|Ronan will always remember being (skinned) wrote in repose,|
@ 2019-01-12 22:55:00
|Entry tags:||*log, ben sorenson, ronan xander|
Log: Ronan's Wish
Who: Ronan Xander and Ben Sorenson
What: A simple wish
Where: Ronan's apartment
When: Backdated to just after Christmas
Warnings/Rating: Angst and language.
Status: Complete(ly painful)
Moving through time and space should be accompanied by bells. A little ding. A swish. A pop. Something. One moment he was lying in his own bed, pillows fluffed, the air lightly scented with lemongrass, waiting for James to come out of the bathroom where he was preparing himself -- for what, Ben didn't know. They hadn't gone far enough on their few dates to need preparation, but maybe he was in there washing his face or rinsing his mouth. He'd let him go with a smile and a nod, stripping down to his jeans while he waited.
Their last date had ended in a blowjob that was -- satisfactory. There was nothing wrong with James, he was pleasant, and kind, and funny, and two and a half years later, Ben was still wanting something else. Someone else.
And then he wasn't in his apartment at all, but someone else's. The smell was wrong, the sheets felt wrong, and he was not alone in the bed. "I'm sorry--" he started to say as he looked over, but the words died a painful death on his lips as his heart leapt up into his throat and stayed there, threatening to kill him all over again at who was there.
With some boy. Some blonde boy. Making out. Hands in his shirt, stroking over abs and ribs and nipples that Ben could still taste, that he knew every leap of beneath the pads and whorls of his fingers. Blondie was shirtless, the garment no doubt discarded somewhere on the floor and for one brief moment, one hot-edged second, Ben wanted to strangle the kid with it.
What he managed was a choked out rasp of, "Get out." Because he was here, and there was no doubt of how he got here, and maybe he should excuse himself, walk away, walk out and pretend like he didn't know what Ronan and this guy were up to in here, but he couldn't. His legs felt like wood and what he wanted, what he really wanted, was to push Blondie off of Ronan and drag him out by the hair.
He didn't even know if they were dating, if this was Ronan's new boyfriend-- and his vision bled red for a second. "Get your fucking clothes on and get out!" Oh, that was him. Yelling. And he couldn't even feel fucking bad about it.
For his part, Ronan hadn’t spared much thought about his Wish. He’d been several glasses of pinot grigio into his night when he’d mustered up the audacity to articulate such a thing to his Santa, as he’d gotten in the habit of doing lately in his evenings. It was easy to stop at the grocer on his way home from work, piling a couple cheap bottles of white into his basket because hey, the weekend was tomorrow, and he’d earned it. He didn’t drink a lot; two bottles at a time would last him long enough (or so he told himself). But it was the languid warmth in his veins that helped him forget all the things he missed.
He missed Ben, in that sort of obvious way. But he also missed their house in the neighbourhood. The way it’d filled up with his art and their shared presence, Ben’s thoughts spilling all over the place like the smell of peppermint tea. He missed having the backyard for Freki and Geri to run around in -- he still took them both with him when he mustered the will to run in the mornings, but he missed the way they’d been able to just lay out in patches of dappled sunlight. He missed the dark fur of Freki’s muzzle now that it was flecked through with grey. He missed having someone warm in the bed next to him so much that he had decorated his apartment above the bookstore in such a way that it was as warm and intimate as possible, (and even then it still felt skeleton-bare). Right down to the draped tapestry that made up a sort of canopy over his double bed, where it was pushed up the corner of the loft space. An easy enough space to fill.
So no, he hadn’t thought much about the Wish. He hadn’t thought for a second that it would turn out the way he’d actually intended. Instead he figured that he would end up with a photograph of Ben appearing on his mantel, or maybe a phone call if he got really lucky, where they would both be awkward and eventually fall silent without that closure that Ronan ached for. Without the answers.
And okay, let’s be real: this guy he’d picked up at The Bar was a warm body. He was blonde, and that was safe. The pale yellow strands didn’t bother Ronan when his fingers tangled in them, tilted his sharp features back to expose the soft places along his neck where Ronan deliberately busied the press of his mouth. He had hands that weren’t too cold nor too expert, fumbling in a vaguely charming sort of way under Ronan’s t-shirt and across the expanse of his chest.
Blonde was safe, and slender was safer. Not too tall. Definitely not too broad across the chest. Zero percent chance of reminding Ronan of Ben in any way, shape or form.
Except that he reminded Ronan of Ben in his very obvious un-Ben-ness, was the only problem.
But then -- because, no, that wasn’t his only problem. Because then there was another body of his too-small bed. Someone who barked out an angry order at the blonde guy (John? Joe? What the hell was his bloody name?) to leave, like yesterday. Ronan broke away from the wet slide of mouths and squinted at the guy who couldn’t possibly be Ben that was suddenly occupying his bed with zero warning, and who most certainly was Ben.
“What... the fuck?” The words came out a little blurry, through indecently swollen lips.
