Last summer, I arranged an art trade with willowander on y!gallery. My prize was a sweet picture of Demyx tending to a sick Xaldin. The return fic was meant to be a dominant Vexen, well-versed in the ways of the gay man, and Marluxia, sexually repressed and a little shy. I hope I got that into here.

This is not a connection to the other college tales I've written. I do have a Vexen/Marluxia piece for that universe, but it's not finished.

I hope this strange, rambling tale over the course of a year pleases you.


Marluxia woke up with a splitting headache and a number of bruises. He sat up, one hand pressed to his temple, letting the blankets puddle around his waist. Must've gotten drunk the night before. At least he'd made it home.

A long, slender body lay in the bed beside him, trailing blonde hair over the other pillow. Apparently Marluxia had brought someone home with him the night before; her hips were a little boxy and her shoulders were a bit broad, but the bare skin he could see was pale and fine, so she couldn't be too bad. Marluxia just couldn't remember her name, which was more an inconvenience than anything else.

An unfamiliar cell phone on the nightstand went off, lighting up and playing some techno/electronica song at a very painful volume. Marluxia groaned, not sure of he should turn it off or not.

"Oh, hell," his bedmate mumbled, rolling over his legs and reaching for the phone. Said bedmate's voice was a pleasant tenor, but it was most certainly not a woman's voice. Marluxia froze. "'llo? No, I told you I'm off today. Moving into the new place. Mmmhm. New roomie too. Pretty hot." The blonde stranger rolled over in Marluxia's lap, revealing large green eyes, an angular jaw, and a distinct lack of breasts. The sheet was twisted out of the way, leaving no question about the stranger's gender.

"I…I-i-i-i-i," Marluxia stammered. The blonde smiled at him and kept talking to whoever was on the phone with him.

"Of course he is. Do you really think I'd move into a place without checking what my housemate looks like?" He chuckled softly, in a way that made Marluxia feel a little sick. "Oh, yes. As a matter of fact I'm in his bed right now." The caller made a sound very like a squeal, which Marluxia could hear even though the phone wasn't to his ear. "Ow! You woke me up; don't give me a headache to go with it! Mm? Sure. I'll call. Uh-huh. You too." He hung up and put the phone back on the nightstand, eyes focusing on Marluxia's face. "Hi, handsome."

"Ah…..ah….b-"

"Are you alright?"

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Marluxia gasped, and dove out of bed, trailing blankets, new housemate, and his dignity behind him.

/-

The blonde was sitting on the edge of the bed when Marluxia returned, legs crossed at the ankles and the sheet pulled modestly over his lap. He smiled at Marluxia. "Hungover?"

"Ugh."

"You didn't seem too far gone when you got home."

"I usually don't," he grunted, crawling into the bed and doing his best to not touch the other man.

"You were certainly eager to sleep with me."

"I don't want to talk to you. When I wake up, you'll be gone and this will be a dream."

"I'm Vexen."

Marluxia sat up so fast the room spun around him and he moaned, clutching at the pillow for support. "What?"

"Vexen Mickenly. I signed a rental contract about a week ago."

Marluxia stared. He remembered that name, and it had indeed been on the rental agreement. For the duration of his current lease. Which happened to be another nine and a half months.

"But- but….I'm not gay!"

"Oh? You were certainly receptive last night."

"I'm not gay!"

"Bisexual, perhaps?"

"I don't like men!"

"Oh, I see." Vexen smiled thinly at him. "Then tell me, Marluxia, why you suggested that we adjourn to your bedroom after I tried to make you some coffee and help sober you up?"

"I-"

"Or why you were so eager to suck me off?"

"But I-"

"None of it was my idea, I assure you. Not that I'm complaining, mind you; you were a pretty good lay for a virgin." The thin little smile widened hungrily. "I wouldn't mind playing with you a little more, when you're feeling better."

"But I don't like men!"

"You liked me."

"I was drunk."

Vexen sniffed and slipped off the bed. He was still naked under the sheet that fell off, and Marluxia was mortified to see the neat set of bite-shaped bruises in one shapely buttock. He must have left them there.

"Sleep off your hangover," Vexen said from the doorway. "I'll be moving my things in and getting settled. I'll see what I can do to keep the noise down, but I won't make any promises."

"Nnnh."

"Mmhm. We ought to talk, when you're a little more presentable. And dressed, or I don't think we'll get much talking done." Vexen's voice took on a brief, growly sort of sound. "At least, I know I won't. Sleep well."

Marluxia moaned and pulled the pillow over his head.

/

Much later that day, Marluxia was greeted by the sight of Vexen- dressed this time, in jeans and a university t-shirt- carrying a tall glass of some thick orangey fluid that looked absolutely vile to his miserable, hungover eyes.

"Drink," Vexen said, folding one of Marluxia's hands around the glass.

