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Small Price to Pay [M/M, 1/1]


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Hello!! Awhile back I came up with OCs who are, for the time being, pretending to be in a relationship with each other. This is a oneshot in that series - I don't think it requires much external context aside from the fact that they are coworkers who work in finance, and Yves is fake dating Vincent to show his ex, Erika, that he's happy without her (because he doesn't want her to see just how much he misses her). You can read more of them two here if you wish! 

anyways, I wanted to write something light and fluffy... (but also, a character making out w/ someone who has a cold is one of my favorite tropes, so take that as you will).




So,” Brendon says. “You’re still dating him.” Something about the way he inflects the word still makes something sour in Yves’s chest.

Yves frowns at him. “Is that supposed to be surprising?”

Yves has a birthday party to attend and a fake relationship to prove. Vincent is nothing if not adaptable.



Here’s the problem:

Francesca throws a party.

It’s a birthday party, strictly speaking, but functionally it’s more of a college reunion—Francesca invites everyone from their year who rowed crew, which means that one: Yves will be surrounded by some of his best friends from college, and two: Erika will be there.

He thinks up an entire contingency plan—if Vincent can’t make it that weekend, for one reason or another, Yves will show up, hand Francesca his gift, spend the rest of the hour avoiding Erika and Brendon, and leave early, citing some excuse or other. It’s not that he doesn’t think he could handle talking to Erika—it’s just seeing her feels like reopening a wound. A part of him is scared that he’ll see her, and feel the loss intensely all over again—or, worse, he’ll get ideas about forgiving her, about letting her into his life again, about accepting her explanations.

And Brendon, too—seeing Erika means seeing Brendon, most likely, and Yves doesn’t want to justify himself to him any more than he already has. 

The point is: the less of the both of them that he has to deal with, the better.

When he asks Vincent a week before the event, though, Vincent’s response is immediate.

V: You can fill me in on the details later. I’ll be there.

It’s a little strange, he thinks, that Vincent always agrees so readily. Vincent isn’t a fan of parties—he’d been clear about that. He doesn’t seem interested in talking much about himself, either—he’s just the kind of person, Yves is realizing, who likes to keep his personal details close unless they offer some sort of utility.

Perhaps there’s something else that Vincent is getting out of this, then.

But when Yves asks, he’s met with the same cryptic answer:

“I don’t mind it,” Vincent says. “And you have something you want to prove to your ex. Ultimately, it’s a net positive.”

“While that’s technically true,” Yves says, “this seems like an unfair arrangement. I mean, you’re only doing this because I dragged you into it.”

“If I didn’t want to be dragged into it,” Vincent says, “I would say so.” as if it’s really that simple.

It can’t be that simple, Yves thinks—there must be more to his reasoning that he’s omitting—but he doesn’t press. Vincent is right. Vincent is the kind of person who knows precisely what he wants. If he really had a problem with this arrangement, he would’ve said so.

And, besides—a little selfishly, perhaps—Yves has started looking forward to their outings as of late.

Nevertheless, he doesn’t think about the party again until the Friday before it, when Vincent shows up at his desk.

“Do you have a moment?” he says.

“Yes,” Yves says, saving the spreadsheet he’s been working on and shutting his laptop. “What’s up?”

When he looks up, Vincent looks a little tired, though that’s not unusual—it’s been a long week, and busy season always means long hours and little sleep. 

“We can talk later if you’re busy,” Vincent says.

“I’m very free,” Yves says. He’s decisively not—and he’s sure that Vincent knows this, too, so whatever Vincent is approaching him with now must be important. 

“Regarding Francesca’s party tomorrow,” Vincent starts. He looks a little sheepish—as if he doesn’t quite want to be the deliverer of bad news. “I can still go. But I’m…”

“If something came up,” Yves says immediately, “you don’t have to come.”

“It’s not that,” Vincent says.

“Or even if nothing’s come up,” Yves backtracks, “and you’re just not feeling it anymore? Also totally fine. Seriously. I can always just go by myself.”

Vincent seems to consider this. Yves is starting to get worried that something might actually be very wrong—something that Vincent is hesitant to even bring up—when Vincent takes a generous step backwards, raising his elbow to his face as his eyes squeeze shut.


The sneeze sounds harsh, even muffled into the fabric of his sleeve; it tears through him with little warning, loud enough to echo slightly in the confines of the office space.

That’s when it all clicks into place: the tiredness. The slight off-ness to his complexion, the tension to the way he’s holding himself, the fact that Yves hasn’t caught him in the break room at all over the past couple days. The fact that he’s currently standing so far away from Yves’s desk.

“You’re ill,” Yves says, comprehending.

“Yes,” Vincent says. His voice sounds a little off, too, now that Yves knows what to look for; it has that quality it often takes on after a long day of discussions with clients—not quite hoarse, but getting there. “I’m positive it’s just a cold. I just wanted to give you a heads up.”

“Don’t worry about it at all, seriously,” Yves says. He feels guilty, suddenly—here he is, asking Vincent to spend his already-limited free time at a party, when Vincent probably has a high volume of important clients—and a burgeoning head cold—to deal with. “If you want to take a rain check, you should. I’m sure this week has already been rough for you as it is.”

“When is the next time you’ll be going to an event where Erika’s going to be there?”

That question makes him pause. “I don’t know. In another month, or so, if I had to guess?”

“So this event is important,” Vincent says, sniffling. It’s the kind of light, liquid sniffle that implies that whatever he’s caught, he’s just at the start of it. “In that case, I’ll go.”

“Wait,” Yves says. “That’s not what I—your health is more important than any event. You shouldn’t push yourself.”

