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KH AU:: Through Thick and Thin Ch. 3

Chapter 3 of the epic DilAel college AU bromance, featuring Dilan/Rudol and Aeleus/Ienzo! Aeleus and Ienzo have a confrontation, L'Erena meets a pretty girl at the bar, and Rudol attempts to win back the money he lost at blackjack. This chapter is NSFW -- sexy tiemz happening, boys and girls.

This chapter took me quite a while to write, mainly because of a one-week interval where I went to Florida with my family, my mom's best friend, her husband, and their five year old daughter (who are really like my aunt, uncle, and cousin too, I consider them family). We visited my great-grandma, who's nearing 97 is still as sharp as a tack. She has the best memory out of everyone I know -- she can tell you the exact date she went to Las Vegas, how much she earned at the casinos, and who she was sitting next to on the plane. It astounds me. Not to mention my great-aunt Joyce, who is hilarious. I love my family. We also did Disney World (and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!! But that's another post. I could write a mini novel on HP World. Gah. Loved it.)

But anyways.

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"Hey, bro, I'm going to head down to the FitRec," Dilan called from the bedroom, referring to their university's large state-of-the-art Fitness and Recreation Center where he and Aeleus, as student athletes, spent an unhealthy amount of time.

"Can't, sorry," Aeleus replied dully, "Gotta start working on that paper that's due tonight. And I forgot that Ienzo's coming over for a bit before I head down to the library."

"Good luck with that, man," Dilan said, emerging from the bedroom and heading for the fridge to grab a bottle of water.

"Yeah, I'll need it."

"It'll work out. See you later." With that, Dilan slung his sports bag over his shoulder and departed for the gym.

As the door swung shut behind his roommate, Aeleus sighed, cracked open his textbook, flipped open his laptop, and stared at the screen blankly, waiting for inspiration to hit him. He always found it impossible to get any work done in the apartment, even when he made an effort to eliminate any and all distractions. Simply being in the space where he hung out, slept, and avoided academic obligations made him unable to focus. Unfortunately, he had to wait for Ienzo to arrive before he could leave for the library. Ienzo's final class on Fridays was on the same end of campus as Aeleus's apartment, so he often dropped by after class was dismissed and had offered to walk Aeleus to the library on his way home. That was before the events of yesterday, however, and currently Aeleus was not looking forward to seeing him. He was already in enough of a sour mood thanks to the stress of his impending deadline (there was no fucking way he was going to finish this paper by midnight and he should have started it earlier and goddammit…), and he was still sore over Ienzo's comment from last night.

Thirty minutes later, he'd only written three sentences when he heard the knocking on the door that signaled Ienzo's arrival. He sighed and got up to let him in.

"Hello, Aeleus," Ienzo said, breezing into the room, practically radiating fury. "You will not believe the day I have been having. My professor only gave me a 92 on my midterm, which is, quite frankly, unacceptable," he raged, hanging his bag on a chair and sinking down onto the couch. His ordinarily cool, calm, and collected demeanor had vanished entirely.

"Mmm," Aeleus intoned monotonously and slumped off to the kitchen to grab a can of soda from the fridge. Instead of returning with his soda in hand and joining Ienzo on the couch, however, he stayed put and leaned against the kitchen counter, avoiding eye contact and physically distancing himself from the smaller boy. Ienzo didn't notice, preoccupied as he was with recounting his day, and continued prattling on about his misfortune.

"Furthermore, he informed me that I must redo my lab hours in order to receive credit, because my supervising professor apparently never signed the slip that confirmed that I completed my twelve hours as an experiment subject. As if it's my fault that an incompetent, overpaid excuse for a researcher didn't do what I explicitly told her she needed to do! I am distraught, Aeleus, and this cannot be good for my complexion." With one final huff of indignation, he waited expectantly for Aeleus's reaction, but the anticipated words of comfort never came.

Ienzo frowned. Aeleus never was overly talkative, but he was being exceptionally silent today. What's more, it wasn't typical for Aeleus to be so reclusive and avoid making physical contact with him.

"Okay, I'll bite," he said finally. "You've been acting strangely since I walked through the door. What's the matter?"

"Nothing's the matter," Aeleus shot back defensively, his voice louder and more aggressive than he intended it to be.

"Well, clearly something is the matter if you're speaking to me in such a manner," Ienzo replied matter-of-factly, remaining as calm as ever.

Aeleus gritted his teeth. Okay, so maybe he did understand why Dilan found Ienzo downright annoying at times. He could never lose his temper and shout and act like a typical pissy college kid — no, he had to be reasonable and talk things out, when all Aeleus felt like doing was having a full-scale argument with lots of shouting and slamming doors and blowing off steam. Ienzo's lack of cooperation was, to be perfectly honest, aggravating.

"So, what's wrong?" Ienzo pried.

Aeleus crossed his arms sullenly. "If you don't know, I'm not telling you," he said petulantly. Being petty and vindictive was, surprisingly enough, making him feel much better.

Ienzo rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Aeleus, don't be childish," he scoffed. "What kind of relationship is this if we cannot be honest with each other? Tell me what's bothering you. Was it something I said?"

