The rain is merciless in its relentless downpour. Benjamin squints through the wall of water, trying to make out where he had parked the car. Leaving his umbrella at home in the face of the forecast was probably the most reckless thing he had done in the months that he had been away. He had always been careful by nature but being with Peter had changed that, had changed him. But during the time he took to put his head back together, he had started to gather those pieces up and put them in their proper places. He picked his old routines back up, remembered what it was like when he had an actual "to do" list that didn't revolve around Peter's needs, reconnected with the pedantic, over-perfectionist that he had once been. He is not sure how much he likes himself the way he is now, but he certainly likes himself more than the mess he had been with Peter.
That had not really been anyone's fault, except for maybe his own. No one had asked him to leave everything he knew and run after Peter to the city. Not even Peter. In fact, standing at the airport, when he had promised to come join Peter as soon as he could, the young man had swept a curtain of thick ginger curls from his forehead and, fixing Benjamin with a steady look, asked, "Why?" It had taken Benjamin by surprise then, but maybe it should not have. Peter could never make up his mind as to whether he expects loyalty or is stunned by it.
Noah's words from a couple of hours ago echo in his head, vibrating and melting together with the rain. "He talks about you all the time." Benjamin had not said anything in return, choosing instead to light a cigarette and stare at the floor. He didn't want to think about what Peter could say, didn't want to consider how that made him feel. But Noah, being the glorified gossip he had always been, continued with obvious attempts to goad a reaction out of Benjamin. "He's in total disarray without you. Says, 'that scrawny, pouty Ben sure knew how to handle things.' Well, I told him he should have listened to you, but you know Peter. Never listens to anyone." That is for sure. Benjamin could have offered so many responses to Noah’s probing, from wistful to bitter. But all he had wanted was to not remember. So he had, instead, focused on the noise of the party around them, allowing the music to seep deep into his bones and the laughter of once-mutual friends crawl under his skin. Anything to not remember quite so clearly.
In some ways, he and Peter had been perfect for each other. Benjamin is neat and orderly. He had been the one constantly concerned with everything from what to do about the bills in a bad month to how to most efficiently secure tickets to that play Peter had been wanting to see for weeks. When they had lived together, Benjamin had managed all their household affairs without even realizing it. In fact, he did not dare let Peter anywhere near practical matters; God only knows if the boy could properly balance a simple accounting book.
Peter, while not stupid, has his head in the clouds. Always had. Whenever Benjamin is around him, he gets the distinct feeling that Peter expects reality to cave to his endless daydreams. He is temperamental, easily hurt and angered, but just as easily soothed, yet overall he would never set out to cause harm, as viciousness is no more in his nature than practicality. At some point, Peter had made Benjamin such an integral part of his daydreams that the latter could no longer fathom a way to disentangle himself.
They are like two puzzle pieces, searching and finding, in each other, a perfect match. Back then, it seemed like an almost good idea. Peter had given Benjamin a flare he had always lacked, a guiding bright light of sorts. And Benjamin? He had given Peter anything and everything he had had to offer.
But catering to Peter's needs and desires did not always amount to his affection or even appreciation. While Peter went from strange business venture to artistic endeavor - all of which failed spectacularly - Benjamin tagged along because he had become so entwined in the fairytale that Peter had painted around himself that life without it became strange and inconceivable. When Benjamin failed at starting a career of his own for the third time because his obsession with keeping Peter out of trouble became something of an addiction, was when he knew just how hopelessly in love he was.
Benjamin knows, even now, that those years had not been some strange delusion. He is not bitter now and his feelings were not wishful thinking then. He would have gladly died for a single look like those that Peter would give him when they woke up late on a sunny Sunday morning and Benjamin made them coffee and French toast which they ate in bed with Peter throwing strangely grateful and shy glances at him. Some part of him knows that he would still, even now, die for a look like that: all dreamlike innocence peering out from under messy ginger curls.
But every such morning had been coupled with a week when Peter would completely shut him out. He would be moody or sulky, sometimes outright angry at God only knew what. Anything that Benjamin did to try and resolve the situation would be met with contempt or miffed apathy. "Why are you still here, Ben?" Peter would ask and Benjamin had always wanted to shout, "I don't care if you're crazy, I don't care if I'm crazy for still being here. Just please, for Christ sake, tell me what it is you want?" But he rarely ever managed to get that many words out all at once. For as long as Benjamin can remember himself, he had never been a talker and, when pressured, only tends to close up more.
