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Simon studied the hand on his knee for a beat, though it wasn't completely unusual. Alain often became casually affectionate the more he drank. And Simon didn't have any problem with being touched. But this felt a little different somehow.
"I haven't felt lonely since your arrival."
"Neither have I. I've been looking forward to this for weeks."
"Weeks? Earlier you made it sound like this was a more recent decision as you planned for the holiday."
"Oh. Did I?" Alain grimaced, though he didn't pull back from where he touched Simon. "Well, I suppose I've been found out then."
"Yes, you have. But I can forgive you for deceiving me. If you had a good reason."
Alain didn't respond. The fingers on Simon's knee stretched, moved along the inside of his thigh in a gesture more suited for lovers than friends. His mouth opened to comment on how the wine was affecting Alain tonight, but then the man in question slid slightly closer, the hand resting upon the back of the bench now tickling along Simon's nape.
"I guess I thought that if you knew the truth, you'd disappear," Alain said quietly. "You are very good at that, you know. There were times when months would go by, when I knew you were traveling, and I would think of you and wonder if I would ever see you again."
"You should know that I always find my way back to Paris, even when I think I never want to see that damned city again." Simon kept his voice light, but it made a rather shocking contrast to Alain's serious tone, and his even more serious touch. That contrast, more than anything else, made Simon uncomfortable, and he regretted it as soon as the words left his mouth. He swallowed and triedagain. "I'd never disappear on you, Alain. Our friendship means too much to me to harm it like that."
"Just our friendship?" The caresses lengthened, though they still remained more heat than touch. "There was one night, when things might have gone differently for us. Remember how hot it was? How much we had to drink?"
"I remember very well. We had far more to drink that night than we did tonight." Simon gripped Alain's wrist and gently guided his hand back to his own lap. "And that night was a long time ago."
A wry smile tipped Alain's mouth. "Ah, so I'm too old for you now."
"No. It's not your age. It's just ... you're my dearest friend. I don't want anything to come between us."
"But it's because you're my dearest friend that I'd like for something to come between us." Alain sat up, suddenly more alert. "You and I ... we have no secrets. There are no games. No ... competition. This seems like the perfect basis to try something new, something better."
He was right, of course. Simon had never had such an easy relationship with another person, and he always suspected that was because they were only friends. Games and secrets went hand-in-hand with romantic entanglements, in Simon's experience. He had been tempted once or twice to try to push things between them to another level, but ultimately, it had always been too easy to imagine a scenario in which they would try for more and lose everything in the process.
He didn't think he could live with that. It was too great of a risk.
"I'm sorry, Alain. I don't want to risk what we do have. What works for a friendship isn't necessarily enough for a different type of relationship."
He thought Alain might press. After all, Alain was nothing if not persistent. But with his confession came a lighter air, the teasing quality back in his tone.
"Because we both have such success at different types of relationships?" He shifted away, slouching in the bench in order to stretch his legs out and rest his neck on the back, staring up into the night sky. "Perhaps you're right. I'm an old dog. It would be pointless to think I could change at this point."
"We're both old dogs. Is this why you came out here? You're not going to go back to Paris tomorrow, are you?"
"And prove Claude right?" Alain scoffed. "Of course not. You're stuck with me, my friend. Whether you like it or not."
"Good. I'd be very disappointed if you deprived me of your company. And the dinner you promised me." He turned on the bench as well, but continued to watch Alain from the corner of his eye. He hoped that he hadn't already ruined everything by turning Alain down. "Do you want anything for dessert? I have several types of chocolate."
"Hmm, chocolate or this beautiful sky..." Alain remained as he was, his hands folded over his stomach. "I think, for now, I'd like to enjoy the peace. And the excellent company."
"That sounds like a good plan to me."
Simon looked up to the stars, but Alain was still prominent in his mind's eye. Alain and his face that would never be considered beautiful and handsome, but Simon had always found it intriguing and appealing. Alain and his nervous energy, his brilliant hands, his gruff laugh, his tendency to descend into a riot of profanity once pushed beyond the limits of his patience.
He couldn't tell if Alain was hurt by his rebuff, but he thought it was a good sign that the other man didn't immediately try to put distance between them. Maybe he had already put it out of his mind, but Simon suspected he wouldn't be able to dismiss the encounter so easily. Alain had, at the very least, given him a lot to think about.