Category Linkin Park

Peace and Clarity by hearts.on.fire

Peace and Clarity

A/N: As this day drew closer and closer, I found myself in need of some major Bennoda fluff therapy. I hope this helps brighten up your day, as I’m sure it’s a hard one for all of us. This is, of course, FICTION. Please leave a review and tell me what you think, or just tell me whatever is on your mind today. Big, big hugs to all of you. Happy Birthday, Chester. We miss you.

Peace and Clarity

Mike gently turned the knob of the bedroom door, slowly pushing it open. Daisy, the overly excited Boston Terrier that he and his boyfriend adopted the year before, bounced eagerly, pawing at his pant leg. She whined a little, ready to follow.

“Daisy, no.” Mike whispered. “Just wait. I’m gonna get him up, okay? Just wait here. I want him to wake up to my kisses, not yours.” He leaned down and scratched the dog on the head before squeezing through the small amount of space between the door and the frame, holding his leg outside of it to keep Daisy back before shutting it.

The room was almost pitch black, the blackout blinds shut against the windows that lined the back wall. They bought this house because of the master bedroom mostly. Mike had fallen in love with all the natural light that flooded the large room. He joked with his boyfriend Chester that he was going to use it for his art studio, and they could sleep in one of the guest rooms. He tiptoed over to the window closest to the door and opened the blind partially, letting a small amount of sun shine through. He looked over to the king size bed on the opposite wall, staring at the lump of blankets and pillows that contained his boyfriend somewhere in their fluffy warm cocoon. Good, he’s still asleep.

Slowly, he walked over to the bed, crawling into his side stealthily. He suppressed a laugh, seeing nothing but the mouth of his boyfriend peeking out from between the blankets. How can he sleep like this? It’s suffocating. The covers were wrapped tightly around the man’s thin frame and over his head. There were several pillows on each side of his body, each this way and that in no discernable planned formation.

“Chester?” Mike whispered, not wanting to startle his sleeping lover. No signs of life. Mike brought his hand up to what he could only assume was the man’s shoulder and gently nudged him, saying his name a bit louder. The blanket covered monster shifted slightly. Slowly, the mass of blankets wiggled, and a hand squeezed through, pulling the blankets away. Chester slowly opened his eyes, smiling as he saw his boyfriend’s warm dark chocolate eyes staring back at him

“Good morning, birthday boy.” Mike said softly, leaning forward and pressing a gentle kiss to Chester’s lips.

“Mmmmm, Mikey. Good morning.” Chester said with a sleepy smile. He squirmed his way out of his blanket cocoon, freeing his other arm and stretching them both over his head. “Come here.” He pulled back the covers enough to let Mike slide in beside him before wrapping them both back under the downy ivory comforter.

Chester immediately turned and nuzzled his way against Mike’s chest, letting himself be enveloped by Mike’s arms. He sighed with contentment.

“Mmm.” He lazily looked around the room, realizing it was lot darker than it should be. He glanced at the windows, noticing the closed blinds. “What time is it?”

“Almost nine.” Mike replied, running his hand slowly through the short stubble of Chester’s hair.

“What? Aw, babe why did you let me sleep in? I was going to go the gym.”

“Baby, it’s your birthday. You deserve to sleep in. And besides, how else was I supposed to surprise you with breakfast?”

“Breakfast?” Chester said hopefully, his stomach suddenly feeling empty.

“Yep. All your favorites. I’ve got scrambled eggs with bell peppers and extra cheese. And extra crispy bacon. And, drumroll please.” Mike paused and looked at Chester. “Come on, where’s my drumroll?” Chester laughed and made a sad attempt at a drumroll sound.

‘Pathetic.” Mike said teasingly. “Cinnamon rolls.” He said trying to make the word sound sexy and seductive. Chester giggled and rest his head against the larger man’s chest.

“Yesssss! Cinnamon rolls for the win! Thank you, sweetheart. You’re just trying to fatten me up. Feeding me bacon and cinnamon rolls. Tsk, I’m going to lose my figure.” Chester said playfully, enjoying the warmth of his boyfriend’s skin against his cheek.

“Don’t forget the eggs with all the cheese. I’m just trying to spoil you. And if you really want to go to the gym, you’ll probably have some time this afternoon before everything gets going.”

