Chapter 1: Cosmic Love
'I took the stars from my eyes, and then I made a map
And knew that somehow I could find my way back
Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too
So I stayed in the darkness with you
The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You left me in the dark
And no dawn, no day, I'm always in this twilight
In the shadow of your heart' - Song Link
She was made from the night sky. Her skin kissed by the moon and her eyes filled with stars. She was born into darkness and held the galaxies in her hand. Falling to earth had been less than pleasant, it had been too fast and too loud and every night she heard her sisters crying for her to come home, to come back.
She was stuck to this mortal life she found herself thrown into. She became this mortal, this little girl. Elizabeth Harmon. Her name was Elizabeth Harmon. And such pain little Elizabeth felt, from the minute the star landed in her heart and shared her life all she knew was pain.
Until the nice man came, with his sun-kissed skin and charming smile, extending a hand to her whilst bowing and holding his top hat. Stars were not meant to feel sunlight, stars were not meant to be touched by blue skies which was all this man was.
“I’ll make you a star, Miss Harmon.”
Didn’t he know? She already was one.
Beth sat by her dressing table, humming softly as she painted her lips red for tonight's show. She could hear the cheers of the audience, probably at the Twins doing their comedy act or Jolene and her lions.
“Annette? Can you do the buttons please?”
“Sorry, not Annette,” a voice answered. Beth grabbed her blanket, throwing it around herself as she saw none other than Benny standing at the entrance. Of course he would walk in on her changing, of course he wouldn’t cover his eyes as she stood only in her corset.
He was Benny Watts after all.
“What do you want?”
“Just to bring you these,” he held up her shoes, “Weren’t in great shape. Had to give them a lot of attention. How did you even wreck them so badly?”
“It’s difficult business walking on a tightrope.”
“Well, as promised, here are your new shoes.” He set them on the floor by her door, pausing before he left. “Do you need help with the buttons?”
“Where’s Annette? She’s meant to be helping.”
“She’s with the stablemaster.”
“What do you mean she’s with the stable master? We aren’t paying her to sit pretty for Peter, we’re paying her to help me do my buttons.”
“Seems someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Benny hummed, walking over and standing behind Beth, steadily buttoning the dress together. “There now, was that so bad?”
“Townes will kill her when he finds out.”
“Townes will be too busy fawning over his sparkling diamond to notice.”
Beth turned to look at him, sticking her chin out slightly then down at the shoes. It wasn’t that Beth disliked Benny, she just never saw the point in him being at the circus. Everyone knew him, everyone knew he gambled on the side and everyone knew he carried a knife in his pocket. He seemed to know everything from how to fix shoes to how to tame lions and ride horses. There were rumours he was Townes’s right-hand man, but Beth knew Townes better than anyone else in the circus and she was positive when she said this.
Benny Watts was not D.L Townes’s right-hand man.
Beth sighed, adjusting the necklace and putting her earrings in. He hadn’t left, he was still there, just standing around.
“Are you planning on leaving?” she asked, looking at him over her shoulder.
“Do you have any more buttons that you need help with?”
She did. She had another layer to go on top of the bodice she was currently wearing, and that had straps she never could do on her own.
“Beth!” she whipped her head around when she saw Annette hurrying into the tent, her dress very rumbled and her hair slipping from its pins. “I am so sorry.”
“Have fun did we?” Benny chimed, lighting a cigarette and puffing the smoke out. She rolled her eyes at him and opened her arms for the dress to slide on.
“Can you go now, please?” she asked Benny, closing her eyes and beginning to slow her heartbeat down.
“Break a leg out there,” he called over his shoulder. He grabbed one of the Turkish Delights in the jar, popping it in his mouth then walking out of her trailer. Beth huffed, sucking in a deep breath as Annette wrapped the silks around her waist.
“Don’t let him get to you, Beth. He’s just angry he lost at poker the other night.”
“He didn’t annoy me, Ann,” Beth muttered. She had already done her stretches, warming up her legs and arms. She could still feel a little tension in her lower back but she felt good. She felt loose, rotating her ankles and then bouncing on the balls of her feet.
She felt glorious, but in the back of her head, she still heard the singing. The harmonies of angels, the call to come home. The call to return to the sky.
Beth shut them off. She stood on the tips of her toes, going into pointe and bringing her arms up as she reached for the sky, for a moment she felt as though she could. Then she dropped, bringing her hands down to her toes and sighing at the stretch. She took a once over of herself in the mirror, running her hand over her stomach and hips to smooth the fabric off. She loved the glitter, the tiny diamonds sewn into the netting that hugged her waist and the silk that wrapped around her breasts and neck. Every outfit she wore was something spectacular, but always black and white. Townes insisted it was part of her aesthetic. The black and white theme for her to make her stand out. She never questioned him, just smiled and took what was given to her.
In one movement, Beth sweeped her leg up, bringing it into a full stretch and catching her calf as she pressed her knee to her ear. The burn felt good. The stretch, she could feel her body easing back into the familiar poses. She was the star of the show, she was the main attraction.
“Call for Beth! Five minutes until showtime!” she heard Andrew call. Beth glanced at Annette, then checking herself once more in the mirror.
“See you after,” she said to the dresser, kissing her cheek and hurrying to the entrance of the tent. Beth felt the butterflies burn in her stomach, the familiar rush before the opening chords struck up for her to perform.
She ran her hands along her dress to try and ease the sweat off them. She felt the familiar buzz, like a thousand bees in her head. The roar of adrenaline began to pump in her veins and in her blood. She felt the call, the urge to run into the centre of the tent and begin her routine. She swallowed, rolling her neck and cracking her knuckles, taking another deep breath. It was all about controlling the breath, she had to keep her breathing deep and even. The minute she lost that was the minute she lost the performance.
“And now! The Queens Circus is proud to present… Beth Harmon!” Townes announced. Beth didn’t run or jog into the tent. No. She strode in with her chin high and her shoulders back. She walked in, she kept her shoulders perfectly square as she opened her arms and bowed her head towards Townes. She felt the hush descend over the crowd, the familiar buzz from those watching to see what she was about to do. Beth took one final deep breath until her heart perfectly calm in her chest, until it was no longer hammering furiously, it was now even and calm. She was calm. Beth stepped into her ring, wrapping one arm around the aireal ties in the centre of the tent. And then the show began.
Benny loved to watch Beth perform. He would never admit it, but once one set their eyes on the acrobat they couldn’t draw their eyes away. It was how he felt every time he watched her, sure his heart was in his throat for the majority of the performance. There were moments when he stopped breathing completely like now, as she dangled upside down with one leg wrapped in the ties and her arms hanging downwards. Benny glanced to Townes who was watching by the audience as he always did. He knew, Benny knew there was no chance of her falling. When she performed it was as if she was floating, as if she belonged in the sky.
It didn’t mean the performance was any less nerve-wracking. He watched as she pulled herself upwards, moving into the splits and then somersaulting between the ties, rotating. Every movement was so fluid, every movement so exact. Benny watched and sighed quietly to himself, she came to life under the bright lights of the circus tent. She came alive with hundreds of eyes on her, Benny could only dream of how much Townes paid his star. His dazzling diamond.
Benny remembered calling Beth ‘Foxy’ at the start, her red hair did make her stand out considerably in the sea of dark haired folk that belonged to the circus. He also remembered coming home to Beth cutting up his shirts.
“I’m not Foxy, I’m not Red Lady. I am Beth Harmon, you’ll do well to remember that,” she said, stepping over his now destroyed shirt and then walking out of his trailer to go train. He heard the whispers that Beth Harmon came with a drinking problem, but Townes sobered her up otherwise she wouldn’t be currently spinning at a considerable height from the roof of the tent with no safety net.
Benny sighed, grabbing his coat and stepping out into the paddock where the team of horses were kept. He knew them all by name; Apollo, Athena, Atlas, Atlanta, Achilles and Zeus. Zeus was the only black horse in the string of greys and all named after Greek Gods. They were all beautiful, their eyes wide and soft, filled with knowledge and peace. Benny softly gave Apollo’s neck a pat as he moved through the team and to his own trailer. His was kept right back and hidden from sight, where performers brought him things they needed fixed. Shoes, clothes, jewellery. Some came with broken hearts and asked him to fix it, but you could never fix a broken heart. Even if you did, the pieces would never fit back together as they once had, it was common knowledge for blacksmiths to know this. Something broken would never be the same.
