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the fate in no one's plan

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The new guy is, for all intent and purposes, exactly what a poet should look like. He's wearing a long dark coat and shiny black shoes; a heavy, colorful scarf is wrapped around his neck and covering half his chest. There's a stud shining on the curve of his left ear, rings adorning the elegant fingers flipping through the notebook on his lap; the lower half of his face is covered by the scarf, but his very dark brows are furrowed, making him look pensive - or anxious.

That's understandable. Martin's been coming to the poetry group for a bit over a year, and the idea of reading his work out loud in front of all these people still petrifies him.

Martin glances around; it is still fairly early, and most of the chairs are empty - including the ones on either sides of the stranger. It takes him a fraction of a second to make a decision, and then he's stepping forward, a friendly - if nervous - smile plastered to his face.

"Hello there!" It comes out squeakier than he had intended, and he winces before forging on : "Is this your first time?"

The man looks up at him, and Martin feels his stomach drop.

(It's not usual per se. People are attractive, and Martin is desperately single - the story writes itself.

Usually though, the feeling of attraction isn't accompanied by pure, blinding terror.)

Martin sways on his feet; the man is still looking at him, showing an expression of polite indifference. His eyes are -

distant

boundless

Vast.

Like I could fall into them, Martin thinks. The irony of that imagery isn't lost on him.

The too-thin breath he takes to steady himself slips like ice into his lungs, and he attempts to blink the problem away. The stranger seems to be waiting for him to gather himself; there's a spark of something in his eyes - curiosity, approval, satisfaction - that makes the tingle in Martin's stomach become more like the first fires of a crush and less like the fear of falling.

"It is, actually," the man finally answers. He's got a very nice voice - of course he does. "I gather it isn't yours?"

It takes a second for Martin to remember his own question, and then he nods.

"No, I've been coming for a few months. I'm not very good, but it's a nice way to decompress after work, you know? Which is ironic, since public speaking has always been stressful for me, but -" Rambling, he's rambling, he needs to put a stop to it - "Anyway, I'm Martin."

He has jabbed his hand in the man's direction. It's surprisingly steady. His new acquaintance immediately reaches for it, and shakes it; his skin is ice cold, as if he'd been standing in a hailstorm before coming in. Martin could swear he sees a literal spark fly between their hands when they let go of each other, but that's impossible - isn't it?

"Nice to meet you, Martin." The man's smile does not quite reach his eyes. "I'm Mike."

***

Mike is nice. Probably. He's got this languid, bored kind of humor going on, and during the ninety minutes the meeting lasts he occasionally leans close to Martin to comment on the performance of whoever is declaiming their verses at the moment. It's never cruel, and never unjustified, but Martin still tries to stifle his bits of laughter lest he offends the current speaker. He almost does choke on one on one occasion, causing eyes to turn in his direction; the reddening of his cheeks, though, is less due to the embarrassment, and more because of the pleased smile that has finally reached Mike's eyes.

Mike declines to read his own poetry, but he does it in a way that makes clear it isn't because he's ashamed, or shy. He's happy enough to simply take in the atmosphere during his first visit, he says; it isn't unusual for new people, but it means that when Martin goes up to the front of the group, he's got no idea of what kind of judgment to expect from his new friend. Martin stutters and stumbles at first, even more so that usual, but then - then Mike smiles at him, a real smile, a bit crooked but not unkind. It pulls at the lighting scar running on the side of his face, the one Martin only noticed when he's pushed the scarf away from his face earlier for a sip of tea. Some might think it takes away some of his attractiveness - Martin thinks it only adds to his charm, but then again, he's learned to love flaws.

Mike smiles at him, and at the end of the session, Mike asks him out for a drink.

"Drink?" Martin echoes, unsure his ears and his hope haven't betrayed him.

"Yeah," Mike says. He's so nonchalant about the whole thing, Martin would be a bit jealous if he wasn't so baffled. "Tea, coffee… Something stronger if you want? It is getting late enough for that, after all."

"Why?... I mean, is there a particular reason, or…"

Mike shrugs. "I like you. I'd like to keep talking to you, and I hate the idea of having to wait a month to do it again."

Martin's mouth is very dry. He wishes he could have half an ounce of Mike's calm so he could make a witty joke about needing that drink very much, thank you. Instead he stammers:

"You're, uh. Very direct."

Again, a smile; Mike's eyes drift to somewhere left of his face, and Martin finds himself staring at them. They are grey and lined with long dark lashes, looking over his surroundings with a certain distance, as if none of this really concerns him - as if the life happening around him is merely something to study and understand, then to move away from. Not unlike Jon's, now that Martin thinks of it (but no , he will not let himself think of his new boss in this moment, not when he's been invited out for a drink by a dark and somewhat mysterious semi-stranger.)

"Why shouldn't I be?" Mike says finally. "Either you accept, and I hopefully get to spend a good time with you, or you refuse, and I go home. Either way, not much of a difference for me, in the grand scheme of things."

Martin can't help but vaguely feel insulted, but he has to concede the point. "I guess so, yeah."

Mike must feel he's touched a nerve, because he smiles again, not quite apologetic. "I'm sorry if I've upset you, I'm not really used to being - diplomatic. What I meant to say is: I'd love to get a drink with you, but feel free to refuse for any reason. I won't be offended."

"Oh." Martin relaxes, slightly mollified. Still, he hesitates - thinks of having to get up for work the text day, of having to make dinner and tidying up his place a bit and maybe trying to call his mother, though the chances of her accepting to answer are depressingly slim - "Yes."

The answer bursts out almost of his own volition. Mike tilts his head on the side. "Yes?"

"Yes," Martin confirms. "Yes, I'd like that as well. Let's get a drink."

For the first time since Martin's met him, Mike looks genuinely happy - bit of the mask slipping away, revealing the human underneath. He sidles up to Martin's side, and opens an arm toward the rest of the city.

"Shall we?"