Ben opened the door to a completely dark apartment. Sighing deeply, he closed the door and walked through to the bedroom before turning on a light. Seeing the bed still made and feeling the utter stillness of the apartment, Ben sat down and resting his elbows on his knees, cradled his head in his hands.
He sat like that for what seemed like hours but was in reality only mere minutes. Finally he lay down and resting his forearm across his eyes thought back to the events of the evening.
It had started out wonderful.
Michael had surprised him at work with a picnic basket filled with his favorite foods, which Michael staunchly defended his ability to cook.
Laying a cloth on the floor, Michael proceeded to take out each item, opening each container and slowly feeding Ben each delectable morsel. Ben sat back against the desk, fully enjoying being pampered.
"What's that?" Ben asked, pointing to a final foil wrapped container in the basket.
Michael's look of confusion should have given him away, but Ben was too busy watching Michael's hands. He loved Michael's hands. He knew the soft, gentleness of each caress belied the strength and power hidden to the naked eye.
Opening the container, both burst out laughing when it revealed the four lemon bars that Debbie had hidden in the basket. His secret was out!
Then, Michael got up and locked the door, and with a shy smile got down on all fours and slowly made his way over to Ben, his eyes taking on the look of a predator with each catlike move.
Ben was captivated! Never had Michael played this particular game, and he was more than willing to follow Michael's lead, secretly loving it when Michael took control.
Ben willed himself to stay still, as Michael inched his way up his body. He was getting aroused with just the look in Michael's eyes.
Michael took his time, enjoying the look of desire growing in Ben's eyes, purposely stopping upon reaching Ben's hips, casting a slow look at his obvious arousal. The smile on Michael's face grew more seductive and Ben started to squirm, trying to ease the tightness of his jeans.
Then, once again, Michael moved towards his objective...Ben's mouth. As much as making love with Ben was mind blowing, it was his kisses that Michael craved the most. He stopped within a fraction of an inch from Ben's lips, and as Ben made to close the gap, Michael teasingly moved and gave Ben some Eskimo kisses.
Michael sat down on Ben's hips and pinned his hands to his sides, so Ben was unable to make any move. Michael was in control, not that Ben couldn't flip Michael over, but he knew from experience that when Michael wanted to, he was powerful enough to counteract any of Ben's moves. The first time Michael had actually fought Ben for control, Ben was floored! Literally! Totally caught off guard, Ben had discovered just how strong Michael was, his lithe form belying the utter strength of those compact muscles.
Slowly, Michael closed the gap and tenderly took Ben's lips in a soft, seductive kiss. The gentleness of it was almost Ben's undoing. Sighing deeply, he tried to deepen the kiss, but Michael had other plans. Pulling slightly away, Michael's tongue snaked out and tenderly traced Ben's lips before moving onto his chin. Planting small kisses along his jawline, Michael took his time, making his way slowly down Ben's neck to the opening of his shirt. So caught up in the emotions Michael was creating, Ben hadn't realized that Michael's hands had released him until he felt the unbuttoning of his shirt. Michael slowly made his way down, his hands splayed across Ben's chest, kneading the muscles as he tenderly bit Ben's collar bone.
Ben's breathing became labored as he tried unsuccessfully to keep his body still. Michael's mouth worked it's way down Ben's chest, tenderly licking a nipple then gently blowing across it, making it peak and taut. Then, framing Ben's face in his hands and bringing his lips back to Ben's, Michael captured him in a searing kiss.
Looking deep into his eyes, Ben knew Michael was finished toying with him. Grabbing a container that he had hidden to the side, Michael opened it and bringing out packets of condoms and lube...he smiled.
Hours later found them at Babylon, standing at the bar, quenching the thirst they had worked up not only on the dance floor but also from Ben's office floor! Both stole sly glances at each other while Emmett regaled them with tales of his latest catering job.
Ted stood quietly by, not really sure if he was welcome to join in the fun. He hadn't been out of rehab all that long and he still felt vulnerable and totally unsure of his relationship with Emmett. Michael had welcomed him, but he was the only one. He really didn't care all that much for the others' willingness to forgive him, it was Emmett that he cared about, Emmett that he hurt so badly. Maybe if he could just forgive himself, Emmett might take him back as a friend. Baby steps...that's what he had learned...baby steps, one small step at a time. He made sure he was never far from Emmett's or Michael's side while at Babylon, he knew the pull of the drugs but he needed...no, craved the closeness of those he loved.
