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i notice when you're not around

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The easiest way to put it is to just say they fell in love.

They meet, they talk, they fight. Hero gets humiliated, Ben metaphorically (and also sometimes literally) holds her hand, and then suddenly they're the only people in the world who actually understand each other completely, and she doesn't know how to explain it, but Benedick Hobbes is then one of the most important people in her life, and she needs him around and knows that he needs her, and their lives begin consisting of hanging out and laughing and staying up late talking on the phone and just being with each other. And questions of when and why and how this happened do pop up sometimes, but are quickly pushed aside, because there's no point in over-analyzing things she knows are true and can't be changed, and that she now couldn't ever imagine wanting to change at all, because in the span of about a month he suddenly becomes her person, and why would she ever want to let that go?

And yes, okay, it's mushy, and it's weird. And sometimes it makes her feel like an idiot (she can feel everyone else staring), but it's also the greatest feeling in the world, and she still can't explain it, but she knows what it is - what it makes her feel.

But that's complicated and confusing, and makes people want more. So it's easier to just say they fell in love.

 

 

 

He hangs back after what happens, pushing people out of the house and standing as watch for the guys while Beatrice tries to find a way to comfort Hero (but she doesn’t even know what she’s supposed to be saying – what she’s holding onto her for; that her boyfriend’s a dick, that her boyfriend just publically humiliated her, that her boyfriend isn’t actually her boyfriend anymore). She doesn’t actually notice that he’s there, or rather, that he’s there as opposed to not being there; Pedro isn’t there, which Bea notices with a force she wants to bury down, wants to hide so that she’ll never have to deal with it again, but Benedick is. Benedick, who for all intents and purposes is supposed to be with Claudio right this very moment. Cheering him on or giving his condolences or whatever the fuck Pedro and John are up to, that’s where Benedick is meant to be.

But he’s not. He’s hanging around, pushing people out her front door, not leaving even though it’s late and it’s been a weird night and really, if the guy wants to go home it’s not like she’d blame him.

He’s still there, and when she comes out into the foyer after Hero has gone to sleep, he’s the one sitting there with the mug of tea and a sad face.

“Did you know this was going to happen?” she finds herself asking (and maybe is comes out accusingly, but before anything else, she  needs to know this), looking up into his face and suddenly seeing the kid she knew at fourteen, who talked for hours about comics and Harry Potter, and made her watch all the Lord of the Rings movies in one sitting, and would stay out with her late at night running around the park even though they both knew their parents were going to kill them, and who was maybe for a little while her best friend. Bea forgets that bit, most days, but right now he’s in her kitchen and he’s made her tea, and she’s not sure of anything at the moment except that he might just understand her, and that that’s maybe the most important thing.

“I knew that they… thought they saw something,” he says, a weird mixture of confusion and anger in his voice, like he’s disgusted with having any association with them. “I thought he was just going to wait until after the party to do anything – talk to her, that’s what he said he was going to do. I didn’t know about this.”

She nods her head, wiping away a tear she didn’t know she had and sitting down, grabbing her tea. He’s standing next to her like a good, patient boy, and the look on his face is something she doesn’t completely recognize but oddly adores, like it’s a face only reserved for her, and in the back of Bea’s mind, she can hear a voice telling her that he’s been in love with her for god knows how long, and that all his anger has been a façade – and that she’s thought of little else but him for the last few months, analyzing his every move, even when she didn’t want to. She been telling herself that her fascination isn’t about attraction or love or whatever, even though all evidence points to yes, but now it’s late and Hero’s been humiliated, and Ben is the only one here, and denying things is suddenly far too much effort.

“Oh god, what am I going to do,” she suddenly whelps out (Jesus Christ she fucking whelps it), and the tears start streaming.

He comes around to her side after only a second of hesitation, wrapping his arms around her and letting Bea cry like she hasn’t since she was five; and she does, cries on and on because she has literally no fucking clue what they’re going to do, and the people who were supposed to be her friends suddenly aren’t, and her enemies are right there with her – and her baby cousin is asleep with tears around her eyes, a look of pure sadness stamped on her face.

But Ben holds her tightly, lets her head and tears fall into his shoulder, strokes her hair and whispers things into her ear that somehow mean nothing and everything at the same time. And it’s only after she’s stopped completely wailing and wiped away a few of the tears that Bea realizes she doesn’t ever want him to let go.