"Nrrrggg."

"It's an orange banana smoothie. It will help."

"Ugh."

"I do need to talk to you, and I've been waiting for you to drag yourself out of bed for five hours now. Drink."

Marluxia moaned but sat up enough to drink slowly. He got through half of the smoothie before feeling too full to have any more. Thankfully, Vexen didn't try to make him finish it off.

"So." Vexen sat down on the bed, too close to Marluxia's feet for comfort, and folded his hands in his lap. "You're straight, or at least think you are."

"I'm straight!"

"Uh-huh. You like to drink, it's nearly impossible to tell that you're utterly sloshed even when you are, you have a habit of propositioning men when you're under the influence, and you aren't very good at effectively banishing your hangovers in the morning."

Marluxia groaned and pulled a pillow over his head, which Vexen promptly removed.

"Now, I refuse to believe that you're straight, because you enjoyed yourself far too much last night to not at least be bicurious. However, I'm willing to pass last night off as a drunken surprise that isn't likely to be repeated, at least not if you have anything to do with it. I am not going to turn you down if you come on to me again, though."

"But-"

"You obviously want it, and I'm not going to turn down a decent lay because you have a serious case of morning-after syndrome afterwards." Vexen patted Marluxia's ankle, and Marluxia shuddered.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because I want to at least be able to pretend that I'm on reasonably level ground with you."

"Why?"

"Because it's just how I like to do things."

"Oh."

"So. My name is Vexen, as I'm sure you remember. I work for the university, in the biology department; I'm a graduate student, working under Dr. Ansem. I consider my home to be a place to escape, not a place to take last-minute pickups from the nearest bar. And I'm gay." He fixed Marluxia with a thin, icy smile. "Do you have any problems with that the second time you're hearing it?"

Marluxia swallowed hard, regretting the smoothie. "No," he managed.

"Good." Vexen patted Marluxia's ankle again and got to his feet. "I'm going to go unpack. Get some more rest- you look like you need it."

/-

Marluxia spent the rest of the weekend avoiding his new housemate. In fact, he spent the next two weeks avoiding Vexen, going so far as to determine what schedule the man had in order to come and go only when Vexen was unlikely to see him.

/-

After denying Vexen's existence didn't work, Marluxia started in on trying to prove- to himself or to Vexen- that he was straight as could be. He brought a few girls home and had very loud and enthusiastic sex.

Vexen replied by bringing a man home and doing the same thing, then upping the stakes by letting his boy toy wander around the kitchen stark naked the next morning.

Marluxia bought a couple of masturbators and left them where Vexen would find them- they were the ones shaped like a pussy, not like a mouth, and had pictures of naked women on the packaging, which he also left out.

Vexen left a bright purple dildo attached to the wall of the shower with a suction cup.

Marluxia watched porn turned up quite loud when he knew Vexen was home, usually the raunchiest he could get his hands on.

Vexen left several gay porn magazines spread neatly over Marluxia's bed, with one opened to a particularly well-endowed centerfold.

Marluxia piled religious anti-gay pamphlets on Vexen's desk.

Vexen wore assless chaps around the house for a week.

Marluxia threw a fit.

Vexen made dinner and left a plate out for him.

Marluxia wound up sitting in a corner booth at his favorite bar, trying to drink the images out of his head.

/-

Marluxia woke up hungover and sore. He was sore in places he didn't want to think about, and one slit-eyed peek told him he was in Vexen's bedroom with Vexen sleeping beside him. Clearly he had drunkenly submitted to his housemate's advances- because he refused to believe he had ever sought out gay sex with anyone, no matter how much he'd drunk- and would have to deal with the man being an insufferable prick all day.

"Good morning," Vexen murmured, shattering the illusion that he had been asleep. He rolled over and took his phone off the nightstand, offering it to Marluxia. "Here. The video is ready to go."

"Video?"

"Of last night."

"You recorded it?"

"Of course. You need proof that I didn't just rape you."

Marluxia reviewed the video, forcing himself to watch as he begged and spread his legs, and stopped Vexen halfway through to pull away and roll over and get up on his hands and knees, presenting himself like an animal. He watched as he kissed Vexen, sloppily, eagerly, desperately. The whole video was hungry and passionate. Marluxia hardly recognized himself.

When the video was over, Marluxia handed the phone back and got up, a little unsteadily, to walk back to his bedroom. Standing, the dull sting was even harder to ignore, and he almost cried. He said nothing. Neither did Vexen.

/

Two weeks later, Marluxia came home feeling sick, his head heavy and his throat sore, earlier than he usually did. It was October, the weather was abysmal, and all he wanted was to curl up somewhere warm to rest for a while.

Vexen had apparently had the same idea, because the little gas fireplace in the living room was lit and Vexen was sitting on the floor before it, slumped against a beanbag with a steaming mug between his knees and a notebook propped against his thigh. He looked up when the door closed, blinking sleepily.

