Disclaimers: This is a work of fiction. Any similarities between the characters in this story and real people (appearances, names, etc.) are purely coincidental. This story may contain homosexual material, including love and sex, so if material like this is illegal in your region or if it discomforts you, please leave.

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You Don't Mean to Hurt Me

"Say something," John begged his boyfriend in a voice laced with worry. "Please."

The black-haired man continued to stand at the glass wall, staring despondently at the Chicago skyscrapers and skyline. He had leant against the wall, his arms crossed at his chest. If he had been able to cry, tears would be falling from his dark brown eyes then.

"Derek, please," John begged as he stood from he black leather chair, his voice becoming even more pained. "I had no choice. It needed to be done."

Derek didn't move. He didn't even blink. His arms remained crossed and his eyes unseeing as he stood.

John pleaded more, "You would be--"

Derek suddenly turned as his arms uncrossed. Pointing his finger at John, he shouted, "Did you even think about my feelings!? Or did you only think of yourself!?"

Hurt, John whispered, "Derek."

Thirteen months earlier...

Derek walked into the exam room and pleasantly said to the little girl sitting on her dad's lap, "Hello Rianne, it's good to see you again. How are you today?"

In a sweet little voice, the six-year-old girl answered, "I'm fine, thank you."

"Good, good," Derek replied with a smile. "Can you tell me what brings you to Comer today?"

"Umm, my daddy says I have to get new glasses because my right eye doesn't see as well- umm- as well as my left eye."

"That's right! What do you need again? What is the piece of paper I'll be giving you?"

Excitedly, the little blonde jumped in her dad's lap and said, "It's- umm- it's- I know it! It's a pre- prescription!"

"Exactly! You are so smart, Rianne. Are you ready to begin?"

The little blonde slid off of her dad's legs and pranced to the exam chair. Once she sat down the ophthalmology student sat on the stool in front of her.

"Okay, Ri, what happens next?" Derek asked, happily. Rianne Jenkins had been his favourite person to examine.

"You're supposed to ask me questions!" the little girl replied confidently, experienced.

"Oh. Duh. Are you taking any medications?"

"Yes," little Rianne answered.

Derek looked back at Mr. Jenkins as the man clarified, "She was on penicillin. Last dose was yesterday."

Derek turned back to the child and asked, "Are you having any headaches?"

Rianne shook her head dramatically, her blonde curls swinging about, and said, "Mm-mm."

"Okay, great. Are there any changes in your medical history?"

"Umm, I broke my arm in the spring time."

"Oh, I'm sorry, sweetie. But I'm glad it's all better."

Derek turned back to Mr. Jenkins again, to which the man answered, "No changes."

"Okay, Ri, now this is a tough question. You ready? Does any of your family have eye conditions?"

"My grandpa has ca- ca- something racks."

"Aww. Well tell your grandpa I'm sorry."

Derek didn't need to turn around, Mr. Jenkins answered, "No history of optical diseases or issues."

"Okay, Ri," Derek said, setting his clipboard down beside the computer, "we're ready to look at your beautiful blue eyes. May I please have your glasses?"

Derek slid the lenses into a scope and read the script. He then handed Rianne a large black plastic spoon.

Derek turned in the stool, and told the little girl, "Read the smallest letters that you can see."

"O, N, V, S, R."

"Can you make out any letters in the next line?"

"K, umm, Q, N, K, umm, D."

"That was close, Ri!" the young man told the little girl happily. "You ready for the phoropter?"

"I don't remember what that- Oh!"

Derek had lowered a big metal contraption to the little girl's level. He then adjusted the vertex alignments so the girls eyes were visible and clear in the lenses.

"Okay, Ri, just tell me when your vision becomes clear."

Derek very slowly turned a couple of dials on the phoropter.

"One eye is clear," Rianne declared. "This side," she waved her right hand.

"Perfect," Derek said happily. "How is- this?"

Derek turned the left dial slightly, and Rianne answered, "A little- there!"

"Now can you read what you can, please?"

"V, H, G, N, O."

"Excellent! Now what do I do next?"

"Umm... you... I don't- Oh, you flash the light!"

"You're impressing me, Ri. You're impressing me. This is done to test how light will effect your eyes with the new glasses. And it looks good. Do you remember what comes next?"

"You- umm- you check the- umm- asti something."

"You almost had it. Astigmatism. Astigmatism is a steep or elongated curve of the cornea. I'll just set this against your face. This is called a keratometry test. It tells me whether you have astigmatism or not. We already know you have astigmatism, so I'm just doing it to check for any changes. Now stare at the green dot. That's my girl."

When Derek removed the contraption from her face, Rianne asked him, "Derek, why do you like oph- ophtha--"

Handing the little girl her glasses back, Derek finished the word, "Ophthalmology? Well I did really well in school, especially biology. I like people and I like helping. I think I'm pretty nice and easy going, don't you agree? I want people who come in to work with someone who is kind and patient and fun. I hope I make your visits here enjoyable."

"You do, Derek!" Rianne said in an almost screech.

"Good. You are also kind, I look forward to your visits. Now here is your new prescription so I hope you pick the prettiest glasses like you always do."

The blonde girl excitedly grabbed the paper from Derek's hand and shouted, "Daddy! Daddy! I got a new pre- prescription!"

Mr. Jenkins knelt down on one knee and cupped his daughter's chin in his hand. "That's great, baby! Your brother has the iPad, you two can start looking at glasses online while I talk with Derek here, okay?"

Rianne excitedly opened the exam room door and ran for the waiting room, leaving the two men alone.

Mr. Jenkins sighed before asking, "How- how bad is it?"

"Both the OS and OD have gone down two diopters each. The astigmatism of the OS has increased to a hundred eighty degrees."

Mr. Jenkins, crestfallen, sat back down on the chair and slumped. "In just three months. Her vision is deteriorating faster and faster."

"When is she next scheduled to see Dr. Khalil?" Derek asked the man.

"October twenty-fifth she's running more fluid tests."

"That's three weeks away," Derek tried to sound positive. "I'm sure she'll do all she can to help. No matter what, though, just keep doing what you're doing. Ri is so sweet and caring and polite. You're doing a wonderful job raising her."

With a small sad smile, Mr. Jenkins replied, "I can't take all the credit. Her brother Dennis is the best big brother. I better get going, Dennis has football practice. I can't thank you enough, Derek."

The young man shook Mr. Jenkins' outstretched had as he replied, "Of course, Mr. Jenkins. It's always a pleasure seeing you and Ri."

The two men left the exam room at the same time, walking in opposite halls. Derek knocked on the open door of Dr. Khalil's office.

The woman looked up from her pile of paper, smiling at the man, "Derek. Did you see Rianne?"

Derek entered the office and sat down on one of the chairs at the desk. Handing the doctor a paper, he answered, "Yeah, just finished her exam two minutes ago."

Dr. Khalil read the exam report. "Two diopters negative. No cornea change in the left eye? I'm a little surprised by that. Refraction looks good. Retina?"

"They looked fine," Derek answered. "No visible changes."

"Good. Derek, she is scheduled to have tests done in a few weeks with me. I'd like you to assist me."

Surprised, Derek replied, "But... But... Luan is supposed to be assisting in that."

Dr. Khalil sighed before she told Derek, "Luan isn't careful. Yesterday she injured a patient with the phoropter. Remember that time she didn't notice a teen had astigmatism? Besides, Rianne likes you. Rightly so. You are caring and patient, especially with her."

"Okay," Derek answered heavily. "I'll assist with Rianne's tests. But I feel bad about taking it from Luan, I'm doing this for Rianne."

"Excellent," Dr. Khalil enthused before looking at her watch. "It's just past seven. I think you're done for the day. Thank you again, Derek."

Derek gathered his things from his locker and put his grey trench coat on. He bade the hospital staff and his fellow students a good night.

While driving his 2015 Honda Accord home his mom called, so he answered his cell phone on speaker.

"Hey boy," Mrs. Webber replied. "How you doin'?"

"I'm good, mama. Driving home from Comer. How are you?"

"I'm doin' juss fine, baby. Ya workin' hawd?"

"Yeah, mama. My professors and doctors like me a lot. I'm doing so good that Dr. Khalil asked me to replace a classmate in assisting her for optical tests on a patient."

"Oh, that's wondaful, baby. Ya do me so proud."

"How about you, mama, how is work going?"

"Work's goin' great. Mr. Drake asked me to take an accountin' course so I can do invoicin' fa the hotel."

"Hey, that's great, mama! Are you going to take the course?"

"I only made up my mind today. I'll tell Mr. Drake I'll take it tomorrow. The reason I called, baby, is to ask you if Ken's parents know ya two broke up?"

"I don't know, mama. I haven't talked to Ken since the breakup. Why, did the something happen?"

"Mrs. Frasier invited me to lunch. I juss found it a bit odd."

"Well go to lunch with her if you want, mama. You guys liked each other well enough. If she doesn't know about me and Ken then tell her if you feel like it."

"A'ight, baby. Have ya heard from ya sista?"

"Yeah. Jemma's spending the night with me on her way down to Raleigh."

"Good, good. I talked to ha cuppla days ago and she mentioned that. I love ya, baby."

"I love you, too, mama. Give my love to dad."

"Will do, baby. G'night."

Derek parked on the street and rang his friend's apartment buzzer.

"Hello?" Nina Lewis said through the intercom.

"Hey, it's Derek."

The door buzzer rang jarringly, and Derek opened the entrance door.

Derek opened the apartment door without even knocking, and saw his best friend sitting on her bed with marketing textbooks splayed out on it.

"Sup, white girl?" Derek asked, filling himself a glass of orange juice.

"Negro please, you whiter than I am," Nina retorted, smiling and taking notes.

"My fair maiden," Derek said in an animated voice, "might you accompany me in an evening meal?"

Nina laughed, and told Derek, "You are horrid at accents."

"Well come on," Derek begged. "I'm hungry!"

Digging through the drawers of her tall dresser, Nina asked, "How was school today?"

"School was fine. Got into it again with Pierre Arnaud because he missed the warning signs of glaucoma in a study and he was adamant that he hadn't."

"Why does he hate you so much?" Nina asked as she slug a pair of jeans on.

"No idea."

"I'm telling you, Derek, he's into you."

"For fuck's sake he's straight. Now hurry! Before I do us both harm and cook."

Nina laughed as she zipped her boots. And the two left the girl's bachelor apartment for a restaurant called Delina.

"How was your date last night?" Derek asked while navigating the road.

"Jason was so sweet!" Nina swooned. "He opened the car door for me, made sure we didn't sit across from each other at dinner, paid for everything, put his arm across my shoulders at the movie, and made me laugh so much. Even his kiss at the end was perfect. Not too much tongue, not too long, and his hand didn't roam."

"Will you be seeing him again?"

"I hope so. He texted me today. What did you end up doing with Ken's things? Did he pick 'em up?"

"No. Even after asking four times to pick them up the box just sat in my kitchen for weeks. I just mailed it yesterday. His mom asked my mom to go out for lunch."

"Seriously? How do you feel about that? Did Ken even tell his mom about the breakup?"

"I don't care if my mom goes to lunch with Mrs. Frasier. They got along really well. And I'm over Ken. As for him telling his mom about the breakup, I don't know. It's been over a month, so I assume he has."

"Wes asked about you a couple of days ago," Nina told her best friend. "It's too bad he's too afraid to make the first move."

While parking on the street, Derek asked, "Which one is Wes again?"

"Finance major," Nina answered, to which Derek just stared at her. "Dark red hair," no response. "Light brown eyes," nothing. "He called you 'heartachingly gorgeous'."

Realization dawned on Derek and he said, "Ohhhh! That fool."

"What would you say if he did ask you out?"

Derek shrugged before climbing out of the vehicle. "He's cute. A little awkward, but he can grow out of that. Just don't tell him that. If he wants to ask me out I want him to do it of his own accord."

"'Of his own accord'? You are so white."

Opening the restaurant door for his friend, Derek replied, "Just promise you won't say anything to him, racist."

"Okay, square, I promise."

"Good evening," the female server greeted at the table they'd sat down at. "My name is Sarah. Can I start with drinks?"

Derek started with, "May I please have a martini?"

"And I'll have a vodka tonic," Nina ordered kindly. "What about that guy from med school? The blonde who shamelessly flirted?"

"Everett?" Derek asked, his eyes scanning the menu. "Haven't seen him in months. I forgot about him, to be honest. If I see him before Wes gathers the courage, I'll ask him out."

"You know what I find surprising?" Nina asked, she too reading the menu over. "You're ready to date again so soon after ending an eight year long relationship."

Still reading the menu, Derek shrugged, "I guess I cried it all out in the first two weeks. I'm still amazed with myself for being able to continue going to school and residency."

"Have you thought much about that? Makes it sound like you barely cared about the breakup."

"You know I cared. I just subconsciously decided that my education and career came before everything else."

Nina nodded as she closed her menu and laid it down. "Were you able to return the engagement ring?"

"Yeah," Derek answered as he placed his menu down. "Minus ten percent for the processing and handling fee."

"So you still haven't told me why you broke up."

Derek sighed deeply. "There were a number of reasons. I'll tell you about it when I'm comfortable."

"You were comfortable enough to not stop going to school and residency, being patient and kind with clients, and returning the ring, but not comfortable to share the reasons for the breakup."

"Nina, please. I'm just not ready."

"Fine. How is the residency going?"

"They are great! Dr. Khalil asked me to replace another student in a child's optical tests."

"Hey, that's great! What kind of tests?"

"Rianne is the patient, a child. Every few months she requires a new prescription. It was just over a year ago when Dr. Khalil realized that Rianne is slowly going blind. And nobody knows why. Dr. Khalil says that if we don't find a cause, she'll be completely blind within two years."

"Oh, poor girl. How old is she?"

"She's six. She is the sweetest, smartest girl I know."

"Here are your drinks," the server stated pleasantly, setting glasses down. "Martini, and a vodka tonic. Are you ready to order starters?"

The girl ordered first, "Can I have an order of avocado croissant cups?"

"And I'll take the bruschetta," Derek said politely. "How's work been?"

"Tiffany-Lynn, one of the maids, told me the most fucked up thing. She was cleaning a room after someone had booked it for knee night. Under one of the pillows she found a set of three bloody finger nails."

"What?" Derek said quietly, shocked. "What did your bosses do?"

"Erin called the cops and gave them the guy's name. The guy has an outstanding search warrant for uncensentual rough play during sex."

"Did they find the guy?"

Shaking her head slowly, Nina answered, "No. But could you imagine? Going off to a hotel with this hot guy thinking it's going to be a hot hookup but he ties you up and removes your fingernails?"

"Oh god," Derek moaned in disgust. "Please stop talking about it. Hang on, how do you know they were tied up?"

"Tiffany-Lynn told me about the two pieces of rope still attached to the bed. They had traces of blood."

"How did no one not hear the screaming? Never mind, I don't wanna know. Were you able to book the time off for Thanksgiving?"

"Yes!" Nina replied happily. "Thanks for reminding me to book it off! I booked my flights for November twenty-one and back on the twenty-sixth."

"Same as me!" Derek smiled. "What airline?"

"American Airlines is the only that flies nonstop to Seattle. What airline are you flying with?"

"Same. They had the shortest layover to Raleigh, a half hour in Philly. Want me to pick you up?"

"What time is your flight?"

"Three P.M. I think. Yeah, three."

"My flight is at two."

"I don't mind coming an hour earlier. What time does your flight land here?"

"I don't even remember," Nina answered as she checked her email. "Mm, let's see... I land at... six-thirty."

Derek had checked his email, too, as the server sat their plates down and replied, "I land at seven-thirty. So if you want a ride back to town you can wait an hour."

"Yeah, I'll wait. What if you run into Ken at home? What'll you say to him?"

"Nina, it's Raleigh. it's not like I'm going to just run into him randomly. Besides, if I do see him, I'm sure we'll be civil. Well, I know I'll be. And we don't even know if he's going home for Thanksgiving."

Unimpressed, Nina said, "Derek, it's Kenneth Frasier, biggest family guy in all of the United States. Of course he's going home."

"Regardless, I'm not going to be an asshole if I see him."

"Well that's good. Be the bigger man. My friend Annie called a couple of days ago. She's pregnant and asked me to be the godmother!"

"Oh, that's so cool!"

Grimacing slightly, Nina replied, "And scary. I don't know if I'm ready for that responsibility. I mean what if the kid doesn't like me. Or the guy I eventually marry."

"Nina, you'll be a great godmom. You're mostly nice, really funny, intellectual, adapt well to new situations, and smart with money. The kid will be in great hands if something happens to their parents."

"But what if something happens to the kid while they're under my care?"

"It'll be okay," Derek tried to soothe, finishing his appetizer. "You'll only spend all of eternity in hell."

Both humoured and annoyed, Nina laughed and said, "Derek, be serious."

Derek laughed, too, and responded, "Everybody makes mistakes, Nina. You broke your leg when you fell from your treehouse, right? Well was that your parents' fault? Or was it my parents' fault when I dislocated my shoulder? Shit happens, Nina."

"Yeah, I guess. The baby will be born in June. Do you think I should try to make it home for the birth?"

"Well if you're gonna be the godmother, then it would be a good idea. Not necessary, though. How close were you and Annie?"

Nina shrugged, "Pretty close. If Talia hadn't been my best friend in junior high it would've been Annie. I didn't know we were godmother close, though."

"Then it's at your discretion to be there for the birth."

"At my discretion. I swear you're white on the inside."

Putting on his best gangsta voice, Derek responded, "S'up ta yo bitch-ass to be there fa ya gurr when her kid shoots out her vajayjay."

Nina laughed, appalled. "Maybe you're better white."

"Oh, God," Derek rolled his eyes. "Shut up. I get enough of that from my brother."

"How is Hank? And your nephew?"

"Hank's doing fine. A few days ago he had to fire one of his employees who was a childhood friend. Ricky had shown up to work wreaking of alcohol and jittery eyes. As for my nephew Anthony, when we Skyped he told about one of his classmates kissing him."

Grinning, Nina asked, "On the lips!? What a stud. He'll have all the girls swooning over him when he's older."

Smirking, Derek replied, "It wasn't a girl."

Nina choked on her last bite of her appetizer upon hearing that. She coughed and coughed.

A few moments later, Nina asked, "It- it was a boy!?"

"Yeah, one of his friends named Austin. They were playing tag with a few others and Anthony was running with Austin. The tagger stopped chasing them, so Austin turned Anthony's face and kissed him on the lips."

With her face scrunching in swooning, Nina said, "Oh, my god! How- how did Anthony react?"

"He asked if it meant it was like when Ken and I kissed. I told him only if he liked it. I told him if he didn't like it then it was okay, too. He just shrugged and then told me about getting an A in math."

"I'm glad Anthony's growing up around homosexuality. He's growing to witness it, experience it, and even accept it. The fact that he's just six makes even more impressive."

The server came up again and asked, "Would you like to order entrees now?"

"Can I please have the white wine garlic fried chicken?" Derek asked.

"And I'll have the shrimp lemon stir fry. Extra lemon, please."

As the server removed their dirty plates, Derek asked, "Is the new guy still persistent?"

"Yes, but not with me now, thank god. He's flirting with Francine, one of the restaurant servers. And she's flirting back, so he's occupied. Still haven't heard of any dates, so I guess she's playing hard to get."

"Haven't your bosses noticed?"

"They've noticed. They told Francine that if anything unwanted happens then they'll get HR involved."

"I'm surprised they didn't actually do something. He's new and a shameless flirt. I'm not saying he deserves to get canned, though."

"Mm. Anyway, do you remember that girl from our communications class? Bright red hair, freckles--"

"Oh! Yeah. Caroline something. What about her?"

"She was fired from an internship at Sony Music and she may be sued if she releases the name of the artist who continuously harassed her."

"Oh, my god!" Derek said in shock, entertainment, and sorrow. "How did this all start?"

"Back in April, I saw from her Facebook that one person made her internship difficult. But I had no idea it was because of some talent looking to get his rocks off. Anyway, today a lawyer named Ellis Danforth announced two things. First is the allegations against Benett Del Mor for unwanted sexual advancements, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment in the workplace, and attempted rape of Caroline Horace. Second is his representation in Caroline's charges against Del Mor and in his possession he carries physical evidence."

Shock and entertained, Derek said, "Good for her! How has Sony reacted?"

"I haven't checked the story since this morning, and I haven't heard anything else. Everyone is calling it 'Sony's biggest scandal since The Hacking'. Caroline could be getting a settlement of three-point-six million dollars if Sony believes the evidence is real. If it goes to court, and she wins, she'll be getting paid up to seven-point-eight in damages."

"Mm-mm," Derek nodded in disbelief. "And if she loses?"

Nina shrugged as she sipped her drink. "A lifetime of debt and stigma on her name. She's been working on this case for a while, she understands the risk."

"I hope this Ellis Danforth is the best damn lawyer she can get. Going up against Sony..." Derek shook his head slowly, worried for a girl he did not know.

"Dinner is served," the server said sing-songily. "Chicken for the man. Aaand shrimp for the lady. Would you like more drinks?"

"Yes, please," Nina answered, and the server left. "I was at the uni gym yesterday and this guy passed out from trying to squat with two hundred pounds in his shoulders. At the time it was scary, of course, but afterward it was funny."

Both laughed a little. Then Derek asked, "Did the guy get hurt?"

"No. The bar fell to the floor first and he fell backward on top of it. He came to when one of the supervisors spilled water over his face, and he tried to deny medical treatment. He was told if he didn't get checked over his fitness facility privileges would be revoked due to recklessness."

"Reminds me of a girl. A personal trainer was making her sprint for too long, while running vomit spewed from her mouth and she fell, the treadmill flinging her over."

The two laughed again, and Derek said, "She was okay, though. She screamed at the guy for pushing her so hard. She even demanded a new trainer."

The two friends spent the next hour eating dinner and dessert, and sharing stories and laughs. After paying for the meal, while walking to Derek's car through the busy sidewalk, Derek's shoulder collided with another.

"I am sorry," Derek told the man, picking up the man's fallen wallet. "Here you-"

Derek couldn't help but to stare. The young man was handsome, the most handsomest he'd ever seen.

The man slid his wallet out of Derek's grasp and replied, "The fault was my own. I apologize for my hastiness."

The man had left, continuing the opposite direction. Derek stared as he retreated through the bodies.

"Derek!" Nina cried. "Come on! Let's go! I have an exam tomorrow to study for."

Derek walked into the waiting room and called, "Hello Rianne!"

The little girl beamed up at the black man and said, "Hi Derek!"

Derek sat down on the chair next to her and asked, "How's my favourite little girl?"

Rianne laughed and replied, "I'm not little! I'm gonna be seven in two months!"

"Ohh. Well I'm sorry, Ri. I didn't know you were gonna be seven. I thought you were only four by now."

Rianne laughed and told Derek, "You did not, Derek!"

"I guess an almost seven-year-old would be this brave to have these tests done. Why don't you and your dad go to room eight to get ready."

The little girl excitedly agreed and grabbed her father's hand, dragging him down the hall.

Derek was about to rise from his seat as well, but a teenage boy's voice asked, "How do you think it'll go in there?"

Derek looked to Rianne's older brother Dennis and answered, "As long as we all stay positive and you guys love Rianne, everything will be okay. We will try our best to help her."

Derek walked into a sanitization room where he was helped into scrubs and gloves and a mask after washing his hands. In the exam room, where Rianne was lying on a bed wearing a hospital gown, Derek walked up and held her hand.

"Are you ready, princess?" Derek asked the little blonde.

Rianne smiled at Derek and replied, "Yeah. Are you going to put me to sleep?"

"That's right, Ri. I'm going to put this mask on you in a moment, when these doctors and nurses settle down."

"How long will I be asleep?"

"For about three hours. That's not long, is it?"

Dr. Khalil then stood at the other side of the bed and lifted her mask away from her face. "Hello, Rianne. I'm Dr. Khalil. Do you remember me?"

"Mm-hmm," Rianne's little voice replied.

"Great," Dr. Khalil said. "Today you are here to have a couple of tests done. I am going to be looking deep inside your eyes, to try and find out why you are losing your vision. Does that sound okay?"

Rianne nodded with a small, "Mm-hmm."

Dr. Khalil smiled down at the little blonde and told her, "Derek will be here to assist me. He will make sure that you are safe and okay."

"Okay," Rianne said, neither fearful nor confident.

Dr. Khalil looked to the ophthalmology student and asked, "Are you ready?"

Derek nodded, still holding Rianne's hand.

Dr. Khalil turned to another in the room and said, "Fred."

The man, an anaesthesiologist, placed the mask he'd been holding onto Rianne's face and turned a knob. He said to the little girl, "Okay, Rianne, can I get you to count backward from one hundred?"

Rianne's pretty blue eyes looked to Derek for reassurance. Derek nodded at her and led her in counting, "One hundred. Ninety-nine."

"Ninety-eight. N-ninety-sev-"

A few moments after Rianne closed her eyes and her breathing shallowed, Derek softly asked, "Rianne?"

A nurse gently opened one of the little eyes and flashed a light in it.

"Derek," Dr. Khalil said, "lid speculum please."

Derek grabbed the instrument from the tray and eased one side into the bottom lid of Rianne's right eye. He then slid the other end into the top lid and turned he dial to spread the tool wide, opening the eye.

Dr. Khalil asked, "Derek, two drops of Alcaine."

The black man grabbed the bottle of eye drops and eased one drop into the eye. A few seconds after the first drop, Derek dropped another.

"Heart rate," Dr. Khalil requested.

The nurse replied, "Heart rate steady at seventy-four."

"Thank you," Dr. Khalil said to the nurse. "Camera. Thank you. Derek."

Derek grabbed the ultra thin metal rod and turned the light on. He then held the end toward the doctor who guided it to the girl's open eye.

"Lubrication, Darian," the doctor said to the nurse.

The nurse squeezed lubrication out of a tube into the end of the flexible rod. Upon doing so, Dr. Khalil touched the tip of it to the underside of Rianne's eyelid.

Her eye trained on the rod and Rianne's eyes, Dr. Khalil asked, "Image clear?"

The nurse looked at the screen beside her and answered, "Picture's clear, doc."

"Okay. Derek, two centimetres on my mark. Ready?"

Derek responded, "Ready, doc."

"Aaand three... two... one."

Derek very, very slowly pushed the other end a millimetre at a time toward Dr. Khalil, who used her fingers to guide the tiny camera between the lid and eye into the socket.

When Derek stopped pushing the rod, Dr. Khalil said to him, "Very good, Derek. Notice any abnormalities?"

Derek looked to the screen, which was displaying red and white in the eye socket.

"No, I don't see any, doc."

Dr. Khalil nodded, her eyes still trained on the screen. "Sclera looks good. Excellent blood flow. Pull out in three... two... one."

When the camera was fully removed, Derek carried it over to the tray. He asked the nurse for a swab, collecting a fluid sample from the rod.

After Derek had sealed the swab in a tube, Dr. Khalil asked, "Syringe please, Derek."

Dr. Khalil very, very slowly inserted the needle into the top of the vitreous, drawing a blood sample.

Handing the syringe to the nurse, Dr. Khalil asked, "You ready to do the other eye, Derek?"

An hour later, Derek walked into the waiting room. Mr. Jenkins and his son Dennis looked up, their worried eyes brightening slightly.

While Derek was making his way over, Mr. Jenkins asked, "How is she?"

Derek smiled, "She is doing fine. We took her off the anaesthetic about fifteen minutes ago, she'll be awake in about thirty minutes. Would you like to go see her?"

A few yards from the room, Dennis stopped and asked Derek, "We're you able to find anything?"

With a sunken heart, Derek replied, "Dr. Khalil is in the room. She can answer much better than I can."

Dr. Khalil smiled at the men that entered the patient room told them, "Rianne was a brave, brave girl. We had no complications during the tests."

Mr. Jenkins then said, "Derek said she'd be awake in half an hour."

Nodding, Dr. Khalil replied, "Twenty to thirty minutes. She will be experiencing discomfort in both her eyes because of the tests. As discussed prior to today, keep her in darkness for the rest of the day. Tomorrow she should be fine, slightly sensitive to light. If the discomfort is unbearable to her, keep her in a dark room for the rest of the day as well."

"Were you able to find anything?" young Dennis asked, anxious.

Dr. Khalil sighed. "Unfortunately not, son. Her condition still baffles us. Her corneas, retinas, sclera, and optic nerves all look healthy. Of course we will continue to test for other causes at your discretion."

"How-" Mr. Jenkins choked back tears. "How do you think these other tests will fair?"

"These were the third set of tests we've done, Mr. Jenkins," Dr. Khalil answered. "With no positive results, I'm certain we will find little else. I am very sorry to say that, but I can't sugarcoat the truth."

Mr. Jenkins nodded solemnly. "Thank you, doctor. Would you mind scheduling these other tests?"

"I thought you might ask," Dr. Khalil responded. "I've already scheduled it. December eighth. Rianne will be healed long before your Christmas vacation and will be able to see her grandparents."

"One last time," Mr. Jenkins said, guessing that was the doctor's final thought.

Misty-eyed, young Dennis offered, "It's 2018, dad. Pretty soon they will have developed robot eyes for the blind."

Mr. Jenkins let a tear fall from his eye as he laughed and pulled his son into him. He had his arm around the boy's neck and scratched his knuckles against the boy's scalp.

After releasing his son, Mr. Jenkins kissed the boy's blonde hair and said, "We will get through this, son."

Dennis nodded, "We will always be there for Ri. She's strong. Stronger than us both I think."

"She is," Mr. Jenkins agreed.

Dr. Khalil stepped up to the father and said, "Here are pain-relieving eye drops. She will need them for the rest of the day. Maybe tomorrow, too. One drop in each eye every three or four hours. Remember, dark room. Keep this door closed. Derek will check her over when she wakes, and sign the discharge papers. There are children's sunglasses on that table, they'll fit over her eyeglasses. Derek, you can go when Rianne's been discharged. Good evening, gentlemen."

On her way out, Dr. Khalil flicked the lights off and closed the door behind her. Mr. Jenkins sat on the bed, holding his sleeping daughter's hand. Derek and Dennis sat in the two chairs, Derek deciding to hang with the two since he had no other duties.

"How are things with Claudia?" Derek asked the teen.

Dennis smiled, "Great, man! Had dinner with her parents last week. Her dad really likes me, but her mom doesn't. Which is surprising, I thought it would be the other way around."

"Why doesn't her mom like you?"

"No idea, man," Dennis said with a chuckle. "She's even trying to forbid Claudia from coming to my seventeenth birthday party next week. Hey, you're invited, man. You've done so much for us. And Ri would love you being there."

Smiling, Derek replied, "I dunno, dude. A twenty-five-year-old bowling with a bunch of seventeen-year-olds? But I appreciate it."

"Well you can keep my dad company," Dennis offered. "Two old men, keeping an eye on the kids, sippin' some brews."

Derek laughed and surrendered, "Okay. I'll come. For all of you."

"Good," Dennis nodded. "It'll keep dad from moaning all night."

Mr. Jenkins turned to look at his son and said, "You're pushin' it, blondie."

Derek and Dennis laughed.

"How are things with Ken?" Dennis asked.

"No longer," Derek replied while filling a paper cup with water. "We broke up a couple months ago."

"Ah, dude, what happened?"

"He cheated."

"Damn, that sucks," Dennis clapped the black man's shoulder. "How'd you find out?"

"He told me when he came home in the morning after a night of partying."

"He was drunk?"

"Yeah, but I'm a firm believer in drunken decisions still being your decisions. Alcohol just brings out your inhibitions, those desires are already there."

After a moment of thought, Dennis said, "That makes sense. Never thought of it like that. Have you met anyone else?"

"Not for a relationship," Derek answered, then blushed fiercely.

Derek was about to explain, but Dennis laughed and said, "You swing for the other team but you still play ball."

Smiling sheepishly, Derek responded, "That's not what I meant."

With his lips scrunched animatedly, Dennis said, "Mmmm-hmm! Baby boy's just a dirty li'l ho."

Derek laughed before saying, "Racist."

Derek then hurt the rustling of a head turning on the rough cotton of the hospital pillow.

"Daddy?" Rianne asked groggily.

Derek stepped up to the bed as Mr. Jenkins said, "I'm right here, sweetie."

"The tests are done?" the little girl asked.

"Yeah, they're done, sweetie," Mr. Jenkins replied with a smile. "Derek said you were the bravest girl."

Rianne turned and looked at Derek. Her pretty blue eyes were red and sleepy, Derek could so even in the faintly lit room.

"Derek?" Rianne said after a yawn. "Did I do okay?"

Derek smiled and gently held the little elbow and answered, "You did more than okay, Ri. I've never seen someone so courageous."

"Okay," the little girl said with another yawn. "Daddy, my eyes hurt."

"Okay, baby," Mr. Jenkins said as he took the bottle of drops from his jacket pocket. "Dr. Khalil gave me these eye drops for you. They help with pain. Derek, can you show me how to apply them?"

Derek accepted the bottle, "A drop each eye one at a time. One in the left, one in the right. Wait a few seconds. Second in the left, second in the right. I'm gonna have to hold your eyes open, okay, Ri?"

When the little nodded her agreement, Derek used his thumb and finger to gently pry the left eye open. With the bottle upside down over Rianne's eye, he applied the slightest bit of pressure to the bottle and a drop fell into her eye. He did the same to the other eye.

"Now blink a couple of times," Derek instructed.

After Derek dropped a second time, Mr. Jenkins asked, "Feeling better, baby?"

While Derek helped the girl put her glasses on, Rianne replied, "Feels better."

"Good," Derek smiled. "You are almost ready to go home, punken. Can I get you to cover your right eye? Now you tell me how many fingers I'm holding up?"

With her hand over her right eyeglass lens, Rianne answered, "Three."

"Great! Now cover your other eye. How many fingers?"


"Excellent, Ri. Any blurriness?"

"No. Why are we in the dark, Derek?"

"Because of the tests we had to do, blondie. Your eyes are going to be sensitive to light for tonight. And maybe part of tomorrow as well. But I'm sure while you're sleeping tonight your eyes will finish healing."

"So I can home now?" Rianne asked, sitting upright.

"Just one more vision test. Focus on my finger."

When the little girl looked at the finger two feet in front her, Derek raised his other hand high above the other.

"Don't move your eyes," Derek instructed. "Focus on my finger. Can you see my other hand?"


"Good. What are my other fingers doing?"

"Waving bye."

"Good." Derek moved his other hand to well below the other. "Keep focusing on my finger. What are they doing now?"

"Stretching in and out."

"Good. What was I testing? What type of vision?"

"Umm... I know it! It's per-perphal vision!"

Smiling with amusement, Derek responded, "Close! You are so smart, Ri. It's peripheral vision. And your peripheral vision is really good."

"Peripheral," Rianne repeated, training the word to her brain. "So I can go home now?"

"Do you dislike my presence?" Derek teased. "Is that why you're so eager to leave me? Ri, I thought chu was my gurl!"

Rianne laughed, "Derek! You muh boi! I gotchu!"

All three men laughed, surprised by the girl's strong black woman coming out.

After signing the discharge form, Derek brought he clipboard to the nurses station before going back to the break room. There, he texted his friend saying he was done for the night and would meet him at the theatre. He took his bottle of orange juice out of the refrigerator and drank the last bit.

Entering AMC River East, Derek saw his two friends standing at the television looking at the showings.

"Hey!" Derek said as he approached.

Gavin Holbrook turned and said, "Yo!"

Scarlett Davis asked, "How's it going, Derek?"

"Good, good," Derek replied. "Just finished with my residency."

"How is that going?" Gavin asked, returning his gaze to the television.

"My supervising doctor is impressed with me and my ethic," Derek answered. "My patients are enjoyable to work with. So I say we watch Aquaman."

"Yeah, let's do it," Scarlett agreed, leading the way to the ticket counter.

Standing in line, Derek asked Gavin, "How's it working at NBC?"

"Work's good," Gavin replied, answering a text from another friend. "Mike and Mary Ann are so chill. Van, the other cameraman, is really good at improvising when something happens."

The guy in front of them got his wallet out his coat pocket and a black plastic card fell. So Derek grabbed it.

"Excuse me," Derek tapped the man's shoulder. "You dropped this."

Grabbing the card, the man said, "You are so kind."

Smiling, Derek told the man, "It's no trouble."

Still smiling himself, the man replied, "Not everyone would've returned a credit card."

"It's really-" a sense of familiarity sparked in Derek's mind. "Do I know you? I think I've- we bumped shoulders a few weeks back."

"You gave me my wallet back," the man replied, his smile reforming. "What a small world. Coincidence running into you again."

The man's female friend said, "Coincidence? Or something else?"

"Forgive my sister," the man said with an embarrassed smile. "Amelia likes to play matchmaker. I'm Johnathan."

"I'm Derek."

"Well, Derek, thank you again for returning my card."

With that, the man, Johnathan, turned back around with his sister and moved forward in the line.

Disbelieved, Scarlett took out her cell phone and texted Derek, 'Ask him out! He is so interested!'

Derek looked at his phone when the vibration buzzed, and texted Scarlett, 'I don't think I'm ready'

'You obviously like him. You won't get a chance with this guy again. Do it before I do'

Derek turned and looked blankly at Scarlett for but a brief moment. He then shoved his phone back into his pocket and said to Gavin, "Sucks that you couldn't get Thanksgiving off. But at least you'll be home for Christmas."

Gavin was about to provide reply, but Scarlett said, "Excuse me, Johnathan. Hi. As you could probably tell, Derek is a bit shy."