“No, it’s okay. I’d rather spend the time with you, anyway.” He said, running his thumbs gently against the soft flesh of Mike’s lower back.

“I’m gonna put you to work, you know. There’s tons to do.”

“What!?” Chester said dramatically, pulling back from his lover enough to look at him with feigned horror. “But, it’s my birthday! I shouldn’t have to work.”

Mike placed a soft kiss to Chester’s forehead, grinning at the man. “You won’t have to do that much really. Dave said he’d come over a couple hours early and help.”

“Hmmph. Making an old man do stuff on his birthday. So mean.”

“You aren’t old, babe. If you’re old, then that means I’ll be old next year. So, nope. You’re just a young spry thing.” Mike said with a laugh.

“I dunno. Forty three. Forty three! God, why does that sound so much worse than forty two?”

“Come on, babe. You haven’t aged a day since I met that scrawny twenty three year old hottie.”

“Oh, now you’re just straight up lying. Ugghh.” Chester buried his head against Mike’s shoulder, shaking his head dramatically. “God, that was twenty years ago, Mike. Two decades. Did you ever think we’d end up here?”

Mike laughed and pulled Chester closer to him, breathing him in. “No, never. You were just a guy with an amazing voice. A hot guy, yes. But, no. I never would have thought we’d end up here. Not then, at least.”

“Me either. I’m glad we did though.” Chester said, looking up at Mike and smiling. Mike pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.

“Me too, love. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s nobody I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.” Mike said, staring at Chester with nothing but love in his eyes. He reached out and grazed his hand against Chester’s cheek, soaking up the moment.

God, he’s beautiful. The years had taken away so many things from both men. Chester’s lip ring, his perfectly spiked bleach blonde hair. Now his hair was his natural dark brown and shaved short. You could barely even see a scar from where his piercing once was. His face was aged, wrinkles around his eyes and forehead that weren’t there five years ago. But with each passing year Chester managed to look more and more distinguished, sexy.

“You still want to spend your life with me even though I’m old now? You aren’t going to go off and find some young hot guy from a different country? You’re a sucker for a good British accent.”

“Of course, I’m not. You’re the one I want to be with, always. Even if you’re so mundanely American. Come on, drama queen. Your breakfast is gonna get cold. Come down and eat.” Mike said, going to roll away.

“Noooo! Don’t leave. Let’s just stay in bed all day and cuddle.”

“Cuddle? That’s what you’d want to do in bed all day? Damn, you really are old.” Mike said, grinning from ear to ear.

“I’m not old! It wouldn’t be just cuddling. Want me to show you?” Chester said with a sly smile.

“Later love.” Mike said, kissing the older man tenderly. “Breakfast first. You don’t want cold cinnamon rolls, do you?”

Chester stuck out his bottom lip in a fake pout. “I guess not.”

Chester let his head fall back into his mountain of pillows as Mike rolled out of bed. He sighed, bringing the covers back up under his chin as Mike walked towards the bedroom door. Mike looked back over his shoulder briefly. “Don’t go back to sleep!” Daisy barked excitedly as Mike opened the door. “Incoming.” Mike called out as he left the room and the small dog bound up her pet steps and onto the bed, making a b-line for Chester and covering him in slobbery kisses.

Chester laughed, holding the black and white dog at arm’s length in an attempt to keep her from licking him. She snuggled next to Chester and quickly flipped herself over, asking for belly rubs. Chester obliged and after a few minutes she got up, apparently satisfied. Sounds came from the kitchen and she quickly took off.

Chester rolled over onto his back, stretching his toes out and hearing his right ankle pop. He grimaced slightly. Shit, it’s gonna rain. I hope it waits until tomorrow… He rolled his eyes, letting the realization that he could now predict the weather according to the ache in his ankle sink in. It had been sensitive to changes in the weather since he broke it years ago, but it had gotten worse with each year. Just another joy of getting older.

Growing older wasn’t all bad though. The years had granted Chester some peace, some acceptance of himself and the world. While he was once a wild soul whose emotions would eb and flow with each changing hour, he had found his missing puzzle piece, his key to contentment. Their love story hadn’t been an easy one by any means. It was a long journey full of heartache and pain. But it had brought them to this wonderful place where all their fears and hopes and dreams belonged to each other.