"What happened to you?"

"What?"

"You look like death."

"'m sick. Maybe. Dunno." He was too tired to verbally spar with Vexen.

"Come here."

"What? No. Why?"

"It's warm. Come on."

The offer of warmth made Marluxia hesitate, then creep closer, finally folding himself into a bundle of long limbs on the floor beside Vexen's beanbag.

Vexen produced a blanket from somewhere on his other side, shaking it out and handing it over to Malruxia, who looked at it a moment too long and Vexen swung it around his shoulders, warm and blue and soft.

They sat silently together for a while. Marluxia's sore throat turned into a cough without the help of a water bottle to keep everything working right, and he huddled up, coughing softly into his fist, until Vexen made a frustrated sound, got up, and left.

At least he had the fire to himself now. Marluxia hoisted the blanket a little higher around his shoulders and stared into the flames, falling into a doze.

"Here."

Marluxia jumped. A warm mug bumped against his cheek and he looked up to find Vexen leaning over him.

"What is it?"

"Tea."

He made a face. "I'm not really a tea drinker."

"It'll help."

"With what?"

"Everything. The sore throat and general feeling of crappiness, mostly. And the chill." He settled back down on his beanbag with a sigh. "This time of year is horrible."

Marluxia sipped slowly at the mug, finding that it was sweet with a tart edge to it and smelled strongly of ginger. It did wonders for his throat. "Thanks."

"Mmhm."

After awhile, once the tea was gone and having a full belly was starting to make him sleepy, Marluxia began listing to the side, leaning into the beanbag without remembering who was sitting on it.

Vexen sighed and tugged at the blanket wrapped around him. Blinking groggily, he released one side of it, wondering if that was what Vexen had wanted. The next thing he knew, there was another body wrapped in the blanket with him. A warm one, even if it was a little bony, and it smelled of cedar, which he had always liked. He was too tired to protest, and cuddled up to Vexen. The last thing he remembered before dozing off was a hand moving through his hair.

Much later, Marluxia woke up with a stuffy nose and a headache, lying on the floor with his head in someone's lap and fingers massaging the delicate skin behind his ear. He had a tattoo there, which made the skin even more sensitive for some reason, and now that he was awake, having that spot touched was a little arousing.

"Welcome back."

The blissful haze he'd been drowsing under vanished at once, and Marluxia realized it was Vexen's lap he was sleeping in and Vexen's fingers touching him like that. He flinched. "What did you do to me?"

"Nothing," Vexen said, and his voice was truly cold for the first time since the morning they had woken up together. "I made you some tea and wrapped you in a blanket. Nothing more."

"Oh. But I-"

"You're sick, Marluxia. You should go to bed."

"I-" Marluxia hesitated, almost wanting to ask if Vexen wouldn't mind petting him a little more, then stopped himself. He got up, a little unsteadily, and went to bed, leaving the blanket hanging off of Vexen's shoulder.

/-

What had felt like a bad cold turned out to be the flu, which Marluxia realized the following morning. He'd slept for eighteen hours without waking, and when he got out of bed, he was shaking like a leaf and too weak to walk from the bed to his door. Coughing painfully, he crawled back into bed and fell into a restless sleep.

Much of the day was lost to fever and strange dreams, but he distinctly remembered staggering out of bed and down the hall to vomit, then heading for the wrong bedroom. He remembered thinking that it was Vexen's bed and Vexen was in it and what the hell was he doing there, then deciding that it was better to be with someone when he was sick and burrowing under the blankets.

It was his cold feet that woke Vexen up. There was some indistinct arguing about what he was doing there, and then he said that his stomach hurt and he was lonely, and the last thing he remembered was a gusty sigh and a soft voice, and he was being pulled against a hard chest and there was a heartbeat in his ear and it was so relaxing he could just…

Marluxia woke up in Vexen's bed again. Vexen was not there, but there was a bottled sports drink on the nightstand, sitting beside a box of tissues, a thermometer, and a small collection of prescription bottles. Marluxia didn't remember seeing a doctor. He reached for the bottles, catching three in one hand and pulling them over to read the labels. One was for him, a pretty standard fever reducer from a doctor he didn't know, but the other two were for Vexen. There was a sleep aid, the name vaguely familiar, and an anti-depressant. When he snatched at the other bottles, he found another with his name on it, an anti-emetic this time, and the other three…all of them for Vexen. One for migraines, one for vertigo, and one for something Marluxia wasn't familiar with that had a lot of syllables.

He was still staring at the bottles when Vexen walked in, peeling a wet t-shirt off.

"Good to see you collected enough to be reading something," he murmured, throwing the shirt into the hamper across the room. "Drink. You need fluids."

"What is all this?" Marluxia asked slowly.

"Medication."

