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The whiskey burned.
It wasn't enough.
Nick was pretty sure nothing would be.
Every time he closed his eyes, the images were right there behind his eyelids. Stephen on the other side of the door, predators closing in from all sides. Stephen screaming because even Stephen wasn't tough enough to keep it in.
Stephen saving him, fierce and loyal to the end.
Nine years earlier
"It's good. Very good."
"Yeah?" Stephen asked, walking around the desk to look at the paper in Nick's hands, standing too close. Stephen always stood too close.
Nick tuned out the heat radiating of off him. "With this you're going to finish your dissertation in record time."
Stephen grinned. "Think how much that'll annoy Harrison."
The grin was infectious, and Nick returned it without a second's thought.
"Want to come down to the pub, celebrate?" Stephen tilted his head in the direction of the campus pub, somehow ending up with his lips mere centimeters from Nick's.
Nick hesitated. There was more in Stephen's offer than a simple drink and they both knew it. Stephen's interest was one of those things he should have put an end to a while ago. But Nick was only human. "Helen's waiting. I should go home."
"Right," Stephen said, moving away, taking his warmth with him. Stephen moved farther away, toward the door. "Have a good night."
"You, too," Nick said, feeling the possibilities slip away.
His glass refilled, Nick leaned back in his chair. He wanted to blame Helen. He wanted to hate Helen. But he was the one who'd turned Stephen away. The one who'd been too stupid to realize Helen would find a way to turn the situation to her advantage.
What if he'd given in, pressed his mouth to Stephen's, pressed him back onto the desk? Stephen would have opened for him. Nick knew it, had been able to feel it in the air between them. A little lotion to ease the way and Nick could have pressed inside, could have burned the feel of him, the smell of him into his bones.
Downing his drink in one long swallow, Nick closed his eyes.