cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Slash fic: Daredevil's Dilemma 4

Title: Daredevil's Dilemma 4
Author: cupidsbow
Fandom: Afflection
Pairing: Matt Damon/Ben Affleck
Rating: R
For: Flist 200 celebration.
Thanks: To scotsnow, fran_de_sales and vegetariansushi for the superfast beta-reads, and excellent feedback.
Disclaimer: 100% make believe.
Previous Episodes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Note: Although I've officially dedicated this to my whole Flist, there are a few people who have been especially positive about this series, and their prodding certainly made me pull my finger out and get on with the writing of part 4 much sooner than I might otherwise have done: fran_de_sales, skippy9474, moonythestrals, veronamay and tangletoy. Thank you, and I promise I'll try to write part 5 more quickly.


The End

Matt twisted home his key and the snap of the front door's bolt pulling back sounded like something breaking.

Inside, he dropped his bag onto the hardwood floor, slammed the door closed with his foot, then stood in the hallway for a long moment, just staring at the cream paint of the wall, clenching his keys tightly in one fist.


He closed his eyes and breathed out, chest hitching a little. The tension in his shoulders didn't ease at all.

With another muttered, "Fuck!" he opened his eyes and strode down the hallway into the living area, heading straight over to the sideboard. The keys dropped out of his hand onto the floor, unheeded, as he reached for the whiskey and a glass. He poured his usual amount, looked at it, sloshed in some more, then slammed it back in one go.

After the long wait, the burn was anti-climactic. He hadn't let himself indulge while on the plane, in public. Vulnerable. And now that he could finally do whatever he wanted, the intoxicating rush didn't really help the way he wanted it too, so god alone knew why Ben always...

Very gently, Matt set the glass down on the sideboard.

To his right, the answering machine was flickering its light at him frantically: Blink. Blink. Blink. Urging him to re-engage with his life. Without thought, he reached out, his hand hovering over the Play button, a relentless surge of hope filling his chest.

"For fuck's sake," he said, letting his hand fall to his side.

He turned abruptly, strode through the house and entered his bedroom. At the bed, he bent over and wrenched the bottom drawer right out of its groove, then turned it over, letting lube, condoms, tissues and several tits-n-ass magazines fall onto the bedspread. Flipping the drawer back to right-side-up, he reached in and ripped out the drawer liner.

The photo was snug against the bottom and he had to scrabble at it before he could pry it up. Once he had it, he threw the drawer onto the bed and took his prize into the bathroom.

He flicked on the light and went over to the sink.

In the bright fluorescent light the photo looked faded, the browns and yellows overwhelming the reds, blues and greens. Somehow, the muted autumn colours made Ben's tan seem unreal, as though the photo was a digital hack job. Just another really good fake, maybe, except for the fact that it had been Matt's finger on the button all those years ago.

And, god, Ben was so fucking young. Matt let himself look at the photo just infrequently enough that Ben's youth always came as a shock. It was hard to believe Ben had ever been so sweet and new. So unsure of his body. Lying there by the side of the pool, all skin and water and a shy smile for the camera, hiding nothing. Back before anything had happened. Back when their lives had been nothing but dreams and big talk. Back when everything, all that hunger, was right there on the surface for Matt to see, to steal and keep forever.

As his thumb ghosted down Ben's fifteen-year-old face, Matt found that he couldn't swallow around the sudden clench of his throat. He jerked his thumb away, thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. Flicked it to life.

Held the photo over the sink.

Brought the flame up to lick against the corner of the photo.

Watched as the edge began to blacken and curl, becoming a glowing rim that chewed its way up towards Ben.

Ignored the way his sight was blurring.

And as he watched the photo start to burn, Matt tried, with everything he had, to focus on letting go of hope.

* * *


A bitter, smog-drenched eucalyptus smell filled the air, presaging dawn, when Ben finally pulled into the carport, the SUV's headlights reflecting brightly off the chrome of his motorcycle crouched up against the back wall. The dashboard clock said it was 5:06 am, but as far as Ben was concerned that didn't reflect the true state of affairs in any adequate way. It felt like he'd been at the fucking hospital for at least a week, and driving around the greater Los Angeles area, dropping people home, for at least another month.

He turned off the headlights, switched off the ignition, and then rested his head against the steering wheel.

All he wanted was to go inside and fall into bed and sleep for a couple of million years.

He continued to sit there, listening to the rollerdoor rattle back into place and the engine gently tick as it cooled.

