by CAT ATTACK
It all started when Derren woke up naked, with a hangover, curled up in a strange bed next to another equally-naked man, smelling faintly of cheap beer and sex.
No, that wasn’t quite right, he supposed; it began when that godawful history lecturer from hell asked Derren to be his TA after a series of highly improbable instances in scheduling caused him to be in Mr Willoughby’s courses. Ten terms in a row. Ten. They had become quite familiar with each other in that time, in the strange sort of way coworkers do even if they detest each other with every fibre of their beings. (The Willoughby-Hale tension became a bit of a campus joke by the seventh term they had been together. It did not help that both men were very openly gay.) Mr Willoughby may have despised Derren’s constant verbal belligerence in class, but he had begrudgingly accepted that Mr Hale was quite the competent young man. On the other side, Derren had just begun thinking about applying to grad school, so he needed the money and figured it would be a good mark on his record; also, Mr Willoughby may have played a rather key role in Derren’s decision to switch from his intended maths major to European history, not that he would ever admit it.
Or perhaps it was that very first day of his second year when Derren walked into class twenty minutes early as Mr Willoughby was setting up, sat down, and proceeded to stare at his impossibly bright green eyes for the next forty minutes. An hour later, Derren realised that the lecturer was an anal-retentive, close-minded half-wit. With a very nice bum. But Derren had standards, okay?
Regardless, no matter which point Derren traced his steps back to, he couldn’t quite figure out how he got from hating Mr Willoughby’s guts to waking up next to the man himself with the unmistakable, lingering stretch and burn of a good fuck and a scattered assortment of love bites to boot.
Derren had no idea how he was going to get out of this one. So he quietly dressed, gathered the rest of his belongings, and slipped away before Mr Willoughby could wake up, hoping the night’s events would be as much a blur for the lecturer as it was for him.
Thank goodness it was Saturday.
“Seems like you had a good night,” Trevor grinned from his desk as Derren face-planted into a pile of pillows on his bed. “Might want to do a better job of covering up that love bite on your neck there, though.”
Derren sat up and threw a pillow at his flatmate before proceeding to fall back on top of the rest of the pile, mumbling “bloody wanker” through the cushions. It hit him straight in the face, but Trevor’s expression didn’t waver. Sodding schadenfreude. He may have been Derren’s best friend since they were in diapers, but that didn’t make him any less annoying.
Nonchalantly reclining on his swiveling chair, Trevor prodded, “So who was the lucky lad?”
Derren turned his head to face his friend. “Why does it matter?”
Trevor’s smile finally wavered. “You’ve been a bit not good since that whole ordeal with Emrys. Thought you’ve finally found someone better than that sod.”
“From one night out?” Derren looked mildly amused. “You knew I was already pissed by the time you left the pub.”
“You’ve never so much as snogged a random bloke before, though, even when completely sloshed.” Trevor absently scratched his head. “Find it a bit hard to believe you’d shag someone you just met.”
Derren sighed. “You know me too well.”
“So what?” Derren raised an eyebrow.
“I’m acquainted with who you were with, then?”
“Unfortunately.” An awkward silence hung in the air as Trevor continued to look expectantly at his flatmate. Derren’s mouth quirked up in a half-smile. “For a straight man, you are rather curious about my sex life.”
“Oh, piss off! It’s not like I’m asking for detailed information,” Trevor laughed. “You’re my best mate, Derren. Can’t I be a little worried?”
“Of course not,” Derren teased. He turned around as Trevor called him a bastard and proceeded to finally fall asleep.
Date: 19 Aug 20XX, 11:39am
Subject: Assistance required
You haven’t been by my office since Friday. I have a growing stack of papers that needs grading with your name on it.
Date: 19 Aug 20XX, 12:24pm
Subject: RE: Assistance required
I’m taking a week’s holiday.
Date: 19 Aug 20XX, 12:45pm
Subject: RE: RE: Assistance required
Are you not well?
Date: 19 Aug 20XX, 3:02pm
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Assistance required
What do you think?
Date: 19 Aug 20XX, 6:34pm
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Assistance required
Inform me immediately after you decide you’re taking leave next time.
“You’ve not left the flat in six days,” Trevor stated dully.
