Changes 17

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It was the next day, and surprisingly, neither Tina nor Nick had a headache. Despite all of the food and drink which had been on offer at Ian's party the night before, they had not only behaved themselves, but had been far more concerned with finding a way to get Ian and Michael together than with over-indulging. That very problem was occupying much of their morning discussion this fine Sunday.

"This cop is perfect for Ian," Nick said for the umpteenth time.

"Okay, I agree with you," Tina offered in frustration. "But how do we get Ian to see that? You know how stubborn he can be if he even suspects that we're trying to set him up."

"We've got a bigger problem than that," Nick said. "Not only is Ian too stubborn to see that Detective Sciutta is gay, but the good detective is too stubborn to let himself think that Ian might be interested! How on earth did we get mixed up in the love-lorn lives of two gay men?"

Tina laughed. "Because they're friends. Or at least one is, and I suspect the other could be. Doesn't matter whether they're gay or not, just that they need each other but can't see it. So it's our job to remedy the situation."

"So what do we do?"

"I don't know yet, but whatever it is, it will have to be well-planned and careful. The last thing I want is to push them apart through interfering, but we just can't let them get away from each other either."

"Oh, boy!" Nick declared, slumping down in his chair and attacking yet another cup of coffee.


Almost a week later, Nick and Tina had gotten no further in their attempt to find a way to get Ian and Michael together without being obvious. Every possibility they raised smacked of a 'set-up', and they knew Ian would see through it and back right off.

"Maybe we should try the direct approach after all," Tina suggested in exasperation. "Just come right out and tell him Michael is gay, and interested?"

"Oh yeah," harrumphed Nick. "Like that is ever gonna work!"

"Well, it's something," she said defensively. "I hate seeing Ian alone, especially when there is someone who suits him so well, just waiting in the wings, but too afraid to take the first step."

At that moment the doorbell rang, and Nick was prevented from making any further comment as his wife stood up to answer it.

"Ian," she said loudly, surprise in her voice to find him standing there with a silly grin.

"I'm not interrupting anything am I?" asked the young lawyer.

"No, not at all. We were just talking about you."

"Oh? What have I done this time?"

"Nothing, nothing," Tina quickly covered. "We were just saying how great it was that you're back on your feet again ..."

"Hi, mate," Nick saved her as the two of them wandered into the house. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"

Ian grinned again. "I just thought I'd like to spend the afternoon with my two best friends," he said. "I've brought a little 'assistance' with me." Opening the bag he carried, he produced two bottles of wine. "It's such a beautiful day .." he finished lamely.

Nick chuckled. "Sounds like a great idea to me."

"Me too," chimed Tina. "Take yourselves out onto the deck, and I'll see if I can't rustle up some cheese and crackers to go with it."

Two hours later, and all three friends were feeling that familiar warm fuzziness of a little too much alcohol on a pleasant afternoon. Ian's two bottles had been supplemented by more from Nick and Tina's store, and the little group had chatted amiably away, or simply sat and enjoyed the late autumn sunshine in the prolonged silences that true friendship allows without discomfort. Ian had begun to enunciate his words very carefully as he recounted some stories from the first week of the new Foundation's operations, a sure sign that he had imbibed more than he should, and Tina winked knowingly at Nick, although her husband was almost as far gone himself.

Ian caught her smile, and pretended indignation. "And what, pray tell young lady, do you find so amusing about this wonderful charity?" he demanded in a pompous tone.

"Nothing at all, good sir," she responded in kind, before dropping back into her own voice. "I was just thinking, Ian, how good it is to see you happy again. You've come through all the trauma and the difficulties of the last year so well. At one point we were so worried for you, but you've opened up and found yourself, without losing the wonderful man you were before."

Ian became a little more serious. "Thanks, Tina. Thanks - to both of you. and you're right, I have changed. It's been one hell of a time, but now that everything is over, I'm really looking forward to getting back to 'normal' - whatever that is."

"I hope it's not what it was before!" Tina commented.


"Before Geoff, you were quiet and secretive about your true self, lonely but not prepared to discuss it," she elaborated.

"Well, I'm hardly likely to hide it now, am I?" Ian laughed. "I've 'come out' in a big way, and there's no going back in again."

