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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
[Disclaimer] My stories are about erotic, sensual, and emotional connections between gay men. Albeit romantic, sweet, and uplifting, they also contain rough, sometimes edgy, or violent sex scenes between consenting partners. If that kind of sexual display is in any way triggering for you, I suggest you do not proceed with this particular story.

Wicked Games - 3. "The One Who Stands By"

[2 years after the "incident"]

It was the coldest night in years. The snow had shrouded half the town, the roads were barely visible, and the sidewalks were thawing gradually. Ben was standing in front of a dismal, slightly dilapidated building smoking a cigarette, enjoying a quiet moment, when a guy approached him cautiously.

"Hey, Ben." The short, slightly bald man greeted as he strolled up the sidewalk, twirling his car keys around his fat finger.

"Hey." Ben replied, inhaling the last puff of his cigarette before tossing it on the floor and stepping on it with his leather boot.

"Good to see you, man. Where have you been?" The short guy drilled. Ben lifted his eyes, darting at the guy with an annoyed expression.

"Around." Ben answered cryptically.

"Glad you're back." The guy clamored.

"I'm not back." Ben uttered, his voice as cold as the air around them.

Oh, ok. Sorry, I didn't mean to..." The guy tried to explain in an apologetic tone.

"It's ok, Brett." Ben interrupted. "It's good to see you, too." He finally uttered, his lips stretching reluctantly into an unintended smile.

"Are you coming inside?" Brett asked. Ben looked at him for a while before glancing around the street as if planning a quick escape before finally locking his eyes back on Brett.

"Sure." He reluctantly replied.

He turned around and strode inside the building, hobbling. His knee had been permanently damaged, and he adopted a slight limp to help him fight the pain. Despite the worn-off look, inside, the building was warm and cozy. An inviting foyer greeted them as they entered, with some beverages and appetizers over a small table. There was a glass jar with a paper card on it that read: DONATIONS - SGMVSA (Support Group For Male Victims Of Sexual Assault). Different parties were already scattered around the room, chatting quietly. Brett rushed for the table, grabbed a small bag, and ran around the room handing out tacks with the groups' initials. Everyone willingly hung the pins over their shirts and jackets, a sense of significance attached to the gesture.

"Here you go, Ben." Brett said, placing one on Ben's palm.

The Latin stud held the pin, glancing down at it, before discretely dumping it inside the pocket of his leather jacket. By then, the foyer was empty, so Ben limped inside the large door on the left that gave access to an even larger chamber. In its center was a set of chairs in a circle, where men of all ages, shapes, and sizes sat quietly chatting.

"Good to have you back, Ben." A voice uttered as he approached the ring, and all eyes zeroed in. From how the group gaped at him, you could immediately tell that Ben was a controversial character. "Would you like to sit down? Maybe share something with the group?" The man asked.

You could hear a pin drop on the floor. Ben huffed, a gush of air lunging across the room before he walked inside the circle and sat on the only empty seat.

"What's the point? It's not like I'm feeling any better..." Ben uttered, reclining on his chair and inhaling deeply as all the eyes in the room were now on him.

"Why do you keep coming here, Ben?" The man questioned, challenging Ben's willingness to engage with the group.

"That's a good question..." Ben mumbled to himself.

"It's been a year since you joined our meetings, and you barely shared anything." The man stated in a soothing, far from judgemental tone. "Most people here will understand what you went through. What you feel." He tried to contend.

"I doubt that..." Ben muttered again, but this time his words came out louder, angrier. His eyes were barred on the floor, twitching nervously.

Then suddenly, a voice broke from the other side of the circle.

"I remember reading about what happened to you in the papers." A younger man uttered, quickly garnering everyone's attention, shifting the focus off of Ben, who raised his head and looked at the young guy, scanning his chest for the name tag. It read PATRICK. "And your friend too..." He added before hesitating, his eyes on Ben as he assessed the stud's nuanced change in body language. "I can't begin to imagine what you went through. I'm sorry, Ben." Patrick expressed, his words finally reaching Ben as the room's eyes turned to him again.

"Thanks." Ben muttered, stretching his body to shake off his discomfort. His beautiful, deep hazelnut eyes met Patrick's as he did, and a momentary rush of heat descended into his groin.

"I think it would be good for you to share, Ben. Something. Anything." The moderator suggested.

Ben looked at him, chuckled, and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees as he finally confronted the whole room.

"Fine." He uttered. "They came into our house. Humiliated us...beat us...they broke my knee. Haven't been able to walk in a straight line since." He joked, surveying the room. Everyone's expression had altered. "They tied us up. Then raped him...made me watch." He stammered, the words desperately struggling to get out. "Ethan...he..." He endeavored to continue. But Ben's pain was overwhelming. So visceral the entire room could see it creeping on the surface of his skin. "I'm sorry...I can't." He conveyed, standing up and rushing out the door.

He broke through the foyer and rushed down the front entrance when a voice called from behind him.

"Hey, Ben!" Patrick hollered. Ben's hand halted just inches from the door before he turned around.

"Look, I appreciate the effort. I do. I'm just not ready." Ben explained, surprising himself by the ease he felt around this stranger.