The burst of laughter from Michael and Ben brought Ted's attention back to the present. Emmett looked over at Ted and seeing the small smile, knew that Ted's attention had wandered, his thoughts going inward. Emmett wanted to fully forgive Ted, but the wound was still raw. It was going to take a lot of time to even get back to the friendship they had so enjoyed. Emmett smiled softly back at Ted and then his eyes caught at the Adonis walking towards them.
All eyes turned towards the striking stranger, but he had eyes only for Ben! Michael unconsciously leaned deeper into Ben's side, bringing an arm around his waist. He smelled trouble.
"You're Ben Bruckner aren't you?"
"Yes," Ben said suspiciously.
Putting out his hand, the stranger said, "Hi, I'm Jonathan Price. I saw you at the teachers conference last week, I've been meaning to stop by and introduce myself."
Recognition dawning, Ben smiled and taking Jonathan's hand said, "Oh yes! I remember, you're the new teacher in the Science Department."
"Yes." Jonathan's smile lit up his face and took everyone's breath away. He was stunning! And he knew it.
Michael squirmed into Ben's side, and barely succeeded in gaining Ben's attention.
"Oh! This is my boyfriend, Michael."
Jonathan's smiled slipped as he hesitated a second before putting his hand out to Michael.
"Nice to meet you, Michael."
"AH-HEM!!!" Emmett cleared his throat noisily.
"Oh! Sorry...this is Emmett and Ted." Ben said as he pointed to each in turn.
Emmett put his hand on Jonathan and stroking his arm said, "My how utterly tight! You must work out a lot!"
Jonathan's dazzling smile captivated Emmett, while Ted stood off to the side, his hopes and heart faltering.
Jonathan's attention turned back to Ben, his obvious prey for the evening. He was determined to obtain his objective in having Ben for his own. He approached the bar to order a drink, making sure he was on the other side of Ben, effectively making him turn away from Michael. Within moments, Ben and Jonathan were deep in discussion about the new Dean of Carnegie Mellon. Michael stood helplessly by, trying but unable to join in the conversation. Trying but unable to capture Ben's attention.
After awhile, he turned to Ted, who was watching Emmett on the dance floor, swaying to the music with another gorgeous man. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, Ted turned and looked into eyes filled with sorrow.
"I'm sorry Ted, I know how much you miss Emmett, but you know, maybe you shouldn't wait around for him."
"What do you mean? I should just forget the love we shared!"
"No...no. I...I know it isn't easy, but Emmett's out there having fun and getting on with his life...you deserve that too. It's time to start living again, Ted. If it's meant for you and Emmett to get back together, then you will. I hate watching your heart break over and over again, waiting for him."
"What would you know about it!" Ted asked angrily.
His voice almost a whisper, Michael said sadly, "I know. Believe me Ted, I know."
Looking into Michael's eyes glistening with tears, Ted sighed. If anyone could understand what Ted was feeling, was going through, it was Michael. He had to put his love for Brian behind and find someone who would give him the love that he deserved. Brian wasn't ready for that, and Michael had stopped waiting, had gone on with his life and found a wonderful man to love and who loved him. So, yes; Michael did understand.
Ted pulled Michael into a tight hug, and with tears filling his eyes, whispered, "You're right. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but you're right."
Michael just hugged him back, knowing words were unnecessary.
Pulling away, Michael caressed Ted's face, wiping the tears from his cheeks.
"I think I'm going to call it a night." Ted said as he kissed Michael's cheek. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"Ok...nite, Ted." Michael watched as Ted walked out the door, and turning around found Ben gone! Looking around he spotted Ben and Jonathan on the dance floor totally in sync with each other.
Michael stood in shock, tears filling his eyes, unwilling to accept that his boyfriend was dancing with someone else. He stood there, watching through four dances, waiting for Ben to return to him. When another song started, and they continued to dance, oblivious to the surrounding crowd, Michael's anger took over and having enough of being ignored, walked out.
After three more dances, thirst drove Ben and Jonathan back to the bar, Ben looked around, and not finding Michael, he called the bartender over.
"Hey Jake, do you know where Michael went?"
Giving a look of disgust at Jonathan, Jake said, "Why should you care?" Michael and Ben were Jake's favorite couple. He always secretly dreamed of finding a love like theirs.