But Benny took what was given, and he fixed it as best he could.
He sat down on his little bed, pulling out a sheet of paper and folding it into a bird then breathing life into it, watching as it took to the air and began to soar around his trailer. It was often asked, how was he so good at fixing things? No one could sew like Benny, no one could fix like Benny.
No one had Benny’s magic, only magic that had been given to him by his parents. He was no wizard, no grand sorcerer. He was just Benny Watts, Blacksmith and storyteller. He breathed life into the things others thought were dead.
It was why Townes hadn’t gotten rid of him yet. He was why he was kept, following the travelling show as they toured Europe and America. He was always on sight so when something broke he was there to fix it.
Benny listened, pausing when he heard the roar of the audience. Beth must’ve finished, only she was able to get such a response from the crowd. He sighed, looking at his little paper bird. He really made an ass of himself earlier by doing her buttons, he should’ve just left it. He should’ve just given her back her shoes and left.
He should’ve just left.
Yet, he lingered. Like smoke in a jar, it lingered. Swirling and dancing. He ran his hand through his hair and forcing his lungs to work, he stood and stepped into the night. Benny saw the twitching of Zeus’s ear, his attention on something and ready to protect his herd.
“Hello, lad,” Benny murmured, opening his hand and patting the horse's neck. “Hello sweet boy, what’s wrong?” he asked, running his hand along the muscled neck of Zeus and then turning to look where Beth was standing, her hands on her stomach and her eyes at the sky.
It was like a painting that would haunt him for his life; a beautiful girl stood in the dead of night, her eyes trained to the sky as tears streamed down her face. Part of him wanted to go to her, to see what was wrong, to see what had caused her to cry but he remained with Zeus.
He watched instead as Townes walked towards her, setting his blazer on her shoulders and kissing the top of his head. Benny never knew the technicalities of Beth’s relationship with the ringmaster; he knew that Townes had found Beth at the side of the street, she was an orphan with no place to call home and had been lost until Townes took her in as his ward. She had started as a groom for the horses then a rider, until eventually she had her own part, until she became the reason the crowds came in the numbers they did.
“No more crying,” he heard Townes say to her.
“I want to go home.”
“Your home is here now,” Townes said, holding her shoulders and pulling her to his chest. “You’re safe here, Beth.”
Benny looked away, he knew he shouldn’t listen but he heard the pain in Beth's voice. He heard the ache, but if she was an orphan where did she truly belong? Where had she come from that she missed it so much?
Benny sighed, grabbing the blanket from the fence and throwing it on Zeus as he always did. Once more he checked the horses, ensuring they were all blanketed and watered then finally going to his trailer again for the night.
He had just turned his light off when there was a knock, only one person knocked in the entire troop. Benny groaned quietly to himself, rolling out of the bed and opening his door.
“Take a look at this,” Townes handed him a series of papers together with rough sketches on it.
“For Beth, we need a new outfit. Something extreme. I want you to make it.”
Benny frowned, taking the paper and looking at it, the red and golden swirls, the see through netting and the tight bodice. “This is different. She’s always black and white”
“It’s time for her to be an adult, not a little child anymore.”
“Exactly, an adult. She won’t just be Beth Harmon anymore, she’s going to be the greatest thing the world has ever seen and she will set to the world alight.”
“Ah, that’s why you want me. You want fire.”
“You do still work for me, Benny. And I do still pay off the majority of your debts.”
“Pay them all off instead of majority and I’ll think about it,” he answered. He saw the moment of thought in Townes eyes as he looked at the trailer and then back to the papers. “Write me the list of names you owe.”
“I’ll make the dress. When do you want it?”
“Next week, I’ve written her measurements for you so you don’t need to disturb her.”
“Alright, bye Townes,” Benny sighed, closing the door and setting the papers back on his desk and looking out his tiny window to the clearing where Beth was sitting smoking. The saints couldn’t help him now. He saw the lonely girl smoking and he could feel her ache to return home. He kept himself hidden from view, leaning on his door and quietly twirling his hand, calling the smoke to his command. He watched as the smoke became a horse, letting out a silent squeal and cantering a circle around Beth's head. Benny heard her laughter, a quiet sound like rain on a tin rough, the gasp of amazement. Not all magic was bad, not all magicians were evil.
And maybe one night he would understand the Queens Circus main attraction. And maybe this was his ticket for doing so.
Chapter 2: All of Flame
Hello all! Hope you all enjoy this chapter! I love writing it, and the story of Morella and Couri is just one I made up!
Thank you to the lovely Molly for reading, and helping with grammar/ spelling!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I will become the next big thing
'I will light myself on five
Its time to get out of bed
And be the Starchild I can be
A billion light years away
Someone's thinking the same thing
But he's already turned to dust
And the starlight I see
Is a billion light years old
A ghost just like the rest of us.' - Song link
Benny had only been given one present in his life: a book. It was in good condition, but smelt of dust and coffee as old books always did.
His grandmother had given it to him when he told her he had magic, she simply reached up and passed it to him with a silent nod and then walked away and out the back door. He carried the book with him everywhere. It wasn’t a spell book per se. It wasn’t an academic book, it was just a book filled with stories. A book filled with what the world could be, filled with how the world was so different in one’s dreams. He had read it every night when he was little; when his mother was drunk on cheap wine, when his father disappeared in the dead of night. He read the book to himself every night and he dreamed. He dreamed of knights in shiny armour on grey horses, he dreamed of fair away lands and hidden caves filled with treasure. Then he got older, and his thoughts were consumed by his mother; was she dead? Was she simply asleep?
The amount of times she forgot his name. The name she gave him.
Was she going to come home tear-stained and smelling of men. Was she going to disappear without a trace? It didn’t surprise him when she did. It didn’t make him blink. He simply packed up his bags and put his book at the bottom of it, because, after all, everything he had read was simply stories; there were no knights to save the damsels. There were no caves filled with magic in real life.
Unicorns, dragons, fairies and magic. Love, trust and hope were all mythical creatures saved for storybooks.
Yet, studying the design that Townes had given Benny for Beth’s dress, he found himself drawn back to the book his grandmother had given him all those years ago. He flicked through until he found the story; the story of Layla and Majnun. He thumbed the old pages tenderly, his tongue between his lips until he found what he was looking for,
‘ I did not come seeking fire yet I am all flame. Layla, our love is not of this earth ’. He had always loved the grandiosity of such a statement. To claim one's love did not belong to this earth, it was all magic.
Love was magic, Benny thought. Or vice versa. Both illusions. One lying to the other, and the other letting them do so.
He sighed to himself, reading the passage, then looking back at the drawings and tracing his fingers over the sketches in thought. Townes wanted this to showcase Beth, to show she was no longer a girl, but was now a woman. Now she held a room whereas before she was a puzzle, people didn’t know why they wanted to look at her. They just did. Now, however, everyone knew exactly why they were looking, and why they couldn’t pull their gaze away from her, but now the world knew her and now they wanted to see her.
Benny cracked his knuckles, rolling his shoulders and closing his eyes. He could see it in his head as he kept one hand on the drawing and he breathed life into the image before him; Beth clad in her red dress, no more diamonds. Now she would wear silk and the flames would shape her body, the ends of the material would look like embers, never entirely still. He felt his hands become heavy and quietly corrected himself - he didn’t want the material too heavy, she didn’t need to be weighed down by jewels and silk. She was already eye-catching. Benny opened his eyes and held the dress before him. He knew he would need to watch the performance to truly make the fire come alive, but for now he was happy. His fingertips ran along the bodice of the dress.
Beth Harmon was not of this world, and she had set them all on fire.
Beth groaned quietly, opening one eye and seeing the sun high in the sky making her hiss. She felt tender, the sun always burned her too hard. Her skin felt like paper and her bones felt like glass under the heat of the star. If she remained there too long she was sure she would combust completely.
Beth chose to remain silent, not wanting to wake for Annette or for Townes.
“Beth, we need you to take Apollo out.”
“I don’t work during the day.”
“He’s gotten himself into a state,” Townes chimed in. The door still remained closed between them but she could feel his agitation.
“I don’t work during the day, Townes,” she repeated, rolling her eyes.
“Yes, I know. But we brought you something, to help.”