There was no dignifying that with a response, only a look. Hadn't he done the same before? Wishing his whole family to come for a visit with them, back when they lived in NYC and he'd just wanted to see them so bad and they all ended up at their place for a few days, too many people piled into too small a space, but it had been perfect.
The bed was too small a space for three of them and it was not perfect. It wasn't even imperfectly perfect; it was the kind of rage that got him arrested when he beat up the kids stalking his sister.
And Ronan wasn't even his anymore, wasn't, as if that would somehow cool his anger but it didn't. And blondie -- John, or Joe, or Jim, or Jack -- he was just staring stupidly at Ben like he couldn't figure this out either. He moved a little too awkwardly to be a boyfriend was the only thing he noticed, not the paleness of his skin, not the brown of his eyes that was no where close to Ben's green-blue with brown splotch.
In fact, no-name Blondie couldn't have been much more different from Ben if he tried. And he was still staring dumbly at him.
His voice dropped into British crispness, syllables so tight that they could have been mistaken for chef's blades. "Get. Your. Clothes. And. Get. Out."
That finally got him moving, hastily crawling off the bed while trying to mutter something to Ronan about how he'd catch him later, or call him, while he was digging around on the floor for his clothes and Ben was doing his best not to glare and failing miserably, 'cause this kid needed to leave. (He was probably the one that should have left, but Ronan Wished him here and this was the closest they'd been in years.)
Ronan wasn’t thinking about New York, okay? The thought didn’t even occur to him, that Ben had once wished something similar and wound up with their home overflowing. He was too busy, gaping with a slack and open mouth, at the ghost next to him in bed. For fuck’s sake, it wasn’t even their bed. He’d left that mattress in the old place, hadn’t been able to imagine sleeping on it again after it was too empty. After. He’d thought about burning it, but that seemed disproportionately angry for how often he fell asleep with wet lashes.
So it was a smaller space, this bed that they were now sharing again. And even in Ronan’s fantasies of Ben’s return (that became fewer and farther between with every year that passed), it hadn’t happened quite so… well, they hadn’t been in bed. He’d imagined Ben showing up at his doorstep, ringing the buzzer and looking at Ronan like he was devastatingly sorry to have ever left in the first place. He’d imagining being full of the urge to rage at Ben, to want to slap his stupidly handsome face if he dared to make excuses, but ultimately resist the urge out of sheer self-control. (Yeah, yeah.)
He hadn’t imagined being caught with his metaphorical pants down -- though they were. Well, unbuttoned. His jeans. The fly gaped a little and Ronan was suddenly, painfully aware that he was half-hard beneath (though the offending erection had flagged, with the hot wave of embarrassment and shame creeping over Ronan’s body from the toes up).
And any remnant of arousal was doused in ice water when Ben did something that Ronan had never seen, ever. He yelled. Actual yelling, raised voice and gritted teeth. A flush of anger that had Ronan wincing involuntarily, when it flooded his mind unfettered. It was that loud, unkempt sort of anger. Emotional. He knew that Ben wanted to hurt Jack (Jake?), that it was more than just a violent fantasy. Actual desire to hurt someone. Jealousy, white-hot. Ronan’s eyes widened as it all washed over him, and his mouth moved to form a dozen different thoughts at the same time, but no sound came out.
He didn’t look up as the other guy muttered his confused goodbyes. Just lifted a hand in an afterthought before the door to his apartment slammed shut. A draft came in from the hallway and goosebumps rose across the exposed inches of his belly where his shirt had been rucked up, and he swiped it back into place hastily. Used it as an excuse to stare down at his open fly, the bedsheets. Anywhere but Ben’s face.
He wished he could be unaware of that little gap in Ronan's jeans, blissfully stupid of how his shirt was hiked up enough to reveal his treasure trail -- a place his hands and mouth spent time with. Too much time (not enough, not ever enough) because he knew the crinkle of those little dark hairs under his lips, how they felt under his fingertips, caught between skin and nail before his hands trailed lower to tease and coax Ronan into full hardness for him.
But he couldn't forget it, eyes dodging down to watch as Ronan covered up that strip of skin and was suddenly, strikingly aware that he didn't even have a fucking shirt on. He was as bare chested as Blondie had been, but his muscles showed the long hours he'd been putting in at the gym in the effort to exhaust his body as he could not exhaust his brain.
A brain that wanted him back here, and here he was, looking at the canopy of Ronan's bed before he swung his legs over the edge. There was a moment of hesitation, where he pressed down into his toes and made sure he still had feeling before he stood, and followed Blondie out of the apartment, just in case he got any bright ideas. Or any stupid ones.
With the door shut, he placed his forehead against it, one tightened fist against the door. He didn't punch though, just left it there, feeling the dull throb of flatness against his knuckles as he pressed into it. Breathed. Breathed again. He didn't have the right to be angry, didn't really have the right to kick Blondie out of Ronan's bed, but he had, and there was a whole lack of guilt there that he was going to have to think about later.
He breathed against the curls of anger that stoked up his spine, because he was finally -- he was finally trying to date again after Ronan. Two and a half years later he was making the attempt and he was back here again, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed with him and drive the memory of every other man, and body, and heart he'd touched out of Ronan.
