Simon: The Man Who

Cath UK & Angelis

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1. The Man Who Couldn't

David had never, ever been so at a loss.

He'd been through so many men over the years, so many gorgeous lads of every imaginable type- tall ones, chunky ones, camp ones and butch-as-all-fuck ones, nice guys and nasty scumbags, adepts of all possible perversions- but this!

"Un-fucking-believable. You're kidding, right? Tell me you're fucking kidding! Simon, you're having me on!"

The man on his bed hung his head in shame. "No, I... I'm not."

"Oh- oh... Oh fuck!"

Disappointment spread across David's self-labelled Adonis' features like an ugly bruise, as Simon's face- cast down away from him- flushed redder than a beef tomato. He was an absolute babe, thought David; tall, dark and everything, so gorgeous he shouldn't be legally allowed out on the scene.

And David hadn't the foggiest idea what to do with him.

He started to laugh, which might not have been the best possible reaction in such a situation.

Simon cleared his throat thickly. "Right, I'll just, um... I'll just go."

He couldn't stop laughing. "No, wait... Just..." the laughter burbled out of him, and David couldn't keep it down despite this beautiful man's obvious pain. "Just stay a bit... I'm sorry...oh fuck!" And he doubled over again.

Simon wanted to get up and leave but he still sat there on David's black sheets, naked, chilled and half-drunk, feeling absolutely wretched, his member dangling limply between his legs. What had he been thinking? He'd been out in Cruz 101, having a great time despite being at the tail end of a miserable cold, and had been only too delighted when he'd seen David giving him the eye on the dance floor. They'd flirted a bit, but things had only really started when, at some point, he'd leaned over to sneeze a quick double into the crook of his arm... and when he'd looked up, David had been stood next to him proffering a welcome tissue for him to use.

They'd chatted a bit, dancing close together, flirting outrageously. When David had invited him back to his, Simon had been delighted. He'd pulled! And what a guy he'd pulled, too. David was gorgeous: tall, fit, stylish, with gleaming, magnetic amber eyes. His type to a T. He'd seemed like such a nice bloke, too, warm, friendly and sexy as hell. Simon was so pleased that for a while, he'd completely forgotten about this small fact that was now causing his downfall.

He couldn't get it up.

"You're telling me," David said, "that you let me bring you here, knowing we were going to shag... and you're impotent?"


Could this possibly get any worse? Simon was completely mortified. He hadn't been out on the pull for months, and dreaded being approached by other men because of his handicap. How could he have been so stupid? How could this possibly have slipped his mind? Had he just been kidding himself?

"Er, yeah." He looked up cautiously at his would-be lover, the expression in his dark, slightly slanted hazel eyes reminding David of a small, hungry cat. Another minute of cruel laughter, Simon suspected, and he just might die.

And then, something started to happen.

Despite his feeling utterly miserable, Simon felt a tickle beginning to burgeon from the deep recesses of his right nostril. He struggled to keep a straight face and brought a hand up to rub at his nose, but it didn't help. The tickle was still growing, and Simon just knew he was going to have to sneeze.

'Oh God, not now," Simon prayed as he shut his eyes and held his breath.

David stopped laughing. He looked at the gorgeous man struggling on his bed, and knew immediately what was about to happen. He watched Simon's hazel eyes squeeze shut and his nose- already raw-looking- redden further as his long fingers roughly pinched it shut. As David watched the man's shapely lips, struggling not to part, slowly being pried open by the encroaching sneeze, Simon wasn't the only one holding his breath.

As David watched this fascinating effort, all traces of mirth and disappointment promptly melted away, annihilated by the mental equivalent of a flowing charge of lava. If there was one thing he found more erotic than a gorgeous naked man on his bed, it was one fighting a losing battle against a tremendous sneeze. Seeing the torture Simon was going through, David realized that all was not lost; perhaps there was hope for this night's outcome after all.

Bit by bit, Simon felt his control slipping. He didn't let go of his nose, but the sneeze chose to escape by the nearest available path, through his mouth, and loudly.

"Huh... huh-huh... Huh-iii-ESSH-oooh!"

And then, before he could regain his composure, this explosion was followed by a second, quieter one which he tried furiously to muffle in his up stretched hand;

"Hieeshh!" Simon sniffed and muttered an indistinct, "'Scuse me."

His eyes remained shut, their long, thick black lashes- of the sort they say are "wasted on a man," resting on his cheeks, nostrils still flaring in an expressive manner that David couldn't help but find promising.

"Bless." David threw the word down like a glove.

Light had come back into David's eyes, which had looked almost cruel enough to seem deadly only a moment ago. Simon couldn't understand it, but as soon as he opened his eyes and let go of his nose, he saw David quickly striding toward him in his Calvins, life now stirring where previously there had been none. He knew that look; the man had suddenly climbed a few rungs on the lust ladder, and desire was written all over him. He couldn't even begin to fathom the reason behind it before David was on him, pushing him down onto his back and hungrily kissing him.

"I thought you weren't interested," he gasped between eager, greedy kisses.

"You don't know me that well," David replied, throwing him a dangerously sexy look that immediately made Simon's blood boil- though, unfortunately, not where it would have been most needed. "I've always liked a challenge. I'm sorry for laughing, honestly. I wasn't laughing at you; I was just... surprised by the situation."

"I bet it doesn't happen to you much." Simon cast an appreciative glance over David's beauty, feeling the man's impressive erection press more insistently into his thigh.

"Can't say it does, no," said David, smiling wickedly. "But I like a challenge."

"I'm really sorry about all this, I wasn't thinking... I know I should have said something earlier. Really, it's not that I don't want to; I do! I just..." he spat the words out as though they hurt him, which they did, "I just can't!"

David chuckled, but this time, his laughter had a different quality. "Maybe. But I can. And you should never say never."

"I didn't," said Simon, and kissed him.

2. The Man Who Got Lucky

Simon's problems had started with his ex-lover Mark. Up until six months earlier, he'd been convinced that Mark was the love of his life, the man he'd spend the rest of his days with, until death did them part and all that. Simon was like that- his life was made up of extremes. In pensive moments he wondered if it was the roller coaster experiences that he kept inflicting on himself- like ending up in bed with a gorgeous stranger and nothing to pleasure him with, for example- that had made him impotent. But when he could bear to inflict the awful clarity of the truth on himself, he knew it was Mark.

They'd met nearly eighteen months ago when Mark had just moved to Manchester. He'd been out having lunch with Leo Kirkland, who he'd known since his college years, and they'd been sitting in Lush for nearly two hours having an enjoyable gossip-fest concerning the will-they-or-won't-they relationship between Leo's scene-queen mates Andy and Christiaan, Leo's flatmate's turbulent affair with Charlotte Katz, and how Simon had stood next to Russell T. Davies at the urinal in Manto's, no honestly, etc- when a tall, dark and handsome stranger wandered in, and ordered a cappuccino in a delectable Scottish accent.