Oh, she thought to herself. Oh . The magic green tablets he gave her during the day when the sun made her bleed. Those tablets numbed the call to return home, those tablets made the knife in her heart become a dull ache. She hadn’t taken one in a few days, but she pulled herself from the bed and grabbed her trousers and shirt. She hated the day, she hated the brightness. A star of her kind was not meant to be seen by blue skies, only the sun could hold such privilege. She had told Townes that and he simply laughed, and told her that a star as beautiful as her was to be seen every hour of every day. But she was not the sun, she did not burn as it did. The sun scorched the land and set fires to the earth, Beth guided travellers home lost at sea and lit the night sky when all seemed lost.
Beth just ached for it to be night time. She tucked her hair under the tweed cap Vasily Borgov had given her; she had a deep feeling he knew she did not belong to here, because he handed her the cap and murmured in Russian.
“I loved someone like you before.”
She had just smiled politely and moved on, pretending she didn’t speak his language yet what he had said echoed in her head. She was grateful for the cap, it did shield the worst of the sun from her eyes, and didn't make her feel as exposed.
“Beth, are you going?”
“Yes, Townes. I needed to get change, I doubt you want me riding Apollo naked around the circus,” she muttered.
“Well, there is the story of Lady Godiva.”
“She will not be recreating Lady Godiva.”
“But Townes, I look marvellous,” Beth answered, opening her door and pulling her boots on. She knew the horses were no longer her job, but she adored them. The herd of six that brought her unending happiness. Apollo was her favourite, with his too-wide eyes and his long ears and shaky muscles. She looked at the pair before her: Annette was holding Apollo who indeed looked a nervous mess, his breath in short pants and his body heaving.
“What has upset you?” she whispered so no one could hear her except Apollo, taking the reins from Annette and touching Apollo’s cheek, his coat damp with sweat. “Easy, sweet one. Easy,” she soothed. Beth took a deep breath, then exhaled, being sure that Apollo heard her. He always listened, she found. His ears twitched towards every noise, his eyes held too much knowledge to know that every sound was a hint at danger. Beth bounced onto the horse’s back, settling her weight in her heels and taking the reins. She could feel the tension in Apollo, so she took another breath.
“Are we ready?” Beth’s head whipped round when she saw Benny roll up on Zeus, one hand on the reins and, naturally, a cowboy hat on.
Of course he could ride a horse. Of course he wore the fucking hat too.
“Why is he coming?”
“Zeus needed exercise too.”
Beth looked at Townes, her mouth slightly ajar. “He can’t possibly know how to ride.”
“He does,” Townes sighed. “He does. And Zeus does need a ride before the show tonight, he’s been acting up.”
Beth took a deep breath, dropping her chin to her chest, then rolling her shoulders back. “Fine, whatever. Keep up, cowboy.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo, Foxy,” Benny answered with ease. She gritted her teeth at him.
“I will put you in a ditch and they will never find your body,” Beth hissed at him.
Benny simply answered by blowing a kiss at her.
Benny, it appeared, did know how to ride a horse. And was irritatingly good at it. She hated how he got Zeus to arch his neck, how he got the perfect canter.
She hated how Benny was good at horse riding.
She hated how he was doing it with such careless ease, with such a calmness to him.
“If you keep pouting so hard, you’ll have wrinkles,” Benny observed.
“I won’t get wrinkles. I’m too beautiful.”
“Medusa said the same, then she had a hair full of snakes,” Benny answered with a shrug.
“The myth of Medusa has been twisted,” Beth answered, trying to focus on Apollo and relaxing him but Benny didn’t stop, he instead kept going.
“Don’t lecture me on classics, I know them well enough,” Benny muttered. “If you’re angry I’m here, take it out on Townes. Apollo is already a wreck enough, and you’re gripping the reins like it's a tug of war.”
“If I don’t he’ll take off.”
“Please, he’s a lamb,” he scoffed
“Well, if you’re so great, you ride him,” she challenged. She truly prayed that Benny would say no, but instead he pulled Zeus to a halt and swung himself off and looked at her expectantly.
Beth huffed, doing the same and handing the reins to Benny, then vaulting onto the back of Zeus. She watched carefully, Benny pressed his forehead to Apollos, talking so softly to him and kindly. He bounced onto the back of the grey horse, running both his hands along the horse's neck before slipping his feet into the stirrups.
“My grandfather broke horses,” he explained. “He told me, horses are wild creatures and deserve respect. For it’s only on their terms that we ride them.” Benny slowly collected the reins and shifted his weight, clicking his tongue. “Horses grant us the ability to fly when we are not able to. Watch,” he instructed, turning Apollo into the field before them. Benny had only one hand on the reins, something Beth would never have done with the horse, and yet she had never seen Apollo so at ease. Benny kept talking, smiling and clicking, letting the horse shift between paces. Benny took both his hands off the reins, extending them and standing out of the saddle as Apollo cantered a circle.
Beth was mesmerized. He was not of this earth, with his unnatural calmness and honesty. She knew he lied through his teeth, she knew he had created this persona for the world to see.
But he was a magician and all magic was, at the end of the day, was an illusion to hide something from the world. To hide what the magician didn’t want you to see and often it was the truth. Benny had created this to hide himself from the harsh gaze of the world. He conjured a person who didn’t care, yet held the attention of everyone in the room. He held their attention so he could watch them, to see what they were doing. No one could hurt you if you seemed indestructible. And that was what Benny created, a cowboy who no one messed with and everyone knew, everyone kept at an arm's distance for him to continue the illusion.
She watched, and despite herself, she smiled. She dropped her head so he wouldn’t see the heat rising in her cheeks.
“Your issue was you kept expecting him to do something. Why does he have to do something? Why can he not just be a horse?” he asked, riding back beside her and giving Apollo a pat.
“I didn’t know you were a horseman.”
“Beth, I’m anything D.L. Townes wants me to be as long as he keeps paying my wages,” Benny smiled. She hated how carefree he looked on the grey.
Like a knight in shining armour.
The green magic pills Townes had given her were in her bloodstream - she could no longer hear her sisters in the sky and the world felt fuzzy. Benny pulled Apollo to a halt next to her, brushing his hair out of his face and looking at her. He truly looked at her, his eyes focused and deep. A first, Beth felt it was unnerving. No one gazed at her with such intensity. It felt as though he was studying her, every curve and shape on her body he seemed to examine as if committing her body to memory. The question he asked put all her thoughts away because he was not admiring or studying her.
“Are you high ?” Benny asked, looking at her. And truly looking at her.
“What does it matter?” she asked, squaring her shoulders. She heard Benny scoff at her, actually scoff.
“No wonder you couldn’t ride, you’re fucking flying.”
“Townes gave me them,” she answered, trying to defend herself. She was not going to be lectured by him. Yet, he continued on.
“And that makes it ok, does it?” he asked, shaking his head. He cast his eyes to the sky, as though he had seen this story unfold before and then quietly he asked. “When will you start living for yourself?”
The comment caught Beth off guard, flooring her almost. Did he truly know she wasn’t living her life here?
When I return to the sky, Beth thought to herself, I do not belong to this mortal coil. I am from the night sky. I let him do it because I do not know what I am doing myself.
“I hardly see how it concerns you,” she snapped. The dull ache to return home seemed to pierce her for a split second before easing. The green pills truly were magical.
“It concerns me because you put Apollo at risk. The slightest misjudgment on your half, Beth and he could get injured. What good is a circus pony who has a limp? What good is a circus pony with scars? Then we’re down a horse, then a good horse is wasted.” Benny shook his head, running his hand over his face. “Take account of you. No one can tell you how to live your life, but I do advise against throwing it down a bottle or into a pill packet.”
Beth swallowed. She felt tender, as though his words had whipped her. She glanced at him, and then to Apollo. She knew what he said was true. She knew it.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, only half heartedly and more for Apollo.
“Beth Harmon? Apologising? Next pigs will fly. Don’t waste your time with apologies. They get boring,” he mumbled, softly steering Apollo round and looking at her. “Time to go home now. Or Townes will be worried.”
She heard the acid in his tone as he spoke. And for once, she understood it.
Beth Harmon did not perform that night. Benny heard the murmurs, the quiet gasps and the speculation. He rolled his eyes at it all, choosing to ignore it. He grabbed the dress, putting it away neatly and walking to her trailer, knocking gently.
