Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where Were You?



Title: Where Were You?
Author: Rolf
Characters: Eric and Michael, from the Rolf/Matthew/Marc universe
Warnings: Deals with what seems on the surface a suicide attempt, along with 9/11 and the weeks in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.


Author’s note: I needed to thank Ranger for pushing – hard – to help me make this story deeper and more meaningful. Without that help the story would only be a shadow of what it turned out to be. Thank you. :{} Also, I'm not a historian. This story was borne of my needs to exorcise my own demons from that day and the weeks that followed. And also, for The Rusty. Did NOT mean to tease so unmercifully. I hope you find this worth the wait.  







Where Were You?

Where were you when the world stop turning on that September day
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
Or working on some stage in L.A.
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Rising against that blue sky
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry

Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below
Did you burst out in pride for the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I could
Tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stop turning on that September day
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Or driving down some cold interstate
Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone
Did you call up your mother and tell her you loved her
Did you dust off that Bible at home

Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened
And you close your eyes and not go to sleep
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Or speak to some stranger on the street
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns

Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Stand in line and give your own blood
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I could
Tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

   ~ by Alan Jackson



Michael worked his way carefully through the hole in the fence and sat down on the edge of the bridge. He kept his back pressed hard against the support, and one hand steady on the handle the workers used to climb under the bridge for repairs. He angrily wiped the tears from his eyes with his free hand and tried to stop the steady flow. He jumped as a bird flew up and flapped away quickly when it realized his perch was taken.

Matthew parked his truck next to Michael's car in a spray of gravel and dust. Rolf spotted Michael's feet dangling from the edge. "Matthew, I want you to stay --"

Matthew jumped out of the truck, slamming his door.  Rolf jumped out and grabbed Matthew before he got too far, swinging him around. "I want you to --"

"To what? Go home? Michael is *MY* friend and I'm not going anywhere!" Matthew spat forcefully.

Rolf thought it would be better if Matthew wasn't around if things got too dicey, but realized there was no way he was going to get him out of there without going with him.

"Then I want you to stay here, by the truck." Rolf held up his hand when Matthew tried to interrupt him. "He's obviously distressed. I don't want him getting any more upset than he already is. If he asks for you, I'll call. Please, I think this is the best way."

Matthew nodded, his eyes still on the area Michael was occupying, his heart screaming "Nooooooo!" He slowly walked back towards the truck, never taking his eyes off of Michael, and praying feverntly the entire time. He trusted Rolf's decision.

Rolf walked quickly over to the fence. "Michael?"

Michael jumped and turned quickly, panic crossing his face. "Don't come any closer!"

"I won't. I won't," Rolf said, holding up his hands. "Eric's been called, he should be here any minute. I thought I'd come and see if there was anything I could do."

"There isn't." Michael turned back to look towards the river.

Rolf didn't miss the hurt in Michael's eyes. He sat down, his back against the fence. Speaking gently, he asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Michael turned and when he realized Rolf wasn't going to push matters, relaxed a little. "Eric's not listening to me. I mean….I can't seem to talk to him. I want to, but I don't…" Michael's voice cracked. "I didn't know what else to do!"

Rolf wanted to defend Eric, knowing that couldn't be the case, but decided the best tact was to keep Michael talking. "Tell me more." Michael talked haltingly, not making much sense. He was trying only to say what he thought Rolf wanted to hear to keep him at bay. All he wanted was to see Eric.

Rolf was very relieved when he heard the approaching siren. "I think that's Eric. I'm getting up now, and I'll just stay here until he arrives, okay?"

Michael nearly choked out his okay.

Eric pulled his cruiser onto the bridge, screeching the tires when he stopped. He turned the siren off but left the lights on. "Michael!" Rolf caught sight of Eric's face and saw the shock registered there.
This was obviously a quick decision on Michael's part. He grabbed Eric's arm and had to hold him a moment before Eric's eye's registered that it was Rolf.

"Michael's NOT in a suicidal state of mind. I think he's gotten confused on the best way to talk with you. Just be careful; Matthew and I are right over there if you need anything." Rolf headed back towards Matthew, wanting nothing more than to hug him.  Eric gave a curt nod before he turned and went to the fence.

"Michael?"

Michael immediately began sobbing and talking incoherently.  Eric's heart was in his throat, seeing the love of his life that upset. He quickly pulled off his gun belt, tossing it to the ground. He slowly worked his way through the fence, talking quietly to Michael, scared to death Michael would slip.

Michael saw Eric coming and worked his way to his feet, keeping a strong hold on the support.
Eric kept a firm grip on the fence and held out his hand.

Michael turned.

And fell.

*******************************
Weeks earlier.......

Michael's phone rang. He cursed quietly and picked it up, certain it was another customer complaint. "Hello?"

"Go find a television. Now."

"Matthew? Some of us aren't as lucky --"

"Find one, channel 18."

Michael looked dumbfounded as he heard the click and the dial tone. "What the hell is that all about?" he wondered, getting up.  He needed to stretch his legs anyway, having been sitting on the floor with a computer in disarray around him. He walked down the hall to the break room, turning the television over to the local news station and going to get a coke out of the refrigerator.

He was only half paying attention when he saw what looked like an airliner crash into the second World Trade Center tower. He dropped the unopened coke, his mouth wide open in shock. He stepped quickly back over to the remote control and turned the sound up. The refrigerator door slowly closed on it's own.

Michael quickly stepped out into the hall. "Patricia? Someone just crashed into the World Trade Center! Come look!"

Patricia got up and walked over to the break room door, looking at the two smoking giants on the television screen. "Oh. My. God."  She sank down in the chair, her eyes glued to the screen.

A moment later, Kelly and Andy came running down the hall. "Turn the tv on - yeah, that! What are they saying?"

Within a few moments, most of the office employees were gathered around any television they could find, watching the minute by minute coverage as one of America's darkest days began to unfold. In
between the stunned silences, babble about accidents, terrorism and war began to seep through.

When the first tower collapsed, several people began to cry quietly, hugging each other. When the second tower followed, several people left the room, overcome with emotion. Michael sat through it all, glued to the television even when the images threatened to overwhelm him. He wanted to turn away, but couldn't. The picture of the New York skyline without it's signature towers was horrific, especially with the rest of the area under an enormous cloud of concrete dust.

Lunch came and went. Michael stayed in the break room for the most part, wandering back to his desk for a few minutes before being drawn back to the television. Five o'clock rolled around and he managed to shut down the office as everyone else had long ago left. He got in his car and drove home, the radio turned to the all news station so he wouldn't miss any new updates. He parked in the garage and went inside, immediately turning on the television and sitting on the couch. Thirty minutes later the phone rang.
"Hello?"

"Hey sweets. How are you doing?" Eric asked.

"Okay," Michael answered listlessly.

"It's been an upsetting day, hasn't it?"

"Yeah."

"Why don't you invite someone over for a couple of hours? I'll be home by nine."

"Nah. I'll be fine."

"I left some lasagna in the fridge, and there's rolls and salad too.  Why don't you get that heated up and settle in the bath?"

Michael heard the sounds of the radio come to life, then Eric respond.  "I've got to run. I'll see you at nine. Keep the tv off, you could use a break. Love you."

"Love you too. Bye." Michael hung up the phone and wandered into the kitchen. He pulled out the lasagna and popped it into the microwave then went back to the fridge. He opened the door and gazed at the salad and decided it was too much work. He grabbed a glass and poured himself some iced tea, took the lasagna from the microwave and grabbed a fork, heading back towards the couch and television.

He opened the lid and tried a bite of one of his favorite meals. It had absolutely no discernable flavor to him. He poked at it three or four times before putting it on the floor in favor of the iced tea.

Again at eight, the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Hi. What's up?" Todd said.

"Nothing much. You watching tv?"

"No, Stephen turned it off. I'm going out of my mind with boredom, thought I'd call and see what you're doing. Eric's working, right?"

"Yeah. He'll be home by nine. I've just been watching tv. I can't believe all this. It's just....unimaginable."

"Tell me about it. I got to see most of it at work, and of course they went live here about once every two hours to give local news updates. It was busy at the studio."

"Bet you had a lot of kooks calling in with hoaxes," Michael said, picking up his uneaten food from the floor. He dumped that in the trash, covering it up with a couple of paper towels and put the
dishes in the dishwasher.

"The phones were ringing off the hook. Even got desperate and asked if I'd answer them. Of course I turned them down. I'd have the entire city boycotting the station if they let me talk to the idiots!"

Michael managed a short laugh at Todd's expense, knowing his short temper with stupid people. "I'll just have to find someone and give them your extension, then sit and listen to your response."

"You'd dare," Todd replied. "What are they saying now?"  Michael went back to the television and started reading some of the sentences as they crawled across the bottom of the television.

Within about five minutes, Stephen had figured out what was going on and told Todd to hang up. "Later."

Michael hung up the phone and looked at his watch. Eric would be home soon. He turned the television off and headed upstairs to get into the bath. A hot soak to loosen up his muscles would be good.  Eric pulled into the driveway at 9:15 on the dot. He loosened up his tie as soon as he stepped out of the car, pulling it off as he walked up to the door. He entered into the dark kitchen and turned on the light. He checked the fridge and saw that the lasagna had been eaten, but as he expected, the salad still remained. He pulled out the container of orange juice and a glass, pouring himself a tall one before heading upstairs. He headed towards the bathroom as that was the only light on in the house, knocking gently.

"Michael?"

