"You belong with me." Ben looked deep into Michael's brown eyes that shone with frustrated tears. Michael stood in front of him, searching Ben's face for the truth. Ben cupped his Michael's face in one hand, gently stroking his cheek with his thumb. They stood there together for a long moment silently as Michael decided whether or not this was the "real" Ben-gentle, loving, and caring, or the drug-warped stranger who had taken over his boyfriend's body for the past few weeks. Michael searched Ben's cool gray-blue eyes, praying that he would find the proper evidence of this man's true identity within their depths.
When Ben had first acted out his roid rage, Michael had noticed that there was a wall in front of Ben's eyes. It was as if Ben's eyes were mirrors. Michael had not been able to see any emotion at all breach the glassy shield of Ben's gaze, only his lingering doubts slamming against the shiny exterior of Ben's inexpressive eyes. Before the steroids, Michael could look up into Ben's eyes at any time and be reassured that he was deeply loved, without having to ask Ben to tell him so. Ben had never before withheld any emotion in his expression from Michael. Michael had become more stricken and hurt by Ben's glassy eyed, glazed over stare than any of Ben's angry steroid induced outbursts.
Now Michael sighed aloud in relief at the waves of remorse-tinged love that streamed from Ben's eyes like invisible tears. He had never felt as secure as when Ben looked deep into his soul with eyes so full of barely contained emotion that Michael would become weak in the knees, almost unable to fully process the fact that someone as wonderful as Ben could love him so much. Now Michael recognized the unmistakably warm, caring Ben who he had been missing so much.
But somewhere deep down inside, despite Ben's reassurances, Michael couldn't quite get over Ben trying to mask his own insecurities by blaming his angry words on the steroids. That night, two weeks ago, Michael had been able to glimpse past the mirror in Ben's eyes in the moment that Ben had said those awful words, and he had seen that it had been the real Ben who had uttered those words. Even now his mind replayed them: "I just think sometimes that it would be easier to be with someone who was positive." The glass had gone back up the moment those words had come from Ben's mouth, but tonight, the damage to Michael's heart was far from gone.
"What about 6:45 next Wednesday?" Michael had to make sure that Ben's love was not just for right now. Not just until the next health scare, or until the news of another friend's AIDS related death. "Wha-Yes, honey, I'll still love you then." Ben exhaled in relief. Looking into Michael's big brown eyes, he had realized that Michael was still thinking about Ben's hurtful, angry words, and he had waited patiently for Michael to break their silence.
"I'll love you every day--until--until the day I die," Ben whispered into Michael's mouth as he bent down to kiss his lover long and deep. Michael moaned and his knees weakened as Ben held him close in his strong arms. Ben felt wetness on his cheek, tasted salty tears without knowing for sure if they were his own, or Michael's, or both. With a groan at the separation, Ben released Michael. "Why don't you go get ready for the memorial service, baby?" Michael looked up into Ben's eyes that told him, "Yes, I do need you there with me. You do belong with me," and with a quick loving kiss, he went into their bedroom to get dressed.
Michael sighed as he and Ben entered their apartment. The memorial service for Paul had been an emotional experience for them both. Ben had gotten through it because of Michael's grounding presence and he was able to grieve openly for Paul, without becoming morbidly obsessed with his own mortality. Ben had even been able to take his turn eulogizing Paul without those feelings of bitterness toward the man who had infected him with HIV that occasionally crept upon the most secret un-Zen parts of his soul.
Ben looked over at Michael as they took off their coats. Ben loosened his tie before slowly taking off his suit jacket. Michael gently removed the coat and jacket from Ben's hand, offering to hang them up for Ben. "You must be so tired, Ben." Ben nodded in agreement and yawned as if on cue. They both laughed at Ben's yawning. Michael suddenly turned serious. "I'm glad you let me into your world tonight, Ben," he said softly, leaning up to brush Ben's lips with a soft kiss. When Michael began to pull away, Ben held him to his broad, hard chest tightly.
"It's not just my world anymore, Michael. It's our world now." Ben tilted Michael's face up. "From now on, you never have to ask me to share it with you-everything I have is yours, baby." Ben swallowed as Michael's eyes filled with happy tears. He knew he was the luckiest, most blessed man on earth to have the love of a man as sweet and wonderful as Michael. He felt like a fool for putting their relationship at risk like he had. His relationship with Michael was by far the best thing that he had ever experienced-a million times better than seeing Tibet. At that moment, Ben realized that with a little patience and time, he would have everything his heart had ever hoped for right here in Pittsburgh, in this apartment, with this man.
Ben kissed Michael's forehead, ready to lead them both into the bedroom. He was tired and he wanted to hold Michael close for a while in bed before he was too exhausted. Just then, the telephone rang in the kitchen. Michael motioned for Ben to go on to bed. "I'll tell them to call back tomorrow," Michael said as he picked up the phone. Ben sighed as he changed into his pj's. He had had a long, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding day. Once again, Ben had been blown away by the usually passive Michael (taking control and handling a crisis effectively.
Hearing what sounded like muffled shrieks coming from the kitchen, Ben went to see what the matter was. Michael stood in the middle of the kitchen, eyes wide. He was covering his mouth with one hand as he listened to whoever was on the other end of the line. "What is it?" Ben could see that Michael was happy about something.
"It's Mel and Linds--she's PREGNANT. I can't believe it, on the first try too," Michael laughed excitedly. Ben stood in front of Michael, rubbing Michael's shoulders as he talked on the phone. . Ben watched Michael practically preen into the phone. "Let me know when you find out the sex, okay! No, I'll be at home tomorrow. No, I want to tell my mom myself. Okay. See you tomorrow. Bye." Ben suddenly stepped close to Michael so that Michael's face was pressed into his chest. He wasn't sure if he wanted his lover to see his expression right then. "Congratulations, baby," Ben kissed the top of Michael's head, hugging him tight.
Ben really was happy for Michael. But that damned secret soul of his had not let go of all of his resentments toward his HIV status. Ben had never even thought about or wanted kids until he had discovered that he couldn't. He had meant what he had said about sharing their world-any joy Michael experienced truly made Ben happy. Ben knew he would get over how he was feeling eventually. He was definitely not going to selfishly ruin Michael's moment of happiness with useless regret.
Ben decided that it would be better for Michael if he just went out and celebrated with one of his friends tonight. It was a Friday night, and ten o'clock was still pretty early for a weekend night. Ben needed some time to be alone so he could wrestle with his internal thoughts without upsetting Michael.
"Baby, why don't you call Brian and go have a drink to celebrate?" Ben gently steered Michael back toward the phone. Ben could see the concern on Michael's face, and he hurried to reassure him. "It's okay, baby. I've had a long day. I wouldn't be very good company tonight."
"But Ben, I don't want to leave you here all alone after--after everything that's happened tonight," Michael protested, looking at Ben anxiously.
Ben took Michael's hands in his own larger ones. "Actually, it would make me feel a whole lot better to know that you got the chance to celebrate making a baby, Michael. I want you to remember how happy this made you tonight."
Michael thought for a moment. Ben smiled at the way Michael always scrunched up his nose when he was making a decision. "Okay," Michael finally decided. "But I'll be back in an hour."
Ben hugged Michael in relief. Ten minutes later, Ben smiled as a suddenly paternal Michael tucked him tightly into bed. Ben pulled Michael down to his face and kissed him goodbye, softly and tenderly. Only after he heard the faint click of Michael's key turning in the lock did Ben allow himself to cry for the children that he would never have.
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