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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. 

01 The One I Want - 17. Ring Ring

On my way home. Internet in the airport! lol.

While I was away, I got 2 more chapters ready to go. Wrote some new stuff, rearranged and cut some old sections. I believe it's worth it. Time to start tying up the loose ends. Watch out for the cliffhanger on chapter 18.

Hope my American readers had a wonderful holiday!

Chapter 17
Ring Ring

Cold. From the tips of his toes to the knuckles on his hand seeped awareness of the cold. Ben's nose practically burned but he didn't move. Somewhere nearby music played too softly to make out over the muttering and hammering. There were no curtains on the tall, picture window, the sky outside gray-white should have seemed cold but instead felt warm and cheery, juxtaposed as it was with the evergreens along the frame and big, fat snowflakes drifting down.

"Why is it snowing?" he asked, and as if from far away heard his name, questioning, calling, distant.

"Ben?"

He started, catching the phone as it slipped off his shoulder, focusing on the emails on his computer screen and the paperwork strewn over his desk. "Yeah, sorry," he replied. "Got distracted."

The voice on the other end laughed. "Well, don't let me keep you, then. Just wanted to double-check with you the details ...."

Ben grunted a suitable response, leaning back in his desk chair to stare past his computer to the world beyond the window blinds. He was home and everything was fine, getting some work done while Rick was out getting the crap kicked out of him in something only idiots called a sport: rugby. He must have fallen asleep. That's all.

Not five minutes after he hung up, the house phone rang. Ben fumbled across messy stacks of folders and paperwork, swearing as he knocked one askew.

"Hello," he said. There was no response. "Hello?" he said again, pulling the phone away from his ear to look at the caller ID. He didn't know the number.

But he knew the voice. "You're mine," it said. Then only a dial tone.

Ben froze. The phone fell from numb fingers but Ben didn't hear. His eyes went back to the sunny, Californian world outside his window. He's here!

Just then Ben's cell phone blared the opening notes to his ring-tone. He half-jumped, half-fell sideways, hitting his hip against his desk. Later Ben would wonder where he got that bruise, at present he catapulted back to his feet and fled.

It seemed like only seconds later that he blinked sore, gritty eyes, nearly panicking again before he realized that he was not in complete darkness. Soothing music reached his ears, replacing the hammering of his heart. Pressing the heel of his hand to a throbbing head, Ben dislodged the blanket tucked loosely around his shoulders. He massaged the base of his neck as tense muscles made their complaints known. He shivered, wiping cool sweat off on a forearm. Swallowing against a dry throat, he wanted to hide away again as he realized that he was once again curled up against the back wall of his closet.

"Ben?"

Rick's voice. What time was it? When had he gotten home?

"Gonna put some tea on, okay?"

"Ye-ah, sure." Ben winced as his voice cracked, swallowing a couple times to try and stimulate saliva production. With a groan, he dragged himself into the bedroom, nearly tripping over Snowball lying amongst his shoes. The cat hissed; he cursed and knocked an elbow against the doorjamb.

"Fucking cat!" he snarled, and stalked to the bathroom. He wanted a shower, and the water would drown out the incessantly happy music playing on the radio.

When he came back, Ben saw Rick in the process of cleaning up the detritus of 60 some-odd English papers. He pinched the bridge of his nose and glanced at his watch for the date. September. Right.

"Fuck."

Rick looked up, frowning as he saw Ben drop his wet towel on the floor where he stood by the dresser. The hamper was within reach, but he still dropped his things on the floor. The frown softened as he watched Ben shut the drawer to the dresser and pull out a football jersey and shorts from the hamper. These were the clothes Rick had worn earlier that day, and they dwarfed the slimmer man.

"What?"

"You're in a temper tonight," Rick observed, shrugging. He bit back the urge to apologize. He had been staring, but this time he hadn't meant to be rude. It had only just then hit him how much weight Ben had lost in the past few months. maybe it had been a gradual thing, but he scolded himself anyway. He'd let himself get so caught up in the first couple weeks of the term -- still no excuse. Ben was wasting away before his eyes.

