Michael smirked as he pushed his way through the busy urban streets of London. It was late but the night was finally over and he'd done well for himself, patting his front pocket once, Michael made sure the night's tips were still in its place and continued on. Turning a corner he brushed past more people on their way to which ever club was hip that week and sped up a bit, eager to get home and rest.
The pub had been busy all night with the men crowding in to watch the Premiership finals, so by the time it had finally died down and John had given him the go ahead to take off it was half past one in the morning. He'd been standing on his feet pulling pints for the past nine and a half hours.
The pub wasn't a bad place to work though; all in all it suited Michael pretty well. No one asked questions about his past and everyone just assumed that he was straight. Which suited him just fine seeing as his past experiences with being the only gay teen in a sleepy mining town, was what lead him to flee Scotland in the first place. He liked the anonymity being a bartender afforded him. He worked primarily on his own and the small talk he held with customers generally revolved around them and not him. It wasn't hard to steer away from any uncomfortable subjects; mostly people just wanted someone to listen and Michael did that well.
It wasn't that he was ashamed of being gay or afraid of the reaction he'd get from the patrons of the bar. He'd worked there going on two years now and he'd become an establishment at the old pub. People took comfort in his presence there and finding out he preferred blokes wasn't going to change their opinion of him. He liked his solitude for other reasons, reasons he didn't like to think about, and didn't for the most part.
Even growing up Michael had only ever had one true friend and once he lost him to some fancy ballet school Michael hadn't bothered trying to win over new people. He knew he was different, hell he used to sneak into his sister's room and try on her clothes! Michael didn't need to be told that doing that wasn't normal adolescent boy behavior. So he kept to himself and eventually taught himself how to appear and act like the other boys in his classes. He'd started playing football instead of playing with make up and listening to The Clash instead of his mother's old disco albums, and before he knew it he'd become someone else. He'd become Mike.
Michael turned the last corner towards his home and hurried his pace to the front of the building. The place was old but in good shape and with his wage at the bar and a good share of generous tips, Michael was able to afford to live comfortably by himself. Another blessing, since a roommate was about as high up on his list of brilliant ideas as confronting a bear in the wild or returning to Scotland.
Once inside, Michael hustled up the stairs to his second floor apartment and entered with a contented sigh. He loved his apartment; it was one of the only things he truly took pride in. It wasn't in the best neighborhood perhaps, but it was big and more importantly, all his own. He decorated it the way he wanted, mostly it was a mixture of odds and ends he found at local thrift markets but he'd managed to give the place a bit of atmosphere. Vintage Rock posters lined the walls and the comfortable furniture in the living room all matched. His small dinning table which sat in the kitchen had been picked out of a pile of rubbish the first month he'd moved to London and the chairs were collected at different times in the same fashion. Everything was clean and put together and even though CDs had recently been put on the market Michael's vinyl collection sat in a place of honor on the left side of the living room.
Of course, it wasn't at all like his home in Scotland. His mother had never been home much and so didn't care to decorate any more than throwing a few framed pictures on the mantel and his father had been too drunk to care about home decor. Michael was sure that if he'd ever talked to shrink about his life they'd probably tell him that the reason he took such pride in his home was because he'd never been able to as a child. Then again if a shrink ever told him that he'd probably say something like "No shit, Sherlock" and walk out of the office straight away. The truth was though, that his second floor walk-up was the first place he'd ever been that truly felt like home. As far as he was concerned he'd be content to stay there the rest of his life.
Michael knew of course, that he should be considering going to college and choosing a profession, not planning out his life in his solitary apartment on the dodgy side of town. But college was for kids who came from families with money and professions were for people with bigger dreams. Michael had already fulfilled his dreams, he was on his own far away from his family and he was at peace. Who needed more than that?
Michael made his way through the apartment and into the bedroom, stripping quickly and flopping down unceremoniously onto his unmade bed. He wanted to take a shower and wash all of the smoke and dirt from his skin but as soon as he'd seen the bed he'd known he wouldn't be able to stay awake long enough. So instead he curled up under his blue down blanket and shut his eyes. Seconds later he was asleep.