He still does not know where he had found the strength to leave, or the motivation. Maybe he had finally found some ounce of self-respect, maybe Peter had just shut him out too much for too long that last time. But he had waited until Peter had fallen asleep, then cried quietly for hours, on the floor in a pool of moonlight, listening to his own ragged breathing and Peter's steady one. He'd been gone by dawn.
What followed that were months and months of trying to reconcile what his life had been so far and what it could still be. At first, he had talked and talked about Peter endlessly, to strangers in dingy bars, to himself late in the evenings. He had sworn that he would get over it, get over the utter dizziness and emptiness that plagued him in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that seemed too large and silent without Peter. He had gotten a job – any job – and had thrown away his phone so Peter would not be able to reach him. For almost a year he had managed to pull away and fill up the void to some extent, rebuild and restructure his life around himself, not someone else. But a new job brought him back here and while he hadn’t seen Peter yet, seeing Noah and the rest of the people he and Peter had known was almost enough.
Benjamin gives up trying to remember where he had parked his car and steps out from the shelter of the lobby. His light autumn coat is soaked within seconds in the downpour as he makes a stab at the direction he should be heading. The street is poorly lit and he sinks into a couple of puddles along the way. Finally, he finds the car and fumbles for his keys, which slip and slide in his grip.
Benjamin freezes. For a moment, he thinks he had misheard through the thrumming of the rain and rush of a mini-rapid down the middle of the street. Slowly, he turns and looks, half-expecting to find nothing but darkness behind him, a delusion of hyper-agitation. But as soon as he turns, his eyes catch on the twisting ends of soaked curls, plastered over pale skin. He sucks in a breath and stares. “Peter.” It’s unbelievable, but there he is, standing in the pouring rain, without an umbrella, without even a coat, just a pastel-blue cardigan. Peter, who hates being sick, who treats a cold like it’s the plague. Benjamin has no idea what he is supposed to say. “You’re late for the party,” is all he finally comes up with.
“Noah said you would be here. But I…wasn’t sure.” Peter shifts a little uncomfortably. “I wanted to see you.”
“Why?” Benjamin tries to mimic the tone Peter had used that day at the airport years ago. For once, he actually tries to be hurtful, because this is exactly what he had been afraid of when he had accepted Noah’s invitation.
“You left so suddenly,” Peter explains, seemingly unphased. “I didn’t…didn’t even know if you were still alive, Ben. Christ.” His voice catches and Benjamin feels a slight twinge of guilt.
“I needed to get away. You’d shut me out and I just…I should have left a note, I guess.” They both stand there looking at each other. Benjamin has stopped feeling the rain. His eyes trace the scar running over Peter’s forehead, nose and right cheek, a mark of a practical joke gone wrong, the only trace of their carefree childhood together in a suburban town where Peter’s whimsical fantasies had been benign and adorable.
“We should get out of the rain. You’ll catch cold.” Peter finally seems to muster the courage to come closer. Benjamin doesn’t even think to take a step back, but he does have to suppress an ironic smile. It is Peter who has shoddy health and falls ill at the slightest glitch. But he is obviously making an effort.
“I was going to get some food. You can come with me.” He unlocks the car and waits.
Peter nods after a moment of hesitation. They slip inside and Benjamin instantly turns on the heat. “Bloody storm. Still can’t believe I left my umbrella. Did you forget yours too?” Benjamin is trying to carry on as usual. Laying bare before Peter the multitude of conflicting emotions that are ripping him apart from the inside had never worked well and he does not want to find out if that has changed.
“I guess. You... How have you been, Ben?”
Benjamin stays silent for a while. He does not know what Peter wants to hear and does not know what he wants to tell him. I have complete control of my life and I kind of hate it since it doesn’t include you, is probably not the best option. “I’ve been fine,” he says finally. “I got my head together, you know. Got a job, held it down. I’m actually here because I got offered a better position with another firm. My boss is this total creep, has the weirdest habits, but he pays well.” He shrugs, keeping his eyes glued to the taillights of the car in front. The windshield wipers squeak and squawk, laboring under the downpour. Benjamin feels his heart rate even out with the drumming of the rain. He can practically feel Peter beside him, and despite the itchiness of wet fabric sticking to his skin, he is oddly comfortable in the bubble of the car. It is almost as though the outside world is a vague dream. “What about you?”
“I lost my trust fund.”
Benjamin almost rear-ends the car in front. He sucks in a breath and manages to look over at Peter. Jesus Christ, the only thing that had kept them more or less comfortable ever had been that trust fund. “Can they do that?” he blurts out. Peter’s parents are long dead – he had been raised by his tyrannical aunt and uncle for the majority of his life, but Benjamin never thought that anyone could get their hands on the trust fund Peter’s parents had left him, even if they did suck up the inheritance.
