Ben bursts out onto the back porch of the flat, a tiny little spot just outside the kitchen, with a small overhang for protection from the elements. That might come in useful— the sky has been growing darker and darker all afternoon, heavy clouds threatening rain.
He ignores the cold and the wind that musses his hair and leaves goosebumps along his arms. He sinks down onto the porch steps, his head in his hands. Sure enough, as soon as he does so, the sky opens, the thrum of wind and rain drowned out by the irrational but persistent worries in his head.
It’s very weird for Ben, being back in Wellington. Bea thought it might be a fun jumping-off point for their trip, and at first, Ben agreed. They’d both missed their friends here, and were overdue for a visit. They’re staying with Meg and Vegan Fred, but today they’ve stopped by Ben’s old flat to visit Kit, Freddie, Peter and Balth. And clearly, he can’t handle being here at all.
It’s been about seven months since Ben left the capital city for good, escaping all the bad memories of his first and only year at Elizabeth University. His old room in the flat is filled with Kitso’s things now. There are no posters on the walls, no signs that Ben has ever lived there before, but that doesn’t change a thing, not for him. All he sees is the place where every day he became more desperately unhappy and unthinkingly cruel— the home of the very worst version of Benedick Hobbes. He never wants to be that person again.
But since seeing his old room, he can’t shake this insidious fear— what if he can’t help it?
He tries his best to breathe, to distract himself by focusing on his physical surroundings, like he’s been learning in therapy. He can see the green grass and the trees down below, feel the cold grey concrete beneath him, hear the pounding of the rain. His mind is clear- except for one persistent worry, causing his heart to jump in his chest.
“Ben?” Beatrice’s voice calls from behind him, the porch door creaking open. “Ben, are you all right?”
He feels her sit down next to him, but doesn’t look around or answer. She doesn’t press him, just raises a hand to rub his back in a comforting circular motion. It’s quiet for a moment as Ben struggles to compose himself.
“You really hate being back here, don’t you?” Beatrice says softly, comprehension dawning. “We can go back to Meg’s, if you need some space-”
“Do you ever wish that you hadn’t stayed with me?” The question comes out before Ben can stop himself. It’s one that haunts him, especially tonight.
Beatrice’s face is only partially illuminated by the porch light, but he can see her forehead wrinkle in confusion as she gives an incredulous little laugh. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Being back here… it just reminds me of all the stupid mistakes I made,” Ben sighs, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the concrete steps. There’s a frightening tickle in his nose and behind his eyes, but he shoves it down, determined not to get emotional again. “I was such a shit person when I was living here. I mean, I really hurt you. I pushed you away. You deserve better than me, you always have.”
“Don’t say that,” Beatrice says sharply. “Not ever, all right? It’s not true. You’re a good person who fucks up sometimes, but so am I. Both of us have owned up to our mistakes and apologized. It’s in the past. And fuck what I supposedly deserve. I want you. I get to decide that.”
“I just don’t ever want you to feel like I’m limiting you, or holding you back,” Ben sighs. “I mean, you could have been in America by now, if it wasn’t for-”
“If it wasn’t for Leo’s cancer,” Bea finishes. “Which is obviously not your fault. My family needed me. That’s why I chose to postpone, but my plan was always to work for a year, then travel for a year, and I haven’t changed that. Since when do I let anyone hold me back?”
She bumps her shoulder gently against his, flashing him a sidelong grin illuminated by the golden yellow porch light. He forces a laugh, but his anxious skepticism just makes it come out hollow, humorless.
“You’re still worrying, aren’t you?” Bea asks, taking his hand to stop it shaking.
“I just… I’m so scared that I’m just going to mess everything up again, Bea. Do you think we’re going to regret this? Do you really think this trip is going to end in tears? Because if you’d rather go it alone-”
“Benedick. Look at me,” Bea orders, and he forces himself to look up. Her eyes are calm, serious. She doesn’t look away for a moment, doesn’t even blink. She’s so beautiful, so strong. He could look at her forever, if he wasn’t so scared of what she’s going to say next.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen on this trip,” Beatrice whispers. “I don’t know how we’re going to feel in a year, how the world will change us. But I know that I want to see it all with you. I’m in love with you, and I want you with me, okay? You’re not a burden, you’re not annoying me, and if you were, I would talk to you about it. Everything’s fine, I promise. I love you.”
Her words send a rush of warmth through Ben that can’t be dampened even by the cold and wet Wellington weather tonight. Beatrice reaches up to cup his face in one hand, running her thumb gently across his cheek. He leans into the touch, closing his eyes.
“I love you too,” is all Ben can manage to say. “I’m so lucky to love you.”
Beatrice kisses his cheek. “Feel better?”
“No,” he sighs. “Not just yet. But I will.”
Several months later…
England, as Ben knows from prior experience, is nearly always rainy. He’s the one who used to live here, he really should’ve thought to bring an umbrella.
Ben and Bea are out walking, exploring the streets of London, when the sky opens up, drenching them instantly. He reaches for her hand, and they start running through the rainstorm towards the closest little café, where they can take shelter and grab a cup of proper English tea.
“This is even worse than Wellington weather, oh my god,” Beatrice gasps, clinging to Ben as they fall into a booth together, shucking off their soaking wet jackets. He laughs, feeling her shivering against him, and rubs her arms to warm her up. Her hair is sticking wetly to her forehead, and her cheeks are so pink with cold and happiness, Ben can’t resist pressing a quick kiss to one of them.
He leans his head on Beatrice’s shoulder, and she squeaks as his own damp hair drips icy rainwater down her shirt. She retaliates by squeezing out the end of her short ponytail- right into his lap. Ben yelps in surprise and proceeds to tickle her sides for revenge. The barista behind the counter raises an eyebrow at their roughhousing, but they don’t pay him any mind.
By the time their tea is ready, Ben and Bea have gotten the silliness mostly out of their systems, and are focusing on sharing their body heat, cuddling close together in their booth by the window and listening to the calming sounds of the rain.
“So,” Ben asks, sipping his tea, feeling it warming him through. “What’s the verdict so far, love? Was this trip the worst mistake of your life, or what?”
He’s kidding, but Beatrice turns to look him in the eyes, perfectly serious. “More like the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m so glad you’re here with me.”
“Me too,” he grins, leaning in close to meet her lips in a kiss that tastes of Earl Grey and raspberry scone and raindrops, as they settle in to wait out the storm.