"I know that. Why didn't you tell me? And what is this one for?"

Vexen took the collection of bottles away from Marluxia in one quick, nervous grab. "It's an anti-arrhythmic."

"A what?"

"I have a heart arrhythmia. Among other problems."

"Why didn't I know about this?"

"It's none of your business."

"None of my business? I live with you! What if something happens? What if you need help and I don't even know what the problem is in the first place?"

"What if I hate being treated like an invalid when I have perfectly treatable medical problems?" Vexen snapped. "What if I want to be normal for once? Do you have any idea how hard it is to live with people desperately watching your every move, waiting for you to drop dead because they don't understand that you don't suffer from anything particularly fatal?"

"But-"

"I can take care of myself."

"You could at least tell me what's wrong with you," Marluxia said in a small voice. "And maybe how I have two prescriptions but don't remember seeing a doctor."

Vexen hesitated, then sighed and dropped the bottles onto the bedclothes with a hollow rattling sound. "I know a doctor who makes house calls. Your fever spiked to one hundred and four the day after you got sick, but I can't drag you out to my car and I didn't want to call an ambulance, so I called him." He sat on the bed and poked the two bottles for Marluxia's medications to the side. "And as for these. I have a heart arrhythmia, like I said. Migraine problems. Insomnia." He flicked each bottle in turn. "Vertigo thanks to the migraines. And mild depression." Vexen smiled thinly. "I have allergies as well."

"I….wow."

"Mmm. And somehow I manage to function perfectly fine without a nursemaid. Take your pills and drink that before I decide to get a funnel and help."

Marluxia cracked the bottle open and sipped at it while he checked dosages for the medications he was supposed to take, then swallowed the pills. He choked slightly, finding that his throat hurt a lot more trying to swallow than it did when talking, but he managed to avoid spitting his drink all over the bed.

"How did I get in here?"

"In my bed?"

"Yeah."

"You shuffled in here on Saturday night last week and crawled in with me. I didn't feel like trying to convince you that I couldn't do a thing about your stomach hurting and let you stay. The following morning, you were in no condition to be walking to your own bed. So here you are." Vexen got up slowly, emptied his pockets, and started peeling his jeans off. They were soaking wet, Marluxia realized, and clung to him like a second skin.

"Why are you wet?"

"It's raining and my car is in the shop. There's a mile walk to the nearest bus stop from here, both ways, and then I have to get into the middle of campus to get to my department. That leads to me getting soaked to and from work today and yesterday, and the night before that as well." The jeans came off- purple bikini-cut underwear beneath- and Vexen threw them into the hamper as well. "I hate October. Wet, cold, wet, windy, and wet."

"You said wet three times," Marluxia pointed out, smiling faintly.

"That's my least favorite part. I even like the cold. But not the cold-and-wet. That sort of weather should be banned." Socks and underwear came off, and Vexen was completely naked, pale skin rough with goosebumps. It wasn't pale everywhere, though; Marluxia took a few minutes to fully comprehend what he was seeing before he tried saying anything, and even then it didn't come out well.

"Wh….what's that?"

Vexen looked down at himself. "The tattoo on my ankle, the tattoo on my pelvis, or one of the piercings?"

"That."

"The piercings?"

"All of it."

"Ah." Vexen shook his wet hair out of his face and sat down on the bed, lifting his foot into his lap so that the little tattoo on the inside of his ankle was clearly visible. "This dagaz, the rune for day. It stands for happiness, success, and a fulfilling lifestyle." He released his foot and touched long fingers to the dark lines of script and scattered avian silhouettes on the inside of his hip, below and to the right of his navel. "This says 'All good things are wild and free'. It's a favorite quote of mine."

"Thoreau," Marluxia said quietly.

Vexen smiled at that. "Mmhm. I find him very inspirational." A single finger flicked the curved silver barbell in his navel. "I was sixteen and on spring break with friends who were older and more than willing to pay to get me my first piercing. No other explanation needed, really. I've just never bothered to let it close over."

"And the other ones?"

"Oh, these?" Vexen grinned and tweaked the thin silver rings at his nipples. "I got them because I like them. I'm sensitive as it is, and having the piercings here makes it even better when they're touched. When I get my partner to play with them, anyway, which isn't as often as I'd like." He tugged absently at one of them. "Most people seem to think they'll tear if you so much as look at them wrong. Not true."

"Didn't those hurt?"

"Getting them done hurt, yes. And every now and then I'll catch one and pull too hard and it hurts, but it's not like they hurt all the time." Vexen shifted on the bed and lay back, stretching out with a sigh. Marluxia found himself trying to avoid looking at the length of his body, how pale and how toned and how he wanted to touch it. "What's the story behind yours?"

"What?"

Vexen tapped his ear. "Those stars back there. What's the story?"