He couldn't. His face twisted and he finally let the breath out. Stood up straight as his hand relaxed and fell to his thigh. He needed something -- something he couldn't find in the middle of this room. To wash his face maybe. Or hold his breath until stars appeared in his vision and he was forced to breathe again. "Where's the loo?" He asked, voice soft, accent thicker than it had been while they were together.
Okay, so part of the problem was absolutely that Ben was approximately twice the size he’d been when he left. Shoulder-wise, that is. He was… he was big, and broad. (And sure, Ronan’s brain felt fuzzed-over, stuffed with cotton that had turned him stupid.) He didn’t seem to feel much shame, if any. And the way that he barked out orders in Ronan’s apartment that suddenly felt too small… it was absurd. It was insulting, is what it was.
Ronan reeled back, as Ben swung his weight over the edge and trailed Jimmy or Jamie to the front door. He didn’t flinch when Ben’s clenched fist came up against the woodgrain. He didn’t flinch when Ben showed more anger than he’d ever shown, through the entirety of their relationship. He blinked, wide-eyed at the bare ripple of muscle beneath Ben’s back. And he did flinch at the dangerous softness of his words.
“To the left,” Ronan murmured, lips buzzing together in a pathetic, hungry sort of way. He would have pointed, but part of it was the way he was too busy clinging to the sheets, and part was the way that Ben’s accent rang loud in his head and certainly inspired his own accent to crisp and tighten up at the edges where it had only become more slack, softened like butter on a skillet after so many years in the States.
Ronan settled for clutching the sheets.
Ben didn't look at Ronan as he turned, not even out of the corner of his eye, to reassure himself that the other man was still on bed and more covered up than when Blondie had been here. He wouldn't think about the state he found them in as he crossed the room, back straight, gait easy though he was wearing far less than Ronan, or the recently evicted Blondie.
But he'd never been self-conscious, and he wasn't going to start now as he went to the left, checking the first door and -- tub, toilet, sink -- went through, letting the door shut almost quietly behind him. There was a moment's hesitation, a moment of wondering if he should, if it would add gasoline to the tinderbox of this meeting before he locked the door. Nevermind that it was Ronan's apartment -- or seemed to be. It was only his things littering the bathroom. The toothbrush was new, a lot of it was new but they were replaced items from when they'd lived together.
Together. Ben didn't bother looking in the mirror as he turned the water on, mostly cold with a touch of warm. For a few seconds, he refused to think about the man in the bedroom, the man in his own bedroom that he'd left behind, and cupped his hands beneath the spigot to splash water onto his face. He didn't -- he couldn't be mad with Ronan at finding someone else. Or a dozen someone else's. Wasn't he trying to do the same?
Trying. Maybe that was the difference. He let the water run out from his between his fingers and down the sink before doing it again, pressing cool to his eyelids and heated cheeks. He had better control than this, he did. He did. The water fell from his hands again and he reached up to turn it off. Everything happens for a reason. Ben breathed, watched the water drip from his eyelashes and into the sink.
He could do this. Sighing, he straightened, patted his face dry on a towel that smelled like Ronan, and opened the door. He could. He survived walking away and that was still an ache that threatened to take his breath away.
Meanwhile, Ronan was busy wanting to die. He was tangled up in the sheets, equal parts frantic and frazzled. He had summarily turned a violent shade of pink, cheeks warm and florid. He hurt and he ached for the touch of Ben’s hands that he knew were -- that he knew. He longed for Ben’s gaze to linger on his body, his heart in his mind. Even while the whole thing stormed in his head. Lingering was to wanting as wanting was to presence.
And Ronan wasn’t sure he could do this, for the record. This encounter. He wanted to take it back. “I didn’t mean for it to happen like this,” he breathed out, something ragged, half to the air. Half unheard, sight unseen. His shoulders ached all of a sudden, throbbing from stasis. He wiped the back of one hand over his mouth, and he gathered the folds of the sheets around his waist. Felt the sudden wetness of rivulets running down his cheeks, and was surprised. He hadn’t realized he was crying.
“I’m sorry, Ben.”
Ben sucked in a breath, felt something between his shoulders ease with the admission that Ronan hadn't intended for it to happen like this. There were no further questions, no half-wondering if Ronan intended for him to show up while he was in bed with someone else to -- to what? Show Ben what he was missing? Ben knew. To show him how well he was doing? Yeah, that one hurt a little as he watched Ronan now, fidgeting on a bed that wasn't theirs, on sheets that didn't smell like them.
His breath came out a little easier, a little shaky still as he crossed the room, because Ronan was there crying and there wasn't enough anger in all the world that was going to keep him on the other side of the room. Nothing was said as he sat down on the edge of the bed, almost shoulder to shoulder, his arm creeping out until it was in the tuck of Ronan's waist and he was tugging the other man into his side.
"I know," he finally said, quiet. Accepting. "Don't cry, baby." It was so easy to call him that again, so easy that Ben frowned with it and pressed his mouth the edge of Ronan's crown, to the messy shock of his hair. He wanted, and craving was the source of all agony.
