If At First You Don't Succeed
Chapter One

If at first you don't succeed
Dust yourself off and try again
You can dust it off and try again.

-Aaliyah, Try Again

"Is he hot?"

If there's anything Nicky Marks had expected to come out of his ex-boyfriend's mouth, that had not been it. He shifts restlessly on his navy blue duvet cover, keeping a watchful eye on his half-closed bedroom door for any eavesdroppers.

"Nick," Dave prompts down the phone line.

"He's. He's cute."

"Just cute?"

Nicky emits some weird, strangled noise from the back of his throat. "Okay, he's really hot. And just so you know, this is weird as fuck."

"Some egocentric part of my consciousness feels the need to point out, I'm not the one living with my really hot love interest. " Dave's voice always gets higher when he repeats Nicky's words, imitating him in almost a falsetto, and Nicky can't help grinning even if it's at his own expense. He can't imagine Dave doing something like that when they'd been dating.

"He's not my love interest. I don't even know if he's gay. He's always busy with Mai Ling."

"What's his name again? Justin?"

"Jesse," Nicky corrects, barely whispering. There's way too many threats in this house— his adopted sister Mai Ling, newly four and newly interested in eavesdropping and repeating it back to others; Mai's nanny/tutor Jesse, showering down the hall; his 'Sensitive Gay Parent' Josh, who would want to talk about it; and, worst of all, Kay. His dad. The one who would get all weird and jittery and find Jesse an apartment or something.

"Well," Dave says, knocking Nicky out of his thoughts. "In my experience, there's one way that always lets you know if a guy is gay or not."

Nicky seizes on this instantly. This is what makes having Dave around so perfect—he's like a veteran queer, but talking to him isn't all weird and awkward, like it is when Nicky tries asking advice from his parents. "Really?"

"Mmhm. Walk by him naked. If he checks out your ass? Gay."

"Jesus, Dave," Nicky snaps.

"Just ask him, Nick. Listen, I gotta head to bed."

"I hope it's cold," Nicky shoots back, and listens to Dave laughing as he hangs up the phone. He's a little more irritated than he should be. Not really with Dave, more with the situation itself. It figured. Never mind all of all the guys he's gone out with in the last few months, he'd had to go and develop a thing for the potentially straight one living in his house. The one who showered twenty-five feet away from him and completely tortured Nicky with the mental image.

The shower. It's stopped.

Just ask him, Dave had said. Just ask. Easy for him to say. Dave was smart and unfairly gorgeous, and even straight guys went for him every once in a while. Nicky was just... Nicky. Almost seventeen, awkward and epically unsmooth, and still kind of dealing with the kneejerk stigma he'd given himself as the gay son of gay parents. Even if Jesse was gay he'd probably just pretend not to be, so he didn't have to deal with some kid's clumsy come-ons.

Even while worst-case scenarioing, Nicky knows he's not quite being fair to himself. Dave had liked him enough to put up with his in-denial crap for six months, and since they'd broken up Nicky's gone on lots of dates without anyone ever asking what people could possibly see in him. And Jesse probably wouldn't think he was a kid, either. He's only a little more than a year older than him, taking classes at the community college at night to make up for the time he'd lost as a kid when his parents relocated from Hong Kong. That's why he's here working with Mai Ling—making money to go to school next year.

That's about the extent of what Nicky knows, other than the fact that Jesse is cute as hell and sounds hot even when he's talking to Mai in a language than never sounds anything but angry to Nicky. Nicky sighs and sticks the phone onto his headboard ledge, turning onto his back and staring absently at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling. He would have to have the most inaccessible crush he could have in this town. He'd have a better chance of scoring some from his ultrastraight best friend, Ashton.

There's a light tap on his door and then it presses open, spilling light from the hallway onto Nicky's bed. He blinks furiously and half-sits up, squinting, till he recognizes Jesse's hair all wet and spiky from the shower.

"Hey," Jesse says, all soft and guilty. "Sorry, were you sleeping?"

"No, no. " Nicky struggles a little more upright, turning beet red as he bumps the headboard and knocks the cordless onto his shoulder. "Uh—" he grabs it, holds it up lamely. "I was on the phone. I mean, I just got off—oh, Jesus, that is not what I meant to say."

Jesse laughs like he always does when Nicky completely spazzes out in front of him, leaning against the doorjamb. "I know what you meant," he assures him. His skin looks insanely perfect and tanned, lit up from behind like that. Nicky wouldn't mind getting off right now. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I just wanted to say good night."

"You're going to bed?" Nicky asks inanely, attempting to keep the conversation going long enough to redeem his burst of stupidity.

"Yeah. Mai and I have a long day of reading Mr. Tsai Lost His Horse tomorrow," Jesse grins. "Night, Nicky."

Jesse's the only person who's met him in the last few years and not called him Nick. He'd picked up 'Nicky' from his parents and calls him it so easily that Nicky forgets to mind.

"Sleep good," he answers, a little softly. Jesse shuts the door on his way out. It casts Nicky back into blackness, darker than before, but the stars on his ceiling glow anew.

Just ask him.

"Yeah, right," Nicky mutters, and rolls over to bury his face in the pillows.

Nicky is having the most awesome dream about an indecently heavy makeout session with Jesse. Awesome, that is, until Jesse starts telling him that Josh says he'll be late for school and keeps wriggling like a puppy on Nicky's chest.

