Billy jogged up the subway steps, eager to not be late for another breakfast meeting. He had been up half the night with his sick son and was now horribly behind schedule. It didn't help that the evening before he and Sean had worked until almost 10 to finalize their presentation, and whenever he had extended time alone with his co-worker, Billy didn't sleep well.
Within a week of meeting Sean Bean, Billy knew he had found someone special. He could sense it in the air between them, feel it against his skin. The connection that set off flutters in his chest each time they looked at each other was palpable and deep. And there was no doubt that Sean felt their innate bond too. Private smiles that set two hearts beating faster and two faces flushing in anticipation, over time gave way to the confident understanding that in each other they had found their soul mate.
But as obvious as their feelings were, it was also clear that neither would act on them. Each had grown up in an intolerant world, and long ago had pushed aside any desires that would make them the center of unwanted attention. They had met women they could care for, had married and had children, created comfortable homes and respectable jobs. And it had become remarkably easy to ignore the twinge at the base of the spine, the niggling of the sub-conscious that screamed for them to be honest with themselves and stop hiding behind convention.
Neither expected to ever find love in their life, and at first it made for awkward moments. Conflicted emotions caused a push and pull between them, constantly drawn to each other yet simultaneously trying to repel one another in an effort to conceal their attraction from everyone, including themselves. The burning intensity of their feelings scared them tremendously, but they couldn't help finding excuses to be around the other. Volunteering to work on projects together, sitting next to each other during meetings, taking lunch breaks at the same time ... they found themselves deliberately creating as much casual contact as possible.
Now they had settled into the comfortable routine of best friends, their wives also becoming close as the years passed. From charity events at Sean and Melanie's to dinner parties at Billy and Ali's, the couples spent most of their free time together. Some weekends they spent on the golf course with clients and co-workers, at other times their families would have a picnic together in the park. And throughout the years, Billy and Sean's love grew stronger as did their determination not to risk everything by divorcing their wives and coming out to friends and family.
Billy walked through the door, giving the receptionist a quick smile and wave as he headed to the back of the office. Several colleagues stood in small groups talking in hushed tones, most of the faces furrowed with concern. A few people cast furtive glances his way as he walked to his desk, making him uneasy. He dropped his bag on his chair and looked around for Sean but he didn't seem to be in yet; his monitor was dark and his briefcase was not on top of the filing cabinet.
Switching on his computer, Billy turned away from the desk and began walking to one of the groups to see what was going on this morning. A hand on his shoulder stopped him, and he turned to find Jason, his supervisor, standing behind him.
"Billy, can you come to my office for a minute? "
He felt his stomach begin to wrench as he followed Jason and took a seat in front of his desk. He didn't think his job was on the line, but he wouldn't be the first person in this company who was fired for something seemingly innocuous. Billy clasped his hands on his lap and willed himself to breathe slowly, but when Jason chose to sit in the chair next to him instead of behind the desk, Billy could feel all the color drain away from his face.
"I'm not sure how to tell you this, but I have some really bad news."
Billy arrived at the hospital as close to panicking as he'd ever been. He wasn't sure how he got there, having operated strictly on auto-pilot once Jason told him the news. His eyes could only see Sean bent over his steering wheel broken and cold, his mind focusing on the hours that passed before someone finally found him. Guilt and regret threatened to overwhelm him, but he tried to hang onto the small voice of hope that struggled against his worry and despondency.
He had to wait for Melanie to come to the waiting room to get the latest information. Out of surgery, Sean was now in a coma. They had had to relieve the pressure in his brain by drilling holes in his skull, and Billy cringed at the idea that Sean may survive but have some amount of brain damage.
Not being allowed to see Sean drove him crazy. Melanie would give him news, and he did what he could to help her. But Billy refused to leave the ward, needing to be as close as possible to the man who owned his heart. While sitting in the waiting room he envisioned his Sean stricken and unconscious. He pictured their souls reaching out for each other, imagined his spirit enveloping Sean in a cocoon of love and security. He prayed it would be enough to help pull Sean through.
He called in sick for the next two days, refusing to leave the hospital. Ali came at least twice a day, but by the end of the second day her patience had reached it's peak. She found him in his usual spot, head back against the wall and eyes closed.
"Billy," she said quietly, laying her hand gently on his arm. "How's he doing?"
"The same. Not any worse but no noticeable improvement either."
"I'm sorry, honey." She sat quietly for a moment, collecting her thoughts, unsure how to broach the subject. "Jason's been calling the house. He needs you back at work; that big client meeting is coming up."
