' Cross over and turn
Feel the spot don't let it burn
We all want we all yearn
Be soft don't be stern
Was not supposed to make you cry
I sang the words I meant
I sang' - Song Link
Benny found himself sitting with Beth after her shows from that evening, they didn’t speak of much. Some nights they didn’t speak at all, they just sat smoking and playing chess as if it were the most natural thing.
He found, somehow, comfort in Beth.
He found it comforting to not have to speak, to not have to perform. To just sit and be silent. There was comfort in unsaid words. This habit went on for two and a half months when Beth broke the silence first between them one day.
“I didn’t understand death is so permanent,” she said, her eyes always looked everywhere but his. He never forced her to look at him, Benny understood that sometimes it was easier to look away and talk.
“How do you mean?”
“When stars die, they fall. Their light lingers even though they are dead. They continue on, but with humans… once they are dead. That’s it. There’s no lingering light.”
Benny didn’t answer straight away, cleaning his pipe out and filling it with tobacco.
“I don’t believe people just die. I think no person is truly themselves; we carry bits and pieces of every person we've ever met with us. We carry some sort of trait from every person we meet. How we talk, how we gesture, how we look, these things all have been influenced by someone, so they never die. We carry their hearts.”
“Whose heart do you carry?”
“My grandmother. Grandmother Hume. She’s in everything I do, she died years ago. But I know I carry her with me.”
Beth shifted, stretching her legs out in front of her and looking at her fingers. “I carry… Her name was Alma. I carry her with me.”
“Alma is a lovely name.”
“....Thank you for telling me.” Benny said quietly
“Humans, you live such short lives. You burn bright and it’s almost as if your burning kills you,” she mused. “What is eighty years to someone who is alive for a thousand? It’s a blink. It’s a whisper in the breeze.”
“Sometimes, all it takes is a second to change someone’s life,” Benny whispered back. He didn’t doubt Beth now. He knew she was a star. He saw how she was reborn at night, and how there were galaxies in her eyes and constellations on her skin.
Like an astronomer, he wanted to learn every one. He wanted to make a map of her and learn it by heart to recall with touch alone.
Benny was, sadly, falling in love with her.
He had told himself not too, he had fought with himself for hours and hours to not give in. Though it was the night he found Beth asleep with Apollo in the pen that he knew his heart was softening to her.
Did she feel the same? Benny didn’t know. He wouldn’t ask either, he didn’t want to destroy what fragile bond they had created.
“You and Borgov get along well,” Benny smiled, glancing at the chessboard between them and moving. Beth hummed, moving her piece and then looking at him.
“Vasily is a very lovely man.”
“He never speaks.”
“That’s what makes him lovely,” she laughed. Benny found himself laughing too, shaking his head.
“You American men, always talking and boasting and trying to be the bigger person. Vasily knows who he is, he knows what he’s good at. And that’s it.”
“What is he good at?”
“Chess, much better than you. Check mate,” Beth smiled, sitting back. Benny paused, looking at the board, trying to study it and then huffing.
“Well, we can’t all be Vasily Borgov, can we?”
“No,” she answered. “But we can give a good game of chess. Where you even trying?”
“I have seen Apollo take shits more magnificent than that game.”
“I never knew you to be so… cruel,” Benny huffed, but he could feel his lips curving into a smile.
“You’ve called me cruel twice.”
“No word explains it better. You’re a cruel woman, Beth Harmon. You’ll be the death of me.”
“Oh Benny, of course I will,” she answered. “And it's your own fault for letting me do so.”
Benny looked at her, not taking his eyes away. Yes, he thought. She would most definitely be the death of him, and he would most willingly let her.
His heart was only ever hers to break.
It was in Paris when Beth seemed to get sick. Benny watched her like a hawk, but she had a fever. Too much performing and not a good enough diet. She had wrecked herself for a new routine, a performance on the tightrope. She spent hours upon hours mastering it, not eating until she had it perfected.
