Rated R for implied sexual situations between an adult and a minor.
Rated R for implied sexual situations between an adult and a minor.
There was a line to be drawn somewhere. Unfortunately, Michael had crossed that line about two blowjobs and a fuck ago, and the sight of Gus Peterson-Marcus curled up in his bed was like seeing his name signed on a death warrant.
"Oh my God," he said. "I'm going to die."
Gus stirred. Michael goggled for a second at the long, tan, naked leg slipping out from under the flannel sheets. He clutched his crumpled jeans to his chest; this was just like when Alex Summers slept with Jean Grey, except he and Brian were not brothers, and Gus wasn't Brian's boyfriend, and either way this was completely fucked up. There was that one time he had written Rage fucking Zephyr's boyfriend, Ken, but obvious parallels aside, this really wasn't the same thing.
By the time Gus's eyes fluttered open Michael was dressed and scrambling to get all of Gus's shit together.
"What time is it?" Gus asked, yawning. His hair was sticking straight up in a very Brianish manner.
"Time for you to go," Michael said shrilly. He shoved Gus's clothes into his arms.
The kid stood and, throwing him a sour look, dropped the sheets. Michael cringed and looked away, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Just bcause they had sex last night it didn't mean he was comfortable with Gus stripping right in front of him. Especially since as his head was beginning to clear it was dawning on him he'd probably completely, utterly ruined Gus's life. He was just as bad as any child molestor.
When he ushered Gus downstairs he caught sight of a long wool coat draped over a kitchen chair. A briefcase sat on the table. "Holy shit," he hissed. Gus looked at him calmly, like this was no big deal. In one swift motion Michael grabbed Gus's jacket, handed him his shoes, and started to push him towards the door.
"Hey!" Gus exclaimed. "You just can't--"
"I can and I am," he whispered angrily.
Gus clutched the doorframe. "When can I see you again?"
Michael slammed the door shut.
Hunter walked out of the kitchen, munching on a bagel. They should never have given him an extra key; Hunter, in some act of childhood regression, liked to come over on weekends and loudly watch tv until Mike woke up and yelled at him to shut up and go to work, and he had his own house and his own life partner and his own food, for Christ's sake. Early Saturday morning fights were routine by now. "Was that Gus?" he asked.
"Uh, no," Michael lied. "I was just getting the paper. W-Why would you think Gus would be here so early?"
"I dunno, I just thought I heard his voice," Hunter replied, shrugging.
"Well, it wasn't him, alright?"
Hunter's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Whatever, I was just--"
The door opened again, and Gus poked his head in. He looked very young and innocent then, with his wool cap and messy brown hair. Michael knew he was a very bad man. "Can I have some money for the bus, Uncle Mike?"
Michael buried his face in his hands, horrified. He heard Hunter snicker, and then a rustling of paper. "Here, kiddo," Hunter said, "don't spend it all at once."
"Wow," Gus drawled sarcastically, "ten whole dollars. Now I can afford that car I've been saving up for."
"Fucking teenagers," Hunter grumbled.
It wasn't until the door closed that Michael lowered his hands. Hunter just stood there with raised eyebrows. "It's not what you think," Michael said hastily. "Okay, well, it is what you think, but I have a really good excuse."
Hunter's brow furrowed. "Huh?"
"If you say anything to Ben, you're grounded," Michael shrieked.
Hunter just stared at him. "First off," he said, "I'm twenty-seven years old. You can't ground me anymore. Second, what is there to tell? You're acting like you fucked him or something." He said it jokingly, but Michael's stomach clenched. He must have had a horrible expression on his face, because Hunter sputtered, "Oh my God!"
"Shut up!" Michael yelled. "Shut up!"
"Isn't he, like, twelve?" Hunter asked.
"Fourteen," Michael said defensively. "But that's not the point. The point is that you never saw anything, and I'm never going to do it again."
"Is this what you do when Ben goes out of town?" Hunter demanded. He looked at Michael with disgust. "God, how could you do this to him? That's a real assholish thing to do. He's going to shit when he finds out."
"He's not going to find out," Michael snapped.
Hunter's head snapped up, his mouth dropping open. "So you're not going to tell him?"
