A flash fiction of the developing romance between Jasper and Sebastian.
| Jasper slammed down the letter he had received on the secretary’s desk. She jumped, then looked at him venomously.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she said.
“I have to speak to the HOD now.” He snapped, still seething. “Regarding this.” He stabbed the printed email.
She pulled it from him with exaggerated patience, and pushed her glasses higher up on her nose to read it. She took her sweet time about it too, then finally deigned to look at him again, over her glasses.
“Everything looks fine to me.” She told him. Her pudgy little hands still held the page.
He squared his shoulders. “It isn’t. Let me speak to the HOD.”
“You can’t. He is busy. And besides, I know all about this,” she answered, indicating the paper. “so you can just ask me anything you want to know.”
“This is supposed to be my research project. I proposed it, I met with the Dean-“
“And the Dean got you the funding.” She cut him off. He frowned at that, hating that he had worked so hard for this idea to become reality and it yet it always came down to money.
“If it’s money he is worried about, why the fuck would he hire me an assistant?”
Her face twisted itself into a distasteful frown at the language, but she still ignored the question. “Professor Bates, aren’t you teaching every day of the week now? Including advanced classes?”
He crossed his arms. “My class is popular. So what?”
She sighed dramatically. “It’s supposed to be about prose and poetry in the sixteenth century, am I right? All of it? Don’t be unrealistic, even you can’t keep up with everything. And if you want this book up and running in…” she glanced at the page again. “Six months, you need a research assistant.”
“I have never needed an assistant. I work alone.” He insisted.
She threaded her fingers together and placed them in her lap. Once again she looked at him over her glasses, like he was an errant child.
“Do you know how many professors here are asking for assistants? For their own books?” she shook her head. “You should be grateful.
You get an assistant and you don’t even have to pay him. He comes very well recommended too.”
“I don’t care of the pope is on his list of references, I don’t want him. “
“Is this about sharing credit? Because you know you won’t have to. This is still your project.”
“If it’s my project, I shouldn’t have to have an assistant that I don’t want.”
She threw her hands in the air in exasperation with pushy, ungracious professors everywhere. “Well, you have one. And it’s not your decision, it’s the Head of Department’s. So I suggest you use him to his full advantage.” And with that she turned back to her computer and carried on typing, signalling that the conversation was at its end.
Sebastian Collins appeared at his door the next morning, looking like he had just stepped off a school bus. He wore a t-shirt and jeans, with a battered canvas messenger bag hanging over one shoulder, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He wore sandals, for goodness sake.
He stared a bit too long at the shorter man until he cleared his throat and looked at him expectantly.
“Um, Sebastian? Here to be your research assistant?” he said.
Instantly Jasper’s dislike solidified.
“Come in.” he said opening the door wider.
As soon as he closed the door he spoke.
“You need to know that you are not a welcome addition to this book. Or to this office. I didn’t ask for you. And I’ve checked, I can’t get rid of you. So for the next six months you can sit in that corner.” He pointed. “And shut up while I work.”
The younger man’s eyes widened at this, his mouth slightly open. He glanced to the corner he had indicated, then back at him. He pointed to it. “That corner?”
“Or you can roam the university grounds. Or the countryside. Sight see. I don’t care. Just don’t come near me and my book.” He waved at him dismissively, and went to his desk. “Don’t make a sound, don’t bother me, just…”
“Don’t be here?”
“While that is preferred, it is not possible. Much to my chagrin.” He tried to focus on his computer screen. But the idiot sat down in the chair usually reserved for students.
“Listen, they warned me you wouldn’t be happy about this.”
“So glad I could meet expectations.” He growled, still ignoring his gaze.
“But I am really good at my job. I’ve been doing this for a while.”
This time Jasper did look at him, with obvious disbelief. “You can’t possibly be old enough to been ‘doing this for a while’.”
This time he saw the young man’s face cloud. It didn’t fit, making him seem switched off.
“I’m twenty-six. Only a few years younger than you.”
Jasper breathed in through his nose, feeling the beginnings of tingling in his hands. He flexed them and forced himself to calm down.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you’re good or bad at your job. I don’t want you here. And since you don’t get mentioned in the credits, whether you actually help me or not is a moot point.”
