HAPPY (belated) VALENTINE'S DAY! For all of you single people out there like me, here's a little MWMH to keep you company tonight (or tomorrow morning, seeing as I'm posting this so late T_T). Writing is slowly coming along - I'm making progress, which is an improvement haha. I hope you're all having a good 2015 so far! Spring has arrived super early where I am, and things are already starting to bloom and the temperature is rising. I hope you all enjoy the new chapter!

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Mendel With My Heart

Part 1: The Pieces and the Game

Chapter 9: Questions and Answers

I wake to absolute silence. It's morning. Snow has been quietly been falling for the past few days, and the sparkling white dust has muted the world. It's the beginning of reading break, and the university campus population has dwindled as students have fled for the week.

Rising slowly, a slight chill in the air nips at me. I take my time pulling on my coat and gathering my clothes. Outside the office, the cold air swirls around me, whistling softly in my ear as I walk across campus to the aquatic centre.

In the shower, the hot water thaws my skin, bringing some colour to the surface to combat my pallor. As I lather shampoo in my hair, my mind can't help but be drawn to that fateful evening; has it only been two days since then? It feels like much longer.

I shiver as the memory of Braden's ghostly touch feathers over my body, and I again have to suppress the rising panic that's been brewing within me since then.

We had sex. There's no use denying it. The sharp ache in my backside and my limp the next morning were proof enough. I squeeze my eyes shut, pressing my palms over them, trying to release the building pressure in my head.

I've had sexual relations with a student. I just have to accept that.

I heave a shuddering sigh.

If anyone finds out about this, I'm finished. I'm done for. I'll lose everything. My lab, my teaching position, everything. This is one of the biggest, most prestigious universities in the country, and it has a world-wide reputation. There's no tolerance for such inappropriate behavior.

You've really done it now, Solomon. After over a decade of hard work, you've finally got your own lab doing exciting research, and you just had to throw that all away. All for what? A beautiful student? A breathtakingly gorgeous young man? A pair of stunning blue eyes that make you wish the world would stop for just a moment? A smile that takes your breath away? A touch that makes your senses flare? The chance to finally take the plunge for the first time with another human being?

Is all that I've achieved and accomplished with my life worth it?

No. Of course not.

I disgust myself. A migraine pounds in my head, each painful throb ripples through my betraying thoughts. Wrapping my arms around myself, I try to clear my mind, try to let the spray of water wash away my taint.

Thinking like this will get me nowhere. It just happened once. As long as nobody finds out, and as long as it doesn't happen again, I should be fine.

Everything will be okay.

I take a deep, steadying breath.

It's going to be okay.

Right?

When I open my eyes, a pair of piercing blue ones looks back at me through the mist of the shower. In my imagination, Braden's gaze still haunts me. This time, when I close my eyes, his naked body in all its glory materializes before me.

I shudder once more, although for an entirely different reason.

Sure, I'd fantasized what it would be like, but I'd never actually thought that it would happen, not in a million years! Braden actually wants me – no, wanted, past tense; he can't still want me now, can he? What about me is so desirable? The answer: nothing.

I can't... Fucus, I'm so confused... I was so sure he'd find my body repulsive once the clothes had come off. I mean, it's nothing like his body – sculpted, beautiful, majestic, godly – I'm skinny, I've got no meat on my bones, not to mention the fact that I'm covered in bruises that practically scream 'used!'

He had touched me. He had caressed me. He had kissed me. And he had entered me.

I'm getting worked up, and I touch myself as I picture the scene from that night: the way he sounded, the way he smelled, the way he felt... it made me feel so alive!

I can't take it anymore, and I find myself immersed in the memory. The memory of his touch, his smell, his sounds, his feel. It builds up inside me as I scramble to find purchase on every single detail of that moment.

With a soft cry, my orgasm washes over me.

Panting, I flush hotly, grateful that the showers are empty.

!X!X!X!

Carefully with my right hand, I lower the tip of the micropipette into the small Eppindorf tube. The clear liquid is slowly sucked into the micropipette tip with precision. I close the cap on the tube as I transfer dNTP reagent into the reaction solution that I'm assembling. Next comes the reaction buffer, and then template DNA.