"There's nothing to tell."
"There's fourteen years and one hundred pounds to tell, Mike." He goggled. "What about Brian?"
Brian would kill Michael and dump his body in the river. "Brian's better off not knowing."
Hunter's jaw worked, but he didn't say anything for a few beats. Then: "Let me get this straight." Michael was instantly reminded of his boy as a teenager. Such a little bastard. "You wouldn't let Brian fuck me when I was sixteen, but hey, it's cool if you do it to his son."
"Brian never wanted to fuck you," Michael sputtered.
"My huge cock begs to differ." He raised an eyebrow as if challenging Mike to argue.
"Okay, gross! And my fucking Gus was totally not planned. It sort of just... happened."
"'Oops, I slipped and fell on his dick' happened, or, 'Oops, I seem to have gotten him drunk and horny' happened?'
"What? Neither!" He paused. This really wasn't something he wanted to go in to. "I was in a really weird mood, alright?"
Hunter gave him a look. "Tell me you're not blaming this on PMS."
He glanced away, feeling his face grow hot. He couldn't look at Hunter anymore. "We were watching Dirty Dancing," he mumbled.
"What the shit does that mean?"
"And--" He stared down at his feet, clearing his throat. He was so fucked. "Gus really looks a lot like Brian."
"Oh. My. God. You fucked Gus while thinking of Brian and looking at Patrick Swayze." Mike looked back in time to see Hunter throw his hands in the air. "Well done, Michael. You're going to Hell. You're just going to Hell."
When Brian hit thirty-five he informed the group that Babylon was no longer available to them. After many long, loud arguments, they all came to the decision that Babylon was fine for Emmett and Justin, but not for Ted, Michael, Ben, or Brian, especially since Brian's stance was basically that everyone would look down on them for behaving like they were in their twenties, and if he wanted to fuck a kid he'd go to the orphanage, and, wow, that was ironic now. So instead they just stuck to Woodys, where, as Brian put it, they were allowed to be old without shame. Justin didn't hit the clubs as often as he had when all of them had gone together, although Em still spent a fair amount of time there. Times had changed, but they were all still best friends.
Until Michael ruined everything by fucking Brian's son, of course.
Michael was starting his first beer when Hunter showed. "What the fuck are you doing here?" Michael hissed, glancing around quickly to make sure none of their friends could overhear. "I thought you and Francois had your fancy schmancy bar. Get the hell out!"
Hunter leaned against the bar, smiling innocently. "I just thought I'd recall the glorious days of yester-year, Pop."
Michael's throat tightened. "You're going to try to tell Brian!"
Hunter smirked, but then Brian was there, passing Michael with a pat on the shoulder. "Tell me what?" he asked casually.
"Nothing," Michael muttered.
"Gus said he had a good time last night," Brian said, and Hunter choked loudly. "Why'd you make him take the bus?"
"Uh, I remembered I had some work to do at the store and didn't want to waste time."
"Oh, well, next time just drop him off at the diner." Next time. Right. Brian rolled his eyes. "He said some old fag hit on him."
For a horrifying split-second he thought Gus had told Brian, and Brian was only fucking with his head to get him to confess. But Brian's nonchalance was genuine, as far as he could tell.
"Would you believe the number of pervs out there?" Hunter drawled.
"Fourteen was when the balding old man at the corner store started giving me ninety per cent discounts on booze if I wore my tightest jeans," Brian replied wistfully.
"Just because you like being leered at by pervs doesn't make me one, okay?" Michael cried, sweating.
Brian stared. Hunter grinned. Panicking, Michael slammed his empty bottle on the bar and marched off before he said anything else stupid. From behind him he heard Brian ask, "What the fuck is his problem?" and Hunter reply with, "Mid-life crisis. You know how it is," to which Brian snapped, "I fucking well don't."
He was almost to the exit when Emmett grabbed him. "What's wrong, sweetie?"
"I'm heading home," Michael said. "Long day."
Emmett smiled sympathetically and patted his shoulder. "Missing your hunky professor?"
From his place at the bar Hunter looked right at Michael, scowling. If he didn't know any better he'd swear the kid had super hearing. "Uh, he'll be back Thursday," Michael told Em.