He nodded but didn’t relent. “True, but I’m being paid to do this and I would like to. It’s a really interesting subject. I’ve already done some initial reading…” he said digging in his satchel. Before Jasper could tell him to shove it, a notebook was pushed onto his desk. He sighed dramatically and took it, ready to tear into it. But when his eye caught a glance at the first page, the words died. And before he realised he was flipping through it, intrigued by the collection of hand written notes, articles cut and paste into it, delicate hand drawn images of buildings and outfits, all within the subject matter he wanted to cover. He was, in spite of himself, impressed.
“You’re research notes are unusual.” He conceded. “And untidy.” Because he still didn’t want him.
“And comprehensive. You could really get lot more done with me on your side.” Sebastian said. He wasn’t trying to cajole or persuade, he was simply stating a fact.
“I can get plenty done on my own.”
“But think of how much down-time you could have with me doing the grunt work.” Sebastian said expansively. “I’m good at this, and I love doing it. Why not let me help you? I promise you that if you’re not happy with my work after a week, I’ll bugger off.”
Jasper dropped the notebook with an audible thump on his desk top.
“Why are you such an asshole?” he said, closing his book with an angry snap. Jasper looked at him with surprise as he stuffed it back into his satchel and stood up to leave, face stormy.
“Excuse me?” he said.
Sebastian turned back to him arms wide, demanding explanation.
“I don’t get it. We’re working on this project together. We can learn to get along, be friends. What’s your problem?” he demanded, thrusting his chin out.
Jasper was still seated, and gazed at Sebastian unsure of what to say. Sebastian turned his head, exposing his ear and waiting for an answer.
“I…” Jasper started but faltered. Sebastian never got angry. Exasperated maybe, mildly annoyed, but not angry. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes letting his arms drop. “Really? No idea? So you treating me like I’m an idiot is just you being your normal happy self?” he shook his head. “I understand that you didn’t want to be put on this project with me, and that you think the fact that I’m a whole four years younger than you is a major failing on my part, but since were going to be doing this for at least a year, do you think you could try for ‘civil’ at least? I’m tired of walking in here every day and waiting for you to be an asshole when I offer you coffee.”
Sebastian was standing with his arms on his hips now, glaring at him and fuming. Jasper felt unusually contrite. He cleared his throat and looked at the notes he had been making so he wouldn’t have to keep seeing Sebastian stand there. In spite of the fact that he was fuming, it suited his complexion. He had golden skin, as if he tanned, and the anger made his cheeks blotchy red. With the strawberry blonde hair atop his head, he looked sun-kissed.
“I’m sorry.” He managed. Though the words stuck in his throat a bit. “I had a bad night last night.”
“And every other night?” Sebastian replied, hand swinging through the air as he gestured his frustration. He was very mobile. Even his hair moved when he talked.
Jasper ran a hand over his mouth, feeling put on the spot. “No. you’re right, I apologise. I do resent being saddled with you for this, especially since I was expecting to do this alone. But it’s not your fault.” He crossed his arms now, leaning onto the desk and feeling his elbows grind against the wood. It was slightly painful but welcome, as he was beginning to feel anxious. He tried to breathe slower, not let his control slip. “And I did have a bad night last night.”
Sebastian seemed to have lost some of his steam now. He let his arms rest this sides, but his one hand came up to hold the strap of his bag.
“Ok. So can we call a truce?’ he asked, voice almost back to normal.
Jasper nodded. “Yes.”
Sebastian cautiously moved back to the chair he had just left. “Not that I needed to truce since I’ve been on my best behaviour this whole time.” He muttered.
Jasper sank back into his chair, still folding his arms. He hoped Sebastian didn’t notice how his hands clutched at the fabric of his jersey.
“Best behaviour?” he replied, making the effort to sound sceptical. “Arriving on time, might qualify as best behaviour.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “One time. And I felt bad enough about it to get you coffee, remember?”
Jasper snorted, and rubbed at his eyebrow. “I don’t drink coffee.”
Sebastian’s eyes went wide in sudden realisation. “Oooh. Why didn’t you just tell me? Here I’ve been offering to get some for you every day, trying to fix whatever I broke to make you so fucking grumpy, and you don’t even like it.”
Jasper did smile a bit then. “Not at all. To bitter.”