"You've got to come!" Gregory whined.
"Why? It's not like I've not been down the pub before." Billy rolled his eyes and turned back to the book in his lap.
"It's Friday night Billy!" Monica pointed out. "And you've just gotten cast in the best ballet company in London, it's time to celebrate!"
"Can't we celebrate by letting me stay in and be comfortable?" Billy pleaded
"No!" His two best friends shouted in unison.
"William Elliot, if you do not get your lazy arse off that sofa and into a pair of skin tight jeans in ten seconds, I will brand the words old maid onto the middle of your forehead with a cattle iron!" Monica's southern American accent made the threat seem plausible and Billy gaped at her from his seat on the sofa.
"We need to see about getting you into some anger management courses, love." Gregory said looking over their female friend. "That was scary."
"I'm going! I'm going!" Billy raised his hands in defeat and leapt off the sofa to go clean up and change for a night out with his friends.
Searching his room for anything clean, Billy grabbed a pair of faded blue jeans and a gray tee shirt with the words Royal Ballet School printed on it. He still missed the school sometimes, it was hard to believe he was a graduate and that tomorrow he'd be starting his internship with the London Ballet. It seemed like just yesterday he was getting on the bus in Everington to go to school for the first time. He could remember his dad and Tony's faces as the bus left and the sudden plummeting feeling in his stomach as he wondered if he was making the wrong decision.
He supposed things had gone as they should have though. Tony was married now with two children, twin girls who he doted on constantly and his father lived with them now that his grandmother had passed. Billy didn't have any regrets about leaving; his family was doing well and he got back to see them once or twice a year. He'd also made great friends at Royal. Monica and Gregory had greeted him the first day and they'd practically been joined at the hip ever since.
Truth be told, Gregory and Monica were probably the only reason Billy ever got out of the house at all. After classes and dance rehearsals Billy always felt drained, all he really wanted to do was curl up with a good book. However his friends found that extremely boring and insisted that if he kept it up he would eventually become a hermit and no one would ever love him. So he was, night after night, dragged out to the local pub or some new dance club and inevitably ended up helping Monica or Gregory carry the other back up to the flat they all shared. He loved his friends, but neither of them could hold their liquor.
It was early yet, so the pub wasn't quite as crowded as it would have been had they gotten there an hour later. Billy looked around taking in the environment; he'd never been there before. Coming there had been Harrison's idea; Harrison of course being the unreliable and usually tardy boy who Monica had decided, for some reason that escaped everyone but her, to get engaged to. Billy only hoped Harrison didn't show up late for the wedding too, Monica would undoubtedly beat him to a bloody pulp before shoving him down the isle to say their vows.
The pub was in a somewhat sketchy area but still nice. The walls were covered in worn red paint and the oak bar was dented in places but still sturdy and strong. Patrons gathered around tables or congregated on the stools surrounding the bar holding out their money for the barman. Two young men scooted around each other preparing drinks on the other side of the counter. One was blonde and slender; he worked fast and served up the drinks with little personality. The other however smiled and greeted the regular customers with a few kind words. He was tall with dark hair that hung over his face as he bent down to retrieve the different bottles needed to fill his orders. His arms were strong, even under his military green jacket; Billy could see the muscles of his biceps slide against the fabric.
"Nice, isn't he?" Gregory pushed at Billy's shoulder with his own.
"Who?" Billy asked.
"The bartender you've been eyeing up for the last five minutes."
"I haven't been eyeing anybody up." Billy blushed.
"Mmm hmm" Gregory teased, "You know, it's okay to be human Billy, you know to like someone that way."
"Shut up" Billy pushed his friend away laughing. "I'll get the first round, what do you two want?"
"Just get us whatever you're having" Monica said absently as she turned to point something out to Gregory.