"You should call him," Emmett said brightly.
Yeah, that would go down well. He could imagine the conversation already: "Hey, Ben? You know Brian's kid, the one who calls me Uncle Mikey and lets us buy him ice cream and comics? I fucked him last night. Isn't that super?" Ben would leave him, Hunter would sell his story to the newspapers, and Brian would systematically destroy his life from the inside out -- if he was lucky. And there was that whole prison thing too.
"I'll... do that," he replied slowly.
As soon as Emmett became distracted by something bright and shiny at the bar, Michael fled.
That night Ben's framed bedside photo bore holes into his head. For half a second he almost got up and threw it across the room, but he already felt guilty enough for betraying Ben; throwing his photo wasn't going to help things. Michael reminded himself of that as he fell asleep staring at Ben's bright smile.
His mother always said the devil makes work for idle hands. Bright and early Sunday morning Michael went to the shop to take stock. He didn't traditionally work on Sundays, but comics had been his escape from reality in the past. He figured it would keep his mind off the wrecking ball that was his life.
The phone rang about mid-day. Caught up in the latest issue of Wolverine, he answered it carelessly: "Red Cape Comics."
It was the last person he wanted to hear from. "I want to see you again," Gus said huskily. Well, as huskily as a fourteen year old just over the puberty line could go.
"No way," Michael said.
"So you're just going to fuck me and never speak to me again?" Gus demanded.
"It's a cruel world, bucko," Michael replied, and he hit the off button. Next Sunday's family dinner was going to be a bitch. "Holden," he called to the kid he had hired a few months back, "put the new Supergirl--"
The phone rang again.
Irritated, he grabbed it and snapped, "Gus, I fucking said no, alright?"
"Gus called you?" Brian's voice.
He faltered. "He wanted me to take him to the zoo?"
"Get over here," Brian said.
Michael nearly dropped the phone. Holden looked at him strangely. "I didn't-- He-- What did I do?" Mike sputtered.
Brian paused. "I thought you should come over for dinner, since the professor's away. All work and no play makes Mikey go crazy."
He struggled to breathe again. "O-oh. Is it just going to be me and you?" he asked hopefully.
"Sure. And Justin and Gus and possibly Buffy, if Linds can convince Melanie I'm not going to poison her."
Mel didn't trust Brian with her daughter (Buffy Brianna Novotny Peterson-Marcus -- named by Hunter, naturally, much to Mel's chagrin) ever since that one time he went out of town in an emergency and left both her and Gus with Emmett, who dyed her hair pink in some sort of artistic endeavour. Even though it was Em who had directly applied the dye it was still Brian's fault in Mel's mind. Michael didn't quite get it, but he wasn't going to be the one to tell Mel to back off.
"Brian Kinney, the family man," Michael said jokingly.
Brian sighed dramatically. "Get your ass over here by eight or I'm giving your plate to Gus."
A weight lifted off his chest; perhaps things were going to be okay. If Gus hadn't told Brian by now chances are he never would. After a few weeks the paranoia and discomfort would surely go away, and as long as Brian and Ben didn't find out, he was in the green. Maybe he could convince Gus to tell Brian he was suicidal, or something, and then Michael could casually offer to pay for his therapy.
"Remember when you fucked Justin the first time?" Michael asked.
"No," Brian replied.
"Haha, very funny," he said. "Well, say there's this guy who has a crush on me--"
"Does Mikey have a secret admirer? It's Holden, isn't it. I knew that kid wasn't there for the comics."
Michael glanced suspiciously at Holden. He was busy drooling over an old issues of X-Men. "I need to know what you said to Justin trying to get him to back off. That way I can do the exact opposite and get rid of this kid."
Brian hung up.
Naturally, Hunter had to be at Brian's when he arrived at 7:58. Hunter smiled at him evilly, and Michael wondered if punching your twenty-seven year-old kid was still considered child abuse.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Michael demanded.
"He brought Gus home from soccer practice," Justin said dryly, accepting the cookies Michael had brought. "Lucky us. By the way, thanks for taking Gus this weekend, Michael."
