Keeping track of time was difficult from within lock-down, and because of that keeping track of days, or weeks was nearly impossible. He knew the guards would switch out at a certain time, and he knew how many meals he would get, and yet sometimes it felt impossible to tell just how long it'd really been. He was sure he got two meals per day, but sometimes he wondered if perhaps what he thought was a day was two days, and he only got one meal. And then his sometimes random sleeping hours didn't help, confusing him further, but sometimes he felt like he knew how to keep track of the days.
Weeks were a different problem. Everyday felt the same, one day would blend into the next, and he couldn't keep track of how many days would pass even when he tried. Sometimes keeping and stashing something from his meals—like a spoon, or anything really—and keeping one every time helped, but they would always find it eventually and clean it out.
Since Tennyson started coming around, telling the days apart had become much easier. The days would still blend together and time was still unclear, but Tennyson's presence was useful in more than one way. Despite typically disliking company of any type, being isolated for so long did things to him that he couldn't really understand. A human thing, he was sure.
He was still uncertain as to why Tennyson had ever started coming around and visiting him. At first Tennyson would just visit the general area, talking with his partner not far from where Albedo is held, but soon he started approaching him more directly. It started with bickering, obviously. Tennyson was an idiot who could make monkeys seem intelligent in comparison. But somehow they had started to get along to the point that they could hold stilted conversation at best.
Maybe it was out of desperation that Albedo somewhat enjoyed Tennyson's conversations, albeit short and awkward. Just his company made Albedo feel better somehow. Like he wouldn't go insane. And yet the thought that Tennyson was a small comfort made him feel worse, because he hated him. Or disliked him. And Ben visiting so often almost felt like a jab. Or a poor joke.
And yet he found that even though it hurt, being alone hurt in a way that was almost worse. Being left to his thoughts, his memories, was only getting more difficult as time passed. He was sure it was because of this that most of the time he would settle for the company, even when it did feel unfair that the one visitor he would get would be the very person whom he despised.
Something that hurt worse than refusing Ben's company—or at least giving him a hard time—was when Ben decided to not show up at all, or go a particularly long time without so much as stopping by, as he currently was.
It was one thing when he stopped by and Albedo was deciding to ignore him or give him sarcastic comments, but Ben not showing up at all gave Albedo no choice at all. He couldn't try to be nice if Ben didn't show up, he couldn't decide to be mean, he couldn't talk to him at all. He curled in more tightly on himself, glaring into the darkness of his room, or prison cell, rather.
Perhaps Tennyson had died. That would explain the sudden absence. It wasn't as if he slowly stopped coming by, no, it was abrupt. Not too long ago Ben had visited, though he hadn't seemed terribly happy about it. No, Albedo remembered it clearly, he had been in an awful mood, and yet he'd stayed for longer than he sometimes did. He couldn't even recall what all the conversation had been about, though. There was something about Rook, which wasn't unusual for him. He had talked about his family this time. That part really stood out to Albedo, because that was something Tennyson never talked about, unless he mentioned them briefly.
This wasn't a brief mention.
"Aren't you talkative tonight?"
"Yeah," his response was slow, his personality subdue, and yet there was a touch of annoyance lingering from earlier, "Not like I have anywhere else to be."
Albedo scoffed, "Are you going to move in?"
Ben narrowed his eyes at him in an almost glare, then he shifted slightly in his chair across from Albedo. "With you? I'd rather go home than be stuck with you."
"Good, why don't you do that then? Stop pestering me so I can go back to sleep already."
Despite Albedo snapping at him to leave, Ben made no move to get up, instead he sat back a little, looking undecided about something. Albedo frowned, opening his mouth, but he couldn't get any of the words he wanted to say out. 'What's wrong with you?' Or 'What is it?' But no, he just kept thinking them, unable to actually speak them.
Just when he thought of something else, he leaned forward, about to speak, but Ben spoke first. "Actually, tonight I'd rather be anywhere but home. Honestly I'd rather be with Rook right now than with you, but...I don't know, it's hard to be around him right now."
He stayed silent for a moment as he stared at Ben, but he quickly decided to push away his earlier worries for Ben. "Did your boyfriend finally leave you, Tennyson?"
Ben rolled his eyes at that, "Idiot. No, he's just being weird and I have enough stuff on my plate right now with everything else."
