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READER RESTRICTIONS: 13+

Disclaimer(s): language, some dark themes, sexual references

publish date:

Originally published on June 19, 2024

MAIN TIMELINE

        I watch as he takes a bow and waves. I am enamored with his body, his smile, his...energy. I am enamored with...him. I listen to the crowd cheer while "We Are Family" plays out over the theatre. I see his costar wrap her arms around him from behind as they begin to walk offstage. A lump forms in my throat. An idea takes root in my head. 

        I reach into my pocket and withdraw my phone. The curtain call is ending, and it's time for me to make a call of my own...

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APRIL 2024
DOWNTOWN PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

        The streets swayed and bustled with a lively rhythm. Nico could still feel it in his feet - the energy, the elation, the celebración!

        He was also a little buzzed. (Just a little.) With a smug smile, he swaggered after the handsome man whom he'd met at the after party. What was his name? Isaac? No. Though he definitely looked like an Isaac. Kind of like Isaac Powell, actually - his old costar from AHS. Light brown skin. Gorgeous smile. Thick, black curls. Sharp cheekbones and jaw. Dimples for days...

        ...and days and...

                ...days...

        Admittedly, Nico was a little more than buzzed. "Hey, uh, you! Wait up!" he called after not-Isaac, fumbling his feet while also fumbling for a name.

        The man chuckled. He spun on the ball of his foot, hands in slacks, and faced Nico. "I told you, it's Ben."

        "Right." Nico grinned and bobbed his head. "Ben." He chuckled. "Wait up, Ben."

        "How much did you actually have to drink?"

        "I 'unno." Nico shrugged.

        "Listen." A sympathetic grin crossed Ben's face. "It was a nice thought, but you really don't have to show me the theatre. Maybe we should get you an Uber. Get you back to the hotel."

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       "No, no. I'll sober on up," Nico said, waving away the notion. "Besides, you said you wanted to see the green room." Nico strode forward, leading Ben onward down the quiet, glittering Rancho-style streets. The towering structure of the playhouse loomed into view on their left, still adorned in the signs and banners from One of the Good Ones. Nico let out a melancholic sigh, his smile softening.

        Nearly four weeks. Twenty-six shows. He couldn't believe his time here had come to an end. He had fallen in love with his fellow castmates, fallen in love with Marcos - his character. As he traipsed up the front steps of the theatre, he closed his eyes

and inhaled the sweet scents of the late evening. He could still smell Lana's perfume, feel Carlos's strong arms around him in an embrace, hear Isabella's laughing cry as she said goodbye to him, feel the tickle of Santino's punchlines beneath his ribs. His onstage familia...

        He was going to miss them dearly.

        "So." Ben came up and stood beside him. Nico could smell his cologne now. Fresh laundry and sandalwood. "How are supposed to get in?"

         "Ah, Benito." Nico reached over and patted him gently on the cheek. "Watch."

         "Yeah. Shutting that down right now." Ben shot him a smug grin and shook his head. "Just 'cuz you're hot doesn't mean you can--"

         With a soft click, Nico unlocked and opened one of the large wooden doors at the theatre's entrance.

        Ben's eyes widened. "How did you do that?"

        Nico beamed. "I'm a man of many talents."

        "I know, but I didn't think lockpicking was one of 'em."

        Nico snorted. "Wise guy -- one of the P.A.'s let me borrow a key. I'm supposed to return it tomorrow before my flight."

        "Oh, that's right." Ben's expression saddened. "You're leaving."

        "Yeah." Nico shrugged and sighed. "Back to New York."

        Ben slipped his hands into his pockets again and took a few steps forward. "Well, then," he said quietly, suddenly enveloped in the shadow of the darkened doorway. "We better make the most of tonight."

        Nico smirked and slipped his hand around Ben's wrist and gently procured his left hand. "C'mon," he said and pulled him inside.

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        The green room was situated beneath the main stage. Dark, filled with ornate mirrors and vintage furniture. Quiet.

        "It's a little creepy at night," commented Ben, reflecting on his being at the theatre earlier that evening. "So different when it's a packed house."

        "I think it's cool," said Nico. He flicked on a few of the sconce lights, which diluted the darkness with a faint wash of burnt orange.

         "So you've been here after hours before?" Ben made his way over to one of the sofas in the middle of the room. He plopped himself down, draping a skinny arm over the back of the furniture piece.

        "Oh, plenty of times." Nico made his way over to the space beside Ben. "Isa and I would hang out late -- run lines, you know."

        Ben arched an eyebrow. "'Run lines'?"

        Nico snorted. "Yes." He reached over and swatted him playfully on the chest.

        "She did a great job as Yoli. Though, if I'm honest, her character kinda...annoyed me."

        "Oh, yeah?"

        Ben nodded. "I mean, I get why she made the decisions she did, but it just seemed so...selfish, you know?"

        Nico chuckled. "Well, yeah. That was the point."

        "The point was to make the audience dislike her?"

        "Well, no. She's redeemed herself in the end. The whole family comes together, right?" Ben shrugged, watching as Nico lowered himself onto the sofa with a smile. "I didn't realize I was bringing you here to give a critique," he said.

        Ben laughed. "No, I-- Sorry."

        Nico had a mischievous look on his face. "Did my character annoy you too?"

        "Of course not." Quite the opposite. Ben remembered how his heart skipped as he had watched Nico, clad in a pink-and-black striped shirt and tightly-fitting blue chinos (that accentuated the shape of his butt), first take the stage, holding a brilliant star-shaped piñata. The applause he had received had been noticeable. Nico Greetham -- stealing the show, according to Just Jared. Ben smiled. He couldn't believe he'd been able to pull this off: striking up a casual conversation at the cast party - the "plus one" of an invited guest, he'd said -- the mild flirtation, the dropping of hints at wanting to see the green room...