"Haha," Michael said nervously.
Brian padded into the kitchen in jeans, t-shirt, and bare feet. "What do you want on your pizza?" he asked, waving his cell phone.
"You asshole, you said if I was late you'd give my dinner to Gus," Michael said angrily. Brian shrugged.
When the pizza arrived Gus clamoured to get the chair beside Michael. Gus was starting to remind him less of Brian and more like Hunter, which only made the whole situation worse. Halfway through the meal, as Justin rambled on about a movie he recently saw starring some guy he had gone to PIFA with, Gus rose up and reached for a napkin, his ass dangerously close to Michael's face. No one seemed to notice, but Michael sweated bullets anyway.
"Gus, there's something different about you," Hunter said sweetly as Justin's story ended. "More... mature."
Gus glanced at Michael briefly before smirking. "I got a haircut," he said, equally saccharine.
Michael swallowed thickly. "Brian, pass the garlic sauce. Oh, and I fucked Gus last night."
There was a long silence.
"Shit," Michael muttered.
Hunter stood abruptly. "Well," he said, and before Michael knew what was happening Hunter had fled, slamming the front door shut behind him.
Brian seemed frozen in place. Justin, looking horrified, put a hand on Gus's shoulder, as if protecting him from the evil pervert sitting at their table. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Justin demanded.
"You don't have any right to be complaining, Mr I've-Been-Going-to-Babylon-Since-I-Was-Seventeen," he yelled in defense.
"I can't believe you!"
Brian finally seemed to focus on them. He gazed around the table, blinking rapidly. "You're going to have to repeat that, Michael."
"He said he fucked your son," Justin said.
Maybe it was the fact Justin had said it, or maybe he just needed to hear it a second time, because Brian's face turned a rather frightening shade of red.
"Uh, I was kidding," Michael said weakly.
Brian stood abruptly, shaking his head. "God, I need a drink."
Michael sat at the table, unable to move, while Brian got up and made his way to the bar. He heard the clinking of glasses, and then Brian returned with two. One he kept, and the other he handed to a very disgusted Justin, who swallowed his in a few quick gulps. Michael smoothed down the front of the white tablecloth nervously.
"Did you enjoy it?" Brian asked Gus seriously.
"Brian!" Justin nearly shouted.
Gus tilted his head thoughtfully. "It was alright."
Michael decided this child was evil. "Brian--"
But Brian was still looking at Gus. "You're grounded," he said flatly.
"For three months," Justin snapped.
"God, my parents suck," Gus grumbled.
"Although apparently not as well as Mikey," Brian drawled.
This time Justin did shout, "BRIAN!" He turned to Michael quickly, and from the expression on his face Michael knew he had to run. "Get out."
Brian raised his eyebrows and waved. "See you later, Mike."
It wasn't until the door shut that Michael realised Brian hadn't actually gotten angry.
There was a large suitcase waiting on the front steps of their townhouse when he got home. He recognised it from that time Ben thought he was moving to Tibet. It was big enough to easily fit enough clothes for a month. Considering their neighbourhood Michael was surprised it hadn't been stolen.
"That's weird," he said.
He tried the door, but it was locked, despite Ben's bike in the rack.
"What the hell?" he muttered.
His key didn't work either.
A tapping noise got his attention. Standing in their window was Hunter, who waved and then flipped him the bird. Ben walked up behind Hunter and roughly pulled the curtains closed.
"Fuck," Michael groaned.
He banged on the front door until Debbie answered. She seemed pleasantly surprised to see him.
"Can I stay here for a while?" he asked.
"Oh sweetie," she said, glancing at his suitcase, "of course you can."
He was ushered into the kitchen. She took his suitcase and sat him down at the table. She probably realised his being there wasn't a good sign, because she also set a plate of oatmeal cookies in front of him.
"I think Ben and I broke up," he said sadly. He knew he shouldn't be surprised, cheating with his best friend's son and all, but that didn't stop it from stinging. He loved Ben more than anything. Everything was so fucked up.
Debbie stroked his cheek. "Honey, I'm sure he'll forgive you."