Derek smacked Scarlett's back, which went ignored. Johnathan's green eyes connected with Derek's brown orbs.

With a smirk forming and his eyes ever trained on Derek's, Johnathan said to Scarlett, "Well this my number. Why don't you give it to Derek and have him call me when he's ready? Do you think he'd agree to that?"

Johnathan didn't know even wait for a reply. He and his sister turned back to the lady at the counter and bought movie tickets.

Scarlett smiled at Derek. Derek shook his head and told her, "You're unbelievable."

Derek smiled at the man before him, grabbing him in a hug and asked, "How ya doing, Hank?"

Hugging the younger man, Hank answered, "I'm good, li'l bro. I'm good. You waitin' fa luggage?"

"No. Carried on this duffle and my backpack."

"A'ight, let's go."

Once on his car, Hank asked, "How ya doin' in school, Derry?"

"School's going great. Aced my midterms and the doctors are fantastic to work with. How are the kids?"

"They doin' a'ight. Both of 'em a waitin' fa you at mom n dad's. Anthony's real excited to see you, man. Jules is sayin' she's spendin' the night witchu."

Derek let out a small laugh and replied, "I miss them, too. Is Anthony still close with his friend Austin?"

"Austin comes by a bit. He's a coo kid. Anthony ain't mention no other kiss."

Derek nodded before responding, "Anthony looks more like his mom, which will help him getting tail when he's older."

Hank laughed and punched his little brother's thigh, "Fuck you, man. I! Am! The hottest man! In North Carolinaaaa!"

Derek laughed with his big brother, but retorted, "Second to me. Now that I'm here."

"I guess that's true, pretty boy. Tyrone said Ken's back, too."

Unfazed, Derek replied, "Yeah, Quentin told me yesterday. I told him it's fine, whatever."

"You even seen that foo since y'all--"

"No. I tried but he was acting like a child when I asked him to pick up his things."

"Yeah, I neva did like Ken. You coulda had some betta guy on ya arm if you juss wen out wit- wuts-is-face- Marco. Marco, he a'ight."

Derek rolled his eyes and told his brother, "Marco also slapped my ass nonstop. I hate being objectified. I am--"

"Yeah, yeah, you a person, not a plaything or whateva. It was high schoo, though, man. All teenage boys is horny as fuck. Ain't Marco's fault."

"Yeah, I guess. But I was already falling for Ken when Marco came into the picture."

Surrendering, Hank said, "A'ight. A'ight."

"Why are you so worried about me seeing Ken?"

"I ain't worried, li'l bro. What? I ain't."

Derek turned his gaze back to the road ahead and said, "Okay."

"You been seein' anyone?"

"No. Been too busy with school and my residency."

"You at least meet somebody?"

"Sort of. A guy gave me his number a couple weeks ago."

Grinning, Hank called, "Ah, that's ma boy! He good to you?"

"What? I don't call him for hookups. I don't call him at all. I've never called him."

"Why not? Why ain'tchu callin' him up?"

"I guess... well I have no idea, to be honest."

"Derry, you always been the type that ain't hookin' up. Y'ain't like that. So why not go steady wit the guy? You scared or somethin'?"

"I- I guess so."

"S'okay to be scared, Derry. Ken was the only guy y'eva did anythin' wit. Y'ain't even had time ta figa out who you are. I betchu still ain't have a clue how ta be ya own man. So maybe it's good y'ain't callin' up this new guy. Take time to grow in here."

Hank had reached one hand over, still keeping his eyes in the road, and patted his kid brother's chest for a second.

"Thanks, Hank. When did you get so smart?"

Hank laughed and replied, "I ain't got no fancy medical degree but I'd still kick ya sorry ass in here," while tapping his temple. "If you think ya ready fa 'notha guy, take this new guy on a date. Ain't nobody sayin' how fast or slow y'have ta go. It ain't workin' out, dump his ass. Ya smart, Derry."

"Well, Johnathan seemed nice. He was pretty hot, too."

Smiling, Hank asked, "He white, ain't he?"

Shyly smiling, Derek replied, "So what if he is."

Hank chuckled and told his little brother, "Derry, y'always had a thing fa them white boys."

"Hey! I like blacks and Latinos and Asians, too."

"Yeah, okay."

Derek rolled his eyes while smiling. Then he asked, "How's business?"

Hank shrugged one shoulder nonchalantly, "S'a'ight. Spoke wit Calinda Donaldson, hired her to balance the books in the new year."

Derek nodded, "Good that you're planning ahead."

"Lass month I hired Robbie to replace Ricky. S'workin' real good. Robbie's a real hard worker, man. Gets jobs done real quick."

"Robbie?" Derek said to himself, remembering his high school friend. "How is Robbie?"

"He's real good, man. 'Cited to be a daddy. Been seein' Heather Ling, she's pregnant. He asked if you planned to come. Think he wants to see you. You know it's good for friends to keep in touch instead of juss seein' each other's Facebook posts. Robbie was one yo best friends in high school, man."

"Okay, I already feel bad enough. Does Robbie know when I'm coming in?"

"I ain't mention that."

"Good, I'll go surprise him later. Gimme his address."

Keeping his eyes on the road, Hank took his phone out of the cup holder and unlocked it. Upon doing so he handed the device to his little brother.

After copying the aforementioned address, Derek put his big brother's cell phone back in the cup holder and asked, "How are things with Lola?"

"We tryin' fa 'notha kid. Says she wants 'notha two."

"Hey, that's awesome, Hank!"

"Yeah, we already thinkin' of names. We both like Evan for a boy. For a girl I like Cindy, but Lola likes Mika."

Hank parked in his parents' driveway just then. Upon entering his childhood home, Derek called, "Mama! I'm hoooome!"

A very little girl came running out of the kitchen, an older but still young boy right behind her.

"Uncle Derek!" both children screamed before jumping up into his open arms.

Julianne was in Derek's left arm and Anthony in his right. He kissed both their cheek, setting himself to kneel on the hardwood floor.

"If you promise not to tell your dad, I'll give each of you some gummy bears later."

Derek said it loud enough that he knew his older brother would hear. Hank did. He pressed his lips to his wife's hair to hide his smile and to try repressing his laugh.

Anthony leaned his face to his uncle's ear and whispered, "Okay."

Derek loosened his embrace, but his niece and nephew remained up close to him.

"Uncle Derek, did you fly here by plane?" Julianne asked.

"That I did, Jules," Derek answered the four-year-old girl. "Where does Uncle Derek live again?"

"Chicago," Julianne answered in a small voice.

"That's right. I flew here from Chicago. Can you two take my bags upstairs to my room?" Derek whispered, "The gummy bears are buried in the duffle. Quickly eat a little before coming back down."

The two children giggled secretly as they ran upstairs hastily, each carrying a bag.

Walking into a warm hug, Lola said to her brother-in-law, "Welcome home, Derek. And you know we wouldn't have minded if you gave 'em candy right here."

Derek laughed as he stepped out of the welcoming hug and replied, "I know. But this way they think I'm even more awesome than I really am."

Hank and his wife laughed along with Derek until Mrs. Webber said, "Hey baby."

Derek stepped into his mom's hug and replied, "Hey mama. It's good to be home."

"Aww, it's so good to hold my baby! You feel bigga. You been workin' out?"

"Yeah, gotta attract a new boyfriend somehow, right? Hey dad."

Hugging the youngest of his offspring, Mr. Webber asked, "How was the flight, Derry?"

"Was a bit long. Sat by this big guy who kept needing to use the restroom so I had to stand every time."

Mr. Webber snorted before his wife said, "Now come, dinna's ready."

While carving the beef roast his wife had prepared, Mr. Webber said to his son, "Henry, take the ice cream out to thaw a bit, wouldja."

As Hank did so, Lola asked Derek, "What's new with you, Derry?"

"Not much," Derek replied as he gave the no of mashed potatoes a stir. "A few weeks ago this guy gave me his number, but I haven't called him yet. Hank just convinced me to call him, though. I'll probably call him tonight."

Smiling, Mrs. Webber asked, "S'that right, baby? What's his name?"

"His name is Johnathan, mama."

Mr. Webber then asked, "How'dja meet this fella?"

"A couple of months ago I was leaving a restaurant with my friend Nina and we bumped each other. Ran into him a few weeks later at the movies. He indirectly gave me his number."

Grinning at her youngest, Mrs. Webber told Derek, "Ain't coincidence runnin' into him twice. I think you was destined to meet Johnathan."

"Aw c'mon, mama. You know I don't believe in that."

"It don't matta. Worked out that way now did'nit."

"I think ya ma's right," Mr. Webber chimed in. "Now hands togetha. Hank?"

With everybody around table joined by hand, they all bowed their hands as Hank said grace, "Lawd, we thank you fa puttin' us yo good Earth. We thank you fa blessin' us wit good family. We thank you fa guidin' us along ah paths. And we thank you fa the food we 'bout ta recieve. In Jesus' name, Amen."

After a chorus of 'Amen', Mr. Webber announced, "Dig in!"

While everyone was filling their plates, Mrs. Webber asked, "So tell me 'bout this Johnathan."

Derek shrugged, "I don't know anything about him, really. I spoke to him for two minutes at most. He's just a few inches taller than me, probably six-three. He's got short hair, dirty blonde. Big green eyes. Great shape. I'd guess he's between twenty-seven and thirty."

"Not much older than you," Mr. Webber observed. "What does he do?"

"I don't know, dad. Who's picking Jemma and Kevin up tomorrow?"

"We were hoping you would," Mr. Webber replied. "Henry, ya mom, and I have work when her flight lands. If you don't wanna she's fine with takin' a cab."

"I'll pick her up. Mm, so good to taste your roast again, mama."

Mrs. Webber smiled at Derek, "So good to have my baby home again. You call any o' ya friends?"

Derek swallowed a bite of asparagus before answering, "I'm meeting Sylvia, Chelle, Brent, Mitch, and Evelyn and Tiana at Kellan's at ten. Before that I'm going over to Robbie's, I'll probably ask him to go to Kellan's with me,"

Mrs. Webber nodded as she sliced a piece of carrot. "You driving?"

"Yeah I thought I'd take one of your cars. It's only a couple of beers, I won't drive impaired."

Mr. Webber smiled, "Course, Derry."

After dinner, Derek sat on the couch watching Finding Dory with his niece and nephew on either side of him, snuggled close to his side. During the animated film Julianne had fallen asleep, so Hank carried her up to the guest room. Derek handed the iPad to his nephew, who stopped watching Dory I favour of playing whatever game he was into.

After unpacking his duffle, putting his clothing into his old dresser, Derek brought his toiletries into the bathroom where Lola was combing her 'fro to perfection.

Lola suddenly smiled and told Derek, "My cousin Isaac asked if you really were single."

Beginning to comb his long ethnic hair that was full of hair wax, Derek replied, "Well I'm not interested in a long distance relationship."

"Yeah, I told him that. We're off home now. Welcome home, Derry. G'night."

A half hour later Derek was about to ring Robbie's buzzer but another resident opened the entrance from the inside to leave. Derek was happy with this, he'd surprise Robbie fully now.

Derek took the stairs up to the third floor, walking two steps up at a time, loving the burn of his thighs and glutes.

After knocking on apartment 305, Derek held his cell phone close to the peep hole so whoever peered through the other side would see only the camera lens.

Upon hearing the deadbolt slide unlocked, Derek held his arms wide open.

His brown eyes widening in surprise and his smile of happiness forming, Robbie said, "Derry!? What the fuck, man!"

Hugging his old friend tightly, Derek said, "Hey Robbie! How's it going, man?"

Still grinning like mad and hugging the black man, Robbie replied, "Good. I'm good. Wha- when did you get in?"

Derek set his feet down off his toes as he stepped out of the embrace, "Like, three hours ago. Missed you, buddy."

"Come in, come in," Robbie led the way into the apartment. "S'good to see you, Derry. Surprised as hell."

"Yeah, well, Hank said you'd asked about me. We can't fizzle like that again."

"Agreed. Derry, this is my girl Heather Ling."

The Asian woman stood from the sofa and said, "I remember you from high school."

Smiling and shaking the woman's hand, Derek responded, "Yeah, you were a year ahead of us. I think we had AP biology together."

"Mr. Ricard, right?" Heather asked. "His angry rants were my favourite!"

Laughing with the woman, Derek agreed, "Right!? Especially when someone answered intentionally wrong."

"Hey," Heather sudd n said, "welcome home."

"Oh!" Derek cried, grabbing both Robbie and Heather in a hug. "Congrats! You're gonna be parents! How far along are you? You're already beginning to show."

"I am four months along," Heather answered with excitement.

"So you're due in about June?"

Robbie replied, "Dr. Liri says June 13."

Derek clapped Robbie's back and said, "I still can't believe Roberto Javier Deluca is gonna be a dad!"

Smiling with pride, Robbie replied, "I know, man. I always swore I wouldn't have kids, didn't I? Now here I am, expecting, after seven months of trying. Want something to drink, Derry?"

"Just water, please," Derek answered as he seated himself on the sofa. "Hey, I'm going out for a couple with a few from school at ten. You guys should come."

Derek could hear Robbie filling a glass from a Brita jug as the Latino called back, "Yeah I'm down! Heather?"

Heather smiled, "You guys go ahead. It's your high school friends. My back is a bit tense anyway. Can you grab me a ginger ale? I'm a bit nauseous, too."

"What do you do, Heather?" Derek asked respectfully.

"I'm a junior accountant at BMK," the Asian woman answered. "Robbie's mentioned you a few times. You're studying to be an optometrist?"

"Close," Derek said as Robbie handed him a glass. "Thank you. I'm studying to be an ophthalmologist. A year and a half to go."

After sipping from her bottle of soda, Heather asked, "Where are you doing your residency?"

"Four places," Derek said. "The university, Bernard Mitchell Hospital, Comer Children's Hospital, and the Centre for Care and Research."

"What do you do in your residency?" Robbie asked.

"A lot. But I love it. I do exams, fill vision prescriptions, assist with diagnoses, assist with disease treatments, assist in surgeries, supervise first-year residents, and occasionally assist professors. I once supervised a chemotherapy session for a patient with retinal blastoma."

"God damn," Robbie laughed, "how'd you have time for-"

When Robbie cut himself off, Derek smiled and asked, "Time for Ken?"

Visually apologetic, Robbie said, "Shit, Derry, I'm sorry. I wasn't think--"

Derek waved his hand, "It's fine. Really. I'm over Ken. I made it work. I always did my best to surprise him by asking other residents to cover a shift or fibbing about my schedule. I was always horny so I initiated sex when I wanted no matter how tired I was. I make time for romance because I know I'm not the only one in the relationship."

Uneasily, yet hearing his friend say that he was over the guy, Robbie asked, "Were you guys in a dry spell when he- when he cheated?"

"No. His cheating baffled me for the longest time. We'd had sex the night before. But I stopped wondering why he did it a long time ago. I guess he was just looking for some sort of thrill."

"I'm sorry, man," Robbie told his friend, clapping his back.

"Thanks. Have you guys thought of baby names?"

Grinning, Robbie looked at his girlfriend and replied, "I have. She thinks it's too early."

Heather rolled her eyes and explained, "I was raised with the belief that naming your children before they're born will result in them not knowing who they are as they grow, where they're going."

Laughing, Robbie told her, "We're thinking of names! That's not naming them!"

"Agreeing on a name is naming them!" Heather said loudly, obviously tired of this conversation.

"No it's not, babe," Robbie replied softly, though his smile was still there. "We'll agree on a girl's name and a boy's name. Since we won't be finding out the gender until birth, it's not technically naming them."

Heather protested, "Just because we won't be knowing the gender doesn't mean we're not naming the baby. Whether it's a boy or a girl, it'll have a name chosen before its born."

"Derek, tell her," Robbie pleaded.

Derek laughed in disbelief and said, "Fuck that. I'm not getting in the middle of this. Now let's go. We're all meeting at Kellan's. It was nice formally meeting you, Heather."

Once Robbie seated himself in the passenger seat, Derek asked him, "So what names have you thought of?"

"Promise she won't find out?"

Derek suddenly laughed and said, "Roberto Deluca is scared of a girl. The Roberto Deluca is scared of a girl."

"Fuck you, dude. Heather is scary. If it's a boy I wanna name him William because of all the nicknames. And Juanita if it's a girl."

"Listen, Bertie, I--"

"Uh-oh," Robbie interrupted. "Must be some'n big if we're using childhood nicknames."

"Bertie," Derek continued, taking one hand off the steering wheel in favour of grabbing his friend's.

The two only ever reserved hand holding to things of the greatest, utmost importance. Fearful now, Robbie asked, "What? What is it, Derry?"

"How did we drift apart this badly?" Derek asked, taking his eyes off the road for but a millisecond to glance at his once best friend, brother and even. "The last time we talked before tonight was three years ago. We used to spend every fucking day together when we were kids."

"We used to subconsciously cuddle in sleepovers," Robbie continued his friends thoughts.

"You used to kick anyone's ass for harassing me. What happened to us? How did we drift so far apart? Why did we stop trying to keep in touch?"

"Maybe because we had to try to begin with. It's natural for people to drift apart. We just become different people. But I'm glad you came tonight. I missed you, buddy."

Derek gave Robbie's hand a squeeze before releasing the hand to parallel park.

In the bar, Derek immediately recognized Evelyn's blonde bob in the dimly lit establishment. Beside her was her fiancée Tiana's long brown hair.

"Derry!" Evelyn cried with excitement as she rose from her chair and ran toward the black man.

"Hey Ev!" Derek said after the woman jumped into his arms.

The two could feel another set of arms embrace them both as Evelyn told Derek, "You look great!"

Tiana pressed her puckered lips to Derek's cheek and the foursome sat down at the table.

"Hey Rob," Tiana said to the Latino. "How's Heather?"

"She's real good," Rob answered.

Just then Derek saw the door to the bar open and two of his other high school friends walked in.

Derek stood and shouted in his best Japanese accent, "Kooon'nichiwaaa! Mitsuru!!!"

The tall Japanese man laughed as he hugged Derek.

"Hey Derek," Rochelle said as Derek came in for a hug.

A waitress came by the table and asked if they were ready to order drinks.

Derek smiled at her and answered, "We're waiting for a couple more friends."

"How long are you home?" Mitch asked.

"I fly back out on the twenty-sixth," Derek answered. "So what's new with everyone?"

Rochelle said with excitement, "Linus proposed last week!"

Rochelle had her hand sitting in the middle of the table, so everyone was leaning in and appreciating the engagement ring resting on her finger.

Evelyn gushed, "That is so beautiful!"

"Hey!" a new female voice cried rig by Derek's ear as the woman suddenly hugged Derek from behind. "Oh, my god! Congrats, Chelle!"

Derek turned in the embrace, already recognizing the voice, and said, "Sylvia!"

The brunette kissed Derek's cheek before she took a seat in the other side of Mitch.

Tiana announced, "Evelyn and I are close to adopting!"

Evelyn continued, "For the past three weeks we've been visiting this boy named Charlie. Cutest little guy ever! He's six, curly black hair, and the deepest brown eyes you'll see. This Sunday was his first time visiting our apartment. Charlie loved the pit bull and goldfish."

Sylvia cooed, "Aww! I hope it works out, guys."

"Hey guys!" Derek recognized Brent's voice, so he stood, to which Brent said, "Darius Michaelius Webbius! The prodigal son returns."

Derek laughed as he gave his friend a hug, inching his fingers to the man's armpit.

"Hey!" Brent called, flinching away.

Derek spent the next hour and a half with his friends, talking, laughing, catching up, and sipping beers. Rochelle was the first to announce that she had to go because she had work in the morning.

Derek clapped Robbie's back and asked, "You ready?"

The whole group gave each other hugs and promises to hang out again before each went back to wherever they now lived.

While driving Robbie home, Derek's cell phone rang. He asked the Latino to check who it was.

"Umm... it's- it's Ken."

Derek grabbed the device and slid the bar to accept the call and put it on speaker.

"Hey Ken," Derek said.

"H-hey Derek," Ken replied. "I'm a little surprised you accepted my call."

"Yeah, I see no point in being childish about the breakup. What's up?"

"I got home yesterday. I cleaned out some stuff in my room and there's a box of your stuff here. I can drop it off tomorrow if you'd like."

"I can pick it up after I've dropped Robbie off if that works."


"We went out for drinks with friends."

"Oh. Then sure, you can pick it up tonight. Later."

After Derek ended the call, Robbie said, "Sorry, man. How d'you feel?"

Derek smiled, "I'm fine. I'm actually kind of glad that he's no longer behaving like a jackass."

"He was a jackass before?"

"After the breakup he wouldn't return my calls or texts. I had a box of his things for him to pick up, but he never. So I had to send the box by mail to the new address I got from his sister."

"Never imagined Ken to be so childish."

"He was the unfaithful one and he didn't have the balls to own up to it."

By then Derek had parked, so Robbie said, "Well thanks for tonight, Derry. I'll come by your parents some time this week."

"Promise we'll call at least once a week, okay? I'm not going another three years without talking to you."

Robbie smiled and replied, "Yeah. We'll even FaceTime or Skype or something. You'll be an uncle to my kids. See you around."

Eleven minutes later Derek softly knocked on the door of the Frasier house. Not even five seconds later the door opened. Kenneth Frasier still looked as gorgeous as Derek remembered. His curly blonde hair, once a short buzz, now laid down to his ears. His blue eyes no longer held that brilliant shine, but now bore less meaning.

"Derek," Ken tried to smile. It was forced. "Come in. You look good."

"Thanks," Derek forced the reply. "You're growing your hair out."

"Yeah. I'm actually thinking of bleaching it white. You never got yours braided and cut like you'd talked about."

"No. I like it like this. It's a lot of work to style but I don't mind."

"You remind of that model, but darker. God, what's his name. Cohé something. Anyway, your box is up in my room. You got here a lot sooner than I expected."

While following the man upstairs, Derek asked, "How's work going?"

"Work's great. I'm actually being considered for a promotion because a senior tech is moving to Berlin. It's between me and Clara. You remember her."

"Yeah, I-"

Derek had suddenly stopped talking. He'd entered Ken's bedroom. Nothing had changed. The same green bed covers, the same posters on the blue walls, everything. Even the old Mac desktop still sat on the desk.

Ken noticed Derek looking over everything. He said quietly, "A lot of memories, huh?"

Derek didn't answer right away. He reached his hand out to the top of the bureau where a photo sat. The photo depicted twelve people, six high school couples, dressed to the nines in cute couple poses before their junior prom.

Finally, Derek said, "This is a lot more emotions than I thought I would feel coming here tonight. Can we talk?"

Though his throat was tight with emotion, Ken answered, "Of course. Derek, I will always be as sorry as I can be for what I did to you. It was selfish, horrible, and destructive of me to have been adulterous."

"Ken, you were my first kiss, my first date, my first everything. Did I mean so little to you?"

"No," Ken breathed. "You meant everything to me, Derek. You were my firsts, too."

"Then why?"

"I- I don't- I don't really know, Derek. I guess I felt I should've done more exploring before settling down. I got freaked out when I found the engagement ring."

Shocked, Derek asked, "You found it?"

Ken nodded before replying, "I was trying on one of your jackets for the company banquet and I felt the box in the breast pocket. It was all my fault, Derek. I thought that I was too young to get married, to fully commit myself to one for the rest of my life."

"You regret it?"

"Fuck yes I regret it. I hurt the love of my life. I ruined my chance at happiness. But if you offer me another chance I won't take it. I will never forgive myself. Do you have any regrets regarding me?"

Derek's smile bore much emotion. He was thankful he had no tears left pertaining to this subject.

"No. No regrets. You helped me figure out who I am. You helped me learn where I want to go and who I want to be."

"Good," Ken's smile was full of emotion, too. "Derek, you're my first love."

"I will always love you, too, Ken."

Ken laughed an emotional laugh as he stepped into Derek's open arms.

Derek sat the cardboard box on his bed and was about to start going through the items in it, but a thought occurred to him. He took his wallet out of his back pocket and took a paper card from one of the flaps.

Twelve-eleven Derek noted the time in his phone. So it'll be eleven-eleven in Chicago. Is it still so late to call Johnathan? No it's not. Yes it is. Just call him tomorrow. But I'll be so busy tomorrow I'll forget. No I won't. Okay, I'll send a text. But that'll make me look like a shy little bitch. Just call and leave a voicemail.

Derek dialled the number, copying it off the card.

The phone rang twice and then Johnathan's voice suddenly said, "Hello?"

Surprised, Derek replied, "H-hey Johnathan. You probably don't remem--"

"Derek, right?" Johnathan asked.

Surprised as fuck, Derek responded, "I- yeah. I'm Derek. You remember me?"

Johnathan laughed over the line and answered, "Of course I remember you. Stunning smile, beautiful face, sexy body."

"Oh," Derek said shyly yet with a smile. "Thank you. Hey, I'm sorry for calling so late."

Johnathan laughed again and told Derek, "It's about quarter after six. I'm in La Rochelle."

Mildly surprised, Derek asked, "You're in France? Then I'm sorry for calling so early."

Johnathan laughed again, "Don't worry about it, we're early risers here."

"Oh, okay. Good. Are you on vacation?"

"Sort of. My- brother lives here and it's his birthday tomorrow. But I don't think you called me to talk about my brother."

"Umm, no. I- I wanted to ask you on a date when I get back to Chicago."

Derek could practically hear the smile forming on the man's face. "Is that so?"


"Well what makes you think I'm interested in that?"

Derek could still hear the smile widening. So he replied, "Well you gave me your number. And you just called my smile stunning. And I can tell you're smiling right now."

"Yeah? How can you tell?"

"'Cause mama raised a mind reader."

"Oh. Well my mama warned me about witchcraft."

Derek laughed and replied, "For some reason I think you ignored some of your mom's rules. So when should I pick you up?"

Johnathan laughed again before replying, "How about November twenty-eighth at eight?"

Derek smiled, "Yeah, that works."

"Good. Want to a talk a bit more?"

Derek's smile grew into a grin. "Sure. I'd- I'd like that."

"So you're not in Chicago at the moment."

"No, I'm in Raleigh visiting family for Thanksgiving."

"That's nice. Do you have a big family?"

"Yeah, I guess. A brother, a sister, a niece, a nephew, six aunts and uncles, about thirteen cousins. Everybody's coming over to my parents for Thanksgiving since my grandparents died, so it's nice to catch up with everybody."

"That is a big family. Are you comfortable around them?"

Confused, Derek replied, "Comfortable? Oh, is that your way of asking if I'm out?"

Johnathan chuckled and answered, "Yes. Yes it is."

"Well yes, I'm out. I came out of the closet when I was sixteen."

"How did your family take it?"

"My parents were really accepting. They talked to me about my happiness, my physical safety, safe sex, and ignoring hateful people. My brother and sister already suspected so they were not surprised. The rest of my family had no choice but to accept it because my dad is the oldest of his siblings and my mom can have a right cross attitude. I've never had any problems with my family. How about you, are you out?"

Johnathan chuckled before replying, "Umm, I kind of had no choice when my mom caught a guy fucking me as I fucked my girlfriend."

"Oh. Ohhh. You're bi."

"I am. Is that- is that going to be okay with you?"

"Yeah! I mean it's not like we're official or even dating right now. You can see whomever you want and I can, too. Was your most recent relationship with a guy or a girl?"

"It was a woman. Ended two years ago. When was your last relationship?"

"My last relationship ended two months ago."

"Oh. Damn. You're already looking to start another?"

"Well I'm interested in dating now. Whether that turns into more is to be seen. Are you from France?"

"No. My ancestors are from England. My brother lives in La Rochelle with his wife. What sorts of relationships do you have with your siblings?"

"I've always been really close with them. They've never judged my sexuality, they always had open arms for me. Are you close with your siblings?"

"Yeah. You saw me with Amelia at the cinema. We share a house in Chicago, and we get along magnificently. Same with Adam, only he lives here in France. What are your siblings' names?"

"I'm the youngest. My brother Hank is the middle child. And my sister Jemma is the eldest."

"Are the typical spoilt runt of the pack?" Johnathan asked, the teasing evident in his voice.

"No!" Derek laughed. "Well, not anymore, I guess. When I was in high school Hank already owned a construction business so I'd ask him for money even though I'd already been given some by my parents. I used the money for dates or gifts."

Johnathan laughed then, and said, "You conniving shit."

"I guess I was. Are you the youngest?"

"No, I'm the middle. Adam is the youngest and Amelia is the eldest. And no, before you ask, Adam is no rotten brat like yourself."

"Mm, you must be so proud. Listen, I am tired as hell. Before I go to bed I'd like to ask if I can call again tomorrow."

"I would like that very much, Derek. I look forward to hearing your tender voice again."

"Hello Mrs. Leighton," Derek greeted lady as he entered the room.

"Hello Derek," the lady greeted. "Dr. Flanning."

"How are you?" Derek asked pleasantly.

The lady smiled as she brushed a curly lock of brown hair from her forehead, "Oh I'm just fine, young man. Didja have a wonderful Thanksgiving?"

"I had a great Thanksgiving, thank you. It was so good to see my family. Did your family come in for the holiday?"

"Three of my kids did. But my daughter Victoria couldn't. She promises to be here for Christmas so that's okay."

"Good. Mrs. Leighton, this is Cassandra Mannon, a fellow ophthalmology student of mine. She'll be running your examination under my supervision if that is okay with you."

Slightly surprised, Mrs. Leighton replied, "Oh. Ms. Mannon, do you have much experience with corneal dystrophy?"

"Umm, not practical experience," the female student answered confidently. "But I've read up on the dystrophy a lot and have studied your case as part of my residency."

Still slightly unsure, Mrs. Leighton asked, "Is that right? When was I diagnosed?"

"In June 2017, ma'am," Cassandra replied.

"And you'll be supervising, Derek?" Mrs. Leighton.

"I promise I'll be breathing down her shoulder," Derek answered with humour.

Mrs. Leighton laughed and responded, "Oh, lord, don't do that to the poor girl. Okay, let's get this over with, Ms. Mannon."

"Certainly, ma'am," Cassandra said while taking a seat in front of the patient. "Mrs. Leighton, have you experienced any changes in your vision since your last visit?"

Shaking her head softly, Mrs. Leighton replied, "Nope, no changes."

Fifteen minutes later Cassandra was doing a physical examination of the patient's eyes using a phoropter.

"Dystrophy appears to be spreading from the descemet membrane to the corneal stroma," Cassandra stated, still looking through the lenses. "I'm seeing traces of extraneous substance here that is not in the reports."

Dr. Flanning gently asked Cassandra to rise from the seat and he took a look. "It appears, Mrs. Leighton, that Cassandra is right. I am sorry to say that the drops are not as effective as we'd hoped. The only other procedure to fight the dystrophy is to do a corneal transplant."

Appalled, Mrs. Leighton asked, "I'd receive parts from another's eyes?"

"Yes, I'm sorry if that raises concerns," Derek told the woman.

"Where- who would be the donor?"

Derek replied, "I'm afraid we don't know that, Mrs. Leighton. The donated eyes would have to be fresh, obviously, and the donor must be free of disease and illness to better the chances of a successful operation."

"What- what risks are involved with this?"

Derek answered again, "Risks include graft rejection, detachment or displacement of the grafts, and high chances of infection due to the slow healing process."

"Is that true, Dr. Flanning?" the woman asked.

The man smiled at his patient and answered, "Derek Webber is the smartest student to have ever had residency here. He's correct. Graft rejection, detachment, or displacement can occur decades after surgery. There is a twenty percent chance of either happening. If you decide to have the operation, you would be on antibiotic eye drops for a long time. But that's a minor thing compared to not being able to see."

Mrs. Leighton nodded solemnly before asking, "How long should I expect to wait for an operation?"

"All depends on the donors," Dr. Flanning said. "You would be third on the list if you agree. Derek, Cassandra, you are free to go. I think you've earned a night of rest."

While standing at his locker, Cassandra asked Derek, "Any plans for tonight?"

While typing a reply to a text from Nina, Derek answered, "I have a date tonight! It's, like, two hours from now so I've got loads of time to go home and shower."

"Yeah? What's his name? Where'd you meet him?"

"His name is Johnathan, and I met him at the movie theatre. What about you, what's up tonight?"

"Uh-uh," Cassandra said with humour. "Tell me about Johnathan!"

"He's tall! Dreamily tall. He wore well-fitting clothes that showed off his muscular chest and cut stomach. Damn, he's hot as fuck! Dirty blonde hair and green eyes. God, he's so cute, too!"

"How old is he? What's he like?"

Derek chuckled at the girl's excitement. "I don't know how old he is. I think he's, like, twenty-seven. I don't know, I'm just guessing. I haven't really talked with him much, but he seemed nice, well put together."

"Aww," Cassandra gushed. "I hope the date goes well. Tell me about it in class tomorrow."

"Yeah. Good night, Cass."

An hour later Derek stood in front of his bathroom mirror naked, save for the towel wrapped around his waist. His right hand was holding the bun his hair was currently fixed in, wondering if he should wear his hair up or not.

After turning his head, looking at his face from different angles, Derek huffed and dropped his hand away from his hair. He shook his head, letting his wet shoulder-length hair fall all over the place. Unsatisfied yet again, Derek used his paddle brush to gather his hair to his crown.

After tying the band around the perfect hair bun, Derek grabbed the bottle of body lotion from the sink cupboard. He pumped three squirts into his palm and lathered the cream generously into his firm pectorals, the sparse line of hair across his chest tickling his palms slightly.

After dressing in a pair of blue skinny jeans and a red gingham dress shirt, Derek couldn't decide whether to wear a black jacket, grey jacket, or a black waistcoat. He decided to use the grey jacket. But then he had trouble deciding how many top buttons to leave undone. He wanted to show some skin but also didn't want to seem like a desperate hoe.

"Oh, my god!" Derek chastised himself. "I am not going to seem like a desperate ho!"

So Derek left two top buttons on his shirt undone. He checked himself out in his small full-length mirror, and smiled at himself, liking his appearance. He felt he made the right decision in tying his bushy hair in a tight bun. He turned the back camera of his phone on and snapped a picture of his reflection, then posted the photo to his Instagram account.

'First first date in almost 9 years. Nervous as fuck. Wish me luck!' Derek captioned the photo.

At a red light driving to the northern part of Chicago, Derek grabbed his phone from the cup holder and saw that there were nearly two dozen Instagram like notifications and one comment. Derek unlocked his iPhone and opened the Instagram application. The photo was only posted six minutes prior and already had twenty-two likes. His friend Mitch had commented 'Looking good Derry! You gonna kill it!'

Derek was brought back to reality by the car behind him, honking their horn. So Derek noticed the green light and applied pressure to the gas pedal.

Five minutes later Derek rang the doorbell to the suburban house in the Irving Park neighbourhood.

"Hi!" the woman said animated after opening the door. "Derek, right? You look cuter than I remember."

"Oh. Thanks. And you're Amelia, if I remember correctly."

The woman's smile grew before she said, "Come in. I must apologize for Johnathan, he's late. He's still up in his room getting ready."

"You have a lovely home."

Derek was looking around the finely decorated house as he unwound the green scarf around his neck. What caught his eyes were the dozens and dozens of photographs adorning the ivory-coloured walls. Most looked old. Like, really old. A century old. One photograph in particular held a hundred and ten percent of Derek's interest. It was a black and white photo of Johnathan with his arm around a woman's shoulders.

"Our grandparents," Amelia explained softly. "Burrell and Katherine Hodges. Johnathan sure does look like him, huh?"

"Who is this delicious morsel?" a new male voice said.

A man with black hair cut to a very short buzz joined the two. He slid his arm around Amelia's lower back and kissed the woman's temple.

"David, this is Johnathan's date Derek," Amelia said by introduction. "Derek, my husband David."

David shook Derek's hand and told him, "It is a pleasure."

"I'm- I'm- are you bisexual, too?" Derek couldn't believe the words just spewed out of his mouth.

Both David and Amelia chuckled, then David answered, "No. I just assumed--"

Derek couldn't see it, but Amelia dug her nails into her husband's side.

David continued, "Amelia sometimes surprises me by having a third party join us."

"Oh," Derek said awkwardly. "Oh. No. I- umm..."

"Hey," Johnathan's voice said from the stairs he was descending. "Sorry for the wait. It's just been a while since I went on a proper date. Oh, God, that's really embarrassing. I don't know why I just said that."

Derek laughed for a second before replying, "It's okay. I was nervous before, too. You look magnificent."

And the man did. His dirty blonde hair was parted to the side and gelled. The look honestly reminded Derek of a sixties boy trying to impress his date's dad. But it really was the cutest.

While taking his grey jacket from his forearm and putting it on over his blue pinstriped shirt, Johnathan asked, "Shall we?"

Derek said to Amelia, "Lovely seeing you again. David, awkward meeting you, but have a good evening."

Outside of the house, walking to Derek's car and buttoning his tan trench coat, Johnathan asked, "Why was it awkward to meet David?"

Laughing now, Derek replied, "He called me delicious because he thought Amelia invited me to join them in bed."

"Oh, God," Johnathan groaned. "That's disgusting."

After turning the ignition, Derek responded, "Meh. Whatever makes them happy. So David identifies as straight but allows his wife to invite other men into the bedroom?"

"Yeah, I don't know what's up with that. Tell me a hobby of yours."

"Hmm, let's see... I love to sing. Started when I was a kid, I loved watching the church choir perform every Sunday. I joined the choir when I was five. When I was twelve I taught myself how to play the guitar."