There were three phones between Ben and his bed. If you didn't count the cell phone currently resting in the glove compartment.

Four phones. All conveniently situated between Ben and his bed.

And he needed to call Matt; needed to let him know they were all safe.

Ben sighed.

Calling Matt now really wasn't a good idea. It was five o'clock in the fucking morning, and Matt would hardly expect him to call at this hour. No one would. Matt wouldn't have waited up all this time, anyway. He'd be asleep. And an abruptly woken Matt was, Ben knew from painful experience, something to avoid at all costs. So Ben should just do it tomorrow. Matt would be cool with it. In fact, he'd undoubtedly be pissed if Ben rang him at this hour. Ringing tomorrow, at a more civilised time, was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Anyone would agree. Ben should just go inside and go to bed and worry about everything else later.

It was the logical thing to do.

Ben took his fingers off the key, leaving it hanging in the ignition. Then he lifted his head just high enough to slide his arm between his cheek and the smooth suede of the steering-wheel cover.

A moment later, he closed his eyes to block out the sight of the clock ticking over to 5:08 am.

* * *

Ben woke to a world of pain. His neck felt like it had been twisted for hours between the thighs of a very pissed-off sumo wrestler.

He blinked, blearily, and discovered that the back of his hand was covered in drool, and that he was sitting, hunched over, in the driver's seat of his car.

According to the dashboard clock, it was 7:57 am.

The muffled dwerp, dwerp coming from the glove compartment abruptly cut off, just as Ben realised that was what had woken him.

As he slowly unfolded himself from the front seat of the car, Ben wondered what the fuck he'd been thinking last night. Because falling asleep in the car had definitely been a Bad Plan.

He managed three steps towards the house, then, with a groan, backtracked and very gingerly partially re-folded himself in order to retrieve the keys from the ignition.

Just as Ben pressed the car-alarm button, he realised he'd left his cell phone in the glove compartment. He gazed through the window for a second, then decided to leave it right the fuck where it was.

He wondered, foggily, as he staggered off to bed, who the hell had been calling so early on a weekend.

* * *

Ben woke, sweat slicked, from a dream of screaming seagulls, to find the phone on the bedside table shrilling in a relentless aaaarrrrt, aaaarrrrt.

"Jesus H. Christ!"

He reached over, clumsy with sleep... knocked over a half-filled glass of water, which cascaded down into his semi-open sock drawer... sent his watch spinning, the hands pointing in a sharp V on either side of upright... almost sent the alarm clock over the edge and onto the carpet... and finally managed to yank the jack out of the back of the phone.

The shrilling cut off abruptly, but its echo could still be heard, muffled and distant, from elsewhere in the house.

Ben grabbed his pillow, pulled it over his head, and let himself sink back into sleep.

* * *

He dreamt that someone was pounding on a giant jungle drum, bomp, bomp, bomp, calling for some immense and frightening deity to accept their offering. He waited, his blood drilling through him, for the creature to lift him up from the sacrificial pyre, and carry him off into the darkness.

And waited.

And waited.

Eventually the person knocking out that frenetic tempo gave up and faded back into the misty reaches of the forest.

For a long time afterwards, Ben's heart continued to beat its tattoo of fear.

* * *

Ben woke, finally, in the middle of the afternoon, when the light angled through the window so that it fell on his pillow. He blinked, half inclined to roll over and go back to sleep, but his bladder was a hot, painful demand, that could no longer be ignored.

He kicked off the tangled covers and rolled out of bed, slowly, as though not quite sure his body would still obey his commands, then put on an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

In the bathroom, he pissed and washed his hands without once catching sight of his own face in the mirror.

* * *

In the kitchen, Ben pulled out a chair and sat, letting himself wake up a bit before embarking on tricky tasks which would involve careful hand-eye coordination, such as making a cup of coffee. As he stretched, rubbing at his hair, his gaze wandered over the clutter on the table, lingering on the claims of "All Natural!" and "Organic!" printed in cheerful green letters on the side of the box of very expensive granola Casey had insisted he buy. Ben smiled. They'd had a good time at the shop yesterday morning, even if he'd never eat a single mouthful of the stuff.

Once he'd depleted the reading opportunities offered by the cereal box, his gaze wandered on, and he spent a few minutes scrutinising a set of coffee rings marking the table top that were almost in the shape of the Olympic symbol. He wondered how long they would stay there if his house-cleaner suddenly stopped coming in three times a week. Probably as long as the granola would remain unopened, he decided, somewhat ruefully.