"Who's that?" he'd asked Leo. "Not seen him 'round here before."

"Don't know, love," Leo had answered, eyeing up the stranger. "Bloody hell. Now I wouldn't mind a piece of that!"

Leo hadn't been going out with Alexander Edwards in those days, but the two of them were already involved, after a fashion. Leo had been trying to seduce the sexy businessman for ages and though he looked around, even then, he really only had eyes for Alex. But he'd been right; no self-respecting gay man would have sneezed- no pun intended- at the chance to get a taste of the specimen who'd just walked in. They craned to listen as the stranger thanked the morose-looking Indian waitress, charming a reluctant smile out of her.

"Ooh God, he's Scottish and all," Leo camped. "Brilliant. Now you've got to think of a chat-up line. Mm... kilts, sporrans, sheep- loads of material! Fab."

"I am going to talk to him," Simon said, still staring at the stranger, his voice uncharacteristically decisive. "But I think I'll leave the sporrans out of it, thanks."

"Are you mad? This isn't Poptastic and you've got your clothes on. He might be straight for God's sake. Don't look so shocked, I have heard that there are some boys out there who actually sleep with girls. Nasty beggars."

"I'm not mad- just curious. He's got an interesting look about him."

"You mean he's drop dead gorgeous and you want to stick your head up his arse and wear him like a hat."

"That too."

Simon got up from the chair and pushed it back decisively, which didn't change his facial expression from the dubious, scared half-smile of someone abruptly forced to sing on TV. Leo didn't have much confidence in his friend, though he grudgingly admitted that he had the looks- very different from Leo's own bleached Golden-Boy splendour, but pretty if you liked that sort of dark, intense feline allure.

To tell the truth, Simon was so beautiful that his only difficulty in getting laid was that he had the social skills of a recalcitrant badger. He only managed to make horny eye contact with men after a few shots, before standing against a wall in Essential, looking deep and meaningful, waiting for someone to remove his pants. This might have been all right for tricks, but it wouldn't work at midday in Lush. Faced with a charismatic Scotsman of even greater gorgeousness, Leo doubted that Simon would be able to knock together a decent sentence. He wanted his friend to get some, of course, but he feared damage to Simon's legendarily fragile ego and, being a protective person by nature, Leo tried to talk him out of his quest.

"Si, you never approach people. Especially not ones you want to shag."

"Well, I'm going to now. There's just something about him. Honestly; I feel a strange compulsion."

"Yeah," said Leo, smiling wickedly. "I can see it from here."

Leo had heard similar lines from his friends for years- he'd uttered them, too, on gaining his first drunken glance at Alexander's chiselled gorgeousness at one of the deathly boring music industry parties he'd gone to with his flatmate Clara. Mysterious and gorgeous strangers always elicited such reactions and if Fate had chanced to place them at such tantalising proximity, most felt it was only fair to try for the bait- including Leo. Still, he'd doubted Simon was serious, and had been gobsmacked when his normally timid friend had given him a wink and casually got up to go to the bar.

But Simon's nerve had failed him when he actually stood next to Mark. His mind worked feverishly to try and think of something to say, but the stranger's sheer animal magnetism was making him tongue tied. He'd never seen anything like this man before. A great surge of something he didn't understand ripped right through him- something he didn't have a name for.

In the end, he'd ordered his latte, given the other a quick, longing glance, and walked back to Leo without approaching him.

"Well, so much for that!" his friend had laughed.

"Damn!" Simon had muttered. "What could I say to him, though?"

" 'I've forgotten my number, can I have yours'? 'Do you come here often'? 'Take me now you sexy studmuffin'?"

Despite his frustration, Simon had laughed, and both he and Leo had pretended not to notice when Mark had sat at the table behind them alone. They'd carried on talking for another twenty minutes before Leo suddenly remembered an afternoon rendezvous with his friend Charlotte. The poor boy had looked terribly flustered as he'd suddenly pulled out his mobile, checked the time and, looking like a modern day White Rabbit, cried,

"Oh no! I'm so late- I completely forgot about Char! She'll have my guts for garters!"

Simon had barely had time to kiss Leo goodbye before his friend had vanished, practically leaving a trail of smoky flames behind him in his haste. He had only heard of Leo's Charlotte back then, but her temper was legendary and even though he hadn't had the chance to meet her, she put the fear of God into him.

He'd sat back down, alone with his cooling, unwanted latte, his mind a complete blank, when he'd felt someone tapping him on the shoulder.

"Can I join you?" asked the someone, in a thick Edinburgh accent.

"Huh?" Simon turned his head and his mouth dropped open. It was him! "Oh, um, yeah, sure."

He'd watched as the man he'd tried and failed to chat up at the bar gracefully set about picking up his coat, a newspaper and coffee, and moving the lot over to his table.

"I noticed your friend left in a rush, and was getting lonely sat at that table by myself," he said, sitting down. "The name's Mark, by the way."

"Simon," he said, keeping a straight face despite his disbelief. This couldn't be happening! Men like this didn't just appear out of nowhere to sit with him in a restaurant, did they? "Nice to meet you."

"And you," Mark had replied, settling his heavily muscled frame into the seat opposite Simon's. "Forgive me for being so forward; I'm new to Manchester, just moved down from Scotland you see, and I'm afraid I've not had time to make many friends."

And so they'd chatted, gotten to know each other like couples do in Hollywood productions, and had taken an immediate liking to each other. Both of them had liked to claim afterwards that it had been love at first sight. Mark had enjoyed telling of how he'd noticed Simon looking over, and thought his failed first attempt at chatting had been adorable. Simon had liked to joke about how Mark had pounced on him as soon as he'd seen his chance, but in truth, he'd spent their entire relationship not believing his luck. By the end of that first cup of coffee, the two had known something deeper was going to come of their meeting and had exchanged phone numbers, with Simon offering to give Mark a grand tour of the city and Mark promising to treat him to a proper dinner in return for his trouble.

And the rest, as someone with a lot of time on his hands once said, was history.

3. The Man Who Wasn't

They kissed furiously until Simon felt the need to sneeze again.

He pushed David away and, as quickly as he could, turned his head in order to do it. He wasn't fast enough, as it turned out, for a bit of spray caught David's shoulder. Embarrassed, Simon apologised and asked for a tissue, which the other readily supplied.

David was always well prepared for such enjoyable emergencies.

"Sorry about that," said Simon, dabbing at his poor red nose.

"No worries," David said with as much nonchalance as he could muster despite his heightened state of arousal. "So right, when you say you can't get it up, what do you mean?"