        Nico had been onstage only hours ago, seemingly untouchable, out of the audience's reach...

        And now...

        Now, Nico was sitting right beside Ben. Smelling of lime and gin and a mild athletic musk. Nico, with his stark green eyes, his stout nose, his chestnut hair that fell in soft waves over his forehead.

        It's his damn fault he's been profiled, thought Ben, heart racing again. Nico hadn't just stolen the show; he'd stolen the heart of an admirer, an admirer who had since asked Ben to do what he was employed to do. And so, here they were -- after midnight, in the heart of California's historic theater, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the world. 

        "So, what do you think?" Nico asked, words still a little sloppy. He was brimming with a buzz.

        Ben shuffled a bit closer, his thigh now only inches from Nico's. "It's...great," he said.

        "You think?" Nico placed his arm up on the back of the sofa and Ben's eyes immediately darted to the newly exposed armpit. He sensed a flow of excitement and blood rush southward. This was his cue. He had to act quickly, yet still maintain a facade of nonchalance.

        "I do," said Ben softly. Affecting a playful gesture, he reached over and stuck a wriggling finger in Nico's armpit.

        "Hey!" Nico giggled and immediately dropped his arm. "Don't do that."

        Ben's throat tightened up. He could feel his heartbeat reverberating in his jugular. "Why not?" he said with a sly smile.

        "I'm ticklish," said Nico.

        Perfect, thought Ben. First box checked. He cleared his throat, trying to keep his voice steady, his tone casual. "Whaaaat? Nico Greetham is ticklish?"

        The silly grin on Nico's face endured. "A little bit, yeah."

        "Where else are you ticklish?" asked Ben. "Here?" He poked Nico's solid stomach, causing him to flinch and snicker. "Or here?" He reached over and squeezed one of Nico's powerful thighs.

       "C-cut it out!" said Nico through a light flurry of giggles.

       Nico Greetham is ticklish, Ben repeated to himself. His client would be pleased. As far as Ben knew, there wasn't an iota of evidence online that would suggest the twenty-nine-year-old actor, dancer, and model was ticklish. Ben wasn't surprised, per se -- almost everyone was ticklish somewhere -- but seeing it -- feeling it -- for himself was almost surreal. His heart beat faster. All right, he thought. Now I just have to-- "Hey!"

        Ben suddenly found himself being tickled back. Nico had sprung forward from his spot on the couch, hands diving onto his sides. Nico asked, "Whatsamatter? You ticklish too?"

        "Y-yes!" stammered Ben. This was not part of the plan. He batted helplessly at Nico's furious fingers. But his attacker was quick. Strong. Ben could only splutter and giggle as Nico struck down lightly and swiftly on various spots around his abdomen: his stomach, his hips, his chest. He now knew how Nick Pugliese felt when his character had been pinned and tickled by Nico's character in Dramarama. The scene quickly flashed through his mind:

        Ben felt his body reacting to the rush of being dominated by Nico, the physical intimacy of it all. Despite his growing excitement -- both mentally and physically -- he knew he couldn't let this moment linger for too long. It was all so horribly in reverse. "St-stop!" he managed to say.

        "Why?" Nico mocked. "Not so funny now, is it?"

        "N-nohoho!" Ben squealed.

        *Bzzzzzzttttt*

        A sharp, loud buzzing from Ben's pocket interrupted them, and Ben was grateful when Nico pulled away, lightly patting him on the chest in amusement.

        "Don't dish out what you can't take," Nico said with a smirk. He ran a hand through his hair, allowing Ben to fish his phone from his pocket and check the screen.

       A text. Ben swallowed and stood from the sofa, turning away from Nico as a means to shelter the contents of the message. It read:

        You're running out of time.

        Ben's heart sank. Shit, he thought. He had already missed his initial deadline. His client had offered him an extension given the circumstances, but not a long one. He glanced at the time. Twenty one minutes until the top of the hour. If he didn't get what he was here to get, and fast, it would mean that he wouldn't get paid, maybe worse...

        "Everything all right?" Nico asked.

        "Um. Yeah." Ben turned back to face him, slipping his phone away again. "Just a friend."

        "By the way, does anyone else know where you are?"

        "Well, I told Christos I was leaving with you," said Ben, referencing the guest with whom he had attended the after-party.

        "Ah, gotcha."

        Ben hesitated, then returned the question. "Does anyone know you're here?"

        Nico put both arms up now, slinging them behind the back of the sofa. He spread his legs, and it was Ben could do not to whip out his phone and begin recording. God, only twenty minutes left, he thought, his heart was racing for a multitude of reasons now.

        "Nope," said Nico softly, tone still exuding confidence. "You're not some sort of fanatic murderer, are ya?" He winked.

        "W-what?" Ben chuckled. "Of course not!" Well...at least not the murderer part.

        "So, why don't you come back on over here?" He waggled his eyebrows playfully.

        Ben chewed on his lip. He took one slow step forward and then another. The closer he drew to Nico, the more amused the actor's expression became. Ben maneuvered himself down onto the couch, which he'd suddenly deemed, with a sprinkle of irony, the 'casting couch.' Surely the cast would have sat right here dozens, if not hundreds, of times, he reasoned. He swung his legs over Nico's thighs and rested his head beside Nico's shoulder, affecting the best puppy-dog look he could muster. Nico was clearly into him; then there was the alcohol, which Ben knew would also aid in helping things go his way. "Hi," he muttered, looking into the actor's glazed, warm eyes.

        "Hey," said Nico and then he started to lean towards Ben.

        God, here we go, Ben thought. He longed for their lips to meet. He just wanted to bury his face into the crook of Nico's neck, breathe him in, kiss him, cuddle him, feel safe in a strong, handsome man's arms for a short while and forget about this whole ordeal.

