Carter rode in the taxi to his apartment along with James who didn't speak a word. The driver gave them a look before taking the money.
"Your friend okay?"
"He's not feeling well." Carter answered quickly taking his change. He let James go first so in case he fainted for some reason, Carter could catch him. James didn't waver one bit on the stairs and when they reached the door, he leaned against the wall space in between doors and breathed heavily. "You alright?"
"Trying not to throw up out here."
Carter ushered him into the apartment once the door was open. He removed James' coat but kept his own on.
"The bathroom's there." Carter pointed to all the rooms as he spoke. "That's my room. You can sleep in there. There's water in the fridge, crackers in the cabinet, and Advil in the drawer all the way on the right. You can borrow some of my clothes if you want to change into something more comfortable." He took a breath after saying all of that in one quickly taken inhale. James nodded. "Okay, I'm not sure who's going to get here first, but I'll let Stuart know you're here." Carter headed for the door before turning back around. "You'll be okay by tomorrow. This just looks like you ate some bad food or something. We'll talk about tomorrow night once you feel better."
Carter finally left and James made a quick trip to the bathroom before meandering into Carter's room to get changed. The room was much more organized than Stuart's and the clothes were all in the right drawers. He picked a pair of sweats and a plain t-shirt. Shedding his work clothes, he slowly slipped on the more comfortable clothing. It was cool against his skin and they smelled like Carter.
Feeling light headed, he went to the couch and slowly sat down, picking up the remote. He flipped around, but there was absolutely nothing on, so he clicked it off. He tried some water before going back into Carter's room. He rushed to the bathroom again though and when he came back into the bedroom, he collapsed onto the bed. He crawled under the covers and curled up. Closing his eyes, he hoped he slept all night. Talking about how they were going to handle the event the next day was the last thing he needed to do.
It turned out Carter and Stuart arrived at about the same time so they both entered and threw off their coats and suitcases. Carter forgot James was there, but Stuart didn't.
"I can't believe he's here. Can't he take care of himself?" Stuart complained.
"Geez. If you can't even remember James is here, maybe he should live here. He could pay my rent." Stuart went to get something to drink. Carter slapped his forehead and walked to his room. All he could see under the covers was a large lump. He treaded softly so as not to wake him up. Unfortunately, Stuart dropped something in the kitchen and cursed loudly. The lump stirred and the covers were pulled down. James blinked heavily.
"Hey. You woke up. I'll go yell at Stuart later. How do you feel?"
"A little better." James answered softly. "I'm going to get up." He went to pull himself up.
"You don't have to." Carter warned him.
"I should. I've been sleeping for a while." James climbed out of the bed. Carter did have to admit, he looked a lot better. He still appeared to be a little sick, but not as bad as a few hours ago. Carter held the door open and James treaded out. Stuart looked up from attempting to clean a broken beer bottle.
"James! Heard you were sick. That's a shame. You missed what happened to Carter today." Stuart left the broken bits on the floor for later as he leaned against the counter, his arms crossed.
"Stuart… don't you dare…" Carter warned, but Stuart ignored him and continued.
"This really cute guy…" Stuart paused. "… not that I think he's cute. I've heard a lot of the women talking. Anyway, this guy from the second floor comes up to Carter and says 'I heard you're going to an event tomorrow. Need a date?'. This guy was, like, totally coming on to him big time."
"What happened?" James looked from Stuart to Carter, afraid Stuart was going to say that Carter had agreed.
"Can you believe it? Carter turned him down. The whole office was in a state of shock. You should've seen Stacey's face." Stuart cracked himself up and went back to cleaning the floor. James turned to Carter and smiled. Carter could tell it was a 'thank you' smile and did the same back.
"Hey, who's hungry?" Carter changed the subject and walked around Stuart.
"You know I am." Stuart responded, throwing the last bits of glass in the trash.
"No hot date tonight?" Carter was stunned.
"Nope. Looks like I'm here for the night. So… dinner. You're not cooking again are you?"
"Oh, don't sound so enthusiastic." Carter rolled his eyes.
"Look, the last time I ate your food, I ended up like James over there." Stuart pointed.
"I've told you a million times, Stuart! I followed the recipe exactly. The fish must not have been as fresh as I thought it was. I wasn't trying to kill you."
James watched their interaction with amusement. They almost acted like an old married couple this way, but he decided not to bring it up in case he insulted them. Instead, he cleared his throat. The two men turned his way. It wasn't what James wanted, but he took that moment to speak anyway.