"I know." Patrick replied.

As Ben gazed into the young man, he saw something he immediately felt drawn to. Patrick's eyes felt warm, accommodating. They felt unassailable. Suddenly, Ben noticed the individual, maybe for the first time. Patrick was young, maybe 22, about Ben's height, light skin, dark brown short hair. Ben could notice he was fit, even under all those winter clothes.

"I'm sorry I snapped back there." Ben apologized. "I'm normally a charming guy." He taunted, chuckling and making Patrick giggle, and for a brief moment, Ben forgot how miserable he felt.

"Give me your phone." Patrick instructed, extending his hand. Ben frowned before his lips stretched into a reluctant smile. He pulled it from his pocket, swiped his thumb on the screen to unlock it, and gave it to Patrick, who started punching his fingers. "This is my number. In case you ever wanna talk or whatever." He stated in a slightly luscious tone.

"Whatever?" Ben teased.

"I was thinking coffee." The boy replied as he smiled, scanning the hunk from head to toe before returning the phone to Ben, whose dick twitched immediately inside his pants.

"I have coffee at my place." Ben offered as they stood there, looking at each other before Patrick's lips stretched into a smile.

About twenty minutes later, the door to Ben's house was opening. He walked inside and held the door for Patrick, who squeezed in. Ben purposely stood close to the doorway, forcing Patrick's body to rub against his.

"Slick." Patrick commented, making Ben chuckle. "Nice place." He stated.

"Thanks. It used to be my parents. They moved to Florida." Ben explained.

Patrick's eyes started scanning around. Everything was tidy and clean. A small, cozy living room with a kitchenette. A narrow hallway with a bathroom and stairs leading up to the first floor. Ben came behind him and held Patrick's hips, making the boy's legs falter slightly. He turned around to find Ben's piercing eyes gazing back at him.

"How about that coffee?" Patrick said, trying to defuse the tension. Ben grinned, letting his hands drop, and walked to the kitchen. He pulled the filter from the machine and washed it, popping it back on.

As he did, Patrick pursued him, eventually halting near a table behind the couch where a dozen picture frames were dispersed. He began skimming them with his eyes, finally locking on one where two young boys posed together, smiling as they wrapped their arms around each other. He could recognize Ben's front lawn in the picture.

"Is this...?" Patrick questioned.

"Ethan." Ben answered, his eyes on the two cups as he poured the coffee into them.

"Were you two close?" Patrick stuttered. He sounded nervous yet committed to having Ben open up.

"Yes." Ben dusted, his hands stirring the spoon around as he mixed the sugar. He cornered the kitchen counter and walked over to Patrick, extending his hand with the coffee cup. Then, he went around the couch and sat down. Patrick followed him and took his place beside Ben. His eyes concentrated on his face. "What?" Ben questioned.

"You can talk to me if you want, Ben." Patrick uttered softly, his voice wrapping Ben in a momentary blanket of security before the stud's eyes started skimming Patrick's body. "I said talk..." Patrick teased.

Ben's face was now stale, with no smile or chuckle. His eyes pierced every inch of Patrick's face. His hand stretched forward, and he snatched Patrick's mug from his hand, placing both on the table behind them. His left hand then lunged forward and grabbed Patrick's neck, pulling him in. Patrick's legs immediately saddled Ben's hips, their jeans and belts rubbing together, unleashing a heavy grating sound. Patrick lunged his lips forward, attempting to kiss Ben. But the stud's hand yanked Patrick's head away, his fingers gripping the young man's hair.

"Fuck, you're so hot." Patrick muttered, his mouth opened and his tongue sticking out, hoping Ben would allow him to delve inside his mouth.

"No kissing." Ben groaned before releasing his grip on Patrick's hair, sliding his hands down, grabbing the boy's shirt, and ripping it apart, buttons flying everywhere. "Take your pants off." He ordered.

Patrick smiled, his gaze excited and eager. He pulled back and clumsily unlocked his belt, unfurling his zipper and pulling his pants down, undies included. Ben lifted his ass and followed suit, pulling his pants down, exposing his massive 8.5-inch throbbing cock.

"Damn." Patrick exclaimed, surprised and exhilarated by Ben's dick rocking back and forth, a string of precum dangling from the tip.

"Come here." Ben ordered, grabbing his shaft upwards.

Patrick climbed on top of Ben, took his right hand to his mouth, and spit on it before glazing the moisture over Ben's tip. He aimed his hole over it and let his body fall. Ben felt Patrick's fingers pierce his skin, his arms swathing the young man, holding him close.

"Fuck...I have wanted to do this since I first saw you." Patrick mumbled, his voice lost in lust.

"Oh, yeah?" Ben growled. Suddenly, his hands slid down Patrick's back and grabbed his ass cheeks, spreading them before hammering the young man's hole mercilessly, shoving his cock inside, balls deep.

"Oh fuck, fuck!" Patrick moaned, his sphincter stretching as Ben's cock trusted in and out of it.

"Is this what you wanted, you little slut?" Ben questioned, his tone becoming increasingly belligerent. Soon, his pelvis slapped against Patrick's ass, and the sound resonated across the cozy living room.