        How he ever managed to get himself twisted up in this mess was beyond him. He supposed, though, if it wasn't for his assignment -- his being "discovered" -- he would never have been able to get this close to someone like Nico Greetham to begin with.

        I should just tell him, thought Ben. Just tell him why I've asked him here.

        If only he could. It was never that simple. And to make matters more complicated, Ben knew that he was becoming attached. Never get involved with a target, he'd been instructed, time and time again. Be that as it may, Ben knew that Nico was no longer just another one of his assignments, and this realization was exactly why he had taken so long to enact his client's plan, to get Nico alone; it was why he'd gone about this so...unconventionally. No "Muscle." No force. No Ari.

        Oh, Ari. Ben recalled his apprentice fondly. Poor kid reminded Ben of himself only a few years back: desperate, alone, struggling to get back on his feet in the wake of the pandemic. He'd gone and gotten himself mixed up in all this too... Ben wondered what Ari was up to. It had been weeks since they'd last spoken.

        Nico's lips suddenly landed on Ben's and he was pulled back into the present. Softness. Warmth. Wetness. Ben's heart swelled.

        *Bzzzzzzttttt*

        Another text. 

        No, no, no! Ben immediately jumped to his feet, leaving Nico looking confused and a little hurt. He'd forgotten to reply to the last message. He pulled out his phone again and read:

        I'm losing patience.

        Ben swallowed and quickly crafted a response: Sorry. I'm trying my best.

        "What's wrong?" asked Nico from behind him.

        "Sorry," he said, reading the near-instantaneous response: Your best is not good enough. If I don't have what I want by 1, the deal's off. "One sec," he said.

        Nico's ticklish, he wrote. And he doesn't seem to mind being tickled.

        No reply.

        Ben swallowed again, trying to manage his breathing.

        Finally, another text: In that case, I'm ready for my curtain call.

        Ben froze. Did that mean...? His thumbs composed another question: Are you here? He checked the time. Only sixteen minutes now.

        Again, the reply took longer than Ben would have liked. All his messenger said was, If I don't get what I want, you don't get what you want. And that includes my protection.

        This was enough to kick things into high gear. Ben whipped around again and, with as much of a smile as he could muster, he said, "Sorry about that. Christos is checking up on me. Making sure I'm all right."

        "Do you need to go?" Nico asked, still looking a tad concerned.

        "No, no. I just--" Ben sighed, trying to collect his thoughts, conduct his train of thought. "I'm...wondering, would it be possible to see the stage too?" He was afraid this would be pushing things too far, afraid that Nico would suddenly freak out, or put an end to what was happening between them. But instead, Nico's expression brightened, a metamorphosis from bewildered to excited.

        "Oh, yeah! I'd love to show it to you!"

        Ben relaxed a degree, his heart fluttering again. He watched as Nico crossed to a door on the opposite side of the room. "C'mon! It's up this way." He flung it open, gesturing towards a staircase.

       As Ben watched the athletic actor bound his way up the stairs, his eyes fixed on his bright white trainers ascending each step two at a time,  he wondered what he had done to deserve the ease with which this assignment was progressing. He shot a glance upward, through the dark ceiling, through the stage above, out into the black sky over the sleepy city, and then, with a resigned exhalation of breath, he followed Nico.

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        The curtain was up over the main stage and the peripheral lights around the perimeter of the theatre's interior burned with the same orange warmth as the bulbs in the green room. Nico knew that this was not unusual, especially after a final show -- probably the doing of the production and custodial staff. He stepped out onto the quiet stage, taking in the expansive darkness that hung over what looked like endless rows of vacant seats. The highest rows of the balcony were entirely shrouded.

        "It's a trip, seeing all those smashed piñatas," said Ben, referencing the mountain of papier-mâché backstage as he joined Nico amidst set pieces. He, too, looked out over the rows of empty seats, eyes clouded with something uncertain.

        "Yeah." Nico chuckled, slipping his hands into his pockets. He was speaking softly, but the acoustics of the space around them caused his voice to reverberate against the walls. "Santi posted a picture of them earlier," he said, referencing his costar's Instagram story.

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        "This really is something." Ben sounded as if he were in awe; he clearly hadn't heard Nico's little aside. He turned away from the edge of the stage and navigated the furnishings of the set. After a moment, he plopped himself down on the onstage sofa -- an orange-brown rectangular wonder of leather -- and rested his elbows on his knees.

        Nico grinned and made his way over to him. "Yeah, it is. I was lucky to be a part of it." 

        Ben's eyes met his. "I was lucky to see it," he said.

        Nico sat beside him -- déjà vu. Here they were, on yet another sofa together, now in front of an audience of specters. Specter spectators. "You sure you're all right?" he asked after a pause. He reached over and placed a hand on Ben's knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Ben flinched and let out a soft yelp, which made Nico smile. There was something about this boy that also reminded him of Michael. The jittery, almost innocent mannerisms; his cute ticklishness. He thought of his time spent with Michael in New York, only a few months ago. 

        "Hey," said Ben, his expression shifting. "You're asking for it again."

        Nico's eyes widened. "Asking for what?"

        "Asking for more of...this." Ben reached over and started tickling Nico's side.

        "Hey!" Nico let out a loud giggle and squirmed away from Ben. Okay, he definitely reminds me of Michael, he thought. "I d-didn't even mean to tickle you!"

        "No?" Ben shrugged. "Well, too late."

        "Is it?" Nico said, starting to fight back.

        "Wait, wait, wait," said Ben, holding up his hands as if to signal a truce. "Okay, okay."

        Nico stopped, grinning. "Why do you keep starting this with me if you can't take it?"