Just as he hadn’t known he was crying until the salt water dripped into his lap, it felt a like a blink between the seconds when Ben was across the room and when he was slotted up against Ronan’s side like he’d never left. Ronan slumped a little against him without even meaning to, falling into familiar like he was that water in those cupped hands. Even knowing, hearing what Ben was planning to do before he did it, Ronan didn’t pull away.
He did keep his hands in his lap, twisting anxiously. Resisted the urge to reach out and touch what didn’t belong to him anymore, even as his shoulders shook with a strangled sob. He didn’t want Ben’s comfort, told himself he didn’t. Because that didn’t belong to him any longer, either.
“I’m not --” he started, the words bitten in half. He wasn’t even sure how to finish them. Wasn’t crying? They could both plainly see that wasn’t true. “Yours.” Not anymore. Those tortuously-twining hands came up to scrub over Ronan’s face, the heels digging into the hollows of his eyes. His weight still curved to the side so that he leaned against the sink of Ben’s weight on the mattress, but his palms smeared away the wet trail of tears on his cheeks.
What he didn’t say was, you gave that up when you left. But it was out there, cast from his mind like a projector beam through fog.
It was familiar in a way that was bittersweet, both balm and face twisting to have Ronan settle into his side again.
And the words, regardless of how true they were, still hit like lightning, like he was the one carved up and skinless on the chopping block that was Ronan's bed. Not because of hope, not because he hoped that one day they would meet again, that he would hold Ronan in his arms one last time -- no, it hurt because they were final in a way that shut doors and a continent apart weren't. His arms started to loosen -- but then Ronan continued. Not out loud, but that thought strung between them like a lifeline.
Ben could admit his mistakes, forced himself to look at them time and time again, but this? His hand tightened on Ronan's ribs as he pushed past the immediate wash of blame and anger and 'you did this'. Blame didn't help. He sighed; relaxed. "What was I supposed to do? You didn't want me here. You wouldn't even look at me," he said quietly and frowned. If that was true -- why was he here? There was a part he was missing, he could feel it just beyond his thoughts, as real as Ronan tucked into his side, and just as untouchable.
When he’d made the wish, Ronan had expected seeing Ben to feel… the same. Not that he’d thought the man he used to know would have stayed unchanged for the years they’d been apart, not who he was in general. But the feel of his mind, like still lakewater at dawn’s light in early summer. Smooth like glass, cool to the touch against the reach of Ronan’s ability.
So it surprised him in a way that ached, to find that he barely recognized these waters; Ben’s mind felt more like choppy waves, whitecaps in the distance in the midst of winter’s bluster and rage. The anger in him, the blame -- he’d never felt that from Ben before. His cheeks still flushed hot with shame as he accepted it was fair, but that didn’t take the sting out. Ben’s hand at his side, strong arm against his back, it felt like a lifeline just barely there.
His breath hitched as he dropped his hands from his face, shoulders slumped. When he spoke, his gaze was fixed ahead but unseeing, eyes glassy. “You were supposed to fight for me, Ben. For us. When I couldn’t. When I didn’t even know how to keep my head above water. Okay?”
Ronan’s face turned towards Ben’s as to the sun when he asked the question, and he knew that his own anger was written in the furrow of his brow. Because they both knew that it wasn’t okay, or else they wouldn’t be here. “I shouldn’t have had to make a fucking wish to get some kind of…” he trailed off for a moment, the obvious word that he didn’t want to say hanging between them. Closure. The crease in his brow deepened with his frown and with frustration, and he rubbed one hand over the stubbled edge of his jaw.
“I felt like I was drowning. And I didn’t know how to talk to you. I didn’t have any reason to be unhappy, okay? There was no reason for me to struggle just getting out of bed and facing every day, or with the fact that I felt like I didn’t deserve to be happy. I felt like I was a bad person just for being depressed, when my life should have been so perfect!”
He could feel the moment that Ronan started to reach -- and he wanted to reach back, to grab and hold close, to hold onto, but he couldn't. Ronan had a will of his own, choices to make and the answer he got about why wasn't the one he was expecting. Not that he hadn't had his own imaginings about that, but they were never the words coming out of Ronan's mouth.
"I thought--" he started. He had thought -- thought that Ronan didn't want him in the house anymore but didn't know how to say it, thought Ronan had fallen out of love, or that he'd found someone else, or simply just didn't want him. It happened, Ben knew it happened, but he'd never known why it happened to them. And he knew, too, that Ronan could see it all in his mind, and didn't bother to voice it.
"How? I tried texting, I tried calling, how was I supposed to reach out to you when you wouldn't even see me?" Because he would have -- "How?" He asked, voice cracking as he turned on the bed, and fuck closure. Fuck closure into the next galaxy -- he tugged Ronan right up into the cradle of his thighs and held on like the answer would have kept them together as they should be.