"Come in," Michael said lounging against the back of the tub.

"Hey. How long have you been in here?"

"Not long, why?"

"Just wanted to make sure you weren't turning into a prune. Have you had the tv on since you've been home?"

"Yes," Michael said slowly.

"How are you doing?" Eric asked kindly, sitting down on the toilet.

"Okay. It's mostly just unbelievable. They're saying 5,000 or more are dead. That's great considering there could have been fifty thousand there at the time, but that's still more than Pearl Harbor."

"I know. The pictures are horrific and the news about the rescue workers is heart rending. So many people giving their lives because that is what they choose to do."  Michael could only nod, settling deeper into the water.  "Did you get enough to eat?"

"Yeah."

"I'm going to make myself a sandwich and then I think we could both do with an early night. Don't stay in here too much longer, okay?" Eric said, getting up.

"Okay."

Eric pulled the door to behind him and set his juice down in their room. After removing his uniform and putting on his sleeping shorts and t-shirt, he headed back downstairs and grabbed a paper towel and made a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches and grabbed a small bunch of grapes. Then he made sure the downstairs was secure, and brought his food upstairs and settled in on the bed, turning the television on to see what the newest was in the city of New York.

Michael only stayed in the tub about ten minutes more, leaving the warmth of that in favor of his warm lover. He wandered into the bedroom, his teeth brushed and his hair damp and laid down on the bed, curling up against Eric's side, his head against his stomach.

Eric grabbed the extra blanket and laid it over Michael's goose-bumped back, brushing the wet locks out of Michael's eyes. "Want a grape?"

Upon Michael's nod, Eric pushed a grape against his lips, which Michael accepted gratefully. Eric absently rubbed Michael's back, lost in the television news the same as Michael had been earlier. The pictures were so powerful it was hard to turn away. Before he knew it, it was nearing midnight.

He thought that maybe Michael was asleep, and tried carefully to get out from under him. He was surprised when Michael lifted himself up.  "I think we should try to get some sleep, don't you?"

"Yeah, guess so," Michael answered, pulling the blanket tighter around him.

Eric got up, groaning as his legs ached from not having moved for several hours. "Get your pajamas on and under the covers."

Michael chose to simply get under the covers, shivering as his body touched the cold sheets.
Eric turned off the television and slid under the covers as well, Michael immediately curling up against his side. He pulled the blankets tighter around them and tried to go to sleep. It took a while, as every time he did he saw the buildings fall, the dust exploding through the city streets, the faces of the survivors appearing and disappearing in the murky air.

Michael dropped off to sleep pretty quickly, but woke up several hours later in the middle of a nightmare. He was hot and his throat was dry from the heavy breathing he had done right before he woke up. That's when the tears first fell, silently so as not to awaken Eric. He felt very strange, crying for people he didn't know, for a city he'd never visited, for the thousands of people still wondering about their loved ones. Why did he feel so badly for that? He'd never felt that way about Pearl Harbor. He didn't feel that way about D-Day. Why was it this event was effecting him? What was so different about it? He tried to go back to sleep, but it wouldn't come for him. He laid awake, miserable, waiting for the alarm to ring so he could get up. The last thing he wanted right now was for Eric to know how upset he was, as he didn't feel like he should be.

Finally, the alarm went off.  Eric hit the button and rolled over to wake up Michael.

"I'm awake. Go back to sleep," Michael said, getting up.

Eric was surprised at how easily Michael had gotten up, but didn't take the time to think too hard about it, going back to sleep almost instantly.

Michael took a shower and got ready for work. He headed downstairs and poked around in the pantry and the refrigerator, finding nothing that peaked his interest. He gave up, heading back upstairs. "Eric? I'm leaving now."

Eric woke up, stretched and then sat up, smiling sleepily at Michael. "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"

Michael wanted to say no, but knew if he did that he'd probably get an early bedtime that he could do without. "Yeah. You?"

"Took a while to get to sleep, but was okay after that. I'm off today, I'll make dinner if you're coming straight home?"

"Yeah. See you later." Michael kissed Eric and headed out the door to work.

Eric got up and took a shower, then headed downstairs for some breakfast. He made a bowl of cereal and flipped on the television and opened the paper that Michael had left on the table. The front page of the paper was in brilliant color, several shots of the World Trade Center Towers before, during, and after the attack. He watched the news for a while, then answered the phone when it rang an hour later. It was his Chief, asking for volunteers to make the trip a bus trip to New York to help with the rescue efforts. Eric agreed almost immediately.

Michael went to work, grabbing a doughnut from the break room that someone had brought in. He parked himself in front of the television while he ate that, washing it down with a coke. Nearly an hour later, he headed back to his desk to try to get some work done. He spent most of the day in the break room, probably staying in his office ten minutes out of every hour. The office was still not functioning as normal, with most employees checking in on the television or keeping the radio tuned to the news station. And when they weren't paying attention to the news, they were talking amongst themselves.

Late in the afternoon, Michael was watching with Kelly in the break room. They were showing the wall of missing persons, the candles burning, and playing "Proud To Be An American" and Kelly began crying quietly. Michael turned without thinking and put his arms around her, wiping the tears from his own eyes. They both were slightly embarrassed by it, but neither could stop, nor could they turn the television off. When the song ended and they started talking about something else, both Kelly and Michael grabbed a napkin and laughed at each other, both trying to clean their faces before anyone saw them.

"I'm sorry. It's just....they know how to pull the heart strings," Kelly stammered, trying to smile through her tears.

"I know. I'm okay watching it until they show stuff like that," Michael replied, standing up and throwing away his napkin. "I wonder when they'll return to normal television."

"I don't know. I've never seen them keep the news on this long on the network channels. And the way they're doing it, with all the words across the bottom. Gives me a headache trying to read and watch and listen at the same time."

"You don't need to tell me that!" Michael replied, walking down the hall into his office. He was embarrassed having broken down at work and wanted to get his mind off of that. He got online and started talking with some friends.

At 4:30 the phone rang. "Hello?"

"Hi sweetheart. How has your day been?" Eric asked.

"Fine. And you?"

"I've gotten the house straightened out a bit."

Michael couldn't suppress a snort. "And that means the windows have been washed."

"Everything but," Eric said, laughing.

"Don't tell me it's *MY* job to finish those!"

"No, no. I called to see if you could stop by and pick up some egg rolls from Mandarin. I'm making your favorite stir fry for dinner."

"Mmmmmmm. I like when you stay home."

Eric laughed. "Can you do that for me?"

"Yes, no problem. I'll be home by 5:30."

"Thanks. Bye."

"Bye," Michael said, hanging up the phone.

He stopped by and got the egg rolls only encountering a little more traffic than usual and was home by 5:40. He zipped in, dropping the rolls on the counter next to Eric and headed straight for the television in the living room, saying hi to Eric as he passed.

"Hey. No, Michael, turn it off. I think we've both seen enough of that."

"I wanted to see the headlines, just a minute."

Eric walked into the room, picked up the remote and turned it off. "And I said no. Didn't you watch at work?"

"Yes, but I wanted to see them now!" Michael said hotly, standing up.


"No. Dinner will be ready in five minutes, I could use a hand with the table." Eric saw that Michael was going to speak again and leaned down to kiss him firmly. "And hello to you too." He swatted Michael gently towards the kitchen. Michael went, not wanting to fight further. He'd just have to watch later, and he was hungry now anyway.

Within five minutes the table was set and the dinner was served.  Eric tried to keep some general conversation going, wanting to get most of dinner done before he broached the subject of his leaving to help in New York City. Finally, they were nearing dessert.

"Michael, I've got something to ask you. It's...pretty important."

Michael put his fork down and sat back, knowing something serious was coming because of the tone. "What?" he ventured carefully.

Eric looked down at his plate, then back up at Michael. "My department..... Today at roll call...... With all the stuff going on....."

"Just spit it out," Michael said helpfully.

Eric couldn't help but smile. "Okay. At roll call today they asked for volunteers to go to New York City and help with the rescue efforts. It would be for a week, this Saturday to next. I'd like to go."

Michael's heart sank, but he kept a straight face. "Why are you asking me?"

"Because it would affect you. I wouldn't just pack up and leave for a week without discussing it with you first," Eric said, holding out his hand.

"It's something you have to do, isn't it?"

"If you mean I think I should help, yes," Eric replied.

"Then go. I think I can handle things by myself. I've done it before." Michael got up and carried his plate to the counter.

Eric turned and caught Michael's wrist once he set the plate down and pulled him into his lap. "You don't sound too sure of that."

"I'm fine, really," Michael said, struggling to get off the lap.

Eric pulled him close and wouldn't let go. "Michael. If you're upset, we need to talk about it. It's a week apart, doing what could be some dangerous work."

Michael burst into tears and buried his face against Eric's neck. "Why do you have to gooooooo?"

"Because they need help. I want to go, and do what I can," he said, running his hand through Michael's hair.

Michael quickly tried to bring himself back under control. There wasn't a point in this crying. Eric wanted to go, he should be allowed to go without worrying about him, and his stupid fears. He said the things that Eric wanted to hear and got back up and cleaned the kitchen.

Eric stayed in the kitchen, deep in thought. Once Michael had left, he picked up the phone and dialed Rolf.

"Hello?" Matthew said.

"Hey Matthew. How are you?"

"Okay, if a certain someone would get off my case," Matthew replied.

"And why would he be on your case?"

"Because I'm supposed to be doing homework."

