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With Every Single Beat of My Heart

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Ever since they met in rehearsal for the first time, after witnessing what the other man was like, Benjamin Hardy and Joseph Mazzello had clicked completely. They got on with Gwil and Rami as well, and everyone else in the cast and crew of Bohemian Rhapsody, but their personalities in particular were so different and their interests and fanaticism ran opposite ways (Joe loves the Backstreet Boys and Ben dies for 'NSYNC, for example) so one wouldn't expect them to get on. But even with Ben's quiet nature as opposed to Joe's exuberance and buoyancy, they hit it off, started flirting and being affectionate, and they have not stopped.

It has been more than a year since the film wrapped, and the boys continue to blow up Instagram with photos of each other and endless comments. Gwilym Lee gets jealous of Ben and Joe's pictures together of course, citing them as being "obscenely lovey-dovey" and demanding that they both pay attention to him and include him in the shenanigans; meanwhile Rami fondly shakes his head, recording and enjoying the antics with Lucy from behind the camera (or the phone as 'twere).

They all get on so consistently well. It simply becomes obvious to everyone else that a different sort of fondness exists between Joe and Ben. Even if it's only in jest, as Gwil grouses "They've got to stop this flirting if they're going to keep right on leaving me out of it! I don't like anyone having fun without me."

"Ah Gwilly, you know we love you," Joe speaks with an impish grin when they're all together "... clearly Ben just loves me a little more."

"Can you blame me though, mate?" Ben asks, his round cheeks crinkling mirthfully as he slings an arm around Joe's shoulders, pulling him close. "He's certainly grown on me."

"Like a sist, or a tumor," Gwil teases. "Just sucking the life away."

Rami makes a face. "Well that analogy was rather disgusting."

"And absoLUTELY untrue!" Joe clutches his chest in dramatic horror. "I'd never want to suck Benny's life away, just be a part of it."

Ben turns to him with a grin: "No bones about it, mate--you are."

Gwil rolls his eyes. "This is almost as ridiculous as you and Joe consistently commenting on how you were in The Pacific together, Rami," he murmurs.

Rami smiles at him. "Oh, poor Gwil. But this is just their early days," Rami's large grey eyes catch and hold Gwil's light ones significantly. "... Imagine the two of them in, oh, fifteen years."

"Oh my god," Gwil groans, dragging his hand across his dark facial hair in half-real terror. "--If they've still got this tension going on then, I don't think I'll be able to bear it." He glances over at Ben and Joe who are now giggling over something on Joe's phone, heads tipped together and hands layered atop each other's. Joe says something which makes Ben shove him back and laugh.

Rami watches them with a weary, indulging smile, like a wise old man who's seen it all. Gwil sometimes forgets how old Rami Malek actually is. He seems to know so much sometimes, and others nothing at all. Can't get him to create a proper Insta story to save his life, and he still writes actual letters via snail mail. But he understands people incredibly well. "They'll figure things out," he reassures Gwil. "They're gonna need our help though, of course."

"Of course." Gwil nods, wrapping an arm around the shorter man and drawing him in. "I'm glad I have you to help me navigate these shenanigans, Rami."

Leaning into his tall friend and giving him a bracing pat, Malek purses his lips over a slowly-widening smile. "Me too. Oh, you poor guy," he chuckles as they continue to watch Ben and Joe.

Gwilym's nod grows ferocious. "Right? This is honestly painful." He shoots a smile back at Rami.

"What's painful?" Joe inquires now, Ben looking at them over his shoulder. Mazzello's eyes have grown squinty as he studies Rami and Gwil. "What are you guys talking about?"

"You two," Rami returns breezily.

"Oh, so it's painful for ya to witness true love, huh?" Joe teases. Ben bites his lip and ducks his head as the other gestures between the two men before taking Hardy's hand, linking their fingers together and holding their hands up. "You're just jealous of this magic."

Gwil snd Rami share a glance. "It's a kind of magic, you're right about that," Rami says.

Gwil throws up his hands "I can't believe you can use JOE AND BEN in order to pull ahead in the game, damn Rami!" Great. Yup. "Cheers, mates." His light blue eyes twinkle as they catch Ben's in particular.

"Gotta play the game," Joe cracks, piling on another Queen song reference. Gwilym groans.

Ben scratches at his hair, tugs on his earlobe a bit, earring flashing as he smacks his lips. He glances down at his and Joe's still-entwined hands, and the other man grins, eyes crinkling at the outer edges in utterly contagious mirth.

***

Ben has no idea how any of this got started. He sometimes wonders if it happened simply because of how giggly and chummy Roger Taylor and John Deacon were--since he and Joe were playing them it made sense (and it was great) that art imitated life, that they'd gotten on personally as well as professionally for the good of the film. To create a true sense of authenticity, like.

And then their friendship just--exploded. Whenever Ben did press junkets, which was less often than all the others because of union rules (and he'd gotten pulled for and cast in a serial, for which the mick has been taken out of him mercilessly) he is relieved whenever his interview partner is Joe. Honestly he finds it rather strange; he adores all of the lads--Rami's is such a genuine, intelligent, humble, calming presence. He and Gwil get on famously like a house afire, they hold hands and kiss each other's cheeks and have excellent conversations (if Gwil doesn't reference Shakespeare at least once it's not a legitimate talk, Ben has learned).

But with Joe... it is odd, he's the least like Ben in personality, probably; excitable and screechy where Ben is quiet, sedate. Almost shy. But it's during interviews when he is with Joe that Ben finds himself giving the lengthiest, most in-depth thought out answers to questions. Joe is the first to speak, to answer, and then he just shifts himself to face and listen to Ben intently, rolling that wide lower lip of his as he focuses. Ben cannot help but laugh at all of Joe's jokes, even the most ridiculous, the ones that aren't even JOKES--just madcap exchanges or anecdotes. He feels more comfortable around Joe Mazzello than he's ever felt with anyone before. And he finds their flirtations--plus Gwil's reactions to them--utterly hysterical. And it's nice, as well, to feel so comfortable with someone. Whenever Ben does anything zany Joe comes right back with something bigger (like Cardboard Ben. Who even thinks of something like that? Apparently Joe Mazzello). The first time Joe imitated his voice, Ben nearly had a crisis because of how well the man pulled it off. You won't catch Ben doing anything like that; no way. He remains impressed at just how genuinely, positively expressive Joe is. He's out there living his very best life and Ben admires that.

Benny is pretty great. Joe couldn't get a read on the guy immediately; he was pretty quiet when not in-character as Roger on set, and hell, even when he WAS playing Rog, he would get this intensely serious expression on his face as he air-drummed between takes, particularly during the Live Aid sequence. Joe will never forget how frustrated Ben became when he was not allowed to chain smoke in the film due to its PG-13 rating. And then how awed he was during the shoot at Rockfield Farms, those blue green ocean-like eyes of his were so wide and he kept on whispering "You're kidding me, mate, you're kidding--this is the place, this is the drum kit, this is the BAND."

"This IS pretty great," Joe had agreed. "I don't even know what to do with myself right now." And then, because he had always been encouraged to showcase his happiness, he beamed "Actually, I do. This is amaaaaazing!!" He had spread his arms out wide and spun around yelling, totally feeling like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music for a bit. When he turned to Ben, he nearly stopped, but the blond beamed and gripped Joe by the hand, whirling with him until both were beaming and breathless.

Joe was staggering after and Ben had simply grinned, wrapping a strong arm around his waist to steady him. "You're alright, mate," he said and Joe grinned back and nodded. He felt safe, comfortable, and not at all like an idiot as he'd initially expected to feel.

From that point on he noticed and appreciated Ben more and more--not only did he seem to accept and appreciate Joe's whimsy, but Ben has a whimsical side of his own. It had been his idea to photograph himself in full Roger Taylor getup with Joe as John wearing his mushroom wig, their arms wrapped around each other and both of their mouths on a single apple. Just for kicks, and because somebody mentioned the Just Go With It coconut scene as being iconic. There were no coconuts on set, so Ben found an apple somewhere and friggin beamed as he held it out to Joe upon making that suggestion. He's as crazy as I am, Joe had thought. And I LOVE it!

Chapter Text

The boys keep in touch with What'sApp and FaceTime--and yes, through uploads onto Instagram as well. Gwil, Ben, and Joe head on a trip through central and northern California during a break between awards ceremonies as Rami visits Lucy and her family before the next batch of award shows.

And of course Joe decides to take the smallest winding roads. "We're going off the map, boys, 'cause here there be dragons!" He speaks in an over-the-top vaguely pirate-sounding voice as he drives. "Arr, mateys--let's be off to adventures!"

"Uh, did pirates ever fight dragons?" Ben asks from the front passenger seat with a snort. "I mean, forget regular pirates, you sound like the captain who narrates SpongeBob."

Joe swerves across the narrow road they are driving on. Luckily no other vehicles are in sight and he does not coast off the edge of a mountain. Gwilym gulps however, frozen as well as a mite cramped, in the backseat. "Er, Ben," he squeaks trying to remain calm "you think you could...not insult our driver right now? Please? I don't want to end today pancaked at the bottom of some Californian mountain ravine."

Ben makes a face, apologetic. "Sorry," he says. And to Joe, "sorry about that, mate. I wasn't intending to offend you."

"Offend me?" Joe scoffs incredulously. "You didn't offend me, that comparison was awesome! Just got a little too excited, that's my bad."

Ben's brows rise. "It was? You did?"

"Of course, yeah, I loved watching SpongeBob when I was younger. Always wanted to be like that pirate guy, he had the best job--getting kids excited to see the show. Ohhh, who lives in a pineapple--"

"No, please," Gwil groans. "Stop it there."

Ben studies his lap, unable to stop a smile from breaking across his face like a ray of sunshine in response to Joe's words and antics. "Oh, well you're welcome, then."

Joe grins. "Speaking of catchy tunes, and to keep Gwil happy, whaddya say we listen to the radio? Here--" he flicks it on and fiddles with the knob, until out come the strains of a rich, strong, familiar voice:

Can --anybody-- find meeee somebody to-ooh love?

All three men stare at one another through the rearview mirror and by whipping their heads round as the piano starts. Utterly nonplussed. "Wow. This is--"

"Fate."

"Whacked."

"...I was gonna call it either awesome or spooky, dunno which."

"Well I do know!" Joe announces, turning up the volume and rolling down the windows. Gwilym takes his phone out to record them all singing--because of course they're going to be singing.

Ben calls "Sing it, Freddie!" And then "play it John!" After which Joe strums an imaginary bass.

Gwil feels ecstatic; a blazing bubble of excitement rises through his body and fills him up til he feels that he could burst. "YEAH! We've got the band back together! Yessss!!!" He shakes his phone round in excitement and Joe lets out a sharp throaty squawk as another car rounds a bend in front of them and forces him to veer sharply right. "You're gonna kill the band!" Gwil adds with a yelp, catching Ben's backward glance and laugh before he ceases recording. Freddie's voice soars on as theirs do also.

***

Joe drives them to see the redwood trees and then they go to tour Alcatraz prison, which is really cool and really creepy at the same time; "this is where the FBI kept Al Capone after they finally got him on tax evasion. Said imprisoning him on an island was the only way to ensure he wouldn't escape. He knew people everywhere and how to get to them. So many people."

"Like you know people, Joe?" Ben nudges him, teasing. "Ought Gwil and I be concerned that you're a modern day Al Capone?"

"Eh, only if he starts wearing Italian suits and shiny shoes, with nice watches. And a fedora," Gwil says as he peers carefully at a black and white photograph of Capone.

"Or if I make you an offer you can't refuse," Joe says in a scratchy Italian accent.

"That's not even Al Capone, that's Scarface, innit?" Asks Gwil.

"No, how dare you, that's from The Godfather! Oh my god," Joe groans. "--we can't stand here, misnaming classic gangster movies on Alcatraz."

"I mean, technically he wasn't a gangster, he was part of the mob...," Ben mutters.

"He wasn't just a part of it, he WAS the mob, the head honcho," Joe corrects.

"Right, well, I haven't seen the movie in a while. A few years at the very least," Gwil attempts to defend himself. He is honestly unsure whether or not he's seen the entire film, it was incredibly lengthy. But no way is he going to admit that to Joe, who now shakes his head as Ben's eyes start to dance. "What? Okay, 'Gwil doesn't know his mob movies!' There, I said it. Are you happy?"

"No," retorts Joe. "We've gotta go watch The Godfather now, come on."

"Right now?"

"Right now. There's no time like the present, and we've seen everything there is to see here anyway." They had been wandering round for about an hour and Joe legitimately starts heading for the ferry. He stops and looks over. "Are you in, Ben?"

Ben glances at Gwil and nudges his shoulder, starting to smile. "Yeah mate, I'm in. Besides it's a chance for us to have a cuddle."

Joe's eyes light up. "I am always here for a good cuddle. What about you, Gwil?"

Gwilym rolls his eyes at both of them. Honestly, do they hear themselves? Clearly, no. "Alright I'll join in the cuddling," he says. "This better be good."

"Oh it is," Joe enthuses. "Trust me."

Joe drives them all back to his apartment in LA, because he knew they would be heading all over the state and prepared himself for it. "No air B 'n B's for us, mate," Ben told him. "We're coming to see you so we're going to SEE you."

"Oho Benjamin, are you coming on to me? How forward," Joe puts a hand to his chest in elaborate retiring shock before bursting into laughter seconds later. Gwil is guffawing behind them as they get to Joe's flat and order in a meal from his favourite eating establishment. He throws enormous pillows and some blankets onto his couch as Ben flips through his DVD collection and Gwil gets glasses out to make drinks for them. Joe pointed out and listed various beverages, telling both to help themselves.

"...I think I'm gonna start off with water before moving to something stronger, mate," Ben pipes, rubbing his forehead wearily with a knuckle. "You have so many movies, I can't believe it. Have you actually watched them all?"

"Uh, yep. At least once," Joe bounces in place on the couch and then moves forward to crouch next to Ben, head hanging over his shoulder. "Why, you got a problem with some?"

"Found the Godfather," Ben takes it out and puts it on the coffee table. "But also--this." He lifts the edge of a dark red coloured case with six teenagers in bright clothes leaping and frozen in midair. "High School Musical? Just...why, Joe?" He licks his lips and stares over his shoulder, holding the movie up.

"Well, uh, I like musicals," Joe speaks slowly as if needing to rethink his entire life.

"Did ya go through a phase?" Gwil asks, leaning forward knowingly. "You learned all the dance numbers, didn't you Joe?"

"Maybe," Joe allows. Ben groans and drops the case like it scalded him. "To be fair, okay, they were also great exercise!" He protests, waving his hands. "And I was into the Disney channel before it sucked."

"Wouldn't you have been, like... twenty-three when that film came out?" Gwilym inquires. When Joe whirls to stare at him in betrayal, Gwil raises both hands. Trying desperately not to grin "Hey, no judgement, mate. Well. At least not much."

"I was nostalgic!" Joe protested.

"Right, sure," Ben shakes his head, running fingers through his hair as he gets to his feet. "Whatever helps you sleep at night. At least when SpongeBob started you were seventeen."

Hardy puts a heavy hand on his shoulder as Gwil comes round the couch and hands Joe a drink. "Okay, no one is allowed to judge me anymore," Joe commands as he flops down and puts up his feet. "We're watching The Godfather, waiting for food, and I drove you guys around this great state for eleven hours today. You're welcome."

Ben and Gwil glance at each other and Gwil drops down beside Joe, putting a hand on his shoulder and rubbing it apologetic. "You're right, Joey. You drove us all this way and invited us to stay with you. We should be thanking instead of teasing."

"At least somewhat," Ben agrees, sitting next to Joe and untying his trainers for him. "It's quite good on you, so cheers." Ben pulls off Joe's shoes and begins rubbing his feet, kneading them and pressing thumbs and then knuckles into the soft portions of his arches. Joe stretches luxuriously as Gwil does the same thing to his shoulders before getting up and putting in the movie.

"When the food comes, oh-- we gotta pause," Joe says, placing a hand on Gwil's knee as he comes back with the television remote in hand. "Can't allow Gwilly to miss a single second of this magnificent movie." Nudges Ben with a grin where the blond has moved to kneel by Joe's feet, still massaging them. "You either, Benny," he says.

Ben slowly nods, eyes lifting to look into Joe's from underneath his lashes, and Joe feels his toes curl into the strength and softness of Ben's touch. The rest of his body lurches in response to Ben holding him and looking at him like that on his knees. Joe swallows rather hard, wanting to crack You look good that way, kneeling there Benny, but he is afraid his voice will break or tremble and that Ben would be able to tell that he means it. He wouldn't be joking. So Joe beams brightly instead and beckons. "Come on up and sit with me. We're cuddling, aren't we?" For a second he feels as though whatever he just felt about Ben had been expressed anyway, that he and Gwil will know, somehow--so Joe is relieved when Gwil turns the lights down and uses the remote on the TV as Ben stands up and flings himself into the sofa upholstery, stretching one arm along the top of the sofa back and then dropping it around both of Joe's shoulders. He gets ahold of the back of Gwil's shirt as well and pulls him down on the other side to join them.

"Thought you forgot about me," Gwil teases, his eyes twinkling across at Joe.

"No mate, 'course not," Ben assures him.

"Yeah, weren't you first in line for the cuddle party anyway?" Joe asks, loudly, and both of the others hush him. "Oh, shit, it's starting." He huddles up close to Ben whose strong arm still rests round his shoulders, and reaches out to place a hand on Gwil's knee as they watch.

Food comes eventually and true to Joe's word they pause the movie to pay and bring all of the little cardboard containers over to the couch. Joe withdraws chopsticks and starts dunking all of his food into duck sauce. He and Ben burst out laughing as Gwil fights for dominance with his own chopsticks before promptly dropping a sticky clump of rice and beef and veggies onto his lap.

"Ah, damn!"

"Oh God, nooo, rest in peace rice."

"--Want me to get that for ya, mate?" Ben jokes, leaning and lowering his face towards Gwil's lap as he lifts his eyebrows suggestively.

"Well, I don't want to make Joe jealous," Gwil comes back. "'Preciate the offer, though." He waggles his own brows and grins lightly.

Ben leans into the cushions of the couch and sighs. "Fair enough; besides, I haven't gotten near drunk enough for that."

Gwilym scoops the hunk of beef and rice and rest into a napkin as Joe asks Ben how drunk is drunk enough, exactly, for science; and Ben shoves the side of his face playfully, blushing, and tells him to shut up and watch the ruddy film.

Chapter Text

Glitz and glamour at the Oscars, cameras flashing and microphones shoved into faces, and everybody crowding on and stampeding over the red carpet beforehand --there, and to the bars, of course-- makes the Bohemian Rhapsody boys damn sure to get drinks for the cast, crew, producers, and everybody to have before they head into the auditorium. Lucy, aided by the fact that she carries a purse, has stuffed its various pockets and compartments with snacks. Ben brought some in his coat pockets and shoves a candy bar into his face almost immediately. He and Gwil head to an outdoor bar to get drinks, and Ben starts grinning at his tall friend as Gwilym had taken immense care to part his hair and shave his face for today.

"--Your skin's softer than a wean's bum," Ben says, running fingers down the side of Gwil's cheek.

Gwil grins and zings back: "But you, mate, have one-upped me with your baby face, as always." Ben lifts his chin and sticks out his tongue as he turns his round cheeks toward the sun before roughing up his hair a bit.

"Well this baby face is gonna drink yours under the table, mate."

Gwilym sniffs in amused surprise, his light eyes twinkling. "Oh really?"

"For sure," Ben replies. His voice lowers. "I mean, you know I'm gonna be drinking anyway. Lots of people, lotsa reasons...," He takes out and puts on his sunglasses as the sunlight moves, blowing a breath out of both cheeks.

"Would any of those reasons have to do with Joe?" Gwil inquires.

Ben tilts his head and pushes the glasses down his nose with a finger, studying Gwil over top. "Say again? Why would Joe make me want to drink? I mean he's loud, but not THAT loud."

"Well you two certainly seem to get on."

Ben's eyes narrow. "So, again, why would I need to drink because of him?"

They have reached the outdoor bar by now, and Gwilym leans across its surface to order drinks before turning back to face his friend. He is not certain how best to put this, but he and Ben know one another rather well. Incredibly well, actually-- Gwil has always been able to be his dorkiest self when around Ben, yet they also get into deep philosophical discussions. Certainly not as many as Rami gets into, but still enough. So Gwil starts "You seem to enjoy Joe's company in a way that's different from how ya interact with Rami, or me. That's all."

Ben laughs at how serious Gwil sounds speaking thus. "You're all my mates," he says. "Don't worry about the flirting, Gwil. Joe and I aren't doing it to intentionally leave you out, mate. It just--"

"I know," Gwilym interjects. "It just happened and now it's snowballed, right?" Ben nods. "I don't mind, really," Gwil assures him. "I just wondered if maybe there's more to it." Ben smiles, but something in his face makes Gwil reach out a hand and squeeze Ben's forearm. "...I just love to give you both grief. Speaking of which, we really should mess with Joe right now." He leans into the shorter man and grins. "I mean, since the two of us are out here getting drinks together. ALONE." Ben cocks an eyebrow in appreciation and understanding, beckoning for Gwil to take out his phone and take a picture of the two of them.

Gwilym puts an arm around Ben bracingly. He is not going to press about Joe if Ben has nothing to tell, or nothing that he is ready to tell. He takes the picture of them and they are given their drinks after. Ben instantly downs his. "Ah you know me, mate," he smiles at Gwil in a wobbly way. "I...just need this. To drink," he adds when Gwil cocks his head, confused. "To answer your question. They never serve enough food in there, but...there are so many people, and I..." Ben's voice trails off and he is right glad to be wearing sunglasses right now to disguise the growing panic in his eyes. He is already sweating underneath his white jacket at the probability of needing to begin conversation and make small talk with so many folks all evening. He can tell that Rami is preparing himself for that eventuality as well when he and Gwil return to the rest with drinks for them all in hand.

