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Crawling Underneath Your Skin

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Benedick Hobbes was sulking. He didn’t like it. He had hoped that if he tried to make a video, he might be able to work out his thoughts into something resembling coherency but he had been proven utterly wrong. As he lay sprawled on his bed, so many different things fought for attention in his head that he couldn’t even begin to name them all. He was angry with Claudio for humiliating Hero—a genuinely kind human being. But he may have been even angrier at Pedro for making him choose sides. A surge of nausea reminded him how helpless he felt. He had told Beatrice that everything would work out, that this would all be over and they’d be fine. But how could he promise such a thing?

And Beatrice. Interwoven with all these things was Beatrice. Thinking her name even gave him a small shiver down his spine. He hated himself for feeling glad that this whole situation had given them reason to talk without their usual venom. He shifted and felt movement in his bed—his phone was ringing. He glanced at the screen and answered.

“Beatrice.”

“Hey,” she answered with none of her usual lively spirit. She hardly sounded like herself. “Could I come over?”

“Sure,” he said, but she kept talking.

“It’s just that if I spend another moment in this hospital I’m going to go insane. And I don’t want to go home because no one’s there and...I don’t know where else to go.” Her voice trailed away into silence and they were both quiet for a few moments.

“I’ll make some tea,” he said. He thought he heard a half-smile over the phone.

 

He pulled out two mugs as the kettle whistled, filled them and let the tea steep. He didn’t have long to wait before he heard a knock at the door.

“Hey Beatrice.” He handed her a cup of tea. “I wasn’t sure how you take it, so…”

“This is fine,” she said, taking a scalding gulp.

“How’s Hero?” he asked as he took a seat at his desk and she at the end of his bed.

“She’ll be alright. The shock caused a few problems with her lungs but nothing permanent. She should be okay to come home within a day or two.”

“But…?” It sounded like good news to him but the tone of her voice said otherwise.

“Leo has a plan. He’s finally convinced that Claudio was wrong—though, he refuses to believe he outright lied—and he’s filled with this,” she paused as if searching for the right word, “righteous fury on Hero’s behalf.” In her anger he saw a glimmer of the girl he knew and loved.

“Anyway,” she said, “Leo is going to make it known that the shock and grief were too much for her.”

Benedick shook his head. “What do you mean?”

“He’s going to pretend she’s dead to make Claudio feel guilty.”

He was stunned. It sounded like a crazy plan to him and Leo had never struck him as crazy. In fact, he’d always seemed a little...boring.

“But what about Hero?” she said and flopped back on his bed. “He’s just being so selfish, you know?” Benedick nodded but he no longer had his full attention on the conversation. As much as he disliked himself for it, the same thought kept going around and around in his head.

She’s lying on my bed.

How many dreams had he had that started out like that? There was a prickling at the back of his neck, a paranoia, as if she could read his thoughts.

“I love you,” said Beatrice, making him jump, startled.

“Uh...what?” he stuttered.

“Hero. She keeps mumbling in her sleep. ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’ As if she’s dreaming about what happened.” Ben tried to breathe and his pounding heart slowed but his cheeks were still red. Beatrice went on, oblivious to his inner turmoil. “She still loves him. And I want nothing except for her to be happy. But that asshole doesn’t deserve her.” She was quiet and Benedick realized she was crying. Before he could think, he was in motion, sitting next to her on the bed. He sat awkwardly for several seconds, unsure of what to do next, before putting an arm across her shoulders. She was rigid for just a moment before relaxing into him.

Benedick wasn’t sure what to say and there was a good chance that anything he said would be the wrong thing so he said nothing. And so he held her, until the tears were staunched and she moved away from him.

“I don’t like to see you cry,” he said.

“I don’t do it for you,” she said, almost snapped.

“I’m sorry,” he said, soothing, “I wish this hadn’t happened to you or Hero.”

“I wish he was dead,” she hissed fiercely. “I wish he hurt like she hurts.”

“I love you,” he said, surprising even himself. “Isn’t that strange?”

“Don’t Ben,” she sounded sad.

Ben. He felt an almost physical pain at her use of his nickname. He hadn’t realized until now that he’d always secretly loved that she insisted on calling him by his full name.

“I love you, Bea, I do. And you love me too, I know it!”

“It would be easy,” she said, forlornly, “so easy to say I do. And even though it would be the truth, you’d do wrong to believe me.”

“I love you,” he said, reveling in it. “I swear it.”

“Don’t swear. Please.” She seemed close to tears once more. “At least allow me to protect myself by keeping my hopes low.”

“I do, I swear. I swear I love you,” his voice had risen almost to a shout.

“Then prove it if you insist on it.”

“Any way I can.”

“Kill Claudio.”

“Bea…”

“Do this for me, Benedick.”

“And so I shall. If you will it, ‘tis my command. Shall it be quick and clean or slow and torturous, love?” He bit his lip but she smiled, just a little. He traced his thumb along that smiling lower lip.

