Word Count: 2,226
Summary: A romance three years in the making…
Nick Cutter sat a short distance away from the tent and looked out at the clear night sky. It was so peaceful right now, with most of the students asleep. Not like earlier, with himself and Stephen attempting to make fifteen students understand that just because they were on a field trip didn’t mean that they weren’t also supposed to be working. He loved his job, really he did, but sometimes he thought how much nicer it would be if he didn’t have to deal with the students.
He heard a twig crack and looked up to see Connor Temple attempting to be quiet as he walked across the campsite. He smiled. Connor was an enthusiastic student, always eager to work even when the others had wanted to slack off or go to the pub earlier, which meant he spent a lot more time helping him than the others. There was something about Connor that made Nick want to look after him, and more if he was being honest with himself. Unfortunately, that was against the rules.
He sat down next to Nick on the grass, knees bent up to his chest with his arms around them.
“Shouldn’t you be getting some sleep?”
Connor shook his head. “I can’t sleep; my tent-mate snores,” he said. “Besides, I saw you and thought I’d come and sit with you. It’s nice out here.”
“Aye, it is.”
“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like millions of years ago, with dinosaurs just wandering about?”
Nick smiled. “I think I like it better now, with the worst thing we have to worry about finding out here being a few midges or a stray cat.”
Holding out the silver hip flask he had been sipping from, he offered it to Connor who eyed it sceptically.
“Its whisky, lad. And no, before you ask, I shouldn’t have it here nor should I be offering it to you,” Nick told him. “Might help you sleep, though.”
Connor took a tentative sip before wrinkling his nose in distaste. “I think I’ll pass.”
They sat there in silence for another few minutes, but Nick could see Connor’s mouth open to begin to say something before reconsidering. It was adorable.
As Nick turned, Connor leaned over and pressed a slightly clumsy kiss to his lips. Despite the kid’s obvious lack of experience, Nick instinctively responded, hand going to Connor’s cheek as he returned the kiss, taking it deeper. It wasn’t just that this was Connor, but that it was him. He was used to the female, and some of the male, students practically throwing themselves at Stephen’s feet on a daily basis, but Connor wanted him. If Connor had been a few years older, he would have done this a long time ago.
That thought brought him back to his senses and he realised just what he was doing. He pushed himself away, his hands on Connor’s shoulders, holding him at arms’ length.
“No, Connor. Stop.”
Connor’s eyes widened, his face turning scarlet as he wriggled out of Nick’s grip.
“But I thought- Oh God, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, scrambling up and making a dash for his tent.
But Connor was already gone, ignoring him if he had heard.
Nick watched as Connor explained his latest contraption, his hands gesturing wildly, a huge smile on his face. He had really come alive since joining the anomaly project, finding a place in the world where he could really shine.
There were times when Nick thought back to that night three years ago, when Connor had made his intentions quite clear and then the look on his face when Nick pushed him away. What would he have said if he’d let Nick explain? If he had stayed and listened instead of running away, maybe… No, Nick thought, there was no ‘maybe’. There were rules against student-teacher involvement, not to mention the age difference. Of course, the gap was the same now but somehow, outside of the University, it didn’t seem as great.
It didn’t matter now, anyway. Connor had moved on, even if Nick still wondered what would have happened if he’d said yes.
“Earth to Cutter!”
Nick looked around to see Stephen smirking at him. Stephen was the one person he’d told about that night, about Connor. Stephen’s reaction had been surprising; he had expected his friend to tell him he should have gone for it, but he hadn’t. Instead, the whole story about Helen had come out, about Stephen’s brief involvement with her. Nick had heard gossip that her eyes strayed a little too far toward her students, but it had come as a shock.
“We’ve got another one, if you can tear yourself away from obsessing for a while.”
Giving Stephen a glare he followed the other man out to the vehicles, where Ryan and his men were already waiting.
The anomaly had opened right in the middle of the high street, sending Saturday shoppers running and screaming as the creatures came stomping through. It was amazing how much damage just two animals could manage, Nick thought later on, as the animals were being herded through the anomaly. There were smashed shop windows from the creatures swinging their huge tails around, cars dented from them getting upset when a car alarm had started going off. Human casualties had been kept to a minimum, just a few cuts and bruises and most of them thanks to the shoppers’ headless-chicken mentality and not the creatures. They were just sending the last one through when Nick heard the Star Wars theme tune start blaring out from somewhere. Looking around, he saw Connor frantically fishing around in his pockets, pulling out his mobile and trying to turn it off before it pissed off the creature.
The one almost into the anomaly stopped, turning and letting out an angry bellow at him. Connor froze, his face showing panic as the creature turned on him. He barely had the chance to move before he was knocked off his feet by the creature’s tail, sent flying to land a few feet away on the pavement.
Nick wanted to go and check on him, to make sure he was alright- he wasn’t moving; why wasn’t he moving?- but knew that any more noises or sudden moves would only make the situation worse. The best thing they could do now was to get the creature through the anomaly and out of the way. They began edging it away from Connor and back toward home and, slowly, it went. As soon as it was through, all attention was turned to Connor. Nick and Stephen reached him at the same time, Nick relieved to see that he was awake and struggling to get up.