The coffee maker Ben used exclusively to brew tea chimed, drawing him into the kitchen. He grabbed a large mug, dumped in a lot of sugar and milk, and stood there by the sink gulping the hot drink.

"Your teeth are going to rot," said Rick, not giving voice to the concern he felt.

Ben ignored him, walking the long way through the dining room, out to the living room, and then into his office.

"You're not going to work, are you?" asked Rick, following. He received a glare in reply. "Please come to bed."

"Why?" The look Ben shot over his shoulder was vicious.

He forced a casual shrug. "You should get a good night's sleep if you plan on going with Doug in the morning."

Ben made a sound that could charitably be called a laugh. "Yeah, that ain't happening. I've got work to do."

He turned away and Rick's hands became fists at his side. He took a deep breath and reminded himself that strangling his lover would be counterproductive. It wasn't as if Ben hadn't tried to shut him out before. So easy it was now to see how things with Will had continued in such a bad way for so long. What could he do to knock some sense into his lover?

"You're really making me mad right now," he said. He got a grunt. Taking a purposeful step forward, Rick saw tension erupt in Ben's stiff neck, but he didn't stop. Slowly, he crossed the distance, deliberately grabbing the back of the desk chair and spinning Ben around.

"Come on." Rick put out his hand, hiding his smile at Ben's adorable (if mutinous) pout. A moment later, Ben gave in.

They settled into bed and Rick turned off the light. Moments later he had ben snuggled up with his head on Rick's shoulder and an arm across his chest. Rick plucked a strand of wet hair off Ben's cheek and tucked it back behind his ear. He felt Ben flinch and tense as fingers approached his face, and Rick supposed he shouldn't do those things that made Ben nervous, but he'd already toned down as much of the physical affection as he could. A kiss and he listened to Ben's breathing.

"Hey, Ben?"

"Mm?"

Rick turned, holding himself up by an elbow. Just as Ben started to become uncomfortable under that direct, searching gaze, Rick cupped his jaw in a big hand and then kissed him. In moments the kiss became something else. Ben relaxed into the feel of Rick's body enveloping him, calloused fingers sketching the skin under his shirt, a long, muscled leg between his own, the tongue mapping the inside of his mouth in that addictive way Rick had.

Rick lowered Ben onto his back, taking special care of the healing side, following him down and letting his mouth wander along Ben's jaw down to his ear. Teeth touched an earlobe and Ben gasped, shivering. Rick's mouth turned up at the corners. Ever so gently, he lightly licked the outer edge; an even deeper shiver and Ben moaned, body arching toward Rick's hands.

Down his throat now, a light kiss on Ben's adam's apple and down, hands sketching the sharp bones of Ben's shoulder blades. As his nose brushed the collar of Ben's shirt, Rick let his mouth trail further, reaching down to Ben's collar bone. Ben's hands were in Rick's hair, twisting little curls into the short hairs at the base of his neck. Ben's pants were music to Rick's ears.

He lifted his head for a deeper kiss. Okay, two. Two became three, and then four. They were turned now, with Ben on the bottom, his hardness pressing against Rick's thigh and for once he wasn't pushing or demanding more. Rick toyed with the idea of kissing his lover until he came or just jerking them off. Anything more was a gamble, but it was going so well so far ... and Rick was only human. He wanted more.

At first, nothing seemed different. Rick lowered himself, sliding against Ben's body and down under the sheet. He laved kisses along Ben's stomach, nibbling on a hip, pushing Ben's shirt up, his pants down. By the time his nose met pubes, he could feel tension along Ben's thighs and stomach, everywhere but one. He stopped and looked up.

Ben had one hand thrown to cover his face, the other gripping the mattress. "Sorry," he whispered.