“I feel fine,” Vincent says. “No headache, no fever. It’s just a slight cold. I will be fine tomorrow if I make it a point to sleep early.” he sniffles again, his expression growing hazy for a brief moment before he blinks, rubbing his nose on one knuckle. “I just wanted to make sure you were fine with it.”

“I am completely fine with it,” Yves says, reaching for the box of tissues that’s perched on his desk. He holds it out. “I just feel bad about making you go if you’re sick.”

Vincent takes a handful of tissues out of the box, brings them up to cover his nose, just in time for—

“hh- hH’nGKT-! snf-! hH-Hhih… hh’hiHhh’iiZSCHHh-uhh!”

“Bless you,” Yves says, with emphasis, pushing the entire tissue box towards him. “Times two. Seriously. I think you could use the weekend off—you know, to catch up on sleep.”

“Assuming that things haven’t changed from the event details you forwarded me, the party will be in the evening,” Vincent says, taking the tissue box from him, a little hesitantly, and tucking it under his arm. “I’ll have plenty of time to sleep in.”

Yves opens his mouth to protest.

Vincent says, “I’m fine. I’ll call a rain check if I wake up with a fever.” He turns on his heels. “Otherwise, see you tomorrow.” 

Vincent, as Yves is coming to realize, is very good at appearing presentable, even when he’s under the weather.

“You made it,” he says. This time, they’d driven here separately. Yves had thought, initially, that it’d be easier to just drive Vincent places, so that the only thing he’d had to account for was his actual presence—but Francesca lives between them. I don’t mind driving, Vincent had said. You’d be going out of your way to pick me up, but he’d coordinated a spot a couple blocks down to meet up, so that it would look like they’d come together.

It’s cold outside still—it’s the sort of indecisive weather that seems to periodically hint at spring: a cold front, then a few warm days when all the ice thaws, a few flowers lining the grass along the road where the snow’s melted, and then another snowstorm. It’s easy enough, then, to chalk up the slight redness of his cheeks, the redness at the tip of his nose, as another effect of the not-quite-spring weather.

Yves is carrying his present for Francesca under one arm—a hardcover book—a sequel to one she’d read last year and gushed to him about liking; a couple fridge magnets, which she likes to collect; film for the polaroid camera her sister got her last year; and a letter, all wrapped up in a brown paper parcel. 

It’s nice to have an excuse to see everyone again, especially some of the members from crew whom he’s not close enough to invite to parties personally, that he knows Francesca was closer to. 

“It was a pain to find parking,” Vincent says. He’s wearing a red scarf today, and a white overcoat with black buttons and a sharply cut collar. Personally, Yves thinks it’s unfair that someone can be down with an irritating head cold and still look so good.

“No kidding,” Yves says. “You would’ve thought there’d be more than one tiny parking lot for all those shops.”

Yves asks how he is (fine, Vincent says—perfectly capable of spending a few hours at a party. Yves says, I feel like you would say that even if you were like, dead on your feet with a high fever, to which Vincent laughs, but doesn’t explicitly deny.)

Yves supposes he isn’t one to talk—he’d showed up to a crew event, near the end of the season, with the flu, just because it had been their then-captain’s last big event, and he’d been planning to give him a farewell speech. The speech had gone fine—and so had the first few hours—but then all his symptoms had hit at once—fever chills, exhaustion, a pounding headache, the likes—and Francesca and Erika had practically had to drag him home.

But that had been an important event—a once in a lifetime thing—and he’d drafted that speech for two weeks. This is so much less high-stakes. 

“I prombise I’m fine,” Vincent tells him, lifting up the side of his scarf to muffle a cough into it. “It’s just all the - hHIh-! all the annoyidg symptoms. I dod’t - snf-! - feel any worse than I did yesterday.”

“Any worse?” Yves says. “Does that mean you were already feeling pretty badly off yesterday?”

“I barely even feel udwell at all,” Vincent says. “It’s just— I keep havidg to— hHih-! hihH’IIITshHHh-uuH!”

He sniffles, raising a sleeve to his face to cover the next, resounding, 

“hHih’iITTSshh’Uhh! snf-!” He buries his face deeper into his sleeve, his shoulders trembling with another gasp. “Hhih…. HIih’nNGKT—SHhuh!”

“Bless you,” Yves says, laughing. “Okay. Point taken.”

Vincent lowers his arm slowly with a curt sniffle. “Are Erika and Francesca close?”

“Yeah,” Yves says. “I think they still keep in touch pretty frequently.” it’s one of the reasons why he hasn’t told Francesca—or anyone else in the friend group—about the specifics of their breakup.

It feels wrong, somehow, to paint her in a bad light, to give people reason to take sides, when it’s always been all of them together as a group. 5am practice was a hell of a bonding experience, she was part of all of that, too. He has no right to take that from her. 

“How about Brendon?”

“Brendon’s sort of an odd one out,” Yves says. “I don’t think most of us had met him until he started dating Erika during our senior year. He usually hangs out with a different crowd, so he’s only really around when Erika is.”

Perhaps that’s better, too—more merciful—that when Erika had left him for someone new, it hadn’t been one of the people he knew and deeply trusted. If Brendon had been there too, at all those 5am practices, at all those oddly timed meetings—if Yves had had that much time to look back on, to wonder when Erika’s feelings for Brendon had materialized, to watch her fall for him firsthand, to look back and know that he was losing her…

It’s better, this way, he thinks, that at least he can look back on his time rowing crew as he’d always wanted to—not like the way he feels when he looks at Erika: heartbroken, and a little betrayed.

“I guess I’m in that positiod now,” Vincent says.

“In the sense that you didn’t meet everyone through crew?”

“In the sedse that I’m an outsider.”

Yves considers this. “My friends really like you, though,” he says. “I don’t think they think of you that way.”