"That's not important right now," Billy said, his voice soft and choked with the effort to hold back tears.
"Of course it's important. He doesn't expect you to give the presentation, but he needs someone else briefed on the proposal so they can do it for you."
"Everything's at the office. I'm not leaving."
"Dammit, Billy. I know Sean's your friend but that doesn't mean your life has to be put on hold. You have a job, a family. You have me, Billy. You can check on him during the day, you know Melanie will keep you updated. Why do you have to be here all the time?"
"Because I love him." Billy gave the admission with his head bowed, his voice just barely above a whisper. But it was natural and clear and he didn't regret it. They had already wasted too much time denying themselves, too afraid to admit their feelings, and he wasn't about to keep pretending now that Sean lay in a hospital bed fighting for his life.
He looked up directly into Ali's eyes. "I love Sean, Ali. He is my life and I'm not going to leave him when he needs me the most."
She stared at him, shock, sadness and anger warring across her face. Finally she took a deep breath and stood, pulling her jacket more tightly around herself. "When you come to your senses, you know where I'll be. But you'll have to tell Jason why you refuse to go to work."
Billy slumped forward, burying his head in his hands. He wasn't prepared to make this kind of declaration to his boss, but somehow he needed to make Jason understand why there was no place he could be at this moment but here. His mind refused to work properly, grief and exhaustion taking their toll. He couldn't stop thinking about their last night together, how time got away from them as they finished their project because they were enjoying the hours alone.
About two years ago, Billy and Sean had shared a similar night. Billy's mind latched on to the memory, to the easy laughter and teasing they had enjoyed from the very start. That night they had joked about what their lives would be like as a couple, about celebrating their 50th anniversary in front of the fire. One minute Sean was kidding him about having a "bony arse," the next Billy's breath escaped his lungs when Sean said: I can't think of anything nicer than growing old with you; just sharing simple moments together. After an uncomfortable pause, they brushed the moment aside, having come as close as they ever had to giving life to their feelings.
Billy was jerked out of the memory by one of the nurses.
"Mr. Boyd, can you come with me?"
"What's happened?" Billy asked, pushing up from his chair too fast and causing his head to swim for a moment.
"Mr. Bean has regained consciousness and he's been asking for you. He's rather agitated and we hoped if you sat with him for a minute he could get him to relax without us having to use any drugs."
"Of course. Anything I can do to help."
He followed her down the hall to Sean's room. Melanie stood outside, the look on her face unreadable. He gave her a quick glance as he passed, and then Sean was in front of him and everything else disappeared. Within seconds, he was at Sean's side, looking into the beautiful green eyes he never thought he'd see again. As their eyes met and Sean visibly relaxed, Billy felt the constriction around his chest loosen, and he reached out to take Sean's hand between his own.
A smile lit Sean's face. "Billy."
A tear escaped from Billy's eye and trailed down his cheek. "I almost lost you."
"I'm too stubborn to go out that easily."
"Shut up, you idiot. I almost lost you and I never said I love you. And now Ali knows and you should have been the first person I told. And I couldn't be here for you because to everyone I'm not important in your life all because I've been too afraid to shout to the world how much I care about you."
His tears flowed freely now along with his words, and he placed his head on the bed as he sobbed. Sean squeezed Billy's hands, giving him the time he needed. After a few moments, Billy raised his head, wiping his face carelessly with his shirt sleeve.
"We've been stupid for far too long, haven't we love?" Sean's voice was barely audible, but the certainty in his eyes reinforced the strength of his feelings.
"That may be the understatement of the year." Billy couldn't help his mouth quirking up slightly, sitting here with his beloved, hearing his voice.
"It won't be easy, but we have to stop lying to ourselves and everyone else. I love you, Billy. I feel your love every day, with every breath I take. I could hear you calling to me."
"My angel," Billy sighed, leaning down to place a soft kiss on the back of Sean's hand.
"We'll try to make this as easy as we can on our kids, try to help them understand. But I don't care if it affects my job, I don't care what our friends think. I need to be with you, Billy. Please share your life with me."
Out of the corner of his eye, Billy could see the doctor and nurse enter the room and knew his time was coming to an end. "I want to be happy, Sean. I want to be happy with you." He reached up to lay his palm gently against Sean's cheek. "I have to go now, but I love you and it is time. It's time for our dreams."
Sean smile filled him, warmed him from head to toe. With one final squeeze of his hand, Billy left the room feeling at peace and content for the first time in his life.