Chester always told Mike “You are my peace.” He had brought calm to his soul, light to his darkness. Mike would always reply “And you are my clarity.” Before Chester, Mike’s life was always just a little off balance. He was happy and grateful for all that his life had become, but he always longed for more, never quite knowing what it was that he was reaching for. Now, it was clear what had been missing. Chester’s love had given him an entirely new view on life. Now, he felt a warmth that he had never known was possible.

Chester smiled, caught up in love and gratefulness for what his future held for him. He stretched again and slowly pulled himself out of bed, the smell of cinnamon rolls wafting up from the kitchen. He made a quick stop in the bathroom before excitedly bounding down the stairs. He felt like a kid on Christmas morning.

Mike had already set the kitchen table with two plates of delicious looking food. He walked over to the table, two cups of coffee in his hand and a grin on his face. Chester looked so happy. Mike silently let out a breath, relieved that the day had started without a hitch. He wanted this day to be perfect.

They each took their respective chair. They busied themselves with their coffee and plates. Mike slid Chester the small container of half and half for his coffee. Chester reached for the pepper shaker, handing it to Mike without him having to ask for it. They looked at each other and giggled, both amused at how well they knew the others routine. They talked about the upcoming party as they ate.

“So, no last minute changes to the menu?” Mike asked before taking a bite of bacon.

“Umm…” Chester smiled sheepishly. “I don’t even really remember what I asked for.”

“What!?” Mike exclaimed, coughing a bit on bacon crumbs.

“It’s fine, babe. I’m sorry! But this way it’ll be kind of a surprise.” Chester said, shrugging as he finished the rest of his coffee.

“Did you want it to be a surprise?” Mike asked quickly, his eyes wide with concern and his mouth pulled into a frown. “I mean…you’re going to see me cooking everything…. Maybe I should have just had it catered.”

“Mike! Love, it’s okay. It’s going to all be amazing.” Chester reached for Mike’s hand, squeezing it in his own. Mike looked at him, his expression still painted with doubt. “Aww, baby. Come on. Everything will be wonderful. I know it. Please don’t worry sweetheart.”

“I’m sorry.” Mike said, smiling a little. “I know I’m being silly. I just wanted this to be your perfect day. After this year…and the fiasco on your last birthday….”

Mike’s words trailed off as memories of the previous year’s failed celebration ran through both the men’s heads. Their respective divorces had only been finalized for a few months and they had just moved into their new home. They were both ecstatic and eager to have their friends and family over to help them celebrate this new chapter in their lives. Through all the lengthy legal proceedings, both Talinda and Anna had managed to remain cordial. Both divorces had somehow managed to be settled amicably and it seemed that maybe, just maybe, they two men could have everything that they had always wanted. But the impromptu birthday celebration had proven otherwise.

The night had ended only an hour after it had started. Talinda had rushed out to her car in tears after Mike and Chester made a toast, kissing each other warmly afterward. Mike and Anna had ended up screaming at each other across the dining room table. And several of the younger children had ended up having melt downs, confused and scared as to why their parents were all so upset.

“Baby, so much has changed in a year. Remember Christmas?” Chester said, looking deep into his lover’s eyes, trying his best to reason with him. Mike nodded slowly.

“If we could all manage to get together for Christmas without fighting, then this is going to be a cake walk.” Chester said sweetly, reaching out to rest his hand against Mike’s warm cheek.

“I know. You’re right.” Mike said, turning his head to press a kiss to Chester’s palm.

“Of course, I am.” Chester said, grinning from ear to ear.

Later that afternoon, Mike was busy in the kitchen, preparing all of Chester’s favorites. They had agreed- even if Chester didn’t remember it- on a Japanese themed menu. Mike loved cooking all of his family’s traditional dishes and was surprised when Chester requested them for his birthday.

“I love your Japanese cooking. Everything is so delicious. Besides, you always seem so happy when you’re cooking things from your childhood.” Chester had said weeks ago when the idea of having a big birthday dinner had first come up.

Mike smiled to himself as he prepared the sauce for the chicken. Chester was right. It did make him happy to cook all the signature meals of his culture. He loved sharing his passion for his heritage with others.

As Mike busied himself with cooking, Chester was passed out on the couch in the living room. Normally he would have helped Mike in the kitchen, but he had quickly been shooed away when he offered to help. It wasn’t long after he had sat down to watch TV that he found himself drifting off.