Billy nodded and made his way to an empty space at the end of the bar to wait his turn. He didn't have to wait to long as the friendly bartender made his way towards him. As he walked in Billy's direction he ran a hand through his hair lifting it out of his face, momentarily revealing striking blue-green eyes which were all too familiar.
"What can I get you?" the barman asked in thick Scottish accent.
"M-Michael?" The man's head shot up upon being addressed and both stood still for a long moment just looking at each other.
"Oi! Can I get some service?" A man called out to Michael and he stepped away from Billy walking towards the other patron as if he'd never seen Billy at all.
"Wait!" Billy called out, but Michael stepped over to the impatient man and began taking his order.
A thousand thoughts ran through Billy's mind, and none of them seemed helpful at all. If there was one regret Billy had about his life, it was leaving Michael. His best friend had never told him about the thrashings he got at home but Billy had always known. He'd been afraid when he had left about what would happen to Michael without someone to escape with, even if it was just a late night visit to the gym. When he'd gotten to Royal he'd written a few letters and received short but warm replies but after a while it all seemed to get away from him. Then he'd gone home for Christmas Holidays two years ago and Michael had been gone.
The actual words used had been something like "missing, presumed dead" and Billy had lost control. As soon as Tony had told him the news Billy had run to his old room, slamming the door shut. It had taken two days for his father to convince him to leave his bedroom. He'd never, however, been able to convince Billy that whatever had happened to Michael wasn't his fault.
The last time Billy had seen Michael had been the year before that and he'd noticed the difference in him right away. He'd been told, by Michael's sister, where to find him and with a skeptical glance he'd nodded and said he'd be off then. When he'd reached the football pitch and seen Michael on the field with two other boys, he was shocked to say the least. In fact, he'd only recognized his friend because he was the only boy with brown hair around. He'd called his name and the game had stopped, the other two players seeming to be shocked that someone was actually talking to their opponent. Michael had just smiled and made his way over to Billy.
As he walked towards him Billy had been shocked at the difference between the boy he'd known and the teenager who had taken his place. Michael still held himself gracefully but seemed to have shirked off any of the femininity that had clung to him as a child. His hair was cut short and spiky and his blue sweatshirt barely fit over his developed body. He was no longer lanky and weak; in fact the only thing that seemed to have gone unchanged was the rich color of his friend's eyes.
They hadn't seen each other for years but they still spent all of the time they could together over the short time Billy had off from school. Michael listened as Billy described his lessons and the people he'd met. Michael had told him about some of the people he used to know and explained when Billy asked that, yes he was gay but he'd never told anyone besides Billy. Billy tried to ask about his home life once but Michael had gone quiet for a moment and asked him not to ask about it anymore. Billy didn't.
Things weren't the same of course, but Billy hadn't really expected them to be, not after five years apart. Billy had more confidence and Michael had made himself hard to protect himself from the world he lived in. It wasn't until the beginning of the second week they spent together that they were truly comfortable again. Then everything had spun out of control so fast. Billy had started to realize his more than platonic feelings for Michael and Michael had started to trust him again.
On New Years Eve Billy had decided to go to the gym to practice seeing as his brother and father were down at the pub with Tony's new wife to celebrate and Billy was too young to join them. He'd slung his duffle bag over his shoulder and trekked to the gym ready for a good workout, he had been neglecting his dance practice ever since he got home and he didn't want it to show when he finally went back to campus.
It was late on the holiday, night had fallen about an hour ago and most people in the village were either already at the pub or on their way there. When the two boys from the soccer pitch came rushing out of the gym Billy greeted them with a small wave and proceeded inside. The gym was dark so Billy assumed Michael's football friends must have been the last to leave. So much the better, he hated people he didn't know snickering in the corners while he practiced.
Billy flicked on the lights revealing the scuffed marred floor of the gym and the equally used practice equipment. Setting his bag down Billy took a seat on a nearby bench and began unlacing his sneakers.
