning, turning away, and allowing Sigmund to drag him back down the beach.

Smiling, Nick wipes gritty hands on his jeans and tries not to think too much about how long it took him to get dressed. While he knows that ten minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of things, it’s a far cry from his usual two or three, and it’s not for no reason that he stared at himself in the bathroom mirror for longer than was strictly necessary.

The sky is pastel-hued and Greg’s lean form, all in black this time, cuts a striking figure against it. He’s standing several yards out, almost knee deep in the water, dark jeans rolled up carefully. As Nick draws closer to the shoreline, he raises a hand in greeting but doesn’t move.

“What are you doing?” Nick calls out, standing as close to the gently-lapping edge as he can without getting his feet wet.

“Knitting,” Greg replies seriously, and Nick realizes he should have known better than to expect a straight answer to an obvious question.

He pokes at Greg’s abandoned tennis shoes with the toe of his sneaker and shoves his hands into his pockets.

“All right...are you coming out?”

“Nope.” Greg smiles lopsidedly and he squirms.

“Please?” he attempts.

“What’s it worth?” Greg enquires, arching an eyebrow. His expression is utterly suggestive and Nick feels his face heat, along with a soft shiver all the way down his spine.

It’s not that Nick is unfamiliar with these kinds of games, but it’s the first time he’s actually wanted to play. It’s clear that despite his lack of experience, Greg is a natural flirt. And it’s also painfully obvious to Nick that, compared to Greg, he’s way out of his depth here.

“Ah, well...it...I can’t kiss you from all the way over there,” he offers, hanging grimly onto the eye contact. “And I’d like to, really.”

Greg smiles brilliantly, and Nick is childishly pleased to note that the faintest shade of pink stains his cheeks. Still, though, he doesn’t move, just stands there, arms crossed, allowing the sea water to ripple around his pale shins.

“Sounds good to me,” he says. “But why don’t you come out here instead?”

Nick looks down at his shoes and clean, dry jeans. Back up again at Greg. “I’ll get wet.”

“Yeah,” he laughs. “You might.”

“So...” Nick smiles appealingly.

“Come on, the water’s lovely,” Greg wheedles, taking long, wading steps parallel to the shoreline, arms thrown out for balance.

“I don’t want to. Please come here?”

Eyes narrowed, Greg crosses his arms once more and stops. “Na-ah.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re incredibly fucking stubborn?” Nick retorts, half frustrated and half amused.

To his surprise, Greg laughs. “Yep,” he says cheerfully. “I’m a Taurus. It’s practically in the rule book.”

Nick blinks, surprised. He remembers that his sister Lynn used to read her horoscope aloud from the newspaper every morning when they both still lived at home, but he’s never before met a guy who’s interested in that stuff.

“Do you...actually believe in all that stuff?” he asks, the struggle momentarily forgotten.

“Not really,” Greg replies. He takes an unsteady step closer to the shore. “But my Nana does. Astrology, palm-reading, tarot, anything like that. She’ll read your tea leaves whether you like it or not. I guess I’ve learned a lot without really meaning to.”

Slightly relieved, Nick smiles.

“You,” Greg continues, moving steadily closer, “Are a Cancerian. Complicated. You like to save people.” Almost within touching distance now, water washing over bare feet. “Possessive,” he adds, with a slightly raised eyebrow, and Nick frowns, sure that he’s not.

Before he can say a word, his mouth is covered and invaded by Greg’s warm, dry lips and hot, wet tongue. Deepening the kiss instantly, Nick pulls him hard against his body and twists eager hands into his hair.

“It’s all crap, anyway,” Greg mumbles against his lips, breathing roughly, and Nick is hard-pressed to remember what he’s talking about.

“Mmhmm,” he murmurs and takes Greg’s mouth again.

The cold hands that slip under his t-shirt make Nick shiver and the warm thigh that is pressed between his legs creates a delicious friction that drags a gasp from him. It’s only now that he has it, that he fully understands how desperate for it he has been. Greg kisses with the same urgency, energy and playfulness that he applies to every other activity, and the result is both messy and electrifying.

Pulling away, Nick drags fresh, tangy air into his lungs. Hesitates only for a moment before attaching his lips to Greg’s neck, desperate to taste the soft, pale skin behind his ears.

“You taste...incredible,” he whispers, sucking gently. It appears he’s found a sensitive spot because Greg trembles and moans softly under his lips, fingers slipping below his waistband and digging into his skin. His hot breath caresses Nick’s shoulder as he lets his head drop forwards to expose more skin to Nick’s lips and tongue.

“Thanks,” Greg manages, half-sigh half-moan. Pushing bony hips against Nick’s. The realization that Greg is as painfully hard as he is almost undoing him. Needing, wanting more. Now.

There’s no one around and it’s almost dark, but still, it feels far too open to take this any further. Refusing to consider even for a moment whether he should, Nick reaches behind him and grabs Greg’s hand. Putting some distance between them so that he might think straight. While he can. Before all the blood drains out of his brain.

“We need to move,” he says roughly.

Greg blinks, glassy-eyed. Hair everywhere. Face flushed. “Ok.”

Nick looks around desperately. Their usual tiny cove is about fifty yards away, that’s all. Not totally private but under the circumstances, it will have to do.

“Over here,” he urges, pulling hard at the hand in his. “Think you can make it?”

“Yes. Move.”

He breaks into a run, dragging Greg behind him, stumbling in the damp sand. A breathless laugh behind him. Strong fingers wrapped around his. A frantic heart rate that has nothing to do with running and everything to do with anticipation.

Halting abruptly at the cliff face, Nick finds himself pulled around in a stumbling, haphazard circle. Greg does not let go of his hand, and takes advantage of the momentum created to slam Nick into the rocky wall. Hips jerking together immediately. Hands pinning his shoulders with surprising strength. The sudden jolt of pleasure dissolves the last of Nick’s inhibitions and he grabs Greg’s ass hard. It’s agonisingly good but it’s not enough.

“Can I...need to...touch you, is that ok?” Lips brushing as Nick gives in and issues the halting request.

“Oh god, yes,” Greg whispers, stealing quick, intense kisses. “Yes. Please.”

Though he never expected to be the one being pinned, Nick thinks he likes it. Hands on his hips now. Cold, jagged rock digging into his back. Nick fumbles the button fly at first and pulls at the rough fabric in frustration. A calming breath and it’s open; warm, damp cotton pressing and straining against his palm.

“Fuck,” Greg hisses and he presses harder.

Greg’s fingers dig painfully into his hips, inches away from the painful throb of his own erection. Hot mouth against his neck as Greg flinches into his touch. The scent of arousal wild in his nostrils and he’s pulling at the cotton waistband of Greg’s underwear and sliding his hand down, through rough hair and brushing, closing over the most incredible heat and hardness. Faintly, somewhere, Nick registers that it’s the first time he’s touched a cock other than his own and it feels fucking unbelievable.

Greg moans harshly against his ear as he tightens his grip. Moves his hand slowly, circling his thumb over the moisture at the tip and catching his breath when the flesh jerks and hardens in his fist. Nick barely notices his zipper being undone but the graze of Greg’s knuckles against his neglected cock makes him twitch his hips from the wall and bite his tongue hard.

“Can I?”

“Yeah,” he whispers.

“Like that?”

Jeans and underwear shoved away roughly. The rush of night air cool on the sensitive flesh for seconds only before finally, finally he’s enclosed in a firm grip. Warmth, pressure, friction. Maddeningly slow.

“Yeah. Faster,” Nick murmurs. “Please.”

“Oh, god...”

“Feel good?”

“Yes...not going to last,” comes the strangled whimper against Nick’s neck and the urgency in Greg’s tone sends hot static ripples between his cock and his spine.

“Don’t care,” Nick grinds out. And he doesn’t. He’s too close to the edge to hold back. It’s too good, too desperate; a long, drawn-out build up of pressure that just has to explode. He can’t stand it. And he wants to see Greg lose it. Wants to see him come. The thought surprises and excites Nick all at once.

Frantic rhythm now, both, breath ripped out in rags and filthy sounds of skin on skin conspicuously loud in Nick’s ears. Fisting his free hand into Greg’s hair, he pulls him away from his neck and stares helplessly into half-closed dark eyes, teeth digging into the slick, abused bottom lip.

He feels, hears and watches Greg’s release simultaneously – the deep shudder and warm, sticky eruption over his hand; the strangled cry and ‘oh fucking god,’ and the widening of his eyes before they flutter closed. It’s the most hopelessly erotic thing he’s ever seen. It only takes three more thrusts into Greg’s hand and an impossibly soft kiss for Nick to explode messily between them, the flick of Greg’s tongue against his sending him over the edge into a tide of relief so intense he almost can’t handle it.

Though unsure of the actual words, Nick knows he’s loud, the sound ripped from him and emptied into Greg’s mouth.

Unwilling to let go, he hangs onto the kiss until the need for air forces them apart. Greg leans against him hard, his racing heartbeat out of rhythm with Nick’s through their clothes. Reluctantly, Nick pulls his hand away and wipes it on his jeans. He can feel Greg’s grin against his neck as he gives Nick’s spent cock a final squeeze and withdraws his hand.

“I need to sit down,” Nick admits. His legs are dangerously shaky and there’s a good chance they won’t support his weight for much longer.

“Sure thing...old man.” Greg draws away and smiles lazily.

Too sated and sleepy to defend himself, Nick simply zips up his jeans and flops down into the sand, supporting himself on his elbows and letting his head drop back. There’s a soft thump as Greg drops down beside him, tangling their legs together and folding his arms behind his head. As his breathing slows, Nick closes his eyes and allows the sweeping feeling of warmth and wellbeing to wash over him.

When he opens them, he stares at Greg’s pale, bare calves in the moonlight and smiles. He wonders if Greg’s shoes are still where he left them, or if they’ve been washed out to sea by now.

“Hey,” Nick asks, remembering their earlier conversation. “Was it worth it?”

Greg turns intense dark eyes on him and frowns lightly. “Was what worth what?”

“Was what we, ah...did, worth coming out of the water for?”

“Oh!” Greg closes his eyes and grins impossibly widely. “That. Oh, god yes. Yes. Absolutely.”

“Good. You know, that smile should be illegal,” Nick mutters, more to himself than to Greg. Unable to stop himself, he leans over and smothers the grinning mouth with a long, playful kiss.

“Yeah well...if you’d had a mouthful of metal for almost two years, you’d smile at every opportunity, too,” Greg points out, mumbling against Nick’s lips and dragging a damp, sandy hand down the side of his face.

“Ain’t complaining,” Nick replies, trying to wipe his face off on Greg’s black t-shirt.

When, seconds later, he’s being held down by a lapful of kicking, biting, wriggling blond, Nick fights back. He drops his fair-game principles in a flash and fights dirty; poking, tickling and grabbing, rolling over and over in a sticky, sweaty tangle of limbs until finally he has Greg subdued and pinned by his wrists in the sand.

“Now what are you going to do?”

“I have no idea,” Nick replies honestly, catching his captive’s sly smile and reflecting it back to him.

When he gets back to the house, Nick once again stares at himself in the bathroom mirror for a long time. His hair is sticking up in several different directions and flopping over one eye. He has sand on his face, on his clothes and under his fingernails. Skin is flushed and dewy with perspiration. Eyes bright and sharp. He almost doesn’t recognise himself.