It's a peaceful day. On the other end of the lab, Jillian's examining her petri dishes under a microscope. I finish assembling the PCR reaction that I'm preparing, transfer the tubes into the incubation machine, and start the program. As the machine whirrs silently to life, I look at the time. It's almost lunchtime, and I'd promised to meet Judy. Removing my disposable gloves, I tell Jillian about my meeting.

"Okay," says the graduate student without even looking up from her microscope. "When will you be back?"

"Later this, uh, this afternoon," I say as I finish washing my hands.

Jillian nods. "I might not be here when you get back; I have a meeting with one of my supervisors later, and I'll be going home after that.

"Alright, then please l-lock up the lab on your w-way out," I instruct as I remove my lab coat.

Although it's stopped snowing, it's still cold and the ground is still dusted in a layer of white. The wind blows strongly into my face, and I pull my jacket closer around me as I make the trek from my building to one of the cafés on campus.

Once inside, I rub my stiff fingers against my face in an effort to warm up. Standing in line, I wait patiently to place my order – the soup of the day with a turkey and spinach salad, to go. My food in a take-away bag, I then make my way to Judy's office.

My colleague grins widely at me though her open office door when she sees me walking down the hall towards her. "Soloman!" she says in greeting. Putting down the fork she had been using to eat her meatloaf, the bespectacled woman rises to greet me.

"Hi Judy." I take a seat at her desk across from her and take out my lunch.

"How was your weekend?" Judy asks as she takes another bite of her lunch.

"Uneventful," I say as I unwrap my sandwich. "Y-Yours?"

Judy shrugs. "Not bad. Finally got the chance to see that new sci-fi action movie that came out last month," she says.

"W-Was it good?" I ask, and next ten minutes consist of me quietly eating my sandwich and soup as Judy gives me a detailed critique of the movie and her opinions on the the thematic implications as she finishes her meatloaf.

"Interesting?" I say as I ball up the plastic wrap and garbage from my lunch. "I-It sounds, uh, a b-bit complicated."

Judy laughs. "Yeah, they're making things a bit confusing for fans of the book, messing with the backstory and stuff like that, but it was still good," she says as she puts her empty container into her work bag.

Our lunch consumed, we turn to the business at hand.

"I just got the midterms back from Carrie."

I nod. Carrie is one of our TAs, and she had taken time out of her weekend to mark her portion of the midterm exams.

"What's your schedule like for the next few days?" Judy asks.

"Quite o-open," I reply. "I'm running only a f-few experiments. N-No appointments or, uh, meetings."

"Perfect, then hopefully we can get them all marked before the kids get back from the break. Do you want to split them up, or mark them together like last year?"

"T-Together."

"Great! Well, no time like the present," Judy says, smiling to me as she reaches down to hoist up one of the boxes beside her desk.

I sigh, taking a red pen from the ceramic mug holding an assortment of writing utensils on Judy's desk. No time like the present indeed, I think to myself as Judy opens the box and lifts out a stack of papers.

"The sooner we start, the faster we'll finish," Judy chuckles.

This is going to be a long week.

!X!X!X!

Sitting at my desk, the sun is starting to set.

I sigh as I rub my tired eyes. Judy and I spent the week marking midterms, and they're finally all marked. Exam marking has always been exhausting for me. Not that teaching isn't exhausting, but it's a different kind of exhausting. Now comes the arduous process of analyzing the midterm results. Every year is different. Sometimes the test is too hard, sometimes it's too easy. Sometimes the year is very bright and scores well on difficult questions, sometimes the year scores very poorly overall.

We always have to go through the midterms afterwards and make adjustments.

Which is what I'm in the middle of doing now.

There's a midterm in my hands, but I'm just staring at the cover page. There's only four pieces of information on this cover page. First, is our course number, telling the students that they are, in fact, taking a midterm for BIOL 234. The second is the date. The third is the student number.

But the only thing that my mind id focused on is the fourth piece of information.

The student name.

Because scrawled in the space provided, in a very familiar not-quite-neat but not-quite-messy script is the name Braden Calderton.

I'm not quite sure how long I've been staring at this name.

Midterm marking was such a blur, and I was trying to get through nearly 500 students' papers. I was in charge of marking one of the long answer questions on all of the tests, and I don't quite recall marking Braden's midterm, but I must have.

When I first realized that this midterm belonged to Braden, my eyes had quickly darted to the bottom of the page. Scribbled there in red ink is a column on numbers near – the individual scores for the individual questions, and the summed total. My mind had been quick with the calculation; 42%.