Then his gaze drifted a little further right, coming to an abrupt stop on the scruffy, well-marked pages of the Deep Time script.

Ben's chair screeched on the lino as he pushed away from the table and headed over to the kettle.

* * *

After one last careful wipe of the sink, Ben stared around the kitchen for anything else that needed to be done.

It was spotless. Everything in its place.

He walked over to the pantry and started straightening tuppaware and boxes, until their edges were perfectly aligned. As he nudged the granola half an inch to the left, closer to the Coco Pops, his stomach growled as though a ravenous horde of hyenas had taken up residence.

He paused, arm still out-stretched, and then, grinning, he pulled the granola back off the shelf, and dumped it on the table along with an unopened carton of soy milk--also bought at Casey's urging--and a newly cleaned bowl and spoon.

The granola, it turned out--once he'd resorted to a knife in order to open the "Recycled!" and "Environmentally Friendly!" cardboard box--was dark and chunky, almost identical to Ben's mental image of bird-seed pellets. The soy milk smelled kind of grassy as he poured it on.

He leaned against the sideboard as he ate, but his gaze kept returning to the newspaper recycling bin, which was visibly bulging with a large, rectangular shape.

The fifth time he found himself staring at it, Ben left the kitchen and roamed the house as he chewed on the brick-like granola clusters. The soy milk seemed to be softening them up not at all. Ben wondered how the manufacturers had managed to make liquid-proof cereal, and then decided that, all things considered, he was finding the experience suprisingly pleasant. The stuff was kind of nutty and sweet, and able to glue his teeth together in that wonderful way that only Froot Loops usually could.

Ben wandered into the lounge room, sucking at his teeth. He paused at the Mac and tapped the mouse, discovering that he had 118 new messages. He let go of the mouse and ate another bite of cereal. The soy milk wasn't as bad as he remembered either. A bit thicker than he really liked his milk to be, but the taste was... well not actually good. But not actually utterly revolting.

While he chewed his way though a particularly dense kibble cluster, he picked up the remote for the TV, but after staring at the buttons for a few seconds, put it down again.

After a while, he drifted out of the lounge room and along the corridor. As he passed the doorway to his office--glancing inside just long enough to confirm that there were messages waiting on the answering machine--a key clicked in the front door and it swung open.

Ben froze, mid-chew.

Casey stepped inside wearing a frown that only deepened when he caught sight of Ben.

"You are in so much trouble!" Casey said.

Ben managed a strangled interrogative sound around the toffee-like granola sticking his teeth together.

"Matt's been calling me all fucking morning," Casey continued, slamming the door shut. "Why the fuck weren't you answering your phone?"

With a titanic effort, Ben swallowed his mouthful. It felt like a brick, all the way down to his stomach. "Is he here?"

Casey shook his head. "Not yet. Luckily for you. Because you're gonna..." He trailed off, staring accusingly at the bowl in Ben's hands. "Are you eating my granola?"

Ben looked down at the bowl in confusion.

"That's for me, you fucker!" said Casey. "So that there's one thing in this fucking house I can eat without ordering something in." He approached Ben, sniffing like a bloodhound. "And you're using my fucking soy milk too!"

"You never said--" Ben began, indignantly.

"I didn't think I fucking had to, did I?" Casey said, heading towards the kitchen. "It's not like you've ever voluntarily eaten anything healthy before in your entire fucking life. Bastard."

Ben could hear Casey's muttered commentary on Some People's eating habits over the top of cupboards and drawers being wrenched open and slammed closed, the suck of the fridge door-seal, and the squeak of a chair being pulled out, followed by the loud rattle of cascading bird seed.

Having lost his own appetite, Ben reluctantly headed back to the kitchen.

* * *

Ben hovered near the toaster, unwilling to sit down and commit himself to a conversation. The contents of his bowl, he noticed, when he poked at them, had finally gone mushy.

Casey flipped open the soy milk. "Are you all right?" he asked, staring at Ben, soy milk poised to pour over his own bowl. "Because you look a bit... queer."

Ben choked on the spoonful of cereal he hadn't put in his mouth. The bowl slid out of his fingers and clattered into the sink, and he clutched at his chest, coughing as though he was about to lose a lung.

Casey got up and filled a glass with water, thrusting it at Ben. "Here."