        Ben shrugged again. "I dunno. I think it's cute how ticklish you are."

        "Mmm..." Nico ticked his head to the right. "Think you're more ticklish than I am, Benny Boy."

        "Hmm." Ben stood up, planting his feet firmly on the stage. The sound echoed out across the otherwise quiet theatre. "You willing to test that out?" He glanced to their would-be audience.

        Nico leaned back and arched an eyebrow. "Test it out how?"

        "Easy." Ben slipped his hands into his pockets and began to mosey his way around the back of the sofa. "Put your arms up, hands behind your head."

        Nico chuckled, his voice shaking with laughter as he asked, "Why?" He already knew where this was going, but he felt light-headed and giddy and he was willing to entertain his handsome date for the evening. In Ben's mischievous expression, Nico again saw glimpses of Isaac and Michael. He did as he was told.

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        Why was Nico making this so easy? Ben wondered. He watched in awe as Nico heeded his instructions, barely resisting what Ben felt were thinly-veiled attempts at nonchalantly coaxing the actor into being tickled. Was it just that the universe was on his side tonight?

        He thought of his past assignments -- the ones that weren't so...nice. The ones that required more than requesting or coaxing...

        "I'm gonna try a little experiment," he said, recalling how many times he'd opened with that line, albeit under much different circumstances. The boys he tickled weren't often so willing...

        ...or so...unrestrained.

        "Yeah, what's that?" Nico interlocked his fingers as he placed his hands behind his head. His biceps bulged as he pulled his elbows back, exposing his armpits. Ben could see the tease of brunette underarm hair poking out from beneath the hems of his short sleeves of his black button-down.

        Ugh, this man is going to kill me, thought Ben. His mouth watered. He felt another surge in his groin. "Um," he managed to say, nearly choking on his own saliva. "Let's see how long you can keep your arms up. I'm gonna tickle you."

        "What?" Nico laughed. "Why?" he asked, though he kept his arms in place, his armpits exposed.

        "I told you," said Ben leaning in close to Nico's right ear. He gave the top of it a quick nibble, which caused Nico to hiss and splutter. He tilted his head down and Ben pursed his lips, softly kissing the actor's ear instead. "I like how ticklish you are. I think it's sexy."

        "Oh yeah?"

        "Yep. It, uh... it kinda gets me going." 'Kinda' was an understatement, he thought. His kink was the whole reason he'd taken this job in the first place... why he was stuck in this messy, beautiful ordeal.

        "Oh, it does?" The flirtatious edge in Nico's voice remained.

        "Yep." Ben slowly raised his hands, his fingers arching, poising themselves on either side of Nico's raised arms, targeting his armpits. God, he better be watching, he thought, looking out one last time at the rows of dark, almost ominous theatre seats. "You ready?" he asked.

        "N-not really," said Nico shakily.

        His answer didn't matter.

        Ben dove in.

        Nico's "yooooowwwwhowhowhowl!" was instantaneous and it echoed throughout the empty playhouse. His face scrunched up, eyebrows knitting together, eyes slamming shut, smile exploding on his face.

        Hot damn, thought Ben, leaning forward as his fingers dug further into the fabric of Nico's shirt. As he tickled, Nico began to sink further into the couch, folding his arms forward. "Keep 'em up," he commanded.

        "I-I'm tryiiiiiiiing!" 

        Ben could feel Nico's pecs flexing as he squirmed within the confines of his touch. As his fingertips drew downward, Nico shouted and laughed again.

        "B-behehehn! Ahahaha!"

        "Whatsamatter?"

        "It tickles!" squealed Nico. "It tickles, it tickles, it tickles!"

        Ah, the magic words. Ben knew this would only help satisfy his client further. "Good," he said with a chuckle. He wondered just how long Nico could keep this up. The longer, the better. "God, you are so cute, you know that?" he said.

        "Ahahaha!" Nico merely replied with laughter.

        As Ben leaned over the couch, tucking his head under Nico's raised right arm, his fingers tickled down the actor's abs and sides.

        "O-okay! Okay! Enough!" said Nico through continuous hitching giggles.

        Ben relented a moment. He was breathing almost as heavily as Nico.

        "Sh-shit." Nico immediately dropped his arms and rested his head on the back of the sofa, looking up at Ben. This position accentuated the sharpness of his jaw. "Th-that was intense." he said. There was still the hint of inebriation in his smiling eyes.

        Ben smirked proudly. "Too much?"

        Nico shook his head, pressing his teeth into his lower lip. "Nah. All good. Can we make out now?"

        This surprised a laugh from Ben. He leaned down and gave the actor a quick kiss -- another quick taste of salt and gin on soft, pillowy wetness -- before gently sneaking his fingers back under Nico's arms. 

        Nico moaned and snickered. "Again?" he said, flinching.

        "Please?" Ben kissed him again.

        Nico huffed. "You think tickling me is that fun?"

        "If you only knew."

        "Do I get a turn next?"

        "If you keep these arms up long enough? Sure," lied Ben. "Now c'mon." He gave each of Nico's biceps a gentle squeeze.

       Nico sighed but did as he was told. Ben could only hope that this spell of obedience would persist, still a bit surprised at how well this was going. Once the actor's armpits were exposed again, and his fingers interlocked at the back of his head, Ben prepared himself. "Ready?" he asked again.

        "With the way you tickle? No."

        The words sent shudders down Ben's spine, made the hairs on his arms and legs jolt to attention. If only this could be more than a one-night fling, he bemoaned, but he wouldn't dare let the thought of this becoming anything more linger for long. His hands move to the space mere inches above each of Nico's armpits and he could see the actor flinch, elbows dropping slightly. Three...two...

        The impact was swift and heavy, Ben's fingertips jutting into the hollows of Nico's armpits.

