There was something about the month of September that still made Nick think about going back to school, even ten years after high school. Of course, he also had periodic dreams about forgetting a book or something, so maybe the scars of the public education system never fully went away.
At least he could use his phone on his lunch break without people being nosy—very much unlike public school.
“I’ll come by after work,” Nick said with a goofy smile that his two friends would have surely teased him for.
“I’ll look forward to it,” Vincent said sincerely, a smile in his voice as well. He sighed a moment later, and Nick imagined him making a face. “Ugh, I really should have gone out to buy lunch.”
Nick took a bite of his own lunch: stir-fry of a sort that he’d cooked in the morning. Andrew had said that it wasn’t fair for him to make it when they didn’t have time to eat it. “What did you bring?”
It took a guilty second for Vincent to admit: “Cereal. It was easy and I fell back asleep after you left,” he defended.
“Sorry for keeping you up so late last night,” Nick said with some mix of amusement and guilt.
Vincent only scoffed though. There was a smirk in his voice. “I’m not. I’m just an idiot for thinking I could shut my eyes for five more minutes.”
Nick shifted on the bench he’d claimed, basking in the warmth of the sun. “I’ll just have to stay longer next time to make sure that you’re up.”
“Hmm, sounds like you should probably start slipping some of your clothing into my drawers,” he joked.
“Are you saying that you want to see even more of me?” Nick teased, swallowing past the excited little flip of his heart.
Vincent chuckled on the other line. “You are very cute in the mornings.”
Nick huffed, smiling. “You think? The consensus is usually that I’m grumpy.” He took another bite of his food, his eyes flicking to the time on his phone.
“Like I said: cute. And flirty too.”
“Well, I’m not flirty with anyone besides you.”
Vincent’s voice was soft and warm. “Good to know,” he said in an obvious tone, the kind of tone that made it clear that he was absolutely comfortable in their relationship.
If any of his coworkers asked, Nick would say that the flush that crept along his cheeks was from the heat of the sun. The wide smile on his cheeks was less simple to explain away. Not that he cared much.
He checked the time on his phone again, frowning. “I have to go back to work, but I’m making sure that you eat some real food later,” Nick said more fondly than his words warranted.
Vincent let out a grateful sigh. “I’ll be happy with anything at this point,” he grumbled. “See you for dinner then?”
“Okay,” he nodded, “I get off a little early today, so I’ll run up to your office.”
“Sounds good, Nickolas. See you later.”
“Yeah. See you later, honey. I—uh, yeah. Later,” Nick said quickly to cover the mixture of nerves and elation building in his chest.
Vincent chuckled gently. “Bye, Nick.”
Nick had spent so much time talking with Vincent that he needed to scarf down the rest of his food, which did nothing to halt the quick flips of his heart or to lessen the heat on his face.
He’d almost let it slip over the phone. Really, he should have just said it already, but Vincent was special to him. Telling the other man that he loved him felt important, much more so than it had when he’d said it to any of his previous girlfriends.
Nick got up off his bench to trot back to his office. It didn’t have to be a big deal—saying “I love you” to Vincent. He did love him, after all. He loved him so much that it was surprising that he hadn’t blurted it out in the few weeks since they visited Vincent’s family.
He supposed that he was just nervous. It was difficult not to feel his heart jump with excitement and nerves every time Vincent looked at him with those intelligent, beautiful, striking green eyes…
Nick had to shake his head to stop thinking about his boyfriend as he made his way back to his desk. Just a few more hours before work was over for the day and he could see the man in person.
With a smile on his face and many new forms finished up on his desk, Nick’s footsteps thumped out of his office the moment that he was able to leave. He trotted along the sidewalks and past the regal lion statues guarding the stairs, standing still only long enough to let security check him.
Nick had expected to find Vincent up in his office, but he smiled politely when he saw Colleen there to greet him instead. She jumped to attention when she caught sight of him.
“Oh, there you are,” she said, not quite cheerfully. Her smiled actually looked strained, and she was worrying what looked like a paper towel between her hands. A whole roll of paper towels was tucked underneath her arm.
“I came to meet Vincent?” he said, although it came out more like a question.
“Right, right,” Colleen responded, today in a flowery dress and blazer. “He asked me to come get you.”
Nick only had a moment to feel confused before Colleen was grabbing his arm and tugging him along quickly. Her heels made a quick click, click, click as she trotted in that way that people did when they were trying not to run in public.
“So, fair warning, this is going to look bad, but it’s really not that bad,” she said, pulling him around a corner and to a set of stone stairs.
Nick knit his eyebrows together. “Uh, what?”
Colleen waved him off. “It’s just a little blood, but we couldn’t get him fixed before you came—that’s why I’m the welcoming committee today.”
“Whoa, blood?” Nick asked, halting and making Colleen stop too. His heart jumped uncomfortably in his chest, sinking somewhere near his stomach rather than leaping into his throat. His whole body felt heavy in that moment.