Smiling, Johnathan said, "Self-taught. That's impressive. Sing something for me."

"Right now?" Derek asked, shocked. "While driving?"

"Yeah. Why not? If James Corden is able to, you can, too."

Derek scoffed and said, "I love that you just make me out to be as talented as James Corden."

Johnathan laughed a bit and replied, "Come on! You're just acting all shy all of the sudden."

Derek laughed and said, "Okay! Okay!"

Johnathan waited for a few seconds, just a couple of seconds before his black companion started singing.

"If I die young bury me in satin. Lay me down on a bed of roses. Sink me in the river at dawn. Send me away with the words of a love song."

After a second of silence, Johnathan said, "That was so good! You are a great singer. You naturally have a deep voice, so to hear you sing in a countertenor was beautiful."

Embarrassed, Derek replied, "Thank you. What about you, what are your hobbies?"

"I definitely can't sing, but I love playing the piano."

"What's your favourite piece to play?"

"I have three favourites to play. Prelude Number One by Bach. Mm, Nocturne by Chopin is second. And Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven is third."

"Okay, I don't know any of those, but the names are classical," Derek said with a laugh. "How long've you been playing?"

"My parents put me in piano lessons when I was four."

"How old are you? I just realized I haven't asked you yet."

"Does age matter to you?" Johnathan asked, to which Derek scoffed.

"Oh. Sorry, I thought you were joking because you don't look any older than I am. But no, age doesn't matter to an extent. I just have want to be attracted to you, and you would have to be a nice guy."

Johnathan smiled at Derek and replied, "Good answer. Well I'm twenty-five."

"Hey, I'm twenty-five, too. What do you do for work?"

"My sister and I own a couple of restaurants in New York."

"Oh, that's cool. Why in New York?"

"We lived in Manhattan for five years. We moved here just seven months ago."

"Why'd you move?"

Johnathan shrugged and said, "Just wanted a change of scenery. New York was beautiful and good to us, but we didn't feel it."

"Have you and Amelia always lived together?"

"Umm, there's a two year age difference between us, so she went out on her own for a few years while I was still in high school. Other than that, yeah, we've always been around each other."

"You guys not as close to your brother?"

"Not as close but still close. I mean we flew out to France for his birthday."

"That was really nice of you guys. Where are you from? It sounds like you've moved a bit."

"We're from Denver."

"You go out there to visit your parents often?" Derek asked as he unbuckled his seat belt.

Climbing out of the vehicle with Derek, Johnathan answered, "My parents died a long time ago. A few months after I graduated high school."

Derek had given his car keys to the valet, so with a sympathetic look, he slid his right arm around Johnathan's mid back and told him, "I'm sorry."

Johnathan smiled and kissed Derek's temple before replying, "Thanks. It was a long time ago."

"Welcome to Balena," the host said when Derek and Johnathan walked into the restaurant. "Do you have a reservation?"

"Yes," Derek answered the handsome Latino host. "Two under Webber."

"You're a little early," the host said with a smile. "Luckily we had a party that had to leave pretty quickly earlier. So right this way, gentlemen."

While following the host to a table, Derek leaned in and whispered to Johnathan, "I love this place."

After sitting, the host sat menus on the table and asked, "Shall I inform Amanda of your joining our company, Mr. Hodges?"

Johnathan smiled at the host and answered, "That won't be necessary, Luke. Thank you."

The host nodded with a small smiled and left. Derek looked at Johnathan with his own smile, waiting for an explanation.

"Mind if I ask what that was about?" Derek asked as softly as he could.

"Amanda is the manager. She used to manage one of my restaurants in New York. She still thinks of me as her boss even though she no longer works for me."

"Good evening, gentlemen," a female server greeted. "Oh, hello, Mr. Hodges. Is it the usual then?"

Johnathan looked to Derek with bright eyes and asked, "Are you agreeable to red wine?"

"Yeah, wine would be great."

Johnathan turned back to the server and told her, "The usual, Lucy."

"I had no idea you'd be so famous here," Derek said with a laugh.

"Sorry if it bothers you. So tell me how often you go home to see your family."

"Four times a year. Easter, Fourth, Thanksgiving, and Christmas."

"You go home for Easter?" Johnathan asked with an amused smile.

"Yeah, just to watch my niece and nephew egg hunt. It's become a tradition of mine. They are so cute."

"What are their names?"

"My nephew is Anthony, he's seven. My niece is Julianne but we call her Jules, and she's four."

Just then the server came up with a tray and said, "Here is your wine. Are you ready to order appetizers?"

"May I please have the butternut squash bruschetta?" Derek asked.

Johnathan smiled and said, "I'll have the lamb meatballs."

"How often do you check on your restaurants in New York?" Derek asked after the server left.

"Online, every night," Johnathan replied. "Once a month I fly out there to see personally."

"What are some difficulties you experience with owning restaurants?"

"Not much. I have the best managers running things. My biggest concern is customer satisfaction and complaints, which aren't often. The managers very rarely come to me with problems. Very rarely."

"Biggest issue you've faced?"

"The IRS. One time the tax files were reported incorrectly and that was a big hurdle to get over. But with the help of a big, expensive tax professional, that hiccup was taken care of. So who is your best friend?"

"Hmm... overall, Robbie Deluca. We became friends in junior high and he's always been there for me. He didn't bat an eye when I told him about my sexuality and even kicked some ass when I was bullied about it. We were always affectionate in that we hugged and cuddled a lot, with some hand holding. If he were gay or even bi I'm sure without a doubt we'd be married we were that affectionate. Even when I had a boyfriend and he had a girlfriend we continued to be physically close."

"That sounds so nice," Johnathan said with a warm smile. "I like the sound of Robbie. Did the two of you ever become- intimate?"

Smiling in humour, Derek answered, "No, never. I was never attracted to him. I mean he's one of the hottest guys I've met, but it's only ever been platonic."

Smiling apologetically, Johnathan responded, "My apologies. It just sounded--"

"It's fine," Derek giggled. "You're not the first to make that assumption. Tell me, what is your favourite way to spend a Saturday?"

Smiling with a dreamy look, Johnathan answered, "I'd like to spend a Saturday waking up cuddled up to a warm body, spending hours kissing and snuggling and tickling. Then when we can no longer stave off the hunger we'll both cook a brunch. Maybe pancakes and eggs and bacon. After that we'll lay on the couch all snugly, both silently beating ourselves up over the fattening meal while watching a marathon of Friends. By then it'll be mid afternoon, so we'll go for a nice stroll through a snowy park and have a snowball fight and making snow angels. We will then go to Adina's for hot chocolate and hot soup."

"Oh, my god, I love Adina's!" Derek gushed.

"Right!? They make the best chicken soup on the planet."

Agreeing, Derek replied, "It's even better than my mom's. But if you ever tell her I said that I'll dye your perfect blonde hair pink in your sleep."

Laughing, Johnathan said, "My lips are sealed. Anyway, after Adina's we would continue the Friends marathon in my room where we will fall asleep."

With his own dreamy look, Derek said, "That all sounds so perfect. Marry me."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Johnathan said seriously. "Bitch is just after my money."

Derek couldn't help but to laugh when Johnathan tried to conceal a crooked smile. And Johnathan joined in the laughter a second later.

After sipping his wine, Johnathan told Derek, "You have a beautiful laugh," with a quiet sultry laugh.

Wearing a smirk, "You say that to all your dates?" while raising his own glass to his lips.

"Only to the ones that look stunning," the blonde replied. "Like you do."

Though his face was heating rapidly, Derek asked, "Do you have any pet peeves?"

"Yes," Johnathan replied, making his face as emotionless as possible. "People who can't take a compliment."

Derek rolled his eyes as he swallowed some bruschetta, "Har har."

Johnathan laughed a bit and said, "A pet peeve of mine is people who wear watches but still take their phones out of their pockets to check the time."

"Douchebags," Derek lamented with a smile.

"What's a pet peeve of yours?"

"Mm," Derek thought. "People who say 'No offense' when every single word coming out of their asshole mouth is offensive."

Johnathan laughed and said, "'Asshole mouth'. I like that."

"Looks like you guys enjoyed the appetizers," the server commented. "Are you ready to order entrees?"

"Yes," Derek answered. "I'll have the chicken with a side of carrots, please."

"And I will have the, hmm, skirt steak. Medium rare with sunchokes."

When e server left again, Derek asked his date, "Did you- or do you have a nickname?"

"My sister calls me 'Yah-Yah' because my initials are J, A, H. My high school friends used to call me 'Hancock'."

"Hancock? Oh, because your name is John. Duh."

Johnathan laughed, and then it became louder when Derek rolled his eyes at himself.

This carried on for the next hour and a half. Derek and Johnathan talked, got to know each other, shared some jokes and laughed. One time their fingers touched when they reach for their wine glasses at the same time. They looked to each other and their eyes connected, smiles growing on their faces.

At the end of the meal the two men argued over the bill. Johnathan argued that he was older, so he should pay. Derek's argument was that Johnathan was only older by two weeks so it didn't really count, and that he asked the blonde out so he should pay.

In the end Derek slid his MasterCard into the leather book holding the cheque and handed it to their server as she was passing.

Smiling in disbelief, Johnathan said, "Sneaky. What am I getting myself into?"

Joking, Derek responded, "The sexiest black guy in Chicago."

Johnathan knew Derek was teasing, but he said in a serious tone, "The most beautiful person in the world, you mean."

Derek's face once again warmed up so fast he was sure every other part of his body was losing blood. He was thankful the server came back to their table and handed the cheque book back with the receipt and two chocolates.

While button his coat as they walked through the restaurant, Derek said, "So I was thinking to have a cup of coffee at Cafe Mustache if you're up for it."

Johnathan smiled and agreed. He watched as Derek handed a twenty to the valet after the man handed Derek his car keys.

"Who was your favourite school teacher or college professor and why?" Johnathan asked.

Derek thought, "Hmm... let's see... Mrs. Wrenn was my high school history teacher. She was stern, but not mean, taking no bullshit. She told it like it was, offered help to those who needed it. Though she seemed scary, she wanted students to succeed. If you gloated about getting a high grade she would say, 'Coulda done betta, kid'."

Johnathan then asked, "Worst teacher?"

"My junior high math teacher Mr. Abrams. He was mean, almost to the point of emotional abuse. I always did good in math, but to see and hear him putting others down was infuriating. I was suspended once for calling him an asshole when he told some girl that her test was filled with double digit addition rather than pre-algebra."

"Wow, he sounds horrible," Johnathan breathed. "But it is pretty cool knowing I'm dating one of those heroes who don't wear capes."

Derek laughed at that, and replied, "I am no hero. And you're sounding so sure we're dating."

Confidently, Johnathan said back, "Well I know this first date is still happening, but I already know I'd like a second date."

They were sitting at a red light, so Derek reached over. He grabbed Johnathan's hand and kissed his knuckles.

"I like you a lot, too, Johnathan," Derek said with a smile, returning his hand to the wheel. "Hey, you're cold. Let me--"

Derek had been reaching to turn the heat higher, but Johnathan said, "It won't help. I have a mild case of COPD, so oxygen sometimes isn't carried throughout my body well enough."

Johnathan had taken an inhaler out of his coat pocket to show Derek. Derek gently grasped Johnathan's wrist and said, "I'm so sorry. If it helps, I think you seem like a strong, content man. You don't seem to be held back by this disease."

Johnathan placed his hand on top of Derek's and replied, "This doesn't define me, yes. Thank you for seeing that."

Derek once again put his hand back on the steering wheel and asked, "What is your favourite place in the world?"

"I went on a student exchange for three months in Tokyo. My host family took me to their hometown one weekend, a population of four hundred people. It was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and by a lake. Everybody, literally everybody knew everybody. They looked out for each other. The Amanos, my host family, brought bags and bags full of clothes and food and distributed it all to many houses. We didn't spend a dinner at the inn, we always were invited to a different family's each night."

"That sounds amazing. So you speak Japanese?"

"Yeah. I mean I'm not as fluent as I used to be. Konban anata wa do yatte tanoshinde imasu ka means 'how are you enjoying tonight?' and I'm seriously asking."

Surprised, Derek said, "Oh. I'd say you're pretty damn fluent still. But tonight is going so damn good. I like you a lot more than I expected."

"Well good! I like you a lot, too."

"No shit!" Derek laughed. "You've already asked me for a second date."

"No I didn't. Not yet. But I will."

"I will- keep my phone charged and on whenever you're ready to call then," Derek said as he got out of the car.

While Derek was inserting coins into the car meter, Johnathan gently turned the black man to face him. He slid his hand onto Derek's cheek and leaned down. Their lips touched in a gentle kiss for all of two seconds. After those two seconds, Johnathan slowly pulled away and the two men smiled at each other.


Johnathan could not get another word out. Derek had leaned up quickly, capturing the blonde's lips in another kiss. This kiss, however, was passionate. Their lips brushed against each other with force, and their tongues mingled in exploration. Their hands held firmly onto cloth, trying to find a new closeness.

"Wooh!" a woman's voice shouted, which caused the two men to separate their lips. "You get 'im, girl!"

Johnathan giggled to himself as he rested his forehead against the side of Derek's head. Derek looked and saw three young women passing by. The one with the long red hair flowing out of her hat winked.

"As I was saying," Johnathan said, looking deeply into Derek's brown eyes, "will you please join me for lunch on Saturday?"

Grinning, Derek replied, "Is this you asking me for a second date in the middle of our first?"

"I am courageous, I know."

Derek giggled as he craned his neck up and placed a small kiss on Johnathan's cheek. After the kiss he inserted the last coin into the meter and walked toward the cafe.

"Is that- is that a yes?"

Derek turned his head to look at the blonde, but he still gave no answer. He merely flashed a smirk for a split second before turning back around.

Johnathan whispered, "Ass," to himself before running up his ethnic companion's back. He drove his fingers up the sides of Derek's body into his underarms.

Derek jumped in humour and fright, screaming, "Hey!"

Maintaining his grip on Derek, Johnathan asked, "Will you accompany me for a midday meal on this upcoming weekend?"

Fighting off the laughter, Derek responded, "Ju-just get your finger-fingers out of there! Please."

Resting his chin on Derek's shoulder, Johnathan wriggled his fingers just a bit and asked, "Why? You're not ticklish, are you?"

Laughing hysterically, Derek replied, J-Johnathan! Stop! Please! S-stop!"

Johnathan did stop tickling. He gripped Derek's hips and spun him around so quick Derek didn't know what was what for a second. But he found himself face to face with the gorgeous man. He got lost in the beautiful green eyes and dazzling smile for a moment.

Huskily, Johnathan repeated, "Will you go out with me again?"

Derek dropped his smile, but his eyes bore all the meaning. He answered, "I will. I look forward to it."

Johnathan grinned for a second before giving Derek a small peck on the lips.

Inside the cafe Derek stood by Johnathan's right shoulder blade, holding the blonde close by the hip. Johnathan leaned his body back, pressing the right side of his back against Derek. Because Johnathan was a few inches taller, Derek kept his lips pressed against Johnathan's shoulder.

"What do you want?" Johnathan asked, it was nearly their turn in line.

"A medium decaf latte."

Johnathan reached his right hand back, grabbing Derek's hip and pulling him that much closer. He asked, "Anything to eat?"

Derek shook his head slightly and replied, "Nah, I'm full from dinner."

"Kay. Would you mind finding us a table?"

Derek had no trouble finding a table. He sat at an empty table at the far corner and checked his cell phone. His parents had tried to call earlier but there was no voicemail message, so Derek sent a quick text saying he was on a date and that he'd call tomorrow. He then replied to Nina's text, telling her the date was going really well. He replied to another text, Robbie scheduling a FaceTime call for Friday. The third text was from Hank sending a photo of Anthony and Jules beside a snowman they'd built.

'You're still on the date?' Nina texted again.

Derek quickly typed, 'Yes. Text tmrw'

Derek then opened his Facebook application and contemplated a Friend Request from Shuzheng Huang, a fellow ophthalmology student. Derek decided to hit the Accept button and typed a quick hello to her Wall.

Robbie texted, '7pm?'

Derek sent a text of agreement. He then opened his Instagram application, seeing his photo had received a total of one hundred thirteen Likes and fourteen comments.

Derek didn't have a chance to read the comments because his date sat down beside him. Johnathan placed a paper cup in front of Derek.

"Everyone know you're alive?" Johnathan asked after seeing Derek lay his phone face down on the table.

"Yes. But I've sent my closest friends a photo of you should I go missing tonight."

Johnathan nodded seriously and responded, "If I ask you to spend the night it's not because the grave is already dug."

Derek giggled and said, "I like that you plan ahead."

Johnathan smiled as he leaned in. Their lips met in a chaste kiss.

While the blonde took a sip of his drink, Derek asked, "Who has been the biggest influence in your life?"

"Hmm... probably my aunt Maggie. She never took violence or abuse of any kind. She taught me that nobody has any room in their hearts to be abused, and that we are all beautiful. She taught me to love with every fibre of my being, to be kind to all, and to help whenever I can."

"I noticed you spoke of her in the past tense..."

"Good ear. My aunt Maggie also passed. She had a brain tumour."

"Aww. I'm sorry. It couldn't have been easy losing your parents and your aunt."

"I've accepted it. What is your biggest goal in life right now?"

"Mmm... it would be... to finish ophthalmology school with the highest marks in the university's history."

"Mm," Johnathan nodded, "I'm dating a nerd. How much has med school and ophthalmology cost so far?"

"About... about two hundred ninety-six grand."

Smiling in disbelief, Johnathan said, "Fuck, that's expensive. Did you get a bank loan or your parents, or did you get scholarships?"

Smiling in amusement, Derek replied, "I was so close to getting a scholarship to med school. But another guy beat me by literally point-oh-two in GPA's. So I had to take out a three hundred fifty thousand dollar bank loan."

"How much to ophthalmologists make a year?"

"Average is three hundred grand a year."

"Mm. With living and entertainment expenses, I'd say it'll take about nine or ten years to pay off after graduating."

Nodding in agreement, Derek replied, "Normally, yes, I'd say so. But last year I won a lottery. It wasn't the jackpot, just a million dollars. After taxes I was given a cheque for three hundred fifty-four grand."

Johnathan grinned and responded, "Goddamn you're lucky!"

"Yeah, holy fuck I was worried I'd be in debt and wouldn't be able to properly save money for a home and college funds for my future kids. But I used the winnings to pay off my bank loan, prepaid my apartment rent for a whole year, prepaid my cell phone bill for a whole year, and prepaid my internet bill for a whole year. After that I was left with five grand in my bank account. Now my residency earnings are basically my entertainment and food expenses. With no more loan repayments and big expenses, my savings has been growing."

"What about your car?" Johnathan asked. "How did you get that?"

"It was a gift from my brother for graduating med school. It was his, so it's second hand, but Hank was always careful with it. He drove it up from Raleigh and stayed with me for a couple of days before flying back home."

"That was nice of Hank," the blonde smiled. "Sounds like you guys have a really close relationship. So you want kids."

"Sorry if that freaks you out. It just blurted out. But yes, I want to raise at least three kids."

Johnathan shrugged nonchalantly before saying, "I'm not freaked out. I want kids, too. Whether you and I go anywhere together, become something more, is to be seen. But I'm excited to go on this journey."

Derek flashed a shy smile before leaning toward the blonde and giving him a chaste kiss.

Derek then asked, "What were you like as a kid?"

Amused, Johnathan answered, "I was brave. Stupid, most would say. When I was four I broke my arm hen I fell from a tree. When I was five I broke my leg when I fell from the drain pipe. I broke a couple of ribs when I rolled inside a tire down a hill when I was seven. When I was nine my nose broke trying to stand on my bicycle while it going. Luckily after all of that I learned to catch my falls."

Derek laughed as he asked, "Any scars?"

Wagging his eyebrows, Johnathan answered, "Maybe I'll show you some time."

Derek laughed again and said, "Horndog."

"What were you like as a kid?"

"I was not stupid," Derek replied with a smirk. "But maybe one would say I didn't live as much as you did. I was a sweet, affectionate little guy. I loved to draw and paint, giving my artwork to family and family friends. I would spend a lot of evenings joining my sister on the roof because her window was at the top of the house and watching the sun set and stargazing."

"That sounds so cute!" the blonde gushed. "No wonder you're addicted to affection. I just imagine little Derek, all bushy-haired, leaning against his big sister staring out at the colourful skies."

"Gah!" Derek cried, throwing his head back. "You're such a dork."

Johnathan laughed as he asked, "Is that not how it was?"

"My mom kept my hair buzz cut. But otherwise, yes, I often got snugly with Jemma. And to make it even cuter, I sometimes might have fallen asleep up on the roof."

"Oh, my god!" Johnathan moaned, his heart melting.

"Even cuter yet, Jemma's then boyfriend Andre would sit me between them and they both kept me warm."

Johnathan's heart no longer melted. Instead, it was completely mush.

Before the blonde could moan at the cuteness, Derek asked, "What is a part of the dating process that you dislike?"

"Mmm... Not knowing when to make intimate contact. Everybody is different, so I never ever trust my feelings when I want to reach out and hold their hand. Or go for a kiss. Or maybe I'm kissing too much. I'd been dating a guy for a month once, and I grabbed his hand when we were sitting on his couch watching Ever After. I held his hand for all of two seconds before he gently pulled his hand away."

"Mm," Derek nodded. "I'll make it easy with me. I'm a hoe for tenderness, so it's all fair game."

Johnathan tried to conceal his smile as he raised his right hand up to the tabletop, resting it on Derek's hand.

"Do you cook?" Derek asked, then turned his hand up and secured their fingers together.

"Yes," Johnathan answered after he gave Derek's hand a gentle squeeze. "I've been cooking since I was twelve."

"Yeah? Tell me what you would have cooked tonight if we had this date at your house."

"Let's see... my favourite dinner is rosemary pan-fried chicken breasts with Parmesan crusted potato wedges and brown sugar steamed carrots. And this morning I would've baked a cheesecake with strawberry and blackberry bits. I prefer cheesecakes to be baked with real berries inside rather than be topped with sauce."

"The sound of that whole meal is making me hungry again," Derek said with a chuckle. "How do you have such a hot bod if you eat like that?"

"It's not easy," Johnathan answered smiling. "I run every single day and work out every other day. Your body looks pretty good, too. How do you keep it in shape?"

"Like you I run every day. I also work out five days a week, resting my upper body on Monday's and Friday's."

"Are you a morning runner and evening?"

"I wake up weekday mornings at five to exercise."

"What does your exercise regimen look like, on average?"

"I run about six miles, which usually takes an hour. My apartment complex has a stellar gym so that's where I work out. I do bicep curls, bench presses, lat pulldowns, tricep curls, weighted crunches, cable rows, and repeat in that exact order four times. Then I take a long hot shower, eat breakfast, and drive to school."

"Wow. That's a lot. Well, shall we? You should be waking up in about six and a half hours."

"Okay, if you insist," Derek said with a smile.

But Johnathan could see through the smile. He replied, "Don't worry, we'll see each other again in a few days."

Derek smiled before giving the blonde man another small kiss.

After Derek started the engine, Johnathan said, "Sing me a song."

Derek laughed as he replied, "Not while I'm driving."

Truth be told he could sing while driving, but he was shy still.

Johnathan taunted, "The smart, bright Derek can't multitask?"

"Okay, okay," Derek laughed. "You ass."

"Don't be shy. You have a beautiful voice."

After a few moments, Derek began singing.

"Now, I've heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don't really care for music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing hallelujah





Johnathan's heart soared from the stunning voice and clear diction. He grabbed Derek's knee and gushed, "I will never grow tired of hearing you sing. Sing some mo--"

"No," Derek laughed. "Your turn. Sing the next verse."

"I don't have a voice like you do," Johnathan protested.

"Come on, just sing."

"Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya

She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne, and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the hallelujah





"Oh, my god, that was so good!" Derek all but screamed. "You're right, don't have a voice like I do. Yours is so much better! All deep and captivating. I was so drawn in."

Smiling, Johnathan replied, "Thank you. I don't agree that my voice sounds better, but okay. Are you a movie guy or more into TV shows?"

"Better believe your voice sounds better," Derek said with a giggle. "I'm more of a movie guy. That's why I don't have a TV subscription."

"Mm. What's your favourite movie of all time?"

"Hands down, 12 Angry Men. The 1957 original. Have you seen it?"

Johnathan responded, "Only, like, fourteen dozen times."

"It's so good! Such drama, great characters, excellent acting, powerful dialogue. Do you watch much TV?"

"Not really. My favourite TV show would be Prison Break. It is full of suspense and excitement. Some seasons were better than others, but they continuously brought new content and twists enough to keep me guessing. There were a few moments where I was emotional, to the point of fighting tears. And Wentworth Miller is super hot."

"That he is," Derek agreed while climbing out of the car.

After Johnathan climbed out as well, Derek closed the passenger door for the blonde and grabbed his hand.

Walking hand in hand toward his house, Johnathan told Derek, "I will pick you up at noon on Saturday, okay?"

"Umm, can we make it one o'clock instead? Weekends are my heaven, getting to sleep in. After working out I do homework until noon and shower off."

"Okay," Johnathan agreed, now standing on his front porch. "One o'clock it is. Thank you for tonight, Derek. I really enjoyed myself and getting to know you."

Derek smiled shyly as he grabbed Johnathan's other hand and pulled him closer. He looked up, deep into the blonde's green eyes.

"Yeah," Derek whispered. "My pleasure. I haven't enjoyed myself this much in a long time."

Johnathan leaned down and slid his hand on Derek's hip. He pulled, the black man flush against him. Their lips touched, immediately going into a passionate kiss. Derek's body responded by grabbing Johnathan's coat lapels and pulling the taller man closer, which was physically impossible.

Derek stepped down off his toes, breathless. He looked down at his hands gripping Johnathan's coat. He brushed his fingers against the wool, straightening the fabric. Johnathan, in turn, reached up and tucked a stray lock of curly black hair behind Derek's ear.

"I'll see you on Saturday," Derek said with a smile.

Johnathan planted a kiss on Derek's temple and replied, "At one o'clock."

Derek unwrapped the towel on his head, and his damp hair fell all over. He hung the towel on the towel rack, now completely nude. He went over to the bathroom counter and rubbed lotion all over his body, finding satisfaction in the feeling of his hands traveling over the taut, firm muscles as he usually did.

"Kay, Derek, I'm done!" Vivian MacAllen called from the kitchen. "Soups and pastas are portioned and are in the freezer! I gotta pick up Missy from her dad's, so thanks again!"

While opening the can of Hanz de Fuko hair wax, Derek shouted back, "Okay! Thank you again, Viv! Kiss the girl for me!"

"Hey, my sitter is sick! Would you mind watching Missy tomorrow evening!? I have a date!"

"Yeah! Just bring her by any time tomorrow evening!"

Vivian MacAllen was Derek's neighbour. She was a thirty-two-year-old divorcee single mother. For four years she'd been preparing microwaveable meals for Derek, the black man buying the ingredients she would request. She would cook two dishes, enough to last Derek two weeks, and he would pay her a hundred dollars.

When Derek's hair was full of hair wax he brushed section by section, creating a tamed bush with a side part. After spraying a generous amount of hairspray in his hair, Derek pulled out a pair of purple chinos from his closet. While pulling the trousers up his legs, his buzzer rang.

"Hello?" Derek said, holding the speaker button.

"Hey beautiful," Johnathan's voice responded.

Derek held the button down and said, "Hey! My door is open, come in."

Derek then pressed and held the button to unlock the front entrance. He then went into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water from his Brita. He was sipping from the glass and walking back to his bedroom when his elbow collided with the big steel pot sitting on the dish rack Vivian had used and washed. The glass fell to the floor, shattering, and water went splashing everywhere.

"Shit," Derek whispered to himself as he grabbed the broom from the closet.

Derek was still shirtless and was mopping the water off the floor when Johnathan walked into his apartment. He loved the sight of the black man shirtless; his athletic build, rippling muscles, trimmed chest hair, and a triangle of hair from his navel disappearing in the man's pants.

"Hey," Derek said with a smile, still swiping the mop bath and forth. "Dropped my glass of water."

Johnathan smirked and leaned his shoulder against the hallway wall as he asked, "You goin' out to lunch like this? Because I fully support that decision."

Derek laughed as he passed the blonde to put the mop back in the closet. "Running late, got caught up in homework. Sorry."

"Hey, don't be sorry. I mean if you wanna continue your homework... shirtless... in bed, I don't mind hanging out with you."

Derek laughed again. He slid his hand from Johnathan's wrist, up his arm, to his neck. His eyes shone with a tenderness when his eyes when his palm rested on the blonde's cheek. Instead of kissing him like Johnathan thought he was going to, Derek slapped his cheek a couple of times playfully.

"Glasses are above the toaster if you want something to drink," Derek called, walking to his bedroom. "There's the Brita, orange juice, apple juice, wine, and beer in the fridge!"

"How long you gonna be!?" Johnathan called back while walking into Derek's living room.

"Just a couple of minutes!" Derek replied while sliding socks onto his feet. "S'mot my fault you're so early!"

Johnathan laughed as he responded, "I said I'd pick you up at one! It's twelve-fifty-seven! Twelve-fifty-eight now!"

"Fine!" Derek called with a smile, now standing in his closet. "I'll go shirtless if you're in a rush!"

"Atta boy!" the blonde laughed.

Johnathan was looking at a photo hanging on a wall, Derek's family photo taken when Derek was four, when the black man came out. Derek was now wearing a cobalt blue polo shirt and a pair of black ankle boots. He went up to Johnathan's back, slid his arms around the white man's waist, and sat his chin on the taller man's shoulder.

"You're pretty damn cute in this," Johnathan said, his eyes going back to the old family photo. "You really are the baby of the family," he continued, referring to the fact that Derek was sitting on his dad's lap.

"Yeah," Derek laughed, "they really spoiled me."

"You look like your dad."

Derek kissed Johnathan's the cotton-covered shoulder and said, "Let's go."

While Derek was locking the deadbolt, Johnathan went up behind him and kissed the nape of his neck. Derek giggled at the cuteness of it.

"I can't keep my hands off of you," Johnathan whispered.

Derek turned around in Johnathan's embrace and replied, "You are a lot more gorgeous than I am, John. But you don't see me groping you."

Johnathan could see and hear that Derek was joking, teasing, but his heart was fluttering and butterfly wings flapped against his stomach. He said, "You just called me John. The only other people to call me that were my parents."

Derek sort of panicked, "Oh. I'm sorry. I--"

"I liked it," Johnathan- John- said with a proud smile. "I like it."

Derek smiled as he gave John a sweet peck on the lips. He then grabbed the blonde's hand and led him to the elevator.

After pressing the button to take the, down to the main floor, Derek released his grip on John's hand in favour of sliding his arm around the blonde's lower back and pulling him close.

"How are you?" Derek asked.

John zipped up his black bomber jacket and wrapped his arm around Derek's shoulder before answering, "I'm doing well. I actually missed you this week, at the risk of sounding like a dork."

"S'that right?" Derek said with a smile. "That explains the zero texts and calls."

"Believe me, I wanted to," John replied giving Derek's shoulder a squeeze. "Just thought I should give you some space."

Walking out of the elevator with the blonde in his arm, Derek responded, "Same. I almost called a couple of times. If you ever wanna call or text, just do it. And I'll do the same."

"Deal. How has school been?" John asked, stepping away from Derek toward his car.

"School's been- You... drive a Cadillac. Nice. Okay, she's so sexy. She's beautiful."

John laughed as he said, "Just get in. I'm sure you're hungry."

Opening the passenger door, Derek asked, "Where are we going?"

Buckling up, John answered, "This little shop downtown. Wildberry. You heard of it?"

"Yes, of course. They make the best turkey panini. But the wait is going to be horrendous and they close in an hour and a half."

"I used this app called NoWait so it's taken care of. Hey, you never did answer me. How's school been this week?"

"Oh, sorry. School this week has been busy. Got my paper on the retina yesterday. Good news is I got an A on it. Bad news is I was so certain I'd get an A-plus."

John laughed at the cute little pout on Derek's face and asked, "Yeah? Why didn't you get the A-plus you were expecting?"

"Because Prof. Botang hates me. I'm sure of it."

John laughed again, this time at Derek's pout growing. He placed his hand on Derek's knee and told him, "I'm sure Prof. Botang doesn't hate you, you cute little pouter you."

Smiling, Derek replied, "I'm not pouting! And my pouts are serious! Not cute!"

John placed his hand back in the wheel laughing, and responded, "I'm sorry, my scary pouter."

Trying to hide his smile, Derek swung his arm and landed a hard punch to John's very firm thigh.

"Hey!" John laughed. "How is work?"

"You mean residency."

"That too."

Derek laughed. "It's been great this week. I'm doing so well, I'm so smart- not to toot my own horn- that I don't even need supervision when seeing patients. This week I wrote five scripts, diagnosed two eye diseases- which Dr. Flanning confirmed, and assisted with three surgeries."

"That all sounds amazing! Why aren't you a doctor already?"

"I agree that I'm just astounding. But these disgusting humans have so many rules and laws."

John laughed again as he parked. As the two got out of the car, John said, "Agreed. These petty little beings create such hurdles for us gods. So when are your final exams for the semester?"

Sitting at a table, Derek answered, "They are starting on the Monday after this. Which means I have nine days to study my ass off. I'm not worried about finals, though. I worked really, really hard to get to where I am now."

"That's great that you're not going batshit over finals. So what are your plans after graduation? Where do you see yourself working as an ophthalmologist?"

"Hi, I'm Logan, I'll be your waiter. What would you like to drink?"

John ordered his drink first, "Can I please have a small grapefruit juice and a vanilla latte?"

"And I'll have a small apple juice and a caramel macchiato."

"So?" John asked when the waiter left the table. "After grad?"

"I wanna live and work in Los Angeles. There is this place called Switzer Falls that I hear is beautiful and a great place to go for a splash. I hear there are also some great campgrounds around LA. And I'd love to work with celebrities. Like, right now I'm imagining my face an inch away from Jamie Dornan's face. God, he's so hot. Doing an eye exam, of course!"

Laughing, John responded, "Of course. 'Okay, Mr. Dornan, I'm gonna need to kiss you now. To see- uhh- how your- corneas react to- homosexual stimulation.'"

"Oh, my god!" Derek laughed raucously. "I would throw in random sciency words. I'm a professional after all."

Grinning and nodding, John said, "Naturally."

"Tell me more about your college career," Derek requested, grabbing his glass of water.

"There's not much," John replied, sipping his water as well. "I studied business for two years before deciding I couldn't take the boredom any longer."

"You can't have become bored from the get go."

"No, I guess not. During first year of business students are required to study accounting, finance, marketing, HR, and communications. If you pass eight courses, you're asked to choose a strain of business to major in for the remaining three years, and I became bored after first year. But I chose to major in finance, thinking I wanted to work for the federal government as a macroeconomics analyst. After the fall semester I changed my major to marketing, but I found no interest in that, too."

"Here are your drinks, guys," Logan the waiter sat the glasses and mugs down. "Are you ready to order?"

"May I please get an order of blueberry Belgian waffles with a side of bacon?" John said.

Derek smiled at the young man and said, "I will have the Rutherford with fruit and dry toast. Rye."

John continued his story, "Not to give the impression that I sucked at business studies. I finished finance with a ninety-one average, and marketing with a ninety. Business just wasn't me."

"So how did you end up going into business ownership with your sister?"

"Amelia had graduated from computer sciences at Yale already. Adam and I were visiting her in Arlington and discussing plans and futures. Amelia was already working in her chosen career, Adam was studying biomedical engineering, and I had no idea what I wanted to. So Amelia suggested the three of us use our parents' life insurance to run a restaurant. Adam wasn't interested, so it was just Amelia and I."

"Mm. Did you- or do you- butt heads with Amelia?"

"Not really. In the beginning we had some slightly different ideas, but we always made compromises. The biggest difference we had was the type of chair to buy. What is your favourite thing about ophthalmology?"

"The smiles I receive when helping people. It's such a warm feeling."

"Mm. Least favourite?"

"Not being to help. There's this litter girl, six-years-old, who is going blind and nobody knows why. We've done test after test, exam after exam, but find no cause for her ever worsening condition."

Derek wiped a tear from his eye. He hated that he could not help the little girl. John reached over, placing his hand on top of Derek's trying to comfort him.

"Have you and the doctors given up on this girl?" John asked.

"No," Derek replied fiercely. "Never. As long as I breathe, I'll do everything I can to help her. Next week she is scheduled to have more tests done."

"Here you gentlemen are," Logan the server said carrying a tray. "The Rutherford for you. And the blueberry Belgian waffles for you. Would either of you like refills of your drinks?"

"Yes," Derek smiled, "can I please have another caramel macchiato?"

"Tell me more about your siblings," John said while pouring maple syrup over his waffles.

"Jemma is a neurologist in Minneapolis. She's engaged to a man named Kevin. She is pretty much married to her career already, which Kevin somehow doesn't mind."

"Does she have any kids?"

"Mm-mm. Only my brother Hank has kids. Jemma is waiting to have kids."

"Tell me about Hank."

"Don't ever call him Henry. Only my parents are allowed to call him that. He owns one of the biggest construction companies in Raleigh. He took out a bank loan right out of high school to start his business and it only him five years to pay it off. He's married to a woman named Lola and they have two beautiful children together."

"How much older are they?"

"Jemma is thirty-seven and Hank is thirty-two. My parents planned the pregnancies to make sure they weren't raising babies among babies. What are the age differences between you and your siblings?"