“I don’t know. I went to a lawyer and he said I could try to fight it. They did something to the papers... I don’t know; I didn’t really understand… Don’t look at me like that, Ben. The last thing I want is court drama. I don’t want to deal with it all. I’ve wanted Auntie out of my life since I can remember and now she’s out of it and I don’t…care anymore. They could never stand that I’m not straight, you know?”
Benjamin nods numbly. All of this must have happened not long after he left. Jesus Christ. “I should have left a note,” he mumbles to himself, guilt saturating all of his other emotions. “Where—ah—how are you getting along?”
Peter shrugs. “You’d be proud. I’m holding down a job. A real one. I’m teaching history of stringed instruments at a local college. Also giving some private piano lessons along the way. I’ve even managed to keep our old flat, though it’s tough.”
“You’re teaching? You’re still at our old place?” Benjamin does not know what surprises him more. It is horrible and darkly funny and ironic that they had both been such messes together but as soon as they were apart… Maybe leaving was the best idea he had ever had after all—the thought is excruciating.
They get take-out at a random fast food place. Benjamin insists on taking Peter home and they drive in silence. When they park, Benjamin reaches out and takes Peter’s hand because it is physically painful to be near him for this long and not have any contact. Peter’s hands are cold but Benjamin twines their fingers together anyway. He stares despondently at the steering wheel, wondering what the hell he is doing here. They are both doing just fine – a lot better than before, by the way – he really shouldn’t ruin it with his lack of self-control.
“Come up and have some tea. You must be freezing.”
“So are you.” He looks over and instantly falls into velvet-soft brown eyes. “Peter—“ This is a horrible idea. “Fine. Ok.” He allows himself a self-deprecating smile at the look of triumph on Peter’s face. “I’ll come up.”
The apartment is just as Benjamin remembers it, with the cheap artsy paintings in the living room and the antique-looking hook-nosed tea kettle on the stove. It is almost as though Peter had tried to preserve everything just as it had been the day Benjamin left and he realizes that this is the first time he feels at home in months.
“Tell me you have something stronger than beer,” Benjamin says, making his way to the liquor cabinet. He swings open the door and peers despondently into its empty depths. “Nope. Only wine.”
“And that cognac you like,” Peter offers from where he is fussing over the kettle.
Benjamin moves the bottle of Madera out of the way and finds the smaller cognac bottle behind it. He smiles triumphantly. A drink will do him well at the moment. “Do you want some?”
“With the tea, sure.” Peter looks over, eyebrows slightly drawn together. “We probably shouldn’t get drunk.”
“Why the hell not?” Benjamin pours two shots, ignoring Peter’s comment about taking it with tea. “Let’s drink. To…I don’t know. To being ok.” He pushes one of the shots into Peter’s hand and forces a smile. They’re dripping water all over the kitchen floor.
Peter makes a face but drinks. Benjamin throws his own shot back, savoring the rich burning texture of the drink. He closes his eyes and lets the warmth envelope him. Now if he could only drink enough to push all the thoughts out of his head, that would be wonderful. When he opens his eyes again, he realizes that Peter is watching him uncertainly.
“I’m going to get you something to change into.”
Benjamin smirks. Peter is a lot shorter than him. “Nothing of yours even remotely fits me.”
Peter only grins and disappears into hall. The light comes on in the bathroom and after a few moments, Peter re-emerges holding a fuzzy robe. “This will. It will only go down to your knees but still better than being soaking wet.” He tosses it to Benjamin who catches the garment and studies it thoughtfully. Sky blue was always Peter’s color. “I’ll get you some dry socks too. Just let me change. Also could you get that?” He nods to the side and Benjamin suddenly becomes aware of the whistling kettle.
He takes the kettle off the stove as Peter disappears into the bedroom. Slowly, after throwing back two more shots, Benjamin begins to peel off his wet clothes. It feels like shedding skin. Every piece of clothing he takes off makes him more vulnerable and exposed. As his coat, shirt and jeans all fall to the already-damp kitchen floor it is as though he is slowly turning the clock back, rewinding the months back, back and back some more. Past the night he left, past the day he came to the city. All the way back to when the days had been drowned in sunlight and warmth, the very beginning when Peter had convinced him that they were meant to always be together, that nothing they or anyone else ever did could change how they felt, how they loved.