"Fuck yes." Patrick moaned into Ben's neck as he sunk his face in it. "Fuck me." He whispered into Ben's ear, pushing the stud over the edge.

Ben's hips began to twitch, and he pulled out, stroking his cock and spewing his cum all over Patrick's cheeks and hole, which hovered above his cock. In turn, Patrick stroked his own cock, his warm cum enwrapping Ben's chest and abdomen. Both men stayed there, sharing their loads until the last drops trickled off their cocks, and their bodies collapsed over each other, their breaths syncopated. Their fuck was short and straight to the point.

"Shit, I needed that." Patrick commented, pulling away and looking at Ben's face. There was a profound sadness emanating from the stud's eyes. "What's wrong?" He questioned. But Ben remained silent. Patrick slid off to the side and sat on the couch briefly before picking his undies from the floor and putting them on. "I should go." He muttered in an uncomfortable tone.

But just as he was about to lean down to pick up his jeans, Ben's hand came from behind and seized his wrist.

"Don't." Ben's deep voice whispered. "Please don't go...stay. I'll make us a fresh cup." He muttered, his eyes on the floor.

"Why?" Patrick asked, genuinely intrigued. Ben's head finally lifted, his eyes glistening with tears.

"I could use a friend." He stated.

Patrick's heart caved. He couldn't believe how tangible Ben's pain was, pouring out of him like pus on an infected tissue wound.

"Hey, hey..." Patrick spoke, kneeling before Ben's defeated spirit. "I'll stay until you feel better, ok?" He promised as he pulled Ben over to him, embracing the stud.

Ben's head fell on Patrick's shoulder. And there it stayed for three days. Patrick kept Ben company, and their friendship slowly blossomed. They lingered around the house and slept on the same bed. Patrick cooked for Ben, and gradually, the stud's temperament flourished. They didn't have sex again. Not once. On the morning of the fourth day, they lay in bed, watching TV.

"Ben, I have to go. People are going to think I died or something." Patrick said, trying to get up.

"Don't." Ben uttered, grabbing Patrick, pulling him back down, and rolling his muscular legs around him. "I need you." Ben mocked, making a sad face as he stared into Patrick's eyes.

"C'mon, man!" Patrick bitched, chuckling. "You're just casually manipulating me into staying at this point." He teased.

"Maybe..." Ben replied, giggling as he pulled Patrick into the sheets.

"Ok, fine. Just one more hour." Patrick conceded. He couldn't see, but behind him, Ben's face beamed. He unlocked his grip on Patrick, whose naked body rolled on the bed, facing Ben.

The last few days had been rather intense, and by now, the two men were beginning to figure out how to interpret each other's expressions.

"What?" Ben asked, sitting on the bed, his legs crossed as he stretched his arm over to the nightstand to grab his weed box.

"You...I..." Patrick stuttered.

"Spit it out, dude." Ben uttered.

"I want to know about what happened to you. I mean...I've told you about my uncle and what he did to me." Patrick bargained. There was truth and genuine altruism in his words, and Ben felt it.

"I didn't ask you to." Ben replied defensively. He immediately regretted his words as he witnessed Patrick's eyes escaping towards the window. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean that. I'm glad you share it with me." He apologized, taking his hand and holding Patrick's. He took the joint to his mouth and lit it, taking a big puff and blowing the smoke out slowly. His gaze mellowed, and his shoulders dropped. "It's like...there's a before and after. Some part of me that got stuck there...inside that house." Ben confessed, his heart beginning to open.

"What happened to you guys?" Patrick asked, his voice ushering Ben's truth out.

"They hijacked our lives." Ben finally uttered. His voice was trembling slightly. "They murdered who we were." He confided. Patrick's eyes squinted with empathy for Ben's pain.

"Ben..." Patrick muttered, fumbling his words.

"Sometimes, when I close my eyes...I can still smell it. The stench inside the room." Ben murmured as he tried to recall. "And the sound...of them...fucking him." He continued, the words toiling to get out. "The sound of his screams when they started cutting..." He said before his voice cracked, and his body fell into Patrick's arms. From under them, Ben's cries of despair broke.

"I'm sorry, Ben. I'm so sorry..." Patrick apologized. He was now coming to terms with the depth of Ben's misery and the unimaginable horror of his experience. "What can I do?" He asked as he gently brushed Ben's hair with his fingers.

"Stay." Ben pleaded from under him, his words muffled by his sobbing.

That night, Ben fell asleep inside Patrick's embrace. And he slept through the whole night for the first time since the incident.

Two months passed, and with Patrick's help, Ben slowly regained a sense of normalcy. He went back to work and started meeting Patrick regularly. However, despite their intimacy growing, whenever a sexual situation arose, something inside Ben propelled him to push back, preventing them from exploring their relationship further. Patrick's patience was remarkable, and it wasn't long before Ben saw in him a true friend.