"Amelia is two years older than I am, and Adam is a year and a half younger than me."

"Mm. What's your middle name?"

Smiling, John asked, "Why do you wanna know my middle name?"

Smiling as well, Derek replied, "I just wanna know."

John cocked an eyebrow as he pushed a piece of waffle in his mouth.

"Okay!" Derek giggled. "I always find whole names cute."

Grinning, John responded, "Well, my middle name is Andrew."

"Johnathan Andrew Hodges," Derek said more to himself, playing the names on his tongue. "I think I'll start calling you Johnny Drew."

"Oh, God," John moaned in protest, giggling. "That's too cute for a manly stud like me."

Derek laughed, then said, "Or maybe Jandy."

"Okay, if you don't stop I'll tickle you right here right now."

Slightly scared but laughing, Derek replied, "Okay. John it is."

"Better. Do you have any nicknames?"

"All of my family and friends from home call me Derry. Have so since I could remember. My friend Brent likes old Roman names, so he calls me Darius Michaelius."

"Your middle name is Michael," John observed. "Derry Mikey."

Laughing, Derek protested, "Oh, my god! You can't call me that!"

"I dunnooo," John teased. "I dare say it's much cuter than you are. Can I have a kiss, Derry Mikey Webby?"

Dere laughed again and said, "You don't get any kisses today for that!"

Pouting dramatically, John said, "Aww! Webby. Pweeze."

"You are such an ass," Derek said with a smile as he launched a piece of toast at John's face.

John turned, laughing even harder when the piece of toast hit his cheek. He caught it as it fell and threw it in his mouth.

After swallowing the piece of toast, John asked, "Favourite sport?"

"Volleyball. I was on my high school boy's volleyball team. I was very competitive. I was the best offense on my team, helping to bring my team to win the silver in nationals."

Smiling, John responded, "Second place at nationals. That's impressive. Did you join the university volleyball team?"

"No. I wanted to. Believe me, I love volleyball, but I was working part time and studying. I wanted to leave whatever drive I had left to focus on med school. Do you- or did you play sports?"

"In high school and college I played basketball and football. Didn't win anything, though. Where did you work part time in med school?"

"I worked at Call It Spring at Water Tower for two years. After three months of working there as a sales associate I was promoted to key holder. Sales associates don't earn commission, but key holders and managers do, so I was ecstatic to become a key holder. I was a key holder for eight months and then got another promotion to assistant manager."

"That's impressive," John smiled. "How did you like working there?"

"The managers were so full of themselves. They only cared about themselves. And district management pushed sales to the point where we sales associates were given reprimands for not making much sales. We were told to assist more customers than we were capable, which resulted in shitty service, which resulted in more reprimands. But my coworkers were amazing! We got along really good, we liked to laugh. I'm still friends with a couple of them, actually."

"Did you have any better experiences when you got the promotions?"

"Yes! Thank god. I became less fearful to give better service, you know, quality not quantity. My managers still gave me shit for not having the numbers, but I always, always told them we needed to give the customers a great experience and not rush sales. In the end, my method worked and showed promise. That's how I got the assistant manager promotion. That's where I really pushed the sales associates to focus on the quality of service. The store sales grew considerably."

"So then why did you quit?"

"The sales had improved, but the district manager was still not happy. She nagged on Elena, and Elena took it out on everybody. No matter what anybody did, somebody wasn't happy."

"Where did you work after that?"

"I became a server at Boka. The staff were great, always professional in the restaurant and fun when not. Every evening after closing we would sit and have a few drinks. Once in a while we would go out to either a cafe or a bar. The manager was the coolest, easy going guy. The money was pretty good. Great. I usually finished a night with five hundred dollars in tips."

"So then you quit that job when you began your residency."

"Yeah, that's right."

"What was your least favourite thing about working at Boka?"

Smiling, Derek answered, "Them fucking finger snappers. It's so rude and bitchy and unclassy. Lloyd, the manager, was walking by a table when a woman snapped her fingers incessantly. He stopped at the bitch and calmly told her that snapping her fingers wouldn't get her quicker service and that snapping was for heathens. She was pissed, obviously, and left."

"As a customer I hated seeing and hearing snappers when dining out."

"Did you work anywhere when you were in college?"

"Yeah, I was a sales associate at Banana Republic. I worked there for a year and a half, four months of which I was a key holder."

"Yeah? How did you like working at Banana Republic?"

"I loved it. My coworkers were always light and funny, never a dull moment. Managers were never too serious, which made the atmosphere great to work in. Customers were always kind and patient."

"Gentlemen," the server said, "here are your coffees. May I get you anything else?"

"No, thank you," Derek smiled up at Logan. He then asked John, "What quality in a person gives you that 'no fucking way' feeling for a relationship?"

"Mm... lack of respect. For themselves and/or for others. I look for someone who is kind, courteous, doesn't themselves down, and puts their foot down when they need to. What is one thing you wish you had known before your freshman year of college?"

"Coffee would become my best friend," Derek answered win a grin. "I hated the taste of coffee, I didn't start drinking it until the week after my first midterms. For two weeks I was tired and bitchy from studying for midterms and taking them. I didn't know coffee actually kept you awake and sane and patient."

John let out a small laugh, and commented, "And now you like coffee."

"Mm-mm," Derek shook his head as he swallowed a bite of his omelette. "Don't understate my devotion to caffeine. Coffee is my love. Everything else is just my mistress."

"Mm," John nodded with a humoured smile. "I should feel so lucky."

"Don't let coffee make you feel small. It's caused some rifts in my love life before."

John laughed a small laugh with the gorgeous black man before him. He then said, "Tell me about your past relationships."

"Ship," Derek said by way of correction. "I've only ever been in one relationship. His name's Kenneth. Ken. We met in junior high. But we only started dating when I was sixteen almost seventeen."

"Almost nine years," John said with shock. "That just makes me think you're crazy to start a relationship so quickly."

"One, two months is a long time to get over someone. Two, you and I are just dating, no relationship. Three, the spark with Ken was no longer there. Four, it's my life, I'll do what I want, when I want. If you're uncomfortable you can leave any time you want and I will understand."

"Okay," John said, sitting his palm on top of Derek's hand. "I'm sorry. So why'd you and Ken break up?"

"He went out with some friends of his and didn't come home. When he did, he told me straight up that he'd drunkenly hooked up with another guy."

"Fuck. That's harsh."

"Mm-hmm," Derek said as he sipped his juice. "It hurt like hell, but I was surprised it didn't break me. Now it's your turn, tell me about your last relationship."

"Her name was Olivia. We met at uni through a mutual friend, freshman year. A week later we went out bowling with a group of friends, and she was the one who actually asked me out. She was sweet, hilarious, but she smoked pot which I was against. I tried to make it work, to each his own, right? Anyway, I ended it because she was failing classes. She wasn't making school her priority, which made me think she would always be putting her habits first. So I broke up with her. We were together for a year."

"That was what, six or seven years ago? How do you deal with the little sex?"

Smiling, John replied, "I didn't partake in casual sex, if that's what you mean. I don't do hookups. It has been six and a half years since I last had sex- but who's counting- and I take care of it myself. I'm not a sex-crazed maniac, so it hasn't been hard being celibate."

"Mm. Tell me what you mean by 'sex-crazed maniac'."

"I think sex is sacred. It's a gift to share between two or more loving, caring people. I don't think sex is meant to be had exclusively in relationships, but all participants should at least care for each other."

"I agree. I've never had a hookup and I've never had the urge to. So how did you realize you were bisexual?"

"I've always known. When I was a kid I had these feelings for both boys and girls, which I later learned were crushes. My first kiss was with a boy named Noah. We were twelve and he was a new kid in town, we were playing hide and seek."

"Oh, that sounds so cute!" Derek gushed.

"Anyway, you ever keep a New Year's resolution?"

Derek chuckled to himself, and answered, "One. Starbucks isn't exactly cheap, so three years ago I swore off Starbucks and now buy coffee from the uni cafe. It tastes practically the same but is, like, half the cost. Do you believe in aliens?"

John laughed, "That's random. But yes, I do. It's silly to believe that we live on the only planet in the vastness of the universe to harbour intelligent life. Do you?"

"Mm-hmm. Same view. I once got into a heated debate with my friend Sylvia, who is pretty much a bible thumper, about it. She went on about God creating the planet and life and humans, while I countered with the seven wonders, evolution in so many plants and species, medicine and its miracles, and space unexplored."

"Mm. Speaking of God and the bible, what are your religious views if any?"

"I'm not religious," Derek answered as he cut a piece of omelette. "I fully support family and friends in their beliefs, I respect all opinions. But it's not me. I grew up in a Christian family, I went to church and Sunday school, but I always questioned it. Silently as a kid, but vocalized my queries when I was about twelve or thirteen. My only act of religion is done at home, which is my brother or dad saying grace before a meal. My parents know of my atheism so they never ask me to lead the prayer. I participate in it for them. Are you a religious man?"

"I used to be. My family is Catholic. I used to go to church and Sunday school, like you, and I was a God-fearing boy and man when I grew up. When I was a teenager I even had plans of becoming a priest."

"So you're no longer devout. May I ask why?"

Smiling, John answered, "I'll tell you about it some other time. I think that's deep relationship-worthy information. Suffice it to say that something big happened. Hope that's okay."

'He was preyed upon,' Derek thought, assumed, with a tinge of despair. But he smiled and said, "Of course. Until you're comfortable."

"Thank you," John responded with a softness, sincerity. "What are two things on your bucket list?"

"One thing I most want to do is skydive. I am utterly fucking terrified of the thought of jumping out of a moving airplane, and I have no idea why I wanna do that. It just looks so fun and dangerous. Another is climbing Mount Everest. Have you ever done either?"

"No. I'd be three hundred percent too terrified."

"Wuss. What is your favourite piece of clothing in your closet?"

Smiling shyly, John responded, "Promise you won't laugh. No, you have to promise."

Amused and intrigued, Derek said, "Okay, I promise."

"You remember that blue pinstripe shirt I wore last week during our first date?" John asked, to which Derek nodded. "That is my favourite. It's my lucky shirt. When I wear it on a date I feel confident and that it'll help me land another date. And I do think it helped me with you."

Derek tried his damned hardest to conceal his smile and tried to say something, but the air was expelled from his lungs in a scoff that was nearly a laugh.

John laughed in embarrassment and launched a blueberry at his date, crying, "You promised you wouldn't laugh!"

"I'm sorry!" Derek said in boisterous laughter. "But it is so damn cute! Oh, my god, that's so cute!"

If he could blush, John's face would be the reddest anyone had ever seen, he could tell. Derek was still laughing, his right hand holding his stomach.

John, though smiling, said, "If you don't stop laughing I'm leaving right now. You promised. Promise breaker."

This only made Derek laugh harder for a second. But he forced himself to stop. He sipped his juice, then said, "I'm sorry. I really am. But come on. That is the cutest thing I've ever heard. It wouldn't surprise me if you thought that was the cutest thing you've ever said. Your lucky shirt. Oh, God. Okay! Okay! Put the berry down."

"So, promise-breaker asshole, what are you worse at than ninety percent of people?"

Derek laughed again for a second before replying, "Well, cutie patootie, I am a horrible cook. I'm not even kidding. I thought a stir fry was baked in the oven. My dad did like the charred taste so it wasn't a complete waste."

"Oh, wow. You sound hopeless in the kitchen. So I imagine you eat nothing but fast food, takeout, cereal, and frozen pizzas."

Giggling, Derek responded, "A lot of that, yeah. I have a neighbour who comes by twice a month to prepare and freeze dinners for me. She gives me ingredient lists and I buy them, and I pay her a hundred bucks to cook, portion, and freeze."

"That's nice of her."

"Every now and then I'll babysit her daughter when her regular sitter can't. We get along great. What is your happy place?"

John thought for a second, "My piano. When I'm not feeling so great when I'm not home, I just picture myself sitting on the bench, the ivory keys beneath my fingers, and angelic melodies gracing my ears. When I do play, I get lost in it. I love playing that much."

"Hmm. I have to hear you play some time."

"You spoke of Instagram last week," John said in thought. "I think we should record a video. I'll play the piano and you'll sing something to post on your Instagram."

"I've never sung on camera. So what's the last book you read?"

"If you do want to do the video, I know you will sound amazing. And I'll be right beside you. I am currently reading 'Stranger Than Fanfiction' by Chris Colfer. It is such an emotional read. It's made me laugh, cry, and angry. I can relate to so many situations, and I was thrown by a plot twist. What did you want to be when you were a kid?"

"So many things. I saw many people as heroes. I wanted to be a teacher, a cop, a doctor, and a firefighter. I idolized a lot of people when I was a kid. What do you think people take for granted the most?"

"Vision. People with vision have no idea how lucky they are to be able to see their loved ones, a sun setting and the gorgeous colours."

Smiling, Derek replied, "As an ophthalmologist I agree. Blind people or people with impaired vision can never see the beauty before of them."

Just then Logan the waiter came up to the table and asked, "How was your meal, gentlemen?"

John, his gaze remaining on his date, answered, "It was delicious, thank you."

"Excellent," Logan enthused. "Here is cheque, whenever you're ready."

John grabbed the leather book. As he searched his coat pocket for his wallet he said to Derek, "No, I got this, you paid for dinner last week. Do you have any immediate plans?"

Derek watched as the blonde put some bills in the cheque book before answering, "What time is it? One-fifty. No plans for another two hours. I'm meeting a friend at Water Tower at four o'clock."

"When we finish our coffee would you like to take a stroll with me?"

Smiling, Derek responded, "Sure. Where are we going?"

Smiling as well, John answered, "Around."

"You're taking me to your sex dungeon, aren't you?" Derek teased. "You sex-crazed maniac."

"It's not a dungeon. It's only got a swing. And a restraint table. And a few dozen harnesses. Anyway, you'll like it."

"What, your sex dungeon?"

"Oh, my god!" John cried with laughter. "No! I don't actually have a sex dungeon. You'll like the walk. Shall we?"

Derek mumbled a 'mm-hmm' in agreement as he sipped the last bit of his macchiato. He the. Stood from his chair, John doing the same a millisecond later. Derek buttoned up his thick brown trench coat while John zipped his thick black bomber jacket.

While wrapping his baby blue scarf around his neck and following the blonde out of the cafe, he asked, "Are you really into all that stuff?"

"What, the swing and harnesses and stuff? No. I really was joking. I'm actually pretty vanilla. Are you?"

"I'm not into that stuff either. I find it perfectly perfect just enjoying my partner."

Outside of the cafe John waited for a second for Derek to come out as well. When the door closed behind Derek, John grabbed his hand and led him down East Randolph Street, walking gloved hand in gloved hand.

"Too bad it's so cloudy," Derek mused.

"I don't mind. I'm just glad we're here. Cheesiest pickup lines. Go."

Derek chuckled before replying, "Are you Cinderella? Because I know your clothes will be coming off at midnight."

John laughed and said, "Aww, that ruined one of my favourite Disney movies. One said to me was, 'Your eyes are blue, like the ocean. And baby, I'm lost at sea' and I laughed so hard at that one."

Derek laughed again. "Your eyes ain't even blue! Your lips look so lonely... Would they like to meet mine?"

"Aaahaha! That's pretty good! You must be a hell of a thief because you stole my heart from across the room."

"Aww! Smooth. You must be jelly, 'cause jam don't shake like that."

"Haha! You must've been dancing. You wanna know what's big? My house, you weirdo!"

"Oooh, dirty! Are you a magician? Because whenever I look at you everyone else disappears."

"Oh, now that's just desperate. Baby you make palms sweaty, knees weak, arms spaghetti. I didn't get it at first, but a friend told me they're rap lyrics."

Amused, Derek said, "Yeah, Eminem. I take it you don't like rap music."

"Nope. Not one bit. I'm into classical, acoustic blues, smooth jazz, opera, rock and roll, a capella, and some dance. Are you into rap?"

"Some. I'm not into battles or conscious, basically aggressive stuff. I don't listen to much rap. When I do, it's music I can chill to, or dance to."

Leading the black man into Maggie Daley Park, John asked, "Who is your favourite rap artist?"

"Drake. Hands down, Drake. He has great beats, good flow, talks about his life, he has excellent production, and his hooks are captivating. And he's so hot."

John nodded and said, "He does have a great smile."

"So tell me about your name," Derek said as he released his grip on John's hand, instead sliding his arm across the blonde's lower back. "What does it mean? Why'd your parents name you that?"

While sliding his arm across the back of Derek's shoulders, John answered, "Well, my family was Catholic, as I mentioned before. Johnathan was the valiant eldest son of a king Saul. I was named after my mom's uncle, who was named after the biblical man. Andrew was my dad's dad. He, too, was named after a biblical character. Andrew was one of the twelve disciples. The first, if memory serves correct. Are you named after anyone?"

"Derek Owen and Michael Edwards were mutual friends of my parents' from their high school days. Another friend of theirs had been drunk driving. Everyone in the car died."

"That's so tragic," John breathed. "But what if your parents had named you Michael Derek Webber."

Derek laughed and responded, "I used to wonder how different I would be if they did name me like that. Everyone would be calling me Mikey instead of Derry."

"If it's any consolation, I like Derek," John said with a warm smile.

Derek smiled and stepped onto the toes of his left foot to plant a kiss on John's cheek.

Concerned, Derek said, "Hey, your cheek is frozen."

"More to do with lack of oxygen than the weather," John said with a smile by way of explanation.

Before Derek could say something else, John removed himself from Derek's embrace and and ran off the path. He laid down on a bed of snow and waved his arms and legs.

"Come on!" John called. "Make a snow angel beside mine!"

Derek laughed and said, "No! Besides, you're already colder than the North Pole itself!"

"Come on!" John called again, still swaying his arms and legs. "You know you want to!"

Derek, though smiling, rolled his eyes. But he decided to hell with it, and jumped into the four inches of powdery snow. The wings of his snow angel sat about six inches away from John's. That is, until John rolled over.

"Hey!" Derek cried when the blonde man ruined his angel. "You just- Hey!"

Derek laughed when John rolled on top of him. John grabbed the fabric of Derek's trench coat, pulling him and making him rolled around in the snow with him.

The two men had rolled over each other twice before Derek made them stop. John laid on top of him, they were laughing and their hands still held onto each other's hips.

Derek eased his layer to a halt. He watched the man above him for a few moments. From there he really could see the beauty radiating from the man's face. Derek hadn't known until then that there was a very thin dusting of freckles lying across John's nose. And his eyelashes, light blonde and normally invisible against his pale skin, were very long and thick.

John stared down at the black man under him. He leaned his head down and laid his lips against Derek's. John turned his head the slightest bit, causing his lips to slide against Derek's.

After that small yet passionate kiss, John removed himself from Derek and said, "Get out of the snow before you freeze, heathen."

Derek laughed as he stood from the white fluff and said, "Snow angels was your idea, sentimental prick."

John had already started walking down the path slowly. Derek shook his head, letting the white fluff fly out of his wild hair. He then ran toward John, and jumped onto the taller man's back.

"Hey!" John cried as he hooked his hands under Derek's knees.

Derek laughed when John started running. He laughed even harder and tightened his arms around the blonde's shoulders when John dipped his hips back and forth while still running.

After John had run about fifteen yards, Derek pushed his hands against John's shoulders and straightened his legs, lodging himself off the man. John grabbed Derek's hand again and continued leading him through Daley Park.

"So when do you plan to be flying home for Christmas?" John asked.

"I always book my time off from residency at least a month before any event. I booked my flights to depart on December twentieth and returning on January third. Are you going anywhere for Christmas?"

"Amelia and I are going home to Denver on December twenty-third. We still friends and family there, so we'll spend the holidays with them."

"Mm. Will Adam be joining you guys, too?"

"Yeah, he'll be there as well. We never spend the holidays apart. If money was no longer an object and you no longer had to work, what would you do all day?"

"Ooh, that's a good one. During the summers in med school I'd spend days I wasn't working at either a soup kitchen or Comer. At the soup kitchen I would help with preparing meats and veggies and serving when the kitchen opened to the public. At Comer I would bring my guitar and sing with the terminally ill kids. So if I never had to work again, I'd love to spend my days between them."

John gave Derek's hand a firm squeeze of affection and told him, "You are so sweet, Derek. So thoughtful."

"Well, as a species, humans take each other for granted and treat each other not always kindly. How do you like to spend your mornings? If you're a morning person at all, I mean."

Giggling, John responded, "I woke up every morning at seven. I cannot sleep in. My body won't allow it. When I wake up I run to Quads Gym. I work out for about an hour and a half and then run back home. Running back and forth is a total distance of seven miles, excellent cardio. After showering I clean around the house. Once a week I'll do a huge cleaning, moving furniture out of the way type of cleaning. After cleaning I play on the piano for about an hour."

"You're productive," Derek commented.

"Well how do you spend mornings when you don't have school?"

"I go for a run, work out, and do homework."

"Well that's productive. Don't belittle yourself. Could be worse. You could be failing your classes. Or getting fat. You know what you want, who you wanna be, so you're striving for that. Hustle. That's what they call it. Baby, you hustlin'."

Derek laughed and responded, "You're blacker than I am."

"Baby boy, y'ain't got no idea. Mm-mm."

"Oh, my god, shut up!"

John laughed a bit as he bent to kiss Derek on the cheek.

Derek then asked, "What is one misconception about you that you wish people didn't make?"

"Mmm... I hate it when people tell me that a true bisexual likes both men and women equally, fifty-fifth. There's no right way or wrong way to be bisexual. For all you know I could be ninety-eight percent into men and two percent into women."

"It is so ignorant of people to make assumptions and statements like that. Like the one about gay and bi men being more likely to contract STI's. So- umm... do you mind if--"

"If I have a gender attraction ratio?" John finished Derek's thought with a smile. "I've always been more attracted to guys. But only just slightly. I'd say I'm fifty-five percent attracted to men, forty-five women. Have you ever explored your sexuality? With women I mean."

"I've kissed a couple before, during drinking games. But that's it."

"You're really sure of your sexuality then. I was just curious about you because every gay guy I've met has at least tried having intercourse with a woman."

"Yeah, women are definitely not for me."

"I understand that," John said as he slowly nodded his head. "I know a lesbian who has kissed guys but never was able to have sex with any. So what else were you interested in studying before you chose ophthalmology?"

"In my senior year of high school I was also interested in marine biology. I had pictured myself traveling to Antarctica, and the high Arctic studying organisms hidden in the ice."

"That's cool. Why did you choose ophthalmology?"

"I decided something in the health field to help people would suit me best. I am great with people, I am compassionate--"

"You are amazing, Derek," John said before planting a kiss on the man's cheek. "I can tell you have a tender heart. So what was your yearbook quote?"

"My quote was 'Some said I was a diva. Diva is just another word for Hustler. Best believe I'm making it happen.' You get brownie points if you know any references in that."

Smiling, John responded, "The diva-hustler bit are lyrics from a Queen Bey song, right? Is the 'making it happen' from Michael Jordan?"

"Hey, both are right! Sylvia and her friend Dean coordinated their quotes because they knew their pictures would be next to each other. It's hilarious. Sylvia's read, 'Mr. Lindon, I'm dying of thirst.' And Dean's read, 'Mr. Lindon, let her die!' I still laugh thinking about it."

"Hahahaha! That's too good. Were they--"

"Dating? No. They've been friends since elementary. If you ruled the world, what is one thing would you change?"

"Mm... let's see... I would ease the world out of using fossil fuels. While doing so, I would make it a law to use green energy. I would have first world countries build energy productive machines and equipment and distribute them worldwide. I know it sounds unrealistic, but carbon emissions need to be lowered significantly."

Derek gave John's hand a gentle squeeze and replied, "It does sound unrealistic. But it also sounds responsible and conscious. Admirable. What is a childhood memory of yours that always causes a smile to grow on your face?"

"Mm," John said with a distant smile. "When I was ten, my parents were babysitting my little cousin Lionel. We'd gone to Westlands Park, played on the playgrounds, ate hotdogs and ice cream, and relaxed on the grass. On our way home my mom lifted little Lionel onto her shoulders. I thought I was too old to ride on my parents' shoulders so I didn't care. But my dad grabbed me and hoisted me up on his shoulders. For a second I was embarrassed, but then I felt my heart soaring. In that moment, I really felt the love and affection my dad had for me."

Derek once again released John's hand and slid his arm around John's back and pulled him in close, gushing, "That sounds so sweet and cute!"

John pulled Derek closer and asked, "What is a happy memory of yours?"

"My mom chasing me. I was four, we were at grandparents' house for my grandpa's birthday. My mom was pretending to be a tickle monster and I was running and laughing my head off. She was so athletic that she weaved through people expertly and crawled under the food table. She caught me, held my arm over my head, and pretended to eat my armpit. She tickled me like that for so long that my laughter went silent and my tummy ached from laughing so much. She only stopped because my grandma told her to."

"That sounds much cuter!" John gushed. "Another memory."

Derek giggled at John's enthusiasm before responding, "Umm, during summers my parents would stick me with either my brother or sister when I wasn't at a friend's, and they weren't always happy about it. One day with my brother, I was six, he and his friend Javon taught me how to do a kick flip on my skateboard. I felt cool being around them and being able to do a kick flip."

"That's pretty awesome of your brother. What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?"

"Hmm... my dad quoted, 'Have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you.' It had been a few months after I came out to my parents and was talking with them about coming out to my aunts and uncles. That piece of advice helped to quell my fear because I knew my parents would support me."

"Your parents sound great. Did you have any- altercations when you came out to your whole family?"

"Not really," Derek answered. "My grandparents raised their kids with the notion that no matter what, family is family. My aunt Edith forgot that for a second during Christmas when I came out to the whole family. She said that it was selfish of me to--"

"To choose to be--"

"No. She said that it was selfish of me to not carry on the family name. I told her that I could adopt and the kid- or kids- could bear my name. I also told her that if I was rich enough I could artificially inseminate a woman. She was still not happy, but she knew I would continue to fight her, and that my parents would back me up."

"Oh. Well good for you for standing up to her. Does she still have qualms about your sexuality?"

"No. She actually really liked my ex-boyfriend. At every big family event, Aunt Edith would catch up with him. I sort of felt like she liked him more than she liked me, but I was mostly happy she liked him at all. I got a good one. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you have spent today?"

"Hmm... I would cook breakfast for Amelia and David. Then I would surprise you with making our date a breakfast date rather than lunch. I would then jump on a plane to Denver to see family for a couple of hours. I would then jump on another flight to La Rochelle to spend my last hours with Adam."

His heart fluttery, Derek said, "Family is that important to you, huh?"

Embarrassed, John replied, "Yes. As lame as that sounds."

Derek smiled as he stepped in front of the blonde, causing him to stop walking. Derek grabbed both of John's hands in his, holding eye contact, and told him, "It's not lame. I think family is the most important thing in the world. The fact that you would spend your last day alive seeing as much family as you can is sweet."

John smiled as he brushed a lock of long curly hair from Derek's face before he replied, "Well without my family, I wouldn't be the man that I am today."

"Mm," Derek mumbled as he went in for a kiss.

Mid kiss, John slid his gloved hand around Derek's neck and pulled the man's head ever so much closer. It wasn't a passionate French kiss, but it was passionate nonetheless.

The two men gazed into each other's eyes for a few moments after the kiss. But then Derek grew concerned and touched his cotton-covered thumb to John's cheek, saying, "Your cheeks are really red. Like, really red. You're probably freezing with the combination of winter and your COPD. Let's go for another coffee before I go to the mall."

Leading Derek toward the pedestrian bridge in Grant Park, John asked, "Is the Caffe Rom on Stetson okay?"

Derek agreed, being led by hand through Grant Park. And the two walked in silence. It wasn't uncomfortable. They liked just being in each other's presence.

Derek entered the coffee shop first. Waiting in line, John stood right behind him, his arms around the black mans arms and his chin resting lying his shoulder.

"Hi," the female cashier greeted when the two men stepped to the counter. "How are you lovebirds today?"

Giggling, Derek answered, "We're just great, thank you. Yourself?"

Smiling, the girl replied, "Honestly, my feet are a little tired. Being a polite barista, I would answer that I am well."

Derek laughed and said, "Well I'm sorry for your fatigue, and I thank you for your honesty. It's refreshing in a customer service industry."

The girl laughed as well before saying, "I'm sure you didn't come here just to talk to me about fatigue. What can I get for you fellas?"

"May I have a medium caramel latte? And Mr. Cuddlebug here will have..."

Grinning in amusement, John said to the girl, "Mr. Cuddlebug will have a medium vanilla cappuccino."

Th girl laughed as she punched buttons on the register. "Your total comes to seven-eight-six."

Derek had just removed his wallet from his coat pocket when John handed the girl a ten with a 'Keep the change.'

Walking to the handoff station, with John still holding the black man close, Derek complained, "You paid for brunch earlier."

John kissed Derek's cheek before responding, "Yeah, well, you paid for dinner last week and that was, like, triple the brunch bill."

Amused, Derek replied, "It's not a competition."

Grinning, John said, "Then quit your bitching."

Concealing laughter, Derek pushed his elbow back, using it to punch John's ribs.

At a table, while removing his bomber jacket, John asked, "Who was your first real crush?"

Removing his coat as well, Derek replied, "I was five that summer. Hank was at summer camp and Jemma was at a sleepover. My parents were having a date night and they hired a babysitter. His name was Greg, he was seventeen and lived two doors down. He had black hair that was always styled in a faux hawk, and his blue eyes were so pretty. He was a skater wearing a tank that showed off his muscular arms and the collar cut low enough to show the middle of his chest, his pecs looked so big. Anyway, we played Nintendo 64 and I kicked his ass in Mario Kart. I teased him about it and he chased me around the house. He was pretty strict about my bedtime, though. He was told to put me to bed at nine, and at eight-forty-five he told me to brush my teeth, got my pyjamas out, and read me a couple of books. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stop thinking about him. So I went back downstairs and asked him if I could play Golden Eye with him but he brought me back upstairs and read me another book."

"Greg was hot and responsible?" John said with a smile. "Husband material."

"Yes, for his lucky girlfriend. What are your ideas about true love?"

John chuckled to himself and said, "You know, I've never been asked that. I guess... true love is indescribable. I think the closest would be... being able to love someone knowing their good, bad, and ugly. Wholeheartedly and unconditionally. How would you describe true love?"

"I would describe true love similarly. Adding to your statement, true love is felt throughout you physically, psychologically, and emotionally. It is overpowering, overwhelming, with the power to complete you and break you at any given moment. So true love can be the cruellest bitch, but that's what makes it beautiful, that it can tear you apart."

"Hey Derek!" a man's voice said from close by.

Derek looked and saw his friend Alex with his boyfriend.

"Hey Alex. Ross."

"Hey," the other man greeted before sipping from his paper coffee cup.

Now standing by Derek and John's table, Alex said, "I thought I saw your beautiful mane from the register. This must be your date that you mentioned. Hi, I'm Alex."

Smiling at his friend, Derek replied, "John, this is my friend from my communications class Alex and his boyfriend Ross. Alex, Ross, this is Johnathan."

After a round of hellos and handshakes, Ross said, "Derek, you never mentioned how cute Johnathan was."

Both Derek and Alex laughed before Alex grabbed his boyfriend's hand and said, "Okay, slut, let's go. Your parents are waiting."

Being led out of the cafe, Ross said, "Whaaat? He's cute!"

Derek and John laughed as Alex exited the cafe with his boyfriend. John then said, "Ross is quite the character. So tell me about your first kiss."

"Umm..." Derek said an apprehensive smile.

"It was Ken wasn't it?" John surmised. "You don't have--"

"No, no," Derek said. "It's fine. Ken was my first kiss. Ken and I had met in the sixth grade and we were friends. We were fourteen when we kissed, Ken was still unsure of his sexuality. But I was. I had Ken and Mitch over after school and we played video games. Mitch had to leave because his parents were super strict. I don't know where Hank and Jemma were, but my parents were at work so it was just me and Ken at my house. We moved the love seat so it was right in front of the TV and we wouldn't have to sit on the floor. When our team won a match in Super Smash Brothers we giggled in victory. And then he kissed me. It was a nervous closed-mouth kiss that lasted- probably two seconds, but it was so sweet."

"But that's not how you and Ken started dating," John said, almost a question.

"No. I wasn't ready for kisses or having a boyfriend or a lover or whatever. I mean I wanted to, but I was still scared about people finding out about my sexuality. Neither was Ken. It was just nice to get our first kisses done. Not to sound heartless about it. When I was ready to, or felt ready to start dating, Ken still hadn't come out to anyone so he wasn't ready to have a love life. And the only other out gay guy at school was way too flamboyant for me. Nothing wrong with that, but that's not what I look for in a partner. I tried keeping an eye out for guys my age that might be interested in dating or at least exploring sex with. But I guess my gaydar was broken. Anyway, one day in the late spring I was at the movies with Ken and Tiana, and she had to go change her tampon. While she was in the bathroom, Ken grabbed my hand, which totally surprised me. I looked at him and we stared at each other for a couple of seconds before he leaned forward and kissed me. Why are you curious about how I started dating?"

Smiling, John answered, "Two reasons. I love hearing love stories. And to see if you're able to, if you're really over your first love."

"Weirdo," Derek jibed. "Do you believe in love at first sight? I personally don't."

John shrugged with his bottom lip jutting out, and answered, "Sure. Why not. I don't mean loving the way someone looks, but you feel a big something about their aura or the way they carry themselves. It definitely would not feel the same as loving someone you've been dating for two years. The Italian have a saying. Colpo di fulmine, which translates to lightning bolt. They use it to define love at first sight because it's that unforeseeable, and that instant, and shakes you to your core. Now why don't you believe in love at first sight?"

Shrugging, Derek replied, "I don't know. I guess it's because I can't fathom someone just feeling such deep emotions for someone they don't even know. For all you know I could own a cabin out on the lake where I bring kidnapped men to torture them."

Smiling, John responded, "Maybe I'm excited about the thought of being tied down and flogged."

Derek laughed, and laughed even harder when John wagged his eyebrows.

Coming down from his laughter, Derek said, "You are not."

Smirking, John replied, "If you lift your foot up you'll feel how excited I am."

This caused Derek to pause, the plastic lid of his coffee cup touching his bottom lip. But after a moment, he tilted his head back and sipped his coffee. At the same time, he touched the toe of his boot to the blonde's knee and slowly moved it forward.

John coughed, the liquid having done down the wrong tube. He pushed Derek's foot away and said, "I was joking!"

Grinning, Derek was asking, "Do you believe that the glass is half--"

Derek involuntarily let out a small squeak when he felt the top of John's shoe touch the back of his calf. He nearly gasped audibly when John's foot rocked gently, softly stroking the black man's muscle.

Derek tried to compose himself, the blonde's foot still caressing his leg, and asked, "D-do you believe th-that the glass is h-half full or half em-empty?"

John had been smiling, but he schooled his face into a stoic expression, and answered, "I am a very optimistic person. I believe in making the best of any situation. I ink that sour attitudes just makes things worse for everyone involved."

Derek barely acknowledged John's reply, whisper-yelling, "Can you stop?"

Smiling seductively, John responded, "But Dewy Mikey Webby, you started this little game."

"Nuh-uh!" Derek said a little louder than he intended. "You did. When you told me to use my foot to see how excited you were."

While sliding his foot upward to Derek's knee, John replied, "You clearly could tell I was teasing."

Derek clamped his legs together, effectively trapping John's foot between his knees. "If you promise to stop, I'll let your foot go."

Smiling, John said, "Maybe I like my foot where it is."

Derek rolled his eyes and released the white man's foot, saying, "You're impossible."

Smiling and sitting the back of his knee over the other, John asked, "Do you know how to do any foreign accents?"

"Mm, yes. I can do a German accent. Haff you eva bin inna fissikal fight?"

Entertained and smiling, John said, "Hey, that's pretty good! Great, actually. I have been in fights before. At a bar I was flirting with a girl who failed to mention that she had a boyfriend. I got out with a broken nose and a few bruises. He got out with a fractured arm and a few bruises. That was my worst brawl. You?"

Maintaining his German accent, Derek said, "Aw you asking me vetha I haff bin in a fissikal fight? Yes, I haff. Verst fight voss in illevense grade viss a boy called Effen ven I called him some-sing qvestioning hiss intelligence offta he pushed me into a locka becuss Kenness voss holding my hand. My wrist voss sprained and knuckles broke ven I broke hiss nose. Becuss he voss bigga zen me, being a football playa, I got out of ze fight verse zen he did."

Laughing, John said, "Okay, I must admit, your German accent is flawless. How did you start practicing it?"

"There's this movie called 'Lore' about World War II Germany. Kenneth and I loved it. We went as Hannelore and Thomas to a Halloween party. We picked out our costumes about three weeks before Halloween and practiced our accents any time we could."

"Hmm," John nodded. "Can you do any other accents?"

"No. I suck at literally every other accent."

"I'm you don't suck at other accents."

"Jayzez Croist, Joany," Derek cried, amused. "Leddit go."

John laughed and said, "You sounded like a good Scot."

Derek rolled his eyes and replied, "I was aiming for Irish. See. Terrible."

Taking his phone out of his pocket, John said, "Well it's three-forty-six. Want me to give you a ride to Water Tower?"

Derek flashed the blonde a small smile before saying, "Sure. I would really appreciate that. I don't think I have the patience for public transit after having a car for two years."

Now standing, before grabbing his coat off he back of the chair, John slid the sleeves of his forest green polo back down his forearms. As he did so, he asked, "I get back from New York on Thursday night. Want to come over on Friday for dinner?"