Aeleus mumbled something indistinguishable under his breath. Ienzo eyed him critically, trying to decipher him, but Aeleus wasn't giving him any clues. He sighed and brushed his bangs out of his face, thinking back to their last meeting and trying to recall anything he might have said or done to upset his boyfriend so.

The silence stretched awkwardly, with Aeleus remaining in the kitchen and Ienzo curled up on the couch. The counter that divided the open area of the kitchen from the remainder of the small, four-room apartment served as a physical barrier between them. A new song came on the radio, bringing with it the distinctive drumbeats, the wailing of a bass guitar, and above it all, the voice of the rock star that carried Flaming Oceans to fame.

Ienzo perked up a little. "Oh, I love this song!"

"I don't," Aeleus said bluntly and leaned over to switch off the radio, cutting the music off abruptly.

A slow smile spread across Ienzo's face as the puzzle pieces fell into place and he realized the reason for Aeleus's moodiness. "I see," he said knowingly, "you're jealous."

"I'm not jealous. Why would I be jealous of some dumb blond with no talent and too much hair gel?"

"Yes you are," Ienzo said, still grinning annoyingly as he got up from the couch and sauntered over to Aeleus. "You. Are. Jealous," he sang and hopped onto the kitchen counter, crossing his legs neatly. "Why you are jealous is, of course, beyond me. Surely you've had some sort of celebrity crush in the past before? Like, I don't know, who do you idolize...?" He waved his hand around vaguely, grasping for a name. "The Rock or whoever?" he finished lamely.

Aeleus stared at him. "No. No, I can honestly say that I have never had a celebrity crush on The Rock. You're putting really disturbing images in my head."

"Whatever," Ienzo said dismissively. "It was an example. My point is that, yes, I greatly admire Myde and all, but you are not him. He is a rock star."

"Yeah, I know," a disgruntled Aeleus muttered, scowling at his can of soda to avoid meeting Ienzo's gaze. "And he's not even that famous in the first place," he added under his breath, his voice bitter.

"That didn't come out quite right, did it?" Ienzo mused to himself. For someone so intelligent, Ienzo was a remarkably poor judge of appropriate social interactions and tact. "Let me set this straight, so that you don't misunderstand me. He is not you. He doesn't know me like you know me. He doesn't know that I attend psychology lectures for fun, or that my favorite food is pickled vegetables, or that I prefer boxers over briefs on other men but not on myself. You do. And you are the only one I want." From his perch on the counter, he was at the perfect height to lean in and kiss Aeleus on the forehead, which he did. "Now will you stop worrying and come join me on the couch so we can kiss and make up before you have to leave for the library?"

Aeleus lifted his eyes from the can of soda he'd been staring at resolutely and met Ienzo's gaze for the first time all day, his face stony and expressionless. For one long, horrible moment, Ienzo was afraid that he was still mad at him. As Aeleus scrutinized him, the smaller boy maintained eye contact with him, trying to telepathically convey his sincerity. After what seemed like an eternity to him, Aeleus finally cracked a small smile. "Okay," he said simply and placed his hands on Ienzo's hips, leaning in for a brief kiss.

With a relieved smile, Ienzo looped his arms around his boyfriend's neck and wrapped his legs around his waist. "Carry me," he ordered, and Aeleus obliged, easily bringing him over to the couch with little effort on his part. Ienzo curled up into his side, resting his head on his broad chest. "I must say, I do find your jealousy endearing, though." He smiled. "It's sweet."

Aeleus made a face at the remark.

"What's with the expression?"

"'Sweet' isn't exactly the word I'd use to describe myself. It's not manly."

"Well, you also happen to be an insufferable wet blanket who is too concerned with his macho manliness to comprehend when I am giving you a compliment."

"'Sweet' it is," Aeleus relented with a sigh and a roll of his eyes, leaning in to kiss Ienzo on the nose.

There was a scuffling noise at the door, and not two seconds later, the door swung open to announce Dilan's return. He gagged at the sight of Aeleus and Ienzo snuggling on the couch and griped, "Oh, get a room, you two," but he had to hide a smirk.

"We did. You're in it," Ienzo replied scathingly.

"Ooh, burn," Aeleus jeered.

Even Dilan had to laugh. "So, you two lovebirds made up?" he drawled, tossing his gym bag haphazardly on the floor. Ienzo winced as a sweaty shirt spilled out of it and made a valiant effort to ignore his latent OCD tendencies that itched at him to throw the offending article of clothing in the laundry hamper.

"Once I determined what it was that was making him so resentful, being as woefully unhelpful that he is, yes, we did," he answered as he reluctantly tore himself away from his boyfriend and climbed off of the couch. "But enough chitchat. I believe I am correct in saying that you need to head to the library, Aeleus? That paper won't write itself, you know."

"Yeah, yeah, you're right…" Aeleus muttered, but he appeared to be in a much better mood than before. "Catch you later, bro," he said to Dilan, bumping fists with him as he passed by him on his way to the door.

"Later, man."

Aeleus played the part of the gentleman and held the door open for Ienzo while giving Dilan, who was sniggering and pretending to crack a whip (out of Ienzo's line of sight, mercifully), an entirely un-gentlemanlike gesture.

Dilan snickered as the door shut behind Aeleus and Ienzo and, with his source of entertainment gone, left the room to hit the showers.

