No Regrets Ch. 07bynem0©
Thanks so much to everyone who has commented on this story, and for those who threatened/begged me to continue. I am truly sorry for how slowly I produce these chapters, but thanks for sticking around!!
Please note: hardly any gay sex in this chapter, and a couple of brief straight scenes. Sorry if this offends anyone reading, but I thought it necessary for the story.
Mark stared at the PowerPoint slide. The first week back at college, and he was confined to a double lecture entirely based on the concept of theory versus actuality. The summary of the lecture seeming to be that things never, ever worked out exactly the way they were supposed to in theory. That theories were a guideline, a record of failure for what not to do next time. Mark had never been particularly fond of irony, and now even less so. Theoretically, his life should have reverted back to the way things had been two months ago. Theoretically, things between him and Deacon should have been normal, comfortable, familiar. In theory. In actuality? Marie was getting increasingly frustrated and upset by how distant he was being; his friends and family were clearly puzzled by his surliness, his aloofness. And Deacon...things with Deacon weren't normal, they weren't comfortable. And he couldn't stop thinking about how much more familiar they had been.
Mark glanced over at Deacon, sitting across the room, a few rows in front of Mark. Deacon was hunched over the desk with his chin in his hand, twirling a pen between his lips. He was staring straight ahead, his eyes not clearly focussed on anything. He and Mark used to always sit next to each other in their lectures; but when Deacon had arrived in the room today, he'd dropped down into the first free seat in the nearest isle, as he had in every class they shared for the last week. Mark saw it as a pretty self-explanatory gesture, and it stung today just as much as it did the first time.
Mark stifled a sigh and shook his head, returning his gaze to the lecture slides. He jotted down another of the many examples they were being fed of how the best theories from the most logical scientific minds had been proven false, and tried not to think of the consequences he would have to face if his and Deacon's theory turned out to be wrong as well.
"Okay, that's enough torture for one day," the lecturer concluded, shutting down the PowerPoint slides. The previously quiet room erupted with chatter, cell phone alerts and the shuffling of paper. "No assignment this week, just get started on working through those case studies," the lecturer called across the din as the students began vacating their seats. A thick textbook slipped out of a bag on the desk behind Deacon, and landed by his feet with a thump. Deacon started at the noise and looked around.
"Sorry," the tiny red-head girl behind him said, blushing. "Could you...?" She gestured to the book. Deacon leant down to pick it up and passed it back to her. "Thanks," she smiled. "Looks like you found that lecture really interesting," she said, nodding towards his folder. Deacon glanced down at his notes, which consisted of the date and a blank page. Deacon smiled ruefully at her.
"On another planet today, I guess," he shrugged.
"Well if you need the notes, you can copy mine next lecture, if you want," the girl offered as she shouldered her book bag. Deacon smiled again and nodded.
"Thanks, I might take you up on that." Deacon raised a hand in farewell as the girl left, then looked around the room. It was nearly empty, except for a few intellectuals up the front, pestering the lecturer. Mark was already gone.
Deacon fished his phone from his pocket and opened a new text message to Mark. He stared at the screen and tried to figure out what he should say. How he should explain the stupid, pointless fuck-up the last week had been.
The morning of his first day back, Deacon had overslept and was late for class. Still half asleep and frazzled, he slipped into the room and shrank down into the seat right next to the door. He meant to find Mark afterwards and explain, had promised himself he would; but by the time he finished signing up for labs and tutorials that he'd missed doing at the beginning of the class, Mark was gone. Deacon reasoned that if Mark had taken it the wrong way and thought Deacon was avoiding him, well, Deacon would just clear up the misunderstanding at their next lecture.
But since that first lecture, there always seemed to be something holding Deacon up; a missed alarm or a dropped folder that forced him to rush to class. He tried to tell himself that going straight for one of the closest seats was just because he was late, he should get in the room and sit down with minimal disruption. He tried to ignore the fact that other people were late and made their way to their 'usual' seats, with no one really worrying about the disturbance it caused. In the end, Deacon couldn't ignore the realisation that he seemed to be making himself late on purpose, to avoid having to confront what was going on.