Suddenly the dull thud of something heavy falling over echoed through the gym and Billy shot up from his seat.
"Hello?" He called, no one answered so Billy sat back down.
Unlacing his shoes the rest of the way and slipping them off followed by his socks Billy then reached into his bag and grabbed his ballet shoes. He ran his fingers over them with reverence; they were the most expensive thing he owned. He'd had to work with a second-hand pair for two years before one of his teachers has surprised him with a new pair for an end of the year performance. They fit like a glove and didn't hurt near as much as the ones he'd learned with. They were built with care by someone who knew the needs of a dancer and for this reason he cherished them above all of his other possessions.
Slipping the slippers on Billy began to feel at home again. Looking in the mirror before him, Billy couldn't help but smirk at the familiar sight. He had decided long ago that dancing was his natural state, that it was when he was dancing that he felt most like himself. Billy flexed his claves and lifted himself into a nice starting position.
Readying him self to do a tours chaînés déboulés, he took a deep breath and counted off in his head. One, two and three and four…Billy fell to the ground. A gasp had sounded through the gym and now Billy could hear coughing and harsh breathing. Something wasn't right.
Making his way out of the section of the gym reserved for ballet classes Billy made his way to the light switch for the rest of the gym. The room was quickly illuminated but Billy could see nothing out of the ordinary. The boxing ring was clear of anyone, the basketballs were all in place, but there was still the harsh breathing.
"Hello?" He called, again he got no answer. "Hello?"
"Go away Billy, I'm fine." Billy's heart skipped a beat as he recognized Michael's voice.
Billy ran in the direction the voice had come from, on the far side of the boxing ring Billy could see the edge of one of Michael's old boots. He rounded the side and tried not to gasp when he saw the state of his friend.
"Michael, what happened?" Billy sunk to his knees him.
"Nothing, just go away." Michael answered as he tried to push himself up from where he'd been laying on the ground.
"Bullocks, look at you!" Billy argued as he helped Michael sit up.
The left side of Michael's face was black and blue and a cut above his eye was leaving a bright red trail of blood down to his chin. He moved in slow staccato motions as he settled himself back against the side of the boxing ring.
"Look, it's not a big deal. Just leave it alright?"
"No, no Michael it's not alright. Who did this to you? Was it those two pricks I saw on the way in?"
Michael's laugh turned into a cough "Those two? No, I could take them" he smirked.
"This is not funny Michael, if it wasn't them who did this to you?"
Michael just looked at him like he was an idiot and it was then that Billy realized he was. Of course he'd seen the aftermath of Michael's father's work; he'd just never seen it moments after the fact. Probably because Michael escaped to places that were usually deserted, like the gym. Billy dropped the subject and sat down next to Michael with a defeated look. He hated that Michael had to live with a drunken brute for a father but what could he do? He was just a kid.
Looking at Michael he didn't feel like a child though. He felt all his sixteen years and then some. Everyone at school always took shots at him for never dating. Truth be told he did have the opportunity; he just didn't have the drive. Not until he had come back home for the first time in five years and seen his best friend walking towards him from the football pitch. Then proceeded to spend a week finding out that despite the fact Michael had grown and learned to hide his true nature away, he was still the same kid he'd left. He was a bit wiser and a bit more wary of the world but still the same kid.
"Are you alright?" Billy asked.
"I'll be fine," Michael assured him. "Go back and practice."
"Nah, don't feel like it." Billy replied, "Besides its New Years Eve." Billy reached over and began brushing the blood from the side of Michael's face with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Got any resolutions?" Michael asked.
"Aye" Michael nodded looking into Billy's eyes.
"What's yours?" Billy asked running a hand down the side of Michael's face as he finished clearing the blood away.
"I asked you first." Michael smirked as he moved forward into Billy's space.
"I'm going to try not to kiss you." Billy stated even as his face inched closer to Michael's. "What's yours?"
"To make you break yours."