Rami stands silently next to Lucy when Ben and Gwil walk back up, his lips rolling a bit down over his teeth as Lucy leans into him, her arm snaking around his waist. Rami closes his eyes for a moment as he leans against her, and then with a screech of exuberance Joe leaps over to hug Rami around the neck, kiss Lucy's cheek and grab Gwil's shoulder. His hazel-brown eyes crinkle at the edges as he looks across at Ben with undisguised affection. So much love is here in this space, flowing between them.

That love swells in a tumult of sound, a roar of vocalised excitement, and the little knot of actors has no idea who else has just arrived. At least not until Ben feels long fingers gently grasp him by the shoulders and Brian May's voice speaks.

"Hello, lads."

"And Lucy," Roger Taylor's high tone adds as he comes to stand at Brian's elbow, waving and then drumming his hands in the air excitedly.

"And Lucy, of course," Brian inclines his head to her in a gracious bow. "So, how are we feeling?" He asks them all.

Ben swallows hard. He is feeling as though his hair is spiking up in all directions messily and that he looks utterly ridiculous in his white suit jacket, as though he is a kid playing dress-up or something--a little boy wearing a sailor jacket when everybody else is wearing tasteful black tuxedos. But everyone else is nodding and smiling at Bri, even Rami, who had looked vaguely ill as though he wanted to sink into the floor minutes ago. So Ben does his best to smile, looking back into Brian's kindly features. "Yeah, fine. Bit nervous," he allows. "...lotta people here." And then he closes his eyes, shaking his head at himself and his idiotic two- and three-word answers. Ben bites his lower lip, worrying it with his teeth.

Brian relinquishes his shoulders, patting Ben's arm warmly before saying something to Gwil that Hardy does not hear. He feels like he is standing in a vacuum or a whirlpool as colours and sounds spin and rush and undulate around him before beginning to fade away.... He feels like he's falling or freezing, but then he is locked in place by warmth. A hand. Joe is beside Ben, standing close, and has reached out and squeezed Ben's hand in his. "Hey, take it easy, my friend. Are you all right?" Joe's gaze is as warm and gentle as the grasp of his hand is as his eyes meet and hold Ben's.

Ben feels a palpable rush of affection for Joe that leaves him feeling weak in the knees. He could kiss Joe for this, for being here for him right now--clearly he's aware that Ben is not, in fact, all right, but at his question and his presence Ben feels his heartbeat start to slow and sounds begin coming back. He holds onto Joe's hand and he is all right. "I--yeah," the blond swallows, nodding and blinking hard. "Yeah, I am. Thanks." Thanks to you, Ben longs to say. He appreciates Joe so much, his heart is full and he has a lump in his throat as his mind flashes suddenly to what Gwilym had said earlier.

They stand alone now as the crowd moves, flotsam and jetsam in currents around the two men, toward and under the golden arched A that graces and frames the door into the Academy hall itself. Ben looks round at it all, stares hard, breathes heavily. He cannot believe that he's here. "Hey, Joe," Ben says softly now. Joe shifts his face closer to hear, dipping that auburn-brown hair. "Y'wanna... get into a photo with me, buddy? Celebrate the moment?" And it might help me calm down a bit, honestly, Ben thinks but doesn't verbalise this.

Joe draws his face back, eyes widening and a smile forming as he relinquishes Ben's hand and takes his offered phone. "Hell yeah I will do that, here." He looks up and holds out the phone to get them both on the carpet with the Oscar arch in the back. Ben feels bereft for the briefest instant, but seeing Joe's facial features alight with so much joy makes him feel incredibly thankful to be there with his friend. "Perfect," Joe shows the photograph to Ben, who is inclined to agree, though more perfect even than the photo itself is the man who had taken it. Can't tell Joe that, though; don't want the praise to go to his head. But god, he's going to miss Joe when they go their separate ways after all this. Ben settles his shoulders as together they head in. He is going to appreciate the hell out of tonight even as overwhelming as it is. He has to.

***

"And the Oscar goes to -- Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody!"

Ben loses it upon hearing that, he does. From beside him, Joe whoops. Ben adds his voice in a crow, rocking back onto his heels as he boils upright. He had hoped Rami would win, believed that he deserved it; even entertained the thought that yeah, he could, maybe--but to hear his friend's name called, AFTER BoRhap had already been honoured for the fabulous, utterly fantastic sound crew of the film--it is almost too much all at once. Ben can hardly believe it.

Rami doesn't seem to be able to believe it either; he's standing and kissing Lucy multiple times as if in a daze; Ben relates to that daze, his ears are ringing and if he was a Georgian-era woman he would be falling out in a faint right about now. He slaps Rami on the back and then Ben gets a bear hug from Gwil as Joe starts whispering "he did it, Benny--Rami did it-- holyfuckingshitithappened" in Ben's ear, hand clamping onto his arm like a vice. Ben turns to Joe and smiles, and the instant that Rami sucks in a breath and speaks at the microphone, both of them begin bawling.

Their cries are silent, luckily, and unobtrusive. Ben shudders and yanks Joe against his chest, wrinkles to his suit jacket be damned; he can care less now if it's white or black or polka-dotted with neon. Joe clutches him, his sobs are soft and yet they tear through his whole body, and Ben can tell the tears on Joe's account aren't just ecstatic or from relief. His shoulders are heaving and Ben realises why as Rami mentions and thanks his family. Ben's entire family is going to see this. His, and Rami's, and Lucy's, and Gwil's too. But Joe's father is gone. He had been there while they were making the film, and Joe is doing this in part for him, feeling his way as a result of that fact. Joe had spoken to his dad every night of the film shoot. Ben had known about it, was certain Joe's father loved it even as he declined. And then one night there had been no call, and...and he was gone. Joe had not gone to pieces; he remains strong. Incredibly, astoundingly strong.

Except for once. And again now while Rami is giving his speech.

Joe hears Rami speak and he loves it, he's so deliriously happy that his dear friend is finally receiving the recognition he so richly deserves, but Joe can't stop crying on Ben. And yet Ben just holds him and lets Joe hang on, press his face into his shoulder. They sit back down and Ben still hangs on to him, strong arms in an embrace wrapped and locked high and tight around Joe's shoulders, lips pressed against his hair. Ben's hair is soft against Joe's head and the fluffy ends brush against Mazzello's temple in an almost ticklish manner. Joe hiccoughs and snorts, leaning back at last and wiping his eyes.

He is handed a black handkerchief: "Great excuse for me to use my pocket square, cheers," Ben murmurs, trying to make things light even as he gazes into Joe's face with care and concern. "Joe, are you good?" Ben marvels, really; a few short hours ago, Joe had been the one inquiring this very thing of him.

Irony in this instance is not lost on Joe, who shifts and opens his mouth after several lengthy blinks, dabbing at his eyes. "I, yeah, man. Thanks."

"Of course," Ben replies, accepting his now-dampened pocket square as Joe returns it to him. "'S what I'm here for, honestly--crying and hugs. And drinking of course." He jokes but his blue-green eyes are serious as they hold fast to Joe's. "Just as long as you're really alright."

"Are you?" Joe asks him now.

Ben stops in the midst of refolding his handkerchief. What a stand-up man Joe Mazzello is. Even in his overwhelming emotional state he is checking in on Ben. He is wonderful and astounding, and Ben is so lucky. All right? "Yeah," he says. Rami just won the bloody Oscar for Best Actor. "Yes, Joe, I'm fucking brilliant, mate." He grabs Joe's hand. "Rami won, so we've all won, and your dad would be--he is so fucking proud of you right now. I know it. I can feel it. He's proud of us, and Freddie's proud of us."

Joe smiles through a few more tears. "You know that Freddie would totally expect it, though. 'Nothing less than perfection for me, darling!'." Joe sucks in a breath, steadying himself and feeling so many things. This is a celebration for all of them, all of the dreamers. How glorious can one evening possibly be? "...Oh, Ben, this is perfect."

Chapter Text

Breaking up is hard to do.

Particularly when the break-up occurs between a band of four boys who love spending time together and yet live --half in America and half in the UK-- thousands of miles from each other. The award season is finally over, and there are no more Bohemian Rhapsody press tours either. No reason to stay, the four of them, together, none but their thousands of messages sent via WhatsApp along with the steady stream of Instagram photos, both throwbacks and new ones.

No one recalls who was the first to suggest a FaceTime group message, but every two weeks or so (once a fortnight as the Brits say) the four lads message one another and have at least an hour-long group FaceTime conversation. It has gotten so that Ben and Gwil always seem to be in one another's immediate vicinity and FaceTime on one phone. Say it is more efficient, but nevertheless Joe gasps as though gravely affronted. He and Rami get together whenever they can, most often for a day of relaxation, cooking and eating and watching several of Joe's ridiculous filmic choices. But Rami and Lucy are together now, so he has been spending much more time with her. Joe is ecstatic for him; Lucy and Rami are just so stinking adorable together, just like Gwil and his girl. But Joe misses Ben. He misses all four of them hanging out together, desperately, immensely; but seeing Gwilly posting pictures really makes him miss Ben.

Joe even decided to go golfing once when he heard on their group message that Ben and Gwil were going to do it; that, and because Joe used to go on golf outings with his father. He drives to a range above the Napa valley with a high clear blue sky, buys a bucket of balls, and starts teeing off at the driving range. No way is he going to play an entire round alone, that would be too depressing. This... Well it isn't as depressing, there is a nice breeze and the sound of metal club heads striking against balls is soothing in some strange way. And besides, if Joe squints, he can clearly imagine Ben standing back with a hand shading his eyes, laughing uproariously at Joe's terrible shot.

No, now this is depressing because he is thinking about his father and imagining him here. He had loved golf almost as much as he loved baseball, "there's just something about it," he always said. When he came out to the course back home, it was always for rumination; just to see and feel, and be. To be a part of the quiet whilst swinging a metal stick at a little white ball.

Joe picks up his bag and heads to a hill farther out on the driving range. He murmurs a line and starts to smile. "--So I told 'em I was a pro jock, and who d'ya think they gave me? The Dali Lama himself. Twelfth son of the Lama--the flowing robes, the grace, bald. Striking." Joe smirks to himself, hearing his father's chuckle in his head. He and his brother and dad all love this movie, it's a classic. "...So we finish 18, and he's gonna stiff me! An' I say, hey Lama! How about a little something, y'know, for the effort? And he says oh, ah there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed you will receive ... total consciousness. So I've got that goin' for me. Which is nice."

Joe stops on the hill and huffs out a short series of breaths. Iconic scene. It may seem stupid to think or say, but out here on this course alone, trying to feel closer to his friends and to his father in some way, Joe thinks he does feel closer to his dad. God, that movie was so great, one of Bill Murray's absolute best. He wonders if Ben has seen it. They are going to watch it if not, or even if he had--it has so many immortal lines and scenes. Joe leans on his golf club and wipes his eyes, letting the quiet feeling of this place wash over him.

***

Perhaps it is during that state of calm quiet thought in which Joe makes the decision. Perhaps it is because he thought about his dad and how much he misses him. But he's gone, and there are people who are still here. All Joe knows for sure is that, after he returns his clubs and drives back to LA, he texts Ben:

> hey Benny, u wanna talk 2nite?

> Sure mate. What's up? Everything ok?

> yup fine. Just wanna hear ur sexy voice ...& see ur face if that's ok

> You are too much ;P sure, we can FaceTime in a bit. Want me to call the other lads, set it up?

> actually...I was thinking this could be just us. Unless that's weird or something, if it is I mean--

> Joe, mate, calm down. It's fine.

> Cool :) I've missed u

> I miss you too buddy <3

> Yay! Sooo how was golf w/ Gwil?

> Oh THAT'S the reason you wanted to talk huh??

> maybe, yes. So how was it?

> A gentleman never tells. ;)

> Wait, what does that mean? Ben??

Ben's response is another winking face and naught else, which makes Joe burn wild with curiosity as he flies through his shower and throws on a t-shirt and sweatpants before calling Ben as he pulls some beef, broth, and noodles together to start a stir fry.

"Hey," Ben's tufty blond hair shines first into view from the dim light of his sitting room, where he lounges on the corner of his couch with feet propped up and a blanket thrown across his knees. One hand rests behind his head, flexing an arm.

"Hey!" Joe cries, dropping his frying pan to the floor with a crash and screaming. "Ahhhh sorry, how's it going?" He peers more closely at Ben, his still-damp hair shining under the bright kitchen light.

Ben rubs a hand over his face as he chuckles. "Well apart from nearly going deaf just now, I'm fine. How's it going with you, Joe?"

"Great," Mazzello grins. "...now that I get to see you. And oh, I also went golfing today."

"Oh really?" Ben's brows rise and he cups his cheek in one hand. "Do tell, have you always been an avid golfer?" Batting his eyelashes like some winsome girl, he asks.

Joe snorts. "Nah, well I went with my dad sometimes, a lot more growing up. We could both quote the entirety of Caddyshack to each other. He was more into baseball, but that was kind of a thing for him and John."

"Your brother? You wrote that baseball movie with him in mind, right?"

"Yeah I did! Undrafted," Joe enthuses, shaking his head. "Can't believe you actually remember what it was called, man."

"'Course I do," Ben returns breezily. "It's your film."

"Aw, that's very sweet." Joe grins and his eyes dance as he spots Ben now lift a mug to his lips and take a swig from it. "Oho, what are you doing, Benny? Drinking alone tonight and missing Gwil?"

Ben rolls his eyes. Joe's ridiculous. "No, I'm drinking tea. With milk. Nothing else."

Joe raises his eyebrows and squints hard as he turns on the stove before moving his face much closer to his phone screen to peer at Ben.

"Eugh. Nice nose hairs, mate," Ben says.

Joe flares his nostrils. "Ah, ya like em?"

"Oh, god no. Stop, please," Ben closes his eyes and shudders, stretching his arm and phone away from himself, waving his opposite hand with the mug in it around. "--I'm gonna need to add some Scotch or something at this rate."

Joe beams. "Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about! ...Wait, Scotch? Seriously?" Drawing his face away from his screen a bit, thank goodness, Joe adds "Well well well, getting a little snooty in our BoRhap fame, are we?"

Ben scoffs. "How could I? Got you around to keep me humble."

Joe grins. "Yeah, right. I love you too much for that."

Ben winks and smiles back, shuffling his shoulders. "Right. Fair enough. Love you too." He notices some flickering brightness behind his friend now and says "Joe, are you trying to light your kitchen on fire?"

"Oh ha ha," Joe scoffs. "I CAN actually cook, you know. I'll even cook for you someday once you quit talking cra-- oh sugar honey iced tea, you're right!" He turns to see flames leaping up around his frying pan.

"Extinguisher, mate! On the wall get it gET IT!!!" Ben yells, recalling from his time in the flat --and because he sees the extinguisher in the background on Joe's phone. Joe screeches and drops the phone, leaving Ben to stare at the ceiling and hear screeches and fire retardant liquid whooshing, along with flames, before there is nothing but an ominous silence. Hardy's heart begins to pound and his hands start shaking. "Joe? Buddy, hey, answer me. Are you alright? What's going on with the fire?? Joe!" His mind is conjuring up all sorts of scenarios, most of them involving Joe lying on the floor with third-degree burns, gasping for air as Ben calls to him, helpless.

But finally after a dog's age the phone is sliding round and Joe's pale face, hair sticking up in all directions (and what appears to be burnt meat or something on his nose) reappears. Ben closes his eyes. "Welp," Joe attempts to speak cheerfully, though he appears both winded and embarrassed. "That happened."

"Thank fuck you're all right," Ben gasps, eyes now going wide. "You scared the SHIT out of me! Don't fucking do that!"

Joe winces at the volume of, and anger in, Ben's tone. "I'm sorry," he says, deflating, looking small. "I honestly do well with cooking, I guess I just turned on the gas too high and it caught--" he peers into his pan with a heavy sigh. "so much for stir fry. I'll have to go through my cupboards." Putting the pan back down and ensuring that he had turned off the burner, Joe crosses to flop down in a chair. "I could use a drink now," he mumbles.

Ben gazes at Joe, with that pouty lower lip and restless hands and mussed hair, and he wishes so badly to be in his friend's flat right now, wrap him in a blanket and give him a hug before cooking something for Joe himself. He oughtn't have yelled, even though he was scared. That wasn't cool at all. Shifting and hauling his blanket up to tent it round his head and shoulders, Ben clears his throat and says "I know, it's alright. And just so you're aware, the golfing was shit."

Joe perks up just a bit in interest. "... Really? Not because of Gwil."

"--No," Ben sighs. "Because of me. I sucked. It was an absolute dog's breakfast on every hole; I was at LEAST eight over the entire time."

Joe's hand claps against his mouth, rendering his voice only slightly muffled. "Holy hell."

"Yup."

"Didja use a Mulligan?"

"That wouldn't've helped me less it was a Mulligan on my life--god, Joe, it was awful. Gwil is actually GOOD at golf and I wanted to fucking die!"

Joe has pressed his lips together to stop himself from laughing. Poor beleaguered embarrassed Ben. "...did he say anything?"

"What do you think?" Ben challenges. "He's perfect polite Gwil, of course not! Said whoah a couple times, and whistled, but he was bloody top. YOU on the other hand would've never let me hear the end of it after I triple-bogeyed my fifth hole."

Joe is legitimately laughing now, letting out that loud barking squeal of mirth that he does. He closes his eyes and shades his hand over them. "Oh my god oh my...stop, my stomach hurts! Golf was INVENTED in the UK, on your turf, and you--" there are tears in his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm a disgrace to my nation I'm sure," scoffs Ben. "Are you done?" But he is grinning now too--he cannot help it.

"Oh Benny Benny Benny," Joe wipes his eyes and tilts his head back happily. "Thank you, I needed that. I can only imagine...," He starts chortling again.

"Laugh it up now, mate, but one day you and I are going to hold a tournament in order to see who's the most rubbish at golf."

"Deal, and whoever is, I make them dinner," Joe says.

"Oh no," Ben hides his face in his blanket and his hands, phone tapping against the side of his head. "Please, no more fiery suppers."

"I think you must be a jinx," Joe muses. "I mean, it's only been when you're around somehow that my efforts turn into a flaming inferno."

Ben's eyebrows shoot up as he drops his hands and the blanket. "Oh so this is all my fault. Why, do I distract you?" He transforms from a rosy-cheeked mischievous child with the dropping blanket to a messy-headed god, and Joe's breath whooshes out. Holy shit Ben is attractive. He has always known that, but right now in the low light and cosy atmosphere of his living room...damn. Joe wishes he was there. He can't even manage to make a flirty reply.

"Uh yeah, you distract me," Joe speaks flatly. Ben's features fall and he looks like a kicked puppy. Oh no, shoot. "Don't do that!" Joe bursts out. "it's--not a bad distraction, I mean. Except for the part where I almost burnt down my kitchen tonight." Taking a breath and managing to grin, he adds "No, you're just really hot."

Ben laughs. Of course he does; this is all just a part of their banter. So when he responds with "Cheers mate. So are you," Joe has no reason to feel this giddy, unless it's an aftereffect of Ben's golf tale hilarity. Yeah, that's probably it; along with the fact that he's relieved he hadn't burnt the entire apartment complex down.

They talk, go on a bit more about various things, until Ben finally says he ought to head to bed, lovely chatting, good night mate; and both of them are thinking as Joe says he needs to search out unblemished foodstuffs that they should do this again soon. "... except for the firestarting, of course," Ben teases.

"Yeah, okay, sure thing." Joe humphs. "You should come and cook for me then if you're gonna be freaking out about it."

Ben presses his finger to his lips and starts to smile. "Maybe I will."

Chapter Text

Ben Hardy is a bit of a homebody. Both by preference and from necessity; now that he's gotten another job after BoRhap, he is stuck at home working in studios around London. Besides, he is not so adventurous as is Gwil, who jets off (every week or so, it seems) to visit Rami and Joe.

They had gone on a tour of America, from Boston to Dallas, spent time in Florida and California to spread word about the film; and even now, seven months after the film tour: "Can't go a week without seeing him," Gwil had captioned a post on Instagram showing Joe wearing his naughtiest grin as he prepared to bite into a slice of New York pizza. Ben guffaws at the ridiculous black-and-white photo of his three mates posing before the Brooklyn bridge, or perhaps the Golden Gate (he doesn't know; will freely admit that, as with golf, he is also shite at geography). Recognising landmarks is not Ben's forte. Of course they all say how much they miss him constantly; and Gwil comes to visit Ben whenever he's home and can swing it--which is a good bit if Ben is being honest; Gwilym is a top mate and decent enough to hang with him often so Ben is not completely left out.

Ben feels shitty for being jealous though, or even disgruntled at the fact that Gwil has seen Joe so much more than he; not to mention he jetted over to New York City just for Rami's birthday, but he cannot help but wish he had gone. Wish that he could sit on Joe's couch with him rather than simply be talking, video chat or no video chat, he misses him so MUCH. Both of them. All three. But it is when he is scrolling through channels one night, having given up on Netflix for once to watch cable TV, that he hears a soaring familiar soundtrack and the screech of a velociraptor, and he is locked in and watching Jurassic Park that he realises just how much he really misses Joe.

He's seen this movie, of course he's seen this movie, but it's different now that he really sees Joe, now that he knows him. He's grinning at the ten-year-old's excitement, so much like the exuberant nature he still exhibits about so many things, and then Ben's heart drops abruptly and painfully as Tim and Lexi are trapped in that truck and she has the bright idea to turn on a flashlight as the T-Rex comes--!

Ben is leaning forward, clenching his fists, gasping for breath. "No, don't turn the light on, don't do it--tell her, Joe! Oh god..." He jerks back and sucks in breath, biting his lip as that claw comes down and he cannot bear the screaming, the pain, Joe's little face dripping with blood (from the broken windshield, for sure) as he says he's stuck, his foot is stuck. As his on-screen sister screeches "TIMMY!" in her incredibly realistic, gut-wrenching way, Ben flings up his hands and rises off the couch, shaking.