Derren deadpanned, “Very astute observation.”
Trevor tossed a neatly-arranged folder at his friend. “Luckily, you have a flatmate who cares enough about your grades that he’ll go around asking your teachers for assignments.”
“If you weren’t straight, I’d kiss you right now,” Derren replied in awe after catching it between both palms.
“And thank God for that.” Trevor’s mouth quirked upward. “I’ve been informed by reliable sources that you’re a bloody awful kisser.” Bracing for impact with a flying object, Trevor defensively brought his arms up to guard his head.
Browsing through the folder, Derren replied without looking up: “My eternal gratitude to you is so vast that I am not in the least tempted to throw anything at you right now.”
“Bollocks. You’ve never been that nice to me.”
“Key words: right now. I intend to retaliate later.” Grinning, Derren added, still not looking up, “You have an hour of safety remaining.”
“And for this next hour, I shall proceed to take the piss out of you in every way possible.”
“You now have forty-five minutes because of that.” Derren held out a open hand. “Now get me a pen.”
Date: 25 Aug 20XX, 4:01pm
Subject: It’s a week and a half now.
I’m beginning to get worried. Shall I come visit?
Date: 25 Aug 20XX, 4:53pm
Subject: RE: It’s a week and a half now.
You needn’t bother. It’s just a nasty cold. Almost gone.
“You’re a dirty liar,” Trevor chided right after Derren clicked “send”.
Derren scrambled to shut his laptop. “And you’re a nosy bastard.”
“I’m surprised you managed to get to your classes without running into him once, though.” Looking down at his coat and brushing spots of dust off it, Trevor added, “You shouldn’t avoid the man in charge of your paycheck, you know.”
“I have my reasons,” Derren hissed.
“My, aren’t we catty—oh,” Trevor gasped, finally putting two and two together. “You didn’t.”
Derren flushed red in a combination of anger, surprise, and embarrassment. “Are you really asking me that?” he mumbled, attempting to deflect attention off himself.
“You—you—” Trevor stammered, attempting to find the right words. “I can’t believe it! You shagged your boss?”
“I was pissed off my rocker,” Derren argued, trying to defend himself. “I don’t even remember meeting him at the pub!”
“You weren’t drunk enough, apparently!” Tension grew in the air as the two men stared at each other. Then Trevor had the gall to burst into a fit of intense laughter.
“What the hell?” Derren demanded.
“I’m sorry”—Trevor squeezed out between laughs—”I just can’t believe it.” Taking a few deep breaths, he managed to regain some composure. “Honestly, I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
Derren scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It was always Willoughby this, Willoughby that, Christ, Willoughby is such an arse, but my, he does have a nice one,” Trevor mocked, flailing his hands around in the most camp way he could, all the while attempting to imitate Derren’s voice.
Derren groaned, burying his face in his hands. “I do not sound like that.”
“You might as well,” Trevor sneered.
Saving Trevor from experiencing the true extent of the Wrath of Hale, the buzzer at their front door rang. Trodding along to their makeshift sitting room, he answered the door, only to be shocked out of his jovial spirits.
“Oh, Mr Willoughby, what a surprise!” Trevor said loudly, obviously feigning his tone. “Derren and I were just talking about you.”
Derren’s eyes grew wide and he panicked, jumping out of his seat and attempting to get under his bedclothes as quickly as he could without looking suspicious.
“Mr Hennel,” the teacher acknowledged curtly. “How is he?”
“Better than he was last weekend, but that’s not saying much.”
“He told me not to worry, but I decided to bring him some medicine,” Willoughby said, holding up a plastic bag.
Grabbing the bag, Trevor replied, “I’ll be sure to give it to him.”
“May I come in?”
‘Don’t let him in, don’t let him in, don’t let him in, you ruddy pillock,’ Derren thought furiously, hoping that somehow Trevor would get the message.
He didn’t. “Of course! You’re always welcome at our humble abode,” Trevor answered, stepping back from the door.
“Actually, since you cropped up, do you mind watching over him for a while? We’ve been running a bit low on groceries lately, but I’ve not been able to go to the grocer since Derren fell ill.”
“No, it’s fine with me,” Willoughby responded, a sliver of discomfort snaking through his usual poker face.