"Oh. Those." Marluxia blushed, reaching up to touch the seven stars behind his ear. "I had a girlfriend while I was an undergrad…she was really active in the Stonewall group on campus. Really active in any LGBT groups, actually, and she dragged me along. I got talked into this…if they raised a certain amount of money, the straight guy would get a rainbow tattooed on his body. They raised almost triple the amount, so I had to get it. I figured that behind my ear was a good place, since with my hair, you can't even see my ears half the time." He realized Vexen was staring at him. "What?"

"You have a gay pride tattoo?"

"Sort of."

"You got a rainbow tattoo for a gay pride organization fundraiser. Seriously?"

"I had a hard time saying no to that girlfriend."

"Mmhm. What happened to her?"

"I said no."

"I beg your pardon?"

"She asked me to propose. I said no. That was that."

Vexen made a disgusted sound. "You don't ask a man to propose to you. If she wanted you that badly she should have asked you to marry her, not demanded that you ask. Honestly."

"I know. Which is why I'm not dating her anymore." Marluxia pulled the blankets around himself. While he felt a hell of a lot better than he had the last time he remembered being awake, he still felt sick, and there was a cold body on the bed beside him, which wasn't helping much. "I should probably go back to my own bed."

"If you want. I'm not complaining." Vexen didn't so much get into bed as he simply wriggled beneath the blankets, settling down in a stretch of cold skin against Marluxia's leg. "You're a decent bedmate when you aren't trying to convince yourself that you have no business being in bed with me."

"Um…thank you?"

"Just stay in the bed. Two bodies are warmer than one."

"Alright."

/-

It was nearly Christmas when Marluxia began dreaming about Vexen, and with the man visiting friends and family for the holidays, he was free to think about what that meant, and to try touching himself while thinking of Vexen. Before the New Year, he was experimenting with penetration, curious and wanting more with every new thing he learned.

/-

Vexen returned in early January, bringing food from his family, most of which was homemade canned goods and frozen things, and a huge, hairy man with dreadlocks who talked with Marluxia about orchids and made the headboard in Vexen's bedroom pound against the wall on the nights he stayed over. His name was Xaldin. He was…nice, but Marluxia found himself disliking the man for two reasons: he was sleeping with Vexen, and he was preventing Marluxia from sleeping with Vexen. He wasn't sure which bothered him more.

/-

Xaldin never became a permanent fixture around the place, but he stuck around until late March, when he and Vexen had a fight that involved a lot of yelling and threatening and Vexen bouncing a purple rubber dick off of Xaldin's forehead. Then the house was quiet, which Marluxia found both a relief and an unsettling change.

The quiet didn't last long. Vexen had projects and last-minute lab reports to grade, and he dealt with this by playing opera whenever he was home.

Marluxia contemplated murder.

Even opera didn't seem to help much as the semester drew to a close and Vexen grew more and more tightly-wound.

/-

In the last week of April- which was also Hell Week- Vexen met Marluxia at the front door with a very large bottle of vodka and a bag of assorted mixers.

"Get in here," he said shortly. "We're getting drunk."

"I…er…what?"

"Just get inside, you're letting all the dust blow in."

Marluxia hustled inside, rather concerned for his roommate's state of mind. "Why are we getting drunk?"

"Because if I don't get laid today, I just might lose my mind. I am too tired and too stressed to pick anyone up at a bar and my previous friend wth benefits is now someone else's adoring boyfriend. I've heard you saying my name in the shower, so I don't feel at all guilty trying to get you sloshed enough to screw me into the wall later tonight. Come on."

"But…" Marluxia backpedaled, trying to find some even ground to stand on. "I haven't eaten all day, I'll-"

"I ordered pizza. Half the way you like it."

"You remember what I like on my pizza?"

"I remember a lot of things. Now go."

"I don't think-"

Vexen whirled to face him, brandishing the vodka. "You don't think what?"

Marluxia swallowed, then said what might have been the most daring thing he'd ever said in his life. "I don't need to get drunk."

Vexen nearly dropped the bottle. "I beg your pardon?"

"I want…I want to try, at least. I've been wondering what it would be like if I could remember. I just didn't want to ask."

"Pizza first, then," Vexen said quietly, relaxing visibly. "And a drink anyway. I need one."

He laughed softly. "You and me both. Just don't put anything…weird in my drink."

"And risk messing up your performance? Never."

Marluxia slept with Vexen that night. He wasn't drunk, he didn't have a hangover the next morning, and he remembered what had happened for a change.

/

By the end of May and the impending end of the lease, Marluxia wasn't sure what he ought to be doing. He and Vexen had fairly regular, very enjoyable sex whenever they were both home and in the right mood. Vexen had already announced that he had a place to go after the lease expired and didn't plan to renew, leaving Marluxia needing to either find another roommate or find a new place to live, all while wondering why he was getting as depressed about the whole business as he was. He'd had plenty of roommates, and even a few others with whom he'd had sex. Vexen ought to be no different.