"Why don't you put Rolf on, and I'll distract him for a few minutes," Eric said, laughing.

"I think I can do that." Matthew put the phone down and yelled loud enough for Eric to hear clearly.

"Hello Eric. How are you, aside from deaf?" Rolf said, picking up the extension in his office. Matthew hung up a moment later.

Eric laughed. "He did put the phone down, so I'm okay there. I wanted to bounce a few things off of you."

"Sure, I'll do what I can," Rolf replied, sitting back.

"How is Matthew handling all this stuff with the attacks on the trade center? Or you, for that matter?"

"It's been very upsetting to all of us, to say the least," Rolf replied. "The loss of people, the loss of innocence. I'm doing alright with everything I think. I'm not afraid of a second, imminent attack. And Matthew's been doing okay, though I'd give anything about now to throw the tv at his office out the window.

This constant coverage is hard on everyone, and he's getting too much of that at work. I've banned tv for now at home, to avoid seeing any more because I've caught him with tear filled eyes when he's watching. How are you and Michael doing?"

"It's been about the same here. Michael doesn't have a television in his office, but I know he's spent a lot of time in the break room, glued to the coverage. He's in the living room as we speak."

"I'm anxious for news on the rescue efforts, but it's just too much right now."

"I know. Speaking of rescue efforts, they've asked for volunteers to go to New York for a week. This coming Saturday, for seven days."

"I'm certain you've signed up. How does Michael feel about that?"

"That's just it. He says it's fine, that I need to do it. I'm just not sure he's too happy about it."

"I can't imagine that he would be," Rolf said gently. "This isn't easy on anyone. He's probably upset that he can't help himself, and he's going to miss you. Just keep talking to him, let him know
you'll be fine. If there is anything else, I'm sure that will come to light."

Eric relaxed a little. "I guess you're right. I think I'll go see if I can't interest him in something other than the news. Thanks for listening."

"Anytime. Let Michael know that he's welcome here if he wants to stay, and call me before you leave," Rolf said, before hanging up.

Eric went into the living room and found Michael on the couch as he expected. He sat down next to him. "What's the latest?"

"They're still fighting the fires, and worried about one or two of the other buildings falling down. Haven't found any survivors yet, there's just too much rubble."

"Then let's turn it off and find something else to do."

"No. They keep going back to the scene. There's been another bomb scare too, I want the latest on that."

"Sweetheart, we can read about, or hear about it tomorrow," Eric said, reaching for the remote.

"NO! I WANT to watch --"

Eric took the remote from the struggling Michael and turned it off, holding onto his hand. "Settle down," Eric said sharply.

Michael knew it was useless and stupid, but he struggled anyway to get back the remote. He burst into tears of frustration when Eric wouldn't let him go, and sat sobbing helplessly for several minutes.

"Come on Oscar," Eric said, helping Michael to his feet. They went upstairs and Michael allowed Eric to undress him and put him in his pajamas, and then laid down on the bed and fell asleep to Eric reading some from their shared book.

******************

"Have you seen Michael anywhere?" Eric asked when Matthew answered the phone.

"No, why?"

"He was due home thirty minutes ago and he isn't answering his cell.  Any idea where he might be?"

Matthew took a moment to think. "No, not that I can think of."

"Thanks. Put Rolf on, please?"

"Sure," Matthew said, handing the phone over to Rolf.

"What's up?" Rolf asked when he got the phone in place.

"Michael's thirty minutes late and I can't get him to answer his phone. Probably just traffic, but I thought I'd check anyway."

"I'm sure he's fine. What time are you leaving tomorrow?"

"0700. Bus is scheduled to depart thirty minutes later. From what I gather, it will be a full one."

"I've no doubt. Anything I can help you with this week, outside of checking on Michael?"

"I don't think so. The main thing was covering the class, and George is taking care of that, but thanks."

"No problem. As I said earlier, if Michael wants he's more than welcome to stay here."

"I let him know that, but he says he's looking forward to fully occupying this house," Eric said, chuckling. Then he sobered. "I am certain he'll watch more television than is good for him, but there
isn't much I can do to stop that when I'm not here."

"I'll invite him for dinner a night or two, and drop in whenever I can. I'm certain the lot of us can keep him hopping. Does he seem to be doing any better with your leaving?"

"He's not said anything more about it, and whenever I've tried to bring it up he's brushed it off. I've just given up and figured if it was really something he'd tell me."

"Either words or actions, I'm sure of it. He'll be fine then. You take good care of yourself, and good luck in your efforts."

"Thanks. I'll check in sometime on Wednesday and let you know how it's going."

Eric hung up the phone a moment later and looked back to the stove.  His dinner was getting decidedly overdone. He went ahead and made two plates and put them in the oven to keep warm, and started on the short kitchen cleanup. Fifteen minutes later he had the kitchen spotless and there still wasn't a sign of Michael.

He went back to the phone and tried his office again, hanging up when he got voicemail. Then he tried the cell again, and it went straight to voicemail as well. Since he had already left a message, he hung up and headed to the front windows to check outside. Then back to the phone and calls went to Todd and Chris, and neither had seen Michael either.

He was pacing the floor and considering running out and looking himself when he heard the sound of a door being slammed outside. He forced himself to stand still, waiting for the door to open.  Michael climbed the few steps to the front porch and turned his key in the door. His mouth was dry and his stomach in knots and he wasn't even given time to draw in a breath before the storm hit.

"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!?" Eric roared. "I've been worried sick, you haven't answered the phone, NOTHING." He stood still, hands on hips, glaring.

Michael took a moment to close the door, almost as if he was amazed on how the principle of closing the door worked, trying to find the words he needed. His knees threatened to knock together loudly.

"MICHAEL. Come here," Eric said, pointing to the carpet right in front of him.  Michael dropped his briefcase on the floor and walked slowly over to stand in front of Eric, his head down.

"Look at me RIGHT NOW, and tell me why you allowed me to worry over where you were."

Michael slowly brought his eyes up, shining with unshed tears. "I.....I'm sorry," he stammered.

Eric's right eyebrow raised right up, a sure sign that Michael better work on explaining himself. Michael looked back down, before Eric's hand caught his chin and raised it up again. His tears spilled over, but the hand didn't move. When Eric's gaze hardened still further, Michael finally spoke.

"I went to the mall?" he said in a small voice, around the lump in his throat. The hand released his chin.

"You went to the mall?" Eric said, almost in wonder.

Michael nodded, looking smaller by the minute.

"You went to the mall," Eric said again, matter-of factly.  "That's it? You simply went to the mall."

Michael nodded again slowly, never taking his eyes off his shoes.  "Never thought for a moment that you should at least call me and let me know your change of plans? That I wouldn't have dinner ready and waiting? Not a phone call after you got there to tell me ANYTHING?  Not the phone ON so I could call you? YOU DIDN'T THINK ABOUT ANY OF THAT?!?"

Michael cringed as Eric's volume went up, a sure sign that he was very angry. He swallowed hard, trying not to burst into tears and shook his head no again.  "Kitchen corner," Eric said between clenched teeth, pointing.

Michael scurried quickly over to the corner, burying his face against the cool walls. One set of shivers racked his body as he heard Eric follow him into the room and the sound of the paddle being taken out of it's accustomed place.

The same five minutes felt like five seconds and five years later to Michael when Eric called him over. He drug his feet, his breathing coming in short bursts as he tried hard not to burst into tears again. He didn't fight Eric as his pants button was undone and his dress slacks quickly pooled around his feet. His resolve broke and he sobbed loudly when his shorts followed and he was summarily pulled face down across Eric's lap.

It wasn't all that often that Eric found himself in this position with the paddle in his hand. He could feel Michael's distress, and watched as Michael tensed up, waiting for the first swat to land. Digging deep, he raised the paddle and brought it down forcefully, ending the wait for both of them.

Michael jumped forward, the sting immediate and very painful. He didn't have any time to recover from that swat when the second one landed. He kicked hard once, trying to dodge the next swat, gaining maybe a half inch in Eric's firm hold. His hands grabbed and held firmly onto the bottom of the chair, trying to pull himself forward with no luck. When a particularly hard swat landed across the tenderest part of his backside, he howled loudly and his hands slapped the kitchen floor, before he couldn't help himself and he tried to cover his tender target with one hand.

Eric caught himself before the paddle landed across Michael's fingers, and pulled the arm tightly into the center of Michael's back and continued the circuits around his now bright pink bottom. Michael concentrated only on trying not to throw up as the paddle created cascading waves of pain that were building up to immense proportions. He choked out sobs in between the howls as the paddle kept hitting the tender skin. When he was certain he was going to die, he realized that the paddle was no longer falling. Eric had released his hand and he pulled it down, balancing for a moment with both hands on the floor.

Before Eric helped Michael to his feet, he untangled the pants that were holding his feet hostage. They had turned inside out and been mostly kicked off during the spanking. When he had his feet free, he tried to stand Michael up. Michael simply slipped to the floor, holding onto Eric's legs in a death grip.  Eric stood and pushed the chair back, Michael still on his knees and hanging on for dear life. He helped him into a standing position and walked him unsteadily upstairs. He settled on the bed and pulled Michael over to him, petting his head and back and waiting for the worst of the crying to stop.