 

 

 

She remembers his house from when they were younger, a sort of out of the way place that only actually took ten minutes to bike to from her house (she attributes this to his parents, the loveable odd-balls that they are; it’s the kind of place you have to be brought to before ever attempting to find yourself, because it’s not far from anything and yet it’s also somehow in the middle of nowhere). Back when she came before, his mother would always greet her sweetly at the door with a big smile and a mountain of compliments, and Ben would always make some sort of embarrassed look before dragging her into his bedroom (and she remembers thinking that meant something, that maybe that was a tell sign that he liked her as more than a friend; now it just seems like what any fourteen year old would do).

His room is mostly the same, save for a few different posters and what looks like a new bookshelf. A part of her feels like an outsider as she makes her way inside, awkwardly sitting on his bed; she’s seen his room a thousand times – been in that very same positions more times than she’d really care to admit – but it still feels like enemy territory, the place where Ben hangs out with the guys and shoots the shit and tries to convince Claudio that relationships are bad and stupid and what not.

She feels like she doesn’t belong, that they’re breaking some sacred rule that only the two of them even really knew existed, and she wants to cry out to him to kick her out, as crazy as it sounds. But everything is so fucked up right now, and this – them, him and her – somehow isn’t; they’re sitting in his room, not talking, just bumping their knees at each other, and it’s actually the most assuring feeling in the world.

“How is Hero?” he asks, not looking at her.

“The same. Devastated.” She doesn’t make a move to see what he looks likes, just keeps on bumping into his knees. “How’s Claud, John, and Pedro?” It sounds more accusatory than she was going for.

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t made a move to talk to them since. We’re not exactly… on the same side in all this.”

She nods her head, trying not to think about any of them too much, especially Pedro. (He’s supposed to be here right now. The three of them are supposed to be sitting here, figuring out how to help Hero.) She just feels completely helpless, like all she can do is sit around and do nothing. She hates it.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. Everyone won’t stop talking about it at school, and Claudio just keeps walking about like he’s done nothing wrong. I don’t… I need to fix it.”

She feels like she’s reading from a script; the things that she’s been thinking over and over but can’t find the right way to say. Ben nods his head like he understands her; he knows what she’s saying, but he also doesn’t know how to help.

“I just… I hate this. I hate not knowing what to do, and I hate that there is something to do and… I hate that, out of everyone, this happened to Hero, the actual sweetest person on the planet.”

She looks at him now, because she needs to see his face; needs eye contact that says that he’s with her, that in the game of choosing teams he’s on team her. His eyes burn right into her heart, if that makes sense, but it’s a good feeling; it feels like it means something.

“Well,” he starts. “We could always just make a video.”

 

 

 

They finish the video, the blood rushing to her head right where all the anger is, and Bea doesn’t know how to say what she’s feeling (that’s been a thing lately; she’s always known how to articulate herself, always has been perfectly aware of how to make things clear, but these days… she can talk about her anger and her hate and disgust, because it’s all big and anger and fuck everyone, but it’s impossible for her to talk about everything else that’s going on in her head – the small stuff and the swirls of emotion and just all the cracks). Leo is… fuck him. Fuck him for believing an idiot teenage boy over his own sister, fuck him for thinking that Hero could possibly do something like that, or that she could ever deserve what Claudio has done. Fuck him for letting this be a memory that they’re all going to have to deal with; that time Leo didn’t listen to his sister will be the awkward talk at family dinners, when they’re all grown up and this is just something Hero looks on with regret (and Bea needs to imagine it in this way, needs to see a world where it’s all just a bad memory and nothing more).

But Ben is still there, and when she looks over at him, he gives her this look that somehow says I’m so sorry without even trying. She knows how he worshiped the ground Leo walked on – the way him and the boys used to follow him around like puppies when they were younger – and that this is probably hard for him, seeing the way he is now. But this moment isn’t about Leo, she realizes. It’s about her and Ben, and the fact that she loved him a little bit when they were fourteen, and that maybe she loves him a little bit now (she doesn’t know, she can’t… it’s all too much). And that he’s her rock, whatever the fuck that means (she read it in a book once, and it made her cry), and that what he does next takes her breath away for just a second.