Trevor walked back into the bedroom to grab his things, winking at Derren as his glower grew increasingly grim.
Trevor Hennel was now officially the worst best friend in the whole entire world.
“We’ve juice in the fridge and if you want some coffee, go ahead and use the machine to make yourself a cuppa,” Trevor smiled genially, motioning toward the various appliances in their kitchenette. “Bathroom’s next to the bedroom. Thank you so much for doing this, Mr Willoughby.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Willoughby said stiffly as Trevor exited the flat.
As soon as Derren heard the door close behind Trevor, he tried to sink deeper into his bed, hoping to somehow disappear. ‘Dying under a mass of blankets and pillows does not sound so bad right about now,’ he thought.
Willoughby gave a polite knock on the bedroom door. “Is it all right to come in?”
Derren feigned a loud cough in response. Willoughby took it as a yes and cautiously entered, bringing with him two glasses of water. When Derren turned to look at him, the teacher held one up in offer. He sighed in defeat and manoeuvred into a sitting position, still in his safe cocoon of bedclothes. He held out both of his hands through the opening of said cocoon.
“I’ll hold them. Grab a chair and sit down,” Derren said weakly, trying to make his voice sound hoarse. Willoughby did as he asked, and once he had sat down at Derren’s bedside, he noticed he was smiling. Derren raised an eyebrow and asked as he held one glass out, “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Willoughby said, taking it. “It’s just that…” He chucked to himself for a moment before regaining composure. “I lived in a tiny flat very much like this one when I was going for my master’s. Had to share rent and split the bedroom the same way, too.”
“It appears the plight of grad students does not change much through the ages,” Derren replied dryly after guzzling down his own cup of water. “Did you get locked out five nights in a row because your roommate brought home his girlfriend, too?”
Willoughby let out a sudden burst of laughter. “A week, actually. Then I did him one better by retaliating for two with my boyfriend from uni.”
Derren shifted uncomfortably and stared at the glass in his hands. And so the pink elephant finally makes its appearance.
Willoughby drank as the tense silence clouded over them, until finally breaking it by setting his glass down on the floor beside him and placing a hand over Derren’s interlaced hands. “About two weeks ago—”
“Don’t.” Derren let out a sharp breath of air. “It won’t happen again. It was a silly mistake; we’d both been drinking.”
“Not exactly,” Willoughby said slowly.
“I beg your pardon?” Derren asked with a distinct accusatory tone to his voice, looking Willoughby in the eyes.
“I’m sorry, Derren, it just—it kind of—” He sighed, squeezing Derren’s hands a little tighter. “I wasn’t as intoxicated as you may have thought I was. Definitely not as much as you were.”
“And you thought you could take advantage of me just because I was pissed?” Derren violently pulled his hands away, dropping the empty glass in the process; it landed on the rug beside Derren’s bed and rolled away, miraculously not shattering. “I may always disagree with you, but I thought you at least had some honour!”
Catching Derren’s fist mid-punch, Willoughby shouted back, “You’re misunderstanding me!” He pushed the younger man’s hand down and cautiously let go. “If you would just listen—”
“Then start talking!”
Willoughby took a deep breath. “That night…I only brought you back to my flat because I was worried you’d get yourself into trouble. You could barely even talk straight; I wanted you safe.”
“Does your definition of safe include sleeping with me?” Derren spat.
“No!” Willoughby sighed, stretching his hands to help clear his tension. “That was never part of my intentions. It wasn’t supposed to happen at all.”
“So why did it?”
“Because,” Willoughby paused, biting his lower lip in hesitance. Once he managed to find the words, he continued, “Because I didn’t fight it hard enough.”
“I know it sounds a bit silly, but…” Willoughby let out another sigh. “I put you on my bed once we got back to my flat. I was going to sleep on the couch, and I started changing once I thought you were asleep. And well, you—Derren, are you sure you want to know what happened?”
Derren looked contemplatively at the fallen glass for a few moments before turning his eyes back to Willoughby’s and answering, “I’d like to know just how bad I am pissed, thank you.”
“Well, in that case…erm, you know, I’m not exactly sure how to put this.” Willoughby scratched his head in embarrassment. “You kind of…started having a go while I was changing. On my bed.”