"I'm really feeling better. Maybe I should go home." He began to back for Carter's room to get changed, yet he motioned to the apartment door with his thumb.
"Aw, really? You're going to leave me here… with him?" Carter and Stuart said at the same time and pointed at each other. James would have found it funny if he wasn't in such a hurry to leave.
"Yeah…" James continued to back in the direction of the room. He knew that once Stuart was put of earshot, Carter would want to talk about tomorrow night. Carter turned to Stuart.
"Go around the corner and pick up a pizza or something." He suggested.
"Why do I have to go?" Stuart pointed at himself.
"Do you want me to cook?"
"Then go." Carter handed Stuart his coat. Stuart made a face, but took it and pulled it on. He walked to the door before turning around.
"Since you made me go, I get to pick the toppings."
"Whatever." Carter watched him leave before facing James again. James had stopped in his tracks after realizing the excuse of him leaving was obviously not going to work. "Why don't you want to talk?"
"I never said I didn't." James replied indignantly. Carter gave him a 'yeah, right' look. "Okay. Because it'd be stupid to show up together. We have nothing to talk about."
"We can't keep this a secret for much longer." Carter admitted, although he wanted to keep this a secret as much as James did. But he knew, somewhere deep inside, that they would eventually be discovered or give it away and Carter would much rather end up telling everyone then being humiliated by having the gossip go around the building, spread by someone else.
"We can try." James sighed and let his shoulders droop. He hadn't even realized they were tense. He knew as well. There was no point in trying. "Do we have to do it tomorrow?"
"When do you want to do it?" Carter didn't think there was a better option.
"You know those morning meetings, right?"
"Well practically everyone important on our staff is there. Couldn't we do it then?"
"Why not?" James frowned. Carter sighed as if the answer was apparent.
"Do you know how awkward the rest of the day will be? If we do it tomorrow, everyone will have their day off to mull it over and while we're back at work, everyone will pretty much have gotten over it."
"Oh." James paused and looked up from staring at the floor. "Can we at least not tell them right away?"
"We don't have to say anything."
"Well, there's bound to be dancing there…"
"You want me to dance with you!" James exclaimed and tripped over his feet, almost falling on his ass. Carter snickered but quickly recovered. "I can't dance!"
"We can dance at a slow song. Those are easy."
"Oh… geez." James sat down on the couch, feeling a little lightheaded. Carter walked over.
"Just a little lightheaded." He explained. Carter sat down next to him and they sat waiting for Stuart to return. After about twenty minutes or so, Stuart kicked to door open, two steaming boxes of pizza scorching his arms. He dumped the boxes on the counter and shook his hands, jumping around a bit.
"What'd you get?" Carter stood and walked to peek into the boxes.
"Um… pepperoni and my favorite, of course."
"You did not." Carter stared in disgust at the pizza boxes, afraid to open them.
"What's your favorite?" James stood as well and made his way over, taking a careful whiff.
"Pineapple, ham and onion." Stuart explained. Carter covered his mouth and went to get plates and napkins. James, on the other hand, shrugged.
"I'll try it."
"See, Carter. Look at that. You won't even try some." Stuart hung his coat up on the back of an available chair.
"James. You're sick. You shouldn't even be eating pizza." Carter walked back over to where the boxes were stacked.
"I'll try some. If I'm not feeling good, I'll stop eating."
"Oh… alright. Here." Carter handed Stuart a plate. "Take your pizza… quickly."
Stuart opened the first box, saw it was the pepperoni and moved it over. He threw open the next box and smiled. Picking the largest piece, he flopped it onto his plate. James stared at it a moment, beginning to regret his choice to try some. He sighed and took a plate. Opening the box Stuart had just been at, he picked a smaller piece. He next took a pepperoni just in case the pineapple one was horrible. Carter shook his head in disbelief before grabbing two slices of pepperoni.
He joined James on the couch, while Stuart had seated himself comfortably in his lounge chair. Stuart took a large bite of his pizza and chewed quickly. He looked to James who was just staring at the plate. It smelled funny, but that didn't quite convince him. He's had some pretty good things that looked or smelled horrible before. Sighing again, he picked up the slice. Now, a small bite or a huge one to get it over with. Before biting, he noticed that now both Carter and Stuart were watching. He sunk his teeth in a tore a piece off, finally beginning to chew.
"Well?" Stuart waited for James to finish chewing before asking for the verdict.
"It's not bad." James took another bite. Stuart smiled smugly and Carter rolled his eyes.
"You two are crazy. Absolutely insane."