Ben takes her hand.

His palms are sweaty (or maybe it’s hers), and he shakes a little as their fingers entwine, the two of them staring at their hands like they’re afraid the other will pull away, or that it’s somehow not them doing this, but two people in a movie.

But it’s also good; like, she could probably use more adjectives to describe it, but then she’d just talk forever about all the things that she’s feelings and thinking. They’ve had contact before – he held her after the party, the way their knees bumped in his room earlier, every little touch they’ve made over the entire time they’ve known each other. But this is somehow so much more. There’s purpose behind it, an awareness of what they’re doing. He’s comforting her about Hero, yes, but he’s also saying something else. It’s too much effort for her to pretend she doesn’t feel the same.

(And like, if this were a story – if this is Bea recounting the tale of how they got together – this would probably be the point at which she said she first fell for him. If this were a proper narrative, this would be the part where love is found and maybe even realized (but not completely, because that’s for the conclusion). It’s impossible for her to describe that she’d actually fallen for him forever ago; not just in terms of when they were kids, but like, the entire time, all the hate and anger and everything, it was all a part of it. That when she looks back on them, she recognizes affection (and jealously and lust) in moments where they supposedly hated each other. She can think back to a particular moment and say, “that feeling right there, I felt it for him yesterday,” and it’s not even anger or hatred, but something sweet.

She will admit that it was a gradual thing for them; it’s not like they were completely and utterly besotted with each other the entire time and it’s only at this point that they finally were honest about it. There was genuine anger and disgust and maybe even a little hate (or, what they thought was hate before they had actually ever really hated something). But it’s also not like it just started with their friends playing love gods, or that whatever it was had temporarily ended four summers before. It was gradual the entire way through, from the first moment they met to when they started calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, and to say that there was some arbitrary moment when it all began that wasn’t just when they met is silly. It was a process, even if they didn’t exactly know it.

But yeah. If this was her telling their story to some annoying person at a high school reunion who just had to know how it is that Beatrice Duke and Benedick Hobbes got together, this would be where she said she fell.)

 

 

 

School is a fucking nightmare.

It’s just a combination of everything completely and utterly shitty they’ve got to deal with, people staring around every corner and calling out names. It’s worse for Hero, she knows, who has taken to hiding in the library as to not have to deal with people shouting slut at her as she walks down the hallways (they all tried to comfort her at the beginning, each of them taking turns sitting in the library with her, but the solitary seems to actually suit her at the moment, and Beatrice would hate to take that away from her), and the simple fact of that makes the day that much harder for Bea to manage. She finds it impossible to look anyone in the eye without wanting to punch them in the face, and can’t even force herself to try and take a peek at the guys. She’s worried someone will end up dead.

Except, of course, when it comes to Benedick.

He’s weirdly like a saving grace, a kind of distraction that she can use to pretend none of it is happening, or at least, that it isn’t as bad as it is. They sit together at lunch most days, completely fixated on each other as a means of ignoring the rest of the school (save for the few people they’re actually still speaking with, but the events of Hero’s birthday have turned everyone a little upside down; Ursula and Balthazar sometimes join them, but they also often can’t be found, and Meg, completely mortified by the whole situation and any part she inadvertently played in it, can barely be seen at school – their relationship presently consists of awkward phone conversations where they worry about Hero). It’s a tactile move, yes, and it’s completely necessary, but it’s also not without its perks. They sit at a table off to the side, pretending not to notice when Pedro or Claudio look their way, and just try to focus on their flirting, like the growing romantic relationship between them is the most interesting thing going on at the moment.

They mostly don’t try to focus on that, because it seems too cruel, and they care for Hero too much. They have time to do all that, and now they need to keep their attention on Hero and how to deal with everything. But here it’s an asset.

Here, they can be the stupid teenagers who are falling in love and don’t have another care in the world, who find themselves ignoring everyone else cause the idea of taking their attention away from the other even for a second is terrifying. Here they can indulge in the idiots they are clearly becoming.

“I listened to Fife and the Drums last night,” she says, taking a bite out of his mango (without the skin, of course).

He stares in disbelief. “You didn’t.”

“I did, and I gotta admit; despite the weird interludes and crazy bits, they were actually quite good.”