Grimacing, Derek replied, "I'd love to, but I get off work at seven and I have to study for finals."

"Right," John responded with a nod. "Forgot. Sorry."

"But... maybe you could... come over. God, that sounds desperate and dorky. How about--"

John pulled Derek into him, holding him tight, and said, "I'll drop by at seven-thirty. I'll buy food to cook you the most delicious meal you'll ever eat"

"I don't mind just ordering takeout," Derek said as he laid his forearms down on John's shoulders and linked his together. "You don't--"

John laid a soft peck on Derek's lips before saying, "I want to cook for you. Now come on, you'll be late."

The walk back to John's car was spent in silence, a companionable silence. Derek and John had their arms linked around the other's and their hands in their own coat pockets.

While strapping his seatbelt, Derek asked, "What types of men and women are you attracted to?"

Igniting the engine, John answered, "I don't have types. I just have to be attracted to a person and and I get a feel for their personality during dates. If I don't like their personality, I won't continue. Physical features of men that draw me in are height because I don't like someone too short, pecs and abs are a huge turn on, a firm ass is fun to play with, and strong arms make me feel safe. You wear slim-fitting clothes that show off all of your features, so I was immediately attracted to your body."

Smiling with his face heating up, Derek asked, "And- and what of my personality?"

"You, Derek, are funny and caring. Your laugh is infectious and beautiful, as cheesy as that sounds. You really care for your family, you freely let love in and love others. You ask questions that really make me think, you listen attentively, and you're honest when I ask questions. I hate it when dates answer questions that sound like it's something they think I wanna hear. What the- USE YOUR FUCKING BLINKER, ASSHOLE!"

In a four-laned road, somebody driving a red convertible switched lanes without using their blinker. If John hadn't eased on the gas, the corners of both vehicles would've collided.

"Sorry that you had to see that," John apologized. "Dumb drivers just get to me."

"Chicago has some of the shittiest drivers," Derek smiled.

"No disagreement here. So what was your biggest childhood fear?"

"I don't know how this started, how it came about, but I had a bad case of gephyrophobia since I was four. That's a fear of bridges. I would have these severe panic attacks when my parents or anyone driving would approach a bridge or use routes that lead to bridges. A couple of times the panic attacks got so bad that I passed out cold."

"Why were you so scared? What did you think was going to happen?"

"I pictured going onto the bridge and hearing a terrible sound, either wood cracking or metal screeching. The bridge collapses and the car's thrown into a water. It fills with water and sinks like a big metal coffin. We struggle to get out, but underwater no one can hear our screams. We all shake with convulsions as the life leaves our bodies. Our corpses go undiscovered for months, but when they're finally dragged out of the lake, they're unrecognizable 'cause fish have eaten our faces."

John few a quick glance at Derek, then reached his hand over and grasped Derek's.

Derek continued, "But for some reason, when I was twelve, the phobia was gone. It was the summer, and I was riding bikes with my friends. Before I knew it we were at Witterlan Bridge. I slowed down, realizing two things; first that I was at a bridge, second that I wasn't the least bit scared. So I rode my bike across, no trouble whatsoever. The next day I told my parents about it, and I've been able to go over bridges since."

Easing into a parking space, John said, "Well... I'm glad- that you- got over your- phobia."

Derek had unbuckled his seatbelt and was about to lean over to kiss the blonde. But John had already exited his car. When Derek himself got out of the car John was leaning back, his tush resting the car door. So Derek walked around the vehicle and stood before John, stepping right up close, his feet planted on either side of John's.

John removed his hands from his coat pockets and grabbed two belt loops of Derek's pants, pulling the black man's hips forward. "Thank you for today. I enjoyed spending time with you."

While wrapping his arms around John's shoulders, Derek replied, "Mm, thank you. It was one of the best afternoons I've had in a long time. This smile of yours is so gorgeous."

John chortled to himself before leaning forward. The two men shared a sweet closed-mouth kiss at first. But Derek deepened the kiss by pressing their lips back together the millisecond they separated. This time he pressed his lips slightly harder, causing them to cover more of John's. This caused John to lose his breath and his brain to fluster for but a second. He slid his arms around Derek's hips and pulled flush against himself. Derek was the first to brush his tongue against Derek's lips. Derek responded by inserting his tongue into John's mouth, allowing it to dance magnificently with John's.

"Mmm!" John groaned, trying to pull Derek even more into his body.

Just then Derek's cell phone rang and buzzed in his back pocket. This did not deter Derek. He resumed his tongue duel with the blonde he was holding.

John giggled mid kiss, then pulled his face away from Derek's and said, "I think you should get that."

"Mm-mm," Derek shook his head before smashing his lips back into John's.

The two French-kissed for another two seconds before Derek's cell phone let out the fourth ring. John showed off his multitasking skills by swiping his tongue against Derek's while reaching behind the black man and pulling his phone out of his back pocket. John once again reared his head back and held the cell phone in front of Derek's face.

Derek smiled sheepishly as he accepted the device. "Hey Devin."

The girl on the other end of the line said, "Hey cutie. I'm about five minutes from Water Tower. Where are you?"

Derek slumped forward with a smile and a very warm face, laying his forehead on John's shoulder. "I just got here. Gonna get a tea from Starbucks, do ya want something?"

"Yeah, can you get me a grande mocha with just one pump of chocolate?"

"Yeah, see you in a bit."

While sliding the device back into his pants, Derek pressed his lips back onto John's. It was just a chaste kiss. One after the other.

In between kisses, John said, "I'll- see you- on- Friday."

In the same fashion, Derek responded, "Mm- I- can't- wait."

After a few moments of little smooches, Derek removed his lips from John's. But their embrace maintained, John holding Derek close by the waist and Derek holding John around the neck.

"I hope you have a safe flight," Derek said softly.

"Have fun shopping with Devin," John replied before planting an audible smooch on Derek's cheek.

John watched as Derek walked to the shopping centre, a small smile playing on his lips. Every few seconds Derek would turn his head, seeing John still leant against his car. This caused his own smile to form.

Approaching the Starbucks counter, the cashier whose name tag read Peter said, "Welcome to Starbucks. How may I help you?"

"Hello," Derek said pleasantly while taking his phone out of his pocket. "May I have one grande mint tea and one grande mocha with one pump of chocolate?"

While punching buttons on the touchscreen monitor, the cashier Peter said, "I'm sorry, but you look familiar. I feel like I've seen you somewhere. It's your hair that- now I remember where I saw you. You were at Pinstripes for a birthday party about a month ago. Was that- sorry, that's now none of my business."

Derek shook his head softly and said, "No, that's okay. Ask away."

"It's kind of personal. Was that your family?"

"Oh," Derek said in shock. "No. Mr. Jenkins is a widow. A straight widow."

Visibly embarrassed, Peter said, "I am so sorry. It's just... the way you talked with the man- Mr. Jenkins, and the way the little girl was so attached to you. It looked like a happy family."

"Yeah, it's fine. I'm an ophthalmology student and I'm doing my residency at Comer Children's Hospital. Rianne, the little girl, is one of my patients. Dennis, her older brother, invited me to his birthday party and I basically had no choice but to go. Not that I minded, I had a lot of fun with them. So how much do I owe you?"

The cashier's face was reddening as he said, "It- it's on the house. For my inappropriate behaviour."

"No," Derek protested. "You were merely curious. It's fine. Besides, don't deprive me of my Starbucks stars."

"Oh. Oh. Yeah. Sure. Sorry."

Just then a young woman's voice said, "Hey Derek."

"Hey Dev," Derek greeted his friend who was approaching the counter.

Leaning her hip against the counter, the young woman said, "Did I just hear this cutie flirting with you, Derek?"

The cashier, who looked to be no older than twenty-years-old, blushed furiously and was about to say something. But Derek smiled at him and said, "No, of course not. He was just being a great customer service representative. Isn't that right- umm- Peter?"

"I- yeah. Your total comes to seven-seventy-four."

Derek held the screen of his phone toward the barcode scanner and the machine beeped, signifying the payment as received.

While waiting at the handoff station, Devin tucked a lock of her red hair behind her hair and said, "He was cute."

"I guess so," Derek shrugged.

"How was your date with- uhh, Jeff?"

"John," Derek corrected. "It was great! God, he's an amazing kisser. And he's not afraid of PDA, which I am so thankful for. So where do you wanna shop first?"

"Banana Republic has a new wrap dress and leggings that'll be perfect for work."

"Thank you," Derek said to the barista as he grabbed the two paper coffee cups. "How is work going?"

"Work's fine," Devin said flatly as she accepted her drink. "So fucking busy with year-end numbers. I'm one of two candidates being considered for a promotion. Francine Getters is retiring at the end of January. Hey, just a sec, my pant hem is rolling up."

Derek stood by the bench that Devin sat at. He waited patiently, sipping his tea, as the woman unzipped one of her knee-high brown leather stilettos.

Derek, wearing scrubs, walked into the waiting room of the optical ward of Comer. He immediately saw Eddie Jenkins sitting in a chair, his arm around the shoulders of a small girl, her blonde head cast downward.

Approaching the family, Derek greeted them, "Hi Dennis, Mr. Jenkins. Hello Ri--"

Derek had stopped speaking when the little girl lifted her head up. Shock washed over him, wave after wave. The little blonde girl was obviously Rianne Samantha Jenkins, she had her dad's cute button nose. But she was not wearing her eyeglasses. And her blue eyes looked so much brighter. And her smile was perfect, whereas before, there was the slightest of gaps between her front teeth.

"Derek!" the little girl said excitedly as she leapt off the chair and hugged the man.

"Rianne?" Derek said unsurely as he crouched down to one knee.

"I can see perfectly, Derek!" Rianne said with more excitement.

"I- how?"

"I don't know," Rianne answered, still excited. "I just woke up this morning and put my glasses on but that just made my vision worse."

Derek looked up past Rianne at Mr. Jenkins.

Mr. Jenkins, looking both unsure and fearful, shrugged and told Derek, "It's true. I'm just as baffled as you are. I held the newspaper about six feet away and she read the headline perfectly."

Derek nodded, though his confusion heightened. He said, "Well Rianne, Mr. Jenkins, follow me so I can do another exam. How would you like that, princess?"

Rianne leapt into the air once in excitement and replied, "I love those exams!"

While passing by the nurses station, Derek said to the head nurse, "Lora, would you mind paging Dr. Khalil that I need her in exam room four-one-three? It's urgent."

Once in the exam room, Derek had Rianne sit in the exam chair. He turned the exam chair and asked the little girl to read off the smallest letters she could read off the chart without squinting.

Rianne easily read off, "P, E, Z, O, L, C, F, T, D."

His eyebrows scrunched in shock and confusion, Derek commented, "That's... the last line. Now it's time for the phoropter.

While Derek was looking into the back of Rianne's eye, Dr. Khalil walked into the exam room and said, "Derek, why- oh hi, Rianne."

With his eyes still trained in the lenses of the machine, Derek said, "Doc, come look at this."

Dr. Khalil stepped up to the chair that Derek was occupying and tapped his shoulder. When he vacated the chair, Dr. Khalil sat down and flashed the light into the lenses of the phoropter, looking into the insides of Rianne's eyes.

"Hmm," the woman mused. "That's... curious."

"What?" Dennis demanded, anxious. "What is it?"

"Mr. Jenkins," Dr. Khalil said, ignoring the teen boy and still peering deep into the girl's eye. "Can you explain to me any changes in Rianne between her last visit and her vision- improving?"

"I- I don't know," Mr. Jenkins answered. "No new diet, same Flintstones vitamins every morning. For god's sake, last night she was cleaning her glasses and walked into the bannister. What's going on, doc?"

Dr. Khalil removed the phoropter from Rianne's face and answered with concern, "I have no idea, Mr. Jenkins. I've never seen anything like this. Are you sure there is nothing that's changed? Water quality? New grocery store? How long was she on those pain-relieving drops?"

Shaking his head softly, Mr. Jenkins replied, "Nope, nope. She only needed the pain drops for the day after the testing. Do these drops somehow cure blindness? None of this makes sense."

Dr. Khalil exhaled slowly, her brows still furrowed, and asked, "Derek, would you mind taking blood and urine samples? Dennis, why don't you join them?"

Holding his hand out with a kind smile, Derek said, "Come on, punken."

Grabbing Derek's hand, Rianne asked, "Derek, what's happening to me?"

"I don't- I don't know, Ri. But we will do our best to figure that out. Do you wanna hold my hand, too, tumbleweed?"

Dennis looked down to Derek's other hand which was outstretched. Dennis animatedly grabbed it and squealed in faux excitement for a second.

After taking a vial of blood Derek led the two children to a patient bathroom where he handed the little girl a small clear lidded cup. Derek and Dennis leant their shoulders against the opposite wall, facing each other.

"How are things with Claudia?" Derek asked.

Trying to hide his grin, Dennis answered, "Lost our virginities last weekend."

Derek held his hand out with his own grin. When Dennis clapped his hand, Derek said, "Nice. Way to go, man. How do you feel?"

"Now I feel great! Like a new man. Snuck her in. When we- began it was a little clumsy because whose first time is flawless. Took her a little while to get over the pain. But, oh man, she wanted it to last as long as possible. She told me she didn't want me to cum until she did, so I pulled out a few times to change positions."

"She is lucky to have such a considerate lover. Most guys, especially your age, don't care whether their girls orgasm or not. Keep her happy and she'll keep you happy. I hope you were safe."

"Yeah, I bought condoms a couple weeks ago. Just to be prepared, ya know. Can I- can I ask you something a little personal?"

"Umm... ask and I'll answer if I'm comfortable."

Visibly embarrassed as hell, Dennis asked, "Do a lotta guys like their- butts eaten?"

"Oh. Pretty much every straight guy has qualms with it. They see it as a homosexual act. But it's not. It's a sexual act that can bring pleasure to both the giver and the receiver. A couple of my straight friends have been eaten out before. Is that something you're curious about and want to try with Claudia?"

Still crimson red, Dennis replied, "No. She- she ate me out. She was licking my balls, then lifted my legs and just went for it."

"Oh. Wow. And she was a virgin. She knows what she wants to try and experiment with. How do you feel about it?"

Going a few shades redder, Dennis answered, "I- umm- I really liked it. While she was- doing that, she grabbed my dick and I nearly busted. I had to move her hand away."

"There is really nothing to be embarrassed about, Dennis. It doesn't mean that you're gay or bi or any less manly. Human beings are very sexual creatures. If you really liked it, just ask her to do it again. The worst she can say is no. But it sounds like she liked doing it, so I don't think she'll mind."

"But- but it just seems so--"

"Don't be embarrassed, dude. A guy being eaten out is perfectly normal. Having anything done to your ass doesn't mean anything other than you're exploring things and/or you like it. Would you judge me if I liked being tied up?"

"No, of c--"

"It's the same thing! I personally am a vanilla guy in bed but it's something that others like. You like something, you enjoy it."

Smiling, Dennis nodded his head and said, "Okay. I really do think Claudia would totally do it again."

"Fuckin' A, man!" Derek said as he high-fived the teen again. He then knocked on the bathroom door and asked, "Hey princess, you okay in there?"

A second later Rianne opened the door and held out the small cup which was dripping wet. "Don't worry, it's water. I washed it."

Derek opened the brown paper bag and the little girl dropped the cup inside. Rianne then positioned herself in front of Derek, her back to him, and stepped onto his feet. Holding onto her hands, Derek began walking.

"You still dating that guy?" Dennis asked.

"John? Yeah. In fact, he's coming over tonight."

Wagging his eyebrows at Derek, Dennis said, "A li'l nookie. Doctors orders, huh?"

"What's nookie, Dennis?" Rianne asked innocently.

Derek and Dennis shared a look, and Dennis replied, "Nothing, Ri. Grown up stuff."

Entering the exam room, Rianne asked, "Daddy, what's nookie?"

Mr. Jenkins looked from Dr. Khalil to his son, exasperated. "Nookie is... another word for... lounging on the couch and reading."

Rianne stepped off of Derek's shoes, sat on a chair, and said, "I think you're lying but okay."

Two hours later Derek was standing naked except for his boxer-briefs in his bedroom. After putting on a pair of black sweatpants, his buzzer rang.

After Derek answered, John's voice said, "Hey gorgeous!"

Derek held the button down and responded, "Hey! Come on up. My door's open."

Derek, now wearing a red v-neck tee, sat his backpack on his kitchen table and took out his books. John walked into his apartment and promptly gave him a sweet on the lips.

John smiled and asked, "Is it geeky of me that I missed you?"

Smiling as well, Derek answered, "Totally. The geekiest. But I guess that makes me a geek, too."

Now grinning, John gave Derek another peck on the lips before he went back into the kitchen.

While the blonde unloaded the brown paper bag of groceries, Derek asked, "How was the Big Apple?"

John exhaled loudly before answering, "It was fine. One of my meetings had a lot of political bullshit. Politics that shouldn't have been brought up. But otherwise it was a lucrative trip."

Derek sat his book down and went over to his blonde. He stood behind John, holding him tight and kissed his shoulder blades.

Leaning back slightly, relishing the feel of the black man's affection, John asked, "How goes the studying?"

Derek turned his head slightly so as to press the side of his face against the back of the taller man. "Studying is going very well. I took a practice exam for retinas this morning and I got a ninety-six."

"Hey, that's amazing! Now go study some more while I cook. Here's some garlic breadsticks. Dinner will be ready in an hour."

While Derek studied and John busied himself at the stove, the blonde hummed a soft melody. Derek loved the sound of the tune, and found that it actually kept him focused on his studies.

Thirty minutes into studying, Derek stilled his pen on his notebook and asked, "Does this song you're humming have a name? Hang on, is it 'A Princess'?"

Turning to Derek with a smile, John answered, "From Pans Labyrinth, yes!"

John resumed chopping whatever he was chopping and Derek rested his chin in the palm of his hand. He watched with a small smile as his date chopped orange bell peppers with a content look on his face and humming the sweet melody. After a moment Derek carried on taking notes from his textbook.

About forty minutes had passed when John sat a glass of white wine in front Derek and said, "Books away, Derry. Dinner'll be ready in three minutes."

When Derek packed his books back into his bag, Derek brought it to his bedroom. Back in the kitchen, Derek pressed his front flush against John's side. He placed a kiss on the man's shoulder before turning and looking at the plates.

"Roasted chicken strips glazed with a white wine lemon oregano sauce, roasted seasoned potato wedges, pan-seared bell pepper slices, and steamed snap peas."

Derek kissed John's cheek this time and said, "Looks even more delicious than it smells."

As the two sat down at the table, John asked, "How has your residency been going?"

"It's been smooth sailing. Mostly. This afternoon at Comer- mm, this chicken is amazing! This afternoon at Comer I was scheduled to assist a doctor with testing on the little girl who was losing her vision. She came in today- different. She no longer needed her eyeglasses, she could see the smallest letters on the chart with no problem at at all. Also, her teeth were perfectly aligned that weren't before. It's fucking weird. The chances of that happening are, like, one in a trillion. But it gets weirder. Dr. Flanning called me this morning asking a bunch of questions. Another patient of mine from Mitchell Hospital, who had progressive case of corneal dystrophy, showed up there as a precaution. She no longer needs to use her reading glasses and Dr. Flanning found no trace of dystrophy. She, too, was somehow miraculously healed."

"That is weird. What are you and the doctors doing about it?"

"Dr. Flanning at Mitchell has scheduled two appointments for the woman to keep tabs on her and her condition. Dr. Khalil at Comer, though, is a lot more concerned because this patient is a child. She's going into the hospital for exams every other day for two weeks."

"That's understandable. Do these two patients know each other?"

Swallowing a bite of potato wedge, Derek shook his head and said, "No. The only two commonalities is the fact that they're female, and they live in Chicago. Even then, they live on complete opposite ends of town."

"Well, I hope everything works out for them."

"How are your restaurants fairing in New York?"

"They are thriving," John replied, spearing a slice of orange bell pepper. "Profit margins of forty-three percent. Sat down with a couple of new servers, I like them and they liked their jobs. A chef is experimenting with quail, and one dish I tried was exquisite! Fiscal year ends on January thirty-first, so I hired an accountant to begin crunching numbers early next month."

"Mm, busy. What are your restaurants called anyway?"

"One is Manhattan is called Articulaire, and the other is in Brooklyn and it's called Kleinharte."

"The first one sounds French. How many employees do each have?"

"Articulaire isn't a French cuisine establishment. But that one has nineteen personnel members. Kleinharte has twenty."

"I know each has their own managers, but what exactly do you have regular involvement in?"

"Well hiring is left to them but if management wants to let someone go, they email me and Amelia the details; the employee in question, their station, duration of employment, infractions or policy breakage history, and a copy of their employment contract. Myself and Amelia authorize the employment seizure forms, and email them back to the manager and Lydia Reinman, our lawyer."

"Have you and Amelia ever butted heads about employment dismissals?"

"Once. A host had handled a disgruntled customer rather poorly, given that the customer wasn't rather nice. I think the host could've acted more professionally. I voted for dismissal, Amelia disagreed. We- debated about it for a whole day and most of the next morning. We watched the security footage and I won. But I did concede to Amelia's suggestion that the manager ban that customer. We both won in the end, I guess."

"That whole altercation sounds horrendous," Derek said with a shake of his head. "How does payroll work? Do you have to do anything for that?"

"The managers handle everything for payroll because they have bank signing authority. Amelia and I get emails when payroll is completed that detail employees, wage or salary, time clocked, net pay before deductions, vacation pay, tips if any, taxes and deductibles, net pay after deductions, and dollar totals of each."

"Mm. You totally don't have to answer, if we get to marriage I'll even sign a prenup, but how much do you make owning two restaurants?"

John giggled as he chewed before responding, "You're so cute. And it's even cuter that you're being considerate about something that could be years away. I don't mind answering that I make a hundred forty grand a year. A lot less than you'll be making when you become an ophthalmologist. So maybe you should be worrying about issuing a prenup."

"Hmm. Anyway, I hope you know you're spending the night here."

Smiling and chewing, John said, "S'that right?"

"Mm-hmm," Derek mumbled as he chewed. "I have an extra toothbrush."

Derek smiled at the smile of chagrin on John's face and John replied, "I- umm, I may have an overnight bag in my car."

"You're so cute when you're flustered!" Derek said with a laugh.

Even more flustered, John said almost defensively, "I didn't want to assume!"

Derek reached his free hand to the left and laid in John's wrist. "I- you're so cold."

Waving his other hand in dismissal, John responded, "Don't worry about it. I'm used to it. I already used my inhaler."

"As I was saying, we won't be doing any funny business tonight. I wait a while before having sex."

"Same here. That's why I didn't bring condoms. Well go back to studying while I wash the dishes."

"I can--"

John protested, "No, no. I got it. You have finals you have to ace."

"But I'm already doing so good. I--"

"If you don't go back to studying I'll get in my car and go home. Study."

With a huff, Derek said, "Fine. But before I study you have to cuddle me."

John smiled as he grabbed Derek's wrist. He gently tugged on it, guiding the black man to stand and go over to him. John then placed his hand on Derek's hip and pulled him so he sat sideways on his lap.

While laying his arm on the backrest of the chair, Derek said, "I meant on the couch."

Hike guiding Derek's head to lay on his shoulder, John replied, "If we do that you'll fall asleep. And I like you on my lap anyway."

When the blonde felt Derek relax completely in his embrace, he began humming softly the same tune he had when he was cooking.

Four minutes later John stopped humming and told the man on his lap, "Go study. Look at this way, the sooner I get the dishes done the sooner I can snuggle up to you properly."

Now smiling, Derek responded, "Well when you put it like that."

Derek lifted his head off the blonde's shoulder and pressed his lips against John's.

Twenty minutes later, having done the dishes, John walked into Derek's bedroom.

Derek looked up from his textbook, seeing the blonde man leaning his shoulder against the doorframe. "Hey."

John walked into the bedroom and and sat on the bed by Derek's hip. Derek rolled over onto his back.

John said, "No cuddles until you finish two more chapters."

Laying his arm across his face covering his eyes, Derek complained, "You're evil."

John smiled as he grabbed Derek's hip and pulled, beckoning the man to roll over onto his stomach.

No wing back onto his stomach like before, but lying the side of his face down on his notebook, Derek said, "But I'm so tired of studying."

"I'll rub your feet," John said as he sat at the head of the bed. "How'd you like that?"

Another forty minutes had passed when Derek closed his books. He lowered his head, resting it on his arm as a pillow. Seeing this, John dropped his date's foot and crawled, planting little kisses up the man's back.

Now lying his side with his arm around Derek's lower back, John asked, "What do you wanna do now?"

"Let's watch a movie on my laptop," Derek answered. "But go get your bag first. My keys are on the shelf by the door so you let yourself back in."

When John got back in carrying a backpack, he heard the small motor of device going in the bathroom. He took his toothbrush out of his bag and joined Derek. Derek, whose bushy hair was now tied in a tight bun, had been cleaning his face with a facial spin brush with a cleanser. So John squeezed some of Derek's toothpaste onto his toothbrush. When Derek rinsed his face off and washed the face brush, he applied a face serum from a blue bottle.

When the two men got back into Derek's bedroom, Derek shyly asked, "Do you- umm, do you mind if I sleep in my underwear? It's- it's how I usually sleep."

John didn't reply verbally. He smiled as he leaned forward and planted a kiss to Derek's cheek.

"Mmm," John moaned softly, keeping his nose to Derek's face. "Minty face cream."

John then grabbed the hem of his shirt and peeled the brown cotton off. Derek watched, totally entranced by the sight of John's skin becoming exposed. John was sculpted, muscular, with blonde hair around his navel down into his pants. John's well-defined pecs also adorned light Dustin's of blonde fur in the middle and around his pink nipples.

While he was slowly, teasingly unbuttoning his black jeans, John asked, "Do you need me to help you undress?"

Derek scoffed before he began removing his own clothes. He threw them into his hamper and got under the blue covers on his queen-sized bed while John neatly folded his used clothes.

"Do you like to be the big spoon or little?" Derek asked as he scrolled through Shomi movies.

Again, John didn't respond verbally. He climbed over Derek and laid down, scooted closer so his back was flush against Derek's chest.

When the movie 'Mary Poppins' began playing, Derek slid his right arm over John's sculpted tummy and held him tight. He then slid his other arm under the pillow which he was sharing with the blonde they were lying that close together. John turned his head slightly, enough to plant a kiss on Derek's forearm. Derek smiled to himself before turning lifting his head and planting his own kiss to John's cheek.

About an hour into the movie Derek noticed that John was completely still, comfortable. Derek gently lifted his head and saw that the blonde's eyes were closed. So Derek reached over and closed the lid of the computer. He laid a kiss to John's cheek before laying back down and sliding his arm back around John's middle.

Derek and John had been dating for about three months- three months, two weeks, and four days, but who was counting. For the first month the two had seen each other once a week. In the second month they saw each other two to four times a week. And in the past two weeks alone they saw each other eleven times.

John had been playing Mozart's 'Ave Verum Corpus' on his grand piano while Derek had his textbook open as did homework on his laptop. Within minutes, Derek had completed his work and loaded his books and computer into his backpack. After setting his bag on the floor against the bench, Derek leaned forward and laid his temple against John's shoulder.

When the song came to an end about four minutes later, Amelia, who was sitting on the sofa reading emails with David laying his head on her lap, said, "Dario wants to fire a server."

Turning his body to fully face Derek, John replied, "Yeah, I'll read the email tomorrow."

Tired, Derek remained still, his head resting on his boyfriend's shoulder. But then his cell phone vibrated, having received a new text message.

Derek groaned after reading the text message and said, "Jemma wants me to help her pick out a wedding dress. She's already shopped everywhere in Minnesota so she's going to be checking Raleigh next month. She'll pay for my plane ticket if I agree to leave on March tenth. Would you- umm... will you- ugh! Do you want to come? I- I'd like you to- to meet my family."

Shocked, happily shocked, John smiled at his boyfriend and responded, "You- you want me to meet your- your family?"

Still nervous as fuck, Derek said, "I can- I can pay for your plane ticket. I've got, like, five grand in--"

John gently grabbed Derek's chin and asked, "Do you really want me to meet your family?"

Derek grabbed John's hand and answered. "Yes. Because- because I- I love you."

A small shiver shook the whole of John's body then, and his eyes to roll slightly.

Concerned, Derek said, "Where's your inhal--"

"Say it again," John begged with his brows furrowed, sounding as if his life depended on it. "Say it again. Please."

Confused, Derek said, "What? Where's your in- no, that I love you?"

Again, John shivered slightly. He then turned to Amelia and said, "Est-ce ce que vous avez ressenti? Que fais-je?"

Amelia, wide-eyed, replied, "Il n'a pas- Si cela s'est passé, vous n'avez pas le choix. Come on, David, let's go see a film."

Derek had been staring, his worried brown eyes connected with David's shocked brown eyes. As David followed Amelia out of the living room, his gaze remaining hard and unfaltering.

Panicking, Derek said, "John, I- what is it? Did I do something wrong? I'll stop--"

"Shh, shh," John cooed while holding both of Derek's hips. "It's not that. But... God, this can't be happening."

"I'm- I'm- I'm sorry."

John kissed Derek on the lips before saying, "I promise it's okay, Derek. You are perfect. You are caring and kind and so gorgeous."

"Then what's going on? What was all that about?"

John, looking both happy and concerned, if that were possible, replied, "I am bound by nature and law not to say it back until- until... FUCK!"

John stood from the piano bench and slowly walked around the room. Derek watched, his heart broken for some unknown reason.

"Derek, the- the world that you see isn't- isn't what you know it to be. It--"

"'Isn't what I know it to be'? What- say what back? That you love me, too?"

"Derek, you mean so much to me. You have no idea what you do to me. But- but I'm- I'm not what you think I am. I'm- I'm a vampire."

Confused more than anything, Derek asked, "I'm sorry, what?"

John huffed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I know it sounds ridiculous."

Annoyed, Derek said, "John, if you don't love me, there are nicer ways to say that. I don't care if that's how you feel, I don't expect you to love you."

Sitting back down beside Derek, John responded, "I promise- I promise that's not it. I'm serious about both."

"This is-" Derek was shouting, but he forced himself to calm down. "Okay. If you're serious about being a vampire, show me."

"Okay," John said, looking sort of relieved. "Okay. Just-just wait here a minute."

John walked to the hall, opened the basement door and ran down the stairs. Ten seconds later the blonde walked back into the living room and sat down on the piano bench beside Derek. Derek blanched at the sight of a clear plastic bag of red liquid.

John carefully ripped a corner of the bag off, put his lips over the hole, and tilted the bag upside down. Derek's stomach churned slightly when he heard John swallow a mouthful of the liquid.

Derek stood quite abruptly, almost dizzy. He took a step to walk away, but John reached his hand out and gently grabbed Derek's hand. Derek jerked his hand away with a frightened Yelp. John had sort of expected something like that to happen but he couldn't help but to feel a pang of hurt.

"By- by..." John swallowed thickly, trying to reign in his emotions as the black man had his back to him. "You are free to go, of course, but I have to tell you something else of import. By law I am required to tell you that if you decide to end our relationship I am obligated to clear your memories of me. If you're not ending our relationship, my obligation is to offer you The Gift. And yes, The Gift is turning you into a vampire. You don't have to answer that now. I also have to tell you that if- that if you try to tell anyone..."

Derek remained still as a statue for a few moments. He then sniffled and wiped a tear away before walking out of the house. John rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his face down into his palms. Within seconds blood tears seeped through his fingers falling onto the hardwood floor.

Derek sat in his car, his mind all over the place and frozen at the same time. His world had come crashing down. His forehead was pressed against the steering wheel.

When Derek got home his backpack, cell phone, and coat, which he had forgotten at John's, were lying on his bed. He exhaled slowly, sombrely, before stripping himself of his clothes. He laid on his side under the covers, though hours had passed and sleep did not wash over him.

"No," Derek said lamely. "Hideous."

Nina sighed heavily. Putting the hanger back on the rack, she said, "Derek, it's been a week since you had that fight with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. You're a lot more broken up about it than you were when you broke up with Ken. Just call him. Or go see him."

Despondently roaming through Express Woman, Derek said sombrely, "Yeah, okay."

Nina sighed before saying, "Derek, seriously. You have to do something about it. You don't eat, you don't pay attention in school, and you're so glum at work. Just, I dunno, do something."

Still roaming aimlessly through the clothing store, Derek replied soberly, "It's a lot more complicated than that."

Nina huffed, but otherwise gave up. She took some clothes to the fitting rooms and left Derek to roam through the store.

The next day found Derek at Alex and Ross' apartment as the couple had a bunch of people over for a grill-out. Derek was lounging on a patio chair situated in the corner of the fifth story balcony while Ross flipped burgers, rolled hotdogs, and brushed sauce on steaks.

"Derek my man!" Zach Aeryn (pronounced Ay-yer-rin) said as he sat on the other patio chair. "How's it going, dude?"

Derek looked to his side at the redheaded man and for the millionth time that week, he thought to himself, 'He has no idea. No idea about what's out there. This poor soul doesn't even know what they--'

Zach, smiling, said, "Yo! Dude, you okay?"

Derek blinked and forced a smile on his face. "I- yeah. Fine. Where's Alana?"

"She's on her way. Her mom's in the hospital, broken leg from walking their dog and it chased after a squirrel or something. I- umm- I heard about your fight with your boyfriend. Sorry, man."

"Umm, thanks. How's law school?"

Zachary grinned as he replied, "I'm one of three students getting practical knowledge by assisting Prof. Bird with a defense case."

Just then Derek noticed Alex walk through the balcony door and step up to his boyfriend. He held Ross from behind and kissed his cheek multiple times, eliciting giggles from the cook.

Derek abruptly stood. He went over to the two hosts, turned them to face him, and kissed both their cheeks.

"Derek," Alex said with a smile.

Looking unsure but sounding excited, Derek said back, "I love you guys."

Derek walked back into the apartment and grabbed his coat from the closet.

While Derek was putting his boots on, Christen Wheeler asked, "Hey, where you off to?"

"Go talk to John," Derek answered as he opened the door and closed it behind himself.

Twelve minutes later Derek climbed out of his car and practically ran to the house. Guessing but pretty sure of himself, Derek thought that the blonde man had already heard him. So he opened the front door without knocking. Indeed, John was standing in the threshold of the living room and foyer. So Derek strode over and hugged the taller man. Derek felt the cold nose press against his cheek at the same time he felt the cold hands traveling over his back and sides.

"I love you," Derek said breathlessly. "I love you. I- I'm here. I'm here. With you. I choose a life with you. I want you."

When Derek heard John sniffle he lowered himself off of his tiptoes and wiped the blood tears from the blonde's face.

John laid a sweet kiss to Derek's lips and said, "Not seeing you for nine days felt like a century."

Derek gave John another kiss before replying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It was stupid of me to not realize sooner that I would regret not giving this relationship with you a real chance."

John smiled emotionally and pressed his lips to Derek's once more.

Derek held John close by the waist and said, "But I do have some questions."

Still smiling, John responded, "Yeah. Let's go cuddle in bed. I miss you being in my arms."

Upstairs in John's bedroom, John laid on his back in his king-sized bed on top the red comforter. Derek laid down as well, snuggled up to the blonde. He laid his head on John's chest, slid his leg on John's, and held John close by the middle. John, in turn, brushed the tip of his middle finger on Derek's arm.

"First questions is... is, do I- do I have to accept The Gift?"

"Eventually, yes," John answered. "But there's no time limit regarding that. It could be fifty years from now if you want."

"Okay," Derek said, sounding relieved. "Lore says that vampires can't go out during the day. But you did."

"The sunlight does damage vampires," John said easily. "But not as quickly as movies portray. Do you remember our second date?"

Nodding softly, Derek answered, "Yeah. We went to Wildberry and then- oh. Your reddened cheeks in the park."

"Yeah, that's it. Vampires can last about fifteen minutes in direct sunlight before showing signs of decay. Even then it's just skin irritation. So naturally, overcast skies mean longer daylight exposure."

"And diet? You've been eating regular food since we started dating."

"If we eat food we throw it up when we can. Otherwise the food begins to rot and people will soon be able to smell it. First on our breath, then if it's there long enough you'd be able to smell it just standing next to me."

"Mm. How often do you have to- feed on blood?"

"After three days we feel weak. After five we get a bit dizzy and our faces begin to sallow. After seven we have fainting spells and our faces sallow more. After eleven we die. But we don't have to live exclusively on human blood. Animal blood gives us equal amounts of nutrition. And before you ask, I drink mostly animal blood. The packets in the basement fridge are cow and horse blood."

Smiling, Derek said, "That's pretty cool. Super senses?"

"Yes. Some more than others. I heard your footsteps as you walked to the house. I smelled your scent before you opened the front door. Everything I see seems so crisp, clear, compared to my memories of human memories. Touching you, I not only feel your heart rate, I can also feel the blood rushing through your veins. Taste is a bit hard to explain. Mm... flavours become much more pronounced, but not unbearable."

"Mm. Super strength? Impenetrable skin?"

"Strength, yes. Impenetrable skin, not exactly."

John reached his left arm to his bedside table and pulled a pen out of the drawer. He showed the metal instrument to his once again boyfriend- boyfriend because he'd guessed they didn't actually break up. He then quickly stabbed his stomach. Derek gasped in shock. But a half a second later he saw the pen had broken, and John was fine apart from a small hole now adorning the cotton of his grey henley.