It’s a short walk to Francesca’s doorstep. Vincent really does seem to be okay, Yves notes—aside from the frequent sniffling, and the sneezes he turns away to direct into his sleeve, he isn’t shivering under his coat, and he doesn’t look more tired than usual.

Despite everything, Yves finds himself feeling cautiously hopeful. Something about Vincent’s presence has that effect on him. Vincent is always so sure of himself, even in situations Yves thinks he can’t possibly be certain will go well.

It makes Yves want to have faith in this too. Yves will see Francesca and his friends from crew, and he won’t have to say anything to Erika and Brendon, his friends will like Vincent very much, and everything will be just fine.

“Wait,” Vincent says, right after Francesca’s let them in through the apartment buzzer. “We should look like we actually like each other.” He holds his hand out, expectant.

“Good point.” Yves takes it. Vincent’s hand is warm, and a little calloused—when Yves tugs his hand a little closer, Vincent’s fingers interlace nicely with his.

“For the record, I do like you,” he adds.

Vincent laughs. “You kdow what I meant.”

It’s almost a relief, seeing everyone again. Yves used to feel a little apprehensive about reunions—around the possibility for the people that he’d known and loved to have changed past recognition, to have internalized everything some way but to come back and see that everyone’s moved on in their own ways, grown a little more into themselves—and a little further from him—than he remembers them to be. 

But when he sees Francesca, she still greets him with the same hug — one arm looped around his shoulders, for a firm squeeze. He hands her her gift, and wishes her a happy birthday, and she laughs and says the only good part about getting old is having an excuse to have everyone back in her living room.

“And Vincent’s here too,” Francesca says, turning to Vincent, who—after looking caught off guard for a second—smiles back at her. “I’m so glad you were able to come!”

“It’s good to see you agaid,” Vincent says. “And happy birthday. You look great, by the way.”

“Thank you!” she says, beaming. She’s wearing a cocktail party dress which slips elegantly over her still-bare shoulders. “I needed to pick something out for the occasion. I swear, these days, half my closet is just business formal attire. It’s depressing.”

“If that mbeans that the other half of your closet is filled out with idteresting clothes,” Vincent says, with a quiet sniffle, “you’re doing a lot better than I am.” 

Francesca laughs. “It’s just for my sanity,” she says. “Can’t let the clients dictate everything I wear.”

“It’s ndice that you’re celebrating your birthday, though,” Vincent says. He lifts a hand to rub his slightly-reddening nose with one knuckle. “My coworkers are always sayidg that they’re too old to want to ackdowledge it anymore.”

“It definitely feels that way sometimes,” Francesca says. “But it’s a good excuse to have everyone here, while we still can. Speaking of which—Yves is the worst at planning things for himself, which is ironic, because he’s always the one planning things for everyone else.”

“That is not true,” Yves says.

Francesca gives him a pointed look. “Last year, you were practically banking on having everyone forget your birthday.”

That is an exaggeration. “I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t let that happen, even if I wanted it to,” Yves says.

“You’re damn right.”

“The ndext time you’re planning a birthday for him,” Vincent says, clearing his throat with a quiet cough, “I’ll pitch in.”

Francesca brightens, at this. “Finally another soldier on the right side of the war,” she says. “You can definitely be part of the secret planning council.”

“Thadk god,” Vincent says, playing along. “I was starting to thidk I was going to have to do it all alone.”

“It’s not a secret if I’m right here,” Yves says. Francesca ignores him in favor of having Vincent type his number into her phone.

Halfway through the evening, Vincent disappears into the kitchen for a moment. When he comes back, it’s with two drinks in hand—canned cocktails, Yves realizes, judging by the cans. He hands one over to Yves.

“I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen you drink before,” Yves says to him. “Even at happy hours.”

“I don’t drink very often,” Vincent says.

“Does this mean that I get to see you tipsy? I’m sure our coworkers will be jealous.” 

“If you’re expecting my personality to change,” Vincent says, “you will be disappointed.” he says it with such certainty that Yves pays closer attention to him after that. 

Vincent does hold his alcohol well, as it turns out, with the exception of the slight flush to his cheeks a few drinks later—though even then, Yves can’t be entirely sure it can’t be entirely attributed to his cold. He listens intently as Yves talks to Diane—who’s a couple years younger than Yves—about how Crew has been ever since Yves graduated (mostly the same; the new underclassmen are good at showing up to practices on time, but that’s partially because their captain this year is a little intimidating). He gives several of the crew members a candid summary of his relationship with Yves, when asked. He tells Marin how they first met and he tells Kenneth what it’s like keeping their relationship secret at work and he laughs—a little sheepishly—when Sasha says they make a cute couple. If lying so openly is difficult for him, it doesn’t show.

If there’s anything that’s off, it’s subtle. It takes some time for Yves to notice—

The next time Vincent sneezes, his breath hitches with a sharp, desperate, — “hHhiH—!” Then he turns away, craning his neck over his shoulder for an uncovered, “HIiiIKTshH-uh-!”

He blinks in the wake of it, as if a little dazed, before he seems to straighten, lifting a hand to wipe his nose on one knuckle. It’s not stifled, as it usually is, nor is it neatly pinched off into his fingers, which is unexpected.

It’s as if the sneeze has fully caught him off guard—as if all the systems he has in place to sneeze as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible are just slightly impaired by the alcohol. Not that it matters much—Francesca has put some music on, and it sits in the background now, a low thrum, all but the percussive elements muted by the chatter of conversation.

“Bless you,” Yves says, leaning over to grab a cocktail napkin from one of the neighboring tables. He hands it to Vincent, who blows his nose and emerges with a small cough. “How’s the cold?” 

“Fide,” Vincent says, with a sniffle. “Ndo worse than before.”

“Are you just saying that to get me to drop the subject?”

“I’m sayidg it because I actually mean it. It’s a very tolerable cold.”