Simon's cheeks, which already felt hot as a result of a light fever, reddened immediately. It had been hard enough to admit his impotence in the first place; was this man going to rub it in by making him explain his problem in all its unsavoury details?

"Because," David continued as Simon visibly cringed, "I'm just trying to figure out what we can do here, you understand. I mean, what, are you saying you can't get it up at all?"

"Well," Simon began, chagrined, "actually yes. It's been about six months. I've tried everything; it just won't... happen."

"Viagra?" David offered, his eyes fired with a predatory light.

"Never," Simon shook his head.

"Might be worth a shot, love," David said, running a hand across Simon's arm and catching his hand. "But I don't have any. I don't usually have men..." he paused, "like you."

Simon gave a bitter smile. "Men who are completely useless. Who aren't even men, really."

"Oh come now, that's bollocks. Don't say that." David started, but realized he didn't sound very convincing. "I mean, we can still get up to some naughtiness, right?"

"Don't know how. I mean, it still feels good if you, y'know, do stuff down there, but I can't come. I can't explain it; it's my ex-boyfriend you see. I was fine six months ago, but then it all changed, and I can't seem to get it working right again."

David was nodding, staring at Simon, poker faced. He was already tired of this, and wondered how to extricate himself from this unpleasant situation. He hadn't brought this sexy, sneezy man back to his to discover finer sensitivities of an intellectual nature. He most definitely didn't get off on playing the psychoanalyst, and helping this man's pathetically ailing self-esteem was not on his agenda. Sod the ex! He'd just been out for a shag. He was always just out for a shag. Had the night been younger, he'd have escorted Simon to the door and gone back out on the prowl, but seeing as it was already past two o'clock, he was stuck with Simon for the night.

Right. He might not be able to achieve an erection, but he still had ten fingers and a lovely warm mouth. In David's mind, as Simon droned on about someone called Mark, images began to form. Perhaps it wouldn't be all bad... The lad seemed normal enough, he was gorgeous, and he had a deliciously sneezy cold. Just the thought of this had kept David hard as a rock during the entire conversation. So he carefully structured his expression into one of understanding compassion and nodded at appropriate intervals, though he concentrated on the movements of Simon's sensuous lips rather than his words, fantasizing about how it would feel to have them surrounding his rigid member. When he noticed Simon stopped speaking, David gave a thoughtful pause before saying,

"I'm so sorry. That must have been terrible for you." David felt a slight twinge of guilt as he saw Simon's bereft expression slowly being replaced by one of gratitude. He quickly banished it to the darkest corner of his mind; now was not the time to start playing head doctor if he wanted anything to come of this night. "You've got to move on, though. I know how this sounds, but you've got to get over him. You're a great guy, Simon, and you've very sexy. So very, very sexy..." He paused to kiss Simon, hard, totally in control. "And if you let yourself go, then I promise you, tonight will be fine."

Simon's eyes shone as he opened his mouth to speak, but his expression changed in an instant and he brought his hands up to cover his nose and mouth just in time to catch two wet, nasal sounding, "huh-ESSH-uh" sneezes.

A smile played on David's lips as he said, "Bless you, beautiful."

4. The Man Who Enjoyed the Attention

Simon had always been prone to catching colds. As his infamous terrible luck would have it, he'd come down with a terrible case of the flu exactly one month after he'd started seeing Mark. He'd spent the first two days of it in bed, wrapped in everything warm and comforting that he owned, shutting out the entire world as he shivered, coughed and sneezed under his duvet. He'd felt ugly and miserable, his nose swollen, his muscles tender, his lungs protesting violently against the onslaught of oxygen and his entire head feeling as if it had been emptied out and filled again with concrete, as he sneezed his way through a fresh box of man-size tissues and two rolls of Andrex.

When he'd woken up feeling a bit better on the third day, he'd crawled to the lounge where he'd left his mobile, switched it back on, and collected about a dozen messages from his concerned lover. He'd cradled the phone, smiling as he heard Mark's increasingly apprehensive voice demanding to know where he was, what was wrong, and finally, whether he'd died. He'd been just about to ring him when he'd been startled by a knock on his door.

He'd groaned and hastily put on his oversized black bathrobe to cover his wrinkled sick-day flannels before going to answer it. He'd expected his landlord, or maybe even a lost pizza delivery boy, but instead, he'd found a very angry and worried Mark.

"Where the hell have you been?" his lover cried. "You know we were meant to go out yesterday, and I've been calling and calling, and you've not been answering. Why are you ignoring me? What have I done to you that..."

Mark had trailed off, all animosity departing as soon as he finally got a good look at Simon.

"Oh," Mark had said when he realized what had been going on. He'd stuck his head inside and looked at the flat, taking in the general disorder and used tissues that were dotted about. "You're ill."

"Welcome to my nightmare," Simon had said before doubling over with a coughing fit that made him sound as though he were struggling with terminal lung cancer.

Not put off, Mark had quietly stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and held Simon to him until he managed to stop his lungs' rebellion. He felt his new lover's body stiff and unyielding against his as he furiously tried to contain his cough. Simon's head was shaking reflexively as he tried to tell Mark to leave it, go home, he'd call him in a few days- but he was coughing so hard he couldn't get the words out, and Mark didn't want him to.

He'd stroked Simon's back to soothe his cough and kissed his hot, clammy forehead, whispering apologies for his outburst into Simon's ear that gradually became sweet nothings, his arms almost rocking his sick boyfriend as the cough slowly eased. In his feverish state, Simon thought he might start crying like a child. Being deprived of contact with his lover after their brief period of sensual paradise had been hell. Waking, chilled, in the tangled wasteland of his double bed, he'd longed to roll over and find Mark's warmth instead of empty, fever-drenched sheets. Actually having him there, so close and beautiful and loving, was almost too much. He'd been struggling to deny for a month that he might be in love with Mark. Now, being embraced so tenderly, he knew that he was. Something gave inside him, and he finally relaxed into his lover's arms, wanting to blurt out his love to Mark. But even weakened and feverish, he knew better than to do that.

Instead, he said, "Look, I'm really sorry I didn't call. I've just been so ill. It's been hard enough to keep breathing these past three days, but I'm starting to feel better, so maybe we can go out tonight if you want."

"Are you mad?" Mark had looked genuinely offended that Simon had even thought to make this offer. "We're going nowhere tonight, or tomorrow. You're staying in bed, and I'm going to take care of you." He paused, looking slightly uncomfortable, for a moment. "If you'll have me, like."

"Oh no, I couldn't possibly ask that of you," Simon had said, terribly English. But then, his body decided to send Mark a different message. Before he could even think of stopping it, a sneeze welled up, bending him over double: "Huh-ESSHOO!"