It came to be, after a relatively uneventful week, that Patrick had to fly out of town for a business trip. It was the first time Ben had been alone since they had met. Patrick seemed reluctant to leave the stud alone, but Ben brushed it off and assured his new friend he would be fine. After he drove Patrick to the airport, Ben returned home. All the snow had thawed by now, and the first spring drizzles could be seen pushing through the damp foliage. He popped on some music, opened the window, and stuck his arm out, feeling the wind glide between his fingers as he drove. It wasn't long before he lost track of time and pushed aimlessly through an empty road. Night came, and Ben kept going. Then dawn rose, and he went on. Soon the phone started ringing, as calls from the store and his parents began piling up. But he just kept driving and, soon, was crossing state borders. About two days later, he called in sick and texted his parents, saying everything was fine.

By now, he had driven for five days straight until he finally bent the wheel, entering a small residential area into a remarkably bland, middle-class neighborhood where an endless string of houses, all exactly alike, stretched beyond what his eyes could see. About halfway through the suburban maze, Ben finally parked the car. He turned off the ignition and sat there, gazing at a white house with a green picket fence and a gray roof. The Latin stud reclined his seat and lay back, pulling a cap out of the glove compartment and placing it over his eyes.

A couple of hours went by when he finally sensed movement in front of the house. A big red SUV was driving up the street and parking on the driveway, just in front of the large garage door. A few seconds later, a woman and a little girl walked out. The woman seemed agitated and overwhelmed, dragging bags and toys along, some falling to the ground as she rushed inside, pulling the child by the hand. Inside the car, Ben observed, and soon he leaned forward. Then suddenly, the driver's door opened, and a man walked out. It was Ethan. Looking as beautiful as ever, wearing black sweatpants and a white tank top, exposing his smooth chest and toned arms. Ben smiled as if a captivating memory had brushed his soul. Ethan closed the car door and leaned against it, his head falling as his fingers played with the keys. He seemed weary. Ben's body fell forward, and his chin touched the steering wheel as he gazed at Ethan, his eyes glinting with sentiment.

"Hey, man." Ben whispered as if he spoke to Ethan directly. "I missed you." He uttered, smiling as his tearful gaze began to fade slowly.

Ethan placed the car keys inside his pocket and turned around, walking inside. But suddenly, he stopped, body frozen on the driveway. His head turned, and he looked back, his beautiful golden eyes scanning the street, stopping just as they locked on Ben's car.

"Mother fucker..." Ben whispered, ducking his head clumsily, attempting to hide. He sat there, hunched under his steering wheel, feeling foolish until his curiosity took over, and he finally lifted his head again. Ethan was already walking over, stretching his neck, undoubtedly identifying Ben's car as he went along. Soon, Ethan was standing right in front of him. And the two friends gazed at each other for a few seconds that seemed to stretch forever, their silence harboring too many unspoken words.

"Hey." Ethan said. His composure immediately took Ben aback. He seemed too subdued.

"Hi." Ben stuttered. Ethan broke their gaze and looked back at his house, turning to face Ben again. He walked around the car and opened the passenger door, jumping inside and sitting beside Ben.

"There." He directed, pointing at his driveway. Ben's eyes glanced at his friend cautiously before his hand reached for his pocket. He pulled out his key, started the car, and drove to Ethan's garage.

The way there felt endless as they sat silently beside each other until Ben finally parked, shoving half the vehicle inside Ethan's garage. As soon as it came to a stop, Ethan took a deep breath, reclining in his seat. His eyes were looking forward.

"Will she mind?" Ben asked, his head turning to face Ethan. At that moment, he acknowledged just how much he missed his friend.

"Don't worry about that." Ethan said coldly, turning his head to face Ben, his golden eyes staring into him. "What the fuck are you doing here?" He questioned, his voice now bottled with a tamed outrage.

"I...don't know." Ben stuttered as his eyes twitched uncontrollably. "I wanted to see you. Make sure you were ok." He muttered.

Suddenly, Ethan chuckled, punching Ben's shoulder in the same manner he had always done countless times. But gradually, his eyes began to switch, and he hit Ben again. And again. And again. And each time he did it, he would strike harder. Eventually, Ethan lunged sideways and started hitting Ben with both hands, his arms mindlessly swinging as he struck down. Ben finally grabbed his friend's wrists, and once he did, his strength overpowered Ethan, and tears began falling from both men's eyes.

"Where the fuck have you been?!" Ethan cried, his face buried in agony as his fists lunged at Ben's chest.

"I'm sorry." Ben whispered, his words getting lost inside the noise of their bodies grinding against the leather on the car seats.

"You never answered any of my texts!" Ethan sobbed as he swang his arms, the movements becoming less energetic as Ben's grip forced them down. Soon, Ethan's body caved, and his head fell on Ben's chest. "I needed you..." He moaned, his face sliding up Ben's upper body and into his neck, where his lips finally latched.

"I'm sorry." Ben's smooth voice whispered like a warm mantle layering Ethan. Ben could feel his friend's body soften and dissolve over him, a familiar softness finally emerging. Ben's hand touched Ethan's neck, his fingers brushing his tiny blond fuzz lightly. "It's ok. I'm here now." He uttered, finally releasing Ethan's other hand, which immediately slid under his shirt, landing on Ben's stomach, where it wavered.