“Beth?” he called, listening but no answer. He frowned at that, trying to peek through the keyhole. “Beth? I have a dress for you. Can I come in? Please?” he asked, but again no answer. Benny looked around carefully, then twisted the door handle and opened the trailer, closing it behind him. He placed the dress on the chair, walking through the tiny room. He could tell Beth lived here, it stank of cheap alcohol and cigarettes. Yet the walls caught his attention. She had carved constellations into the wooden walls, scratched and painted over them. He ran his fingers over the markings carefully, feeling the roughened wood.
Then the retching noises started. He frowned, walking towards the wardrobe and pulling the curtain back and there she was on her knees, holding a basin before her and throwing up.
“Beth?” he asked, kneeling down and brushing some hair from her face. “What happened?”
“A star died,” she choked out, throwing up again. He frowned at that; what sort of bat shit drugs was she on now? A star died? Really?
“I hear her,” she breathed. “I hear her crying. It is so awful. So awful.”
“What can I do?”
“I need the green pills,” she gasped, tilting her head upwards. “Gods, stop. Please .”
Benny had never heard such desperation in someone's voice. And he had seen a person beg for his life once before being killed and even he didn’t sound that desperate.
“Beth, I’m not giving you the pills.”
“ Please .”
“No, no. It’ll only numb the pain, then you’ll have to face it tomorrow. Here, I’m here,” he whispered, sitting on the floor and taking her hand, tracing the heartlines on her palm. “Let me tell you the story of the witch and the farmer.”
“I don’t want stories, I want it to stop .”
“Would you listen to me? Listen. Focus,” his voice firm, “Listen to me, deep breath. The witch had cursed the lands, calling the farmers father a bad man. And in those days, there was no greater insult than a bad man.”
“You’re a bad man,” she snapped, hoping throwing the insult at him would get Benny to leave. Benny however, was not so easily swayed.
“Thank you. And so, the farmer's son had been left with this. The cursed land where no harvest grew,” Benny traced a circle on her palm. “Every night, for a thousand days, the farmer's son went to the witch and got to his knees and begged her to reconsider. On his one-thousandth day, the witch stopped and looked at him.
‘Why do you come?’ she asked him.
‘Because the land is all I have. You have money, you have men. You have the earth, the sun and all in between and I only have the land that you cursed. I am not my father’s son, I am a good man. How can I prove to you I am?’
‘I will give you a bird,’ the witch said. ‘I will give you a hawk for you to raise and if he flies away, then you have proved you are not of worth and the land will remain cursed.’ The farmer's son agreed, and so he took the baby bird to his house, and he fed the bird every morning, noon and night. He didn’t know that the witch sang for the bird every night to come to her, yet he stayed. He didn’t leave. She summoned the bird with every inch of magic she had, yet the bird did not come. She came to his house, her eyes filled with rage.
‘What magic do you possess? He is my bird, he comes when I call.’
‘I know,’ said the son. ‘I also know he is blind, and so when you didn’t look, I took your gloves so he could smell you, and convinced him I was you’.
And so the witch was so impressed, she conceded not to lift the curse for the full year,but for only half. And that was how winter came to be. To remind us that the gods can take what they gave us in the blink of an eye,” he explained. The vomiting had eased, but she still looked in pain.
“Morella,” Beth whispered.
“Her name was Morella. And his name was Conri, the King of Chefs. If you tell that story, you should give them their names.”
“How do you know it?”
“I was there,” she whispered. “I watched it all from the sky,” she breathed, looking once more at the sky then dropping her head. Benny remained silent, watching as she slipped into a sleep.
She was not of this earth.
Comments make me happy!
And I don't apologize for the horses, I spent eleven years breaking so was only a matter of time before I wrote them horse riding 🙈
Chapter 3: The Debts
Hello! So this is really taking its own journey, I'm sorry. I am enjoying writing it, but I feel the characters are not themselves, but this is also a completely different AU. I'm trying to keep them as in character as I can, but honestly I feel they're writing themselves.
I hope you enjoy it.
Much love xo
'They say everyman goes blind in his heart
And they say everybody steals somebody's heart away
And I got nothing more to say about it
Nothing more than you would me
Send me your flowers, of your december
Send me your dreams, of your candy wine
I got just one thing I can't give you
Just one more thing of mine' - Song link
“The problem is,” Granny Hume began, taking a long drag of her cigarette. “We teach children from a young age there’s always a happy ending. There’s not. Someone has to leave first, always. Be it death, be it divorce. Someone will always leave first. And don’t get me started on that hero and villain bullshit. Because that’s not the case. Life is not black and white, life is grey. You will do well to remember that, Benny.”
“Why what? Why does it have to be like this? Because this is life. Not some fairytale.”
“But I have magic, and magic is in fairytales.”
“You want to know the truth of magic, boy?” Granny Hume asked, finally standing from her rocking chair and going into the garden. Benny loved her garden, she had it filled with chickens and sheep, all sorts of animals. It was a little zoo. She emerged once more, her shawl wrapped over her shoulders and holding a chicken by the wing. The other wing clearly out of place, Benny could see the pain in the chickens eyes.
“Fix this with your magic.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Well, then,” Granny Hume took the chicken by its neck, wringing it in one movement and setting it on the table. “Dinner for tonight.”
“You didn’t even give me a chance!”
“You don’t get chances in life. You get a split second. There are no happy endings and there are no heroes, or else you would’ve saved the chicken. Magic’s not so great now, is it?”
Benny swore that day never to say ‘I don’t know’ ever again.
Benny watched Beth closely after the night he found her vomiting. He saw how she winced in sunlight, how she gritted her teeth when she had to stand outside. It was only when it was nighttime that she seemed to truly come alive. When it was dark, she seemed at ease. In the darkness she shone brighter than the sun.
And there was no indication she remembered that Benny had helped her. She remained distant, her chin tilted upwards and her shoulders square. He let her, he wasn’t overly interested in mind games and trying to please her.
Yet, he couldn’t shake the image of her out of his mind. He couldn’t shake the feeling of her hand in his. He couldn’t rid himself of her words that echoed in his mind.
She had seen the story of Morella and Conri. Knew them by name. Benny wondered what Granny Hume would’ve made of Beth. He could hear his beloved grandmother in his head smoking her purple cigarettes from her rocking chair.
“ Don’t be so besotted by a girl, Benny. Romance is a lie that weak people tell because they’re bored, ” she huffed.
“Ow, gran,” Benny muttered, looking at the reflection in the mirror and there she was, in her rocking chair and smoking.
“ What? Are you upset by the truth? What about this persona, ay? This Benny Watts. Watts is not your given name, I would like to remind you. ”
“Benny Hume didn’t sound as good as Benny Watts.”
“ How fickle you are. ”
“Not fickle, just clever. I thought you would be proud,” he answered, grabbing his own cigarettes and not turning round. He knew as soon as he did that, she would be gone.
“ I see her, this girl. Beth Harmon ,” the way she said it sounded like a creature sizing up its prey before devouring it. “ Trust you to fall for a star. ”
“I know she’s the star of the show, granny but I think that’s dramatic even for you.”
“ Benny, when will you learn to open your eyes? She’s a star. From the sky. ”
“Well that sounds fake.”
“ Go read the story on Yvaine.”
“Yvaine was a myth, granny.”
“ Every myth has a level of truth. You know that, she knows that. And I know that. You’re playing ignorant because you don’t want to think too hard.”
“I forgot how grumpy you get,” Benny turned round as soon as he did, she was gone. No lady was sitting in a rocking chair with purple cigarettes. He was alone.
Benny reached for his storybook, running his fingers along the paper edges until he found the part he was looking for. The story of Yvaine and Tristian, Yvaine was a fallen star and Tristian fell in love with her. Growing up it had been his favourite story, he had always loved the drama of it. But it was a myth. Beth Harmon was not a star.
Don’t be so sure, boy. His grandmother whispered in the back of his skull.
“Where did you find Beth?” Benny asked, shuffling the cards. Townes took a long drag of his cigarette, flicking ash into the tray.
“Well, I was driving through Lexington one day and she was just there. In this ridiculous dress, soaked to the skin and crying. I brought her back to the house, then she met Apollo and I offered her a job.”
“Why does she not work during the day?”
“I think it has to do with the act. You’re asking a lot of questions today, Benny.”
“I’m just curious,” Benny mumbled, flicking the cards between the two with ease.
“I had this strange idea she was a star.”
Benny glanced at Townes, and he knew the man well enough before him to know that his face dropped slightly. “Townes?” he asked.
“Look, what has she been telling you? Has it started again?”