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"So what's the plan again?" L'Erena half-shouted as she and Rudol weaved through the crowded, smoke-filled club, where the most recent single by The Gullwings was blaring over the speakers and making it difficult to be heard.

"Take your advice when offered, don't go out on a limb and make risky decisions, and quit while I'm ahead," Rudol parroted. "Don't worry, Rennie," he reassured her. "Between you and me, we're gonna make a million tonight. It'll be brilliant. M'over here," he added, leading the way to the regular table in the far corner of the room where three out of his usual four card-playing buddies were lounging.

"Boys," he announced as he drew close, "I'd like you to meet L'Erena. She's a friend of mine who's come to watch the game. And no, I'm not planning on using her to cheat," he said, heading off any arguments before they were fired. "She's just going to be my, ah, advisor. L'Erena, this is Cid, Leon, and Cloud," he said, pointing out each of the men as they were named. Pleasantries and nods of hello were exchanged, and Rudol pulled up chairs for himself and L'Erena. "Where's Setzer?" he asked.

"Where do you think?" Cid said with a jerk of his head in the general direction of the bar, where a well-coiffed, elegant-looking man was making his advances on a young, supple woman.

"Oh," Rudol said, blatant dislike edging his voice. "Why am I not surprised? And here I was, thinking that maybe I got lucky and he wouldn't show tonight." He didn't care much for the flashy, flamboyant ladies' man, not least due to his gambling prowess. As an accomplished gambler in his own right, Setzer consistently jeopardized Rudol's chances of winning, and the blond felt all too threatened by him.

"Lovely," L'Erena said dryly, clearly unimpressed. "I'm going to get a drink. Don't wait up. And don't do anything stupid while I'm gone, Rudy," she informed him, delivering a warning punch to his shoulder. With that parting shot, she left and began the winding journey up to the bar.

Leon laughed lowly. "She's a maneater, that one."

"You have no idea." Rudol grimaced and rubbed his shoulder. "I'm going to have a bruise there now."

"Toughen up, ya big sissy," Cid said roughly, dismissing Rudol's apparent pain. "Anyways, boys, I thought we'd try somethin' a little bit different today," he continued, withdrawing one slim cigarette from the pack he always kept on hand. Cid Highwind, regular bartender at The Flying Dutchman, was a legendary chain-smoker and was nearly always found with a lit cigarette in his mouth. In smoke-free establishments, he had to resort to chewing on a toothpick, but quite frankly, he preferred to avoid such places. "Losing hand buys the winner a drink. How's that sound?"

"You're only saying that because you can get drinks free of charge," Leon said shrewdly, leaning back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest.

Cid gave a short bark of laughter. "What can I say?" he rasped. "You know me too well, kid. You in or not?" Leon nodded his assent.

"So it's every man for himself," Cloud spoke up, turning the proposal over in his mind. "No holds barred. Count me in."

"I'm game," said Rudol, who, being reckless and impulsive and possessing a very poor sense of judgment, never thought things through before he agreed to them. His conscience was still fighting her way through the crowd to the bar, and all monetary concerns had left his head with the prospect of an exciting game of blackjack and free drinks ahead of him.

"I am in as well. Rudol," said a rich, deep voice from behind him, its owner placing a heavy hand on his shoulder. Rudol twisted around in his seat to find himself face to face with Setzer Gabbiani, the fifth and final member of their poker circle, who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "How about you throw this first hand for me?" he asked silkily, keeping his voice low and conspiratorial. "There's a pretty little lady who has her eye on me, and I can't afford to risk losing while she's watching."

"How about not?" Rudol deadpanned in reply, shaking his perfectly manicured hand off his shoulder.

"I can pay you quite handsomely," Setzer persisted.

"In cash?" he asked, his interest piqued, though he would never admit it.

"No, but I can ensure that you'll receive free drinks at The Blackjack Pub for a month."

"Tempting, but no. You irritate me."

"I suspect that the only reason you find me irritating is because you view me as a threat."

"Hardly." Rudol bristled at the insinuation. "The fact that you have to ask me to throw the game for you means that, if anything, I'm a threat to you." He would never admit that the accusation was true, not even to himself.

"Hey! You two going to quit bickering and play?" Cid frowned at the two of them, tapping ash off the end of his cigarette into the ceramic ashtray on the table.

"May the best man win," Setzer said and took his place, carefully folding his coat beneath him as he sat down to avoid wrinkling it.

"You're on," Rudol muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Cid dealt the cards out to each player, and Rudol let out a satisfied hiss at the 20 he received. Pretty damn good, and hopefully a sign of good luck in future rounds. He glanced sidelong at Setzer's cards and was delighted to find that he had landed a hard 16, which was undoubtedly the worst hand one could receive in Blackjack. He was too busy gloating internally to notice the slow, rare smile that curved Cloud's lips.

"Blackjack," the stoic blond said simply. There was a moment's silence as all heads turned to look at the King and Ace laid in front of him, then the table exploded in laughter, with a stunned Rudol and Setzer joining in good-naturedly.

"I guess we know who the best man is now, huh?" Leon said.

"You wish," Rudol shot back with a grin, snickering while Setzer sighed dramatically and whipped out his wallet to buy Cloud a beer.

