Actions

Work Header

Beyond the Gate - Part III - Abyss

Chapter Text

 

Part III

Abyss



We fought together, laughed together

Said things that we hoped were clever

The thought of missing you forever

Makes me wanna cry

(Robbie Williams – Don’t Say No)



----

I



He woke with his arms full of a warm, naked body and sunlight trying to find its way in through the closed drapes. Michael yawned and rubbed his nose on a broad shoulder. Rick stirred and made a muffled sound, then quieted down again. Michael stretched and, with a happy little sigh, pressed up against Rick’s back. It was a perfect way to wake up on a Sunday morning. Maybe they could...

A phone started playing the Family Guy theme, getting louder with every second.

Groaning, Michael rolled over on his back and nudged Rick. “Hey, that your alarm? Turn it off, ‘s loud.”

“Wha...? Huh... no...” Rick’s voice was raspy and a bit slurred. “’s my damn phone.”

“Well, turn it OFF.” Michael grabbed a pillow and buried his face in it.

The bed dipped and there was some cursing and muttering and finally the annoying sound stopped, then Rick bellowed, “Crap!” Michael’s covers were pulled away and annoyingly cold air hit his sleep-warm body. “Get up! It’s...”

There was frantic knocking at the door and then the phone started again; ‘….lucky there’s a family guy, lucky there’s a man who positively can do, all the things that make us...’

Rick barked into his phone, “What?!”

Michael jumped out of bed, suddenly wide awake due to the adrenalin pumping through his body. He stepped on his jeans lying on the floor and almost caught his phone underfoot. He sidestepped and bumped into Rick, who was talking very fast, probably to Paul.

“Gimme a minute here, okay? I overslept. Been up most of the night... yeah, you know me and sleep... what? Oy. Yeah, okay, I’ll wait for... What? Nope, no idea where Michael is.”

Michael chose that moment to pull his own vibrating phone from his jeans and, without thinking, answered his own call with a hectic, “Hello?”

Rick covered his own phone with his hand, glared, and waved him out of the room

Michael hurried into the living area and waited for Julie to stop yelling at him for not answering his damn phone and not opening his door. When he could get a word in, he said, “I was probably in the shower.”

“It’s 9:20, Michael,” Julie griped. “You were supposed to be down for breakfast at 8:30 and your autographs start at 10:00. You’re lucky because the elevators aren’t working, which gives you some time to get ready. But you could at least answer your phone!”

“In the shower?”

“You were in the shower this long? I’ve been trying to call you for almost an hour because you didn’t show up for breakfast! Don’t keep your damn phone on vibrate, it’s driving me nuts!”

“Okay, okay. Where are you?” He watched Rick scat past him into the bathroom.

“I’m on my way up to you! Seven stories! Blasted elevators! Paul tried to get you to open your door. He was still upstairs when the elevators stopped working so he tried to reach you. It seems Richard’s missing as well, though.”

“Don’t... Julie, don’t waste your energy and time to come up. I’ll be down. I just need a moment to get dressed...”

“Any idea where Richard might be?” Julie asked.

Michael looked at the closed bathroom door and had a moment of total panick. She knew. Somehow she knew. Why else would she ask... He pressed trembling fingertips against his left temple and clutched his phone more tightly with the other hand. “Why would I know where Rick is? He’s not in my bed, or in my shower.”

Which wasn’t a lie, actually.

“Yes, okay, stupid question. Will you manage to find your way downstairs and into the main hall?”

“Yes, Julie. I’m quite capable.”

“Well, apparently you weren’t capable of setting your alarm clock,” she said snippily.

“Whatever you say, hon,” Michael replied brightly. “I’ll see you in a few. Bye.” He disconnected the phone, threw it on the couch and barged into the bathroom to relieve his bladder.

“Rick!” he yelled over the rushing shower. “Okay if I use your toothbrush?”

Rick poked his head around the shower screen. “That would be... ewww?”

Michael shrugged. “I had your cock down my throat... and you’ve rimmed me... what’s a little spit?”

“Right. Good point.” Rick continued to shower and Michael eyed the toothbrush in question, then shrugged again, used it and rinsed it as best as he could.

“Paul said the elevators aren’t working,” Rick said when he climbed out of the shower and took the towel Michael handed him.

“Yeah, I heard that.”

“He’s waiting outside my door like a watchdog,” Rick continued.

“Sooo... you go first and lure him away. You can text me when the two of you are downstairs.” Michael slipped into the shower.