        "O-oh sh-shihihihihihihi.......!" Nico didn't yelp this time, instead hissing through his teeth as his face balled up once more and his laughter escaped from him like air escaping from a tire. He began to furiously kick his legs, his feet flying, as he devoted all of his energy and concentration on keeping his arms up.

        Ben's explorative hands -- though remaining in the general area of each of Nico's underarms -- enjoyed swift, erratic movements. His fingers wriggled and pinched and clawed and clambered around the landscape of Nico's chest and torso, hiking up the swells of his chest, across the divots of his ribs, the valleys of his armpits.

         "Hisssssssssssstttahahahahap! Ben! Eeehahaha! HA!" Nico's hissing suddenly erupted into another explosion of loud, unrestrained laughter. He slid down into the couch again -- it was clear that he was trying not to fold into himself. The manic response of his body was being redirected into his dancing legs, which continued to kick and wriggle frantically.

        Ben's heart felt like it was on fire.

        This can't be real. This isn't really happening, he thought. I'm dreaming. I'm actually dreaming. He felt as if he were going to wake up any moment in his little apartment in West Covina, sticky with the evidence of this pleasurable fantasy. It was in that moment, again, that he was grateful to be in the position he was in, regardless of how much he was indebted to his bosses.

        "F-fuhuhuck! Hahahaha! Heeheehaha!" Nico's laughter brought Ben back -- his fingers had hit a particularly sensitive spot deep within his left armpit. "Ohohohkay! Ohohokay! Pleeheeheease!" he squealed.

        Ben removed his hands and, once more, Nico immediately dropped his arms. As he allowed the actor, whose face had now gone a bit red, to catch his breath, he began to make his way around to the front of the sofa. "I just-- you have no idea how much I enjoyed that," he admitted.

        Nico cleared his throat. He inhaled and exhaled a few times and, with a tired smirk, he said, "I think I have some idea. Are we done now? C-can we...do something else?" He raised his eyebrows up and down a few times flirtatiously.

        Ben chuckled. He remained standing in front of the sofa, beside the little glass coffee table. As he watched Nico gather himself, he returned his hands to the pockets of his slacks, curling his fingers into his palms. He pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth as he considered his next move. There was always a chance that it would be the move too far. If it were up to him, Ben would have left things as they were. If he truly had a choice in the matter, he would simply ask Nico for his number, see if they could maybe meet up again in the future, maybe work their way slowly towards something else.

        But Ben didn't have a choice, did he? He felt the hard plastic casing around his phone. The device had yet to buzz with the alert of another incoming message. That was hopefully a good sign. He wondered how much time he had left. Surely not long. 

        It was now or never...

        "Would you...?" Ben started to ask, but the question faded on his lips. He took a breath, still trying his absolute hardest to remain confident yet indifferent in his approach. "Can I try one more thing?" he asked.

        Nico crossed his arms tightly against his strong chest. Perhaps it was an instinctive move, but he slid his hands into his armpits, perhaps as a protective measure. His smile lessened now. "What?"

        Ben laughed nervously. "Just one more thing, and then I promise no more tickling, okay?"

        A suspicious expression returned to Nico's face. "What is it?"

        Ben lowered himself to a squat, balancing himself on his haunches in front of where Nico was seated. Now near the wooden flooring of the stage, he found himself only a few inches away from his next target. He slowly reached over and gave Nico's right foot a quick pat. "Are...your feet ticklish?" he asked.

        Nico's eyes widened. "My feet?"

        Ben nodded. He was shaking. The fire had spread from his heart to every extremity in his body. The heat behind his face was almost too much to bear. God, this is it. He's going to freak out on me, try to leave... He really hoped, for both of their sake, that things wouldn't go in that direction. He did his best to keep his composure and he affected another shrug. Ben really hoped that his acting was convincing -- ironic, wasn't it? Being on that empty stage, blocking out this whole scenario for a proverbial audience... "Yeah," he said.

        "Well, uh." Fortunately, Nico didn't look insulted or concerned. Just...puzzled? There was still a semblance of light in his eyes. "I mean, I think so."

        "May I...see?" asked Ben.

        "I don't-- Seriously?"

        "Please?" Ben offered up the best puppy-dog eyes he could muster. It was the same look of innocence and charm that he had used to first bait a buzzed Nico back at the after party. 

        "You really want to tickle my feet?" Nico still sounded unconvinced.

        "I know, it's a little...strange. But, as you can probably tell, I've got a...thing for tickling"--Ben was grateful to offer up at least some truths tonight--"and I--"

        "Feet too?" Nico smiled slyly.

        Ben knew he must be glowing with embarrassment. "Well, maybe a little. I just-- Sorry, you just got me a little riled up. I mean, you've been so...chill about everything, and I just thought that...um...maybe..." He was fumbling this. He was losing steam.

        Nico leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, just as Ben had done earlier. He sighed. "We...don't have a lot of time left. I really need to be heading back soon. When you--" Nico chuckled softly to himself. "When you asked me to show you the theatre, I thought... Well, this isn't exactly what I had in mind."

        Ben looked up at him. "I know," he said quickly. "I'm...sorry. I just figured it didn't hurt to ask, you know?" A thick silence settled over the stage. After a long beat, he asked, "You ever fool around with a guy who was into this stuff?"

        Nico was still eyeing him with a curious look. "What, tickling?"

        Ben nodded.

        "Well...not specifically. But I've dated people that have been into some...different types of things." Amusement crossed his face and this eased Ben's growing concerns.

        "Yeah?"

        Nico nodded and ran a hand through his hair again. "Oh yeah."

        "So, this isn't, like, super weird for you then?"

        Nico snickered. "No, Ben. Not at all."

        Ben shrugged. "So...."