Yves laughs, and reaches for his drink. He’s about to take a sip when he feels Vincent’s fingers close around his wrist

It’s only a brief moment of contact, but the warmth it leaves around his wrist stays, even when Vincent lets go.

“Sorry,” Vincent says, a little panicked. He withdraws his hand. “That’s mine.”


“The cocktail.”

“Oh.” Yves looks down to the can in his hands. He supposes Vincent might be right—they’ve both had a few drinks, so he’d lost track awhile ago. A lot of the canned cocktails taste roughly the same to him, anyways. “Is it? I can get you another one if you want.”

“No,” Vincent says. “I drank from it.” As if that explains everything. And then—a little quieter, as if he’s embarrassed to say it: “I don’t wadt you to catch this.”

Truthfully, the possibility hadn’t crossed his mind until Vincent mentioned it. It seems a little endearing that Vincent would be worried about it in the first place—Yves has certainly shared food and drinks with friends who were worse off. “I’m not worried about that,” he says. “It’s just a cold. Didn’t you say it was very tolerable?”

“It’s still…” Vincent trails off, averting his glance with a sniffle. “...an annoyance.” 

He looks like he’s about to say more when his expression goes distant, his eyebrows furrowing.

“HHih’IIIzSCH-uhh!”  It sounds so thoroughly unsatisfying, half-shielded by a hand raised a few moments too late.hh-HIh-! Hh…” He pauses, his eyes watering, his breath still wavering, and—after a few seconds of nothing—sniffles; a forceful, liquid sniffle that practically emanates frustration. “hIiIIh’kSHhhhh! snf-!

“Bless you!”

Vincent emerges, teary-eyed, still sniffling. “Case in point,” he says. 

He doesn’t see Erika when she gets there. It isn’t until she passes him in the living room, halfway in a conversation, that she makes her presence known to him.

“Hi Yves,” she says, and he looks up. Today she’s wearing a pink dress which cuts off at her knees—a strapless dress, save for a pink rose over her left shoulder which blooms into a sleeve. She is every inch as beautiful as she always is.

He smiles at her, cordial, tight-lipped. “You made it,” he says. She looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to say more, and he realizes—with a flash of panic—that he doesn’t know what more to say to her. He hasn’t kept up with her over the past few months. He knows that she’s working as a quantitative analyst, at a company she’d been hired at a couple months after they’d broken up, but he doesn’t know if she likes her work, if she likes her coworkers, if it’s been busy as of late. If she works long hours, if she’s taken up any new projects. “Glad you found time. I assume work’s been keeping you busy,” he says,  

“Are you kidding? It’s Francesca,” Erika says. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

And there it is—that decisiveness. That same resolve that, back then, made everything with her seem so easy. Erika and Francesca have always been close—through college, back when they met during crew, and even after, when all of them had been still settling into their jobs or going off to grad school or moving halfway across the country; when seeing each other no longer meant just a fifteen minute walk across campus. 

“Yeah,” Yves says. “I know.”

They don’t speak, after that. Yves thinks it’s probably for the best—he doesn’t have anything to say to Erika right now. Back then, he could talk to her about anything, even if it was pointless or insignificant or of no real importance, and she’d make the conversation fun. 

These days, he only tells her things on a strict need-to-know basis, and—given that the only times he sees her these days is at events like this—there’s not really all that much to talk about. 

It had been difficult, at first. He’d wanted to share everything with her, still, back when his work schedule had settled enough for him to take long walks downtown, to start to go to concerts and bars again; when he’d redecorated his apartment, when he’d gotten someone to mentor at work, when he’d gotten back into cooking. For some time after the breakup, it still felt instinctual to turn to her, to text her about something interesting that’d happened, to ask her to try out something new that he’d found. 

But he hadn’t. Something about feigning normalcy seemed worse, even then, than accepting that she was really gone.

Perhaps her avoidance of him tonight is merciful. It’s easier, when he’s not thinking about her, to slip into the familiarity of talking to everyone, to enjoy all of it just as himself. 

It’s only when he excuses himself to get another drink that he runs into Brendon.

Yves has always been civil with Brendon. 

Brendon is—well, to say that Brendon isn’t someone he considers a friend is a vast understatement. The less of Brendon Yves sees, the better. Yves avoids him when he can, but he is good at holding up small talk, when it’s necessary, and on most days, Brendon has enough good sense to not start a fight.

Today, it seems, is not one of those days.

“So,” Brendon says. “You’re still dating him.” Something about the way he inflects the word still makes something sour in Yves’s chest.

Yves frowns at him. “Is that supposed to be surprising?”

“I guess I’m surprised,” Brendon says. “I have to say, I wasn’t expecting it to last.”

“Well, I’m happy to have exceeded your expectations,” Yves says. “Though it doesn’t sound like they were very high.”

“I don’t mean it like that,” Brendon says, waving a hand. “It’s just—new relationships can be fairly unreliable. Especially when you’re dating around.”

“Maybe in your experience, that’s the case,” Yves says. “But personally, I tend to date people I can see myself with long term.”

“That’s the thing,” Brendon says. “I’m surprised you can see yourself with him.”

Yves sets the drink he’s holding down and turns to face him properly. “I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

Brendon scoffs. “It doesn’t take a genius to see that you two are very different people.”

“So people can only date their clones,” Yves says flatly. He’s already tired of this conversation. “My bad. I must’ve missed that rule somewhere in dating 101.”

“Obviously, I don’t mean it to that extent. You’re blowing it out of proportion. I just mean that you can only be so different from someone before you’re incompatible. ”

“I agree,” Yves says. “And I don’t think we’re incompatible.”

“Are you sure?” Brendon crosses his arms. “This isn’t his scene, is it? Cocktail parties? I mean, he’s practically married to his work. Does he even like parties?”