"That's it, it's sorted," Mark had replied, wincing in empathic pain as Simon rubbed his incredibly chapped nose against the sleeve of his bathrobe. The poor boy had been so congested, he couldn't really do more than wipe away the leakage. "I can't just leave you like this. There's Blockbusters around the corner, I'll hop down there now and fetch us something to get your mind off being ill. Meanwhile, I order you to take some cough syrup and make yourself a hot cuppa. I'll be back in a flash."

"I'm out of tea," Simon admitted. "It's been the only thing keeping me alive these past two days. And I don't have cough syrup either. And, um, if you're going out, I could really use some tissues..."

Mark looked again at the desolation of the flat. "Oh bloody hell," he sighed, and then cupped Simon's face in his hands affectionately. "Seems like I'm going to have to look after you."

Giving Simon a longer than strictly necessary kiss goodbye, he left, only to return an hour later with not only a bag full of videos but also some groceries and a bag from Boots containing some Night Nurse, Sudafed, throat lozenges, Lemsip and three boxes of aloe-coated man size tissues.

"Whoa!" Simon had laughed, "I've only got a cold, you know. You've got enough in there for three of me!"

"You've not had a good look in the mirror, my lad," Mark had replied.

And he had been right; for all his usual good looks, Simon had looked absolutely dreadful. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen, the effect highlighted by a twin set of worryingly dark half-moons under them. His normally elegant aquiline nose looked painfully red and raw from hundreds of sneezes and blows, and his cheeks were flushed with fever. He'd noticeably lost weight in the previous days, not feeling inclined to drag himself out of bed to satisfy an appetite that was practically non-existent anyway.

Mark had been an absolute doll, he remembered fondly, feeding him chicken soup and forcing him to drink cups of an absolutely vile concoction made of hot water, lemon juice, honey and whiskey. They'd watched countless videos, cuddled in front of the television, and Mark had ended up spending not just that day with him, but the three following ones as well. How Simon had loved him for calling in sick to work and telling him that he actually enjoyed playing nursemaid to the man he loved. Simon had been amazed that Mark wasn't put off by the sticky mess of coughs and sneezes that he'd consisted of during those days, and ever so grateful.

Things had taken on a new turn when his flu was almost cleared up, however. On the third day of Mark's stay, Simon had felt much better. His throat was no longer sore and though the coughing had stopped, he was still sneezing and sniffling. Simon knew this was a sure sign his cold was almost over, and was overjoyed to share this news with Mark even though he was curiously melancholy at the thought of having his lover leave. It had only been a few days, but he'd gotten used to having him around. He had been talking about this with Mark, when all of a sudden, his nose had seized up, forcing him to sneeze not once, but six times in a row.

And then, Mark had dropped the bomb. Far from being repulsed by Simon's messy explosions, which he'd caught as best he could in a quickly soaked tissue, Mark had enfolded him in his strong arms and revealed to him the oddest thing.

Other men's sneezing turned him on.

5. The Man Who Went From Bad to Worse

Simon knew Mark was the cause of his impotence. However much he hated it, his ex had left a painful psychological scar and he hadn't the faintest idea how to go about healing it. He was scared of being impotent forever, even though he'd tried every homespun remedy he'd known to remedy his condition.

It was useless. Every time another man caught his eye, he was reminded of what he'd lost. In time, he'd come to associate everything sex-related with his impotence, resulting in a vicious cycle. He didn't even bother to try masturbation anymore; he just knew it would be futile. Even touching himself to wash reminded him that he was a virtual eunuch, and made him think of Mark.

David, however, gave little consideration to this fact and set about his business. Under Simon's watchful eye, he stripped naked, revealing a proud erection that shamed Simon's own limp instrument of intercourse.

"Let's get this show on the road," David drawled, smiling at Simon and ignoring the fact that the other couldn't meet his steady gaze.

He pinned Simon down and began kissing him anew, replaying the image of the sneezes he'd just witnessed in his mind. He pictured Simon as he kissed him, needing to sneeze, struggling not to and failing to stop it. He pictured the way his jaw had dropped as his brow furrowed, the way his head had tilted helplessly back before he'd lunged forward with that hardy "huh-ESSH-uh!" He envisioned the way his eyes had flown open for a split-second before he'd been taken over by the second, equally powerful sneeze. And then, as their kissing became still more heated and he felt Simon grab a hold of his erection, he pictured Simon going into a whole series of these unstoppable, explosively delicious sneezes. Oh, if only he could do it again!

And then, as if on cue, Simon's hand paused and he broke off the kiss, his breathing hitching and his face knotted up like a used tissue. It only took a second; he took in a series of shallow breaths and exploded.

"Heh... heh-heh-heh-HEESSH-oooh!"

David's member jumped in Simon's constricted palm of its own accord, and he kissed the man more furiously than ever. He was like a wild man, nearly devouring Simon as his libido was cranked up another notch. David was so hot, he was practically eating Simon's tongue, trying to massage some life, any vital signs at all really, into the other's unresponsive sex.

And despite David's expertly honed technique, it didn't seem to be working. However David squeezed, gently pulled or strategically rubbed, Simon's penis refused to oblige and grow. David had never before met a cock he couldn't bring to attention, and found this situation uniquely infuriating. He was getting rattled, and though he knew that having words with the offending member would yield absolutely nothing, he was sorely tempted to give it a good telling off.

He needed to try something different.

"Let me go down on you," he said to Simon.

Breathing hard from their intense mouth-to-mouth, the other nodded, pushing down on David's shoulders. Not having been with another man since Mark, Simon had not had a chance to see whether a blowjob would do the trick. He hoped against hope, but as soon as he felt David's lips on his sex, he thought of his ex and knew it wouldn't work. David started giving a stunning performance, however, and though Simon just knew it would have no effect on his lack of rigidity, he still enjoyed the sensation.

David was giving it his all. He'd had years of practice in fellatio- would probably deserve a PhD in this exercise, in fact- and titillated Simon's unresponsive member to the best of his considerable ability. He took all of it into his mouth (it wasn't difficult), and coated it in warm saliva. He sucked on it, licked it, drew it in and out of his warmth. Any other man would have been hard in an instant, but he was gutted to find it was having no effect on Simon whatsoever, asides from making him draw harsh little gasps indicating his appreciation.

He kept it up for a few minutes, until he heard Simon say,

"David, sorry, I'm gonna- gon- hah- hah-ESHHUH!"

He felt Simon's limp penis stir for the first time since he'd begun to fellate him, felt it spasm and hit the roof of his mouth as he sneezed. Were they getting somewhere? The sneeze excited David, and even that odd little jump from the otherwise lifeless penis in his mouth was strangely erotic. He kept on enthusiastically sucking on it, hoping that perhaps that sneeze had been the start of something, but both Simon and his dick had once again gone quiet.