A loud knock on the front door woke Chester from his sleep. Mike’s heart skipped a beat and he immediately smiled, glancing at the clock on the oven at the time. They’re here!

“Babe, can you get that?” Mike called from the kitchen.

“But it’s my birthday!” Chester said loud enough for the other man to hear, adding an exaggerated groan at the end to emphasize his point.

“I’m covered in chicken juice, babe. Please?” Mike called out, smiling at his lover’s dramatic antics. He peeked his head around the oven where he could have a clear view of the front door.

Chester groaned theatrically, stretching before getting up off the couch. His ankle popped again, and he winced a bit, walking towards the foyer. He grumbled “I was having a good dream too… It’s probably just stupid Phoenix…” to himself as he walked to the front door. He didn’t notice Mike peering around the corner, his lips pressed together trying not to laugh.

Chester pulled the door open, ready to berate Dave from waking him from his birthday nap. But it wasn’t the bassist on his front porch. Chester’s mouth dropped open as his two sons grinned back at him.

“What!? I thought you couldn’t come!” Chester said excitedly, pulling Draven into a tight hug.

“Mom changed her mind.” Draven said as his Dad hugged him. Chester pulled back, both his hand’s on Draven’s shoulder as he looked at his sixteen year old. “Shit, Draven. You look so grown up. I swear you’ve gotten taller since Christmas….” Draven rolled his eyes dramatically.

Chester turned his attention to Jaimie, pulling him into a hug. “I thought you had a test you couldn’t get out of!”

“Well, that one was just a lie.” Jaimie said chuckling.

Mike came around the corner, putting his hand on Chester’s shoulder gently. Chester turned to Mike and excitedly said “Look! It’s Draven and Jaimie! They came!”

The three younger men laughed at Chester, all beaming at him. “Babe, I know. And of course, they came. You don’t think I’d let you have a birthday party without all of your kids here, did you?” Mike said, his heart full of joy seeing his partner so happy.

“You? You did this!?” Chester said, tilting his head and pointing at the emcee. Mike nodded and Chester rushed to hug him, placing a loud kiss on his lips as he pulled away. He quickly glanced at both of his sons, embarrassed at his unabashed affection, worried that it would make them uncomfortable. Neither of them seemed to even notice.

Mike ushered everybody inside, stopping to hug both boys. Chester watched in wonder as Jaimie hugged Mike and thanked him for arranging their flight. Draven gave Mike a quick hug before grabbing both bags and walking into the foyer. Look at them. I can’t believe they’re here. Chester felt his eyes sting and quickly wiped his hand over them. Mike looked back over his shoulder before walking in after Draven and Jaimie. He paused to grab Chester’s hand to pull him with him. “You okay?” He whispered.

Chester nodded, starring at his lover in amazement. Words seemed to fail him and all he could manage was a soft “Thank you.” Mike winked at him and gestured for him to follow him inside.

After catching up with both of his sons, Mike and Jaimie busied themselves in the kitchen while Draven showed Chester videos of his football games. A short time after, Dave rang the doorbell and quickly joined Mike and Jaimie in the kitchen. Mike then gave Draven and Chester a lengthy to do list to keep them busy for the remainder of the afternoon.

“Ches, do you think we should order some pizzas for the kids? Just in case somebody doesn’t like the food?”

“Definitely. Lily isn’t going to eat it if it isn’t macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets.” Chester said as he grabbed a stack of their fancy, seldom used China plates from a rarely opened cabinet.

Mike added ordering pizzas to his ever growing mental checklist. Dave glanced up from his task of chopping vegetables, looking at the plates in Chester’s hand as he walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room.

“Whoa, China? I’m not responsible if my kids break anything.” Dave said with a laugh.

“No way. We’re going to set the kids up in here with paper plates. Chester would have a coronary if anything got broken. You have no idea the obscene amount of money he spent on that…. I think this is only the second time we’ve used it.” Mike said, rolling his eyes at his boyfriend’s extravagant tendencies.

The afternoon seemed to pass in minutes. The closer the clock got to seven the more nervous Mike became. What if something goes wrong? If this evening doesn’t go well it’s going to ruin everything. God, please let everybody behave.