Braden scored 42% on the midterm.

He didn't pass.

Immediately, the last conversation we had held played through my mind, and Braden's voice is still ringing in my mind even now, as I continue to stare at the page in front of me. I'd promised Braden that I'd take a look at his test. There's nothing wrong with just looking, right? I mean, I'm supposed to be making sure that all of the tests are marked fairly, right?

So then why have I been stalling?

I take a deep breath. Well, I should just look. Just to check.

It wouldn't hurt, right?

I turn the page, and slowly scan it from top to bottom.

Well, there's nothing amiss with the marking of multiple choice questions; they're either correct or incorrect.

The next page contains the short answer questions. A glance over these proves the same as the page before. Nothing can really go wrong when marking definitions or simple one-step calculations.

The long answer questions are the most arbitrary, so that's where any part-marks would have been missed. I skim ahead to that section, and look at what's written.

To Braden's credit, he's filled each page full of writing and calculations. The thing that becomes apparent very quickly, however, is that what he's written is a jumble of correct and incorrect work, and at times I find it difficult to understand the logic of his answers.

I frown.

This is peculiar. I know Braden can do better than this; hasn't he proven it to me in the sessions we spend working on the problem sets? He's scored quite high on most of them.

Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe it was a bad test. I've certainly had my fair share of those – lost marks on questions I knew how to do perfectly well otherwise. Instantly, I feel bad for him. He knows what he's doing, but sometimes you just have bad test luck. I remember the look on his face the other night, when he was so worried about the midterm.

Well, now looked at his midterm. That's what Braden asked me to do, right? Check to make sure that it was marked correctly. But was it really marked correctly? I bite my lip. Well... the mark isn't very reflective of what I know Braden is capable of achieving... The markers could have missed a few part-marks, right? That could have happened. Should I go back and take a closer look?

The indecision is tearing me apart...

!X!X!X!

I spent three more hours going through the rest of the box of midterms. By the time I'm finished, it's getting late in the afternoon. Rolling back my office chair, I stretch and yawn, but I hit something on the ground. I look down.

And sitting by my desk is my duffle bag.

Fucus.

I'd forgotten.

I need to visit the apartment tonight.

With a sigh, I reluctantly reach for my winter coat.

The late February air is chilly as I walk through campus. The days have slowly been stretching, and the hours of light have been starting to creep longer. Reaching the street corner, I've arrived at the bus stop. I take a seat at the bench as the setting sun casts an amber glow across the buildings and streets. Several stray students scurry through the cold from one building to the next.

I pull my coat closer to my body. It's a rather nice coat, I must admit. Warm and fuzzy, with lots of buttons. I down the street. When is the bus going to arrive? My fingers twitch nervously on my duffle bag as I wait. I can feel the nausea already building inside me, but it can't be helped. Clothing is a necessity of life, and clean, fresh clothing is a necessity of my profession. Such is the life I lead.

I swallow thickly.

Finally, after ten long minutes, my bus arrives, and I board without incident. It's practically empty – reading break tends to leave campus feeling rather deserted, but then again, I like it that way. I cautiously take a seat near the centre of the bus. The weekend has been long, and tiring. There's nothing I'd like more than a nice long nap in my warm office, but I need to finish my errands first. Leaning my head on the frosted window, the cool glass feels good against my forehead

I gaze out the window as the city passes me by. Stunning blue eyes look back at me through the glass. They pierce deep into my soul. Soon after, a face follows, the lips turned up in a smile that lights up his features.

Taking a deep breath, I try for the millionth time to blot out the image of Braden's gorgeous visage, but I'm just as successful as Napoleon's quest to conquer Russia through the winter.

And then the bust tells me that it's my stop, but how can it be my stop already? I've only just gotten on the bus, and my apartment is almost a half hour ride away from the university campus. But I look out and recognize my building, and indeed it is my stop.

I sigh.

Time has slipped away again.

Why does this keep happening to me?

With a heavy heart, I drag my feet to the door and exit the bus.

The sidewalk is covered in a thin layer of frost, and it crunches beneath my shoes as I make the trek to my building.

Sometimes, I wonder why I even bother any more. With life, I mean. It's not like anyone would miss me. But then I remember Robert. I have a brother. And he needs me. I pay the rent, after all. Without me, he would be homeless. I'm his older brother. I have a duty to take care of him.

