Title: Hope Springs Eternal
By: angstytimelord
Pairing: Michael Cutter/Ryan O'Halloran
Fandom: Law & Order/Law & Order: SVU
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: This is entirely a product of my own imagination, and I make no profit from it. I do not own the lovely Michael Cutter or Ryan O'Halloran, just borrowing them for a while. Please do not sue.

***

Mike walked up the steps that led to Ryan's brownstone, taking a deep breath as he raised a hand to knock on the door. He still felt shy about going to the other man's apartment, even though they could safely see each other publicly now.

It had been a week since the outcome of the trial, and Mike was sure that there weren't going to be any last-minute nasty surprises in store for them. Ryan still hadn't gone back to work, but he was glad of it; Ryan needed some time to recuperate.

No one seemed to understand how much he'd been through; even the people at the forensics lab seemed to be much more concerned with those two clowns who called themselves cops than with the fact that Ryan had nearly died -- not once, but twice.

Mike shuddered at the thought; he didn't want to focus on the idea that Ryan could have easily bled out there on the floor of the lab, with no one caring that he was still alive. He couldn't think of that without wanting to bring charges against Benson.

Ah well, it was over now, and when Ryan went back to work, he would be at another lab and wouldn't have to deal with those two bozos who had nearly cost him his life. Mike would be able to breathe easier with the knowledge that they couldn't put him in danger any longer.

Now that the trial was behind them and the case was firmly closed, he and Ryan could see each other openly, with no fear of reprisals. It had been made more than clear that they weren't personally involved during the trial; no one could doubt that at this point.

It felt odd to be coming here for a date, after he'd been so careful to make sure that everyone involved in the case knew that he'd only been at Ryan's apartment before to discuss his testimony in court. It was as though a weight had been lifted from his chest.

He hadn't exactly felt uncomfortable the two times he'd been here before, but he hadn't felt as though he could express himself freely, either. He was sure that Ryan had felt the same; it was hard to hold back the feelings that were developing so rapidly between them.

But they didn't have to hold those feelings back any more. Mike smiled as he raised a hand and knocked on the door, before noticing belatedly that there was a doorbell. Why hadn't he noticed that before? He felt silly for standing here knocking now.

Ryan must have been near the door; it was opened within a few seconds. He stepped back to let Mike walk inside, closing and locking the door firmly behind the older man as though he intended to keep the rest of the world at bay for the evening.

Mike was startled to feel Ryan's hands helping him off with his coat; he'd never met a man before who would actually do that. But there were a lot of things that he didn't know about Ryan yet -- things that he hoped to discover over the course of time.

Before he could turn around, the younger man's arm was sliding around his waist, his breath warm in Mike's ear. "I thought you'd never get here," he murmured, his tone soft and husky. He was obviously eager for the night to progress, just as Mike was.

"I thought this day would never get here," Mike answered, careful not to betray just how much he'd been looking forward to this evening. "I've been thinking about you all day. I hope that doesn't scare you or make you want to back off."

"Scare me?" Ryan laughed, shaking his head. "It'd take a lot more than that to scare me away from you, Mike. Do you have any idea how much I've been looking forward to finally seeing you when we don't have to pretend we're not attracted to each other?"

"Only as long as I have!" Mike told him with a laugh, turning his head to find that Ryan's face was disconcertingly close to his. It took all of his willpower not to lean towards the young man and brush a kiss across his cheek -- or his lips.

But Ryan seemed to have no such intention of exerting any kind of willpower. He turned slightly to face Mike, pulling the other man close and leaning in for a kiss -- a move that took Mike completely by surprise, but that certainly wasn't unwelcome.

The breath seemed to rush from his lungs as the kiss became deeper; without Mike realizing it, one hand moved to the back of Ryan's head, his long fingers threading through the other man's dark hair as their tongues danced and feinted.

It took a few moments for the two of them to pull away from each other; when they did, their eyes were glazed, each man's breath coming fast. All Mike wanted to do was to continue that kiss, to have it lead into another, and yet another, until they took his breath away.

"I didn't know you could kiss like that," Ryan whispered, his words almost a gasp. "If I had, I would have kissed you a lot sooner. To hell with the trial, or what anybody else might have thought. It's a good thing we waited, or we could have gotten into big trouble."

"Not exactly trouble," Mike corrected him with a slight smile. "But we could have inadvertently ended up helping an attempted murderer to be put back on the streets -- and I can guarantee that you'd be the first person that psycho went after."

Ryan shuddered, a look of distaste crossing his features. "Yeah, I know. That's the only thing that kept me away from you ever since we first met. The last thing I wanted to do was risk having him back out in society again to endanger other people."

"I was more worried about him endangering you, especially after your testimony," Mike said softly, his gaze locking with Ryan's. "You were pretty eloquent on the stand, Ry. If he had been freed on some technicality, I don't doubt he would have come after you."

"I know." Ryan nodded, then smiled and waved a hand in the air. "Let's not talk about him any more. He's behind bars, where he belongs, and the two of us have our lives to get on with. In a way, we kind of owe him one, you know? I hate to say that, but it's true."

"We do?" Mike was a little taken aback by Ryan's words; he wouldn't have expected the other man to say something like that. "What do we owe him for? Nearly killing you? Coming close to taking away the best thing that's ever happened to me?"

Even as he said the words, he realized that he might be revealing too much of his feelings. The words surprised him, to some extent; he'd known that he had strong emotions concerning Ryan, but even he hadn't thought that his feelings went this deep this quickly.

Surprise flickered in Ryan's expression for a moment, before he shook his head and smiled again. "No, we owe him for bringing us together," he murmured, his arms tightening around Mike's waist. "If all this hadn't happened, there's a good chance that you and I would never have met."

"That's true," Mike conceded, returning Ryan's smile. "Funny how we can have jobs that are so closely tied together -- and yet we never met the entire time you were working in that particular forensics lab. I hope we'll have better luck with the one you're going to now."

"I think we will," Ryan said, tilting his head to the side as he spoke, his eyes sparkling. "It's only two blocks away from your office. So I'll be able to see you for lunch, or just drop by if we both have some free time -- or you could make up an excuse to come there."

"If I'm not too busy some days, I'll probably do that." Mike couldn't help smiling at the thought. It would be nice to relieve the never-ending cycle of work by being able to take a break and slip over to the forensics lab to see Ryan. It might even help with some of his cases.

"And I'll be seeing you at night, too," Ryan murmured, leaning in to brush his lips across Mike's again. "Every night, I hope. At least, the nights when neither one of us is working late. And I'll even wait for you then. Hope springs eternal, y'know."

Mike laughed at that, nodding in agreement and pulling Ryan closer against him. He returned the other man's kiss with fervor, any hesitation that might still remain melting away. This was going to be the start of a long and happy relationship, and he couldn't wait for it to begin.

***