Oh, if only the other would get into it a bit more! David began to wonder whether he was really impotent, or merely frigid. Of all the men in Cruz, why did he have to happen on this one tonight, of all nights, when he was so desperate for a good lay?

The truth was, Simon hated sneezing. It had never bothered him before Mark, and he'd quite enjoyed it while they were together, but now every time he sneezed, he was compelled to think about his ex. How Mark had enjoyed his sneezing, going from passive to incredibly turned on whenever Simon had sneezed near him. They'd made a game of it, this instant potential for arousal, flirting with it in public and using it to fuel many a bout of mad, passionate sex. It had been so wonderful, but now, every sneeze that escaped him was a painful reminder of what he'd lost. Ironically, it was as big a turnoff to Simon as it was a stimulant for David, compounding Simon's problem.

Sensing the other's discomfort and realizing he was getting nowhere, David gave up.

"Let's try something else," he said.

One of them was going to come tonight if it killed him.

6. The Man Who Aimed to Please

Simon had at first been perplexed following Mark's revelation, but he'd quickly come to enjoy the idea. How amazing it was that something as simple as a sneeze could inspire such radical lust in his new lover! He'd worried at first that this had been Mark's ulterior sex-driven motive for taking care of him during his sick days, but he was quickly reassured. Mark had explained that while he did enjoy seeing Simon sneeze, he didn't get pleasure from seeing his lover miserable in the least. As far as Mark knew, that was the only downside to his otherwise completely innocent fetish; it was sometimes accompanied by discomfort for those doing the sneezing, and that was most definitely not something he got off on.

Satisfied with this, Simon had decided to enjoy Mark's little quirk to the fullest. He was a photic sneezer, and enjoyed activating this reflex at select opportunities. He'd used it to make his then cold-filled nose even more ticklish, and had happily driven Mark nearly out of his head with lust.

He remembered well how they'd made love that first time after Mark had told him about his fetish. His nose already sensitive, he'd been sneezing a lot anyway. He'd shut his eyes for a bit before opening them wide in front of his bedroom light, and the resulting double sneeze had made Mark jump on him.

"You little tease," he'd said, kissing him roughly. "I should never have told you what seeing you sneeze does to me. You'll never let me be now, will you?"

"Not a chance," Simon had laughed, and immediately did the photic trick again.

He'd been rewarded with a splendid erection from Mark pressing insistently against his thigh as they continued to kiss and kiss, until Simon had had to sneeze again. That time, it had been because of his cold, and the sneeze that came out was both wetter and louder.


Mark had opened Simon's fly in a frenzy, getting a hold of his rising erection in a flash and beginning to stroke it even as he urged his lover to do the same. Within a few seconds, they'd been joined to the lip in Simon's bedroom as they enjoyed a furious session of mutual masturbation. It had been wonderful, he remembered; he'd never seen Mark so passionate, so excited. Oh, had he but known about this before, how well he could have used this knowledge!

They'd stroked and kissed until they were both breathing so hard it was difficult to keep their lips locked. At length, they'd given up, and merely breathed hotly onto each other's neck, trembling as they'd both felt orgasms to be imminent.

As it turned out, Simon came first that time. His warmth had jetted out onto Mark's hand as he'd groaned, fearing his legs were going to give way. He'd heard Mark give a satisfied sigh and had struggled to keep up his motion through the spasms of his climax. He'd wanted the experience to be as wonderful for Mark as it had been for him, and as soon as he'd been able to think straight again, he'd decided to give him a special treat.

As he'd felt Mark about to come, Simon had shut his eyes before looking directly at the light overhead. The reaction had been immediate.

"HESH-uh!... Huh-ESSH-ooh!"

That was all it had taken to get Mark off in turn. A muffled sound had escaped him as he'd come, filling Simon's palm with the opalescent product of his pleasure. It shot out in five or six sharp bursts, and when it was over, Mark had collapsed against him.

"Bless you," he'd whispered, giving him a long, sensuous kiss.

"Thanks," Simon had sniffed. "Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did."

"Probably more," Mark had laughed. "Amazing!"

And thus it had been every time after that, whenever Simon had caught one of his frequent colds, or even just when either of them had felt thus inclined to play around with Mark's 'special interest'. In time, he'd come to see sneezing as an intrinsically sexual thing. Even when he did it alone, it always gave him a semi and made him smile as he thought about how much Mark would have enjoyed bearing witness. It could be quite embarrassing when it happened in public, but Simon laughed it off though his cheeks coloured.

Every sneeze became special, portent of a special significance. Whereas he'd hardly paid attention to them in the past, each of these small explosions, his or those of other men, became special. Sneezing as such didn't arouse him, but thinking about the spectacular effect it had on his lover never failed to get him going.

And so, as much as he'd loved sneezes in the past, they now came back to haunt him. Sneezing now that he was single was a despicable thing, and Simon detested the feeling of coming down with a cold, knowing it would now bring him nothing but days of misery-inducing memories and headaches. All the joy had promptly gone out of it when Mark had stepped out of his life. The more he thought about it, the more he thought it was probably this cursed sneeze fetish thing that had gotten him into this impotence mess in the first place.

7. The Man Who Ignored the Obvious

It had started so subtly that Simon hadn't realized anything was amiss until Mark spoon-fed him the truth. He'd been so caught up in his mirage of lust-filled love that he hadn't noticed it beginning to come apart at the seams. His lover breaking dates, the diminishing calls during work-hours, the growing distance, he'd taken all of those in stride and such had been his conviction that he and Mark were made for each other that he'd not thought to ask questions.

He felt like such a fool, remembering how he'd bought Mark little gifts, how he'd made plans for a holiday in Oz, how he'd been talking about moving in together, spending dreamy hours alone in his flat perusing IKEA catalogues. And yet in hindsight he remembered dozens of occasions where Mark wouldn't meet his eye, where he'd be moody or distant, where he'd fail to smile at Simon's jokes when his easy laugh should have rolled out of him like a warm southern breeze. Even during sex, it was afterwards eerily obvious they didn't quite achieve the passion of their early days, even if Mark was always excited- and Simon now cringed to think of it- when he used his photic sneezing to enhance their lovemaking.

In the end, the scene that would be forever branded in his memory occurred in Lush, the place where their romance had kindled. They'd met for what Simon had believed would be an innocent lunch, a nice mid-day reunion to take both their minds off work.

It had been about as far from a happy reunion as Simon cared to imagine. Mark had been waiting for him, wearing sunglasses even though it was a rainy day, looking sexy and virile in a tight white shirt that had shown off his well-muscled chest and arms. Simon hadn't been able to resist kissing him as soon as he'd seen him, but the other's lips had seemed oddly cold.