"Thank heaven for that," Nick said with feeling. "We want to share your life with you, Ian. All of it, and there was an awfully long time there when we couldn't."

"I know guys, and I'm sorry. But that won't happen again, I promise."

"What about love?" Nick asked, to Ian's grimace. Spurred on by the relaxed surroundings, and with some courage from the drink, he went on. "I'm serious mate. You don't want to be alone for the rest of your life. You need someone to share things with; in a closer way than we can give you."

Ian nodded his agreement. "Yeah," he said thoughtfully. "That might be nice. But all in good time. I'm not going out there looking for anything just yet. If someone came along, and the 'L' word floated around, it would be nice, I suppose, but for the time being I just want to get back to being myself, to being plain old Ian Sterling, for a while."

"Absolutely!" Tina declared, steering them away from the topic that she really wanted to investigate much more closely, but ever mindful of the need to be cautious. "I think you need to kick back, take things easy for a while. Maybe even 'play the field' and forget about commitment and all that yucky stuff!"

All three laughed together, although Nick threw his wife a questioning look which she ignored. "Now, who's for a glass of champagne?"

"Tut, tut," admonished Ian. "It's not champagne anymore, unless it really is from Champagne. Otherwise it's called 'sparkling wine'!"

"I don't care what it's called," giggled Tina. "It's cold and it's got bubbles. Do you want a glass?"

Without hesitation, both Ian and Nick nodded, and quickly the popping of one cork was followed by another, as they continued their enjoyment of the afternoon.

Some time later, as the light began to fade and the temperature dropped, Tina announced that it was time for them to move inside. "I'm ordering pizza; none of us can drive anywhere, and none of us feel like cooking. Ian, you're staying the night, and that's an order."

"Yes, mum," he giggled. "See, I couldn't do that if I had a lover," he stated, slurring just a little.

"Couldn't do what?" she demanded.

"Stay the night."

"Why not? There's a double bed in the guestroom. Of course you could."

His eyes widening, Ian looked from Tina to Nick and back again. "But wouldn't you feel uncomfortable, you know, with two men sleeping together in your house?"

"Oh for pity's sake, Ian," Tina rounded on him, a little more harshly than she intended. "Get over the 'gay' thing. If he's with you, then he'd have to be a wonderful man, and he'd have to be our friend too. Besides, assuming that it was a day like today, there's no way I'd let either of you try to get home."

Ian looked suitably chastised. "I'm sorry, Tina. It's just that sometimes it's easy to say, but not so easy when it comes down to the nitty gritty."

"I'm sorry too, Ian," she responded. "I didn't mean to bite your head off. But I mean it when I say that whoever you may meet will always be welcome here, will be a part of our family."

She took him in her arms and hugged him tightly for a moment, as Nick watched on approvingly. "So what does this mystery man look like then?" she asked mischievously. "There were a lot of good looking men at the party last week, after all."

"Mmm, there sure were," Ian agreed.

"So what kind of man impresses you then?" Tina pressed.

Ian rose to the bait with a smile. "Well, of course he would be gorgeous. Wide shoulders, quiet but strong, with a firm round arse ..."

"Sounds like that policeman you had sitting at our table," Tina threw in, almost as an afterthought. "You know, Michael Sciutta."

Ian chuckled. "I won't pretend he's not handsome," he said, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial murmur. "Tall dark and silent, square jaw. And big hands - and you know what they say about men with big hands ..."

"Enough, enough!" Nick declared. "Don't you dare go any further. I don't think I want to hear."

"I do!" answered Tina, then in a stage whisper to Ian she winked so Nick could see. "We'll talk later!"

Another round of laughter followed, and then Ian became a little more serious. "But that won't happen," he said with a sigh. "He's straight."

"Pity," stated Nick.

"No, it's not," said Tina. "It means I have a chance then!" They all dissolved into giggles.


It was getting late, and Nick had begun clearing the left-overs from the pizzas, while Ian proceeded to pour each of them a rather large Sambucca. Tina relaxed on the lounge, and as Ian placed the drinks on a low table, Nick returned and took his seat, reclining alongside his wife as she threw an arm over his shoulders. Ian looked at them for a long time, smiling.

"You know, I owe you two so much," he said softly. "I couldn't have gotten through the last twelve months without your help. I don't know how I can ever repay you."

