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empty, but not alone

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Benrey took a shaky breath, staring a hole into Gordon's doorknob. He raised his fist to knock, paused, and lowered it again. His other hand, already balled tightly in the blanket he was wrapped in, squeezed even tighter.

c'mon, man, just do it, he desperately wanted to mumble to himself, if only to keep himself company. But he knew how light of a sleeper Gordon was. If the man miraculously hadn't heard him yet, saying anything out loud would break that streak of luck.

If Gordon hadn't heard him yet. Maybe he did wake up. Maybe he was ignoring them on purpose, or hoping they'd go away.

Or maybe Benrey was just being a little baby about this whole thing.

yeah, i'm overreacting, he decided. He raised his fist to knock again... and paused.

What the fuck. He didn't deserve this. He didn't have the right to just knock on Gordon's door at 3 AM and expect, what? Sympathy? He'd ruined the man's life. Just... turned the whole thing upside down, as a joke. Because he thought it was funny. Someone — something — like him didn't even deserve —

Benrey knocked, shaking his head hard. They didn't want to think about that, actually! If Gordon hated them, he would just have to say it to their face.

A few very long, very quiet seconds passed before Benrey heard a sleepy sound and the bed creaking with movement. He stepped back from the door, hunching in on himself, until it clicked open and Gordon was there.

"What are you doin' up, man, it's..." Gordon blinked his half-lidded eyes, staring off into space for a moment. "Fuckin' late. Too late."

"uh." All the words swirling around Benrey's head dried up, and he looked at the floor. Gordon quieted, looking more closely at Benrey.

"Is something wrong?" he asked, and Benrey had to consciously hold himself back from shrugging Gordon off like he usually did. Instead, it nodded, slowly.

"What do you need? Like, do you just want food, I can make you something if you want..." Benrey shifted to their other foot, hesitant to speak their mind. "No, of course not, that's stupid," Gordon muttered, which made Benrey's heart twinge.

"can we just, um..." they started, faltering when Gordon looked at them. What they wanted from him was so silly, it made them feel like a fool. Gordon just waited patiently, so they eventually continued, "hang out? for a bit?"

"I — yeah man, of course." Gordon smiled gently and patted Benrey on the shoulder. He started talking about something else, but Benrey missed it, too focused on the warm feeling of Gordon wrapping his arm supportively around its back as he walked it through the house.

They sat down on the couch together, and Gordon picked up a controller. "Wanna play Mario Kart?" he asked, and Benrey quickly nodded. He sank back into the couch as the game booted up, willing his brain to focus long enough on the game for him to fuck Gordon's shit up.

It didn't work very well. Benrey could usually beat Gordon if he really wanted to, but this time Gordon was running laps around him. Gordon laughed triumphantly as the scores rolled in, Benrey in dead last.

"Score one for Gordon, zero for Benrey!" he cheered. That was Benrey's cue to say something annoying, but he just... didn't have the energy. Gordon looked back when he didn't respond, and his face twisted in worry.

"Fuck, sorry, I didn't mean... it's not a problem that you lost, I know you're not, uh, feeling great, it's no big deal..." He kept going on like that, fumbling with his words. Benrey wanted to respond, to thank Gordon, but it couldn't. It opened its mouth to speak, and nothing came out. Sentences were barely forming in his brain before dissolving back into the buzzing void enveloping his skull. So he just sat there, as silent and unresponsive as the couch he was occupying.

"...Benrey? Are you okay?" Gordon inched closer, leaning in towards them. Benrey knew they were supposed to react to that, but they didn't. How could they do anything when their insides felt like a black hole?

"Oooookay, now I'm getting worried," Gordon muttered, hands hovering in the air. He settled on taking Benrey's hand gently in his own, a grounding warmth for him to focus on. So Benrey did what little he could, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to breathe evenly. It didn't seem like it would help, but Gordon always did it when he was overwhelmed, so it must do something.

After what might have been a few minutes or several hours, he felt his brain shift back into something closer to normal, and sighed in relief. Squeezing Gordon's hand, he looked to the side, embarrassed.

"okay, before you ask, i do not know what that shit was about," it started, voice coming out low and unsure, but Gordon cut it off before it could continue.

"It's okay, Benrey. Really. You don't gotta try and explain it to me if you don't want to," he assured, returning Benrey's squeeze. It made Benrey's heart feel funny.

"yeah," he agreed quietly. "thanks."

Gordon just smiled again in lieu of a response. "Do you want to keep playing, or...?"

"uh. dunno if i wanna play mario kart again," he said with a shrug. Gordon thought about that for a moment, tilting his head to the side.