Sometime around five Isaiah and Alyssa arrived. Chester beamed as he hugged his son and niece and helped them bring their luggage in. Mike took a second to pull Chester aside, stealing a private moment with him in the hall.

“Aren’t you glad we went with the five bedrooms?” Mike joked, smacking Chester’s ass playfully.

“Mhmm.” Chester replied, pulling his lover to him and slithering his arms under Mike’s t- shirt, gently scratching his nails down the flesh of Mike’s back. Mike shivered.

“Mmm, you’re evil. You know what that does to me.” Mike said, bringing his lips to Chester’s neck and placing slow kisses down the expanse of sensitive skin.

“Just wait until tonight. Although…we may have to break out the gag to keep me quit. Or we could sneak out to the hot tub after everybody is asleep….” Chester said seductively. Mike froze, groaning against Chester’s neck.

“Can we just cancel the party and spend the rest of the day fucking?” Chester whispered in Mike’s ear, bringing his hand around to the growing bulge in Mike’s jeans.

Mike moaned softly, looking around quickly to make sure they hadn’t been discovered. He brought his hand behind Chester’s head, pulling him hungrily to his waiting lips. Their tongues danced against each other, teasing and urgent. Chester moved his hand up to Mike’s triceps, pushing him back against the wall and gently drawing Mike’s lower lip into his mouth, sucking seductively. As Mike’s back made contact with the wall a loud “thump” resonated through the hallway.

“You guys okay?” Dave shouted from the kitchen.

Chester pulled away, a loud pop resonating as their lips separated. Chester grinned at his lover. Mike’s eyes were wide, darting down the hall towards the kitchen.

“We’re good!” Chester called out, all the while maintaining eye contact with Mike, eyes full of lust. Chester slid his hand down again to Mike’s hard cock, squeezing him gently through the rough denim. He placed a slow, wet kiss to his lips before whispering “Later” into Mike’s ear. With a wink, Chester turned and walked down the hall. Mike stood for a few moments, gathering himself and slowing his breathing. He laughed quietly, electricity still coursing through each nerve of his body. He took one more deep breath to steady himself before walking back to the kitchen.

It took a few minutes for Mike’s mind to catch back up to the tasks at hand. His thoughts were otherwise occupied with visions of Chester, naked and sweating, his eyes squeezed shut and his body trembling underneath him. Jaimie had to call Mike’s names several times to get his attention. Mike shook his head, the promise of ”Later” resonating through his mind.

Seven o’ clock was looming as Mike put the finishing touches on his last dish. The dining room table had been set, all the dishes and silver arranged perfectly. Dave and Draven had brought in a folding table from the garage and set it up in the breakfast nook next to the kitchen table. The pizza had been ordered, the kids’ tables set and ready for messy hands and inevitable spills. Mike shouted to Alexa to start playing “Chester’s Birthday Playlist.”

Soon the house was filled with loud voices and laughter. The three remaining member’s of Linkin Park sat in the living room, Chester entertaining everybody with a story about their first tour. All the wives were gathered in the kitchen, talking and sipping wine, their gazes flicking up every time a child tore through the kitchen.

Talinda had arrived first, Tyler and the twins rushing in the door before her and running to their father, his arms open and waiting to grab them all up. Talinda had gracefully given Mike a hug and kiss on the cheek, her eyes warm and her words genuine and kind. After the children had raced off to the living room, she crossed the foyer, smiling brightly at her ex husband. She gathered him into a tight hug, wishing him a happy birthday.

Anna had been the last to arrive, her face looking tired as her daughters both wailed, their faces red and shining with tears. Otis ran past them, racing into the kitchen to find his father. Chester raised his eyebrow in concern. Anna simply said, “Amelia broke all of Emma’s crayons on the way.” Chester laughed, pulling her into a hug. “Come on, I’ll pour you a glass of wine. Mike! Come get your girls!”

Mike stepped out of the kitchen and both girls tears went silent. They both ran to him, each grabbing onto a leg. Chester took Anna’s hand and guided her towards the kitchen, stopping briefly for Mike to hug her as best he could with the two girls glued to his side. pull

Mike knelt down, pulling Amelia into a hug and then Emma. He wiped their tears away from their cheeks.

“I missed you, Daddy!” Amelia exclaimed loudly, grabbing Mike’s hand and swinging his arm back and forth. Emma rushed forward, tackling Mike, making him lose his balance and fall onto his butt.