Both arms went around his middle, cheek tucking into his shoulder and breathed in. This close, all he could smell was Ronan, and Ben shut his eyes to commit it to memory anew. "Any way. Talk, text, yell at me through the bathroom door. I would have even taken morse code tapped out over the air vents. Any possible way you could have told me, I would have listened. But I was -- I felt -- I felt cut out. And it hurt so fucking bad, I didn't know what to do. And then you weren't coming home. You didn't answer my calls. Didn't answer my texts -- I never heard from you after my dad's heart attack and I thought -- I thought it was what you wanted."
Ronan knew what Ben had thought, didn’t need the hammer of his words against his fragile heart to understand just how badly he’d failed the man that he’d loved. Caught in the hailstorm of his own head, at the time he hadn’t seen the hell that Ben was going through, too. Hadn’t seen it because of his closed eyes, and how he’d shut down the mental bond between them that shared as much of his own thoughts and feelings as the ones he overheard from Ben. He’d thought himself doing Ben a favour at the time, although he knew now that his withdrawal had been guided by fear and self-preservation. Cowardice.
So yes, Ben was correct in thinking that he didn’t need to voice any of it. Ronan’s shoulders slumped in further with the weight of his shame. How many times had he wished he could go back and do it differently? He felt himself shaking his head, not to deny but because he didn’t know, either. He could lick his own wounds all he wanted, but that wouldn’t change a thing. “I don’t --” he began, and then his words were clipped off with a gasp when Ben grabbed him like that, like it was nothing. Like his weight and the years apart didn’t matter.
He blinked and his mouth was still open in slack surprise at finding himself in Ben’s lap, straddling his thighs on the bed, and his hands came up to find purchase for balance. One fumbled against Ben’s shoulder and the other landed at the back of his head, with Ronan’s fingers curled slightly through soft strands of dark, familiar hair. He couldn’t see Ben’s face with it buried against the hollow of his neck, so he blinked in silent surprise at the wall behind his bed.
And he listened. He heard Ben voice aloud all the things he’d known and still feared, those ugly truths. He felt some of the tension in his body melt away under the heat and the pain in Ben’s voice, letting their chests press a little closer together. His eyes shut again as he leaned his cheek against the crown of Ben’s head, the pads of his fingers stroking against the nape of his neck. The action absent of thought, automatic. “I know,” he breathed out, voice ragged.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Ben.” He licked the dry skin of his lips and tasted salt. Felt the warm drip on his cheeks again, and turned his face further into the smell of Ben’s hair as if to hide from it. “I’m so sorry.”
Ronan being back in his lap, warm and healthy -- healthy definitely, a little thicker in the shoulders, a little more muscular in the chest, but not waning thin like he had been after his trip away, post dreams -- was right. Right in that way like breathing was after being underwater for too long and all he could do was hold him tighter and breathe him in every time his lungs filled.
The hands at his nape had him settling further, big hands stretched across the bellows of Ronan's ribs as they fit together like a human nest, Ronan's cheek to his crown, his face smashed into the side of his neck. He rubbed his forehead back and forth, resisting the urge to do the same with his lips, to kiss up against the underbelly of his jaw, to take the salt from his lips.
He heard that wet sound in his voice and shook his head, drawing away slightly so he could look up at his -- at Ronan. One hand left the grooves of his ribs where his fingers fit perfectly so he could wipe the tears away before they streaked down his cheeks. "I know, I know, I'm sorry too, I didn't know -- don't cry, baby, don't cry. It breaks my heart when you cry." His hand strayed to cup his cheek, thumb swiping gentle over the top of it. It'd be so easy to lean in and kiss him, easy like saying 'baby', like falling in love with him was.
Except he couldn't. All he could do was look up at Ronan's bright, set eyes, the tip of his nose starting to turn pink, and want something he shouldn't want. Because he had someone -- he'd left someone alone in his flat, he'd been with someone too in the minutes before he arrived here. He had to look away, say something that distracted him from the urge to kiss Ronan until neither of them could breathe. "You aren't a bad person," he murmured, risking a glance up before it lowered again, to the collar of Ronan's shirt. "You've never been a bad person." People made mistakes, neither of them was exempt, but it didn't make either of them bad. "I wish -- I wish you would have said something to me."
Ronan had to admit that the position was a little awkward; kneeling on the edge of his mattress like that had made his thighs start to tremble after only a few minutes, and his pants were still unbuttoned where his waist pressed against Ben’s solar plexus. But Ben had always been the strong one, and Ronan knew that he could lean back into the cage of his arms to give his muscles some reprieve, and he did so as the older man pressed his face desperately close against Ronan’s neck. He felt the scrub of beard, could feel his skin flushing a raw red beneath the touch.
And he saw just what Ben was holding back. Clear as a photograph, he saw Ben’s lips sweeping hungrily against the column of his throat, while his own head tipped back in supplication. Could practically feel it, to the point where all-too-real goosebumps broke out over the skin on Ronan’s arms and his cock gave an interested throb against Ben’s belly, even despite the agony of it all.
His eyes blinked open when Ben’s hold pulled back enough to free up one of those wide, gentle hands so that he could cradle Ronan’s face, and he’d be damned if he didn’t lean into the sweet familiarity of that touch. He knew that his bottom lip quivered even as he tried to smile, reaching up to cover Ben’s hand with his own and slotting their fingers together.