But he was, which was why Marluxia was moping around the house instead of pursuing leads, and why, at the end of June, he found himself crashing at a friend's home with most of his belongings in a storage facility while he searched for an apartment that met both his requirements and his budget.

He spent much of July- when he wasn't working, which took up a lot of time- trying to find a place. No luck.

/-

In the last week of July, Saix quietly informed Marluxia that he had better find a place soon or he'd be staying in a hotel. Out of desperation, Marluxia checked the university directory for Vexen's information. A link to his office hours and an old syllabus netted him Vexen's cell number, and he found himself sitting outside the campus library, shaking and staring at the number on the screen of his phone for a long time before he got up the guts to hit the call button.

Vexen picked up on the fourth ring, right before Marluxia was going to give up. "Hello?"

"Vexen?"

"Marluxia? How did you get my number?"

"You put it on your syllabi."

"True, but you've never taken one of my classes. How did you get it?"

"I…looked for it?"

"Where?"

"Everywhere," Marluxia mumbled, blushing deeply. "Until I found the right number."

He heard Vexen sigh heavily, the kind of sigh he usually associated with Vexen pinching the bridge of his nose and hanging his head, just moments before he said something sarcastic and hard to argue with.

"You know, that sounds almost like stalking," he muttered. "What do you want?"

"Couch space?" Marluxia mumbled.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I missed renewing the lease and I've overstayed my welcome with the friend I've been staying with. I need a couch to crash on while I find a place."

"I don't have a couch."

"Oh. Never mind then, I'll just-"

"But I do have a futon. I can put you up for awhile, but I expect help out of you."

"Thank you."

Vexen relayed an address and a series of directions, and Marluxia packed everything into his car as soon as he got back to Saix's. He was still shaking with nerves and adrenaline when he left.

/

Vexen was living in the top floor of an industrial-ish building near campus. Marluxia took what appeared to be a freight elevator up to the right floor, clutching his duffle bag and wondering if perhaps he'd been given a false address. But at the top floor, there was a door with a brass number four on it and the echoing strains of opera in the rooms beyond. He hesitated, then knocked loudly, knuckles stinging slightly with the force.

The opera stopped abruptly, and after a moment, the door opened. Vexen stood beyond it, hair up in a ponytail so high it bounced with the slightest movement, with a pencil tucked behind his ear and a fistful of corked test tubes in one hand. The tubes contained spices- which Marluxia had discovered after walking into the kitchen one evening and finding his housemate pouring something out of a test-tube into a pot on the stove. The resultant fuss he had raised had gotten him teased for weeks.

"That was fast," Vexen said dryly. "In hurry?"

"The guy I was staying with wanted me out sooner rather than later, and I didn't want to push it with him."

"Friend?"

"Sort of."

"How can you be 'sort of' friends? Come on, get inside."

"We've worked together and we have some of the same friends. But we aren't…we don't know each other that well. Personally."

"Mmhm. Back this way." Vexen wandered off, leaving Marluxia to follow, staring at the high ceilings and tasteful decorations. Overhead, the ceiling had exposed ventilation and heating pipes, and the general lighting came from large, industrial fixtures. Long cords lead down to area lighting at a more manageable level. "The futon is in the office, but I'm not using it at the moment so you'll have a little privacy; it's one of the few completely enclosed rooms in here." He pushed a door open on the other side of the apartment and went inside, flicking a light switch. "Here you go."

The office was smallish, squarish, and painted mostly white with one wall a rich, dark purple. The futon had been folded down and took up most of the space, and what free space remained was largely occupied with a large desk and chair, a ceiling-high bookshelf, and a largish beanbag in a rather disturbing shade of grey-green.

"The lightswitch on the left is for the spotlighting over the desk. The switch on the right is for the entire room. The lock has an attitude and will lock itself without warning, so I'd suggest not locking your door. I don't plan on barging in on you, so there's really no need. Bathroom is two doors over. If you put anything in my fridge, label it or I might wind up eating it." He offered a small smile. "You should remember how I am."

Marluxia nodded. Vexen had a habit of wandering into the kitchen, taking something out of the fridge without looking at it, and eating without ever caring what it might be. For some reason, a hand-written label was enough to stop him.

Vexen turned away and vanished around the corner into the area Marluxia assumed was the kitchen, leaving Marluxia to drop his bags on the futon and just stand in the doorway, trying to match the Vexen he knew with the grand loft he was seeing. And it truly was grand, large enough for a second floor, skirting the rear two corners of the place and trailing off into the top of the block of closed-off rooms that his was a part of. The rest of the enormous room was open, with suggested uses for certain spaces left in the objects scattered in them: two squashy couches and an orderly stack of floor pillows near a wall-mounted television and small bookshelf, an open space with a yoga block and resistance bands kept semi-private by a translucent folding screen, miniature fruit trees in wheeled pots edging a small dining area. One corner of the place was curtained off twice, once with sheer grey curtains, drawn closed around a king-sized bed, and again with heavier curtains hanging against the wall, presumably to keep out the light. It seemed…very much like Vexen in some ways, and very unlike him in others.