He hits the power button as soon as Joe's character is safe, dragged out of that crumpled Jeep into the pouring rain, and turns away, gasping. Wow. That hits him harder, WAY harder now. And he remembers being scared shitless when that claw crashed down and the T-Rex roared when he was a kid. Not to mention when Rexy comes down and chomps that idiot guy in the toilet. But this...now things are different. He is different, and so is Joe. He knows him, and more than that, even though this trauma in Jurassic Park is not real, Joe has been through a lot that has been. That still is. His grief at losing his father...Joe had put up a post about 2018 having been the worst year of his life, but his Bohemian Rhapsody friends and family had gotten him through it. Ben now swallows hard, wiping his cheeks. He hadn't realised he started crying, and he doesn't know what to do. Or why he feels the way he does right now.

But he does know, actually. He figures it out, and Ben also realises what he is going to have to do.

***

Gwilym comes to see him not long after that night, and they go out for food and drinks, and end up sitting close and talking. Ben brings up Gwil's posts, and Rami, and Joe, and he can feel Gwil smirking at him. Ben tries to talk about relationships; Lucy and Rami's, Gwil's with his lass, and yet he comes back to Joe and finds himself growing defensive as Gwil mentions the intensity of his interest.

"Hey, you got to have him up on your shoulders during a ball game, alright? I don't need any silent judgement from you after that," Ben snaps.

Gwil's head goes back and his shoulders move as he reassures "...No real judgement, mate. Just jokes, honestly." His light gaze grows deep and warm as he drinks his beer, blotting excess moisture from his beard before rapping the table with his knuckles and leaning in. "You need to vent something, Ben? I know you've been, and probably felt out of the loop for a good while, mate. 'S gotta be frustrating."

Ben sighs, running fingers through his hair before knocking the entirety of his own drink back. "Ugh. Well, yeah, but it's alright. I oughtn't be a prick about it." He waves for another drink and it is brought over to be drained. Ben's eyes rise to Gwil's, large and limpid and pained. "I'm sorry," he says thickly. "...I shouldn't take the way I'm feeling out on you, Gwil."

Gwil shakes his head and puts a hand on Ben's arm, giving him a squeeze. "You aren't being a prick, I promise, Ben." He says. Ben's face twists. "And oh, mate, there is no need for you to be sorry." Gwil's eyes grow sharp, their blue depths flashing as he takes in his friend's words. "How are you feeling, though? Want to talk about it at all?"

Ben nods sharply, his head and face falling, lowering towards his chest as he sniffs and rubs beneath his nose. He feels a hot ache setting in his stomach now, and recalls the ugly twisting in his guts when he isn't with Joe and the others are. It is not jealousy; not in the way he always expected to experience that feeling--but a pull, a heaviness, a longing. He misses them all four being together, but particularly after viewing Jurassic Park he knows he misses Joe with a deeper ache, a sharper pull.

Gwil is just gazing at Ben right now with such concerned compassion on his face that the blond blinks hard and tries to swallow emotion. Gwilym Lee is an incredibly decent--and incredibly perceptive--man.

"You've guessed it," Ben utters softly, his rough voice almost inaudible. "... haven't you? How I, how I'm feeling about Joe." His voice cracks and goes haywire as he bumbles in a rush "Gwilym, I think I've got feelings for him and I don't know what to do." Ben is sweating, he feels sick. Not because he is worried Gwil won't be supportive, because he knows this man, but Ben wants to be sure this isn't just some madcap crush that will upset the dynamic of their friendship. Besides, Joe is exuberant with everyone, and there is no certainty that he feels the same way as Ben does. What makes Ben so special anyway?

"I get, just... I'm a little lonely," he confesses, wiping his clammy palms against his pants, feeling disgusted by his actions and the way he's handling this. Handling, right. Benjamin Hardy, get a HOLD of yourself. "And I'm sorry, this is mad, and probably isn't something you seriously wanted to hear from me today...," Ben is going to continue speaking, but Gwil is now moving, cupping his hand to Ben's face and coming in to give him a sweet lovely gentle kiss on the cheek.

At the soft brush of lips and the slight scratch of stubble, Ben relaxes and even before his friend moves back and says "Ben, mate, it's all right. More than all right. I'm glad you told me, and I want you to be happy," he knows that yes, this is okay. He is okay.

But oh, does Joe, can Joe come to feel the same way?

Chapter Text

Joseph Mazzello is an overeager bastard.

Well, he certainly feels like that is the case-- every time Ben's on the phone calling or texting him now, he jumps to answer. It's been a year and eight months since the movie wrapped, and he is more invested in the two of them than ever. But it isn't just that he likes Ben, because he's game for flirting and affection and everything; but Joe would never EVER want to jeapordise their amazing friendship. Because how friggin awkward would it be for two friends to be into each other-- or, probably worse, and certainly more pathetic--for just one friend to get all fluttery and stupid, trying to flirt even harder so as to cover up their deeper feelings.... Yeah, right. Like that will work out.

Joe has been flirting with Ben more aggressively than ever, and he knows that he has got to stop or at least slow down, because surely this is going to make Ben uncomfortable at some point. Besides, it could make Gwil and Rami uncomfortable, and the LAST hypothetical he wants to entertain is being part of a relationship that turns everyone outside of or around it into a third wheel; never mind one of the guys who makes everything super terrible for his friend group after the relationship doesn't work out.

Joe is already thinking of the possibility of a relationship and end to said relationship. Wow. He is so screwed.

Ben certainly wouldn't be thinking about that, right? Why would he? Ben is a quiet, go with the flow kind of guy. He sits and listens. He would not be jumping the gun the way Joe currently is, and he certainly wouldn't drag all these crazy worries down the path of a hypothetical future. Come on, Joe, pull yourself together!

"Joe." Oh, shit, Ben is on a call with him right now, he looks concerned, and here is Joe zoning out like an idiot. "...you alright, mate?"

"Yeah!" Joe gulps, nearly jumping, make that flying, out of his skin. "Yeah, fine, great." He grasps at something, anything to say, to account for spacing out. "Uhhh, I may be heading back to New York for a gig soon. Well, soon-ish, so. That's exciting. And I want to be near my mom."

Ben smiles at him with enormous affection and Joe bashfully looks away. "You actually think you ARE in a rock band, calling a job a gig, eh?" He grins wider as Joe flushes and sticks out his tongue. "But no, in all seriousness, I'm happy for you, mate. That'll be awesome, and good to see your mum, I'm sure. Be a bit easier for me to pop in and visit then too, if I ever get let out of this contract I've got." Ben rolls his eyes and groans as he presses his fingertips to his cheeks and underneath his eyes.

Joe starts to smile now. "Oho, it's that bad huh? Well it's like we all said, ya shouldn't've snatched up the first job that came rolling in after BoRhap. Hafta pick and choose, make them work for you so you can sort out the lemons."

Ben smacks his lips. "Y'know, I've never understood that phrase," he muses. "I mean it's like, a lemon is a bad thing in that context, yeah? A pejorative; it's sour or something. But there's another saying 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade' ...What?"

Joe is shaking his head and holding back his laughter, watching Ben with desperate fondness. "I don't know where your mind goes sometimes," he says. "But I love it."

Ben ducks his face, bashful. When he gets going he tends to ramble, whereas Joe, however much he talks, can get to what he wants to say in a timely and interesting manner. "I mean, same here with your mind, mate. Oh!" He snaps his fingers, making Joe jump. "I meant...I was saying this job I've got may seem like a lemon but there's gotta be a chance, a way for me to make lemonade out of it."

"That's the spirit!"

Joe's eyes are wide as he flings his arms out, and Ben snorts in amusement; god, he's so cute. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

Joe shrugs, wearing a shifty grin as Ben begins laughing. "Nope, not a single clue, but hey you do you, Benny." Or better yet, do me. A week or so ago he would have added that bit as a joke. But now Joe is afraid to say it because there is a real wish imbedded in there, and Joe's not about that embarrassment at this point. Mostly he doesn't want Ben to get uncomfortable from picking up on it, or to feel embarrassed for him.... Joe cannot take that. Plus, they have a good thing going.

He cannot bear to mess this up.

***

But Rami knows. Rami always knows; Joe has barely walked through the door the next time they see each other and his friend is already saying "Something happened. What is it, it has to do with Ben, right?"

Joe responds "Rami Malek, I love you like a brother, and I'm glad we're such good friends as this, but damn if the way you can do that isn't scary as hell. I'm lucky that you only use your powers for good. ...You do, right?" Rami's lips curve at Joe's joke, he is always trying to lighten the mood with humour. But then Joe sighs and rubs a hand over the hair at the nape of his neck. "But yes, okay, your freaky psychic powers are right, this is about Ben. And me. Ben and me, which isn't a thing, but--I would like it to be. I don't want to screw up the friend group though," he adds hurriedly. "I promise, I won't let things get awkward for you or Gwil. Or Ben. So I'm gonna...not do that. Yeah." He rocks on his heels and presses his lips together flat.

"But you're okay with things getting, or being awkward for you if you feel the way you do and yet don't say anything," Rami speaks gently.

Joe shrugs. "Sure. I mean, I'm awkward anyway. It's totally part of my charm." He makes an elaborate goofy face and Rami shakes his head as he chortles. But he instantly grows serious again when Joe becomes quiet (well, quiet for him) and admits "Rami, I'm willing to just let this ride rather than speaking up and making stuff weird for everyone. I'll be fine."

"Ah, Joe," Rami sighs and opens his arms to his friend. Joe rushes right into them and Rami hugs him tightly, wrapping Joe in his arms and in safety and respect and love. "I respect your worries, I do," he speaks softly. "But I also know these men, including myself, hah. And we won't let any potential awkwardness get in our way. We're all grown ups." Rubbing his friend's back with one hand and murmuring into his ear, Rami adds "You can tell Ben how you feel in your own time, your own way; but I do think you should tell him the truth. It's going to be just fine, my darling." He speaks the last phrase a la Freddie, and that calms Joe's whirling mind the most. Rami holds him back at arm's length to look into his face, and smiles, squeezing his upper arms. "I'm going to make us some tea, and then we can watch one of your ridiculous movies if you want. I won't even make fun of it."

Joe brightens, perks up. "Seriously?? I declare, Rami, you are being quite the gentleman this evening." Rami laughs and Joe seriously adds "...I mean, you always are, but thanks, man. Uhm, what you just said...means a lot." Joe feels himself getting emotional so he grins and turns to pick a movie out. "Aaaaand you can't take this back," he singsongs. "But it's gonna be great, I promise."

"I'm sure," Rami replies, going into the kitchen to start up the kettle (having learned to brew tea properly) and whips out his phone to text Gwil. They have a bet going on Ben and Joe-- begun out of love, of course.

> Pay up, Gwilym--Joe admitted feelings! :0

> Ben did too, now we gotta get em talking to each other !!!

> ...think thatll happen soon?

> I hope. Ben isnt sure about it @ all though. Doesnt even know why Joe would go for him.

> Oh, Ben. Joe just doesnt want to ruin the friendship

> Theyre such idiots :{

> Dont I know it :P

> I may have an idea, Rami. Least on Ben's end it could help. Youll keep working on Joe, yeah?

> Will do :)

> Great <3 talk soon, ok?

> Okay, bye Gwil

> Ta for now Rami

The kettle whistles as the water comes to a boil and Joe lets out a screech of excitement, "Aha, this movie is the one! Yes, I can feel it." Rami smiles fondly at his dear friend. How he hopes Gwil's plan (whatever it is) will get Ben--and therefore Joe--to see the light.

Chapter Text

Gwilym does, in fact, have a plan. It is rather nebulous in nature, and mostly congruent on the fact that he would like to help Ben (and Joe) but feels they could use advice from someone much wiser than he.

So he phones Brian May.

Brian and Roger are readying themselves for a tour; they have been doing shows in Las Vegas for several years now, but due to the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, interests have piqued enough globally to warrant a world tour; which Brian privately wondered whether or not people think he is too old for--people including himself! But due to the film and its amazing actors and everyone involved, the public has been infected by Queen fever, and Miami, for one, said they ought to leap on this train before it leaves the station.

Truth be told, Brian is a bit tired. Not of the work, certainly; he loves what he does--oh how much he loves it still, but from the work he gets exhausted now. He is not as young as he once was, for sure. Getting out of rehearsal early one afternoon, he is contacted by Gwilym and asked to go for a quiet drink that night, which is right up Bri's alley. He gets a message from Gwil and calls him right back.

"Gwil!" he cries gladly when the other picks up the phone and answers his call. "I got your message, and it would be lovely to see you. Someplace quiet is just what we need."

"Great," Gwil sounds relieved as well as enthusiastic. "I'll get Ben to come with me."

"Well Rogie's with me, so I think that works out," Brian chuckles.

Roger, in the background, snips "I told you I'd be going out tonight whether you came or not, Brian--so face it, YOU'RE with ME." Brian sighs.

Gwil laughs aloud as he hears that. "Roger will be good for Ben tonight, lift his mood."

Brian's reply is serious "Oh, Ben isn't in good spirits, then. Is he all right?"

"Yeah, but his new job's taking the mick out of him, he's lonely. And a little heartsick, I think."

"Ah," Brian lets out an understanding sound. "And you think it'd be a good thing for us to talk to him, maybe could help."

Gwil whistles. Blimey, this man isn't a doctor of astrophysics for nothing! "Right, exactly. Erm, I figured that if nothing else, him coming out and being around you both might help."

"You're a good friend, Gwilym," Brian speaks fondly. "Give us the time and place, we will be there." ("Perhaps even with bells on!" Roger calls. "If you're into that sort of thing." Again, Brian sighs.)

Gwil tries not to laugh, but his voice wobbles a bit with stifled mirth. "Cheers, Brian. We're looking to head out about eight, I think. Unless you'd care to get some supper beforehand. Totally up to you; I know you're about to start touring so you're probably rehearsing like mad."

"Oh we're most definitely rehearsing like mad, running quite mad, certainly." Brian concurs. "I think we'll grab a bite before we meet you, and then we can all moan together about it--with those rehearsals you lot did prior to filming I'm sure you can relate."

"Oh, please, that was nothing in comparison!" Gwil demurs. "You and Rog are legends who've done this for years! We only did it five, six weeks."

"So two months," Brian says. "For a single performance. We only had three days' rehearsal before Live Aid."

"...Touche," Gwilym answers slowly. "But that only proves my point: you are legends."

"Well even legends need to eat, so we'll meet you boys at eight, yeah?"

"Right. Cheers for this, Brian. Honestly."

"Oh, that's all right. See you tonight, Gwil."

Gwilym says farewell and hangs up before texting both Rami and Ben. Separately, of course.

To Rami he says: > The plan is afoot - phase1 is a go!!

And to Ben he asks > Meetng B & R @ 8pm for drinking. You in??

> Always, mate, Ben responds.

> Good luck!!! :) returns Rami.

Gwil blows out a breath of air. Luck, yeah. He's probably going to need it.

***

Gwil and Ben get to the chosen drinking establishment first and scope out a table. They manage to locate one without being mobbed--Gwil was correct to a degree, without the Brian May wig it is more difficult for people to place him. Ben is wearing a hoodie and shuffles along not saying much, so he is not recognisable right off the bat either. But forget that, being unobtrusive goes out the window the instant Brian and Roger appear. The Queen men are flocked to, first off, surrounded by people shrieking and taking pictures and asking why they're here, those mad yet typical things fans often do. Brian thanks them for their time and their excitement, while Roger adds "You'll be able to see us again on tour very soon, so for right now piss off."

Brian is worried over how people will take that, but is gratified when they listen and do back off, only taking a few pictures over the shoulders of the men as they head for the table at which Ben and Gwil are sitting. Hugs and handshakes and pleasantries go around, and a plate of snacks has been brought to the table along with everyone's first drink.

"So, how's the love life?" Roger asks. "We all know about Lucy and Rami, and about you, Gwil--"

"I've gotten engaged," Gwilym blurts as Ben goes still, clenching his hand around his drink glass, uncomfortable. "I dunno if you saw that anywhere on social media or not."

"No, mate, I didn't, but congratulations!" Roger crows, lifting his glass. The others follow suit and all four clink their drinks together.

"That's wonderful news, Gwil. I'm so happy for you," Brian adds quieter.

"Hear hear," Ben agrees.

"Cheers, lads," Gwil beams. "I'm chuffed. More than chuffed, I'm on cloud nine. Been pinching myself, really." Looking from Roger to Brian, "Have either of you got any advice?" he asks.

"Well," Roger clears his throat, high voice matter-of-fact. "Thing is, my best advice is to not be like me. Don't go from one girl to another; pick the right one first go round. Or second, if you're like Brian." Roger tilts his head at his friend, who shifts and chuckles, a mite uncomfortable now too. The drummer reaches out and pats him on the knee in apology.

Brian squeezes Roger's hand. "Just--communicate how you're feeling as often as you can," the guitarist offers. "Your partner needs to know how you feel, and they deserve to know, just as you need to know about them. It's taken me a lot of time to realise that in my own experience, and I would have avoided a great deal of heartbreak if I'd learned sooner. Communication is key." Ben lets out a slight sound at that, and Brian registers it as Roger continues speaking to Gwil. Turning to the blond, Brian asks how he is doing.

Ben shrugs, loosening his grip on his glass and taking a sip from it. "I'm all right, I guess. Yeah. It's just tough, sometimes. Being..."

"Alone?" the older man inquires gently.

"Yes," Ben nods. "But I'm so chuffed for Gwil, and Rami," He adds quickly, not wanting to seem like some sourpuss, moaning about his feelings. "They're both so happy, and I'm over the moon for them. I just haven't--well, what you said about communicating, I-- I've got someone who I should probably communicate with, but. It's a mite complicated."

Brian nods now as well, pushing back a few grey curls. "Having feelings for someone and not being able to communicate or act on them, for whatever reason, can be tough I know."

Ben swallows hard. Brian is most certainly perceptive. "I--yeah," he agrees. "The thing with this is, I just--I dunno if this person I have feelings for likes me back. I mean we joke and flirt, and we talk all the time, but. What about me would make this real on his end?" His voice gets almost inaudible at the end, yet Brian nevertheless hears it.

The guitarist looks up and shares an intent look with Gwil, who stands and turns to Roger. "Let's grab another drink at the bar, you and me," he suggests.

Roger's brows lift and he nods, swinging himself out of the booth with a slight grunt. "I'm buying."

"Oh no, you don't have to...,"

Roger scoffs at the rebuttal. "Gwilym, you're engaged. That's a bloody accomplishment, alright? I'm. Buying." He checks whether or not Brian wants anything with a look and a lifted chin before they depart the table, and Gwil nods at Brian and Ben before walking away. Brian smiles, eyes twinkling warmly, but Ben does not even notice, he is so wrapped up in his own head.

Brian has been there. Not in precisely the same spot, but he recognises some of what Ben is going through and grappling with due to his own experience of falling in love with someone that he should not have begun to love at the point in which he did. Bri does not want to pry or to ask anything if Ben is not willing to broach those specifics first, as a way to keep him comfortable, but Brian does want to say something as a man with insecurities of his own. Ben deserves to hear it.

"Ben," Brian shifts his body to face the younger man directly, eyes crinkling, tone gentle. "You're lovely. I know...I know it can be difficult to believe good things like that about yourself; to solely see the rougher edges of your personality, magnified over what is gentle and kind and good. I myself have trouble with that to this day." The guitarist chuckles ruefully, and Ben lifts his eyes to him. Brian reaches out and puts a hand briefly on Ben's arm. "But it is and can only be a wonderful thing to love. I think that is the most important aspect of life, and this person you have feelings for has many reasons to love you in return if you make your feelings known. And if you can't do that at present, just know that you have my support, and you'll have Roger's. And Gwil's, of course. He is aware of this, yes?"

Ben nods. "How'd you know?"

"Lucky guess." Brian smiles, his face now filling with the brightness and intense emotion that occurs whenever he speaks of Freddie. "And Freddie would say, 'Go and do what makes you happy, darling. Get off your arse and find your somebody to love!'" Ben laughs aloud, and with a nod of affirming affection, Brian adds "I want you to have that, and..." His voice trembling now, a bit thick with the worry of whether he has said too much or not enough; if he has helped soothe Ben's anxieties at all or frightened him into silence. "Bless ya, Ben."

Ben's entire body trembles. He is beyond grateful, as well as utterly gobsmacked that Brian would say all of those lovely words to him. To support him and reassure him. He does not know how he has gotten so lucky as to have people in his life who are so kind, so selfless, and who care so much about his happiness. He only hopes that he can be worthy of it. Ben clears his throat, deep voice rough and cracking with gratitude as he croaks out "Cheers, Brian. Thank you."

***

Phase Two of his master plan is that Gwil has to get all four of the lads together again.

Whatever Brian said to Ben that night had immensely helped him. He isn't nearly so down later, and seems more calm and confident when Gwil suggests the possibility of all the boys getting together. "Maybe for the London Series, I know how much Joe likes the Yankees." Ben jumps at that idea, despite not quite understanding or having a fascination with baseball. Rugby, on the other hand.... But Joe adores the New York Yankees, so Ben is determined and prepared to learn about and appreciate them as well.

"Benny!" Joe screeches, his bouncing dark head bobbing and weaving through the airport two days before the first game. He and Rami had cleared their schedules immediately when Gwilym suggested meeting up for the 29th. Playing up the drama on having not seen Ben in person for so long (and because he's never met him at a London airport, besides Joe is just Joe) he continues shouting "You're HERE, oh my god, you're actually here!!!"

Heads are probably turning as Ben greets "Hey Joe," with a humongous grin as the other tackles him in a hug, kissing Ben lingeringly on the cheek before he has the chance or opportunity to talk himself out of it. Joe starts to pull away after that, but Ben only cinches his arms around and holds him tighter, fingers linked at the small of Joe's back as he rocks him, them both, back and forth a bit. "I've really missed you, buddy," Ben murmurs into Joe's ear, lips and breath ghosting across his skin and hair and causing Joe to shiver a little with an emotion he really doesn't want to start exhibiting right now--pressed against Ben as he is. But Ben is so warm and he smells so good all the time... come on, Joe, snap out of it!