Time ceased, and Ben sat there for what seemed like an epoch, holding Ethan in his embrace until his friend's breathing became a soft waft. Ben closed his eyes, his nose buried inside Ethan's blonde curls as he sniffed him, his heart slipping back into that familiar place of love, tenderness, and overwhelming intimacy. Then he felt Ethan's head shift under him, rising to meet his. As he did, his nose grazed Ben's mouth, and he stopped, loitering there as he took in the scent of the Latin stud's breath.

"I missed you." Ethan moaned as his fingers gripped Ben's short fuzz around his belly button. Ethan's lips were inches from Ben's as he continued to rub his nose around the stud's mouth.

"Yo también. Mucho." Ben groaned as his dick twitched inside his pants. He felt his chest burst with contentment. Ethan's presence felt like a homecoming. "Ethan...I..." Ben stuttered.

"Shut the fuck up, and kiss me." Ethan interrupted, his mouth opening slightly, signaling Ben to proceed.

A jolt of electricity rushed through Ben's body, detonating in his groin. Without a second thought, he lunged forward, pulling his friend into him as their lips finally locked. Ethan's lips were everything Ben expected them to be. Soft, tender, and delicious. Despite the initial thrust, their kiss started gentle, their mouths carefully exploring. Quiet, almost inaudible moans started erupting from their mouth, and soon, Ben's tongue slid inside Ethan, skimming the edges of his pale lips. But the rush was building fast, and Ben's grip on Ethan's neck became more potent as he pulled his friend closer, gradually shoving his tongue deeper inside. The further he went, the more Ethan moaned. Soon, the blonde's taste enveloped Ben, inebriating his senses.

Ben gripped Ethan's hair and started pulling it, unlocking their lips. He glanced down, marveling at Ethan as he stared up, his eyes glazed, and his mouth opened, covered in Ben's saliva. But as the Latin stud gazed deeper into his friend's eyes, he halted, stunned by the hollowness that poured from within, a submissiveness devoid of any feeling or emotion. His eyes gleamed, and suddenly he was back in that place. He pulled away, an awkwardness taking place as they both straightened themselves in their seats.

"We better not. Claire might come in." Ben warned, attempting to break the ice.

"Let's go inside." Ethan suggested.

"I should go." Ben replied. Ethan, who had just opened the door, stopped, looking back at his friend.

"It's getting dark. Leave in the morning." Ethan insisted, not even acknowledging Ben's haste or apprehension. "You can sleep in the guest room." He added.

"Fine." Ben conceded, unable to say no to Ethan, whose eyes pleaded for his friend's compliance. Ethan stepped out of the car, closed the door, and turned, resting his arms on the open window. "Lory is gonna flip when she sees you." He said, smiling.

Ben beamed and unlocked the door, walking out and following Ethan inside. They ascended the stairs to the ground floor, and just as Ben stepped inside the hallway, a child's voice hollered from the other end, high-pitching.

"Uncle Ben!" Lory screamed, her expression opening in slow motion as she rushed over to Ben, her arms wide open. Ben kneeled and braced for impact.

"Hey, baby girl!" He greeted as Lory flew into his arms, cladding her tiny arms around his neck so tight Ben almost choked. As her grip loosened, Ben closed his eyes, plunging himself inside the innocence the child exuded.

"How come you never visit?" Lory questioned.

"I..." Ben stuttered.

"Don't you love me and Daddy anymore?" She challenged innocently. Ben's throat closed, overcome by emotion. He pulled Lory away from him and looked into her eyes.

"Hey, of course I do. Very much. I've just been busy." Ben lied, trying to cage the girl's childlike curiosity. "In fact, I have a couple of presents in the car." He teased, pulling out his car keys and tossing them to Ethan.

"I missed you, Uncle Ben!" Lory said, beaming as she lunged her arms around Ben again, gripping tight. As she did, a young woman holding a roll of paper towels came out of the kitchen, standing in the corridor as she stared at Ben, scowling.

"What the hell are you doing here?" The woman asked, not an ounce of hospitality in her voice.

"Good to see you too, Claire." Ben uttered sarcastically before glancing at Ethan, who shrugged and walked down the stairs to Ben's car, picking up Lory's presents from the backseat.

"Lory, come eat your cereal." Claire summoned.

"I wanna stay with Uncle Ben." The girl whined.

"Lory!" Claire yelled hastily, making the child's body quiver inside Ben's arms.

"It's ok. We can play later." Ben whispered in her ear.

"Are you staying over?" Lory whispered back, her sweet voice prickling Ben's tiny hairs on the back of his neck.

"Yeah, baby girl." He responded before she pulled away, smiled, and sprinted to the kitchen, running past her mother, who just stood there, gawking at Ben, pursing her lips. Ben stood up, purposely trying not to avoid Claire's gaze. She glanced inside the kitchen and walked over to the middle of the hallway, eventually stopping.

"I wish you wouldn't keep doing this to him." She stated. Ben stood quiet, looking at her. "He's finally been getting better..." She continued, but Ben could feel the hesitation in her words.

"Are you sure?" Ben doubted. Claire's eyes twitched with vexation.

"You're a piece of shit. You know that, Ben?" She muttered, glancing back, making sure Lory wasn't around. "Just stay away from him..." She appealed.

"I can't." Ben mumbled, his eyes blazing. Claire took two steps forward. She was now standing inches from Ben.