“Stay there for a minute,” Stephen told him. “Did you hit your head? Do you feel dizzy, or sick?”
Connor shook his head. “No, just stupid. I am so sorry; I should have turned my phone off-”
“Not your fault, lad,” Nick told him, helping him to his feet when he started trying to get up again.
He saw Stephen roll his eyes and glared. If it had been anyone else, he probably would have yelled at them for being stupid enough to not even put their phone on silent, knowing what was likely to happen if a creature got spooked by the sound. He just couldn’t get angry with Connor, though, not right now. They younger man was rubbing his shoulder where he had hit the ground, looking miserable and embarrassed all at the same time.
“We ought to take you to the hospital, get you checked out,” Stephen pointed out, but Connor insisted that he didn’t want to, that nothing was broken, just bruised. “Cutter, maybe you should take him home. Abby and I can finish up here and report back to Lester.”
Connor agreed reluctantly and got into the car, sitting quietly, staring out of the window.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for this,” he said after a while. “Let’s face it, I’m a screw-up. If anyone is going to get injured or fall in a pond or trip over his own feet, it’s me. I’m just a liability.”
Nick frowned. “But you love doing this,” he said. It was clear from the look on Connor’s face each time he saw a new dinosaur and his eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas time when faced with a pile of presents under the tree. “Do you really think you could walk away from all of this now that you know it’s out there?”
“I suppose not.”
“That’s what I thought.” Nick turned the car off down a side street and parked up in front of Abby’s flat, waiting for Connor to unlock the door. “Come on, let’s get you inside.”
Nick could see Connor walking stiffly as he led him to the sofa, urging him to sit down. “Now, how about I make us a cup of tea?”
Half an hour later, two cups of tea and some painkillers seemed to have lifted Connor’s spirits a little. He turned to Nick with a smile.
“Thanks for looking after me,” he said. “And for not getting cross with me.”
Nick couldn’t stop himself. He closed the gap between them, feeling the soft warmth of Connor’s lips against his, and then the cool air as Connor backed away.
“Cutter, please don’t.” He curled himself up at the end of the sofa, not meeting Nick’s eyes as he said, “I want to, really I do, but I can’t cope with you rejecting me when you change your mind again.” Connor’s voice dropped to a whisper, almost as though he didn’t intend Nick to hear as he added, “It was bad enough last time.”
That was what Connor thought? That Nick was just going to have a bit of fun and then cast him aside again?
“Connor, I wouldn’t do that.” He encouraged Connor to sit back next to him. “That night, I wanted you but it would have been too much like taking advantage. You were a student- you were my student- and besides, if the university had found out, I could have lost my job.”
Connor frowned. “But Helen-”
“Have you ever heard the saying that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’?” Nick asked bitterly, cutting him off. “Just because my wife slept her way around the student population doesn’t mean I suffer from the same lack of morals.”
Immediately, Nick felt guilty for snapping. It wasn’t Connor’s fault, what had happened with Helen and Stephen and the countless others he’d heard rumours about over the years. Connor sat silently next to him, the slight frown one that Nick had come to associate with Connor trying to think his way through a difficult problem. After a few minutes, he spoke.
“Did you mean it?”
He smiled at the hopeful yet still slightly nervous tone in Connor’s voice.
“Yes, I did,”
“I’m not your student any more.”
“No, you’re not,” Nick agreed, drawing him into another kiss. This time, Connor didn’t pull away. He shuffled closer, pressing against Nick until he swore under his breath, one of the day’s earlier injuries bothering him.
“Why don’t you go to bed?” he suggested. “You’ll be more comfortable.”
Connor seemed ready to object but then he nodded, standing up. His cheeks turned pink as he said, “You can stay if you want.”
The following morning, the sound of an alarm going off woke Nick. He frowned as he looked around the room. He was used to either waking up in his own house or Stephen’s spare bedroom but this was neither. Glancing down at the warm weight currently wrapped around him, he smiled. That’s right; Connor’s room. The younger man had curled along the side of his body, an arm over his chest and his face tucked into the crook of Nick’s neck. When he moved, he disturbed Connor who merely grumbled about ‘five more minutes, mum’ and settled himself more comfortably against Nick.
Moments later, a second alarm clock sounded, louder this time. That one did wake Connor and he yawned, reaching out to shut it off before leaning up on one elbow to look at Nick. He sighed.
“Typical. I finally get you into bed and then fall asleep on you,” he complained, then frowned. “And we’re dressed,” he said, lifting the covers to see the t-shirt and boxers that Nick had been sleeping in. “That’s no fun at all.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “I was being a gentleman. You needed the rest, not me taking advantage of you while you slept. Besides, we’ve got plenty of time for whatever you were imagining.”
Crawling over Nick to sit astride his hips, Connor leaned down for another kiss.
“Do we think Lester would believe me if I called in sick?” he mused. “And that I needed you to stay here and look after me.”
Nick laughed softly. “Not a chance,” he said. “I think I could manage to get us away a bit early this afternoon, though. Tell you what: you come home with me after work and I’ll make you dinner.”
“Just dinner?” Connor asked, looking slightly disappointed.
“Maybe you could have breakfast too,” Nick told him.