Sebastian still looked exasperated but he sat down again, removing his satchel from his shoulder and letting is slump clumsily on the floor. Jasper thought about being irritated by it, but it took much effort right now. “What do you like then?”
“Hmmm?” Jasper responded looking up from the satchel. Sebastian was looking at him with a questioning expression. Once again he gestured with his hand, to Jasper. “What do you like? So I can get it for you when I’m late. Or do something else to piss you off.”
Jasper blinked. “I like tea.” He offered.
Sebastian pulled his hand back, satisfied. “Great. Tea. Do they sell tea at Starbucks?” he wondered.
Jasper loosened his arms and leaned on the arm rest instead, letting his fingers thread together. “Good lord, please do not buy me tea
“yuck.” He nodded, still feeling off balance, but more himself now. Fuck Charlie, for making him such a mess today. “If you really want to
placate me, I have my own tea things here in my office.”
Sebastian looked around. “Where?”
Jasper indicated the doorway behind him, which was open and led to a small kitchen. Sebastian immediately got up, looking as curious as a child, eyes lit up. His stupid curly hair flopped as he moved, and walked around the desk and behind Jasper’s chair.
“Cool, secret room.”
“Just a kitchen.”
“Secret kitchen then. Come on, nothing wrong with adding a little mystery to your life.”
Jasper was perplexed. “What’s mysterious about a kitchen?” he swivelled his chair around to follow Sebastian in, who had already set the kettle to boil. He was rifling through the small cupboard above it, looking for things to use. It was odd, a moment ago he was about to stomp out of his office, now he was making tea.
The room was small, a typical en-suite kitchenette. It only had a small counter which held a microwave and a kettle, with a small cupboard. The opposite wall was taken up by old volumes of books he had inherited with the office, but never used or needed. Jasper stepped up close to help Sebastian find the tea.
“You have at least six different teas here. I didn’t even know you got that many. “He told him. Jasper didn’t even bother acting unsurprised. Sebastian was clearly a coffee or beer sort of person.
“If you’re going to make tea, you need to make it properly. Stop doing that, you’ll fuck up my system.” He said, batting Sebastian’s hand away to stop him completely messing up the carefully categorised tea bags in their container, the labels folded and facing up so that he could see which was which.
“Don’t fuck up the tea system.” Sebastian repeated, amusement clear in his voice.
Jasper frowned at him.
“I like things neat. This one.“ He said, picking up a cup on the shelf above it and dropping the bag in. Sebastian took it and glanced at the small label hanging over the side from its thread.
“Chamomile.” He read. “That’s for relaxation right?” he asked, glancing up at Jasper for confirmation.
Jasper must have shown his surprise and Sebastian grinned. “Hey, I’m not totally ignorant with tea.”
Jasper watched him pour the hot water in and then move to pour the milk in and Jasper lunged forward to stop him, closing his hand on
Sebastian’s hard. The movement was sudden and Sebastian stopped moving, looking at Jasper hand on his, then looking at Jasper strangely.
Jasper felt awkward. “You have to let it seep.” He offered in explanation. “You can’t just throw milk in.”
Sebastian still looked at him sidelong. Jasper was right next to him, his chest almost touching his shoulder, his right arm closed over Sebastian’s. The moment went on too long and Jasper snatched his hand away. He turned quickly aside, rubbing his face.
“Just don’t fuck up the tea.” He said and walked out of the really, much too small room.
The tea could be cold for all he cared, he just really needed to get out of that room right now, before Sebastian saw what a total mess he was. He sat down at his desk and wiggled his mouse to wake up the laptop again. He typed in his password, all the while cursing
Charlie and tea and early mornings.
Sebastian came back soon with two cups of tea and some sachets of sugar, quiet. Jasper looked up.
“You drink tea?” he said with genuine surprise.
Sebastian canted his head to the side and shrugged.
“I like to try new things.” He said and took a sip. Then grimaced. Jasper almost laughed. “Ugh, needs sugar.” He said before ripping open three sachets at once and dumping them in.
Jasper took his teas bland. He used to like sugar, but then Charlie had seen him eating a cinnamon roll once and teased him that if he ever got fat he would never look at him again. Since then he hadn’t taken sugar.