Ben managed a couple of gulps, and the pain eased off a little. "There's nothing wrong with me!"

"Ahuh," Casey said, one eyebrow raised in eloquent scepticism. Without another word he went back to the table and poured the milk in a graceful arc over his mound of granola.

"I just..." said Ben, rubbing at the lip of the glass. "I'm..."

Casey made an interested, "Mmm," around his spoon.

"It's... I think..."

Ben was interrupted by the sound of a fist violently pounding against the front door. He sagged with relief at not having to continue.

"You'd better answer that," said Casey, with a sympathetic look. "You know what he's like when he's in one of his moods."

All colour drained from Ben's face.

"If you put it off, you'll be in even worse trouble than you already are," Casey pointed out, and took another huge bite of cereal.

"I hate you," said Ben, as he surged out of the kitchen. "I really, really hate you!"

The corridor seemed to retract into a tiny distance, the door suddenly right in front of him, vibrating with each blow.

"I know you're fucking in there, Ben," said Matt, his voice only slightly muffled by the solid wood between them. "Open up."

Ben shifted his glass from left hand to right, and then, wanting it over, flung the door open.

Matt, who was braced one-handed against the doorframe, managed not to fall into the house. He scowled at Ben as he stalked through the door. "You're such a fucking chicken shit."

Ben glanced out at the late afternoon sunlight, peacefully dappling the front lawn.

"I knew you'd do this," Matt said over his shoulder, as he headed down the corridor. "You're so fucking predictable."

Outside, leaves were dancing in a slight breeze that smelled of eucalyptus and left-over heat.

"Don't even think about it," Matt warned. He eyed Ben for a moment and then went into the kitchen and said something, low-voiced, to Casey.

Ben drank the water remaining in his glass while looking out at the fading blue of the sky. When he was finished, he closed the door and walked back up the corridor into the slowly deepening dusk that was filling the house.

* * *

Matt was leaning back against the sink, arms crossed over his chest, his expression stony.

"So," said Casey, looking from Matt to Ben and back again, "what did he do this time?"

Ben, hovering in the doorway on the far side of the room, cast Matt an apprehensive look.

Matt gave no obvious sign he noticed. "Thanks for coming to check on him," he said to Casey. "I obviously over-reacted a bit."

Ben let out his breath, slowly, and rubbed a hand across his eyes.

"Come on," said Casey, dropping the spoon into his half-empty bowl with a clatter. "After all this, I at least deserve a bit of hot gossip." Then, with a sly look, "Ben was about to tell me anyway, just before you turned up."

He and Matt both turned to look at Ben, who remained mute.

Matt snorted. "I seriously doubt that."

"Oh, well," said Casey, draping himself more comfortably in his chair and waving a hand at them to carry on. "In that case, just pretend I'm not here."

"Casey," said Matt, his voice flat with menace. "I'm grateful, and I owe you one. Now get the fuck out of here, before I permanently attach my boot to your ass."

Casey opened his mouth to make a pithy retort, noticed the way Matt was clenching his hands into fists, and snapped it closed. "Ah," he said, standing up. "Summer's expecting me back soon anyway, so I guess I'd better..." He edged over towards the doorway, but kept his gaze on Matt.

As he sidled past Ben, Casey whispered, sotto voce, "You're in so much trouble, Benny." He patted Ben on the shoulder. "Call me if you need anything bandaged afterwards. I've got Harry Potter band-aids. Just about your level."

Then, without a backward glance, he hotfooted it down the corridor. A moment later the front door snicked closed behind him.

* * *

At the sound of the door closing, Matt sighed. He unfisted his hands and uncrossed his arms, dropping them to his sides. "I'm only moderately pissed off with you," he said to Ben. "And that's mainly because I would have preferred freaking out with you, instead of about you."

Ben stepped into the room and set the empty glass down on the table. Keeping his eyes on the glass, he said, "You're right, you know. I'm a complete chicken shit."

"Yeah, you are. But I already knew that," said Matt, and with a smile that was only a little forced, "besides, this is totally worth freaking out over. Frankly, I'm right there with you on that one."

"Thank god!" Ben said, finally turning to face Matt. "It's a total head trip. I mean, it brings whole new depths to my understanding of the concept of freaking out. It's just..."

"Out there," said Matt, nodding. "So we're on the same page with the whole freaking-out aspect. Which is good."

"Yeah," Ben agreed, cautiously.

"So maybe we're on the same page with the rest of it too."