Michael sobbed helplessly into Eric's side, the pain the least of his worries. The tears were coming too, because Michael didn't want to see Eric go. He had unconsciously wanted to be late just to HAVE this scene, knowing that Eric was going to be paying him a lot of attention. He left it all unsaid, and cried himself out. Eric knew that the tears were far more than the paddling should have produced, and knew too that Michael didn't flat out disobey like that because he got kicks out of it. Especially with such a flimsy excuse as going to the mall. He waited nearly an hour, until Michael's breathing had mostly settled and he was dozing lightly to get up. He pulled a blanket over him and got the last few items he was going to need for the week packed. When he noticed Michael moving, he settled back on the side of the bed, hand brushing Michael's face.

"Are you ready for dinner?" he asked gently. Michael shrugged noncommittally. "I've got your pajamas here. Get out of your work shirt and into these, and we'll see if dinner is still edible."

"I'm sorry," Michael said quietly.

"It's alright now," Eric said as he pulled the blanket off and folded it on the end of the bed.

Michael scooted over to the side of the bed and put his feet on the floor without rolling over. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt and took that off, grabbing the soft cotton top he slept in.  Eric was holding out the bottoms, which Michael took slowly and stepped into. He grimaced as he carefully pulled them into place, and winced as he slowly trailed Eric downstairs. He stopped in the bathroom and tried his best to wash his face, but leaving the bathroom he still had puffy, red eyes.

Eric had pulled the plates out and microwaved them, placing that and a glass of milk on the table. He watched with some sympathy as Michael pulled off a second chair cushion to put in his chair.

Michael settled down, angry when a couple of tears escaped his control and slid down his cheeks. He clenched his teeth together until he was over the worst, and picked up his fork to eat.

Dinner was mostly a one-sided affair as Eric tried to keep light topics going. Michael answered with one word responses, feeling particularly sorry for himself. He really hadn't wanted Eric's last memory of him to be a paddling. As soon as dinner was done, he escaped back upstairs, falling face first on the bed and crying again.

Eric finished cleaning up downstairs and within thirty minutes retired to the bedroom. He turned off all but the side lamp and got changed into his own pajamas, sitting down on the bed. "Sweetheart, talk to me," he said, a hand on Michael's shoulder.

Michael's resolve broke and he crawled over to Eric, diving into his arms. "I don't want you to goooooooooooo!"

The older man kept petting the younger until the tears slowed again, words not needing to be spoken. When Michael was all but quiet, Eric settled himself so he was face to face with Michael. "Talk to me?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be late today."

"We handled that. I want you to talk to me about my trip."

"I.....I didn't want you to go," Michael said quietly.

"And you do now?" Eric prompted when Michael fell silent.

Michael dropped his eyes. Eric gently pulled his chin up with one finger. "TALK to me."

When Michael couldn't find the words, Eric began talking. "I didn't make this decision lightly. It wasn't an automatic one when they asked for volunteers. I put a lot of thought into it, and have been
trying to talk to you this week about it. I know it's a week apart, but it's for a very good cause."

"I know. You're an officer, that's what you do." Michael was very proud of Eric, proud to be an officer's partner. He understood the demands placed on those that protect the public, that he had to step back every once in a while so that Eric could do what he needed to do. He actively supported his partner as any wife or husband would, especially in this situation.

"It's not that. It's what I WANT to do. I want to help. I've got this opportunity and I want to take it."

"Why can't I go with you?"

"Because of the high danger, and high security. They've got enough knowledgeable volunteers now that they can't use just anyone." Eric had to pull Michael's chin up again. "I'm not in any way trying to
say you couldn't help, or wouldn't do your best to, it's just they've got enough of that right now. You can do things here to help, you know that, right?"

"I guess. But I wanted to be with you," Michael finished quietly.

"I want to be with you too. I'm going to miss you like crazy, but it's only for seven days. I'll call every single day and let you know how I'm doing." Eric kissed Michael's tear stained face.

"Promise?"

"I promise."

**********************

"Hi Sweetheart."

"Hi. Did you make it there?" Michael asked, plopping down on the couch.

"Yes, we arrived less than an hour ago and I just got into the hotel room."

"Is it still smoky?"

"Yes, it is. We haven't been by Ground Zero yet, but there is a definite haze over the city."

"How far are you away from there?"

"Across the river. They've got shuttles we'll take in to work. Got a pen?"

"Just a sec." Michael got up and found a pen and paper. "Okay."

"The hotel's direct line is (201) 555-9800, and I'm in room 10040.  I'll try to have my cell with me, but I'm not certain of the rules.  You can leave a message on that, or at the hotel, and I WILL return the calls as soon as I can. We've got to head down to the restaurant for dinner and the introductory meeting, so I'll call you before bed. You get dinner?"

"Yeah, I ordered a pizza."

"You take it easy, and be good. I love you."

"Love you too," Michael said, before hanging up. He settled the phone back into it's cradle and laid down on the couch again, concentrating on the tv. The phone startled him three hours later.

"Hi again," Eric said cheerfully.

"Hi."

"You all ready for bed?"

"Uh....yes?" Michael tried as he sat back down on the couch.

"I'll take that as a not quite yet but I'm heading that way?"

"Yes," Michael said with a smile in his voice.

"Dinner was good, the meeting informative. We were assigned rotating stations for each day we're here. Tomorrow I go down to the staging area of missing persons and try to coordinate information from all the sources."

"That sounds....sad," Michael said, though he was relieved that Eric wasn't going to be digging through the rubble.

"I'm sure it will be, but I hope that with my help we can at least connect people that haven't yet gotten together."

"I hope you find a lot of people."

"Thanks sweetheart. Now, why don't you head on up to bed, and I'll do the same. I'll call you tomorrow evening when I return here, okay?"

"Okay. Love you."

"Love you too. Goodnight."

Michael hung up the phone and made his way upstairs. The house was too silent and still. After a quick shower, he climbed into bed and watched the tv. He looked over to Eric's spot and wished it was filled with his lover. He turned his back on that side of the bed and slipped into a light doze while the television flickered in the room. He turned it off sometime in the late morning and tossed and turned until the alarm went off.

*************************

"Hi Karen. It's Mike."

"Good morning. Oversleep?"

"No, not feeling well. Think I'll stay in today."

"I'm sorry. Hope it's nothing serious."

"Just a stomach virus I'm sure. Should be good to go tomorrow."

"Get better, and we'll see you then."

"Thanks."

Michael hung up the phone and curled up tighter in the blanket he'd taken from upstairs. Looking small and forlorn, Michael watched tv from the corner of the couch. He'd skipped breakfast, unable to face even the thought of food, worried to death about Eric. He'd called last night to tell him that he was working at ground zero, helping with the bucket brigade as they continued to search for survivors.  Even though Eric had promised him he'd be fine, do everything right and take all the necessary precautions, Michael was certain something was going to happen.

************

"Moralis. Jeremy," he said, shaking the proffered hand. "Virginia fire department."

"Davidson. Eric," Eric said, "Versailles police department."

"Nice to meet you. Been here long?" Jeremy asked, wiping his sweaty brow across his shirt sleeve. He'd just sat down to take a break from the bucket brigade.

"Saturday. A week's tour," Eric said as he used the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe the grunge from his face. "You?"

"Monday, and leaving on Friday. Not enough of us at home to stay any longer."

"Probably a good thing. This....it's the hardest job I've done."

"That's saying a lot in your line of work. But I'd have to agree."

"Anyone at -"

Eric's question was lost in the sharp blast of the warning siren.  Both men jumped to their feet and began running for the safety zones, many other workers right on their heels. They were breathing hard when they stopped in what was considered the safe zone, and heard a sickening sound. One of the buildings that were damaged but hadn't yet fallen, was doing just that. The screeching sound of protesting metal cut across the sound of the siren, before the ground shook as the building came down in another cloud of dust.

******************

"Eric....oh my God....ERIC!" Michael sat up and watched as the building came down. "He's fine, he said he'd be fine. The people ran. I'm SURE he did too. He's fine. Really, he's fine." Michael kept talking to himself, trying to settle down, but his stomach was twisted into a solid knot and made that impossible. He finally grabbed for the phone and dialed, the phone going directly to voicemail. That meant he didn't have it on. He continued sitting on the couch, not eating, not moving, and willing the phone to ring.

******************

Rolf picked up the phone and dialed Michael's office. "Hello. I'd like to speak to Michael Evans, please."

"He's out today, could someone else help you?"

"Thanks, but no." Rolf hung up and immediately dialed the house.

"Eric?!?" Michael nearly screamed.

"No, it's Rolf. How are you feeling? I called the office and they said you were out today."

Michael settled back into the couch, muting the tv. "I'm okay.  Stomach just wasn't feeling good today and I have sick days to use, so I used one."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I'll be able to leave here by 3:30. I'll swing by and pick you up for dinner?"

"No, thanks. I'll be fine, really," Michael said, not wanting to leave the television.

"Then I'm coming by to just make sure you're okay for myself. I'll be there at about a quarter to four," Rolf said easily.

"Okay," Michael said before hanging up. He knew Rolf wouldn't take no for an answer. He turned the tv back up and continued trying to pick Eric out of the people whenever they showed the scene live.

Rolf drove up and parked, knocking on the front door. When he didn't get an answer he used his key and opened the door. "Michael?  Mike?" He could hear the television from the living room and headed in that direction. "Michael?"

Michael quickly sat up, startled. "Why didn't you knock?" he asked defensively.

"I did. I think between hiding under the blanket and the volume of the television, you missed the knocks. How are you feeling?"

"Fine. I told you that," Michael said petulantly.