“When we first found her; Annette and I, she was convinced she was a star. Every night we heard her crying. Every damn night, Benny. She cried for hours. She cried until she was sick. I asked what she wanted, what she needed and she said she was a star. She said she belonged to the nightsky. So… so I gave her opium.”
“You gave her what ?”
“Benny, you don’t understand. Every night she was making herself sick from crying and wailing. Like a banshee. Like she was in pain and I asked her what was wrong, I asked her where it hurt and she never gave an answer.”
“But opium, Townes.”
“Do you have a better suggestion? Do you have an idea on how to get someone to calm down when they won’t listen to you? I tried everything .”
Benny rubbed his bottom lip, tossing one card out and looking out the window to where Beth was sat. She was sitting at a table with Borgov, a chess board between them.
“She’s not of this world, is she?”
“Please don’t you start. I don’t know what happened to her, I don’t know what trauma happened that she believes this. It must’ve been bad if she’s convinced she’s not from earth. There’s bits and pieces she’s told me. She’s had two mothers, both died. Both fathers abandoned her. No wonder she doesn’t want to think she’s real, that’s enough to make anyone want to become someone else.”
Benny tore his gaze away from Beth and returned to the card game. The poker tables had been dry, people weren’t spending as much as Benny wanted them too. That was he found himself playing cards with Townes instead.
“Have you ever listened to her?” Benny asked curiously.
“Of course I’ve listened to her. Every night before the circus took off I listened to her. It was Annette, the twins, Beth and I all in a house. We needed to do something.”
“Does she know what you give her?”
“Yes. She does.”
That wasn’t so bad, Benny thought. At least she knew. He played another card, taking a sip of the drink to his left.
“She really is your star, isn’t she?”
“Yes. She is, and that’s why she can’t go home.”
“Townes… that’s not fair.”
“If she goes, we lose everything. And there’s many people out there who you owe a rather considerable debt too.”
“You can’t keep her here against her will.”
“Where will she go? The streets? Standing at the side of the road, soaked in the rain, like a child. She’s no home, she’s nothing. She has us.”
“The performances though. How does she perform when you drug her?”
“It wears off by the time she performs. Why do you think she is the last act?”
“To make the audience stay?”
“Partly, but also because it’s to make sure everything’s out of her system. She’s clear minded when she performs. Like waking up from a nap.”
Benny couldn’t shake the feeling in his gut that even if she was clear minded, it was still a bad thing to do. No wonder she was so snappy during the day, she was high on opium.
He rubbed his eyes, playing another card and looking at Townes.
“Do you know the story of Yvaine and Tristian?”
“Benny, really? That’s a child’s story. Everyone knows it.”
“But… but what if it’s true.”
“Please, Benny. Do not encourage her. Do not feed into this, just let her be.”
“I dropped her dress off a few nights ago, and she was throwing up. She told me a star had died and she could hear it.”
Townes was silent, looking at his cards and then throwing them on the table.
“I invited you to play cards, not talk about Beth. If that’s what you want, go talk to her yourself.” Townes sat back, setting the rest of the cards on the table in defeat. Benny eyed him for a moment then gathered the cards, shuffling them then setting them away for a later date.
“Look, Benny. I don’t want to know. I told you to not get involved, and you’re doing exactly that. You’re getting involved.”
“I’m getting involved because I care, Townes.”
“Why? Why do you care? Any time you both have spoken it's an argument and you both make your opinion of the other pretty well known. So why do you care now?”
“Because it’s unfair. It’s unfair to keep her here like some prized pony to show off to the world to get a pretty income.”
“An income that pays your wages, an income that keeps people from your doorstep with knives and debts you owe. And remember, Benny. The greatest debt you owe is to me.”
Benny dropped his head, gritting his teeth. He blew the breath out through his nose, nodding his head. “Yes, Townes. I remember well enough.”
Benny glanced at him once more then slipping out the door into the night air. He could feel the frost, the ground already crisp under foot. He made a note mentally to put the rugs on the horses before he went to sleep, but first he had business. He saw Beth sitting on the chair by her trailer, legs extended before her and an ashtray to her left. Her eyes closed, chin tilted upwards to the sky. Benny went to speak but she cut him off.
“It’s like the sea, how they sound. It’s not quite of this earth. It starts quiet, then they swell and crash and then return to quiet,” she mused.
“It sounds beautiful.”
“You’ll never understand it until you hear it, once you do you’ll never want to forget it.”
“I’m sorry about your friend dying.”
“She wasn’t a friend. But it’s still painful when one dies. All this, everything you see, they’re all ghosts. They’ve all died, their lights just haven’t left yet.”
Benny sat on the grass next to her, crossing his legs and looking up at the sky.
“My granny told me the story of Yvaine and Tristian growing up.”
“Oh Yvaine ,” Beth rolled her eyes. “A mess if I ever saw one. She was too implusive. Lovely, but careless.”
“It happened to you.”
“You fell, didn’t you?”
Beth was still, her eyes still trained on the sky and not daring to look at him.
“How can you tell?”
Benny shifted, taking a drag from his own cigarette. He exhaled the smoke and then spun his hand carefully. The smoke took shape, becoming a horse. The horse let out a silent neigh, then cantering a circle around Beth's head.
Benny had never seen someone's eyes truly light up the ways hers did. She sat there, her mouth slightly open as she watched the smoke horse move through the air before being swept away by a breeze.
“You’re a magician,” she whispered.
“One of a kind, actually.”
“You could help me get home.”
“I could,” he answered hesitantly. “But, Townes doesn’t want you going anywhere.”
Beth returned to looking at the sky, then dropping her head.
“It’s been… eighteen years since I was home.”
“And for eighteen years, I hear them singing. I hear them crying. I hear the sun roaring at me that I am not to be there, I am not be seen. I hear my sisters asking me to return and I can’t, do you understand? Do you understand how much pain it causes me?”
“I don’t,” Benny answered. “I don’t understand. But let me try. Let me try to understand, and I’ll try and get you home.”
Beth turned to look at him, her eyes burning. “Do you swear?”
“I swear.” he answered.
“What’s your plan?”
Benny remained silent. He had never said I don’t know since the chicken, and he wasn’t about to now.
Chapter 4: To Burn
Y'all better be ready for this.
Much love! xo
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
' Cross over and turn
Feel the spot don't let it burn
We all want we all yearn
Be soft don't be stern
Was not supposed to make you cry
I sang the words I meant
I sang' - Song Link
Benny found himself sitting with Beth after her shows from that evening, they didn’t speak of much. Some nights they didn’t speak at all, they just sat smoking and playing chess as if it were the most natural thing.
He found, somehow, comfort in Beth.
He found it comforting to not have to speak, to not have to perform. To just sit and be silent. There was comfort in unsaid words. This habit went on for two and a half months when Beth broke the silence first between them one day.
“I didn’t understand death is so permanent,” she said, her eyes always looked everywhere but his. He never forced her to look at him, Benny understood that sometimes it was easier to look away and talk.
“How do you mean?”
“When stars die, they fall. Their light lingers even though they are dead. They continue on, but with humans… once they are dead. That’s it. There’s no lingering light.”
Benny didn’t answer straight away, cleaning his pipe out and filling it with tobacco.
“I don’t believe people just die. I think no person is truly themselves; we carry bits and pieces of every person we've ever met with us. We carry some sort of trait from every person we meet. How we talk, how we gesture, how we look, these things all have been influenced by someone, so they never die. We carry their hearts.”
“Whose heart do you carry?”
“My grandmother. Grandmother Hume. She’s in everything I do, she died years ago. But I know I carry her with me.”
Beth shifted, stretching her legs out in front of her and looking at her fingers. “I carry… Her name was Alma. I carry her with me.”
“Alma is a lovely name.”
“....Thank you for telling me.” Benny said quietly
“Humans, you live such short lives. You burn bright and it’s almost as if your burning kills you,” she mused. “What is eighty years to someone who is alive for a thousand? It’s a blink. It’s a whisper in the breeze.”
“Sometimes, all it takes is a second to change someone’s life,” Benny whispered back. He didn’t doubt Beth now. He knew she was a star. He saw how she was reborn at night, and how there were galaxies in her eyes and constellations on her skin.
Like an astronomer, he wanted to learn every one. He wanted to make a map of her and learn it by heart to recall with touch alone.
Benny was, sadly, falling in love with her.
He had told himself not too, he had fought with himself for hours and hours to not give in. Though it was the night he found Beth asleep with Apollo in the pen that he knew his heart was softening to her.