Vincent doesn’t like parties—Brendon is right about that point. But hadn’t Vincent been the one who’d agreed to come here in the first place? To imply that he’s only here because Yves has dragged him along seems somewhat disingenuous.

Yves says, “If Vincent didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t be here.”

“Sure, but from what I’ve heard from Erika—” Yves doesn’t like this implication that Brendon and Erika talk about them behind their back, but he supposes it’s to be expected. “—he’s not exactly the type of person you’ve tended to go for in the past.”

That sounds awfully like an accusation.

“What exactly are you getting at, here?”

“I’m saying that it sort of looks like you just picked the most convenient rebound you could find,” Brendon says, quiet. “But usually people are honest with themselves when that’s the case.”

That startles a short, indignant laugh out of Yves. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says.

“Do you really not think that’s the case? Wouldn’t you say you’d usually go for someone more personable?”

“Personable?” Yves repeats. “Personable? Don’t make me laugh. Do you know how many clients I’ve seen Vincent talk down to a pleasant resolution because he’s so good at negotiating? Do you know how many conferences I’ve been in where Vincent is the one people come to after to privately compliment, because he’s so good at knowing how to talk to people?” he thinks to Joel’s housewarming party—to how compellingly Vincent had lied for him, then; to how good he had been at conjuring up a sense of history between them, of warmth. “His ability to answer difficult questions on the spot, with virtually no preparation at all, is something I can’t even begin to comprehend.”

He’s not sure why the accusation from Brendon makes him so upset, only that it does. Only that he wants to do nothing but tell Brendon just how wrong he is. “If you’re trying to imply that I’m settling for him, don’t patronize me,” he says. “Vincent is one of the smartest and most thoughtful people I know. Do you seriously believe I’d be dissatisfied with someone who holds himself to such a high standard?”

“I’m happier than I’ve been in months,” he says, resolute. “Because of him.”

Through the adrenaline, Yves realizes, faintly, that he hasn’t lied about any of it. He certainly could have—after all, Brendon would be none the wiser—but everything he’s said about Vincent is something he really, genuinely believes.

“Ah,” Brendon says, knowingly, as if he has it all figured out. “I got it wrong. This whole time I thought you were the one that felt lukewarm about him. But it’s the other way around, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re so sure he’s the one that you’re willing to overlook all of your obvious differences,” Brendon says. “Have you ever stopped to consider whether he feels the same way?”

“Presumably, he does,” Yves says. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in a relationship.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Brendon says, as if Yves should already know this from past experience, which—if Yves is being really honest—makes him want to punch him.

Instead, he takes in a deep breath, schools his expression into a smile. “Usually, people in relationships aren’t still looking for other options.”

“Yes,” Brendon says. “Unless they’re unhappy.”


When Yves turns to look, Vincent is standing in the doorway. How long has he been here? Just how much of the conversation has he overheard?

“Sorry for the wait,” Yves says sheepishly. “I was getting us drinks.” Evidently, he’s been away long enough for Vincent to come check up on him, so he’s already spent unreasonably long getting drinks, and now he doesn’t even have the drinks to show for it. “Or, I guess I got a little sidetracked, but I swear that drinks are on the w—”

Vincent leans in, unprompted, and kisses him. 

Yves’s brain grinds to a complete halt.

It’s only a moment later that Vincent pulls away, but the decisiveness with which he’s carried it out, the broad confidence on his face as he smiles, unwavering, is—


“Oh,” Yves all but stammers. His face is most certainly red right now, and he can’t even blame it on the alcohol. “Um. Did you need anything?”

“No,” Vincent says. There’s something telling to his expression, some sort of quiet acknowledgement. “Just wanted to see what was takidg you so long.”

Suddenly, it makes sense.

Vincent must have heard. Everything Brendon said—or at least, the last part of it; the implication that Vincent isn’t as invested in this relationship as Yves is; the implication that their attraction towards each other is somehow one-sided. Vincent is doing this to cover for him, because he wants to make it excruciatingly obvious that Brendon is wrong.

The fact that he would go to such lengths to make a point makes something settle in Yves’s chest.

“It’s actually good that you showed up,” he says, playing along. “I don’t know what kind of drink you want. I was just going to get you something generic.”

He heads over to the ice box on the other side of the kitchen, and Vincent follows.

They’re far enough that they’re separated from Brendon by the granite island—and, beyond that, the cushioned high stools lined up next to it, but not so far that Brendon can’t still see them. 

So he certainly can see, Yves thinks, this:

Yves leans in, reaching up a hand to cup Vincent’s jaw, and closes the distance between them.

It’s nothing like the kiss at the New Year’s party.

That one had been all nerves—brief, impulsive, all adrenaline. This kiss is much more involved—Yves presses in closer, so close that he can feel the heat radiating from Vincent’s skin, so close that he can smell the faint, not unpleasant smell of laundry detergent on Vincent’s shirt collar. So close that he can feel the breath that Vincent exhales, warm on his cheek; can feel the softness of Vincent’s hair as he shifts. He feels Vincent’s hand settle on his chest, feels his fingers curl inwards to rest on the fabric of his shirt, and—

On the other side of the kitchen, Brendon is watching, and Vincent is here—here, present, in the flesh, looking as put together as always, looking like someone out of a goddamn magazine—so Yves kisses him like he’s used to kissing—greedily, as if he’s been wanting this for ages. It’s been awhile since he’s kissed someone like this. Back then, there was university—the people at parties who he’d met and kissed out of momentary attraction, or out of alcohol-induced courage—though of course back then, neither party had harbored any delusions about how impermanent that connection was, or how little it meant. And then there was Erika, who, for the longest time, he thought was going to be the last person he’d ever kiss like this.