"What you say, and what you look like are two totally different things," Rolf said, coming closer. He felt Michael's forehead and face. "I don't think you have a fever, but you don't look well."

"I'm fine," he tried again.

"When was your last shower?"

"Monday night, why?"

Rolf's decision was made easy. "Then you can get yourself upstairs and packed for the rest of the week, you're coming to stay with Matthew and I."

"No, I'm staying here. Eric -"

"Eric will call this evening and we'll tell him where you're at.  He'll feel much better, and so will you and I. Come on," Rolf said as he snapped the television off.

Michael tried every argument he could think of, but Rolf remained unmoved and totally focused on getting him out of there. Within twenty minutes, Rolf had Michael packed and ready to leave. After
making sure everything was safe, he led Michael out to the truck and drove him home.

******************

"First things first. Upstairs, into the shower," Rolf said as they headed into the kitchen.

"I'm fine," Michael protested.

Rolf gently steered Michael upstairs and into the spare bedroom, setting his suitcase on the bench. "A shower will do you good, and no is not an option."

Michael sank down on the bed. "Then later."

Rolf walked over and pulled Michael's shirt over his head. "Need any further help?"

"No," Michael said, quickly getting up and heading towards the bathroom before Rolf got any more bright ideas about helping. He shut the door behind him and settled on the toilet seat.

Rolf waited a couple of minutes in the bedroom, then walked to the door. "Showers require water, and I don't hear any."

Michael turned on the water, then gave in and finished undressing, getting under the hot spray. When he was certain Rolf was no longer outside, he allowed the tears to flow again. Eric hadn't called right after the building collapsed. That meant he couldn't, and the only reason he couldn't, Michael thought, was because he was under the rubble and trapped. The phone crushed. He couldn't afford to let Rolf know that, as he was MORE than capable of taking care of himself when Eric was out of town. He swallowed hard and focused on the water, letting it wash away his tears. When the shower turned cold, he turned the water off and stepped out to dry.

He wrapped up in the towel and headed to his room, dropping his clothes in the corner and picking up the pajamas that Rolf had laid out. He went ahead and put them on, thankful for the comfortable
softness. Going downstairs, he went directly to the living room and turned on the television to CNN and settled on the couch.

Rolf heard the television from the office, and headed down the hall. "Feel better?"

"Yeah."

"Good." Rolf settled on the couch, taking the remote and changing the channel, muting it, before he took Michael's hand. "I'd rather that you didn't watch any of the full coverage news channels while you're here. Matthew has been having a hard time dealing with everything they've shown. I can't imagine that anyone could help not being affected by it, and there's no point in subjecting yourself
daily to those horrors."

"It's history in the making," Michael tried.

"It was history when it happened. What you're seeing now is how much talking the talking heads can do about the attack. There is no reason why you have to watch as they remove every single brick, every single bucket of dirt, nor see every face that was affected by this a thousand times over. The television stays off those channels, or the television will stay off completely. Understood?"

"But Eric –"

"Eric would not want you sitting here and subjecting yourself to this. How about instead of watching tv, you help me in the kitchen? We can make tacos for dinner," Rolf said, standing up and holding out his hand.

Michael wanted to do anything but, but he dutifully put his hand in Rolf's and allowed himself to be tugged to a standing position, following Rolf into the kitchen and cutting up the various vegetables
and cheese as Rolf handed them to him.

"Tacos!" Matthew yelled when he came in from work. "Hi Michael." He looked up and down at Michael's outfit. "Run out of clean clothes?"

"Hi sweetheart," Rolf said, kissing Matthew. "Michael is going to be staying with us until Eric gets home."

"Cool. Let ME get comfortable and we can start eating, I'm starved!" Matthew bounded up the stairs and changed into sweats, heading back downstairs in a hurry.

Rolf put the food on the table and all three sat down to eat.  Michael managed to eat one taco, in the time it took Matthew to chow down on three of them.

"What, are you not hungry?" Matthew asked Michael.

"No."

"How is your stomach?" Rolf asked.

"Fine," Michael answered quickly, not wanting Rolf to fuss over him.

"Then you need to try eating a little more than that."

"Have you heard from Eric?" Matthew asked as he started on his fourth taco.

"Not today," Michael answered as he started building his second taco with very little of anything.

"They showed another building falling down. I'd say you'd have heard from him if he was anywhere around there."

"What building?" Rolf asked.

"Nummer Sefen or somefin—"

"Try that again without food in your mouth, please," Rolf chided gently.

Matthew swallowed. "Number Seven I think."

Connections were made quickly by Rolf about Michael's behavior today. He must have seen the building go down and was worried because they had not heard from Eric yet. "Michael, did you try the cell phone?"

"Yeah. No answer. But he's fine." Michael tried to smile, but it didn't quite get to his eyes.

"He'll call soon, I'm sure –" Just then the phone rang.

Michael jumped up and answered it, forgetting he was at Rolf's. "Hello?!?"

"Hi sweetheart!" Eric said, breathing a long sigh of relief at finding Michael. He'd worried immediately when he didn't get an answer at home.

"Eric! You're okay!" Michael said as he walked into the dining room for a little more privacy.

Rolf breathed a sigh of relief as well, glad that the two of them were talking, knowing Michael must have been worried to death.

"PLEASE don't tell me you saw the building collapse and have worried about me all day," Eric said.

"I did see it. Why didn't you call?"

"Oh honey, I'm so sorry. The phone had to be left in the hotel room today, as I told you last night it might have to be. We had plenty of warning, and I wasn't anywhere near that building when it went down. Immediately after, we all ran back to see if anyone needed our help. Jeremy and I, a fireman I met, helped several other people lift a piece of the wall and free a man that had been checking on the gas lines around the building right before the collapse. He had a small cut on his forehead which was bleeding a lot, but it wasn't serious."

"You saved someone?" Michael asked quietly.

"Yes, I guess I did. Pretty amazing, when you think about it."

"Yeah."

"You know, with all that's going on around here, I can't wait to come home, feel your arms around me."

"Me too," Michael answered, fighting to swallow the bubble of tears that rose in his throat.

"You having dinner with Rolf and Matthew?"

"I'm staying the rest of the week."

"I'm glad sweetheart. I hate to think of you all alone. I need to get going, dinner and the nightly meeting is about to begin. I love you, and will call tomorrow."

"Love you too," Michael said before the phone clicked off. He remained in the dining room for several minutes, gathering his composure. When he thought he could handle any questions, he
returned to the kitchen.

******************

Rolf hung up the phone and settled back down at the table where he had been reading the paper before Michael called to say he was running late, but his eyes weren't on the paper. His main concern was that Michael wasn't staying late to watch television as he suspected Matthew and not a few other people were doing at the moment.

Through the open doorway to the living room, Matthew's fair head was visible, relaxed against the sofa cushions. The differences in the two young men sharing the house was nagging at the back of his mind.

Matthew's emotions were all over the place. One day he'd be sad and upset whenever anything was mentioned about the attack. The next, he'd be aggravated and irritated by the least little thing. Sleeping was difficult for him, and Rolf had more than once awoken to soft sobs, and comforted Matthew back to sleep.  Michael, on the other hand, remained aloof, quiet. He didn't show any outward signs of trouble, but the quiet wasn't Michael's usual quiet. There weren't many smiles, nor was there any sense of fun loving trouble that usually resided in his eyes.

Rolf decided that it probably had a lot to do with Michael missing Eric, more than just not being able to cope with the events. He put the paper away and began working on the salad preparations.

"Matthew, get the table set, please," he said in the direction of the living room where Matthew was reclining comfortably.

"Get Michael," he said, not even raising his head.

"NOW, Matthew," Rolf replied as he cut up salad ingredients, wondering if this was one of the roller coaster nights he dreaded.

When Matthew didn't appear, he put down the vegetables, wiped his hands off and headed into the living room. He immediately walked over and turned the television off.

"HEY, I was watching that!" Matthew replied, turning it back on with the remote.

"Do you WANT a spanking?" Rolf asked sternly.  Matthew huffed, but turned the tv back off. "I asked for your help in the kitchen."

Matthew jumped up, muttering. "You should ask Michael to help out," as he went into the kitchen.

Rolf followed, dropping a hand on Matthew's shoulder and turning him around. "Where is that coming from?"

"He's been here for two days, you keep babying him, and he deserves to help too!" Matthew said, not meaning to stamp his foot.

"Matthew, if you'd taken the time to notice, Michael is not here right now or I WOULD ask him to help as well. He called and is going to be here in fifteen minutes. Now, unless you'd like to go to bed immediately after dinner, I suggest you get that table set."

Matthew turned and went for the dishes. It being Friday night he had NO intentions of being in bed by 8pm, particularly NOT when Michael was staying with them. He had the table set quickly, and busied himself with the newspaper until Michael walked in the door.

"Hi there. Day go alright?" Rolf asked as he pulled dinner from the oven.

"Yeah. Fine," Michael answered.

"Go on and get into something more comfortable and get your hands washed, we're about ready to eat."
"Okay. Hi Matty."

"Hi," Matthew said without looking up.

Michael changed into sweats and headed downstairs to eat. When everyone was finished, Matthew got up to leave. "Mike can get the dishes, I set the table."

"You can BOTH clean up as I fixed dinner," Rolf said pointedly.

"I'll clean the dishes, since you know where they go," Michael said.

Matthew grabbed the dishtowel and waited by the sink, a pout clearly evident.

"I've got the bills to sort," Rolf said, heading into the office.