“I missed you more, Daddy!” Emma said loudly, pushing Mike backwards and crawling into his lap.

Mike laughed, adjusting Emma to one side of his lap and pulling Amelia down onto the other. He squeezed them both, closing his eyes and breathing in the strawberry scent of their shampoo.

“I missed you both, very very much.”

Dave came into the foyer, smiling at the site of Mike in the middle of the floor with his girls on his lap.

“Do you think we should start moving the food to the table?” He asked.

“Umm…yeah. Girls…” He went to shift the girls off of his lap and they both squealed, holding onto him tightly. “No daddy! Stay here!”

“I got it, man.” Dave said, Anna walking out from the kitchen with a glass of red wine in her hand.

“Here, I’ll help.” She said, smiling at her ex husband as her daughters nuzzled into his chest, looking up at him with wide chocolate eyes. “They’ve been talking about you all day.”

“Thank you, Anna.” Mike said softly, his words holding more than just gratitude for setting the table. She smiled and nodded, following Dave back into the kitchen.

Anna and Dave went about bringing serving bowls and platters to the table while Chester, Talinda, and Heidi poured drinks for the kids and put pieces of pizza onto paper plates. After they were done, Chester went into the foyer, grinning at the pile of Shinodas still on the floor.

“Ladies, your dinner is served.” He said dramatically, bowing and putting his arm out to the side. Both girls giggled and scrambled up.

“I think everything is ready, babe. It all smells delicious.” Chester said, holding his hand out and helping Mike up. He pulled him into a gentle hug and Mike rested his chin on the slightly shorter man’s shoulder.

“I love you, Chester.” Mike said softly, turning and kissing his cheek. Chester smiled, pressing a quick kiss to Mike’s lips before breaking the hug.

Mike headed to the kitchen to make sure everything had been taken to the dining room while Chester walked into the living room.

“Alright, boys and girls. Time to eat!” Chester said, his bandmates and friends looking up at him.

“Yes! I’m starving.” Joe mumbled, standing up from the couch and stretching.

“Excellent.” Brad said, grabbing Elisa’s hand and helping her up from the armchair.

Chester made his way into the dinning room as Mike was walking around to each place setting, filling glasses with ice water.

“Does it matter where everybody sits, Mike?” Chester said as Mike shook his head.

“We’re sitting there.” Mike pointed to two seats on the left side of the table. “Everybody else can sit wherever.”

The six bandmates and their partners (or former partners in Anna and Talinda’s case) settled in to their seats. Chester’s older children found their places among them. Mike began passing dishes around, everybody filling their plates. Light hearted conversation and bursts of laughter filled the room. Mike looked around, waiting for everybody to finish serving themselves. He cleared his throat and picked up his water glass. Everybody quieted down, looking towards the emcee with smiles.

“I’d just like to say a few words before we start eating. First, I’d like to thank all of you for coming. It means so much to us both for all of you to be here with us today in our home.” He glanced towards Chester, who smiled warmly and reached out to squeeze his hand. “We’re here tonight to celebrate Chester. This morning, he and I were talking about how long it’s been since he came into my life, all our lives. It was twenty years ago that we got a phone call from some random guy in Phoenix that had come across our demo. We thought he was crazy when he said he could have a demo sent back to us the next day. After we heard it, we knew we had to have him come out and see if this guy really sounded that good. I’ll never forget when this scrawny little white guy walked into the studio.” There were snickers around the table. “And he completely blew us away with his amazing voice. And the rest is history. Chester, you’re an absolutely phenomenal singer, but even more so, you’re a phenomenal human being. You bring so much light to our lives and you have changed us all for the better. Your kindness is unmatched and there isn’t a single person in this world with a bigger heart than you.” Mike paused, looking over to the man he loved. Chester grinned back at him. “Chester, you are the love of my life. You bring purpose to everything I do, and you’ve made me a better man. I’m so blessed to be able to spend the rest of my life with you.” There were aww’s all around the table. Mike glanced nervously at Anna, but she smiled back at him. “So, everybody raise your glasses. Happy birthday, Chester.” Mike lifted his water glass up in the air. “To Chester, Mother Fuckin’, Bennington.” Mike said with a smile.

