Like a rose
You give me strength so I stand tall
within this bed of earth
just like a rose
Ben is young and idealistic. That's what everybody tells him. And he is proud of it, really. And when Ben decides to do something and decides to be something he does it all the way.
Everyone thinks that he has written Like a Rose about someone. He doesn't deny it, because he figures it'll make it easier. Actually he didn't write it about anyone. He wrote it as a statement, his vision of what love should be. His idealism when it comes to love all written out in a song. But he just smiles mysteriously when Mark nudges him with an elbow and asks if it has anything to do with that girl he has told them about, the girl he met in Scotland last summer (to be honest he barely remembers her name).
Paul laughs in his usual loud manner, and calls the song pathetically romantic and oh, so appropriate for the band.
Christian doesn't say anything. He just looks at Ben, with a slight smile on his face. Sometimes he makes Ben nervous, because he never knows where to place him. What he really means. The other guys are so easily figured out. They never hide what they mean, what they really want to say, but Christian does. Ben wonders if it has anything to do with being Norwegian. Or if Christian is just used to treat his life as a secret.
After they have finished recording the song Ben is filled with energy, ridiculously proud over it, his song. Everybody is telling him how great the song is and how great he is, but the one that surprises him the most is when Christian turns to him when they pass each other in the hall and puts a hand on his shoulder.
"It's a good song, Ben. It's how love should be."
Ben forgets how to speak just long enough for Christian to be out of hearing range when he mutters: "Exactly."
One in love
And all we have to do now
is show one another
We all need each other,
to live as one in love
Ben and Paul are drunk beyond belief. They're currently in some hotel room somewhere in Asia, although Ben is pretty sure that he's too drunk to know where exactly. Suddenly "We are the world" bolts out of the stereo and Paul stands beside it looking terribly smug.
"We need to have a "We are the world" song on our record! And we need to write it! We are the idealistic youth in this band, Ben. It's our destiny to write an inspirational ballad."
Ben grins. "You're not youth. You're old!"
Paul laughs and throws himself at Ben. "I'm not old! Age is just a matter of something which I've forgotten, but that doesn't matter because it all comes down to if your brain is old. Like my brain is young, but Christian's and Mark's brains are old. Old and boring and sober."
A snicker coming from the kitchen makes it obvious that the old and boring and sober people are at least not deaf.
"But yes, song!" Paul stands up too quickly and falls back down again. "Ben, help!"
Ben laughs at how pathetic they both are, not really capable of standing up straight. "Mark, Christian! Help, please!"
The snickering from the kitchen turns into downright laughter now and Paul joins the shouting: "Come on you poofters! Stop flirting and get us up of this floor!"
Ben smacks Paul at the arm. "Paul, you can't call people poofters! It's rude!"
Paul gets a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. "But is it rude when it's true?"
Ben suddenly feels painfully sober. "What do you mean true?"
"How can you not know? Mark is obviously not picky at the gender stuff and Christian is just plain out extremely gay."
"No, he isn't."
"Yes, I am." And suddenly there he is, standing right behind him.
Ben wonders if his legs would carry him long enough to get him the hell out of here, but he doubts it. So instead he mutters: "Sorry. I didn't know."
Christian hauls him up and puts him down on the sofa, but lets his hand linger on his shoulder. "It's ok. I thought you knew, if not I would have told you."
"I – I don't think I realised. I should have..." Of course he should have. Come to think of it Christian had never discussed girls with them. Never mentioned a girlfriend. Not even a potential girlfriend. Well, of course he had in interviews, but they all did that, whether it was true or not. He should have seen it before.
"Don't beat yourself up over it," Christian says.
"I'm not –" Ben says, before Christian stops him.
"Yes, you are. It's ok, I swear. I wouldn't say so if it weren't. Now, you should start your inspirational ballad with Paul. I'm looking forward to hear it when it's done. Although I think Paul might need some waking up before you'll write anything at all." He smiles and walks back into the kitchen.
Ben takes one look at Paul who is currently snoring down on the floor, gets up and turns on the small keyboard in the corner. He starts out with some random standard chords. Softly, but obviously loud enough to wake Paul up, because he shouts something from down on the floor. "We all need each other, to live as one in love! That's our chorus!"
Ben finds a sheet of paper, writes it down and the next morning, although being horribly hung over, they have the first draft of the song ready. Mark loves it and Christian nods in agreement and smiles his crooked, mysterious smile and even though Ben feels as if he has come a long way when it comes to figuring out stuff he still can't figure out why there are butterflies in his stomach.