"It's okay," sighed Rick, pressing a kiss to nearby skin. He let his head rest there on a thigh for a moment, sternly reeling in his disappointment. Was it just his imagination, or was this -- was sex -- getting worse? Advance and retreat, Ben was like a mirage, reach for him and he disappeared. He was a beautiful man even now and Rick ached for wanting him, but he was like the wild Snowball. He fled and hid from a direct approach, coming out only on his own terms, hissing if anyone got too close. Eventually, Rick reminded himself, care and love would sink in, but it was so much more frustrating when it was a man and not a cat.

He shifted, preparing to sit up, and Ben went rigid beneath him. He froze. The tableau held for a second, maybe two, and then exploded outward.

Rick hit the bed with a grunt, rolling to his side and sitting up in time to see Ben dash into the bathroom, pulling up his pants as he went. Rick covered his face with a hand, wishing it were so easy to stop his ears. The sound of vomit had to be the worse sound in the world. He'd be willing to bet that an alarm clock with that sound would be highly effective.

Throwing back the covers, Rick rose and walked over to the bathroom, leaning on the doorjamb and flipping on a light. Ben now had his forehead pillowed on arms propped upon the toilet. From the shaking of his shoulders, Rick knew he wept. As much as he wanted to go to his lover and comfort him, Rick stayed put.

"Hey," he said softly, loud in the night.

"Sorry."

Wasn't that the most heart-wrenching sound ever? Rick swallowed, blinking back tears. He saw Ben flinch as he stepped onto the tile, but he kept moving, just two steps, and then he kneeled, reaching out to draw Ben into his arms.

Skinny arms went around his waist, Ben's head pillowed on his naked thighs, face hidden. Rick smoothed the too-large shirt Ben wore.

"Hey, shh, it's okay. My fault, okay?"

Ben shook his head no, body trembling. Rick could feel hot tears along his skin. He kept up the soothing caresses as goosebumps formed on his skin from the cold tile and his feet slowly went numb.

"Ben," he said quietly, stopping to press his lips into a thin line. Courage, Rick! He took a deep breath before continuing, "Ben, I want you to talk to someone."

Ben shook his head again, smearing tears against Rick's thigh.

"Yes," said Rick. "I don't know what to do, and I love you. I can't see you hurting like this and do nothing. Please, Ben." The last he said in a whisper. "Please. Can't you see how this is killing me?"

The silent weeping grew worse and Rick closed his eyes, biting his tongue, holding Ben tighter, silently willing him to agree. Please, Ben. Please. For God's sake, please!

"I'm fine."

Rick's eyes opened at that whisper. He bit back a hasty retort, taking a deep breath, hands moving without conscious thought to continue the slow caresses.

"You're not fine," he finally said. "You're jumping at shadows, practically evaporating because you're not eating, or throwing up what you do eat. You never want to leave the house, and --"

Ben sat up, pulling away, face twisted into a scowl, somehow more fiercesome with red, blotchy eyes and spots of color on his cheeks."I'm fine!"

He drew away as Rick's hands came up, a jerk of his body strong enough to tip him backwards, saved from cracking his head by big, callused hands sliding behind his shoulders and bringing him forward again.

Rick drew the resisting body into a hug, kissing the side of Ben's face. "Fight me on everything else," he said quietly, "but don't fight me on this." He blinked to hold back his own tears. "Please, Ben."

There was no verbal assent, but Rick knew he'd won.

* * *

Monday morning Ben rode with Rick to UCLA. He hadn't eaten any breakfast though he'd choked down some tea. He didn't want to do this, really, really did not want to do this, but -- Ben jerked his comb ruthlessly through his hair, scowling at his reflection for a moment before averting his gaze. He knew what he'd see if he looked: sunken eyes with puffy, dark circles beneath, hollow cheeks and pale, pale skin. His hair needed cut, but he'd been putting it off for weeks now. His hair hadn't been this long in years, but Rick liked it. Ben didn't like anyone grabbing at his hair, thinking they could control him by jerking his head around, but Rick's fingers threading ever-so-lightly along his scalp brought out goosebumps of a good kind.