Did she feel the same? Benny didn’t know. He wouldn’t ask either, he didn’t want to destroy what fragile bond they had created.
“You and Borgov get along well,” Benny smiled, glancing at the chessboard between them and moving. Beth hummed, moving her piece and then looking at him.
“Vasily is a very lovely man.”
“He never speaks.”
“That’s what makes him lovely,” she laughed. Benny found himself laughing too, shaking his head.
“You American men, always talking and boasting and trying to be the bigger person. Vasily knows who he is, he knows what he’s good at. And that’s it.”
“What is he good at?”
“Chess, much better than you. Check mate,” Beth smiled, sitting back. Benny paused, looking at the board, trying to study it and then huffing.
“Well, we can’t all be Vasily Borgov, can we?”
“No,” she answered. “But we can give a good game of chess. Where you even trying?”
“I have seen Apollo take shits more magnificent than that game.”
“I never knew you to be so… cruel,” Benny huffed, but he could feel his lips curving into a smile.
“You’ve called me cruel twice.”
“No word explains it better. You’re a cruel woman, Beth Harmon. You’ll be the death of me.”
“Oh Benny, of course I will,” she answered. “And it's your own fault for letting me do so.”
Benny looked at her, not taking his eyes away. Yes, he thought. She would most definitely be the death of him, and he would most willingly let her.
His heart was only ever hers to break.
It was in Paris when Beth seemed to get sick. Benny watched her like a hawk, but she had a fever. Too much performing and not a good enough diet. She had wrecked herself for a new routine, a performance on the tightrope. She spent hours upon hours mastering it, not eating until she had it perfected.
Then she had collapsed one morning as she was grooming Athena and Benny had never moved as fast in his life. The horses thankfully had been trained if someone fell they were to remain perfectly still until the person was taken away. He thanked Peter for that, because it was a tight pen and very easy to trample on a person.
The show however still had to go on. Benny remained by Beth's side, sitting in the unending silence. He took to reading to her, holding the book Granny Hume had given him and reading her stories. The story of Yvaine and Tristian, the story of Achilles and Patroclus, the story of Oisin and Niamh.
He had remembered having a fever once before. It was a strange place of knowing people were talking to you but not being able to respond. Benny had found comfort in his granny’s stories and so he did the same for Beth. He read until he fell asleep in the chair.
One night when he was watching Beth, she grabbed his hand. Her grip was like an iron vice, but Benny didn’t pry his away. He kept holding it. He kept reading.
When Townes came in with opium, he sent him away. Benny refused to let her grow more reliant on it, he refused to put her through that. He sat by her side the entire time.
Benny had dozed off, his hat pulled over his eyes and his legs outstretched before him when Beth woke. Her hair stuck to her forehead but her eyes finally brightened.
“Benny,” she said quietly. Her voice sounded like sandpaper, so raw. He rubbed his face, taking his hat off and running his fingers through his hair.
There was silence between them, a breath.
“Benny, I want to go home.”
“I know,” he whispered. He moved to the edge of the bed to sit closer to her, taking a deep breath. Beth pressed her head to his shoulder, he could feel the dampness from her sweat. He could still feel the heat radiating off her.
“I think I am dying here.”
Benny felt his chest constricting. It was only natural that she would die here, in a place she didn’t belong. Yet, selfishly he wanted her to stay.
“I think you are too,” he managed to get out. It took every strength to remain composed.
“You want me to stay.”
“We all want you to stay.”
“You want me to stay the most,” she corrected.
Benny rubbed his chin, how long had they spent like this? Four months? Three? She had said it herself, eighty years was a blink to someone who lived for a thousand.
Somehow, though. These months he had spent with Beth felt like all the years of suffering were for something. He swallowed, taking a deep breath.
“I won’t put what I want above what you need.”
“You are a good man.”
Benny bit his lip. Breathing suddenly seemed so forgien. Was it not only yesterday she called him a bad man for holding her hand as she threw up? And now he was good?
Benny had never thought himself a good man. He thought himself only a man. Only a person. He was not a god, he was not a hero. He was not a star. Now here he was, in love with one.
“Don’t start saying things you’ll regret later, don’t give me hope.”
“I won’t give you hope Benny. I couldn’t give you hope only to leave,” she breathed.
Despite himself, Benny found himself laughing. It was painful, but he couldn’t help but laugh, shaking his head. “Fucking granny Hume.”
“A story she told me when I was younger. Someone will always leave first, that’s why love wasn’t real. Someone always will have to leave first.”
Beth didn’t react, until she laughed. He never had heard a sound so sweet as her laugh. A sound so glorious. She laughed.
“I am sad I never met her.”
“I’m not,” he laughed, shaking his head. Then he felt it, a single tear slipping away. He quickly wiped it away before it even reached his chin. Beth looked at him, reaching up to touch his hand with hers.
“Why do you cry?” she asked softly.
“I don’t know,” he whispered back. The first time, the damned first time he had said it since the chicken. Benny wanted to scream into the night and let his rage burn through this wretched body that was his.
“I think you do. I think you do know, you just don’t want to admit it.”
“Love is a terrible thing.”
“Love is a cruel game,” Beth corrected. “I don’t think anyone can truly master it until its over. Life would be simply if love was like chess.”
“I don’t think so,” he chuckled. “Not many people can learn chess.”
“Exactly, and not many people can learn love either.”
Benny looked out the window, the moon breaking the darkness of the sky. A silver light amidst a sea of black.
“You truly want to go home?” He whispered.
“I am sorry.”
“Don’t apologise,” he sighed. “It’s only fair. I think if I had a home, I would like to return to it.”
“You always can.”
“No, not without Granny. Not to her empty house. It would feel like I was intruding.”
Beth nodded, her head still pressed against his shoulder.
“You’re awfully slow,” she muttered.
“When will you kiss me?”
“I have a strict no kissing policy; no kissing. Absolutely none-”
Beth Harmons lips were upon him. There was exactly no time in Benny Watts' life when he had been rendered speechless but he would happily let this be the first.
Because Beth was kissing him.
And it was completely wrong; there was too much teeth and noses clashing. But somehow it felt as though it were the most perfect kiss he had ever had.
Because it was Beth. And she held his heart in his hands and he would let her destroy him every waking moment because it was her .
He drew back, a little breathless and her equally so.
“Was that bad?” she asked.
“No, it was perfect,” he answered, leaning down to kiss her once more. And then again. Beth felt like coming home. She felt like peace. She felt like every star that guided him home, and she felt safe.
He kissed her again, pressing his head to hers and holding her chin between his fingers. He kissed her until she was breathless. Until he forgot that she was a star, until he forgot she was going to leave.
That night, Benny learned every constellation on her skin and burned it into his memory. Never to forget it. They held each other in the morning, as the sun made the room turn orange and pink and red. Their shadows thrown onto the walls surronding each other.
"I think I must have loved you before," Benny whispered. "Because your kiss felt like home."
"I think so too," Beth admitted. "I think we were something in a life before this one. Who would we have been?"
"Beth Harmon and Benny Watts, the world champions of chess. We made the chess world the thing of drama and theatre."
Beth snorted, shaking her head. "This is why you play chess so bad. You think it's dramatic."
"Ah, but isn't everything for the dramatics?"
She answered him with a kiss.
There was a certain kind of intimacy found after having someone you had been falling in love with for months. Every little touch, every little glance. They all seemed to feel deeper and more intimate.
They kept it hidden. A stolen touch; a brush of fingers as they groomed the horses, a touch of heads when they had to duck down to avoid long hanging wires and beams. Each one, Benny tucked away into his heart. He didn’t want the world to find this piece of joy he had found for it to be destroyed.
That was until he went into his trailer and Townes was sat at his desk, holding the book of stories. Benny felt his heart twinge.
“You love stories, Benny. Right?”
“Stories aren’t real.”
“My granny said something similar,” Benny answered, holding up his brandy bottle in a silent offer but Townes shook his head.
“Your granny was a clever woman then. See, the stories always tell us the boy ends up with the girl. The knight and the princess. That’s not how real life works.”
“Have you been possessed by my grandmother?”
Townes sighed, looking out the window. Beth was practising, Annette sat by the sidelines with water and oranges to keep her hydrated.
“We are both from the same world, Benny. We are both people raised by shitty people, in the gutter. We both creatures of the shadows, and love is not something we are destined to have.”