“I’m sorry,” the words came out in a whisper now, and he didn’t know if he was apologizing for the tears or for the rest of it, or maybe that this all felt terribly, painfully right. His heart felt tugged in a dozen different directions, and it didn’t help much that Ben kept thinking about kissing him. Because then all that Ronan could do was stare at the blush of his mouth and wonder if he still tasted the same. “Damn you, Benjamin. You --”
Someone else. Someone… named James? The name floated unbidden into Ronan’s head, along with the image of a flat that he didn’t recognize. Ronan’s shoulders stiffened and he jerked his head back as if he’d been burned, so that Ben’s hand hung in midair, no longer cupping his cheek. Dark eyes stared wide, unblinking and accusatory at Ben’s beautiful blue with that spot of brown that he’d adored, and that hard line in his brow had returned.
“Who... the hell... is James?” Still he whispered, though this one came with his own sharp edges. Edges that shimmered with venom.
Ronan leaned back and he could feel it in his muscles, not yet burning, but that twinge of use as he kept holding on. He could feel, too, that throb against his belly, the edge of Ronan's zipper where he hadn't bothered to put his fly back together. Another time it would have been an invitation, the whole thing would have been, and he would have slid his hands down the back of his jeans to cup his ass, pull him closer as they divorced themselves of clothes.
"I'm sorry too," he whispered back. For not knowing, for not trying a little harder until Ronan at least talked to him. For -- he didn't know what. For having stayed gone for so long when they were both hurting so damn much.
He blinked, slow, and knew he should tell Ronan no when his gaze focused on his mouth. It was a prelude to kissing, as much as he was thinking about it and regardless of the curse that came from Ronan's lips. Then there was stiffness -- the wrong type and he knew, because their connection had always been close -- and there was his name on Ronan's lips.
His hand fell without the mooring of Ronan's cheek, and settled on his hip. It never occurred to him to lie, to tell anything less than the truth. Ronan deserved that, even as his gaze dipped and he knew he should not be fantasizing about anything of Ronan's. If he had thought of another man while with the man in his lap, he would have hated himself for it. He hated himself a little for it now. "The man I'm seeing," he finally answered, voice even as his gaze lifted without a plea for leniency on his behalf. "In London."
The hand against Ronan’s hip was just warm, same as Ben always was, but to Ronan it burned like an iron kiss. He imagined that his skin would crackle, turn dark and start to blister in minutes. His cheek stung where Ben’s hand had been, as if he’d been slapped instead of caressed, and he felt the bottom of his stomach give way in a dizzying swoop. His fingers curled against his palm where his hand had lain against Ben’s nape, biting half-moons into his palm with his nails.
He hadn’t expected Ben to lie. Ben wasn’t a liar, he didn’t stammer or splutter. He didn’t try to make the truth sound nice when he knew that it would hurt no matter what. For the first time in his life, Ronan found himself wishing that Ben was a liar.
Ronan met that unwavering look with eyes that were still shining with wet. He leaned back until most of his weight was resting against Ben’s knees, as far away as he could get in their current position. “You mean your boyfriend,” he said flatly, dangerously quiet, his gaze darting between each of Ben’s eyes like he wasn’t sure where to look. “Your boyfriend --” and this time the word came out sounding like a curse. “Who is waiting for you back home, while you’re here pulling me into your lap and calling me baby, and thinking about kissing me.”
He recoiled, mentally, at boyfriend, but only the first time, when it came out sounding less like a curse. He knew he was treading somewhere dangerous, that Ronan was going to be pissed -- and rightfully so. Ben was not dreaming, he was alive, and breathing, and here. And no, he didn't think of James as his boyfriend, couldn't even call him the uncouth fuck buddy, as they hadn't gone further than blowjobs, and Ben wasn't the type.
Ben wished he could lie, to make this hurt less, to make himself seem like less of an asshole for doing all those things that Ronan was spitting out like acid, but he couldn't. He couldn't even look away, even as his cheeks heated in blotches. It wasn't the guilt of being found out, it wasn't even guilt at the way he acted, but it was hanging onto the edges of having someone else there at all. Someone that could be called boyfriend in the wake of his relationship with Ronan, regardless of the fact that Ben didn't call him that.
"Yes," he said quietly, naked in the face of his faults.
And there was something that Ronan didn’t think he’d ever felt before: Ben, withdrawing his mind from Ronan’s ability like a whip’s coil. He’d never been one to pull away, never chose to deny rather than face culpability. And maybe there was something to be considered, there; alright, so he didn’t consider James (Ronan couldn’t even think the name without feeling his upper lip curl in disdain) to be his boyfriend. But did that change anything? Ronan had seen it, plain as day. This stranger taking up space in Ben’s life, holding weight in his court of affection. Eking out some corner of his bathroom, keeping Ben waiting while he did god only knew.