I'll take the tears
Now I realize that you're no longer mine
But I'm hoping that the pain will ease in time
Although you're leaving, I won't say goodbye
Because I know you're here with me inside
Susan breaks up with him while they're still on tour. Ben is heartbroken and goes straight from the concert to the hotel they're staying in. He locks himself inside his room and pretends not to hear it when the others are shouting to him.
Paul calls him childish and Mark tells Paul to shut up. But after a while they stop talking and Ben can only assume that they have gone to bed.
The room is dark and the dark almost seems even darker now that he is alone. There is a soft knock on the door and he hears Christian calling his name on the other side.
"Ben. Ben, would you please open the door? The others have fallen to sleep, it's just me. Please, open?"
And Ben gets up and walks towards the door with slow movements. He waits a bit before opening it, in case he suddenly decides to remain in the room alone, but he doesn't, so he lets Christian in.
Christian doesn't say anything the first few seconds and Ben appreciates the effort. But in the end it's too good to last.
"Do you want to talk?"
Ben shakes his head.
"Well, you will have to come out of this room eventually. Even though Paul can be an annoying asshole and Mark is almost too caring. They only want you to be happy, you know. They'd never do anything to hurt you. None of us would."
Ben only nods and tries not to look at Christian who keeps talking.
"I know what it's like to have a broken heart. It hurts, it's true, but after a while you learn to cope with the pain, and before you know it you won't even remember it. That might seem as a weak comfort now, but trust me, it does get better."
Ben nods again and feels like a girl when the tears come pressing on. Christian must have noticed because he wraps his arms around him. Ben can feel Christian's shoulder getting wet, but Christian doesn't say anything, so Ben assumes that it's ok.
They sit there for a while in silence. Ben enveloped by Christian's arms and no one even tries to move. Ben allows himself to really let the sorrow fill him, just for a while.
After what seems like half an eternity Christian lets go of him.
"I'm going to bed now, okay? You know where to find me if you need me. And you know, use the feelings for a song or something. Channel your sorrow into creativity, as they say. Who knows, it might work."
Ben nods and dries his tears.
Christian smiles and kisses him softly on the cheek, before going. Ben finds a sheet of paper and starts writing.
Cherish this love
It's funny how things turn around
One day I am lost
Then I'm found
Ben has been seeing Kathy for a little over four months when it suddenly hits him. He never saw it coming, but thinking back he realises that he probably should have. To everyone, but him (of course, because by now he would certainly be a candidate for the most oblivious person ever), it had been painfully obvious for ages now. But he hadn't realised. He hadn't realised that it was unusual for someone to let their eyes linger on another person for as long as he did. He hadn't realised that it was unusual to dream about someone who was just a friend as much as he did. So that's why it comes as a surprise to him when he feels a jolt of something going through his body when he sees Christian together with that guy and realises that it is jealousy. Downright jealousy.
Christian and that guy (whose name is Adrian, but Ben makes a point of not remembering his name) has been kind of dating for over a month and that's far too long. Ben never minded when it was just short flings, and it has always been short flings before, so maybe that's why this is the first time he's felt this way. And now that guy is everywhere, because obviously he doesn't have a life himself. All he ever does is hang around Christian and make Ben's life miserable.
It's actually Mark who makes him see the obvious for the first time. They're sitting outside the studio and Ben's pretending hard not to be bloody angry that he is here today as well.
They've been silent for quite a while when Mark says: "So, how's Kathy? Haven't seen her around for quite a while."
"Who?" Ben replies without thinking first, which is never a good thing when it comes to him.
"You know, Kathy, your girlfriend?"
"Of course. She's – she's fine, I think." Ben really has no idea since the last time they met, which was over a week ago, he tried to talk as little as possible and make out as much as possible, to get his mind away from – other things.
"Right..." Mark doesn't seem entirely convinced.
"You know, if you have such a problem with Adrian being around, you really should talk to Christian about it."
Ben's breath hitches, but he's pretty sure Mark doesn't notice. "I don't have a problem with him."
"Yes, you do. Whenever he is around you are in a shitty mood, and listen to yourself! You can't even say his name!"
"Say it then," Mark says with that annoying challenging glint in his eyes.
"No – why – this is stupid!" Ben is close to shouting and he really doesn't care anymore.
Mark stares at him for a second and then says: "You know what, it's better breaking up with her than treating her like this. And for God's sake, talk to Christian, because you two obviously need to sort some things out."
And Mark's right, of course he's right.
