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the world is too quiet without you nearby

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     Ben’s things have all mostly been unpacked- if by unpacked, one means “strewn haphazardly around the room”. It’s the first night in his new room, in his new flat. He has his own flat!

Well, to be fair, Freddie did sign the lease.

But it’s just as much Ben’s flat as it is Freddie’s, as it is Balthazar’s, as it is Pedro’s. They’ve actually done it. They’ve moved out, moved up, become proper adults. He’s almost sort of glad he missed out on a space in the dorms, now. Instead of rooming with a stranger, he gets to live with some of his best friends- and besides, the flat has the one thing dorming wouldn’t have. It’s a tiny bath, but at least it’s a bath. It would have been so boring being stuck with only a shower for the foreseeable future.

He’s so tired he almost wants to go curl up in the tub right now- only he’s pretty sure he can hear the water running, so someone’s beaten him to it. His bed’s probably more comfortable anyway, so he sinks onto the already-wrinkled comforter and closes his eyes.

He spent the afternoon putting up posters on the walls. He couldn’t handle the emptiness of those walls, staring at him, pressing in on him- he can’t imagine a lonelier fate than empty walls. They remind him of another empty room, the one he’d had when he first moved to Auckland as a kid, the one that was supposed to be a clean slate for him. Back then, like now, everyone had expected him to be more excited about that. To slide right into a new life without complaint, to make the best of it- it should be easy. There should be nothing to be afraid of… and yet…

There’s still an awful lot of blank space in this room, stark white and menacing, a reminder of the newness of it all- but he has plenty of stuff to stick up to fill it, to cover it with faces and pictures and colors until the empty room feels full enough that he almost forgets to be lonely. That’s tomorrow’s job.

He just wishes he had someone, anyone to talk to. He’ll have to round his flatmates up and get them to come with him in search of dinner later tonight. That should be fun, exploring new places, the four of them together.

Ben’s eyes flicker open and, seeing the Philosopher’s Stone movie poster with the turrets and towers of Hogwarts staring back at him from the wall, he almost feels like he’s home. He almost feels like nothing’s changed.

Of course, everything is different now.

 

        “There’s no way to tell you, how much I like you…” Beatrice’s voice fills the quiet room, ringing out from his phone. Ben still has the song set as his ringtone, and hearing it sends chills along his spine. She wrote those words for him. He can’t believe, sometimes, that she really feels so strongly. That she really loves him that much.

She’d seemed eager enough to part ways at first, when he told her he was leaving…

 

“You should do what you want to do, what will make you happy. We can’t make these decisions based on each other, Ben, we’ve talked about this…” Beatrice sighs, running her fingers up and down along his upper arm, trying to sound certain and reassuring.

Ben doesn’t feel so reassured.  “So you really aren’t mad?”

“Of course not, hey. I’m happy for you.” She closes her eyes, and her grip on his arms seems to tighten for just a moment. She takes a deep breath in, exhales, then blinks, before slowly looking back up at him and smiling. “This is a really good thing.”

“I kind of… think so too,” he admits softly, starting to hope, but he still can’t quite look her in the eyes. “Maybe… maybe you can come visit me sometime?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I’ll be busy with work, you’ll be busy with school…” she’s laughing, but she can’t disguise the serious undertone to her voice. They both know this won’t be easy.

“You’re certainly eager to get rid of me,” Ben teases, pushing back against this tension between them. He forces a smile for her benefit, and she smirks, genuine.

“Well, it’s not my fault you’re getting too close to uncovering my secret identity,” Beatrice says matter-of-factly, ducking out from where his arm was just wrapped around her, and spinning away so the only connection between them is their intertwined hands. Putting space between them, already.

Ben pretends to consider this. “Let me guess… Catwoman?”

“Shut up.” Beatrice drops his hand and rolls her eyes. “You’re only saying that because that would make you Batman.”

“Oh, I am so Batman, and you’re definitely Catwoman, this explains everything! Now you can’t get rid of me, I know too much!” Ben says dramatically, playing the part, maintaining the distance in case he has to run for it. Not that he’d actually ever want to try. Not with her.

“I don’t think that’s how that works-”

Too much, Beatrice. And there’s no way you can make me forget-” He grins as she finally corners him, a gleam in her eye.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure there’s a way…” she says, and she closes the distance at last, and there are no more words for a while.

“Hmm, what were we talking about again?” He asks a little later, dazed, bruised-lipped, his worries entirely out of mind. “I feel like I’ve just forgotten something very important…”

Beatrice smirks, knowing she’s won this round.

“Less talking, more snogging. Something tells me we have some future lost time to start making up for.”

 

 Okay, so maybe he is worrying for nothing. Maybe some things don’t have to be so different after all.

 

           “Hey,” she says, when he picks up the phone. “So, tell me! How’s Wellington? How’s the flat? I want to hear everything!”

“There’s not that much to tell, yet. I’m all moved in, Freddie’s already on draft three of a flat chore chart, Balthazar’s still sorting all his ukuleles…” Ben knows he’s rambling, but he almost can’t help it, he just has so much nervous energy. To her credit, Beatrice doesn’t sound like she minds at all. She listens, chiming in occasionally, until he’s all talked out, and only then takes her turn to complain about her new job and to fill him in on the tryouts Leo’s holding to replace the now-graduated members of the old football team. It feels weird, thinking about that. Like everything and everyone back home is slowly moving on, without him.

He tries not to think about the last time he left a home and it moved on without him, leaving him alone.

“I hope you don’t miss me too much,” Beatrice teases, and Ben can’t admit the truth, can’t let her or anyone else know how scared he is, how much missing people can feel like losing them.

“’Course not,” he says instead. “I’ve got Floyd, anyway.”

(Who is sitting on top of Ben’s dresser in his usual place of honor, by the way.)

“Well, I don’t miss you either,” Beatrice shoots back, sarcastic. “I’m far too busy for that sappy emotional stuff, you know me.”

“I do. Hey, call me again tomorrow? Maybe we can try out Skype this time- in case you do ever suddenly decide you have time for sappy emotional stuff?”

“Yeah, okay,” Beatrice says, and her voice is softer, almost sad. “You never know.”

“I love you,” he tells her, on impulse, hating that sadness, wanting only to make it go away.

“I love you too. Good luck tomorrow!”

“Oh, God,” he sighs, running a hand through his hair.

A few hours ago, he was filled with excitement, talking Freddie’s ear off about his Renaissance Lit class and how Christopher Marlowe would almost definitely be on the syllabus, and maybe he would meet some more Marlowe aficionados he could talk to about the homework.

Now, at the thought of those unknown classrooms and alarming syllabi and strange faces, there’s a knot in his stomach that’s far from excitement. It’s dread.

“Hey, you’ll be great. It’s only the first day, and if it goes too badly, you’ll have me to complain to later,” Beatrice says, correctly interpreting his momentary silence.

“You’re probably right,” Ben admits.

Beatrice sees her chance and gleefully takes it. “I’m always right.”

Yeah, he thinks. I hope so.