        A second long beat of silence. Ben's heart was hammering so loudly in his chest that he swore it must've been audible throughout the theatre, like some sort of strange twisted version of Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart." An apt analogy given the organization for which he worked. Finally, just as he felt as if it were all over, Nico relented. With a dramatic sigh, he said, "All right. But only 'cause I think you're cute." He stretched out his right leg, offering Ben his foot.

        Ben nearly fainted. His lungs tightened and he feared, for a moment, as if he were having a panic attack. Employing the coolest of tones in his voice, he arched an eyebrow and said, "Yeah?"

        "Hurry up. Before I change my mind."

        Ben leapt to his feet. "You, Nico Greetham, are a godsend." He absolutely meant what he was saying. Nico had no idea how much he'd needed this.

        "You better not forget it," said Nico.

        "Put your feet up here," Ben said, directing Nico to the space on the glass coffee table. 

        "Oh man, I already feel like I'm going to regret this." Nico moaned.

        "I promise it'll be quick. No more than a minute." 

        "You promise?"

        "Yep." Ben nodded. He doubted he had much more time than that anyway. But it didn't take much to please his client, as long as the non-negotiables were covered. And hopefully everything that had transpired tonight was deemed well worth the wait. "Now, c'mon, up and at 'em." He patted the glass on the coffee table. "Take 'em off."

        Nico let out another long breath. He reached down and began unlacing his white trainers. He slide his feet from his shoes, revealing a pair of white socks. Before he could place his feet up on the table, Ben, partly out of desperation and partly out of arousal, said, "Socks too."

        "What?!"

        "Hey, if it's going to be only sixty seconds of tickling, I've gotta get the most out of it, right?"

        "Ben, I don't think--"

        "C'mon," pleaded Ben. "You asked me if I had a thing for feet too. And yes, I do."

        Nico didn't move.

        You keep pushing it, Ben. You're going to lose him too soon, he told himself. His heart felt as if it were in his throat now. He was positive that his pulse was reverberating his voice. "Like I said. Sixty seconds. That's it. And then I'm done. I promise." He held up his hands. "And if you need to go, or you want me to leave right after, I will." It pained him to say this, but for one of the first times that evening, Ben was being true to his word.

        Nico considered him a long time -- so much so that Ben feared he would receive another message telling him that the deal was off -- but then the actor reached down and began to peel the white cotton from his strong, shapely feet.

        Holy fuck, thought Ben when, a few seconds later, Nico Greetham was placing his feet up on the table in front of him. They were pink under the lights of the stage. His insteps were pale. His arches, heels, and the balls of his feet were thick-skinned and looked a little rough, probably a result of years of dance. He had short, strong toes -- well-pedicured. There was the faintest aroma of the day's musk.

        Nico laughed. "You weren't kidding." He'd gone back to crossing his arms.

        "What?" Ben looked up at him.

        "You really have a thing for feet there, Benito."

        "U-um, yeah."

        "I wish I could've gotten your face on camera. Your eyes looked like they were going to fall out of their sockets." Nico chuckled.

        "S-sorry." This is probably on camera somewhere, thought Ben, doing his best to keep his back to the rows of playhouse seats behind him.

        "Nah, I don't care. I think it's funny," Nico said. "I dated a girl once who was into my feet."

        "Really?"

        Nico nodded. "Yeah. She was always taking me to get pedicures. We'd, literally, be lying in bed together, and she would just be down at my feet, kissing them.

        Ben knew that he was fully erect. He hoped that his kneeling at the edge of the coffee table would conceal this. "No kidding," he said. He instinctively reached forward and placed his hands on on the tops of Nico's feet, which, like the rest of his body, proved to be firm and toned.

        "It was kind of sweet, to be honest." Nico laughed, but Ben couldn't tell if this was a result of his recollection or if he was already reacting to his touch. "It's flattering, you know? That someone finds some part of you so attractive? It's not, like, anything you can control, and yet someone is just so...into it, you know?"

        "Yeah, I guess..."

        "Well, anyway. C'mon." Nico softly fluttered his feet on the table, gently pressing his heels into the glass. "Get this over with. And then afterward, we are making out on this couch. And, I might add, I might get you back."

        Ben looked up at him. "Get me...back?"

        "Yeah." Nico leaned back into the sofa. "You're ticklish too."

        "Ohoho, okay," said Ben with a challenging smirk. With that, his fingers launched themselves onto Nico's feet. His flesh was warm and, despite his callouses, doughy in texture. Ben knew that he needed to make the most of his remaining time and so, he immediately sought out the skin that looked the least protected.

        "Ahhhhhhsshhhhhiihihihit," Nico said, immediately reverting to his hissing. His face did its signature scrunch and, on instinct, he began to hold back his laughter.

        "How ticklish are these bad boys, huh?" asked Ben.

        "Uhhhahaha...." Nico went to answer, but as soon as he opened his mouth, gushing laughter spilled forth.

        Ben concentrated on Nico's insteps for a few moments, watching as his strong feet flexed outward, the toes spreading. His fingers then walked their way up to his toes, which immediately scrunched up.

        "Ohohoho my god!" Nico yelped sharply. "That's b-bad! That's bad!"

        "Is it?" Ben asked, doing his best to dig into the concealed flesh.

        "Y-yes!" Nico's feet lifted from the glass as his legs began to bend.

        "Ah, c'mon," said Ben. "Keep 'em steady."

        "I-I'm trying!" Nico said through gritted teeth. "H-how much longer?"

        "Not long," said Ben, feeling almost dizzy from the rush of it all. He pressed his fingers into the balls of Nico's trembling soles, and began to rake them up and down hastily. This caused Nico to lose his composure.