Eventually, Marluxia ventured out of his new bedroom and located both his host and the source of the good smells in the kitchen. Vexen was bent over a pot on the stove, sampling something richly colored and sauce-like from a wooden spoon.

"Hungry?" he asked dryly, adding a few haphazard dashes from various testtubes to the pot, stirring, and replacing the lid.

"A little. What are you making?"

"Chicken curry."

"Smells good."

"Thank you." Vexen drifted across the kitchen to do something else, and Marluxia followed, until Vexen stopped and faced him.

"Did you want something?"

"I just…I was wondering how you found this place. It's amazing."

"I bought it."

"You what?"

"I bought it. About three years ago. This past year I've been unable to live in it because of the renovations. They were finished in the spring, but I wanted to stay until the lease was up."

"Oh."

"Why do you ask?"

"I'm just trying to figure you out, I guess."

"Meaning?"

"I never pictured you in a place like…this."

"Still not following you."

"It's so open."

One of Vexen's eyebrows went up. "So you're saying I wasn't open?"

"Well…um…"

"The things I chose not to tell you- like my medical conditions and the status of this loft- were none of your business to begin with. Aside from that, I was open from day one. I told you who I was, what I did, who I did, where I was going to be, what I do and do not do or eat or feel like dealing with, and virtually everything else about myself barring my shoe size. I even formally introduced you to Xaldin. How is that not being open?"

Marluxia flinched. "That's not what I meant. You are pretty open, but you don't…you don't come off that way."

"Go on," Vexen said, voice quiet and rather dangerous.

"You look and act like a quiet bookworm or lab tech or something."

"I am a lab tech."

"But not the stereotypical kind."

"But I come off as one?"

"Yes?"

"Is there a point to all this?"

"You don't come off as gay, either."

"Most of us try not to. Pro-gay movements or not, it's still safer to behave like normal people. No matter what it is you are, gay or straight or from another planet, waving your differences in the face of the public is a good way to wind up in serious trouble. Or in a hospital."

Marluxia winced.

Vexen sighed and turned away, taking two glasses down from an open shelf.

"I didn't mean…um…"

"Are you sure it's my openness or lack thereof that you're asking me about?"

"What?"

"It seems to me," Vexen murmured, offering Marluxia a glass of water, "that your problem is that you can't decide between being open with yourself or keeping things inside and presenting the front you think you need to have. And it's easiest for you to bounce that confliction off of me in an attempt to find answers."

Marluxia gave Vexen a wide-eyed, confused look. Vexen groaned.

"Marluxia?"

"Yeah?"

"I'd go with the openness," he said gently. "Ultimately, you'll get hurt less."

"Oh." Marluxia swallowed and looked at his water. "I'm not really sure how to do that."

Vexen shrugged and headed back to the stove, then off across the apartment, trailing Marluxia like a rather confused puppy.

"Are you still interested in me?"

Marluxia choked on his water. "What?"

"Too abrupt?"

"Where did that come from?"

"Just go with it. Yes or no?"

"Well…yes, I guess."

"No guessing."

"Yes."

"You're sure?"

"Uh-huh."

"Then come to dinner with me."

He choked on his water again, and wondered why he had even tried to take another sip.

"Why?"

"Because it encourages that openness."

"I'm not gay!"

"But you like men. Or at least you like me, and I'm a man."

"So?"

"Be honest, Marluxia. Does anyone know you've slept with me? Do any of your friends even know I was living with you?"

Marluxia was very quiet for a few minutes, his blush steadily darkening until his face rivaled his hair, and he squirmed on the spot. Vexen smiled knowingly.

"See? You're not being honest with them. Or with yourself. Or, really, with me, but I don't care. I've been through this with myself already. Coming to dinner with me, in public, forces you to be honest: yes, you are out with another man. Yes, you are or have been involved with him. Yes, he fully intends to take you home and be fucked into the wall. Yes, you are okay with other people knowing that." Vexen shrugged. "Or don't. Your choice."

"Um…"

"I'm going out to pick up a few things to finish dinner." Vexen drained his water and turned away, returning the glass to the kitchen. "Think about it."

/-

Marluxia paced around the loft while Vexen was gone, tugging on his hair and thinking about what Vexen had said. Frustrated with his inability to make up his mind, he took a cold shower and curled up on the futon with a book.

/-

Dinner was quiet.

/-

Breakfast was even quieter.