**~*~**

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” remarks Uncle Bernie several days later, switching off his power sander and removing a pair of plastic goggles which Nick privately thinks make him look like a fly.

“Sure does,” Nick agrees. He straightens up with some effort and wipes his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand.

He knows that Bernie is referring to their current task, rebuilding the tatty old porch almost from scratch, but he can’t help thinking about the feeling that all of his days are blending into a warm, hazy blur. Routine is something that has always made him feel secure; that everything’s alright with the world. And he’s not complaining about this one.

His mornings and afternoons are painting, building, varnishing. Taking things apart and putting them back together again. Cold beers on shabby lawn chairs, now that the porch is under reconstruction. Loud music that he’s beginning to like. Taking turns with Bernie at making simple lunches and epic breakfasts in an unspoken but joint effort to outdo each other. Gentle, easy conversation and comfortable silence.

Everything else is Greg. Sunsets and slow, aimless walks and heated glances. Relaxed, lazy kisses and frantic, desperate ones. Greg tastes like summer. The thrilling friction of matching hardness through layers of denim, exploring hands and soft cries of pleasure in the open air. Nick has never been so daring in his life. It’s so exhilarating that he’s beginning to wonder if deep down he’s a bit of an exhibitionist. Or perhaps it’s just Greg.

He changes everything. Nick’s love of silence hasn’t completely deserted him, but he supposes the difference is, Greg’s words seem to fill the gaps in his conversation. It feels natural, like a dance, or like puzzle pieces sliding together. It’s...easy. Not that Greg doesn’t have a flair for the dramatic.

“I have a confession to make,” he’d announced the previous night, as he lay sprawled on his back in the sand, head resting on Nick’s thighs.

“Oh? What’s that?” Nick asked, back against the big rock, fingers twisted into messy blond hair.

“You know the day we met? When Sigmund...er...knocked you on your ass?”

“I have a vague recollection of that...event, yeah,” Nick said, looking down into shifting dark eyes that could not quite meet his. “Why?”

Greg bit his lip. “You know how I said he only escapes when I’m not paying attention? I wasn’t paying attention because I was....lukinatyrass.”

“You were what?”

“I was looking at your ass. While you were running,” Greg clarified, looking somehow both smug and horribly embarrassed.


“What did I say?” Bernie asks. Nick blinks and the memory dissolves. His uncle’s face is a picture of confusion. “Something funny?”

“Nothing. Just...remembering something.” Nick shakes his head and smiles. “We done for the day? I’ll get the beers.”

For a split second, Bernie looks as though he’s about to say something, but he appears to think better of it and simply nods, picking his way across the long grass and easing his tired body into a lawn chair.

**~*~**

It’s a warm Thursday morning during his third week when Nick gets the letter from Anna. Bernie is on breakfast detail and has produced an impressive spread including pancakes, bacon and fresh fruit. The kitchen is only half-done and looks like a construction site, but the savoury smell makes Nick’s mouth water in anticipation. The letter is next to his plate, and the sight of the familiar large, neat handwriting makes him smile. It’s nice to hear from his youngest sister, in spite of their sometimes prickly relationship.

Dear ass-face, he reads. Nick laughs out loud. He spreads the letter out on the table-top and continues.

Missing me? No? Thanks for the postcard, it was charming. (not). Mom says she bets you’re enjoying the silence, whatever that means.

Anyway, the point is, I saw Amber in town yesterday. She was buying groceries and she was with that guy David something-or-other, you know, the one with the Porsche and the snaggletooth. She said she was pretty upset that you haven’t called or written her, not even once. (that’s pretty bad of you, really). I asked her if she was dating David-snaggletooth now and she wouldn’t answer. That means yes, obviously. Anyway, I told her you probably didn’t care anyhow. I said you’d probably met some Californian babe with blond hair and all that. (yeah right).

When I told Mom about it, she was kind of mad. She said I had to write you and tell you what I did. So here it is. But if you haven’t even called or written, I don’t see why you’d care. You even wrote me, and you hate me. (I’m your sister, it’s the rules.)

Try not to saw your fingers off, or inhale paint fumes or anything.

Love, Anna.

P.S. I was also supposed to apologise.


As soon as he’s done, Nick goes back and reads the entire letter again. He stares at his sister’s words for a long time, trying to get a handle on his feelings. He wonders if he should be angry with Anna. Tact and sensitivity have never been her strong points, he knows that.

Sensitive she may not be, but Anna never misses a trick. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that Amber is seeing some other guy.

So am I, he thinks, and a strange mixture of guilt and amusement fish-leaps in the pit of his stomach. Some Californian babe with blond hair and all that. Nick re-reads Anna’s flippant words and amusement wins out.

Light with relief, he grins and folds the letter away.

**~*~**

The soft click from the opposite side of the living room signals to Nick that the cassette needs turning over, but seeing as he is balanced on the top rung of Bernie’s creaky stepladder painting the ceiling, he is not in a position to do it himself. Nick looks around at the paint-spattered stereo and sighs.

Bernie is nowhere to be seen.

Having failed to reverse the tape using the power of his mind, Nick grins and returns to his task.

“It's another tequila sunrise,” he sings, starting into the song he knows would come next. “Starin' slowly 'cross the sky, said goodbye. He was just a hired hand...” Nick trails off at the sound of his uncle’s soft laughter as he re-enters the room.

“What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Bernie demurs, shaking his head. Shall I make a pot of tea?”

“No, seriously. What?” Nick gestures with his brush.

Bernie sighs. Takes off his glasses and polishes them fretfully on his t-shirt. “Well, two things, really. One, I think I need to find a new tape for us to listen to, as you obviously know that one too well.”

Nick shrugs. He’s not arguing with that.

“Two, well...I think you’re in love.”

“What?” Nick flinches, startled, and has to grab onto the ladder hard to stop himself from falling off. “I’m not!”

“It’s none of my business, I know. Couldn’t help but notice, though. Someone’s making you happy.” Bernie replaces his glasses and peers up at Nick. “It’s a good thing, no? You know what, I’ll just go make that tea...”

Heart racing uncomfortably, Nick stares after his uncle as he disappears out of sight. Not only is it probably the most words he has heard Bernie use in one go ever, the message is both unexpected and unsettling.

Nick grips the top of the ladder until his knuckles turn white.

Can you be in love with someone you’ve known for two weeks? Sexual attraction is one thing, but...

Bernie’s words plague Nick for several long moments before he reassures himself that it’s not true and starts to breathe again.

When Bernie returns with the tea, he doesn’t mention it again.

**~*~**

The conversation circles relentlessly around Nick’s head for the remainder of the afternoon, torturing him with questions that he doesn’t know how to answer. Until he’s standing on the edge of the beach once more, because as soon as he lays eyes on Greg, floating carelessly on his back in the water, wearing what seems to be blue boxer shorts and nothing else, all rational thought is pushed out of his mind to make way for damn that’s hot. And that’s all.

He might be on the skinny side, but Nick likes that. There’s something elegant about the long limbs and graceful posture. He certainly doesn’t lack strength, Nick knows that, and what he lacks in weight he more than makes up for in tenacity and speed. Whatever it is about him, Nick can’t remember ever admiring a girl’s body like he’s doing right now.

The water can’t be warm at this time of day, but the young blond seems entirely unconcerned. When Nick calls out to him, he pulls himself to his feet, the water lapping calmly at waist level. Wordlessly, he holds out a hand and invites Nick to join him.

He had a feeling this might happen, ever since Greg had given in and come out of the water during their last battle of wills. He’s never liked the water much. He doesn’t even really care for swimming. Generally, he just prefers to stay warm and dry. What’s wrong with that?

He sighs.

“Come on,” Greg calls at last. “Fair’s fair. You won’t dissolve.”

Nick can’t really argue with that, much though he wants to.

“Where are your clothes?” he asks, playing for time.

“Over there, on the rock.” Greg points. “Now get your ass in this water.”

“Don’t you be telling me what to do,” Nick protests, even though he knows it’s pointless. He doesn’t even mind, not really. He’d mind a lot less if what Greg wanted him to do didn’t involve cold water.

Resignedly, he pulls his t-shirt over his head. Greg’s appreciative whistle is loud in the night air and Nick ducks his head and grins in spite of himself. He kicks off his shoes and pauses, hands resting on the top button of his jeans. Feeling oddly self-conscious about striding into the sea clad only in white boxer shorts that are sure to turn transparent.

“Off, off, off!” laughs Greg, scooping up a handful of water and attempting to splash Nick. From such a distance, it’s barely a spray that actually touches him, but the intention is clear and Nick’s mind is made up.

“That’s it, Greg, you’re dead,” he threatens.

And with that, Nick braces himself and dashes into the water without removing his jeans.

The water isn’t as cold as he feared, but it’s still enough of a shock to knock the breath out of him. The heavy denim instantly waterlogs and moulds wetly to his legs as he splashes out, bare feet scrabbling for purchase on mounds of smooth, shifting pebbles. Hampered by the weight of the fabric, Nick is reminded of middle school, and being made to jump into the pool in his pyjamas in an attempt to gain his lifesaving award. He didn’t like it then, and he doesn’t like it now.

He has to admit that this is somewhat different. This scene is altogether more peaceful; the deserted beach, softly rippling saltwater and blunt orange sun melting below the horizon. Greg smiles at him and the sting of chlorine and yells of his gym teacher fade to distant memory. The prize, this time, is something he wants, too. Drawing close, Greg stops trying to escape and Nick’s eyes follow the droplets of water that trickle and cling to the pale, lean chest, peaked pink nipples and concave stomach. Mesmerised, he reaches out and traces a wet line around Greg’s navel and down, following the light trail of hair that disappears below his soaked boxer shorts.

“Told you the water was nice,” Greg says smugly, pressing flat hands against Nick’s abdomen. Instinctively, he tenses the muscles under the light touch. Greg slides wet hands over his chest, shoulders, arms and back; anywhere and everywhere he can reach, gooseflesh trailing in the wake of his fingers.

“You’re just trying to get me wet,” Nick accuses. He swipes dripping, water-darkened hair out of Greg’s eyes and steps awkwardly closer until they stand chest to chest, waist deep in the water.

“Maybe. Who would blame me? You look very good wet.”

“I do?” Nick isn’t convinced. He’s ok, sure, he works out...but nothing special.

“Are you kidding me? You should see yourself. You look like an Athena poster.”

Greg’s wrinkled fingers rest on Nick’s upper arms as he speaks. The dark eyes are soft and almost reverent. Just for a moment, Nick sees himself as Greg sees him, and it’s a revelation. Cool water and wet denim forgotten. Caught. Greg’s eyes warm on his. Warm, fading light and creeping shadows.

You’re beautiful, he thinks, but doesn’t say it. He’s not sure how Greg would react to being called beautiful. Nick supposes it’s not the most masculine of words, but it fits, somehow. Lips halfway to Greg’s ear, he’s interrupted by a shriek of raucous laughter and whips his head around, startled, to locate the source. A flash of movement catches his eye up on the path above the beach. Two women in expensive-looking running gear, jogging along the path, loudly discussing the best route down to the sand.

By his reckoning, they’ll be running past this exact spot in less than a minute. And he thinks they might just have something to say about two half-naked guys standing out in the ocean for no apparent reason.

“Come on,” he hisses to Greg over his shoulder, trying to splash back to shore as quietly and inconspicuously as he can.