Everybody repeated in chorus “To Chester, Mother Fuckin’, Bennington” clinking their glasses of wine, beer, or water. Chester beamed, laughing with a smile plastered from ear to ear. Mike sat down, setting his glass on the table. He turned to Chester, clasping their hands together on the table. They smiled at each other, their faces painted with pure love. They rested their foreheads against each other, whispering sweetly to each other. Neither noticed the “click” of Brad’s phone as he took a picture from the other side of the table.

The meal went on without incident. There was conversation and laughter as everybody ate. Every few minutes, a parent would go into the kitchen to make sure the kids hadn’t destroyed anything. Chester was over the moon, surrounded by his family and loved ones. The day had been perfect. He snuck glances at Mike, lost in emotion as he stared at his partner talking animatedly and laughing.

As everybody finished, they filtered out of the dining room, taking their talks to the living room or kitchen. Joe and Rob rushed Mike out of the dining room when it was time to clear the dishes, telling him to go and enjoy the party. Mike went into the living room, coming up behind Chester as he sat on the couch and rubbing his shoulders. Chester wordlessly placed a hand on Mike’s as he talked with Linsey about the horrendous price of gymnastic lessons. Talinda snuck out to her car to get the giant cookie cake she had bought. Lily and Lila helped her place candles on the cake before they ran to Chester excitedly.

“Daddy, there’s a big cookie! And it has, like, a billion candles.” Lily said sweetly and Chester laughed, joking about the fire hazard.

Everybody made their way into the kitchen and Mike and Dave lit the forty four candles.

“Hey! I’m only fourty three!” Chester exclaimed, quickly counting the candles on the giant cookie cake.

“One to grow on, love.” Mike said, peering up from the candles, the flames reflected in his irises. Mike stood next to Chester, slipping his arm around his waist. Joe started singing Happy Birthday in a falsetto, everybody joining in in their own silly voice.

“Make a wish.” Mike whispered in Chester’s ear.

Chester paused, unable to think of anything left to wish for. He had everything he ever wanted. I wish that everything stays the same. He took a deep breath and blew out the candles, several staying lit.

“Help me, help me.” Chester said to the twins, who eagerly accepted. After a few attempts, all the candles were extinguished, wisps of smoke rising up in the air.

“Jeez, I’m going to set of the smoke detectors.” Chester said, fanning the smoke away.

Talinda cut the cake, passing pieces to all of the kids who were eagerly starring at the frosting covered cake. Chester took a plate from Talinda.

“Mmm, I love all the frosting.” Chester said absentmindedly, noticing that his piece was almost completely covered.

“I know.” Talinda said, smiling. Chester kissed her on the cheek, whispering “Thank you for being here.”

Chester didn’t notice Mike make eye contact with Brad and nod. He didn’t notice as Brad walked over to Elisa, touching her on the shoulder and raising his eyebrows. She nodded, taking one more bite of cookie cake before following Brad out of the kitchen. Mike’s heartbeat sped up and his palms immediately began sweating.

Chester was busy with the girls, Lila running her finger through the frosting on Chester’s piece of cake and giggling as she touched his nose with it.

“Noooooo.” Chester wailed dramatically, clutching his hand to his heart. “Death by frosting.”

Both girls giggled, each painting frosting onto their Dad’s face now.

Mike took the time to sneak upstairs. He opened their bedroom door, closing it behind him and locking the door just in case. He took in a deep breath and let it out through his mouth, shaking his arms in an attempt to let out all of his balled up energy. He looked out the window, seeing white Christmas lights click on. The path that led to the back garden was lit up on either side and the trunk of the huge oak tree on the back of the property was wrapped in lights. He could barely make out Brad and Elisa, both their arms full of stacks of picture frames. Mike hoped Joe remembered he was supposed to be keeping Chester in the front of the house. He pulled out his phone and typed out a quick text before walking into his closet.

He reached up to the top shelf, pulling stacks of sweaters down. He stood on his toes, grazing a shoe box with his fingertips and shifting it enough for him to grab it. He took the lid off and rummaged through the various bracelets before finding two small boxes. He grabbed them both. In each box there were matching bands, each made of black zirconium with a thin line of platinum around the middle. He took one ring from its’ box, glancing at the engravement on the inside of the ring. “Peace” was etched on the inside of the band in a delicate script. He slipped the ring into his pocket. He’s going to want to see mine too. He pulled the other band from it’s box, running his finger along the engravement, “Clarity” written in the same script. He placed the ring carefully in his back pocket, silently praying he remembered which ring was in which pocket.