"Gwilly, heeeey," he grabs immediately at the taller man after Ben finally relinquishes him. "Good to see you, man! It's been SO long."

Gwil chuckles as he pats Joe on the back, looking over the top of his head to study Ben, who is now looking down and seems to be composing himself. He receives a handshake and a tight hug from Rami, who had strolled up sedately behind Joe. "Oh, yes, it's been absolute ages," Gwil rolls his eyes as he holds Joe back, making a show of examining him. "But you're looking good, Joe."

"Not as good as Rami," Joe returns, winking and jabbing his thumb excitedly at Rami. "This guy is a GQ god, okay?"

"I don't disagree," Ben says softly, smiling at Rami.

"Nor do I," Gwil adds. "I've always thought he was damn sexy."

"Oh, stop," Rami's rich tones are bright with amusement even as he flushes slightly on account of their praise. He steps away from Ben to get a hug from Gwil. "Hello Gwil."

"Hey Rami." Gwilym hugs him tight and cocks his head over Rami's dark one to indicate the others, mouthing 'are you seeing this?' as Ben automatically lifts one of Joe's bags onto his shoulder. He offers to carry the other one as well.

Joe laughs and holds the bag away. "Uh, no way-- I know you're doing this to flash muscles on your hot bod so you can impress me, but I can carry a bag for myself. I'm no damsel." He unzips one edge and pulls out a dark-coloured hat. "Besides, I brought ya something--this way you're dressed to root for the correct team. The only club that matters." Joe slaps the navy-blue ball cap on top of Ben's blond hair and jerks down on the bill. Gwil laughs as Ben reaches up to adjust the hat's fit immediately. "--The New York Yankees!" Joe continues. "I know Gwil and Rami are lost causes; Gwil got upset with me when I wore a Yankees jacket to Fenway."

"Whoah, alright, I just think that since New York wasn't even PLAYING Boston that day, flaunting your colours may have been...shall I say, in poor taste?" Gwil beckons to the American in his corner. "Rami, help."

Rami smiles. "I've got no stake in this; it's just the way sports happen. But oh, are you gonna tell me that you've never consciously worn your team's colours somewhere where your rivals play?"

Even as Gwil's eyebrows wrinkle and he opens his mouth, Ben starts laughing. "Don't even bother denying it, Gwil--he's got you on that, mate."

Gwilym's features grow intense for a brief moment, almost appearing angry as he strokes his beard, and then he laughs. "Alright, fair enough. Now, are we taking parcels on back to flats and hotels, or stowing them in the car and going for food somewhere?"

Rami and Joe glance at each other. "Well, I don't know about you," says Joe "but I am starving."

"Food it is, then."

Gwil watches Ben shake his head at Joe and lean against him, bumping his shoulder and muttering "I knew you were gonna jump on getting food, mate; I knew it."

"Ya know me intimately, Benny," Joe grins. Ben smiles back. And I'd like to know more-- he wants to say, but instead:

"Well I ought to."

They have tickets to the second half of the series, and have been invited to supper at Gwil's parents' house first. "Me mum and dad wanted to meet the blokes I've been spending so much time with," he says to them all with an almost apologetic smile as they crowd around a table, passing food to one another. "Soon as I conceived of you lot coming for the games, Mum said you HAD to come round for supper." He flushes now in a bit of embarrassment. "And--well, they're doctors, she and my dad. We're a family of medical folk, and then there's me. So..."

"Wow. You are literally Brian May, the rock star in a family of stodgy business types," Ben says, and then instantly reaches out to pat Gwil's leg. "Sorry, mate. I didn't mean that badly."

"But it's true, right?" Joe asks. "I mean, there's totally a symmetry here." He waves a roll in the air. "Please tell me they were supportive of you going into acting, though. If they didn't talk to you for years I think I'd have to kick some ass."

Gwil smiles. "No, they were supportive. They just didn't really get it; and it's alright, Ben, they are kind of...well, different from us creative types, I'll say that. Erm, might say some things that sound disparaging about acting, what we do. But they're not intending to sound rude or anything."

"Mate, if they're related to you, how could they possibly sound rude, first off," Ben replies. "And second, it's fine, yeah?" He pans his eyes around at the other two, who are nodding.

"Definitely," Joe says. "I don't mind telling people what I do. Yes ma'am, I stared down an actual dinosaur when I was almost ten. No it was not real but may as well have been, because I really shit my pants." Ben laughs as Rami smirks a bit.

Gwil rolls his eyes and groans. "Please do not say that to my parents," he begs. Joe grins.

***

"Honestly, Joe, what are you doing?!"

"I'm taking my time."

"We all know what you're about, come on--it's glaringly obvious, mate!" Gwilym groans. "Just make your bloody choice!"

Joe beams round at them in a maniacal manner before leaning in and rubbing his hands together. "Fine, I will." With a hard yank he dislodges a block and the entire tower crashes down. "JENGA!!!"

"I hate you, Joe. SO much," Ben utters.

"Nah, you love me. C'mon Benny, say it--you love me."

"No I don't. You're a menace, mate."

"...We definitely ought to have gone out before supper to exercise Joe," Gwil glances apologetically at his parents as they bear witness to these shenanigans. "Sorry, Mum."

"Come on guys, this is fun," Rami soothes, as gentle and gallant as ever. "Good company, good food, fun games... oh and Joe isn't bad either," he cracks.

"Hey!" Mazzello pipes as Ben gives Rami an unobtrusive high-five. "You're right, Rami--I'm definitely not that bad."

"Says you," Ben harrumphs. "I have a big toe that says otherwise. He's very disgruntled, having just had his head smashed in by a blooming Jenga block."

"Aww, want me to kiss 'im and make it better?" Joe kneels on the floor to pick up the fallen blocks, and takes Ben by the foot as if he is legitimately going to kiss it. Ben laughs and rolls his eyes. Gwil clears his throat loudly as Rami shoots Joe a smile at his goofy exuberance. Gwil's mum brings in some tea and biscuits to tide them over til supper, and asks how difficult it is for them to stay in touch with each other.

"I imagine in a ...relationship, it especially must be hard," she says with a glance at Joe and Ben who are sitting together on the couch. None of the boys know what had made her start thinking they were together; oh, right, apart from the flirting and the attraction wafting off of them both in waves.

"Well, we have a weekly video chat goin' on," Joe responds breezily, taking a cup of tea and handing it to Ben before getting one of his own. "And we talk together, all four of us, on a WhatsApp chat--which is kind of like texting."

"Whenever my girlfriend and I can't physically be together, we call and chat while we're doing something like puttering around the kitchen, to hear each others' voices," Rami offers. Gwil smiles as he ducks his face after speaking thus, self-conscious. "I know, it's just--"

"Just nothing, Rami. It's very sweet and incredibly you," Gwil reassures him, patting the other man on the knee. He cannot wait for Rami and the lads to meet his love; she is planning on coming by after work, and Rami's relationship with Lucy reminds him of how he feels about her. "You write Lucy letters via snail mail too, don't you?"

Rami smacks his lips and nods, smiling softly.

"As someone who's known him for a long time, I can personally attest to this being a thing he would do," Joe speaks loudly.

"Yes, we all know how well you and Rami know each other," Gwil rolls his eyes as Ben laughs.

"I do write her letters; we, ah, hardly ever text. It seems so impersonal to me, so I call or we video chat and write lots and lots of letters." His lips press together. "You don't think that's...too strange, do you? Letter writing was once an art form, and I find that one way to really get to know someone is through the written word." He ducks his head a bit.

"...Maybe I should start writing you letters," Ben suggests to Joe, leaning in a little.

"Oh yeah? What would they be about?"

"Me professing my undying love for you, Joseph."

Shit. Joe's heart thuds heavily at that, leaping into his throat with an absurd amount of joy. He tries to keep things light, however. "Wouldja start saying you were wasting away like one of those Regency ladies my mom reads about?"

"Why yes," Ben returns smoothly. "Just call me Marianne Dashwood." Joe has no witty response to that.

Gwil has grown soft as he reassures Rami that he doesn't think writing letters is strange at all. "Epistolary relationships were once very common and all the rage. Like what Ben was saying," He nods over, cheekily letting them know that he had heard "Jane Austen wrote about it, and so have other authors. And you and Mum wrote letters when you were young, right Dad?"

His parents look up, his mum from where she'd been setting out a cuppa as his father looks over the newspaper. They glance at one another before Gwil's mother says "Yes, I suppose we did send letters back and forth a bit. When we were at separate universities."

"--They were nothing fancy or romantic, not like the dramatics you acting lot talk about or get up to, I'm sure," his father adds.

Gwilym close his eyes, despairing. And there it is, he had known this was coming. Joe mouths 'wow' and Ben's eyes narrow a bit. Rami leans against Gwil and rubs his arm, giving Gwil the courage to gently crack "Well, you wrote to each other, bare bones letters laced with scientific jargon, but you wrote, right?" His father sniffs but drops it with a small laugh, and Gwilym glances down at Rami with a thankful smile that his friend returns. The others get up and offer to set the table or otherwise assist with supper in some way.

And thus Ben finds himself in the kitchen with Joe, getting plates as the other grabs utensils. That letter comment he'd made had been a bold move, but clearly wasn't bold enough as Joe clearly still thought of it as a joke. Damn. He dearly longs to tell him it wasn't, that the sentiment was sincere, that he really feels... goes so far as to reach out right now and say "Hey, Joe--" They already think we're together, why not actually get together?

Only for Mrs Lee to pop back into the room and tell them "Napkins! That's what else we need. And a soup tureen. Gwilym, I need your long arms," and out she goes again before around comes Gwil, shooting them a slight smile and then waving them off in embarrassment as Joe and Ben both instantly begin miming his long strong arms.

Ben wants to say something after supper too, when he goes out for a smoke and Joe stands with him, chatting; a chill wind comes up and Joe shivers. Ben glances sideways before wrapping an arm around him, and the other huddles close. "You're always so warm, it's awesome," he says gratefully, and Ben looks down and over, and if Joe were to look up right now and tilt his head just so, they could--

"Hey guys, Gwil's fiancee is here," Rami's voice floats out to them as he comes to stand at the door. "He wants us to meet her." Joe nods and waves and bounces, ducking out from underneath Ben's arm, and Hardy wants to scream. He crushes out his cigarette and plasters on a smile, though (his smile becomes real as soon as he meets her, she is very nice, and clearly smitten with Gwil, and he her. But she is also completely unafraid to come down on him, which is amazing. Gwil needs a good strong woman).

They eat dessert together, all of them, and Joe feeds Ben a bite off of his spoon because "Gwil and his girl are being all lovey-dovey, let's show them how it's done." As Ben leans forward obediently and his lips close around the spoon, he lifts his eyes to Joe's and holds his gaze. Joe stares back at him, pupils large and dark as he bites his lower lip and his nostrils flare as he sucks in a breath. But it is bright in the room, and he is looking away from Ben as Mrs Lee asks if they'd like seconds, her husband assuring they can have as much to eat as they want. Ben rubs clean a spot on his chin where he felt dessert drip and shakes his head. He can't eat anymore, he is full just now--of longing, and desire, and he'll be damned if Joe isn't looking extra-good in his dark blue cardigan as they put their jackets on to head home.

"The Isles are tricky ones with weather," says Gwil's father as he stands at the door to say goodbye. He is right; it's June, for cripes' sake. "One minute it's warm, the next here comes a nor'easter...."

They all head back and say goodnight; Rami and Joe are in a hotel since Gwil and his fiancee have been in his flat together, and his friends don't want to impose on their time. Nor do they want to impose upon Ben, even though he had sworn that he has a comfortable blow-up mattress he can use, or the couch; he's got a spare bedroom--or he and Joe can share one bed, giving Rami the other. Ben very nearly suggested that; it wouldn't even be weird, they had crashed together in the past a bunch of times. Besides the whole Instagram saga of course. But he had not spoken up, like a coward, and Rami says they should probably get back in order to be well-rested for the big baseball game tomorrow, which of course Joe instantly agrees to.

So Ben is standing out here inwardly cursing himself after saying good night to Joe and nothing else. Joe had even ASKED if he was okay, it seems like he'd been quieter than usual, or that he wanted to say something; is he good? And yet again, looking into those open friendly gorgeous eyes, Ben had chickened out. He didn't--couldn't--admit a thing. But oh, how much he wants to.

Chapter Text

Joe is having the time of his life.

First, he is watching baseball, which is amazing anywhere; he will gladly shout down anyone with the audacity to call this a boring sport, how dare they speak so? But here, at the London stadium, where the Olympics ceremonies were held, where the West Ham soccer team has a home (that has been covered with carefully balanced clubhouses and dugouts and various materials with which to create a baseball diamond) in a city whose residents only vaguely understand that baseball is a sport --faster than cricket, slower than futbol, and strangely akin to the child's game of rounders--yet the stands here are practically full... this is a great day.

Second, he is here with his boys, and they are all into the game, having asked some questions about rules at various junctures subsequent to calls made by the umpires. Ben is proudly sporting his Yankees cap and Gwil buys them all a hotdog and a beer. "Gotta have some stadium food," he says.

"You remembered!" Joe beams.

Gwilym laughs. "Well, it's not all that difficult to do when I distinctly recall you chanting it at me during that ...was it the Rangers game we went to whilst promoting the film?"

"Oh, yeah," Mazzello begins laughing too as he glances over at Rami, who is nodding in response to that memory as well. Ben sighs as he takes a bite of his hotdog, cheeks puffing out as he chews.

"Right, laugh it up, mates; remind me of that hellish time when I wasn't with you."

"Aw, Ben," Joe leans into him and looks over to see a messy smile, mustard drips smeared on the nearer edge of Hardy's full lips like drops of gold. He leans forward to sip the non-alcoholic drink he'd gotten.

"--S'a bit too early for me to drink beer," Ben said upon purchasing it. "Unless you lot are all right with carrying me out of here after the game." He sets his cup back into its holder now and focuses on the field, eyes widening as he notes a nice catch.

The dollop of mustard trembles, and Joe imagines leaning in and kissing the condiment off Ben's mouth before making out with him for good measure. No, stop, that would DEFINITELY create an incredible amount of awkwardness in the friend group, Joe. Meanwhile in actuality he nudges Ben's arm and mimes wiping his mouth, saying "Uh, ya got a little bit of mustard there, buddy." Instantly wanting to kick himself. He should have just wiped Ben's lip clean with his thumb or something and made a stupid joke about it, what the hell. Now he is sitting here sweating and shuffling in his seat as the sun beats down, and he desperately attempts to ignore the way light shines and glows off Ben's hair and around his face, in his eyes, making their blue-green depths appear deep enough to drown in.

It takes the loud crack of a bat and Gwil nudging Joe's opposite side to offer him some cotton candy, or fairy floss as it is apparently called over here-- what a name, so mystical-- to get Mazzello focused back on the ballgame again. Though once Ben heads down from their seats to take a smoke break, tilting his cap jauntily and grinning back up at Joe, both Gwilym and Rami turn to stare at him.

"Joe, come on," Rami says.

"...What?" Joe feigns utter innocence even as his heart begins to pound.

Gwil scoffs. "'What?' oh you know exactly what, mate. You are GONE for Ben--it is abundantly, glaringly obvious."

Joe blinks and bumbles "What, no, I--so--" smooth, Joe. Well done.

"... Whenever you aren't watching the game, you've been staring at Ben consistently." Rami widens his eyes apologetically as Joe gasps, hand going to his face.

"He's right; you have," Gwil agrees with a knowing nod. "You really ought to tell him why you're looking at him like that--even Ben isn't that oblivious. He's eventually going to notice."

"Well, well what would I even say?!" Joe sputters, cheeks flushing now. "It's gonna be so awkward--"

"Joey. Nothing is or can be as awkward as you devouring Ben with your eyes and practically drooling all over your own feet because he missed a bit of mustard," Gwilym groans. "Trust me, I would rather you morons make out in the seat beside me than be forced to witness any more of this ridiculous pining." Rami presses his lips together but nods emphatically. "--Besides, possible awkwardness in future we can handle if it leads to your happiness. And Ben's." When Joe opens his mouth to rebuke or object or whatever he is planning, Gwil puts a firm hand on his nearer leg. "Just think about it, mate. Not too hard right now, though--don't want you to overexert yourself while watching your Yankees."

Rami leans against Joe to comfort him, wrapping both arms around his shoulders. "It's gonna be okay, Joe."

"Incoming," Gwil sits up sharply and nudges Rami who relinquishes his hold on Joe as they spot Ben jogging up the steps towards them, a cup of beer in each hand and a bag of what appears to be peanuts clenched between his teeth. Ball cracks off a bat and a roar goes up as it careens foul and heads for them -- "Oh, Christ," Gwilym gasps as the arc of the foul tip heads straight for the stairs where Ben is facing away from its path.

Joe bolts to his feet. "BENNY! BALL AT YOUR SIX O'CLOCK!!" he hollers and Ben turns around, feet sliding back as his hands jerk upwards and with a plop! the baseball falls into his right-hand beer cup. Another cheer goes up as Ben stares uncomprehendingly, dumbfounded, and Joe waves madly at him: "C'mon, bring it up here, man!"

Ben shrugs, jogging the rest of the way back to their seats and handing over the cup to Joe, who practically snatches it out of his hand. He drops the bag of peanuts into his now-empty hand. "Well, that one was gonna be yours anyway, mate. Cheers." Ben flops back down in his seat and jerks on his hat bill. "So lads, what'd I miss?"

Rami and Gwil trade a stupefied glance as Joe stares from Ben to the beer-soaked baseball in awe. "Noth--nothing as mind-boggling as that was, holy shit. How--?"

"I'm glad that Joe screamed at me, for once," Ben says.

Joe is shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm just happy you turned around then. If ya hadn't--"

"...The ball'd be rushing headlong?" Rami suggests.

"Yeah, into the back of Ben's head."

Ben shifts in his seat. "Exactly. Well, it didn't, so lucky me. ... would anyone like some, erm, peanuts?" He asks.

***

Nothing nearly so exciting as that happens for the rest of the trip, and the following weeks are taken up for Joe by him renting out his LA apartment and moving himself back to New York. He wants to be close to his mother. Losing his dad...well, it had wrecked her, pretty much. His brother John still lives pretty close to home, and Mary isn't too far with her family, but Joe wants to be there too.

He is lucky to find an apartment in the city with someone to co-sign the lease. NYC is an incredibly expensive place, almost as high as Los Angeles in the cost of living unless one is extremely lucky. Which Joe apparently is in finding a reasonable apartment with a housemate. He has always been a positive thinker who focuses on living his very best life, and wonders if that has anything to do with this move and his thoughts about the future. He really hopes that it does, because perhaps that good energy and positive thinking can assist him with Ben and what to do about how he feels about him.

Joe is honestly glad now--as well as relieved-- that Rami and Gwil had talked to him and let him know that he's basically an idiot for not telling Ben how he feels. Joe is very much aware of this, and his gratitude stems from a) the boys swearing up and down that nothing could possibly be as awkward about Joe and Ben getting together as b) their crap is right now. Joe chuckles ruefully to himself as he vacuums his new place for the first time. He has been here for almost two weeks, and cleaning always empties his mind enough of other things to allow him to think, ponder one thing uninterrupted.

He's just got to sack up, then. "Oh I've got to be free, baby," Joe sings to himself as he pushes the vacuum around the main living area, sticking out his behind and stepping sideways. His words contain no small trace of irony: "...Oh how I want to break free!"

Spinning round and kicking one leg into the air, Joe hears a distant boom and looks up, turning off the vacuum cleaner to see his housemate framed in the doorway of the living room. He gives Joe a casual nod, amusement writ large on his face. "Sup man?"

"Hey," Joe's breath heaves as he smiles, withdrawing one of his earbuds and draping its cord down around his neck. The two of them haven't spoken all that much, but this guy seems decent. A guy's guy, for sure. "How's--how's it going? Hope, uh, you didn't mind me cleaning the place in the middle of the ...evening." Glancing at his watch, Joe realises it is after five pm, which is of course the time most people come home from work.

The other waves at him with an easygoing grin. "Nah bro, I don't mind at all. I'm not one for cleaning up so if you actually dig doin' it, I won't stop ya." He begins to head back to his section of the place before pausing and turning back. "...You weren't listening to Queen just then, were you?"

Joe realises this guy had heard his awful singing. "Oh! Yeah, I was, actually. To a song called 'I Want to Break Free'. It actually got banned on MTV, was kind of a taboo song for awhile here because the music video was..."

"Freaky?" The other finishes, typing something into his phone. "Seems like the members of that band were kind of...weird." Shooting Joe another smile, "No judgement on you for digging them, though. I'm sure they've got a few decent tunes."

"Yeah, they do," Joe says brightly, and as the other nods and says peace til he comes back out to get food later, if Joe wants to get something too, let him know; he's being friendly, but Joe is already absolutely certain they will never be best friends.

***

He gets into a routine here during the first two months, and tells the lads all about his new place and the fact that he can walk --or ride-- to see the Yankees play on their home turf now, hell yeah. Just needs more people to go with, can't always tag along with his housemate, even though he's never really been tagging along, the guy just invites him and Joe is not going to be rude and turn him down. It is like he feels bad for Joe or something, being alone-- even though Joe grabs lunches with his brother and hangs out with his sis and her husband and their kids, not to mention his mom.... Yeah, all right, that might seem on the pathetic side to some people, but Joe had been gone a lot working for the past few years, and it is really nice to be able to come back home.

Besides, his pals call him when they can, and visit sometimes--he has gone for drinks with Hoechlin and Chace when they pass through the city on their way up to Vancouver (because all the good series jobs film in Canada, apparently). Joe wishes them luck having to watch, and talk, nothing but hockey for months on end. They tell him that he can come up too for a visit, hang and go out on the town, have a grand old time; for the offer of which Joe says thanks and that he will think about it, but at the moment he's in a New York state of mind.