"Right!" said Ben, mouth dry, throat clicking when he tried to swallow. "Right. So what page is that? Exactly? I mean, what do you want? To do? About this? I mean..." he trailed off, waving his hand helplessly.

Matt didn't answer right away. The evening light from the window limned him, and when he looked down at his shoes, away from Ben's expectant gaze, all the light in the room seemed to halo around his shoulders, shadowing his face. As he stood there, thinking, he pulled his lighter out of his pocket, absently turning it over and over.

Ben couldn't interpret Matt's expression, couldn't tell what was going through his head.

After a small eternity, Ben's knees gave way, and he sat down, hard, on the edge of the table. "Matt?" His voice was harsh, urgent.

The lighter disappeared back into Matt's pocket, and he looked up, smiling reassuringly.

"God, the look on your face!" Matt said easily, stepping forward and patting Ben on the shoulder. "Relax. I don't want to change anything. You're my best friend and I'm happy with that. Okay?"

"Jesus, Matt," said Ben, wiping tears of relief away with the arm of his t-shirt. "Way to give a guy a fucking heart attack."

"Consider it payback for not answering my fucking phone calls," said Matt, biffing Ben's arm. "Bastard."

"Hey!" said Ben, rubbing exaggeratedly at the spot Matt had hit. "That's domestic violence."

"Well, we can't have that," said Matt. He cocked an eyebrow, and nodded his head towards the door. "So how about we move the ritual violence portion of the proceedings outside?"

Ben's forehead creased into a frown as he stared at Matt. Then, getting it, he smirked. "Something involving balls, I take it?"

"Yeah," said Matt. "I'm thinking we need a little one-on-one action." He gave Ben a totally over-the-top leer.

Ben sniggered. "Mano-a-mano?"

"Exactly," said Matt. "If you take my point."

"Point well and truly taken," said Ben. He stood up but didn't immediately head for the door. "So, we're on the same page then?"

"Yep," said Matt. "Same page. Tabula fucking rasa."

"Okay then," said Ben. "Good. So let's go and shoot some fucking hoops already."

* * *

They lay sprawled on the grass in the semi-darkness, just beyond the circle of artificial light and the basketball they'd abandoned on the edge of the bright concrete half-court. They were both panting, enjoying the play of the cool breeze coming in from the coast, their shoulders barely touching.

"So," said Matt, turning his head towards Ben's profile, "we're good?"

"Yeah, we're good," Ben replied, staring up at the curtain of the night. "We'll always be good, Matt."

Matt nodded in agreement and turned his gaze back to the sky just in time to see a star shooting across the heavens in a graceful arc; a brief flash of light, quickly extinguished by the dark.

* * *

"I'll email you," Matt said, as he did up his seatbelt.

Ben grinned. "I'll email back."

"Yeah, well, I'll call Casey if you don't," Matt threatened, turning the key in the ignition.

"Deal." Ben thumped the side of the car. "Have a safe flight."

Matt held up his hand in a salute-like wave as he pulled out of the driveway.

Ben watched the car all the way down the hill before going back inside the house.

* * *

Water thundered against Ben's back, almost hot enough to scald. With both hands, he lathered soap into his skin, the tired pull of his muscles slowing his movements to something pleasantly languid. He closed his eyes and tilted his head forward, enjoying the pummel of the water and the rushing sound filling his ears, like the crash of endless surf.

The world ebbed away, becoming distant and unimportant, as Ben sank into a trance of skin, slow movement, the cascade of water, the easy slick of soap...

...a long way off, seagulls cried and the wind soughed, and it was nothing to do with him...

...the smell of shampoo, the taste of tap water...

...nothing to do with this...

...the world pausing, tilting, changing...

...and time was slowing, thick as molasses, sliding down, down, down until he was trapped in it, like a figure of sin forever encased in the slow melt of centuries-old stained glass...

...the relentless pressure of gravity sent Ben to his knees, one hand braced against the cool, smooth reality of the tiles...

...and a voice, gravel deep, was whispering into Ben's ear, a hot hand curling around his neck, a smooth cheek rubbing against his...

...Ben closed his eyes tighter and let go of excuses, boundaries, everything safe; wanting to feel this, just once, before he put it away and forgot it forever...

...and he was falling into Matt's mouth, so slick and warm, tasting of tears--all salt and bitterness; the thrust of Matt's tongue against his own making his heart pound so hard it hurt...