"As long as you're in his life...he'll never heal." She uttered, her words simmering with ruthlessness.

"Moving him around...away from me... won't change what happened to him. To us." Ben argued, his voice calm and disarming.

"I want you gone before they wake up tomorrow." Claire ordered, turning her back to Ben and walking inside the kitchen, leaving him alone in the hallway. About a minute later, Ethan tramped up the stairs.

What followed could only be described as the most awkward three hours of Ben's life as he tried to endure dinner with Claire gazing at him from the other side of the table. Lory and Ethan kept the talking going, but it was evident throughout the night that Claire loathed Ben's presence in her house. She kept to herself, purposely silent, trying to poison the good mood. Fortunately, she failed miserably, and it wasn't long before she was throwing the towel.

"I'm putting Lory to bed." She said, watching as her daughter's head hovered over the plate, her hair almost dipping inside the sauce. Ben glanced at her. Claire was a lot of things, but she wasn't a bad mother. "Give Daddy a kiss." She ordered.

Lory tumbled out of the chair and kissed Ethan's cheek. He held her close and whispered something in her ear before placing her feet on the ground. She turned around and glanced up at Ben.

"Night, Uncle Ben. I love you." She murmured, her sweet voice filling Ben's heart with overwhelming tenderness. He picked her up and hugged her.

"Love you too, baby girl. Sleep tight." He whispered before putting her down.

She stumbled over to her mother, who held the child in her arms, walking up the steps to the first floor. Ben and Ethan sat in complete silence for over thirty minutes until they finally heard the door to Claire's room close. Ethan got up, walked up to a small cabinet near the table, and pulled out two glasses and a bottle of whisky. He walked back and sat down. Ben picked up the bottle and served. They raised the glasses and chugged the whole thing, their eyes latched. They placed the glasses down, and Ben poured another round.

Both men's eyes twinkled, measuring the passage of time. And in their silence, they spoke. With each smile and breath, their closeness rekindled, a monumental structure blown into fragments that Ben and Ethan now glued back together. As they slowly erected it, Ethan's voice finally cracked the glass ceiling that had confined their trauma.

"I have a question..." Ethan muttered in a soft tone, his golden eyes piercing Ben's.

"Ok." Ben replied, leaning back on his chair.

"Why didn't you come looking for me sooner?" Ethan questioned, leaning forward and placing his elbows on the table. Ben's expression froze momentarily.

"I suppose...I was scared." He tried to clarify.

"What do you mean?" Ethan drilled.

"Scared that you might not want me in your life anymore." Ben confessed, his head sinking between his shoulders.

"I thought I didn't." Ethan admitted, his words skewering Ben's heart. "Until I saw you today." He continued. Ben's eyes ascended, a glint hidden behind their surface. "But now..." Ethan whispered, his voice cracking as he tried to hide his tears. "Seeing you sitting there..." Ethan muttered before his breath wained.

"Ethan..." Ben faltered as he pushed his chair forward, his knees rubbing against Ethan's.

"If you asked me, right now, to run away with you..." Ethan whispered as if a secret was being exposed. "I would." He conceded.

Ben's eyes blazed, his hand holding Ethan's neck as he pulled him close, kissing his cheek softly.

"I wish we could." Ben stated. "Just get in the car and go. Leave everything behind." He said as he continued to kiss Ethan's face, slowly descending into his plump lips. Suddenly, he stopped, pulling back slightly as he searched for Ethan's eyes with his own. "Show me." He asked.

Ethan froze, his hands holding Ben's arms. He slid them across the stud's skin and clutched his own shirt, pulling it over his head and tossing it on the table. Ben's hands skated over Ethan's shoulders and cascaded into his back, where they halted. His fingers could already feel the nuances in his friend's once-perfect smooth skin.

"Turn." Ben directed, pushing Ethan's chair slightly, making him turn sideways. A portion of Ethan's back was now exposed. It was covered in scars. Long and overlapping cuts. Much like the ones Ben had noticed on Jamie's body. "Does it hurt?" Ben softly questioned as he coasted his fingers gently over them.

Ethan shook his head and let his body fall over the table. His head turned to Ben, and his golden eyes locked on the stud. He was crying. Ben's heart yielded. He leaned forward and, very gently and tenderly, began kissing every scar on Ethan's back. One by one. Ethan closed his eyes and smiled, overwhelmed by his best friend's empathy. He had never allowed anyone to get close to touching them, let alone kiss them. They were a source of humiliation. But with each kiss, Ben lifted that shame from Ethan's skin and soul.

"Ben...?" Ethan called.

"Yes?" The stud replied.

"I'm scared..." Ethan stuttered.

"What do you mean?" Ben questioned, pulling away from Ethan's back and slowly turning his friend's chair to face him again.

"Sometimes I look in the mirror and don't recognize myself. It's like I'm seeing someone else." Ethan tried to explain as Ben's eyes lingered on him. "I feel things...things I know I shouldn't feel." He continued. Ben's hands came up and held Ethan's arms, pulling him back into his embrace. "They should have killed me." He whispered into Ben's ear.