That isn't ENTIRELY true, but also is not false enough for Joe to deny it and say anything else. He is sitting on his apartment's miniscule balcony one evening, watching the sun set over the high rises when his phone chimes with a message.

It's from Ben.

> Hey Joe, how's it goin buddy? Im entirely too hot in this New York weather, mate. Dunno how you stand it

> Ur always hot tho, Benny, Joe responds. > And sides its summer here.

And then the penny drops.

> Wait. Did u say ur IN ny right now, Ben?? Or r u joking?

If he's joking....

> ...ya might wanna come downstairs or something, mate. I think I need to be buzzed in.

A chime sounds from Joe's phone again, and a picture comes in of Ben grinning and jerking his thumb backwards at the facade of Joe's apartment building, which is clearly visible behind him.

Joe shrieks and drops his phone in excitement and stupefaction.

Chapter Text

Joe scoops up his phone, fingers shaking, heart pounding; he stuffs it into the pocket of his shorts, slips on some shoes and grabs his key before heading into the hallway and downstairs. Well, down the elevator. He can't stop the incredulous grin that spreads over his face. How is Benny even HERE right now? Sure, Joe had said where his apartment was located, but separate from that, what happened with Ben's job? Had they --oh no, had the directors had enough and fired him? No, Joe, come on, who wouldn't love Ben? He certainly does.

Each morning I get up I die a little, can barely stand on my feet... Joe realises he has started humming 'Somebody To Love' as he reaches the lobby and shakes his head at himself. He knows full-well that he's ridiculous. But as he nods a greeting to the guard at the desk and tells him what unit he lives in, Joe's face splits into an even larger grin as he spots Ben standing outside. He sees him through the glass and Ben smiles back, lifting a hand to him as Joe checks with the guard before flinging open the door to admit him.

"Benny," Joe breathes as the other stands here, in his personal space, looking really good in a dark grey t-shirt and jeans with sneakers. His hair catches the last of the fading sunlight as he holds a single bag--a valise?--by his side.

"Hey, Joe," that deep voice sounds as warm as ever, with an undercurrent of tender excitement. "Surprise!" Instantly the air is knocked out of Ben as Joe lunges at him for a hug, feeling the slight dampness of the shirt cloth between Ben's shoulder blades--clearly he had not been kidding about how hot he was--and not giving a crap at all. He wraps his arms and his legs around Ben's torso like a koala bear, letting out a strangled sort of yelp from excitement. Ben's torso trembles as he chuckles, wrapping his own arms around Joe and holding him tight as he stumbles just a bit before regaining his balance under his friend's weight. Feeling Joe's heart beat rapid-fire against his pecs causes Ben's own heartbeat to speed up as well, and he licks his lips, consciously breathing slowly, deeply through his nose to slow it down. Calm, Benjamin; keep calm. He catches a whiff of aftershave as his nose presses against Joe's smooth cheek. "No razor mishaps this time round?" he kids, as Joe had posted a duo of pictures on Instagram outlining his shaving woes and the fact that he had to go down to the store and buy a new razor with his face half-shaved one morning.

Joe laughs. "Nope, everything went smoothly for once! It's been a good day, well, a great one now you're here!!" Withdrawing his legs from around Ben's waist and hopping down, retreating just a bit, Joe's eyes squint into his, concerned. "But are things good for you, Benny? You didn't get dropped from your show or anything, didja?"

"No mate, I didn't. Everything's coming up roses," Hardy assures him. "I just really wanted to come and see you, and since it's the off-season, now I can."

Joe practically facepalms his own stupidity. Off-season, right--that's a thing that happens on television series, and it's perfectly normal. "So they're letting you come back next year, huh?" Joe inquires, grinning again. "Your heartthrob status is still intact?"

Ben laughs, ducking his face bashfully. "Yeah, mate. Guess so," he replies.

Joe gazes at him with immense affection, watches as Ben swallows, and to Joe he looks a bit weary, somewhat worn-down. "Hey man, come on upstairs, I'll show ya my place. You're probably exhausted from jet-lag so I can make you a grilled-cheese sandwich or somethin'."

"That sounds nice," Ben says gratefully, not even teasing Joe about his cooking skills. Wow, he must really be hungry. "Thanks mate."

"Of course," Joe swoops down and picks up Ben's bag for him, as he had dropped it when they hugged. "It's the least I can do since you flew over to surprise me, that's so awesome! I feel like the girl at the end of a romantic movie. Have a good night, Sam!" He waves to the security guard and Ben nods as they pass him, heading back over to the elevator. "Sammy was low watchin' our show, but at least he isn't sweeping up the Emerald Bar, eh?"

Ben laughs at the reference, shaking his head fondly. He reaches out and puts a hand on the other man's shoulder, squeezing it. "Oh how I've missed you, Joe."

Joe's heart thumps as he automatically reaches up and presses Ben's fingers, feeling the warmth and strength of them even as his start shaking a little. "I've missed you too, Benny." He swallows as they look in each other's faces, mere breadths apart. "...God, if you only knew how much."

"Well why don't you tell me?" Hardy suggests softly, shifting himself to face Joe head-on. He rolls his lips and his eyelashes flutter, almost giving Mazzello heart failure. "Just how much did you miss me, mate?"

"I--" Joe opens his mouth to say something incredibly stupid, he's sure, but is saved by the dinging elevator doors as they open to admit them. "...Here, uh, after you," Joe sweeps his arm gallantly. "I missed you a bushel and a peck, dear Benny boy. Which is why I hugged you round the neck soon as I saw you."

Ben shoots him another smile, but something in those light eyes flickers and Joe regrets his exuberance, or over-exuberance, which had made his response seem like a joke even though he is practically aching with sincerity. Particularly in certain places. Shit. Control yourself Joe. He sucks in a long and shaky breath as he presses the button of his floor and after the doors close, still facing them, Joe reaches over and hugs Ben tightly around the waist.

"I'm so happy that you're here, my friend," Joe adds quietly, his voice now serious. "It means a lot that you packed up and came."

"Without checking a single bag either," Ben replies, leaning into Joe's side and wrapping one well-muscled arm around his shoulders. "I was going to wear the Yankees cap you gave me through customs, but didn't want to look like an idiot British tourist."

Joe leans back from him with a grin. "Tourist? Aw c'mon Ben, that hat gives you a ton of street cred!" The elevator opens and he pats his friend's side before letting go and striding ahead of him. "Here we are; home sweet home," Joe bends forward a bit to unlock his apartment door.

As Joe twists the key in the lock, Ben studies the curvature of his spinal column and the tender place behind his ear, and thinks on how easy it would be to bend over and take him right here, to grab onto Joe and kiss him into oblivion--but the door is opening and the lights in his flat are on, and besides the fact that Ben does not know exactly how Joe feels, his housemate is probably around somewhere. Damn Ben for his aching neediness, he is probably just tired. He knows he is certainly hungry, and jet-lagged, as Joe said. He came to see Joe and to tell him...to tell him everything, but it's got to be, he's got to do it when the time is right.

As Joe lets out one of his exuberant noises and puts down Ben's bag before moving into the kitchen asking "You want something to drink?"

Ben says "Yeah, cheers mate," absently, running his fingers through his hair and looking around the apartment. Nope, timing isn't right.

He pulls out a stool to sit as Joe asks "Whaddaya want?"

"Whatever you've got. I'm easy," Ben closes his eyes and leans backwards a bit, stretching his muscles and turning his head to crack his neck.

He waits for Joe to articulate a joking reply, so is surprised when he feels Joe come closer and hears him swallow as he says "Good to know," in a tone that Ben cannot figure out. His eyes snap open as Joe puts his hands against his shoulders and rubs the top of them, finding the kinks that come whenever one has been sitting with their head and upper body cocked ridiculously in the seat of an airplane. There is a heaviness to Joe's manner, so antithetical to their typical flirty banter that Ben is instantly certain he's made his friend uncomfortable. Oh, no. But Joe rubs his shoulders and then pats them before getting out two glasses and a pitcher of lemonade. He pours a generous amount for both of them and slides one cup to Ben, clinking his against it. So perhaps Ben had simply imagined the discomfort. There is a difference, sure; he's tired.

Joe grins at him now though, pulling out a frying pan and asking if Ben wants meat on his sandwich or "Do you want a straight-up cheese toasty a la Deacy? I also think we have some tomatoes if you want one of those," and he is standing there in his kitchen having slung a ridiculous cliche of an apron on--it actually says Kiss The Cook in loopy letters--beaming at Ben.

Ben feels himself die a little inside in response to Joe's zany, adorable, as-yet unattainable, self. He croaks "I'll take the meat and cheese, please," before sucking down lemonade and coughing. Joe is beside him, thumping him on the back, and Ben's eyes start watering as his face goes beet-red. He's certain he looks a fright.

Joe suddenly blurts out "You're the most beautiful person that I've ever seen, Benjamin," and Ben feels tingly from his head to his toes.

"Oh go on, Joe," he waves him off, having managed to at last catch his breath again. His voice is scratchy as he adds "...you're just relieved I didn't expire on the floor of your kitchen from lemonade-induced suffocation."

"Okay, that's true," Joe allows. "But you are beautiful, Ben. Beauteous Ben Hardy, come on, I'm sure at least ONE reporter on the red carpet called ya that!"

"Yeah, right, mate. Someone called you Gorgeous Joe as well then, I'm sure of it."

"Ah, stop." Joe makes a face and flips the sandwich he had started cooking in its pan, making it hiss. "I was being serious."

Leaning his elbows on the counter and tipping his face forward until Joe looks over at him, Ben responds "...So'm I."

***

They end up in front of the coffee table on the couch eating grilled cheese, because Joe is all proud of himself for researching who Marianne Dashwood was, since Ben had mentioned her; and he found out she's a character from Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility of which there is a movie version starring Kate Winslet as Marianne with Emma Thompson as her sensible older sister Elinor. Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, and Hugh Laurie star as well. "--I know that I need some culture," laughs Joe. "My mom loves this book, and I am here for Nanny McPhee and House M.D. so I'm sure this is gonna be good. You in?"

Ben laughed, of course he is in; he'd been the one to reference Marianne in the first place. And of course Joe starts cracking jokes, like "Omg it's Umbridge!" when Imelda Staunton first appears in her bit part. "And she's married to HOUSE?! Shit, I don't know who I feel more sorry for. Maybe her magic could help him with his opioid addiction."

"...I dunno, mate; her personality would probably make it worse," Ben mumbles from where he has fallen into the couch cushions, one fist propping up the side of his face.

"Touche, Benny." Joe laughs and tucks a blanket around his friend's legs. He gets invested in the storyline of Elinor (Emma Thompson) falling for Hugh Grant's character but staying super quiet about it, and is as devastated as Marianne is by her beau Willoughby, who had been flirting so much before ditching her for another girl. "What a dick!" Joe loudly whispers. "Did he actually like her at all, or is he just a player? Ooh Elinor oughta kick his shit in!"

Ben hushes him. "Just watch the film," he laughs.

Joe does, going silent, and his stomach ties itself in knots when Marianne walks up the hill overlooking Willoughby's house after he snubs her in front of everyone at a dance in London; and as she recites Shakespeare, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments--" whilst the rain arrives, pouring down with her tears, he looks over at Ben wrapped in the blanket beside him. What is he doing to Ben, flirting and teasing him all the time when for Joe there are actual feelings behind his words? He is leading Ben on, the way that Willoughby did, except in a joking manner rather than letting his real feelings shine through. And at the same time, Joe's being as tight-lipped as Elinor, too afraid to speak up to her man for fear of ruining things, and because it isn't the sensible thing to do. Oh, hell. If Willoughby had been upfront about his feelings and his fortune with Marianne, she wouldn't have been so confused and gotten her heart broken and almost DIE from staying outside in the rain all day! Oh god, Joe cannot keep doing this. He has to be honest with Ben. He cannot lead him on to believe that they're still joking when Joe has legitimate feelings.

Joe feels a tightness closing round his lungs, as if a pair of hands is wrapped around them, squeezing the air out. He gasps and feels tears on his cheeks. He had not realised he had started crying until Ben shifts underneath the blanket and lifts himself out of the supine position he had hitherto occupied on the couch. "Joe? Oh, hey, mate, come on. It's going to be all right--it'll all work out."

Joe sniffs and rubs furiously at his cheeks. "Yeah, I know it will. For them." His heart is hammering, knocking against his ribs. But what about us, Ben?! He feels like screaming. This isn't as drastic as somebody legitimately dying, but he still needs to tell the truth. Joe sucks in a breath and coughs, shaking. Ben puts an arm around him along with the blanket as well, before leaning himself against Joe. Pressing his round cheek into the side of Mazzello's shoulder, Ben rubs his fingers up and down Joe's spine, bumping over the vertebrae soothingly, rhythmically.

They continue watching, and Joe calms down now that he knows he needs to tell the truth to Ben. Things do end up working out in the movie--Marianne's sickness subsides and she marries a colonel who will provide amply for her. "And that's Alan Rickman, hell yeah, score for Marianne," Joe says. Still leaning against him, Ben chuckles as his friend starts yelling at Hugh Grant to come and get Elinor. "Emma deserves happiness! Get your pretty-boy buttocks over there, Hugh!!!"

"Nice word choice, Joe," Hardy nudges him. "You've gotten some British-isms."

"Ya like that?" Joe smiles, looking over at Ben who turns to him, eyes deep as a stormy ocean and appearing just as turbulent. His gaze flickers across Joe's face, studying his features as if searching for something and Joe's heart thumps.

"Yeah," Ben says. "I do." He can tell something was upsetting Joe, sending him into a panic, something to do with the film and what happened therein. Something about the honesty and the love, and Ben doesn't know how to help, other than by letting Joe know how much he is appreciated, how much he is loved. He sits still rubbing Joe's back and feels the other's muscles start to relax. Ben almost nods off as he holds onto Joe, using his shoulder as a pillow, and then the opening of the apartment door jerks him back to wakefulness.

A guy comes in. Tall, blunt face, kind of has that All-American look; a bit like Joe's mate Tyler Hoechlin in body type, but not nearly as attractive. Especially not when he sees Joe and Ben sitting so close together under the same blanket on the couch. His lip curls in what appears to be disgust for just a moment. Joe doesn't seem to take note of that, he waves and greets the bloke as easy-going and breezy as ever. "Hey Jeff, this is Ben. Ben, this is my housemate Jeff." Ben stands up and leans back across the couch to shake Jeff's hand, as the guy doesn't appear inclined to walk around it. He does his best to crush Ben's fingers, and his eyes widen a bit when Hardy only smiles and puts pressure on his hand right back, matching the strength of his handshake. Take that, macho man. The guy lets go quickly after that.

"So, how you guys know each other?" he asks, seeming barely interested.

"Met on a movie," Ben speaks up promptly.

"Pair'a extras meetin' in the can? Heh heh," Jeff guffaws.

As Ben opens his mouth Joe interjects with his typical charming smile: "Something like that, yeah."

Jeff doesn't say much else, other than grabbing a drink out of the refrigerator and tossing over his shoulder, "Later, good ta meetcha."

"Cheers," Ben replies flatly and Joe waves.

"Bye!" He gets up and puts the movie away, turning off the TV.

"Wow, what a gem that guy is," Ben sarcastically mutters, getting up as well and gathering their used plates and glasses to bring back into the kitchen and wash.

Joe laughs. "Ah, you don't know him by half. Talked crap about Queen."

Ben's eyes narrow and his head shoots up where he stands beside the sink, pouring soap into its water to begin washing dishes. "Ooh, we gotta end him."

"Shh," Joe hisses, grinning as he grabs a rag with which to dry their plates and gallops over to stand beside Ben. "...the FBI's gonna come to this house and break down the door."

"Ah, has your apartment been bugged by the law, man?" Ben asks in a truly terrible American accent. Joe snorts so hard that Ben teases he's going to expunge his entire brain.

"Oh my god, I think YOU already did!" Joe cackles. "Seriously, what WAS that?!? It was like Colonel Sanders mixed with a frog, trying to pretend that he's from New York, only he's actually like--"

"Hey hey, watch it, don't insult your guest," Ben's eyes twinkle. "Or he might not come back."

"Oh, okay, hahahaha, sorry." Joe swallows the remainder of his lusty howls of laughter as he puts away the now-clean dishes. Ben yawns expansively, his jaw cracking. Joe grins. "Are you tired, my dear guest? Here, bring your bag, I'll let ya borrow a pair of my sweatpants and you can take my bed to get some solid sleep. C'mon." He turns out the kitchen light and leads Ben to his bedroom, going to the dresser and pulling out a pair of old plaid trousers that are absurdly soft, as Ben feels when he accepts them.

Joe points out the connecting bathroom and where Ben can find towels for the shower, etc. He splashes water on his face and grabs his toothbrush before giving Ben the room, and slips into his own nighttime t-shirt and a pair of athletic shorts. Joe often only wears a shirt and undies, but doesn't want to scar anyone by walking around like that if he is taking the couch. He goes over and flings down the blankets on his bed, bouncing on the mattress a bit before getting Ben a fresh pillowcase. Joe blows air out of his cheeks and rubs underneath his nose. Ben is obviously exhausted, so it only makes sense for Joe to let him use the bed. He is totally on his way out to make up the couch, has readied himself to stand up and everything, when Ben opens the bathroom door and he makes the mistake of looking up at him.

Ben is framed in the light with Joe's pants slung low around his hips. His feet are bare and face is scrubbed, hair standing on end as his bare shoulders catch the light. He had removed his sweaty t-shirt to sleep and his hair and skin glows gold for a bit before he shuts off the light and comes over to the bed, blinking owlishly with tired eyes. "Hey, uh, here," Joe jumps up, trying to play things off like he clearly hadn't just been staring. "You can sleep in here, Ben."

A smile flickers across Ben's face. "...Uh-huh. Keepin' the bed warm for us, eh?"

"Oh. Heh --warm for you, yeah. I mean, I was gonna go and crash on the couch. I can always--"

"No, no, mate. C'mon." Ben beckons to him. "Please, it's fine. More than fine." He slides his legs underneath the covers and faces Joe, who smiles in wobbly relief.

"Don't needja to tell me twice," he says, diving back onto the bed. Ben shakes with laughter as he pulls the blankets up around his shoulders, lifting them over Joe's chest for him as well. Joe scoots over and burrows close, his bare toes stretching out to press up against Ben's. Ben shoots upright and jerks his foot away with a yelp.

"Your feet are bloody FREEZING, Joe! If you're gonna shove 'em on top of mine like that, maybe you should go sleep on the couch." Joe grins and runs his toes along Ben's ankle under the hem of his pants. Again Ben jerks away, shoving him lightly this time. "I will kick you out of this bed right now," he threatens.

It is now Joe's turn to shake with amusement. "Uh, excuse me, this is my bed, Benny. Now that I'm in it I can't be kicked out, them's the rules. I oughta boot you out unless you warm me up!"

Ben groans as Joe burrows himself against his side, resting his head on Ben's bare right shoulder as he had rolled over onto his back. "...You're so ridiculous."

"Pleeease??" Joe begs, sticking his lips out in an elaborate pout.

Ben laughs again, rolling his eyes this time. Shifting his hips and knees downward as he rolls onto his stomach, Hardy shuffles himself lower on the bed, breathing on Joe's bare legs and then his feet before cupping Joe's freezing toes in his hands and rubbing the skin with deft strength. Joe lets out an appreciative sound as Ben's hands warm his lower extremities. And then goosepimples pop up on Joe's legs as Ben lifts his strong hands to knead his thighs and then calves, raising his muscular torso upwards meanwhile. "You still cold, buddy?" Ben murmurs as he strokes Joe's skin, deep voice a purr.

"Uh," Joe squeaks and gulps, feeling as though his brain has short-circuited. "M-maybe?" He cannot come up with an articulate response, dang it! He sees Ben's teeth flash as he smiles and feels his hands take hold of Joe's waist--and then the blond yawns heavily again, his head falling against Joe's abdomen. Joe strokes his hair before patting the pillow beside him invitingly. "Come back up here, Benny, and snuggle with me. We both have to be awake for that other stuff."

Ben nods against Joe and pulls himself up, flopping next to his friend and slinging a bare arm across his chest. He is practically asleep now. "Night Joe," he murmurs. "Thanks for lettin' me crash in here wi' you, mate."

"Of course," Joe beams and rests his chin in Ben's soft hair. "I'm so happy you're here."

***

Ben shifts onto his side a bit more, stretching his legs. Though he remains exhausted from his flight, he had woken up some time after initially succumbing to sleep. Joe has conked out completely at this point and his arms and legs are wrapped around Ben as if he's descended from some many-legged sea creature. Luckily Joe is not a hot-natured person AT ALL, as was expertly exhibited by the temperature of his feet, they were like ice blocks. So Ben feels not at all stifled by his closeness. On the contrary, he feels snug and safe. He burrows under the blankets and feels himself beginning to drift off once again.

...At least until Joe, completely asleep, lifts one hand and cups Ben's full cheek. "Oh my god, what the FUCK--!" Ben yelps and jerks backwards so hard that he flies off the side of the bed, hitting the floor with a solid thud.

Joe jerks awake and leaps into a crouch, hands thrown out as if he's some sort of ninja, ready to attack whatever had made Ben scream. "What happened? Ben! Benny, are you okay?"

"...Yeah," Ben grunts.

"Where are you?"

"Down here on the floor." Joe sticks his head off the bed to find Ben leaning on his elbows, hair a wild mess, staring up at him. "You were asleep and just out of nowhere stroked my blooming FACE!"

Joe blinks. "Oh, well. Don't sell the bike shop, Orville." When Ben simply stares at him, not comprehending his reference in the slightest--okay, it had been obscure; most people don't know the Wright brothers owned a bike shop in Ohio before flying planes, and Ben's flight off the bed just now was super short-lived--Joe attempts to exude surety and bravado. "But. I mean, can you blame me? Like I said earlier tonight, you're incredibly attractive, Benny."