“Of course I know. I know everything. I know that you told her you’ll bring her home. I know you told her you love her and she said it back. If we have no Beth, we have no show. And then, we’ve to go back to the shadows.”
Benny gripped his drink. He always had had a keen sense of knowing when he was in danger, and he could feel his stomach twisting in warning.
He took a deep breath, his magic ready to be let loose.
“We need her.”
“You can’t keep her caged here like some bird, you cannot keep her under lock and key to suit your means.”
“It’s not on my means that I do this. You are fueling her fantasy. Where will she go? Where is home? Alma is dead. Beth has no home. She has no life. She has nothing, but she has us. And you want to send her back to that.”
“She is a star-”
“Do you understand how ridiclous you sound? Do you? Do you hear yourself?” Townes asked, his tone sharp. Perhaps the sharpest Benny had ever heard it.
Benny blew out a breath, flexing his knuckles and rolling his shoulders.
“You’ve to let her go,” Benny murmured.
“No. I am helping.”
“You are killing her.”
Townes sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking at Benny.
“I’m sorry, Benny.”
“Because I was rather fond of you, but I can’t have you buying into her fantasies.”
Benny didn’t fully process what was going to happen until it was done. The world was black the minute his head hit the floor.
I'M (not) SORRY!!
I promise the next chapter WILL compensate, you'll get BAMF Benny Watts with his badass magic and his badass leather coat. So better be excited for that :)
Comments make me super happy!
Chapter 5: Home
So this was fun. I hope y'all enjoyed my dramatic ass. Have tissuses ready, I cried writing this.
Much love xo
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
'Wake up slowly, there are blue skies
Cutting white lines in black matter
I see them shinin' through your drunken eyes
Carving silver in strange weather
She'll take you back, don't make believe
You wanna think it through
I've loved before, I'll love again
I know that yours was true' Song link
Benny awoke to an empty field. He heard the bird song faintly in the distance, his head was throbbing painfully in his temple.
He forced his lungs to work.
He drew one breath, then exhaled. Then another.
He staggered to his feet, looking at what surrounded him. He supposed it was rather nice of Townes to abandon him with a bag of his belongings instead of just at the side of the road. Benny checked his bag and sighed in relief upon seeing his book, touching it gently and closing his eyes.
“You fucked up now, boy.”
“I was wondering when you’d turn up,” he muttered to his grandmother, cracking his knuckles.
“Why do you keep running from who you truly are?”
“Because you told me too.”
“Character building, wasn’t it?” she answered. Benny saw the fog around him swirl, taking the shape of Granny Hume. She was straight backed as ever, her shoulders square.
“It’s time for you to be who you are, Benny.”
“What if I’m not ready?”
“You always think that. You always think you’re not ready. Why? What are you so afraid of?”
Myself. Benny thought, myself. And what I could do. He felt terrified of that. He swallowed, looking at his book and then the small pouch inside it. Benny leaned down and opened them, taking out a series of rings and necklaces.
“Stop being so afraid. I didn’t raise a coward.”
“I’m not a coward.”
“I know that, but do you?” she asked, he could see the outline of her walking stick. Granny Hume took a step closer to him to inspect him. Benny did know that. He did. He was not a coward, he was not weak.
And he loved Beth Harmon.
“Use your magic, do it. Show me. Show me how strong you are. Show me that you are my grandson.”
Benny rolled his shoulders, closing his eyes. He pressed one hand to the earth, his fingernails becoming dirty from the soil.
He listened. He listened to what the earth told him, how he had been left by the circus and where they went. He followed the earth's pull to a small village outside of Paris, not too far. Benny twitched his head. He could see Beth with her tear stained face, her eyes red from crying.
“Listen to the earth,” Granny Hume instructed. “Are they close?”
“Far. They’re far,” he murmured. He stood up and looked at the fog.
“Do it. Create chaos.”
Benny breathed out and felt the shadows around him curl to life. The energy from the darkness thrumming like electricity. The hairs on his arm raised up but he remained focused. The shadows shifted and bent to his command until he had complete command of the weather around him.
“Good,” Granny Hume said firmly. “Go find your star, boy.”
Benny walked for hours. His bones ached by the time he found a small village with the posters for a circus on the walls of the street. The air was always raw from the excitement of a circus arriving, the electricity of people's excitement was like a live wire.
Every movement, every buzz, Benny felt it. He felt it in the pit of his stomach, when a child let out a giggle or a person let out a soft ‘oooh’ at an attraction. He took that rawness and bottled it inside himself, keeping it ready for the storm.
“I hear she’s not performing.”
“She’s still ill.”
Benny listened closely, knowing they were referring to Beth. Was she alright? Townes wouldn’t hurt her, Benny knew that. But he could drug her, he could keep her in oblivion.
And it was exactly that reason Benny needed to find her.
There was an advantage to being a creature of the shadows, the shadows always reclaimed what was there. He closed his eyes and let himself melt into the darkness, disappearing from sight to walk more freely around the trailers until he found Beths one. He peered through the window and she was there, the dress he had made in her hands.
She was sober, she could tell that. He felt the pain, her energy was so weak. Benny slipped back into his physical body, sliding through the door.
“Beth,” he whispered. Beth spun round, covering her mouth and hurrying to him, throwing her arms around him. He caught her, burying his face in her hair.
“Beth,” he repeated. Benny said her name like a prayer, because perhaps if God couldn’t save him she could.
“I thought you were dead.”
“Many have tried, many have failed,” he grinned, pressing his forehead to hers and kissing her lips. She still felt like home. She still felt like his world.
“We need to go,” he breathed, grabbing a bag for her. “I’m going to get you home.”
“Benny we can’t.”
“Why? Why?” he looked at her clothes and then huffed. Why was he packing for her? She was a star. Stars don’t wear clothes.
“I can’t leave Townes.”
“Beth, you can. We can. I can get you home.”
“Why do you not believe me?” he snapped. “I can. And I will.”
Beth remained silent, looking at the floor and then out the window. Benny took a deep breath, walking over to her and touching her chin.
“Why would I lie to you?”
“I don’t blame you,” he smiled. “But you’re going to go home, Beth. No more crying.”
“No more crying,” she echoed.
Benny felt like there was pure electric in his veins. Like his heart was made of lightning and at any moment it was going to explode. He remembered this feeling, of holding raw chaos in his body and bending it to his will.
“What are you?” Beth whispered. “I have never met one like you before.”
“Because there are no others like me,” he breathed with a sad laugh. “And I’ve been doomed since the start, but it’s ok. It’s alright,” he pressed a kiss to her head.
“What are you?” she repeated.
“Granny Hume was a Summoner. Old magic, very old. People who could feed off the chaos the world creates and make it what they wish. Summon life, summon death. Whatever, they could control it,” Benny held out his palm and summoned the electric in his veins. Between his fingertips the lightning cracked and hissed. Beth watched, her eyes wide with amazement. “And I can get you home, Beth.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“Oh darlin,” he smiled. “You’d never leave. You’d be watching over me from the sky, won’t you?”
Benny nodded. He slipped his hand into hers and gave it a small squeeze to try and reassure her.
“Benny!” Townes shouted, banging on the door. Beth jerked back, her head whipping to Benny.
“You need to go.”
“It’s alright,” Benny whispered. He opened the door and sighed, adjusting the buttons on his sleeve as he looked at the other.
“Hello, Townes. I didn’t appreciate being left in a field.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m bringing Beth home,” Benny said through gritted teeth. “I’m bringing her home. She is not yours, she is not a slave. She is a star, she is not of this world. And the longer you keep her here, the more painful it is for her”
“She is not a star-”
“She’s dying!” Benny screeched. “Every day, she dies. Stop being selfish, Townes. Stop it.”
Townes rubbed his face, looking at Beth then at Benny and shaking his head.
“I had more faith in you, Benny.”
“Well that was your first mistake, wasn’t it?” he grinned. “I will be taking her home.”
“Alright,” Townes said, stepping back and lighting a cigarette. “Alright. Say, Benny. How fast can you run?”
“Faster than you.”
“Oh, good. And Beth? You?”
“Great. Ok, well. I suppose you both are on your way then,” Townes answered. The stillness of him was unnerving, Benny didn’t trust it. He looked at Beth, watching her carefully as she walked towards him. Benny reached his hand out to help her down the steps, averting his gaze when Beth pressed a kiss to Townes cheek.
Benny did not trust this.