And what was going on? When Deacon admitted to himself that he was avoiding Mark, he thought that maybe they needed a little space. Just for a little while, just until the memories faded a bit. It wasn't really working that well though - Deacon spent most of the lectures staring into space and thinking of Mark anyway. So what was he supposed to write to explain all of that? Deacon growled in frustration and snapped his phone shut. As the seats around him started filling up for the next lecture, Deacon stuffed his phone back in his pocket and hurriedly gathered his things, a funk settling over him again as he left the campus and headed to work.
Mark was deep in thought, thinking about everything but the case study he was holding and staring right through. A hand stroked the back of his neck, startling him out of his reverie.
"Hey baby," Marie purred into Mark's ear as she continued to caress his neck. Mark clenched his jaw and tried to swallow down the disappointment he felt rising up inside him.
Marie sat down next to him at the table. "I've been looking all over for you. How was your day?"
"Mine was pretty boring, still just a lot of intro waffle. You get any assignments yet?"
Marie sat quietly for a few seconds before leaning forward across the table. "Mark...what have I done?"
Mark looked up at his girlfriend blankly. "What?"
Marie shrugged. "I must have done something pretty bad to make you act like such a prick towards me lately. And I really don't have any idea what it is."
Mark swallowed and shook his head. "Nothing, you haven't done anything."
"Then why are you being like this?" Marie asked, reaching over the table and grasping Mark's free hand. Mark pulled his hand away and shrugged.
"I...I just feel like I need some space."
"Space?" Marie asked, stung. "I've been away for a month, you need more space than that?"
"It's just...you've been away for that long, I need to...readjust," Mark finished, hating the sound of the lies coming out of his mouth. Marie raised her eyebrows.
"Readjust. To having this...this burden back in your life?" She asked, incredulous.
Marie pushed back her chair and grabbed her bag from the floor. "No, no it's fine. You take all the damn space you need, and call me when you manage to get your head out of your ass." Marie struggled to free her bag strap from the chair leg, yanking it until it came free, tipping the chair over as it did. Mark jumped up and clutched Marie's elbow as she turned to leave.
"Marie, wait...Please. I'm sorry. I am," Mark implored. "You haven't done anything wrong, I know I'm being a jerk. Its just...this summer, while you were away, I...I..." Mark faltered, trying to find the words to explain his betrayal.
Marie took his hand in both of hers and stepped closer to him. "What? Please baby, talk to me." Mark met her soft brown eyes with his, and his heart sunk. He couldn't do it, he couldn't tell her what he'd done. He hung his head and sighed.
"It was a fantastic summer, and I guess I'm just bummed out that its over. Post-vacation blues or something." Mark was surprised to realize that this was pretty close to the truth.
Marie smiled, something like relief in her eyes. "Yeah, I can understand that. Even though we were working, I had a great summer too. I haven't spent that much time with Sarry for years, it was like we were kids again. Like being in simpler times, right?" Mark pulled Marie close to hug her, nodding, agreeing with her, even though nothing about his summer seemed simple now. Marie sighed and stepped back from the embrace. "Let's have a barbeque tonight. Enjoy the warm evenings while they last. What do you think?"
Mark smiled and nodded. "Sounds great. I'll pick up some steak and come over after a run, around 6?"
Marie beamed at him. "Perfect. See you later handsome." She stretched up and planted a light kiss on Mark's mouth before walking away.
Mark kept the smile on his face until she was out the door. He rubbed a hand over his face and sighed, sitting back down heavily. 'It'll get easier,' he told himself for the hundredth time. 'It has to.' The knot that had returned to his stomach after a month long absence said otherwise.
Deacon tapped his pen against the purchasing folder and sighed. The numbers seemed to swim on the page, and he really couldn't find the concentration or the motivation to make them add up.
"What's up with you lately?"
Deacon looked up with a start and found Sam leaning over the desk at him. Deacon sat back and frowned. "What?"
Sam straightened up and folded his arms across his chest. "All miserable and shit. Quit it."
Deacon shrugged and looked back down at the papers. "Sorry." Sam was silent for a few moments and then sat down in a chair by the desk.
"Well, are you gonna tell me what you're so emo about?"
"No," Deacon replied, still feigning interest in the invoices before him. He glanced up at Sam, meeting his piercing dark gaze for a beat and shook his head. "Nothing."
"Oh sure." Deacon didn't answer. "Wouldn't have anything to do with Mark, would it?"