An invisible chasm opened in that moment. And as Ethan's head rested on Ben's shoulder, the Latin stud wept silently. Ethan was broken, far more damaged than he ever imagined. His love for his daughter could not pull him from his anguish. What had happened to them was horrid, but Ethan had been harmed the most by the incident, maybe beyond repair. And although every fiber of Ben yearned to fix his friend, the fact that he didn't know how felt devastatingly cruel. Ben closed his eyes and dove inside himself as he had never before, claiming the strength in him needed at this moment.

"Ethan, listen to me." He whispered as he pulled away, holding Ethan's face in his hands and forcing his friend to face him. "I will fix this. I promise you. I will make it better." He pledged as his hands struggled to keep Ethan's gaze on him. The blonde stud's body kept tugging away. But Ben continued. "Ethan, look at me. Look into my eyes." Ben ordered. "Do you trust me?" He questioned.

And as he did, Ethan stopped, his twitching eyes consoling finally before slowly nodding. Ben smiled, diving inside Ethan's scared gaze and shedding his light onto his friend's inner darkness.

Ethan fell into Ben, and his arms finally came up, his hands gripping Ben's back. He didn't make any sound. Neither of them did. They just sat there, holding each other until the unwound space between them was no more. And now, they were closer than ever.

They eventually tore themselves apart, reluctantly. Ethan showed Ben to the guest room and went to bed. Ben wandered the space in the dark for a while, his mind lingering on Ethan's ominous words. He stripped to his undies and lay in bed, staring at the ceiling as the street lights pierced through the window shades and lit his beautiful muscular body. Ben's eyes began to flicker until his mind drifted away, and he finally fell asleep.

Hours later, a loud sound woke Ben from his slumber, his body bouncing from the bed. He sat there for a moment, confused by the muffled ruckus. He rolled sideways and stood up, striding to the door. As he opened it, the sounds got increasingly louder, and soon he heard something hit the floor and shatter. The door next to the guest room suddenly flared, and Lory's little head peeked outside.

"Uncle Ben..." She stuttered, her voice exuding fear.

"Go back inside, and shut the door." Ben ordered before he heard gasping sounds, like someone shocking, coming from inside Ethan's room.

He hurried his pace and rushed for the door, banging on it.

"Ethan...Claire?" He called before another blaring sound broke from inside. He turned the knob and opened the door.

His eyes flared. Ethan's back was facing the door, and his body hovered over Claire's, his hands wrapped around her throat as she thrashed her arms around, knocking stuff on the ground, trying desperately to break free until her eyes finally closed on Ben. They gaped in distress. Ben's body propelled forward and lunged over the bed, tackling Ethan. As he did, he caught a glimpse of his friend's eyes. They were dead, glazed with a white layer, almost like his body was there, but his consciousness was elsewhere.

"Ethan, let go. ETHAN!" Ben yelled, but the blonde stud didn't respond, his body seemingly possessed by an uncharacteristically rugged force.

Ben encircled his arm around Ethan's neck and pulled his body back, taking Ethan with him, finally unleashing his friend's grip from his wife's neck. They fell to the floor, and as they did, a loud gasp echoed across the house as Claire's body rolled off the bed, hitting the floor. She crept into the bedroom's corner, her hands crawling up her throat as she tried desperately to breathe. Ben and Ethan lay stretched on top of each other, Ben's arms and legs pinning the blonde stud to the floor as he wriggled like a worm on a hook, seemingly still unconscious.

"Ethan, wake up! Wake up!" Ben vocifered, desperation taking hold of his voice.

Suddenly, Lory's cries punched inside the bedroom, her tiny frame standing under the doorway to their room as she hugged a small plushie. Ethan's body froze and melted inside Ben's grip. He was awake.

"Fuck." Claire uttered as she tumbled sideways, coughing. "It's ok, baby." She said as she crawled her way over to Lory. "Don't be scared. Daddy just had a bad dream." She muttered between heavy breaths as she tried to hide the red marks on her throat. She grabbed Lory and rushed out of the room.

Ben unlocked Ethan, who slid to the ground, turning and slanting over the side of the bed. They were now facing each other, their eyes latched. Ben leaned forward, extending his hand, but as he did, Ethan flinched violently. Ben retracted, clutching his injured knee and pushing his back against the wall. At that moment, as he stared at Ethan's vacant and bewildered expression, Ben realized how deep his friend's scars extended. His friend's trauma had spread beyond control, his roots digging deep into the pits of Ethan's spirit.

Later that evening, Claire, Ben, and Ethan sat at the dining table, whispering as Lory slept on the couch behind them.

"This has happened before, hasn't it?" Ben questioned. Claire looked at Ethan, her eyes covered in tears. She faced Ben and nodded reluctantly.

"I can't do this anymore." She uttered. Ben could feel her despair. "I thought I could..." She explained, shame and defeat taking over.

"It's ok." Ben replied. He then paused, looking at Ethan, who stared vacantly at the table. His eyes were lethargic, unyielding. "Take Lory. Go to your parents." Ben suggested.

"What about..." She muttered, looking at Ethan.

"I'll take care of him. Don't worry." Ben replied.

"You were right." Claire mumbled, accepting her failure. She raised her head and looked at Ben. In her eyes, he found an implicit request.