Then he opens his eyes to find his sister on top of him, bouncing and flipflopping and chattering in Cantonese while Jesse is sheepishly saying his name from the foot of the bed. He smiles when Nicky opens his eyes.

"Sorry, Nicky, your dad—"

"S'okay," he slurs groggily. Mai backflops onto his stomach, taking his crumpled comforter with her, and Nicky bolts upright in horror. Major morning wood. It takes every ounce of Nicky's concentration not to turn bright red; he focuses determinedly on Mai's face as a point of decidedly nonerotic distraction. Now the question is how to play this off with another teenage guy in the room—without him noticing any universal tricks. Okay, no big deal. He's had enough practice during sleepovers with Ashton.

"Time is it?" He asks casually.

Jesse glances at his cool lime-green watch, cracking a sympathetic grin. If he finds Nicky's attentiveness to Mai Ling odd, he doesn't show it. "8:30."

"Shit." No time for jerking off in the shower today. He really is late, not that that's exactly foremost on his mind right now. There's only a month of school left anyway. They're not going to expel him.

Nicky gingerly lifts Mai off and runs a hand through his hair, reaching down to grab a shirt off his floor at random. He points at a pair of jeans hanging off a lampshade beside Jesse. "Can you hand me those?" He can put a pair of jeans on under the covers without it looking completely obvious, can't he? God, he hopes they're baggy. Maybe he's being overly paranoid. Most guys don't walk around checking out each other's junk for potential wood, do they? He tries to remember if he's ever noticed any of his friends sporting some, but all that comes to mind is the still cringe-worthy memory of walking in on Cokey getting an afterschool hand job in the boy's bathroom a couple months back.

"Nicky," Jesse prompts him. He's brought the jeans over to the side of the bed. And he smells awesome as usual, all clean and sexy. Sexy. God, Nicky needs to spend more time with straight guys.

"Thanks." He takes them and stuffs the fabric under the duvet sort of awkwardly, managing to jam his legs into the right place after only a couple of tries. Mai's unearthed the package of Oreos half-under Nicky's bed and she's stuffing them into her mouth at a rate that would make Josh pass out, but at least it keeps her occupied. And away from Nicky at this particularly awkward moment. "Um. So. Big plans today?" Ask him. God, no.

"Oh." Jesse's dark eyes widen, making him look even better. Nicky struggles against a sudden, strong urge to jump him. "I was going to ask if you'd wanna go to this party with me tonight. I don't know if it'll be any good, this guy in my calculus class is having it." He wrinkles his nose and laughs. Nicky slowly stands up. His heart is beating embarrassingly fast. It's not a date, it's not a date, it's so not a date.

"Oh, yeah?" He tries and fails to sound casual, considering there's a lump in his throat the size of Kansas. "Sure, I guess. I have nothing else on. Oh, fuck." Did he really just say that? He swallows hard and tries again. "What time?"

"Eight or nine?"

That's a problem. Nicky's curfew is 11:30 on any given night, unless he gets an approved extension. Which would mean explaining to Kay and Josh why he needs to be out later. Which would mean Josh, way too perceptive, would catch on to Nicky's previously well-hidden crush in 2.5 seconds. He's frowning without meaning to, and Jesse laughs and nudges him.

"We could grab something to eat instead." Nicky's eyes jerk towards him sharply. What is he suggesting here? Ask him. Yeah, okay, Dave. "Maybe see a movie?"

Instantly Nicky pictures giving Jesse head in an empty theatre. Which doesn't help anything. He's dangerously close to coming in his pants. "O-okay," he chokes. Jesse grins and pats him on the shoulder, oblivious to the strangled groan that dies in Nicky's throat, then scoops Mai Ling up away from the cookies. At the door, he gives Nicky the hottest little smile he's ever seen over his shoulder.

"See you tonight."

Oh, fuck.

Fifteen minutes later, after Nicky's finished washing his boxers out in the sink and avoiding his face in the mirror, he manages to open the door just as Kay is heading past the bathroom. His dad gives him a startled look.

"What the—it's almost nine o'clock," he informs him, as if Nicky might not know. Nicky winces and hopes Kay doesn't look down and see the soaked underwear he's clutching in his hand. So fucking embarrassing.

"I know, I—I got a late start. I'm leaving right now." He wads them up further.

Kay smirks. "To be honest with you, I don't think I made it to homeroom once during my senior year. But Josh will die if you're late. I'll give you a ride."

Oh, God. The idea of sitting next to Kay in a car after he's just shot in his pants like a thirteen year old is way too much to bear, even if it is only for three minutes. "N-no, it's okay, I'm—I'm thinking about rejoining the track team next year. Gotta start training! You know. Catch up with all those other guys... uh... bye!" He dashes into his room, hides the boxers, and grabs his backpack in record time. Kay is still standing dumbfounded in the upstairs hall when Nicky goes bolting out the front door.

Shit. Living with your parents as a teenager should be illegal.

OH LOOK, it's me and I'm back only a year and a half after FYF ended, despite having half of this chapter written at the TIME FYF ended. How shameful. Well, I'll try to be better about writing, and I do need something to keep me busy so there's always hope this time around. :D Anyway, I hope you guys are happy to see Nicky return. I originally had a very different idea in mind for "Post-FYF," but oh well, it didn't pan out, so here's another of his adventures on the road to ~True Love.~ Hahaha. Please review, it delights me like nothing else!

Oh yeah, and I MISSED YOU.