A/N: The following tale concerns sexual orientations of a nature most lewd and unnatural, and some lesbianism too. On a more specific note, a sex scene is openly dealt with in the second half of this chapter, and though I wouldn't describe it as (porno)graphic, explicit or even mildly titillating, I have no qualms in labelling it 'practical'. If you stick around to read, you'll see what I mean. Also, I'd like to point out that this is a follow-up to my 'pilot', Snapshot; as you'll see, this is written as though immediately following on from another story. I suppose it could be considered a sort of prologue, but you needn't have read it to understand this…

Chapter I

But the story didn't really begin at the end of a Parisian summer, in the glow of a Parisian sunset, with the stench of Parisian sewers wafting threateningly nearby: it began, appropriately enough, at a wedding.

Slightly more fittingly, it began with two girls.

Well, it began with a girl, a boy, a girl and another girl, but it wasn't like that.

Anyway: in that wonderfully non-specific yet aptly-named locale, 'the country', was a park; and in that park was a marquee; and under that marquee, looking rather gauche, was a boy. A young boy, a handsome boy, a teenage boy: a boy with brown hair and brown eyes and browning skin. His name was Stephen Verne, and why this was written as though unveiling a great universal truth would become clear if one bothers to read one of the author's other stories.

Stephen Verne, like nearly everybody else he knew, lived in London; but at his girlfriend's request (and with his mother's permission) he had come down to Surrey for no other purpose than to stage an abduction.

Technically speaking, he had come as her date; that was the official excuse anyway. But he knew as well as she that he was only there to 'rescue' her, though from what and for what purpose she had never made clear. This very probably explains why his hands were shaking; as he told the waiter handling the champagne flutes, "It's not the wedding or the formality or indeed the very concept of eternal commitment that's making me nervous, it's the kidnapping. I have no unreasonable phobia of commitment whatsoever: really! No, really."

The waiter— in his early twenties, very probably a student— nodded and moved dismissively on, leaving Steve alone to drink his champagne with trembling hands.

A blue dress, he thought wildly, clutching hold of the thought for dear life. She's wearing a blue dress… Blue…

Everybody was looking at him, and how he wished that was an exaggeration! For even though Stephen Verne would be the first to admit that he enjoyed being the centre of attention, he knew that the only reason these eyes were on him was because his jeans were creased and his Nikes were scuffed and his hair was windblown and his belt was cheap and his glass was nearly finished and he needed more and why would anybody put a chair right where perfectly sober persons such as himself would trip over it…?

A blue dress, he thought savagely, hoisting himself up and ignoring the scattered mutterings. Blue dress. White flowers in her hair. Or not, possibly. Right.

And off he went in search of his girlfriend.

It was at the drinks table – where, truth be told, he had taken to lingering – that he encountered a likely-looking bridesmaid; a young, slender, blue-dressed brunette who was talking to a giggly redhead with white flowers in her copper-coloured hair. The redhead, he was pleased to recall, was Angie's cousin, Georgie Leigh; therefore, the girl she was talking to must be—

"Thank God I found you," he said, burying his head in her shoulder and clutching desperately at her waist. He paused, raised his head, and sniffed curiously at her hair. She had apparently changed her shampoo, and for the better, in his opinion.

"You smell divine," he commented, ignoring the way the girl was stiffening in his arms; "I could eat your hair."

Across from them, Georgiana's eyes widened in horror.

"Steve—" she began, but he ignored her; that branch of Angie's family had always been prudish.

"Is this the part where I sling you across my shoulder and make passionate love to you in a barn somewhere?" he queried, nipping at her neck as his fingers spread across her smooth belly.

Suddenly the girl was struggling, slapping his fingers and pulling furiously at his wrists.

"Get off me!" shrieked a voice that certainly wasn't Angie's. "What do you think you're doing? Who do you think you are?"

Startled, his grip slackened; only slightly, but it was enough for the girl to pull herself out of his arms and spin to face him, her glass tumbling out of her hands. Steve caught a glimpse of blue eyes, wide with outrage, before a crash, a tinkling of glass, caused his gaze to dart towards their feet.

In keeping with dramatic narrative, time slowed to a standstill; and then, with no warning, the girl began to scream.

"Oh my god— look what you've done!" Steve raised his eyes just in time to see her gesturing helplessly at the rapidly-spreading stain on her dress; of course, she just had to be drinking red wine…

"Oh god I'm sorry, I—"

"Have you any idea how much this dress costs?" She paused, taking in his scuffed Nikes, and he could almost hear her thinking, Who would wear jeans at a wedding? Steve shifted nervously, his hands seeking refuge in his pockets.

"I—" he tried again, but she waved him away.

"No, I suppose you don't," she said with a slow, cruel smile even as she turned away with a dismissive gesture.

Steve was stunned; he stood, rooted to the spot, watching the girl edge away through the more than attentive guests, Georgiana— a name which told you everything you needed to know about her parents— scurrying after her, calling her name. The girl's name wasn't weird as such, but like Georgie's, it wasn't that common either…

"I'm sorry!" he tried again, but he was shy, self-conscious, and his apology, quiet, went unheard.