This is not made any easier by the added burden of soaked denim or by Greg’s snickering behind him. Staggering out of the water, cursing under his breath, Nick grabs up his discarded t-shirt and shoes and makes a break for the rocks. Halfway across the sand, the humour of the situation hits him. He realizes just how ridiculous he must look; soaked, half-dressed, stumbling across the sand to hide from women in pink sweatpants. He slows down, breathless laughter bubbling up in his chest, just in time to watch Greg pelt past him, sodden underwear clinging appealingly to his hips and flapping around his legs.

Chancing a glance over his shoulder, Nick sees that the two joggers have found the steps and are seconds away from hitting the beach. Focusing on Greg, who is crouching behind the large rock, gesturing frantically to him and laughing into his hand, Nick pulls himself together and sprints the last few yards, throwing himself down next to Greg just as the voices draw closer.

“I could have sworn I saw someone down here,” one says, looking around.

Next to him, Greg bites down on his lip to suppress a snort of laughter. Nick clamps a hand over his mouth and pulls him down lower; cold wet skin brushing as they crouch as low behind the rock as possible. Adrenaline courses through Nick’s veins and he doesn’t dare breathe until they are out of sight.

Something warm and wet swipes across his palm and he pulls his hand away.

“Did you just lick my hand?

Greg shrugs. “Yeah.”

“That’s...kinda disgusting.”

“Is it? Greg flops over onto his backside and leans up against the rock, looking up at Nick curiously. “I’ve licked you most everywhere else, haven’t I?”

“I guess you have,” Nick replies softly. He has. And Nick has no complaints whatsoever about Greg’s apparent oral fixation. What he may lack in finesse, he more than makes up for in energy and enthusiasm. It’s not like Nick hasn’t been sucked off before now, but in his...fairly limited, granted...experience, girls seem to do it because they feel like they should. Greg seems to enjoy it, and it makes a hell of a difference. And he’s been wondering what it’s like for far too long now.

“What are you thinking about?” Greg quirks an eyebrow and Nick shakes himself from his thoughts with a grin.

No time like the present.

“I’ll show you,” he says with more confidence than he feels.

Heart still hammering painfully against his ribs from the brush-with-girl-joggers, Nick brushes the wet hair back from Greg’s forehead and kisses his cold lips. The contrast between the cool outside and hot inside of his mouth is delicious and the kiss quickly grows intense and demanding. Nick wraps protective arms around the slender back, rubbing hands up and down Greg’s spine to warm the damp skin.

Drawing carefully back from the kiss, he trails his tongue experimentally over Greg’s chest. His own distinctive taste is just discernable above the sharp salt-tang of sea-water and Nick breathes him in deeply. Greg’s sigh of appreciation and hands tangled in Nick’s hair spur him on. He can do this. He wants to do this, so much. Tracing along a smooth hipbone with his tongue, Nick looks up straight into eyes that are suddenly filled with an explosion of lust and understanding. Silent encouragement.

“I think you should take these off,” he whispers, dipping fingers under the damp blue waistband.

“Uhuh...they’re wet, anyway, so...” Greg’s words fade and he swallows, hard.

“Exactly.”

Blood thundering in his ears, Nick peels the wet shorts away and drops them carelessly in the sand. He stares, transfixed, palms pressing head into Greg’s belly, hot breath ghosting over the sensitized flesh of his half-hard cock, making it twitch and the hands in Nick’s hair tighten reflexively. He fists the warm shaft lazily, watching as it stiffens and lengthens under his fingers. Leaning close, the distinctive musky scent assaults his senses, as Greg’s whole body stiffens and his breath catches once, twice...a third time just as Nick swipes his tongue over the glistening head. The resulting sound dragged from the back of Greg’s throat sounds remarkably like his name, and he loves it.

He has never felt so powerful before. Kneeling uncomfortably in the sand; cold, wet jeans restrict movement but they can’t stop the pleasurable ache at the base of his spine and the blood flooding his cock. He’s not even being touched, and it doesn’t matter. The soft sounds and whispered words spilling from Greg’s mouth as Nick slides his mouth over his cock are enough. The helpless little jerk of his hips as he tries to push harder, deeper. Wanting, needing more of the hot, moist pressure and it’s a rush. Nick wants to give it to him, doesn’t want him to hold back.

OhmyfuckinggodNick,” he cries in a rush, pushing hard into Nick’s mouth and he’s forced to pull back, choking slightly. “Sorry,” whispers Greg, biting his lip. “Sorry...just, so good. Please don’t stop.”

Wrapping his hand around the slick shaft, Nick pulls away for a moment. Swallowing saliva and looking up into Greg’s face; a confusing mix of concern and pleasure written across his features.

“Promise I won’t stop,” he assures, draping his free arm across Greg’s hips and effectively pinning him in place as he takes the blond’s cock back into his mouth. The predominant taste is salt, from the water and the steady leak of sticky fluid against his tongue that tells him Greg is close. It’s not at all unpleasant, and he knows he’s not going to pull away, not for anything.

Pressure, rhythm, following his mouth with his hand...Nick can feel Greg coming apart underneath him.

“Close, really close,” he warns, a soft whimper and then nails digging into Nick’s scalp; a string of muttered curses as he floods Nick’s mouth.

An entirely new thrill prickles under his skin as he wipes his hand across his mouth and looks up, blinking and realizing what he has just done. He scrambles up to lean against the rock next to Greg and is immediately pulled into a messy, languid kiss.

“Thank you,” Greg mumbles. “You’re...you’re fucking...you’re...” he shrugs and lapses into silence.

Two minutes later, he’s asleep, draped across Nick’s shoulder.

Taking the rare opportunity to study him while he’s perfectly still, Nick runs his eyes over the wet, messy hair curling around ears that, on balance, stick out a little; the long, dark eyelashes fanned out against flushed cheeks; the long, lean face and expressive mouth. Perhaps, Nick thinks, he’s not a textbook study in handsome, but the quirks are engaging rather than defective.

It’s an interesting face, and Nick finds himself wanting to capture it in some way. His thoughts are instantly drawn to the sketchbook shoved into the bottom of his holdall, the one he packed just in case. It’s been a while since anything inspired him.

Unbidden, Bernie’s words slide right back into his head.

‘It’s a good thing, no?’

Nick isn’t sure what to make of any of it right now, but as the last of the light fades away, he pulls Greg closer to him and lets him sleep for a little longer.

**~*~**

Saturday morning finds Nick postcard shopping once more, albeit this time with a scruffy blond shadow. Despite his outward focus on the task at hand, Nick’s mind wanders with alarming frequency. To his companion in general, and to the previous night in particular. It doesn’t matter how many times he tells himself it’s just sex, the lightness in his chest argues otherwise, and besides...he’s never done that before, and the newness is thrilling.

And distracting. The fact that Greg buys an ice cream cone from the first vendor they come across and consumes it with slow relish does not help Nick’s focus one bit.

“You’ve got ice cream on your bottom lip,” he points out weakly, suppressing a moan as Greg’s agile tongue shoots out to swipe at the fleck of rum-raisin. “And you’re really not helping.”

“What’s the matter? Do you want some? S’good,” Greg offers, blinking innocently and making a show of licking at the falling droplets of melting ice cream around the edges of his cone.

“Teases go to hell, Greg.” Nick grins widely and turns away.

Questioning the wisdom of his decision to wear thin shorts, even if it is a very warm day. He can’t seem to help the effect Greg has on him, and he’s starting to think that his choice of clothing could prove disastrous. Their hands brush every now and then as they walk, and Nick finds himself gripped by the very real temptation to reach out and lace their fingers together.

It’s odd, he thinks, because he’s never liked public displays of affection, not even with his high school girlfriends or Amber, when no one would have batted an eyelid had they started making out in the middle of the street. Just for a moment, he wonders if David-snaggletooth holds hands with Amber in public. It amazes him how much he doesn’t care. Greg’s fingers brush the back of his hand again and he shivers. Reluctantly, Nick tucks his hands into his pockets. He doesn’t miss Greg’s expression of mild surprise and disappointment, and he hates it.

He stops abruptly at a small shop with a tall wire rack of postcards on the sidewalk outside. Spinning it around slowly with one finger, Nick stares at the myriad ocean views and sunsets as they slide by. As it slows to a stop, he finds himself staring into warm dark eyes through the gaps in the rack.

“What about this one?” suggests Greg, holding a card over the top of the rack for Nick to see. “For your mom.”

Nick laughs and tries to imagine his mother’s reaction to receiving a postcard of a very fat lady in a bikini. Bending over. He thinks it could be well worth seeing, but he doesn’t have a death wish.

“I don’t want to give her a heart attack, so maybe not.” The postcard is withdrawn and Nick can hear crunching sounds as Greg attacks the cone in his other hand. “My mom’s kinda...a traditionalist, when it comes to postcards. I try to pick out stuff that’ll make her say ‘oh, what a lovely view’, rather than...”

“...than, ‘my gawd, that woman’s got an ass the size of Texas?’” offers Greg, licking his fingers and affecting a high-pitched voice.

“Yeah. Exactly,” Nick agrees, distracted by the fingers sliding into Greg’s mouth.

He shakes himself and hurriedly selects several picturesque ocean views and a spectacular sunset.

“Mretis?” Greg mumbles, still licking his fingers as Nick returns from paying.

“Sure,” Nick says, eyes inexorably drawn once again to Greg’s mouth. “If you don’t stop that right now, I’m going to kiss you in front of all of these people,” he whispers urgently, very close to Greg’s ear.

Drawing away before his growing erection becomes obvious to passers-by, Nick stomps away in the direction of Moretti’s.

“Sorry!” Greg calls, not sounding it one bit as he bounds after Nick.

**~*~**

“What do you write, anyway?” Greg asks, stretching across the plastic table-top and playing with the sugar packets.

The sun is directly overhead and Nick lowers his head to draw root beer up through a straw without having to pick the glass up. He’s scribbling away to his mother and Greg, stubbornly sticking to coffee, is watching him with interest.

“Just...regular son stuff,” Nick shrugs, releasing the straw from his mouth. “It’s warm, Uncle Bernie’s fine, San Francisco’s great but I miss Dallas, yes I’m eating vegetables...that kind of thing.”

“Are you really?” Greg rests his chin on crossed arms and looks up at Nick.

“Really what? Eating my vegetables? Sure. Are you suggesting I lie to my mother?” Nick raises his eyebrows. They almost disappear into his hairline when Greg slides a foot up his bare calf under the table.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t. Maybe I should write one to my parents.” He sighs and blows hair out of his eyes. “Dear mom and dad...while you’ve been running around Europe drinking wine and pretending to like each other, I’ve been engaging in immoral acts with strange men in public places...yet more reason for you to be thoroughly disappointed in me.”

Greg frowns and meets Nick’s eyes. His tone carries an edge of bitterness that Nick hasn’t heard before. Even when he’s discussed his parents, Greg has always maintained an air of half-amused resignation, not this. Nick’s writing hand stills and his heart stutters painfully.

“I’m sure they...I don’t...” Nick takes a deep breath and shuts up. He’s not going to say the right thing, if in fact there is a right thing to say.

Before he can stop himself, he’s sliding his right hand across the table and wrapping his fingers around Greg’s. Squeezing hard, just for a second. Greg’s mouth quirks upwards at one corner and he squeezes back.

Quick as a flash, he wrests the pen from Nick’s hand and straightens up in his seat. “Sorry,” he says softly, shaking his head as though to rid himself of his short-lived attack of melancholy. Nick wants to tell him that there’s no need to apologise, but inexplicably, he can’t speak. He swallows hard.