“Um, don’t you mean they were fucking amazing, Bea? Greatest band ever, just wait till you see them in concert.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Oh, we’re seeing them then?”

He takes back his mango. “Of course. You don’t know Fife until you’ve seen them live. I got tickets months ago, so don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.”

Bea just smiles, trying not to think about how he probably got those tickets for him and one of the guys, and that it was likely something they were all looking forward to. She can just imagine the lot of them, rocking out at the concert, being the idiot teenage boys they are.

She takes a second to look over at their table. Claudio and John seem deep in conversation, but Pedro is looking right at her, like he’s been doing it for a while. His look almost burns – it’s got anger to it, but something else that she can’t pinpoint, and it takes Beatrice a second to realize that Ben is looking over now as well, shaking his dead.

“Don’t stare at them,” he says, a kind of anger in his voice, though she knows it isn’t directed at her. “They don’t deserve it.”

She tries never to think about how hard it must be on Ben, losing the friends she knows he’s always considered brothers. He hangs out with Balthazar occasionally, when he’s not with her, and she knows that they’ve been really bonding and getting closer. But it also doesn’t make up for the fact that the people he considered his favorites suddenly don’t even make the list.

(And it’s something she can to deal with too, though not as much; Pedro was probably her best friend aside from Hero, and losing him in this has been terrible. But Pedro was also the guy who would linger a little too long, who would say he wanted to be her prince charming after years of friendship, who she could never tell if he was doing the right thing caused he believed it or cause it’s what she wanted. And maybe seeing her with Ben makes him angry or jealous or whatever, but really, she could give a fuck; they were never going to be a thing, and they certainly aren’t now.)

Ben’s head is down now, and Bea can tell he’s trying not to be too upset about the guys.

“Well,” she starts, bumping his knees like they did in his room, “now I’m all excited. You’ll have to give me the full Fife experience.”

His mouth just barely tugs into a smile, and she can tell that he knows what she’s doing, but he goes along with it. There’s no use crying about the friends they don’t even want anymore. “Just you wait, Duke. I’m going to explode your world.”

 

 

 

He kisses her for the first time in her bedroom, all sweaty hands and teenage angst. They’ve been studying physics for hours, a ritual they’ve recently taken up (they spend so much time together that it just seems to make sense for them to studying together as well, and since Bea is excellent in physics and Ben hates it, they tend to spend most of their time there), and they’re both tired, their brains fried from time spent trying to understand an ancient textbook.

She figures the best way to describe it would be to say that he takes her by surprise, though that isn’t entirely true; for a while now, it’s been a matter of if rather than when, and she’s honestly not sure how much longer they would have been able to go without anything happening. They’re past being weirded out by hand-holding (they don’t exactly seek it out, per say, but sometimes her hand falls on his and their fingers touch, and suddenly they’re playing with each other’s hands in a way that she’s pretty sure friends don’t do), or long, meaningful looks that she certainly couldn’t hold for long with anyone else without laughing. He’s even pushed her hair behind her ear a few times, laughing it off as a means of seeing her face only after they’ve oggled each other for several seconds.

So yeah. It’s not like she doesn’t see it coming from a mile away.

Still, in the moment, it surprises her; the way that he suddenly, without any real pretense, chucks his textbook to the side and goes for it, like he’s been thinking it over all day and finally has reached a breaking point. How he kisses her lightly at first, as if asking if it’s all right, when they both know he doesn’t have to (the night before, while watching a movie, they’d started playing with each other’s hands twenty minutes in and did so all night – she honestly thought it was going to happen then), and then completely dives in when she gives him this little smile of encouragement. The way that it immediately feels like they’ve done this a million times before, like they just instinctively know what the other wants. How she is shocked for a second, and then is wondering how it hasn’t happened yet.

She’s kissed a few guys before (not a ton, but enough that the fundamentals of it aren’t something for her to try at), but she can’t even begin to attempt to compare him with them, to try to analyze how they rank next to him; their chemistry is so chemical that he could be the worst kisser in the world and she’d still want to bone him. He isn’t of course, and she can already see now that this is going to be the memory of him that comes to mind for the foreseeable future. When they chat at lunch or sit in class, whenever they pass each other in the halls at school, or she’s being complimented by his mother, the image of them practically dry humping on her bed with schoolbooks tossed around is going to be what she thinks of.