"That's what friends are for!" declared Tina. "You don't have to repay us with anything."

"Of course, dinner at a fancy restaurant would help," Nick added, then grunted as Tina landed a punch on his arm.

"Don't you ever think of anything but food?" she said good-naturedly.

"Nick's right," Ian said, ignoring her. "I think that's exactly what we should do - fancy dinner, somewhere expensive, on me!"

"Hey, I didn't mean it," Nick started to protest.

"But I do," answered Ian. "It's the least I can do, after all you've done for me."

"We weren't the only ones, Ian," Tina reminded him.

"Maybe not, but you certainly went above and beyond the call of duty. You could have so easily walked away, but you stuck by me. Like Michael Sciutta did," he added, almost as an aside to himself.

Tina's pulse quickened. She knew they were all well-oiled, but she also saw her opportunity. "Then you owe him a dinner as well," she said carefully.

"Yeah, I do," Ian agreed. "But he won't come. I tried that already."


"The day the trial ended," Ian went on absently. "I asked him if he would like to have dinner with me - as a 'thank you'."

"And he turned you down?" said Nick, also becoming interested again in the conversation.

"Well, not in so many words. But he coughed and sputtered, and went a very bright red. I'm sure he thought I was asking him on a date, trying to pick him up. I guess he may have some problems with going out with a gay man. Not everyone is as open-minded as you two."

For Tina's benefit, Nick rolled his eyes. Fortunately, Ian didn't notice, and Tina nudged her man in warning.

"Then there's your solution," she replied.

"How do you mean?"

"You owe us all a dinner. Ask Michael to come along with us. Surely he won't be so worried if he knows that there's four of us going. You can assure him it's just a 'thank-you' meal. And I get another chance to ogle his body!" she finished with a leer.

"Flirt!" Nick chuckled, but Ian seemed to mull it over for a while.

"You're right," he said. "That's exactly what I can do. Thanks again."


It was Wednesday of the following week when Nick had a call from Ian at work.

"Do you guys have any plans for Saturday afternoon?" he asked without preamble.

"Err, not that I know of," Nick replied uncertainly.

"Okay. I still have to check with Michael Sciutta, but if he's free, then how about I take you to lunch rather than dinner?" Ian asked excitedly.

"Lunch? Sounds good to me, but where?"

"Doyles!" Ian announced triumphantly. "It'll be great. We can take the ferry out, and sit all afternoon. What do you say?"

"I say, wow!" Nick grinned.

Ian's next call was a little less enthusiastic. He didn't want to have Michael think he was desperate, or that he was trying to seduce him or anything. But he was determined to show the detective that he truly appreciated his help.

"Hello, Detective Sciutta?" he said nervously. "It's Ian Sterling."

"Oh, hello there, Mr Sterling," Michael answered, the surprise evident in his voice. "What can I do for you?"

"Erm, well, it's not so much what you can do for me, as that I'd like to do something for you," Ian began, then regretted it, he already sounded like a schoolboy.

"Sorry?" asked the cop.

"Let me explain. I would like to invite you for a meal, just a very small thank you for everything you did for me during the trial and all," Ian said.

Michael's heart beat jumped. "Uh, I don't know what to say ..." he stuttered.

"My friends, Nick and Tina, will be there as well," Ian hurriedly added, wanting to allay any fears Michael may have had. "It's not much, but it's a token of my appreciation - to ALL of you," he emphasised.

Michael gulped, swallowed his nerves. There was nothing he'd like more than a chance to continue his contact with the handsome young lawyer. But Nick had confronted him about his feelings for Ian on the night of the party. He was lost. "I'm not sure," he said uncertainly.

"If it's against some code of conduct or something," Ian started.

"No, not at all, Mr Sterling," Michael assured him.

"Then please say you'll come. It really would make me feel better."

The beginnings of a stammer from Michael made Ian think he was about to refuse. But somewhere deep inside the detective's gut a little voice said 'take a chance'. And it was obviously just a meal with Ian's friends, nothing romantic, nothing suggesting any involvement or emotion. Grasping onto his resolve, Michael answered.

"I would like that, Mr Sterling, thank you."

"Great," enthused Ian, surprising himself at how good he felt about being able to have Michael join them. "Are you available for a long lunch on Saturday?"

"Uh, yes, I can do that."