He bristled. "Why do you automatically think it's my fault?" She simply gave him a look. Sheepishly, he muttered, "This really isn't something forgiveable, Ma."
She looked alarmed. "Jesus, what did you do?"
He cringed and told her.
When it was over she just stared as if she didn't recognise him.
"Ma?" he asked timidly.
"Jesus H. Christ on a cracker," she murmured, shaking her head. She waved a finger in his face. "Out of all the dumb things you've done this is the worst. You go to your room and think about what you've done, young man."
Brian was waiting for him outside the shop at seven o' clock the next morning. He wore his black leather jacket and sunglasses, and the way he casually smoked a cigarette normally would have made Michael's knees weak. But today he knew Brian wasn't there to make a social call.
They were both silent as Michael unlocked the store. Brian followed him inside, stubbing his cigarette out on the brick wall. His enraged expression made Michael gulp; hopefully Holden would call the cops before he did any serious damage.
"Brian," Michael squeaked.
"So I was talking to Justin," Brian said calmly. A cool bead of sweat slipped down Michael's back. "He was really mad I didn't care you fucked my kid."
"A-are you going to beat me up for Justin?" Michael asked, quickly glancing at the door. Holden was late again. He was a dead man.
Brian didn't seem to hear. He slowly tucked his sunglasses into his coat pocket. "And I was, you know, trying to tell him you two were just pulling our legs, but he said you weren't. And Gus was there, and he said you really did fuck. While watching Dirty Dancing."
"Oh God," Mike whimpered.
"Then Justin pointed out Gus looks a hell of a lot like me," Brian added. His gaze hardened. Maybe he could shove past Brian and run. Mexico was supposed to be nice this time of year. "So I was thinking that maybe you really did fuck my son, possibly while thinking of something -- or someone -- you really shouldn't have."
"Brian, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
Brian leaned in close. Once Michael would have said it was intimate; now it was simply frightening. "He's fourteen," Brian hissed.
"You slept with Justin when he was seventeen," Michael countered shrilly.
"For one thing, Justin has always been very mature for his age," Brian sniffed. "For another, he wasn't my best friend's son."
"Oh," Michael said. "Right."
Brian raised his brows and sent him a look that said, "Well?"
"I didn't mean to do it," Michael explained. "And-- and you fucked Ben!"
Brian blinked. "You did this because I fucked your husband fifteen years ago?"
"No, I just meant-- I forgave you for fucking Ben. So you should forgive me for fucking Gus." He tried to smile, but he suspected it was more like a wince.
Brain's disbelieving stare was enough for Michael to realise that had been the wrong thing to say. "Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth?"
"Most of them," Michael said.
Rather than punching him, Brian scrubbed his face with his hands. He hadn't seen Brian this distressed since Ted had stolen his corvette and sold it for drug money. Seeing Brian hurt only made him feel even worse.
"You know, this is the worst thing you've ever done. I could deal with your-- feelings--" Brian said the word like it was a vile, disgusting thing. "--When we were younger. Hell, I even liked it before--" Michael knew he stopped himself from saying Justin's name. "But when you do this to my kid it's just sick."
"I know," Michael said quietly. "I think Ben's left me."
"That bastard," Brian said sarcastically.
"Look," Michael said, irritated, "I'm sorry, alright?"
"'Sorry' doesn't change a fucking thing," Brian snapped. "I want you to stay away from Gus."
Relieved, Michael said, "Can you keep him from calling me too? It's getting really annoying."
Lindsay knew Brian really hated confrontation, so she let him ply her and Mel with drinks and thinly veiled insults until Mel looked ready to scream. Something was wrong -- this much was obvious from Brian's pleasantries and Justin's shifty behaviour -- but she couldn't put her finger on just what.
"Mel," Brian said smarmily, practically batting his eyes at her, "have you lost weight?"
Clearly disgusted, Mel set down her drink. Linds hid her smile behind her hand. "Cut to the chase, Kinney. I know we're not here because you were feeling sociable."
Justin nudged Brian with his elbow.
"Alright," Brian said soberly. "Justin has something to tell you."
Justin goggled. "What? Me?"
"You expect me to tell them?"
"He's your son!"
"They like you more than they like me."