“I’m sure we can think of something more interesting to write to your parents,” Greg continues, eyes flashing devilment, no traces of bitterness remaining.

“I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”

“Oh, but you will.” Greg chews thoughtfully on the pen and flips over the nearest postcard. “Dear mom and dad,” he reads aloud to Nick as he writes. “I’m having a great time in San Francisco. I met this guy named Greg. He’s witty, cool, handsome and he gives great head...”

Nick kicks Greg under the table but does not contradict him. Despite his almost all-over flush, he’s laughing hard by the time Greg has filled up all of the available space with his untidy, chicken-scratch handwriting.

Greg pauses and snickers. “...lots of love, your darling Nicky.”

He throws down the pen in triumph and skitters the postcard across the table top to Nick. When he flips it over, it’s the sunset view and Nick smiles, glancing out over the water before returning his eyes to Greg.

“I’m beginning to think you want to send my parents to an early grave,” he muses, still grinning like an idiot.

“Death by postcard. At least it’s original.” He flops back onto the table-top, smiling softly. Several dirty-blond waves fall over his forehead. Without thinking, Nick reaches over and brushes them away.

As he withdraws, a familiar easy laugh reaches his ears and he freezes. Barely breathing, Nick twists around in his seat. And...shit. Standing just outside the entrance to the cafe, newspaper tucked under his arm, chatting amiably with Mrs Moretti, is Uncle Bernie.

Nick’s heart leaps into the back of his throat. He looks away quickly. Leans back from the table and grips the armrests of his chair reflexively. Greg eyes him with incomprehension.

All Nick can think is what is he doing here? What the hell did he see? What the hell did he hear? He swallows hard.

Panicked, he stares at Greg, who is pulling himself back into a sitting position and resting his chin in his cupped hands. Something cold prickles on the back of Nick’s neck.

“Hi, Nick,” says Bernie from behind him. As he comes into view, Nick has to fight to resist the urge to hide his head in his hands. “Great coffee here, isn’t it?” he adds conversationally, holding up a large, steaming paper cup.

“Hi, Uncle Bernie,” Nick mumbles.

Greg smiles winningly. “It is great coffee,” he agrees.

Bernie’s grey eyes flicker with interest as he regards Greg carefully. Horrified, Nick watches his face and sees the exact moment he puts two and two together and comes up with the correct answer. He might be a man of few words, but there’s no doubt that Bernie is every bit as sharp and astute as his sister.

Rising out of his panic in his head, as clear as if she’d been actually standing beside him, is Nick’s mother’s voice; ‘Where are your manners, Nick?’ and he cringes.

“Uncle Bernie, this is Greg...Greg, this is my Uncle Bernie,” he manages, and somehow manages not to react when Bernie shifts his coffee to the other hand and shakes Greg’s in a bizarre parody of their own first meeting.

“Nice to meet you, Greg,” he says. A sidelong glance at Nick. “I won’t interrupt you any longer.”

As soon as he’s out of sight, Nick slides down in his chair and rubs his eyes. “Oh....fuck.”

“He seemed nice,” says Greg lightly.

“Oh. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck,” Nick whispers.

**~*~**

Nick walks slowly, and by the time he reaches the house he has a thumping headache. Though at times he favours the ‘fade into the background’ approach to life, he also knows when sticky situations have to be grabbed and dealt with as soon as possible. The rational person inside him insists that Bernie didn’t seem freaked out at all, but Nick also knows that he doesn’t really know the man well enough to make assumptions.

More than anything, he desperately hopes things don’t become uncomfortable between them. The last few weeks have been the most peaceful Nick thinks he has ever had, and to have messed it all up would be devastating. What he might or might not tell his mother is something Nick doesn’t even want to contemplate right now.

Nick finds him on the almost-finished front porch. All it needs now is a lick of paint, and as Nick waits, he finds himself admiring their work. It looks good.

“You’re back,” Bernie says, turning at Nick’s footsteps. Nick just nods, and the older man’s face is expressionless. After a moment, he hauls himself to his feet and disappears into the house without another word.

Nick sighs, disappointment heavy in his chest. He lowers himself to sit, as he has done many times over the last few weeks, on the edge of the porch. Looks out over the bay. He wonders if Bernie will expect him to leave straight away. Probably, if he can’t even stand to share the same airspace.

As he contemplates explaining to his mother why he’s back so soon, the scuff of sandals on bare boards makes Nick look up. He takes the proffered beer, confusion written all over his face. Bernie sits next to him and holds out his own bottle in a wordless toast. A million questions on the tip of his tongue, Nick bites them back and clinks his bottle against his uncle’s.

Slowly, Nick allows himself to breathe. He drags in long, deep lungfuls of ocean air in between gulps of cold beer. They stare at the afternoon sun rippling over the ocean, and say nothing.

“I met my first love on vacation,” says Bernie at last. Nick turns to him, curious. “Before I met your Aunt Caroline. Florida...1956. I was seventeen. Her name was Alice. We spent almost the whole summer together.”

He smiles warmly and Nick returns the smile, surprised. Unsure of what to say but feeling somehow privileged; he’s almost certain that his uncle doesn’t share personal information lightly. The notion that he might be kicked out of the house has all but dissolved.

“What was she like?” he asks at last.

“Older,” he replies. A glance at Bernie reveals a never-before-seen glint in his eye and Nick laughs softly, peeling the label from his beer bottle. “She was so very certain of herself. I was fascinated.”

“Do you...do you think you can love someone in that short a time?” Nick asks, not really expecting an answer.

“I don’t know.” Bernie removes his glasses and polishes them on his t-shirt. “Thinking is an entirely different thing. Love just...is.”

Nick stares and pulls his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his shins like Greg does. Suddenly he feels like a small child again, craving the answers to so many impossible questions. So much still to learn.

“I met your Aunt Caroline when I went to college the next year, and the rest, as we say, is history.”

“Do you miss her?” Nick asks quietly. He barely knew Bernie’s wife before she died.

“Every day.” Bernie’s smile turns momentarily wistful. “But what I’m saying is...you never forget the first one you really cared about.”

“Is it that obvious?” Nick’s voice is small.

“Yes,” is the simple answer.

Nick scrubs a nervous hand through his hair. “So...ah...you’re not going to tell my mom?” he asks, feeling vaguely ridiculous but needing to hear it all the same.

“Why on earth would I do that? Lord knows, it’s none of my business.” Bernie replaces his glasses and peers at Nick thoughtfully. “I’m sure you’ve enough pressure right now. Not that I wouldn’t be interested to see your father foaming at the mouth...” he exchanges a wry glance with Nick. “But no. No, I won’t.”

“Thanks,” he says, and he means it. Humming with relief, he leans back on his elbows and watches the cars on the bridge. “Tell me about Alice.”

**~*~**

When Nick excuses himself a couple of hours later, Bernie’s knowing smile brings an instant flush to his skin, but the lightness he feels as a result of their conversation more than makes up for it. For once, he beats Greg down to the beach. It’s a warm, balmy evening and the damp sand is cool against his skin when he removes his shoes and pushes his toes into it.

He pulls the small sketchbook from a battered backpack and flips it open on drawn-up knees. Regards the pristine, untouched page with satisfaction. As he waits, he absently sketches in the sweeping curve of the coast, and the distinctive straight lines of the bridge in the distance. His pencil halts when he finally catches sight of two familiar figures approaching.

Greg, hanging onto the leash of a struggling Sigmund. Immediately, Nick knows that he’s nervous. Anxious to reassure him, Nick chews on his pencil and leans back against the rock. He senses the moment Greg sees him and increases his pace. In no time at all, he’s standing at Nick’s feet, forcing him to look up.

“I thought you might not come back,” Greg admits. He looks so uncertain and Nick just wants to reach for him, but Sigmund has other ideas. He pushes in front of Greg’s legs and licks messily at Nick’s hand.

“Thanks for that,” Nick says, wiping his hand and shooting the dog a dark look. He looks up at Greg and smiles. “Couldn’t keep me away. He was surprisingly...insightful.”

There’s that smile again, and Nick is extremely relieved to see it.

“What did he say when you left?”

“He told me to have fun,” Nick replies, and the smile turns positively feral.

“I can help you...fuck it,” curses Greg, trying to step around Sigmund and instead tripping over him. “...out with that,” he finishes, sinking to his knees in front of Nick and kissing him lightly.

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Hey!” Greg’s eyes flicker with interest and he takes Nick’s sketchbook from him.

Grimacing, the prickle of insecurity uncomfortable inside him, he opens his mouth to say something self-deprecating but Greg beats him to it.

“I’m impressed. I didn’t know you could draw.”

“I can’t really, I just...” Nick falls silent. Shrugs.

“You can,” Greg says firmly. “I knew you had a hidden talent.”

**~*~**

During a moment of distraction, Sigmund wanders off down the beach and Greg decides that the best course of action is to wear him out. Nick stays put, watching them run up and down the beach, sketching them both, quickly, one after another, flipping pages over in a frenzy.

Skimming stones over the surface over the water.

Flinging scraps of wood and assorted debris for Sigmund to retrieve.

Pulling his arm back and faking a throw. Laughing delightedly when the dog leaps into the water after nothing.

When Greg finally returns, sprawling out elegantly in the sand opposite Nick, he turns over a fresh page and takes his time over capturing every detail, much to the blond’s amusement.

“Cancerians are creative, too, you know,” he remarks, looking up.

“Keep your head still,” Nick remonstrates. “Anyway, I thought you didn’t believe in all that stuff?”

“I don’t. It’s not my fault that you tick all the boxes.” Greg grins but holds still. “Conformist.”

“Are you calling me boring?” Nick murmurs, glancing rapidly between the paper and his subject.

“If the cap fits...” he mutters, but Nick can tell from the split second flick of his eyebrows that he’s kidding. Subtle, but Nick is becoming an expert in catching and deciphering his expressions.

“I might be. It was practically my middle name in high school. Boring. Dependable. Mr Reliable. Predictable. Steady. Need I go on?”

“I get the picture. Bitter much?” Greg teases.

“Not bitter. Just...I don’t know. But that’s what I was. The same through college, just with more beer and slightly less pressure from my folks. Slightly.”

“I hear you.” He draws a series of circles in the sand next to him before a look from Nick makes him guiltily withdraw his hand. “But you know...a closet gay, football-playing artist? Sounds pretty interesting to me.”

He smirks lasciviously and Nick laughs. “That much is obvious, Greg. I’m not sure I count as closet gay. I had a girlfriend for some of it.”

“Yeah. Having a girlfriend makes you straight,” Greg observes, mouth curling sarcastically.

“Point taken. I guess I was a closet artist, if there is such a thing,” Nick says thoughtfully.

“You’re crazy. If I could draw, I’d be a real show-off.”

More so? Nick wonders, but he just smiles and continues adding shade to the angles of the face in front of him. Greg’s eyes follow the movements of his wrist and it looks to be a massive strain for him to remain motionless.

“No one’s ever wanted to draw me before,” he says eventually.

“Well...I do.” Nick frowns. He doesn’t know how to explain. At least, not in any way that won’t sound hopelessly sappy.

“Why?” Greg’s voice is soft and something in his eyes pulls at Nick.

“Because...” Nick coughs and grips his pencil hard. What has he got to lose? “Because you’re beautiful,” he admits.