But the tea was a little sweet anyway. He frowned looking at it. Sebastian grinned sheepishly.
“Uh sorry. You just seem like the type who likes sugar in his tea.”
Jasper looked at him, hoping he looked assessing and not gob-smacked. He said nothing and turned back to his laptop. After a while he took another sip, and ignored Sebastian’s stupid grin.
The music was loud, too loud. The last thing Jasper wanted at the end of a very full day lecturing and marking, not to mention finishing another three chapters with Sebastian, was to be at the club tonight. But Charlie had texted him, saying sorry and wanting to see him. Well, he hadn’t really said sorry, but Jasper hoped.
He sat alone at the table farthest from the stage, in an effort to get as little of the reverberating sound from the speakers as possible, with a glass of brandy and coke in his hand. He watched the sweat form and drip on the side of the glass, letting it form a wet ring on the table underneath, moving it when it got large enough. He was slowly making the Olympic emblem with them. He hadn’t seen Charlie yet, and knew that even though he had told the barman he was he here, Charlie would show up when he wanted. Maybe when the live bands started. It was Friday after all, and a busy night. He must be working back stage. So he waited, trying to relax, but the music and smoke was given him a headache, and he rubbed his temples.
“Hi.” He heard a cheerful voice.
He looked up to see Sebastian. Blinking back surprise he replied. “Hi.”
Sebastian looked cautious. “Sooo, can I join you?”
Jasper tipped his glass in a kind of shrug. “I suppose, if you insist. What are you doing here?”
“Penelope brought me. Professor Darcy? She said she wanted to show me a place, Friday night and all.” He said, as if that explained
Jasper knew Penelope Darcy. She taught romantic languages and liked to play the bohemian party girl, even though she was already thirty five and had two children. He had actually seen her here before, though they had never actually spoken. He suspected she went around to a lot of clubs, but this was the closest to the university, so probably the reason she chose this one tonight.
“OK.” He replied. “First time out?”
Sebastian shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t really know anyone, and I don’t really like going out on my own.” He pulled himself into the seat opposite. “Do you come here a lot?”
Jasper took another sip of his drink and avoided Sebastian’s gaze. “More often than I should.”
Sebastian looked at him as if he wanted to say something but then Darcy arrived carrying their drinks.
“Professor Banks! I didn’t think you would be here tonight!” she exclaimed and Jasper felt it was deliberately overdone. He nodded to her. “Darcy.”
Sebastian looked at them, incredulous. “You call each other by your last names?”
Darcy looked at him then at Jasper, and put down the drinks, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Well, we aren’t really friends…” she pulled out the last remaining chair to cover the awkwardness. “What do you call him?”
“I call him Jasper. It’s his name.” he replied like it was ridiculous that she didn’t. He leaned back, craning his head to look at the stage, and he missed the look that passed between her and Jasper.
Jasper cleared his throat. “Nice to see you away from the hallowed hallways, Darcy.” Jasper said, not inclined in the least to call her Penelope. She nodded, but clearly didn’t believe him. She turned to Sebastian then, her shoulder cutting him off from the interaction.
Jasper internally rolled his eyes.
“Anyway, Sebastian, I am actually meeting up with a friend too. Do you mind if I go find her? She hasn’t been here either and I don’t want her to get lost.” She told him, taking out her phone as she did, scanning its screen for messages from said friend.
Sebastian shrugged. “No problem.”
She got up quickly, taking her drink with her. Clearly not planning on returning soon then. Sebastian turned to him, looking apologetic.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to crash your evening.”
“No, it’s alright. I’m also waiting for someone. But I have no idea when he will get here.”
“Still, you must be tired of my face.”
Jasper looked at him, smiling and one eyebrow raised, as if asking if he really was. Jasper found he wasn’t.
“No, I’m not.” He sighed and drank again. “The time before our truce notwithstanding, your company isn’t terrible. And it’s nice not to sit here alone.” Fuck, the drink really must be getting to him if he was speaking so loosely. But it was true.
Sebastian grinned, and it was like someone turned on a light.
“Great.” He wiped at the bottle neck with the end of his t-shirt before taking a swig. “So who are you waiting for?” he asked. But Jasper
pointed to the bottle.
“Why did you do that?” he asked. “Wipe it, I mean.”