For months after they’d broken up, he hadn’t looked for anything. It felt wrong to subject others—even strangers, to which he had no allegiance—to the messy remnants of his feelings, to attempt to get into something he knew could only be half-hearted, at best, when there was a person in his mind who lingered so sharply.

But Vincent crowds up every corner of his mind, as if to say, pay attention, and Yves finds that for once, he’s not thinking about Erika at all.

When he feels the small hitch in Vincent’s breath, he thinks nothing of it.

Except, then—abruptly, and with barely any warning—Vincent is wrenching away, craning his head over Yves’s shoulder to let out a sudden, uncovered—


Their proximity to each other means he feels the way Vincent’s body jerks forward under his hands, his chest tensing. For a moment after, the rigidness of his posture doesn’t dissipate, tension still strung through the line of his shoulders.

“Bless you,” Yves says, surprised.

Then Vincent curses under his breath, drawing away with a sniffle. “I’mb sorry,” he says, sounding really, honestly panicked—a reaction which Yves finds both disproportionate to the situation and a little endearing. “That was— sorry, I should’ve—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Yves says, with a laugh; “I honestly couldn’t care less.” Impulsively—and maybe to prove just how little it bothers him—he leans back in.

Vincent is less hesitant, this time around, when it seems to register to him that Yves really doesn’t mind. He’s a surprisingly good kisser—Yves probably isn’t the first person he’s kissed, and he probably won’t be the last, but the second Vincent’s mouth works around his, Yves feels himself nearly go weak in the knees.

Fuck. Yves can’t say he expected to spend this evening making out with his very attractive coworker-slash-fake-boyfriend, but at the same time, he isn’t complaining. Yves thinks he could do this for hours, given the chance. He kisses Vincent as if to say, thank you—for the New Year’s party, for going along with this, for lying on my behalf—and Vincent kisses him back as if he wants this just as much.

It registers to him, faintly—as Vincent pulls away with a sharp gasp before he pitches forward, smothering another abrupt, wrenching sneeze into the palm of his hand—that he’s probably dooming himself to Vincent’s cold ten times over. But it occurs to him, too, that if he were really dating Vincent—if, after the party, they’d head back to Vincent’s place together; if they were really close enough to share car rides and food and drinks on the regular, to see each other frequently both in the office and outside of it—he would’ve almost certainly caught this anyways.

Something about the intimacy of it, the false closeness it seems to imply, is a little intoxicating. 

When he finally pulls away, Vincent is breathing a little heavily, his glasses askew, his hair slightly unkempt from where Yves had—mid-kiss—run his fingers through it. Yves looks over his shoulder to see that Brendon has, at some point over the last few minutes, slipped off. Presumably, he’s gotten the point, then.

It’s a relief. Yves is glad to not have to talk with him for any longer than he has to. 

“God,” Yves says, with a laugh. “Where did you learn to kiss like that, anyways?”

Vincent smiles. “I’ve had some practice,” he says, which Yves thinks must be a massive understatement. “Do you think it was convincidg?”

“I don’t know what kinds of standards Brendon has,” Yves says, lowering his voice so that he’s certain no one outside of the kitchen will be able to hear. “But I’d definitely be convinced.”

“He seems strangely idvested in our relationship,” Vincent says.

Yves sighs. “I think he was just trying to make trouble. How much of our conversation did you hear?”

“Just the tail end of it,” Vincent says. “I—”

His gaze goes distant, which is the only warning Yves gets before he’s turning away, steepling his hands over his nose and mouth with a forceful:

“hH-! hhH-hH’iiKTsSHH-uhh! Hh-! Hih… HIIh’IzsSCCHh’hhh!

“Bless you,” Yves says.

Vincent is quiet for a moment, his expression still hazy, the irritation evident on his features, before he’s ducking away again.


The sneeze is loud enough to scrape against his throat. It leaves him coughing a little, his eyes watering.  

“Bless you,” Yves says, with emphasis. He takes a small stack of napkins off of the kitchen counter and hands it over to Vincent, who eyes it for a moment. There’s a slight flush to his complexion—whether it’s from the alcohol, or from embarrassment, or from slight fever, Yves can’t tell.

“I hope you dod’t regret this in a few days,” Vincent says, carefully extricating one napkin from the stack to blow his nose softly into it. “You—” His breath hitches, sharply, and then he’s pitching forward into the handful of napkins with a muffled, “hiiHh’IZSSCHh-uhh!

He emerges, sniffling, looking a little apologetic. “You’ll almost certaidly catch this.

Yves laughs. “It’s fine. I know what I signed up for. Besides, I’m glad you stepped in.” He kneels down, at last, to procure two drinks from the long-neglected icebox. “A cold was a small price to pay for getting out of that conversation.”

He hands Vincent a drink. “Can I have a sip of yours? Now that I’ve doomed myself to it already, I suppose you don’t have to try so hard to keep me from catching it.”

“That’s not very reassuring,” Vincent says, but he lets Yves try some, nonetheless.

Brendon is suspiciously quiet for the rest of the evening. Neither he nor Erika so much as look Yves’s way, which Yves thinks is better than another confrontation. Vincent looks happy—a little tired, a little tipsy, but happy. At some point into the evening he resorts to crossing his arms as a means to keep warm (“Is it too cold in here?” Francesca asks, passing him from where he’s sitting on the couch, to which Vincent shakes his head quickly, his face flushing red. “I’mb just slightly under the weather,” he says. “The temperature’s perfect.” to this, Francesca brings over a quilt from one of the closets and drapes it over his shoulders. “Your friends are very nice,” Vincent says, pinning the quilt in place with one hand, and Yves laughs).