“Benedick,” she murmured, his name on her tongue like an incantation.

“I like the way you say my name,” he said. They were close now; he could count her freckles, see the colors in her eyes, taste her breath.

He was going to kiss her and he knew it was the worst time and she’d probably push him away and he may even ruin everything and he was going to kiss her. Because she needed him, because he loved her, because they were sitting on his bed and he couldn’t stop thinking about it, because he was pretty sure he’d wanted to since they were fourteen and he had never realized it.

He whispered her name, his lips almost moving against hers, and looked her in the eye, giving her a chance to stop him. Instead, she twisted her arms up around his neck and he let out a small gasp as she fisted her hands in his hair and pulled gently. Without thought, they fit their mouths together. She bit his lip hard enough to cause a shot of pain, and he only wanted her to do it again.
He was very conscious of everything—they were alone, sparks were dancing along his nerves, they were on his bed, the camera was still on (oops) but they were mostly out of its sight.

And Beatrice. Above and under and within everything—Beatrice. The way she was scraping her fingernails against his scalp, the little sounds she was making at the back of her throat, the taste of her tongue, the smell of her—that scent that was more than soap and shampoo and lotion but the scent of a person.

She pulled her hands down along the front of his body and slipped beneath his shirt, her fingertips tracing non-patterns against his skin. She didn’t try to lift the hem (he would have let her), nor did she move her hands lower (he didn’t even think about whether he’d let her) but she left her hands there, dancing and skittering along his skin and sending shockwaves through his bones.

Beatrice pulled away first, chest heaving, eyes shining, her lips pink and swollen and cheeks flushed. It was awkward, all of a sudden. He didn’t know what to say and, apparently, neither did she. So he said the first thing that came to his mind.

“Was that your first kiss?” he asked trying to sound confident.

She rolled her eyes but he thought he saw just the barest hint of a smile. He’d die before he told her that, not counting a few tame occasions of Truth Or Dare and Spin The Bottle when he was younger, it was in fact his.

“Don’t ruin it,” she said.

“I think that means yes,” he grinned. No matter how he loved her he would always love teasing her just as much. He fell back on his bed, crossing his arms under his head. “And was it everything you hoped it would be?” His voice was smug.

“You’re such a dickface,” she said and smacked him with a pillow.

“Don’t worry Bea, you weren’t that bad.” She grabbed another pillow and leapt on top of him. Straddling his hips she grinned down at him evilly.

“I wonder what it’s like to smother someone with a pillow,” she said.

He ignored her. “You look good from this angle, Bea. Though I bet you’d look even better under—” The last word was muffled as she placed the pillow over his face. But her victory was short-lived as he slowly brought his hands to her hips then up to tickle her. She yelped immediately and fell off of him, onto her back. She tried to roll into a ball but it was no use.

“Please!” she gasped. “Stop. Benedick, stop!” He stopped but only after keeping on just long enough to prove that he wasn’t stopping because she’d asked him to.

“I knew you’d look better like this,” he whispered and earned a punch on the arm for it. But he had meant it—just not the way he’d made it sound. Her face was pink from laughing, her eyes shone with her old spiritedness, her hair was sprawled out around her.

She was alive and she was beautiful.

“You’re an ass,” she said and it sounded like “I love you.”

He shrugged and lay next to her, their bodies touching from hip to foot. “Well, at least I’m not a crotchety old emu. If I’m going to be an animal I’d much prefer to be an ass.”

“Ben?”

“Hm?”

“Is your camera on?” she asked, sitting up slowly.

“I must have forgotten to turn it off.”

“And it’s been recording this whole time? You better delete it!”

He grinned at her. “But Beatrice,” he whined, “what on earth will I do with myself when you’re gone?” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

“Benedick Hobbes! You erase that video!” She tried to look serious—she was serious, but she couldn’t help but laugh. Dramatically, Ben dragged himself up off the bed, all legs and arms like a marionette, and shut off the camera.

“I will,” he said, already knowing what she’d say next, and lay back down, “I promise.” And she trusted him. Things were still bad—she felt sorrow for Hero and still wanted to eat Claudio’s heart—but she finally felt as if things would soon be better. And she felt as if she were allowed to smile, allowed to be happy for these few moments.

“So you love me?” she said.

“Eh. Not really.”

“Oh?” she said with a laugh. “I guess I’ll have to tell the girls they were wrong. They insisted you did.”

Ben gave a shrug. “Do you love me?”

“You’re alright, I guess.”

“The boys swore you did.”

“Hero said you were practically sick with love.”

“Pedro said you were near death with heartache.”

“You know,” she said, “I’m only here out of pity. I heard you were wasting away.”

“I will accept your pity. I only wanted to save your life; I heard you were bedridden. Perhaps you’ll continue to be so.”

“Not even good,” she said and shook her head. “Shut up.”

“Make me,” he challenged. She caught his lips with hers and, for once, he was quiet.