"Guns and bullets strong enough can penetrate our skin," John explained as he sat the broken pen on he table. "Items laced in vampire blood and saliva can do damage, too. But vampire blood and saliva also have healing properties to other organisms. But we have to be careful. Too much can cause unwanted changes. Your patients Rianne Jenkins and Erica Leighton..."

Shocked, Derek said, "You healed their eyes?"

Smiling, John replied, "Yes I did. The tiniest, tiniest drop of blood to each eye. But I did put a tad bit too much in Rianne Jenkins' eyes, as you've seen in her teeth alignment. Now I have to check on her periodically to make sure her baby teeth drop out when they should so her mature teeth can grow in. And then I have to make sure her mature teeth develop normally."

"Mm. I'm guessing you have super speed based on the fact that the night you told me about yourself I forgot my things here."

"Vampires do have great speed, but that's not I got your stuff from here to there. Vampires run a bit faster than Olympic sprinters, not as fast as Hollywood portrays. Here comes another shocker. Magic is also real."

A wee bit shocked but mostly confused, Derek asked, "I'm sorry, what?"

"Magic is real. Mages are the most common practitioners of magic, but it's common for vampires to learn. I'm one of those vampires. Watch this. See my cell phone charger on the dresser?"

Derek didn't move but his eyes, his brown orbs trained on the white wire coiled on the furniture. In an instant the white wire just disappeared. Vanished into thin air. But in that same instant the charger reappeared on John's stomach, right before Derek's eyes.

"Fuck," Derek whispered to himself as he grabbed the wire, making sure it was real. "Teleportation. What- what else can ya teleport? How far can you teleport things?"

"Anything can be teleported. The bigger the object, the more focus and energy it requires. Teleporting big objects can drain you to the point of fainting or even sleeping. Distance doesn't matter. I can teleport you to Berlin right now if I wanted."

"Goddamn that's cool," Derek said with a smile. "What other types of magic are you able to do?"

"Loads. I'll show you some time."

"Sure. So True Blood portrays vampire feeding as pleasurable for the person. Does that actually occur?"

"No. For a second the person is in pain from our teeth penetrating the skin. But the pain only lasts a second. Vampire saliva numbs the wound."

"Speaking of teeth..."

"The teeth that you've seen on me are the only teeth that I have. That's why it's so painful when a vampire bites a human, dull teeth breaking skin."

"Mm. Do you actually sleep or were you just pretending?"

"It's true that vampires do not require sleep. But we can. It comes especially easy when we're snuggly with someone."

Smiling again, Derek said, "Mm. How do erections happen for vampires? Or sex in general?"

"Nobody knows. Honestly. We're dead. But, as you can probably feel right now, I'm aroused. We're dead, but how do we experience orgasms? Why do the nerve endings in the gentalia remain active? Nobody knows."

"Hmm. Weird. So when were you born? How old were you when you- died?"

"I was born in 1772 in London to Andrew and Margaret Arbitar. I was turned in 1797. So I've been walking on Earth for two hundred forty-six years."

"Did you- did you have a family of your own?"

"Yes. I had a wife named Veronica who gave me three children. Two sons Francis and Harold, and a daughter Jessica."

"Did you keep an eye on them?"

"Yes. Harold's line died out with his only grandson Samuel Ryan Crane. But Francis and Jessica's lines still live today. I have twenty-seven living descendants, ages ranging from two years to eighty-six years. I have an eight times great granddaughter living here in Chicago who has a three-year-old son. I don't have favourites, but Sherry is the first to move away from Mother England."

"That's so cool!" Derek said excitedly. "So why- why were you turned?"

"I was on my way home one evening after witnessing the birth of my friend's firstborn. A vampire by the name of Starik knocked me unconscious and was feeding on me. Starik was a criminal who was causing mayhem in the vampire society, so Amelia, who was a- general in a vampire government, stopped him. I was nearly dead already, so Amelia turned me."

"Amelia turned you?" Derek asked in shock. "I assumed she was your vampire sister, as in made by the same vampire. How old is she? And what is David? Does Adam really exist?"

John laughed at Derek's excitement, finding it endearing and cute. "Amelia isn't exactly sure how old she is. She knows she was around eleven-hundred-years- old when the king died. David is another vampire from Israel, he's just a couple of centuries older than I am. And Adam is my brother- my vampire brother. Amelia turned him thirty-nine years ago because he was shot in a bank robbery."

"Oh, that's so sad. Do you- do you have- any vampire- children of your own?"

"Are you asking if I've turned a human before? We call them 'scions'. But no. I've never been comfortable with the thought of taking a lift to my hands."

"Mm. If, in fifteen years, I decided to accept The Gift, would it be Amelia who turns me?"

"That night that- that I told you, you felt me shiver, right?"

"Yeah, I've been curious about that."

"Well, that's one thing of vampire nature. When someone, human or vampire, confesses their love to you and a little convulsion rocks your body, that's how you know that person is yours."

"Yours? What does that mean?"

"It means that you are the one being roaming the planet that I'll love the most. It doesn't mean that you're stuck with me. You can date someone else if you want. It only applies to me in our case. I won't be able to love anyone else until you die. If someone had both you and Amelia captive and told me that I could save only one and had to choose, there basically would be no choice. I would choose you. I understand if that makes you uncomfortable. It can create a lot of pressure on you. Or even resentment."

"Relax. I find that possessive yet romantic. If you're uncomfortable with the thought of turning me yourself, I don't mind--"

"If anyone else tried turning you, I would hate them. It's in my nature to turn you myself when you choose to."

"Oh, okay. And you would be fine if I never choose to be turned? Or if I don't make that decision until old and grey?"

"Yes to both. It's not uncommon for a human to choose never to become a vampire. There's a vampire named Xiumin who looks like she's twenty, and her husband looks like he's fifty. A lot of vampires find their- true love for lack of a better word, who choose to die. When that human dies, some sort of essence, the essence that designates a true pairing, moves on to another human fetus. It's quite fascinating."

"That is fascinating," Derek agreed while rubbing his thumb on John's hip. "And romantic. I don't know if I'll want to be turned, though. Sorry to say."

"You got it, sweetie," John responded, still stroking his finger on Derek's arm. "Something you should do is take out a life insurance policy. It'll set your family when you're ready to be turned. We'll make your 'death' look like an accident."

"Okay, I'll do that next week," Derek agreed. "What should I expect if I decide to be turned?"

John exhaled slowly, anxious. "Being turned takes anywhere between sixty-two to eighty hours. During which you will be in a lot of pain. Pain so profound that not even the numbing properties of vampire saliva will be able to stop your tears. The basement is soundproof, so we'll keep you down there chained."

Fearful, Derek asked, "Pain? Soundproof? Chained? God, that sounds horrible."

"Which is why most humans choose not to be turned. I will not hate you if you choose not to or change your mind in the future."

"Okay. You also mentioned law last week. What are the governing bodies in your world?"

"Body. Just one. There used to be a king who was the fiercest sorcerer in the world. Since he died and he didn't have any children or scions of his own, we have an election every year. We elect a steward or stewardess. Each country has a duke or duchess who isn't elected but defeats everybody else in that country in duels."


"Not exclusively magical duels. The duke of Japan has very, very little magical abilities but he beat everybody using his saliva-coated katana."

"Mm. That's cool. Who is the duke or duchess of the USA?"

"It's Amelia. She is very powerful. She's been the duchess for a hundred and nineteen years. And if you're wondering if I really do own restaurants, I do. I have zero political tendencies or desires."

"So if the king died, why don't you guys elect a new king or queen?"

"Nobody knew how old he really was, but Sirvios, the world's first vampire magic practitioner, became king nearly twenty thousand years ago by learning magic and using his abilities to defend humanity from horrific vampires. With time, his magical abilities became stronger and stronger, being able to defend his title as king at each challenge. Just over ten thousand years ago, Sirvios' mind became heavy, burdened by things he chose not to talk about. At a mass gathering he announced that he was ending his life, that he'd planned to sit on the hill until the sun turned him to ash. When the uproar had turned to whispers and then nothing, the king announced that his 'nua', his essence, and I quote, 'would be instilled into one born of love. He shall bear my mark, and you shall worship him as you have me.' Amelia was there. She ran out of her hut just before Sirvios succumbed to the sun. His ashed face smiled at her. But that's why the supernatural community doesn't elect a supreme leader. Most know that someone will be born with his abilities and mindset, and most will accept them as our leader. There is a small group that refuses to believe that the king will some day be reborn and has attacked individuals they believed to have a possibility of bearing the mark."

"You sound awfully sure. But maybe I'm just still getting used to the ideas of vampires and magic. What was the king's mark?"

"Sirvios was born with a big red birthmark on his left leg. It was shaped like a scorching sun."

"Mm. Born. Does that mean human born or vampire born?"

"Everything. Werewolves and fae are encouraged to check their offspring as well."

"Werewolves and fae are real, too!?" Derek asked loudly, even more shocked than before.

"Sorry, I should've mentioned that earlier. They are also able to learn magic so they check their offspring for the mark."

Derek rubbed his eyes with his other hand and groaned, "This is all so much."

"Yeah, it's a lot for a human to take in. Amelia just said she's back and wondering if it's okay to come in."

Knowing that he shouldn't have been surprised but still was, Derek responded, "Oh. Oh. Umm, yeah. I- I guess so."

A second later John's bedroom door opened. Standing at the doorway was Amelia, her long brown hair hanging in soft waves and a happy smile gracing her beautiful face. And then David walked into the bedroom, sliding his hand to Amelia's lower back, and his own smile forming.

"Derek," Amelia said happily. "How wonderful to see you again. I trust Johnathan has told you everything?"

Derek smiled shyly and buried his face in John's chest, saying, "I think so."

John, still trading patterns on Derek's arm, told Amelia, "Yes. I was just about to ask him if he wanted to spend the night."

Derek could hear the giddiness in Amelia's voice as she replied, "Excellent! David and I are going to bed also. Derek, I'm happy that you're here."

When Derek heard the bedroom door close, he lifted his face from John's chest and asked, "Is David Amelia's true match?"

"Yeah, he is. They'd been dating for about nine months when he was shot and she turned him."

"Mm. Is your name really Johnathan?"

"Almost everything I told you when we started dating is true. Johnathan Matthew Langley was my great uncle. Andrew Lance Arbitar was my grandfather. So I was born Johnathan Andrew Arbitar."

"Mm, that's good. I was thinking I was gonna have to redo all of our conversations. So will you still come with me when I go to Raleigh in a couple weeks?"

John smiled as he gave Derek a gentle squeeze. "Of course. Do you want to take a plane or would you rather teleport?"

Amused, Derek said, "That's not something you hear every day."

"I do," John retorted.

Derek sung his arm a little, slapping John's leg. "Tomorrow morning you'll teleport us to my apartment so I can get ready for school. If I don't mind it, we can teleport to Raleigh."

Derek slid his leg fully over John's hips, now straddling the blonde man.

As the black man planted little kisses on his neck, John said, "I missed you."

Derek smiled when John grabbed both of his ass cheeks, he was now nibbling on John's earlobe. Derek then moaned when John's hands squeezed his firm glutes.

John peeled the shirt up off of Derek body and whispered, "Fuck, I missed you."

Now shirtless, Derek sat upright, pulling John to sit up as well. He quickly pulled John's grey henley off his body. John then dove his head to Derek's chest, kissing the black man's lightly hairy chest and licked his nipples. Derek in response threw his head back in pleasure and groaned. He then pushed John back down and kissed down his torso. As Derek planted smooches on John's trim tummy. He unbuttoned the man's jeans, slowly shimmying them off his hips along with his black boxer-briefs. John's thick erect cock laid throbbing on his stomach, Derek hungrily gazing at it as he fully removed the jeans.

Derek and John gazed deeply into each other's eyes as Derek grabbed the rigid cock, wrapping his fingers around the base. Derek then teasingly licked his way up the length of John's nine inches.

John, short of breath even though he didn't need to breathe, drove his fingers through Derek's black, bushy hair. He watched with anticipation as Derek's tongue swirled around the thick head of his cock before wrapping his lips around it.

Derek achingly, slowly bobbed his head gently suckling on the first three inches of dick in his mouth, unfastening his own jeans. With his pants now undone, Derek abruptly lowered his head and swallowed the whole of John down his throat. He rested his nose against the trimmed blonde pubes for a second before bobbing his head quickly. This caused John to moan quite loudly, his face contorted in pure ecstasy.

Derek slowly lifted his head, dislodging the thick cock from his mouth. He stroked it, asking, "You like that?"

Completely around, John could only respond by nodding his head.

Still stroking, Derek asked, "Yeah? Want my mouth back on this?"

Taking shallow breaths, John merely nodded again, his gorgeous green eyes glazing. His eyes then fluttered rapidly for a second when Derek swallowed his cock once again. He whimpered softly as Derek bobbed his head and one of his hands grabbed his low hanging ball sac, gently kneading the big orbs.

John sat up and at the same time, lifted Derek off his cock. He then pushed Derek to lay on his stomach and pulled the man's jeans off his legs. John then grabbed Derek's waist and lifted him enough so the black man's ass was in the air exposed. John kissed Derek's right cheek as he grabbed Derek's hot, rigid cock and slowly stroked the nine inch length.

"Please just eat me out," Derek begged, his hands gripping the bedsheets tightly.

John buried his face in the smooth crack of Derek's ass with his tongue licking the rim of his hole. As he rimmed, he continued to stroke Derek's rigid pole.

After a few moments of being rimmed, Derek unclenched his right hand and reached back, pushing John's head further in. John smiled with his tongue still working Derek's hole. But then he stiffened his tongue and drove the tip into Derek. This caused Derek to groan as he went limp, fully enjoying his ass being played with and his cock being milked.

After a while, Derek stood on his knees and pushed John to lay on his back. Derek straddled John's hips, spit a big wad of saliva into his palm and smeared it all over John's cock.

When Derek placed the head of John's dick at his hole, John smiled and asked, "No condom?"

Derek didn't reply. John felt his heart turn to mush as he looked deeply into Derek's stunning brown eyes. He gasped slightly, his breath hitching in his throat when the tip of his cock entered Derek. Derek's face held a look of both pleasure and pain, probably pained pleasure. But Derek leaned back further still, plunging more of John into him. Within seconds John was fully inside his boyfriend, so he pulled Derek down and hugged him and laid sweet kisses on his shoulders and neck.

Derek woke up the next morning and smiled to himself, his eyes remaining closed. He could feel John's head laying on his left arm, and his right arm wrapped around John's waist. Derek pressed his lips to the nape of John's neck and then laid still, awake, relishing in the fact that he had someone to hold.

Five minutes later John groaned very quietly. He turned over gently, making sure to keep Derek's arm holding him close.

After Derek laid a gentle kiss to John's forehead, the blonde asked, "Time's it?"

"I dunno. Just a sec."

Derek reached to the bedside table and grabbed his cell phone. It was four-forty-two in the morning.

John gently pulled the phone out of Derek's hand laid it behind him on the bed and asked, "Cuddle before we go for a run?"

John gently pushed Derek's shoulder so he laid on his back. John slid his leg over Derek's, and laid his head on Derek's firm furry chest to listen to his heart beat. Derek touched his finger tips to John's back and firmly kneaded the muscles.

Fifteen minutes later the two men were still in the same position. The only difference now was the fact that Derek's fingers now ached from kneading John's back for so long.

John jumped over Derek's body off the bed. While putting on a pair of navy gym shorts, John said, "Kay, let's go. I'll teleport us to your apartment."

After Derek put his underwear on, John said, "Just grab your clothes. Don't bother putting them on."

John put on a skin-tight UnderArmour compression shirt as Derek grabbed his clothes from all over the bedroom. Holding his clothes in his arms, Derek stepped up to the blonde.

"Turn around because I want you to watch as the teleportation happens," John instructed. "Now I'm only holding you because I can hear your heart beating wildly. You won't feel a thing. I swear. Ready?"

Derek reached one hand up and held firmly onto John's forearm. He could his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest and his lungs begging for air despite breathing heavily.

John pressed his temple to Derek's and soothingly said, "Just breathe. Deep breath in. One, two, three. Exhale. One, two, three. Deep breath in. One, two, three."

"Okay. Sorry. Let's go."

John kissed Derek's cheek. "Now look at that picture hanging there. Just focus on that. Those are Tyson and his son Jacob, two of my descendants. See how happy they are?"

Derek nodded. After doing so, he continued to gaze at the photo. But then his vision went white for a millisecond. The next millisecond, Derek found himself staring the photo of his niece and nephew sitting on his tall dresser.

"See?" John said softly, still holding Derek. "Totally painless."

"Damn," Derek whispered.

With his backpacked strapped to his shoulders and his duffle bag in his right hand, Derek said to his boyfriend, "Ready. Shall we?"

John placed his left hand to Derek's hip and planted chaste kiss to Derek's soft lips. Derek opened his eyes and they were no longer in Derek's bedroom but now stood in an empty restroom in the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

While walking through the airport, Derek took his phone out of his pocket and texted his mom that they'd just landed and were looking for the Enterprise agent that was supposed to pick them up. Which wasn't true. John knew a fae who would be waiting outside with a car.

"Johnny!" a young man called as he stepped toward the blonde. "You look good, man."

Shaking the man's hand with a smile, Derek responded, "Hey Larry. I like what you've done with your hair."

The man- fae- Larry, scratched his completely bald head with a chuckle. He then turned to Derek and said, "Hi. I'm Larry. You m--"

Larry's smile had vanished, but he looked fine otherwise. He'd grabbed Derek's hand and gazed into his eyes.

After a moment, John asked, "What? What is it?"

Larry's green eyes continued to bore into Derek's brown ones for another moment before turning to John and answering, "I don't see anything. Blank. Well, you know the deal, blondie."

John nodded and said, "Yeah, just text me when you're ready to come back."

Larry vanished, having been teleported. Derek and John threw their bags into the backseat of the Cadillac Escalade.

While buckling in, Derek asked, "What was that about?"

"Larry?" John asked as he turned the ignition. "Fae can read thoughts, see memories, glimpse into someone's future. Some humans have to be read by touch, physical contact. Few cannot be read by even the most powerful of fae. Nobody knows why."

"Mm. And is Larry one of these powerful fae?"

Shaking his head, John answered, "No. He's just below average, which is why he needed me to teleport him to Cuba."

As soon as Derek stepped into his childhood home, his nephew Anthony cried with excitement, "Uncle Derry!"

Derek dropped his duffle and dropped to one knee. Little Anthony jumped into his arms. Hearing more little feet potter-pattering quickly, Derek sat Anthony on his knee and held his niece in his other arm.

"How are my two little monsters?" Derek asked giddily before planting a little kiss to each head.

"Good," Anthony and Jules replied in unison as they climbed out of their uncle's embrace.

Derek unzipped his duffle and pulled out a stuffed panda and a stuffed hippo. The two children cheered as they accepted the toys and ran off.

Approaching the woman standing in the threshold of the kitchen, Derek said to her, "Hey Jemma."

Hugging her little brother with a smile, Jemma said, "You look good, Derry."

Derek then gave both his parents hugs, after which he turned to John, who was smiling at the scene.

"Mom, dad, Jemma, this is my boyfriend John Hodges," Derek said with a smile of contentment. "John, meet my parents Ian and Rebecca, and my sister Jemma."

Smiling confidently, John shook Mr. Webber's hand and gave each of the women a warm hug. Derek then grabbed John's hand and they followed the two women into the kitchen. Mr. Webber went into the family room where he watched some sport on TV.

While Derek grabbed two beers out of the refrigerator, Jemma asked John, "So what do you do, John?"

Opening the two bottles with his bare fingers, John answered, "I own a couple of restaurants in New York."

Chopping onions, Mrs. Webber said, "Oooh! Fancy. You cook, suga?"

"I can," John answered with a smile as he placed his around Derek's shoulders. "I love cooking. Tell ya what, I'll cook dinner tomorrow."

Mrs. Webber and Jemma smiled, and Mrs. Webber cooed, "A man afta muh hawt."

John flashed Mrs. Webber a sweet smile before turning to Jemma and asking, "So, Jemma, Derek tells me that you're a neurologist. How do you like your career?"

Jemma set the fresh apple pie on a wire rack and replied, "I love it. Neurology relies heavily on history and physical examinations, I love the hands-on experience and quick thinking it requires. I find it amazing that I can use tampers and feathers and all these other bizarre instruments on your body and use your responses to diagnose a disease or condition."

Just then the front door opened and Mars. Webber said to Derek, "That'll be ya brutha and Lola."

Indeed it was. Hank and Lola entered the kitchen and Derek went over and hugged them both. He then went back to his boyfriend and introduced them.

An hour and a half after dinner everybody sat in the family room. Derek and John sat on one love seat with Jules on Derek's lap. Mr. and Mrs. Webber and Jemma sat on the sofa with Anthony sat on Jemma. Hank and Lola sat on the other love seat, snuggly, like John and Derek were. They shared laughs and funny stories. John found that he loved this atmosphere, he felt the pure love this family had for each other.

Derek, laughing at a memory that Hank had shared, glanced at his boyfriend. He turned back to John, his laughter no longer there but his smile still gracing his beautiful voice. Derek saw the sheen of love and adoration evident in John's green eyes.

The next day when John and Derek walked into the house from their morning run, Mr. Webber was adjusting his neck tie at a mirror by the staircase.

Making his way up the stairs, Derek said to his dad, "Go with the black shoes, dad."

"Separate showers, boys!" Mr. Webber called, teasing. "I've got my eye on you, John-John!"

"Ian!" Mrs. Webber said with laughter. "Leave the poe boy alone."

Derek and John shared a shower, a shower that involved many laughs and kisses. That was all, though. They washed each other's bodies, planted little smooches on cleaned skin, and John may have wiggled a finger into Derek's underarm once or twice.

John walked back into Derek's childhood bedroom and Derek walked downstairs into the kitchen, wearing just a towel around his waist and his hair tied in a bun.

"When are we heading to the salon?" Derek asked his sister, who was sitting at the island reading something on her laptop, as he grabbed two bananas.

Grabbing her coffee mug and her eyes remaining on her computer screen, Jemma answered, "At ten."

Back upstairs, Derek opened his bedroom door and stopped in his tracks. He was appreciating the beauty before him. John was standing, his back facing him, completely nude. John was rubbing the green towel through his hair, and hat had Derek totally mesmerized was the sight of John's glorious, round, pert ass cheek.

John, still drying his blonde hair, turned his head and smirked at Derek. Derek smiled to himself after John turned back around. He then closed the door and went up to the blonde. John turned around and tossed the towel into the hamper in the corner of the room. He then grabbed Derek's neck and pulled him to a deep kiss.

"Now dress up," John said as a medium grey suit appeared on the bed. "Which suit of yours do you want?"

"Umm, my navy one, please," Derek replied as he slid on a pair of pink boxer-briefs.

Derek and John walked back downstairs, John wearing medium grey dress pants with a white dress shirt adorning little blue birds, and his matching jacket hung over his arm. Derek was wearing navy dress pants and a plain grey dress shirt, his matching jacket also hung over his arm.

"Want me cook you guys something for breakfast?" John asked.

Jemma smiled at John and replied, "I'll stick with coffee. I don't wanna have a gut when I'm trying on dresses."

Mrs. Webber said, "I'm fine, sweetie. I ate already."

Derek kissed John cheek before telling him, "Fruit's fine."

"No it won't be fine," John protested. "You won't last four hours on just a banana and an orange. You'll get bitchy when we're dress shopping."

Derek rolled his eyes, but conceded, "Fine. Pancakes and sausages?"

Mrs. Webber laughed and said to Derek, "I like him moe and moe. Even Kenneth couldn't getchu ta eat propaly."

Affronted, Derek cried, "Mom!"

"Whaaat?" Mrs. Webber still smiled. "Do you know who Kenneth is, John?"

John looked back from the bowl of flour with a smile. He was about to answer Mrs. Webber but Derek said, "Of course we had the past loves talk already. I just don't like you telling him about my relationship and dynamics with Ken."

"Oh hush, chow," Mrs. Webber waved her baby off. "John is a grown man. He knows you had past relationship same as you know his."

Smiling, highly amused, Jemma smacked her baby brother's leg.

While pouring milk to the bowl of flour, baking powder and egg, John asked, "So, Mrs. Webber--"

"Suga, juss call me Becca."

John nodded and carried on, "So, Becca, what else can you tell me about Derek and Ken?"

Derek lowered his shoulders, making his forehead smack the island counter.

"Well," Mrs. Webber thought, "Ken had this habit of tran to impress Ian. Made a foo o' himself, that boy. Fell asleep moe times that I can count watchin' ESPN."

Everybody but Derek laughed. Derek remained with his face buried on the island.

"I hate you guys," Derek said glumly.

An hour later they were off to the bridal salon. Jemma drove Mrs. Webber's car for her and her mom, while John drove the the Cadillac with Derek in the passenger seat.

Hike driving, John grabbed Derek's hand and said, "You don't have to be embarrassed about you and Ken."

Stroking his thumb on the back of John's hand, Derek replied, "I'm not. I just don't want you to compare us to me and Ken."

"I don't. It's the same as my relationship with Daniel. You don't compare me and you to me and him, do you?"

"No, of course not."

"See? I just found it amusing with your mom. So should I know anything about your friends before lunch?"

"Mm... I'm ninety-nine percent sure Robbie will show some form of affection with me, but he won't ignore you. If anyone would make sure you're a good guy, it'll be him. Tiana and Evelyn will probably have their six-year-old son who loves to talk. Mitch is the Japanese I told you about, the comedian of the group. Brent was a huge nerd in school so be prepared for him to go on these big spiels about practically anything. He can talk about something for a long time. Everyone else is fine."

Mrs. Webber and Jemma had been waiting outside of the bridal salon for just a few moments when Derek and John joined them. Jemma's maid of honour Lacey and bridesmaid Fiona were waiting inside the salon.

The first dress that Jemma tried on was a strapless mermaid dress. Nobody liked it. The second was a shoulder-strapped A-line dress that was pretty, but not Jemma. The third dress was a lace-sleeved trumpet dress, which everybody hated the sleeves.

Standing on the platform in front of the giant mirror, Jemma shook her head in frustration. She turned around and practically demanded, "Derek go back there and show these people what a real wedding dress is supposed to look like."

Highly amused, Derek said, "Jesus, Jemma, calm down. It's not the staff's fault."

Jemma massaged the bridge of her nose as she said, "I know. I know. I'm sorry, everyone."

Derek followed Celine, the sales associate, into the back room and began leafing through clear plastic bags hanging off racks of size two dresses.

Fifteen minutes later Derek sat back down in the gallery and grabbed John's hand with a smile. Celine the sales lady had carried three dresses picked out by Derek to Jemma's fitting room.

Smiling, John asked, "Jemma relies on you for fashion?"

"Yeah," Derek answered easily. "I always get her clothing as gifts. Birthdays, Christmas, etcetera. I know what she likes, what will look good on her."

A couple of minutes had passed when Jemma came back out wearing a strapless ball gown that was gushed about by everybody.

"Now that's what I'm talkin' about!" Fiona called enthusiastically.

Mrs. Webber said, "Looks great, princess. But I ain't likin' the beadin'."

"I can't see myself walking down the aisle in this," Jemma agreed. "Or dancing."

The next dress was a tea-length dress with a pleated shirt and elbow-length sleeves.

"Aww, that's so cute!" Lacey said with a hand on her chest. "But- but it doesn't say 'Jemma's wedding dress', ya know?"

Still staring at her reflection, Jemma responded, "I think I wanna buy this and have it dyed for special occasions."

"What a waste of two grand," Mrs. Webber admonished. "I'm sho you can find a dress just like it fa ten times less."

While twisting her hips, making the skirt swing and sway, Jemma retorted, "This costs five grand, actually."

Mrs. Webber rolled her eyes and said with sarcasm, "Cuz that's so much betta."

Jemma went back out with a teary smile. She was wearing a satin sheath dress that hugged her body beautifully. The skirt clung to her legs only when she walked and it had a small train at the back. The satin sleeves clung to the whole of her arms like a second skin.

Standing on the platform staring at her reflection, Jemma pushed the sleeves further up her wrists a little and said, "I need to shorten the sleeves a little. Other than that, I love this. This dress was made for me."

What Mrs. Webber loved about the dress was the fact that the sweetheart neckline didn't show too much cleavage. Everybody agreed that Jemma should buy that dress.

To make the bridesmaid dress shopping faster, Jemma said, "Derek, go pick out some bridesmaids dresses."

Derek rolled his eyes and responded, "Not even a 'please'?"

Walking back to the dressing room to take off the wedding dress, Jemma said, "No frills, no ruffles, no feathers."

Derek, annoyed, rolled his eyes. But he otherwise followed Celine back to the stock room.

Out of the three dresses that Derek picked out, everybody agreed on the red tea-length dress with a halter strap.

At Guasaca Derek immediately recognized Tiana's signature French braided messy bun. He then saw Evelyn's bob cut blonde hair, and rushed toward the table.

When Evelyn saw Derek her eyes widened and she cried, "Derry!"

Derek kissed both the women's cheeks before stepping to the side and saying, "T, Ev, this is my boyfriend John. John, my friends from high school Tiana and Evelyn, and their son Charlie. Hiya little guy!"

Smiling with both excitement and bashfulness, the adorable little boy walked around the half-circle bench and walked into Derek's open arms.

While John shook the two women's hands, Derek pulled a Transformers toy out of the back of his jacket and said, "Look what Uncle Derry got for you."

Grinning and holding the toy by the cardboard, Charlie cried, "Aww it's Optimus Prime! Thank you, Uncle Derry!"

"Hey, where's my Transformers toy, huh!?" Derek recognized Robbie's voice.

Derek immediately turned and jumped into his best friend's arms. Behind Robbie were Brent, Mitch, and Sylvia.

After hugging his other friends, Derek introduced everybody else to John. Brent, Mitch, and Sylvia sat in the chairs while Tiana, Evelyn, Charlie, John, Derek, and Robbie sat on the cushioned bench. It was indeed a tight fit.

Robbie said, "Hey, T, scoot over some so I have more room. You know what, never mind. Derry, sit on my lap. You're the shortest of us anyway."

Derek offered the Latino a sarcastic smile and retorted, "Hehe, fu-udge you."

Evelyn gave Derek a scornful look, to which Derek mouthed an apology. So Evelyn kindly asked her son to sit on her lap because they were all squished.

After the waitress took their drink orders, Mitch asked Derek, "You ready for your finals, chum?"

"Yeah," Derek answered brightly. "Took a couple of practice exams last week and got a ninety-one and a ninety. I took my textbooks with me, which Johnny Boy wasn't enthusiastic about."

John, smiling, shrugged his shoulders and defended, "I wanted Derek to completely relax during this trip. Hang out with his family, catch up with his friends, show me where he grew up."

Smiling, Sylvia said, "Hot as fu-udge and considerate. Better watch out, Derry. I might just steal him away."

Highly amused, Brent said, "Geez, Sylvi, you're engaged."

Robbie then laid his arm around Derek's shoulders and told the group, "Remember I called dibs on this fine a- butt if he breaks up with blondie."

Derek placed his hand on Robbie's knee, making an audible slap, and retorted, "How generous of you."

Robbie pulled Derek in closer and cooed, "Anything for my Derry Pooh."

Derek smiled slightly as he craned his neck and leaned in for a kiss. Robbie did the same, making like they were actually going to kiss. At the last second, like Derek predicted, Robbie pulled away.

Mitch turned to Sylvia and said, "You owe me ten bucks. Pay up, bi- tumbleweed."

Brent chuckled and said, "We're still not used to having to filter our mouths around kids."

"I'm just happy you guys are trying," Tiana said thankfully.

"Hang on, hang on," Derek said, waving a hand. "What's the bet about?"

Robbie exhaled in annoyance and replied, "It's ridiculous."

Evelyn explained, "Mitch and Sylvi have been betting for about a year now whether Robbie will actually lay his lips on yours when he teases you."

"I do not tease Derry," Robbie said, still annoyed. "We just play. For the millionth time."

Shocked, Derek said, "You knew?"

Defensively, Robbie shrugged and answered, "It's ridiculous. Harmless. I mean we've kissed before. I know how you kiss, you know how I kiss, so it's not happening again."

"Wait, wait, wait," Tiana said in confusion. "You two actually kissed? How did we not know about this?"

Derek shrugged and responded, "We don't tell you guys everything. And it was awkward."

Mitch slapped Robbie's arm playfully and teased, "Robbie's that terrible at kissing, huh?"

Robbie said snidely, "Kiss my butt, Mitsuru."

Mitch, putting on a tone of faux shock, said, "Hey, there's no need to resort to name calling."

The waitress returned with their drinks and took their lunch orders.

"John," Robbie said before he sipped his Pepsi. "What was your first impression of our Derry?"

Derek had warned John that Robbie would be affectionate and protective. It warmed him that he really was.

"I first laid eyes on Derek in October when we bumped into each other. I thought he was gorgeous, sexy. These stunning, bright eyes hold so much meaning. He apologized even though I was the one rushing, and picked up my wallet for me. I was late to dinner and he was with his friend so we had to go before I could get his number. Luck was on my side, though. A couple of weeks later Derek saved my money again. At the movie theatre my MasterCard fell out of my pocket and he immediately gave it back to me. That's when I knew I had to have him. He's one of the most compassionate and sympathetic people I know."

Sylvia laid her hand on her chest, and Evelyn grabbed Tiana's hand, and all three women cooed at the sweetness.

The group got to know John, asking about his childhood and high school, what he was like. John also asked Derek's friends questions of his own. They had sat together for two hours, much longer than anyone had planned to. But nobody minded. It gave them an excuse to order dessert.

"Excuse me," John said. "I need to use the restroom."

When she thought John was far enough away, Tiana said, "I like him."

"Yeah, he's funny," Sylvia said in agreement.

"Smart guy," Brent also agreed.

"Good man," Mitch also agreed.

Derek rolled his eyes and said, "Well I'm glad you guys like him."

Robbie said, sounding relieved, "He cares about you."

Two months later after Derek had gotten his hair trimmed at Aveda, John walked up to the cash register where Derek was paying for the service.

As Derek handed his credit card to the lady he noticed the unease on John's face and asked, "What is it?"

John leaned in close and whispered, "Two people close by are using invisibility spells."

"What?" Derek asked, concerned. "Where are they?"

"I dunno," John whispered as he glanced all around. "I can feel that they're close, though."

"Are they following you?" Derek asked as he signed the slip. "Why would anyone keep tabs on you?"

Holding Derek's hand as he led him out of the hair salon, John answered, "No idea. Maybe because I'm one of the duchess' scions. But this has never happened before. Let's go to the restroom so I can teleport us out of here. I just teleported your car to your apartment."

Derek and John had just entered an empty restroom when a man suddenly appeared. He looked to be about mid thirties, his black hair tied in a low ponytail.

"Ranvir," John said, relieved. "Why are you here?"

"I apologize for frightening you and your mate," the man said in a heavy Indian accent. "We have a situation in Mumbai. We need the best retainers. Thirty minutes ago the resistance attacked one of the busiest markets. The target was Kavya. She's fine. But there are over two hundred witnesses."

John drove his fivers through his dirty blonde hair as he replied, "Okay, I'll be there in five minutes."

When the Indian, Ranvir, teleported away, Derek asked, "Who was that?"

"Werewolf. Duke of India."

"Who's Kavya?"

"Human. She was born with a big mole on her rib cage that resembles a sun."

Comprehending, Derek whispered to himself, "She could be reborn as queen."

"If a vampire or a werewolf gives her the gift, yes. Do you want me to teleport you somewhere?"

Derek shook his head and answered, "I'll be fine here. I'll text Alex to meet me here. I came here to do some shopping."

John gave a Derek a passionate kiss before telling him, "I just teleported your car back here. I'll see you later."

"Yeah. Be careful."

Five hours later Derek was lying on his stomach in his bed when he heard someone in his hallway kicking off their shoes. Two seconds later John stepped into the bedroom and sat on the bed with a smile.

Derek rolled onto his back and laid his hand on John's knee. "How'd it go?"

"Four dead, fifty-one with minor injuries," John replied sombrely. "Memories of four hundred altered. Ranvir and his team made up a story for the news. What are you reading?"

Smiling, Derek answered, "Sterek fiction. They are my OTP."

"Mm. Dylan O'Brien is a very talented actor."

"Is there a- spell or something that can track the location of someone? I mean, how did Rin- Ran- the Indian know where you were?"

"There isn't a location spell," John answered. "We teleport to locations that the target frequents. Some are powerful enough that they can sense magical signatures when close enough. Ranvir is one of those. I can, too, but not as well as Ranvir. I can sense signatures there but never able to tell who it is. Amelia and the Russian duke Arkady have the most powerful signature sensors. So powerful that they could find me in a two hundred ninety mile radius."

For another hour Derek read fiction on his laptop with John's torso lying draped over his back and his cheek pressed against his shoulder blade listening to his heart. Derek closed his laptop and stayed completely still for a few moments. He knew then that John had fallen asleep.

In early August John had teleported himself and Derek to Raleigh for Jemma and Kevin's wedding. Because it was an outdoor ceremony John had to fake stomach pains. Mrs. Webber had made a small pot of chicken soup loaded with vegetables for him before everybody else jumped into the cars.

At The Pavilion Derek walked into the small meeting room with his mom right behind.

"Aww!" Mrs. Webber cried, tears quickly forming in her eyes. "My baby!"