Deacon's head shot up, his eyes sharp on Sam's. "What? No! Why would it...No." Deacon cleared his throat and focused on his paperwork again. Sam stared at his co-worker until Deacon looked up at him and met his eyes. Sam snorted and shook his head.
"Right. Whatever." Sam held Deacon's eyes for a few moments longer, then turned and walked away. Deacon bit the inside of his cheek and frowned, trying to focus on his work again. Four invoices later, and his cell phone chirped at him, a text message:
BBQ at Rees 2nite, pik me up at 5?
Deacon stared at the message from Sarah, trying to come up with a plausible reason to decline. There really wasn't one; he'd been avoiding spending time with her too since she'd gotten back, and at least if there were other people there tonight, he wouldn't have to be alone with her. As he sent a text back agreeing to the plan, Deacon refused to explore the reasons behind his reluctance to spend time with Sarah alone; instead, he focused on the fact that Mark would be there tonight, and he could try to end the weird avoidance that was going on. Deacon grabbed another invoice and got back to work.
"Marie?" Mark called through the house as he came through the open door. He heard laughter coming from the backyard - Marie. On the phone, maybe, he thought. Mark made his way to the kitchen and put the pack of steaks he was carrying on the bench. "Ree?" The door from the living room swung open and Marie bounced into the kitchen, her face flushed and eyes sparkling.
"Hey baby," she smiled. "I've got to use the bathroom, grab a beer and go out back." She kissed Mark firmly on the mouth and then disappeared through the door again.
Mark smirked, wondering how many wines Marie had already had as he snared a cold beer from the fridge. He used his keys to pry the cap off his bottle and was about to exit the kitchen when the door swung open again and Deacon walked through, bumping right into Mark's chest. They looked at each other in surprise and hastily drew back from one another.
Deacon scratched the back of his head and looked away. "Sorry. Hey."
"Hi." Mark saw the blush rising on Deacon's neck and had to force his gaze to his feet as he remembered the last time he had seen that color on Deacon's skin, the last time he had caused it.
"I, uh..." All the apologies and glib explanations Deacon had practiced earlier disappeared instantly, dissolving into a pile of confusion in his head. He cleared his throat and pointed to the fridge. "Beer. Sarah..." Deacon trailed off and gingerly skirted around Mark. Deacon opened the fridge, grabbed two bottles and looked hesitantly back at Mark. Mark licked his lips, unsure, and Deacon's eyes couldn't help but follow their wet path. Deacon gritted his teeth and turned to find the bottle opener.
Mark cleared his throat and tried not to look at the back of Deacon's neck, where Mark thought his skin tasted best. "I..." 'miss you,' Mark swallowed the words down before they could leave his mouth. A declaration of emotional neediness to the guy who was steadfastly avoiding him wasn't really going to help matters. "What are you doing here?" Mark winced; sounding like a callous asshole wasn't a great approach either.
Deacon shrugged at the question, trying not to be as hurt by Mark's words as he knew he deserved to be. "Last minute thing. Sarah and Marie weren't as sick of each other as they thought. It's...not a problem, is it?"
It was Mark's turn to shrug, forcing a nonchalance he didn't feel. "Not for me. I thought maybe you had the problem."
"Me? No, no problem. We're back to normal now, right?"
Mark hadn't meant to say anything about his friend's evasiveness, but Deacon's fake smile and casual tone broke through Mark's resolve. "Yeah, right. What about class?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know what."
Deacon shrugged a shoulder awkwardly. "I've been, um, held up a lot this week," he started, peeling the label from the neck of his beer bottle. "Seem to be rushing to everything lately."
Mark nodded slowly, his eyes fixed on Deacon's. "Not just trying to avoid me then?"
"Oh, come on. Relax. We're friends; we don't have to be joined at the hip, right?" Deacon could feel his cheeks flush slightly as images the pun provoked flashed through his head.
Mark swallowed his anger at the dismissal and nodded again. "Right." Looking away from Deacon's tense face, Mark put his beer down on the counter and walked out of the kitchen towards the bathroom. Marie was just coming out of the bathroom, and smiled as she saw Mark coming down the hall.