The idea really just gets her excited.

She doesn’t even know how long it goes on for, just that when he comes up for a break (at which point, he is completely on top of her, and her legs might he slightly wrapped around his waist), it feels like it’s been forever, and she doesn’t want it to end and doesn’t want him to leave her.

“Sorry,” he says, like he’s put her out of place and she hasn’t been kissing him back for lord knows how long. “I just thought, if I don’t do it know, I’ve no idea when I actually will. And I didn’t know if you’ve been thinking the same thing.”

“I have,” she breaths, licking her lips as if it’s some sort of mating call. (God, like – what the actual fuck? Since when did this become perfectly normal behavior for her?) “Been thinking for the right time to hit on you, that is. Wasn’t sure if you’d actually have the guts to go for it.”

He laughs it off, like she’s given him some grand compliment (which, maybe she has; Bea can’t see her own face, but she’s pretty sure she’s instinctively giving him a once over like her life depends on it). “I just barely pass, then? Glad I didn’t wait any longer.”

She wants to hit him across the head; that’s how much she likes him. “Well come on mate,” she starts, pulling him down. “A pass is a pass.”

 

 

 

Bea can’t even tell what they are anymore, except that she likes it but also wants more. They hang out and talk and try not to think of everything that’s happened, and sometimes they end up kissing or holding hands. Most times they end up making out on his bed, the sheets moving about as they try to maneuver themselves

They’re not dating, really, but they’re also not-not a couple, if that makes sense. Cause there are moments like them hanging out on the ground by the lockers after a weird stand-off with Pedro, and it ends with them holding hands and her head falling on his shoulder. Or the one time in history, when they’re sitting next to each other and he stupidly puts his hand on her knee, she can tell with the most caution in the world, and in a moment of what she can only call complete and utter stupid teenage lust, she takes he hand and slides it further up her thigh.

It’s more like they kind of have a secret, one that everyone paying attention probably knows, but they’re not actually talking about. She’s pretty sure all they’re think they are dating, but honestly, half of their friend group isn’t even on speaking terms, so their possible romantic relationship should be the least of their worries.

“God, I’ve no idea what’s going on with Hero these days,” she says to him one night over the phone. “She spends all her time in her room reading and looking sad, and when I try to talk she’s never rude but she also never wants to.”

“She’s just… trying to process everything, I think. It’s probably best to just let het deal with it her own way.”

“So do nothing? Just let my cousin fall into a deep depression?”

Ben sighs, and she can tell that he’s probably rubbing his temple. “I’m not saying that, I’m just saying… she’s got a lot on her mind lately, and she’s also the one who has to deal with the entire school outcasting her. I think the whole solitary thing is about her finding a way to be herself without all of that. You know, without Claudio and their relationship and what her identity is to the shits at school. It’s about her trying to decide who she is now.”

Bea rolls her eyes, but mostly because she knows he’s kind of right. As much as she hates to admit it, this whole ordeal – getting dumped so terribly, being the school outcast that she currently is – is going to have an impact on Hero, and the way she continues to develop and the kinds of relationships she gets into. It’s important for her to know who she is aside from him, because for a while that’s all anyone at school has known her as: Claudio’s girlfriend, Beatrice’s sister, etc. Hero needs to be herself, and maybe that means that right now she likes to be alone. Bea knows there’s nothing wrong with that, but it still sucks. It’s still depressing seeing her favorite person so sad, so beaten down. She knows Hero so well, knows that she hates being mad and angry and bitter, and that that’s exactly what she’s been feeling lately.

Still. The fact that Ben is the one telling her this is both charming and a little annoying. When did he become to fucking insightful?

“I guess you’re right. Honestly, at this point, she just seems numb to what everyone is saying.”

“I hate to say it, but that’s probably the best thing for her right now. She needs to be numb to it all in order to ignore it.”

“Yeah, well,” she starts, switching the phone to the other side, “this doesn’t make me want to murder them any less.”

He laughs at this, and it gives her an odd sort of thrill. “I can’t disagree with you there. I’m pretty sure it’s gotten to the point where, the next time any of them speak to me, I might punch them in the face. I swear, if Pedro gives me one more of those fucking looks, like I’ve betrayed him or something---”

“He gives them to me all the time. I can’t even look at him anymore.”