The elevator dings weakly, and I step out onto the seventh floor.

As I approach the door to apartment 714, I hear the sounds of the television in the living room, and light seeps out from under the crack into the hallway.

Suddenly, the numbness in my mind evaporates and I'm filled with panic.

I have to get out of here! I can't stay. I have to go, come back tomorrow.

In my utter distress, I turn a little too quickly.

I'm so blessed to be this uncoordinated. Really, it does miracles for me. Like right now. My legs tangle as my body moves. The world slowly turns on its side and it revolves; I feel weightless and it would be exhilarating if not for the panic that's running amuck through me right now. The world turns until I'm staring up at the ceiling, the old yellowing plaster lit by a rusting old light bulb that's probably older than I am.

The floor greets me with great enthusiasm. Just like always.

And of course, my graceful collapse has created a great deal of noise.

As I scramble to pick myself off the ground, the door to apartment 714 swings open.

"Welcome home, Solomon," a voice greets me.

I close my eyes and attempt to swallow the celebration of hysteria that's threatening to burst forth. It's time to review Mendel's three law of genetics...

!X!X!X!

The reading break passes by quickly, and once again the university campus is flooded with undergraduate students. Between my experiments, teaching, marking, and general handling of life gets very stressful, but throughout it all, a pair of icy blue eyes have watched my every move. Actually, it's no longer just Braden's eyes, or even his lovely face. No, now I'm haunted by his entire person. Sometimes his ghost follows me around fully clothed, as I walk down the street or perform experiments in the lab or type at my desk. Sometimes he's in his underwear, making it very difficult to concentrate on my tasks because Xenopus is his body amazing and I just get shivers thinking about what happened between us. And sometimes he's completely naked, and I just cease to function altogether.

So it's no surprise that I'm now sitting at my desk, the bright sunlight of the early March afternoon streaming in through the window, trying not to have a heart attack.

It's Thursday. The first Thursday back from reading break. And my watch is telling me that it's about to be 2:00pm.

I don't know if Braden is coming to my office today or not, because I haven't seen him since classes started again. Visibly shaking in my seat, I don't know whether I want him to show up or not. I'm debating the pros and cons of seeing the most handsome student I've ever worked with, but in the end things are taken out of my control (as so many other things in life) when there's a familiar knocking at my door.

Hastily, I stand. Too hastily, apparently, because my legs fail me (silly legs, still trying to learn how to do their job) and I topple to the floor halfway to the door. Mastocarpus, does this have to happen every time?

My arms and legs and sore bits hurt, and I have to untangle myself before I even attempt to stand.

"Dr. Riesling?" a very familiar deep voice says, muffled through the door. "Is everything okay?"

"Y-Yes, I'm c-coming, just a s-second!" I say as I finally manage to steady myself on my feet.

The door handle gives easily enough and, leaning on it for support, I come face to face with Braden Calderton for the first time in almost two weeks. My memories don't do him justice. He's standing in the hall in all his masculine glory, and I can almost see the halo and angelic glow of light that surrounds him. Or maybe I'm just imagining things.

Fucus but he's gorgeous. The sharp angles of his visage are illuminated by the bright sunshine, and his sparkling turquoise eyes fill me with such a strange but breathtaking feeling. Something pulls strongly inside my chest, but I do my best to ignore it. He's wearing a thin sweater and dark jeans, both pieces of clothing hug tightly to all of his pronounced muscles in such a devilishly angelic way and I swear I'm not swooning. I'm not. It's just as simple as that. Solomon Riesling does NOT swoon.

When he sees me, Braden breaks into a lazy smile, and I just about melt into the floor. "Hey Dr. Riesling," he says casually, and his resonant voice makes me quiver.

Okay, so maybe I am swooning, but only a little bit! I swear!

"H-Hello, B-Braden." I can feel the warmth flood my face in embarrassment – how is it possible for one man to do this to me?

With a prayer under my breath, I let go of the door and step back, allowing Braden into my office. The young man closes the door behind him as he enters, the lock automatically clicking back into place.

I turn to make my away around my desk, but Braden stops me.

"Dr. Riesling, before we start, I was wondering if the midterms have been marked yet?"