When Michael was finished, he headed downstairs and turned the tv onto CNN. He didn't think Rolf would hear and he wanted to see for himself what was going on. He was so engrossed that he jumped when Matthew entered the room, having not heard him on the steps. He quickly turned back to the tv, but not before Matthew had seen the look of startlement.

"Think I was Rolf?" he asked, settling down in the other chair. "You know we're not supposed to have this on." Matthew watched Michael closely, trying to figure out why he'd ignore Rolf's wishes to keep the tv off the news stations.

"Yeah, I know," Michael replied, watching closely.

"Trying to see Eric? When is he supposed to call anyway?"

Michael sighed. "He's not going to tonight. Large dinner and meeting, thought it would run late." He was very upset that Eric wouldn't call later, just to check in. He could have been killed today, and he would know nothing until sometime late the next day when he didn't show up on the bus.

"Sorry," Matthew said, meaning it. He settled back to watch, figuring that he should be safe as he wasn't the one that turned the set on. He tried to watch without feelings, not wanting to cry in front of Michael, who seemed unmoved by anything he saw, but it was impossible. They were currently showing stories of people that were missing, as seen through their loved one's eyes. When they showed a five year old girl with a picture of her father, a firefighter, Matthew sobbed audibly.

"What are you crying for?" Michael asked, looking over in surprise.

Matthew angrily wiped his tears away. "Shut up."

"No, I don't get it. WHY are you crying?" Michael persisted.

"I SAID shut up!" Matthew spat.

"It's not like you know them," Michael said, really unable to understand why Matthew seemed to cry at the least little thing.

"How are you NOT fucking affected?! Eric's there for crying out loud!"

"I KNOW Eric's there dumbass! You --"

"Hey, hey hey. What's going on down here?" Rolf asked as he stepped down into the basement. "And why is the tv on CNN?"

"That's what Michael was watching," Matthew said angrily.

"At least I can watch it without having a mental breakdown!"

"You can go to --"

"MATTHEW."

At Rolf's stern tone, Matthew fled upstairs, managing to keep from bursting into tears until he'd slammed the door to their room and landed face down on the bed.

"Michael?"

"What?" Michael replied, sitting back down in his chair.

Rolf turned the television off before confronting Michael. "What was that all about?"

"Nothing."

"That wasn't nothing. Will you talk to me about it?"

"No."

"Do you say no to Eric?" Rolf waited, but got no response. "Alright then. I asked that the television stay OFF the news channels earlier and I won't put up with temperamental behavior in this house. You can go upstairs and get ready for bed."

Michael stood up quickly and stalked off upstairs, going directly to his room and shutting the door behind him. He immediately lay down on the bed and sobbed himself to sleep.  Rolf went upstairs a few minutes later and knocked gently on the door to their room before opening and entering. He found Matthew curled up around his pillow, his breath coming in short bursts as he tried to control his crying. He settled down next to Matthew and brushed the hair from his face, waiting for him to calm down.
Matthew turned over and curled up against Rolf.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?"

"It.....I.....Mike..."

"One thought at a time. Why did the argument start?"

"Michael asked me why....I was crying."

"Why were you?"

"They showed a young girl, looking for her dad. He was a fireman, and I suppose he's dead."

"That WOULD be sad to see, which is why I didn't want you to be watching the news."

"I know. Michael had it on....he's probably worried about Eric. I just don't understand."

"Don't understand what?"

"Why Michael doesn't seem to be affected."

"You mean, why he hasn't cried?"

"Yeah. I mean, seeing that girl….it was awful," Matthew said, eyes filling with tears again. "She had that picture of him. They don't know where he is, dead or alive, injured –"

Rolf pulled the fair head beneath his chin, stifling the rest of the commentary before Matthew's voice broke. "I know. I know how awful it's been. It's hard to grieve for sheer masses of people."

Matthew turned his head against Rolf's chest, calming down. The rumbling of Rolf's voice when muffled through his chest was soothing, as were the words. Having someone to talk to, to hold, when all the uncertainties still remained was immeasurable. He dried the last of his tears, realizing that Michael hadn't had that luxury the past week.

"Maybe I should try to talk to him."

"Maybe you should," Rolf said tenderly.

Matthew got up, blew his nose, then headed down the hall to the bedroom. He gently knocked on the door and opened it when Michael didn't answer. When the light from the hallway shown on the bed, Matthew could see that Michael was asleep, still fully dressed.

Matthew took the blanket on the end of the bed and shook it out, laying it gently across Michael. He quietly tip toed back out, pulling the door back to.

Rolf was about to head downstairs. "Is he not wanting to talk?"
"Asleep."

"Want to curl up on the couch and watch a movie?"

Nothing sounded better to Matthew than that.


*************************

Rolf got up early the next day and headed over to one of his project sites as the building owner was in town for the weekend. That left Matthew and Michael alone.

Michael got up first, barely able to sleep because of Eric's pending arrival home. He quickly showered, and was working on brushing his hair, thinking about Eric. He pulled the brush through his hair, stamping his foot hard when he hit a snarl. He slammed the brush down, angry at the sharp pain. He was desperate to see Eric. And yet he couldn't reconcile his feelings with the thought of Eric coming home. Finally, he picked the brush up again and worked slower on his hair, trying to concentrate on the good things about Eric being home. That maybe after he'd had a chance to hug his partner, that things were going to be okay. He packed his suitcase, dragged that downstairs, straightened up the room, found and ate a bagel, then paced the kitchen. After fifteen minutes he could stand it no longer. He pushed open the door to Matthew's room and went inside.

"Matthew?"

Matthew rolled away from the voice, pulling the covers up over his head, groaning.

"Matthew. Matthew!" Michael pulled the covers down.

"Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" Matthew moaned, grabbing for the warmth.

"I want to go home. Eric's going to be coming in and I can't miss his call!" Michael pulled on Matthew's foot.  Matthew kicked him off and sat up, looking at the clock. When he realized it was ten, he swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"Sorry, didn't know I had slept so late. Shouldn't take me too long to shower, then we'll head right over, okay?"

"Thanks. Want anything to eat?" Michael asked, heading to the door.

"I'd REALLY like a pile of chocolate doughnuts, but the diet police have those outlawed. I'll just pick up something later."  Michael laughed and bounced downstairs.

Matthew showered and dressed in twenty minutes, grabbing his keys from the ring by the door. "Ready?"
"Yes," Michael said, pulling his suitcase behind him and out to Matthew's truck.

"Guess you're excited about Eric's return, I know I would be if it were Rolf," Matthew said as he headed towards Michael's house.

"Yes, I am," Michael replied. He took a deep breath, then apologized. "I'm really sorry about last night. I wasn't trying to insult you."

"It's okay. I didn't really mean to get upset with you, it's just that….I don't quite understand why this stuff is bothering me so much, you know? Like you said, I don't know these people, same as I didn't know any of the people in our history books, and I wasn't upset when reading about them."

"I know. It's just all been….very weird." Michael probably would have continued on with the discussion, but his house came into view.  Almost before Matthew had the truck in park, Michael had jumped out the door, grabbing his suitcase. Matthew climbed out as well.  "Need any help with anything?" he asked.

"No, thanks, really. I have a few things to do before Eric comes home, nothing I can't handle.  Thanks, really."

"I don't mind."

"It's okay." Michael put his bag down and quickly hugged Matthew. "Eric's going to be home soon, I'll handle it. You've done enough already. Thanks."

Michael headed inside and busied himself around the house, making sure it was clean and picked up. He refused to run the vacuum after twelve, just in case Eric got in early and called. When the phone rang at two, he jumped on it.

"Hello?"

"Hi sweetheart. Care to pick me up?"

Michael's stomach flipped and his heart fluttered the way it did when he'd first set eyes on Eric. "Five minutes!" Michael yelled, hanging up and running out to the car. He fairly flew to the station and into Eric's arms the instant he had parked.

Saturday passed by quickly for the two of them. The moment they got home, Eric dropped his things by the front door and carried Michael upstairs and to bed, hungry for, and needing the closeness of his lover. When the initial passion was spent, Eric talked about his experiences, needing to share it with the person most important in his life. He was drained, physically and mentally from all he'd seen and done. He watched closely as he related what he could to Michael, wanting to assure himself that Michael was handling everything well.

Michael listened, snuggled against Eric's chest. He could tell how tired Eric was, and knew that he needed to talk about everything that had happened, to get it off his chest. He laid quietly, gently
tracing the outlines of Eric's muscles as he talked.  As the sun started to set, Eric started to run out of steam. Michael sat up and faced him.

"You need to eat. I'll fix us something and bring it up here."

"I need to get my suitcase –"

"That can wait until tomorrow. Stay put, I'll be back."  Eric settled back against the headboard, thankful for the offer of dinner in bed.

Michael headed downstairs and started to warm up some soup and make a couple of sandwiches. He realized that even though Eric was home, he couldn't burden him with his thoughts and feelings. He wasn't going to make Eric feel guilty for doing what he thought he needed to do.  Eric had very obviously seen and done enough in the past week, he deserved better. The stairs brought Michael closer to Eric physically, but emotionally the steps were leading away. The sense of isolation grew deeper still.

Michael woke up as the sun first started to hit the bedroom window.  He curled against Eric, who was still sound asleep. He watched as Eric's features became more pronounced in the slowly lightening room. Staring at the man he loved, he was able to forget about his feelings of loneliness. Eric was home and things were fitting back together again. Feeling safe again for the first time in days, he slid out of bed, intent on making breakfast and keeping this feeling alive.