“Because he sided with Claudio?”

“Because he sided with Claudio cause he was mad at me, I think.” They don’t talk about this much, how Pedro made it pretty freaking clear that is anger towards Hero was about Bea – that there was this one time where he kind of asked her out, and she said no cause she didn’t like him, and now she’s spending a good bit of her free time making out with his ex-best friend. It doesn’t actually matter to them that much, because (shocker) he doesn’t factor into their relationship with each other, but it’s still a weird thing; it’s still something they don’t really feel the need to touch on that often.

“He was mad at me for… everything, and then John offered him this opportunity to hate me and Hero, and it’s like he just sort of took it. Sometimes I’m not even sure if he really believed it. That’s why I can’t look at him.”

“That’s a pretty valid fucking reason, though. And it’s not your fault that he’s got all these hang ups, and that he’s projecting them on to do. I don’t look at them because they all stare at the same time, like I’m this crazy traitor.”

“You’re not a traitor,” she says. “You just picked the actually right side. It’s not your fault all your friends are idiots.

“Hey, not all of them are idiots. We’ve got Balthazar, and Ursula and Meg.” There’s this kind of pause, like he’s thinking about something important. “Plus, they’re not exactly my friends these days.”

A part of her wants to ask, ‘hey, am I not your friend?’, but she doesn’t have the guts for it, cause she’s not sure if she could handle the answer, or that she even wants it. Sometimes, Bea’s pretty sure he’s the best friend she’s ever had, but that never seems quite right. He that but he’s also more.

(She wants to ask so that he’ll tell her no, she isn’t his friend, but instead his entire world. His great love and his accomplice and his gal Friday. They’re teammates and partners, and to simply call her a friend would be inadequate. She wants him to tell her all this, but that would require actual guts. And at the moment she lacks those.)

They talk for a couple more minutes, until they’re both too tired to keep on going and sleep seems like the winning option. They play an idiotic game of who should hang up, and it’s probably the single saddest moment of her life, but also, she really doesn’t want to hang up first! They end up deciding the hang up at the exact same second, both counting to three before clicking the button, but this only makes her spend the next ten minutes worrying that he didn’t actually hang up – that he was waiting to see if she couldn’t do it, and she failed.

God, she’s fucking pathetic these days.

 

 

 

(She doesn’t even know how to explain it, the way she feels about Ben. The way he can enter a room and it makes her feel relief, when everything was fine to begin with. How he says stupid things with stupid voices, but it’s like he’s talking in a secret language only she can understand, and so somehow they end up being the funniest things she’s ever heard. Those times when they sit in his room, just the two of them for hours, and they’re talking about nothing but it’s also the best time she’s had in a while, and she never wants it to end – doesn’t want to go home at the end of the night, just wants him to wrap her in his arms and keep on talking.

Bea doesn’t understand how it happened, how he went from being no one to the only person who completely gets her, except that it’s here and it’s real and no matter what, she needs him by her side.

She hears echoes of rants about never needing another person, and she gets them, but she also didn’t completely understand what it’s like to be so enamored with someone that they become your everything, even if they aren’t your entire world. Ben isn’t the only person in her life – Hero is her best friend, after all – but it’s like he’s suddenly her family, and she doesn’t really get it, just that’s he’s her person, somehow. She feels like they’re on a team, and other people come in and out of it, but at the end of the dead, it’s just for the two of them.)

 

 

 

The problem with falling in love, she begins to realize, is that it sneaks up on you. Not in a huge way – she knows what she wants, what she needs, who all of this is meant to be with. But she doesn’t really know how to label it for the longest time, doesn’t even think to. Bea has never been too keen on labeling things; maybe it’s because the only time she ever did it turned out to be wrong (or, wrong for then – wrong for two little kids who couldn’t even understand how much they needed to be in each other’s lives). Still, it shocks her how the idea doesn’t even cross her mind for the longest time, doesn’t even occur until it’s her and Meg hanging out, talking in a way they haven’t in weeks.