Ben rolls his eyes and hauls himself back into bed. "Ugh. We're already in bed together, Joe. I dunno what flirting with me is gonna accomplish for you now."

"Uh, maybe I just like letting you know how awesome and attractive you are," Joe pulls the fallen blankets back up and tucks them tenderly around his friend. "Because I love you, and because it's true, duh."

Ben chuckles and wraps his arms around his pillow, closing his eyes. "Thanks, Joe. Just...try and keep your hands to yourself f' the rest of the night, yeah? I want ya to be awake for everything else 's gonna happen."

Joe's eyebrows shoot up almost to his hairline. Ben really is exhausted now; he has buried his head against the pillow and his breaths are slow and deep and even with sleep by the time that Joe works up the courage to ask what "everything else" entails.

Chapter Text

Joe wakes early the next morning and extricates his limbs from around Ben's before carefully creeping out of bed and tiptoeing to grab his clothes and to use the shower and bathroom. He moves as quietly as possible until the last possible moment when he has to wake Ben up in order to let him know where he is going. Joe crouches at his friend's side of the bed, eyes tracking down the length of Ben's arms and the muscles of his torso, the sweet round curves of his cheeks. He could look at Ben all the time and never grow tired of it, and he could listen to him talk and laugh forever.

"Ben," Joe speaks finally, placing a firm but careful hand upon his friend's closer forearm. The blond twitches and inhales, his eyes slowly opening, blinking and bleary and heavy still with sleep. He has the most glorious case of bed-head Joe has ever seen, blond spikes of hair are sticking in all directions off the top of his head. Joe bites his lip and rubs Ben's arm gently. "Hey, good morning, sunshine. I've got to leave now for a meeting with my agent but I'll be back in a couple hours and we can grab lunch. Feel free to watch TV and eat anything from the top half of the fridge while I'm gone. You can take a shower or whatever and I'll be back to grab ya for food, okay?"

Ben nods, his cheeks are flushed and his eyes bright even as they still appear more than slightly dazed from sleep. His movements are swift, however, as he leans forward apparently without thought and kisses Joe--mostly on the mouth but messily enough that he catches a bit of the other's cheek as well. Joe's eyes flutter closed and he freezes in awe and joy, unable even to kiss back before Ben is retreating, eyes dark now, and huge. Voice rough, Ben says "Okay, Joe. Love ya," in such a true, unguarded, gentle way as though speaking so is the most natural thing in the world.

He sinks back onto the pillow into bed, and Joe remains in place, not wanting to leave and break whatever spell has fallen over him, over them both, and caused Ben to do and say what Joe's been praying he would for so long. He has to go, though. Feels like his voice is garbled and strange as he stands and replies "Thanks, love you back. I'll--see you later, Benny."

"Bye," Ben mumbles thickly from where his face has sunken against the cloth of the pillow again.

Joe exits, practically running first into the wall and then the edge of the kitchen counter as he goes, before eventually managing to walk straight out the front door.

Ben wakes up completely some time later, recalls what he had done--and said!--to Joe, and is instantly mortified. Oh good lord... Joe had been incredibly sweet about it, but that's because he was probably in shock. Ben certainly is. What in the hell had he been thinking?! Obviously he HADN'T thought, because not only had he kissed Joe, but said that he loved him; and not in the way they normally do, friend-like, but in the manner that a wife says she loves her husband as he leaves for work in the morning. God. They had been joking and cuddling last night, and everything was good, Ben was planning to clearly articulate all of his feelings to Joe once they were both rested and he would and could do it in a sedate manner. Giving Joe the chance to think things out and feel no obligation whatsoever to return Ben's feelings. And he'd cocked that all up by being half-asleep this morning and exercising absolutely not one iota of intelligent restraint. Well done, Ben. Awesome.

He gets up for good now, walking into the washroom and staring at himself in the mirror, rubbing his hand against his cheek and stroking fingers across his chin. With no occasion or reason to shave, of course, but Ben wonders what in his face qualifies as pleasing features. What, and if his beauty to Joe is merely a pleasurable aesthetic reaction, or something else. Something more. Ben heaves a sigh of frustration as he turns on the shower with a sharp jerk of one wrist and adjusts the water temperature, sliding out of Joe's pants and carefully folding them. He lays them far out of water range on the end of the counter nearest the door, grabs a towel and puts it on the opposite end of the counter across from the shower, and drops trou, stepping underneath the stream of water.

Lathering himself with suds and letting the hot water pound against his head and the muscles of his back and arms and legs calms Ben's whirling thoughts. He inhales the scent of Joe's soap and shampoo, and feels like some foolish giggly person realising why their crush smells so good--uh, duh, because of soap. No mystery involved. "Stupid," Ben chastises himself, slamming an open palm against the shower wall and bending forward, eyes closed as water streams over his face and drips from his hair and off the end of his nose. "You're going to wash up and go out there, and when Joe gets back you'll explain to him, well, everything. Somehow. Ugh, I'm an idiot." Shutting off the water, Ben grabs the towel he'd folded and buries his face in it.

He gets an outfit from his bag and shakes out the wrinkles as best he can before putting it on and heading out to the kitchen. Seeing Joe's housemate at the table eating, Ben bobs his head with a polite "good morning Jeff," before going to look in the fridge.

"Certainly is," Jeff smirks. With elaborate nonchalance, he asks "Oh, where'd ya crash last night? I don't recall seeing anybody on the couch this morning." Shaking his head as Ben withdraws eggs and cheese from the refrigerator, taking out the skillet he and Joe had cleaned together last night, "...You know he's just bein' nice to you, right?" Jeff continues. "I've seen 'im, that's how Joe is. A nice, confused guy who's jonesin' for a sad fag like you. Yeah, I can tell exactly what you are," he scoffs as Ben whirls round to stare at him. "Overcompensating with your handshake and your strong silence and whatever else, breakfast, even. Hah. Why don't you go find real friends who aren't just bein' nice? Oh wait, what friends are those?" He laughs nastily as Ben clenches one fist, his jaw tightening.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Hardy grits out. "You're just a big-mouthed bigot."

Jeff stands, looming over Ben with disgust in plain view on his features now. His voice has started rising. "Oh, yeah? Well YOU'RE pathetic. You know that, right? Falling all over Joe when he doesn't feel the same. Why would he? It's disgusting."

"Stop," Ben closes his eyes, shaking. He hates doing that, hates feeling this way because of this arsehole, but cannot stop himself.

"There ya go, begging like a little bitch," the other speaks triumphantly. What a bastard. "You're nothing, no one. You should leave Joe alone and go--"

Where he should go, Ben doesn't find out. He has reached out and clenches his fingers around the edge of the countertop beside the stove. Partly to steady himself and partly to keep from punching this man in the face. He feels sick to his stomach and has no clue what to say in the face of this guy's ugly hate. Ben hears rattling from behind him--a key in the lock on the door--and then a familiar presence rushes in past him. Joe. Ben's stomach drops. Had he heard--? Hardy cuts off his own inner question as Joe goes right up to Jeff, getting in his face and glaring up and up at him. "Whoa, how DARE you speak to my friend, my guest that way, when you know absolutely nothing about him? Benny, hey, don't pay attention to any of that." Mazzello turns deliberately, hazel eyes on Ben's face, shielding him and stepping close, putting a hand on his arm.

"--You don't see it," the housemate scoffs. "I'm protectin' you from this mooching little faggot who's so desperate for you it's sickening, Joe. Come ON."

Ben flinches at those words and slumps, ducking his face away. Joe hates seeing that. He hates what this asshole is doing to Ben with his words, and he whirls back, jabbing a furious finger into the centre of Jeff's chest as he snarls "No. YOU come on. So what if he's desperate for me?! Maybe I'm okay with that. Maybe I'm desperate for him too, and have been for a long time." Ben's head shoots up as Joe says that, eyes locking onto his friend's back as the other man continues speaking. "But either way, it's none of your fucking business, and you can take your goddamn judgements and blow them out your ass." Joe's tone of voice is icy cold as he adds "Just stay away from us, all right? Ben, let's go." Ben moves mechanically to clean up his still-uncooked breakfast, eyes piteous and pained. It breaks Joe's heart. "Don't worry, just leave it there; c'mon." With a final baleful backward glance in Jeff's direction, Joe puts an arm around Ben's shoulders and leads him from the room.

***

Ben is embarrassed beyond measure. He still feels sick and his heart is doing flips in his chest. He cannot bear to meet Joe's eyes as they reenter the bedroom and Joe closes the door behind them. God, that was awful. Ben hears those snide words about where he'd crashed accompanied with his own recollection of what he said to Joe this morning while still mostly asleep, and his stomach roils. He feels like he's going to be sick. "Joe," Ben finally starts speaking quickly, swallowing continuously as his mouth has gone dry. "I need to explain, about this morning--when I said I loved you, and gave you that kiss, I was--" Pathetic. A mooching little faggot. Those awful words pound through his head.

"Ben," Joe takes him by the hands, trying to calm his friend's shaking, which Ben hadn't realised he was still doing. He is a complete mess. "It's fine. You can calm down, man, you don't have to explain anything. Just breathe, okay? Concentrate on breathing."

Ben's breath comes in gasps and jerks as he tries to follow Joe's advice, but this is too important. "No," he swallows hard, shaking his head and holding Joe's hands tight. He's probably bruising his friend's bones with the strength of his grip, but Joe doesn't complain. This is not how Ben had wanted this to happen. As love confessions go, the impetus for this one fucking sucks. But he pushes on, he's got to say this. "No, Joe, I do have to explain because I don't want you to be embarrassed by or uncomfortable from my feelings, or what--what I did, or anything. And I--about him, what he said, I should explain that too. Because he was right about one thing." Taking a deep breath to steady himself and at last looking directly into Joe's eyes, Ben says "I am desperate for you, Joe. I'm in love with you, mate."

Joe is shaking his head, ears roaring with fury. How dare that bastard say what he had to Ben?! He had absolutely no right, and-- "You have no need to explain, Ben. Not one single fucking reason. He was a dick. Worse than a dick. He should never have said...wait." Joe stops speaking, catching sight of the sickly little smile now pasted on Ben's face, and his brain catches up with and registers the latter part of what Ben just said. Oh, shit. Joe's heart starts to pound. "Ben, you--"

"Yeah." Ben steps back, dropping his hold on Joe's hands and bowing his head. This is so far and away from how he imagined this going. He wanted, he'd hoped.... "But it's alright, Joe. Really, I understand if this isn't what you want, and I can--"

Oh, oh no no. "No, Ben. If nothing." Oh god. Joe begins bouncing up and down a bit. "No, I--Ben, this isn't, just...I'm not--" Use your words, Joseph Mazzello. Come on. Squeezing his eyes shut for a moment, Joe blurts out "I'm in love with you too. I have been for a while, and at first I didn't know, but then I did, I figured it out, but I didn't want things to get awkward because I love us being such good friends, and--and so I didn't say anything." Joe is the one shaking now; his entire body, not simply his hands. He can feel himself panicking, his mind is going into overdrive and he's rambling, he can feel it, so he reaches out and grabs Ben by the hand, gulping hard. Ben looks up at him. "...I don't want to ruin anything," Joe's voice cracks as tears prick his eyes. "I couldn't, that's why I didn't say... Benny, I couldn't bear it, losing you as a friend. But I had--have to be honest." I have to.

"Oh, Joe." Ben speaks softly and moves closer to him, free hand rising to catch hold of Joe's face. Joe's body lurches. "You aren't ruining anything, buddy, trust me." And you won't lose my friendship, not ever.

"Yeah, I guess not," Joe speaks, weakly attempting to joke.

Biting his lip and letting out a choked laugh, Ben strokes his thumb across Joe's cheekbone. "Exactly. I've had feelings for you for awhile as well, I just wasn't sure you felt the same." Looking into Joe's eyes he adds fervently "You're amazing, and I thought about what might happen to our friendship too, but I realised that I had to tell you. I had to say how I felt. And--" And Ben is unable to complete his sentence as Joe grabs and kisses him, stopping his words.

Ben inhales sharply through his nose and wraps both of his arms around Joe, pulling him in. Their heads tilt and lips slide perfectly together; Joe's teeth catch for a brief moment on the flesh of Ben's full lower lip before he is engulfed by sweet soft warmth. Ben's lips had always looked so damn kissable, and now.... Well, hot dog. Actually kissing is better than he could ever have imagined. Ben's heart feels like it could sprout wings, or as if it already has done; he is floating on air and burning through the sky, only anchored in place by the feeling of Joe's lips against his. Joe's body shudders and Ben feels it shake his own as he draws him even closer. Joe's hands are fisted in the front of Ben's shirt, as he'd grabbed him and dragged him in by its sturdy cloth.

After a little eternity they both draw back. Ben presses a second gentle kiss to the tip of Joe's nose, this time, as the other appears embarrassed by how roughly he had grabbed onto Ben's clothes. He smooths Hardy's shirt out for him now with a slightly wobbly smile. "Uhh, just in case you couldn't tell, I think you're pretty fantastic too, Ben."

Ben bursts out laughing. "Oh, really? Thanks for clarifying." His blue-green eyes are now bright and alight with joy and relief and love, so different from the expressions they held a quarter of an hour ago. Joe is utterly gobsmacked but he starts laughing too. Ben takes and squeezes his hand, threading their fingers together and rubbing Joe's skin with his thumb. "...So we're on the same page now," he says.

"Yep, finally," Joe agrees, nodding rapidly.

"Honestly, thank god. I dunno what I was going to do if, well, nothing happened. This was the reason I came to see you. Well, one of 'em."

Joe raises his eyebrows and stares. "Seriously? Damn, Benny."

"Yeah, this visit was me on a mission to 'tell Joe I'm in love with him or bust'."

"Well I'm glad you didn't bust," Joe speaks in a soft voice, for him, as he leans himself into Ben's side.

Looking into Joe's face again and squeezing his hand, Ben smiles. "Cheers, Joe. I am too."

Chapter Text

Ben groans slightly with exertion as he enters the apartment after Joe, his arms full of three enormous grocery bags. Joe holds the door open for him with one foot, hopping a bit on the opposite leg as he situates the duo of bags he holds. An opening door at the back of the place precedes Jeff striding out and shoving past the two of them, scowling, receiving an awkward cough from Ben and a staredown from Joe. Ben almost loses his grip on the bags as the taller man roughly bumps into his shoulder, but manages to hold onto them as the door slams sharply behind the egress of Joe's housemate. Hardy sighs as he heads into the kitchen and puts the bags down.

They had been out to lunch that afternoon, gone to one of Joe's absolute favourite sandwich places, when Ben decided he was going to cook supper for Joe tonight. Because they had eaten out for dinner--or lunch, in the American vernacular--he doesn't want the flat to burn down, and frankly he is so deliriously happy to be with Joe that he wants to do something special for him.

So he chose to make some Pad Thai, recalling Joe's abysmal attempt to make some stir fry when they were FaceTiming. They just stopped off at the grocery store for the main ingredients. Expecting Joe to have a supply of spices, however, was clearly not a good assumption to make.

Joe Mazzello is now being interrogated by Ben Hardy, apparent spice guru.

"Where's your cumin, Joe?"

"Uhh... nowhere. What d'you need that for?"

Tying the strings of Joe's Kiss the Cook apron around his own waist, Ben stares. "... Flavour," he says with incredulity. Joe makes a face. "No, alright, we can use..." Bending over his phone on which he had pulled up a recipe, Ben types in ideas for alternative spices as he peruses Joe's cabinets. "No cardamom or chili powder?" Ben shakes his head wonderingly. "--Forget it, how in the hell do you spice up anything you're eating?"

"I use salt and pepper," Joe defends himself. "And garlic salt; sugar, sometimes. Those are all spices. Besides," his eyes twinkle with mischief as he adds "--I thought British people like super bland food, Benny."

"That is an incredibly stereotypical statement you just made, Joseph," Ben responds. "Maybe I'm an exception to that supposed rule."

"You're always exceptional though," Joe says, coming around the counter and wrapping his arms around Ben's waist, leaning against his back as he spreads the ingredients he has on the countertop.

Ben smiles. Shifting his shoulder he wraps an arm around Joe as he empties grocery bags. "Complimenting me isn't going to distract me from your incredibly lacking spice supply, love. You also hardly had any food here until we bought some just now." Joe makes another face and Ben lets him go with a huff of air. "Suppose we'll have to make do."

As Ben rifles through the cabinets some more--finally unearthing some cloves of garlic, thank god-- Joe takes out his phone.

Now chopping up shallots, garlic, and chives on a cutting board he managed to find, Ben glances over. "What are you doing?"

"Calling Gwil," Joe replies breezily.

"What on earth for?"

"--I need a second opinion to properly verify your spiciness." Ben raises his eyebrows before leaning over and smacking Joe lightly, teasingly on the bum with the back of his hand. "Ah! Nope nevermind you're definitely spicy." Joe fans himself, putting his phone down as the other starts laughing. "Okay but forget spices, what we REALLY need are some tunes! Alexa, pull up my boss-ass eighties playlist! Yeah!" He spins around and crows as a bouncy drum and electric piano beat begins. Joe moves his head and shoulders forward, snapping his fingers and tapping his feet. He whips his head around to stare at Ben. "What I want, you've got, and it might be hard to handle --like the flame that burns the candle; candle feeds the flame, oh yeah!" he spins and claps his hands, shooting Ben an enormous, beaming grin as he shuffles his way right up to him. "What I've got--"

"Full stop," Ben smiles back but holds up a palm to halt Joe's movement as he shimmies around the end of the island where Ben is finishing his chopping.

"...my hopes and dreams are shattered," Joe puffs out his lips into an elaborate pout that disappears into another grin and a wink this time as Ben shakes his head fondly. He rubs his hands together, puts down his cutting knife, and takes Joe's hand, spinning him to the music. "but you pulled it all together, and how I can't explain ooh-ooh," Joe screeches before looking up at Ben, pressed with his back against Hardy's well-muscled chest, and adding far quieter, gaze gentle and open and sincere: "You make my dreams come true."

Ben's lips curve upwards and he leans in, giving Joe a gentle kiss.

"Hey hey," Joe pulls back with eyes wide, affronted. "I'm the one who's supposed to kiss YOU--you're wearing the apron, Ben!"

"Whoops," Hardy murmurs, letting Joe go and turning, checking on the temperature of the stovetop, a burner on which he places a wok with the heat on high. "Well I think, personally, that the cook should be free to kiss whomever he likes."

"Well okay," Joe nods. "That's fair. I'll definitely be cashing in on that amendment to the apron rule when I make us breakfast tomorrow."

"...Sure ya can do that without catching the kitchen on fire?" Ben teases as he drops ingredients into the heated wok.

"Is that a challenge from you, Benjamin?" Joe cocks his head as their supper starts to hiss and steam. "Cause I say bring it on, baby."

***

After seconds, and thirds for Joe "--This is the best Pad Thai I've ever eaten! I ought to have you cook for me all the time, be my sexy personal su chef, Ben," Ben goes over to the couch as Joe exhorts him to sit down since he'd been doing all of the work making food. He gets the television remote and begins to casually flip through channels. "Ooh BBC America," Joe screeches as Ben comes to a stop on one that shows the logo of the British Broadcasting Company in the bottom left corner of the screen. A bald actor familiar to Ben is speaking to a pretty dark-haired woman in what appears to be a white-walled hallway, and then the next scene has he and a few others sneaking around in darkness before being dragged off in a terribly choreographed fight by people wearing what looks vaguely like sparkly PVC pipes glued onto unitards. "It's your home turf channel, Benny. Star Trek Next Generation marathon!!"

"--this is the BBC," Ben cracks, a la Gwil as Brian making a jab at the broadcasting man from Bohemian Rhapsody. "And that's Sir Patrick Stewart. God now I'm gonna get Apocalypse flashbacks…"

Joe snorts as he carries a pair of glasses over to the coffee table and bends to put them down. "Wait what--?! Ohhh, you mean X-Men Apocalypse, don'tcha?" He remembers now, especially when Ben stares sideways at him. "Hahaha I'm sorry. I still can't believe that movie."

"I was a German cage fighter in it," Ben points out woefully. "With an absolutely abysmal wig-- so different from the comics. And I had wings. White fluffy wings. I can't believe that film either."

"...I mean, they got one thing right though, casting you," Joe says, passing Ben his drink with a grin.

"Oh yeah?" Ben takes a sip and holds the cup in his lap.

"Yeah. You're really an angel." The words could very well be a joke, an over-the-top compliment, and normally would seem like one. But Joe's face and voice are both utterly sincere as he speaks thus, and Ben freezes. He feels a sort of hiccuping in his chest as his heartbeat bumps. He'll never stop appreciating how genuine Joe is. How unabashed and unafraid to say things and express himself. While Ben...well with this, for example: he'd been gone for Joe for months before a) realising, b) admitting that fact--already known by him!--to Gwil, and then c) finally FINALLY telling Joe himself. Desire pounds through him now, rising like molten magma from the bowels of the earth, crackling like lightning, booming like heavy-metal thunder. He's wanted to be with Joe for so long, and now they are here, and he's on this sofa next to him, in his flat, alone….

Wetting his lips and slowly extending his right hand to put his drink down, Ben shifts himself on the cushions of the couch, knees bent slightly but legs mostly extended towards Joe. "Joe…," he murmurs, reaching out for the other man, wanting, aching to touch him. He traces his fingers down Joe's arm before taking his nearer hand.

Joe looks over at him with an easy smile. "Yes Ben?"

Tugging sharply on Joe's hand the blond pulls him into a sitting position in Ben's own lap. He flicks his eyes up to look directly into Joe's, taking in his kind gaze, the point of his nose, those ever-expressive features. He raises his free hand and runs his fingers through Mazzello's dark hair, making Joe moan a little in appreciation at the strength of his movement. "You're the angel here," Ben speaks in a hoarse whisper now, catching hold of the back of Joe's neck and the side of his face. "...not me. Because it's definitely unholy, what I'd like to do with you."