"Okay! Meet us at one o'clock, at Doyles then. And Detective, if you keep calling me 'Mr Sterling' I will get offended. It's Ian."

The cop almost laughed. Somehow, agreeing to go had been the hard part. "Okay, Ian," he said. "But only if you drop the 'detective', alright?"

"Agreed. See you on Saturday," Ian said as he rang off.


It was only after Ian had finished the call that Michael began to worry again. Doyles! Now that was upmarket; class with a capital 'C'. He'd heard of it, of course. Everyone had, it was world famous. But he'd never actually been there. What did you wear to a Saturday lunch at a place like that? Michael shuddered as his deep-seated inferiority complex once again reared its head. Ian had made it more than clear that this was just a meal, not a date, not an invitation just for him. They would be sharing the meal with his friends. Obviously, Ian had only asked Michael from a sense of duty, maybe even pity. How could he possibly fit in at a place like that, with the kind of people Ian Sterling mixed with? Hell, he'd probably embarrass himself and the others just trying to get the cutlery right.

He was on the verge of calling Ian back to cancel, the receiver already in his hand, when something stopped him. Why not let the wealthy lawyer take him out to an expensive meal? It was probably the last chance he'd ever get to eat at Doyles, and who cared if he didn't fit in? No-one there was ever likely to see him again, at least not in the circumstances where he'd be the one out-of-place. And there was always that added bonus of some more of Ian Sterling's company. No matter how hard Michael tried to dislike him for his position, he knew deep down that he liked Ian; liked him a lot. He was more than just attractive physically, he was a nice person. 'Dammit!' he thought. 'I'll go.'


Ian now had a problem. He'd forgotten to allow for the fact that being such a popular restaurant, Doyles was fully booked for the coming Saturday. Cursing under his breath, he almost begged the receptionist on the other end of the line.

"Please, it's very important to me, and I've already invited my guests. Is there any chance you could squeeze us in at all?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said sympathetically but without budging. "We simply don't have anything available for Saturday afternoon."

"What about a cancellation?" he pleaded.

She sounded doubtful. "It's unlikely. I'll take your name if you like, but there's almost no possibility ..."

"Okay. At least try for me," he said with resignation, giving his name and the number at the Carruthers Foundation where he could be reached. He hung up, disconsolate, wondering whether he should try to find somewhere else, or try to re-schedule for another day. But he was about to learn that in this town, money talks, and that being gay is not only no disadvantage, but sometimes can be a real help.

He was still weighing up his options, about to call Nick to ask his advice, when the phone buzzed. Annoyed, he answered it quickly.

"Ian Sterling," he said.

"Mr Sterling, my name is Grant, I'm the maitre'd at Doyles On The Beach," said the caller, using the full name of the restaurant.

"Oh, yes," Ian replied hopefully.

"I'm terribly sorry about the mix up earlier, we have a new girl on the phones today. Fortunately, I happened to see your name on the wait-list, and when I realised you were the Ian Sterling from the Carruthers Foundation, well, of course we can accommodate yourself and your party. A promenade table if that's acceptable?"

"Acceptable?" Ian almost laughed out loud. "That would be wonderful. Thank you."

"And Mr Sterling?" Grant went on.


"If I may be so bold, Sir, I would just like to say a personal congratulations on your new Foundation. I wish there had been something like it when I was coming out and in trouble. Luckily I made it away from there, but a lot of others don't."

Ian smiled, a warm feeling running through him. "Thank you, Grant, I appreciate your comment. We'll see you on Saturday."

"It will be a pleasure, Sir."


Ian arranged to take a taxi from his home on Saturday morning, and to collect Nick and Tina on the way, and then get the cab to take them straight into the city, and deliver them down to Circular Quay just on midday.

"How is Michael getting there?" Tina asked as they drove down Broadway and through Railway Square.

"I don't know, he's meeting us at the restaurant," Ian answered.

"Why didn't you ask him to join us on the ferry?" said Nick.

"I didn't want to scare him, or to seem too 'chummy'. You know how careful you have to be with nervous heteros," Ian grinned.

"Oh, Ian, don't you think that's a little harsh?" Tina reproved.

"Yeah," added Nick. "I hardly think he's homophobic."