“Yep, that’s the plan. Leave the key card on the table.”

“’kay.” Michael paused, hand on the faucet, and waited for something else. A hint of acknowledgment about what they had discussed last night. But all he heard was running water and Rick brushing his teeth.

He opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head and turned the shower on. There was no time for that now.

The question was; would there be time later? To talk? To get answers?

He had that sinking feeling again... this was good-bye. And what a lousy one it was.

Well, we’ll always have Paris, he thought wryly. In this case, Duesseldorf.

He soaped himself up with Rick’s shower gel, used Rick’s shampoo and hoped none of the fans would make the connection during the photo session. That he smelled like RDA. He should have gone to his own room to shower later. But, hell, he wanted to smell like Rick at least for today.

Stop being a drama queen, he told himself. You knew it might end like this. Suck it up and get over it.

Of course that was extremely helpful. Not.

When he exited the shower Rick was dressed and scrubbing both hands through his hair. “It never does what I want it to do,” he grumbled.

“You ever tried using a brush or a comb?” Michael quipped.

“Funny. Not.” Rick gave the mirror one last assessing look, sighed, and hurried out of the bathroom.

Michael went through the motions of toweling and drying his hair – it was too long to let it dry on its own. It’d look weird even if he put his hat back on.

When he came into the living area, Rick was gone.

He gathered his clothes from the floor in the bedroom while his mind was busy blocking any thoughts of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what now’ - he wasn’t going to write a script.

He sniffed his shirt and decided it was still good. He slipped into his jeans, not bothering with his underwear for the moment. He had to put on new ones, but couldn’t hop over to his room naked. He stuffed his Hugo Boss briefs into his pants pocket, put on his socks and shoes and grabbed his hat and jacket.

Rick’s key card was in the back pocket of his jeans and Michael tossed it on the table by the couch.

He made one last round through the rooms to make sure he had all his belongings when his phone beeped with an incoming text.

Julie’s busting a gut here, so you better get downstairs. Am off signing. Staff elevators are working again.’

On my way.’ His fingers hovered over the screen. He wanted an answer. Now. But then he just pushed his phone back into his pocket.

He opened Rick’s door a crack, found the corridor empty and quickly scurried across to his own room. He only stayed long enough to throw his underwear, jacket and hat on the bed. At the last minute he decided he needed a new shirt after all and changed quickly. Then his phone beeped again with a text from Julie consisting of one word.

HURRY!’

He checked the time. Oops. After 10:00.

“All right, going commando and blaming it all on you, Julie,” Michael muttered and hurried out again.

When he entered the main hall he was faced with a growing line at his table. The hall was brimming with people waiting for their autographs from Amanda or some of the other shows’ actors. He put on a smile, slipped into his seat and greeted everyone with a cheerful, “Hey, good morning.”

He went on about the elevators not working and him waiting for someone to get him. No one seemed to be annoyed, though, and the same girl who had assisted him yesterday was by his side to hand out pens and post-its with the names of the fans he had to sign for.

Someone brought him a Latte, which was considerably better than the plain coffee they had been served at breakfast yesterday.

He worked and kept his mind focused on the people and the items he had to sign. It was quite fun, actually, to chat to the fans and it kept his mind from straying. After all these years it was amazing how many people still mourned the end of SG-1 and how loyal the fans were. Still watching the show, still hoping for a movie. When asked by a fan about a Stargate reunion, Michael said there was nothing planned as far as he knew, but that he would do a Stargate movie in a heartbeat and yes, he would love to have RDA on board for that, of course. He realized once again that he was still a big part of the Stargate franchise. Saving Hope – which was great and exciting work for him – couldn’t reach that kind of place value. He doubted it would ever have the same feel as SG-1 had, even if it lasted 10 seasons.

He moved from signing autographs to another photo shoot with Julie in tow. It seemed she had no intention of letting him out of sight this morning. Once the photos were done he was asked to do some interview snippets for a German TV station and pose for some pics with fans in the corridors. He was filmed by the FedCon vidding team as he mingled with people in the dealer’s rooms.

Later he checked out the art exhibition, which was pretty impressive.

Creativity knows no bounds, he thought as he looked at paintings in oil and black/white photographs of the ST TNG actors or reverse engineered Star Wars props and costumes. Sam would have totally whooped about the SW stuff, he was such a big fan.

