Ben Larsen stretches, leans back in his chair and rubs his eyes. Yawns. When Alex dropped him here this morning he was desperate to get back to work. A week at home alone with just Bart for company went from a novelty to a prison sentence within twenty-four hours but today has been longer and harder than he’d expected. Aside from needing to use his cane more as the day wore on until finally giving in and taking a pain killer a couple of hours ago, Alex hasn’t stopped phoning and texting all day. Cute at first, it’s now getting on Ben’s nerves. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, it’s just - oh God his phone just chimed again. He leans down and rests his forehead on his desk.
“You’re popular today,” Fiona says from the doorway. She’s pulling her jacket on, getting ready to go home.
“Alex appears to have morphed into some kind of clinging ivy,” he says with a sigh, glancing at his phone screen. Alex is on his way with the car; he still refuses to let Ben drive anywhere. Or to do anything in the house. Or to walk the dog. Ben’s also getting very tired of looking up during sex. His leg feels fine, damn it. Well, mostly fine. Certainly fine enough that he can handle being a bit more athleticism between the sheets.
To his surprise, Fiona comes in and sit down.
“Ben, be patient” she says. “I don’t think you realize how lucky you are.”
“Oh, don’t worry. Every five minutes someone tells me, so I’m getting the damned gist of it,” he says. He rubs his eyes. “Fiona, I’m sorry, that was rude. It’s just, I know, okay? It was scary, I get it. But it’s over.”
Fiona waits until he’s finished, then leans forward, and rests her hands one on top of the other on the edge of the desk. A small smile plays on her mouth.
“Do you know what your problem is? You’re spoiled. I know it was scary for you. And painful. But Ben, I want you to listen me. I don’t think you appreciate what it must have been like for Alex. I had to phone him, Ben, and tell him you’d been shot. I heard his voice, I heard how scared he was. Just days from your wedding he had to face losing you. On his own. That would be terrifying for anyone; what was it like for him, Ben? Cut him some slack if he’s a little overprotective at the moment, okay?”
Giving him a fond smile, Fiona stands and leans forward so they’re almost nose to nose.
“And Ben,” she says, “if you speak to me like that again, you’ll be picking up your own Starbucks in the mornings.”
“Noted,” Ben says more than a little ashamed. Obviously, stress does not bring out his better side. When he shares the thought with Fiona she laughs.
“Well you’ve had a rough year so we’re going to give you a free pass on this one. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“We’ll see,” she says with a snort. As she goes through the outer office he calls to her.
“Thank you o wise woman.”
She raises a hand without turning around and he grins. Picks up his phone and flicks a message to Alex saying he’ll be waiting downstairs and turns his laptop off. No point taking it home tonight, Matt and Claire are dropping by after dinner. He puts on his jacket, collects his satchel and cane, and flicks off the lights.
Alex pulls up as he arrives in the lobby and Ben resists the urge to snap at the doorman who holds the main door open for him and offers to help him to the car. Reminds himself that everyone is trying to help and it’s not their fault. They don’t realize he doesn’t need help. When Ben gets to the car, Alex holds the passenger door open and he bites his tongue again as he eases into his seat and does his seat belt up. Leans across to kiss Alex’s cheek and smiles at the typical shy duck of his head in response. He doesn’t think Alex is ever going to be entirely comfortable being kissed in public.
“How was your first day back?” Alex asks.
“Honestly? Long." Ben rubs his thigh, aware Alex is watching him from the corner of his eye. “And tiring. And full of worried people who think I’m fragile.”
“They’re trying to help,” Alex says, biting his lip.
“Yeah, I know,” Ben says. He reaches over and pushes hair away from Alex’s face so he can see him better. “I’m just not used to it.”
“Hey that’s my line. Want me to put Matt and Claire off for a couple of nights?”
“No I’m okay,” he says, then takes a breath. “What I would like though, if we have time, is to have a pain pill and then take Dork Dog for a walk. Together.”
“If you’re in pain …”
“Alex, I really need to go for a walk.” Ben cuts off the objection and cringes when the words sound harsher than he intended. “I’m going crazy being treated like I’m made of crystal, okay? I need to start getting back to normal.”
Alex nod and Ben takes his hand.
“I know this hasn’t been easy for you but I’m fine. A bit tired and a bit achy but I’m okay. I promise.”
Alex bites his lip and nods again.
“Okay. We can go for a walk,” he says finally. “A short one. I could still put Matt off until tomorrow or Wednesday.”
“Don’t you dare.” Ben laughs. “He’s bringing brownie.”
As soon as they’re parked, Alex is out of the car, opening the door, and reaching for him. Ben grabs him by the elbow and tightens his fingers, fighting the desire to snap at the taller man.
“Look at me,” he says. When Alex looks at him, he speaks again, measuring each word. “Not made of crystal. I can get in and out of the car on my own.”
Alex stares at him for a moment, then drops his eyes. Ben is torn between yelling at him and letting him help. Takes a deep breath.
“I need to get back to normal.”
“I know. I’m just …”
“Trying to help. I know. Alex you sent me over fifty text messages and called me at least a half dozen times today. I get it but it’s over, okay?”
Alex nods but doesn’t move. Ben tilts his head so he can look into his face.
“Baby, I’m fine. I don’t need help with this shit. What I need is to walk our dorky dog. I need some of your brother’s brownie. Later, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a blow job.” He grins when he sees Alex trying not to smile. “But, I don’t need help with the car.”
“Okay,” Alex says and steps back to wait. Ben pulls himself out of the car and stands up, collects his cane and satchel and slams the door behind him.
“See? All by myself,” he says, letting Alex put his arm around his shoulder. “Now, about that blow job …”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” Alex says pushing the lift buttons. In the lift, Ben leans against the wall and purses his lips.
“So are you going to make me ask or are you going to tell me?”
Alex shakes his head, confused.
“How many times today did you throw up?”
Alex stares at his feet without speaking.
“Fifty text messages, six calls,” Ben says, poking Alex with the cane. “In less than eight hours. How many times?”
“Twice this morning.”
“Did you eat lunch?”
“Had some yoghurt and crackers. They stayed down.” He sighs. “I know I’m being clingy and I’m sorry. I thought I was over the worst of it but you going back today... to where it … happened… just kind of shook me up.”
Ben considers this and nods. The lift doors open and they step out.
“Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to collect Dork Dog from Meg and I’m going to take him for a walk – just around the block – and you are going to cook that pasta thing with the chicken and the spinach. Then your brother will come over and you can tell me off for eating too much brownie and then when they’re gone – “
“Yeah, okay, I know what’s next,” Alexcuts him off. “But I don’t like the idea of you taking Bart by yourself. What if you lose your balance?”
Ben grits his teeth and takes a deep breath.
“Alex, if I was one of the kids from the unit, what would you be suggesting?” Ben pushes his advantage. “If it makes you feel better, we can ask Meg to go with me. I don’t need her to but we can ask.”
They stop outside Meg’s door and when Alex sighs as he presses the doorbell, Ben knows he’s won.