"Hey you," she started, but was cut off when Mark kissed her fiercely, backing her up against the wall. Pulling back, Mark ignored the stunned look on Marie's face, grabbed her hand and pulled her toward her bedroom. Once they were both inside, Mark kicked the door shut and walked Marie backwards to the bed. When the back of her knees hit the edge of the bed, Mark lowered her body down onto the bed, his body following, pressing her against the mattress. He began kissing her again, his tongue searching her mouth, his hands slipping up her t-shirt. Marie pulled away slightly and pushed half-heartedly against Mark's solid chest to stop his ministrations. "But Sarah...and Deac..."
"I'm sure they can amuse themselves for half an hour," Mark whispered in Marie's ear, before taking the lobe into his mouth and biting down gently. After that, she wasn't trying to stop anything.
Deacon watched Mark leave the kitchen, his shoulders stiff. 'You idiot,' he thought. 'Why couldn't you just tell him the truth?' Shaking his head, Deacon made his way to the back porch where he'd left Sarah waiting, and handed her a beer. Sarah smiled her thanks and nodded towards the door.
"Was that Mark I heard?"
"Yeah," Deacon replied as he sat across from Sarah at the picnic table.
"So, where is he?"
Deacon shrugged. "Saying hi to Marie, I guess." He took a swig of his beer, and they sat in silence. A muted thud and a sharp cry turned their heads towards the house, and before either of them could wonder what was going on, a muffled voice cried out Mark's name.
"Well, that answers that question," Sarah giggled. The realization of what Mark and Marie were doing at that moment was like a punch to the stomach for Deacon, and he hid the unexpected hurt with another hefty swallow of beer. He gripped the bottle tighter as he felt Sarah's foot touch his calf and slowly creep up his leg, wrapping around the back of his knee. He looked at her smiling face, a blank look on his. "If they're busy," she said, running her foot up his inner thigh, "maybe you and I could..."
Deacon grabbed her foot before it went any further. "I...we can't, Sarah."
"Why not?" Sarah persisted, pushing her toes into Deacon's unresponsive crotch. Deacon floundered, trying to think of any reason but the truth.
"Because...its not our house."
Sarah huffed impatiently. "Well...how about your car then?"
Deacon pushed her foot down firmly and shook his head. "Its broad daylight outside, someone could see." Sarah stared at Deacon for a silent moment, then retracted her foot and crossed her legs. She opened her mouth as if to say something more, but closed it again after taking in the dark look on Deacon's face.
"Ok. Fine. We won't." She looked away and took another sip of beer. After a few more moments, she rose and put a CD in the stereo to play, turning the volume up loud enough to drown the occasional cry emanating from the house.
Marie sat on the side of the bed and pulled her t-shirt over her head. Standing, she went over to her dresser mirror and appraised her reflection as Mark sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, quickly pulling his underwear and pants up. Marie smoothed her hair down with her palms and straightened her shirt. When what looked back at her seemed more respectable and less just-fucked, she turned and laid a hand on Mark's shoulder.
She wanted to say something, somehow acknowledge the strangeness in what had just happened, but when Mark turned his face up to meet her eyes, the little-boy-lost expression on his face and the turmoil in those deep brown pools stopped her. He knew something hadn't been right too, and it didn't look like he had any answers either. So instead of starting a fight, Marie leant down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. She cupped her hand on his neck and squeezed gently, then left the room silently.
As the door snicked closed, Mark dropped his head into his hands and tightened his fists in his hair. Despite his hurt, confused reasons for dragging Marie in there, it had started off so well...her smooth skin, round curves, they fit so well in his hands, they always had. She tasted so sweet, and the noises she made, the gentle whimpers, the sharp cries, used to make his blood boil. But the curves and the noises, her smell and feel, they weren't what he was thinking of when he came.
He was thinking of short blonde hair, a hard rippled stomach; strong arms and deep, husky grunts. He had closed his eyes and thought of Deacon, his best friend, and that was the only way he was able to make himself come. Mark's knuckles turned white as he clenched his fists, hot tears prickling his eyes. 'Relax,' he told himself, trying to take deep breaths. 'It's still early days, just give it more time.' Mark repeated this to himself over and over again until his panic had passed and he was breathing normally. He patted his unruly hair down and buttoned his pants before taking one last deep breath and leaving the bedroom.