They’ve finally discussed it all. The sleepover, the mean comments, the way Meg felt after it all. She goes on and on about how completely humiliating it was – the idea that they were watching this intimate moment between her and Robbie, that he was letting them, and it’s the first time that Bea really thinks about how they were actually in love for a little bit, or Meg was anyways. She kept on going back to him cause she believed they were really in love.

It makes her think of Ben; not because she thinks he would betray her. But because she knows if he did she’d be devastated, and Bea’s never felt that way about someone before.

“We all know what’s going on between you two, by the way,” Meg says, reading her mind.

“Nothing’s going on, really,” she says with her head looking down, because admitting it to herself is easy, but when she starts to say it out loud it feels different.

“You’re in love.”

Bea doesn’t have the strength to deny it.

“I don’t even know anymore,” she sighs, “if I’m feeling something because it’s me, or because of how I feel about him. Like, it’s as though we’re two people breathing through the same lungs, and I… don’t know when that started happening.”

Meg gives her this cheeky kind of grin. “Mrs. I’ll Never Get a Boyfriend Duke, I’m surprised by you.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Bea mutters, but she’s smiling, because only Meg would listen to her bare her soul and make a joke about it. They’ve always understood each other in that way; one will give the other crap, and no one will care. At least, that’s what she’s always thought.

“I am sorry, about all the things I’ve said in the past. I’ve always thought that they were jokes or not real, or whatever. But that’s not really an excuse. Friends aren’t supposed to treat each other like complete shit.”

Meg nods her head, because she understands the meaning behind this moment, that Bea is actually feeling the pain of how she’s acted. “You got your heart broken at fourteen,” she starts, taking her hand. “And you pretended that it didn’t mean anything, but it actually meant the world. And I’ve always thought that made you kind of angry at everyone who had their heart broken and moved on from it.”

“But that doesn’t make what things I said okay.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Meg agrees, like a mother assuring her child of something. “But, like, I always knew why it was you acted like that. You were trying to get over someone who you would never be able to get over.”

“I think it’s cause I fell too hard, too quickly. Like, me and Ben were always supposed to be, but I just… messed it all up. You’re not supposed to fall like that for someone at fourteen.”

“You’re not supposed to fall like that for someone at seventeen, either.”

Bea shakes her head, because she can’t be bothered with this kind of logic. “Well, clearly we can’t wait any longer. I’d say I wish we’d met in a few years, so that people wouldn’t think it’s all weird, but I actually don’t know if I could handle not knowing him for this period. God, that’s pathetic.”

And Meg laughs at this, nodding her head as Bea laughs along with her, because fuck, so much shit has happened lately, but Meg is still one of her favorites, and she can’t think of a person she’d rather be with in this moment.

“It’s alright, Bea; I’ll keep your eternal love a secret until you’re old and the grownups won’t call you crazy. You just stop calling me a screamer behind my back, and we’ll be good.”

Bea hugs her then, taking up the entirety of Meg and letting them stay; Meg is the kind of person who can call you out on your shit but not stay mad about it, cause she knows that you don’t actually mean it, and that you know you’ve done wrong and are going to worked to be better. Meg is one of those people that she sometimes feels she has to thank for being in her life, because where the fuck would Beatrice be without her?

“You are aware that, at some point, you should probably inform Benedick of your deep infatuation with him,” she whispers in Bea ear, and Beatrice hugs her tighter. “I know you’re new to this whole feelings thing, but traditionally when in love, both parties declare so as to avoid confusion.”

Love sneaks up on you, apparently. For the longest time Bea couldn’t imagine ever talking with Ben about how she feels. Now it seems impossible not to.

So she does.

 

 

 

It’s like a scene out of a movie.

She’s on his doorstep, covered in sweat (okay, in the movie it would be rain, Bea knows that; but she just biked here from her house, and it may not be a long ride but she was going as fast as humanly possible, so yeah, there’s a lot of sweat around) and ready to pour her heart out, a kind of desperation fuelling her that she didn’t know she had. And she knows she doesn’t have to say anything – he’s been giving her this look since he opened his front door to find Beatrice that says he understands exactly where she is, and that if she just wants to run into his arms, he’ll be okay with it. But she has to; Beatrice has always been able to say whatever she wanted, unless it was about her feelings, in which case she says nothing. And, like, she doesn’t want that with Ben. She needs him to know everything she’s feeling, needs him to never doubt for a second that he’s the only person for her. She wants to be in love with him and she wants him to know it. (And like, if that isn’t proof enough that they should be something, since she’s never even believed that a person could feel like that, she doesn’t know what would be.)