Greg just stares, uncharacteristically silent. Finally, he drops his eyes to the sand. A slow smile spreads across his face and he lifts a hand to rake through his hair. Nick grins.

“Keep still,” he whispers.

**~*~**

On the Tuesday, it rains. The skies have been grey and overcast all day, but it has stayed dry, and Nick convinces himself it’s going to hold out. Bernie, the expert on Californian weather, helpfully advises Nick that it ‘could go either way’. In a rare display of optimism, Nick heads down to the beach as usual. It’s warm and humid, almost uncomfortably so.

He’s about halfway there when the first drops of rain begin to fall. Fat, heavy raindrops that splash over Nick’s skin and pepper his light grey shirt. Fantastic. Within seconds, the shower has intensified into a downpour, and by the time Nick nears the beach, he’s half-soaked. He stands on the edge of the cliff path and scans the beach, but it’s deserted, raindrops bouncing violently off the ocean. The water reflects the dull, heavy grey of the sky. Cold. Uninviting.

When a hand grabs his shoulder, Nick spins around, startled.

“Greg.” He squints through the sheeting rain, noting with a twinge of interest in his groin that Greg’s red t-shirt is completely plastered against his torso.

“Who else? Now, this is going to sound like a line, but...”

“Spit it out, Greg,” Nick urges. The usual manic grin flashes into life.

“Want to go someplace more comfortable?”

Nick laughs, raising his voice above the insistent drumming of the rain. “It does that, but my answer is still ‘hell yeah.’ Lead the way,” he offers, gesturing grandly.

Greg dissolves into laughter. Nick frowns and blinks water away from his eyelashes.

“What?”

“Nothing. Follow me.”

**~*~**

“Ok, ok, fine...I’ll tell you,” Greg sighs.

He shifts on the faux-leather banquette, making it squeak against his wet jeans. His hair is drying in soft curls across his forehead and around his ears, and Nick finds himself a victim of the strange urge to wind them around his fingers.

“Tell me, then.” Nick drums his fingers expectantly on the shiny table top and takes another mouthful of blueberry pie and ice cream. The combination of hot and cold, sharp and sweet is unexpectedly comforting. Nick didn’t even think he was a pie person. “This pie is amazing,” he adds.

“Of course it is.” Greg pokes at his ice cream with a bent fork. “Do you think I would bring you somewhere that sold second-rate pie?”

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response. Now tell me why you were laughing at me.”

Greg looks around the softly-lit diner. It’s bustling with people who look, like them, to have ducked in to escape the rain. The warm air seems heavy with steam, and he faintly registers the hum of the radio behind the counter. Distracted once again, Nick strains to place the song playing.

“What is this?”

“November Rain. Do you want to know, or not?” Greg asks, exasperated.

“Yes.” Nick tries not to smile.

“It’s nothing really. Just that this – “ he flings his arm out dramatically and affects a slight bow in what Nick now realizes is an impression of him, “ – is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen you do.”

Greg licks cherry filling from his fork and shrugs. Uncomfortably aware that only weeks ago, he would have been horribly insulted by Greg’s comment, Nick stares into his dish thoughtfully.

The hiss of the coffee maker, soft music and mindless chatter fill his head, and for a moment, Nick loses himself. By the time he looks up, Greg is chewing on his lower lip and looks very much like he’s about to apologise.

“Must be this place rubbing off on me,” Nick smiles, before Greg can say a word.

“That could be it,” agrees Greg, looking immensely relieved. “What would your mother say?”

“You don’t want to know,” Nick says, and he notices that his mother’s voice is curiously absent. He no longer feels as though she’s looking over his shoulder, and he’s only just stopped to notice it.

“Does this feel like a date to you?” Greg says, out of nowhere.

Swallowing his last mouthful of pie, Nick considers the question. “I don’t know,” he says noncommittally. “Define a date.”

“I have a feeling food should be involved,” Greg replies, waving his fork over the table.

“Really? What about in the movies, when they say ‘let’s go get a cup of coffee?’” Nick argues.

Greg shakes his head, pausing to push hair from his eyes. “Coffee doesn’t mean a date, it’s a euphemism for sex.”

“Well then, you bought me coffee five days after we met,” Nick points out, setting his fork down and leaning across the table on folded arms. “What does that mean?”

Greg leans forward too, so close that their noses are almost touching. He holds eye contact, and when he speaks, his breath is cherry-scented and hot against Nick’s face.

“That I’m easy? That you’re lucky?” Greg suggests in a low voice, barely allowing his mouth to turn upwards at the corners.

“Maybe both,” Nick replies. Refusing to move away or back down. He doesn’t know where this confidence has come from but he likes it. The desire to kiss Greg is incredible, and Nick holds his breath, running his tongue over his dry lips.

“Maybe.” To his surprise, Greg pulls back first. Smirking, eyes downcast and thoroughly flustered.

“I hate dates, anyway,” Nick offers, fiddling with his fork. He has never said that out loud before, but it’s true. “No one acts like themselves on a date. It’s all rules and best behaviour, and both of you trying to impress the other with how smart or successful or funny you are. It’s not real.”

“Is that how you feel about me?” Greg’s question is direct. It hits Nick squarely in the chest.

“No,” he says eventually. Honestly. “Which is why this is not a date.”

“Good.”

“What is it, then?” Nick wonders aloud. Greg raises an eyebrow, and Nick wants to stuff the words back into his mouth. It’s a stupid question, however you look at it. He feels as though he might as well have asked ‘where is this relationship going?’, however unintentionally.

“There’s a question,” Greg says slowly. He picks up the glass sugar shaker and pours a mound of white crystals out onto the table. “Maybe it doesn’t have a name. Some things just...are.”

The words strike Nick hard, their familiarity unsettling. When Greg smiles and kicks him under the table, he feels as though he’s falling.

**~*~**

Even though he tries to push it into the back of his mind, Nick spends much of the rest of the week thinking about the fact that his time in San Francisco is coming to an end. The days are racing by without his permission, and he wants to drag out every moment, but the more he thinks about it, the faster the time seems to disappear.

Saying it out loud hasn’t helped, either.

“I leave on Wednesday,” he says on his last Saturday night.

He is sprawling shirtless in the sand, back against the big rock with Greg between his bent knees, his bare back flush against Nick’s chest. Nick stares at the ocean over Greg’s shoulder without really seeing it. Greg is silent for a long time but he pulls Nick’s arms more tightly around him.

“Fuck,” he says eventually.

“Yeah,” Nick replies.

Nick can’t see Greg’s face but he feels every shuddered breath as if it’s his own. Kissing Greg’s smooth shoulder, he closes his eyes and inhales the warm scent of his skin. Eventually, Greg relaxes back into the embrace and turns his head for a kiss.

They’re only words, he knows, but Nick can feel them in every careless glance now. Every touch, both heated and innocent. It seems wrong that he has to leave all of this behind when he’s only just beginning to understand.

“School starts on Monday,” Greg says quietly, dropping his head back to Nick’s shoulder.

“Fuck,” says Nick.

**~*~**

On Sunday afternoon, Nick sits at his usual table outside Moretti’s and writes his final postcards. He’s not entirely convinced that they’ll make it home before he does, but he writes them anyway. The words seem laboured and he struggles to even fill the small space with the usual platitudes.

Had a great time but can’t wait to come home, he writes slowly. Knowing that it’s a lie. Irrational or not, he wants to stay here so much it hurts. He hasn’t wished for a never-ending summer since he was a kid, but he wishes for one now. Just warm nights and sunsets and Greg. Idly, he wonders if Uncle Bernie would rent him a room. He could get a job with...

The shoulder slap jerks Nick out of his thoughts and back into reality with a start.

“Always daydreaming,” observes Mrs Moretti.

She picks up Nick’s empty cup and he stares up into her wrinkled face. What was he thinking, anyway? His future is all mapped out, and it’s not here. Even if he thinks he might love Greg. It’s crazy.

The old lady eyes him pensively for a moment then breaks into a smile. “You need another coffee,” she decides, walking briskly away and leaving Nick with his thoughts.

**~*~**

He knows that Greg’s parents are returning from their trip on Sunday and that he won’t see Greg at all, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Bernie’s renovation is almost complete, and Nick throws himself into his work. He and Bernie spend much of Sunday and all of Monday moving from room to room, tying up loose ends and adding finishing touches.

By early evening, most of the work is complete. There’s only the stair carpet that has yet to be delivered, and one last coat of varnish on the new porch that Bernie insists he will do himself. The sense of satisfaction Nick feels is immense. When he got here, a month ago, the place looked like a disaster zone; now it looks like a show home. It’s been hard work at times, but he can’t help feeling as though it was a small price to pay for a whole month’s food and board.

Not to mention a whole month’s relaxed company and relative silence, and Bernie’s nonchalant acceptance of Nick’s involvement with Greg.

“Looks pretty good now, huh?” says Bernie, coming up behind Nick and following his eyes around the room.

“Sure does.” Nick grins and wipes his hands on a rag that smells like white spirit.

“Reckon I’ll sell it in no time now...it almost seems a shame to leave,” his uncle sighs.

“Why don’t you stay?” Nick shrugs. He’d love to live in a house like this.

“Too big for one.” Bernie shakes his head and smiles sadly. “I appreciate all your hard work, Nick.” He turns to his nephew with something approaching a smirk on his tanned face. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Yes. I’m going to take a shower,” Nick says firmly. He’s blushing furiously but he no longer cares. Throwing the rag at his uncle, he clatters up the stairs.

**~*~**

It’s earlier than usual by the time he reaches the beach, and Nick is in no hurry. Dangling his sneakers from his fingers by their laces, he walks slowly along the edge of the water. Allowing tiny, cool waves to wash over his bare feet and the wet sand to squelch under every step. He doesn’t know what happened to the person who didn’t like getting wet.

Unhurriedly, he meanders across the beach to the usual cove. It appears empty right until the last second, when a shock of messy blond hair and long limbs materialises from behind the biggest rock and grabs him.

Nick’s small sound of surprise is swallowed by the eager tongue that slips into his mouth. Unresponsive for a second or two, Nick quickly recovers himself and kisses back, grabbing handfuls of t-shirt and pushing himself against the warm, reactive body that is plastered against his like a second skin.

Though he is in no rush, Greg seems to have other ideas. Distracted by the kissing that is quickly reaching fever pitch, Nick barely notices what Greg is doing until he finds himself on his back in the sand. Greg’s hot mouth is wrapped around his rapidly hardening cock before he has time to register the loss of the tongue in his mouth and he cries out breathlessly.

“Greg....fuck...oh god,” he mumbles, throwing his head back in absolute abandon. Quickly snapping it back again so he can watch Greg doing things with his lips and tongue that threaten to liquefy him from the inside out.

Incapacitated by sensation, Nick gives in quickly. It seems as though Greg is pulling out all the stops and using every trick he knows to get him off as quickly and as explosively as possible. Nick has no complaints. He stares down at the exact moment that Greg looks up, pure need in his eyes. An increase in pressure. That tongue thing and...oh. A trailing finger slipping lower and teasing the puckered skin of his entrance and it’s too much.

With a deep shudder, Nick lets go and comes in powerful bursts in Greg’s mouth.

Corralling the last of his strength, he hauls himself into a sitting position and Greg sits beside him looking calm and oddly relieved. As though he needed that. Maybe he did.

Fighting for breath and boneless with pleasure, Nick allows his head to roll back against the rock. Flicks eyes to Greg.