Before he knows it, he is stumbling down the hall and shouldering open the bedroom door. Peter jumps in surprise and drops the t-shirt he has not yet put on. They are both almost completely naked. If only they had allowed each other to see as much of their thoughts and feelings as they did their bodies. Benjamin grabs Peter’s arm and pulls him closer, fists a hand in his curls and kisses him without warning.
Peter tenses, then relaxes into the kiss, moaning a surrender that is half-confused and half-elated. When Benjamin pulls back, they are both gasping for air. “I tried to live without you,” he mutters, only vaguely realizing how hoarse his voice sounds.
“Don’t, Ben. Let’s not. Not like this,” Peter whispers vehemently as Benjamin runs both hands over his body, remembering all the familiar textures and outlines. Home, he was finally home again.
“Why not? This is what I want and what you want. Don’t you? You’ve always wanted this, for me to come back to you. That’s why you came looking for me tonight, wasn’t it?” Benjamin feels his head begin to swim. The thrumming of the rain is near deafening, a platoon of tiny battering rams trying to break into his skull.
“You ran away from me last time. I don’t want you to get hurt…” Peter refuses to meet his eyes, twisting and shifting, trying to both distance himself from Benjamin and keep himself as close as possible at the same time. He is visibly flushed and aroused but also uncomfortable.
“I tried to be without you,” Benjamin continues where he had first left off. “Really, really hard. I almost succeeded. But you’re a fucking bastard, Peter—you know why? Because you never ask me what I want, you just barge in and live your life like it’s so simple and drag me along and I allow you to do it too, because I have no idea how to function when you’re not with me. And I think—“
“No, shut up. For once, shut up and let me say this. I know Noah is the last person I should be listening to, but I think the reason you never would let me go, is because you need me too. And I’m an idiot for allowing all of this, stupid and naïve to think that I couldn’t fight this, fight you, if I really wanted to. But I don’t think… I don’t think I really want to. Why don’t I want to?”
Peter reaches up with his free hand and cups Benjamin’s face. His eyes are murky in the gloom of the room, full to the brim. “We haven’t been apart since we were five, Ben. I don’t…deserve you.” His voice hitches and he has to pause before continuing. “I’ve been all over the place and then when the money went and you were gone… I’m really no one. I think I wanted to be someone and in your eyes I always was so… I delusioned myself into thinking I was meant for something better than…something greater. Remember when we were kids, I always wanted to be the prince in that one game and you always let me?” They smile nostalgically at each other.
Peter takes both of Benjamin’s hands in his and squeezes them tightly. “When the money went… I told myself that I had to either figure something out or kill myself—No, don’t look so horrified. I never seriously considered it. But. I can try, Ben. I want you to stay and I want to try again. I have every intention—“
“Fuck your intentions. You always had good intentions.” Benjamin winces at his own words. He hadn’t meant to snap, but he cannot hear this without feeling like it is a trap.
“I know. That’s why I said we shouldn’t do this.” Peter looks away. “But I am trying. You always believed in me too much for me to not try to at least be ok. At least… At least I can promise you that I’ve figured out that I’m no the next great American musician or actor or writer or painter or political journalist…”
Benjamin smiles sadly. The destruction of Peter’s dreams is not what he had wanted. But he had hoped that the boy would come down to earth eventually.
“I miss going to indie film premieres and eating strawberry ice cream with you, and sketching you in the park and holding hands on the bus… I’ve missed all the things I took for granted when you were here. I want to try again.” Peter takes in a deep breath. “But I won’t make you promises I can’t keep. You deserve better than that.”
Benjamin chews on his lip. He wants to believe Peter so badly that it is physically painful. “The reason I left wasn’t because I don’t… I love you. I have always loved you. I left because I needed to do something for myself. To get my life back together. I’m really bad at focusing on me when I’m with you.”
Peter nods, still no quite meeting his eyes.
Benjamin sighs. “I can’t do that again. I have something like a career now. I want to keep it.” He raises Peter’s hands to his lips and kisses them, watching his former – former? – boyfriend blush an even darker red. “I want to try too, just…on my terms this time.”
For a long time, the only sound in the room is the rain. Finally, Peter meets his eyes. “Alright.”
They try to smile at each other. It is careful and uncertain but it is more warmth than Benjamin has had for months and he is willing to take it. “Spend the night here?” Peter asks. Benjamin nods and leans down for a kiss. Tomorrow, I’ll figure out the rest tomorrow, he thinks. Even if it all falls apart again, he refuses to be unhappy tonight.