At some point, Francesca brings out a cake (“earl gray with buttercream,” she says, “Erika and I made a smaller one as a test run last week, and it was a little too dense, so we’ll have to see how this one turned out.” which Yves thinks is very impressive—he’s certainly better than average at cooking, but that expertise does not transfer well to baking—truly, he’s not sure he’d be confident in his ability to pipe frosting in a straight line. When he tells Vincent this, Vincent laughs and says, “I’m sure people would forgive you as long as it tasted good,” to which Yves says, “I think you’re underestimating how bad I am at decorating.”) She’s piped small blue flowers around the periphery of it, and leaves that curl around the edges of the cake. Diane says, “this is way too pretty to eat,” and “are you sure you want us to destroy it,” while Kenneth—their year’s Crew captain—helps Francesca with setting up the candles around the periphery of the cake and lighting them one by one.

Francesca laughs when Erika tells a story about a series of errors pertaining to their last grocery store run and tears up when Marin gives a speech about how Francesca is the main reason she stayed in Crew. After that, everyone sings—for a brief moment, the clamor in the living room becomes strictly unified. Then she blows out all the candles in one go, and everyone claps.

All in all, it’s a good evening.

It’s really not a surprise when Yves wakes up a few days later with a sore throat.

It’s not a surprise, either, when his nose starts running shortly after, or when—a couple hours later—a harsh, wrenching sneeze catches him off guard at work.

It’s as if that first sneeze has opened the floodgates. After that, he finds himself muffling sneezes into his elbow, scrambling for tissues from the rapidly depleting stash—a travel sized tissue pack that he keeps in his briefcase, just in case. The persistent tickle that settles in his nose seems impossible to appease, no matter how many times he sneezes, or how diligently he tries to ignore it. Worse, the sneezes are forceful enough to leave his throat feeling tender and painful, and violent enough that he finds himself coughing a little after.

Vincent was right. The cold isn’t particularly miserable—aside from the sore throat, he’s a little tired, but he doesn’t feel strictly worse than usual. It is irritating, though, to deal with—and irritating, too, to be at the office as it settles in.

It’s probably not worth taking a sick day for. It’s more an annoyance than a tangible inconvenience. Besides, he has only a couple days left of work before it’s the weekend, when he can catch up on sleep.

He’s scheduled himself for a morning’s worth of back to back meetings—two meetings with clients, one with a coworker he’s been working with to go over her findings, another status update meeting to review the work they’ve all done over the past few weeks.

Yves is prone to losing his voice when he’s ill. It’s one of his most embarrassing tells—it’d certainly garnered more attention than he’d wanted in college whenever he was under the weather—but in a work setting where his participation in meetings is non-negotiable, with every meeting he takes, he can feel his voice get closer and closer to unusable.

His second meeting ends a few minutes early, which is a relief. But when he heads to the break room to make himself a cup of much-needed tea, he finds that the hot water machine is out of order.

Just his luck.

He pours himself a cup of cold water and looks through some of the storage cabinets for tissues, though he has no luck with that, either.

The office is always turned a notch too cool—air conditioned to keep everyone awake in the afternoons—but today, it feels brutally, unnecessarily cold. He really should’ve dressed warmer. Yves heads to the conference room his next meeting is booked in, speaks on the material he’s prepared, and tries his best not to shiver too visibly. His meeting before lunch runs over, too, which is not uncommon, but today it just feels like insult to injury.

All in all, he’s exhausted. He eats a quick lunch in the cafeteria, downs two glasses of water, and goes through an embarrassing number of cafeteria napkins.

“Coming down with something?” Stanley, one of his coworkers, asks him.

Yves smiles at him sheepishly. “I wish it wasd’t so obvious,” he says.

“It’s just the season for it, I think. Vincent was just sick last week.”

“Oh, was he?” Yves says, feigning ignorance. His cold is definitely, most certainly not related to Vincent’s. “I was just goidg to grab a bottle of hand saditizer to keep at my desk,” he says, with a small cough. “I thidk there’s somethidg going around.”

Thankfully, the afternoon is—for the most part—just occupied with work. Still, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to focus on the financial statements in front of him, the slew of emails he has pulled up.

His nose is running fiercely, the trash can at the foot of his desk is close to overflowing, and the stack of napkins he’d taken from the cafeteria—certainly not an ideal solution, but it’s the best one he can come up with at the moment—is almost entirely gone.

He grabs one off the top of the stack—he’s only able to unfold it partially before he’s jerking forward with a wet, spraying, “hhEHh’iiiZZSCHh’EW!” 

Fuck. The napkins, while infinitely better than nothing, are not as soft as tissues would have been. Given the frequency with which he’s been using him, he’s almost positive that his nose is redder than usual.

The next sneeze nearly catches him off guard. He barely has time to lift the napkin up to his face again before his breath hitches again, sharply.

Hhehh… HEHh—’IIDDSCHhiew! hEHH’iITSSHh’Yyew!” 

His nose is still running fiercely, and worse, the sneezes are loud enough to scrape against his throat. He thinks his voice is never going to recover if he keeps this up.

From behind him, he hears someone clear their throat.

Yves freezes. His first thought is that he’s probably being disruptive. His second thought is that even if he isn’t, whoever’s behind him must have been waiting to speak to him for some time—he’d just been too caught up with sneezing to realize, which is a little embarrassing.

His third thought is—whoever it is, he wants to face them looking at least marginally presentable. He’s almost certain that right now, he doesn’t.

He blows his nose into the napkins he’s holding, runs a hand through his hair, and pivots around in his office chair with a smile that is admittedly a little forced. “What’s up?”

He expects to see Cara, who he’s been working more with, or perhaps Laurent, who he’s been shadowing. But standing there, looking every inch as formal and as put together as he always does, is Vincent.

For a moment, Vincent just stares at him, as if he’s cataloging Yves’s appearance in silence.