Then she had collapsed one morning as she was grooming Athena and Benny had never moved as fast in his life. The horses thankfully had been trained if someone fell they were to remain perfectly still until the person was taken away. He thanked Peter for that, because it was a tight pen and very easy to trample on a person.
The show however still had to go on. Benny remained by Beth's side, sitting in the unending silence. He took to reading to her, holding the book Granny Hume had given him and reading her stories. The story of Yvaine and Tristian, the story of Achilles and Patroclus, the story of Oisin and Niamh.
He had remembered having a fever once before. It was a strange place of knowing people were talking to you but not being able to respond. Benny had found comfort in his granny’s stories and so he did the same for Beth. He read until he fell asleep in the chair.
One night when he was watching Beth, she grabbed his hand. Her grip was like an iron vice, but Benny didn’t pry his away. He kept holding it. He kept reading.
When Townes came in with opium, he sent him away. Benny refused to let her grow more reliant on it, he refused to put her through that. He sat by her side the entire time.
Benny had dozed off, his hat pulled over his eyes and his legs outstretched before him when Beth woke. Her hair stuck to her forehead but her eyes finally brightened.
“Benny,” she said quietly. Her voice sounded like sandpaper, so raw. He rubbed his face, taking his hat off and running his fingers through his hair.
There was silence between them, a breath.
“Benny, I want to go home.”
“I know,” he whispered. He moved to the edge of the bed to sit closer to her, taking a deep breath. Beth pressed her head to his shoulder, he could feel the dampness from her sweat. He could still feel the heat radiating off her.
“I think I am dying here.”
Benny felt his chest constricting. It was only natural that she would die here, in a place she didn’t belong. Yet, selfishly he wanted her to stay.
“I think you are too,” he managed to get out. It took every strength to remain composed.
“You want me to stay.”
“We all want you to stay.”
“You want me to stay the most,” she corrected.
Benny rubbed his chin, how long had they spent like this? Four months? Three? She had said it herself, eighty years was a blink to someone who lived for a thousand.
Somehow, though. These months he had spent with Beth felt like all the years of suffering were for something. He swallowed, taking a deep breath.
“I won’t put what I want above what you need.”
“You are a good man.”
Benny bit his lip. Breathing suddenly seemed so forgien. Was it not only yesterday she called him a bad man for holding her hand as she threw up? And now he was good?
Benny had never thought himself a good man. He thought himself only a man. Only a person. He was not a god, he was not a hero. He was not a star. Now here he was, in love with one.
“Don’t start saying things you’ll regret later, don’t give me hope.”
“I won’t give you hope Benny. I couldn’t give you hope only to leave,” she breathed.
Despite himself, Benny found himself laughing. It was painful, but he couldn’t help but laugh, shaking his head. “Fucking granny Hume.”
“A story she told me when I was younger. Someone will always leave first, that’s why love wasn’t real. Someone always will have to leave first.”
Beth didn’t react, until she laughed. He never had heard a sound so sweet as her laugh. A sound so glorious. She laughed.
“I am sad I never met her.”
“I’m not,” he laughed, shaking his head. Then he felt it, a single tear slipping away. He quickly wiped it away before it even reached his chin. Beth looked at him, reaching up to touch his hand with hers.
“Why do you cry?” she asked softly.
“I don’t know,” he whispered back. The first time, the damned first time he had said it since the chicken. Benny wanted to scream into the night and let his rage burn through this wretched body that was his.
“I think you do. I think you do know, you just don’t want to admit it.”
“Love is a terrible thing.”
“Love is a cruel game,” Beth corrected. “I don’t think anyone can truly master it until its over. Life would be simply if love was like chess.”
“I don’t think so,” he chuckled. “Not many people can learn chess.”
“Exactly, and not many people can learn love either.”
Benny looked out the window, the moon breaking the darkness of the sky. A silver light amidst a sea of black.
“You truly want to go home?” He whispered.
“I am sorry.”
“Don’t apologise,” he sighed. “It’s only fair. I think if I had a home, I would like to return to it.”
“You always can.”
“No, not without Granny. Not to her empty house. It would feel like I was intruding.”