There was a guy selling copies of props from Sci-Fi movies like ‘Back to the Future’ - a miniature DeLorean complete with the time machine displays and a photo of Marty McFly and his siblings just de-materializing as the time line changed. There was a life-sized telephone box from Doctor Who and several mini-gates from all three Stargate series.

When he left the art exhibit he had to side step a group of really scary looking Klingons and almost ran into a Chewbacca. Chewie was HUGE and all furry and friendly. Michael pulled out his phone and asked him for a picture he could send his kids. Chewie was very flattered.

Michael had just sent the pic with ‘Greetings from Chewie’ when a text came in.

Am in my room. Can you get away?’

Sure, I’m free. What’s up?’ he texted back, trying to ignore the butterflies taking up residence in the pit of his stomach.

We need to do that talking thing again.’

Good or bad talking :p’

I have maybe half an hour before I need to be back with the circus,’ was the reply. No jokes, no smiles.

Ouch, he thought and headed to the elevators.

The 7th floor was empty. Michael briefly thought about how lucky they had been all weekend long that no one had seen him go into Rick’s room. There weren’t any fans on this floor, but even being seen sneaking in or out at the odd hours of the night by colleagues or con people could be risky. Of course it was the middle of the day now, but he still preferred not to be seen.

Rick opened after the first knock, but went right back into the bedroom when Michael closed the door behind himself.

Michael followed suit and found his friend sprawled on the bed, drinking from a water bottle. He’d obviously just taken another shower – his hair was still damp – and was only dressed in his boxers. Michael stood at the foot of the bed and tried not to notice Richard’s pale face and the two red spots on his cheeks or the beads of sweat at his temple.

He wanted to ask; Are you okay?

What came out of his mouth was, “Whoa, you look like crap.”

“No kidding,” Rick grumbled.

Michael mentally thumped himself over the head. “Sorry, I... what’s going on?”

“I forgot to take my meds last night and this morning, ‘s what happened. This is the kind of payback I get for screwing around.” He grimaced. “Literally.”

“Okay... but you’ll be okay? This isn’t... an emergency or something?”

Rick sighed and took another sip of his bottle. “I’ll be fine. Took meds, they’ll kick in soon, I’ll bounce back like a rubber ball.”

“Do... do you need anything? Want me to get you some... uh... coffee?”

“Oh, coffee is the last thing I need. I need to talk to you,” Rick said, sounding a bit grouchy.

“I’m not gonna like this, right?” Michael rounded the bed and settled in beside Rick, leaning against the headboard.

They sat there, staring at the open bedroom door for a moment.

“I can’t do this, Michael,” Rick said the dreaded words. On some level Michael had known that all along. Or at least anticipated it. It wasn’t exactly a shock.

Then why did it cut so deep?

“And that’s final?”

“Yeah. Has to be.” After a pause there was a soft, “I’m sorry.”

“Okay. Can I just... I get you’re afraid of change because I am, too. I also get that it won’t be an ideal relationship and that I’m literally asking you to share me with my wife. I know that has to be a big deal. But last night you said... maybe.” Michael chose to stop talking before he started rambling.

“You might be surprised, but when it comes down to it, it has nothing to do with sharing you or with the overall impact it might have on my life. I worked through those things last night and I figured I could live with an on-the-side relationship. That it’s probably like you said... it’d be perfect for me in a way.”

“Then what the hell...?”

“I don’t think I can live up to this. I mean, look at me, Mikey, seriously...” Rick’s hand came to rest on Michael’s thigh. “Look. At. Me.”

Michael looked at Rick. He saw the signs of age, the exhaustion of a weekend packed with work and action and traveling long distances. He saw the color slowly return to Rick’s ashen face and he saw silver-gray hair he loved to touch and deep brown eyes he liked to get lost in. He saw...

“I see you,” he said quietly. “And I love what I see.”

“You say that now because we had such a great time. But, let’s face it, I’m not in the best condition and who knows what’ll be in two or three years from now, or five. I’ll be 70 in 6 years, Michael. You see the big picture and you’ll realize I’m not what you need, or want. Not in the long run.”

“What do I need, or want?” Michael asked, giving Rick a hard look.

“Someone who won’t need naps during the day because he can’t sleep properly at night. Someone who won’t have to take four showers a day because he’s sweating like a pig. Someone who isn’t carrying around a bag full of pills and balms wherever he goes. Someone who can fuck you three times a night without having a heart attack, a slipped disk or a dislocated knee. I can write you a list if you want.”