"Someone had better tell us now," Mel growled.
Brian and Justin exchanged glances. "Michael fucked Gus," they said simultaneously.
"Consensually," Brian added, as if was an afterthought.
For a second Lindsay didn't feel anything. Then her blood rushed to her ears, and she went cold all over.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Mel asked flatly.
"Would I kid about something like this?" Brian replied.
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
"H-has he done anything to Buffy?" Linds asked, her throat filling with tears. Michael, molesting her baby. It wasn't possible.
"God, I hope not," Brian muttered, sounding disgusted. Justin scowled at him. "I mean, no. I don't think so."
"Wait," Mel said, voice rising, "you're saying you're serious about this?"
"I told him to stay away from Gus," Brian replied. "And me."
"Holy shit," Mel gasped. She clutched Lindsay's arm.
Linds wiped her eyes with her hands. Justin handed her a tissue, and Mel's clinging became hugging. "What are we going to do?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
"We could have him arrested," Mel said tersely.
Brian's head snapped up. "That's kind of harsh," Justin said.
"A forty-three year old had sex with our fourteen year old son," Mel snapped.
"Maybe they're in love," Justin protested.
The room fell silent.
Justin sighed. "Pretend I didn't say that."
"If Michael and Gus are in love I'm the one who's going to need therapy," Brian said.
"Okay," Justin went on, "Michael's your -- our -- friend. He did something really bad, but I don't think he deserves prison for it. Look at all the times we've forgiven Ted. Sure, there are times I really miss my computer and the 'vette, and I'm sure Em blames him for what's-his-face's death, but the important thing is--" He stopped. "Uh, I forgot what I was saying."
"Michael's our friend," Brian reminded him.
"Right, he's our friend, and, um, prison is bad."
The four of them sat quietly. Lindsay wiped her eyes on a tissue, blotting away her mascara. Beside her Mel was tense, her body radiating rage. Even Brian was fidgety.
"I'm certain I could get a restraining order," Mel said finally.
"I have no problem with that," Linds replied.
It was probably suicide for Michael to be seen in Woodys right now, but being drunk considerably lessened the fear of imminent death. He had no friends, no lover, and no family, and, to top it off, his mother was barely speaking to him.
"My life is so incredibly fucked," he moaned.
Justin snorted. "You do the kid you do the time, Michael. You should feel lucky no one called the cops."
For some reason Justin had pulled a stool up to his table about half an hour ago. Initially Mike had been afraid Justin would punch him -- he knew from past experiences Justin and pent up anger was a lethal combination, Justin being brain damaged and all -- but then he decided he just didn't have the energy to care. Besides, it didn't make him an alcoholic if he drank with someone else.
"You're the only one talking to me." He narrowed his eyes. "Why?"
Justin studied his drink. "I've done some stupid things too, Michael, remember? Well, I never fucked Gus, but I did join a gang for a little while. Besides, I don't want Brian to lose his best friend."
"Maybe I should join a gang," Michael mused. "I can learn to bust caps in people's asses."
"Poor, young, innocent, blind Gus," Justin sighed.
"What about poor me?" Michael demanded. "It's not like he wasn't a willing participant. I was confused. He took advantage of me."
Justin raised a cool blond brow. "How exactly did he take advantage of you?" Michael worked his mouth, trying to come up with an answer, but Justin asked, "By looking like Brian did at his age?"
Michael looked away. Justin sighed again. "That's so--"
"Sick and wrong," Michael snapped. "Yeah, I know. I'm a horrible person. I just want things to go back to the way they were before."
"Did you ever think maybe you purposely sabotaged your relationship with Ben, and that's why you slept with Gus?" Justin asked.
"Who do I look like, Brian?" Michael scoffed. Justin scowled, and Michael hastily added, "Just kidding, sheesh."
"You can't make things go back to the way they were."
"What am I supposed to do?" he wailed.
"Well, you're not going to fix anything by sitting here and getting shit-faced, Michael," Justin said.
Justin was right. But there was no way Ben was going to see him. "How did you get Brian the first time? And the second time? And that time you--"
"What, you want my advice? This is a first."
"Nevermind," he seethed. "Just forget it. Forget it!"