"Ah," Albedo smirked, "So you're still dating? How sweet, I might get cavities." He spoke in a dull tone, though.
This time Ben stood, kicking at Albedo, but not actually hitting him. It was obviously more for show than anything, but still Albedo withdrew his legs and pulled his knees up to his chest. Ben sat back down on the chair in the small room then, not going any further with his play pretend attack.
He was silent again for a moment, running a hand through his brown hair and sighing. "Seriously. Would you ever believe that we actually aren't dating? Where did that stupid joke come from anyways? It's getting real old."
"I'm sorry, did I distract you from what you were saying before?" Albedo asked then, not sounding sorry at all. Still, Ben didn't argue with returning to the earlier conversation.
"I just don't need people like Rook around me right now, alright? I'm not gonna sit there while he looks at me like he's better than me."
Albedo knew there was something he wasn't saying, but he refrained from asking. Instead he pondered if Ben realized he regarded him in that same way he had just described. He always looked down upon Ben, so why did he prefer Albedo's presence over his partner if there wasn't any difference? There was more than just a few missing pieces.
"And with the way the rest of my family is acting...it's just all the same crap. Ugh, I really hate the holidays," he paused, standing up and crossing his arms as turned towards the glass that allowed them to look out of the cell, "I mean, it's good to see Gwen and Kevin again, it really is. But, and I know they didn't mean to—but it's like they're giving my family ammo."
"How so?" Albedo asked this time, shifting on his bed to watch Ben.
"Just by being here, really. I don't blame them. I feel bad for even saying this kind of stuff. It's been a while since I've seen them, and Gwen...she's amazing. She's always there for me. And Kevin is one of my best friends. It's not like I want them to leave, but with them being over for the holidays I'm not sure what I'll do. I'll be the center of attention of all and any family drama. It just—it sucks."
Ben sighs again, glancing towards Albedo for second. "I mean, I would've been in a mess anyways, but they're...it's a bad situation."
"You're family's using them against you?" Albedo tried, not certain that he understood, or that he ever would. It been a long time since he'd had anything like a family, and as if that wasn't making this difficult already Ben was clearly treading lightly with the subject.
"Something like that," Ben mumbled, "I don't know. I guess I'll have to work it out somehow unless I want to be stuck with you for the rest of the year."
Albedo didn't say anything, fearing that Ben was dropping their current conversation.
And he was correct.
Ben had dropped the conversation completely, not even letting Albedo bring it back up, because whenever he attempted to Ben would either talk about something else or tell Albedo that he didn't want to talk about it anymore. He was completely closed-out, and he found, like most things these days, he couldn't make him talk. Just like he couldn't make him leave most of the time. Just like he couldn't make him come back.
He glared over the edge of his bed, thinking about how Ben must've died. He regretted it instantly, because some small part of him would miss his company, in a twisted kind of way. And how sick was that, that he would miss someone he used to dislike so strongly? Only because he would spend time with him occasionally? He should've been happy at the thought that Ben was gone.
But instead it was painful to think about. He'd grown fond of him, and the idea of Ben never coming back made him want to not think at all. But if he were dead? Gone for good? Albedo would never see him. Ever again, and that made his chest suddenly feel heavy with strange emotion.
Well, all emotions were strange. This, however, was stranger than the strange that Albedo had grown accustomed to.
It felt as if he were drowning, in a way, except it wasn't quite that either. He wasn't sure that there was a way to describe the feeling, actually. It felt too complicated, too painful and yet, there was something that wasn't painful, within that. Something like happiness, or peace, but not at the idea that he was gone, just at the very thought of him.
And in that moment, laying in his bed in his small cell, he knew he had to see Ben again. He didn't like how it felt when he was gone like this, and couldn't imagine how intense the pain, the ache in his chest would feel, if he were to never see the idiot again; and that thought terrified him.
But he pushed the feelings away and tried desperately to get some sleep while he still could—though, he wasn't sure what hour of the day it was, so he didn't know for sure how much time he had to sleep. And he found that trying to sleep while feeling like this was difficult, but he must have eventually drifted off anyways, because he woke up some time later to the sound of a voice seeping in from somewhere outside his cell.
"—no, I'm fine—"
That voice...no, surely it couldn't be. Or perhaps he was imagining things—but that would be worse, actually. He hated to think he thought of him so much that he could just imagine something like this. But still...