“That’s a load of bullshit and you know it. We’ve been through this.”

“It was GREAT for a weekend. I haven’t felt this alive in ages. But my life is full of doctors appointments, PT, massages and crap like that. If you really want a long term lover as an add-on to your marriage, find someone who’s up to it. Someone who’s young enough and flexible enough to keep you happy.”

Michael shook his head. “Are you done now?”

“Are you listening to me?”

“I’m not sure I’m really listening to you. You’re the one who used to tell me life’s too short to waste it on worrying and hesitating. Or, like the kids say – yolo. You only live once. So – who are you and what’d you do to Rick?“

“You don’t...”

“No, Rick, I don’t get it. I really don’t. What’s this about? You not wanting me to be a part of your life because you’re old? Weren’t you listening to me at all last night? I’m grateful I got you back. I want to keep you. Not some young, fit, athletic Adonis, not someone else. You. I want you. With all the added weight and all the aches and the grouchiness.”

Rick snorted, but shook his head. “No, you don’t.”

“I do.”

“Don’t.”

“We’re doing it again...”

“What?”

“That... thing we do.” Michael frowned, then laughed. “We ARE the odd couple.”

“The very odd couple.” Rick didn’t laugh, though. He didn’t even smile. He still looked tired. “Go home, talk to Lexa. Maybe you’ll find someone else if you start looking. What we had back then was a gem, a treasure. We should’ve taken the risk then or worked harder on keeping it. But now... we can’t get that back. Not the way it used to be.”

Michael knew he wouldn’t get anywhere here. He had to turn away from the sadness on Rick’s face. The man’s mind was made up and there was no point in trying. Michael had said everything he could have said with words, with gestures, with touches... And he knew Rick had heard him.

Now it was on Richard Dean Anderson to make Richard Dean Anderson listen.

Michael cleared his throat. “I’ll see you at the panel.”

“Yeah. And thanks... for gifting yourself to me these last two days.” Rick’s hand squeezed Michael’s thigh once more, then it was gone.

“Okay. Well, this is awkward... so, I better...” Michael stood and stalked out. But he couldn’t leave like that. He paused at the door, trying to find words. Without looking back at the man on the bed, he finally said, “You’re probably right. We can’t have it back exactly the way it was. Because we’ve both changed, our lives have changed. But we could’ve tried to find something new. Just... think about it.”

He didn’t wait for an answer.

 

Chapter Text

II

Michael was more than ready to go home.

He had made it through the panel, which had been a weird mix of strange questions, hilarious moments – most of them involving Rick and jokes about shrimps, go figure – and the constant awkwardness of sitting beside Rick and having flashbacks to last night and the night before that. Michael had forced himself to live in the moment, to go with Rick’s wacky humor and Amanda’s charming way of story telling. He had been in stitches over the two of them, because they just made him laugh.

And sometimes laughter was a great stress reliever, too.

So, despite everything it had been fun. Mostly. Jay and Sueanne - who had been part of this big SG-1 panel - probably thought they were totally nuts, but then they knew what working with Rick and Michael had been like, so...

In the beginning Rick had chosen to sit beside Sueanne, as far away from Michael as possible, but after only ten minutes into it he had taken his chair and sidled up to Michael, claiming he didn’t ‘get’ any of the questions because he had trouble hearing or something. Michael couldn’t decide if he’d been amused or annoyed, but there hadn’t been much time to make up his mind, so he’d just laughed along with everyone else and made space for Rick.

In the middle of all the mayham about Hathor’s hot tub and getting all the shrimps out of it Rick had the nerve to lean into him and ask him if he was mad. Seriously? On stage? Michael had shaken his head, then nodded, then shrugged and finally thrown up his hands.

They had talked about stuff like; What would you do if you and the characters you played were invited to a BBQ together? Again, shrimps had come up. And bananas. That had been the worst. Rick saying he liked bananas for desert because they were his favorite fruit beside blueberries. Then he had nudged Michael and said, “He likes bananas, too.” And Michael had tried not to choke on his water or kick Rick where it hurt the most.

Bastard.

They had talked about bad Vancouver weather and shooting outside in the rain, about explosives and about taking their kids to the set. They had joked about Rick’s affection for Thor again and Chris Judge’s career as the king of farts …

Everything was already starting to blur again. It was over and done and he had managed not to kill Rick for making that banana joke and for being in his personal space all the time, which had been equally wonderful and annoying. Wonderful because, well, Michael liked Rick being in his personal space and annoying because Rick had made his point just a couple of hours ago and if he’d been serious he should have kept his distance and backed off.

