Notes: So I had things all planned out to get angsty after the last post. I didn’t really want to but I felt the plot needed to go there regardless, and then…I couldn’t. I couldn’t make myself do it. I just didn’t want that kind of personal strife between my characters. Strife happens, strife will happen, but it isn’t going to happen the way I thought it would. I’ve gone and nerfed myself. I blame Ryan entirely, you smug, adorable little jackass of a conniving plot bunny.
Who, me? Yes, you.
So, fine. It happens. I’ll make this part of the story work without the requisite heated interpersonal angst and/or life-threatening danger that I love so much.PS-some of the texts at the end are going to look strange. This is stupid blogger's fault, I'm working on fixing it. Just go with the message, you'll get it.
Title: Love Letters
Part Sixteen: Unbearably Happy, Desperately Sad
Ryan’s phone started beeping at midnight, waking Ben up out of the doze he’d been drifting in and out of for hours now, caught somewhere between hungry-sticky-gross and tired-satisfied-happy. Ben would have gotten up and turned it off himself, but Ryan was just as clingy tonight as he had been the last time, and they were also kind of stuck together. Ben probably should have let Ryan follow through with his cleaning up idea earlier, but he hadn’t quite been able to make himself let go. And now Ryan had fallen asleep between his legs, which wasn’t really comfortable for Ben and probably wasn’t for Ryan either, yet he was still reluctant to wake him up. The beeping didn’t stop, though, so it probably wasn’t a phone call or message.
Ben ruffled his fingers into Ryan’s hair, making it fluff up even more. “Ryan, your phone’s going off,” he said softly.
To his surprise, Ryan woke up fairly fast this time. “It…what?”
“Your phone,” Ben repeated. “It’s going off.”
“…oh. Oh!” Ryan sat up fast, wincing as their skin peeled apart. “Ouch,” he muttered as he bent over the edge of the bed and started fishing around for his clothes. “Where is it, where…ah!” A second later the noise stopped, but when Ryan came back up he still had his phone with him. His face was illuminated by the small white screen, and his expression was somewhere between sad and reminiscent, intensely personal.
“What is it?” Ben asked. He wouldn’t have been upset if Ryan had declined to tell him; that kind of expression didn’t tend to lead to something you shared. But of course Ryan did.
“It’s just a reminder I put into my phone, so that I wouldn’t forget…do you remember what today is?” Ryan asked, glancing over at Ben.
“February twenty-fourth,” Ben said, turning the date over in his head. February…what happened in February? No holidays (that he celebrated, anyway), no birthdays, no anniversaries…wait, no— “Shit. It’s Brody’s birthday.” Ben was stricken by the realization. “I can’t believe I forgot.”
“It wasn’t exactly his favorite day,” Ryan said easily, full of forgiveness that Ben was positive he didn’t deserve. He came back over next to Ben and fluffed up a pillow, then propped it against the headboard and relaxed against it. “Brody didn’t like to be reminded that he was getting older. You remember when he turned thirty?”
“I…yeah, I do,” Ben said. One of Ryan’s hands found his head and started petting him, and Ben turned his face and kissed Ryan’s bare hip, distantly shocked at how easy it felt. “Brody sent me something like a dozen texts that night, and most of them were incomprehensible. Something about beer and tequila and getting fat.”
Ryan chuckled. “Yeah, he was so vain. Just because he was ten pounds heavier than he’d been in college. Can you imagine him at forty? Or omigod, fifty?” Ryan laughed again, then sighed. “I would have loved to have seen him at fifty.”
“Me too,” Ben said honestly. “Or at least, I would have loved to have kept in touch with him for that long. Meeting up was never really in the cards. It was better that way.”
“Why was it better?” Ryan asked. “Because…okay, you absolutely don’t have to answer this, I totally get it if I’m being invasive and you want me to back off, but…some of your letters, they read like—like you’re in love with him. Or like you were, I guess.”
“I’m not in love with Brody,” Ben reassured Ryan, and he knew he wasn’t imagining the faint shiver of relief he felt in the other man’s body. “I might have been, a long time ago. He was the perfect confidant, you know? I could tell him anything, and I did. And he did the same for me, and that was good for both of us. I loved him, and maybe for a little while I was in love with him, but only because it was safe. I never thought anything would ever come of it. Brody was very resolutely straight, for one thing.”
“I know,” Ryan agreed. “Actually, I was thinking about the timing of it the other day, when I read the letter you wrote coming out to him.”
Ben remembered that letter. He’d been so fucking nervous, nervous but determined because he’d just come to the conclusion that he was gay, very definitely gay, and he’d wanted to tell someone. Someone important, but also someone who might not judge him as harshly as he knew his family would. So he’d gone with Brody, and a week later a letter had come back to him.
So okay, you’re gay. Cool. Want a cake or something? Want me to send you flooowers? Pretty pink ones?
Like I care who you sleep with, man. Just, no details, okay?