        The actor threw his head back against the top of the sofa, eyes shut, sharp jaw jutting out, and he started to laugh. It was a sound similar to the one that he had produced -- jovial and unrestrained -- when Ben had struck that sweet spot in his armpit only a few minutes before.

        Nico Greetham's beautiful feet were TICKLISH. Ben had to repeat it to himself over and over as he proceeded in his craft, watching the large, pink soles shake and shimmy to protect one another from his tickling touch. Their strength was hard to navigate. Even though Nico was doing his best to steady his feet atop the table, the natural flexing of his muscles, the rapid movements, complicated Ben's task. On more than one occasion, his finger would jam or bend awkwardly against the sides of Nico's feet, sending quick bolts of pain up his arm.

        "B-Behehehehn! Ohhohohokay!" said Nico. He was no longer crossing his arms, having now planted his hands firmly in the cushions of the couch, fingers curling into the leather. His soles scrunched up again as Ben clawed into the thick-skinned balls of his feet, manicured nails nibbling away.

        "Almost done," said Ben.

        "Th-this is awhawhawful!"

        Ben ignored him, focusing his attention on Nico's left foot, which seemed the more ticklish of the two. Using his right hand, he began to rake his fingers along the instep again: up and down, up and down, while his thumb remained steady on the heel. 

        "Ohhhoho! Hahaha! Ahh! Ackthp! Haha!" Nico's mouth widened as his laughter intensified. His face had gone red again. His hands dug deeper into the sofa. He began to shake back and forth on the couch, his legs trembling as they fought to remain fixed in place.

        "Almost..." Ben muttered, nearly under his breath.

        "BEHEHEHN!"

        Ben switched to Nico's right sole again, fingertips tracing their way down the arch. On occasion, Nico would tilt his head forward to glance in the direction of his tormented feet, watching as Ben continued his laugh-inducing assault.

        "Aiiiiehahahaha! Ohhohohahaha!" Nico laughed and laughed, head shaking back and forth, butt lifting from the couch, as his manic energy was redirected all throughout his body.

        Ben tried to remember what exactly was stipulated in the agreement -- how much time did he need to provide? How much time did he have left? His fingertips touched down on the flesh just beneath Nico's big toes and this caused the actor to yelp and finally pull his feet away.

        "Ohhhohohokay! We-we're done! We're done," said Nico, planting the bottoms of his feet firmly onto the stage. Ben glanced down to see them whitening with the sheer force with which Nico was pressing them into the floor. His toes flattened slightly, looking almost squarish. The pink flesh around his arches glistened beneath a slight layer of sweat.

        Ben leaned back onto his hands and crossed his legs. He watched Nico close his eyes and rest his head back again, draping one limp arm over his heaving stomach. "Thank you," he said softly after what seemed like forever.

        Nico, still panting, looked up at him, a sleepy expression on his face -- a mix of drunkenness, delight, and exhaustion from the tickling. "You're a little sadist, aren't you?"

        Ben leaned forward, now hugging his knees. He tried to shrug. "Maybe just a little."

        Nico chuckled. "B-bit of a workout." He patted his flat stomach. "My abs hurt."

        "Oh, c'mon," said Ben skeptically. "That was, like, barely a minute on your feet, and like twenty seconds each time under your arms."

        Nico exhaled heavily again. "What can I say? Guess I have a low tickle tolerance."

        Again, magic words that nearly sent Ben reeling. The dizziness in his skull intensified. He knew he was probably still a little buzzed as well, but there was something about this all that just felt so...unreal. So dreamlike.

        I'm telling you, he said to himself again. This is a dream. It's not real. It can't be. It was too... too perfect.

        And then, the cherry on top: "Ben," muttered Nico. "C'mon. Come on up here." He opened up his arms, gesturing for a hug. "I think I've more than earned a little fun of my own, right?"

        Ben felt as if he could fly. He felt himself lifting from the stage, as if floating. His chest, his stomach, inflating with a buoyant elation. He watched the look on Nico's face soften.

        Too...perfect.

        As he drifted towards Nico, readying himself for the embrace -- for another soft, pillowy kiss -- he saw Nico's expression change again. It went from soft and playful to...something else, and the closer Ben drew, the more it changed. It wasn't until he was about to descend upon the couch again that he recognized the emotion gathering behind Nico's eyes:

        Fear.

        All good things must come to an end.

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        Nico thought he'd imagined it at first. His armpits and feet were still tingling. His head was still swimming. His heart was still dancing with the memories of the performance, of the party, of his evening with Ben.

        He heard applause.

        We love you, Nico! someone shouted from the imaginary crowd.

        Viva! Viva! said someone else! Encore!

        The clapping and cheering echoed throughout the space and, at first, Nico knew that it was all in his head...

        Until it wasn't.

        The crowd vanished back into the darkness of the theatre, but there came a sound from the furthest row of seats up on the balcony.

        Clapping.

        It was slow. Almost cliched.

        *Clap*

                *Clap*

                        *Clap*      

        Someone was here. Now. Clapping for him on stage.

        Nico looked up at Ben, who was clearly hearing the sound too because his eyes were bulging again -- not with fascination or lust as they had when Nico had shown him his feet -- but out of pure panic. Nico felt something dark and heavy crash down into the pit of his stomach. Before he could think, he shot up from the sofa and ran towards the edge of the stage, his bare feet slapping down on the hard wood beneath him.

        "Who's there?!" he shouted.

        There came no response.

        "No," he heard Ben mutter from behind him and he whirled around.

        "We have to leave. Now," said Nico.

        There came another sound from somewhere among the dark, shrouded rows of playhouse seats. A door opening and closing. 

        "No, no, no..." Ben repeated over and over.

        "C'mon," said Nico. His heart was racing. He returned to the sofa and quickly slipped on his shoes and socks. "Ben!" He noticed that his date for the evening had gone still.

