Stephen is his best friend, though that wasn't always the case. For a long time there was Jeff—the one guy Michael trusted straight down to his gut, instinctively and completely. The man who only had to ask to make Michael drop his entire life and start a new one on Babylon 5.
Michael never regretted his decision when things got hard. He didn't regret it even when his own second shot him in the back. He didn't regret it when he woke up and everything was different, Sinclair gone and a new C.O. in his place. It was still Sinclair's station, and Garibaldi still had a job to do.
But then Jeff left—really left—forever. Yanked back through time, so far Michael can't even study him in the history books. Valen is more legend than history, though knowing what he does now, Michael just might believe all the stories.
Jeff left. He didn't even say goodbye. And Michael thought getting shot in the back hurt; losing Jeff was a whole different kind of pain.
But Stephen will never leave—not like that. Not forever. Michael doesn't know what makes him sure. He wasn't big on trust even before Babylon 5, and he's gotten a hell of a lot stingier with it since. But he looks at Stephen and he knows. There's something deep and sturdy, something itching beneath Michaels skin that tells him whatever this is, they're both in it for the long haul.
Stephen's eyes tell the same story. He looks at Michael, and Michael knows, Stephen Franklin will always give him a second chance. Even if no one else will, even if he doesn't deserve it. Stephen will always let him back in.
Because they're friends. Because sometimes they're something else entirely.
"You know, it's bad manners to invite someone over and then ignore him." Stephen nudges him with an elbow. When Michael glances over, he sees a quiet smile on Stephen's face, just one side of his mouth curling up in an expression so familiar he can't help smiling back.
Duck Dodgers is crashing his space ship on the vid screen in front of them. Michael doesn't know how long he's been zoned out.
"Everything okay?" Stephen asks, concern tingeing his voice a shade more somber. Michael gives a dismissive shake of his head, and his smile turns self-deprecating.
"Just tired," he says. Lost in my own head, he means. Thinking about you.
But Franklin moves to set his glass aside, starts to stand as he says, "You're right, it's pretty late. I should—"
"No-no-no, that's not what I meant." Michael catches him by the wrist and tugs him back down.
Stephen falls inelegantly back onto the couch beside Michael, mouth parted in surprise. He looks at Michael for a long moment. Then he looks down at his wrist, which is when Michael realizes he should probably let go. He doesn't. He tries—honestly he does—but he can't figure out how to loosen his fingers so Stephen can slide away. Something tight and stubborn has lodged in his chest, and suddenly the last thing he wants to do is stop touching Stephen.
"Or I could stay," Stephen says in a quiet, almost confused voice. It's not exactly an offer. Michael's not sure what it is. But Stephen isn't trying to tug free of his grasp.
He seems to be waiting, curious to see what Michael will do. And Michael doesn't mean to lean closer. He doesn't mean to brace his free hand on Stephen's knee and gravitate into his personal space. He definitely doesn't mean to close his eyes and press a kiss to those surprise-parted lips.
But somehow all those things happen anyway, and then Michael is drawing back, terrified to open his eyes in case he just fucked things up. He lets go of Stephen's wrist and orders himself to stop being completely chickenshit.
He blinks and finds Stephen watching him without any hint of anger. Surprise still brightens his face, keeps his eyebrows arched high, but there's no hint of retreat in Stephen's posture. He mostly looks curious.
Michael holds his breath.
"What was that for?" Stephen asks.
"Hell if I know," Michael admits. There's no point trying to be suave. Stephen knows him better than that.
"How long have you been thinking about doing that?" Stephen's eyes are piercing now, drilling into Michael and demanding the truth.
Michael doesn't even consider lying. He won't lie to Stephen. Which means he can't pretend it was an accident; it didn't just inexplicably happen. He won't disown his actions when he has been thinking about it.
"A while," he says. It's a cagey answer, but it seems preferable to the more honest alternative: 'Since somewhere between the stims and you almost dying on me.' That's not really a confession to set the right mood.
Stephen just nods, either satisfied or simply unwilling to press for more.