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Meanwhile, L'Erena was still fighting her way tooth and nail through a gaggle of girls to reach the bar on the opposite side of the room. Under ordinary circumstances, she may have taken the time to appreciate their good looks, but at the moment, she just found them flat out annoying. "Would you fucking move?" she groused, giving one black-haired chick in neon eyeliner a particularly hard shove and stumbling off to the sanctuary of the bar. "Some people, I swear…" she mumbled to herself. "I'll have an electric martini, thanks," she addressed the bartender.

L'Erena drummed her fingers idly against the countertop as he prepared her drink, casting her gaze around the room until her eyes landed on a pretty, slight girl only three seats away from her. She felt a sudden jolt unlike no other, a lightning bolt that ran straight to her skivvies. The girl was young – a freshman, most likely – and small for her age, but she also happened to be the most gorgeous girl L'Erena had ever laid eyes on, with honey-blonde hair and milky-white skin. She was perched on her barstool with her legs crossed and her hands folded on her lap, clearly uncomfortable in the crowded, suffocating atmosphere. Her bright blue eyes flitted around the room nervously, but she had not yet noticed the taller girl a few seats away from her.

L'Erena shook her head to try and clear her mind, slightly unnerved by the sudden attraction that pulled her magnetically towards the other girl. She wet her lips, trying to decide whether or not she should approach her before choosing to take the plunge. She had the strangest sensation that if she didn't strike up a conversation with the mysterious stranger, she would regret it for the rest of her life. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she spoke up. "What's a pretty little thing like you doing in a place like this?" Her voice was strident but her smile gentle, as not to scare the girl off before she got a chance to get to know her.

The girl glanced up quickly, startled, and turned bright red. "Oh…" she began, and an already-smitten L'Erena marveled over her soft voice, as smooth and sweet as honey. "My friends dragged me along with them to go clubbing," she admitted, gesturing towards the circle of girls on the dance floor that L'Erena had fought her way through.

The same black-haired girl that L'Erena had shoved aside caught the blonde's gaze and called, lifting her beer in greeting, "Hey, Nami, are you sure you don't want to join us?"

Nami, as she was presumably called, shook her head and raised her voice to answer, "No, Xi, I'm fine. Have fun." She turned back to L'Erena and finished somewhat shyly, "But, um, I'm not really into that scene…"

L'Erena laughed quietly and slid into the barstool two seats away from the other girl, accepting her drink from the bartender. "I can't blame you there," she said. "I can't dance to save my life, and I don't see what's so appealing about crowding together on a tiny dance floor with a bunch of other girls and getting all sweaty and gross while some strange, perverted guy you've never seen before in your life tries to grind up against you."

To her pleasant surprise, the girl's face lit up with a smile and she giggled girlishly. "Finally, someone who gets it! It seems like all of my friends think I'm strange for not liking to go out clubbing, but it's just not fun for me. But I always come along anyways because it's better than sitting in my dorm room alone on Friday nights." She sighed somewhat wistfully and fiddled with the hem of her short white dress. "Oh! Um, I'm Nami, by the way. It's nice to meet you…?" she trailed off, realizing that she didn't know the older girl's name.

"L'Erena," she quickly supplied.

"L'Erena," Nami finished, beaming at her.

With a sudden pang of guilt, L'Erena craned her neck to peer at the table in the back of the room where the boys had started their game of blackjack without her. Rudol seemed to be doing well off so far; he'd clearly just won a hand, if the smug expression on his face was anything to go by. A resigned Leon was pulling some bills out of his wallet. Reassured that Rudol appeared to be making some money, L'Erena returned her attentions back to the girl, telling herself that she'd go check on him soon. "Well, Nami," she said charmingly, "can I buy you a drink?"

The younger girl looked taken-aback for a moment, then broke out into a shy smile. "I'd love that," she confessed. "Um, could I get a virgin piña colada?"

"A virgin piña colada it is." L'Erena ordered Nami's drink, and soon found herself immersed in one of the most enjoyable conversations she'd had in, well, ever. There was just something about the girl – 18 years old, an art major, and easily one of the sweetest and most genuine people she had ever met – that drew her in.

Half an hour later, Nami fiddled with the paper umbrella that came with her now-finished piña colada and, plucking up her courage, asked, "Um, I hope you don't mind, but I have a bit of a headache and even though I love talking with you like this, I'm still a little on edge in here with all the noise and the crowd and the smoke and everything…"

L'Erena felt her heart sink into her stomach as Nami trailed off.

Clearing her throat, the younger girl tried again. "Um, so what I'm trying to say is: would you like to go for a walk with me and get away from here?"

Her heart shot back up again. L'Erena couldn't help but grin idiotically before regaining control of herself. "I'd love to," she said fervently. "Just — lemme clarify with Rudy first —you know, the guy I told you I came here with— gotta make sure that he'll be okay without me breathing down his neck — I'll be right back—" She stumbled over her words in her haste and hopped off the barstool to make her way back to Rudol, looking over her shoulder at Nami as if afraid that she'd vanish the minute she left.

"Sorry, I have to borrow Rudol real quick," L'Erena apologized the minute she reached the table, yanking the blond away from his card game so she could talk to him in private.