Dropping the comb, Ben dug the heels of his hands into his eyes, hunching his shoulders. He was doing it again! And Rick hadn't even told him to let his hair grow; he'd just done it.

"Ben?"

He started, dropping his hands as he leaped sideways and lashing out, "Don't tell me what to do! I don't have to listen to you!"

"Uh ...." Rick blinked, tilting his head a little in confusion. "Just wondering if you're ready to go?" He smiled, loving the deliberate muss to Ben's hair.

Ben glared and dragged his comb back through his hair to straighten it. Rick's general, happy look didn't change, leaving Ben uncertain.

"I'll be in the car. Whenever you're ready."

He left. Seconds later the door to the garage opened and closed, followed by the sound of the garage door opening. Ben tossed the comb onto the bathroom counter and ran his fingers through his hair. Not looking at himself, Ben washed his hands, drying them and rubbing in some of Rick's hand lotion.

The trip by car was mostly silent. Rick navigated mostly through back streets, avoiding the worst of the morning rush-hour traffic. They scored a parking spot on the street and joined the throng of young people walking to campus.

Hidden by the crowd, Ben felt some of his tension ease. He wasn't being watched here, snaking his hand into Rick's and giving him a tentative smile as Rick's eyebrows went up with surprise.

Rick led the way, stopping in one of the older buildings with its thin floors and brick walls. There was less noise inside and Rick paused to pull a folded piece of paper out of his pocket.

"Never been to his office before," he confessed, squeezing Ben's hand. "Here, this way."

They turned a corner towards what appeared to be a waiting area and desk. Standing in front of the desk was a man not much taller than Rick but who seemed to fill the entire corridor. his shoulders were easily twice the breadth of Ben's, his upper arms straining the cuffs of his short-sleeved dress shirt.

"Grant!" Rick hailed him. Ben just looked on, drawing back a little but still holding onto Rick's hand.

The giant man turned around, revealing a tie and dress slacks to go with his shirt and a pair of glasses perched on his nose. He had a black eye and tape on one ear. Ben smiled a little. Of course.

"Rick!" boomed the big man. He walked towards them, giving Rick a hug that picked him up off his feet and cracked his back. Then he turned towards Ben.

Even though he stood out of arms-reach, Ben still took a half-step backwards.

Grant smiled. He offered his hand. "And you must be Ben. Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," Ben croaked. He glanced at Rick before moving forward to settle his hand into Grant's grip. He braced for a crushing handshake, but Grant squeezed back evenly.

"Grant Thomas, my boyfriend, Ben Blythe." He smiled at Ben. "We play rugby together. Grant's a prop."

Grant nodded and Ben smiled back weakly, eyes darting nervously back to Rick. He wanted to beg him not to leave but kept silent, biting his lip as he stared at the floor.

The two rugby players exchanged a look.

"Let's go to my office," said Grant, gesturing them to follow him.

There was a moment's confusion as the three men made the average-sized office seem tiny and cramped before they all found seats. Per a previous conversation, Rick sat on the single chair and Ben on the sofa. Grant moved to a carafe on his desk and poured a mug.

"Coffee?" he asked.

Ben shook his head. He folded his arms across his chest, pressing into a corner of the sofa as Grant sat down, passing another mug of coffee to Rick. The two rugby players proceeded to talk shop, exchanging "remember whens" and Ben found himself interested despite himself.

"... So Pickles is running with the ball, straight up the field, and wham!" Grant slapped his fingers into his palm. "Sam was so surprised." He chuckled, shaking his head.

"Foul, of course," said Rick to Ben, grinning at him.

Ben cocked his head. "Why?"

"You're supposed to tackle," Rick explained. "Not pick up members of the other team."

"Yeah, well, he wasn't on the opposing team for long."

"You switched sides."

Grant laughed. "Yes, as he delights in reminding me!"

"I don't get it."