"—that's not even...just forget it—"
Albedo couldn't quite make out all the words, but he sat up slightly and felt something like relief wash over him at just the sound of his voice alone, even though he did sound troubled about something. Ben was safe.
"—you don't even understand it, Rook! Well yeah, but my family isn't yours—"
From what sounded like a one-way conversation, Albedo guessed that he was likely on the phone, but Ben only had the lights in the hall turned on, so he couldn't see much of the area right outside his cell, just where Ben was standing, a dark outline against the brighter lights further away.
" —no! It's not a 'misunderstanding' —" there was a pause, "Damn it, would you listen to me? No, that's right, I didn't tell you, I wonder why that is—"
Standing, Albedo slowly made his way to the glass walls of his cell, leaning on it a little as he continued to listen in on the argument, even though the floor felt cold to his bare feet.
"—maybe you're right, I should have told them sooner, but this is...it's ridiculous, Rook! I'm not—"
Watching Ben, and listening to the only side of the argument he could hear, he couldn't help but wonder why Ben chose this place. Why here? Why outside of Albedo's cell, to have this conversation with his partner? Not that Albedo could say he minded—and he wouldn't admit that any time soon —but he was curious.
"—you don't get it, okay? And I don't blame you, but don't freaking stand up for them—"
He frowned, remembering that Ben said he was having trouble with his family, "being the center of family drama" or something. Maybe this was related to that, somehow. Though Albedo was sure he didn't know enough to say that with certainty.
"—Rook," Ben hissed quietly, and Albedo almost didn't catch it, "You didn't see the way they looked at me, the disgust—"
"—they hate me, how am I misinterpreting this? Don't—Rook, just stop. No, they didn't...no. But—well, no—"
"Because of what he said...Rook, no—" there was another pause, "He told me... His exact words? He said...he pretty much told me I'm not his son. Not after this—"
Some family drama, Albedo thought bitterly. He couldn't imagine what reason someone would have to tell his own child that. Not that he really understood family situations too well, or what being a father was like...or even what being someone's son was like, but he knew that saying something like that seemed wrong.
And yet his mind went on to list the things Ben could have possibly done. He knew Ben had a whole thing about being a "hero", but what? Had he stolen something, or killed someone? Neither seemed likely, so what reason was there?
But as he was listening in for more of the one-sided conversation, he noticed Ben had gone quiet now, and after a moment Ben shifted, pocketing his phone from what Albedo could tell.
It only dawned on Albedo after Ben started to walk closer that he probably wasn't meant to overhear any of it. Well, no, he knew that, but he didn't think about getting caught or anything. It just wasn't something he had thought of.
Not until Ben was standing still a few feet away, and Albedo was sure he was staring at him. Albedo thought to say something, but he wasn't what, and then Ben stepped slightly closer, standing just in front of Albedo, on the other side of the glass. "Thought you'd be a asleep at this hour." Ben said causally, but Albedo thought he sounded strange, too quiet.
Still, he shrugged at this. "I don't know what hour it is, how should that matter to me? And besides," he continued as Ben looked like he was about to say something—Albedo wanted to stay on topic though, "I could say the same to you."
"Yeah, well...had trouble sleeping. And you?"
Albedo fought the urge to question him further on that. He knew why Ben might have had trouble sleeping, and it wasn't his business to know that, or to ask for more information. "I had trouble sleeping." Albedo threw back at him. And to be fair, this wasn't entirely Ben's business either, the embarrassing reason for his lack of sleep aside.
Ben nodded, though, in a way that seemed exhausted and annoyed. "Right." He mumbled then, and ran a hand through his dark hair before speaking again, "How long-I mean, you've um..."
Thankfully Albedo caught on quickly—mostly, because he'd been thinking about when Ben might ask. "A little while," Albedo told him then, quietly, "I didn't really...hear everything, though."
There was a quiet sigh, and Ben mumbled something under his breath that Albedo didn't quite catch before he spoke more directly, "And what did you hear?"
He hesitated at the seriousness of Ben's tone, and remembered to not call Rook Ben's boyfriend. "That you're having problems with your partner, and that it seems to involve your family. Which you had pretty much told me about anyways, the last time you were here. But I guess it's been a while now, since then; I can't say I blame you for forgetting."