“I like you so much,” she starts, because fuck, there’s no room for stalling when you’re making grand declarations of love. “I like the things you say and the stuff you do and just… all of it. I can’t even talk about how much I like you, because then I’d just be on your doorstep forever.” She can’t help smiling as she says the words, like she’s letting her entire heart out. “And maybe that means I’m in love with you, which I probably am, let’s be honest, because you’re pretty much all I think about, to the point where it’s pretty sad and pathetic, actually. Like, if you wanted to leave me here for someone less crazy, I would totally understand, but I’d really rather you didn’t. And it’s not about Hero, or Pedro, or any of them, because they’re not a part of this. I thought for a while that it was because of what happened, but I think I know now that we were always meant to be like this. We’re like, inevitable or something.”

She says it all slowly, trying to get out all the parts that she had been thinking over for weeks now (it’s all just been spinning around in her head, and it’s almost a relief to get it all out), but she still feels out of breath now, and also maybe like a bit of an idiot. He’s not saying anything, and the look on his face is telling her that he’s on the same page, is just trying to take it all in. But she needs him to speak.

“Please say something,” she practically begs. “I’ve never done this before. I’m not sure how it goes.”

Ben looks down at his shoes now (it’s the first time since she arrived that they’re eyes haven’t been connected, and it gives her a bad pang), and runs a hand through his hair. “I don’t think I could possibly beat what you just said. I don’t have that kind of speech.”

“Try.”

He hesitates for only a second, then looks up and nods. “I think… I think you might be a part of me. That sounds stupid. I just mean, you’re like half of me, like there is no Benedick Hobbes without Beatrice Duke, whether we’re fighting or in love or whatever. I guess I’ve figured out that my life is better when you’re a part of it, because I just need you in it or something.” He pauses for a second, obviously trying to find his words. “We’re like Voldemort and Harry.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the man who she currently is completely and hopelessly in love with. She’ll be going in for a brain scan sometimes next week.

“That was meant to be romantic.”

“Yeah, I get that that was the intent.”

“I’m not sure if Harry and Voldemort were the best comparison I could make.”

“Probably not.”

He makes a weird kind of frowny face, the kind that has a little tug of a smile. “But you do… see what I was getting at?”

If Bea has learned anything in the last few months, it’s that there’s no use denying when it comes to these things. The truth has this weird way of always coming out.

“I do.”

(If she was telling the story of them, this would be the happy ending).

 

 

epilogue. 

 

 

 

They all travel to the beach at the end of the year, a sort of last adventure together before they all go off and do whatever it is they’ll end up doing (and maybe it’s a way for them to try and get over some of the anger that built up over the past few months, though Bea doesn’t really think that’s possible). The original plan at been to just go to the closest beach, but no one had actually liked that, and then it was decided that they’d all road trip, just take different cars. There’s debate about who goes with who, who drives for how long, and who ends up with the booze, but in the end, Bea and Ben are in a car just the two of them, cruising in the Benmobile.

There’s a lot of banter, and arguing, and Beatrice playing whatever fucking music she wants despite Ben’s complaints (which she doesn’t even get, because they listen to the same music dude, and he’s just doing it to be a dick, but whatever). They do that thing where they roll the windows all the way down and sing “500 Miles” at the top of their lungs, and at some point before they reach the hotel but after the sun has gone down, the absurdity of it all occurs to her; she sitting in a disgusting car with Benedick Hobbes, blasting Joy Division and pulling her knees up to hug them, and like, somewhere between now and this time last year he became the most important person in her life, a part of her family only also completely her choice. She can’t even pinpoint the moment it happened, or when everything started to change or when she stopped pretending to hate him and started wanting to make out with him; all she knows is that she’s sitting in his car watching as he cruises along, and in this moment, she wants to be wherever he is.

And it’s messy and complicated, and she wishes there was a way for her to explain it all without all her feelings just pouring out all over the car, but there isn’t; it’s gotten to the point where it’s impossible for her to talk about Benedick Hobbes without going on forever. Really, she thinks it’s easier to just say they fell in love.

 

 

 

fin.