“So, how was it?” he asks. “Today, I mean.”

Greg meets his eyes and throws him a dry half-smile.

“You remember high school, Nick?”

“Yeah. It wasn’t that long ago, whatever you might think.”

“Well then, it won’t surprise you to know that it sucked,” Greg says.

“Any particular reason why?”

Greg looks down at his hands and lets out a long, tremulous sigh. “No. It was the same as it’s always been. I guess it’s just that...somehow...after spending all of this time with my grandparents and...you, I...” He hesitates and Nick slides a steadying hand onto his thigh. “I guess I almost forgot to not be myself. You know?”

“I think I do,” Nick assures. He’s not sure he can remember how to not be himself any more.

Or if he wants to.

**~*~**

“What’s the policy on gay cops, anyway?”

“Greg, I have no idea.”

“Really? That’s the first thing I would have checked,” Greg says, amused.

They lie side by side, flat on their backs in the sand, fingers laced together. Looking up at the night sky, as they have so many times before. Nick’s feeling of complete and utter peace is broken at regular intervals; sharp pangs of realization that this is almost over. He’s going to miss it so fucking much.

“Yeah, well...it wasn’t much of a concern at that time,” Nick offers after a moment.

“You must have known,” Greg presses. “On some level.”

“Maybe,” he admits, stealing a glance at Greg’s shadowy face before looking back up at the stars. “No match for my denial, though. And the need to live up to everyone else’s expectations. Until...this,”
Nick adds, waving his free hand vaguely. He wants to say ‘until I met you’ but it sounds trite and disingenuous, so it stays in his head.

“You make it sound like all of this just happened to you without your permission,” Greg observes lightly.

“It was kind of...unexpected.” He tips his head to look at Greg, who appears to be pouting slightly. “In a really good way,” he amends quickly. Greg’s lips curve into a thoughtful smile but he doesn’t take his eyes off the sky.

“My Nana says you should always expect the unexpected,” he says.

“Your Nana says a lot of things,” Nick points out. Greg laughs beside him and the fingers around his tighten.

“She has the gift.”

“Can she tell me my future?”

“I can. You’ll marry Amber and become a big shot cop. I’ll go to college and...get my ass kicked, probably.” Greg sighs.

“Cynic. And anyway, Amber’s going out with David Snaggletooth,” Nick mutters.

“I’m not even going to ask about that,” Greg says. “You tell me, then.”

Nick smiles in the darkness and closes his eyes, allowing his mind to drift.

“Ok,” he offers. “I’ll become a big shot cop without marrying Amber, or anyone like that. I’ll stop trying to impress my father. You’ll discover how to turn base metals into gold, and win a Nobel prize. And you’ll be filthy rich, and I’ll resign from the force at thirty-five and come live in your mansion in Tahiti.”

“Idealist,” murmurs Greg. Nick feels the thumb rubbing against his palm as a light shiver all over his body.

“So shoot me.”

“I can think of something much more interesting I can do with you,” Greg whispers, rolling onto his side.

Nick blinks and finds himself staring into intense brown eyes at close range. Several strands of hair fall into his face, and he reaches up to smooth them behind Greg’s ears. When he runs the pad of his thumb over the soft bottom lip, Greg’s breath catches. Slowly, he reaches out and slides a hand through Nick’s hair.

The kiss, when it finally comes, is softer than any they have shared before and Nick doesn’t close his eyes until the last moment. Tongues curling gently together, Greg sighs and shifts closer, throwing a leg over Nick’s hips. It seems to Nick both cruel and perfect how he fits, right there. Nick slides a possessive hand down Greg’s back, under cool cotton and over warm skin.

Just one more night, whispers his treacherous mind.

**~*~**

With work finished on the house, Bernie heads out grocery shopping straight after breakfast. After washing and drying the dishes, tidying up the kitchen and packing the last of his belongings away, Nick is at a loss. He sits out on the porch for a while and attempts to read the newspaper, but his focus is shot to pieces.

It doesn’t matter how many times he tells himself it’s stupid and pathetic and pointless, he can’t help wondering what Greg is doing. Whether he’s bored in homeroom, or causing explosions in a science lab. The stark reminder that Greg is still in high school sends a prickle of guilt under Nick’s skin, but it’s too late now, he thinks.

His coach leaves at 9am tomorrow, and will take an entire day to reach Dallas. He doesn’t relish the thought of another long, uncomfortable journey, but it was a hell of a lot cheaper than the flights would have been.

On impulse, he gathers up his sketchbook and pencils and decides to pay Mrs Moretti one last visit.

**~*~**

Setting his coffee down at the usual table, Nick once more wrestles with what he decides is definitely a broken parasol. He capitulates quickly and sits down. Watches open-mouthed as the tiny old lady appears from behind him and leans over the table, performing some complicated manoeuvre which has the parasol standing proudly open and swaying slightly in the breeze within seconds.

She stands back and wipes her hands on her apron with obvious satisfaction.

“Hah,” she says, grinning at Nick.

“Thanks,” he replies faintly. Mrs Moretti is barely five feet tall and at least seventy, but Nick realizes he has been well and truly bested.

“No good table,” she mutters under her breath. She raises a hand and Nick flinches, preparing for the shoulder slap, but she stops halfway, distracted by something on the table.

Before Nick can stop her, the old lady has picked up his sketchbook and is flicking through the pages with interest. He knows very well that the book is half full, and that every single picture is of Greg. Embarrassment rising rapidly, Nick looks away and sips his coffee. It’s too hot, and it burns his tongue.

“Very good,” she says, somewhat grudgingly. “You don’t look like artist,” she points out, little black eyes narrowed.

“I...ah...guess not,” Nick shrugs. “Thanks.”

“Where is your friend?” she asks suddenly, looking up from a rough sketch of Greg and Sigmund in the water.

Heart pounding, Nick wipes damp palms on his jeans. “He’s...he’s at school.”

“School....good. Good,” she approves, nodding briskly. Just for a moment, Mrs Moretti runs a wrinkled finger over the smudged page in front of her. She smiles and returns the book to the table. Turns away.

Nick exhales slowly. The shoulder slap is unexpectedly fierce, especially for such a diminutive woman, and Nick bites his lip. It’s almost as if she knows it’s the last chance she’ll get.

Part of him wishes he knew what was going through the old lady’s mind as she flipped through his sketches, but he decides it’s better not to know. As he finishes his coffee, he sketches the view from his table; a perfect panoramic view of the bay. With each sweep of lead over paper, Nick feels the tension and anxiety start to drain from his veins.

He orders another coffee and turns around in his seat, sketching the other tables and the striped fabric awning of the cafe. When Mrs Moretti comes out to wipe the tables, he captures her, too.

Before long, he’s drawing Greg from memory. Nick figures he has spent enough time staring at his features to remember what goes where. He draws Greg eating pie, and writing postcards and looking over the top of his coffee cup with the ocean and the bridge as his backdrop. Mrs Moretti brings him a sandwich that he doesn’t ask for, and doesn’t let him pay for it.

By the time the sky starts to turn golden, Nick has six empty cups and a full sketchbook. Wrists sore and pencils worn down to stubs, he eases the kinks from his neck and gets up. He stacks the cups and carries them inside for Mrs Moretti. When she has her back turned, Nick leaves a generous tip on the counter.

He walks out onto the beach just as the last of the dog-walkers are beginning to straggle by. Hanging onto the sketchbook and feeling strangely calm, Nick settles on the big rock and waits for his last Californian sunset.

**~*~**

“Waiting for someone?”

Nick looks up and smiles. There’s something vaguely sheepish in the way Greg holds himself that’s oddly charming.

“Might be,” he shrugs.

Greg pulls his hands out of his pockets and perches next to Nick on the rock; thighs touching and hands twisted in his lap. Despite his outward attempt at calm, Nick can feel the tension rolling off him in waves.

“So...” he begins stiffly. His own anxiety is returning fast, and he is painfully conscious that this isn’t how he wanted the evening to go.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Greg says quietly, staring at his shoelaces.

Nick swallows with difficulty. “Me neither,” he admits.

“’Cause, you know...you’re leaving whether we talk about it or not,” Greg continues. “And I know I’m all kinds of pathetic, believe me I do, because I wasn’t going to get emotional about any of this...it was supposed to be...I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re pretty much incredible.” Still not looking at Nick, he continues. “And I’m incoherent, and really fucking lame,” he finishes breathlessly, shaking his head.

When he finally looks up, his nervous grin makes Nick’s heart stop, just for a second. Greg’s eyes pin him to the spot and all he can do is let out all the air he’s been holding in his lungs while Greg was speaking. Greg worries his hair with a shaking hand.

“No you’re not,” Nick says. “You’re not any of those things. You’re unexpected and wonderful and I wish I didn’t have to go home.”

“Ah, but you do,” says Greg, and the smile wobbles slightly.

“Yeah,” Nick agrees. He feels, suddenly, as though he’s being crushed. Compressed. It hurts to breathe. He looks away, focusing on the multi-coloured sky.

Greg’s fingers are cold when they twist into his and he grips back, hard. There’s no getting away from the fact that he’s fallen, he knows that now. And it doesn’t matter that it’s irrational or inconvenient because Bernie was right, and some things just are, whether you want them to be or not.

“I thought you should have this,” Nick says, handing Greg the sketchbook.

Releasing his hand to flip through it, Greg turns the pages slowly and Nick watches, unable to look away, as his expressions change. As usual, his emotions are written all over his face and they make a captivating display. Amusement, surprise, brief sadness and rapt absorption. He takes him time over the last few pages, as though trying to avoid reaching the end. After he carefully closes the book, Greg is silent for some time.

“Are you sure?” he asks eventually, spreading long fingers out across the shiny cover.

“Yeah. This way you won’t forget about me. And anyway,” Nick nudges him lightly with his shoulder until he looks up. “How would I explain a book filled with pictures of you to my mother?”

Greg laughs. “That would be an interesting conversation. Fortunately for me, my parents are currently too busy arguing over who said what to who in Paris to go through my stuff...” He flicks an eyebrow and sighs. “Thank you,” he adds.

“You’re wel...mnph,” Nick attempts, muffled by the sudden kiss. It’s warm, vigorous and ends long before he’s ready when Greg pulls away and slides awkwardly down to sit in the sand behind the rock.

He tips his head back and looks up invitingly at Nick. “Coming?”

**~*~**

For the first time that Nick can remember since this started, the world seems to have slowed down around him. Either that, he thinks, or the fact that both of them are determined to make every second count.

The press of wet sand against Nick’s bare back where his shirt rides up; the taste of Greg’s skin; his dry laughter as Nick struggles to remove his tight t-shirt and his uncontrolled whimpers when Nick fastens his mouth around one nipple and then the other; the surprisingly thrilling sensation of being held down and kissed by someone of almost equal strength; the way Greg groans and bites his lower lip when Nick palms his erection through his jeans...Nick wants to catalogue and preserve every insignificant sensory memory in case he never feels anything as intense as this ever again.

He knows they are only half-hidden behind the rock, but he’s so caught up that the whole population of San Francisco could file past and he wouldn’t care, or become distracted from his task. That being hanging onto the most perfect rhythm imaginable, pushing up slowly and deliberately against the weight above him, Greg straddling his hips and leaning down for messy, breathless kisses. Both still dressed from the waist down, but unbuttoned and rearranged just enough to allow Nick’s flooded cock to brush excruciatingly against Greg’s with each twitch of his hips.