“Micheal.” Amanda’s elbow connected with his.

“Hmmm?”

“You ready to order?”

“Huh? Yeah, sure.” He blinked at the waitress standing by his side, waiting patiently. “Sorry, I... uh, the Ranger Salad, please, without the bacon. And a Merlot.”

She wrote it down, smiled and left. Apparently everyone else had already ordered. They were in a conference room which had been turned into a restaurant for the occasion of a private dinner. Sueanne Brown and Jay Acovone, Paul and the guys from Legend Memorbillia, Julie, Amanda, Rick and himself, plus the two head guys of FedCon, Dirk and whatshisname, had settled around the conference table that now sported a white cloth, the hotel china and a flowery decoration.

Everyone was chatting about everything and nothing. Michael resisted the urge to rub his aching temples and focused on keeping a grin on his face. He felt Rick’s eyes on him from across the table and chose not to look in that direction. Instead he launched into a conversation about whatever – meaning he put on his small-talk face and nodded or ‘hmm-hmm-ed’ in all the right places.

Ignoring Rick.

Rick who had been sitting next to him, goofing around, making fun about eating fucking shrimps and how he’d been heartbroken because his Jack O’Neill action figures didn’t have a real package. And how Thor had broken up with him... to which Michael wanted to say that, nope, Thor hadn’t broken up with him. Not this time around anyway.

Of course he hadn’t said it, even though it would have made the audience cheer.

Maybe it had been Michael’s imagination, but every other word out of Rick’s mouth seemed like it had been aimed at him with a subtle sexual meaning. Okay, so he had probably read things into … things.

But Michael wished he had bitten harder. He wished those hickey’s on Rick’s ass had him squirming and would be a reminder of who had claimed him last night. It would have been satisfying on many levels to see Rick being a bit uncomfortable in his chair.

God, his mind was totally fucked up.

Yep, Michael was definitely ready to blow this joint and go home.

Screw Lexa and her great ideas.

Screw Rick and his twisted sense of humor or his wacky mind in general.

Screw what Rick did to Michael’s mind. And body. Screw it all.

His phone vibrated. Absently he reached for it to look at the blinking row of words on the screen.

I know you’re mad, but c’mon, don’t let it end like this. It’s been fun.’

Michael’s head shot up and his glare was met by a sheepish looking RDA holding onto his phone as if it was an anchor.

You’ve got to be kidding me. He placed his phone on the table and took a long sip of his wine, his eyes never leaving Rick’s face. Rick gazed back at him openly, eyes widening slightly, mouth turning into a small pout.

I won’t give in to that look. Michael turned to Julie who was laughing at a joke Paul had cracked. Something about going to Oz in a couple of weeks and how the heat would melt them like the wicked witch.

“Rick will need an extra truckload of towels,” Michael said smoothly. “And a portable shower stall.”

Everyone chuckled and Amanda slapped his arm. “Jerk.”

“Oh, he’s right. I’d love to have a portable shower. Better yet, a whale tank,” Rick said from the other side of the table. “I bet Seaworld can provide one for me.”

That steered the conversation towards Sea Shepherd and whale protection. Michael sighed and picked up his phone again. He eyed Rick who had launched into an animated discussion about Paul Watson and marina life.

His fingers hovered over his screen.

I wasn’t the one cracking banana jokes on stage’ He scowled and, instead of sending, deleted it.

The waitress returned, asking if anyone wanted dessert. Since most of them still had time to kill until they needed to be at the airport there were several orders for ice cream, coffee and cake. Michael flipped through the bi-lingual menu and said, “Me and my colleague over there would like the banana split.”

The waitress’ eyes darted over to Rick whose face was priceless.

“I’d... what?” Rick blurted.

“The banana split is a composition of banana and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, bananas and chocolate chips,” the waitress provided helpfully.

“Bananas are his favorite,” Michael shared with the young woman. “He gets off on them.”

“I see. We’ll do the best we can to make it extra delicious,” she said with a completely straight face in Rick’s direction and hurried out.

Michael leaned back in his chair and smiled.

Revenge was so sweet.

And he wasn’t done yet.

When the banana splits arrived, Rick eyed it suspiciously as if he expected the bananas to jump him. But it looked really yummy so, after giving Michael a dirty look, he started eating it. Michael picked up his own spoon and licked his lips.

