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Michael Binkley had lived in Los Angeles for four years, but it still didn't feel anything like a place he could call home. As much as he'd thought he would like being among so many celebrities, having to deal with them during his job as a reporter for the E! channel cured that quite quickly. Most of them made Bill the Cat look sane and stable.

Actually, Bill was sane and stable at the moment, at least ostensibly. He'd hit rock bottom a few years ago when he appeared on Celebrity Cathouse. The episode where he overdosed on Vit (a particularly nasty concoction made from cocaine, catnip and Tender Vittles) had been VH1's highest rated episode.

Garfield and Morris had arranged the intervention and hopeful subsequent drying out at Betty Ford, Sylvester leading him there with the promise of "Thertain thex with Thecretary of Thtate Condoleetha Rithe".

When they arrived at the rehab clinic, he apologized for the pretense. "Thorry, old friend, but you've got a thickness. The thooner you admit it, the thooner we can all be a happy family again."

Bill's only reaction was "Ack", just as it had been when they pumped his stomach. That sounded ominous, but since that was his response to pretty much everything, it probably wasn't that bad.

Fritz had missed it all, having left the house after the first week to shack up with Snoop Dog, and two of the Pussycat Dolls.

Now clean, Bill had discovered Scientology and renounced his former life. Most recently he'd been seen living on Tom Cruise's sofa, earning him the nickname TomCat2. Michael's own reaction to that had been "Ack".

The invitation came on an early June afternoon:

Your presence is requested at the dedication of the Bloom boardinghouse as the newest residence on the Registry of Historic Places. Formal dinner July 1st, 2006, guest speaker Senator Roberta Harlow, Meadow Party. Picnic at the New Meadow, July 2nd in the Lola Granola Sculpture Garden. RSVP Rosebud@LastBasselope.org

Michael wasn't sure if he was thrilled or terrified. He also wasn't sure he could get the time off. His best bet was to sell it as a story. His little hometown had spawned a wide variety of celebrities in its own right.

It had been five years since his last visit home, by which he meant he hadn't been back to Bloom County. Hadn't sprawled out in the dandelion field and pondered the meaning of life. Hadn't meandered past Steve Dallas' law practice, or Oliver's laboratory. Hadn't smelled Opus' herring breath, or the scent of cheap booze and cheaper perfume on Senator Bedfellow. Hadn't seen Milo since -- no, he didn't want to think about that.

Of course, as much as he tried not to think about Milo, and the debacle that had been their last time together, it was on his mind all the time. It didn't help that Milo was on the TV every time he turned on CNN, reporting from one global hotspot or another. war zone or tornado, he was always stepping into danger. Michael couldn't even avoid him at the newsstand. Milo's thick blond hair and reassuring expression looked out at him from that month's Vanity Fair. It was the same expression he'd used to tell Michael "We can be together, we just can't be out together."

He hadn't expected that. Milo was his best friend, and Michael had always been a little bit in love with him. Milo was the brave one, the risk taker. Why was it that he wasn't willing to take this risk with him? Clearly Michael wasn't important enough to him.

He tried to understand Milo's reasoning, it was safer for his career, yadayadayada, but that just wasn't acceptable. Michael had changed too much to hide anymore. It took a lot of work: moving away from his dad, getting a good therapist, but finally he wasn't ashamed of who he was.

He had been such a weird, scared kid. Not with the usual fears, but with concerns about real people. Most of whom he didn't know, the famous and infamous. It was no wonder he'd grown up to be an entertainment writer. It was either that, or end up institutionalized. Some would say there was little difference.

Michael had been ten when his self in 30 years had emerged from his Anxiety Closet, showing him a future he knew he didn't want. A wife who browbeat him, an ungrateful, hateful daughter, a meaningless job.

By the time he was thirteen, he realized he didn't want any wife. Sure, he still liked Blondie, but he figured out there was a reason he got so flustered around her. That had never changed. Neither had her refusal to date him, which meant she probably knew him better than he knew himself. By sixteen the monsters in his Anxiety Closet had all left for other enclosed spaces. There was nothing scarier (to Michael at least) than the anxiety caused by the closet itself. Or at least by his being "in the closet."