"Ow, my arm."

"Look, I'll make this quick," L'Erena began, ignoring him entirely. She glanced over to where Nami was sitting perched on her barstool, those big blue eyes of hers flitting around the room anxiously. "I just met this cute chick who's really sweet and everything I could've ever dreamed of, but she's uncomfortable here, so she suggested that we go for a walk, but…"

"Then go!" Rudol encouraged emphatically. "You deserve it, Rennie. Don't worry about me. I'm a big boy; I can take care of myself."

L'Erena narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Okay, but you've got to swear that you'll keep your promise—"

"I swear!" he maintained. "I swear on my mother's nonexistent grave. I'm on a winning streak. It's all good."

"Don't let it get to your head," she warned. "Quit early if you have to, alright? You can't afford to lose any more money tonight."

"I will. Now go! Have fun. Get some ass tonight, 'cause I know I am."

L'Erena laughed and squeezed his shoulder affectionately as she began walking away. "I don't know about the ass part, but I'd be thrilled with just a peck on the cheek. She's special, Rudy, I'm telling you." With that, she bade him adieu and disappeared into the crowd once more to find Nami.

Rudol rubbed his right arm, which L'Erena had nearly pulled out of its socket, and winced; it was the same arm that she had punched earlier. At least the alcohol dulled the pain somewhat. He'd just finished his third beer and had miraculously managed to avoid paying out of his own pocket for someone else's drink. Even if he wasn't always the winner, he had yet to be the holder of the worst hand, and he was feeling pretty damn good about himself right now. He chalked it up to his skills and the benevolence of Lady Luck and headed back to the table, determined to kick some more ass.

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In the span of twenty minutes or so, Rudol had gone from being pleasantly buzzed to completely hammered. It was only a matter of time until his winning streak was broken and he came off worst in a hand. His inhibitions lowered by the alcohol, he became cocky and overconfident and took an extra card on a whim when it would have been prudent to stand. Of course, he was too proud (and drunk) to accept a loss, and a tussle broke out between him and Setzer over who had the worst hand.

"Of course a 25 is worse than a 17, jackass. You screwed up and went completely over the limit!"

"I don't know what you're on about. A 25 is four away from 21, and a 17 is four away from 21. The big difference between you and me is, asides from you being a bloody moron an' me being a genius, is that you're too chicken to hit when you've got a sucky hand!" Rudol turned to Leon, the winner of the hand, who was looking supremely bored. "What say you, Leon? D'you reckon that a 17's worse than a 25?"

"I really don't care. At this point, I'll just buy my own beer."

"See, I'm right!" Rudol said triumphantly, swiveling back around to face Setzer and almost losing his balance entirely.

"How on earth do you get '17 is worse than a 25' out of—"

"Okay, game over," Cid, who was getting sick of the petty squabbling, said loudly as he broke up the argument. "This ain't recess time. I've had enough of the immature bickering. And I'm cuttin' you off," he added, pointing a finger at Rudol. "Now get the hell outta here, all of you." There was a note of finality in his voice that no one, except for Rudol, that is, dared to argue with.

"One more drink?" he wheedled.

"No," Cid said flatly. "Now beat it before I toss you out myself. My shift starts in ten minutes, and I'm not havin' you bums hanging around here."

"Fine, fine. You win, old man."

"Don't call me old, you little punk—"

"Give it a rest, Cid," Leon said, climbing to his feet and throwing his jacket over his shoulder. "He's only doing it to get a rise out of you. See you next week."

The four of them left a scowling Cid behind and made their way to the door, Rudol cheerfully slinging an arm around Leon's and Cloud's necks and using them as support so he didn't have to expend as much energy trying to walk in a straight line. Neither one of them was particularly enthused by the situation and exchanged long-suffering looks, but they put up with it until they made it outside, where they simultaneously dumped him off of their shoulders.

After exchanging farewells, Leon and Cloud parted and set off down the street together in the direction of their dormitory building, while Setzer disappeared into the night with the pretty woman from before on his arm. Left alone to his own devices, Rudol hummed a little ditty to himself and scrolled through the contacts on his phone to determine his plans for the remainder of the night. Right now, he wanted one thing and one thing only, and his thinking was being driven not by his brain but by another major external organ. He highlighted Dilan's name and snapped his phone shut with a grin.

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L'Erena and Nami strolled down the streets together, the neon lights of the city lighting their way. They had begun a never-ending game of Truth, and L'Erena was regaling Nami with a tale about her most embarrassing moment, which sent the younger girl into peals of laughter, so much that she had to stop walking to catch her breath again.

"And then, the guy calls me back, like, 'Miss, you forgot your wallet!' So I tried to turn around on the escalator and climb the few steps to reach the upper floor again, but I tripped and fell, so I had to ride the escalator the rest of the way down, go around to the up escalator, and retrieve my wallet in front of the entire line of people who had witnessed the whole thing. And to add insult to injury, my leg bled the entire way home from when I scraped it on the moving stairs. I told my mom a cat scratched me, but I don't think she believed me."