His mouth tasted sour, like turned milk. He wanted to be away from Ben, wanted free from his touch. “Yes, I’m pissed,” he snapped in response to Ben’s thoughts that ran the length of their connection like sparks on a wire. He pushed Ben’s hand away from the nip of his waist and unfurled his legs with some difficulty, planting both feet on the floor. He wobbled, because the lack of blood flow had shot pins and needles through his calf muscles, but he did not fall. “Of course I’m fucking pissed. Why would you do that?”
He didn’t clarify, but he opened up the press of his own mind in a way that he knew would flood Ben’s with the images that had made him suffer: that kiss, not taken. The heady desire shared that made Ben think about shoving his hands in Ronan’s jeans, for fuck’s sake -- all of it, tainted now.
“That’s not fair. You can’t think about how badly you want to kiss me, to touch me, when you know full bloody well you’ve got a bloke waiting for you.” Ronan staggered back and then focused determinedly on buttoning up his jeans, turning to face the rest of his apartment, survey the piles of canvas stacked about. Little fluffs of dog-hair dust bunnies in the corners. Anything to keep from having to look at Ben’s expression. Then his hands came up to his own face once more, rubbing furiously at the place above his eyebrows, with the pads of his fingers dragging against his skin.
“It’s not fair, Ben. Not to me, and not to him.”
As much as he wanted to follow Ronan, to chase, to coax him close and have his hands on him again -- he knew that he wouldn't be allowed it. Not now. He shouldn't have allowed it of himself earlier, but he had in a desperation of touching something that he'd once thought was lost to him. So he let go and it hurt all over again, like something vital was being stripped away from him.
And that vital something wasn't half a world away, waiting in his flat.
His hands settled back at his sides and he shifted on the bed, feet flat on the floor, butt on the very edge, and simply watched Ronan as though it might be the last time he ever got to see him.
Why was followed by the heady press of Ronan's mind, of his own thoughts and feelings reflected back at him. How much pain it caused Ronan that he did not follow through, could not, for that man back in London, because no matter how much he wanted those things with Ronan, how much he longed to be here, to kiss the salt off his lips -- his not-boyfriend had his fidelity.
Just as Ronan had when they were together. He owed them both his honesty -- and if he did it, if he had kissed Ronan, then it would always be remembered that he had once faltered in both mind and deed. Sucking in a deep breath, he shook his head. "It isn't fair and I'm sorry." Not about thinking it, no, he didn't think he'd ever be able to look at Ronan and not want to kiss him. Touch him. Hold him. Love him. But never to play second to a man that Ben couldn't honestly call his boyfriend and that's what Ben would be asking if he'd done any more than he already had.
"I'm sorry. I'm always --" Going to love you. Want to kiss you. Want to dry your tears and help you pick up the pieces. Want to marry you. Except -- except now he couldn't. They were over and seeing Ronan only drove home the knowledge that if it wasn't going to be Ronan that he spent his life with, it wasn't going to be anyone else either.
He could deal with that. He'd have to. "I should go."
The problem wasn’t that Ronan wouldn’t allow Ben to chase him in his retreat, to coax him back with those good, strong hands. The problem was that he would. That he saw in perfect clarity all the ways in which Ben was holding back, and that he wanted all the same things. Despite the ache. Despite knowing it would be fleeting, because this wasn’t Ben’s home any longer and he had left someone waiting. That Ronan had, in fact, already taken him away from someone else with the covetous, selfish nature of his Wish.
“Don’t,” he snapped, holding up a hand even as he faced the wall to keep himself from looking at Ben. To keep the tears from brimming over. He didn’t want to hear it, because he already knew. Had already heard the ache of Ben’s thoughts, and all the things that they couldn’t have because of how things had ended. His chest already ached with the weight of knowing, so he didn’t need it said.
“Just don’t, please.”
Ronan’s voice broke at this last request, despite his efforts. “Yeah, I think it’s best you go.”
Whatever else he was, he wasn't sadistic enough to keep going, to drive those wounds deeper of what they wanted and couldn't have. There was a choice in causing someone pain, and he wasn't willing to do it to Ronan. Not to himself, either, but even less willing to do it to the man he loved.
"Alright," he finally said quietly, resignation and resolution heavy in his thoughts. He'd managed to leave once before, he could manage it now, except that he was suddenly very reminded of what he was missing as he stood up. Ronan wasn't nearly as broad in the shoulders as he was, not nearly as wide, but -- "Do you have a shirt I can borrow?" Mailing it back wouldn't be a problem -- mailing it back. His face twisted at that and he tried to ignore the pang it caused in his chest.
Ronan had taken the time to finally button up his pants, spending longer than strictly necessary on smoothing down the front of his shirt just to stall. To keep from having to look back at Ben’s open face, etched in sadness, and hear the hollow ringing of everything that they would never have again. He tried to steel himself enough that the unshed tears didn’t spill over, then wiped at his eyes with the back of one hand when that didn’t work.
And then he almost laughed. Not that there was anything particularly funny about this situation -- no, this was horrible and he was long since past regretting ever making that bloody Wish. But he’d been struck with the mental image of Ben trying to squeeze into one of his t-shirts, and that was just absurd enough to push him close to hysteria. A strangled sound came out of him that was half laugh, half bark, and he turned back to look at Ben with an incredulous expression. Even his baggiest shirt would probably end up in tatters around Ben’s torso if he so much as breathed.