He'd sat down and they'd chatted for a while, talking rubbish. He'd thought Mark was just having another bad day at work- his lover had told him he'd had to work a lot of late hours because he was aiming for a promotion despite his company being in some difficulty- and had tried to get him to laugh. Mark's usual warm chuckles hadn't been forthcoming, even at Simon's best impression of his mate Andy, which usually creased him up. They'd ordered their food, and Mark had at least been considerate enough to wait until dessert was brought to their table before giving him the news. The setting made his stomach lurch whenever he thought of it: how appropriate that his mercurial Mark had chosen for him to have something sweet while feeding him the bitter truth.

"Look, Simon, this can't go on," he'd said as Simon brought the first spoonful of cheesecake to his mouth.

"Whaah?" Simon had replied around his mouthful.

Mark sighed. "There's no easy way to tell you this, I guess, so you know me: I'll just go straight to the point. I've met someone else."

When the words hit him, Simon had actually choked on the cheesecake, feeling his throat catch just as he was about to swallow. He'd started to cough, and had ended up having to spit out the mouthful into his napkin.

"You all right?" Mark had asked, concerned.

"What? Wait. What are you saying? You... you what?"

"I've met someone else," Mark said again. "I'm terribly sorry. I didn't want this to happen, but... you know how these things are," he finished lamely, shrugging his shoulders in an attempt to make light of a situation he found overwhelmingly difficult.

Simon couldn't think of a single thing to say. He'd sat there, dumbstruck, for what felt like hours as Mark had talked on, struggling to fill the void and ease his lover's pain, only succeeding in making it worse.

"It's not you. I've had such a great time with you, Simon. We were good together, we were, but I don't know. This new guy from work, Steve he's called, I can't explain it. We just get on so well. We clicked straight away. Has the most terrible hay fever, poor baby, and we just fell for each other." He paused, looking at Simon. "Oh come now, don't. Oh Simon, no, please. Please don't!"

But before he could say anything else, Simon had fled out of Lush and down Canal Street, pushing past people who looked on confused at the tears that streamed down his cheeks. His heart had been racing madly, his mind fevered, and he'd felt like a giant had just punched him in the stomach. This couldn't be happening!

A minute later, he was crumpled in an alley with rain pouring down on him, holding his knees as harsh sobs and curses escaped his lips. His nose filled and then, unexpectedly, the snot had tickled him into sneezing, a surprised "Heeshh!" almost a barking sound to break the jarring rhythm of his sobs.

He'd felt something give inside him with that sneeze. It represented the essence of all that he had lost to some faceless idiot named Steve whom he didn't know but would hate forever. No more surprise visits to his flat, no more careless weekend trips up to Scotland, no more sneeze-filled mornings, afternoons and evenings of lust with the man he'd loved with a passion so deep it had scared him at times. That tear-laden sneeze delivered a blow so real that the pain was physical, a sharp kick in the groin that resonated throughout his entire body. And that, he knew, had been the precise second where his impotence had appeared... and he just hadn't been able to get over it since.

8. The Man Who Didn't Let On

David was getting distinctly edgy. He'd tried his best to get Simon going and failed. Breathing hard, he sat down next to the man and considered his options. At that moment, his own member was as lifeless as Simon's, and he dearly hoped his particular brand of impotence wasn't catching.

He had in front of him a man who couldn't come. This in no way affected his own capacity for orgasm, though it did take some of the fun out of it. And yet, if there was one quality David possessed, it was determination. He'd tried using his hands and his mouth, and short of strapping the thing to a plastic ruler, it was obvious Simon wouldn't be getting upright anytime soon. The night's outcome, as David saw it, would be fairly simple: he'd come, and Simon wouldn't. Sorted. Frankly, he'd given it his best shot, and it was only fair in his mind that Simon should now have a go. He racked his brain to try and find a tactful way of saying so.

"I'm feeling really hot," he hazarded, looking sideways at Simon in an unmistakeable way. "God I want you."

"What shall we do, then?" Simon asked.

David leaned in. Nibbling Simon's earlobe, he said, "You tell me, beautiful." He brought a hand to the man's firm rear. "Should I perhaps just slip into something more comfortable, do you think?"

The other shook his head. "No," he said. "Not that, not with people I've just met. So sorry, but you can never be too careful and all that."

David sighed and looked away. Simon's constant apologies were even more infuriating than his lack of reaction. Was there going to be no other solution than to open a window and throw this man out headfirst?

Simon was at a loss. It was all his fault. His stupid impotence was making a dreadful mess of things. It was a shame that David had to suffer for it; after all, maybe he had subconsciously misled him back in Cruz. When David had brought him back to his, it was obviously not to have a quiet candle-lit tete-a-tete! He knew this encounter was doomed to be a miserable failure for him, but despite his acute embarrassment at the situation, he felt guilty.

"Look, maybe I..." he paused not sure how to say it. "You've been so good about this, maybe I could have a turn at pleasing you."

David's smile returned in an instant. Exactly what he'd hoped to hear! And then, things took a turn for the better as Simon's expression went from miserable to distant and, finally, became pained. His eyes squeezed shut and he brought his hands up to his nose and mouth in prayer fashion. Little-by-little, the sneeze formed, prying Simon's lips apart and making his chest heave. David watched, rapt, feeling his heart rate begin to speed up again. He licked his lips, waiting for it, and at last Simon exploded.


Oh, bliss! It only took that sneeze to get blood pumping anew to David's nether region, and seeing that Simon wasn't quite done, his arousal dramatically increased.

"Huh-huh-eh-eh-HESSH-ooh!... Huh-ESSH-ooh!"

Simon sniffed. "Sorry, so sorry- can I have a tissue, please," he asked, his voice deliciously nasal.

David gladly handed one over, enjoying the sound of Simon sneezing one last powerful "HUSH-uh!" into the soft white paper. Blowing his nose, he quickly glanced at David and was thrown by what he saw.

He knew that look; it had been indelibly branded on his brain ever since Mark had told him about the erotic power of sneezes. He'd seen his ex staring at him in just such a way, his expression a complex mix of fascinated lust, hundreds of times. Could it be? Surely not, surely it was something else... but was it?

Before he had a chance to ask, David had closed in again. Simon had hardly aimed the tissue at the nearby bin before he found his mouth occupied with David's tongue. He knew what was expected now. Taking a firm hold of David's erection, he began to stroke it, squeezing and pulling and rubbing his thumb strategically against the other's fraenulum. David groaned appreciatively. Making no effort to mirror Simon's actions, he merely wrapped his arms around the other's shoulders and kept on kissing him, enjoying his ministrations.

He might not be able to get it up, but to his credit, the man knew how to give a good hand job.

Normally, David enjoyed impressing tricks with his amazing self-control. He could make sex as swift or as lengthy as he wanted, and more often than not opted for the latter. He could go on until the bloke under him begged for mercy, and only then generally did he allow himself to reach an explosive climax.