He slipped quietly out of the bedroom, closing the door to dampen any sounds of his breakfast preparations and headed downstairs. He was going to keep Eric in bed as long as he could, knowing he was home and safe. As long as that happened, Michael was happy. Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, English muffins and jelly, and half an orange slice. He poured out two large glasses of orange juice and headed upstairs with his heavy tray. Backing into the room, he turned and placed the tray on the bed before walking around and giving Eric a half dozen light kisses down the side of his face.

"Mmmmmm. Don't stop, but don't let my partner know you're here," Eric mumbled sleepily. He was rewarded with a slap on his blanket covered left cheek. "Mmmmphhhfff. Is that bacon I smell?"

"That wasn't funny! And yes, if you'll sit up carefully, I've got breakfast beside you."

Eric rolled over and sat up, looking at the tray. "Wow. That's quite a breakfast feast." He pulled Michael to him for a rough hug.

"I'm thinking you probably didn't eat as well as you should have."  Eric had been given more meals that he could count, but he wasn't going to dampen Michael's feelings. He could see he'd put a lot of work into this meal.

"You're right. And no one fed me breakfast in bed."

After breakfast was eaten they spent the next thirty minutes slowly rediscovering each other.  Michael was happy, feeling that Eric was getting what he needed to heal from the trauma he'd experienced. He fell into a light doze and only awoke when the warmth disappeared and the bed creaked as Eric stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"I thought I'd shower and get the day started. Have to get the laundry sorted as that bag stinks."

Michael sat up. "I can do the laundry, come back to bed."

"As much as I'd like to spend the next three weeks in bed, I've got a few things to do around here before I have to go to work," Eric said, heading into the bathroom.

Michael's face fell as Eric pushed the door mostly closed. His sense of isolation welled up again and the tears slipped down his cheeks.  He jumped and turned when Eric opened the door.

"What did you do with the towels?"

Michael quickly tried to brush the tears away. "I…I washed them."

"Mike, you okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Just tired," he said, yawning.

Eric stood for a moment, looking at Michael's back. He was certain there was more to it than that, but when he didn't volunteer any information, Eric went over to the linen closet and pulled out a fresh towel before heading back into the bedroom. He stepped into the shower and let the hot water pound out the tension still in his muscles, hoping the water would wash away the ugliness of the past two weeks. When the water ran cold, he stepped out, knowing it was only a physical clean he felt. Drying off, he decided that before going to work he was going to find out what was bothering Michael.

When Michael heard the water running, he stood up and walked to the window. He looked out into the backyard but his eyes weren't focused on anything. Instead, they looked inward. He wanted Eric to know how he was feeling, it was tearing him up inside that he couldn't share, but overriding that was a stronger urge to not worry him. He knew Eric had seen and experienced much more than he shared the day before. It was in Eric's nature to protect him. Michael didn't mind that at all, in fact he relished it, knowing Eric would share anything and everything that he thought was important to either one of them but leave out the stuff that wasn't necessary. And because of all that Eric had to deal with, Michael refused to add to it. His mind made up, he went downstairs with a heavy heart and worked on cleaning up from breakfast.

Eric got dressed and headed downstairs, pulling out his suitcase and starting the laundry. He then followed the sounds of the dishes clinking into the kitchen to find Michael hard at work on washing up. He leaned against the door, watching his lover wash out the sink, admiring the thin figure with the mussed up hair.

"What?" Michael finely asked, almost feeling the gaze run along his body.

"Just admiring you, my dear. I've got a whole week of looking to do."

"You could stay home from work and catch up sooner," Michael said without thinking. He mentally kicked himself.

Eric walked over and turned Mike around. "Do I need to stay home from work? Is there something you aren't telling me?"

"No," Michael spat, before catching himself. "No," he said more gently, "you have work to do, and so do I."

Eric lifted Michael's chin, looking deep into his eyes. "Are you still upset that I left?"

Michael wanted nothing more than to say yes, but he couldn't. He couldn't lessen what Eric did, couldn't make Eric doubt himself for having gone. It wasn't fair. "No, no, I'm not. That was stupid –" He was trying to break out of Eric's grip.

Eric wasn't going to let him get away. "It wasn't stupid, sweetheart, it's a natural and understandable reaction. And I wouldn't blame you for still feeling that way."

Michael realized he wasn't going anywhere and instead dove into Eric's chest, hugging him tightly. He forced his mind to other things to keep from crying and instead, concentrated on ways to get Eric to think he was fine, and get on with the day.

Michael put up a good enough front for Eric to let him go. He was still less than happy with the mixed signals that Michael was sending him, but he couldn't get anywhere at the present time. Instead, he concentrated on the laundry and doing those things that made him feel more like he WAS home, driving the images he'd lived with for the past week out of his head. He tried again to talk to Michael before leaving for work but could get nothing from him. Eric was only doing tonight's shift because the normal officer was out for family obligations, and he'd have the next couple of days off to try to reconnect more with Michael.

Michael watched from the porch as Eric drove away for his shift. He settled into the porch chair and thought about the long afternoon ahead of him. His stomach was cramped and his throat ached against the suppression of his feelings. He'd sent Eric off to work as he wanted, knowing the entire time that was not what he needed. For the past week he had believed, if Eric would only come home then everything he saw on tv, everything he heard, the nightmares he had about rubble and smoke and people's faces, it would all make sense. Now Eric was home- and he'd seen those people. He'd seen that rubble. And there was no way to go to him with these ridiculous, irrational fears.

As the tears started to flow, he got angry with himself. He walked into the house and slammed the door behind him, finding the first thing that came to hand, a book, and tossed it hard across the room, before sliding down against the door and letting the sobs overcome him. The tears, instead of cleansing, only aggravated him further.  He couldn't stand the empty house, almost physically feeling the overpowering quiet. He grabbed his keys and headed to his car, driving without a destination and barely able to see through tear streaked eyes.

He needed, more than anything, to talk to Eric. But Eric was at work, and he couldn't just drive down to the station and walk in this state. He couldn't drive around until he found his cruiser and follow him until he stopped. Feeling sick to his stomach, upset more than he could stand, he spotted the phone in the passenger seat. He pulled over, swallowing hard against the tears that continued to pour forth, he picking up the phone and dialed Matthew's house.

"Hello?"

"M...Matthew? Is Rolf there?"

"Mike. You okay?" Matthew asked, concerned.

"....No. Is Rolf there?"

"No, he's at a job site since it's so nice today. Why?"

"I...I need to talk to him. Please?"

"He doesn't have his phone, the batteries died. Can I help?"

Matthew was becoming worried as Michael sounded very unhappy. "Michael?"

Michael sobbed, then fought for control again.  "Okay. I can drive over to his site, with my phone. Shouldn't be but about ten minutes, tops. Will that work?"

"Yes. Thanks."

"Okay. I'll -" Matthew was talking to a dial tone. He slammed the phone down, grabbed his cell and sprinted for the truck, keys in hand. He wanted to call Michael but decided he'd better concentrate on driving as he was going rather fast. He frantically looked for any signs of Rolf's truck when he got over to the development, finally spotting it near the tree line. He came to a screeching halt in fresh gravel, a dust cloud announcing his arrival.

Rolf looked up from his drawings and upon seeing Matthew's truck, immediately jogged towards him. "What's up?"

Matthew jumped out of the truck with his phone. "It's Michael, he needs to talk. He sounds upset. He's in the phone book."

Rolf pressed the buttons on Matthew's phone until he got connected with Michael's cell.

Michael jumped when the phone rang and tried to gather his voice. He still sounded rather squeaky. "Hello?"

"Mike, it's Rolf. What's wrong?"

"You...you need to.....to call the police. I'm....I'm at the Highwater bridge."

"What are you doing there?"

"Call....call Eric," Michael said, before turning his cell phone off.

"Drive. Highwater bridge." He slid into the passenger side of the truck, immediately dialing the station to be put through to Eric's extension.

Michael worked his way carefully through the hole in the fence and sat down on the edge of the bridge. He kept his back pressed hard against the support, and one hand steady on the handle the workers used to climb under the bridge for repairs. He angrily wiped the tears from his eyes with his free hand and tried to stop the steady flow. He jumped as a bird flew up and flapped away quickly when it realized his perch was taken.

Matthew parked his truck next to Michael's car in a spray of gravel and dust. Rolf spotted Michael's feet dangling from the edge. "Matthew, I want you to stay --"

Matthew jumped out of the truck, slamming his door. Rolf jumped out and grabbed Matthew before he got too far, swinging him around. "I want you to --"

"To what? Go home? Michael is *MY* friend and I'm not going anywhere!" Matthew spat forcefully.

Rolf thought it would be better if Matthew wasn't around if things got too dicey, but realized there was no way he was going to get him out of there without going with him. "Then I want you to stay here, by the truck." Rolf held up his hand when Matthew tried to interrupt him. "He's obviously distressed. I don't want him getting any more upset than he already is. If he asks for you, I'll call. Please, I think this is the best way."

Matthew nodded, his eyes still on the area Michael was occupying, his heart screaming "Nooooooo!" He slowly walked back towards the truck, never taking his eyes off of Michael, and praying feverntly the entire time. He trusted Rolf's decision.

Rolf walked quickly over to the fence. "Michael?"

Michael jumped and turned quickly, panic crossing his face. "Don't come any closer!"