Yves tries not to fidget under his scrutiny. “Did you ndeed anythidg?” 

In lieu of responding, Vincent steps past him to set a box of tissues down at the edge of his desk. 

“I figured you’d want this back,” Vincent says.

It’s the same tissue box he’d handed off to Vincent last week, he realizes, when Vincent was the one who had a use for it. Vincent has taken care to set it down at the same spot where it was initially: at the right edge, next to his monitor.

“Thadk you,” Yves says. “I’ll treasure it.”

“This, too,” Vincent says, setting a mug down in front of him. Whatever’s in there is hot enough to be steaming.

Yves muffles a cough into his hand. “What?”

“Tea,” Vincent says, as if that explains everything. “Chamomile, if it matters. I didn’t know if caffeine would keep you up.”

“Oh.” Yves stares at it. “You got the hot water machide workidg. It was broken this morning. Or maybe I’mb just really bad at using it.”

“Actually, no,” Vincent says. “I got this from the third floor.”

“You walked all the way up here from the third floor?” Yves says, a little surprised.  He’s about to say more, but then—in a progression that he should probably be used to by now—he finds himself succumbing, with little warning, to another sneeze, which he muffles into a perhaps-too-generous handful of tissues. At this rate, he might run out of them, even given Vincent’s generous contribution.

“It was just two flights of stairs,” Vincent says. 

“Still,” Yves says, lowering the tissues from his face so he can take a sip. The thought of Vincent precariously taking the tea up two flights of stairs, careful to not let it spill, just to get it to his desk is so endearing that he finds himself smiling. “Thank you.”

Vincent blinks at him, as if he wasn’t expecting to be thanked. “I don’t think it will keep you from losing your voice,” he says, at last. “But it might help with your sore throat.” 

Yves doesn’t remember mentioning that. “How did you kdow I had a sore throat?”

“How do you think?” Vincent says. “I had the same cold a week ago.”

Even so, the idea that Vincent already probably knows, and knows intimately, how he’s feeling right now, even though Yves hasn’t said anything about it, feels a little incriminating. Yves is under no illusion that his current affliction is subtle, by any means, but at the very least he’d thought that the less visible parts of it—his sore throat, the growing exhaustion, the pressure he feels building at his temples—were things that no one else would have to think about.

“Was it this bad for you?” he says. “I’d feel terrible if I mbade you talk to all my friends if your throat was already— Hh- heHh-! hHEH-heHh’iSSSchh-Iiew!”

It’s a good thing, Yves thinks, hazily, that he’s still holding onto the tissues from earlier. His nose is running again, and the tissues feel traitorously soft as compared to the napkins he’s been using all day.

“No,” Vincent says, frowning. “I think you just wore your voice out at work.”

“That mbight be the case,” Yves says. “I had a lot of meetidgs this morning. Ndow it’s pretty much just heads-down work, thankfully.” He muffles a yawn into one hand. Vincent is probably here for a reason—but Vincent is usually very conscientious about the work he passes onto others, so whatever he needs Yves to do for him, Yves doesn’t expect it should take too long. “Did you ndeed me to look over somethidg?”

“I just wanted to see how you were feeling,” Vincent says, which is not the answer Yves expects.

Yves blinks at him. “How did you find out I was sick?”

“I heard from Cara.”

“Ah.” He probably owes Cara an apology—he’s sure that she’d probably prefer to work somewhere quiet, and his cold is certainly making that difficult. “Yeah, she would kdow. I’ve been like this all day—well, sidce this mording, I guess.”

“It came on quickly for me, too,” Vincent says. “Can I get you anything?”

“It’s just a cold,” Yves says with a laugh. “I’ll mbanage.” He means for it to be reassuring, but Vincent just frowns, looking off to the side.

He looks… strangely upset, Yves realizes.

“It’s ndot really all that bad,” Yves insists, backtracking. “And the weekend’s coming up soon. I’ll catch up on sleep when I get the chance.” Now is a really inopportune time to have to cough. He raises an elbow to his face to cough as quietly as he can, though the effort only seems to prolong the coughing fit—it leaves him slightly breathless, blinking away the tears that surface in his vision. “Seriously, don’t worry about it.”

“I’m sorry,” Vincent says, quiet.

“For what?”

“For giving you my cold.”

“I dod’t think you can even take credit for that,” Yves says. “I was the one who kissed you.”

Vincent does smile, at that—a small, almost imperceptible smile. “Even so.”

Yves wants to tell him that he would do it again, if he had the chance to. He wants to tell Vincent how easy it had felt to kiss him, how right.

How it felt to forget about Erika, and Brendon, and all of it—even if just for a moment—to feel so perfectly grounded in someone other than himself. To let himself experience the sort of closeness he’s been scared of seeking out, after the breakup, after Erika, in fear that no one would ever fit quite the same. To lean into the warmth of someone who still, even now, continues to be kind to him for reasons he can’t quite rationalize. 

How long has it been since he’s been able to place his trust into someone, blindly, in the way he trusts Vincent to keep up this act of theirs, to lie on his behalf? Vincent is nothing if not competent, but Yves hadn’t expected that competence to extend to this arrangement of theirs. How long has it been since Yves has been able to lean on someone the way he’s leaned on Vincent, to trust someone to meet him where he is?

“For the record, I dod’t regret it,” Yves says. He finds that he really means it.

Edited by monochrome
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  • 2 weeks later...

I love listening to these two gush over each other. Absolute lovestruck fools I cannot wait to see their relationship progress (and them finally admit it’s not all pretend ;)))

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On 11/29/2023 at 7:19 AM, Avocados said:

I love listening to these two gush over each other. Absolute lovestruck fools I cannot wait to see their relationship progress (and them finally admit it’s not all pretend ;)))

I second this!!!

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