This time, however, he chose to leave things be. No thoughts of football or naked ex-prime ministers on a cold day entered his mind as Simon's competent hands worked their magic on his sex, making his thighs contract and his breath come hot and heavy. He felt his pleasure rising quickly and steadily, and knew it would only take a few minutes. To help things along, he again began fantasizing about Simon sneezing, Simon gasping for breath before a messy, cold-sodden explosion. Simon in the grip of the sneeze, his fine lips pursed and his eyes shut as he lunged forward from the force of it. Simon apologising before the whole thing started again and again in an interminable loop inside his mind's eye.

He was already close to hitting home base when fantasy became reality. Alerted by some sixth sense, David's eyes flew open as he removed his tongue from Simon's mouth. Despite the obvious discomfort that was blossoming, to his credit, the other didn't stop his furious up-and-down motions. One hand did, however leave David's back to flutter up to Simon's face. As David watched, he wriggled his nose like a rabbit, blinking furiously as his upper lip curled up. As soon as the urge reached its apex and Simon's head tilted his head back in preparation, David came, and the two of them exploded at precisely the same moment.



Simon's left palm was filled with spray just has his right got soaked in semen. It was a most peculiar experience, and for a second, he couldn't help but smile at the situation.

Spent, David flopped down on the bed. "Niiiiiice," he drawled. "Thanks for that!"

"Welcome," Simon said, reaching for a handful of tissues to clean them both up.

"Oh my," David started. "Look at the time!"

Simon did. "It's nearly three."

"Yeah. I'm shattered and I've got to get up early tomorrow, so I'd best get some sleep." David sprang up off the bed, looking not in the least like someone eager for slumber. He quickly gathered Simon's clothes and deposited them on the bed next to him. "Here's your stuff," he said.

This pointed invitation wasn't lost on Simon, who quickly got dressed while David slipped into a pair of stylish black Calvins with a matching vest. He looked like he'd just stepped out of an ad in GQ, despite now-tousled hair and stubble.

"Thanks for tonight," Simon said as David led him to the door.

"Thanks for what?" David smiled. "It's not like you got anything out of it."

Simon coloured. "Maybe. But you got more out of it than you let on, didn't you?"

It was David's turn to look away. Still, he declined to comment.

"Good night," Simon said as he stepped out of the flat.

"Good night, and good luck with everything!"

David gave a jaunty little wave as Simon ambled slowly down the corridor, and then hastily shut and bolted the door. Pressing his back against it before allowing himself to slip into a heap on the floor, he gave a deep sigh. Instead of being the frenzied pleasure session he'd hoped for at the start, all of this had left him exhausted and with a mild headache.

God he was glad it was all over. Trying to shag an impotent man was one mistake he'd never make again!

9. The Man Who Broke Barriers

Simon shivered all the way home. He flagged down a black cab and slunk into the back seat, holding his sides and shutting his eyes for the ten minutes the ride lasted. He felt hollow and lonely, saddened at the night's outcome and the bleak future before him. Would he never again be able to find a man who cared, and would he never again enjoy sex? When would it all end?

In truth, Simon hated the gay scene. In his view, it was all superficiality and glitzy glamour, queens vying to impress and sexed-up tricks. He enjoyed a good dance, and was open to the occasional one-night man, but he missed having a steady boyfriend. He missed being in love. He missed having someone to wake up next to and cook for and slag off TV shows with. He missed Mark.

And he felt ill. It was raining heavily by the time the cab deposited him in front of his block of flats, and Simon got soaked in the short time it took him to get inside. His cold, which he'd felt to be nearly gone at the beginning of the evening, seemed to have returned again. He could feel that his cheeks were fever-flushed, and his throat was starting to ache. As he trudged up the stairs, struggling to dig his key ring out of the pockets of jeans that now clung to his skin, he felt a sneeze coming on.

"God, not again," he groaned, but it was no use. It barrelled out of him, and he was too tired and disgruntled to bother trying to keep it down. "HUSH-ooh!"

It echoed in the empty stairwell, seeming to bounce of the walls before hanging in the air around him. He sniffed miserably, finally managing to pull out the keys out from their stubborn cache as his feet reached the floor he lived on. He could just make out which one would open his front door in the stairwell's dim lighting, and clutched it in a hand that trembled feverishly in the damp chill.

It wasn't until he was stood opposite his door that he noticed the figure sat in a heap right in front of it. He stood there, shocked, and slowly brought his hands up to rub at his eyes to clear his vision and make sure he wasn't hallucinating.

There really was someone was sitting there, immobile, swathed in murky shadows.


"Mark," Simon whispered.

They stared at each other. To Simon it felt like the air around them grew even colder.

"You're not looking well, my lad," Mark said at length, noticing how Simon was shivering.

" I'm not. It doesn't matter. What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I came to see you, Si."

"Well obviously, but... why?" Simon's hand was frozen in front of him, still holding out his key. Noticing this, he gestured toward the door said, "Look, I'm freezing out here, not feeling too well. D'you want to come in for coffee or something? I need to sit down."

"Yeah. I'd like that very much, actually. If you'll have me," Mark added, reminding Simon of that wonderful day when he'd been so ill and Mark had closed the door behind him, held and comforted him. He was tired, deflated, full of cold and the sickly helpless anger which descended on him as he fantasized about all the things he could have done to wipe that smile off David's face, if he'd just been able to be a man. Instead, he was a virtual eunuch, doomed to be a permanent hand-job-giver, and it was all this Scottish wanker's fault. Fighting the twin urges to throw himself at Mark shouting "You're damn right I'll have you," or to slam the door in his ex's face and have the first genuine queeny strop of his twenty-five years, he kept his expression blank and only nodded.

Mark got up in one fluid movement and stood aside. He made no move toward Simon as the other pressed close to the door and unlocked it. He followed Simon in, keeping his distance, moving like a nervous tomcat. Simon feigned not to notice as he hung his coat on the rack, inviting Mark to do the same.

"Still milk and three sugars?" Simon asked, regretting the words as soon as he'd uttered them.

"You still remember," said Mark, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. "Aye. Please."

Mark made his way to the lounge as Simon bustled around the kitchen. Soon enough, he returned with two steaming mugs of criminally strong coffee and carefully placed them on either side of the small cafe-style table that was strategically placed next to the room's one broad window. They sipped for a bit, blowing at the scalding liquid, staring intently into its milky depths until Simon couldn't stand it any more.

"So really, Mark, what are you doing here? It's the middle of the night!"

"I know. I know it's bad timing, you were probably wanting to go to bed, I can see you've been out, sorry, I really should have waited 'til morning." Realising he was babbling, he took a deep breath and started again. "I just had to see you. I'd been wanting to for weeks, but I'd not found the courage. And tonight, I was sat at home in front of the telly, and I just snapped. I tried calling, but you were out," his eyes flicked towards Simon's drying shirt. "I know I shouldn't have just turned up like this, but like I said, I had to see you."