The woman tugged him along again, forcing him to move anyway. “Like I said: it’s not actually that bad. But it also took me a second to find paper towels, so Mitch might have him fixed up by now.”
Nick was having a hard time swallowing as Colleen led him to what looked like a large study room. It was a beautiful room with old wooden tables—which were now empty thanks to the late hour—shiny flooring, and books stacked in shelves along every wall.
It all would have been nice to look at if Nick didn’t currently feel as though his breath was caught in his chest.
“Okay, so Mitch didn’t fix him up,” Colleen murmured, rushing forward with paper towels in hand.
Nick was already next to Vincent before he realized what was going on.
“It’s fine! It’s just a nosebleed,” Vincent was trying to argue, but he didn’t look anywhere close to fine as Mitchell held him by the shoulder to stop him from moving.
Colleen scoffed, stepping around bloody tissues as if this kind of thing happened on a daily basis. “Yeah, but your nose is running like a faucet. Here, I brought paper towels. Oh, and I brought Nick too.”
Nick immediately smoothed his hand over Vincent’s hair, meeting his eyes—upside-down, since Vincent was now holding his head back and pressing a paper towel into his nose. Nick smiled shakily; his legs felt weak as his adrenaline left him suddenly. “Hey, honey. Tough day?” he asked in an effort to lighten the mood.
Vincent might have smirked, but it was hard to tell with his hand over his face. “Like you wouldn’t believe,” he drawled sarcastically. “I haven’t had a damn nosebleed since I was like fifteen and then this happens.”
“Maybe you’re due one every fifteen years,” Nick suggested, continuing to run his fingers through his boyfriend’s hair. His heart was finally beginning to return to its normal speed, and to its usual spot in his chest. “Colleen just said that there was blood. God, I’m so glad you’re okay,” he breathed out in audible relief.
Vincent sat up to look at her before Mitch could stop him. “Colleen, you didn’t tell him it was a nosebleed?”
“Oh my god, lie back!” Colleen argued, shoving him back herself. “Nick, you’re the boyfriend! Make him sit still!”
Nick placed his hands on Vincent’s shoulders, smiling wryly down at his pouty boyfriend. “Probably best to stay still for a minute, honey.”
Vincent sighed, murmuring, “I got blood all over myself.”
Leaning forward to see, Nick winced at the splotches all along his pants and shirt. “We should probably not eat out then. You look like you murdered someone.”
“That bad, huh?” he murmured, wincing and shifting in the wooden chair. “This hurts my neck.”
Nick gave him a sympathetic look. “I’ll rub it for you later,” he promised him, rubbing his thumbs along his shoulders in a soothing motion. “Vincent, are you really okay?” he asked softly, worry creeping back into his voice.
Vincent reached up to find his hand. “It’s just a nosebleed,” he said much more gently than before, “It’ll stop.”
“Are we sure?” Colleen murmured, kicking the bloody tissues into a pile. Mitch gave her an unimpressed look, but she only shrugged. “Hey, he’s been bleeding for like ten minutes. How long do nosebleeds go on for?”
Mitchell was the one who answered. “Twenty minutes max is the usual. My son used to get them,” he explained, which was also probably why he didn’t seem to have an issue bagging the tissues before he walked off to put a few things away.
Vincent exhaled impatiently. Nick leaned down to give him a kiss on the forehead, staring down at those green eyes as they returned to him. “What happened the last time you got a nosebleed?” he asked, if only to give him something else to focus on.
“This exact scenario. Funny enough, also in front of a good-looking guy, although I definitely wasn’t dating him.”
“Aw, were you awkward in high school?” Colleen teased good-naturedly.
Vincent scoffed. “Yeah, but whatever. Somehow, I found myself a great guy anyway.” He smirked up at Nick, fixing some paper towels in his nose.
Nick shook his head in fond exasperation. “Well, we met when I was drunk, so I appreciate you still thinking that I’m great,” he joked lightly.
Vincent smiled up at him, probably fondly, but it was somewhat hard to tell with the paper towels. Nick got the message anyway, meeting his gaze. He let himself be taken in by those green eyes, the same ones that had glimmered months ago in the dark. They were much more familiar now, but no less enthralling.
“I think it’s stopping,” Vincent said idly after a minute or two, sitting up carefully and slowly straightening out his neck.
Nick leaned around him to see, relieved that there was no more blood for the time being. Colleen took a look too. “Yeah, we really should hose you off though,” she said.
“Yeah,” Vincent agreed, moving to stand up. He had just barely gotten up when he swayed and leaned heavily on the table.
“Vincent!” Nick exclaimed sharply. His heart jumped at the same time that his legs moved to stop Vincent from falling backwards. “Okay, you’re staying in this chair for a second,” he said sternly, lowering Vincent back to his seat.
Vincent leaned forward and put a hand on his head. “Sorry,” he murmured. “Lightheaded. Eating cereal was such a bad choice today.”