Trapped between feeling he could do this forever and that it’s nowhere near enough, Nick groans low in his throat and licks feverishly into Greg’s mouth.

“God...I want you,” he murmurs against Greg’s lips.

“Want you too.”

“Yeah?” Distractedly, Nick slides firm hands all the way down the slender back and under stiff denim to grip the blond’s ass cheeks.

“Yeah...you can...have me...any way you want me,” Greg whispers, stilling his hips.

Attention well and truly caught, Nick looks straight up into eyes that are almost black and his stomach turns over. Greg’s expression is somehow at once embarrassed and defiant.

“You mean...?” Nick stares harder into those eyes and uses the warmth and desire he finds there to salve the last weak prickles of his conscience.

“You know what I mean, Nick,” is the somewhat wry response, and he can’t help but smile.

Of course he knows. The invisible line they haven’t crossed, or spoken about, but that doesn’t mean Nick hasn’t thought about it. A lot. Someone he can’t recall once advised him that ‘if you’re going to do something wrong, you may as well do it properly,’ and in that instant, Nick thinks he understands.

Sitting back slightly, Greg fishes in his pockets. “Do you want to?” he asks, suddenly uncertain. What he’s really asking is do you want me, and Nick hastens to reassure him.

“Oh...god...yes,” he asserts. “If you’re sure.”

Greg smiles wickedly, insecurity dissolving fast. Catching his smile, Nick shifts his hips and grabs Greg’s arm in one swift motion to bring them almost nose to nose once more. The familiar packet is pressed into his hand as Greg kisses him and Nick’s fingers close around it. He keeps the other hand where it is, caressing soft skin that seems more sensitive to his touch than it was two minutes ago.

“Nick?”

“Yeah?” He tips his head back slightly and sandy fingers creep into his hair. Greg adjusts his position slightly, sliding heated flesh against Nick’s and the contact is agonisingly good.

“I’m not just saying this because...but the thing is, I...” Greg falters but his eyes burn, and he doesn’t need to say it. Suddenly, Nick doesn’t want him to say it. He doesn’t think he can take it.

“It’s ok,” he rasps, emotion making his throat scratchy. “Me too.”

In the split second before Greg makes an incoherent sound in the back of his throat and leans to kiss him heatedly, Nick sees those eyes turn shiny. His eyelids sting as he closes them, and he kisses Greg back desperately.

Not wanting to lose the frantic meshing of lips and tongues, they manage to scramble onto their knees without exchanging another word. Every touch electrified with the knowledge of what he’s about to do, Nick fists Greg’s bare cock and his together. He’s too delirious with need to be careful, too overwhelmed by the snarl of emotion wrapping around his heart, and it’s somehow shocking to open his eyes and see all of it reflected back to him in Greg’s face.

“I can’t wait any more,” he whispers harshly and Nick nods. He watches, fascinated, as Greg pulls his hand away and slides Nick’s fingers into his mouth. The agile tongue darts in and out of the gaps between his fingers and the fact that Greg maintains eye contact all the while makes the whole thing achingly arousing.

The stark realization that he’s in the middle of a wide open space, about to fuck a seventeen-year-old guy at sunset strikes Nick suddenly, inappropriately, and he has to suppress the urge to laugh at the goddamn absurdity of it all.

Releasing his hand, Greg doesn’t protest when he is pulled into a kiss, and tenses only lightly when Nick reaches behind his balls to press hesitant saliva-slick fingers against his entrance. The fingers gripping Nick’s shoulders tighten as he applies gentle pressure. The sharp intake of breath almost makes him stop, but then he’s being kissed urgently and he keeps on; the slow, twisting movements instinctive and careful until suddenly the tight muscle gives in to him and the most incredible heat grasps his fingers, pulling a started gasp from both of them simultaneously.

“That ok?” Nick wonders aloud.

His question is greeted with a mute nod and eyes so full of desire and trust that Nick almost can’t handle it. Feeling braver, he pushes a little harder and the resulting strangled cry it pulls from Greg is nothing short of fucking hot, so he does it again. And again, repeatedly, until Greg’s erection once more brushes deliciously against his stomach and he’s breathing hot and hard against Nick’s neck.

And god, he wants it so much. Desperately turned on, but he’s doing nothing until Greg asks him to. All at once certain and uncertain. Even when Greg stills his wrist and whispers ok, he can’t quite believe what he’s about to do. Shuffling away, jeans around his thighs, Greg rests his elbows on the top of the rock and turns to look at Nick over his shoulder.

Moving slowly closer, Nick can’t help thinking what a great picture he’d make, right now. He files the image away for later use and places a gentle hand on the exposed back. Sheathing himself quickly, he kneels behind Greg, swallowing the last ‘are you sure?’ on his lips and allowing the sharp heat of anticipation to flood his veins.

“I want it to be you, Nick,” is the last thing he hears before he pushes slowly but insistently inside the tight heat, one steadying hand on Greg’s hip and one tracing light, soothing circles on his back. He doesn’t stop until he’s completely enveloped by the taut, twitching passage, and when he does, it’s all he can do not to come right there and then.

“Fuck,” he hisses, dropping his head to rest between Greg’s shoulder blades. The skin is damp, lightly sheened with sweat, and Nick licks a salty trail up the back of Greg’s neck.

“That would be the general idea,” Greg attempts, shuddering.

“Funny,” Nick mutters. He smiles and turns Greg’s chin into an awkwardly angled kiss. “You feel so...fucking...perfect,” he whispers against Greg’s ear as he finally starts to move.

“Yeah, well...you...don’t stop,” Greg spits, gripping the rock hard and pushing back into each stroke.

He says that so frequently that Nick can’t help wondering if Greg actually thinks he would stop and leave him hanging, just to be cruel. Not that he wonders for too long, though. He quickly finds he can’t think of anything at all, every fibre of his existence focused in on feeling. Greg’s skin under his fingers; the warm, stretched channel wrapped around him. Slowly at first, long, deliberate strokes. Until the sound that Greg makes when he finds the right angle rips through him and, exhilarated, he thrusts harder, watching his cock sliding in and out of Greg’s body.

Pleasure pools, white-hot in the pit of Nick’s stomach and ripples all over his skin. Faintly, dully, in the back of his mind, he is reminded that this is the last time, and it makes him cling to Greg and fly into him all the more relentlessly. He knows he’s close to the edge and the sudden need to be kissed seizes him, making him pull Greg back against his chest until they are fully pressed together. Skin against skin, reaching to stroke Greg’s cock and he needs Greg to come first, but it’s ok because immediately a hand is covering his and steadying him. And Greg is reaching back to cup the back of his neck and twisting into the kiss that Nick needs but didn’t ask for; a chaotic, sloppy tangle of tongues.

It’s perfect, and as he pushes impossibly deeper, Greg’s ass cheeks and denim grazing his thighs, Nick almost loses it. Breaking the kiss, he stares over Greg’s shoulder at the rich, vibrant sunset mirrored brokenly in the water and holds on until the second he feels the warm sticky product of Greg’s release over his fingers. Then, he lets go. He thinks he cries out as he comes. Molten heat spreads out from somewhere deep inside and shakes him so hard that he can’t keep his eyes open.

As he comes down, Nick wraps his arms tightly around Greg’s chest and presses his nose into the damp curls at the back of his neck. He just wants to stay right here.

**~*~**

It isn’t until Nick realizes that both he and Greg are shivering that he grudgingly releases his hold and pulls away with a shiver. His sense of time may be distorted, but the sky is almost completely dark now. He knows that the evening is slipping away, and the feeling of heaviness quickly starts to replace the afterglow as clothes are replaced in silence.

Finally, he brushes the sand from his jeans and lowers himself onto the smooth rock. Greg, a little steadier on his feet, comes to stand between his thighs. Nick draws him close and rests his forehead against gently lifting ribs, breathing in the scent of Greg’s t-shirt and feeling slightly comforted. Warm hands stroke his back and hair slowly.

He doesn’t know how long they stay that way, but it’s far, far too soon when Greg pulls back and whispers that he has to go. Nick stands quickly, slipping fingers into Greg’s belt loops and kissing him over and over.

“I’ll come back,” he says impulsively. Desperately, almost.

“Don’t.” Greg closes his eyes briefly.

“Why?” he asks, and he wishes he could just shut up, because he knows why.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Nick,” Greg says softly, resting his hands on Nick’s upper arms. For a moment, he looks as though he’s going to say something else, but he doesn’t, and he doesn’t need to. The knot in Nick’s stomach tightens and he feels sick.

Greg doesn’t need to say anything, because all of those reasons that made this whole thing a bad idea in the first place haven’t changed. They have been suspended for one perfect summer, because they both wanted it so much, but that’s all. He’s still twenty-one and Greg is still seventeen. He has to finish high school. Nick has to go home to Texas and become an upstanding, responsible member of society. That’s just how it is. He’s a grown-up, and that’s just how it is.

Why then, Nick wonders, does he want to stamp his foot and scream at the world how unfair it is?

“I’m sorry, Greg,” he manages, and he hates how empty it sounds.

Greg’s smile is watery but resolute, and Nick’s eyes smart painfully.

“Don’t be. I knew what I was getting into,” he says. Exhaling shakily. “Just...remember, ok?”

“I won’t forget you, you idiot,” Nick says fiercely.

“No, don’t say that...don’t say you won’t...say what you will,” Greg corrects, shaking his head as though it’s of vital importance. “I’ll remember. Say you’ll remember.”

“I’ll remember, Greg.”

Nick smiles even though it makes his face ache, and brushes the hair out of Greg’s eyes. Cupping his face carefully, he brushes his lips against Greg’s. The kiss is surprisingly tender, almost delicate, but it still hurts when Greg pulls away.

“Me too. Bye, Nick,” he whispers.

He’s fine, anyway. Totally fine. Certainly not falling apart as he watches Greg tuck the sketchbook under his arm and walk away down the beach with long, deliberate strides. Nick almost doesn’t want him to look back, but he does. Just once. It’s too dark to see his face, but Nick smiles anyway, just in case.

When he’s out of sight, Nick lets out the breath he’s been holding. Sits down heavily on the rock and doesn’t move until the sun starts to rise.

It’s beautiful.

**~*~**

Nick has a feeling he woke Bernie when he slipped back into the house around six am, but the older man diplomatically doesn’t mention it. The ride to the bus depot is characteristically quiet, and Nick is grateful.

“Here we are,” says Bernie, switching off the engine and turning to Nick. “Long journey ahead.”

“Yeah.”

The eyes that search Nick’s face are laced with concern, but to his relief, the older man keeps it to himself. He still finds it hard to believe that this man is related to his mother.

“It’s been good having you, Nick. Take care of yourself.”

“Thanks, it’s been great,” he says, and he means it. “Man, I’m going to miss your breakfasts.”

Bernie laughs warmly and pats Nick affectionately on the shoulder. He’s reminded of Mrs Moretti and he smiles.

“Likewise. Have a good trip.”

Nick drags himself and his bag out of the car and onto the sidewalk. “Bye, Uncle Bernie,” he calls and waves as the battered pickup pulls away.

As he boards the bus, the plump, bespectacled man behind the wheel tells him to cheer up, and not for the first time Nick wishes he weren’t so polite, because it takes almost every last bit of energy he has to smile, force a laugh and slump into his seat.