My already elevated heart rate skyrockets to new heights, and for an instant I'm confused as to why this topic of conversation draws such a reaction from me. "T-The m-midterm? I... um, y-yes, Judy – I mean Dr. W-Walker – and I f-finished marking them over t-the break," I reply. "We're handing t-them back in c-class tomorrow."

Braden's face lights up with emotion – curiosity, and a few others that I can't name. "Oh?" he says mildly, but I know that he must be itching to ask. And sure enough, he does. "Do you know what I got?" he asks.

I swallow thickly. "I- Y-Yes, I do. I-I don't have it, um, with m-me right now, but I h-had a look at your paper and I s-saw your mark."

My gorgeous young student shifts his weight and gives me a look that's filled with hope and something else – Mastocarpus why am I so bad at reading emotions?

I close my eyes. "You got 57%," I say quietly, my nerves already beyond frayed.

Rustling movement and a whispered, "Yes!" of triumph meets my ears, but for some reason I can't will my eyes to open.

And then there's a soft touch to my face, and if I hadn't been paralyzed by surprise, I most definitely would have flinched so hard I would have ended up across the room – but it's gentle and warm and my brain finally registers that it's a hand and it's cupping my face and my eyes flutter open of their own accord.

Braden's smile is so wide. He looks stunning and radiant. The expression on his face is filled with pride and happiness and something that I think is triumph and all this positivity is infectious; I smile in return. Dazzling blue eyes are looking into mine, and my stomach begins to roil and coil, my face flushing with heat.

"I couldn't have done it without you, Dr. Riesling," Braden says quietly, softly, that smile still playing across his beautiful lips. His face is so close to mine that his words brush over my nose and eyes as he speaks. I shiver so hard that I'm afraid that he can see it.

"I d-didn't... It was n-nothi-" I stammer to find words but my mental faculties are on a nice little vacation to somewhere blue and sparkling and what was I trying to say again?

I struggle to find enough oxygen to keep my pounding heart alive.

The moment stretches on and I'm sure that if I were able to think properly – or think at all, for that matter – I would have felt a strong compulsion to fill this silence. But in the end, I didn't need to.

The tall student leans forward and closes the small space between us. Braden presses his lips to mine, and immediately I gasp and then I'm positively thrumming with pleasure because his warm, firm, talented tongue is in my mouth and Fucus I need to remember to breathe!

The kiss starts deep and passionate, and I'm instantly swallowed up in the moment. Somewhere back in the deep recesses of my mind, I realize that I'm kissing this young man with everything that I've got, but it doesn't seem to matter. All I can feel right now is his large, warm hand cupping my jaw, the burning fire of his tongue, and the silky smoothness of his lips.

The deep, cavernous scent of dried basil and cherries suffuses into me, igniting me. The world has been lit on fire, and I'm consumed by it.

Another large hand lands firmly on my hip and sparks fly through my body, breaking the spell on my muscles and then instantly I find myself pressed against Braden's strong, muscled, absurdly firm frame. My face is tipped up to meet his, connected by the lips and my spine arched back so that my chest can be pressed against Braden's godly body (which makes me acutely aware of the mere layers of fabric that separate us). I have one hand holding onto his broad shoulder, and the other is fisted in the material of his shirt.

Braden manipulates the kiss with expertise, and I'm whimpering with how perfect he feels.

I'm completely rock hard, and I know he knows because my erection is pressed against his thigh, but apparently he doesn't seem to mind because he's still kissing me and Xenopus am I dreaming? How can this all be real?

The kiss is broken, but Braden doesn't pull back. His lips are flushed and moist and my eyes can't seem to look anywhere else. He's smiling; it's faint and there's this amused yet predatory look in his expression that makes me shiver even more. His arms are wrapped around me now, and he carefully maneuvers us backwards until the backs of my legs bump into the couch.

I'm given a gentle nudge and then I find myself falling back against the cushions.

To my surprise, Braden's body follows and we end up kind of crashing into the upholstery together.

My eyebrows are drawn up in shock, but Braden just lets out an amused chuck. He flicks his eyes down, and my gaze follows to where my hands are gripping his clothes. My fingers are clenched so tight that my knuckles are white.

I blink. I hadn't realized that I had been doing that.

A shadow falls over my face as Braden leans over and captures my lips in another kiss.

Somehow I don't think we're going to be working on the problem set today.