Derren’s eyes widened. “‘A go’?”
“Y’know,” Willoughby laughed nervously. “Wanking.”
“While you were changing.”
“And I was on your bed.”
“Correct.” Willoughby stared intently at the other man, waiting for his reaction.
“That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard.” Derren frowned. “If you want to cover your arse, you’re going to have to do a bit better than that.”
Willoughby growled, “I know it sounds absurd! How do you think I felt when it was going on?”
Derren sighed; it did not appear Willoughby was going to change his story. “Okay, so let’s hypothetically say this claim of yours did actually happen. How did it go from…er, a solo endeavour to one that concerned both of us?”
“Well, when I turned around to see where the funny noises were coming from, you noticed me, and…got louder?” Willoughby said hesitantly, testing the waters. Derren found that it was getting harder to swallow; his companion had a similar thought. “Then in the time it took my brain to register what was going on, you…um, came.”
“I—er. Okay. Uh.”
“So, um, yes. I decided to be a courteous host and wipe you down with a towel.”
“And I think you can see where it snowballed.”
“Indeed,” Derren replied slowly.
Fearing another awkward silence, Willoughby quickly blurted, “I’m sorry.” Before Derren had a chance to say anything, Willoughby continued on, brain-to-mouth filter apparently completely damaged. “And I know it wasn’t completely my fault that night, but…God, do I feel guilty.”
“I don’t blame you for anything; physiological reactions are hard to control,” Derren responded, attempting to comfort the other man.
“No, it’s not that.” Willoughby sighed, trying to figure out how to word his feelings best. “The truth is, I’m glad you didn’t come in last week. I-I haven’t exactly—Christ, this is hard to say—I can’t stop thinking about that night. About you.” As if to punctuate his point, he suddenly reached out and grabbed both sides of Derren’s face, cradling it. “Even now.”
Shocked, Derren stammered, “I-I-I don’t understand.”
“You can always say no. Push me away,” Willoughby said softly, then Derren’s brain short-circuited, because suddenly Willoughby’s lips were on his and—and—
Derren gently pried Willoughby’s hands away, feeling the other man stiffen, rejected. But strangely enough, surprising both of them, Derren let go and moved his arms to embrace Willoughby, drawing him closer to him, reciprocating all the while. And once he felt Willoughby’s tension fade away, he smiled.
When Trevor returned home with enough groceries to last Derren and him the next couple of weeks on their meagre grad student meal portions (he may have been an arse, but he was not a lying arse, thank you very much), he was a bit confused by the relative silence of the flat. Granted, he was not expecting Derren and Willoughby to have thrown a party in his absence, but something about the atmosphere felt strangely off, eerie. Had Derren actually died from embarrassment due to Trevor’s meddling? And killed Willoughby while he was at it?
After putting their perishable groceries in the fridge (dead flatmate and his plus-one or no, Trevor had priorities), he cautiously made his way to their shared bedroom and slowly nudged the door open, preparing for a scene of carnage and horror.
There wasn’t any carnage, but there was quite a bit of horror: a very unclothed Derren Hale straddling an equally-bare Luke Willoughby, who was currently balls-deep in his best friend’s arse. Trevor couldn’t help the tortured cry of “Jesus fucking Christ!” that escaped from his mouth, and he slammed the door a bit too loudly as he scurried from the scene.
As he absconded, he could hear Willoughby’s laughter and Derren’s scathingly scolding him in response—”I thought you locked the door, you sodding tosser!”—before his voice degraded into moans of “oh yes, Luke—fuck, right there—” as Willoughby used his position to his advantage and got Derren to shut up because they were not about to have an argument in the middle of sex, no matter how infamous their disagreements were.
Upon finally escaping the flat, Trevor started en-route to visit a certain Molly Sanders; he figured that he would not leave until a few good hours with his girlfriend’s glorious naked body wiped all traces of that traumatic incident from his mind. Because even if he had seen Derren naked before—the two flatmates had a rather flexible post-shower towel rule—there were things that no man should ever see his best mate doing. Ever.
And when Molly just laughed at him and told him he deserved it for being an arse after he whinged at her, Trevor Hennel decided that his life officially sucked.