Slender fingers tapped his shoulder, danced up his neck, flitted against his cheek before dropping down again as Angie's other hand wrapped around his waist.

"You came!" she exclaimed happily. "Thank god you're here! It's been dire, nobody will talk to me." And she buried her face into his neck, hugging him tightly from behind much like Steve had embraced the mystery brunette.

"Is everybody here like that?" he asked, awkwardly hugging her back— or trying to, in any case. After some considerable debate, he settled for placing his hands over hers.

"Like what?"

"Like that girl— for god's sake Ange, can you come round to the front?"

She laughed and pulled away, but demanded he turn to face her instead. Steve obliged.

Unlike the girl's, who had dressed her hair into a semi-casual but ultimately restraining French twist, Angela's was curled, loose, and flowed free; the only restriction – if it could be called that – were the flowers that all the bridesmaids were apparently compelled to wear, a discreet diadem of roses. They suited her, their paleness merely deepening the silky ebony of her hair.

Steve couldn't help it; he moved to kiss her.

"You look beautiful," he told her, leaning closer.

"Do I?" she queried, turning her face towards his and accidentally colliding with his nose. "Thank you; so do you."

"No I don't," Steve snorted, "I look like I always do."

"Exactly," Angie said, taking his hand and rubbing it affectionately.

"Slick," Steve complimented, adding mischievously, "Now do I carry you away and ravish you thoroughly?"

Angie's reddened lips pursed in thought.

"You can carry me away," she said at last. "We'll see about the ravishing."

"Suits me," Steve shrugged, and scooped her up without another word. Angie's ensuing shrieks of laughter drew double the attention than that given to the incident with the glass and the girl, but now that she was in his arms, Steve found that he no longer cared.

·&·

The sex, as always, was awful.

Actually, that was being unfair; the sex wasn't the problem, it was Steve.

…Nope, that wasn't what she meant either. Oh dear.

The sex itself was (she supposed)… adequate. Though Steve couldn't name all of her erogenous zones, he had become adept at finding them. There were the obvious ones – the neck and the nipples and the inner thighs and the ears and the patch of hypersensitive skin just below her lobe (and let's not forget the vulva) – and then there were the less obvious ones, like the backs of her knees and the insides of her elbows and the dips between her toes and the arch of her back… Wherever they were, whatever they were, Steve could find them. It had been he who had actually unearthed the last three.

So, mechanically speaking, everything worked; so it wasn't the sex, as such…

So what about Steve? Could it be Steve?

But it shouldn't be Steve, it couldn't be Steve: Stephen Verne was a tall, handsome, and above all nice boy; his skin was tan, his hair dark, his nose straight, his eyes brown, beautiful; the only flaw she could find in his face was that his eyebrows were perhaps a little thick, but that was acceptable in a man. And besides, they possessed a natural curve that gave him an appearance of neatness, of orderliness. (Damn him and his perfect face.) His shoulders were broad, his stomach flat, his arms and legs muscled; a swimmer's build, even though he played rugby. He was traditionally handsome, aesthetically handsome, every other kind of handsome there was, and then some.

The point was, he wasn't unattractive.

But there was more to Steve than brown eyes, dark hair and a toned arse; easy as it was to forget, he had a personality as well. By all accounts, it should have been an arrogant one, and of course it was; he knew he was handsome, that girls found him attractive, that he possessed a muscle tone that other boys did not. But he also knew, probably from experience, that vanity (however justified it may be) was off-putting, and had curbed his conceit to mere confidence, making him not only bearable, but likeable too.

So; Angie had started dating him because he was nice to look at and pleasant company. Nothing wrong with that; most relationships were built on such foundations, she was sure. And before they'd started dating, they'd been friends; so they already knew that they had some things in common, something resembling a history (platonic though it was), an emotional connection; they got on, they had fun, they did and felt everything a normal couple did and feel…

So why didn't she like the sex? Angie was more than convinced that she was the one with the problem, that she was the problem.

Steve, on the other hand, was enjoying himself immensely, and had apparently been doing so for the last five or so minutes he'd been thrusting in and out of her.

Angie's eyes, which as always were screwed shut during these encounters, opened the tiniest fraction. Steve's face was inches from hers, his cheeks reddened, his eyes opened but glazed, unfocused. She resisted the urge to groan, thought better of it, and was partly amused to hear his corresponding grunt. She bit her lip and sighed, gritting her teeth as he sped faster.

Come on Steve, she encouraged silently. Just hurry up and come. Let's get this over and done with. Please Steve? Please?

"Please, Steve…" she whispered, her tone deliberately ambivalent; a hand strayed down his back to massage a buttock, and the combination— of both her voice and her touch— spurred him onwards with a strangled cry.

Angie grimaced, both inwardly and outwardly. There was one thing— one trick, a shortcut of sorts— one final cheat, one underhand feat: a last resort.

Swallowing, she tightened her grip on his flesh— inadvertently pushing him deeper inside with a sound best transcribed as "Ah!"— and screwed her eyes tighter still, mentally preparing herself for what she was about to do.