"You planning to do it again?" he asks with a hint of a smile.
Michael grins as relief expands behind his ribs. He can't be mistaking the subtle tease in Stephen's voice. It's the next best thing to a written invitation, and Michael doesn't need to be asked twice.
Their second kiss is a different sort of kiss, all teasing teeth and exploring tongues. There's nothing tentative this time, as Michael curls a hand around the nape of Stephen's neck and leans closer.
He breaks off in surprise when steady hands begin undoing the buttons of his shirt.
"Sorry." Stephen pauses, meeting his eyes steadily. "Too fast?"
"Hell no." Michael pulls Stephen back in.
They make an absolute disaster of trying get each other naked. The couch offers too little room to maneuver, and Michael keeps banging his knee against the coffee table. He laughs through the fleeting pain and presses Stephen down into the cushions, moaning when Stephen's hands slip between them and finally win the battle with Michael's fly.
Stephen's voice is warm with amusement when he shoves against Michael's chest and says, "Okay enough, seriously just— Give me a second to— Michael!" That last comes out somewhere between a laugh and a groan as Michael bites him just below the ear—hard enough to mean business, but not enough to mark. A guy could get used to hearing his name said like that.
"If you don't finish taking that shirt off, I am going to tear it apart with my teeth," Stephen warns him, and Michael barks a surprised laugh.
He sits back and starts on his cuffs, but he's grinning and he can't resist retorting, "Now that is something I would pay to see."
But Stephen is too busy shedding the rest of his own clothing to bother with a comeback, and then he's kissing Michael warmly, a hint of impatience in the way he nips at Michael's lower lip.
"It's about time we took this somewhere more comfortable, don't you think?" Stephen murmurs against his skin, and Michael couldn't agree more.
His bed is too sturdy to creak when he and Stephen collapse into it together. There's fumbling, uncoordinated but easy, as they sort out their limbs—as Michael lies back so Stephen can straddle him, only to roll and reverse their positions a moment later. He pins Stephen down with the weight of his body and reclaims his mouth in a greedy kiss.
There's nothing but frantic heat between them now, and Stephen's hands are restless motion as his body arches beneath Michael on the bed. The movement brings sudden friction, and Michael grinds down, hungry for more. He slips a hand between their bodies, palm sliding low over the firm panes of Stephen's stomach, then lower still. Stephen groans a string of curses when Michael's hand closes around him—words Michael is surprised the doctor knows, in a clever variety of languages.
Then Stephen's hand is on him, sliding firmly around Michael's cock and stroking in deliberate counterpoint to Michael's touch.
Neither one of them lasts long. Michael hasn't had anyone since... Christ, he can't even remember. He never actually had Dodger, and before that—
Before that was Lise. Garibaldi isn't thinking about Lise right now. He's thinking about Stephen beneath his hands, warm and real and so perfect it isn't fair.
Michael comes on a low groan, and Stephen is right behind.
They're quiet for a long time after. Stephen doesn't rush out of Michael's bed like this was the worst idea in the universe, but the silence isn't the easy, quiet kind. It's more the awkward, what-did-we-just-do kind, and Michael wracks his brain in search of something to say.
He likes the way Stephen feels against his side. He doesn't think he's capable of regretting this.
"You're thinking too loud," Stephen murmurs, and the words tickle Michael's throat.
"Sorry." The silence isn't quite so awkward when it settles in this time, but Michael still has to force himself to break it when he asks, "The hell time is it anyway?"
Instead of Stephen, it's the computer that answers, and Michael covers his face and groans when he realizes how late it is—more like early by now. Christ, tomorrow is going to be awful.
"It won't be that bad," Stephen says, like he's just read Michael's mind. "You can still get a couple hours of sleep, and if that fails..."
"Call in sick?" Michael hazards.
"I was going to say coffee, but sure." There's a smile in Stephen's voice, and the last vestiges of uncertainty melt from Michael's skin. He suddenly thinks he could sleep well tonight—or what's left of tonight—and maybe Stephen is right.
Maybe tomorrow won't be that bad.