"It's 3 o' clock in the morning, and I'm alone naked in bed. What's wrong with this picture?" Ben asked himself as he looked over at the clock for the fifth time in about thirty seconds. Michael was out with Brian (again) but what could he say? Really, he'd told him to go; Michael had offered to stay. He'd told him that he needed to catch up on some of his paper work. And even though it was true, he'd finished it about half an hour after Michael and Brian had departed. He had cleaned up a little; he had rearranged the CD's (again). He had even started editing the next issue of "Rage." So why was this bothering him so much? Why now? What was it about tonight that made it different from any other time they had gone out together, with Ben's blessing and approval? And more importantly, why was he driving himself crazy asking himself these questions?
He liked Brian; he appreciated his place in Michael's life. He didn't ever want to come between them in that way. He understood that when push came to shove, it would be Brian that Michael turned to when things got bad. Michael had been out with Brian before without Ben. He was glad Michael had someone he could turn to, someone who could make him laugh, and someone he could get lost in for a little while. So what the fuck was wrong? Why was he suddenly questioning his place in Michael's heart? Why was Michael's being out with Brian tonight so bothersome to him?
Michael had never given Ben any real cause to question his feelings for him. He knew Michael loved him. He saw it in the way Michael looked at him, the translucent way Michael's eyes lit up when he entered a room and found Ben there. He had felt it in the passionate way Michael kissed him, the way Michael's body seemed to melt into his, the way Michael allowed Ben to mold his body around him at night, and the way Michael offered his body to him without any hint of hesitation, or fear. Ben had never felt so completely loved before, at times it frightened him because it was so vast, so all consuming. It was like a rose blossoming - delicate, full of fragrance, marvelous to behold, and yet only a momentary thing, because as soon as the rose has completed blossoming it begins its journey towards death. Yet there was a strength to Michael's love for him that was like the breaking waves of the ocean pounding against the stubborn rocks of the shore; in the end, the ocean would beat back those rocks. Utterly powerful in its beauty, yet deceiving because of its grace, and taken for granted because of its consistency.
He'd thought about the two of them together every now and then, not usually in a sexual way. Although tonight that image had floated into his mind like the first fall of snow in winter - full of anticipation, and dread. He could see and feel the sexual tension between Brian and Michael; it was a palpable entity in the relationship, one that went greatly ignored, by not only Brian and Michael but by the rest of the world, it would seem. And although it was ignored for the most part, it did manifest itself in different ways. There were times when Ben caught Brian staring at Michael, his eyes glossy, not with drugs but a mixture of intense love, lust and longing. There was the constant need for Brian to have some sort of physical connection with Michael, and the way he said "Mikey" sometimes was the equivalent of calling him baby, or lover.
And then there was the kissing thing. He'd kissed other men before, men he considered friends. This included Ted, Emmett and Vic now. And yet there was nothing even closely resembling the way Brian and Michael kissed, in his emotional vocabulary. It was friendly, loving, passionate, lustful, regretful, longing, angst-filled, sensuous, and seductive. It had elements to it that transcended the boundaries they had set for the relationship. Hell! It had elements in it that transcended the boundaries of any relationship Ben had ever seen or been involved in. It didn't bother him, so much as, at times, he found himself a bit jealous of it. But then what human wouldn't be a bit jealous of something so personal being displayed as if it meant nothing, when in fact it meant the world to both of them. To some degree, while it was taken for granted, it was also needed as much as breath filling lungs.
The way Michael kissed him was different and yet just as large in its scope. When Michael kissed him, there was an obliteration of time and space. The world didn't just melt away; it exploded into tiny pinpoints of stardust. Magic was no longer a fanciful concept, but a tangible reality, touched and lingered on for the texture of the fabric. It wasn't just sensation, which was a slow methodical heating of every molecule of his body, but it was sound and taste as well, transforming the physical into the ethereal. There was the distinct fragrance of adoration in the air, which lingered over them, and slowly passed through them, like the scent of magnolia mixed with jasmine in summer. It was inexplicable in its complexity, and yet somehow basic in its simplicity. Ben found himself somehow lifted when Michael kissed him - lifted to a place where there was no HIV, no death, no fear, and no loss of any kind - where forever wasn't a promise but a guarantee. It was the closest he's ever come to seeing the face of God, of hearing his voice, and feeling his undying love. When Michael kissed him, Ben understood the concept of unconditional love. It wasn't just an idea but a force of nature, with tides to be traversed.