Joe's mouth drops open just a bit. Oh. Clearing his throat a little and putting a slightly unsteady hand to Ben's cheek as expectation makes his stomach flutter, Joe says "Uhm, well, go ahead, man. I don't mind." His mouth is instantly engulfed by Ben's as he rears up for a kiss. Ben feels Joe's body jerk as he touches him, holds on, lips locked against Joe's mouth deeply, warmth and strength bringing him in and deepening the kiss even more with need. Ben clutches Joe's head and hair with one hand, the other grabbing him round the small of his back, fingers dipping underneath the hem of his shirt and tracing patterns against cool skin in a manner surprisingly gentle even as his kisses are almost bruising in their strength.

True to his word, Joe does not mind one bit; he kisses Ben back with just as much need and fervor, tugging at the hair on top of Hardy's head as he gasps into his mouth and grips Ben by the shoulder, swaying into him. His knees are braced on either side of Ben's on the couch.

Ben is like a power line crackling with electric current, his body taut, chest up, head thrown back as his mouth does not leave Joe's except to gasp and then to latch on his jaw, mouthing tender kisses down the side of his face to his chin and back up again. He still traces circles into the skin of Joe's back, other hand running up and down his side, and Joe cannot breathe with want. He is grabbing at Benny now, his hands clutching hard as he grips his shoulders and then fumbles down to Ben's shirt buttons, which give way easily before his nimble fingers. "Is this--?" Joe gasps into Ben's ear as the other takes his earlobe between his teeth. "--ah--is me taking off your shirt okay?"

Ben's teeth catch on Joe's flesh, making him let out the tiniest yelp before he speaks around the lobe, tongue swirling in circles "yeah of course it is, go on mate," and continues sucking on Joe's ear. His shoulders lift as Joe wraps his arms around them, undoing all the buttons and tugging at the fabric of the garment.

"Ya gotta let me go baby," he tells Ben. "Just for a second." Ben's fingers clench and draw across Joe's back as he moans, reluctant to oblige, but once Ben's shirt is off completely Joe sinks into his lap and begins to massage his shoulders, turning that frustrated sound into one of immense appreciation.

"Oh, Joe," Ben whispers now, head tilting back as Joe's hands grasp his arm muscles and then his fingers trail against the skin of Ben's chest. He has left off on his series of kisses, which gives Joe the chance to come in, grinning, and kiss Ben on the lips, one hand clutching his face. Before Ben can grip him back, Joe has moved to kiss Ben's jaw and throat, going down to his collarbone and then back up and around. Ben's fingers clutch at his shirt and his back and run through Joe's soft hair, moving against him as Mazzello's lips and hands light up his entire body. "Go on, don't stop, oh please."

Joe's mouth has reached one of Ben's ears and he convulsively clutches at Joe's shoulders, feeling pinpricks on his skin as Joe's teeth nibble around the cartilage. The sounds of his rapid breaths panting into Ben's head make him ache and he lifts himself up to rub against Joe, sliding against his body. Ben's hand slides around to clutch at Joe's buttock, pushing him down and Joe obligingly stretches out a bit as Ben moves out of his sitting position onto his back. He sinks into the cushions of the couch with Joe's weight across him, pressing down in the most wonderful way. Ben gasps as Joe's teeth catch again on his ear, and a rush of shivering accompanies the movement of his lips down to the back of Ben's neck beneath his hairline, starting with the tender spot behind the curve of the ear itself. "Oh, that's lovely," he whispers.

"Ya like this?" Joe's lips tickle his skin as he holds Ben in place, pausing the neck kisses.

"Very, very much," Ben answers, voice higher than usual in a whimper as he feels Joe's lips curve in a smile against his skin before continuing to kiss him. He moves himself upwards and along as Joe's weight presses down and moves against him as well, causing a delightful friction between them that makes Ben gasp and move his hips, rocking into and against Joe's body where he lies between his legs.

Both of them are still wearing most of their clothes and yet this feels so amazing already that neither one feels the need to remove any more. Ben just slides his hands underneath the back of Joe's shirt and holds on, rocking a bit and gasping as Joe trails more kisses across his neck. Joe's fingers are rubbing circles in the muscles of Ben's chest and then he reaches Ben's nipples. After swiping across them only once the slightly wrinkled skin of his areolas grows hard on both pectorals, and Joe takes one nipple between thumb and forefinger, pinching, before stroking it with the ball of his thumb and tracing widening circles on the skin around it before doing the same to the other one.

Ben is digging into Joe's back with the tips of his fingers now, panting and rocking against him, pressed flush to his body and feeling his strength and vitality twang through the air and his clothes and, hell, everywhere. He is shaking now as Joe wraps both arms around his bare back and they move together, giving and taking, gasping and keening until neither can take--or hold out--anymore and they stretch out together, ending supine, spent and damp and aching.

Their throbbing, trembling bodies slow as their hearts begin to, and Joe finds his cheek pillowed on top of Ben's bare chest. The other's arm is draped around his shoulders, stroking his hair as both of Joe's arms are wrapped around Ben's waist. He presses a gentle kiss on the soft smooth skin just to the side of Ben's belly button and smiles up at him. "Whew. That was…really nice. More than nice. It was amazing." Joe gulps hard, almost unsure, because he's never done this stuff before. Not with Ben. "Was it-- okay for you?"

Ben's chest is still heaving as his heartbeat slows, and a slight sheen of sweat makes his chest and abs appear shiny. Looks like a human paragon, shining with some fragrant oil. Or the wickedest, naughtiest angel in the garrison. He grins incredulously down at Joe, fingers pausing as they stroke back his dark hair. "What do you think, Joe?" He asks, and then as Joe legitimately appears unsure, Ben softens and catches hold of his face, drawing him close to kiss him on the nose. "...It was fucking brilliant, mate. Thank you."

"Thank you," Joe responds, flushing a bit as he dips his face away from Ben's after that, hand absently running across his abdominal muscles and stroking circles round his navel. "I've--never really done that before... I mean-- I've, uh." Joe stops, feeling like an absolute fool as he babbles and now drops against Ben's side, hiding his face. He's never felt like this about anybody but Ben, and he can't even talk about what they are doing. That's super fantastic, Joe, you moron. Usually so verbally articulate, at this moment he is practically tongue-tied. He wonders if this is how John Deacon feels all the time. "...I don't know what to say, just --I really liked that a lot," he confesses.

Ben's eyes are soft in adoration as Joe remains curled beside him, refusing to look up. Embarrassed, poor man--why, Ben cannot imagine. He was amazing. But maybe this is as overwhelming for him as were the feelings that caused Ben to start this in the first place. "Joe it's alright;" he soothes, seeing Joe's nerves. "-- absolutely fine. You can say ya liked it, don't have to say anything else. Cause I liked it too-- I loved it. You're good, mate. Better than good. Alright?" He takes hold of Joe's chin and lifts it up, looking lovingly into his face. "--We should do this again sometime," Ben adds with a cheeky little grin.

"... I'd like that," Joe admits, swallowing. His lips lift in a smile that grows from tremulous to sure in less than a minute as he recognises their little reference.

"Good, I'm glad." Ben beams, dipping his face and brushing his lips against Joe's forehead lightly before lying back and holding him tight. Joe snuggles close, breaths warm against the side of Ben's chest as he lies his head back down. They both rest, incredibly comfortable curled against each other, as well as pleasantly warm.

After a span of silence, a strangled yelp is heard from where Joe is curled beside Ben's midriff: "--god Ben, we didn't find out what happened to Captain Picard!"

Ben's entire torso shakes in nearly silent laughter. "Joe, it's the next episode and he's fine, mate. Look." Patrick Stewart rises from the Captain's chair on-screen, eyes flashing and voice sonorous: "Number One, the bridge is yours," he says as he exits. "See, it's all good," Ben reassures. When Joe only nods, sitting upright now, he adds "...That was the Borg episode we, erm, missed the end of. He got rescued by that one Borg kid he made friends with, remember him? His name was Hue, I think."

Another pregnant pause ensues and then Joe's entire face brightens with the biggest smile ever. "I KNEW you were a Trek fan, Benny! Dare I say a full-blown Trekkie?" He cackles wickedly. "Ooh I am gonna use this…,"

Ben groans, flinging a bare arm across his face, his muscles clenching. "...if you broadcast this fact out to anyone I am never talking about TV shows with you again."

"... You'll still make out with me some more though, right?" Joe asks hopefully. His heart nearly stops as Ben doesn't reply, simply looking at him wearing the tiniest of triumphant smirks. "Ben…?"

At last Ben takes pity on him and sits up too, head going to rest on Joe's right shoulder as he wraps his arms around the other's middle, hugging him from behind. He speaks into Joe's ear laughingly "Yeah, mate, of course." Kissing Joe on the side of the head he adds "... I'm not about punishing myself because of your ridiculousness."

Joe grins and turns to him "Ahh, you know you love it, Ben. Gotta make life interesting." He looks into Ben's face, wondering if he really is a trifle annoyed, but his worries are put to rest as Ben gazes back, light eyes open and gentle, sincere and kind.

Nuzzling his face against Joe's neck and cheek, "Y' certainly do," Ben softly murmurs. "Now," he says "since we've discovered the fact that you're also a nerd--don't give me that gasp Joe, you were the one who needed to know what happened--can we watch the rest of this episode in peace, or not?"

Joe chuckles. "We can," he says, sagging back into Ben. "As long as we also cuddle."

Dropping his chin to rest on Joe's hair and cinching those strong arms around Mazzello's sides, Ben accepts this proposal immediately. "Deal."

Chapter Text

On the following day, Joe and Ben walk around the city in the scorching summer heat. Ben laments consistently over the high temperature, potentially made worse by the fact that the sun is reflecting off of tall, glass-covered buildings. ("if you think THIS is bad, please never go to any southern state in the continental US, Benny. You'll probably die and I couldn't take it," Joe begs, half sincere and half-laughing.) Ben chuckles and promises he won't before asking how Joe's agency meeting went, remembering it had happened the morning he confessed his love for his best friend.

"Ah well," Joe waves one hand in the air expansively, gait slowing just a bit. "You know the drill, the uh 'you've got an impressive resume, Joseph, and you've just come off quite a hit. We want to capitalize on that, not let you get stagnant, so here are some options.' Basically they were looking at what I've done and for some reason suggested I try writing a film again. Doing some directing too, maybe. It'd still be indie though, for sure. But I can bring in interest from the new generation, yay!"

"That's fantastic they think you're so good at that, Joe," Ben grins. "I mean with all your incredible YouTube makeup tutorials alone you're raking in the views."

"Yeah, doesn't mean all those people would or can pay to see me make another movie," Joe replies in a surprisingly dour tone. He tries to lighten up as Ben gazes at him with surprise and concern. "I mean I know my little videos are super awesome, but they're also for fun." Joe scuffs a shoe against the concrete and lets out a short barking laugh. "if MILK! became a feature, I would be sleeping on the sidewalk, that's for darn sure."

Ben grins at the song reference and nudges Joe's shoulder. "It'd be hilarious though."

Joe smiles and responds softly, "Thanks, Ben." His eyes are full of an ache, however, a grief. His father had been the person who gave him the idea for Undrafted, the film he directed and wrote; and its central point, the focus of the movie had been family. His brother went undrafted into the majors and played a pick-up game after finding that out. Joe's dad sent him a video of the final play from the game. It got him and he'd known then this was a good idea. He could make this movie. But Joe does not get that inspiration anymore, he needs the push his dad could give, and he no longer has it. "You know that--Undrafted--was a personal project for me, right?" Joe asks Ben now.

Ben nods, wetting his lips. "Yeah, I do. It's because of your brother, right? Played by Aaron Tveit."

"John, yeah." Joe shoots Ben a small smile, impressed yet again that he can remember such things. "well, I-- I don't know if I ever said, but...the person who got me to start making that movie was my dad." Ben sucks in a breath as Joe continues: "yeah, he--he was always giving me ideas that he thought would make good movies. 'Joey, listen to this!' He would tell me when I saw him--or he'd call me up… and they always, always sucked." Joe starts laughing as he recalls his dad doing that. "Every single one." He swallows now, laughter petering out as Ben takes his hand. "All except that one." Joe's lips begin to tremble and he blinks hard, pinching the bridge of his nose with the fingers of his free hand in an attempt to stave off the potential rush of tears. "and now he's--now he can't give me any more crappy ideas, Ben." Joe feels himself shaking as he closes his eyes, an ache piercing his heart as he breathes sharply. "...yet they still want me to--" his voice cracks and goes into a strangled almost scream, and then Ben's shoulder is resting up against his face as his strong arms wrap around Joe, twining around his back and hanging on tight.

"Joe, I'm sorry," Ben's deep voice rumbles in his ear. "'M sorry they asked this of you, mate. Shit, that must've been hard."

Joe chokes a bit, nodding against Ben's shirt. "It wasn't the easiest option to listen to, yeah. I'd rather do commercials for skin cream or something."

"I imagine it wasn't a picnic," Ben continues to hold Joe tight, rubbing his back a bit.

Joe relaxes as he inhales, breathing Ben in: that clean scent he always has, a fresh smell that is almost mint-like but not quite, overlaying the slight whiff of cigarettes and salt, the latter being from sweat, probably; it is friggin HOT out here. But no matter the temperature, Joe doesn't want to let go of Ben. Not right now-- partly because he still feels like he may lose it and there is nothing that is less gangster than bawling one's eyes out on a New York City street. But mostly because he feels secure and protected in Ben's arms. Here he's able to cry, which he does now as Ben says "You shouldn't have to do anything that'll hurt like that, mate. Particularly if you aren't ready. The film you made was a special thing, a one-time occasion, and your agent needs to respect that."

Tears sluicing down Joe's cheeks, he nods. "Yeah, I--need to tell them I can't do another film like that." At least not yet. Clutching close, Joe adds thickly "Thank you, Ben."

"Of course." Ben pulls back just far enough to cup Joe's face. Eyes flickering over Mazzello's features, sighting the tracks of his tears, the blond swipes the saltwater away with his thumbs, and then spreads his fingers to hold Joe's cheeks and chin. "God I wanna kiss you," Ben murmurs.

Joe smiles a little and moves one hand to Ben's, tracing fingertips across his knuckles. "Won't get any complaints," he replies. Ben smiles and then grows intent and serious, moving in and kissing Joe's cheeks one after the other. Joe's eyes flutter shut and Ben's lips press against first one and then the other of his eyelids as well, sending sparks spinning into the darkness before Joe's eyes. Joe gasps, and finally Ben's lips are on his, pressing against them in the sweetest, gentlest manner imaginable. Joe staggers, feels like he is literally going to fall flat and dissolve into a puddle on the sidewalk.

They had shifted out of peoples' way, stopping near the entrance of an alley as Joe had spoken, which means their kissing goes uninterrupted--at least until the honking of a taxicab at someone crossing the street, accompanied by shouted obscenities, startles them both.

"Heh, welcome to New York," Joe utters as they move apart a bit.

Ben smiles. "I fully believe this is the greatest city in the world," he deadpans.

Joe guffaws, blinking away the final remnants of his tears. "I can feel your sarcasm, Ben."

"No, not sarcasm, just-- surprise. And confusion." Perhaps a bit of concern.... Ben looks round, eyes wide. "Everybody here is so...erm. Verbally expressive. What?"

Joe has covered his mouth with his hand, shaking a bit with suppressed giggling. "--I have never heard it referred to as that in my life," he says. "Oh Benny, you are one special boy."

Ben laughs, shifting and wrapping an arm around Joe's side. Then their cellphones chime at the same time with a message coming in on the BoRhap group chat. Gwil says he hopes they're all ready; he is coming to crash Joe's new digs and has already mentioned the idea to Rami. Joe responds

> Sweeeet

> Ben, ya in?

> Yeah mate, but. Im actually already here

> Whaaaat?!

> Yeah, means I cant ride on the plane with you. Sorry buddy :(

> I'M not sorry, Joe puts in. > I got Benny allll to myself for a couple extra days

> Well dont act so excited to see me, Gwil grumps.

> Aw dont b that way Gwilly, u know I <3 u

> And what about me? Rami speaks for the first time. > I thought I would come too and see your new place, Joe.

> More the merrier!!

> What happened to being happy to have Ben all to yourself?

> Well... I guess I can share his presence with u guys now, Joe says. > When u comin?

> I'll be there tonight, bout eight. Been planning this for a bit, Gwil says.

> Oooh well I'm all about planned surprise visits, Joe says.

> Oh I know ;)

> Look here's Ben now, finally decided to respond again mate??

> Yeah because I already know what's going on, been reading over Joe's shoulder.

> Are you ACTUALLY with him rn? Ben sends a photo of himself and Joe, both beaming. > OMG I'm speechless

> ...are you sure Gwil?

> Hey, being speechless doesn't mean I lost the ability to type. My mouths hanging open though. He sends a picture of himself with eyes wide and mouth open, true to his word.

> :'D

> I'll be there at ten or so, in case anyone cares to know, Rami offers.

> Cheers Rami, Ben replies.

> Well we'll hafta hang when u get here and then getcha a hotel or somethin, Joe says.

> Awww I expected a sleepover

> Are ya that desperate for snuggling Gwil? Is your gf holding out on you??

> Well, no. She's not. But I need my mates to snuggle with too, okay? Cant wait to see all you beautiful men this evening <3

> Me either

> So excited!

> :)

***

Ben and Joe head to JFK to meet Gwil's plane at eight pm that evening and they watch him gallivant off the ramp by baggage claim with arms wide and an enormous smile stretching from ear to ear. "Is he skipping?" Ben mutters, an incredulous look flashing across his face.

"Yes, yes he is," Joe grins. "It's awesome, I love it. Gwilly!" He calls, also opening his arms. "My dearest Gwil, how ARE you, man?"

"Joey, I am excellent well, i' faith, now that I'm here to see you." He claps Joe's upper arms after letting out a shout and spinning him around in an exuberant hug. "Ben!" Gwil cries, releasing Joe and cupping Ben's cheeks in his hands, coming in as if to give him a kiss but stopping with a grin, "so wonderful to see you! Lovely, lovely. Yes." He steps back a bit and raises his brows, folding arms across his chest and staring the shorter man down. "Now about you already BEING here--"

"--how could I have let you fly by yourself?" Ben finishes, rolling his eyes. "Honestly, Gwil, I'm beginning to think you want me with you solely for in-flight entertainment."

Gwilym gasps, hand flying to his own cheek. "Ben, I would never think that of you! That task always goes to Joe."

"Hey," Joe says, his loving gaze resting on Ben and slowly shifting over to Gwil again. "--I am the absolute best in-flight entertainment, buddy. And don't you forget it."

Ben leans into Joe's side laughingly and Gwil says "...I won't." His chin juts forward and eyes narrow the tiniest bit. Something is different in the manner that Ben and Joe are acting with one another. There's always been an ease between them, but it had become slightly mitigated after Ben admitted his feelings to Gwil. That's how it seemed to the Welshman, anyway, and yet he could practically feel the longing wafting off BOTH of them.

But now there is a palpable warmth and comfort stretching between the two, and they seem to be more fine touching each other than ever. Gwil swears he sees Joe reach round and slap Ben on the bum before Mazzello lifts ever-exuberant eyes, sparkling with excitement, to his again and says "So. Want to bring your bags to my place and go get food or something while we wait for Rami's flight ta get in?"

"Sounds excellent," Gwil responds and smiles as Ben offers to carry one of his bags for him. "Cheers, mate."

"Course, gotta make up for not coming over with you, Gwil," Ben says softly, bending his blond head to take hold of his friend's nearer bag.

Gwil gazes at him in affection. "No worries; seems like you had quite a lovely time with Joe all to yourself." His lips quirk up as Ben glances at him and rolls his eyes, a blush briefly tinting his round cheeks.

"Shut up," he murmurs.

Gwil's brow rises. "What? I didn't say anything."

"You didn't have to," Hardy returns, standing up fluidly and hoisting Gwil's bag into his arms. "I know what you're thinking."

"Well?" Gwil asks, tipping his head towards Joe. His eyes are dancing wickedly as Ben hushes him and Mazzello turns back, bouncing in place happily. Ben beams at him.

"Okay, so like, there's about fifty places to eat around here, and they're all hella expensive. Have you eaten dinner, Gwil? I hope, since it's eight at night," he adds. "We can also hang at my place til Rami arrives. I've got the flight aware app so we can't miss him." Holding out his phone, Joe shows off the screen and a map of the area, green and blue mostly, with lines and dots that mark plane flight paths and itineraries.

Ben laughs. "Oh my god you're a nerd," he says.

Joe grins. "Yeah, and I know you love it, Benny."

Ben leans in and kisses him on the cheek without thought. "Yeah, I do. It's adorable." Gwil dips his head to hide a smile. He cannot wait for Rami to get here and see this.

After Rami does arrive--the other three had gone to Joe's flat, dropped Gwil's bags, and had a drink at a bar by the airport before heading back in to get Rami--they all end up in Joe's place after Ben runs to the corner market for snacks and more drinks, "since I now know the truly abysmal state of your cabinets, Joe," he teases.

Joe makes a face at him from where he's stretched out on the couch next to Rami, Gwil leaning his long back against the sides of Rami's legs with his cup on a coaster atop Joe's coffee table.

Joe pouts dramatically, huffing and crossing his arms. "Yeah, fine, fine. Laugh it up, Benny. At least I haven't burned the kitchen down."

Ben strolls over with a chuckle. "No you haven't," he agrees. "And I'm here to help you now." He leans over the back of the couch and casually presses his lips to Joe's forehead, smiling directly into his eyes. Joe leans up after and pecks Ben on the mouth. They seem to get lost in each other for a bit before looking over as Gwil clears his throat to see both him and Rami smirking.

Flicking a finger back and forth between them, his expression completely unsurprised, if a trifle shocked that he hadn't known for certain about this development, Gwil says "So, this has finally happened, then."

Rami adds "Thank goodness."

Joe gasps, "Oh shit Ben we haven't actually told them yet!" with a screech.