...Matt's fingers scraping his stubble, gravelly voice growling in his ear, "I want the whole fucking nightmare, Ben..."

..Matt's body pressing against his own, hard and muscled; Matt's cock a deep red colour, slippery against Ben's thigh...

...and then it was relentless, overwhelming, as time sped back up, swelling inside him in an ever-expanding bubble...

...and when Ben came, it felt like he was breaking, shattering; like shards of something impossibly sharp were slicing him open from throat to belly, and he was bleeding out all over the tiles; like he was dying.

When he opened his eyes again, it was just in time to see the water washing it all away, swirling everything down the drain, leaving no trace. His fingers, still gripped tightly around his cock in the last flush of ecstasy, were already rinsed clean.

And it felt like he'd been hollowed; like there was nothing left of him but a brittle shell and the faint, lingering aftertaste of brine on his tongue, even as...

...I want the whole fucking nightmare...

...a surging aftershock made him dizzy with a sudden lack of blood pressure, and Ben stumbled out of the shower stall, the bathmat sliding beneath his uncertain feet as the lunged for the door.

He rushed through the bedroom, heedless of the water streaming from his skin. His trembling fingers struggled to get the jack back into the phone, the plastic slippery; refusing his touch. As soon as he had a dial tone, Ben keyed in the number, then realised, just two digits from the end, that it was Matt's cell, and he'd probably actually answer it.

Ben hastily pressed down on the cut-off button and stood there shivering, his skin rapidly goose-pimpling. Without giving himself a chance to lose his nerve, Ben dialled again, keying in Matt's home number.

A moment later, the answering machine clicked on, playing an unfamiliar and unexpectedly formal message in Matt's most businesslike voice.

Ben hesitated, fingers hovering over the disconnect button, second and third thoughts beginning to make themselves heard through the overwhelming emptiness still hollowing his belly.

In the other room, the shower continued to thunder, on and on, like the relentless crash of surf.

* * *

The End

As he watched the photo start to burn, Matt tried, with everything he had, to focus on letting go of hope.

The glowing rim finally reached Ben and began to turn his feet to ash.

Matt wrenched the tap on, full bore, splashing water everywhere, and thrust the burning edge of the photo underneath the deluge.

As soon as the fire was out, he began to breathe again. He turned the tap off and reached for the handtowel, gently patting the photo dry.

"So what the fuck am I supposed to do with you?" Matt asked fifteen-year-old Ben, as he propped the photo, upside-down, against the mirror to dry.

Much like the current-day Ben, fifteen-year-old Ben remained mute.

Shaking his head, Matt dumped the towel in the hamper, and went back to the living room.

* * *

At the sideboard, he poured himself another, much smaller, drink, and took a slow sip.

The answering machine caught his eye again. Without hesitation, he reached out and pressed the Play button.

"You have... three... new messages."

Matt wandered over to the bay window and looked out at the city.

His agent didn't bother with a greeting, just confirmed the time of their next meeting and rang off.

Across the street, Matt could see a ragged flag, waving to itself in the wind.

His mom asked him if he'd seen her copy of The Female Eunuch, because she needed it for book club.

Matt snorted, and sipped at his whiskey.

A long, staticky silence emanated from the machine.

He turned, wondering if it was a wrong number, or some fan hitting the jackpot. Fuck it. He'd have to call the company and get a new one issued, and that really jacked him off, it was such a total pain in the...

"Matt," said Ben.

Matt tensed, bracing for something bad.

Silence. For another long, static-filled aeon.

After a while, it vaguely registered that his wrist was wet. Matt looked down and found that he was holding his glass sideways, and most of the drink was decorating his skin and the carpet.

"You," said Ben, sounding like he was about to stroke out.

Matt dropped the glass. Then, between one breath and the next, he was standing over the answering machine, urging it on. "Come on. Say it. Fucking say it, Ben."

"Matt," Ben said. "You never asked me what I wanted."

Matt smiled at the answering machine. "So tell me, Ben. What do you want?"

Another long silence ensued.

"Fuck it," Ben said at last. "I can't do this on the fucking phone. Don't go anywhere, okay? I'm coming to you. I'll be there soon."

There was a brief hiccough of recorded dial tone, and then the machine told Matt, "You have no more new messages."

Matt rested his head against the sideboard and let out a shaky breath. "Good," he told the machine. "That's good. Because I really don't think I could deal with any more new messages right now."

* * *
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