Nami's giggles finally died down as L'Erena wrapped up her story, and she wiped a single tear from the corner of her eye. "I'm so sorry," she tried to apologize, "It's really not funny…"

"Sure it is," L'Erena replied, grinning down at her. "Don't worry, I'm not above laughing at myself. My turn to ask a question." She hummed as she thought, probing around for a topic that hadn't been covered yet. "Tell me about your last relationship," she finally decided, her heartbeat quickening slightly as she tried to remain nonchalant on the outside. In a rare bout of shyness, she glanced sidelong at the younger girl, entranced by the way the pink glow of the neon lights illuminated her delicate face.

Nami's cheeks turned pink, and L'Erena got the distinct impression that it wasn't due to the lighting. "Well," she said slowly, suddenly very interested in braiding her hair, "I've actually never been in a relationship before." She hesitated before adding, "Boy or girl. So there's not much to tell. No one's ever been interested in a quiet, invisible girl like me, and I guess staying inside drawing all day didn't help with that," she added pensively.

L'Erena chanced another glance at her before returning her gaze to her well-worn Chucks scuffing the pavement. "Well," she said, her voice firm. Her heart was still beating a tattoo into her chest. "They don't know what they're missing out on." She slipped her hand into Nami's lacing their fingers together. To her surprise, the other girl didn't pull away. She took this as a sign of encouragement and looked up to find Nami smiling rapturously at her.

A moment of silence passed as they continued walking hand-in-hand before Nami asked, "What's one thing in your life that you've always wanted to do but never had the opportunity?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, like for me, I've always wanted to go to the beach and watch the waves rolling in, lapping against the shore."

"You've never been to the beach?"

"No," she said wistfully. "It's one of my biggest dreams. My friend Xion brought me back some seashells from when she went to the beach, and every time I look at them, I think about the seashore and how beautiful and peaceful it is there. Now it's your turn to answer."

L'Erena thought for a moment before slowly starting, "Well, there is something that I've been wanting to do…"

"What?"

"This." They slowed to a stop as L'Erena took Nami's other hand into her own and, before she could change her mind, leaned down to press a gentle, light kiss against her lips. All she could think about as Nami kissed her back, hesitantly at first but slowly gaining confidence, was that Nami tasted sweet. Sweet, she thought, like honey.

------------------------

Somehow, Rudol managed to make it down to Dilan's apartment without getting hopelessly lost in his alcohol-addled state. It was miraculous, really. The security guard gave him a suspicious look when he flashed his ID but let him in nonetheless. Once he reached the apartment door, he didn't bother knocking, simply tested the doorknob to find that it was unlocked. He flung the door open dramatically.

"Hey," he said loudly by means of announcing his presence. He planted both his hands in the doorframe and tilted his chin upwards as he scanned the room for Dilan.

"Dude, what the—" A startled Dilan emerged from the bedroom, freaked out by the sudden intrusion, but he cut himself off upon noticing Rudol in his doorway, look disheveled, oversexed, and entirely desirable. "Oh, hello there," he said, raising one eyebrow and grinning lopsidedly. "What're you doing here?"

Rudol swung the door shut behind him with his foot in a surprising display of grace and ambled up to him. "Well," he drawled, hooking his arms around Dilan's neck. "Why don't you take a guess? Here, I'll even give you a hint." He seductively rubbed his groin up against Dilan's leg to get his point across.

"I need you inside me," he stage-whispered, his voice thick with lust. He paused and looked down, grinding experimentally against him again and enjoying the silky feel of the baggy basketball shorts that Dilan was wearing. "Also, I love these shorts."

Dilan managed to turn his laugh into a semi-convincing cough, but he wasn't able to keep the corners of his mouth from twitching. "Yeah? How did we go from 'fuck me now' to fashion?"

"I wasn't talking about fashion, you twat. I was talking about the fact that these shorts are hot and I like the silky fabric, and hey have you ever jerked off in a pair of basketball shorts because it feels really fucking good and speaking of sports if you could do anyone on a baseball team who would it be, I'd choose the catcher because he's used to spending the whole night on his knees and I like guys with lots of stamina but—" The words tumbled out of his mouth unchecked. There was apparently no filter between Rudol's brain and his mouth when he was drunk, an unfortunate quality that often landed him in quite a bit of trouble.

Deciding that he'd had enough, Dilan shut him up by shoving his face into his shirt, muffling his speech. Rudol's initial squawk of protest was soon cut off when he discovered that he rather liked being this close in proximity to Dilan's chest.

"You're drunk," Dilan observed intelligently, but he wasn't about to complain if it meant that Rudol was this keen to have sex. The way he was coming on to him was pretty damn hot, in his opinion. He loosened his grip enough for Rudol to wriggle out of his headlock.

"And you're sexy," Rudol replied matter-of-factly, tugging Dilan down into a sloppy kiss. "Are we done stating the obvious now? Because I'd quite like to get on with it."

He leaned into Dilan, gripping him through the fabric of his shorts and giving him a light squeeze, temptation for what was yet to come.

Okay, Dilan thought dimly. He was officially turned on.

Having effectively disarmed him, Rudol took advantage of the moment to expertly trip Dilan up and knock him to the floor. He straddled him, looming over him with a smug, cocky grin.

"Oh no," said Dilan immediately. "We are not fucking on the floor."

"Yes we are," Rudol said. "Feel this." He grabbed Dilan's wrist and forced his hand down his pants, pressing it against the rigid heat of his arousal. "This cannot wait."