"Well, that's fine. Nice seeing you too," Simon smiled.

It was a beautiful smile, so genuine and sunny, at odds with the rest of his face. He'd lost weight since the last time Mark had seen him, and for some reason- despite his obvious cold- Simon didn't look as well. He seemed a bit faded, as if his features had been badly airbrushed. He looked like what he was- a man who'd had something terrible happen to him, and though he didn't want to look sad, it was written all over him. Mark felt something inside him twist as he knew it was his fault.

He knew how hard Simon had tried not to depend on him, to keep up the barriers he'd spent twenty-odd years putting up. Mark also remembered that day when he'd held his helpless, sick lover, and he had almost felt Simon's carefully built-up resistance crumble in his arms. Dazed, feeling at once elated and sick, he'd gone out into the street wondering whether to stick with the Lemsip and Sudafed treatment, or just leg it before he had a chance to hurt this strange, beautiful boy who had fascinated him with his aloofness, his shyness, and the intoxicating weight of his need.

Mark had known the second one would be a much saner decision... but he hadn't been able to do it. He'd tried to tell himself, as he loaded his shopping basket with tissues, that he was just being charitable, but the truth- as usual- was a lot darker. He just couldn't resist the way Simon sneezed. He'd been fantasising about it for a month, and now he'd seen it happen he couldn't leave his helpless, feverish, sneezy lover alone. Not yet, he'd thought, and kept on thinking. He couldn't leave him yet. But Mark knew that one day he had to stop putting Simon on hold emotionally, fall into his arms the way that his lover had fallen into his that day. And he'd been too scared to do it. Steve Reddington hadn't been a lover- he'd been a plausible excuse.

He was relieved when Simon's intent expression changed, but then became uncomfortable again when he realized why. He was about to sneeze! Seeing this man sneeze brought back so many happy memories, so many longings, that for a moment he was frightened. He froze as he saw Simon's face contort, watched him cup his hands in front of his nose and mouth to deliver a strained, wet sounding, "hiesshuh!"

It left both of them feeling embarrassed, unable to look each other in the eye. They stayed quiet for a few seconds, ignoring the fact that anything had happened, and then Mark felt compelled to speak.

"So how're things?" he said, desperate to ask a different question but not able to.

"All right, I guess. Still working, same flat, same mates, and I..." he sniffed before trailing off, searching for other areas of importance in his life and realising there were none. "Well, here I am. Surviving, I guess. Doing well. But never mind me, how are you? What have you been getting up to?"

Mark sensed it form again between them, almost tangible, his ex-lover's carefully carved neutrality, that ephemeral aura of deep sadness. Despite Simon's best efforts, it turned his words to lies.

"Oh, same here. Doing well. Same job, new friends. Finally got that promotion, by the way."

"Oh good!" Simon said, taking a sip of his coffee.

Inside, Simon was screaming at the banality of this exchange. He wanted to take a hammer and smash the invisible barrier between them. He wanted to say that he wasn't doing well, that he was feeling wretched, that every day spent without this man sat right there in front of him was eating away at him, and he was dead scared because soon, if things kept on like this, there would be nothing left. Oh why had he come here? Why tonight of all nights, when he was tired, ill, and miserable because of his failed attempt at sex with a stranger he didn't give a damn about?

"Aye, it's great," Mark said, holding his mug to warm ice-cold fingers. "But I didn't come here to talk about work."

"What, then?" Simon said, his heart pounding again.

"I came to talk about me. I mean, you. I mean, us."

"There is no 'us'," Simon said, hating himself for not being able to keep the hurt out of his voice.

"I know," Mark said. "I know. There's no easy way to say this, Simon, but I've realized something. I was stupid. So bloody stupid! I went with Steve, and it was all right, but then I couldn't stop thinking about you. What a cunt I'd been." He paused, seeing Simon wince. "Sorry, but I was. You know I was."

"No, of course you weren't," said Simon.

"Stop it. Let me say what I want to say before I lose my nerve," Mark said. "I treated you like shite, and I hate myself for it. I hate myself for it even more because I loved you, don't you see? I acted like a twat because I've always been scared of commitment. What we had was just too perfect. I got cold feet. Steve was a nice bloke, easygoing, spectacular allergies." He stopped, realising he shouldn't have said this last, and then went on. "So we got together, but I couldn't stop thinking about you. Steve and I failed because I just couldn't get into it. It only lasted three months, and frankly, it was dull as dishwater compared to what I had with you."

Simon listened, gripping his mug of coffee so tightly that his knuckles turned white. His heart was threatening to pound its way right out of his chest. He could hardly believe what Mark was saying! He thought about pinching himself, only if this was a dream, he didn't want to wake up.

"So I guess what I'm saying, Simon, is that I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry. Can you forgive me? I know I've got no right to just waltz right back into your life, and if you want to call me a bastard and never see me again, I'll understand. I've been obsessing about us for weeks now, and it's just eating at me. Do you see why I had to come tonight? I came because I had to know."

Simon could hardly speak above a whisper. "Know what?"

"Whether you felt the same. Whether you'd care to give 'us' another go. Whether you'd want to get back together. To see if you..." he choked out the words, "If you still love me like I love you."

He stopped then, and stared at his hands, unable to look Simon in the eye. What he would've seen if he had, however, would have set his heart alight. Simon's eyes were bright with tears and he was shaking, not from cold this time but because of the torrent of emotions threatening to overwhelm him. He tried to think of something perfect to say, something that would make it all right again. But Leo had been right- he wasn't much of a talker.

"Oh," Simon said after a while.

"Look, I can just go if you want. Like I said, I can't blame you if you never want to speak to me again. I just had to know."

"No," he said. "No, don't go. I can't believe you're here, telling me this. I just can't, after all that's happened. It's just so... so..."

Words failed him. Instead, he got up, drew Mark to his feet and kissed him. It was a long, languorous kiss, sweet but passionate, making up for so many other forgone months of kissing. They wrapped their arms around each other, pressing close as if they never wanted to let go. On and on it went, and Simon wished it could do so forever, until with the worst possible timing, his nose started to tickle.

"Mark, so sorry," he whispered, "I'm going to s- huh! sn-eeh-heh-HESH-uh!"

And then, a most remarkable thing happened. It was an instant so amazing that Simon gave a sharp gasp. For the first time in half a year, he felt something stirring down below... and it wasn't Mark.

"Oh my God!" he whispered.

His lover was looking at him with a curious mixture of perplexed desire and amused longing.

"Bless you," Mark said.

Simon started to laugh. "You know what, Mark? I think I already am!"