Albedo didn't know if Ben picked up on the way he said the last bit, or the tone he used—understanding laced with bitterness and sarcasm. The words weren't meant to be kind at all, no, just insulting, but Albedo couldn't help the little bit of anger he held towards him.
"I'm sorry about that," Ben told him quietly after a moment of silence, "It's just—I would've come by more but with what's going on, well...I didn't get much of a chance."
"Ah, right. Of course, I understand completely." This time the sarcasm was thick and obvious, and Ben gave him a look of annoyance and impatience, "Albedo, if you're trying to say something, say it."
"Oh, excuse me for being so rude, I forgot you're too unintelligent to pick up on anything by yourself. Allow me to spell it out for you; I don't know what's going on with you or your 'family drama' at all. So if you think that your apology about how you would've come around if not for whatever had happened means anything to me, then you're wrong."
Ben rolled his eyes now, moving away from the glass a bit to walk off into the darker part of the room that was further from the lights of the hall. "I don't expect you to understand. But I am sorry that I couldn't come around, and I don't know what you expect me to say. It's not like my words mean any less just because you don't know the reason. The reason was something that kept me from visiting, and it's not like...it's not as if I didn't want to visit anymore."
He knew Ben had a reason, he knew it was something painful, and yet, what was he trying to say? That it was Ben's fault? He knew that wasn't true. Ben didn't have to apologize at all, but he did, because he meant it. Albedo shook his head, and a small part of him knew it was more about what he wasn't saying. He was only upset because he felt like he deserved to know what that reason was. Because he'd missed Ben's company. He was selfish.
And yet, as much as he felt like explaining himself, or apologizing, he didn't know if he could. He swallowed hard and found the words kept escaping him. He cleared his throat, and decided to try to move forward in some other way. "Well, are you alright, at least?"
There was a bitter, tired laugh at that, and a minute before Ben spoke. "I mean, I'll live," he paused then, and his voice softened with his next words, "Thank you for asking...for caring. I know I was gone for a while. I wanted to stop by, I did, but —I don't know, I haven't been in a good place."
Albedo stayed quiet as he refrained from saying something he might've regretted, or something reckless that would only cause more harm, like "But why haven't you been in a good place?" or even just "What happened?" because he knew he should tread more lightly than that. It was hard to know what was okay to ask in this situation.
But Ben surprised him when he spoke up again, only to ask him something that he wasn't sure he even knew the answer to. "Are we friends now?"
"Why?" Albedo asked instead as he frowned, trying to decide if they were indeed friends. He wasn't sure, though. He wasn't sure he knew what having a friend meant.
"It's just..." Ben paused, sighing again—he was doing that a lot tonight, Albedo found. "This feels complicated to me. It's like, I want to talk to you, and you clearly want answers. But I don't know that I want to give you the details, but-well, it terrifies me. I mean, I thought us talking like this was fine, but now it's like...I don't know what we are? Like if I told you what was, uh, going on, would you just mock me?"
It was strange, hearing Ben talk to him with such honestly, but he found he preferred it; he liked hearing his thoughts, what he was thinking. He liked that Ben wanted to trust him, and it dawned on him then that he wanted Ben to trust him. "I don't know if we're friends, but by now you probably know whether or not you can talk to me about those things. And...I hope it is clear, that I do care about you. Even if you are an idiot."
Ben scoffed at that, but he was smiling, something Albedo could barely see in the darkness as Ben walked back over to stand in front of the glass. "I know you do."
They were both quiet then, a kind of comforting silence. Maybe this was a conversation they should have had sooner, because despite already feeling like he knew this, and that they hadn't needed words, he still felt lighter from it. Like he could relax now, because every time he had wondered if Ben had hated him and if that had been the reason he'd stop coming around was now proven to be false.
The moment didn't last very long though, because Ben was sighing again, and Albedo knew that Ben had made his decision to tell Albedo about what had been going on with his family. And yet, he knew later that night that he still hadn't told him everything, not all of the details. And thinking back on it, he wished he'd asked him about it. He wish he hadn't accepted Ben's attempts at being honest, and asked him to be more honest with him than that.
He knew he wouldn't have been able to say that, though, or ask that of Ben. Maybe the details didn't matter.
But even telling himself that wasn't enough.