        Ben slowly looked up at him. "I'm sorry," he muttered.

        "Sorry?" Nico's frown intensified. "F-for what?" It didn't take long for him to start piecing everything together. One of his worst fears, manifesting. "What's going on?" he asked.

       "I wanted it to be different," said Ben shakily. "I thought it was. Y-you were just...so sweet, and, like, open-minded, and--"

        "Ben, what is going on?" Nico asked, starting to feel his world closing in around him.

        Suddenly, the speakers over the stage started to blast with music, jolting both boys upright. Nico looked upward into the lights above, and he quickly recognized the music pulsing down over the stage...

        Quizás, Quizás, Quizás.

        The song that would play before and after each performance of "One of the Good Ones."

        What was happening? thought Nico. The reality was too much to confront. This entire time--they hadn't been alone here. And worse...Ben was somehow in on it. Had everything he'd done tonight... Had it all just been...?

        No.

        Had someone not only been watching them, but recording them...? What if this got out? He didn't even want to begin to imagine the repercussions that could come of this.

       Shit.

        He turned to Ben, to ask him again, to help him make sense of everything that had just happened. But--

        Ben was darting off stage.

        "Ben!" shouted Nico, his voice dancing in time with the sultry singing voices of Los Panchos. "Ben!" He called after him once more, but the boy had vanished out the side door that led to the alley beside the theatre.

        And Nico was left alone, head spinning more madly than before, as the song played on over the empty playhouse, over the stage on which one of the strangest experiences of his life had since come and gone...

        Quizás, Quizás, Quizás...

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FIVE DAYS LATER
NEW YORK, NEW YORK

        So far, nothing.

        Nada.

        Nico had feared for his career the first few days after the incident at the Pasadena Playhouse. His flight back to New York had been miserable. He had checked his phone nearly every five minutes for days on end, wondering when he'd finally see some headline about what happened, some leaked footage of his subjecting himself to tickling after breaking in to an historic California theatre...

       His stomach had turned and turned...

       But, after a few days....

       He started to maybe think, possibly, that he was in the--

       He dare not say it. Or think it.

        It was too soon.

        Why jinx it now?

        He sat at the edge of his bed in his dark New York apartment in nothing but a pair of joggers, tapping his bare feet anxiously against the cool carpet.

       No headlines. No phone calls. Nothing from his agent or the staff at the Pasadena Playhouse. Nothing from his castmates.

        How long was it going to take for the other shoe to drop...? Would it EVER drop?

        He'd, of course, told no one about the incident.

        No one, except--

        His phone buzzed in his hands and his heart plummeted.

        This was it, he thought. The moment his life was going to change...

        He glanced down at the screen.

        But it was only a text. From Michael.

        Nico breathed a sigh of relief. His one confidant in all the chaos.

        Michael Cimino. Hey, he wrote, finally responding to the text that Nico had sent only an hour before, summarizing the events of that strange evening. He hadn't relayed all of the details regarding his one-off with Ben (who had since blocked him and, to no surprise, had disappeared), but he'd told him...enough. I was wondering why you'd been so quiet on social media.

        Unlike the rest of his castmates, Nico hadn't posted anything about the after party or the final show of "One of the Good Ones." He'd been too scared to even tap on his Instagram app. He didn't hesitate to respond to Michael: Yeah. Idk what to do.

        Three dots appeared, indicating that Michael was composing a reply of his own. It took far too long, and Nico could barely stand the wait. Then, finally:

        So he was TICKLING you? On the stage?

        Nico quickly sent, with another squeamish turn of his stomach: Yeah. It was so bizarre.

        Another long, unbearable round of the waiting game.

        Then, Michael said, I need to tell you something.

        Nico felt his throat tightening up. He could barely manage to ask, What?

        Is there somewhere we can meet up? asked Michael. I have a lot to tell you.

        Sure -- Mikey, what's going on? The tapping of Nico's feet grew more erratic.

        ...

       Michael wrote, I never told you this, but something similar happened to me.

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Author's notes: 

Back in April, I had the pleasure of seeing "One of the Good Ones" live in Pasadena, and, of course, my crush on Nico Greetham was instantaneous. Don't we all just wish we could spend an evening with our favorite celebrity crushes and give them a good tickling, completely unjudged or uninhibited? This particular fic let me live out a personal fantasy and, additionally, with someone whom I feel, based on what I've observed in interviews, would be totally okay with a little kinky and/or experimental fun -- Nico doesn't seem like the type to judge. Now, if only we could find out if he were actually ticklish...

 

Last updated: June 23, 2024

DISCLAIMER: 

Though this story features actual persons and references actual events, it is entirely a work of fiction and is in no way affiliated with, or endorsed by, those individuals. It is written solely for the purposes of entertainment and should not be taken seriously.

REVIEWS: 

"This story was super fun, amazing work! It's always a treat to see a story from you." @boytickler35

"Now THAT is how you do a Nico tickle fic! Realistic and believable setting, mysterious sub character intentions and some superbly written descriptions when it gets to the tickling. I adore this man's work!...The way you described [everything], the you've used and the descriptions of the characters and settings made me feel like I was in that very playhouse! And the ending! I can't wait for more." @famous&ticklish

"I will never be able to listen to 'Quizás, Quizás, Quizás' the same way ever again...literally got goosebumps. Real talk tho, another great piece by the GOAT...[your] ability to effectively switch tones so quickly is insane!! Bro really cooked with this one" @californiatickler

"Sweet story! I totally relate to Ben's nerves as he tries to push a little bit more with Nico, who's open to all of it (to an extent). You really communicated Ben's hesitation and even guilt as he tries to fulfill his deal without going too far and alienating Nico completely. I have a feeling I know which organization Ben works for..." @jakenayna150

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