Their mouths met hesitantly but soon the kiss gave way to something more intense. Michael's mouth opened against Billy and Billy took the opportunity to seek out the other boy's tongue with his own. Michael's hands traveled up Billy's chest until his arms wrapped around his shoulders and soon Billy was leaning in, tipping Michael onto his back.
A loud bang sounded outside the gym as the first of the evenings fireworks exploded in the sky and Michael jumped away.
"This…we…I-I have to go." Michael hobbled to his feet grasping onto the side of the boxing ring for stability.
"What's wrong?" Billy asked standing up beside him.
"What's…what's wrong?" Michael asked, "Well right now a few things not the least of which is I've just made out with my straight best friend."
"Michael, I never said I was straight."
"Well you never said you weren't!"
"Well I thought the whole kissing you thing would be a good indicator."
"Listen, I don't know why you're doing this, but I don't need your pity."
"What? Don't be ridiculous."
"I have to go."
That was the last time Billy had spoken to Michael. He'd had to leave the next day in order to be back to school in time for his first class. Once back, he'd started several letters to Michael, all of which were disastrous failures and unworthy of being sent. Billy just couldn't seem to put down on paper what he really felt, it was all to complicated…or perhaps too simple but either way a letter, he'd decided, just wouldn't do.
So, Billy spent an exorbitant amount of time during his year at school trying to find the correct way to tell his friend that he loved him. That he found, was going to be the easy part, making Michael believe it was another problem all together. Billy started off slowly simply trying to map out what he would say, he practiced in the mirror and even talked to Monica and Gregory about different approaches to use. Eventually, Billy had come up with a casual speech that he was sure would get his point across, as long as he remembered to ask Michael to hold his comments until the end.
For better or worse he'd finally had a plan and by the time the bus pulled into the station in Everington he was ready to march over to Michael's house and make him listen.
That's when Tony had told him the news.
Michael had disappeared just over three months ago. The police had turned up witnesses that said the "activity" at the house had been getting louder and louder over the past weeks but no one who could point to Michael's whereabouts. The general consensus was that the old man had finally gone too far and killed the boy and then stuck his body somewhere the police couldn't find. Without a body it was hard to get a murder charge to stick and so the old man was still free.
Tony had had to restrain Billy from going over to the house and strangling Michael's father with his bare hands. Once he finally came out of his room that was. The only reason he'd stayed away was because his father had pointed out that Michael wouldn't have wanted his best friend thrown in jail over a man that was going to be a social pariah for the remainder of his life anyway.
So when Billy saw those familiar blue-green eyes look at him from across the bar, only one thought was important. 'He's not getting away that easy.'
"Oh no you don't!" Billy called Michael's attention back to him as he served two pints to the other patron. "You get your dead Scottish arse back over here!"
Michael turned away from the man he was serving and looked at Billy with a shocked expression. Dead? What did he mean, dead? The group of men surrounding the bar had stopped their conversations when Billy had yelled and were now all staring at Michael waiting for his response.
"I-I think you have me confused with someone else." Michael's voice shook.
"Bullocks," Billy walked around the bar until he was right in front of Michael and beside the men he'd been serving.
"Is everything alright Mike?" the other barman asked.
"S'fine." Michael said turning back to Billy.
Taking a deep breath Michael couldn't help but noticed how much Billy had changed in the three years since he'd last seen him. His body was the same height, just slightly shorter than himself, but his hair seemed lighter, as if he'd been spending a lot of time in the sun. His body was more toned from further ballet training, his shoulders round instead of flat. He looked amazing, which was a problem.
It was a problem because Michael had sworn to himself that he would not fall in love ever again. He was secure and safe in the small world he'd made for himself. Adding the only boy he'd ever truly loved into the mix had the potential to tear that world apart. Looking at Billy, Michael couldn't determine whether that was a good or bad thing.
"What are you doing here?" Michael asked.
"What am I doing here?"
"Okay, point taken." Michael conceded, "Listen, I'm working now. I get off in an hour."