"Here, Ben, stand up." Rick stood, facing his lover, but staying a step to his right. "Grant, here, and Pickles, you remember him?" Ben nodded. "Well, they were running at each other, and Pickles dodges." He gestured and Ben took a couple small steps forward. "Then, instead of tackling him, Grant grabbed him round the waist, like this, and lifted him up off his feet."

"Pickles was just hanging there, holding onto the ball, mouth open like a fish." Grant laughed again, picking up his coffee to take a drink. "It was an accident."

"Yeah, right."

Ben watched as the two friends looked at each other and laughed.

"He was so cute," Grant explained, "that I left my team and joined the Landsharks. Pickles is my partner."

"Oh."

"These two helped me a lot when I first came out," Rick went on. "Grant's a psychologist for the university."

"Mostly deal with homesickness and stuff like that," the big man said, nodding. "But occassionally something else, like a case or two of date rape or the over-achievers who suffer nervous break-downs coming up to finals. We actually have a big drug problem on campus. Kids who've never been to the big city get overwhelmed, fall in with a bad crowd." He shrugged.

"Easy to get in over your head," Ben agreed.

"Indeed."

"So, I've got to get going."

Ben twisted to look up at Rick, now standing. He forced a smile as Rick squeezed his shoulder.

"Hunter's picking you up, right?"

Ben nodded. He looked down at his hands, tucking them between his knees and willing them to stop shaking.

Grant watched with interest as Rick kissed the top of a blonde head, kneeling and taking a small, orange stuffed animal out of his backpack. He and Ben whispered for a minute as the stuffed animal changed hands. Ben turned his head to the side, closing his eyes as Rick stood once more.

He looked at Grant, worry and reluctance clear to see. Grant gave his teammate a reassuring nod. He'd been quite surprised when Rick had called him, quickly agreeing to see them. In a professional sense, the problems Rick had sketched for him intrigued him, but more than that his personal curiousity had been roused. Rick had dropped everything for this man, this Ben, but who was he? Jazz was reserved in what he said, and that wasn't much.

The man seated on his sofa was obviously ill at ease, but Grant was used to that. Few people actually wanted to see him in a professional capacity. Rick had made it quite clear that Ben was not one of those few. From what he said, Ben was going to be a tough customer. The list he'd been given of medications frankly worried Grant. While he couldn't prescribe medications, he knew what they were. Grant disliked psychiatrists who believed in drugs rather than counseling in order to solve problems. It looked to him as if Ben had run afoul of a few of that type.

Grant was well on his way to believing Rick's original statements about this Giligan. Ben looked like a nervous type.

"So," he let the word rumble out and took another sip of coffee. "Why are you here, Ben?"

Crystal clear blue eyes darted up and back down. "Didn't Rick tell you?"

"He did, but I want to hear what you want to get out of this."

"I, uh. He asked me to." Ben kept his eyes down, squeezing Sherbert against his torso.

"Rick's worried about you."

"Uh-huh, he wants more, and I can't ...!"

Grant sipped at his coffee, watching as Ben's jaw stiffened. He breathed in and out of his nose and Grant could see that he was struggling to stay calm. Grant stayed silent, giving Ben the time he needed.

Ben looked up, eyes moist, but holding himself tightly in check. "We're not boyfriends or dating or lovers, or any of that crap. Rick wants to be ... But I want more."

Grant's eyebrows lifted. He got up to pour more coffee, mulling over that particular statement. "How do you define a boyfriend?" he asked, sitting back down.

Ben gave him a blank look. Then he flushed. "Well, you know ...." The psychologist didn't answer. Ben could feel his inquisitive stare and shifted against the sofa, drawing his knees up and sandwiching Sherbert between his thighs and chest.

"This is stupid."

"You came."

"Yes, I know."

"You don't want to be here."

Ben gave him a look and said nothing.

"That's not so original, you know," said Grant solemnly. He'd evidently hit a nerve with the previous question, but he let it go. For now.

"Ask me if I care."