Two banana halves framed the small mountain of ice cream in the middle of the plate. On top sat the whipped cream and everything was sprinkled with chocolate chips and a red fruity sauce, probably cherry.

While everyone went on chatting and laughing, Michael made an art of eating his dessert. He picked up one banana piece with the small fork, dipped it into the whipped cream and started licking it off the banana. He took a little bite here and there, then spooned up some ice cream and let his tongue swirl around the spoon.

No one took any notice, everyone was busy eating or talking.

Everyone except Rick, who sat there, literally staring, with ice cream dropping from the spoon forgotten in his hand.

Michael nibbled on his banana and scooped more whipped cream onto the top. “It’s gooood,” he said blissfully. “I do get why this is your favorite fruit.”

Rick blinked. “Huh. Actually, blueberries are my... ” He rolled his eyes. “Never mind.”

“Are you into food porn?” Amanda asked and burst out laughing.

Oops, so much for no one noticing.

“I think Rick is,” Michael said and toned his eating techniques down a bit.

“Michael is skilled at food porn,” Rick said at the same time. “Maybe he’s got an oral fixation. He used to smoke a lot.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s hard. Very hard. Not being able to suck on my cigarette. Need other things to suck on now,” Michael agreed.

“You should have come to the press conference on Thursday and shared that with the world,” Rick said. “It would’ve made it much less boring.”

Amanda covered her eyes. “You guys...”

“Eat your banana, Rick,” Michael said sweetly.

Rick put his fork down and his hands vanished under the table.

A moment later Michael’s phone vibrated.

Quit it’

He finished half of his banana split before he replied, ‘You started it’

I’m juvenile and an ass, what’s your excuse?’

Just a bit of payback’ Michael typed one-handed while he proceeded to suck whipped cream off his spoon.

Rick shook his head and started mirroring Michael, which was not good. Not good at all. First it made him laugh and then it made him flush. He watched Rick eating his banana and almost choked on his own.

“Like five year olds,” Amanda said to Suanne, who nodded and rolled her eyes.

“This is what I’ve dealt with for the better part of eight years,” Amanda went on. “Add Chris to the mix and you got to wonder how we managed to get any work done.”

“It’s a miracle all right,” Sueanne agreed.

Finally their plates were empty and the duel was over. Michael patted his belly and smirked. Rick had picked up his phone again to...

Text.

You getting off on this?’

Michael almost dropped his phone onto his empty plate. He quickly lowered it under the table and typed back. ‘Do you?’

I asked first.’

Coward.’

When does your flight go?’

Michael cursed under his breath. ‘No. Forget it. No. Way.’

You ever done it in a broom closet? Bathroom? Our rooms are gone so...’

Read my words: No. Way.’

Spoilsport.’

I’m mad at you, remember?’

We’re even now.’

Michael was interrupted by the waitress clearing the table and everyone getting ready to leave, thanking Dirk and his buddy for the hospitality. There was a lot of hand shaking and shoulder clapping and hugging with the girls. Paul and his staff left quickly to make sure all the merchandise from Legend was packed and ready to be shipped back to Canada.

Julie told them to go to the lobby and get their luggage. Amanda followed her right away. Michael hung back and waited for Rick to leave the conference room. Together they watched Dirk and his companion vanish around the corner.

“So.” Rick said, exhaling a deep breath.

“So.”

“I’ll see you... around.”

“You gonna call?” Hope springs eternal...

Rick winced.

Michael shoved his phone into his jacket. “Right.”

“Are we... are we good? I mean aside from...” Rick stuffed his hands into the pockets of his baggy white pants and shrugged.

Michael shrugged, too. What else was he supposed to do? “Sure. We’re good.”

“Sweet.”

“Yeah.”

“Have a good trip.” Rick looked at his shoes, shuffled his feet a bit. Then their eyes met and Rick gave him a lopsided smile. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Michael knew they would have hugged, but a group of fans chose this moment to come down the corridor they were in. As soon as they spotted them, they stopped, then moved considerably faster.

“Oyyy,” Rick muttered under his breath.

Hands were shaken and small talk made, photos taken with phones and cameras, then they were gone in a rush and Rick clapped Michael’s shoulder. “If I don’t go now, Paul’s gonna send someone to find me.”

“Yeah. Julie, too.”

Rick turned and walked away with a slight limp. It was barely noticeable, but Michael noticed anyway. Probably the damn knee. Michael watched him go. He always seemed to be the one watching Rick leave.