Ian hurried to explain. "No, I don't think he's homophobic at all. I'd never accuse him of that. But I just get the impression that he feels uncomfortable around me, so I didn't want to add to it if I could manage."

"There are all kinds of reasons for feeling uncomfortable around someone," Tina noted mysteriously.

Before Ian could question what she meant, they were pulling up below the railway station at the Quay, and quickly spilled from the cab, taking their time to watch the buskers and street-theatre before they bought tickets for the ferry to Watson's Bay. It was a glorious day, warm and sunny, and they found themselves a seat on the outside deck where they could watch the passing scenery as the boat made its leisurely way east along the harbour. During the week this might be a commuter run, but on weekends the trip was popular with tourists and sight-seers as the ferry stopped in at three or four places before it's final destination: the wharf at the last sheltered bay just inside the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

The three friends casually disembarked, and wandered slowly along the jetty before turning left for the final few steps to where Doyles Seafood Restaurant sat perched on the golden sands, no more than a few metres from the water's edge.


Michael was sweating, and it wasn't just from the heat of the day. All morning he had been doubting the wisdom of accepting this invitation, and now he was just plain nervous. He'd worn his best jacket, and struggled with one of the few ties he owned, wanting to look like he belonged. He'd left home at 11.00, walked down to MacDonaldtown Station and caught a train to Central, where he'd changed for the Eastern Suburbs line and gotten to Bondi Junction. From there it had been a bumpy, crowded bus ride as he was squeezed in between families with their kids off to the beach, and elderly ladies out to visit other elderly ladies for 'afternoon tea'. Finally, the bus had deposited him at 'The Gap', its last stop, and he'd walked down the hill to the harbourfront, only to find himself more than 20 minutes early.

With some trepidation, he began to walk along the promenade toward the awning which leaned out, painted with simply "Doyles - 1908". The place had started as no more than a fish and chip shop almost a century ago, but had become so popular that the Doyle Family, who still owned it, now had extensive holdings throughout the city, including a large stake in the Sydney Fish markets, and the neighbouring hotel. They had opened other restaurants too, on the wharf at Watson's Bay, at the Rocks just under the Harbour Bridge, and at the Fish Markets, but to any Sydney-sider 'Doyles' was the original site sitting on the walkway on the beachfront which Michael now approached.

There was no roped-off entrance, no ornate greeting area, just a small podium at the edge of the covered area. A young couple were ahead of him, and he arrived just in time to hear them turned away as the dining area was full and they had no reservations. Stepping forward, he winced under the disapproving look of the handsome young man whose eyes ran up and down Michael's body once, and seemed to size him up in an instant.

"May I assist you, Sir?" asked the man, although his tone said that he doubted he could.

Michael stammered for a moment. "Um, I am supposed to be meeting someone here," he said.

"Oh, yes?" asked the maitre'd, his eyebrows lifting. "Do you have a booking?"

"I think so," Michael hesitated for a second. "It might be in the name of 'Sterling - Ian Sterling'?"

"Oh, of course, Sir," said the man, his attitude changing immediately, and taking Michael by surprise, as he was sure the waiter took a much closer look at him. "The rest of Mr Sterling's party hasn't arrived yet, I'm afraid. Would you care to wait for them in the bar?"

Michael gulped, feeling even more out of place. He glanced at the name-plate on the man's chest, and confided in him.

"Listen, um, Grant," he said. "I'm a bit out of my depth here. What is the usual thing to do? I know I'm early. Should I go away and come back again later?"

Grant regarded the cop carefully, and smiled. A real smile this time. "It's probably easiest to go and order a drink at the bar, and just wait for them. I'm sure they won't be long. Just tell them to put it on the tab for Mr Sterling's table," he said pleasantly, then added, "Do I know you? I may be being a bit forward, but you look familiar."

Michael laughed. "I doubt it! I don't get to places like this very often. In fact, I never get to places like this, not on a cop's pay."

"You're a cop! That's it. You're based in Surry Hills!" said Grant.

"That's right," confirmed Michael warily, scrutinising the man before him. "But I don't recognise you."

"I hope not!" Grant declared. "You picked me up out of the gutter one night. I thought you were going to arrest me, but instead you just took me to a shelter, and told me to get my act together, and try to make something of myself. I took your advice - that was what made me determined to improve myself."