At that age. he didn't see any way out. He didn't think he'd ever be brave enough to explore these feelings. He probably would end up bored and married, and never know true love.

He was right. It wasn't until he'd left for college (an unremarkable small school in a neighboring state) that he got the courage to tell Milo he was gay. In an email. He hadn't even mentioned the part about being in love with him, but Milo figured it out anyway. He showed up at Michael's dorm to chew him out.

"This isn't exactly news, Binkley," Michael waited for the fallout. "You could have told me. What did you think I was going to do? Freak out?" Then Milo kissed him. It was more surprising than spectacular, but Michael chalked that up to nerves

It wasn't until years later, when he was ready for the whole deal with Milo, ready to let people know, and Milo wasn't, that he second guessed himself. Maybe Milo had just been experimenting, or even worse, putting up with something he didn't want to do, just to make him happy.

He didn't want to be Milo's second choice, or consolation prize. And he couldn't be around him and not be with him. Getting the job at E! made it easier. He was busy, and Milo was too, and if Michael didn't keep up with him, or maybe let a few phone calls slip by unanswered, who could blame him? It was hard at first, but the sad thing was, it only got easier. Michael was good at denying himself what he needed.

The weeks soon turned into months, and after a while the only correspondence he had with Milo had been a signed copy of his autobiography, Bloom Where You Are Planted. Michael couldn't bring himself to open it until the night before he left for the reunion. He was shocked to read the dedication page. "To M.J.B, who is braver than I could be" Milo had added "But that's what second chances are for, right?" in ink.


 

It was only a two hour trip back to Bloom County. Michael flew coach. The reunion started a little early when he saw that Hodge-Podge was sitting in first class, flirting with the flight attendants. "Why yes, I was in DeathTongue." He motioned Michael to sit with him and catch up, showing him pictures of his latest girlfriend, who had been a Playboy bunny, and his 487 kids.

'It's hard, you know, keeping them all in carrots. That's why I'm hoping we can get the band together again."

"A Boingers reunion? Wow." That was the first he'd heard of it.

"Actually, CBS approached me about doing RockStar next season. Since Bill's not planning on rejoining the band. Really, any schmo off the street could do what he did."

Michael laughed. "Maybe so, but it'd be hard to find someone with Bill's unique qualities."

"Well, not too hard, I hope. Anyway, that's why I'm going back to Bloom County. See if Opus is up for it."

"You didn't come in for the reunion?"

"What reunion?"

"Never mind." Michael said. It was sad. He was sure Hodge had been invited. Maybe the rocker lifestyle had gotten to him, and he hadn't been living on carrots and lettuce after all.

He didn't get suspicious until he arrived at the boardinghouse, and found it in a state of disrepair unlikely for a supposed historic treasure. There was a printed note on his door. "We're all meeting in the meadow." Michael shrugged, and headed out that way. Of course it wasn't a meadow anymore. There were houses there, but they did keep a small section of it as a park.

Milo was there, all by himself, just like Michael knew he would be. His usual confident look was gone. Instead, he looked hopeful, and just a little scared. "I've seen too much, Binkley," he said, "not to go for happiness where I can find it."Then he kissed him.

"So wait. There's no reunion? No dedication?"

"Well, yes, but it was all for you. And the dedication in my book. I was hoping a grand gesture might make you take notice." Michael heard rustling all around them.

"All I ever wanted was a minor gesture. It didn't have to be grand." Michael kissed him back, watching as Bloom County's usual denizens, human and animal showed up to congratulate them. Cutter John on his new Hoverround, complete with attached TV. Steve and his son, the spitting image of his dad. Michael hoped not literally. Opus with Lola in tow. They were back together for the moment. Oliver, who had come in for the weekend from some top secret science job in Colorado..And Rosebud, who Michael could swear had a tear in her eye. For someone who was the last of her species, she was quite the romantic.

It looked like Milo could be, too.