He couldn't blame Brian for his need to touch those soft and succulent lips. He couldn't blame Brian for the need to be taken to a place that spoke of heaven, and ambrosia. Hell. He was a little jealous of the fact that Brian had nearly twenty years on him in this regard. He was also a bit angry with Brian for being unable or unwilling to give Michael everything he deserved. Brian had forever to offer Michael and wouldn't, while Ben would give anything to be able to offer Michael forever and couldn't.
He closed his eyes as a tear rolled down the side of his cheek over the pain of that acknowledgment. It was a devastating thing to know his love for Michael had to surpass his physical limitations. For them there wasn't the luxury of taking time for granted, for them there was the bastardized growth of intimacy that Brian, if he chose to, could give in great abundance - if he weren't so fucking chicken shit. Yet there was the larger part of him that was so grateful that Brian was as big of a chicken shit as he was, simply because if he weren't, Ben would never have had this time with Michael.
Ben rolled over on his side, wiping the tears away as he did so. Being angry with Brian didn't change anything. All it did was make him focus on the things in his life he couldn't change. When he'd first been diagnosed, he had gone through all of the "why me" shit. The first two years had been the hardest. He had blamed everyone and everything; he had denied it for a time, until there was no getting around it. It had been a constant battle he had fought with himself in those awful early years. He had always been angry; his work and personal life had suffered for it. It was something he thought he had put behind him, because he had learned to live in the now, to focus on what was right in front of him. To let go of all that was behind him. To see the moment and hold on to it with both hands, before letting it go, because all moments pass.
He had come to accept that he had to let things go. Being angry with Brian, being jealous of the time he spent with Michael, only served to bring back the rage he had over his life being aborted. Being jealous of the time they spent together only served as a reminder that it was Brian who was going to grow old with Michael in one form or another, and not him - and he wanted it to be him more than he wanted his next breath. He didn't want to be that person, and yet part of him was screaming. Michael had changed so many things in his life. Because of Michael, the future, which for him had been set in stone, was now, to a certain degree fluid again, and this scared him.
Brian being in the picture only served to open old wounds he thought had healed over. Not to mention the fact that Brian plays on Michael's feelings for him to a certain degree. Brian likes the fact that he has a certain hold over Michael, while at the same time trying to downplay the enormous amount of power Michael wields over him. And he can downplay it because either Michael doesn't know the extent of his power, or he doesn't give in to the impulse to use it against Brian.
Ben heard the key in the lock and looked at the clock for the last time. It was 3:30. He heard as Michael tried not to make a sound as he entered the bedroom. When he heard Michael start to shed his clothes, Ben turned over letting his lover know he was awake.
"Hey baby, how was your night?"
"It was fun, but I missed you."
"Then get your ass over here."
"I never get tired of hearing that."
Michael finished undressing and slid into bed beside his lover who reached for him. Ben pulled the smaller man on top of him and kissed him softly at first before deepening the kiss. In this moment, there was no Brian; the time during which they had been separated was gone, and his momentary bout with insecurity had vanished. He felt Michael's body quickly start the process of surrendering to his needs, and passion. Ben could feel and taste the cool autumn wind on Michael's lips and it sent a shiver down his spine. He could also smell and feel its damp crispness in Michael's hair as he laced his fingers through it.
His hands reached the back of Michael's head where he grabbed two hands full of hair and pulled so that Michael's head went back and exposed the delicate skin of his neck. Once exposed Ben devoured the creamy softness he found there. He heard Michael moan a breathless "I love you." Ben's whole body was on fire - he wanted more - his movements, demanded more, and Michael gave.
After they came together, Michael was lying silently at his side with his head resting on his lover's chest. Ben took a deep breath in and closed his eyes. He might never fully understand the bond between Brian and Michael, but while he would never be able to touch what they had, and rightfully so, Brian would never be able to touch what he had with Michael. It wasn't just about the love they shared; it was about an understanding. Something so deep and timeless it had no name, and so ancient it had no form, it just was.
Things in this life happen for a reason - to teach us lessons; Ben was a firm believer in that. Meeting Paul had taught Ben how to live in the moment. It had been a harsh lesson to learn, but one he had needed, apparently. He'd met Brian to teach him the kind of man he didn't want to end up with - not that Brian was a bad person, just not the kind of person you want to spend the rest of your life with. And he'd met Michael to teach him what unconditional love really was.
It wasn't that unconditional love didn't ask anything of you; it just didn't demand. Nor did it give ultimatums or make hollow threats. It was a safe harbor in the storm - the place to where you always knew you could run and hide from the world, when the world showed you its various ugly faces. It was the cooling balm when life tore at you with its ragged teeth, taking out bits and pieces of your already tender flesh. Michael was flawed like all men, but unlike all men, his heart was perfect in its capacity to love - in the infinite room it had for all those he loved. Brian, although threatening, was no real threat.
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