"Jake...where is he?"
"He left over an hour ago. Guess he got tired of being the second fiddle...and being played for a fool!"
"Shit!" Ben hit his hand against the bar.
Jonathan caressed Ben's back seductively and making his move, kissed Ben's neck.
Jerking away, Ben yelled, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Come off it Ben, I want you and I know you want me too. So let's go someplace where we can be alone."
Jonathan's hands came up to caress Ben's chest, but were roughly pulled away. Shaking his head, Ben couldn't believe what he had done, how much he probably hurt Michael. Dropping Jonathan's hands, he turned to walk away.
"Where are you going?" Jonathan demanded as he grabbed Ben's arm.
Jerking out of the grasp, Ben said, with tears glistening in his eyes, "Home to the man I love...if he'll still have me."
And turning, he ran out of Babylon, silently sending up a prayer that Michael would forgive him.
But it wasn't to be. Ben had come home to a dark, empty apartment. Now, lying on the bed, Ben racked his brain, wondering where Michael could be? Brian was away on a shoot for his latest campaign, so he wouldn't have gone there, though Michael did still have a key to the loft. He probably was there. He surely wouldn't have gone to his mother's! She would be relentless in making Michael feel to blame and it wasn't his fault. Not that that ever stopped Debbie, she always blamed Michael, for reasons Ben could never understand.
He called out, "Damn it Michael, where are you?"
Exhaustion finally overtook him as he fell into a restless sleep.
Michael sat silently in the chair, watching Ben's body moving restlessly in sleep. He had been sitting in the dark since coming home hours ago. If Brian had been home, he probably would have gone to the loft, but without his best friend being there, the loft was a cold, sterile place.
Michael had watched as Ben walked into the apartment, and into the bedroom. He had an unobstructed view of the bed as Ben lay there, his arm covering his eyes. Michael had thought Ben had fallen asleep, he was still for so long; until he called out for Michael.
There was no way, Michael was going to let Ben know he was there. Let Ben worry, let him feel guilty...if he was capable of feeling guilt.
His mind couldn't help but remember when he had discovered David's deceitfulness in going to the baths. Michael had never wondered about Ben's faithfulness, he'd always trusted Ben. Maybe that was Michael's fault. Maybe he trusted too easily.
His eyes turned towards the windows as the first hints of pink were painted across the horizon. Hours had passed while he was deep in thought, the night falling away to the dawn.
His attention snapped back to the present upon hearing movement from the bedroom. Michael wiped tears from his cheeks that he had not realized that he shed, as he watched Ben stagger towards the bathroom.
He still hadn't moved by the time Ben had come out. Michael watched him walk towards the phone, pick it up and stare sightlessly at it. Sighing deeply, Ben put it back down, unable to think of anyone that Michael would have gone to, other than Brian.
"Michael...damn it where are you?" he whispered.
"Why do you even care?"
Ben jumped at the softly spoken words, and looked over at the chair in the corner. Michael was sitting there, calmly watching him. Well, maybe not calmly if the tracks of tears on his face were any indication.
"When did you get home? Why didn't you wake me?" Ben demanded.
Eyes closing to mere slits, Michael again, spoke softly, but with an edge of anger, "What right do you have to demand anything from me?"
Ben sighed as his body almost collapsed on the couch. Leaning forward, Ben buried his head in his hands, defeat evident in every muscle.
"No right," he whispered.
Then looking up, he asked, "When did you get home?"
"I've been here all night. I watched you come in."
Confusion evident in his eyes, Ben asked, "Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you let me know you were here?" "
I didn't feel like talking."
"Because if I did, I would have broken up with you. I would have thrown you out."
Michael shrugged his shoulders, and sighing deeply he said, "I don't know."
Standing, Ben walked over to the windows. "You don't know. That's great Mike...you dance with Brian all the time, but I dance with one person and you're ready to throw out everything we have."
Michael starred in disbelief at Ben's words. Anger filled his eyes and fueled his voice as he jumped up from the chair.
"How dare you compare me dancing with my best friend with you flirting with that home wrecker!"
"Home wrecker! Get serious Michael!"
"I am serious! Jonathan knew I was your boyfriend but he still flirted with you! Still commanded your attention, excluded me in every conversation! Then when I was comforting Ted, you took off to the dance floor with him, while I stood by looking like a pathetic fool!"
