For this one I went back to my boys – Michael and Aric. Here are the previous bits of their story
“It’s fine. I bought it yesterday on the way home.”
The quiet words seemed to echo though the kitchen, and Aric nearly dropped the container of orange juice he’d brought up to his nose to sniff cautiously. He turned slowly to find Michael hovering in the doorway. Aric ran his gaze down the other man’s body—from his damp, finger-combed hair, over the threadbare t-shirt and gray sweats that barely hung on his hips, to his bare feet—and had to bite back his moan, shove aside the urge to close the space between them and just touch. The only thing that made it easier to do was the worry that filled him when he again noticed how…unwell Michael looked. Pale skin, dark circles under his eyes, and he’d lost weight. Weight the already lanky man couldn’t spare.
“Wasn’t taking any chances.” Aric congratulated himself on sounding normal, unconcerned. “Do you even know what you had growing in the fridge?”
He moved to grab the plate off the counter and grimaced at the paltry amount of scrambled eggs and the lone piece of dry toast. When he turned around to set it on the table, Michael was still in the same spot, fingers plucking at the hem of his shirt, eyes cast downward.
“Sit down and eat.”
Aric went to the cupboard and rolled his eyes when he found it nearly empty—not that it was a surprise considering the amount of dirty dishes littering nearly every flat surface in the house. He’d managed to to fill the dishwasher with just what had been on the damned table. Pulling the lone mug from the way back—the one with the chipped rim and missing handle—he filled it with OJ and set that down with a clank next to Michael’s plate.
He lowered himself onto the chair across from Michael and watched as the other man ate slowly, still refusing to meet Aric’s eyes.
“You didn’t have to—” he started, then shoveled another forkful of eggs in his mouth.
Aric’s chest tightened. “What?”
Michael swallowed and lifted a shoulder. “Any of this—coming over, making food, picking up.” He gestured toward the running dishwasher.
Opening his mouth to response, Aric was struck dumb by the words that followed—muttered words he barely made out.
“I don’t deserve it.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then another. And another.
“And you don’t have to stay,” Michael added in a rush.
“Do you want me to leave?” When no answer came, Aric leaned forward. “Look at me.” Michael’s head lifted, revealing wide and scared gray eyes. “Do you want me to leave?”
“No. Never did.”
The whispered words, the tears clinging to his insanely long lashes, the way his fingers trembled broke Aric’s heart.
“Then, I’m not going anywhere,” he said simply, even though more questions swam in his mind, swelled in his mouth, and burned his tongue.
With a jerky nod, Michael set his fork down and reached for the mug, but he didn’t pick it up. He just ran his finger along the chips on the rim and the two larger ones where the handle had once been.
“I don’t know why you insist on keeping that,” Aric said with a laugh. “Should’ve been tossed long ago.
It was something he’d said again and again over the years—when they’d moved in together, the cup was already broken—but any time it was brought up, Michael would just smile and shake his head.
Just like he was, now. Even as sadness seemed to radiate off him, his lips curved as his fingers continued to caress the damaged ceramic.
“Never going to happen,” he murmured. “Means too much.”
Aric frowned. He’d never really questioned why Michael kept the old thing. “A gift, then?” He wondered from who. Who was important enough to Michael to hold onto it.
With a snort of laughter, Michael glanced up. “No, got this from a dumpy thrift story when I moved into my first apartment.”
“Oh…so it reminds you of being out on your own, your first place?” He guessed he could understand that.
“No, that’s not the memory it holds.” The mug was now cradled between both of his hands, almost lovingly held.
“Gonna share what one it does hold? Or am I to wonder for the rest of my life?” Aric teased, cautiously since he wasn’t sure what this was—the air around them teemed with…something. And he didn’t know if that something was good or not.
Michael’s eyes went soft, unfocused for a few long moments. “It reminds me of when I fell in love with you, okay?”
The bite of defensiveness in his tone made Aric consider his next words carefully, even as the hope he’d been feeling grew exponentially.
“The night we had the party—at mine and Oli’s place,” Michael said before Aric could speak. “I was pissed because he hadn’t told me about it, and I’d just come back from my dad’s and was so not in the mood for anyone, let alone an apartment full of people.” His smile broadened, and his grip tightened around the mug. “And then, you were there. I’d been hiding out in the kitchen, and you just jumped up on the counter beside me and started talking. And I thought you were insane, but fuck, you made me laugh. Made me forget…all the shit I’d been so wrapped up in.”
Aric chuckled as he remembered, though he was a bit confused by the apparent change of subject. “That was the night we met. I saw you sitting on that counter, away from everyone, and just had to talk to you. You looked so lost…and so fucking gorgeous.”
Michael’s cheeks pickened, and he ducked his head slightly. “I noticed you the second you walked in. I didn’t know who you were, but I couldn’t look away. I was standing there, staring like an idiot…and I dropped and broke the damned mug.” He lifted it slightly, like he was giving a toast.
“Love at first sight?” Aric joked even as his throat threatened to close.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Michael said seriously. “Didn’t believe in it before, before you. But there I was in a fog of it, telling myself I was an idiot of epic proportions. I didn’t know you from Adam, didn’t even know if you gay or would give me a second glance. I convinced myself it was just a punch of lust, something to get over, and cleaned up the mess and resigned myself to wait the damned party out. Then, there you were—being goofy and lovely and just so you. And for the first time I could remember, everything felt right. Even after the bullshit my dad had dealt out that night—hell, my whole life—you made everything feel right in my world at that moment.”
Aric blinked stinging eyes and drew in a shuddered breath.
“So yeah,” Michael said with forced brightness as he set the mug on the table. “This isn’t going anywhere.”
“When did you—” Aric cleared his throat, trying to banish the suffocating fear. “When did that stop? When did you fall out of love with me, M?”
Michael jolted back then shook his head frantically. “It never stopped. I didn’t… I didn’t—” His voice cracked. “Aric, please.”
“Do you still love me?” He asked the one question that mattered. The others that clamored for attention in his head—they’d have to be asked, eventually. He and Michael would have to talk and work though so much, but this… Right now, this was the only question he needed answered.
“But what?” He shoved to his feet and rounded the table.
“It doesn’t matter,” Michael snapped then seemed to deflate before my eyes. “I fucked everything up, and—”
Grasping Michael’s upper arms, Aric hauled him to his feet and pulled him close. “I love you, too. That never stopped.”
“It might,” Michael whispered, even as he lifted his hands to comb through Aric’s hair. “If you knew everything, everything with my dad and… You might not feel the same way, and I don’t know if I can survive if you hated me.”
Aric rested his forehead against Micheal’s, understanding filling him. Michael had pushed him away, out of his life, because he’d seen it as a foregone conclusion. Fuck.
“Do you think so little of me? What I feel for you?” he asked quietly, shifting so his lips slid over Michael’s mouth. “You’re not the only one who fell hard that first night, M. You made everything right in my world, too. And it’s been all wrong the past two months. Until now. Just being here with you… It’s right, again. Don’t shut me out, anymore.”
Michael pulled back, staring at him intently, as if searching for all the answers. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed heavily. Aric hated the building panic he saw in Michael’s expression.
“I’m not going to stop loving you,” he said firmly. “You’re mine, and I’m yours, remember? We chose to be each other’s family. Everything else? We’ll figure it out; we’ll deal with.”
He held his breath as Michael continued to study him, then he cupped Aric’s face with shaking hands.
“I hope you’re right,” he said, desperately. “God, I need you to be right.”
“I am.” Aric murmured, wrapping his arms around Michael and drawing him close. I’m right, he thought as he closed his eyes and just breathed in Michael’s scent. I have to be.