"I won't. I won't," Rolf said, holding up his hands. "Eric's been called, he should be here any minute. I thought I'd come and see if there was anything I could do."

"There isn't." Michael turned back to look towards the river.  Rolf didn't miss the hurt in Michael's eyes. He sat down, his back against the fence.

Speaking gently, he asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Michael turned and when he realized Rolf wasn't going to push matters, relaxed a little. "Eric's not listening to me. I mean….I can't seem to talk to him. I want to, but I don't…" Michael's voice cracked. "I didn't know what else to do!"

Rolf wanted to defend Eric, knowing that couldn't be the case, but decided the best tact was to keep Michael talking. "Tell me more."

Michael talked haltingly, not making much sense. He was trying only to say what he thought Rolf wanted to hear to keep him at bay. All he wanted was to see Eric.

Rolf was very relieved when he heard the approaching siren. "I think that's Eric. I'm getting up now, and I'll just stay here until he arrives, okay?"

Michael nearly choked out his okay.

Eric pulled his cruiser onto the bridge, screeching the tires when he stopped. He turned the siren off but left the lights on. "Michael!"

Rolf caught sight of Eric's face and saw the shock registered there.  This was obviously a quick decision on Michael's part. He grabbed Eric's arm and had to hold him a moment before Eric's eye's registered that it was Rolf.

"Michael's NOT in a suicidal state of mind. I think he's gotten confused on the best way to talk with you. Just be careful; Matthew and I are right over there if you need anything." Rolf headed back towards Matthew, wanting nothing more than to hug him.

Eric gave a curt nod before he turned and went to the fence.  "Michael?"

Michael immediately began sobbing and talking incoherently.  Eric's heart was in his throat, seeing the love of his life that upset. He quickly pulled off his gun belt, tossing it to the ground. He slowly worked his way through the fence, talking quietly to Michael, scared to death Michael would slip.

Michael saw Eric coming and worked his way to his feet, keeping a strong hold on the support.

Eric kept a firm grip on the fence and held out his hand.

Michael turned.

And fell. Straight into the arms of his lover.

Eric held him for only a moment before helping him back through the hole in the fence and away from the immediate danger. He immediately put him into the front seat of his squad car, picked up his gun belt and got in. Basically working on instinct, he put the car in drive and left the bridge, wanting to get away from the curious stares of the passersby and wanting to make sure that this was NOT going to be treated as an official matter. The call hadn't gone through dispatch so he was safe there. He could barely keep his eyes on the road and one hand on the wheel as he tried to keep an eye and hand on Michael, not knowing what in the world was wrong. He pulled into the driveway and stopped the car, getting out and shutting the door. He keyed his radio.

"132A."

"132A, go ahead."

"Mark me off duty at this time, family emergency. Officer Allison can take over sector 4."

"132A, off-duty at 1643."

Eric went around the car and pulled open the door, helping Michael out and up to the front door, letting him lean heavily on him as he unlocked and opened the door. They barely made it in the door before Michael completely broke down, the sobs coming hard and fast. Eric maneuvered them to the couch and pulled Michael hard against him, stroking him and murmuring nonsense to try to get him calmed down. His heart was hurting and his stomach in knots wondering what in the world could have happened to cause Michael to come to the point of wanting to sit on the edge of the bridge. He couldn't think of any family members that were ill or in any sort of trouble, and since Rolf had kept a pretty good eye on Michael the last few days he was gone, he didn't think Michael would have been able to get himself into any sort of serious trouble.

They stayed together on the couch for the better part of an hour as Michael took a long time to settle down to a level where he could be coherent. Eric simply let him cry, letting him get the bulk of the emotional outburst behind him before he tried speaking.

"Sweetheart, you've got me worried. You know there isn't anything that we can't handle together. Talk to me."

Michael shook his head hard, burying his face against Eric's stomach. He was too ashamed and too upset to talk. Eric gently pulled up on Michael's chin. "As hard as it seems right now, we still need to talk. Are you in some sort of trouble?"

"No, no, I swear I'm not." Michael said quickly, shaking his head but unable to meet Eric's eyes. "Is one of our friends in trouble?"

"No. No, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Michael said, tears still flowing.

"Look at me, please," Eric implored.

Michael turned away and buried his head in his arms. Eric put a hand on the shoulder and rubbed absently. "Are you mad at me for going to New York?"

Michael shook his head hard. "No!" came his muffled reply.

"Then TELL me what's wrong," Eric tried again.

Michael slid off the couch and still gasping around sobs, headed for the kitchen. Eric stood up and followed, stopping just inside the doorway and resting against it. He sharpened his tone a little.

"I'm not going to play twenty questions here, Michael."

Michael stopped trying to wipe his face, the tone making his stomach clench. He looked up guiltily at Eric.

"There is definitely a problem here that needs addressing. It starts with identifying what's wrong, then we'll work on how to fix it.  Have a seat."

Michael pulled out a chair, still hanging onto the towel. Eric pulled out a chair and sat face to face, taking Mike's hands in his own.

"Why were you on the bridge?"

Michael gulped as the tears started again. "I'm sorry!"

"Why did you feel that was a way to gain my attention?"

"That WASN'T what I wanted to do –" Michael stopped, realizing that that WAS what he really wanted to do, and how it must look to Eric.

The sobs increased and he tried to put his arms and head on the table.  Eric pulled him over into his lap. "That's enough of this Michael.  Tell me what you were thinking."

The tone again reached Michael, but he still couldn't bring himself to talk about it. Finally he tried "You should be on duty. You'll get in trouble –"

Eric still didn't have a clue what was going on. All that he knew was that Michael was still refusing to talk to him. He sharpened his tone and level of voice. "What were you thinking, scaring me to death, not to mention Rolf, Matthew and the various passersby at the time?"

"I wasn't going to jump! That's NOT what I was thinking!" Michael said quickly through his tears.

"WHAT WERE YOU DOING ON THE BRIDGE?"

"The tv. News. You were at work. And not here. And…….I don't know!" Michael finished, struggling and trying to get to his feet.

"Are you mad at me for leaving?"

"No! I'm sorry! Please? I'm sorry," Michael cried, still struggling.

"TALK to me," Eric implored again.

"It's okay, I'm fine, it's nothing."

Eric let him go. "Then you can get yourself upstairs right now.  I've had enough of you and dancing around the issues. Go."  Michael turned large eyes to Eric, but fled when the look didn't soften.

Eric swallowed hard. Now at least he knew where the root of the problem lie. It was all connected with the events of that September day, and his leaving to help had just compounded the issue. Michael just couldn't find a way to talk about it, probably because he felt a lot of guilt. Guilt for the bridge, for pulling Eric off duty, for such an unMichael like attention seeking gesture. Eric took a calculated gamble and got to his feet, heading for the stairs. Right now he intended to spank Michael and deal with those issues before talking anymore, hoping that gave Michael a feeling of being absolved from some of it. Then they could get on with fixing the communication gap that developed.

********

Michael curled more comfortably against Eric's chest, the sobbing and the weight on his chest both diminishing, though his bottom was still blazing hot. He wouldn't trade back for it though.

"You know all you had to do was call me," Eric said gently against Michael's hair.

Michael sniffed again. "I know. I wanted to show you I was behind you – I have always been that – but I was afraid you'd feel guilty or not go if I told you I was having trouble."

"You couldn't even talk to Matthew or to Rolf?" Eric asked him.

Michael shook his head slowly.

"When- when we saw the news programmes, Matthew cried. He'd look at those faces and-"

"And you didn't?" Eric asked softly. Michael's eyes filled with tears.

"WHY is this so bad Eric? I don't know these people, I shouldn't feel like this, why is this different?"

"Maybe because it's happening now, to people like us." Eric said into his hair. "It's a historical event, but it's real and it's here. And maybe because it could have been us."

Michael's eyes filled with tears again, but his chest didn't tighten this time. Eric did understand. He did know.

"I tried to talk, and then not, and finally, it got so I couldn't-"  Eric kissed the top of his head.

"Well, I'm off for the rest of today, and the next two days. We're going to practice talking, a lot."

Michael gave a wan smile and hugged his officer – hero – tightly.  Things were going to be alright.

*********

Michael knocked on the front door and waited for Matthew to answer.

"Hi," Matthew said slowly when he saw who it was.

"Hi...I...I'm sorry about last weekend."

Matthew looked up and saw Eric in the car, waiting. He brought his eyes back to his friend. "Why?"

Michael looked at the ground, unsure of how to answer that. Finally he looked back up. "I didn't know how to handle that. You did."

"No, I didn't, and I still don't. You didn't have to scare me like that. Scare ALL of us." Matthew didn't want to be accusing, but he couldn't help it.

Michael's eyes filled with tears. "I know. It was really stupid, and I'm sorry. I...I never thought about...you know. I didn't mean to make you think that. It..it was the stupidest way to get a conversation started. I'm sorry." Michael turned quickly, wiping at his eyes. He couldn't stand the anger he felt emanating from his best friend.

"Wait," Matthew said when Michael started to go. He stepped onto the porch.

Michael turned around slowly.

"DID you talk to Eric?" Matthew asked.

"Yes. We've talked. A lot. And he spanked. Hard. And I'm still listening, and we're still talking. You...I mean I won't be seeing you much for a while, I'm grounded. I...I just wanted--"  Matthew pulled him into a rough hug. "I just wanted you to be okay."

~The End~

Copyright Rolf 2010

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