"No. I already know you do, or you wouldn't be here."

They stared at each other until Ben's glare lost its heat and he looked away. Grant smirked with one corner of his mouth.

"I hear you're a counselor yourself?"

Ben looked at him and frowned. "You're trying to get me off-guard so you can sneak in some probing questions."

Grant grinned. He liked this kid. "You bet. It really doesn't matter what we talk about, but you need to talk, so talk."

"Um." Ben tucked his face down, taking a few deep breaths. Rick had asked him to come, and he knew things were out of his own control, but ... "I don't know where to start."

"How about the beginning?"

"We'll be here awhile."

"You can come back."

"You have an answer for everything, don't you?"

"Yes."

The guffaw caught Ben by surprise and actually hurt on its way out. He rubbed his nose and smiled. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

* * *

The ring sat in a faded velvet-lined tray, along with a dozen or more others. Two strands, one white gold, the other yellow gold, twisted around each other, leaving a diamond-shaped area in the middle in which were tiny divots where little chips of diamond should be. The ring was light-weight, the metal thin, but there was something about it that appealed to Ben, despite its imperfections.

Unfortunately, the ring was far too small. It barely fit on his littlest finger. What, did a midget buy this thing? No wonder it's in a pawn shop.

"Whatcha got?"

Ben started, nearly dropping the tray. "Jesus, Hunter!"

The shorter, stockier man grinned, stepping sideways to look at what Ben held more closely instead of leering over his shoulder. "You've been over here the last twenty minutes," he said, frowning at the motley collection of cheap, gaudy jewelry. "Please tell me you're not seriously thinking of buying one of those?"

"And what if I do?" he replied defensively, curling his hand to hide the ring now apparently stuck on his finger. "It was your idea to come here."

"Ben," Hunter sighed. "It's a flea market. How will you know what's there if you don't look?"

"I hate shopping with you."

"Well, if you weren't being so bitchy!" Hunter snapped. "Why don't you buy something? Get you out of that bad mood."

"That may work for you, but not for me."

They'd been friends for fifteen years, but Hunter still sometimes wanted to strangle the man. "Then why don't you tell me what's eating you?"

Why was everyone suddenly so eager to know what he was thinking? Ben scowled. "Maybe walking around in circles for the last ... um, three hours!"

Something glittered on Ben's hand in the dim light and Hunter reacted without thinking. He grabbed Ben's wrist when the blond looked at his watch.

"What have we here?" he asked. The ring was simple, and one of those things available under glass at a supermarket-discount-everything-in-the-world-mart. The ring was totally at odds with Ben, but Hunter could definitely see the possibilities on somebody else's hand.

"Ben," he questioned, more serious than his usual playful self allowed. "Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"

"No!"

"Are you? You are! You're blushing!" He peered closer at his friend, fascinated.

"Fuck off, Hunter!" Snatching his hand back, Ben thumped the tray back in place as an excuse to step away. He yanked on the ring. "I just can't get the damn thing off!"

A sculpted eyebrow crept upwards in disbelief and Hunter bit his tongue to stay quiet. He took Ben's hand again. "Here, let me see that." A little spit and some twisting later (not all of which from Ben), and the ring slid right off.

Ben massaged his hand, scowling. "Damn thing." He tossed the ring back onto the tray. "Come on, let's go."

"Oh, no." Hunter scooped up the discarded ring. "You're not leaving without this."

"I don't want it."

Hunter gave a purely internal sigh. If he hadn't been a girl in college, if he hadn't been so confused ... Friendship is overrated.

He turned his back on Ben's glowering, pouting face, and walked up to the counter. "How much for this?" he asked the shopkeeper, holding up the ring.

"Hunter," growled Ben, following. He stared at the ring.

"I think it's cute," the man replied with a deliberate smile. "Besides, it fits me. See?" Red bloomed on Ben's cheeks as he glared and Hunter held back a grin. He knew Ben wanted this ring, and he was pretty sure he knew why. Not only that, but the man who swore he'd be a bachelor for life was seriously thinking about settling down!