Mike quickly put the shoe box back up on the top shelf and shoved the stack of sweaters haphazardly in front of it. He questioned himself for the hundredth time that day. Over the past few weeks, he had gone back and forth on how he wanted to propose. At first, he planned to do it at dinner. But, the more he thought about it, the more he wanted that moment to be between the two of them. Yes, that’s what he’d want too. Just us. Thoughts continued to swirl rapidly through his mind as he made his way back downstairs.

“Where have you been?” Chester asked, grabbing Mike’s hand as he joined the group in the living room.

“Just the bathroom.” Mike said with a smile, kissing him on the forehead.

Mike remained silent as conversations continued all around him, glancing up to the hall looking for Brad and Elisa every few minutes. Chester thankfully didn’t notice. Anna came up to him saying it was time to get the kids home. He jumped at the opportunity to help her round up the kids and get them in the car, thankful for the distraction. By the time he got back inside, Brad and Elisa were back, the couple talking with Talinda. His heart skipped a beat. Brad saw him and nodded, pulling his hand in front of his chest and giving a very subtle “thumbs up.”

Mike had enlisted the help of Brad and Elisa a couple of weeks ago. When Mike told Brad he planned to propose, you would have thought Mike had been asking Brad to marry him he was so happy. After Brad calmed down and congratulated Mike a dozen times, Mike filled him in on what he wanted to do.

Along the lighted path, there was a picture frame every couple of feet. Each one contained a picture from each of the last twenty years, starting in 1999 with a picture of the whole band in front of a pizza place soon after Chester had joined Xero. It was a journey through time, a reminder of how far they had come and how much had changed in two decades. The last picture would be a surprise to both of them though. It was a perfect shot of Mike and Chester after Mike’s toast that evening, both of them caught up in the other, smiling with hands clasped and foreheads pressed together, perfectly happy and obviously completely in love.

People began to slowly leave, hugs exchanged, happy birthdays uttered one last time. With each goodbye, Mike grew more and more nervous. When Brad left, he casually pulled Mike aside, hugging him tightly and whispering “Everything is good to go. Good luck, man.” Mike wished he could tell him how thankful he was, not only for his help today but for his friendship and his never failing support.

Talinda and the kids were the last to leave, Lily and Lila both yawning as they hugged their Dad one last time. Chester walked them out to the car, kissing his girls as he made sure they were buckled in and pulling Tyler into a hug. He waved as they pulled out of the driveway.

He came back in and collapsed next to Mike on the couch.

“Damn, I’m exhausted.” Chester said, yawning and stretching his hands over his head. “Did everybody go to bed?”

“Yep, just us now.” Mike said, putting his arm around the older man’s shoulder.

“Perfect.” Chester said, leaning into Mike. “Today was wonderful, Mike. Really, everything was perfect. Thank you so much.”

“Of course.” Mike said, pressing a kiss on top of Chester’s head.

“I’m so ready to get you in bed.” Chester said seductively, grabbing Mike’s thigh and squeezing.

“Mmm, me too.” Mike’s heart speed up. “There’s just one more thing first.”

“What?” Chester said, lazily running his fingertips up and down the inside of Mike’s forearm.

“Will you come outside with me?” Mike asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.

“I’d go anywhere with you, babe.”

Mike stood up, grabbing Chester’s hand and pulling him up from the couch.

“Are we going to the hot tub?” Chester said, wiggling his eyebrows.


“Is there a present out there?”

“Kind of.” Mike said, walking down the hall, Chester following.

“Oooh, what is it?”

“You’re just going to have to wait and see.” Mike said, grabbing his lover’s hand.

He paused at the door to the back porch, looking to Chester. This is it.

“You ready?” Mike asked, his hand on the doorknob.

“Yep.” Chester said, nodding excitedly, wondering what in the world Mike had planned.

Mike smiled, squeezing his hand and opening the door. Chester immediately saw all the lights and looked at Mike questioningly.

“What…?” Chester whispered.

“Come on.” Mike said with a smile, his nerves suddenly gone.

They walked hand and hand towards the path and towards the beginning of the rest of their lives, both unafraid, both ready for what the future would bring.

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