"The same way I look when you're dancing with Brian!"
"Don't bring Brian into this, it's totally different!"
"No it's not! How do you think I feel watching you and Brian dancing together? The way you move in sync, the way your foreheads touch in that special way."
"Brian's my best friend!"
"And I should be! You still love him!"
"Yes I do! I told you that! I'll always love him!"
Grabbing his shoulders, Michael pulled Ben close to him, as his voice shook with emotion..."But I'm IN love with you."
Dropping his hands, and leaving Ben standing at the window, Michael walked towards the door. Opening it, he turned and with tears choking him, managed to say, "The one thing we always had was trust. David destroyed my trust when he cheated on me in the baths. I never once mistrusted you. I never once thought I wasn't enough. Until last night."
With his shoulders slumped, Michael closed the door behind him.
Vic trod carefully into the back room. Michael had walked in there as soon as Vic arrived at the store and hadn't come out. That was three hours ago. The sadness in Michael's eyes, the utter exhaustion evident in his face, stilled Vic's tongue. He knew when to push and when to wait patiently, unlike his sister! Debbie would have attacked Michael the minute she saw his face and would have relentlessly continued the attack until Michael gave in. Tact was a foreign word to her.
But now the store was becoming too busy and Vic needed Michael out there.
"I'm sorry Michael, but there's just too many people out there and I can't answer all their questions. I really need you."
Michael looked up from the books he had been blankly staring at since entering the back room.
"Sure Uncle Vic. I'm sorry to have left you with everything."
As he walked past, Vic touched Michael's shoulder. "I'm here when you're ready."
Looking up into the understanding eyes of his uncle, Michael smiled, though his quivering lips belied any hint of happiness. Not trusting his voice, Michael just nodded his head, and went to work.
Hours passed as Michael threw himself into helping customers, thriving on the discussions of various comics, and thoroughly enjoying the games of his younger customers as they challenged his knowledge of comics, superheros and villains.
It wasn't until a woman customer commented on the beautiful arrangement that Michael noticed the flowers.
"What are those?" Michael asked.
"Oh, they arrived about three hours ago. You've been too busy to notice them." Vic said. "There's a card."
Picking up the large card, Michael opened it and walked behind the counter to read it.
It was from Ben. He knew instinctively that it was. The words written brought tears to his eyes, but still his heart ached. The tinkling of the bell over the door and the sudden stillness of the room alerted Michael to what he'd find when he turned around.
Ben. Standing in the middle of the store filled with customers. Most knew that Ben was Michael's boyfriend, and those that didn't, just knew that something was happening, so they stood still, watching how this was going to play out.
Michael just stared at Ben. His face becoming a mask, determined not to give an inch. He was the wronged one, he'd be damned if he'd end up apologizing to Ben!
"You're right." Ben whispered.
The agony in Ben's voice was almost Michael's undoing. Tears quickly filled his eyes, his throat closing up.
Walking slowly towards Michael, Ben continued to whisper, "I'm so sorry I hurt you. I never meant to. I never meant to lose your trust in me."
Pinned behind the counter, unable to escape to the back room as Vic blocked his exit, Michael turned his back to Ben.
Ben continued to slowly advance, speaking softly, but from the heart.
"I don't know how I can make this up to you. I would never consciously cheat on you, never consciously hurt you. I didn't even realize that I was doing that. When I finally realized Jonathan's intentions, I walked away. Actually, I ran! I ran home to the only home I've known in years."
Coming up behind Michael, Ben slowly put his arms around his shoulders, gently hugging Michael to him.
"When I thought you'd left me, I felt my heart break. I can't picture my life without you. You're the only reason I have for getting up in the morning, for fighting to live another day."
Tears streaming down, Ben buried his face in Michael's neck.
"Please forgive me. Please come home."
As tears silently fell, Michael's hands came up and hugged Ben to him, his head moving to rest on Ben's.
Turning around, Michael gently caressed Ben's face, and looking deep into Ben's eyes, he tenderly kissed him.
"I love you, Michael. I'm in love with you. And I'll spend what days and years I have left in reminding you.
You'll never want for knowing again. I promise you." And as he pulled Michael into a deep, heart filled kiss, a collective sigh filled the room, as the customers, quietly left the store to the reconciled lovers.
back to fiction index page