Ben spends one day deciding and one day preparing a break-up speech, because he did like her, a lot, or at least enough to give her a proper reason for why he can't be with her. He even goes as far as writing the main points down, just in case he should forget them. And then he calls her.
They agree to meet later that evening, and Ben can hear that she already knows what he's going to say.
When he finally does say it, that they have to break up because this isn't working and there are tours and recordings to finish and –
"Ben, don't. That's not what this is about, not at all." She gives him a sad smile, takes a deep breath and says: "It's been him all along, hasn't it?"
When he can't seem to find a logical reaction and everything in his head turns blurry she pats his hand and says: "It's been a good couple of months, but yeah, this is long overdue. So, now you go do what you gotta do. Good luck." She gives him another sad smile and walks out, leaving him dumbstruck.
"Christian, we need to talk."
Christian turns around from the keyboard. They're alone in the studio, everyone else has probably gone home, because it's late, but Ben hasn't been paying attention to anyone today apart from Christian, so he doesn't really know.
What he does know is that that guy, Adrian, didn't come by today either. Hasn't been around the last week, actually. Christian hasn't said anything, but Ben has heard from reliable sources (that would be Paul, who somehow knows everything about everyone) that there was a fight which led to no more Adrian and Christian. He wouldn't give any details, but Ben could have sworn that he saw a mischievous spark dancing around in Paul's eyes.
But now they're here, alone in the studio. Christian gets up from the chair and puts on a worried frown.
Ben's knees suddenly goes weak and he contemplates sitting down, but decides against it. A boy's gotta do what a boy's gotta do.
"Christian – I..." The words lock themselves up. He tries again. "I...
Christian gives him a questioning look.
And that's when Ben does the craziest thing he has ever done in his entire life. He kisses him. Just like that. And then he just stands there, waiting for a reaction. Any kind of reaction.
He gets the best he could possibly get, because Christian's face breaks into a smile, that beautiful, beautiful smile, and with a sigh lets out a "finally". And then he kisses him back.
One week later Cherish this Love is finished.
Follow the River
It's been three years since a1. It's been three years since they found out that they had probably gone as far as they could and that now was the time to let go and say goodbye. Anyway, the band wasn't the same without Paul. a1 was a quartet, had always been a quartet. A trio simply didn't work. Not for them. And they all needed a break, from the music and from each other.
At least that's what Ben thought. It had taken him approximately three days from coming home until he ordered plane tickets to Norway. When he saw Christian standing there on the airport one week later he was pretty sure that he had never loved him more.
He had whispered to Christian, while they were lying in the dark later that night, with legs tangled up in each other and fingers entwined: "I can say goodbye to the band, but I can never say goodbye to you."
When Christian kissed him and held him like he was afraid he would disappear he knew that he felt the same.
And now it had been three years. Ben continued his life in England and Christian continued his life in Norway. To the press and to the outer world they only saw each other once a year, to a birthday party, or to a Christmas party. They each found someone to pass off as their girlfriend, someone to bring along to public appearances, because at least in Christian's case it was starting to seem a little suspect that he had never had a girlfriend. Mark had called it a little drastic when Ben discussed it with him the first time, but Ben had shrugged and said: "I know what's true. It doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks." And he means that.
When he was younger he would probably have refused and instead arranged his own Pride Parade, but he's older now, and they both have a career to take care of. They're still doing what they both love, and had they lived together they still wouldn't have been able to see each other much, because they're both horribly busy, all the time. Maybe that's why this that they have now works so well. Because when they first do see each other it's just them. All of their friends and family knows full well that when either of them is visiting the other then there is no point in even trying to get in contact. Those days they live in their own bubble. They spend the days they have in bed, listening to music and finally feeling whole.
And on this day, three years after the end, they finally do what they haven't done since a1. They write a song.
Ben wakes up to an empty bed. He can hear Christian rumbling about in the bathroom and he has to smile, because just being here with him makes him deliriously happy, in a way he didn't know he could be four years ago. The rain is falling outside, the gentle rain that he swears only exists in Norway. He gets up and walks over to the window. There's a melody playing in his head and he hums quietly as he watches the rain. He barely even hears Christian coming back in.
Christian slides his arms around Ben's waist and hooks his head over Ben's shoulder.
"What're you singing?"
Ben smiles and turns towards him. "I don't know," he says and runs his hands through Christian's hair. "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that it's going to be our song."
Outside the rain falls, but when he looks into his eyes and slowly, softly kisses him with all the love he has he knows that this is it. This is forever.
Follow the river,
Into these eyes of mine.
I'll be yours for all time.