There had been more, but Ben had just stared at the first few lines for a while before breaking down into breathless laughter, gutted from relief.
“What about the timing of it?” Ben asked.
“Well…that was a little after my parents sent me to the Very Private School For Naughty Little Boys,” Ryan’s voice was thick with sarcasm, “and also right around when Brody took me out and brought me all your letters and told me that being gay didn’t make me a leper. Before that he hadn’t said a word to me, not for months. I think maybe that you coming out to him is a big part of what made him okay with me.” Ryan smiled down at Ben a little crookedly. “So thanks for that.”
Which meant that this was evidence, as far as Ryan was concerned, that Brody had liked Ben better than his own brother. If Brody had still been around and they had somehow come face to face, Ben would have been tempted to punch him. Hugged him too, but punched him first thing. There was nothing he could say that wouldn’t sound facetious, though, so Ben just sat up and pulled Ryan in for a quick kiss.
Ryan was smiling when he pulled back. “It feels more like happy birthday to me tonight.”
“Brody would never have wanted a kiss for his birthday,” Ben said. “Maybe a moon pie and a beer.” Brody had had simple tastes in some regards. When Ben had asked, in one of his first letters, what Brody liked to eat, the kid had written back three pages extolling the virtues of moon pies, which Ben had never eaten before. When he confessed his ignorance to Brody, the next letter had come stuffed inside a box of the pastries.
“Oh god, right!” Ryan was out of bed in an instant, going over and rummaging through his bags. Ben leaned over and turned on the bedside light, because looking at Ryan, especially Ryan naked, was never going to get old. He had tattoos everywhere, not just the serpent on his arm that Ben had seen before but shoots of bamboo running up his back, a thick black tribal band around his right thigh, and what looked like a little bumblebee on his ass.
“Why is there a bee on your butt?” Ben asked, smiling a little.
“Long story, I’ll tell you—aha!” Ryan pulled out two single-wrapped moon pies. He came back and held up the boxes. “Chocolate or banana?”
“Chocolate, please.” The chocolate ones had been barely edible when he was a kid, but Ben hadn’t been able to stomach banana, despite it being Brody’s favorite. He took out the perfectly round pie and looked at it. “The last time I ate one of these it was because Brody had sent it to me and my mother didn’t want me to let food go to waste.”
“My mom baked like her life depended on it when we were little, but if he had a choice Brody always picked moon pies over whatever she’d made. He did the same with Cheryl’s desserts, it drove both of them crazy. They finally just started getting him moon pies for his birthday and sticking a candle in the top. His son Joey’s the same way.” Ryan reached out and tapped his pie against Ben’s. “Cheers. Happy Birthday, Brody.”
“Happy Birthday,” Ben echoed, then took a bite. It was just as nauseatingly sweet as he remembered, the graham cracker crunch muted by the slightly stale marshmallow fluff, the chocolate thin and waxy against his tongue. It was also inexplicably delicious, which Ben chocked up to not eating dinner.
This should have been weird. Shouldn’t it? He’d never had midnight snacks with a lover, sitting naked and filthy in a messed up bed, spreading crumbs around and not bothering to care. Instead it just felt natural, like of course Ben would be doing this with Ryan, he wanted to do everything with Ryan, so why not this?
Once they were done Ryan looked around and started laughing. “I feel like a kid at a sleepover.”
“I never had those when I was a kid.”
“You had a deprived childhood. Sleepovers were mandatory for us,” Ryan said. “If we didn’t bring friends over my mother worried that we didn’t have any, and then it was talks with teachers and counselors and all kinds of crap. I brought people over just to get her off my back.”
“Yeah?” Moved by a mischievous impulse, Ben got up onto his knees and shuffled forward until he was straddling Ryan this time around. “What kind of people?”
“Boring people,” Ryan said instantly, his eyes drawn to Ben’s lips, just a few inches from his face. “People who just wanted to use the pool. Not like you.”
“I would never use you for your pool,” Ben told him solemnly, cupping Ryan’s neck with one hand and his waist with the other. A few crumbs lingered on the edges of his lips, and Ben delicately licked them away. “I might us you for your shower, though.”
“We should shower together,” Ryan said immediately, his arms settling possessively around Ben’s middle. “Colorado is in a drought, right? We should shower together to conserve water.”
“That’s very responsible of you.”
“I can totally be responsible,” Ryan said breathlessly. Ben felt him getting hard and grinned.
“Let’s go do the responsible thing, then.”
Their shower lasted almost an hour. Neither one was able to feel guilty about it, though.
Wearing a costume was…well, it was embarrassing, there was no way around that. Ben didn’t have Michael’s incredible confidence or Ryan’s joie de vivre, but it helped that those two were there to detract attention from him. Michael was still dressed up as Director Fury, and Ryan made a surprisingly feminine Black Widow. When he came out of the bathroom that morning in a red wig and black leather catsuit, his lips glowing like rubies, it had been all Ben could do not to throw Ryan down on the bed and have his way with him again. He hadn’t even known cross dressing was a kink of his before that, or maybe it was just Ryan any way Ben could get him.