"How about something less, like, mentally taxing. Animal Crossing sound good?" He rooted around in the couch and pulled out their switches. Benrey grabbed one and started turning it on, and Gordon followed suit.

okay, you can't possibly fuck up Animal Crossing, Benrey thought to himself. Zoning out and staring at the scenery was kinda the whole point.

They played in comfortable silence for a little while, Gordon leaving his audio on and Benrey muting his so the music wouldn't clash. After a few minutes, Gordon perked up. "Hey man, my turnip prices are crazy high right now, if you wanna come over."

"niiiice." Benrey smirked and turned toward his farm. When it had first played the game, it just planted as many turnips as it could to reap the biggest profit, but Gordon would always complain about the "lack of biodiversity" or whatever. Eventually, Benrey relented and planted a few other crops, just so Gordon would stop complaining.

Benrey harvested all his crops at once, figuring he could sell most of them on his island before making the trip over to Gordon's. But as he was harvesting them, he suddenly realized how... quiet it was. How still everything was in the room, and in the game. Sure, Gordon was sitting right next to him, but beyond him? Nothing was happening, anywhere. The living room was perfectly, eerily still. The repetitive animations of Benrey's character were lifeless and boring. The empty minutes dragged on so slowly, second by agonizing second. It made Benrey feel hollow, in an achingly familiar way.

"...were gonna sell those?" Benrey jolted as he registered Gordon talking to him, and realized belatedly that he had sold all his turnips at his own island on autopilot. He scowled, dropping his switch in his lap with a sigh.

"man, i don't..." they said, shaking their head. "shit isn't. working."

"Do — do you, uh... wanna talk about it, maybe? If it would help you?" Gordon asked, hesitantly. He was being so patient with Benrey. Why was he being so patient?

"i mean. there's not... mmm... don't know what i would even say." Benrey kept his eyes focused on his switch, refusing to look up at Gordon.

"Uh..." Gordon stopped to yawn, and Benrey felt guilt pool in his stomach.

"dude. what are you even doing here." His words came out too sharp, and he looked up to shock in Gordon's eyes.

"You — you asked me to stay up with you! Like, twenty minutes ago! Don't you remember?" He frowned, opening his mouth to continue, and Benrey knew he was about to start rambling. He waved his hands around hurriedly.

"no nonono you're right i DID ask you. stupid question." Gordon relaxed a touch, now more confused than anything.

"why are you..." Benrey sighed, picking at the frayed ends of the couch cushion. "why are you still here. dealing with me. you could just go sleep, it's not um. it's not a problem."

"Because I care about you." Gordon's voice came out so quiet, in a tone Benrey had never heard from him before. It seemed to surprise Gordon, too, as he blinked in surprise at the words that had fallen out of him.

"...yeah?" Benrey eventually replied, unsure how else to respond. He turned to look at Gordon, emotion building in his chest. Gordon's face was just as honest as his voice had been, complete with a familiar stubbornness that Benrey knew didn't allow room for argument.

"Of course," he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "It's true, it's — it's always true. Don't you go forgetting that."

Unfortunately for them, hearing that made Benrey start choking up. Their insides had turned to mush, all their emotions mixing together until they couldn't tell up from down. They didn't know what they had expected Gordon to say, but it sure wasn't that.

"thank you." It was simple, too simple for all the things they were feeling, but it was all they could muster up. Emotional honesty was always draining, and he'd already done way more of it than he'd expected tonight.

Gordon smiled warmly at him. "You feeling alright now?" Well, okay, maybe a little more emotional honesty for the road.

"that was… what you said helped. guess i just. uhmm. forget sometimes, yknow?" Gordon nodded sympathetically. Benrey took a deep breath, willing themself to continue. "m still a little..." he made a vague gesture with his hand and shrugged, "but it's. better."

"Yeah. That's good." Gordon shifted back against the couch a bit, leaning against the back. "Wanna watch a show for a bit, chill out for real? No pressure to uh, perform."

Benrey nodded enthusiastically, and when Gordon lifted an arm, they gratefully tucked themself under it. At this point in the night, sleepiness was starting to overtake whatever dark cloud had been fogging up their brain. As Gordon started up a random show, Benrey closed their eyes and let the muted TV noises wash over their brain. It didn't take long for Gordon to start ranting about some character he already hated, and Benrey sighed contentedly as they listened to his voice, leaning further into Gordon's side.

And despite Gordon's fervent disagreement with whatever he was watching, despite the brain fog and distressing thoughts Benrey had been battling all night, the two were quick to fall asleep, nestled in each other's arms.