Billy simply nodded in understanding and turned away.
Billy made his way slowly back to the table on the far side of the bar where his friends were now sitting with a newly arrived Harrison.
"Hey where are the drinks?" Monica asked.
Billy sat dumbstruck by what had just happened and deaf to his friend's question. Michael…was alive. He was alive and in London, working in the bar he was sitting in. All this time Billy had thought he was dead and now it turns out he's working in some pub just a few miles from where Billy lived!
Billy could think of no reaction to his situation that seemed appropriate. Yelling at Michael was the first thing that came to mind. Screaming at him about how worried he'd been, how he'd blamed himself for his death. He wanted to berate him for all the time he'd spent believing that if he'd just told someone about what was going on in Michael's house or convinced Michael to seek help, his best friend would still be alive. For all the nights he'd cried himself to sleep and all the hours of sleep he'd missed while going over the situation in his head. Billy wanted to point out what his disappearance had done to him.
He couldn't though, his best friend was alive.
When Billy thought of that, he wanted to kiss Michael. He wanted to fall into his arms and never let go, the boy he'd fallen in love with was alive. He was alive! He was living and Billy couldn't help but think back to the few days after he'd returned home to find Michael gone and all the times he'd prayed for the rumors not to be true.
Had his prayers been answered?
Then the reality set in, he'd never told Michael he was in love with him. He'd never gotten the chance after that night in the gym and now three years had passed. What was he going to say when Michael got off work? He didn't even know if Michael was the same boy he'd fallen for. Two years of living on his own in a big city could have changed him even more.
Billy turned to look at his friends, who were all staring at him, "Sorry?"
"Are you okay?" Gregory asked.
"Yeah, maybe…probably" Billy tried to convince himself.
"What happened?" Monica asked.
"Michael? That's not giving us a lot to go on, love." Monica slid into the chair across from Billy.
"Michael, from Everington"
"You mean…the boy who died?" Gregory asked, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Not dead." Billy murmured.
"He's working behind the bar."
All three friends turned quickly towards the bar catching the eye of a tall brunette behind the bar who quickly looked away when caught staring.
"You mean that's him?" Monica asked.
"Aye" Billy nodded.
"So he's not dead." Gregory sat back.
"It appears that way." Billy leaned back in his chair, tipping his head back and looking at the ceiling. This was not how he'd expected his night to turn out.
"Well, did you talk to him?" Gregory pried.
"No Gregory, I ordered my drinks and went on my merry way, of course I talked to him!"
"Calm down Billy, Greg's only trying to help." Monica took Billy's hand in hers.
"I'm sorry." Billy sighed, "It's just…he was dead you know, it was horrible and tragic but at least I understood what had happened. Now he's here…he's in London and I don't know where he's been or what he's been through…what am I supposed to say to him?"
"How about, hello?" Harrison offered with a smirk.
Billy smiled, it was rare that Harrison said anything that Billy was interested in hearing, but at that moment the boy had known what needed to be said.
"Aye, that's a start." Billy nodded.
Michael watched from behind the bar as Billy crossed back over to the table where his friends sat. Michael couldn't help but notice how different his friends looked from any of the other patrons, and him for that matter. The girl who seemed about their age was tall and slim and her white skin and clean blonde hair made her look like a fashion model. Her dress was obviously expensive and a small diamond pendant rested against her sternum. She looked comfortable even if she looked out of place in the pub. She seemed to have a level of confidence that bordered on self empowered, which Michael supposed made her perfect for the city.
The man sitting beside the girl had ginger hair that was stuck up in meticulous spikes and looked like it took a long time in the mirror to perfect. His tailored jacket was offset by a tee-shirt underneath that advertised a local football club, though from the distance Michael couldn't quite make out which one.
The last man at the table leaned towards Billy with a look of concern. His dark skin was even and clear. His head was shaved and well moisturized. His body was also well built, though he was taller than Billy. His femininity showed in the way he wore his clothes, a velvet black jacket was accompanied by a white dress shirt and a colorful scarf wrapped around his neck. He also seemed a little out of place in the bar, his manners and light touch gave away his upper class upbringing.