Nick put his arm around Vincent, not for any reason, but just to be close. His heart was still jumping around in his chest anxiously. He smoothed his hand over his boyfriend’s hair, sitting silently while Vincent took a minute to catch his breath.
He had been so focused on Vincent that he only noticed that Colleen had left when she returned with a plastic cup of water.
“Try this,” she said, handing it off carefully.
Nick waited until Vincent had took a few sips to ask, “How are you feeling, Vincent?”
He breathed out slowly. “Better. I just got shaky for a minute.” He turned to look at Nick, still looking like someone had punched him in the face, but he was clearly lucid as he smiled.
Nick exhaled in relief. He couldn’t stop the tiny smile from appearing on his lips. “You’re going to give me a heart attack, honey. Just stay still for a minute, okay?” With paper towels courtesy of Colleen, and the water that she’d brought, Nick reached up to begin wiping Vincent’s face.
“Nick,” he protested weakly.
“Just let me fix you up,” Nick said calmly, wiping off the blood all over his mouth and chin. He wiped his hands next, Vincent sitting calmly while he did so.
Colleen had cleaned off her hands too by the time he was finished. “I’ll lock up your desk for tonight, Vincent. Oh, I have your bag here too, so you just let Nick keep an eye on you.”
Nick honestly had no idea when she’d picked up his bag, but he hefted it over his shoulder. Vincent gave him an amused look that was somewhat ruined by the paper towels still in his nose.
“I’d give you a hug, Colleen, but,” Vincent said, gesturing to his clothing.
She waved him off, much more cheerful now. “I’ll get one in the morning. But seriously, hold onto Nick?” She said that, but she walked with them to the entrance anyway as if to make sure that her friend really was alright. Her heels clicked as she ran back inside to finish up whatever she’d been doing.
Nick kept his hand in Vincent’s on their way to the other man’s place, very aware of the people that kept giving them with odd looks—whether because of the blood on Vincent’s clothing or the paper towels or both, he didn’t know.
It was Vincent who eventually pulled him to a bench outside. “Hold on—I want to see if I can take these out,” he said, reaching up for the paper towels in his nose. “No more blood,” he murmured, relieved.
“Still lightheaded?” Nick asked.
“I really should have eaten a better lunch. Maybe the blood loss wouldn’t be getting to me as much,” Vincent grumbled, his eyes on the sky for a moment.
Nick kept staring at him, finding it somehow impossible to look away. His heart had taken its proper place back in his chest, beating as calmly as ever.
Vincent was fine. He had been fine anyway—nosebleeds just tended to be dramatic.
The sense of relief that Nick felt wasn’t the reason why he couldn’t look away from his boyfriend, or the reason why a wave of fondness washed over him. His boyfriend just appeared truly beautiful in that moment with his eyes to the sky, even as he tried to make sure that lowering his head didn’t make his nose bleed again.
“I love you, Vincent,” Nick said. He didn’t blurt it out. He didn’t feel panicked when he said it. He only smiled cheerfully, completely at ease.
Well, mostly at ease. He was human, after all, and his heart did a little excited flip in his chest.
Vincent looked to him with his eyebrows raised. It only took a moment for his expression to soften and a smile to find its way to his face. “I love you too, Nickolas,” he responded in that hypnotic voice of his, adding, “This isn’t because I almost passed out, is it?”
“No. I would have said it anyway,” Nick chuckled, leaning in for a kiss.
Vincent stopped him with a hand on his cheek though. “If you kiss me now, you’ll just taste blood.”
“But, hun,” Nick pouted, “I don’t mind.”
“Even I don’t like the taste of my own mouth right now,” Vincent said, amused. He kissed Nick on the cheek instead, pulling away with a smile. “Come on, let’s go back to my place.”
It was just a kiss on the cheek, but something about the gentleness of that moment made Nick flush lightly. He didn’t protest when Vincent led them off the bench and down the sidewalks. His steps felt bouncy almost as anticipation and excitement bloomed in his chest all the way back to Vincent’s tiny apartment.
Nick had enough time to order food while Vincent washed out his mouth and changed his clothing, but the second he hung up the phone, Vincent was pulling him down for a kiss.
He melted into it—into the warm, soft feeling of Vincent’s lips and the comfortable tingles that ran through his chest. They didn’t deepen it, but Nick relished in the slow slide of their lips together, in the sense of peace he found with Vincent in his arms.
“Nickolas,” Vincent breathed against his lips, and Nick had never in his life thought that his full name sounded so much like a benediction. “I love you, Nickolas.”
Nick smiled upon hearing those words. “I love you too, Vincent,” he said surely, pressing their lips together again.
There was no urgency to do more than kiss deeply—to simply revel in each other and in the emotions running between them for the half an hour it took for the food to arrive.
Vincent loved him back. It left Nick with a heady feeling that made him want to shout from the rooftops. He couldn’t stop himself from kissing his boyfriend the moment that they were done with dinner, overcome with the joy flooding his veins.
Nick really was a lucky guy, he thought, as Vincent kissed him back with a matching smile.