Dilan suppressed a groan of longing as his fingers instinctively closed around Rudol's prominent erection. In a last ditch attempt, he retaliated, "Yeah, but you're not the one who's on the ground. This floor is hard, dude."

"You're hard," Rudol answered cheerfully, pressing into Dilan's hand before removing it so that he could stretch out on top of Dilan.

Well, he couldn't argue with that. Dilan settled for grumbling, "Shut up and toss me one of the million or so condoms you have stashed in that bag of yours."

"Eh, s'too far," Rudol slurred, burrowing his face in the crook of Dilan's neck and soaking in the warm body heat. In addition to being excessively verbose and sex-crazed, irresponsibility was a trait that raised its ugly head when Rudol got drunk. Any and all sense of responsibility flew out the window around his fifth drink.

"It's four feet away," Dilan pointed out, clearly forgetting the rule of not arguing with drunk people, especially those who become stubborn and irrational while under the influence.

"Four feet too far. We don't need it." Rudol dismissed the matter with a careless wave of his hand.

"Yeah, no." Well, someone had to be the adult, and he privately found it hilarious that he was to be the responsible one in this situation, given the number of irresponsible things he and Aeleus had done after demolishing a full keg of beer. He jostled Rudol off of him so he could get up. "And we're moving this to the bedroom 'cause I'm not staying on the fucking floor."

Rudol mumbled something indistinguishable as he climbed to his feet, but Dilan was positive he heard the word "vanilla" in there somewhere. He snorted derisively. "You should know better than anyone that I'm anything but vanilla, Rudy. If you wanna be the one on the floor, be my guest."

"Noooo…" Rudol said slowly. It hurt his brain to think. "I wanna be on top."

"Then stop complaining and suck it up." Dilan hooked his finger through one of the belt loops on Rudol's jeans and tugged, jerking his head in the direction of the bedroom. Rudol followed him obediently, somewhat cheered up by the fact that he had a nice view from behind Dilan.

In the bedroom, Dilan dug around in the clutter on his dresser, eventually producing a foil-wrapped condom and one of the miniature-sized samples of lube given out in the safe sex packages that Planned Parenthood representatives handed out to anyone who passed by them on Fridays – hey, they were free, and he was all for it if it meant he didn't need to buy them himself.

He tossed them on the bed for later use and smirked. "So, where we?"

Rudol, who wasted no time in getting down to business, chose not to dignify that with a verbal answer. Instead, he impatiently tugged Dilan down on top of him, pulling him into a rough, clumsy kiss, a kiss that tasted of cigarettes and Budweiser and mint and heaven. He blindly rolled over to pin Dilan beneath him but miscalculated the distance, for his brain was foggy from the alcohol and the heat of the moment and a twin-sized bed didn't afford a lot of room for rolling around, and the two of them crashed to the floor in a tangle of limbs.

"Fuck," Dilan groaned, breaking apart to rub the back of his head and wince.

Rudol, however, was delighted. "Back on the floor again! I always get what I want in the end," he exclaimed.

Dilan rolled his eyes. "Whatever, you win." At least the bedroom floor was slightly more comfortable than the rest of the apartment owing to the clothes that littered the floor (he rarely put his clothes away after washing them, preferring to let them pile up into a horizontal closet, and stopped using the laundry hamper ages ago). He yanked Rudol back down to kiss him again, more insistently this time.

Rudol moaned into his mouth, rubbing against him provocatively. He suddenly needed contact, desperately seeking friction of some kind. He rolled his hips forward, grinding his groin into Dilan's own crotch.

Movements that would have ordinarily been slow and tantalizing, drawn out and unhurried, became feverish and urgent. He sat back and, repositioning himself so that he was kneeling between Dilan's legs instead of straddling him, roughly pulled Dilan's hips up against his own. The alcohol loosened him up so that he was completely uninhibited, and he hardly knew what he was doing, just that it felt really fucking good oh god yes don't stop.

The dry, still-clothed contact was enough to get him off, but he craved something closer than that, wanting to feel Dilan inside of him, wanting to be driven out of his mind. The uncomfortable tightness in his jeans, which was only heightened by the animalistic grinding motion, was getting to be unbearable.

"God… Need…" Rudol panted, but he was unable to articulate the jumbled mess of thoughts in his head. He settled for pushing Dilan's shirt further up his torso, exposing his happy trail and the waistband of his boxers that peeked out from under his shorts. A longing noise slipped out, and he ran his hand up the length of the other's body, intoxicated by the sensation of skin against skin. The sexual desire coursing through his veins threatened to overwhelm him, and he snapped out of his hazy reverie, quickly tugging the shirt over Dilan's head.

Dilan, who immediately understood what Rudol was trying to say, leaned up to grab Rudol's shirt by the collar at the back of his neck, pulled it over his head, and tossed the restrictive article of clothing aside.

With his chest bared, Rudol pressed up against Dilan's own naked skin, still breathing heavily as he tightly wound one hand in his hair. He hooked the thumb of his other hand over the waistband of Dilan's boxers and slid both boxers and shorts down in one smooth movement before attempting to remove his own pants. He fumbled with the button and zipper of his jeans with one hand but found it an impossible task and gave up, cursing.