/-

It was very like the first tense weeks when Vexen had first moved into the house with Marluxia; Marluxia avoided Vexen, Vexen went on with his life as usual, and there was a peculiar tension in the air that made it hard for Marluxia to eat, sleep, think, or do anything that usually went along with his normal life.

/-

Disturbingly quickly, summer was over. School was back in session. Marluxia found himself up to his ears in work and some online classes. He hardly saw Vexen, but when he did…

Vexen was rather uninhibited in his own home. He sprawled in his bed wearing nothing at all, or very little, and didn't always close the blackout curtains.

He did yoga and what looked like taichi in full view of Marluxia's bedroom.

He walked out of the shower in a towel to start water for tea.

He danced while he cooked.

It drove Marluxia mad.

/-

There was a brief break in the tension around early October, when Vexen came down with hell's own stomach flu. Marluxia tended to him and ultimately drove him to the hospital for an afternoon on IV to rehydrate. Then they returned to the same tension- after Marluxia suffered from three days of the same bug.

/-

In November, Marluxia had had quite enough.

Maybe it was because he'd had too much coffee- a whole pot by himself at the apartment and a quad shot latte after he'd hit the library. Maybe because he'd been thinking about what Vexen had said every single day since Vexen had first said it. Maybe because he was tired and lonely and missed the strange relationship he and Vexen had had before. Maybe because two of his friends had recently come out gay as Mardi Gras and dating each other to boot.

Whatever it was, he waited for Vexen outside the lab he was teaching, awkwardly twisting his hands together and wishing he hadn't been so early. He couldn't wait for all the students to leave before he rushed in, coming to a halt in front of the desk.

Vexen looked up from the reports he was sorting through and had time to open his mouth, presumably to ask what Marluxia was doing in the Biology labs, before Marluxia leaned over the desk and kissed him as hard as he could at such an awkward angle. He felt teeth hit his lip, tasted blood, but god, it was good to kiss Vexen again.

Until Vexen grabbed him by the hair and yanked him off.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" he growled.

"I-"

"I have students in here. I'm at work. What are you doing?"

"I-"

"Did you have some kind of epiphany this morning? Is that it?"

"Well actually-"

"What?"

"Yes," Marluxia said quietly.

"Yes what?"

"Yes I had an epiphany."

"Do tell," Vexen drawled.

"Will you have dinner with me? Tonight?"

"I have grading to do."

"I have reservations."

One of Vexen's eyebrows went up. "Where?"

"The Ore House."

"You have reservations at the Ore House?"

Marluxia nodded. "For two. At seven thirty tonight. If you want to come. I'd…rather not go alone. It's not the kind of place for eating by yourself…it's supposed to be better with a date…"

"I…did you hit your head on something on your way over here, or are you completely serious about this?"

"I'm serious," Marluxia mumbled, looking at his feet. It was his lip that was bleeding, he realized, and he teased the little cut with his tongue in an effort to distract himself. "I miss…I miss what we had before you moved out. I miss you."

"You miss the sex."

"Well, yeah, but I could probably get that from someone else if I tried…Xaldin left his number with me, and…I know a few people now who could help me find…the right kinds of places to go looking. But I'd rather have you."

"I could be seeing someone else, you know."

"You're not."

"And how would you know?"

"You keep leaving your toys in the bathroom." Marluxia managed a soft laugh. "You did that when you were single and frustrated this past spring."

"You do realize how creepy it is that you know so much about me, don't you?"

"Yeah."

Vexen sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, slumping against the desk. "This is really getting old, you know. This...delayed reaction to outside influence. Is it some kind of deficiency you were born with, or is it a product of your haphazard lifestyle?"

"Neither," Marluxia said, smiling. He'd missed Vexen's sharp tongue and biting remarks.

"Uh-huh. What is it, then?"

"Just what you do to me."

"Did you swallow a romance novel this morning or something?"

"Nope."

"Marluxia, you're spouting romantic nonsense and offering a dinner date at one of the nicer restaurants in the county."

"I know."

"Where was this three months ago? Or six?"

"Still in production. Caught up behind me being too afraid to try anything. Please? I don't want to have to cancel. They hate that."

Vexen sighed and knuckled his eyes, then fixed Marluxia with an unreadable look. "7:30 at the Ore House?" he asked.

"Uh-huh."

"I'll have to meet you there- I have to clean up and run a bunch of reports across town first."

"That's fine. I'll…see you there?"

Vexen nodded. "You will. If you're there." A small smile curved his lips up. "Not going to bail on me, are you?"

"Why would I do that? It ruins my chances of any kind of follow up back at the apartment…after dinner."

"No sex on school nights," Vexen said primly. "I can't be walking funny in front of my students."

"I'll bottom. Promise. I've missed you."

"You'll-"

Marluxia had already fled the room, grinning and blushing and wondering if he'd gone and lost his mind.

But he made it to dinner on time all the same.