Beth nodded, her head still pressed against his shoulder.
“You’re awfully slow,” she muttered.
“When will you kiss me?”
“I have a strict no kissing policy; no kissing. Absolutely none-”
Beth Harmons lips were upon him. There was exactly no time in Benny Watts' life when he had been rendered speechless but he would happily let this be the first.
Because Beth was kissing him.
And it was completely wrong; there was too much teeth and noses clashing. But somehow it felt as though it were the most perfect kiss he had ever had.
Because it was Beth. And she held his heart in his hands and he would let her destroy him every waking moment because it was her .
He drew back, a little breathless and her equally so.
“Was that bad?” she asked.
“No, it was perfect,” he answered, leaning down to kiss her once more. And then again. Beth felt like coming home. She felt like peace. She felt like every star that guided him home, and she felt safe.
He kissed her again, pressing his head to hers and holding her chin between his fingers. He kissed her until she was breathless. Until he forgot that she was a star, until he forgot she was going to leave.
That night, Benny learned every constellation on her skin and burned it into his memory. Never to forget it. They held each other in the morning, as the sun made the room turn orange and pink and red. Their shadows thrown onto the walls surronding each other.
"I think I must have loved you before," Benny whispered. "Because your kiss felt like home."
"I think so too," Beth admitted. "I think we were something in a life before this one. Who would we have been?"
"Beth Harmon and Benny Watts, the world champions of chess. We made the chess world the thing of drama and theatre."
Beth snorted, shaking her head. "This is why you play chess so bad. You think it's dramatic."
"Ah, but isn't everything for the dramatics?"
She answered him with a kiss.
There was a certain kind of intimacy found after having someone you had been falling in love with for months. Every little touch, every little glance. They all seemed to feel deeper and more intimate.
They kept it hidden. A stolen touch; a brush of fingers as they groomed the horses, a touch of heads when they had to duck down to avoid long hanging wires and beams. Each one, Benny tucked away into his heart. He didn’t want the world to find this piece of joy he had found for it to be destroyed.
That was until he went into his trailer and Townes was sat at his desk, holding the book of stories. Benny felt his heart twinge.
“You love stories, Benny. Right?”
“Stories aren’t real.”
“My granny said something similar,” Benny answered, holding up his brandy bottle in a silent offer but Townes shook his head.
“Your granny was a clever woman then. See, the stories always tell us the boy ends up with the girl. The knight and the princess. That’s not how real life works.”
“Have you been possessed by my grandmother?”
Townes sighed, looking out the window. Beth was practising, Annette sat by the sidelines with water and oranges to keep her hydrated.
“We are both from the same world, Benny. We are both people raised by shitty people, in the gutter. We both creatures of the shadows, and love is not something we are destined to have.”
“Of course I know. I know everything. I know that you told her you’ll bring her home. I know you told her you love her and she said it back. If we have no Beth, we have no show. And then, we’ve to go back to the shadows.”
Benny gripped his drink. He always had had a keen sense of knowing when he was in danger, and he could feel his stomach twisting in warning.
He took a deep breath, his magic ready to be let loose.
“We need her.”
“You can’t keep her caged here like some bird, you cannot keep her under lock and key to suit your means.”
“It’s not on my means that I do this. You are fueling her fantasy. Where will she go? Where is home? Alma is dead. Beth has no home. She has no life. She has nothing, but she has us. And you want to send her back to that.”
“She is a star-”
“Do you understand how ridiclous you sound? Do you? Do you hear yourself?” Townes asked, his tone sharp. Perhaps the sharpest Benny had ever heard it.
Benny blew out a breath, flexing his knuckles and rolling his shoulders.
“You’ve to let her go,” Benny murmured.
“No. I am helping.”
“You are killing her.”
Townes sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking at Benny.
“I’m sorry, Benny.”
“Because I was rather fond of you, but I can’t have you buying into her fantasies.”
Benny didn’t fully process what was going to happen until it was done. The world was black the minute his head hit the floor.