Justin set his drink down and turned to him. "Listen, here's what you have to do: you have to let Ben know you're not going to let him cut you out of his life. You have to be aggressive. You have to put yourself out there. Don't let him move on."
"Are you telling me to stalk him?"
"Stalking is such an ugly word," Justin said sombrely. "I prefer the term courting."
"Courting," Michael scoffed. He rested his head against the cool surface of the bar. "I must be losing my mind, 'cause I'm actually considering doing this."
Justin smirked. "It worked for me."
"But-- but Ben isn't like Brian. He's not going to think me showing up everywhere he goes is 'sweet.' He's gonna think it's fucking creepy!"
"Fine," Justin said nonchalantly, "let him just kick you out of his life. You can spend the rest of your life waiting for a phone call from Hunter or a letter from Ben, until you die miserable and all alone." Justin snagged his drink and headed back to the bar.
Michael stared at the tabletop. "Shit," he muttered.
Michael carefully placed his clothes in the tiny, cramped closet of his old room. It was his new room now, he supposed, frowning at the row of jeans and sweaters. He could hear his mother in the kitchen downstairs, putting away dishes; he knew soon she'd walk to her room for bed, not bothering to stop and say goodnight like she used to. His childhood home had never felt big and empty until now.
He returned to the comic shop early the next morning, nursing a vodka-induced headache. Trying to focus on the fine print in the classifieds section of the newspaper was nearly impossible. He was grateful when the phone rang.
"Red Cape Comics."
"Ben," he breathed.
"I've left some of your things with Emmett."
Michael closed his eyes. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen," he said quietly.
"You didn't mean to fuck Gus or you didn't mean for me to find out?" Ben asked sharply. Michael couldn't reply. "Just tell me... why did you do it?"
"I really don't know," Michael confessed. The other end of the phone went quiet save for Ben's steady breathing. "I don't know, maybe it's a midlife crisis or something. We were watching Dirty Dancing, and Gus looked so much like Brian, and I thought-- I just thought, 'I can pretend I did this when I was fourteen.'"
"If you want to be with Brian--"
"I don't!" he interrupted. "And he doesn't want to be with me. It was just a mistake."
Ben sighed. Michael clutched the phone so hard his hands hurt.
"You're not fourteen," Ben said. "You can't spend one night pretending your life is different, and then spend the rest of it pretending that night didn't happen."
"I know," he whispered. He missed Ben so much it ached. "Believe me, I just want to take it back."
"But you can't. All you can do is fix what you did."
Less than a week after he'd made the biggest mistake of his life Michael returned to the diner. As soon as he walked in he saw the usual gang at their usual table; Ben, who was facing the door, met his eyes briefly before looking away. Michael straightened his shoulders and pressed onwards.
Conversation went still as he approached.
"Well, if it isn't Michael," Ted drawled.
"Hey, guys," he said.
Ben slid out of the booth, ignoring Michael completely. "I've got to run some errands. Later, everyone." He left without even a glance back, which stung.
"Oh!" said Emmett, looking at his watch with a melodramatic cry of surprise. "Ted, honey, we've got to leave now or else you'll be late for your group."
At least Em sent him a sympathetic look as they walked out past. "Try not to fuck any teenagers while we're gone," Ted whispered loudly, patting Michael on the shoulder. That left him and Brian; Brian didn't even acknowledge him as he took a seat.
They sat in a silence for a few minutes.
"Do you think stalking's romantic?" Michael asked.
Brian looked at him sourly. "You've been talking to Justin."
Michael started to deny it, but Brian pulled his newspaper over his face, dismissing him.
"Can I get a coffee?" he asked the passing waiter.
"Coffee for the perv at table seven," the waiter called to the counter.
Michael buried his face in his hands.
Michael quietly shut his bedroom door. It felt like he was sixteen again, trying to call the guy he liked without his mom finding out. Not that she would have minded him seeing someone; when he was young he had always hated her giving advice and being so open about everything. He used to like to sneak around just to pretend he came from a normal family, or more like Brian, who had to hide everything from his parents and sister. Now Michael pulled out his cell and dialed a familiar number: his own.