"Come on, Carter. Just try a little. I have to go to the bathroom, but when I come back, I want to see you chewing!" Stuart stood and walked away. Once he was in, James held out what was left of his pizza slice to Carter.
"Fine. I'll try some." Carter leaned in and took a bite. He grabbed a napkin, ready to spit it out in disgust. But instead… "Hey. This is pretty good." Carter finished chewing and watched as Stuart exited the bathroom. "You win Stuart. This is pretty good."
"Yeah?" Stuart sat back down and picked up his plate. Neither of the other men seemed to have realized Stuart hadn't touched his slice. "I'm glad."
"Why?" Carter asked.
"Because that's not ham." Stuart cracked up. Carter's eyes widened and James stopped in mid bite. He dropped the slice on his plate and stared at it like it was about to attack him.
"STUART…" Carter warned as he pushed his plate off his lap and stood up. James did the same but rushed off to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Stuart stopped laughing.
The next day, James was feeling much better and decided to go to work. He put on the same clothes he had been wearing the day before and left with Carter, after Stuart. The day was slightly more productive than the day before, but everyone was really waiting for that night. Nobody seemed to be going with a date, which made Mike feel better about himself a little.
It was finally time for everyone to go home and change into their formal clothes before all meeting at the event. They weren't told much about what the event was for, exactly, but they didn't mind. They got a chance to spend a night away from real work responsibility. Carter and James had decided near they would show up alone and near the end of the evening they would "tell" everyone in so many words.
When Carter got there, James was already sitting at a table with Nikki and Stuart. Paul was at the bar and Mike and the Mayor were meeting and greeting everyone. Some people were already dancing.
"Hey guys." Carter approached the table, grabbing a chair from an empty place behind them. James scooted over to let room in for Carter and he smiled.
"We were wondering what was taking you so long." Nikki commented, taking a sip of her drink. "Want something?"
"Something strong." Carter laughed and Stuart, who needed a refill himself, went to get something for Carter as well. James, at first glance, seemed to be enjoying himself, but if you looked hard enough, you could see how jumpy and nervous he was. Carter himself, was beginning to slightly regret what they were going to do.
As the night progressed, Carter found himself regretting it less and less than more. He checked his watch. The party was almost over and the last of the songs were being played. More people were going onto the dance floor with each song. The song playing ended suddenly, and everyone looked around, confused. A completely different song, a slower one, came on. Carter sighed and looked to James. James understood, though unwillingly, and stood.
"Where're you going?" Nikki put her third drink down and adjusted her wrap around her shoulders. Neither answered though and Nikki's eyes widened. Could they…? They weren't going to…? Now!
The two men joined together and Carter placed his hand on James' back and felt how tense he was. Looking up at his face, James' cheeks were flushed. Carter raised his eyebrows. People were already beginning to stare.
"Maybe this was a bad idea." James whispered.
"So you'd rather live in secret? You know by keeping this a secret your denying this is going on, don't you?" Carter whispered back.
"Yes." James admitted and the song, shortly lived, ended. "At Last" began to play. People joined together left and right claiming their own space. James and Carter continued to dance as Etta James sang.
Stuart returned to Nikki's table and squinted at the dancers before almost dropping his glass. Mike looked over and saw Stuart's face and walked over as well.
"What're you looking at?" He followed Stuart's eyes and sat down with a loud thump. Stacey, Genelle and the others each walked over a followed a catatonic Stuart's line of vision.
"Oh my Gawd!" Stacey practically yelled. Genelle had nothing to say and neither did the Mayor. Nikki just shook her head and smiled.
Back on the dance floor, James looked over to the right side of the room.
"Carter, they're all looking at us."
"Good." Carter smiled.
"I'm ruined." James moaned. "I might as well get this over with."
"Get what over with?" Carter asked but he didn't get the answer he was expecting. He didn't get any answer. Instead, he got lips upon his own. Carter swore he could hear the gasps echo all around the room. Somebody dropped their glass. He figured it was Stuart. Well, it certainly was going to be an interesting day at work the next time they had it, Carter thought as their lips parted.
"What do you think their doing?" James, his cheeks not so flushed anymore, questioned.
"I really don't care."
"They're going to have a lot of questions."
"Again, I don't care." They finished dancing, the next song too fast paced. Carter grabbed James' hand. People were still dancing, but staring at the two men at the same time.
"Want to come over?" James whispered.
"Yeah. I do." Carter smiled and the two of them exited the building, hand in hand, no so much as a 'good bye' to anyone. And as they stood in the cold evening air, waiting for a taxi, Carter felt as if a weight had been lifted.
He still refused to believe James had never done this before.