So he opened his mouth to say ‘no’. But. He froze like that for a moment, lips parted in cartoonish surprise as he remembered. Because there was something that would fit, and fit perfectly, given that it had been Ben’s to begin with. Ronan had realized, years ago, after Ben left, that Ben hadn’t checked the dirty laundry hamper when he’d packed. At the time it had been even more heartbreaking, to realize how eager Ben was to get out as quickly as possible.
And then one night, Ronan had pulled the shirt out of the bottom of the pile where he’d been steadfastly ignoring it, tugging it over his head and crawling into bed to wrap himself in the smell of Ben that still clung to the fabric. It had became a shameful sort of habit. A crutch, when the loneliness got so bad that it filled up his lungs and turned his stomach to fire.
Of course, more than two years later, it had lost any traces of Ben that it’d once held. Now it smelled like Ronan’s detergent and his soap, had a few daubs of dried oil paint around the hem. In fact, it was still in such frequent rotation with the rest of his round-the-house clothes that it was sitting practically on top of his stuff awaiting the laundromat. Ronan’s face burned as he grabbed it from the pile, holding it out. Now it was his turn to avoid the other’s gaze.
“Keep it. S’yours, anyway.”
With any intense emotion, he heard Ronan far more clearly -- or Ronan broadcast at volume, and this was nothing but emotion on top of emotion. That bark of a laugh had him looking up, and it was accompanied by the mental image of him in one of Ronan's shirts and completely destroying it by breathing like he was the Hulk.
"I'm not --" he started to protest, hearing that no, and watching Ronan's mouth freeze in that comic 'o'. Something then, and he nearly colored as it was pulled out of the clothes pile, a little more worn, a little paint around the bottom hem as though Ronan had been wearing it while working. It wasn't something that was unknown while they were together, but some of those stains were newer than they had been two years ago.
His gaze was avoided as it was handed over, and he pulled it on without hesitation, though it was a bit tight in the shoulders -- but not enough to be reduced to tatters if he flexed. And it smelled like Ronan, like his soap, and the detergent that Ben had caught whiffs of on the sheets. It was faint though, the soap stronger, and Ronan had -- Ronan had worn it recently. He frowned as he fluffed it around his stomach, but it wasn't going to get any looser.
That was fine, he could wear it like this. There was no reason to mention to Ronan about wearing this recently, he could see the color on his cheeks darkening when he thought of it. "Thanks," he said quietly. "I'll, uh -- I'll see you around." It felt less permanent than saying goodbye. Hopeful, almost, that they would see each other again and not because either one of them wished it.
Walking out of the bedroom, he stopped when two furry heads pressed into his hands. "Hey! Hey, boys," he laughed as he knelt to pet both of then, receiving plenty of tongue for his trouble, and scrubbing his hands down their backs. His boys -- and all of them left behind. It was wrong, and the only reason it hadn't felt wrong the last time was because he'd been too worried about his dad. His dad was doing better though, and his boys were here.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry boys, I can't -- I can't stay." He should though, this was where -- Ben shook his head, because he had responsibilities back in London. Promises made and he gave them one last scratch, one last glance at Ronan, and then he headed out the door.
The sickest part of Ronan’s powers, the truly awful, horrible, most twisted part was that it didn’t even matter that he was steadfastly looking at the floor instead of Ben. It wouldn’t matter if he had his eyes shut, or his face buried in a pillow. Wouldn’t even make a difference if he grabbed the awl off his desk in the corner and pared his own bloody eyeballs out like he was balling a melon. He saw it all, because Ben’s mind was an open book and all the other man’s years spent singing Kumbaya in the bloody mountains meant that everything he thought, everything he heard and felt, poured into Ronan’s head like water from a pitcher. There was no avoidance. No denial.
And if that wasn’t evidence that some divine nutjob with a malformed sense of humour had cooked up a truly heinous punishment for him, Ronan didn’t know what was.
Because as soon as Ben opened the door into the foyer where Ronan had set Freki and Geri up with some Kongs filled with frozen peanut butter, as soon he laid eyes on them and Ronan could feel his heart swelling up with a dozen things he couldn’t even name for the thickness of a heartbeat in his throat, it was all he could do to keep his head above water.
It was too much, the flatline, the bruise of it all against whatever paper-thin membrane made up his skin now. Ronan didn’t sit down so much as he fell onto his tailbone where he stood, origami knees crumpling into some grotesque shape. His arms came up like wings so he could bury his face against his elbow and muffle a sob that turned into a scream; his hand found a half evaporated mason jar of paint-water where it’d been left at the foot of an easel and he hurled it at the closest wall. Muddy pastel colours drip-dropped down the coat of primer of his pathetic, shitty little apartment. His eyes itched with salt. His nails dug into the shell-white slant of his own ankles.
He figured that Ben had it easy. Because, you see -- it was always easier to leave.