By some gift of fate, he’s seated alone for most of the journey and quickly falls into a restless sleep filled with fractured, confusing dreams. When he wakes, he’s disoriented and the first thing he does is look around for Greg.

Which makes no sense, he admonishes himself when disappointment settles over him. He can’t shake the regret that they never woke up together, and tortures himself with thoughts of falling asleep naked, tangled together somewhere warm and private. Waking slowly and having nowhere to be.

Nick sighs. Staring out of the window at the changing scenery, he shifts in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position, but something sharp is digging into his back. Frowning, he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a piece of stiff cardboard. Covered with Greg’s untidy handwriting.

Dear mom and dad, “I’m having a great time in San Francisco. I met this guy named Greg. He’s witty, cool, handsome...

In spite of himself, Nick laughs. He flips the card over and stares at the sunset until his eyes hurt.

**~*~**

His mother’s greeting is typically effusive. As soon as he’s off the bus and within sight of the car, she’s rushing over and enveloping him in a hug that smells like perfume and feels like home. As she squeezes the life out of him, Nick shuts his eyes and buries his face in his mother’s shoulder like he hasn’t done since he was a kid. He’s tired and sad and confused, and unexpectedly pleased to be home.

When he opens his eyes, Anna is regarding him from the passenger seat of the car with curiosity written all over her face.

“Don’t they got hairdressers in California?” she asks lazily as he climbs into the backseat.

“Shut up,” Nick says. Anna raises her eyebrows and smiles slyly at him. Nick has the feeling that she will have dragged the whole story – or at least the edited version – out of him before the week is out.

“You really do need a haircut,” agrees Nick’s mother, peering at him in the rearview mirror. “You want to make a good impression, your first day on the force, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Nick sighs.

For a brief moment, he wonders if he dreamed the whole thing. Until his hand brushes over the stiff, cardboard corner sticking out of his pocket and his stomach lurches violently.

‘I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re pretty much incredible.’

Nick looks down at his hands and smiles, despite the ache that threatens to overwhelm him. It hurts, but he thinks, hopes, it won’t always hurt. As he takes a deep breath, schools his features into a neutral expression and answers his mother’s flurry of inquiries, Nick feels a little bit like a grown-up.

**~*~**

December 1999

“It’s just after eight-fifteen am, and it looks like we’re really seeing the start of that cold snap here in the greater Las Vegas area. Snow, yes, you heard me right, snow, predicted all across the city, so...”

Nick grimaces at the words of the radio presenter and holds his icy hands over the dashboard heaters. It’s not supposed to snow in Vegas, that’s for sure. A flash of movement catches his eye as he waits for his hands to thaw and he leans over to watch his colleague race out of the lab, across the parking lot and jump into his car. Within seconds, he’s pulling away and Nick shakes his head, amused.

“Where’s the fire, ‘Rick?” he mumbles to no one in particular.

Not that he’s surprised. Warrick Brown seems to treat life like one big competition, and it’s probably the reason that he was the first person Nick really got close to after he moved to Vegas. They have that much in common, he supposes. More than that, Nick trusts him, and that’s rare. Things are different here, though. People are different. He doesn’t have to remember to not be himself. Warrick knows Nick’s gay, and he doesn’t care.

‘You know what, man? The way I see it, it means less competition for me,’ he’d said when Nick told him, and carried on drinking his beer, completely unconcerned.

Nick smiles at the memory and flexes his fingers experimentally. At least he can feel them now. Still, his breath is clearly visible in front of him as he pulls out of the parking lot and onto the road. He’s already prepared for the phone call from his mother, in which she’ll tell him that it’s not snowing in Texas and doesn’t he wish he hadn’t moved away? He’ll never tell her, but Nick has never regretted the move, or the switch from cop to CSI. He also finds that he appreciates his family a lot more on a birthdays and holidays basis.

“....and now for the last of our retro triple-play, we’ve got some Guns ‘n’ Roses for you, remember this one? It’s November Rain....of course, it’s the...”

Nick frowns and turns the radio up, something pulling insistently at his memory. He’s never really been a fan, but Nick sits and listens to the song all the way through, even when it outlasts his drive home. Assaulted by random flashes of memory, conversation and the taste of blueberry, he rests his hands on the steering wheel of his motionless car and smiles.

When he finally draws his blackout curtains and falls into bed some hours later, he dreams of wicked dark eyes, fevered kisses and the feeling of wet sand under his fingers.

**~*~**

It’s pitch dark and bitterly cold when Nick sets out for work again that night, and he has to scrape a stubborn coating of frost from his windshield. He feels haggard and weary, and his unbidden memories of one perfect summer aren’t exactly helping.

Nick knows Bernie was right when he said that you never forget your first love. Of course, people have come and go since then, some of whom he has cared about very much indeed, but none that have ever captured him as completely. According to his uncle, that’s just how it is.

Nick has found that he’s prepared to bow to Bernie’s superior wisdom on the subject. It’s not for nothing that they’ve stayed in contact, even after Bernie sold his house in the spring of ’93 and moved out to Florida. Returning to the scene of his first love affair, Nick often remarks, and the old man simply laughs.

Resolving to call him as soon as he gets off shift, Nick hurries into the lab. Catherine is lingering in the locker room, leaning against the wall and she bares small, white teeth in greeting. Nick sighs heavily and takes off his coat.

“Man, what is it about a little snow that makes a guy feel old?”

“I got two pieces of advice for you, Nicky,” Catherine offers. “One, do not talk to me about ‘old’ and expect sympathy.”

“Point. Sorry, Cath.” Ouch. Nick smiles apologetically.

“Ok. Two, if you don’t want to feel any older, stay away from the new DNA guy.”

“New DNA guy? What happened to Roger?” Nick asks curiously.

“Switched to days.”

“Ah. So...not that I don’t always trust your advice, but why exactly should I stay away from him?”

Catherine pushes off the wall and steps a little closer.

“He’s twenty-four...” Nick winces and she continues, smiling shrewdly, “Californian, and has more energy than a Labrador puppy.”

Nick smiles. His heartbeat accelerates irrationally. “That’s Californians for you,” he says lightly.

Catherine raises a curious eyebrow but Nick doesn’t much feel like indulging her, so he stuffs his coat into his locker, clips on his ID badge and leaves her to it. Feeling every single one of his twenty-eight years and then some, Nick avoids the DNA lab like the plague.

**~*~**

A little after two am, he’s pouring out his fourth cup of caffeinated brown sludge when the voice behind him makes him jump.

“Are you really going to drink that?”

“Ah, yeah, I was thinking about it,” Nick replies without turning around. He stirs in sugar and fake cream.

“Your funeral,” the voice remarks, sounding amused. “But if you want, I’ve got some...”

Nick turns around. His stomach goes into freefall and he slops half of the coffee out onto the floor. “Fuck.”

“...really good stuff back in the lab,” Greg finishes faintly. “Hello, Nick.”

Nick closes his mouth with some effort and blinks repeatedly as though the man standing in front of him might just be an apparition. The product of lack of sleep and vivid dreams. His mind playing tricks on him. But no. He’s still there, and his look of surprise is slowly melting into one of genuine pleasure. That smile hasn’t changed one bit, and, it seems, neither has Nick’s reaction to it.

He clears his throat and tries to ignore the flush creeping up the side of his neck. “Hi Greg,” he manages. It sounds strangled and not at all like his normal voice, and Nick cringes.

Greg’s smile widens and he shifts from one foot to the other. Shoves his hands into the pockets of his dark blue lab coat. He looks strangely good in it, though the gaudy patterned shirt underneath is...kind of ugly. The jeans are baggy and the sneakers untied. Suddenly aware that he’s staring, Nick flicks his eyes back up to Greg’s face.

He looks much the same, and Nick wonders if he looks as old as he feels today.

Heart racing out of control, all Nick can hear in his head is ‘say something,’ but he doesn’t know where to start. It’s been seven years. But still, this is the person – the man, now – that was his first...so many things. For no good reason, he half-wonders if Catherine knows something. Not that that’s going to help him now.

“So...you’re the DNA guy,” he says eventually and immediately wants to slap himself in the face.

“So it would seem,” Greg agrees. His hair is still all over the place, but it looks like it’s supposed to be that way now. “You still a cop?”

“No. CSI,” Nick says, pulling at the badge pinned to his belt. “What, ah...brings you here?”

Greg closes the gap between them in three long strides and leans against the counter next to Nick. He smells like coconut, and chemicals.

“Needed a change, and...” He smiles uncertainly at Nick. “Someone I met a long time ago made me think catching bad guys might be fun,” he offers. “What’s your excuse?”

“It’s funny you should say that.” Nick swallows hard. He doesn’t remember the break room being this hot, or this small. “Because someone once told me that science was beautiful. I remembered,” he says.

“That’s pretty profound,” Greg remarks. “He must have been a smart guy.”

“Yeah,” agrees Nick, finally allowing himself to smile like he wants to. “Modest, too.”

Greg laughs, and scuffs the toe of his sneaker across the floor. Fiddles with his cuffs, his hair and the buttons of his lab coat. He can’t keep still, and Nick is flooded with relief to realize that Greg is as nervous as he is.

The words, when they come, are somewhat predictable. Nick doesn’t care.

“Do you want to get a cup of coffee with me, after shift?”

Greg’s eyes flash with amusement but he bites his tongue. “Yes.”

“Good,” he says evenly, as something very much like hope sparks in his chest.

**~*~**

“Welcome to Frank’s Diner,” Nick says, as they crunch across the frosty parking lot towards the brightly-lit diner. It’s after eight in the morning, but still almost dark. “Unfortunately, the coffee is only just above lab standard, but the pancakes are pretty good.”

“Food, huh?”

Nick turns and looks at Greg, shivering in a thin jacket. He resists the temptation to offer his coat. For now.

“Yeah. Food. Worried that makes this a date?” he teases, hoping to lift Greg’s pensive expression.

“No,” he says at last, looking straight into Nick’s eyes. “You were right about dates, as it turns out. I try to avoid them these days.”

Nick shivers, only partially from the cold. Suddenly painfully uncertain. “What are you offering, then?” he asks. Knowing he’s laying himself completely open, and needing to.

“Everything,” says Greg.

His smile is brilliant in the semi-darkness and the spark bursts into flames. As Nick takes one step closer and kisses Greg, the certainty is almost tangible and he doesn’t mind it one bit.

**~*~**

Close your eyes so you don’t feel them,
They don’t need to see you cry
I can’t promise I will heal you,
But if you want to I will try.


I sing the summer serenade
The past is done, we've been betrayed, its true.
Someone said the truth will out
I believe without a doubt, in you


You were there for summer dreamin',
And you gave me what I need.
And I hope you'll find your freedom,
For eternity, for eternity.


Yesterday when you were walking,
You talked about your Mom and Dad.
What they did had made you happy,
What they did that made you sad.


We sat and watched the sun go down,
Picked a star before we lost the moon.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Before you know it’s come and gone too soon.


You were there for summer dreaming,
And you gave me what I need.
And I hope you'll find your freedom,
For eternity, for eternity.


I sing the summer serenade,
The past is done, we've been betrayed, its true.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Before you know its come and gone, too soon.


You were there for summer dreamin',
And you are a friend indeed.
And I know you'll find your freedom,
Eventually, for eternity, for eternity.


--- Wow, that was a lot of words! I tried splitting this down into chapters but it just didn’t work. If you got through all that, I’d appreciate a comment :)
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