Sebastian looked at the bottle. “Well, it came open. I don’t know who opened it, their hands could be filthy.” He explained.
Jasper shook his head. “I’ve seen you use the same cup for three days before washing it.”
“That’s completely different. Those are my germs. I know where I’ve been.”
Jasper laughed softly. “People think I’m nuts for doing that, wiping bottle tops and glasses before I drink from them.”
Sebastian shook his head, smiling that lit-up smile again. “If they had ever been to India, they wouldn’t think you’re nuts.”
“You’ve been to India?”
“Yeah. For a few months. I went to do research on tigers. For a book.” He answered.
Jasper leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table. “Another book?”
Sebastian rolled his eyes, a gesture he was becoming very familiar with. “Just because you think I’m crap at my job doesn’t mean other people do.” He took another drink from his beer.
Jasper sat back a bit. He was right though. Jasper had made it clear from the start that he thought he was unfit to help him with the book. But in the last few weeks, with their truce in place, he found it was actually pleasant working with him. He was quick and witty, and researched far more thoroughly than he would have had time for, on his own. He found Sebastian a very satisfying sounding board for ideas, and he had some halfway decent input, though his actual writing was terrible. He couldn’t spell worth a damn. In spite of himself, they worked well together, which was pretty much a first for Jasper. He knew that he was established in his field, but had never bothered to read his credentials or references, still too bitter that an assistant had been forced on him.
But it was unfair.
“I’m sorry Sebastian. I don’t think you’re crap at your job.” He told him sincerely, leaning forward on his folded arms and looking at the
watery rings on the table.
Sebastian paused with the bottle almost at his lips, looking shocked. Was it really so surprising for him to say that? Had he really been such an ass? He looked down and felt ashamed.
“Really. I do enjoy working with you. Maybe you just came around at a…difficult time.”
Sebastian’s hand came into his line of sight, and gently clasped his still folded arms. He glanced up.
“It’s alright. I haven’t been easy either I guess. You’re sorry, I’m sorry. Let’s move on, ‘kay?” he said. His smile was genuine and warm, and Jasper knew he was staring at his eyes, light green, like peridotite. He wanted to mend fences, and move on. Forgiveness came
“Cheers.” Sebastian said, holding up his beer and Jasper clinked his glass against his. Though he still hadn’t let go of his arm.
Then suddenly he was being pulled into a hard embrace, and when he turned he barely had time to see who it was before lips came down on his crushingly. As always, Charlies kiss was harsh and without any tenderness, and his long bony arms pulled on his waist too hard. Jasper barely managed to kiss him back before he pulled away.
“Hello Jazz. Miss me?”
Jasper felt stupid and speechless. The music suddenly got louder, and he flinched, bringing a hand up to his ears. Charlie shook his head and forced it down again. “It’s great! New band!” he shouted to be heard. Then the music died again, and he turned to look at the stage.
“Aw fuck, Sally’s gone and burned out the pedal again. Stupid cow.” He muttered. Then he turned to Sebastian, who was watching all this with wide eyes. “And who are you?”
Charlie’s voice might appear innocuous, but he wasn’t sweet. In fact, Charlie was caustic and electric and smiled like the devil when he saw what he wanted. And he was also quick to jealousy. Jasper knew he screwed whoever he felt like, even women. But if Jasper even looked in anyone else’s direction, he became furious. Very territorial. And sometimes he would take it out on Jasper, biting him too hard, playing too rough. But then the next morning he would stroke and tease and whisper apologies and Jasper would let him, and melt all over again.
Sometimes he would scream and hurl abuse at Jasper, and then he would text and Jasper would always come back, always.
Now he turned his dark eyes on Sebastian and Jasper felt an urgent need to come between them.
“This is Sebastian. He is helping me with the book.” He said, gesturing to him. He glanced at Sebastian, whose face was closed, eyes calculating. He held out his hand.
“Sebastian.” He introduced himself.
Charlie snorted. “Charlie.” He gave his hand a brief grip and dropped it, turning back to Jasper. His obvious dismissal was rude, but Jasper couldn’t say anything.
“You staying for the band?” he asked, his eyes dark now, and mouth turned down.