The last panels wrapped up at noon, the costume contest took way too long, and by the time their little group came in second (one of the dragons got first, which was deserved because her costume involved custom rivets, for fuck’s sake) most people were filtering out of the hotel.
After getting a text from Starbuck, Ben left Ryan and Michael talking—they got along splendidly, he had the feeling he might regret introducing them—and met her at the front door. It took a moment—he barely recognized her in jeans and a sweater.
“Your stuff,” she said, handing his VIP bag over. “Except for the drink tickets, I used those after I figured you were skipping the banquet.”
“I’m glad you did. Thanks for holding onto this for me.”
“No problem,” she shrugged. Her pale blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she carried herself differently now, less broad-shouldered swagger and more of a slouch. “So, hey. Call me if you ever want to watch some more Battlestar, I’m always up for it.”
Ben wasn’t great with people, but in this case he recognized the fact that she was reaching out, and that it was hard for her. And hell, he would like to see more of the show, so… “Absolutely. How about some time this week?”
Starbuck smiled slowly. “Sure, I’m free Wednesday night.”
“Good.” She ducked her head for a moment, then looked up. “And you can call me Heather, I guess.”
“I’ll do that. See you later, Heather.”
Saying goodbye to Heather had been easy. Saying goodbye to Ryan was a fucking nightmare.
Ben had driven him to the airport, naturally, he wasn’t going to let his…god, his what? Boyfriend? Friend with benefits? Whatever he was, Ben wasn’t going to let him take a hotel shuttle to the airport.
They didn’t really talk on the drive. Ryan was getting that look in his eyes that Ben recognized from the diner, when he was unhappy trying not to show it, but that was impossible this time around. By the time they pulled into the passenger drop off Ryan had given up all pretense that he was fine and settled on miserable, his breathing too shallow and his eyes too bright. He held onto Ben’s hand and barely let go long enough for them to get out of the car and get his luggage.
“You have to come to Boston now. When can you come see me in Boston?” he asked, so close to Ben that his breath barely had room to frost up between them. God, it was cold. Ben pulled their joined hands up and kissed Ryan’s knuckle, unsure where this odd romanticism was coming from. Apparently Ryan was the exception to a lot of his habits.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly, regretting it as he watched Ryan’s face fall. “I’ve got an entire book’s worth of material to figure out before April, it’s going to be frantic for a while.”
“But I’ll call you every day,” Ben promised, “just like before. Nothing has to change.”
“But would you…like things to change?” Ryan asked hesitantly. “I mean, not that I want to pressure you or anything, I really don’t, but I mean, if you could visit me you would want to, right?”
Right at that moment Ben couldn’t think of anything he wanted more. “Absolutely,” he said, and kissed Ryan gently, right there in front of everyone heading into the airport. They got a few pointed looks but Ben ignored them, not bothered for once because fuck it, he was with Ryan. “And I will as soon as possible.”
“Okay,” Ryan said. “Okay.” He kissed Ben again, embracing him tightly. “Or I could just stay,” he gasped when their lips parted. “I could just not leave; I’d like to not leave.”
“Baby.” Ben felt a little helpless in the face of this kind of unhappiness. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Ryan to stay, or to go and visit him, but it wasn’t breaking him down the way it seemed to Ryan. “It’ll be fine, I promise.”
“I know, but…fuck, I miss you already.”
“I miss you too.” They stood locked together for another few minutes until one of the traffic cops came over.
“Drop off only,” the man said loudly. “You can’t keep your car here like this.”
“Just one minute,” Ben promised.
“Already had five, buddy.”
“No, it’s fine, I’m leaving, I’m going,” Ryan said, pulling away. He wiped his face on his sleeve and shouldered his backpack. “I’ll let you know when I get back, okay?”
“Please do.” Ben couldn’t resist; he leaned in and kissed Ryan again, just briefly. “It’s okay,” he said, futilely, because obviously it wasn’t okay and there was nothing he could do about it.
Ryan tried to smile. “I know. I really do.” He picked up his suitcase. “I’m going now.” He didn’t move.
“I will ticket you if you stay here any longer, mister.”
“I’m going!” Ben said, glaring at the guy, who glared right back. When he turned around again, Ryan was gone.
“Shit,” he muttered. It was easier this way, but it didn’t feel any better. Ben slowly got into his car and pulled away from the airport. Why hadn’t he parked and gone inside with Ryan? Fuck, he felt awful.
His phone beeped. Ben pulled it out of his pocket and glanced at it.
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It took Ben a moment to puzzle that out, but when he did he had to pull over to the side of the road.
They were texting revelations now? Deep, serious revelations about how they felt about each other? Fuck. Ben would rather have said it in person. Although…did he mean it?
The most frightening thing was that Ben thought he did.
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