He felt more than a little bit wicked. "Don't you agree?"

"No." It was hard to glare down one's nose and still lift a chin stubbornly, but exposure to Hunter had taught Ben the knack years ago.

"In fact, I think it's junk. I wouldn't pay five bucks for it."

"Well, I would," Hunter replied before the overwhelmed clerk could do more than open his mouth. "Here." He dropped a five dollar bill on the counter. "Come on, Ben, I'm starving."

"Hunter!"

Ben glowered as he followed behind. He couldn't believe that Hunter had just bought his ring -- when it was so obvious that he'd wanted it! Hunter could be so goddamned annoying!

"Hey!"

He turned around with a carefully blank look. "What?"

"Give it." Ben held out his hand. "Give it back."

Now Hunter allowed a smirk. "I thought you didn't want it?"

"Like hell, you bastard! Give it to me!"

Hunter ignored the curious looks from passersby. "Give me one reason I should."

"I saw it first."

"What are we, in first grade?" He as not impressed. "You can do better than that."

"You said one," Ben snapped. "You didn't say it had to be a good one."

Hunter frowned. He knew he shouldn't descend to Ben's level, but he could rarely resist a deliberate taunt. "I bought it. It's mine."

"You don't even like it. You were just saying that!"

"Hmp!" For all he was ten years comfortable in his skin, Hunter still knew how to flounce away, nose in the air like one of those Victorian-era girls in the movies.

"Fuck!" Ben swore. He stood there a minute, hands squeezed into fists, eyes shut, and willed himself to relax, muscle by muscle. As much as he sometimes wished to, he couldn't rip the queen's head off. And, it really wasn't Hunter's fault. He had really only agreed to this expedition because he hadn't wanted to be stuck riding the bus home from UCLA.

"Goddammit, Hunter!" he exclaimed when he caught up. "What's it going to take to get that ring back?"

The blue-haired man regarded him silently for a minute, then said, "Apologize. You've been in a snit all day. And," he added when Ben opened his mouth. "I'd like to know why you want it so bad. It's not like you." Ben didn't care for jewelry. The watch he had was a gift from his great-uncle Charlie.

Ben sighed and leaned against a fire hydrant. He crossed his arms. "I'm sorry for being a jerk. I hate shopping, but I thought it would be nice to hang out for once. You live so far away now."

"Riverside is not that far. I thought you were working a steady forty hours now?"

A dark expression passed over Ben's face. "Yes," he answered, muttering, "Stupid Shelly." He shook his head to rid himself of evil thoughts. He really did have a lot more energy now that he wasn't working so much, and the agency did need to learn how not to be so dependent on him, but it was his store!

"But that's not ..." He paused. He didn't want to come off as paranoid or psycho, but he couldn't think of another way to put this: "Have you ever felt like you're being watched?"

"Yeah," said Hunter cautiously.

"Well, it's like ... I dunno, but lately it's like someone's staring at me, all the time. Like, I didn't feel like this when that private investigator was supposedly following me around in June. It's like ... I dunno. And Rick's acting so strange! I just don't know."

"Acting strange how?" Hunter asked, deciding to cut straight to the heart of the matter.

Ben looked away, staring up the street but not really seeing anything. "Do we really have to talk about this?"

"Yes."

He stared at his foot, scuffing the pavement. "It's -- he's been ... all ... snugly, I guess." He didn't hear Hunter's snort of suppressed laughter. "It's not that he's being mean," he hastened to explain. "I like it, it's just not like him, and I don't know what to do!" He ran his fingers through his hair in distraction, heedless of his friend's stare.

"What if ... all this is too much? What if he's trying to break up with me?" Ben knew all the tricks from having employed them all before. "What if he doesn't love me anymore?"

Hunter stopped Ben with a hand on his shoulder. Even he could see that Ben was getting more and more distraught. As fascinating as it was, it wasn't helping.