Jemma smiled but otherwise didn't move as a makeup artist was fixing up her face. "Hey mama. Derry."

As Derek sat down in a chair in front of a window, he sat one of the white paper cups on the table and told his sister, "Got you a grande skinny caramel latte."

Jemma groaned in excitement and responded, "Mm! God yes! Thank you."

Mrs. Webber sat a plastic bag on the table and said, "Some aw-ringe juice and bagel BLT's in they, kids."

Derek ate a Starbucks breakfast sandwich as he had two text message conversations, one with John and the other with Owen Wilfred, a friend of his from medical school.

Derek snapped a selfie with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth and captioned it, 'I'll text when we're at Cypress Manor. Love you, sick boi'

Jemma stood and faced her entourage, asking, "Well? How do I look? Too much?"

Everybody unanimously agreed that Jemma looked stunning. Her foundation looked natural, flawless. The rouge was very light, almost unnoticeable. Her lips were stained with a pink rose-coloured matte lipstick.

"Great!" the makeup artist said happily. "This makeup setting spray is alcohol-based, which is essential in it keeping this intact, but shut your eyes real tight, okay?"

Derek had to wipe a tear from his eye as he watched his dad walk his sister down the aisle. His dad looked so happy, so content. Jemma was also smiling, but he saw a stray tear fall down her cheek.

After giving away his daughter to his soon-to-be son-in-law, Mr. Webber took his seat at the front row of chairs, sitting between his wife and Derek.

Father Benjamin started he ceremony, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate one of life's greatest moments, and to cherish the words that shall unite Jemma Lillian Webber and Kevin Victor McIntosh in holy matrimony.

"Marriage is the promise made between two people who love each other, and who trust in that love, who honour each other as individuals, and who choose to spend the rest of their lives together.

"This ceremony will not create a relationship that already exists between you. It is a symbol of how far you have come see past few years. It is a symbol of the promises you will make to each other to continue growing stronger as individuals and as partners. No matter what challenges may come your way, you now face them together. And no matter how much you succeed, you now succeed together. The love between you now joins you as one.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I had asked Kevin and Jemma to write their own vows which they will now share with us all. Kevin."

"I didn't write any vows," Kevin said, to which Derek's stomach dropped. But Kevin smiled, "I didn't need to. Jemma, I remember the exact moment I first laid eyes on you. The second you came into my sister's exam room four years ago, I went breathless. I mean how could I not. Stunning, gorgeous, wearing a pink dress under your white doctors coat. Your silky hair hanging low, and your perfect smile seeming permanent on your kind, caring face. I regretted not having summoned the courage to ask for your number then. Justin got sick of hearing my self-deprecation that night. So the next day I went back to the hospital with the intent of flirting with you, getting your number if I succeeded. Didn't turn out so great. I made a fool of myself. And you'd assumed that there was something happening with Erika. That's it. That's when I knew that I had to have you. Your compassion, your mushy heart, it all pulled me in. Now here we are. Four years and five months later, I stand before you, honoured to become your husband. Your life partner. I love you for every second of my life, Jemma. And thereafter."

Jemma laughed softly, a couple of tears trailing down her face. She then said her vows, "You, Kevin, were the cutest guy to ever grace the halls of UM Medical. I had to fight the laughter off as you stumbled around your words, which I now know was you flirting. But if you'd asked me for my number the day you brought your sister in, I would've given it to you without a second thought. I was actually kind of, a lot of, hoping you would. You seemed like a really caring, respectful man. But the moment that every single fibre of my being fell in love with you was two years after we started dating. We were at Bart and Sally's barbecue, you were a bit tipsy. Vince had teased me about being married to my career already. Do you remember what you said?"

Misty-eyed, Kevin said, "I told Vince, 'Hey! That's my best friend! And she's saving the world! Go, best friend! Go save lives!'"

Everybody laughed. All three hundred guests found this sweet and romantic. Some even had moist eyes.

Jemma carried on, "I already loved you so much then. But that moment, my love for you became so strong it almost ached. All my dreams came true when, fourteen months ago, you got down in your knee and asked me to become your wife. I love you more, Kev."

"Oh, my god," Derek whispered to himself as he wiped at his eyes.

Mr. Webber softly slapped Derek's knee with a smile and his own misty eyes.

An hour and a half later, after photographs, everybody drove to Cypress Manor, Jemma and Kevin in a Just Married limo.

While Derek was looking at the table of name cards, a man's voice from behind him said, "Yo, Derek."

Derek rend away from the name cards and said, "Oh, hi Sam. Mandy."

Sam was Kevin's younger brother, and Mandy was Sam's girlfriend. Sam held his hand out, to which Derek grabbed. Sam pulled Derek in for one of those hand shake hugs.

Now all three looked on the table for their own names, and Sam asked, "Where's your boyfriend? Umm... John, is it?"

"Yeah, John. He's at home. He isn't feeling too good. Table two."

Sam grabbed his and Mandy's cards and replied, "Us too."

At their table were also Mr. and Mrs. Webber, Hank and Lola, Mr. and Mrs. McIntosh, and Kevin's other brother Cody and his wife Quinn. Once seated, a female server handed Derek a flute of champagne.

Derek asked Cody, "How's life in New Haven? You're studying physics, right?"

"Applied Physics, yes," Cody replied. "Things at Yale are alright. I'm excited for my final year to begin. Pete, one of my fraternity brothers, won his battle with cancer so my other brothers are planning a party for him."

"Hey," a voice said from behind Derek, a voice he recognized.

Derek jumped into John's arms and cried happily, "You're here! Are you feeling better?"

John gave Derek a chaste kiss on the lips before answering, "Yeah. Your mom's soup did the trick. Thanks, Becca."

Mrs. Webber smiled, "No problem, suga. Glad you could join us."

As John placed his name card on the table and sat on the last available seat beside Derek, Sam said, "Now Mandy isn't the only white at the table."

Everybody laughed, but Mandy whacked Sam's shoulder in disbelief.

The DJ's voice then came through the speakers, "Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and help me welcome Mr. and Mrs. Kevin McIntosh!"

An hour later found Derek sharing a slow dance with Sam as Mandy had gone to the bathroom and John was talking with whomever somewhere.

"I guess we're brothers now," Sam said with a smirk.

Derek nodded and responded, "Since I'm older I can call you 'Baby Bro' now. I've always wanted a kid sibling."

"Well then I guess it's wrong if I wanna kiss you right now."

"Mm. Just as long as Mandy doesn't scratch my eyes out, straight boy."

"Johnny won't kick my ass, will he? I ain't no pussy, but he looks like he has UFC training or something."

"I'm sure he'll assume it's a brothers-in-law thing."

Grinning, Sam stated, "If Jemma and Kevin have kids, you will be their uncle by both blood and an affair with me."

"Mm, same as you. Double the uncle power."

Derek and Sam shared a laugh for a few seconds. Jemma then approached them and asked, "Mind if I cut in, Sammy?"

When Jemma and Derek began dancing, Jemma said, "I'm so happy that my family gets along with Kevin's. What were you and Sam laughing about?"

"We're planning an affair," Derek answered with a smirk.

Highly amused, Jemma said, "S'that so?"

Nodding and looking confident, Derek answered, "Yeah. So if you and Kevin have kids, me and Sam will be their uncles doubly, if that's even a thing."

"When. When I have kids."

"So you and Kevin decided to have that talk then?"

"A couple months ago I stopped taking birth control. I'm three weeks pregnant."

"You're-" Derek breathed, shocked. He then wrapped his around Jemma's neck and cried, "Ohmygod! You're gonna be a mommy!"

"I already told mom and dad and Hank," Jemma said as she still embraced her baby brother. "Kevin's just telling his family now."

Teary-eyed again, Derek moaned, "Oh, my god. You're gonna be a mom. Congrats, Jemma."

Jemma kissed Derek's cheek before Kevin went over to them and asked Derek if it was okay to take his wife away for another dance. Derek hugged his new brother-in-law and congratulated him on becoming a father.

Derek walked over to the bar where John was talking with Derek's uncle Cal. Derek pressed his chest to John's arm, leaning into the blonde and kissing his shoulder.

An hour later Jemma, now wearing a peach-coloured fit and flare dress, and Kevin, wearing tan chinos and a cobalt blue polo, said their goodbyes. Mrs. Webber was very teary as she hugged her daughter. And then they were off to the airport for their Grecian honeymoon.

"What will you do about it?" John asked.

Derek shrugged, then fully relaxed in the hot tub. "Nothing I can really do about it. Cassandra's cat's paws destroyed my notes. I can just ask Prof. Liev for his lesson notes from that day."

"Mm. I checked on Rianne last night. She's fine. Normal heart rate, normal neural activity, she's grown an inch since the healing so her growth rate is normal."

Derek laid his head on John's shoulder and said, "Thank you for doing this for me."

John brushed his fingers on Derek's shoulder and kissed his head. He then stiffened, tensed up, and told Derek, "Somebody just teleported here. We should- it's okay now, Amelia said she'll--"

The gate separating the front yard from the back yard flung open, audibly slamming against the house. There was a Latino man hanging in the air, his arms crossed behind his back and groaning loudly.

The Latino stopped moving through the air and Amelia stepped from behind him. She said heatedly, "We have a spy."

Without moving her hands or arms, Amelia made the man 'fly' through the air into the back door of the house. John and Derek followed Amelia into the house.

"Why would he spy on you?" Derek asked from the back.

"He wasn't spying on me," Amelia answered uneasily.

John reached his backward to grab Derek's hand and explained, "It's not uncommon to have someone watch a vampire and their humans."

"Oh," Derek said, shocked as all hell. "Why?"

"Any number of reasons," David said. "Abduction, ransom, political weakening, feeding, and in extremely rare cases... potential emperorship."

Dumbfounded, Derek said, "What? He thinks I could be reborn as your king? I don't even have the mark."

Amelia planted the Latino on his back on the basement floor. "Derek, I'm about to torture this fuck for answers. Would you mind waiting up in Johnathan's room?"

Derek was about to protest, but the Latino lying on the floor groaned and writhed in pain. After a few seconds, the man stilled. His eyes laid open, unseeing.

David crouched down and stuck his finger in the man's mouth. After sniffing his finger, he said, "Silver powder capsule."

"Fuck," John whispered.

"Derek, remove your boxers," Amelia said, a certain edge in her voice.

"He doesn't have the mark," John told Amelia.

"Well this wolf had to have a reason to scope out your human," Amelia responded calmly. "We don't know that reason, so we should cover every. Single. Base. Derek, if you want David to leave..."

Derek looked at the three vampires before him. They all watched him expectantly. He wasn't shy, so he bent forward and swiftly stepped out of his dripping wet underwear.

Amelia summoned a small flashlight into her hand and used it to carefully inspect every square inch of skin on Derek's body.

Crouching down behind Derek, Amelia said, "Spread your legs."

A minute later, Amelia stood and said, "No mark. Biggest one I could find was two millimetres in diameter."

Still standing nude, not wanting to put on wet undies, Derek asked, "What's your next guess as why he was here?"

"Just checking Johnathan out," Amelia said. "As we said, it's common for us to scope out a supernatural's human. David and I were watched when he was human."

"Okay," Derek said, not entirely convinced everything was fine. "On a scale of one to ten, how worried should I be?"

"Mm," Amelia thought. "Maybe one and a half. Supernaturals are very protective of their humans so it can be dangerous for unknown supernaturals to get close."

"Okay," Derek said with a nod. "What'll you do with the body?"

A sizzling sound rang through the air. Derek turned and, where there once was a Latino man lying dead, now laid a pile of ashes.

"Oh, shit," Derek whispered, shocked and disgusted and amazed and scared all at once.

John grabbed Derek's hand and said, "Let's go shower. We're meeting your friends in an hour."

Something that Derek loved about John's home was the fact that the three bedrooms (one was a guest room, pretences) had their own bathrooms. During the journey up to John's bedroom, Derek's heart raced. His eyes stung with impending tears.

After John removed his own underwear he heard the tiniest of squeaks elicit from Derek's throat. He turned and grabbed Derek, holding him bridal style. Derek buried his face in John's neck and let his tears fall freely.

After about thirty seconds of crying, Derek, his face still in the crook of his boyfriend's neck, said, "He's- he's- he's dead. He's fucking dead."

"Shh, shh, ahh," John said soothingly as he sat on the edge of the bath tub.

"Wh- what- what if he had a- a- a family of his own?"

Stroking his fingers through Derek's long, bushy hair, John said, "Shh, baby. Shh. Derek, he made his choice. He didn't have to come here tonight. He didn't have to chew the silver."

Still crying, a little more now, Derek asked, "If- if I ask you or- or- or Amelia to- to erase you from my memories, will you?"

John swallowed thickly, emotionally, trying his damned hardest to fight the tears. "I- umm- yeah. Anything for you."

"Oh god," Derek said as he sat upright. He wrapped his legs around John's waist and wiped the blood tears off of the blonde's face. "I can't do that to you. I won't remember you but I'll miss you. And I can't ask you to live without your mate and wait for another when I die. I can't do that to you. I won't do that to you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

As Derek continued to wipe his blood tears, John replied, "I can wait. I can. I'll do it for you because I love you."

Derek, fearing shaking his head, said, "No. I don't want that. I don't wanna forget you. I don't wanna not know what we have, where we are, what you do to me. And I don't want you hurting. I promise I don't want that."

John's tears stopped, and he nodded his agreement. He craned his neck up for a kiss. Derek didn't know if he was imagining it, making it up in his head, but he thought that this kiss felt different. It took him a second to realize the feeling he was possibly imagining was despair.

John smiled, pulled Derek closer, and asked, "Wanna stay and cuddle? Or do you still wanna go out?"

For a second Derek looked into John's green eyes. In that second, he didn't see the same shine, brilliance radiating from them. But he smiled and replied, "I wanna go. I miss having a night of fun and dancing."

After showering, John teleported himself and Derek to an alley on West Roscoe Street. Inside Sidestreet Bar, the two men held hands as they made their way to the bar.

As the shirtless bartender made their drinks, John leaned close to Derek and said, "They're on the second floor."

John moved his hips along with the beat of the music blaring from the various speakers with his arm still behind Derek's shoulder.

After sipping his Blue Hawaiian, Derek asked, "Detect any supers in here?"

John's arms was still holding Derek close, comfortably so, as they roamed through the busy bar. "One of those two guys by the stairs is a fae."

A shorter man, probably standing at five-foot-six with light brown hair hanging past his shoulders, was pressed up against the banister. Pressed up against him was a taller Asian man, who had one hand holding the banister.

Watching the two men share a laugh, Derek asked, "Which one?"

"The Asian. I can feel him trying to read your mind."

As John and Derek stepped onto the staircase, the Asian man locked eyes with Derek. As Derek climbed the stairs, he maintained the eye contact, the fae's eyes shining with intrigue. Half way up the stairs, Derek winked and then turned forward.

"I don't sense anything else in the building."

At the top of the stairs, Derek and John surveyed the scene, looking for their friends. Derek spotted Nina, her boyfriend Oliver, Cassandra, her boyfriend Wes, Petra, and her girlfriend Anna.

Throughout the forty minutes that the group talked and laughed, Derek couldn't fight the sunken feeling that had been present since his talk with John.

"I gotta piss," Derek said loudly over the music.

After Derek kissed John's cheek he rose from his chair and walked for the restroom. On his way there, he texted Petra, asking her to ask John to dance.

When Derek got back to their table, where Anna was talking with Cassandra and Oliver. John had gone to the dance floor with Nina, Wes, and Petra. Derek quickly searched through John's leather jacket and fished out his cell phone. He got Larry's cell phone number from John's phone and immediately typed a text message.

'This is Derek, John's human. He thinks I need to have my memories of him wiped because of a spy. I need you to get me a vampire as powerful as Amelia to prevent that.'

Within seconds, Derek received a text response, 'Where are you?'

Five minutes later when Derek was talking with Oliver about the president and his ridiculousness, his phone buzzed again.

Derek grabbed his phone from his pocket and Larry had texted, 'Morilo is the Brazilian duke. He's waiting in the restroom.'

As Derek rose from his chair, he looked to the dance floor to make sure John would be busy for a while. Indeed, the blonde was dancing and laughing with his friends.

In the otherwise empty restroom, a Latino man said, "You must be Derek. A mutual friend says you require protection from your mate."

Trying to talk as quietly as possible, Derek asked the man, Morilo, "Does anybody know you teleported here?"

"Your mate does not. I masked my magic from him. Amelia on the other hand, may. Her magic is more powerful than my own. But if they try to alter your memories without your consent, kiss this rock."

Derek accepted the object. It was a green jagged semi-translucent rock the size of a quarter.

"Amelia is more powerful than I am," Morilo said with ease, confidence. "But she knows that a human mate has rights. Kiss this and it will summon me the second your lips touch it."

Morilo then vanished, having teleported back home. So Derek went back out. John was sitting back at the table, laughing with their friends. Derek sat down on John's lap and bent down slightly to touch his lips to John's. They smiled at each other for a few moments before Derek turned and grabbed his drink.

Almost three hours later all of their friends had taken cabs home. John led Derek to the restroom. From there, John teleported the pair of them to Derek's apartment. Derek, gazing deeply into John's green eyes, peeled the red tank off of John's body. John kissed Derek before he slid Derek's blue tank up and off his beautiful chocolate skin.

Derek felt a sudden coolness on his hips. He looked down, and saw that his denim shorts were suddenly gone. He also noticed that John's jeans were also gone. So Derek went do to his knees, grabbing John's hard cock in one hand and his low-hanging heavy balls in the other.

As Derek stroked and twisted his hand on John, the blonde shivered, threw his head back, and said, "Fuck, you're so good at that."

Derek winked at John, then removed his hand from John's cock. He touched the tip of his tongue to the underside of John's cockhead and slowly swirled his tongue around it.

Their eyes remained locked on each other's, and John groused, "God, you're such a tease."

Derek smiled wickedly. He winked as he slowly moved his tongue, bringing the tip to the piss slit.

"Aww, fuck. Just suck it please. Ya killin' me, Der."

"Uh, uh, uhhh," Derek said, flicking the tip of his tongue across the dick hole.

John shivered in pleasure. He then dropped down to his knees, grabbing Derek's face and pressing their lips together. Their rigid cocks poked each other in the stomach as they shared passionate kiss after passionate kiss.

The surface under Derek suddenly sunk slightly mid kiss. No matter how many times this had happened to Derek, it always startled him slightly.

John hungrily pushed Derek's shoulders, making the black man lie down on the bed. John dove right in, Derek's nine thick inches easily sliding down his throat.

Derek threw his head on he bed and groaned in ecstasy. He wove his fingers through John's short blonde hair as he looked down. John held still, achingly so, for a few seconds. He then lifted his head very, very slowly. It didn't matter, though. Derek squirmed slightly at the intense pleasure John's ministrations brought him.

After about about a minute of deep-throating Derek, John removed Derek's red hot cock from his mouth. He lifted Derek's legs and pushed them so the knees touched his shoulders. John buried his face in Derek's firm ass and shoved the tip of his tongue inside the hungry hole.

"Jesus fuck!" Derek cried, watching the blonde eat him out.

John flicked his tongue in and out, and around the hole, alternating between the two. while doing so, John reached his hand around Derek's leg and stroked Derek's throbbing dick.

Derek quickly grabbed John's wrist and said, "Stop. I'm about to cum."

John smirked as he lowered Derek's ass slightly. A bottle of lube appeared in John's hand. He poured a small amount to the rim of Derek's beautiful hole and smeared it around. He then poured a generous amount to his palm and lathered own rigid cock. John leaned forward, pressing his forehead to Derek's as his dickhead met the entrance of Derek's ass.

"I love you," John whispered before kissing Derek.

Derek gasped in pained pleasure when the head of John pierced through his entrance. As John slowly slid more of his cock inside of him, Derek moaned and kissed the blonde's neck and shoulder.

While slowly thrusting into Derek, John whispered, "I love you. You. Are so. Beautiful. I love you."

Derek thrust his left leg up, rolling the both of them over. Now straddling John, Derek gyrated his hips. As he did so, John stroked his thighs, massaging them.

John didn't sleep that night. Derek slept peacefully, his head of wild hair resting on John's chest. John's arm held Derek close by around the neck as he traced circles on his shoulder.

At six-fifty in the morning Derek began to stir. His cheek nuzzled against John's chest and his arm around John's waist tightened slightly. John found this to be the most adorable thing he'd ever seen. But maybe he was partial on that.

To minutes later Derek woke up. He opened his eyes and looked at John with a sleepy smile. But that smile immediately vanished at the sight of red stains on John's skin.

"You've been crying," Derek said quietly, worried. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Still staring at the ceiling, John replied, "You don't deserve what happened last night."

"What? What hap-" Derek sat up when comprehension hit him and he sat up. "The wolf. That was goodbye sex last night. John--"

"It was stupid of me to let my guard down."

"John, listen to--"

"All it takes is a second. With the snap of a finger, you could be taken from me."

"John, please just--"

"You could be taken from this world at the whim of a rebel."

"John, you can't--"

"I would never forgive myself if--"

Derek slammed both of his fists down on his bed and shouted, "Fuck! Would you please just listen to me!"

John was still staring up at the ceiling and wiping fresh tears as he said, "Derek, your life will be so much easier and less tense--"

By then Derek had jumped out of bed and grabbed the shorts he'd been wearing last night. "No! You can't--"

John got out of bed, too, looking determined. "Derek, I'm sorry. You may not-"

Derek had removed the stone from his pocket and pressed it to his lips. The next second, as discussed, Morilo appeared beside him.

Morilo looked at John reproachfully and told him, "This is not your choice to make, young one. There is a reason that the decision lies on the human's shoulders."

"But we had a wolf spy on us last night," John told the Latino as calmly as he could. "It could have--"

"Young one, do you know why a wolf was scoping you out?" Morilo asked, calm as ever.

"No, but--"

"He could have been a baby wolf wondering who the charming Johnathan Arbitar was. You do not know this."

"But he committed suicide rather than face interrogation."

"Interrogation by Amelia herself. I dare say I would be frightened by that myself. Now, young one, do I need to set a bodyguard on your mate?"

John, nude as the day he was born, shook his head softly.

Morilo laid a hand on John's shoulder comfortingly and said, "Wise choice, young one. Derek, it would be an honour to call you 'friend'."

Derek, misty-eyed, responded, "Thank you, Morilo."

Morilo smiled crookedly at Derek. But then he looked passed Derek and said, "Amelia. I was wondering why you had not shown up until now."

"I knew you were here," Amelia's voice replied, Derek still hadn't turned to see her. "Thought I would give you a minute. The wolf scared you, Johnathan."

"I shall be back to Curitiba," Morilo said with a soft smile. "My daughter wanted a day with her father."

When Morilo teleported away, Amelia pointed a threatening finger at Johnathan and told him, "If you try erasing your mate's memories without his permission again, I will send you to Daesha myself."

"Derek could have--"

"That is not your decision to make!" Amelia screamed, a burst of magical energy causing Derek's bed to move an inch. "Do you hear me, nomuero!?"

John, giving Amelia a hard look, nodded his head stiffly.

Amelia then turned to Derek and offered him a warm smile. "You okay, Derek?"

Derek looked down to the floor for a second. "John, I'd like you to leave. Amelia, can I talk to you?"

John, with a blood tear forming in his eye, stared softly into Derek's brown eyes for a moment.

When John teleported out, Amelia sat in the soft armchair in front of the large window.

Derek sat down on his bed and asked, "How did you know John tried wiping my memories?"

"It is Johnathan. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He has never had anything scope out his mates, so I knew he would be freaked out. I would have protected you if you asked. But I do understand why you wouldn't trust me regarding him."

Derek nodded as he crossed his legs. "What's- what's this daesha you mentioned?"

"It is a prison. King Sirvios built it over seventeen thousand years ago."

"Shit. If John had succeeding in wiping my memories, how long would he have been sentenced to prison?"

"A hundred years."

"Seems fair. You also called him something..."

"Nomuero. Dead language. It means child."

"Would you- would you really send him, John, to Daesha if he tries to erase my memories?"

"Yes. Doing so without your consent is a very serious offense. I am the duchess of the United States before all else. It does not matter that I am his maker."

Derek nodded solemnly. He then said, "Thank you for answering my questions."

"Of course, Derek. I am sorry to say, however, that if this incident has persuaded you to terminate your relationship with Johnathan, I will have no choice but to erase your memories. A human terminating their relationship with a supernatural warrants no consent being expressed."

"I understand. I'll have to think about it."

Throughout that whole day Derek laid in bed. He didn't have the energy or the will to turn off his phone. He ignored calls and text messages. He let the tears fall freely when they came, but he did so silently, just lying there under the covers.

The next morning Derek woke at three in the morning, having slept nearly eleven hours. He felt very weak and a it dizzy from having not eaten anything at all the day before. So he finally removed himself from his bed and went into the kitchen. There, he threw a couple slices of rye bread into the toaster. As he waited for the bread to toast he at a banana in two giant bites. After the banana, Derek ate a royal gala apple.

After eating the toast with peanut butter and downing a glass of milk, Derek started cleaning. He began with washing the two dishes he'd used for his breakfast. He wiped his do terrors, which were not even the least bit dirty. That evolved into wiping down the kitchen walls. Before Derek knew it, he had filled his mop bucked with water and lemon-scented bleach and used his sponge mop to wash his walls. He'd taken down the photos and artwork to wash every square inch of every single wall.

Five hours later, not a single spot of Derek's apartment was left I cleaned. Well, except for the sofa and love seat. He would have to hire a steam cleaner for those.

Derek microwaved a bowl of frozen homemade lasagne. As it heated, Derek grabbed his cell phone and replied to text messages from the day before. When his friends and family asked why Derek had been 'absent' throughout the whole previous day he told them that he had a fight with John.

When Derek felt that everybody was satisfied that he was safe, he laid on his stomach on his bed and did some studying. Well, he tried to do some studying. He had very little patience to do so, but he tried. For two hours. In that two hours, he read one chapter on neuro-ophthalmology and took very few notes, he was so distracted.

'If you're not busy can you come to my apartment?' he texted John.

As Derek was placing his books back into his backpack, John appeared on his bed, sitting cross-legged. Silence reigned over them as Derek continued to put his books and laptop away.

Finally Derek sat down on his bed, not too close to John. John gazed at the gorgeous man beside him, shame still the dominant emotion.

For about a full minute, John and Derek sat in silence. But finally someone did something. Derek slid his hand under John's and laced their fingers together.

A tear fell from John's eye before he said, "Derek, I'm- I am so sorry. I'm sorry. I could say it a thousand times. I'm sorry. From every fibre of my being a million apologies. Derek--"

"Shhhh," Derek hushed the blonde, turning him to face him, wiping away the blood falling from his eyes.

"But, Derek, what I did was--"

"Shh. John, calm down. Calm down so we can talk."

"Okay," John responded as he used his free hand to wipe his tears. "Okay. Yeah. Okay. Sure."

John wiped his bloody palms on his jeans and looked back Derek, waiting.

Derek slowly exhaled, collecting himself, then said, "John, what you did was scary. No, let me say this. The other night when we were having sex, I thought it felt different. It felt like it was goodbye love-making. But I told myself that you wouldn't do something that I wasn't on board with. But you tried to anyway. I had to conspire with a foreign ally to protect myself."

John had begun silently crying again. He tightened his grasp on Derek's hand slightly. "I cannot express how regretful I am for what I'd did, Derek. If- if- if you want farewell love, we can- we can do that."

"I- what? No. I don't want that. I'm not breaking up with you. It was just a bump in the road. A big bump. It's just going to take a while for me to be completely comfortable around you again. And I'm punishing you."

"Anything," John said hastily, his voice still emotional. "I deserve it."

"For two weeks, no PDA's. No weird vampire claim marks or whatever. When we eat out, I'm paying."

"That's where I draw the line," John said quietly. "Your bills. You're an ophthalmology resident."

"Agree or erase my memories."

With new blood tears forming, John whispered, "Derek..."

"Heal these claim marks."

"But they protect you from supernaturals looking to feed."

"We will have to take that risk. Heal them."

John hesitantly agreed, silently nodding his head. Claim marks are a series of hickeys around a human's upper chest and back and shoulders. So John summoned a needle, using it prick the centre of each of the ten marks. John then licked the tip of his finger and rubbed the saliva on the tiny punctures.

"Thank you," Derek said quietly. "Now lay down so we can cudd--"

Derek was interrupted by his phone ringing. He grabbed it off the bedside table. "Hey Hank."

"Derry," Hank's voice was strained, emotional. "It's- it's Robbie. He- fuck."

"What?" Derek demanded, fear growing inside of him. "What is it, Hank?"

"Robbie. He- uhh, he was driving to work. He was in a car wreck, Derry. It's- it's bad. Docs say he may not wake from his coma."

John jumped out of the bed and went through Derek's closet.

Derek sniffled audibly before he said to Hank, "I'll head to the airport right now. Which hospital?"

"Derry, don't. Robbie'd want you to focus on--"

"See you in a couple hours."

When Derek ended the call, John told him, "Don't bother packing a bag."

Derek walked into John's open arms. The second Derek was in his arms, John teleported them to a secluded area of the Duke Raleigh Hospital parking lot.

Inside, the hospital, Derek asked the nurse at the front desk, "Can you tell me where my friend is? Roberto Deluca. He was admitted here from a car accident."

"Okay," the middle-aged white man said as he typed something on the computer. "Deluca... Roberto was moved to the ICU about half an hour ago. Fourth floor."

The head nurse of the ICU directed John and Derek to Robbie's room.

"Oh, Derry," Mrs. Deluca moaned pitifully as she grabbed Derek in a tight hug.

Derek then shook Mr. Deluca as hand and asked, "What happened?"

As Derek hugged Robbie's younger sister Nita (Juanita), Heather answered, "He was on his way to work. A motorbike ran a red light, cutting Robbie off. Robbie turned too quickly, his car rolled a few times and was stopped by a concrete divider."

Derek the stood by Robbie's bed, where the man was lying unconscious. His left arm, neck, hips, and right leg were all in casts. His head was also wrapped heavily in gauze.

"What have--"

Derek was shocked to see that most of Robbie's family was gone. John was holding Mrs. Deluca's head in his hands. Mrs. Deluca looked to be in a trance. Two seconds later, Mrs. Deluca vanished, teleported.

Amelia and David then appeared in the room, Amelia asking, "Johnathan, what are you doing? You can't intervene every time one of Derek's loved ones gets hurt."

While grabbing a fresh bag of saline, John replied, "If you're not going to stop me, you might as well help me. One of you erase Robbie's accident from the medical staff's memories."

Amelia huffed in frustration, but then responded, "I'll do it."

"Wait," John told her as he poured some saline solution into a bowl. "How much venom do I use?"

Amelia went over John. She peered into the bowl, calculating. She then summoned a syringe, licked the tip of it and stuck it into her arm.

While steadily adding drops of her blood into the bowl, Amelia explained, "Blood will act quicker."

Three drops of blood fell into the saline before the syringe levitated and was suddenly turned to ash.

Amelia teleported out while John gave the mixture of liquids a stir. Three new syringes appeared in his hand. After filling all three completely, he handed one to each David and Derek.

John told Derek, "When I say, inject this into Robbie's ankle. It'll take about two minutes for Robbie to be completely healed. After which he will wake. But I will put him back to sleep and erase the accident from his mind. It'll be like it never happened. I will buy him a new SUV that he will think has been his all along."

David stuck the needle in his hand into Robbie's neck. John stuck his into Robbie's hip. Derek closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, easing emotions out of his body.

When Derek stuck the needle into Robbie's ankle, John said, "Inject in three, two, one."

When all the syringes were emptied and removed from the body, they all levitated into the air and turned to ash.

Derek stepped forward and stood with his back leaning into John's chest. They waited like that, John's arms wrapped around Derek's chest.

Amelia then teleported into the room and told them, "All physical and psychological evidence of the accident are erased. It took a while to find all the witnesses and the people they told, but it's taken care of."

"He's awake," John whispered into Derek's ear.

A second later, Robbie opened his eyes, saw his best friend, and asked, "Derry?"

John touched his finger tips to the Latino's temple and Robbie immediately fell back to sleep. John then teleported the orthopaedic casts off of Robbie's body, along with the gauze, and they were turned to ash. Robbie then was teleported out of the hospital.

John grabbed Derek in a tight embrace, pulling the man's head to his chest, and told him, "Robbie will wake thinking Hank gave him the day off."

Amelia interjected, "Hank thinks he gave Robbie the day off as well."

John woke up one morning with his head using Derek's warm, lightly hairy chest as a pillow. His eyes remained closed, basking in the love and adoration he shared with the black man. From Derek's heart rate and breathing he could tell the other man was awake. So he moved his hand on Derek's stomach in small motions, stroking the skin.

Derek kissed John's blonde hair and said, "Today is October third. One year ago we first ran into each other."

John smiled slightly he placed his lips on Derek's chest and said, "On Washington Street."

"God, time passes fast."

"How long've you been awake?"

While climbing on John, straddling his hips, Derek answered, "About twenty minutes."

Derek placed kiss after kiss on John's neck. John moaned against Derek's shoulders and slid his hands down to Derek's voluminous polyester-clad ass.

Between kisses to John's neck and shoulders, Derek whispered, "I think we're wearing too much clothing."

The next second Derek felt his boxer-briefs disappear. So he spit a huge wad of saliva into his hand and reached behind, lathering John's thick cock. Derek the straightened his back and leaned his pelvis back, slowly inserting the mushroom head of John's dick into his entrance.

As Derek steadily impaled the erection into himself, John sat upright. He wrapped his arms around Derek's back and kissed his chest.

Derek, gently bouncing on John's cock, grabbed the blonde's face so they were looking into each other's eyes, and told him, "I love you."

"Ahh, I love you more," John responded, his green eyes blazing with pleasure.

Derek bent his neck forward and began kissing John's neck again. John, kissing Derek's shoulder, grabbed his hips and gently rocked Derek's pelvis back and forth.

"You're so beautiful," John whispered against Derek's shoulder.

After about four minutes of John gyrating Derek's hips on his prick, Derek leaned the full weight of his body backward, falling onto the plush bed. He rolled over and stood on his knees, his ass on display to John.

"Fuck, you drive me crazy," John said huskily.

John walked on his knees toward Derek. Pointing his dick to Derek's hole, John easily entered. When he bottomed out, he slid his hand under Derek's arm, holding Derek's chest and pulled him up. He laid wet kisses on Derek's shoulder and neck as he rocked his hips back and forth.

Derek reached his hand back, giving John's plump glute a firm squeeze. It drove Derek wild whenever he felt John's not-warm breath hitting his neck.

"Stop, stop, stop," Derek begged breathlessly.

John grinned when he stopped his hips from moving. He whispered into Derek's ear, "You getting close, baby?"

Derek laughed breathily, nuzzling the side of his head on John's. "Yeah."

John smirked against Derek's ear and whispered, "Already? I guess I'm just that wonderful, huh?"

Derek laughed again and responded, "Shut up."

Derek peeled John's hands off his body and laid down, rolling onto his back. He lifted his legs so his knees touched his shoulders.

John smiled as he scooted over til Derek's ass hung over his rigid cock. He placed his left hand on the bed beside Derek's ribs while his right pointed his erection. Now completely buried in Derek again, John pressed their lips together in a passionate kiss.

After a minute of kissing John as the blonde fucked him, Derek threw his head back. He couldn't take it any more. John's gyrating body sandwiched his cock between their abdomens. He blew his load before he could do anything about it. Hot cum sprayed all over their muscled stomachs and chests, creating slick sounds as John continued to rock his pelvis and suckle on his shoulder.

After a few more minutes, looking deeply into Derek's brilliant brown eyes, John whispered, "God, your ass is so tight. I'm about to cum."

Derek pulled John's head down and a heavy make out session ensued. John moaned into Derek's mouth as his own cum sprayed out of his cock into Derek's ass, coating his insides.

John collapsed on top of Derek when his orgasm subsided and the convulsions stopped. He felt immense emotional warmth, especially when Derek kneaded the tips of his fingers on his back muscles.

"I- we-" John stuttered. "Okay, I don't know how to ask this. I think we- would you maybe- fuck, I'm nervous."

Derek laughed softly, trying to conceal it, and said, "Really? I couldn't tell."

John pinched Derek's neck softly, giggling, and said, "Be nice. I haven't done this in over two hundred years. Even then it was just done."

Derek kissed the side of John's head and replied, "Okay. I'm sorry. Go ahead."

John finally lifted his head off of Derek's shoulder. He inhaled deeply to settle his nerves and said, "I love you. I have loved after my wife, but nowhere near as powerful as I love you now. Would you consider living with me? Just the two of us."

"O-oh," Derek responded in shock. "What about Amelia?"

"It is customary for vampires to live with their maker until they find their mate. It's practically an unwritten rule. So Amelia knows this would have happened sooner or later. If you are not ready for--"

"No, no. I- I would love to live with you. Would we live at the house?"

"I had planned to find an apartment or condo for us. Private. But if you want to live at the house, we--"

"Let's start looking at apartment ads in the paper and online later. I'd already started looking at apartments last month because my lease ends at the end of this month. Perfect timing. Is that what sparked this idea?"

"Yes. That's how nervous I was to ask, having taken weeks to gather the courage."

"I think it's cute. You're just a blonde teddy bear."

"I'm- I'm not pressuring you to make up your mind or change it. Have you considered accepting the gift?"