Annoyed, Dilan knocked Rudol's hand out of the way and unbuttoned his pants himself. "I gotta do everything for you, don't I?" he said with a smirk, putting both hands on Rudol's waist to shimmy his jeans down his hips.

"Shut up and fuck me already," Rudol replied, hissing as he struggled to remove his pants and failing dismally. Getting drunk had robbed him of what little grace and gentlemanliness he possessed.

"Don't have to ask me twice." Dilan clasped his hands behind his head and laid back, offering up his body with a cocky grin on his face.

Rudol finally managed to extricate his legs from his jeans and shook them off haphazardly, sending them flying across the room, where they landed under Aeleus's bed. Dilan made a mental note to retrieve them before Aeleus came home lest he had to explain himself and gross out his roommate. Rudol was still too drunk to care, however, and was groping around the bed's surface to find the condom and lube that had been tossed there earlier, making a pleased noise when he struck gold.

"You're so lucky that Aeleus isn't home," Dilan commented idly, watching Rudol roll the condom down his shaft. "Don't think the whole ambush thing would've gone so well if he was here."

"Less talk, more action," Rudol said and straddled him again, leaning down to kiss him again. One lubed-up hand snaked between the two of them to stroke Dilan.

"Mmm," Dilan said incoherently, too far gone to come up with an appropriate response other than kissing Rudol back. He fumbled blindly to take the lube packet from where it still dangled in Rudol's hand.

The blond was the first to break apart, burying his face in the crook of Dilan's neck and swearing when one lubed finger slipped inside him, soon followed by a second. The waiting suddenly became too much to bear, and he reared back, deciding that he'd been prepared enough.

"Fuck it," he gasped, his voice ragged. "I'm ready."

Dilan didn't say anything — couldn't say anything but groan in pleasure as Rudol's hand curled around the base of his cock, guiding him.

Rudol's only thought was to sate the primal urge stirring inside him. "Fuck," he hissed as Dilan entered him. "Fuuuck." A jumbled stream of profanity mingled with noises of encouragement spilled out of him as he gave in to pure carnal pleasure, an unabashed moan surfacing from the back of his throat.

Dilan chuckled, slightly short of breath, as he tried to sit up on his elbows to give himself some more leverage. "Never knew you had such a dirty mouth when you're drunk," he muttered in amusement, but his voice was too low to be heard. He was too wrapped up in the moment to make his witticisms audible.

Having raised himself up on his elbows, Dilan was able to thrust deeper into Rudol, hitting his sweet spot and making him come completely undone. The blond rocked back and forth on top of him, wild with desire, and Dilan knew that he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. His fingers closed around his shaft, finishing him off with a few quick jerks, and Rudol moaned, writhing above him as the climax wracked his body with convulsions, and that was all it took to send Dilan over the edge too, and it was over as quickly and abruptly as it started.

Rudol exhaled and silently rolled off of Dilan, grabbing the other boy's shirt off the floor and using it to clean himself up. "God, you're good," he mumbled, his chest still heaving.

"You're not a bad lay either, even when you're batshit drunk," Dilan answered cheerfully, pulling Rudol into an affectionate headlock. The blond wrinkled his nose in response.

"Dilan?" he said after a moment's silence.

"Yeah?"

"I think I'm gonna hurl." His face was pale and slightly tinged with green.

Dilan reacted immediately, freaking out as he tugged Rudol to his feet. "Not in my room, you're not!"

Thankfully, the bathroom was adjacent to the rather small bedroom, and he dragged his ashen-faced boyfriend into it. Rudol stumbled over to the toilet and proceeded to be suddenly and violently sick. Dilan left the room while he emptied the contents of his stomach and returned fully clothed with a glass of water and Rudol's jeans, which he had dug out from under Aeleus's bed.

"Classy," he commented, leaning in the doorway.

"Ohhh god, motherfucker," Rudol groaned miserably. "I am never drinking that much again." He accepted the glass of water gratefully and rinsed his mouth out with it.

"That's what everybody says," Dilan said, tossing his jeans to him. "Put some pants on, asshole."

"You'd know, wouldn't you?"

"Pfft, yeah. I've been in Sigma Chi for four years, 'course I know about puking after drinking too much. You swear you're never gonna drink again, and you're back out the next day slamming down a 12-pack. It's awesome. Where the hell were you, anyway?"

"Blackjack. Played for beer. Kicked everyone's sorry arses. Dunno how many beers I ended up having. Lost count. And you know me, I can never have just one of anything. Can I kip on your couch tonight?"

"Yeah, sure." Dilan eyed him critically. "You probably shouldn't be going out again tonight anyway. You look like shit."

Rudol couldn't argue with the latter and instead settled for asking, "Aeleus won't mind?"

"Eh, he can't complain. Ienzo slept over here once. In the same bed, actually." He shuddered at the memory. "So he owes me one."

"Excellent. I'm crashing now."

"Good plan." Dilan couldn't help but snicker as he watched Rudol crawl over to the couch and curl up in the fetal position. If there was one thing to be said about Rudol, it was that there was never a dull moment when he was around. He shook his head and grinned ruefully, returning to the bedroom to text Aeleus and warn him about their visitor.