He leaned in close. "Sweetie, that's just not possible. Okay? Not. Possible. That man loves you."

"But."

Do you love him?"

"I -- I think I do -- I don't know!"

"Has he asked you if you love him?" Hunter could scarcely believe they were having this discussion.

"No." Ben chewed his lip miserably.

"Oh, Honey."

"How do you know? I mean, I saw that ring, and I thought of him right away."

"Ben, think about what you're doing. A ring isn't a 'gift' gift."

"I know! And it won't fit him anyway!" He wiped at his eyes, his hand coming back wet. "Oh, fuck. Dammit." What a shitty day.

Hunter slipped the ring from his finger and curled Ben's hand around the warmed metal. "I think you seriously need to think about what you're doing," he said. "If he said 'I love you' and the obvious reply didn't occur to you, then shouldn't you let him go? Isn't that what you keep telling me?"

Hunter had a bad habit of falling in love with men who would never love him back.

"But I don't want to!" Ben cried, clutching the ring tightly. "He loves me. Really loves me. Just for me." he looked helplessly at Hunter. "Why can't I love him back?"

The face peering earnestly back remained carefully neutral. "Only you can answer that question, Ben," Hunter told him frankly, but still kindly. "Only you can know."

Ben held the ring tightly in his fist as he followed Hunter down the street. Cleaned up, the ring was too flashy for his tastes, but it was just the kind of thing that Rick would like.

God, Hunter was so right. Giving Rick the ring might keep him for a little while longer, but it would be a mistake. Ben couldn't do that to him. Rick deserved someone who could love him back. For the first time, Ben wished he could. He wanted to. He cared for Rick very, very much. If he wasn't already, Rick was quickly becoming his whole world.

That wasn't exactly healthy, either.

"We haven't known each other that long!" he protested.

Hunter patted him on the arm. "Sometimes it takes years, months, or days, and sometimes you just know."

He held onto Hunter's sleeve. "I need more time!"

"I wish I could help you, Ben, Sweetie, but you need to speak to Rick, not to me." Turning away in that moment was one of the hardest things Hunter had ever done, but he was able to push away the weird mood shortly and then it was almost like old times again.

Still smiling tiredly from Hunter's stupid jokes, Ben fished his keys out of his pocket and waved to his friend. The bug wasn't in the garage, but he didn't worry. It wasn't often, but Rick liked to go clubbing with his friends. No doubt that was all he'd called to say earlier.

He shed his clothes on the way to bed, knowing Rick would be annoyed, but too tired to care. He grinned a bit as he walked through the meowing cats and settled on the bed. He plugged the phone in and snuggled in under the comforter, phone to his ear.

"Hey, Ben," said Rick's voice on the recording. "Hope you're having a good day with Hunter. Going to the bar to hang out, probably stay over at Jazz's if I get too drunk, so don't wait up. Love you lots, and I'm imagining all the dirty little things I can do to you when I get home ...."

Sweet smile on his lips, Ben drifted asleep to the sound of Rick's voice.

~ TBC ~

2010 Dark; All Rights Reserved<br /><br />Characters, places, names and events are a product of my own muse and entirely fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. Any reproduction or reprinting without the express consent of the author is prohibited.
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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. 
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You don´t let your characters have an easy life :/ Ben´s a total mess, but hopefully Grant can really help him. So, Will´s back :o

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On 05/26/2014 07:31 PM, Suvitar said:
You don´t let your characters have an easy life :/ Ben´s a total mess, but hopefully Grant can really help him. So, Will´s back :o
I like Grant, did you?
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So... Since last review their 'everyday' seems to have returned, I kind of have the feeling that something is comming... Is will really stalking him? Is he really there...

 

good ode thing that Ben is finally getting some help... Hope it will finally give everyone some answers so things can move forward.
things seems to have slowed down a bit for the two of them, sadly, and turned to the worse, but hopefully soon Ben will break through this bubble he's entered and things will change for the better.

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