Derek exhaled, staring up at the ceiling. "No, I'm still undecided. I'm sorry if that upsets you. I don't like the idea of you waiting another two hundred years or whatever for your mate to be reborn or something. But I also am not a hundred percent comfortable with becoming something other than human."

John kissed Derek on the lips comfortingly and told him, "That's fine. I feel like taking a nap now. You wore me out, you beautiful fox."

Derek knew John had fallen asleep on him. So he stopped massaging the blonde's back and allowed sleep to wash over him as well.

While unlocking the condo using a black fob, the property manager told Derek and John, "This unit is freshly renovated. It's been vacant for a couple months to put in new flooring, new cabinets, new countertops, and new shelves in the closets."

Derek gasped and said, "Oh, I love the floors. Gorgeous."

"Three-quarter inch thick solid hardwood," Susan said cheerily. "How long have you two been together?"

"A year," Derek answered. "Technically eleven months. We met twelve months ago, but it took us a bit to flesh out plans."

Susan smiled sweetly and responded, "That's so sweet. Well, in here we have a half-bath equipped with a toilet and a sink. Now to here we have the kitchen and dining area. What I love most about it is the sheer size of it. It's the fantasy home kitchen of any cook or chef. Do either of you cook?"

"John does," Derek said with a smile, giving John's hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm terrible in the kitchen. John doesn't even trust me to operate his Keurig. But John is one of the best chefs in Chicago."

"I'm not a chef," John was quick to clarify to the property manager. "I am a pretty great cook. I just own a couple of restaurants."

"Well you are going to love this kitchen," Susan said with a tinge of excitement. Its spacious layout, large counters, and one dozen cabinets will allow you to work freely. The other thing I love about this kitchen is the stark contrasts of the black hardwood, white cabinets, grey marble countertops, and metal appliances. This kitchen island is custom built, made with custom painted and treated wood. It was not easy for our contractor to get the shading just perfect to match the cabinets. The stools come with the condo."

"And is this the pantry?" John asked, pointing to a door.

"It is," Susan said as she opened said door. "Not large due to the fact that the kitchen itself comes equipped with thirteen cabinets. But it will hold many, many dry foods and cookware. The power panel is also situated in there. Switches five and seven control the outlets of your two parking spaces."

Exiting the pantry, still holding hands, Derek asked, "How noisy are the neighbours?"

"Oh, they are the noisiest," Susan replied with a gentle laugh. "Suites on levels thirty and up are soundproof, so you have nothing to worry about. Now here we have the living room. As you can see, the two corner walls are completely glass walls, ceiling to floor. Hanging from the ceiling are automated dark curtains. There are two buttons here that control the curtains. One operates the curtain above this door to the balcony, and the other operates the rest of the curtains. These windows, as well as all other windows in the building, are coated in a UV-protective coating. Now if you'll join out on the balcony. The balcony is very large in that you can comfortably fit three sofas, a table, and a grill, as one of the other lessees have done. Now just look at that scenery, huh? In the heart of downtown Chicago, you get a view of the skyscrapers, the skyline, against the sunset. Just gorgeous."

Looking down the edge of the balcony, Derek commented, "This looks much higher than thirty-four floors up."

"These suites are much taller than normal."

"What are these banisters?" John asked.

"They are reinforced stainless steel. Very sturdy. Around this corner we have another entrance in to the suite. This one leads to the master bedroom. As you can see, this room also has the corner walls made completely of glass with the same curtain setup as the living room."

"God," Derek said breathily, "this room is enormous."

"Of the twenty-five hundred square feet the suite boasts, this master bedroom takes four hundred. Here is the walk-in closet, which take another hundred. All of the rods, shelves, and drawers will have more than enough space for your combined wardrobes, I'm sure. And through this door is a full bath boasting a giant bathtub, a glass shower, and a bidet toilet. The double-sink counter is adorned with a giant mirror with light bulbs to light every square inch of your face, which may or may not be a curse."

"Is this a linen closet?" John asked, pointing to a door by the closet entrance.

"Yep. It also doubles as a storage space. So boy all the toilet paper, Q-Tips, and shampoo as you want. Through here, we're back in the main hall. This is another linen closet, perfect for extra pillows and blankets. Now in this closet is a full laundry room. Brand new washer, brand new dryer, an iron, and an ironing board. And in the last door is the second bedroom, or a guest room if that's what you want. Let's go see that, shall we?"

Entering the sizeable bedroom, Derek asked the woman, "Will our guests hear the laundry going? The two rooms share a wall."

"No. This bedroom is completely soundproof. Your guests can play the loudest music and the only way you'll hear is by entering bedroom. This bedroom also has access to the balcony by opening this window. As you can see, your guests will have to climb over the sill to go outside. This room also doesn't have have a walk-in closet, but this closet is still pretty big. Bright side, this room also has its own full bathroom. Bathtub with an attached shower, bidet toilet, and single sink."

Now standing back in the kitchen, John asked, "What are the building amenities that we'd have access to?"

"As you saw when you came in, the building has twenty-four hour security. They verify guests when they come in, like visitors you haven't cleared, takeout orders, furniture delivery, that sort. Your fobs not only unlock your door, they also allow entrance into the fitness room and swimming pool, which are on the ground floor. The second floor houses four conference rooms, which you need to book in advance. When you book them, security will tailor the locks to your fobs for the duration of your conferences or meetings. The roof is equipped with a grill, tables, patio furniture, and sofas under a full glass roof for very large parties. You will also have to book those events in advance for security to tailor the locks to your fobs."

"How much is rent per month?" Derek asked, slightly anxious of the answer.

"Most lessees elect to pay the full rent of a year's lease up front plus the security deposit, which is equal to one month's rent. Which totals to forty-five thousand, five hundred dollars. The other option is paying the first and last month's rent plus the deposit, which is ten thousand, five hundred dollars."

Derek thought for a few moments before surmising, "So that's, what, thirty-five hundred dollars per month."

John smiled at the lady and told her, "I want it."

"John," Derek said in disbelief. "This is a nice place but it's way too expensive."

"Nonsense," John responded before kissing Derek's temple.

Susan tucked a lock of her silver hair behind her ear and said, "Mr. Hodges, the ad says that the condo is available for viewing for another week."

John smirked and told the lady, "I will give you two thousand dollars cash to take down the ad along with a cheque for twelve months' rent and deposit."

Susan, standing in shock for a moment, said, "Okay," as she accepting the twenty Benjamin's. "It'll be ready for you to move in in five or six days. Which is when time required to hire a professional inspector."

Derek laid on his stomach in John's bed fully nude, a textbook and his laptop open before him. John, also nude, laid his head on Derek's shoulder blade as he traced imaginary lines connecting moles on Derek's back.

"Would you ever consider feeding on me?" Derek asked, his eyes still trained on the words printed on the pages.

Uneasily, John replied, "It'll hurt like hell."

"But you told me about the duchess of Australia and her human mate. You said her feeding on him made her realize how much he loved her."

"I know how much you love me, Der-Bear."

Smiling, Derek replied, "I told you to stop calling me that. But I want you to really feel how much I love you. What you mean to me."

"I know how much-"

John stopped talking due to a billion gears in his head turning as thoughts formed. He was staring at Derek's back, his brows furrowed together. He grabbed one of Derek's hi-liters, the blue one, and touched the felt tip to Derek's back.

"Hey, what are--"

"Amelia, get in here," John said quietly, still staring intensely down at Derek's back.

When Amelia appeared in front of the bed, the first thing she said was, "Somebody just used a summoning spell. Is that- fuck. Get him out of here. Now!"

"I- I can't," John responded, finding an invisible barrier directly on Derek's skin. This made it impossible for John to teleport Derek.

"Somebody has an anti-teleport on him," Amelia said with worry. "I can't lift it. Must be Mateo. Twenty just teleported clo- eight more. Fuck! We have to get him out of here!"

Derek moved off the bed naked, but stood up dressed. Running down the stairs, Derek asked, "What's going on? Why are they here?"

"Because of the moles on your back," John replied gravely.

"Just because I- what? Is one of them shaped like a sun?"

While opening the entrance to the garage, John answered, "That's why I was using the marker on your back. Connect them and they are shaped just like the mark on Sirvios' leg. So you have to get out of here. There are thirty-three rebels surrounding the house. They can't get in because Amelia has a shield keeping them out, but they know that it won't hold forever. Drive. Drive as fast as you can. Amelia, David and I will follow you on foot protecting you, okay?"

Derek was sitting in the driver's seat of Derek's Cadillac with his feet still planted on the ground. He asked, "Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Why can't- why can't you just run with me on your back or something?"

"Because if they penetrate my shield, it'll be easier for them to hit you."

"All why- why can't you just call for help or something?" Derek asked.

"They are preventing us from teleporting out and preventing other from teleporting in."

Derek couldn't help but let the tears fall from his eyes. It didn't help that two blood tears had trailed down John's face as well. He sniffled as he reached his hands up to John's face and wiped the blood away.

"I love you," John whispered as he pressed his forehead to Derek's. "Derek, I love you. This isn't goodbye, okay? We will make it out of this fine."

Amelia and David joined the two men in the garage and the garage door opened. Amelia told them, "They will start attacking soon. Drive as fast as you can for as long as you can. We will protect you and neutralize as many of the rebels as we can."

Derek sat properly in the car and ignited the engine. John gave Derek a deep, meaningful kiss before shutting the car door. Derek forced the tears to stop , sat in the car staring at the wheel for a few moments. He then threw the vehicle into reverse and slammed the gas.

The second the car touched the road, where Amelia's shield ended, small explosions of fire balls blew up near the vehicle. Derek screamed an ducked his head slightly, but otherwise continued to drive. He threw the gear shift to drive and again floored the gas. In front of the car are six or seven people, two evidently werewolves by their giant fangs and sharp claws. All of them were running toward the car and firing magic at him. The fireballs, lightning bolts, and blue orbs dissipated when they touched the car by protection of Amelia and/or John.

"Faster!" John's voice cried from behind the car.

With assault magic being fired at him, Derek found it difficult not to flinch every time he saw a blast coming his way, especially when he saw the magic through the rearview mirror. But he maintained a high speed, weaving through the sparse traffic in the rural area of the town.

Suddenly there was a small explosion in the ground a yard from the front of the vehicle. The rebels figured it would be better to aim their attacks at spots by the vehicle rather than at the vehicle itself.

"Fuck!" Derek shouted as he veered right into someone's front yard.

The Cadillac smashed a garden gnome and a fence before Derek was able to turn back onto the road. Within seconds another explosion occurred right by the driver's side door. The windows on the left side of the car shattered and the vehicle's left side lifted off the ground slightly.

Now on a straight expanse of road on the outskirts of town, Derek looked into the rearview mirror. He'd guessed that there was about twenty rebels behind him, running at great speeds and waving their hands in spell casting. Fireballs, lightning bolts, and orbs of neon blue formed in their hands before they flung toward him.

Directly behind the rebels Derek could see the blonde heads of John and Amelia, their hair whipping back and forth as they ran. Derek then noticed David's face close by. All three were flinging their own spells at the rebels. The rebels were holding their own pretty well, as most of the spells being flung at them were being met by shields.

"Shit," Derek whispered to himself as he turned his eyes back to the road.

This highway was slightly busy. Derek once again had to turn the steering wheel back and forth so as to avoid any collisions.

Suddenly a woman with long brown hair was at Derek's side. Her fingers pierced the metal roof of the car and her other hand was facing Derek, the palm forming a white light. Her blue eyes looked menacing, shining with cruel intent. Before the woman could fire her spell at Derek, David jumped onto the woman, latching onto her back. David quickly licked his fingers and drove the venom-coated nails into the side of woman's head, killing her instantly.

Derek looked into the rearview mirror again, there was far less rebels chasing him. John, Amelia, and David killed a number of them. There was maybe eight or ten rebels left. Everybody was still firing spell after spell.

The rebels' spells broke through John's shield around the car. A lightning bolt shot at the driver from the back left, shattering the drivers' side window and windshield. Derek ducked in sheer fright, screaming. In doing so the car jerked left, nearly slamming into an SUV's tail. A second after ducking, Derek righted himself and the car.

Derek's vision became blurry with tears. So much so that he had some difficulty seeing the vehicles and road before him. So he blinked his eyes rapidly to expel the salty liquid from his eyes. Derek then noticed that the other vehicles were not reacting to the chaos around them. He'd guessed that Amelia and/or John and/or David were casting concealment spells or altering their minds so they didn't see and hear anything out of the ordinary.

Due to a fireball exploding near the car, Derek had to turn left into another lane. It was the farthest lane. He fell right into the rebels' trap. The three rebels that remained, desperate, pushed Derek to turn into that lane and fired blasts under the right side of the vehicle. The combined explosion that occurred as a result caused the car's rear right side to jerk up into the air.

Derek screamed his lungs out as the car flipped off to the side. The roof of the vehicle landed on the concrete rail for a half a second before rolling off the edge of the overpass.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion for John. He flung a blast of neon green plasma to a redheaded woman, jumped onto the belly of the car, opened the driver's side door, ripped the seatbelt off, and pulled Derek out. Amelia and David still hadn't neutralized whomever had a shield on Derek to prevent them from teleporting the human to safety. So John held Derek tight to his body as they continued to fall another sixty or seventy feet down to the ground.

A millisecond before John's back was to hit the ground, he felt the shield around Derek disappear. So he teleported the two of them to the first place he could think of that had warm water; Honolulu. John teleported, but it was the very instant that his back met the snowy pavement. So Derek's head and body smashed into John's harshly.

When John felt them stop in the warm ocean waters, he teleported them again. This time to the condo that had been furnished by Ikea that day. Derek was unconscious in his arms, his head resting on John's shoulder and his body hanging slack.

When Amelia and David teleported into the master bedroom where John was setting Derek down onto the bare bed, Amelia said, "His heart beat is weak. He has got internal bleeding."

"I know," John replied uneasily as he summoned three syringes into his hand.

"He will not heal fast enough," David told John.

John licked the tip of the needle and responded, "Undiluted."

Aghast, Amelia said, "Johnathan! He--"

"He could be our king!" John said as blood tears began to form in his eyes while filling the syringe with his blood from his arm.

Amelia, conflicted, licked the tip of the needle as well. David followed suit. They knew John would feel territorial about using their own blood so they drew blood from John's body.

John stuck his needle into the side of Derek's head where the skull had cracked. Amelia stuck her needle through Derek's chest, directly into his heart. David stuck his needle into the calf of Derek's right leg, which was most broken.

Five minutes later all three vampires were sitting in the bedroom, watching over Derek as his transformation started to happen.

"Is Mateo dead?" John asked the two other vampires as he stroked his thumb over Derek's ankle.

"No," Amelia answered lamely. "Daesha. I'm condemning him to a millennium."

"What's going to happen to Derek if he is reborn as king?" David asked.

Amelia shook her head softly and answered, "I have been wondering that for ten thousand, three hundred, sixteen years."

The three sat in silence again. John gently massaged the calf that was left unbroken on Derek.

Suddenly, John could feel a magical zing in the air. He looked around the room, his eyes settling on Amelia. Amelia looked to John as well, her brows furrowed. Amelia then stood and at the same time levitated Derek gently. She then turned Derek over.

"Jesus Christ," David whispered in shock as he stepped closer to the unconscious man. "He is no doubt our king."

The moles on Derek's back were all being connected by black lines forming on their own. The lines were perfect, as if being done by a tattoo artist.

Morilo then appeared in the room, shock and excitement evident in his features. "Word has graced my ears that you have found the king. Your mate?"

Amelia turned back to Derek and answered the Latino, "We were not certain until now. See the moles on his back are being connected by lines on their own."

Derek then started whimpering, and tears fell from the outer corners of his eyes.

"There the transformation pain is," Amelia said as she lowered Derek back down on the bed on his back.

Morilo suddenly chuckled in disbelief. "For ten millennia you searched for the new sovereign by looking for the same exact mark he had. Nobody thought that this could be possible. Who knows, maybe there was a human three thousand years ago with he exact same moles as your mate has but wasn't offered the gift."

"He will still just be Derek!" John said in annoyance. "I hope."

Morilo continued to peer at the unconscious Derek and said, "In my nearly five thousand years... And I was just beginning to doubt it would ever happen. Your mate is one of the most kind beings I have had the pleasure of meeting. He is now our king."

When Morilo wiped a blood tear from his eye, Amelia reached her hand over and gave the Latino's shoulder a gentle squeeze.

In a split second, four things happened; a woman with giant fangs teleported into the room, she fired a lightning bolt at the unconscious Derek, the lightning bolt disappeared into a ripple in the air, and then she fell to the floor unconscious.

"Did any of you..." David let the question finish itself as he glanced between the werewolf and Derek.

Shaking his head, John replied, "That wasn't me."

"That was Sirvios," Amelia said with a voice thick with emotion. "He- he is the only being I know that can create barriers like that. His magic is already instilled into your mate."

John, looking down at Derek, puzzled, said, "How do we know that he's still my mate?"

Brows furrowed in confusion, Morilo stated, "I do not follow you, young one."

"What if he wakes up as Sirvios?" John clarified anxiously. "He's already got abilities. He's already being protected. And King Sirvios' own prophecy states that his nua will seep into the marked."

The three other vampires didn't have a response or words of comfort for John. Morilo stated that he had to tell his wife of the new king, but that he would deliver the werewolf to Daesha first.

An hour after Morilo left Derek continued to whimper in his slumber and tears continued to seep out of his tightly shut eyes.

All three vampires looked to Derek suddenly. John asked, "You both feel that?"

"Derek- or Sirvios, or both, are preventing others from teleporting in," Amelia guessed. "Rebels?"

David teleported to their house. A second later he teleported back in and stated, "He is allowing us to come and go as we please."

John sighed and surmised, "He's keeping danger out. Those who mean us or him harm."

Two days and four hours after being injected with vampire blood as a means to be given the gift, Derek continued to whimper in his unconscious state. But his tears were no longer clear liquid, but were now blood tears.

As John wiped the blood off of Derek's face, Amelia commented, "Transformation is on schedule."

It had been three days and one hour since he was injected with vampire blood when Derek opened his eyes. He was lying in his back, his brown eyes trained on the plain white ceiling. He found that he could zoom his vision, now making out the tint indentures on the drywall.

"He will be waking some time today," Derek recognized Amelia's voice through the open bedroom door.

Her voice was altogether much too close and far away.

"But will be Derek?" David's voice replied to Amelia. "Or Sirvios? Will he still be Johnathan's mate?"

Johnathan. Derek then noticed a weight on his stomach. He looked down and was met with the sight of John's arm draped over his middle and the blonde sleeping soundly beside him.

"I told you before, love. I am not sure. Sirvios did not supply us with that information. I doubt he himself knew"

Sirvios. A flood- no, a huge dam of information suddenly came rushing to the front of Derek's brain. Twenty-one thousand, six hundred and three years worth of Sirvios' knowledge found its way to Derek's mind. People, vampires, werewolves, fae, magic.

Derek grabbed John's wrist between his thumb and finger and lifted the arm off of him. He lifted his back off the bed and swung his legs off the edge. He sat with his face buried in his hands for a moment or two.

'I am a vampire,' Derek thought to himself as blood tears began to form. 'I am a fucking vampire. And I need to feed.'

Derek wanted to keep his waking unknown. He reached his mind to John's and created a barrier around it. He knew this would prevent the blonde from detecting his magic. So he did the same to Amelia's and David's minds as well. He then pictured the chest refrigerator sitting in Amelia's basement and what it held. The next half-second, a pouch of horse blood sat in his hand. He ripped a corner of the plastic off the bag and drank all its contents in three seconds. He found the taste to be sweet and savoury, delectable.

'I just drank blood,' Derek thought to himself, growing sullen.

Derek gently stood from the bed and walked toward one of the glass walls. He stared out at the city. The setting sun was both much too bright and perfect, beautiful. But Derek couldn't appreciate that beauty. Not right then because he was feeling hurt and betrayed and angry.

Five minutes later Derek was still standing at the glass wall, leaning his shoulder against the sill. He heard John moving, awakening.

"Derek?" John asked, apprehension in his voice.

Derek ignored John's query. He remained still, his eyes on the city before him but unseeing in his emotional state.

A second later, Amelia ran into the room. She asked, "Derek, how are you feeling?"

Derek responded by shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

John stood from the bed and asked, "Sirvios?"

Derek snorted, half amused and half frustrated. "I'm still Derek. If you don't believe me, listen to my heart to see if I'm lying. Oh wait, I have no heart beat because I'm dead!"

The outburst of anger caused a magical wave to shoot from Derek's chest. The glass before him shattered to the floor. Derek sighed before touching every single shard of glass with his mind. The shards moved back into place, and within seconds the entire wall was put back together as if nothing happened.

"Derek," John said breathily as he moved to go embrace Derek.

"Stop," Derek said plainly.

Shocked, John stopped walking. He didn't want to do that. He wanted to hold his mate in his arms and kiss him like there was no tomorrow. But he knew that Derek had a lot to process then.

Amelia, after a few moments of silence, asked, "So you are Derek?"

"Yes," Derek answered blandly, still gazing out the window. "But I have Sirvios' memories."

"Prove it," Amelia said, half disbelieving the black man- vampire.

"He called you Karotiin. It means princess. You were one of his most loyal companions. He revered yourself and Erjai as his closest friends. The minute before he died in the sun, you went to him. He said to you, 'Garro hiin illith fiilo val ayul', asking you to keep the world safe for his return. But he meant your world. The supernatural world. He meant for you to keep a happy and peaceful coexistence with the wolves and fae. Proof enough?"

A blood tear trailed down Amelia's cheek. She knelt down on one knee, bowed her head, and said, "My king."

Derek still hadn't turned around. He remained looking out the window. But he said, "Amelia, David, I'd like you to leave."

Amelia stood abruptly and protested, "But I have so many ques--"

"Leave," Derek said in a forceful tone. "I will entertain your questions at a later time."

David stood by Amelia and grabbed her hand. Together they teleported home. Derek remained standing at the glass, his arms crossed over his chest. John paced in the bedroom, chewing gently on his thumb nail.

After about five minutes of silence and pacing, John sat in the black leather chair situated by the walk-in closet. He sat leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his eyes ever watching the black man.

After another minute of silence, uncomfortable silence, John begged, "Say something. Please."

Derek continued to gaze out at the city and skyline. He had to fight with everything within him not to allow the tears to form.

"Derek, please," John begged again as he stood from the chair, this time his voice becoming thicker with emotion. "I had no choice. It needed to be done."

Derek remained unmoving, his arms tightening around his chest slightly to remind himself to fight the tears.

While walking toward Derek, John said desperately, "You would be--"

Derek suddenly whipped around, his arms up crossing. Pointing his finger accusingly at John, he said with anger, "Did you even think about my feelings!? Or did you only think of yourself?"

John swallowed thickly, hurt, barely able to control the tears as they formed, "Derek."

"I had my whole life ahead of me!" Derek said heatedly, blood tears falling from his eyes. "I was gonna be an ophthalmologist! I had a niece and a nephew to spoil! I was gonna be a dad some day!"

Crying in his on kind of pain, John responded, "You had the mark, Derek. You were reborn as our king."

"And that warrants my being turned without my consent!? There was no way you could've healed me without turning me!?"

John wiped tears away as he answered, "I- I'm not sure. Maybe--"

"You could have healed me!" Derek screamed as he bawled his eyes out. "You knew how I felt about being turned!"

With tears still streaming down his face, John said, "But you are now--"

"It doesn't matter who I am now!" Derek cried angrily. "If there was absolutely no doubt in your mind who I would be reborn as, my feelings should've still gone into consideration."

"So I was being a little selfish," John said quietly. "Okay, a lot selfish. I love you too much to allow you to die."

Derek allowed a very familiar magical signature to teleport into the condo. Before him stood a man almost as tall as John. His wavy, bright orange hair hung down nearly to his shoulders. And his bright blue eyes conveyed so much glee and blood tears formed almost immediately.

Derek said, "Eryai."

The ginger, Eryai, crouched down to one knee and hung his head low. "My king Sirvios. Amelia informed me of your reincarnation."

"Stand," Derek gently requested. "I am not your Sirvios. Call me Derek. But I do have his memories."

Trying to control his emotions, Eryai said, "I- I never thought this day would come. I waited so long. May I offer you a hug, King Derek?"

"Sirvios was your mate," Derek responded. "You don't have to ask for a hug as long as you know that I am not your mate."

Before Derek knew it, the ginger had his arms wrapped around his middle and his nose pressed against his bare shoulder. Eryai was crying, happy tears of blood.

Eryai, holding Derek tightly, said, "You even smell like him."

"Have you found another mate?" Derek asked the redhead while coming out of the embrace.

"Three since your- since Sirvios' death," Eryai replied as he wiped the tears away. "First was a human who refused the gift. Second was a werewolf who passed of old age. Third lives today. A fae from Korea called Nari."

Derek smiled at Eryai and told him, "I'm happy for you."

"When will you take back your throne?" Eryai asked Derek.

"I don't know," Derek answered. "I want to get used to being a vampire before I do anything official. I only was reborn twenty minutes ago. Go back to your mate, Eryai. You will know when I make my move."

Eryai bent his middle slightly in a bow and said, "My king."

When the ginger teleported away, Derek felt the nagging in his magical sense become much too important. He stretched his mind out, feeling all the magical signatures trying to teleport into the condo. Because he was allowing only those who did not mean him harm, Derek shut their minds down and teleported them all to Amelia's basement. He knew she would feel the teleportation and know what to do with the bodies, which was taking them to Daesha.

Derek imagined a pair of his dark wash skinny jeans and where they would be, folded in his dresser at his apartment. Having a clear image of the jeans, Derek grabbed the pair with his mind, and the next second they were adorning his legs. He did the same with a red v-neck shirt and his black leather ankle boots.

Derek then turned to John and said, "I'm assuming my family knows I'm dead."

John nodded solemnly and responded, "They think a drunk driver slammed into my car as you were driving, which caused the car to fall over the overpass. We both died. Amelia got two bodies from the morgue and put them in the car. The car exploded, thus making our bodies burn to the point of near impossible DNA identification. A friend of mine works as a mortician, so she's identified the dental DNA as yours and mine. Yesterday your body was released to your parents and all three flew back to Raleigh."

Derek suddenly fell to his knees in total heartbreak. Within seconds tears of blood soaked his face and fell to his lap. He couldn't imagine the immense pain his parents had to endure hearing their baby had died, having to claim a charred body, and fly home to bury him. Derek wailed, and he wailed with abandon. His screams of raw pain broke John's heart, causing the blonde to cry silently as well.

John knelt in front of Derek and moved to hold Derek in a comforting embrace. Derek pushed John away with an invisible force, stood, and told the blonde, "I'm still angry with you."

Derek then teleported, finding himself in his old bedroom in Raleigh. With tears slowly escaping his eyes, Derek took in every little detail of his past life. The smell of his room and those who were recently in it. He grabbed a picture frame sitting on his desk, which held a photo of himself, Robbie, and Tiana taken when they were fourteen.

"Goodbye," Derek whispered to the photo, which caused his tears to double.

Derek laid in his old full-sized bed, which smelled like his mom who had lain in it some time during that day. He could smell her tears on his pillow as well. This caused his emotions to roller coaster altogether, his tears tripling. He hugged the picture frame to his chest, his dead heart aching as if a red hot rod had poked it.

Derek heard his bedroom door open. Jemma walked in, her usually beautiful face bearing despair and anguish. She stood still, observing the room, as if hoping that Derek would be sitting at his desk doing homework or reading a book on his window sill or watching movies on his laptop in bed.

Derek, of course, was using his magic to alter her mind so she didn't see him. He stood, watched her with his own pain.

Jemma walked to Derek's open closet and grabbed his old suit. Tears streamed down her face, and she let out a scream of agony as she clutched the suit to her chest.

Hank came into the room having heard Jemma crying, wailing. He stepped up behind her and held her. His own tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Derek prevented his siblings from hearing him, and he said while crying, "I'm sorry. Hank, Jem, I'm so sorry. I fell in love with a vampire and got sucked into their world."

"He's gone!" Jemma said completely broken, still hugging the suit tight to her body and crying. "My baby brother's gone!"

Hank swallowed thickly, holding his big sister tighter, and whispered, "I know, Jem."

Jemma let another wail before saying, "He's gone. He's gone."

Derek had enough. He'd wanted to see his parents, but he was already too broken. So he teleported to Robbie and Heather's apartment. Heather was in the second bedroom, the nursery, laying their daughter Emma down for the night. Robbie was sitting on their bed, shirtless, with misty eyes. His cell phone was in his hand, and he tapped on the screen. A call was being made.

"Hey, it's Derek," Derek's voicemail greeting said. "Leave a message. Or don't. Whatever. Text me and I'll probably reply to that faster." ~Beeeep~

Robbie sighed loudly before saying, "H-hey Derry. Just calling to say that I- that I love you. The last time- the last time we talked I didn't say that. I know that you know I love you. But somebody once said that- said that we should always let others know how- how we feel because we don't know if- if it'll be the last chance that we get. I love you, Derry. And- and thank you for- for being my best- my best friend."

Heather was standing at the door, her own tears threatening to escape from her eyes. She walked over to the other side of the bed, crawled over to Robbie, and hugged him from behind. Robbie buried his face in his hands as he cried gently.

For two weeks Derek explored the world by teleporting to every dream destination he'd ever had. It was only on the twelfth day of journeying that Derek began to feel better about his new life, letting his old life go. On the fifteenth day, while sitting on top the Christ the Redeemer statue, he felt that he missed John. He felt that he spent enough time being angry at the blonde. There was no longer any anger or pain in his heart.

"Derek," John said in shock.

Derek had teleported to the condo that he and John had leased in Chicago. John was staring out the giant window when Derek teleported there.

When the surprise wore off, John bowed low and said, "My king."

"Do not-" Derek sighed, "do not bow down to me."

John straightened his stance when he felt Derek walking toward him. The black man slid his arms around John's waist and held him close as he pressed his forehead to John's chest. John allowed a tear to fall from his eye as he returned Derek's embrace, kissing the side of Derek's head.

"Now that I'm a vampire you don't feel cold."

John chuckled in relief and shock. "How do I feel to you now?"

"I don't know. Like... home. Like I belong here. Tell me that you love me."

John kissed the side of Derek's head again before happily complying, "I love you."

In that very instant, every single cell in Derek's body tingled. They tingled so powerfully that Derek couldn't fight the shiver that caused his whole body to tremble slightly.

Derek smiled in John's chest and said, "I guess that means you're my mate as well."

John chuckled as more happy tears escaped his eyes. He grabbed Derek's face to look at him and kissed him deeply, passionately.

When their lips separated with an audible smack, Derek said, "I guess that makes you king as well. Queen? No, you can't be the queen because you're the top. Co-king?"

John laughed as more happy tears formed and said, "You're still just as awkward."

"Mmm," Derek hummed. "Not sure how I feel about that."

John gave Derek another peck on the lips and replied, "It makes you even more beautiful."

John suddenly found himself lying in the bed, with Derek lying on top of him.

"I miss your cuddles," Derek said by way of explanation before kissing John's cotton-covered chest.

While kneading Derek's back muscles, John asked, "Where have you been?"

"All over," Derek answered, his face buried in the crook of John's neck and his eyes closed. "Exploring countries I'd always wanted to visit. While doing so, I condemned fifty-seven rebels to Daesha. Argentina and Finland need new duchesses now."

"They were rebels?" John asked, surprised.

"Mm-hmm. I lost count of how many supers were happy to learn of my identity. I'd guess maybe two thousand. I met a boy in Colombia, sixteen-years-old, who is a werewolf and fae hybrid. Sincerest, humblest super I've ever met. With his parents' permission, which they were shocked to be asked for because of who I am now, I taught Alejo how to conceal himself, become invisible. Quick learner."

"That's nice," John whispered with a smile. "Who else did you meet?"

"I met a very powerful fourteen-year-old girl in Glasgow. Her name is sherry, she's a werewolf, and she attacked me when she detected my teleportation. Nowhere near as powerful as Amelia, but she will grow stronger."

"Must be Sherry McIvan," John said in thought.

"Yeah, McIvan. How did you know?"

"Naeila, the Scottish duchess, lives next door to the McIvans as protection. She knows that Sherry could one day defeat her in a duel and claim her title. Naeila would let her, she's very diplomatic and fair."

Derek didn't bother to offer a reply. He just nuzzled his nose closer into John's neck.

Smiling with excitement, John said quietly, "You can still become a dad some day when you're ready."

Unimpressed, and the slightest bit angry, Derek remained still but said, "John, I'm dead."

"A few times, when we had sex, I teleported your cum off of our bodies and into sample cups. I then teleported those cups to an acquaintance of mine. Dahlia works in a sperm bank in Detroit."

Derek lifted his head off of John's shoulder, his beautiful brown eyes shining with shock and disbelief and a burgeoning happiness. "No. You didn't."

"I did."

Derek's eyes searched John's, finding every ounce of truth he was looking for. Tears of pure joy gather in his eyes as he leaned in for a kiss of passion and love.

"Th-thank you. Wait, why did you do that?"

"I wanted your line to carry on in case you died. Or if, on your deathbed, you decided to accept the gift."

"Exactly how many cups did you send to Dahlia?"


Twenty-eight years later...

"Kekess," Daisy said with an excited voice as Derek signed the neon blue line on the glass countertop with the stylus.

Nathan looked to where Daisy was looking. Smiling, he asked, "Do you see the necklace, Daisy?"

"Kekess!" Daisy said with more thrill in her voice.

Derek smiled at the sales lady and said, "Thank you."

After situating two-year-old Daisy on his hip and grabbing the Banana Republic bag, Derek held his free hand out and kindly said, "Shall we get some lunch, Nate?"

Nathan smiled excitedly, grabbed his dad's hand, and answered, "Yes! I'm hungry, daddy!"

"Hoggy, daddy," Daisy copied her six-year-old brother's words.

Derek brushed his nose on Daisy's cheek as he asked, "Is my princess hungry?"

In the food court of Philadelphia Mills, all three were eating pizza. Nathan and Daisy were the same in that they picked at the slices of pepperoni and ate those first. It never ceased to cause a smile to form on Derek's face.

"Derek?" a woman's voice asked, uncertainty lacing her tone.

Derek pretended to not have heard the woman who was approaching the table. He did so because she had no magical signature so that meant she was human. And the only humans he knew were his neighbours. Derek instead laughed at his daughter, who was turning her head sideways in an adorable fashion to try getting the slice of pizza into her mouth.

The woman now stood at the table and asked, "Derek? Is that you?"

Derek looked up at the woman. He knew who she was. He recognized her. But he chose to look at her with an expectant face like he didn't know her.

"It's me!" she said excitedly. "Rianne! Rianne Jenkins! Well, I'm Rianne Gallagher for the past seven years. You have not changed a bit! Not one bit."

"Daddy," Nathan's voice called, "who is this?"

Derek turned to his son and, putting on his best Hank voice, answered, "I- I dunno, son. Look, lady, I ain't this Derek you hollerin' about. Name's Cam."

Rianne blinked in surprise and chagrin, and responded, "I- oh. I'm sorry. You look exactly like- but that was, like, thirty years ago so there's no way you're him. Duh. I'll leave you to your kids."

Ten seconds after Rianne walked away, Derek felt three familiar magical signatures teleport into the mall. The food court restroom to be exact.

"Papaaa!" Daisy screeched when she saw John, her legs kicking excitedly at the booster seat.

Nathan looked over as well and called, "Uncle Eryai! Uncle Morilo!"

When John sat down beside Derek, they shared a sweet peck on the lips. Eryai touched his knuckles to Nathan's jaw and gave it a nudge. Nathan responded by standing on his chair and taking a boxer's stance, throwing fake jabs at the redhead.

Morilo sat beside Daisy, kissed her cheek, and said, "Bonjour am princesse."

After swallowing a bite of pizza, Derek kindly requested, "Status report?"

Eryai asked Nathan to finish eating before turning to Derek and replying, "The second European school is finally done construction. With nearly a thousand more European student applications, this will ease the loads on the teachers."

"The expansion on the South American school is scheduled to be completed tomorrow," Morilo happily informed his king.

John then said, "Applications for the North American and Australian schools have increased by twelve percent each, the school in Asia by seven, and the African by five. No changes everywhere else."

Smiling appreciatively, Derek said, "Thank you, guys."

Derek concealed the senses of the mall patrons so they were oblivious. Morilo and Eryai teleported to their respective homes. Derek then teleported all four of them to their home.

John carried Daisy up to her room to put her down for her afternoon nap while Derek asked Nathan, "Do ya wanna help daddy with dinner?"

"Yes, I can do dat," Nathan replied in that faux serious tone that always tickled Derek.

The end...

Below are links to photos, depicting how I imagined some characters of this story looked. I didn't look for photos for most other characters because I felt they were not as important.

Derek, main character

John, Derek's love interest

Amelia, John's maker

David, Amelia's love interest

Hank, Derek's elder brother

Jemma, Derek's elder sister

Robbie, Derek's bestest best friend in life

Nina, Derek's best friend in Chicago

Morilo, supernatural duke of Brazil

Sirvios, deceased supernatural king of ancient (pronounced Sear-vee-os)

Eryai, past mate of Sirvios (pronounced Air-ee-eye)

Let me know what you think! How was the story? Were there a lot of grammatical/editorial errors? Did you picture the characters to look different than I did and how so?

I love hearing feedback!

One thing I will tell you is that I didn't plan for the vampires to be able to actually cry. But I liked the thought of a loved one wiping away tears for them. I find that so sweet and cute.