That's What Friends Are For
Chapter 9
by kie

I awoke to the feel of fingers lightly moving over my neck. I opened my eyes a crack and turned my neck, wincing at how stiff it was. It took me a moment to realize where I was and what was going on, and when I did, I opened my eyes fully and turned to look at Steve, who was still laying on me, but supporting part of his weight on his elbow. There were tears in his eyes as he ran his fingers over the bite mark.

"I did this?" he whispered. I nodded, fighting tears of my own. I had only seen Steve cry once, when he found out his grandparents had been killed in a house fire. Tears slowly fell from his cheeks to mine. I could tell he didn't really know what had happened last night, and that scared him. I put my arms around his neck and pulled him down to me, rubbing his back as he buried his face in my neck and sobbed. It broke my heart knowing he hurt so much, knowing that I was the cause. I knew there wasn't anything I could say right then that would make him feel better, so I just held him to let him know he wasn't alone. It took a while, but he eventually started to calm down. However, he developed the hiccups.

He uttered something in Hebrew that I think translated to 'Son of a motherless goat' and managed to sit up. I sat up as well, wincing at the though of how tingly my feet were going to be in a few minutes, since they had been hanging off the end of the couch for close to four hours. I patted is back as he put his head on his knees.

"I'll be right back," I said softly. I stood up and gingerly walked to the linen closet and grabbed two washrags, then went into the kitchen. I filled a glass with ice water, and then ran the rags under the tap, one warm and one cold. I took everything back into the living room, sitting down next to Steve. He had grabbed a box of tissues and was clearing his nose. I handed him the water, and gave him a chance to take a drink. When he was done, he put his head back down, and I put the cool rag on the back of his neck.

"I need to know," he said, his voice still shaky from crying, "did I.force...myself."

"No," I interrupted. "You didn't." He nodded and breathed a heavy sigh.  "When I come to, I saw the bite mark, and I realized I had my hand up your shirt.I was afraid I might have...I was so mad at you last night, and so drunk. Driving from my place to Kevin's.."

"You DROVE?" I asked, horrified.

"No. Kevin drove. I know, which is worse, right? He stayed right around 5 miles per hour, so it gave me plenty of time to think of ways to hurt you the way you were hurting me."

"Funny," I said honestly chuckling because I finally figured out why I had acted the way I had, although I still didn't fully understand it, "I was trying to hurt you as much as I was hurting myself." I took a deep breath and said "You made an offer last night to talk about his. Does it still stand?"

"Are you willing to be rational?"

"I'll try, but I can't promise anything."

"Then yes, it still stands."

I made a pot of strong coffee and we sat in the kitchen. I started talking.

"Have you ever noticed anything, um, similar, about all the guys I've dated?"

Steve thought for a moment. "Other than the fact they tend to be assholes?"

"Other than that. Something they have in common with you." Steve shook his head. "They all physically resemble you," I said, listing various exes.  Steve nodded when he saw my point, so I continued. "I never realized it until the other day, going through my pictures. Once I did notice it, it really didn't take me too much longer to figure out why they all looked like you."

"Flattering, I think."

"Yeah, well, anyway. I decided I was going to try to keep quiet. One, I figured that I'd gone this long without you not knowing, why say anything. I supposed that nothing would be different. Two, I thought that if I said something, you'd think it was because of the other night. When I kissed you though, I freaked. That's why I ran. I had to think of how to tell you. But somehow, I got the idea that there was no way you could feel the same way.  Every other guy I cared about ended up not feeling the same way. Why would you be any different? But, I guess the thought of being rejected by you was too much, so I decided to beat you to the punch."

"Hurt me before I could hurt you."

"Yeah." I excused myself and went to the bathroom, and then continued talking. "I was ready to kill you for that little stunt you pulled under the desk."

He got a sheepish grin and refilled our mugs before he spoke. "I didn't know when I started that you were going to fire him. I thought he was just checking out. By the time I figured it was serious, it was too late. I am sorry, really. I could tell how hot you were."

I wondered if he meant hot horny or hot mad.but I didn't give it much thought, I paid attention to what he was saying.

"After I stormed out of the office, I went home and tried to drink myself sick. I had passed out on the couch when Kevin started pounding on my door.  I let him in and tried to focus on what he said. I didn't fully get it, and being addle-brained wasn't helping, but basically Tiny told Kevin about you crying in the office, and that you told Kevin what happened between us. Kevin rode over to tell me that he thought you might come by, because he wanted me to maybe get in a better mood, I guess. Well, I got pissed because you told Kevin. I decided to drive over here, but Kevin, wisely, ixnayed that, so he drove. We actually got pulled over. Female cop, she was a puddle by the time Kevin got done talking. It was quite nauseating, really. But we finally made it here. I started storming towards your door, and Kevin says 'Hurt her, and I'll kill you.'" He slipped in to his best Lewis Black impersonation. "Now, picture that for just a minute. Kevin, wearing a CatDog t-shirt, threatening to kill me." He paused and I tried to picture it, but couldn't with out giggling.

"Exactly," he said, turning serious. "But I didn't doubt him at all. I think that might have been the only thing that kept me from doing something rash."

I felt myself blanch and Steve dropped his eyes. "I was so fucking pissed at you! You finally said the three words I truly wanted to hear from you, and  then you wouldn't even give me the chance to tell you that I felt the same way. Monday, when I kissed you, I knew I was going too far. But you were right there, and it was something I had wanted to do for so long. I didn't think you would respond, so I was just going to owe it up to too much wine and the porn. But when you kissed back! God! I suddenly found myself wondering if maybe, just maybe, I would be able to finally tell you how I felt. And I almost did, but I chickened out. But I was content in the fact that I was able to be with you once, at least." He started feeling around his pockets for his cigarettes. I stood up and grabbed an ashtray and a lighter. He offered me a cigarette, and we smoked in silence for a few moments, processing what had been said so far.

"I'm sorry, Steve. I just got overwhelmed. And scared and completely stupid." I stabbed my cigarette out and sighed. "I just didn't want to get rejected by you, too."

Steve yawned and stretched.

"Why don't you go on in and take a nap," I said. "You look exhausted."

"You aren't the picture of refreshed yourself. Why don't we nap, then continue with clear heads?"

"Am I forgiven?"

"Am I?"

"Yes," we said together, smiling. We went into the bedroom, Steve stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt, and I changed into the same. I turned the A.C. to as cold as I could, them crawled under my thick down comforter, spooning up behind Steve and wrapping my arm around him. I planted a soft kiss on the side of kiss neck, then snuggled into my pillow. He took my hand that was resting on his stomach and brought it to his lips, kissing it softly and said "I love you."

I moved my hand down and laid it over his heart and said "I love you, too"