Ben smacks his lips and grins, coming round the couch now and tossing a bag of crisps to Gwil. He sits down next to Joe and deliberately laces their fingers together, interlocking them. "So Gwilym, Rami," he pauses dramatically, "...clearly Joe and I are together now."

"And we love it," Joe beams, looking as proud as he was when playing his own bassline for 'Another One Bites The Dust'.

"So do we," Rami grins at the pair of them as Gwil nods with a sigh of relief that this has finally, legitimately, actually happened.

"Yes, it's about bloody time!" Gwil says. "It's been exhausting watching you two moon over each other." He reaches over and grips Ben's arm by way of congratulation, grinning at Joe and giving him a high five. "We're happy for you, mates. I know I most certainly am."

"So am I," agrees Rami. "Truly, I'm ecstatic for you both."

"Cheers," Ben says softly, putting his hand on top of Gwil's and squeezing. Rami leans himself into Joe's side, smiling at him with gladness to see how happy --downright blissful-- he is.

Again, Joe beams. "Aww, thanks guys."

Chapter Text

Rami and Gwil are ready for the day with their friends. They are rested and pumped as they reach the door of Joe's apartment and open it to find Ben backed against the wall. Joe has one hand cupping Hardy's face, left leg raised a bit as Ben holds onto it. The two men have their lips locked together, and then Ben gasps and his head falls back as Joe moves his mouth down to trail kisses down the side of his jaw and neck. Ben's eyes are glazed with desire but focus back as he catches sight of Gwil and Rami at the door. His hand tightens on the side of Joe's thigh. "Joe…,"

"Just a sec, I know you like when I kiss you here," Joe's voice is a trifle muffled as his lips move across the expanse of Ben's neck to stop just beneath his left ear.

Ben hisses "No, I mean stop for a bit, Joe. They're--" as Gwil now clears his throat loudly, causing Joe to let out a startled shriek and jerk away. "Heh. Erm, Rami and Gwil are here," Ben laughs a bit, discomfited as he tries to flatten down his hair.

"Obviously," Joe harrumphs.

"Well they finally did it," Rami whispers. "I mean, REALLY did it. We can have no doubts about them being an item." He raises his voice. "--That was quite a kiss, you guys. Or, uh. A bunch of them." As if they had doubts anyway; yeah, right. Rami jokingly nudges Gwil as Ben smiles at them weakly. Joe squints.

"Thank God," Gwil mumbles back to Rami before adding louder "And yeah, it was. I may have to wash out --or potentially gouge out-- my eyes…,"

"... Doesn't anybody know how to knock??" Joe grouses as he belatedly retreats to stand at a respectable distance from Ben, smoothing his shirt and continuing to squint at the two newcomers.

"Come on, Joe, YOU never do."

"...Fair enough, but we were having a good time here."

"Yes, you certainly appeared to be having a good time." Gwilym wiggles his eyebrows at the pair of them and Ben in particular blushes, rubbing one thumb across his lips and then against the side of his neck, the skin of which is flushed in several places from Joe's heated kisses. "Joe's gonna make a supersonic man out of you, eh Ben?"

"Oh, god."

"Bahahahaha Gwilly I'm SO proud, you made a song reference for once!" Joe crows. Gwil smirks in satisfaction even as he shoves Mazzello playfully.

"So, uh. Are we getting food and hanging out or not?"

"Uh duh, of course!"

"We had BETTER be. Also hang on, how'd you guys even get inside?"

"Sam the security guard recognised us from yesterday; he's quite a nice fellow," says Gwil.

"...Right."

"That's true."

Their first hangout stop is at a bowling alley with an arcade inside, because "it's too bloody hot to be anywhere outdoors. I for one think we should let loose some energy, and Joe is perpetually fifteen so he's gonna be on the video game train for sure."

"...why is it always ME who gets thrown under the bus?" Joe whines, jokingly, and then he instantly screeches "ooh Dance Dance Revolution, yesss!" He grabs Ben's hand and Rami's arm, dragging them over to the game. "We gotta do this!" He hollers as Gwilym shakes his head and pays for tokens so they can.

The arcade is a medium sized room on the right hand portion of the building next to the front desk where bowling shoes are stacked in boxes, rows upon rows of them ready for customers. A bar extends along the left-hand wall, and head on are bowling lanes, extending along the back. Echoes of balls striking pins and rolling along the lengths of lanes intermix with conversation and music blaring from speakers, a cacaphony of excitement and fun. The door of the arcade closes off the majority of the volume, but clattering pins still reach the residents' ears as they play games.

Joe bounces right up to the DDR game, dragging Ben with him: "C'mon Benny, you gotta do this, pleeeeease?" He begs. Ben looks back to Rami, helpless, as Gwil comes up and waves at him, laughing before putting enough tokens in order to start the game. Joe goes right to the song choices, zooming through every possible Korean pop song the machine has until he chooses an abominably fast one.

Ben puts himself down for medium toughness because Joe goes hard, and he stands straight and moves his body and feet expertly through the steps. Everyone knows he has moves; meanwhile Ben has leant back against the metal bar behind the DDR machine. He curls his arms round and uses minimal effort to hit all the arrows with his feet. Joe does not approve. "Ya gotta commit, Benny!" He glances over.

"You can do it," Rami claps for Ben, cheering him on.

"Go for it, mate," Gwil adds, smirking as he pulls up a video to record the evidence. Ben sighs heavily and hauls himself upright for Joe's sake. After laughing for a bit at the dancing shenanigans, Gwil turns to lay a smackdown on the skeeball machine next to the DDR one, and Joe coaxes Rami up to dance with him after Ben, sweating and red in the face, bows out of another round of dancing after swearing at the machine for failing him thrice.

"--That bloody thing is out to get me," Ben gasps; it STILL failed him even as he'd taken the difficulty down to the easiest setting for himself. He starts to wander round the space, rubbing a couple of tokens against one another and checking out the games. He has quick hands, the blond discovers after acing a round of an ultimate fighting game and getting five hundred tickets from a coin toss. Ben finds a claw grabber game, where a thousand stuffed animals are puddled in the bottom of a glass box. No one actually gets a nice stuffed animal out of those games--more like some knockoff ugly doll or plastic car, something ridiculous.

Ben makes it his mission to give Joe a teddy bear or something cute from the bowels of this totally rigged claw machine. He uses up multiple tokens and leans forward, biting his lip, eyes flickering back and forth intent on his goal. Hands jerking and fingers flying over the joystick and buttons to dive and grasp and pull. He growls "Of course, damn!" because the toy he eventually grabs looks like Courage the Cowardly Dog's mangy cousin. Move over Scrappy Doo. Ben winces apologetically as he takes the small purple dog out of the retrieval bin and walks over to where Joe has stopped playing DDR for now and holds it out, saying "I wanted to get you a bear or, well. Something nicer than this thing...,"

Joe stares at the small dog as Ben cups it awkwardly in his hands. "No Ben, this is great! I love him!" Joe tackles Hardy in a hug and starts beaming. "I'm gonna call him Deacon."

Gwil and Rami groan as Ben laughs at the double reference. "Joe, oh my god…."

At this point, everyone thinks they ought to begin bowling; they will come back to DDR later. They all head to get bowling shoes and then grab balls.

Gwil takes quite a bit of time checking on finger holes and depth, hefting various weights as Ben grabs shoes and Rami and Joe do their damnedest to start up the electronic scoreboard on the chosen bowling lane. "No, Joe, please don't. You can't make your bowling name NickCarterOwnsMyHeart."

"Aww, why not??"

"Well for one thing, it's way too many letters, mate." Ben settles himself at the table behind the lane with bowling shoes and a sigh. "Also, it's utterly ridiculous. JT owns all the hearts."

"Yeah," Joe snorts. "All the stupid ones."

Ben gasps. "You take that back!"

They choose different names --Joe pits himself as JDawg and everyone is disgusted. Rami is the undisputed champion of bowling monikers when he gets KillerQueen because Joe puts it in for him and says "There's no other name that works for you. You played Freddie fucking Mercury, man!" Gwil's theMightyGLee and Ben is Baby Angel, over which he blushes, swears that he hates Joe and is never talking to him again.

The boys begin the first frame, and it quickly becomes apparent that Rami is a prolific bowler. He knocks down strikes and spares, he's got great form and quietly sends the ball in perfect position.

"Right Joe, you're up, mate." Gwil extends a hand as Ben cups hands round his mouth and whoops. Joe grins as he picks up his ball from the carousel, shuffles a bit, takes it, and underhanded it directly into the left-hand gutter of their lane. There is an "ooh," from Gwilym as it rolls all the way down with force.

Joe backs up and presses his lips together with a shrug. "...Whoops," he says.

"Next time, Joe, you'll get it," Rami reassures. It is Gwil's turn next, and he intently knocks down seven pins and then three. Ben's up fourth and also knocks over seven but doesn't get the spare, which he is perfectly fine with. If they were doing rugby or futbol on the other hand, his stance and intentions would be very different. This however, this is just fun.

Rami knocks another strike down, and it's Joe's turn again. He lets the ball go with a throaty screech that does nothing to straighten its roll--the ball bounces just beside the gutter and goes airborne over the side of their gutter to crash into pins an entire lane over. And HIT them.

"Oh god," Ben closes his eyes as Joe yelps.

"I am so sorry," he hollers to the bowlers beside them, a family who seem to be having quite a time laughing at that unintentional assist on their lane. Mazzello blushes as he's handed back his ball, and Rami gently offers to help him out a bit.

Joe wants everyone to have fun, and instead Rami is being forced to teach him how to not throw a bowling ball into the gutter every. Single. Time. Never mind the fact that Rami is being exorbitantly patient while trying to show him how to aim, and has no problem with doing so.

Rami goes over to the bar to get him some water after several more ball-rolling attempts offering soothing suggestions of "Try to relax your shoulders and shift a little sideways," and such.

Ben pats Rami on the shoulder and comes up to Joe, placing strong hands on his shoulders and leaning into him, pressing a quick tiny kiss to the side of his neck as he murmurs "C'mon, gorgeous, just breathe. You're really working yourself into a right state here."

Joe does a double take, shocked that Ben would call him gorgeous when Ben is the pretty one. Especially when he's being tense and probably irritating in his frustration. "I'm not--" Joe starts to respond, but stops as Ben gazes at him with a warm expression in his eyes.

Hardy rubs Joe's shoulders and kneads the muscles of his arms, working them a bit and adding "Just try to relax a little, yeah? Close your eyes and breathe. In and out." Joe does as Ben advises; in and out, in and out he breathes through his nose. "That's it, love. Now, I want you to hold the ball loosely, but don't let go of it, alright? You're gonna walk up to the end of the lane and keep one foot forward as you lean with it and swing your arm. When you release the ball point your fingers and toes where you want the ball to go. ...And hope it hits the pins," Ben mutters cheekily as Joe turns his head sharp to stare.

"Uh, what was that?"

"Nothing, Joe." Ben shoots him an encouraging smile and steps back after patting his arm. "Go on, you got this."

Joe swallows, and nods, and does as Ben says--and his ball stays on the lane and actually knocks down several pins! Two of them, but still! Joe lets out a whoop and does a sprightly little dance as Rami returns with water to stop beside Gwil and lean into his side with a murmur "Will you look at that," raising his voice he adds "Great job, Joe!" With a smile.

"Thank you verra much, I'll be here all night," Joe bows, a goofy grin on his face. "--And it's JDawg, just sayin'. Though the REAL ace and bowling hero is my baby angel over here."

Gwil claps and whistles and grins down at Rami. "Just needed his boyfriend, apparently," the tallest says as Joe flings his arms out to Ben and gives him a smacking kiss on the cheek even as Hardy playfully attempts to fend him off. Rami chuckles. Then Gwilym grows tense and intent for his next turn.

Joe begins messing around with everyone now that he knows how to legitimately hit the bowling pins. He discovers the alley serves alcoholic beverages as well as non-alcoholic ones, and buys a large strawberry daiquiri encouraging the others to drink with him: "C'mon, live a little, it's summer, guys! And you're on vacation!" Rami gets a drink as well and Ben sips from Joe's, but Gwil declines. The others are finding out that he is intensely competitive. His eyes narrow and he gets all stiff and quiet when it is his turn to bowl, and Rami is casually good at bowling so Gwil focuses extra hard. Even Joe doing a terrible version of the moonwalk after his turn doesn't break Gwil out of his competitive mood.

Ben comes over to his friend and asks "Oi Gwil, you good mate?" because he knows how games affect his friend. The dark-haired man flashes a tight-lipped smile after Ben puts a soothing hand on his arm. Spotting that smile and knowing full-well what it means, Ben adds "...sorry Rami is so much better at sports than I am. But it'll be all right. You're kicking Joe's arse, never mind mine."

Gwil grunts. As he makes a shot during the following frame, knocking a split down, Rami, the sweet man that he is, whistles "Wow, Gwil, you've got the best form I've ever seen, that's amazing!"

Joe lets out a congratulatory screech: "--Way to go man, you're better at this than me!"

Gwil feels like a bit of a prat for getting so intense, but Ben smiles softly and pats him on the shoulder. He understands this is just the way Gwil is. Joe has no problems with that competitive facet either; he's dancing round Rami singing along to 'Livin On A Prayer' as it blasts from the speakers.

***

Subsequent to their time at the bowling arcade --playing multiple games, of which Rami won but a battle began between him and Gwil for first place-- the boys head back to Joe's apartment complex and order pizza. This choice was made when Joe almost overbalanced himself going against Gwil in DDR after bowling, possibly --probably-- due to the multiple drinks he imbibed during each game.

It is late at night when the four men end up in the central courtyard of Joe's building, chewing pizza slices and staring up at the stars. Joe is so blissfully happy that he doesn't want to go to sleep and has curled up next to Ben on a padded bench. He sips on another drink, swaying his head back and forth as the four speak.

Conversation ebbs and flows around Joe as he watches his three best friends, Gwil waving his hands as he talks about something, probably an interesting tidbit he's just read an entire book about as Ben nods and Rami leans his elbows on his knees, face resting on his hands as his eyes never leave Gwil's face and he drinks in all of his words. It's amazing to have them all here with him. This has been an absolutely awesome day. Well, three days, if he's being honest. Maybe even the happiest, best three days of his life thus far.

Joe begins to stare up at the stars-- beaming; incredibly tired, and also more than a wee bit tipsy. He feels Ben's deep voice rumble through his head as his warm arm settles round Joe's shoulders. Suddenly Joe inhales sharply and sits up straight: "Guys, hey, guys--" the others stop their murmured conversation and turn to him, Ben rubbing his hand up and down Joe's upper arm.

"Yes, Joe?"

"If people are always watching the stars, what if that means the STARS are watching US?"

"Oh god."

"Dear me."

"I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you might need to go to sleep, Joe."

Joe continues "No no, we need to ask an expert this question. Ooh, I know, we gotta call Brian!"

Rami's eyes are wide and Ben starts laughing until Joe actually gets out his phone and types something in.

"Oh god, Joe, no no no--"

"Wait a minute, mate," Gwil leans forward too late as Joe's already engaged FaceTime.

"Hello?" A frizzy head of grey hair appears in front of a dim light.

"Heeeeey, Brian! Doctor B May, it's Joe! Joe Mazzello, how ya doing man?"

"Joe, I'm quite well! How are you?" Brian grins, his teeth catching the light as he shifts his phone backwards and forwards, trying to see Joe better.

"M great, yeah. Fantastic," Joe beams, waving his phone around in excitement. "--gotta star question for you."

"Oh, lovely," Brian squints and continues to smile, but clearly cannot focus properly on Joe's face, never mind the fact that his phone is still waving around frenetically.

"--god, Joe, hold the phone still at least."

"Erm, we should probably stop him from asking this, lads…."

There is an elaborate sigh on Brian's end and a high voice grumbles "For fuck's sake, Bri, you need your readers, mate. Here."

There is movement and the light brightens as Brian moves from his sitting room into his kitchen and responds "Thank you, Rog." He shakes his curls and draws his face back a bit as he slides a pair of glasses onto his nose before looking at the screen of the phone again and brightening. "Oh! Hi, boys!"

Joe has shifted his phone to show Ben grinning and Rami leaning over with Gwilym beyond, smiling hugely to see the Queen guitarist.

"Hullo Brian,"

"Hi Brian."

"Oh I see how much I rate," Roger quips grumpily, his shorter stature sliding into frame, round glasses reflecting the light from his friend's kitchen as Brian shifts himself sideways a little in order to put an arm around the drummer.

Ben lifts a hand to him. "Cheers, Roger," he calls. Rog nods.

"Someone appreciates me, I see. Good to see you, Ben. You doing alright?"

"Yeah, I'm great. You?"

"Chuffed to hear it. I am too."

Joe now asks, bouncing a bit and causing everyone else to begin grabbing for the phone again, "So Brian I gotta know. I was wondering, we all look up at the stars, but what if THEY are looking at US, man? That's crazy, right? But it could happen!"

Roger snorts with laughter before Bri gently says "That's an intriguing question, Joe." He makes a show of pondering it, even as Roger chuckles and asserts Mazzello has got to be bloody plastered to be asking that. "...If one believes in an animistic universe, then yes, stars have souls and could therefore have some sort of consciousness and ...and perhaps see us; but being that they are so incredibly hot and made entirely of gas and dust, with the pervasive current theories that would not be scientifically possible."

Brian hears Gwil in the background saying, even as Joe nods rapidly to his response: “Come on Ben, can’t you get your boyfriend under control?”

Ben shifts over, the Queen men having noticed his arm around Joe's shoulder, and his face comes farther into frame as he mouths I'm sorry. "Joe, love, give us the phone, yeah?"

"No Benny it's miiiiiine," Joe whines.

Ben says "Well I've tried. C'mon mate, give it" and there is a tussle. Finally his voice is coming through the line and his face fills the screen as Gwil has asked if Joe wants another slice of pizza and says Joe needs to get up to grab it.

Ben blushes, a trifle--more than a trifle--apologetic over Joe's intoxicated ridiculous state. "Sorry about this, Brian."

"No need to be sorry, that's fantastic news I just heard," Bri says warmly. "Good for you, Ben."

Roger nods at him and puts his fist in the air. "Yeah, good on you both."

"Oh, that! Yes erm. I...what you told me, Brian, I used it to talk to Joe. So cheers. Thanks for your help."

"I'm so glad I could be of assistance even in a small way," Brian replies. "And this is one of the most interesting conversations I've had in a long time. Can stars get a view of us? It's an intriguing philosophical query for certain."

“See Ben, someone appreciates my genius,” Joe slurs out in response to Brian’s comment, having come back over and leaned his head against Ben's.

"I'm sure, mate," Ben says, turning and giving Joe a tiny kiss. "Or y'know he could be being polite because you're plastered. You need water, and likely bed." Shifting his focus back to Roger and Brian, who are both beaming out of the phone screen like proud parents, Ben clears his throat and adds "Well, we shall let you go, since it's incredibly late there--or early, rather. Good God it's five am!" Ben's eyes bulge as he gets that realisation. "I am so sorry--"

Brian smiles and Roger laughs loudly. "No no, we've been getting up this early for rehearsal and work with Miami anyhow," the Queen guitarist assures him. "It's a different beast to go on tour when you're seventy-something versus thirty. We don't go out for all the late-night parties anymore."

"--Speak for yourself, Brian," says Roger.

Brian rolls his eyes. "Oh yes, Roger was out last night until ALL hours, mm-hmm. He most certainly did not have a soak in the tub or play Scrabble with me until ten pm before calling it a night."

"Sod off, you bloody traitor," hisses Roger. "Whose side are you on here, eh?"

"The side of letting Ben know he is not responsible for allowing Joe to ruin our morning with his interesting questions," Brian returns. Roger grunts. That's fair, he supposes.

"Didn't even ruin it though. This has been exorbitantly entertaining."

"Impressive word, Rog."

"Fuck off, Brian."

A smile lights up Ben's eyes and Rami grins. Gwil laughs as Brian adds "...it really WAS an impressive word," quietly. He clears his throat. "Well then, it's been lovely chatting for a bit and answering Joe's question."

"Cheers," Ben says.

"We really should let you go," adds Rami. Gwil nods.

"Right. Bye boys! It was so very lovely to speak, and to hear your news," Brian waves and beams, looking in particular at Ben and Joe for the last. Roger nods to them all and shoots a wink to Ben as he checks on Joe, who now burbles upward as he'd briefly nodded off. More like passed out from tiredness and drink. Ah, Joe.

Gwilym ruffles his hair and Rami gives him a tight hug as they all four decide he should probably call it a night after hanging up. Ben slings Joe's arm across his shoulders and helps him up to bed, leading him through his darkened apartment and into his room. No sign of Joe's arsehole housemate, thank God.

Joe curls up under the blankets as Ben turns them down for him, helping Joe untie his shoes and slip off his trousers. Now holding onto his new stuffed dog and yawning, Joe whispers loudly "Ben... I've gotta tell you something."

"Yeah Joe?" Ben leans in, his eyes catching the light that comes in from the window--perhaps from an outside lamp, perhaps from the moon--and even in his intoxication and exhaustion Joe finds he cannot look away from them, gleaming like oceanic emeralds in the ambient glow.

"Your eyes are like stars. They're really hot."

Because Ben heard the first, he thought that was it; Joe was going to make a sweet comment. Upon registering the rest, he starts laughing so hard that he has to kneel on the floor for a minute. Joe gets pouty because of Ben's laughter. "It's true!" He insists.

"Ahhh, thank you," Ben wipes his eyes as he rises to his feet and kisses Joe on the head, stroking back his hair as Mazzello snuggles deeper into the sheets and blankets. "Sweet dreams and a pleasant night to you, my love. I'll be up again soon."

Ben smiles and waves as Joe murmurs goodnight to him and adds that he'll see him back up here, he'd better; before heading back down to Gwil and Rami in the courtyard. He pauses on Joe's doorstep, tickled beyond measure that waiting for him in bed and feeling the same way as he does, is the man that Benjamin Hardy truly, deeply loves.