by Chris J

They'd made the agreement in a German leather bar on a cold October night, the only place they'd come across where the rest, the kids, wouldn't tag along. It had followed an impossible string of bad luck, one that had convinced them both that they were just not meant to be. At least, not then.

"When we're thirty," he'd said, raising his stein high in a drunken toast. "If we're still alone when we're thirty, we'll try this again. This whole boyband thing should be over by then, and there'll be nothing left to stop us."

They'd sealed the deal with a kiss that was dirty and raw, and Chris had never forgotten.

He shouldn't have been surprised then, when Kevin showed up on his doorstep on a warm October evening, but he was. The intervening years had introduced complications, had taught them all that they had to be enemies, and repeated that lesson so often that the truth sometimes got overlooked behind that largest of lies.

"You didn't have to come," said Chris, holding the door open and stepping aside so Kevin could come in anyway. "You're married now."

"But you're not," said Kevin gently, his accent as strong as Chris remembered it, closing the door behind him. Then he felt silent, unexpected and unwanted guilt crossing his face.

"The agreement was if both of us were single," Chris reminded him, quashing his bitterness for as long as it took. "You can't tell me you'd leave your wife for this."

"No," admitted Kevin. "But still ... I had to come. For old times' sake."

Chris nodded, more acknowledgment than agreement, though he was glad that he wasn't the only one that remembered. It felt like a hundred years had passed since that night, not five.

"I'm sorry," Kevin went on, awkwardly. "That you're not ... "

"Oh, don't feel sorry for me, Richardson," Chris interrupted him sharply. "I'm not over the hill yet. I'm over her and I'm ready to move on."

"I always figured it would be you," said Kevin, looking chastised enough to sate Chris's need to lash out. "That was taken first, I mean. Until Kristin came back into my life."

"Didn't I say enough with the pity?"

"I'm not -- " began Kevin, then shoved a hand into his jeans pocket and rummaged around. "I brought you something. A birthday present, if you want."

Chris laughed, unamused but surprised. "A present," he repeated, waiting less than patiently. His surprise only heightened as Kevin emerged with a slip of paper which he placed in Chris's hand, closing his fist around it. "What the ... ?"

"It's a phone number," explained Kevin, holding Chris's fist closed for the moment. "I couldn't be yours, but that doesn't mean I had to come empty-handed ... "

Chris was already shaking his head. "Don't do this, Kevin. It's just a different kind of pity and it's the last thing I want. You know that, dammit."

"I told you," he said, squeezing Chris's hand. "It's a present. For you and ... well, for the person whose number you're holding. I don't think you'll be disappointed." Then he leaned in and sealed the promise with a kiss that was tender and apologetic. "I have to go. Kristin's waiting in the car."

"Well ... thanks," murmured Chris as Kevin let him go and turned to leave. "For coming. And for ... " He stared at his curled fingers and at the hint of white beneath them.

Kevin turned back from the door for just a moment, his hand resting on the knob. "You'd be surprised," he said, nodding at Chris's closed fist, "just who's gone and grown up over the last few years."

Chris watched him leave the house and get back into his car, kiss his wife and drive slowly away. Then he finally looked at the gift he'd been given.

Story for Chris's 30th b-day. October 17, 2001

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