No doubt they had all met at the Royal Ballet School.
Michael felt his stomach clench as he watched the girl take Billy's hand in hers. She caressed it gently, as if she'd done so many times before and Michael had to look away.
He made his way to the end of the bar refilling a few pints and trying to keep his mind off of the fact that Billy was taken. It wasn't as if he'd expected him to stay single, hell he didn't even know for sure if Billy had ever really liked him. Michael had written off the night in the gym as pity and shelved it away as one of the only fond memories he could look back on from his childhood. Even if Billy's motivation hadn't been genuine, the feeling of his lips on Michael's had been one of the purest experiences of his life.
Taking another order Michael continued to mix and pour various beverages although without his usual friendly attitude. If the patron's noticed anything they kept their mouths shut, not that Michael expected anything less. The people who frequented the pub generally knew not to pry into his life. He was happy enough to talk about theirs also long as his was never touched on.
It wasn't like he would have much to share with them anyway. He'd grown up in Scotland the only son of a workaholic and an alcoholic. His workaholic mother was rarely home and his alcoholic father took it upon himself to rid his son of his "alternative preferences" through the use of his fists. It wasn't an uncommon story and it wasn't one that he felt the need to let strangers in on. He didn't need any sorrowful looks cast his way. He was fine. He'd gotten out, he'd run away to London and had gotten a decent job, he could afford his own flat and his life was perfectly adequate. No sympathy needed.
A group of young men laughed from the side of the bar where they were having a conversation and Michael tried to hide his frown. So he didn't have any one he could really call a friend. So what? He didn't need them, never had. He'd only ever really had one friend and he'd left. It seemed his fate, that everyone he loved or cared about was destined to hurt or leave him. Being alone was safer.
Shaking his head once again, Billy insisted that his friends go on ahead. There really was no reason for them to stay. None of them knew Michael or the entire story of what went on between them. Having them there when Michael got off work would just serve to make the encounter even more awkward, if that was possible.
"Are you sure?" Monica asked again, "I mean we could wait for you."
"No," Billy maintained, "This is something I need to do on my own."
"Fine," Monica conceded, "But I'm going to keep my mobile on just in case you need to talk afterwards, alright?" Billy nodded, knowing that there was no use in arguing with her.
"Okay then," Harrison nodded taking his fiancé by the hand. "We best be off before the line at the door gets too long."
"Right," Gregory huffed, "now I get to be the third wheel."
"Oh don't be like that. You know I'd leave Harrison in a second if you weren't such a flaming poof." Monica laughed, kissing Gregory on the cheek and guiding their party away from the pub leaving Billy alone outside the front door.
"Oh, that makes me feel so much better" Billy heard Gregory reply as he was pulled further away.
Billy watched his friends walk away until they turned the corner and were out of sight. He loved his friends, but was also very glad that they hadn't all insisted on staying with him. He knew, as well as they did, that if they had been adamant about staying he wouldn't have had the heart to tell them to fuck off.
Taking a deep breath Billy looked down at his wrist reading the time on his new watch. The silver wristband had been a graduation gift from his family, Billy knew that they'd probably saved up and pooled their money in order to get it for him and for that reason it never left his wrist. The time was ten after and Michael was going to be out any minute.
For the life of him, Billy had no idea what he was going to say.
What does one say to the recently resurrected long-lost love of their life? Billy didn't really think there was a script to follow, no protocol he knew of. If someone asked him to dance about it, he might be able to pull something out of thin air, but he doubted that would suffice in this scenario. He wanted to start it in a way that signified how important the conversation was; something that reflected how much pain he'd been through, how much he felt for Michael, or had felt at least. It had to be something subtle yet profound and poetic.
"Cigarette?" Billy looked up, shocked to see Michael standing next to him offering him a fag in his outstretched fingers.