"That doesn't matter anymore..." Ben uttered, his voice meeting Claire's halfway.

At that moment, and after a lifetime of hostility, they finally found common ground. They both loved Ethan. And they both knew that only Ben had a chance to fix whatever was wrong with him.

"Let's try and get some rest. We'll leave in the morning." Ben suggested.

"Where will you go?" Claire questioned.

"Back home, for now." He revealed. Claire's eyes glanced at Ethan again, squinting in angst. "Hey..." Ben called. "I'll take care of him." He promised.

Claire looked into Ben's eyes, tears skating down her face. And then, she beamed at him for the first time since they met all those years ago.

The remainder of the night was uneventful. Ethan slept on the couch. Ben didn't sleep. He sat on the same chair, facing Ethan, and monitored him all night, minding every breath, every turn, every whisper. Morning came, and Lory and Claire said their goodbyes, departing relatively early. Ethan and Ben followed suit, and their car drove off just as the first sun rays warmed the chilly breeze of the early dawn.

During the ride home, nothing was said. The events of the previous night had put Ethan into a catatonic state. Despite Ben's several attempts at starting a conversation, the best he got was a slow blink or two before Ethan turned to face the window, his eyes gazing into nothing. But Ben knew to be forbearing.

Eventually, they arrived at Ben's place. He parked the car in the garage, and they went inside. As Ben placed the bags on the floor, Ethan walked up the stairs without uttering a word and entered Ben's room. The Latin stud eventually followed his friend upstairs, stopping under his bedroom doorway. Ethan lay in his bed, his body in a fetal position and his empty gaze locked on the window. Ben took a deep breath, walked to the window, and closed some blinds, leaving enough slack to allow some light inside.

"All of them." Ethan's feeble voice spoke. Ben looked back at his friend before reluctantly closing all the blinds, submerging the room in darkness.

He was about to walk out, but something stopped him. He turned back and slowly crawled onto the bed, laying beside Ethan, their bodies barely touching. A silence followed, deep and unsettling. A dark space where tacit words drifted eerily.

"Ben...just let me go." Ethan finally whispered. His voice was stern, impassive.

"I can't." Ben whispered back, his hand stretching over the sheets, hungering to touch Ethan.

"Why?" Ethan questioned.

"Because..." Ben stuttered, his words stumbling to get out. "Porque... te amo." He uttered. He felt Ethan's body stir before turning around, their faces now inches apart, Ethan's breath coating the Latin stud's face.

"You already saved me once." Ethan whispered, an admission in the dark.

"And I'll do it again." Ben replied as he felt his tears tumble down into his pillow, followed by Ethan's fingers brushing against his face gently.

Ethan rolled over again and, a few minutes later, was sleeping peacefully.

Ben lifted his head, eyes on Ethan as he ensured the blond hunk slept. He slowly slid out of bed, making sure not to wake him. As Ben exited the room, he smiled before closing the door. Ben walked downstairs, and as he reached the kitchen, he got a text on his phone. He strolled to the counter and picked the phone up.

PATRICK
Flying back in two days. I can't wait to see you.

Ben beamed, picking up the phone with two hands as he got ready to reply. But his fingers froze, hovering over the screen. He looked up at the stairs and lingered there, his eyes squinting. He closed the phone and placed it on the counter, facing down. Then, he walked over to one of the kitchen drawers and took out a set of keys, rushing past the hallway and through the door accessing the garage. He turned the light on and traversed through the front of the car, standing before a small door with a lock on it. He pulled the key out and removed the lock, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. He stretched his hand and flicked the light switch open.

The room was small, probably the size of a pantry. Ben tossed the keys on a small desk, letting his body fall on the chair before it. A small laptop, several newspapers, and printed social media posts were scattered over the table. A search engine for Facebook and a vast list of search results for the name "Robert" displayed on the small screen. Ben's eyes started scanning the walls. They were covered with clippings of printed newspapers from the last two years.

"SERIAL RAPISTS STRIKE AGAIN" Oct.17th, 2016

"TWO DEAD IN ANOTHER UNSOLVED SEXUAL ASSAULT CASE" June 11th, 2017

"SEARCHES CONTINUE FOR MISSING KINTNER BOY" September 14th 2019

"HEROIC OUTCOME. VICTIMS SURVIVE AFTER 5 DAYS CAPTIVE" August 22nd, 2023

"TWO CAPTORS DEAD. A THIRD SUSPECT STILL AT LARGE" August 30th, 2023

"LATEST VICTIM'S TESTIMONY HALTS INVESTIGATION." November 2nd, 2023

Ben stretched his arm, gliding the mouse over the table and opening a browser on the slim laptop. He leaned forward and typed something on a search engine with a Portuguese logo on it. Soon, the computer started flickering as random mugshots strobed on the screen, reflecting on Ben's face.

"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty..." Ben whispered, his voice ominous and his eyes bucking with furious wrath.

(To be continued)

Copyright © 2023 CasualWanderer82; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for allowing me to take you on another one of my journeys. I hope you continue to enjoy reading as much as I did writing. I encourage you to share your comments, feedback and hit the recommendations to help my work reach more readers!
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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