It was too quick, Townes grabbed Beth's wrist, pulling her away and one of the men grabbed Benny.
Benny kicked out, throwing his head back like a cornered dog.
“Benny, did you truly think you were the only one with magic?” he asked. “Truly?”
“Townes,” Benny hissed.
“Ignorance is bliss I suppose,” Townes sighed. “I didn’t want to do this.”
“You don’t have too,” Beth whispered.
“See, I do. I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” Benny muttered.
Townes gave him a dead smile, “You’re proven to be more of an inconvenience than a help, Benny.”
“You’re not the first to say that.”
“Always so cocky, does it not get tiring?”
Benny watched Beth carefully, tilting his head to try and make her understand. Beth locked her eyes on his and nodded slowly.
“I love chatting, Townes,” Benny sighed, slowly summoning all the chaos he had been bottling from the morning. His body shaking with anticipation of finally letting it go.
“I do love chatting,” he continued. “But, I really must be going.”
“Where would you be going?”
“I think I’d rather like to go home.”
The world erupted around Benny. He let it go, he let all the chaos bleed out of him. The shadows surged upwards like a sea crashing into a cliff. Benny threw the chaos towards Townes, the light and shadows clashing and rearing upwards. Twisting and snapping. The pull and tug of the light was like a current in the sea. Townes staggered backwards, throwing an arm to protect himself and in that split second Benny grabbed Beth.
He held onto her hand tight, his fingers lacing through hers. He dragged her along behind him until he found the horses.
“Go!” he shouted, grabbing a bridle for Zeus and for Apollo, he gave one to Beth who quickly threw it on the vaulting onto the horses back. Benny did the same, wrapping his hands around Zeus’s mane and digging his heels into the horses side. Zeus took off, ears pinned back as his stride ate the earth up. Apollo was by his side, Beth’s eyes furrowed as she focused. Their hooves were like war drums, calling a battle so great and so bloody that no person could be left the same.
Zeus veered to the left, leaping over a ditch and charging. Benny thought for the briefest of seconds this was not what a knight was meant to do, knights were meant to charge into the battle not away.
Benny had never really been one for playing by the rules.
There was shouting in the background, the noise of Townes. He could still feel the crackle of electricity. He pulled Zeus to a halt, looking at the crowd that Townes had gathered.
“Go,” he shouted to Beth. She nodded, steering Apollo away into the forest.
Benny took a deep breath, closing his eyes and focusing everything into his heart. He steadied himself.
The mist lingered, crawling through the grass and trees like smoke. Benny kept his eyes closed, one hand running up and down Zeus’s neck to keep the stallion calm.
He took a deep breath.
The mist danced around his finger tips. The air cold, sky bleeding red and orange and purple. Townes stood at the clearing, breathless and shaking his head.
“You can’t escape.”
“You’ll find I can.”
Benny rolled his head, urging the mist onwards. Townes sliced it away, storming forward but Benny had been expecting that. He swung his leg over Zeus’s neck and flung his hands open, the mist that surrounded them turned into figures. Into people until everyone looked like Beth. Townes stopped midstep, looking round. Benny twisted the mist, creating them to smile and laugh just as Beth had done.
He knew her like he knew his own heart. Without doubt and without shame. He summoned the shadows to join in, watching as the shadows crawled along the grass like snakes until it reached Townes ankles. The shadows didn’t react yet, not until Benny told them too.
“She was never yours to love,” Benny whispered. The shadows wrapped around Townes’s ankles, holding firm. Benny swung his other hand, the illusions becoming a heavy curtain to barricade the forest from Townes and Beth. Benny might not walk away from this, but at least she would.
“Such childish magic,” Townes hissed. Townes threw his hands to the sides and the shadows died, the mist clearing. Benny didn’t move, he kept perfectly still. Until the darkness rained on them.
Until Benny felt as though he had been swallowed by the night sky.
“I can make illusions too, Benny,” Townes said in a sing-song voice. “I can do that.”
Benny tried to summon the electric, he tried to create chaos. But his fingers didn’t listen. The light had died, swallowed by a sea of nothing. He felt, for the first time, terrified.
Benny felt scared.
He was on his knees, the stars no longer shone for him. His body was trying to fight but there was nothing coming when he tried.
This is how I die, he thought to himself.
Benny had never particularly feared death. He imagined death was a grand adventure, he imagined he would be able to sleep for once.
All those wasted years when he let his worries consume him. All those nights gone because he was scared.
And now here he was again. Scared and suffocating on nothing but darkness and shadows. He could feel his own magic screaming in his chest, so loudly it physically hurt. He tried to make a noise but there was nothing.
“I am sorry.”
Benny couldn’t even bring himself to answer Townes.
He felt the tears burning his skin. His last thoughts would be of Beth.
His last thoughts would be of their time together, of how tender she was. How the freckles lined her shoulders and made a constellation of his heart.
He wouldn’t go fearfully. He would not let his fear consume him.
He would welcome death, he would welcome the darkness.
Benny’s eyes remained closed, he took one last breath. He hoped Zeus would be found, and that he would be ok. He had come to rather love the horse.
Then, like a knife stabbing through it all. The world burst into light.
Benny opened his eyes and there she was, knelt before him with tears streaming down her own face.
“Beth,” he breathed.
“Stars do shine you know,” she teased. He couldn’t help but laugh, shaking his head.
“Oh, I know. I know,” he whispered.
Beth tilted her chin upwards, letting the star burn the shadows and mist until there was nothing surrounding them. Nothing but the pale light of his star.
“You’re safe,” Beth smiled.
“I never doubted you,” he answered.
Beth sniffed, dropping her head. He threaded his fingers through her hair, pressing a kiss to her skull.
“It's ok to be afraid.”
“No one told me how heavy a heart is. I do not want this pain. I do not want this hurt.”
“Love rarely comes without the other, does it?” he sighed. “It’s ok, I’ll be ok.”
“I think I love you, Benny Watts.”
“I think I love you too, Beth Harmon.”
Benny sniffed, looking at the area around them. Townes was on his knees, trying to straighten himself out. Benny saw the wild look in his eye, but he knew he was defeated. He raised a hand, one last attempt but Beth stopped him. Her light cut his shadows before they even had a chance to affect her.
"Don't you understand?" she cried. "I am not yours."
"I only wanted what was best for you."
"I know, but you were killing me. I am not a bird to be caged, wondering what it is like to fly. Because I have, and it is beautiful." Benny could hear the pain in her voice.
"You took me away," She breathed. "I only ever wanted to go home."
Townes dropped his head, remaining silent. Beth watched him but Benny took her hand, making her look at him.
“It’s time to go home then, Beth.”
“What do I need to do?”
“A babylon candle,” he smiled, reaching into his pocket and holding it to her. “Take it, light it and then think of where you want to go.”
“I didn’t… I never thought I would have someone to say goodbye too.”
“Don’t say goodbye,” Benny said quietly. “What's it like? The songs your sisters sing?"
"It's like, finding shelter from a storm."
"I must have loved you from another like, because you feel like that."
Beth had her eyes closed, but Benny saw her tears.
"I can't say goodbye."
"It's never goodbye. Only see you later.”
“You’ll see me anytime you want, darlin. I’ll always be here. Won’t be going anywhere, will I?” he tried to laugh, but he knew it was goodbye.
Goodbyes were such heavy things.
Benny couldn’t bring himself to look at Beth, blinking back his own tears.
“We had so much wasted time,” she choked out.
“Don’t think of it. Don’t think of what we could’ve done.”
“We could’ve had a life, a family.”
“Beth, we never were going to have that life. Go now, go on. I’ll see you soon.”
“I can stay-”
“Think of home, think of the night sky. Think of your sisters. You can still watch me, and I know you’ll always be there,” Benny rested his hands on top of Beths, smiling at her. “My lovely Beth.”
"My stupid cowboy."
Benny went to speak, but once he opened his mouth, she was gone. No grand light, no bang and flash; simply a whisper in the breeze. There one moment then gone the next.
He was alone. Benny felt the coldness Settle in his bones so deep it made him ache.
A tickle on the back of his neck made Benny look around. And there was Zeus, standing with head dipped to Benny.
Benny smiled, touching the horse's check then looking at the night sky. It seemed brighter tonight.
And Beth was home.
Townes was really difficult to write in this. I don't hate Townes, I love him but I needed Someone to be evil. I hope you enjoyed it. Comments make me happy!