"Glad to be of service," Michael smiled.

The maitre'd grinned back at him. "Listen," he said. "You're over-dressed! Despite it's reputation, this place is casual dress, especially on a Saturday afternoon. There's a cloakroom at the back. Check your coat and tie, and roll up your sleeves, then come back here. I'll have your table ready by then, and you can sit and wait for Mr Sterling and his other guests there. What would you like to drink?"

"Just a beer," Michael answered gratefully.

"Done," replied Grant.

Shortly afterwards, Michael was relaxing at a table which enjoyed a perfect view of the beach and harbour, leaning back a little in his seat with a long cold glass of Corona. That was how Ian, Tina and Nick found him fifteen minutes later when they were shown to the table by Grant, who nodded to Michael and took orders for drinks for the others before handing them menus and dispatching a waiter to their table to look after them for the rest of the afternoon.

A few awkward moments followed as the three friends tried to involve a still nervous Michael in their conversation, but before long they settled into easy banter. Michael was pleasantly surprised at how ready the others were to include him, and at how down to earth all of them were - not at all as he had anticipated, or feared. What followed was a memorable meal, shared between friends; heaped plates of calamari, tender fresh barramundi and schnapper grilled in the lightest of sauces, juicy lobster thermidor, and rounded mountains of gelato, all washed down with several bottles of delicious Chardonnay. And the four laughed and joked, talked and argued good-naturedly throughout, completely at ease with each other.

As their waiter delivered liqueur coffees to the table, and the sun began to lower, the harbour became a million pinpricks of sparkling light, leading away to the graceful arch of the Bridge, and the towering buildings of the city in the hazy distance. Each of them settled just a little lower in their chairs, gazing out at the view and enjoying a companionable silence.

"This is just so good," Michael announced.

"This is just so, so 'Sydney'," Tina answered.

"It's Sydney the way it should be," added Nick.

"It's the way good friends should enjoy," Ian said. "Thank you, all of you. I still owe you more than I could possibly repay, but I hope this lets you know how much I appreciate all of you."

"Thank you, Ian," Tina said sincerely.

"It was nothing, mate," Nick grinned.

Michael shifted in his seat. "I don't think you owe me that much, Ian," he said at last. "I was just doing my job."

"No, it was a lot more than that," Ian disagreed. "You were there for me, and you didn't have to be. You could have just done the basics, and left me to fend for myself. Michael, I can't tell you how much I came to rely on you through the court case. Your calls, letting me know what was happening, and reassuring me everything would be okay, were a lifeline at a time when I was really down. That's a lot more than 'just doing your job', believe me."

Suddenly, Tina sat up. "I need to walk off some of this wonderful food," she announced. "Come on, Nick, let's have a romantic stroll along the beach!"

Nick began to grumble, but the look she shot him, unseen by Ian or Michael, alerted him that it was worth more than his life to argue with her. The two of them shook off their shoes and stepped down onto the golden sand, linking arms and heading for the water's edge.

"I envy them," Ian said wistfully, then looked to find a questioning expression on Michael's face. "They have each other, and they are so much in love," he added by way of explanation.

"I envy you," Michael said quietly.


"Because you have them. They are more than just friends, they both love you very much. That's not something easy to find, and you are a lucky man!"

Ian looked at Michael curiously. He had never known the cop to open up like this before, to express an emotional outlook. "I envy you, too," he said at last.

"Me? What on earth is there to envy about me?" Michael asked incredulously.

"For heaven's sake, haven't you heard what I said?" Ian chuckled. Then he became serious. "I relied on you so much, Michael, from the day Geoff was killed, right through until the trial finished. You were the strong policeman who was always there to answer my questions, to promise me everything was okay. You were a pillar of strength, and you supported and encouraged me, though you didn't even know me. That was much more than just doing your job. I owe you so much, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Michael swallowed a lump in his throat. He was seized with a desire to just get up and walk away, because it suddenly occurred to him that he was falling for this man. Ian was so genuine, so warm and caring, so ... so 'nice'. Michael was sure that if he didn't get away now, he was going to be hurt, and hurt badly. But he couldn't do it. After a long break, he found his voice.