“Um, no I don’t think so. I have a headache.” He answered honestly, still nervously looking at Sebastian then Charlie. But Sebastian only took another swig of his beer in silence, watching them.
Charlie flicked his hair back with a hand, as it was always swinging in his eyes. The mass of gold bracelets and leather cuffs on his wrists jangled.
“Then why did you bother coming?”
Jasper looked at him mouth agape. “Because you asked me to.” He replied.
Charlie titched, a clicking sound against his teeth. “Is this because of last night then? Is that why you won’t stay?”
Jasper was feeling increasingly hot, embarrassed to be having this conversation in front of Sebastian. But Charlie liked to flaunt him, or rather, flaunt that he owned him.
“No, I just had a really long day. I came because I thought you wanted to talk.” He responded, trying to put some distance between himself and Charlie, but Charlie only leaned forward.
“I do want to talk.” He crooned softly, leaning closer as if he were going to kiss him. “After the band. Alright?”
Jasper suddenly had enough. He put his hand in the middle of Charlie’s chest, touching the long silver rosary he wore for no other reason that it looked good, and pushed him slightly away.
“No. Why do you always do this? I don’t want to stay.” He answered. The drink had made him braver.
Charlies face instantly went from sweet and seductive to pouty and spiteful.
“Fine. Don’t stay. I really don’t give a fuck.” He spat.
“Charlie…” Jasper tried.
“Go home, you fucking whinger. Good gracious me, I’ll never ask you here again.” He said and walked away, to where Sally was still struggling on the stage.
“For fuck’s sake.” Jasper whispered to his fast retreating back, his black steel toed boots clomping on the wooden floor boards as he stomped away. He sagged then, feeling completely drained. Then he looked at Sebastian and felt tense again.
Sebastian was looking at him with such intensity he almost felt alight from it.
“So, “he said casually. “You’re gay.”
Jasper felt his hackles rise. He hadn’t ever mentioned it, as it wasn’t a secret. But Charlie was, in a way.
He took his drink and tried to drain it, but it was too much and he gulped down a huge mouthful, leaving a half finger length in the glass still. He hissed between his teeth as it burned going down.
“Yes, so? It’s not anyone’s business but mine.” He said, keeping his voice cool, even though Sebastian had just witnessed his complete and utter humiliation.
Sebastian didn’t seem to care. “Is he your boyfriend?” he asked, pointing at the distant figure now laughing with the girl on stage. He leaned over her and she swayed seductively, pushing her hips closer to his. He looked sidelong, back at them, before mimicking her movement, and Jasper felt his heart fall into his belly.
“God.” He said, throwing back the last of the drink back and getting up to leave.
He was just outside the door when Sebastian caught up to him.
“Jasper.” He said. Jasper ignored him and looked desperately for a taxi.
“Jasper,” he said again and this time Jasper felt his arm being pulled, turning his body with it. Still reeling from the embarrassment, he truly didn’t want to look Sebastian in the face.
“What, Sebastian?” he snapped. “Yes, I’m gay. Yes I’m dating an asshole. No, it’s not going to affect our work. What else you want to know?”
Sebastian looked at him with pity and Jasper almost kicked him. Instead he settled for crossing his arms and clutching at his shirt sleeves like he always did.
“I don’t care if you’re gay.” He said. “But that guy is a total cunt. And I think he does affect your work. Is he the reason you come into the office looking like you’re falling apart sometimes?” he asked bluntly.
Jasper closed his eyes and sighed loudly. He really, really wished Sebastian hadn’t been here tonight, with his big green eyes, and his strawberry blonde hair. Wished he hadn’t witnessed how Charlie walked all over him. Wished he wasn’t around at all.
“I’m going home. I’ll see you on Monday.“ He replied, even though there was no taxi yet.
Sebastian looked at him, that intensity again. “Why are you with him?”
Jasper stayed quiet, silently hoping that either a hole or taxi could swallow him now. But Sebastian wouldn’t leave him alone.
“It’s him you know, not you.” he told his blank profile quietly. Jaspers eyes flickered but he didn’t look at Sebastian. “You’re great. He’s the asshole. He doesn’t deserve you.”
Finally the gods took pity on him and a cab slid onto the pavement in front of him. He opened the door and got in without saying a word, and pulled away before Sebastian could say anything else.