"Uh…no…don't smoke." Ah yes profound; Billy wanted to shove his head against the nearest brick wall.
Michael simply nodded and put the pack of smokes back into his pocket after lighting one for himself.
"So…" Michael began, "You thought I was dead?"
"No Michael," Billy turned to look at his best friend, "I thought you were on holiday at club fucking Med." Michael had the decency to look embarrassed, "Of course I thought you were dead, Jesus! The last time I saw you that bastard had just beat you to a bloody pulp and then I get home to tell you…to tell you! And you were gone and nobody knew where you went and everybody in that small fucking town was whispering about incompetent police that can't find your body!"
"Billy! Billy, calm down mate." Michael rested a hand on Billy's shoulder only to have it slapped away.
"Don't you tell me to calm down Mike" Billy sneered. "Do you have any idea what that did to me?"
"Believe it or not Billy, not everything is about you."
Billy sighed heavily but nodded, Michael was right of course. It wasn't about him.
"Why didn't you ever try to contact me?" Billy's voice was barely audible.
"What would I have said?" Michael asked taking a drag off his cigarette. "Sorry about molesting you last year but I've run off from home and wondered if I could crash at the dormitory? Come on, that's bullocks."
"As I recall, it was I who did most of the molesting." Billy smirked.
Michael couldn't help but smile back at his old friend, even as he felt his determination to remain solitary slipping away.
Billy looked up at him through full blonde eyelashes, "What did you come home to tell me?" Michael ventured to ask.
"What? Oh, nothing…it's not important."
"Come on, it must have been important if you're still thinking about it years later."
"Well…it's just- you see I- well I'd thought- well not thought- I knew after New Years- after we- well I just knew and I'd been thinking about a way to tell you, a way to make you believe me."
"Uh, you want to start that one over, Bill?"
"Oh god" Billy ran a hand over his face, "You'd think after all this time I'd be able to just come out and say it."
"Say what exactly?" Michael threw his cigarette down and ground it down into the pavement.
"Well I guess Monica would say I've nothing to loose…" Michael tried his best not to pull a face at what he assumed was the name of the girl who'd been fawning over Billy in the pub, "When I came home that Christmas I was going to tell you that I was i-in love with you."
Billy turned his face away, red with embarrassment and Michael stood frozen in shock. All Michael could think was that he'd heard something wrong. He'd imagined what he wanted to hear. But Billy was blushing and looking sheepish and his eyes were avoiding looking at his straight on.
Had he really said it? Had Billy just- "Did you just say you were in love with me?"
"Aye" Billy nodded, seeming to find conviction in his declaration and looking up at Michael.
"But you aren't…you weren't…"
"I tried to tell you Michael, I- oh forget it." Billy reached forward fisting the front of Michael's gray shirt and pulling him forward until their lips met.
Billy latched on, softly pressing his lips against Michael's. For a moment Michael was still, in shock, but a second later his lips started moving against Billy's and his hand crept around Billy's waist.
Billy breathed in through his nose not wanting to part from Michael, not after waiting all this time. Michael's lips were warm and smooth against his own and as he darted his tongue out against Michael's lips he could taste salt and smoke and something undeniably Michael. It was rich and woody with a heat like cinnamon. Billy had missed that taste, even if he didn't fully realize it before.
Michael opened his mouth inviting Billy in and moaned softly as their tongues touched for the first time since that night in the gym. Only this time it was so much different because Michael didn't have blood caking to the side of his face and he wasn't afraid that Billy was going to push him away. Letting his arms push under the back of Billy's shirt, Michael ran his hands over the cool smooth skin he found beneath.
Billy's back hit the side of the building as Michael's weight fell against him and firm, strong hands rested on the small of his back. The impact forced his lips from Michael's, and Billy leans back meeting his best friend's wide eyes.
"Don't ever scare me like that again." Billy whispered.
"Promise." Michael answered feeling his solitary life slipping away, being replaced by something new.