"You deserved it, Ian," he said at last. "I'll confess that I wouldn't have done as much for a lot of people. But I saw the way that Geoff treated you, the way that you were hurt and lost. At first it was out of anger at him for leaving you and then trying to come back. But as I got to know you, it was because you were you. You're decent, you're kind and generous. You're the kind of person I'd like to be, and the kind of person I like to be with," he finished a little awkwardly.

That made Ian sit up and take notice despite the food and drink and atmosphere. He had never expected Michael to be so forthcoming, and he certainly hadn't expected sentiments like the last one.

"Michael, please don't take this the wrong way, but I can't tell you how good it feels to hear you say that." He stopped, struggling to find words. Michael said nothing, waiting patiently for his companion to say whatever it was he was looking for.

Finally Ian started again, cautiously and slowly. "You know, I was very much 'in the closet' as they say, before I met Geoff. I have him to thank for making me see that hiding my real self was destructive. But since then, a few gay friends that I have met have tried to explain this sense they have that they call 'gaydar'."

Michael started to chuckle, but Ian silenced him with the look in his eyes, the look which said Ian was struggling to finish his speech.

"This 'gaydar' thing, is supposed to be some kind of sense that gay men have that lets them identify other gay men, lets them know that someone else is interested in them."

"Yeah, I've heard of it," Michael said evenly.

"Well, either I don't have it, or it's not working properly," Ian said at last.

Michael looked at him in surprise. "What makes you think that?" he asked.

Ian blushed, a deep red all the way to his forehead. "Promise you won't get offended, or laugh?"

"I promise," Michael swore.

"I keep feeling as though you are interested, as though you might like to get to know me."

"Ian, I ..."

"Please," Ian interrupted. "Please don't be upset. I know you're not interested THAT way. I know you're straight, and I appreciate how hard it was for you to agree to come for lunch. I don't want to make you uncomfortable. I just need to get my head sorted out."

Michael began to smile, and his smile widened into a grin, before it broke into a low chuckle, a delighted, happy sound. Ian looked at him in complete confusion. "Now what have I done?" he asked.

"There's nothing wrong with your gaydar, Ian," Michael whispered between subsiding breaths. "I AM interested. I'm gay too, and for the life of me I don't know where you got the idea that I was straight."

"But, I thought ... hell, whenever I said anything like that to you, you always looked uncomfortable. When I tried to offer to buy you dinner, that last day of the hearing, you almost fell over yourself trying to get out of it. You were so upset you couldn't even answer me," Ian said in a mixture of annoyance and confusion.

Michael now became sombre again. "No, you have it all wrong, Ian. Whenever you seemed to be getting close, it scared me. I guess I did back off, but that's because I know we're so far apart. I'm not good enough for you. You're rich, sophisticated, a lawyer. Let's face it, a cop like me isn't going to hold your interest for long. I couldn't keep up with you, with your life. I was just making sure neither of us got hurt."

Ian was stunned. He could scarcely believe his ears. "Michael Sciutta, if I ever hear you say you're not good enough for anyone, I swear I'll ... I'll ..., shit, I don't know what I'll do, but I'll damn well do something. It's the other way around, I doubt you'll find anyone good enough for you, and I know I certainly am not!" he finished with indignation.

Michael stared into Ian's face, searching for any hint of condescension, for any sign that Ian was just trying to make him feel better. But there was none. Slowly he realised that Ian was completely serious.

"Thank you, Ian," he said softly. "I mean it."

The two men sat there then for a long while in silence. So long in fact, that Nick and Tina were finished their stroll and taking their places at the table before anyone spoke again. "Should we ask for the bill?" Tina said, disappointedly. It appeared that her little ruse had had no effect, that Ian and Michael had failed to take the bait.

Michael cleared his throat. "There's something I've been wanting to say for a long while now, for months and months, in fact ..."

Ian, Nick and Tina all turned to regard him closely, curiosity on their faces, and Ian's mixed with a smattering of fear.

"Ian Sterling, would you like to have dinner with me?" he said quietly. "And just for the record, I DO mean a date!"

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This story is a fantasy, it is not real and only happened in my imagination. YOU MUST REMEMBER that in the real world, you can DIE from having unsafe sex. It is your right and your duty to make sure that condoms are always used, whether you are giving or receiving. It doesn't matter how good looking or how ugly he is, and it doesn't matter whether you are top or bottom, USE A CONDOM!