Steve's body, moving so fluidly, so rhythmically, stopped, jerked, shuddered as Angie's finger plunged inside. He froze above her, breath caught, lips parted, muscles quivering as he fought to maintain his balance, to resist collapsing atop her.

"Christ, Angie," he said, once his muscles had stopped spasming and he had regained some control over his facilities. He paused, hesitant, unsure: the assured public confidence was more than matched by a private shyness that served to endear him to her without endearing him to her, no matter how hard she willed it. The following stuttering was one such moments: "What, er… How'd you… you know… when to— and how— do that?"

Angie looked up at him with what she hoped were heavy-lidded, just-came eyes, her breathing exaggerated and erratic. Her face was hot, as much from the summer heat as the embarrassment of the ordeal, but she hoped her glow would be mistaken for sated pleasure; and her hair, though naturally straight, had been curled for the wedding, and to the untrained eye (and Steve's eyes, by dint of being both male and heterosexual, were untrained to the point of embarrassment) could very easily be deemed dishevelled.

"I don't know," she said in a dreamlike voice. "The same way you know how to do… other stuff, I guess."

A slow, lazy grin tugged at his lips as he leant down, his nose brushing hers.

Angie may not have liked the sex, but she loved the affection; she tilted her head and wriggled, laughing at the way Steve traced the curve of her cheek with just the tip of his nose. It was like being investigated by a puppy.

Steve chuckled too, one hand idling with her hair.

"You know," she reminded him with the cold pragmatism of the emotionally detached, "you have to get out before you, ah… soften."

"True," Steve acknowledged, and his other hand reached down to grasp the base of his cock, trapping the edge of the condom between thumb and forefinger with practised ease. He withdrew in much the manner he had entered; slowly, carefully, his eyes unwaveringly on hers.

Angie closed her own and stretched with a little moue of feigned disappointment; but the moment he had left the bed her legs sprung together, knees pulled into her chest as she hugged herself tightly, and though his back may have been turned, she couldn't but also turn away, her eyes screwed shut but her ears wide open. Dimly, she heard the noises she had come to associate with the post-coital state; the embarrassing, elastic snap (if it could be called that) as the condom was pried off of his prick, the gentle rustle of tissues, the more insistent rustle of the wastepaper basket's plastic lining as the Durex was disposed. (What, she wondered, would the maid make of that?) Then the mattress dipped as Steve laid back down, his hand brushing over the curve of her waist.

"Hey," he whispered, so softly she could barely hear him over the beat of her heart and rhythm of her breath, "You alright?"

She was fine, of course; and how was he?

"How do you think?" he purred, a finger curling her hair.

"I really hate it when you're smug," she said, allowing him to move closer, an arm slung casually about her waist; Angie, being a very affectionate creature, liked to snuggle. She considered it to be a consolation prize of sorts; a cuddle instead of a climax.

"Thank you," she said after a moment. "For coming down to Guildford for me. I don't think I'd get through the weekend without you."

The hotel at which the wedding was held had been all but booked up for the weekend by friends and relatives of the happy couple, a cousin of Angie's who was marrying a doctor from Surrey, hence the Guildford wedding. Angie had arrived on Friday with her parents, yawning through the rehearsal dinner, and Steve had arrived late on Saturday, the day of the wedding, for which he was very sorry and had (so he believed) just made up for. Despite being made a bridesmaid, Angie didn't know her cousin very well at all; she had come from her mother's very middle class and decidedly snobbish side of the family, as Steve's reception by the guests indicated. (But really, who would wear jeans to a wedding?) But none of that anymore; Steve was here, Steve would find a way to entertain her, and for that she was glad, so glad.

"Hey," he said, his breath further disturbing her hair, "what do you say we go out tonight, look round, see what Guildford has to offer in terms of night-time entertainment, eh? For both of us," he added with a twinge of guilt as the entrance to a strip club he had casually passed rose unbidden in his mind's eye.

"It won't compare to London," said Angie with a yawn, hoping desperately that Steve would be lulled to sleep by association, thus allowing her the chance to slip into the shower and scrub furiously, as she always did after sleeping with him. It wasn't that she felt dirty, as such; she just didn't feel… right, in the same way the sex, for its emotional, physical and mechanical perfection, didn't seem right, didn't seem… natural. (Maybe that was the problem; maybe everything was too perfect; but was there such a thing as over-perfect sex? There had been no mention of it in any of her magazines.)

"I know," said Steve, "but I was thinking…" And he told her about a poster he had saw when he had stepped off of the train that morning, and how it had reminded him of her, and that he was more than willing to pay for her, of course, and they could always leave if she got bored, naturally…

"It'll be fun," he concluded, a blunt nail tracing the curve of her arm.

"I don't know…"

"You don't have to make a decision now," he assured her. "Maybe we should sleep on it, eh? I mean, it's only what, quarter past two?"

"We should," Angie agreed, hugging the pillow tighter. "We should. G'night then. Or afternoon. Whatever."

Twenty minutes later, when she was certain he was asleep, Angie slipped out of the bed and stole gratefully into the shower. Not for the first time, she was crying.